Audrey stepped off the elevator and made her way towards her office; she left her sunglasses on because the fluorescent lights were a little much for her this morning. She had stayed out a little too late with Chris, drinking and talking until the wee hours of the morning and completely forgetting she had an early morning to prepare for. She was already late, it was nearly 8:30 and on most days she was in the office by 6:30. No telling how many times Sabrina had already dropped by or tried calling her desk to begin discussing the damn Hawaii deal. She could sneak into her office without Sabrina seeing, but she would eventually have to face her.
Audrey knew that she had fences to mend; one with Sabrina and one with Chris. She couldn’t remember why Sabrina was angry, she just remembered that she when she left, Chris’ mood changed. She could tell that Chris had actually started to feel something for Sabrina; he made it clear he didn’t want to discuss her the rest of the evening. The two of them had enough to drink that it was not a problem, but she knew she had to do the right thing and mend that fence later today. She could easily avoid him most of the day; he would be able to sleep off last night!
But Sabrina, well there would be no avoiding her; as a matter of fact, Audrey opened her office door and found her sitting behind her desk, waiting to pounce. She gasped in surprise, and swore she saw an evil grin emerge on Sabrina’s face, “Well, nice of you to come to work today, I was half expecting you to call in sick.”
Audrey walked into her office and softly closed the door behind her, “If I thought I could without you firing me, I would have,” she finally admitted.
“Here, I brought you coffee, it should still be hot, I’ve only been in your office for about 10 minutes. I had Paul, from the security desk in your building call me when you left for work. Guess it pays to be the one who owns the building you live in,” Sabrina quipped as she pushed herself out of Audrey’s chair and stood up. The pale pink suit reflected an innocence and grace that was a stark contrast to the bitch streak she was currently displaying.
“I’m sorry that I’m in late,” Audrey started to speak, but Sabrina held up her hand to indicate that she stop talking.
“I don’t want to discuss your late night drinking with Chris. But by God, we will address what you said to me and how inappropriate it was and the fact you said it front of him,” Sabrina’s eyes were alight, she was definitely angry and had no intention of letting up because Audrey had a hangover.
“I don’t remember what I said to you Sabrina, I swear, I had quite a bit to drink, and after you left, Chris and I drank quite a bit more.”
Sabrina took a few steps away from Audrey, placing her hands on her hips, she spun back around, “So you don’t remember asking me, in a restaurant full of people, including the Mayor, with whom I just had a conversation, if I was ready to go fuck Chris?” She waited for Audrey’s response and then continued, “And you don’t remember saying you saw the foreplay and wondered if we were ready to fuck?”
Audrey cringed and hung her head, letting out an audible sigh, “Shit, no Sabrina, I don’t. Damn,” Audrey had walked around her desk and lowered herself into her chair. This could be the beginning of the end for her relationship with Sabrina, both personally and professionally.
“Damn is right, luckily, your voice wasn’t very loud, and I don’t think anyone heard you, other than me of course. I’m not really sure if Chris heard you. I guess since the two of you continued to drink all night, he didn’t hear it or didn’t care.”
“I’m sorry, you know I would never do anything to hurt or embarrass you in public. We’ve been friends for years and have worked together just as long; I respect you and know how much your name and reputation mean. I’m really sorry, Sabrina.” Audrey was genuine, she was sorry and wished she could take it back. She was sure it was meant as a joke but probably didn’t come out that way, depending on how much she had already had to drink.
“I’ll tell you right now, Audrey, if there is any backlash at all, you’re done. If there is even a hint that anyone heard one word of what you said, and it is repeated and ends up on social media or in the paper, you’re out, and our friendship is over. You got that?”
Audrey kept her eyes closed and shook her head, “Yeah, I understand. I feel horrible, Sabrina, I mean it.” This was more painful than she wanted to admit and it was a good thing she still had the sunglasses on because it was able to hide the pain of having her best friend yell at her. She had seen Sabrina angry before, but this went beyond anything she had ever seen in the past. This was more like anger, hurt, and betrayal all wrapped into one.
Sabrina nodded to at least acknowledge that Audrey had apologized and that she understood the severity of the situation. However, she wasn’t going to continue to berate her and beat the proverbial dead horse, “Did you two stay at the Signature Room all night?”
