The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.– Thomas A. Edison
Oasis Springs Carlisle Residence
The post-wedding-party was loud, crazy and fun. Even shy Sophie visibly had a ball, laughing and dancing, when her eyes met Stryker’s, who had been watching her go crazy letting loose with the bride and some of the other girls. He watched her now, just like he had watched her during the entire wedding ceremony, before, during and after. He kept his distance, so she wouldn’t feel pushed, plus she was busy with the catering, as usual. Stryker was groom Drake’s best man, and therefore also otherwise occupied, so both his and Sophie’s paths hadn’t really crossed until after the wedding was over and everyone left the church to come to the couple’s new Oasis Springs home for the party and dinner afterwards.
Their eyes locked, both felt the jolt of electricity.
Sophie’s dancing slowed down, more and more, until she stopped.
Just stood there, her eyes locked with Stryker’s, neither of them moving, just staring.
Neither could say how long they stood like this, until Sasha, the girlfriend of one of bride Christina’s two brothers accidentally bumped into Sophie, waking her from the trancelike state, so she started walking towards Stryker.
Smiling, he waited for her, until she stopped right in front of him, their eyes still locked.
“Hi.” she simply said, but in his ears, it resounded as “I still love you.”.
The simple greeting, the tone in her voice, the way she looked at him made him emotional. Swallowing hard, his voice was raspier than normal.
“Hi.” he told her, hoping to her it would also sound like what he really wanted to say to her. I love you. I am sorry. I miss you. I need you. All in that one, tiny word.
She said nothing anymore, just stared at him, as if in awe.
So, he tilted his head away from the party crowd, loud music and cheering.
“Walk with me? There’s a park not far from here.” he suggested.
She nodded and they started leaving.
Oasis Springs The Oasis Public Park
“Christina looks like an angel-princess. Beautiful wedding isn’t it?” she made small talk.
“They usually are. It’s the time after that is the rough stuff where couples prove what they are made of. Did you get my message? Or rather, messages?” he said.
“I did.” she said.
“And?” he probed.
“I don’t know, that’s why I haven’t’ responded. I know it’s a great honor that you asked me to accompany you to the Starlight Accolades show again, I am flattered, but there is still the whole long list of problems on why I can’t or shouldn’t say yes.” she stopped walking and faced him.
“Well, first the obvious, you and I aren’t exactly … you know … it’s iffy between us.” Sophie managed to find words to describe their situation.
“That’s for us to worry about and maybe fix. Nobody’s business but ours and so far, we have managed to be civil when I picked up Spencer and all and we somehow keep ending up together somewhere. There is something between us still, I feel it and I know you do, so we don’t hate each other and we are not over. So, that’s not a valid excuse.”
“Right. Well, ticket prices are up. Flights to DSV are arm, leg and firstborn.”
“My invitation included all that. No cost to you. The least I could do. What else you got?”
“Dress. Those are expensive and with my figure I can’t ever find anything affordable that is fancy enough for such an event.”
“You need to quit with that figure thing. Your figure is great. Obviously keeps me coming back for more. Wear the green dress you wore last time. That was seriously hot. Before you come with that women can’t wear the same one twice, last time was for Stryke 3. This time you are there for Stryker Hayes, the solo artist. Plus, I was in a black suit and a white shirt last time, take a guess what I will be wearing this time and any other time after. I am not going to sell clothes or get graded on my fashion sense – or I’d be screwed anyway. Next excuse.” Stryker told her stoically.
“Yeah, reason number three. I shouldn’t be there. We’re not together, honestly, aside from both being parents to Spencer, I don’t know what we are these days, Stryker.”
“That would be excuse number 4, actually, and just as invalid as the others. I don’t know what to call us either, but that is very much fixable and only depends on you. You know what I want. What you need to figure out is how much you can trust me, how much you love me, how much you are willing to live with the kind of crazy my life is now, which is different from the crazy it was before. I am better, Soph. Really, better. And I am trying VERY hard to keep straight this time. I have NEVER tried THIS hard and never lasted THIS long sober and clean. Even the bubbly I was drinking for the toast to the newlyweds was the alc-free shit, the sparkling apple cider they have for the pregnant chicks in attendance. And not because I think I might be pregnant.”
