Mallory invited Chris to come to town a couple of days before the holiday. She tried to say that it was because she didn’t want there to be travel delays that would put a damper on the plans for dinner, but she was also trying to extend a bit of an olive branch in providing an opportunity for Chris and Henry to spend extra time together. Chris wasn’t working on any projects right now so his schedule provided the perfect opportunity.
He elected to travel out on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. His flight was supposed to leave and get him into Atlanta at six, just in time for dinner. Unfortunately, just as he got through security at Logan airport the weather delays started to hit. A storm in the Mid-Atlantic was going to delay his flight’s departure, he just hoped it wouldn’t cancel it outright. He texted Mallory immediately to apologize for the delay and to let her know he wouldn’t make it in time for dinner. He wasn’t sure when he would take off, but he’d let her know and he’d definitely call if the flight gets canceled.
Figuring he was in for a long wait, Chris positioned himself at the Delta lounge with a beer and watched the Bruins game. He kept his phone close by and kept an eye on the weather app. Around seven, he texted Mallory to say that there was still no word, but the storm looked like it was losing steam. Hopefully, he would hear something soon, but his flight was still listed as delayed and not canceled. Sure enough, a little over an hour later they began a boarding call for his flight. Chris immediately sent a text to Mallory:
Looks like we’ll take off around 9. Be in ATL around 12
He grabbed his backpack and ticket and took off for the gate. He was a priority member and a First Class passenger, but he wasn’t about to board first. There was always a rush to get on board right away to grab coveted overhead bin space. Not for him, he hated being on the flight early to deal with boarding passengers who would stare or request autographs. Or, his favorite, the selfies they would post on social media to tip off everyone as to where he was traveling to. No, instead he preferred to work with the gate attendants, who would graciously take his carry-on bags early and put them on the plane so that he could wait until the last minute to board. Sometimes being a celebrity really did have its privileges!
As he waited for his turn to board, he felt the vibration of his phone in his pocket. He didn’t want to risk someone reading over his shoulder, so he thought he would just read the text once he was seated. Besides, he figured it was a text from Mallory; he just hoped she wasn’t asking him to stay in a hotel since he was getting in so late.
When the crowd had thinned, Chris made his way down the jetway and greeted the flight personnel before taking his seat. He was thankful First Class was relatively empty and he didn’t have anyone seated next to him for the flight. As the plane door was shut and locked, Chris read Mallory’s text:
I’m looking forward to seeing you, I’ll be awake when you get here. Travel safe
Chris had to admit he wasn’t expecting that type of response from her. Since the phone call when he admitted he told his family about Henry, the night he admitted he wanted their love to last, they had turned a corner and things had been different between the two of them. The phone calls were not as contentious and the snide remarks, from both sides, had virtually stopped.
He fastened his seatbelt and began to get antsy. The flight from Boston to Atlanta took three hours, but he wished the flight could somehow go supersonic and get him there faster. He just prayed there wouldn’t be any other weather delays.
~ * ~
Mallory was a nervous wreck; the house had been cleaned, but she felt like it needed to be perfect for Chris’s arrival. She had made the decision to put Chris in the guest room on the other side of Henry’s room. While the last few calls had gone well with Chris, she wasn’t sure about them sharing a bed and she didn’t want to explain any part of that scenario to her son. Oh, she had already had ‘the talk’ with him, but no kid wants to think of his mom getting busy with her boyfriend. Wait, is that what Chris was? They really didn’t have a label, they were just friends trying to work out their relationship.
Mallory had decided to cook dinner for Chris; it just seemed appropriate to have a home cooked meal when he got there since he would be tired from traveling and wouldn’t want to go out. And the idea of ordering fast food of any type seemed inappropriate. The grocery shopping had been done and the menu prepared. Dinner would go on around 5:30 with the plan that it would be ready just about the time Chris got to the house.
