Structural Damage – Chapter 27

It had been eight months since the FBI had told Sabrina she was no longer a suspect in the murder of her ex-husband, Kyle Chapman. Eight months since the FBI told Chris that he was the subject of pictures that Sabrina was being blackmailed for and had subsequently withheld from him. Eight months since the major fight in her office where Chris confronted her about the pictures and then broke up with her; walking out of her office and out of her life. Sabrina Burnham was not the same woman today that she was eight months ago, she was pretty sure Chris wouldn’t recognize her now if he saw her.

Where she once walked tall and proud, commanding the room when she walked in. She now barely left her apartment and hardly went into the office. Her time alone had provided an opportunity for reflection, and she realized she needed to make some drastic changes in her life. Her career and reputation had dictated her life, skewing her basis of reality and causing her to hide truths for fear of the repercussions. Now the job she once loved, repulsed her. Her heart wasn’t in it, and she lacked the drive and determination to move forward as she had been doing for the previous ten plus years. Where she once loved the creative process of designing a building and watching it come alive, she no longer had a desire to go after large projects and design them herself. Instead, she left that to the members of her team.

Her depression was deep enough that she even wrestled with the idea of closing the company completely. She figured with her connections she could help the staff land new positions, but overall Burnham Design Group would close their doors, never to reopen. While her remaining family would no doubt be disappointed, it wasn’t as if they were involved in the business. Heck, they hardly spoke to her anyway, so she wasn’t that concerned with what they thought about her.

However, Audrey hated the idea and was not quiet with her opinion. She told Sabrina that if she were to shut down the company, she would regret it within weeks of doing so. Instead, she encouraged her to look for an Executive Vice President or General Manager to run the business operations. Making the case that this would allow Sabrina to step away but keep the company running. It would also enable Sabrina to have someplace to come back to when the pain had healed, and work became a sanctuary again.

After some contemplation, she agreed with Audrey’s recommendation. It was a better idea, and at least keeping the company running would provide her income. She immediately reached out to a local agency to initiate a nationwide search for the perfect person to compliment the company, helping it to continue on its path to prosperity. After countless interviews, she found the perfect fit with Morgan Walsh, a high-powered executive from Seattle. Morgan had worked at the same firm for years but was looking for a new challenge. She liked what she saw with Burnham Design and had a tremendous amount of respect for Sabrina. Morgan felt like this was a dream opportunity falling into her lap.

Morgan had been on the job for three months when Sabrina decided to step away. She gave up her office, allowing Morgan the city view and the large windows. In reality, Sabrina wanted to move due to the memories the office held. It had become increasingly difficult to work in the room, and she continually looked for solitude in small conference rooms to avoid being in her office. Sabrina relocated to a smaller office adjacent to her current location. This allowed her to maintain access to Alice, as she was not willing to completely part with her trusted executive assistant.

Sabrina had not only made changes in the office, but she made changes at the apartment as well. She had, at one point, thought about putting the apartment up for sale. Once again, Audrey stepped in and told her to rethink the decision. She told her that she was making too many life changing decisions at once, it would cause her to have a mental breakdown if she wasn’t careful. Sabrina took heed, electing to stay but was adamant that the apartment had some renovations for her to stay. To this, Audrey could agree.

The large guest room at the end of the hallway was a mirror opposite for the master bedroom. This would become the new master and Sabrina would never stay in her old bedroom again. She could not bring herself to sleep in the bed she shared with Chris or look out the window that Kyle had peeked through. Audrey and Gunnar helped her move her clothes and items from the bathroom. She then shut the door to the old bedroom and vowed never to reopen it.

~ * ~
In the eight months since his relationship with Sabrina had ended, Chris had been pouring himself into his work. Between the pre-production for the movie he was directing, he was also reading potential scripts for acting roles. For the most part, it was as if he was just going through the motions. Everyone knew that when Chris was working he was focused, but this felt like something else. He had never shared with his friends what had happened with Sabrina. His relationship with her had never gone public and since he had been working when it was going on and when it fell apart, it never came up. His friends that had seen him with her at the wedding in Chicago had no idea they dated after he left the city, so they never asked about her.

