Ch. 1: Poppy
Rain pelts the glass planes overhead. Its sound blends well with the Radiohead songs I’m listening to as I work. Humming along to High and Dry, I transfer mint plants to the new containers I purchased. The scent of it intermixed with the nearby lavender permeates my nose, further relaxing me in my glass box of serenity.
The abrupt slap of two hands on the greenhouse door causes a shriek to rip from my throat. The rain blurs the intruder from view, keeping me on edge until they decide to make their presence known. The vice grip on my heart is released when my boyfriend walks through the door laughing hysterically.
“I thought I was about to be murdered, jerk!” I throw a gardening glove at him.
Rhys dodges it with ease. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.” He’s still laughing as he walks up to me with his irresistible boyish grin.
I take a step back when he tries to wrap his arms around me. He’s drenched from head to toe. I compromise by giving him a quick peck on the lips.
“This is the reception I get for braving the Washington wilderness to see you?” He jokes.
“Seattle is quite populated, babe. Approximately 4 million other people live here too. Where we live is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region.”
“Of course, you know that, smartypants.”
I push 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.”
“Oh? What’s the pressing matter?”
“We have a record deal!”
“No way!” I can’t keep a smile off my face.
“Yeah! They’re flying us to LA to sign contracts and rerecord our album. We’ll be the opening act for Paradise Lost during their fall tour. It’s happening, Pop. All of it’s happening!”
Rhys started a band with his twin brother Taylor, and our friends, Kyle and Ian, when they were thirteen. They’ve been hustling for five years to get their names out there. Rhys has poured blood, sweat, and tears into Wilde Knights. I’ve been on this journey with them from the beginning. 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 like a boa constrictor. It still doesn’t feel close enough. I intensify the kiss by tangling my fingers in his long strands and arching into him. He backs me onto the nearest counter. We part long enough to strip each other out of our shirts.
Desperate touches, racing hearts, and passionate kisses, the temperature in the already humid space are rising rapidly as our bodies do the talking.
“We can’t go further than third base. I don’t have a condom.” He breathes while kissing down my neck.
“It’s okay. I’m on birth control.”
He cranes his neck back to look me in the eye. “Are you sure?”
He cups my cheeks in his hands. “I love you.”
His soft, affectionate expression melts my heart. “I love you too.” Tears shimmer in my eyes.
The kisses that ensue are less hurried, more loving. We savor each other. The thoroughness in which Rhys warms me up would make you think I was the one that received life-altering good news. When I can’t stand another second without him, I grab him by the shoulders and tug him closer to me. He plants a kiss on me that I can feel down to my toes. When we finally connect, a gasp expels from my lungs. The feeling is more intense than all the times previous, far more intimate. We are as close as two people can be.
“You okay?” He stills, remaining inside.
“Yes.” I squeak, somehow managing to pull him closer than he already is. “Don’t stop.”
I’m a quaking, exhausted bag of bones when our union comes to an end.
He peppers chaste kisses on my neck and face. His forehead rests on mine as we struggle to catch our breath.
Once we’ve cleaned up and redressed, we move to sit on a storage container. Rhys has his arm around me; my head is 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 gives me a quick peck on the forehead.
“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’re going to want little ole 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 him on the chest. “I’m serious.”
“We’ve been together for four years. I’m not going to throw that away for a cheap thrill.” He tucks my hair behind my ear. “The real question is whether or not you’re going to trade me in for a fellow smartypants.”
“If it happens, it happens.” I tease.
I didn’t understand his attraction to me at first. I’ve known him since kindergarten. In all that time, he has been the person that people are just naturally drawn to, the class clown and life of the party. And then there’s me, the girl who prefers homework to house parties. I thought it was a joke at my expense when Rhys asked me out our first year of high school.
His persistence slowly but surely changed my mind. Despite the attention he has always received from girls, he treats me like I’m the only one he sees. That’s a guy worth sticking with through thick and thin.
“The guys and I are going out to hang out in Kyle’s basement to celebrate. There will be pizza and beer. Want to come?”
“I can’t. My dad has the night off.”
It’s an understatement to say that my dad despises Rhys. In all honestly, he regards all of the Wildes with contempt. My dad’s a police officer. Rhys’s dad has spent most of his life on the opposite side of the bars, leaving his mother alone with six kids. They had their first child while they were still in high school. My father has little faith that Rhys will not follow in the footsteps of his parents. Most of his siblings have.
Three of them had at least one child before the age of twenty-one. His sister Becca is the only one who did it within wedlock. His oldest brother Christopher and his oldest sister Lindsey are the only two who went to four-year universities. Leo and Becca went to trade schools; he’s a mechanic and she’s a beautician. Though it could potentially be lucrative, I doubt the news that Rhys is on his way to becoming a rock star will put him in a more favorable light. They’re not exactly known for being straightlaced, law-abiding citizens.
“You could always sneak out.”
“You know I can’t. My father interrogates people for a living, and I’m a terrible liar. I’d crack in a second.” The smile I offer him is glum.
“Babe, you’ve gotta start walking on the wild side.”
“With or without the ‘e’?”
My remark makes him smirk. “Let’s toss the ‘e’ in there. Why not? Same meaning.”
“I think I’ve been pretty Wilde today. He’d literally kill me if he knew what I let you do.”
He groans and eyes me with lust. “I wish we could do it like that all the time.”
“Too dangerous. This time was a special occasion.”
