Monthly Archives: June 2015

By Design – Chapter 24

Chapter 24

Eli pushed open the door to his family’s house and reluctantly stepped inside. Gladys was there to greet him as he knew she would be.

“You best be getting into the dining room,” she said to him as she hurried him along. “Everyone else is waiting on you.”

It wasn’t like he hadn’t called ahead to let them know he was caught up in traffic and would be late. “Thanks,” he said and made his way into the dining room.

Just as Gladys had said, he found his entire family already inside sitting around the table waiting for him. His father sat at the head of the table, his mother to his right and Russ to his left. No one was speaking when he walked in. He wondered how long they had all been sitting there in silence before Eli had arrived. There was no sense in asking. Eli took his seat beside Russ and was served a glass of wine.

“We are honored that you could accommodate us with you having such a busy schedule,” Russell Walker stated, eyeing his eldest son.

“Father, he told us he was running late.”

Eli put his hand on Russ’ shoulder to stop him talking. “It’s alright,” he told his brother. “I do what I can to accommodate this family. I always have. Even when it means leaving an important meeting early to try and beat traffic to make dinner.” He could tell his father didn’t appreciate the comment.

His mother, on the other hand, seemed genuinely concerned. “Is it going to affect your business, you leaving to come here? We could have postponed if it was important.”

Eli flashed his mother a smile, trying to convince her not to worry. “It’s not a problem,” he assured her. In actuality, it was a problem—a big problem. He and Ken had been meeting with their lawyer regarding the copyright lawsuit that had been brought against them earlier in the year. Apparently the problem wasn’t going to go away as easily as they had hoped. Eli had felt horrible leaving the meeting early; it didn’t really help his appearance as someone who cared about his business. But he had told the lawyer that it was a family emergency, and he knew Ken was capable of finishing up the meeting on his own.

“Now that we’re all finally here, I have an announcement to make,” Russell stated from the head of the table. “As you all know, the time for my retirement is fast approaching. It has come time for me to publically name my successor.”

Eli could feel an insult coming, and took a gulp of his wine to calm himself.

“I had initially intended to hand this company over to Eli when the time was right, but as you are all well aware, he has chosen to go another route in life and abandon this family’s legacy and his inheritance.”

Eli held his tongue, but it took all his effort to do so.

“Therefore, I have decided to name Russ my successor instead.”

Russ sputtered beside Eli, the wine he was drinking spraying everywhere. Eli took his glass from him while Russ coughed a few times, trying to regain his composure after their father’s unexpected announcement.

Their mother spoke first. “Russell, are you sure—“

But Russ cut her off before she could finish. “You can’t name me your successor. I don’t know the first thing about business. I’m majoring in theatre if you’ve forgotten.”

“That will have to be fixed,” he father said in response. “Tomorrow when you return to school, you will apply for a change in major to business management. The college is not far from my office. After your classes each evening, you will come to the office and start interning with me so that you can learn the ropes. With any luck, you will be more than fit to take over by time you graduate in two years.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Russ muttered as he sunk into his chair.

Eli couldn’t stand to see his brother’s usual flair so flattened. “Father, don’t make Russ do this. You know it’s not his style.”

Russell Walker flared. “You lost your say in what I do with this company when you walked out on us two years ago.”

Now Eli couldn’t hold it back. “Who walked out?” he demanded. “Am I not sitting right here?”

“Boys, please…” his mother’s plea was soft, pained.

“Can I be excused?” Russ asked. Eli couldn’t help but notice how much he looked like a dejected child.

“Of course,” his mother said.

Russ got up and left the room. Eli also stood up.

“Where do you think you’re going?” his father asked.

“I also would like to be excused,” Eli said with the best fake smile he could muster. He walked out of the room before giving his parents the time to reply.

Eli found Russ on the back porch, leaning against the rail with his head down. “Are you OK?” he asked.

“Not really,” Russ said without lifting his head.

“I’m sorry,” Eli said.

Russ looked up at him. His eyes were wet. Eli wondered if he had been crying. “Can’t you just make up with Father and do what he wants. Running his business wouldn’t be that different than running your own. Why couldn’t you have just done what he wanted?”

Eli sympathized with his brother’s pain, but it wasn’t that simple. “I can’t go work for Father,” he informed Russ. What he wants for me isn’t what I want for myself, and I refuse to let him dictate my life for me. The only way to face Father is to tell him no. Don’t let him push you around. I won’t let Father do that to you. Just give me some time to figure this out.”

Russ snorted contemptuously. “That’s easy for you to say, but some of us don’t want to get disinherited.”

Eli chuckled. Leave it to Russ to put his lifestyle before his life goals. “It’s going to be OK,” Eli assured him. “We’ll figure out how to get around this. I promise. There’s no reason for your life to be ruined because of my decisions.”

