Falling Helplessly

Falling helplessly episode 29

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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 NINE

ARCHER’S POV:

I gro-ned as I dragged my suitcase up the walkway to the football house. Loud shouts were flying out of the front door that sat partially ajar and I knew the guys were having people over. I was slightly relieved when I stepped inside and saw that it was just the team. The guys must have invited some of the second-stringers and rookies over. I was so exhausted from Whistler I don’t think I could have handled a full party today.

“Arch my man!” Tyler called from the couch. The beer cans littered across the coffee table gave me a clear indicator of the state they were all in. “We’re planning the grad party, come help!”

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I went to the kitchen to grab a beer, acknowledging my teammates as I went. I could tell more than a few of the rookies were half-cut and I figured there was some last-minute hazing going on. The season was over, so once they were initiated at the grad party they’d all be free of the rookie hell. Then they get to join in next year when the fresh meat comes along. It’s a sick cycle but hey, the world keeps spinning.

“Hey, Archer!” Emmett called from a couch in the corner, he pushed one of his friends in the face to get him to scooch over and make space. “How was Whistler?” He asked as I dropped into the seat next to him and cracked a beer. It was a little t¡ght so I glared at the rookie on my other side until he got up and moved.

“It was… eventful,” I responded unsurely.

“Nice! Did you hit the Black Diamonds? Ohhh did you eat at Araxi? I watched a video about their oysters and Jesus did they look good. I told Charlotte to tell you, did she?”

Damn this kid can talk. I couldn’t even keep track of what he had asked. “She mentioned them, yeah but we couldn’t get a reservation.” I slammed back my beer and relaxed as the cool foam slid down my throat. Emmett continued to chatter on and I nodded occasionally, throwing him a ‘hmmm’ once in a while. I couldn’t put my f-nger on what it was about him, but he didn’t bug me as most people did.

I mean, the kid could go from talking about a cool butterfly he saw to beating up two guys for disrespecting his teammates. There was something so bizarre about him that I had to respect it.

“Holy f-ck. How has Johnson not murdered you yet?” Brock a second-string linebacker laughed across the room.

“Oh, you hadn’t heard?” Tyler laughed, “Archer’s gone soft, boys.”

“Love will do that to you,” Emmett mused next to me. I sh-ot him a glare for adding fuel to the fire and rolled my eyes when he smiled sheepishly.

“f-ck off I have not,” I grumbled into my beer.

“No f-cking way!” Brock laughed. “Say it ain’t so… Johnson are you really in love?”

I took a moment to finish my beer. I don’t know why my ears felt h-ot at the question. I wasn’t used to be at the receiving end of the team’s razzing. I guess I was going soft if these f-ckfaces thought they could mess with me. When I’d gulped the last drop of beer I lowered the can and nodded my head slowly, grimacing when the guys all made over dramatic cooing sounds.

A rookie who I barely recognized leaned forward on the couch across from me, laughing obnoxiously. He was clearly wasted with his bloodsh-ot eyes and slightly sweaty face.

“What’s so funny Rookie?” I challenged. The edge in my voice quieted my teammates who had known me longer. The rookie didn’t seem that smart though.

He kept laughing as he cracked another beer. “Oh how the mighty have fallen,” he slurred dramatically. “I just can’t believe that any ₱vzzy—no matter how good—is worth tying yourself down in college.”

It was silent for a moment as I calmly put my beer on the table and stood up, cracking my neck. The idiotic rookie kept chuckling to himself as I walked towards him. He stopped short when I stood in front of him, his glassy eyes caught sight of my legs then trailed all the way up—from my clenched fists to my pissed off face.

“What the f-ck did you just say about my girl?” I asked quietly.

The rookie whipped around looking to his teammates for help, but no one spoke. “H-hey Archer, man, I didn’t mean a-anything by it,” he stuttered.

“Talk like that about her again, and I’ll beat the shit of your bitch ass. Got it?” I said in a deathly serious tone. I wasn’t going to pound on a guy when he was two sips from being blacked out. But I wasn’t going to let him off the hook either.

“You have gone soft,” Brock laughed into the shocked silence of the guys. I dropped onto the couch and grabb£d an unopened beer. “The Archer I remember would have kicked that kid’s teeth in.”

