Harmony adored her father and constantly looked forward to his visits. River tried to make sure he spent equal time with all three of them, but she made it hard. She always had pictures to show him, stories to tell, and knowledge to share. She made sure he stayed current on all her adventures. During his last few visits he had been teaching her how to play chess.
She was so smart and already so good. Every time they played together she got better and better. He was nervous that one day soon she would actually beat him. It would hurt his pride as a man to lose to a 5-year-old, but as a father, he looked forward to the day he could feel so proud of her.
She gave him a run for his money sometimes, but he always found a way to recover and keep his winning streak.
It was bed time, and Melody came outside to remind them. Both of them would conveniently forget what time it was just to get some extra time in together.
“How’s our little champion? Did you win?”
“Nope. But I’ll get ‘em next time, mommy!”
“You sure will! Bed time, guys. Riv? Ten minutes.”
“Ay ay captain.”
Melody went inside to finish whatever chores needed to be done for the night to give them time to say goodnight. River and Harmony retreated to her bedroom to chat for a moment. When he moved out, she was very young. Of everyone in the house, she had the easiest time dealing with his absence because she hadn’t been alive long enough to know what it was like to have him around all the time. Him popping in every so often was normal to her, but that didn’t mean she liked it. The more he visited, the more she got to know him. And the more she got to know him, the more she loved him. The more she loved him, the more she became dissatisfied with his absence especially now that she was in school. Some of her friends had parents who weren’t together, but a lot of them had both parents at home. She began to wonder why her father didn’t live with them.
When River and Harmony were together, she was the happiest little girl. But, as of late, he had begun to see some similarities between her and his wife. Harmony too seemed to mask her feelings and keep things inside. She reminded him of Melody before she got so vocal.
She sat on the bed next to him and sighed heavily. He didn’t need to ask what was bothering her, but he did it anyway. He hoped it would send a message that she could talk to him about anything.
“What’s on your mind?”
“How come you can’t stay here, daddy?”
He sighed heavily too. I guess she hasn’t told them anything. Great. “I, ummm…” Come on, Riv, think! Defuse this situation before it even has a chance to ignite. ”One day soon, I will be able to be here all the time.”
Her face lit up.
“But, until that day comes, will you promise me you’ll be brave and strong? Listen to mommy and keep doing well in school?”
“I will,” she said.
“Good. You know I love you very much, right?”
She rolled her eyes playfully. “I know!”
He laughed. “Just making sure. I’m always thinking about you and your brothers when I’m not here, ok? I miss all of you…especially mommy.”
“Do you get sad, daddy?”
She was such a caring child and often caught him off guard.
Heh, Eric was right. They get you in the feels. “Yeah, I get sad sometimes.”
She fell into his chest and draped her little arm around his waist. “I don’t want you to be sad. You be brave and strong too!”
He felt pressure building up behind his eyes. Don’t do it, Riv. Not here. “I will. Don’t worry.” He winked. “Ok, if you’re not in bed in two minutes, we’re both going to be in trouble.” He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed until she giggled.
“Daddy I can’t breathe!”
He kissed her forehead, tucked her in, and left her for the night. As he closed the door, he felt the emotions rising up. The situation was wearing on him. He had to try to talk to Melody again—make her listen to reason. She was waiting in the hallway for him. He motioned for her to join him on the front porch.
“Bae… Please… I’m not sure how much more of this I can take! These kids are growing up so fast, and I’m not here! I’m missing it! Just…please! Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it! I promise. I don’t like being away from you all! Please take me back.”
In that moment, he was definitely neither brave nor strong, but he couldn’t help it. He was in foreign territory and unsure of what the future had in store for them, and he was terrified. She heard everything he said, and it honestly broke her heart. She wanted nothing more than to take him back, but he hadn’t changed. He had not yet learned the lesson he was supposed to learn. He thought if he worked hard to catch this criminal, everything would be fine and he could go home. Meanwhile, home was suffering.
“When was the last time you went fishing, Riv?”
He opened his mouth to answer her, but he couldn’t. He didn’t need to.