Chris’s declaration that he felt he was responsible for Mallory’s death had virtually sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. It was something that Josh and John had not expected to hear and they certainly had no idea how to respond to such a declaration. The two men exchanged glances while they tried to digest what was happening around them. The one thing that John could almost guarantee was that Chris was no more responsible for the accident than Henry was. Each of them were carrying a guilt that neither of them deserved.
As the moments ticked by, Chris stared at each man and willed them to speak. In fact, their silence was driving him insane. “Are either of you going to say something or are you just going to stare at me?” The words came out as if he was barking at the men. He didn’t care, he needed to talk about this and they weren’t giving him anything to work with. “For fuck’s sake will you say something? Tell me I’m crazy or tell me I’m wrong, but fucking say something!”
John took a seat, crossing one leg and resting his ankle on his knee. He was trying to look relaxed even though his brain was cycling through all of the things he should say. Counseling was Darby’s area, hopefully he picked up a few things over the years to get through this conversation. “You know, I think I need to wrap my head around this. You’re saying you took samples of DNA and got a test done without Mallory’s knowledge? And that somehow leads you to think that it is your fault she was in a multi-car accident that resulted in her death?”
Chris blew out an exasperated breath, the sarcasm and tone of John’s question did not go unnoticed. “I took a hair sample and Henry’s toothbrush back to Boston and gave it to a lab for the testing. My attorney arranged it and we paid to have them expedite the results. They came in a few days before the accident and I filed a petition to get my name added to Henry’s birth certificate as his father.” Chris leaned forward in the chair, resting his elbows on his thighs and dropping his head. “Mallory kept putting off telling Henry the truth. I was tired of waiting and wanted us to be a family, so I made the first move. She said she would tell him after Christmas, but I didn’t want to wait that long to get the ball rolling. In fact, I didn’t want to wait that long at all, but she was positive that, if we told him, I would take him away from her and she swore she wanted one last Christmas with him.”
Chris raised his head looking at John and trying to convey his feelings without shedding the tears that wanted to fall. “I wanted to prove to her that I was in all in on this. I figured I would make her tell him, one way or the other. So, I filed the petition and had every intention of taking her to court for custody rights.”
Josh huffed. “If she wasn’t going to play your way, you were going to play dirty, is that it?”
“Don’t get righteous, Josh. I gave her every opportunity to make this work for us, I needed to this work for us, but she kept pushing me away. I didn’t know what else to do, I wasn’t going to walk away from my son.”
“Hell, I’m surprised you didn’t just tell Henry yourself and get it over with.”
“I would have, but my attorney told me not to,” Chris admitted quietly.
John sat his leg down and leaned forward. “Chris, when exactly did your attorney file the petition? Because if it was just in the last few days, there’s no way this petition has gone through already, you realize that, right?”
“Yeah, I mean, I know that, but my attorney was going to send something to Mallory to let her know what we were doing. Or at least, I thought she was going to do that. Why else would she have been going to see her attorney?”
“I think you need to hold off on the blame and the guilt until you talk to Darby,” Josh chimed in, wanting to stop the conversation from spiraling out of control.
“He’s right,” John agreed, “There could be some other explanation, because there is no way the Georgia courts moved fast enough to get the birth certificate changed already.” John ran his hand across the back of his neck as he tried to figure out the best way to ask about the elephant in the room. “When exactly will you tell Henry the truth?”
“It’s funny, I was so ready to tell him, I mean, I couldn’t wait to do it when she was alive and now that she’s gone.” Chris had to choke back the lump that had formed in his throat. He took several deep breaths to keep the emotions at bay. “I feel like I’m betraying her if I rush to tell him. How ridiculous is that?”
John and Josh nodded as if they understood what Chris was saying. They wanted to be equal parts sympathetic and supportive. But both men knew that Chris could not avoid the inevitable, the sooner he told Henry the truth the better. They just weren’t sure how to convince him of that without sounding judgmental and harsh.
“It’s not ridiculous,” John ventured to say, “But I think telling him before the funeral is your best bet. I mean, he needs to know he isn’t alone when he goes through the grieving process. We can all say we’re here for him, but for him to know he has a dad to turn to. Let’s just say that will be huge.”
