Each second is a second you can make a new choice, a better choice, a healthy choice, a present choice.— Mariel Hemingway
WINDENBURG Cameron Lake House
Sophie tore the door to her backyard open, reached out and snatched the small dog from the man holding it, giving him death glares.
“Relax, Sophie, I wasn’t gonna hurt Molly. She came to me, all excited. Was I supposed to break her heart by ignoring her?” Stryker shrugged, following her inside unasked, she was too distracted to register.
“Why not? You’re great at that type of thing! And she came to you because you are in my yard. Trespassing!” she sounded upset.
“You didn’t answer the door. Again.” his tone was mildly accusatory.
“Take a hint!”
“Sophie, I have given you space, almost a week. I knew you were home, I understood you were upset, and I left. But not today. I really need to talk to you now. Please. Just a few minutes of your time. Okay?”
“I hate myself for this. SO much. Fine then.” Sophie set down Molly and just turned and headed back the the kitchen, where she had been busy before he showed up at her backdoor holding one of her two dogs who had snuck out through the doggy door to go say hi to the uninvited guest.
“Smells good in here. Hmm, fresh cookies. And a pie. Is that blueberry or blackberry?” Stryker demonstratively sniffed the air as he followed her.
“I am NOT feeding you! What do you want from me – again? Can’t you just go away and stay away?”
“You look amazing. I need to get you an apron with the band logo on it. Bet you’d wear that. Even if it’s from me and you are not really my biggest fan at the moment.” he ignored her words.
“Get to the point. What do you want?”
“You won’t spare even one little cookie? Maybe a broken one? Or one that fell on the floor? Or any scraps from the fridge that are about to go bad? Anything?” he begged, while perusing the fresh and still warm baked goods on the counter his stomach growled so loud it woke the male dog, Huey, from deep slumber, causing him to let out a growl back at Stryker.
“Do you EVER eat when you are not here?” Sophie grumbled, while slapping several cookies onto a plate, slamming it into Stryker’s stomach.
“Thank you!” he smirked as he accepted the plate and immediately started digging in.
“Say what you feel you need to say and then leave, please.” Sophie insisted.
“I want to apologize for how things went down last Saturday. If it makes you feel better, as soon as I got home that night, Alycia and I had another fight. And I ended up kicked out again.”
“Why would that make me feel better? I am not Alycia who thrives on other people’s bad fortune. But you are stupid. Really. No nice way to put it. I really hope the baby won’t inherit that from you.”
“So surreal still, that you are carrying my child.”
“The cow, who looks pregnant year-round with quintuplets, according to Alycia is actually pregnant for real – who would have thought? But quit deflecting. Sorry she kicked you out again, I guess. Was that what you had to tell me so urgently?”
“I am sorry about that comment by her too. Really sorry. It was probably her disease talking. You know she suffers from eating disorders.”
“Well, then she should go to therapy, taking it out on other people won’t get her better either! And I am so pissed at you for that. You did nothing – AGAIN. Just stood there and let it happen to me. This time you can’t say you didn’t hear it. You were right there. You heard it and you defended her. HER. Even though she was clearly out of line. Messed up.”
“Yes, I know. I wish I could give you some great explanation for why I didn’t react, but I don’t have one. All I can tell you is that I am deeply sorry and that it won’t happen again. Promise.”
“Well, as intense as she was about claiming you are hers this past Saturday, I don’t think you should be here. If she knew, she’d probably run amok.”
“I told her about us. About the baby, I mean. That’s what the fight was about. Let’s just say she didn’t take it very well.”
“Can’t say I am really that surprised. I told you it would probably be better to keep your name completely out of this pregnancy. Especially if you do become famous, I don’t want to have to deal with reporters at my door as your baby momma or something like that. No thanks! I also tried to warn you that Alycia was flirting with other men, and now you heard it from Hailey and Maddie too.”
