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What He Doesn't Know

By:Kandi Steiner

What He Doesn't Know
Kandi Steiner

       "I learned the people

we love usually

turned out

to be one of three things:

a home,

a holiday,

or hell."



- Beau Taplin





Charlie



On the northeast side of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, there was a house.

It was a beautiful house, stoic and grand, with a little over half an  acre of land, five bedrooms, and three luxurious bathrooms. The front  view stunned those who passed by, the grand steepled entrance made  completely of glass, the regal chandelier visible through that pristine  window after the sun set.

The house was once magical, once filled with love and joy and plans for  the future. It was entirely too big for the young newlyweds who  purchased it, both eager to fill the spare bedrooms with babies, to fill  the expansive kitchen with little footprints and messy high chairs, to  fill the walls with memories captured in sepia-tone photographs.

Inside its walls were many things that belonged to me.

There were my books, of which I had many, lining the shelves in one of  the spare bedrooms where I would often sit and read. There were the  china dishes my mother had gifted me on my wedding day, the gardening  tools I used every weekend to primp the garden I'd always dreamed of  having, the breathtaking, gold-plated bird cage I'd taken such pride in,  once home to two Budgies, now empty - just like me.

And a man.

A man who also belonged to me.

A man I no longer wished to keep.

A man who, no doubt, had not slept, though the sun was rising now.  Because that house where he waited - that large, desolate, haunting  house - was where I'd laid my head to rest every night for the last  eight years. Until last night.

The old snow crunched under my boots as I crossed the yard that was not  mine, my head hung, sun shining too brightly for my taste. It seemed to  be judging me, the first eyes to see me as the woman I had become  overnight. The house I was leaving was much unlike the one across town.  It was smaller, cozier, filled with music and laughter and late-night  confessions whispered quietly into beige cotton sheets.

I slipped silently into the driver seat of my luxury SUV, the door  shutting with a simple, soft latch behind me. The car was empty, too. A  family car. Too many seats for just one woman.

My fingers gripped the steering wheel, knuckles pink from the cold until  I reached forward to start the car with a push of a button. I closed my  eyes, shoulders rising and falling with a new breath, flashes of the  night before assaulting me in little bursts behind my lids.

A touch. A sigh.

A man. A woman.

Fingertips and lips. Moans and breaths.

Old longings brought to life with new fervor, new discoveries uncovered with old, shaking hands.

Freedom. Passion.

Pain.

When I opened my eyes once more, I found my reflection in the rearview  mirror, but I didn't recognize the woman staring back at me. Her long,  unruly chestnut hair, falling down in messy waves around bright, wide  chocolate eyes. Lips red and swollen, cheeks tinged pink.

If you told anyone who knew me, they'd never believe you. They'd never  believe that soft, sweet, quiet Charlie Pierce was pulling out of the  driveway of a man who wasn't her husband, that she'd known him in a way  she was never meant to, that she'd felt his hardness between her thighs  and his lips on her pale white skin.

But they didn't know me.

I didn't even know me.

Not anymore.

They say there are two sides to every story, and I suppose in most  cases, that's true. But the one I lived inside of? It had three.

On the northeast side of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, there was a house.

But there was no longer a home.





Two months earlier



Charlie



The smell of cinnamon woke me before my alarm could sound. I smiled,  eyes still closed, my brain stuck in a memory that smell took me back  to. A memory born years before. When my lids finally fluttered open, the  smile fell, and I sat up slowly in bed, running a hand through my dark  hair.

Our bedroom window overlooked the expansive back yard, the sun beginning  to tickle the horizon off in the distance, casting the trees and our  covered pool in the soft glow of dawn. It was just before six.

I pulled the comforter back, exposing my simple, cotton nightgown and  wool sock-covered feet as I climbed out of bed. As soon as I was out of  it, I made it up the way it had previously looked when we crawled into  it the night before, and then I padded my way over to Jane and Edward.

"Good morning, lovelies," I cooed as I pulled the black cover from the gold cage.