Chris gave John a weak smile and then pushed himself out of the chair. He took several steps toward the stairs before turning to face both men. “I think I’ll just go and get it over with while you are both here. I mean, in case he needs to have a friendly face around.” Both men nodded and gave Chris reassuring smiles. “Josh, just do me a favor if you don’t mind. If my family calls you, don’t tell them what I’m doing. I’m turning off my cell and you know, if I don’t answer when they call, they’ll call you to see if I’m alive.”
Josh let out a laugh. “Sure thing, man.”
Chris took the time as he walked up the stairs to practice what he would say when talking to Henry. The problem was, he had no idea how to even begin this type of conversation. He had a few options, but neither one of them was entirely favorable. His first option would be to just announce it. In other words, go fast, like ripping off a band-aid. It would be traumatic and sting a little, but he would get it over with quick and could then spend time to deal with the aftermath.
His other option was to drag out the process, try to explain everything to Henry by giving the proper amount of background and making sure he didn’t say anything to tarnish Henry’s memory of his mother. The band-aid approach gave him the risk to make Mallory look bad, not to mention the fact it wouldn’t do him any favors either. No, the band-aid approach was off the table; he wanted to stay clear of that minefield. The slow approach would probably hurt more, but it would be the best way to go.
As he stood at Henry’s door, Chris took a deep breath and then knocked softly, waiting for an invitation to enter before opening the door. When Henry told him to come in, Chris slowly turned the knob and steeled his nerves. He found Henry sitting in the middle of his bed, staring out the large window across the neighborhood landscape. Henry did not even turn his head to see Chris enter the room.
Chris stood in the doorway and watched Henry for a few minutes before he moved to pull the desk chair over to the side of the bed. As he sat down, he gazed out the window to see if he might be able to figure out what was capturing his son’s attention. It didn’t take him long to realize that all Henry could see were rooftops and the clouds in the sky. His son was just watching the world pass by and it made his heart ache even more.
“Hey, Henry, I’m really sorry to interrupt your thinking time, but I need to talk to you about a few things and they’re real important.” As his words trailed off, Henry moved his head and made eye contact with Chris. While Chris considered the father/son resemblance to be uncanny, all he could see right now was Mallory reflected in Henry’s eyes. It took him by surprise, haunting him and giving him pause. “This isn’t easy for me to talk about and I’m sure it won’t be easy for you to hear. I just need you to promise to listen, okay?”
Henry was confused, but slowly nodded his head, agreeing to listen to what Chris had to say. Henry scooted toward the edge of the bed, never taking his eyes off Chris. The intense gaze made Chris get choked up, he quickly cleared his throat and leaned forward so he was closer to his son.
“I know that you know your mom and I were having some disagreements when I was here a few weeks ago.” Henry nodded in agreement. “I wanted her to do something, but she kept telling me no and I was upset by that, so we kept arguing about it because I wanted her to change her mind.”
“Was it because she wouldn’t marry you?” Henry’s question was innocent enough but it struck a nerve. Chris shook his head and Henry hit him with another question, “Then what was making you fight?”
Chris ran both of his hands through his hair, keeping his hands on the top of his head as he sat back in the chair letting out a forceful breath. “I didn’t think it would be this hard, I really didn’t think it would.” Chris lowered his hands, slapping the top of his thighs and then stood up and turned to walk away from the side of the bed. “I need to be careful, I don’t want to say this and have you get mad at your mom. That’s not what I want, Henry, you have to believe me, I don’t want you to be mad at her.”
Henry nodded and got a nervous look on his face; he wondered what Chris was planning on telling him that could get him upset. As Chris noticed the fear in Henry’s eyes, it only made it harder for him to move forward and say what he needed to say. “When I saw your mom in Boston, after your grandparents died, I found out something I never knew. She kept something from me for many years and I wanted her to be honest about it to you, but she kept putting it off.”
Chris shoved his hands down in his jeans and pulled his shoulders back, trying to straighten is posture. He took a deep breath and made eye contact with Henry. “I’m your dad, Henry.”
