Structural Damage – Chapter 14

Sleep had not come easy for Sabrina, following her declaration to a sleeping Chris, she closed her eyes and attempted to drift off. The problem was, she woke up every hour or so, panic stricken with the thought of him leaving. She had been able to stave off the flow of tears, but just barely. The last coherent thought she remembered, before now, was looking at the clock and seeing that it was 3:46 am. It was now 7:35 am, and she was in the bed alone, she could hear Chris in the bathroom getting ready to leave. He had pushed the door shut, trying to be quiet, it just wasn’t working.

Sabrina was lying on her stomach, the pillow bunched up under her chest, her arms under the pillow. She stared at the bathroom door, part of her wanting to go in and join him, the other part of her realizing it was best to stay away. She reached for her cell phone and turned it on. She elected to ignore the number of missed calls and text messages, instead heading to her contacts and searching for her car service. She sent a quick message, asking for a pick up at 8:15 for a male passenger from her apartment going to O’Hare. Within seconds she received a confirmation as well as a reminder that they still had her down for a pick up at 12:30 at her apartment as well.

Once the rides were confirmed, she turned her phone off again and set it back on the nightstand. When she heard the running water in the sink turn off, she sat up on the bed, pulling the sheet up to her. She looked up just as Chris was walking out of the bathroom, his bag in hand. He gave her a half-smile and walked towards her.

“Morning,” he leaned forward, giving her a kiss and letting his lips linger for a moment, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t, besides you didn’t actually think you were going to leave without saying goodbye did you?”

“No, I knew I would have to,” his forehead rested on hers, “I just wanted to let you sleep a little longer. You were a little restless last night.”

“Did I keep you up?” She asked rather sheepishly.

“No, I was already awake,” he admitted, she wasn’t the only one that was upset about his leaving. “I get to LA around 3 pm, I’ll call you and let you know I arrived home safely, okay?”

She nodded, “I’ve got a meeting with the Mayor this afternoon, then I’ll go into the office and work for a bit, catch up on what I’ve missed. Keep my mind off of missing you,” she tried to smile and put on a brave face for him, “I’ve called a car for you, they’ll be downstairs at 8:15 to take you to the airport.”

Chris stood up and glanced over at the clock, “I better start heading downstairs then.” He grabbed his bag and waited to see if Sabrina stood up from the bed, she didn’t immediately move. He took a few steps around the foot of the bed, then noticed that she slid from the bed, the sheet dropping, and she slid into the satin nightgown that hung on the end of the bed. She followed behind him as he exited the bedroom and descended the stairway.

She stayed on the last step, watching him as he walked toward the front door. Sabrina braced her hip against the railing, crossing her arms, and clamped down on her emotions. “The deadbolt is locked, but that is all you have to undo to open the door,” she announced, figuring he was trying to identify how to get out of the apartment. He acknowledged her answer but didn’t turn around to look at her.

Chris flipped the deadbolt and was preparing to open the door, but he couldn’t do it. He had to kiss her one last time, and he felt the urge to tell her that he loved her. He dropped his bag, turned and took several large steps until he was in front of her. His kiss was full of fire and heat, her hands went to his head, pulling him closer, while his hands when around her waist and did the same.

When he broke the kiss, he turned, grabbed his bag and left. He is not able to say the words that were forming on his lips. He wanted to say those three words that would let her know he was having trouble with the concept of goodbye. The three words that meant that he would struggle with sleeping alone when he was back in Los Angeles. The three words that said he would ache for her to be near, but he knew that saying them could potentially ruin everything.
Instead, he let the door close, and he kept walking towards the elevator. He couldn’t look back, and he prayed that she didn’t open the door to watch him walk away. He stepped into the waiting elevator, pressed the button for the lobby and closed his eyes, clenched his jaw and forced away the tears that were rising in his eyes. As the doors opened in the lobby, he put on his sunglasses and walked out to the waiting car for his ride to the airport.

~ * ~
Sabrina’s lips burned, as he walked out the door, her fingers went to her lips, she felt the passion within them. She held onto the railing to keep her weak knees from giving out underneath her. The click of the door, he was gone, he wasn’t coming back, at least not right now. She had no idea when, or if, she would see him again. She waited a few minutes, hoping he would knock on the door, say he changed his mind and wanted to stay, but he didn’t.

