Chapter Eight; Part Two
I am still thinking about it as I drive home. I list all the reasons it’s a bad idea, but there’s a small voice in the back of my head saying, “I don’t care. Fuck his brains out.” I try to shut it up, but it refuses to be quiet. Should I even mention it to Rembrandt? I mean, if it’s just going to be one night, why bother? I know I’m rationalizing, however, because I don’t want to deal with the drama of discussing it with Rembrandt. The fact that I want to fuck someone else only a month after starting to date Rembrandt suggests that maybe I need to cool things down with Rembrandt. I’ve already started to feel restless after spending three nights with him, so maybe this is a sign.
“Meow!” Onyx launches herself into my arms, and I catch her effortlessly. I snuggle her to my chest as I slip off my shoes. Jet bumps his head against my shin, and I reach down to ruffle the fur on his head. I’m having dinner with Liz at Sen Yai Sen Lek at six, which means I have to about fifteen minutes before I have to leave again. I’m excited to see Liz because I haven’t seen her since she left for Philly a year and a half ago. I give my babies their treats and lots of fuss before taking off again. I arrive at Sen Yai Sen Lek at ten minutes to six, which means I have to wait for at least ten minutes, and probably twenty. Liz is perennially late for social events, and it’s something I tease her about to this day. Fifteen minutes later, she walks in. Her red curls are swept up on top of her head, and her emerald eyes are sparkling behind her glasses. She’s wearing a deep green dress that brushes her knees, and she looks fantastic.
“Megan!” Liz calls out, a wide grin crossing her face.
“Liz!” I jump up, run over to her, and hug her hard. We both start babbling at each other as we make our way to the table I had already snagged.
“How was your Thanksgiving?” Liz asks as she studies the menu.
“Surprisingly good,” I reply. I’ve already decided on my order, so I don’t pick up my menu. “I met Rembrandt’s mother and brothers plus partners and children for lunch, and then I brought him to Jasmine’s for dinner. Which was fine except that man was there. How about you?”
“Thanksgiving was fantastic! It was my family and Frankie’s family, which was about fifty people. Hey, he’s Italian, and so is my mom.” Liz sets her menu aside, and the server rushes over to take our order. Once she’s gone, Liz continues. “Day after Thanksgiving with my father wasn’t as fun because we flew out at the crack of dawn to LA, and he was stinking drunk. I think he was nervous being around Rosa for the first time in a few years.”
“Sorry. That must have sucked.” I sip at my Diet Coke, then at my water.
“I was glad to leave, I can tell you that much.” Liz drinks her Thai iced tea and sighs. She’s had a rocky relationship with her father since he left her mother for another woman when Liz was ten years old. It’s one of the things we bonded over—our fathers leaving our families.
“I bet.” The server comes with our appetizers, fried tofu and chicken skewers. We both take a few minutes to heap our plates with both.
“Speaking of fathers, do you think that man is yours?” Liz looks at me hard, and I squirm under her gaze. She always gets right to the point, which is one thing I both love and hate about her. Not hate, exactly, but am uncomfortable with. It’s good, though, because I can equivocate forever.
“I really don’t know,” I say with a sigh. “He certainly seems like he is, but I can’t shake the feeling there’s something off about him.”
“What is it?” Liz asks, chewing on a chicken skewer.
“I don’t know!” I say in frustration. “That’s the problem. I’m wondering if I’m just finding reasons not to believe him.”
“Megan, listen. He’s the one who’s making an outrageous claim, so it’s up to him to prove it. You have every right to be suspicious.” Liz pats my hand and continues eating her skewer. I join her, and it’s delicious.
“Fuck. Let’s talk about something else,” I say, heaving a weary sigh. I think about James and decide to bring him up. “Remember James? My ex-coworker?”
“James…James…Oh, the one you tried to fuck, but he came too soon. Yup. I remember him.” Liz puts down her fork and adds, “Want to go outside and smoke?”
“Yes.” I grab my purse and follow her outside. We both light up and inhale, ignoring the glares directed our way. Once we’re situated, I continue. “He’s my temporary manager because my old supervisor got caught doing some shady business.”
“Oh, really?” Liz lifts an eyebrow and takes a drag off her cigarette.
“Yes.” I hesitate, then blurt out, “He took the position because of me. He wants to have one night together to prove to himself—and me, I guess—that he’s overcome his problem.”
“No shit!” Liz says, staring at me with round eyes. “What do you think about that?”
“I want to fuck him so bad. Tell me it’s a terrible idea.” I suck on my cigarette and wait for her response.
