Sum of Us

All Rights Reserved ©

Ch.38: Rhys

According to one side of the virtual Pickett line, I’m ungrateful to the fans who keep a roof over my head and money in my pockets. I exist because of them, and therefore my life should be spent performing for them on command, nothing else. I’m an advocate for teen pregnancy, loving the daughter I conceived as a teenager is proof of it.

I shouldn’t be doting on Poppy’s strength, and Harper should be regarded with more resentment. As a celebrity, it is my full responsibility to raise other people’s kids; and I’m doing a terrible job of scaring them straight by letting it be known that I enjoy being a dad.

If Poppy were genuinely selfless, she would’ve been touring with the band from the beginning. The transportation during our first tour was a van. It’s common knowledge. Still, riding around the country in a cramped van with a bunch of dudes and sleeping in seedy motels while pregnant is what a person worthy of my love and admiration would have done. Forget dropping out of school to work, going against her father’s wishes, and neglecting her own needs to protect our daughter and make sure she got the best of everything.

Poppy’s giving me another chance because my success has hit a fever pitch. All she wants in life is a massive engagement ring, a monster mansion, and never having to work a day in her life. How could she not? I’m a sure thing. There’s nothing women love more than stability in the form of millions of dollars. There’s no way she likes me as a person. She saw her shot in high school, latched onto my star, and played the long game. It’s sad, really, how blinded I am by her feminine wiles.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wilde Knights stans are over the moon. Putting a face to my lyrics is something they have always wanted. Poppy resembles what they conjured enough not to gripe. Harper is a welcomed bonus.

My mom posted Harp’s visit with Santa on her accounts when our announcement went live, unable to resist introducing her cooking video followers to her youngest grandbaby. It went viral – millions of views overnight. A modeling company contacted me through my agent, wanting to sign the little girl who has captured the internet’s heart to a contract. It’s not happening, neither is the Raising Wilde reality show that has been pitched.

The show concept is chronicling my adventures as a stay-at-home dad during Wilde Knights’ hiatus. The label has been pushing it hard. It’ll keep the band relevant between albums and garner positive publicity. They have gone from not trying to hide their disdain for Harper and Poppy to staring at them with dollar signs in their eyes. Their souls are not and will never be on sale. The world will have to settle for the pictures and videos I post of my little family on my own time.

Word of advice: don’t share your personal life with the internet unless you have an iron-clad sense of self, or, at the very least, have people who will remind you of who you are and keep you from becoming an egomaniacal rage monster.

My family, especially Taylor, have the reality check part down pat. Poppy can talk me down from any ledge and our baby girl puts me in a great mood by merely existing.

Being back on the road would be hell if it weren’t for them.

~~

“You have to pick one, Harp.” I’m kneeling in front of her in the bus lounge.

“That no nice. They fwiends.” Rue, Pascal, Barry, and Dina are spilling out of her arms.

“All of them can come inside, but three of them have to ride in your backpack.”

“Um…” She looks at the unruly bundle she’s holding. “Rue.”

“He’ll be able to lead us to the music with his nose.”

“Uh-huh, and ingle.”

“He’s a very good jingler. I might have to borrow his bell collar.”

“Yeah!” She beams.

Kids don’t care about what’s seasonally appropriate. Rue lights up and makes noise. He’s toddler bait. Rudolph’s story about not having many friends triggered Harp’s protective instincts. Her undying love for him makes me love her that much more. The people who are criticizing my parenting for letting her carry around a Rudolph plush after Christmas are in desperate need of lives.

“Let’s get his buds packed up.” I kiss her forehead.

Together, we put her other stuffed animals and toys for them to play with into her Peppa Pig backpack.

“Lovebug, time to bundle up.” Poppy walks up the bus aisle already in her coat, holding Harper’s winter garb.

“Yay!” She struggles to scramble to her feet.

I give her a hand.

Harper looks forward to being a purple marshmallow. She’s a fan of her fuzzy pom-pom ball hat and Rapunzel mittens too. When she has all of them on, she purposely bumps into things and laughs when she bounces off unharmed.

Our little weirdo still resides in her own little world.

“How many interviews do you have today?” Poppy situates Harper’s coat on her shoulders.

“Two. One is over the phone. It’s for a podcast. A reporter has flown in from New York to do the second one. It’ll end up in a magazine.”

“Is this the magazine that will be using pictures of us that Chels took?”

“Yep, which saves tons of time and effort. I’ve already texted a thank you.”

“Do you feel like you’ve finally got the hang of solo interviews?”

“No. I’m dying to get this part over with. How many times do I need to answer the same questions? I feel like I’m in the movie Groundhog Day. My day has been repeating for a week.”

“Perhaps you are in the movie. Don’t rule that out.”

“There would be benefits. Harper would stay little forever.”

“And you wouldn’t even have to stunt her growth or mental development to do it.”

“I’m all in. I’ll give the performance of a lifetime.”

“You always do.”

“We’re in Kansas. There isn’t paparazzi in Kansas.” Ian is looking out the window at the media mob that has formed by the stage door.

Security’s doing their best to clear them out, but freelancers are persistent. They’ll do anything for a top dollar picture, including fly to the Midwest in the winter to stand outside with no guarantee of a usable shot.

“There is for a big enough bounty. They’re still convinced Rhys is interesting. For their sake, I hope they realize the truth soon. It’s below freezing everywhere we’re going to be this week.” Taylor comments as he ties his shoes.

“Hey.” I shoot him a pout.

“It is highly common for working adults to have children and partners. You’re not special. They’re misguided. Accept the truth. It will set you free.”

He’s almost too good at his job.

We do not deboard the bus until the bodyguards have the paparazzo contained. Poppy, Harper, and I are sandwiched in by the guys and the extra security I hired, making it impossible for clear shots to be taken.

