Melody felt like River dropped a two-ton bomb on her, and she struggled to dig herself out of the rubble. She was so conflicted about everything. On one hand, she was glad to know he wasn’t involved in anything illegal and everything he had been attempting to tell her was true. But, on the other hand, she felt so deceived. She didn’t let the evening go on long enough for him to explain how or why he got involved and what the alleged danger was. Could she live with being under the constant threat of danger? Did River’s involvement help, or did he make them a target? She had so many questions and barely slept that night. The next morning, the questions plagued her immediately. She wasn’t prepared to deal with them yet, but they were relentless. They lingered with her as she sent the children to school. They clouded her mind like the steam in the shower. She needed to be distracted and did something unexpected. She called Presley and asked her to round-up the girls for drinks. It was the middle of the afternoon, but she didn’t care. Presley confirmed everyone’s attendance except Hailee who did not answer the phone. Melody said she would go to her house on the way just in case.
It was the middle of the afternoon, but she still put on a nice dress. She needed a distraction, and painting her face and finding something to wear worked. The club was across the street from Presley’s house, so Melody always walked there. Hailee Smiley’s house was on the way, so she took a brief detour. Her son answered the door, and to Melody’s surprise, he looked nothing like her. He said she didn’t come home last night and assumed she got stuck at the hospital.
“Awww. Well, tell her we asked about her. You make sure she gets some rest, ok?”
At the bar, Lakiesha couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tease Melody about the invitation, but she didn’t care. She was there to drink, and after a few glasses of nectar, she wouldn’t care what anyone said about her. Presley, on the other hand, was a surprise. On most nights, she had two glass rule for fear of getting sloshed and making a fool of herself. But, that afternoon, she was quite indulgent. Melody wasn’t sure how many glasses she had. Presley was so loose…and a little bit loud. This unknown side of her was fun to watch.
Watching Presley smile and laugh, and listening to her slurring speech in the middle of the afternoon, reminded Melody she had responsibilities back at home. Perhaps getting drunk on a Friday afternoon wasn’t a good idea after all.
“I love you girls,” Presley yelled.
They all snickered at her condition.
“We love you too, hon,” Lakiesha said.
“I love you girls…but I need a man, plummit!” She slammed her fist on the counter, throwing her head back in laughter. “I need someone in my bed!”
Imani and Lakiesha playfully argued about which one of them had influenced her the most. They knew they were bad influences on her and always thought of her as this innocent, goody-two-shoes who was shy and needed to come out of her shell. Melody didn’t see her that way. Presley may have chosen not to commit herself to a man, but that didn’t mean she didn’t desire companionship. It had been a very long time since she had been with anyone, and Melody was glad she would potentially do something about it…although she was very drunk and may regret it later.
Imani shook her head. “That girl’s gonna get herself in trouble.”
Speaking of trouble… “Oh…how are things with you and Malcolm?” Melody asked carefully, hoping she wouldn’t cause another scene.
She hung her head and sighed. “Ok, I guess.”
“Did you get a chance to talk to him…in private? Quietly?”
Imani giggled. “Boy…I do know how to make a scene, don’t I?” She sighed. “No wonder he chose her.”
Melody had never seen her so reticent. She could see her pain for what it was now. Imani was just hurt because she got passed over. She didn’t even like Malcolm like that, but it still hurt.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Melody asked.
Imani smiled and teared up a little. “Yeah…that would be nice.”
They found a secluded corner to sit, but no sooner than they did, someone who wanted Melody’s attention found them.
“Hey, Pretty Lady.”
Don looked so different with his hair combed back and collared shirt. He almost looked like a respectable gentleman. Almost.
“Oh, hi, Don.”
“This must be my lucky day! I didn’t expect to see you here at this hour looking all…ravishing.”
She wondered where he learned that word. “Uhh…this is my friend, Imani,” she said, hoping to take the spotlight off herself.
“Hey how you doin I’m Don.”
To Melody’s dismay, Imani didn’t reply, and Don’s attention shifted back to her. He was so smiley like a 12-year-old in the presence of his first real crush.
“What’s got you ladies in here so early?”
“We’re just…having fun,” Melody said uncomfortably.
He chuckled. “While the cat’s away, huh?”
She didn’t like the way he looked at her like he had x-ray vision and enjoyed the view underneath her dress.
