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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12. Set the Stage

  I thought I'd known Elaine.  And to some degree, I could admit to myself that I had known a part of her.  Not a public side, but the calmer one that she reserved for close friends.  Watching her now, I felt like I had missed so much of who she was.

  There was no noticing anyone else on the stage, not for me.  There wasn't a point in wasting my attention elsewhere when she seemed to command the entire show.  Maybe it was poor form to stand out so much in a troupe--I didn't care.  I finally saw why everyone cried that day when I gave the news.  I finally saw just how spirited she really was, and how completely that spirit translated into her movements.

  This was what I'd wanted, for years, even without realizing it.  What I'd been missing, why my home felt so empty.

  By the time the curtain fell for the first intermission, I'd completely forgotten I came with anyone else.  Mark's hand suddenly clapping down on my shoulder startled me from my trance.  My chest tightened as I returned to reality, sitting between my best friend and my fiancee.

  "That was pretty good, huh?" asked Mark in a feeble attempt at conversation.  He winced as he watched me nod numbly. "Hey, are you okay?  You look like you saw a ghost."

  I fixed him with an incredulous glare. "I'm fine.  Great.  Why?"

  "Oh, good," he laughed in relief.  I'd laid my sarcasm on pretty thickly.  He had to be ignoring it. "I was worried you might be mad or something."

  "Or something," I offered sharply.  I was still jittery from the show itself, never mind the rest of everything that was overwhelming about tonight. "I don't think mad quite covers it."

  "Oh."  Mark dropped his hand from my shoulder with a nervous grin. "Right.  I'll...I'll get snack.  Annette, you want anything?"

  She hesitated before nodding enthusiastically. "You know what?  I'll come with you."

  They both shuffled toward the aisle, leaving me alone in the emptying theater.  I could hear chatter from the lobby, grateful for some slight peace for now.  I stared at the curtain, breathing deeply to help clear my head.

  After a few minutes for the theater to empty a bit more, the curtains shifted.  A grinning face popped through, and I recognized Elaine as she waved excitedly.  Had she noticed me?!  My eyes followed hers, noticing the people sitting a few rows ahead of me.  They were waving back just as enthusiastically, cheering more loudly than was appropriate.

  I recognized the group of friends and family a minute later.  My stomach knotted with jealous regret.  I should've been sitting there, too.  Shouldn't I?

  Elaine blew a quick kiss to her original fans before disappearing behind the curtain again.  A moment later, Mark and Annette both took their seats noisily, carrying their spoils from the bar.  Mark slipped a plastic cup into my uncaring grip.

  "Got you your favor--Oh, 'kay then," he trailed off as I threw back the double shot and shoved the cup back at him.  I wasn't in the mood.

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

  Another hour of the show in total, with one more intermission and a standing ovation.  I'd never imagined that standing to applaud could cut so deeply.  Even as the crowded theater patrons dispersed around us, I couldn't move.  I felt locked in place, staring at Elaine's vibrant grin as she bowed and waved to her adoring audience.

  I didn't want to walk away again.

  That choice was made for me after another moment as Elaine curtsied her way offstage.  I watched with another pang of regret, lost for a minute as I stared at the final draw of the curtains.

  Mark and Annette excused themselves long before I was ready to move.  It wasn't until I was absolutely certain I wouldn't see her face pop out of the curtains again that I finally left.  I was the last one; even her friends had gone, probably off to meet her for a congratulatory party.  They didn't even recognize me when they passed by my row.

  I shambled out to my car, getting in and starting the engine without thinking.  My hands were frozen in place, staring at nothing as I fought to think of anything to do with myself.  I couldn't go home, could I?  It was so lonely there, something I'd been able to ignore until recently.  I wouldn't go to Mark's.  He had some explaining to do after tonight.  Him and Annette both.

  That was it.  My list of places was short, not even including my family at all.  I couldn't go to any of them with any of this.  I would get disowned, if my mother didn't rip me apart first.  I'd done everything I could to separate myself from this, it just wasn't enough.

  Where did that leave me?

  I glanced at the clock, almost surprised by the time before I finally decided on where to go.  The cafe wouldn't open for another couple of hours, but I knew that its owners would still be there--baking goods and getting ready for the day.

  I couldn't care if I was speeding, but I knew I had to be to get to The Little Canary so quickly.  I threw the car into park, barely remembering to take the keys wit me as I rushed for the front door.  My hand flew up, knocking urgently and persistently for what felt like a lifetime.

  Someone gripped me from behind, spinning me around to face the short crowbar being brandished.  They stopped there, confused as we recognized each other.

  "Li?"  Carl lowered the bar and released his grip on me. "What are you doing here?  It's five in the morning."

  I shuddered, finally feeling the weight of the evening before crash into me.  I shook my head slowly, biting back the flood of regret and the burn it left in my eyes.

  "I made a mistake."

 

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