Sum of Us

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Ch.56: Rhys

The Wander Years, our third studio album, is the first one that doesn’t tell a linear story. Prior to its release, all outlets speculated (and hoped) that its songs would answer questions about my life with Harper and Poppy. There’s no song about what it feels like to learn you’ve been a father for two years in a diner or a diss track about She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. TWY is a collection of “remember when…?” stories that span several lifetimes. To put it differently, Horizon and Midnight Daydreams are journals; The Wander Years is a yearbook.

Wilde Knights’ hiatus gave the four of us much needed time to reflect. We had been pushing non-stop for nine years. I wasn’t the only one who lost sight of himself and who he wanted to be. We all had things we were proud of accomplishing and ashamed of doing when it came time to plan the album.

In school yearbooks, the whole class’s highlights are shown and are accompanied by photographs, average and embarrassing ones – never great. As my mom shouted through the bathroom and bathroom doors whenever we took forever to get ready for school, “school’s not a fashion show! You’re there to learn!”. All aspects of the album, its marketing, and tour were handled with that motto in mind.

We put ourselves out there together. There isn’t a single posturing or cinematic moment to be found on the album. Stripping things down and wholeheartedly presenting the seemingly mundane was a refreshing change of pace. We stayed energized about the project from start to finish. Months of touring didn’t pull the wind from our sails. We still enjoy talking about and sharing our finished product.

That’s all that we disclose during interviews and appearances. I’ve become a professional talking tap dancer. Harper, Poppy, and specifics of our lives together have gone undiscussed since Wilde Knights’ reboot. Everyone knows Pop and I are married, though. My newest tattoo is hard to miss and Penelope James-Wilde is a credited songwriter on The Wander Years.

Harper is listed under the pseudonym Karin Palledorous. Palledorous is Squints’ last name in The Sandlot. Ray and Annie’s daughter in Field of Dreams’ daughter’s name is Karin. Pop and I wanted our baby girl to get royalties and credit for her contributions without attention. We couldn’t resist making an inside joke out of it, and it makes our dedication to her privacy no less sincere. Harper’s wellbeing comes first. Poppy’s is an extraordinarily close second.

All the lawsuits concerning the violations of our privacy and defamation of Pop’s character were kept under tight wraps. To this day, no one knows they took place or that the judges ruled in our favor. The breaches of nondisclosure agreements made by members of Wilde Knights’ security team were open and shut cases. Media outlets who published pictures of Harper, who is a minor, without our consent were found guilty though they plead otherwise. Birth certificates are public record; there was legally nothing we could do about Harper’s being exposed. We followed our lawyer’s advice and didn’t include our grievances with it in our lawsuits.

The false rumors about Poppy that were spread did impact her ability to live her life. They could’ve resulted in her inability for future employment and for us to lose custody of our daughter. Pop accused of being a prostitute who brings her clients around her child isn’t something that can be laughed off or dismissed. Social services did their due diligence and spent months investigating all the claims. They found absolutely nothing, obviously. I had to hire a security team to ensure our safety while all of it went down.

It came as a shock to no one when a certain someone’s head of public relations was found to be the person who put out the hit on me. She ratted out her boss when she took the witness stand. My attorney asked her who put her up to it during cross-examination. The risk of doing jail time for perjury gets some of the most loyal people singing like canaries.

Poppy and I walked away from our legal battles with a total of $1.6 million in loot. 25% of it came out of the pocket of the bully who built her career on playing the victim. Her label dropped her because of the $250,000 they were forced to pay for their involvement. The media and public ran wild with the news of her firing, its aftermath, and the lawsuits that followed. Poppy and I were left out of their very messy back and forth. Releasing information about our lawsuit would’ve resulted in more fines. Money talks the loudest in the industry.

Every cent we earned by standing up for ourselves was donated to charity. The money was split evenly between an organization that provides aid to low-income families and one that awards college scholarships to young parents. Our contributions were made anonymously. More attention was the last thing we wanted. Making something of our messes was what we set out to do. We’ll never know our decisions’ full impact, but we have a good feeling that it’ll grow into something beautiful.

Though the worst is behind us, Poppy stays off stages and red carpets. She’s never spoken to the press or paparazzi. Neither of us is on social media. All of which is done by choice. Pop does her thing as I do mine, and we sit front and center in each other’s cheering sections whenever we get the chance. I go to her job’s social events; it needs to be known that nature nerds know how to party. We kayaked at her company picnic and their holiday party was at a local brewery. What we do with my colleagues pales in comparison, but Poppy’s gracious enough to take one for the team – our team.

There are moments that have to be missed to get our work done. We have been at it for years, but it has yet to get easier. Doing it all is impossible, unfortunately. Today, the missed moment was witnessing Chelsea’s big win. Poppy was in the audience alone as Chels was awarded a Grammy for Best Recording Package. The guys and I were at the main venue, putting in the work necessary for our show-opening performance to be a success.

The sacrifice paid off, but the sting remains. I wanted to be there. We all did.

~

“I can’t decide which one looks pissier. Ian, thoughts?” Kyle walks backward to our dressing room.

Ian gives a quick glance over his shoulder. “It’s a draw. They’re making the same face with the same face.”

“Keep talking about us like we’re not here and see what the hell happens.” Tay snaps.

“Taylor.” Kyle and Ian agree in unison.

“Watch your backs – watch ’em, not us.” I warn as Taylor trips Kyle.

Ian catches him just before he hits the ground.

The quickest showers are taken. We get dressed; hair and makeup artists return us to the condition we were in on the red carpet. The guys and I make last-minute adjustments as soon as they leave to get things exactly to our liking.

“I don’t flip my hair. Don’t flip yours pretending to be me.” I look at myself in the mirror as I situate a gray suit jacket over the black Henley I am wearing.

My bait shirt has been broken out to cheat if we lose. Hopefully, it’ll do its job and get Poppy to cave on baby-making before midnight.

“Art imitates life. It isn’t it. My interpretation of you winning an award might involve hair tossing. Ditch us at your own risk.” Taylor evens his bowtie by my side.

“You’ll be ditched. The reward’s worth it.” I pull on one end of his tie to make it unravel.

He’s going to do a terrible impression of me at some point tonight. It never hurts to get even early. Just be sure to know where your exits are and can get to one before they can retaliate for your retaliation.

“Do I want to know?” Our manager, Josie, asks when I almost slam into her in the hallway during my escape.

“He’s coming for my hair. I got his clothes.” I look over my shoulder as I give her an explanation.

“I’ll talk him down. Go back to your seat but keep watching your back.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I salute her.

