Falling Helplessly

Falling helplessly episode 27

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🔥 FALLING
HELPLESSLY 👠

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( For his brother’s friend …. 😇 )
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Written by:- Williams Kendall____✍🏽
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🏈 CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

ARCHER’S POV:

“Jesus Sweetheart, what did you put in this bag? Bricks?” I grumbled as I dragged our suitcases to the taxi. I squinted in the mid-morning light and adjusted my ball cap lower over my eyes.

“Whistler is 28 degrees Fahrenheit right now! I had to pack all of my heaviest clothes! I don’t like the cold.” Charlotte checked her purse for the 50th time to make sure she had everything we needed. I’d heard her mumbling the list to herself all morning. Passports. Plane tickets. Phone charger. Wallet. She had even insisted I give her all my stuff so there was no way I could forget them.

Are you living in Ghana, need to buy stuff online? famirac.com is the best option.

I was pretty sure a lot of her anxiety was actually because we were going to spend a week with our families as an official couple. Hell, I was nervous about that too. So I just let her focus her energy on packing and hoped that everything would go okay.

The last time I had seen Mr. Avery played on repeat in my mind. Charlotte said he was going to give us a chance but I couldn’t help but feel like nothing I could do would change his mind about me.

I threw our bags into the trunk and opened the back door for Charlotte to climb in, still mumbling under her breath. Once I’d given the driver our departure gate for LAX I pulled Charlotte into my side and k-ssed her temple.

“We’re going to have a good week, Sweetheart. Just relax.”

My phone buzzed in my pocket so I gave her one more quick k-ss and checked it. Anger prickled my skin when I saw that it was my dad. The d-ckhead had taken to calling me pretty regularly since New Years, but I never answered. I couldn’t give two f-cks what he wanted to say to me. From what my mom has said, the divorce proceedings have not gone well. My dad’s lawyers are considering her offer on the house but they are still d-cking her around. If I talked to him right now I wouldn’t be able to control my anger and I was not about to act like that with my sweet girl resting in my arms.

We arrived at the airport two-and-a-half hours early, just like Charlotte had planned. By the time we got checked in and through security we had an hour to kill before our flight left. We would be the last to arrive in Whistler since everyone else flew out really early this morning from Bellmere.

I had originally thought my family would have to pull out of this trip because we couldn’t afford the flights anymore, but my mom insisted that Mr. Avery’s bid had included air-fair. Something in me tingled that that probably wasn’t true and that the Avery’s were footing more of a bill than they let on. I made a mental note to pay them back once I started making money.

“Oh shit,” I pulled up short on our way to the gate, making Charlotte stop too. I smiled sheepishly when she raised her eyebrows at me. “We actually did forget something.”

“What! No way. I checked everything so many times! What did we forget? Do we have to go back?” Charlotte talked really fast while she twisted on her f-ngers.

“No, we just have to go in here,” I said as I grabb£d her hand and pulled her into the small airport store. I peered around the aisles until I found my target then led Charlotte to the back corner of the store.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Charlotte deadpanned, making me chuckle.

“No? I really forget to pack them,” I said casually as I perused the shelves.

Her little fists went to her wa-ist as she c-cked out one hip. “Why the heck do we need c-ndoms anyway? This is a family trip, our parents will never leave us alone.”

I internally sighed, knowing that time together would be a long sh-ot. But ever since Charlotte and I’d had s-x last month, it felt like we barely got any time alone. Those short two days at the cabin had been mind-bl-wing. Literally. I’d never experienced anything like it. I couldn’t have wiped the shit-eating grin off my face for anything. But then we’d come home and we were either at her place with Madeline or my place with a bunch of idiot football players. We’d had to take advantage of small moments of privacy but it never felt like enough.

“God knows where there’s a will, there’s a way baby,” I said as I grabb£d a box and walked to the check-out.

Charlotte hurried up behind me looking around anxiously as though we were going to get arrested for buying c-ndoms. “Do not bring God into this, sir.”

“Ooph,” I said under my breath as I gave her a cheeky grin, “call me sir again.”

“You’re unbelievable,” she sighed as a blush k-ssed the tip of her nose and spread to her cheeks. f-ck, she’s so god damn cute. I hoped that no matter how much s-x we had—and I did hope we’d have a lot—that she never lost that blush.

