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Old 01-25-2006, 10:28 PM   #1
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The Next Best Thing - 6

This is the last "chapter" for a bit. I have more written, but I want to get further ahead than where I am now before I post any more. Thanks for reading it anyway, and remembering this is a complete fabrication!
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Raye’s Pathfinder crossed the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge at 3:45 p.m., “Numb (Dignity mix)” blasting from her car stereo, and she silently congratulated herself for her stellar driving skills. Even on a holiday afternoon, traffic in Wilmington could be troublesome and Raye liked to believe that it was her skill in choosing the fastest, least congested route that had her arriving on time. Actually, she was slightly ahead of schedule since she’d be at Lionel’s in about five minutes; this only served to further convince Raye of her driving prowess. She took advantage of the extra time by slowing a bit as she crossed the bridge to enjoy the view of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The IW flowed smoothly beneath the drawbridge, carrying a sailboat south towards Banks Channel. Pleasure boats of every design and size, plus some of the beach’s larger fishing charters, were moored at the marina and dockside restaurants along either side of the water. A group of pelicans floated along in front of The Hungry Mermaid, no doubt confused by the seafood shack’s vacant waterside dining area, usually full of patrons happy to toss tidbits of bread or the occasional shrimp to the birds. The sun had sunk low enough into the afternoon sky that it no longer threatened to blind you as it gently lit the water, unlike during midday when the reflected rays could pierce right through even the highest quality sunglasses, if just for a moment. The oranges and pinks of the sky contrasting against the silvers and blues of the water just begged to be caught on film or a sketchpad or a canvas and Raye actually felt a pang of guilt that she lived in area so full of natural beauty, yet she’d not taken a single opportunity in over eight years to get out and shoot it.

Well, she thought as she crossed the bridge and left the waterway in her rearview mirror, I’ll certain fix that this coming week. She was already mentally framing up shots on the beach with Leo and Junior, and providing the weather didn’t turn on them, she hoped the final project would be comprised of about 50 percent outdoor poses. In fact, Raye had already started working on what she thought the final design of the collage should be. She wasn’t sure just how much creative freedom Leo was going to afford her, but she had the feeling that aside from a few general comments about what he wanted the overall effect to be, Leo had commissioned her for this piece and he would leave the presentation of the final product entirely to her discretion. For the first time in years, Ray had herself a project that would actually encourage her artistic tendencies and it was if a dam had burst in her mind. She could barely concentrate on the task at hand – driving her truck without incident – for all the ideas floating around her head about the layout of the pictures: the backgrounds she wanted to use, poses, lighting effects, the number of color shots versus black and whites.

She didn’t realize just how much trouble she was having concentrating until she suddenly noticed that she’d already made the turn onto Ocean Drive and was just before passing Leo’s house. A quick check in her mirrors confirmed no one was behind her so Raye stepped hard on the brake and managed to make the right turn into Leo’s circular drive without hitting his curbside mailbox. The caterer’s van was still parked in the driveway so Raye pulled several feet to the left of it and parked alongside the edge of the drive, careful not to let the Pathfinder’s tires come to rest on any of Leo’s well-manicured lawn. She cut the ignition, but didn’t exit the vehicle. One of the unexplained features of her Pathfinder was that the radio or CD player would continue to play for three minutes after the ignition was shut off, so long as none of the vehicle’s doors were opened. Raye was thoroughly enjoying her little private U2 concert and saw no reason to end it until the current track was finished.

She preoccupied herself with making sure she didn’t leave the keys in the vehicle, thereby locking herself out; checking her purse for her cell phone (just in case work called – she was on vacation but never wanted it said that she couldn’t be reached if it was an emergency); and lowering her driver’s side visor to take a final glance at her hair in the vanity mirror (would it ever look like it did when she left the salon?). Satisfied that she looked at least presentable, Raye closed the mirror and folded the visor back into position. Singing the final lines of “Salome” out loud, she reached over to where her purse rested in the passenger seat and dropped the keys in, while attempting to open her driver’s side door with her free hand. When it wouldn’t budge, Raye turned to her left (still in full song) so she could investigate the problem. Standing at the door with a sheepish grin was Lionel, attempting to open her door and clearly enjoying the shade of crimson that was creeping over Raye’s grimacing face. She slowly let go of the handle and Lionel stepped back, opening the door for her.

