Chris knew that if he were to go to Atlanta for Thanksgiving, he would need to tell his family that he wouldn’t be spending it with them. And while his mother would not question his decision, the rest of his family would find it rather odd. Oh, sure they knew that Mallory lived in Atlanta and he had feelings for her. But the idea that he would spend the holiday with her, when they had not seen one another since she left Boston, would make them curious. Plus, Thanksgiving was a big holiday for his family. It was only second in grandeur to their Christmas get together. He had missed a turkey day here or there due to movie production and that was understandable. This would be a little harder to explain.
Chris snapped the top down on his Keurig and made a cup of coffee. While it was brewing, he called his mom, he figured he would start with her. Since he was a kid, he had always been able to tell her anything. There were times when he probably should have kept his mouth shut. It wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to run home and declare you had just had sex for the first time to your mom. But that was the type of relationship Chris and Lisa Evans had.
“Good morning, Christopher,” his mother offered cheerfully, “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Good morning! I’ve decided I’m going to Atlanta for Thanksgiving,” he quickly blurted the words out before he could chicken out.
“That’s great, you’re going to spend it with Henry. I’m excited for you, but I have a feeling there’s more to it.”
“I think I’m ready to tell everyone else about him. I can’t expect Mallory to be willing to give me custody and be open to letting Henry come to Boston to visit if he doesn’t know the truth. And I can’t tell him the truth and leave everyone else in the dark, now can I?”
“She’s pushing you on this?”
“No, not really. I mean, yeah, she’s asked me if I’ve told everyone. But she isn’t holding it over my head as a stipulation to getting time with Henry,” Chris ran his hand through his hair and let out a deep sigh. “Mom, I can’t keep this secret from everyone, not any longer. It’s too much, it weighs on me.”
“Okay, let’s get them together and tell them. Do you want to do it here or at your house?”
“I need dad to be a part of this,” he waited for a minute to see if his mom would make any comment. His parents had divorced when Chris was 18. His dad had remarried and had three young children with his new wife; his mother had never remarried. Robert and Lisa Evans were amicable when it came to the children, but they were not fond of being in each other’s company. “Look, I need dad and his family to be here to learn about Henry at the same time everyone else does.”
“You don’t need to explain it to me, Chris,” she took a deep breath and repeated her original question, “Where do you want to do this?”
“I think I’ll do it here. It’s neutral territory.”
~ * ~
Chris had elected to cater the dinner instead of cooking it himself. Of course, only Scott, and maybe his mother, knew that he was not that great of a cook and it was in the best interest of everyone if someone else did the meal prep. The food was set up in the kitchen as a buffet, that way he didn’t even have to worry about dirtying up serving dishes. Yes, he was taking the easy way out. He was not ashamed to let his family see that he didn’t cook, he wasn’t trying to impress anyone.
He checked the time, ten minutes til six, everyone would be showing up at any moment. No sooner had he checked his watch, he heard the front door open and his brother, Scott, announce his arrival. Chris had asked that this family meeting be for the adults only. His step-mother had bristled at the idea that his younger sisters and brother could not attend. However, Chris had told her that it was a serious discussion of an adult manner and he didn’t want to risk something being said that the kids didn’t understand. He asked Carly to not bring her children and that had been a point of contention as well.
He knew that he would have some backlash from his invitation requirements. But he anticipated that as he made his announcement and they discussed the entire situation, they would all be thankful that there were no small ears in the room. Within minutes of Scott and his mother arriving, Carly and her husband, Ryan arrived, followed quickly by Shanna and then their dad, Robert, and his wife.
Chris led them all into the dining room, offering them a seat and something to drink. As he stood at the bar, pouring drinks, he offered a greeting to his family, “Before we go and get dinner, I want to first say that I appreciate your willingness to come to dinner. I know I was a little vague with my invite, saying I needed to talk to you, but I needed to tell you all something and wanted to do it at once versus retelling the story multiple times.”
“Oh hell, you’re not dying are you?” Scott asked with genuine concern in his voice, “I mean, that would be your primary reason for wanting us all together for a family meeting, right?” He then looked panic-stricken as his eyes began darting around the room. His paranoia moved to his sisters and then immediately enveloped the room.
