3 Years Later…
I turned away from the mirror at the sound of Mads’ voice. She leaned up against the door frame of my bedroom and winked at me. Strutting across the room she twirled with her arms out to show off the full outfit.
“Nice,” I smiled.
“That’s it?” she scoffed.
“Mads, c’mon. You always look great. I’m the one with hair that doesn’t want to sit nicely under this cap.” I turned back to the mirror and fiddled around with the dumb thing a little longer.
“Okay, let me help you. This is painful to watch.” She grabbed my shoulders gently and spun me around.
After a bit of ‘Madeline Magic’, I was finally ready. We linked elbows and strutted out of our two-bedroom apartment with our heads held high.
We laughed through the parking lot as we took large diagonal steps back and forth in tandem. The energy of today zipped through my veins and put a little extra pep in my step.
“I’m bummed Emmett can’t be here today,” Madeline sighed as she climbed into the passenger seat of my car. I turned the key and clicked my seatbelt into place as my car grumbled and plunked underneath of me. This baby had gotten me through four years of university, but honestly, I wasn’t sure it would make it much further.
“Same,” I agreed, “but by the looks of his Instagram—I’d say he isn’t regretting his decision.”
Madeline laughed and clapped her hands together. “Did you see the most recent one of him and James at a 49ers fundraiser? Just dripping in cheerleaders.”
“Yeah Oliver wasn’t super happy about that one,” I grimaced. “But no doubt they’re living the NFL dream.”
“I still wish Emm was here though,” Madeline said while she stared out the window. The three of us had been almost inseparable for the first three years of college. Their friendships had kept me going through every bump along the road.
Archer and I had gotten our place together for my Sophomore year, just like we’d planned. Much to his chagrin though it ended up being a half-way house for friends who didn’t like their living arrangements. AKA, Emmett and Mads.
More often than not, at least one of them was on our couch in the living room. Emmett had to share a room at the football house with a snorer and Mads learned that living in a house filled with debate-lovers could cause serious headaches.
Read – Household enemies episode 1
Before our Senior year began, Emmett got an offer to sign early with the San Fransisco 49ers and he never looked back. James had been signed the year before, so the two of them were all over each other’s social medias together. The media had labelled them the Biggest Bromance of the NFL.
“Frick, maybe we should have left a little earlier.” I eyed the overcrowded parking lot, hoping there would be a free spot.
“Just get aggressive girl, if you see someone leaving you stalk them until you get their spot.”
We did several laps around the parking lot before I finally spotted someone climbing into their car. I zipped up behind them and awkwardly stared with my signal light on, waiting for them to move. They shot me funny looks while they dug around in their glove department but finally they turned the dang car on and pulled out.
“What time does your program go up?” I asked while I put some chapstick on and brushed the wrinkles out of my red gown.
“I think right before yours, so I’ll be able to watch you cross that stage.”
I got out of the car and caught sight of my reflection in the smudged window. Madeline had managed to get my red graduation cap to sit jauntily over my curls and I made a mental note not to let any hugs ruin it until after the ceremony.
“Okay, let’s do this,” I said determinedly to my reflection.
The small kitten heels I’d bought just for today clacked against the smooth pavement. Madeline lead the way through the growing crowd that loitered around the flower gardens outside the auditorium. The USC grad classes were so large that each program went in one at a time to have their ceremony.
“There’s my girl!” I heard before I was crushed into a hug.
“Ah! Careful with the cap I won’t be able to recreate this!” I shrieked as I grasped the hard edge and held it in place.
“Good lord Lotty, of all the things to care about on your graduation day,” Dad chastised.
Mom and Oliver came up behind him and pulled me into hugs before congratulating Madeline too. She was on her tippy toes looking around the crowd for her family who were meeting us all here.
“Mrs. Johnson is really sorry she couldn’t be here today,” Oliver said as he slung an arm around my shoulders. “She told me about 100 times to apologize to you.”
“I know she called me a few times too,” I laughed. “I get it, Annie couldn’t miss that recital.”
I smiled as I thought about the confident little girl Annie was becoming. After the divorce had been finalized Mrs. Johnson sold the house and was able to afford therapy for Annie. They had suggested that she put her into some organized activities, and turns out the littlest Johnson was a bit of a dance prodigy. At eight-years-old she was raking in the first-place trophies at almost every competition.
“Obviously James sends his love too,” Oliver added. His tone was a little tight and I could tell the Instagram pictures still bugged him.
“Ollie,” I hummed knowingly. “You know as well as I do that those pictures mean nothing. It’s all for the cameras.”
“I know.” He said defensively. “I just hate that he can post a million pictures with them and a million pictures with Emmett, but god forbid anyone knows we live together.”
Oliver and James had been going strong since the second they finally made things official. It warmed my heart how happy they were together but I knew it wasn’t a perfect situation. San Fransisco was only an hour and a half from Bellmere so James spent most of the season travelling back and forth.
