Irina picks up the flowering geranium, turns it over and taps the base firmly several times with the trowel, just as Emily had instructed her. She slips the loosened plant out of the container and gently lowers it into the earth.
Grasping a handful of dirt Emily begins to encircle the newly placed planting with rich black topsoil. "Laura, take special care. These young ones, they're fragile. If not transplanted properly, if voids are left beneath the surface, the roots may not take hold and they won't survive."
Later, after the day's landscaping is completed, the women retreat to the Bristow's kitchen. At the sound of the kettle's whistle, Irina fills two cups with freshly brewed tea and offers one to her guest. Faltering slightly, she takes her seat across from Emily, momentarily closing her eyes with a grimace.
"Laura, are you alright?" Emily grasps her friend's forearm in concern. "You look a little flushed."
"I'm fine." Regaining her composure, Irina takes a sip from her cup. "It's nothing. It's just – I haven't been sleeping very well the past few nights."
Emily stirs her tea and regards Laura with a discerning look. "It's hard. I know. When Arvin is away I hardly sleep at all." After a brief silence she continues. "Jack has been traveling quite a lot on business lately, hasn't he?"
The implication strikes closer to the truth than Irina is willing to admit. Studying Emily, she wonders just how much the other woman knows of her own husband's profession and how much she simply chooses to ignore. Dismissing the question posed to her, Irina instead – confesses. She might as well come clean, she decides; the truth will hardly remain concealed much longer.
The words spill out with surprising ease, she thinks, given that her very life so often depends on a deeply ingrained ability to keep secrets.
"How wonderful!" Emily embraces her in a show of genuine affection, but a quickly masked wistfulness does not escape Irina's notice. "You and Jack must be thrilled."
Orders were orders, a child was expected and as always, when asked, Irina delivered. This time she would do so quite literally in a matter of months.
"The reality is just starting to sink in. To be honest – initially it was quite a shock." And well it had been, she thinks, from the moment the orders were given; the best lies are those closest to the truth.
"I'm not sure if I'm ready for the responsibility of caring for a baby." Irina wears the guise of supportive wife and sincere friend easily now and wonders if this new role will come to her naturally as well.
"It will be life changing, I'm sure, but I have no doubt you will be a wonderful mother," Emily says with conviction. "There is no more precious gift than a child."
The realization startles her. Her fabricated life, a carefully crafted illusion built upon lies, is about to be undone – by a single fragile truth.