Briar Rose proved how tough she really was.
At only 21 years of age she was sitting in a prison visitation room across from what had been painted as a reckless, careless, dangerous criminal by press and prosecution over the past few months, the top story on every news channel, but her greater feat was that she even managed to stifle the tears that burned hot under her eyelids.
“Why, Stryker?! Why did you do that?! You risked everything! For what? Some vendetta? Hope it was worth it to you. Nick said you’ll spend the rest of your life in here. Stryker, why? What about our daughter? What about me?”
Stryker looked affected, worried, sad, as he reached across the table to take her hand.
“Prisoner – no touching!” the guard warned right away, and Stryker immediately pulled back his hand.
“I told Nick everything. Has he not told you, shown you my statement?” he asked quietly.
“I do not want to read a fucking statement, I want to hear it from you. In your own words! Did you really do it? Did you kill him? I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you really are what they say, a murderer.” Bri spoke firmly.
“Yes. I had no choice. His henchmen found me, surprised me at my apartment, at gunpoint forced me to come with them, they took me to my father. I still see him before me, sitting like a spider in its web in his big Del Sol Valley mansion, where he gave me a choice and only minutes to make it. Either I stayed with him and played along, become the son and heir he needed, or watch you and Hope suffer. He had photos, very recent ones, lots of photos of you, Hope and most of your family – and Nick. Just what I had always been so afraid of happening, had happened. I knew him better than to dismiss it as empty threats and take my chances. I have no doubt he would have acted on each of the things he threatened. So instead I agreed, then waited my chance to do the only thing I could do, Bri, to stop him for good. I did it to protect you and our daughter. Even if that meant to sacrifice myself. Trust me, despite of it all, it wasn’t easy for me. Watching the life go out of someone’s eyes is not something you just rub some dirt on and walk off. But I had nothing left to lose. I had already messed up my life beyond recognition years ago, no matter how much you and Nick tried to help me. My past and my bad choices always caught up with me again. I’m not much to write home about as a boyfriend, I know that. Maybe you can find someone new, someone who deserves you. I pretty much suck as a dad too. Hope will be fine. She has you and your family. Doesn’t need me. Probably better she never knows about me. Just tell her her father is dead.” Stryker said resigned.
“I will not! You are not just interchangable with an outside model! And Hope will know you! I will bring her with me as often as I can and we will visit you! Do not dare deny seeing me again, or I will hire some inmates and have them bust your knee caps or some shit like that! I need you, you do get that, right?”
“Oh baby, I love it when you talk brutal to me. Joking aside, of course I will see you as often as you want to see me until you get tired of all this, which I couldn’t blame you if you did. But you don’t bring a toddler to a prison, Bri.” Stryker said unusually softly.
“Maybe ‘you‘ don’t, but I will! She will know her daddy, and she will grow up to be strong, like me, like you. Did you tell them all what your father has done to you, to others? They should give you a medal, not put you in prison!” Briar Rose was beside herself.
“Of course I have. And Nick has. But you know my father left nothing for me to proof what I am saying, so it sounds like a bunch of excuses from a drug- and alcohol addicted misfit to justify something he probably did in some drunken rage.”
“You’re not a drug addict and I have never seen you drunk either.” Bri stated.
“You know that, I know that, but look at me. I fit the profile. I look like a stereotype of a bad boy, I have a rep sheet, that’s all they need. I have no doubt I will die in this place. But the good news is, I was able to draw up some documents with Nick willing all my father’s estate to you and Hope. At least that I could do, finally take care of you two.”
“Are you kidding me?! You think I give a shit about money and buildings? I need YOU, Hope needs her daddy, not bags of gold and villas!”
“Wrap it up guys, time’s up.” the guard announced.
“What already?! I just got here…” Bri argued.
“Miss, please. Rules are rules, I only enforce them. Come on buddy, let’s go.” the guard ordered.
Stryker was pulled up off his chair, assisted roughly by the impatient seeming guard and within seconds Stryker was manhandled into handcuffs and disappeared through the heavy metal door they had come in by, leaving Briar Rose behind. It burned inside her heart watching the man she loved being treated like that, knowing to them, he was just another murderer, undeserving. None of them knew, or believed, the truth, none of them knew the Stryker Bri knew. And at the end of the day, he really was a murderer.
Leaving the prison, tears now streaming down her face, Bri thought that she better get herself together or driving home while fighting her tears would be hard, but then remembered that they had Nick to thank that she even could drive instead of having to fly to the far away Del Sol Valley, since Nick had somehow managed to get through a petition to move the entire case to a local court and prison.
What Nick had not been able to do was to keep Stryker out of prison or at least get his sentence reduced. Buried beneath an avalanche of evidence Stryker had been convicted beyond any reasonable doubt, sentenced to life in prison, brandmarked forever as a cold-blooded father-killer.