I’m holding Harp in my arms. Pop’s holding onto the pocket of my coat, her Wendy sunglasses firmly in place. Harper and I have on matching black wayfarer ones.

Unwilling to give up, the photographers resort to yelling things at us to get our attention.

“Hi!” Harper waves and smiles in the direction her name is being called.

“Harp,--” I pull her attention back to me. “I want to count to fifty, but I can’t do it by myself. Will you help me?”

“1-2-3—” She jumps right into her task, ignoring the racket around us.

My first full breath isn’t taken once we have shut the dressing room door.

“That was some out of this world counting, baby girl. I think I’ve got it now.” I place her on the ground.

“It dark.” She looks around the room.

“Does this help?” I pull off her sunglasses.

“Uh-huh, tank you. Pway big usic now?” She blinks up at me.

“Not yet. I have some pottying to do first.” I crouch down and strip her out of her winterwear.

“I ready potty. No go more.”

“Do you need a new diaper?”

“Yes, pweeze.” Her smile never falters.

“Pop, where—”

“I’ve got her.” She already has Harper’s diaper bag slung on her shoulder, her coat off, and her sunglasses swapped with her regular ones.

Pop’s supermom powers are strong.

“Clean up on aisle you, Lovebug. You know what that means.” She takes Harp’s hand.

They walk through the door connecting to the adjoining room.

“You good?” Taylor hands me a bottle after I have had the opportunity to rid myself of my coat and sunglasses.

“Yeah. Thanks.” I rake a hand through my hair.

“How’s it looking online?” I sit in the armchair nearest the couch Kyle and Ian are on.

“Same.” Ian scrolls.

“Not true. Dezi Martinez got a puppy.” Kyle contributes.

“That’s relevant,” Tay interjects.

“What kind?” I reply.

“A husky. Her name is Aspen.”

“Share the link.”

“No. I get to show it to Harper.”

“I won’t show her.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Our little Kyle is finally wising up.” Ian claps his back.

“All done! Time pway.” Harper skips into the room.

“One of my friends has a puppy. Want to see it?” Kyle seizes the opportunity.

“Oh, yes! I wove pups!” She darts past me without a word.

Kyle hits me with a cocky grin.

Like the mature adult that I am, I stick my tongue out at him.

Harper is riding Pinky and watching Paw Patrol on her tablet with headphones when it comes time for me to do my first interview.

Poppy’s in a chair nearby, working on her laptop.

“I’m heading out,” I kiss her temple.

“Break a leg.”

“You might want to switch sayings. I’ll be working out while I talk.”

“Try not to pant or grunt into the phone while you talk about our kid. We’ll get a warranted visit from child protective services.”

“Noted.”

“Oh. And we love you.”

“That’s more like it. Don’t let her play with the train without me.”

“Will you love me less if I do?”

“Maybe.” I joke.

“We’ll still be playing when you get back. Thomas and Friends will be playing in the background.” She teases right back.

Thomas the Tank Engine terrified me as a child. Modes of transportation shouldn’t have faces. Don’t even get me started on Jay Jay the Jet Plane.

“Mean.”

“Still love me?”

“What do you think?” I hold up my right ring finger.

“I know your ring is non-returnable because of the customization.”

“Keeping it on is my choice, an easy one to make.”

“Mine too. Flower ring – no brainer.”

“All a part of my plan to lock you down.”

“You better not gaslight me, Wilde.”

“Never. Bare hands only, babe.” I hold up both hands and wiggle my fingers.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Yes. Stop distracting me with your witchcraft.”

“I can’t help it. I’m dying to trade in my scarlet letter for a diamond ring as soon as possible.”

“Eye on the prize.”

“Always.”

“You need a man to complete you.”

“It’s like you can see into my soul.”

“I can. Ours are one.”

“Ah, yes. How could I forget?”

“How could you? I should be the center of your universe.”

“I’ll take a hard look in the mirror when you finally go to where you should already be, and change my ways.”

“You better.”

“Go.” She nods to the door with a soft smile.

“Yes, my love.” I peck her lips.

Trina, Josie, and I are in another dressing room. Free-weights and other easily transportable exercise equipment are in here for me to use. After hooking me up with a wireless telemarketer-looking headset, Trina calls the podcast with her phone at the agreed-upon time. Josie is here to record the interview just in case the podcast tries to edit my answers out of context.

“We’ve got the one and only Rhys Wilde of Wilde Knights on the line. You’re a busy guy these days. Thanks for making time to talk to us.” Leah, one of the hosts, speaks on behalf of the others.

“Harper’s helping puppies fix a little boy’s tricycle and Poppy’s researching schools. I figured I’d do something productive too.” Seated in a folding chair, I am curling weights as I give my answer.

I succeed in making them laugh.

“What is the average day like when you are touring with them?” Robin transitions.

I describe our schedule with as much detail as possible.

The media loves little tidbits. The more intimate, the better.

“Now, that we’ve heard about the day-to-day let’s start from the very beginning. When and how did you meet Poppy?”

“Kindergarten. She was in my class. It wasn’t love-at-first-sight. Girls still had cooties.”

“What was she like?”

“Quiet. She was the first of us who could read. She did that a lot when we were inside. During recess, she played in the dirt. It looked fun, but I wasn’t allowed to join her. I got into trouble with my mom every time I came home from school in dirty clothes. We didn’t start hanging out until much later.”

“How much later?”

“High school. Like most sets of identical twins, Taylor and I had a phase where we did all that we could to establish separate identities. We had our own friend groups. She was a part of his because they were in honors classes together. Taylor and I didn’t call a truce and start integrating our friends until our freshman year. That’s when Pop became fair game.”

“What drew you to her?”

“Her quick-wit. I disrupted one of Taylor’s lunchtime study sessions one day because I was bored. Poppy had an immediate retort to everything I lobbed at Tay and got every single one of my references. I walked away from their table with the biggest crush on her.”