She finally gave up, slowly walked upstairs to her room and climbed into the middle of the bed. She reached for a pillow, his pillow, the one he had used. She clutched it to her chest, inhaling his lingering scent, that is when the tears began to fall. She couldn’t control them, the weight of him being gone, she was alone. She had been alone before, why would it suddenly bother her to be alone again?

Her sobbing became more pronounced, and she clutched his pillow as if her life depended on it. She began to rock back and forth, “Why…are…you…crying…he’s….just…a…guy…” her words came broken due to her sobs, “This..isn’t…you.”

She cried so hard, she began to hyperventilate. She had to force herself to calm down and to regulate her breathing, trying to stop her crying. This didn’t make sense to her, nothing was making sense. It took several minutes for her to calm down, for the crying to stop, and for her breathing to get back to a normal rhythm. Suddenly her thoughts went from the pain of Chris being gone to how could she let herself get to this place so quickly.

“Why are you so wrapped up with this guy? How does he have you going from a self-assured businesswoman to a blubbering school girl?” She was chastising herself over the entire situation, she didn’t have emotions like this. The problem was, as much as she was confused over her feelings, the ache in her heart was still there. “You’ve known the guy for less than a week, you can’t be in love with him, Sabrina. It’s ridiculous, get it out of your head.”

She got off the bed, gathered her things and went into the bathroom to take a shower. Thinking that it might clear her mind and bring her back to reality. Plus her head was hurting from the crying, the heat from the shower could help with that. Unfortunately, when she walked into the bathroom, her mind went back to Chris. He was the last one in the bathroom, it still smelled like his aftershave and cologne. There were still little hairs in the sink from where he had trimmed his beard. Damn, this wasn’t helping.

She quickly rinsed out the sink, this would usually irritate her, had that been any other man she would have thrown a fit. She would have yelled and screamed at him for being rude, not cleaning up after himself. Exactly how hard would it have been to turn on the water and rinse out the sink? Instead, seeing the remnants in the sink brought a smile to her lips, it was a reminder that Chris had been there. “Why aren’t you mad at him for doing the exact thing that pisses you off when other men do it? Damn it, Sabrina, why does this guy have such a hold on you?”

She turned on the shower, moving the water to as hot as she could stand. She stood under the pulsating water and tried to block out the thoughts that were running through her mind. Unfortunately, all she could think about was Chris. She replayed her initial meeting with him, their boat ride, that first kiss on the street corner, the tango, the sex in the hotel room, and the two nights in the apartment.

As her thoughts were on him, her body was aching for him. She was aching for his touch, for his lips, for him to be inside her. She kept thinking about how her body reacted to his touch, how he made her feel. No other man had ever made her feel that way. How did he do it? How did he so quickly learn what she needed?

The men she had been with in the past, she knew they were intimated by her and did what she wanted and when. But Chris, he wasn’t scared of her. He stood up to her, he gave her what she needed, not necessarily what she asked for. She never knew she wanted that in her life, now she craved it. “You aren’t that kind of woman, Sabrina,” she found herself saying in response to the thoughts in her head, “You aren’t the kind of woman who needs a man to take care of her, you’re independent, remember that!”

The water of the shower was turning cold, she quickly shut the water off and opened the shower door, grabbing the towel off the rack. She pulled her hair into her towel turban and stepped out to dry off. Her mind was still buzzing with the random thoughts of Chris and her feelings for him, what it all meant and how scared she was. She dried her hair and got dressed, trying, for the moment, to push out any thoughts of Chris and to compartmentalize her feelings.

Staring into the mirror, she didn’t recognize herself, “When did you become this woman? When did you let a man, a younger man, an actor for God’s sake, do this to you?” She gripped the counter and dropped her head, “You never wanted to be with a man this bad. Are you really willing to give up everything for him?”

The fact she was even having these thoughts were terrifying, she never considered giving up her career for anyone. Even when she was married to Kyle, her work consumed her, success drove her, and her relationship and marriage came second. Now, all she could think of was being with Chris, work was secondary, she was willing to walk away, how in the hell had this happened and so quickly? This was not the kind of woman she was, success was her motivating force. Her career was her partner in life. Chris had her considering a life outside of work, the idea of a real relationship, hell, she was even thinking of children, something that had never been a consideration before.

