We all pretend to not be paying him any mind: I brush back Layla’s edges, Kayla investigates a sunflower seed, Marisol reads her Suze Orman book, and Janae pretends to be on the phone. But she’s not a good actress, because she’s trying too hard to keep it cool.
“Hey,” Ainsley says to Janae, or all of us. He faces Janae, but he doesn’t know which one of us to look at.
“Hey,” Janae says back.
“Let’s go up to the roof,” I say. “It’s too hot down here.”
“Nuh-uh! It’s hotter on the roof ’cause we’re closer to the sun!” Layla says without budging.
And I pinch her arm. “Let’s go,” I say through clenched teeth.
Marisol shakes her head and rolls her eyes at Janae, but she’s the first one up the stairs with me and the twins behind her.
“Why we gotta be the ones to leave?” Kayla nags. “We should have that Darcy boy let us stay in his house with that air conditioner if he wants to talk to Janae.”
“That’s a good idea,” Marisol adds as she opens the door leading up the roof. “It’ll be like charging money. One hour with Janae costs one hour of going through that big ol’ fridge of theirs.”
Papi opens the door to the apartment to check in on us. He has on a mask and gloves while he and Mama clear out the dust from behind the furniture. They wanted us out of the way because we talk and argue too much. He wanted Mama out of the way too, but she got hip to his game of throwing things out behind her back.
“Please, nobody fall, okay?” he says through the mask.
“Madrina’s watching over us,” I say to him with a smile.
His eyes smile and he shakes his head. Something is a little different about my father now. He’s a little happier, a little lighter. This move will be good for him.
On the roof, my sisters ease toward the edge, trying to eavesdrop on Janae and Ainsley’s conversation. But I keep looking at the house across the street, wondering if Darius is looking over at us too.
“He’s leaving,” Layla says. Then she calls out, “Bye, Ainsley!”
I see him wave back from across the street, and I glance at the Darcys’ roof again, wondering if Darius was watching it all go down too.
In no time, Janae joins us with a big smile on her face.
“He offered to drive me up to school,” she says with a soft, sweet voice.
“What?” I ask, walking over to her.
“His school, Cornell, is about an hour away from Syracuse. So we can go up together. I’ll have to squeeze my stuff into his back seat, but . . .” She’s grinning hard, clasping her hands, and almost standing on her tippy-toes as if she’s a rocket ship about to be launched to the moon. She’s about to straight-up burst with happiness.
So I hug her. “Take it slow, okay?” I whisper.
“Z, I have a really good feeling about this,” she says, inhaling deep.
“Janae and Ainsley, sitting in a tree!” Kayla starts singing as she pulls out the blue tarp for all of us to sit on.
“K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Layla adds. “First comes love, then comes marriage . . .”
Janae sits down on the tarp first, rests her chin in her hand, and with a big smile says, “Go on.”
“No, stop!” I say. “Don’t go on. No love, no marriage, and no baby, Janae! Okay, maybe a little bit of love. But no marriage and no baby.”
“It’s just a song!” she says, laughing.
I roll my eyes at her as we all squeeze onto the tarp one last time. I put my arm around Janae, and Marisol on the other side of me. We all squeeze in tight, resting our heads on each other’s shoulders as the late summer sun sets over Bushwick. The orange sky seems to stretch farther than it ever has. We stay quiet, even the chatty twins, saying our goodbyes like silent prayers.
Each of my sisters leaves one by one, leaving me and Janae to ourselves for the rest of the night. A full moon is out tonight, and this moment feels just as full—almost pregnant. Like our new life is about to be born as we move to Canarsie.
Ainsley is the first thing Janae brings up when we’re finally alone.
“Fine, okay, I do think you two make a cute couple,” I say, sighing.
“You and Darius look good together too,” she says, leaning her head on my shoulder.
“I don’t care if we look good together. I care if he’s a good person or not.”
“Well, is he?”
I look across the street. I close my eyes for a minute to see if I can feel Darius watching us from his roof. Madrina always said that love connects two people in ways that we can’t even see, but we feel it. I shake that thought from my head and open my eyes, because this isn’t love. Not yet, anyway. So I say to Janae, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
“Well, how long are you giving him? A few days, months, years? A lifetime?”
“How long did you give Ainsley?”
“Long enough for him to come to his senses.”
“What if he never did? What if he never said a word to you before you left for Syracuse?”
She inhales deep and waits a long minute before she answers my question. “He would’ve. If not today, then I would’ve seen him again. Even if it took a few more months. Or years. I just . . . knew.”
Madrina would know.
It’s the middle of the night and our bedroom is almost emptied out, with only a few open boxes left. Our mattresses had to be wrapped in plastic and stacked in the living room for the movers in the morning. So we lie on blankets. But I can’t sleep.
I sneak down to Madrina’s apartment, where the door is unlocked and it’s completely empty, but her scent still lingers in the air—cigar and sage smoke, Florida water, incense, and cheap perfume. These smells are even stronger as I make my way down to the basement.
This is no longer Madrina’s temple for Ochún. It’s as if everything has been poured out into a flowing river.
But Madrina’s chair is still there. Stripped of its white fabric and yellow cushion, it’s more like a skeleton of itself. I sit in it and fold my hands over my belly, just like Madrina used to. I lean my head back and close my eyes to hear her voice one last time.
Ah, mija! There you go! Rivers flow. A body of water that remains stagnant is just a cesspool, mi amor! It’s time to move, flow, grow. That is the nature of rivers. That is the nature of love!
EVERYONE IS DOWNSTAIRS waiting for the moving truck to pull off, and I’m the last to take a tour of the place before I say goodbye forever. I finger a layer of dust on my bedroom windowsill. Our apartment looks way bigger without all the furniture and stuff. And much more broken too. There’re cracks in the walls, mold, chipping paint—this crowded apartment probably wasn’t good for our health.
The kitchen looks even smaller, though. I can’t believe that Mama has cooked all those meals, enough to feed a whole block, in that tiny kitchen. The stove and countertops have been scrubbed clean, and I wonder if it will all be torn away to make room for a bigger kitchen like the one at Darius’s house.
I take another look at the whole apartment, inhale deeply, step outside, and close the door.
I did not want to cry, but the tears burst out of me like a newly opened fire hydrant in the summer. I hug myself and press my head against the closed door. All of me, everything I’ve ever known and loved, was once behind that door. I feel as if I’ve stepped outside my own body, and I’m leaving it behind.
“Zuri?” Someone says my name quietly.
I sniff and try to hold back my tears, but I can’t. I don’t turn around to see who it is, but I know the voice. I don’t dare move.
He touches my shoulder. Still I don’t move.
“Hey.” He gently turns me around.
I cross my arms and don’t look up at him.
He pulls me in, hugs me, and kisses my forehead. So I just let it all out again, in his chest, in his arms.
I pull away from him a little and look into his eyes. He wipes the tears from my cheeks with his thumbs and kisses me on the lips.
The very last thing I do in this building is kiss a boy—the boy who moved in across the street and changed everything. Maybe this is what Madrina wanted all along: for me to find love and take it with me when I leave this place.