Conflict of Interest

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A long drawling creak of the old wooden floor barely woke her from a deep sleep. Grace could feel the comfort of sleepy darkness still surrounding her, and it felt glorious. She turned over and found a new, untouched, cool spot of sheets, and nuzzled in. She smiled and peeked over the fluffy mound of blankets to glance at the clock. Just before five o’clock. For the first time in a long time, she decided to stay and embrace sleep and comfort.

The feeling of peace stopped abruptly when she felt his presence. Grace closed her eyes tightly, but he was there, waking her from her precious deep sleep. She bordered on the edge of no return when she’d be too awake to fall back asleep. She opened one eye and saw the sharp slope of Luke’s nose, the rest of him hidden by the side of the bed. Even through her squint, she could see the excitement in his eyes.

“Did you know you’re beautiful even when your hair is a mess, and your mouth is wide open while you sleep?” he whispered from his perch.

She held the smile back as she whispered, “Do you think I’ll still be beautiful after I’m forced to kill the perpetrator waking me from my beauty sleep?” Her lip slipped up into a half-smile at one end.

He found her hand and slid it toward the edge of the bed where his lips were waiting.

“I didn’t want to have to wake you this early, but we won’t have any other time to get it done.”

“We are getting something done today? Does it require clothes?” Her mind slipped to sensuality as the moisture from his kisses traced her palm to the tender underside of her wrist. She let herself fall into her need for him.

When Luke dropped her hand, it fell limp on the bed, and she was snapped back to reality. Before she had a chance to register his movements, he was up and drawing her curtains. The sudden shift in reality had her sitting up, confused.

“Hold on.” The slight irritation of being turned on and left wanting, dangled in her voice. “We are actually doing something, right now? Like, an activity?” One that isn’t sexual, she added sarcastically to herself.

An image of what Luke would have been like as an excited child flashed through her mind. Then he was at her bedside again handing her clothes. Where did these come from? She wondered.

The jeans were recognizable, but the pale blue puffer jacket and matching hat and gloves looked to be the same age as she was. What in the world was going on? Did he lose his mind?

There was a difference, Grace decided, between being up at five in the morning and being happy about it at home, and what she was experiencing now. The difference? At home, she didn’t actually have to participate in anything other than coffee. And it definitely didn’t involve the freezing outdoors which is where a person goes with the blue abomination she was holding.

October mornings were for hot drinks, robes, slippers, a fireplace, and anything warm, really. A gentle, slow, wakeup. This? Not this.

She looked at Luke, whose butt was already passing the bedroom exit heading down the stairs for what must be other exciting things.

He’s lucky he has a good butt, she thought, her irritation ebbing, and on the verge of slipping away. Very lucky he was so cute. Very, very, lucky he had been incredible to her thus far.

Her thoughts were enough to get her out of bed. She slid on the jeans and the thickest clothes she brought that she could shove under the puffy coat. Then the scintillating scent of coffee and the gurgling noise that spewed from the pot drifted up to her. Grace inhaled as she braided her hair in a long rope to fit under the stocking cap, and couldn’t wait for her first sip.

As Grace rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs, she found Luke filling two travel mugs with coffee.

“What, I have to ask, is the grand adventure we must take at this godforsaken hour?”

The overly dramatic tone wasn’t lost on Luke as he smiled and continued to pour.

“We, my beautiful Grace, are going to not take a grand adventure per se, but a grand tour.” His hands shot up in the air, encouraging her to join in his excitement.

The excitement wasn’t entirely shared yet, but she was almost over wanting to crawl back into bed. And she had to admit, Luke’s fervor was starting to rub off.

“There’s this tour of Little Falls. I found it on the Google.”

Amusement lit her face as she mouthed the Google.

He was amazing. Hilarious. All she received in return from her silent repetition was an excited, exaggerated nod as he rambled on.

“It’s a walking tour. We just click the tour links on the website. We can drink our coffees and listen. Can you believe it? Listen to the history of each site through our very own earbuds. Did you know that the Little Falls Library was funded by Carnegie himself?”

This side of him reaffirmed her love for this man. She could vaguely imagine him with their children, how he’d be on holidays and special occasions, or even a simple morning breakfast with the family on the weekends. He was it.

Warmth and light cascaded through her. And everything inside of her beamed at the feeling. Fireworks exploded in the pit of her stomach, and all she could do was wrap herself in her arms and try to contain the overpowering feeling.

“It is truly unbelievable,” she said softly, answering him and the emotional sensation that swept through her.

He would realize she was in love with him in due time, but for now, Grace would cherish her special-kept secret.

“Well, my fearless leader, let’s start our journey, shall we? And you said ‘Carnegie’ right? Like the guy with the hall in New York?”

“The one and only.” Luke handed her one of the to-go mugs and ushered her out the door as quickly as he possibly could.

It wasn’t until they had visited and listened to the historian’s tale of a historic school and convent, two mansions, and two hotels before she realized it wasn’t even six yet. As she stared at an old Sands’ Café she realized she didn’t know why they had to do this so early. She waited until the recording of this location had played in entirety before she spoke.

“Can I ask you a question that has been haunting me since I was graciously awakened?”

Luke nodded.

“Why is it that we are taking this,” she tried to find a non-offending word, “surprisingly lovely tour at this hour of the day?” Her smile didn’t face him while he answered.

“Easy.” Luke said, as if it was common knowledge.

“Grandma has weekend breakfast ready by eight. We definitely don’t want to be late for breakfast.”

Definitely, she thought as he took her hand without further explanation. They moved on and stopped in front of the Falls Theater then stood in silence as they hit play on the next recording.

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