The flight to Whistler was painful. Those tiny damn seats are not built for 6’4 guys. Thank god Charlotte is like two feet tall so I could stretch my legs into her space—but it only barely helped. I spent the three-hour flight shifting and stretching to get comfortable. When the plane finally touched down I almost started clapping like an idiot I was so relieved.

Charlotte immediately started vibrating when the cold Canadian air nipped around us on the tarmac. I w-rapped her t¡ghtly in my arms and rushed forward towards the electric doors of the airport. The cold bite on my nose and the crunch of snow under my boots felt amazing but I didn’t like to see Charlotte uncomfortable.

Once we picked up our luggage we went to a coffee shop to get warm drinks and so Charlotte could dig around in her bag for warmer clothes. She must have put on half her suitcase because by the time she was done all I could see was her cute little red nose sticking out of a scarf.

We grabb£d another taxi to take us to the Villa that we’d be staying at. Charlotte excitedly babbled on for the wh0le drive about the research she’d done on the place. I guess it was pretty fancy and had been the vacation spot for many celebrities. But March was the very end of the skiing season in Whistler so that’s why it had been donated to the auction.

I thought she might have been exaggerating but when we pulled up in front of an extravagant mansion tucked into the side of vast snow-capped mountains—I was impressed. I paid the driver then helped Charlotte out of the backseat. She hovered behind me while I grabb£d the luggage and I knew her nerves were hitting her again.

I held out my hand in silent invitation and was pleased when she instantly snuck her small hand into mine. I straightened my spine, took a deep breath, and led us both up to the front door. Suspense flooded my veins as I raised my hand to the large bronze door-knocker and dropped it against the deep mahogany wood several times. Footsteps ran to the door and I relaxed when Oliver’s face popped out.

“Well, well, well. Look who it is!” Ollie stepped out and grabb£d my hand, pulling me in so our shoulders bumped together. “Good to see you, man!” Vodka stung my nose when Oliver’s breath wafted over me and I tried to control my reaction. Depending on how much Oliver had drunk today, he could get pretty angry if you pointed it out.

I stepped aside to let Oliver hug Charlotte and frowned slightly when I saw that her greeting wasn’t as nice as mine. Oliver said and did all of the right things, but they were empty. His demeanour was instantly colder and more disconnected. The pain that sh-ot across Charlotte’s face when he patted her back told me she felt it too.

“The lovely couple has arrived!” Oliver shouted into the house as he opened the door wider for us to walk in. I sh-ot him an exasperated looked but he just grinned at me and widened his eyes innocently.

I c-cked an eyebrow when I saw that my mom was carrying Annie. She struggled to take each step carefully as she balanced the growing five-year-old on her hip. I stepped forward as she reached the bottom step and reached out to grab Annie from her.

The second my hands touched her back Annie shrieked and clung to Mom while she kicked her legs and thrashed against my touch.

“Woah Annie!” I looked at my mom in shock and she grimaced as she tried to calm the kid down. It was then that I noticed the h-uge dark bags under her eyes and a few more wrinkles around her mouth. Annie perked up when she heard my voice and I tried to smile gently at her but internally I was spiralling.

Annie relaxed once she realized it was me and held her arms out for me to take her. Once she was settled on my hip I pulled my mom in for a hug as well. My anxiety only got worse when I felt how boney her shoulders were. She flashed me a quick smile as she stepped back but I couldn’t return it.

We all went to sit down and catch up while Mrs. Avery served h-ot chocolate. The formal living room was adorned with bronze fixtures, deep h-rdwood, and fur rugs. I sank into a leather armchair with Annie still clinging to my neck. I rubb£d her back gently in hopes that she’d relax her grip a bit or lift her head up but she didn’t.

I sighed and looked up to see Mr. Avery watching us with a grim look on his face. His eyes were on Annie as he pressed his l-ips t¡ghtly together and shook his head. I kept my face neutral as our gazes connected. I couldn’t tell if he was pitying us or judging us but either way, I didn’t want it.

“Alright,” he cleared his throat when everyone was sitting. “So let’s get the logistics out of the way. Oliver and Archer, you two will be in the two b£drooms in the west-wing. Charlotte you are sharing with Annie in the east. Beth and I will take the master in the west-wing as well, and Pam you have the master in the east to yourself.”

