Touch & Go - Chapter Five
Previous Chapter HERE
Story Summary Ten months after leaving Boston, Sarah’s starting over again in Nashua. A new apartment, a new hospital, and closer to her parents, she’s finally finding some peace following her ill-advised affair with her best friend’s brother. But Sarah should have known it would only be a matter of time before the past catches up with her.
Warnings Strong language and stressful situations. Tension.
Word Count 5,389 (sorry, it’s another long one....)
Tags @patzammit @ppal3 (Thank you!)
Notes I re-watched ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ recently (it’s definitely one of my guilty pleasure films) and stole an idea for this chapter.
Driving back to Boston early the next day was a relatively quiet affair. Neither Chris nor Sarah had much energy to speak during the five or so hours other than when Chris asked her a couple of times if she was OK and if she wanted the radio on. She nodded back to him and kept her sights on what was going on outside. There was some glorious sunshine they’d been surprised with. It was a small mercy compared to what had happened recently.
She enjoyed the subtle breeze coming in through the open windows, the engine gently thrumming around them both. He regarded her fondly a couple of times. She seemed peaceful and he didn’t want to disturb her.
She didn’t much want to leave her parents. She definitely didn’t want to leave her mother to deal with it all. Jocelyn had said multiple times that it was fine and that she needed to collect her belongings but, well, it was only stuff at the end of the day. It was nothing compared to her family. It was some strange irony that things have to be so bad before you realise what is most important.
Chris said there was never a good time to deal with a family emergency. Probably why they called them “emergencies”. The more she and Jocelyn pushed back against each other, the more Sarah came around to the idea that she would in fact have to collect her stuff from the hotel at some point. She just wanted to pack up her things and get on the first train she could find that would bring her back to Maine. Or at least that would have been the plan if Chris hadn’t thoroughly placed himself in the middle of everything.
“What time do you want me to come and pick you up?” he asked as he pulled into the parking spot in the underground garage. Sarah looked at him like he’d grown a second head.
“Just give me an hour to grab some things and I’m all yours.” He doubled down as if what he was proposing was nothing at all. Just a run-of-the-mill Thursday afternoon.
“No way.” she began to argue. She unbuckled herself and was just wanting to thank him, possibly with a hug if that wasn’t too weird, and get her belongings. Chris, evidently, had other ideas and she wondered how long he had been planning it on the drive back into town. He seemed to have the whole thing mapped out clearly for the both of them. “You’ve already done so much for me, for all of us. I can’t ask you to drive all that way again.”
“Obviously I’m gonna but this is fine. You can argue with me as much as you like. I’ve been here multiple times before.” He looked almost smug before turning serious again. “You don’t need to worry about that. You don’t need to worry about anything. It makes perfect sense.”
“It really doesn’t.”
“That’s because you’re not seeing it from my perspective.” He brushed her off and didn’t notice when she closed her eyes in silent frustration. “This is what friends do, Sarah. I wanna be there for you. I’ve got nothing going on right now so it’s not like your taking me away from anything if that’s what you’re fretting about.”
She eyed him suspiciously and saw him visibly swallow knowing he’d been caught out.
“OK, well, I’ve got nothing important going on right now, let’s put it that way.” He conceded.
It was sort of true. With little effort, he had successfully managed to rearrange a Zoom call with the director of a project he’d been circling for the past month. He had also been contacted by Lucy the night before. That one took more energy to deal with than he was willing to expel and he felt relieved that Sarah hadn’t caught on to him furiously texting on his phone.
Lucy was heading to New York that coming weekend and tried calling him. He had accidentally missed it, or at least that was what he told her. No, sorry, he wasn’t free for dinner and no, she couldn’t just swing by his place for a catch up, as enticing as that might have sounded in another time and place. He really wanted to be a good pal. He wanted to get back on track with Sarah and a half-hearted booty call with a girl he was only mildly interested in at best wasn’t what a good friend would do. He knew that much. He also knew that if the shoe was on the other foot, she would do the same for him. Take that, Greg.
