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Old 01-25-2006, 10:23 PM   #1
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The Next Best Thing - 4

The month of November was fairly uneventful at Hanover Claims. It was typically a slow part of the year for most major losses; no longer hot enough for serious hurricanes or thunderstorms and the lightning they brought, not yet cold enough for fireplaces and their hazards. The lighter workload gave Raye a chance to focus on her pending project with Lionel and figure how the Hell to get out of it. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were reserved for reasons why she should call Leo and just cancel. The Tuesdays, Thursdays and the weekends were for trying to convince herself it wouldn’t be a disaster. It was the last thing on her mind each evening and the first thing on her mind every morning. The Friday morning before Thanksgiving was no exception and the best thing for it, Raye knew, was to get Sandra on the phone immediately.

"What in God’s name was I thinking to tell him yes?!” she asked her best friend since, well - forever. "I mean, San, think about it - I don't really know this man! I've spent a total of about 6 hours in his company, and I have the word of his Girl Friday - who is also virtually a stranger to me - but I've got no way of knowing if he's a total loon or what! How am I going to get out of this?" Raye really did hate to start Sandra's day with yet another of her problems, but San was just so good at making sense of things. And besides, Raye had all but decided over the course of their friendship that Sandra actually craved these early morning meltdowns. It gave her a challenge; something to identify, attack and defeat. She was so ruthless that Raye was pretty sure San had been either a defense lawyer or a tyrannosaurus rex in a past life.

Sandra's exasperation wasn't disguised or diluted any by the fact that she was on the phone, 200 miles away, instead of right in front of Raye. "Jesus on a bicycle! It’s not even 9 o’clock in the morning and you’re already neurotic and paranoid - great combination, kid. If you're so concerned about the man, you've got the means to run a background check on him; do it!"

"But…" Raye started, only to be cut off.

"No 'buts'", Sandra was saying. "Look, when’s the last time you were paid to do something you truly love? And what if Leo’s really pleased and uses some of his connections to get you a professional assignment? You could get published, maybe even have a showing at a local gallery - really get some attention for yourself. You could quit the boring day job that's sucking the life out of you and do what you really want to with your life."

“Stop that right now!” Raye spat back, with a little more anger than she meant. Immediately, she regretted it and began to repair the damage. “I'm sorry, San - that was totally uncalled for. I’m just making myself a wreck about the whole thing. The idea of someone paying me to photograph them - Hell, wanting me to photograph them in the first place - after all these years terrifies me, to be quite honest with you. And my job is not 'sucking the life' out of me.”

"No? Well it sure ain't enhancing your life any, is it?" That was actually a hypothetical question and Sandra had no intention of stopping her tirade to let Raye answer. She was on a mission now and didn't plan on letting it go until Raye got her head out of her rear-end and agreed to do things Sandra's way. "Besides, what pray tell is there to be afraid of? You've been trained, you've got experience, and you've had a camera in your hand every day for at least the last five years, haven't you? You're bound to have figured out the contraption by now. And I don't want to hear a bunch of bullshit excuses about 'It's been too long since I did portraits' or 'My daily work isn't the same as taking pictures of people' or whatever other whiney-assed reasons you're going to try and give me. I've seen what you're capable of, dear. My wedding pictures, for example, are absolutely stunning - "

"You just say that because you're in them", Raye tried to interject. It was like trying to stop an avalanche with a picket fence. "My point is - "

"You don't have a point", Sandra cut back in. "And while, yes, the subject matter of my wedding photos was indescribably gorgeous, don't tell me you can't do this because you're not talented enough. I still have people compliment those pictures and Dave and I have been married over seven years now! Why won't you let yourself be happy? This is a golden opportunity for you; even if Leo and the guys at the developing lab are the only ones that ever lay eyes the pictures, you'll have done something that gives you absolute joy and - bonus here - you'll have been paid for your trouble! The worst that will come of it is that you remain an obscure, undiscovered genius, silently toiling your life away in quiet misery. Oh wait - you're already living the worst-case scenario. So see? Things can only get better for you." Sandra finished ranting and waited patiently for Raye to absorb the wisdom that had been bestowed upon her.

"Remind me again why I put up with your abuse?", Raye asked playfully.

"Because I'm brilliant and you love me."

"Yeah, OK… 'brilliant'. We might want to discuss your gross lapse of reality with your doctors. Have they increased your medication like I suggested?"

"I have a perfect grasp on reality", Sandra answered, "you're the one who is obviously in need of help. You can't see what's right in front of you and trying to insult me won't change the facts. You need to do this for the health of your soul - if you still have one. You pass this chance up, Brick, and when you start to whine about how 'I should have done this' or 'Oh, if only I'd done that' - and you will whine if you let this go - so help me, I'll drive down the beach if I have to and punch you right in the mouth."

"Hey, no fair with the name calling", Raye playfully complained, ignoring Sandra's threat of violence (but not entirely sure she wouldn't follow through with it). 'Brick' had been San's somewhat playful reference to Raye's tendency to be 'as flexible as a brick wall' once she'd made up her mind about something. It was also a jab at the fact Raye was often proven terribly wrong about her decisions; San had said she'd never known any other functioning human being 'with a head so full of bricks'. The name stuck and San used it whenever she felt Raye was making a horribly misinformed choice - which was generally the opposite of whatever Sandra thought she should do.

"Well then, stop being stupid", was Sandra's blunt answer.

"OK, OK", Raye finally conceded. "Don't you ever get tired of being right? Never mind, don't answer that. Tell you what I'll do - when we hang up, I'll call the office to check on my vacation. Unless it's been cancelled, I'll go out to Leo's next week, eat some turkey, hang out with the houseguests, and flutter about blinding them all with flashbulbs. How's that sound?"

Sandra suspected Raye was trying to find a way out of her promise. "And just why would your vacation be denied? You've not been anywhere all year, you were out sick only two days that I know of, and Jimmy'll let you have anything you want if you just ask him."

"Jimmy's not the pushover you think he is", Raye answered. "He doesn't just give me carte blanche around here - I've got to toe a line just like everyone else. Anyway, about the vacation - remember I told you I've been covering extra territory while Barry Warner was out on medical leave? Well, he's supposed to be back the Monday after Thanksgiving, which means there'd be coverage for me to take time off. But if Barry's doctor isn’t going to release him by then, Jimmy can't afford to have 4 counties with no adjuster for a week. And whether he'd give me anything I wanted or not, Jimmy won't give me a week off if it'll jeopardize his business."

"That's understandable. But you still can't back out on Leo - you've already promised me!"

"God - you don't ever stop, do you; how does Dave stand it? But no - I won't back out. Just, without vacation time, I'll only be able to photograph indoors, that's all."

"Good", Sandra answered, satisfied that she'd gotten her way… again. "And don't you worry about Dave; he loves it that I don't ever stop."

They both had a good laugh and finished up the call, confident that no matter what, San was right - the worst that could happen is that nothing at all would come of it. And like so many other aspects of Raye's life, she was already accustomed to nothing happening, so at least she wouldn't be overly disappointed.
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