Chris had to stop and catch his breath and keep from being physically ill. He could feel the bile rising in his throat, and he had to do all he could to keep it down. He was not about to be sick, he wasn’t going to let that happen. He had just walked out of Sabrina’s office and made it clear that he did not want to hear from her again. It was over. They were over. He was worried that as he stood hovering over Alice’s desk, that Sabrina would open her office door and try to follow him. Luckily enough, she didn’t. He was certain though that he could hear her crying, and that was not making his anxiety over this situation any better. He was numb, it hurt more than he could have ever expected it to. Most likely because he believed she might be ‘the one.’
He stood up, pulled his shoulders back and made his way toward the elevator and eventually out of the building. He caught a cab to the airport and tried not to replay the last 24 hours on a constant loop in his brain. He had hoped that when he got to Chicago, he would find there was a miscommunication of some sort. The FBI was wrong, and the pictures in question were only the ones of Sabrina and Kyle. But when she asked if he had talked the FBI, he realized it wasn’t a mistake. She didn’t deny that there were new pictures and she admitted he was one of the subjects in them. The worst part was when she had admitted she had known about them for months and had been keeping them from him. That was more than he was willing to accept.
The cab pulled up in front of the airport, he paid the driver, grabbed his bags and made his way through security. He tried to keep his head down and hoped that he wouldn’t be recognized or bothered. Once through security, he went straight to the private lounge to wait for the boarding of his flight. He wanted to drink; no, he wanted to get drunk and forget this trip. But he knew that was not an option. He needed to be clear headed in case he had a fan encounter or ran into the paparazzi. He couldn’t make an announcement that he was having an off day because he just broke up with his girlfriend. So, instead of the hard stuff, he opted for a beer and nursed it. He called Scott to tell him what time his flight would be getting in and asked if he could pick him up. Scott picked up on the fact that Chris’ voice was cold and unemotional, he knew not to ask any questions now.
The boarding announcement was made for his flight, and Chris made his way to the gate. He moved slowly and took care not to be in the first boarding. In fact, he wanted to be one of the last ones. There was an advantage when flying first class, to boarding last. No one would stare at him as they passed him to go to their seat and they wouldn’t ask for a selfie. Right now, he was not in the mood to be remotely polite. He didn’t want to be an ass to any of his fans, but this was why he liked the idea of anonymity.
Luckily enough, first class was light for this trip. He had no one sitting next to him, and he was reasonably sure he could have his privacy. He pulled his hat down a little further, put his head against the window and tried to get some sleep. The flight attendant even left him alone, which he appreciated. Had she talked to him, he would have been tempted to ask for a drink. If he had a drink, he wouldn’t have slept, and honestly, he needed the sleep more.
The plane touched down and, unlike the boarding, he was anxious to quickly exit. When the door opened, he had his bag in hand and practically sprinted off the plane and down the jetway. He made his way through the terminal and seemed to go unnoticed. As he exited onto the street, he scanned the line of cars and found Scott. He made his way over to the car and quickly jumped into the passenger seat. He said nothing as he fastened his seatbelt and waited for the car to pull into traffic.
Scott knew his brother’s emotions and body language well enough to know not to ask questions. Plus, this Chris was quite reminiscent of the Chris who got in the car after his first trip to Chicago; and Scott knew from that trip, when Chris doesn’t look happy, don’t push! He’ll talk when he is ready, whenever that might be. For this trip, he wasn’t willing to speak until well after they got back to the house.
Chris got out of the car and practically marched toward the front door. Once inside he tossed his backpack across the room and made his way towards the kitchen. Now that he was home, he was ready to drink. He poured a glass of whiskey, all while his brother leaned against the wall and silently watched his every move.
Chris noticed his brother’s gaze and waited. He was sure Scott would say something, but he was silent. Finally, Chris barked at him, “Go ahead, ask or say whatever is on your mind.”
Scott shifted his stance, “So, do you want to talk about it? I mean, I know what the FBI told you before you left, but do you want to talk about what happened with Sabrina?”
“Not really, I don’t,” Chris swallowed the contents of his glass and hastily poured another drink. He looked over at his brother and spit out the words, “We broke up, that’s what happened, end of story.”
