Monthly Archives: April 2015

By Design – Chapter 15

Eli couldn’t help but be anxious as he waited at the café Gracie had chosen for their meeting. He tried to make himself appear calm, relaxed, cool, but he knew he was failing. The snickering expression on the face of the waitress who passed by his table told him that much. Once again he found himself growing nervous at the idea of spending time with Gracie Parker. He couldn’t figure out why this kept happening. He was a professional. He met with people all the time, even attractive female reporters. He knew how to talk to them. He needed to start acting like it.

Eli forced himself to take a few deep breaths. He was determined to present himself as professionally as possible throughout all of this to show Gracie he was serious. But based on the fact that his nerves seemed to be jumping out of his chest, he didn’t know how professionally he was going to be able to keep himself together.

He looked out the window of the café and saw Gracie approaching the building from across the street. He felt his throat go dry and he rubbed his hands, which were suddenly feeling very clammy, against his thighs. As he tried to calm himself, he couldn’t help but recall Russ’ words from his visit earlier that week. Russ had said it was time for Eli just to accept the fact that there was someone in the world who didn’t like him. Eli scoffed. Never. Perhaps other people resigned themselves to the fact that they had to accept such things, but Eli refused to. Maybe he would never be able to get Gracie to like him per se, but he could at least get her to understand him. And that would be good enough for him.

Gracie came through the door and spotted Eli almost immediately. He couldn’t be positive, but he was pretty sure he saw her sigh in resignation. Was it possible she was hoping he wouldn’t show up? She would have to learn that he was not that kind of person. He kept an appointment when he made one.

Gracie bruskly pulled out the chair opposite Eli’s at the small table and sat down. She briefly rummaged through her bag and pulled out a small recorder. She set it down on the table between them and pressed the record button.

“I’m ready to start whenever you are,” she said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms across her chest. “What is it you wanted to share with me during this exclusive interview.”

Eli was taken aback by her curt manner. She had never been amiable with him, but she had never been particularly unfriendly either. This I-don’t-have-the-time-right-now attitude was not what he had been expecting.

“Alright,” he said in response to her invitation to begin. He did his best to shake off his initial shock and make this an interview well worth her time. But after that, he couldn’t think of what to say next. Before she had shown up he had had it all planned out. He had even rehearsed it even on the way to the café. He had the whole story, word for word, planned to a tee. Now he couldn’t remember any of it.

Gracie emitted a frustrated sigh. She reached across the table and turned off her recorder. “I don’t have time for this,” said as she returned the devise to her bag. “If you’re not going to talk, don’t waste my time. That goes for today and any future meetings we may have.”

She pushed her chair back and got up to leave.

Eli panicked. He pushed back his own chair, barely avoiding knocking it over in the process. At least that got Gracie’s attention, causing her to hesitate. Now that he had her attention, he had to act before she got fed up and threatened to leave again.

“Why don’t you like me?” Eli blurted out. Just like a little kid. It was like he could see his professional persona walking out the door without him. Russ was right—there was something wrong with him.

Gracie just stared at him in response. He didn’t blame her. What else could she do in a situation like this? He didn’t even know how to react to what he had just said. She fell back into her seat and continued staring. Was it pity he saw on her face? He was pretty sure it was. That was the last thing he had wanted from her. He should just stop now before he made things even worse. And yet, he couldn’t give it up.

Eli also sat back down. “I just, I have to know?” he said, his voice little more than a whisper by this point, his embarrassment at his outburst threatening to overwhelm him.

“Is that really what this is all about?” Gracie asked. “All your attempts to reach out to me, it’s because I don’t like you?”

Eli couldn’t raise his eyes to meet her gaze. How pitiful he must have looked.

Gracie just sat silently across from him when he didn’t answer her. Her silence was making him uncomfortable. He wouldn’t blame her if she simply got up and left. In fact, she was so still that he feared she already had without him noticing. He ventured a peek. She was still there, staring at him. Their eyes met and the uncomfortable silence that had come to rest between them became heavier.

Now what?

 

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By Design – Chapter 14

After her weekend at home, Gracie returned to work in a very good mood for a Monday morning. As worried as she had been about getting behind in her work, taking the weekend off seemed to have done her some good. For the first time in ages she felt well-rested and relaxed. Was she behind on her work? Yes, but somehow that wasn’t bothering her. At least for today it wasn’t. Her Monday morning meeting had gone well, Colleen had been sent out of the office on an assignment, so now she would be able to sit down at her desk and work undisturbed for the next several hours until lunchtime.

