What He Doesn't Know(7)

By: Kandi Steiner


Charlie eyed the food behind me, and I swore I could feel her stomach roll like it was my own.

“I had a snack just before lunch, actually,” she lied. I knew it was a lie because she chewed her thumbnail in the next instant, one of her tells. It came out when she was nervous or hiding something, and the fact that at least one thing was still the same about her made me smile.

I rummaged through my bag for an apple before abandoning the rest of my belongings on the table behind us. I pulled my coat on, wrapping a scarf around my neck next and taking a bite out of the fruit.

“Guess it’s a perfect time for that tour, then.”

Charlie only nodded, not looking back to ensure I followed her as she made her way out of the café.

Once her back was to me, I let out a long breath, shaking my head. It was the marriage of a blessing and a curse, seeing her again after so many years. The boundaries that used to exist between us had vanished, but the new ones that had taken their place were made of steel, lined with barbed wire, drenched in warning to keep clear.

The ring on her finger was a symbol of her commitment to another man.

That alone should have sobered me. That alone should have been at the forefront of my mind, but it wasn’t.

Charlie Reid was married, she was Charlie Pierce now, and still, it didn’t matter.

I loved her, anyway.





Charlie



Reese Walker was back in town.

I still didn’t believe it, even as he walked next to me as we toured the Westchester campus, his arm brushing mine as we rounded the courtyard. I kept my eyes on the buildings I pointed out to him as we passed, avoiding his gaze that begged me to look at him.

I could see it from the first moment he saw me — Reese was looking for Charlie, the girl he left behind, the girl he used to know.

She didn’t exist anymore.

“Over there is where the athletics facilities begin,” I said, pointing across the courtyard where some high school students were eating lunch. It was freezing, both Reese and I bundled back up in our scarves and coats, but even in the winter there would be a few kids who would brave the cold for a lunch outside of the noisy cafeteria. “When you get a chance, you really should take a walk through it all. We have an Olympic sized swimming pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, softball and baseball fields, soccer and football fields, wrestling room — Westchester prides itself on offering something for everyone.”

Reese nodded, but his eyes only skirted over the facilities briefly before they were locked on me again.

He’d changed, too.

The first thing I’d noticed when I recognized him was that his hair was longer. It used to be styled neat and short, and now it grew as unruly as the boy I remembered. He’d filled out, his shoulders and chest broad, arms toned — the skinny boy from my childhood gone, replaced by the man I hadn’t seen in fourteen years.

He was the last person I expected to see that day, and yet seeing him hadn’t triggered a single feeling from me. It was almost like he’d never left, like he was still next door and I still saw him every day.

There was something buried, a stirring within me when he smiled. It pulled at a cold, barren yet familiar part of me that tried to surface, but failed.

Maybe it was because I didn’t feel anything at all, anymore.

“And this,” I said, pulling the door open that lead into our world-class fine arts and sciences facility, “this is where you’ll spend most of your time outside of the classroom, I imagine. The Jenkins Center for the Arts and Sciences.”

Reese stood close to me as I rambled off all the features of the building, the various rooms and facilities evenly split between two seemingly opposite passions and skill sets. Westchester’s goal had always been to unite the two, science and art, to bring forth new, creative ways to imagine and see the world we live in. There were dance studios, digital music labs, as well as classical band rooms, an orchestra pit in the performing arts wing, various science labs with their own specific focus in each. It was massive, and I only had knowledge of about half of what it actually housed.

“I can’t believe you went to school here,” Reese said from behind me. I turned toward the sound of his voice, finally allowing myself a moment to take him in as he marveled at the space.

His emerald eyes were wide, one hand touching the wooden banister that led up a spiral staircase to the second floor where individual practice rooms were housed for students to reserve on their own. Those eyes brought memories of late nights at the piano, watching him play, listening to the music he heard before anyone else, the music he created.

That laden part of me moved again, a yearning for something, but a simple blink buried it.

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