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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6. The Calm

   "When do her treatments start?"

   "Today," I replied, the tension in y voice surprising Mark.  He stared at me, confused.  I sighed. "That's where we're going, Mark, to pick her up."

   He nodded. "It's about time I met this girl you've been telling me about."

   "You are coming to drive us back to her house, not meet her," I interjected firmly, two exits away now.  Irrational excitement had me shaking, unable to wait until I saw Elaine.  As if one treatment would miraculously heal her. "That you two are near one another is coincidental."

   He watched me for a long moment. "Why am I driving?"

   "So that I can sit with Elaine and see how she's doing after..."  I slowed for the red light, the medical building coming into view.  I had seen it a hundred times, never taking a second glance at it before. "There it is."

   "Don't you think it's risky, treating your not-girlfriend at your fiancee's father's building?" asked Mark as we parked. "Not mentioning you picking her up yourself.  What if you're recognized?"

   I unbuckled, pulling on a hooded jacket and flipping the hood up before I left the car.  I met Mark around the other side. "They have the best doctors for what she needs."

   "I don't think I've ever seen you take risks like this before."

   His comment startled me, because he was right.  I never took a risk, especially not like this.  For Elaine, I was putting my reputation and, as a result, my career on the line.  From there, my entire family's name was at stake.

   All for one woman.

   But it was too late for me to reply to his comment, that he was right, and she likely didn't understand fully what my actions meant.

   We entered the building, looking somewhat out of place among the well-dressed people here.  I had come in a pair of old jeans and hooded sweatshirt, hair somewhat disheveled, intentionally so that my chances of being recognized were lessened.  After the initial shock of my appearance, everyone turned away to ignore my presence.  Good.  This was just what I needed.

   "Good afternoon," greeted the desk clerk with a forced smile, her eyes judging me in an instant. "How may I assist you, sir?"

   "I'm here to pick up a patient," I told her quietly.

   "Name?"

   "I'm sorry?"

   "Of the patient, sir," she explained rather forcefully.

   "Elaine Crowley."  My throat was nearly choking me, I was so anxious.  Was she alright?  Could anyone recognize me?  What would happen to her if they did?

   The clerk paid me no mind, typing away on her keyboard for a moment.  She finally  looked up at me with another false smile. "She's just been released.  Please take a seat, we'll have a nurse bring her out."

   "Thank you."  I made my way to the seating area, but I couldn't sit.  Instead, I found myself pacing impatiently, back and forth as my thoughts bit at me.

   Mark watched me for a minute. "I think you'd better stop before you wear a hole through the floor."

   I turned on him to tell him off, stopping halfway when I saw Elaine emerging from behind a pair of manicured doors.  I noticed the embarrassment on her face, then the man pushing her chair.

   "Oh, Elaine," I sighed, by her chair faster than I thought I could ever move.  The man stepped back as I approached.  My hand brushed her cheek, her face lighting up as I took over wheeling her towards the desk clerk.

   "Do you have your next appointment scheduled, Ms. Crowley?" asked the clerk kindly.  Elaine nodded tiredly. "Good.  Take care, any of your questions can be answered by reading the information in the folder the doctor gave you."
   "Thank you," I replied, going for the door.  I heard the chatter of people behind me, but that no longer mattered, nor did my risk of being recognized.  I just had to get Elaine home to rest.  The world could wait.

   I made it to the car before I realized that Mark wasn't behind me.  His figure was still distinguishable behind the broad glass windows of the medical office.  I sighed heavily.

   "What's taking you, Mark?" I muttered, opening the back door of the car.  Elaine stared at me groggily for a long moment, then the car, then back at me. "Are you alright?"

   She shook her head. "No."

   I was on my knee in an instant, taking in her condition. "What is it?  What's wrong, Elaine?"

   "I think i need help getting in the car," she confessed, frowning.  I almost laughed in my relief, smiling and nodding.

   "Okay.  Okay, I can help with that," I told her gently.  A few minutes later, I had lifted her into the car and stored her wheelchair in the trunk.