“You know, Mellie, if I was your man, I’d never leave you. I got what you need. If the fisherman keeps acting up, give me a call.”
He winked at her and walked away.
Maybe she wore the wrong dress. No. This was not her fault. He’d make a pass at her even if she wore sackcloth and ashes. He was a cad, and there was nothing she could do about it except build a wall and stay behind it. Though, she did feel bad about how stupid she had been. She had bad feelings about him and what he wanted since the first time he came over, but she didn’t want to see it. She didn’t want to believe that someone who was supposed to be a friend of her family meant to break them up.
Imani snorted. “I can’t believe he’s at it again!”
Melody’s posture stiffened. “At what?”
“That two-timing bastard! He has a good woman at home, but he keeps running after everyone else! UGH!”
The anger Imani felt radiated to Melody’s side of the couch. “He’s married??”
“Yeah! And she’s pregnant too! Or, maybe she just delivered, but whatever! He is a no-good dog!”
“What?!” She wanted to hit something…or someone. “That’s plummed up! He’s supposed to be my husband’s friend!! That is so…so disgusting!! That sick bastard!”
Melody felt violated and didn’t want to be anywhere near him. “I need to go! I’m sorry, Imani.”
“Girl, please. Go home. I’m good. We’ll talk later.”
She stormed out of the club and marched home with so many feelings swirling around her body. She was mad at herself for the role she played in sabotaging another person’s marriage even though she didn’t do anything. She was mad at Don for being a twisted horndog. Most of all, she was mad at herself for letting her own marriage fall apart for what she now saw as stupid reasons. Mrs. Lothario had all the reason in the world to divorce her husband many times over, but Melody kicked her husband out for what exactly? Because she didn’t like that he wasn’t home every night? Who kicks out her husband to teach him to stay home? It sounded so backward to her then. River never hurt her. He never lied to her except for the job stuff which was different. He would never cheat on her. He loved their children and made himself available as much as he could. River would not let his family go without a fight. Sure, she hated how much his job took him away from them, but just like her mother said, having him there some of the time was better than not at all. At least she didn’t have to wonder how he felt about her or if she was competing with someone else for his attention. When she walked in the door, she grabbed her phone to call him, but she found him right where he needed to be as if he never left.
A different kind of warmth spread through her body, and a tiny grin settled on her lips. This was what she wanted. It may not happen as often as she wanted, but at least she understood why now and wouldn’t feel so abandoned when he left. They still needed to talk and work through things, but as of that moment, the chasm between them needed to be closed. She rushed across the room and threw herself at him with tears in her eyes.
“Mel? What’s going on?”
“Oh, Riv! Please come home. I’m sorry. Please come home!”
He held her so tight. She felt safe with him. She always did.
“I’m here, Bae. I’m here.”
“Please don’t leave us!”
“Shhhh…I’m never leaving again. I promise.”
After the tender, emotional display, Harmony cheered and the boys smiled. Melody retreated to the bathroom for a nice long bath to relax and clear her mind. That night, after the children were in bed and the chores were done, Melody got her questions answered.
“Guy isn’t from the HOA. He recruited me.”
Was anything in her world real? Despite feeling safe with River, an uneasy feeling filled the room.
“Remember the first time you saw him? You were taking the trash out, and you saw him leaving.”
“That’s when he approached me.”
“Well, what did he say? Hey, you…join the SIA?” She got snarky when she was anxious, she knew it. That kind of thing always escalated their arguments. “I’m sorry. I know it’s not that simple. What did he say?”
“He knew everything about me…and you! He knew where I grew up, what hospital I was born in…he knew about Uncle Henry…everything.”
She gasped. “How did he know all that?”
“He said they had been watching me my whole life and said I’d be a good fit.”
She snorted. “So you just said yes?”
“Of course not! I told him to get lost.”
That made her feel good. “So…he left?”
“Of course not. He said you and Stefan might be in danger and I might want to reconsider.”
“Stefan? He wasn’t even born.”
“He knew that. I needed to know what this danger was, so I met him at the library the next night.”
The library. That was the beginning of her frustration. She couldn’t understand why he would leave her and their son who was barely six hours old to go out after he had just returned from a jog.
“So what did he say?”
His mouth opened and closed a few times like he was weighing words. She knew this was going to be where things got crazy.
“Please don’t freak out, ok? He told me…” He sighed. “Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“I need to know everything so I can understand why you were so compelled to leave your family every night and expect me to understand with no information.” Her voice escalated just a bit.
