The elevator doors opened and Chris slowly stepped into the corridor on the fifth floor. He read the signs directing him to Intensive Care. He started walking slowly down the hall. He knew this discussion would hurt like hell, but would at least start to heal his wounds. He just wasn’t in a hurry to get to the ICU to get the conversation started. He needed to find some way to move on and keep this from hanging over him for the rest of his life. He needed answers as to what happened on the day of the accident and why Mallory had gone to her attorney’s office. He needed Darby to fill in the blanks and tell him how angry Mallory had been with him that day. Chris knew there would be a burden for him to carry and that he would have to tell his son the truth at some point. There lied the problem; he wasn’t sure what that truth was right now. Henry already had questions about the accident and believed he was at fault for his mom’s death. Chris wanted to at least be able to give Henry the peace of mind that he wasn’t to blame, even if that meant that Chris had to live with the guilt that he was.
Chris wasn’t sure how long he had been wandering the halls, but when he looked up he was standing in front of the doors for the ICU. To the right of the doors, sat a duty nurse behind a large information desk. It took him a minute to realize she was talking to him.
“Um, sorry, yeah I’m here to see Darby. I’ve suddenly gone blank and can’t remember her last name,” Chris said as he took a step away from the doors and toward the duty nurse.
The nurse, a woman in her late fifties with a kind smile looked back at him. “I understand, happens all the time. It’s traumatic when you have to come up and visit people here. I’ll look up her information while you sign in. You’re going to need to wear this visitor badge while you’re back in the room and you’ll need to sign out when you leave.” Chris nodded and picked up the pen to begin signing into the open binder that sat on the desktop. He gingerly took the badge she offered to him. “I’ll open the doors for you and she’s in the third room on your right. She’s not in a restrictive room which means there’s no time limit for your visit.” The nurse gave him a warm smile and then pushed the button on her desk to activate the doors.
Chris heard the doors click and then a swoosh as the hydraulics engaged and the doors began to open automatically. He made sure he stayed far enough back so the swinging doors did not hit him as they opened. He took a deep breath and then began to walk through the doors and toward the third room that the nurse indicated Darby would be in.
The doors to the intensive care rooms were glass sliding doors, but had curtains that could be positioned for privacy. The first two rooms had the curtains completely closed and there were restricted signs on the closed doors. But the third door had the glass doors partially opened and the curtain only partially drawn. As Chris approached the door, John jumped from Darby’s side and met him at the door.
John stepped out into the hall and lowered his voice. “I told Darby you were going to stop by today so she’s been fighting to stay awake so she can see you.” Chris looked nervously into the room. John figured he should hurry to set Chris at ease. “It’s okay, she’s having a good day, I probably shouldn’t have phrased it like I did. Look, Chris, I need to just warn you before you go in that she’s going to look different. She took a hell of beating in the accident and her face is swollen, I just didn’t want you to be shocked when you see her.”
Chris nodded, letting John know he understood. However, John’s warning was not enough for what Chris encountered when he walked into the room. Darby’s face was, in fact, swollen and bruised heavily. If he had not been told it was Darby, he would never have recognized her. He was fairly certain she had multiple broken bones in her face, but was not about to ask. This was where his skills as an actor came in handy. He plastered on a smile, tamped down his apprehension and spoke as he walked to the side of the hospital bed. “Hey beautiful, hope I didn’t keep you waiting long? John said you were staying awake for me to come visit.”
Darby’s eyes widened as she looked at Chris and tried to smile. For him, it was painful to see her and not think of what Mallory went through in the accident. If Darby was this beat up and she was the passenger, it was agony to think of the impact Mallory’s body had taken. Those were not images he wanted in his head, but he couldn’t help it.
Darby reached for Chris’s hand and he took hers. He then leaned down and kissed her forehead, wanting to be careful not to hurt her or kiss in a particularly swollen area. “I was waiting for you and I’m glad you’re here,” Darby’s voice was raw and barely above a whisper. “I need to tell you a few things and I know you need to hear them.”
John and Chris exchanged glances as Chris let go of Darby’s hand and reached for a chair to pull to her bedside. He sat down and instinctively wanted to begin speaking as he once again took her hand. But before he could get any words out, Darby stopped him. “Don’t say anything, Chris, let me get this out.” Her eyes were pleading with him and he slowly nodded in agreement to let her go on.