Josie jumped to our ship when we asked her to be the head of our management team. She is currently the only member of that team, but Heart-Headed Records will continue to grow. Wilde Knights will too. She believes in us enough to leave her stable job to come along for the ride. It proved we were right – she’s one of us and the perfect person for the job. It’s not one for the faint of heart.

The overhead stadium lights are off when I enter its floor seating area. Stage lights make it possible to see. The host’s giving an entertaining monologue as I make my way to the location of my assigned seat. It takes no time at all for me to spot my wife within the row. My smile grows as I gravitate closer to her.

“Honey, I’m home.” I whisper to her as I sit on the edge of my seat.

“Because you’re with me?” She asks on a giggle.

“Yes, and it’s been a long day at the office.” I kiss her. “Will you pretty please switch me seats? I’m not trying to get hit on TV.” My eyes are over her shoulder as I ask.

Taylor’s assigned seat is beside mine. Chelsea is on the other side of Poppy. A seat swap is needed for protection.

“I have vows to uphold. I’ll sit by you.” She gives me a quick peck on the cheek and vacates her seat. I scoot into hers. She sits in mine.

“What did you do to Sailor?” Chelsea asks after she’s finished silently laughing.

“Undid his tie. He’s bringing it on himself. Congrats, by the way. We wish we were there to embarrass you with a dancing ovation, homemade t-shirts, and poster board sign.”

“Are you joking or serious? I can’t tell.”

“Serious. They borrowed Harper’s glitter.” Poppy bends forward in her seat to answer Chels’s question.

I pull my phone out of my pocket and show her the “Way to Go, Chelsea!” sign Harper helped me make. I made a glitter Grammy. It was Harp’s idea to add gold star stickers. She was right. They add a lot to the sign.

“We keep things even in this family. We showed up to Pop’s high school smartypants competitions with shirts and signs because she had them at our shows. We have to return the favor for you too.”

“I want that sign signed and I’m going to frame it.” Chelsea points at my phone screen.

“That response is why you have a sign.” I send her the picture to hold her over until we can get her the real deal.

Josie silently gives Chelsea a hug as she passes her to get to her seat. Ian, Kyle, and Taylor go with low fives.

“My neck’s going to hurt from all the flipping.” Taylor uses his hand to ruffle my hair as he shuffles past me.

“I don’t flip my hair.” I hiss as I try my best to fix it without a mirror.

“Debatable.” He buttons the top button of his suit jacket as he sits on the other side of Poppy.

“Do I?” I speak into Poppy’s ear, needing verification.

“No, you run your fingers through it.”

“Are you sitting by me?”

She takes over fixing it. “No…” Her tiny smirk gives away her teasing.

Grinning, I kiss her cheek and put my arm around her.

Pop and I make ourselves comfortable in our own little world as the show progresses.

“And the nominees for Song of the Year are ‘All Aces’ – Alden Crowley, songwriters: Alden Crowley, Alicia Faulkner, and Brendon Yu. ‘Famous’ – Why Young, songwriters: Wade Johnson, Barry Langley, and Sean Williams. ‘Love, Me’ - Lauren Guerrero (ft. Rhys Wilde of Wilde Knights), songwriters: Marcus Finney, Lauren Guerrero, Karin Palledorous, and Rhys Wilde.—”

Lauren and I finally got around to collaborating. She came to Seattle. Harper got in on our jam session. Lauren wanted to see us play the piano together. It was meant to be a quick thing for laughs. While we were messing around on the same keyboard, Harp and I played a melody Lauren liked. Our creation became the song’s foundation. She took home what we started building and finished it with Marcus. I flew to California when it was time to record the track. Our joint venture has been dominating since its release.

“—and ‘Sum of Us’ – Wilde Knights, songwriters: Penelope James-Wilde and Rhys Wilde.” A nearby camera pans to us as our award-winning album cover appears on the main projector.

Poppy tightens her hold on my hand and soothingly rubs my forearm with her free hand. My heart is practically pounding out of my chest.

“And the winner is…” The presenter unfolds the envelope in her hand and leans into the microphone. “Sum of Us!” She kicks off the applause with the envelope still in her hand.

“We’re doing it!” Both of us standing, I hug Poppy. We get hugs and pats on the back from the people around us. I kiss Pop before starting for the stage. She catches my hand. I look over my shoulder, silently asking what’s going on.

“I’m following the rules. We have to rush the stage first.” She grins.

I press a kiss to her forehead. Hand and hand, we push through the cheering crowd to make our way to the stage as the song we wrote the night of our engagement plays.

Poppy collects the hem of her black evening gown. I keep an eye on her as I help her up the stage steps. After we have been given our golden gramophone statuettes and thank the people who gave them to us, Pop and I make our way to the microphone.

“First, I would like to thank my partner in all things.” I bow to Poppy.

The crowd laughs at my grand gesture.

I run a hand through my hair to get it out of my face as I re-approach the mic. “To our families, all the ones we have – relatives, friends, fans – thank you for joining us on this ride. Lovebug, you have the warmest heart and hugs. Thank you for sharing them with us. To my fellow Knights, you know what you are and all that you mean to us. Everyone, honestly, deserves to be thanked. Praise, criticism, indifference – all of your reactions made this song what it is. –” With a look, I ask if Pop wants to be the one to wrap up the speech we collaborated on.

“The culmination of where we’ve been and where we want to go, the good, bad, and ugly experiences, all that we internalize and carry on our backs, the people we meet and make – that’s the sum of us. More than some of us experience these things, we all do, but homophones are staples in songwriting. Thanks, grammar.”

“Yes, thank you, grammar. We wouldn’t be here without you.” I pretend to get choked up and swipe an imaginary tear from my eye.

“Without any of you.” Poppy ends our speech with a sincere smile.

She rubs my back, pretending to comfort me as we begin to walk off stage. I break quickly, making her do the same. We’re laughing at ourselves and each other while we begin to make our escape. A quick pitstop to our seats is made on our way out the door. I give my award to Taylor and Poppy grabs her purse.

“Are you coming back?” Josie asks.

“Nope. Goodnight.” I take Pop’s hand and start walking.

“Night!” Jose calls to our backs. “Chelsea, will you move to the seat beside Tay?” She manages the situation without pressing for more information.

Our great escape is not sophisticated or elegant. We find the nearest side exit. As Poppy’s putting on my blazer, I look up directions to our hotel. After making sure the coast is clear of photographers, we walk the alternative route the map app provides. Our designated hotel entrance is reached about ten minutes later. Pop swipes us in with the keycard in her purse. Butterflies flap in my stomach as we ride the elevator.