However, she had barely made it a half hour into her work before the phone at her desk started ringing. The noise startled her and ruined her concentration. Usually, that phone never rang without her anticipating it, the only people calling in being people she had told to contact her. But today she was pretty sure there wasn’t a single call she was waiting on.

The phone rang again.

Gracie picked up the receiver and placed it to her ear. “Gracie Parker,” she announced.

The voice on the other end of the line was a familiar one, but definitely not one she had been expecting to hear.

“Miss Parker. This is Eli Walker. I’m glad I was able to get through to you.”

Gracie felt a small panic within her and had to fight down the urge to slam the receiver back on its hook and end the call.

After her mother’s comment that first day she arrived home, it had taken so much effort to remove Eli Walker from her mind. But she had worked at it and by Monday morning she had managed to forget about him so entirely that she hadn’t thought about him once until he suddenly appeared on the other end of the line. Was it really impossible to get rid of this guy? She was starting to regret not allowing Colleen to take her place at Walker’s Year One event like she had wanted. If only it had been Collen instead of her, she would have been saved so much headache.

“I just wanted to take the time to reach out to you,” Eli said into her ear. “I noticed you seemed a bit disengaged the last time we met, and I think that may have been my fault. I wanted to make it up to you and give you an opportunity to ask any questions you didn’t get the chance to ask last time we met.”

“Are you giving all your other pet reporters this same opportunity?” Gracie knew the comment was harsh, but by this point she didn’t care. She was tired of playing games with Walker. What she wasn’t expecting was for him to admit the same thing.

“To be honest, I have no reason to meet with any of them again. I already know what they have to say. It’s your pieces that keep catching me off guard, and I would like to arrange a time for us to chat so that, hopefully, you can learn more about me and my approach to my public appearance as a young professional.”

Gracie had surely not been expecting that. She didn’t know what to say in response.

“That’s not how it works, typically,” she informed him. “Interview schedules go through my boss. I can’t just walk out on whatever I’m doing and go meet with someone on a whim.”

“Come on. You seem to be your publication’s expert on me. Do you really think your boss would want you to turn down a chance for a one-on-one interview? It’s not the kind of offer I grant frequently.”

Gracie had to admit, he had a point. She released a silent curse at being defeated by his logic. Walker sure did know how to talk his way through situations.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll meet with you. But I don’t want this to turn into some ridiculous to do.”

“You name the time and place,” Eli said. She could hear the satisfaction in his voice and was already regretting this decision.

“There’s a café on 21st street,” she said. “I can meet with you there at noon.”

“Deal,” Eli said. “I look forward to it.”

Gracie hung up the phone and leaned back against her desk chair. She stared at her computer screen realizing the chance of her getting anything else done this morning was highly unlikely. Oh well. What would it matter if she fell just a little bit more behind? Hopefully after today this whole mess with Walker would be settled and she could get back to her life.

Gracie reached into her bag and pulled out her cell phone. She dialed Jeff. As always, he picked up after a single ring.

“Hey. I’m going to have to cancel for lunch today,” she told him.

“Everything okay?” Jeff asked.

“Yeah,” Gracie said, debating how much she wanted to tell him. “I just had something come up with work.” It turned out she didn’t really want to tell him anything at all. She realized that Walker was her problem. She needed to learn how to handle him on her own.

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By Design – Chapter 13

Gracie got out of the cab in front of the old house in the suburbs. She paid the driver, shouldered her bag, stared up at the house and sighed. Her parents had called her the night before asking when she would be arriving home for the weekend. When she told them she had completely forgotten about the holiday, they nearly freaked. She tried to calmly explain to them that she had way too much work to take the weekend off, even if it was Easter, but they were having none of it. So she had gotten up early that morning and called a cab to take her out of the city and back to the house she had grown up it.

Gracie knocked once on the door before turning the knob and letting herself in. She knew the door would be unlocked. It always was. In a neighborhood like this, there was no reason to keep the door locked, unlike the neighborhood where Gracie’s apartment was located.

“I’m home!” Gracie hollered as she stepped inside and closed the door behind her.

