It had been nearly four weeks since Sabrina had said goodbye to Audrey and Chris. Nearly four weeks since the wheels had come off of what had seemed like an almost perfectly moving train. Sabrina had been unable to concentrate since they were gone, her workload had increased exponentially. To say she was drowning did not even scratch the surface. Her days were an endless cycle of meetings and phone calls, barely having time to think in between. She was forced to spend the evening hours catching up on all of the things she couldn’t do during regular business hours because of her schedule. This meant excessively long hours in the office, rarely going home. Which was okay with her, the apartment only served as a reminder of Chris and the happier moments with him. Of course, it also brought back the horror of what Kyle was doing to her with the photographs. Her apartment was no longer her sanctuary, so staying in the office provided that, even if it did mean she was working.
She would sleep at her desk, head down, face plastered to papers that were scattered about. Or, if she had the energy and could catch herself ahead of time, she would make it to the couch first. Either way, the options for getting shut-eye in the office were not comfortable and did not provide peaceful, restful slumber. Since she had a full-service bathroom in her office, Alice was kind enough to help make sure she had clean clothes so she could shower and change. Alice had gone to the apartment to get a supply of suites, that way clothes could be rotated through the dry cleaners and Sabrina still had things to wear. Alice even took care to bring casual wear for the weekends, because Sabrina was, of course, working through every weekend.
Her schedule wasn’t good for her diet, she was losing weight, and not in a healthy way, she was barely eating. She was primarily getting by on Red Bull, water, and the occasional salad that she would barely pick at. While Alice was in charge of her schedule, she would make sure that the meetings around lunch time would have catered food. The problem was, Sabrina wouldn’t eat it. She might make a plate for appearances, but she would take a bite or two, move it around on her plate and be done. She wasn’t fooling anyone, everyone noticed she wasn’t eating. Her eyes were starting to get dark circles, and she was taking on a thin and unhealthy look. It was noticeable, but no one dared bring it up to her.
Sabrina had underestimated the amount of time the Legal team would occupy on her calendar. While they were able to understand the landscape, as Audrey had put it, there were many things they could not address on their own. The absence of a General Counsel was a bigger deal than even Sabrina could have predicted. She was regularly reviewing documents that required approval, while the team had redlined them, based on guidelines that had been set forth, none of them had the authority to approve the final drafts. They also did not have signatory approval on anything, which meant that even the most insignificant document or change, would have to go to Sabrina. The log jam on her desk was massive. On more than one occasion, Sabrina questioned why these things were being brought to her, the response was always, “Well, Audrey handled this.”
The first few staff meetings after Audrey left, the question, was always asked, “When will she be back?” Sabrina deflected each time, saying that she did not know. The news that Audrey did not work there any longer had stayed confidential, HR and Security knew better than to gossip about that sort of thing. No one had any idea that she was not returning outside of four people. At the end of the third week, what would have been the end of her ‘vacation’ time, Sabrina broke the news to the Legal staff during their meeting.
“I am sorry to break this news to you all, but Audrey has made the decision to not return to her position here at Burnham Design Group. She has tendered her resignation, I’m respectful of her choice. Trust me, this is her choice, not mine.”
There was a collective and audible gasp in the room. Sabrina knew they were shocked, they had all anticipated that Audrey would be returning. “I will begin looking immediately to fill her role as General Counsel. I will be looking internally and externally for the right candidate. I have asked HR to pull all of your resumes for review, and I will begin setting up interviews with each of you in the coming days and weeks.”
The murmurs in the meeting were making it clear that the fact she mentioned external candidates was not setting well. As the meeting was concluding, two associates tendered their resignations effective immediately. The loyalty to Audrey was to be expected, Sabrina was frankly surprised that only two people quit. She had honestly expected the entire department to leave. This meant that the workload and stress would crank up another notch.
Her stress level was already off the chart. Between the overloaded work schedule and lack of sleep, she was also unable to talk to Chris. Honestly, this was more painful than anything, but she couldn’t let him know that. He was filming a new movie and was on location in Africa or Asia, someplace on the other side of the world that meant the time difference kept them apart. When he was awake, she was asleep, and vice versa. Even her lack of sleep still kept her from being able to have a conversation with him. She tried it one time, he spent the entire call being more worried about her than anything else. Although right now, she wouldn’t care to hear him tell her how worried he was, at least she would hear his voice.
