Monthly Archives: May 2015

By Design – Chapter 19

Jeff checked his reflection in the mirror. It was far from perfect, that was certain. But it would have to do.

He had gotten off work early after finishing a major project and had come straight home to shower. Work had been hard and he had worked up more of a sweat than he was comfortable with. While he was cleaning up, he came up with a great idea. A new restaurant had opened nearby. It was one Gracie had mentioned wanting to try last week when they went by it. Tonight would be as good as any for giving it a try.

As soon as he had gotten out of the shower, Jeff had dialed the restaurant and made a reservation. Gracie had had a lot going on lately. A surprise dinner was something she would definitely be up for. It would help her unwind and forget about work—and Walker—for a while. That seemed to be just what she needed.

After the reservation had been made, Jeff played the scenario through in his head. He had everything planned out. This would be a surprise for Gracie. He would meet her in the lobby of her building. He shouldn’t show up empty handed. He would stop on the way there and pick something up for her. Flowers? Candy? No. Something a bit more personal. He would leave early to give himself time to find the right thing.

She would be surprised to see him there; that would be a given. He considered calling her and letting her in on his plan for dinner. He would hate for her to unknowingly pick tonight to stay late at the office and catch up on work. But he decided against it. If she knew that he planned to take her out, she would say no. She always said no. Perhaps she hoped that if she said no enough, he would eventually give up. But that wasn’t going to happen. He refused to let that happen. So he decided not to tell her. She would be a bit upset by the surprise, but she would still say yes. After everything was all set up, she would feel bad to say no. It was something he had learned about her over the years.

Jeff checked his reflection one more time. It was the same. He was going to have to be content with it. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He felt himself getting nervous. Why was it that, after all this time, he still got nervous every time he was planning to meet with Gracie? He should be over those first date jitters by now. But perhaps it was because they had never officially had a first date. Any time they went out together could turn into their first date. It was what he kept hoping for. But he knew he couldn’t make it too obvious. He forced himself to take a few more deep breaths to calm himself. He looked down at his watch. He needed to get going if he didn’t want to miss her as she was leaving her building for the day.

She was going to enjoy this, he told himself. Everything was going to be great.

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By Design – Chapter 18

Eli pulled into the drive of the large, Victorian style house and turned off the ignition. He sat with his head against the steering wheel and tried to compose himself. He knew he had to go inside, but more than anything else, he really wished he could just turn the car back on and drive away without having to step foot inside. Still, it had been ages since he had last been home. What kind of a son would he be if he didn’t at least let his mother see his face?

With a sigh of resignation, Eli got out of the car and stepped up to the front door and knocked. Coming home hadn’t been his idea. He had been summoned. Apparently his father had finally seen Parker’s negative reviews of Eli and his business. He wanted to talk. Russ had been right—they couldn’t keep their father from noticing forever.

The front door opened. “Hello Gladys,” Eli said to the old woman who stepped aside to let him enter. Gladys had been working for Eli’s family since he was a child. She had always been a part of the family.

“Your father is in his office,” Gladys informed him as she shut the door behind him. “Your mother is in her room.”

“I’ll see my father first, I think,” Eli said. “Better go ahead and get this over with. I can get myself there. Thanks, Gladys.”

Eli left the house maid behind and headed down the hall. His father’s office was on the first floor of the house, near the back. The window in the office looked over the grounds in the back. It was a spectacular view, but one that Eli had never had the pleasure to enjoy. When he got called to his father’s office, there usually wasn’t much of a chance for admiring the view.

Eli reached his father’s office and knocked before opening the door and letting himself inside. His father was sitting behind a large mahogany desk, his glasses resting halfway down his nose as he looked over the report in front of him. He glanced up over the rims of his glasses to watch Eli enter.

Russell Walker gestured at a chair on the opposite side of the desk from where he sat. “Have a seat,” he said.

