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Old 01-30-2006, 11:19 PM   #1
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The Next Best Thing - 7

Lies - all of it. Not a single shred of validity in the lot. In other words, here's more of the FICTION I've been working on.

==============================================

It appeared Leo's prediction was spot on, at least in regards to where everyone was located. He and Raye could hear them the minute they entered the hallway that led past two of his guestrooms and delivered you into the den and library-slash-smoking room. They are a rowdy bunch, Raye decided as she listened to them bantering back and forth with one another, laughing loudly. And what accent was that? It didn't sound British. Hmm, Raye strained to make out some of the conversation, sounds to me like an Irish accent. Now is that Junior or one of his friends, she wondered. She started ask Leo, but he was two long strides ahead of her and already entering the library.

"There you are, you scoundrel", Leo was saying to one of the five. "I told you those cigars were for after dinner; seems you're no better at following directions now than when you were younger. At least I'm in time to preserve the brandy for a while longer. Where are the rest of the juvenile delinquents?"

"Outside on the balcony", was the reply Raye heard.

"Well, come over here and meet the young lady I've been telling you about."

Raye had turned the corner into the library and was approaching Lionel and Son as they turned to face her. Junior looked strangely familiar and she quickly tried to place who he reminded her of: someone at work? No, that didn't seem right. One of her neighbors? No, that wasn't it either. Maybe the manager at her bank?

"Raye", Lionel said, placing a hand on the younger man's shoulder, "I'd like you to meet my son. His name is Paul, but for friends and family he answers to Junior."

Paul stepped forward with his arm outreached to shake Raye's hand. She approached him likewise, still questioning why she felt she knew him. Unfortunately for Raye, it happened to be one of those moments again when she was concentrating so hard on one thing that she completely lost touch with everything else going on around her. If she hadn't been so intent on studying Junior's strangely familiar face, she most likely would have noticed the thick, hand-woven rug covering a large portion of the library's seating area. By the time she did notice it, her feet (her right foot, to be specific) had already made the tragic error of tripping over the edge of the thing.

Raye struggled to regain her balance by withdrawing the hand she was going to greet Junior with and planting it on something solid, but she only managed to succeed in locating a tray table that held six crystal brandy snifters and gave way the moment she touched it. In addition to Raye's maneuver doing nothing to stop her increasing momentum, it also resulted in the tray and glasses being launched into a trajectory across the room.

Oh God!, Raye worried as it became apparent that her plummeting to the floor was imminent, those glasses are probably going to take a week's salary for me to replace. She'd have begun planning where to start looking for replacements, but her free fall had finally come to an end - with her forehead planted squarely and firmly on left front leg of the mahogany side table which held Lionel's humidor and the remaining cigars.

Grace. Absolute frickin' grace, Raye cringed in silence on the floor. The realization that she had just come face to face - literally - with a solid wood table leg began to sink in and she had one final thought before Junior and Lionel's scurrying around her faded away into silence: 'This is going to hurt like a bitch.'

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

Unbeknownst to Raye, the sound of her calamity was heard out on the balcony and had brought the four cigar-smoking visitors inside to investigate. They joined Lionel and Paul in surrounding the couch now, trying to determine the extent of her injuries.

"…think there's any need for a doctor. No - look, she's coming round now. Come see for yourself."

At first she didn't understand how she'd even gotten to Ireland, but then it began coming back to Raye. You're not in Ireland, you dimwit - you're at Lionel's house and that's apparently one of Paul's friends. Who are just getting their first look at me now, she realized with a new wave of embarrassment. Her eyes still shut and her thoughts still a bit fuzzy, Raye began to notice that she wasn't lying on her stomach any longer or on the floor. She was prone and could make out the distinct smell of leather. When did I lie down on the couch?, she questioned herself. Oh man - I've knocked myself out cold. How long I have I been out? It was then that she felt the presence of someone standing over her.

"Raye? Raye, can you hear me?" Lionel was asking. "Should I call a doctor? Raye - are you alright?"