And so, a couple of hours later, they found themselves heading back out of town. They had a few belongings, coffee, and a large bag of pretzels Sarah had nabbed from the hotel’s minibar. Sarah gave as good as she got, though, he’d give her that much. When she tried to stop him from returning to the hotel, he merely said he’d call Jocelyn and tell her her daughter was bullying him. It was a minor threat that he was only 80% likely to follow through on. However, she knew how much Jocelyn loved Chris, and Chris knew how much Jocelyn loved Chris as well, so…Sarah didn’t stand a chance. It made him feel happy at the returning sense of familiarity between them both.
“You manage to speak to Audrey?” Chris asked, taking a swig from his coffee cup.
“Yeh, she’s good. She was shouting at me to get off the phone so I could leave but I think she was really just hiding the fact she was going to cry.”
“Well, that’s not surprising. She’ll be worried about you.” He supposed and Sarah nodded in acknowledgement. “Does she know you’re with me?”
Sarah felt a little taken aback by his question. She hadn’t mentioned him and he didn’t come up in their conversation organically either. Now, though, would he feel affronted if she hadn’t mentioned his name to Audrey given all he had done for her the previous day?
“-It’s OK. I was just wondering is all.” He shrugged it off. “There’s no reason, I just wondered if she’d give you a hard time or something.”
“Why would she give me a hard time?”
“I don’t know, I just thought maybe if she knew about everything she might be concerned about you. About you and me spending time together again after so long.” He posed out loud. “Honestly, it was just a random thought.”
He saw her straighten up in the passenger seat and regretted asking the question. The more silence that lingered, the more he was sure she could sense his pants were on fire from pretending he wasn’t in the least bit bothered that she hadn’t mentioned him to Audrey, her best friend and confidante. As far as he knew, Audrey was the only one who knew anything about the pair of them at one time. Why wouldn’t she tell her he was there, too?
“Sorry, I didn’t really go into detail.”
“Of course! It’s totally fine.” He encouraged. “Will you want a bathroom stop along the way, or…?”
“I’m good. You can just keep going.”
That was that for most of the trip. Chris put the radio on and landed on some 70s chart which was fun for a brief period of time. She sensed he was thinking of asking her about Audrey again but as time passed, it became more and more awkward to raise the subject.
At one point she must have nodded off without realising it until a sharp left turn woke her up from that weird place of being half-asleep and half-aware of what was going on. She missed the sign they sped passed and blinked a few times to see if she could recognise any landmarks. At this point, she could have been asleep for four hours or four minutes. She had no clue whatsoever.
Turning to look at him, Chris chuckled to himself.
“I figured you might need to grab some things from your apartment, so…”
She did another double-take of her surroundings. Holman Stadium came into view and she sighed slowly before turning her head back to face him.
“You’re making it really hard to like you right now.” She deadpanned.
“It’s like I tell everyone else, babe, eventually you’ll learn that I am right about everything.” He said, rather too self-assuredly for her liking. “You’re gonna have to direct me from here, though. I put Nashua into my phone and this is about as far as I can get.”
“Well,” she relaxed back in her seat and folded her arms. “What if I don’t?”
He eyed her up before turning back to face the road ahead of them, a knowing smile subtly crossing his face. “I can play that game if you want me to?”
Something about a profound emotional stress can really play tricks on your mind. You let your guard down for a second and your vulnerability can create ideas in your head that you might not ordinarily have considered if you were thinking rationally. Conventionally. For Sarah, it was dangerous. She had a history of making reckless decisions when feeling despondent and lost. Chris knew that better than anyone.
“You can take the next right after these lights.” She said, and their impasse was broken.
A few more sets of lights and turns down one-way streets and they found themselves driving slowly down a quiet, tree-lined road. Chris was impressed. He wasn’t expecting something so domesticated and suburban. It was very pretty. Very family-friendly, he figured as he drove past a family of bikes lined up outside a front door just waiting for their owners.
Pulling up to the curb, he made to follow Sarah up the stairs towards the front door. Turning around to stop him, she paused.
“You should probably know I haven’t really decorated much since I moved in. I know it’s been a while but I haven’t really had time to get myself sorted so it might look a bit empty and bare.”
“OK.” Chris wasn’t sure why she was making a big deal out of this. He edged his way further only to stop once more when she didn’t move.
