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Old 01-25-2006, 10:24 PM   #1
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The Next Best Thing - 5

“…it’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away…” Raye woke up and realized she was singing along with U2 before she was even really awake. Hmm, she thought to herself. Singing U2 songs in my sleep – wonder if that means I have an obsession? Oh yeah, she decided with a smile. I am definitely obsessed. She reached over to her bedside clock radio and turned the volume up a bit.

“Maybe that’s a sign that today won’t be so bad”, she announced out loud as she stretched and realized that today was the day – Thanksgiving. Like it or not, she’d be having dinner at Lionel's this evening and meeting his guests. Not wanting to face her still-present apprehension about it just yet, she snuggled in the covers some more and concentrated on the rest of the song.

U2 had long been another of her great passions, and their music seemed to comfort Raye more than anything else that she knew. Listening to them when she was angry, nervous, or just plain down in the dumps always soothed her – kind of like curling up with a big, soft blanket. Their music enveloped her, made her feel safe, gave her a sense of stability, and inspired her. Raye knew that probably sounded ridiculous to other folks, but she’d stopped caring what people thought of her interest in the band years ago. Their songs, their message - most everything about them suited Raye and if other people thought it was strange that she should put so much stock in “just a band”, then too bad! She couldn’t help it if they didn’t recognize brilliance when it was right in front of them. Besides, the less people interested in them, the easier it was for Raye to get tickets to U2 events and that was just fine with her. She was already saving for their next tour in the States, especially since she planned to see them several times. Her co-workers and friends didn't understand it (with the exception of San - she completely got it and planned to attend several shows with Raye), but it was how Raye revitalized her mind and soul. Some folks would go on a vacation, some would go to church - Raye went to a U2 show.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on the radio. “…but you’ve got no destination. You’re in the mud, in the maze of her imagination…” The rest of the song faded into the background as Raye sat up in bed and stared at the radio. “‘You’ve got no destination’? Thanks a lot, guys – that hurts”, she said as the band played on. “I guess you made your point, though; I need to do this. And the truth is I’m more excited about taking these pictures for Leo than I am scared. So, I’m going to stop talking to the radio and start getting ready before the Funny Farm Police come to take me away.” Raye laughed to herself, and threw back the covers. Standing up to stretch her back, she felt a burst of energy and realized that she was actually giddy about getting to Lionel’s. This might really be the start of something interesting for me, she decided as she headed into the bath to start her shower. “I’m going to take a chance, for once, and just ride this thing to where ever it takes me”, she announced to her reflection in the mirror.

She jumped into the hot, steamy shower determined to scrub away the negativity and doubt from every pore of her skin. She had secretly wanted something more out of her life for quite a few years now – regardless of the front she put up for everyone else – and this just might be that ‘something’. She thought of all the other opportunities that had come her way over the years and how she'd turned them down, because they never seemed to be the responsible thing to do. Well, dammit, she'd decided, she was tired of living her life the way other people thought it needed to be. She didn't answer to anyone but herself and although she couldn’t be certain, Raye worried that if she turned down this opportunity, there wouldn’t be another one behind it; she really would live out the rest of her years ‘toiling in misery’, as San had put it. And the prospect of that happening was so terrifying to Raye that, even in the heat of her morning shower, she realized she was shivering. Quickly, she forced herself to focus instead on the vigorous shampooing of her hair, and what equipment she’d need to take to Lionel’s for the week.


Large tripod, small tripod. Camera case that also held assorted lenses, an electronic flash, and a light meter. A couple of lens hoods, some extra batteries and an old second-hand studio flash unit that'd been tucked away in the spare room closet for God knows long. I could probably be mistaken for somebody who knows what they're doing, Raye decided as she looked over her equipment. Hell, I might even be somebody who knows what she's doing! Another once-over told her that she had everything she needed. Lionel had insisted that she allow him to purchase all the film, so she had provided a shopping list for him the last time they’d spoken. Not knowing exactly how many shots she was expected to take, she'd told Leo to 'just pick up several rolls of each speed' and to be sure some of the rolls he purchased were black and white film. Raye smiled to herself now, imagining the cornucopia of film that must be waiting for her at Lionel's.

Satisfied that all the camera equipment was ready, Raye turned her attention to her suitcase. She was perfectly happy to drive home each night - after all, it was just 20 minutes from her house to the beach - but once again, at Leo's insistence, she was to stay at least the holiday weekend with him. Leo said it was to keep her from wasting precious gasoline with a bunch of unnecessary driving and from being alone on the roadway late in the evening. Raye's argument that she drove hundreds of miles each week by herself for work didn't win him over and, in fact, just garnered her a reprimand for putting herself 'in harm's way'. She didn't bother to ask Leo what he would suggest she do, since driving was a huge requirement among her job duties. She was certain he'd have an answer for it though and it'd probably involve some form of her coming to work for him. The man had a reply for everything it seemed.

Raye suspected his real motive was just to not have an empty home for the holiday. Granted, Thanksgiving didn’t mean anything to the British, but Leo was living in the States and a holiday was a holiday. She was fairly certain, too, that if there was ever a time when he must miss Catherine, it would be when he knew other families were spending time together. Besides, once he'd pointed out that he had staff to cook and clean for them, Raye didn't see how she could tell him no. 'Consider it as though you were staying in a hotel for the weekend. A very fine hotel, mind you', he'd told her over the phone, 'but a hotel none the less. And with a private, oceanfront room as well.' Raye could just imagine the gleam in his eye and smile on his face as he said it, knowing he had found another weak link in her armor and that she wouldn't turn him down. Domestic chores were something that Raye had never enjoyed or perfected, so anytime she could get someone else to do them for her she jumped at the chance.