Even though she wanted to speak, Darby was struggling to do so. It was true that she wanted to see him and wanted to set a few things straight with him. However, now that he was sitting in front of her, the notion scared her more than she wanted to admit. Chris had a right to know what had happened before the accident, after all, he had an envelope waiting for him in Boston with the details. But by her taking the time to tell him now, it would give him time to come to terms with it all. It would give him a chance to grieve with Henry and not have it slam into him when he got home. If Darby was honest with herself, she had to do this for Henry as well. That young man had been struggling in his relationship with his mother over the last few days and Darby knew it was eating at him. Guilt was most likely a heavy weight on his shoulders just like it was on Chris’s.
Darby tried to pull herself up on the bed, she wanted to sit up when she talked to Chris. John and Chris both moved to help her and she waved them off. “I need to do this on my own, but thank you,” she said as she struggled to get into position. “Look, Chris, you know that John and I are Henry’s legal guardians, right?”
Chris said nothing in response but nodded his head. He hated the idea that Mallory had never given him any consideration, even in death, to make him the father of his own son. It felt like a hard slap to the face and would sting if his heart wasn’t already aching so much with her being gone.
“We aren’t in favor of a custody battle. We both know you’re Henry’s father and he should be with you. Mallory was working on changing things to make sure you weren’t kept out of his life any longer.” Darby’s voice was getting stronger the longer she talked.
John stepped forward and interrupted his wife. “Wait a minute, what do you mean she was working on changing things?” It wasn’t that John was necessarily mad, but he was Mallory’s attorney and he figured he should have at least been made aware. Instead, he was being blindsided and he was more than a little confused.
“Shhh, let me finish talking to Chris and it’ll make sense,” Darby bit back at John. Her fire and intensity were starting to come back, although it was more of a flicker than a full out flame. “I had gone with Mallory to visit the family attorney that John had told her about several months ago. Evidently, this last argument with Chris had really gotten to her and she wanted to try and fix a few things.”
John couldn’t help but speak up again, “Fix what things, Darby?”
Chris was thankful he was sitting down because his head was beginning to spin. He wasn’t sure that Darby was making complete sense. He wished John would shut up and let Darby finish, he needed to hear the rest of the story. “Please, Darby, finish the story,” he begged.
“Mallory gave the attorney the details of how she came to be a single mother and how Henry’s father was never aware of her pregnancy. She didn’t put him on the birth certificate because she didn’t want there to be issues with his career. However, after all these years, it was important for Henry to know he has a father and for that man to be a part of his son’s life. She wanted to fix things and add your name to the paperwork and make it legal. The official notice of her intentions should be at your house in Boston right now.”
Chris sat back in the chair and stared at Darby, unable to speak. He wasn’t sure he was hearing Darby accurately, because, after the fight he had with Mallory, this did not seem like the step she would have taken. Chris had no idea he was shaking until John walked over and put his hand on his shoulder to offer him some comfort.
“Darby, are you sure? I mean was she really doing that?” Chris’s voice came out shaky and his lips were quivering like he was going to cry. He was doing his darndest to hold back the emotions, there were so many coursing through his mind at the moment.
“I’m sure because I was in the room with her when she talked to the attorney. She said that she had regrets and she wanted to fix things. She wanted Henry to have a father and she wanted you in his life, make no mistake about that.” Darby’s words were strong and she got the point across. She had to take a moment to compose herself, though, because her emotions were starting to take over and she didn’t want them to keep her from finishing. Especially when it came to discussing the accident.
“When we started to drive home, Mallory was still pretty emotional over everything. I thought we should talk and let her get out her feelings so we stopped to get coffee. At the time, I thought it was a good idea, but the traffic was getting heavy when we left. I think there was an accident or construction, I don’t know, something that made everything back up.”
John moved from standing behind Chris to the other side of Darby’s bed. He knew that she had answered questions for the police, but she would not talk about the accident with him. He figured it was because she would break down and wouldn’t want to speak about it again and she knew that she needed to tell Chris the story. John held Darby’s hand and gently squeezed, letting her know she had his support as she continued with the details of that day.
“We had a green light and pulled out into the intersection, but the traffic just stopped and we were hung up in the middle. Mallory tried moving, tried to find a way out of the line of oncoming traffic, but there was no place to go. At first, we were okay because nothing was coming our way, but then we saw a truck heading straight at us. He never slowed down or tried to move over. He had a green light and he just barrelled through the intersection and slammed into us.” With those words the dam broke and Darby began to cry. Chris reached up using his thumb to wipe them away.
