Category Archives: By Design

By Design – Chapter 44

Best. Party. Ever. Am I a bit biased? Probably. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell a good time when it’s all around me.

Eli couldn’t help but smile as he read the words Gracie had written about the previous night’s events. He had to say, he agreed with every single one of them. It had been perfect. The party had gone better than even he had planned. But it was what had come after her initial shock that had made his night one that he would never forget.

He leaned back in his chair as he thought about it. When it came down to it, this last year hadn’t gone at all as he had planned for it to. Gracie had not been expecting his proposal, that much had been evident in her reaction. Though, what exactly he had hope for this year, he didn’t know. When he thought about it now, he couldn’t imagine it being any other way. And he definitely couldn’t imagine himself being with anyone but Gracie.

There was a knock on his door, causing him to come back to the present. Gracie’s head poked into the office. She smiled at him.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“Of course,” Eli said. He closed out of the article he had been reading and turned off his computer before following her out of the office. Ken was driving them to the airport and would be there again to pick them up at the end of the week. But for the next few days, it was no work, no worries, just he and Gracie beginning the rest of their life together living happily ever after.

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By Design – Chapter 43

Gracie stepped out of the car in front of the event building. There was music coming through the open door, soft, elegant. The lights inside shined out into the night street. This party screams Eli, she thought. It was exactly his kind of flair. Everything about it felt high style.

She walked in, Colleen by her side. Eli must have been waiting for them to arrive, because he was there to greet them in no time. He took Gracie’s hands in his and kissed her fingers.

“You look wonderful,” he said.

Gracie tried to hide the fact that his compliment made her blush. “Thanks to you,” she said feeling like a little girl because of her embarrassment. “It’s all your doing though. You didn’t have to send the gown. Really.”

“I know,” Eli said. “But I wanted to. I thought you would enjoy it.” He turned to Colleen. “Glad to see you could make it as well,” he said.

“Thanks for the invite,” Colleen said with a smile. “I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for anything.”

Gracie still couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something going on here, and that Colleen was in on it. The look passing between Eli and Colleen only seemed to confirm her fears.

“I have to ask a favor of you,” Eli said. “I hope you won’t mind.”

“What can I do for you?” Gracie asked.

“Would it be too much to ask you to do a bit of work today?”

Gracie knitted her brow, suspicious. “What do you mean?”

“I was wondering if you might be willing to write a review for us tonight,” Eli informed her. “Take in all the details, let the world know how we do.”

Gracie was surprised by his request. Was this the secret thing she had been suspecting? “Seriously?”

“If it’s too much to ask…”

“No, not at all,” Gracie said with a laugh. And here she had been worrying over nothing.

“Oh, and if you don’t mind, I would really like it to be a good review. At least this once.”

Gracie couldn’t help but laugh again at that. “I’ll do my best,” she assured him.

“Great,” Eli said. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, and then he was off again, mingling with the crowd around them.

“He seems in a good mood tonight,” Gracie commented to Colleen.

“He should,” Colleen said. “But I think his mood might be getting better pretty soon.”

“What do you mean?” Gracie asked. But she found out before Colleen had time to respond.

Eli had made his way to the center of the room and he was calling for everyone’s attention. “Excuse me everyone. If I could just have your attention for a moment. I want to thank you for being here tonight. I wanted to take a moment to personally thank all of you for your support over the last year. We have really appreciated it and you have been a big help to us and our company.”

Eli paused as the crowd expressed its gratitude with a round of applause. He waited for the noise to die down before he continued speaking.

“However, this is not the only reason I wanted to gather you here today,” Eli informed them. “I have another announcement that I want to make as well and I wanted everyone to be here for it. Most of you are probably unaware of this, but at the beginning of this year I met someone who changed my life entirely, putting me on my toes for the first time in years, and teaching me not to think too highly of myself without reason. Gracie, would you mind coming forward for a moment?”

Gracie felt her face turning red as she hesitantly stepped forward, the crowd clapping all around her. She didn’t know what Eli was up to, but she had a feeling she was going to find out soon enough.

“Gracie, you have been an amazing person to get to know over the last year. And I hope to get to continue getting to know you for many years to come.” Eli took her hand in his and then went down onto one knee.

Suddenly, everything clicked in Gracie’s mind, and she felt her jaw fall open. Was he seriously doing this right now in front of all these people?

“Gracie Parker, will you marry me?”

 

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By Design – Chapter 42

Colleen arrived at Gracie’s apartment early in the afternoon to help her get dressed for the party Eli was hosting that night. Colleen had also been invited to attend, as a friend of Gracie’s. Gracie couldn’t help but wonder what Colleen had said to Eli to get him to let her come. Russ Walker had stopped by earlier that day with gowns for both girls, courtesy of his brother. Gracie had been shocked to open the door and see him standing there. The formal wear wad come as a surprise.

“Eli didn’t have to do this,” Gracie told him.

