The silence in the house was broken by the sounds of Henry’s footsteps as he descended the staircase. A moment later, he was entering the kitchen to find his mom sitting alone at the kitchen table. Unbeknownst to him, she had not moved since her conversation with Chris had ended. Henry said nothing, just pulled out a chair and sat down across from his mother. He noticed she was staring out into the backyard and looked sad as if she was ready to cry.
Henry sat up straight in his chair, cleared his throat and asked, “Mom, Chris is gone, did you know that? He told me goodbye, did he say anything to you?”
Mallory turned from the window, she could not get over just how much Henry looked like his father. She had never noticed the resemblance before. After spending so much time together the last few days, it was undeniable now. Henry’s eyes were the same shade of cornflower blue as Chris’s. And when Henry turned to the side, his profile was just as strong as his dad’s. There was no doubt that when he grew up, Henry would be a heartbreaker. Mallory’s voice cracked as she began to speak, “Um, he told me this morning that he was leaving early. Said he was waiting around to talk to you first before he left, though.”
“He apologized, said something came up and his plans had changed. He said he needed to leave and go back to Boston,” Henry’s words became choked as he fought back his emotions. “Mom, what’s going on? Did something happen between you two?”
There was no way Mallory could lie about everything. She decided to skim the surface of the truth without revealing everything, “Yeah, something happened, but it’ll be okay, baby. Chris and I had a little disagreement yesterday while you were at Noah’s. I think he decided to go home early because of it.”
“Did he say anything to you after he talked to me and before he left? Like when we’ll see him again? I mean, are you gonna talk to him again?” Mallory could sense the panic that was beginning to rise in her son’s voice. She didn’t have an answer for him and wasn’t sure what she would be able to tell him that could defuse the situation. “Mom, is he gone for good?”
“Oh, Henry, no baby, he’s not gone for good. He’s just mad at me right now, that’s all. I’m mad at him, too. We need some time away from one another, that’s all, I promise.” Mallory stood and moved to the side of the table where Henry was seated. As she sat down, she reached for her his hand, “Look at me, Henry. He’s mad at me, but he isn’t mad at you, okay? You haven’t done anything wrong and Chris is not abandoning you.” She smoothed her son’s hair and she heard Henry choke back a sob.
“Call him and tell him you’re sorry,” Henry pleaded with his mom, “Have him come back.”
“No, I can’t do that. Chris needs to go home and we need to take a break. He’s coming back to Atlanta real soon and you can call him in a few days and talk to him. I promise he isn’t going to turn his back on you.”
Henry slammed his hand on the table and stood up. He didn’t say another word, but he didn’t have to, Mallory knew that he was angry and didn’t fully understand what was going on. She was beginning to believe that Chris was pushing her hand. It was his hope that Henry would get so upset that, to calm him down, she would break down and tell him the truth. She had to believe it was part of his plan, but she wasn’t going to fall for it.
~ Monday Morning ~
“Mom!” Henry began yelling as he descended the stairs, “Mom! Where are my shoes?” When he received no response, the panic began to rise in his voice, and the calls became more fervent, “Mom! I need my shoes, now! And where is my backpack?” As he began to huff in frustration the formation of curse words came to his lips, he rounded the corner from the stairway and saw his mother standing at the end of the hallway. Her arms crossed, the look on her face clearly indicating she was not in the mood for games or temper tantrums.
“Are you going to tell me where my shoes and backpack are?” Henry huffed out one last time, the anger and defiance still evident in his voice despite the battle stance his mother had taken.
“Please tell me, Christopher Henry, that you are not speaking in a disrespectful tone to me? And that you were not about to curse at me as you came down those stairs?” Mallory’s voice was firm and Henry was frozen in place. He wanted to protest, but she held up her hand to stop him before he could say anything further, “I would seriously consider your words before you speak young man. Lying to me would not be in your best interest.”
He dropped his head in defeat, “Well, you wouldn’t answer me, so I was getting mad. I can’t find my shoes or my backpack. Do you know where they are?”
