Josh and Mallory decided to continue their conversation over lunch; they didn’t go anywhere fancy, just a little sandwich shop near his apartment. They kept the conversation light and tried to talk about anything and everything with a conscience effort to avoid any further discussion about Chris. It was an opportunity for them to distract each other from the mess they were in and go back to just being two friends who were catching up. When they finished eating, they agreed to get together one more time before she went back to Atlanta.
Josh drove Mallory back to the house and made sure she knew that he was there if she needed him. She thanked him and got out of the car and walked to the front door. She knew she had to call Chris and she needed to steel her nerves to do so.
She noticed the van was not in the driveway and when she got walked into the house she noticed how quiet it was; there was a note on the entryway table.
“We decided to go out to get pizza, goof off, and sightsee. Will be back later – call Chris and get it over with it! Quit stressing out!”
She couldn’t help but smile; she had no idea what she had done to deserve friends like this. She had guilt over not spending much time with Henry but was thankful that her friends were there to help out with keeping him occupied. Between the guilt for not spending time with Henry and the fear of introducing him to his father, her nerves were frayed. Even though it was early, she figured liquid courage was needed to get her through a phone call with Chris. She went to the kitchen, poured a glass of wine and sat at the dining room table to make the call.
He answered the phone almost immediately as if he was sitting on it waiting for her call, “Hello!”
“Hi, I’m not catching you at a bad time am I?”
Chris sat up straight, “No, not at all. I take it you are home from the reading of the will?”
She took a drink before answering, “Yeah, just got home and I had told you I would call you,” she didn’t really know what to say or how to handle this conversation.”
“Well, thanks for calling me,” he stammered before continuing, “I was hoping that I might be able to persuade you to go to dinner with me tonight so that we could continue our conversation from last night,” he had never been so nervous when asking a woman out.
“Well, I agree we need to talk, but I am not sure about doing it in public,” she answered hesitantly.
“I figured you would say that and you are right. So, I called a friend and reserved us a private dining room at his restaurant.”
She took another drink; she had not anticipated that he would have thought ahead like that. “Ok, that sounds like it would be an excellent alternative.”
“Great, I’ll pick you up at 7, will that work?”
“Um, sure, that works,” she responded.
They said their goodbyes and she hung up the phone and immediately began to worry about what she would wear. She went up to her room and started flipping through the clothes that she brought, trying to find the perfect outfit. She knew it was ridiculous to be this worked up about how she would look, but she couldn’t help it. Twenty minutes later her wardrobe was selected, and she began to get ready.
As she put the finishing touches on her makeup, she heard the front door open, and she realized John and Darby had returned with the kids. She finished getting ready and began to descend the stairs when she heard Henry, “Wow! Mom, you’re dressed up, you got a date?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I do,” she smiled as she gave him a hug. “I am really just going to dinner with an old friend.”
“Is it an old boyfriend?” He teased, clearly enjoying the banter with his mom.
She blushed, “Um…yeah, he is an old boyfriend.”
“Aw, how sweet mom has a date. Have fun!” He said as he sprinted into the other room.
Darby looked at her friend carefully, “So, you and Chris are going out tonight?”
“Yes, we are. I called him when I got home, and he asked if I would have dinner with him tonight; he wants to continue our conversation from last night.”
“In a public place, are you insane?” John asked, somewhat bewildered, “As heated as you were last night do you think this is a good idea?”
“No, not entirely but we are having dinner in a private dining room at a restaurant his friend owns. We won’t be in public view, so I agreed to go. It isn’t like we can talk here and I am not sure of his living arrangement, but I am going to guess he is with his mom – so that is not a good idea as well.”
“Well, I think it is a positive step that you are going to talk to him. And you look nice but not too nice; sexy but refined, I think he will be impressed.”
John chimed in, “You look beautiful and a hell of a lot better than when you saw him last night. You will knock his socks off.”
“Thanks,” she said sheepishly, “I wasn’t really going for any of that.”
“So you didn’t obsess about what to wear and how you would look? You don’t think I actually believe that do you?”
She began to laugh, “Ok, yeah so maybe I did worry about how I would look. I’m going to dinner with a movie star; I can’t look like a boring soccer mom.”
John chimed in, “But you are a boring soccer mom.”
She shot him a dirty look, “I know this isn’t really a date but I am so nervous and I don’t know why.”
“Well, it probably has to do with the fact that you are going to talk about a subject that is sensitive and highly emotional and it is scary. The hard part is over, he already knows the major details. Tonight is filling in the blanks and figuring where to go from here. You’ve got this!” Darby offered, knowing that a pep talk is what she needed more than anything right now.
As Mallory checked her watch, the doorbell rang, indicating that Chris was here. As she moved to answer the door, Henry came tearing down the hall declaring he would answer it.
