Mallory was nervous, it had been her idea to go to the attorney’s office, but now she second- guessed her decision. Deep down she figured this was why she had asked Darby to go with her. She needed someone to hold her accountable and make her go through with it. She was ready by 10:30 am, which meant she had plenty of time before she needed to leave. The problem was, she had too much time before she needed to leave, so she paced incessantly through her home office. She played over the narrative in her mind and played through the checklist of what she needed and whether it was in her briefcase or not.
The gameplan for the day was to pick up Darby and grab a quick lunch before heading to the attorney’s office. Mark’s office was in the same law firm where John worked, so at least Mallory had a comfort level in where she was going. She had not shared the plans for this meeting with either John or Darby, for fear that once she said it out loud, she would change her mind.
Mallory had been doing some serious thinking over the last few days. She had been attempting to keep a brave façade for everyone, but internally she was crumbling. The fight with Chris took more out of her than she realized and it caused her to do some soul searching. The fact that it had created such a ripple effect with Henry without even realizing it ate away at her. She didn’t know that her son had been so astute and now she regretted that she didn’t listen to Chris and just tell Henry the truth when she had the chance.
Mallory was happy that things with Henry had been better over the past few days. But she was confident that had more to do with his daily calls with Chris more than anything. She was questioning her parenting and finding that Chris was stepping it up and she couldn’t deny him the title of father any longer. The calming influence he had over Henry had made her relationship with her son better, whether he intended to do that or not, she didn’t know. This just solidified her reasoning to make this move to speak with the attorney.
When Henry was getting ready for school that morning, Mallory had told him that she wanted to have a talk with him when he got home from school. Henry rolled his eyes, thinking his mom didn’t see him, but she did. He tried to ask a million questions regarding the subject and then put forth a million excuses as to why he couldn’t have the meeting. Mallory deflected the questions and insisted that he wasn’t in trouble, but it was important that they talk. She told him it would not be painful. Of course, she knew it would be for her, but she prayed he would not feel the pain. She hugged him and told him that she loved him and once again he rolled his eyes, not saying it back, but responding with the ever popular, “Whatever, Mom!”
Mallory glanced at the clock and found that only five minutes had passed since she last checked the time. She couldn’t stand the waiting! She texted Darby and told her she wanted to leave early for lunch and she was on her way. She figured getting it over with was the only way to get moving forward.
~ * ~
The ladies ate a leisurely lunch before leaving and heading towards the office building that housed the offices of Blandings and Tate, Attorneys at Law. Darby had wanted to ask Mallory a million questions during lunch but refrained. She knew that this was a big deal for her best friend and could tell she was stressing about her decision; she didn’t want to push it any further for her.
As Mallory pulled her 2010 Rav4 into the parking spot in front of the building, she gripped the steering wheel tight and took in a deep breath. As she exhaled, Darby reached over and put her hand on Mallory’s and said, “Whatever you are about to do, you can do it. You’re strong, you’re capable, and I have faith in you. I’m here for you, okay?” Mallory turned and looked at her best friend and gave her a weak smile. “But promise me one thing. When we get out of this meeting, we are going to go find you a new car. You have money, Mallory and this car is a piece of shit! You’ve run it into the ground, and it needs to be replaced.”
Mallory let out a hearty belly laugh, “Okay, okay, I promise. I know you hate this car, but Henry and I love it.” Mallory looked at the car and then back over at Darby, “You know I’m trying to be brave, right?”
Darby nodded and moved her hand from Mallory’s. They each exited the car and began walking towards the building without saying anything further. The expansive lobby of the building was enclosed in glass, the sun reflected off the panes providing a prism effect on the marble floor. Mallory felt like she was walking on a rainbow as she moved to the elevator bank and stepped into the waiting car and pushed the button for the 7th floor. As they stepped out into the reception area for the Blandings and Tate office, Mallory’s stomach was swirling with butterflies. Darby went over to the receptionist to check in; she knew the woman since she was in the office quite frequently to see John.
Several minutes passed before Mary, Mark’s secretary, came out to usher them to Mark’s office. Mallory wasn’t sure what she was expecting when the door opened, but she found Mark Fitzgerald to be a tall, stately gentleman around fifty years old with salt and pepper hair. She had to admit, this is not what she would have pictured, but she was not disappointed. He was attractive but more than that, he appeared very warm and had a welcoming personality. Mallory immediately felt the tension in her shoulders release as she took a seat across from his desk.
