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.


3. Standing Still

   A week later, she was sent home.

   For some reason, that saddened me.  Knowing that I would no longer see Elaine surrounded by loving friends who, I had the feeling, would kill for her if it would make her better.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't, or I may have helped them.

   "Doctor, are you alright?"

   I shook my head slowly. "No, I don't feel well.  I may put in a half day and go home after lunch."

   My assistant nodded. "Understandable.  I hope you feel better after some rest."

   "Thank you."

   Of course, when I saw the new patient lying where Elaine had been, I knew rest would never be the cure for my illness.  I could feel the need to see Elaine again, and for the first time I admitted that I cared, if nothing else.  She had such a wonderful aura when she smiled, like the room became a little brighter.  But that was long gone, it seemed.  I was fooling myself, still thinking that there was some way that I could help her.

   Still, the hours until lunch dragged on endlessly, although I hardly knew what to do with myself once it was there.  I stood in my office dumbly, habit eventually winning out.  My usual lunch place was nearby, at least, and perhaps once I was fed I could reason myself through this.  Or so I hoped, but my reasoning was gone in an instant when I heard the argument happening toward the far corner of the restaurant.

   "What did you say?" snapped an unattractively large man I presumed was the manager.  He would have towered over most, making his aggressive posture all the more horrifying when I realized who he was intimidating.

   "The treatment didn't work.  I'm sorry to put in my resignation this way, but--"

   "But what?  Huh?  I thought you were actually a decent worker, but you sure proved me wrong.  You're just as worthless as the rest of them.  Shouldn't be too hard to replace you, either," he said cruelly.  His words visibly cut at Elaine, as she fought against tears

   "I'm sorry--"

   "Don't you dare apologize," I snapped at her.

   The words stunned me as much as the two arguing.  I didn't know when I had stepped out of line, though next I knew I was standing beside Elaine in her wheelchair, wishing I stood even a few inches taller in the face of this giant.

   "This is none of your business, Li," she hissed quietly.

   "For once, she's right.  Keep your nose out of this if you don't want it to get any flatter," he threatened.  Despite my reactionary insult at his comment it was hard to resist the urge to get out of the way.  Impossibly, I was more angered by his assault on Elaine's spirit than frightened.

   What could I do against a giant?  Bluff.

   "Really, that's unnecessary," I snapped irritably, doing my best to channel my father.  He could burn in hell and the devil himself wouldn't dare treating him without respect. "We are in the presence of a woman, whom you've shamelessly verbally abused, no less.  You will use your manners and you will hold your tongue when I am speaking," I added sharply as he made to protest.

   "Now, I am the doctor treating Ms. Crowley and her condition.  She will return to work when I say she can, not a second sooner, and if I hear or see any more of this abusive and potentially damaging behavior directed at my patient, undoing my incredibly sensitive treatment, I will sure you for every penny I'm worth an hour that I've put into her care.  Have I made myself clear?" I demanded, my legs weak with disbelief that I had mouthed off to this monster of a man.  It seemed to have worked, though, as he seemed to be reevaluating the situation.

   He debated a moment before he sighed. "I'm sorry, Elaine, Doctor.  I'll get back to work."

   I nodded, keeping an eye on him until he had returned o the kitchen.  I let out a shaky breath and smiled at Elaine. "I can't believe that worked."

   She just stared at me for a long moment before blurting out, "I never thought you had the spine!"

   "To be honest, I borrowed one for that," I confessed, laughing somewhat giddily. "Were you here for anything aside from getting into a bit of trouble?"

   "Apparently, to get annoyed by a doctor.  Why, what brings you here?" she retorted, wheeling herself toward the door.  I opened it for her, following after her. "Come to weasel more money out of me?"

   "No," I cried swiftly, startled that she would think that.  It hurt, I found. "No, actually, I--shouldn't you wait for your friend?" I asked as she started off towards the sidewalk.

   "Who's that?" she asked without looking.

   "Whoever brought you here."

   "Me, myself and I," she replied dryly.

   "Wait!" I called after her, and she finally stopped herself. "Let me take you home."

   She started off again. "I like the scenery."

   "Then let me walk you," I offered, catching up to her easily.  She said nothing, giving me a solid glare. "Please."

   "Really, what do you want from me?" she demanded, and I saw those tears starting again.

   "I..."  Smile. "I just want to help.  Perhaps over some lunch?"

