Breakfast was a success, and Henry was bouncing off the walls with excitement to hang out with his mom and her ‘boyfriend.’ He had been teasing her all morning about the idea of her dating, and she was good-natured about it. She had taken a moment to at least text Chris to warn him that Henry was making fun of the situation. He had responded that he thought it was cute and was looking forward to getting together.
Chris arrived at the house around 1 pm and cautiously walked up the path to the front door. His nerves were on edge, and he kept telling himself to just breathe. However, it wasn’t that simple. The idea of spending the entire day with Henry was terrifying enough, but when you layered Mallory into the mix, well it was almost more than he could stand. But he wanted this, more than anything else in the world.
Before he could knock, the door flew open, and Henry yelled, “Mom, Chris is here!”
“I know, Henry, you told me when his car pulled into the driveway,” Mallory replied as she walked down the hall while putting struggling to put her earrings in. “Come on in, Chris. Sorry, I am just running a few minutes behind.”
“Hi Henry, nice to see you again,” he said as he entered the house, “No worries, Mallory, we aren’t on a schedule of any kind.” Chris was uneasy and was hoping that it wasn’t showing. But he noticed that Henry was a little tentative around him as well, and he was not sure what to make of that.
“Mom told me last night that you were her boyfriend a long time ago,” Henry said with amusement. “And that you want to be her boyfriend again.”
Chris smiled at how innocent it sounded, “Well, that is true, I was her boyfriend a very long time ago, and I would like it if she would let me be her boyfriend again. I think I need you to give your approval, though, so would you be okay with it if I wanted to be your mom’s boyfriend?”
Henry shrugged his shoulders, “Eh, I’ll let you know at the end of the day,” he replied with a smile and then turned to get his coat so they could leave.
Chris was not sure how to respond, and when he looked up, he saw Mallory standing in the doorway stifling a laugh. “So you think that was funny?” He asked as he began to walk towards her.
Mallory met him halfway and whispered seductively, “Oh, I think it is hysterical because you have no idea how to take his sense of humor. You will learn, eventually.” She could not contain her laughter at that point.
He had to take a deep breath to contain himself before he could respond, “I am so glad this is entertaining you.” He then turned and opened the door to lead them out to the car. Henry was obviously excited because he sprinted to the car, got in, and had his seatbelt buckled before Chris and Mallory had even made it to the car.
As they pulled out of the driveway, Mallory leaned over toward Chris, “Are you worried about being recognized today?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it; I guess I should have. I have sunglasses, and there is a ball cap in the backseat; I can wear those if you think I should.”
“You do what you think you need to do. I just don’t know how often you are bothered when you are home.”
“Liar,” he chided softly, “You said you follow Tumblr and Instagram. Have you seen paparazzi shots of me in Boston?”
She let out a laugh and sat back in her seat, “Touché, Mr. Evans.” Mallory turned and looked at Henry in the backseat, and he was oblivious to their conversation. He was watching the landscape or looking up items on his iPad and keeping to himself.
~ * ~
The day had included a visit to the aquarium, where Chris learned that Henry was fascinated with sharks and jellyfish. He had recited everything you could possibly want to know about sharks and how they kill their prey, how many teeth they have, and how their eyes roll back in their head. Chris was impressed by how much Henry knew and how excited he was to share the information.
They had also spent time at the Children’s Museum and the Science Center where they watched IMAX movies and crawled around through the exhibits. Chris realized throughout the day that Henry was not a kid who watched movies or played video games; he read books, loved school and studied regularly. He also realized that no mention had been made of Captain America or The Avengers, leading him to believe that Henry had never watched the movies. He never had the guts to ask Mallory if this was the case because he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer.
After the aquarium and museums they stopped and got dinner. The conversation was comfortable, and the chemistry between them was incredible. Henry was at ease with Chris from the very beginning, and he found it easy to joke and tease with him as if he had known him for years. Mallory had kept a close eye on them during the day in addition to watching the people around them. She worried if people were snapping photos of them that they would end up online or in chat rooms. Mallory also made sure to maintain a safe distance between herself and Chris so that they could not be photographed together. She was more paranoid than he was, evidently.
At dinner Henry talked non-stop; letting Chris know that he wanted to be a scientist and maybe even a marine biologist. He spoke of the Georgia Aquarium and how he is enrolled in the winter and summer camp programs. Then he started talking about the penguins and how he has been able to work with them while in the program and how cool they are and how he wishes he could have one of his own.
Chris was amazed at how Henry could talk and inhale his food at the same time without choking or missing a beat. Mallory was unable to get a word in on the conversation, it was completely monopolized by Henry and Chris.
Shortly after they begin the drive back home, Mallory turned to ask Henry a question and realized he had fallen asleep, she turned back to Chris, “I think you wore him out, he’s sound asleep.”
