Cinderella Dances

None of this was supposed to happen.

Accomplished spinal surgeon Dr. Li feels that about a complete stranger, Elaine Crowley. When she arrives in his operating room after being hit by a car, his world is turned over as he races to see her well again in the hopes that, one day, Elaine could stand up and dance.

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5. Audition

   When Carl had invited me to be at home, I never imagined that I could, or would.  After all, the somewhat bohemian cafe was not someplace anyone of my class would be willingly seen at.  Perhaps as some charity act for publicity, but that I was enjoying afternoons of leisure there was breaking a list of taboos.

   It had only been 2 weeks since I'd taken Elaine to lunch, and already it felt as though I had known this for years.  The Canary was always warm when I entered, Carl or Jane waiting behind the counter or lounging comfortably with their customers.  When I walked in after work, there was no one else present.

  Carl looked up from reading his newspaper, waving at me in greeting. "Good evening, Li.  How was work?"

   "Mostly paperwork, but it went well, thank you, Carl," I replied politely as I took a seat. "Has it been empty all day?"

   Carl nodded. "It usually is towards the middle of the week."

   "Ah."  I pulled out the notes I had been compiling for the procedures that could help Elaine.  Slipping on my reading glasses, I glanced over the first few pages before the doorbell rang as someone entered.  I peered over the top of my glasses and I couldn't help smiling. "Hello, Elaine."

   She wheeled up next to me, looking at my papers curiously. "Hey, Li."

   "How are you?" I asked, trying to see past her calm demeanor to understand if she truly was better or worse.  Seeing her so frequently, I did enjoy being able to monitor her condition outside of a controlled environment.

   Elaine smiled, hiding something from me. "Fine, as I've been telling you for the last two weeks."

   Something's wrong.  I couldn't shake the feeling, even as Jane came out to adore her, sitting with us and chattering on about people I didn't know and places I hadn't heard of.  I forced my eyes to look back at my pages even if I couldn't read, just to stop myself staring.  What was wrong?  Elaine had been doing so well.

   "What are you reading, Li?" asked Elaine, pulling me from my worry for a moment.  She smiled for me, lighting her face briefly.

   I smiled back.  Now was as good a time as any. "Research notes."

   "What for?"  Her curiosity added a certain element that made her...adorable, I decided.

   "Stem cell treatments on spinal injuries," I replied calmly.  She had to know sooner or later.  After all, I would need her permission before I could help her.

   She fell silent for a long time.  When I looked up she had tears in her eyes, glistening there like diamonds. "One of your patients?"

   I nodded slowly, keeping my eyes on hers as I replied quietly, "Her treatments with me didn't go so well, so I'm trying to find a way to help her."

   "So she's got to be pretty well off, to afford extra treatments like that," she forced out, but I heard her choking on the words.

   I tried to smile for her, wanting to tell her that I hadn't given up.  She would dance again. "Actually, I'm not sure how well off she is, but I don't care.  No matter how much it is, I'll pay it to see her made better."

   "Like there's something wrong with me?  There's nothing wrong with me!" she yelled at me, moving away as quickly as she could.  She looked so angry and hurt, so far from the beautiful woman I remembered first seeing.

   I watched after her, worried. "I just want to help."

   "I don't need your help!" she yelled, the tears brimming over and spilling across her cheeks.  She glared at me before making for the door. "And you know what?  I don't want it!"

   When the door slammed behind her, I found myself balanced between anger and grief.  The papers in my hand mocked me, so I tossed them to the coffee table in front of me.  Carl and Jane were simply there, eyes downcast not in shame but disappointment.

   "You're letting her leave like that?" I demanded, as much out of myself as I did of them.  Something was wrong for Elaine, yet we all simply sat there doing nothing.

   Jane shrugged and sighed, obviously defeated. "Her mother did the same thing when Elaine's father passed away: Found the alcohol and screamed until we all went away."

   "She's drunk?"  Neither of them answered, but it was enough.  I stood abruptly, turning for the door and keeping my pace brisk.  The evening air was beginning to nip at me as my eyes searched for Elaine, any sign of where she had gone.  When I spotted her, it felt as though the world were taunting her and forcing me to watch.

   Not a hundred feet from the Canary, Elaine's wheel had caught on a pothole, laying on its side with the poor woman thrown from the seat a couple feet away.  I made my way over, cringing as I came into earshot, listening to her crying in misery.  She was faced away, so I stood still for a full minute, unsure of what to do next.  Finally, after I had listened to enough of her grief, I reached out and righted her chair, startling her.  She whipped around quickly, propping herself up on her elbows as she stared at me.

   "What do you want?" she demanded angrily, but I saw a flash of fear across her face. "Why won't you leave me alone?!"

   I knelt silently, offering my arms to help her up again.  She made to slap me away but I grabbed her wrist to stop her.  She struggled to free herself, all but thrashing before I pulled her close and held her tight to keep her from harming herself.  She screamed in frustration, biting me, fighting against my grip.

   "It's okay.  Elaine, it's okay, you can calm down now," I told her gently and quietly, relieved when it actually worked. "Good.  That's good, Elaine, thank you."

   She shrunk in on herself, sobbing. "It's not fair.  It was today.  I was so close--It isn't fair..."

   "I know, Elaine," I agreed regretfully, nodding slowly. "I know.  That's why I want to help.  I want to see you made better."

   "I had an audition today."  She trembled in my arms, struggling to collect herself. "I got the letter the day of my...the day that I...Why did it have to be me?"

   I didn't know how to answer, if I could.  I barely understood what I was doing there anymore, how it was I was sitting in an empty parking lot with a crippled woman weeping in my arms.  All I had wanted was to understand why her friends loved and adored her so much.  Understanding led to wanting to help led to needing to...What?

