Parental Deception; chapter eleven, part one

“Hey, babe,” Rembrandt says, smiling at me as he opens the door.

“Hi, Rembrandt,” I reply, kissing him on the lips. I hand Onyx and Jet’s carrier to him, and they stop yowling when he frees them. They prance around Ginger, who is twining around Rembrandt’s legs. The three of them sniff each other’s butts before racing down the hallway. “You look really nice.” He’s wearing a black button-down and gray khakis. He has his hair slicked back, which I find an endearing touch.

“So do you,” he says, a gleam in his eyes. I’m wearing a short red dress that flaunts all my assets. I’m not wearing panties as usual, and I feel deliciously wicked. I’m about to suggest we skip dinner and go straight to his bedroom when I catch a whiff of something creamy wafting from the kitchen. “Chicken alfredo,” Rembrandt says in response to my inquiring sniffs. “With broccoli. Garlic bread, tossed salad with vinaigrette. Tiramisu for dessert.”

“Let’s eat!” I grab Rembrandt’s hand and swing it as we go to the kitchen. He tends to his sauce as I get the plates and silverware. I set the table and wait impatiently for the food. I had a light lunch in anticipation of a Rembrandt dinner. I have to admit, if even to myself, that the fact that he cooks for me is a factor in why I like dating him. I’m not a lousy cook, but I don’t like doing it. I am more than willing to do the dishes and fuck him in return. Let’s be honest. I would fuck him, anyway, but dishes? Only if he feeds me first.

“Here we go!” Rembrandt brings out the food, and my mouth waters. I wait for him to sit down and dish out the food before diving in. “So, you mentioned you learned quite a bit about that man pretending to be your father. Care to share?”

“He was trying to steal my sisters and my inheritance,” I say bluntly.

“What?” Rembrandt sets down his fork and stares at me, his mouth agape. Fortunately, he had finished his mouthful of food, otherwise, it would have not been a pretty sight.

“He was the executor of our father’s will. My sisters and I were the heirs. My father had over a million dollars. That man didn’t submit the will to probate, so we never knew about it.” I swirl my noodles around my fork, but I don’t take a bite. Talking about that man dampens my appetite. “Jasmine got a name from her son of a probate attorney in San Francisco. She’s flying out there in a few days to straighten things out.”

“I’m glad,” Rembrandt says. It’s not what I’m expecting to hear, so I look at him quizzically. “You’ve been doing so much for your family lately. It’s time your sisters stepped up to help out.” I flush, but he’s not the first person to mention that. I know I tend to overdo when it comes to my family, but I wish I could explain to people how much I owe Jasmine. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for her, and how do you repay that? As for Viv, well, she’s an artist. There’s no point in trying to get her to pay attention to mundane details, and it only causes frustration on my part when I try.

“Anyway, I also found out that Mr. Tsai, the imposter, only had about five-hundred thousand dollars, which is a lot to us, but not that much in San Francisco. He left it all to his wife, of course, but, oh! In the business debacle he had from the time he lived in Minnesota, he lost over two million dollars.”

“Two million!” Rembrandt’s eyes are round, and he whistles his disbelief. “Holy shit.”

“Precisely.” I nod my head emphatically, then take a large bite out of a piece of garlic bread. “For all his blathering about wanting a family, I think he did it for the money.”

“Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” Rembrandt objects. He ladles more sauce onto his plate to cover the remainder of his noodles. “If he simply wanted to steal the money, there’d be no reason for him to come here.”

“You have a point,” I say grudgingly. I don’t like to be wrong; it makes me grumpy. “So maybe he did actually want a family, but he also wanted the money.”

“I’m sorry, Megan,” Rembrandt says, covering my hand with his. He gives me a hearty squeeze, and I squeeze back automatically.

“What for?” I savor the salad with its thickly sliced mozzarella cheese balls.

“It was really shitty of him to prey on you and your sisters like this. No matter his rationale, it wasn’t right.” Rembrandt is looking at me with sympathy, and I can’t bear it. I drop my eyes so I won’t have to see the pity in his. I take a sip of water to clear the tears that are suddenly clogging my throat. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“I know,” I say softly. “But I do. I have to know what happened. I have to know more about him, even if it sickens me. It’s who I am.”

“I understand,” Rembrandt says. He’s about to say something else when Onyx, Jet, and Ginger scamper into the room. Their noses are twitching, and their eyes are dilated. They jump onto the table, circling the chicken alfredo sauce.

“No, guys,” I say, trying to shoo Onyx and Jet from the table while Rembrandt does the same to Ginger. Onyx snaps at my finger and manages to capture it in her mouth. She gnaws at it vigorously, but not with her fangs. Jet swats at my hand with his paw, claws retracted. “Onyx! Jet! That is so rude.” I scoop up Onyx and Jet and set them on the side of the table. Ginger is not being as difficult as she allows Rembrandt to shunt her to the side. He follows it up by giving her a morsel of chicken which she happily gobbles down. I place a piece of chicken before Onyx and one before Jet, and they eat their treats with gusto. Onyx is satisfied, but Jet sidles towards the alfredo sauce once again. He tries to be inconspicuous, but he’s a twenty-pound black cat. There’s no blending in for him. “I can see you, you know,” I inform him. He looks at me, wide-eyed, all innocence and fluff.

