As Chris and Sabrina continued to walk down Michigan Avenue, their conversation came easy and was comfortable. For the first time in a long time, Sabrina was not in a hurry to rush back to the office and did not feel the pressure of the world on her shoulders. She was also enjoying the fact that she was holding his hand; something so simple that you never think about yet was relaxing and amazingly intimate for her. This is not who she is or what she does.
“So, you like bad boys or do you just like to get in trouble?” Chris asked playfully and with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say I like bad boys, and I wouldn’t say I like to get in trouble necessarily. But straight-laced all the time is boring, and they do say that variety is the spice of life. So tell me, do you like the Hollywood lifestyle? All the women throwing themselves at you and the attention you receive?” She thought she detected a shift in his demeanor when she asked this question, and it took him a few minutes before he answered.
“Um, no, not really. I love acting, I really do, it’s a passion of mine and I like to get lost in the role and be someone different and explore what that character might be like. I just don’t like the other stuff that comes along with it,” He took a deep breath and tried to think of the best way to say what he wanted without seeming ungrateful. “I don’t really like all of the media attention and the swarms of fans. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have fans, and I appreciate them,” he started to trail off.
“But the attention is overwhelming?” Sabrina finished for him. “I could only imagine how hard it must be to be recognized everywhere you go. Frankly, I’m surprised no one has approached you as we’ve walked down the street. Does the beard throw people off that much?”
This made Chris laugh, “Amazingly enough, yes it does! Although I have done a few movies now with the beard so it won’t be long before that stops working. I just can’t get used to women fawning over me. Damn, that sounds conceited.”
“No, it doesn’t. Why is it hard for you to believe that women find you attractive? You can’t seriously think you are unattractive?” Sabrina stopped, they had made their way to the water tower, and this would be a good place to turn and start their journey back towards the river. “Wait, do you not think you’re attractive, Chris?”
“I think I’m average, okay, maybe a little more than average but I don’t go walking around thinking I’m all that. How fucked up would that be? Why did we stop walking by the way?” He looked around to get an idea of where they were, he had not been paying attention to their surroundings.
“One, I wanted to stop to make you look at me and answer the question. And two, well I figured this would be a good spot to turn around and head back,” she could not help but smile at that those gorgeous eyes as he was looking at her so intently. “This is the Water Tower, the second-oldest water tower in the US, built in 1869. It’s 154 feet tall, and it is the only public building to survive that was in the burn zone of the great fire in 1871. As a matter of fact, it is actually one of just a few surviving structures from the fire that are still standing today.”
“Wow, that’s quite impressive. The building is well maintained and preserved. Obviously, there have been renovations.”
“There have been two major renovations and the last one was in 1978. The building is used today as an art gallery for the Chicago Office of Tourism.”
“I should just hire you to be my tour guide and walk me around the city and tell me everything I need to know. You know, if you ever get tired of designing buildings that could be your next career.”
“Yeah, well I might have a connection or two with the Architectural Society so maybe I could become a docent and give tours.”
Chris began to laugh, “Ok, so I answered your question, now you need to answer mine,” he returned her smile and raised his eyebrows at her. “How about you, do you like all of the attention you get? I mean the Mayor even said it, you’re a city treasure, and you’ve got a legacy to live up to.”
“You know what? You really do have beautiful eyes,” her response was a deliberate attempt to evade his question, “And I would absolutely kill to have your eyelashes. I am sure you hear that quite often.”
He decided that he was going to go for it, he let go of her hand and slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her to his side. He then began walking with her back toward the river, “How is that you make me answer your questions, but you evade mine? You are insufferable, you know that?”
“Fine, I hate the attention almost as much as you do. Don’t get me wrong, I love the success but just wish I didn’t have to be in the spotlight for it. I hate that for every time they mention my success they have to tie it back to my family and our legacy; as if I am incapable of doing it on my own.”
“Ah, so I have hit a sore spot for the great Sabrina Burnham; I’ll make note of that for future reference,” Chris also noted that Sabrina did not fight the fact that he had her by the waist. In fact, she had slid her arm around him, and they had fallen into a comfort level with one another that he had not actually experienced so quickly with anyone else.