“I’m sorry, I am. Was it your decision or hers?” Scott hated to ask such specific questions, but if his brother wasn’t going to volunteer answers, he was going to pull teeth to get them.
Chris took emptied the contents of his glass once more and began to fill it again. “Mine. She knew about the fucking pictures all along and never told me. Who in the hell hides that sort of shit?” His words were bitter.
“Was she just trying to protect you? I mean, okay, she went about it the wrong way, and I get that, but did she at least explain herself?”
“Don’t defend her, you’ve never even met her.”
“I’m not defending her, I’m trying to understand the entire situation, that’s all. Don’t get mad at me for trying to understand it and help you through it.”
Chris downed his drink and slammed his glass on the counter. “She could have ruined my career. If those pictures had gotten out, Disney and Marvel would have fired my ass.”
“Yeah, but they didn’t get out. So the two of you are breaking up over a what could have been?” Scott ran his hand through his hair, “Look before you think I’m turning my back on supporting my big brother, I’m just asking questions. I know that you love her, and from what you’ve said she feels the same way about you. I just hate to see you throw this away if there is a way to salvage it, that’s all.”
“Her idea of protecting me was to buy the pictures back and never let me know they existed. How fucked up is that?”
Scott pushed himself off the wall and walked over to take a seat at the bar, directly across from his brother. “What would you have done if the roles were reversed? Would you move heaven and hell to protect her?”
“That’s a stupid question,” Chris spat at him.
“No, it’s not. Think about it a minute. She’s got a successful career, and her reputation means quite a bit. Wouldn’t you want to protect her if she were the subject of pictures that had been taken of you by a jealous ex?”
“It is different. I’m the face of a brand, Scott. Her decision could have gotten me fired and had a significant impact on my career going forward. But her keeping the pictures quiet is only part of it.” He had never told his brother everything about the trip to Vermont or what had transpired between them. “We got really honest with one another on our vacation, promise we wouldn’t lie to one another. This was when we admitted that we loved one another and there would be no secrets between us.”
Chris poured one more drink. This was going to be his last, he was starting to get just drunk enough to tell Scott everything. He knew that his brother was trying to be supportive and was only trying to help. But he hated that he was defending his actions, probably because he already knew that he was second guessing them himself.
He emptied his glass, “She almost died because she kept secrets, so we weren’t going to do that anymore. Then when we were at the gala, I saw her with this guy. They were arguing, and she seemed really upset. When we got back to the apartment, she admitted that it was her ex-husband. I never knew she was married before, she had been keeping that secret even when we said no secrets. But I gave her a pass because I understood her reasoning. But I straight up asked if there was anything else that she was keeping secret that I needed to know. She looked me in the eye and told me no.”
“I’m sorry, Chris. I know this has to hurt. I just feel bad for both of you, I just can’t help but think she was trying to protect you. Maybe I just want that to be the case.”
“She said she was trying to protect me, she used those words. But she lied to me, over and over again. I can’t let that happen again.”
“I get it, you love her, but she broke your trust,” Scott replied softly. “You do still love her, right?”
“It’s irrelevant, I can’t trust her, and you can’t have a relationship if there is no trust.”
“She broke your heart didn’t she?”
Chris didn’t answer the question, but he didn’t have to. Scott was pretty sure he knew the answer. Chris walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to his room and slammed his bedroom door. Scott was then positive that he knew the answer.
~ * ~
Audrey and Gunnar led Sabrina through the parking garage toward the elevator. On the short drive from the office to the apartment building, Sabrina did not say anything. She sat in the backseat and stared out the window, she almost seemed catatonic. Gunnar took the elevator keycard from her, as well as the apartment keys, and took control of getting them upstairs. In the time that Audrey had worked for him, they had become very close. They weren’t dating, it would be unprofessional. However, they spent so much time together it was only semantics that it wasn’t considered dating. They both knew it.
When Gunnar opened the door, Sabrina breezed past him and entered her office nook. She plopped down on the couch and stared out the window in quiet contemplation. Audrey went into the kitchen and made some hot tea, taking Sabrina a cup, thinking it might soothe her. She didn’t acknowledge that it was brought in and never drank it.