“Oh f-ck off I would not have,” I growled as I cracked the beer. “The little shit just needed a lesson in respect.”

“To be fair to him,” Tyler interjected. “It’s not like you talk about your feelings a lot big boy. How was he supposed to know that Charlotte has you whipped beyond belief.”

I popped the tab off my beer and spiked it across the room, catching Tyler right in the forehead. I smiled sadistically at him as he gro-ned and gave me the middle f-nger. “I’m not f-cking whipped. I’m just in love, you idiots should try it if you ever find a girl to let you touch her.”

“Tyler’s right though man,” another teammate added. “We only know how special that little lady is because we see her all the time with you w-rapped around her f-nger.”

“I think it’s nice,” Emmett sighed dreamily.

“I think it’s gross,” Brock smirked. He’s lucky he was a s£nior or his comments would be getting him booted from the house. There was a hierarchy on our team, and even as a second-stringer he got more leeway.

“If it was anyone but Charlotte, I’d think it’s gross too.” Tyler grimaced at the thought of love. “But a girl like her is worth giving up the endless amounts of ass you can get as a football player.”

“Real f-ckin’ poetic dipshit.” I glared over my beer can.

I’d hit my quota for morons today so I finished my beer and went up to my room. The guys’ comments mulled around in my head as I unpacked. Was it possible that people could think Charlotte was just another girl? I f-cking hated that. She wasn’t any girl, she was my girl. If I got my way it would stay like that for… well forever. I couldn’t imagine a day where I would want to be without her.

It shouldn’t have bothered me what other people thought, but it did. I knew my reputation with girls was pretty shitty before Charlotte, and I didn’t want her to be seen that way. I guess I’d just been so f-cking obsessed with her for so long now, I assumed everyone else got it.

I gave up on unpacking and went next door to bang on James’ door. He hadn’t been downstairs with everyone else but I knew he was home from the sounds of video games through the wall.

“Hey dude,” he said as he opened his door. “How was Whistler?”

I didn’t respond as I pushed through the open space and strode into his room. I rubb£d my jaw abs£ntmindedly as I tried to figure out what to say. “I need to talk… I think.”

James’ eyebrows sh-ot up in surprise and a small smile played on his l-ips. “Alright, I’m interested. Go on.”

“I don’t know. The guys were all f-cking around downstairs and this rookie said some shit about Charlotte.”

“Oh no,” James interrupted, “Did you hurt him? Archer we’ve been through this you need to use your words.”

“Oh for f-ck sakes I regret this already,” I sighed when James cracked up at his own joke. He motioned for me to continue so reluctantly I did. “No, I did not hurt him. I gave him a warning. But the guys started talking about how a lot of people probably think Charlotte’s just another girl and I dunno, it pisses me off.”

James nodded thoughtfully. “You want people to know how important she is?”

“I guess? I mean, I’m pretty f-cking sure she’s it for me, dude. I don’t want people disrespecting her and putting her in the same category as like…” I scrunched up my face as I tried to remember the names of girls I’d been with.

“Tara? Bridgette? Rebecca?” James offered. “Teela?” He added with a full-body $h¡very.

“Okay, so you get the f-cking point. She’s not them.”

“Well, I’d say you need to do something then to set her apart. A ₱vblic declaration if you will,” James said stoically.

“What the f-ck does that mean?” I asked as I dropped onto his b£d.

“In today’s world? It means an Instagram post.”

I considered that for a moment. I only had an Instagram because every once in awhile Coach made us post about fundraisers and shit. Rarely did I ever open the app but I had seen some sappy shit once or twice of guys doing appreciation posts for their girlfriends.

“Alright,” I sighed. I pulled out my phone and instantly knew which picture I would post. It was a screensh-ot from the news story that had run when the Trojans won the championship. A smile tugged at my l-ips as I looked at the picture. My back was angled towards the camera with my number on display. Charlotte was in my arms beaming down at me, with tears visible on her face. I liked that you couldn’t see much of me but the outline of my cheek made it clear I was smiling too. This picture was a snapsh-ot of the happiest I had ever been.

“What do I caption it?” I asked as I stared at my phone.

“I don’t know, just say something nice,” James shrugged.

