( For his brother’s friend …. 😇 )
Written by:- Williams Kendall____✍🏽
🏈 CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE
My body felt heavy as I slowly woke up and tried to peel my eyes open. I snapped them closed and gro-ned when the light from the window burned my pupils. My mouth felt dry and chalky with the lingering tang of whiskey on my tongue. f-ck, I hated hangovers. I pulled Charlotte’s soft body into my chest and squeezed tightly to try and go back to sleep.
The fluffy squish between my arms felt nothing like what it was supposed to. Cracking my eyes open I glared at the pillow that had replaced Charlotte’s warm body in my arms. I stretched my aching muscles and looked around for her, it was then that I heard the water running in the bathroom.
Stumbling out of bed, I stripped my clothes off as I walked into the bathroom. I paused and smiled when I heard Charlotte singing under her breath in the water. She wouldn’t be recording an album anytime soon, but her shower performances were my favourite thing to listen to. She always managed to pick the most outdated pop music that normally I’d hate. Coming out of her beautiful mouth though? It sounded like heaven.
She squeaked when I pulled back the shower curtain and stepped behind her. She had just lathered her body with soap and her curls were twisted into a conditioner-covered bun on top of her head.
Read – Falling helplessly prologue
“Good morning,” I smirked as my manhood saluted her soapy bre-sts.
“Morning,” she replied lazily then turned back under the stream. If I thought her bre-sts were the best sight I could wake up to, I was not prepared for her rounded ass glistening as though it were on display just for me. I stepped closer behind her and wrapped my arms around her wa-ist. My hand covered her stomach and I m-ssaged her soapy skin softly.
“Don’t you dare, mister.” Charlotte swatted my hand away and turned to face me. She lifted her arms to let down her bun in the water and I was dazed by the soft arc of her spine and her perfectly rosy n-pples. She was still talking but I didn’t hear a word as I stared at her chest, thinking about 100 dirty things I wanted to do.
“Archer, are you listening?”
“Yes of course,” I responded quickly.
“Good so you agree?”
“Mhmm definitely.” I grabbed her wa-ist and pushed her gently against the tile wall. She let out an exasperated sigh and I flicked my eyes up to her face. “No?” I asked when I saw her raised eyebrow and pursed l-ips.
“No.” Her definitive response made me let go and step back. I leaned my head forward to catch some water on my hair then grabbed the shampoo.
“Madeline is on her way with the Plan-B. That’s what I was trying to tell you,” she explained as she went back to rinsing her hair. I chided myself internally that I already forgot about our lapse in judgement last night. Never before had I ever forgotten the condom. I’d been blacked out on my ass and it was still the first thing I thought about. I couldn’t really bring myself to feel that guilty though when I thought about how mind-blowing it felt to be in,side of Charlotte bare.
We finished up quickly after that sobering moment then went back into the bedroom to find clothes. I threw on some sweats and tossed Charlotte a clean shirt while she dug leggings out of her duffel bag. I once again imagined how great it would be if Charlotte and I lived together. She wouldn’t live out of a bag, she would have her things mixed with mine.
I couldn’t pressure her though. I knew this would be a huge decision for her and she would agonize over how it affected everyone else around her. Selfishly, I really hoped she would end up caring only about herself and me.
Like so many things with this girl, I hadn’t planned on asking her to move in with me. I just felt something and had no choice but to act on it. But the second I had, it felt overwhelmingly right. I’d come to appreciate my teammates much more in the last year, but I had never loved living with them. The constant parties and girls in and out of the house were getting tiring.
We walked down the stairs together and I cringed at the state of the house. The furniture was shoved all over the place, and the floor was sticky with spilt beer and God knows what else. Crushed cans and red solo cups were littered everywhere and a pungent musky odour stung the air.
“Oh my gosh,” Charlotte said in a hushed tone. I followed her line of sight and chuckled when I saw Emmett.
He was passed out on top of our table, with his arms and legs spread wide-eagle. Those stupid tiny shorts were all he managed to keep on himself, which put the smudged writing on full display. As we got closer it became evident that more people had written on him throughout the night. By the attention to his abs, I was going to assume girls.
Charlotte gently shook Emmett’s shoulder and spoke softly in his ear until he slowly opened his eyes. A wide grin spread across his face as his loopy stare fell on her.
