The end is near for dear ol’ Ophelia & Archer. The story ends next week! I hope that you have enjoyed reading my debut book as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you.
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Get caught up before diving into Chapter 18
- 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)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 16)
- Discovering Wonderland (Chapter 17)
The pain comes and goes in waves. One second I’ll be ok and the next I am being slapped onto the shore, like a tidal wave. I am broken in the bends and cracked in every facet of my being.
When the police came over late Thanksgiving night to interview me, my whole family was shocked. I didn’t blame them for being appalled as I told the police, Nana, Leo, Kelly, and my mom the truth at the same time. Leo, who had been out with his friends came rushing home when Nana called him letting him know that the police were at the house to talk to me. Thankfully he left Gabe behind. I didn’t want him there when I bore my soul to the world.
The police said that their had been a claim that Archer O’Conner had raped me and that due to that rape there had been an attack on my boyfriend. I found out that Steven had beat Archer so forcefully that he became unconscious and that somehow Steven got ran over by a small SUV. The police asked me about my relationship with Archer and I told the truth to best of my ability. I said that he kissed me once and then stopped it and that we maintained a friendship outside of school. They asked me if he forced himself on me in anyway. I swore up and down that he didn’t. I told them that I was in love with Archer and that he was the most respectful man I knew. Unfortunately the cops looked at me as if I had been brain washed by my seductive teacher. On top of that it was very apparent that no one believed that we didn’t sleep together.
I went to the hospital after the police interviewed me only to find that Archer had already been taken in for questioning. I found Suzanna crying in the waiting room. She told me what happened and asked me if I was ok. She even offered to go to the police station with me. She said she knew what it was like to manipulated by an older man and chorussed into having sex.
My heart broke as I realized what she thought was happening. She thought Archer was using me the same way she had been used in the events that led to Steven’s conception. I told her everything. That he only kissed me, that he was respectful and thoughtful of me in every way. I said that we built a friendship that might have been inappropriate but that’s all it was. I kept the details to minimum because the night before Thanksgiving, was ours and ours only. After a lot of convincing she said she didn’t approve or understand but that she believed I was telling the truth.
She then told me about the fight that happened between him and Steven. It scared me that Steven had such a violent outburst. I later found out that he over heard his mother yelling at Archer for ‘molesting’ me, because he came back downstairs to get his phone out of the car, which he forgotten. I was in agreement that men who molested teenagers or kids were scumbags, who should be stripped to the bone, but Archer wasn’t those things.
Steven suffered from a collapsed lung, broken ribs, and a fractured femur. The doctors said that the damage could have been a lot worse and that he was lucky. I don’t know how a collapsed lung is considered lucky but I was so relieved that he was ok. I stayed at the hospital most the night convincing Suzanna to drop all charges against Archer. The police told me that he had been arrested for aggravated assault and after quick search on google I knew that he could get up to twenty years in prison. Thankfully, Suzanna agreed that it was an accident and that Archer had been acting in self-defense. I waited until I could talk to Steven before I left the hospital. He looked awful and I felt like scum that this had happened because of me. I held his hand until he woke. He had been in surgery for his collapsed lung and was just now coming too. We didn’t talk much that night but over time he discovered the truth and let it go, eventually. Steven and I didn’t get the chance to resolve things for almost a year. He was so angry and hurt and Suzanna wanted nothing to do with the situation. Or me for that matter.
After I left the hospital I drove to the police station. I was informed that they were keeping him over night. I hated myself for this too. That I did this to him. I paced around the waiting room all night. Feeling as if I was in a very fragile glass parade. When he came out the next morning after being released I ran to him. He gave me a quick one armed hug that was cold and distant. He walked out of the station and away from me even after I told them that I got all the charges to drop. He didn’t seem to care, the Archer I knew was absent. His once shining emerald eyes were now a thunder storm. He kept walking as I screamed my love for him. He didn’t even turn around. I sat there on the steps of the police station screaming, crying, begging, pleading, but he never came back. I was there for over an hour, silent, stunned, and completely lost.