Chris didn’t push Darby to continue talking, he let her cry. But his tender touch and gesture to wipe away the tears, that was to let her know he cared. Everything that Darby was saying was swirling around in his head like a tornado. The fact that Mallory had taken the legal steps to add his name to the birth certificate meant that she had done it without provocation from him. She hadn’t received notification from his attorney yet. It meant she had done it because she had been trying to offer an olive branch and fix their relationship. That thought squeezed his heart and brought on more pain.
As he tried to reconcile his feelings, Darby’s sobs began to subside and he could tell she wanted to say something more. He wasn’t sure he could take any other revelations, but if Darby needed to say something, the least he could do was listen. Sure enough, as she blew her nose and cleared her throat, she finished her story.
“Mallory knew the truck was going to hit us. Hell, we both knew, but we couldn’t do anything about it. It’s important that you know she went quick, Chris. The impact was sudden and hard, she was killed instantly and didn’t suffer.” The tears began to stream down Darby’s face again. “I know that’s painful to hear, but I didn’t want you to think she laid there and wondered if anyone would help her.”
The realization of everything Darby had said finally sunk in. Chris let out a deep breath and was overtaken by emotion. He began to cry quietly, his head dropping to his hands to hide his face from Mallory’s best friends. The only indication that his crying had gotten stronger was due to the shaking of his shoulders, the sobs were stifled.
“Chris, despite everything Mallory loved you. John can give you the name of the attorney we visited with and you can call him. He knows everything and is aware you’re Henry’s father. John and I want you to have custody of him because Mallory would want that.”
Chris looked up, his eyes were puffy and red-rimmed from crying. “Thank you, I appreciate that. Did John tell you that I told Henry today that I’m his father?”
Darby shook her head and looked back at her husband for confirmation. John nodded and looked back at Chris, allowing him to continue with his story.
“He didn’t believe me at first, said I was lying. He came around a little and we talked about what happened and why I didn’t know about him. He asked why Mallory never reached out.” Chris diverted his gaze from Darby to the window just over John’s shoulder. Thinking he could detach himself by staring into the distance. “He asked if she was ashamed of him. I told him that Mallory loved him with every piece of her and she was afraid I wouldn’t believe her. Right or wrong, I don’t want him to hate his mother. But he asked me if I did hate her and I had to admit that I didn’t hate her, but I still love her.”
Darby nestled back down in the bed, all of the emotion in the conversation had zapped her energy. Chris watched as John took the time to take care of his wife and kiss her on the top of her head. It made him wish that he was able to do that to Mallory. It made him wish she had survived the accident and no matter what condition she was in, he would’ve taken care of her.
Chris stood from his chair and extended his hand to John. “I should go, Darby’s tired and I left Henry with my mom. I’m scared of what she’s done with him already.” Chris let out a laugh. “She’s been so excited to meet him and spend time with him.”
Chris then moved to kiss Darby’s forehead, again. “Thank you, Darby. I know telling me the truth about what happened took its toll on you, but I appreciate that you did it. The guilt I was feeling and the guilt Henry was feeling, we needed this.”
“I know,” Darby said quietly. “I know.”
Chris turned and exited the room and began walking out of the ICU hallway. He was a little more with it than he had been when he entered the hall, a few hours ago. He signed the guestbook to indicate he was leaving and provided the duty nurse with the guest badge before making his way back towards the elevator bank.
Chris opened the front door and noticed the house was quiet. His mom’s rental car was still in the driveway so he knew she hadn’t taken off with Henry. He quietly closed the front door and began walking towards the kitchen when he heard faint voices. He realized his mom and Henry were sitting on the floor of the family room in front of the coffee table. Chris leaned against the counter, crossing his legs and his arms, deciding to listen in on the conversation between the two of them to see what he could glean from their interactions.
“This is from when mom took me to the zoo,” Henry proclaimed. Chris realized Henry was showing off family albums and his mom was looking at photos of his son that he had not even seen yet. “She said I tried to feed my ice cream to the giraffes. They were my favorites back then before I decided I liked penguins.”
“Your mom was so pretty, Henry. She looks so happy with you, her face is all lit up,” Lisa commented with reverence as she looked at the picture.
“Yeah, she was pretty,” his voice was quiet as he said the words. “I’m really going to miss her. She was my best friend.”
Lisa put her arm around Henry’s shoulder. “I know, but remember she will always be here.” Lisa pointed to Henry’s heart. “We’ll make sure we keep her memory alive for you. I know your dad will feel that way, too.”