“Meow?” He says, tilting his head to the side. He slowly blinks at me, and I do the same in return to him.

“I love you, too,” I tell him. “You’re still not getting another piece, though.” Jet sits on the table and looks down, his ears drooping. I feel my heart tug, but I know it’s just an act. He’ll be fine in a minute or two, and I go back to eating my own food. When it becomes apparent that he won’t be getting any more chicken, Jet hops off the table and stiff-legs it out of the room. Onyx follows him with Ginger two seconds behind.

“Cats are the best,” Rembrandt says, chuckling after the cats have left. “I always feel better after watching cat antics.”

“Me, too,” I say in agreement. “Even when they’re being persnickety, they’re loads of fun.”

“I don’t like it when Ginger puts her butt in my face, though,” Rembrandt says, wrinkling his nose.

“That’s the worst!” I groan in agreement. “Any time Onyx does that to me, and it’s always Onyx, I tell her that’s Jet’s job, not mine.” I gobble down more alfredo before adding, “I also don’t like it when I wake up and there are two fuzzy black faces staring at me an inch away from my face.”

“Tell me about it! Ginger has a bad habit of gnawing on my nose to wake me up. I don’t know for how long because as you know I’m a deep sleeper. She never punctures the skin, though, so I’m glad about that.” Rembrandt rubs said nose with affection, and I have to laugh with him.

“Onyx has developed a particular yowl that sounds as if she’s in pain. The first few times I heard it, I’d race to where she is, almost in a panic. I’d ask her what’s wrong, and she would run by me to take my place on the couch. When I’d go to scold her, she’d look at me like, “What, bitch? You moved!” I stopped doing it after the fourth or fifth time.” I chuckle, but I remember how awful it was the first time I’d heard it. I thought she’d hurt herself badly, so while I was miffed at her for tricking me, I was also relieved that she wasn’t hurt.

“I know that sound!” Rembrandt says, rolling his eyes. “One time, I was um, making out with a ladyfriend.” He stops and blushes, which I think is sweet. I’m not a jealous person, at least, not of exes, so I motion for him to continue. “We were on my couch, and I was just about to suggest we move to the bedroom when I heard the most terrible howl coming from, well, here. I jumped up from the couch and raced in her, expecting to see Ginger with a broken leg or something, but by the time I got here, she was gone. I went back to the living room, and we started making out again. The second our lips touched, I heard the howl again. I ran back here, but, again, I didn’t see Ginger. This happened three more times before my ladyfriend told me that the mood was broken for her, and she was going home. The second I closed the door behind her, Ginger showed up in the hallway, looking immensely pleased with herself.”

“That’s hilarious!” I say, clapping my hands. “I’m sorry she ruined your romantic night, though.”

“I was furious at the time, but in the end, Ginger was right. The woman was a basket case, and she didn’t like cats. Ginger knew better than I what was good for me.” Rembrandt finishes his chicken alfredo before looking at me with a lifted eyebrow.

“I’m full to bursting,” I say, shaking my head. “It was delicious, though. And, didn’t like cats? You’re definitely better off without her.”

“Yes, I am,” Rembrandt says, flashing me a wide smile. “Ginger liked you from the start.”

“I remember,” I say, and I’m inordinately pleased. Cats are discerning creatures, and it’s not easy to win them over. Onyx never did warm up to Tessa, not that Tessa tried very hard.

“Tiramisu!” Rembrandt jumps up and hurries to the kitchen, taking several plates back with him. He’s gone for several minutes, and when he returns, he has tiramisu and espresso. Each plate has a generous portion of tiramisu, and it’s delicate and creamy.

“Did you make this?” I ask, trying not to disgrace myself by inhaling the tiramisu.

“No, I bought it from The Wedge. They can do it better than I did!” Rembrandt smiles at me fondly.

“Well, it’s fantastic.” I finish the tiramisu and eye the plate wistfully. I want another piece, but I know I’ve reached my limit. “Have you given any more thought to opening a restaurant?”

“I have. I’ve given it serious thought, but my eye is getting better every day. I’ve done a dozen photos today that I’m quite pleased with. Two of my old clients really want me to do their weddings, and I’ve accepted.”

“Yes!” I pump my fist in the air, exulting over his progress. Deep down, I had feared that he’d never reach this point, and it had weighed heavily on my mind. The news that he’s working with clients again takes a load off my shoulders, which is a selfish reason to be happy, but I can’t help it. I will never be able to bring Julianna back or give Rembrandt his second eye, but if he can get back on track with his photography, it would be a small comfort to me.

“I’ve been practicing for hours, and I think I’m almost there.” Rembrandt beams at me, unconsciously touching his eye patch. “I can’t tell you how relieved I am that it’s coming back to me.”

“I bet,” I say, sipping at my water. “I hope you get back in the groove of things very soon.”

