Steering his car into a parking space at the EC Architects building Chase was whistling along with the radio.
He had promised his dad to pick up something from his uncle after work, since the EC Architects building was on the way home from work for Chase.
Entering the building, he waved at the receptionist, who knew him well, then took the elevator up to the top floor, where his uncle Eli’s and his grandfather Ethan’s offices were.
The executive assistant desks were both empty, since it was already after normal business hours, but he saw light through the glass door to his grandfather’s office and followed the voices he heard from that direction.
“Good evening, beloved prior generations … oh!”
Chase blurted out as he walked into an ongoing conversation, when he saw someone else was with them, he froze in his tracks.
“Hey kiddo, come on in. I got the box for your dad in my office, I’ll grab it real quick. Hang with your grandpa for a sec.” Eli greeted him.
Chase nodded, staring at Stryker.
“Oh, Chase this is Jake. He is helping us in the Archives now. Came highly recommended by Nick.” Chase’s grandfather Ethan explained.
“Oh really? Interesting. So how does Nick know him?”
“Long story. Jake went to law school and can really help with the permit research and all.”
“Yeah, he looks like he would know a lot about laws and crime.” Chase didn’t even try to hide the sarcastic tone in his words.
“You two are both young. Jake is new to Brindleton Bay, why don’t you take him along and show him around, Chase. I would, but I am booked solid, still have a bunch of loose ends to tie up here tonight. Drop him off at my house after, he has a key.”
“A KEY!? TO YOUR HOUSE?! Are you nuts grandpa!?” Chase couldn’t keep it together any longer.
“Chase Cameron! Get yourself together!” Ethan reprimanded his grandson immediately.
“Hey, you don’t talk to your grandpa like that or I will spank the shit out of you, kid!” his uncle Eli threatened, who had returned with the box for Chase’s father.
“Out of me!? Do either of you have any idea who that guy even is?!” Chase was beside himself.
“What?” Eli looked lost.
“I got this Eli. Take Jake and show him where the files are that he’ll need tomorrow and I will talk to my grandson – ALONE.” Ethan’s tone allowed no argument.
Once Eli and Stryker had left, Ethan turned to Chase.
“Grandpa, I …”
“You had a lot of opinion on this so far, so, by all means, share. I know quite a bit about who Jake is, but I am interested to know how much YOU know, so talk, Chase.”
“He is Bri’s baby daddy, he is pretty rough around the edges, he dumped her, hurt her badly, and is bad news. And you move him into your home?!”
“Ok, so you know more than the rest of the family, aside from Briar Rose and Blythe. Assume you caught them together and kept her secret at some point because Briar Rose has a way to wrap us Cameron men around her finger, am I right?” Ethan calmly ignored his excited grandson.
“Yup. I am the one she went to first with the baby news, tried to help her, talk to that moron and he wanted to pressure her into an abortion. I thought she was done with him after that. Now he is here. He’s not really living with you, is he? Pretty sure he is a criminal.”
“Temporarily, only during the work week, until we can get him some more reliable transportation. He has a motorcycle, and I forbade him to use that. Way too dangerous from San Myshuno to all the way out here during rush hour traffic. He has an apartment in the city, which will remain his main home. Don’t you worry about him. I am no idiot and would not risk your grandmother’s safety, had I even the shadow of a doubt. He has a child coming and I’d prefer my great-grandkid to have two living parents, if I can help it, no matter where they stand with each other. Plus your grandmother has a new subject for her improvement efforts other than always me. She is dead-set on turning him into something decent.”
“You have got to be shitting me, grandpa.”
“Language, kid! I know you are no longer a child, but around me, you will watch it, especially at my place of work. And you could be working here too. I have offered you a position many times before. You would even get shares in the company.”
“Grandpa! I do not want to sit in a room and mash together chemicals to make house paints, furniture stains and what not like a little boy in preschool. I don’t mix colors, I am a scientist, not a nail technician.”
“Downtalk that idea all you want, it could be a lucrative part of ECA. If you wanted it to be. But you will take Jake with you now and be nice to him. Am I understood?”
“Do I have to hold his hand or is he allowed to cross streets without assistance?” Chase responded, sarcasm oozing from his words.
“You are your father’s son, Chase. I will let this slide, although I am tempted to say yes and see how far this would actually go.” Ethan grinned.
Fifteen minutes later Chase had dumped the box for his father into the trunk of his car, visibly grumpy, followed by Stryker.
For a while both young men walked silently next to one another, neither of them had spoken a single word since they left the EC Architects building.
“Hey, thanks for not ratting me out in there. Look Chase, I know you must be pissed off at me …” Stryker finally started, causing Chase to stop short, while instantly upset.
“Let me stop you right there. I beyond pissed, at the situation, not you, I feel nothing about you, that’s how little I think of you. I didn’t rat you out to Bri’s dad – for now – my grandpa seems to know who and what you are and I have no clue how and why you weaseled your way into my family, but believe me, one false move and you will be out faster than you can think ‘oops’. I know you don’t take me serious, but hurt my family again and I will make your life miserable.”
