Poppy: High and Dry by Radiohead
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This book is actively being revised. Chapters with song titles have been updated. Unedited chapters have been labeled.
Please do not leave comments or reviews highlighting inconsistencies, such as sudden age changes or different names. Sum of Us is a work in progress. I’m doing the best I can to make the story flow again. Please be patient with me.
Rain pelts the glass-panel roof overhead. Humming "Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead, I transfer an overgrown fern to its new pot. I shriek when two hands abruptly slap the door of my greenhouse. An empty clay pot shatters on the floor as I turn to face my intruder. The vice grip on my heart is released when my boyfriend walks through the door. He has the audacity to laugh hysterically at my reaction.
“I thought I was about to be murdered, jerk!” I tear off a gardening glove and throw it at him.
Rhys dodges it with ease. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.”
I swerve his drenched hug and greet him with a kiss instead.
“This is the reception I get for braving the Washington wilderness to see you?” He hits me with a grin.
“Seattle is quite populated, babe. It’s the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region. Approximately 4 million other people live in this ‘wilderness’ you speak of.”
“Of course, you know that, smarty pants.”
I push the hair clinging to his forehead out of his eyes. “Is there a reason you went sans umbrella?”
“Not enough time. I had to get here as soon as possible.” Rhys leans into my touch.
“Oh? What’s the pressing matter?”
“You’re looking at a signed artist.”
“Really?!” I smile from ear to ear.
Rhys nods. “There was a bunch of back and forth, but they finally agreed to our terms. They’re flying us to LA to sign contracts. We’re opening for Paradise Lost in the fall!” His explanation is almost too quick to follow.
Rhys started a band with his brother and best friends when he was fourteen. The four of them have been pouring blood, sweat, and tears into Wilde Knights for four years. A song of theirs went viral last year. They have been talking to record labels for months, but none of them offered them a deal worth taking – until now.
I throw my arms around his neck and attack him with a searing kiss. His arms encircle my waist. I intensify the kiss by tangling my fingers in his long strands and arching into him. He backs me onto the nearest empty counter.
We part long enough to strip each other out of our shirts.
Desperate touches, racing hearts, and passionate kisses raise the temperature in the humid greenhouse. My eyeglasses get ditched to see through the fog.
“I don’t have a condom. We’ll have to stop.” Rhys trails kisses down my neck.
“I’m on birth control,” I sigh heavily.
A lust-induced haze slows his comprehension of my reminder. As soon as he registers my insinuation, he cranes his neck to look me in the eye.
“Are you sure?”
He cups my face and tenderly caresses my cheekbone with his thumb. “I love you.”
Rhys’s softly spoken, loving words and accompanying expression change the atmosphere.
“I love you, too.” Tears shimmer in my eyes.
The kisses that ensue are less hurried; we savor each other. The thoroughness with which Rhys warms me up would make you think I was the one who received life-altering good news.
When I can’t stand another second without him, I grab him by the shoulders and tug his face to mine. We share a kiss that I can feel down to my toes. And when we finally connect, a gasp expels from my lungs.
The feeling is more intense than the previous times, far more intimate. We are as close as two people can be.
“Are you okay?” He pants, stilling.
“Yes,” I squeak, clutching his back and raising my hips for leverage. “Don’t stop.”
Each movement that follows is as pleasure-seeking as it is emotive. We give and take in equal measure, making it an all-consuming experience. The result is the most powerful orgasm I’ve ever had. While we ride out the aftershocks, Rhys kisses my neck and shoulder as I rub his back.
Once we’ve cleaned up and redressed, we move to sit on a storage container. Rhys puts his arm around me after I rest my head on his shoulder.
“Having a genius girlfriend is inconvenient. Your scholarship to MIT means I don’t get a groupie to tag along with me on tour.” He jokes.
I can’t keep a grin off my face. “My apologies.”
“The good news is we have a stop in Boston.”
“Do you think you’ll have time to visit me on campus? I’d love to show you around.”
“I’ll make it. I’m curious to see such a concentration of nerds in their natural habitat. It’ll be like National Geographic.”
“You’re not allowed to narrate in your awful British accent.”
“If it happens, it happens.” He drops a kiss on my temple.
“Don’t bring Taylor along to film it.”
“Now, you’re just asking for way too much. How am I supposed to keep such a thing from my identical twin? We have a telepathic link.”
“You’re ridiculous,” I giggle.
“You know you love it.”
“I do.” I get lost in his emerald eyes. “Are you sure you’ll want little ol’ me when screaming girls start throwing themselves at you?”
“The only screaming I want to hear is yours.” There’s a devious glint in his eyes.
