“I don’t know if I like you or love you,
want you or need you.
All I know is I love the feeling I get when I’m near you.”
SAN MYSHUNO Culpepper Apartments Carlisle/Calderas Apartment
Peeking out the window of his best friend Drake Carlisle and his fiancée Christina Calderas’ apartment across the hall from his own, Stryker snorted with an unamused laugh.
“Hey Chrissi, does that sign over on that building across the street from your apartment read Cameron Law Associates or am I tripping out bad now?”
“Oh yeah, it does, that’s my cousin Nick’s law firm. Cameron Law. His dad founded it and Nick took it over when his dad moved away.” Christina giggled, while peeking over his shoulder.
“You gotta be shittin’ me. One of Sophie’s brothers is a lawyer?”
“No. Uncle Liam’s son. How did you know Sophie has brothers?” Christina wondered.
“Oh … I … dunno. Guess it came up. So, are you and her close?”
“Kinda. I mean, as close as cousins can be when they didn’t really grow up together. My mom’s from Windenburg, where Sophie and her family live, and we’ve lived there twice, in between Henford-on-Bagley and Oasis Springs. But whenever the whole family does get together, Sophie and I get along really well, maybe because we’re closest in age. She’s very sweet. The-what-you-see-is-what-you-get type. She always comes through for you, if Soph promises something, you can take it to the bank. Well, now that I am in San Myshuno I am hoping the 45 min to an hour drive will get us closer. I love this place, as far as I am concerned, we’re here to stay.”
“You’re easily pleased. But what if down the line and you and my moronic best friend decide to have kids. Assume that’s a thing. You want to raise them in an apartment? In THIS apartment?” Stryker grimaced.
“Oh yeah it’s a thing! A big thing. After a wedding, which that won’t be anytime too soon. Drake and I have already discussed all that. We have a guest room. That’ll make a nice nursery. We can probably get a Murphy bed for you for when Alycia kicks you out again. We know it will happen again. And again. And again. Maybe we’ll just adopt you and you move in permanently.” laughed Christina, nudging Stryker.
“No shit.” Stryker grimaced.
“Drake and I are going out to eat when he gets back. You wanna come?” Christina suggested.
“Nah, I need to take the bike out for a spin to blow some cobwebs out of my brain. Stuck on the lyrics of a song Blaine wanted me to rewrite.”
“Finding inspiration in nature, I like that idea. Good luck.”
WINDENBURG Cameron Lake House
It took him three full loops around town until the car that had been parked outside Sophie’s home was finally gone. As he pulled up to park, he could see her in the window right by where he left his bike. He gave her a brief wave while digging around the storage compartment of his bike, then headed to knock.
By the time he reached the door, she already greeted him, letting him inside.
“You are lucky. My brothers literally just left.”
“Yeah, I saw the car. I just wanted to drop off those tickets. You still haven’t told me what day, so I just got you some for this Saturday. And some band merch so you can represent. Here.”
He handed her a plastic bag, which she took with a defeated sigh.
“Has anything we talked about at Chase’s registered with you at all? You shouldn’t come here, and I don’t go to concerts. Even if I wanted to, how was I supposed to let you know, I don’t know how to reach you.”
“Right, here, let me give you my number.” he moved to take the phone out of his back pocket, but she held on to his arm. Both froze.
“Stryker! I don’t want your number. I am saying let’s just let this go.” she walked off into the living area, he followed.
“Yes, you do need my number, for emergencies. Or when you tell your parents about this, you might change your mind. I bet they’ll want to meet me, if only to bash in my face.”
“Too late. Already told everyone. That’s why my brothers were here, to help me move out furniture from my grandparents’ home office that I never used and measure the room for the nursery furniture and drop off paint swatches.”
“Huh? They just bought your bullshit story? What paint swatches? You know the gender?”
“Yes, they bought the story, everyone is VERY supportive, my mom actually was in a very similar situation when she was my age, so she didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Too early to know the gender, I am going with green. It’s neutral and it’s the Cameron color. My mom and one of my sisters are interior designers so this will be professional. And free. And with love.”