“No, shit, Scott, I’m not dying,” Chris shook his head, having a hard time comprehending that it was the scenario his brother came up with. “I wanted to let you all know I’m going to spend Thanksgiving in Atlanta this year.”
Carly’s face distorted with a look of utter disgust, “You got us all worked up and called a family meeting to tell us that? Seriously, Chris, I thought this was supposed to be important? Geez, it’s not like you haven’t missed Thanksgiving when you’ve been working, you know.”
Chris took a deep breath and tried to find a way to tell them what he needed to say. The problem was now Carly, Shanna, and Scott were talking amongst themselves about how selfish Chris was, because he had called a meeting for something so trivial. Robert looked back and forth and then over at Lisa who obviously knew what was going on with Chris. Robert whistled like he did when the kids were little and they knew they needed to come running home. All heads snapped up and looked at him, he nodded to Lisa.
“Guys, I think Chris has something more important to discuss, so calm down and let him get through this.”
“Thanks, Ma,” Chris cleared his throat, “So, you all know I met up with Mallory Turner when she was in town to bury her parents. It was the first time we saw each other or even talked to one another since she left all those years ago.” Chris had been standing at the head of the table, but he needed to sit down to get through this. There was no way he could stand up, his knees were on the verge of buckling.
“So did she finally tell you why she just up and left you?” Scott shot at his brother, he didn’t hide the fact that he hated how Mallory hurt his brother.
Chris played with his untouched whiskey glass, swirling the amber liquid and letting the few ice cubes clink in the glass. “Her parents disowned her, they had a fight and kicked her out of the house and told her to never come back. The only person who would take her in was her aunt in Atlanta.” The shock over what he had said began to register on the faces of his family.
“Son, that must have been one heck of a fight for them to disown her. What happened? And if she was in Atlanta, why didn’t she at least reach out to you and let you know she was safe? Did she not think you would be worried?” Robert Evans asked quietly, the concern for his son was evident in the tone of his voice and in the gentleness of his eyes.
“Her parents wanted her to terminate her pregnancy and she refused. They didn’t want the scandal of having an unwed pregnant daughter and thought it best to turn her out, so they disowned her,” he picked up the whiskey glass, swallowing its contents in one shot, hoping it would give him the liquid courage to continue. His family was silent, their eyes glued on him. “She didn’t tell me or reach out to me because her parents had her convinced that, since I was going to pursue my acting career, I wouldn’t have time for her and a baby in my life. So, she moved to Atlanta and never called.”
The table was silent as if everyone was in shock over his admission. He wished someone would just say something, he couldn’t take the stares or the silence. Carly took care of breaking the ice.
“OH MY GOD! You’ve got a child?” Carly’s hand flew to her mouth as if she was trying to keep more words from escaping. That and the fact that her voice was still reverberating through the room.
Chris smiled, the joy spreading across his face and shining through his eyes; for the first time that evening, he was glowing. “Yeah, I do. I have a twelve-year-old son named Christopher Henry Tanner. He goes by Henry and he is smart and handsome, Mallory has done a fantastic job raising him. But he doesn’t know I’m his dad, that’s been kept from him.”
Shanna, Chris’s younger sister, had been adopted and had gone through the foster system before finding a home with the Evans family, so the idea of not knowing your real parents or having that connection was deeply personal to her and this situation hit extremely close to home. “She’s let that boy go his entire life thinking he doesn’t have a dad? How could she do that to him?”
“Oh, Shanna, she wasn’t trying to hurt him. Believe me, I’ve struggled with this and we’ve fought over it more than I would like to admit. But she was trying to protect him and me. She didn’t know what my reaction would be, her parents had her believing I wouldn’t want her or him. And then when she wanted to tell me, well it would’ve looked like she was coming after me for money. It’s a messed up and convoluted situation all around.”
“You’ve met him, though, right?” Robert asked, wanting to see where things stand now.
“I have, but we still haven’t told Henry the truth.”
“Okay, now you’re just an idiot,” Carly spat out at her brother. She no longer cared about a filter for her words. “I was with you up until that point. Why doesn’t he know yet?”