She looked back at her reflection, “Pull it together, Sabrina. He isn’t coming back, and you know it! He won’t call, he won’t come back to you, this was a fling, and that’s all. Remember who you are – Sabrina Burnham, a successful architect, influential business woman, independent woman.”

She closed her eyes, willing herself to remember those words, repeating them silently over and over. She opened her eyes, put on her makeup and finished getting dressed. After all, she had a meeting to prepare for with the Mayor of Chicago, she needed to have her game face on.

~ * ~
During the drive to the airport, Chris could not help but think back on what transpired when he left the apartment. It killed him to walk out the door, but he couldn’t let Sabrina see that. He needed to be strong, leave while he could. The longer he stayed, the more confused he became over the entire relationship. One minute she is giving him the indication that he is nothing more than a toy, a plaything for her, the relationship is nothing serious and has no strings. The next, she thinks he is asleep, and she is declaring feelings, stopping just short of declaring her love for him.

He felt like a ping pong ball, being sent sailing back and forth across the table in a tournament match. No one is missing a shot, he is flying back and forth with lightning speed. The problem was, he was every bit as conflicted as she was. He was damn close to giving his own declaration of love after knowing her for a week. Hell, in all honesty, he hadn’t even known her or been with her the entire week, just bits and pieces of it. He was drawn to her self-confidence, the way she carried herself. She had to fight to get where she was, he was aware that she had never been given anything in her life, he respected her for that. She exuded power, and he had to admit, it was sexy.

When he met her, the thought had crossed his mind that she was closed off; she gave off the vibe that she was not looking for a man to fill a void in her life. He was pretty sure that most men found her intimidating, probably rolled over and did whatever she asked. He had the feeling that when Sabrina Burnham said “Jump,” they all said, “How high?”

But she had something that made him think twice. During her declaration, when she thought he was asleep, she said, “I can’t risk being broken, not again.” What did she mean by that? Who broke her and how bad was it that she felt she needed to declare that to him?

Sabrina evidently thought that being vulnerable was a weakness, she didn’t like to show that to anyone. And he was pretty sure, she hated that he saw it. But he was glad that she had opened up, but he knew she was still holding something back. He just wasn’t sure what it was or why she was so secretive.

He had been so wrapped up in analyzing his relationship and his leaving, that he didn’t realize the car had pulled up to the terminal at the airport. The door opened, he got out and thanked the driver, giving him a tip, as was customary. He grabbed his bags and made his way into the terminal. He had the pre-screening with the TSA so he was able to get through part of the line rather quickly. Once through security, he found the airline lounge and made himself comfortable, ordered a cup of coffee and turned on his cell.

He noticed the number of missed calls and texts from Audrey. Immediately his mind went back to the discussion he had with Sabrina over the motivation for her reaching out. He figured he would find out, hitting the call button to dial her number.

The phone rang, he heard the line connect, but Audrey did not say anything. He decided to go ahead and speak up, “Hey, I see you were trying to reach me yesterday, thought I would give you a call.” He was met with silence, and wondered if she had actually answered the phone after all, “Audrey, are you there?”

“Oh, I’m here, where the fuck were you yesterday when I needed you? Would it have killed you to pick up the fucking phone or to answer one damn text?”

“Whoa, calm down a minute, I was busy.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down, first of all. And second, I don’t know that I would classify fucking my best friend as being busy, Chris.”

“What is wrong Audrey, where is this anger coming from?” He was trying to keep his voice calm and steady, he didn’t want to yell or bring attention to himself, “You’re this pissed off because I didn’t answer a call or a text? Look, I’m sorry, really, I am.”

“I needed Sabrina, the calls to you were to get to her. We have a big deal that needed her eyes and her signature so it could go out this morning, all I needed was five minutes of her time.”

“You should have come by the apartment, if she had known it was for a deal, she would have had time for you.”