“You know it is, Megan,” Liz retorts, flicking her ashes on the ground. “So why the hell are you actually considering it? Wait, let me guess. You’re chafing in your relationship with Rembrandt. Am I right?”
“You’re right, as usual.” I finish my cigarette and cradle the butt in my hand.
“You always do this, Megan. You hold on to the shitty relationships and fuck up the good ones.”
“Viv said the exact same thing,” I sigh.
“Whether or not you fuck James isn’t the issue—it’s whether you want to be dating Rembrandt.” As usual, Liz cuts to the core of the problem in her no-nonsense way. “Are you committed to it?” Sensing that I’m about to protest, she adds, “I don’t mean you have to get married or move in together, but you have to decide if you want to commit to honestly dating Rembrandt. If you do, then you have to ask yourself the hard questions, such as, do you need it to be open? If you do, well, then you have to talk to him about it, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” I say with a sigh. “What’s wrong with me, Liz? Why do I always fuck up a good relationship?” I light up another cigarette, disgruntled with my commitment problems.
“Your problem is that you rush to the end of it. You think if you’re dating someone, it means you have to get serious. You don’t, you know. You can just date him and enjoy dating him.” Liz lights up another cigarette as well. She’s cut back on her smoking ever since she moved to Philly, but I know she enjoys one every now and again. We’re bad influences on each other in this matter because we always smoke more when we’re together than when we’re separated. “I know I said you have to commit to dating him, but you don’t have to think of it in terms of years or even months. Just, do you want to date him right now?”
“I don’t know,” I say softly. “I like him a lot….”
“But, we’ve already had to have two talks about where we’re at, and we’ve only been dating a month.” I feel a band of tension compress around my forehead, and I rub my temples wearily. “I want to have fun. I want to have carefree sex. That’s it, and he’s already talked about moving in together.” I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about it, but I do. I’ve been told all my life I should want to get married and have kids, that sex is for procreation and not recreation.
“That is a bit excessive,” Liz agrees. “You know that Frank and I almost split over him pushing me to get married, and we were together for several years at that point. It’s funny how they always joke about women wanting to trap a man, when I think it’s men who actually want to settle down more often than not.”
“Sing it, sister!” I say. “You’re preaching to the choir, of course.”
“All I can say is figure out what you really want and stay true to it.”
“Thanks, Liz. Enough of that. How are you doing?” Liz recently got shot in the gut by a crazy woman, and while she’s nearly fully recovered physically, I know she still has nightmares about it.
“I’m OK. I still have my bad days, but Frankie and Rosa are really helping.” Frankie and Rosa are her husband and daughter, respectively. “Let’s go back inside.”
We put out our cigarettes and put the stubs back in our packs. I’m thinking about what Liz said about my relationship troubles. She’s right. Whether or not I want to fuck James isn’t important. There are always going to be people I want to fuck, so it’s what I decide to do about it that matters. I set aside the question of whether I will fuck James or not and think about what I want from Rembrandt. I like what we have, and I don’t mind spending a night or two with him at a time. However, I don’t want to move in together, and three nights in a row is one night too many. I want to have dinner with him, laugh and talk about mundane things, fuck his brains out, and then go home. I do not want to blend households or move in together. I don’t want us to be boyfriend and girlfriend, and I’m not sure I want to be monogamous. But, I have to ask myself if that’s because I caught Tessa in bed with her dog walker. In other words, am I punishing Rembrandt for Tessa’s sins? I remind myself I haven’t asked Rembrandt if he wants to be monogamous, but I know the answer is yes. He’s mentioned moving in together, for fuck’s sake.
“What’s wrong?” Liz asks. I’m startled because I didn’t say anything, but I must have sighed or something.
“I’m just wanting something I can’t have,” I say, slurping the noodles in my wonton noodle soup. “Rembrandt as a booty call. That’s really what I want. Unfortunately, he’s not the booty call kind of man.”
“So, then you have to decide whether you want to try to have a relationship with him or not.” Liz is gobbling down her crispy catfish.
“Hey, do you know anyone who can un-scrub someone’s online history?” I ask, abruptly changing the subject. I did not want to talk about my relationship woes any longer, and I’m sure Liz is tired of hearing about it.
“One of my kids may be able to do it. Or know someone. Or Frankie might know someone. I’ll ask around.” We don’t talk about anything serious for the rest of dinner, which ends much too soon.
