Sum of Us

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Ch.2: Rhys

|||Three Years Later|||

“Sometimes, you stumble across a person that gets you right off the bat. You can tell after one conversation that they’d make one helluva partner-in-crime.--”

Deafening screams interrupt my song transition monologue.

“Well, okay, then. We’ll get right to business.” I chuckle at their enthusiasm.

I put both hands on the microphone attached to its stand and sing Bandits, the second song I wrote about Poppy.

It’s our breakout hit, the one song we can never get away with not playing.

What was once a fun and upbeat song about first love is a painful daily reminder that I traded her for the ability to do things that leave me feeling empty.

My eyes meet Taylor’s post-song. His pitying expression does nothing but upset me more.

I swat off his concern by putting all I have into the music for the duration of the concert.

“It’s been real, Boston! We’re out!” The stage lights fade to black.

My face falls and I exhale when we are shrouded in darkness. The applause and cheers do nothing to alleviate the numbness or combat my exhaustion.

“Great show tonight!” Our manager, George, slaps me on the back shortly after I step off the stage.

I stalk off to the dressing room without acknowledging him.

Blaming him for my current predicament makes it a little easier to sleep at night.

Scolding droplets pelt my skin. I welcome the shower of pain; it was a welcome reprieve from the nothingness that consumes me these days. When the memory of Poppy’s reaction to our record deal infiltrates my brain, I promptly end my shower and to turn to a bottle of Jameson.

Three shots of whiskey, a few autographs, and countless pictures later, the guys and I are heading to the most popular nightclub in the area.

Being seen is part of the job, even when you feel miserable at best. Our arrival is filled with typical fanfare. I turn on the charm, playing the role I am contractually required to perform.

Creating angsty music is fine. Displaying the state of mind required to compose it is a no-go. No one wants to party with a reclusive depressive. The label sat me down before the start of our tour to make sure I knew that.

The band and our entourage are shown to the VIP booth reserved for us for the night. I use our vantage point to people watch as I nurse a tumbler of whiskey.

A scantily clad, raven-haired beauty serving a nearby section catches my attention.

There’s something familiar about the way she holds herself. She’s a baffling hybrid of self-conscious and self-aware. Eyes follow where she goes, but she is oblivious.

And then I see her face -- doe eyes of dark chocolate, olive skin, a button nose, and plump heart-shaped lips that were once mine to kiss.

My heart jump-starts, and I clamor to my feet.

“Where are you going?” Kyle tears his attention away from the redhead on his lap.

“She’s – she’s here.” I follow her through the crowd with my eyes.

“Taylor, he’s doing it again!” The traitor alerts my brother.

My twin is at my side before I can take a step.

“It’s not Poppy. Sit down.” He grips my bicep to hold me in place.

“How do you know?”

“Oh, I don’t know? She prefers plants to people. A nightclub is the last place she would work.”

“She’s here.”

“In Massachusetts? Yes. In this building? No.”

“It’s her.”

“You said that in Tokyo and Sydney.” He wryly reminds me.

“Don’t forget Paris. Poor girl didn’t even speak English.” Ian contributes with a laugh.

“Both of you can go to hell.” I jerk my arm away from Taylor’s grasp.

Eye on the prize, I don’t stop until I have pushed my way to the front of the bar.

Her eyes are on her work as she mixes a cocktail.

“Excuse me.” I lean on the counter to get a little close enough to be heard over the music.

“Sorry, I’m not working the bar. Chelsea will be right—” The color drains from her face when her eyes meet mine.

It’s really her.

My breath catches in my throat. “Hey, Pop, how have you been?”

“I—I—no.” She abandons her tray and flees the scene.

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