“Little too late for that, little Timmy. If it helps you sleep at night, I am already fucked. I am here because of Bri being seriously decent. She took me to some attorney friend of you guys’ grandfather, he listened and now I am here. There’s a lot more to the story, but I was told not to say anything to anyone, so you may have to ask your grandpa or maybe even Bri and they can decide if you should know more.”
“A-ha. So, how much truth is to the sob story you probably dished up for them?”
“It was all true, ask Nick and your grandpa, it all checked out. Well, all the parts that can be checked. They believed me. Bri does, that’s all I got for you.”
“So, are you and Bri … back together? Or a couple now, if you weren’t before?”
Stryker only shook his head and looked at the ground in a way that made Chase almost feel sorry for him. This did seem genuine.
“Fine, come on, we’ll do the tour, won’t take long. Brindleton Bay can be toured on a commercial break of a movie, we’re that small, and about as exciting. We are getting a dance club, finally, only took them decades of bored teens to realize we could use one …”
‘Chase Cameron, you are such a pushover!’ was what Chase thought as he tried hard to ignore that he kinda felt sorry for Stryker while politely explaining the sights of Brindleton Bay as the two unlike young men continued on.
“I had so much fun again! You are soooo adorable.” Kaydence cooed, then planted a big kiss on Chase’s lips outside her apartment door, as he couldn’t help feeling watched, making him uncomfortable.
“Uh, thanks. I had fun too. Let’s get inside, shall we?” Chase was in a hurry to get out of the hallway.
“Who said I am letting you come in, huh?” she teased, flirting.
“Yeah, maybe I should get home. Good night, beautiful.” Chase attempted to kiss her again, but she pulled away.
“Heyyyyyy, you are not even going to try to change my mind? Give up THAT fast?” Kaydence protested, teasing.
“My God this is pitiful. Worse than I thought your dates would go, little Timmy. She wants to fuck you, so go and fuck her already or do I need to draw you pictures so you know what goes where?!” Stryker emerged, chuckling.
“Oh my God! Sorry Chase, that guy again! He lives in this building … come inside, quick. He’s dangerous, I think.” Kaydence looked truly startled.
“Yeah, we have met. So you slither into some rat hole in this building when you are not bunking with gullible people, huh, Stryker?”
“Get that hot ass inside there, Red. I just need a word with your loverboy here and then he’ll be ready for whatever you had in mind with him. Promise you, I won’t exhaust him too much.”
“Chase…?” Kaydence sounded worried.
“It’s fine. Just go inside, I can handle this guy. Won’t be long.”
“You sure? Shall I call the cops?”
“Nah, no need. I got this.” Chase told her.
“BOO!” Stryker made a quick movement towards Kaydence, she winced and nearly jumped into her apartment, slamming the door shut.
“Seriously, you moron?! What the hell is wrong with you?!” Chase growled at Stryker.
“Wrong with me? Dude, I just saved your sad rendition of what I think is supposed to be a date from going down the shitter in final swirl of shame! Gotta say though, you get around. Impressive. Who’ve thought? I swear I have seen you out with some racy brunette at some point, I saw you lip-locking with some nerdy blonde a couple times and now that one. Can’t say I blame you for the fiery redhead. Does her carpet really match the drapes? Sadly for me she has standards and I couldn’t land with her. She seems to prefer hanging with the two gay dudes in that apartment over there when not nibbling on some babyfaced dude.”
“Zach and Bryce aren’t gay, they are roomies and my friends. Both have really nice girlfriends, you creep. And Kay not wanting a piece of you only speaks highly for her. Oh, and before you start bashing the family in that apartment over there, be aware they are related to Nick Gray. One of his grandsons. Just FYI.”
“Dayum. You Camerons spread worse than the flu!”
“Weren’t you supposed to be nice to me? And what are you doing hitting on Kaydence anyway, remember Bri? The one you already knocked up? The one who for some reason turned you into that piece of toilet paper that just seems perpetually stuck under my shoe now?!”
“I am being nice to you. Much nicer than you are, and have been, to me, just so you know, you are lucky I am letting all that slide, cos normally when people mouth off to me like you’ve been doing it lands them in the ICU, and for a lot less than what you are daring. To satisfy your curiosity: I struck out with your fiery redhead long before Bri ever happened.”
“If you want me to be nice to you, you should change your attitude first. You’re a lot of things, except nice. For starters, what do you call harassing my date?”
“Harassing? Buddy, I lubed her up for ya. Whenever you go in there, she’ll think you are some tough hero handling the big scawwy meanie from next door and will jump your bones to ride you into the sunrise till your tool bleeds and falls off, just you wait. And you are welcome, little Timmy. God knows you needed all the help you can get to seal that deal.”
“Is everything always just about sex with you?”
“What else is dating about then? If you are looking for a chess partner, you could have had that a lot simpler and cheaper, bud.”
Stryker left, chuckling, Chase knocked and Kaydence pulled him inside, touching his face to see if Stryker hurt him, then kissing him like he had been off to war for years.
That date really start going down the path Stryker predicted, but at this point, Chase bowed out. He didn’t want their first time to be because of anything Stryker did. After some very intense making out, he told her goodnight and drove back home. Tomorrow was a work day, which started early for Chase.