   Elaine sighed heavily, shaking her head slowly. "I'm really not in the mood to discuss any of that medical crap right now."

   "I don't want to, either," I told her honestly.  I held my hands up in surrender. "I'm not a doctor, for the rest of the day.  Just a regular guy."

   "A regular guy...asking me out for lunch?" she turned it around on me with a smirk.  At least her eyes were drying from their tears.

   Still, I couldn't help smiling. "Something like that."

   Finally, she returned the smile. "I'm not sure why you're interested, but it's been awhile since anyone's asked me."

   "Is that a yes, then?"

   "Yes, in a roundabout sort of way," she agreed easily, and for a moment I saw her, the girl that had captured my attention without my realizing. "You can take me to lunch."

   "Would you prefer to use car or wa--" I stopped myself short.  The only image I had of her in my mind was still the graceful beauty I had seen in those videos, despite the month of staring at the bitter truth. "I'm sorry."

   She shrugged. "I'm fine.  It takes some adjusting to, I know.  Al of my friends have been making the same slip of the tongue.  I can't expect the world to change how it acts just for me."

   "No, I--I suppose not," I agreed quietly, giving her a smile.  Wrong as it was that the car had hit her, I didn't think anyone else could have handled it with more dignity. "So, where would you like to go?"

   Elaine stopped to think for a moment. "Well, we only have about forty minutes left of your lunch break."

   I couldn't help glancing at my watch, but she was right.  For a moment I found myself frustrated that, even when I was offering selflessly, she wouldn't accept it at face value.  She didn't think of herself.  No, she still thought of me and my schedule first.

   "Like I said, for the rest of the day I'm not a doctor, just Li," I told her firmly.  Before she could ask or I had to admit my reasons to myself, I added, "I have a half day today.  They already know that I'm not coming back from lunch."

   She smiled. "I'm glad you have some time off.  You always work too much."

   "Thank you.  Your concern is noted, Dr. Crowley," I teased her, but I genuinely appreciated her noticing, that she thought I worked too hard, too much.  My family would greatly disagree with her assessment.  My father's favorite description of my work ethic was lazy and unprofessional, even as I worked my way to the top of my field.

   "I'd advise medications, too, but most that I have in mind are illegal in some way or another," she added somberly, making me laugh.  Her smile broadened. "I didn't know you knew how to laugh."

   I nodded slowly, refusing to reply to her painfully attentive comment. "I'm buying and I'm driving.  Where do you want to go?"

   Stunned, Elaine stared at me for a long minute while she seemed to be considering something. "Why are you so insistent that you have lunch with me?"

   "I want to get to know you," I admitted honestly, though that only seemed to upset her.  For a brief moment, she seemed angry, almost heartbroken.

   Despite what I saw, she put on a smile. "I'm not sure why, but alright, Just Li.  There's a small cafe about 2 miles down the road from here.  Do you think you can make it?"

   "Is that a challenge, Elaine?" I asked with a confident smirk, leaning in to be sure that she'd heard me.  It was only after I'd place myself there that I realized how close I was and, for a moment, I had trouble not moving any closer.

   If I'd thought she was attractive before, I hadn't been paying attention.  Up close, she was breathtaking.  Being able to see the exact curves of her well-rounded lips as the mottle light from the trees above played across her seemingly flawless skin.  Despite how tempting her lips had become, it was her eyes that truly captured me, igniting a desire to do nothing more than stare into their depths.

   "Maybe it is," she relented, looking in the direction of our destination.  The break in eye contact freed me from my trance and I straightened quickly.  She gave me a mischievous grin "I wouldn't want to ruin your pride, though."

   "Good luck with that.  So far, no college April Fool's prank has come close to knocking me off of my high horse," I warned her, enjoying the look of determination that crossed her face.  I reached around to the back of her wheelchair instinctively and began walking.

   Before I knew it, Elaine had put on the brakes. "I can get myself there, thank you."

  "I'm sorry," I apologized quickly, releasing my grip and stepping to her side again. "It's....Force of habit."

   Her smile took me by surprise. "I understand.  I'm sorry for snapping, it's just...I'm not a cripple.  I can take care of myself," she said firmly, although the way she said it made me wonder if she was trying to convince herself more than me.

   "I know," I told her gently, watching her struggle with this for another minute.  Unable to bear it any longer, I sought I distraction. "What's the name of this cafe of yours?"

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