“Well, I can’t remember the last time I used them. So, no I have no idea where they might be.” She turned from Henry and snapped the lid on her coffee tumbler while her son just glared at her.
“Mom! I’m not kidding, where’s my stuff?” His tone was firm and defiant, two things that were not normal for Henry.
Mallory turned around, placing her hands on her hips, she was over his attitude and the tantrum he was throwing. Henry’s entire disposition had changed when Chris left on Saturday. He had barricaded himself in his room for the rest of the day and had been unbearable on Sunday. Monday wasn’t starting out much better. “You know, Henry, you’re the one who takes your shoes off every night when you come in the house. How in the hell can you lose them? You need to be more responsible with your shit!” Her voice had risen, but she wasn’t full out yelling, but there was no doubt that Henry could sense that his mother was frustrated.
Henry’s eyes went wide, it was out of the ordinary for his mother to snap at him or even curse at him. He knew he was pushing her buttons and it gave him pause before he said anything further. He bowed his head and walked past her into the mudroom, figuring he would check there one more time before he rechecked his room again. Sure enough, he found his backpack on the mudroom bench and his shoes tucked underneath. He grabbed them and walked back into the kitchen, holding them up, “Found them,” he said as he took his seat at the breakfast bar.
As he put his shoes on, Mallory placed his breakfast of pancakes and sausage in front of him along with a warm bottle of syrup. She then poured him a glass of orange juice and left him to eat while she started to clean up the mess from cooking. Henry devoured his breakfast, then Mallory got him into the car for the short drive to school; the commute was quiet. It was evident that they were mad at one another and neither one of them was willing to say a word and risk another outburst. But Mallory knew that Henry was sensitive and this entire situation would most likely eat at him all day long. He got the attitude and the willingness to fight from his father, but the guilt and the fact that it would eat at him all day, well that was all her.
As the car came to a stop in front of the school, Henry reached for the door handle and pushed the car door open. He stepped out, but before closing the door, he looked back, “Mom, can we talk about this tonight and clear the air? I don’t want us to be mad at one another because you know I love you, right?”
Mallory’s heart clenched and a smile crossed her lips. Her Henry was such as a sweet and caring young man, “Yeah baby, we can talk about it tonight, I promise. I love you, too.”
Henry shut the door and turned to meet up with his friends to start his day.
~ * ~
During the day, Mallory cleaned the house and tried to put it back in ‘pre-Chris’ condition. She still had a few days off from work and couldn’t sit still in the house or she would fixate on Chris and their fight. She needed to keep her mind busy and cleaning the house while blaring music through the sound system was her way to do that. Time flew by and the next thing she knew it was time to go and get Henry from school.
As Mallory pulled up in the carpool line in front of the school, she heard the final bell ring. Henry would exit the double doors and begin searching for her within seconds. She tried to put on a happy face and put the last 48-hours behind her. She knew Henry wanted to clear the air, so she wanted to have a good attitude when he got in the car. As Henry approached the car, Mallory noticed he looked pensive, she knew that it meant he had been dwelling on the issue all day.
Henry Turner was a sensitive young man, he let things eat away at him until he was able to talk rationally about it. Or, in some cases, throw a fit. Much to Mallory’s dismay, he typically threw a fit. Honestly, they were more or less temper tantrums and Mallory was desperate for Henry to grow out of them. She was grateful that he was never violent and that he always had these meltdowns at home and not in public. She usually tried to chip away at the issues to avoid the meltdowns, but it never worked so the eruptions could be epic. She was holding out hope that their conversation tonight would not be epic.
To try and stave off an episode, Mallory was treading lightly as Henry got into the car, “Hey, how was your day?” Henry didn’t look up as he got into the car and pulled the door shut, tossing his backpack on the seat next to him and pulling out a book. Mallory noticed he hadn’t buckled in and she provided a gentle reminder, “Can you please buckle up, Henry? I can’t drive off until you do.” She kept her tone even as she watched his movements in the rearview mirror.
