Saturday, August 19, 2017:
It had only been a week since the night you’d lost your damn mind, but it felt like so much longer.
Chris had refused to discuss the “incident” until you were face to face. The few times you attempted to bring it up he would quickly shut it down. Needless to say, conversations had been short, rather awkward, and somewhat generalized.
What would happen once you were in Atlanta? The rational part of your brain knew things were going to be okay. It wasn’t like he tried to talk you out of going. Just the opposite, he did say he was looking forward to having you all to himself for a full week. However, that panicky part of your brain couldn’t help but look up hotels in the Atlanta area -- and even earlier return flights -- just in case things went south. The constant battle of scenarios was driving you crazy.
During the plane ride from New York to Georgia, all you could do was look over the messages from that evening and at the photos that had sparked your accusations. Thank God you had a window seat so there was someplace to avert your eyes and obtain some privacy for your tears.
Your inebriated mind had twisted things to fit the narrative it wanted to believe. In the light of day, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the photographs. Sure, the girls were vamping it up for the camera, but no more than any other women did on social media.
Chris was looking at the camera, not down at their cleavage, not drooling over the girls. They weren’t pressing against him the way you’d “seen” them doing. His hands were positioned midway down their backs in the shots, completely appropriate. They’re hands were on his torso but it wasn’t anything to get excited over.
It was no wonder Chris had been so confused and furious! Anyone reading the text messages from you would’ve thought they had all stripped down and had a threesome right there at or on the bar. Or that he must have been fucking his way across Scotland.
At least he hadn’t broken up with you over it. Not yet, anyway.
You were so incredibly grateful for the support you’d gotten from your mother. Once Chris had begun speaking with you again, in more than two or three word sentences, she had to keep reminding you that it was a good sign that things would be worked out. It took him almost two days to move past simple “Good Morning” and “Good Night” text messages. It was excruciating but deserved.
Your mom had helped you see that you’d never truly worked through the deception of your former fiance, David. Instead, you’d stuffed it down and locked up the pain rather than processing it all. It was easier to not fall in love than to always worry about someone cheating on you again.
The alcohol had made clear that while you believed you had total trust in Chris, those past scars still caused doubts. The added pressure of being in a long distance relationship didn’t help.
You were scared of your feelings for Chris and how vulnerable they made you. The independent streak was strong within you. It was going to take some work to learn how to balance that and trust now that you were in a partnership.
Without facing the past there was no way you’d have peace in the future. Especially with someone like Chris and the profession he was in. How would you handle longer separations and time zone differences? Or him working with actresses and having love scenes with them? Just the thought of it made you feel sick to your stomach. You understood those scenes were “just part of his job” and that they were choreographed and not romantic, but once on the screen they would sure look real.
“Fuck!” you muttered out loud, forgetting where you were for a moment and quickly apologizing to the man sitting beside you.
The homes and buildings of Atlanta started to take shape beneath the plane as it began its approach to the airport. You wiped your eyes and then got some chewing gum out of your purse to help with the popping in your ears. No turning back now. You absolutely hated confrontations, but getting things back on track with Chris was something you were eager to accomplish.
It was just after eleven in the morning when the plane touched down and the Pilot welcomed you to Atlanta. The temperature was already scorching hot. According to the forecast it was going to be like this for the entire week. Over 90 degrees fahrenheit with 100 percent humidity. Having checked the weather before packing, your suitcase pretty much consisted of swimsuits, light fabric sundresses, tank tops and thin shorts. You packed (probably) too many pairs of shoes and jewelry to help dress up some items for any outings.
Chris’s assistant, Paul, had arranged for a car service to pick you up at the airport. After getting your suitcase from the baggage area, you walked towards the exit and found a middle aged woman standing with a sign reading “N. Frasier” and introduced yourself. She helped you with your suitcase and led the way to her gloriously air conditioned car waiting outside.
There was some light conversation, but you weren’t feeling like much of a chatterbox. Luckily it wasn’t a very long drive to Chris’s rental house, which was located in a neighborhood just outside of the city of Atlanta. Your eyes were taking in the scenery but your heart was thumping with anticipation of the moment when it would get close to Chris again.
The driver pulled up to a home that was set far back from the road. It was soft gray and beautifully architectured. Spanish Moss hung from an abundance of tall trees, creating a canopy of shade.
After assisting with your luggage, the driver handed you a padded envelope that contained a key to the house and the code to the alarm. You thanked her and provided a tip, then entered your home away from home for the next week.
You spent quite a while exploring the large home and all its cozy and lovely details. So much natural light from the windows, comfortable seating and a modern kitchen to die for.