After weeks of asking, Chris finally succumbed to his friends’ requests and agreed to go out to dinner with them. There was an extended group going out for a celebration; they thought it would be good for Chris to blow off some steam. Little did he know, his friends were setting him up that night. They wanted him to meet a young woman who worked at one of the major studios, not the one that would be producing his new movie. She was a lovely young lady with a vibrant personality and curves in all the right places. His friends thought she was perfect for him. To be honest, Chris was less than thrilled when he arrived at the restaurant and figured out what was going on. But after meeting her, he changed his mind. The two of them had an instant chemistry and found it very easy to chat with one another about everything and nothing. He was pleasantly surprised that he was enjoying himself. By the end of the evening, they had exchanged phone numbers and said they would like to see one another again.

Chris had no interest, however, in having any romantic relationship. He wanted to focus on his movie projects and give himself time to get over Sabrina. It was that last part that was the hardest. The film he was working on was a drama and had romance, and every bit of it reminded him of her. He wasn’t sure if he would make it through the film in one piece; he was just thankful that he was just behind the camera on this one.

He slowly started to spend more time with his new lady friend. They would grab dinner or drinks, sometimes even just talk on the phone, it was all very casual and friendly. He was honest with her from the beginning about his intentions, no romance, friendship only. She agreed, saying that her schedule was just as busy as his and it would be hard to make dating a priority. Although, after several weeks of hanging out, the chemistry was getting stronger and the two decided to casually date. Again, he was clear, don’t expect me to be serious and don’t expect more than I can give you. He explained that he just came out of a rather messy relationship and he wasn’t able to do that again, at least not now, it was too soon.

Their casual dating had continued through the remainder of the movie pre-production, and they were preparing to go on location for the actual filming. He had gotten into a bit of a scrum with the studio over this due to the budget and potential incentives. The movie took place in New York, but the cost of filming there was high, at least for the locations they would have to use. The studio had worked out a deal to make the movie in Chicago and had received quite a few incentives to do so. When Chris found out, he hit the roof. He put his foot down and said he did not want to film in Chicago; he had personal reasons for his decisions, but he would not go to Chicago. In his production notes, he had indicated that he had location ideas for Dallas or Pittsburgh. Hell, he could even come up with locations in Indianapolis since that would be cheaper. But if the studio insisted on Chicago, he would walk. The studio blinked, production moved to Pittsburgh.

Filming would last two months, and then he would be back in Los Angeles for the post-production work. He would exchange text messages or calls with his girlfriend on a daily basis. Although he had told her that he would be busy and not always available when she reached out, although he tried to take her call every time. The problem was, she wanted more. While she told him that she understood his need for going slow and not wanting a relationship, in reality, she was pushing for more. She complained to her friends that things were not progressing fast enough and he didn’t pay enough attention to her. She had every intention to ramp up the romance when he got back to LA.

~ * ~
Sabrina and Audrey had started to spend more time together, rebuilding their friendship and moving forward. While Audrey didn’t work for Sabrina, she had become a confidant and advisor. It was helpful to Sabrina; she wasn’t sure how much she could trust Morgan, although she was doing a great job and seemed to be fitting in. She just wasn’t sure if they were completely on the same page and she needed someone to talk to that could understand her position; Audrey was that person.

Sabrina had also spent lots of time trying to get Audrey to come back to Burnham Design. While Audrey was thriving at Gunnar’s firm, she had to admit that she did miss some of the excitement that came with her previous job. Sabrina held the position of President at Burnham Design and had given Morgan the role of Vice President and General Manager. This meant that Morgan ran the daily operations and reported everything to Sabrina. While this was working, the wheels were spinning, and she had a better idea.

“Audrey, I know you’re happy at Gunnar’s firm and it is probably out of line for me to do this, but I want you to come back to Burnham Design. I could use you there, and it might be good for your relationship with Gunnar, as well.”

Audrey eyed her friend cautiously, “You don’t need me, you’ve got George Tate. The last time we talked about him, you said he was doing a great job as General Counsel, so why would you need me to come back?”

A smile spread across Sabrina’s face. Audrey had not categorically said no, she was testing the waters. Maybe, just maybe, she was getting through to her. “I don’t want you to come back as General Counsel. I’d like you to come back and take the helm as President of the company.”

Audrey was stunned, she wasn’t quite sure how to react to what she had just heard. It took a few minutes before her brain could register a proper response, “Are you serious? What about you? That’s your role in the company, why are you asking me to do this?”

Sabrina let out a laugh; she thought it was funny at how confused her friend appeared to be at the mention of this idea. “Morgan is doing well; she seems to get the vision I have always had for the company. But honestly, I just don’t have the desire to go into the office. I can’t concentrate, and it’s frustrating. I don’t mind doing the design, hell, I long for it. I just don’t want all of the stuff that goes along with it.”