As the words came out of his mouth, all of the color drained from Henry’s face. Chris was scared that his son would vomit so he rushed to put a trash can next to the bed as a precaution. Chris then sat back down in the chair and reached for Henry’s hand.
“I know this is a shock, believe me, I get it. I’d been arguing with your mom about telling you. When I found out, I was so excited to know I had a son; I wanted to get to know you and introduce you to the rest of your family. I wanted to take you on the family trip to Disney and start making up for all the time I’ve missed because I didn’t know about you.”
Henry yanked his hand back from Chris, “You’re not my dad! Mom told me my dad had gone away and wouldn’t be able to come back to me. She didn’t want to talk about it because it was too painful. The loss of him hurt too much, she said.”
Chris hung his head, Mallory had detailed what she had told Henry about him, but hearing these words cut like a knife. It was going to be harder than he imagined to get Henry to be accepting of the circumstances.
“It’s the truth, Henry, I’m your dad. Your mom and I broke up and she never told me she was having a baby; never told me I was going to be a dad. I didn’t know she had a son, that I had a son, until I saw her in Boston a few months ago,” Chris was pleading for his son to believe him, but Henry was scooting off the bed in the opposite direction, trying to get away from Chris. “I promise that I’m telling you the truth, I needed to tell you now because I didn’t want you to think you were going through all of this alone. I wanted you to know you had me to lean on.”
“You’re lying to me!” Henry screamed before jumping off the bed and running out of his room. Chris heard Henry’s thundering footsteps on the stairs as he ran toward Josh and John, but Chris didn’t move. Instead, he put his head in his hands and let go of the emotions he’d been holding in. He’d tried so hard to get through this conversation delicately but in the end, he had messed it up and made things worse.
Chris figured Henry needed to work through this on his own, so he gave him some space and decided not to venture downstairs just yet. Everything within him said that the right thing to do was to follow Henry downstairs and make sure he was okay. However, this situation was unique, to say the least. Giving Henry the opportunity to have the friendly faces of Josh and John waiting for him might help him come to terms with this. They knew the truth, they could help him understand what was going on. Chris knew he shouldn’t be leaving Josh and John to clean up his mess, it wasn’t fair, but right now it was the only thing he could think of that might help Henry.
Chris’s heart ached for Henry. He hated that he had to tell his son that his mother had been keeping a very big secret from him for his whole life. He stood and turned the wooden chair back around to slide it under the desk. He figured it was time to face the music and head downstairs. But as he took his strides toward the door it opened and John walked in with Henry trailing behind him. Henry’s eyes were downcast as he walked into the room and moved to the other side of the room, placing as much distance as possible between him and Chris.
Henry walked to the opposite side of the room from where Chris was standing. His posture told the story – he was not comfortable but at least he wasn’t overly irate. Henry did brace himself against the wall, looking as if he wished the wall would just absorb him into it, but his eyes never left Chris. John, on the other hand, kept equal distance between father and son with his back planted firmly against the closed bedroom door. John wanted to preside over the both of them and yet easily defuse the situation should it escalate.
The room was quiet for what felt like an eternity. Chris finally built up the courage to speak. Looking directly at Henry he said, “Buddy, I’m sorry, I know everything came out. I had wanted it to be different and I certainly didn’t mean to upset you.”
John decided he should step forward and at least fill Chris in on what had been discussed downstairs. “Chris, I explained to Henry that you were telling him the truth. You wanted to let him know so he knew he had family that was here for him and he wasn’t all alone.”
“My mom lied to me,” Henry said quietly as his body slip down the wall, his butt coming to rest on the floor. He looked up at Chris, his eyes red-rimmed and full of tears, “Why did she do that to me?” For the first time since Chris had given him the news, Chris saw the tears fall down Henry’s cheeks.
Chris immediately moved to take a seat on the floor next to Henry. He wrapped his arm around his son’s shoulder and pulled him into his side. “She did what she thought was best for you at the time. Your mom had no idea if she would ever see me again and wasn’t sure how I would react to the news about being a dad. She was trying to protect and shelter you because you meant so much to her. You were her whole world, Henry, she loved you so much.”