Instead, all of their communication was being done via text message or email. Which meant that it would take hours to get a response and it was usually clipped or cut off. It was hard to have a conversation or emotional connection of any sort via text. He would send her a selfie from time to time just so she could see those beautiful blue eyes and that sexy smile. She ached for him, not just in a sexual way, she just needed to be near him and to feel safe and secure. She begged something she was not prone to do, for him to come to Chicago to see her. She told him that she needed to see him. But he told her no, the flight was too long, by the time he arrived he would have to leave again. They would literally have no time together if he did that. She said she would hop a plane and come to him. He told her no that his shooting schedule would limit their time together, it would be a wasted trip. His denial of for any attempt to see her wasn’t helping her mental state at all.
Of course, she wasn’t honest with him, he had no idea how bad things were with her at the moment. She tried to put on a happy face when they did talk, her messages tried to remain remotely positive. She just told him she needed him, that was all. She had never told him about the fight with Audrey, it wasn’t her place to do so. Her façade was that everything was sunshine and roses, when in fact, the storm clouds were unrelenting.
Sabrina was reading through a contract for a time sensitive project when there was a faint knock on the door, she looked up to see Alice walking in, “Morning, Alice, please tell me it is morning.”
Alice smiled warmly, “Yes, ma’am it is morning,” she sat a fresh cup of coffee on her desk, then continued to the bathroom where she hung up the dry cleaning bag of the recently laundered business suits. “Brett Iber will be here at 9 for your meeting to review the final contract and plans for the Hawaii project. Do you want to meet with him here in your office or in the conference room?”
“Conference room, please. I’ll be ready, I’m finishing the contract review right now. Will you call the Mayor’s office and confirm the groundbreaking ceremony time for The Spire tomorrow? I can’t remember what time it’s supposed to be.”
“I already have the agenda, the Mayor’s office sent it over yesterday afternoon. You need to be at the job site at 11:30, the groundbreaking ceremony will be at 11:45 and the press conference will be at noon. The Mayor has graciously offered to take you to lunch following the festivities.”
“Oh, great! Just what I want,” the sarcasm was heavy, she hated the idea of going through this event much less going to lunch with the Mayor.
“You need to make sure you dress appropriately, it will be quite warm and humid tomorrow. Should I go to your apartment and find something for you to wear?”
“No, thanks, Alice. I’m sure that I’ve got something here already.” Sabrina hated the idea that Alice was taking care of her, it wasn’t her job to do that. She needed to call HR and give that woman a raise if it weren’t for her, Sabrina was pretty sure she’d be dead by now.
~ * ~
As Audrey pulled out of the parking garage of the Burnham building, she was unsure what was ahead for her. She had not expected Sabrina to ask her to leave, that came out of left field. But then again, she had not expected that the two of them would have such an epic fight either. Words were spoken that could never be taken back, a friendship of twenty years had just been torn apart. She had written that resignation letter in a fit of anger, the heat of the moment, wanted to use it as a leverage tool to make Sabrina understand the precipice for which they were heading.
Instead, it backfired, the resignation was accepted, the fight ensued, harsh words were exchanged. Sabrina was right, she hated to admit that, most of her actions were fueled by jealousy. She could not explain it, she had pushed Sabrina and Chris together, had wanted to see both of them happy. But when she saw them in the hotel room, knew what that meant, something snapped. The jealousy and envy over what Sabrina was able to have with Chris that she didn’t, it hurt and the pain were too much to bear. Sabrina always got what she wanted, the woman worked hard and always got what she was after. It was, in a way, infuriating to Audrey, because she worked hard but the spoils went to Sabrina. She had never been jealous of Sabrina’s marriage to Kyle, that is the one time she tried to warn her friend. Audrey hated Kyle from the beginning, always thought he seemed smarmy and underhanded. But Sabrina would hear none of it, she was in love and thought he was wonderful. Audrey bit her tongue, supported her friend and helped her pick up the pieces when the marriage ended.
