My sister found this link to an old short story of mine, but it wasn’t working anymore, so here is the story! She wants a novel out of it, but I don’t know… would this be paranormal romance or what? Also, I think I gave away hundreds of copies of this story on Instafreebie a long time ago, so if it looks familiar to my readers, that’s probably where you saw it! I also flirted with starting a romance penname, but ultimately decided that was way too much to keep organized. Enjoy! -Corrie Garrett (a.k.a. Ann Lanmon)
Nine Ankle Fractures
The worst day of my life started with a Christmas dress. I was only thirteen, and my mom had gotten me a new dress to wear to school, and to the ballroom dance lesson I had afterward. It was the last lesson of the year, and she wanted me to go ahead and enjoy the dress. If only I’d been the kind of kid who took up knitting or crossword puzzles instead of ballroom dance (with parents who weren’t living kindly and vicariously through my activities), I could have just worn my pretty dress to school and avoided a whole world of unpleasantness. Unfortunately, I wasn’t and I didn’t, and now here I am nine years later going to another lesson. It’s table tennis this time. I have no life.
My roommate grunted when my alarm went off and flipped her hair over her face so the light wouldn’t get in her eyes. My lesson is at eight a.m. which, on a Monday, is like waking in the middle of the night. Especially as a senior. I am so done with early morning classes.
I’d taken table tennis this semester purely to get my physical education credit so I can graduate in the spring, and because archery was canceled. (I like sports where you keep your feet still.) Now the semester is almost over, and I’ve got three finals to prepare for, plus my table tennis final. (Yes, I am wicked prepared for adult life.)
The athletics building is usually overheated, so I slipped on shorts under my sweats before I go out. It hasn’t snowed yet, but it’s still too cold, particularly when I come straight outside from my warm bed. The campus is gray and foggy this morning, though the mist will burn off by mid-morning. It’s vaguely shocking how many people are already up this early – jogging or going to breakfast before class. Do people still do that? I’ve been here too long.
After about six weeks in this P.E. class, one of the assistant coaches offered to give me a few one-on-one lessons to help me find a work around for my disability.
Usually when a coach or gym teacher gets to this point I politely decline their help, letting them off the hook. Most of them are busy anyway, and don’t need the bother of helping one more moderately disabled student achieve subpar results. And usually they give me an ‘A’ for effort and leave it at that. But this assistant coach who was teaching my class…. Well, he’s hot, okay? He’s not dating anybody, as I’d discretely ascertained, only a few years older than me, and funny. I’d been having a great time in his class, despite being bad at it.
In short, I was not opposed to a few extra lessons. We’d met once a week for the last month or two (the only reason I was willing to get up this early as a senior). Sadly, Phil hadn’t shown the least interest in me. He was friendly, we had a great time… and then he always said, “Have a great week, Kara. See you later.” Huzzah.
I know I should be more bold if I’m interested in somebody… but that didn’t work out for me so well the one time I tried it.
Phil was already waiting for me this morning. Well, waiting sounds passive and he was actually bouncing a ping pong ball against the far wall. What do you call it when someone can’t sit still and starts playing a game with a wall? Sparring? Volleying? (Seriously, what is it with sports people? They’re always in motion.)
I watched him bounce the tiny ball one more time before he caught it. Although he was good at it, you could tell table tennis was one of the least active things he did – you didn’t get built like that by fiddling with a paddle.
He grinned at me. “Five minutes early, that’s the spirit.”
“Am I? My clock might be fast.”
He handed me a paddle and reminded me of the pointers we’d learned in class on returning a serve. “Pretend you’re clearing the table, see? Swipe it across and imagine you’re knocking every last thing on the floor. Or this way… yes, harder, push the air out of your way like water… okay!
“Now for your feet… Let’s have you keep your feet planted today, to limit your ankle movement, but if you’re feeling firm, you can shift carefully. Normally that’s not… well, the way to compensate for limited footwork is to play further back. Let the ball come to you; you don’t lunge for it. It’s a more conservative game, but you can work it.”
I planted my feet as he indicated, and he went to the other side of the table, starting with a nice, slow serve.
We volleyed comfortable three or four times before the ball spun towards my left edge. I was so focused on the ball, I stutter-stepped left and went down on one knee.
“Woah, you okay? That’s what I’m talking about. You could let that one go, keep your feet planted.” He came around to check my ankle.
I pulled myself up with a hand on the table, “Right, I forgot, sorry.”
He stared at my legs, not (sadly) in an admiring way, but the way everybody with any knowledge of physical therapy stares at my legs – with frustration and doubt. The problem was that they could almost identify what was wrong, it lingered intuitively on the edge of their understanding, but it didn’t make any rational sense, so they never quite got there.