Henry said nothing in response, just reached for the seat belt and fastened it. “There, I’m strapped in,” he replied coldly, “And my day was fine.” His eyes immediately diverted to the book in his lap as he began to read.
Mallory wasn’t fond of the attitude he was displaying, but she elected not to push it. Instead, she checked traffic and started to pull away from the curb, “I’ve been cleaning all day so I’m not in the mood to cook, how about we go out to eat? You pick, I’ll pay?” She said with a light laugh, a joke at the fact that Henry wouldn’t be paying for dinner anyway. She knew the conversation with Henry would be heavy later that evening, so she was trying to maintain a lighter air now, it didn’t seem to be working.
“I’m not hungry,” he shot back at her, not even making a comment about her cheesy joke. “Why don’t we just get pizza and go home? I don’t wanna go to a restaurant.”
Mallory turned out of the neighborhood where the school was located and steered in the direction of the house. She figured if he wanted pizza, their favorite place delivered, so there was no sense in going to the restaurant. Henry never looked up or acknowledged that they were heading home.
Mallory pulled the car into the driveway, turning off the engine and grabbing for her purse that was in the passenger seat. It was only then that Henry looked up and realized where they were, “I thought we were going to go eat?” He was confused and sounded a bit disappointed to realize they were at home and not in the parking lot of their favorite pizza place.
Mallory swung the car door open, “You made it clear you didn’t want to eat in a restaurant,” her voice was cold as she responded and exited the car. She wasn’t exactly sure why he was acting the way he was, but she wasn’t going to play games with him. She’d had enough stress dealing with Chris, she honestly didn’t need this on top of it. Mallory slammed the car door and headed for the house, Henry just sat in the back seat and watched his mother walk away.
Henry finally unbuckled himself and got out of the car and went straight to the mud room to take off his shoes. His thoughts immediately went back to the argument from that morning and he figured now would be a good time to have that talk with his mom. He found her sitting in the living room, curled up on the end of the couch and reading a book. Henry wiped his hands on his jeans, he was suddenly nervous and took a deep breath before approaching her.
Henry cleared his throat, but Mallory didn’t even acknowledge that he was standing there. “Um, Mom, can I talk to you a minute? Before we eat dinner or anything?” His voice was shaky and he tried to pull himself together.
Mallory sighed heavily, gently placing her bookmark down the center of the book, she closed it and sat it to the side. She then looked up at Henry who was standing right in front of her and looked as if he was going to cry. “What do you want to talk about?” She was matter-of-fact and tried to be void of emotion. She had no idea where he wanted the conversation to go and didn’t want to waste her emotions until she knew exactly what she was up against.
“Mom, why did Chris really leave? I mean, you two seemed really happy and then suddenly you two aren’t speaking to one another anymore. Are you not going to marry him now?”
Chalk that up to the unexpected, because there was no way Mallory would have ever anticipated Henry asking that question. She was so taken off guard that she just stared at him, slack-jawed and unsure of what to say next. “It’s complicated, Henry. There are adult things that you are just too young to understand.”
“I’m not too young, I’m old enough to see things and understand,” Henry was right, and Mallory was surprised by his composure in this situation. He pulled one of the wingback chairs over so he could sit directly in front of his mom. “You told me yourself that he didn’t say goodbye to you on Saturday. You were sad, I noticed that I’m not blind, Mom.” Henry sat back in the chair, he was drained and appeared as if he didn’t want to fight. Suddenly he sat forward again and looked right at her, “Chris is a good guy and you two really like each other. I thought I was finally close to having a dad and you went and ruined it. Now, I won’t ever have a dad.”
Mallory felt as if she had been slapped across the face. Henry saying that he liked the idea of Chris potentially becoming his dad was news to her. And the fact that he was now mad at her because he thought she had pushed Chris away, well that hurt. “Henry, there are things that you don’t understand, I don’t know that I can explain to you just yet. But Chris was the one who wanted to take things slow when we got back to Atlanta, it wasn’t my idea,” Mallory suddenly wondered why she was explaining things to her son when even she didn’t fully understand.
