What He Doesn't Know(2)By: Kandi Steiner
“Good morning, lovelies,” I cooed as I pulled the black cover from the gold cage.
Two beautiful Budgies sat inside, each on their own little swings, and Jane sang her good morning to me while Edward shook the sleep out from his feathers. I opened the cage long enough to pet each of them with my index finger, smiling at the way they leaned into my touch. They were my pride and joy, along with my books and my garden. I loved to watch them play on lazy Sunday mornings or teach them new words before bed.
Cameron had surprised me with them the morning of our first wedding anniversary. That morning, though nearly seven years ago now, still felt like it was just yesterday. I remembered the younger version of us, the absolute bliss, the feeling that nothing could ever come between us or break the once-in-a-lifetime love we had. He’d been cooking that morning, too, and the little birds sat at the dining room table when I came downstairs.
I’d flown to them, eyes the size of saucers as I traced the gold cage with my fingertips. The Budgies had hopped around inside excitedly, chirping away, singing their greetings to me as I fought back tears. Cameron had just watched me over his shoulder, spatula still working the French toast, and I saw my favorite emotion reflected in his caramel eyes — happiness.
Seeing me happy made him happy.
At least, that’s the way it used to be.
“What will you name them?” he’d asked. And I hadn’t hesitated before answering Jane and Edward. After all, Jane Eyre was practically glued to my hands all through high school. That same, worn copy sat in my library across the hall even now, along with all the other books I’d cherished and collected over the years.
Jane fluffing out her feathers with a loud chirp snapped me back to the present moment, and once she and Edward were fed, I followed the smell of the cinnamon.
I loved the way the stairs descended in an opening right in the middle of our home, the way I had a full view of the kitchen and living area below me as I walked over the bridge hall and down each hardwood step. Cameron was there below me, already dressed in his favorite black suit, the jacket to it hanging over one of the chairs at the kitchen bar. He held the handle of the griddle in one hand, a spatula in the other, the soft sound of Bon Iver spilling out from our kitchen speakers.
“Good morning,” I sang, coming up behind him to press a kiss between his shoulder blades. “Cinnamon french toast.”
“Your favorite,” he reminded me, as he always did on the first day of school. It was January, so technically, it was the first day of school this semester. We were already halfway through the year. But that was Cameron — whether it was fall or spring semester, he always woke up before me to make my favorite breakfast. It was one of only four days out of the year that he cooked instead of me; fall semester, spring semester, my birthday, and our anniversary.
It’d been a tradition ever since we were married, one he’d started out of the desire to surprise me. I still remembered the first time, my first day teaching at Westchester Prep. He’d propped up a tiny chalkboard sign on the table that read Mrs. Pierce, along with a shiny red apple, and he’d served me in nothing but a little white apron tied around his waist.
I’d almost been late for my first day.
I frowned when Cameron shrugged me off him, bringing the first two slices to a plate beside the stove before turning the dial that extinguished the flames. He sprinkled powdered sugar on top of the bread and stepped away, leaving me cold. The chill didn’t warm as I watched him cross the kitchen and set the plate on the island next to the syrup, a glass of orange juice, and a simple red rose plucked from our garden, displayed in a slim vase.
“None for you?” I asked, and already I felt the small bit of joy I’d had upon waking slipping from me like the last bit of daylight, making way for the dark night that existed in me now no matter what time of day it was. I tried desperately to hold onto it, to grip that tiny glimpse of my old self and make her stay, but it was useless.
“I have to run,” he answered, not glancing back as he pulled his jacket from where it hung on the back of the chair. He shrugged it on, adjusting his tie before turning to face me, and just like that, my expression turned cold again. “Early meeting.”