During the following monologue, both of them sitting on his bed, Stryker’s range of facial expressions was ever changing, between regret, fear, anger, pain and a cornucopia more.
Briar Rose knew she may have been playing with fire, but had always been the brave, defiant type and with her parents yelling at each other all the time all her life, it took a lot to unbalance her composure. Getting loud with her most certainly didn’t do anything to scare her now. She was good at hiding discomfort and fear.
Stryker spoke, plainly, in a matter-of-fact kind of manner, disconnected as if reciting a book he read. Bri suspected he was distancing himself from the emotions it would cause otherwise. She had always felt connected to him, for reasons unbeknownst to her then, now she learned that in a way, they were kindred spirits, both had to put up a strong facade to hide what the imbalance in their childhood homes did to the gentle soul of a delicate child.
Stryker’s story made Briar Rose’s issue pale in comparison. Flowing at first, his words became slower, more hesitant as he reached the crescendo of what made him the way he was now.
Evidently he had been born into a very wealthy family of some many generation-deep industrial business tycoons, the family business had grown over many decades with each new heir more cunning than the one before until Stryker’s father had grown it into a kraken of a company, branched out so much that it was somehow connected to most every notable company known today, which made him extremely influential and not someone you wanted to get on the bad side of.
Carl Jacob O’Connor Senior, called Jake the Snake, married a former model/actress and they had three children, two boys and one girl. The oldest, whom Bri knew now as Stryker, was named in honor of his father and grandfather, Jake Raymond O’Connor, Junior.
The three kids were handed off to nannies and tutors to be raised and educated, to make a good impression when daddy liked to flaunt their attractive mother and them.
When Jake was about 11, his brother was 6 and his sister 3, he walked in on his father raping a young girl, a teen, barely older than Stryker then. He tried to stop it, got a beating and was grounded.
When it happened again, he told his mother, who wanted to believe none of it. Now he guessed she had just been too scared to go against her influential and dangerous husband and that she knew all along, just like Stryker knew it happened many more times.
Nobody ever did anything about it, no matter what Stryker tried and whom he told about it, nobody believed the boy, nobody ever publicly accused O’Connor Sr., and now Stryker suspected his father had his – most likely highly illegal – ways to muzzle the victims and their families.
Young Stryker, disgusted about this bleak helplessness, turned into a rebellious child, once his father had enough of his son’s perceived ‘misbehavior’ he sent him away to a boarding school abroad where he remained some years until he became too defiant to the point that they expelled him.
Once back home he immediately began associating with other known troublemakers and school drop outs, over the following years he would often get into brushes with the law or run away from home, mostly intending to hurt his father’s attempts to present a happy, perfect home life to the outside and to make it perfectly obvious that he did not want to be the heir of the empire as he was groomed to be.
It was during one of his absences after he had run away from home again, when disaster struck with a vengeance.
His mother had taken to drinking and doing casual drugs on occasion, one could guess because of her husband’s recurring infidelities with young girls, mostly against their will, always well under-aged, most barely teens. During one of her one woman parties, she passed out, and missed that her little daughter had fallen into the pool trying to fish out one of her toys. Her brother saw it and when all attempts to wake their mother failed, he tried to rescue her himself, but wasn’t strong enough, both drowned with their mother passed out in one of the deck chairs by the pool, only feet away.
When then 15 year old Stryker was brought back home that time, after police had picked him up with alcohol poisoning somewhere, he recovered and sobered up just in time for the funeral.
The first one, for his two younger siblings, soon to be followed by another one just a little more than a week later, as his mother ended up taking her own life, unable to live with the guilt.
That was the pivoting moment everything changed. For the worse, if that was still possible. For one, because he blamed himself for what happened, believing that had he been there, they would all still be alive. He had always felt protective of his younger siblings, but failed to do so this time, which weighed heavily on the young boy’s consciousness.
He hated his family, or what was left of it. Not even a year after all the tragedies his father remarried, a woman less than half his age, who often was mistaken to be Stryker’s older sister, rather than his step-mother.
When everything else Stryker tried to do to punish his father failed, including several suicide attempts, he realized at some point that the only way to beat him, was with his own weapons, by getting to him the legal way.
