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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