“And you can just wait here. You don’t need to come all the way up.”
He looked passed her before meeting her eye-line again. “It’s a few flights of stairs, Sarah, I think I can handle it.”
“Just don’t say anything alright? Because I know.”
“Did you know it took me seven months to buy a fridge after I first moved to LA?” She nodded at him. “Trust me, I get it.”
She pursed her lips contemplating another attempt at pushing him back into the car before turning back to open the front door.
She took the opportunity to check her post and watched Chris as he ran his hand across a wooden handrail halfway up the wall behind her. The hallway looked small with him stood in it. She gathered up the few things that had arrived and he exaggerated a bow that told her to lead the way.
She knew she was being ridiculous but she couldn’t deny the tense feeling she had as she got closer and closer to her own front door. Maybe it was just one of disbelief that of all the people in the Evans family to visit her new home first, Chris was probably the last name she thought of. Or maybe it was just nerves. Maybe it was because she knew this place wasn’t going to match the character of the old place. Maybe he’d really dislike and find faults she hadn’t seen before and it would serve to make him more persistent that she should come back home.
Boston, not home. He was already getting to her apparently.
This place really was OK, though. It was light and cosy, and retained some of the old features from before its renovation. It would do for a single person who spent more time working rather than relaxing in her own home, as depressing as that sounded. Anything that once passed as a hobby was now non-existent aside from the running she attempted as often as she could manage but she could always think of an excuse not to do that.
She zipped up her small suitcase and took one last look at her bedroom. She mentally checked off a list of items she figured would be worth packing up for a few days and wondered when would be the next time she’d be back in her own bed. She shook that thought from her mind. She closed the top drawer to her dresser and wheeled the case out behind her and into the lounge.
“So, this is nice, Bernette. It’s really nice.” Chris enthused as he looked around the living room space, nodding to no one and nothing in particular. He took in the off-white walls and the plain light fixtures, the boxes piled up to one side by the front door in what he figured was a closet. Sarah had moved them from the other side of the room in an attempt to alleviate her anxiety that she wasn’t really doing much to settle in.
He regarded how the lounge joined up with the kitchen in a relatively open-plan, “L”-shaped layout, albeit with a rectangular dining table and white chairs separating the two. Those were definitely not Sarah’s choice; he knew that much as soon as he saw them. Same with the bland two-seater sofa with matching armchair that she had obviously tried to jazz up with a couple of teal-blue cushions. As soon as her landlady found out she was a nurse and was arriving without any furniture, she’d taken it upon herself to help Sarah with as many pieces of spare furniture as she could get her hands on. It was actually really sweet of her and it meant Sarah could avoid spending evenings sat on a single plastic desk chair she’d swiped from her childhood bedroom.
A few irregular piles of books were taking up what little living room floor space remained unoccupied. Objectively, it was a decent size for the price and Sarah felt like she had to make that really obvious to him for some reason.
She watched him look from the floor to the ceiling with keen interest. He repeatedly flicked a switch in the corner - why do men do that? - before walking back towards the large bay window where she explained to him that she was planning to hang a blind there but hadn’t got any further than opening that box currently lying to his side. Noah had promised her he would bring his tools when they next came to visit but that was becoming less and less important now.
Chris looked down at the street below them. This was higher up than the last place but he was glad she had found a quiet and, by extension, safe area to live.
“You don’t have to go over the top, you know.” Sarah chuckled, exaggerating an eye-roll as he turned to look back in her direction. “I know it’s small but I really like it here. It’s got-”
“-charm? Yeh, I get that.” He enthused again, clearly acting his heart out. “I like this beam.”
“OK.” She chuckled.
“I’m not lying!” He quickly protested, his eyes wide in an attempt to convince her even more. She smiled to herself as she poured some coffee into a cup for him, the only thing she could offer him before he drove her all the 230 miles to Maine again. “It will be home eventually, though, and that’s the main thing. I can see it coming together with your art and stuff like that. It’s very open and fresh. It’s cute. It suits you.”
She smiled as he tried his hardest to remain enthusiastic. He had added his hands to his hips for maximum effect and for a brief moment she could picture what he would be like when he dropped his kids off at college.
