You could say that all of life is a series of last chances.
~ Cynthia Voigt
The young man in the borrowed dress shirt and slacks looked miserable, hunched over in the chair of the court room, the defendant’s seat, while his attorney, Nick Gray, tried his best to fix the latest, once more self-induced problem the young man’s future was currently hinging on.
“Your honor, this young man here has made an admittedly bad decision, for which he is highly regretful but otherwise has shown the drive and stamina to better his situation while he …”
“Counselor, let me interrupt you right there, but what you are about to tell me is not news to me. I have read the statements. I will admit, I am impressed. However, Mr. O’Connor Junior here knew better than to drive under the influence. And you, Mr. Gray, know better than to expect me to be lenient with someone, who has shown great disregard for the law for over a decade of his young life now! I usually make it a point to read – in great detail – the file of every single one of my cases the night prior to their court date, but I would have had to start three days ago with Mr. O’Connor Junior’s file here and I would likely be sitting here still reading it! Were that not the case, and all things considered, I may have been able to give him a rough slap on the wrist and move on, but in his case, I really see no leway for that. His behavior once more was reckless and he could have killed innocent people as well as himself.”
“Your Honor, there are several people of caliber in this local society who are willing to vouch for Mr. O’Connor to remain on the straight path after this incident, myself included.”
“Counselor, I do not know why you and the other members of society would put their reputation on the line for this young man, it honors you and certainly gives me food for thought, undoubtedly, but if this is all you have for me, I am ready to speak my ruling. Any closing words from you, Mr. O’Connor, Junior?”
Stryker looked up, it seemed like he was going to say something, but instead only shook his head.
“Very well, I am prepared to speak my ruling then. Assume your seat next to your client, please, Mr. Gray. Rest assured you have successfully convinced me that this young man does not need the maximum sentence to understand the weight of his actions, and I have a long history of supporting those members of our society who lost their way at some point and are trying hard to reintegrate themselves again, and I understand that sometimes a slip-up is a part of that, but I have to make this sting, as you will understand.”
“ALL RISE!” the bailiff ordered.
The few people who had attended the court date did as requested as the judge proceeded to sentence Stryker to the minimum of 90 days in prison and revoked his driver licence, barring him from reapplying for a new one for 1 year.
Stryker knew this was a terrible setback that wouldn’t just blow over after he did his time when he turned around briefly while Nick spoke to him and he saw Ethan Cameron slip out of the court room, without even coming to talk to him first. He had broken their contract and abused his trust.
He got his confirmation when after about one week into his sentence he received his first visitor, Nick Gray.
Immediately Stryker asked him about Briar Rose, about the Camerons and his fears proved to have been spot on, everybody was highly disappointed in him.
He learned that Ethan wasn’t going to cut him any slack, after some long discussions between Ethan, Nick and Elias, it was decided that Stryker would no longer be employed at EC Architects, effective immediately.
Not to purposely torpedo his reintegration into a regular life they had all been working on with him, not even because he broke the trust shown to him, which had sorely disappointed Ethan, but simply for practical reasons, as even after his jail sentence would be fullfilled, he wouldn’t have the means to make the long drive out to Brindleton Bay anymore without his permit and would have to live permanently at their home, which after his transgression, despite Blythe’s pleas, Ethan vehemently denied. He hadn’t written him off completely, but didn’t feel comfortable rewarding him by moving him into his home full time.
Driving him back and forth between San Myshuno and Brindleton Bay twice daily, which was several hours one way, was not feasible either.
Aside from that, Elias and Sarah Cameron were livid with Stryker, believing his recklessness could have well happened with their daughter and the unborn child in a car with him.
Briar Rose, according to Nick, was extremely upset with him, not only for this slip up and their preceeding fight, but also the fact that she had tried to visit him in prison and he didn’t want to see her. He just could not face her, knowing that there was no way for him to escape her accusations in the visiting room. And he wasn’t foolish enough to think she’d have a lot of encouraging words for him.
“You don’t have a lot to say today, Jake.” Nick observed.
“What’s there to be said? I am fucked, but you know that.”