“Your one-song-show tonight was pretty epic, if I do say so myself.” Poppy’s voice is shaky as breaks what I thought was an excited-anxious silence, not a nervous-anxious one.

“I think your special appearance on stage beats it. I never imaged I would be giving grammar a shoutout during a Grammys acceptance speech.” I put my arm around her and pull her flush to my side.

“Keeping things spicy is the only way to avoid a Beanie Babies divorce.” She offers me a wobbly but sweet smile.

“Well, that and telling me what’s on your mind.”

The elevator chooses that moment to doors and makes the accompanying dinging sound.

“Saved by the bell.” She hustles out the elevator.

I’m on hot on her heels. “Your reference distraction failed.”

“It was worth a shot.” She opens our door for me.

I scoop her up without warning and bridal carry her to the nearest chair. Once I have set her in it and am sure she will stay put, I sit on the coffee table in front of her.

“You vowed to speak your mind. Let me hear it, wife.” I lean in, resting my forearms on my thighs.

She purses her lips and takes a deep breath. “I’m worried about disappointing you.”

“I’m not following.” My eyebrows pull together.

“I want a baby right now. I do. I really do, but we’ve never tried to make one. We had a surprise. The act of trying won’t be an issue. We know what we are doing in that department. It’s the pregnancy part. Yes, I’ve done that too, but there are so many things that can go wrong. Each time is different. Early term miscarriages are common. A woman will have one and mistake it for her period, never realizing what it truly was. We’ll be actively checking on our progress. What if we get a positive and then the unthinkable happens? What if something goes wrong later down the line? I robbed you of the experience with Harper. I’m scared of letting you down again.” Tears begin to escape her eyes at the end. She looks away to wipe them.

“Pop, hey, look at me.” I gently request, taking the hand she has in her lap into both of mine.

After a sniff and hard swallow, she does. Two kisses are placed on the back of her hand before I start talking.

“This doesn’t have to be rosy and perfect. I can say with complete confidence that it won’t be. Holding your hand is what I want to do. It’s what I wish I was able to do the first time. I won’t leave or think less of you if things go wrong. We’ll be in it together.” I kiss her hand a third time.

“Are you standing my me?”

“By choice, yes. I spent too much time trying to wear you down not to rise to the occasion. Dream girls don’t grow on trees. You know that, Plants Smartypants.”

“You’re ironically one of a kind, Wilde.”

“For your sake, I hope you’re into it. You’ve put a permanent ring on it.”

“YOU had a permanent ring put on yourself.” She corrects, a smile forming, just as I hoped.

“So? It’s there. I’m yours. I win.”

Her smile’s growing as she leans down to kiss me. I expect a quick peck. She initiates an intense, scorching hot series of French kisses.

“How far are we going?” I take a beat to ask when she tugs me to my feet by my shirt.

I do not want to hold back if I do not have to.

“All the way until we have a baby.” Her answer is sultrily given as she tantalizingly plays with the hair at the nape of my neck.

We blindly stumble to the bed, laughing, kissing, and caressing as we shed articles of clothing. All restraint is out the window when we fall onto the mattress. Every sound, look, and move Poppy makes hold me captive. We stay in each other’s orbits until we’re spent.

Cuddling in bed, Pop and I watch award show coverage on TV.

“Rhys, do you have anything to add?” Taylor looks over his shoulder. He uses his fingers to comb the longest strands of his hair into his eyes before facing forward. Once at the microphone, Tay tosses his head to flip his hair out of his face.

As me, Taylor runs the fingers of his free hand through his hair to return it to its coif. “Remember everything I said earlier. Pretend I repeated it for the third time. Toss in a trillion more thank yous. This is – wow. This is a dream come true, one of our wildest. Seriously, thank you.”

What starts as a snort quickly turns into a fit of laughter.

“It’s not funny.” I look down at Poppy, whose head is on my chest.

“It is.” She snickers. “In true Taylor fashion, he simultaneously made fun of and did right by you. That’s how you would’ve accepted Album of the Year.”

“Minus the hair flip.”

“Minus the hair flip.” Pop repeats in agreement. “Are you bummed about missing it? He was right about it being a dream of yours.” She gently inquires.

“A tinsy bit, not enough to change my choice.” I run my hand up and down her bare back and kiss the top of her head.

“You did get to make great use of your stunt double.”

“That’s not the first making that comes to mind while we’re naked, but okay. I guess.”

She breathes a laugh and grins into a kiss.

“No swatting?” I’m smiling when our lips part.

“Nope, we’re alone, and we have a person to make.”

A response dies on my tongue when Poppy climbs on top of me.

~~Eight Weeks Later ~~>

“Harper was involved in an incident.” Mrs. Appleby informs me when I arrive to pick her up from school.

“’An incident’?” I repeat, confused, as I step into the classroom.

Harper, Ensley, Mei, Callum, and Nevin are sitting on bean bags in the Cool-off Corner. The other kids are playing as the five in trouble behave and look like they have been serving hard time. One of Harp’s buns is a ponytail and there is a run in her tights. Her arms are crossed as she scowls in the boys’ direction.

“Did they touch her?” I try but fail to keep my voice even and calm.

“No. The boys withheld trucks from Mei. Harper intervened by diving over a table to get one of the ones they were holding out of reach. Callum fell out of his seat in surprise. Ensley held Nevin back so that he couldn’t help Callum get away from Harper. It all happened so fast. I intervened as quickly as I could.” She quickly and nervously explains.

My body completely relaxes and my tone returns to normal. “Did anyone get hurt?”

“There is not a scrape, bump, or bruise on anyone. I promise you, Mr. Wilde. I check them thoroughly.”

“Why’s Mei in timeout? She’s the victim in all this.”

“She’s there by choice. I encouraged her to play with the trucks that sparked the incident. She rather sit in silence and toyless with Harper and Ensley.”

“Did everyone apologize?”

“Yes. There still hard feelings, as you can see. I am sure they will be the best of friends again by tomorrow. That is how they are at their age.”

“Okay, is Harper free to go?”

“I need you to sign an acknowledgment statement first.”

“Can I do it on our way out?”

“Sure. Absolutely. Harper, your dad’s here.” Mrs. Appleby announces.

The boys Harp has beef with are the only ones she doesn’t hug before walking to her cubby. I’m waiting there for her with her raincoat and backpack in my hands. After redoing her hair, getting her dressed and signing the form, we head out.

“What happened?” I wait until we are in the hallway to ask.

