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Should Have Known

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Suneo should have known it was a lie. Everything she had told him was a lie.

He should have caught on. He should have noticed all the signs that had accumulated through the years. He was an adept liar himself. He should have known. But he hadn't.

He had believed every fraction of the lies. He had followed their allure down a mangled path in which he had gradually become more lost. More ensnared. The words had been bait to him. The compliments and praises had blinded him with pride. Love. Recklessness. He had mindlessly played into the exact position in which the woman had wanted him.

Before marriage, he had showered her with gifts. Trinkets. Jewelry. Anything he could offer. He had been too consumed by her tender smiles and soft compliments to be conservative. Nothing was too great a gift or too ludicrous a purchase for her. His life revolved around pleasing her. She, unlike any other, made him feel important. Not like the shallow façade he had maintained for so long. He felt truly important, valuable enough to always bring those smiles to her face.

But after marriage, the tender smiles faded. The soft compliments twisted into harsh criticisms. Everything she had wanted was below his belt; after the enjoyment in filching his wallet from his back pocket had worn thin, she didn't care any longer. Any longer—? She never had.

It had all been a lie. He should have known. He wasn't important. He wasn't needed. He wasn't charming or debonair or exciting. He wasn't loved. All that mattered was his gullibility, his willingness—his wallet.

He was nothing. Nothing but alone, after two stormy years of desperately trying to pull together the fraying ties. Trying everything he could to make her look at him again with love in her eyes.

He deserved to be alone. He always had. He always had been conceited yet too lonesome and desperate to tread lightly. He was stupid. That was why he should have known.

He sat in the old lounge chair with his legs crossed. The magazine spread on his lap may as well have been written in hieroglyphics. Not a word made sense. His thoughts were too jumbled, wrapped around memories, to concentrate. In the past, he had always read better when alone with no distractions. Now, the solitude made it impossible. It was too quiet. It was always too quiet now.

In the silence, the most timid of footsteps padded into the room. The fibers of the Moroccan rug crushed softly under quiet heels. The noise stopped. Suneo didn't look up.

"Papa . . . ?" The plaintive voice made Suneo press his knees together and lower his head. "Are we going to have dinner soon?"

Suneo's eyes flooded. Every time he stood in the kitchen, under the square glass lanterns, he remembered the evenings he had spent with her, sharing the kitchen chores. Standing side by side, peeling vegetables. Elbows brushing when they washed dishes together. Playfully debating over which recipe to try. The kitchen was empty, now. The pots gleamed on the shelf, never used.

"Papa? Should I call for a pizza again tonight?" The sound of a quick swallow. Then, nervously, tentatively—"Are you okay?"

Suneo clenched his teeth. No. He wasn't okay.

He knew what would make things okay again. If he could reach out, fold his arms around his son, and press his face into his hair, it would be okay. If he could hold him close and kiss his cheek and shield him from the world, everything would be all right.

But he couldn't. If he looked at Suneki, his heart would ache all over again. Suneki's green eyes were too much like his mother's. Suneo didn't want to see her anymore.

He leaned back in his chair and raised his magazine.

"Leave me alone, Suneki."

Suneki's breaths went silent. He lingered there in place, staring at Suneo. Suneo couldn't stare back. He knew he would see those green eyes, just like his mother's, fill with tears.

Please leave. Please leave. Please, darling . . .

In hesitant increments, Suneki stepped back. Once his heel met the edge of the rug, he turned and rushed out the door. His footsteps clattered up the hall and faded.

Suneo bent forward so quickly that his backbone cracked. He pushed his nose into his hands and dug his fingertips into his closed eyelids until fireworks of color exploded beneath them. He began to cry in smothered sobs and gulps that shook his shoulders and made him lean further and further over until his forehead touched his knees.

As long as he was alone, nobody would hurt. As long as he was alone, everything would be okay.

Everything except him.