“Was there a competition between you and Taylor for her affection? You’re notoriously competitive.”

“No, they were just friends. He didn’t think I had a shot in hell of landing her and literally laughed in my face when I asked for his blessing, but he gave it nonetheless.”

“You got the last laugh.”

“I bring it up whenever he says he’s always right.”

“Where did you take her for your first date?”

“A local pizza shop. We were fourteen. Funds and options were limited, and I wanted to see if the banter we had was a fluke. Only assholes talk during movies. That wasn’t the kind of impression I wanted to make, so Vinny’s it was.”

“I’m going to go out on a limb and assume it went well.”

“I asked her to be my girlfriend the next day. Here we are.”

“Who said, ‘I love you’ first?”

“It depends on your definition of ‘say.’ I wrote 'Field' to work out the strange sensations I was feeling. What they meant didn’t click in my brain until I played it for her. She said, ‘you love me’ when I’d finished the song. All I could do was nod. She smiled and said, ‘I love you, too, Wilde’. Fast forward three years, that song became Harper’s lullaby.”

“That’s beautiful.”

“We have our moments.”

“When did you find out you were going to be parents?”

“She found out first. I was on tour. The band had a stop in Massachusetts, which is where Poppy was for school. She sat me down and told me what was going on.”

It’s not a lie.

“How’d you react?”

“A million and one things ran through my mind. We were kids responsible for making another kid. Difficult decisions were made. Pop dropped out of school to work and make caring for our baby possible. It gutted me because of how hard she worked to get there. There was only so much I could do to help, and I got overwhelmed.”

“Was ending your career one of the things you considered?”

“Poppy wouldn’t hear of it. She knew how many people were depending on me to make it and thought plan B would crush my spirit. She let me go instead of risking that I’d come to resent her and Harper.”

“How did the split come about?”

“Miscommunications run rampant when you’re not in the same place at the same time. The stakes were monumental and pressure won out. We called it quits over the phone. It was too hard to face head-on. We convinced ourselves we were doing what was best for the other person by setting them free. We were very wrong. It didn’t take long to realize it.”

“How did things work with Harper while you were separated?”

“Poppy included me in her everyday life as best she could. Sights, smells, sounds – she’s grown up with those pieces of me. I’ve always been with her.”

Also, not a lie.

“What made you say, ‘enough is enough’ in October?”

“Living with that much regret drains the life out of a person. You can hear it on the latest album. I saw my girls for the first time in a long time and getting back on the bus without them was out of the question.”

“It is clear which songs are about Poppy. Are there any about Harper?”

“No, but some exist.”

Five of them are sitting in my notebook. I have written enough songs to complete an album in the four months I have been with Harper and Poppy. They’ve been seen by my eyes only.

“Will they be released?”

“Maybe. They’re still raw. When and if they get fine-tuned will be the deciding factor.”

“Did you pick up your relationship with Poppy immediately?”

“No. There was trust that needed to be rebuilt before we could be more than co-parents. The months spent in close quarters made it impossible for us to run away from each other. We talked like actual adults and confronted our problems the way we should have in the first place.”

“All of us here at Muse News are rooting for you.”

“Thanks. I can use all the luck I can get. My ladies are way out of my league.”

“I’m sure they are proud of you. Will they be at the show tonight?”

“Yes, Harp has already asked about ‘big usic time.’”

“Where are their seats?”

“They stand backstage, just off stage-left. Harper has plenty of space to dance, Poppy’s within her comfort zone, and I can look at them whenever I want.”

“Any chance they’ll step out for a quick hello?”

“Ha! No, there’d be no way of getting Harper off the stage after giving her permission to go on it. Helping is the only thing she loves more than music and making friends. A microphone, instruments, and a giant room full of people for her to talk to would be too much for us to handle.”

“You have to do it! It’d make for an extra special concert.”

“I’ll think about it. Maybe on her birthday.”

“That’s very soon. She’s a Valentine’s Day baby. Did she ask for purple as her present again?”

I chuckle. “She hasn’t asked for anything. She’s still busy with what her holiday haul, but there will be plenty of purple on her big day. You only turn two once.”

“What are the party plans?”

“I can’t ruin the surprise. She listens to my interviews. She has no idea what is being said, but she thinks they’re funny.”

They laugh. “What does she find funny about them?”

“She mimics people’s reactions, especially mine. If I laugh at something, she laughs. I laugh at her laugh, and we end up giggling for like twenty minutes. It takes very little to keep her entertained.”

“That needs to be recorded. It’d keep the rest of us entertained.”

“She has a packed playing schedule today, but I’ll see if she can squeeze me in.”

“We’re going to end the call so that you can get to it as soon as possible. Thank you for sharing them with us. It has been a pleasure talking to you.”

“The pleasure is all mine. You’re helping me out with my resolutions. Take care, guys.” I end the call.

“Strong interview. One of your best.” Trina compliments from her seat in the corner.

“They weren’t pushy. That goes a long way.” I remove the headset.

Josie taps the button on her tablet to end the recording.

“I spent a lot of time vetting outlets. No hardballs or curveballs.” Trina takes the headset from me.

“You’re finally speaking my language. Effort greatly appreciated.”

“That being the case, --”

“You’re not getting my passwords.” I cut her off.

“How am I supposed to be your public relations representative if I’m not allowed to speak on your behalf?”

“I sing for myself. You provide the stages. That’s our relationship.”

“My talents are being underutilized.”

“What we are doing is working. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“Maria Duncan from Indie Press will be here after lunch. Shower and change into one of your press outfits after you’ve finished exercising. Josie will give you updates as it gets closer to time.” She leaves me alone.

Josie follows her out.

Arm day is conquered listening to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight like a podcast. I hit the showers and put on the clothes and shoes that Emily, our wardrobe stylist, set aside for me today. After Quinn blow-dries my hair, I’m free to go back to my dressing room.

