“Are you sure you don’t want to try and get her number? She keeps looking over here.” Bryan shot a smirk over my shoulder and swirled the ice in his glass.
“I’m positive. I’m with Charlotte remember?” I tried to keep the edge out of my voice but he was really grinding on my last nerve. Bryan seemed determined to hook me up with this waitress and he kept conveniently forgetting about my girlfriend.
“Hmmm, little Miss Avery. I have to say son, I really didn’t see that one coming. Skittish little thing isn’t she?”
“Not at all,” I said behind clenched teeth. “She can be shy sometimes.” I shrugged.
“Well, I think that’s great.” Bryan nodded approvingly and took a sip of his drink.
I perked up, surprised by him. Mentally, I chastised myself for instantly feeling a spark of excitement that this man, of all people, approved of my girl. “Thanks.” I smiled, mostly because her face now floated in my mind’s eye.
“Yes. She’s a pretty girl from a good family. Doesn’t seem like the type to get in trouble or cause a scene. She’ll be good for your image in the next year.”
Just like that, the spark was blown out. “I’m not with her for my image, Dad. I love her.”
“Oh God, Archer.” His head dropped back in exasperation. “You can’t afford to love anyone. You need to focus on your career.”
Every inch of my being wanted to explode on him. To scream and yell that he had no idea what I needed. But I was so close to getting what I needed out of him.
I gripped the phone in my pocket tighter, ensuring it was right at the opening of my jeans. He’d already been spewing hatred for my mom all night, but it was so hard to know if it was enough. It was ridiculous how easy it had been to get him talking. A few choice words from me about no one understanding how important football was and how Mom was being cold and pushy about me getting good grades. It felt like liquid lava in my throat to speak ill of her to Bryan, but it had worked.
At least, mostly. Mr. Avery made it clear that to go after him legally, we needed him to vocalize that he wanted me to sign an agency contract early. Also, that an easy divorce for my mother was the bribe to do so. He had said as much, but it was always in a slight code.
“I guess we’ll see how things go,” I said slowly as I ripped the edges off a paper napkin.
“Fine. Just never forget the goal, son. She can come along for the ride, but if she starts to get in the way of your NFL dreams, you’ll have to cut her loose.” Dad spoke so easily. Like the thought of breaking up with Charlotte was the same as deciding to throw away an old tee-shirt. In actuality, it would be like cutting into my own chest and ripping out my heart. Just thinking about it as a hypothetical made my hands shake and my stomach queasy.
Read – Crazy househelp season 2 episode 40 – finale
“So, should we get to signing this thing?” Bryan eyed me over his glass. I could tell the niceties were over, it was time for business.
I kept my body calm by thinking of Charlotte while I nodded and pulled the contract in front of me. My hands didn’t shake because I imagined running them through her soft curls. My shoulder’s stayed relaxed by thinking about her dainty little fingers rubbing them. The thought of her sparkly brown eyes even brought a small smile to my lips.
“I’m excited,” I said through the smile. My eye’s stayed on the contract so the image of Bryan wouldn’t ruin my peace.
“Great, so am I. I think I can do amazing things for your career.”
“And after I sign this, you’ll divorce Mom? And give her the house?”
“We’ve already talked about this, Archer.” I could tell Bryan was trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice.
I finally raised my eyes and looked at him directly. “Once I sign this, you have the contract to protect you. I can’t go back. But all I have is a gentleman’s agreement that you’ll do as you say. So, I need to hear it. I need to know she’ll be okay after.” Just to sell the story a little harder, I flipped to the back of the contract where a little X marked the spot for my signature.
“Yes,” Bryan sighed. “My lawyers already have the offer ready for her. You sign that and—” I tensed in frustration when something over my shoulder caught his eye.
“I—” He glared behind me again then flicked his eyes to me. “Sorry I—”
I placed my forearms on the table and was just about to turn around to see what was distracting him when I heard something that made me forget everything.
