Conflict of Interest

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The women stared at the paper sitting in the middle of their table. They curiously eyed the crumpled number, then each other, then the paper, and back again.

“Well, you are staying true to your word.” Rachel tried for a supportive tone in an attempt to find a bright side.

Grace felt the need to defend herself. “I have to. I told you everything I said to him. He didn’t defend himself. Just looked shocked that I caught on. I’m not saying we didn’t share feelings, but it was all built on a lie. He did seem genuinely upset that I was going to meet somebody else, but I chalk that up to male pride. When he said he would do anything for me, I told him the only thing I want is to keep my company,” she shrugged, “and he said he couldn’t do that.”

Casey held up her hand and spoke without being called on, “I don’t mean to be the man-lover here because we know that is definitely not the side I usually take, but isn’t it kind of impossible for him to decide himself to let you keep the company as is?” She continued as she saw Grace start to protest. “All I’m saying is try and look at the bigger picture. Your dad’s company does extremely well for its size. A company like Wallace, they could have shot for bigger potatoes, but they saw the value in what you and your dad have built. And don’t forget your aunt. Abbi must see some sort of value in this, right? Maybe you should talk to her and see what she really wants the outcome to be. As unbiasedly as you can.”

The last comment wasn’t a jab, but it was worth saying. Grace knew she’d been stubborn about the purchase in general because of her father – probably more so because of Luke. She didn’t want to look at any other option. It didn’t diminish the fact that he lied to her and that the way they met wasn’t as fateful as she had wanted to believe. She was a businesswoman, and a damn great one.

Grace nodded, more to herself than to Casey. She would start to dig in and do the work. That’s what she was best at. Whatever happened at the end, company or no company.

“Fine. I’ll talk to Abbi. See what she thinks, unbiasedly, about the whole thing. I am still going to go out with this guy next week though. I think it will be good to be back out there. If anybody can make me feel the way I felt recently, I’m willing to take the chance in finding it again. It really did change my whole outlook on life. I pictured a future, kids, a family. Even a life outside of work.”

“About the number?” Aimeé’s attempt to bring it up was casual enough to seem like she was simply getting back to the girl-talk. “You said you reached out already?”

“Yeah. It was simple and quick. I texted and apologized. Asked if he still wanted to get together. He wrote back he was up for it, so we planned for next week since this week is kind of busy for him.”

“What’s his name?” It was Rachel’s turn to dig, sounding as nonchalant as she could.

“Actually, I don’t know. But,” Grace looked over, “Casey, you must know, you set it up.”

“Nope. It was through a third party. I consult for them.” Just a little white lie, Casey thought. She wondered who it was that Grace texted. It obviously wasn’t the number she’d given Grace, or she would already know Luke was her intended target.

Rachel and Aimeé rolled their eyes at Casey and her inability to play it cool.

“Yeah, I guess that’s okay,” Grace said as she eyed the looks of concern on her friends. This needed to stop, she thought. Enough about her and this on-and-on with Luke. Time to change the subject.

“Speaking of dates, Rach, when do we get to meet,” she cleared her throat in an attempt to hide her amusement, “Richard?”

A new shade of rouge blushed over Rachel’s face, and the girls were intrigued.

The first plea came from Aimeé, “What is it?” Her excitement was obvious.

“Well, it’s not so much is, it’s what isn’t. Richard and I stopped seeing each other.”

A unanimous, “What?” filled the Bistro.

“Just listen and take it for what it is,” she looked toward Grace. “We didn’t have what I saw in you and Luke. You know, before.” Rachel protected her logic, “I decided I don’t want to waste time on something that isn’t wonderful. It should be exciting. With butterflies. I should be giddy and glowing. Maybe not all of the time, but those things should be there, especially when you just meet somebody. Even when you don’t know them very well the idea of seeing them again, the idea of falling in love with them, the possibilities should consume you.” Rachel smiled at the thought before continuing.

“I’ve felt that way before. I know what it’s like. I want that again.”

The women smiled at their friend. At the romance of her ideals. They also knew she was referring to William, Grace’s brother. He wasn’t ready to commit and had broken Rachel’s heart in the worst way. That’s probably what allowed Rachel to move on.

Grace wondered if hate was the alternative to love. Did there have to be no road back to the man you loved to move on from him? Is that why she was so determined to make Luke such a bad guy, when really, maybe her pride was more hurt than anything?

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