“No,” Audrey kept her head down, “We left about twenty minutes after you did and ended up The Terrace at the Trump for drinks and hung out there until midnight when they closed.”
Audrey walked over and took a seat on the couch, sitting at an angle so she could easily see Audrey at her desk. “The Trump? Good grief, why there?”
“He is staying there, not his choice, by the way, that is where the wedding is, and where his buddy had the rooms set up.”
“Wait, you only drank until midnight, yet you are this hung over? What in the hell were you drinking? I thought you had wine at the Signature Room?”
“No, Chris bought a bottle from the bar, and we went to his room and drank some more; I went home around 2 am. We started drinking vodka when we got to The Terrace, and that is what we took to his room.”
“Vodka is your poison, Audrey and you know better. So let me ask, is there something going on between the two of you? Is that why you were so, shall I say, snarky, when you asked if I was going to get it on with him?”
Audrey let out a laugh, “No! That is an emphatic no, by the way. Nothing is going on between the two of us, but there did appear to be real chemistry between the two of you.”
“Why isn’t anything going on between the two of you? You’re expecting me to believe that you’ve been good friends with him for more than a year, and you haven’t slept with him?”
“That’s the truth, Sabrina, I swear. A man and a woman can be friends without sleeping together and besides I don’t have that type of chemistry with him but after last night, I am fairly confident that you do.”
“What? No, the guy is just a flirt, that’s all.”
“Oh, I know he’s a flirt, believe me. Flirting, I can do, but there was a whole different level of flirting with the two of you. I could tell you were enjoying it, and I know he was, maybe you need to act on it.”
“What? No, absolutely not,” Sabrina was horrified at the suggestion, “I can’t believe you would even suggest it.”
“Oh come on, It’s been what, ten years since your divorce? I think it’s about time you got back in the saddle,” Audrey chided.
“I’ve been in the saddle since my divorce, Audrey; I’ve just been very discreet about it. Besides, this guy is a friend of yours, and now you’re trying to pimp him off on me? No, he seems like a good guy, and I will not deny that he is very attractive, but the answer is no.”
“Oh my goodness, you’re scared,” Audrey announced, she could tell by the way Sabrina was answering the questions and fidgeting in her seat. This had nothing to do with Chris, it had everything to do with Sabrina’s own headspace. “Why don’t you give it a chance? He’s going to leave after the wedding, and you wouldn’t have to see him again. But at least let him rock your world while he is here.”
“I am not using your friend as a fuck toy while he’s in town, and I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t appreciate it if he knew you were trying to set him up.”
“Boy, you are a high and mighty one aren’t you?” There was a hint of venom in Audrey’s voice as she spat the words out at her friend. “Just so you know, Chris is a great guy, he really is. Very charming and very charitable; he is a lot more than the gorgeous face you see. He is also smart and philosophical; two things you wouldn’t expect from him, I’m sure. And all of those are things you didn’t pick up on him last night; ok, well maybe the charming part you did.”
“I picked up that he is charming and smart and more than a beautiful face, Audrey. I’m not ignorant of the fact that there are levels of a person that go beyond what you see on the outside.”
“Fine, so you picked up that there is more to him, you should give him a chance, that’s all I’m saying. Maybe be friends with him at least, I think there is an interest on his side.”
Sabrina stood up and smoothed her skirt and then started to walk towards the door, just before opening it, she stopped but did not turn to face Audrey. “Honestly, I think I might be scared to be friends with him.”
“Why would you be afraid to be friends with him? That makes absolutely no sense.”
“When I walked him to the window and asked him to pick a building that was better stacked than the Hancock building, do you know which building he chose?” She paused, giving Audrey a moment to answer, “He chose Aqua because he said it reminded him of a woman, beautiful, elegant, and well stacked,” a smile crossed her lips as she repeated his words and remembered the feel of his touch when he was holding her in place.
“Oh dear God, are you serious? Sabrina, I never told him that was your building. Hell, he didn’t even know your last name when I said you were joining us. He had no idea who you were.”
“I know that, Audrey because I had to tell him after the Mayor stopped by to say hello. I never said that Aqua was my building, or that I live there,” she took a minute to collect her thoughts and to craft the words that she was about to speak. “I’m scared that I might fall for him, Audrey. He is the kind of guy who could be dangerous for me, and I could find myself getting lost in him. And I think he is the kind of guy who might break my heart, and I’m not sure I can survive that again.”