“I don’t know what to do anymore, Stryker. I know what I want too, but so much has happened, I don’t understand how we can make it work. You’re famous now, only getting more famous. I am happy for you for that, but I don’t want any of that. I hate attention, I hate having my picture taken, if there are fans or paparazzi coming at us, I’d be running. And all those women … it’s just a matter of time that you realize you can do so much better than me …” she stopped talking, getting sad.
Cupping her face with his hand he forced her to look at him again.
“I am going to tell you something now that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to tell you. I went to a party at Anais Mercier’s home, she gave me the tour of her mansion, then said she wanted to show me something. Turns out it was herself in a negligee in her bedroom.”
Sophie tried to look away, fighting tears.
“Oh my God ….” she muttered, expecting the worst.
“Soph, listen – I walked out on her. Nothing happened. To be honest with you, I have cheated a lot in the past. On every girl I was ever with, even on you, there were many more times you don’t even know about, I never meant to be such an inconsiderate dick, it happened anyway, so I wasn’t convinced myself that it wouldn’t happen again in some weak moment. There were many very – VERY – lonely moments, but I stayed so strong, no drugs, not a sip of booze and no chicks – and I am now confident to say that I am in control. I have told every girl no, no exceptions. I swear I have, and I will continue to do so. And if you ask me why, I could tell you why, and you know what I would say, those magical three words. I love you. I do. I get that most men in my position take all the opportunities, I have done that before. I don’t need that anymore, don’t need other women to prove something to me, make me feel better. It may feel good for the moment, but afterwards it’s all undone by the guilt eating me alive. No more. For you and for myself. No more. I realized a LOT of things since meeting you. You changed me without even trying. Therapy taught me that I have been desperately looking for stability since I was a kid. That’s why I held on to Alycia for so long. She was a bitch, I know she used me, but she was a constant. I admit I fell for you because you took care of me, you gave me something resembling stability, it wasn’t love at first sight, I already admitted to you that you weren’t my type then, but you are now. Like so many men I was so used to the artificial beauty that I thought that’s what real women were supposed to look like, then I learned how much more beautiful genuine natural beauty like yours is. I love looking at you. Those adorable freckles, the sparkle in your eyes, the way your body just fits perfectly up against mine, soft where you should be soft, firm where you should be firm. Sophie, I can’t undo the past, but I can be what you need me to be in the future or at least try to get close. Plus, Blaine and I had a few really enlightening talks about all this. All I need is one chance. One last chance.”
Sophie looked up at him, he could see the wheels turning, her weighing off his words in her mind. He could see her considering everything he said, until she got to the part that had probably been the straw that broke the camel’s back between them.
“Is that true? You swear? You didn’t … with any girls? Nobody? What about Elena Bellemore? She was eye-raping you during your appearance.”
“On my life … I swear it, nothing and nobody. Ask Blaine, I have been such a good boy.”
“Why me though? I mean, let’s be honest here, I am not much to look at to begin with, let alone the circles you are going to frequent now with all those rich and famous VIPs, you are getting REALLY famous fast. You can have ANY girl now, not like you couldn’t before, but … now even more so and you will have so many public appearances, you can’t flaunt someone like me. They’d scrutinize us, I read how they tear those poor actresses and singers apart if they only gain a pound, calling them fat, when they are still so much thinner than me! I can’t deal with that. And you wouldn’t like it either. You’d be embarrassed, eventually you’ll move on, from me, from the silly stuff we used to do together, from this area, from everything, your old life, won’t stay in that tiny apartment much longer.”
