As Henry ran out the door to head to Noah’s house, Mallory turned off the TV and stood up from the couch. As she began to walk toward the kitchen, Chris finally spoke up, “What’s your excuse now for not talking?”
Mallory stopped and looked over her shoulder, “Excuse me? He just left the house and you want to get into this already?”
“Why do you want to wait? Are you hoping I’ll just forget about it and it all will just miraculously disappear?” Chris was now standing and facing her, his hands resting on his hips and fire burning in his eyes. “I’m not dropping this, Mallory, we’re finishing this discussion.”
“Why do you have to keep pushing? Do you think I’m going to say something I haven’t said already?” Mallory was pleading with him, she kept her hands at her side but all she wanted to do was pull at her hair and scream.
“How about telling me why we’re still arguing about this? Why you’re so fucking unwilling to move? And why you have to be the only one making the decision when and how we tell Henry that I’m his father?” Chris was trying to keep his voice from rising, but he was losing the fight. As he was getting more upset, his voice was getting louder, his face was getting more flushed. “I shouldn’t have to fight you and you know it. Fuck, you’ve already admitted to me that Henry is my son. So tell me, Mallory, what’s this really about? Because I thought we were trying to work this out so we would be a family?” Chris took a few steps toward her, but Mallory was trying to inch backward.
Mallory just stared back at Chris, “I thought so, too. But you keep pushing and you don’t respect any of my decisions. It’s all about you, I don’t think you even care how this is impacting me. Do you even realize how much change this has been for me? How my life has been upended?” Mallory tried to fight back the tears that were welling in her eyes, she didn’t want to cry in front of him, but there was going to be no way to stop them. “I know you want him in your life and you hate me for keeping him from you, but you just don’t get what it’s been like for me, Chris. He’s all I’ve got and you’re going to rip him away from me.”
Chris was stunned at her words. Mallory said things he hadn’t expected, and frankly, he wasn’t sure he comprehended. He took a few steps toward her, reaching out for her but she pulled back. “Babe, I’m not going to rip him away from you. Why in the….what makes you even think that way?”
As the tears streamed down her face, she let out a sarcastic laugh. “Chris, I’ve lied to Henry for years about his father. For me to tell him now that I know who his father is and, oh, by the way, he happens to be the guy that’s been hanging around lately,” She tried to wipe the tears from her eyes and pull herself together. “Chris, he’s going to hate me and he’s the only family I have left. I’m not ready to deal with him leaving me, too. And I don’t fucking want that at Christmas. And you think you’re just going to waltz in here and be this great dad because you want it so fucking bad. And you will be because he already adores you and I can’t compete with that.”
Chris knew that part of what Mallory was saying was accurate. Henry would be angry and it would make it tough for them to maneuver through the emotions. Chris was so set on telling Henry and moving on with their lives that he hadn’t given much thought to the impact on Mallory’s life. To be fair, he had hoped they would be going through this as a family unit and she wouldn’t be dealing with this alone. Why was she so averse to being a family?
Before Chris could respond to what she was saying and get her to understand what it was that he wanted, she started talking again. “But Chris, do you really think you can be a father to him? I mean you have a busy movie and press schedule and there isn’t a ton of free time. How much time do you think you can devote to being a dad to Henry?”
That was a low blow and he wasn’t about to let her get away with that. “What the hell kind of question is that, Mallory? You want to deny me access to my son because you don’t think I’m fit?” Chris wasn’t expecting the argument to go in this direction.
“Henry lives in Atlanta and I told you we won’t move to Boston. So, are you planning on moving here? Right now you split time between Boston and LA, so you planning on adding Atlanta into the mix?” Mallory crossed her arms across her chest and took a defensive stance. “These are the types of logistics you need to consider, Chris. Because he isn’t chasing you all over the world.”
“Again, you’re talking like I’m going to parent him without you. What am I missing, Mallory? After last night, after we both said we love one another, I thought we were moving in the right direction toward being a family. A mother and father, hopefully under one roof because Henry needs his father in his life, a male role model and I’m ready to be that. Why won’t you let me?”
Mallory turned her gaze from Chris, she couldn’t look at him when she said the words, she didn’t want to see the look on his face. The words would cut him like a knife, “I’m not so sure that you’re a good role model for him.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean, Mallory? I’m his father, why wouldn’t I be a good role model for him?”
