Mallory Turner had returned to Atlanta and was doing what she could to get back to a regular routine. Although, she wasn’t quite what ‘regular’ was any longer. Six months ago, it was coffee with her best friend, Darby, or taking her son Henry to school or to a museum. Six months ago, she was still disowned by her parents and the father of her son had no idea he existed. Everything changed when her parents died and she was forced to go back to Boston to confront the past. She had to play the part of the dutiful daughter and keep up the façade that all was well with her family. That was because Jackson and Madeline Turner never told anyone they had cast their pregnant, unwed daughter out of their lives twelve years earlier. She had to plan the funeral and figured she was handling the execution of their will, in which she would be shut out.
In the midst of dealing with the issues of her parents, she had to deal with the drama of Henry’s father. Mallory had loved him deeply, had been scared to tell him that she was pregnant but figured he would accept it. But her parents had convinced her that he wouldn’t want to know, he was going to be an actor, and he couldn’t support a family. Mallory was so brainwashed by her parents and had always been such a good girl that she believed them even though her heart told her otherwise. And when her parents cast her aside, telling her to get out, they told her not to tell Chris, just leave without a goodbye. So, that’s what she did.
She didn’t expect him to be in Boston. She definitely didn’t expect him to come to the funeral home to pay his respects when he heard about her parents. And she most definitely didn’t count on his mother coming to the funeral and seeing Henry and then jump to the conclusion that he was the child of Chris’s best friend. The tangled web, arguments, fist fight and the ultimate exposure of the truth were exhausting. She had to tell him the entire story, every sordid detail and he actually supported her. It took a while, he didn’t understand immediately. But he came to realize that she didn’t walk away from him because she didn’t love him; it was the opposite. She honestly thought she was doing what was best for him. Chris still felt betrayed on a certain level and Mallory understood that. But he was willing to move past it, he had a son, and he wanted to cultivate that relationship.
Chris Evans didn’t lead a normal life. He was one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood and a pillar of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That meant filming movies in far off locations and around-the-world press tours when the movie was released. It wasn’t like he would be home to coach his baseball team or tuck him into bed each night. It also wasn’t going to be easy to step in and begin parenting a child at age 12 when you didn’t get the practice of parenting from birth to this point. Chris was apprehensive, as was Mallory. She was worried about how Henry would accept the fact that his mother had been lying to him for the last twelve years. And she worried how he would handle the sudden insertion of a man who wanted to be a hands-on father.
The logistics were confusing and terrifying for them both. After much discussion, it was deemed best to ease into the role of a family. They would take it slow and introduce Chris to Henry as a family friend. It would allow Chris an opportunity to spend time with the two of them, acclimate himself with Henry, and begin to form a relationship. Henry could trust Chris and get used to him being around, especially since Chris and Mallory were going to rekindle their relationship. As the relationship advanced and Henry became comfortable with Chris, the truth could come out. Mallory had worked it out in her head; she was aware her plans could go awry very quickly. Her biggest fear was Henry turning against her, hating her for her deceit.
She hadn’t been prepared for the situation with Chris coming to a head and her mind was still reeling. Now she had to come face-to-face with the reading of the Will for her parents. She had already reconciled herself to the fact that her parents would not be leaving her anything. To her, this was just a legality to sit through with the family lawyer. The lawyer sat her in the conference room and at first, he sounded as if he was right in front of her. But as he spoke, and the impact of his words hit her, she felt like he was getting farther and farther away. It was like she was living in one of those cartoons where she sat in one place but the other person suddenly ended up at the end of a long table a football field length’s away from her.
It appeared her parents had come to realize that they had made a mistake in ostracizing her all those years ago, and wanted to set out to right their wrongs. The Last Will and Testament of both Jackson and Madeline Turner had left their entire estate to both her and Henry. This included life insurance money, property, and their business. Her father had also written her a letter, an actual handwritten apology for what he had forced her to endure. He even admitted how unfair it was to keep Henry away from his father; Chris was a good man and he didn’t deserve to lose Mallory and his son.
