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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