Parental Deception; chapter one, part two

“Hello, Megan. Didn’t we just talk?” Jasmine’s voice is mellow, unlike it was while Bob was missing.

“Yes, but something weird just happened.” I breathe smoothly and softly before adding, “A man claiming he’s our father was just here, and he’s on his way to your house.”

“What?!!” The ease leaves Jasmine’s voice, and she sounds like I did when the man made his announcement. “Are you making a joke, Megan? If so, it’s not funny.”

“I’m not! This old Taiwanese man showed up on my doorstep and said he was our father. He had a letter he wrote us to prove it. Mom sent it back unopened.” I blurt it out, not wanting to hold anything in.

“I can’t believe this,” Jasmine says, her voice taut. “I do not need this right now. Not after the last few weeks!”

“I know. But, he’s on his way, so you better prepare yourself—and Bob.”

“I guess. I’ll talk to you later.” Jasmine clicks off, and I call Vivian next.

“Hey, Sis. What’s up?” Her voice is distracted as it often is. “You caught me at a good time; I just finished a statement piece on the horseshit that is Donald Trump.”

“Better you than me,” I reply. “Are you coming for Thanksgiving? Jasmine said you might, but that you haven’t bought a ticket yet.”

“I’m coming. Pablo knows someone who works for Delta, so we won’t have a problem getting tickets.” Pablo is her lover, and he’s also an artist. Pablo’s not his real name, though. He adopted the moniker when he decided he wanted to be an artist. His real name is Peter Jorgenson, but he refuses to answer to anything other than Pablo. You wouldn’t think he was such a diva just by looking at him. He’s six-feet tall with blond hair and dark blue eyes. He has a muscular built, and he looks as if he belongs on the cornfields of Wisconsin—which is exactly where he grew up. He’s also fifteen years younger than Viv’s forty-two years, but I’m not one to talk as Rembrandt is thirteen years younger than my forty-five. “We’re coming Wednesday afternoon, and we’re staying with Jasmine.”

“That’s great! I can’t wait to see you.” I haven’t seen my younger sister in a few years, and I’m looking forward to her visit. “I have to tell you something. A man claiming to be our father came to my house tonight.”

“Really?” Viv’s voice is disinterested, and I have to imagine it’s because she was less than a year old when our father left. It’s also because she doesn’t think about things in the same way as most people, so what would be traumatic to other people might not be to her. “What did he want?”

“Supposedly, to reconnect with us because he’s dying.” I go to the kitchen so I can grab a Diet Coke.

“Oh. Sucks to be him.” There’s a sliver of bitterness in her voice, so she’s not as immune to the trauma as I thought she might be.

“He wants to get together again. I’m not sure I want to.” I give Onyx and Jet some Temptations, and they gobble them down with their usual gusto.

“I have no desire to see that asshole,” Viv says with vehemence. “We’ve done just fine without him for forty years. Who the hell does he think he is to show up now?” I don’t say anything because I feel the same way. “Did he say why he left us is in the first place?”

“He showed me a letter he sent us, which Mom sent back unread,” I say wearily. I can understand why she didn’t let us read the letter, especially since two of us couldn’t even read yet, but it still hurts to know that she didn’t tell us our father had written to us. Maybe not at the time, but certainly years later. Instead, she made it seem as if he left and never looked back or gave us a second thought. “He discovered he was gay and left to live in San Francisco.” I hadn’t told Jasmine that part because she would have thrown a shit fit, but Viv will certainly understand being an artist and all.

“And never came back to see us,” Viv says. I can hear the whoosh of a lighter, and I know she’s toking up.

“Well, we don’t know that for sure. We only have Mom’s word for it.” I’m pissed that Mom is dead and that we can’t talk to her about this. All the things she told us about our father might or might not be true. I can’t blame her for being upset at him for leaving, but she shouldn’t have taken the chance to get to know our father if we wanted away from my sisters and me.

