“Building a relationship is not easy.― Napz Cherub Pellazo
Make the commitment wholeheartedly.
Do it for both of you.
Love doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be true.”
Windenburg Cameron Lake House
The first morning at Sophie’s home after the Stryker vs. Alycia showdown at the party had been a little awkward for both, her and Stryker alike, but soon enough they got into a comfortable routine with each other. And just like last time, Stryker just never left, and Sophie didn’t ask him to. It had now been almost a week.
The more time he spent with her, fully sober this time, not weaning off a hangover and drugs like the last time he had been invited to stay, the more he realized how abusive his relationship with Alycia really had been.
Not just from her side, but he had so much underlying anger and disdain for her, that he caused a lot of his own misery by taking out his moods on her. The picture book version of a toxic relationship for both.
A few days ago, he had texted Drake to go over to his apartment with Christina to check on the situation, and surprisingly, the place was empty of Alycia and all her belongings. Nothing had been broken or taken that wasn’t hers as far as those two could tell. This meant it was safe to go back home, but so far, he had not even breathed it around Sophie. Being around her felt like a vacation, like a trip back to a childhood he never had.
Watching her, making them breakfast just as she always did, his eyes wandered to her baby bump, he felt good knowing their child would have that childhood he always wanted. He’d definitely do his part, not because he really wanted to be a parent, but because he remembered too well how it felt when you were rejected by your own father. Never.
“Uh oh!” Sophie now made, slightly alarming Stryker and pulling him back into reality.
“What?” he tensed up.
She pointed at the backdoor, where he saw the outline of a person. A man.
“Who is that?” he asked.
Sophie shrugged as she headed to the door to let him in.
“Ah shit!” escaped Stryker’s mouth.
He felt struck by lightning. Hot and cold, scared, wanted to run away panicked, but his feet were frozen in place as he now watched the man enter, hugging and kissing Sophie, before noticing him. Oh, that man was built, not your typical middle-aged dad-bod type. That guy could ruin Stryker’s day. Shit!
“Oh?!” Sophie’s dad now made, measuring Stryker up, then looking at his daughter, that one simple word a clear a question as any.
“Ah, yeah, dad, this is Stryker. He’s a … ahem … uh … well … he uh …” Sophie stumbled.
The man looked at Sophie, then Styker, suppressing a grin.
“Yeah, I have a pretty good idea who that is. Well, good to put a face with the idea, son. I am Jay Cameron, obviously this young lady’s dad.” Jay held out his hand to Stryker, who took it and they shook.
“Styker Hayes, Sir. Pleasure.”
“Don’t look at me like a deer in headlights. I am not one of THOSE dads, unless you hurt my little girl. Then I totally am THAT dad. Sophie should know this, but as the former mayor of this town and dad of the current mayor, not much happens here without me getting wind of it. Plus, Blaine says hi, he was rather chatty last night, then again, when isn’t he, anyway he had a lot of interesting things to say about a certain ex-girlfriend and a party last weekend. I should have gone to that one, sounds like I missed a helluva bash. He also confirmed that this young man is be the proud owner of a certain motorcycle that has been parked outside your home quite a bit over the past few months. When I saw it again on my run this morning, I thought I’d stop in to say hi.”
“Oh right.” Sophie said defeated. Small town living at its finest.
“Yeah. Your mom and I were hoping you’d bring him by and introduce him on your own, but days later still nothing, so she and I would like both of you to come to dinner tonight. Obviously, you don’t have plans, or your bike wouldn’t be collecting dust outside Sophie’s home” Jay directed the invite at Stryker, who got nervous.
“Oh, I … would … love to but can’t. I don’t have clothes … I mean … I have clothes … just not on me. No, I have clothes on, just not … ahem … anyway I have to work tonight. Sorry.” it was Stryker’s turn to stutter.
“Oh – that’s right. It’s Saturday. I totally forgot!” Sophie added surprised.
Jay gave both of them a wondering expression, so Stryker explained.
“I work at the Skyline, do a show with my band Saturday nights. I also work as a barkeep occasionally.” Stryker managed to get out.
