I hang up and take a few notes on my phone. I feel a bubble of excitement because finally, I have a lead. Granted, it’s second-hand, and it’s flimsy, but it’s still more than I had ten minutes ago. I think about what I’ve learned. Bob was concerned about improprieties at his church. He wanted to talk to Reverend Yang about it, and he said something had been going on too long. Put that together with the fact that Reverend Yang was recently reprimanded for canoodling with a parishioner, and it seems the sexy, virile reverend is up to his old tricks. I don’t know how as he’s supposed to have his wife in every session with a female parishioner, but there are ways around that, I’m sure.
The question is, what am I going to do about it? I can’t just call him up and say, “Hey, Rev. You schtupping your lady parishioners?” Oh, yeah. I’m sure that’ll get the results I want. What do I do? I can go to church with Jasmine on Sunday for starters. I’ll have to skip taiji, but it’s for a good cause. Then, maybe I can make up some story about having a troubled relationship and see where that goes with the reverend. I have hunch Jasmine won’t be pleased about that. She’s gushed about him in the past, and I know she’s protective about her church. I don’t think she’ll be happy to find that there’s something hinky about the church. I remind myself not to get ahead of myself because I don’t know for sure it’s the reverend who’s done something wrong.
I’m upset. I may not be a fan of religion, but I know it brings comfort to many afflicted souls. I don’t like it when religious leaders take advantage of their flock. I pull up the church’s website, and it’s full of bland platitudes. ‘Seeking a higher truth’. ‘Loving is letting go.’ I roll my eyes at the inanity. I would expect something deeper or more insightful from a church, but I don’t know why. There are plenty of shitty churches, and maybe this is one of them. I push back these thoughts and try to remain open-minded. Just because I have a problem with platitudes and empty promises, it doesn’t mean they’re bad people. I skim the rest of the website, and there’s an emphasis on the counseling aspect. There are testimonies from several women claiming that the reverend helped save their marriages. “My husband and I were barely even talking before I went into counseling,” writes Mrs. Chiang. “We just celebrated our 25th anniversary, and we couldn’t be happier.” A young Mrs. Li adds, “I just got married a year ago, but we were already having problems. He worked later and later, but he refused to talk to me about it. A few sessions with Reverend Yang helped me get my marriage back on track.” Mrs. Wu raves, “Reverend Yang is a gift from heaven! He has a voice like an angel, and the patience of a saint. He counseled me three times a week for a year. Now, my husband and I are better than ever.”
I read a half dozen more testimonials, all in a similar vein. All of them from women. There are none from men, which makes me suspicious as well. I also notice how all the testimonials are aimed solely at Reverend Yang. None of them mention the church otherwise. So, they’re not really fans of the church—they’re fans of him. I shut down the tab, feeling suddenly old. I have no doubt that Reverend Yang has been messing around with his female parishioners, and I think he’s still doing it. I also think it might have something to do with Bob’s disappearance, but I’m not sure how. I don’t think I can ask Jasmine about it, so I’m just going to have to follow my plan of going with her to church and practicing some subterfuge. I don’t feel good about it, but it has to be done. I swallow hard and call Jasmine.
“Megan. You going to ask me more impertinent questions?” I can hear the frost in Jasmine’s voice, but I don’t care. I’m going to help her despite herself, damn it.
“Nope. I just want to know if I can go to church with you on Sunday.” I say it as casually as possible, but Jasmine’s not fooled.
“You want to come to my church and spy on my friends? Megan! How can you stoop so low? I raised you better than that!” Jasmine’s voice is shrill, and I try to block it out as best as possible. Technically, I don’t need her permission to go to her church, but it would make things easier.
“I just want to get a feel of your church. You and Bob spend a lot of time there, and all of your friends are there. Maybe they know something about Bob’s disappearance.” I take a deep breath and add, “I’m not going to grill them, Jasmine. I’m just going to have a few casual conversations.”