I rolled my eyes, “Really f-cking helpful.” I wracked my brain for something to say under the picture. I didn’t want to bare my soul to a bunch of strangers, but I wanted to make it clear Charlotte was special. It needed to be honest, but not gross. My mind drifted to my beautiful, strong, hilarious girl and it only took a millisecond to come up with something. I typed it quickly, tagged her, and hit share before I could doubt myself.

“Well now that the world crisis is averted… how was Whistler for real?” James asked.

I got a little awkward as I thought about the trip. I’d learned a lot about James that I wasn’t sure I was supposed to know. “Oh yeah, it was cool,” I said distractedly.

“That’s all I get?” He laughed.

“Well there was some drama,” I added. I immediately regretted it when I saw the interest spike in James’ eyes. “It was nothing major just between Charlotte and Ollie. You know, family stuff.” I avoided his eye contact in hopes that he’d drop it.

“What happened?” James prompted with genuine concern in his voice.

“f-ck well… f-ck.” I rubb£d my hand over my face to clear my frustration. I didn’t know what I was allowed to say. “Look I don’t know if it’s still a secret or not. But I—you know—know now.”

I finally made eye contact with James and he was glaring back at me. Not in anger, but as though he was trying to solve difficult math in his head. “You know?”

“I know.”

“Don’t be mad at him he was really going through it.” I grimaced. I felt like a traitor for selling Ollie out.

“Everything?” He clarified.

“So you know I’m g-y?” James asked slowly, to which I nodded promptly. “And you feel… how about it?”

“Why do people keep expecting me to feel a certain way? It doesn’t f-cking matter to me who you get with.” That wasn’t completely true of course. Knowing how torn up Ollie was about James, I would not be cool if he moved on with some other moron.

“Thanks, man, that means a lot,” James smiled. “But you get why I need to keep it quiet right? Like I’m out and proud, raise the rainbow flag and all that shit. But there aren’t many NFL teams that will sign an openly g-y halfback.”

“I get it,” I agreed. “But since we’re on the topic—” f-ck I was really digging myself into this h0le. But I felt like I owed it to Ollie to try. “Look, I don’t know exactly what happened between you two but Ollie was pretty upset in Whistler.”

“Let me guess.” James rolled his eyes. “He was wasted the wh0le time?”

“No actually. I mean he was drinking the first day or so. But once we got everything out on the table, I barely saw him with a beer in his hand. Maybe a glass of champagne once?”

James narrowed his eyes at me in disbelief. “But not drunk?”

“Not drunk,” I repeated. I felt accomplished when James slowly accepted what I said, but then he shut himself off.

“It doesn’t matter anyway. I can’t focus on the drama anymore. I need to focus on football and that’s it. I’ve got one more year to prove to the scouts I’m good enough and I can’t f-ck that up.”

I rested back on my knuckles, unsure exactly how I was supposed to proceed. It was h-rd enough trying to talk to my friends about girls, I didn’t know how to talk to them about my other friends.

James must have taken my silence for frustration because he held his hands up in defence. “I know he’s your brother but I can’t deal with it, man. If that means you gotta take his side I get it. It c-cks but I get it.”

I stared at James for a moment as I considered what he said. It made s£nse. Oliver had been my best friend since we were kids. Was I supposed to choose his side? Was I disloyal if I didn’t?

“Oliver is my brother,” I agreed, “and I’ll always have his back.” James nodded defeatedly before I could continue. “But you’ve had my back a f-ck ton too, bro. So I’m not choosing sides.”

I crossed the room to pick up my phone again and check it for cracks. I closed the text without responding, just like I’d done to the ones he s£nt before. Instead, I punched in the number I’d been given only recently, and raised the phone to my ear, listening to the ringing.

“Hello?” I heard a deep voice on the other end.

“Hi Mr. Avery,” I sighed defeatedly. “He texted again. I think we need to move this along.”

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

I relaxed back against the h-rd wood of the park bench and raised my face to the sky. The late March sun beamed down on my skin and made me smile. I’m sure I looked silly sitting here alone, smiling like a goofball. It was h-rd not to be happy these days though.

Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I checked the time. I had twenty more minutes to wait here. Feeling a little weak I opened Instagram for the millionth time in the past week. I had been shocked when I got the notification that Archer tagged me in something. Madeline and I had been laying on the couch catching up and watching movies when my phone buzzed. I’d burst into tears when I saw the beautiful picture he’d chos£n and the simple caption. It had been only two words, but they’d filled me with so much love and joy.

