Hey guys! I know that I am all kinds of off on my blogging schedule but the quarantine has my entire family stressed out. I know I am not the only one suffering during this time, so know that my heart goes out to you. My stress is because my husband is having to work 90+ hours every week which leaves me alone with the kids A LOT. My sister-in-law has to work from home AND watch her three old all day. My cousin had to stop working and his wife, a dear friend of mine, had to close her salon. It has been hard times for everyone. So I hope you can read this and escape for a little while.
Bear with me as I will post randomly for a little while because I am never sure when I will have a window to be online uninterrupted by my kiddos.
Get caught up before diving into Chapter 16
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter One)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter Two)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 3-5)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 6)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter Seven)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 8)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 9)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 10)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 11)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 12)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 13)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 14 & 15)
The next morning I woke tangled up with Archer. My head buried deep in the crook of his arm and the white comforter close to my chest. I was laying on my side with my back pressed against Archer’s chest. One of his arms was buried under my head the other draped over my stomach. His head was above mine nestled inside his pillow. It took me a minute to remember all of last night but once I did, I was sure that I would never be as happy as I was in this moment. I just had the most intimate night of my life with someone, with Archer, and he didn’t even kiss me. We did other things, intimate, personal things, but never once did his lips met mine.
I tugged myself free of him and propped myself up on my elbow peering into his beautiful sleeping face. The scar on his eye looked larger when he closed his eyes. Last night he told me he had gotten it during a fishing accident on an annual boys trip he took with his father before he died. Apparently, the hook got caught on his eye lid and then ripped out. I shuttered just thinking about it. The thought of how that must have felt is too gruesome to want to think about. However, if his physical pain was anywhere near as close to how I felt emotionally right now, it had to be god-awful. It felt as my soul was caught by Archer’s hook and at any moment it would ripped out unexpectedly.
I love you, Archer, with all of me, you can have it all, every last piece, I’m yours, I thought.
If he gave me the choice I would be with him now, let him take what he wanted and hold me close. I understood his reasons because I wasn’t ready for the white picket fence, the dog, and the two and a half kids. I wasn’t ready for the all American dream. He was right, I did need to find myself first, discover my independence, and who I was as an artist, I just wished I could do it with him by my side.
I ripped my heart out of my chest and placed it beside him. Not really, of course, because that would be gross, but it is what it felt like as I left him on his bed to sleep. My heart resting there beside him, beating, raw, and bloody. He wanted to guard my heart, to protect me, well this was his chance because it was their with him on his bed wrapped tightly in his arms. My heart stayed with him, while I slipped across the room to steal a t-shirt and shorts from his dresser. It would stay with him until he was ready to make me his. I sighed deeply preparing to leave my heart behind, Praying I would have it back one day.
I knew things would be different between us from now on. Guards would come up and barriers wouldn’t be crossed until we were ready to cross them. If we ever got the chance to cross them. I had a month left of school and then I was off to find myself without him. I was grateful for last night and for the love I knew he felt but didn’t say. He would say it when he could, if he ever could.
I walked to the bedroom doorway and looked back at him one last time, branding myself with his imprint. We would still talk, be polite, share music, and maybe even laugh but we wouldn’t have this again, until it was the right time. If the right time ever came.
I love you, I thought again as I walked away, I love you with everything that is in me.
When I got back to Nana’s I was greeted by the smell of bacon and eggs. I smiled knowing there was only one person in my family who liked bacon. Which is abnormal, I know, but we weren’t bacon people. We were sausage people.
“Leo!” I said running into the kitchen to hug him.
He dropped the spatula on the counter and turned to hug me tightly, “Philly, I missed you!” He said smiling. He has called me Philly ever since I can remember. I think it was because he couldn’t say my name right after I was born.
“I thought you weren’t coming home until tomorrow?” I asked grinning. Leo was studying creative writing at the University of Phoenix. We were only two years apart and very close. When Pop died, Nana’s house felt lonely, but it wasn’t until Leo left for college that the house became and empty shell.
Leo looked just like our mother, blonde hair, olive skin, tall, and lanky. We both had her gold eyes though, which was the same color as Nana’s. Most of the people in my family were short like me. My brother and my mother being the only exceptions. I was small and dark haired just like my father.