Read – AGONIES OF A HOUSE HELP episode 1 – 4
“G’ morning, Smalls.” Emmett rubbed his eyes to clear the sleep from them and gro-ned as I’m sure the pain of sleeping on a table hit him.
A knock on the front door pulled all of our attention, a moment later the knob jiggled and Madeline walked in. Just another reason to move out… whatever drunk idiot was the last to bed didn’t lock the door.
“Hey, hey, y’all.” Madeline chirpily glided over and passed each of us a coffee. I nodded gratefully at her then took a large gulp of the scalding black liquid. I rolled my eyes when Charlotte grimaced at me. It completely blew her mind that I could drink my coffee black. In her words, “Without milk or sugar, it’s just bean-water.”
Madeline pulled a small, white, paper bag out of her purse and handed it to Charlotte. Emmett perked up from his s₱0t on the table and eyed it.
“What’s that?” He asked.
Madeline shot me a glare. “Apparently someone got a little too excited last night and skipped the condom.”
It was almost comical how fast Charlotte’s face went bright red. I’d gladly take the fall for us but her guilt-filled eyes were giving herself away.
Emmett sat a little straighter and looked at me incredulously. “Dude, what the f-ck? Don’t make me beat you up again.”
“Uuuhhm nope. No that’s not how I remember it at all,” Emmett dramatically rubbed his chin and stared at the roof.
“Wanna go again then?” I challenged.
“Okay no!” Charlotte said quickly, putting her hand on my chest. I smirked over her head at Emmett and mouthed, “It’s on.” A laugh got stuck in my throat when the little shit mouthed back, “Bring it.”
“Either way, Archer is the innocent one here.” Charlotte put her hands over her eyes as though she couldn’t bear to look at us as she continued. “It was me. I’m the horndog who got too excited.”
It was silent for a beat then Madeline and Emmett both burst into laughter. Charlotte pulled her face away from her hands and looked at me confused. I pulled her to my side and k-ssed her temple. “It’s nothing baby, you’re just so f-cking sweet,” I whispered in her hair.
After that, Charlotte and Madeline both went into the bathroom together to deal with the Plan B. When they came back out they declared that today would be a hangover day. Apparently, that entailed a lot of greasy food and movies. Face Masks were also thrown out as a necessity but I axed that idea.
Charlotte went into tyrant-mode when I pointed out that the house wasn’t in the best shape right now. I had offered to call a rookie to come clean but the little smart ass reminded me we didn’t have any rookies anymore. That’s when she doled out jobs to each of us and I got stuck picking up garbage with Emmett.
The girls disappeared into the kitchen and I only saw them when Charlotte heard Emmett and I goofing around. I had just sunk a cup into the garbage bag from across the room when she poked her head out and glared at us. That was how we also got mop-duty.
An hour later Emmett and I pushed the furniture back into place and flopped down on the couch. I dropped my head back against the cushion and drooled a little at the smell of bacon. It must have drifted upstairs too because slowly all my roommates started coming downstairs. James stumbled into the kitchen and came back out with a mug of coffee and a big smile.
“Those two angels are making breakfast.”
“Hey!” Emmett pouted. “We’re the angels, we cleaned this wh0le damn place.”
“For some reason, I just can’t picture Johnson in a white dress and a halo,” Tyler ribbed while he fell into a recliner.
Soon all the guys were in the living room gro-ning about how good it smelled in the house. A few had gone into the kitchen for coffee and to sneak a few bites but they were quickly kicked out.
Finally, right before I thought a riot could break out, the girls came out of the kitchen with large plates of food. They lined them all up on the two dining room tables we had pushed together and called for us to come eat.
I rushed forward ahead of everyone else—mostly to protect the girls from the stampede of hungry football players—but also because it smelled damn good. I swallowed my drool and stood in front of them as I eyed the platters of bacon, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and pancakes.
After some shoving and a few choice words between the guys we all eventually sat down with our plates. For the first few minutes, the only sounds were grunts of appreciation and the clatter of cutlery.
I became suspicious when Madeline cleared her throat and gave Charlotte a pointed look. Charlotte nodded and then carefully lowered her fork and knife.