With your bags tucked into the corner of the master bedroom, you sat at the edge of the king sized bed and sent Chris a text to let him know you were there. He sent one back quickly, telling you to get yourself settled in, help yourself to anything you wanted, and he’d be home between 4:30-5:00 pm.
No cute emoji or GIF? The text wasn’t perfunctory in nature, but you’d hoped to see at least a smiling face with a heart kiss. Some clue as to what the mood would be when he got home. You could feel your mind racing and wondered if Overthinkers Anonymous was a thing? If it wasn’t, perhaps that would be a good business to open. God knew you were a professional at it.
A growl in your belly reminded you that you’d barely eaten today, so you put together some lunch for yourself. It was slim pickings and you started a grocery shopping list on your phone for things to have on hand for the rest of the week.
Fatigue was starting to take hold by the time you’d finished eating and cleaning up the dishes. Between excitement and anxiety at seeing Chris again, your sleep had been shitty at best. Last night it had been practically non-existent with all the fretting over today. With a few hours left before he was due to come home, you decided to go into the bedroom to relax, watch some television and, hopefully, take a nap.
Wet licks on your face and neck jolted you awake. You opened your eyes to see Dodger’s sweet little face. The doggo let out an excited yip and his tail began to dance. Over his shoulders stood his proud papa. Chris had one knee on the bed, trying unsuccessfully to save you from the furball. Instead, he ended up losing balance -- whether on accident or on purpose was unclear -- and landed on the bed beside you.
Over Dodger’s adorable face you were able to connect to the one belonging to your love. Your heart raced as you took in the sight of him after so many weeks. His hair was longer, his beard thicker. His eyes were soft and loving, with a bit of wrinkling at the edges. There was a warm, closed lip smile, but you sensed some reservation in him, too.
Chris reached out and stroked his dog to try to calm him down. “Dodger! C’mon, bubba, let her get her bearings.”
Dodger willfully ignored his human and you ended up with a mouth full of fluff as he turned to lick Chris on the face and whacked you with his tail.
As you continued to look at Chris, a torrent of words and apologies flooded your brain. In the end, you held them all back and simply gave him a shy smile and said “Hello.”
The pooch finally calmed down and claimed the spot between your bodies. You both began stroking his fur and your fingertips met. Instantly, they slid into each other and you remained holding hands.
Your eyes also held, communicating silent messages, although all he said was a reserved, “Hi,” in return. It was almost as if you both had a ton to say, but didn’t know where to start and couldn’t decide who should go first.
In the end, Chris did, but not in the way you expected.
“So, I’ve kind of made it a habit to take a dip in the pool after I get home from the set. It’s so freakin’ hot in that costume all day. Want to join me?”
“Umm, okay, sounds like a plan.”
That’s what you said out loud. In your head it was a torrent of, “Sounds like a plan? Great comeback, Nicole. Way to start your first in person convo! Hey, let’s follow it up with this golden nugget with another winner.
Even as you said, “I’ll just go get my bathing suit on,” and moved off the bed you were fending off mental attacks.
It was going to be a long night.
You spared a glance his way as you pulled the suit out of your bag and slipped into the bathroom. Chris was giving you a bit of a questioning look, almost as if he could hear the yelling in your head.
There were sliding glass doors to the backyard from the master bedroom. As you took hold of the handle to exit them, you saw Chris walking around the pool with the skimmer, cleaning dead bugs and debris from the water’s surface. He must have changed in the bedroom and was clad in black swim trunks.
Your heart skipped a beat as it flooded with love for him and nerves about the talk you knew would be going down soon. Swallowing hard, you walked out onto the patio, determined to do whatever it took to make things right.
You walked over to the pool steps and entered the water. It was warm like a bathtub, but still refreshing. Chris put the skimmer away in a small pool supply shed then took a few quick strides and dove straight into the deep end.
“Show off,” you teased, once he surfaced.
Dodger, who was lounging on a cushioned chair in the shade beneath the covered patio, gave a quick bark as if confirming the notion.
Chris’s hair was so long and shaggy that it almost completely covered his face, forcing him to run his hands through to push it back. His chest hair was natural and masculine, a good indication that there were no shirtless scenes in the current Avengers movie or he’d likely be waxed.
He flashed a quick smile, but it wasn’t his usual one. The tension in the air rivaled the humidity. Thick enough to cut with a knife.
The urge to be close to him outweighed everything. You dove under the water and swam into the deep end, making your way towards the side of the pool. There was a built in ledge for sitting and, after pushing your own hair back, you popped your booty upon it and sat back. Your left leg swirled around in the water and you had to keep fighting the urge to clasp your hands together. You wanted to show that you were open and calm so you kept them loose and at your sides.