“I was trying not to startle you”, Lionel told her. “I walked the caterer out and saw you’d arrived. When I realized your stereo was turned up and you couldn’t hear me, I tried to gently get your attention. It seems you were rather…involved in the song.” Raye knew that Leo was sincere, but even in the dying daylight, there was also no denying he was absolutely enjoying her embarrassment. She exited the Pathfinder and did her best to regain her dignity.

“Yeah”, she replied, “I tend to get focused on one thing and ignore everything else around me. Since the only places my singing voice sounds good are in the shower and my truck, I felt I needed to finish the song before I headed inside.” True to her description, Raye noticed for the first time that the catering van was, indeed, gone from where it had been parked not five minutes ago. She’d never seen it leave the driveway.

Leo chuckled and said, “Well, I’m certain your singing voice is lovely in any acoustical setting, but if your performance is over, I’d love for us to go inside and meet my guests. And by the way: Happy Thanksgiving!”

Raye smiled at the compliment and answered, “Um, yes - the performance is definitely over. Happy Thanksgiving, yourself.”

With that, Leo suddenly enveloped Raye with surprisingly strong arms for a gentleman of his age and gave her a polite snuggle. As quickly as he’d put his arms around her, they were back at his own side and he had stepped out of Raye’s ‘personal space’. Nothing the least bit indecent, but just exactly what you’d expect from someone who was terribly fond of you. Raye once again got that grandfatherly vibe from Lionel and she found herself completely at ease, ready to meet Leo’s visitors and face the week ahead. She decided then and there that Leo’s fondness for her was absolutely reciprocated.

*******************************************************************************************************

Raye tried to talk Lionel out of unloading her car that very moment, but he'd hear none of it. He didn't want Raye to even carry her own luggage, but as she pointed out to him while he stood holding her camera case, tripods and the flash unit, he was at a biological and physical disadvantage -- he'd only been granted two arms by Mother Nature. Although he was less than appreciative of her smart-aleck observation - and told her as much - he couldn't argue the point. So their entrance in the house began with Lionel carrying all her equipment and Raye with her purse, toiletries bag and suitcase in tow. (Her largest one, of course - the medium one was just too small).

The walkway at the bottom of the front stairs was tastefully decorated for the season with two large pumpkins on either side, each flanked by five of the largest potted mums Raye had ever seen. As they made their way up the stairs to the front landing, a wreath of Indian corn and gourds hung from the front door. Raye wondered aloud who did Leo's decorating.

"Actually Daneen and her mother, Kim, take care of that most of the year. Whatever they aren't able to sort out on their own is managed by a few young men who work for my lawn service. Things like hanging the exterior lights at Christmas or the setup of my tree; the physical things that are just too dangerous or too daunting for the ladies. It's actually a wonderful arrangement for everyone - I provide the funding, Daneen and Kim provide the decorating know-how, and the lads provide the physical labor. I don't have to shop, Daneen and Kim get to shop, and the gentlemen made a bit of side money for themselves."

"Well I don't know about Daneen and her mother", Raye said, "but I certainly like the idea of being able to shop with someone else's money! They've done a wonderful job, though, and I'd love to tell them so. Will they be joining us tonight?"

"No, they've gone to be with Kim's sister in Charleston and won't be back until Sunday afternoon. Maybe we'll have them over for late tea and you can ask them to share all their secrets with you."

The two had a good laugh as they stepped into the front foyer and began to carefully set down all Raye's accoutrements. As they entered the empty great room, the smell of turkey and candied sweet potatoes was beginning to drift in, signaling that it was almost time for their own Thanksgiving feast. Oddly though, except for Leo's part-time housekeeper busying herself in the kitchen with the final preparations for dinner, it appeared that no one else was in the house. The lights were on in the dining room, and Raye could see a beautifully set table, but no occupants. Lionel stepped over to the French doors and took a quick look out onto the deck, but no one was there either.