It took everything in me not to roll my eyes at the room arrangements. Of course, he’d made sure there was a parent in both wings of this massive house. It sparked a certain thrill in me, at the challenge he’d created. It wouldn’t be easy, but I was getting Charlotte alone this week one way or another.

She was currently sharing a small couch with her mom, they both clung to each other as though they’d been apart for years. Oliver was in the other armchair with a drink in his hands. His face was calm but there was a shadow in his eyes that didn’t sit right with me. It was a look that honestly I used to get a lot, and I knew it accompanied dark thoughts. The longer we sat there the more I was convinced that this week would be a shit-show.

Later that evening, I was in my room alone as I unpacked my bags. A loud bang on the wall drew my curiosity and I walked next door to Oliver’s room. I knocked a couple of times and he didn’t answer, so I went in.

Ollie was laying on his b£d with a liquor bottle in his hand. He looked up when I walked in and I cringed at the dead look in his eye. He looked like he’d been chugging away at the vodka for a while as he tried to focus on my face. It wasn’t until I was right next to the b£d that he perked up and seemed to recognize me.

I smacked his hand down when he wouldn’t stop reaching and pouting for the bottle. “Dude, what the f-ck is going on?”

Even wasted, Ollie still managed to give an easy-going grin. I’d watched him time and time again use that crooked smile to get us out of trouble. “Whaddya mean? Everythin’ is good bro.”

If it had been anyone else—I would have believed them. But while his smile said one thing, his eyes said something completely different. I had watched apprehensively for years while my best friend made shit decisions to deal with his problems, but I’d never seen him like this.

“Come on man, I can tell something is wrong,” I sighed. “What? Is it still me and Charlotte? Did something happen at work? Just f-cking tell me.”

Oliver’s eyes glazed over with tears which he aggressively rubb£d away. He dropped his head back against the headboard and c-cked in a breath through a choked sob. “I can’t,” he whispered in his drunken slur. “I can’t man. I don’t know what to f-ckin’ do anymore. It’s too h-rd. And now he’s—” Oliver gro-ned and banged his head h-rd against the headboard.

“Okay, okay, breathe.” I tried to use the same voice I did when Charlotte was panicking. “It’s okay dude, alright? You don’t have to say anything tonight.”

Oliver looked at me with foggy eyes as he nodded. “What do I do?” He croaked as a tear escaped his eye.

“Tonight, you sleep. Then tomorrow we’ll figure it out.” I pushed Oliver’s shoulder a bit to get him to lie down. The second he was flat on his back his eyes started to droop closed. I went back into my room and took all of the pillows off my b£d, then went back to check on Ollie.

He was already fast asleep when I dropped all of my pillows on his b£d. I grabb£d his shoulders and shifted him to his side then crammed all of the extra pillows behind his back to keep him from rolling over. I got the garbage can from his bathroom and tried to line it up under his face in case he woke up to puke.

I was about to leave him when I stopped and looked back at my best friend. I had theories about what was going on with him, but I didn’t know for sure. We’d never really spoken about our feelings and shit. I’d vent to him occasionally about my dad, then we’d move on. But growing up, I’d always seen Oliver’s life—all of the Avery’s lives—as pretty perfect.

Now though, something was seriously wrong with Oliver. Guilt smacked me in the face as I acknowledged that whatever it was had been brewing for a while. This wasn’t the first time I’d had to put Ollie to b£d and make sure he didn’t choke on his own puke. When I was a teenager, I was too dumb—or maybe too selfish—to think much of it. But in the last couple of years, it had been h-rder to ignore.

I could try to justify it by saying that I was never home anymore. I spent eleven months of the year at USC for school then training camps. But seeing him like this—no excuse was enough to make myself feel less guilty.

I grabb£d a blanket from the end of the b£d and crossed the room to an armchair in the corner. I tried to get comfortable as I angled the chair towards Ollie and propped my feet up on the ottoman. Sleep almost claimed me when my phone vibrated in my pocket.

“You have got to stop f-cking calling me!” I snapped into the phone as I lifted it to my ear. I checked on Oliver but my raised voice hadn’t woken him.

“Watch your tone your man,” my father drawled on the other end of the call.

