Chris had not expected the conversation with Audrey to go in that direction. But thinking back, Sabrina and Scott had both said she had feelings for him and he had laughed it off. He had honestly thought that they had worked past that when they were in Vegas. They had kissed, no spark, it ended right then. They elected to be friends, and that relationship flourished. He had never sensed any weirdness with her, but then again, he was never looking for it either.
He took a deep breath, trying to shake off everything that just happened, and pushed open the door to Sabrina’s hospital room. He noticed that Gunnar had left his post at the end of Sabrina’s bed, but before he could look around to see if he had moved, he heard a faint voice calling out to him.
“I see he found you,” Chris realized Sabrina was awake and speaking to him. He moved as fast as he could to be at her side, “I asked him to go find you and Audrey, I wanted to talk to you both.”
Chris put his hands on either side of her face and stared into her eyes, “You scared the hell out of me, Sabrina. Are you okay?” But before she could answer he was gently kissing her lips, then placing a soft kiss on her forehead. He sat on the edge of her bed, bracing himself across her body, “Please tell me you’re okay.”
She nodded slowly, “I’m okay, I’m just tired. I just need to get out of here and go back to work,” she searched his eyes, seeing the worry, and what appeared to be fear. “You shouldn’t be here, you should be filming your movie in Asia or Africa, wherever it is that you were.” Her words were a little slurred, it had to do with the massive doses of medication that she was on.
“Well, I was in Asia, I flew here when I found out about your stage dive,” he cracked a smile to keep the mood light. He wasn’t about to start a fight with her, “I made special arrangements to be here, so don’t worry about it.”
“Where’s Audrey? I want to talk to her.”
“Um, she was in the waiting room when I came back in here. Do you want me to go see if she’s still there?” Sabrina slowly nodded her head, “Ok, I’ll be right back, don’t move.”
Chris stood from the bed, walking toward the door he tried to keep his nerves calm. He really didn’t want to face Audrey so soon, but for Sabrina, he would do anything. As he approached the waiting room, he noticed that Audrey was seated on the couch, Gunnar by her side with his arm around her. His thoughts immediately went there, ‘when did the two of them get so cozy?’ Of course, that was immediately followed by ‘who the hell is this guy, anyway?’ Questions he knew he had no right to ask, but he couldn’t help himself.
He walked into the room, gently knocking on the door as he entered, “Audrey, I’m sorry to interrupt, but Sabrina wants to see you.”
Audrey immediately sat up, as if she’d been caught in a compromising position by her boyfriend or her parents. “Um, she wants to see me?”
“Yeah, she’s awake and asking for you,” he responded without emotion in his voice.
Audrey stood up, looking back at Gunnar who nodded in support. She pushed past Chris and walked out of the waiting room toward Sabrina’s room. Her friend looked frail and tiny in the bed, Audrey had not really noticed it before, but for some reason, it struck her when she entered the room. Sabrina turned her head and watched as Audrey approached.
“I see Chris found you,” Sabrina’s voice was barely audible.
Audrey gave her a brief smile, “Yeah, he did. I hear you wanted to see me?”
Sabrina tried to set up in bed, she was struggling, and Audrey stepped forward to help her. “I wanted to tell you thank you. Not just for helping me sit up just now, but for being here when I woke up. The nurse told me you were here the minute they brought me in.” Audrey dropped her head, taking a keen interest in the floor and the speckles in the tiles. She didn’t say anything, her emotions were running high, and she wasn’t sure she could speak. “It means a lot, that after everything, you were here for me. I just wanted you to know that I appreciated it, Audrey.”
Audrey finally looked up, she noticed that Sabrina’s eyes were damp. “I’m worried about you, Sabrina. I talked to Alice, she told me about what’s been going on. You’re gonna kill yourself if you aren’t careful.”
