Sum of Us

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Ch.4: Rhys

“Have fun with your imaginary ex-girlfriend?” Taylor teases upon my return.

I hold up my middle finger in response as I collected my jacket.

“Oh, come on. I was joking. Where are you going?”

“Bed. Poppy and I are meeting tomorrow morning at 9:00.”

His smug smirk drops. “What have you taken?”

“Nothing.”

“On mom?”

“Yes. I swear on our mother’s life that I haven’t done drugs. Poppy works here. She’s agreed to talk to me. I’m not blowing my one shot at getting her back by getting high the night before we talk.”

He shakes his head with a grimace. “Don’t go in with that attitude. There’s no way she’s single.”

“You don’t know that.”

“She didn’t go along with your ‘let’s take a break’ bullshit because she didn’t want to wait for you to want her again. Three years is plenty of time to find someone who wants to commit to her.”

“I never stopped wanting her.”

“So, you didn't ask her to wait for you?" He responds sardonically.

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Kinda was. I was there.”

“Are you going to be done being a dick anytime soon?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” He smirks as he lifts his pint glass.

“I’m out of here.”

“Go get your beauty sleep, prince charming. You need it!”

“We have the same face!” I say on my way to the velvet ropes.

I’m buzzed when I reach our hotel suite. My body is bubbling with too much nervous energy to sleep. So, I pull out my guitar and song notebook and try to do something productive with the million and one thoughts going through my head.

I arrive at the diner she requested on time. Poppy is already here, sipping a mug of coffee in a booth in the back. I take a moment to study her.

She’s wearing her glasses today, the same horn-rimmed ones she’s had in high school. Her hair is different than it was when we dated. Bangs are cropped across her forehead. The rest is pulled into a ponytail. Her clothes are far more her style than the body-hugging dress and stilettos she was wearing yesterday. Poppy has always been a no-fuss dresser. Today, she’s wearing an oversized gray sweater, dark jeans, and black converse. She looks so much sexier than she did last night, far more comfortable in her skin.

“Hey.”

She jumps in her seat, seemingly started by my appearance.

“Still jumpy, I see.” I chuckle as I sit down on the opposite side of the booth.

I’m treated with a nervous smile. “You still have a knack for sneaking up on me,” She pushes her glasses further up her nose.

“It is really good to see you, Pop. You look great.”

She looks down at her coffee mug, blushing. “Thank you, um, you too.”

I order a mug of hot tea when our waitress stops at our table to check on us.

“How’s--”

“You’ re--”

We attempt to start talking at the same time.

“You first.” I force a laugh to cut through the awkward tension.

“You’re a bonafide rock star now. You have awards, articles, tours, rabid fans -- the works. Congrats.”

“Thanks.” I rub the back of my neck. “It’s pretty surreal at times.”

“I bet.” Her smile is stiff.

“How’s school? This is your last year, right?” I fold my hands on the table.

“No, I, uh, dropped out of MIT my first semester.” She tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

My eyebrows scrunch. “Why? You’re more than smart enough to handle the work.”

“I needed to get a full-time job with health insurance.”

“You had a scholarship, a campus job, and you’re able to stay on your dad’s insurance until you’re twenty-six. I feel like I’m missing something.”

She takes a deep breath and tightens the grip on her mug. “I-I got pregnant. You can surmise how my dad reacted when he found out.” She chokes.

My heart plummets.

Taylor was right.

“Wow, uh, wow, so… does that mean you’re a mom now?” I have no idea what else to say.

She nods. “I’m a mom.”

“The dad--he’s--you’re...” My eyes go to her left ring finger.

No ring.

“We’re not together anymore.” She looks at her mug’s contents.

“How old is your kid?”

I might as well crush my fantasy completely by knowing how long it took for her to move on.

“One, almost two, 19-months. She’s 19-months-old.” She nervously rattles.

It takes me a second to do the math. The temperature in the room significantly increases when I reach an answer.

“Was the baby premature?” My voice trembles as my heart hammers.

She shakes her head.

“Did you cheat on me?” My heart pangs and eyes heat at the thought.

“No.” She whispers.

My ears start ringing. “It’s -- I’m a-- I’ve had a kid for almost two years? You didn’t think I should know that bit of information? What the fuck, Poppy? What the actual fuck?” My voice cracks in a way it hasn’t since puberty.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do when I first found out I was pregnant. When you made your choice, I decided to respect it to avoid resentment.”

“What I resent is being made a deadbeat dad without my consent. I’m worse than my own. I know nothing about her.” I run a hand through my hair as I try to get a grip on my conflicting emotions.

“Her name is Harper Posy James. She--”

“Why doesn’t she have my name?” I hastily interrupt.

“The same reason you have your mom’s last name.”

My dad wasn’t in the picture enough to warrant it.

My anger ramps. “Am I on her birth certificate?”

He was given that courtesy.

“Listing you would have required your signature. I had to check the ‘father unknown’ box. It was the most humiliating thing I’ve ever had to do.” She wedges her fingers beneath her glasses to wipe tears from her eyes.

“I would have been by your side through everything. You know that.” I grit my teeth.

“I don’t. You said you wanted time to explore your options. You wouldn’t have been able to do that holding my hand for nine months and changing diapers for two years.”

“Did you know you were pregnant when I said that?”

“Not officially.” She squeaks.

“Did you take a home test?”

“Three.”

“All positive?”

She nods, her eyes glassy.

I scoff and shake my head in disbelief.

The waitress drops off my tea.

The piping hot liquid is not the best thing to chug when you are parched from an onslaught of life-altering news, but I power through it.

“I had a right to know.” I put my empty mug on the table.

“You do now.”

“I’ve missed huge moments in Harper’s life. She has no idea I exist. That’s not okay.”

“Fatherhood is a major commitment. It’s vastly more time-intensive than a romantic relationship, which you tapped out on because it was too demanding. It was easy to infer your response to my pregnancy. I had fragile feelings to protect.”

“That’s a cop-out and you know it. I made a decision based on different information, okay? You’re the one that walked away without setting the record straight. Two words, Poppy. That’s all it would’ve taken to make me stay.”

“You would’ve resented me for it.”

“No.”

“Yes. Your heart belongs to music. Your dreams were finally starting to come true. If I interrupted your big break with my news, you’d have been miserable. Your misery would’ve been palpable. Begging you to stay wouldn’t have changed the truth.”

“Excuse me.” I hightail it to the bathroom to regroup.

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