Conflict of Interest

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Maggie hummed as she made her way around the office the next morning and drifted over to Seth’s cube when she saw his desk light on earlier than usual. A little consoling and grandmothering never hurt anybody. She set a pile of files on the corner of his desk but didn’t speak.

“I definitely don’t want to talk about it.” Seth didn’t look up from his computer.

Maggie wondered how to help poor Seth. She’d seen him down before, but this was worse. She could see humiliation weaved into the lines sagging below his eyes. He was far too young for the likes of those.

She inhaled to speak, but her words were cut off.

“I mean, I had to, right? What if she would have said yes, you know? I’m totally smart.” Seth said sheepishly looking forward as if he were having the conversation with himself. His arms reaching out as he spoke only to find their way back to his face.

Maggie smiled and let him go on ‘not wanting to talk about it.’

“She’s the prettiest girl – woman – I’ve ever seen. Funny. She’s funny, too. She’s genuinely nice. Girls just are not that way anymore. They want to know how much money you make and if you’re clean and do yoga. I don’t do yoga, I’m a man. Of course I would do something more manly than yoga.”

She waited patiently for more words to come.

“I don’t know exactly what that is right now, but not yoga.” Seth looked up at Maggie for the first time. “I really messed this up, didn’t I? Things are going to be weird forever. I don’t want to leave this job. I love this job.”

The thud from Seth’s head hitting the desk reverberated and was felt by Maggie, who was now leaning on the edge to ride it out. Then he offered a theatrical sigh.

“Seth?” Maggie’s eye caught the corner of his desk where a crumpled piece of paper was slightly hidden by his pencil holder. “Hand me that paper.”

If Maggie thought she saw humiliation earlier, the fear that replaced it was worse. If she hadn’t felt so badly for the poor guy, she probably would have grinned and given him friendly grief.

“Seth, what were you thinking?” Maggie scolded, but gently.

“I thought it was my chance. It was in her files, so I kind of put my number on a different sheet of paper and let her find that one. You know, instead of, the real one.”

“It could have been a client. Or her doctor. Or–”

“I know! It’s awful. But that day, she told us what it was for, remember?” Seth pleaded. “And now she knows I switched the numbers and it’s even more awful,” he muttered miserably.

“Okay. Okay, now. Just calm down and stop worrying. You need to buck up. It’s nearly straightened itself out, but you need to pull yourself together. You’re making me nervous, and I don’t get nervous. When you pull yourself together enough, you just find time to get in there and apologize. She’s not going to think one thing about it, so you’ve just got to clear the air. Got it?” Maggie stood with her hands on her hips, looking at Seth expectantly.

Seth’s head hit the desk for a second time as he muttered, “I’m the worst,” on the way down.

“There, there. I’ve seen worse. Don’t beat yourself up about it.” Maggie patted his head on the way by. “This doesn’t even make the top five.”

Maggie smiled as Seth’s groan followed her toward Grace’s office. She’d be in by now, and Maggie had a delivery to make. Grace needed to know to go easy on Seth, not that she would have been hard, but just in case. And, though she probably had memorized the numbers, Grace deserved the original crumpled piece of paper from the man that held her heart.

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