When Mallory received the text saying his flight was delayed due to weather, she was disappointed but thankful he at least gave her a heads up. She went forward with the plans to eat since they didn’t have an ETA on his flight. She made Chris a plate and wrapped it in foil so she could heat it up in the oven when his plane landed and he was on his way to the house. She poured a glass of wine and settled into the oversized chair in the family room to watch TV and keep herself occupied. She was in the middle of a House Hunters marathon when she received Chris’s text that he was boarding the plane and would arrive in Atlanta around midnight. Her nerves began to spark and she started to fidget. Mallory wanted this visit to go well, but she was scared because she knew Chris would want to talk about arrangements for Henry and that could turn ugly. She needed to stay positive.
Her feelings for Chris could not be flipped on and off like a light switch; she did love him. But she was not so sure if his declarations to her were as sincere. It was a nagging thought in her head because she had not been intimate with anyone since she conceived Henry. That was not something that Chris could say. She had gone on dates, but her decision to never take it further always went back to her love for Chris. She had held that torch, never letting it extinguish. So the morning Mallory heard a woman’s voice interject during her conversation with Chris had hurt her more than he could imagine.
Yes, Mallory was quick to jump to the conclusion he had done something wrong and was untrustworthy. Never giving him an opportunity to explain. Instead, dismissing him out of hand. But did she even have that right? They weren’t married to one another. At that point they weren’t even dating exclusively. The crux of the entire situation was that she had her feelings hurt.
Darby and her husband John had been pushing for Mallory to get professional help in the form of therapy and legal counsel. Darby thought counseling could help her work through the concerns she had over dealing with the entire situation. Her parents had done a number on her by disowning her and they had certainly confused the hell out of her by writing a letter and saying they regretted their decision. As a therapist, Darby knew this alone was more than enough to keep Mallory in sessions for years to come. But when you add in the worries of Chris and Henry, Mallory had too much to deal with and she was struggling to cope. Darby was too close to the situation and didn’t think she could be objective enough, so she was encouraging her best friend to get help.
While Darby pushed the therapy angle, John was working the legal angle. He knew that it would not take long for Chris to move forward in his attempts to insert himself into Henry’s life in a legal sense. This meant being on the birth certificate and being Henry’s father in the eyes of the law. Mallory needed legal representation and John had an associate in his office who handled family law, his name was Mark and he was willing to take on her case. John had given him the ‘highlights’ of the file and Mark was chomping at the bit to get started. The issue was Mallory, she just didn’t want to address it even though she knew it should be a priority. She knew if things didn’t work out with Chris romantically, he would come at her with both barrels. Chris Evans had the means and the media; the battle would be ugly and it would be public.
Mallory needed to get these thoughts out of her head before Chris got to the house. If she didn’t, they would eat at her and could cause issues during his visit. She needed to remain positive and do what she could to make things work between the two of them. Right now, she needed to focus on staying awake for the next few hours! She decided to make a cup of coffee; she had wine while watching TV and it had a tendency to make her sleepy. Too bad she didn’t have espresso because that would keep her wired. She took her coffee and settled into the living room with a blanket and a book. Unfortunately, the sofa was too comfortable, the blanket too warm, and the coffee and reading canceled one another out – Mallory fell asleep within minutes.
She was startled out of her sleep by the loud ringing of her phone. Mallory fell asleep with the phone in her hand; her head resting on the same hand. Which meant the phone was positioned right at her ear when the ringing started. She fumbled with the device to answer it and gave a raspy, “Hello.”
She heard Chris chuckle, “So much for staying awake, I didn’t mean to wake you up. I’m about to pull up to the house.” His voice was deep and velvety smooth. Honestly, he wasn’t expecting her to answer as quickly as she did, the clock on the dash showed the time as 12:32 am. He figured she had fallen asleep and that it would take a while to get her to wake up. He had no idea if she was a heavy or light sleeper.