“Honeies, I’m home!” I swing open the door.

“Just in time. I just finished supper.” Taylor turns the page of the book he’s reading.

“His specialty: nothing,” Ian adds as he keeps his eyes on the TV.

He and Kyle are playing a video game.

“Awww, nothing again? You’ve made that every day this week.” Kyle whines as he presses the same button repeatedly on the Xbox controller.

“Hi, Daddy!” Harper hugs my leg.

“Hey, baby girl.” I pick her up. “How’s Pinky today?”

“She good. We pway. All done potty?”

“For now. What should we do?”

“Twain.”

“Have you played with it today?”

“Nu-uh. We pway twain. You in da potty.”

“Thanks for waiting for me.” I kiss for her cheek.

“Elcome. We pway now.”

The train set we have on the road is more compact than the one at home, but it flashing lights and makes plenty of noise. The little engine gets the job done.

Josie emailed Poppy the interview recording, as she’s required to do now, and she listens to it with headphones as Harper and I play on the floor. Only my side of the conversation is heard, but Pop has the list of approved questions and can follow along.

Poppy joins us on the floor, and kisses my cheek.

“Did I earn my keep?” I look at her.

“You’ve yet to bring shame upon our family.”

“Yesss.”I do a little fist pump.

Train time is a family affair until the guys and I are called for soundcheck. Mom’s daily video call takes place during my absence to keep Harp from protesting. My weekly vocal coaching session with my LA-based teacher over Skype is my last task before lunch.

Harp fills me in on all that I missed out on as we eat. She had an eventful morning of her own. Her main talking point was the game of hide-n-seek she played with Poppy and Tyrone. All the energy she exhorted running around with them makes it a breeze to get her to go down for her nap.

The in-person interview was scheduled for after lunch so that I would have a perfect excuse for not introducing them to Harper.

“Maria Duncan, Indie Press. It is nice to meet you, Rhys.” She extends her hand.

“Likewise.” I shake it.

We sit down in the arena’s green room. She takes a chair. I have the couch to myself. Josie and Trina are in the corner, supervising as usual.

The interview kicks off the question of how Poppy and I came to be. The answer rolls off my tongue with ease. We are off to a good start, sharing an easy repartee. Ian interrupts it by walking into the room unannounced.

“There’s something online that needs handling.” He speaks into my ear, ignoring everyone else in the room.

His urgency gets me on my feet. “Bathroom. Excuse me.” I throw over my shoulder to the women as I follow Ian out of the room.

We high-tail it to our dressing room.

Taylor’s furiously pacing the floor. Kyle’s ignoring the bag of Sour Patch Kids in his lap. Both of them are glued to their phones.

“What happened?” I click the lock.

“Victim! She waited until we were in fucking Kansas and she gave the fucking post her all!” Taylor fumes.

Adrenaline surging through my veins, I whip out my phone and open Twitter at record speed. I tap the notification of Zara’s repost of my confessional video.

The caption reads:

ZLates17: @RhysesPieces I support you 1000%. You have come a long way. Keep cherishing your field of Poppy and playing with your Harp. Your time is being spent how it should be. Wishing you all the best! 😘

The comments beneath praise her strength for forgiving me for tangling her into my complicated relationship. Speculation about Zara being targeted by Poppy for getting involved with me is running rampant.

The Wizard of Oz’s field of poppies that almost put Dorothy into an eternal sleep is being thrown around as support for the theory. Her fans are overanalyzing all of Oz for more details about our ordeal. The things being said about Poppy can only be described a cruel.

Zara’s egging them on by liking a few of the posts milder but still harsh comments pitching the idea. The posts about Pop are getting nastier by the second, and of it is trending.

My entire body is shaking with rage. “Where is Poppy?”

“Taking a nap in the other room.” Ian answers.

“Does she know?”

“No. She was asleep before it was posted.”

“I’m the one that tells her.” I screenshot Zara’s post.

I repost her repost of my post and attach a link to the audio of our conversation back in November, along with the following caption:

RhysesPieces: @ZLates17 I didn’t break your heart, and you didn’t know who Poppy and Harper were until I told you. You said it a few weeks ago. Unless you’re calling yourself a liar… [Link]

There’s zero need to contemplate my actions before pressing ‘post.’

“Cover for me.” I start for the door to the conjoining room.

Harper’s no longer on her cot. Both of them are lying on the couch. She’s asleep on Poppy’s chest. Pop’s humming Field and running her fingers through Harp’s hair.

Shutting the door and locking the door is what get Pop’s attention. She shifts her head in my direction.

Humiliation, shame, sorrow – it’s all in her eyes, but a single tear hasn’t been shed.

“I’m so sorry, baby.” I drop to my knees by the couch and wrap my arms around them.

She buries her face in my chest and expels all the air from her lungs.

“How did you find out?”

“Chelsea called. She summarized it for me.”

“Did you go online to see it for yourself?”

She shakes her head.

“Good.” I look into her eyes as I tuck her hair behind her ear. “I took care of it, okay?”

“Did you post it?”

“Hell yeah. She works on commission and she made a big mistake. Big! Huge!” I whisper-yell.

She cracks a smile and a bit of light returns to her eyes. “You couldn’t pass up quoting Pretty Woman.”

“The opportunity doesn’t come around every day.”

“You’re ridiculous.” She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip.

“And you love it.”

“Can confirm.”

“I love you too.” I press a soft kiss to her lips. “And no one is going to—”

A loud bang on the door leading to the hallway interrupts me. “RHYS! OPEN THE DOOR! NOW!” Trina booms.

“It too oud, Mama.” Harper whimpers, tightening her grip on Poppy’s shirt.

“I know, Lovebug. It—”

“RHYS!” Trina’s still trying to beat the door down.