“I came home early last night to surprise you, but somebody wasn’t home.” He looked at me curiously.
“I stayed with Hollis last night,” I lied.
Leo looked me up and down, “Does Hollis where boy clothes now?”
I rolled my eyes but couldn’t think of anything clever to say. I was wearing Archer’s clothes, which were massive on me, and I probably had the distinct smell of man on me.
“Did Nana mind? She used to hate it when we weren’t home by eight.” He said brows furrowed.
I shrugged, “Nana has been in her own world since Pop died. Not to mention that her age seems to be getting to her. She is sleeping more, eating less, and her joints are constantly in pain. Not to mention that she is starting to forget things or stops taking mid-conversation.”
“Yeah, I am pretty worried about her, she has been forgetting about our weekly phone conversations.” He said returning to the bacon.
“I’m surprised she isn’t up yet, she’s usually up by seven.” It was only seven fifteen but Nana was like clockwork when it came to her routines.
“Guilty, I kept her up late last night talking,” Leo said shredding cheese over a pan of scrambled eggs. Leo and I have been doing all the cooking since we were old enough to cook. The only exception to this rule was the Sunday night pancake dinners we had until Pop died and Leo moved away.
My mom had Leo when she was forty and me at forty-two, so our Nana was a lot older then most grandparents. My dad was younger then my mom by fifteen years. It was one of those weird relationships that no one understands. How did the short guitar player wind up with the forty year old leggy flight attendant? The answer to that question was something I didn’t really want to know but my mother once told me that when a man knows how to please a woman you keep them around. It was gross to think about. My parents were only together long enough to have Leo and me. I was barely one when they called it quits. A couple years later my mom met Kelly who was in his fifties and captain of the same airline she worked for. He was about to retire and my mom couldn’t wait to quit her job and live abroad with him. Kelly, however, is now in his late sixties and still working. So much for my moms early retirement plan. Nana, Leo, and I lived off her social security and Pops retirement, while mom and Kelly lived large and carefree. It was obvious my mother never wanted to be a parent and Kelly never wanted to be a father so they were perfect for each other.
“Damn! You guys get up way too early!” Gabe said walking into the kitchen wearing only black sweat pants and scratching himself. Ew.
I shot Leo a glare and he laughed, “I swear he is a changed man! Plus he promised he wouldn’t get drunk and kiss you again.”
“Unless you want me to,” Gabe said winking at me which caused me to shoot him and Leo another glare. Gabe was a ladies man, all muscles, perfect teeth, eyes clear as the sky, and chiseled everywhere. He was incredible looking but his cockiness made me want to throw up. He and my brother were assigned to be roommates their freshman year and they have stuck together ever since. They couldn’t be more different, my brother was the shy, too-skinny poet, and Gabe who was the top swimmer for the college’s swim team, plus he doubled majored in both physical therapy and business. They were both smart though, I’d give him that.
“You are making lot of food,” I said eyeballing the two empty egg crates and an empty package of bacon.
“Mom and Kelly should be here by eight.” Leo stated in a dry tone. He had as little to do with our mom as I did. I’m not even sure our mom knew what he was studying.
“It’ll be a full house,” Nana said weakly, walking into the kitchen heading for her spot at the table. I grabbed a mug and poured half and half in it, a dab of honey, and then the coffee. Giving it a quick stir I placed in front of Nana who took it with a shaking hand. “Thank you dear,” She said.
I started setting the table with Gabe’s help as Leo brought the pans of food over. The door flew open and in walked my mother and Kelly, looking freshly tan from there trip in Bermuda.
“My bunnies, I am home!” She screamed into the house. It was way too early for that much makeup. No one moved to great them, instead we mumbled small hellos. Kelly, a man of very few words, did his signature head nod and grunt, while my mom fluttered her hellos eccentrically.
The day moved at a quick pace. I told everyone about my upcoming interview with the one and only Jimmy Nash, which even had my mom excited. I still couldn’t believe I got the interview in the first place. It wasn’t uncommon for the featured new talent to get one of their songs put on the radio as a single, or have an already established artist want to buy the rights to your song. This was a miracle moment and I knew it.
