Sum of Us

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Ch.10: Rhys

Seated on the couch, my phone is pinned to my ear as I remove Harper’s keyboard from its packaging, which is way harder than it should be.

There’s a difference between security and torture. Recent toy packaging has crossed that line.

“I have not seen you today. How are you spending your day off?” George’s fake cheer doesn’t dampen my joy.

“Playing with my daughter.”

There is a long pause. “Is this an odd joke? Like the time Kyle said he married an escort in Vegas?”

I smile at that memory. He and our publicist Trina almost had heart attacks.

“No. Her name is Harper.—”

Harp looks at me when I say her name. I wink and ruffle her hair. Her high-pitched musical giggle makes me smile.

“She’ll be two in February. She is the cutest thing you’ll ever see. You’ll meet her at the hotel tonight.” I return to my conversation once she has resumed rocking on her unicorn.

“You are due on the bus this afternoon. We are leaving for New York.” He relays with urgency.

“That show needs to be rescheduled. All of the ones for the next two weeks need to be. Family emergency.”

“What has happened?”

“She and her mother will be joining us on tour in two weeks. You need time to prepare for them.” I struggle not to curse when the ridged plastic of the toy I’m trying to open cuts my finger.

“This request should have been made when your contract and rider were on the table for discussion.”

“The whole dad thing is a recent development. Details don’t matter. Make it work.” I say before sucking on my digit injury.

“How well do you know the girl’s mother? This is a huge liability for us.”

I pull my finger out of my mouth and get back to work. “We dated for four years and I’ve known her since kindergarten.”

“Has a paternity test been done?”

“There won’t be one.”

“There needs to be. The label will not cover the expenses of two additional people without proof her claims are legitimate.”

“I know the truth. Take what is spent on them out of my paycheck. I can even pay out of pocket if that is easier.”

“How long have you known about this ordeal?”

“A few hours. I didn’t abandon her if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It is a pertinent question. If it were the case, I would need to have an NDA drawn up for the alleged mother. Your image would be destroyed if that truth came to light. It still could be.”

“Stop talking about them like that. Poppy is the girl I sing about every night. Harper is our daughter. Treat them with respect.” I stand up to him instead of brushing him off for the first time in years.

“Are you prepared to defend this stance when the world demands answers?” He rebuts with vigor.

“Yes, and I will walk if you say they can’t come.” I grind my teeth.

There is such a prolonged pause that I check to make sure that he has not hung up on me.

“Send me a list of what you need as soon as possible.” He relents.

“I’ll have it to you within the hour.”

“Try to make it less.”

“You’ll get it when you get it.” I snark.

We exchange goodbyes and I end the call.

“We’ve got the green light. You and Harper can join us on tour.” I call over my shoulder at a volume Poppy will be able to hear over the music being played for Harper.

“Really? One phone call is all it took?”

“I can be quite persuasive when I want to be.”

A beautiful smile stretches across her face. “You sure can.”

“My manager needs a list of all the things Harper needs to travel. I know she needs a crib and diapers. What else?” I poise my fingers on my phone’s keyboard.

“She has more than enough clothes, toys, and entertainment, thanks to you. She’ll need hearing protector muffs to wear during concerts. I have a stroller and car seat. I’ll pack her changing mat, favorite blanket and pillow, sippy cups, and kiddie plates, and utensils. A highchair, booster seat, and portable playpen and kiddy bath are the only other things she needs.”

I type that out. “Animal crackers on the grocery list. What else does she eat?”

“She’ll eat just about anything. She’s not a picky eater, but if you could get whole milk, bananas, applesauce, apple juice, fruit snacks, baby carrots, oatmeal, and peanut butter that would be great.”

“Consider it done.” I finalize the list and send it to George.

She lifts a laundry basket from the floor. “I have some washing to do in the basement. Will you be okay watching her?”

“We’ll be fine. Do what you need to do.”

“Lovebug, I’m going downstairs. Be good for Daddy.”

“Otay.” Harper’s petting her rocking unicorn’s mane.

Poppy gives her a kiss and leaves us alone.

“Harper?” I say.

Her eyes meet mine.

I am once again caught off guard by how much she looks like us. “I—I love you, baby girl.” I try to tame her Wilde hair.

“Wove you.” She runs her miniature fingers through my hair, mimicking me.

“I love your mama too.”

“Wove Mama.” Her happy expression never falters.

“I love both of you more than anything. I’m going to do a much better job of proving it this time. I promise.”

“Pwomise.”

I have no idea if Harper knows what I am talking about or is just parroting, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

“I promise.” I plant a kiss on her chubby cheek.

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