Poppy sat up and gazed out at the audience, blinking for a moment before she remembered who she was and where she was. “Yo, I need a mic,” she told Khalid, her hand outstretched towards him expectantly. Khalid laughed as a stage hand walked out from behind the curtain and handed her an unhooked portable microphone. Poppy accepted it with a small grin and stood, approaching the edge of the stage. “This one is for my boy Quincey B!” She barked putting all the emphasis on the ‘B’. Quincey grimaced as Tora shook his and buried his face in his hands. This was bad; this was going to be so bad. Salsa music came over the speakers for her. Poppy closed her eyes, her head nodding to the beat for a moment before she took a deep breath and began,
“Now I like dollars, I like diamonds,
I like stunting, I like shining,
I like millon dollar deals
Where’s my pen? Bitch I’m signin’
I like those Balenciagas, the ones that look like socks
I like going to the jeweler, I put rocks all in my watch,
I like texts from my exes when they want a second chance
I like proving gangstas wrong, I do what they say I can’t
They call me Quincey Bathey, banging body
Spicy mami, hot tamale,
Hotter than a Somali, fur coat, Ferrari
Hop out the stu’, jump in the coupe
Big Dipper on top of the roof
Flexing on bitches as hard as I can
Eating halal, driving the Lam’
Told that bitch I’m sorry though
‘Bout my coins like Mario
Yeah they call me Quincey B, I run this shit like cardio!
The audience roared with applause. Tora glanced over at Quincey whose upper body was leaning towards Poppy, his eyes round as he stared at his little editor in wonder. Who knew she was such a word smith? He turned to meet Tora’s glance. “At least she only mentioned Gangsters once?” he whispered, still thoroughly impressed by the performance.
Tora unclenched his jaw, “she was pretty fuckin’ accurate though, what the fuck is she gonna say about me?” he whispered harshly. Quincey blanched.
Poppy bowed and smiled. The track changed and she was met with a steady beat with an ‘oooo’ echoed on loop throughout. She nodded with the beat, closing her eyes again, vibing with it momentarily, “Ok, this one’s for my main man, love you boo!” she said pointing out into the audience at Tora who was blinking at her in surprise, his jaw slack. Had she just really said she loved him for the first time in a theatre full of people? Christ. He held his breath as she began:
I don't do drugs, I'm addicted to the pain though
Yeah, I been on it for a while, dunno how to put it down
Gotta have it, it's a habit I'ma break though
I just wanna take a hit, keep sayin' I'ma quit
Keep sayin' I'ma leave, but I stay though
I just want a little fix, I don't wanna take a risk
I don't like it when I drift from the safe zone
But lately, I been thinkin' I'ma have to
Lettin' go of things that I'm attached to
World don't stop just because I'm in a bad mood
You don't know what love is 'til you holdin' onto somethin' that you can't lose
I swear I'm tryna get it together
Sleeves up, puttin' work in, tryna be better
I like to fight, but I ain't gon' do it forever
Forget to charge up my focus, and I'm holdin' my head up
Moment I get up, I just wanna know I'm doin' my best
And if I'm not, Lord forgive me, you can handle regrets
'Cause I can feel the water tryna go up over my head
Most of my life, I always felt like I was holdin' my breath
Holdin' my chest to be honest, so I'm tired of it
Lookin' for somethin' in my life to be inspired again
I like to walk around and act like I don't know what it is
But I know what it is, I just never wanna commit
Runnin' from change
I'm lookin' for change
I'm searchin' for change
I'm lookin' for change
I just want, I just want change.”
Tora slumped back in his seat. Fuck. She got him on a whole other level. How the fuck had she just pulled that out of her ass? Damn she was incredible. He fuckin’ loved her. Damn right he couldn’t lose her. Quincey glanced over at Tora, taking in the stunned look on his face before smirking to himself. Poppy was definitely one of a kind. He congratulated himself again on his matchmaking skills. These two absolutely belonged together. He was practically giddy, getting high on their second hand love.
Khalid applauded Poppy along with the rest of the audience, stepping out from a momentary chat with a stage hand behind the curtain, “bravo my dear, thank you for the performance!” he exclaimed, taking the microphone from her before directing her back to her chair, sliding into Braxton’s beside her. “Time for an interview, please tell us, what do you do?” he asked, sticking the unhooked microphone under her mouth.
