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Old 03-05-2006, 11:00 PM   #1
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The Next Best Thing - 12


Now that's out of the way - here you go!

The midday sky was crystal clear and the temperature reasonably mild as they stood on the deck, facing the ocean. Raye regretted now that she’d only seen the front of Leo’s property up to this point. The back garden, enclosed inside an aged brick wall, separated the house from the dunes and beachfront and was nothing short of stunning, even in the fall. There was an assortment of cabbage palms in varying sizes, a couple of towering Royal palms, saw palmettos and sago palms, all swaying with the ocean breeze. The oleanders were no longer blooming, but they were still full of healthy green blade-like leaves, as the nights hadn't stayed cold enough yet to wilt them. There were different types of cannas and sea grasses and a whole host of other plants that Raye recognized but couldn't begin to name. What areas weren't landscaped with tropical plants were blanketed with the same immaculate Bermuda grass as the front lawn. She imagined in the summer with all the flowers in full bloom that Leo practically had his own private little oasis right in the back yard. Especially considering the property seemed to be almost as wide as it was deep, which kept his neighbors at a distance rarely found with beachfront properties. Another subtle indication that he'd done rather well for himself - parcels of land this size on the beach didn't come cheaply.

"His own Garden of Eden, don't you think," Adam asked as he stood beside her on the deck.

"That's funny," she answered, turning to look at him, "I was just thinking 'oasis', but that's essentially the same thing, isn't it?"

"I guess you could say it was," Adam agreed. "Listen, it's gorgeous up here on the deck but the wind coming off that water is brisk and I'll bet a jacket would be nice out along the shore. I'll be just a minute if you don’t mind waiting for me."

"Not at all," Raye assured him. "You might even see some signs of life in there."

"Hopefully," he laughed. "Do you need a jacket also? I could run up to your room just as easily and bring one down to you."

"No, I've got this sweatshirt and it's pretty thick. I don't plan on us being out there very long, so I should be fine. But thank you for asking. You go ahead - if I'm not right here when you get back, I've walked down into the garden."

"All right, I'll be back in just a minute." With that, he stepped back into the house and disappeared around the corner as he headed up the stairs to room he was sharing with Bono. Raye really did hope Adam would find somebody awake in the house. It was already close to one o'clock in the afternoon and they'd be losing the daylight in about three hours. Granted, there was still plenty of time in the week for her to photograph Leo and Paul, but she really wanted to get started as soon as she could. The quicker she got some of the shots developed, the quicker she could decide if she was on the right track as far as atmosphere and composition were concerned.

She scanned the garden again, this time looking for an area with some seating, thinking that a black and white shot with a few cabbage palms in the background might work nicely. She couldn't see any from the deck and decided to go down into the garden for a closer inspection. As she started down the steps, some movement at the home to the south of Leo caught her attention. Squinting into the afternoon sun, she brought a hand up to shade her eyes so she could see better. Two young ladies - they looked to be early 20's - raised their beer bottles to Raye and waved back to her as they lay sunning themselves on deck chairs. Raye laughed softly to herself and waved back as she descended the chairs. She tried to remember a time when she'd been that carefree and couldn't - which just revived her resolution to start enjoying life before it was gone from her.

The stairs delivered her to a paved path that wandered lazily through the garden, and she followed it until coming upon what she was looking for. It wasn't particularly a seating area, but tethered between two of the larger palm trees was a very inviting hammock. That must be the life, she thought to herself. Swinging in the breeze with a good book, a cold drink, and your every whim catered to by hired staff. She shook her head in amazement for a moment before deciding to give it a try herself. Granted, there was no book to read or staff to serve her, but she had a hammock, a breeze, and the sun shining down on her - what more could she ask for on a fall afternoon? So she carefully steadied the hammock and sat down. Before leaning back, she gently pushed off with her right foot to start the hammock swinging and with it in motion, stretched out fully with her hands behind her head and eyes closed. The side to side motion of the hammock, the heat of the sun on her face, the constant sound of the breakers and the ocean breeze were quickly conspiring to put her to sleep when she heard footprints approaching her.

Sitting up to greet Adam, she was surprised to see Edge instead, looking quite the beachcomber in chinos, a sweater and leather boat shoes similar to hers. Like Raye, he'd chosen to go without socks and she inwardly smiled at the observation. Unlike Raye, however, he'd been smart enough to wear sunglasses. She briefly considered running back to the house for hers but decided against it. I'll just do without for now, she thought. The sun'll be to my back at least half the time, anyway. She stood up from the hammock and stepped back onto the path to greet him.

"Why, hello there," she said, brightly. "Are you the only one who’s recovered from last night or is anyone else awake yet?"

