Marital Duplicity; chapter ten, part one

Chapter Ten; Part One

For the first time in weeks, I sleep soundly. Onyx and Jet behave themselves for once and don’t sit on my face in the middle of the night. In fact, when I wake up, they’re sleeping on the couch besides me, curled up in a ball. I slide out of bed and take a quick shower. I go through my routine, and by the time I’m done, Onyx and Jet are yammering for their breakfast. I give them their wet food before slipping out the door. I’m early to work for once, but I don’t want to make a habit of it. I focus on my job, then I leave it at the door at the end of the day. I make my way to Mrs. Tsai’s house with the help of Agnes, my not-Siri. I get there with ten minutes to spare, and she welcomes me with a warm smile. I enter her house, and I’m overwhelmed by all the delicious fragrances that remind me of my childhood. When my mother was sober and in a cooking mood, she made the tastiest dumplings. Steamed and fried. I can tell that Mrs. Tsai is making the fried kind—my favorite.

“Megan! Come in, come in.” Mrs. Tsai grabs me by the arm and guides me inside.

“Thank you, Mrs. Tsai. It smells terrific.” I step inside and take off my shoes. I slip on a pair of slippers that are hanging on the guest rack and follow her into the kitchen.

“Oh, please. Do call me Lisa. Mrs. Tsai is my husband’s mother. That dragon lady.” The last is said under Lisa’s breath, so I pretend not to hear it. She leads me into the dining room which is attractively set with good china—for two. “Harry, my husband, is out of town on business. It’ll just be the two of us tonight. Please, have a seat.” She points at one of the seats, and I sit down. She hurries back into the kitchen, and I look at her décor. The walls are a warm marigold, and there are nature paintings all over them. There’s a mahogany sideboard in the corner of the room, and I find the whole effect homey and charming. “Here we go!” Lisa returns bearing a tray laden with fried dumplings, radish cakes, wonton soup, fried rice, and other Taiwanese delicacies. I pick up my chopsticks expectantly, and she serves me a very generous portion of everything. I wait until she says grace before digging in. Radish cakes are one of my favorite dishes, and she makes them better than any I’ve had in decades.

“Lisa. Your cooking is fantastic. It takes me back to my childhood.” I gobble everything in sight, not bothering to pretend I’m dignified or restrained. Lisa is looking at me with an indulgent smile because in Taiwanese culture, there is no higher compliment to the chef than to eat as quickly as you can and ask for more. In addition, we can’t talk about business until we’ve eaten our fair share.

“Thank you. I love cooking, though it’s not much fun with no one here to eat it.” The corners of Lisa’s mouth turn downward, and I suspect there’s trouble in paradise. She might have said she and her husband’s relationship was just fine, but I doubt that’s true.

“Lisa, let me be frank. I’m here because Bob’s missing, and I think your church has something to do with it.” Again, I would prefer to be more delicate, but I don’t have the time nor the patience.

“My church?” Lisa’s mouth drops open; fortunately, there isn’t any food in it.

“Yes, your church. Reverend Yang to be more specific.” I stare at Lisa, and she visibly flinches when I mention the reverend’s name. Interestingly enough, she doesn’t rush to protest as I thought she would.

“Reverend Yang is a wonderful man,” Lisa says slowly. “He brought great comfort to me in my time of need.”

“But?” I say, my ears perking.

“My circle of friends thinks he walks on water. I have a hard time not speaking out when they start singing his praises, but I know they will be upset if I do.” Lisa fiddles with her wedding ring, refusing to meet my eyes.

“I understand. Women can be so cruel to each other.” My carefully curated comment elicits exactly the response I want.

“At first, I thought he was wonderful! He listened to everything I said and was so understanding when I talked about my problems with Harry.” Lisa’s lower lip starts trembling, and I’m afraid she’s going to cry. “Oh, he was assiduous with his attentions. He was so understanding, he talked me out of my clothing and right onto his couch. Of course, he urged me to keep it to myself, which I did. Until Sally told me in confidence that she was sleeping with Reverend Yang. You can imagine my surprise after Reverend Yang told me how I was the only woman who understood him. He told me I was different and special. What a fool I was.” Lisa tears up, but she doesn’t give in to them. She wipes her eyes, and it’s clear that she’s not over the affair yet.

“He’s a very charming man, Lisa. You can’t blame yourself.” I pause, then add, “When was your affair?”

“It ended a few months ago. Three or four months. He started making excuses to cancel our sessions or to delay them. When I confronted him, he just shined me on.” Lisa dabs her eyes with a napkin and pushes her plate away. “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.”