To most people walking past them on the street, they must have looked like a long established couple who were out for a leisurely stroll down Michigan Avenue. No one would have anticipated that they had only just met and were spending their first hours together. As they got closer to the river, Sabrina’s stomach was starting to growl. Usually, she could go all day without eating and be just fine. But for some reason, the walking and talking with Chris had her starving; and she wanted a drink to calm her nerves because she was starting to feel things that she needed to quell and quickly. They ducked into a little dive bar, nothing fancy, someplace where they could sit in a dark corner and enjoy a drink and some bar food without being bothered.
As Sabrina sat down, she pulled her cell phone out of her purse, “Crap, Audrey has called me five times. I never heard my phone ring, did you?”
Chris pulled his phone out of his pocket, “Wow, she’s called me half a dozen times, too. I have mine on vibrate, and I never felt it go off. Do you think maybe we’ve been pre-occupied?”
Sabrina laughed and sent off a quick text to Audrey, “I just texted her and told her I was with you and unless a building was on fire or she was dead, that I would talk to her later.”
“I take it that you don’t just get up from your desk and walk away for the day?”
“No, so she is probably freaking out thinking I went on the boat ride and would have come back. She probably assumed you pushed me overboard.”
“Nah, the thought never crossed my mind.”
“Well, you might reconsider by the end of the night. She’s so used to me bothering her at all hours for stuff that I think it worries her when she doesn’t hear from me.”
“I’m not going to reconsider tossing you off the boat. If you had fallen in accidently, I would have gone in after you,” he winked at her and flagged down a waitress to place their order.
The two drank and had greasy cheeseburgers, something Sabrina had not eaten in years. The more time she spent with Chris, the more she realized she was in trouble. He was a good guy, and she found herself falling for his charms; even if he wasn’t trying to lure her in, she was falling and couldn’t stop herself. She had spent so much of the last few years blocking men out and having meaningless flings to get through her needs; relationships were not part of her plan, ever. If she went on more than one date with a guy, it was time to move on. She needed to get out of this bar and away from him before she ended up taking him home because she was afraid if she took him she would not let him go.
When the waitress brought the check over, she instinctively reached for it, but Chris grabbed it first. “My treat, I realize it isn’t a fancy date but let me get it.”
“You paid for the fancy date, you arranged for the boat ride. It only makes sense that I pay for dinner.”
“No, don’t completely emasculate me, okay?” Sabrina nodded, not thinking that her independence could come off that way to him. She moved her hand and let him take the check and pay. When he returned to the table, he held out his hand for her, and she graciously took it and stood.
The two of them walked back across the bridge to their starting point, and Sabrina took the opportunity to make a break for the evening. The sun was beginning to set, and she realized she had spent all day and the early part of the evening with him and that the time had flown by. “Chris, I’ve had a wonderful time with you today, and I appreciate that you got me out of the office,” her voice trailed off.
Chris jumped in to finish her thought, “And this is where you’re going to blow me off and send me on my way, right?” His voice was a little terse, and he was trying not to sound hurt, but he was definitely confused since he thought things were going so well.
“Well, not exactly like that, but I’m sure you’re probably a little sick of me. Plus, I should probably check in on my work emails and see if there are any fires I need to put out.”
He took a step closer to her, there was not much room between their bodies, “Well, first of all, I’m not sick of you, and that is not something you would have to be worried about. But I can appreciate if you need to check in on work. Do you want me to walk you to your office?”
She swallowed hard, his body being so close was stirring emotions within her, she wanted to grab his face and kiss him, but she knew that would probably not be well received. “Um, no, I’m going to just go home from here, it’s not that far of a walk,” she turned and pointed in the general direction of where her building was located.
“I can walk you if you want,” his voice was soft, and she was almost positive he was leaning in.
“No, that’s fine, I’ll be okay, it’s not that long of a walk.”
She really couldn’t say anything further because he was, in fact, leaning in, his lips grazed her’s and the kiss was gentle, and her mind went numb. His hands went to her face, and her hands went to his hips, the soft and sweet kiss immediately turned deeper, and his tongue pushed against her lips, and she opened her mouth to give it access. There was passion and heat, and as soon as it started, it was quickly over as he broke away and stepped back.
“Yeah, I should go,” he offered as he stepped back.
“Um, yeah, me too,” she responded, trying to catch her breath. She quickly turned and almost stepped off the curb into the path of a taxi, catching herself at the last minute. When the road cleared, she bolted across the street, leaving Chris on the corner to watch her disappear down the block.
~ ~ ~
Chris turned to walk towards his hotel once Sabrina was out of sight, but before he began the journey, he pulled out his phone and dialed Audrey’s number. The phone had barely rang one time before she answered and started yelling into the phone.
