Sum of Us

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Ch.11: Poppy

“Taylor? What are you doing here?” I almost bump into the short-haired version of Rhys.

When Rhys started growing his hair out in high school, Taylor began getting haircuts more frequently. Taylor dresses like a preppy hipster. Most of his outfits consist of a cardigan, slim-fit trousers, and a button-down shirt. He even wears suspenders on occasion. Rhys, on the other hand, has always looked like he belongs in a 90′s grunge band. Tattoos are the only thing they have stylistically in common.

I know they are different people, but encountering them separately always feels like spending time with a version of Rhys that is from an alternate dimension.

“Did he abandon you with a baby?” He growls.

“No. I didn’t tell him.”

“Why?” He demands.

A couple stares at us as they walk by.

I blush and lower my head. “Can we not do this in front of the main entrance?”

He takes the basket from me. “Where to?”

“The basement. I need to do laundry.”

“Lead the way.”

He sits the laundry on the folding table once we arrive at our destination.

“Thanks.”

“Start explaining this kid thing to me.” He leans against the wall and crosses his arms.

I begin to sort clothes. “We celebrated the news of your first record deal without a condom. I was on birth control. Even when taken correctly, the pill is not 100% effective. He broke up with me around the time that I found out. I let him go instead of begging him to stay. I knew how much making it meant to all of you, especially him.”

“We could’ve worked something out.”

I shoot him a dubious look.

“I didn’t say we would be as successful as we are now. We wouldn’t be -- a fact’s a fact, but we wouldn’t have been left with nothing. We wouldn’t have been able to tour back to back, but we’d have gone enough to pay the bills. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume your family disowned you. We bought Mom a home with plenty of rooms. You could’ve lived there with her. She and our giant family could’ve helped you with the baby while we were gone. Are you still in school?” He asks.

I shake my head.

“Yeah, that wouldn’t have been the case either.”

My eyes burn from unshed tears. “That’d have been enough for you, not him. Both of you have gone on record saying a baby in your teens is the last thing you wanted. I was there when Leo told the family Heidi was pregnant with Chloe. The intensity – you’d have thought you two were the ones who threw away the small chance you had at becoming pro-athletes.”

After he received this drinking citation and lost his scholarship, there was still a small chance of him becoming a professional football player if he played his cards the right way. Instead, Leo got his ex-girlfriend pregnant. He didn’t have time or energy to focus on a last-ditch effort to achieve his dream. Heidi and their daughter needed him.

I wedge fingers beneath her glasses and pushes away stray tears. “You’d worked so hard, and it was my fault.”

“That bullet wasn’t entirely yours to take. Rhys could’ve said, ‘no’ to your suggestion or pulled out.”

“Hindsight’s 20/20.” I get back to my task.

He clears his throat. “What’s her name?”

“Harper. Harper Posy James. Soon, her last name will be Wilde. Rhys will be signing her birth certificate as well.”

“How old is Harper?”

“Nineteen-months-old. She’ll be two on February 14th.”

He breathes a laugh. “Of course, her birthday’s on Valentine’s Day.”

“She’s her daddy’s daughter through and through.” I agree.

“What’s she like?”

“A talkative people person, playful, creative, and precocious. Harp’s obsessed with music. Wilde Knights is her second favorite band—”

“Second? What the hell, Pop?” He playfully interrupts.

“You’re behind Oasis. She has a thing for British 90s alternative rock. If it makes you feel any better, her first word was ‘pup,’ not ‘mama.’”

“Both of those facts are very Rhys – her taste in music and brain in left-field.”

“She sings and dances all the time, too. And she’s affectionate –- highly affectionate. Harper tries to hug and befriend everyone she meets. She has an affinity for nature, primarily animals. The sounds they make are what she loves most about them; the louder, the better. Harp’s very bright; when you talk to her, you feel understood. Her pediatrician has ranked her comprehension in the 98th percentile. Whether or not she does as instructed is a different story. Like all toddlers, she’s stubborn and does her own thing. Her kindness is the most noteworthy. She loves to help and share; she often asks to do both. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing; she will offer to lend a hand. The tasks take three times as long to complete, but the gesture is too sweet to disregard. When she hits you with ‘the look,’ you’ll be done for.”