“Please don’t lecture me because I don’t want to fight with you. I only wanted to tell you that I appreciated your kindness,” Sabrina’s eyes conveyed that she was trying to extend an olive branch. She wanted to find a way to build a bridge of peace so that they could potentially rebuild their friendship. But maybe Audrey didn’t want that after all.
“No fighting, I promise. I just want you to get better, that’s all.”
“I’m going to take care of that,” Chris’ voice boomed from the doorway as he walked in on their conversation, “I’m going to take Sabrina on a vacation so she can recover and get healthy.”
Sabrina began shaking her head in protest, “No vacation, I need to go back to work. I have a business to run, there’s no one to take over in my absence. I can’t afford to be gone any longer than what I’ve already been out.”
Chris moved to Sabrina’s bedside, opposite from where Audrey was standing. “You’re telling me that you don’t have a VP to run the ship while you are out?”
“I did, but she doesn’t work there any longer,” the disappointment was evident in Sabrina’s voice.
“Well, I’m sure you have someone else who can helm the ship. If no one can run the business for you, then everyone gets a vacation while you’re out,” Chris was not letting her off the hook so easily.
“You know, Sabrina, he’s right. You do need to take some time off. I realize you don’t want to hear me say it, but you’ve lost weight, and you’re exhausted,” the concern was heavy in her eyes and in her voice. “Getting away from everything would be good for you. The office can survive without you, just trust that everyone can handle it for you.”
There was an awkward silence for a few moments, no one was quite sure what to say. Gunnar quietly entered the room but stayed close to the door. He didn’t want to intrude on the conversation, but he wanted to offer support for Audrey in case she needed it. She glanced over her shoulder at him, giving him a slight smile to acknowledge that he was there.
“I’m going to go home,” Audrey gently touched Sabrina’s hand, “I’m glad to see that you are doing better. I hope you are able to get out of here very soon. Take care of yourself.” She turned away from the bed and began walking toward Gunnar.
~ * ~
Chris had slept, although not peacefully, on the couch in the hospital room. Sabrina had tried to get him to go to the apartment, but he refused. She could tell he needed sleep, finally making the same observations that Audrey had regarding his disheveled appearance and the dark circles under his eyes. He confided like he had to Audrey, that he had been unable to rest since he heard about her collapse. So, the vacation would do them both wonders.
The nurse had come in for early rounds, taking Sabrina’s vitals, indicating that she would most likely be released later that morning. As the nurse was finishing up, the doctor stepped in to examine Sabrina for the final time. Chris took this as his cue to exit the room. Stepping into the waiting room he made a few phone calls to finalize the arrangements for the impromptu vacation with Sabrina. He had already lined up the location, he was able to do that while he was flying back from Asia. He had also asked his buddy, Josh, to work on securing a private flight out of Chicago. He just needed to call him with an idea of when they might be ready to go, the plane had been on stand-by.
He had decided on the private plane because he didn’t want to worry about security lines, dealing with the public, or potential delays with commercial flights. It would be so much easier to fly a chartered flight, they could have privacy which was the most important thing. Not only that, their schedule could be more fluid, they weren’t bound by the commercial schedules. Which could be a problem when it came to wanting to wait until the last possible moment to leave.
He needed to call and ask Alice for a favor. He knew it would be asking a lot, but if she were willing to pack for Sabrina, they could leave the hospital and go straight to the airport. If he had to take her back to her apartment to spend the night before they flew out, there was a chance she could fight him to stay. And on her own turf, in her own house, it might be harder for him to win.
Alice was eager to help. She had been just as worried about her boss these last few weeks and was greatly for her taking some time to get better. She conveyed to Chris just how horrible the stress level had been lately and how she had been tempted to call him several times to have him intervene. When he asked why she had not done it, she admitted that him being in Asia was an obstacle, she was afraid he couldn’t do much from such a long distance. A decision she was now regretting.