Poppy narrowed her brows at him in confusion, “you mean when I ain’t rappin’?” she asked seriously. Khalid nodded as the audience laughed. “I’m an editor,” she informed him cheerily.
He nodded, “and your friend Quincey? What does he do for work?” he asked. Quincey’s eyes widened in alarm, he had not spent the last few years protecting his identity for Poppy to spill it all over the stage. His brows narrowed as Poppy began to giggle.
She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, “oh that’s a good one,” she panted trying to catch her breath, “Quincey doesn’t work. He just pursues whatever passion grips him in the moment. He has a lot of hobbies though, likes to write but I doubt it counts as ‘work’ to him.” She explained.
Quincey stuck his tongue into the side of his cheek, not sure how to feel about her response. Writing was hard work but he would admit he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t enjoy it. He did have enough money through Daddy Dearest he didn’t need to do anything or accumulate any of his own wealth if he didn’t want to. He glanced over at Tora who was smirking smugly, relaxed in his seat.
Khalid smiled, “interesting, and what does your boyfriend do?” he inquired.
Tora sat up ramrod straight, his jaw clenching, his breathing stilling as he waited for her response, Quincey’s fingers digging into his forearm. Poppy’s face fell, her humour gone, “whatever he has to,” she responded cryptically. Tora allowed himself to inhale but did not move.
Khalid cocked his head to the side, “sounds like he’s a hard worker unlike your friend,” he observed.
Poppy narrowed her brows, “Tora is a lot of things, don’t put him in a box, there’s more to him than his work,” she asserted. The man in question leaned forward, lacing his fingers together between his legs as his elbows rested on his knees, studying her carefully.
“You don’t sound happy about his career options,” Khalid commented.
Poppy turned pained eyes on him, “it makes me really sad that he forces himself to stay in a job that’s killing him,” she whispered. Tora’s nose burned as he fought off the emotion rising in his chest. Fuck this noise. Why the fuck was she airing his dirty laundry on a fucking stage. He shrugged off the comforting hand Quincey tried to place on his shoulder.
Khalid nodded, “sounds like you care about him a lot?” he remarked inquisitively.
“I love him.” She stated flatly, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Oh. My. God. Poppy.” Quincey breathed in wonder. Tora’s eyes burned as they stared at her, her casually stated response continuing to echo in his head. His heart clenched painfully in his chest. He wanted to kiss her, to take her home and hold her close and tell her he felt the same. That she was his world. That he would do whatever it took to hold onto her love and her trust for the rest of his life.
Khalid nodded as the rest of the audience ooo’d and awww’d. “What do you love most about him?” he asked, knowing his audience was hooked.
Poppy cocked her head to the side, “that’s a hard one, can I pick more than one thing?” she clarified. Khalid nodded, “His mental fortitude and his hands,” she responded honestly. Tora’s brow twitched. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting to hear but it wasn’t that. He wasn’t sure how to feel about her response.
Khalid read the crowd, they were dead silent, still hooked on her, he continued the honesty segment. “Why those two things?” he pried knowing she wouldn’t reveal anything she really didn’t want to. The power of suggestion was intense but he couldn’t actually make her do or say anything she wasn’t open to or willing to share readily.
Tora held his breath, his ears trained for her response. Poppy sighed, “he’s so strong all the time, he’s so smart, he’s an incredible problem solver and reads people so well. He’s so giving, putting others before himself, even when it hurts. He’s been through so much and he still finds it in himself to love openly, to find the humour in things, to care so deeply about his friends. I love his mind. The source of his strength,” she sighed wistfully along with all the other love struck people in the audience, “and his hands, they’re how he communicates. How he tells me he loves me without using his words, how he carries his burdens and forges his way through life. There’s nothing he can’t do with them. I don’t really have any words to adequately describe how I feel when I look at his hands. I just love them, along with the rest of him.” She replied as honestly as possible. The audience collectively sighed.
Tora kept his eyes on his love, his mind racing. He was almost positive no one had every cared for him with the depth and sincerity she had just claimed to, not even the woman that had birthed him. He felt rattled, shaken to his core. He had known she cared about him, had guessed her feelings might be strong enough before this evening that her admission of love hadn’t caught him that off guard. However, the depth of her admiration for him was jarring. Most of the time he felt shame and disappointment surrounding the way in which he’d forged his path through life. His chest constricted. He didn’t deserve her. Her admiration was severely misplaced.