So she found herself freshly showered and scanning her closet for clothes suited to spending a holiday weekend with people she didn’t know. She certainly wasn’t interested in packing any of her regular stuff. Sure, khakis and button-down shirts were practical, but in the spirit of breaking out of her normal routine, they were stricken from the “Eligible Attire” list. Instead, Raye reached for several pairs of blue jeans: three that she’d had long enough for them to fade into a soft powder blue and begin fraying a bit around the hems, two others that were crisp and brand new, having never even been worn. All the missed opportunities for dinner and nights out passed through Raye’s mind again, and she was briefly overcome by a wave of regret for all the time she’d wasted in her life trying to live up to some unrealistic standard she’d dreamed up of exactly how an adult was supposed to act. I wonder if Mom and Dad were such sticks in the mud too?, Raye thought.

Raye’s parents had been killed in an auto accident when Raye was just three years old and other than a few fuzzy memories, she really didn’t know much about them personally. Her father’s parents were already deceased at the time of the accident, so Raye had gone to her maternal grandparents to be raised. They were wonderful people and gave Raye a loving home to grow up in, but she couldn’t help wondering, because of their advanced age, if they’d unintentionally forced her into maturing beyond her years. It didn’t help that her Grandfather had passed away during her first year of high school and Raye’d gone to work to help her Gran with the household expenses. At the time when her friends were all involved in school sports and dating, maybe working a few hours a week for pocket money, Raye was working to pay for groceries, utilities and the other necessities of living. The house her grandparents owned had been paid off for years, so there was no danger of Raye and Gran being kicked out into the streets, but Raye had always felt that she needed make every effort not to inconvenience her grandparents anymore than they already had been by being forced into raising her, and so she insisted on working to earn her keep. She had faithfully turned over half of her paycheck every week to Gran from the time she started working until Gran died the summer after Raye graduated high school. She’d learned early in life how to put her nose to the grindstone and not think about all the frivolous activities her peers were involved in but she’d never learned how to actually participate in such frivolities on a regular basis. Needless to say, her social calendar throughout her teenage years and even up until now was a barren wasteland.

Raye’s trip down her own dull Memory Lane was suddenly interrupted by the ring of the telephone. She quickly dropped the jeans into her suitcase and stepped over to her bedside table to see who was calling. Her caller ID displayed “ARRINGTON P.L.” and she smiled as she answered the line.

“Hello, Leo – worried I’m not going to show up?”

“Not at all, my dear”, came his reply. “I’m simply calling to see if you’d like my driver to pick you up in about an hour. He’s just delivered my other houseguests and they’re unpacking the car now. Before I sent him off for weekend and to his own Thanksgiving feast, I wanted to see if he needed to make one more trip.”

Raye was reminded again that she wasn’t dealing with her average acquaintances; everyone else she knew drove their own vehicles. She was entertained by the idea of being picked up by Leo’s driver, in full livery uniform, and what her neighbors would think of her newly acquired status in this world. But there was no way she could be ready in an hour –there was still a lot of packing for her to do. “Leo that would be an absolute kick for me”, she told him, “but I won’t be finished packing in an hour and I don’t want to keep that gentleman from his family.”

“Good heavens, my dear! You’re not packing for month-long cruise; what could possibly take so long?”

“Leo,” she laughed, “For one, I have to consider what the weather is like this time of year. The forecast is for cool temperatures, but if it warms up during the week I don’t want to have packed nothing but sweaters and sweatshirts; I’ll roast! Secondly, if we happen to go out to dinner one evening, I’ll need something appropriate for that. And since I don’t know if this would be a formal or casual dinner, I have to pack things suitable for either.”

“Ah, yes – the trials and tribulations of packing for the fairer sex”, Leo interrupted with a chuckle. “I’d forgotten how many suitcases Catherine used to pack for just a weekend away; thank you for that brief glimpse into female reasoning. How about this, then: you continue your packing and just come at your leisure - when should we expect you?”

“Let’s see, what time is it now?” Raye asked, as she consulted her clock radio. “OK, it’s 2:20; mmm – is 4 o’clock alright for you?”

“That will be fine; the caterer is due round at 3:30 so you shouldn’t miss a thing. We’ll look for you in about an hour and a half from now.”

“Four o’clock it is then. See you in a bit!”

Raye returned the phone to its cradle and consulted the clock again. I better get a move on, she decided. Trying to calculate whether she’d need her largest suitcase after all, Raye set about choosing the rest of her clothes and packing her toiletries. By 3:30, everything was loaded into the Pathfinder and she was giving the house a final walk-through to check for unlocked doors or windows and such. As she passed by her CD case, she made a quick sweep over her selections and decided it was a good day for “The Best of U2: The B-Sides, 1990-2000”. Not as good as seeing them live, she thought and headed for the car, but it’ll do for now. She was already humming the first track to herself.

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Old 01-28-2006, 11:00 AM   #2
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I've just read thru all of the chapters.
I really like this story.
Can't wait for more !
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