Chris wouldn’t tell Alice where he was taking Sabrina. Only that she would need a bathing suit for the hot tub, a sweater for the chilly evening air, and casual clothes. He told her they wouldn’t be going anywhere or doing anything fancy. But he might take her to one nice dinner, but nothing formal. Alice agreed and told Chris she would meet him at the airport with Sabrina’s bags when he was ready.
His original plan had been to jet off to a tropical location, where there could be no internet connection and Sabrina could be off the grid. But to do that, the flight would be long. He had such a long trip over from Asia that he didn’t want to endure a long flight to Fiji or Bora Bora. There were places where he could take her to get her off the grid without leaving the US, the flights would be shorter, and they could virtually disappear. He didn’t want to do a tourist destination for the beach, and while there were some exclusive resorts he could take her to, he wanted to go somewhere he felt safe.
Every year, he rang in the new year in Vermont with his friends. His best friend, Tara, owned a home there and she hosted a big party. Their iconic photo in front of the fireplace usually made it’s rounds on social media, someone would steal it from their Instagram account, the next thing you know it is on Tumblr and Twitter! He called Tara, asking if he could borrow the house for a week. He was pretty sure that she wasn’t using it right now, and as expected, she was willing to let him use it. Of course, she wanted to play twenty questions, and he promised that he would subject himself to it once this little emergency was over.
Tara had agreed to get the place ready for him, he agreed to owe her big time. This was someplace that Chris felt safe, which meant that he could make Sabrina felt safe. That was going to be what this getaway was all about. Making her feel safe enough to relax, recharge and revive herself.
Chris had everything in place, the only variable he had to worry about right now was when the doctor would release Sabrina. He put his cell phone back in his pocket and started back towards Sabrina’s room. When he entered her room, he noticed a large bouquet of pink and white peonies on the table across her legs on the bed. He was struck by that, it isn’t often you see a bouquet of peonies delivered, or at least not that he had ever seen. When he looked over at Sabrina, he realized she was visibly shaken.
“Sabrina? What’s wrong, baby?” He rushed over to her side, taking a seat on the bed and taking hold of her hand, “Talk to me, tell me what’s wrong.”
Her voice was shaky and quiet, “Can you move those flowers, please? Somewhere I can’t see them.”
He turned around to look at the bouquet, “Yeah, whatever you want. Why are they upsetting you so much?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, I just don’t want to see them,” she was starting to cry and was on the verge of hysterics. She knew that when Chris went to move them, he would look for a card, but there wouldn’t be one. Kyle didn’t need to put a card on them, he was the only person who ever sent her peonies. This was Kyle’s way of letting her know he was still watching her, that he knew what happened. She couldn’t tell Chris that no matter what he tried to do to help her relax, he couldn’t fix her biggest problem. She was sure if she came clean about Kyle, her relationship, or whatever she had with Chris, would come to an end.
Chris moved from the bed, picked up the vase of flowers and left the hospital room. He returned a few minutes later, taking his place on the bed, “Taken care of, the flowers are now brightening up the room of a woman down the hall who had no flowers in her room at all.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, “That was very sweet of you.”
He leaned forward, placing a soft kiss on her lips, “Anything for you, baby. Now, did the doctor say when you can get out of here?”
“Yeah, they’re processing my paperwork now. Someone is going to come and help me with a bath, then we can leave.”
“Fantastic, I need to text a few people to give them the timeline,” he quickly checked his watch, figured hospital time doesn’t necessarily work with regular time. He texted Alice and Josh, telling them they should be ready for the flight to leave in about three hours, figuring that should be plenty of time.
“Chris, I can’t go on vacation, as much as I want to, you know it’s not possible.”
“Shh, Alice has it covered. I’ve talked to her, and it’s all worked out. So, yes, you’re taking a vacation. You’re running away with me, that’s the end of the discussion,” he watched as she tried to process his tone and firmness with her. “You need to get used to this you know.”
“What?” She asked, somewhat confused.
“To letting someone take care of you. To you not having to be the strong one all the time, it’s okay to let your guard down, let someone else carry the load for a while.”
