“Hey, babe. How did it go?” Rembrandt looks up as I enter the living room. He has some Swedish movie on the TV, but he’s actually dozing. Ginger is on his lap as usual, and Onyx and Jet are flanking his thighs. Onyx squeaks when she sees me and launches herself at me. I catch her and cradle her to my chest.
“How’s my baby?” I coo as I rock her back and forth. Jet hauls himself off the couch and pads over to me. He butts his head against my shin, and I scratch him between the ears. Ginger blinks at me from the couch, and I blink back at her. Once I’m done greeting the babies, I go over and kiss Rembrandt on the forehead. “It was interesting. Not nearly as painful as I feared it would be, but there were also a few questionable moments. Let me go change, then I’ll tell you all about it.” I set Onyx down on the couch before going upstairs to change into sweats. I go back downstairs, make a detour into the kitchen, grab a Diet Coke, then go into the living room. I sit next to Rembrandt with Onyx and Jet between us.
“So it wasn’t bad?”
“No, it wasn’t.” I pop open the Diet Coke and take a swig. “He’s not a bad guy, except he’s hiding something.” I relate as much of the conversation as I can remember. He listens avidly, giving me his full attention. He doesn’t interrupt except when he needs clarification. When I’m done, he heaves a big sigh.
“He’s not telling you everything, is he?” His voice is sorrowful, and I know it’s because he wanted so badly for this to be good for me. I had told him the conversation as unbiased as I possibly could so I could get his opinion on it. I’m glad he came to the same conclusion, but I’m sad because it means that I can’t just accept that man at face value. I’m going to have to dig beyond his façade, which means we’re going to have to go to some uncomfortable places.
“No, he’s not. It bugs me that I don’t know if he’s lying about trivial things or about something important.” I pause and add, “Do you know of anyone who can unscrub a history online?” I go through my mental rolodex, but I can’t think of anyone. Julianna would have known someone, but I push that thought from my mind.
“I may have a friend of a friend.” Rembrandt yawns and his eyelids droop. “I need a nap, I think.”
“Me, too.” I carefully move Onyx onto my lap and Jet to the other side of my so I can lean against Rembrandt. He puts his arm around me, and pulls me close. I should go home, but I don’t have the motivation to leave. Also, even though I won’t admit it out loud, I like snuggling with him. It makes me feel comfortable and safe. I press my head against his chest, and he strokes my hair slowly and methodically. I close my eyes and fall asleep. I dream of fairies trying to stab me in the back with their claws, and it’s not a peaceful sleep. I awake with a start, my heart pounding. Onyx, Jet, Ginger and Rembrandt are nowhere to be found, so I’m betting they’re in the kitchen. I haul myself off the couch, stretch my back, and go to the kitchen. Just as I thought, Rembrandt and the cats are in there. Rembrandt is heating up some leftovers on the stove, and the cats are on the counter, their noses quivering. Ginger and Onyx are near the sink at a safe distance, but Jet is uncomfortably close to the stove.
“Get down, Jet!” I shriek, grabbing him and holding him to my chest. We had an unfortunate incident with the stove when they first came to my house in which he got his whiskers singed because I wasn’t paying close enough attention. “Bad boy!” I scold him while he glares at me defiantly. Normally, he’s a laid-back cat, but for whatever reason, he’s attracted to the stove.
“Sorry, Megan. I should have kept an eye on him.” Rembrandt is abashed, and I hasten to reassure him.
“I’m not mad at you, Rembrandt. You weren’t to know that he finds stoves irresistible.” I’m still holding Jet firmly in my arms, and he’s doing the passive cat resistance thing. He will not be moved, his limp body is telling me. Unfortunately for him, even though he’s large for a cat, he’s no match for me. “It smells really good. I see you’re heating up a smorgasbord of Taiwanese and American food.”
“Yup. I thought you might be hungry. I am, though it’s hard to believe I can eat again after yesterday’s feasts.” Rembrandt laughs, stirring the wonton soup. I snitch a dumpling and eat it, being instantly transported back to my childhood. Once in a great while when my mother managed to stay sober, she would take my sisters and me for diem shim (dim sum). We would always get plenty of dumplings because they were the favorites of my sisters and me. It’s one of the few positive memories I have of my childhood, and it happened maybe once or twice a year.
“You’re a sweetie,” I say, hugging Rembrandt from behind. A feeling of warmth spreads through me as I press my cheek against his back. I’m grateful to have him in my life, and I wish I had the words to tell him so. I’m a much better writer than talker, much to the detriment of my relationships.
“I try.” Rembrandt turns around and hugs me before turning back to the stove. “You deserve to be treated like a queen.”
“I’ll put on my tiara and you can call me princess,” I joke, but tears are pricking at my eyes. He is a good man, maybe the best man I’ve dated in quite some time. I would be a fool to take him for granted or to push him away.
“Give me five minutes, and it’ll be ready. Do you want to set the table?”
“Sure.” I grab plates and silverware and bring them into the dining room. I put them on the table before returning to the kitchen. I pour a Diet Coke into a glass and drop some ice cubes in it as well. “You want water or a Diet Coke?”
“Water is fine.” I pour him a glass of water and put two cubes in it. He doesn’t like his beverages as cold as I do, so I don’t put in more. I bring the drinks and chopsticks into the dining room and place them on the table as well. Then, I get serious and start bringing in the plates as he dishes up the food. It’s time to feast.