As Eli sat down, he tried to remember if he had ever entered his father’s office without feeling like an employee who was coming in to be fired. He couldn’t recall a time.

“I have seen some interesting reports in the news recently,” Russell Walker said. He handed a file to his son. Just as Eli expected, when he opened the folder Gracie Parker’s articles stared back at him.

“It’s just one reporter,” Eli said. As soon as the words hit the air, though, he knew his father would hear them as an excuse. He was right.

“When you came to me asking for start up money, you informed me that you were going to create a business that no one would ever be able to find something negative to talk about. What happened?”

Eli knew he was going to have to choose his words wisely. “I am working on it,” he said. “You know very well that businesses like that aren’t built overnight. Miss Parker is a tough person to sway, but she’s coming around. Just like I promised, Walk on Design is a business that no one will be able to find something bad to say about. But building that kind of reputation takes time. And if you are successful, which I have been, there will always be those who will look for something negative to say.”

“Then it is your responsibility to make sure they don’t find it,” his father informed him. “This woman says you are cocky and ungrateful. These are not qualities I want associated with my name or my money.”

Eli realized his hand was clenched in a fist at his side. He made a conscious effort to release some of the tension in his body that had built while he was listening to his father speak. “Yes, sir. I understand,” he said through clenched teeth. “I promise I will get it done. Is there anything else?”

“Just know, if you don’t get your act together, I will intervene in that mess of a business you’ve created under my name.”

“Noted,” Eli said. He stood and walked out of the office without even uttering a good-bye. He and his father had grown past such pleasantries long ago.

Once outside the office, Eli took a couple of deep breaths to calm his nerves. He had to go see his mother next, and he didn’t want her to see him all worked up. It would only make her worry. Once he felt calmed, he made his way up the stairs to his mother’s room. He knocked softly before entering.

Inside, his mother was sitting in the window seat in her room reading a book. She looked up and smiled at him as he walked in. “Eli,” she said. “It has been such a long time since you have come by.”

“I know, mother,” he said. “I apologize for that.”

His mother stood up and hugged him. “Everything has been going well, I hope? I hear things have been going well with your company if nothing else.”

At least she seemed proud of what he had been able to accomplish over the last year. Why couldn’t his father ever see any of the good he had done? Apparently his mother could see the disappointment on Eli’s face.

“Don’t take your father’s words too seriously,” she told him. “You know how he gets when it comes to business. He just wants to see you boys succeed.”

“He just wants to make sure his name and money succeed,” Eli corrected her. He didn’t mean to sound cynical, but it was difficult to cover up his emotions at the moment.

His mother smiled at him. “Your father just doesn’t know how to express himself sometimes. What comes out as concern for his name is really a concern for you boys.”

Eli wasn’t sure he believed her, but he wasn’t going to argue it any further.

“Have you seen your brother recently?” his mother asked. “You know I worry about him being in the city by himself. How is he doing?”

“Russ seems to be doing just fine,” he assured her. “He came by my office last week. I think college is suiting him well.”

His mother seemed satisfied by his response.

Eli looked down at his watch. There was still so much that he needed to get done today. Especially after talking to his father, he knew there was work to be done.

His mother saw him checking the time. “You have to leave already?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But I promise to come visit again soon. And don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep Russ out of trouble.”

 

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By Design – Chapter 17

Gracie poured two glasses of red wine much fuller than social etiquette allowed, and brought them into the living room of her apartment where Colleen was waiting to take one from her.

“Why is it that the work week seems to just keep getting longer and longer with each passing week,” Gracie mused aloud. It was finally Friday evening. Gracie had started to fear that it would never arrive, but now she finally had some time to herself to just relax and unwind from the stress of the office.

“I don’t see what you’re complaining about,” Colleen informed her. “I’ve learned a few things about you this week which were unexpected. Apparently it’s not just Walker who seems to be obsessing over you lately. You seem to have a whole party of attractive men following along in your wake.”

