Melody grimaced at River’s posture. “Doesn’t it hurt sitting like that?”
He smiled. “It hurts if I do, it hurts if I don’t, so it doesn’t matter.”
She poked her lip out and rubbed his shoulder. “I wish there was something we could do.”
He leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I’ll be fine.”
They continued waiting for their appointment with the S.I.A. counselor. Melody knew it was probably normal for her to feel anger toward her husband from time to time, but there were some things she just couldn’t get over–things they never discussed. The agency had recommended counseling for Harmony after her debriefing. She figured it couldn’t hurt for them to do it too. The entire family was in need of healing.
“Do you think you’ll miss it?”
He looked around the hallway. “It was nice to feel like I was working toward something…like I was helping people, but…nah. I’d rather be with you and the kids.”
“If I do ever decide to get a job again, it’ll be something less stressful…and dangerous.”
“Like being a fishing instructor?”
They got a chuckle out of that. It felt good to be able to laugh about something in the whole ordeal.
“Is that even a thing? I mean, can you really get a degree in fishing?”
He laughed. “I doubt it.”
She bought it hook, line, and sinker like the trusting wife she was. It still bothered her that he had been lying to her the whole time despite knowing it was necessary.
The door in front of them opened, and a woman in green came out. “Mr. and Mrs. Pitts. I’m so sorry. If one person is late, it throws the whole calendar off!” She ushered them into her office. “I hope you don’t mind keeping the lights off. It gets so hot up here on the top floor!”
Melody smiled. “It’s ok.”
She wasn’t expecting the woman to be so personable and always imagined the S.I.A. employees to be uptight and stuffy like in the movies. Her brightly decorated office further disproved that point.
“Ok, so first of all, I just want to say that I’m glad you both are here. It’s rare that I get to counsel entire families. With the work you guys do, I think it should happen more often!”
“We just want to be…normal again…if that’s possible.”
“Anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the work, Mrs. Pitts. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“Uhhh…” She looked at River nervously, and he returned an encouraging nod. “We uhhh…well, as you know, he recently came clean about all this. And, while I understand why he had to lie all these years, sometimes it still bothers me.”
“Why is that?”
“Trust is very important me. Important to us, or at least I thought it was.”
She heard a soft sigh come from River’s side of the couch. She didn’t dare look at him. “But that’s fine. I mean, trust can be rebuilt. And it is. I mean, I don’t distrust him anymore. That’s why I asked him to leave, but the more I think about it, I think the mistrust was only the problem on the surface and not the problem itself.”
The counselor chuckled. “I love it when my patients do my job for me. So, what’s the problem?”
She hesitated because she never admitted it to him before. In arguments, she alluded to it in the heat of the moment, but she never actually said the words. “I feel like…he changed. For a while, I felt like I didn’t know him anymore.”
“I see. Give me some examples of this perceived change.”
“Well, the big thing was him missing the birth of our daughter.” She glanced at him. His head hung low. “And you actually said to me you didn’t realize how far along I was. You said those words to me, Riv!”
The doctor looked surprised as well. “What do you say to that, Agent Pitts?”
He closed his eyes and let out an even deeper sigh. “You know I regret that to this day, Mel. I can’t apologize enough.”
“Why do you think you missed such an important event?”
He shifted in his seat was restless. “I didn’t grow up with a dad. I had my mom’s friend, Uncle Henry, and that was it. I didn’t grow up with any good examples of marriage like she did. I do what I think is best. It may not be the right thing, but it’s the best thing I know. I feel like it’s a husband’s job to keep the family safe. So when I was told my family was in danger, I did what I thought I had to do. Yeah, I didn’t know how hard it would be or that our lives would be dramatically changed, but it was the right thing. I’m a go-getter. I do what I do and do it well. I go hard. So, yeah, I got caught up in the job. I admit that. I can see that now. But, I was just doing what I thought needed to be done.”
“Sorry to interrupt, but you keep saying ‘what needed to be done.’ What did you think needed to be done?”