There had been several times where Audrey had been tempted to pick up the phone to call Sabrina. Make an attempt to smooth things over, repair the damage. But each time, she decided against it, thinking it would seem desperate or look like she was begging to get her job back. She even wondered if Sabrina might make a move, try to call her or even personally deliver the items from her office. Then they could try to mend fences and move forward. But those hopes were dashed when one of the security guards from the office showed up with her things. He didn’t say anything, just brought the box in, tipped his hat and left.
Audrey had enough friends in the Legal community that she began networking to see if anyone was looking for a corporate attorney. With her experience, who she had worked for, she was actually well sought after. Within a few days, she had several offers to pick from. One of her friends, Gunnar Rivers, had a boutique law firm down the street from the Burnham building. He had an opening and was willing to make Audrey a named partner, he knew she would bring in business. The respect she was being shown from the start was enough to turn her head. She had accepted and begun working there within two weeks after leaving Sabrina’s office. Gunnar had been respectful of the situation with Sabrina and agreed not to make an announcement of her hiring until after her resignation was announced at the Burnham office.
She had settled into her new office, made a few friends, but hadn’t completely opened up about her friendship with Sabrina or her reasons for leaving the Burnham Design Group. She also didn’t share with anyone that she was friends with Chris Evans. Although, she had not really talked to him lately. He was off making a movie, his schedule was full, so text messages here, and there were about all they exchanged at the moment. She elected not to tell him about her fight with Sabrina. Since he didn’t bring it up, she guessed that Sabrina had not shared that information either.
She had walked into the office kitchen for a cup of coffee when she overheard two people talking about The Spire groundbreaking. It was going to be on TV with a press conference, a big deal since the pit would finally have a new building going into the spot. When they saw Audrey come in, they stopped talking, as if it was inappropriate to talk about her former employer in front of her. Audrey looked over, seeing the information splashed across the headline of the newspaper. This would be a big day for Sabrina, the building that she was going to put up at the pit would be a showstopper. Most likely it would become the building she will be most famous for.
~ * ~
Audrey decided that despite everything, she wanted to watch the groundbreaking and press conference. She worked hard on this project with Sabrina, ironing out the contract with the city attorney and city planners to ensure that the final build would adhere to their strict standards. The Mayor loved the design, he wanted Sabrina’s building to go up, he would pull any and all strings to make it happen.
Gunnar walked into Audrey’s office as she was turning on the TV, “Can’t keep away can you?”
“I’m too invested in that project, Gunnar, I hate to admit that I’m excited to see it go up.”
“I know you’ve kept quiet about what happened over there, but I know you two have been friends for years. You don’t even mention her, so I’m going to guess you had a falling out?” Audrey didn’t answer him, but he could see in her eyes that he had hit the nail on the head, “You should give her a call, it’s been what, four weeks? Maybe you two can fix it.”
The TV station started with the coverage of the groundbreaking, “My God, she looks awful,” Audrey said without thinking, “She looks like she hasn’t slept in days and she’s lost weight she couldn’t afford to lose.”
“Her makeup isn’t hiding the dark circles under her eyes, either,” Gunnar added, not really intending to pile on, but Audrey just stared at him. “Face it, Audrey, she looks like she can barely lift that shovel.”
The two of them watched as the parade of dignitaries walked up onto the stage for the Mayor to begin the press conference. He stood at the podium, Sabrina was slightly behind him, on his left, at the rear of the stage. What happened next seemed like it was in slow motion. As the Mayor began speaking, Sabrina began to sway ever so slightly, then her head tilted back, she collapsed, falling off the stage entirely.
The cameras which had been focused on the Mayor began to pan around looking for Sabrina. Immediately, Paramedics were on scene, and the Police were creating a barricade around her to keep the media away. Audrey watched in horror from her office, unable to comprehend what she had just witnessed.
Gunnar reached over, turned the TV off, grabbed her purse and pulled her out the door, “Come on, I’ll take you to the hospital, and you can meet her there.”
~ * ~
Sabrina had been wheeled into the emergency room less than ten minutes after her collapse. She had a significant bump on her head, connecting with a sizable rock on her fall from the stage. She had been lucky, though, she had not rolled into the pit, that would have been one hell of a fall. The doctors and nurses were running every test they could think of and were taking no chances. Audrey was pacing the waiting room with the Mayor and members of the City Planning board who had been on the stage when Sabrina had fallen. They were all waiting for some sort of news, although with medical laws being what they are, it was clear they wouldn’t get much.