Sabrina opened the door and walked through it without another word. She put her head up and maintained her fierce façade so that the staff in the office would not see that she just spent a few moments being vulnerable with her best friend. Sabrina Burnham was not vulnerable, and she was not weak; at least not in the face of the people who worked for her or in the face of those that she was willing to crush to get her buildings built.
Audrey removed her sunglasses and set them on her desk. She was no longer struggling to stay awake and frankly the little bomb that Sabrina had just dropped was enough to wipe away any lingering hangover effects. Audrey had known Sabrina for more than twenty years, they had met their Freshman year in college, and it was fair to say that they had been on one roller coaster ride after another. While they were in school, Sabrina met a guy, Audrey had liked him, thinking he was a good fit for her friend. His name was Kyle Champman, he was also an architectural student. He recognized her last name immediately, how could he not when her great-grandfather was the subject in some of their classes? Kyle never saw it as an issue in their relationship, that was until Sabrina became successful and he didn’t.
Sabrina’s talent took her far, and Kyle always attributed it to her last name; she never took her married name, that was always a point of contention for him. If she did intend to make it on her own, she should come out from underneath the Burnham name he would tell her. Sabrina argued that she was proud of who she was and who she was related to, and she was not going to turn her back on her family. What Kyle didn’t realize was that she submitted designs and renderings under SPB, her initials. Her last name would never be revealed until her design was selected and they needed to sign the contracts. Her rise to prominence in the Chicago architectural and design world was not overnight, and it was hard work, but she surpassed him, and that did not settle well. It was the downfall of their marriage, he did not like having a wife who was more successful than he was. It all started with passive aggressive behavior and comments but steadily escalated. She kept thinking she would be able to fix it or work through it; but when he hit her, she walked out and immediately filed for divorce. He hit here where the marks were easily covered up and they would heal; but the scars, they don’t heal so easily. She didn’t file charges; she knew that she should have filed domestic abuse charges and taken him to court, but she didn’t want her name attached to that kind of case. It would follow her around for the rest of her life and she didn’t want that stigma attached to her while she was trying to establish her career.
The divorce was bitter; Kyle wanted his portion of the Burnham legacy and he would have no problem making things up to ruin Sabrina’s reputation if it would mean he would get it. She wanted to get it settled quietly, in the end, she agreed to pay Kyle off. He took her money and moved out of Chicago, he didn’t want to be in her shadow.
In the years since the divorce, Sabrina had not maintained a long-term relationship for fear of what it could lead to. She did date one guy for a little more than two months, but when he wanted to date exclusively and get serious, she ended the relationship and moved on. Trust, it was a big problem for her now, and while she knew that not every man was like Kyle, she was not willing to risk her well-being to find out. No, it was better to have flings and flirtations.
Audrey fired up her laptop, deciding to dive in and get started on the projects at hand. Work would keep her distracted, and it did. When she finally looked up, it was almost 2 pm. She stared at the phone for a few minutes, thinking it would be safe to call Chris by now, he should be awake. She knew the horrors of waking that man up, she had done it before, and it was not good.
She took her cell phone out of her purse and hit his contact information, after three rings, he finally picked up. “Hey, Audrey how are you?” His voice was chipper, no signs of a hangover. Obviously, he had gotten plenty of sleep.
“Not nearly as good as you seem to be,” she admitted because while her eyes had adjusted to the light, the headache was still raging. She had popped a handful of ibuprofen and drank quite a bit of coffee, but the little man with the hammer in her head would not go away. “Hey, do you have a few minutes to talk? I don’t know what you have planned today, so I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“No, you’re good, I’ve got an early dinner with Chuck, that’s the friend getting married. But other than that, I’m free all day. What’s going on?”
“Any chance you might want to swing by my place later tonight? I thought maybe we could talk, I feel like I need to mend fences for last night.”
“You don’t need to mend any fences, Audrey, I promise we’re good.”
“Yeah, well I don’t feel that way, Chris. I feel like I messed up with Sabrina, and I messed up with you.
“What did you mess up with Sabrina?” She noticed the drop in his voice when he asked the question if she wasn’t mistaken it sounded an awful lot like concern.