“Nevin and Callum are mean. They said girls can’t play with cars. Mei wanted to play with the trucks. I like trucks. Ensley does too. The boys wouldn’t share them. It wasn’t nice.” Harper grumbles, holding my hand and staring forward with her scowl still in place.

“So…did you get a truck?”

“Yes, but it got taken away.” She remains fired up.

I crack a smile.

That’s my girl.

“Do you want a new truck to play with at home?”

She looks up at me, grinning. “Really?!”

“You said ‘sorry’ and sat in timeout for the part you’re not supposed to do at school. You were right about the other part. Everyone can play with cars. Let’s go get one the way Mama wants us to.”

“Yeah!”

Harper skips the rest of the way to the car. We sing while we're in it. At the store, She picks out a dump truck to go with the excavator Leo got her for her birthday. We play with them in her room until Poppy gets home.

“How was school today, Lovebug?” Pop asks as we eat dinner.

Harp starts by telling her the usual – what she learned, who she saw, and what part she liked most. She tells Poppy every detail of the “incident” even though I prayed she would keep it simple.

“That’s not how we resolve conflicts. We use our words. You should have told Mrs. Appleby that they were—” Pop’s face suddenly pales, and she clamps her mouth shut. After a few sharp breaths through her nose, she covers her mouth with her hand and runs out the room.

“Did I hurt Mama’s feelings?” Harper’s apologetic.

“No, she was just telling you what to do next time.”

“But she ran away with a frowny face. I need to say ‘sorry’.” She uses her hands and the edge of the table to push back her chair.

“Stay in your seat. She had to go to the bathroom really badly. You’ll see when she gets back that she’s not upset.” I get out of my seat to push her chair back to the table.

Harper is comforted enough to resume eating. My fork remains down, and my eyes are locked on the kitchen’s entrance. I have to remind myself to breathe.

The color has returned to Poppy’s skin when she walks into the room. Her body language’s still displaying discomfort as she sits in her seat. She keeps Harper’s course correction short, sticks to water, and doesn’t say much of anything for the rest of dinner.

“Go relax. I’ll take care of the girls and the kitchen.” I quietly halt Poppy when she starts collecting plates.

Harper’s too busy finishing the last of her juice to notice our conversation.

“I need to take a test.”

“You sure?”

Her period’s three weeks late. She’s been taking prenatal vitamins and modified her diet and activities, but we’ve been putting off testing. Poppy puts a lot of pressure on herself to exceed. Stress affects periods. A negative result would make things worse by adding more pressure and stressing her out further.

She nods. “Are you sure you want to take on closing up shop with our scrapper by yourself?”

“It wasn’t a fight. It was an ‘incident’ and Smalls killed it. I’m recruiting Ensley to our baseball team tomorrow. That aggression and loyalty are what we need on the Wilde Wonders.”

“Babe, you’re a little league coach. Your players are four and five years old. They’re too young to be recruited for anything. Stop scouting.”

“That mentality doesn’t win games. We won all of ours last season. My way works.”

“You’re ridiculous.” With a soft smile playing on her lips, Poppy hugs me. “But I’ll still wait until you’re off work to take the tests.”

“Thank you.” I kiss her forehead.

Poppy shows Harper with plenty of affection, making sure she knows she is not upset with her before retiring to our room for the night.

Returning the kitchen to normal, tending to the dogs and Harper, and getting the three of them to bed is a cinch. Poppy cleans as she cooks. Putting the dishes in the dishwasher and wiping down the table is all that Harper and I have to do. Harper is pretty self-sufficient when it comes to getting ready for bed and the dogs are well-trained.

“Pop?” I call out once I am in our room, shutting the door behind me.

“Bathroom!”

She is in her pajamas, looking at herself in the mirror as she brushes her damp hair into a ponytail. The three pregnancy test boxes on the counter are unopened. The sight of them relieves, excites, and scares me.

“Are you feeling better?”

“Kinda. The potential morning sickness has been replaced with pre-show nerves. You’re the expert, what do I do to make them go away?”

“Go on and hope for the best. Having a band to back you helps too. If you tank, you do it together. You get to celebrate the same way, and let me tell ya, solo after-parties just don’t get the job done.”

“Let’s get this show on the road, then. Turn around and keep your ears covered until I give you a tap.”

My arms encircle her waist and I give her a thorough good luck kiss before following instructions.

While sitting on the ledge of the bathtub, I hold Poppy in my arms as the processing tests lay face down by the sink. Five minutes have never felt longer. The alarm on my phone going off causes both of us to flinch.

“You do the honors.” Pop’s eyes are closed as she picks them up and hands them to me.

I take them from her but have my hand over the result windows. “Nope, we’re doing it together. Open those eyes and sit down, gorgeous.”

She takes the seat beside me and loops an arm through mine. We countdown from three to one. We stare at our fate once I open my fist.

+

Pregnant

😊

I jump to my feet and yell, “YES!” at the top of my lungs. Poppy gets in on my happy dancing. We may have kept it up all night if it were not for another bout of nausea hits her. She’s able to breathe through the wave. I get to get my pregnant wife a glass of water for the first time.

~

“Penelope James-Wilde?” A nurse reads her name off a clipboard.

I put down the parenting magazine I was too excited to read and follow Poppy to the examination room. Into the restroom to submit a urine sample is the only place I don’t trail after her. That is the only moment I am okay with missing.

“You’re a knockout in that dress. I read somewhere that paper’s all the rage right now.” I compliment Poppy’s paper gown as I stand beside the table examination table.

“It looks nice, but I can’t buy it. It makes too much noise when I move.” She plays along.

“I can see Seattle weather being an issue too.”

“Oh, yeah, decision made. Nothing ruins a day more than your clothes disintegrating in public.”

“Imagine if it were on a Monday?”

“No way. It’d bring me down too much and I have to go back to work after this.”

“You’re strong enough to power through. I believe in you.” I pat the hand of hers I’m holding.

With an amused smile on her face, she leans up to kiss me. I meet her halfway and press my lips to hers.

We part when there is a knock on the door. Pop lets the person on the other side know it is safe to enter.

“Hello, Poppy, it is always nice to see you. I see we have a guest today.”

“Yes, my husband Rhys.”

My title will never get old.

“It is nice to meet you, Rhys. My name is Dr. Ukaegbu.” She shakes my hand.

“It is nice to meet you as well. I hope you have good news for us.”

“We are off to a good start. Poppy’s pregnancy test results are positive. I know that is what we were aiming for. I need to do an ultrasound to see if your efforts were a complete success.”

I swallow a scream and nod with a smile.