Which brings me to the worst day of my life: That rainy day in December with the dress.
I was at my ballroom dance class with about ten other kids from school, and I was dancing with Robert, the teacher’s son. He was fifteen and a good sport about filling in as his mother’s assistant sometimes. He was a fantastic dancer (possibly gay, we suspected), and whenever I danced with him I was suddenly ten times better than normal. When you’re thirteen that is some heady stuff.
Well, we were talking and I was sort of flirting with him that day (also heady) and his mother kept shooting me odd looks. She was an extremely elegant and polished woman. The kind whose exquisitely tight top knot gives them a temporary facelift. Robert ignored her looks and I mostly did until the end of class. I was putting my warm snow shoes back on for the walk home when I realized Robert and his mom were arguing.
I was the last student left. Robert was leaning against the piano, but his body language said he was mad, and their voices were getting louder. Awkward.
I walked as inconspicuously as possible toward the door, but suddenly she turned to me and pointed.
“May your feet be cased in iron!” she said in a ringing voice. “And may you never dance again.”
“No!” Robert said. “She’s perfect.”
“It’s done,” his mother said. Her face was pearly white beneath her black hair and Robert’s face was as gray as the clouds outside.
I stared at them. “Um. Okay. Sorry.” When in doubt, apologize. That’s always been my standard response, but in retrospect I sure wish I could take that one back.
I stumbled out the door, not quite processing the fact that my feet were not working right. I was on the sidewalk trudging home before I could think through what she said. I think when you see a fairy lose control it sends you into shock.
Anyway, when I came out of the mental fog, I realized that I could barely walk. My calf muscles were burning and my feet were dragging. I stopped on the sidewalk, breathing heavily. I was outside of a laundromat, and the short winter day had already turned dark. I looked at my reflection in the lit window of the store, and that’s when I saw them.
Iron shoes. Under my black velvet skirt, my feet seemed to be incased in clunky, old-fashioned ladies’ shoes (with lots of buttons) made of metal. I reached my hand down gingerly to touch them, but felt only my thick athletic socks and snow boots. But my reflected fingers were touching the top of heavy, iron shoes.
Two near drownings, seven ankle fractures, and nine years later – I’m standing at the ping pong table and watching Phil frown at my feet. I shifted back into place and he looked up at me, forcing his frown away. My ‘disability’ makes no sense to people, because they can’t see what’s weighing my feet down. My legs are strong and toned (lifelong resistance training, woo!), but it makes my clumsiness look that much more odd.
I’ve learned to compensate for my ‘disability’ quite well, for the most part. (I don’t swim, for instance.) But quick, small moves of my feet can still trip me up, particularly if I’m concentrating on something else, like slapping a tiny ball with a paddle.
Large motions are actually easier. A step is easier than a slide, and a lunge is easier than a shift. Tiptoeing is out of the question. I obviously never danced again. Robert and his mother disappeared that same week with no explanation.
Phil smiled. “Right. Let’s try again.”
After half an hour my serve was actually improving, and I was getting better at gauging which balls to let go, and which to swing at. I hadn’t moved my feet much, which was always a plus.
“You’ve made some great progress this semester,” Phil said finally. “We want to stop while you’re ahead, or else you’ll get tired and start engraving mistakes.” In class he was always talking about ‘engraving’ perfect moves and ‘deep practice’ and ‘focused reps.’ I found his enthusiasm endearing, though usually I’m a rather cynical person. (I can’t imagine why.)
“Since it’s our last lesson, want to go grab breakfast?” he asked. “I didn’t really eat yet and I was going over to Moody’s.” Moody’s was a campus café, a popular alternative to the cafeteria.
I subdued a high-pitched squeal. “Sure. That’d be great. What do you like there?”
He held the door from the rec room open for me. “If Marie is working she’ll throw together a great Reuben sandwich. Sauer kraut is good for you.”
“Eh, but for breakfast?”
“You can have eggs any time of day. A good Reuben is a thing of beauty.”
I grimaced as we skirted a basketball court where two guys played. “Sauer kraut isn’t my favorite, gives you such bad breath. I mean, not you, personally– ”
“Hey, heads up!” one of the guys yelled.
From the corner of my eye I saw a basketball flying toward my head. I instinctively raised my hands, which was good, but I also instinctively tried to pivot towards the ball, which was not. My weighted feet moved badly, tangled – and I fell to the ground with a grinding pain in my left ankle. And the ball still hit me in the head. Typical.
Phil squatted next to me. “You alright?”
I winced. “Mostly.” He gave me a hand up, and I awkwardly got to my feet, putting most of my weight on my right foot. I tried to step and… “Shoot.”