“You can come. But if you say anything to upset one of my friends, I’ll never forgive you.” With that, Jasmine hangs up. I try to tell myself she’s under a lot of stress, but that’s going to get old soon. I’m only doing this because she asked; the least she could do is be supportive. I glance at my phone and see it’s nearly eight. I call Doug, and I’m relieved when a cheerful voice answers.
“Hello. Doug Lee here. Are you Megan Liang? Nice to put a voice to the name.”
“Yes,” I say, relieved that there’s one person who’s happy to talk to me.
“May I call you Megan? I’m Doug, of course.” I Google Doug Lee as we talk, and I find out that he’s in his early seventies. He’s an entrepreneur, an inventor of whimsical things, and he’s still going strong. He’s a widower of five years, but he has an active dating life. More active than mine, as a matter of fact.
“Megan is fine.” I smile as I skritch Jet behind his ear. He wiggles said ear in pleasure, and Onyx glares at me until I do the same to her ear.
“You wanted to ask me about Bob?” Doug asks, his voice still pleasant. “What’s this about him being missing?”
“He hasn’t been home in over a day. Jasmine is worried sick about him.” I keep my explanation brief and wait to hear what he has to say.
“I don’t know what to tell you. He was perfectly fine the last time I talked to him, which was a few days ago.” Doug’s voice is puzzled, and I don’t blame him. Nobody saw this coming, not even Jasmine.
“Samuel said that he’s concerned about a friend. Do you know anything about that?” I count to five, slowly, before he answers.
“Not exactly. He’s been rather secretive lately. When I ask him about his family, he doesn’t have much to say.” Doug’s voice is tight, but I don’t think it’s because he’s mad at me. “He did mention that he and Jasmine have been arguing a lot lately. She wants him to start cutting back on his time at work, but he doesn’t want to do that.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.” I wonder what else about my sister and her husband that I don’t know. I vaguely remember Jasmine had given Bob an ultimatum a year ago about working less, but I thought they had worked it out.
“He did say something about how sad it is that some girls are trapped in bad marriages, but he wouldn’t go into it any further than that.” Doug’s voice is barely above a whisper, and it’s almost as if he doesn’t want to talk about it. I feel shitty, but I need him to talk, so I prod him a bit.
“He didn’t mention a name in particular? Maybe a Lee?”
“No. He just said he wished people would only marry for love.” We chat for a few more minutes, but there’s nothing else Doug can add to what he’s already said. When I ask him about Samuel, he just laughs and says, “He’s not a bad guy, but he doesn’t have the best social skills. He’s painfully shy, actually, and has to force himself to talk to strangers.” That makes sense. Many introverted people use arrogance as a mask to hide their fear and/or self-consciousness.
“Thank you for talking to me, Doug,” I say, feeling a bit uncomfortable with using his first name. He’s my elder, and I should be calling him Uncle.
“Any time. Please let me know what you find out.”
“I will.” I hang up feeling slightly better than before I had talk to him. Once I’m done, I turn off my phone for the night. I don’t like talking on it, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several hours. I talk enough on the phone at work, so I prefer not to do it when I get home. The rest of my night is blissfully silent except for my cats chirping at me. I can deal with that.
“Rembrandt! It’s so good to see you.” I kiss Rembrandt before pulling away and looking at him. He’s lost weight, but he looks ok otherwise. His eye patch gives him a dash of insouciance, and I reach up to ruffle his hair.
“You, too, babe.” Rembrandt kisses me back with enthusiasm. Enticing smells are permeating from his kitchen, so we head in that direction. An orange-colored cat is blocking our way. It’s Ginger, and she’s demanding some love.
“Who’s a good girl?” I ask, squatting down to skritch behind her ears. “You are!” I rub her head, and she leans into my hand. Once we’ve greeted each other, we walk into the kitchen. I give her Temptations as Rembrandt checks on his cooking. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the lamb vindaloo. Rembrandt hands me two plates and some cutlery, which I take to the dining room. I set the table, then study Rembrandt’s family’s portraits as usual. I marvel at how happy they all look, at least in the latest pictures. I envy it because I can’t remember a time when my family was this happy. Jasmine, Vivian, and I have made lives for ourselves, but it’s not as if we get together for the holidays and make merry. When my mother was alive, she gave up trying to make holidays festive a few years after my father left us. Jasmine tried, but there was only so much she could do. She was a teenager with no income, so the best she could do was make us turkey sandwiches with a few dollars stolen from Mom’s purse. Those were some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life.