“I wouldn’t be embarrassed; you would be each time you had to come bail me out of jail because I beat the shit out of anyone who’d dare say anything bad about you! I told you when you were still pregnant with Spencer and many times since, I am staying local, not moving away. There is just as much going on for artists in San Myshuno as there is in Del Sol Valley, and if not, I can hop on a plane and be there in a couple hours. My life is here. You, my son, my mother, my friends and their families are here. I am not moving away, just out of that apartment, honestly, the reminders of the bad things that happened there started outweighing the good and I just don’t want to look at it anymore. Sophie, I have flaunted you proudly before, for my very first ever award show, I said it then, and so many times since, I am sure I have to say it a million more times. I want you. YOU. The way you are. This. For us.”
“Stryker, that is sweet, but look you are a celebrity now … what do you want with me? I love my life the way it is, and I know it is boring to most, but I love it. I am a total homebody, I love watching my siblings’ kids and Spencer, I love cooking and baking and gardening and riding my bike and playing with my dogs, I love family BBQs at Everett Heights, I get dirty, I can’t become some fashionista girl with a blog and all that nonsense. And I don’t even really like most of the designer clothing, not to mention most of it would never fit me. How can I be a partner to a rising star? It just doesn’t work; don’t you see it? We can talk this pretty all night long, you KNOW I want this too, but I am so sick and tired of hurting over you.”
“Yeah yeah, blah blah blah. Look, I am famous, and I love it, but I don’t love the limelight and all that shit either. I love music, I love performing. The rest is shit I have to do to sell my brand. It doesn’t matter to me, look at me, I am not a fashionista or whatever the dude’s version of that is, either. You won’t find me shopping designer boutiques empty. I am a musician, I sell my music, and I give them a good show on stage, but I am not gonna dress different or be one of those dudes with bro-buns and make-up now. They get what they get, just like Blaine always has done it. That dude goes to award shows in leather pants and a shirt half unbuttoned if he feels like it. That’s me too. A musician, not a fashion model. I like your life, your way, being with you, watching you is like a mental and physical vacation to me. In case you STILL haven’t realized this, being around you is helping me stay on the straight and narrow. I am in a good place mentally when with you. As for your body dysmorphia, Soph, if you want a detailed description of what I want with you or prefer a demonstration, let’s go find a quiet hidden spot around here and I’d be happy to show you how much I like your body the way it is. If you don’t believe the big Stryker, maybe my little friend can convince you, cos I can’t fake it like you girls can.” Stryker wiggled his eyebrows, winked, while smiling about Sophie trying hard to hide her smile, but couldn’t help the little giggle when she replied.
“Stryker, I am serious. Sex won’t help solve the problems. I don’t see how we could make this work outside of a bedroom, when we are not alone in my home. When real life catches up. I am so tempted, I am, you know how I feel about you, but I don’t know how many more of these total collapses of our relationship my heart and mind can deal with.” she told him.
“Make what work? Loving me loving you? I mean, we did it before. What broke us up was my addiction to everything, including getting laid. That’s under control now. Trust me, when I am touring, Blaine is like a Bloodhound, trying to trip me up and tempt me to see if I’d fall for it. I haven’t and I won’t. Not gonna lie, it’s hard. I’d prefer us being closer, permanently, since we’re separated quite a bit at times anyway, due to travel I have to do. That, unfortunately, will now be a permanent part of me cos I am gonna milk this fame thing until I am old and gray. So, I am gonna be looking for a little house somewhere between Windenburg and San Myshuno. Makes it easier to see you, in case you decided to give me a chance. HINT! Cos let’s be honest here, the question isn’t really if you love me or if I love you, you know I do and I know you know. The real question here is, do you want this to work? Us? Can you forgive me, I mean, really forgive me? I remember a very dark night in my life, where you told me you would give me a chance, or was that just so I would give you the gun?”
“No. Well, maybe a little bit. Look, I have always been in love with the man you were when we are alone. Whenever we used to be around others you changed … and the cheating, Stryker, I don’t know if anyone ever did that to you, but it hurts and festers inside. I hear you; I can see you have changed, for the better, you look healthier. It’s not about believing you, but the pain from the cheating, that’s just not something I can rub some dirt on and walk off. Even now I keep thinking back to Sulani … it sucks, I want to forget.”