“True. We know how she was when she was in her cups.” Viv’s voice is sad as she was the one who was closest to our mother when we were kids. Hm. Jasmine was daddy’s girl and Viv’s was Mom’s favorite. That left me in the middle and without a parent as my champion. No wonder I have a hard time trusting anyone. “I miss her so much, Megan. Even seventeen years later.”

“She didn’t have an easy life,” I sigh, sitting on the couch. I sip at my Diet Coke, feeling disgruntled. I’m not happy with the disruption in my life, and, selfishly, I wish the man would just go away. Onyx hops into my lap and mews loudly in my face. I push her gently out of my face, but she dodges my hand and meows again. Jet places his front paws on my thigh and starts kneading. He does it deliberately and methodically as Onyx continues to meow.

“She didn’t,” Viv agrees. “She made it harder on herself, though, with her drinking.” I hear a rumble in the background, then Viv says, “I gotta go. I’ll see you Wednesday or Thursday.” She clicks off her phone, leaving me to my dark thoughts. An hour ago, I was perfectly happy not thinking about my father. Now, I can’t stop thinking about him. He’s gay. It doesn’t bother me, but I wish he had figured it out before he got married. Granted, that means I never would have been born, so I suppose I should be grateful for his delayed realization. I know it was a bigger deal back in the seventies, being gay, I mean, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to deal with my father’s desertion, even forty years later. I don’t know how long I sit on the couch, thinking about my father, before my phone rings. It’s Jasmine’s ring, and I see it’s almost two hours after that man had left my house.

“He’s coming for Thanksgiving,” Jasmine says without even a hello.

“Excuse me, what?” She couldn’t possibly have said he’s coming for Thanksgiving, could she? Why the hell would she invite him to Thanksgiving?

“I talked to him for over an hour, and I think it’s him. Daddy, I mean. If this is his last Thanksgiving, then I don’t want him to spend it alone.” Jasmine’s voice is firm, and I can tell she’s made up her mind. I’m not going down without a fight, however, as I’m uncomfortable with having that man at the Thanksgiving dinner.

“I’m sorry he’s dying,” I say, trying to keep my voice even, but I’m not having much success. “But, it’s not our responsibility to give him a place to go for Thanksgiving. If he doesn’t have anyone, it’s his own damn fault.”

“It’s the Christianly thing to do,” Jasmine says as she adopts her bossy tone. I bristle because I hate when she condescends to me. “I want to get to know my daddy before he dies.”

“Did he tell you why he left?” I ask in a harsh tone. I want to shake her out of her bubble-wrapped world and get her to see reality.

“He said it was because he was suffocating in the marriage,” Jasmine says. I pause at her phrasing because that is not what he said in his letter to us. I wonder why he let me read the letters, but gave Jasmine an edited version. It’s not ridiculous to assume he Googled us before flying out here, so he probably figured out that Jasmine is the straight-laced one, and I’m the alternative type.

“He gave me a letter he sent us right after he left. In it, he said he had to be his true self, which was why he moved to San Francisco.” I wait to hear what she has to say to that because while it’s obvious to me that San Francisco is the city for queers, a straight Christian might not know that.

“What does that mean? Why couldn’t he be himself right here?” Just as I thought, Jasmine doesn’t catch the underpinning of what I’ve said.

“He’s gay, Jasmine,” I say bluntly. I’m tired of pussyfooting around, and I hear her gasp on the other side of the phone.

“What? How dare you say that about our father?” Jasmine is outraged, though I’m not sure why. She knows I’m bisexual, and even though she had a hard time accepting it at first, she’s fine with it now. Come to think of it, though, she’s not actually fine with it; we just don’t talk about it. She was civil to Tessa, my ex-girlfriend, whenever I brought Tessa to family functions, but she never specifically invited Tessa to an event the way she did Rembrandt.

“He told me that’s why he left,” I say impatiently. “I’m not making it up.” Jasmine doesn’t answer, and I wonder if she’s hung up on me.

