“Plié, and straight.
Make a window, and shut.
Feet together, and straight”
Bina looked down at the remnants of her term paper, marked profusely in red. Biology hadn’t been this hard in high school, had it? She only had two days to fix this, and she was supposed to have Mommy and Me time with her daughter after class tomorrow, so now really was the best time to do any of the edits. To make matters worse, she couldn’t get her old warmup out of her head and it flowed through her body and her toes itched to get up and dance again.
She sighed instead, and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the desk and her head in her hands. There just simply wasn’t enough time to do all this, and she was so tired. Her nephew had croup, so Rei had been sleeping in her room the last couple nights. Her daughter was three now, so sleeping through the night wasn’t an issue; it was just her Pinkie Pie nightlight, glowing all night long that was a problem. Bina had no idea how Rei managed to always wake up when Bina tried to shut it off. Bina had given up by now, burrowing herself under her blankets and attempting not to die of heat stroke before her kid woke her up at four, every morning, without fail. She checked her watch—her mother had taken Rei to the park for a few hours to give her time to work, and she’d barely done anything at all.
The doorbell rang just as she’d put her fingers back to the keyboard and she sighed. It was nobody’s fault but her own that she hadn’t gotten anything done. Bina got slowly to her feet, instinctively wrapping her arms around her midsection as she walked.
She pulled open her mother’s heavy oak door. “Kusuke?”
“Bina, hey.” Rei’s father smiled weakly. He always looked ashamed and apologetic when he saw Bina. He held out a large box and Bina gingerly took it, struggling under its weight. It had been a while since she’d worked out her upper body.
“What is this?”
“Oh, it’s uh, it’s a new car seat. When I picked up Rei last Saturday, you’d mentioned that she was going to grow out of her new car seat and you didn’t know how you were going to pay for it because you didn’t want to ask your mom for any more favors. So, I thought I, uh, I’d pick one up.”
“Oh.” Bina had forgotten all about that conversation. “Oh, yeah, sure. Thank you. Thank you so much. Oh, do you, uh, want to come in?”
“Sure, sure, just for a little. I’ve got to leave for Dallas tonight.”
“Yeah?” Bina set the box down just inside the door. “Why’s that?”
Kusuke took off his coat and followed her to her mother’s living room. “They’ve asked me to step in last minute—they’re doing El Sombrero de Tres Picos in two weeks.”
“It means, like, the three-pointed hat or something. I don’t know. It’s apparently a famous Spanish ballet but I’ve never heard of it.”
Bina glanced down at the mention of ballet.
“Sorry, sorry.” Kusuke looked down at his feet and an awkward stillness settled over the room. His fingers twitched awkwardly and Bina almost smiled. He was probably imagining playing the bassoon—that’s what he always did when he got nervous.
“It’s okay. So you’ll be playing the bassoon, I assume.”
“Yeah, I will, yeah. It’s actually a really important part, so that’s why they need me to fly down there so soon.”
“Why couldn’t the old bassoonist do it?”
Kusuke bit his lip. “She, uh, she gave birth a few months early, so she had to step out to take care of her baby.”
Bina’s mother always said that Bina had been dancing since the womb. Bina didn’t know how true that was, but she did know that she couldn’t remember a time in her childhood that she hadn’t danced ballet. Even as a child, her teachers had been wowed by her instinctive rhythm, her attention to detail, the passion that kept her working on her extensions, increasing flexibility, learning more and more complex steps. She’d been her company’s Clara at 10, 11, 12, 13, and 15, when the new girl turned out to just not be as good. Nothing deterred her from her dream, not ingrown toenails or the curving of the bones in her toes or the blood that welled in the bottom of her left pointe shoe when she broke the nail off her big toe trying to learn the “Dance of the Cygnets”, dancing the pas de chat over and over again on the floor and managing to smile all the way through.