Harp’s distress is the only reason I answer.

I step into the hall instead of letting her continue to disrupt my baby girl’s nap.

“You banged.”

Trina grabs me by the arm, drags me into the nearest empty room and shoves me inside.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!” She thrusts her phone in my face.

I squint at the screen, pretending to rack my brain for the answer. “Oh, that. It would’ve been rude not to reply.”

“WE HAD A PLAN, ONE YOU AGREED TO! YOU HAD ONE JOB – BE SYMPATHETIC. IT WAS WORKING! THOSE DAYS ARE OVER! YOU MIGHT’VE JUST KAMIKAZED YOUR CAREER FOR A POST THAT WOULD’VE BEEN FORGOTTEN IN A WEEK!”

“She came for me. I fought back. I regret nothing.” I remain calm.

“OUR PHONES ARE RINGING NONSTOP! PEOPLE WANT ANSWERS! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO SPIN THIS?!”

“It speaks for itself.”

“A statement needs to be issued.”

“Say that I’m not going to put up with people trying to exploit my personal life. No one is above being dealt with. Zara lied. I exposed the truth. She’s been hurting innocent people. I had to at least try to end her reign of terror.”

“What she said wasn’t that—”

“Planting seeds for hatred is just as bad. You read what everyone else was saying. People can say whatever they want about me, but not Poppy. I couldn’t let it go.”

She sighs in defeat. “I will tidy this as best I can. Maria is still in the green room. We signed an agreement. You have to speak to her. Do your best to tapdance around this. And on your way there, tell your brother to stop posting. Every other word he types is the f-word. It doesn’t work with our family-friendly angle. He’s more hardheaded than you. Maybe if you’re the one who tells him to knock it off, he actually will. ”

“You got it, dude.” I give her a double thumbs-up.

I pop my head into our main dressing room. “Keep up the good work, Tay!”

“I fucking hate people.” His eyes are kept on his phone, still typing away.

“That’s the spirit.”

“Where’s my thank you? I’ve been Mean Girl memeing my ass off over here, getting all sorts of likes.” Kyle complains.

“My bad. i didn’t know. Thank you for memeing like the wind.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I talked to Mama Wilde. Taylor was too fired up. She’s proud of you.” Ian relays.

“I love you, guys.”

“Why—”

“Yeah, Kyle, I said it instead of showed it. Deal with it!” I close the door to get the last word.

“Sorry about the wait.” I sit on the green room couch.

Josie and Maria are still in the seats they were in when I left.

Jose mouths, ‘are you okay?’

I nod.

“Your trip to the ‘bathroom’ was productive.” Maria doesn’t notice our silent chat.

“We all do it. There’s a children’s book about it.” I make myself comfortable.

“It must be a new one. I think I’d remember the story about feuding with Zara Slate.” She presses the record button on her phone’s screen.

Everyone Poops. That’s the book I was talking about. It changed my life.”

Her eyes all most fall from their sockets, and she breaks into a coughing fit, not expecting my answer.

Tough crowd.

I hand her one of the bottles of water on the coffee table and settle back on the couch with one for myself.

“We were talking about what I like most about being a dad. I’ll pick up where I left off.” I start, pausing for a drink. “If I got to build my ideal kid like a Sim, she’d act and look just like Harper. There’s nothing I would change about her. She’s considerate and playful, loves music and nature. She’s outgoing and creative. How smart she is blows my mind sometimes. She picks up things like that.—“ I snap. “She knows all the keys on the piano. I ask her to play ‘A’, she pushes it, no second-guessing or looking at me for help. She got the best pieces of Poppy and me. Her existence is surreal.”

“She can play the piano? She’s one year old.” Her doubt can be heard.

“A month away from being two. They have more skills. I’m not being one of those parents when I say she’s advanced. I swear. What’s your email address? I’ll send you a video.”

"[email protected]"

I shoot her an email with the most recent video Poppy recorded of our daughter’s musical genius attached.

“She knows the alphabet. Using the mind she got from Poppy, she was able to mentally attach a few of those letters to the keys.”

Maria’s eyes are saucers, and her mouth is agape as Harper plays the chorus of "Field" with little help from me.

All I do is whisper which letter needs to pressed into her ear.

“Oh my God.” She looks up at me when the video has come to an end.

“I told you. My brother Christopher, the one that’s a pediatric surgeon, refuses to diagnose her as a genius because of the stupid laws that say you can’t treat family. But I know the truth. She’s a smartypants like her mama.”

“Wow. Just wow. I can’t even – when did you discover she could do this?”

“She’s always loved music. The singing started when she started talking. She’s got perfect pitch too. I noticed the instrument playing when she was nineteen months old. She has one of those little kid pianos. I noticed that she was playing a song that wasn’t preprogrammed, and it sounded pretty good. And I was like, ‘holy shit. She’s a musical genius’. Pop was all, ‘calm down. It’s just something she does. Kids play.’ There was no way I could let it go. I showed Tay for his opinion. He’s painfully honest. He agreed with me. After I rubbed the fact that I made a musical prodigy in his face for a couple of hours, I put the video in our family group chat and did it to the rest of our siblings. I’m the baby. They pick on me all the time, but they couldn’t deny my baby girl’s awesomeness.”

“How could they? She—can I post this on our website? It’d go great with the article.”

“I’ll have to run it by Poppy, but it should be okay. I’ll get back to you with an answer before you leave.”

“Can I meet them? I’d love to—”

“No. Harper’s napping and Pop’s had more than enough media attention for the day.”

“What if it’s off-record?”

“Same answer.”

“Can you at least tell me what is going on between you and Zara? My editor will have my head if I go back empty-handed.”

“It speaks for itself.”

“When was it recorded? I need something. I just signed a lease for a place that’s out of my budget. I can’t afford to get fired.”

