By Design – Chapter 8

After stepping into her apartment, Gracie secured the lock and leaned back against the door, allowing herself a moment of reprieve as she released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She didn’t know why she was shaking so. It wasn’t like she had never met someone she had critiqued on the street before. She just hoped he hadn’t followed her home. She had been too nervous to look back and see whether or not she had truly left him behind.

But now she was safe behind the deadbolt of her apartment door. Gracie peeled herself away from the door and moved into her small, galley style kitchenette. She reached into the dishwasher full of clean dishes she had never bothered to put away and found herself a wine glass. There was an unfinished bottle of wine on the counter. She pulled out the cork and poured herself a glass much fuller than etiquette dictated. Glass in hand, Gracie moved to her old, worn out sofa and took a completely unlady-like gulp of her drink. She needed to get these nerves under control.

She had barely been able to keep herself together in front of Eli Walker. But she had been determined not to let him see how unnerved she was by his sudden presence outside her workplace. It wasn’t that it was impossible for him to find her. One thing about being a reporter who worked for a public company, it was easy for anybody to find where she worked. The question was why. Could Colleen have been right about his inability to take criticism? Gracie had to admit that when she had first turned around and seen him standing there she had been terrified that he was there to chew her out over what she had written about him. The last thing she was expecting was for him to ask her to sit down with him over a cup of coffee. And she definitely didn’t believe he had been there by accident like he had pretended. She couldn’t help but wonder how long he had stood outside her building waiting for her. The thought made her shudder, and she took another gulp of her wine. What a creeper.

As her buzz set in, Gracie’s nerves started to settle. At least her hands had stopped shaking. She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and scrolled through her contacts until she found Colleen’s name. She knew this encounter was something her friend would want to know about. But she hesitated before placing the call, her thumb hovering over the name on the screen.

Was this really something she wanted Colleen to know about? Colleen’s obsession with Walker was already driving her crazy and had managed to make her paranoid as well. (Though could her unease really be considered just paranoia? He actually did show up at her workplace looking for her.) No. This was definitely not something she needed to share with Colleen. The stream of questions from her coworker would be unending. And she really didn’t have the patience to deal with that right now.

Gracie continued scrolling through her contacts until she found Jeff’s name. She wasn’t entirely sure this was something she needed to get Jeff involved in, but at least he would be someone she could talk to without feeling like she was being interrogated on her relationship with Eli Walker.

Jeff picked up after the first ring. “Hello?”

“Hey, Jeff. Are you busy?”

“Not really,” Jeff said. “I just got in from work. What’s up?”

“You want to meet up for a drink?” Gracie asked. She looked down at the class of wine in her hand. As if more alcohol is what I really need. “We can meet at the bar down the street from my place?”

“Is everything alright?” There was genuine concern in Jeff’s voice. He had always been one to assume the worse. He would be disappointed to find out she was being so bothered by such a trivial encounter.

“It’s nothing,” she insisted. “I just wanted to get out for a bit. And it’s no fun drinking alone.” She looked again at the glass of wine in her hand. It really wasn’t fun drinking alone. It was sad. Perhaps she shouldn’t have drunk so much so quickly. She was beginning to feel a bit bad about it.

“Alright, then. I’ll meet you there in just a few.”

Gracie hung up the phone and grabbed her purse. She would get there before Jeff, but that was alright. The walk down to the bar and the fresh air would do her some good.

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