“Oh my gosh, Archer look at this!” I cooed. I currently sat on the floor of my small closet surrounded by things I hadn’t seen since I unpacked in September. I held up the bracelet I’d found buried under a pile of socks.
“Sweetheart—” Archer sighed as he set down a box on my desk. “I love you, but are you planning on actually packing at any point?”
“What are you talking about? I am packing?” I gestured to the piles of stuff I’d been organizing all morning.
“Hmm funny how your room has become a bigger mess since we started,” Archer sassed.
“You just have to trust the process,” I assured him. “Are you seriously telling me you just throw all your things in boxes and don’t take the time to look at everything?”
“I packed my whole damn room in an hour last night, and had it all in my truck by 9 am this morning.”
“Show off,” I muttered as I went back to digging around my closet.
Archer’s constant whining made me pick up the pace and soon, most of my dorm was neatly packed away into boxes. I’d written my last final exam a few days ago and just like that my first year of college had come to an end.
I thought I would be excited to go home, and a part of me was. I was excited to have some time off from school and college drama. To go back to the simple life I had in Bellmere. But another part of me felt like leaving USC, meant leaving the person I’d become here.
I’d be spending almost four months away from Madeline and Emmett, plus everyone else I’d come to love. I would have Archer of course, but that was only for a month, then he’d be back at USC for summer training camps.
My heart filled with melancholy as I stared at my bare room. I dropped back onto the mattress of my bed and spread my arms wide. Tears pricked my eyes as I tried to find patterns in the stucco of the ceiling.
Archer’s face popped into my vision and he smiled softly at me when he saw my wet eyes. I thought he would come to lay down with me but instead, he turned and walked out of the room. A pout pulled at my bottom lip that he hadn’t comforted me, but then I heard a lighter set of footsteps.
“Hey girl, I’ve been told I’m needed in here.” Madeline fell onto the mattress next to me and used her forearm as a pillow.
“I’m just being a baby,” I sighed then turned on my side to face her.
“I’m going to start loading up your car, K Sweetheart?” Archer came back into the room and grabbed my keys and a few boxes. I smiled and nodded then turned back to Mads.
“How am I supposed to live without you?” I giggled and swiped a loose tear away.
“You’re going to be just fine, besides it’s only a few months then we’ll be back together.” Madeline tried to maintain her calm and collected demeanour but her voice broke with emotion.
I pursed my lips to keep them from wobbling and looked up when the door creaked open. I thought it would be Archer back again but Emmett stood in the doorway smiling at us.
He pounced forward and landed in between us on the mattress. We both rolled away groaning and I swatted at his chest for messing up our moment. Emmett laughed and sat up slightly, wrapping an arm around each of us and pulled us back to him.
“Well, we survived our first year of college, boys.” He laughed with a wide smile.
“Not boys, dumbass.” Madeline whacked him then relaxed against his chest. I reached across him to hold her shoulder, so we’d all be connected. She smiled and did the same to me.
“I don’t think I would have survived without you two,” I said honestly.
“I definitely wouldn’t have studied if I didn’t have you guys,” Emmett added thoughtfully.
Madeline chuckled then shrugged. “I mean, I would have been fine I’m sure. But I’m still glad you two were around.”
I bopped her on the arm but couldn’t stop myself from laughing. “I hope things don’t change next year.”
“Well, I’ll be living in the football house. So if anything I’ll see you more, Smalls,” Emmett said.
“Hmmm?” I hummed absentmindedly.
“Won’t you be there all of the time visiting Archer?” He added.
My eyes flicked to Madeline apprehensively. If I did move in with Archer, a lot would change. Guilt flooded my stomach, as I realized I’d kept that detail to myself.
Madeline rubbed my shoulder and gave me a knowing smile. “Hey,” she said softly. “It’s okay if things change. What won’t change is that you two bitches are stuck with me, regardless of where we are, till the end.”
“Agreed, you two bitches are stuck with me too.” Emmett ruffled both of our heads in a brotherly fashion.
“Woah!” Madeline and I yelled at the same time as we sat up to glare at him.
“Emmett it is very different when you say it,” I chastised.
“Okay, okay, come back, I’m sorry.” Emmett held out his arms for us to settle back down. “I’m sad and need love,” he pouted when we didn’t immediately return. Laughing, I fell back against his shoulder and pulled my hair out from under me. At the same time, Madeline and I reached out and connected our hands over Emmett’s chest.
