What He Doesn't Know

By: 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.

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