Gunnar had poured a glass of wine for him and Audrey. The two of them had retreated to the couch in Sabrina’s living area. They were trying to figure out the best way to get Sabrina to open up. Both of them had taken turns to go back and check on their “patient, ” but each time they noticed she never moved, and never drank her tea.
Audrey took a sip from her wine glass, “I’m worried that she will end up tossing herself back into work like she did before. We’ll have a repeat performance of her collapse, but this time it’ll be worse. I’m scared to death she’ll end up killing herself, and I’ve got no idea how to stop it.”
“She didn’t tell you about the fight they had?”
Audrey shook her head, “No, just that he left her. It must have been bad, though, he wouldn’t just walk away like that.”
“He walked away from you like that,” Gunnar stated matter of factly, then took a drink from his own wine glass.
“That’s different, and you know it. I elected to tell him I had feelings for him while his girlfriend was lying in a hospital bed after collapsing. He was angry with me.”
“So, he was angry with her, and he walked away. It’s a pattern, that’s all I’m saying.”
Audrey didn’t respond right away, but Gunnar had a point. If Chris gets furious he can walk away, it is probably his defense mechanism. He hadn’t come back around to her yet, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t come back around to Sabrina. Maybe he just needed some time to sort things out in his head. “You know this fight had to do with those damn pictures and Kyle. I’m not sure how it all fits, but I’ll guarantee that’s the heart of it.”
There was an awkward silence. As Gunnar was preparing to response, he was stopped by Sabrina’s voice, “He said he can’t trust me, that’s why he left.” The tears spilled down her cheeks as she spoke the words.
Audrey leaned forward and put her glass down on the table, then stood up and made her way over to Sabrina. Pulling her into an embrace. Sabrina needed a hug and support, and Audrey was glad that she could be there for her. “Come over here and sit down with us, tell us all about it.”
Sabrina sat down, and Gunnar protectively put his arm around her while she recounted the entire situation. They were stunned that the FBI had broken the news to Chris when it wasn’t their place to do so. While Audrey was upset how it played out, in the back of her mind, she could completely sympathize with Chris’ reaction. Although, as Sabrina’s friend, she could understand why she handled it the way she did. Her friend is broken, and while Chris might have said he understood, it had become clear that he didn’t really know what that meant. At least not in Sabrina’s case.
“Did you try to explain to him that you were trying to protect him?” Gunnar asked cautiously.
“I did, but he said that I was playing with fire and with his career. He had a right to know.”
“I guess I can see that,” Gunnar quietly responded.
“I didn’t want him to worry, he has enough to worry about. He’s off working on a movie,” Sabrina sniffled, and her voice was starting to shake, “I wanted him to focus on his movie and not worry about me or anything else. I was doing what I thought was right, you know? I was trying to think of someone other than myself, worry about the man I love and all I did was fuck it all up.”
Gunnar pulled her towards him, rubbing her arm and trying to soothe her. He looked up at Audrey and could see the emotion on her face, this was killing her, too. He reached out for her with his free hand; taking her hand in his, he squeezed to show her some support as well. The three of them sat in silence.
Audrey finally decided to break the silence, “Sabrina, has Chris seen the pictures? Did the FBI show them to him?”
“No, I don’t think so. They just told him they recovered them and they had not been uploaded anywhere.”
“Maybe he needs to see them. You said that he can’t be identified, right?” Sabrina nodded her head in silent agreement. “Well, maybe if he sees what you saw he will understand it more.”
Gunnar decided to chime in, “You mean, if he realizes that he was never distinguishable, his career wasn’t in as much jeopardy as he thought, and his anger is a bit misplaced?”
“Exactly! His argument is that she was messing with his career. If she can show him that his career wasn’t in peril, then maybe we can clear it all up.”