“Right. Blaine mentioned you are a promising young artist he took under his wing. Right up Blaine’s alley, a fellow rock musician. Fun. I happen to like that genre, maybe I could hear some of your tunes at some point? All right, just bring him over tomorrow then, Sophie.”
“TOMORROW?! To the family dinner, dad?” Sophie’s eyes nearly fell out of her head.
“Yeah, might as well, right? I mean, he’s unavoidably gonna be part of the family in some months down the road. Might as well meet the gang all at once. Rohan might be coming with his husband Harrison and Aryelle, Michael seems to be a permanent fixture now, so it’s gonna be a full house. Hey, when is that appointment again for the gender determination thing, sweetheart?”
“Tuesday dad. Mom has it on the calendar.” Sophie said.
“Gender determination? Is that for the baby?” Stryker’s ears perked up, Jay smirked at him.
“Well, it’s not for me. We’ve been pretty certain for many years that I am a boy. You wanna go, son?” he asked Stryker, calling Sophie into action.
“Daddy! We’re not … like that. He can’t go the gynecologist with me! He’s not … I mean … I am not … like … with him. Like he’s just in the guestroom. We’re not … you know … comfortable with each other. I mean I am not uncomfortable around him, just not the right inside my personal bubble thing at doctor visits kinda thing.” Sophie stumbled over her own words trying to explain a relationship she didn’t even understand herself. What were they, exactly? They weren’t strangers, they weren’t friends, they weren’t lovers. WTH?!
Jay sighed, shaking his head, a small smirk curled the corner of his lips.
“Sophie … sweet pea, I am going let slide that you felt you needed to keep him from us, I don’t know why and maybe that is your business, but please remember your mother around your age went through some similarly iffy thing, I was there for the whole mess and know how awkward that is at every turn. But let’s be realistic here, at some point, that young man came out of the guestroom and went into your personal bubble, otherwise … THAT … wouldn’t have happened.” Jay pointed at Sophie’s baby bump.
“That was my fault, Sir. I … ahem … seduced her.” Stryker tried to come to Sophie’s aid, which she argued.
“No, you didn’t! You make it sound like either I have no mind of my own or you raped me. I was an equal part of it, I wanted it to happen. We just both were reckless …” Sophie argued.
“You told me yourself you were disappointed and had imagined your first time much more … oh …” Stryker pulled the emergency brake just a tad too late when realizing this wasn’t the right topic for right now. Both he and Sophie’s cheeks flushed, while Jay grimaced.
“Ugh! Abby and I both made it a point to be cool and open parents, but now that my dad-ears are bleeding, I think this is where I bow out. Sounds like you guys have things to talk about without me. See you both tomorrow at 6 pm sharp. Have a good one, kids. Oh, and nice to meet you at long last. Don’t forget about that appointment, Soph. If he can’t go, mom or Emmy said they can take you.”
“No no, Sir, I want to go! I’ll take her.” Stryker said quickly.
“Stryker! No, you will not! That’s a gynecologist appointment, not the dentist!” Sophie told him, when Jay added his two cents before Stryker could.
“Sophie, all they make you bare is gonna be a part of your belly to do the sonogram. I am sure he has seen that before. I’d offer to take you, but I have that mayoral thing with Silas and to be honest, Stryker’s the father of the baby, Sophie, he should be a part of it, seeing how he clearly seems to want to be, and judging by the amount of time he spends here, you are familiar enough for him to go with you. As a father myself, I wouldn’t have wanted to be excluded from your and your brother’s appointments, nor from those of your older siblings, and you know well I didn’t have any rights there. Still, it would have broken my heart if your mom hadn’t let me be there. That is the closest we men get to experiencing a pregnancy, through being part of it any way you girls let us. Think about what’s more important, avoiding iffy moments or having the child’s father missing out forever. You obviously felt he was good enough to get in a position to create a child with you, now let him be there. I’ll let you digest that and dwell on it. Bye sweetheart and Stryker.” he told her.
Jay waved casually, then just left, whistling.
“Wow. That is NOT the reaction I expected AT ALL. He was nice and calm and polite to me. Normally fathers don’t like me at all. Is it opposite day?” Stryker said.
