Chapter 1 of Sweet Redemption
According to family lore, my mom went into labor watching an off-off-off Broadway production of Swan Lake in Brooklyn. She was so moved by the performance that she waited as long as possible before heading to the hospital. My dad jokes I was almost born in a cab.
It is serendipitous most of my childhood was spent in a ballet studio, and my mom cried harder than me when I was awarded the lead role in our performance of Swan Lake. When the curtain closed on our last show, hot tears burned my face while I limped off the stage.
My ballet flats were soaked through with blood and a bone in my foot was broken, but I couldn’t stop grinning. Even stronger than my pain was the pride filling me to bursting and the euphoria that gave me wings. Dancing was living.
The prestigious Julliard was within my reach and a full scholarship to their hallowed halls was the validation I’d always craved. When touring the campus, I couldn’t contain my excitement while imagining the start of my life. Being surrounded by kindred spirits who breathed their craft was a religious experience better than any church.
The weight of everything that’s been lost burns my eyes and I’m wiping away tears when my boyfriend, Jake Livingston, enters my cavernous apartment with coffee and breakfast. A lightning fast hand motion turns off the New York City Ballet commercial announcing that Swan Lake is back on Broadway for another run.
Let me tell you a secret: Swan Lake is hard. It has endless pas de bourrés, which essentially means running on tiptoe, and the stages I performed on weren’t nearly as big as the ones in my dreams.
The crippling cramps that flooded my legs and feet the second I stopped moving make me wince in remembered agony. Icing my feet just to make sure they could get back into ballet flats the next day was my normal.
To say professional dancers deserve mad respect is an understatement and, damnit, I’m going to see them do it again.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
“Nothing, I’m fine. It’s just…” It’s no use because my emotions are spilling down my cheeks.
Jake sets breakfast on the table and closes the distance between us, wrapping me in his arms. “What happened?”
“Swan Lake is back.” I’m almost incoherent because my lungs are locked in a vice that won’t stop squeezing. “Will you take me?”
Jake frowns and his impatience looms like another person in the room. “Again? We’ve seen it at least seven times.” He releases me and takes out his phone, scanning through whatever he happens to find more interesting than me and my failed dreams.
My apartment was professionally decorated and there’s no comfort in the starkly furnished space that lacks any hint of warmth or personality. The paint colors are reminiscent of a paper bag and they make me want to add a crayon rainbow to brighten the place up.
As a child who grew up below the poverty line, I have clear memories of paging through my mom’s glossy magazines that featured homes I couldn’t imagine living in. My dad constantly talked about money and how he was going to start a business that would take us out of our ‘dire circumstances’ I’d never found all that dreadful.
“I’ll go with my mom.” My attention turns to the coffee resting on the glossy marble countertop that constantly has fingerprints all over it. Cupping the warmth in my hands and inhaling the aromatic steam helps me blink back another flood of tears. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I thought you enjoyed working with your dad.” Jake’s fingers fly across his phone screen while I wonder where he ever got that impression and if he’s ever present with me anymore. “It’s sweet you two are a team.”
“I am enjoying it. It’s just…You know what ballet means to me.”
“You still go to the studio.” Boredom drips from his voice and my attention is riveted on the white stone fireplace, which is the focal point of the open concept living room, to keep myself in check.
Competitive ballet meant everything to me since walking became a thing in my life. I never considered doing anything else with my future, and a scholarship to Julliard was the culmination point from years of dedication. I was good. Damn good.
Taking what my dad always called a ridiculous hobby and making it into a legitimate career he would respect was almost a reality. The great Arch Winslow could tell everyone his daughter was a prima ballerina and finally, finally, he would be proud of me.
“I only do that to stay in shape and teach.” My tears dry as righteousness bubbles to the surface. “It’s not nearly the same thing.”
My eyes scan the pristine kitchen and a ridiculously timed observation takes root in my brain: lived-in homes always have dishes in the sink. They have forgotten crumbs, misplaced keys and random paperwork scattered on the counter that busy people will get around to cleaning ‘later.’
In 6 months of living on my own, no food has ever been made here. Nothing is out of place because I haven’t really bought anything that has a place. This apartment is a miniature cookie cutter version of my parents’ penthouse and, sometimes, it feels like I never left their roof.
“One day you’ll run a multimillion-dollar empire.” Jake finally sets his phone down to take a bite of greasy bacon on an even greasier bun.