“Oh, the Camerons have a signature color now too? Of course, they do. Your family is literally everywhere. I just found out today that I live in a building directly across the road from Cameron Law.”
“Aww, Nick’s firm. My cousin. They just had a baby too. Haven’t been over there to meet him yet. How exciting.”
“Yeah, so I heard. Christina told me. Colorful family. Few celebrities, business owners, interior designers, a chef, a mayor, a lawyer, … I am impressed.”
“Did you tell Alycia yet?”
“Didn’t get a chance yet. She and I both have a temper. She pisses me off, I say shit that pisses her off, fight starts and doesn’t end until she kicks me out of my apartment. Well, our apartment. I spent the last few nights at Drake and Christina’s.”
“That’s messed up.”
“Tell me about it. Luckily Drake, Nate and their girls live in the same building as Alycia and I, so I crash at Drake and Christina’s whenever it happens again. It has and it will. Nate offered his place too, but things are still a little tense between him and me for his thing with Alycia. Your cousin’s really nice, by the way. Starting to not mind this Cameron invasion, if they are all like the ones I have met so far.”
“Except Christina technically is a Calderas. But yeah, I am biased on all things Cameron. I don’t think you can call it an invasion; we’ve been around for centuries now. My family tree really goes WAY back. I always thought my family was pretty darn great. Some of us are nuttier than squirrel turds, but still lovable.”
“You really are something else.” he smirked, while shaking his head when his stomach growled loudly.
“Did you ride with the mouth open and swallowed a hungry wolf driving out here?” Sophie laughed.
“Funny girl. Been a while since I last ate, think it was day before yesterday, yeah, sometime before Alycia gave me the boot. I had a hard-boiled egg with ketchup and what I hope was old mustard and stale beer. Alycia doesn’t have a good relationship with food, so unless I stock our fridge, all that’s in there is air and my disappointed face.”
“Goodness. Well, I have a ton of leftovers in the fridge, don’t even know what all, some quiche; I think some tacos unless my brother Ewan fell into them, maybe some pie and who knows what else. Ewan and Silas both are like human food vacuums, those boys can eat, but they both can cook really well too. We all can, our grandmother was adamant about teaching us, she was a trained chef. So, what will it be for you, dear Sir?” Sophie giggled.
Stryker smiled, while giving her a strange look, eyes glazed over.
“Hello? Earth to Stryker. This is where you tell me what you would like?” Sophie told him.
“What I would like?” Styker looked confused.
“Food. Pick something.”
“Oh, anything is fine. Whatever you want to get rid of. I know everything you make tastes great and I am not known to be picky.”
‘Clearly not, two minutes around your stupid toothpick girlfriend tell that tale. And then you knocked someone like me up, too. No, definitely not picky.’ Sophie thought sarcastically, but out loud she just sighed and said
“Oh great, another Ewan. Fine. You get one of each. Hope you are as famished as your stomach roaring sounded.”
Sophie couldn’t help the pang in her heart watching him eat, just like when she first met him, but this time a lot more civilized.
“And she’s staring again. Is that a Cameron thing too?”
“I am just amazed that you can eat like a human being. Last time you looked more like something that just crawled out of a cave after hibernating all winter.”
“I told you I was trashed then, had late onset alcohol-munchies. Plus, I crashed my bike, I probably banged my noggin. We’re both lucky I wasn’t also drooling and pissing myself while eating before passing out face first onto the plate.” he laughed.
‘Obviously you had a head injury, or you wouldn’t have slept with a girl like me…’ Sophie thought bitterly. Out loud she sighed and asked a burning question.
“I know I asked this before and you shut me down then, but a lot has changed since. Is Stryker your first or last name?”
“First. Originally it was Marco, but I had it legally changed to Stryker some years ago. Cost a pretty penny and was a friggin hassle, but so worth it to me!”