“Boys,” she said and waited for everyone to look up. Her delicate but commanding voice drifted over all of the barbarians and made them turn to her. “So Madeline and I have decided that we should all have a movie day!” The guys reflected differing ranges of excitement to the idea but they all agreed. “Great.” Charlotte’s sugary grin made me raise an eyebrow. She winked at me then turned back to the table. “We were hoping you all wouldn’t mind watching Tangled? Since we made breakfast?”
She. f-cking. Would. This girl has tried for months to get me to watch that damn movie. Plus the one about ice. So far I had found a way to avoid it each time. Usually, I had to cover my eyes like she was a f-cking medusa because I can’t say no to her puppy-dog face. The same face that she was currently aiming at my roommates.
I looked around at all the boys, silently begging one of them to be the bad guy. I sighed as I watched each and every one of them fall victim to her round glassy eyes and adorable bottom lip.
Emmett grunted and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his stomach. “You guys are gonna love Tangled. It’s the best.”
I’d never been more grateful for Tyler then when he reached out and cuffed Emmett in the back of the head.
When we were all done eating, Madeline went into the living room to set up for the movie. Apparently, there was a science to a ‘Movie Day’ and it wasn’t just… you know, watching movies. Charlotte disappeared into the kitchen so I grabbed some dishes and followed her.
“Don’t you f-cking dare,” I said when I walked in and saw her in front of the sink. “We’ll clean up later.”
I crossed the room and grabbed her around the wa-ist. I lifted her onto the counter so I didn’t have to bend down as far to look her in the eye. She smiled impishly when I caught her eye and glared.
“You little sneak.” I nestled my h¡ps between her thighs and locked her in with my fists. “I can’t believe you are actually making me do this.”
I didn’t snap my eyes closed fast enough and got lost in her big eyes. “Don’t you love me?” She asked with a tantalizing pout.
“I love the shit out of you.” I k-ssed her pouty lip to prove my point. I ran my fingers up her th-gh and trailed them around to her ass. “I can just think of much more fun things for us to do upstairs instead of watching a Disney movie.”
A smirk tugged at my l-ips when her eyes darkened. She might be able to dazzle me with her damn puppy-dog eyes, but I had my own tricks. I slowly m-ssaged her soft curves and bent to press my l-ips more firmly to hers. Her body melted against mine as she opened her mouth as an invitation for me to deepen the k-ss. Another few seconds and I’d have her right where I wanted her. My bed.
“Hey you guys coming?” Emmett walked through the archway to the kitchen. Charlotte jumped and pulled away as she inconspicuously wiped the edges of her mouth.
“I wish,” I said under my breath then stood back to glare at Emmett. He had enough decency to smile sheepishly and avert his eyes for a moment.
“My bad,” he chuckled and slowly backed out of the room.
Charlotte jumped off the counter and grabbed my shirt to tug me into the living room. I purposefully let myself droop back and slow my walking so she’d have to work a little h-rder.
When we got to the living room all of the guys were sprawled out on the floor. Madeline had laid out blankets and pillows on the floor and even a few mattresses that must have been grabbed from upstairs. I tried to go to a couch but Charlotte dragged me to an open s₱0t on the floor and gave me a pointed look to sit.
I narrowed my eyes at her but sat down with my back against the seat cushion of a couch. I was at least rewarded with Charlotte nestling herself on my lap. I wrapped my arms around her and tugged a blanket over her wa-ist. Once she was covered I slipped my hand back to her ass and squeezed.
“If I have to watch this dumb movie at least let me go to my happy place,” I reasoned when she glared at me. She huffed but nodded her head and settled against me.
“This is a f-cking musical?” I cringed when the movie started and this chick began singing.
“Yes. Now try to enjoy it, you need more freaking joy in your life,” Charlotte hissed.
I relaxed and tried to forgive the main girl for breaking out into song every five f-cking minutes. Once I did, I couldn’t help but notice she was kind of like Charlotte. It was cute how she used that frying pan to beat the shit out of people, kind of like how my girl used her tiny little pinchers to inflict pain. Plus she made those sketchy guys in the bar love her, just like Charlotte had charmed all of the football beasts in this house.
Once I made that connection, the movie became pretty bearable. I wasn’t particularly fond of how gooey-eyed Charlotte got over the main guy, but I had to remind myself a cartoon wasn’t really competition. There were even a few funny moments but I had enough self-respect to keep my laughter quiet. Only Charlotte would be able to tell since my chest was pressed against her shoulder. I loved her even more when she just gave me a small smirk then ignored it.