“I flew into a rage the night I found out about Henry. Demanded that Mallory tell him and introduce me to him and give me my son. I’ve been saying I want kids and here I have one and dammit, I wanted him in my life,” Chris began to fidget with the empty whiskey glass. He wasn’t sure how to explain all of this to his family because he wasn’t sure how he was reconciling it with himself. He knew they were judging him, they were family and just wanted to understand and support, but they were judging his actions. “The enormity of it hit me. I have a twelve-year-old son and I was terrified. I began to think he might end up feeling that way, too. I thought I should ease myself into the role and maybe he needed to get used to having some around. Mallory hasn’t been in any relationships and he hasn’t had a male role model around. I mean, Josh hangs out with them every now and then, but not enough to be a consistent father figure.”
“Josh? He’s known all along?” Scott was stunned that one of their closest friends, someone they treated like family, had kept this quiet.
“Yeah, he’s known. Which is why we came to blows over it and I do mean literally came to blows,” Chris was sheepish in his admission of his fight with his best friend. “Mallory and I are talking about how we’re going to tell Henry. She’s concerned that Henry will hate her.”
“I wouldn’t blame him if he did,” Shanna announced, “It’s cruel to lie to him like that, especially after he’s met you.”
“Don’t be that way, Shanna. I’m just as responsible in saying hold off on telling him. I don’t want him to hate me, either. Hell, he’s going to wonder why I never came around. Why I abandoned him and his mom, I’m not going to look like a saint in this.”
Chris’s stepmother cleared her throat, she never ventured into the fray in these types of conversations. After all, she was the ultimate outsider in the family events. She had a decent enough relationship with Chris, but you couldn’t describe them as close or loving. “I might be out of line for asking, but are you reconciling with Mallory? Are there still romantic feelings between the two of you?” She asked the question delicately and, for that, Chris was thankful.
“Honestly, I would like to. I was ready to dive head first several weeks ago, but something happened that made me rethink that decision. We’re different people now, I think we need to start fresh,” he let out a chuckle, “She isn’t happy with that idea. I want us to get to know who each other is now and allow me to get to know Henry before we go further.”
Chris looked up at his mother, she was sitting opposite him at the other end of the table. He took a deep breath because he knew that what he was about to say would not go over well with her. They had not talked about it, but he just knew it would not be what she wanted to hear. “I’ve got every intention of marrying Mallory and making us a family. I love her and she loves me. Right now, we’re struggling with the past and pain. But I want Henry to know me as his father, hell, I want to give him brothers and sisters. I know she’s my life.”
“That’s beautiful, Chris,” his stepmother replied, “I hope it all works out for the three of you.”
“I just can’t believe she kept it quiet for twelve fucking years!” Scott spit out, he was protective of his older brother and hated the idea that he was dealing with this. “Did you see that kid at the funeral, Ma?”
All eyes shifted to Lisa Evans and she was looking directly at Chris. She had no problem telling the story of how she saw Henry at the funeral. However, the decision was completely up to Chris and he was giving her a slight nod to indicate she could move forward. She cleared her throat and then took a sip of water before starting to speak.
“I did see him, but I didn’t see him up close, only from far away. At the time of the funeral, I had no idea that he was Chris’s son. I saw Mallory with her little boy and figured she was pregnant when she left but didn’t tell Chris because she had gotten pregnant by someone else. She was afraid to tell him or ashamed, whatever the case.”
Chris decided to step in and pick up the story from that point, “Mom saw Josh interacting with both Mallory and Henry. So, when she recalled the scene at the cemetery, she believed Josh was his father.”
“So how exactly did you find out the truth?” Ryan, Carly’s husband, asked the question that everyone wanted to know the answer to.
“Well, when mom said she thought Mallory and Josh had a son, I went to his house to confront him. We scuffled, I got a few punches in, and he told me the truth. He’d kept it from me all along, Mallory had asked him to. She talked to him on a regular basis and he flew down to see her once in awhile. He evidently kept her up to date on everything Chris Evans related,” he said with a laugh as he looked around the table.
“You realize this sounds like a movie script, right? And not a good one.” Shanna sneered at her brother. She loved him, always looked up to him, but right now she was at a loss for his actions and his attitude over this entire situation. “I’m amazed that you have just accepted this whole situation and are giving credence to having a relationship with her after she’s lied to you for twelve years. How are you not livid?”
