Instructions for Dancing(2)

Everything is not okay.

Mom sighs again and rubs her forehead. The flour dust spreads.

“There’s flour,” I say, reaching to wipe it away.

She dodges my hand. “Leave it. It’s just going to keep getting dirty anyway.” Mom’s originally from Jamaica. She moved here when she was fourteen with Grandma and Grandpa. The only time she has a Jamaican accent is when she’s nervous or upset. Right now her accent is slight, but it’s there.

She turns and goes back downstairs.

As I get dressed, I try not to think about our not-quite-an-argument but end up thinking about it anyway. Why was she so upset with me for giving away the last of my romance books? It’s like she’s disappointed in me for not being the same person I was a year ago.

But of course I’m not the same person. How could I be? I wish I were as unaffected by the divorce as she and Danica are. I wish I could bake with them, carefree. I wish I could go back to being the girl who thought her parents, especially her dad, could do no wrong. To being the girl who hoped to have a love just like theirs when she grew up. I used to believe in happily-ever-afters because they had one.

I want to go back and unknow all the things I know now.

But you can’t unknow things.

I can’t unknow that Dad cheated on Mom.

I can’t unknow that he left us all for another woman.

Mom misses the version of me that used to love those books.

I miss her too.


(Former) Favorite Romance Genres


Enemies to Lovers—Asking the perennial question will they kill each other or will they kiss each other? I’m kidding. Of course they’re going to kiss.

Love Triangle—Everyone loves to hate love triangles, but actually they’re great. They exist so the main character can choose between different versions of themselves: who they used to be, and who they’re still becoming. Side note: If you ever find yourself choosing between a vampire and a werewolf, choose the vampire. See #1 below for more on why you should (obviously) choose the vampire.

Second Chance—These days I realize this is the most unrealistic trope. If someone hurts you once, why would you give them the chance to do it again?


Vampires—They’re sexy and will love you forever.

Angels—They have wings that they’ll use to envelop you or to take you away from this place to wherever you need to be.

Shape-shifters—Jaguars and leopards mostly, but basically anything in the big cat family. I once tried reading about dinosaur shape-shifters. T. rexes, pteranodons, apatosauruses, etc. They are as horrifying as you think they are.


Give a Book, Take a Book

BY THE TIME I get downstairs the next morning, Mom’s already left for her shift at the hospital. Danica is at the dining table taking pictures of the brownies she and Mom made. They’re arranged into a pyramid on one of Mom’s fancy new cake platters. Danica is from the jaunty-angle school of picture taking. She tilts her phone and circles the brownie pyramid, taking picture after jaunty picture.

I get myself cereal and sit at the table next to her. We’ve been in this apartment for six months, but it still feels temporary, like I’m just visiting. I keep waiting to get back to my real life.

Compared to our old house, this place is small. I miss having our own private backyard. Now we share a courtyard with twelve other apartments. Our house had two bathrooms, but now we only have one. Mostly, though, I miss how every room held our memories.

Danica settles on a photo and slides her phone to me so I can see her post. “You can’t even tell they’re burnt,” she says with pride.

She’s right. They do look perfect. I scroll through her posts. There’s a selfie of her and Mom dusted with flour, holding a big block of chocolate and laughing, that makes me wish I’d stayed and helped. I read through the hashtags—#motherdaughterbakenight #blackgirlmagicbaking #perfectbrowniesareperfect—before sliding the phone back to her.

“How come you’re not at brunch?” she asks.

Usually I spend Sunday mornings with my best friends at Surf City Waffle, the absolute best waffle place in all of Los Angeles. This morning, though, they’re all busy.

“Everyone’s got stuff,” I say.

“So you’re just gonna hang around here, then?” she asks, and not in a way that makes me think she wants me to hang around here.

I drop my spoon back into the bowl and take a good look at her. Most days, she looks like a supermodel from the ’70s with her enormous Afro, bright glittery makeup and vintage clothes.

Right now she looks even more beautiful than usual. If I had to guess, I’d say she has a date. But I don’t have to guess, because the doorbell rings a second later. A huge smile breaks across her face, and she runs to the door with a squeal.

In the last year, Danica has had eight different boyfriends, which is an average of 0.667 boyfriends per month or 0.154 boyfriends per week. Anyway, my problem is not the quantity or even the quality of her boyfriends (to be clear, the quality could be better. I don’t know why she chooses boys who are so much less interesting and smart than she is), it’s the fact that she’s dating at all. Why am I the only one who learned the lesson of Mom and Dad’s divorce?

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