“What did you think he would do? Bust your kneecaps with one of my cast iron skillets, then butcher you with an axe and fertilize my vegetable garden with your remains? Camerons may be an acquired taste, but we’re not feral. You didn’t do anything wrong; you didn’t threaten him or me. And you heard him, he very much sympathizes with you. I have to say, I hadn’t considered what dad said, but I honestly didn’t think you’d be interested in going either. So, if you want to go, you can come.” Sophie said.
“Still, you told me your parents are very involved, close to you and your siblings and protective, so maybe I expected something along the lines of a shotgun to my head all the way to the altar.” Stryker laughed.
“My parents would NEVER make any of us kids marry someone just because there is a baby. It’s not the 1950s anymore! My twin brother lives with my parents, has twins and he STILL hasn’t married their mother, his fiancée, who has been living with them since they found out about him having knocked her up. My sister Esmée has a 6-year-old with a married gay guy, who has custody. And my other brother Ewan found out on their wedding day that they were a few months pregnant. Plus, you do realize that I am almost 24, right? Speaking of, how old are you? Man, I don’t even know the basics about you.”
“27. Just ask. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
“We need to sit down and talk. You know a lot more about me than I do about you. You even know my dad now. I barely know your band members’ names and that’s it.”
“I can properly introduce you to the guys, no problem. I can’t offer you my dad, I don’t even know him, never actually met the guy, same with any siblings I have and may have, all I can offer is my mother, but that won’t be anything like it just was with your dad. You’d be disappointed.”
“You still talk to your mom? And you’d actually take me to her and introduce me as the mother of your future child, her grandchild?”
“Yeah, we talk, not very often but we kept in touch. She already knows about the pregnancy. If you want to meet her, sure, but don’t expect her to be all sorts of excited about you or the baby. She won’t be.”
“Can I see your apartment once it is 100% Alycia-free? I mean, you have seen my house. Would only be fair.”
“Sure. We can go, she’s gone. Forgot to mention, sorry. Again, don’t get your hopes up about what you may find, my place is very basic. I am not famous – yet. Nor rich. I know this house is pretty small, but my whole place would fit into your living area and is nothing fancy.”
“Stryker, I honestly don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know what the right thing is. I am completely overwhelmed. My dad busting us made very clear to me that I need to figure out something. If there weren’t a child involved, it would be a lot easier, but there is gonna be a baby, so we need to come up with something.”
“Yeah. Look Sophie, I know my breakup is still fresh, and you got feelings about that, but your dad seems to like me. I know I am not the only one in this room with feelings beyond friendship. So, obvious choice would be we start dating and see where that takes us. Start slowly, go out a few times, keep it clean and platonic, build up to hand-holding and kissing and such. It may work out or it may not, we’ll never know unless we try.”
“Nobody would believe a girl like me was dating a guy like you. We totally clash from every angle. Why would you even want that?”
“For one, you have the proof growing inside of you that we somehow connected at some point. And we don’t clash, Sophie, we’re opposites in many ways. Opposites attract. You’re already having my child and if that doesn’t make you stand out and special, then I don’t know what would. Secondly, you feed me, that goes a long way with me. Joking aside, I like you, Sophie. I don’t have answers beyond that either. I’ll admit, you are not my usual type, but then again, Alycia was, and I don’t have to say more. Clearly, I don’t know what’s good for me if I think with my dick, so I listen to my instincts instead and my gut tells me to not let you slip away. I have a lot of experience of what not to do in a relationship. I think I could become decent boyfriend material, with a little help from you. Willing to try. Plus. I owe you a do-over for your first time that you are so disappointed by.”
Sophie looked at him, long and silently, clearly processing. She was tempted. All her life no boy would seriously look at her, and now here was this uber-cool handsome almost famous guy who wanted her. AND – he was the father of her child. But all the red flags … he clearly wasn’t above cheating, he got drunk a lot, brawled and then there was the drugs. Sophie knew he wasn’t just talking about a few puffs of someone’s doobie. He meant the big guns.
“So, what’s the verdict?” he asked.
“Rehab. I need you to try to get clean. No drugs at all, and I get as a rock musician you need to be able to drink, but you need to figure out how to drink without getting drunk.”