“Yeah, sorry. I’ll meet you out front,” she replied, sleep still thick in her voice. She stood from the couch and slid her feet into her shoes that were sitting on the floor next to the sofa. She double checked the locks, making sure the doors wouldn’t automatically lock her out as she closed the door. As she stepped onto the front porch she saw the headlights from his car as he pulled into the driveway.
Mallory wrapped her arms around herself, the night air was brisk and she had walked outside without putting on a jacket. She stood at the top of the steps and leaned against the porch column. Chris stepped out of the car and she could feel her entire body start to smile. His beard had been trimmed and he was wearing his requisite ball cap along with jeans and a blue jacket. It looked familiar, almost like the one he wore in the first Captain America movie when was walking through the Smithsonian.
Chris pulled his overnight bag and his backpack out of the backseat and started to walk towards her. When he looked up at her, she could feel her smile grow wider. Mallory could have sworn that when he caught her eye he started walking just a bit faster.
When he reached the steps, he looked up, “Can I come up on your porch, ma’am?” He tried to put a lilt in his voice, almost reminiscent of his role at Jimmy Dobyne all those years ago, “That is the gentlemanly thing to do, correct?”
“Why yes, Mr. Evans, you may come up on my porch. And it is the polite thing to do,” she started to chuckle at the idea of him trying to pull out old Southern charm on her at almost 1 am.
He stepped up onto the porch and dropped his bags, but never taking his eyes off of her. Without uttering a word, he cupped Mallory’s face in his hands, leaned in and softly brushed his lips across hers. As he pulled away, he rested his forehead against hers and whispered softly, “I missed you, Mallory.”
“I missed you, too. C’mon lets get in the house, I’m freezing out here.”
Chris lightly placed his hand on the small of Mallory’s back and led her into the house. He was impressed with the house, it was the quintessential southern home with a wrap-around front porch. He was certain if he went looking in the daylight, he would find a porch swing. Inside, the house was warm and inviting. There was a large stairway that led to the second floor. It was the perfect staircase you would see in movies or on TV. He would almost bet money that at Christmas, Mallory would wrap that banister with garland and maybe even white lights.
“This house reminds me of something I would read about in a book or see in a movie,” he said with a reverence in his voice. He had no idea what to expect for the type of house she would live in with her aunt, but somehow, this house fit her perfectly.
“My aunt and uncle bought it years ago before I moved down here. It was in bad shape; they gutted it and did all of the renovations. I fell in love with it when I moved down and it’s the only home Henry’s ever known,” Mallory diverted her eyes from his. She moved back to the front door to make sure it was locked and ready for the night. She set the alarm, using the keypad by the door, and then walked past Chris into the living room.
“They left it to you when they passed?” Chris asked as he took a seat next to her on the couch. Mallory sat far enough away from him, not wanting to be too close. He wanted to reach out and pull her close, but he wasn’t going to let his sexual needs overtake him. They were on shaky ground, and he couldn’t risk anything right now.
“Yes, it was left to me when my aunt died. I still have a hard time believing she’s gone. The house doesn’t seem as vibrant these days, but I try hard to keep her memory alive,” she looked down at her lap, the intensity in his eyes was unsettling. He wasn’t pushing her, but he wanted her to keep talking. “I haven’t changed anything, I mean, the house still looks the same. I’m scared to redecorate or move the furniture,” she looked up at Chris. He was just watching her, listening, like he was hanging on every word she was saying. “It’s like I’m afraid she’ll be mad at me, or worse, disappointed.”
Chris decided it couldn’t hurt, so he motioned for her to come close to him. He wanted to feel her body against his. He wasn’t trying to make a sexual move on her, he just wanted to wrap his arms around her and have her close. Wanted to comfort her, and honestly, he needed that comfort as well. The fighting, the arguments, this is not what he had anticipated, and it made him miserable. They were two passionate people, both fighting for what was important to them. Both scared they would ultimately lose instead of channeling their energy to finding a way for them both to win.