“Here we go!” Rembrandt comes into the room, a steaming tureen of lamb vindaloo and sets it in the middle of the table. My mouth waters as the smell reaches my nostrils. Rembrandt immediately goes back into the kitchen and returns with freshly baked naan. Once he has everything on the table, he dishes up a generous portion to each of us. I dig in, eating as fast as humanly possible without being grotesque about it. Neither of us speak as we eat, and Ginger hops onto the table to eye the food hungrily. Rembrandt wipes off a piece of lamb and places it in front of Ginger. She makes it disappear before I can even blink, then she’s back to staring up at Rembrandt.
“No more,” Rembrandt says firmly. “It’s not good for you.” Ginger looks as if she disagrees, but Rembrandt stands his ground. Ginger sits back on her haunches, looking displeased. I’m impressed with his strength because I would have caved after two seconds.
“Rembrandt, this is fantastic.” I say when I can finally talk again. “You have outdone yourself.”
“Aw, it’s nothing. I found this great recipe on the Food Network website. It didn’t take me very long.” Rembrandt smiles, looking pleased with himself.
“You could open your own restaurant,” I exclaim, finishing off the last few bites. “I could be your hostess.”
“That’s not a bad idea.” Instead of laughing as I expected, Rembrandt actually looks as if he’s contemplating it.
“Rembrandt! I was kidding.” I place my napkin down and check Rembrandt’s face. It’s pensive, unlike his normal smiling demeanor. He’s a tall, slim man with an intense green eye, sandy blond hair, and a warm smile. He’s thirty-two, which is thirteen years my junior, but he looks as if he’s aged ten years since he was attacked.
“My eyesight is still shot. I can’t take the photos I want. I’m not giving up, but I need to be practical. If I can’t be the photographer I was, then I need to move on.” Rembrandt sets down his fork and stares at me. “I like cooking. I’m good at it. It might actually be an option for me.”
“What about money?” I ask, my eyes wide. “It takes a lot of money to start a restaurant.”
“My family has money. I think they’d be willing to lend me what I need.” Rembrandt sits up straight, his eye sparkling.
“You’re serious.” I blink my eyes rapidly, unsure how to digest what he’s telling me.
“It’s just a backup plan, but I’m going to research it.” Rembrandt serves each of us more vindaloo, and even though I’m full, I eat every bite. I’m surprised he took my suggestion seriously, but I’m not displeased about it.
“I don’t think I can eat another bite,” I groan, patting my stomach.
“Too bad. I made Indian rice pudding. It’s really good.”
“You’re killing me.” I pick up my spoon and look at Rembrandt expectantly. He gets up and goes back to the kitchen, then returns with two heaping bowls of rice pudding. I grab one of the bowls and start devouring the contents. The pudding is delicious, and I gobble it down. Once I’m done, I push the bowl away ,feeling some regret. My stomach is not happy with me, and it won’t be for a while. Rembrandt disappears one more time, then comes back with two cups of chai. We take them to the living room and snuggle on the couch. Ginger hops on Rembrandt’s lap and curls into a tight ball. Rembrandt and I hold hands and pet Ginger at the same time. After a half hour of that, we retire to the bedroom and make love carefully. I don’t want to hurt Rembrandt, but he’s as into it as I am. I kiss my way down his stomach and take his cock in my mouth. I have to be careful because I have TMJ, and he has a larger than average cock. Soon, he’s groaning in pleasure and moving my head with his hands. I allow him to set the pace because I don’t want to cause him any pain. When he’s close to coming, he pulls me off his cock, and I move up to kiss him firmly on the lips. He rolls us over and kisses my tits. I groan and thrust them out at him. We haven’t had sex since his attack, which is way too long for me. I could have sex every day and still want more. When he puts his mouth on my pussy, I nearly come. I don’t last for more than a minute before I explode in his mouth. I ride the waves of ecstasy until they subside and pull Rembrandt back up. I kiss him firmly on the mouth. He grabs a condom from the nightstand and rolls it on his hard cock. Without much preamble, he pushes it into me. I pant harder as he increases his movement. It’s less than three minutes before I come again, and as I’m convulsing, Rembrandt comes, too. We kiss softly before his eyes flutter close.