“Does he not love you anymore?” Henry’s voice was full of emotion, although he was speaking barely above a whisper. He really wanted to know the answer to the question but wasn’t sure he should even be asking it.
“He does and I still love him. Come here,” Mallory motioned for Henry to come over to the couch to sit with her. When he moved from the chair, she pulled him close and snuggled with him. While he was a growing boy, she wanted to convey to him her feelings and felt this was the best way to do that. “Relationships for adults are hard and complicated, my relationship with Chris is no different. We’ve been apart for many years, so while we have feelings for one another, we realized we don’t really know one another.”
“But you do know one another, at least it seems like you do.”
“Henry, I wish I could explain it to have it make sense. But we’ve had some disagreements over a few things that are important,” Mallory smoothed Henry’s hair down and kissed his temple. “I promise, we didn’t mean for our disagreements to hurt you. We both want what’s best for you. I love you, Henry, I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you intentionally. I just want to protect you and do what’s best for you.”
“So, he still likes me?”
Mallory let out a little laugh, “Yeah, he has a connection with you, he’s not going to turn his back on you. Don’t worry, Henry, Chris will be calling you and talking to you very soon.”
~ * ~
Chris had kept himself sequestered since his return to Boston. He knew if had told his family that he came home early he would be met with a round of ‘I told you it wouldn’t work’ and the round of questions of when they get to meet Henry. He wasn’t ready to deal with either scenario, and he certainly didn’t feel like explaining any of it. During his drive through the Atlanta suburbs on Friday night, he had received an email from Rebecca warning him not to tell Henry anything without Mallory’s consent. His attorney said she couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t backfire and hurt his custody case. So, it was better to err on the side of caution. She knew it wasn’t the answer he wanted, but she wanted him to win his case and that is why he had her involved.
Rebecca was right, he hated her answer, but he had to agree with her. It only cemented his decision to leave Atlanta early. Because the longer he stayed, the greater the temptation to tell Henry the truth. The problem was, his leaving gave Mallory the impression that she won this battle. And if there was one thing Chris hated, it was losing. He just kept reminding himself that there was a war to win and this was only a battle.
He had arrived home mid-day Saturday and made one stop on his way to the house – the liquor store. He bought a bottle of whiskey and two packs of cigarettes. Since finding out about Henry he had been trying to stop smoking. He had done a decent job of curtailing the habit, he just hadn’t been able to kick the habit yet. However, with his emotions as raw as they were right now, he was craving a cigarette so bad he couldn’t stand it. He was going to allow himself the weekend to feel sorry for himself and then he would pull himself up for the start of the new week and move forward.
On Monday morning, Chris woke up and took a shower to wash off the stench of the last two days. He needed to run the DNA samples out to the lab so they could start running the tests. Rebecca had called them on Friday to let them know to anticipate his visit. When Chris packed his things on Friday afternoon, he had taken Henry’s toothbrush and replaced it with a new one that he found under the sink. He had also taken some hair out of the brush on the sink and his water bottle from when they watched the football game. He was prepared. The lab would take Chris’s DNA sample when he got there and that would be it, the tests would be run and they would have the results in a week.
Until the results were back, it would be a waiting game. Chris had no doubt what the results would be, but no action could be taken until the results were in and official. His attorney couldn’t plan her strategy until she had the results; all of the filings and petitions hinged on having those results documented. Chris knew the first action would be the update to the birth certificate; he needed to get his name on it before he could move forward with anything else. Then, like a game of Tetris, the pieces would fall into place and fit one by one. He knew that his agent and publicist had to be in the loop on this as well because even though there should be attorney/client privilege, it didn’t mean someone else wouldn’t leak the documents. This would be juicy information for someone to turn over to TMZ or some other gossip site. He had Jim and Meghan on speed dial and Rebecca promised to fax them any and all documentation so they would be aware of the filings. Chris felt as if he was as prepared as he could be.
The thing was, he didn’t want to take Mallory to court. He didn’t want this to get ugly; he wanted to do this in a non-combative and civilized manner. But she was the one who was putting up a fight and preparing for war. So, war is what she was going to get.