Stryker in the meantime had already driven back over to the Cameron’s home in Brindleton Bay. It was Sunday night and he spent those there now, so he could be at EC Architects bright and early on Monday mornings, long before Ethan or Eli ever got up.
Ethan was not home when he arrived, but out with Blake and Eli, Stryker didn’t want to worry Blythe, knowing that he wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea and she was such a sweet lady. He respected her enough not wanting her to worry about being home alone with him. So he snuck up to the guest room and stayed there till the next morning.
It surprised him to find her already up when he came downstairs, greeting him smiling, not looking worried in the slightest.
“Made some coffee already, hope you do not mind if I ask you to have a cup with me on the patio? Such a lovely morning.”
“Of course not. It’s your house and you are nice enough to let me stay here. And thanks, for putting up with this, Mrs. Cameron.” he told her as he followed her onto the patio, where it was a pleasant Spring morning, the sunrays made the crispness of the air balmy and comfortable.
“I have always been good at reading people. I told Ethan right away that you are a good kid with lots of bad luck, otherwise you would not be sitting here, let alone staying with us. Ethan told me everything. Just so you know, that I am part of that inner circle. No need to pussyfoot around me, Jake.”
“Not a good idea. The more you know, the more dangerous it could be.”
“Oh honey, you have no idea what all I have been hiding for longer than you have been alive. I’d say the more unassuming the person, the more they are hiding.”
“Should I be scared of you, Mrs. C.?” Stryker smiled.
“Maybe. Let’s just say I am from a very old family who once upon a time had torture chambers which were used avidly.” Blythe referred to her being part of an royal family whose roots dated back centuries, even though she gave up her rights to the throne for herself and her decedents when she married Ethan. For her safety, her heritage had been kept a secret for decades, to this day still only few were privy to.
“Ok, now I am concerned. Were you in a cult or something?”
“Something like that. What I am trying to tell you is that sometimes ghosts from your past that should remain buried, will stay buried, as long as you are smart about it, especially if you have people helping you guard that dark secret. You are not as hopeless a case as you seem to think, not doomed. I won’t lie, it will never be easy. I had to lie to my kids when they asked about my youth, lie about my side of the family to assure in the boisterousness of youth they don’t tell anyone something that shouldn’t be told. By the way, you are very handsome when you smile, Jake, and your eyes show that you are intelligent. Wish you wouldn’t have used yourself as a canvas for all those tattoos, but guess that is the style these days. I can definitely understand what Briar Rose saw in you and why she is helping you. I do not blame her. I was once just like her. Fell for the guy everybody advised me against. A womanizer, flighty. But then again, I suppose I am what you could call a homewrecker, and not just once, but twice, with the same man, although it was solely out of true love which had made me weak, clouding my better judgement about something I don’t otherwise condone. Said flighty womanizer turned out to be a solid man, the love of my life, he gave me my son and through him my beautiful granddaughter, she is giving me a great-grandchild now, with your help. And I will be fit enough to get to know said great-grandchild. That, in itself if a great gift. Even though the circumstances may not have been the most ideal.”
“Wait, you only have one biological son, right? So you are saying Ethan … a womanizer?!”
“Oh yes. Do not underestimate my husband, dearie. We have been married to each other twice now. As you are well aware, he is not some feeble old grandpa, and I do not just mean his business side. Same goes for Nick. You are in the best of hands. I know you are worried, and I can see why, but Nick and Ethan are no idiots. If they brought you here, they know they can help. Neither would risk their families, or each other’s, if they didn’t have an ace up their sleeves. Relax, kiddo. And since I am a hopeless romantic I will tell you also not to give up on my granddaughter. I can see that beyond your rough, tough surface you are not as nonchalant as you let on, especially not as far as she is concerned. She is very mad at you, very hurt, but she would never have bothered with you as much as she has if all was lost. You are no dummy, so all you have to do is impress her.”
“With all due respect, Ma’am, I have tried and tried to tell Bri that I want to make it all up to her, and she basically has come out and told me she doesn’t want me anymore. The only reason she helped is probably out of pity and because I am the father of her child.”
“Oh no. No no. Bri isn’t like that. Had you upset her that much, she wouldn’t – and I am quoting my step-son Blake here – pee on you if you were on fire. She’s a tough cookie. And she is way too forward thinking to just want you as a baby daddy. She doesn’t need you for that, or anyone. No, Jake, that’s not hormones or some nest-building reflex. The reason you are still around is because she cares about you and she isn’t done with you yet, but you are on probation. And talk is cheap, actions speak the loudest. Up to you to decide how hard you want to work to get back on her good side, but it won’t be through talking, so much I can tell you.”
“Got any hints or suggestions for me?” Stryker sounded desperate, as Blythe laughed.
“If I knew things like that, dearie, I would have never taken the detours I have in my own life, and I would be the wealthiest woman on earth after the book I’d have written about that topic. You already impressed her by agreeing to all this, by keeping your word, and by her grandparents liking you enough to letting you stay with us during the week. Only time will tell how your story ends.”
About the encouraging words, and about the fact that over the past two weeks he had been given something, he had not had in many long years: a chance and hope.