“Am I like him?”
Lisa tossed her head back and started to laugh. “Oh, you are so much like him. In just the little bit of time I’ve spent with you, I can tell you are just like him.” Lisa reached over to smooth down Henry’s hair. “You look like your dad. I see a lot of you mom in you, but you definitely have your dad’s eyes.”
“Mom used to tell me that. She said that my dad had the most beautiful eyes ever. The prettiest blue, but that sometimes they would look green in a certain light, but they always held a woman’s attention. She told me that it would get me in trouble one day.” Henry started to laugh and Chris had to fight to keep from laughing himself.
Chris remembered that Mallory had always had a thing for his eyes. She’d admired other parts of him, but she would stare into his eyes and lose herself. Even when they would argue. It was why they’d sometimes fought without looking at one another, Mallory had known she couldn’t win if she had to look at him.
“Well, she was right about that. Your dad will have to keep watch on you and probably will have to beat the girls off with a stick!”
“He has girls following him around doesn’t he?” Henry asked innocently. “Because he’s a movie star and all, right?”
Lisa had to be careful of how she answered this question. She took a minute to gather her thoughts and then told Henry the truth. “There are a lot of women who think your dad is very handsome. So, yes, they follow him around and want to take his picture because of that. Some of them like him because he has money and they want that plus they think he is handsome.” Lisa reached over and smoothed Henry’s hair again. She just couldn’t get over how much he looked like Chris. It made her think back to when Chris was little and her memories flooded back into her mind.
“Not many of those women know that your dad is a caring and wonderful guy. Your dad is nice to his fans but he keeps his distance and he’ll want to keep you out of that spotlight. He doesn’t want that kind of attention for you and believe me, when people find out he has a handsome son, they will want to know everything about you.”
“I don’t want any attention, Mimi.” It was the first time Henry had used the term of endearment and Lisa’s heart almost exploded. “I just want to be Henry and that’s all.”
“We’ll do everything we can to make that happen.”
“Do I have to change my name?”
Lisa was not sure how to answer this one, she hadn’t been prepared for this round of questioning. “Um, I don’t know what you mean.” She elected to go with playing dumb to see if it could buy her some time to formulate an answer.
“My last name is Turner, that was mom’s last name because I didn’t have a dad. Now that I do, will I have to change my last name to Evans?”
“I think you need to talk to your dad about that. I mean, do you want to change your name?”
Henry turned from looking at Lisa and stared down at a photograph of him with his mother. He ran his fingers over the image of Mallory. “I want to keep my mom’s name, but I don’t want to make Chris mad.”
Lisa put her arm around Henry and pulled him to her side. “I don’t think you would make him mad if you told him that. He’s not going to push you into anything to make you uncomfortable.” Lisa pushed herself away from Henry for a moment and looked down at him. “As much as you’re getting used to having a dad, he’s getting used to having a son. So the two of you are bound to make some mistakes while you figure it all out. Just be patient with each other.”
Chris decided this might be a good time to make himself known. He pushed himself off the counter and moved toward the door so he could make some noise and appear as if he just walked in. He was touched by the advice and conversation between his mother and his son. He hoped that Henry was finally becoming comfortable with the idea of having an extended family.
Chris cleared his throat and entered the room, “So, are you two getting along alright?”
Lisa quickly turned around, “Chris, we didn’t hear you come in. How’s Darby doing?” Lisa began to get up from her seated position on the floor.
“Don’t get up, Ma. I don’t want to interrupt whatever you and Henry are doing.” He looked over and gave Henry a smile and noticed his son was smiling back at him. It warmed his heart to think that he might be making some headway with the boy at this point. “Um, Darby’s going to be okay. She’s hurt pretty bad, but she’s getting better and stronger.” Chris didn’t want to say much, knowing it would be hard for Henry to hear about her injuries and realize his mom didn’t make it out of the car. “I’ll leave you two alone, I think I’ll go upstairs for a bit.”
Chris turned and started to walk out of the room, electing to leave Henry and his mom alone. He would need to spend some time with Henry to let him know that the wreck wasn’t his fault. But he didn’t want to pull him away from bonding with his grandmother to have that conversation. It was something that could be done later. Instead, he needed to wrap his head around what Darby had told him and come to terms with what it all meant.
As he started to leave the room, his mom’s voice stopped him. “Did Darby give you the answer you were looking for?”
“Yeah, she did.”