Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 21

The wardrobe in Grace’s vast walk-through closet was meticulously organized. Blouses, sweaters, jeans, skirts, dresses, and shoes. Grace’s hand skimmed the sleeves of her shirts as she walked, wondering what she should wear. Dinner at his place. After an over-three-hour lunch.

She’d indulged in a long afternoon nap, waking to the Fall sun streaming through her window. She made herself an afternoon coffee and started the process of getting ready. It wasn’t hard for her to admit she liked the fuss, the detail, that went into the process. She loved the amount of preparing and caring that went into a date – not necessarily the date itself, until now. Sure, she didn’t have a great dating track record, but it didn’t mean she didn’t try and knock ’em dead by making herself up for the occasion.

Casual, definitely, but not too much, she mused as she studied the clothes that hung patiently and dutifully in front of her. Jeans, dark and skinny. A low-cut black sweater that cinched and cropped at her waist. Then, she moved to the end of the closet and stared at the wall of shoes. She picked out a pair of gold heels, as they’d go perfectly with her slightly oversized hoop earrings.

Now for the real challenge. Grace placed her clothes on the bed and walked to her dresser. How much of her clothing was she willing to let him see?

Grace opened the top drawer and sifted through the delicate fabric inside. She smiled when she held up the cream-colored lace with just a hint of gold thread sparkling through. It didn’t matter if he saw them or not, she thought. She loved them, and they made her feel sexy. Like she had her own little secret. At the end of the night maybe she’d share it with him, or maybe not.

Satisfied with her appearance, she made her way down from her room, coffee in one hand, fabulous gold heels looped in the other. Grace replaced the coffee with an unopened bottle of red. What they’d eat for dinner was a mystery, but she’d waited a long summer of fresh, crisp whites, to savor a bold red with the cooler weather.

She gathered her bag and, wine bottle in hand, she happily stepped out into the crisp air and warm sun.

The walk was her favorite part of living downtown. She could think, stare, and wonder about people’s lives as they made their own way. Except, she thought as she looked down at her buzzing bag, when it was interrupted by her ringing phone. She eyed the caller ID and smiled tenderly.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, Gracie, what are you up to? I was calling to see if you’d want to come over for dinner and an old movie? Maybe stay the night?” The sound of her mother’s voice was like warm caramel hugging her soul.

A night in with Mom, curled up on the couch with popcorn and blankets, probably watching Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan navigate love in the cutest way, then drifting off or retiring to her childhood bed.

“That sounds like my kind of night, but,” She dragged it out just a bit. “I am actually on my way to a date.”

“With a man?” Her mom squealed, her excitement was evident.

“Yes, with a man.” Grace beamed, laughing with the sound of her mom’s giggles through the phone.

“You call your girls nights ‘dates’ all the time, so I had to make sure I was excited for the right reasons.” Lydia Thomas gained control of herself and got serious, “Well?”

Grace knew the well all too well. Her mom, always the romantic, wanted the details.

“What if I asked for a rain check? Tomorrow night I can come over and give you all the details?” Maybe not all the details, she thought, as she felt her confidence and lace while walking down the street.

“I think that sounds wonderful. Now, is he nice? Some things just can’t wait, and moms need to know,” Mrs. Thomas pressed, but Grace could hear the smile in her voice.

Grace sighed. “He’s so nice, mom. So nice and funny. You’ll enjoy that his grandma is his favorite person.”

“Oh, I do like that.”

The silence was brief but long enough for Grace to notice the street lamps come to life.

“Okay, tell me. Is he cute?” Lydia asked.

She knew it was coming. Her whole life, her mom would ask how dates went, and she’d lead off with how cute, or how handsome – or not – a man was. Her mom would tell her that it was not the most important thing about a man. So, they’d go over all of the personal details, then end up back to how cute he was and laugh that excited laugh only a crush and the belief in love could bring.

“He is. Oh, God, Mom. He is unbelievably handsome. He’s tall and lean. He has this long jaw, but then he smiles, and these dimples show and his eyes light up. I would have remembered his face, the whole thing, if I’d never seen him again,” Grace gushed.

“Just like your father. I remember that feeling. I’m so happy for you, Gracie. I’ll let you go, but remember.”

“Be safe.” She finished the words for her mom.

“That’s my girl. Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“See you. And love you, Mom.”

“Love you, too.”

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