The door opened again and this time, It was Archer.
“Emmett get your fucking hands off my girlfriend,” he grumbled while he walked in and grabbed another box.
Emmett’s arm tightened around me and he squished Madeline and me together while he wagged back and forth. We fell into a giggle fit and our hair got tangled over his face. “I can’t help it I’m just gonna miss them so much.”
“Can’t you miss each other without so much affection?” Archer raised an eyebrow as he stared down at us over the large box in his arms.
“Nope.” We all said together and burrowed further into our group hug.
“Of course not,” Archer sighed. “Well, don’t mind me I’ll just keep packing up your car.”
“Awe, thank you!” I called over my shoulder as he walked out of the room.
“I can’t believe I was actually right.” Emmett shook his head incredulously with a small laugh.
Madeline perked up and raised her well-groomed eyebrow at him. “What were you right about?”
Emmett huffed and nodded in the direction Archer had just left. “I told you guys Archer was just a softy deep down who needed love. And I was right clearly since Charlotte’s lovin’ tamed the beast.”
“Ew.” I cringed. “Never mention my lovin’ again.”
We stayed tangled in each other’s arms for as long as we could. Archer made several trips in and out of the dorm to grab boxes and thank the lord by the second trip he stopped making hints that we should help.
Soon, my room was empty except for the three of us pouting. Archer came back in and smacked Emmett’s feet out of the way, then sat down at the end of the bed.
“Sweetheart, I hate to say it, but I think it’s time to go.”
I nodded sadly and squeezed Emmett and Mads closer. “Okay, time for goodbyes then.”
“seriously, no crying,” Madeline said as she sat up.
“I’ll try not to,” I laughed.
Mads smirked at me. “Actually, I was talking to Emmett.”
“Well, we all know I’m going to cry. That’s a given.” He said with complete sincerity.
Archer stood back up and walked to the door. “Okay, I’m getting out of here for the tears. Baby, I’ll meet you down at the vehicles.”
The three of us all stood from the bed and eyed each other. Emmett was the first to move as he turned to Madeline and pulled her into a hug. I smiled as they clung to each other for a moment then pulled away and wiped their eyes.
Emmett turned to me next and before I knew it I was lifted off the ground. “Take care of yourself this summer, Smalls,” he said quietly as I squeezed his neck. “Don’t fall on any runs, I won’t be there to save you.”
“You also won’t be there to make me fall,” I laughed.
“Seriously, when are you going to stop harping on that.” He dramatically sighed as he placed me back down. He walked to the door and turned to both of us. He put his hand to his heart and puffed out his cheeks like he was trying to keep something locked in his throat.
Madeline and I both laughed as a strangled squeak came from between his lips, then he waved his hand and left.
“What a drama queen.” Mads shook her head and smiled down at me. “Okay, we aren’t going to make a big deal out of this. It’s a quick goodbye, then I’ll Facetime you later tonight when my flight lands.”
She pulled me into a tight hug and I gripped her shoulders not quite ready to let go. I tried to think of something profound to say. To let her know how grateful I was for everything she’d done for me this year.
“I’m so glad a computer randomly paired us together,” she laughed and straightened her spine, pulling back from the hug.
I dabbed my wet eyes with the edge of my shirt and giggled. That would do it.
“Me too. I really am going to miss living with you.” I sighed. “Mads, I probably should have told you earlier but Archer asked me to move in with him next year. I haven’t said yes yet obviously. I don’t even know if I want to. But I’m so sorry I left it till now to tell you.”
“Charlotte, breathe,” she reminded me. “But don’t kid yourself—you know you want to. Don’t you dare make decisions like that based on me.”
“But who would you live with if I moved out. I mean, maybe we could get a two-bedroom and you could live with us too?” I offered.
“Thanks, girl, but no offence… I’ve already had to hear questionable activities when Archer stays here. I’m not game on living with that every night. Besides, some other Poly Sci people are getting a house next year. They offered me a room and I didn’t turn it down.”
“What!” I laughed and scowled at her. “Were you thinking of ditching me?”
“No way! But it’s pretty obvious how serious you and Archer are. The way you two act—I knew it was only a matter of time. Most people get into relationships and it’s impossible to know if it’ll work out or not. But you two… it’s that life-long, get married and have babies kind of shit.”
I smiled at the image that brought to my mind. The same daydream I’d had a million times of rambunctious boys with his soft waves, and a little girl with dark curls.
