Archer's Voice Page 1

Author: Mia Sheridan

Genres: Romance , New Adult

CHAPTER 1

Archer – Seven Years Old, April

"Grab my hand! I got you," I said real soft, the helicopter lifting off the ground as Duke grabbed Snake Eyes' hand. I was trying to play as quiet as I could–my mama was banged up again and I didn't want to wake her where she was sleeping up in her room. She'd told me to watch cartoons up in bed with her and I had for a while, but when I saw she was asleep, I'd come downstairs to play with my G.I. Joe toys.

The helicopter landed and my guys jumped out and ran under the chair that I had put a towel over to make into part of an underground bunker. I picked the helicopter up and lifted it off the ground again with a whop, whop, whop sound. I wished I could snap my fingers and make this a real helicopter. Then I'd pull my mama onto it and we'd fly away from here–away from him, away from the black eyes and my mama's tears. I didn't care where we'd end up as long as it was far, far away.

I crawled back into my bunker and a few minutes later, I heard the front door open and close, and then heavy footsteps walking through our foyer and down the hall toward where I was playing. I peeked out and saw a pair of shiny black shoes and the cuffs of what I knew were uniform pants.

I crawled out as fast as I could saying, "Uncle Connor!" as he kneeled down and I threw myself into his arms, making sure to stay clear of the side where he kept his gun and police flashlight.

"Hey, little man," he said, hugging me to him. "How's my rescue hero?"

"Good. See the underground fortress I built?" I said, leaning away and proudly pointing back over my shoulder at the fort I had made under the table using blankets and towels. It was pretty cool.

Uncle Connor smiled and glanced behind me. "I sure do. You did a good job there, Archer. I've never seen a fortress quite as impenetrable-looking as that one." He winked and smiled bigger.

I grinned. "Wanna play with me?" I asked.

He messed my hair, smiling. "Not right now, buddy. Later, okay? Where's your mama?"

I felt my own face fall. "Um, she's not feeling real good. She's laying down." I looked into Uncle Connor's face and golden brown eyes. The picture that popped into my head right away was the sky before a storm–dark and sort of scary. I moved back slightly, but as quick as that, Uncle Connor's eyes cleared and he pulled me into him again, squeezing me.

"Okay, Archer, okay," he said. He set me back from him and held onto my arms as his eyes moved over my face. I smiled at him and he smiled back.

"You have your mama's smile, you know that?"

I smiled bigger. I loved my mama's smile–it was warm and beautiful and it made me feel loved.

"But I look like my daddy," I said, looking down. Everyone said I had the Hale look about me.

He just stared at me for a minute, looking like maybe he wanted to say something, but then changed his mind. "Well, that's a good thing, buddy. Your daddy's a handsome devil." He smiled at me, but it didn't move up into his eyes. I looked at him, wishing I looked like Uncle Connor. My mama told me once that he was the most handsome man she'd seen in her whole life. But then she'd looked guilty like she shouldn't have said that. Probably because he wasn’t my daddy, I guessed. Also, Uncle Connor was a police officer–a hero. When I grew up, I was gonna be just like him.

Uncle Connor stood up. "I'm gonna go see if your mama's awake. You play with your action figures and I'll be down in a minute, okay, buddy?"

"Okay." I nodded. He messed my hair again and then walked toward the steps. I waited a couple minutes and then I followed him up silently. I stepped around every squeak, holding on to the banister to move me forward. I knew how to be quiet in this house. It was important that I knew how to be quiet in this house.

When I got to the top of the stairs, I stood just outside the door to my mama's room, listening. The door was just open a crack, but it was enough.

"I'm okay, Connor, really," my mama's soft voice said.

"You're not okay, Alyssa," he hissed, his voice breaking at the end in a way that scared me. "Jesus. I want to kill him. I'm done with this, Lys. I'm done with the martyr routine. You might think you deserve this, but Archer. Does. Not," he said, spitting out the last three words in a way that let me know that his jaw was tight like I'd seen it before. Usually, when my daddy was around.

I heard nothing but my mama's soft crying for a few minutes before Uncle Connor spoke again. This time his voice sounded strange, no expression in it.

