At seven-thirty the next morning, Ellie fastened the strap of her knee support. Although the scars were fading, they were still a reminder of the surgery which had followed the car crash nearly a year ago, but at least she had now regained most of her mobility and muscle power. She pulled on her black leggings and slipped a grey tee-shirt over her head before going to the kitchen for a glass of orange.
A few minutes later, she stood on the grass verge overlooking the harbour, drew in a deep breath of the sharp salty air, and smiled as she surveyed the tranquil scene. The tide was in, and the morning sun glinted on the rippling water where moored yachts and dinghies swayed lazily. On her left, beyond the grey, white, and beige buildings of the small town and its two church spires reaching into the sky, the outline of the Twelve Bens was soft and hazy.
After clipping her phone to her armband and adjusting the earpiece, she held onto one of the white stone mooring posts while she did some stretching exercises. Then she checked her watch and set off on her customary morning jog, matching her pace to the music in her ear. The narrow lane passed the boatyard before turning away from the harbour and winding upward between shrubs and rough grass until it reached the wider road which climbed into the centre of the town. It was flanked by colour-washed stone cottages, guest houses, and holiday apartments, and she waved to old Mr. Coyne who was watering the window boxes of his cottage as usual.
When she reached the supermarket at the corner of the market square, she looked at her watch again. Not too bad. She wasn’t yet back to her pre-accident times but, after three months on crutches followed by several more months with a cane earlier in the year, it was more than satisfying to be able to jog again.
As she headed up Market Street toward the bakery café, she was about to switch off her music when the first few notes of The Nutcracker overture sounded in her ear. She slowed her steps to listen and allowed herself a small, nostalgic smile as she thought about Alexei and the pas de deux, which had been the start of their four-year partnership. Her smile faded at the memory of the charismatic Russian’s devastation when she broke the news to him.
‘Milaya moya,’ he said, his eyes glistening. ‘My darling. I am desolate. I will never find another partner like you.’
‘Alexei, there are many dancers who would love to work with you.’
He shook his head. ‘No one can create the magic we have created together. What will you do now you cannot dance?’
‘I’m not sure,’ she admitted. At least that was honest.
Now, almost six months later, she was still convinced she’d done the right thing, despite the stab of guilt each time Alexei called her after yet another explosive break-up with a potential new partner. Whenever he asked if she had recovered enough to dance with him again, she always avoided a straight answer. Instead, she tried to reassure him that eventually he would find someone who would live up to his high standards. Inwardly, she prayed it would be soon.
She muted her phone and pushed open the door of the café. With a bit of luck, it would have complimentary copies of the Connacht Courier for customers to read.
Phil, the russet-bearded café owner, bagged the almond and chocolate croissants for her, and she sniffed the rich aroma of coffee. ‘And a skinny latte, please.’
‘No, I’ll have it here.’ She collected a copy of the Courier from the counter. ‘I need ten minutes to relax before facing the rest of today.’
‘Are you all ready for tomorrow? My kids are both excited about it. I’m sure Ava thinks she’ll be dancing on the stage at the Station House Theatre by next weekend.’
‘Well, it might take rather more than a week to prepare for a public performance, but we’re hoping to organise a dance and drama show in March or April next year.’ She laughed as she picked up her coffee. ‘Probably not at the Station House, though. I’m not sure what the seating capacity is but—’
‘About two hundred,’ said a deep voice behind her.
As she turned, her arm bumped against the man, and she jerked away. Her coffee slopped over the top of the glass mug, and she jumped back further to avoid the scalding liquid on her hand or legs.
The man laughed. ‘Your reflexes are better than mine were yesterday.’
Mortified, she gaped at the amused face of Dan Nicholas.