I mean…I can’t let her end up on the street…

“Back in December, in Minneapolis, the day everyone started saying we were a couple.” I relent.

“What made you record the conversation?”

“Because of what happened the last time I was alone with her.”

“I remember you alluding to this that day. Why didn’t you release the audio then?”

“I wanted to give her the chance to be a decent human being. I warned her about the recording. She pushed her luck.”

“Do you have an idea of why?”

“I’ve been all over the news lately. She couldn’t resist attaching herself to something she could easily spin in her favor.”

“You responded so quickly, in less than fifteen minutes, after she posted the Tweet.”

“My family has my back. The guys have been monitoring social media for me since my announcement. They sprang into action. Ian was the one calm enough to deliver the message discreetly. Trina would’ve tackled me to the ground if she knew what I was leaving to do. She’s legally not allowed to deny me from going to the bathroom. Taylor provided the loophole. I used it and leaped into action.”

“What was your first thought when you saw it?”

“Next question.”

Calling a woman a conniving bitch on record is a no-no.

“What was your second thought?”

“She’s not getting away with exploiting my girls. She can say whatever she wants about me. I honestly don’t care, but dragging my girlfriend and daughter – two completely innocent people -- into her cry for attention was way too far.”

“Her fans’ responses to her post are pretty brutal towards you and Poppy, especially her. How did she respond?”

“Calmly. She didn’t blame me for Zara’s actions, and she’s trusting that I’m going to take care of the fallout.”

“She hasn’t seen your post?”

“No, she stays off of social media these days. It’s not good for her mental health. Her best friend gave her a quick rundown of the situation for her but didn’t give her enough details to dwell on. I told her what I did in response. She accepted it as the truth without checking it out for herself.”

“It’s probably for the best that she never sees exactly what they are saying. I don’t think I could handle reading that about myself.”

“Reading posts saying she’s an evil ‘c u next Tuesday’ for something she didn’t do and being called every word for whore for something we did together was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. She—” I shake my head, trying to fight off the tears welling in my eyes. “She’s such a good person, the type of person who would take on everyone else’s pain if it meant they would never feel it again. People who she would do that for are trying to rip her limb from limb because of me. It’s a lot. I’m a lot, but she loves me anyway. I’m trying to protect her as best I can, but it’s hard, harder than ever now because Zara was bored.” I run a hand through my hair.

“You really love her.”

“She’s my best friend. That’s what made losing her so hard. Anytime something happens, good or bad, she’s the first person I want to tell. She makes me laugh like no other and understands me, which is no easy feat. I’m all over the place.”

“Would you say that having her and Harper on the road with you is beneficial?”

“They make it possible. Having a work-life balance keeps me sane. I didn’t have one before they joined the tour. I stayed ‘on’ at all times. Grinding on ‘E’ almost put me out of commission.”

“Most parents of young children say they sleep less with a kid around. That’s not the case for you?”

“I’m not getting my recommended eight hours. That’s for sure. Harper wakes up before the sun most days. I feed off her energy like the witch from Tangled to get through the day.”

“Did Harper get her Rapunzel costume before or after the internet gave her the nickname because of her hair?”

“Way before. She loves ‘Unzel’. We watch Tangled at least once a day."

“You watch it with her?”

“Oh, yeah. If I’m not working, I’m with her and Poppy. I’m well acquainted with Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, Moana, Princess and the Frog, and Tangled. After we watch our stories, we discuss them. I’m just as invested in them as she is. Did you know Mother Gothel – the witch in Tangled – doesn’t fall to her death? She denigrates because she should’ve been dead centuries ago. Rapunzel’s hair doesn’t heal. It turns back time. Awesome, right?”

“Harper figured that out?” She raises both eyebrows.

“No, Taylor, but Harp supports his idea. She supports everyone’s ideas.”

“He watches all of her shows too?”

“Ian and Kyle get in on the fun too. We play with her toys, run around with her – all of it. It takes a village to keep up with a little Wilde. We’re too brave and brimming with energy when we’re young. The only thing Harper is afraid of is the toilets.”

“Toilets? What happened there?”

“Nothing. Pop said she saw one being flushed one day and just started bawling. I asked Harp about it. She said she doesn’t like that they are, ‘wooshy’ and ‘whirly.’ That’s a direct quote. We have to shield toilets from her when we go into bathrooms to keep the waterworks from flowing.”

“How are you going to potty train her?”

“No idea. Kyle suggested that we bribe her with candy. That’s the best idea we’ve got at the moment.”

“That’ll make her more hyper – the sugar.”

“You’re starting to see why we need backup. She’s noticing more of the world as she ages. It’s a big place. She’s determined to dance, climb on, and jump off most of it.”

“She sounds like a wild one.”

“With an ‘e’. She’s gained street cred for her antics. Everyone around her calls her Little Wilde. We had no choice but to put it on the back of the Wilde Knights merch she wears to every concert.”

“Can I have a picture of her in one?”

“You can. Poppy already signed off on my favorite one. I planned to post it sometime this week.” I pull out my phone.

“So, you have to get her approval before you post anything?”

“She didn’t demand it. I started doing it on my own. We’re co-parents. All major decisions should be discussed, and we do. Not communicating effectively is what caused our downfall last time.”

“What other steps are you taking to fix that?”

“When we get upset about anything, whether it’s about our relationship or life in general, we have to tell each other about it. There is to be no festering, silent treatment, or ‘sucking it up’.”

“How’s it working out so far?”

“It’s not easy. We’re both guilty of trying not to weigh the other person down with our burdens, but we’re getting better at it. It’s definitely made our relationship stronger. Vulnerability is the key to domestic bliss. Who knew?”

“How has being parents factored into your new relationship?”