Khalid smirked, “well Tora sounds like a lucky person,” he stated humorously, knowing he needed to say something to get the laughter flowing again.
Poppy smiled, “I am lucky yeah,” she stated happily, causing the audience with the exception of two men to laugh. Quincey still awestruck by his little editor and Tora too lost in his own thoughts to pick up on the fact she still thought she had his name.
Khalid smiled, “what do you say we wake up the rest of our friends?” The audience clapped their applause. He touched Leona and Cade, “the individuals I just touched, wide awake now,” he commanded and they sat up.
Cade looked over at Poppy, as if seeing her for the first time, falling in love instantly, “I’D KILL FOR YOU!” he shouted at her.
Poppy glanced at him, “please don’t do that, that’s really not attractive,” she muttered her inner thoughts. Tora smirked; of course she wouldn’t think that was romantic. She probably hated knowing he could do that for her without thinking about it longer than it would take to blink.
Khalid smiled, drawing Braxton out from behind the curtain, leading him back to his seat as the man scratched at his genitals, “look who my friends back stage found wondering around the lobby,” he joked, coaxing the man to sit. “What is your name?” he asked gently.
Braxton just gazed up at him, his jaw working soundlessly. “I think it’s about time we reminded him, what do you think?” he asked the audience. When they announced their approval he looked back at Braxton. He held up his hand, his thumb and forefinger pressed together and leaned towards Poppy, “this is his name, please take it,” he instructed. Poppy leaned forward and pretended to take the invisible word. “When you’re ready, give it to him, shove it right back into his head,” Khalid instructed, stepping back, rolling his eyes when Leona cringed and laughed at his passing.
Poppy gazed down at her own clasped fingers before leaning towards Braxton, tapping him on the side of the head with her thumb and first two fingers. “Do you know your name now?” she asked softly.
The brunette boy blinked at her, “yeah. I’m Braxton. Who are you?” he asked.
Poppy smiled, “I’m Tora,” she told him happily.
“I LOVE YOU TORA!” Cade screamed at her.
She turned her head to look at him in annoyance, “too damn bad. He’s mine,” she snapped. Tora leaned back in his seat, a shit eating grin spreading over his face as the audience laughed. Now who’s possessive? He thought with amusement as his feisty little hamster bristled on stage.
Khalid grinned, stepping up behind her as Cade looked at her in confusion. “Sleep everyone,” he commanded. All four of them slumped in their seats. “Breath deep, breath in and bring it out and going all the way back down into that wonderful state of relaxation, focus. The next time that you open your eyes you will no longer be hypnotized, no longer relaxed, in fact I’m going to count it from one to three, every number I count up from one to three you feel less relaxed and more full of life full of energy releasing yourself from hypnosis when I reach the number three. Starting with number one begin sitting up straight and tall now, that’s right beyond close to feeling full of energy, positive wonderful confident.” He snapped his fingers, “now into number two, now that’s right, less relaxed, more full of energy, feeling amazing in every way, getting ready now to open your eyes and release yourself from hypnosis at the final number three.” He snapped his fingers one last time.
Poppy opened her eyes and blinked out at the crowd. This was going to be fun. She was a good sport. She’d play along. She glanced down at her hands, surprised that they weren’t still clasped together. “Please give our wonderful volunteers a round of applause!” Khalid demanded, throwing his arms out wide to either side of himself. The audience roared as he bowed.
Khalid moved to stand in front of them, making his way down the row, “Lovely Leona, how are you feeling dear?” he asked the curly haired dark skinned woman.
She smiled at him, “wonderful thanks,” she replied.
Khalid smiled back, “glad to hear it, can I ask you to head back to your seat now please?” he requested. She nodded and walked off the stage. He thrust his hand out to the brunette beside Poppy, “and you sir, what’s your name, how are you feeling?” he asked.
Braxton grinned widely, shaking the hypnotist’s hand, “I’m Braxton,” he said confidently, “and I feel awesome!” he declared.
Khalid nodded, “no unpleasant itching sensation?” he asked.
Braxton’s brows narrowed in confusion, “uh, no, why?” he asked as the audience laughed.