Nana informed everyone about selling the house and her decision to move to a retirement home. Nobody objected as we all lived our separate lives anyways. We were going to spend this weekend and Christmas break packing and getting rid of items we didn’t need. I found it ironic that Archer was doing the same thing. It made me feel closer to him some how. At the same time though my heart ached for him because he had to do the majority of it alone, at least I had Leo. It would be hard selling Nana’s house but there was no reason to keep it either. The house was too big for Leo and I to manage alone, and my mom didn’t want it.
Leo and I spent most of the day talking about his new girlfriend, Marybeth. He seemed completely taken with her and I felt a sting of jealousy at his happiness. I desperately wanted to tell Leo about Archer but I knew I couldn’t, not yet anyways. My mom and Kelly wasted no time and started packing up Nana’s attic. My mother was a lot of things, but lazy wasn’t one of them.
On Thanksgiving, Hollis came over early to help Leo and I prepare the meal. I had her and Gabe working on the pies, which she enjoyed his attention and he enjoyed hers. Not that it was a bad thing because Gabe loved to flirt and Hollis was incredibly jealous when he gave me a tongue bath last New Years. My gut told me that they would hook up before he left town. Hollis didn’t want another serious boyfriend for awhile but it wasn’t beneath her to have the casual encounter with a boy she thought was hot. I knew for a fact that she and Polly had a good time after Steven’s concert a couple weeks ago. The next time Hollis dated it would be someone she wanted to give her heart too. She was either in it for sex or love. Nothing in between and it has been a long time since she allowed herself to fall in love.
Leo worked on the ham and turkey, while I did the yams, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, and quinoa salad. Nana slept most of day and when she was awake she would entertain us with stories of her childhood Thanksgivings. My mom and Kelly were still hard at work in the attic.
We put the extra leaves into the dinning room table and had it set by four o’clock. The dinning room was only used during the holidays, otherwise it sat unused behind our kitchen. Nana’s house was an old, two story victorian, she and my Pop lucked into this property shortly after they married. Suzanna, Steven, and Archer arrived minutes after Hollis’ dad, Wallace, showed up, which was ten minutes after four.
Seeing Archer in my house was strange and even stranger was having him there as the date to my ex-boyfriends mom. I know they were coming only as friends so I did my best to not let it get to me. When they arrived, both Steven and Suzanna hugged me and Archer gave me a lame handshake. When he did I wanted to burst out in laughter because we had seen each other naked and did things to each other that couldn’t be repeated, yet he was forced to shake my hand. The conscripted greeting of a teacher who had secret.
I wanted to pull Steven aside and ask him why he didn’t tell his mother we broke up but that would only give me away. Because I shouldn’t know that information. Wallace and Suzanna hit it off almost immediately. They talked in the corner of the living room while we finished bringing the food to the table. Steven dropped the needle on Nana’s record player and danced with her. It was slow and clumsy but it made Nana smile and that was all that mattered. She was as happy as I had ever seen her. Leo, liked Steven immediately and questioned me about why we broke up, it was hard not being honest with him.
I announced it was time to eat and everyone made there way to the table. Nana sat at the head of one end of the table while Kelly sat at the other. I sat to Nana’s right and Leo sat to her left. Beside Leo was Archer, then Suzanna, beside Suzana was Wallace, and beside Wallace was my mother. Steven sat beside me which meant he was sitting across the table from Archer. Beside Steven was Hollis and Gabe sat beside her.
“You kids make me proud, this tastes wonderful.” Nana said more out of politeness then enjoyment of the meal she could barely taste.
“Yes, delicious, thank you for having us over, as usual.” Wallace said with a mouth full of turkey.
My mom sipped her wine.
Forks clinked on plates.
Hollis and Gabe shared hushed whispers.
Nana’s whistle when she breathed.
Archer snuck a glance at me, flashing his wonderland smile.
The smile that was meant for me.
I smiled back, I couldn’t help myself.