Read – Crazy househelp episode 1
Turns out a movie day really was the best cure for a hangover. We all relaxed on the floor for hours, some of the guys even ended up cuddling into each other’s legs and falling asleep. James was the hero we all needed when he quickly jumped up to put a new movie on once Tangled was done. I liked it and all, but I couldn’t handle another cartoon. The chances of lightning striking twice were rare.
Later in the afternoon, the living room was pretty quiet. Most of the guys were sleeping or playing on their phones. Charlotte had passed out an hour ago and I’d stopped watching the movie to watch her instead. I would never get sick of holding her while she slept.
Madeline whispered that she was heading back home to do homework, but she knew Charlotte had done her’s ahead of the party. I cradled my perfect girl carefully and managed to stand up without waking her. Nodding to the guys who called quiet goodbyes, I went back up to my room.
My phone vibrated in my pocket but I ignored it as I crossed the room to my bed. I bent slowly over the mattress to gently put Charlotte down then dug into my jeans. I glowered at the unknown number on the call-display.
“I thought I told you I would reach out when I was ready?” I snapped as I lifted the phone.
“Well you’re taking your sweet time and I need an answer.” My dad’s lazy tone set my teeth on edge. “I’m already fielding offers but I can’t get far without the formality of a contract.”
I walked away from the bed and took a deep breath to stay calm. Mr. Avery and I had made a plan and my losing control didn’t help. “I know,” I sighed in resignation. “There’s a lot on the line and I just needed some time to decide what I want.”
“And have you decided?”
“I want you to answer one question, then I will,” I said carefully. This was going off script and I hoped it wouldn’t bite me in the ass, but suddenly, I really needed to know the answer. “Don’t bother lying and giving me the answer you think I want. I only want the truth then I’ll sign.”
“Okay, go on.”
After a deep breath, I asked the question that had been nagging at my brain for months now. “Do you care about us?” My question was met with a heavy silence. I hated the little prick of nerves I got in my stomach. It felt like I was a little kid again, begging for my Dad’s love. “I mean, I know you obviously don’t care about us as much as you care about yourself. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. But you’re asking me to sign my career over to you. I want to know if you care.”
I didn’t breathe while I waited. I could practically hear my Dad’s inner conflict of how to answer the question.
“I do care—about you anyways.” I wanted to snap at him that he had a daughter too but I stayed quiet. “The truth is your mother and I never loved each other. I never wanted a wife or kids. She was a one-night-stand that turned into more when she got pregnant with you. Things were different back then. I had a prominent reputation, the only option was marriage. We had clear expectations of each other in the beginning. She knew I didn’t want her. She also knew I had no interest in raising children. Obviously somewhere along the line, she let herself fall into a fantasy world that I’d change my mind.”
I resisted the urge to scre-m and throw my phone. Anger and indignation on behalf of my mother raged through my veins. The disgust I felt for my father made my skin crawl so badly I would rip it off if I could. He must have mistaken my silence for contemplation over our contract because he sighed and continued.
“I’m sorry you had to find out this way. But believe it or not, I was happy to find out I’d have a son. Especially when I saw your potential in football. I may not have been the best father but I’ll do my best for your career.”
Bile rose in my throat as I played my part. Mom and Annie needed me. They needed me to put my pride aside and bow down to him.
“Thanks, Dad. I’ll sign the contract, but I want to do it in person. I’ll text you a location to meet.” Then I hung up.
“What was that about?” I spun around to see Charlotte staring at me with concern. “Archer… what did your dad want?”
Mr. Avery made me promise I’d keep her out of this. He still wasn’t my biggest fan and I had upheld that promise in hopes that he’d come to respect me. I’d hated avoiding her questions when she asked about my dad, and I’d hated not being able to talk about my problems with her. Charlotte was my calm in the storm, and this was the biggest storm of my life.
My legs acted on their own and carried me over to her. I sat down on the bed and opened my arms. She took the hit and came over to me, wrapping her arms around my neck while she stared at me intently.
My heartbeat slowed down when I breathed in her sweet smell. Her cold delicate fingers kneaded at my neck until I relaxed my shoulders. I wanted to protect her from all of this, but at the same time, I needed to tell her. I might be bigger than her, but she was the stronger of us two. She was strong enough to get me through this, and I needed that.