~ * ~
Henry rolled over in his bed and looked at the clock on his nightstand; it was 8:30. He never slept in that late, even on a non-school day. His mom had always kept him to a schedule of getting up and going to bed at the same time, no matter what. She said it was so she didn’t have to fight him during the school year. He thought it was because she was mean. The fact that she didn’t wake him up this morning, well that worried him.
He pulled back the covers and made his way to the bathroom. He thought it was weird that he heard no sounds in the house at all. He remembered that Chris was supposed to come in last night. He had hoped mom would at least be making breakfast since they had company. He went back to his room and got dressed and headed downstairs. He noticed his mom’s bedroom door was open and her bed was made, so she was up at least.
As he descended the steps, he looked over into the living room and immediately understood what was going on. His mom was leaning up against Chris, he has his arms around her and they were both asleep. He noticed that Chris’s bags were still on the floor, it looked like they never made it upstairs when he got there last night. Since they looked comfortable, he was not about to wake them up.
Henry quietly walked past the living room and into the kitchen. He figured he would put on a pot of coffee for when Chris and his mom woke up and then he would make some breakfast for himself. His mom had a regular coffee pot and a Keurig, she was a coffee freak! He had just finished pouring in the water and measuring the coffee grounds when he heard a voice behind him.
“Morning, buddy, how are you?” Chris yawned and stretched then raked his fingers through his hair. It wasn’t slicked down so it was a little wild at the moment. Henry started laughing at him, “What’s so funny?”
“You – your hair, it’s sticking up all over your head! Dude, you need a hat or something.”
This made Chris immediately try again to force his hair down, “Yeah, well, I had a hat on all day yesterday so that’s the problem.” He motioned with his head over towards the coffee pot and where Henry was standing, “Whatcha got going on over there?”
“I’m making coffee for you and mom. You drink coffee, right?”
Chris couldn’t help but smile at what a sweet and thoughtful boy Henry was. “Yeah, buddy, I certainly do. So, while it’s brewing, why don’t you come over here and fill me on the latest,” he patted the stool next to where he had taken a seat. While he talked to him regularly, he was astonished at how much Henry had changed physically in the short time since he had last seen him. He felt as if he needed to hurry to make up for all the lost time and make sure he didn’t miss any more. This only bolstered his resolve to fight for his rights to his boy.
“I’m good I guess,” Henry didn’t raise his eyes to Chris, preferring to focus on the countertop in front of him.
“Henry? Is there something you want to talk about? You know, I can be a good listener,” he wasn’t going to push the subject. He just wanted to open the door a crack in the hopes that Henry would open it completely. He had been talking to Henry over the phone and the conversations were nothing serious or profound. Everything was general, things there were happening at school and excitement over new video games or books. Not that this stuff wasn’t important. But Chris wanted to build on the relationship with his son so he wanted him to trust him with the important things like his feelings. Henry raised his chin, looking up at Chris. In a quiet, almost barely audible voice, he asked, “Do you still love my mom?”
Chris was actually shocked at the question; he did his best to hide his surprise. “I wasn’t expecting you to ask that,” he admitted.
“I guess I shouldn’t ask, but..,” Henry’s voice trailed off.
“It’s okay that you did, I’m just surprised, that’s all,” Chris tried to think of the best way to maneuver through this conversation. “I do love your mom, Henry. So, what is making you ask the question?”
“I shouldn’t say anything,” he put his head back down, staring at his lap, “Forget I asked.”
“No, I’m not going to do that. You had a reason for asking and it won’t make me mad, I promise. It’s just between us.”
Henry looked back up at him, his eyes conveying that he was trying to hold back tears, “You promise?” Chris nodded in acknowledgment and gave a slight smile to let him know he would go on. “Well, I know you and mom were happy in Boston and then something happened when we got home. She tries to keep it quiet, but I know you two argue when you’re on the phone with one another.”
“So, you think because we’ve argued that I don’t love her?”
“Well, I thought you two were going to get married because you asked me if you could marry her. But now if you fight, that won’t happen. Do you fight because of me?”