“What’s ‘the look’?” He asks.

“Her bright eyes illuminate and expand with hopeful enthusiasm. She smiles, and --- you’ll just have to see it. No explanation will do it justice.”

“Where is she?”

“In my apartment with Rhys. They’re playing. Do you want me to take you upstairs?”

“I can wait until you finish your laundry.”

“Are you, um, going easy on me?” I spare a timid glance in his direction.

“You know I don’t do that. Heaping more guilt onto your pile would be pointless. You’ve clearly been through hell.” He answers with complete honesty. “For what it’s worth, Rhys regrets the way he ended things. I’m sorry it went down like that. You deserved more than a quick phone call.”

“How’s he been?” I convert dollars into coins to insert into the machines I loaded.

“A bizarre combination of great and terrible. You’d think he was a sparkly vampire with how much sulking he does between high points.”

I laugh. “Rhys will LOVE knowing you compared him to Edward from Twilight.”

“If the Volvo fits…”

“That is too specific a detail for you to know without reading or watching.”

“Becca and Lindsey were obsessed with it growing up. There was only one TV in the house. They were always hogging it to watch that series.”

“You chose to sit down and watch it too instead of finding something else to do?” I question.

“It was a train wreck I couldn’t look away from. I mean, I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many guys wanted Bella. Lip nibbling and running her hand through her hair are the closest things she has to facial expressions. She has no personality or healthy relationships. A boyfriend who is over a century older than her is all she has. She’s a minor when the series starts. ‘We look the same age’ isn’t an excuse that’ll hold up in court. Edward and Jacob belong in jail.”

“Don’t forget that Jasper was a major in the Confederate Army.”

“No way.”

“Yes, look it up.”

He does it. “You’re right! Why was this such a big thing?” He exclaims, scrolling.

“Other than contemplating the meaning of Twilight, what have you been up to?”

“Working, mostly. I’ve had little time for much else.”

“That’s not to say that’ll continue to be the case for Rhys. He will hopefully do the right thing and be a present father. Our mom and I will kill him otherwise.” He backpedals.

“I don’t want him to feel obligated to stick around.” I vent, starting the first machine.

“He’s not sticking around out of obligation. Harper’s your daughter. You know how much family means to us. He’s going to be there for her.” He insists.

“How sure are you about that?”

“100%. Twin link-verified.”

“How did my life get so complicated?” She thinks aloud.

“At least you’re not bored.”

“I haven’t been for years. We’re about to get busier. Rhys called George. Harper and I have been cleared to join the tour.”

His eyes expand to their full capacity. “How and the hell did he manage to swing that?”

“He threatened to quit.”

“Are you joining us on the road?”

“Yes, the tour has been postponed for two weeks to accommodate us.”

His jaw drops. “Did Rhys talk him into that as well?”

I nod.

“This is a big deal,” he replies.

“I know. It’s a giant inconvenience, another that I feel guilty for causing. There are too many matters that need to be tended to before we can leave the state, and Rhys refuses to leave without us. I tried to get him to go; believe me, I did. I reminded him of all that he had to lose.”

“Rhys’s been numb for years. He brushed off just about everything that’s been thrown at us. He stood up for something he wants; it’s a big deal, a good one.”

“They’ve thoroughly bonded. It is to the extent that she didn’t experience separation anxiety when I left the apartment to do the laundry.”

“What does she call him?”

“’Daddy.’ That’s how he introduced himself.”

“So, I can go in as ‘Uncle Taylor’?”

“Yes, and I can say with complete confidence that she’ll adore you.”

“Even though I’m not ‘fun’?”

“You’re fun. The other’s don’t understand subtly. Harp does. She has me as a mom, and she can’t get enough of me. All you have to do is humor her, just like Rhys.”

He laughs. “I know I can do that; I’ve been at it for twenty-two years.”

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