“I am not lying, you drugged her drink!” Charlotte’s clear voice cut through the room and I whipped my head around to find her. She was standing in front of the bar, glaring up at a man who looked pretty drunk. A woman sat next to her holding a glass of wine with a frown.
The second I registered what was going on, I stood from the table. Before I could move forward the guy scowled at Charlotte and grabbed her shoulders. He looked like he was about to shove her as I ran towards them. Several tables and chairs skidded against the hardwood as I pushed through any obstacle in my way. People shouted at me when I spilled their drinks but I barely heard them.
My eyes locked onto Charlotte as she struggled to get the guys hands off of her. Her flushed face made my blood boil with rage that this fucker thought he could touch her. I was only a few feet away when Charlotte reached her arm up towards this douchebag’s face and collided the heel of her hand up into his nose.
He instantly let her go to hold his nose and I grabbed her around the waist to pull her behind me. I spun around as soon as I knew she was out of reach from that guy.
“What the hell! Are you okay?” My voice was unnaturally high with panic as I searched her for injuries. Her eyes held a frantic glint and I could tell she was running on pure adrenaline.
“You fucking bitch,” The strangled voice of the man behind me pulled my attention away from her.
When I turned to face the man I kept one hand behind me on Charlotte, ensuring I knew she was safe. I straightened to my full height and tried to stay calm. My priority had to be Charlotte, as much as I wanted it to be teaching this guy a lesson in respect. I eyed the woman sitting on the stool and saw she was shaking. The man still stood close to her and I could tell she was nervous.
I pulled Charlotte with me as I took a step closer to the woman. “Why don’t you come over here,” I said in what I hoped was a calmer voice. I held my hand out to her and glared at the drunken idiot to stay still while she slid off her stool and stepped behind me with Charlotte. I felt better once I had the man caged between me and the bar, with the women out of the way.
“Okay, what the hell is going on in here!” A security guard pushed through the growing crowd around us.
“I told you!” Charlotte shouted from behind me. “I told you this man drugged her drink!”
“Thissss bitch doesn’t know what she’s talkin’ about.” The man stepped forward and puffed up his chest. I slammed the palm of my hand into his collarbone and he flew back into the edge of the bar.
“That’s the last fucking time you call her a bitch. Fucking got it?” My voice was deathly calm, but I knew he could hear the undercurrent of seething rage that would be unleashed on him soon.
“Where’s the drink?” The security guard stepped forward, placing himself at arms reach of both me and the drunk.
“I-I have it here.” The woman’s voice came from behind me. I twisted my body to see her standing next to Charlotte, clutching the wine glass tightly. It was then that I noticed Mr. Avery was also here, standing behind his daughter with both hands protectively on her shoulders.
The security guard held out his hand for the glass and smiled reassuringly when the woman shakily handed it to him. “We have strips in the back, we can test the drink and call the police if there are drugs in it. Did you drink any?”
The woman shook her head rapidly then nodded at Charlotte. “She st-stopped me before I did.”
“This is fucking ssstupid I’m leaving.” The drunk pushed himself forward to walk around me.
I put both my hands on the man’s chest to stop him. The security guard hastily passed the wine glass to a bartender so he could stop the man. My whole focus was on Charlotte’s tiny hands fisted into the back of my sweater. This man deserved to be pummelled but I couldn’t do it and keep her safe. Especially in such a small space.
The man shoved me to get by but I locked my body. My hands shot to his shoulders and I pushed him off balance at the same time my foot swept behind his legs. He went down like a ton of bricks and groaned when his back collided with the floor. I stepped back and gladly let the security guard jump down and take over.
I turned back to Charlotte and placed my hand against her cheek so she’d look up at me. It didn’t matter that her dad still held onto her shoulders, possessively. I needed to know she was okay.
When our eyes met, my face softened. Unshed tears glazed Charlotte’s oversized brown eyes. Once she focused on me, her bottom lip wobbled and she shot forward, out of her dad’s grasp and into my arms. I wrapped my arms tightly around her and pulled her against my chest. My hand went to her hair and ran through her curls as I tried to soothe her nerves.