She still couldn’t look at him. She took a deep breath and calmly spoke the words that would be as painful to say as they would be for Chris to hear. “You have a reputation, Chris. You drink a lot, party, and, of course, there is the issue of sleeping around and not remaining faithful. It’s just not the kind of thing Henry needs to be exposed to, that’s all. I want him to be a better man than that.”
Chris’s blood ran cold. Mallory struck a low blow and she knew it, he saw her wince after the words left her mouth. But she couldn’t take them back. His hands slid from his hips into his pockets and his stare became glassy and cold. “Let’s get a few things straight, shall we? I was always faithful to you and I’ve made it abundantly clear that I had intentions of making things work with you. The operative word there is ‘had.’ I am not a drunk and I don’t party too much, so I’m not sure where you’re getting that shit, Mal. If you’re trying to be coy and refer to red carpet appearances or tv interviews, well then you’ve obviously elected to forget the impact of some of my anti-anxiety meds. And as far as the rumors of me sleeping around, well they’re just that, rumors. You’ve seen them because you’ve trolled those fucking websites.” Chris walked out of the family room and into the kitchen, right past Mallory.
Mallory could have sworn she felt a cold chill as he walked past her. His words had sunk in, he was done with her. The bliss from last night and earlier that morning were gone. She could tell that the damage was too much to repair and the battle was just getting started. He turned back to her in the doorway of the kitchen, his eyes were void of emotion, “I wish I could decipher what was going on in that goddamn head of yours. I don’t know if it’s the stress of losing your parents or the bullshit they put in your head all those years ago, or what. But you are delusional, you need therapy, Mallory. The lashing out and pushing people away, it’s ridiculous. You’re destined to die alone if you don’t stop this shit.”
“I’m not delusional and this has nothing to do with my parents,” Mallory screamed back at Chris.
For a fleeting moment, Chris could feel his heart break for her. Maybe Mallory didn’t realize what she was up against. Chris took several steps in her direction, stopping just in front of her. He was hurling insults at her just as she had been doing to him, but that wasn’t going to resolve anything and it was only going to make this entire situation worse. “Mallory, I think you’ve got issues from your parents that you’re not even aware of. I don’t believe you want to fight me, but you can’t help yourself.”
“You’re going to take my son away from me,” Mallory blurted out, her hands immediately flew to cover her mouth. Tears began to stream down her cheeks. She was choking back her sobs as she backed away from Chris.
Chris’s first instinct was to reach for her and pull her close, but he resisted. He needed to stay out in front of her so she could see him, “Mallory, I’ve never said I would take Henry from you. In fact, I’ve told you repeatedly that I want to raise him with you. I want us to be a family. Now you think I’m changing my mind about that? What makes you think I would actually do that to you?” Chris watched her with the hope that she could formulate an answer, one that would make sense of this whole situation. “You’ve said that several times now and I’ve gotta tell you it hurts to hear it. I’m not taking him away from you and just because I tell him he’s my son doesn’t mean there’s no room in his heart to love us both. You’re an excellent mother, he loves you and he will not turn his back on you.”
“He,” Mallory’s words were not going to come out easy because of her sobs, “Will hate me.” She began to hyperventilate and had to slow her breathing. “He already thinks you’re cool, Chris. When he realizes I lied to the both of you for years, he won’t forgive me and he’ll want you to take him away from me.”
“I won’t disagree that he’ll be hurt and probably angry. But if I can forgive you and move past it, don’t you think he can, too?” Chris stepped forward again, placing his hands on Mallory’s shoulders. “Look, I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but you have to face the truth. The longer you wait to tell him the harder it will be.”
“I can’t, Chris. Not right now, please don’t push me.”
He pulled his hands back as if she were a hot stove. “What about Disney? I offered to send you on vacation and keep you away from the rest of the family so there isn’t a risk of Henry being photographed with everyone else.”
“No, I don’t think it’s a good idea. He’s not stupid, the rest of the family will be falling all over him because they already know and he’d be the only one who isn’t in on the secret.” She watched as Chris’s eyes once again went cold and void. “And now we’re back to the argument of telling him before Christmas. I’m sorry.” This time it was Mallory who left the room. She moved to the stairway and quietly walked up to her room. She closed her door with a soft click, inching her way down against the closed door and willing herself to not cry over what had just played out downstairs.