Losing Archer felt like a slow death. It was as if he shot me in the stomach and it took my body an enternity to bleed out. It was Leo that brought me home from the police station because they called my Nana threatening to arrest me for public disturbance. My car sat in the parking lot unused for the rest of the holiday weekend. I thought that maybe Archer needed space otherwise I would have gone to his house and begged him to forgive me. I blamed myself. How do you get over sending someone to jail because they were falsely accused of raping you? How could what we felt towards each, feel so wrong, so disgusting?
When I returned to school I was surprised to find Mrs. W back in her old classroom. Apparently Principal Bain had asked her to come back a lot early then intended. I don’t know why I was surprised to see her. If the police interrogated Archer they would obviously tell the school. I acted like I didn’t know why Archer was gone when I asked Mrs. W why she was back. She told me that there was some sort of crisis with Mr. O’Connor and that was all that she knew. I was relived to know that there wasn’t any drama surrounding his departure. I suspected that Principal Bain did it to protect both me and the school’s appearance. He didn’t want a scandal. After my brief conversation with Mrs. W about why she was back I high tailed it out of school and drove straight to Archer’s house.
When I got there I was surprised to find that the house was completely vacant. Whatever feeling of hope I had faded and I immediately hated myself more for giving him his space. I often wondered if I came to his house after the scene at the jailhouse if he would have stayed. If I could have convinced him to wait for me. He left with out a word, without goodbye, without ever telling me how he really felt.
I remember running to his mailbox thinking there might be a forwarding address in there left for the mailman to pick up. When I opened the mailbox, there wasn’t a forwarding address and if there had been, the mailman had already collected it. There was, however, a small white envelope. I pulled it out and read:
To: My Sweet Ophelia
Please keep in mail box for one week before discarding.
My breath caught in my throat as I tore the envelope open and read:
I’ll miss you. May we find each other again, one day.
P.S. I’m keeping your dress because you kept my shirt.
I laughed and then I cried. Really cried. The kind of tears that make your shoulders shake and your knees collapse to the ground. The kind of cry that makes you scream in audible words. Ugly tears and a scrunched up face as you sobbed for all you have lost and all that you never had. I was there for so long that the police had to escort me off the property. Apparently Hollis knew something wasn’t right when she found out I skipped school because I never missed school. When Hollis couldn’t find me. she took a wild guess at where I was. She called Suzanna, because she knew Archer’s address. When Hollis couldn’t get a hold of Suzanna she called the police. I was ice cold and blue when they found me. They brought an ambulance and I was escorted to the hospital. I had the beginnings of hypothermia from lying in the snow for so long. I was cleared a short while later because physically I was fine. They did ask if I was interested in checking in over at the mental hospital, though. I politely declined, I wasn’t going mad, just temporally paralyzed in the brain and heart.
During the remaining days at school it was as if I was a marionette and someone else was pulling my strings. My practice was off and clumsy. My movements jerky. I ate little to nothing at all. At night I would come home and lay on my bed, lifeless, because my puppet master was done pulling my strings and the curtain was drawn. The show was over. I was just a motionless marionette lying dead on a workbench backstage.
Do to Steven’s injuries we never performed our final dance but Ms. Bellefleur gave us a pacing grade anyway. When my senior showcase came around I was amazed when my mother showed up. Apparently Archer told her that this was her last chance to ever see me before I became somebody. She told me that Archer talked so highly of my talent on Thanksgiving that she felt like she needed to know first hand what all the fuss was about. It was the first time I felt a glimmer of happiness since Archer left. I couldn’t believe she showed up.
On my eighteenth birthday a bouquet of seventeen yellow roses and one red rose were delivered to Nana’s house. The note said:
My sweet Ophelia
It was the first time I felt a fraction of healing. Knowing he still thought about me or was still thinking about me, meant everything. It was everything.
The only person I ever told all the details to was Hollis because I had to tell somebody. Needed to, my heart couldn’t handle being bottled up.
“Do you still miss him?” She’d ask during one of the many times she would stay over at my house trying to breathe life back into my being.