"Oh, no - I'm not the only one," he answered her, with a sheepish grin. "Everyone else is awake now, but I think I'm the only one to have completely showered and dressed - besides Ads, of course. I just saw him upstairs now and he mentioned the two of you were going to walk down the beach. Would you mind if I joined you? I think the salt air would do me well."

She smiled at the sound of Adam's nickname spoken by his dear friend and was once again overcome by the sheer miracle of coincidence that had brought her to be a party to these conversations. Just wait until I have a chance to talk to Sandra, Raye thought. She'll be positively green that I've been right in the middle of this and she missed it.

"No, I'd be happy for you to join us," she told Edge. "It's not a private party, by any means." Still smiling, she silently cursed herself. 'Private party'? Why the Hell did I say that? Now he’s going to think he was interrupting us. That was pretty stupid of you, Raye. As usual, though, she was making mountains out of molehills; the comment didn't appear to give a second's pause to Edge.

"Great," he said. "Speaking of recovering from last night, how are you?" Now it was Edge's turn to be smug while Raye acknowledged her mishaps from the night before. Reaching up to the purplish area on her forehead, she could never deny that she'd not made quite a first impression.

"Actually, after a nice hot shower and a little aspirin this morning I really feel fine, thank you. You'll be able to see the evidence of my meeting the table leg for another day or so, but where I hit my head when I turned the chair over last night is pretty much history. How about yourself?"

"Well, now that I've had a good piece of sleep, a hot shower, and a spot of tea for myself, I feel fine. We were all so tired last night - we should have known better after our flight yesterday and all that food at dinner. But then again, I suppose if we'd used good judgement when it came to drinking and smoking cigars, we wouldn't be men would we?" He gave her a quick wink and a positively blinding smile (so reminiscent of Bono - they must all pick up each other's mannerisms after a while, Raye decided). Damn those Irish and all their charm, she thought. Although, technically, she reminded herself, this one is English and Welsh.

"I wouldn't know," Raye told him. "Last night should pretty much confirmed that I don't know how to use good judgement when it comes to drinking." Adam had rejoined them now, coat in hand, with details on what was going on back at the house.

"Everyone's up and about," he reported. "They're all in the kitchen sorting out some lunch. I told them you had the equipment ready and we'd be back by the time they finished eating." He reached into one of his coat pockets and put on a pair of sunglasses as he spoke. Raye just chuckled softly and shook her head.

"Something wrong?" Adam asked.

"No," she answered. "I was just thinking how much smarter the two of you are than me because you remembered to bring your sunglasses. I was going to run back up to my purse and grab mine, but as long as you guys don't mind leading me back up the beach when the sun blinds me, I'm just going to let them go."

Reaching into another pocket, Adam quickly produced a second pair and offered them to her with an explanation. "You're welcome to borrow these if you like. I usually keep a second pair of nonprescription sunglasses with me for when I'm wearing my contacts."

"Thank you so much," she said, happily accepting the glasses and putting them on. She turned to Edge and asked, "What do you think? Could I give Bono and his Bulgari's a run for the money?"

"Quite possibly'" he told her. "I have to admit that between the two of you, I think you're the much better looking one. Just don't let him know I told you."

"Yes," Adam added. "Bono's unaccustomed to not being the prettiest one in the room."

Raye laughed at their teasing, but felt it was only fair that she defend Bono since he wasn't there to defend himself. "Well, I'm pretty sure that he often is the prettiest one in a room - especially considering some of the company he keeps these days. Besides maybe Tony Blair, politicians aren't the most attractive bunch, you know."

"Yeah, we know," Edge answered with a quick nod to Adam. "Our theory is that's why Bono's been spending so much time with them. He's a beauty queen by comparison!"

"You're both horrible," she told them in feigned shock. "I'm not sure I should be alone in your company."

"So it'll just be the three of us, then?" Adam asked. Raye and Edge answered in the affirmative and they all set out through the wrought iron gate at the center of the back wall and on to the beach. She had to make a determined effort to not let Adam’s last comment turn smutty in her mind as they walked along the shore. And although their conversation was very interesting - local beaches versus Irish ones, and the mutual fascination shared between Ireland and the U.S. - she was still fighting to keep that image out of her head when they’d walked a quarter mile and were turning around to start their return trek.

Not surprisingly, the handshake she'd had with Adam kept coming back to her mind over and over, as well; the softness of his hand, the heat of it against her skin. Truth be told, it seemed she could pinpoint her sudden fascination with him to that very instant. It was pretty obvious to her now that she was in serious danger of making a complete fool of herself by developing a brutal crush on someone who had absolutely no interest in her. She concluded, then, the best thing for her to do the rest of the week was focus on her photography and the finished project - and to take nothing but cold showers from here out.

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Old 03-05-2006, 11:16 PM   #2
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Great chapter, as always! Off to go read the next part since I see you've given us 2 chapters tonight!
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