“I know,” Russ said. “He just wants to make sure everything is perfect.” The smile on the boy’s face was unsettling to Gracie, as if he knew some secret that he wasn’t willing to share. Gracie had tried to brush off the idea though. She knew she was letting her imagination run away with her. There was nothing for her to worry about.

The dress Eli sent her was a deep blue, with sparkles here and there that shimmered when they caught the light. It was beautiful, but even she was amazed by just how wonderful it looked on her. It wasn’t that Gracie had never worn a gown before; she had just never worn one that seemed so specifically made for her.

“Only you would find a man who could dress you so well,” Colleen jested as she squeezed in beside Gracie to look herself over in the full-length mirror. Colleen’s gown was a pale green, and complimented her complexion. Eli had been very careful indeed in choosing their attire for the evening.

But as beautiful as she knew she looked, Gracie found herself nervous about tonight. She was attending this event as a guest, not as a reporter. The idea was still new to her.  The last time this had happened, things had gone a bit haywire. She didn’t want the same mess to occur tonight. Perhaps it was just the memory of the Chen fundraiser that was making her nervous. Though, Gracie couldn’t help but think it was something more. She thought again of the look on Russ Walker’s face when he had dropped off the dresses. The boy was definitely hiding something. There was something going on. Gracie was sure of it. She didn’t like not knowing.

“What’s up with that look?” Colleen asked.

Gracie hadn’t realized she was making a look. She did her best to try to return her expression to normal.

“You’re kind of looking like you don’t want to go out tonight,” Colleen noted.

“It would be horrible of me, right?”

“After all the trouble this man has gone through to make sure you look gorgeous tonight, I think you at least owe it to him to show up,” Colleen told her.

She was right, Gracie knew. “I just can’t shake the feeling something weird is going on,” she admitted to her friend.

Colleen gave her a knowing smile. “Now, whatever would give you that idea?” she asked, as she linked her arm around Gracie’s and ushered her out the door.

It did little to set Gracie’s mind at ease.

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By Design – Chapter 41

Eli read over the notice one more time, just to be sure. The amount of relief he felt at the words on the page was more than he ever could have imagined simple black text could create. He could have kissed Ken for bringing him such good news, but he refrained.

“So that’s it then. The case is settled.”

“It’s settled,” Ken assured him. “The other party agreed to the terms we presented. The paper work has already been submitted. Now it is just one less thing we have to worry about. And now we can move past it and start looking to the future.”

“The future,” Eli agreed. He mused over the idea. The future had always been something that frightened him, from worrying that he would one day turn into his father to worrying that his business wouldn’t survive. But his outlook had changed a lot over the last year. The future had a lot in store for him, he realized now. It had more possibilities waiting for him than he ever would have dared hope for.

“Ken, I was thinking this news deserves a celebration,” Eli told his assistant.

“A celebration?” Ken seemed surprised by the idea.

“Of course. I think we owe it to our loyal customers and partners to thank them for sticking with us throughout all of this and believing that we would get it resolved.”

Ken nodded slowly as he contemplated the idea. “That’s not a bad idea, actually,” he said. “I think they would all appreciate the recognition and the gratitude.”

“Check our schedule for next month,” Eli told him. “I think a thank you event in time for the holidays would be a perfect gift for our supportive network.”

“I agree,” Ken said. “A thank you for the holidays would be perfect.” He left Eli’s office to begin working on the preparations.

As Ken left, Eli reclined in his chair, feeling rather content with himself. It was an excellent plan, Eli realized. This party was exactly what he needed. Their customers and partners would appreciate his time and effort toward them, raising his company’s image even more. But that wasn’t his only reason for wanting to bring everybody together. Eli has something else brewing in the back of his mind.

Inside his top right desk drawer was a small box. A box for Gracie. And he wanted as many people as possible to be present when he gave it to her.

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By Design – Chapter 40

Colleen took a deep breath before entering the bar where she was scheduled to meet Jeff. She was nervous, she realized. She hated the feeling of being nervous. She knew she had to do this, but she was afraid of how he would react. That was what made her so nervous. She had gone over the situation again and again in her mind. She had tried to find a flaw in it; she had tried to find a way to see it not working out; she had tried to find anything that would make it something not worth mentioning. But it was impossible. From what she could see, Gracie Parker and Eli Walker were perfect for each other. And nothing would ever change that. She had to tell Jeff.

Of course she had first tried to find a way around it, but in the end she realized there was no other option. Jeff deserved to know the truth. He deserved to know that any future attempts to gain Gracie’s attention would be a waste of time. He deserved to be able to move on with his life. She just wished she didn’t have to be the one to break it to him. But there was no one else.

So, building up her courage, and trying not to let her nerves show on her face, Colleen pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Jeff was sitting at a small table near the back of the room. She slipped into the seat across from him and tried her best to appear cheerful. However, she found it was hard to maintain a smile when she knew the news she was bringing him was likely to break his heart.