“Why were you fighting about me? If she loved me, why wouldn’t she let me have a dad?” Henry’s tears were flowing faster and Chris’s heart broke even more.
Chris didn’t want to answer his son’s question. He knew that diving into the details of what was going on with Mallory could make things worse and could turn Henry against his mother even more. But, he also knew that he couldn’t lie to him. Mallory had done enough lying and he was seeing now how that hurt Henry and he didn’t want to cause that type of pain. No matter what, he had to be honest. “We fought because she thought if you found out about me you would hate her and never speak to her again. That you would run to me and want me to take you away from her. She was scared.” Henry pulled away from Chris and just stared at him. Chris didn’t know what the look was for; did Henry agree with his mom’s concern or did he think she was crazy? He didn’t know and he was not sure he wanted to ask and get the answer right now. “For the record, I had no intention of taking you away from her. I told her I thought you would be mad for a little bit, but you would forgive her. I wanted us to be a family, I wanted to marry your mom and for us to live together and have more kids. I wanted all of that.”
“I would have liked that,” Henry said as he rested his head back against Chris and continued to cry.
Chris looked over toward the door and realized that at some point during his exchange with Henry, John had left the room.
~ * ~
Chris had no idea how long he had sat on the floor with Henry. All he did know was that his ass and his son were both asleep. Henry had cried himself to sleep, the tears had kept coming and Chris just let him cry. Once he stopped and drifted to sleep, Chris decided not move him right away because he wanted to just take in the moment of having Henry in his arms. That might seem odd to some folks, but he had never had these types of nurturing moments, in the past, and this was a turning point in his relationship with Henry. There wouldn’t be very many of these opportunities, in the future, so when they presented themselves, Chris felt it best to take advantage of them.
He finally decided to pick Henry up and transfer him over to the bed. He pulled a blanket up over him and brushed the hair off of Henry’s forehead before giving him a soft kiss. Chris slowly backed out of the room and pulled the door shut, electing not to close it completely because he didn’t want the click of the door to inadvertently wake Henry.
As Chris walked down the stairs, he looked over to the living room and noticed that Josh was sitting there alone. “Did John leave?” He asked as he stopped and leaned against the living room entry way.
Josh looked up from the magazine he was reading to catch Chris’s gaze, “Yeah, he said he wanted to get over to the hospital to see Darby.” Josh took in Chris’s body language and facial expression then asked, “How’s Henry doing? Did you get him calmed down?”
Chris walked into the room and took a seat on the couch. He rubbed his hands over his face, “Yeah, he actually cried himself to sleep. It was brutal, Josh, it was so much harder to get through than I had expected it would be. I felt like I was betraying Mallory and that hurt like hell.”
“You know he didn’t believe you when you told him. He came running down the stairs saying you were a liar and he hated you,” Josh offered solemnly. “John and I told him that you were telling the truth. It took a little convincing on our parts because he didn’t want to believe us either.”
Chris leaned forward, dropping and shaking his head, “I can’t believe he hates me. I never thought I would have a kid who would hate me.”
“To be fair,” Josh started, “He’s confused and he’s lashing out at you. I don’t think he really hates you or Mallory, but he just doesn’t understand everything. Keep in mind, his mom just died and now he’s being told he has a dad. Dude, it’s a lot to take in. If he hated you, Chris, he wouldn’t have stayed with you upstairs and John wouldn’t have been able to sneak out without the two of you knowing it.” Chris turned to look at Josh and gave him a faint smile, something he hadn’t been able to really do in the last few days. “You just need to keep convincing him that you love him, Chris. And you need to make sure he knows that Mallory loved him, too. Don’t make her out to be the bad guy in any of this.”
“I have no intention of doing that.” Chris stood up and started to walk toward the kitchen. “I need a drink, you want one?” Josh shook his head. “I did love her, you know. I think that’s why I’m so fucking mad at her right now. I wanted to be that boy’s dad more than anything, but not like this, Josh, not without her.” Chris turned and continued toward the kitchen.
~ * ~
When Chris came back from the kitchen with his drink, Josh had decided that he would burn off some energy by going for a run. Henry was still asleep so Chris figured he would call his mom. He had not talked to her since they had arrived in Atlanta and he had gone to pick up Henry at Noah’s house. It was as good a time as any for him to let her know that he had dropped the daddy bombshell.