“Not at all,” I’d say and she’d she know I was lying. Then I’d blink away the pain and whisper, “Every. Little. Thing.” How was it possible to miss someone so much when the amount of time you actually spent to together was so minimal in the grand scheme of things? Hollis would often hold me all through the night because I would be shaking so intensely in my sleep. I was thankful for her friendship.
When school finally ended all I could feel was relief that I was out of the place that reminded me of Archer daily. Principal Bain asked me if I wanted to come back for the graduation ceremony in June, I told him no. Maybe it didn’t make sense to people why I was leaving high school early, but to me it was the only logical conclusion.
I wanted to move on with my life and bury this chapter deep into the ground. There was nothing left for me here. Hollis was planning on moving to Nashville in June and the goal was to find a place together. Nana sold the house in record time and was now settled into her retirement home.
All my stuff was packed and I stayed with Hollis and her dad until I was to leave for Nashville for my interview with Jimmy Nash. I should have had a plan, but I didn’t. I was just going to drive to Nashville in my Bug at the end of month and never leave. It was risky and stupid, sure, but it was as if I wanted to be reckless. If only to feel something.
The same boldness I found in the car with Steven the first time he kissed me, the bravery I found in Archer, I wanted to find it on my own too. I wanted to drive across the country and perform on street corners for gas money. I wanted to find myself through adventure. Hollis’ dad and Suzanna had hit off so much on Thanksgiving that they were officially dating now. Hollis and I both had a feeling that they would eventually get married. It was cruel joke really, having my ex being permanently attached to my best friend.
The drive down to Nashville was just as terrifying as I thought it would be but it was in the best way possible. I found this diner, just outside of Kansas City that was having an open mic night. I decided to sign up and stay the night. It was an amazing experience performing for people I didn’t know. They loved me and the owner said I could come back any time. I made over a thousand dollars that night in tips. I couldn’t believe that people liked my preformance that much.
I have always known I had talent but Archer stretched me and pushed me to better myself. He made me feel like I could be someone, if I wanted to be. If I only took the time to believe in myself.
Once I finally made it to Nashville, I immediately felt a sense of wonderment. It was unlike any other city I had ever seen. I can’t explain the peace I got when I pulled into my dive motel but it was as if I finally made it home. To were I was supposed to be all along. To be clear, it wasn’t the nasty motel that I felt was my home but Nashville as a whole.
The day after I arrived in Nashville I had my photoshoot and interview with Nashville Today. I wont lie I had so much fun getting my makeup and hair done professionally. I did however feel uncomfortable as they tried to stylize me in cute sexy outfits. Thankfully Leo had flown in that morning so he could be with me during my photoshoot and interview. He was very brotherly and told them what I could where and what I couldn’t. So me and the stylist compromised on outfits that fit me somewhat tightly but weren’t all that revealing. In all honesty I was enjoying some of the clothing and asked if it was possible to keep any of the outfits. To my surprise the stylist said they were all mine as a gift. That night when I got back to the dive motel with Leo I tossed almost all of my old oversized clothes out. It was time I looked more grown up and professional. I wanted to be myself but not the old Ophelia. The quiet one who didn’t try new things.
In my last few months at school I became a completely different person with Archer and Steven in my life. I found out that I actually enjoyed dancing and hoped to enroll in a few classes at Cherry Hill when I started there in the fall. I discovered I actually liked to take risks with my voice and my songs. That I loved to be goofy and original. Maybe I was awkward but that is what made me lovable and I needed to love myself. I was going to live my new life in Nashville full of adventure and I was never going to look back. The old me was gone. I wanted to be the brave, loving, funny, caring, selfless person I saw in myself when I was with Archer. Even if he wasn’t going to be here with me.
My interview with Jimmy Nash was a highlight in my life. It led me to places I never even imaged. We were in the studio doing the prerecorded interview to air the following day when I heard form Archer again.
Jimmy was sipping a large coffee, had large headphones over his ears, and a microphone shoved in front of his face. We were doing the interview at five am. I was grateful that I was a morning person but I still wasn’t used to the time change. So I was nursing a large coffee too, with half n’ half and a drop of honey. The same way Nana drank it. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t miss her.
