Sum of Us

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Ch.5: Poppy

An hour has passed. I'm still alone in our booth, and people are starting to notice. Our waitress keeps asking about Rhys, is there something I want to order on his behalf, can she pour me more coffee while I wait for him to return -- I accept the coffee offer twice. When I shoot him a text, his seat vibrates.

I dare to check on him, cracking the men's room door and calling his name -- no response. So, I cut my losses to keep from making a bigger fool of myself by sobbing in a restaurant.

I toss a ten-dollar bill on the table for my coffee, lay an envelope on Rhys’s jacket, and leave the diner. The bus ride to Chelsea’s is spent battling tears.

“You’re back early. How’d it go?” The hopeful expression she’s sporting when she answers the door guts me.

I shake my head. She captures me in a tight hug and pulls me into her apartment.

“Shhh. It’s going to be okay.” She rubs my back as I sob on her shoulder. “You’ll always have me.”

Chelsea posted a roommate wanted ad online while I was pregnant. In desperate need of a place to leave, I answered it and moved into her apartment after an hour-long meeting in a coffee shop. We lived together until three months after Harper was born. I felt it was unfair to have her serve as my partner in parenthood. She tried to fight my decision. I won and moved into a studio apartment.

Chels has never made me feel ashamed of my situation. She held my hand as I gave birth and celebrated Harper’s first birthday with me. She’s Harper’s godmother and way more than my best friend. She’s a sister who helped me back on my feet after I lost everything and everyone I’d ever known.

“How is she?” I sniffle, drying my eyes with my sleeve.

“She’s watching Mr. Rogers and playing with her toys. She asked for juice like a big girl. She’s growing up too fast. I hate it.” She comfortingly rubs my arms.

“You and me both.” I force a smile.

“You don’t need him.”

I remain quiet.

“I’m serious.”

“I hate that her family only consists of us. I feel like I’ve let her down. No one else wants her. It’s all my fault.” And the tears are back.

“We love her. That is more than enough. You’ve made the most out of the hand you have been dealt and you have a smart and sweet little girl to show for your tireless efforts. Harper might be the happiest child I have ever seen.”

“Have I told you how much I love you?” I crack a genuine smile.

“Not nearly enough.” She gives me a much-needed warm hug.

We join Harper in the living room. She’s hammering away on her Xylophone, humming a tune I don’t recognize.

“New song, Lovebug?” I ask I near her.

“Mama!” Harper scrambles off the floor and toddles to me as quickly as her little legs will allow.

I scoop her up in my arms and place her on my hip.

“Have you been having fun with Aunt Chelsea?”

She nods adamantly, her eyes – his eyes – sparkling with joy.

I kiss her and hug her to my chest. She responds by burrowing her face in the crook of my neck and nuzzling.

“I love you.” I rub her back and inhale her intoxicating baby scent. “So, so much.”

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