Arina and Merissa walked into their Manhattan home greeted by their house manager, Mrs. Philemon. She was more of a grandmother to Merissa. The little girl ran into her loving arms.
"Dear heart, I'm so glad you're home."
"Me too," she muffled against the lady's belly. "Why didn't you come to visit?" Pulling the child away, she smiled into her eyes. "Oh, but I did. You needed a lot of rest.
Each time I stopped in, you were sleeping."
Merissa turned to look at her mother holding her bag in front of the door. "Dad must have come while I was sleeping, too. Right, Mom?"
Arina smiled nervously at her daughter, as Mrs. Philemon interrupted, "Sweetie, I just baked your favorite."
"Double chocolate chip cookies?" Merissa asked.
"Uh um." She nodded. "Let's get this jacket off of you." She pulled the lightweight cover from small shoulders and noted the child was thinner. "Run along. I'll be in shortly to pour your milk.
Staring up at Arina, she saw she looked puny also. "I've made chicken pot pie and mashed potatoes for you Mrs. Frye."
"Thank you, Mrs. Philemon." Arina lacked appreciation for the formality. Regardless, her husband insisted they keep it professional. So for the past seven years, since Merissa was born, Mrs.
Deloris Philemon worked with them. She reached for the bag, "I'll take this and your jacket."
No need to argue that she could do it. She shed the black thin jacket, offered it over. "Now go ahead and get your dinner." Again, Arina would not argue. Mrs.
Philemon was an awesome cook and a God-send. She moved to New York with her husband to be closer to their grandchildren. He passed away without warning, leaving Mrs.
Philemon with a load of unwanted bills and very little savings.
The white-haired lady with the blue eyes could manage a household, even if her husband failed to manage their finances. They raised nine children. And now, she was helping raise Merissa.
Before walking off, Arina smiled through her disappointment. "Thank you for everything Mrs. Philemon."
"My pleasure, dear. Mr. Frye's driver called. He should be arriving within the hour."
Joy leaped in her spirit and she wanted to kick herself. He didn't deserve her joy.
Thirty minutes later, and done with dinner, Arina began clearing her dishes. Mrs. Philemon dashed over to Arina. "What are you doing?"
"Deloris, I got it," Arina warmly replied.
The woman paled. She dreaded Mr. Frye's reaction if he caught his wife washing dishes.
"Would you help Merissa get ready for bed? I'll be up shortly," she offered, providing an escape. Still uncertain, Mrs. Philemon didn't budge.
Touching her arm, Arina pressed, "Please. It's nice to be home and wash dishes."
The woman nodded reluctantly, waving her medium length white hair. Despite Mr. Frye's coarse behavior, Mrs. Philemon loved their family.
It meant much to Arina and she hugged her, undaunted by what Joseph might witness.
Clearly stunned by the sudden display of affection, the embrace wasn't returned immediately.
"I want to thank you for everything," Arina said. "I don't know what I'd do without you. You're a blessing to us."
Her eyes swept left and right. Her employer was not the same. She considered the recent days had her thinking about faith and God. People did that in uncertain times.
She lightly tapped Arina's back. "There. There."
Rejecting the embrace, she pulled back. "I'll tend to Merissa now."
The rejection hurt and Arina's eyes filled. Facing the sink, she turned the faucet, washed her dishes as her tears washed her face.
Joseph Frye entered the kitchen expecting to find Mrs. Philemon. Instead, his wife hunched her shoulders and wept over a plate that was obviously clean. "Arina!" he sternly called her attention.
She didn't turn. She knew he'd look impeccable after hours of international travel -- an amazing trick he always pulled off.
His suit would be stiff, his hair cut fresh, his beard and mustache nicely trimmed and his cologne delightfully enticing.
Her handsome husband was short in stature, standing at five feet six inches tall. They stood eye-to-eye, never actually seeing eye-to-eye.
"Arina, is Merissa alright?" Refusing to look at him, she replied, "Mrs. Philemon is getting her ready for bed."