“I have to tell you something about Gracie,” Colleen said, her voice flat and unexcited. It wasn’t the way she had meant to start the question, but now that she was facing him, she decided it would be better to simply cut to the chase instead of trying to sugar coat it.

“Me first,” Jeff said. He voice sounded almost as unenthused as her own. For a moment, Colleen was worried that someone else had beaten her to the punch and Jeff already knew about Gracie’s sincere commitment to Eli.

What she was not expecting were the words that followed. “I haven’t really thought about Gracie all week,” Jeff told her.

Colleen lowered her eyebrows as she glared at him. “Excuse me?”

Jeff laughed. Was it nerves in him that she was sensing in the sound of that laugh? But that seemed unlikely.

“Yeah. I haven’t thought about her all week. There was something else taking up all that space in my mind.”

“Oh? And what was that?”

“I kept thinking, I can’t wait for Thursday evening, because then I get to go out with Colleen.”

Colleen blinked. The world refused to come into focus. She blinked again. Had she really just heard him correctly? “So you are saying that the time you usually spend thinking about Gracie was instead spent thinking about me?” She tried not to let herself get her hopes up. Somehow this sounded too good to be true.

Jeff laughed again. It was definitely nerves she sensed this time. “That sounds pretty crazy, right? I haven’t not thought about Gracie for this long since we were in college. I had begun to think it wasn’t possible.”

“So, what do you think this means?” Colleen asked. She knew what she hoped it meant, but she wanted to hear him confirm it.

“I think it means I have someone else I need to start directing my attention toward instead,” Jeff told her. “And perhaps this woman will be someone who is able to return my feelings.” He reached across the table and took Colleen’s hand in his own.

Colleen tried to keep herself from gushing, but just like that, she felt her evening becoming a whole lot better than she had anticipated it being.

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By Design – Chapter 39

When Eli entered Gracie’s office building, he knew he was overstepping his bounds. Though by how much was still to be seen. Even so, he felt this was something he had to do.

Colleen recognized him as soon as he walked through the door. “What are you doing here?” she asked him.

“I need to talk to your boss,” Eli told her.

Colleen frowned. “This doesn’t sound like it’s going to be good.”

Eli only shrugged. “I hope it will be,” he assured her. “But I’m not promising I’m going to play nice.”

Colleen led Eli back to the boss’ office. She wasn’t busy at the moment, and she welcomed Eli in immediately.

“Welcome!” she said as she offered him a seat. “It’s not often we have hot shot socialites visiting us. It’s usually the other way around. What can I do for you, Mr. Walker?”

“I would like to talk to you about one of your employees,” Eli said. “Ms. Gracie Parker.”

The woman frowned. “I know she said some pretty harsh things about you in the past,” she said. “Understand that it is not our job to protect the image of anyone but ourselves. Our articles are written to represent the actual observations of our team, whether good or bad. That being said, Ms. Parker has formed a habit of acting out lately. It might comfort you to know that we have noticed this and she has currently been suspended. I hope that you won’t harbor bad feelings toward her or us for the things she said.”

“It’s actually the suspension I want to talk to you about,” Eli said. “I think there might have been a misunderstanding which led you to make that decision, and I think it might have been my fault.”

Colleen sat outside the office with her ear pressed against the door, trying to hear what was being discussed inside. It was no use though. The voices were too muffled to make out what was being said. Still, there were only a handful of topics Eli Walker could possibly want to discuss with their magazine, some of them professional, others personal. With Eli’s businesslike manner, it had been difficult to tell which he had come in for as she had led him through the office.

However, Colleen didn’t have to wait long to find out what had occurred on the other side of the closed door. She stood up at the door opened and Eli walked out of the office. Though she had tried to make it look like she hadn’t been snooping, it was obvious she had been.

“How much did you hear?” Eli asked.

“Not much of anything,” Colleen answered honestly. “It turns out these walls are thicker than I gave them credit for.”

Eli nodded. “It’s probably better that way.” He started for the door, and then turned around again. “I hope you’ll be willing to welcome Gracie when she returns next week?”

Colleen’s eyes widened. “She’s coming back?”

“As long as she wants to,” Eli said.

As he walked out of the office, Colleen had to admit she was impressed. There was no telling what threats he had made to get Gracie her job back, but Colleen was glad he had made them. She had missed her friend over the last couple of weeks.

Though she never would have believed it in the beginning, it wasn’t hard to see that Eli Walker was just the kind of guy Gracie needed; he was willing to go all the way to the edge for her. Colleen was glad Gracie had managed to find someone like that.

What she didn’t relish was the idea of having to tell Jeff that he really just needed to hang it up. There was no way he would ever be able to compete with Walker when it came to Gracie. He would be heartbroken, she realized. Still, if he could accept it, if he could admit defeat and give Gracie up for good, it might leave Colleen the opening she needed to get him to notice her.

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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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