Chris’s heart stopped when he heard the question. There was no way to answer that without revealing that he was Henry’s father. He hoped his face was not betraying him and revealing that he was suddenly panic-stricken. He was also unaware that Mallory had just walked up as the question was asked. She was standing quietly behind them in the doorway, waiting just as patiently as Henry for an answer.
“Henry, I’m going to tell you something that may or may not be easy for you to understand. Okay?” His son nodded and Chris hoped that he could get this all out just the right way. “Your mom and I dated a long time ago and we were extremely happy. But something happened and we split up. I can’t really explain all of that to you right now but just know that we didn’t talk to each other for many years.”
“She moved away and then I did, too. We didn’t keep in touch and yeah, it’s sad that we didn’t. But we met up again in Boston and while we both still have feelings for one another, we are different people now. So, it’s hard for us to just pick up where we left off. And the decisions your mom makes now, she has to take you into consideration, and sometimes it doesn’t go along with what I want the choice to be.”
Chris took a deep breath and tried to figure out if what he was saying was making sense. He had a feeling he wasn’t getting through to him. But then again, Henry was smart and maybe he understood all too well.
“Henry, we don’t fight because of you. It isn’t your fault, don’t think that at all. Your mom and I are just trying to figure out how to make it work for us. For instance, I want you both to move to Boston. It’s where my family is and where your mom is from originally. It’s a great city and I think you would love it there. I’ve got a big family and you would have so many people around you. But your mom wants you guys to always stay in Atlanta.”
“Boston sounds like fun, but I would miss Atlanta,” Henry said woefully, “But it would be really great to have a big family!”
“So, see your mom and I just need to work on big people problems, but it is all to make sure we are thinking of you. We aren’t fighting because of you. Do you understand that?”
“Yeah, I think so. Chris?” Henry said reluctantly, “I’d really like for you to marry my mom and be my dad.”
Those words made Chris’s heart clinch and he almost couldn’t breathe. It took him a minute to gain his composure to respond, “Oh, buddy, I’d love nothing more,” he pulled Henry into an embrace and willed for the tears to not fall from his eyes.
Mallory cleared her throat to make her presence known. “Good morning, boys! I can’t believe you didn’t wake me up,” she walked over to Henry and kissed the top of his head, “How are you, sweetie?”
“I’m good, Mom. I made coffee this morning and I’ve been talking to Chris.”
“Yeah, I see that,” she replied as she walked over to the coffee pot and poured a cup. She turned back and noticed Chris didn’t have a cup yet, “Want some?” He nodded and she pulled another mug from the cabinet. She poured his cup and walked it over and sat it in front of him, no words being exchanged.
Henry just watched the two of them, wondering why they weren’t talking. “I think I’m going to go upstairs and play my video games. Is that okay?”
“Sure, but take a shower first and make your bed.”
Henry let out a sigh and rolled his eyes and then took off running for the stairs. Once they heard his feet stomping up the steps and heard the door, either the bathroom or the bedroom, slam shut, they knew it would be safe to talk.
“So, what did you hear?” Chris asked as he took a sip of coffee.
Mallory took a sip of her coffee to delay answering. “I heard him ask if you and I fight because of him. He was asking that as I walked up. I didn’t realize he knew we were arguing, I tried to keep that from him.”
“Yeah, I know. But he’s smart, you said that yourself,” Chris took another sip of his coffee and watched her reaction.
“You handled the answer beautifully. You might have this dad thing down after all,” she gave him a brief smile and then turned away to go and doctor her coffee. It provided an opportunity to divert her eyes from him, she didn’t want him to see her tear up.
“It doesn’t mean he can’t love both of us, you know that, right?” Chris asked, knowing instinctively where her thoughts were going. “Just because he starts to care for me and puts me in his heart, doesn’t mean he’s kicking you out.”
Mallory pulled her shoulders back, straightening her posture, “Yeah, I know that.”