“Where in the hell have you two been all day? Please tell me she is with you, I mean nothing happened to her, right?” She was met with silence which didn’t do anything to help her mindset at the moment, “Chris, talk to me, is everything alright? Did something happen?”
“I fucked up, Audrey. I mean it, I truly and utterly fucked up.”
“Why, what did you do?” The concern in her voice was evident, no hiding the emotion.
“I kissed her,” as he spoke those words he began to walk towards the hotel. “We had, what I thought, was a fantastic time this afternoon, the boat ride was great, she loved it. We walked down Michigan Avenue and had burgers and beers at a greasy little bar. We talked, we held hands, she let me walk with my arm around her. I’m telling you it was perfect.”
“Shit, she’s sending me text messages, hold on I’m going to put you on speaker while I read them. Go on, keep talking,” she begged.
“I like her, I really do; she’s not just a steely bitch, and I see that. I mean she wants you to think she is, and she gives off this vibe that she’s cold-hearted and challenging, but I can tell that she’s more.”
Audrey was reading the text messages from Sabrina and biting her tongue because the things Sabrina was saying did not jive with what Chris was saying.
“OMG, Audrey!!! He kissed me, and it wasn’t some chaste little kiss. This was panty melting!”
“I think the earth moved, and I swear I heard fireworks! Dear GOD, he is talented with his lips, and that was just a kiss!”
“I swear I was so close to inviting him back to my place, but I didn’t want to ruin it, and I’m not really sure he is as into me as
I might be into him. I don’t want to fall for him Audrey, damn you for introducing me to him. Do you hear me?”
“Audrey! What do you think?” Chris was trying to get her attention because she was not responding, “What is she saying to you?”
“Chris, I need to call her. Look, here’s the thing, be honest with me. You are in town for a few days, and then you are going home to Boston or back to LA – do you want to get tangled in a relationship?”
“I didn’t, but that was before I met her,” he got quiet and took a deep breath, “She’s different, and I like her. I’m not saying I want to marry her and I’m not saying I want to date her but can’t I see where it goes?”
“But what if it leads in that direction? What if it leads to a relationship, are you ready for that? She’s older than you, Chris and by a few years.”
“You don’t want me to pursue it?”
“No, it isn’t that, I just want you to have your eyes completely open before you step off that ledge you’re teetering on. It’s a plunge, and you have to be ready to take it just in case,” she figured she had nothing to lose by being blunt about it. He had to know what the stakes were, and she needed to get Sabrina on the phone. “Look, I’m going to call Sabrina and talk to her and then I will call you back, I promise. Think about it.”
Chris disconnected the call and walked through the revolving door of the Trump Hotel. He had been avoiding his friends to spend time with Sabrina and Audrey; they would eventually come looking for him. Maybe hanging out with them in the bar tonight would be a good way to get that woman off his mind. He pressed the button for the elevator and prayed that Audrey could get some answers and that she would be straight with him. He wanted to know what was going on.
~ ~ ~
Audrey went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer, for what just happened on the phone with Chris and what was about to occur with Sabrina, she was going to need it. These two were both falling over the edge, and she had to be neutral and in the middle; she hated this! She took a long pull from the bottle before dialing Sabrina’s number.
“I wondered if you were even paying attention to my text messages,” Sabrina snapped as she answered the phone.
“Well, I was on the phone with your boyfriend so I couldn’t call you or text you back right away.”
“Don’t call him that,” Sabrina’s voice was soft and barely audible, “I ran away from him, Audrey. He kissed me, and I ran away, almost got hit by a taxi, that’s how fast I was trying to get away from him.”
Audrey could hear the pain her voice, she knew how hard relationships were for Sabrina. Even the idea of a relationship made her break out in hives, so this had to be hard for her. “So the kiss was monumental, eh?”
“What did he say to you? He hates me doesn’t he? I mean, I’m sure he does,” Sabrina began to pour herself a drink, hoping it would steel her nerves to continue this conversation.
“Are you getting a drink? How much have you had today? Maybe you need to hold off so you can think straight. After all, you do have to work tomorrow, or are you planning on staying in bed all day and hiding?”
“Shut up! I’m upset, can’t you tell? Can you be sympathetic, just once?”
“I’m always sympathetic, but I am trying to get you to be realistic. Why exactly are you upset? Are you upset because you might like him or are you upset because he might be mad at your or is it a combination of both?”