Finally locating her arms and bringing them up to her side so she could rest on her elbows, Raye scrunched her eyes up tight before opening them to the sight before her and trying to answer Leo. First one eyelid, then the other, followed by a quick succession of blinks and Raye slowly gazed up to find Leo, Paul and four other men staring at her with concerned expressions.

"Um, yeah," she answered Leo. She slowly scanned the six faces standing over her before looking back to her left where Leo was asking more questions.

"Yes, you can hear me or yes, I should call the doctor?"

Raye squeezed her eyes shut again and covered her face with her right hand, massaging her temples with her thumb and middle finger for a moment, trying to assess the situation before giving Leo an answer. Finally, eyes still closed, she held up her index finger motioning for Leo to give her just a second. She carefully opened her eyes once again, things more in focus now, and looked over the occupants of the room who stood fast in their places. Now she wasn't so sure that she was OK. Turning onto her left side and slowly sitting up - Whoa, who made the room spin? she wondered - she finally answered Lionel.

"I think I'm OK, but I'm not sure." A few more slow blinks, then eyes wide open as her pupils adjusted to the light and she surveyed the scene around her. Lionel had stepped over to the intercom unit at the entrance to the room and was calling Joy to bring up an ice pack.

"Whattya you mean, yer not sure?", came the question from behind her. Raye turned in the direction of the Irish brogue, but executed the turn too quickly and paid the price with another sharp burst of pain in her temples. Her eyes flew shut and she rubbed her face with her hand again as she turned toward Lionel, the only visual point of reference she trusted at the moment.

"What do you mean, dear?", Lionel asked as he returned to his previous spot by her side.

Raye motioned for him to come closer, and he quickly sat down on the tufted leather sofa beside her. Slowly looking over her right shoulder and then back to Leo, she leaned in close to him, as if to share a secret.

"Did I knock myself out?" she asked him in a hushed voice.

"Yes, you did." His was equally as quiet.

"How long was I out?"

"Not very. Just long enough for Paul and I to lift you onto the couch and for me to pick up the phone. I was just before dialing my physician's number when you came to. Shall I call him now?" He continued to speak in the same muted tone as Raye, and as the goose egg on her forehead really began to pound out a beat, she was eternally grateful for this small mercy.

"I'm not sure I'm OK", she began to confide in him, staring at the floor. "I'm afraid I'm having some kind of hallucination."

"Hallucination?" Lionel sat upright and spoke not at all calmly now - there was genuine worry in his voice.

Raye kept her head down, but still felt the five pairs of eyes resting on her and she shivered, as if that would shake them off. So much for privacy, she thought, and once again leaned toward Lionel to continue the conversation. Couldn't they just bug off for minute? Give her a second to collect herself and speak to Lionel in private? Why didn't they make themselves useful and go get that ice pack that Joy was supposed to have ready?

As though she'd spoken out loud, Lionel suddenly addressed the gawkers and sent them on that very errand. Understanding now that they'd been infringing on what Raye wished to be a private conversation, she watched out of the corner of her eye as five pairs of feet shuffled en masse out of the library on their way to the kitchen.
When she was absolutely certain they were well down the hallway, she straightened herself up and turned to face Lionel.

"Yes", she answered him earnestly, "a hallucination."

"What kind?" Lionel asked.

"Well", Raye began, "it's strange, really. I, I see Paul and his friends, but… "

"But what?" He was bordering on frantic now and had all but made up his mind that there was no question a doctor should be called immediately.

"But…mmm, it's like they have other faces."

"What in Heaven's name are you talking about?"

"It must be the bump on my head", she reasoned. "This is going to sound absolutely insane, but - well, when I look at them I actually don't see them. I see somebody else; somebody famous." Raye looked at Leo with the worried expression of one who has just confided their most secret thoughts and is waiting to see if the listener will run screaming from them in the opposite direction.