“In the kitchen!” came the response from the back of the house. Gracie dropped her back at the foot of the stairs leading to the second floor and made her way to the back of the house where the kitchen was located.

In the kitchen, Gracie’s mother, Ariel, was moving around in a flutter from one station to the next. The stove was running, dishes were in the sink, she had a pile of chopped vegetables on the counter, and the aroma from the oven suggested that something was already baking.

Gracie’s father, Gary, was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, skillfully avoiding noticing that his wife might need help preparing the holiday meal. Gary Parker had never been one for cooking. It was a good thing Gracie had gotten here when she had.

“Hello, Dad,” she said as she rolled up her sleeves and took over at the sink washing dishes.

“It’s about time you made it home,” Ariel said. “I was beginning to think we were never going to see you again. You stay so busy with your work, sometimes it seems like you’ve disappeared completely from this world. The only time we see anything about you is when we read your pieces.”

“So you’ve been keeping up with my articles?” Gracie asked. She was interested in knowing her parent’s opinion about her recent critiques of Eli Walker. She wasn’t sure her parents knew who Walker was, but they had always been honest in their criticism of her pieces, and some honest criticism, unrelated to Walker as a person, was something she could really do with hearing at this point.

“Well of course we don’t have time to read all of them,” her mother said with a sort of amused laugh. “It’s not like we don’t have lives too. I’m in the middle of three different projects right now, and your father is in the middle of a big corporate case. Isn’t that right, Gary.”

Gary Parker grunted in agreement. Gracie had the feeling the response was simply a reaction to hearing his name and knowing he was supposed to respond. Her father seemed much more interested in his newspaper than their conversation.

Even if they hadn’t read the articles per se, that didn’t mean they couldn’t still give her advice about her situation with Walker. “Well recently I’ve been working on several pieces about a new business hotshot named Eli Walker. He owns a web design company called Walk On Designs. He’s very popular in the social scenes.”

“He sounds like a lovely young man,” her mother said as she moved from the vegetables to the stove to stir a sauce that was simmering.

“Well that’s just the thing,” Gracie tried to explain. “Everybody is convinced he is this wonderful guy with absolutely no faults, but I just can’t see it. I mean, there’s something really off-putting about him. After I wrote my first critique, he just started appearing all over my life out of nowhere. It’s like he’s determined to show me he doesn’t deserve negative reviews. With all this effort he’s going through, and everybody else insisting he’s so great, I’m kind of starting to feel bad about writing something bad about him.  I mean, everybody is making me feel like I made a mistake. I just wish I could understand what everybody else sees in him.”

Gracie’s story elicited a distant “hm” from her father. Her mother, though obviously only half listening as she moved around the kitchen, tried to be more responsive. “Well he sounds like a charming young man. It’s nice to see you finally taking interest in someone.”

The dish Gracie was washing clanged against the sink, causing both of her parents to jump and stare at her. “Mom! That’s not what I said at all. Believe me, I am far from interested in him.”

Ariel seemed slightly perturbed at her daughter’s outburst. “Well I’m sorry. How was I supposed to know you were uninterested, the way you were going on about him like nothing else existed in your life. It’s no reason to be throwing dishes around. If you’re not going to do them right, give them to your father to do.”

Gary Parker sent his daughter a look that suggested she better not drop another dish.

Gracie just sighed and resumed her chore. So much for trying to get her parents’ input on the situation. She couldn’t believe her mother had said something like that. Her being interested in Walker. It was enough to get Gracie’s nerves rattled. If only her mother understood the discomfort Eli had put Gracie through, she would have never said such a thing. And yet, now that the seed had been planted, Gracie couldn’t seem to get the idea out of her head. Could it be true that there was, in fact, some part of her that was interested in Eli Walker in some way?

Gracie shook her head, trying to shake the thought away. But it was no use. She was pretty sure that one comment had just ruined her entire weekend.

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By Design – Chapter 12

Eli sat in his office beating his head against his desk. How could he let this happen again? He didn’t even have to read Gracie Parker’s article to know what it was going to say. He read it anyway. Afterwards he wished he hadn’t.

Parker had stated that Eli might want to start putting his resources back into his business to ensure another successful year instead of continuing to blow money and time on so many frivolous events. The luncheon she had been personally invited to by Walker, she stated, felt more like a lame pat on the back than a real opportunity for the media to get to know the entrepreneur. What it really added up to was a chance for him to brag about himself in a more intimate setting.