She didn’t respond right away, she let the question hang in the air, “You aren’t going to tell me what he said to you, are you? I just want to know if he hates me for walking away?”
Audrey let out an audible sigh, “You are so good at evading questions, I swear you raise it to a damn art form. No, he doesn’t hate you. Shit, Sabrina, he thinks he really fucked up because he kissed you and then you ran off.” Sabrina said nothing, she slowly sat down on the bar stool and gave up on preparing her drink. Audrey’s words were starting to sink in. “In case you need me to interpret that for you, he seems to like you and thinks he has ruined any and all chances with you because he kissed you on a street corner.”
“He thinks he messed up? Are you serious? Oh, Audrey please tell him he didn’t mess up anything, I’m the one who messed up.”
“No, you tell him, Sabrina. I’m not going to play the go-between for you two; you’re both adults, granted he is several years younger than you are in case you needed a reminder. But you need to work this out with him one way or another.”
Sabrina’s voice was barely audible, “I like him, God help me, I don’t want to, but I do. I can’t explain it because it makes no sense, but he gets me, and he makes me comfortable. Do you know how long it’s been since I can say I was comfortable with a man? Audrey, it’s like he understands me on a level that no one else has and I don’t know how he does it.”
“He can relate to you, that’s why. Pressure, spotlight, living up to your past success, that’s what his life is all about. He can connect with you on a level that other guys you’ve gone out with can’t. But he’s only in town for a few days, and you are falling hard and fast and when he leaves town, what will happen to you? I’m worried about you, that’s all.”
“I need to step away, I know it. He’s amazing, though, and I haven’t even mentioned how insanely gorgeous he is.”
“Yeah, he is that,” Audrey was actually jealous of Sabrina for what she was going through with Chris. She had these emotions at one time, but they were all one-sided; there was no chemistry between her and Chris. It was too bad, she had it bad for him and wanted there to be some sort of connection. Unfortunately, there was none, and she settled for the friends path, she took what she could get. “I think you need to talk to him, let him know you were scared; just be honest with him. He thinks he screwed up, and you need to set him straight.”
“I don’t have his number,” Sabrina admitted.
“I can give it to you,” Audrey chimed in quickly, “Nevermind, I’ll give it to him because I need to call him back anyway. But I’m telling you now, don’t hurt him.” Audrey disconnected the call and finished off her beer. She knew she had to call him back, but she needed to pull herself together first. She was going to end the night being mad at both of them, she could feel it.
~ ~ ~
Chris threw himself across the bed in his room; he could not quit replaying that kiss and then watching Sabrina practically run away and throw in for good measure the fact that she almost got hit by a taxi because she was so eager to get away. Why did he have to push his luck? Things were going so well, or at least in his mind they were; maybe his brain had that mixed up, too. As if on cue, his phone chimed with a text message, Chuck wanted him to join them up in the bar for drinks. He figured he might as well, he could drink her off his mind versus staying in the room and wallowing in self-pity. He pulled himself off the bed, texted that he was on his way and made his way to the door.
He elected not to tell his friends what was going on. Although, they were curious as to where he had been spending all of his time since he was scarce around the hotel. He admitted he had a friend in Chicago he had not seen in a while, and he was using this opportunity to catch up; he just left out the detail that it was a woman and that he was falling for her best friend.
Two hours later, quite a few drinks later and his cell phone was vibrating in his pocket. He ignored it at first, continuing to drink because the bourbon was numbing his senses. Plus, he was having a good time hanging out with the guys. The bartender had put them off in a side area where it was semi-private; this was mainly because they were getting rowdy but they were drinking a lot, and he couldn’t afford to kick them out.
When the phone began to ring a second time, he decided to at least see who it was. Reaching into his pocket, he tried to focus on the Caller ID, it was hard to do, but he thought it said, Audrey. “Hey, Audrey! Why you calling me so late? You wanna come and party with us?” His voice was loud, and his words were slurred.
“Oh my God, you’re drunk! Where are you?”
“I not drunk, just buzzed real good. Come and party, I’m in my hotel.”
“I’m not coming to the hotel to party with you. How much have you had to drink?”
“I dunno know. Guys, how much have I had?” He yelled across to his friends but no one was paying attention to him, “They won’t tell me. Come on and party Audrey, I’ve got Chuck, Dave, Mike, Zach, and Brandon here with me, and they would love to see you.”