Sabrina listened to the two of them. They were taking it as if this was a court case and they were presenting evidence to clear their client. She was intrigued, but they were missing the point. “Guys, I appreciate what you’re trying to do. But it doesn’t negate the fact that I lied to him. He is more upset that I lied and broke his trust, and I get it, I do.” Sabrina stood up from the couch, leaving her two friends stunned. She walked around the coffee table and towards the kitchen before turning back to face them.
“Look, I dug this grave or made this bed. Use whatever metaphor you want. But I lied and kept secrets, from everyone,” her eyes were conveying the sadness she felt, but this time there were no tears. “Audrey, if I had been open and honest with you, I could have taken care of Kyle’s shit years ago. But I didn’t, and it led me to this place. I did this to myself. I’ve used the excuse for years that Kyle did this to me, but maybe it wasn’t him at all, it was me. I’m my own worst enemy.”
Audrey stood up and started to walk toward Sabrina. But Sabrina put her hand up to stop her, “No, don’t. I’ve done this to myself and have used the excuse that I was broken. I let what Kyle did to me define me instead of rising above it and moving on. I’ve lived in fear, and it cost me my best friend and the man I was willing to give up everything for.”
Sabrina turned and walked up to the stairs, but she didn’t go into her bedroom. Instead, she went to the end of the hallway and into the large guestroom, the mirror opposite of the master. She took over her shoes and then climbed into the four-poster bed and cried herself to sleep.
~ * ~
Several days had passed, and Sabrina had not gone back to work. Alice spoke to her daily and handled her messages and cleared her calendar, but Sabrina couldn’t bring herself to go into the office. Audrey had come over to check on her, and the two of them had taken the time to discuss the past.
Sabrina had expressed regret over not bring completely open in the past, “I wish I would have told you about Kyle from the beginning.” Her words were softly spoken, but Audrey could tell it was hard for her to get them out.
“Why didn’t you? I’m not judging, Sabrina, I swear. I’m just trying to understand.”
“You know how hard I had to work to prove myself. No one wanted to give me a fair shake, I was a woman in a male-dominated field. Hell, even my own family had doubts about me being able to pull this off,” she had never talked openly about the struggles within her own family to prove herself worthy. While they were aware she had talent and the brains for the job, no one believed she had the cut-throat mentality that would be needed to succeed. “I was finally proving myself when things fell apart with Kyle. If I had filed the domestic abuse charges or fought him hard on the divorce, I would have looked like a weak woman. An emotional female who couldn’t stand up for herself and let a man dominate her.”
“Don’t you realize that is what you did? You let him walk all over you; you rolled over and became submissive.”
“Ironic isn’t it? I was afraid of being dragged through the mud and having my name sullied and in the end, all I achieved was proving how weak and vulnerable I really am. I’m a joke, Audrey. A fraud, a fake, I can’t show my face to the people in the office and pretend to be this wise woman who is in control when I am anything but.”
“Now you’re just hard on yourself. You were misguided, that’s all.”
“Sure, that’s it,” Sabrina scoffed at the remark. “I need to accept responsibility for myself, I messed up my life, not Kyle. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he was a jackass. But I did this to myself, I can’t blame him for everything.”
“No, you can’t, but when you’re damaged you can’t always make the right decisions,” Audrey paused, she tried to form her next statement carefully. “Have you considered going to therapy to work your way through all of this?”
Sabrina dropped her head and slowly shook it in defeat, “I haven’t even considered it. What good would it do me now? I’ve already lost Chris, therapy won’t get him back.”
“Maybe not, but it could keep the guilt from eating away at you. Allow you to sleep and make it through each day. Could even get you to a point where you could call him again, maybe try and explain what you were going through.”
Sabrina looked up at Audrey, her eyes flashed fear, “I can’t ever talk to him again and you know that. He told me to never call him again.”
“It’s amazing what time and distance can offer to people, Sabrina. You might be surprised at the clarity that could come from it.”
“I wish I hadn’t messed up our relationship so bad, Audrey. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re here with me now, and we’re talking. But, I wish things had not gotten out of hand between us. Maybe if I didn’t date Chris in the first place, we would never have had that horrible fight, and you would still be working at Burnham Design.”
