Sum of Us

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Ch.14: Rhys

“Daddy’s going to go to work now, Lovebug. We’re going to stay here and play until lunchtime.” Poppy explains why I’m putting on my jacket and shoes.

“No.” Harper firmly states.

“He has to. You’ll see him again very soon.”

She shakes her head. “Pway and Peppa.”

Harper’s obsessed with the show Peppa Pig. I’ve gotta say that British pig is growing on me.

“We can do those things together.” Poppy rubs Harper’s arm reassuringly.

“We pway Daddy.” Harp whines.

“There’s no reason you can’t go inside with us, Pop. Her playpen is being set up as we speak.” I do what I can to avoid a full-blown tantrum.

She looks up at me from her spot on the floor. “She’ll demand your attention. You have work to do.”

Harper hugs my leg.

“Pop…” I plead with my eyes for her to let me take her to work with me.

Staying on the bus was her idea.

“She can’t always get what she wants. We’ve talked about this.” Poppy replies as she rises to her feet.

“This is for me. We’ve spent all our time together for the last 14 days. I can’t get cut off cold turkey. I might die.”

“This is the only time.”

“I’m not agreeing to that.” I lift Harper. “You get to be with me as much as you want, Lovebug.” I give her a kiss.

She wraps her arms around my neck and rests her head on my shoulder. “Daddy.” She nuzzles.

I’ve only known of her existence for two weeks, but I honestly can’t imagine a life without Harper. Her giggles, hugs, and little quirks – they’re everything; she’s everything.

We are waiting outside the bus for the guys to de-board. How Poppy and I were able to get ready ourselves and a toddler ready to leave before three adults is beyond me.

“Ha! Lookin’ good, Harp.” Ian smiles at her costume as he walks toward us.

She is wearing a jacket, but it is left unzipped. It’s on the warm side today.

“Tank you.”

“She’s so polite. Much better than those monsters you call your nieces and nephews.” He remarks.

“Right?” I agree.

“Harper, who’s that?” Poppy points to Ian.

“Nuncle Ian.”

“That’s right.” She receives praise and a rub on her back from me.

“Oh, so she can say Ian with no problem, but I’m still Lyle?” Kyle barks.

“It’s better than Knuckle Trailer.” My brother is the last to join us, as always.

“True.” Kyle concedes.

“Why did you dress her as Wonder Woman?” Taylor’s at my side as we walk to the stadium’s back entrance.

“She chooses her clothes every day. She’s got great style just like her old man.”

“You mean her Uncle Taylor.”

“Nah. She’s got an edge to her. She doesn’t own a single Mr. Rogers sweater.”

“Aniel Iger.” She contributes to our conversation.

“He’s in the show. See, she wants one. You’re depriving her.”

“I am doing no such thing.”

“You get her a denim jacket. I’ll get her a cardigan. We’ll put them on the floor. Whoever’s choice she walks to wins.”

“No, she has more than enough clothes.” Poppy shuts down our bet.

“But, Pop, this is important.” I beg.

“It’s really not.”

“I have to best him. I can’t let him think he’s right.” I persist.

“I am right, always am. You’re impulsive. I think things through. Stay in your lane.” Taylor argues.

“He’s pretty spot on with the whole impulsive thing.” Poppy agrees.

“You’re supposed to always be on my side.”

“Not anymore.” She states plainly.

And there it is. The reality check – we’re co-parents, not a couple.

“She’s got you there.” Kyle chuckles.

I give him a death glare. His laughter dies.

The security guard allows us into the venue without asking for identification. The backstage area is buzzing with people. Crew members are unpacking and setting up equipment. Venue employees are verifying that our band and our openers have all the things listed in our riders. It is only a matter of time before members of the press are added to the mix.

I introduce Harper and Poppy to everyone we pass. There are plenty of looks of confusion, but all are welcoming. It’s hard to resist a cute kid in a superhero costume and the most down-to-earth person they’ll ever meet.

As promised, Harper’s play area has been arranged. There is a large fenced-in area in the corner of the room. A blanket featuring zoo animals is on the floor of it. The toys that we stored in the luggage bin beneath the bus are in there as well. The main attraction is her unicorn rocking horse.

