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.