I swat his chest. “I’m serious.”
“We’ve been together for four years. I love you. You have nothing to worry about.” He tucks my hair behind my ear. “The real question is whether or not you’re going to trade me in for a fellow smarty pants.”
“If it happens, it happens,” I tease.
“The guys and I are hanging out in Kyle’s basement to celebrate our victory. There will be pizza and beer. Do you want to come?” He kisses my temple.
“I can’t. My dad has the night off.” I lean into his touch.
“Then I better get going. I’d hate to run into Satan on my way out.”
“He’s not that bad.”
Dad regards Rhys’s entire family with contempt. Rhys’s father has been in prison twice. My father has major qualms with me dating the child of a two-time convicted felon. My best efforts to convince him that Rhys is nothing like his dad have fallen on deaf ears. I doubt the news that Rhys is officially a professional musician will put him in a more favorable light. Rock stars aren’t exactly known for being committed, law-abiding citizens.
“I beg to differ.” He scoots off the storage container.
I walk him to the door.
“Congratulations. I knew you could do it.”
“Me too. My muse is pretty great.” He takes my hands in his.
I roll my eyes, blushing.
“I’ll text you later.” He kisses my inflamed cheek.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
I tug him back by the hand and plant one final kiss on his lips.
“I love you.” He smiles down at me.
“I love you, too.”
My heart longs for him the moment he is out of sight, just as it always does.
||Two Months Later||
I throw my laptop off my lap and bolt to the trash can. Emptying my stomach’s contents makes me feel better physically, but it makes my mind enter warp speed. As I struggle to recall the date of my last period, another wave of nausea hits me.
“Do you need a ride to the store?” Seated cross-legged on her bed, my roommate highlights a line in her textbook.
Her composure while my life is potentially falling apart draws heat to the back of my eyes.
“Yes,” I croak after my second expulsion.
Our drive is silent. My nails no longer exist by the time we reach the nearby pharmacy. Hannah opts to wait in the car.
I collect three different brands of pregnancy tests and drop them into my hand-held basket. Unfortunately, there is no self-checkout. The middle-aged woman behind the counter eyes me with pursed lips and unrestrained judgment as she scans and bags my selections.
My glasses make me look younger than I am, but I doubt checking my ID would alter her skewed face. Though legally considered an adult, I, like all eighteen-year-olds, am still a teenager. Statistically, teen moms aren’t the ones who are the recipients of well wishes and congratulations, particularly unmarried ones. The saint behind the counter was sure to scan my left hand for a ring before casting a scowl.
These looks could soon be the norm.
As I pay for my items, my watery eyes display the shame she and everyone else will want me to feel if these tests turn positive.
“Do you want me to go to the bathroom with you or...?” My roommate asks more out of courtesy than desire.
“No, I’ve got it. Thanks for the ride.” My eyes drop to the reusable bag in my hand.
“Sure. No problem.”
I select the large stall in the far back corner of our hall’s bathroom. Upon taking each test, I perch on the railing and let myself cry for the first time. The timer on my phone signals the moment of truth.
I accept the results with numb resignation.
Hannah’s not in our room when I return. With heavy limbs and emotionally drained, I slip off my shoes and climb into bed fully clothed. I spend the night sobbing into my pillow with the weight of the world resting squarely on my shoulders.
The next morning, a doctor’s office receptionist regretfully informs me the next available appointment isn’t until next Friday. Suffice it to say, I get next to nothing done the entire week. Even my comfort activity – gardening – doesn’t hold my interest. My mental capacity is pushed to the brink as I struggle to formulate a course of action. There’s no room for happy places when your life plan has been blown to smithereens.
My already tenuous grasp on the situation has loosened to nonexistent by the day of my appointment. Many variables factor into my decision: my age, education, employment status, stability, and societal perception. It’s overwhelming.
Rhys’s late-night confession is blaring in my ears on top of the noise. He’s petrified of falling into the survival-mode cycle his parents entered and where his mother remains.
His parents were eighteen when his mother gave birth to their first child. Their parents shoved them down the aisle as soon as they found out she was pregnant. Shotgun weddings rarely result in happy marriages. According to his father, Rhys’s mother destroyed his life and dashed his dreams. He eventually abandoned her, leaving her to raise their six children alone.
Our relationship is eons stronger than theirs, but Rhys has just begun to live out a dream very few achieve.
His resentment would eat me alive.
My phone pings as I’m preparing for my dreaded doctor’s visit. The name on the lock screen makes my stomach churn. I take a deep breath in hopes of calming it before reading his message.
RHYS: Are you in class?