“What—” My phone rings, startling me out of sleep. It’s not a ring I recognize, so I’m tempted to ignore it. I check the screen, and the number isn’t familiar so I let it go to VM. A minute later, the phone rings again. That means it’s not a telemarketer or an ad because they give up after one try. Do I answer? I glance over to Rembrandt, and he’s snoring to beat the band. He’s lying on his back with his arms and legs spread-eagle, and Ginger is curled up in a ball on his stomach. He doesn’t move at all, which causes a flash of envy in me. I wake up at the slightest noise, and he could probably sleep through the house burning down around him. The phone rings for a third time, so I grab it as I get out of bed. Onyx and Jet mew at me crossly, then quickly fall back asleep.
“Hello?” I hiss into the phone as I throw on a sweatshirt and sweatpants.
“Megan? It’s Marcus Yang. Can we talk?” My mind is blank, even though the voice is familiar. I think about it as I go downstairs to smoke.
“Marcus? Oh! Reverend Yang. How are you doing?” My voice is formal because I unearthed some nasty shit about him and his wife while I was trying to rescue Bob. I grab a cigarette and a mug and go outside to light up. There is nothing like the first smoke of the morning, and I inhale greedily on my cigarette.
“It’s just Marcus now,” Marcus says, his voice rueful. “No more reverend for me.”
“I heard you resigned.” I keep my voice neutral because I’m not sure what he wants from me.
“I really had no choice. The elders in Los Angeles, including my father, were ready to fire me if I didn’t.” Marcus laughs, but there’s no mirth in it. “I don’t blame them. I made a royal mess out of things.” That’s putting it mildly. Marcus is an inveterate skirt-chaser, and he knows it’s a problem. He had affairs with several of his female parishioners, and it finally came back to bite him in the ass. It was also tangentially partly responsible for Bob’s kidnapping. In addition, his wife was dipping her fingers into the till with Marcus’s tacit approval, so they’re both in a world of hurt.
“Yes, you did.” There’s no sugarcoating the truth. He’s fucked up his life, but good. “What’re you going to do about it?”
“I’m pleading guilty to the fraud, and my lawyer thinks I can get probation and community service.” I stay silent because what a fucking privilege. “I’m not going to face any legal ramifications for my…dalliances, but, of course, it means I can’t ever be a pastor again.” I’m not sure that’s true as the Christian community is pretty forgiving about affairs—at least of the men who committed them.
“What do you think you’ll do next?” I ask. What I really want to ask is why the fuck is he calling me, but I can’t make myself be that rude.
“Go live in St. Cloud with Katie and Tammy, our daughter,” Marcus says. I blink in surprise. Katie is the woman he got pregnant while in divinity school in Harvard, and she’s been living in St. Cloud with their daughter ever since he moved here. While Marcus has been married to his wife and pastor of the Taiwanese Evangelical Church in the Twin Cities. I’m the only one he’s told about his secret life, but, apparently, he’s about to make it public knowledge.
“What about Sharon?” Sharon is his wife. She’s a cold, vindictive woman, and she creeped the fuck out of me while I was trying to find Bob.
“She wanted to stay together, but I just can’t, Megan. My life has been hell in the last few months.” Marcus’s voice is weary, and I understand why. He and his wife had an understanding that they could have affairs as long as the affairs didn’t interfere with the marriage. Any time a problem occurred, Sharon would browbeat Marcus into giving up the affair. I wouldn’t want to live like that, either.
“Why are you calling me?” I’m not one for small talk, and I want to know the purpose of this call. I go back inside and flush the butt of my cigarette down the toilet.
“I want to see you before I go,” Marcus says, his voice strengthening. “You’re the only person I’ve felt comfortable with in the last, well in a long time.” I don’t respond right away because I’m not sure I want to see him. I don’t approve of what he’s done, but I can’t deny I’m attracted to him. I made out with him a few times while searching for Bob. I justified it as being undercover, but I can’t deny that part of me just wanted to do it. I haven’t told Rembrandt, and I don’t think I will. I don’t see the purpose in bringing it up.
“When are you leaving?” I ask. It’s not the pertinent point, but I can’t deal with his request right now.
“Not until after the legal stuff is over. I talk to Katie and Tammy every night, though.” Marcus’s voice is suffused with warmth, and it’s the most alive I’ve ever heard him. Katie is his one true love, and he only left her because of his wife’s (then girlfriend’s) blackmail and his cowardice. “She owns a boutique shop on the shore, and I’m looking forward to the relative anonymity.”
“I wish you luck, Marcus,” I say sincerely. “I really do. But—”
“Don’t say no. I really need to talk to you.” Marcus cuts me off, his voice earnest. “I want to thank you in person for all the help you’ve given me.” My suspicion spikes at his words because what did I really do for him? Give him back massages and stayed with him as he slept. That really isn’t much in the end.
“We’ll see,” I temporize. “I have a lot on my plate right now. Maybe in a week or two.”
“I know how you Minnesotans work,” Marcus says, a hint of real laughter in his voice. “If it’s not a yes, it’s a no. I’m not going to let you politely freeze me out, Megan. I’m warning you I’m going to hound you until you say yes.”
“You watch too many rom-coms,” I say, my voice tight. I do not like being badgered, and it’s not cute if a man doesn’t know how to take no, even if it’s not explicitly stated, as an answer. “Do not call me again. I will call you if and when I decide we can meet.” I hang up my phone and mute the ringer. I don’t think I can go back to sleep, but I’m going to try. I crawl back into bed an curl up next to Rembrandt. Who, by the way, hasn’t moved a muscle since I left the bed. Onyx and Jet scootch next to me and burrow their wet noses in my armpits. I push their noses away because that’s an unpleasant feeling. They grumble, but settle for putting their wet noses on my chest over my sweatshirt. I allow that and try to fall back asleep. It’s not easy, but I finally manage to do it.