Stryker groaned, rubbing both hands across his face roughly, before looking up at her.
“I knew you were gonna say that. Look, I have tried so many times. It doesn’t stick. Rehab does not work for me. Not long term. Waste of time and money.”
“Try harder. My dad used to be an addict too, the hard stuff, long before my time, and he got clean. He was also an alcoholic, he drinks socially, but I have never seen him get drunk. So, I know it is possible. If you want to, I can talk to him, I know he would help you. And he has first-hand experience. Blaine too, by the way. He and his high school girlfriend actually OD’ed once and almost died. He got clean for good after that.” Sophie insisted, their eyes met, she held his stare.
This time it was him clearly weighing off options.
“Okay Soph, I’ll try. I know you wouldn’t know what rehab is really like, it’s brutal. Really bad, I am already dreading it. But I’ll do it and I’ll try everything to stick with it. But I need you to do something for me first. Go on a date with me before that family dinner tomorrow, just out to lunch or for coffee or whatever, that way we won’t be lying when we tell them we are dating. I don’t want to lie to so many people my child is related to. Dating can mean a lot of things. Can mean one date in, not sure if it will last yet or something that’s been going on for many years, so that would be a good term to tell people while we figure out what we are looking at ourselves.”
“Okay, deal – but we are not going crazy. Taking it slow. No intimacy and all that. No first-time sex do-over attempts to stroke your male ego. Just spending time over coffee or a meal. For now.”
“Damn girl, I really scared you with my comment about making up for the botched nookie experience, huh? Hehehe – don’t worry, I may be guilty of a lot of bad shit, but I never forced myself on any girl, not gonna start now. You have my word, I am not gonna instigate this. YOU let me know when you’re ready.”
“I am not scared. And I don’t want any do-overs! This is NOT about sex, Stryker, but about getting to know each other, trying to figure out if we’re compatible against all odds. Besides, whom am I gonna tell about my sexual experiences with you? I am not exactly the type to talk about that and I am not going to leave you a bad Yelp review either.”
“Well, so far we managed to tell you dad about it, of all people, not something I would ever expect to happen, let alone to live to talk about it. But since we are baring all here, and my man-card is probably revoked by now anyway, I will say this too: Out of the two of us, you are the only one with regrets and bad memories of that night. I remember it as special, maybe it was because you were so innocent and sweet when we went all the way. I am not used to that. It was … very memorable to me. But I am honestly sorry it sucked for you and feel kinda guilty about that.”
“Well, maybe it didn’t suck per se. Maybe it was just the circumstances I didn’t like. I wanted it to be a guy who cares about me, someone I could see a future with, someone really special to me, someone like …”
And then it hit Sophie like a ton of bricks.
‘… someone like you’, she finished that sentence in her mind rather than out loud. Uh oh!
Her eyes got big at the realization, Stryker probably could tell what she was thinking and just smiled and shrugged, before telling her.
“Maybe our timing was bad, maybe the circumstances blew, Sophie. We were perfect strangers who couldn’t be more opposite if we tried, but we created a child. We’re gonna be parents, there is no way we could call this a mistake and walk away from it anymore. I know what that does to a child’s psyche, I am the way I am because I had two parents who made very clear to me that I was a mistake, unwanted, unwelcome, nothing but a burden. I will do everything I can to be a father like I would have wanted to have, and have no doubt you’ll be an amazing mother, no matter whether we end up as a couple or not. I don’t know what this is or if we can make it, all I know is that our paths keep crossing, that has to be a sign for something, just don’t know what. All we can do is try and see what we come up with. Either we end up a real couple or we at least know for sure we’re not meant to be.”
Author's Note: I can often tell by the reactions that long chapters mean the between-the-lines things fall through the cracks, so I felt the need to elaborate. This chapter is about them TRYING to see if they could build a relationship, friendly or romantic. There are no guarantees yet. I was VERY surprised that Jay stumbled onto Stryker (really happened in game, which birthed this chapter) and he LOVES him. I know, right? Not mentioned in this chapter, Esmée (Sophie's sister) met him too and loves him! The rest of this pretty big family are yet to be seen ... I myself am very interested and excited to see how this plays out, as I honestly do not know at this point.