 

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By Design – Chapter 23

The bar was only a block from the office, and Colleen headed there as soon as she got off the clock. Gracie had left early that day, so it looked like tonight she would be drinking alone. But that wouldn’t last long. She had always been very good at making friends when she was on her own.

She entered the building and scanned the room, trying to decide the most ideal place to sit, somewhere she could grab the attention of others and start up a conversation. What she wasn’t expecting to find as she looked around was a very familiar looking man already sitting at the bar sipping on a drink. He was all dressed up, as if he had been preparing for a night out. However, his expression suggested that his plans hadn’t gone as he had hoped they would. Colleen couldn’t help but feel he looked like he needed some company. She walked to the bar and took a seat next to him.

“Hello, there!” she said, trying her best to sound cheerful. He looked at her blankly. “You probably don’t remember me, do you?”

He thought a moment before replying. “I met you at the magazine office,” he said, recognition dawning on his face. “You’re Gracie’s friend. I don’t remember your name though.”

“Colleen,” she said.

“Colleen. That’s right. I’m Jeff.”

“I remember,” Colleen said with a smile. How could she have forgotten? “So what’s the occasion?” she asked, pointing to the drink in his hand.

“A date gone wrong,” he admitted a bit too readily. Colleen wondered how many of those he had already downed before she arrived. “I should have known better.”

Colleen frowned. “Was it really that bad?”

Jeff sighed. “To be honest, it’s Gracie.”

Colleen recalled her conversation with Gracie after she told her about Jeff’s visit. Gracie had told her Jeff was interested in her but that she had no interest in him, at least not in dating him. But Colleen couldn’t tell Jeff all of this, especially not when he was so down.

It was a shame, really, Colleen mused to herself, that a man like this was so hung up on a girl that wasn’t going to give him the time of day. He seemed nice, and he was pleasant to look at. He was the kind of guy Colleen would definitely be willing to give a chance. He wasn’t her typical type, but there was something about him she found herself attracted to. However, there was no way he would be willing to give her the same chance while he was so preoccupied with Gracie.

“Gracie’s not really the dating kind,” she said, trying to sooth his wound.

Jeff snorted contemptuously. “If only that were true,” he said. “Unfortunately, the reason my night is ending like this is because she accepted an offer from someone else before I got there.”

This was news to Colleen. “Who?” she asked, perking up.

“Eli Walker.”

There was no way! “Gracie doesn’t even like Walker,” Colleen said.

Jeff shrugged. “I’m just telling you what I saw.”

“You actually saw them together?” Colleen couldn’t believe it. Though she was dying to know more, she could tell it wasn’t something Jeff really wanted to talk about.

This guy really was having a rough day. Colleen knew there was nothing she could do to improve his mood, but she figured she could at least try.

“Look,” she said. “There’s no way Gracie seriously dates Eli Walker. For all we know, their evening tonight was completely business related. How about this: I can keep an eye on that relationship and keep you updated. If there is a chance for you and Gracie, I can help you get that.”

Jeff eyed her, unconvinced. “Why would you do that?” he asked.

It gives me an excuse to stay in contact with you. “Believe me, I want to see Gracie end up with someone nice just as much as anyone. And after her experiences with Walker, I don’t think he is the guy.”

Perhaps it wasn’t so nice of her to be scheming like this, but what she really wanted was a reason to meet with Jeff again, hopefully with him in a better mood. She knew Gracie was unlikely to reconsider her stance on Jeff, but perhaps after the two of them got to know each other a bit more, Jeff would reconsider his stance on Colleen, and maybe even start to forget his feelings toward Gracie.

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By Design – Chapter 22

Eli jogged around the back of his car to the passenger side to open the door for his guest. He could feel the sweat forming on his forehead, and he hoped Gracie didn’t notice it. It was nerves—first date nerves—but he didn’t understand what had brought them out, making him feel like a teenager all over again. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been on dates in the last ten years since he had left high school. But none of those dates had ever been very serious. He was always too busy with work to spend a serious amount of time and effort on girls. That wasn’t to say that this date was serious. In fact, they hadn’t ever really established that it was a date. It was just dinner. He tried to remind himself of this as he opened the door and Gracie stepped out.

“I’m a big girl, you know. I can get my own door,” Gracie jibed as she got out of the car.

“Perhaps,” Eli conceded, knowing that she was playing with him, trying to measure his reaction. “But I was also raised to be a gentleman.” He gave her an easy smile, showing that he also knew how to play this game.

Gracie tried to conceal her own smile in response by lowering her head, allowing her hair to come down over her face. But it was no use. He had already seen her reaction and was pleased with it.