“And these plants, too.” He pointed to the white peace lily a colleague had gifted her a couple of weeks before. “I always knew it was you that kept them alive. Shan killed a cactus last month.” He walked towards the kitchen and sat on a bar stool next to the side unit that closed off the kitchen area from the rest of the room, gratefully accepting the coffee. “I always thought it was impossible to kill one of those.”
“Depends more on the light it gets, I think.” She shrugged.
“You see! You know this stuff.” He took a sip and relished the slight sweetness to the taste. There was something about the way Sarah made a cup of coffee that was so much more enjoyable than how he made it for himself. “All my plants are fake.”
“Did Matt force you to buy some or have I remembered that incorrectly?”
He shook his head. “No, you’re right. I didn’t see the point but he always said he felt depressed when he visited so I bought some fake ones from Target. I have to say, they do a pretty good job even if they’re not real. I accidentally watered one once.”
They both enjoyed their coffees before Chris started looking around the room again, trying to find something else to highlight in an over-eager way.
“What’s going over there?” He asked, hinting towards the square alcove in the corner next to where a large box of books was currently situated. “Looks like a good feature space or whatever they call it.”
“I don’t know yet. I figured just some shelves or something. Maybe leave it open.”
“Where’s your television?”
“I don’t have one yet.”
“You don’t have a TV?!” He asked incredulously, turning back to face her with such force that she was stunned to be suddenly looking back into his blue eyes.
“No, not yet.” She was amused by his apparent shock.
“What do you do when you’re here and not working?”
She plumped her cheeks out with her breath. She actually didn’t know the answer to that since she was pretty much just always working these days. When she wasn’t working she was just…sleeping, she guessed. “Um, I go for a run or visit the library down on Court Street. It’s pretty nice. I’m probably just sleeping to tell you the truth.”
“Well, that settles that then. Let me buy one for you.” He stated matter-of factly.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not being ridiculous.” He sipped his coffee again, casually. “Call it a house-warming gift. Or a belated birthday gift. Don’t think we don’t know you’re 30 years old now. Mom is dying to buy you a present. She’ll probably name a star after you or something.”
“I don’t….I don’t need a TV.”
“Everyone needs a TV, Sarah. Sometimes you just need to chill out and do nothing. Not even sleep is that good.”
“I…” She couldn’t think of a logical response to his highly illogical offer. “I don’t want you buying me a TV, OK? Promise me you won’t do that?”
“Chris, that’s not a promise.”
“Uh huh.” He sipped his drink again, playfully peering over the top of it knowing full well she was irritated by his presence now. He enjoyed it; it was like old times.
She stared back at him before shaking her head. He couldn’t force her to accept a gift that size so let him try, she thought to herself.
He put his cup down on the side in front of him and held it between his hands as he watched her move around the kitchen, his mischievous expression soon turning to a more serious one.
He watched her tidy a few things back into the cutlery drawer, and cereal was shoved back into a cupboard. Even though he knew she had moved in to the property a while ago, the fact that she clearly hadn’t settled in made him feel a little sad. She hadn’t really lived by herself before, he realised, so maybe she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for herself. It was always someone else’s decision. The plates were in that cupboard because Shanna put them there. The crystal photo frame on the windowsill in the lounge, the one that had been a gift from Lisa, had been deliberately moved there because the glass gave off a nice glow when the sun shone through it. This kind of interior stuff, the seemingly necessary stuff that truthfully wasn’t all-that-necessary, wasn’t Sarah’s thing at all.
“Do you need a hand hanging up some pictures or something? I have the time off and could be pretty useful at some point, if you want to come back here after seeing your folks? I’d like something mundane to take up my time.” He offered, a little keener than he had intended to come across. “Not that helping you would be mundane or anything. I just meant it would be nice to do something normal for a change.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll get around to it all eventually. It’s not that urgent.”
“Sure, but it’ll be nice to come home from work one day and not have to worry about any of it.” He offered again. “Honestly, I don’t mind. I have been known to be handy with a drill from time to time.”
“I know and I’m grateful for the offer, but…” She trailed off.