At least not the death sentence, now Bri could visit him weekly, the maximum visitation allowed. And she would. Without fail. Often with Hope in tow.
Chase was trying to adjust to his sister being pregnant. She was so excited and happy, her sweet personality and gentle disposition made it hard to not be happy for her.
To Chase, Kiera seemed like his beloved little sister, but also like a totally different person, a stranger almost, with that swollen stomach in which another life was growing, a fact that freaked Chase out beyond belief.
Later that day, aimlessly wandering through the streets of San Myshuno on a quest for a gift for the impending birth of his best friend Charlie’s and his wife’s first child, Chase could not help but have his mind go into overdrive about what his future should hold.
Have a kid with her? Kids?
Where would they live?
The small rental home on the outskirts of Windenburg where Caitriona lived was too small and just too long of a commute to and from work for Chase.
Live with her and any potential kids at the Beach House?
Would his parents even want that?
Those questions were really only rhetoric. Chase knew he wasn’t ready for any of that, but also knew it was expected and he hated to be one to break the mold. That was something Briar Rose excelled at, being different. Weird stares had never fazed her at all. Chase much preferred to fly under the radar, go by the rules, the more conservative ways.
But marry someone, move, have children just because it was expected? No.
All this worry and wonder got more magnified when he coincidentally ran into Kaydence.
They had not seen each other since they said goodbye at the cafe after deciding they could only ever be friends.
She glowed when she greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. Chase wondered if that could become awkward if she found out he had another girlfriend, but instead she flashed a shiny ring at him and told him she was engaged.
“Well, congrats! Do I know the lucky guy?” Chase was shocked more than happy, but glossed over his surprise with the best smile he could muster.
“Ummm, maybe …. this is a bit awkward, but his name is Emory Redcliffe, as in Piper’s brother. Yeah, I know, so weird, but we met at a club and just hit it off, all I knew was his first name and then we both fell hard. He took me home to meet his parents eventually and Piper was there. I didn’t really know her last name until then … well, too late now. Tell you another secret: I am pregnant!”
“Whoa! I mean congrats again!” Chase felt ready to faint.
This was a nightmare, right? So much weirdness didn’t really happen in real life, right? And what was with this baby epidemic?! Everybody seemed to have only babies on the brain these days, wanting to be pregnant, trying to be pregnant or already pregnant. Could a guy PLEASE catch a break already?!
“Well, I hate to cut this short, but I am almost running late for a date with my fiance. Don’t be a stranger, okay! Let’s definitely stay in touch!”
“Oh yeah, definitely!” Chase said, but didn’t mean it. He really liked Kay, still, but no more babies in his life and he really didn’t want to rub elbows with Piper’s family after all that had happened.
He gave up his impossible search for some gift he had not idea about what was even appropriate. Kiera and Logan had been very vocal about what they needed and wanted, all Charlie and Natalie ever told him was to come by and hang out.
So he wandered back to his car and did that. Reluctantly, but if that made them happy and made up for not having any real gifts, then so be it.
On his way over to Charlie’s home Chase was as uncomfortable as one could be and the feeling only got worse after he parked the car and walked up to their front door.
Even more when he was asked inside and Charlie’s wife Natalie hugged him.
The pressure of her sizable stomach against him almost made Chase run for the hills, knowing there was another person in there.
Maybe it was the testing at the lab that was to blame for his issues with pregnancies. All the parasites inside of hosts they were running tests on, all that just made a human pregnancy seem awkward to Chase, like another parasite inside another host. Yuck. Maybe he’d find all that more palatable if he was wearing his lab coat, goggles and protective gear before hugging preggos.
When Bri had been pregnant, Chase had avoided hugging her and touching the baby bump as much as he could, and Briar Rose wasn’t the most snuggly of people to begin with. Kiera was already showing and a dyed-in-the-wool hugger, but so far he could bend away from her stomach.
Unfortunately though, the baby’s impending arrival was all either Charlie or Natalie would talk about until she had to leave for some appointment and Charlie suggested playing a video game. A rock the size of a mountain fell off Chase’s mind. Video game? Yes, please!
For a few hours Chase’s life was all right again. Just him and Charlie like it had been since the first grade, smack talking as they played hours of their lives away.
A week later, during another dinner date, Chase finally realized Caitriona was looking at him, probably had been for some time, while he had been zoned out, pondering all of the changes in his life and their short and long term effects.
“Sorry, did you say something?” he asked, his tone apologetic.
“Yes, I have. Been talking for a while, to myself, obviously. Are you all right?”
“Just a lot on my mind. Work and all.” Chase lied.