I looked the same as Jimmy did. Headphones, coffee, large microphone shoved in front of my face. We were mirror images of each other, except there wasn’t glass between but a soundboard. Leo was in the corner of the room giving me a thumbs up. I rolled my eyes at him and smiled. He mouthed, “You’ll do great!”
Everyone I new would be listening to the show air tomorrow. I couldn’t help but wonder if Archer would be too. My gut said that he would be.
There was producer sitting on a black stool, in front of a lot of controls I didn’t fully understand, giving Jimmy a count down with his hand, five, four, three, two… and point. “Happy New’s Years Nashville! This is your one and only Jimmy Nash! I am here in studio today with a new and talented artist, Ophelia Micheals. I couldn’t be more excited to talk with her today and show you guys what a gem I found. She is going places people!”
Jimmy looked at me as a cue to say something, in panic I shouted, “Hello, Nashville!” while smiling brightly even though this was a radio show. I was so nervous my skin was turning into a blotchy red rash. Which looked awful on my too white skin.
Jimmy laughed a little, “That’s our Ophelia, sweet and a little awkward. I have only had the chance to talk with her briefly but I can already tell that she is a strange one. Before we get started we have a special message to share with her. This is a first for my show but hey, I love a good surprise. Upon arriving at the studio today my assistant gave me a piece of mail that was addressed to Ophelia. Can you believe that this girl already has fan mail and I haven’t even done the interview yet? This note also came with a bouquet of yellow daffodils. Which in case you didn’t know is a symbol for new beginnings, luck, and success. Looks like somebody out there really cares for you, to send all this. Why don’t you tell us what the mystery note says.”
He than handed me the white notecard. My breath was lost somewhere in Archer’s arms, wherever he was. I knew he was the only one who would send me flowers that had meaning behind them, much like my birthday flowers. Having to do this on air made me feel ambushed. I wished this could be a private moment, but it wasn’t, so I had to get over myself, quickly. I cleared my throat, my eyes watering, “It says,
My Sweet Ophelia,
for the dream that is about to come true.
“Wow, I bet every lady in Nashville is swooning right now. Whose Archer?”
“Someone who is very close to my heart.” I replied.
“But not your boyfriend?”
“Man, I bet the guys in Nashville will be relieved to hear that. Especially when they see you in Nashville Today. That’s right guys she’ll be in the January issue. So be on the look out!”
The interview went on normally after that, asking me about my favorite instrument, which I said was the piano, but I only ever owned a guitar so it was a tie. I also said that I have been playing music since I was five and taught by my father, Otis. He then asked me if my father was proud of me now and I had to explain how he died. I talked about how quickly I learned the piano my freshman year and every other instrument I could get my hands on. I told him that I loved composition and song writing from the time I understood what it meant. I told him that I first preformed at my kindergarten talent show. I sang a song I wrote about how the ‘Moo Cows Make Milk.’ He thought that was hilarious and asked me to sing it for him so I did. Which was little embarrassing but you have to roll with the punches sometimes. We talked for a little over an hour, before he asked me to close up the interview with the two songs I had prepared. Jimmy asked me in advance to sing the song Archer had sent him to get me here, called Ache. Which was a song I wrote about Archer. The other song I wrote on the drive to Nashville, during my brief overnight stay in South Dakota.
“Tell us about the first song,” Jimmy asked as his assistant handed me my guitar.
“This song is called, Forgetting Wonderland, and it’s a piece about clinging to what you’ve lost.” I said and started the song.
A rabbit down a hole
I hope it leads me to you.
You’re my wonderland
I’m lost and I’m in the dark
Lookin’ for your smile
to guide me…
cause you’re my wonderland.
But Jus’ as I see you
Jus’ as I start to love you
you forget I’m Alice
Searching for you.
You’re my wonderland
I’m lost and I’m in the dark
Lookin’ for your smile
to guide me…
cause you’re my wonderland.