Both men had decided it was better to stay low-key in Bellmere for the sake of James’ career. It took a toll on Oliver to stay out of James’ public life, but the two of them seemed to make it work usually.
“Okay cranky you better perk up because you are ruining my graduation mood,” I joked as I pushed his shoulder.
He cracked a small smile and nodded. “So is this everyone then?”
My heart squeezed and a shadow of disappointment washed over me. “Yep,” I clipped. “This is it.”
I waved to Madeline as she caught sight of her parents and rushed forward to grab them. The organizers at the door were calling her grad class forward to go inside.
Nerves started to prickle the tips of my finger, knowing that I’d be next.
Our family moved towards the door and leaned up against the brick wall while we waited for my turn. I giggled as my mom clicked a million pictures and kept straightening my dad’s tie.
My heart hadn’t fully recovered from Oliver’s question, and I couldn’t help but mope internally that today wasn’t happening exactly the way I’d imagined it.
Before I knew it, the lady with a microphone was calling my program forward. I quickly gave my mom, dad, and Oliver all hugs then followed the woman into the auditorium.
She lined all the graduates up in order then instructed us to sit in the first ten rows of chairs. I twisted in my seat and smiled when I caught sight of my family rushing to grab seats as close to the front as possible. My mom gave me a bright smile and wave then clicked a few more pictures.
Madeline and her family had snagged some seats a few rows behind them and I laughed when Mads waved her degree in her hand and ‘whooped’ at me. I shot her two big thumbs up and wiggled in excitement that we were finally here.
The commencement speaker began talking and I twisted my fingers anxiously in my lap. This was it, four years of my life in the college bubble was about to end. I had thought about this moment so many times, but now that it was here, I had no idea what to expect.
A lady crept quietly over to the front row and gestured for us to stand. I gave one last wave to my family then followed her over to the stairs where she wanted us to line up.
One at a time the speaker called my peers up on stage. My nerves spiked as each name got closer to mine.
I gripped the handle tightly as I walked up the final steps. The bright lights of the stage blinded me for a moment, but then my eyes adjusted and I saw the man smiling politely at me as he help out my degree.
I stumbled forward before catching myself and taking a deep breathe. Straightening my shoulders I moved with more confidence and shook his hand.
“Congratulations, Miss Avery.” He smiled as he passed me the rolled up paper, then gestured for me to step forward.
I moved to the centre of the stage and looked into the audience where I knew my family was. I beamed at both of my parents as I reached up and moved the tassel from one side of my cap to the other.
They both cried and clapped loudly for me, blowing kisses and hollering my name. Next to them, Oliver was acting like a complete fool as he jumped and shouted, “That’s my baby sister!”
My breath caught in my throat as I looked to his right. Tears blurred my vision as time slowed down.
Standing tall in the middle of the crowd, clapping and whistling with a proud smile, was Archer. Our eyes locked and even in the lower light I could see the mischief in his smirk.
That butthead tricked me.
I raced off stage when my moment in the sun was over and ignored the woman who was gesturing for me to go back to my seat. I shot up the isle and laughed as Archer threw his arms wide open for me to lunge at him.
“What the fricken heck!” I whisper-shouted as his arms locked around me.
“You didn’t actually think I’d miss your graduation did you,” he teased.
I cupped my hand to his cheek as though I needed to confirm he was really there. It had been a long few months since our last visit.
“Okay love birds we should sneak outside, people are starting to recognize Archer and this isn’t the time.” Dad shoved at Archer’s arm to get him moving.
Read – Sequelea of souls episode 9 – end
He didn’t put me down as he turned up the isle and walked to the exit. I squeezed his neck happily and breathed in the scent of cedar and mint.
He was really here.
“Explain yourself mister!” I whacked his arm when he put me down outside the auditorium doors.
“I really did have a brand endorsement this weekend that I couldn’t get out of!” he defended himself. “I’d been trying for weeks to make them let me out of the contract but I didn’t want to get your hopes up in case it didn’t work out.”
“But you made it,” I swooned as I wrapped my arms around his stomach. A zap of energy tingled my fingers when they settled on his rippling back muscles. I don’t think I’d ever stop melting over how ridiculously hot this man was.
“Can I take you somewhere?” He asked softly as his hands settled on my lower back. I rested my chin on his chest and smile up at him, nodding my head ‘yes’.
He grabbed my hand and tugged me through the crowd. I absentmindedly shouted at my parents that we’d be back then let him pull me away.
A few people around us nudged each other and pointed excitedly at Archer, so he lowered the Seattle Seahawks hat over his eyes.
Just like we’d all expected, Archer had been signed right after he graduated from USC. His last year with the Trojans went amazing and teams were fighting to sign him as their starting QB. I’d been terrified that he’d go somewhere really far away, but I knew he had to take the best contract that was offered.
That ended up being Seattle, which wasn’t too horrible. We’d spent the last two years flying back and forth to see each other, and using the off season to binge as much time as possible together.