“That’s great to hear.” Poppy’s able to speak at a normal volume.

We silently happy dance while the doctor is washing her hands with her back to us. I try to play off the fist pump Dr. Ukaegbu catches me doing by running my hand through my hair. Poppy pretends to be finishing a stretch. The knowing smile the doctor gives makes it clear our cover-ups failed.

“There is no shame in celebrating. You want a baby and it is looking like we have one in our midst.” Dr. Ukaegbu tells us as she snaps on a pair of gloves.

“I would retract that statement. He’ll do a backflip in here if you use that sort of blanket statement.” Poppy tells her.

“Can confirm.” I nod.

“Save acrobatics for the parking lot. Only hugging, kissing, cheering, crying, and clapping are allowed in here.” Dr. Ukaegbu amends.

“You’ve got it, Doc.”

I hold Poppy’s hand as she answers the doctor’s list of wellness and health history questions, and I listen intently to all of Dr. Ukaegbu’s feedback.

“What’s that and where’s it going?” I blurt when the doctor starts unraveling a condom on a magic wand looking thing.

“It is a transducer. It will be going into Poppy’s vagina. I like to do transvaginal ultrasounds early on to get a full scope of my patients’ conditions.”

“Did you know that?” I whisper to Pop.

“Yes. It was used at my first confirmation appointment too.”

“You couldn’t have warned me?”

“A warning would’ve taken away from your first experience.” She pats the top of the hand she’s holding.

When asked to do so, she scoots to the end of the folded table and puts her feet into stirrups.

“You’re going to feel some pressure.” Dr. Ukaegbu warns.

Poppy nods her acknowledgment and stares up at the ceiling. I caress her cheek with the hand she’s not holding.

My eyes leave hers when rapid whooshing overtakes the room. Tears are already falling when my eyes settle on the gray cashew floating in a black swimming pool. I bring Poppy’s hand to my lips and kiss it repeatedly as I memorize every detail of what we created.

I do a backflip on the sidewalk as soon as we step out of the facility.

“Are you going to do that after every appointment?” Poppy observes from a safe distance.

“Yep. Get used to it.”

“I already am.” She holds her hand out for me to take.

I accept her offering. “Telling Harper will be fun.”

We wait until Friday. She’ll be a disruption at school if she doesn’t have days to process the news. Like everything else, Harp likes to share her excitement. The fresher something is on her mind, the more she’ll talk about it.

Friday night is family movie night. We have pizza for dinner, ice cream for dessert, and snack popcorn while bundled up in blankets on the master bedroom’s couch. We cuddle and watch old movies in our pajamas until we fall asleep. It’s the perfect atmosphere to tell Harper we’ll have someone joining us in a few months.

“Lovebug, Daddy and I have something to tell you.” Poppy angles herself toward her on the couch.

We are on either side of her.

“I’ve been nice at school. I didn’t go to the Cool-off Corner again. I got my folder stickers too. Ask Mrs. Appleby.” Harp frantically looks between the two of us as she makes a case for her innocence.

“You’re not in trouble. We have happy news to share.” I ruffle her hair.

She giggles and shakes her hair out of her face with a grin. “What’s the happy news?”

“You’re going to have a little brother or sister in November.” Pop tries to sell it with enthusiasm.

Harper pierces the air with a shrill scream. “YES!”, she shoves our covers onto the floor, hops onto the ottoman, and starts jumping.

That’s my girl.

Poppy snaps her fingers to get Harper’s attention. “Get down.” She points to the couch. “You’re wearing socks. You could slip and hurt yourself.”

Harp gracefully dismounts the furniture by using her final bounce to land on her bottom, the way she was taught on trampolines in gymnastics class.

“Do you want to see a picture of them?” I ask once she is back on the couch.

“Yes, yes, yes!” Harper claps.

“There they are.” Poppy points them out to her when a copy of an ultrasound photo is in Harp’s hands. “Their body’s still growing. That’s why you can’t see very much.”

Harper squints and tilts her head to the side. “Where’s the other one?”

“Other one?” I question.

“I got two wishes. I wished really hard like Uncle Taylor said. That’s one baby. Where’s my second one?”

“You – uh – wished on different days. The babies will arrive one at a time. You’ll get to be a big sister to a second baby in a few years.” Poppy speaks her language.

“Can we go get the baby now? November is forever away. I’ll be extra careful and nice because it’s littler than the other babies.”

“No, they have to stay in my belly until they are fully developed. We won’t be able to keep them if they leave too early.”

“Why?”

“They need a brain to think, lungs and a nose to breathe, a mouth to eat and swallow, and the other organs that people need to be people. They don’t have them yet. They need to stay with me until they do.”

“Do they have a penis or vagina yet? They need those to go to the bathroom.” Harper asks casually and with a straight face.

We let Taylor babysit. While showing him back handsprings, she accidentally kicked him in the crotch. Harper asked why it hurt him and not her gymnastics teacher when she gets hit there. He answered. She shared what she learned with every kid in her grade. Poppy and I got to have a delightful conversation about what is appropriate to talk about on the playground. Taylor was put on godfather probation. His threat to fire me from Heart-Headed Records got his year-long sentence shortened to two months.

“No, they don’t have a penis or vagina yet. You can tell people you are going to be a big sister but don’t talk about their privates. It’s off-putting.” Poppy continues to show off her awesome mom skills.

“I remember. I asked you because I have to know if they can go to the bathroom to be a good big sister. They’ll get sick if they can’t. I don’t want the baby getting sick. They’re my wish, Mama! My wish!” Harper’s declaration’s excessively dramatic.

That’s my girl.

Pop’s eyes flick to mine, silently saying the same thing I’m thinking.

“We will let you know what we know when we know it, okay?” I put my arm around Harper and rub her shoulder.

“What’s its name?” She looks up at me.

“They don’t have one yet.”

“Ooo! Can I name them?”

“Mama and I are going to name them. You can pick out their toys.”

“Their toys will be extra fun. We can share mine when they get bigger. Where are they going to sleep? Can it be in my room with Holly, Buddy, and me? It’ll be a slumber party! We’ll play and have music time and read books. I’ll teach them how like I did Grampa.”

Harper lobs question after question at me and Poppy. Harp’s assumption that her sibling is coming because she wished for one gets us out of coming up with an answer to the, “how are babies made?” question that does not cause another “incident”. We try to keep those at two a month.

