By Design – Chapter 1

Gracie burst through the front door of her office building and made a beeline for the elevator. She pressed the button roughly fifteen thousand times, hoping to signal to the machine that it needed to hurry up. It didn’t. Gracie glanced at her phone. 8:15am. She had never managed to be quite this late before.

The cheery ding! of the elevator, signaling its arrival, pulled Gracie away from her phone. The doors opened at their own leisurely pace, and Gracie darted inside, frantically pushing the “door close” button as soon as she was inside.

It was amazing how slowly the elevator crept up the building, inching its way from one floor to the next, when she was in a hurry. Yet when I’m alone inside with some cute guy it takes no time at all to move from the first floor to the fifteenth. When the door finally opened on her floor, Gracie took a deep breath and did her best to compose herself. The trick was to look like she was confident she had arrived to work exactly when she was supposed to, and not a moment later. As long as she believed it, others would too… at least she hoped.

When she walked in the office, she was greeted by the typical daily bustle. Writers were typing away on their computers, editors were moving quickly from one desk to the next, picking up pieces that needed working on and chatting with the writers about what corrections needed to be made. And Gracie’s boss seemed securely locked away in her private office at the other end of their building space, which meant she hadn’t seen Gracie walk in almost twenty minutes late.

Allowing herself a sigh of relief, Gracie made her way to her desk, plopped down in her chair, and turned on her computer.

She checked her email first. No new assignments had been sent her way overnight. It was just as well. She was still working on a personal piece that she was dying to finish. She was hopeful that this piece, regarding the culture of the rising young professional class, would be the one that would help her make a name for herself. Though she loved her current job, she didn’t want to remain at the bottom of a long line of writers forever. She wanted to prove she had what it took to write an article that would make some noise in the community. Determined to get some good work in, Gracie pulled up her article and began reading the last few lines where she had left off the night before.

“Don’t think you’re getting out of real work that easily,” a voice said from behind her. Gracie turned in her seat to see Colleen standing casually against the siding of her cubical. Colleen did just about everything casually, so Gracie couldn’t help but be suspicious of the lopsided grin her friend wore as she stared at her.

“How much trouble am I in for being late?” she asked.

“Seriously?” Colleen asked, arching an eyebrow. “I don’t think anybody even noticed. Things have been a bit swamped here this morning with everybody preparing for the new issue to go out tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Gracie said. “Lucky me.”

“Lucky you indeed,” Colleen informed her as she handed Gracie a folder that had been tucked away under her arm.

“What’s this?” Gracie asked, taking the folder from her friend.

“Your new assignment,” Colleen informed her.

So much for working on my own piece. Gracie opened the folder and read the invitation inside. A local web design company was hosting a party to celebrate the success of their first year in business. Gracie didn’t know much about the company, but she had of course heard of them. The owner and founder of the company was on every business magazine’s list of up-and-coming big shots in the business world.

Gracie sighed at the contents of the folder.

“Are you really complaining about getting to go to another black-tie event for free?” Colleen asked. “I would kill to have been assigned that piece.”

“You want it?” Gracie asked. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the perks of her job—like getting to go to events she would never have dreamed of being invited to otherwise—she just didn’t much like the idea of having to deal with the young male owners that typically hosted these events. They were all the same: entirely convinced that they were the best thing to ever walk the face of the earth.

“I wish,” Colleen said. “Unfortunately I’m already assigned to something that night. But you have to promise to tell me all about Eli Walker when you get back. I saw his picture on the cover of a business magazine last month. So cute!” Colleen’s brow furrowed and her face molded into a frown. “Why is it you always get the good assignments?” She walked off shaking her head, evidently still considering her final statement.

After Colleen was gone, Gracie turned back to her computer and reopened the folder she had been handed. Eli Walker’s web design company was called Walk on Design. She had heard it mentioned again and again over the last few months. They were supposed to be one of the best at what they did. So perhaps throwing themselves a party for being so successful wasn’t completely overdoing it.

Gracie opened her web browser. In one tab she looked up Walk on Design. She wanted to learn everything shoe could about the business before she showed up to celebrate it. In a second tab, she looked up the owner, Eli Walker. The wealth of pictures that the search result returned was overwhelming. Without meaning to, Gracie found herself getting sucked in as she clicked through them. She had to admit, Colleen wasn’t wrong about Walker’s physical appearance. He was tall, lean, had shiny black hair that seemed to always be perfectly set, and deep brown almond-shaped eyes. He seemed practically flawless. Still, his kind had never really been her type. But if I were some other girl…

“Oh, one more thing—”

Gracie scrambled to minimized her search window. She could feel her face growing hot and really hoped Colleen had not just caught her staring at the images on her computer screen like a preteen girl drooling over some boyband heartthrob.

“What is it?” she asked, trying her best not to look embarrassed.

If Colleen noticed anything, at least she had the decency not to mention it. “Does that invite say you can bring a guest?”

“Um…”

“Can I come with you? I’m sure I could get out of my other thing.”

“The date says January 31st. Isn’t that the same night as the fundraiser you were assigned?”

Colleen frowned. “Yeah, but that’s not going to be anywhere near as exciting?”

Colleen made a move to sit down on Gracie’s desk to continue chatting, when her name rang through the office. “COLLEEN!

She was barely able to catch herself before she slid off the side of the desk, startled. “I guess that means the boss lady read my most recent submission. This should be fun.” Colleen walked up to the boss’s office like she owned the place, leaving Gracie to herself, and a bit impressed by her friend’s composure after such a summons. But that was Colleen for you.

After Colleen disappeared behind the boss’s door, Gracie turned back to her computer and restored her search window. Eli Walker’s photograph stared back at her. Gracie narrowed her eyes as she studied his image. “Well, Mr. Walker, you sure do have my attention. Now let’s see what kind of an entertainer you are.”

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