“Don’t, you’re not the reason we had a fight, and I left. I was to blame as well, and you will do good to remember that. Quit shouldering all the blame because you are feeling bad about what happened with Chris. I pushed you and him together, and I did it while I was fully aware I had feelings for him,” Audrey reached across the table and took Sabrina’s hand and then looked into the eyes of her friend. “I wasn’t honest with you, so I’m just as guilty here. How about we both stop kicking ourselves over it and realize there’s enough blame for our friendship blowing up and we move past it and start over?”
“I’ve missed you, Audrey. I’m sorry I fell in love with the guy you had feelings for.”
“I’ve missed you too, Sabrina. And honestly, Chris was a better fit for you than he would have been for me. I’m sorry he walked away from you.”
“Is there any way I could get you to quit working for Gunnar and come back to work for me?” Sabrina said with a laugh.
“Well, if he wants to sleep with me, I may take you up on that! I don’t think I can work with him and sleep with him at the same time. It might make it awkward in the office.”
~ * ~
Audrey was pacing back and forth in her office, her cell phone in her hand but resting against her lips. She had a mental argument with herself over whether to make the call or not. Her head told her not to, it would not do any good and would possibly make things worse. But her heart, well it wanted to fix this for everyone.
Gunnar walked past the office and poked his head in, “Are you still trying to decide if you are going to call him?”
“Yeah,” she answered without looking at him or even stopping her pacing. “Maybe I’d be better off calling his brother and seeing what he has to say.” She finally stopped pacing and turned to look at Gunnar. He had stepped into her office and made himself comfortable on the couch, his ankle resting on his knee, his hands interlaced behind his head. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Oh, absolutely. You are so worked up over this, and it’s adorable. But I think you should keep you nose out of it. Chris didn’t want to hear from Sabrina, so I believe he wants to get over this.”
“He wouldn’t wouldn’t hear from Sabrina, he’d be hearing from me,” she pushed out her bottom lip in a pout.
“Right, and you wouldn’t be speaking on her behalf? Come on, his friendship with you has been tenuous at best. Don’t you think you’re pushing it a little by even thinking of calling him?”
“Probably,” she had a gleam in her eye as she said the word, “But, I need to know if he is as miserable as she is.”
Gunnar pushed himself off the couch and walked over to Audrey. He put his hands on her shoulders and looked her square in the eyes, “You’re going to do what you want, I’m not going to stop you. But I’m not going to sit in here and watch you do it, either.” He leaned forward, giving her a soft kiss, “I’ll talk to you later.” He gave her one more kiss and then let go of her shoulders and walked out of her office and back towards his own.
She made her decision, sat on the couch and dialed his number. The phone rang three times before he answered. When he said ‘hello’ his voice was soft and almost resigned. He answered but didn’t want to.
“Hi, Chris. I thought I’d call to check on you, see how you’re doing.”
“After all this time, no is when you want to check in on me?” His tone was less than friendly, and he winced after saying it, realizing he didn’t need to be so harsh. “Sorry, Audrey, I shouldn’t have said it like that.”
“It’s okay, I kinda deserve it. I’ve been hesitant to call you for several reasons. Primarily for what happened at the hospital. I guess I owe you an apology for ambushing you like that.”
“It’s okay, Audrey. I think that’s all water under the bridge. How are things with you and Gunnar?”
“Good, we’re sorta seeing one another. Nothing serious, but we’re taking it slow. He’s a good guy, and I’ve known him for years,” Audrey’s voice trailed off, she wasn’t sure how to approach the subject of Sabrina. She finally decided to just address it head on. “Are you doing alright since your break up with Sabrina?”
“You know about that, huh?”
“Yeah, she told me. She’s pretty upset about it, and I think she has some regrets. What about you?”
“I have no regrets, if that’s what you’re asking,” once again his voice had gone cold. “What are you hoping to accomplish with this call, Audrey? Are you thinking I’m going to say I owe her an apology? Because I don’t and I’m not changing my mind.”
She was suddenly regretting the fact that she made the call. “No, I don’t know what I was expecting. I’m sorry I called,” she was preparing to hang up when he stopped her.