Mark took his seat behind his large oak desk and steepled his fingers at his lips, watching Mallory very carefully. No words were spoken right away, it was as if he was visually measuring her. He finally leaned forward, picking up his pen and notebook, “It is nice to meet you, Mallory. Do you want to tell me what prompted you to go ahead and make this appointment?” He questioned her without sounding accusatory or hateful.
While his question was innocuous, it still made Mallory fidget in her seat and glance over at Darby before she looked back at Mark. “Um, I’ve decided I want to amend my son’s birth certificate and add his father’s name. I knew who the father was when Henry was born, but I elected not to identify him because he didn’t know I was pregnant. I want to make it right and give him parental rights.” Mallory lowered her head and stared at her lap, unable to make eye contact with Mark or Darby at that point.
To say that Darby was shocked would be an understatement. Mallory had been defiant in all of her arguments with Chris that she would not give in before Christmas. Henry would not find out about Chris being his father until after the holiday. And now, Mallory was sitting in front of an attorney and willingly giving Chris parental rights and putting him on the birth certificate. Darby was extremely curious as to what had caused this seismic shift.
Mark could see that Darby was shocked and could tell that Mallory was shaken by her own request. He elected not to push right away for answers. Instead, he gave her a moment before he spoke, “Ms. Turner, I must admit I am taken by surprise with your request. I was with the understanding from the original documentation I received that you were fighting this sort of action.” Mark let his words hang in the air, not anticipating Mallory would answer him right away. “I have to be blunt, I’m sorry, but what made you change your mind? Is Mr. Evans putting some pressure on you? Is he threatening you in some way?”
This made Mallory’s head snap up, and her eyes go wide. “Absolutely not, he’s not threatening me or pressuring me. Well, I mean he keeps pushing but nothing more than that,” her eyes darted over to Darby and back to Mark. “Oh God, you think he’s blackmailing me or something? No! Not at all, Chris isn’t like that, I swear.”
Darby reached over and touched Mallory’s arm, “Sweetie, you can understand why he asked, right? This is a significant change in what you’ve said you wanted to do. It’s a logical conclusion.”
“I get it, but I’m doing this for Henry, not Chris. My son deserves to have his father, it’s not fair for me to deny him that any longer. I want Henry to be happy because I love him more than anything in the entire world.” A tear escaped, falling down her cheek. Mallory didn’t want to cry, but she was opening up and being honest about what she was doing and why.
Mark nodded his head, showing he understood what she was saying. He gave her a faint smile and then asked, “Do you happen to know if Mr. Evans has retained an attorney? I’m going to assume if he has, it would be in Boston, or do you know?” Mark looked back at the file on his desk and began flipping through the pages.
“I don’t really know, we didn’t talk about it. But I would venture to say he has and it is probably a Boston attorney since he is living there at the moment. I could reach out to my friend Josh and see if he knows anything; he works for Chris.” Mallory sat a little straighter in her chair.
“No, that won’t be necessary, and I certainly don’t want to use one of his friends against him. We can send all of the appropriate paperwork to his home address, I’m sure he’ll just forward to his attorney.”
The pages turning in the file folder were a bit of a distraction for Mallory. She cleared her throat in an attempt to get Mark’s attention, it worked as he stopped turning the pages and slowly turned his gaze toward her. “Mr. Fitzgerald, I would like to be very clear on something, and I hope I don’t come across as rude. I have no intention of going after Chris for child support, not past due balances or future money. I want nothing more than putting his name on the birth certificate and moving forward with agreeing to a custody arrangement. I don’t want to go to court, and I don’t want this in the media. I just want to be fair to Henry and to Chris,” she cast a hard gaze at her attorney, “Can you do that?”
Mark sat back in his chair and smiled. “I like that you know what you want and are not compromising your principles for it. I can do what you’re asking, but you have to know that while I may not ask for the child support, it does not mean the State of Georgia won’t have a say about it. They very well might make him pay, even if you aren’t asking.”
“Can’t you tell them I don’t want it?”