"You wanna know where he is right now? He left the bar and went home with Patty Nelson. He's screwing her three ways from Sunday in her trailer. I drove by and could hear it from inside my car."

"God, Connor," my mama's voice choked out. "Are you trying to make this worse–"

"No!" his voice roared and I jumped slightly. "No," he said more quietly now. "I'm trying to make you see that it's enough. It's enough. If you think you needed to pay a penance, it's paid. Don't you see that? You were never right in that belief, but for the sake of argument, let's say you were–it's paid up, Lys. It's long since paid up. Now we're all paying. Christ, do you wanna know what I felt when I heard the sounds coming out of that trailer? I wanted to bust in there and beat the shit out of him for humiliating you, disrespecting you that way. And the f**k of it all is that I should be happy that he's with someone other than you, anyone other than the woman that is so f**king deep under my skin, I couldn't dig you out with a jackhammer. But instead, I felt sick about it. Sick, Lys. Sick that he wasn't treating you right, even though him treating you right might mean I could never have you again."

It was quiet from inside the room for a couple minutes and I wanted to peek inside, but I didn't. All I heard was my mama's soft crying and some slight rustling.

Finally, Uncle Connor went on, his voice quiet now, gentle, "Let me take you away from here, baby, please, Lys. Let me protect you and Archer. Please." His voice was filled with something I didn't know the name for. I sucked in a quiet breath. He wanted to take us away from here?

"What about Tori?" my mama asked quietly.

It was a couple seconds before Uncle Connor answered, "I'd tell Tori I was leaving. She'd have to know. We haven't had any kind of real marriage for years anyway. She'd have to understand."

"She won't Connor," my mama said, sounding scared. "She won't understand. She'll do something to get even with us. She's always hated me."

"Alyssa, we're not kids anymore. This isn't about some stupid competition shit. This is about real life. This is about me loving you. This is about us deserving to have a life together. This is about me, you and Archer."

"And Travis?" she asked quietly.

There was a pause. "I'll work something out with Tori," he said. "You don't need to worry about that."

There was more silence, and then my mama said, "Your job, the town…"

"Alyssa," Uncle Connor said, his voice gentle, "I don't care about any of that. If there's no you, nothing else matters. Don't you know that by now? I'll resign from my job, sell the land. We'll live a life, baby. We'll find some happiness. Away from here–away from this place. Somewhere we can call our own. Baby, don't you want that? Tell me you do."

There was more silence, only I heard soft sounds like maybe they were kissing. I had seen them kissing before when my mama didn't know I was spying, like I was doing now. I knew it was wrong–mamas weren't supposed to kiss men who weren't their husbands. But I also knew that daddies weren't supposed to come home drunk all the time and slap their wives in the face, and that mamas weren't supposed to look at uncles with the soft look my mama always got on her face when Uncle Connor came around. It was all mixed up and confused and I wasn't sure how to sort it all. That's why I spied on them, trying to understand.

Finally, after what seemed like a long time, my mama whispered, so I could barely hear, "Yes, Connor, take us away from here. Take us far, far away. Me and you and Archer. Let's find some happiness. I want that. I want you. You're the only one I've ever wanted."

"Lys… Lys… My Lys…" I heard Uncle Connor saying between heavy breaths.

I snuck away, making my way back down the stairs, in between the noisy spots, not making a sound, moving in silence.

CHAPTER 2

Bree

I slung my backpack over my shoulder, picked up the small dog carrier on my passenger side seat, and closed the car door behind me. I stood still for a minute, just listening to the morning cricket songs echoing all around, almost, but not quite, drowning out the soft swish of the trees rustling in the wind. The sky above me was a vivid blue and I could just make out a small sliver of glistening lake water through the cottages in front of me. I squinted at the white one, the one that still had the small sign in the front window declaring that it was, For Rent. It was clearly older and slightly run down, but it had a charm about it that immediately appealed to me. I could picture sitting on the small porch in the evenings, watching the trees surrounding it sway in the breeze as the moon came up over the lake behind me, the smell of pine and lake water in the air. I smiled to myself. I hoped the inside offered a little charm too, or at the very least, some clean.