“I’m just trying to figure stuff out for myself. I know it doesn’t make sense but this feels like a test to me. Like, maybe I can make some of these decisions by myself without any outside help.” She leaned back against the cabinet. “Does that sound stupid?”
He smiled at her. “No, it doesn’t sound stupid. But you are allowed to accept help from people without thinking you’re putting them out. Seriously, you can use me anytime you like.”
Chris felt a flush of embarrassment but Sarah seemed like she hadn’t heard that last part. Or was ignoring it. He could hazard a guess at which was more accurate.
He watched her lock things up before following him down to the car. He put her suitcase in the boot, asked her one last time if she wanted to stay a bit longer, offered to help her run any errands in town, before setting off back to Maine with a comfortable sense that he’d done the right thing in bringing her here.
That feeling didn’t last.
They were no further along in finding out what was going on with Noah. Another blood test, hourly blood pressure checks and oxygen level tests, even a second ECG in case they missed something the first time, but they were just as in the dark as when Noah first arrived.
Jocelyn remained positive throughout. Sarah had never fully understood the concept of “no news is good news” but evidently, she was missing out. She had always been operating under the notion that no news meant “we have no clue which means it’s likely to be bad”. That’s a pre-med qualification for you; always assuming the worst.
Chris didn’t stay at the hospital for too long. A porter recognised him and kept walking up and down the corridor outside Noah’s room, failing to mask his rubber-necking when Chris was trying to talk to Sarah. It was the first time he felt awkward being there. He eventually asked Jocelyn for her keys so he could check on her house and possibly bring some things back if she needed him to. She resisted a little at first, as grateful as she was for the offer, and Chris recognised where Sarah got it from. But, as with all Bernette women, he knew he would soon convince her otherwise.
He got the address from Jocelyn and smiled a cheeky smile as he waved goodbye to a glaring Sarah. By now he had realised that if he did things without Sarah’s permission, she couldn’t do anything to stop him. It was a process that seemed to be working well for them at the moment. He ignored her call telling him to fuck off back to Boston (he was surmising but knew that’d be the gist) as he arrived back to her childhood home.
He had only ever seen photographs of the place. Scratch that: photograph of the place. He’d seen one, he recalled, that hung in a frame in her bedroom back in Boston. He remembered asking her about it when they were…well, that was irrelevant now, but the other thing he remembered vividly about that time was her speaking fondly of the place.
The house looked like something out of a magazine for interior design or one of those godawful romance novels he suspected his mom read on the regular. Flowery, romantic, it had the white picket fence and everything. It hadn’t changed in twenty-something years, Sarah had once said. The actor in him guessed they could make a fortune in rental location fees if they wanted to. Maybe bank that conversation for later.
There was something pleasantly familiar about arriving home to her parents’ house later that night. The air felt fresher. It felt cooler which was doing a lot to alleviate the growing pressure taking up space between her shoulder blades.
Walking into the kitchen, Sarah noticed the backdoor was left slightly ajar and propped open by the heavy tartan Scottie dog door stopper Jocelyn had picked up from a country fayre aeon ago. It might even have been older than Sarah herself.
Despite all of the concerns Jocelyn had vocalised in the taxi ride back to the house, the place looked spotless. The wooden floors from the front door to the kitchen at the back of the house were shiny and the hob looked like it had been scrubbed clean of the grease she had mentioned Noah had left from his dinner. There wasn’t a scrap of trash to be seen and the dining table was empty. Large, open and very-much-alive sunflowers adorned a vase on the windowsill.
Chris rubbed his hands dry on the tea-towel and clocked Sarah’s confusion as she glanced around the spotless kitchen.
“Ah yeh so I cleaned up a bit.” He shifted awkwardly on his feet, hoping he hadn’t overstepped the mark. “I know your mom worries about this kind of thing.”
Sarah moved further into the kitchen to take stock of the sight in front of her. “Thank you.” It was feeble at best.
“You were running a bit low on tea and milk as well so I bought a few groceries. I hope that’s OK. It’s just some things to get you by for this week.”
Sarah nodded again.
