It’s late, and Mrs. DuVernay is in a mood again.
She steps out of her heels as if they disgust her, kicking them askew as she makes her way to her dressing room on the other side of her bedroom. I scramble to grab her shoes, waiting for her to peel out of the day’s clothes and emerge in her favorite silk robe with her initials monogrammed over the right breast.
She’s taking longer than usual to undress today, nothing but huffs and sighs coming from the other side of the doorway. If I had to guess, she’s gained a few pounds. That always seems to send her into a quiet fit when she’s changing. I imagine her examining her tall, thin body from the three angles of her mirror, hugging the shoes against my chest as I wait to go in.
Mrs. DuVernay sighs when she finally comes out a minute later, bare feet covered in red markings from the day spent out and about in killer heels. Markings, I’m convinced, she no longer feels. I tried them on once, when she wasn’t looking—her favorite pair of shoes, the black ones with the teal bottoms. In less than ten steps, I swear I had a blister forming on the back of one of my heels.
“My drink, Zsofia,” she says, hands on her hips as she peers around her bedroom with raised eyebrows and flattened lips.
I nod toward her vanity, where her usual—a dry white wine with a splash of organic pineapple juice—rests on a vintage coaster made of rhinoceros ivory.
Mrs. DuVernay swipes her drink off the table, taking it with her into the master en suite. I carry her shoes into the closet, praying I can locate the correct place for them before she yells for me to fetch her a heated facial towel from the warmer in the spa.
This past Friday, she had two professionals come and sort through her closet—a stylist and an organizer. One helped her create toss/sell/donate piles and the other reconfigured the rest of her things to the point where I can’t find half of what she sends me to retrieve now.
An empty red shoebox with its top misaligned is situated in the middle of the closet. Dropping to my knees, I place the heels neatly inside, fasten the lid, and find the proper spot for it amongst the others along her expansive wall of designer shoes.
“Zsofia,” she calls from the next room, her tone flat and void of emotion.
I leave the closet to find her at the vanity, the day washed off of her face and a thick mask of rosehip stem cells and sea kelp on her face, sinking into her pore-less, ageless, glass-like complexion.
“I’ll be right back with a towel.” I head to the spa room at the end of the hall.
Mrs. DuVernay prefers to have her facialists, masseuses, and manicurists come to the house so she can beautify in private, though I believe it has more to do with the falling-out she had with her group of friends a few years back. They always used to schedule their pampering appointments together. After the squabble, Mrs. DuVernay couldn’t bear to be seen alone and friendless in her favorite beauty haunts, so she persuaded Charles to turn one of the spare bedrooms into a home spa. Not that it took much convincing—Mrs. DuVernay controls the purse strings around here, as much as she prefers to flit around like a Palm Shores trophy wife.
It’s just another act of hers.
Like everything else.
I tiptoe down the hall to the spa room, retrieving a couple of damp wash cloths from the towel warmer on the back counter, and I bring them to her, stepping a few feet back as she breathes in the soft, lavender-scented steam and wipes away the exotic remains of her skincare routine.
When she’s finished, she hands them off, reaches for her wine, and shuffles to her bed, her snow-colored silk robe billowing behind her with every leggy step.
“That’s all for tonight, Zsofia.” She waves me off as she climbs beneath a mountain of high-thread count bed coverings. “Oh. One more thing. Tell Charles it’s time to come to bed on your way out.”
“Yes, Mrs. DuVernay.” I shut the door behind me without making a sound so as not to wake Aviana down the hall. Lord knows teenagers need their rest, and she can be a bit of a bear to deal with in the morning. As her human alarm clock, I prefer that she not be overly tired come six AM. It certainly makes my job a lot easier.
I run my palm along the polished banister on my way down, careful not to make a sound this time of night, when the house has quieted and settled and every footstep or cleared throat reverberates. Once I arrive on the main floor, I head for Mr. DuVernay’s study—a room placed in the farthest reaches of the house, so Charles can play his jazz music and strum on his prized collection of rare guitars without disturbing his headache-prone wife.
Rapping on the outside of the door, I wait for him to answer.
The other side is quiet tonight. No jazz records. No clumsy, six-string chords.
I knock once more, holding my breath as I wait in silence.
Perhaps he isn’t in there?
Twisting the door knob, I crack the door a few inches to check. “Mr. DuVernay?”
With no response, I push the door wider, peeking my entire head in to look around. The room is dark save for the floor lamp in the corner, and the curtains are open, showcasing a view of the water from the floor-to-ceiling windows on his east-facing wall. Boat lights sparkle, their reflections swaying in the distance on the buoying Atlantic. I’ve always thought it seemed dangerous to boat late at night. Then again, I’ve never boated in my life. What would I know?
Peering around the room one last time, I draw in a sharp breath when my gaze comes to him lying on the sofa, still as a statue, fast asleep. Peaceful because he’s anywhere but here.
Padding across the room without a sound, I make my way to him, a slow smile bending my mouth as I watch him sleep.
Charles is an impossibly handsome man; generous brown hair with salt-and-peppered temples, chiseled chin, sun-kissed complexion, runner’s body much younger than his physical age. When he isn’t having an ‘off’ day, he’s a force to be reckoned with, a personality much larger than the room Mrs. DuVernay keeps him confined to most of the time. Charles’ smile alone has turned some of my worst days into some of my brightest, and I live for his eyes—ocean blue on the outside with a ring of hazel in the middle—like they can’t decide what they want to be.
A man like this is wasted on Mrs. DuVernay.
He deserves better.
She deserves worse.
“Mr. DuVernay,” I say his name on the breath of a whisper before placing my fingertips on his shoulder, giving him three light taps. “Mrs. DuVernay would like you to come to bed.”
His dark lashes flutter as his eyes open, and then he squints, focusing on me.
“Ah. It’s you,” he says, placing his hand over mine, gentle and unrushed. “Is my wife asleep yet?”
I swallow the rigid protuberance that has suddenly found a home in my throat. “No, sir.”
Charles pulls himself to a standing position, his gaze never abandoning mine, not for one second. “Well, that’s a shame, isn’t it?”
Our eyes hold for a moment, and I stifle the knowing smile that threatens to curl my lips. He and I both know that the DuVernay household is a serene place when the missus is sleeping—or better yet: off on one of her solo vacations. There are more smiles when she’s away. More laughter. Less tension. More living. Less silent suffering.
We’re both prisoners of circumstance.
Prisoners with very different privileges.
Prisoners of Mrs. DuVernay.
“Goodnight, Zsofia,” he says before striding to the door. “Get some rest.”
I wait alone in his study for a beat, and then I shut off his lamp and close the door on my way out. He’s gone by the time I reach the hall, leaving nothing but the faintest trail of his posh Italian cologne.
Tiptoeing through the darkened DuVernay residence, I make my way to the apartment above the garage—the only home I’ve ever known.
Home sweet prison cell.