With a sigh, Melonie pulled herself out of Rachel’s car, gratefully taking the crutches from her mentor.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” Rachel asked. Her eyes searched Melonie’s face. “I could make you some dinner, help you get settled?”
Melonie shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m okay. Honestly, I just want to go straight to bed.”
“Can’t I at least help you up to the apartment?”
“There’s an elevator, Rach. I’ll be fine. Besides, if you don’t move your car, I think that cabbie is going to come after you.” Melonie glanced at the taxi idling behind Rachel’s Impala. The driver was looking at them impatiently, apparently wanting to pull closer to the door.
“Oh, alright. But if you need anything, sweetie, you just call me, okay? I’ll be by tomorrow as soon as the first class is over. You have the pain killers?”
“Okay. Promise you’ll call?”
“I promise.” Melonie accepted Rachel’s hug awkwardly, not wanting to let go of her crutches. Getting used to them and the cast was going to take a while. After one more nod to Rachel, she started clomping her way inside.
Her crutch caught in the air, and Melonie staggered to the left. Olie. Melonie sighed again. As if the crutches weren’t challenging enough on their own. Her head ached as she righted herself and kept limping.
When she stepped into the empty elevator, Melonie felt like she could finally breathe freely. She was grateful that Rachel hadn’t come in with her. The argument had taken the entire car ride, but in the end, Melonie had convinced her mentor she was fine. In truth, she just couldn’t handle being around anyone right now, not even a friend.
The hospital had been a nightmare.
Getting her X-rays had taken forever and revealed that she’d fractured her ankle. The doctor assured her it would heal in about six weeks.
“Nothing to worry about,” he’d said. “You’ll be able to dance again in no time.”
To be fair, he was right; six weeks wasn’t that long. Just long enough to ruin my chances with East Atlantic.
The ding of the elevator drew Melonie from her thoughts, and she stepped forward, not realizing Olie was in the way of her crutches. She fell to the ground with a wince. Pain shot through her ankle as she dragged her cast out of the way of the closing elevator doors. Olie’s unseen trunk immediately rustled her hair, checking with his faint touch to see if she was okay. Melonie sat up without acknowledging him, carefully positioning her crutches and struggling to her feet again.
She really needed some sleep. Melonie balanced one of her crutches against the wall so she could dig her keys out of her purse. Once the door was open, Olie brushed past her and flipped on the lights with his trunk. He turned visible as soon as the door was closed.
Melonie went to the kitchen and emptied a bag of salad into Olie’s bowl, almost spilling it when she knocked over one of her crutches. The elephant clambered over but waited to eat. He expected her to join him. Melonie just shook her head and turned toward the bedroom. Her hair was still damp with rain, her clothes smelled like antiseptic from the hospital, and she was ready for the day to be over. Food could wait until tomorrow. The sound of Olie’s soft steps followed her, and Melonie almost wished he would stay in the kitchen.
She paused to turn off the living room light.
When Melonie turned back down the hall, she accidentally slammed her crutch right into Olie’s side.
He jumped, and she crashed into the end table, knocking over a lamp as she stumbled to the floor.
“Olie!” The word came out sharper than she intended as tears welled in her eyes. Sharp throbs of pain shot up her leg. The elephant immediately rushed over, stepping on her hair just as she tried to lift her head. She cringed.
“Olie, stop. Go to the corner!” Her voice raised to a shout. The elephant winced as though he’d been struck. As warm streams fell from her eyes, Melonie watched Olie scramble backwards and plop to the floor with ears drooped. Sobs tore through Melonie’s chest as she covered her face.
She tried to stop the tears, but that only made her cry harder. Her lungs ached with every breath.
“Why?” she muttered. “Why?” The question came unexpectedly, and she pulled her uninjured leg toward her, resting her forehead on her knee.
Olie’s trunk brushed against her wet face, but she swatted it away.
“Not now, Olie.” Her voice was hoarse. “I wish you hadn’t come.” The thought pierced through her brain. If only Olie hadn’t been there, hadn’t been underfoot, she never would have fallen.
She’d worked so hard, done so well. The judges, the audience, were all applauding, and then. . . everything was ruined.
Her sobs rose again, and in between breaths, Melonie whispered, “If only you hadn’t come.”
Olie pulled away.
After a moment, the sobs subsided, leaving Melonie’s face warm and her arms shaky. She dragged herself up and struggled to her room. The ballerina sat in her bed, placed a pillow beneath her ankle, and fell asleep sniffling, still wearing her dance clothes. She was only vaguely aware that Olie hadn’t followed her into the room.
Melonie’s head still hurt when she woke up to the ongoing storm pelting her window. Sitting up with a groan, she tried to ignore the throbbing of her ankle in its cast. She stared at her hands. There would be no teaching today, or tomorrow, or many tomorrows after that. Rachel would cover the classes herself until Melonie recovered.
“At least six weeks,” Melonie mumbled. Back in high school, a girl broke her foot, and it took eight weeks to heal. Even then, she’d needed another several weeks of physical therapy before she could dance again. After staring into space for a moment, Melonie looked down and realized Olie wasn’t on the bed. She suddenly remembered her sharp words, and guilt left a weight in her stomach. Grabbing her crutches, Melonie got up and went to search for him.
“Olie?” Her voice rang out, but no soft padding of elephant feet came in answer. A quick glance around the living room proved it empty. There was no sign of him under the table. His favorite corner in the kitchen was vacant, and Melonie noticed the salad in his bowl from last night, shriveled and untouched.
Looking back toward the living room, she saw the glass door of the balcony cracked open. “Olie?” He had figured out how to unlatch the door last week and loved sitting outside.
She hobbled out. “Honey, do you want some breakfast?”
Melonie didn’t see him, but he normally turned invisible outside. Going back in, she pulled out frozen pancakes, thinking maybe she could apologize with one of his favorite foods. Sticking the breakfast in the microwave, she kept expecting to feel his faint nudge, the barely noticeable weight of his presence that she’d become so accustomed to.
He didn’t come.
Olie didn’t appear when the pancakes finished cooking, so Melonie brought them to the living room and set them on the table. He didn’t appear when she sat to drink her coffee, nor when she hobbled out of the room to get dressed and came back. Melonie checked the whole apartment and called him in a gentle voice, apologizing for her words the night before. There was no response.
By noon, Melonie sat on the couch, unsure of what to do. She didn’t know where Olie went, didn’t know how he left, but she knew in her sinking heart that it was true.
Olie was gone, and the apartment had never felt so empty.