What He Doesn't Know(5)

By: Kandi Steiner

I nodded with a polite smile, tucking my hands in the pockets of my slacks. I’d assured Mr. Henderson I didn’t need anyone to tour me around the campus or sit with me each day at lunch. If anything, assimilating with the other teachers was the least of my worries. I was more concerned with being trusted teaching children who would grow into adults one day. If you told anyone who knew me as a teenager in this town that I’d one day be teaching at Westchester, or even at all, they’d laugh at the outrageousness of it.

Though I didn’t attend Westchester as a kid, I had plenty of friends who did, and I’d been reckless enough with those friends to know that private school students didn’t mess around when it came to partying. My dad had put both my sister and me in public school, mostly because he wanted us to go to his alma mater, but also because I was a trouble maker from the time I was born.

I guess he didn’t want to pay upwards of thirty-thousand dollars a year for me to be a hooligan at a school when I could do the same amount of damage for free at the school closer to our house.

Still, it was prestigious — Westchester. I’d always wondered what it would be like to attend, and after only one morning within the halls, I could feel the history.

Maybe this really would be my chance to start over, to find a little piece of the man who had existed before I’d lost everything that had meant the most to me.

Mr. Henderson clapped his hands, and my eyes snapped to the woman who’d just walked through the door.

“Ah! There she is!” he said cheerily.

The woman looked up at us from the book clasped in her hands, and that was the first thing I recognized — a familiar, tattered copy of Jane Eyre, one I’d seen too many times to count in a life that felt like I’d never even lived it at all.

“Escaping with Charlotte Bronte again, are we?” Mr. Henderson chuckled, but I couldn’t find it in me to laugh.

All I could do was stare.

Charlie Reid stood before me like a ghost, one that had haunted me for more than a decade, one I longed for just as long but never truly imagined I’d ever see again.

I realized distantly that perhaps I did imagine I’d see her, if I was being honest with myself. Perhaps I hoped for it.

Perhaps she was part of the reason I was back.

Her brows bent together in confusion over her wide, honey eyes before she carefully slipped a silk ribbon bookmark between the pages and tucked the book away in her messenger bag.

“Are you surprised?” she asked, her voice timid and small. It wasn’t the voice I remembered, the cheery, bird-like voice that used to make every sentence sound more like a song. Then again, she wasn’t the girl I remembered, either. She wasn’t sixteen anymore. Her hair wasn’t wrapped in two braids, one over each shoulder, and her eyes weren’t bright and full of life.

No, Charlie wasn’t the same girl I’d left crying on my porch fourteen years ago on the last night before I left her and this town behind me.

She wasn’t anyone I should have recognized at all, but I’d never forget those eyes.

“Not in the slightest,” Mr. Henderson mused. He clapped me on the shoulder, squeezing hard as he gestured to Charlie, as if I’d taken my eyes off her for even a second since she’d walked in the room. “Mr. Walker, this is—”

“Charlie Reid,” I finished for him, and I paused a moment, watching the mixture of shock and wonder fill Charlie’s eyes before I reached forward to shake her hand. “I’ll be damned.”

She let me take her hand, her cool fingers slipping across my palm before I wrapped mine around hers and shook gently. For a moment, I just held her there, willing her to light up with recognition, to remember the boy who used to live next door.

But she didn’t light up at all.

If anything, it seemed any semblance of light she’d ever possessed had been extinguished sometime in the years since I’d seen her. Those eyes of hers felt hollow — not even sad, just empty. Her pale pink lips didn’t curve into the smile I knew and loved, her cheeks didn’t flush with heat at my gaze the way they used to.

She just blinked, pulling her hand from mine and resting it back on the strap of her bag.

“It’s Pierce now,” she said, and I searched those words for any kind of emotion, but came up empty-handed. “You’re back.”

I narrowed my eyes a bit, trying to figure her out. She did recognize me — and all she had to say was you’re back?

“I am, indeed,” I said, smiling as my eyes took the rest of her in. The long dark hair that I used to watch her braid was pulled up into a high, tight bun, and she wore a long, modest navy skirt and simple white blouse, a gold scarf topping off her school spirit. Westchester’s colors on everything she wore seemed to almost blend her in with the school, as if she wasn’t a woman at all, but just an extension of the hallways she walked.

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