“I’m fading, babe,” he says, his voice thick.
“No prob.” I get up and open the door, allowing Ginger to race into the room. She jumps up on the bed and bites Rembrandt on the thigh. She doesn’t break skin, but it’s enough to make him flinch, even in his sleep. I laugh and lie back down next to them. I place my head on Rembrandt’s chest and close my eyes as well. I’m not going to sleep, though, because sex invigorates me. After ten minutes, I give up and get up. I slip on my robe and go downstairs. I’m famished, so I’m going to raid Rembrandt’s fridge. There’s plenty of vindaloo and naan left; I heat up some of both, then eat standing at the counter. Once I’m done, I wash up the dishes and place them in the drying rack. Ginger wanders in and head-butts my shins, and I give her a few Temptations. Suddenly, I need to see my cats right now. I gather my stuff, write Rembrandt a note, and leave. I feel guilty because we’ve already had a disagreement about my propensity to leave, but I can’t help myself. I push away the thoughts as I drive home because I need to concentrate on my driving.
“Meow!” Onyx prances around me as I enter the house, Jet looming behind her, as usual. I go into the kitchen and give them Greenies. They eat them, then beg for more. I give them each two more because I feel bad for leaving them. I go upstairs and take a quick shower. I like sex, but I don’t like the aftermath. Then, I go to the living room to check on my blog. There’s not much of interest on my last post, so I decide to write another.
Religion has always been an anathema to me. I wasn’t raised Christian, but I did go to church a few times as a teenager out of curiosity. I tried to believe. I really did. My mind just refused to accept the pablum I was being fed. In my early twenties, I was exceedingly anti-religion. I didn’t like the way it warped impressionable minds. I hated how anything good was because of God, but anything bad was either your own fault or the work of the devil. It never sat well with me that God wasn’t responsible for the evil in this world.
In my thirties, I started letting go of the anger. I began to see that religion wasn’t all negative. People find comfort in it, and who am I to say that’s a bad thing? Mind you, I don’t like all the horrible things being done in the name of God, or rightwingers trying to force others to live by the Bible, but if someone wants to believe in an almighty being, it’s no skin off my nose.
To be frank, I’m put off by the atheist movement in general, especially online. I understand being in the minority and feeling ignored/laughed at, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m not concerned about people’s negativity about my lack of religious belief. I’m Asian and bisexual and a woman. These are three things that affect me much more than my agnostic beliefs.
However, the one thing I cannot stand about religion is that oftentimes, a charismatic leader takes advantage of the gullible and/or the vulnerable in order to line his own coffers—and it’s almost always a man. It’s like the Wizard of Oz—pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I hate seeing people who are hanging on by a thread give up their autonomy to a charlatan and a fraud.
I write in this vein for several more minutes before publishing the post. I know I’m going to get some heated responses, but I look forward to it. Online, it’s easy to wrap oneself in a bubble and not interact with opposing opinions. The echo chamber is real, and it’s detrimental to critical thinking. If all you listen to are people who parrot back what you say to them, then you become stagnated. I see it all the time online, and I try my best to avoid it.
Suddenly, I’m exhausted. I put my laptop on the coffee table and close my eyes. I need a nap, desperately, and I try to will my body to fall asleep. As is the often the case, however, the minute I close my eyes, I’m wide awake. I smack the couch in frustration, careful to avoid Onyx and Jet. They glare at me, anyway, but soon return to snoozing. I breathe smoothly and slowly, and I eventually drift off to sleep. It’s dreamless this time, for which I’m grateful. I’ve had enough nightmares to last me a lifetime, though I have a hunch they’re not over yet.