I tried to keep my voice low but deadly as I crunched my free hand into a fist. “Seriously f-ck off. I don’t want you to call me again. Do you have any idea how much damage you’ve caused? Annie is like a completely different f-cking kid, and Mom looks like she hasn’t slept in two months.”

His voice was without remorse as he spoke. “Well, I really don’t see how that’s my fault? I’ve left them alone, I haven’t done anything. But it’s you I need to talk to.”

“I’ll give you the next thirty seconds then you’re out of my life for good,” I growled.

“See now, that doesn’t work for me. Do you have any idea how much I’ve invested in your future career? How much money and time I’ve spent making sure you get to the NFL? I’m not losing all of that over some drama with your mother.”

I stood up and paced the room as my blood boiled with anger. Every inch of my skin felt h-ot and irritated as I resisted the urge to punch a wall. “You really are a piece of shit you know that right?”

“You might see it that way,” my dad said in a bored tone, “but I think one day you might thank me for all I’ve given you.”

A sarcastic laugh burst from my throat. My fist was clenched so t¡ghtly I could feel the skin of my palm breaking under my nails. “So why the f-ck do you keep calling me then? What do you want?”

“Here’s the thing, my lawyers are prepared to draw out this divorce as long as we possibly can. Your mom thinks she has an airt¡ght case for child support but it won’t matter much when she’s fighting injunctions and delays for the next two years. But I’m willing to let it all go, and sign tomorrow. I’ll even let her keep the house.”

“Oh yeah?” I seethed. “And why are you going to do that?”

“Because you aren’t going to cut me out.”

I stumbled for a moment as his answer threw me. “If you think I’m going to have a relationship with you then you are f-cking dumb.”

“That’s fine, I don’t really care about that. What I do care about is the opportunities that will come from you being in the NFL. When you sign, I will still be a part of your ₱vblic life. I spent a lot of years planning for how your career could benefit my businesses and I won’t lose that.”

“So what? You want to play a happy family for the cameras?”

“Ess£ntially,” he agreed. I thought about it for a moment. It made my skin crawl to think about him leeching off my potential-future career, but my mom needed him to settle. A part of me also considered that this could all change in a year. Something might happen that prevented me from getting drafted, but it would be too late and my mom would already have the house and be free.

“Fine.” Bile rose in my throat as I gave him what he wanted. “But I have conditions too. Mom and Annie get to be with me when I get drafted, and for my first game. I’m not taking that away from them and I’m not making them be around you.” I said firmly with no room for negotiations. “After that, we can work something out to get you your shining moment, Princess.” I added sarcastically.

His low laugh through the phone made me want to take it all back. “Agreed,” he said simply. “I’ll let the lawyers know tomorrow. Good chatting with you son.”

“Goodbye Bryan.”

I sat up watching Oliver sleep for most of the night. A part of me was relieved that my mom and sister would be okay for the foreseeable future, but at what cost? How much would my dad expect from me in a year’s time?

I couldn’t help but feel like I’d just sold my soul to the devil.
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CHARLOTTE’S POV:

“Careful Lotty!” Mom yelled from the bottom of the staircase. I struggled to walk down each step because I was bundled up so t¡ghtly in layers. My legs could barely bend in the leggings, thermal underwear, and sweatp-nts that they were clad in. My grip stayed locked on the banister so I didn’t go tumbling down like a rolly-polly.

Archer must have heard my mom because he came around the corner from the kitchen to grin up at me. He let out a small laugh then jogged up the stairs easily to offer me his hand. My mom made a bunch of cooing noises as she went back to finish our breakfast.

Once we entered the kitchen, it was very obvious that everyone had just heard about Archer’s chivalry. Mom and Mrs. Johnson both gave us googly eyes while my dad and Oliver looked shiftily at our connected hands. Our moms almost broke the sound barrier with their reactions when Archer lifted me onto a stool.

“Alright that’s enough out of the peanut gallery,” Archer grumbled as he walked over to his mom and k-ss her cheek. I frowned when I heard his hoarse voice. It sounded like he’d been at a concert all night scre-ming.

Mrs. Johnson grabb£d her son’s jaw and moved his face around so that she could give him a good look over. “Are you sick?”

Archer cleared his throat and shook his head, “No, I just didn’t get a lot of sleep.”