“You didn’t answer my question. If I became the company President, where do you fit in?”

“We have a Board of Directors, well it’s always been an informal thing and maybe it’s time to formalize it. I’d become the Chairman of the Board. Or would that be Chairwoman?” She started to laugh at her own joke, “Anyway, I let you do the strategic thinking, and as a Board we have approvals, and that dictates how Morgan runs the business.”

“I need to talk to Gunnar about this,” Audrey stood up from the table and walked over to the window looking out over the river. She had to admit the offer intrigued her. She had never given consideration to running a company, but now that it was in front of her, it was a fantastic offer.

“If you’re worried about compensation, I promise I’ll take care of you,” Sabrina offered, without hesitation or prompting.

Audrey turned back to look at her, “I wasn’t worried about that, I had no doubt you would. I just never considered this as an option. It’s a big decision, and I need to know what Gunnar thinks about it.”

“Well, you told me you would consider coming back to work for me if Gunnar wanted to sleep with you. Considering you two are officially dating, it seems like this is a realistic possibility now, right?” Sabrina raised her eyebrows and looked at her friend with a smirk. “I don’t want to make it weird with you two, seriously, I don’t. I have never asked you how easy or hard it might be to work with the guy you’re sleeping with and what it does to the dynamic of your relationship. For the record, this isn’t me asking now, either.”

“No, I get that. I’m floored that you are even considering this offer. But it’s a big move, something I can’t just jump into.”

“Think about it, talk to Gunnar and let me know.” Sabrina stood up and started walking toward her office; she turned toward Audrey, “Follow me a second.”

Audrey walked from the window and joined her friend in her office. The room, like it’s owner, had undergone changes in the past few months. The clutter of a hectic work life was all but gone. A large bookcase had been installed along the back wall, and Sabrina’s library had grown immensely. The couch had been replaced with an oversized chair with an afghan thrown across the back. She had even put in a new floor lamp for lighting.

The large work desk was gone, replaced by a smaller desk with her laptop and printer. The only remnant of the old space was the drawing table. It still held a prominent location in the room and from the papers on the table, Audrey could see that Sabrina had been keeping busy with a design of some sort. Sabrina pulled an envelope from the small desk drawer and provided it to Audrey.

“This is a formal offer letter. I took the liberty of writing it up and outlining exactly what I intend to do and how I want to achieve it.” She smiled as Audrey took the envelope from her hand, “I knew your answer would be to speak with Gunnar. Since he’s an attorney, he’d have a lot of questions, so I put it in writing. I mean, I realize you’re a lawyer too, but you know things he doesn’t so he is going to ask questions that you wouldn’t think to ask.” Her smiled widened as she spoke the words.

“You were trying to think of everything, weren’t you?” Audrey asked while shaking her head in disbelief. She turned back to the drafting table, “What have you been working on?” She took a few steps towards the table and began to shuffle the drawings and papers. She couldn’t believe what she was looking at, “You’re designing a house?”

“I was, but I’ve stopped. And it was a log cabin, actually,” Sabrina moved to take the papers from Audrey’s hands and restack them on the table. But Audrey wasn’t letting them go; she was staring at them carefully.

“Sabrina, this is amazing. What in the world made you do this? I thought you said years ago that you’d never do residential stuff.”  There was no response to her question. She kept looking at the drawings and then something caught her eye, the name of the project in the lower corner of the drafting document. She said the words softly, “Chris’ Sanctuary. You were designing this for him?” Audrey looked back at Sabrina and noticed she was doing her best to hold it together.

“Yeah,” was the only thing she was able to get out. It wasn’t particularly elegant, but it was all that was needed to make Audrey understand.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that, or I wouldn’t have pushed. But you’ve got to know it’s incredible. The design is unique, and you should finish it off and build it. Not for him, but for you.”

“Maybe one day. Right now, I’m not ready.”

~ * ~
Movie production was moving ahead of schedule, which was almost unheard of. There was a good chance that Chris would be able to head home to LA a day or two earlier than expected. He wasn’t going to complain about that, it was a blessing, and he could use the downtime. The movie had not run into any issues; he had been lucky with this cast.

“Scott, are you still staying at my house?” He had called to make sure he didn’t have any surprises when he got home.