Her physical showdown with the boys last week was new and uncharted territory. Harper was born a talker; running her mouth more than she should and oversharing are what get Poppy and I pulled aside during pickup and drop-off. We were far from surprised the first time it happened and expect to see “excessive talking” written in the “needs improvement” section of her future report cards. She was a blabbermouth before my active involvement; I’m not taking full responsibility for her chattiness…only most.

Harper’s Harperness adds to my fascination with Poppy’s pregnancy. As her belly grows, I wonder more and more about who The-Little-Cashew-Who-Could will become. The blob transforms into our son before our eyes. Chris let us have the portable ultrasound machine he tormented Jess with during her pregnancies. Poppy and I use it every night to visit on our little guy.

He’s active. His arms and legs have been in use since they sprouted. Music mellows him out…sometimes. Most times, he gets super hyper and dances his thunderous heart out. His behavior’s the exact opposite of Harper’s when she was his age. Learning about him has become an obsession, as has preparing for his arrival.

Poppy and I have a list of names that we like. We’re going to wait until we see him to give him two. There are plenty of other details for me to obsess over. My constant questions, baby content reading, shopping, building, and staring have to be bugging the living daylights out of Poppy, but she does not let on. She lets me take care of her without a single complaint about my overeagerness to do it. She even asks for things. My body’s what she requests for most. Her horniness knows no bounds and I’m more than willing to oblige.

Harper, Holly Jolly Christmas, and Buddy’s primary care has fallen on me. The limitations and restrictions Poppy has in the ninth month of her pregnancy don’t mesh well with an inquisitive five-year-old and two special needs dogs. It means even less sleep for me, but I would take my gig over Poppy’s any day. I mean that with the utmost respect. It pains me to think about what her body’s doing and what she’ll endure. I can barely read about it. I know I’d be unable to do it. Pop is our team’s power-hitting MVP. I take pride in my work as her dutiful ball boy.

Living in a state of paranoia is a bummer, as are many other things about this, but you have to take the good with the bad. There’s too much to do to waste time harping on what can't be changed.

“Babe.”

The suddenness of Poppy’s voice causes me to hit my head on the crib.

“What are you doing up?” I wince, rubbing my forehead as I slide out from beneath the furniture.

“I had to go to the bathroom. What’s your excuse?” She is using one hand to support her lower back and the other to rub her swollen belly.

The sight of them never fails to make me smile.

“Sit.” I help her into the rocking chair I built and thoroughly tested.

It survived being jumped on and kicked. Taylor held the chair still while I did it. He helped me test all of the baby’s furniture.

“Now that I have, answer the question.” She folds her hands on her stomach’s shelf.

I drag the paired ottoman closer, sit on it, and prop one of her legs onto my lap.

“Nesting.” I massage her left foot.

“He’s going to be sleeping in our room for six months. You have plenty of time to tinker with his nursery.”

“Doing it now gives me even more time. I’m thinking ahead, Pop. That’s what fathers of two do.”

“They do, which is why you should be harvesting as much sleep as you can. If you do it, you’ll thank me later.”

“I’ll be thanking you regardless.” I rest my hand on our son’s home.

He kicks my hand.

“What was that?” I rest my ear against Poppy’s baby bump. “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” I nod as though I am listening. “Ah, yes. I hear you loud and clear, bud. I’ll tell her and take care of it. Go back to sleep.” I press a kiss where he’s squirming.

“What’d he say?” Poppy runs her fingers through my hair as I caress her belly with my thumb.

“He wants me to nest so he can rest. The bolts on his crib are keeping him awake. They’re at an angle. I have to straighten them. It’s the only way he’ll be able to stop tossing and turning on your bladder. Our baby boy’s growing, Penelope. He needs his beauty sleep.”

“You do too.”

“Are you calling me ugly?”

“Did you just call our son ugly?”

“Touché.” I begrudgingly acknowledge her rightness. “He’s getting low.” I resume giving her a foot massage.

“My pelvis is well aware.” Poppy arches her back, trying to ease the tension in it.

“Are you having contractions?”

“Inconsistent ones.”

“Ouch. I think I broke my hand.” I shake out my right one. “I need to go to the hospital and get it checked out. Come with me.”

She tugs me down when I try to stand. “Braxton Hick’s contractions are a normal part of the final stretch and you know it.”

“Dr. Ukaegbu said any day now. That was days ago.”

“My cervix wasn’t dilated.”

“It hasn’t been checked in three days. For all we know, you could be eleven centimeters.”

“We do know. He’d be on the floor if I were.”

“If you answer one question with complete honesty, I’ll go to bed.”

“Ask away.”

“Are you keeping him in there to go to Thanksgiving at Mom’s?”

“A lifetime of Kegels wouldn’t be enough to keep an 8 lbs. baby in a womb against its will.”

“Answer the question.”

“We had a talk, okay? I explained the situation and he said he wanted to spend the whole day gobbling goodness too.”

“Let me know as soon as he changes his mind.” I press a quick kiss to her lips and help her out of her chair.

“He’s the reason I want to spend all day eating. Thwarting my plans will be as detrimental to him as it is to me. Harper wanted specific things in normal quantities. Our son wants everything and as much of it as possible.”

“They’re their own people. There’s not much we can do about it.” I escort her to our room with my arm around her waist.

With my help, Poppy into bed and properly situate a specialty pillow made to support pregnancy bellies. Spooning her adds to her comfort; doing it every time we sleep gives me one more excuse to hold them.

I’m up and at ’em a few hours later to tend to Harper and the dogs. Any and all complaints are kept to myself.

“Happy Thanksgiving, baby brother. It’s your first one. I’ll show how you how to do it.” Harper kisses Poppy’s stomach.

“We’re thankful for you, Mama.” She has them in a group hug.

“I’m thankful for you too. Did he tell you what he’s thankful for?” Pop smiles down at her as she returns her hug in the only way she can, smoothing down Harper’s hair.

“No, he’s too little to talk. What you’re thankful for is what you love. I know my baby brother loves you because I do. We love all the same things because he’s my wish.” She answers with complete confidence.

"You both have to love your mom. The rest may be different even though he was our wish." I tell her.

"Why?"

I answer her question and the rest that she asks as we walk to the garage.

“And the doctor said it’s okay for you to be out and about? You look like you could pop any second.” Her dad uses the rearview mirror to look at Poppy as I drive us to Mom’s house.

“For the millionth time, yes. I’m going to eat, not ride a rollercoaster.” She answers from the backseat, her hands folded on the shelf her belly’s created.

“Are you having contractions?”

“Yes.” I butt in before she can undersell.

“They’re scattered and I barely feel them.”