~ * ~
Chris drove down the street slowly, he was nervous and kept repeating to himself to stay calm. He was looking forward to the dinner to have some alone time with Mallory. He wanted to talk about Henry but more than anything he just wanted to spend time with her. Through all of the emotion of seeing her and finding out he had a son, the one constant was that he still had feelings for her after all these years.
He pulled into the driveway and slowly stepped out of the car. He noticed the van in the drive and knew that it meant John and Darby were there. He smoothed out his sports coat and fixed his tie as he reached the door. He gently pressed the doorbell and immediately heard the sound of running feet. Then his world stopped when the door flung open, and he came face to face with Henry.
His chest was tight, and he was finding it hard to breathe. He did not anticipate seeing him tonight, and he was not mentally prepared for this. He was trying desperately to keep his composure.
There was no denying that this boy was his son; he had piercing blue eyes and sandy blonde hair. His perfectly shaped lips and the small stature that reminded himself of what he went through before his growth spurt. It became evident to him that his mother did not get a good look at Henry at the cemetery because she would never have assumed this was Josh’s child.
“Hello, can I help you?” He asked with a grin and a slight twinkle in his eye.
Luckily he found his voice, “Hello, I am here to pick up Mallory for dinner.
“So you are the guy taking my mom on a date?” Henry looked him up and down and smiled, “I’m Henry, com on in.”
As Chris walked in he caught a glimpse of Mallory in the living room and could tell she was just as uncomfortable as he was. He turned back to the boy, “Well, it is good to meet you, Henry, my name is Chris.”
“It is nice to meet you,” He looked into the living room at his mom, “Your date is here!”
Chris looked into the living room again and noticed that Mallory was frozen in place. He realized the look on her face is probably the same one he had a few minutes ago, so he walked over and gently kissed her on the cheek and whispered in her ear, “Just breathe darling, it will be okay.”
“So, where are you taking her tonight? Do I need to be worried about this?” Henry asked as he followed them into the living room. He was trying to sound all grown up.
She had to smile at the idea of her son being overly protective. “Chris and I are old friends Henry, I know him pretty well so I think I am safe going out with him.”
“We are just going to go to dinner, and then I will bring her back home, I promise,” Chris responded as he tried to suppress a smile.
“Okay but don’t keep her out too late and bring her back safe.”
Chris salutes Henry and smiles, “Yes, sir!”
Henry walks over and gives a hug to his mom, “Have fun, and I love you.”
“I love you, too baby. Be good for John and Darby, okay?”
Henry nodded and then turned to run up the stairs. Mallory looked over at Chris, who was watching him intently. “I had no idea he was going to run and answer the door, I am sorry about that.”
He didn’t turn around, “Don’t apologize, this was a good way for me to actually meet him,” he turned back to face her, “I guess we should go to dinner and talk about how that is going to play out.”
She nodded in agreement and began walking towards him. She turned and looked at Darby, “Thanks for everything and you know I owe you, right?”
“Yeah, we will settle up after this weekend,” she said with a wink.
Chris held the door open, and she walked down the path to the waiting car. She got to the car and quickly opened the door before he had a chance to do it for her. He did wait for her to get in and closed the door before heading back to the driver’s side. He started the car and eased it out of the drive towards the restaurant. The drive was quiet, and it was evident that both of them were a little nervous.
As they arrived at the restaurant, Mallory elected to wait for Chris to open her car door; as he did, he reached for her hand to help her out. He was going all out on this ‘date,’ and she had to admit that she liked it. He placed his hand on the small of her back as he led her toward the side door of the restaurant.
“Oh, we have to sneak in?” She said, trying to make a joke out of it.
“Well, the private dining room has a private entrance, this way no one can say they saw us strolling through the restaurant together.”
They were met just inside the door by the hostess who offered to take Mallory’s coat. She ushered them through the entryway to one of the two private rooms and let them know their server would be with them momentarily.
The room was dimly lit but had the glow from the roaring fireplace at the far end. The table for two was situated right in front of the fire and provided a romantic setting. Something that Mallory did not actually anticipate. She had tried to tell herself this wasn’t a date but the privacy and the setting made it seem like one.
There was an intimate seating area in the corner of the room to allow for conversation without having to sit at the dining table. This is why Chris had asked for this room, knowing it would provide an ideal setting to continue their conversation. He motioned for her to have a seat, still unable to truly find his voice.
As Mallory took a place on the couch, Chris lowered himself into the chair next to her. He wanted to take a seat next to her on the couch, but he was not sure it would be safe for him to do that. He was teetering between the anger he should feel for her and what could only be described as ache for the woman he longed to have back in his arms.