“Shanna, I’ve gone through that stage already. I was so angry, I got in her face and yelled at her. I wanted to spit nails and I couldn’t see straight. But I didn’t know everything that she went through. I didn’t understand her struggles over the years, I focused on my pain only.”
“So, you calmed down enough to listen and find out the entire story,” Carly asked cautiously. She had never seen her younger sister so worked up before, but this was a subject that was hitting close to home, so she got it. But she didn’t want this dinner to turn so ugly that it damaged their family’s relationship going forward.
“Over the course of several days, Mallory and I had long talks. She gave me all the details, everything her parents told her and what happened when she moved to Atlanta. And I’ll admit, I was still a little skeptical,” Chris pushed himself away from the table and poured himself another glass of whiskey. He needed the liquid courage to continue down this path with his family. He knew they would question everything, but he didn’t expect to feel so attacked.
“She went to the reading of her parent’s wills and the attorney gave her a letter that her father had written. It was sealed and Mallory couldn’t bring herself to read it, so she asked me to do it for her. He asked for forgiveness for everything they had done to her; she was telling me the truth and I could see the pain in her eyes. I couldn’t hold it against her, it wasn’t all her fault. She was scared if she came forward at any time after I had moved to Hollywood and started making movies that it would look like she was after money.”
Chris swallowed the drink he had just poured and looked at every member of his family. They were watching him, waiting to see what he would say or do next. “So, yeah, you can hate her for keeping it quiet and not reaching out to me. But can you tell me that, if she had reached out and we were having this conversation, that you wouldn’t be saying she’s a gold digger looking for money? She wouldn’t be able to win with any of you and you know it.”
His assessment of the situation was accurate and deep down, they all knew he was right. If each one of them tried to be objective, they would see that Mallory was stuck in a bad situation. She could have told him early on and risked him turning his back on her. Or have her tell after the fact and risk being labeled a gold digger.
Robert stood up from the table and walked the few steps that would put him next to his oldest son’s chair. He reached out and placed his hand on Chris’s shoulder, squeezing slightly. “I’m proud of you, Chris. You are handling this the right way, taking it slow and being mature about the decisions you need to make for your son. I trust you’ll do what you feel is the right thing to do and you’ll keep in Henry in mind in whatever that decision is.” Chris stood up, embracing his dad and silently thanking him for his support. With everything that had just occurred around that table, his dad’s word meant so much to him. Chris had shared with him, over the years, that he still had feelings for Mallory. For once, he had told him things that he had not told his mother. “So, when do I get to meet my new grandson?”
Chris pulled away from his dad and tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill down his cheek. “Um, well, I don’t know yet. Mallory and I have to work out when we’re going to tell Henry the truth. I need to ease him into the crazy world of being my kid.”
“Yeah, well if that is the benchmark for us meeting him, then it’ll never happen,” Scott snarked at his brother.
“Is there a chance he is going to come to Disney with us?” Carly asked enthusiastically.
“Well, I don’t know. That is actually a point of contention between Mallory and me. I say ‘yes, ’ and she is adamant about ‘no.’ She is afraid if he goes, he will be photographed with me and the cat will be out of the bag!”
“She doesn’t want the media to know, does she?” Shanna asked quietly.
Chris shook his head, “No, she doesn’t. I don’t blame her, he’d be followed and photographed and she’ll be scrutinized in the media as well. I don’t want him dealing with that, at least not yet.”
“Wait, so how is Disney causing the problem? I’m lost,” Ryan asked, a little perplexed.
“She’s afraid that the fans that end up taking pictures of me when I’m down there will catch Henry and me together. He looks so much like me, they’ll figure it out. And we don’t have a timetable yet on when we’re going to tell him the truth, so that could bite us in the ass if it gets out because of pictures at Disney.”
“Wait a minute!” Lisa broke in, she had been quiet and let the rest of the family ask questions because she already knew so much of the backstory. But this, she wasn’t letting this pass. “Why in the hell would you not go ahead and tell that boy right now? You want him to know. She wants him to know. And, by God, you two want to make the family whole, just tell him and then Disney won’t be an issue.”
“Mom, I think she’s afraid if she tells him before Christmas and he hates her, that the holiday is ruined.”