“I love you.” My face crumpled as the tears burst from my eyes. She should have known getting out of here without me crying was a joke.
Madeline sighed and pulled me into a hug. “I love you too. Now get moving, that boy gets mopey when he’s away from you for too long.”
I nodded and laughed, wiping my face as I walked to the door.
A few people gave me concerned glances when I walked out of the dorm with a bright red face. I scurried towards Archer, leaning against his truck door staring down at his phone.
“Ready to go?” He looked up and smiled as I approached him. “Awe baby,” he laughed when he saw my face. “It’s only a few months.”
“I know,” I sighed. Dropping my forehead against his chest, I relaxed when his fingers went to my spine. “I’m just really going to miss it here.”
“Well, it’s a good thing we’ll all be back next year.” He patted my back as I leaned back to stare up at him.
“And I get you for a whole month?” I smiled.
“Mostly. Oliver told me to remind you of the shared custody you agreed to.”
I scoffed, “Please. James is spending the whole month with him in his new apartment and he thinks he can have you too?”
“All this time and I’m still being fought over by the Avery sibling.” Archer sighed and looked to the sky dramatically. I reached out and pinched the underside of his arm, smiling with satisfaction when he sucked in a breath and glared at me.
“Alright, move your ass, it’s time to go.” Archer smacked my butt and walked to the door of my car. He opened it for me and smirked when I followed him rubbing my sore cheek.
Once I was settled behind the wheel, he leaned in and kissed my cheek. “Drive safe, I’ll be right behind you.”
“See you at home.” I smiled up at him.
He shut the door and tapped on my window twice then walked back to his truck.
Later that night, I was back in my childhood room. The house was incredibly quiet with Oliver moved out. I unpacked my room and tried to force myself to relax back into life here. It felt weird though, to be back under my parent’s roof. I’d spent a year becoming independent and taking care of myself. Then all of a sudden I was back in my pink bedroom, with my mom calling me downstairs for dinner.
I opened the box with my sweaters in it and grinned at Archer’s USC Football hoodie right on top. It felt like a million years ago that he’d given it to me. I had a whole slew of shirts and hoodies from him now to keep it company. I pulled it out and slipped it over my head, instantly preening in the cozy fabric.
Looking at the large numbers on my alarm clock, I saw that it was 11:00 pm. I couldn’t shake this anxious, caged-in feeling so I grabbed my car keys and headed downstairs.
“Where are you going?” Dad asked as he walked out of the kitchen. “Good lord, Lotty. It’s a little late isn’t it?”
“Yeah sorry, I just need some fresh air. I’ll be back soon, I have my keys you can lock up.” I smiled at him as I went to the door. I turned back to wave as I opened it and stopped for a second at the forlorn expression that flashed across his face.
He saw my hesitation and waved me off with a small smile. “Be safe.”
The anxiety I’d been having released from my chest as I climbed into my car and started the engine. The small car came to life under my feet and I breathed a sigh of relief. Something told me, I’d be taking a lot of drives this summer.
After cruising for a while, I found myself at the turn off to a familiar dirt road. It had been a while since I’d taken my car up the mountain road, but I decided to try.
I gripped the wheel tightly when the tires of my car bumped underneath of me with every small pothole. Going up the mountain at night alone might not have been the smartest choice, but I was craving the peace of elevated air.
Finally, I reached the clearing and pulled my car up onto the grass. My headlights flashed over another vehicle and I tensed, not expecting anyone else to be here. But then Archer’s license plate shone back at me and I laughed. I guess we’d both needed some fresh air.
“Well look who it is.” His deep voice called out from the edge of the lookout. I walked towards him and instantly relaxed when the lights of Bellmere beamed up at me.
Archer sat on the grass, the yellow street lights casting a glow across his face. He reached his hand out and tugged me down to sit next to him. I snuggled under his arm and rested my head on his shoulder.
“What are you doing up here?” I whispered into the darkness.
“It’s weird being home.” He shrugged under my head. I nodded in understanding having just felt the same way. “I’m surprised your Dad let you out this late though.”
“I didn’t really give him a choice,” I giggled softly.
Archer rubbed his large hand up and down my arm for warmth. “I’m sure if he’d known you were going to be with me, he would have put up more of a fight.”
“Hey, my dad likes you now remember?” I dropped my hand to his lap and wiggled my fingers. He barely looked down before he brought his other hand over and closed it over mine. He squeezed tightly when he felt how cold my fingers were.