While she was shocked that her father took this step, she couldn’t help but hate him a little more for being a coward and leaving it upon his death. She wished he would have taken the step to make amends when he was still alive. It would have been nice to reconnect and attempt to rebuild the relationship. More importantly, it would have been nice to allow Henry to have grandparents. As it was, he had been told from the beginning that he had no grandparents, that they had all died. So, it took some explaining and a bit of creativity to explain to him how they “died” a second time. Since he didn’t have a relationship with them and didn’t know they existed, he wasn’t upset by the situation at all. In fact, Mallory’s best friend, Darby, came up to Boston with her family and kept Henry occupied so he didn’t have to spend time at the funeral home. It also kept Mallory from fielding uncomfortable questions.
In the days between the funeral and her return to Atlanta, as promised, Mallory spent a lot of time with Chris. They were serious about rekindling their romance and finding a way to get back together. They both still had strong feelings for one another, and they felt it best not to deny them. They enjoyed one another’s company and spending time with Henry. It was practice family time. They spent so much time together that Henry became quickly attached to Chris. He hugged him when it was time to leave for Atlanta and questioned Mallory on when he would get to see Chris again. The plan was working out the way she hoped.
Until the night Chris went out with his buddies after Mallory had left. It was innocent, they went to a bar and drank and his friends picked up a few girls. Chris made it clear that he wasn’t interested in hooking up with anyone, he had a girlfriend. The problem was, they were drinking all night long, and after a while, he passed out. When he woke up the next morning, he was in a compromising situation. While he was fairly confident that he did nothing wrong, he had a moment of panic where he questioned his actions. He left his friend’s apartment and while he was on the phone with Mallory, one of the girls came to his car and was vocal, making a scene. Mallory immediately jumped to the conclusion that Chris did something he shouldn’t have; she didn’t even provide him an opportunity to explain or give him the benefit of the doubt. She made it clear that she didn’t trust him.
This cut Chris to the core. If either one of them deserved to be untrusting, it was definitely him. She was the one with the track record of lying and being deceitful, not him. But she was so quick to judge; she hung up on him and pouted for a day or so before Josh stepped in and set her straight. Mallory crawled back to Chris and tried to fix it, but he was already done. He told her she had opened his eyes to the fact that they were moving too fast. They needed to work on the core foundation of trust between the two of them before they moved forward with their romance. He wasn’t saying they wouldn’t get back together, he just wanted to take it slow.
Mallory felt as if she had been gut-punched. She knew she had messed up. She should have trusted him, she never gave him an opportunity to explain, and that was her fault. But the fact that he had wanted to start over, well it was just overwhelming to her. She figured it was because of her pouting and her refusal to speak to him right after the incident. Chris thought she was acting childish, and he was correct, she was. But she was exhausted, her mind was still trying to sort out everything that had happened. Surely, he could understand the pressure and stress she had been under, right? That should count for something. But it didn’t. It was as If none of that had happened and she would have been coming from a point where she was level-headed and thinking rationally.
She had a particular disdain for Chris at the moment. Oh, she still loved him and wanted him in her bed. But the starting over, well that soured her. She was hurt, and it was hard to get up and dust yourself off after that blow. She talked to him on the phone; he regularly called to speak to her and to chat with Henry. They would exchange emails and a text message now and again. She kept everything very distanced, never letting him in. She was shielding her heart this time.
~ * ~
Darby let herself in, it was Monday morning, and she would always have coffee with Mallory after Henry caught the school bus. She made her way down the hall towards the kitchen, she heard Mallory’s voice, and it didn’t sound happy. As she got closer to the kitchen, she saw her best friend standing at the French Doors that led out to the backyard, she had her left hand on her hip, and her right hand was holding her phone to her ear. At the moment she was listening intently, but the reflection in the glass of the doors let Darby know that Mallory was on the verge of an all-out eruption.
“No, I’m putting my foot down and saying no, that’s the end of it. You can call your lawyer, I don’t give a fuck, Chris!”