“Yeah, the plumbing in the apartment building still isn’t fixed. Is it is a problem that I’m here?”

“Only if you’re having parties and wrecking the place,” he laughed and then cleared his throat. “Hey, look, I’m coming home, taking a late flight tonight. I don’t need you to pick me up; I’ll get a ride home, but I just didn’t want any surprises when I got home. If you catch my drift.”

“I’ll tell everyone to keep their clothes on, and we’ll skip the wild sex party tonight. So, yeah, I get what you’re saying,” Scott began to laugh at his brother. “You sure you don’t need me to pick you up?”

“No, I’m good. I’m not telling anyone that I’m coming home early, other than you. Can you keep it to yourself, please?”

“You don’t want your new woman knowing, is that it?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I’m not trying to be an ass, I just need some downtime, for a night at least.”

Scott told his brother that he understood and that he would make sure he had the downtime he needed. As promised, Scott did not have anyone over at the house that night. In fact, he had cooked dinner for a few friends and sent them home well before Chris’ plane would have gotten in. He saved some food for him, making a plate and putting it in the fridge. Then turned on a lamp, left his brother a note about the food, and went to bed.

At first, Chris thought something was wrong. The house was dark, no activity. He opened the door and saw the light on and Scott’s note. He appreciated that his brother kept food for him, but he just wanted to go to bed. He locked up the house, turned off the lamp and made his way to his room. He toed off his shoes, but didn’t bother undressing, he pulled back the sheets and crawled into bed, falling asleep almost instantaneously.

When he woke the next morning, Scott was making breakfast. The smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee wafted down the hallway. Chris pulled the covers back and got out of bed, heading straight towards the kitchen.

“Wow, look who decided to get up!” Scott exclaimed as he saw his brother coming into view. “It’s almost 10 am; I thought you were gonna sleep all day.”

“Damn, I didn’t realize it was so late. Thanks for letting me sleep, I guess I needed it.”

“No worries, I checked on you when I got up. I did take your phone, though, it’s over there on the table. I was afraid it would start blowing up with calls and texts, and I didn’t want them to wake you.”

“Thanks,” Chris offered as he walked over and picked up his phone. Noticing he had several text messages from his girlfriend and a missed call from his mother. “Did you talk to mom this morning? She called me, do I need to be worried about anything?”

“I talked to her; she was just calling to see how you were doing. I told her you’d call when you woke up and had coffee in you. How are things with your new girlfriend going?”

“Ugh, okay I guess,” his response was less than enthusiastic. “I think she’s getting antsy because I am still saying I don’t want a serious relationship. I’m okay with the casual stuff; I’m not seeing anyone else, but I am not in the right headspace for anything serious.”

“Does she know about Sabrina? Did you tell her about that whole situation?”

“No, I didn’t tell her. I mean, she knows I was in a relationship, and it ended, but I didn’t tell her details. It isn’t for anyone to know, I mean the family is different, Scott, but I don’t need a random hookup to know the details.”

“You can’t get Sabrina out of your head, can you?” Chris didn’t answer; he just looked at his brother with a blank stare. “I think that’s my answer, man. Why don’t you call her? There’s been enough time and distance, can’t you two try and work it out?”

“I told you, she broke my trust, and that isn’t so easy to forgive.”

“No, maybe not, but you adore the woman, and you can’t deny that. You’ve been miserable; everyone sees it. How this girlfriend of yours can’t get that you are going through the motions is beyond me. You’re friendly enough, but you are not the same Chris Evans that you were when you were with her. The light is gone from your eyes; you’re hollow.”

“Bullshit, you’re laying it on kinda thick don’t you think?”

Scott smiled, he was pushing his brother’s buttons, and he was enjoying it. But he needed to get him to think about everything that had been going on and start to make decisions that were right for himself, versus just existing. “No, I don’t think I am. You’re in love with her and I get it, she broke your trust. But fuck, you don’t believe that you two can find a way to work this out? She had trust issues of her own, Chris. Or did you forget that?”

Chris stood up, the anger lighting up his eyes. “I didn’t forget it, and you’d be best to back off. Why are you pushing so damn hard, anyway?”

“You’re my big brother, and I hate seeing you so fucking miserable. Don’t you think you owe her a little on this? You said her ex-husband did a number on her, don’t you think that skewed her view a little?”

“Drop it, Scott, please. I need to get her out of my head, and you’re not helping me. I know you’ve got my best interest at heart, but honestly, I don’t think I can afford to take the risk.”