Archer hummed in agreement. “Will he still like me if we live in sin next year?”
“I haven’t agreed to that yet,” I reminded him.
“Have you thought about it?” His hand stilled on my shoulder as he looked down at me.
“Of course I have. I just—won’t people say it’s too soon?”
Archer chuckled and shook his head at me. “Who cares what people think? Besides we’ve been together for almost a year.”
I scrunched up my brow in confusion. “Archer, we’ve been together since New Years, that’s four months.”
“We might have become official on New Years, but you’ve been mine since September. You just didn’t know it yet.” His lopsided grin made my heart skip a beat and my neck heat up.
“Well by that logic, I’ve been yours since I was five… you just didn’t know it yet.”
“Perfect! Who could possibly say it’s too soon to live together? We’ve been together for years.”
A laugh burst from my throat at his playful tone. This was my favourite version of Archer, the man only I got to see. I imagined getting to see it all of the time, in a home of our own, and I knew instantly what to do.
Archer whipped his head down to stare at me. “Okay? As in yes?”
“Yes,” I laughed.
Suddenly I was flipped onto my back and Archer hovered over me. I smiled up at him in the darkness, only barely able to see the glint in his eyes.
“Who would have thought we’d end up here.” His voice was quiet as he leaned down and dropped a kiss on my nose.
“I mean, five-year-old me definitely dreamed about it a lot.” I giggled. “But sixteen-year-old me would have died before letting this happen.”
“Yeah, sixteen-year-old me would have never believed it,” he said with a wistful tone. “I wonder how things would have turned out if you hadn’t been lovesick over me.”
I scoffed and was going to argue that I hadn’t been lovesick, but let’s face it, I had. “Hmmm—well—I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself so much in front of you.”
Archer grimaced, “And I wouldn’t have been such an ass to you.”
“No, you probably still would have been,” I teased.
He smirked and pressed his lips to mine. “Smartass,” he mumbled through the kiss. “I am sorry though,” he added softly. “You probably wouldn’t have been so anxious about what people thought of you if it weren’t for me.”
“You didn’t cause my anxiety, Archer.” I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled his face down for another kiss. I tried to deepen it but he pulled away.
“I didn’t help it though.”
“Maybe not.” I shrugged. “But if all of that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be the people we are right now, right here—and I’d hate that.”
“I’d hate that too, Sweetheart.” Archer dropped his chest over mine and finally allowed our kiss to deepen. I sighed as his hand went to my ribs and caressed slowly. The cool grass beneath me tickled my neck, but our bodies pressed together kept me warm.
A moan slipped from my throat as he nibbled on my bottom lip. His hand tightened on my hip as I locked my fingers into his hair. We kissed fervently for what felt like hours, both happily soaking in the love that poured between us.
By the time he pulled away and smiled down at me with swollen lips, I was dizzy with lust and love.
Archer flipped onto his back and pulled me with him so that I laid across his chest. I smiled as my ear rested on his chest for a moment. I savoured the sound of his heartbeat drumming rhythmically against me. It brought me back to months ago when we’d been at this exact lookout. I remembered when it had hit me that night how important this man was to me now.
But he’d always been important to me.
Had I loved him when I was five? Maybe not. Thinking back though, knowing what I know now, I think a part of me might have. Maybe a small part of my soul had recognized him for who he would become. For what we’d become.
I propped my face up to look at him and smiled at his profile. He rested his head on his arm and stared down at our town with a small, content smile. His eyes looked light and happy, as though everything within him was at peace. He still had that light scattering of freckles across his nose that I’d loved so much as a child.
Madeline’s words floated back to me from earlier and I knew in my soul she was right. Archer and I weren’t the ‘let’s see where this goes’ kind of love. It took us a while to get on the same page, but when we did, we fell hard and we fell fast. But it was the right kind of falling, the kind where you knew you’d land somewhere soft and safe. Even with every obstacle that was put in our way, we only came out on the other side stronger.
He’d been my rock through rough waters, standing in front of me to break the current. I liked to think I’d been a little bit of sunshine for him when the clouds were overhead.
Archer must have felt my eyes on him because he turned back and lifted his head to kiss my forehead. “Want to do me a favour?”
“Hmmm?” I smiled.
“Promise me, it’ll be me and you, just like this, forever?”
I lifted his hand and pressed a quick kiss to his knuckles. “Forever.” I agreed.
I knew forever was a big word, but it was a promise I’d happily keep.
The End (epilogue is loading….)