“The stakes are sky-high. Whatever we do affects Harper, and she always comes first. If we see our relationship is plummeting, we’ve agreed to split up before it gets toxic. Being a complete family unit is what we’re fighting for, though. I want it – them with me forever – more than anything. I know Pop’s the one. I’d drop to one knee right this second if I knew she wouldn’t shoot me down – she’s frustrating rational and wants to ‘take things slow’. I’ve made some progress, though, I sweet-talked her into letting me wear a promise ring with her name on it.”

“The ring you’ve been wearing is a promise ring?”

“Yep. It says, ’property of Penelope ‘Poppy’ Elise’. She made sure I knew weren’t engaged before she let me put it on, but technically, she did put a ring on it. I’m hers. Who cares if I bought it for myself?”

“Does she have one with your name on it?”

“She’s got a ring, but it only has a forget-me-not on it. She’s all about subtly. I’m the loud one. Nothing gets Poppy like flowers.”

“I didn’t even know her name was Penelope until just now.”

“She’s a plant encyclopedia. I could listen to her talk about them for hours. She’s probably going to kill me for saying this – but her intelligence is crazy sexy.”

“Why would she kill you? I’d be flattered.”

“She’s so freaking humble. I’m like, ‘babe, you’re incredible’. She rolls her eyes and brushes it off with a smile. I don’t get it, but that’s who she is and I love her.”

“I want to meet her even more now.”

“Sorry, I’ve got to be selfish and hog her all to myself.”

“I don’t blame you.”

Maria and I go through the list of pre-approved questions. Before leaving, I text Poppy asking for permission for Harper’s performance to be posted on Indie Press’s web-edition of the article. She gives her ‘okay’. Maria and I part on good terms. She vows to give me a glowing write-up. She joked about being too afraid to cross me to do anything less.

The room used for Harper’s nap is where I go after leaving the green room. They are still in there. Harper is sitting in Poppy’s lap on the floor, eating baby carrots as she watches Daniel Tiger on the flat-screen mounted to the wall.

“Are you kangaroo hugging without me? That’s not very nice.”

“We nice, Daddy. You in da potty. You all done. We hug. Sare?” Harper extends a carrot to me from her seat.

I crawl on the blanket they’re picnicking on and accept her offer.

“Thanks, Lovebug.” I kiss her cheek after I’ve eaten.

“Elcome. Juice?” She lifts her sippy cup.

“I have water, but thank you for giving me options.”

“Sare nice.”

“The nicest.”

I give her another kiss before making my way to sit behind Poppy. My legs on either side of her, I rest my chin on her shoulder and have my arms around her and Harper.

“Our joey is doing well. How is Mama Kangaroo?”

“I’m hanging in there.”

“Why are we in isolation?”

“Avoiding pity looks and wellness checks make it easier to keep hopping along.”

“Fair enough. My interview went well. Do you want to listen to it?”

“Maybe when I’m back from my Harperland vacation. I’m soaking up the rays. My most difficult dilemmas are deciding which toy to play with and which show to watch first.”

“How long do you plan on staying?”

“Overnight. I only packed one set of clothes.”

“Do you have room for one more?”

“I can’t keep you out. You’re the co-founder of Harperland.”

“If joining your trip will make it harder for you to relax, I don’t want to intrude.”

“A family affair would be more fun. Escape to her reality with me.”

“Gladly.”

My phone is left on ‘Do Not Disturb.’ There are no texts, calls, emails, or social media notifications to pull me out of our place of peace. Cartoons play in the background as we play fetch. It started off as a game of catch, but Harper wouldn’t cooperate.

She intentionally gets out of the way of the ball. Once it hits the floor, she gets on all fours and barks as she crawls to get it. The ball is too big for her to fit in her mouth, so she returns it to us with her hands – still barking.

“I don’t think baseball is in the cards for her. Catching is a third of the game and she refuses to do it.”

Poppy and I watch Harper as she gallops on her hands and knees.

“I still have a whole year to train her. She’ll be a little league champ come next spring. Believe in us, Penelope.”

“How are you going to undo that?” She points to Harp, who is currently pushing the ball around with her nose like Widget and Gizmo do when they play fetch.

“We’ll focus on batting and running. If I get her really good at offense, no one will care that she turns into a dog when she’s supposed to be playing defense.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“Start polishing your glasses, babe. You’re going to see it.”

The amused little smile she gives me is genuine. It gives me hope.

We play until it is time for dinner. I have our meals dropped off in our room instead of venturing out to the communal dining area. Poppy, Harper, and I have a picnic on Harp’s zoo blanket. To keep Harper from choking, we watch a non-musical movie – Paddington.

It is impossible not to smile when that bear is on screen. Harper may have gotten a blue duffle coat and red hat for Christmas. Mom was called upon to cut and sew holes in the hat so that Harp could have “bear hair,” but it was worth the extra effort. Paddington Bear is Harper’s spirit character.

Our family time comes to an end when I am paged for the meet and greet. Harper is taking her second nap, the one that makes attending our concerts possible. I don’t have to tell the potty fib to her, but I do seize the opportunity to be candid with Pop.

“My feelings won’t be hurt if you stay in here and watch the live feed of the show.” My arms are around her waist.

The closeness gives me an up-close and personal view of her face.

“That’s an appealing offer, but I want to feel the charge of energy you emit when you’re on stage. Videos don’t do you justice.”

“Aw, shucks. You’re going to make me blush.”

She wards off a smile. “I need to be reminded of why we’re here, of why I’m putting up with this. You were born to be on that stage. Seeing you live up to your full potential will give me a surge of energy.”

“You’re the best. You know that, right?”

“Eh. I try.”

“You knock it out of the park.”

“You do, too. I completely understand why so many people think they’re in love with you.”

“They’re out of luck. I’m the property of Penelope ‘Poppy’ Elise. She’s my Wendy. We made a Smalls that kills us. ”

“We love you, too, Squints.” Her arms snake around my neck and kisses me.

