By Design – Chapter 38

Eli could only hope the address Colleen had given him was correct. It would be a bit embarrassing to show up at the wrong place. It had taken a lot of effort to get the information out of her, along with everything else he had forced from her the day before, but she had eventually given it up. He trusted she was telling him the truth.

“I’m glad you are doing this,” she admitted in the end. “It lets me know you actually care about her, and that’s the kind of guy Gracie needs right now.”

After much pestering, Colleen had told him everything that had happened since he had last seen Gracie the day after the Chen family’s fundraiser. He had been so worried when she had stopped taking his calls and responding to his messages. He hadn’t understood what would cause her to act that way. She had seemed in such a good mood after their victory over Mei Chen that it didn’t seem likely that she would give up on him so soon afterwards.

He had gone to her apartment the day before talking to Colleen, but she hadn’t answered the door. When he had spoken to the building manager, the man said he hadn’t seen Gracie in a couple of days. In his concern for her, Eli knew finding Colleen was his only option. She seemed to always know everything that was going on with everybody.

Eli was now on his way into the suburbs, to the address Colleen had given him for Gracie’s parents’ house. It was the house Gracie had grown up in, Colleen informed him. And it was where she always went when she felt like the city was becoming too much for her.

The neighborhood was a quaint, upper-middle class neighborhood with row upon row of houses displaying clean-cut yards and white picket fences. Eli turned into the drive of the house that belonged to Gracie’s family and rang the doorbell.

A woman in her fifties, dressed in slacks and a blouse, her hair held back in a clip, opened the door. She stared at Eli a moment as if she was not quite sure what to make of him.

“Mrs. Parker?” Eli asked.

“I am,” the woman said. “And who might you be?”

“My name is Eli Walker,” Eli said. “I was told that Gracie might be found here.”

“Who is it, Ma?” Gracie’s voice floated through the open doorway as Gracie came up behind her mother. When she saw Eli, she stopped dead in her tracks, her mouth hanging open in shock. All Eli could do was smile back at her.

“Eli!” she screeched when she found her voice again. “What are you doing here?” She grabbed him around the wrist and pulled him into the house, closing the door behind them.
Eli was not unaware of the blush that rose to Gracie’s cheeks. She was embarrassed at his being there, flustered that he had found her while she didn’t want to be found. But he refused to be sorry for that—he was just glad to see her alive and well. “I was worried about you when I couldn’t get hold of you the last couple of days,” Eli told her. “You just sort of disappeared. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“Ma, could we have a minute alone please?” Gracie asked her mother before allowing the conversation to any further.

Gracie’s mother allowed her daughter some privacy, though Gracie knew there was going to be a slew of questions to answer later. Gracie led Eli into the den in the house and closed the door behind them so that they could talk without being overheard.

“You should have told me you were coming here,” Gracie said.

“And have you tell me to stay in the city? I don’t think so.”

Gracie knew he was right. She would have done everything she could to prevent him from coming.

“Why did you leave, anyway?” Eli asked her.

Gracie sighed. “I assume you already know a bit of what happened considering you knew to find me here. I just… I don’t know about my job anymore. Recently it is like it has become something I never intended it to be. I feel lost at work a lot of time, like there is a fine moral line that I’m not allowed to cross, but I can’t quite get a grasp of where it is. And I find myself disregarding my own moral beliefs to try to stay on the right side of this line. And when I do accidentally cross over it, it is like I’ve committed a horrible sin against the social world, even if I was just stating my honest opinion, which is what I thought I was hired to do in the first place.”

Eli listened to her concerns with devout attention. He realized her struggles at work ran deeper than this latest incident, but how deep was impossible to tell. Could it be that her doubts had started with the report on him?  “I think we all have those moments in our work,” he said when she had finished. “Those moments when we wonder whether our work and our personal lives are still compatible. And we have to make a decision. We either find a way to make the two fit together, or we start looking for a new job. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way of dealing with the situation. I think you have to do whatever is best for you. But if you want my opinion, I think you are very good at what you do. And I am sorry my actions have gotten you in trouble and have caused you to doubt yourself.”

“Thanks,” Gracie said. “I’m glad to know you have my back on this.”

“Always,” Eli told her. “So what do you say? Will you come back to the city with me? We miss you there. At least, I miss having you there.”

Gracie turned her eyes to the ceiling, as if she was thinking hard about his offer, but she was already smiling. “I guess I could do that,” she said, a bit playfully.

Eli smiled. He liked seeing her in this kind of mood.


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