“I can, but they don’t have to listen to me. We can put it in our petition that we aren’t looking for compensatory judgments, but the court has the final say in what is in the best interest for Henry. The inheritance you’ve received recently does help you, though. They will see you aren’t struggling to provide for your son while Mr. Evans does rather well for himself.”
“Guess my parents leaving me money was good for something,” Mallory muttered quietly. She had been able to provide for Henry just fine without money from her parents, and she was offended to believe that the court would not see it that way. She didn’t spend the money her parents left her, it was sitting in the bank in one type of fund or another. But on paper, well on paper she was quite wealthy.
“How about your will? Is Mr. Evans listed as Henry’s guardian in the event that something would happen to you?” Mark asked, stopping to look up from the file folder and the notes he was making.
“No, I still have Darby and John listed as Henry’s guardians,” Mallory looked over at Darby as if silently asking if that was still acceptable. “I’d rather wait until all of this is official, and I’ve told Henry before I make that change. I need to make sure that Chris wants to be saddled with raising Henry if something were to happen. I’ll be honest, I still have my doubts,” she trailed off without further explanation.
Mark made a few keystrokes on the computer and then turned his attention back to her. “Mary will bring the documents in for you to sign in just a few minutes. I’m not sure I can get them to the courthouse and filed today, but we can get them downtown first thing tomorrow morning. With it being here at the weekend, it will take a little over a week to go through.”
“Will we have to go to court?”
“No, not for the birth certificate. Once I get the word that he’s been put on the document, I’ll make him aware, and we can begin discussions for custody. I don’t want to have his friend put in an awkward situation, but if you do happen to find out an attorney’s name, please let me know. I would go ahead and reach out to them in advance. There is one other thing, though,” Mark hesitated, waiting for Mallory’s reaction. She nodded to indicate he should go on, “I could go ahead and overnight him a letter that advises him we are moving forward with this action.”
Darby used the opportunity to chime in, “It would be a goodwill gesture, Mal. Let him know you’re doing it and moving forward. It could be your early Christmas present to him.”
“It could prompt Mr. Evans to provide his attorney information so that we could quickly handle custody conversations before the birth certificate finalization. It could speed up the process immensely,” Mark interjected.
Mallory chewed on her bottom lip as if she was contemplating the suggestion. It made complete sense for that to happen, Chris would find out tomorrow, and she would have already told Henry the truth. “Send the letter, do I need to sign it or would it just be from your office?” she asked quietly.
“It would just be from my office,” Mark replied, tapping out notes on his keyboard before making a mark within the file folder on his desk.
“So, the steps from this point on will be based on his reaction from the letter?” Mallory’s question was pointed but yet unsure.
“Yes, and the timeframe from the court on the birth certificate change. I honestly don’t see any issue with the document modification, but you never know.” As Mark was closing the file on his desk, Mary slowly opened the door to his office and walked in to hand him a new folder. She quietly exited, and Mark opened the folder and pushed it towards Mallory, “This is the petition to the court to modify the birth certificate. Mary has flagged the documents where we need you to sign,” Mark handed her his pen and Mallory’s hand shook as she took it from him.
Mallory turned her head and looked at Darby who was giving her a half-smile and giving her a supportive nod. Mallory turned back to the desk and with a pen to paper, signed her name to move the process forward. She felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. While she knew she had a hurdle to jump with Henry that evening, the first step was the hardest with the birth certificate. Mallory hoped this could go a long way in repairing her relationship with ChrisMark slid the folder back in his direction after Mallory had placed the pen back on the desk. “I’ll get Mary to type the letter to Mr. Evans, and we will get out in the overnight this evening. This petition,” Mark glanced at his watch, “I think I might be able to get it downtown today, after all. If not, for sure in the morning. I will keep you apprised of updates from Mr. Evans, his attorney, or the court.”
Mallory stood up and extended her hand to Mark, “Thank you so much, Mr. Fitzgerald. I appreciate all of your help.”
“It’s my pleasure and I’ll be speaking with you very soon.”
Mallory exited the room with Darby following close behind. The two ladies made their way to the elevator bank and down to the main lobby without exchanging a single word. However, steps before reaching the doors to the parking lot, Darby couldn’t help herself. She placed her hand on Mallory’s elbow to get her attention, “Wait a minute, before we go outside, can we just talk about what just happened up there?”