“My dad wants me to sign a contract making him my agent,” I said quietly.
“After you graduate?”
She stilled in my arms and I cringed, knowing what was about to come. “But Archer,” she said in a panic, “you’re a college athlete you can’t have an agent! The NCAA could kick you out! You’d lose your scholarsh¡p and get kicked off the team—you’d lose any chance at the NFL!”
“I know shhh it’s okay,” I brushed my fingers through her curls, the action calmed me down as much as it did her. “He thinks he has enough business-savvy to keep it all quiet. But it doesn’t matter because if everything goes as planned with your dad, I won’t be signing anything.”
“And what is the plan?” She asked quietly, the fear for my future still lingered in her eyes.
“Bryan is a bastard, but a smart one. He hasn’t put any details into texts or emails, at least not enough to hand anything substantial to the lawyers. Your dad was hoping if we waited him out he’d get frustrated and slip up. But now he thinks our best bet is to meet in person and try to record my dad’s plan. Then we can give it to the lawyers and prove my dad’s playing dirty. Or worst-case scenario, we can threaten his precious reputation by releasing it.”
Charlotte stayed quiet as she absorbed everything I had said. I continued to pet her hair and hoped she wouldn’t be too mad that I kept all of this from her. I was surprised when she leaned forward and k-ssed me.
“I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this alone,” she whispered against my l-ips.
I dropped my forehead to hers and relished in the warmth that spread through me at her words. My beautiful girl. My selfless girl.
Her soft hand stroked my cheek as she pressed one more k-ss to my l-ips. “I love you. That means that you aren’t alone anymore Archer. I’m here, ready to be your partner. You just have to let me.”
“I love you so much,” I declared as I blinked away tears that I hadn’t been expecting.
She laid down, pulling me with her. I relaxed against her bre-st and pressed my cheek to her heart. The pain of my father’s secrets still lingered in my heart. They mocked me for being childish and still caring about the words of a man I’d cut off long ago. Charlotte was right though. Her heartbeat was a reminder that I wasn’t alone. I would die to protect her, I would fight every day to keep her safe and happy. But I needed her protection too.
“What the f-ck are you wearing?” Archer’s gravelly voice made me jump out of my skin as I fixed my hair in the mirror.
I frowned at my reflection, unsure of what his problem was. “I’m wearing secret mission clothes?” Turning to inspect his outfit, I scoffed. “You can’t wear a bright white sweater on a stakeout Archer, you already stand out like a sore thumb with your giraffe-height and that handsome face.”
Archer adjusted the neckline of his sweater over my head in the mirror and smirked. I rolled my eyes, knowing he only focused on me calling him handsome.
“You’re doing the stakeout, dummy.” He laughed. “I’m the talent remember?”
“Well then Lord helps us all,” I said dryly.
I picked up the black ballcap from the counter and adjusted it to cast a shadow over my face. Spinning on my heels I held out my arms for Archer to see the full effect. I felt like G.I Jane with my black canvas army-p-nts, black long sleeve, and a puffer vest. Also black of course.
“You’re beautiful.” He smiled as he leaned down and k-ssed my cheek. My in,sides melted at how sweet he could be. The stinging smack on my bum was a firm reminder of the big brute my boyfriend actually was though. “But you’re delusional if you think my dad won’t recognize you just because you’re in all black.”
Archer stared at me for a moment then a sly grin tugged at his l-ips. “Well, then Lord help us all.”
“Okay, Jerkface let’s get this show on the road.” I led him out of the bathroom and down the hallway. I knocked on Madeline’s door when I passed as a goodbye and then left the dorm. I knew she was studying for finals in her cave so I didn’t want to annoy her by going in.
The poor girl had been spending so much time with Cole recently, she’d left all of her studying until the last minute. I didn’t blame her of course, I totally understood how much of a distraction a hot boy could be. Luckily, Archer was determined to pass all of his classes, so we’d been keeping each other in check with studying.
It crossed my mind how easily Madeline and I had fallen into these routines of living together. We never even had to articulate rules, we just knew them. We knew when it was okay to invade each other’s space and spend hours chatting about nothing on our beds. But we also knew when the other needed to be left alone.