"Is she alright?" he repeated with rising frustration.
"If she wasn't, we would be sleeping at the hospital."
Standing there with his hands on his waist, he watched her back. "You don't have to do that. That's why I generously pay Mrs. Philemon."
She turned off the water. He could pay a lot of people to do an array of things. The one thing she needed couldn't be bought -- his love and attention.
Without acknowledging him, she walked off and headed for Merissa's room.
He grabbed her from behind and breathed on her neck. "I missed you." He pressed into her, so she could feel how much. She whipped around, faced him.
"How many women did you pay for sex while you were away, Joseph?"
"If I want a woman, I never have to pay. But you, my wife, cost me a pretty penny and I can't get the respect of you looking me in the eye."
She struggled out of his grasp and ran upstairs. She found Merissa sitting in bed listening to Mrs. Philemon reciting one of her made-up stories.
Despite the disdain in her heart for Joseph, she smiled at her daughter leaning forward, hanging onto every word.
Merissa didn't look over until she sensed her father in the room. She bolted out of bed, "Daddy!"
"How's my love bug?" He dropped to his knees.
"I'm so much better." She clutched her arms around his neck. "I was so tired Daddy. I was in the hospital. I slept a lot. But you were there right, Daddy. You saw me sleeping."
Joseph cleared his throat and revealed a bag from behind his back. "Look at what Daddy got you."
Eyes wide, she took the bag, reached inside and pulled out a Princess Kitty doll. "Daddy, I have one of these already."
He gazed at Arina leaning against the door jam. "You said you never got the doll because she became ill on the way to the toy store."
"That's right..." Arina began and Merissa interrupted, "Daddy, the man that helped me when I got sick bought me Princess Kitty. He came to the hospital to visit me. But I don't remember.
I was sleeping, like when you came."
Jealous. Irritated. Puzzled. Joseph pushed up off his knees and Mrs. Philemon discreetly excused herself. "Mrs. Frye, will you be needing anything else tonight?"
"No, ma'am. Thank you."
"I'll head home now. Good night. Mr. Frye. Merissa."
"Will you finish the story tomorrow?" Merissa called after her.
"Tomorrow, dear. Rest well."
Joseph tucked Merissa in, allowing Arina the chance for a long soaking bath. She smirked at the lost expression on her husband's face. He wanted to control everything and everyone.
And not being able to give his daughter her doll to make up for his absence, took his control away. In essence, he surrendered it. He should have been home with them.
She rested her head onto the inflatable shell and drifted into a dream -- a very pleasant dream -- one that had her blood heating and chest rising and falling with anticipation.
As she awoke, she questioned, where had the images come from?
The man hadn't done one inappropriate thing for her to instigate her thoughts. Still, she could clearly see Chase Waters staring down at her in the bath.
She heard his voice pour over her bare body, "You're beautiful, Arina."
A strong desire tickled her belly as her voice begged, "Touch me. Touch me." And then, he moved forward, but reality slipped into her consciousness. She awoke, staring into the dimmed bathroom.
Guilt-ridden, she shook the dream away, stood when the bathroom door opened. "I was just getting out," she explained.
"And I'm just getting in." He tugged his shirt from his pants.
She tried disregarding him and the burning desire that flooded her blood from her dream. After all the years of unhappiness, she never ever considered another man, until a few minutes ago.
Trembling from the combination of desire and doubt, she slipped stepping out of the tub. Joseph dashed, reached for her and they both fell into the deep claw foot tub.
His weight pushed her under the suds and into the water. Struggling against her, he moved, let her up for air.
Soaked and choking, he reached for a towel patted her face. "Arina. Arina. You alright? Arina? Honey?"
Honey, even with the water clogging her ears, he called her honey. She cried gripping his wet shirt.
"Joseph." She sobbed against his shoulder. "I haven't been alright in years. Why don't you love me anymore?"
Holding her slick body, he took deep breaths. He loved his wife. Sometimes desire and pleasure loved him harder. Maybe time arrived for him to seek help for his addiction.