Mallory stopped walking and turned back to look at Darby, her eyes were full of unshed tears, and her cheeks were flush. Darby immediately pulled her into a hug, sensing that she needed it at that moment. As Mallory pulled back, she let it out, “This last fight with Chris, it just got me thinking.” Tears escaped and slowly trickled down Mallory’s cheeks, she made no movement to wipe them away. “I admitted that I loved him, and you know I do. I’m hurting him and I don’t want to. But I’m hurting Henry, I had no idea that he was so aware of what was going on. It’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?”
Darby could tell Mallory needed validation. She had no one to talk to, no family to work this out with and she needed direction. “Yes, it’s the right thing to do, and I’m proud of you for making this decision. I just wasn’t expecting it,” Darby pulled Mallory in for another hug, wanting to make sure that she knew she had all the support she needed for this. “So, this means you’re going to tell Henry?”
Mallory stepped back, this time she wiped away the fallen tears and tried to pull her shoulders back. “Yeah, I’m going to tell him tonight, after dinner,” Mallory took a deep breath and let it out, needing to calm her fast beating heart and her frayed nerves. “Darby, Henry wants a dad so bad, and he deserves one, you know? He was so happy when Chris was here and he had someone to watch sports with and hang out with. When Chris left, it hurt him and I realized I did that to him. And what was worse, Henry made sure to point it out to me that I did it to him.”
Mallory walked over and sat on a bench that was in the lobby. The weight of this conversation was making it hard for her to stand. Darby followed and took a seat next to her. “It finally hit me, almost like an epiphany. I wasn’t protecting me, I was hurting Henry. That was never my intention, you have to know that, Darby.”
“I know that John knows that, and I’m sure Chris knows that, too.”
“I don’t know, I think Chris thinks I’m a monster,” Mallory bowed her head as if she was reflecting on her words. “You know he calls Henry almost daily, and it just brightens Henry’s mood. He gets so excited to tell me what they talked about and he can’t wait until Chris comes to town to start filming.” The tears started falling down her cheeks again, “I just needed to do this for him, make him happy and give him a dad now that I know Chris wants to be in his life.”
Darby could see the pain and agony that Mallory was going through, but she could also sense that there was some relief that she had some to this decision. Darby knew that Mallory had long felt guilt over Chris not knowing he had a son and now ow she felt the guilt of her son not knowing his dad. Darby just didn’t realize that Henry was so aware of the tension between Mallory and Chris. Didn’t realize that Henry’s awareness ended up being her tipping point to this decision. She knew that Mallory would eventually get to this place, but she had to get there on her own, and evidently she needed a push from Henry.
Darby raised her hand and began to rub Mallory’s back in comfort, “So, Chris has no idea that you’re doing this? You just came to a decision and pulled the trigger?”
Mallory raised her head and once again wiped at her cheeks. She silently thanked herself for the decision to not wear mascara or eyeliner today. She knew she would cry and had a feeling that the makeup would be smeared all over her face by this point from the tears. “No, I haven’t told him. I wanted to talk to Mark and see what was going to happen so when I told Chris I could have the details,” Mallory began fidgeting with her rings, she was nervous and didn’t know what to do with her hands. “I wanted to tell Henry by myself. I was scared if I told Chris I was going to do this he would jump on a plane and come down here. I just need to do it on my own, Henry and me.”
Darby put her hand on Mallory’s hands, “I’m really proud of you, this is such a big step. John and I are here for you and we are on standby tonight if you need us when you talk to Henry, okay?” Darby gave Mallory a smile and then wrapped her arm around her best friend’s shoulders. “Whatever you need, let me know. Now, let’s get going so you can get home and start getting ready for this talk with Henry.”The ladies stood from the bench and pushed open the lobby doors, walking across the parking lot to where the car was parked. Mallory unlocked the vehicle and as they pulled out onto the busy street, there was only silence for the first few miles. Mallory was concentrating on the drive and keeping her emotions in check but the silence was driving Darby insane. She wanted to lighten the mood, she feared the heavy emotions and silence were going to be too much for Mallory and would end up distracting her.
“Ok, I can’t take it, I need coffee!”
Mallory flinched, “Shit, you scared the crap out of me, Darby,” she then burst out laughing. “I can stop up here, we can get a drink at our favorite little spot.”