As Gracie followed Eli into the restaurant and the host led them to their table, she hated to admit she felt charmed by Eli Walker. She didn’t know what had come over her. Why was she acting shy and giddy like a child? There was something about him tonight that was so different from what she had grown used to when dealing with him. He seemed to be a completely different person, the opposite of what she expected of him. He was being polite, charming, fun. Perhaps it was the lighting in the restaurant, or the general atmosphere, but she couldn’t remember Eli being quite so good looking. He had never been hard on the eyes, but tonight it was something different, an attraction she had never felt toward him before. She had to remember to keep her head about her or she could see this evening getting way out of hand very quickly.

After they were seated and the waiter had taken their orders, Eli turned his attention to Gracie. “Since this isn’t exactly a work related dinner, I want to ask you about yourself. Where did you grow up?”

Gracie wasn’t quite sure she was ready to talk to Eli in such a familiar way, but she had agreed to go to dinner with him, so she supposed she had to play by his rules.

Eli sensed her hesitation and immediately feared that he had overstepped his bounds. “I’m sorry. Was that too personal?” Perhaps she had some horrible childhood she didn’t want to talk about. He should have been more considerate.

But Gracie just shook her head. “It’s not that,” she said. “I’m just not very good at talking about myself. I grew up just outside of town. My folks still live there.”

“How do they feel about you moving to the city to be a journalist?”

“They’re very supportive,” Gracie told him. “They are both professionals who work in the city as well, so they see nothing wrong with it. Sometimes they think I should come home more often, but I make it out there when I can, and they respect my decision to live in the city.”

“Wow.” Eli was impressed that her parents were so accepting of her choices. “It must be nice to have family like that.”

Gracie furrowed her brow, confusion on her face. “Your parents don’t support your business?”

Eli had to keep himself from laughing aloud. “That would be a big ‘no,’” he informed her.

Gracie was thoroughly shocked to hear that from him. “But you’ve been so successful,” she said.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t been successful in the area my father believes I should have been,” Eli informed her.

Gracie wrinkled her nose in response. “That’s awful,” she said.

Eli shrugged and changed the subject. His family issues weren’t something he wanted to dwell on at the moment. He would much rather spend his attention elsewhere, like on Gracie, and the amazing food this place had to offer.

Their meal, as it turned out, was fantastic. Gracie was glad she had taken Eli up on his offer of dinner simply because it meant she finally got to eat here. And it was totally worth it. Eli played the gentleman and paid for everything without a single complaint. Gracie hated to admit that the whole evening was beginning to feel like a real date.

Perhaps it was because of this feeling that when Eli drove her home that night, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do. Neither did Eli. The two of them sat in his car outside her building; an awkward silence had settled between them, the first of the entire evening.

“I had a nice time,” Gracie said at last, trying to break the silence. It sounded so lame once it was out, rehearsed, insincere. Eli’s expression suggested he felt the same way. However, his words weren’t much better.

“Yeah. Me too,” he said.

The silence settled again.

“Well, good night,” Gracie said after a few moments of waiting to see if Eli would add anything else. She opened the door and let herself out of the car.

“Good night,” Eli called after her. He watched her as she walked up the steps of her building and let herself in. Eli let his head fall back against his seat. What was all that? He couldn’t help but be embarrassed by how poorly he had let such a wonderful evening end. Still, it had been a wonderful evening, and that was something to be happy about.

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By Design – Chapter 21

It had been a long day, so Gracie was more than ready to clock out when 6 o’clock rolled around and head home. She didn’t have anything planned for the evening; she was just looking forward to a night of relaxing on her sofa and watching TV. After such a busy day, she welcomed the chance to chill out a bit.

Her work finished, she stepped out of the elevator on the first floor. She could almost taste the freedom that awaited her outside the building, and what a sweet taste it was. What she wasn’t expecting to find awaiting her on the other side of the door was Eli Walker. She pushed through the door and stopped in her tracks at the sight of him, staring at him in disbelief. Not this again, she thought.

To her surprise, Eli spoke before she had the chance to. “I hope I am not out of line coming here like this,” he said. She couldn’t quite tell if it was an apology or not.

“I guess it depends on the reason for your visit,” Gracie responded.

A shy smile flashed across Walker’s face and he lowered his head. Was he embarrassed? Or did he think she might be flirting with him? Wait! Was it possible that he was flirting with her?

Eli stepped toward her. “As it turns out, I have a dinner reservation for tonight and am looking for a dinner partner. Would you be interested?”