Gracie raised her eyebrows, suspicious. “What on earth are you talking about?”

Colleen set down her glass and leaned forward. It was the stance she typically took to indicate she had entered gossip mode, which only made Gracie more wary about the information she was about to receive from her coworker.

“I didn’t say anything because he seemed like he didn’t want me to, but I’ve been dying to talk to you about him?”

“Who?” Gracie asked. Now she really was concerned. Had someone been talking about her behind her back?

“You had a visitor come by the office the other day,” Colleen informed her.  “He looked so lost and confused coming into the office, like a puppy. I tried to help him the best I could, but when you weren’t in and I offered to leave a message for you that he had stopped by, his face just went bright red. He was so embarrassed. It was adorable.”

Colleen had always had a thing for guys who expressed shyness. But for the life of her, Gracie couldn’t figure out who would have come looking for her at work. “Did he give his name?” she asked.

“Jeff, I believe he said,” Colleen informed her.

Of course. Gracie rolled her eyes and leaned back in her seat, completely losing interest in this entire conversation. “I can’t believe he would have come to my office,” she said.

“So you do know him?” Conversely to Gracie, Colleen’s interest in the topic seemed to have spiked. “How do you know him?”

“He’s an old friend from college,” Gracie explained.

Colleen raised her eyebrows, apparently amused. “It seems like he is looking to be something more than just a friend,” she said. “He was thoroughly concerned about you. Why not go for it?”

Gracie couldn’t contain her laughter at the suggestion. “Believe me, I am well aware of what he wants,” she said. “But it’s not going to happen. I’ve told him this repeatedly, but he just won’t give it up. Anyway, can we talk about something else now, please?”

Gracie could see the amusement on Colleen’s face at her getting so flustered over the topic. “So where were you when Jeff came by?” she asked.

Gracie should have known only Colleen would have the special gift of moving away from one uncomfortable topic only to bring up something even worse. She considered making something up, but decided it wasn’t worth it. Colleen would find out the truth soon enough anyway.

“I was at an interview with Eli Walker,” she said.

Colleen’s eyes grew wide. “Seriously? I didn’t really think you were still dealing with him. Where did this come from? I didn’t see it on the schedule. Did he call you to set it up? Was it a lunch date?”

Gracie had been prepared for the bombardment of questions. “Yes. Out of the blue. He called me. And, maybe?” Gracie had to admit, she wasn’t quite sure if her meeting with Walker had remained professional enough to call it a work meeting. After his outburst, the whole feel of the interview had changed into something else entirely. He had opened up to her much past what his professional persona would have allowed. True, Gracie hadn’t responded on the same level, but she felt part of that was due to the fact that his attitude had changed so drastically so suddenly that she hadn’t quite known how to respond to it.

Colleen was fishing for more details. “What do you mean maybe?  Did you have a good time? What happened? Are you going to meet with him again?”

“It was very…awkward,” Gracie stated truthfully. “He is a very high-strung guy and his nerves seemed to get the better of him. I thought he was going to have a complete breakdown. It was kind of pitiful really.”

“Really? How pitiful?”

Colleen had entered gossip mode again, and Gracie suddenly felt bad, as if she had said too much. Walker spent so much time building his professional persona, what right did she have to tear that down by blabbing about his outburst to the one person who would be certain to spread the news all over the office. None.

But then again, why did she even care? It wasn’t as if she owed anything to Walker. His public image was not her problem; she had made that clear in the articles she had published on him, countering the whole city’s pristine image of him. Still, after seeing him so vulnerable, she couldn’t help but sympathize with him. Perhaps she had been unfair to judge him so harshly without ever speaking to him. Either way, what occurred at their meeting earlier that week was something Eli wouldn’t want others to know about. It should stay between the two of them.

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By Design – Chapter 16

Jeff stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the eighth floor. He had never been past the lobby of this building before. He had never felt it would be right of him to go beyond that, like he would be intruding on Gracie’s personal space if he did. Perhaps he was intruding now. But he rationalized that now was different than it had been in the past.