“Oh, and heaven forbid her holiday is ruined because her son is mad at her while my son’s holiday is ruined because he can’t be with his son!”
“Mom’s right, that’s not exactly fair,” Carly chimed in.
Robert took this opportunity to sit back down and Chris followed suit. Chris then ran his hand through his hair and slapped his hands down on his thighs, letting out an exasperated sigh. “I appreciate that you are all every bit as worked up over this as I’ve been. But I can’t argue with Mallory and argue with you; I don’t have it in me to do battle on two home fronts.”
“You two are still arguing?” his stepmother asked, leaning forward and placing her hand on his. Her simple gesture meant a lot, it was the one moment of comfort in a tornado of emotions.
“We are and I hate it. You guys don’t get it, I love her. The problem is, she is still mad that I moved back to taking things slow. I think she was ready to go ahead and get married and tell Henry and move forward. But I don’t want to get into why I decided to take things slow,” Chris reached for his glass, he was prepared to pour another drink.
“Christopher!” His mother said sternly, “I don’t think you need another drink. The whiskey isn’t going to help and I believe you know that. You took it slow so you can rebuild the foundation for your relationship and to be sure that when you marry her, it really is forever. We can all admire and respect that decision.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t. And you’re right, the whiskey isn’t going to help, but I need to forget. I didn’t expect it to be this hard to tell you guys. I just need your support right now, can we get through the rest of the night without you telling me how much you hate Mallory?”
“Well, I think we can do that if you would feed us,” Scott announced as he stood up. “Seriously, what kind of asshole invites us over for dinner and then talks our ears off, gets us riled up and holds out on the food?”
Everyone began to laugh, Scott’s acerbic wit was just what was needed. Robert and Lisa pulled Chris to the side, wanting to talk to him one-on-one. It was only appropriate that his parents came together over something like this to try and help him out.
“Chris, I can appreciate that you’re rebuilding the foundation. And your mother is right, it’s important, but don’t fight and argue with Mallory over Henry and rock that delicate balance. Don’t risk one for the other, because you risk it all.”
“I agree with your father. If you’re going to go down there for Thanksgiving, make it count. Work on your relationship with her just as much as you work on that relationship with Henry.”
“I’ve been calling on a regular basis and talking to Mallory, the calls are sometimes strained, but we speak anyway. I always end the call by speaking to Henry and she knows this. But he’s been calling me or texting me to talk when she’s not around, he told me that Mallory knew about it,” his voice trailed off.
“But she didn’t?” Lisa questioned, sensing the answer before she even asked the question.
Chris shook his head, “No, when I mentioned something about my call to him, her tone changed and she quickly hung up. I’m afraid the decisions I made weeks ago are going to bite me in the ass now and I’m going to lose her.”
“Make the effort leading up to Thanksgiving and make an effort when you are there,” Robert said reassuringly. “Chris, if she is what you want, fight for her and fight for Henry.”
Once everyone had food, the mood at the table lightened and the conversation veered from Mallory and Henry to the other members of the family. Chris was well aware, though, that his family was harboring animosity and potentially some bitterness. Which meant that going forward, family get-togethers could be kind of interesting.
~ * ~
After everyone had left the house and the kitchen was cleaned up, Chris decided to give Mallory a call. He hadn’t talked to her all day. Actually, he hadn’t spoken to her in two days. He missed her voice, even if she was yelling at him. He made his way up the steps, turning to the left and standing in the doorway of the guest room that had been converted into Henry’s bedroom. He hadn’t told Mallory he had done this; it was going to be a surprise.
When he had gone shopping for everything for the room, he knew that he would get weird looks. Several people asked him outright what he was decorating for. He played it off that he was going to surprise a young fan with a room makeover. It was a plausible story, everyone knew that Chris was charitable. He arranged for everything to be picked up instead of delivered, strictly for the reason of not giving up that the kid’s bedroom would be at his house.
He hoped that Henry would see this room soon. Chris was anxious for him to come home and he wanted it to be permanent. He would love for Mallory to be with him, but it was okay if it was just Henry. If Mallory was going to keep pushing back on telling Henry the truth, Chris would force her hand. He had consulted a family attorney, the wife of one of his good friends, and she was a pit bull in the courtroom. He knew that if he told her what was going on, attorney-client privilege took precedent and she couldn’t divulge anything he told her.
