What He Doesn't Know(3)

By: Kandi Steiner

But sometimes when I looked at him, I didn’t recognize the man I saw at all — not anymore.

This was one of those times.

I crossed my arms over my middle, the thin fabric of my nightgown suddenly not enough to block out the cold.

“Oh. That’s too bad.”

He reached into the basket on the island for a banana and paused, watching me for a moment like he wanted to ask me something. His brows pinched together just slightly above the straight bridge of his nose, but the line disappeared so quickly I convinced myself it’d never existed at all.

Cameron stepped into me and pressed a kiss to my forehead. He didn’t linger, didn’t lean down to transfer that kiss to my lips. And then his hands were reaching for his keys instead of me.

“Have a great first day, sweetheart,” he said, and I forced a smile in return, holding it there until I heard the front door close a few moments later.

I stared at the french toast, the smell of it taunting me. I could almost hear his laughter from that first morning he’d cooked for me all those years ago, could almost feel his arms around me as we danced in the kitchen, one of his favorite places to pull me into him and sway in time with our favorite songs.

But there was no apron that morning, no dancing, no laughing. Just the sad, melodic voice of Bon Iver and a table set for one.

I clicked the power button on the kitchen stereo system, tossed the french toast in the trash, and abandoned the white porcelain plate in the sink along with my memories.

Westchester Preparatory School sat right in the middle of Mount Lebanon, only a ten-minute drive from our house. It was the highest ranked private school in the state and one of the top in the country.

I had nearly burst into tears the day I’d been offered my dream job teaching kindergarten at Westchester, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, I’d attended Westchester my entire schooling, as had my brother, and our father, too. Dad had also been a top donor since before my brother or I even attended.

It was the middle of my eighth year teaching there, and I still felt the same pride as that very first day when I opened the large, wooden double doors that led into the main hallway of the Annie Grace Wing. Named after the founder’s daughter, it was the wing that housed pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and the wing where my classroom had been located since the day I joined the Westchester faculty.

I unwound my scarf when the warmth from the hall hit me, the school an almost reverent sense of quiet in the early morning. The wood floors were freshly polished, the late Victorian architecture filling me with a sense of history as my eyes traced the high arches and ceiling murals.

My students wouldn’t learn to appreciate the gold and navy baroque floral wallpaper and antique chandeliers until they were much older, maybe even until they were alumni. That was when I first took pride in the school I’d attended, in the foundation of it, the hundreds of years of history within its walls.

“Good morning, Mrs. Pierce,” a familiar voice called from across the hall as I rounded the corner into my classroom.

Randall Henderson, our headmaster, strutted toward me like a peacock in heat. It wasn’t that he wanted to show off for anyone, least of all me, but rather that his personality was as loud and colorful as the purple and green feathers that beckoned you in for a closer look. His belly was round, his cheeks the same, and his smile took up his entire face even on the rainiest of days.

“Mr. Henderson,” I greeted with a nod, hanging my coat, scarf, and purse on the hook behind my desk. “A pleasure to see you this early on the first day back.”

“Pleasure’s all mine,” he assured me, tucking his hands into the pockets of his navy blue dress slacks. “I hope you enjoyed your holidays?”

My stomach tightened at the reality of my holiday season, spent mostly alone, save for Christmas Day when Cameron and I had joined my parents for dinner. Had it not been for waking up to what I thought was a traditional first day breakfast with Cameron, I would have hustled out the door with a sigh of relief that school had started up again.

Cameron had worked long days and sometimes even nights throughout the entire break, and even when we’d had dinner at my parents’ for Christmas, he’d barely said a word. We were both asleep well before midnight on New Year’s Eve, and I’d dreamed of earlier years that night, of midnights spent kissing under confetti rain.

“It was a wonderful break,” I lied to Mr. Henderson, hoping the smile I’d managed with those words was at least somewhat convincing. Had Mr. Henderson noticed how that smile had changed over the last five years, how it had lost the vigor and brilliance? Did anyone even see me at all, or was I as dead to them as I felt inside?

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