“What’s wrong with Marco?”
“Nothing. Except it’s my sperm donor’s name and I hate that son of a bitch and wanted nothing to do with him, let alone be Marco Junior for the rest of my life to remind me of the absentee douche who fathered me. My friends called me Stryker ever since I can remember, we used to practically live at the Arcade and I used Stryker as my username. Got the high scores on 90% of the machines, my very first claim to fame, so everyone around town knew me as Stryker. Sounds more like a rock band member too.”
“So, you are a rock band?”
“Rock grunge alternative crossover … like every band we think we’re REALLY special and unique. At least we did until Blaine gave us a reality check. Guess he thought we were a bunch of pretentious dicks, so he showed us how many demos he gets a day, he played a few of them and they sounded hella professional, making us sound like a bunch of toddlers banging around on pots and pans while screaming for our mommies. But you would know what genre we are, had you come to a show. Hint.”
‘Ha, you sweet innocent man, you. Never heard of internet stalking? I already know what you sound like. And what you look like on stage.’ Sophie thought to herself, then smiled as she told him
“Well, maybe I would come to the Skyline and check you guys out as you bang on your pots and pans, as a chef I could call it professional research. It’s just – to be perfectly honest with you – pretty sure your girlfriend would be there and she already had me in the crosshairs at Chase’s party. I don’t need another dose of that nasty … ahem … her issues with me.”
Stryker knew she was gonna say ‘bitch’ and smirked at her last-minute save.
“I didn’t realize you were even exposed to her mood swings. Every time I looked for her, she was attached to Christina and Marciella or kissing ass of one of the famous people at that party, just like the guys and I were doing, so I don’t know if she was trying to help us as a band or trying to get into Chase, Colton or Blaine’s pants for some change of scenery, for my sanity’s sake I am going with the first. I think she’s tired of us always crawling around the brink of making it big, always sooo close, but just not quite there, frustrated like the rest of us, just like with that engagement she’s been waiting for. And if she doesn’t change her ways, and quits her bullshit, she’ll be waiting a helluva lot longer for that ring yet.”
“Oh, yeah, I saw her being quite the social butterfly, yet still she found the time to land a good jab about my figure in front of others. As if I didn’t know I don’t have a killer bod and am no supermodel. Girls like her know how to land a good punch and still come out smelling like roses. I spent all of high school dodging them. Thought that was over, yet, here we go again. And you are sure you wanna marry that? Not my business, but then again, if you really are gonna be involved with the baby as you claim you want to be, he or she would be exposed to her too. Not sure I like that much.”
“Yeah. I know what you mean better than you might think. I used to be the fat nerd in school and know first-hand those bullies can be mean and always find the right words to completely ruin your day. I drank more toilet water during those years than a sewage plant until I decided I had enough and became the asshole you now know me as today. Didn’t take long until nobody wanted to bully the crazy asshole with nothing left to lose. I didn’t care if I had to go sit at the principal’s office or got suspended. Still better than taking what they were giving. Sorry Alycia was a bitch to you. If you do come to a concert, I’ll make sure she’s either not there or I’ll keep her occupied.”
“You?! YOU were bullied?” Sophie’s eyes nearly fell from their sockets.
“Oh yeah. The chunky dork, once I hit puberty, we can add serious acne to that picture, I was bullied by boys and girls alike, or did you think a cool athletic popular kid with lots of game would have spent enough time at the arcade to get high scores like I told you I did? Another reason for the name change. Get rid of that part of my life. Wish I could erase it from my memory too.”
“What about your parents? Mine would be heartbroken if I were to change the name they gave me.”