They had been waiting about two hours when Audrey’s phone rang, she instinctively answered it as she walked toward a quiet area, “Hello.”
“You don’t call me? I find out on a fucking Google alert that she’s collapsed? Is she okay?”
“I don’t know, I’m waiting for the doctor to come out and say something. Get on a plane and get here.”
“Wait, what do mean you don’t know? Weren’t you there?”
“No, I don’t work for her anymore, I haven’t for a month. I’m telling you, get here, Chris, she’s going to need you. I saw her on TV, and she looks awful. Have you seen or talked to her?”
“Text messages, that’s it. What the fuck do you mean you haven’t worked for her in a month? Jesus Christ, Audrey, what is going on?”
“Chris, she looks awful, I don’t think she’s been eating or sleeping, she looks like death warmed over to put it politely.”
“Fuck, I’m on my way.”
Audrey hung up the call, walking back and taking a seat next to Gunnar. “Who was that?” He asked.
“Her boyfriend, wanting to know why I didn’t call him to tell him about her collapse.”
“And, why didn’t you?”
She shrugged, “I didn’t think about it, I was just more worried about her,” she put her head on Gunnar’s shoulder. Thankful that he was there with her, and praying that Sabrina was going to be okay. She also hoped she could handle seeing Chris when he arrived at the hospital.
~ * ~
Sabrina began to slowly open her eyes, she was groggy, had no idea where she was or what the incessant beeping was. There was a low light in the room, making it hard for her to focus or distinguish where she was. The only thing that was for certain was that her head hurt, a pounding that wouldn’t stop. She tried to move, realizing she had wires and IVs in her arms, she was evidently in a hospital. Panic was setting in, what happened? Her heart rate began to go up, and the machine next to her started to beep faster. Suddenly, she could tell there was someone by her side, but she couldn’t make out who it was. Then she heard the voice.
“Sabrina, it’s okay, you’re in the hospital. You’ll be fine, just relax,” Audrey’s voice was calm, and she spoke softly.
“Yeah, it’s me, I’m here.”
“You passed out and fell off the stage at the groundbreaking for your new building,” Sabrina’s eyes went wide as Audrey spoke the words, “No, stay calm, it’s okay. Everyone, including the Mayor, has been worried.”
“Why are you here?” Her question was asked quietly and not intended to be rude.
“I was watching it on TV, I saw it happen, I was worried so I came to make sure you were okay. I didn’t want you to wake up alone,” that was the reality of it, Audrey knew that Sabrina would have no one there with her and that broke her heart. Gunnar was in the room, but he was keeping quiet in the shadows, he didn’t want to frighten Sabrina. Besides, he was there for Audrey if she needed the support. “Close your eyes, get some rest, you need it.”
Sabrina faintly nodded, closed her eyes and drifted back asleep. Audrey moved back to take her seat next to Gunnar, let out the breath she was holding and tried to relax. “She didn’t throw you out, Audrey, that’s a good sign,” he said as he patted her thigh, giving her a smile to show his support.
“I think it’s because she’s still heavily medicated.”
“When does her boyfriend get in?” As Gunnar asked the question, he noticed she bristled. Obviously, this was a touchy subject.
“He texted me and said his plane would be landing,” she checked her watch, “In about an hour. He will come barrelling in like a hurricane, I’m sure.” She put her head down, thinking of how she was going to face him. She was fairly sure that Sabrina had never told him what had happened between the two of them. But if they were in the same room, would it be so easy to stay quiet?
“Do you want me to leave? Give you all some time together to work out the issues you have?”
Audrey couldn’t look up, she began fidgeting with her hands in her lap. “Would it be too much to ask you to stay? I might need a friendly face.”
Gunnar put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to him, “No worries, I’ve got your back on this.”
Audrey had come to appreciate Gunnar’s friendship. There was nothing romantic or sexual in their relationship, they were friends only. They had known each other for years, used to hang out quite a bit, but had grown apart as their careers had taken off. Gunnar had actually relocated, for a time, to Denver, but had been back in Chicago for a few years and started his own firm. They had a deep and abiding respect for one another, it would serve them well, they figured, as they worked together.
