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Falling

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He watches her dance across the ice, light as the snowfall, bright as the winter sun. He has never had the courage to speak to her, but he has watched her in the chemistry lab, and he knows that she likes to ice skate in the park because it happens to be his favorite place to eat his lunch. He has heard her friends call her Nora, and he’s seen them make her laugh. Sometimes he thinks about what it would be like to put a smile on her face, but he knows it will never happen. He’s not funny.

Usually, she comes to the park with friends, but today she’s alone. Victor is always alone. Even the other lab rats think he’s weird.

And maybe he is weird, if he has nothing better to do with the hour between classes than sit on a half-frozen bench and watch a stranger skate. He crumples up his sandwich wrapper and starts to get up. She doesn’t want some creep from her chemistry class stalking her. She must have better things in her life.

He hears the cry of pain as soon as his back is turned, and then a heavy thud. When he looks, she’s lying on the ice, clutching her ankle. He tries to run and falls nearly on top of her, a clod in heavy boots, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

“Are you all right?” He stops just short of touching her, sure that he will somehow make it worse. Certain that she won’t welcome his hands on her.

“I–I just landed–badly. I think I’ll be all right.” She’s crying and ignoring it as she tries to stand. He sticks his arm out awkwardly so she can take it if she wants to. She does, but putting weight on her injured foot makes her collapse again, sobbing.

“May I see?” He takes her foot as gently as he can, supporting her well-muscled calf with one hand, her heel with the other. The cold blade of her ice skate rests alongside his thumb.

He tries, very carefully, to rotate her ankle. She stifles a cry of pain.

“I think it may be broken.” She’s trembling now. He wonders if he should let her go. “You’re cold.” Of course she’s cold, he berates himself. She’s sitting on ice and her legs are bare. He never did understand the logic of those ice skating costumes.

“I…don’t think I can walk.”

“That’s understandable.” He takes off his coat and wraps it around her. Then he scoops her up. Staggers a little under the unfamiliar weight, then finds his balance.

“What are you doing?” Is she upset?

“You need to see a doctor.” He can’t think what else to do but carry her. He’s not very strong, but she’s a ninety-eight-pound figure skater, and the student health center is only half a mile away. He should be able to make it.

Halfway there, he realizes he hadn’t thought to pick up the shoes she left at the edge of the frozen pond. He can’t go back for them. His teeth are chattering, it’s hard to breathe, and his body aches from his shoulders to his knees. He wants nothing more than to throw himself down in the nearest snowbank and give up.

Nora locks her arms more tightly around his neck and rests her head on his shoulder. He doesn’t know if she’s just tired or she’s going into shock, but he feels a knot of warmth growing in his chest. He presses on.

When he gets her there, a nursing student whisks her away for an X-ray, and he sits down in the waiting room with a magazine he doesn’t read. He tells himself he’s too tired to get up. He tells himself he can’t go home without his coat.

When she comes back out, she smiles to see him waiting for her. Her eyes are still red from crying, and her pale yellow hair is a mess.

He has never seen anything so beautiful.