DISCLAIMER: Doctors and its characters are the property of the BBC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Brief context - Doctors is set in a GPs' surgery. Zara is a GP, Ruth is the surgery receptionist and Michelle is a nurse with a taste for tacky decorations, who has entered into a Christmas decoration contest with Heston, one of the other (very posh) doctors.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Little Christmas Magic
"It's no good. I'm never going to get it looking as good as Heston's," Michelle sighed, sinking heavily into a chair on the far side of the waiting room, all the time staring, disparaged, at her small Christmas tree, adorned with a haphazard assortment of tinsel and brightly coloured balls. Across from her, Zara and Ruth exchanged a look. Although they'd both been dubious from the start about Michelle's chances in the great Christmas tree showdown, and had warned the nurse as much - Ruth's approach on the whole remaining far more tactful than Zara's continuous mocking - neither could help but be affected by the downcast expression on Michelle's usually cheerful face.
"It's not that bad," Ruth began gently, eyeing the tree thoughtfully. "It just needs..."
But before she could finish, Michelle cut her off. "Even if I knew how to make it more... classy," she muttered, her voice clearly indicating that she had resigned herself to defeat, "Heston spent a fortune on his. What am I supposed to do? I'm completely broke." She shrugged sadly, her whole body sagging dejectedly as, buttoning her coat, she stood up and prepared to walk towards the door.
Ruth turned and fixed Zara with a pleading gaze, eventually causing the doctor to throw her hands up in defeat, roll her eyes and reach for her wallet, pulling out a couple of notes which she ungraciously thrust in Michelle's direction. "Here," she muttered, sighing with mock irritation. "If you're going to force all those ghastly decorations on us, you may as well do it properly." A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth - although, mindful of her reputation as the resident Scrooge, she did her utmost to fight it - as Michelle's face brightened instantly, and the nurse all but bounded across the room.
"You're the best Zara!" she exclaimed enthusiastically, pulling the doctor into a hug. Zara stiffened, blushing as she caught sight of Ruth, who had retreated to the safety of the reception desk and was watching the whole charade with an amused grimace on her face, biting her lip in a desperate attempt not to laugh out loud.
Michelle pulled back, her face falling again almost instantly as she took in the clock on the wall behind them.
"What now?" Zara muttered, annoyed that her generosity seemed to have been so easily overshadowed.
"It's half five already," Michelle answered, dismayed. "I'll never make it into town on the bus before the shops close. And tomorrow..." she trailed off, fixing Ruth with her best puppy-dog eyes. "I don't suppose you could give me a lift?"
"Sorry," Ruth shrugged, looking genuinely remorseful. "My car wouldn't start this morning, so I had to get a cab." She watched as the nurse turned away sadly, then, her eyes glinting mischievously, quickly called her back. "Zara's done for the day now though," she pointed out, "so perhaps..." Two pairs of pleading eyes suddenly turned on the doctor, caught red-handed in the act of trying to slink unnoticed back into her office.
Zara shook her head. "I'm sorry, I'd love to, but..." She paused, desperately searching the corners of her mind for a feasible excuse as Michelle rushed forwards and grabbed her hands.
"Oh please Zara," she begged, pouting slightly as her colleague attempted to pull away. "I'll buy you a drink afterwards."
"With what?" Zara scoffed, casting a pointed glance at the money she'd given Michelle, still gripped tightly in the other woman's fist. She felt a pang of guilt as Michelle reddened slightly and lowered her eyes, realising quickly, under Ruth's reproachful gaze, that she'd walked straight into the trap, leaving herself only one way out.
"Make my coffee every morning for a week and I'll think about it," she muttered grudgingly, turning and reaching for her coat to hide her smile as Michelle beamed brightly once again. She spun back round, fixing Ruth with a penetrating glare. "But don't think you're getting out of it all that easily..."
And so it was that two hours later, all three women found themselves warmly ensconced in a bar, three glasses of wine on the table in front of them, while Zara's car sat outside in the steadily falling snow, the boot stuffed full with gaudy manifestations of Christmas cheer. Zara had, of course, insisted on paying for everything, drinks included - if only, so she protested, to avoid the 'cheap rubbish' of which the other two were so fond - and although she was making every effort to look like she'd rather be anywhere else on earth, she had to admit that when it came to the crunch, she was rather enjoying the companionship of the other two; Michelle swigging wine like there was no tomorrow as she moved her shoulders in time with the cheesy Christmas hits blaring out from a speaker on the other side of the room; Ruth repeatedly running her finger round the rim of her wine glass, seemingly uneasy in her role as mediator between Michelle's festive cheer and Zara's characteristic cynicism.
