“You can run away from yourself so often, and so much, just because the broken pieces of you cut your feet too deeply if you stay around for too long.
But then what if someone were to come along and pick up those pieces for you?
Then you wouldn’t have to run away from yourself anymore.
You could stop running.
If someone sees you as something worth staying with— maybe you’ll STAY with yourself, too.”
San Myshuno Stryker's Apartment
After being forced to evaluate their situation, Stryker and Sophie decided to go with Stryker’s idea and attempt to date.
Sophie’s heart was beating out of her chest as she followed him into his apartment.
The place was small, just as he had said, the air was stale from having sat unattended for almost a week. Sophie began to look around curiously, so Stryker gave her the tour. The kitchen was open and part of the living area and entrance. There was a small bathroom, a small guest room chock full with music equipment. The bedroom made her nervous again. It was very empty and sterile, the focal point being the bed where he and Alycia … ugh. Nope!
Once back in the main area she couldn’t help but peek into his refrigerator, her facial expression made him laugh.
“I told you.” he winked.
“Are there any grocery stores nearby?”
“Sophie, we’re going on a date now, not on a grocery haul. What type of food would you like?”
So, they had their first date over an early dinner, since Stryker had to be showered and ready by 6 to be at the Skyline at 7 PM for the Stryke 3 live concert at 8.
San Myshuno 'Skyline Club'
Stryker introduced her to his bandmates, who were nice enough.
Sophie stayed to watch their show backstage again. She hadn’t even thought about Alycia, and luckily, she didn’t show up.
Once Stryker had helped take down their stage setup, he looked at Sophie.
“So, what are we gonna do with the rest of the night?”
Sophie looked at her watch. It was just before 11 PM. She should be driving home, but wasn’t ready to leave just yet. Odd, considering she wasn’t a night owl at all normally.
“Grocery store?” Sophie cocked her head, smiling, wiggling her eyebrows.
Stryker laughed hard again.
“Gawd girl, you are worse than a dog with a bone. Fine, okay, we’ll go buy groceries if it helps you sleep at night.”
They had fun moments when Stryker started putting some of his usual unhealthy and bad quality standbys into the cart, which Sophie removed again, shaking her head, then picked something else, nodding at him defiantly while placing it in the cart. Stryker recalled moments where something like this had caused intense fights with Alycia, then again, Alycia usually wanted the most expensive things that made no sense at all. Sophie chose wholesome and healthy items.
Walking home was quite a distance, but both visibly enjoyed it. The big town was exciting to Sophie, and the entire experience with Sophie was calming for Stryker’s usually always roweled up, uneasy and anxiety-filled mind.
Once back at his place, with everything stowed away, their eyes met.
“Stay.” he told her.
“Stryker … we agreed. Purely platonic and slow …” her reminder sounded more like an apology.
“No, not asking for THAT. I’ll take the couch. You get the bed. Just … stay.”
“Eww. The bed with Alycia cooties all over it!? Gross and SO not happening! All yours! If I am staying, I am taking the couch! You enjoy the bitch-bed!”
Shaking his head and laughing, Stryker went into the bedroom and immediately pulled all the bedding off the bed, tossing it in a pile. When he was about to put on a fresh set, Sophie walked up to him holding out a brand-new bottle of surface disinfectant they had purchased. Stryker raised his eyebrows, but then grabbed the bottle from her and generously applied it.
Once they both had made the bed with the fresh bedding, which was clearly brand-new and still in sealed packaging, Sophie swallowed her comment about washing it first and just quietly appreciated his gesture, when he pulled his closet door open.
“Pick something to wear. I’ll get you a toothbrush and such. You can take off your coat and shoes, I actually have heat in this place.”
He left the room pulling the door shut behind himself. Chewing on her bottom lip, Sophie shrugged.
“Oh, why the hell not? We’re both adults, and even if … I can’t get any more pregnant than I already am.” she started going through his clothing.
When she went back out into the living area again, nervous, wearing one of his shirts which was just a liiiiittle short on her, especially with her big baby bump now, but somehow, it felt good wearing his clothing, maybe even a little daring and naughty to step out in front of him like that. Stryker was in the kitchen. He halted, smiled, came over, stopping right in front of her.
“I like the way this looks on you. Both of you in my shirt. I could get used to that.”
They turned in a little while later after watching a little mindless TV together. As promised, he took the couch, she the bedroom, but Sophie couldn’t sleep. The sounds and scents, the big city hustle and bustle, even so late – or early – it had still not slowed down much, she wasn’t used to that, having lived in Windenburg all her life were nights were dark and silent. When she got up to get some water, she found Stryker was awake too.