It was Swan Lake that had ruined her, although ironically it had been her shot. Her birthday was coming soon, and everyone expected an invitation from a professional ballet company to be her sweet sixteen present. Instead, she’d found herself bent over a toilet, clutching a pregnancy test in her hand, six months before her official audition with Bay Pointe and the San Francisco Ballet Company. She’d blamed Kusuke originally—he’d been the brilliant bassoon player working on their production, the pride of the pit. Only twenty-two but already traveling all over the country to play in operas and ballets—how could she resist? Two prodigies, meeting, sharing their histories, their talents, for one night—and then Bina’s future had appeared to crumble. She’d been seven months pregnant when she was supposed to audition for her dream company. It hadn’t really been his fault, she knew—she’d both lied about her age and told him she was on birth control when she hadn’t been in months due to the bloating. She had thought she was too big to fail.
He couldn’t have known, she knew. It wasn’t Rei’s fault either, although the blame had shifted to her unborn daughter at the time, weighing inside her, shifting her balance, screwing her hormones. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Sometimes things just happened that way.
“When is your flight?”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Probably about two months. Maybe three. They’ve got another short opportunity for me lined up right after the ballet.”
Bina raised her eyebrows. “Short notice and you’re staying three months.”
“I said maybe three.” Kusuke’s nose twitched. “I was kind of hoping to see Rei, but I’m guessing your mom has her today.”
“Yeah, sorry.” Bina tucked one of her feet under her thigh. “If I’d have known you were coming I would have kept her home. She’ll miss you.” Although she and Kusuke hadn’t stayed a couple (if they’d ever been one to begin with), Kusuke tried to visit his daughter at least once a week, between gigs and his traveling. Rei loved it when her daddy came to visit—he had more energy than Grandma and always spoiled her with sweets and trips to the park or ice skating or to visit her cousins on his side. He was a lifesaver in so many ways. “How long can you stay? You might get to see her.”
Kusuke shrugged. “I can’t stay all that long—my mother wants me to visit before I leave for Dallas.”
“That’s a shame.” A thought struck Bina. “You’ll be at her birthday though, won’t you? She’ll be so disappointed if you miss it.”
“I’ll fly back for it,” he promised. “Are you doing okay?”
“Are you doing okay?”
“You just look…” He fumbled for words, so Bina filled in her own.
“Terrible? Awful? Gross?”
“I was going to say exhausted. You never look gross.” Kusuke pursed his lips, a gesture that Bina knew meant he was about to say something he thought might upset her. “Have you been seeing your therapist?”
Bina had not. With paying for her college courses and helping her mother with the bills and Rei, Bina had figured it wasn’t worth the copay. Besides, she was functioning fine. Apart from the biology class she was currently riding a C in, she got As and Bs in all of her online college courses. She made sure Rei got to all of her playdates and to the Mommy and Me bonding classes they went to once a week. Besides, her therapist was an expert in postpartum depression, and it’d been three years and change since Rei had been born. Clearly that kind of help wasn’t what Bina needed anymore—it was hardly “postpartum” anymore, right? She told herself she was just being melodramatic. She was just always being melodramatic. “Yeah, I go sometimes.”
Kusuke raised an eyebrow. “And is it… is it helping?”
“Yeah, yeah, a little, yeah.”
“Are you sure?”
“Look, Ku, I appreciate it, but I’m doing fine. Rei is fine. She’ll be starting preschool soon.” Bina crossed her arms over her chest, which had remained enlarged after Rei’s birth. It wouldn’t ever go back to how it was, she knew.
Kusuke changed tactics. “How is school going?”
“It’s going fine. I’m doing really well in my online philosophy class, and I’m almost done with my gen eds. Biology is kicking my butt though.”
“Yeah? If you ever need help, my sister has her master’s in biology.”
“Aneko. Mary’s mom? You and Rei came to her birthday last January, remember? You could ask her for help.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ll think about it.” Bina was not going to do that.