ME: I’m in my room
ME: Yeah. Why?
RHYS: We need to take a break. I can’t do this right now
My knees buckle. Seated on my bed, I reread his final text what feels like a million times before pressing the phone icon.
“Four years and all I get is a text?” My voice breaks as tears begin to slip from my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Rhys mutters, almost too soft to hear.
“That’s all you can say to me? I didn’t know you were such a coward!” I spit, furiously clearly my cheeks with my free hand.
“I didn’t break up with you over text. I’m telling you I need a break,” he says at full volume and with more confidence.
“That’s the same thing. Everyone knows that. Would you have called me?”
“I’m being honest. I don’t want this to be permanent. I love you. I can’t be all that you need right now.”
“So you’re doing this for me?” I laugh humorlessly.
“Things have been pretty crazy for us – both of us – lately. The tour’s more intense than I thought it would be. Your class schedule is packed. When you’re not in class, you’re studying. We were too busy to talk to each other this week.”
“I understand.” I clench my eyes shut as hot tears stream down my cheeks.
“This won’t last forever. We’ll get ourselves sorted out one day. In the meantime, we—”
“We can keep in touch and still be friends?” I humorlessly laugh.
“Yes. We’re best friends. We said we would be no matter what,” Rhys responds to my sarcasm as though it’s a sincere question.
“That was before,” I sniffle, using the sleeve of my sweatshirt – his sweatshirt – to dry my eyes.
“I fell in love with you. It’s too late to go back.”
“What are you saying?” Panic is thick in his voice.
“P-pretending to be happy for each other will make this more difficult. I-if this is what you want, a clean break is for the best,” I hiccup.
“We won’t be pretending. We’re free to do what we love and cheer each other on as friends.”
“That’s what you want — to be free?” I gnaw on my bottom lip in a futile attempt to stop crying.
“Us. It wouldn’t be just me. You’re at a great school where you have opportunities to do greater things. I don’t want us to look back and wonder, you know? My parents played the ‘What if?’ game. It was soul-sucking. We’re not trapped. We don't have a baby or bills tying us down. It’d be a waste not to explore. Ten years from now, you and I will have everything we’ve talked about and more. You’ll see.” He tries to sell me on it with forced enthusiasm.
My face crumbles as my heart does the same. “Okay,” I swallow the boulder in my throat.
“Okay?” A hint of a smile can be heard through the phone.
“Good luck with everything. I wish you all the best.”
I end the call and promptly block his number, his brother’s, and our friends.’
Burying my face in my hands, I allow myself a few minutes to feel the entirety of my grief.
I reach the peak level of loneliness while waiting on an examination table. Tears pelt my paper gown as I wring my fingers in my lap.
“The results are in.” The doctor walks in with a manila folder in her hands.
My silence urges her to continue talking.
“You’re pregnant.” She pulls out the stirrups attached to the table. “Let’s take a look under the hood.”
I scoot to the edge of the table and put my legs into them.
“How are you feeling today?” The warm, sympathetic smile she’s offering misses the supportive mark.
“I, uh, just started my first semester at MIT. My boyfriend and I broke up today. My dad’s very strict, and he has always hated my ex. I didn’t mean to –this wasn’t supposed to happen. That doesn’t answer your question. I’m sorry. I just -- I don’t have anyone to talk to, and -- nauseous. That’s how I feel today.” My voice raises in pitch as my breathing picks up.
“Oh, dear.” Her face is riddled with pity.
“I did it to myself.” I force a closed-mouth smile and try to rid my face of its streams of tears.
“It takes two to tango.” The doctor rests her hand on my arm.
“It was my idea not to use a condom, and I – can we start? I want to leave.” Unable to look at her, I fix my eyes on an anatomy diagram poster.
“Of course. I’ll give you pamphlets to take home. You have choices.” She wheels herself to the foot of the table.
My eyes shift to the ceiling when I catch sight of the instrument she intends to insert into my body.
“You’re going to feel some pressure.”
I nod in acknowledgment. My eyes remain on the speckled paneling as I grind my teeth to bear the discomfort.
“You appear to be about nine weeks along. Does that line up with a possible date of conception?”
A reel of our greenhouse activities plays in my mind. The way Rhys looked at me, and the words we exchanged were the stars of the show. The knife already lodged in my heart twists.
“Yes.” My voice is a gravelly whisper.
“Would you like to hear the heartbeat?” Her approach to the question is gentle.
After moments of contemplation, I ultimately nod my head.
Rapid whooshing overtakes the room. I lift my eyes to the screen. Emotions get caught in my throat when I see the little bean Rhys and I created.