Chris, on the other hand, stood dumbfounded in the kitchen. He had not anticipated the conversation that he wanted to have, escalating to the bitter fight that just unfolded. The animosity and bitterness were getting out of hand and he needed to walk away and clear his head. He climbed the stairs, stopping outside of her Mallory’s door for a brief moment before going to his room to retrieve his wallet and car keys. Once they were in his hands, he briskly walked past her room and down the steps and right out the front door. He’d come back when he was clear-headed and he knew he could talk to her without exploding and potentially making things worse.
~ * ~
Several hours later, Chris found himself sitting in the corner booth of a small diner. He was drinking a cup of coffee when the bell above the door chimed; it was the first time someone had entered the diner in the last thirty minutes. Darby slid into the bench across from Chris, sliding her jacket off as she got seated. He raised his head so that he could make eye contact with her, “I appreciate you coming to talk to me, Darby. I hope I’m not causing a problem for you?”
“Nah, you’re allowing me a good excuse to get away from John’s family,” Darby laughed lightly in an attempt to break the mood. “I take it things aren’t going well with Mallory?”
Chris shook his head slightly, not having the heart to verbalize his emotions completely. “Look, I know you two are best friends and I don’t want you to break confidentiality or anything. But, I’m genuinely worried about her, I think she’s coming apart at the seams,” Chris was spinning his empty coffee cup and Darby could tell he was nervous. “Mallory thinks if we tell Henry the truth that he’ll turn his back on her completely. She has it in her mind that I’m trying to him away from her.”
Darby reached across the table and placed her hand over Chris’s, “I love Mallory and I know you do, too. I think you’re finally seeing some of the problems she’s been dealing with for years. Unfortunately, it’s manifesting in the custody fight but you need to know it isn’t all about you and Henry,” Darby pulled her hand back, fearing her touch may seem too intimate for him. She could see that his eyes were understanding what she was trying to relay. “Her parents did a number on her and she has rejection issues. She’s scared that she’ll lose Henry and he’s the only family she has left.”
“That is the part I don’t get, Darby. I’ve never told her I want to take him away from her.”
“I know that and so does she, but Henry is very independent and she knows his personality. She knows how angry he will be that she’s kept you away from him all these years. I think she is terrified that since Henry has taken to you that it will be even easier for him to just walk away from her because you are the ‘cool’ parent now.”
“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?” Chris said emphatically as he sat back in the booth.
“Yes, I do, but this is Mallory we’re talking about. This is also the woman who, although she hasn’t come out and said it, I think she’s afraid if she lets you in that you’ll end up rejecting her and leaving her, as well.”
“Me? Why is she afraid I’ll leave her when I’m the one trying to get her back in the first place? She’s the one who left me originally not the other way around!” Chris was trying to keep his voice low, he didn’t want to broadcast to the entire diner what was going on in his personal life.
Darby wasn’t actually Mallory’s therapist so she wasn’t breaching patient confidentiality, but that didn’t mean it didn’t cross her mind that she was overstepping her boundaries. The waitress approached the table and Darby ordered coffee then fiddled with the silverware on the table, afraid to reach for Chris’s hands again. “Chris, for once she’s realistic about your relationship. You two are not the same people you were when you dated thirteen years ago and you can’t just pick up where you left off. But you know that, too, don’t you?”
Chris slowly nodded his head, “I do love her, Darby, and I want to make things work. I just want it to go back to the way it used to be and forget everything that happened in between.”
“See, therein lies the problem, Chris. Mallory can’t forget what’s happened in between, that’s her life, and more importantly, that’s Henry’s life. She’s watched you in other relationships and time after time she’s told me that she knew it would have never worked between the two of you. Mallory doesn’t fit the mold for the type of women you date.” Darby watched Chris’s face for a reaction or some sort of emotion to flash across his face, but there was nothing. She wondered if she should move forward, but ultimately decided she had nothing to lose, so she went for it. “Mallory confided in me how she’d followed your career and your relationships. The fact that your relationships don’t last long, well except for that one, but generally, they don’t last. So, she’d come to the conclusion that you wouldn’t commit to her either. I think she thinks that once the excitement wears off of being with her and being a dad to Henry, you’ll lose interest and leave and she’s the one who has to pick up the pieces and try to move on.”
