Conflict of Interest

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A weight was lifted. Promises made long ago had lost their significance. A burden had lost its hold. And though she would have gotten there eventually, her love for Luke encouraged her. Her father’s words assured her. She knew what she wanted. And it wasn’t a building. It was a man.

Grace nearly floated into Aimeé’s Bistro and found her friend resting a hip against the bar, in casual conversation with Christopher. He tried hard to seem as relaxed, but when it came to Aimeé, he had a nervous tell. His left foot casually scraped the floor with the toe of his boot. Grace smiled at the sight and waved as she navigated to their corner table.

“You’re looking slightly less miserable than you were a bottle of wine ago,” Casey said, a knowing tone filling her voice. She screeched a chair next to Grace and winced at the piercing shrill.

“It’s because she’s realized she is, in fact, in love. Don’t you agree?” Aimeé said while setting two coffees in front of the girls.

“My heaven.” Casey picked up the steaming cup and held it to her face as if she was holding a cup of gold. She could probably afford it if it had been. “So, let’s hear it.”

“I had a Maggie and Mom double-header.”

“Ah, yes,” Casey simply agreed. “That’ll do it.” Not willing to share she knew more than she let on. But she was happy Maggie hadn’t deviated from the plan and that it seemed to run its intended course.

Aimeé gave a knowing nod as Rachel rushed in apologizing for being late.

“What did I miss?”

“A Maggie-Mom combo,” Casey recapped.

“Ohh.” Rachel drew out the sound.

Grace felt the anticipation as her friends stared at her expectantly. She took a moment to appreciate their three beautiful faces.

“We meet on Wednesday with the board. And,” she gripped her cup, “Whatever happens, happens.”

“Whoa.” Rachel and Casey verbalized their surprise.

“Whoa is right. And, I’m going to go to Luke. I want to be with him. I was just with Mom, and we read a letter from dad, and we cried; then there was another letter, and we hugged. And now I know what I want. I know what I need. And I know I want to go through this life with Luke. The good, the bad. Loving him, probably being so angry with him. But I’m so excited for that, too. Love is what matters. And it needs to be him.”

Rachel screamed. A piercing octave only dogs could hear.

Casey confirmed her comprehension in the only way she knew how, repeating, “I heard something about a letter, then another letter – both from your dad – then you cried, then you hugged, then you realized that you loved Luke. Pretty much cover it?”

“Exactly.” Grace nodded. “What do you think?”

“Now you have to tell her.” Aimeé looked at Casey, setting her latte down and letting the hard gaze force guilt. A move that meant do it now.

“Tell me what?” Grace said, crossing her legs under the table and leaning forward.

“It’s about your date,” Casey began.

“My blind date? From like, months ago? Or recently?”

“One and the same.”

Grace sat back and lamented. “What about it? It was awful. I wish I would have never reached out again. Poor Seth. It was not my best moment.”

“That’s the thing. That wasn’t supposed to be your moment,” Casey hedged.

“Now I’m just confused.” Grace looked to the other girls for help.

Aimeé rolled her eyes. “You are exhausting,” she told Casey. She turned to Grace. “Seth was not your blind date. You were set up with Luke because he asked. Casey did some freelance consulting for Wallace. Travis Mavens reached out, Casey put you and Luke through her dating assessment just to see if it was a good idea. You were a ninety-six percent compatibility. That’s good,” Aimeé explained. “Then she had a decision to make. Don’t go through with the set-up, just because maybe there’d be a tiny, teensy, conflict of interest, or–”

“Or maybe you hit it off with an awesome guy,” Rachel interjected.

“I did a full background check. Checked finances, Luke’s phone records. He is – as far as men go – not a bad guy. Pretty good, in fact,” Casey added in a rare moment of male-appreciation.

“She means great,” Rachel corrected.

Grace sat for a moment. She tried to follow and process the chain of events. “So I was on my way to meet Luke when I ran into Luke?” she repeated slowly.

“Yes.” Casey agreed.

“Exactly.” Rachel was getting excited.

Their voices mingled together.

“And he knew that?” Grace continued.

“I’m going to say yes.” Casey was cautious. “But only if you promise to take it well.”

“Interesting,” was all Grace could manage.

“You’re not mad?” Rachel asked.

“No. No, I don’t think I am.”

“Why?” Aimeé wondered, mostly out of curiosity.

Grace smiled. “Because every moment I can think of that makes me happy, all of my thoughts and memories – and I mean the big ones – not a single one of them has to do with work. If he intended to do anything other than make me fall in love with him, he failed miserably.”

“I love that he failed miserably!” Rachel cheered.

The women laughed, and in their laughter, the last bit of her hurt and sadness for the company fell away.

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