My light.

Looking at the picture now, my heart melted into a bunch of goo by my feet. I never thought I’d care so much about social media, or ₱vblicizing our relationship. But the fact that Archer had done it just warmed me right up. His post had over 1000 likes and tons of comments. I scrolled through, reading the ones I hadn’t seen yet.

@tylerthestud what a couple of beauties!
@hollycheer98 kill me, you two are just the cutest.
@benny545 damn bro ur a lucky guy.
@emmettreynolds Mom and Dad! 😍
@pjohnson awe my two little love birds! So cute…… Luv mom.
@brocktherock SOFT. But she does look like a keeper man.
@britbrit I always knew you two would get together! So cute.
@kutiekayla ^^^^agreed Brit! You two are so great together. Miss you both!

I narrowed my eyes at Brit and Kayla’s comments. It had been five months with absolutely no word from either of them and now they were making a big show as if we were all best friends? I really shouldn’t be surprised. The three of us had never been much for resolving our issues, especially if I were the one upset. They’d always just wait me out until I eventually folded and ran back to them.

Annoyed by their phoniness, I considered doing something to knock them down a peg. Maybe I could finally s£nd off that essay of a text I’d planned in my head several times. Or I could be really petty and comment something back that made it clear we weren’t friends.

In the same breath though, I knew I wouldn’t do either. Did I find Brit and Kayla annoying? That’s a big ol’ yes. Was I angry at them still? Hurt? No. The truth was, I’d just outgrown them. There was a time when I had thought they’d be my best friends until I was old and grey. As much as I tried to ignore it, they were good friends to me at one point. Sure, they were selfish occasionally and a little vapid. But what teenage girl hadn’t been?

I closed my phone feeling at peace with the fact that I didn’t need closure with either girl, because it just didn’t matter to me anymore. They were a h-uge part of one phase in my life, and for that I was thankful. If they wanted to cling on to some random connection they thought they had to my boyfriend, then be my guest.

A car horn beeping repeatedly drew my attention back to my surroundings. Obnoxious entrance? Yep, that’s my brother.

“Baby sis!” Ollie called as he hopped out of his car and ran over to me. I smiled as I stood to greet him and almost got plowed over in his hug.

“Hey big brother,” I laughed into his embrace. We sat back onto the park bench and casually watched some kids play in the distance while we caught up. Pride swelled within me as I listened to Oliver’s easy chatter. He’d been working so h-rd to get himself back on track. It was like once he opened one door, he just had to keep knocking more open. He was currently telling me about some work friends he’d come out to.

“I’m glad everyone seems to be accepting it well,” I grinned.

“How could they not when I tell them I have a pitbull little sister who I can sick on them,” Oliver laughed.

“Darn straight,” I agreed. “So, are you ready to do this?”

Oliver grimaced. We’d been texting back and forth since Whistler and I had finally convinced him to come to LA and make up with James. He was worried that it was too far gone but I was determined to get them back together. Selfishly, I had been daydreaming about how fun double dates would be as a foursome.

“I don’t know Lotty, I think James has just seen me at my worst too many times. Plus, I’m still a work-in-progress. I can’t be perfect for him.”

“If James really cares about you, he won’t expect you to be perfect,” I assured him.

Oliver twisted to look down at me thoughtfully, apprehension filled his eyes. “You think?”

I shrugged casually, “Archer isn’t perfect. Far from it actually, but that doesn’t stop me from loving him.” I laughed as Oliver $h¡veryed and shook his head rapidly as though he needed to clear an image from his brain. “In fact, I think I love him more because I can see how h-rd he tries.”

“Yeah but Archer never acted like an alcoholic idiot with you,” Oliver sighed.

“How has that been anyways?” I questioned hesitantly. I had never been sure how far Oliver’s problems with alcohol went, and I wasn’t sure he’d want to tell me.

Oliver leaned back on the bench and stared up at the sky, considering his words. “I don’t want to downplay how bad I was. Because I know it was ugly. But I don’t know… I drank because the second I got a sip of alcohol, all my pain would come rushing forward. I really hated hiding. So I’d drink until I forgot.”