I looked over my shoulder and watched as the security guard pulled the drunk guy off the floor and dragged him towards a back door. The bartender who still held the wine glass gestured for the woman to follow him behind the counter.
“If we do call the police, they will most likely need her statement.” The bartender nodded at Charlotte who still clung to my stomach. She pulled away long enough to give him an affirmative answer then rested back against me.
“Let’s go outside,” I rubbed my hand down Charlotte’s arms. “I think you need some fresh air.” Plus, everyone in the bar was awkwardly standing around us and I needed to escape their stares.
I led Charlotte out of the bar and around the side of the building. Once the clarity of the cold night air wrapped around us, I had a lot of questions.
“Sweetheart, what the hell happened in there?”
“I’d like to know the same thing,” Mr. Avery walked around the corner behind us and eyed his daughter. “Lotty, I’ve never seen you like that. I thought you were going to pass out.”
My head whipped back to Charlotte in concern. She sighed and leaned against the red bricks of the building. “I thought I was going to,” she said weakly. “But then I saw him put something in her drink and I just couldn’t let it happen again.”
I frowned for a moment as I processed her words. Obviously, I understood why she would be sensitive to something like this. But the timeline was confusing.
Her dad seemed to be thinking the same thing as me. “Wait, why were you panicking before you saw him drug her?”
Charlotte’s wet eyes flicked to me and I couldn’t stop myself from going to her. I knelt so I could look up at her face and clasp her hands in mine. Her eyes closed briefly as our hands connected, then she continued.
“I panicked b-because… I recognized him. He was the same guy who drugged me at the beginning of the year.”
“What!” Mr. Avery and I both shouted at the same time. Every ounce of rage I felt tonight burned deeper into me when I realized that I had the guy who tried to hurt Charlotte in my hands and let him go. My instinct was to stand up and go back inside to find him. I didn’t care about witnesses, I’d take a felony charge to give that guy what he deserved. But guilt hit my chest when Charlotte jumped at the aggression in our voices. This wasn’t about what I wanted to do, it was about what she needed.
I took a deep cleansing breath. “So you knew who he was and you still ran in there?” My emotions were all over the place. I cupped her cheek with my hand again, trying to decipher why I felt terrified, angry, and proud all at once. “Charlotte, that was so stupid. So fucking brave and so stupid.” I almost laughed when Charlotte smiled at me. I could tell she was proud of herself beneath all of the nerves.
“Someone better explain to me what the hell you are talking about,” Mr. Avery snapped, drawing our attention away from each other.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” Charlotte sounded tired as she slid down the wall and sat on the pavement. I twisted to sit next to her and she leaned against my arm. “It happened at a party right at the beginning of the year. That guy in there showed up when I was alone and drugged me.”
“Jesus, Charlotte.” Mr. Avery’s face crumpled with sadness. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to worry you guys any more than you already were. Plus I was okay. Archer saved me and took me to the hospital. He stayed with me all night and watched me afterwards.” She turned and smiled up at me. The clear adoration in her eyes made my face feel hot as I smiled back.
I turned to Mr. Avery and raised a brow at his appraising stare. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking but we’d have a problem if he tried to add any more stress onto Charlotte right now. He didn’t have a right to be anything but supportive, even if she had kept this from him.
“Well, now does anyone want to tell me what kind of Macgyver bullshit is happening here?” Bryan stepped around the corner of the bar and into the light that we all were under. “Good to see you, Tim,” he added dryly.
Fuck. I’d been so focused on making sure Charlotte was okay, everything with my dad had just flown out of my mind. I tried to remember whether I’d even gotten what I needed from him. I pulled the phone out of my pocket and saw it was still recording. I paused it at an hour and forty-eight minutes. Hopefully, everything in there would be enough.
“Bryan.” Mr. Avery nodded stiffly at him. “We both know that what you’re doing to Archer is wrong.”