“What do I have to do to qualify for bare entry again?”
“Win a Grammy.”
“Do I have to dedicate it to you?”
“That’s to your discretion.”
“I’ll play it by ear, say what comes to me at the moment.”
“I’ll be collecting the moment I get off the stage.”
“As I suspected.”
“You’re the best.” He gives me a quick peck on the lips. “I better get going. I’d hate to run into Satan on my way out.”
“He’s not that bad.”
“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 and blush.
“I’ll text you later.” He kisses my inflamed cheek.
“I’ll see what I can do.” He winks on his way out.
I tug him back by the hand and plant one final kiss on his lips.
“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. When I’m unable to recall the date of my last period, another wave of nausea hits me.
“Do you need a ride to the store?” My roommate’s seated cross-legged in her bed, highlighting a line in her textbook.
Her composure as my life is potentially falling apart brings tears to my eyes.
“Yeah.” I croaked 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 tests and drop them into my handheld 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 purchases.
I look my age, perhaps a bit younger when I am wearing my glasses. Putting in my contacts was the last thing on my mind when I left the dorm.
I pay for my items with glassy eyes and a heavy heart, realizing those looks could soon be the norm.
“Do you want me to go to the bathroom with you or...?” My roommate asks once we reach our room.
“No. I’ve got it. Thanks for the ride.”
“Sure. No problem.”
I select the large stall in the far back corner of our hall’s bathroom. Upon taking one of each type of test, I slide to the floor, wrap my arms around my legs, and cry harder than I knew I was capable—the timer on my phone signals the moment of truth.
I turn over the tests. There it is, clear as day, three times over – pregnant.
I accept it with numb resignation.
Hannah’s not in our room when I return. Limbs heavy and emotionally drained, I slip off my shoes and climb into bed fully clothed. I spend the night sobbing into my pillow as the weight of the world rests squarely on my shoulders.
The first thing the next morning, I make an appointment at a free clinic near campus. They can’t get me in until Friday. Suffice to say, I get next to nothing done the entire week.
My phone rings as I am getting dressed for my appointment.
Rhys’s name on its screen causes bile to rise in my throat.
All of our interactions have been via text this week. Hearing Rhys’ voice or worse, seeing his face, would be too much for me. He has more to lose if it’s true.
I swallow down my nerves before answering the phone.
“Hey, Pop, how’s it going?” His somber tone sends me on high alert.
“What’s wrong?” I sit on the bed to keep my knees from buckling.
There is an awkward lull.
“So, um, I’ve been thinking about this and…maybe we should take a break for a little while. Things have been pretty crazy for us --both of us -- lately.”
“Did you cheat on me?” I breathe, struggling to find my voice.
“No, baby, I’d never do that to you.” He sounds guilty.
“What did you do?” Tears heat the back of my eyes.
“Nothing, I swear, but the label wants us to go out more to gain visibility. That’ll be hard to do with a girlfriend.”
I clench my eyes shut as hot tears begin to stream down my cheeks. “I understand.”
“It’s not you. I love you. Timing and distance are the problems. We’ll get them sorted out one day; we’re great together. In the meantime, we--”
I breathe a humorless laugh. “Let me guess, ‘we can keep in touch’ and ‘still be friends’?”
“Yes. We’re best friends. We said we would be no matter what.”
“That was before,” I sniffle, using my sweatshirt sleeve 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.
“Pretending to be happy for each other will make this more difficult. If this is what you want, a clean break is for the best.”
“We won’t be pretending. We’ll just be happy. You can put your giant brain to good use at school without distractions. I can work the same way. We’ll be too busy to play mind games. Encouraging each other to be awesome is all we’ll have time to do. Time to figure out what we really want in life will make us a stronger couple in the long run. You’ll see.” He tries to sell me on it with forced enthusiasm.
If he asked me last week, I’d have given it a go. Our circumstances have drastically changed, but he’s still right about one thing -- our timing’s wrong; it’s worse than ever. His family and bandmates are depending on him. It was my idea to forgo a condom. I don’t have time to waste, and I might need more time than he is capable of giving; we’ll all lose. A clean break truly is for the best.
My face crumbles as my heart does the same. “Good luck with everything. I know you’ll be great.”
I tap the ‘end call’ button on my phone and promptly block and delete 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 clutch the strap of my purse as I follow the nurse. After I have produced a urine sample and had my vitals taken, I’m escorted to an examination room. The Peak level of loneliness is reached while I sit on the table in a paper gown.
“The results are in.” The doctor walks in with a manila folder in her hand.
My silence urges her to continue talking.
“You’re pregnant. Let’s take a look under the hood.” She pulls out the stirrups attached to the table.
I scoot to the edge of the table and put my legs in them.
“I take it that this pregnancy was unplanned?”
“I’m eighteen, my boyfriend and I broke up this morning, and my dad’s very strict. You tell me.” My voice creaks, my eyes heating.
“Oh, dear.” Her face is riddled with pity.
“I did it to myself.” I shrug as the first of my tears break through the dam.
“It takes two to tango.” She rests her hand on mine.
“I’m not going to beg him to want me.” I bite the inside of my cheek in hopes of regaining a semblance of composure.
“There are support groups and other resources that can help you through this trying time.”
“Can we just get this over with?” I pull my hand from hers and clasp it with the other in my lap. My eyes fall upon them.
“Of course.” 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?”
“Yes.” My voice is gravel.
“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. My hand instinctively moves to rest on my belly.