I reached out and patted Oliver’s leg. Every time I got a glimpse into how much he’d suffered silently on his own my heart broke a little more for him. I had to remind myself that it was in the past, Ollie was on a better and brighter path now.

“I’m not saying it’s not a problem anymore,” Oliver continued. “I just don’t feel the need to do that now. I’m seeing a therapist that Mom set me up with, and we’ve talked a lot about why I chose alcohol to cope. She wants to make sure that I don’t use it as a self-soothing tool.”

“Ollie, see? You are already doing so much to try and get better. I really think James will respect that.” I said optimistically.

Oliver stood up and offered me his hand, “Okay, let’s get this show on the road then.”

An hour later we were standing outside of a Walmart, waiting for Archer to show up. I caught sight of his black ballcap as he weaved through some vehicles, jogging towards us. The best thing about having a giant for a boyfriend was that I could always find him so easily. His big head popped up over most visible barriers like an overgrown weed.

“What are you smirking about?” He asked me as he and Oliver bumped shoulders.

“I was just thinking about how you’re like an overgrown weed.” I smiled as he k-ssed my cheek. Oliver was too busy laughing at my comment to care about our affection.

“I’m not overgrown,” Archer frowned, “if anything I think your growth was stunted cause you didn’t eat enough red meat as a baby.”

“There is so much wrong with what you just said, I don’t even know where to begin.” I shook my head as we walked inside.

Walking around the store with two grown men proved to be incredibly difficult. They both whined like babies every time I turned down a new aisle.

“Seriously, Sweetheart I really don’t think we need Christmas lights.” Archer gro-ned.

“Good lord, they aren’t Christmas lights, they’re twinkle lights,” I clarified. “And a romantic gesture isn’t complete without them.”

“Don’t the rules change when the romantic gesture is between two dudes?” Oliver whined and dropped his head back like a ragdoll.

“I agree with Ollie,” Archer said firmly. “I think James would be perfectly happy to go out for a beer or something.”

I spun around and glared at both of them. “You two doorknobs wouldn’t know romance if it hit you in the face. Trust me, we need twinkle lights.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong with the word twinkle,” Oliver mumbled. I chose to ignore him, instead, filling our cart with the ropes of white lights.

“I also take offence at that,” Archer pouted. “I am super f-cking romantic.”

“You are bro, don’t worry.” Oliver patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. “She’s just in a mood.”

I left them in the aisle as I continued to grab random things off the shelves. I had a very clear image in my head of how tonight would go and I was determined to make it perfect. Not only for Ollie but for James too. I could never fully thank him for how much he’d done for my brother, but I could give him this.

Once I had gotten everything we needed I pushed the stuffed cart towards the electronics section in search of the boys. I couldn’t help but smile when I found them in front of a tv that had been set up to test out a new video game. They both clicked away furiously at the controllers while they stared intently at the screen. It must be an intense game because Archer had turned his ball cap around backwards and Oliver had his t0ngue resting in the corner of his l-ips.

I watched them for a few minutes as I leaned against the cart. Warmth spread throughout my chest as Oliver bumped Archer’s shoulder in an attempt to throw him off. I could picture a very similar scene of the two boys when they were young—sitting in front of the Nintendo 64 playing Super Smash Bros.

“I win! c-ck it!” Archer laughed as the screen went back to the start menu. He w-rapped his forearm around Oliver’s neck and gave him a noogie. Okay, now this really was like they were kids again.

I approached them before their rough-housing could escalate too far. Archer released Oliver from his hold when he saw me and grinned innocently. Oliver got one last sh-ot in at Archer’s gut before he straightened his clothes and turned to me.

“Yes, you are welcome by the way,” I sassed.

“Finally done?” Ollie asked as he raised his eyebrow at me.

A few hours later we were at our destination that I had planned the grand gesture for. Madeline and I had gone for a drive the other day and stumbled across this hiking trail in Malibu. It led to a beautiful grassy cliff where you could look down through the soft rolling hills and see the ocean. At first, we’d joked around about getting proposed to up here, but then I realized it was a perfect spot for a romantic apology.

Archer set up the folding table and chairs we had brought while Oliver clumsily strung the lights around the trees and bushes that lined the cliff. I twitched as I watched him, knowing that there was a much prettier way to weave the strands of light through the branches. Seeing the concentrated furrow of his brows held me back from correcting him though.