Resignation courses through my veins because I’d have an easier time explaining myself to a potted plant than my boyfriend of nearly a decade. “Right.” Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe this place needs some plants to breathe life into it.
I grab my purse and breakfast before heading towards the door, my heels clicking in the otherwise silent apartment. The sounds of my beautiful city can’t penetrate this fortress on the 58th floor, rising high above everything that matters.
“Let’s get going then. I need to learn to play Monopoly.”
“Brooklyn.” Jake quickly catches up and rests his hand on my shoulder, stopping me before I walk out of the foyer that is larger than most restaurants in Manhattan.
His tone is at least ten degrees softer when he says, “You’re an amazing ballerina. Your dad just wanted the best for your future and that’s obviously joining the family business.”
My skin is uncomfortably hot and rapid blinking brings my eyes back into focus. “Obviously.” I will not cry. I will not. Determination makes me stride down the hall without him.
With a long-suffering sigh, Jake locks the door before meeting me at the elevator banks. My dad’s logo is emblazoned in gold on the center of the imported marble and I look away from the reminder.
Jake leads the way into the back of his Bentley and I take a moment to greet Albert, his long-time driver. It’s not Albert’s fault that Jake doesn’t understand how he comes across.
Focusing my attention on breakfast gives me an excuse to avoid looking at Jake, who is ignoring me for his phone anyway. Jesus Christ, is this really going to be the rest of my life?
When we pull up outside my building, Jake tears his attention from the small screen. “I’ll see you after work, honey. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” I lean over to give him a quick peck before escaping the stifling vehicle.
This building is one of many my dad owns in New York City and following the throng of commuters through the revolving glass doors into the massive lobby fills me with dread. He’s come a long way from taking my mom to off-off-off Broadway productions.
Arriving at my desk just before 9 means the halls are bustling with activity, everyone running around as though they’re saving lives in an emergency room. Dad’s habit is to start his meetings at 10, so I knock on his imposing door while entering his private domain.
Dad is a handsome and stately man who is solidly built with a trim waist. He keeps himself in shape through regular workouts with his personal trainer, and the only sign of his age is the recent addition of salt and pepper to his thick black hair, which the tabloids call ‘distinguished.’
“Hi, Daddy.” I settle into one of the chairs in front of his desk and try not to deflate like a popped balloon.
Dad looks busy, but he sets aside the papers he’s reading and gives me a genuine smile along with his full attention. “Hi, princess. How are you?”
“What’s going on?” His steely gaze locks me in place and makes me squirm.
“I’m just tired.”
Dad studies me and I must look sufficiently exhausted because he nods. “You should get some rest this weekend and not stay out until all hours of the night.”
His gaze pierces me and I roll my eyes. “I’m 25.”
“I don’t care if you’re 45. You’re my daughter and I know what’s best for you.”
Resting my hand on his makes me remember the days when my fist could wrap around just one of his fingers. “We’ll take it easy. I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, too.”
“Are there any meetings you want me to attend with you today?” My stomach clenches at the prospect of another 9-5 workday on the horizon. How can people do this every single day for 40 years without becoming homicidal?
“My lunch session.”
I try not to let my smile falter because my best friend wanted to take me out for lunch today. “Sure. The one about the Winslow Foundation?”
“That’s the one.” He winks. “I want significant efficiencies to the foundation this year.”
Straightening my spine, I force myself back into work mode because if this is going to be my gig, I’m going to be good at it. “I have a strategy developed and time booked in your calendar next week. Lunch with the board will give me a chance to informally bounce ideas off them, so thank you for the opportunity.”
“I look forward to it, princess.” He winks at me again and I smile.
Rising to my feet, I kiss Dad’s cheek. “I’ll let you get back to it. You know where to find me.”
“You’re quickly becoming my right hand, Brooklyn.”
I silently walk out of his office and collapse into the plush leather chair behind my desk, which is also engraved with Dad’s logo. Absently scrolling through my phone as a tactic to avoid opening my inbox means a notification reminds me that my period is due to arrive, making my world right itself.
That’s why I’m a hormonal mess, not because of Jake, Dad or my career. Any previous doubts can be written off as the panicked mind of a 25-year-old with her first big girl job and a serious relationship that’s heading straight into wedlock. Normal.
Surely that has to be it.
What do you think of chapter 1 of Sweet Redemption?
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