“Fine, but can you afford not to?” With that, Scott dropped the subject and swore he wouldn’t bring up Sabrina’s name again.

“Probably not, but I have to try. Look, I’ve got several projects coming up, and I have to do the post-production on the movie I just wrapped. Even if I told you I wanted to fix things with her, I just don’t have the time to do it.”

“Obviously you’ve thought about it a great deal, though. But by all means, ignore your heart, work like crazy and hope your work doesn’t suffer. Just know that your family loves you, we see that you’re hurting and we hate that we can’t help you fix it.”

~ * ~
Audrey had talked to Gunnar about the job offer. She tried to keep the excitement down in her voice; she didn’t want to hurt his feelings in any way regarding her potential move from his firm. She was hoping he would understand and be supportive, but she knew there was a chance it would be hard for him to accept. To her surprise, he was overjoyed with the news.

He wasn’t looking for her to leave his firm. In fact, he was afraid he would have a hard time adjusting to her not being in the office each day. However, when he hired Audrey he knew that there were scars from her emotional exit at Burnham. He also knew that the dissolving of her friendship with Sabrina had been harder on her than she liked to admit. The fact that they were rebuilding the relationship and spending time together made him happy because he knew that it was making Audrey happy.

Their relationship had blossomed over the past few months and was becoming more serious. He felt like her move back to Burnham could only strengthen them because it would provide opportunities for them to share information about their day with one another. Working together in the same office would have hindered that.

As she walked into Burnham Design for her first day on the job as President, Audrey was nervous. She didn’t know why, she knew everyone in the office, except for Morgan Walsh. That would be rectified shortly. Sabrina met her in the hallway and ushered her into her new “temporary” office. Renovations would have to be done to the entire office to accommodate space for Audrey and to relocate Sabrina. The renderings were complete, Sabrina had done them herself, and construction would begin in a few days. It was necessary to do the formal introduction and announce the organization changes before the construction started, though.

Perhaps the only person more excited than Audrey was Sabrina. This meant that she could go back and focus on the things that mean the most to her, and the operations of the company could be handed off for good. It also meant she had more time for her therapy sessions. She had determined that with everything that had happened, she needed help to sort through it all. She needed to reconcile that what Kyle did was his problem and not her’s. But come to grips with the fact that she let it dictate her life and let it ruin a relationship that meant more to her than she had ever truly expected. She also needed to accept that she hurt Chris so deeply and she had to live with that pain.

Audrey and Gunnar had suggested therapy, and she had scoffed at it initially. But after meditating on it, her other new hobby, she realized it was the right thing to do. The sessions were helping, or at least she felt like they were. The counselor was not passing judgment on her for anything that happened. Instead, she tried to help her maneuver the landmine of feelings and figure out how to work through them.

She had once again started to work on the drawings for the cabin. It was the idea of the therapist; she just followed through on what the doctor had suggested. When they were complete, she had talked to a builder who was intrigued, and things snowballed from there. She had purchased a plot of land, and nestled the house on the property. Once Audrey was set in her job, and Morgan was okay with the changes, Sabrina left to oversee the construction. The next thing she knew, she was being recognized for innovation in home design based on things she had done with the cabin. Not only that, she was being interviewed by magazines and television shows for what she was doing. The skyscraper queen was building a log cabin.

When she returned to Chicago with the pictures of the cabin, everyone was in awe of how it turned out. The setting was peaceful, and it really would be a safe haven for getting away from the daily grind. Sabrina reached out to an interior designer to ask for assistance in furnishing the home. After numerous calls back and forth, the overall aesthetic of the home was decided upon, and the designer went to work. Sabrina had asked that there be a non-disclosure agreement in place, there was information about the home that Sabrina did not want anyone to know about.

With the project complete and her company in capable hands, Sabrina felt as if she could focus on her rebuilding. She had officially closed a chapter of past and needed to do what she could to get Chris out of her mind. She had joked with Audrey that maybe she needed to get out of Chicago for a while, that maybe part of her problem was the emotional baggage of the city. When she joked about it with her therapist, the good doctor said it was a valid point. Since Sabrina had the means to walk away, maybe an extended vacation would provide her the opportunity she needed to heal.

Sabrina spread a map of the world along the wall in the apartment. With Gunnar and Audrey as witnesses, she threw darts at the map to determine where she would travel. With destinations selected, she packed her bags and set out to find herself.

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