Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 4

The walk home offered cold and much needed fresh air. A few leaves fell and swirled, swished, and crackled as they scraped the ground before getting swept up into another gust of wind. Grace lifted her head to breathe in the Fall weather that was settling in. The street lights glowed in bright halos on the sidewalk, guiding her three-block walk home. Not a lot of people understood why she didn’t drive much or why she chose to live within walking distance to work, but at this time of night when the streets were quiet and the night was hers alone, it made perfect sense.

The hours, sweat, and tears spent at work over the years might have been grueling, but it afforded her the old brownstone. With a little love and a couple of big checks, it had become her sanctuary. The price was steep, even for its rundown condition, but the moment she saw the three-story skinny brick building, she knew it had to be hers. It reminded her of old New York. Rustic, romantic, and utterly charming.

The fresh air had all but eliminated her three-glass buzz. Okay, maybe four. But she only had one more day; then she was officially on vacation. As she walked up the steps to her massive wooden door, the sobriety set in and she could not believe she’d given in to her friends to go out with a stranger. She was losing her strict don’t-let-people-push-her-around attitude she’d worked hard to build over her years in the corporate world. There was a time to cave a little and a time to hold firm – tonight was a night she should have held firm.

The lock clicked as the key turned and let her in. She flicked the entry light on and what seemed like a million little crystals danced across her walls. Her shoes clacked to the floor and her bag made a dull thud as she set it on the black and white tile of the foyer. The fireplace sparked to life with a flip of a switch, and warmth filled the room.

She sat to enjoy it, even if getting up early tomorrow would be terrible. It would be hard seeing as she wasn’t as young as she used to be. The thought of her younger self had her smiling. The one who’d had dreams of buying a place like this. The one who’d had fantasies about one day sharing it with a husband. They would host friends and family for drinks, dinners, and holidays. They would share stories and laugh together, cheer during big games, or gossip about the latest at work. The bedrooms on the third floor would be just enough for their family of four. One master suite big enough for a bassinet, and two little rooms that would transform from nursery to hideaway as their babies grew into teenagers.

It wasn’t a feeling of sadness or longing as she slid into her leather armchair. She just thought she’d be there by now; that she’d have those things. She thought her dad would be there for it. She would give everything to watch her husband and her father shake hands. To have known a blessing for marriage had been asked. Then, to have her father watch her become a mother. The fantastic way she would feel seeing the pride in his eyes as he sat with his grandchildren.

“I guess sometimes it just doesn’t go according to plan,” Grace said to herself as she stood to turn out the fire and the lights. And that, she thought accusingly to herself, is why your irritating friends have set you up on a blind date, and you drunkenly agreed.

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