What was it about Gracie Parker that made Eli get so flustered every time he ran into her? Usually he was so good at interacting with others. He wouldn’t have gotten this far if he didn’t have some form of social skills. But whenever she was around it was like he had to prove himself to her. And he tried so hard only to come off as a conceded punk. By this point, he didn’t blame her for having such a rotten view of him.

There was a knock on the door and Ken stuck his head into the office. “There’s someone here to see you,” he said.

Eli looked at the schedule on his computer screen. He didn’t have any appointments scheduled for this afternoon. “Who is it?” he asked.

Ken shrugged. “A tall kid, black hair. He looks like a college student. He said Eli Walker is his hero and he’s interested in a personal internship with the almighty businessman. His words. I was about to just kick him out, but he insisted I needed to tell you all this.”

Eli couldn’t help but smile at Ken’s description. “Send him in,” Eli informed his assistant.

Ken retreated back out of the room, and in his place a lanky, 21-year-old entered. He was dressed in a T-shirt and ripped jeans. He had black hair and brown eyes and a facial structure so similar to Eli’s that he was surprised his assistant hadn’t recognized it.

“What are you doing here, Russ?”

Russ Walker flashed Eli a smile with all the cocky confidence of Eli’s own professional persona. “I have to have a reason to come check in on my big brother?” he asked. Without being offered a seat, he made himself comfortable in the chair across the desk from where Eli sat.

“I have pretty good idea you’re not here just to say hi,” Eli said, not bothering to hide his suspicion at his brother’s motives.

Russ’ grin simply spread. “I saw recently that you’ve made an enemy in the media,” he said. It was obvious by his expression that he was much more amused by Eli’s relationship with Parker than Eli was.

“Where did you hear that?” Eli asked.

Russ laughed. “Are you kidding? I read everything written about you. It’s research for keeping myself out of trouble. How to avoid dad’s wrath: do everything the opposite of what Eli does.”

Eli just shook his head in response. He should have known. The relationship between Eli and his father had always been a bit of a game to Russ. As children, the two of them were held to the same high standards. The fact that Eli was the oldest son meant their father naturally put more pressure on him to succeed. It was supposed to be Eli’s responsibility to take over their father’s company when the time came. But the fact that Eli wasn’t the only son meant Russ was their father’s fallback plan. Russ had purposely aligned his interests with things their father had no interest in as a way to stay off his radar. However, ever since Eli’s fallout with their father, his attention had turned back to Russ. While Russ was still holding out and trying to use is nonchalant, carefree personality to convince their father that he was not suitable as an heir to the family business, he knew better than to blatantly rock the boat. It was a lesson he had learned from witnessing the fallout of Eli’s past actions.

Eli knew Russ wouldn’t be able to stay out of this family feud forever, but for now it was better that he was able to keep his distance from the mess.

“How is the old man doing these days?” Eli asked.

Russ shrugged. “He’s getting by, I guess. It’s not like I talk to him often. That might give him the idea I’m interested. Besides, there’s no reason for me to go home during the semester. The university has everything I need.”

“So no word on whether Dad has seen these recent reports?”

Russ snorted as he tried to hold back his laughter. “Just like a kid worried about getting grounded for staying out past curfew,” he said with a general air of amusement. “Don’t worry, bro. I’m pretty sure if Dad sees those reports you’ll be the first one to know it. It’s not like I’m going to advertise it to him or anything, but it is the internet; it’s not like anyone can stop him from seeing them.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Eli had expected as much. Russ was right. He was acting like a paranoid child over all this.

“So what exactly did you do to tick this reporter off?” Russ asked, his eyes gleaming with curiosity. So that was the real reason for his surprise visit today.

“In all honesty, I’m not really sure,” Eli admitted. “It’s like our personalities just don’t click.”

Russ laughed aloud. “I’ve got to meet this chick,” he said. “You’ve never not clicked with someone. She must be a real piece of work.”

“If I could just put my finger on it, I could fix this. But I can’t get at it. I have no idea where to even begin.”

Russ stood up and prepared to leave. “I hate to break it to you, bro, but there’s nothing to fix. It’s time you just hang it up and turn in your golden boy card. Join the rest of us in this club of people with people who don’t like them. It’s about time you had your initiation.”

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