“Well, that’s the thing, Chris. I did come by the apartment, I was denied access. I was told Sabrina gave strict instructions for the two of you to not be interrupted, unless the building was on fire, you were to be left alone. So, you wouldn’t answer your phone, she wouldn’t answer her phone, and I couldn’t get up to the apartment.”

He let out a heavy sigh, the vitriol when she answered the phone made sense, now. There wasn’t much he could say that would help the situation, “Audrey, I’m sorry, I had no idea.”

“You never even looked at what I typed, did you? Never even looked at my messages, just saw it was from me and ignored it, right?” Her heart broke at the realization that he had no idea why she had been trying to reach out yesterday, he had blatantly ignored her, this made her pain even more intense. “Well, thanks,” and with that, she ended the call. She couldn’t take that any longer, it was bad enough knowing that she had feelings that were not reciprocated, but to realize now that her messages were ignored based on her name popping up and not the content. Well, that was too much to take.

Chris looked down at his phone, shocked that she had hung up on him. He quickly sent her a text, “I left the apartment, if you want to get Sabrina, call her now.”

He didn’t say anything further, he knew she was mad, and he wasn’t going to push it with her. She needed time to cool off, and he wasn’t going to argue in the middle of the airport.

~ * ~
Sabrina walked through the lobby and to the waiting car, she was heading to her meeting with the Mayor to discuss the new building at the Spire site. She kept her shoulders back and her head up, not making eye contact with anyone, in particular, walking as if she owned the building, which she did. Her driver held the door open for her, and she eased into the backseat. For a brief moment, she wondered if this was the car that had taken Chris to the airport. She quickly tried to push that out of her mind, she had to stop thinking of him, it wasn’t going to do her any good.

She had turned on her phone before leaving the apartment and quickly scanned emails and text messages to make sure nothing had changed with this meeting. The only thing she saw was a confirmation, so she put the phone back in her purse. All other messages and emails could wait until she got back to the office. There was nothing that was pressing, at least nothing that she could recall, so for her, this meeting with the Mayor was her priority.

As the car pulled up in front of City Hall, she quickly thanked her driver and exited the car. She walked up the steps and into the building, prepared for her meeting and had shut down all feelings and thoughts of Chris and his visit. She had always been able to compartmentalize her feelings when it came to working; it was harder to do with Chris, but she was determined to make it happen.

The meeting with the Mayor had gone well, it was a formality in every sense of the word. The drawings and design for the Spire building had been approved by the building commission in a closed-door meeting two weeks earlier. Sabrina’s design had been breathtaking, and she had the funding already in place, unlike the previous developer. The Mayor wanted to formally review the plan and bless the project before the formal press release went out. He also wanted Sabrina to give him an idea of how quickly she could get a project team together and get the groundbreaking started.

Her best guess, six weeks to get it kicked off. She hoped that would be enough time, she knew that even if it were not, the Mayor was going to hold her to that timeline now. She thanked him for his time, exited City Hall and found her car for the return trip to the office. A quick check of her watch showed it was almost 3:30 pm, she intended to put in a late night; she had quite a bit to catch up on from being out of the office.

When the elevator doors opened on the floor of Burnham Designs, she immediately sensed that something was different. She couldn’t explain it, but there was a charge in the air. She walked towards her office, everyone kept their head down, no eye contact. That was odd, she figured it was due to the projects that were due and the deadlines. Plus it was late in the day, everyone was focused on wanting to go home.

Alice stood from her desk as Sabrina approached, “Good afternoon, ma’am. I trust you had an enjoyable time off?”

Sabrina smiled, Alice was so warm and pleasant, “Afternoon, Alice. I did have an enjoyable time off, thank you for asking. Please sit down, is there anything pressing I need to know about?”

Alice swallowed hard, she knew this was not going to be pleasant, “Ms. Clarke had been looking for you yesterday, it was quite urgent. I was able to rearrange all of your Monday meetings, your calendar has been updated accordingly. I have a new set of potential projects for review on your desk.”

“Great, thank you. I’ll get with Ms. Clarke momentarily. I’m staying late tonight, but I want you to go ahead and leave at five tonight. Please don’t stick around for me, okay?”