“You shouldn’t. I can be pretty obnoxious.”

“I like you that way. It balances me out.”

“Even when I reference Everybody Poops in an interview?”

She sighs with a minuscule smile. “What did you say about it?”

“It changed my life.”

She snorts. “How’d she respond?”

“Almost lost her eyeballs and choked on air.”

“Tough crowd.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Melded souls come in handy.”

My watch starts beeping, notifying me that the meet and greet is about to begin. I have to let go of Poppy to silence it.

“Go to work, Wilde. I’ll get an earful from Harper if I don’t ‘sare’.”

“It no nice’, Penelope.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She rolls her eyes.

“Love you.” I kiss her forehead.

“Love you, too.” She kisses my cheek.

I begrudgingly leave, feeling the tug on my heart I experience every time I walk away from them.

I run into XO on my way to the press room.

All of them start clapping when they see me.

“Straight savage, man!”

“Badass is what it is.”

“Epic drag.”

“Simple. To the point. Beautiful.” Jamie kisses his fingertips.

“Up top.” Gia holds up her hand.

I give her the high-five she’s after.

“You kept receipts and had them ready to rock. I underestimated you.” She jovially punches my shoulder.

“You’re forgiven.”

She’s chuckling as she walks away. All of the guys give me pats on the back as they follow her down the hall.

I have an extra bounce in my step as I continue in the opposite direction.

Kyle, Taylor, and Ian are already in their seats at the autographing table when I arrive. All of the eyes in the room shift to me. The fans go wild – clapping, cheering, and chanting my name.

Does loving their praise make me a narcissist?

Eh. I’m not going to think too hard on it.

“I’m sorry I’m late. Busy day at the office.” I say as I take my seat in the middle.

This makes them really lose it. My ears start to hurt a bit.

Tyrone drops off my security earpiece. He gives me a paternal pat on the shoulder, silently expressing his support of my actions. I give a single nod, articulating how much his opinion means to me.

He leaves the room, going back to his main post with Poppy and Harper.

I put the one-way radio into my ear, giving the guards on duty the ability to warn me of safety threats.

“How is Poppy?” Taylor leans in my direction as the line starts moving.

“Solid. She’s hasn’t seen the damage. All of her attention is focused on Harper’s happenings. Things are simple and pleasant in Dressing Room B.”

“Things are working out in your favor outside of your jolly toddler bubble. You’re being called – and I hate that I have to say something so cheesy – a Wilde Knight in Shining Armor.”

“I’m going to pretend you made it up. It cheers me up.”

“Please don’t.”

“Too late. Already thinking it.”

“Hey, what’s up?” I greet the first fan that reaches me as I uncap my marker.

“What you did – it’s about time. You took her down. I’m an even bigger fan.”

“Family comes first. I did what I had to do.”

“You’re my hero for it.”

“I’m no hero, especially not hers. Just a boy trying to impress a girl. I think it’s working.” I point to my promise ring.

“If you show off that thing to one more person, I’m disowning you.” Taylor hates.

“You’re just jealous.”

“Of a ring you bought for yourself? No.” He says to me. “I second the hero thing. Don’t idolize a person in general, especially one who gives people presents that are intended to go right back to them.” Tay tells the guy in front of me.

“Pop loved it. Find someone who accepts the strange stuff you do and you’ll be golden. That’s all the advice I’ve got.” I argue.

“And the only advice of his that I can endorse. Everything else is questionable.”

“I’ll give you that one.”

That’s pretty much how the rest of the meet and greet goes. Fans go on about my “heroics,” try to put me on the pedestal Zara once stood on, and Taylor and I dispute their proclamations in our own ways.

My big brother’s dedication to regulating my self-esteem to keep my head a reasonable size is brutally commendable. And he has to be harsh. Believing my hype got me into trouble last time.

My feet are firmly on the ground when the lights rise as I stand center stage. We shake things because of today’s events. I address the crowd before we start playing the first song on our setlist.

“I must say there is no place like home. Kansas isn’t ours, but you sure know how to give a warm welcome.”

I’m forced to hold for their applause to conclude to be heard.

“In keeping with my New Year’s resolutions: I’m going to drop more truths. It’s been a rough day in the neighborhood. My girl and I spent some time as public enemies number one and two. The angry mob changed directions after a single post. It didn’t feel good dropping that bomb. I don’t get enjoyment out of watching heads roll, but I had to do what I had to do. I honestly wasn’t feeling the show tonight. That is until my girls gave me the pushes I need. I’m now psyched to be here, ready to give you my all. Before I do, I need you to do me a favor. I know, I know. I’ve been needy lately, but I promise I’ll make it quick.” I do a stage stroll, making good use of the space as I engage the crowd.

“I have trouble saying ‘no’ to Harper. I mean, come on. Look at her. She asked me to say ‘hi’ to my friends for her. So, ‘Hello, Witchitha’.”

They all cheer.

“She’s right over there.” I point to their side of the stage. “Will you say ‘Hi, Harper’ on the count of three? She’ll love it.”

They scream their agreement.

“Right on. On the count of three – 1, 2, 3—”

“HI, HARPER!”

The room of thousands follow my instructions.

“Okay, you’re almost done. The guys and I will do all the work after you do me one more solid. Poppy’s been a rock today, not just mine, but her own. I tried thanking her, but she’s too stubborn to accept it. I think if we all ambush her, she’ll have no choice but to deal with her awesomeness. You down?”

They clap and cheer.

“You’ve upped your warm welcome to piping hot. I could get used to this. Okay, again, on the count of three. Say ‘thanks, Poppy’. 1,2,3 ---”

“THANKS, POPPY!” The guys join in with us, just as they did with Harper’s ‘hello’.

“Now that you’ve helped me score some brownie points, we can get this show on the road.”

I wink in my family’s direction before kicking things off with "Bandits."

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.