“Great! Would you care if we went inside instead of doing drive-thru? I love the time away from the office and the kids, I’d like to capitalize on this escape just a little longer if possible.” Mallory gave a good-natured chuckle at her friend’s comment.
Darby and Mallory sipped their coffee at one of the little bistro tables inside the coffee shop. They elected to keep their conversation centered on any subject that would not lead back to Chris. As they were exiting to go back to the car, both women commented on how heavy the traffic appeared to be heading in their direction. Someone heading into the coffee shop overheard them and let them know there was a bad accident up the road about three miles and it was starting to back up traffic. He warned them to be patient, it would be a long drive for them.
When Mallory started to turn left from the side road back onto the main highway, the traffic light ended up changing before she could get through the intersection. She was left hanging, exposed to the traffic coming from the other direction. Darby hated when this sort of thing happened, knowing it was a disaster waiting to happen. They were lucky there was no traffic coming toward them, no one had been waiting at the light. Mallory started inching forward, hoping to try to make it through before any traffic arrived. However, as Darby glanced over and noticed traffic coming toward them. Specifically, a semi was approaching quickly and didn’t seem to be slowing down, he just started blaring his horn.
“Mallory, you need to move up, there’s a truck coming,” the panic in Darby’s voice was noticeable.
“I’m trying, but there’s no place for me to go!” She was starting to panic as well, she could see the truck out of the corner of her eye.
As she started to take defensive action, trying to squeeze between the car in front of her and the median, the impact happened. The truck slammed into the driver’s side of the SUV, pushing it across the intersection. They clipped the median guardrail and moved into the path of oncoming traffic. Darby felt the impact of the vehicles hitting the passenger side of the car. Although that impact was not nearly as forceful as the semi had been on the driver’s side. The air was full of sounds of blaring horns, screeching tires, screams, and exploding glass. There was the whoosh of the airbags deploying and the hot air bursting forward as the bags inflated. Darby tried to brace herself for impact but was horrified to realize that Mallory’s seatbelt had snapped and she was being tossed around like a rag doll. It was at that moment that Darby realized the screams she heard were coming from her own mouth.
As quickly as it all started, the cacophony of sounds stopped suddenly, it was eerily quiet. Darby figured from the moment Mallory moved through the intersection to the end of the wreck, only a few moments had passed. Yet it felt like hours.
Suddenly she heard the sounds of blaring sirens, they were approaching fast. She realized she couldn’t move, the damage to the car was too extensive, she was pinned in.
“Mallory, can you hear me?” Darby’s voice was faint, and she knew it was from all of her screaming. “Mallory, honey, please wake up and tell me you’re okay.” Darby tried to move her arms but couldn’t, her right arm was pinned against the door, her left arm was pinned by the driver’s seat which had been pushed into the passenger compartment.
Darby tried to move her body since her arms were stuck, even the slightest movement might provide her the ability to see her best friend and assess what her status might be. But after she moved, she wished she hadn’t. Mallory was slumped forward, her head on the steering wheel and she was facing Darby. Her eyes were open, but they were void of life, her face was covered in blood. It was evident that she had massive head trauma.
Once again Darby began to scream, this time for the pain of what she had just lost.
~ * ~
Chris was upstairs packing for the trip to Disney. His brother had brought over a pizza and some beer and they were going to hang out once he had all of his packing done. He had left his phone downstairs and he could hear it ringing every few minutes. Henry was still in school, so he knew he wasn’t calling. His agent knew he was going on vacation and didn’t think he was calling with any projects. But someone was fucking persistent.
“Scott, who’s calling me?” Chris yelled down the stairs to his brother.
“It’s an Atlanta number, but there is no name on it,” Scott yelled back up to his brother.
“If it rings again, answer the damn thing, will ya?”
Almost immediately after the words left his mouth, the phone rang again. Scott answered it, “Chris’s answering service, this is Scott, how can I help you?”
“Um,” the voice on the other end was taken by surprise, “My name is John Simpson, I need to speak with Chris Evans, please.”
Scott was nosy and figured he would just screen the call, “I’m Chris’s brother, he can’t come to the phone at the moment. Can I help you with something or can I give him a message?”