“-And I don’t know how long things will last at the hospital but I was reading this thing online about meat substitutes if you’re trying to lower cholesterol and stuff-” he turned to open the fridge “-so I bought that fake bacon. It’s supposed to taste like the actual thing somehow. I don’t know, Scott swears by it and it lasts ages if it’s kept refrigerated.”
At that moment, the washing machine made a clicking sound as it switched itself off.
“Don’t worry about that. If you give me five minutes, I’ll take this load out. There’s some folded up in there, too. It just needs putting away.” He scratched behind his ear and for the first time she thought she detected a little bit of embarrassment. “And I promise I’ll mow the lawn tomorrow.”
“-It’ll take me ten minutes, max. Then I can be outta your hair. If you want.” He shrugged, like it was nothing.
Any appreciation she could muster would sound completely disingenuous given the extent of his kindness. Housework cannot have been high on his list of priorities in his own home let alone someone else’s. She was dumbfounded.
The tension was quickly halted as Jocelyn appeared behind Sarah. She dropped her handbag on the kitchen table and proceeded to remove her jacket unaware of what had just occurred in her home.
“I don’t know what to say.” She finally offered as she took stock of the tidy room in front of her. “You’ll make a wonderful husband one day!”
Chris chuckled to himself as he lobbed the tea towel onto the counter behind him. “It’s the least I can do for you guys. It can’t be easy right now and I’m never good at saying the right things at the right time, so, if I can be useful in some other way, I’d really like to help.”
“Well, I’m just so grateful. We both are, right Sarah?”
Sarah was still struggling to formulate a response that was worthy of him. When she finally looked at them both, she met eyes she hadn’t seen in a long time.
“I don’t know your plans, honey, but we’ve got plenty of space if you want to stay over?” Jocelyn continued.
“Actually, I’ve booked in to the Marriott in town, so…” He rubbed the back of his neck. He quickly continued when he sensed Jocelyn was about to protest. “And then tomorrow I can go wherever.”
“Are you sure? Because there’s a new mattress in the spare room now and if you give Sarah ten minutes, she’ll whip you up a duvet and pillows?”
“No, Joss, honestly it’s fine.” He asserted before turning back to look at Sarah. He felt a chill shoot through his veins when she finally met his gaze again. She was still taking it all in but he’d recognise that look anywhere. For a brief moment, he forgot where he was. “In fact, I’ll head off there now and leave you guys to it. You wanna see me out, Sarah?”
She nodded with a smile and watched as Jocelyn kissed him on the cheek and thanked him once again. Sarah wasn’t altogether sure what she was going to do but hopefully something would come to her in the 30 seconds it would take for them to walk out of the front door.
“Hey,” he stopped on her doorstep and reached loosely for her hand hanging limply by her side. Her eyes were watering ever so slightly. Sleep would surely come quickly for her with any luck. “Any news?”
She shook her head and bit her bottom lip. “Nothing’s changed. We’re seeing the consultant first thing tomorrow so she might have something to say.”
“Get some sleep and gather yourself for tomorrow.” He rubbed up the back of her forearm and she smiled gratefully. “Can I give you a hug?”
She nodded slowly and he reached his arm around her back to draw her close to him. She appreciated the warmth coming from his solid body and took the moment to briefly close her eyes as her head came to rest on his shoulder. She felt his other arm slowly encircle her lower back holding her as tightly as she remembered him doing long ago. She couldn’t back away now even if she wanted to, and she really didn’t want to.
“Thank you. For all of this.” she said as they slowly parted. “You’ve taken a weight off her mind.”
“I mean it.” He said. “You know where I am if you…if you need a break. From this. I’m only a phone call away. Any time. Day or night.”
She smiled through the tiredness as her eyes continued to fill with tears. She tried her hardest to stifle a yawn but he noticed and chuckled at the ground. That was his cue, he figured.
“I, um, I’ll go now. See you tomorrow.” He saw her move to say something else and simply pursed his lips in response. “If you don’t want me there, that’s fine, but until then you can’t stop me, Sarah. This is what Evans people do, OK? When we love someone, we don’t let go. Ever.”
As she watched him walk back down the driveway towards his car, she wondered at what point it would be acceptable to ask him to take her with him.