“I have no idea who those people are, Chris. You need to just call me when you’re sober.”
“No, no, no, Audrey, please don’t hang up, I promise, I’ll be good,” he lowered his voice, “Chuck said I had to stop yelling, can you hear me now?”
“Yeah, I can hear you just fine. Look, I’m not having a conversation with you while you are in a bar.”
“Fine, I’ll go back to my room, hold on a second, mmkay? I gotta pay my tab and then I go,” he stumbled to his feet and walked over to the bartender. He signed the bar slip and charged everything to his room, he had no clue what he was signing, but he scribbled his name and began to wander off.
“Chris, how far is your room from the bar?”
“A few floors, I think, not sure, but I know how to get there.”
“Are you taking the steps to your room or the elevator? Because honestly, I don’t’ know if I trust you on the steps.”
“I’m taking the evelator, I mean the evalator…fuck…the moving box thingie. I’m waiting for the doors to open.”
Audrey tried to stifle her laughter, he was comical when he was drunk, “I’ll stay on the phone with you. What floor are you on?”
“Um…this one here,” he said pushing a button, not telling Audrey the number but she guessed he couldn’t pronounce it if he wanted to. “Hey, didja talk to my girl?”
“Yeah, I talked to your girl, and I’m going to give you the details, but I want to wait until you are in your room. Are you there yet?”
She could hear some fidgeting and then a slam, “I’m in my room! I made it back safe and sound but let me lie down, hold on.” He stumbled over to the bed and plopped down, “I had quite a few drinks to try to forget about Sabrina, but it didn’t work. She’s gorgeous you know, and I think I really like her.”
“I know, Chris, you told me that earlier. How many drinks did you have, I mean seriously?”
“Don’t know and don’t care. I been drinking all day; well, not all day but at times. I had some wine and some beer.”
“What were you drinking in the bar?”
“Um…bourbon, that really ‘spensive stuff I like. It is soooo good and goes down sooo smooth. Oh, the room is spinning, crap.”
Audrey was having a hard time holding back the laughter, she had seen him this drunk before when they were in Vegas. He was so cute, but she knew this was also dangerous. He didn’t drink like this very often, in fact, during her time knowing him this was probably only the second or third time he had ever been this drunk. Typically, he gets a good buzz and can be silly, but this was flat out wasted.
“Chris, listen to me, we can have this conversation tomorrow, I think you need to sleep this off. You are too drunk to have a rational conversation.”
“No, you need to tell me what my girl said and why she hates me. I thought we had a real date today. We rode on the boat, and she got all cute and embarrassed when the tour girl said those nice things about her. And then she walked me down that one street where she told me all that stuff about the buildings and when they were built.”
“Did you two walk down Michigan Avenue?”
“Um, yeah, that’s the one. She is so smart; do you even know how smart she is? She told me about the water thingie and the fire and stuff. Audrey, my head hurts.”
“That’s because you drank too much. Why in the world did you do this to yourself?”
“Cause she hates me. She let me hold her hand and put my arm around her waist and then I had to go and do something stupid like kissing her.”
Audrey wondered if their interpretation of the kiss was similar; she figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask him. “So, how was the kiss?”
“Oh sweet heavens, it was fantastic. I think fireworks went off or something; her lips are soft, and she felt so good. Man, I messed up.”
“You didn’t mess up, Chris,” she waited for a minute to see if he would calm down enough for the words to sink in, “She told me that she was scared, and that is why she took off, you didn’t fuck it up.”
This caused him to sit up, but the pain that rushed through his head made him moan and lay back down, “What? She was scared of me? I not gonna hurt her or nothing, why she scared?”
“Chris she doesn’t do relationships, and she realized she likes you, and it scares her.”
“She likes me? Really? That’s awesome!”
“Dear God, how old are you, Evans? I swear you are like a drunk teenager.”
“I need to call her, I need to tell her not to be scared,” he began to panic, “Audrey, I don’t have her number!”
“Calm down, Romeo. She is okay with me giving it to you, but you cannot call her tonight. Wait until you are sober, or you will run her off.”
“Okay, boss, I won’t call her tonight, but I can call her tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah, you can call her tomorrow, sweetie. I’m going to text you her number, and when you get up tomorrow afternoon, you can call her and fix everything. Just get some sleep tonight and dream away that hangover, okay?”
“Thank you, I owe you one,” he said as he hit the ‘end’ button on his phone he immediately fell asleep.