Leo didn't run screaming, but it did seem to Raye that his worry was somehow turning into amusement. What in the Hell could be so funny about me knocking myself silly?, she began to wonder, getting pretty irritated with her host. Chuckling because you caught me singing in my car is one thing, but laughing at me when I may have a closed head injury is just damn rude!

He couldn't hide the smile from his face as he asked her exactly whom she saw.

"This isn't funny," she scolded him. "I'm seriously having a hallucination brought on by cracking my skull on the furniture and you find that amusing?" Raye's indignation was getting the better of her now and any respect for her elders was just about to fly out the window. Her head was throbbing - where was that damn ice pack, anyway? - but if Leo was going to be blatantly rude, she'd give him an ear-chewing and then leave. Her stuff was still downstairs in the foyer, anyway; it'd be awkward, but she was pretty sure she could get everything in one trip. Chance of a lifetime or not, she wasn't going to tolerate someone being a jerk to her.

The smile quickly disappeared from Lionel's face. "I'm sorry," he answered her, "I'm not making fun of you at all. I'm honestly concerned for your health and think it's time I get my doctor on the phone. I just need to know what conditions to describe to him. Tell me what you see, dear, so I can help you."

He seemed sincere enough. Raye decided he had one more chance to prove that he was, indeed, the sweet grandfatherly gentleman she'd thought him to be. She took a deep breath and bared the results of her bump on the head to him.

"I told you this was going to sound crazy, but… When I look at them, I see the faces of the band I was listening to when I drove up tonight. Paul's friends, that is. When I look at Paul, I see their manager. So I definitely hit my head pretty hard and think that I should go to the hospital or see your doctor if he'll come here."

Raye couldn't believe it, but she thought she saw the slightest hint of a smile return to Lionel's lips as he asked her, "So you're telling me you see U2? And their manager - Paul McGuinness?" He stood up then and took a few steps from the couch, keeping his back to her.

"Yeah," she answered. "You know who I'm talking about?" Raye's surprise temporarily trumped her re-ignited anger. She was truly perplexed how in the world a man in his seventies would possibly know anything about her favorite band.

"Oh, absolutely. And it's a relief, actually."

"'It's a relief'?", she quoted him incredulously and stood up to face him eye to eye. "What do you mean by that?"

Lionel poked his head out into the hallway before turning around to answer her. When he did, there was no mistaking the full grin on his face, erupting into laughter.

"I mean, dear child," he said between chuckles, "I'm relieved that you aren't seriously injured. My son is Paul McGuinness and his mates are U2."

Lionel continued to chuckle as Raye stared at him dumbfounded, her mouth gone slack and her eyes widening. It was at that very moment the five persons in question walked back into the room.

"Ah, she's standing," Edge said. "Will you still be needing the ice, then?" Raye was pretty sure that the most amazing guitar player on the planet was indeed in the same room as she and had, in fact, just spoken directly to her. She was also pretty sure she'd forgotten exactly how to breathe. Or swallow. Or talk. Or perform any sort of motor skill.

"Maybe she's not alright," Bono was saying. "She looks kinda' peaked, if you ask me."

Raye suddenly regained control of her limbs - sort of. She managed to fall backwards onto the sofa, and the reality of who she was in the presence of began to take hold. Her headache was momentarily forgotten, but she couldn't ignore the fact that this was going to be the most surreal Thanksgiving she had ever experienced. Nor the fact that she was about to set a personal record for being unconscious twice in less than a half an hour.

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

OK, take a deep breath; exhale. Good. Now - open your eyes. Raye made a concentrated effort to raise her eyelids but they simply would not cooperate. They were as disobedient as the rest of her body which, so far, was practically frozen on the couch. Alright, she belittled herself, unless you plan on levitating this damn couch out the door with your fat ass on it, you’re going to have to open your eyes and stand up so you can walk the Hell out of this house! She’d almost gathered the courage to face the twelve eyes curiously examining her, when one of them spoke and ruined her concentration.