“Yup. Sucks to be me, but what else is new? Except for the realization that I am a goddamn hypocrite, all these years I was riding my mother’s ass for being co-dependent to a man who clearly only used her and look at me now. I have officially become my mother. Great.”
“Well, so do something about it. Either make clear to Alycia that her behavior isn’t okay with you or learn to accept that this is what she does. Bonus, if you were to break up with her, you’d at least have your apartment back, and wouldn’t have to pay rent there so you can sleep on your friend’s couch all the time.”
“Yeah. I know. Look Alycia wasn’t always like that, she just … Ah fuck, I am still doing it. Yeah, she was always like that. You know she is Judith Ward’s youngest daughter?”
“Yup. The actress, who is famous for being a bitch on and off set, married to some wealthy entrepreneur and bred two entitled daughters with him. Surprise. I thought I was a lucky guy that a girl of that caliber wanted me. Young, dumb and full of … testosterone.”
“And you think being a famous person’s kid makes that girl serious girlfriend material even though you have been told by several people now that she is hitting on other men, who knows how far she would go if one actually bites, not to mention that you yourself have caught her in the act with your best friend? And all that still checks out as worthy to you?”
“Best friend’s brother. Nate humped my girl, not Drake. You know Sophie, men, especially those with my background, are not famous for making sound decisions. I am an addict, Sophie. The rough stuff. I keep quitting, but then there is the occasional huff here, finishing off someone’s line there, … and I have alcoholic tendencies. I am not a fun drunk, as you well know. Add high school dropout from complicated family background and living paycheck to paycheck – I have zero other skills worth mentioning except music, so if Blaine is wrong, I’ll be a bartender for the rest of my life, getting evicted every few months because I won’t learn not to choose spending my money on booze or drugs. Tell me which woman wants to put up with that shit long-term? Yeah, exactly. Even if I make it big, become rich and famous, all that’s in my future is a bunch more Alycias, different names and looks but always the same. No good woman can put up with me long term, and I know it. As soon as life gets stressful, I fall off the bandwagon and it’s not fun for anybody. I have tried everything to fix me, failed each time. Alycia is the only girl who stayed with me longer than a few months.”
Sophie shook her head.
“Enough with all the dystopia. Stryke 3 are really good, and I couldn’t believe how many fans were at the Skyline. You guys will get your break, you’ll move to Del Sol Valley into a fancy house in the hills and screw your way through Playboy bunnies or wannabe actresses doing coke and getting wasted before too long, then eventually you marry some model, and you’ll forget all about ever feeling this low.”
‘…and about me.‘ Sophie added in her mind.
“Sounds like a Nickelback song. Nah. I like San Myshuno and if I do break up with Alycia, I wouldn’t date a model or any other girl who might have issues with food. That is seriously annoying AF. Plus, I can’t move away from here. Got a kid on the way, you know.”
“You don’t say?” Sophie tilted her head at him.
“Unless you changed your mind about me and prefer my future contributions to be child support payments. Wouldn’t blame ya, I realize I don’t exactly look like a winner to you right now. I am not so sure I should be around the child, knowing me, I’d screw that poor kid up too.”
“You’ll have to straighten up then, I do want an involved father for my child. Our child. I want that more than the money, to be honest.”
“You really are something different. I will pay, whether you want it or not. I’ll do right by you and the baby, not gonna be my father. Or my mother for that matter. And if you want me there, I will be there too.”
“Speaking of, I still know nothing about your background except for the few things you told me last time about your first name. Do you have your mother’s or father’s last name?”
“Mother’s. Stryker Hayes is my full name, no middle name. Parents were never married. Not like I would want my sperm donor’s last name, nor would he ever have allowed an illegitimate stain on his bright white vest like me to bear the precious DiLaurentis name. You heard of the upscale clothing store chain? That would be him, Marco DiLaurentis. Entrepreneur, womanizer and grade A asshole.”
“Oh wow! He must be loaded. They keep opening new stores left and right, not like I could afford to shop there, but I’ve been to their Outlet stores and man, I like their stuff.”