They ended up in the bedroom together, talking quietly about random things, lying next to each other. Both fell asleep together and woke up with her resting on his arm.
Sophie was nervous and with her own clothing pressed up to her chest she rushed off to his bathroom to calm down over a shower. Nothing had happened, but somehow this felt like everything had changed at the same time.
After the shower and being dressed she felt calmer, made them breakfast and he smiled.
“I owe you thanks for insisting on getting groceries last night. I am just not used to opening my fridge or pantry and actually finding food, but have to say, it’s really nice. I don’t think I have ever seen my fridge and cupboard THIS full. Almost wanna take a picture.”
Some hours later Stryker was at the Cameron Estate, after a big dinner that could have been someone’s Thanksgiving Feast but seemed to be just the regular Cameron Family Sunday supper at Sophie’s childhood home. After everyone except a few still hungry stragglers had their fill, everyone got up and did their thing, groups formed, some helped clean up, others sat around digesting before coffee and cake were going to be served, Stryker stood off to the side, taking in the crazy fun mess that was Sophie’s family. They were chaotic, but still strangely organized, loud, especially with 5 toddlers around and two children somewhere in the 6-8 years range. There were two tall men who stood out to Stryker, neither visually fit in with the rest but still seemed fully integrated into the group. One of the oddballs was clad in leather, had very long almost white-blonde hair partially braided in some Viking looking way, the other had the leathery tanned skin of someone who was outside a lot, longer, shaggy dark hair. They kept bickering with each other, but nobody seemed bothered by it. At some point, the blonde one came over to him.
“Hey there again, I am Connell. I know you heard all the names, but I also know it’s impossible to remember. How are you holding up, friend? I know this can feel a bit intense, but you’ll get used to it.”
“Right. You’re …. Esmée’s boyfriend, right?” Stryker tried, but failed.
“NOPE! That would be me. I am Michael. Ezzy’s my girl. Ezzy owns a company and runs it as the CEO, she’s my sexy little workaholic wildcat.” the dark one had appeared too and instantly joined the conversation.
Connell rolled his eyes and addressed him.
“Go play fetch, you mutt! Nobody was talking to you and nobody cares! Besides, Ezzy owns only half of the company, Ewan the rest. Stryker, Ewan is that one over there with the poufy boyband looking hair. He is married to the purple haired girl right there, that little redheaded toddler that just zoomed by is their little girl Ashton-Leigh. Stryker, that beautiful blonde angel over there, Emmy, that’s my wife, mother of my three beautiful children, Jaymie, Fiona and Damon.”
“Well, one of your beautiful children is trying to bite your in-laws’ dog. Might wanna put a lid on that shit before we got bat-dog flying around.” Michael laughed, as Connell rushed away, cursing under his breath.
“Idiot! That’s not how that works!”
Not surprisingly, Michael gave Stryker an encouraging smile, pat his shoulder.
“They’re a crazy bunch, but the best family to date or marry into you can find. Life-changing, literally! Definitely was for me.”
Windenburg Lake House
After the dinner, back in front of the Lake House neither Sophie nor Stryker seemed quite ready to say goodbye.
“Goodnight Sophie.” Stryker told her, looking at his bike.
“Stay.” she said quietly.
He didn’t even attempt to argue. Just nodded and followed her inside. He spent the night in the guestroom. Alone. Yet, not as alone as his empty apartment would have felt.
On Monday, he was using Sophie’s laptop when he held on to her, pointing to a website, smiling big.
“I got it! Check this out!” he proclaimed, pulling her over by her arm to have a look.
She peeked at it, a smiled crept onto her lips, when she put her hands on his shoulders.
“You were looking for baby names?”
“We do need a name, don’t we?”
“We do. This one is the one. It’s perfect!”
Stryker had evidently looked for names, which really surprised Sophie, and stumbled across the name ‘Spencer’, which was listed as unisex, ideal since they wouldn’t know the gender until the next day, but it was the meaning that got both of them. ‘Dispenser of provisions’.
“Since his or her mom always feeds me …”
Two days later they found out together that they were going to have a little boy.
It was hard for both having to split up and stay at their respective places to go about their lives for the remainder of the week.
Sophie drove out to San Myshuno to spend Friday night, maybe the entire weekend, at Stryker’s place until it would be time for both of them to go to the Cameron Sunday dinner. Stryker was invited again.
Saturday morning, after sharing Stryker’s bed again without it turning intimate, both had just gotten up and were making breakfast, when someone was at the door. Stryker opened swiftly thinking it was one of his bandmates who had caught on quickly that if Sophie was visiting it meant good food galore so they would come over quite often, but instead it was Alycia. His grin instantly faded.
