Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 3

Swallowing nearly half of her second glass of wine she paused, mostly for effect.

“No. Absolutely not.”

Grace looked from one to the other, pausing at last on Rachel – she would cave.

“You.” She pointed at Rachel. An accusing finger lifted from her glass and held from across the table. She would figure out whose idea this was.

“It is done.” Aimeé waved her hand away as if it was all said and done.

“What is done?”

“What our dear Aimeé means is, we might have already scheduled the date. You’re meeting tomorrow for drinks. Then if the drinks are good, you go to dinner.” Rachel quickly followed with, “And who doesn’t like a free drink? If it were me, I would go just knowing it was free. What?” Rachel turned her palms upward innocently as her friends groaned. She wasn’t ashamed. “Teacher here.”

Rachel added, “Before you can say anything, we know he’s a good guy. I have it on competent authority – Casey – that he’s a gentleman and treats all people with respect. Including, but not limited to, opening doors, walking along the street on the outside, helping coats off and on, pulling out chairs, and last but definitely not least, paying for meals.” She and Aimeé clinked their glasses together.

“And just how might you know that?”

Aimeé drank, feigning innocence, and Rachel stared at Casey.

“He was on a dating site a couple of years back. Not mine,” Casey tried not to sound offended, “but it was easy enough to get ahold of some information.”

“You haven’t dated since the fall festival date disaster. We decided to give you a little break, but it’s time to get back out there.”

Grace groaned and covered her eyes with her hand. Rachel was referring to the last date she’d been on. He’d taken grunge to a level that bordered on just plain dirty. She tried to be kind, which he misread, and by hour two, he was professing his love-at-first-sight feelings. More than his smell made it uncomfortable.

At her recall, Grace reiterated, “No. But I would like you to explain. Why me, why now?” She couldn’t figure out why her well-intentioned friends would think this was a good time for her to begin dating again.

“Honey, the fall festival date disaster was over a year ago.” Rachel said.

“And,” Aimeé joined the barrage, “we made a promise to your mom.”

“About what?” Grace was surprised. What did her mom have to do with this?

“To look after you. To make sure you still looked for love. For as long as we can remember, you’ve always wanted a family. It doesn’t just happen without some effort. It was what your mom asked of us when your dad passed away.”

“You are cold and ruthless. Pick on this one or this one?” Grace sloshed her drink in Rachel’s direction first, then Aimeé’s.

“Rachel can’t, that’s why I brought the second bottle of wine.”

“Then, why not you?” Grace pressed.

“I’m promiscuous and French. I take lovers, not husbands.”

Unfortunately for Grace, everybody seemed satisfied with that response. And Casey? Well, Casey didn’t need to explain. Casey didn’t believe in relationships. She called herself a realist. After she had witnessed her parents tear each other apart with no regard for her, and often using her as a pawn, she didn’t believe in eternal bliss. And she often reminded whoever was willing to listen, that almost fifty percent of married people would agree, because if they weren’t going through a divorce already, they would be.

Nodding to herself, Grace gave her friends an answer, “Look, I’m busy with work, and truth-be-told – dating is exhausting. I’m still a romantic, I still love the idea of being in love, holding hands, building a life with somebody…” she drifted off, trying to push away those images she so desperately wanted to be her reality, and continued, “But if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. I don’t want to force it. Especially with everything that’s going on at work right now.”

Casey lifted her glass to toast her friend’s unsettling viewpoint on dating and love, “I’ll cheers to that.” Their glasses clinked, filling the silence until Casey edged in for one final shot: “Right after you meet for drinks tomorrow.”

“Hypocrite,” Grace said

“I accept.” Casey smiled at a victory she knew she’d won.

Knowing there wouldn’t be a way to get out of this date with her stubborn friends leading the charge, Grace’s head fell, defeated, and she agreed. “Fine. But only one. And when this one doesn’t work, there can be no more snooping, no more logging into other people’s online dating accounts, and definitely no more dates without my knowing.” Her finger pointed at each girl in turn as she spoke.

The girls sipped in triumph, not doing much to hide their smiles behind their quickly emptying wine glasses. Rachel shuffled around in her bag then slid a five across the table to Casey.

“What?” Rachel asked defensively, seeing Grace’s narrowed eyes. “I never thought you’d agree to it.”

“And you, what’s your explanation?” Grace demanded, looking to Casey.

“I knew we were catching you in a moment of weakness. And knew Aimeé would bring out the big guns and mention your mom,” Casey said matter-of-factly.

Grace rolled her eyes.

“I can’t talk about this anymore. I’m going to leave it at this and only say it once. If this ends badly, I mean like, serial killer badly, I’m coming back to haunt all of you for the rest of your – what I’ll make terrible – lives.” She looked directly at Aimeé. “And worse, ensure you have terrible sex for the rest of your lives.”

“Terrible sex, huh?” Rachel asked. “You’re a real ball-buster.”

“I’m going to need another glass. Hey,” Grace said, gesturing toward Rachel, “start explaining why Rachel can’t date.”

The hesitation was brief, but it was enough. Grace and Aimeé traded glances with each other after seeing Casey’s eyes. Her expression said she wasn’t quite sure if she was supposed to talk about Rachel’s love life. Meaning there was one. The realization came to the two of them before Casey could get a word out.

“You’re seeing somebody?” Grace all but cheered while throwing her hands in the air. “This is exciting! What’s his name? What does he do? Is he cute?”

Rachel shrugged and tried for nonchalance, “His name is Richard. He-”

“His name is Richard?” Grace didn’t let her go any further.

Anybody else would have been offended, but Rachel just laughed because she tended to agree that Richard was a pretty unfortunate name.

“It’s a minor setback for what seems to be a generally good guy. I’m going to tell you his last name, but you have to hold back your comments until I have finished. Okay?”

“Okay.” Aimeé agreed for the group knowing she would be able to compose herself. The others, probably not.

“His name is Richard Dick.”

Snorts came from Grace and Casey as they painfully tried to stifle their laughs. Aimeé wasn’t as lucky. The wine she sipped spewed over the table and sent cabernet droplets flying. Uncontrollable laughter had the girls holding their sides and wiping tears out of their eyes.

Rachel waited while her friends composed themselves. She rolled her own eyes and tried to hide the humor she shared. Out of duty, she felt like she couldn’t fully participate. She should defend Richard a little.

“In an effort to keep the floor, I will not be saying his name anymore. He is an engineer. He’s cute in kind of a nerdy way but has a solid foundation. I do not love him yet, but I’m not completely counting it out at this point. I like to believe love does not have to be at first sight, so maybe it will happen over the course of our relationship when we are both ready. He’s a maybe.” She took a breath but saw more questions coming, so hurried on, “We’ve only gone out twice. Once was for coffee and the next was for dinner. So far, he’s getting pretty good at conversation, and I think come date number three he won’t just awkwardly stare at me when we aren’t saying anything. I would say as far as dating and attraction go we are moving in the right direction. I would like him to make it to date number five before I let you all meet him because I would like to fully see how I feel about him at that time without having you yahoos influencing my decision. Now, you may speak.”

The floor was open. Rachel must have covered a lot of ground with her opening statement, as silence was now filling their close-knit space. After what seemed like minutes of blinking at each other, Casey pulled the crumpled five bucks out of her bag and slapped it in front of Aimeé who gleefully picked it up and put it in her apron. Rachel stared at Aimeé, eyes jokingly narrowed.

Aimeé shook her head slightly, “What? I told Casey you weren’t in love with him.”

Grace jumped in. “See how it feels? Come on over to my side of the fence.” She topped off their glasses and clicked hers to the one sitting in front of Rachel.

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