Chris hung his head and said nothing. He knew he should defend himself, explain to Darby that his relationships never worked because Mallory was always on his mind. Explain it was hard to commit to one woman when you couldn’t stop thinking about another. He suspected that Darby didn’t want to hear all of that because they were only words. She didn’t know him, and she was more likely to believe Mallory since they had been friends for so long. No, it was best just to let that all go.
Chris kept his eyes downcast and his breathing even. He was working up the courage to ask his next question, not sure if he could do it or not, but he needed the answer. In a shaky voice, he finally asked, “Was she ever going to tell me about Henry? Ever tell me I had a son?”
Darby exhaled and plopped against the cushion of the booth, “No, I don’t think she was. But I don’t think it was because she was trying to hurt you, I think she was trying to protect you.”
After a minute, Darby sat forward and accepted the coffee that the waitress sat in front of her. Darby began to doctor her coffee with cream before looking up and meeting Chris’s gaze. His eyes were full of sorrow and she knew that her words had pierced his heart. She thought she should explain and try to ease his pain a bit, “To be fair, Chris, I don’t think Mallory ever expected to see you again. She knew if she just called out of the blue to tell you about Henry that you would think she had some ulterior motive. She didn’t want you to question her like that. She just didn’t think you would find out, but when your mom saw Henry at the funeral it sort of put the wheels in motion, for good or bad.”
Chris said nothing, letting Darby’s words sink in. He wasn’t actually surprised by her response, it made complete sense to him. It just didn’t make it any easier to accept. He could feel the resentment beginning to swell with the realization that he still needed to come to terms with the fact that Josh had known about Henry while he was in the dark.
“I have my own anger over this situation, Darby. The fact that she never told me stings and the fact that my best friend was in on it all along, well that stings a little more. But I’m electing to put it behind me and move forward, why can’t she?”
Darby let a faint smile cross her lips, “It’s not that easy, Chris. This entire situation has less to do with you than it has to do with what her parents did to her. You were right when you said that. Maybe it’s harder for you to comprehend since you come from a loving family. If it’s any consolation, you did the right thing by putting on the brakes when Mallory came back to Atlanta.”
Chris looked up at Darby, she was sipping from her coffee cup and eyeing him carefully. “You agree with my decision? Okay, that surprises me a little, I’ll be honest. I thought you were all rah rah team Mallory?” His voice was somewhat sardonic as he uttered those words.
Darby lowered her coffee cup to the table and placed her hand over it as the waitress appeared with the pot. Chris shook his head, indicating he wasn’t interested in a refill either. As the waitress turned and walked away, Darby finally spoke up, “I am firmly planted on the side of team Mallory, as you say, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything she wants and when she wants it. You were right to slow it down, you two really don’t know one another and it would be ridiculous to jump into a relationship.”
Once again Chris hung his head, but this time he could feel his face begin to flush. He only hoped that Darby couldn’t see the color seeping up his neck. Unfortunately, she did notice, leaning across the table and staring at his neck. “So, you just couldn’t help yourself could you?” she asked with a wink of an eye.
“Ah, hell, Darby,” Chris sat back against the booth and turned to look in the other direction, unable to make eye contact with her. “To be fair, we didn’t jump into a relationship. I thought we were getting closer, but she started pushing me away again.”
“Give her time to get used to having you around, Chris. She has dreamed about having you in her life again for years. She wants this more than you know, but she’s scared. I have a feeling you haven’t told her that this entire scenario scares the hell out of you as well.”
~ * ~
Mallory spent the majority of the day upstairs, just waiting for Henry to call. She heard Chris leave the house shortly after she had retreated to her room. Actually, she couldn’t help but hear him leave, he had stormed up and down the stairs, slammed the front door, and peeled out of the driveway. He had made enough noise that his family in Boston most likely heard him leaving the house. What she didn’t know was whether he was coming back. She was in her room with the door shut so she couldn’t see if he had an overnight bag or if he had taken all of his things with him. The easiest way to answer her question would be to wander down the hall and open the door to his room; however, she wasn’t sure she was ready for whatever answer might lie beyond that door.