"What do you think, Phoebs?" I asked softly. Phoebe chuffed agreeably from her carrier.

"Yeah, I think so too," I said.

An older sedan pulled up next to my small VW Bug and an older, balding man got out, walking toward me.

"Bree Prescott?"

"That's me." I smiled and took a few steps, shaking his hand. "Thanks for meeting me on short notice, Mr. Connick."

"Please, call me George," he said, smiling back at me and moving toward the cottage, both of us kicking up dust and dead pine needles with each step. "Not a problem meetin' you. I'm retired now, so I don't really have a schedule to keep to. This worked just fine." We walked up the three wooden stairs to the small porch, and he pulled a ring of keys out of his pocket and began searching for one.

"Here we go," he said, putting the key in the lock and pushing the front door open. The smell of dust and faint mildew greeted me as we stepped inside and I looked around.

"The wife comes out here as often as possible and does some dusting and some basic cleaning, but as you can see, it could use a good once-over. Norma doesn't get around quite as well as she used to with her hip arthritis and all. The place has been empty all summer."

"It's fine." I smiled at him, putting Phoebe's dog carrier down by the door and moving toward what I could see was the kitchen. The inside needed more than a basic cleaning–more like a complete scrub down. But I immediately loved it. It was quaint and full of charm. When I lifted a couple of covers, I saw that the furnishings were older, but tasteful. The wood floors were wide planked and beautifully rustic, and the paint colors were all subtle and calming.

The kitchen appliances were older, but I didn't need much as far as a kitchen went anyway. I wasn't sure I'd ever want to cook again.

"The bedroom and bathroom are in the back–" Mr. Connick started to say.

"I'll take it," I cut in, then laughed and shook my head slightly. "I mean, if it's still available, and okay with you, I'll take it."

He chuckled. "Well, yes, that's great. Let me get the rental agreement out of my car and we can get that all taken care of. I listed the security deposit as first and last, but I can work with you if that's a problem."

I shook my head. "No, that's not a problem. That sounds fine."

"Okay then, I'll be right back," he said, moving toward the door.

While he was outside, I took a minute to walk down the hall and peek into the bedroom and bathroom. Both were small, but they would do, just as I'd figured they would. The thing that caught my attention was the large window in the bedroom that faced the lake. I couldn't help smiling as I took in the view of the small dock leading to the calm, glassy water, a stunning blue in the bright morning light.

There were two boats far out, not much more than dots on the horizon.

Suddenly, looking out at that water, I had the strangest sensation that I wanted to cry–but not with sadness, with happiness. Just as soon as I felt it, it started to fade, leaving me with an odd nostalgia that I couldn't begin to explain.

"Here we go," Mr. Connick called and I heard the door shut behind him. I left the room to sign the papers for the place I would call home–at least for the next little while–hoping against hope that this was where I'd finally find some peace.

**********

Norma Connick had left all her cleaning products at the cottage, and so after I had lugged my suitcase out of my car and put it in the bedroom, I had gotten to work. Three hours later, I pushed a damp piece of hair out of my eyes and stood back to admire my work. The wood floors were clean and dust free, all the furniture was uncovered and the entire place thoroughly dusted. I had found the bed linens and towels in the hall closet and washed and dried them in the small, stacked washer and dryer next to the kitchen, and then made up the bed. The kitchen and bathroom were scrubbed and bleached and I had opened all the windows to let in the warm summer breeze that came off the lake. I wouldn't get too used to this place, but for now, I was content.

I unpacked the few toiletries I'd thrown into my suitcase and placed them in the medicine cabinet and then took a long, cool shower, washing the hours of cleaning and more hours of travel off my body. I had broken up the sixteen hour drive from my hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio, into two eight hour hauls, staying overnight in a small, roadside motel one night, and driving through the next to arrive this morning. I had stopped at a small Internet café in New York the day before and looked online for rental properties in the town where I was headed. The town in Maine I had chosen as my destination was a popular tourist attraction and so after more than an hour of searching, the closest I could get was across the lake, in this small town named Pelion.

Next