~ * ~
It had been several days since Henry’s meltdown and subsequent apology. Things were a little better between them, but Mallory still felt a strain; she just didn’t know if it was real or her imagination. To get out of the house, they had accepted an invitation to have dinner with Darby and John. It was a school night and Mallory figured they wouldn’t be out too late, but it would be a chance to interact with someone other than Henry. When dinner was over, John took Henry into the other room to watch TV; he figured it would allow Mallory and Darby an opportunity to talk.
Before they started to clean the table off and load the dishwasher, Darby put the tea kettle on the stove to boil. The ladies worked in silence, knowing that once the tea was ready, the conversation would flow. As if on cue, the kettle started to whistle as the dishwasher door was closed and the machine was turned on.
“Go ahead and sit down, Mallory. I’ll bring the tea over,” Darby offered. She sat the mugs on a tray along with sugar, milk, and lemon slices then walked over to the table. As she pushed the mug of tea over in front of Mallory, she prodded her to start talking about what happened, “Do you want to tell me how things ended with Chris? I get this feeling you need to talk about it.”
Mallory dropped a sugar cube into her tea and squeezed a bit of lemon. As she stirred the tea she let out a sigh, the words just came out. “Friday, after Henry left to go to Noah’s house, Chris and I had a very heated argument. So heated, I walked out and went to my room and he stormed out of the house.” Mallory hung her head, embarrassed at the admission.
Darby sat back in her chair, she had to act surprised because Mallory could not know that she had already heard about this from Chris. She had made him a promise to keep their conversation confidential and she was not going to break it. “Shit, are you serious? What exactly happened? Did he come back? Did he ever tell you where he went?”
“We argued about what we always argue about and he said some really hurtful things to me. I heard him leave, but I never heard him come back home. I had a hard time sleeping, I know you’re going to tell me it was guilt eating at me. But I went downstairs and there he was, he said in came in and slept on the couch in the family room,” Mallory took a sip of her tea, the hot liquid burned her tongue. She should have let it sit a little longer to cool down. “He only told me that he drove around and just thought about our argument and what was said. Said to me that he lashed out and realized he was wrong to say some of the things he did and he wanted to apologize for saying them.”
Darby raised her eyebrows, this was news to her because Chris never mentioned he was considering apologizing. He admitted to her that he had lashed out, he even told her some of the things he said, but he never told her he was considering an apology. “Wow, that’s a big deal, Mallory. Did you accept it?”
“I mean, sort of, yeah, I did. I did, yeah, and then I realized he wanted me to say it back to him,” Mallory sat back in her chair again, staring at Darby, as if waiting for her best friend to read her mind. “I did, apologize, I mean. I told him I was sorry for hurting him because I wasn’t trying to, but I just didn’t want my life to fall apart at Christmas. I just needed to make it through the holiday.”
“Mallory, I’m sorry. How did Henry take his leaving?”
“Oh, that’s another issue. Henry is furious that Chris left and he blames me for that. He was unbearable on Saturday and Sunday and had a complete meltdown on Monday. We talked about it, but I think he’s still holding a grudge,” Mallory took a sip of her tea and tried to think of the best way to frame the conversation. While Darby knew almost everything about her possible reconciliation with Chris, she didn’t know all of the details. There were some things she kept to herself. Mallory knew all too well that if she gave Darby all of the details tonight that she would be looking at a therapy session for certain. It was a risk she was willing to take, she needed to get this off her chest and talk about it.
“Henry is upset because Chris had asked for his permission to marry me when we were still in Boston,” Malloy watched as Darby’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. She looked like an animated character whose eyes were about to pop out of their head. “So, Henry got it in his head that we would be a family and he would have a dad. While Chris was here, they got close, and now that he’s left, well, Henry feels like his shot at having a dad is gone. He blames me for ruining it and wants me to call Chris and fix it.”