“Mrrrreow!” Onyx jumps into my arms the second I step in the door. She’s lucky that I have my leftovers in a bag so I can catch her without a problem. I put the leftovers in the fridge before feeding the beasties their treats. I still have Rembrandt on my mind, so I call him once I change and crash on the couch.
“Hey, Megan. How’s it going?” His voice is low and mellow, and I’m rather sorry I’m going to have to shatter his calm. No, I’m not going to mention James, but I’m going to bring up the possibility of dating other people. Yeah, that’s not going to go well at all. I’d also rather not do it over the phone, but if I have him come over, then he’ll probably stay the night—that’s if he doesn’t leave in a huff.
“I need to talk to you Rembrandt. I’d prefer to do it in person. I know it’s late.”
“Sure. Ginger and I will be there in a half hour or so.” He hesitates and add, “Should I bring my overnight bag?”
“Yes,” I say. I’m still not sure I want him to spend the night, but it seems churlish to say no. “See you soon. Oh, and thanks for coming.” I hurry upstairs to take a shower. I feel gross, and a quick shower makes everything better. I put my work clothes back on, then go downstairs to check my latest blog post. BeepBeep writes, “I love being a grandmother much more than I liked being a mother because it’s all of the fun with a tenth of the responsibility. I can give them all the sugar I want because I’m Nonny, and there’s nothing my children can do about it. The last five years have been the best of my life, and I heartily recommend being a grandparent to everyone.” Selloprophane adds, “Fuck family is what I say. My mom was a whore who couldn’t keep her legs shut, and my dad was never around except when he needed money from my mom. My brothers and sisters scattered to the wind as soon as they could flee our hick hometown, and me? I’m on my fourth divorce and supporting six kids across three states, so who the fuck am I to talk?” Chrysanthemummed says, “I love being a mom, but sometimes, I feel it stifling my brain. There are only so many times you can sing ‘Wheels On the Bus’ before wanting to bash your brains in. I have to remind myself that I’m a dancer and a cook in addition to being MOOOOOOOM, but it doesn’t always help. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but, I do sometimes wonder in an alternate world, what kind of life I would have had.”
I should write another post, but I don’t have the energy or the time before Rembrandt is supposed to show up. I check my emails instead. There’s one from that man asking if we can meet tomorrow. I pause because after the request, the email goes off the rails as he rants about someone who’s betrayed him and who’ll get his tonight. I have no idea what he’s going on about except that it probably has something to do with the business venture that went wrong the last time he was in Minnesota. In fact, he’s so vehement in his vitriol, that I wonder if this is the main reason he’s in Minnesota and me and my sisters are just an afterthought. He manages to rein it at the end when he repeats his request that we meet tomorrow. He’s rattled me, and I’m not sure I want to meet him now. I decide to leave it until later and move on to the next email. There’s nothing of importance, so I close out the browser. A few minutes later, my doorbell rings. It’s Rembrandt, of course, which means the reckoning. I drag my heels as I go to the front door, but I can’t delay it forever. I open the door, and there’s Rembrandt and Ginger. Rembrandt looks serious, but not panicked. Ginger is meowing to be let out of the carrier, which Rembrandt does as soon as enters the house.
“Hey, babe.” Rembrandt kisses me on the cheek after freeing Ginger. She rushes over to Jet and whaps him on the nose, and he takes it stoically. Then, Ginger sniffs Onyx’s butt before the three of them disappear.
“You want anything to drink?” I ask, taking Rembrandt’s coat.
“I’m good.” Rembrandt slips his arm around my shoulders, and I wonder what message he’s trying to send. We go to the living room and sit on the couch. I probably should sit on the recliner, but it seems rude to change seats now. “What do you want to talk about?” His voice tenses up slightly, and I take in a slow, smooth breath before exhaling.
“Us. I need to know exactly what you want from…this.” I gesture at him and then me. “You’ve mentioned moving in together, and I want to know if you still feel that way.” Rembrandt stares at me, but he doesn’t answer at first. I start squirming when the silence drags out for a very long minute.
“Why are you asking?” He finally says, which isn’t what I expect. I quash my impulse to answer right away because I don’t want to give him a half-ass answer.
“I’m feeling hemmed in,” I say honestly, catching the flinch on his face as I speak. I regret it, but not enough to take it back. “I know we’ve talked about sleeping over and nights together, but that third night in a row was one night too many.” I stop because I feel as if I’m making things worse. Rembrandt’s face has dropped as he’s not one to hide his feelings.