“This is urgent, I really need to speak with him,” John tried to spit the words out. “Look, are you really Chris’s brother and are you actually in the house with him?”
“Yeah, dude, why so secretive?”
“This is regarding Mallory Turner, do you know who that is?”
Scott sat down on the couch, “Did something happen to Henry? Oh God, if something happened, it would be better for me so I can tell him rather than for you to tell him over the phone.”
John exhaled, “No, Henry’s safe, but…you’re right, it’d be better if I told you and you gave this news to him in person,” John choked back a sob. “There’s been an accident, Henry wasn’t involved, but Mallory was.”
Scott had a feeling he already knew the answer to this question before he asked, but he was going to ask anyway. “Is Mallory alright?” Scott’s question was met with silence and that’s when he knew. “Was Henry in the car with her when it happened?”
John blew out a breath and Scott could tell he had been crying, “No, he was in school, but my wife was in the car with her. We’re pretty shook up, Mallory was family to us and this is hard,” he openly sobbed and Scott could feel his heart breaking right along with John’s. “Darby and I have Henry, but Chris really needs to get down here. Some arrangements need to be made and,” John’s voice trailed off as he could no longer hold back the tears.
Scott found himself wiping away tears of his own. This was not the type of call he had expected to answer and he definitely didn’t want to tell his brother this news, it would shatter him. “John, I’m extremely sorry for your loss, it’s heartbreaking. Look, we’ll get Chris to Atlanta right away. Please give our best to your wife, and give Henry a hug for us. He doesn’t know that we’re his family, but we love him and we’re on our way.”
As Scott hung up the call, he moved to the rear of Chris’s house and immediately dialed his mom’s number. He was afraid if he stayed in the living room that his voice could drift up the stairs and Chris would overhear what he was telling her. When Lisa Evans answered, Scott quickly filled his Ma in on the particulars of the accident, or what he was able to glean from his call with John. Lisa told him to hold off speaking to Chris until she got there, they could tell him the news together.
That was fine with Scott, there was no way he wanted to be the one to break the news to his brother that the woman he was in love with had just died. He didn’t want to be the one to devastate his brother like that and watch the pain wash across his face. And he certainly didn’t want to watch his brother come to terms with the idea of taking his son to bury his mother. The entirety of the situation made Scott sick to his stomach.
He paced the living room, practicing to himself what he would say to Chris. He also checked his watch every few seconds with the hopes that it would make his mother appear in the driveway faster. So far it wasn’t working. He could still hear Chris upstairs packing and just prayed that he wouldn’t come downstairs until after their mother walked in the door. Finally, Scott saw headlights flash across the front window and he realized it was his mom pulling into the driveway. He made his way to the front door and opened it just as Lisa had stepped onto the front porch.
As she stepped in the front door, she handed Scott her purse and shrugged off her coat, “Chris is still upstairs,” Scott whispered as he sat her purse on the sideboard table in the entryway. “He doesn’t know I called you.”
“No, Chris is on the stairs and can hear you,” his voice was booming as he walked down the steps and stared at his mom and brother, confusion evident on his face. “What’s going on? Ma, why are you here?” Chris noticed that the two of them looked morose and it was starting to scare him. He stopped, just shy of the bottom steps and stared back and forth at his family. “What’s going on?”
Lisa reached for his arm and spoke softly, her tone even and consoling, “Chris, come in and sit down for a second.”
“No, I won’t, not until you tell me what’s going on. Scott, I heard the phone ring, who the hell was it?” Chris glared at his brother, and when Scott looked away, a sick feeling began to wash over him. “Jesus, you called mom after you hung up. Fuck, what happened? Something’s happened to Henry?”
The panic was beginning to spike in Chris’s voice, and once again Lisa reached for him. Chris pulled his hand back, and she could see the fear in his eyes; his pupils were dilated and his breathing was starting to get ragged. Lisa’s voice remained calm, “Chris, Henry is okay, I promise. But yes, Scott got a call from Atlanta, then he called me.”
“The call was from John, there’s been an accident, Chris,” Scott could barely get the words out. Once again his eyes were starting to well with tears, and his voice was starting to crack. He couldn’t get the words out, “Darby and Mallory were in an accident. I’m so sorry, Chris.” Scott began to sob, he couldn’t hold back