I had wanted to find a way to bring a wh0le dinner up here for them, but logistically it didn’t make s£nse. So once Archer had the table cloth down I pulled the cooler of snacks over to sit next to the chairs.

“Good job boys!” I said as I surveyed our handy work.

Archer walked behind me and w-rapped his arms around my wa-ist, “Good job baby.”

“Ugh,” Oliver grimaced. “Can you not please.”

Archer bent his neck to plant a firm loud k-ss on my cheek while he lifted his middle f-nger towards Oliver. I laughed and swatted him away as Oliver made gagging sounds.

“Don’t even pretend you aren’t going to be annoying as f-ck if James forgives you,” Archer threw at him.

I poked him h-rd in the ribs and glared as he hissed. “When James forgives him.”

“Speaking of, we should probably get him here.” Archer checked the time on his phone. “What’s the plan, boss?”

“I’m going to call him and pretend I am out here alone and need help. Then he’ll rush out and kaboom, love fest.” I relayed my plan to the boys. They both stared at me confused for a moment, before sharing a look.

“One problem… you can’t lie worth shit,” Oliver said apologetically.

“It’s not lying! It’s fibbing at best. I’ll be fine.” I waved off their concern with a fl-ipp-nt hand.

I pulled out my phone and walked to the entrance of the trail so I wouldn’t be within earsh-ot of the boys. I didn’t need their judgemental butts listening to me.

“Hey, Charlotte!” James’ voice came through the phone.

I tried to get into the mindset of being scared and alone before responding. “Hi, James… Uhm can you c-come help me? I’m in trouble.”

“Where are you? What kind of trouble?” James asked me quickly.

Oh goodness, why didn’t I plan a script or something? “Oh uhm. My car broke down?”

James laughed loudly making me frown. “Why did that sounds like a question?”

“James I’m just stressed and need help can you please come?”

“Charlotte, I saw Oliver’s snapmap. I know he’s with you,” James sighed. I looked over my shoulder and glared at Ollie.

“Will you please still come?” I begged. “Please James. We worked so h-rd and he just wants to talk.” I fiddled with the edge of my shirt as I waited impatiently in the silence.

“Fine. But I’m not making any promises okay, I’ll just hear him out.”

I thanked James profusely and gave him instructions to get here. I secretly hoped he was a little more open to forgiveness than he let on but that would be Ollie’s problem to solve.

“All set! He’ll be here in an hour.” I reported as I walked back over to the boys. I sank into Archer’s heat to protect myself from the chill coming off the ocean. His large hands brushed up and down my arm when he felt my goosebumps.

“You two better go then.” Oliver bopped his head nervously and looked around as though he needed a task. I went over to him and w-rapped my arms around his stomach squ-eesing until I felt him hug me back.

“It’s all going to work out,” I said quietly. “Just remember you are trying and that’s what is important.”

“Thanks, Lotty, for everything.” Ollie smiled down at me and k-ssed my hair. Archer approached us and patted Oliver on the shoulder. They shared a silent nod and then he grabb£d my hand and pulled me towards the trail.

When we were out of sight from the cliff I looked around for the best hiding place. Archer kept walking and tugged at my hand.

“What are you doing?” I asked quietly.

Archer raised a confused brow at me. “Going back to my truck? We have to go.”

“Like heck! I did not put in all this effort just to go home and not see the payoff.” I grumbled as I pulled him into a small space behind a tree.

“You little snoop,” Archer sighed. “What about my truck? James will recognize it.”

“Oh yeah, he knows we’re here. God knows I can’t lie.” I shuffled down to sit against the trunk. Archer stared down at me with a bemused grin before he reached down and yanked me back up. He took my place on the ground then adjusted me in his lap.

“So, we just have to wait for a wh0le hour?” His arms locked around me and he dropped his head back against the bark.

I was momentarily enamoured by how handsome he was. His backwards hat always made my mouth dry with how sharp it made his square jaw look. He knew that it was my weakness and I swear he did it on purpose. Butterflies erupted in my stomach as he looked back at me and smirked.

“Hmmm?” he prompted as his hand $tr-oked down to my bum, resting there. The rumble from his chest s£nt a $h¡very across my collarbone. “What are you thinking about baby?” The glint in his eye was a dead give away that he was onto me.