He was flirting! This really was a new side of Eli Walker for Gracie. All of his desperate awkwardness seemed to have disappeared since the last time they spoke. She couldn’t help but be intrigued by his smooth, confident demeanor. She wondered if this was the Eli Walker women always seemed to be cooing over. If so, she could finally understand why he was such a big deal among the women she knew. This man was much different than the man she had been interacting with over the last few months.

Still, she didn’t want him to think she was taking to him so easily. She wasn’t about to give in so readily. “And why should I go to dinner with you?” she asked.

Eli smiled again. Man, what a smile! Where had that been for the last several months when she had been meeting with him? Gracie shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. There was no reason to get carried away. She was still convinced not to like this guy.

Apparently Eli could read her hesitation. “Listen,” he said, “I know our…er…relationship got off to a rough start. And I recognize that might have been my fault.”

Gracie raised her eyebrows. “Might have been?”

Eli laughed, shaking his head. “Don’t pretend you didn’t play a part in all this as well,” he said. Ok, now he really was flirting with her. “Anyway, as difficult as it’s been, there’s something interesting about you Gracie Parker. For some reason, I just can’t get you out of my mind. As professionals, we don’t seem to get along very well, but I was hoping that instead of continuing to torture myself with that relationship we might be able to start over again and get to know each other on a personal level.”

Gracie found herself taken aback by his words. It definitely wasn’t something she had expected out of him. Where had this suddenly well-spoken and flattering man come from? He definitely wasn’t the same desperate Eli Walker she had left in the café after their last meeting.

“You mean you really want to get dinner? No tricks?”

“No tricks,” Eli assured her.

Gracie hesitated, thinking. Then, “Where did you want to go?”

“There is a new Italian place that just opened up.”

Gracie’s eyes widened. “I’ve been wanting to go there!” she said.

Eli held out his hand. “Then let me treat you,” he said.

Gracie eyed him once more, trying to decide if she should trust him. Why shouldn’t she? After all, he hadn’t done anything harmful so far. Surely she could trust him to behave himself for one evening. Gracie placed her hand in Eli’s, and he closed his fingers around hers.

The two of them walked toward his car, both a bit hesitant but excited at the same time, neither of them even noticing that they walked right past Jeff who was still waiting to take Gracie out himself.

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By Design – Chapter 20

Eli sat behind his desk, tapping his pen against the tabletop, trying to think. He stared at Ken who was sitting in the chair across from him on the opposite side of the desk. Ken wasn’t doing anything other than staring back at Eli, his hands folded in his lap, an expression on his face that suggested he was really wondering why exactly he had been called in there.

That was fair enough. Eli had called him into the office and invited him to have a seat, and then hadn’t said anything else for the last ten minutes while the two men just continued to stare at each other. In truth, he was trying to figure out just how to phrase what it was he needed to say so that it didn’t sound desperate. But anything that came to mind with fell way short of that mark. After another minute or so, Eli couldn’t take the silence any longer. He just needed to go for it. Whatever came out of his mouth came out, and they’d go from there.

“I haven’t heard a word from Gracie Parker since our interview last week,” he said. It was not necessarily what he had wanted to say, but it would do.

Ken raised his eyebrows in response, as if to say, “Is that all you have to say after making me wait like this for the last fifteen minutes?” Instead, what he actually said was, “Were you expecting to hear something from her?”

Eli thought back to the day he had last met with Gracie. “No, I guess not. It’s not like we made plans for a follow up or anything. But still, I thought I’d hear something.” Ok. That really did sound desperate.

Ken apparently thought so as well. “Look, Eli, there is no reason for you to have expected anything from her. You and Miss Parker both know that is not standard procedure. Miss Parker is one who plays by the books when it comes to her job. She isn’t going to do anything that might put her reputation at risk. Even if she had wanted to contact you, it would have been completely inappropriate and you know it.”

Eli’s ears perked up at the wrong part of Ken’s explanation. “So, you think she did want to contact me but was afraid to?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Ken said, throwing his hands up defensively. But it was too late. Eli was already thinking ahead.

“Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe I should contact her instead. That would be better.”

“Or maybe you should just cut your losses and move on,” Ken offered. It was probably better for his sake that Eli didn’t seem to hear his remark.

Instead, Eli was coming to conclusions of his own. “You’re right,” he said, nodding in agreement. “I should contact her. Ken, you know that new Italian restaurant that opened up? Could you make a reservation for two there for tonight? Seven o’clock should be good.” Eli grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Ken asked.

“To Miss Parker’s office. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to catch her before she leaves for the day.” He was gone before Ken had the chance to object.

“Well, this should be interesting,” Ken mused aloud, now alone in Eli’s office. Still, as much as he might disapprove of such childish behavior, Eli was still his boss. He guessed that meant he should go ahead and make the reservation Eli had asked for. He wondered how long it would be before Eli was calling him to cancel it again.

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