Melody fought River so hard on his crazy plan to fill in the boys on the family situation. It had only been a few days since he was released from the hospital, and he wanted to take them to Granite Falls. It was a terrible idea, and he knew it. He wouldn’t be able to fish, and there was no way he’d ever be able to get up from a sleeping bag without tearing himself apart. The doctor ordered rest, but River was determined to make the trip happen. Taking them to the headquarters and talking to them there would be the easiest thing to do, but he didn’t want to scare them or make them feel uncomfortable. Besides, he was home now and wanted to spend time with them. They needed a little fun, so he sacrificed his comfort and jeopardized his healing for them. Once it was clear to Melody he wasn’t backing down again, they went to the store to buy an air mattress. She made sure the boys knew she was serious about him using it.
Off to the forest they went, and Stefan and Maurice were super excited. River was glad to spend time with his sons, Stefan thought the idea of a “boy’s weekend” was cool, and Maurice was excited about his first vacation. Upon arrival, River stopped at the ranger station to buy himself a chair to spend the next couple of days in. He didn’t think to get one at the store when they bought the air mattress. Although he was sufficiently jealous of the fun his sons would have without him, part of him was satisfied just watching them enjoy a small bit of freedom. The family had gone through so much. He owed them those moments.
That night, River was restless. He wanted to be part of the action and sat in that chair all day wherever the boys went. It was a mistake. He should have spent time laying down, and now he was paying for it. He was so stiff he could barely move. And, the pain; oh, the pain. The boys had to help him sit and stand. He didn’t want to, but he had to cut the trip short and go back home the next day. The first day was supposed to be fun and relaxing, but now he had to tell them the family secret.
Stefan and Maurice were engrossed in their own conversation about some girls at school. It was kind of nice to hear Maurice at least refer to them even if he wasn’t completely enamored with them yet.
“Hey, guys…I need to tell you something.”
“You ok, dad?” Stefan asked.
He chuckled. “Heh, as good as I’m gonna be.”
Maurice looked pitifully at his father. “We can go back home if you want.”
“Nah. You guys can go fishing in the morning or do whatever, and then we’ll leave in the afternoon.”
“No,” Stefan said. “We’re leaving in the morning. We can come back when you’re better.”
He looked at his brother who nodded. Although he was trying to be super dad and show his sons a good time, River was glad they didn’t insist on staying the whole three days; he couldn’t bear it.
“That’s kind of you boys.”
“Are you gonna tell us what happened now?” Maurice asked.
“I’m going to tell you everything. Why your mom made me leave, how I got beat up, everything.”
Stefan’s eyes widened, and he sat erect.
“Everything happened because of my job. I’ve been lying…to you…and everyone. I’m very sorry.”
The boys looked confused yet intrigued by what would come next.
“I’m not a fishing instructor. I’m a secret agent for the S.I.A.”
Their mouths flew open as they gasped.
Stefan looked askance. “You’re a spy?”
“That’s kind of cool,” Maurice said.
“It wasn’t something I wanted to do. When your mother and I got married, we agreed I would be a full-time fisherman. Right before you were born, Stefan, Guy approached me. He said our family might be in danger and I could help protect us if I joined the S.I.A. I couldn’t say no.”
Stefan’s eyes narrowed. “Wait…Guy is a spy too? Is the HOA even real then?”
River smirked at his intelligent son. “No. There’s no HOA.”
Maurice looked concerned about certain parts of River’s opening statement. “Dad? What kind of danger were we in?”
“Well…” River sighed. Despite how immature Maurice acted, he was old enough to understand. He wished he didn’t have to tell them–especially Stefan. Although he knew his son was still worried about his girlfriend, River thought it was best he assume she was just missing and not know potentially what she had been taken for. But, that was the world they lived in. It had become such a terrible place, and as grusome as it was, they needed to know the real deal. “Maurice, Stefan, there are some sick people in the world. There is a worldwide operation over in Egypt. They kidnap children. Mostly girls. Sometimes women.”
He didn’t have the courage to continue the story, but as he suspected, the boys were curious. Stefan especially. He was stiff and hesitant. River knew he was thinking about Olivia. Knowing the truth would break his heart again, and he didn’t want to do that but he had to know.
“W-why do they take them?”
River took a few moments to gather the courage to tell of Olivia’s potential fate. He too still held out hope that she was not involved in any of this. “Are you sure you want to know?”
“The sick people…they have money. They can get whatever they want. And…many of them…they…they like having…” He wondered if Melody ever had the talk with them and regretted being too busy to do it himself. “They like having sex and like to have it with lots of people.” He could tell the boys were growing uneasy. There was no easy way to say it. “Many of these sick bastards like having sex with innocent girls, so this group in Egypt have people all over the world kidnapping kids to sell to these guys.”
Stefan grew redder by the minute, but his brother still had questions about River’s involvement and interrupted whatever explosion was about to happen.
“But why did they want you, dad?”
“Well…apparently they’d been interested in me for a while. My dad worked for them. When we moved here, they were curious about some people I knew, so that’s when they recruited me.”
“Mom found out you were a spy? Is that why you left?”
River kept his eyes on Stefan. He knew he was listening but internally processing the information; he wasn’t doing well with it.
“No. I wasn’t good at balancing work and home. I’m sure you noticed. I also wasn’t good at keeping secrets from her. Trust is something we value quite highly, and even though I had to lie to her because of the job, it still felt wrong. I wasn’t good at that either, and I was always weird around her when it came to talking about work. It got to the point where she didn’t feel like she could trust me anymore, so she asked me to leave.”
“Dad,” Stefan said, finally.
River swallowed a lump in his throat.
“Do you think–“
“Stefan, stay strong. You have to keep believing.” He hated giving him false hope, but he hated to see him so down in the dumps evemore. Olivia had been gone so long, surely she was all the way in Al Simhara by then. Stefan didn’t need to know that. “Someone else could have taken her…someone local. She could be around the corner waiting for the police to find her.”
“But…what if it was them?” He sounded so desperate.
River sighed. “Then…well, hopefully, she was like your sister and got away. She’s probably trying to find her way back home as we speak.”
River didn’t mean to let that part slip out so casually. “I was getting to that part. When we went to the hotel to get my stuff, they took her. When I found them, she put up a good fight and got away. Everything is fine now. They caught those guys and the person they worked for. The Egyptians no longer have a presence in this area, and another part of the S.I.A. is working to bring them down.”
“Are we safe, dad?”
“Of course.” He did his best to sound positive. “They’re looking out for us all the time, but to be extra careful, we’re going to move soon.”
“We don’t know yet, but it will be a safe place. Now, in a few days, I’m gonna have to take you to the office. They’re gonna want to talk to you about our conversation. You can’t tell anyone any of this ever, and I’d prefer you don’t talk about it at home. Harmony is too young. She doesn’t need to know about any of this. She’s gone through enough. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” they said.
“Ok. It’s getting late. I’m gonna let you guys sleep on this, and if you have any questions, we can talk about it on the way home.”