   Mark appeared, looking rather pleased with himself. "Alright.  Are we ready to go?"

   "Yes."  I buckled in next to Elaine in the backseat, waiting until we were in motion to introduce them. "Elaine?"

   "Yes, Li?" she moaned, turning a sleepy smile on me.

   "I would like you to meet a good friend of mine, his name is Mark."  I motioned to where he sat driving and she waved. "Mark, this is Elaine."

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

   "Is this the right place?"

   I checked the map and nodded. "Yes, that's it."

   Mark pulled up, giving me a look of horror as he put the car in park. "Are you sure you don't want to take her back to your place?  I mean, this looks like it should be condemned..."

   My hand reached forward to smack his shoulder, his feigned injury still bringing me pleasure.  I turned to Elaine, stopping short when I saw how happily she slept, nestled into her seat and using my sweater as a pillow.  The sigh left me unintentionally, drawing Mark's attention despite how quiet it was.

   "Is she asleep?" he asked hushedly.  I nodded. "Alright.  I'll get the door, you carry her."

   I wouldn't have had it any other way.  I got out and went around to Elaine's door, waiting until Mark had gotten someone to answer the front door.  I recognized Elaine's mother, heavy-set and still in her bed clothes.  Sighing to myself, I reached in and lifted Elaine out.  She shifted in my arms, taking my shoulder over the sweater as her pillow.

   "Sh, sh," I hushed her quietly, hoping that she could stay asleep.  She needed to rest, my poor Elaine.

   "About time she's back!" called her mother, leaving the doorway to move deeper into the elderly trailer home.  I winced, but Elaine seemed completely at ease.

   Mark entered ahead of me, and I walked up the ramp to the porch easily before making my own cautious entry.  My initial impression was the smell, an overpowering mixture of smoke, body odors and aged foods nearly choking me.  It took me a moment to adjust, finally taking in the mess.  There was enough of a pathway for Elaine's chair to maneuver through the house, the rest an array of items that had simply collected and been shoved into piles together.

   "Pardon the mess.  Elaine hasn't been herself lately, slacking on the chores," her mother's initially aggressive statement petered off to a careless murmur. "Damn girl..."

   I looked at Elaine's sleeping face, and i understood more now why she was so sad after her family visited her in the hospital.  Manners won out, and I bit back any comments as I asked, "Where is her room, Mrs. Crowley?  Elaine fell asleep on the drive."

   "Follow the hall, she's at the end," came her grumbled reply, refusing to look away from her television program.

   Mark was obviously upset, making no effort to hide it as he muttered, "We shouldn't leave her here.  I have a spare bedroom, Li."

   I made my way down the hall a bit before I replied, just as quietly, "We also have dinner with my family, tonight of all nights."

   "Well, take her with us, then," continued Mark determinedly.

   "No, Mark."  I shook my head slowly, opening the room at the end of the hall.  The sight inside made me smile, the mess and disgrace of the rest of the house forced out my some magic.  The brightly colored walls were covered with posters of ballerinas, dancers, artworks from all styles and genres.

   Pictures of Elaine and her friends were centered around her bed.  I stepped across the room, pulling back the covers to tuck her into bed.  She began to stir, staring up at me tiredly.

   "Hi, Li," she yawned quietly.

   "Hey."  I smiled for her, brushing the hair from her face. "How do you feel?"

   She moaned. "Sore.  Tired."

   "That's normal, Elaine."  I nodded, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. "Just get some rest.  I'm going to be back to check on you tomorrow."

   "Where are you going?"  The question was strained, no matter how calmly she was trying to act.

   "I have something I need to do tonight," I told her, feeling oddly guilty. "If I could cancel it, Elaine, you know I would."

   "Really?" she mumbled, drifting off.

   "In a heartbeat."  She was asleep again, and I gave her a peck on the cheek before I stood.  As I did, I caught sight of a photo of the inside of the Canary, startling me.  The photo was of myself, reading through my files.  It gave me pause, but my smile broadened unexpectedly. "Sleep well, Elaine."

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