When Archer asked me to move in with him, I was absorbed with the fantasy of being with him all of the time. Spending every night in his arms, and every morning getting ready together. But over the last few weeks, it has really hit me what I’d be letting go of as well. Not to mention the headache that I would have permanently from my Dad’s judgement.
“Okay, Sweetheart.” Archer opened the truck door for me and helped me in. “You know the plan?”
“Stay in the truck with my dad. Keep an eye on the restaurant. Whoop your dad’s butt if he tries anything with you.” I recited it easily.
“Not quite,” he said pointedly.
“Whoop your dad’s butt even if he doesn’t try anything?” I offered with innocent eyes.
“You know what? Yeah, that’s the plan,” Archer laughed. “But you forgot to protect me from your dad when he sees I brought you.”
Archer shut the door and walked around the truck. I grimaced as I thought about how my dad might react. I hadn’t really given Archer a choice in whether or not I could come. From the second he said tonight was the night to stick it to Bryan, I was in. I knew my dad would blame Archer though. It’s not like this was a dangerous spy mission but my dad didn’t want me involved.
We drove to the bar where Archer had arranged to meet his dad. It would take place in an hour, and if all went as planned, we would have proof soon of everything Bryan’s been up to.
I looked around for my dad’s car but didn’t see it. Archer’s hand in my lap was the perfect toy to fiddle with as my nerves rattled through me.
Archer had parked in the far corner of the parking lot, so we could see anyone who came in or out. This bar was specifically chosen because the wh0le front wall was large, wide windows. The small interior allowed us to basically see from one end to the other. We could keep an eye on Archer and his dad and make sure everything was going smoothly.
A tap on my window made me jump. It was dark outside the truck but I could still clearly see my dad’s frustrated frown.
I rolled down the window and pasted the sweetest smile on my face. “Hi, Dad.”
“What is she doing here?” He said gruffly over my head to Archer.
“She is an adult who can do whatever she wants,” I snapped before I could stop myself. My dad looked down at me with surprise and I huffed. “Dad I’m here to support Archer.”
Dad’s gaze roamed over my clothes, then returned to my face. “And to rob a bank by the looks of it.”
Archer choked on his own laughter behind me and I raised an eyebrow when the edge of my dad’s mouth quirked.
“Where’s your car?” I decided to ignore his comment. If being the butt of their jokes helped them get along, I was all for it.
“Bryan would have recognized it right away.” Dad gestured over his shoulder. “That blue Jeep is a rental. “Is everything set on your end?” he directed towards Archer.
“He agreed to meet me here at 7. I’ll go in,side soon just to hold the table and make sure I’m ready. I’ve been practising and if I have my phone in my pocket, it should record him fine.”
Dad nodded, approving of the plan. “Okay, Lotty you can come sit with me then. Hopefully, we won’t be needed, but if Bryan doesn’t give us what we want, I thought I could put a little pressure on him.”
Dad’s eyes flicked to Archer and softened slightly. “You know there was a point where I really thought your dad was a good man. That he was a friend.”
Archer shifted uncomfortably then shrugged. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“You ready?” Dad gestured with his chin for me to get out.
“Yeah, just give us a second, I’ll be right out.”
Once he left us alone I turned back to Archer. “Are you going to be okay?” When he didn’t respond right away I reached out and touched his hand. He lifted his gaze from his lap to give me a reassuring smile. My heart squeezed though when it didn’t reach his eyes.
“I’ll be fine. I just want to get this over with so I never have to see that man again.”
“You know,” I said gently, “Archer he’s your dad… it’s okay if closing this door hurts. It’s even okay if you don’t want to lock it after.”
Archer shook his head and patted my hand. “No, after everything that’s happened, I just need this done.” He climbed out of the truck and walked around the front to my door. I smiled when he opened it and offered me his hand. When I jumped down his body blocked me from the view of other cars.
I stretched up on my toes and dropped my hand to his chest. He bent down to brush our l-ips together, softly and only for a moment, then he straightened.
I watched anxiously as he stiffened his shoulders and walked towards the entrance. Once he pushed through the doors I went to the passenger side of the blue Jeep my dad had pointed to.
“Here’s hoping this goes smoothly,” Dad sighed as I got in,side.
From our parking s₱0t, we could see everything clearly. My eye’s stayed on Archer as he followed a hostess to a small table in the middle of the room. Most of the other tables were filled by people drinking craft beers and eating small plates of food. A large bar ran along the back wall, with several waiters standing behind it slinging out drinks.