Sabrina didn’t respond, but she was surprised that he was able to read her so easily. He was no like any other man she had ever been with, that is what was so damn scary. He was what she wanted in a partner, but it scared her to even think about letting go and relying on someone else. She had never wanted to do that until she had met Chris. Then again, the fact that she came to that decision so quickly was another thing that scared her. How could this man flip her world upside down so fast?
Before anything else could be said, a nursing assistant came into the room, “Ms. Burnham, my name is Georgia, and I’m here to help you with your shower so you can be released and go home.”
Chris gave Sabrina a kiss, then moved from the bed to allow her to get up. He excused himself from the room, electing to give them privacy so she could get showered, he walked over to the waiting room again to make a call.
“Hey, saw the news about Sabrina, how is she?”
“Hey, Scott. I’m with her in Chicago, she’s about to get out of the hospital. She’ll be okay, but she hasn’t eaten or slept in damn near four weeks.”
“Fuck, are you kidding? No wonder she collapsed.”
“I’m taking her to Vermont, gonna go off the grid for a week to see if I can get her back to balanced.”
“You might make it worse when you leave, you know that, right?”
“Shit never thought of that,” Chris ran his fingers through his hair and began pacing, “I just wanted to find a way to relieve her stress and get her away from everything.”
“You’re heart is in the right place, Chris. But, it might not work the way you expect, you’ve got to be prepared for that. Look, I’m not trying to burst your bubble, man. I know you’ve been missing her, so this is your opportunity to be with her. Just be careful, okay.”
“Yeah, thanks. I can’t help but think part of this is my fault for leaving in the first place.”
“Are you kidding? None of this is your fault. But I do need to ask, how long of a break did you get from this movie you’re making? Don’t you need to be back in Asia?”
“Yeah, well they can shoot around me for now. Luckily, they can hold off until I get back to do my stuff, but they aren’t happy I left. I can’t afford to be gone more than a week, though,” he sighed heavily, thinking about all that was going on and how he was going to deal with it all. “I believe she’s holding something back, Scott. Something is going on that she’s not telling me.”
“Like what? Is she pregnant or something?”
“Oh, God! Damn, I never thought of that. Why did you have to go down that path, Scott? That wasn’t even on my fucking radar? I was more concerned with the fact that she had a major fight with Audrey and never told me. And I’m thinking about the fact that she received flowers and there was no card, but she was really freaked out about them. So, my mind is on things that have been going on work related or something that is freaking her out and leading her to not eating or sleeping, and you throw something in there that never even crossed my damn mind.”
Scott was trying to contain his laughter, he had made the comment as an off-handed joke, but it had completely freaked his brother out. The more Chris freaked out about it, the more Scott began to wonder if it could be a legitimate possibility for the two of them. After all, Chris had eventually come clean and told him they went at one another like love sick rabbits.
“Chris, don’t you think if she were pregnant, you’d know about it by now? I mean, it would have been brought up by now by the nurses and doctor, right?”
Chris thought about it for a minute, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I should add it to the list of things for us to talk about, though. I need to go, Scott, I need to see if she is out of the shower and ready to leave. I’ll check in with you in a few days.”
“Ok, be careful, Chris,” Scott disconnected the call and hoped that his brother’s plan would work.
As Chris hung up, his own anxiety had grown exponentially. He couldn’t let Sabrina know that, however. He took a few deep breaths and then walked back into her room. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, fully dressed, her hair was straight and falling gently on her shoulders. It was longer than it had been the last time he saw her, and she had never worn it straight like this; he loved the look. She was dressed in a pair of casual pants, a t-shirt, and a cardigan sweater, yet she looked sophisticated. However, the outfit definitely highlighted the fact she had lost weight. He wasn’t going to make a comment about it, though.
“Are you ready to leave, babe?” Chris asked as he approached her.
“Yeah, Georgia went to get my discharge paperwork and a wheelchair. Do you have a car downstairs for us?”