“Thank you.” I turn to George.

“We know you would have walked.”

“Good morning, Harper.” He smiles and waves at her with the same artificial smile he gives me.

“Hi, Orge!” She returns with sincerity.

“Thank you for accommodating us.” Poppy thanks him.

“It is my job. If you need anything else, let me know.”

“This is plenty.” She gives him a sweet smile.

I strip Harper out of her jacket and put her in her playpen. She mounts her unicorn.

“Perfectly content.” I’m quick to point out to Poppy.

“You’re still in the room.” She quips as she joins Harper in the play area. “Do you want to watch Peppa, Lovebug?”

“Yes, pweeze.” Harper continues to rock on her unicorn.

Poppy sifts through the baby bag for Harp’s tablet. She then uses the bag as a perch to put the tablet at Harper’s eye level. Peppa Pig is cued up on the screen, putting Harper in seventh heaven.

“Hold on tight to Pinky’s handle. I don’t want you to get hurt.” Pop brushes Harper’s hair over her shoulder.

“Otay, Mama.”

She’s always been beautiful, but there is something incredibly sexy about Poppy when she’s in mom-mode. I rather not think about how much of a caveman that makes me to find her caring for our child to be so enticing.

“Dude!” Kyle elbows me.

“What?” I rub my side with a scowl.

“We’ve been trying to get your attention for like five minutes. It’s time to go.”

I check my watch. “Oh, yeah. Give me a second.”

Taylor catches my arm before I take a step in my girls’ direction. “She will have a meltdown if she knows you are leaving. Sneak away while the weird-looking pig and unicorn have her hypnotized.”

“But I want to give her a kiss goodbye.” I whine.

He rolls his eyes and proceeds to literally drag me from the room.

“You are all about this dad thing. Never thought I’d see the day.” Ian notes.

“You’ve met her. Harp’s awesome.” I remark.

“And she’s half Poppy.” Taylor can’t resist butting into our conversation with an observation.

“I would love her regardless of who her mother is.”

“But you wouldn’t be obsessed with her.”

“We made a cool kid.” I shrug.

“Hey, guys. Long time, no see. Rest has done you some good.” Gia, the lead singer of the opening act, greets us.

Bleach blonde hair, blue eyes, ruby red lips, heavy black eye makeup, a vintage t-shirt with the sleeves cut low enough to expose her lacy black bra, ripped skinny jeans, and sky-high leather boots -- she’s the visual opposite of Poppy.

That’s why I didn’t have any objections to her flirty behavior; I was even considering taking her up on her offer. Poppy and Harper changed everything. I have a family, one I love and want to keep.

“It wasn’t a vacation. Family emergency.” I divert my eyes from Gia’s intense gaze.

“I thought that was just a line. Is everything okay?” She sounds genuinely concerned as she steps forward.

I take a step back when she rests her hand on my arm. “Yeah, everything’s fine. I needed to wait until my daughter and her mother could join us on tour.”

“Your daughter? Since when do you have a kid?!” Gia raises her voice.

“So, I’m going to go…” Kyle saves himself.

Lucky bastard.

“She’s going to be two in February. She’s here. You can meet her later if you want.” I infuse a bit of light-heartedness into my increasingly uncomfortable conversation with Gia.

“I’ll pass.” Her high heels slam against the concrete as storms away.

“All things considered, that could’ve gone much worse.” Ian, ever the optimist, comments.

“Wait until she sees Poppy. We’re talking atomic bomb bad.” Taylor goes for the opposite approach. “She loves attention. She’s been after yours for weeks. It was on the horizon and then ‘bam!’, the ultimate competition shows up. There will be an explosion. Guarantee it.”

I side-eye him. “A good brother would help me prevent that from happening instead of seeming excited to watch it go down.”

“Who says I can’t do both?”

“Logic, yet you think you’re the smart one.”

“I am. All of Harper’s intelligence comes from Poppy.”

“Most, not all.” I rebut.

“I can’t let you kid yourself like that. It’s my job as your twin.”

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