“I needed to crack this case so I could get back to my family. That’s why I worked so hard. I wanted to get it over with as quick as I could so I could walk away and go back to my regular life.”
Melody felt the frustration rising again mixed in with genuine concern. “So, you dropped the ball at home, leaving me to handle everything alone because you were so compelled to do well at work?”
“I was compelled to keep you all safe! That’s what it was always about. I wouldn’t have taken the job for any other reason.”
“Mrs. Pitts, you said you felt like he changed. What did he do that was different?”
“He wasn’t around! Our children were growing up and had different needs. When I would tell him about it, he’d blow me off!”
“Be more specific, Mrs. Pitts.”
She let out a frustrated groan. “Our middle child…he had some trouble in school. I’d talk to him, punish him and everything under the sun, but he wouldn’t do better. I knew he just needed guidance from his father, so I brought my concerns to Riv. Every time, he would say ‘I’ll talk to him later,’ but later never came because he was always gone! The man I married wouldn’t do that.”
“How do you know?”
Melody opened and closed her mouth a few times, but she didn’t have an answer.
“Do you guys like tea?”
The random question caught her off guard, but she went with it. “Yeah. I drink tea.”
The doctor smiled. “I love tea. Did you know there are about 3,000 different varieties?”
They shook their heads.
“Mmm hmm. Even though teas vary from each other, they all come from the same source. Did you know that?”
Melody wondered where she was going with this. “N-no.”
River also looked confused.
“Yep! There is only one kind of tea leaf. The varieties come from processing, geography, and growth conditions. Do you know how tea leaves are processed?”
“No,” they both said.
“Basically, the leaves are roasted and allowed to wilt. Black tea is the most processed. It stays in the oven the longest to wilt more than others. Green tea is only allowed to wilt for a brief moment, but white tea isn’t roasted at all. All of these teas taste so different, but they originated from the same source.”
Melody felt like she paused there on purpose. She kinda understood what she was getting at but was still a bit clueless and wanted her to get to the point.
“The varieties of teas come from different processing methods. Some tea leaves are roasted with different spices which give them different flavors. Some at higher or lower altitudes. Many things can affect the flavor of the tea leaves.”
“I’m sorry, doctor. Why are you telling us this?”
“I think you two should discuss that between yourselves and derive your own meaning. My last question for today may help you figure it out. Why did you get married?”
“I always dreamed of getting married. He was always the one for me. We were so in love.”
“And you, Agent Pitts?”
“Same. I wanted the kind of life I didn’t have. I wanted my children to have parents. Both of them.”
The doctor nodded. “I hear that a lot. What I’m about to say may sound indelicate and more like an accusation, but I promise it’s not. Throughout my years in counseling, I see the same problems in different forms. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘love can’t pay the bills?’ You two got married from an idealistic point of view. You both had your own thoughts on what a marriage should be like, but I get the feeling you never communicated those thoughts to each other. You project them onto each other unfairly, leaving the other confused and unfulfilled. In short, perhaps you weren’t prepared to marry. Does any of that strike a chord with either of you?”
They looked at each other with concern written on their faces. Melody, for one, was afraid.
River cleared his throat. “Umm, yes. I think it does.”
“Good! I know you’re probably scared about what this means for you, but trust me…this is a very good thing. I’m going to leave you with some homework for next time. First, think about the tea thing and talk about it together. Then, ask each other what you thought marriage would be like. If you run into some showstoppers like unrealistic expectations, that’s ok. Don’t run for the hills. Bring those things next time and we’ll talk about them.”
Melody looked at River who looked ready to take on whatever the good doctor threw at them, but she was nervous.
“You two are going to be fine. I see that you talk to each other which is way farther than most couples I see on the daily. You actually want to fix things, and you’re willing to do the work. I know you’re afraid you’ll uncover something irreparable, but I don’t think you will. It is my personal opinion that you two have the real thing. You just need to change your thinking a bit. Does that help, Mrs. Pitts?”
“Yeah…yeah, I think so. Thanks.”
“Something tells me you guys are going to have it all figured out by our next session. I’m excited to see what you come up with.”