He tapped his fingers against the folder in his hand. This was his pretext for dropping in. The folder contained documents on the business Gracie was hoping to look into for the feature she was working on. It was a personal piece she was passionate about, not something assigned for work; he was well aware of that. But she spent a lot of time at work working on it. Surely she couldn’t get irritated with him for dropping off the information he had gathered for her per her request.

He had initially intended to give her the folder over lunch. But Gracie had called to cancel earlier that morning. He knew he could just wait until the next time they hung out to give her the information, but something about Gracie’s sudden cancellation had made him uneasy. Of course she had said nothing was wrong. She would never admit to something bad happening, not until she had already made it better. He had known her long enough to know she was someone who typically wanted to handle her problems on her own. But some problems she shouldn’t be dealing with by herself, and something about her sudden phone call made him believe this was one of those problems.

The elevator door opened and Jeff stepped out onto the eighth floor.  The magazine’s office entrance was directly across from the elevator. He pushed the door open and was immediately overwhelmed by the commotion within. People were moving from one end of the office space to the other, shouting back and forth. Jeff was pretty sure there wasn’t a single desk chair being occupied; everybody in the office was up and about. Doing what, he couldn’t even begin to guess. But if he sat around thinking about it for too long, he was going to lose his courage in coming up here, and he didn’t want to leave without verifying that Gracie was okay.

He grabbed the arm of the next person who walked by close enough for him to do so. “Excuse me,” he said. The girl he had grabbed looked up at him, confusion written on her face. “Could you help me? I’m looking for Gracie Parker.”

The girl blinked a couple of times and shook her head, as if clearing it from a haze. “Yeah, sure,” she said. “What do you need with Gracie?”

Jeff held out the folder he had brought with him. “I have something to drop off with her,” he said.

The girl held out her hand to take the folder from him. “I can put it on her desk for you,” she said.

Jeff pulled the folder back, just outside of her reach. “I’d rather hand it to her myself,” he said.

“Okay,” the girl said, though she seemed a bit wary of his request. “I’m Colleen, by the way” she said by way of introduction. “I actually have been out of the office all morning on an assignment, so I don’t know if Gracie is in, but I can take you by her workspace. I was actually headed by there myself.”

“Thanks,” Jeff said. He followed her on a winding path through the cubicles until they finally reached Gracie’s workspace.

“It looks like she’s not around,” Colleen said with a frown as she poked her head into the cubicle. “Hm. She’s probably working on something related to Walker,” she mused aloud. “It seems to be all she does recently.” She sighed. “I wish I wasn’t so jealous.”

Jeff frowned. What was it with this Walker guy? It seemed like every woman he talked to was hung up on him. It was weird, and he didn’t like it.

“She’s been working with Walker a lot?” he asked, trying to get a bit more information.

“Quite a lot,” Colleen said. “She keeps saying she can’t stand the man, but she sure does spend a lot of time on him not to like him. Then again, Gracie’s not really the type who would admit to liking anybody. In fact, I’m not even sure she’s the type who would realize if she did like somebody.”

Jeff didn’t know how close to this woman Gracie was, but Colleen seemed to know a good deal about Gracie and her character. Perhaps they were friends. There was a part of him what wanted to ask. But he didn’t want to make too big of a deal a deal of this visit.

“Would it be weird for me to wait here until Gracie got back?” he asked.

Colleen smiled, apparently amused. “Probably,” she said. “At this time of day, there’s no telling when she will be back. I can let her know you dropped by though,” she offered. “What did you say your name was, again?”

“It’s Jeff,” Jeff said. “And you don’t have to tell her that I came by.” He was suddenly embarrassed by the fact he had even done so, and now that he thought about it, he didn’t want Gracie to know about it. “I’ll just give her this some other time.”

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