“He’s coming to dinner and that’s that,” she says instead. “He’s bringing dumplings.” I have to laugh because Jasmine is the queen of assigning foods for potlucks. She may believe that man is our long-lost father, but that doesn’t mean she’ll let him get away with coming to Thanksgiving dinner empty-handed.

“Viv is coming,” I say, smiling at Onyx and Jet who are cavorting around the living room. They’re sniffing each other’s butts before racing around the room with glee. Sometimes, I wish I were a cat instead of a human being.

“I know. She sent me a text.” Jasmine is pleased, and it’s something about which we are in complete agreement. Jasmine and I are both pig-headed, but in completely different ways. Viv is able to mediate between us without even trying, and she never fails to make us laugh. “I expect you to be nice to Henry at Thanksgiving dinner.” Henry. Who the hell is Henry? Oh, right. The man who would be our father. At least she’s not calling him Daddy. Yet.

“I’ll be civil,” I say grudgingly. “But I’m not going to make him feel like family because he’s not.”

“He is family!” Jasmine’s voice is rising, and I’m about to lose my temper myself. Just because she wants to be all kumbaya with that man, it doesn’t mean I have to go along with it.

“Do what you want, Jasmine, but I don’t consider him family.” A frosty silence follows my proclamation, which is my signal to back down. Normally, I would, but I’m fresh out of can at the moment. My best friend, Julianna, was murdered a month ago—roughly the same time I met Rembrandt—by the woman who was stalking me, the same woman who gouged out Rembrandt’s eye, and then my brother-in-law, Bob, Jasmine’s husband, was kidnapped by a delusional woman from his church a few weeks ago. Now, there’s this man claiming to be my father, and I do not want to deal with it at all.

“I have to go. Bob is getting antsy.” Jasmine hangs up, and I click off my phone as well. I think about my brother-in-law, and I’m saddened that he’s a shell of the man he used to be. We have absolutely nothing in common because he’s a devout Christian who is also old-fashioned and a fundamentalist. He’s pompous and arrogant, but he has a good heart. He would never turn away a starving person, and he would literally give you the shirt off his back. Since his kidnapping, however, he’s displayed PTSD symptoms, including jumping at the slightest noise, punching Jasmine in his sleep (not on purpose, of course!), and suffering panic attacks. He couldn’t go back to work the first week he was home because he freaked out every time he stepped out of the house. After five days of that, Jasmine started pushing him to see a therapist, but he refused. He doesn’t believe in therapy, and she couldn’t even tell him to see the pastor because he was part of the problem. On the sixth day, Bob was suddenly able to leave the house, but only for short periods of time. Now, two weeks later, he can last the whole day at work, but then he’s enervated by the time he gets home.

“Hey, babe, how’re you doing? Just thinking about you.” It’s a text from Rembrandt, and it makes me smile. Normally, I’d ask him what he’s wearing, and then it’d turn into sexy talk, but I’m not in the mood.

“I got a shock today, Rembrandt,” I text back. “A man claiming to be my father showed up on my front doorstep.” I hit send and wait. I get a response a few seconds later.

“No shit! That’s crazy. How long has it been?”

“He left when I was three, so forty-two years.” I pause and add, ”He discovered he was gay and went to San Francisco to ‘find himself’.”

“That must have been hard. This is the first you’ve heard from him since then?” Rembrandt has hit the sore point without even knowing it.

“He showed me a letter he supposedly wrote to my sisters and me right after he left. My mom sent it back unread. He said he wrote one a week for a year before giving up.” I cuddle with Onyx and Jet as I wait for an answer. It doesn’t take long to get one.

“You sound as if you don’t believe him,” Rembrandt texts back. I can’t tell if he’s being judgmental or not, so I give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to tell tone over text.

“I don’t know what to believe. I haven’t thought about my father in forty years, and now this? It’s too much.”

“Well, you don’t have to think about it if you don’t want to.”