“She’s not moved in a minute and a half; did she faint or just die?” Based on that no-nonsense observation, Raye knew the comment could only have been made by one person: Larry Mullen, Jr. Never one to suffer fools lightly, it was obvious he was making no exception for her, although they’d not even been properly introduced yet. She would have liked to have believed that his compassion for the plight of a stranger or at least some amount of good old fashioned chivalry would have earned her kinder words. But then again, she reasoned, she had been parked in front of them like a deaf-mute for what seemed like hours. In all honesty, questioning whether she still had life in her probably wasn’t so far-fetched. With one more deep, cleansing breath Raye forced her eyes to flutter open.

And there was definitely no denying the scene in front of her. In the flesh, within reach of her grubby paws (if she were so inclined to grab at them) were four of only six men who had ever starred in any of her sexual fantasies. Raye knew without question that if Mel Gibson and Matthew McConaughey had also been present she wouldn’t have fainted, she’d have simply burst into spontaneous combustion and would have been nothing but a memory in less than thirty seconds. Suddenly, one of her most recent nocturnal storylines raced to the front of her mind and Raye blushed so vividly from neck to scalp she was sure her earrings were going to melt. The six of them were smiling at her now. It was irrational, but Raye was sure they knew what she was thinking and it was all she could do not to slam her eyes shut and never open them again.


“Aye,” Bono announced, “she’s alive after all. The dead may open their eyes occasionally, but I’m sure they don’t blush like that.” He flashed a wickedly sexy smile at her and even granted a small wink. Oh God, Raye pleaded silently, could I please just evaporate this very minute? She patiently waited for the vaporization of her various body parts. When there was none after several seconds, she took her Creator’s answer to be a solid ‘No’, and knew the only way to end this humiliation was for her to stand and find her voice. With one more deep breath, she brought her palms to the edge of the couch for leverage and pushed for lift-off. It took a greater effort than she would have ever believed, but she managed to bring herself to her feet and stand on her own power.

Raye waited for Lionel or Paul or one of the others to say something; start the introductions, make a joke – anything. They, in turn, were apparently waiting for her to start conversation and there was an awful moment of pure silence as seven adults stood silently looking from one to another. Finally, Raye decided she’d have to take the initiative or they’d be there all night. She just hoped the words that had formed in her mind sounded like English when they were spoken aloud.

“I’m, um, I apologize,” she started, but her voice sounded like she'd been gargling crushed glass. Blushing again (but much more lightly now), Raye cleared her throat, held her head a little higher and started again. “I apologize for making such a scene. Obviously, I’m not terribly graceful so it’s lucky that Lionel’s furniture is high quality. If not, I might have demolished the entire room.” She didn’t feel like it, but forced a weak smile anyway, hoping to give the appearance that she was being light-hearted about the situation. She just hoped she wasn’t completely transparent. A couple of sympathetic smiles and a few chuckles told her she was succeeding with her act, so she carried on. “It must also be painfully obvious that I am surprised – to say the least – to learn who Leo’s guest are for the week. Luckily, I don't go all ‘crazy fan girl’ about celebrities; I just quietly faint instead of screaming and jumping like a lunatic.” Having finished her comments Raye gave another half-hearted smile and then simply stood silent, wringing her hands and waiting for someone else to speak.

Edge took the honors this time, offering the forgotten ice pack to her. "Here," he said gently, "you'll be wanting to use this. You're going to have a nasty bump there pretty soon; the swelling's already started. And it's nice to meet you, Raye." He smiled at her and for reasons Raye couldn't pinpoint or understand, she wanted to giggle like she'd had an overdose of nitrous oxide. Instead, she shyly reached out to take the ice pack and managed a quiet "Thank you" before bringing the ice to her forehead. She grimaced at the initial coldness against her skin, but quickly learned to be thankful for it. Realizing that her head was surely about to split in two, she gingerly sat back down on the couch and tilted her head back to keep the icepack in place.