Two beautiful Budgies sat inside, each on their own little swings, and  Jane sang her good morning to me while Edward shook the sleep out from  his feathers. I opened the cage long enough to pet each of them with my  index finger, smiling at the way they leaned into my touch. They were my  pride and joy, along with my books and my garden. I loved to watch them  play on lazy Sunday mornings or teach them new words before bed.                       
       
           


///
       

Cameron had surprised me with them the morning of our first wedding  anniversary. That morning, though nearly seven years ago now, still felt  like it was just yesterday. I remembered the younger version of us, the  absolute bliss, the feeling that nothing could ever come between us or  break the once-in-a-lifetime love we had. He'd been cooking that  morning, too, and the little birds sat at the dining room table when I  came downstairs.

I'd flown to them, eyes the size of saucers as I traced the gold cage  with my fingertips. The Budgies had hopped around inside excitedly,  chirping away, singing their greetings to me as I fought back tears.  Cameron had just watched me over his shoulder, spatula still working the  French toast, and I saw my favorite emotion reflected in his caramel  eyes - happiness.

Seeing me happy made him happy.

At least, that's the way it used to be.

"What will you name them?" he'd asked. And I hadn't hesitated before  answering Jane and Edward. After all, Jane Eyre was practically glued to  my hands all through high school. That same, worn copy sat in my  library across the hall even now, along with all the other books I'd  cherished and collected over the years.

Jane fluffing out her feathers with a loud chirp snapped me back to the  present moment, and once she and Edward were fed, I followed the smell  of the cinnamon.

I loved the way the stairs descended in an opening right in the middle  of our home, the way I had a full view of the kitchen and living area  below me as I walked over the bridge hall and down each hardwood step.  Cameron was there below me, already dressed in his favorite black suit,  the jacket to it hanging over one of the chairs at the kitchen bar. He  held the handle of the griddle in one hand, a spatula in the other, the  soft sound of Bon Iver spilling out from our kitchen speakers.

"Good morning," I sang, coming up behind him to press a kiss between his shoulder blades. "Cinnamon french toast."

"Your favorite," he reminded me, as he always did on the first day of  school. It was January, so technically, it was the first day of school  this semester. We were already halfway through the year. But that was  Cameron - whether it was fall or spring semester, he always woke up  before me to make my favorite breakfast. It was one of only four days  out of the year that he cooked instead of me; fall semester, spring  semester, my birthday, and our anniversary.

It'd been a tradition ever since we were married, one he'd started out  of the desire to surprise me. I still remembered the first time, my  first day teaching at Westchester Prep. He'd propped up a tiny  chalkboard sign on the table that read Mrs. Pierce, along with a shiny  red apple, and he'd served me in nothing but a little white apron tied  around his waist.

I'd almost been late for my first day.

I frowned when Cameron shrugged me off him, bringing the first two  slices to a plate beside the stove before turning the dial that  extinguished the flames. He sprinkled powdered sugar on top of the bread  and stepped away, leaving me cold. The chill didn't warm as I watched  him cross the kitchen and set the plate on the island next to the syrup,  a glass of orange juice, and a simple red rose plucked from our garden,  displayed in a slim vase.

"None for you?" I asked, and already I felt the small bit of joy I'd had  upon waking slipping from me like the last bit of daylight, making way  for the dark night that existed in me now no matter what time of day it  was. I tried desperately to hold onto it, to grip that tiny glimpse of  my old self and make her stay, but it was useless.

"I have to run," he answered, not glancing back as he pulled his jacket  from where it hung on the back of the chair. He shrugged it on,  adjusting his tie before turning to face me, and just like that, my  expression turned cold again. "Early meeting."

Cameron had shaved that morning, the sharp edges of his jaw prominent as  he ran a hand over the smooth skin. Sometimes he'd grow out a clean  beard over that jaw, and I loved when he did. He used to do it more for  that reason alone - because he knew I liked it that way. But lately, he  shaved at least three times a week.

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