“It has happened to me, I know how it feels from the receiving end, that’s why I feel like shit about having done it to you and why it’s so important for me to know and for you to know that I can handle myself now. It was the drugs clouding my ability to use any sort of judgement.”
“You can literally have any girl, Stryker. I don’t feel like I can live up to being with a real celebrity. I already always felt not good enough, now … I don’t know that I can handle that.”
“I can recommend a really good therapist to help you get over that shit.” Stryker winked.
“NOT funny! Fine – can I think about all that?”
“What do I get if I say yes?”
“One kiss won’t kill ya, will it?”
“Actually, it will. That’s the problem. You know how hard it is to say no to you? If I let you kiss me, I don’t know that I can think straight.”
“In that case …”
Stryker just grabbed her and kissed her, she wiggled at first, then melted into it. When they separated, her eyes remained closed and she sighed, making him feel a certain way, when she said breathlessly
“Yup. I was right. Kiss did kill me. Man, Stryker …”
“I don’t even feel one bit guilty.” he told her.
“Oh Stryker, I missed you so!” Sophie exclaimed and flung herself into him, he wrapped his arms around her, saying softly near her ear.
“I have been here all along … I just need a chance to prove how much I changed for the better.”
“Stryker … hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me … tighter …. don’t let go. Please, PLEASE don’t let go.”
“Stryker, I don’t know how to break this to my family. This won’t be easy.”
“Your mom still hates me?”
“She doesn’t hate you. Hate is a strong word. She just … thinks that … I could do better.”
He kissed her forehead.
“Ironic. Maybe you and your mom could mix those feelings up really good, then split down the middle. You think for some reason you aren’t good enough for me, she thinks you’re too good for me, so if we 50:50 that we come out just right. We could start slow again. Just go on dates. Hang out – fully clothed. I promise I’ll be honorable – unless you tell me I don’t have to be. Your family wants you happy, I want to make you happy. Just need one last chance.”
Sighing, she tilted her head slightly, looking him over.
“Okay fine. I should say no, I know I should. But I can’t. We’ll try this again. We need to really sit down and talk, with you touring practically ever since you got out of rehab, we never got the chance to speak freely. I mean, we have seen each other a lot and talked, in therapy, after, on the phone, but there was never a way to REALLY speak. Always an audience.” Sophie said.
“Agreed. I have a lot of things I have to say to you, and I know you have a lot of questions for me, which I will answer, if you can take the honesty. I know there is a lot of stuff in my past that is not good, as long as you can live with that, I will do my best.”
He hugged her, kissed her, then grinned at her.
“What are the rules about staying overnight with you?”
“I meant your guestroom! Jeeze, woman, I wasn’t coming onto you, always expecting the worst. Well, then again, that’s usually what I have been delivering, so never mind. Seriously now, I want to be around in the morning, so I can have breakfast with my son – and you. Maybe we can slide in the first part of that long talk somewhere in between.”
“Oh, right, so you are inviting yourself to my home for free food again?” she teased him.
“Oh yeah, have you had your cooking? You can invoice me at the rate of whatever they charge at that restaurant you work at. Or we could go on a late-night grocery haul again. Not like we haven’t done THAT before …” he chuckled.
“No, but let’s go home. I am kinda partied out, Christina and Drake don’t need us for what they will be doing tonight, and I just can’t deal with your ex there anymore. I know, Alycia is one of Christina’s and Marciella’s closest friends, but man, I just can’t with that witch. At least this time she left me alone. Completely ignored my mere existence. Still can’t believe you dated that for so long.” Sophie nudged Stryker in the side.
“Hey, my taste definitely has improved then, huh? If it makes you feel better, she didn’t even say hi to me. And I have to admit, I love it that way.” Stryker smiled, putting his arm around her waist as they strolled back to the Carlisle home to get her car.