I didn’t miss how my dad’s head snapped over to me and I was grateful that I currently looked fresh as a daisy. Annie had wanted to sleep in her mom’s b£d last night so I had the room to myself. I’d taken a long bath in the big stone tub and passed out in that soft heavenly b£d by ten o’ clock.

Archer cleared his throat and shook his head, “No, I just didn’t get a lot of sleep.”

I didn’t miss how my dad’s head snapped over to me and I was grateful that I currently looked fresh as a daisy. Annie had wanted to sleep in her mom’s b£d last night so I had the room to myself. I’d taken a long bath in the big stone tub and passed out in that soft heavenly b£d by ten o’ clock.

“So what’s the plan for today, kiddies?” Mom asked as she p-oured everyone coffee and handed them out.

“Arch and I are renting boards and going up the Black Diamond,” Oliver said from his spot at the counter. He was slumped over his coffee with his fist holding up his face. He looked as tired as Archer—and much more haggard. Looking between both boys I wondered what kept them up last night.

“Are you okay with that?” Archer said quietly as he took the stool next to me. Oliver audibly scoffed under his breath before taking a big sip of coffee.

“Of course!” I said quickly flicking my eyes over to Oliver. He wasn’t looking at us but he was obviously listening. “You guys have fun. I don’t even think I’m good enough to go on the Bunny Hill with Annie.”

“I’m not skiing!”Annie’s little voice came from the floor behind the island. I hadn’t even noticed she was down there.

“I know baby, I already said I’d stay home with you today, you don’t have to ski.” Mrs. Johnson cooed as she looked down at her feet where Annie must be tucked.

I peeked over at Archer through my hair to see him frowning at his mom. I could tell something was off yesterday with the Johnsons but I hadn’t gotten a chance to ask him about it.

“Oh Pam,” my mom said sadly, “does that mean you aren’t coming to the spa?” Mrs. Johnson grimaced and shook her head. “Okay… well Lotty do you want to come then?” Mom asked.

“Actually, why don’t I stay here with Annie and you two go to the spa?” I offered.

“Oh, sweetpea you don’t have to do that.” Mrs. Johnson waved her hand at me in dismissal. “I’m sure you’d rather go skiing or something.”

I shrugged and gave her a half-smile. “I’ve been dreading going on the hill actually. I’d much rather hang around here.”

“Well, that settles that then!” My mom hooted shooting me a wink. Warmth ran through me when Archer casually dropped his hand on my th-igh and squ-eesed gently.

“What are you going to do today Dad?” I asked my father who had so far been mostly silent from his place next to the fridge.

“You can come out with us if you want?” Oliver said from over his coffee mug. Archer’s hand on my th-igh t¡ghtened for a moment before he huffed quietly and released me.

“Oh yes Tim,” my mom smiled, “go with the boys! How perfect now we are all set.”

An hour later Oliver led my dad and Archer outside to catch the shuttle to the ski lifts. I smiled widely at all of them from the door as I waved goodbye. It was disheartening to see all three very unenthusiastic waves back. I knew Archer and my dad were both not looking forward to spending time together but Oliver—he was an anomaly. He had said we were good but now, he didn’t even make eye contact as he half-heartedly flopped his hand in my direction.

I spent most of the day worrying about all three men. I didn’t have much else to do since Annie spent the wh0le time we were alone hiding under a table. I’d tried to lure her out with sweets and Disney movies but nothing worked. So, dejectedly I had sat on the cold tile in front of her, resting my face on my knees, and p-oured over my problems for hours. Anxiety pounded through my veins as the minutes ticked by.

The front door slammed open, alerting me that someone was home. I gave Annie one last pleading look but she ignored me while she nibbled on the sandwich I had slid over to her.

“I’m so sorry!” I rushed towards Archer standing in the doorway as he brushed snow off his jacket. I ignored my dad and brother’s shocked looks as I threw myself at my boyfriend for a hug.

Archer’s arms locked around my wa-ist instantly and held me t¡ght. “What’s the matter? Is Annie okay?”

“I tried so h-rd Archer but she has spent the wh0le day hiding. I’m so sorry I don’t know what I did wrong but she won’t even talk to me.” I whimpered into his cold jacket.