“There’s a hospital nearby. Let’s—”

“Dad, I’m fine. I appreciate your concern. Your grandson does too. We want to eat. We’re going to do it, we’re looking forward to it, and that’s final.”

“My brother makes Mama hungry, Grampa. He wants food all the time. She has to feed him. Soon, I’ll get to feed him too.” Harper informs him. “Right, Mama?”

“That’s right, Lovebug. He’ll need someone to hold his bottle when he has to use one.”

My father-in-law subtly leans in my direction. “Is the go-bag in the trunk?” His question’s asked quietly enough not to be heard by the ladies in the backseat.

“Yes, I double-checked before leaving the house,” I respond the same way.

My mom hugged us crying and got straight to work online shopping for baby clothes when Poppy and I told her we would be adding to her grandbaby collection. Randall’s positive response was a slow burn. It had nothing to do with our parenting ability, age, or circumstances. He tamped down his excitement over becoming grandpa to two kiddos to express his only concern – how it’d affect the perception of Poppy at her job.

Science is a male-dominated field. If her gender weren’t enough to draw extra attention to her, her age and promotion to management has drawn in a large audience. Some of them walked in doubting her abilities. The side effects of pregnancy and the paternity leave that follows it’s often viewed as weakness, as a reason to count her out. He made sure we were aware of that harsh reality (we were) and were prepared to handle it (we are) before joining the rest of us in Happyland.

Randall’s all in now. He came to Seattle to be with all of us for Thanksgiving; he’s not leaving until after New Year’s because of the baby.

“Your watermelon is ripe for the picking. When are you going to be induced?” Grams has both hands on Poppy’s belly.

She’s the latest of many who has touched Pop’s stomach since we walked through the door at Mom’s house. None of us have been able to keep our hands off her since she started showing.

“Next Tuesday. He should be here before then.” Poppy answers between spinach puffs.

“He has to be. November’s over next week. It’s time for us to be together.” Harper’s never too far away from her Mama these days.

We’re not sure if she thinks she’s the one who’s supposed to deliver her brother or wants to be there the moment he arrives. Knowing her, it’s probably both.

“You’re such a cute big sister.” Becca coos, resting her hand on her chest.

“It’s not easy having little brothers. They can be a pain. We think you can handle it, though.” Lindsey says to Harper as she teasingly smiles at me.

“Wish extra hard for a sister next time. They’re more fun.” Beck adds.

“I don’t have to wish again. I made a wish for another baby already. All I have to do is wait. I’ll get a sister later.” Harper tells them.

I glare at mine for putting the idea of a sister in her head. Harp didn’t have a preference until now.

“Courtney, you want a brother, don’t you?” I try to turn things around on Linds.

“No, I want a sister. My mom and Myron said I could get one after they get married.” She briefly pauses the game of Connect Four she is playing with Grace to answer.

My eldest sister’s set to get married in May. Myron’s been family approved. He’s a lawyer at the same firm as Lindsey. Courtney took to him quickly. He treats her and Linds well. Myron didn’t buckle when all of us ganged up on him at the first Wilde gathering he attended. He has the most in common with Chris, which is a great sign, and he gets on well with the rest of us. I’ve yet to witness him raise any red flags, and we’ve been staring him down for a year and a half.

“You’re missing out. Brothers are great.” I try to sell it to her.

Asking Aiden if he wants a brother would scare off Keir, Beck’s new boyfriend. The daggers she’s glaring at me right now are unnecessary. I’d never blow up her spot like that. I want him to stick around. Keir's the kind of cool Garbage thought he was.

The dude’s a firefighter. He was an MMA fighter for a hot second. Beck never has to worry about who he is with or what he is doing. He checks in with her regularly because of the nature of his job. How much he’s into her is obvious. Aiden isn’t just tolerated by him. He genuinely cares for him. Keir asked if he could give Aiden a tour of the firehouse. Beck would’ve had to beg Garbage to do something like that for him. Becca reported in wayyy too much detail how it made her feel when Keir let Aiden get into the driver’s seat of a firetruck and turn on the siren. I’m still traumatized, but she’s happy and I love her, so I’ll let it slide.

“Book, you want a brother, right?” I consult with the little guy I’m stacking blocks with.

“I have siser.” He points to Scarlett.

“Dude, you’re supposed to be on my side. I’m your favorite uncle.”

Booker kicks over our tower and laughs about it. I push the few blocks that remained standing onto the floor. It makes him laugh harder. The smile on my face grows.

“May I have a hug?” I hold out my arms.

He surges into them and ties his little arms around my neck.

“I’d have to warn Chris you might steal one of his kids if you weren’t about to be gifted one of your own,” Taylor comments as Booker toddles to the bin of toys in the corner of the living room.

“I’m starting to think you don’t want to be a godfather. Everything you say is starting to sound like self-sabotage.” I retort.

“That’s a reach. I’m bringing the same level of realism to the table. Difference is, Harp always listens to me. You do it selectively.”

“Do I want my son to be attached to you the way my daughter is?’ is the question I keep asking myself,” I reply.

“You’re more than welcome to do so, but the choice isn’t entirely yours to make. I’ve got an in with his mother. We were friends long before you were.”

“Pop will side with me over you,” I argue.

“I’d tone down my confidence if I were you. She’s going to hate you while she’s giving birth. The pain will be fresh in her mind when the baby’s godfather’s named. It’ll make her want to pick me that much more.” Taylor smugly responds, knowing all too well that he’s right.

“She’ll bounce back quicker than you think. The ‘I’m so happy I gave life’ hormones will overtake her, and Pop will be Rhys’s number one fan after the torture is over. If he shoots his shot at the right time, he can have you replaced, Sailor.” Chelsea interjects.

She’s counting down the days alongside us. Missing out on her godson’s birth’s punishable crime in her opinion. Chelsea chose to be in Seattle instead of Boston for Thanksgiving.

“Baby two is bigger than Harper. Extra poundage gives her more power to hold a grudge. It’s going to work as I said.” Tay replies to her.

“I’d be on board if we were talking 10 pounds or above. He’s in the average range. The heftier side of standard, but still run-of-the-mill.”

“She could still destroy him for it.”

“For sure. I would. She won’t. I had to smack him for her.”

“Name me for her. Problem solved.” He replies.

“Hm. I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve got to consult with her first.” Chels shrugs a shoulder.

“That’ll make the point moot. She’ll side with him.” Taylor exasperatedly points out.

“Ha! I—” I catch Poppy trying to stand from the corner of my eye. My taunt is abandoned to see what she needs.

“Bathroom break or more food?”

“Bathroom.” Her voice is tight.