What she did know, was that she didn’t want to be caught off guard when he came home. So, she decided to hide and stay upstairs all day so she could easily duck into her room or Henry’s room to get out of his path if he came home. It would be easy to keep herself busy, she had plenty of cleaning to do. She would start with Henry’s room and his bathroom and then work her way towards her own bedroom. Several times she was tempted to open the door to Chris’s room, but each time she stopped herself. Just as she was ready to get started on her room, where the memories of the last two nights would come flooding back, Henry called to say he was ready to come home.
Mallory went into the bonus room to look out onto the driveway, she wanted to see if Chris’s car was in the driveway. While she had not heard him come in, there was always the possibility he had entered the house and she didn’t hear it. Her heart fell when she realized it was still gone and there was no sign of movement on the street. She made her way down the stairs and out the door, walking down the block to Noah’s house to retrieve Henry. On their way home, she told Henry that Chris had left the house earlier in the day and he was most likely not back yet and she didn’t know what time he’d be home. Mallory was surprised that Henry took the news so well. In fact, he said that he was so tired he just wanted to go home and take a shower then go to bed.
As they approached the house, it was clear Chris hadn’t yet returned. Mallory knew she had to leave the house unlocked so Chris could get back in since he didn’t have a key. But she didn’t know if he was actually coming back; she could have texted him to ask but she didn’t want to force the issue since he obviously didn’t want to talk to her. She wasn’t comfortable leaving the house unlocked, but it was better than making him angry and locking him out. She left the porch light on and turned on the small lamp in the hallway. Providing some illumination in the house so he wouldn’t walk into a pitch black home. Plus, the lights would ward off any burglars because they would think someone was awake and moving around in the house. Mallory even turned on a small lamp in the kitchen before moving toward the staircase and heading up to her room.
As she got to the top of the steps and stood in the doorway of her room, Mallory was unsure if she could bring herself to actually move past the threshold. Steeling her nerves with a deep breath, she stepped inside and shut the door, bracing herself against it. Her head sounding out a thud as it came to rest against the door, her eyes closed as she willed herself to move on. When she opened her eyes, she surveyed the room and noticed the covers were still askew from that morning. She began to think back on what she and Chris had done in that bed and the memories that lingered in the room. Mallory gave a fleeting thought to changing the sheets but decided she wasn’t ready to let go of him just yet. Despite their vigorous argument, the scent of Chris on the sheets and pillow were too strong for her to just discard as if they didn’t exist.
Mallory made her way to the bathroom where she quickly changed for bed. As she crawled onto the bed, she pulled the pillow that Chris had been using to her chest. She inhaled deeply and cradled the pillow against her while she drifted off to sleep. Unfortunately, it was a less than restful night, she maybe had one hour of continuous sleep. Mallory finally rolled over and looked at the bedside clock, it was 5:30 am; there was no way she was going to be able to go back to sleep. She kicked the covers off of her and got out of bed, this time stripping it of the sheets so she would be forced to put fresh sheets on before bed this evening.
She walked into the bathroom, tossing the sheets into the clothes hamper and then taking a look at herself in the mirror. The reflection drove home the fact that she didn’t get much sleep; the puffy eyes and the prominent dark circles. If there was one thing she knew, it was that she did not have the energy or the inclination to get dolled up for the day. Mallory pulled her hair into a messy ponytail, washed her face and then pulled on a pair of leggings and a long-sleeved t-shirt.
Mallory slowly descended the stairs and her mind replayed everything from yesterday like an old movie. The clips of her happy memories with Chris and then the flickering of the images of the fight and knowing there were things she said that she wished she could take back. She didn’t quite know how to talk to Chris about her fears and instead, they manifested into the harsh words between the two of them. She only hoped that getting it all out now meant they could find a way through it and come out whole on the other side. Working on it now would be better than having it come out later and hurting more.
She paused at the end of the steps, waiting for the internal movie to stop before she walked into the living room. She needed to know if he was back. The only way to do that was to look out the window to see if his car was in the drive. Mallory stood at the window, her hand on the window sheers, willing herself to open them. When she finally did, she was relieved to see his car in the driveway – he was home. Sometime during the night, he had returned and entered the house without waking her. She was so thankful he was back, she had no idea how she would explain to Henry that Chris had not returned if the car was still missing this morning.
Mallory dropped the window sheers and turned from the window, practically jumping out of her skin when she noticed Chris standing in the archway of the living room with his bag and backpack at his feet. Her hand immediately flew to her chest and she gasped, “Crap, you scared me. I didn’t hear you come down the stairs.”