“Wait, I wore him out? I believe that it’s the other way around, I’m pretty sure if I weren’t driving I’d be the one passed out.”
She looked at him and laughed, “I think he had a very good time; so how about you? Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Today was amazing,” He replied while turning to look at her, “I don’t know when I’ve had this much fun. And you didn’t tell me how wicked smart he is.”
“Well, I did want to seem like I was bragging, so I figured it was better for you to learn that information on your own,” She laughed quietly. “He loves to read and suck up knowledge; he watches more educational TV than recreational TV.”
“He apparently gets that honestly; you were always very smart and could always run circles around me in a trivia game.”
“Well, I don’t push him too hard. He finds something he likes and then wants to learn everything he can about it. He is a bright kid and is in the honors programs in school. The school counselors have talked to me about having him skip a grade, but I don’t want to do it. He is small for his age, and I don’t want him being bullied for being small and smart – that isn’t really fair.”
“Wait a minute, is he bullied?” Chris was concerned, and it was plastered all over his face and in his voice.
“He was, a little, but not so much now. I mean look at him, he is small for his age Chris. You didn’t blossom until you were in high school, so that is what he has to look forward to.”
“How bad did it get?”
“It never got physical, thank God. It was verbal, and luckily one of the other mothers heard her son picking on Henry, and she stepped in. I didn’t to have to intercede, but you can believe I was ready to pounce. He tried to act like it didn’t bother him but it did.”
“Let me guess, the teasing made him withdraw even more and make him read and study harder?”
“You got it! It was a vicious circle, and I was not sure what to do about it. This all happened right before Aunt Mary passed away, she ended up paying to put him in a private school in the hopes that it would help.”
“And did it?”
“Absolutely, the school has a strong academic program and so there are a lot of smart kids like Henry. While he is still one of the smaller boys in his class, he is at least not picked on for being one of the brightest,” She took a deep breath and looked out the window to gauge where they were in term of being close to home.
“Can I do something to help? Can I pay to send him to taekwondo classes or something?” Chris asks tentatively.
Mallory snorts in response, “No, oh baby, that is so sweet of you to offer. I think you would be wasting your money – Henry has no coordination. I mean it, absolutely none. The boy couldn’t play sports if he wanted to so I am sure he couldn’t land a punch or a kick if he tried. At least not right now, let him grow a little more.”
Chris chuckled at images that this brought to mind. “Ok, I want to change the subject for a minute because I don’t want to think about him being bullied. At least not tonight, we can discuss it another night. I want to know if he said anything to you about me during the day. Has he said whether he likes me or if he is okay with me being your boyfriend?”
Mallory turned to look at Chris and began laugh, “What are you, a lovesick teenage girl?”
“No,” he said a little too emphatically, “I just don’t want to find out that he doesn’t like me or thinks I am stupid or something.”
“Oh my God, you are a teenage girl!” She said as she punched him in the shoulder, she could not contain her laughter.
“Stop it, I just want to know if I made a good impression.”
“Yeah, for once you have to hope he likes you because you can’t rely on Cap to help you out– he doesn’t know who that is or that you play him in the movies.”
“I kinda guessed that – what kind of parent are you that you don’t take your son to see superhero movies?”
“Oh, I do take him to superhero movies – but he likes Batman.”
Chris let out a huff and tried to act as if he was offended. In reality, he was amused that Henry did not watch the movies or know him as Captain America. It would allow for him to introduce him to the MCU and for Henry to not have any preconceived notions as to what he might really be like.
As they pulled into the driveway, it was evident that Henry was out like a light. He had not moved since Mallory first noticed he had fallen asleep after dinner. Chris took a minute to just watch him sleep, something so simple yet so meaningful; all the while, Mallory was looking at Chris with the same look.
She finally snapped to her senses, “Chris, why don’t you carry him into the house and you can put him in bed. Your first time properly tucking him in.”
His eyes didn’t move from the boy, “Okay…yeah…sure…I can do that…right…um.”
“No need to be nervous you doof, you’re going to open the car door, pick him up and carry him into the house. It isn’t hard, and he isn’t that heavy.”
Chris took the key out of the ignition, unbuckled his seatbelt, and got out of the car. He walked around to the back passenger side and opened the door; bending down carefully to pick up Henry. It was like second nature and Henry put his head on Chris’s shoulder and slept right through the transition.
Mallory had walked ahead to make sure the door was opened and waited for Chris. She had to hold back the tears at the scene unfolding in front of her. It was truly a precious moment between the two of them, and she was mentally kicking herself for not allowing this moment to happen years earlier.
As he walked through the front door, Mallory directed him up the stairs to the room where Henry had been sleeping for the last week as well as where he could find his pajamas. As Chris ascended the stairs, she turned and walked to the living room and plopped down on the couch.