“Don’t hang up, look, I’m sorry. This is still raw, and it hurts like hell. I feel weird talking to you about it, after what happened at the hospital and all,” now it was his turn to let his voice trail off. He paused to gather his thoughts before starting again, “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, Audrey, but I love her, and it hurts that I walked away. It’s killing me, but I can’t trust her, she lied one too many times. I’ll get over the hurt, but the trust is harder to win back.”
Audrey sighed heavily, she wanted him to hear it, wanted him to hear how hard it was going to be for her to speak. “Chris, I’m going to say this to you and then I’m going to drop it. I don’t agree with her tactics, but I understand why she did it. I saw the pictures, all of them, I know she had only seen a few when Kyle asked for the money, though. But no one would know it was you, there is nothing distinguishable about you in the pictures. Even if they had gotten out, you wouldn’t have been singled out, and Disney wouldn’t have fired you.”
“She showed you the pictures? When?”
“Two days ago, I asked to see them and told her that you should see them. Look, I don’t condone that she didn’t tell you about them, but she was scared and didn’t want you to worry. She wanted to take care of it for you, protect you. She’s been broken for a long time, that bastard did a number on her regarding what a relationship is supposed to be like. She was happy with you and didn’t want to lose that, she was afraid if you knew about Kyle and what he had done or was doing, she was sure you would walk away from her.”
“I’m nothing like Kyle, Audrey. I would have never treated her like he did,” he ran his hand along his jaw, across his beard. “When we were arguing in her office, she doesn’t think I noticed, but I did. She started to shake when my voice got loud, I believe she was afraid I was going to hit her. That almost made me physically ill, I would never raise my hand to her.”
“Oh, Chris, she didn’t tell me that,” Audrey’s heart broke with that realization. The pain on both sides was, indeed, rooted. “I know you wouldn’t physically harm her, and I think she knows that. But when it’s happened to you once, you automatically expect it again. She was not doing anything to hurt you on purpose. If you believe nothing else, you have to believe that.”
“How did the FBI end up knowing it was me? For that matter, how did Kyle?”
“From what Sabrina told me, Kyle was using a security guard at the building to give intel on when she was in the apartment. The guard told Kyle that she had a man with her, and told him your name. But Chris Evans isn’t an uncommon name, you know? So, Kyle never put it together that the guy in the picture was famous. But when you showed up at the gala with Sabrina, it clicked for him. When she went to pay him, he asked for more money and threatened to come to you directly.”
“Okay, but how did the FBI know? I don’t get how they fit into this whole thing,” Chris questioned.
“Kyle was an FBI informant, helping them bring down a mob boss. The night of the gala, Kyle had a meeting with the guy, so he was wearing a recording device. He met with Sabrina before the mob meeting, so his entire conversation with Sabrina was recorded. That’s why she was a suspect, they had her on audio threatening to kill him and had Kyle asking for ten million dollars. The FBI knew it was you in the pictures because of their conversation.”
“Well if he was wearing a wire, then they knew she didn’t tell me about the pictures and they knew she didn’t kill him. So, why did they feel the need to go after her or even come to me?”
“They used Sabrina as a decoy without her consent. With the focus of the investigation being on her, if they had any leaks in the department, they would tell the mob that Sabrina was the killer. That allowed them to build the case against the mob and the right suspect, Vinnie Saldonna, without him suspecting a thing. I guess they figured she would have told you about the pictures and wanted to make sure you knew they were safe; not realizing she never said a word.”
“How is she holding up? I mean, with the case being closed and all, is she doing better?”
“She’s a wreck. But she did get some good news, the FBI found the offshore accounts where Kyle had been hiding some of the money he had been taking from her. She’s getting it back, so that is good. But overall, she’s miserable.”
“I’m glad she is getting some of the money back, that is good news for her. I’m sorry that things ended the way they did, Audrey. Maybe one day I can talk to her, but right now, I can’t.”
“Do you still love her, Chris?”
Her question was met with silence. Audrey wasn’t sure he was going to answer, and she was just about to save face and say goodbye when she heard him clear his throat. It seemed as if he was holding back his emotions, “Yeah, I do and I probably always will. But without trust, there’s no reason to continue.”