I turned my face up to see Archer sharing a knowing look with my dad. I. scrunched my brows in confusion as Archer smiled weakly down at me. “It’s not your fault. Annie’s just… struggling right now. I should have warned you before I left.” I nodded sadly, still feeling like a failure. Archer patted my back then kicked off his boot and went into the living room to find Annie.

My dad chucked me on the shoulder as he walked by and smiled gently. “Chin up, kiddo.”

Once he had left out of sight it was just Ollie and me. I turned to ask him how his day was but he just held out a hand and stomped upstairs. I froze as I watched him go before I shook myself and decided enough was enough. I couldn’t handle this anymore.

I charged up after him and caught his door just as he swung it closed. “What the heck is your problem,” I asked as I let myself in.

Oliver spun around and glared at me while he started taking off his w€t top-layers. “Nothing Charlotte get out.”

“I did try!” Oliver snapped. “Okay, I f-cking did exactly what Archer wanted. I apologized to you and I tried to let it go. But it’s just not that easy right now.”

Tears burned my eyes as I tried to hold myself together. “So, you only apologized because Archer asked you to?”

Oliver sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “I apologized because I wanted everything to be normal again. But I didn’t realize I’d still feel this way.”

“And how do you feel?” I spoke quietly so my voice wouldn’t break. Oliver’s eyes were still closed so he couldn’t see my tears, but I knew he’d hear them.

“I don’t want to res£nt you,” he said in a hushed tone. He turned his back to me and stared out the window. “I really don’t Lotty. You’re my sister and I love you. But I can’t seem to stop res£nting you.”

Oliver’s shoulders shook and I knew he was crying silent tears. I wanted to run to him and hold him but I stayed back to give him space. “I don’t know anymore. I can’t sort my own feelings out. I’m so f-cking confused Lotty. I have tried for f-cking years to get my head straight b-but I just can’t.”

“But why? Because I’m with Archer?”

Tears p-oured freely down my cheeks now as I listened to the pain in Oliver’s voice. What was my infallible big brother going through?

Oliver took a deep breath as he pushed his f-ngers through his hair. We both stayed silent for a few minutes as Oliver stared out the window and I stared at him.

“Did you know that I used to love the fact that you loved Archer?” Oliver’s question threw me for a loop as I stuttered to answer. “I mean when we were kids,” he clarified. “Your crush on him made me feel safer and comfortable. Everyone was always cooing about how cute little Lotty’s crush was… they never noticed—” Oliver stopped talking as he crumpled over and sobb£d into his hands.

I rushed forward and sank to the ground next to my brother. I w-rapped my arms t¡ghtly around his shaking body and pulled him into me.

“They’d never notice that I loved him too,” Oliver whispered into my hair as he hugged me back. I stayed silent for a moment, processing what he had just said. My heart broke over and over again as every new revelation smacked me in the face.

“Is that why you res£nt me? Because I’m with him?” I asked as I k-ssed his shoulder that was in front of my face.

“I thought it was? But now I’m not so sure. I think I’m just jealous that you get to be open and free with who you really are and I… don’t.”

“Who says you don’t?” I lifted my face defiantly to look at Oliver. He was staring at his f-ngers and refused to meet my eye. “Oliver, whatever this is that you’re telling me—I’m here for you. I want you to be as free as anyone else.”

“It’s not that simple Lotty,” Oliver sobb£d. I sat in front of him and held his hands in mine. His f-ngers were still cold from the winter air outside so I rubb£d mine together for friction.

“Why not?”

“Because!” I ignored the venom in his voice, knowing now that Oliver needed me to be strong and calm for both of us. “What the f-ck am I supposed to do? Tell people that I like guys? That I’m… g-y. Everything will f-cking change. I don’t want my life to be different. I want to go play golf with the boys on Saturdays and watch football with Dad on Sundays. I don’t want people to see me any differently.”

“Ollie…” I squ-eesed his hand to get him to look up. It took a moment before he reluctantly met my eyes. “Absolutely nothing has to change. You are still Ollie no matter what! And everybody loves you. I love you. Being g-y defines who you love, not who you are. You can still do all of those things! You’ll just be able to do them while loving openly as well.”

Oliver stared back at me in shock. I tinge of relief flooded my stomach when a spark lit his eyes. “Do you think that’s possible?”