Chris dialed his mom’s number and she picked up the call immediately. “Hey, I was just thinking of you! I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to call and tell me how things are going. So, how are things with Henry?”
“Well, they are interesting to say the least, Ma. Look, I was hoping you might be able to come over to the house today to meet your grandson.” Chris thought that if Lisa came over it could help Henry start to realize he had an extended family who cared about him and will be in his life going forward. “It’d be too overwhelming for him to meet everyone, but I think he could handle Grandma and maybe Grandpa, if you want to see if dad wants to join you.”
Lisa tried to reign in her excitement. “Oh, Christopher, you know I want to meet that boy. Let me get a pen and paper so you can give me the address and directions.” Lisa began to reach for the paper and pen on the hotel desk so she could get the details written down. “I know I shouldn’t push, but have you made any funeral decisions yet?”
Chris let out a sigh. “No, not yet. Mallory’s body hasn’t been released yet and Henry is still struggling with everything.” Chris took a deep breath and then surprised himself with what he said next. “Ma, why don’t you tell Scott and Shanna to go to Disney with Carly and the kids? I mean, I don’t want to ruin the vacation for the kids and, realistically, they didn’t know Mallory. I’m not trying to be rude about this, I swear. I have no idea when we will wrap this up and we’re close to Christmas. I just don’t want to ruin anything for the kids. I know they would all be here for me and I appreciate that, but honestly, I think I need the space.”
“I can talk to them, see if they’ll be okay with it. Are you sure?” Lisa inquired, not sure that she was totally understanding her son’s rationale.
“Yeah, I’m sure. The kids have been looking forward to this trip, let them go and have fun. I’ll see you when you get here.”
Chris hung up the phone and, as he prepared to look for something to keep himself busy, he heard footsteps. He turned to see Henry coming downstairs, rubbing his eyes to clear the sleep out of them. Chris smiled as he noticed Henry’s hair sticking up, a product of his nap. These were the kind of things he took pleasure in seeing and wished he could have more memories of.
“Hey, buddy, do you feel better after your nap?” Chris asked somewhat hesitantly.
Henry didn’t answer. Instead, he nodded his head as he moved into the living room and took up residence in one of the wingback chairs. He stared at Chris and after a minute, he finally spoke up, “My mom really didn’t tell you about me? Was she ashamed of me?”
Suddenly Chris felt like he has been punched in the gut. He immediately made his way to Henry’s side, crouching next to him and looking the boy in the eyes. “Your mom was not ashamed of you at all, do you hear me? She loved you very much and wanted nothing but the best for you.” Henry looked away and Chris reached up, pulling Henry’s face back toward him. “Look at me, Henry. Your mom and I broke up and her mom and dad told her that I wouldn’t want you. They were wrong, but your mom believed them.”
Henry was so lost, his world had been completely turned upside down and everything he had known to be true was now a lie. He wanted to trust Chris, but it meant that he would have to believe that his mom knew all along that his father was out there and she kept it from him. He was mad at her for keeping that big of a secret, especially when he had told her that he wanted Chris to be his dad.
“Why didn’t mom just tell you later? You were in movies so she knew where you were.”
Chris lowered himself so he was sitting completely on the floor, his knees couldn’t take the crouching position any longer. “I asked her that and she told me it was because she didn’t want me to think she was coming after me for money. She thought I wouldn’t believe that you were my son and I would just think bad things about her.”
“Are you mad at her now?”
Chris took a deep breath and tried to figure out how he was going to explain this one. “I’ll be honest, I’m a little mad at her, but more than anything I miss her.” Chris quickly wiped a tear from his eye. “I was really angry that she kept me away from you for so long and never gave me a chance to be a dad to you when you were little. I was mad because she kept putting off when we could tell you that I was your dad so I could spend time with you now and when I could introduce you to the rest of your family.” Chris took a deep breath and tried to gauge the emotion in Henry’s face as he prepared to continue. Henry’s eyes were filled with unshed tears and Chris could tell he was trying very hard not to cry. He admired how tough Henry was trying to be, but he wanted his son to know it was okay to let out his emotions as well. “But more than anything, I’m angry that she’s gone and I didn’t get to say goodbye. Angry that we were still fighting and that I didn’t tell her one last time I loved her.”