“What do YOU want?” he barked.
She peeked in and saw Sophie right away – in one of Stryker’s shirts again.
“Oh, good grief! Mommy and daddy to be are having a sleepover and she actually shoehorned herself into one of your shirts. So overly sweet that I think I threw up in my mouth. Relax Stryker, I am not here for you. Christina, Marciella and I are still friends and we’re having a girls day. I just stopped by quickly to give you these.” Alycia handed Stryker some keys, making sure she did it in a manner that he would see her left hand, with a hard to miss giant rock formation in form of an engagement ring. Sophie could see it clear as day from the kitchen all the way across the room.
“That didn’t take you long. Looks like you already had someone else locked and loaded while still stringing me along. Shocker. I really was a dumbass for not listening to what people have been trying to warn me about for years. Did I take too long for your taste to get famous? Found yourself a more promising idiot? I don’t even want to guess what you did to get him to put a ring on it so fast.” Stryker’s tone was oozing sarcasm.
“Proved to be good foresight on my part, didn’t it? The way you served me off cold was a disgrace, I didn’t deserve that from someone like you, you hypocrite. And if you must know, I am pregnant, no worries it’s not yours, and my fiancé is quite eager to be a daddy, so yes, he put a ring on it right away. You probably know him too, he’s already famous, VERY wealthy and …”
“Post that shit to social media, nobody here cares.” Stryker just slammed the door shut in her face.
“Man, I can’t believe I dated THAT for so long. If she is really pregnant, I feel sorry for that baby and its father. If she gains a single pound, she’ll lose her shit! I am glad I won’t have to be around her for that melodrama!” he told Sophie.
“Makes two of us. Three actually, your son just started kicking like crazy. I don’t think he is an Alycia-fan either.” she giggled.
Stryker came over.
“Can I … feel?”
“Sure! Say hi to daddy, Spencer.” Sophie just took his hand and placed it on her stomach, holding it down tightly with hers for a moment, while watching Stryker’s expression run through the entire roster of emotions, until he just smiled at her.
“I can feel it. I can feel him moving! I can see it. That’s … crazy. Amazing. Thank you for letting me feel him.”
Their eyes met. A long gaze. Both felt the tension rising … the sparks …
Their bodies and faces moved closer and closer as if drawn by an inner magnet, she could almost feel his lips, almost feel the stench of … something awful and singed.
“Oh, shit! The eggs!” she exclaimed.
Sophie pulled away and tried to rescue the scrambled eggs, but the bottom was a fuming, dark, stinky mess. While she was trying to contain the damage, Stryker pulled the pan out of her hands and dumped it into the sink, then pulled her close, kissing her, incredibly and unexpectedly careful and gentle.
When he started to pull away from her, she pulled him closer again – much harder and more demanding than he had been – and continued the kissing.
When they finally separated, both breathless, from the kiss and the surprise, they stared at each other.
“Yup, definitely dating now. Even I believe it now.” Sophie said, causing Stryker to laugh.
“You really are something else, girl.”
“We both are. Way to take it slow. We made it what? A week?”
“Less, if you count your first night here. Not even a full day. Has to be a record.”
“No, that does NOT count, nothing happened. We both just slept. That’s it.”
“Yeah, but I slept WITH you.” Stryker argued back, smirking.
“You laid there, in the same bed with me. That’s different and 100% innocent. We didn’t DO it.”
“No, but we slept together, so we slept WITH each other. Would you go over to Nate or Drake’s and just lay in bed with either of them – no warning, no explanation, just BAM, here I am?”
Sophie’s grimace at his logic made him chuckle and nod.
“See!” Stryker shrugged, winking.
Kissing would be as far as they got, when they were already presented with the first big test for their relationship.
That same evening Stryker got the call that a spot in the rehab clinic he had been on a waiting list with had opened up at the last minute. He had to check in bright and early the following day, or he’d have to wait weeks if not several months for another opening. Since Stryke 3’s first studio album was about to drop in a few months and Sophie had about 3 months left in her pregnancy, Stryker had no choice but to take it.
Early the next morning, Sophie was fighting the tears back hard while helping him pack his bag, waiting for the Uber to take him to the clinic, unsure when she would see him again.
It could be weeks or months.
But Sophie had no idea that the worst was yet to come …
Author's Note: To anyone wondering, no, we do not know Alycia's new man (yet). He's a wealthy and famous background character. No worries, I am sure eventually we'll see him in a chapter or on FB.