Sum of Us

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Ch.3: Poppy

“Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.” I chant as I pace the stockroom with trembling hands.

“I’ve seen starstruck, but that was downright tragic.” Chelsea joins me sometime later, shutting the door behind her. “Rhys Wilde is looking as sexy as ever and at the bar asking for you. Get back out there and take your shot before the vultures descend.”

“No. That’s—that’s Rhys. Rhys.” I stammer.

“That has been established.” She approaches me as one would a frightened animal. “What is going on with you?”

“I don’t want -- can’t see him. Send him away. Please.”

She pushes me down to sit on a box of beer when my breathing grows ragged. “Is he your ex?”

I nod.

She frowns. “Aw, I loved Wilde Knights. Hating them will be hard.”

“You don’t have to stop listening to their music.”

“Yes, I do, out of respect for you. I take sisterhood and girl power very seriously.”

“What is he doing here?” With my elbows on my knees, I bury my face in my hands.

“They had a concert. Partying is what rock stars do.”

“I never thought I’d see him again. I, um, he –” My eyes fall to my lap. “He doesn’t know.”

“About what?”

I remain silent, giving her time to figure it out on her own.

“YOU DIDN’T TELL HIM YOU WERE PREGNANT?!”

“Do you want to shout that any louder? I don’t think the people across the country heard you.” I snip, glaring at her.

“Poppy, you can’t just –he has the right to know he has a kid roaming the earth.” Chels perches on nearby cases of beer bottles.

“He wanted to make the most of his new life, okay? That’s why he broke it off. He can’t party like a rock star and take care of a nineteen-month-old. It’d break my heart to watch him turn his back on her.”

“He could surprise you.”

“He already did.”

“Three years is plenty of time to grow and change. I’m not saying you have to fall back in love with the guy. You don’t even have to like him. Try to tolerate him for Harper’s sake. She’d benefit from having a daddy.”

“What if they get to know each other, she gets attached, and he decides to tap out because fatherhood is demanding?” I gnaw on my bottom lip.

“I’ll castrate him. End of story.” She shrugs.

“That won’t make his abandonment hurt her any less.”

“You’re not giving our girl enough credit. She can do anything she sets her mind to, just like her mama.”

I sigh heavily. “He’s going to hate me.”

“Given his responsibility for the breakup, he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. He’ll be upset. I guarantee it, but he’ll come around. You can work out how to move forward like mature adults who share a beautiful baby girl.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Guess?” She quirks an immaculately groomed eyebrow.

“That’s as good as you’re going to get from me. You know I hate being wrong.”

“That counts as an acknowledgment of my rightness. I’ll take it.” She hugs me.

A hornet’s nest of nerves wreak havoc on my body as we return to the bar together. Rhys’s still there when we return. He’s in the middle of posing for pictures with a group of girls.

I wipe my sweating palms on my dress and clear my throat.

“Rhys?” I call once I muster the courage.

His eyes immediately snap to mine.

“Can we talk?” He disregards the gaggle of beautiful women to fully face me at the bar.

“Not, um, here. Can we meet for coffee tomorrow? If you have time, of course. I figure your tour schedule must be pretty tight.” I ramble.

“Name a time and place, and I’ll be there. Can I get your number?”

“Right. Yeah. That’d help you out a bit. Just a second.” I hunt for a pen.

His chestnut, shoulder-length hair is pulled back in a bun, making his strong, stubbled jaw and stunning green eyes more prominent. The black ink tattoos smattering his muscular arms add to his sex appeal,higher-pitched, and I can’t help but get a little flustered by his presence. Our situation isn’t helping matters much, either.

Using a cocktail napkin as a sheet of paper, I write down my phone number and a time and place for us to meet.

“So, your number did change. I thought you blocked me.” He studies the numbers as though they hold some sort of secret message.

“I did that too.”

I’m met with sad eyes. “I can’t say I blame you.”

I swallow the lump in my throat. “I’ve got to get back to work. Text me if you need to cancel or reschedule.” I collect my tray.

“Pop --?”

I dare to look at him.

“I’m not bailing. I promise.”

“We’ll see.”

As I’m excusing myself, I catch a quick glimpse of his crestfallen face.

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