“OK. No third night in a row. Is that it?” His words are clipped, and I know he’s trying to keep himself from saying something intemperate. I’m trying to be understanding because I know I’m springing some unpleasantness on him, but if he’s going to shut down, we’re not going to be able to have a real conversation.
“Rembrandt, please. I know I’m being difficult, but I’m really not trying to hurt you.” I place a hand on his upper arm, and I’m grateful he doesn’t jerk away.
“You may not be trying to, but you are.” Rembrandt looks me right in the eyes, and I hold his stare, even though I’m squirming inside.
“I’m sorry for that, but I want to talk things out rather than stuff them inside as I normally do.” I remove my hand and place it back in my lap. The cats choose this time to show their faces again, and they take their usual positions. Ginger in Rembrandt’s lap; Onyx in mine; Jet with his head in his paws on my thigh. I take a deep breath and blurt out the question that is looming in the front of my mind. “Do you want to be monogamous?”
“I thought that was understood,” Rembrandt says, his face flushing. “Does that mean you don’t?”
“You didn’t answer my question,” I point out. I know what his answer is, but I want to hear him say it.
“Yes, I want to be monogamous. I want us to move in together, but I’m willing to wait on that. I have no budge to give on monogamous, though.” He clenches his hand, and I know he’s trying to control his temper. I’m sorry that I’ve pissed him off, but I know the longer I postpone the talk, the worse it’ll get. I absorb what he’s said before I respond.
“I understand. Thank you for not sugarcoating it.”
“It’s your turn to answer. Are you saying you don’t want to be monogamous?” Rembrandt’s eyes burn into mine, and I know I can’t be wishy-washy in my response. However, I’m not sure what I want exactly. Damn it. I should have thought of this more before asking to talk with him. I decide just to give it to him straight, even if it sounds flimsy.
“I don’t know.” I notice the furrowing of his brow and hasten to explain. “I don’t want NOT to be monogamous, necessarily, but I don’t want to not have the choice, if that makes any sense.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Rembrandt pulls away from me and crosses his arms across his chest. Ginger mews as she senses his distress, and he rubs her ears to comfort her. I try to think of a kind way to phrase what I’m about to tell him, but there just isn’t one.
“I want to be able to date other people if the opportunity arrives. I might not feel that way in a month or two, but I do now.” My voice falters as I see the hurt on Rembrandt’s face. I hate this, but I can’t back down now.
“I can’t, Megan. I was in an open relationship before, and it killed me to watch the woman I cared so much about go out with other men.” Rembrandt’s voice is trembling, but he manages to keep control over it.
“Where does that leave us?” I ask, my temple pulsing unpleasantly.
“Either we’re dating and exclusive or we’re not,” Rembrandt says simply. His hand tightens compulsively around Ginger’s neck, then relaxes as she meeps in protest. If that’s how he feels, I should just break things off now. However, I really like him, and I don’t currently want to date anyone else. I do want to fuck James, but that’s just a one-night thing; it’s not going to make or break my life.
“Here’s the best I can do,” I finally say. I pause to pet Onyx and Jet to bolster my courage and to bring me comfort. “I want to date you because I like you. A lot. If I want to date someone else, I’ll talk about it with you before I do it.” I shrug my shoulders apologetically, then add, “It really is the best I can do right now.” Rembrandt doesn’t say anything as he thinks about it. He tweaks Ginger’s ear, and she kneads his thighs in response. I slowly count to fifteen before he finally speaks.
“I can accept that for now, but I don’t know for how long it’ll be OK. I know we’ve only been dating a month, but I’m committed to you. To us. I’d like it if you felt the same way.” Rembrandt lowers his eyes at the end of the last sentence. I’m touched by his vulnerability and his emotions, and I wish I felt the same way. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me because I’m always keeping an eye out for another option. Let’s be real. I’m looking for an exit if I need one, and I know it’s because of my father leaving us when I was so young. Knowing the problem doesn’t stop me from feeling panicked at the thought of committing to a relationship, however.
“I wish I did, too,” I say softly. I reach out and place my hand on Rembrandt’s. After several seconds, he grabs my hand and squeezes it. I slide over until I’m nestled into his side and lean my head on his chest. I’m not trying to seduce him for once; I’m merely trying to give and receive comfort. Rembrandt drapes his arm around my shoulders and pulls me closer. Onyx squeaks in protest because she’s getting shifted, so I rub her head vigorously to calm her down. She tucks her head into my palm and purrs loudly. Jet slaps at my thighs with his oversized paws before placing his head on his paws. He looks up at me through slit eyes, and I blink slowly at him. He blinks once in return before falling back asleep.