Suddenly the phone went flying across the room, landing with a thud against the far wall in the dining room. Darby’s only immediate thought was that she was thankful for the OtterBox or that phone would have been shattered. She waited a moment before speaking, she wanted Mallory to have sufficient time to calm her breathing and to center herself. This was the one time she really hoped meditation was working.
“Do you need coffee or would you prefer that I make you a cup of tea?” Darby asked hesitantly.
Mallory’s head dropped, she rested her forehead on the glass panes of the door, “I think I better go with the tea,” she replied quietly.
Darby turned on the Keurig brewer and started to make their drinks. When they were ready, she brought them to the table, “Come on, sit down and tell me about it.”
Mallory let out a deep sigh, then turned and sat in the closest chair. She picked up the mug of tea, cupping it in her hands to warm herself. The faint smell of chamomile wafting up to calm her. Darby always knew what tea to brew and when. It was a unique sense she had. Heaven knows Mallory had a tea chest full of different varieties and even specialty sweeteners for them. Darby never had to ask how to make the perfect cup of tea for her. This is why she was her best friend; okay, just one of the reasons.
Mallory took a sip, “Chris wants Henry to come up for Thanksgiving. He wants to introduce him to the entire Evans clan. I told him it wasn’t going to happen. Henry has Thursday and Friday off from school, and that was a lot of traveling for those days. With it being some of the busiest times to travel during the year, I didn’t want him to miss school or anything. No, it wasn’t happening.”
“I take it that he didn’t like your answer?”
“Nope, not at all. He was furious at first. Then he calmed down and said he could understand and respect that decision.”
“Okay, well that sounds like a compromise. So, what led to the phone sailing?”
“Well, he said if I wasn’t up for Thanksgiving in Boston, then Henry should go to Disney in December.”
“Oh, the big family trip? The one where he is followed the entire time he is in Orlando?”
“That would be the one, Darby! I reminded Chris that Henry is not aware who he really is. And the minute any fan sees Chris and Henry together, that cat is out of the bag. They look exactly alike! Chris can’t keep people from taking pictures of Ethan and Miles, so he can’t prevent them from taking pictures of Henry.”
“Let me guess, this is when he brings it up again that you should tell Henry who his father is?”
“Yep! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to keep them apart, but it isn’t like Chris is going to be around a lot to be a real father.” Mallory took another sip of her tea, she knew she was unreasonable to an extent. But this was her son, she was the one who had raised him for twelve years and played the role of mom and dad. It wasn’t easy to just relinquish part of her responsibility. Especially to a parent who, let’s face it, would be more popular.
“He’s threatening to take you to court for custody? Are you ready for that Mallory? He’ll make that public, he always talks about keeping his private life quiet, but he’s going to want public sympathy.”
“I don’t even think he’s told his family about Henry and here he is threatening to take me to court,” she stood up and took her mug to the kitchen sink. The idea that the tea was going to calm her was a good one, in theory. Unfortunately, her stomach was churning, and she felt sick. She heard her phone begin to chip from the dining room. “Guess it isn’t dead,” she said with a wry laugh.
Darby watched as Mallory slowly moved toward the chirping phone. She figured the incoming call was from Chris, and she gathered by the slow motions of Mallory, it’s what her best friend anticipated as well. The chirping stopped as Mallory entered the dining room, but as she picked up the phone, the chirping began again. It took a moment before she swiped the screen and answered the call.
“What now?” Mallory’s tone was clipped and far from polite. Darby had been correct, it was Chris. Mallory made her way back to the table and put the call on speaker, figuring it would be easier for Darby to just hear the conversation instead of her having to recount it for her later.
“Are you done throwing your fit?” He asked the nastiness was prevalent in his voice. “I thought I’d give it a few minutes before I called you back. You didn’t answer right away, were you trying to decide if you wanted to talk to me or not?”
“Actually, I had thrown the phone across the room, and it took me a while to get to it,” she spat back at him.
“Oh, that is so very grown up of you. Hope you’re teaching our son to be that mature,” the venom in his voice was unmistakeable. “Look, despite what you think, I’m not calling to argue with you. I want to have a reasonable and mature conversation about this.”