“Did you hear what I said to her last night, the comment that made her angry and got her to leave?”
“No, I was walking over to the table and saw you two talking and could see she was agitated but didn’t hear anything. Well, that was until you called me a boy toy,” he laughed.
“Yeah, well I said something that was out of line. Anyway, how about coming over around 8? I’ll have to work late, and that will give me time to get home and change. You know where I live, right?”
“Yeah, I have the address, I’ll see you at 8.”
Audrey hung up the phone and continued to work on a few projects until she received the call from Sabrina asking her to come down to the conference room. She gathered up her things, took a deep breath and made the walk down the hall to the conference room next to Sabrina’s office.
Sabrina was alone, but the speaker phone was engaged, and she was in the middle of a call. It only took Audrey a moment to realize she was on the phone with Brent Iber, the attorney for the Hawaiian developer. He was more level headed than his boss, meaning that he would most likely not hang up on her but depending on what he had to say, there was always the chance the roles could be reversed today.
“Brent, I want to let you know that Audrey Clarke, the firm’s general counsel has joined us. Audrey, I’m talking to Brent Iber out in Hawaii about the development deal, and we are trying to iron out a few details to keep this deal from going bust.”
“Hello, Mr. Iber, it is nice to finally speak with you,” Audrey offered in the hopes of breaking the ice and any potential tension, “I hope I’m not coming in at an inopportune moment, I was wrapping up another deal.” Audrey knew that Sabrina always likes when she provided that type of response for coming in late to a meeting as it let it be known they have a lot of projects in the works and that all of their livelihood did not rest on this one deal.
“Hello, it is nice to speak with you as well. Sabrina tells me that you two spoke last evening and have a suggestion that you think could sweeten the deal to get this finalized?”
Audrey was shocked that Sabrina would allow someone else to present her idea, but she was giving the nod of approval so she moved ahead. The call lasted for more than an hour and by the end, a verbal agreement had been reached to move forward. The revised contract was already emailed out to Brent for review and presentation. Provided the developer didn’t balk at the idea of the club and the extension of the building, the groundbreaking could be within the next six months.
The call was disconnected, and Sabrina let out an exasperated sigh, “Thank God! I was afraid this deal would never get done. Thanks for shaping that message and pitching the idea, I think coming from someone other than me is what sealed it.”
“But it was your idea, not mine.”
“Right, but they’ve been talking to me for weeks, and I think they are tired of listening to me and my ideas. They believe that I’m just worried about getting the building built, and I am. So they wouldn’t listen to any idea that I would come up. So, if I had you deliver the message, it is fresh and new, and they listen.”
“In other words, you used me to get what you wanted?” Audrey tried to sound angry but in all honesty, she was not surprised by the tactic.
“Audrey, we’ve been friends for years, and you should know by now that I always get what I want – and right now, I want this building in Hawaii!
By the time, the call with Iber ended, and she wrapped up with Sabrina, it was almost 7:15. Audrey rushed back to her office to grab her things and bolt home. By the time she reached the security desk and gave them the details about Chris so they could let him up and then got into her apartment, she had five minutes to change her clothes before he would be arriving. And of course, he was on time!
She was pulling on her t-shirt and smoothing it down when she opened the door and saw him standing there with a pizza box in his hand, “I am going to take a stab that you got out of the office late and didn’t eat yet, so I brought you dinner.”
She grabbed the box out of his hands, put it on the sideboard by the door and then wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him the best hug she could muster. “Dude, I’ve had no food all day, and I’m starving. And your assumption is correct, I literally just changed my clothes.”
“Yeah, well you need to change your t-shirt,” he said as he pulled out of her embrace, “You were in such a rush, you have it on backward and inside out,” he was starting to laugh as he walked in the door. He picked up the pizza box and walked toward the dining room as Audrey pulled off her shirt and flipped it over and around. “Good thing you are modest and I’m not worried about seeing your bra or your boobs!”
“Shut up!” She snarked back at him, “You want a beer? I have the fridge stocked plus I have a liquor cabinet full of whatever.” She noticed that he had walked over to the large windows of her living room that overlooked the city and the riverfront. “You like the view? I had to have a condo in this building when it went up, this is my favorite one that we’ve done.”
Chris spun back around, “Wait, what? Is this a Sabrina Burnham building?”