“Well, you screwed the pooch big time, but we just have to build up from there. Ethan may come around again on his own, but Blythe is still on your side, and let me tell you from someone who has been married for a very long time now, wives hold an immense power. And Bri … well … you are still the father of her child, which automatically makes you a lot stickier than just being a boyfriend would.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Mr. Gray. Remember that document? I have no rights to the child, I have no transportation, and for an entire year I won’t be able to get anywhere without begging someone for a lift anyway, and that’s not until after I get out of this joint, when I won’t have a home to go to anymore. My apartment was prepaid for a year through the end of this month from what was left of a bank account I had when I still had a life. I have no money, nor a job and I am in prison, so I cannot even beg the landlord for an extension or something.”
“Let me worry about your apartment. I’ll spot you and you will work off the money by working for me. My offices are in the financial district of San Myshuno, quite a hike from your place, but you’ll get used to it. So that would take that worry off your full plate. If you want to. If you really want to give up, then there isn’t much I can do for you.”
“Why are you helping me? Everybody initially hates me. And if not, they will eventually because … well, I just cannot seem to be that type who cannot NOT screw up.”
“Answering that would require a very long and conveluted background story best told over a couple beers. Let me put it to you this way: I had my own brushes with fate and got my own final chances not once, but a couple times, so I know how all that feels from either perspective. Plus, I am married to a Cameron and you fathered a child with another Cameron so we are somehow connected for good.”
Stryker sat in his apartment, someone had restocked his fridge, his home smelled clean. Chase had stayed with him for a couple hours and only left when he was satisfied that Stryker would be okay on his own. ‘Good ol’ nerdy Chase!‘ Stryker thought and inadvertently chuckled to himself.
He, of all people, was the one who picked Stryker up from jail after his release and drove him to his apartment in San Myshuno. Never in a million years had Stryker ever thought he’d be happy to see Chase Cameron’s babyface.
A few hours later there was a knock on the door. Normally careful whom he opened the door, but now too resigned, Stryker just opened and was greeted by a hard slap on his cheek, which took the wind out of him briefly as he stared in awe at none other then Briar Rose, looking angry.
He could do little other than stare at her. Her pregnancy had advanced significantly in those three months he hadn’t seen her. She would be close to the end of her second trimester now.
“You are such an asshole. You just cannot help it, can you?” she laid into him right away.
“Sorry. For whatever you are mad about.”
“Whatever I am mad about? Was your tiny mouse brain on a Caribbean cruise over the past three, four months?”
He shook his head, then said
“I told you I am no good, hopeless. I warned you so many times, even back when we first started messing around. Before everything else happened.”
“Yeah, that was a pregnancy and a lot of other shit ago. Driving drunk?! Going to prison and letting me be humiliated as I get turned away cos you didn’t want to see me? WHAT THE F!?” Bri ranted.
“Isn’t that easy to understand? I am fucking embarrassed, Bri. I know I fucked up. I am now even more fucked than before and nothing I can do to undo it. I got so accustomed to my new life, I really liked the way it all was going, and knowing it’s probably all over for me now is really fucking rough, even rougher knowing that it is all because of something I did.”
Briar Rose realized that there was no use beating someone already down for the count, so her facial expression softened.
“Well, if you open your eyes, you see some of it is still left. Nick’s still in your corner, Chase helped out already and I am here too. Grandma is still in grandpa’s ear about giving you another chance. In case you are wondering, I got the key from Nick and cleaned up here and stocked your fridge for ya. Nick is giving you a couple days, but wants you to start on Monday. Do you remember how to get to his law offices?”
“Yeah. Thanks Bri.”
“Why did you do it? Drive drunk? What were you thinking?!”
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking anything, apparently. I was so angry at the fight, at you and myself, I just really didn’t care what would happen to me, I just wanted that bad feeling to stop somehow.”
“Could have waited till you got home and then you could have gotten trashed till you fell over. All would have been fine then, except some major hangover for you.”
“Bri, I do not have a good track record of brilliant decsions.”
“Yeah, cost you your beloved bike too. You do know you totaled it, right?”
He shook his head.
“You could have killed yourself, Stryker! Does that even cross your mind? Our baby would have been half-orphaned before she was ever born. How could you be so stupid? What if I would have been on there with you? Or in a car and you got this upset?”