Darby gave Mallory an encouraging look and waved her hand as if to say ‘go ahead.’ Mallory took a deep breath, “I’m not trying to keep you away from Henry. It’s the opposite, Chris, I want you to have a relationship with him. I have my reasons why Disney is not on the table for consideration.”
“What if you came along? What I paid for you to take Henry to Disney and you came the same week I’m there? You can enjoy Disney, and we can spend time alone at night, but he won’t be in the park with me, and no one will capture pictures of us together.” Chris waited, holding his breath for her to answer. He had thought long and hard about this compromise. He hated to admit it, but she was right to protest when he initially pitched the trip idea. But he hadn’t seen Henry in six weeks, that’s how long it had been since Mallory had left Boston. He was ready to see her and his son. “Please think about it. I want to see you for Thanksgiving, but I get why you don’t want to fly him up here for just a few days.”
“Does your family know about him yet? I mean, have you told your dad or your brother and sisters?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“If your family doesn’t know about him, does that mean you’re ashamed?” Darby watched with interest as the two of them volleyed back and forth. In reality, the two of them were arguing about Henry, but this was more about their feelings for one another. “I’m done with this conversation, Chris. I’ll think about Disney, but Thanksgiving is out.”
“Can I come there?” He hurried and asked before she hung up the phone.
“What? Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I’m serious. The original plan when you left Boston was for me to come down there, anyway. So, why not?”
“That was before you decided you wanted to change the plans and have him come to Boston, alone.”
“You don’t want Henry to travel, that’s fine, I get it. So, let me travel. Let me come down there and spend the holiday with the two of you. Please, I’d like to see you, I miss you.” His voice was soft, and he was pleading. She wasn’t sure how to take it, it was the last thing she had expected.
“I’ll think about it,” she replied as she ended the call. She kept her head down, she couldn’t even bring herself to look at Darby. For a minute, she forgot her best friend was even in the room with her. Her mind began to churn, wondering just how much he missed her. Was he saying it because he meant it or because he thought it was what she wanted to hear?
“Are you overthinking what he said to you?” Darby asked, her words making Mallory’s head snap up. “You were looking so serious, I know that face. So, tell me what is going through your head.”
“Is he saying what I want to hear or is he saying it because he means it?”
“Didn’t he tell you that he wanted to rebuild the trust with you and be friends before getting back to being lovers?” Mallory nodded slowly in response to Darby’s question. “He just said he hasn’t seen you for six weeks, and by the way, you two were talking just now, I guess you don’t speak much either. So, I think he meant it. Give him a chance, Mallory. You’re still in love with the guy, and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way.”
~ * ~
Henry came home from school, tossing his backpack into the mudroom and toeing off his tennis shoes before taking off for the family room. He came to a halt when he saw his mom in the kitchen, her arms crossed and waiting for him. She didn’t look happy, but he wasn’t sure what he had done wrong. He got a ride home with his friend, Noah. That had been planned, so she couldn’t be angry about that.
“Hey, what’s up, Mom?” Henry tried to ask cheerfully. Figuring the tone of his question would go a long way in how she responded. Her posture didn’t change. In fact, she didn’t appear to move at all, not even a tiny bit. “Are you alright?” He ventured to ask.
“I need to talk to you,” she finally responded, as if she was coming out of a trance. “I have a snack and drink for you at the table. Come on,” she reached for him and helped guide him to a chair at the kitchen table. The blinds were open at the eating nook, letting in the bright sunshine. It made the room look cheery and bright, even if that mood didn’t transfer to Mallory’s face.
As Henry sat down, he began to worry that he was in trouble from school. He couldn’t remember anything happening, but the last time his mom was so somber was when her parents died. Then it hit him, had something happened to Chris? Is that why she was so upset? Was she scared to tell him? His mind began racing, and he was suddenly afraid of anything she might have to say.
“Henry, I talked to Chris this morning. He wanted us to come up and visit for Thanksgiving,” she didn’t have the heart to tell him the complete truth. The fact that she wasn’t invited and that Chris had only wanted to see Henry. How would she explain that to her son? That would come off as creepy since Henry wasn’t aware of who Chris was in his family tree. So, she needed to put in a little white lie to make it easier to understand. “I can’t get away for more than a few days, and with that being a heavy travel time, it just wasn’t going to work. Chris asked for me to send you on your own, but I’m not comfortable doing that.”