Further from myself
Can’t believe I lost you
Bring me back my wonderland
lost in the dark
bring me back my wonderland
bring me back to you
guess it’s time
I find who I am without you
guess its time
I forget wonderland
and discover my Neverland. ”
As the song continues on and I feel the mood in the room shift. I have there complete attention. Once I finished the small amount of people in the room clapped lightly.
“What did I tell you folks? She is a true Montanan starlet. The next song she is about to sing is from the demo her teacher sent me. That’s right she didn’t even submit herself for an interview. Her teacher begged me to listen and called around one hundred times. I finally gave in and the moment I heard her, I knew her teacher was right. This girl is a talent to be reckoned with. The song is called Ache, and we will talk more about it after she has sung it for us. Whenever, you’re ready Ophelia.” Jimmy nodded towards me.
If I had a choice I wouldn’t be singing this song, it hurt too damn much. I wrote this song originally after Archer kissed me. That one fleeting kiss caused me to yearn so deeply for him I found it hard to inhale.
Now though the song meant so much more then wanting a kiss. It was about how I missed him, his laugh, his smile, his eyes, the way he looked at me, the way he held me that Tuesday night.
I started the song playing the chords A and then C#m. I kept playing those chords for a moment too long before I stopped, “I’m sorry,” I choked into the microphone and then let out a deep breath. I looked at Leo, who hadn’t heard this song before, looked at me in wonderment. I never froze up when I preformed. Starting again, I allowed myself to get past the intro and sing the words,
“I’m so tired of wasting away
Needing you here
If you have to go
Then just go
I’m so tired of wanting you here.”
My voice carried to deeper moan-like sounds as I entered the pre-chorus in F#m,
“This need won’t seem to go away
I feel you at my fingertips
A dance behind my lips
And I yearn
Long for you
I ache for you
I bleed for you
Reach out for you
You’re haunting me
Oh…WaOOOOH I ACHE for you…”
I continued you through the song and at some point I started crying. I closed my eyes to give myself some privacy. Towards the end of the song I became too emotional to keep playing the guitar so I stoped strumming the last fews chords and sung in a high pitched soprano, then dipping lower until my voice was a whisper, “I ache for you, please come back to me, I ache for you, ache…for..you…” Then in a voice barely above a whisper I said words that weren’t even part of the song, “I still love you.”
The room was eerily silent and wondered if I sounded awful because I was too emotional. Before panic could set in Jimmy spoke, “That was absolutely incredible. It is easy to see that song means a lot to you. Can you tell us what it is about?”
“It’s about loving someone you shouldn’t” I said rubbing off my tears with back of my hand, the guitar pick fell to floor and the soft rattle permeated the room.
“Does this have anything to with the flowers that were sent you?”
“It has everything to do with flowers that were sent to me.”
As soon as we wrap up, I excuse myself and rush to bathroom. While in there I turn the water on just hear something other then the pain screaming inside my head. I grip the edge of the sink and lean forward, closing my eyes so tightly that I am forced to exhale.
“Hey,” Comes a tentative voice. “Are you alright?”
I looked up, to find one of Jimmy’s assistants staring at me. She has perfectly straight bleach blonde hair, crystal clear blue eyes, and has the kind of body you thought only existed in video games. If I was honest with myself, I’d admit that I was so nervous that I hadn’t even noticed how pretty she was before, and that she was maybe two years older then me.
I force a smile, “Yeah, I’m fine.” I let out a small fake laugh.
She didn’t return any of my fictitious behavior instead she reached out and touched my arm just below the shoulder, “It’s ok if your not.” I gave a small nod and shrugged my smile away. “Listen,” She continues, “I admire what you are doing, leaving the only home you have ever known and coming out here all by yourself. I know you said you’ll have a dorm to stay in when summer ends but one of our roommates just left for six months. We’d be happy to have you.”
I stared at her blankly unable to believe she was offering a complete stranger a home. It was bizarre. More bizarre was that I agreed. She wrote down her address and I said I would be by later this evening.
As she was leaving the bathroom she said, “Oh, and I’m Dani by the way.”