“How was work today?” you asked casually, wanting to get a conversation started. Chris was doing some stretches as he floated in the pool, wincing every once in a while.
With a quick grunt after one of those stretches, he answered, “A little brutal, actually. It’s my last few days of filming and we’re doing a lot of stunts. They had me hooked up to this gear today that pulled me while I ran at top speed so it made it look even faster. My legs are so fuckin’ stiff from it.”
“I don’t know how you do this stuff all the time. I can massage them for you later if you’d like.”
“That…. Would be heaven,” he accepted gratefully, slowly stroking his way over towards your perch.
“What do you think of the house?” he asked, keeping himself afloat by holding onto your legs. He was using them to do some weird push up type thing, pushing away and then pulling himself back towards you.
“It lacks gym equipment, but I’m glad I can stand in for it,” you chuckled, pushing your toes into his chest as he came towards your legs once more. “But aside from that it’s beautiful. So much space and light!”
“Right? It’s the first time I’ve rented in this neighborhood, but I’m loving it.”
“I’m glad I brought a few suits with me. Something tells me I’ll be out here a lot.”
“Well, after Tuesday I’ll be done filming. We’ll have all the free time in the world for the rest of the week.”
There was hope and warmth in his eyes as he said those words while looking up at you. He was close enough that you were able to bend forward and take his head into your hands, ruffling his messy hair. “I’m looking forward to it.”
He held your gaze for a few seconds then averted them and began to chew the inside of his cheek while inspecting your knees. You waited and said nothing, giving him whatever space and time his brain needed.
Chris let go of your legs and dipped under the water, swimming a short distance away to the end of the pool. He braced his arm up on the side of it and looked around. You could see his jaw tightened and chest puffing with a deep breath.
After what felt like an eternity, he finally asked, “Can we talk about what happened last weekend?” The tone of his voice made it clear it wasn’t a question or option.
Your response was a slow nod and an even slower exhalation. The choked feeling in your chest wasn’t unlike being called in the principal’s office, or having your parents ask to speak with you and knowing you’d been caught. Haltingly, you said, “Where should we start?”
Anger simmered in his voice as he smacked his hand on the tile of the pool and snarked, “Um, oh I don’t know, maybe by you telling me what the fuck was going on in your head Saturday night?
You flinched, and he pressed on in a more controlled voice. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to yell, I just.. I get it. I do. Everyone does the drunk text/call thing at some point.” Chris paused, blowing breath out strongly through his nose while his mouth was clamped shut. “I guess… I just never expected something like that from you . I barely recognized the person at the other end of that phone, Nicole.”
It was all you could do to not cry, or react sarcastically out of defense. But you had to. He had every right to be mad.
“I’m so sorry, Chris,” you manage to croak out through a throat that was choking back tears.
“No. I don’t want to hear you say that you’re sorry.” He stopped and swiped his hands through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead, then ran it over his beard. Out of the corner of your eye, you watched and noted how his right hand had a slight tremble to it.
“What I want to hear from you is why? Why would you think I’d ever cheat on you like that? And if I was, why on earth would I be so callous and stupid as to pose with the women I’m supposedly cheating on you with? I mean, seriously, Nic, after the weekend we had in Manhattan, after ALL the promises I made to you….. I just, I don’t…fuck, Nic, why? How? Do you have any idea what that did to me? How much it fucked with my head? I had a fuckin’ breakdown after I sent you the last message, I couldn’t even talk anymore.”
His voice was on the rise again as he spit out, “It felt like I was dealing with a stranger!!!”
Your head dropped down and tears began to run down your face as you listened to his words. A wave of disgust and disappointment in yourself. All you wanted to do was disappear. Just slip under the water and pop up someplace far away.
You harnessed those feelings. Rather than letting them break you down, you balled them up, turning the anger you felt towards yourself into strength. Nothing was going to be resolved by a meltdown. You were a grown ass woman, not a little girl. It was time to act like one.
After a long, deep inhale to steady your nerves, you did what you had to do. You owned it, albeit with a voice slightly wavering with emotions.
“It was years of unresolved trust issues and insecurities that I’ve had locked up tight. Being with someone I love so much, and constantly being apart just… let it all escape. It was like a Jack in the Box. Missing you, on top of feelings over Jade moving and Dani bailing out on me, just made it too hard to control anymore.
You stopped speaking and took a good, long look at Chris’s face, assessing how best to express what was in your heart.