“That’s because your parents clearly give a shit, unlike mine, and you weren’t named after some completely uninvolved Italian asshole by some co-dependent psycho-woman who just won’t realize that he only used her for sex and dumped her when she got knocked up. But that is a veeeery long story for another day. Preferably told with a drink in each hand and an endless supply to follow while snorting cocaine. All three of us in Stryke 3 are damaged goods from screwed up families, ultimately, that’s how and why we bonded, cos otherwise the only thing we really have in common is our love for music and booze. My best friend Drake, your cousin Christina’s fiancé, is actually only Nate’s half-brother, both of them originated by their daddy sticking his dick where it didn’t belong but never owning up to it, because he didn’t want to ruin his marriage and reputation. So, Drake didn’t even know he had a brother until we met Nate in school and eventually figured out they’re related, they have different last names by their respective birth mothers and some half-siblings they don’t even know at all, then again, so does yours truly, exactly same story, except my mother checks off another mark for clichés, she was my sperm donor’s secretary. So, each one of us has tense to non-existent family relationships. Even Alycia, even though her parents were and are married, but that family is a different kind of messed up and I can’t tell you which of our stories is worse. That’s why I cut her so much slack. She’s not a bad person, just has a lot of insecurities. Plus, as you probably already guessed, she’s anorexic and bulimic, which just adds to the drama.”
SAN MYSHUNO Culpepper Apartments Outside the Carlisle/Calderas Residence
By the time he walked off the elevator at his building, his best friend Drake was at the mailboxes.
“Hey man, you got a minute?” Drake asked.
“Sure, what’s up.” Stryker told him, approaching.
“Let’s talk inside.” Drake pulled him into his apartment, closed the door.
“What’s going on with you, bud? You’ve been on edge of late. I am worried about you.” Drake got to the point right away.
“Is that a serious question? Dude, we have a standing weekly engagement at the Skyline, we’re opening for 2Dark 2C, we have concerts opening for ViVa under our belt and got Blaine Cameron to agree to work on producing a record for us, deferring payment until royalties come in, now you and your brother sit around holding your dicks while I don’t know which way is up anymore as he’s expecting me to deliver 2 solid original pieces by the end of the month, yet keeps rejecting the lyrics I keep submitting. So yeah, I am on the edge.”
“Nice try, but nah, not buying the ‘poor me’ pity party, that’s not it, Nate and I pull our weight too and then some and you know it. I just read over your latest WIP and I got questions. The one titled ‘Halfway In’. I know every single piece you write is about your life, but the lyrics for that one are cryptic at best. I need some context. Halfway in what, man? This band? Your relationship? Which one is it? I think some serious talks are in order.” Drake stood his ground, unimpressed.
“I am not ready for any talks, okay. It’s not the band, so relax. Band’s my life, dude, you know that.”
“If not the band, it has to be you and Alycia. If this is still about that thing between her and my brother, come on now, it was a slip-up. We all make mistakes, they did, it happened, can’t be undone. Get over it. Move on. You told me you love her, so here is your chance to prove how strong that love is. The way you’re going isn’t leading to a good place, bruh. You’re starting to get to some concerning combustion levels and I don’t wanna be around when you blow up. And most certainly don’t wanna stumble around this minefield blindly.”
“Okay, you wanna know why I am on edge? You wanna know what halfway in means? I’ll tell ya. I am halfway in with two very different girls. One girl I have known for years, she has a killer body, and I think I love her, even though she doesn’t always make it easy for me, especially when she seems to like to share that killer body with other men when I am not looking. Then again, I should keep my mouth shut, cos I am also halfway in with another girl, and I think I am in love with her personality, she’s a great girl, just visually she really doesn’t do it for me, the homely type, not something I could proudly flaunt if Blaine’s prediction ends up being right, and we make a nomination with the album he’s producing for us. That girl is NOT red-carpet material and yes, I am THAT shallow, I have to be that way, cos I want this band to succeed and not turn us into a laughingstock before we ever got a real chance for greatness. We all worked too hard for this, sacrificed too much. But I can’t just stay away from said homely girl, because I also knocked her up. And there is no way I am gonna turn into my sperm donor and do to my child what he did to me and my mom. So, Drake, why am I on edge, huh?”
“Oh jeezes Christ on crutches, man, chill!” Drake muttered, shocked and surprised.