   What did I need from her?

   "You'll get another chance," I told her, unable to speak much more over a whisper.  Her fingers latched onto my shirt tightly as she seemed to shrink into me. "I promise you, Elaine.  I'll help you walk again, help you dance.  I want nothing more than to see you dance," I added before realizing just how true that was.  There really was nothing else I wanted more than that distant imagining of seeing her dance.

  She was too far gone in her drunken tears, the taste of beer still on her breath as she sobbed.  Again, I wished I knew what to do but had never cared enough to learn before.  Just a few movies I had glanced while my sister had watched, but...

   How did those scenes go?  How did the male lead make these things into happy endings?  Why did this hurt me and what could I do to end it?

   All I could think was getting her out of the cold air, hugging her more tightly and rubbing her back as I braced myself to lift her up.  She seemed to be quieting, but when I looked her tears were still running freely.  I brushed away some of her tears, ducking my head to give her a peck on the forehead.

   "You're going to be fine," I told her firmly, wrapping one arm around her shoulder and the other around her limp knees.  When I lifted her I was surprised by how light she was, how effortless it was to walk back to The Canary with her still cradled in my arms.  She kept her eyes trained on me, her grip as tight as ever with her fingers curled into a fist against my chest.

   As I approached the door, Jane saw me coming and opened it for me.  I entered the warm atmosphere gladly, taking a seat on a loveseat, Elaine still halfway in my lap and bundled in my arms, her useless legs lying beside us.  I couldn't help staring at her in the light, so close yet so far away as her eyes gazed past me into some unknown distance.  After a minute, I came back to myself.

   "Her chair--"

   "Carl's got it," interrupted Jane, appearing at my side with a steaming mug.  I took it gladly, propping Elaine against me before offering her the tea.  She sipped at it, allowing her head to fall against my shoulder with a tired sigh.

   "Thank you."  I kept rubbing her arms, her back, holding her cooler hands between my warmer ones.

   Jane simply stared at me for a long moment. "I should be thanking you.  A decade and a half, I've never seen Elaine like this with anyone.  I don't think I've ever seen her really trust someone before."

   How was it I seemed to keep losing my words this evening?  Was there a lack of anything to say?  Of course, if that were true...

   "She still doesn't trust me," I replied quietly, surprised by how greatly this disappointed me.

   Jane gave me a gentle smile. "She's getting there, Li.  Just give her a little time, she'll see what we do."

   I looked up at her in curiosity, finding myself hopeful and excited by the idea.  Elaine, now asleep in my arms, trusting me. "Do you think so?"

   She nodded. "You're just the man we've all been hoping for, Li.  Just promise me something?"

   "Yes?"

   "Take care of her."

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

   "Li?"

   I looked up at Elaine, smiling when I took in her own happiness. "What is it, Elaine?"

   She paused for a moment before a light blush tinted her cheeks. "Can we talk?  Elsewhere?"

   "Of course."  I set aside my paperwork, motioning to Carl for him to keep an eye on it.  Elaine made for the door.  I opened it for her and followed after her. "What do you need, Elaine?"

   She stopped herself at the sidewalk, her blush growing darker with her next words, "Would you, um...Would you walk me to the park?"

   I had to take a moment to process what she had said. "I...Elaine?"

   "Well, I think I'm okay with that now," she said shyly, keeping her head down.  Without questioning her any further, I stepped behind her chair and started walking us towards the park down the street.  This was nice, certainly peaceful, and it felt wonderful to know that she was comfortable enough with me that she allowed me to help her.

   Despite how blissful this was, however, I had to know. "What did you want to talk about?"
   "I was thinking..."  She stopped herself as she looked out towards a particularly serene grove of trees. "Can we go over there?  Please?"

   "Whatever you'd like," I told her sincerely.  I brought us up beside a park bench and took a seat beside her with a quiet sigh.  Still, this was one of the times I was coming to cherish with Elaine, slowing down and taking a moment to breathe in the world while life rushed by. "Is this good for you?"

   "Yes, thank you."  Her voice was filled with emotion as she stared ahead of us at the playground.  A long minute passed before she finally looked back to me with pleading eyes. "I...I'm sorry for how I've been acting.  I know you're just trying to help, and I'd like to let you.  I mean, what happened last week....Li..."

   "Don't apologize," I found myself pleading with her. "Please.  You were only upset, and I was happy to help you.  It's something I've been hoping to do for some time now."

   That stopped her short, bringing a smile to her lips and tears to her eyes. "Thank you, Li.  For everything.  Especially last week, with what happened.  You...I never thought that anyone could care that much," she admitted to me, and I could see how difficult it was for her.  She was trembling fiercely in her chair, unable to meet my eyes anymore.  What could I do?  I hated seeing her like this.

   "Elaine."  Her eyes met mine, and for a moment the world stood still as I took in the grace of her features.  In a quick instant, I knew I was going to regret this but I couldn't stop myself.  Elaine's eyes drew me in as I ducked my head to press my lips to hers.

   For a moment I had enough awareness to regret this for the mistake it was, to remember that I was already engaged to the daughter of a far wealthier family.  But then, why should I care?  How could I, when I had the most remarkable woman here?

   I pulled back, enjoying how darkly her cheeks had flushed. "I suppose that sums up most of it."

   She nodded slowly. "What sums up the rest?"

   I smiled and leaned in again for a longer kiss that lingered even as I pulled back.  My eyes never left hers, my words quiet, "I will see you dance again, Elaine.  And it will be the happiest moment of my life."

   Elaine stared at me intently, smiling slowly so that her lips curved upwards.  The words escaped her as a quiet breath nearly lost on the breeze, "Thank you, Li."

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