Conflict of Interest

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“That was the best game!”

Grace’s excitement was genuine as she all but skipped into the house, doing a little twirl. The smell of popcorn from the concessions, the bleachers full of students chanting and cheering on their young men heading into battle, the chill in the air that bordered on freezing. She forgot how much she loved bundling up and seeing her breath as she joined in the cheers. She hadn’t remembered how cold it actually was at the games because they were always penned in one section of the bleachers, without an inch to move, shoulder to shoulder, from end to end. One giant mass of team spirit keeping each other warm.

She had kept her hands warm in her gloves by pressing both hands firmly around the hot chocolate and warm apple cider. Luke and Edna had sandwiched her body, scooting close, so each had a spot on the folded blanket used to soften the metal underneath them and keep the cold out.

She felt her nose and cheeks turn rosy red but remembered how warm it had felt when Luke had wrapped an arm around her shoulder for a brief moment to pull her to him and place a kiss on the apple of her cheek, and another tenderly on her forehead, where he lingered for just a moment. The gesture was simple, but the sincerity of it made her feel like nothing she’d felt before. Warm, satisfied, safe. The moment had lasted long enough to not be ruined by the reprimand Edna shouted at the ref for a bad call. The voice that flew out of the old woman was impressive, to say the least.

Edna’s voice, much calmer now, brought her back, “Well, I think this old hag has had enough excitement for one night. The older you get, the longer the beauty sleep should be, in my opinion.”

She felt Edna’s spindly arms wrap tightly around her body. How could someone so small give off so much strength, so much love?

“Goodnight, Edna. Thank you so much for everything, and for letting me stay with you this weekend.” She did her best to hug back with all sincere appreciation she could muster.

“Grace, you are now welcome here any time you feel like making the trip. With or without the baggage.” Edna’s head motioned toward Luke as she spoke.

One final squeeze and Edna made her way to Luke and hugged him with the same force. She whispered something in his ear that was just loud enough for Grace to overhear: “If there were ever a perfect woman for you, this is her. Hold her tight and never let her go. Remember, when you finally realize the future you want, you want it to start as soon as possible. Our time here with the people we love is too short. Embrace her.”

Luke’s eyes looked over his grandmother’s head and into Grace’s, and for a moment, they simply stared. She didn’t want him to know she had heard but did her best to look back at him with all the care she could. She was in love.

“Goodnight, Grandma.”

Luke was squeezed one final time, and Edna was up the stairs for the beauty sleep that had proven very effective.

Then Luke listed her options.

“You can either,” Luke began, the drill sergeant tone comically adding to the edge in his voice, “choose to join my grandmother in beauty sleep that you clearly do not need being as beautiful as ever, or you can change into PJ’s and join me downstairs for a late-night movie, and we could possibly sneak a late-night beverage. The choice is yours.”

She pretended to ponder her options, but she knew her choice. Hold tight and never let go. Edna’s words still lingered in her ears. She hemmed and hawed her way over to him before saying, “Well, I’m not sure about the company, but I sure could go for a nice glass of wine, or whatever my bartender happens to be serving.”

As if he didn’t hear a word of her questioning the company he offered her, he perked up and said, “Great! I’ll meet you down there.”

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