Later, as I drove Leo back to the airport he told me that I would be out of my mind to live with strangers. Reminding me that Dani could be a serial killer. I replied to that by reminding him that she worked for Jimmy and I am sure that he required a background check. He kept telling me I was being reckless, and I knew that I was, but a big part of me didn’t care anymore. All I wanted to do was live my life. Not holding back anymore, making mistakes and having adventures.
After telling Leo goodbye, I drove to the address Dani gave me which turned out to be a fancy downtown loft off of 3rd Ave. The loft was only a few blocks from the station I just recorded my interview at and the exterior of the building was old-school brick and mortar. It was amazing to say the least. When I knocked on loft D3 my palms were sweating.
Dani answered the large metal sliding door with a smile on her face, “I’m glad you came!” She than called over her shoulder, “Hey, guys she’s here!”
I walked into the apartment and my eyes grew wide. There was no way I could afford to live here. It was a stylish loft conversion inside an historic building featuring original brick, exposed ducts, hickory floors, granite, tile, and plantation shutters. As soon as you walked in, you immediately had an old metal spiral staircase to your right and a hallway with three closed doors to you left. In front of you was a huge wide open space that infused the kitchen, office area, small library, a gorgeous black grand piano, and a living room. Yep, there was no way I could afford this place. Plus there is no way I got this lucky.
Dani waved me into the living room as at least four more bodies shot out of random places. I stood awkwardly by the granite breakfast bar.
A very muscled hispanic man, who looked older then Dani, greeted me first, “What’s up I’m Javier, Dani’s boyfriend.” I shook his hand.
Then a supermodel of woman, long legs, big breasts, and a butt so big it jiggled when she walked. She had to be as skinny me, but stretched into a six-foot tall frame, “Astrid.” She said while flipping her blonder then Dani’s hair back.
“Hey,” I said staring up at the creature before me.
“Excited to have you on board,” A tall guy with tons off tattoos and piercings said.
On board for what? I reached out and shook his hand and it felt warmer and softer then I thought it would, “Ophelia.”
“I know,” He smiled and it honestly made my head spin. “Call me, Johnny.”
“And I’m Max,” A girl supporting pixie hair cut and dark eyes said.
“Well now that all the introductions have been made,” Dani said with a sigh, “Here is how it works Ophelia, this place costs us two grand a month plus utilities. Its expensive but divided by six people it’s about three hundred and fifty bucks, once you pitch in for your share of the utilities. It’s a three bedroom which means we all have to share a room. Javier and I take the master bedroom upstairs because its technically his place and we are the only couple. Max and Astrid share the room down the hallway and to the right, which mean you’d be sharing with Johnny in the room to the left. There is a bathroom downstairs for you guys to share but Javier and I don’t care if you use our bathroom as long as we aren’t sleeping or something.” She said the last part with a wink.
I would be sharing a room with a boy? I wanted to freak out about this, but I didn’t want to come across as juvenile either. Looking around at all five bodies, I was clearly the youngest person in the room. So I said, “Listen, this is all so great, but I don’t even have a job yet.”
“You will be making more then all of us combined sooner rather then later Ophelia, I heard you in the studio today. Freakin’ amazing.” Dani said.
“We’ll give you two weeks rent free while you get settled into Nashville, but during those two weeks we’ll expect you to take on the majority of the household chores.” Javier said with his eyebrows raised and his arms crossed his chest, “Do we have a deal?”
I decided to live in the moment and stop thinking everything through, so I shook his hand and said, “Deal.”
Sharing a room with Johnny wasn’t nearly as distressing as I thought it would be. The most awkward part about living in the loft turned out to be Dani and Javier’s rabbit-like behavior. They would go at it late into the night and often on the sectional. Not to mention there frequent make-out sessions, in every other area of the loft. Considering the fact that the loft was a huge open space made their activities impossible to miss. In the end Johnny and I became really close. He was charismatic, a musician, and probably one the funniest people I had ever met. I could tell he liked me as more then a roommate but my heart was still hung up on Archer.