"Ooh, I love this one!" Michelle all but squealed as the opening chords of a new song rang out and she jumped up, grabbing Ruth's hand and tugging her towards the corner of the room, where a few drunken revellers stood moving their feet and swaying in time to the music. Ruth shot an apologetic look at Zara, who merely grinned wickedly and waved her on her way, any resentment she might have felt at being left alone at the table outweighed by relief at having been excluded from Michelle's latest crusade. She drained the contents of her glass, hailing the waiter to bring her another as she watched the two women dance, envying the ease with which they moved their limbs and seemed effortlessly to blend into the crowd. After a couple of songs, the two women returned and made short work of the now-replenished drinks, Zara quickly deciding that she'd sooner leave the car and take a cab, than withstand the allure of another glass of smooth red. It was only when Ruth excused herself to visit the ladies and she felt herself being dragged towards the dance floor, that the doctor began to regret her decision. Michelle's enthusiasm for terrible music, it seemed, had only been fuelled by the alcohol she'd consumed, and she pulled Zara close, her hands roaming across the other woman's back and hips as they moved in time to the song. Although initially embarrassed by the attention, Zara gradually felt herself melt into the contact, the glow of the wine combining with the realisation that it had been a long time since she had allowed anyone that close, and perhaps a bit of harmless flirting wasn't so bad after all.
Michelle pulled her closer still as the music slowed, and for a moment Zara reciprocated, until suddenly, glancing over the shorter woman's shoulder, she caught sight of Ruth, hastily shoving her arms into her coat, her expression stricken as her eyes gazed vacantly towards them. Extricating herself from Michelle's grasp, Zara strode across the room, cutting through the crowds even as Ruth attempted to escape, finally catching up with her colleague just before the door.
"I'll leave you two to it," Ruth muttered bitterly, forestalling Zara's question. "Since I'm so obviously surplus to requirements."
"What on earth...?" Zara began, her bewilderment crossing the line into irritation, prompting Ruth to throw her hands up in anger and march outside, leaving the door to slam noisily behind her. "Ruth! Wait!" Zara called after her, inhaling sharply at the sudden sting of the cold air against the exposed skin of her face.
Ruth stopped short and swivelled round abruptly, her face contorted in a mixture of fury and hurt. "You think I want to hang around to watch?" she demanded, Zara's continued confusion only serving to annoy her more.
"Ruth, please," Zara attempted to reason, still at a loss as to the cause of the upset. "Come back inside."
Ruth shook her head, her anger diverted from Zara to herself. "I'm so stupid," she muttered, hugging herself tightly. "You're buying her all those decorations, plying her with drinks, groping her on the dance floor, and all the while I'm lingering around like some gooseberry..."
"Oh for God's sake," Zara interrupted, finally losing what little patience she possessed. "I don't give a toss about Christmas decorations and I certainly wasn't groping Michelle. I only gave her the damn money because you wanted me to."
"See, you don't even care about her feelings," Ruth retorted self-righteously, clinging onto Zara's words to justify her own indignation. "You're just using her, the same way..." She broke off suddenly, her brow furrowing as she realised exactly what Zara had just said. "Since when have you cared about what I think?" she asked hesitantly, her tone betraying both confusion and the tiniest glimmer of suppressed hope.
"Oh, forget it," Zara muttered irritably, embarrassed by her unintended and spontaneous revelation, turning away quickly as her flight reflex took hold. But Ruth acted faster, reaching forward and grabbing her jacket, anchoring Zara to the spot and preventing her from running away. Zara looked down, studying the outline of their footprints in the snow, stubbornly refusing to meet Ruth's eyes, which bored into the top of her head, searching for an answer which the doctor refused to give.
"You did all that for me?" Ruth asked gently, feeling Zara's heartbeat reverberate against her fingers, betraying her answer, even as the other woman attempted once again to pull away.
Ruth moved one thumb against Zara's chest, stroking it gently up and down. "You're a good person, Zara Carmichael," she murmured, chuckling softly to herself. "Whatever you might want other people to think."
At that, Zara looked up, her eyes full of emotion, although whether relief, insecurity, gratitude or annoyance Ruth couldn't quite tell. She held the other woman's gaze, sensing her lips moving steadily closer, but not daring to believe, until the first gentle touch, that what she'd dreamed of for so long might finally have come to pass. She raised a trembling finger to Zara's cheek, stroking it gently as the other woman's lips parted against her own, warm despite the freezing air around them, and slid her hands around to cup the back of Zara's head as the kiss deepened in intensity and their tongues met, tentatively at first, quickly growing bolder as their surroundings faded away.
All too quickly however, it was over, Ruth pulling back abruptly as she caught sight of a wide-eyed Michelle hovering in the doorway of the bar. She regarded her carefully, panicking slightly as she wondered how much of the earlier exchange the nurse had overheard and how she might react to the real motive behind Zara's uncharacteristically charitable actions. Michelle merely giggled, however, and shot them both a triumphant stare. "See," she exclaimed smugly, fixing them with an indulgent grin, "I told you Christmas was magical." Walking towards them, she withdrew a plastic sprig of mistletoe from her pocket, pressing the decoration into Ruth's palm with a knowing look at her friend. "I sneaked this in as a last resort, but guess you won't be needing it after all," she murmured, wrapping her arms briefly around both their shoulders and declaring her intention to leave them for the night.
And as she took Ruth's hand, weaving their fingers together and leading them both back into the warmth of the bar, Zara found herself inclined to agree that she might just have been blessed with a dose of Christmas magic after all.
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