‘Why do you think Bryan is putting him through all of this?” I said into the silence.
Dad sighed again. “I think Bryan spent a lot of years resenting his life. He lived a pretty charmed one growing up and he wasn’t used to doing things he didn’t want to do. That anger for his circ-mstances obviously flooded over onto Archer and Annie. Which is point-blank wrong.”
“He doesn’t deserve either of them then.” I kept my eyes locked on Archer as I spoke.
“You really think the world of him.” Dad’s voice was softer as he said this. It pulled my attention back to him. His eyes held curiosity but also some resignation.
“You have no idea, Dad. He’s so good. Too good. Sure he has some rough edges. I mean he doesn’t play well with others and the f-bomb is his favourite word. But he is the most selfless and caring man I have ever known.”
“So does that include your dear old Dad?” He joked. Though I could tell my words made him sad.
“When I told Mom about Archer and me, she said he reminded her of you.” I smiled. “I didn’t really see it at the time, but now I think I get it. The qualities I love in him, they’re the same qualities I saw my wh0le life in your relationsh¡p with mom.”
“Love hey…” Dad pursed his l-ips while his head bobbed.
“Yes Dad,” I said sincerely. “Love.”
We stayed quiet after that. I left him to consider everything I said. I knew he was struggling so much with me growing up, maybe even more than he actually struggled with the idea of Archer.
We both perked up when a sleek black car pulled into the parking lot. It slid into a s₱0t near the entrance and I stiffened when Bryan got out. He adjusted his suit jacket, reached back into the car, and straightened with a brown envelope in hand.
When the light from the window hit his face, I shivered at how alike he and Archer looked. Only if Archer lost all of his muscles and became a spineless twit.
Bryan walked into the restaurant and paused for a moment before he caught sight of Archer and moved smoothly towards his table. Archer stood when he noticed his dad and held out his hand for a shake. Shock momentarily crossed Bryan’s face, before he smiled and took his son’s hand.
Dad nodded approvingly at Archer’s acting. From an onlooker’s perspective, he looked calm and even happy to see his dad. Of course, they didn’t know him as I did. I could see the stiff posture in his shoulders, and how he kept stretching his neck to relieve the tension I knew he held there.
It was almost laughable how little Bryan knew his own son because he was eating up Archer’s fake smile and calm demeanour. Bryan relaxed back into his chair and gave a grandiose wave to the waitress to call her over.
My lip curled in disgust as Bryan leaned into the young woman and spoke with a smarmy smile. He gestured to Archer, who immediately sat back in his chair and shook his head. I could only imagine what games Bryan was playing.
Even from where I sat in the parking lot, I could see the glint in Bryan’s eye when he turned to his son. He kept the waitress at their table much longer than necessary, talking animatedly with his hands and throwing his head back with fake laughter. Archer rested his elbows on the table and said something pointedly to his father. Bryan finally nodded and gestured to the relieved waitress to walk away.
Once the two men were alone, Bryan’s demeanour became more serious. The corner of his l-ips still tugged into a smirk, but his eyes focused more soberly onto his son.
“Here we go,” I sighed.
I let my eyes wander away from Archer while they talked. Somehow I felt like Archer would know if I was watching him, and I didn’t want to put any more pressure on him than he already had.
The bar was getting busier now, fewer people sat at the tables eating and instead chose to socialize by the bar. This place must become more of a party scene at night because a large burly security guard positioned himself outside the door. I people-watched for a while, trying to guess what they might be doing there. It kept me distracted, focusing my mind on something other than Archer.
A shiver ran over my spine when a group of men walked in front of our Jeep and towards the door. I didn’t know what it was about them, but the hairs on my arm stood at attention.
I kept my eyes on the men, frowning as I tried to understand this strange instinctual pull to detest them. From what I could see in the dark, they were just a random group of 20-something friends out for a beer.
They flashed the bouncer ID’s and went in,side easily. A waitress moved to welcome them but they immediately walked around her to stand by the bar. They laughed and shoved each other as one guy held up four fingers to the bartender and gestured to his friends.
I focused on each man for a moment, and one in particular jumped out to me. He stood facing the bar, so his back was to me. There was something about his tall, lanky body though. The way his grey tee-shirt clung to his shoulders. It tugged on a memory that I couldn’t place.