Astrid ending up being a model after all so she was constantly gone. Max was a well know beautician in the cosmopolitan area. I asked her to cut off all my hair shortly after I moved in. I now wore it at my shoulders and heavily parted to my left. Max also taught me the ins and outs of makeup, which I am sure that most girls learn at the age of thirteen but I never bothered before. My glasses hung out in a their case on my nightstand most of the time and my contacts became a new best friend. I wasn’t trying to be someone I wasn’t but someone I was afraid to be all along. Music was my only focus for so many years that I forgot to have other wants. For the first time in my life I felt confidant and beautiful.
Embarrassingly enough, Dani was right about me making more money then all of them, but not combined, not yet anyways. I was doing well for myself. The first week I lived in the loft I managed to find a job selling pastries at a local sweet shop. I had to quit after two months because a producer, Bernie Harper, wanted to work with me after hearing me on Jimmy’s Nash’s interview.
Bernie worked for a smaller record label called, Pine Ave., but I didn’t care how small it was because it was a start. A start at something that most people wait a lifetime for. We remade my album together, twerking a few various things here and there, but he had it released in record time. My song, Ache, actually made it on the Billboard Hot 100. Granted it was only at eighty-three, but it was still incredible, and I felt so blessed.
I had to defer school for a semester, starting Cherry Hill as a part-time online student during the winter. I knew that I would have to take regular courses eventually because my major was composition and music theory, but it would have to wait. Bernie kept me busy, promoting myself at benefit concerts, private parties, more radio interviews, and tv interviews. Other artists wanted to met with me and collaborate on songs. It was all very surreal. Most of the time I couldn’t believe that this was my life.
I was still fairly under the radar but I was known. I spent as much time with Hollis as I could, but with me traveling all the time, it was hard. Fortunately, the roommate I was supposed to only temporarily replace never came back from Europe, so I never moved out of the loft. Hollis was able to move in once Astrid landed a permanent contract with J. Crew. Johnny moved in with Max, somewhat begrudgingly, so that Hollis and I could room together.
Hollis noticed that we had chemistry immediately and asked me why I never went for it. I told her that I let him kiss me once, after my nineteenth birthday. She was surprised and wanted all the gory details, but I told her it was nothing more then a kiss. A simple kiss full of feel goods and desire but it wasn’t anything truly substantial. Nothing compared to the moments I had with Archer. Hollis kept telling me I had to move on but I couldn’t.
Archer still, and always would, have my heart. I still got high off his memory. There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t force myself to remember every small moment we had together. The cold hard truth was that I never wanted to forget.
The last time I heard from him was during my interview with Jimmy, and as the seasons passed, that time seemed so distant. Suzanna and Wallace ended up getting married after all and when I came back to Montana for the wedding I was able to resolve things with Hollis’ new step brother and my ex flame, Steven. He was doing well for himself and joined the well known percussionist group, The Stampede.
Working for, The Stampede, had Steven traveling as much as I did. When he had shows in Nashville, Hollis and I always made a point to go to them. The time the three off us spent together was always bittersweet. A happy reminder that I had great friends, but also a reminder of what I lost with Archer.
It wasn’t until after my twenty-first birthday that one of my songs made it into the top ten and that sky-rocketed my career. The more people who knew my name, the more I was hired to write for them. I had only made one album with Bernie Harper before he dropped me due to lack of sales. However, after having a hit song, I was offered another deal. My second album was a lot more successful then the first, it kept me moving up in the music world. I wouldn’t say I was famous because I could still go every where without people knowing who I was, but there were, on random occasions, when people would ask for my autograph. Which always made feel weird.
Most days I couldn’t believe that this was my life. That I was actually one of the fortunate few who were able to live out their dream. The business and the work, also helped me miss Archer less.
The more time that went by the less real he seemed. Our time together had been so fleeting that it almost seemed imaginary. The hardest part of it all was that I couldn’t let go and I still missed him, still thought about him, even after all these years.
I wondered what ever happened to him and what kind of man he became. I tried to find him without success, and I often asked myself if Archer ever tried to find me too. Did he miss me? Did he think about me? Was he curious about who I turned out to be?