Chris smiled, “Yes, ma’am I do.” But before he could say anything else, Georgia entered the room.
“Ok, Ms. Burnham, are you ready to go?” She walked over to help ease Sabrina off the bed and into the wheelchair. She grabbed Sabrina’s bag of personal items, including her purse, placing them on her lap and began to wheel her out the door. Georgia made no indication that she recognized Chris, or that he was even in the room.
When they exited the main hospital doors, Chris opened the door on the waiting Town Car, then helped Sabrina out of the wheelchair into the car. He thanked Georgia for her assistance and climbed into the car, directing the driver to Chicago Executive Airport for their flight.
“I can’t talk you out of this trip can I?” Sabrina asked, her head down, staring at her lap.
Chris eased himself closer to her, placing his arm around her shoulder, pulling her to his body. “No, you can’t,” he kissed her temple, “For the record, I’m not trying to punish you by taking you away. Please don’t think of it that way.”
Sabrina twisted, moving to put her arms around Chris, settling her head on his shoulder. She made herself comfortable against him, “So, you are really mine for a week? No interruptions?”
Chris smiled, he loved the feeling of her wrapped in his arms, “Yes, I’m all yours, no interruptions.”
~ * ~
Chris unlocked the door, hurried in and turned off the alarm, then walked back to the car to get Sabrina and their bags. She had been surprised when he told her they were going to Vermont. It was the last place she would have considered for a getaway. But she had to admit, as they pulled down the long driveway, the house was beautiful, and it was certainly remote. They were off the beaten path and unless you knew where this house was, you weren’t going to just happen upon it. The fact they flew out of the private FBO in Chicago into a small airport in Vermont, also meant that the chance for paparazzi to find them was between slim and none. Unless they were tipped off, and then she figured they could sue whoever breached their confidentiality agreement.
Chris opened her door, helping her out of the car. Sliding his arm around her waist, he shut the car door behind her and began walking her up the sidewalk. “This house is beautiful, is it yours?” She asked as they breached the front threshold.
“No, it belongs to my best friend, Tara and her husband, they’re letting us borrow it for the week.”
“I’m pretty sure I know someone who could design a hideaway of your own if you wanted it,” she offered with a slight chuckle.
“Oh yeah? Well, maybe one day you can put me in touch with this person,” he teased back. He guided her towards the large sofa in the living room, the kind where once you sit down, it’s hard to get back up. She sank down into the cushions, just like he hoped, “I’m going to get the bags, don’t move.” She smiled and nodded, keeping her eyes on him as he exited the house.
Within minutes, Chris was back in the house, the massive oak door was closing, and he was by her side. “Not bothering to put them away?” She asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Nah, I didn’t want to run upstairs and leave you, I figured we can take them upstairs later when we go up for the night.”
“So, what made you decide on bringing me here?”
Chris situated himself in the corner over of the large sofa, motioning for her to come closer. Sabrina is able to saddle up next to him, placing her head on his chest, he wraps his arms around her to let her know that he has her, literally and figuratively. “I wanted to take you someplace where you could feel safe. I feel safe here, so if I felt safe, I figured you would, too.”
She smiled, although she was sure he couldn’t see it, “That is mighty romantic, Mr. Evans.”
“Don’t tell anyone, it might ruin my reputation.”
~ * ~
For the first few nights, Chris and Sabrina took their time in reacquainting themselves with one another. While Chris wanted nothing more than to make love to her, he knew she needed to relax and gain strength back. He took every opportunity to snuggle, kiss and show her that he cared for her, but he didn’t push her into anything and let it progress naturally. She knew he cared for her, and that was being conveyed in so many ways other than having sex.
It was their fourth night, and Chris had decided to take Sabrina out for dinner. There was an excellent restaurant twenty minutes or so from the house, deep set in the woods with the perfect atmosphere for them. It would be good to get out of the house for a change.