“Chris. I hate that I hurt you. I hate seeing the pain I caused in your eyes. I don’t like being that person. I didn’t recognize her either.”
He nodded, accepting your answer and swimming back over to take a seat on the ledge beside you. Picking up your hand, he placed a kiss into your palm, then held it as began to stroke your fingers, soothingly.
“Y’know, Nic, it’s not going to get easier any time soon, right? Eventually I hope to work less and be home more, but it’s gonna be a few years. I’m about to leave for two months. We gotta figure this out.”
“I know we do. Or rather, I do. I’m on it, I promise.”
Sounding cautious and squinting his eyes as if fearing a smack, he asked, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but have you thought about seeing a therapist?”
“Way ahead of you, dude. I had my first appointment three days ago.”
“Really? Why didn’t you mention it?”
“I wanted to see how it went first. Plus, we weren’t talking all that much soooo --”
“I’m sorry about that, Nikki, I just really wanted to be in person to hash this out. It’s different, somehow, over the phone.”
“It is, but I still wish we could have cleared the air at least.”
“I know, I just needed some time to figure things out, too. How did your session go?”
“Good, overall. I feel comfortable with her. We didn’t get into anything too deep, just got to know each other and I told her about my little meltdown.”
“What did she say?”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, that’s all I’m sharing,” you sighed, with a shake of your head. “I did let her know that I’m seeing a man who is in the public eye and that I have an NDA so we’ll be figuring out a way to work around that. For now, you’re being referred to as “George” --
“Of course,” he chuckled.
“Of course,” you confirmed, joining in the lighthearted feeling.
“My publicist would be pissed if she heard this, but if you need to talk about specific things as they come up, I’m okay with her knowing who I am. We both know it’s only a matter of time before we’re no longer a secret. I’d rather see you prepared for it than scrambling to handle attention from the press and fans.”
With relief, you said, “I appreciate that. I’ll still be mindful, but it could be easier at times.”
“I’m proud of you, Nicole.”
“Thank you.” Pausing for a moment, you gathered your emotions and relief and then looked him in the eyes to say, “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I truly am sorry. The damage is done, but I hope you can find a way to forgive me.”
“There’s nothing to forgive. You fucked up, yeah, and yes I was really hurt. Thank god I had work that night so I had something to focus my brain noise on other than our fight. But, I went over your messages again and again the next day. I knew in my heart that you didn’t believe I’d cheated. Maybe knowing I wasn’t guilty made that easier to see.”
You admitted, “I’m still in shock over how my brain twisted the way I saw things. I really think it was just underlying fear.”
“Yeah. Fear of losing you. I know it’s only been a few months,” you stopped and took a deep breath, eyes looking up towards the sky as you braced yourself to say what was in your heart. “But, I can’t imagine my life without you. And that scares me, in a way, because I’ve NEVER felt this in a relationship before. A part of me thinks last Saturday was a form of self sabotage.”
Chris pulled you into an embrace as tears slipped down your cheeks. They came out of nowhere, triggered by being so vulnerable and open about your emotions.
“Shhhh, it’s okay. Nicole, look at me,” he said, clasping your chin with his fingertips. “I’m right there with you. I love you so much. You have my heart and my soul. I’m not going anywhere.”
With that, he leaned forward and your lips met for the first time since the world turned upside down. The kiss was soft, gentle, yet powerful.
It was also healing.
When it was over, you remained with your foreheads pressed against each other, both relaxing in the calm after the storm.
You chuckled, smiling as you admitted, “And here I was looking around at hotels in case we didn’t make up.”
Quickly straightening up in surprise, he asked, “Wait, what? Hold up, what did you think was going to happen today? Did you think I was going to break up with you? Have you come all the way here, just to do it in person or something?”
“Maaaaybe. I mean, the sane part of me knew that wasn’t going to happen. But, um, let’s just say that I never unpack my suitcase.”
He smacked himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand and then did a pratfall off the seat and into the pool. Instantly you broke out into a smile and laughed, doing so even harder when he splashed you then pulled you in with him. Dodger came over to the edge to see what the fuss was about, but stopped shy of coming in. Once satisfied that everyone was safe, he returned to his perch upon the cushioned chairs.
For a while longer, you and Chris chilled out in the pool, talking and playing, brainstorming strategies to help with future separations.
What might have ended a relationship for others ended up making the foundation of yours even stronger.
As you floated together, Chris gathered you close, maneuvering your legs to wrap around his hips. In between kisses to your lips and throat, he said, “So, the bad thing is we had our first fight. But, the good thing is --”
Finishing the thought, you asked, “We get to have our first make up sex?”
“I love it when you read my mind.”