“Your left ankle?” Phil lifted my foot up gently and I put a hand on the wall to keep my balance. He twisted it carefully one way and then the other. “Tell me when it hurts too much.”
“It’s – ouch, right there. Another sprain,” I told him. “I’m used to it.”
The basketball guy stood hesitantly nearby. “Really sorry,” he said. “Bad luck.”
I tried to shrug it off. “Not your fault, I have bad ankles.” And bad feet. Stupid, jealous fairies.
Phil’s hands felt cool against my ankle as he set my foot down. “Let’s go to the clinic. They store all the athletic gear there and I can get a wrap for your ankle.”
“Right.” I started to hop in that direction, but Phil laughed. He unceremoniously picked me up, under my knees and behind my back, and started carrying me back the way we’d come.
“Oh, hey, it’s okay, I can hobble in there.” Not that being carried wasn’t everything I wanted it to be… because it totally lived up to its reputation. Nothing makes you feel small and feminine like being carried, and Phil carried me really well.
“It’s no problem. I helped carry Marcus off the field during our last football game, you know, and you’re a lot lighter than him. Anyway, it’s just around the corner.” He smiled and I admired his chin which was most of what I could see of his face from this angle.
He backed through the clinic door, to avoid banging my head on the doorjamb, and set me carefully on a bench. For a moment we made eye contact, our faces only inches away. The silence in the room rang like a tuning fork, and I felt a tingle in my back.
Then Phil blinked and straightened up, looking bemused. He turned his back to me and started rummaging through a drawer.
“There’s, uh, some ace bandages or… an ankle brace might be better. But these are too big…” He muttered disjointedly, sorting through the supplies.
Eventually he turned back to me, his smile and composure back in place. “Sorry, you’d think I’d never dealt with a sprained ankle before. Here we go.”
I slipped my sock and tennis shoe off and he gave me an ace bandage and a couple butterfly clips.
“You should get this checked with your doctor this week,” he said. He looked up after helping me secure the end. I swear, the silent-tuning-fork thing happened again, and we both vibrated in the stillness. And then he leaned forward and kissed me.
Only for a moment, seriously half a second, and then he jerked back. “Wow. Sorry. I shouldn’t – we probably shouldn’t even be alone in here. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He sort of blindly shoved some crutches in my direction. “I’ll just be in the hall if you need help.”
I sat still for a second, savoring the moment, even the tension in my stomach. This wasn’t my first kiss, but it was the first time I’d been kissed as an adult, by another adult… who I really, really liked.
I shortened the crutches and got to my feet. I was very good at these. In fact, I had my own crutches stored under my bed, so I could return these before I left for Christmas. Maybe I could still go to breakfast with Phil, and then maybe… I planted the crutches and swung forward with my good foot.
I almost fell over. Oh. My. Goodness. I strangled a yell of excitement.
Was it possible…?
I flopped back down on the bench and stared at my feet. I pointed my toes. It still hurt, but who cared? I lifted my good foot and then my hurt one. They were so light. I’d forgotten what it felt like not to have invisible weights pulling me down. I felt like I could fly, like I could float, like I could dance…
A boy appeared next to me. Like, right out of thin air, teleportation. He was handsome and pale and I would have recognized him anywhere. I’d replayed that scene so often in my head.
“Robert?” I gasped.
He took in my crutches and my expression and a smile lit his too beautiful face. (I hadn’t exaggerated that in my adolescent mind, as I’d sometimes wondered.)
“I made a note to find you, when you were free.” He took my hand. “Will you dance with me?”
“Will I dance – ?” I stuttered.
“With you?” I seemed to be afflicted with repetition.
Phil pushed the swinging door open, “Are you okay? Did you say something?”
He looked right at me, his eyes didn’t even flicker in Robert’s direction. I looked between the two of them and he still didn’t look. Phil clearly didn’t see him.
“I – Just a second.”
The door swung shut and Robert pursed his lips together.
“I see,” he said. “How predictable of Mother.”
He touched my lips with his fingers and I jerked my head away. “Don’t touch me.”
“You’ve been marked.” He sighed. “You would have been perfect. Goodbye, Kara.”
He disappeared as fast as he’d come, and I came as near as I’ve ever come to fainting. Fairies are freaking overwhelming, they sort of suck the oxygen out of the room.
When I finally pulled myself together and came out, Phil was still waiting in the hall.
“Look, I apologize. I was really out of line. I could lose my job for this. Not that I’m telling you not to report me – I mean, if you feel you need to, I understand. But I don’t want you to think… I mean, I’m not some grabby coach that harasses students. I really didn’t mean to take advantage of you.”
I stopped him with a hand to his arm. “It’s fine. It’s – let’s just forget about it, and go get breakfast. What do you say?”