“Yes, I do! Jasmine invited him to Thanksgiving.” After a few more texts, we say good night. He tells me he loves talking to me, and I squirm because I think he’s close to telling me he loves me. I don’t feel the same, and I dread having to let him down gently. Once we’re done texting, I start a new post. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to write about what happened today, but I need to think it through. The best way for me to do that is by writing. I don’t have to post it when I’m done if I don’t want to.

My father left when I was three, and I hadn’t heard a peep from him in the ensuing forty-two years. Until today. He showed up out of the blue on my doorstep, wanting to talk to me. At least, it’s a man who’s claiming to be my father, but how would I know? I tried to find him twenty years ago, but that was before the internet was actually a thing. I didn’t find anything, however, and I put him out of my mind.

I’ve had a rough month. Those of you who read my blog regularly know why. Add to that the results of the election, and this is the last thing I need to deal with now. My older sister has accepted that it’s our father. She was always daddy’s girl, though, and the only one of us sisters who actually remembers him. She was eleven when he left, as opposed to me being three and my younger sister not even one. My only solid memory of him is when he took me and my older sister out for dim sum once to give my mom a break. It was a nice time, but that’s all I remember. Sometimes, I envy my older sister her memories, but mostly, I just don’t think about it.

Until today. When the man said he was my father, I freaked the fuck out. My father? To be honest, I thought he was dead. I had made my peace with never knowing what happened to him, and now, he wants to be part of my life? It’s enraging because he’s going to get my hopes up, and then he’s going to walk away like he did last time. Or die. That’s the reason he’s here—he’s dying. Or so he says. He told me he has six months to live, and he wants to reconnect with his daughters.

Do I believe him? I don’t know. Do I want to believe him? I don’t know that, either. I don’t like being confused, and I resent him for putting me in this state.

I write for several more minutes before petering out. I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling, so I decide to let it sit for a while. I don’t need to write it right now, though I don’t like going too long between posts. I’m not sure I want to air my family business like this, though, especially about something I don’t talk about with hardly anyone.

I need a smoke. I grab a cigarette, my lighter, and a mug, and I go to the back porch to contemplate my navel. Rather, I need to think about the man who is claiming to be my father and what I want to do about him, if anything. I stare at the butt of my cigarette as the thoughts swirl around in my mind. I’m trying to be chill about it, but every time I think about him, my temper rises. Who the fuck does he think he is showing up like this? And so close to Thanksgiving to boot. I’m tempted to skip it, but I know Jasmine will raise holy hell if I do. Plus, Viv will be there, and I’m looking forward to seeing her. I could see her outside of Thanksgiving and probably will, but it seems churlish to skip Thanksgiving dinner when I know she’ll be there. I finish my cigarette and go back inside. I close the door, then go to the bathroom to flush the butt down the toilet. Afterwards, I turn back around in time to see a blur coming at me. I automatically put up my arms, and Onyx jumps up in them. She’s been doing that since I adopted her and Jet, and it’s become automatic by now.

“Meow!” Onyx says and pushes her face in mine.

“Treat time?” I ask, chucking her under the chin.

“Meow!” She nods her head, and I swear she understands what I’m saying to her. I carry her into the kitchen, and Jet is trotting right alongside us. Onyx doesn’t usually like to be held, but she allows it this time, probably because she’s going to get treats. I set her on the floor before opening their cupboard and taking out their Temptations bag. I open it and give them three each. They eat them in a second, then look expectantly at me. I give them each two more before closing the bag.

“No more,” I say firmly, putting the bag back in the cupboard. “You have to be careful what you eat as you grow older.” They don’t agree, obviously, and they make their displeasure known. I grab a bag of Smartfood white cheddar popcorn, a Diet Coke, and go to the living room. I pull up the Kindle app on my laptop and read the latest Margaret Maron as I eat the popcorn. I resist peeking at social media as I read because I need to tune out every now and then. Onyx jumps on my lap, curls in a ball, and promptly falls asleep. Jet places his front paws on my thighs, places his head on top of them, and falls asleep as well. It’s a pleasant way to spend the next two hours.

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