Henry hung his head, she could see he was disappointed with what she was telling him. “Oh, I kind of miss him, mom. I mean, I thought you two were dating?”
“Well, we’re taking it slow. Anyway, I didn’t know what you really thought about him. So, I thought I’d ask if you might want him to come down here since we wouldn’t be going up there?”
The expression on Henry’s face could only be described as delighted. He got a huge smile on his face and Mallory could almost swear he looked like he could cry. “Are you serious? Yeah, invite him! This will be great, it will be the best Thanksgiving, ever.” Henry scooped up several of the orange slices his mom had cut up for him, along with his bottle of water. “Can I go play my video game now?”
“Sure, go ahead,” she waved him off and felt somewhat dejected. She should be overjoyed that her son was excited for Chris to come and visit. But it was the idea that he was so excited, it actually stung. She knew she was selfish, but it all went back to her irrational fears that when Henry found out who Chris was, well she would be pushed to the side. She could not help but worry that Henry would hate her.
Darby was for Chris coming to town. Obviously, Henry was for it. Now Mallory just needed to reconcile herself to the fact that it needed to happen.
~ * ~
Chris was pounding away on the treadmill, he was trying to get his heart rate up before he started lifting weights. He wasn’t doing the ‘official’ Captain America workout, but he wanted to prepare himself. He needed to be in Atlanta after the first of the year for rehearsals and training, so he might as well start getting used to the grueling workouts now. His phone started buzzing in his shorts, he wasn’t about to stop the treadmill to answer it. Besides, it was 6:30 in the morning, most likely it was a wrong number. There was no way his mom was calling him this early, she was corraling the kids with Carly and Ryan. And it was way too early in LA for anyone to be calling him about anything. No, the wrong number was the only option.
Then it hit him, it could be Mallory. He jumped off the treadmill and slammed the stop button. He quickly pulled his phone out and checked the missed call. “Fuck!” It had been Mallory, and she didn’t leave a voicemail. He immediately hit her name for the phone to dial her back and waited for her to answer. He was breathing heavily when she picked up the call.
“Well, I didn’t expect heavy breathing when you called me back. I guess you finished?” She asked, a hint of sarcasm and, what was that, jealousy? “Did you leave the room or is she still in bed with you?”
“I’m at the gym, and I was on the treadmill when you called. It’s too early for me to deal with your snark, Mallory.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” she needed to tone down the bitchiness. The entire reason for his decision to start new was because of her. She needed to stop blaming him and move on. “So, Thanksgiving is in three weeks, and if you want to come down, we will welcome you to our table.”
Chris was shocked, in the span of a few minutes on the phone she had accused him of having sex with another woman and then invited him for Thanksgiving dinner. And to top it off, she apologized to him. He knew she hated his decision to put their relationship on hold and start over with their friendship. Hell, he had even regretted it, but deep down he knew it was the right thing to do. His brain knew it, his heart just hadn’t gotten the message yet.
“I’d really like that, is Henry good with it?”
“Yes, he’s actually excited about seeing you.”
Chris’s chest swelled with pride hearing that. “Great, I’ll give him a call later today to chat. You know I’ve been talking to him, right?”
“He told me,” she replied softly, “I need to go. I’ll talk to you later,” Mallory quickly disconnected the call.
Chris just stared at his phone, wondering what that was all about. He began to wonder if Henry had not told Mallory that they had been talking to one another. There was nothing covert or deceptive about it, Henry just wanted someone else to talk to. It was clear to Chris that his son was in need of a male role model in his life. Maybe he didn’t know he was missing it until Chris had spent time with him in Boston. He wasn’t sure of the situation, but he wasn’t going to complain. It meant that he had a connection to Henry and it cemented the fact that Henry needed to know the truth about who his father was. The longer this charade went on, the harder it would be for Henry to accept. He would feel betrayed because the lies went on too long.