Instructions for Dancing(4)

I ran down the hall to his office, thinking he’d understand. We always understood each other.

I didn’t knock on his door. I should’ve, but I didn’t. I just opened it and burst inside, hoping he’d be there. He was there. And he was kissing a woman who wasn’t Mom.

I looked back and forth between them. I tried to convince myself that maybe this relationship was new, that it’d only started in the last two days. But of course, that was silly. It wasn’t a first kiss, and it wasn’t a last one. This kiss said there was a whole history to their relationship. It was one of the many kisses that broke up our family and broke Mom’s heart and broke mine too.

Dad ran his hand down his face. “Evie, sweetheart,” he said. “You didn’t knock.”

I’m not sure if he was scolding me.

When he and Mom told us they were getting separated they said they’d just grown apart. That they still loved each other and loved us. But that was a lie. The reason Dad left us was right here, wearing a jade-green dress and big hoop earrings and pressing her hands to her lips like somehow it could make me unsee what I’d seen.

I backed away from them and ran through the door and down the hallway and down the stairs until I was outside. Dad called out to me, but what was there to say? There wasn’t anything at all to say anymore.

That evening, Mom told me Dad had called and told her what happened. She said she was sorry I had to see that. She asked me not to tell Danica. She said she never wanted to discuss it again.

Of course, I don’t tell the old woman any of that. Instead, I shove the last of my books into the little library. When I look at her, she seems sympathetic, like somehow she heard all the things I didn’t say.

I latch the door shut. “Well, have fun reading those,” I say.

She points at the library. “Aren’t you going to take a book, dear? The rules are ‘give a book, take a book.’?”

“There isn’t one to take,” I say.

“Are you sure? I’m certain someone left one earlier.”

I reopen the door and spy the book she’s talking about in the back left corner.

The book is called Instructions for Dancing. It’s a slim paperback with water-damaged and dog-eared pages. Underneath the title there’s a simple line drawing of two sets of footprints facing each other.

I flip through the pages reading chapter titles: “Salsa,” “Bachata,” “Waltz,” “Tango,” “Merengue,” “East Coast Swing,” “Lindy Hop.” Each dance has its own sequence of numbered diagrams with arrows pointing from one set of footsteps to another.

“Maybe I should leave this for someone who wants to learn how to dance,” I say, and start to put it back.

“That someone could be you, dear.” She comes closer to me. “I insist,” she says.

It seems so important to her that I take the book and drop it into my backpack. “Nice meeting you,” I say as I hop onto my bike.

“You too,” she says. “Take good care.”

At the end of the block, I turn to wave goodbye.

But when I look back, she’s no longer there.

* * *


I ride for two blocks before realizing that I’m heading east instead of west, toward home. How did I get so turned around? I pull off to the side of the road and check my phone. It’s already after three. I’ve been meandering for four hours. My stomach growls, like it too just realized how late it is.

I take the nonscenic route home, pedaling fast while still being careful. LA drivers sometimes act as if bicyclists don’t exist. I lock away my bike and turn the corner to my apartment. Danica and Ben are on the stoop. They’re so busy staring into each other’s eyes, they don’t realize I’m only a few feet away.

There are some things you don’t need to see in your life. Your little sister making out is one of those somethings. I’m about to clear my throat and spare us both the trauma. But before I can, she leans in and kisses him.

My vision goes black, like the moment just before a movie begins.

And I see.


Danica and Ben

DANICA IN OUR school cafeteria. She’s sitting at her usual table, surrounded by her friends. The cafeteria is bustling in the usual ways. Some kids are talking, eating, laughing. Some kids—the always-alone kids—are not talking, not laughing. Danica’s ultrabright today in a fuchsia outfit that was probably once someone’s prom dress.

From the right, a tray slides over and bumps into hers. Ben is on the other side of the tray, smiling.

“I was thinking about asking you out,” he says.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend?” Danica asks.

“Not anymore,” he says, and leans in. “If I did ask you out, what would you say?”

She leans in too. “You actually have to ask to find out.”

“Want to go out with me?”

“Sure,” she says. “Why not?”

* * *

This moment right now, the two of them kissing on the stoop like no one can see them.

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