“Me, too.” Rembrandt stands up and starts gathering the dishes. I do the same, and we take them into the kitchen. I wash the dishes as Rembrandt puts the leftovers away. We work in compatible silence, not feeling the need to talk. Onyx, Jet, and Ginger come trotting in, and Ginger has a mouse in her mouth. A real one, not a toy one. Thankfully, it’s dead, and she lays it proudly at Rembrandt’s feet while Onyx and Jet look on with interest.

“Good girl!” Rembrandt says in a high voice. “What a good hunter you are!” He pets Ginger on the head while she purrs her approval. She looks immensely pleased with herself, whereas Jet is more interested in sniffing her butt. Onyx licks her paw and passes it over her ears. I grab a paper towel and scoop the mouse in it, going to the front door so I can throw it outside. I can hear Ginger meowing her protest behind me, probably wondering where her toy went. Once I’m done, I shut the door and go back into the kitchen. Rembrandt has finished tidying up the kitchen, and he’s folding the towel before placing it on the counter. The cats are nowhere to be seen, which means they’re probably hunting mice again. I remember the first time Jet caught a mouse. It was a few months after I adopted them, and I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I stepped into the hallway, and there was something warm under my foot. I quickly jerked it up, fearing that one of my cats had taken a shit in the hallway. They’d never done that, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a first time. I peered at it closely and I saw that it wasn’t poop—it was a mouse. Jet raced up to me, chirping up a storm as he did. He danced around the mouse, poking it with his big paw. Onyx was three steps behind him, watching him in amusement. I went into the bathroom, grabbed a handful of toilet paper, and gingerly picked up the mouse. I made sure to tell Jet he was a good hunter before tossing the mouse outside. Thankfully, I’ve only had to deal with a few mice since then.

“She doesn’t think you can forage for yourself,” I tease, winding my arms around his waist.

“I’m a shitty hunter, that’s for sure,” Rembrandt agrees. He drops a kiss on my forehead and hugs me back. “My father used to take my brothers and me hunting when we were kids. Monet and Gaugin loved it, but I hated it so much. The cold, the boredom, and shooting animals? No thank you. I stopped going when I became a teenager, much to the disappointment of my father.”

We make our way to the bedroom at a leisurely pace. The cats are right behind us, meowing up a storm. They still don’t like it when we shut ourselves up in the bedroom, and they like it even less when we make enthusiastic noises behind the door. They don’t vocalize their displeasure as much as they used to, but they still sit right behind the door, waiting for us to finish. I try not to think about it because it puts a damper on my libido, but I’m not always able to block them out. Fortunately, I’m a woman, so I don’t have to worry about keeping an erection, and I’m usually able to get back in the mood before Rembrandt even notices there’s a problem. Once we’re in the bedroom, I tear off Rembrandt’s shirt, and he does the same with my dress. We are incommunicado for a good long while.

Afterwards, I push at Rembrandt’s shoulder to get him off me. I need to breathe, and he’s making it difficult. He rolls off me and on his side before promptly falling asleep. Damn. I didn’t even get a, “That was great, babe” before he conked out. I shake my head and sigh, getting out of bed. I let in the cats, and they race to the middle of the bed as usual. Ginger jumps on Rembrandt’s ribs, kneading biscuits after she lands. Rembrandt doesn’t even move as she kneads. Granted, she’s keeping her claws in, but still. Kitty paws on naked flesh can’t be too comfortable. Onyx mashes herself around Rembrandt’s ass, and Jet curls around her. I laugh at them all before slipping out and going to the bathroom. I take a quick shower to wash the sex funk off my body, and when I’m done, I return to the bed where the three cats and Rembrandt are sacked out. I slide into bed and mold myself around my cats while touching Rembrandt’s shoulder. I toss and turn, but I can’t fall asleep. I get out of bed again, put on my robe, and go downstairs to grab my smokes and go outside to smoke.

I gaze at Rembrandt’s backyard as I smoke, though I’m not able to see much, of course. It’s dark out, which matches my mood. I give myself a mental shaking because I’ve just had a good fucking—where is the afterglow? Part of the problem is that our time together is becoming too routine. Dinner, then sex, then sleep. Come to think of it, we haven’t had many real dates other than dinner the first time we went out. I’m disgruntled because even though I’m not a very romantic person, I do like to be wined and dined sometimes. I have a feeling that Rembrandt is satisfied with things as they are, so it’s up to me to ask him on a proper date. I don’t have a problem with that, but I’m unhappy that I’m already chafing at the bit. It’s been a month—where’s the honeymoon? The bigger reason I’m disgruntled, though, is that man. Not for the first time, I curse him under my breath. Talk about your selfish and narcissistic men. Because of an emptiness inside of him, he thought nothing of disrupting my life—and my sisters’. His wife’s insistence that he did it for noble reasons is a load of bullshit. He did it for himself, no matter his rationale. And, the fact that he didn’t send my father’s will to probate tells me that he was trying to pull one over somehow. Rembrandt is right in that if he only meant to steal our money, he never would have showed his face to us. The best I can come up with is that he wanted the money, but he also wanted our love. I can’t ask him, of course, because he’s dead.

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