“I’m sorry for bringing up painful memories,” I say, patting her hand.

“My husband was staying at work later and later, and I couldn’t help but notice that his secretary was half his age and had legs up to her neck. He came back with lipstick on his collar one night, and he made some dumb excuse. I didn’t push it.” Lisa looks ashamed of herself, and it makes me sad. So many women put up with philandering husbands, then feel ashamed of themselves for doing it. It’s as old as time, and it’s ruined so many lives. “He finally confessed to me a month ago after she dumped him. I told him I forgave him.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” I say, squeezing her hand. “We’ve all had that love affair we’d rather forget. I, myself, caught my last girlfriend in bed with her dog walker. That was not one of my finest moments.” Lisa winces, but she doesn’t say anything negative about my statement. I heave a sigh of relief and hurry on. “I’m dating someone new, but I have a hard time trusting him. It’s not his fault, but I can’t help it.”

“You really understand!” Lisa squeezes my hand, her face grateful. “My husband has sworn the affair is over, but how can I really be sure?”

“You have to go with your gut. Either you’re in, or you’re out. It’s hard, though, when you’ve spent several years with a person.”

“Twenty!” Lisa pours herself a glass of wine and swallows half of it in one gulp. “He gave me this for our twentieth anniversary last month. Right after he told me about the affair.” She holds out her wrist, and there’s a tennis bracelet dripping with diamonds on it.

“It’s gorgeous!” I gasp, holding my hands to my heart. It is, even though I’m not a big jewelry gal.

“He said in his car that it sparkles like my eyes.” Lisa flushes, and I smile at her. I hope she and  her husband can make it work, though I’m doubtful. He’s probably still canoodling with his secretary, and Lisa still has feelings for Reverend Yang. “Anyway, you asked me about someone who’s in a bad marriage and being counseled by Reverend Yang?” Lisa stares into my eyes, and I stare right back.

“Yes. I think it might help with Bob’s disappearance.” I drink from my water goblet before setting it back on the table.

“I don’t know if I should tell you. It was told to me in confidence.” Lisa finishes her wine and pours herself another glass.

“I understand. I wouldn’t even be asking except the situation is dire.” I pour myself more water and down half of it. “It’s been almost a week since Bob has gone missing, and if I don’t find him soon, I’m afraid of what will happen to him.”

“OK. I’ll tell you.” Lisa finishes her wine and blurts it out. “Hayley Wu.”

“Hayley Wu?” I look at her blankly, then remember. “Oh! Hayley. The woman who was being manhandled by her husband.”

“Yes. She told me everything a few weeks ago.”

 

“Lisa, can I talk to you?” Hayley showed up on Lisa’s doorstep out of the blue. She was wearing dark glasses, even though the sky was overcast and gloomy. She was leaning against the doorjamb and holding her ribs.

“Hayley! Come in, come in.” Lisa helped Hayley into the hallway and waited for her to take off her shoes. It took Hayley several minutes to remove her shoes, and she winced as she did. She slowly straightened up and removed her sunglasses. Lisa gasped as Hayley’s blackened eye was revealed. Her right one, and it’s swollen shut. “Oh my goodness! You poor thing. Follow me.” Lisa guided Hayley into the kitchen and leaned her against the counter. She grabbed a T-bone from the freezer, wrapped it in a towel, and applied it to Hayley’s eye. “Hold that right there.” Lisa made sure Hayley held the steak to her eye before starting a kettle of water. She made some tuna salad sandwiches, grabbed some almond cookies, and arranged them on a tray. Once the water was boiling, she made them each a cup of peppermint tea for energy. She brought the tray to the dining room and arranged everything before going back into the kitchen. Hayley was still leaning against the counter, and Lisa took her by the arm and moved her into the dining room. Hayley obediently sat down, the steak still held to her eye, but she didn’t move otherwise.

“You need to eat.” Lisa held out a sandwich to Hayley who accepted it and nibbled at the crust. She sipped at her tea without seeming to taste it. She sat as still as a statue, and it bothered Lisa to see her so. “Hayley, we need to talk. Did Tony do that to you?” Lisa gestured to Hayley’s eye, and Hayley inadvertently nodded.

“He was so angry,” Hayley whispered, her voice raw. “He got an email, and he wouldn’t tell me what it said, but he accused me of cheating on him. Then, he started beating on me until he got a phone call and had to go to work. I came right here.”

“That’s terrible!” Lisa poured Hayley a glass of wine, but Hayley shook her head.