Time passed, no words were spoken, each of them watching Sabrina sleep. Neither of them watched the clock, but Audrey guessed the time when the door opened, and Chris walked in. He said nothing, just immediately went to Sabrina’s bedside, taking her hand and kissing her forehead. She didn’t wake up, but Audrey did notice that her heart rate slowed, as if she was suddenly calm and at ease.
Chris stood still for a moment, watching Sabrina sleep, not wanting to let go of her hand. Audrey watched him carefully, her heart ached as she saw the pain and worry etched on his face. There was no doubt, he was in love with her, Audrey just wondered if he had told her yet. She took a deep breath, trying to collect herself, then stood up, walking toward Chris. She placed her hand on his shoulder and whispered, “We should step outside and talk for a minute.”
He looked over his shoulder at her and nodded, releasing Sabrina’s hand. Leaning over he gave her one more kiss on her forehead, “I’ll be right back, baby, I promise.”
Audrey led Chris out of the room and into a private waiting room, she closed the door behind him. “The doctor said she is dehydrated, under-nourished, sleep deprived and has a concussion from the fall,” she watched his reaction as the words began to sink in. “Evidently, after talking to Alice, she’s been living in the office for the last four weeks. She’s not eating, or barely eats and is surviving on Red Bull and water only, which has resulted in her losing a little more than twenty pounds.”
“Shit, Audrey, what happened? I talked to her the day after I left, she said there was a shit storm she was cleaning up, but she never elaborated. What are the two of you not telling me?”
“When she was with you, we missed a deadline in the office for a project she was interested in,” she started to tell him the story, but he interrupted.
“The one you kept calling and texting about for her to review? The one we got into the argument about when I was at the airport?”
“Yeah, that one. See, when she didn’t review it, I could have just signed her name to it and sent it on, but I didn’t. I was angry, and I elected to not send it off. So, she lost the opportunity to bid on a project that she really wanted, she was furious, and we had a rather large fight. I had been so mad from the day before that I had written a resignation letter and I gave it to her,” she turned away from Chris, she felt as if his eyes were staring into her soul and she couldn’t take it.
“So you quit and walked out over a binder and a bid process? Audrey this seems foolish,” he was trying to understand, he was just having a hard time grasping this.
“No, she came back to my office the next day to discuss my resignation, and we got into a bigger fight. The argument was personal, full of venom and hateful remarks, things you can’t really take back. She told me to get my stuff and go, so I did,” Audrey still had her back to Chris, unable to turn around and face him, “Haven’t seen her or talked to her until this happened. I was worried about her, I saw her on TV, Chris, and she looked awful.”
“What in the hell lead to you resigning in the first place? And what was this fight about that had her kick you out of the office early?”
“It doesn’t matter. What is important is this, she’s under a lot of stress at work, she hasn’t been able to talk to you, she hasn’t been getting any sleep, she hasn’t been eating. She’s in a downward spiral, she’s killing herself and doesn’t even realize it.”
“This is all my fault, if I had just been able to talk to her, find out what was going on, maybe I could have helped. The time difference is killing us, hell it damn near killed her,” he ran his fingers through his hair.
Audrey turned back around, it was then that she took a good look at him, noticed how he looked. He was disheveled, tired, his shirt was partially tucked in, his hair a mess. She knew she was staring, she couldn’t help it, he finally called her on it. “What, Audrey? Why are you staring at me?”
“Have you slept at all since you got the Google alert about her collapse?”
“Why are you asking me that? It doesn’t matter, does it?”
“Well, let me put it this way. You’re not thinking rationally, first of all, if you are blaming yourself for Sabrina’s episode. Get real, Chris, she overworked herself which is something she is prone to do when she is having a hard time dealing with stress. I’m just as much to blame for her stress as you are, so don’t go trying to be the martyr because you’re off making a movie.” Audrey figured she should own up to some of the blame on this, after all, the majority of the stress was work related, and she knew she played a significant role in that. “But, second of all, you look like shit. You can’t expect to take care of her if you are on the verge of passing out yourself.”
“I slept on the plane, it’s the only sleep I’ve been able to get. I can’t help it, I’m worried about her.”
“Have you told her?”
“I just got here, and she’s been asleep, so I haven’t been able to tell her how worried I’ve been,” he thought her comment was odd since she had been in the room the entire time.
