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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4. The Little Canary

   "Mother."

   The sly older woman who had raised me didn't even acknowledge that I had spoken. "I've already discussed the benefits of this marriage with her parents.  You're to meet each other within the month and begin courting her.  Is that understood, Da?" she asked sternly, more commanding than asking for my consent.

   But I nodded.  This was my mother, and as my parents' only son I had to think of the future of our family. "I understand, Mother."

   "Good."

   I couldn't help thinking of my own mother as Elaine told me about her family on the way to her cafe, The Little Canary.  Her father had passed away eleven years ago during his service in the military.She was 13; her twin sisters both only two.  Her mother had barely kept herself together long enough to get Elaine to her 15th birthday.  Not a month later, she had a job and took over taking care of her little sisters.

   "I'm sorry," I said quietly, unsure of how to address such a delicate topic.  I had never genuinely known anyone who had come from such a tragic background.

   "Thank you, but I don't need any pity," she told me bluntly.

   I bristled at her brush off. "Then why did you tell me all of this?"

   "You're the one who wanted to get to know me, remember?" she scoffed at my reaction. "I just told you what happened, like you asked.  It's over and done, I don't want pity even if it comes with a thousand dollars attached."

   "Beggars can't be choosers, I thought."  The words escaped me before I had time to regret thinking them.

   "Neither can asshats, but you don't see me pointing that out," she retorted patiently.  In one quick instant I'd proven to be inconsiderate and receive verbal punishment from a woman.  Between the two of us, I had been damn well put in my place.

   I stopped myself and sighed. "You're right.  I'm sorry, that was very rude of me."

   "Yes it was," she replied somewhat sharply. "But your apology's accepted, Li.  Thank you."

   Her words did little to appease my chagrin, instead reigniting the times my words had sentenced her to death. "Why do you thank me like that?"

   "Like what?"

   "I've just wronged you," I told her earnestly, loathing the feeling that I had wronged her, so terribly, so many times I was beginning to lose count.

   "But you just apologized," she said slowly, and I could see that my argument was confusing her somehow.

   I sighed quietly to myself. "Never mind it."

   She shrugged, diverting from the path suddenly.  My eyes followed her for a moment as she wheeled herself towards a quaint shop at the end of a shopping complex.  I started after her briskly, catching up easily.  As she struggled up the nearest ramp, I went ahead to hold the door for her.

   "You don't have to do that," she grumbled quietly.

   "Open a door for a lady?"  She shot me a glare I happily smiled at. "It's only manners, I promise."

   She debated a moment longer before she accepted the gesture. "Thank you.  Welcome to The Little Canary, by the way."

   I breathed in deeply, the smell of freshly brewed teas and coffees intermingled with that of baked goods making the aroma all the more intoxicating to my senses.  The gentleman behind the counter recognized Elaine, his face lighting up with a smile.

   "Elaine!  Good to see you after your accident.  Finally," he added begrudgingly, but he couldn't seem to cover the joy in his voice.  As he spoke, a small woman came from the back of the store, relieved as Elaine came into her view.  Before she could speak, the small woman's eyes fell on me and she did a double take as her face broke out in a grin.

   "Oh, Ellie, who's this?" she asked, voice hushed.

   "Ellie?" I asked, and to my surprise she blushed as she looked back at me.

   "Carl, Jane, this is Dr. Li.  Li, this is Carl and Jane, they own the Canary," she introduced us, shy for the first time I could recall.  Was she embarrassed?  Of me?

   Carl gave me a sunny smile that warmed up the room. "Welcome to The Little Canary, Li.  Make yourself at home."

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