Darby just shook her head and stared at Mallory. Finally, after a few minutes, she got up from the table without saying anything and returned a few minutes later with a bottle of tequila and a shot glass. “I’m gonna need one of these to move forward. Want one?” She asked, holding the shot glass up to Mallory. Mallory slowly nodded and realized that drinking might be just what she needed right now.
Darby took two shots, no lime or salt, and pushed the glass and bottle over in front of Mallory. “Ok, let me get this straight. Chris told you he wanted to marry you when you reconciled in Boston? And then you ended up pushing him away, he has been fighting to get you back and comes down here for Thanksgiving? Am I getting this right so far?” Mallory took her two shots, she needed the salt and couldn’t get through the drink without it like Darby could. Once she shook off the strong shot, she winced and then nodded to acknowledge what Darby had said. “And then you play house with him here and then fight and send him off back to Boston?”
Once again, Mallory nodded in agreement with everything that Darby had just said. “Yeah, you got it. But remember, I pushed him away when I came back from Boston because I thought he slept with a girl, but he didn’t. And now I’m pushing him away because he wants his son and a forever,” Mallory poured another shot and drank it before Darby could stop her.
Darby reached for the bottle and pulled it towards her, “Slow your roll there girl. I think you’re scared of the commitment. You’re terrified that he might really be the one and you might end up being happy.”
Mallory started to shake her head, although not to vigorously because she was afraid she would pass out or vomit. Neither option was terribly enticing at the moment. “No, I’m scared he’ll realize he’s making a mistake coming after me. I’m not like the women he’s dated before.”
“Yeah and he’s not married any of them, has he?” Darby asked, her eyebrows raised. “Fine, he hasn’t married you yet either, but hell, he asked Henry’s permission and that’s huge.”
“I don’t want to disappoint him. I have so much baggage, he doesn’t need all of that.” Mallory reached for the tequila bottle, but Darby kept it just out of arm’s length. “Darby, I’m pretty sure I’ve fucked it all up.”
“No, I think you just need to let him cool down a little and then you need to make an honest move to tell Henry the truth,” Darby watched as the realization dawned on Mallory’s face. “You know that if you tell Henry and you set things right with Chris, you will get him back. He wants you and he needs to hear you say you want him.”
“I do want him,” Mallory fiddled with the hem of her shirt and then looked around to make sure they had not been joined in the kitchen. “The sex was so much better than it was years ago. Good God, I didn’t want him to leave my bed, Darby. It was like a damn religious experience.”
With those words, Darby poured them each a shot of tequila. “Hell yeah, I’ll drink that that!”
~ * ~
Henry helped his mom get home from Darby and John’s. The tequila had kicked her ass and she had a hard time walking a straight line. It was a good thing they only had to walk two houses down to get home; John offered to walk them, but Henry said he could do it. Instead, John stood in the driveway and watched to make sure they at least made it home safe.
Henry unlocked the door and helped his mom get into the house. There was no way he would get her up the stairs, so he opted to have her sleep on the couch in the family room. It was wider and more comfortable than the one in the living room. As soon as her body hit the couch, she fell asleep. Henry covered her with a blanket and kissed her forehead. He then turned on the soft lamp on the desk in the kitchen and locked up the house before going up to his bedroom.
It was only 10:00 pm, so he took a chance and texted Chris. He hadn’t talked to Chris since he left Atlanta and he needed to speak to him. Needed to let him know that he felt abandoned and wondered if he would see him again. Almost immediately after sending the text, his phone rang.
“Hey, Henry, is everything alright? I get your text that you need to talk. What’s up?” Chris was speaking fast, he sounded worried.
“Yeah, everything is fine, I just wanted to talk to you for a few minutes. Am I bothering you?” Henry was suddenly shy and second guessing his decision to reach out.
“No, buddy, it’s fine. But isn’t tonight a school night? I mean, it’s past ten, does your mom know you’re up and calling me?”
Henry had no idea that the words he was about to use could cause problems for his mother. He just said them, “Mom’s a little drunk, she’s passed out in the family room. She has no idea that I’m awake and calling you.”