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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