“What I do with my son is none of your business.” Bryan glared at him.
“But it is mine,” I interjected. I stood up to face my father, creating a wide triangle between me and the two other men. “Trying to make me sign that contract? You’re risking my whole career if anyone found out.”
“Archer, we already talked about that. Tons of players do it, and I’m not stupid enough to get caught.”
“You already have been caught, Dad.” I sighed and waved my phone at him. “I have everything we talked about on tape. In case you didn’t know, it’s illegal to sign an agency contract in the NCAA. And it’s definitely illegal to bribe your son into doing it.”
Read – Crazy househelp episode 1
Bryan stared incredulously at me for a moment and then smirked. “Jesus Tim I can’t believe you actually went along with such a stupid plan.” Turning back to me he shot me a condescending look. “Archer, you can’t use that in court. It’s not even legal to record someone in the state of California without their knowledge. This whole thing is ridiculous.”
“Honestly Bryan, I thought you’d come to your senses long before anything went to court.” Tim stepped forward. His voice clearly showed the disgust he had for his old friend. “You know as well as I do that it’s no skin off your back to give Pam the house. You just always need to be in complete control.”
“It has nothing to do with that. The only thing that matters is Archer’s career. I’m trying to take care of my son!” Bryan spat.
Seeing an opening I cleared my throat. “Fine, so I can’t use this recording in court? Doesn’t mean it isn’t still proof of what a shitty father you are. I can’t guarantee much, but I can this. If you keep punishing mom for no fucking reason, I’ll use it to make sure everyone in the country knows who you really are.”
“And how are you doing to do that?” Bryan laughed.
“I’ll work my ass off. I’ll get into the NFL just like you always wanted. Hell, I’ll be the best QB this country’s ever seen. Then I’ll go on every talk show and news broadcast that will have me, and I’ll tell them all about my shitty father who tried to ruin my career.”
Bryan sobered up and glared at me. “You will not. That kind of publicity would ruin your career, not just me.”
“I don’t give a shit,” I said honestly. “Football is not the most important thing in my life anymore. There is a whole hell of a lot I’d give it up for. Mom and Annie are just the tipping points.” My mind instantly went to Charlotte. As though she heard my thoughts her small hand slipped into mine. I turned down and saw her giving me a reassuring smile.
“Bryan for Christ’s sake,” Tim implored. “You have to see the damage you’re causing? We all know Archer will go to the NFL if he wants to. Do you want to be the reason he gives it up? I know if that were my son, I’d want to watch him reach his dreams. Even if it were from a distance.”
Bryan whipped his head between both of us. I could see the silent battle he was having. Never in my life had I seen my dad lose, and I definitely never saw him admit defeat. He knew it was time to walk away, but his pride wouldn’t let him.
“You know,” I added thoughtfully. “Even after everything that’s happened, I know Annie still wants a dad.” Charlotte’s words about closing the door but not locking it rang out in my mind. “She’s struggling right now. But one day she may want that relationship back.”
“Just Annie?” Bryan asked quietly.
“I don’t know. But I do know if any part of you wants that in the future, you need to walk away now. You’ve done a lot of damage, but you can still fix it. You just need to walk away.”
I stared at my dad in the eye and tried to communicate my feelings silently. I hated him, but I loved him. I wanted him to leave and never come back, but I also wanted him to be better for his children. My logic told me he wasn’t worth it, but my soul wanted him to try to be.
It seemed to work because Bryan sighed in resignation, and turned away from us. I watched his back as he walked around the building, then he was gone.
The silence stretched out around us as no one seemed to know what to say. Charlotte squeezed my hand and pulled my attention away from the darkness where my dad had once stood.
“I’m so proud of you,” she smiled.
“I’m so proud of you,” I tossed back. “I’m almost positive you broke that guy’s nose.”
“I did say I would whoop some butt tonight,” Charlotte shrugged. “I just didn’t know who’s.”