“Work? No, Chase. We have been together for many months now. This – you – is not work. I think I know what is going on. I am not blind. Kiera is starting to show and you get all shifty around her, when we go on double dates with Charlie and Natalie you become a gingerbread man if she hugs us hello and goodbye. Do you really not like children or is it just pregnant women that freak you out?”
“Probably both, to be perfectly honest.”
“Oh. Well, that is certainly grounds for a very serious discussion then, as I do want children, and pretty soon, if I can help it. Honestly, I really thought that was where we both were headed. And not to sound weird, but my visa is about to expire, my new employer does not work with immigration, so once it does, I will have to move back home. Getting married could open up another type of visa option to me, especially if I were expecting a child with my fiance.”
Child? Fiance? Marriage? Visa? Huh?!
Briar Rose had said something about her wanting some anchor baby as she had called it.
“What?” Chase could not get out anything else.
“What do you mean by ‘what’? Isn’t this normal to you? Something to aspire to? It certainly is for me and always has been. I have never not said that. The immigration situation is a bit awkward, admittedly, but if we were on the same page, that’s really not a big deal at all. Or so I thought, at least. I thought you were pretty clear on how I feel about all this.”
“No, I wasn’t. To be perfectly honest, I am not ready for any of that. I do not want to get engaged, or married – for any reason – and I most definitely do not want a child! Not now, but maybe not ever.”
“Wow. This really is a problem. A BIG one. I don’t think I see a future for us then. I feel like I have been wasting my time, pouring my heart and soul into a relationship which is on a train to nowhere, with a man who evidently treasures his freedom more than a real future together. I’d be interested to learn where in your ideal scenario you see us in five years from now, in ten? Still boyfriend and girlfriend, you living with your parents, me in a small rental, that is, if I get a visa extension. Or are you just biding your time with me until I get nicked by immigration or go back on my own, head hanging low?”
“I haven’t thought that far. I was just going to roll with it and deal with things as they came up.” Chase admitted.
“Deal with things? DEAL WITH THINGS?! That is – by far – the most immature thing I have ever heard a 25 year old man say in all my life! All right then, Chase, deal with this: we are through! You are single again, free do do as you please, without me. You are such a disappointment! And I thought I finally found a solid guy. Guess what they say is right, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Enjoy your aimless wandering through an empty, meaningless life. You will remember this moment when you are dying, old and lonely somewhere!”
Caitriona jumped up, without another word, just an angry glance at Chase, she stormed out.
Chase frowned, naturally the scene had not gone unnoticed, other restaurant guests and wait staff were staring uninhibitedly, he blushed and his ears were burning red as he requested the check and paid then left as well.
Now he’d have to face all the questions again, the pitying stares by his family. And she was gone. It ached him to think he may never see her again. She was so special, so wonderful.
Did she really mean it, or was she just angry? People didn’t break up just like that, right? Maybe she was just upset and said things she didn’t mean. Although, Cait didn’t have the type of temper as for example Briar Rose had, though. Usually everything she said was well thought out.
He decided to at least try, drove to her home, walked up to her door.
There were rabid butterflies in his stomach as he raised his hand and knocked. his hands were shaking. Please, please let this just be an argument and not anything final.
She walked outside, pulling the door shut behind her, marking the fact that she was still upset and he wasn’t welcome.
“Go away Chase.” she said calmly, her voice icy.
“Can we talk about it all, calmly?”
“Are you willing to change your mind on anything?” she asked, hopeful.
“Uh …” he didn’t know what to say to that.
“Never mind. That already was all the answer I needed. Go home Chase. Just leave. This here does nothing but hurt both of us now. I cannot change how I feel and apparently, neither can you. I really do not see any way to compromise here.”
“Cait, if it is the visa that worries you, I will help you with that. I’ll marry you, if you want to stay …” Chase tried to cling to some last gleam of hope.
“That is all you took from our conversation?! The visa? I love my home, Ireland, it’s where my family and friends are, thank you very much. I only came here to get away from a guy, to heal, to forget. I was never planning on staying long term until I met you! I thought I had finally met the one. Instead it turns out that all I managed is to get myself tangled up in yet another relationship without a future, straight into more heartbreak! You are every bit like my ex, stringing me along all that time, dangling a future together in front of me, then he went off to nail another chick. Now you tell me there will never be a real ‘us’, I would never be a mother. I don’t even know which of the two is worse. This is just bollocks! Leave, Chase and never come back! Let’s just do both of us the favor and not drag this out any more.” Caitriona was fighting back tears now, which broke Chase’s heart.
Sniffling, she went back inside, the door was slammed shut in his face, locked and the porch light turned off.
Chase got the hint.
Maybe he should have tried harder. Maybe he should have changed his mind. Maybe … but he didn’t and somehow it felt like the break in the relationship was already too deep to be salvaged anymore.