Chris just looked at her, his expression was cold, “That’s because I didn’t. When I came in last night, I just decided to sleep on the couch in the family room so I wouldn’t make noise coming up the steps. I got up when I heard you come downstairs. I figured since I was awake, I might as well get up.”
“Oh,” Mallory responded as she moved to sit in one of the wingback chairs in front of the window. Her eyes never moving away from Chris, “I see you’ve got your bags, I guess that means you’ve decided to leave a few days early?”
Chris broke his gaze with Mallory, electing to look down at the floor as he slipped his hands into his pockets. He expelled the breath he didn’t realize he was holding, “I’m going to take them out to the car, but I won’t leave until I have a chance to say goodbye to Henry. I’m pretty sure I’ve worn out my welcome, so it’s time I go back to Boston.”
Chris looked back up at Mallory and she replied with a blank stare, “Well, Henry will be sorry to see you leave. I think he was starting to enjoy having you around.”
“And what about you, Mallory? Will you be sorry to see me leave?” Chris knew he shouldn’t be asking the question, but he couldn’t help himself.
There was no way Mallory could answer him. She wanted to, but it would lead down a path could only bring more trouble and heartache. It was best to deflect and move on, “So, where did you go yesterday?”
Chris shook his head, realizing she deflected his question. Not that he was surprised, in fact, he would have been disappointed if she had actually answered him. It was just the realization that he knew her well enough to know what to expect. What he wouldn’t give to just pull her out of her chair and kiss her. Make her come to terms with everything and tell her he wasn’t leaving until Henry knew the truth. But he wasn’t brazen enough to go through with it. Instead, he walked over and took a seat in the chair opposite where Mallory was seated. “I drove around, did some thinking,” he leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, “I’m not sure that I can up with any answers. I know I have more questions than I did when I left the house, though. The primary question is how do we move forward from here?”
Mallory didn’t have an answer for him. Instead, she stood and, without a word, walked towards the kitchen. Chris watched as she moved past him and through the archway into the dining area. He stood and followed her, leaning against the wall and watched as she opened cabinets and looked to be gathering items to make herself a cup of tea.
Tea and the act of brewing the perfect cup would calm Mallory’s nerves. As she leaned against the counter, she was unaware that Chris was watching her from a distance. She took deep, measured breaths and tried to think of the story that would have to be concocted to make Henry understand why Chris was leaving early. She was deep in thought when she was startled by the sound of Chris clearing his throat behind her.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, just needed to let you know I had come into the room,” Chris offered quietly. He walked behind her and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest and watching Mallory as she moved to make her tea. Her motions were smooth and graceful and he couldn’t take his eyes off her; he had to will himself to keep his hands off of her. Even though the two of them were at war with their words, his body had a visceral reaction to her. He took several deep breaths to try and combat his body’s reaction before speaking, “I think our argument yesterday was eye-opening in several ways, Mallory. I ended up saying a few things that I shouldn’t have said and I’m hoping we can talk about it before I leave. I just don’t want to get into another argument. I don’t want to leave Atlanta with a wedge between us.”
Mallory said nothing to Chris in response. In fact, she didn’t even acknowledge that he was speaking. She knew it made her look childish, but it was her defense mechanism; she needed to keep from breaking down. Once she had her tea prepared, she looked up at Chris and spoke, “We can talk and I’ll do my best not to argue and fight, but I make no promises,” she gave him a faint smile in an attempt to break the mounting tension.
He returned her smile, “Fair enough, that’s all I can ask.” Chris stepped away from the counter, following Mallory to the kitchen table. He took a seat and immediately regretted not making himself a cup of coffee to help get him through this conversation. He didn’t want to get up, though. He had committed to sitting down and he would get through this, one way or another.
He cleared his throat, leaned forward on the table and just let it out. “During our argument yesterday, when things got heated, I ended up lashing out and saying things that were hurtful. I spent plenty of time reflecting on that yesterday, believe me. I shouldn’t have said what I did. I’m sorry, Mallory, I truly am.”
Mallory’s face registered her surprise; she hadn’t expected the apology. Oh, she knew that Chris wasn’t the type of man who would blatantly hurl insults and hurtful things on a regular basis. He was a passionate and emotional man, the words just came out. But he wasn’t known for coming back and apologizing either, at least the old Chris that she’d known wasn’t. “I don’t know what to say to that, Chris, but thanks, I guess.”