A silence fell across the room. Bina and Kusuke had never been particularly good at talking to each other, even when they were two prodigies with heads full of hot air.
“You know,” Kusuke said, and his tone sounded so similar to Bina’s mother that Bina almost predicted what he was about to say next. “Lots of ballerinas have children and go on and dance.”
“Tina LeBlanc went back to work six weeks after she gave birth.”
“I know. But it’s been three years. And they had their children at the peak of their career. I missed my audition. I missed my break.” Bina took a deep breath. “And it’s okay. I don’t need to be a prima ballerina,” she said, lying. Being a prima ballerina had been the only future she’d ever seen for herself.
“Okay,” said Kusuke gently.
“I’ve got Rei now. She’s enough.” Bina wasn’t lying when she said that. She loved her daughter more than life—she loved her half-toothed grin and her made up songs and even her Pinkie Pie nightlight that robbed Bina’s sleep at night. She loved her more than anything.
“You wouldn’t have to be a prima ballerina to dance,” Kusuke said.
“That’s easy for you to say. You got your dream.”
“I suppose I did.” Kusuke looked down at his twitchy fingers. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
The garage door opened and Kusuke jumped. “Is that your mom?”
Bina checked her watch. “No, that’s probably Darissa.”
Bina’s older sister swept into the room, carrying her sleeping infant son like a trophy. “Guess who’s no longer contagious! It’s Martin!”
“That’s great!” Bina smiled at her little nephew. Maybe now she could finally get some more sleep.
“Oh! Kusuke! I didn’t know it was one of your days.” Darissa shifted her baby to her hip and smiled brightly.
“It’s not.” Kusuke stood up, wiping his palms on his pants. Bina stifled a chuckle. Darissa’s intense energy had always made Kusuke nervous. “I should probably head out.”
“Oh, don’t leave on my account.”
“No, that’s okay. I’ll see you at Rei’s birthday, alright?” With a last smile at Bina, Kusuke walked out towards the front door.
Bina supposed she should do the polite thing and walk him out, but she was so tired and comfortable she instead called after him. “Call Rei when you land. Bye, Ku!”
Darissa sat down where Kusuke had been. “I have more news!”
“We finally got approved for the house! James got the call today!”
“That’s great!” Darissa and her husband and son had been living with Bina, Rei, and their mother for the past two months, waiting to find a new house closer to Darissa’s job. “When can you move in?”
“Wow! That’s pretty soon.”
“Yeah! That way you can better concentrate on school without everyone bothering you all the time.”
A month, Bina thought. Kusuke would be in Dallas by then, and now her sister and her family would be gone too. The house would certainly be quieter, that’s for sure. “I’m really happy for you guys,” Bina said.
Martin woke up suddenly and snuffled into his mom’s shirt. “Ope, better go feed him.” Darissa looked down at Martin adoringly. “You want to go out to eat tonight to celebrate?”
It was tempting, but Bina looked down at her stomach. “That’s alright. I’ve got a paper to fix. You go out with James and Mom, I can watch Martin and Rei.”
“You’re hardly going to get any work done with those two around,” Darissa warned.
“It’ll be fine. I’ll put them down early.” Bina sighed. She should probably be working on that right now instead of sitting here.
“If you’re sure,” said Darissa, affectionately ruffling Bina’s hair like when they were children. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
Once Darissa had left to go to her room, Bina begrudgingly stood. She had work to do, she knew, but as she dragged herself back to her work room, she found that all she could do is stare at the old picture of her in her cygnet tutu, next to two girls whose names she barely remembered but whose futures she did—one had joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the other had gone into law school. Who knows if that was what they had wanted for themselves?
Bina took a deep breath and reminded herself of what her therapist had said that last time she’d spoken to her: Rei was a part of her life and always would be, but regret didn’t have to be. Still, she thought, looking down at her biology paper and typing an entirely new analysis section, it was hard to get over what might have been.
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