“Bahhhh.” Harper identities the sheep before putting the cookie into her mouth.
A cow is next. “Mooooo.”
“Does she always do this?” Rhys asks me, never taking his eyes off her.
“Every single time. It’s why she likes them.”
“She knows her animal noises.” He smiles.
“She makes up her own for some of them.” I place a giraffe cookie on her highchair tray.
As predicted, she sticks out her tongue with her mouth closed and blows, producing a loud noise and spraying Rhys with spit in the process.
“That’ll be easy to remember.” He wipes his face with his hand.
“You did a great job shopping for her.”
“Are the diapers and clothes the right size?”
“They’re perfect. She’ll get a lot of use out of them. Her eighteen-month clothes are getting a little snug.”
“Good.” He exhales with relief. “I had no clue what I was doing. I got so overwhelmed that I actually accepted a salesperson’s help.”
“Wow. You really were overwhelmed. You hate asking for help. Remember the time we spent two hours in a hardware store because you refused to ask where the compost bins were located?”
“Yes, we argued about it for the rest of the day.”
“It was a waste of time. You couldn’t get that through your thick skull.”
“I learned my lesson. I bit the bullet to get here as quickly as possible. My time is better spent watching her perform animal sounds.”
“I’m glad you feel that way.” I pick up my cup of water.
“That’s why I’d like you and Harper to join me on tour.”
I snort. “Rhys, you can’t be serious. We can’t--”
“I’m not going to be able to go months without seeing her. She’ll be a completely different person when I return. I’ve already missed so much. I don’t want to miss another second.”
“I have to work.”
“Quit. Your talents are wasted in a nightclub.”
“I only work at Eclipse on weekends. I’m a receptionist at a business consulting firm Monday through Friday.”
“Do you want to be there?”
“I need to—”
“That’s not what I asked.”
My office job is mind-numbingly repetitive and doesn’t challenge me in the slightest. Everyone at the firm talks down to me because of my age and position. Eclipse is hardly better. I have Chelsea to pal around with and the tips are great, but dealing with drunk people while sober is tiresome. Rudeness and belligerence are encountered on every shift. Men can get handsy when I wait tables; the rich ones do it with an air of entitlement. Flagging down security when they refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer will never get easier. Waking up to and going to bed with Harper makes it worth it.
“I want to be able to support myself and my daughter. Working allows me to do that.” I stubbornly double-down.
He can give Harper whatever he wants. I don’t want him thinking he needs to swoop in and save my life. All things considered, I have done well for myself. Harper has never gone without; I’ve kept the promise I made to her before she was born.
“She’s our daughter. I owe you nineteen months of back child support. If I pay it in full, you’ll be able to do that without working.” Rhys argues.
I rid myself of the lump in my throat with a sip of water. “I told you I don’t need your money.”
“Working two jobs says otherwise.”
“Hard work has never hurt anyone. Besides, you’re not thinking this tour thing through.”
“What do you think there is to think about?” He challenges.
“Toddlers aren’t exactly known for their flexibility. Harper’s typically well-behaved, but that could change if she is subjected to too much inconsistency.”
“Her staples will remain in place. My bedtime will be later than hers, but I’m down for following the rest of her schedule.”
“You can’t follow her schedule and do your job well. She is an early riser.”
He asks. “Would you be helping me?”
“What else would I be doing?”
“Then what’s the question?”
I let out a soft sigh. “Logistically, how would it work?”
“There’s a bedroom in the back of the bus. We rotate. I have it for the first half of the North American leg of the tour. The guys would give up their turns for you without a second thought. A crib will be put in there for Harper. There’s Wi-Fi, so all of her shows and movies can be cued up at all times. She’ll have her toys. I’ll make sure what she likes to eat is in the kitchenette, served backstage, and in hotels. Her baths can be given in backstage bathrooms on the nights we sleep on the bus and bathtubs when we’re in hotels.”
He’s actually thought about this. He’s not tossing out words, hoping at least a few of them stick.
“Where would I sleep?”
“In the bedroom with her. I’ll take the couch in front of the bus.”