He was so handsome it took my breath away, especially when I remembered what he looked like under all of those clothes. He usually wore long sleeved button up shirts with khakis, his signature teacher look, but during the times when he wasn’t teaching he wore a white shirt and dark jeans. His jeans were always rolled up, showing off his blue suede shoes. He dressed in jeans the first day we meat but I guess Principal Bain told him that was against the dress code. Either way I loved it when Archer wore jeans and a white shirt, as if he was model for mens fashion in 1950.
I looked around the table. For the most part we were all silent and inhaling our food.
“Ophelia, you haven’t been over in a while. How have you been?” Wallace said looking at me and my eyes grew wide.
“Leo, I thought you said Ophelia spent the night with Hollis on Tuesday?” Nana asked confused. I couldn’t swallow the water in my mouth so I just sat there with my cheeks puffed, swishing my water around. Archer was staring down his yams like they were getting ready to run right off his plate.
“You didn’t come over on Tuesday.” Hollis said leaning over her food slightly to look at me better. By the pleading look in my eyes she realized her mistake and quickly tried to cover her tracks, “I mean, yeah, Tuesday, it was so long ago I completely forgot. We were together.”
“Tuesday was long time ago?” Gabe teased.
“Hollis, we were at the mall on Tuesday to pick up my suit.” Wallace looked at her sternly. He was an honest man and didn’t tolerate lies. He was the head of Westview Bank and often had suits tailored. Hollis shoved food into her mouth nervously because her lame attempt to save me had failed.
I was still swooshing my water, holding it in my mouth like a lifeline. Swoosh. Swoosh.
Nana put her fork down and starred at me.
Everyone was staring at me.
Steven leaned over and kissed my cheek, I bobbed stiffly. “I guess the cat is out of the bag! She stayed over at my place.” Steven said trying to cover for me.
“She was what!” Suzanna said spitting out a little wine in the process.
“Yes, I’m sorry mom but it just sort of happened. She was staying at the school late for practice. I told her I missed her and wanted to see her. So I snuck her in my room and she hid in the closet when you came in to say goodbye before your shift.”
Why was Steven covering for me and man he was good at lying. The lie itself was terrible but he delivered it flawlessly.
Leo’s eyes were large, Nana looked pale, and Archer kept studying his yams. They aren’t going anywhere, Archer! I wanted to scream but didn’t.
Suzanna looked confused, “She hid in your closet when you were telling me the two of you broke up?”
I finally swallowed, “The break up was hard and very sudden. I was in the middle of breaking up with him when you came in.” I stammered out and then regretted it. Steven was the better liar, I should have left it to him.
“Yeah and I was so shaken up about I didn’t want her too leave.” Steven said nodding aggressively.
“This meal is great,” Archer said in an obvious attempt to relieve some tension.
The only sounds was the buzzing of the turntable, forks scraping plates, and the occasional sip of a beverage. It was obvious that something was amiss but no one said anything. It was also obvious, that everyone wanted to say something, anything, but no one could think of anything to say.
Until finally, “I made first at three swim meets in a row. Thinking I should leave school and train for the olympics.” Gabe said with a weird chuckle in his voice. Oh Gabe.
Conversation moved slowly forward after that. It wasn’t tantalizing conversation but at least the subject wasn’t on me.
Once the banter came to another lull and no one said anything, again, for a long time.
This was an excruciating Thanksgiving dinner.
“Who wants pie?” I asked getting up and finally breaking the second silence.
“I’ll help!” Hollis and Steven said together.
The three of us labored into the kitchen. I got out the desert plates and while Hollis began cutting the pies.
“What was that all about?” Hollis asked while putting a slice of apple pie on one of the plates and handing it to Steven.
“You were with him weren’t you?” Steven snapped taking the plate.
“With who?” Hollis asked standing between us.
“She kissed another man.” Steven said nodding his head in my direction.
“You what?” Hollis said waving the knife she had been using to cut the apple pie in the air.
I grabbed the knife, “Calm down everyone, geez.” I grabbed the kitchen towel and wiped off the apple pie goo and starting cutting into the pumpkin pie and placing the slices on plates.
“I just saved your ass and this is my thanks!” Steven was angry now. How had I missed this side of him before? He never seemed like the angry type.
“I’m going to deliver these,” Hollis said taking the plate of apple pie from Steven and grabbing a plate of pumpkin pie off of the counter. “Who wants what?” I heard her ask the members in the dinning room.