So Stryker started playing the good son, the future heir, and his father was delighted when he wanted to go to law school. Stryker’s plan had been to collect enough dirt on his father and his dubious practices to put him away for life.
After he graduated he tried, and failed miserably, learning the hard way that law school could never prepare a young, inexperienced man full of hatred for the power his father and his empire held. O’Connor Senior’s legal brigade destroyed his son, who ended up in jail for some of his father’s crimes which they pinned on him instead, which got him several years of prison time even on a reduced sentence, since he had been a minor during it all. Jailtime made Stryker cold and tough.
After he got out, he went dark, disappeared, fearing his father’s revenge while hating himself for failing. As a now convicted felon, his law career was over for good as well, he was left desolate and without options. He found himself all alone, none of the people he formerly associated with gave him the time of day, for various reasons from not wanting to be linked to a criminal, to not having use for someone without status, and many turned from him simply out of fear of his dangerous father. Trying to find new friends he found that nobody wanted to be friendly with the violent criminal he seemed to be. The few people he did manage to find ended up using him or cheating him out of what little he had left.
Not wanting to get close to anyone ever again, no longer believing in people, if he socialized then only for some sort of personal gain, he became the hateful, spiteful person for years, until he met Bri. Wanting to toy with the innocent rich girl for sport at first, since she reminded him of the kid he used to be, thinking her family was just as fake as his when he heard her talk about all the fighting her parents did all the time, but something about her reeled him in much deeper than he bargained for. Fighting it constantly, while at the same time almost addicted to her, he was torn, then eventually let himself enjoy her. Until the day she told him she was pregnant.
For so many reasons he feared that worse than death itself. The obvious apprehensions most independent young men would have, but also the conviction that he was genetically unfit to be a parent.
If his father found out his defiant son had fathered a much needed heir, he would move mountains to get that child into his claws and there was nothing any Cameron could do about that, Stryker feared.
When he finished his story, uninterrupted by a very shocked Briar Rose trying to digest all she just heard, his eyes finally found hers.
“I am lost, Bri. I know what you are probably thinking now. You think I can be saved. With love and patience or something like that, but you are wrong. I am sick, broken, corrupted and most definitely I cannot be trusted with a child. And if my father knew about you, about the baby, about anything, he’d take the baby and probably kill us if he knew I told you any of this and any of your family if they tried to interfere. Not himself, but he has people …”
“No worries there, Stryker. I still think you are an asshole. We are all responsible for our own actions. I don’t know anyone over the age of maybe ten, whose life has always been a fairy tale, we all have crosses to bear. You just gave up. Look, it’s tragic, what happened, I have no idea how you haven’t lost your mind yet, just proves how strong you really are, and you are smart, if you want to be. You know evilness is not something genetic. That’s bullshit. Neither is bad parenting. You saw what not to do, so the proper reaction of someone as smart and strong as you should have been to do everything in their power to do the opposite. Instead you CHOSE, deliberately selected, to be just like your father.”
“How can you say that!? I am NOTHING like that monster!”
“You are exactly like him. Maybe you don’t molest pre-teen girls, but everything else is the same. In order to get what YOU want and not be interrupted in what YOU think is right, you recklessly hurt me, cast me and your unborn child aside when I was most vulnerable. No, Stryker, your tragic story doesn’t negate what you did. But for what it’s worth, I am very sorry you had to go through all that. Really. My uncle Blake was very close with my great-grandfather, never met the guy, but he went through similar shit as you, his family was true trailer trash, his father evil, even tried to shoot him once, still, my great-grandfather got one chance and took it, made something of himself, and my uncle STILL fangirls him to this day, that’s how much he turned the shit pile he was dealt with into something good. So, I know there is a choice. There always is.”
“Bri, don’t leave me. I need you. I … care for you … so much … very much.”
“Should have thought about that several heartbreaks ago. And to this moment you just cannot say it, can you? The dreaded “L” word, huh?” she got up, he pulled her back and tossed her onto the bed, then landed himself atop her, kissing her hard and demanding. At first she fought him, then succumbed to it, allowing it, even going along.