Chris was aware that his name was not on Henry’s birth certificate, that was the first thing he wanted to change. To do that he needed a court order. And for a court order, he needed a DNA test. Chris had put Rebecca on retainer, her office would do the legwork in regards to the filings that would need to be made. They would start the paperwork and, when Chris was ready, he just needed to let them know; they would date the documents and obtain his signature, and the legal ball would start rolling.
He had made it clear to Rebecca that he wanted to explore every avenue with Mallory to resolve the issues without going down the legal path. He didn’t like the idea that the court documents would be public and anyone could see his business. For some as private as he was, he wanted this to remain private. He knew they would still need to use the legal system, but it was a whole hell of a lot different to do it when the parties were agreeing than when they were at each other’s throat.
Chris walked into his bedroom and changed from his jeans and sweater into his pajama pants and thermal henley. He pulled the sheets back on the bed and propped the pillows up, making himself comfortable and then dialing Mallory’s number. She picked up the phone almost immediately, it barely rang on his end. “Were you sitting on the phone, just waiting for it to ring?” He teased as she answered.
“No, it rang several times on my side. I was actually afraid it might roll to voicemail before I could get to it.”
“Oh, well, I haven’t talked to you in a few days and I wanted to see how you were doing,” he kept his voice even, trying not to sound as if he was overly excited to talk to her.
“It’s late and you know that Henry is already in bed,” she was trying not to sound accusatory, but she wanted to get that out of the way.
“Were you already in bed when I called? Is that why you sound so sleepy?”
“I was in bed, but I wasn’t asleep. I was staring at the ceiling and trying to get my mind to shut off,” she admitted. She knew that sounded insane and he would most likely laugh at her. “I’m sure you have a reason for calling?”
He could push, tell her that he completely understands the issue with brain noise. Get her to talk about it and let her know that they could find a way to work through it. They were most likely stressing over the same thing and maybe they could resolve the issue together. But he wasn’t going to do that. Right now wasn’t the right time.
“Tonight I told my family about Henry,” as the words spilled out, Mallory sat up in bed. “I had all of them over for dinner, well not the younger kids. But I told them all about Henry and your backstory and why I didn’t know about him until several weeks ago.”
“They all hate me, don’t they?”
“No, some of them were having a hard time understanding, though. I think they are excited about the prospect of meeting Henry and putting this behind us.”
Mallory pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arm around legs. She tried to pull herself as close in as she could, which was hard since she was holding the phone. “What did you tell them about us?”
Chris knew he had to be careful how he answered this. He didn’t want to be overly optimistic, but he didn’t want to sound as if he had given up entirely, either. “I told them that we still have feelings for one another. That I think you’re still angry because we didn’t run off and get married right away. You need to know I’m not interested in burning white hot with you and bringing Henry into that mix and then burning out because we weren’t meant to be. When we say “I Do” and we become a family, it’s going to be forever, with no outs, do you hear me?”
He thought he heard her sniffle. He knew that she was crying, this conversation, no matter the variation of the discussion, was never easy. It usually ended in some sort of argument and his goal for tonight was for that not to happen.
“Please don’t cry, Mallory. I know you think I’m torturing you, but I’m not trying to. I love you, I do. But we are different people than we were when you left. I need to make sure you love who I am now, not the image of who you think I am.”
Mallory wiped the tears from her cheeks and swallowed the lump that was in her throat. If she cast aside her hurt feelings, he was right and made complete sense. It was the casting aside that was the problem. “I love you, Chris. That has never changed, but I get it. We fight because we’re passionate,” Chris noticed that her Boston accent had been overtaken by the soft lilt of a Georgian accent. “When you come down for Thanksgiving, you can stay here at the house with Henry and me. There’s plenty of room and I think Henry would really like it.”
“Thank you, Mallory.” She didn’t completely understand his reason for slowing things down, but he was right in making that decision. One day she would hopefully see that, maybe it would be years down the road when their marriage was strong, and they had weathered ups and downs in his career so easily. Maybe that is when she would see that this was needed. God, he hoped so. Maybe this was the first step.