What He Doesn't Know(8)

By: Kandi Steiner

I watched Reese absorbing it, the grand splendor of it all, the history, his gaze spanning the length of the hall before falling to the map in his hand as he pieced it all together.

“It was an amazing experience,” I said after a moment. “Some of the best years of my life were spent here. I guess that’s why I couldn’t wait to come back.”

“Yeah, I did not have that same desire to get back to my high school.”

Reese smiled, eyes finding mine again as he tucked the map into his back pocket.

“Some of the best years of your life, huh?” he mused, fingers still trailing the wood. “And where were the other years in that category spent?”

I swallowed, eyes falling to my simple kitten heels.

“Garrick,” I replied softly, recalling my years at university there. It was a small, private university not too far from home. It was also where I’d met Cameron. “And my first few years of teaching. Of being married.”

I felt Reese’s gaze burning my skin, but I didn’t return it. I didn’t want to know what his eyes looked like, didn’t want him to search mine like the truth was hidden inside them.

“You met your husband when you were at Garrick?”

I nodded. I still didn’t look up.

Reese was quiet, but then he stepped forward, his auburn oxfords sliding into view with my shoes. We were toe to toe, and I remembered another time when we stood this way, when I couldn’t look at him. Another time long ago.

“And now?” he finally asked.

I slowly lifted my gaze, eyes catching his.

“Are you living the best years now, Tadpole?”

The way he looked at me willed me to say something, to bare my soul that he was trying so desperately to see. I used to hand it to him in the palm of my hands, eyes wide and heart open, nothing to hide.

But he didn’t understand. There was just nothing to see, now.

It had been five years since I’d had anything to offer.

The doors behind Reese flew open, students trickling in slower at first before that trickle became a stream.

“We should head back,” I said, running a hand over my hair to smooth any flyaways back into place. “I told my aide that I might be a little late coming back from lunch, but we have a lot to cover today, so I shouldn’t be gone too long. And you’re with the fifth graders, yes?”

Reese just watched me. He was still waiting for an answer.

“Well, they’ll be heading back to class now, too. Best not to leave them alone too long. They’re old enough to cause more trouble than you think.”

I wrapped my scarf around my neck again and pushed through the doors, not checking to see if he followed.


Later that evening, I dumped my leather messenger bag on an unpacked box near my front door, shaking off my coat and scarf and dropping them on the box beside it. My new house was covered with those boxes, most of them left untouched, a few of them ripped open and rustled through in my haste to find what I needed that morning.

Everything had been moved out ahead of me, one suitcase being all I had back in New York up until the red eye flight into Pittsburgh the night before. The decision to move back to my hometown and teach for Westchester had been made on a whim, spawned by a drunken night online where I stumbled upon the job opening. They’d asked me to come out two weeks ahead of the start date, but with finishing up my commitments at the restaurants where I played and transferring the students I was working with at Juilliard, I hadn’t had the time.

It was my first time seeing the house in person that morning when I’d dropped my suitcase off, changed clothes, and ran out the door to my first day on the job.

I sighed as I unpacked the Chinese takeout I’d grabbed on the way home from Westchester, pulling out each container with my exhaustion wearing in more and more. It’d been a long day, one that took more of a toll on me than I’d imagined.

I couldn’t believe I was back.

Making the move back to Mount Lebanon was my last attempt to find sanity, to find home, to find some sort of comfort in a world that felt as unfamiliar as an undiscovered planet to me now. My new house was just a stone’s throw from the one I grew up in, and I’d hoped that would make me feel closer to the man I used to be.

So far, it’d only made me feel lonelier.

Mount Lebanon had been my home, it was where my parents started from nothing and built a family, as well as a fortune. It was where my sister, Mallory, and I played in a large backyard and argued over who had to do which chores. It was where I learned to play the piano, where I discovered music was what mattered most to me.

It was where I fell in love with a doe-eyed girl who lived next door, and where I left her wondering if she ever meant anything to me at all.

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