He looked uncomfortable. “Thanks, but I… I should go get some work done. See you later.”
He walked away, calling back over his shoulder, “Don’t forget to go see your doctor.”
Well. Our university had had some issues with coaches a few years ago. Nothing like the horror stories you read sometimes, but I guess Phil had suddenly gotten cautious.
I did go see my local doctor, and he gave me some pain killers for my ankle. It was a little anti-climactic, as apparently the life-changing transformation I’d experienced wasn’t immediately obvious to him. I tried to explain that I really thought something was different, but he just urged me to be cautious. Whatever. I knew I was free and I knew why.
I went to my table tennis final the next Wednesday and Phil gave me a vague smile, without meeting my eyes. He took roll while the actual teacher paired us up and told us to start playing. He would observe and give us a final grade based on our effort, improvement, blah, blah, blah. He didn’t match me up with anyone.
Phil also wandered through the tables as he usually did, though he didn’t give pointers, since everyone was supposed to show what they’d learned. Eventually he got to me, where I was leaning against the wall with my crutches.
“You don’t have to stay for this,” he said. “I marked you present, but there’s really no point since you can’t play. I explained to Coach Burnett about your sprain.”
“I know. I thought I’d just hang around and watch. Someday I’m going to be good at this game.”
He looked at me quizzically. I’d never shown any incredible enthusiasm for table tennis, and my confidence probably seemed nuts considering his knowledge of my ‘handicap.’
“Um… well, can’t fault that attitude.” He gave me a slightly less awkward smile. “When you’re off the crutches, we’ll see what you can do.”
I grinned at him and he grinned back, briefly, before he remembered that he was flirting with me and walked away.
I leaned against the wall, smiling like a fool, and feeling the freedom in my feet. It was the feeling of a broken curse. And if I knew anything about fairy tales, this meant one thing for sure:
Phil was totally my man, he just didn’t know it yet.
After an hour, when everybody was slipping sweats and coats back on, I crutched my way over to the door. He was saying goodbye to a couple students and I waited until he was done.
“Hey, I have a favor to ask. I need to move a few things to my car before I take off this afternoon. Would you mind giving me a hand?”
Yes, I was totally playing the injured, helpless girl card. Go ahead and judge me. But if he was at all interested in me, he wouldn’t mind…
“Oh. Sure. I do have some time now. Is your stuff packed up?”
Ha. Take that. “Yeah, that’d be great.”
I can’t say I pushed my crutching skills hard during that walk. It was starting to snow, so I did need to be careful, but I may have gone slower than I needed. It usually took me about six minutes to walk to my dorm and we took at least a quarter of an hour. Phil was talkative and friendly as ever, but he kept glancing off to his right, as if something was bothering him.
“Um, yeah. Fine.”
In my room, he hoisted the box I needed and grabbed the handle of my suitcase. “So, where are you headed for Christmas?” he asked.
“Back to Maine, my parents live in Augusta.”
“Nice. There’s great skiing up there. I went with some friends a couple years ago. Oh. But I guess skiing’s not your favorite activity.” He smiled apologetically. Then he glanced behind him again.
Seriously, what was that about? “No, not really. Too cold anyway. I’d like to learn to scuba-dive, actually. Sort of the opposite.”
“I don’t know, I think the opposite of skiing is hiking. Scuba-diving is the opposite of… parasailing?”
“That works. But what’s the opposite of table tennis?”
He laughed. “That’s a hard one. Maybe bowling?” He put the box on the hood of my car while I unlocked it. “I’m teaching a bowling class next semester at the local alley, should be fun.”
“Yeah.” I clicked the trunk open and he moved my things into it, slamming it shut.
“You going anywhere for Christmas?” I asked.
“My sister’s place,” he answered shortly, glancing behind him. “Um… I couldn’t help but notice that guy watching us. All the way from the gym. Is he… is that why you asked for my help?”
I searched behind him in surprise. “What guy?”
“Right there. Black hair. Twilight-y.”
I snickered though it wasn’t entirely funny. That guy had ruined my life. Up to now.
“Oh, him. No, that’s not why I asked for your help… but, it doesn’t hurt either.”
I smiled at Phil and he looked at me, still concerned I could tell. What a good guy. If I was every going to be bold, this would be a great moment for it. “Um. If you wanted to make sure he knows to back off, that’d be really awesome.”
I saw it click, and he smiled. “I could probably do that.”
He kissed me again, and when I briefly looked over his shoulder, Robert was gone.
The second best day of my life began the day after we got married, when Phil gave me my first scuba-diving lesson on our honeymoon. Fairy tales are not what they’re cracked up to be, but personal training totally is.