Read – The house help batch 1
I tossed my head back and laughed. Charlotte was okay, I was okay, and by the sounds of it, my family would be too. My muscles relaxed as relief flooded through them, banishing the tension that had been there for months.
I sobered up when a police car pulled around the building and drove by us, parking near the back edge of the bar. Voices drifted over to us as the police officer got out of the car and walked out of sight. It sounded like the action had moved around to the back.
“Hey there you guys are,” the bartender called as he peeked around the wall the police officer had just disappeared behind. “She’s here,” he said over his shoulder.
The police officer came back into view and walked towards Charlotte. “Miss, I just need a quick statement of what you saw tonight if you could step over here?”
Charlotte patted my hand reassuringly when I tightened my hold on hers, letting me know she was okay. I stepped back and watched her worriedly while she followed the officer. I relaxed when I realized he wasn’t taking her far, only a few yards out of earshot.
“Your dad tonight—” Mr. Avery spoke as he came up next to me. We both kept our eyes on Charlotte as we stood shoulder to shoulder. “He’s known he was wrong for a while. But he couldn’t admit it.”
I nodded, unsure where he was going with this.
“I don’t want to make those same mistakes. I’m really sorry Archer, I was wrong too.” He briefly turned to me before returning his eyes to his daughter. “I’ve known for a while that you weren’t the guy I thought you were. But I guess I’m a stubborn man and didn’t want to admit that I was wrong. But I can’t ignore it after tonight. I kept waiting for you to beat the hell out of that guy.”
“I wanted to,” I said truthfully. He was giving me too much credit if he thought I didn’t still want to kill that guy.
“But you couldn’t. Because Charlotte was your priority. I don’t even know if I could have stayed that in control if I’d known the whole story.”
I nodded again. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Charlotte as I processed what he was saying. It naturally made me jittery to get so much praise—especially from Mr. Avery. He was someone who I’d seen as a second father. It had killed me to know he thought I was a shitty person. But now I had no idea how to act.
“Anyway,” he turned towards me fully and held out his hand, “can we move forward?”
My spine straightened when I faced him. I nodded and grasped his hand firmly while words still escaped me. He seemed happy to let it be as well, and simply nodded and turned away again.
Charlotte finished speaking to the police and walked back over to us. “That was the most satisfying thing I’ve done in a while,” she said with a small smile.
“Did you tell him about the frat party too?” I asked.
“Yeah, the officer said it could help tighten their case against him. Either way, I got to say my piece, and it feels good.”
Pride fluttered in my chest again for this amazing girl. She really did have the heart of a lion—or of a Hulk, as she’d probably rather I say.
“Well this night did not turn out how I thought it would,” Mr. Avery chuckled under his breath.
“But everything’s okay right?” Charlotte asked softly as she tucked herself under my arm.
He smiled down at her and nodded. “I think it will be, yeah.”
Our attention was pulled to the back of the building again as the police officer rounded the corner with the drunk guy in handcuffs. Charlotte stiffened under my arm as we watched them stride towards the car.
I couldn’t see her face, so I rubbed my hands up and down her arms comfortingly as I watched. They reached the car and the police officer opened the back door. Right before he climbed in, the drunk guy stopped and turned to scowl at us.
Before I could tell the guy to fuck off, or finally go introduce his face to my fist, Charlotte surprised us all. She leaned back against my chest, rested one ankle casually against the other, and lifted her middle finger right at the guy. She kept it up while the police officer pushed the guys head down to make him sit in the car.
The door slammed shut and Charlotte turned to us both sheepishly. “That felt good,” she laughed.
Mr. Avery chuckled too and pushed my shoulder lightly. “More of your influence I see.”
“Damn straight,” I said proudly.
ONE MORE CHAPTER TO GO!
If you enjoyed this chapter, let me know in the comments or by voting!
Also, I think when I post the final chapter, I want the epilogue to go up at the same time. So there might be a little wait! Most likely at least until the end of the week for both.