Audrey smiled, “Oh you know the name do you? Yes, it’s one of the earlier buildings she designed, and she wasn’t well liked for the design. People thought it was crazy and too innovative for the city, and now it is one of the landmarks that people pick out in the skyline. There is even a matching building for it.”
“Did you really call me over here to talk about her?”
“Yeah, I did. Seriously, you want a beer?” Audrey asked as she walked into the kitchen and towards the fridge. Chris nodded so she grabbed one for each of them and met him at the dining room table. He had opened the pizza box and had already helped himself to a slice. “Last night, you two looked like you got a little cozy. You wanna tell me about it?”
“Huh? I thought you were going to tell me what you said to her? I didn’t realize you wanted me to spill the beans.”
“Oh come on, you two looked pretty damn intense over at the window. And I may, or may not be, a little a jealous of the way you were holding her. Damn, that was kinda hot.” Chris took a swig from the beer bottle and was trying to keep the blush from creeping into his cheeks. Audrey was not going to let this go, and because they were friends, he knew he couldn’t keep it from her for very long. “Chris, seriously, I already know you got a hard on when she walked in the bar, it’s not a leap for me to think you might be interested in her.”
“I can’t talk to you about it, you’re her best friend.”
“I’ve never told her a thing about you or the fact that we’re friends. She had no clue until last night, I don’t break trust, and you know it, so she would never know what you are telling me. I just have a duty to make sure both of you don’t get hurt, that’s all.”
“What, you’re worried about me hurting her?”
“No, actually it’s the other way around. I’m more concerned that she’ll end up hurting you,” Audrey stated with a matter of fact tone. “You’re intrigued, aren’t you?”
This time, he didn’t bother to hide his smile, “Fuck yeah, I am. She’s amazing, Aud, the way she carries herself and has this steely bitch persona. It’s a turn on, and that normally does nothing for me; I like the self-deprecating women who are willing to go out with their hair in a ponytail and sweatpants. But, there is something about her, she is powerful, but it seems like there is a little more to her just under the surface, I can’t explain it, I really can’t.”
“I think there might be interest on her part, too. She hasn’t said anything to me, I need to be clear on that,” Audrey took a drink and gingerly set her bottle back on the table. “You’re going to get mad at me, so get ready. When you two were playing verbal tennis, the sexual tension was very real between the two of you. When she took you to the window, it went up a few notches more,” she took another drink because she was getting nervous. “I asked her if all of that was foreplay and if she was ready to take you home and fuck you.”
Chris’ eyebrows went up, and he began to shake his head, “You said that to her in a crowded restaurant? Holy shit, Audrey!”
She had to admit, the fact that his reaction was more that she said it in a crowded restaurant and not that she said it at all was a little surprising. “Yeah, well I didn’t say it very loud because you didn’t hear it, you only heard my reaction to her reaction which was calling you a boy toy.”
“Wait, what did she say?”
“She told me not to worry she wasn’t stealing my boy toy. When I snapped back at her that you weren’t my boy toy, that is when you walked up.”
“I wondered where that was coming from, but I was so stunned when she walked out of the bar that I didn’t think to ask you about it.”
“Yeah, well she was angry, and she confronted me about it this morning. She was actually sitting in my office waiting for me,” Audrey took another drink which actually finished off the bottle. “Of course, this morning I was late because of drinking all night with you, so that didn’t help her mood any.”
“How bad was it?” He asked, cringing at the thought.
“Let’s just say that if anyone in the restaurant did hear what I said to her and it gets out or is discussed in social media or the paper, well, I’ll be looking for a new job.”
“Ouch! She really is angry; I don’t think what you said was that horrible. Okay, maybe a little crass to say to your boss but to your best friend who was just flirting and getting handsy with a guy, it wasn’t so bad.”
“She likes you, which is why she’s mad. She questioned me this morning as to why you and I have been friends for a year and I’m not sleeping with you,” at this comment, Chris choked on his beer and started into a coughing fit. Audrey was laughing, and it took a minute to pull herself together, “Sorry, are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine, thanks. You two pull no punches when you talk to one another. You’re worse than two guys talking to one another.”
“You’re in town for a few days, if you want to see if you can get somewhere with her, I have an idea. I also have connections that can make it happen, all you have to do is say the word.”