“Okay look’s like Archer got Bryan talking,” Dad said approvingly. I moved my attention back to Archer and did indeed see his dad talking passionately. If I read his exasperated brow and over-dramatic hand-gestures correctly, he seemed to be venting to Archer. Archer played his part well, keeping his mouth closed but nodding encouragingly for Bryan to continue.
When I turned back to the group of guys at the bar, my blood ran cold. The man that had caught my attention was facing the windows now while he leaned against the edge of the bar and surveyed his surroundings. Every nerve on my body felt raw and exposed as bile rose in my throat.
Long, black, greasy hair.
Pale, sallow cheeks.
He had the same blood-shot eyes and sweaty skin as he did that night.
Tears blurred my eyes as I watched the guy that drugged me laugh with his pals and smile easily at the women around him. My skin crawled with invisible spiders when his eyes shifted out the window. He scanned the parking lot before returning to his friends. It was only for the briefest of milliseconds, but having his eyes on me made me feel exposed and vulnerable.
I clasped my fingers together to stop them from shaking. Somehow, I was transported back to September. I was at that party, in that chair all alone.
“Lotty, what’s the matter? What’s happening?” Dad’s voice tried to pull me back to the clarity of the present but it didn’t work. My breaths came quick and ragged as I was shoved back under the rough waters of those drugs.
My dad’s worried voice drifted away as the edges of my vision darkened. My chest burned from the energy it took to c-ck air through my tight throat.
The only clear thing my brain could focus on was the greasy, disgusting man by the bar. Every time he opened his thin l-ips I heard the slurs of the man who had shoved a drink in my face.
My body was seconds from shutting down completely when his hand caught my attention. He reached into his pocket and dug around for a moment. When he pulled his hand out, he kept it cupped as though he were holding something in the folds of his palm. I kept my eyes glued on his hands. I didn’t know why, but I knew it was important.
My hand went to Archer’s Saint Christopher pendant. My thumb fit perfectly into the curve of the oval metal. I rubbed gently at the familiar engraving and tried to breathe. I needed to focus.
I briefly registered that my dad was slinging curse words in the background, but I couldn’t think about him right now. The greasy guy turned back to the bar and settled onto a stool. He protected his cupped hand while maintaining a casual exterior. My spine straightened when he turned to a woman sitting one seat over.
He smiled politely at her, but she barely acknowledged him as a waiter dropped a glass of wine in front of her. Her stiff pencil skirt and jacket made it look like she was there to kill time, not to socialize. She leaned back and scowled when he reached across her drink for a napkin from the tin dispenser. My eyes narrowed at his action. The way he moved his hand was so awkward and unnatural.
My blood ran cold when he settled back in his chair and used the napkin to wipe at the palm he’d just been protecting seconds earlier. Everything clicked into place and suddenly my mind and body had complete clarity.
“He’s not getting away with this again,” I said hurriedly as I opened the Jeep door.
“Charlotte! Stop what are you doing? If Bryan sees you it could mess all of this up.” Dad’s hand clamped onto my wrist just as I was about to jump out. I wh¡pped back and shot him an apologetic grimace. My body was acting on instinct but I knew he was right. I also knew I didn’t have a choice.
I pulled my wrist out of his hold and jumped down. As soon as my sneakers smacked the pavement I was running. The cold air in my lungs cleared the remaining fog from my limbs as I pushed forward.
The bouncer stepped out and held up his hand for me to stop as I flew towards the bar.
“Miss I need to see some ID.”
I stared at him wild-eyed and tried to tug on the door to get by him. His hand came down on my shoulder and his forehead creased in concern.
“Hey get your hands off my daughter!” The bouncer looked over as my dad slammed the jeep door shut and ran over to us. I took advantage of his distraction and ripped the door open, slipping in,side.
My eyes found their target as soon as the heat from the interior flushed my body. The businesswoman was still on the stool where I’d last seen her. The greasy man stood now as he leaned in and tried to make conversation with her.
I weaved my way through the tables and came up right behind them. Just as I skidded to a stop, the man turned and smiled at me. His yellow teeth mocked me as he repeated the same words that had haunted my dreams for weeks in September.
“Hey there georgoussss.”
Two more episodes to end the story.