“I wanted to talk to B—I needed to talk to someone. I can’t do this much longer.” Hayley started crying, and Lisa put her arms around Hayley and hugged her.

“You could talk to Reverend Yang about it,” Lisa suggested. A flash of pure hatred crossed Hayley’s face, and she clenched her hands into fists.

“No. I have nothing to say to him.” Hayley threw her sandwich down practically untouched. She cleared her throat. “This was a mistake. I’m sorry, Lisa. You’ve been very good to me, and I’m sorry I wasted your time.” Hayley got up and hurried from the table. Lisa rushed after her, but she couldn’t dissuade Hayley from leaving. Hayley gave her the cold shoulder at church the next Sunday, then things were back to normal.

 

“You think she was having an affair with Reverend Yang?” I ask Lisa after she’s finished with her story.

“Yes. And I think it went very wrong.” Lisa says, her eyes skittering off mine.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about, Lisa,” I say, dabbing my lips with my napkin.

“Don’t go yet! We haven’t had dessert.” Lisa goes into the kitchen, and it occurs to me that she’s a lonely woman. She comes back with a chocolate roll, which brings back even more memories. My sisters and I loved chocolate rolls when we were kids, and my mom would surprise us with one every once in a while. We would devour it in five minutes, and my mom would always say she should have bought two. She never ate any; she just enjoyed watching us gobble it down.

“I don’t know how you’ve done it, but you’ve managed to serve all my childhood favorites.” I beam at Lisa, and she smiles back in return.

“They’re all my mother’s recipes. She was an old-fashioned Taiwanese woman who only cared about her family and her home.” Lisa’s voice is fond, and I envy her relationship with her mother.

“Well, they’re wonderful, and I thank you so much for cooking for me.” I nod at Lisa, and she nods at me in return. We eat the chocolate roll until I’m stuffed. I offer to do the dishes, but Lisa turns me down. She says she’ll do them later and would I like tea in the living room? I can’t find it in my heart to demur, so I go there begrudgingly. I look around in interest, noting that the walls are maroon. There are more nature pictures dotting them, and I like Lisa’s sense of style.

“Here we go!” Lisa brings in a tray of tea and almond cookies. I sip the tea, and it’s good old-fashioned black tea. I munch on a cookie as Lisa natters about church and tennis and the spa.

“Lisa, are you happy at your church?” I ask, setting down my cup on the saucer.

“I was until a few months ago,” Lisa says, setting down her teacup as well. “After that mess with Reverend Yang, well, I felt differently. I found out three other women who’d been seduced by Reverend Yang.”

“Why still go then?” I ask, nibbling another cookie. I’m full, but I can’t resist almond cookies.

“All my friends are there, and my husband insists on going.” Lisa folds her hands in her lap and looks down at them. “To tell you the truth, I’d rather be done with the lot of them.” Lisa pours herself another glass of wine and drinks half of it. “I just want it to be the way it was six months ago.”

“I understand.” After another half hour, I make my excuses and leave. I need to talk to Hayley Wu—Hayley. Lee. How stupid can I be? Why didn’t I see it before? She’s the ‘Lee’ both Bob and Reverend Yang were referring to. She’s the mysterious woman. I really need to talk to her.

Once I get home, I take a quick shower, feed the cats their treats, then pick up my phone. I hate talking on it, but it’s too easy to ignore an email. I call Hayley Wu, and the phone goes over to voicemail. I leave her a brief message, mentioning that it’s urgent. I don’t hold high hopes that she’ll return my call, but to my surprise, she calls back in two minutes.

“Megan. I’m really glad you called. Can we talk?” Her voice is whispery and full of fear.

“Sure. When and where?” I ask.

“Now? I don’t know where, though.” She’s near tears, I can tell, and my heart breaks for her.

“Come here. I’ll make us tea and scrounge up some cookies or something.” I give her my address and directions, then I change back into slacks and a blouse. Onyx and Jet dance around me, excited because of the upheaval. I give them a few more Temptations, then I put on a kettle so I can make tea. I find a package of not-stale Oreos and arrange them on a plate. I pour the water and make us ginger tea. I think Hayley can do with some bracing. I bustle around the kitchen until I hear the doorbell ring. I go to answer it, and it’s Hayley, of course. She’s looking behind her as she jabs at the doorbell.

“Hayley, come on in.” I open the door and usher Hayley in. She hurries in and slams the door behind her. I lock it, and she sags against it in relief. There’s a faded bruise on her cheek, and her mouth is swollen.

