What He Doesn't Know(4)

By: Kandi Steiner


“How are your parents? Well, I hope?”

It was no surprise that Mr. Henderson would ask after my parents, Gloria and Maxwell Reid. They were a shining beacon in Mount Lebanon, well known and well spoken of. They’d married at just seventeen, and run the town as a powerhouse couple ever since.

“Very well,” I said. “Dad is just as stubborn as always, and Mom is making it harder and harder for the buckle around his waist to fasten.”

Mr. Henderson chuckled. “That woman’s cooking is a blessing and a curse.”

“You’re telling me.” I ran my hands over my modest navy blue skirt before folding them together at my waist. “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Henderson?”

“In fact, there is. We have a new music teacher starting today, taking over Mrs. Flannigan’s old position as the piano instructor.”

We both shared a sympathetic look then. Mrs. Flannigan had been with Westchester for three decades, but had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s just before the break. She’d gracefully stepped down to spend time with her family before the symptoms worsened, and we all wondered how Mr. Henderson would handle filling her position so last minute.

“I was fortunate enough to find an excellent candidate who was willing to up and move over the break, but he wasn’t able to get here as early as I’d have liked to tour the grounds or even set up his classroom. Miss Maggert took care of that for me, thank goodness,” he added. “Anyway, he grew up in the area, but never attended Westchester. I wondered if you might be willing to show him around, perhaps let him join you for lunch for a while until he gets acclimated?”

Internally, I cringed, but on the outside, I only offered a placid smile and nod. The word no wasn’t in my vocabulary, and it hadn’t been ever since I could remember. Mom had raised me to always be the hostess, the one always willing to accommodate others, and since it brought me more joy seeing others happy than it did to say no for my own discomfort, I always obliged.

Always.

Even if it meant giving up my time after school to take someone’s detention duty, or enduring paper cuts helping Mom seal envelopes for fundraiser invitations, or, like now, agreeing to be someone’s lunch buddy when even the thought of mindless small talk affected me in the way nails on a chalkboard would anyone else.

“Of course. I’d be happy to,” I finally agreed aloud.

“Wonderful!” Mr. Henderson clapped his hands together. “He’s getting set up in his classroom now, but I’ll introduce the two of you at lunch today. You’re a life saver, Charlie.” He waved as he turned to exit. “Happy first day back!”

I waved in return, but when he rounded the corner and disappeared, my hand fell, my smile fading.

It truly did bring me joy to be able to help him, to see that bit of relief in his eyes when I’d told him I could handle the task at hand. Still, my hands were already clammy at the thought of spending my lunch entertaining a stranger instead of reuniting with my favorite fictional characters between the pages of a very worn book.

But I didn’t have a choice in the matter, and I knew I’d offer to help as many times as he asked me to. That was just who I was. It was who I’d always been. So, I let it all go with one long exhale as I ran through my lesson plan for the day.

Charlie Pierce, the girl who always said yes.





Reese



“She should be here any moment, Mr. Walker,” Mr. Henderson assured me, his cheeks high and pink. He rambled on about Westchester as I listened attentively, trying to take it all in. My head already hurt from the overflow of information.

Most new teachers would have already been here for two weeks, minimum, setting up their classroom and learning the ins and outs of the school. But this was my first day — first day at Westchester, first day back in my old hometown, first day teaching.

It was the last thing I ever thought I would do — teach. And yet, when the opportunity had presented itself, I knew it was exactly what I needed to do. The music instructor who came before me had thirty years of experience on me, but I had a stint as a pianist on Broadway and a piece of paper that said I survived Juilliard. It was enough to get me the job, and enough to get me back to the place I had left fourteen years ago.

The place I used to call home.

Home was the only thing I wanted to find, and now that I was back, I realized how futile that hope was.

“You’re going to adore Mrs. Pierce,” Mr. Henderson said, pulling me back to the small teachers’ café where we waited for the teacher who would be my assigned lunch date for the week. “She’s one of the best teachers we have, been here almost a decade now. And, she’s an alum. I had the pleasure of watching her grow over the years.” He chuckled. “She was a bright student. Always quiet, very studious and shy, but she shines even more as a teacher.”

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