“Bri, I would have never done that then! I am scum, an asshole, selfish and all that, but I am not that kind of monster. Never would I have operated any vehicle drunk, not even a tricycle, had you been with me.”
She walked closer and just wrapped her arms around him, he returned the gesture and they just stood there, holding on to each other.
“Don’t ever do that again. Not that and nothing like it!”
“Your belly … feels funny up against me.” he mumbled.
“Feels funny being on me too. Wanna feel? She’s busy today.”
He nodded, she took his hands and placed them on the swollen stomach. Stryker closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, there was a clear inquiry in his eyes.
“I don’t know. I know what you are wondering and the answer is, I really do not know how I feel, about you, about this, about … us.” Briar Rose responded to his unspoken question.
Clearing his throat he told her with sincerety in his voice
“That’s already a helluva lot better than what I expected. I thought you hated me and never wanted to see me again. I really thought that this time I lost you.”
“Not yet. I was super-pissed, hurt and just a mess, so I did what I always do. I went to see my cousin. I wanted to talk to Kiera, girl to girl, but she would have had to be surgically removed from that Logan, so instead I went to poor Chase-y and made that poor guy so uncomfortable, crying like a mad woman, complete with snot running down and all, and he was just the same amazing guy as always, even wiped the snot off me and told me all would be okay. He gave me a lot of good advice.” Bri couldn’t help but smile, which carried over to Stryker.
“I’ll be sure to pucker up and plant a big, wet kiss right smack-dab on little Timmy’s ass next I see him.” he said grinning.
“Poor Chase. I think he’d prefer a simple bro hug or fist bump or something.”
“What about poor Stryker. Stryker is really hungry …”
“Must be, already starting to shut down your brain and making you speak in the third person of yourself. So, cook yourself something. I stocked your fridge and pantry.”
“I cannot cook to save my life … any chance Chase said anything about you cooking for me?”
“Me? Cos I am a girl, you mysoginistic screwball? Sadly for you I cannot cook anything that requires more than a microwave. Sorry, buddy, one more thing where I don’t fit the old traditional.”
“Wanna order in? I know a real good place that is pretty cheap, if you like Asian food.”
“Are you asking me to stay for dinner?”
“Dinner and a movie, whatever your heart desires as long as it’s on one of the free public TV stations.”
“Is that all you got?”
“I’d offer dessert, but all I have is what you are looking at.”
“Oh well, lucky for you I am easily entertained. Dial that phone, now that you brought it up, I am hungry too.”
He did, the food arrived quickly, turned out to be an edible spicy, flavorful, greasy mess and both laughed a lot as they shared the meal while watching some TV series, curled up together.
Their little world together was once more in balance.
For some hours everything was all right, until Bri started complaining about stomach pains but she assured Stryker stomach upset and indegestion happened a lot during the pregnancy.
Eventually she got up to use the restroom.
Just after the door barely shut, a bloodcurdling scream had Stryker on his feet and running into the bathroom without even bothering with a courtesy knock to find her looking horrified as she stared at blood between her legs, and still more soaking through as she stood there.
“FUCK! I’ll call an ambulance.”
“Stryker! I am scared!” she grabbed on to him with an iron grip, was crying, shaking and an icy hand grabbed Stryker’s heart as he pet her and comforted her.
“Shhh … don’t be. We’ll fix it. It can be fixed. Just stay calm, no need for all that adrenaline. I am here and we’ll fix it. Probably just some burst blood vessel and looks worse than it is.” Stryker lied and faked calmness. There was no way this was harmless and he knew it, but feeling the girl trembling and seeing her eyes huge with fright he tried to comfort her, yet eventually he realized time was of the essence.
“Fuck it! Where are your keys? I am taking you to the hospital now!”
And naturally the worst thing possible that could happen on their way, happened: Murphy’s Law.
In his attempt to get Bri to the emergency room as fast as possible, he forgot to use the blinker, a patrolling cop saw and pulled them over.
While the officer realized quickly that they weren’t driving reckless for no reason and gave them a police escort to the hospital, even allowed Stryker to stay with her until the doctors would see her, Stryker knew that this was far from over for him.
Right as Bri was taken back to check what was going on, Stryker was handcuffed and taken into police custody, no matter how much Briar Rose screamed for him, yelling at the cops.
-to be continued-