Leo found his voice and had finally spoken up. "Lads - this is Miss Rayelle Galloway. Raye is staying with us this weekend as my guest and official photographer. Raye," he spoke to her directly now & she took the icepack off her forehead so she could see him, "I gather that you are already familiar with these gentlemen?" Raye sat glued to her spot, convinced that surely she was still unconscious and dreaming this all up; it couldn’t be happening. But there they stood, and here was Leo introducing them like it was a normal occurrence, and there she was nodding at each one as they spoke their official hello’s to her, looking something like a slow motion bobble-head doll. It must be real, she decided. I’ve dreamed of meeting U2 for years and years and now that it's happened, instead of handling it like an intelligent adult, I’ve turned into a bumbling, raging idiot. And as if I needed any more proof of that fact, there stands Adam Clayton not three feet away, looking at me like I just told him that he was my favorite drummer in the world.

"Yes," she answered him softly - her regular speaking voice felt like rusty ice picks plunging into her temples at the moment. "You could say that I'm very familiar with them. I've only followed their careers for the last 23 years, I own every album they've ever made, I've seen them on tour ten times and I used to have an entire room in my house dedicated to U2 memorabilia."

Bono immediately perked up at Raye's admission. He quickly stepped around Paul and Leo to perch on the couch beside her. "A fan are you?", he asked her. "Well, then - we're all going to get along just fine, aren't we?" He flashed another impossibly beautiful smile at Raye and looked around at the others for their support. They all nodded politely - except Larry. Raye wasn't certain because of the jackhammers in her head, but she was pretty sure he muttered something under his breath about 'another drooling female' and Bono's 'bleedin' ego'. Note to self, Raye thought, Larry is not to be trifled with. Although she was positive he wasn't annoyed with her, she none the less wasn't at all interested in being on the receiving end of the nasty glare he was casting her way. She quickly hid behind the icepack, bringing it back to her forehead and obstructing her view of Mr. Mullen.

"Bono, give her some room to breathe," Paul told him. "She's had a nasty fall and no dinner. Best thing for her now - for us all - is to get some food in our bellies." Bono slid a few inches away from Raye and as she looked at him from the corner of her eye, he batted his lashes and pursed his lips in a playful pout before breaking into a brilliant smile. Christ, he can't be human Raye thought as felt the heat crawling back up her face. She quickly stifled it by turning her attention back to Lionel.

"Excellent idea," he was saying. "Let me call down to Joy and see if everything's ready." He hadn't yet reached the intercom when the speaker boxed squawked and Joy's voice could be heard announcing that dinner would be cold if they didn't get downstairs immediately. "Well, that answers that question, doesn't it?", he asked with a chuckle. "Let's all go have our Thanksgiving meal, shall we?"

Raye stood up again, with the help of Adam who'd offered his arm to her out of nowhere, it seemed. She looked up at him with a thankful smile and he returned one of his own to her. She'd never realized before just how tall he was or how gracefully he moved. And that he was so terribly dapper with his crown of silver hair. Looking over the four of them Raye decided they were all a virtual feast for the eyes and that she was the luckiest duck on the planet to have them all to herself for Thanksgiving. The thought brought a little smirk to her face and as Leo ushered them all downstairs, she found herself relaxing as she leaned a bit more than was really necessary on Adam, who seemed happy to allow it. The 'lads' were all laughing and carrying on amongst themselves as the group descended the stairs, but Raye didn't hear a word they said; she was caught up in her own little happy place, trying to pinpoint exactly what she'd done to deserve such a reward.

Maybe there's been a mix-up with the Man Upstairs, Raye considered to herself as they approached the dining room. Maybe this isn't my reward at all, but someone else's. Oh well, she reasoned, it's the holidays and God's probably too busy protecting all the travelers until Monday. I'll just wait until then to get this all sorted out. In the meantime, I have myself, four unbelievably hot men, a camera and probably two hundred rolls of film - I am definitely going to enjoy this!
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Old 01-30-2006, 11:46 PM   #2
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Great chapter! I love how clumsy Raye was - I totally could see myself falling on my ass or fainting in front of them.

Please update again soon! I love your writing, and can't wait to see what is going to happen next.
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