Of course, as Archer’s career became bigger and bigger, that time together got shorter. He had more obligations even in the off season, and less time for me. But we always made it work.
He tugged me down a walkway behind the cafeteria and I scrunched my brow in confusion. Was he taking me back to my old dorm?
He looked over his shoulder and grinned at me. A giggle burst from my lips as his stride got faster and more excited.
“Excuse me! Little legs remember?” I pulled on his hand to slow him down.
“It’s okay we’re here anyways.” He laughed and turned off the path, walking towards a large tree. He stopped in it’s shade and looked at me expectantly.
“Don’t you remember this place?” He prodded.
Looking around, I knew where we were. This was a path I’d walked a hundred times while I was at USC. It led from the dorms to the cafeteria, and a little farther down was the building where most of my first-year classes had been.
“Remind me?” I said sheepishly.
“Sweetheart,” he groaned with an overdramatic eye roll. “This tree right here was where you had a break down on the first week of your freshman year.”
“Oh right! Gosh, you have no idea how close I was to quitting that day.” I shook my head at the memory. Life had seemed so hard and complicated back then, like I’d die if a prof called on me and I didn’t know the answer.
“But you didn’t,” Archer nodded.
“Because of you,” I acknowledged.
“Exactly. That moment, at this tree, was the point where everything changed for us. I’m pretty sure it was the first time we’d relaxed around each other and just talked. I know this was when I started seeing you differently.”
“You did?” I was surprised. I hadn’t thought Archer’s opinion of me started changing until much later.
“Yep.” He bobbed his head. “I even checked out your ass when you walked away that day.”
“You did not!” I punched his arm. “Such a pig,” I added when he smirked proudly. “So, why are we here?”
Archer stared down at me for a moment, then grabbed my hands in his.
“I wanted to bring you back to where it all began because this was the moment my life started to change. Thanks to you. I know I’ve said it before baby, but I can never thank you enough for coming into my life when you did.”
“Archer,” I interrupted, “You did just as much for me.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about the endless love I had for him. Even through the long distance, the missed Facetimes and the cancelled plans, our love never wavered.
His large hand reached out and swiped under my eye, then rested on my cheek. I tilted my face into his touch and smiled up at him.
“Before you,” he continued, “my life was just endless darkness. Even the things that should have made me happy—didn’t. I know a lot of that was from my own shitty attitude, but you changed me. You changed everything. You shone a light across everything and made me see how much I had to be grateful for. If it wasn’t for you, I know I wouldn’t be where I am now. You saved me, Sweetheart.”
Read – Mr lecturer 2 episode 41 – 43
Tears flowed freely down my cheeks now. “I love you,” I whispered.
“I love you too.”
My eyes widened as Archer dug into his pocket and pulled out a small navy box. His fingers shook slightly as he smiled at me, then dropped down onto one knee.
I stopped breathing when he turned his face up to me and pulled off his hat, setting it in the grass next to him. The messy brown waves that scattered across his forehead instantly distracted me as my fingers itched to run through them.
Shaking my head I snapped back to Archer. He gulped then took a deep breath and grabbed my hand.
“Charlotte Avery, I love you, and I’m going to love you until the day I die whether you like it or not. But I’d really like to do it with you as my wife. Will you marry me?”
I opened my mouth to answer but a crash of emotion smacked me in the face and the only sound that escaped was gasps and squeaks. My hand slapped to my mouth to stop the embarrassing noises and I rapidly nodded my head since my voice apparently didn’t want to work.
“Yes?” He laughed.
“Yes!” I cried.
“Oh shit I forgot to open the box. Damn it, James and I practised so many times too.” Archer fumbled the box open and showed me the most gorgeous ring I’d ever seen.
It made me love him even more that with a multi-million dollar NFL contract, he got a ring that was me. It was a small and delicate white-gold band, with dainty diamonds encrusting the edge, leading up to a beautiful, simple emerald cut diamond in the middle. It was perfect.
Archer clamped the delicate ring between his large fingers and brought it to my left hand. I shook as I held out my hand and watched him slip the ring on.
He jumped up and grabbed me waist, crushing me to his chest. I giggled when he picked me up and whipped us in a circle, punching the air like he’d just won a championship game.
“I love you, I love you, I love you!” He peppered my face with kisses between each word.
“I love you,” I laughed. I locked my hands behind his neck as his movements slowed. My legs wrapped around his waist and I smiled down at him. His eyes bared into mine with an intensity that made me heart flutter.
Stretching his neck up, his lips captured mine. My whole body melted from the heat of our kiss. It was filled with four years of love that had grown between us.
Four years of helping each other through the hardships of life.
Four years of laughing at everything and anything together.
Four years of being each other’s safe place, a beacon of light and peace.
Warmth spread throughout my heart as I realized that now, we’d have the rest of our lives.
Thank you for reading to the very end.