“Nothing,” I said as I avoided his eye contact.

“Wanna know what I’m thinking about?” He said lowly. His hand m-ssaged the tender flesh of my bottom as I tried to control my breathing.

I kept my face blank, trying not to give in to the temptation. “What?”

“I’m thinking about how s-xy you look when you come.” He smirked when my face whipped around to stare incredulously at him. He k-ssed my jaw and chuckled when I couldn’t stop myself from leaning into him.

“You get this cute little frown right here.” He k-ssed the space between my brows making my eyes close. “But your l-ips,”-he moved his mouth down, his stubble scratched me as he hovered just over my l-ips-“your l-ips are my favourite thing to watch. They make a perfect circle and I can’t help but think about how they look w-rapped around my—”

“Archer Johnson!” I snapped. “You are such a pig.”

He laughed a little too loudly and I swatted his chest. “I’m your pig though.”

“Lucky me.” I rolled my eyes with a giggle.

“I just love that blush so much.” He pressed repetitive k-sses to my warm cheek.

We stayed like that for the next hour. Archer kept trying to push us farther than just a few k-sses but I was not about to risk Oliver hearing us on the wind.

I slapped my hand over Archer’s mouth when I heard footsteps approaching us. They got close to our hiding spot but then the trail weaved the other way and it got quiet.

“Come on,” I whispered as I stood up. We crept through the trees until I could see Oliver and James standing on the clearing. James was looking around at all the lights.

“Jesus, you couldn’t just ask me to grab a beer or something?” James laughed.

Archer stood behind me, looking over my head. When he heard that he reached down and smacked my butt. I glared up at him for the noise it made and he mouthed, ‘I told you so’.

I turned back in time to see Oliver laugh sheepishly and rub the back of his neck. Their voices got quieter after that, and I couldn’t hear what they were saying. My heart squ-eesed when I saw Oliver wiping tears from his eyes, and I prayed that it was going well.

Archer’s hand rhythmically rubb£d my side as I vibrated with nerves. My breath caught in my throat when James moved forward and pulled Oliver into a hug. Oliver was still crying as he dropped his face onto James’ shoulder and clung to his shirt.

They both pulled back at the same time and smiled weakly. I squeaked by accident when James moved forward and connected their l-ips. Archer’s hand clamped down on my mouth but it was too late.

Oliver and James looked through the tree towards where we were hiding and I knew we’d been caught. I shuffled forward with my head hung in guilt and felt Archer follow behind me.

“I am not the brains of this operation.” Archer held his hands up innocently. I glared at him for selling me out, then smiled when I turned back to James.

“Well, it looks like everything is going good here!” I wiggled excitedly. I barely contained my gushing when Ollie’s ears turned bright red.

“Okay let’s go, Sweetheart.” Archer tugged on my hand. “They need some privacy.”

“Awe what no! Can’t we stay for a bit there’s enough food for four.” I smiled at James waiting for him to agree with me. He shared a look with Ollie and they both looked back with forced smiles.

A large arm clamped around my wa-ist and lifted me up. I grabb£d on t¡ghtly as I was whipped horizontally. “What the heck, Archer!” I grumbled as the ground moved quickly below me. I tried to twist and look up but he had me tucked under his arm like a freaking football.

“Trust me you don’t want to be around for what’s about to happen,” Archer said firmly as he shuffled his grip on my ribs. I could faintly hear Oliver and James laughing at us as we got further away.

“You don’t always have to manhandle me you know,” I huffed.

“Yes, I did. You were about to turn the puppy-dog eyes on them and they would have let you stay.”

“Trust me you don’t want to be around for what’s about to happen,” Archer said firmly as he shuffled his grip on my ribs. I could faintly hear Oliver and James laughing at us as we got further away.

“You don’t always have to manhandle me you know,” I huffed.

“Yes, I did. You were about to turn the puppy-dog eyes on them and they would have let you stay.”

“Maybe they actually wanted me to stay,” I muttered.

Archer got us easily to the bottom of the trail before he released me. I rubb£d my ribs and glared at him for assuming I’d try to run back if he let me go too soon. I did have some self-control.

“Good job though, Sweetheart. I think it was definitely the Christmas lights that won him over.” Archer laughed and smacked my bum again as I scrambled up into his truck.

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

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