“Thank you for seeing me. I need to talk to someone, and I don’t have any real friends.” Hayley slips off her shoes and lines them up neatly on the Welcome mat. I take her into the living room, then bring in the tea and cookies on a tray. She picks up a cup and sips the tea, then puts down the cup. She nervously picks at her cuticles, but remains silent.

“Hayley, what did you want to talk about?” I ask, keeping my voice gentle. Hayley starts hyperventilating, and I urge her to take slow, smooth breaths. She does, and a splash of color returns to her cheeks.

“Tony is going to kill me,” she says without preamble. Her voice is firm for once, and her chin is up in the air. “He’s becoming more and more violent, and not a day goes by when he doesn’t backhand me over something.” She pushes up her sleeves and shows a mass of bruises on them.

“Why don’t you leave him?” I ask, though I don’t hold out much hope. Abused women rarely leave their husbands for a variety of reasons.

“I’m planning on it, but I don’t have all my ducks in a row yet. I need a little more time, but I’m not sure I have it.” Hayley closes her eyes and slumps against the couch. She opens them up and then adds, “Reverend Yang and I were having an affair. Someone told my husband, and that’s why the beatings have increased.”

“I’m sorry, Hayley.” I don’t know what else to say, but she doesn’t seem to hear me, anyway. She looks at me, then tells me how she got involved with Reverend Yang in the first place.

 

“He’s so angry all the time, Reverend Yang,” Hayley sobbed, mopping her face with Reverend Yang’s handkerchief. “He doesn’t talk to me any longer—only yells.”

“He’s under a lot of pressure, Lee,” Reverend Yang said soothingly, picking up Hayley’s hand.

“I know.” Hayley sighed heavily. She was leaning against the couch, and Reverend Yang sat next to her. “He doesn’t have to take it out on me,” Hayley said, looking down at her hands.

“I’m sure he loves you,” Reverend Yang said, his eyes glued to Hayley’s chest. “But he shouldn’t lay hands on you. A woman like you should only be treated with kindness and love.” He stroked Hayley’s arm, and she leaned against him for comfort.

“Do you think you might talk to him?” Hayley looked up at Reverend Yang, her eyes filled with tears.

“Of course, Lee. If it’s make you feel better.” Reverend Yang hugged Hayley tightly to his chest while stroking her hair. She was still looking at him, and he dropped his head to kiss her on the lips. She moaned and kissed him back.

 

“I was such a fool. I thought he loved me,” Hayley says, her eyes filling with tears. “Then, a few months after it started, I caught him with Teresa Chang. He said it didn’t mean anything, but I didn’t believe him.” Hayley is crying again, and I want nothing more than to hold her in my arms and take the pain away. I also want to tell her to hurry up and get to the part about Bob, but I don’t think that would be prudent. “I was so in love with him, though. I kept visiting him. For counseling.” She takes a deep breath and adds, “Three months ago, I…confided in Bob. Your brother-in-law.”

“Why?” I ask, cutting her short. “I mean, Bob wouldn’t be my first choice for a listener.”

“I was having a really bad day. He asked me to get coffee with him. I went.”

“Where was Jasmine?” I ask, cutting in again. I need to get my facts straight, and she’s doling out the information bit by bit.

“Bob said she had a headache and skipped church that day.” Hayley sips at her tea again, and I get the distinct impression she’s stalling. “We went to McDonald’s and talked.”

“About your marriage?” I ask, eating a cookie.

“Yes. I did most of the talking. It poured right out of me. Bob was such a good listener; I could have talked to him for hours.” Hayley’s eyes light up, and I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. “He was gentle and compassionate and just wonderful.” She clasps her cup with both hands, and I sigh. I feel sorry for her, but she’s obviously the kind of woman who needs to be with a man—and, more to the point, to be rescued by a man. She’s the wilting flower type, and some men find that highly attractive. I, myself, find I want to rescue that type of woman more often than not, but I’ve learned you can’t save someone.

“When was the last time you talked to Bob?” I ask, keeping my voice brisk.

“The night before he…disappeared. He was upset. He said Jasmine had found out about us and threatened to kill him.” Hayley bursts into tears again, but I’m too shocked to offer any comfort. Jasmine said that? She couldn’t have. I’m going to have to talk to her and get the goddamn truth out of her, like it or not. “What time is it?” Hayley asks, sitting upright. She pulls out her phone and checks the time. “I have to go. He’ll be—” She gets up and starts walking towards the front door. She put on her shoes, thanks me, and leaves. I shut the door behind her and lean against it. Immediately, I pick up the phone and call my sister.

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