The Billionaire's Ballet (Friends with Benefits)

By: Deanna Roy

Next to him, I sat skinny and happy in jeans and a plaid shirt that tied at the waist. My ponytail was off to one side, making me look sassy.

I pulled the picture out of the frame before hanging the new one back on the wall. It could come with me if Mother wasn’t able to handle looking at it.

I’d just tucked it in one of my bags when I heard the front door open. Time for the surprise.

My footsteps were silent as I headed up the hall. Mom moved toward the kitchen with a grocery sack. Then she saw my purse on the coffee table and paused.

She looked up, quizzically, and saw me standing at the entrance to the room. She almost dropped the bag, but caught it and set it on the floor.

“Juliet!” Her hand came to her mouth.

As I moved closer, my concern began to grow. She wasn’t well. Her head was wrapped in a scarf even though it was ninety degrees out. And she was thin. More than thin.

“Mom?” I took her hand. She wore a fluttery shirt that came down below her elbows. When she moved, I saw the bruises on the inside of her arm. I touched her wrist. “What is this?”

She pulled away. “Just some treatments I was getting. It’s all done now.”

I touched her head. “You have cancer?”

Her watery eyes met mine. “I was going to tell you.”

My panic rose into a flood of emotion. “When?”

“I couldn’t affect your dance season. I wanted to see how chemo would go.”

“How is it?” I wasn’t sure why my voice was even working, except through sheer adrenaline. The drumbeat of fear banged in my skull.

“It went just fine,” she said. “I mean, as fine as something like that goes. I’m just waiting on the tests to see how well it worked.”

“Where? How? When?” I couldn’t move. My whole world had narrowed.

“Let’s sit down,” she said. “Let me put the milk away.”

She picked up the bag again and took it to the kitchen. Her movements were pained and slow. My heart hit the floor. She was sick, and she hadn’t even told me.

I sank onto a cushion on the sofa, trying to breathe. My chest felt so tight.

Mom returned with a glass of water. “Drink this. One thing I’ve learned when the going gets tough is to stay hydrated.”

I accepted the cool glass and took a sip. It did help calm me.

She sat beside me. “I was diagnosed about three months ago.”

“Three months!”

She held up a hand. “I know. But you had just started rehearsals for La Bayadère. No one should ever miss the opportunity to perform the Kingdom of the Shades. And you would have.”

I took another drink of water. She was right. I would have come down. And lost my spot.

“I’m doing fine,” she said, patting my leg. “I wouldn’t have you miss your big moments over my little malady.”

“How bad is it?” I asked.

“Just a simple lymphoma,” she said. “Perfectly treatable.”

I didn’t know much of anything about cancer beyond the pink ribbons. “So you will be all right?”

She managed a smile. “I will be perfectly all right. So tell me why you are here.”

“It’s the season break,” I said. “And you didn’t come to see La Bayadère. You missed the Shades.”

She nodded. “I know. I wasn’t well enough to fly to New York.”

“And you still wouldn’t tell me.”

“It seemed like you wouldn’t need to know.” She straightened the fluttery sleeve. “I thought I would be fine by the time I saw you and could show off my chic short haircut.” She touched the scarf. “It’s coming back.”

I leaned back against the cushion. “Does the staff know? Amelia? Sawyer?”

“Yes,” she said. “And Bennett, since I wasn’t always able to work with Pearl.”

I sat up. “Did Quinn?”

Her lips tightened. “I don’t know. We don’t exactly cross paths. Bennett comes to see me and asks about Pearl’s lessons. And he oversees the health plan for the staff. So he knew.”

“Is it expensive? Can you manage?” I thought wildly about the meager contents of my bank accounts. But I could get a loan. Reduce expenses.

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