Khalid smiled, “don’t worry about it, silly question on my part,” he stated shooting the audience a wink over his shoulder. “Do me a favour please and return to your seat?” he asked kindly. Braxton nodded and moved towards the stairs.
Khalid took a seat next to Poppy in the empty chair. “What’s your name dear?” he asked, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
Poppy smiled warmly at the short hypnotist, “My name is Poppy,” she replied sweetly.
He nodded, “Like the plant? Like flora and fauna? Like the flower?” he asked, a gleam in his eye. She nodded, not quite sure why the audience was laughing, “you’re sure you’re not a ferocious animal?” he inquired with amusement. Poppy blinked at him in confusion, her brows knitting together. “Sorry dear, just making sure. One last question though, just how big is Tora?” he asked flatly. The audience roared with laughter. Tora blushed.
Poppy blinked at the short man in front of her confused as to why his question was so amusing for the audience, “he’s six three…” she muttered in befuddlement.
Khalid grinned at her, “no dear, I meant his dick,” he clarified as he fell back off his chair, nose bloody, Poppy’s fist still extended into the space his face had occupied only a moment ago. “None of your business!” she shrieked.
Tora preened in his seat. Fucking A. That’s my girl. He thought with pride, as Poppy blushed, realizing she’d just punched the star of the show on stage out of reflex. She immediately began to fret, “Uh, um, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have hit you but what in the world kind of question was that! You creepy old perv!” she shouted.
Khalid laughed it off, climbing to his feet as he wiped the blood from beneath his nose, “I think I deserved that huh? She did warn me! I think it’s a safe bet she’d not under my honesty spell anymore,” he told the crowd with a wink. “Hey Cade, what do you think of Poppy?” he asked.
Cade shrugged, crossing his arms, “she’s a badass bitch, cute I guess. I wouldn’t wanna mess with her though. Aggressive women aren’t my type,” he stated dryly. The audience roared with laughter. He stared out at the crowd in confusion before looking back at Poppy who was the only other person not laughing. “Did I say something funny?” he asked her. Poppy shook her head ‘no’ still wondering what Khalid meant by ‘honesty spell’.
Khalid smiled warmly at them both, “Thank you Cade, please return to your seat,” he turned back to the audience. “How about one last round of applause for the star of our show tonight?” he asked, waving an outstretched arm towards Poppy. “Madam you are magnificent, thank you so much for your participation this evening,” he told her as the crowd applauded. “You can return to your seat now,” he informed her, gesturing towards the side of the stage.
Poppy moved to do as she was told, pausing long enough for the stage hand that intercepted her to take the microphone back he’d given her only minutes before. “You’re a real hoot,” he muttered as he detangled the wires, and let her pass. Poppy bit her lip in confusion as she made her way back to her seat, Tora moving his knees this time to let her by as Khalid continued to speak from the stage.
“Hey sweetheart, ya feeling okay?” Tora whispered, clasping her hand as she sat, entwining their fingers as he clasped her hand in her lap. She nodded at him as Quincey glanced over at the pair with a smirk.
~ ~ ~
Poppy walked slowly beside Tora as Quincey continued to prattle on a few feet in front of them about how worried he’d been and how hilariously she’d behaved, a blush so deep on her cheeks she was worried it would stain permanently. “It’s fine Bobby, you didn’t say anything wrong,” Tora whispered in her ear, drawing her attention away from Quincey.
Poppy grimaced, “I didn’t embarrass you then?” she asked hopefully.
Tora shrugged, “ya made me uncomfortable a few times and definitely had me worried about what ya were gonna say here and there, but not embarrassed,” he told her honestly.
She nodded, “sorry,” she whispered.
Tora smiled, “nothing to be sorry for,” he assured her, “by the way, I am capable of using my words and not just my hands to tell ya I love ya.”
Poppy stopped dead in her tracks, gazing up at him, tears welling in her eyes. That was the first time he’d ever said it. “I love you too!” She whined, releasing his hand in order to jump on him, her arms circling his neck as he caught her thighs, their mouths locked together in a passionate embrace.
Quincey glanced over his shoulder, “oh for the love of – Get a damn room you two!” he muttered, walking away from them. “The possessive man can’t keep his hands to himself for more than thirty seconds,” he muttered to himself with a small smirk and every intent of leaving his companions alone for the rest of the night.