I didn’t date and I was constantly made fun for my virgin status but I didn’t care. Archer’s words wrapped around my mechanically beating heart. To guard myself and others, only giving the parts of myself I wanted to give away to the person I wanted to give them away too. It was him. It had always been him. I was able to find happiness and find myself without him, but I still wished he could have been there to experience it all with me.
The next time I saw Archer I was twenty-two, four years after he ran from me at the jailhouse. I had been sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to work with an artist.
I was spending the week in the city and loved every second of it. The beaches, warm air, the food, it was truly one of the moments were you thank God for how blessed you are. I remember leaving my downtown hotel and taking an Uber to the local grocery store. It was my last night in town and I was dog-tired. All I wanted to do was get an orange and some chocolate milk before watching a movie and going to sleep.
I was standing in sea of reds, blues, greens, purples, yellows, and oranges, marveling at how beautiful the the produce section was when I was saw him standing a few feet away examining cabbage. Cabbage of all things. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was as if they were playing tricks on me. He couldn’t be real because after all this time I was starting to believe I made him up in my head. My legs moved forward as if they had a mind of their own, I was in trance and headed straight for the mirage.
My eyes were fixated only on him which is why my leg clipped the corner of the orange display causing a few of the oranges to drop to the floor. Without thinking I bent to down to pick them back up, still staring at Archer, and that’s when I saw her. A cute girl with chestnut hair. He put his arm around her shoulders, as he laughed about something. She tilted her head back as if words in the English language have never been funnier. Between the grind of shopping cart wheels, elevator music though the static driven speakers, and the overall hustle-bustle of the produce section I couldn’t hear them, even though they were only a few feet away from me. They turned around, to finish whatever shopping they were doing. I was crouched on the floor holding two oranges in each hand, biting my lip, trying to convince myself that she wasn’t pregnant. That she didn’t have a baby bump. That he didn’t move on.
I stood up too quickly and smacked my head on the display which caused me to collapse onto the ground as oranges began to cover me like citrus softballs. I thought about getting up and making a run for it but I figured everyone in the produce section would be looking my way now and I didn’t want Archer to know that I saw him. So I thought it best to let the oranges cover my face.
The next thing I knew, someone was kneeled over the new, unplanned, display of oranges, trying to un-burry me.
“Ma’am are you ok?” A voice was saying. His voice.
I lied there waiting for the inevitable, a dead fish fresh out of the water.
“Ma’am…,” Archer paused seeing the impossible when he saw that it was me buried under all of the oranges. His eyes were greener then I remembered, his voice just a whimsical, and his auburn hair was longer. My pulse quickened at the sight out him. “Ophelia?” He asked putting his hands around my face. We stared at each for a long moment, wordless. I swallowed, tears in my eyes, feeling like the ballerina in my music box stopped dancing and sprung off her axis unexpectedly.
“Ma’am are you alright? My sincerest apologies, this shouldn’t have happened.” I looked over to my right to see a pale man staring down at me. He was dressed like he was the store manager and probably thought I wanted to sue him or something.
I shoved Archer off of me, forced myself to my feet, and acted as normal as I could, “Yes I am fine.”
“Please, is there anything we can do for you?” Nervous-manager-man ask.
I was brushing my myself off, “Really, I’m fine.”
The guy grabbed an orange that hadn’t fallen, “Well then, please take this.”
I stared at him holding out an orange for me to take.
Was this guy for real?
An orange? An orange!
Out of nowhere I started laughing.
The laugh turned into a high pitched hyena sound and I couldn’t stop once I started, because I felt like I had gone mad. I spent four years pining for someone I barely knew, someone I wrote songs about, someone I thought I loved, someone I was foolishly saving myself for.
Of course he moved on.
Why had I thought he wouldn’t?
Why did I think that we would be together again, eventually?
This is how it was all going to end?
A clumsy fluke in the grocery store and a guy offering me an orange as an apology for oranges falling on top of me? This was absurdity at its best and unfortunately, my life.
My shoulders came to an abrupt halt from their shaking, I wiped the laughter-induced tears away with the back of my hand, and took the orange, “Thanks, this is great, really great.” I said and walked out of the store and into the parking lot.
Archer didn’t follow me.
I wish he had.