"Do you think we've been stood up for our dinner date?", Raye teased Leo.

"Not a chance of that, dear", he answered. "Firstly, they haven't a car of their own and they don’t know where I keep the keys to my private vehicle. Secondly, there are no pubs, er, bars open this evening for them to sneak off to. And finally, the caterer, myself and Joy had to run them out of the kitchen when dinner arrived to keep them from attacking the bird and eating it with their bare hands! They're hungry and could only leave by foot, but there's no place open worth walking to. So they're definitely here and believe I know where we should start looking. Care to join me? We could get the introductions done and then come back down for dinner; Joy should have everything ready in no more than thirty minutes."

"Sure, I'm looking forward to meeting Junior and his - 'mates', right?"

"Practicing your Queen's English, are you?" Leo chuckled. "Yes, the word is 'mates' and quite a crew they are. I believe they're all probably up to no good already."

"Why on Earth would you say that?" Raye asked with a laugh.

"Because", Leo replied, "I have a humidor upstairs freshly stocked with some excellent Cuban cigars that the boys were given explicit instructions not to touch until after dinner this evening. There is also some brandy I've been saving for the occasion that was off limits until later. I'm quite positive they retreated directly from the kitchen to my lounge and have already started without me."

Leo began the climb up the stairs to the second level with Raye just on his heels. She thought they certainly sounded like a rowdy group but couldn't help wondering if Leo was truly upset with them. It was hard to tell while following him up the stairs: Raye didn't know if Leo's quick ascension was fueled by anger that his quests may have deliberately ignored his directions or by his desire to not miss any of the fun. She certainly hoped it was the latter; the last thing she wanted was to start her holiday weekend off with an ugly scene before dinner was even served.
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Old 01-26-2006, 02:37 AM   #2
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Oooo, I'm enjoying this story. Brave of you to write so much without getting into the "fanfiction" part and let us come up with our own wacky theories. Your writing style is rich and descriptive, very cool, and I can't quite place what it is about your heroine but she's different. I like her. I like Leo too. I believe there was a "his self" on the 2nd or 3rd chapter that you may or may not feel like fixing- but you're a very good writer. I'd love it if you posted chapters as they come to you, but however you want to do it! Keep up the good work.
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Old 01-26-2006, 09:03 AM   #3
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I like it so far...well written...look forward to more!
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Old 01-26-2006, 05:23 PM   #4
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Well, finally! Yer posted more! You don't know just how long I've been waiting for this... Actually, yer prolly do; since your last chapter. Something like Chapter 2. And I see you have a title!

Anyway; bleeding well hurry up with the next part! Because I'm still a-ravenous!!!
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Old 01-26-2006, 07:48 PM   #5
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you write so well
the way you describe everything and still keep us hanging onto every line you write


look forward to more
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Old 01-26-2006, 11:09 PM   #6
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You guys are too nice - even if I didn't feel like writing anymore, I'd have to finish this story now because you've all shown so much interest. This being the first thing I've written in AGES and my first ever fan fic, your encouragement means sooooooo much. Thank you all again.

(And I continue to write every chance I get, SC - that just hasn't been much lately so it's slow going right now. )
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Old 01-27-2006, 12:12 AM   #7
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Thanks so much for updating! I love this story, and can't wait for the next part. Keep up the awesome writing!
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Old 01-27-2006, 02:31 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by BluRmGrl
You guys are too nice - even if I didn't feel like writing anymore, I'd have to finish this story now because you've all shown so much interest. This being the first thing I've written in AGES and my first ever fan fic, your encouragement means sooooooo much. Thank you all again.

(And I continue to write every chance I get, SC - that just hasn't been much lately so it's slow going right now. )
Good, good. As long as you aren't quitting this fan fiction.
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Old 01-28-2006, 11:22 AM   #9
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Yeah!! I found another chapter!!
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