When he finally slowed down, she looked up at him, breathlessly but firm she told him
“Now that we both got that out of our system, if you do this ever again, I will rip your balls off with my bare hands. I am not some cheap whore you can mistreat, then use to work off some steam with. Get off of me!”
She pushed him off, but remained by his side.
“You are beautiful, Bri. I may not say it, that word, but I can show you …”
He began kissing her, removing her shirt, then her skirt, she let him, until he halted.
“Why did you do this?!” he had found a large tattoo of stylized roses and vines and some other patterns, new to him although at this point already fully healed, stretching from below her breasts down her stomach, and was now tracing it with his fingers.
“As a constant reminder of what you have put me through, right there on my belly to remind me that I almost did something because of you that I would have regretted my whole life. Do you know what Briar Rose means? It’s a thorny rose bush … and I think you found out by now, that this rose has thorns.”
“I am so sorry.” he said, then pulled her into a very tight embrace, clinging to her like a drowning man to a lifesaver tossed his way at the last minute.
“Stryker, stop! Please …” she pulled away a little, but remained next to him.
“We are over, Stryker. I am not gonna lie, pretend I am stronger than I am, you still do something to me, and when you touch me or kiss me I just want to forget everything, but you have hurt me too much. Sign that document, if any of what you told me is true, even more reason not to be legally associated to my child.”
She wiggled free from his attempt to hold on to her.
As she slipped her clothes back on he climbed out of the bed pleading with her
“Bri, please … don’t leave me. Stay! I cannot be alone … not now.”
“Funny how things change. Not even an hour ago you begged me to stay away. Nothing has changed, except you told me a sob story from your youth. I will tell you what you have told me. Get over it, don’t stand there crying. I am not one of your floozies you can verbally and physically abuse and I still come crawling back. I fight back. Unlike you, I don’t let shit like this break me and wallow in self-pity. I get over shit and I get even, then I get on with my life.”
Stryker stood there facing her, not saying a word.
“So, will you sign now?”
Stryker closed his eyes, then nodded, before he left the room, defeated.
When Briar Rose followed him into the kitchen, the document was signed. With his full, legal name.
“Something I always wondered, why did you choose to go by Stryker? You told me that was your last name, but we now know it’s O’Connor.”
“Before my dad had broken my mom, she was a pretty decent mother, but an even better actress. There is this one movie she was in, as a boy I used to love it, watched it hundreds of times. In it there is this side-character, some half-man, half-machine dude who cannot feel pain. He was incredibly strong, nobody ever messed with him, they called him Stryker, since he had no name otherwise. You are the only one whom I ever told this – and my real first name, even though I hate it, since I was named after my father. Never in my life would I have thought you’d be the one to find me out.”
Briar Rose looked at the document and a very deflated Stryker, her mind was going a hundred miles an hour.
“Okay Stryker, I can’t leave you like this. I am not even going to pretend that I think I can save you from your past, and you claim you don’t want to be anyway, but I’ll at least try to help you get out of that quicksand you are sinking into now. Come with me and see my great-uncle Nick. His law firm isn’t far from here. If you can tell him what you told me, he will know what to do. There has to be something better than this. There always is.”
“Bri, there is nothing that can be done. I was convicted, I am a felon, criminal charges. I can never practice law again. The ruling was done with prejudice. It can’t be re-tried. If I come back now, with anything, it will just look like a vendetta. I know this, your great-uncle will too. And the worst I could do is try to re-enter society under my real name. My father’s cronies would find me and I wouldn’t live to see my child … your child … born.”
“Well, maybe he can still help you somehow. Or do you want to continue living like this, hiding, miserable, hating on yourself? If you do, then you can most definitely count me out.”
“Bri, if I go with you, if I do this, can I at least see you sometimes?”
“If you can be long term the way you are now, sure. As cool as the bad boy gimmick is sometimes, I am so over it now. Maybe it’s the hormones. But if you are ever mean to me, my family and especially my cousin Chase again, I will kick you to the curb faster than you can say ‘Jake Junior’.”
-to be continued-