They were seated at a corner table, window view looking out at the lake view and surrounding trees. Chris ordered a bottle of wine and contemplated how to have the serious conversations with her that he knew they needed to have before going back to the real world.
“What are you thinking about, Chris?” Sabrina asked, reaching across the table and touching his hand, “You have a such a serious scowl on your face.”
He smiled, trying to shake the thoughts from his mind, “Nothing, it’s not important. I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to look so menacing.”
“When are you making me go back to Chicago?”
“Oh, making you go back? The woman who didn’t want to leave, now doesn’t want to go back?” He let out a light chuckle, grabbing her hand and giving it a squeeze, “I don’t want to make you go back, baby. But the day after tomorrow, we leave in the morning. I need to catch a flight back to Asia.”
“So, just how much trouble are you in for being here and not there?”
“Well, let’s just say that what it’s cost me for the production changes and what I’m paying for this trip, this movie better be a blockbuster,” he winked and gave her a smile. Unfortunately, she looked worried, and the color drained from her face. “Sabrina, I’m kidding, I was trying to make a joke about it. Honestly, it wasn’t a big deal and even if it was, I was going to do whatever it took to make sure I was here for you.”
“I just don’t want you to jeopardize your career, that’s all.”
“Don’t you worry about that. Look,” he glanced around the room to see just how much privacy they had, “All jokes aside, I have a pretty good reputation on all of my movie sets. I don’t pull diva behavior, and I work hard, everyone knows it. So, if I pop up one time and say I have a personal emergency to tend to, they can’t really argue with me.”
Sabrina flashed him a half-smile, “I never thought of it that way. Does anyone know the truth? I mean that your personal emergency was for me?”
Chris took a drink of wine before answering, “My agent, my publicist, my assistant, and my brother. My agent and my publicist needed to know in case there were any photographs of us together. I couldn’t let them be blindsided. I figured someone would tweet that they saw me flying to Chicago, but I got lucky.”
“You don’t want anyone to know about us?” The tone of her question made it sound as if she was disappointed at the thought.
Chris gave Sabrina a questioning look, “I thought you didn’t want anyone to know about us? I’m suddenly confused,” once again he looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to the two of them or their conversation. “I want to have this conversation with you, but I’m not sure if having it here is a good idea. Can we wait until we get back to the house?”
Sabrina nodded, taking a drink from her water glass, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Chris. He suddenly realized that Sabrina had not taken a drink from her wine glass at all. Come to think of it, she hadn’t had any alcohol when he has had it during the week. She has politely refused each time. Damn it, Scott’s words were now bellowing in his ears.
The waiter had approached their table to take the order, but Chris was not paying attention. He was wrapped up in his own headspace. Sabrina had to snap her fingers in front of his face to get him to snap to attention. He apologized profusely, then ordered and apologized to the waiter for the delay.
“Where were you just now?” Sabrina asked, concerned as to how far off he seemed.
“Sorry, I guess I was lost in thought.”
“You want to share?” She asked hopefully.
“Maybe later, I feel there are too many eyes and ears here.”
Through the remainder of dinner, the conversation was light and steered away from any topic that could be remotely personal. Chris wanted to have those conversations when they returned home. They ordered dessert to go, paid the check, and Chris escorted Sabrina to the car.
They were halfway to the house when Sabrina spoke up, “Would you be disappointed if I said I wanted to put the dessert in the refrigerator and go to bed?”
Chris looked over at her, “No, baby, that’s fine. This vacation was about you relaxing and getting your strength back. If you’re tired, go to bed, it won’t hurt my feelings,” it completely hurt his feelings, but he didn’t want her to know that he wanted to seem supportive.
She reached, running her hand along his thigh, “I want us to go to bed, not me,” she purred.
His eyebrows shot up, “Oh! Well, I’m definitely not going to complain, then,” his foot pressed down on the accelerator, he suddenly wanted to get back to the house as quickly as possible.