“Contractions?” I steady her on her feet.

“Heavy-lifting.” She props her back with both hands.

“You’re sweating.” I use my arm to support her as we walk down the hall.

“My hormones have hormones. I’ve been sweating nonstop for months.”

Her body becomes more rigid with each step we take.

“I said it once and I’m going to say it again, ‘I think you’re trying to keep him in there’.”

“I’m no—” The air’s sucked from Poppy’s lungs and she hunches over, clutching her stomach.

“Contraction! Go time!” I yell.

“What’s the play? Car carry?” Leo gets to us first.

“We haven’t timed them. We can’t go until we’ve timed them.” Pop’s out of breath when she dismisses us.

“Have Jess met us in the bedroom down the hall.” I relay to Leo.

He jogs to work. I help Pop waddle the rest of the way to the bathroom.

Poppy stops playing the, “I’m fine, let me eat” game after Jessica examines her and finds that her cervix is four centimeters dilated. She couldn’t fight the feeling anymore, completely forgot what she started fighting for when her contractions hit faster and stronger. Saying the word, “hospital” is all it took for her to let me bring her active labor ship to the shore.

“Are there drugs for the drugs? Clothes can be sewn with epidural needles.” I ask a nurse as I fluff Poppy's pillows.

“There aren’t! You know it! Don’t talk about it!” Pop snaps through gritted teeth.

“There could be secret drugs. I’ve gotta try to score them, babe. I don’t want you to feel that monster—”

She twists the fabric of my shirt in her fist and yanks me down to her eye-level. “It’s going in my spine. It’s going to hurt like hell. Shut up. You’re reminding me.” Her voice is menacingly calm as she vibrates with anger.

“But—”

“If you—ah!” A contraction interrupts her threat.

The machine monitoring her contractions goes crazy as I remind her to breathe. She falls onto the mountain of freshly fluffed pillows once the pain has subsided.

“Almost there.” I press a kiss to her damp forehead.

“Do you have any other questions, Mr. Wilde?” The nurse checks as she updates Poppy’s chart.

“Yeah, can I change my order of two drugs to one? She—”

Poppy bats away the hand I’m using to lean on the hospital bed’s railing. I falter but quickly catch myself.

“I still love you.” I smile down at her.

She glares at me. “I love you too.”

“I’ll see what I can do about that epidural.” The nurse leaves the room.

Being with Poppy while she was pregnant and witnessing her in labor made me feel anxious – the good and bad kind. Watching her give birth? Helpless – absolutely, terrifyingly, exhilaratingly helpless. Regardless of how hard I wish, I can’t relieve her discomfort and exhaustion. Supporting her and praying for the best is all that’s within my power.

“It’s a boy!” Dr. Ukaegbu enthusiastically announces as he – our son – cries for the first time.

“You did it, baby. You did it.” I croak through my tears as I kiss Poppy’s temple repeatedly.

“Rhys, would you like to cut the cord?” The doctor asks.

“I—wh—what if I—” I stammer, panicked.

“It’s your turn to do it.” Pop gives me with the sleepiest, sweetest smile.

After planting a lightning-fast kiss on her lips, I take care of our second child for the first time.

With the help of a nurse, our baby boy goes from a screaming, goo-covered mess to a clean, still loud, 8 lbs. 3 oz. bundle of squishiness. I carry him to his mama and put him on the exposed part of her chest for skin to skin contact.

He doesn’t have nearly as much hair as Harper did when she was born. There’s a thick patch of black hair at the front of his head that’s sticking of out his hat like bangs; the rest of it is short and thin, exposing his scalp. His cheeks and lips are plump; his nose is a button, and his wrinkly hand has my finger in a vice grip.

“Our baby boy’s strong,” I whisper, my arm around Poppy as we watch him sleep.

“His kicks and punches have been indicating it for months.”

“What about Ash?”

“Ash?”

“Like the tree and Pokémon trainer.”

Pop snorts. “I thought the front of his hair looked familiar.”

“Yeah, and he’s big and strong. Trees are too.”

“What’s Ash’s middle name?”

“Gibson? He liked Gage better than Cassius while he lived inside of you. Nature and music names can be our tradition.”

“Ash Gibson.” She thinks aloud. “It suits our family.”

“It’s Thanksgiving. Ash got the holiday birth memo too.”

“Thanksgiving’s on a different day each year.”

“The first day of summer is too. Your birthday’s in its rotation. His’s in Thanksgiving’s.”

“Our secret formula was a success.” There’s a smile in her voice.

“Go us.” I continue our joke.

Her eyes leave Ash for the first time since they met. Mine go to hers. We meet halfway to kiss.

Pop and I have a half-hour alone with our little man. Dad escorts Harper into the room to meet her little brother. More accurately, she drags him into the room because he’s not moving fast enough.

“HE’S HERE!” Harp runs to me.

Ash wakes up, crying. I do my best to soothe him by gently rocking and holding him closer to my body.

“I’m sorry, baby brother! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to make you sad!” She apologizes profusely, jumping at my feet in hopes of getting closer.

“It’s the loud noise, Lovebug. The world’s still a new and scary place for him. We’ve got to keep it down until he adjusts.” Poppy motions her to the bed.

“May I hold him?” Harper’s attempt at whispering is a normal speaking volume for most.

“Your hands need to be washed first. He’ll get sick if you don’t.” Pop tucks strands of Harp’s hair behind her ear.

“Grampa, we’ve got to wash our hands to play with the baby.” Harper marches to him.

There are no “if”, “ands” or “buts” about it. She drags him to the sink the medical professionals have been using to wash their hands. I transfer Ash to Poppy. He wiggles to make himself comfortable. After removing her shoes, I lift Harper into the hospital bed. She scoots as close to her mom and brother as possible.

“Hi, I’m Harper, your big sister. I wished for you.” She rests her head on Pop’s chest to hug Ash.

As I’m taking pictures of my beautiful family, Poppy’s dad gives me a congratulatory pat on the back.

“She did all the hard work.” I get rid of my latest fall of tears and face him.

“You were there. It went a long way.” He reassuringly squeezes my shoulder.

“What’s the little fella’s name?” Randall leaves me to check out his grandson.

“Ash. Ash Gibson James-Wilde.” My heart swells with pride as I join the viewing party.

Ash’s need for neck support and Shaken Baby Syndrome are the only reasons my littlest cub and I aren’t Lion Kinging right now.

All dreams can't come true, but this one -- this moment -- beats going on stage to collect my Record of the Year for “Sum of Us” and Album of the Year Grammys by a landslide.

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