“That’s not what I mean, Chris. Have you told her that you love her?” He thrust his hands into his jeans pockets, turned from Audrey and walked away. She took that as a ‘no,’ he hadn’t told her yet. “What are you afraid of?”
“What was your fight about, Audrey? What has ended the relationship between you and Sabrina?”
“It doesn’t matter, Chris.”
“Oh, I think it does, I believe it plays a vital role in why she’s in the hospital right now. So, if you want me to be honest about what my feelings are, maybe you need to be honest about yours?”
While the two of them were arguing, they didn’t notice that Gunnar had entered the waiting room from the back entrance. He was quiet, not wanting to interrupt their disagreement but wanted to let them know that Sabrina was awake and asking for them both. Instead, he elected to stay in the shadows and try to understand what was going on between these two.
“I don’t want to get into this Chris, I’m not ready for the consequences.”
“Consequences? What are you talking about?”
Audrey took a deep breath, she knew this was the end, it was going to be painful. “Our argument was about you, Chris. The fact that I told her I have regrets over pushing the two of you together,” the tears were beginning to well in her eyes and she needed to keep them at bay for as long as possible. “I told her that I know how she treats men and I can’t watch her do that to you.”
Chris stared at her with wide eyes, not sure if he completely understood what she was saying to him. “Can you spell it out for me, Audrey? I don’t think I’m following you.”
“The fact that she has a history of never falling for men. Using them for her pleasure, kicking them to the curb when she’s done, never committing to a relationship.”
“Wow! I’m at a loss, Audrey, really, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say here.” This wasn’t helping his fears of being her boy toy at all, if this is what the fight was about, maybe his feelings were spot on all along.
“She told me I was off base, I just didn’t want to see her happy,” Audrey turned her face away, she didn’t want to look at him when she said the next words, “She said I was just jealous.”
Chris looked at her carefully, trying to gauge her emotions. The fact that she wouldn’t look at him spoke volumes, “Jealous? What are you talking about?”
“Jealous of Sabrina, for being with you,” Audrey exhaled loudly and looked directly at him, “I’ve had feelings for you all along, Chris.”
He sat down, putting his head in his hands, “Damnit, Audrey! This spiraled out of control because you’re jealous? Please tell me that is not what you are saying?”
“I’ve kept my feelings for you secret. I thought I was all right with you not feeling the same way. But when I saw the two of you getting closer and closer to one another, I guess something snapped. Look, I know how she is, and I didn’t want her to hurt you, and I told her that and the argument escalated.”
He stood back up, the fire in his eyes was more anger, she knew it was directed at her. “Audrey, you’ve been one of my best friends and closest confidants. I’ve trusted you with things that I’ve rarely trusted people with. In return, I always expected the truth from you. How could you keep something like this quiet?”
“You don’t feel the same way about me, remember? In Vegas, no chemistry? I felt it, but you didn’t.”
“You should have been honest with me, damn it,” he put his hands on hips and began to shake his head back and forth, “I’m at a loss, I really can’t believe you never talked to me about this. All the conversations we had before Sabrina ever came into the picture, and you couldn’t bring this up?”
“It’s not easy to admit something like this to you. Not easy to say I’m in love with you when I know you have no feelings for me, whatsoever.”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong. You have no idea how much I respect you and love you. Grant it, my love for you is not the romantic or sexual love you want, but it is love all the same. You just weren’t paying attention to it. A lie by omission is still a lie. It’s not something I expected from you.”
The tears began to fall gently down her cheeks, “I’m sorry, I don’t want our friendship to end this way.”
Chris turned away from her, walking towards the door to the waiting room, “It means a lot to me that you ran to her side, even though the two of you were fighting. I’m sure it will mean a lot to her as well,” he took a deep breath before continuing, “I’m gonna take her away for a vacation, force her to relax with no phone or work connections for a week. In case you want to try to talk to her and repair your relationship.”
Audrey was sobbing heavily, “What about us?”
He turned around slowly, he hated to see her cry, but making a move toward her would give her the wrong signal. He sighed heavily, “I can’t answer that right now, Audrey. I wish I could, but I’m just as hurt and angry as you are. I need to process this. I think we need to talk about it when we both have clear heads and some of the emotion is gone.” He turned back around, opened the door and walked out.