Alice nodded and sat down as Sabrina walked into her office and gently closed her door. Alice was all too keenly aware that the pleasant mood her boss was in would be shot to hell as soon as she saw the binder on her desk. She quickly sent an instant message to Audrey via the company messaging system, she wanted to warn her that Sabrina had just arrived in the office, and she would be on the warpath very soon.

Sabrina walked to her desk, sitting in her large leather chair and placing her purse on the floor next to her. She turned on her computer and turned her attention to the items on her desk. That is when she saw the binder, the Boston RFI binder to be exact. It suddenly hit her, the deadline for that was earlier today, she had forgotten about it completely.

She picked up the binder, flung open her office door and began marching toward Audrey’s office. She walked with intent and purpose, her heels digging into the floor as she walked. People moved out of her way when they saw her coming. She didn’t bother knocking on Audrey’s door, she just opened it and let herself in. Audrey was in the middle of a meeting, she didn’t flinch when Sabrina opened the door, she continued on as if there had been no interruption. This, of course, made Sabrina angrier, but Audrey did not care in the least.

Sabrina began to pace, sighing heavily as she did, making it known that she was furious that Audrey was continuing with her meeting. Finally, she broke in, “You will need to continue this meeting later, I need to speak with you right now!”

Audrey took a deep breath, counted to ten, then responded, “No, Sabrina, you will need to wait. This meeting is time sensitive and the binder in your hand, well that ship has sailed. You can have a seat, I’ll be with you in a minute, but I’m going to finish up with Ashley first.”

Sabrina’s eyes went wide, Audrey had never refused to meet with her like that before. And what did she mean, that ship had sailed? Sabrina sat down on the couch, but her anger was not subsiding if anything she was working up a good head of steam for when Ashley left the room.

Audrey made quick with the meeting, ushering Ashley out of the room personally and shutting the door behind her. She spun around and glared at Sabrina, “What in the hell was that? I get that this is your fucking company, but you just barge in my office with no regard for what I might be doing or meetings I might be having?”

Sabrina stood up and dropped the binder on the coffee table in front of her, “Why was this fucking binder on my desk and not on it’s way to Boston?”

“Because you were too busy fucking your boyfriend and blowing off work to review it and sign it. You made such a big deal about you needing to examine the contents of that RFI, and you wanted to sign it before it went out and then you disappear when the damn thing is due.”

“And you didn’t think to get in touch with me to get it done?”

“Oh, you will not blame me for this Sabrina. I fucking tried to get in touch with you yesterday, called Chris, texted Chris, called you, texted you – all of my attempts were blatantly ignored. I came to the apartment, was told that since the building wasn’t on fire, I wasn’t important enough to be let up. You gave strict instructions that you and Chris were not to be bothered,” Audrey was on a roll, her voice was rising, and she was sure that everyone in the office could hear her. “Alice emailed you, I emailed you, I did everything but fucking carrier pigeon to the 80th floor, so don’t blame me for your lack of response. This is all on you.”

“You didn’t think to sign my name to it and send it anyway?”

“You would bitch no matter what I did, I can’t win with you, Sabrina. Send it without you reviewing it and you’re pissed off. Don’t send it and you’re pissed off. This isn’t my fault, it’s yours, remember that, I’m not taking the fall for you not doing your job. You wanted to bid on this project so bad, maybe you should have been more concerned with it than with Chris,” Audrey started to walk back towards her desk.

“You’re the one who introduced me to Chris, you’re the one who told me he would be good for me, I should give it a chance.”

Audrey dropped her head, she didn’t turn around but responded quietly, “Yeah, that is my fault. I wish I wouldn’t have done that.” Audrey picked up a piece of paper on her desk, turning she walked back to Sabrina and handed it to her.
“What is this? Sabrina asked as she took it from her.

“It is my letter of resignation, I’m giving you three week’s notice. I think Ashley or Gary on staff would be ideal for promoting into my position, they’ve been here for years, and it would be easier to promote internally versus going with an outside candidate.”

Sabrina said nothing, she walked to Audrey’s door, opened it and started to walk out. The staff, which had gathered when they heard the two women yelling, scattered like roaches when the light comes on. Sabrina pretended not to notice the audience and walked back to her office, slamming her door and dropping onto the couch in her office. Wondering how everything went to hell in a handbasket so quickly.

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