“Despite a nasty divorce from the mother of his two legitimate kids, who would be my half-siblings whom I’ve never once met in my life, so he could marry a younger woman, he is still raking in the dough. He did pay my mother child support for me until I turned 18, off-the-record of course, and I don’t know how much. All I remember was that growing up, my mother and I never had money. I was a latchkey kid, and that there was never anything to eat at home. On rare occasions my mother remembered she had a kid, then she fed me whatever was quick and cheap from a can or box.”
“So that’s why you fall into my fridge and eat your way out every single time you show up.”
“Between that and having had a moody girlfriend for so long who battles with anorexia and bulimia, and the fact that while I am no culinary expert, I can easily tell you know your way around a kitchen, yeah. If I lived here, I would not fit through any doors within a month or two.”
Stryker smiled a cryptic, unreadable smile, then took Sophie’s hand, the unexpected touch sent jolts of electricity through her.
“Sophie … Go out with me. Dinner, a movie, or something.”
“Like a … a date?”
“A date? You and me on a date?” she repeated, filled with disbelief
“Well yeah, that’s how dates work. Two are the minimum required attendees. Preferably two people who like each other. Unless you hate my guts now.”
“I came close after you kept siding with that Alycia all the time, especially last time. After Saturday I was seriously so done with you, Stryker. I felt so humiliated by Alycia and you did NOTHING about it, even though it was obvious I was there for you.”
“I wanted to come after you, but Hailey didn’t let me. She laid into me something bad, showered me in inconvenient truths instead. If I would have tried anyway, I am not sure what that woman would have done to me. And when she was finally done, I got it from Alycia, Drake and Nate at the same time, then they yelled at each other instead and I was caught in the middle again, but all I could think about was how I had fucked up with you again. That’s why I have been looking at the outside of your front door every damn day since, to apologize, but SOMEONE decided to freeze me out instead.”
“Well – apologize then.”
Stryker smirked, arching his eyebrows, then nodded.
“Will you go on a date with me if I do?”
“If your apology is conditional, you can keep it. No. I will not go on a date with you or anyone else just because they remembered their manners.”
“I like that confidence in you. Keep that up. But no, it’s not conditional, I am just really trying hard here to get you to say yes. But fine, apology first: Sophie, I am truly and very sorry for having been a total jerk. I shouldn’t have sided with Alycia, but with you, I should have realized what she was like sooner and told her off. You didn’t deserve her mean words – and I don’t deserve you.”
“You’re right about that. After all you put me through because of her, you don’t deserve me. Especially if you really do make it big as a band, from what I could see at the Skyline, you are really close, all those fans … crazy.”
“What does that have anything to do with us? Don’t tell me you are jealous of fans?”
“No, but you still have a girlfriend, Stryker. Remember? I am not going out with you. I can’t. I don’t want to be anybody’s second choice, or some backup just in case, not even yours. Besides, even if you were to break up with Alycia right now, I am a realist Stryker. I know exactly what I am and what I will never be. One of those things I will never be is someone who belongs on a red carpet. So, at best I’d be your temporary affair until DSV calls with an award and you guys’ big break.”
“No, I don’t think so. I’d like it if you could please leave now. I just can’t with any of this. Thank you for the apology, but I don’t want to date you knowing you still have a crazy girlfriend who already hates my guts, I don’t want to know what she’d be capable of if she found out about us on some date. Honestly, even if you had already broken up with her and were to ask me so close after, it would really just feel like you’re looking for a quick and easy rebound chick. No matter what you say now, I couldn’t do this without feeling second best.”
Stryker gave her a look, nodded.
Without another word he then turned around and walked to the front door, halted for a moment in the threshold of to the hallway, shook his head and left, quietly pulling the front door shut behind him.
Sophie sat there with bated breath, until she heard the engine of his motorcycle roar up.
She looked at the two Havanese dogs looking up at her and said
“Hopefully I didn’t just make the biggest mistake of my life … sure does feel like I did.”