Cinderella Dances

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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.

Author's note

The polished story will be available on Wattpad starting in the next few months, with plans to have paperback and ebook publications, as well. I'll be keeping readers updated as I know more!
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13. Casting Call

  "That's...That's definitely the last explanation I expected," confessed Jane, sipping at her second cup of coffee.  Carl had called her in to the cafe early to talk so that he could continue preparing to open.  I would be lying to myself if I didn't admit just how deeply I had missed this cafe and its owners.

  I nodded blankly, still overwhelmed. "I'd say you could call someone to confirm, but..."

  "Oh, no no, Li, no," fumbled Jane hurriedly. "Really, that's not necessary.  We don't want to get you in any trouble."

  "Maybe a little trouble..." grumbled Carl as he prepped the pastry display case.

  "Carl!" she scolded in shock.

  "It's not like I didn't expect some dislike, Jane, it's fine," I assured her.  Carl gave a satisfied grunt at my acceptance of possible retribution on Elaine's behalf.  I wasn't entirely undeserving of it.  If anything, I had a fair amount of it coming.

  "You didn't have the easiest choice to make, and no time to really plan it."  Jane was quick to come to my defense. "I'm just glad we finally know why.  We were all so worried, and poor Ellie--Oh!  I need to call her, she needs to--"

  "No!"  My panic escaped me all at once, my usual, professional composure at an absolute loss right now.  I swallowed thickly, feeling like my heart was in my throat.  It was sickening. "I don't know what to do.  I just...know that I messed up."

  "Well, why can't she at least know?" asked Jane hopefully, cellphone already in hand.

  "I'm engaged."  The words fell flat and Jane's mouth popped open in surprise. "It's an arranged marriage.  I at least want to get my affairs in order, before...If-if I..."

  I focused on my barely-touched cup of tea.  It was long past cold by now, sipped only out of obligation for the gesture of trying to comfort me.  I didn't think I could actually get anything in my with how knotted my stomach was now.

  "You've got two days," warned Carl as he leaned over the counter menacingly.  Even in a flour-stained apron, he wasn't one to be taken lightly. "She's only in town another week, and I'm going to make sure she's got the time she needs for comfort."

  I nodded, unsure if I feared Carl or Mother more in that moment. "That's fair."

  He nodded once. "Good.  And you don't come to the Canary until after, either.  This is Elaine's place; it stays that way."

  "Of course."

  "You can call us, though," amended Jane eagerly. "Directly.  I'll get you our numbers."

  "Jane..."  Carl sighed tiredly.

  She shot him a stern look. "He's got a lot on his plate, too, Carl, what if he needs help?  Or to talk?"

  He frowned. "He doesn't need to talk."

  "He obviously needed to talk this morning," she retorted, sounding like she'd already made up her mind on the matter.  It seemed like she was just humoring his protests.

  Carl rolled his eyes. "I'm going to check the muffins."

  "Remember to do extra blueberries for that order," called Jane after him.  She smiled and sipped her coffee. "Only call him if you can't reach me first.  Okay, Li?"

  I smiled and nodded, feeling more alive and welcome than I had in years. "Okay."

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

  Getting home was a tedious affair with how exhausted I was, but it was long overdue.  With the Canary's opening, I'd left to honor Carl's declaration of it being Elaine's space.  I didn't want to intrude any more than I already had, and no matter how overwhelmed I was I knew I wasn't ready to face her.  Not yet.

  When I pulled up to my house, I groaned loudly when I recognized the car in my driveway.  Why was Annette here?  And so early?  I glanced at the clock.  Nevermind.

  Before I could even escape my car, she was rushing out the front door and squealing excitedly.  She threw herself at me, throwing me back into my seat.  I grunted in surprise, glad she hadn't knocked the wind out of me entirely.

  "Li!  You're not going to believe it!" she cheered excitedly, grinning widely. "Daddy's throwing a party, and he's inviting that troupe we saw last night to perform!  Isn't that exciting?!  We get to meet them!"

  "We?"  I picked whatever detail I could to pretend I was engaged in her babbling enough to hide my shocked panic.

  Oh, no.

  Annette giggled and tossed her hair. "Of course, silly!  You're my date, duh."

  I couldn't breathe for a long second that dragged on forever.  Was I excited?  It felt like I was excited.  Just about the absolute wrong person.

  "Right.  Of course," I agreed, feigning for my usually amicable, if bored, nature.

  Annette didn't seem to notice anything amiss, off in her own little world.  I'd never felt more grateful for her ditzy nature. "Oh, and I'm going to need you to get a costume.  It's a masquerade, and you've got to dress up with me!  I'm going to be a peacock, of course, so maybe something bird themed?"

  "I'll look into it.  When's the party?" I wondered with sudden horror.

  She misread it for nervousness, thankfully. "Oh, don't worry, silly, it's not until tomorrow night.  You've got plenty of time, I'll just send my assistant over here when we're done with my costume.  Okay, sugar plum?"

  "Sounds good."  What else was there to do but agree?

  Annette giggled again, leaning forward to give me a peck on the cheek before bouncing off to her car.  She'd gotten in and driven off long before I'd found my composure enough to make it into my house.  I made it as far as the entryway, shoes off and keys hung up, before the absolute magnitude of the last twelve hours cascaded over me.  I didn't know how to get ready for any of this.  I didn't even know where to start.

  I was sure of one thing--I couldn't stand how excited I was by this forced opportunity to see Elaine.  Terrified and unsure, of course, and sick to my stomach with glee.  This could be a second chance, if I was lucky enough to figure this out.  I couldn't mess this up, not again.

  Please, not again.

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