“Then act like it, because you seem to act like you’d be losing him forever if he finds out who I am.” Chris waited to see if she would turn around and start yelling at him, but she didn’t. He then wondered if her shoulders would begin to shake, giving herself away that she was sobbing; she didn’t do that, either. “You know, maybe with his declaration, we should go ahead and tell him the truth. Thanksgiving is a good holiday for that sort of thing.”
This garnered a reaction from her, she spun around and looked at him. “Absolutely not,” she fought to keep her voice quiet, not wanting Henry to hear her and some running downstairs. “I don’t want to do it at the holidays.”
“Come on, Mallory, he’s grown so much since the last time I saw him. You’re keeping him away from me, he’s mine, and I deserve to have time with him. He deserves to know me, know that I’m here for him and that he has a large family that is dying to meet him.”
“He needs to get to know you more before we spring it on him.”
“You realize how asinine that sounds, right? It isn’t going to matter whether he likes me or not, the fact that I’m his dad can’t be changed.” He watched for her reaction, but she didn’t have one. She was almost unemotional, which was scaring him. “Mallory, you realize that the longer you lie to him, the more you risk your relationship. He will hate that you kept it hidden as long as you did, especially after I came into the picture.”
“I know,” she murmured and she dropped her head. “But I don’t want him to hate me at Christmas.”
“But you’re keeping me from enjoying Christmas as a dad,” he replied back to her. He put his coffee mug back on the counter and went into the living room to pick up his bags. He said nothing as he walked up the steps, toward the guest room where he would be staying for the next few days.
~ * ~
When Chris came back downstairs later in the day, Mallory was in the kitchen. He could tell she had showered and changed her clothes. She had her hair done up in a messy ponytail and had a light dusting of makeup. He didn’t think she needed makeup, but she probably put it on to make herself feel better, and for that, he wasn’t going to complain. She was cutting up carrots and celery, his guess was she was prepping dressing for Thanksgiving dinner.
He took his seat from earlier, on a barstool across from where she was working. “Is there something I can do to help?” He offered, hoping that they could move past the situation from earlier that morning.”
“No, I’m good,” she responded. Her reply was short, although not necessarily terse or angry. “You can help yourself to anything in the refrigerator, you know if you’re hungry or thirsty.”
“Thanks, but I’m okay. Do you need me to run any errands for you? You need anything from the store, last minute shopping?”
She dropped her knife and looked up at him, “Look, I’m not angry, I’ve moved on. So, you don’t need to try and weasel your way into my good graces or anything. Just stop.”
He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to take that, “Alright, got it. I thought I was just being polite and trying to help.” He stood up and started to make his way out of the kitchen. He wasn’t going to continue to fight with her and she evidently needed time to work out her frustrations. He had only taken a few steps when he felt her hand on his arm.
“Wait,” she said, her voice was pleading. “I can’t keep doing this.” When Chris turned around, Mallory reached up, placing her hand on the base of his neck and pulling him towards her. She put her lips on his, soft and gentle, but he could feel the hunger.
Chris took control and deepened the kiss, pulling her closer to his body. She did not fight him. Instead, she wrapped her other arm around is waist and held him to her. She didn’t want it to end, the feeling of him against her, she had longed for this. Amid all of the fighting, was this, a strong sexual desire that she needed to unleash.
He pulled away from her, needing to catch his breath. “You can’t keep doing what?” He managed to ask.
“Needing you and pushing you away. Fighting and denying what I want,” she whispered back against his neck.
“You realize, Henry could walk in here at any moment and find us like this, right?”
“Yeah,” she let out a laugh. “But I don’t think you want to walk away right now, do you?” She rubbed against him, the stiffness in his jeans causing him to let out a groan.
“Fuck,” he said as she moved against him one more time. He buried his head in her hair and proceeded to nibble on her ear, “I’m going to make you pay for that later.”
Mallory made her way back over to the counter where she continued to cut up her vegetables and Chris tried to take his seat. It was going to be a long day!