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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2. Learning Elaine

   What an excellent question, Mark.

   Who is Elaine Crowley?

   At first, I assumed she was no one.  But as the question burrowed deeper into my skin, I began to wonder.  Who was the girl I was treating?  Who was the girl I was coming to miss in my daily routine, as 3 days turned into 3 weeks.

   I tried to occupy myself, to keep myself from being driven mad by this coincidence.  But, after each time I treated her, I found that I wanted to know.  I needed to know who everyone was that visited her, why each person reacted as though she had did when she herself gave them the news.

   Who was Elaine?

   The times I had seen her, she was an extraordinary employee at a second-rate store, nothing more than one of my habits.  As I observed and listened, I learned that she was the oldest of three sisters, although her family rarely visited her.  When they did, she almost seemed worse for it.

   Her friends were there nearly every minute of every day, twenty or more people, taking turns with the vigil as they watched over her.  All of this made me want to know more, to understand.  With much thanks to the Internet, I discovered that she was a dancer, and every one of her videos became more spirited and moving than the last as she grew older, matured.  She had been absolutely breathtaking.

   To think that her entire life ended with what I had to say was far from unjust.  It was cruel.

   "Doctor Li!  My man, how's it been?" greeted one of her more eccentric friends, Harry.

   "I've been fine, thank you," I replied numbly, unable to look away from the woman in the bed.  She had two of her friends adoring her, one painting her fingers, the other her toes.  When I saw the absolute joy on Elaine's face, all I could think of was watching her dance, and my heart seemed to stop in my chest.

   Elaine looked up at me, turning all of that happiness on me. "Oh, hello, Dr. Li.  How are you?"

   "I--"  My throat closed, refusing to allow me to lie to her. "Not so well.  I actually have some...unfortunate news."

   "If it's about the insurance, we can take care of it," interjected the girl painting her fingers, Carol. "Right, Harry?"

   "Anything for Elaine," he agreed.

   "No, the insurance isn't the problem," I corrected quietly, but everyone had fallen silent, making it feel like I was screaming the next words. "The treatment didn't work.  I'm so sorry, Elaine," I told her, sincerely wishing there was something more I could do.

   She just stared at me silently as my words slowly crushed all of the hope I could see fading from her eyes. "No.  Please."

   Her friends couldn't speak, barely able to move while Elaine herself just nodded.  Where her hope had been I saw strength as she pulled herself together, comforting the girls crying at her bedside.

   "I'm sorry," I said again, realizing that I had truly brought the news that Elaine Crowley was dead.

   Her ghost looked me in the eye with a sad smile. "Thank you."

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

   "Geez.  Wow, that sucks," was all the support that Mark had to spare.

   "Your comfort is overwhelming," I replied dryly, unable to do anything aside from stare at the pristine chess board.  Nearly twenty minutes, I still hadn't made a move.

   "I know of a few very comforting liquors," he offered rhetorically. "Really, I don't see why you're so..."

   "Upset?"

   "Depressed," he corrected me, but I couldn't seem to care more than a grunt. "Exactly.  First, there is no girl.  You said so yourself.  If you're not attached, then why are you caring about this one patient when you've never given a crap before?"

   I frowned thoughtfully, staring at my queen. "Because I do care.  mark, if you're seen...It's like I was the coroner, declaring her dead."

   He nodded slowly. "There are other treatments, you know."

   "None that her insurance would cover," I replied bitterly, finding myself upset over this universal injustice.

   "No, but you could," he corrected me, and I had to take a moment to understand what he was saying.  If I took her treatment into my own hands...

   "But I couldn't do that until the case is closed.  If it didn't work again..."  I stopped myself from completing that sentence. "I don't think I should try anymore.  She has a better chance--"

   "With some other doctor working for an insurance company?" interrupted Mark heatedly. "You honestly think she'd walk again from them if you couldn't help her?"

   "No, but I don't want to chance making things any worse for her than they already are," I explained, although it felt more like a fight to justify why I was backing down.  Far from the truth, but good enough to swallow.

   "Stop it, Li," he snapped. "From what you've been telling me about her, she's already hit rock bottom.  Either help her out or shut up, 'cause everyone else already knows that you're lying to yourself."

   "How can I help someone I don't even know?" I asked, thought I was glad that he could see sense when I was blinded by this problem.

   He shrugged. "Get to know her."

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