“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. You’re the one working.”
“The couch is super comfy. I nap on it all the time.” He shrugs.
I purse my lips. “There are things that happen on tour that she shouldn’t see and I don’t want to witness.”
“I’ll have everyone censor themselves around her, myself included. I won’t expose you to anything harmful either.”
“I’m talking about girls, not drugs. I don’t want to watch you parade them around while I stand in the corner with your baby on my hip.”
“I wouldn’t disrespect you like that. Besides, this whole point of this is for us to connect as a family.”
“Family?” My eyebrows pull together.
“She’s ours. We’re going to raise her together. That makes us a family.”
“Is your label going to make us get a paternity test?” A knot begins to form in the pit of my stomach.
“They’ll try, but I refuse to take one. You’ve suffered enough.”
I spare a glance a Harper. She’s illustrating why this is a bad idea by smashing crackers on her highchair tray with her sippy cup.
“We can’t. I’m sorry.” I vacate my seat to take care of her latest mess.
She’d destroy their bus and expensive hotel rooms like the Tasmanian devil.
“I’m not leaving here without you, so I guess the tour’s canceled.” He leans back in his chair, crossing his arms.
“You can’t quit your job, Rhys. Too many people depend on you.” I take Harper’s cup away from her.
“Weese.” She echoes his name in an identical frustrated tone.
“I’m Daddy to you, Harp, Rhys to Mommy.” His expression morphs from defiantly determined to awestruck while interacting with her.
“Weese.” She defies him.
“Yeah…she’s definitely my kid.” He smirks, pleased.
“People have paid for tickets. Arenas have been booked. You’ll face a hefty fine, lose fans and credibility. Your future is--” I start.
“Right here. There’s nothing you can say that will get me to change my mind.” He finishes.
Cleaning Harper’s mess gives me time to think.
“I can’t leave my jobs without giving two weeks’ notice. It’ll negatively impact my employment history. How about we meet you on the road?” I offer a compromise.
“I can wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“You, here. I’ll postpone the tour.” He responds lackadaisically.
“Shows can be rescheduled in the event of personal emergencies. It’s in my contract. This is a family one.”
“There’s nothing urgent about this situation.”
“We have legal documents that need tending to. I’m signing her birth certificate. I’d like to have Wilde added to her name. My need to get to know her is too strong to be able to focus on anything else. Staying in Boston until you can leave with me is a necessity.” He pleads his case with passion.
I respond to the part my brain can process. “I want to drop James. She’s never belonged to that family.”
“Harper Posy Wilde has a nice ring to it.” Rhys muses.
“It’s too late to change them, but do you like her first and middle names?”
“Love them.” He says with no hesitation. “I can call her Harp. Isn’t posy a flower?”
“A small bouquet of them.”
“Music and plants. Perfect combo for our little lady.” He smiles.
“That was my train of thought too.”
“Your nickname for her is cute too. Her last name is the only thing that would be different if I was there when you named her.”
“Good to know.”
“I’ll have my lawyer get all the documents together. We’ll have everything sorted by the end of the week.”
“What is your stance going to be in the public eye?”
His eyebrows pull together. “What do you mean?”
“You’re single and a regular on the party scene. You’re always being photographed with different women. Suddenly walking around with a kid in your arms will be jarring to your fans.” I explain.
“There’s not going to be a public announcement. I’m not putting our business out there. You’ve already endured too much to be dragged through the mud by people who know nothing about you.”
“Thanks.” I offer him a wobbly smile.
“I’d like you to stay at my hotel while we’re in town just in case something does leak. I have a suite. We can have a crib and high chair brought in for Harper. A car can take you to work every day.”
“You’d do all that?”
“You’re mine to protect too. We made her.”
“We can use it as an opportunity to get used to living together. I can train you on all things Harper.”
“It sounds like a plan. So, we’re doing this?”
“I need to check one more thing.” I put my hand on Harper’s shoulder. “Do you want to watch daddy make music, Lovebug?”
“Usic. Usic, want usic.” She flails her arms with glee.
The radiation of Rhys’s smile could power a city.