“Steven don’t be angry, please.” I said serving up more pie.
“How can I not be, you are seeing someone else!”
“I’m not seeing anyone else. He is just a friend.”
“So that kiss you shared with him meant nothing?”
No, it meant everything but I didn’t say as much. I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t because I didn’t know what to say. Or how I could explain whatever Archer and I were to each other.
Hollis came back in the room, “Two more apples and one more pumpkin.” Her eyes darting between Steven and me.
I handed her the plates and addressed Steven, “He is just my friend.”
Steven shook his head and left the room. I let out a huge sigh and leaned against the counter.
Hollis came back in, “Want to tell me whats going on?”
“Not yet,” I said closing my eyes and rubbing my face.
The rest of the evening was board games, hot cider, dancing, and an over all good time. The conversation at the table quickly forgotten or at least put on the back burner. Archer spent most of the night talking to my mom, Kelly, and Nana. I really liked that he was trying to get to know my family, he seemed to blend right in. He even played an intense game of chess with Leo. Later, Leo told me what a cool guy he thought Archer was, which only made me feel proud. Leo’s opinion meant everything to me. Not that he had any idea that Archer and I were intimate, but it was good to know. Wallace and Suzanna couldn’t seem to get enough of each other. At one point Hollis made a joke about how my ex-boyfriend was going to be her new step-brother. Yikes.
At one point, I was in the kitchen cleaning up dinner when Archer came in. Hollis had been helping me because she knew the kitchen as well as her own. I was washing dishes and she was drying them before putting them away. Archer offered his help saying that it was the least he could do. Hollis was eager to agree because it meant she could hang out with Gabe that much sooner. So I washed, Archer dried, and Hollis continued to put things away.
I had a feeling Archer only broke away from the adults to ‘help’ so that he could be near me. I didn’t mind, it was the closest we could be without anyone thinking it was weird. He was just a nice guy helping clean up a meal that he was invited to last minute. As I handed him the dishes to dry we would share these intense looks. Looks that made me want to take him into the bathroom and devour him. It was impossible not think about the way he had touched me every time our fingers brushed together.
I was washing the gravy dish when Archer ‘accidentally’ dropped a serving spoon into the sink. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Let me get that.” Archer said giving me a wink. Once his hand was under the soapy water he found my hand and laced my fingers with his. Giving me a quick gentle squeeze before leaning into my ear and saying, “Happy Thanksgiving.” It wasn’t much, but it was, without hesitation, my favorite part of the day.
The worst part of the night happened as everyone was leaving. Hollis and her dad had just pulled out of the driveway, Gabe and Leo went to go meet some of Leo’s old friends for beers, and the people that remained where gathered around the tv.
Steven had just left to go into the downstairs bathroom when Suzanna pulled me aside, “Can I talk to you, alone?” Her eyes looked fierce but her tone was forlorn. I nodded and led her upstairs to my room, which was a mistake. A huge mistake.
“What’s up,” I said trying to act casual.
Suzanna sat on my bed, “What’s going on with you and Steven? I know you weren’t at my house Tuesday night.”
“We broke up.” Wasn’t that obvious?
She sighed, “I don’t understand why though, and you guys seemed really great together. It isn’t my business, I know, but I love my son and if I can help I will.”
I looked around the room and finally at her, “It wasn’t meant to be, that’s all. He has stronger feelings for me then I have for him and I can’t keep leading him on. It isn’t fair.”
She nodded and stood up, “I can respect that.” She went to leave the room but paused when she saw my laundry hamper. Her eyes grew wide and frantic. She slowly picked up Archer’s shirt. The shirt I stole from his dresser and wore home yesterday.
“This is Archer’s shirt,” She said.
I gulped, “Oh no, that’s mine.”
She looked at me and shook her head, “This is one of his running shirts I saw him wear it on his nightly runs. Multiple times, Ophelia. I worked for him for almost six months. I know that this is his shirt.”
My blood turned to stone and flaked out of my body like confetti. Suzanna didn’t say anything else as she left my room.
There was no doubt in my mind that she knew where I was on Tuesday night.