“I know it is. Look I know now and I don’t see you any differently?” I held up my hands to show off my face like Vanna White. A smile touched my l-ips when Oliver chuckled softly.

“Thanks, Lotty.” Oliver grimaced and rubb£d his hand over his face. “I shouldn’t have said that stuff about you and Archer. I actually think you’re pretty great together. It makes me a little nauseous but even a blind person could see how happy you two are.”

“But I don’t want to be happy at your expense Ollie. If your feelings are that strong then I don’t know how I could stay with him.” My heart twisted in my chest and pulled the air from my lungs at the thought of not having Archer anymore. But Oliver was my brother, and I couldn’t hurt him like that.

“You’d do that for me?” Oliver whispered as his eyebrows lifted into his hairline.

Emotions restricted my breathing and t¡ghtened my throat so I could only nod as I wiped a few tears away from my mouth. Oliver gave me a sad smile and pushed my shoulder.

“You’re too good Charlotte. You should be a bit more selfish sometimes. At any rate, I don’t want you to break up with Archer for me. I realized a while ago that Archer and I were always meant to be brothers. Who knows if things work out with you two, maybe we’ll be real ones.”

A laugh burst from the back of my throat in relief. “So your feelings are gone?”

Oliver stared at me for a moment before leaning forward. “If I tell you something you have to keep it a secret okay? It’s not my story to be sharing.” I nodded quickly in agreement. “I’m not gonna lie my feelings for Archer stuck around for a while. It wasn’t until last year I met someone else—someone who could actually like me back. Once I started spending time with them I figured out pretty quickly that my feelings for Archer weren’t that real.”

“Well, that’s great!” I exclaimed.

He winced and rubb£d the back of his neck. “Not really… See… Okay, f-ck I just need to say it. It’s James.”

“That’s the thing! He’s not. He’s out and comfortable at home with his family and friends, he just doesn’t talk about it at school because he doesn’t think the NFL will draft a g-y guy.”

“James is in the closet?’ I gawked.

“Holy… guacamole.” I stared out the window in a haze as I processed everything.

“Yep.” Oliver nodded. “But I f-cked it up. James has been helping me all year but even he’s sick of me now.”

I rubb£d Oliver’s knee sympathetically. “What happened?”

“He just got tired of dealing with all my bullshit, I don’t know. He’s been feeling closer to Archer recently, and he threw out the idea of telling you guys so we didn’t always have to hide. I panicked and said a bunch of shit I didn’t mean when I was drunk. Now he’s ignoring me.”

“Nothing has been done that can’t be fixed,” I assured him. Before he could respond the door opened and Archer came striding in, he stopped short when he saw us sitting on the floor with w€t faces.

“What’s going on here?” He asked unsurely as he flicked his eyes between us.

Oliver and I both look at each other and understanding dawned on us at the same time. We were slobbery, snotty, tear-stained messes. We burst into a fit of laughter as Archer stared even more confused. I choked on air as I tried to settle down but my body convulsed and shuddered as I laughed. Oliver was no better, loud hyena-like barks were coming out of him as he held his chest and squinted his eyes shut.

Archer approached us slowly as though we were bombs about to go off and sank down between us. “Can someone fill me in?”

I rubb£d the fresh tears from my eyes—this time from laughing so h-rd. The nerves on Oliver’s face sobered me up and I tried to give him a supportive smile. This was his choice, and I didn’t want to push him. But I also hated the idea of him feeling trapped by his own secrets.

Oliver nodded at me and turned to Archer stiffly. He threw his shoulders back and I could practically see the invisible armour he was equipping himself with. “Archer… I’m g-y and I loved you for most of our childhood but I don’t anymore because I was with James but I also f-cked that up but I’m going to try and fix it.” Oliver’s words were rushed out on a single breath and once he was done he c-cked in air gratefully.

I eyed Archer to make sure he wasn’t about to be a jerk. He rested his elbow on his knee and rubb£d his knuckles along his jaw. A frown touched his brow but I could tell it was the frown he got when he was thinking really h-rd, not angry. “No f-cking way…” he sighed. “James is g-y?”