The next morning, Saturday again, Chase found his father in the kitchen, told him all that happened. Blake sat him down at the dining room table over brunch.
“Oh boy. I had no idea how much you really are like me. Didn’t know youthful dumbassery is genetic, but evidently so. Oh boy, let me dig in my brain for the usual ‘what would KC do’. All right, first off, why do you not want any of that? Why does it scare you so?” Blake asked, the tone of his voice compassionate, not accusatory.
“I don’t know, dad. Really. I just … don’t. I do not see changing someone’s last name to mine after buying some expensive ring and planning a more expensive wedding, only to buy a house and father some kids as a real life goal to aspire to. I just don’t.”
“Well, the kids thing may just happen for you when you least expect it. That Cameron curse we always joke about is real. I never wanted to be a dad, but when your mom told me you were coming, I slapped a ring on her so fast, it made her head spin and never looked back. Truthfully, your mother, you and that sister of yours were the best things that ever happened to me. I would never change any of it. I guess what I am saying is, when you know, you know. Which tells me, Cait may not have been the one. Terrible thing to say to someone right after a break up, I know, but it’s the truth.”
“Honestly dad, I feel numb more than sad. I feel … relieved. Now THAT is a terrible thing to say.” Chase told his father.
“Tough cookie, is what you are. Look Chase, I know that some men are born with that desire to procreate, some men are not, but either way, a pregnancy is scary to most any guy. We see the girl we love change before our eyes and know that nothing will ever be the same. I get it. But, there are a lot of great aspects to that. I never knew I could love so much, so many people at once, you and your sister have expanded my horizon tremendously. I find it awkward that my little girl, whom I used to bathe, is going to have a baby of her own, but that means I will be a grandfather and see a child grow up, which, in a way, I helped create by bringing his or her mom into the world. My legacy, of sorts. When I was your age, Chase, none of that meant a thing to me, in my fifties now, it does. And if we are lucky enough to reach your grandfather’s age, I am pretty sure it’s even more significant. Bri’s kid is another generation carrying a part of him. Three generations now that are only here because of him, in a way.” Blake carefully explained.
“Right. Yeah, that all does make a lot of sense. But … all this, what we have, I just love it, it makes me feel safe and sheltered. I don’t want to lose that. I just cannot see myself living somewhere else, without you and mom, Kiera just across the street and Bri just a small walk away. For what? A house of my own I do not want and a child I don’t even know if I could like, let alone love and the thought of a birth or diapers just grosses me out!”
“Ah, you’d get over that quick. I never stops being gross, but you’d love the baby so much that you really quit caring. And what we have here is a loving home. We created its soul, through love, patience, humor and traditions. I betcha some of it will carry over into your sister’s household, and if you ever change your mind, it will into yours too. And if you ever have your own family, you create all this for yourself. You shape your life together with your loved one, for yourself, for your wife and for your offspring. And that wretched puppy over there who is about to pee on the floor. Take care of your dog, Chase!” Blake chuckled.
“Oh no! Shadow no, come on outside with me boy!” Chase jumped up right away.
As Chase grabbed the puppy and ran outside with him, Hailey appeared, smiling at Blake.
“How much did you hear?” he asked, still grinning.
“Enough to know that you are the best man any girl could ever wish for.” she told him, smiling.
“Despite of all I put you through in the beginning?” he asked, walking over to her.
“I don’t recall a thing.” she smiled
“Oh, I like that type of amnesia very much!”
“It’s called being a loving wife. We overlook a lot of things, just because we love our man so much.”
“Even those with a dad bod?”
“Yes, even those. Let’s get your dad bod into the hot tub with me.”
“Try and stop me!”
Once in the hot tub Blake and Hailey transformed from being parents of two adult children back to being teenagers in love. They may have had a rough start, but their love and passion never faded in all the years together.
That afternoon Blake appeared in Chase’s room.
“Hey, kid, let’s get you off that computer game and go to a gym with me. I feel like buffing up a bit and you could use a bit more muscle, you skinny thing.”
“Uh – thanks, dad.” Chase frowned.
“Don’t get whiney, not telling you anything a good, hard look into a mirror wouldn’t tell you. So, suck it up, get changed and let’s go to that gym you go to if you ever leave the house, that is.”
“Dad, you don’t get changed to go to the gym. They have locker rooms and showers.”
“Well, if we ever made it there, I would know. Instead, we are in your room, discussing.”
“Oh, I get it! Mom got on you about the dad bod thing again …” Chase grinned.
“One more word out of you and I will show you that you are never too old for a spanking, kid!”
“Okay, okay, chill dad, I’ll get my gym bag.” Chase couldn’t help but smirk. His parents were the craziest, strangest, most solid and most loving people he had ever seen. Maybe one day he’d find someone who’d make him want to be that way with them.
-to be continued-