“Ok, ok…. Someone in this area is working for a big crime boss in Al Simhara.”
If she didn’t know he was telling the truth, she’d laugh. An Egyptian crime lord? What else was he going to tell her?
She sat up and crossed her legs for the story.
“Yeah. They wanted me because I knew Don, Eric, and Aiden.”
Her eyes flew open. “They’re involved??”
“No, but they were suspicious of them.”
She couldn’t stop shaking her head. How much worse would this story get? “So what does this Egyptian crime boss do?”
River closed his eyes and let all the air out of his lungs. This was going to be bad. “She takes children.”
Melody looked askance. “She?? What the plum does she do with them?”
His eyes pleaded with her for he clearly didn’t want to say, but she needed to know. This was the key piece that was missing from her puzzle.
“She’s a sim trafficker, Mel.”
Her hands flew to her mouth like she was stifling a scream. It didn’t matter if River was in the room anymore. She no longer felt safe and wanted to run into Harmony’s room, scoop her up, and never let go. Gabriella, Presley’s daughter, and Olivia came to mind. She hoped they got taken for another reason and couldn’t bear the thought of them being enslaved.
Tears ran down her face. “Dear Watcher!! Oh my goodness! That’s horrible, Riv! Who could do something like that?”
“We arrested someone yesterday who is very important in all this. Unfortunately, she’s not the ringleader around here. We’re still trying to find that person.”
“Another she?! What is wrong with these women? They clearly do not have their own children!”
River was oddly silent and avoided eye contact. It couldn’t be. Did she know the woman?
“Who is she?”
“You don’t need to know this.”
She pounded her thighs in frustration. “Tell me who she is!”
His eyes rolled to the back of his head which tossed backward. A groan escaped his lips. This was going to be terrifying. Really really terrifying.
He grabbed her hands, probably to keep her from fleeing. “It’s your doctor, Mel.”
She sat with her mouth gaped for what felt like an eternity. Hot, angry tears streamed down her cheek. “SHE WANTED HARMONY!”
“Shhhh! The kids. I know.”
She released herself from his grasp and paced the room. “She wanted to take my baby!!”
He caught her squeezed her body until she calmed down and brought her back to bed. All of this was insane! Hailee, her friend, now a soulless monster wanted to add her precious child to her collection of unfortunate children to sell to perverts?? Had their move to Willow Creek jumpstarted all the crazy? Should they have just stayed in Twinbrook with his mother and found a place nearby? Was anything real?
“I know this is a lot. I hate this too. I nearly tore down my room when I found out. Don’t dwell on it if you can. It’ll make it worse.”
A disturbing thought struck her. “Riv…I don’t think her son is hers.”
And even more frustrated sigh escaped his lips as he took out his phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“Just sending Guy a text. He’ll look into it for me.”
“Why can’t you do it?”
“I’m on paid leave. I’m too close. It’s a conflict of interest now.”
She was relieved that he would be home for a while, but now that she knew everything he did she wished he was back out there kicking butt and taking names.
“This is all insane, Riv! It could have been Harmony!”
“How am I supposed to be normal again?”
“I know. You’ll have to talk to someone about all this. I wasn’t supposed to tell you anything.”
“What made you?”
“I begged Guy so many times, but finally he suggested I take you to the office and tell you.”
“Oddly enough, because of my father.”
“Your father? You never knew him.”
“I know. Apparently, he was a spy too. Killed in action. They never told my mom.” He propped himself up and looked her deep in the eyes. “The job is getting dangerous. Too close to home. You should know what happened to me.”
Tears ran down her cheek, and she clung to him. “Oh Riv! I don’t want anything to happen to you! I’d die. Literally die!”
He smiled. “Everything’s fine for now. I’ll be out of harm’s way for a while. Don’t worry.”
“I’m sorry I made you leave.”
He kissed her cheek.
“All you’ve been trying to do is keep us out of harm’s way, but I was so needy.”
“You didn’t know. It’s ok. Let’s try to go get some sleep, ok?”
“Sleep? How can you sleep?”
He chuckled. “I’ve been sleeping on a twin bed with a terrible mattress, Mel. I am going to sleep very well. I’m gonna hold you like this and snore in your ear.”
“You snore now?”
“I love you, Riv”
“I love you too.”