Mine and Oliver’s mouths both simultaneously popped open. I mentally facepalmed at my idiot boyfriend for focusing on the wrong details. Oliver seemed to think it was funny though as a bemused smile lit up his face. “Yeah, but did you hear the part where I am too?”

Archer shrugged nonchalantly, “Well yeah, I kind of figured.”

Strangled garble fell out of Oliver’s mouth before he collected himself. “So you knew?”

“I had my theories… I never knew for sure.” Archer said casually. “I mean you always made such a big deal about us going out looking for girls—but then you never took them home.”

I couldn’t help but scoff lightly at the thought of Archer going on a hunt for women. He sh-ot me a worried look and added quickly, “Hey I didn’t bring them home either!”

I rolled my eyes but I was too happy with how everything was unfolding to really care.

“So you knew…” Oliver repeated in a daze. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“What was I gonna say, man? I figured you weren’t ready to talk about it and I wasn’t going to force you.”

Oliver flung himself forward and aggressively hugged Archer. I laughed at his shocked face before he finally sighed and patted Oliver’s back. The two boys hugged for quite a while before they pulled apart. I diverted my gaze and pretended not to notice the red rings around Archer’s eyes.

I shook my head as they both cleared their throats and punched each other’s arms as though they needed to reaffirm their bro status.

Archer leaned back on his fists and smirked at Oliver. “So you were in love with me hey?”

“f-ck off, man,” Ollie laughed.

“Huh,” Archer mused, “it just seems like I’m pretty irresistible to the Avery siblings.” He hissed through his teeth when I reached out and pinched the underside of his arm. Oliver hooted with laughter as Archer glared at me and rubb£d his sore flesh.

“Watch yourself, big guy,” I warned with a sweet smile.

The door swung open again and my dad walked through. He sh-ot us all odd looks before he settled on Archer. “I was hoping you’d be in here. Want to meet me out on the patio in ten?”

My head swung back and forth between them fast enough to get whiplash. What the heck was going on today? Archer nodded briefly and my dad left us alone again.

“What the f-ck?” Oliver said stunned.

“Yeah what he said,” I added.

Archer shuffled awkwardly and grabb£d my hand to play with my f-ngers in his lap. “Some shit went down with my dad,” he finally said. Oliver and I both stayed silent as we waited for him to continue. “He’s trying to get me caught up in all of this divorce bullshit. I thought I had it all taken care of last night but of course the f-cker had other plans. He’s going to keep complicating shit until he gets exactly what he wants.”

“So what does my dad have to do with that?” I asked softly.

Archer glared at Oliver. “Well after somebody abandoned me on the chairlift I was stuck riding up with your dad.”

“Hey,” Oliver held his hands up innocently, “I ride goofy you know I can’t share a seat with someone else.”

“Anyways, we got to talking and your dad already had some theories about what my dad was up to. He offered to help me out.”

“That’s great!” I exclaimed as I bopped him on the arm with my fist. Archer smiled at me but his eyes were clouded over.

“Yeah, we’ll see. He offered to help for Annie and my mom—not as an olive branch to me.”

Archer left shortly after that and Oliver had to physically hold me back so I wouldn’t go snooping. I was desperate for Archer and my dad to smooth things over and I hoped that it could happen while they stuck it to Bryan-The-Ultimate-Jerkface-Johnson.

“But maybe it will turn into that?” Ollie offered.

I focused my energy instead on Oliver. We climb£d into his big b£d and talked late into the night. Archer must have told everyone we were fine because no one came looking for us. My heartfelt light and happy as I watched my brother weigh his options.

He was still nervous about what he wanted to do, but his face was clear of the darkness it had held recently. The selfish part of me was also grateful that he was opening up to me. It felt like our relationship had been given a do-over. I realized now that Oliver had been holding back so much around me, but those walls were slowly falling. We spoke as equals, not as a baby sister and her protective older brother.

He was still nervous about what he wanted to do, but his face was clear of the darkness it had held recently. The selfish part of me was also grateful that he was opening up to me. It felt like our relationship had been given a do-over. I realized now that Oliver had been holding back so much around me, but those walls were slowly falling. We spoke as equals, not as a baby sister and her protective older brother.

I want to help him as much as he’s helped me. Those were my last thoughts as we fell asleep hand-in-hand, both smiling into the darkness.

**********************************************************************************************************************

Tbc…

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