As he said the words, Chris let his tears fall, letting his son see that he was just as broken hearted as he was. Giving Henry the permission to mourn and cry and know that tears didn’t make a man weak. Chris lowered his head and was wiping at his tears when he felt Henry’s arms wrap around his neck and his son’s head rest on his shoulder.
“I wish I wouldn’t have been fighting with her,” Henry said softly, “But I think mom knew we both loved her. She was smart and she always seemed to know those things.” Chris had to smile hearing those words, realizing that Henry was trying to find his own way to reconcile his emotions. “Did you know I told mom I wanted you to be my dad?”
Those words surprised Chris, he pulled back from Henry and looked him in the eyes. “You did? When did you tell her that?”
“When you left to go back to Boston, I got mad at her and said she ruined my chance for finally having a dad. I was mad that you were gone and I wanted her to make you come back.” Henry dropped his gaze from Chris, he was slightly embarrassed for admitting this information to him.
“That means a lot to me, Henry. Since the day I found out about you, I wanted to be your dad and I have loved every minute we’ve spent together.”
For the first time since he had received the news about his mother, Henry had an actual smile on his face. Once again he put his arms around Chris, hugging him tight. “I’m glad you’re my dad and that I already know you.”
Chris could feel his heart swell. He said nothing, just squeezed Henry tighter. As the two of them were having their moment, the front door of the house opened and Josh entered with Lisa falling in step behind him. When they noticed the moment between Chris and Henry, their random chatter quieted and they took in the scene in front of them.
Chris could sense them behind him, he pulled away and without looking back said. “I have a feeling you are about to meet the first member of your extended family, Henry. Are you ready for this?” Henry slowly nodded his head and Chris moved to get up from his seated position on the floor. He took a few steps forward and motioned for Henry to join him.
As Chris and Henry took steps towards Lisa, she took a few steps towards them. Within a moment, they were standing face-to-face with one another, Lisa was smiling and practically vibrating with excitement. Chris stepped forward and pulled her into a hug. “Thanks for being here, Ma.”
“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” she offered and gently patted her eldest son on his back. She stepped back and looked over at Henry and then back at Chris. “So, are you going to do the formal introductions or are you going to leave it up to me?”
Chris let out a laugh. “Ma, this is my son, Christopher Henry Turner, but he goes by Henry.” Chris moved to stand behind Henry, placing his hands on his son’s shoulders. “Henry, this is my mom which means she is your grandmother.”
Lisa crouched down to face Henry. “My name is Lisa, but you can call me Grandma or Mimi. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Henry.” She looked up at Chris and saw he was beaming with pride. “You look just like your dad did when he was your age.”
Henry’s eyes went wide. “I do?”
“You most certainly do,” Lisa countered, excited to see that Henry was able to think of something other than heartbreak and pain for a few minutes. “You have a Grandpa, two aunts, two uncles and some cousins who are all really excited to meet you.”
“Ma, I’m gonna go to the hospital and visit with Darby, can you stay with Henry for a bit?”
“I’d love to if Henry doesn’t mind?” She looked at Henry and he was giving his approval of the idea. “Are you sure going to see her is a good idea right now? Is she up for visitors?”
“John told me earlier I could drop by. I need to talk to her, I need to get a few questions answered.”
~ * ~
Chris drove to the hospital, all the while trying to determine what he would say to Darby. He knew that he would have to apologize to her for what had transpired, figuring Darby blamed him for her own injuries and, of course, her best friend’s death. There would be no words that could make any of this better. No words that would be able to ease pain or even fix injuries. Chris had to hope that he could find a way to build some sort of bridge so that Henry could remain in their lives. Henry looked at Darby and John as family and that had to remain intact, no matter what.
Chris pulled the car into a parking spot and started his slow walk into the hospital. Every step was measured and brought its own case of dread. He entered the elevator, pushing the button to take him to the fifth floor and tried to control his breathing as he waited for the doors to open.