“It’s fair to say this entire situation has me frustrated. And right now, we’re getting good at pushing each other’s buttons, which means things escalate rather quickly.”
“Yeah, you could say that. So, do you want to be specific about what you’re sorry for?” Mallory knew it was risky to push back but she figured if he was going to open the door, she was going to walk through it. “I mean, is this a blanket apology for everything you said or only certain pieces of it?”
“I’m not going to apologize for telling you I want Henry to know the truth, Mallory. But I had no right to say you need therapy and I was most definitely out of line to say you were delusional. I’m not qualified to make those statements and I was lashing out to hurt you.” Chris watched her face for some sort of expression or flash of emotion, but there wasn’t any. He was worried as to how she was taking in what he was saying.
Mallory gazed out the window and then turned her attention back to Chris, “You know Darby and John think I need therapy.” Chris was stunned that she admitted this to him. He wasn’t about to tell her that Darby told him this tidbit of information last night. No, it was best that she not know about his meeting with her best friend. As a matter of fact, he had asked Darby to keep their conversation quiet; he didn’t want Mallory to know they had spoken. “You know, they may be right. I just never wanted to admit it because it’d mean I’d have to admit I’m broken.”
“Mallory, not broken, just a little cracked. And honestly, everyone’s got cracks, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But I’m not going to say you should or shouldn’t go to therapy, sweetheart. That needs to be your decision. I know that John and Darby love you and they want what’s best for you, though,” Chris reached his hand out across the table and covered hers. “I want what’s best for you, too. In case you need confirmation of that.” He gave her a wry smile and she easily returned it.
“Why are you suddenly being nice to me?”
“All I’m trying to do is make it clear that I pushed things a little too far yesterday,” he offered back, it was as if he was trying to bait her into saying something as well. And it seemed as if she finally caught on.
“Oh, wait a minute! You are trying to apologize to me in the hopes I’ll do the same, aren’t you?” Mallory’s question was rhetorical, she didn’t expect Chris actually to answer her. “Fine, I’m sorry it escalated so quickly and that we couldn’t talk about it like adults. I’m sorry that I let my fears, whether they are rational or not, hold you back from what you want. I’m aware I’m hurting you, but don’t think for one moment that I’m taking pleasure in it.”
Chris wanted to snark back at her because he couldn’t help but feel she took some sort of perverse pleasure in it. But he was going to refrain from it, just in case she was telling the truth. Just in case Darby was telling the truth when she said it was eating Mallory up. “That’s why I think I need to go home because my coming here was a bad idea.”
“So you regret it?” Mallory’s eyes were downcast while she waited for him to answer. If Chris regretted the trip, it meant he regretted sleeping with her as well, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to hear him say that.
“I don’t regret all of it, Mallory. I don’t regret, and I won’t apologize, for our nights together. I just think I pushed too hard to come down here to see the two of you. I think I want to be Henry’s father so much that I’m not thinking of what other dominoes may fall because I’m just going after what I want the most.”
“That’s probably the most honest you’ve been in this whole situation,” Mallory responded and turned her attention towards the backyard, diverting her eyes from Chris. He didn’t say he regretted sleeping with her, she didn’t know how that was supposed to make her feel. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything else and she knew that Chris was probably waiting for some sort of declaration.
“Mal, do you have regrets about me being here?” Chris’s voice was barely above a whisper and Mallory could tell he was almost scared to ask.
Mallory didn’t answer right away, she just continued to stare into the backyard. Chris was starting to grow impatient, thinking she was going to ignore him. He pushed his chair away from the table, and as he started to stand, Mallory began to speak. “I regret that I didn’t tell you I was pregnant. I regret that I let time lapse between the two of us speaking and having it create such a deep divide,” she turned to face Chris, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “But I don’t regret that you were here this week. I’m sorry that we’re fighting and that you hate me, but I don’t regret our intimacy at all.”
Chris pushed his chair under the table and walked out of the kitchen, Mallory heard him walk up the steps and she guessed he was going to Henry’s room. Thirty minutes later, Chris came back downstairs and Mallory heard the front door open and close. She heard the engine turn over and the car back out of the driveway. Just like that, Chris was gone.