DISCLAIMER: Los Hombres De Paco and its characters are the property of Antena 3. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Pepa and Maca are BFFs and you can't convince me otherwise. Seriously, they share a closet! (Evidence: One of Pepa's many vests...one of which Maca apparently borrowed. And we can't forget Maca's red hotpants...which Pepa borrowed for a certain memorable dance. Seriously. Those two share a closet. And are BFFs. Because they are also both teenage boys at heart.
SPOILERS: For LHDP, through episode 81. For HC, through 16x17 (the season 16 finale).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Through the Years
"Hey!" The angry voice penetrated Pepa's ears even over the din of the club, and she paused, turned her head.
A beautiful brunette was sitting at the bar, right behind her, and she was glaring at Pepa.
Why, hello there.
Pepa immediately spun around and put on her most charming smile, the smile that dozens of women routinely swooned for.
"Hola," she said, easing back to the woman, leaning against the bar. The woman, though, just kept glaring.
"You spilled on me," the woman said, and Pepa blinked, nonplussed. The woman was giving her a look that could peel paint off windows.
"What?" Pepa made a show of looking down at her empty hands and then back up, a politely quizzical smile gracing her lips.
"You jostled me," the woman said, still annoyed, and moved her right hand. Pepa saw that she was holding a half-full glass. "You made me spill." She pointed to her jeans, and in the dark club Pepa could just barely make out a patch of darker fabric in the middle of her thigh.
Pepa opened her mouth, reconsidered, shut it, and smiled again. "I'm sorry," she apologized, smoothly taking the glass from the woman and motioning to the bartender. "Let me buy you another one."
The woman gave her a measuring, amused glance. "Nicely done," she commented, and cracked a grin. "Are you going to wipe off my jeans next?"
Pepa chuckled. "I was thinking about it," she admitted. The bartender slapped a new drink down beside her, and Pepa nodded at him. The woman gave her an impressed look.
"You get fast service here," the woman said, and Pepa waggled her eyebrows.
"It's not the only place I get fast service," she tossed out airily, watched the woman choke a little on her drink. The woman turned and faced her, and Pepa's libido wilted. She did not look charmed.
Rather, she looked like she was going to laugh.
"And if I don't want fast service?" the woman asked pointedly. Pepa held up her hands, had to admit defeat.
"Alright, alright, I get it," Pepa sighed. She got up to go.
Only to be stopped by a delicate, surprisingly strong hand.
"Don't go," the woman said, and now her smile was open, friendly, less diabolical. "This is the first halfway decent conversation I've had all night." The distasteful look she tossed at the rest of the bar made her opinion of the place obvious.
Pepa laughed again, and settled onto the stool next to the woman. "Not your normal scene?" she asked, motioning the bartender over again.
"No," the woman said softly, and her eyes were suddenly far away. "No, it's not."
Pepa, struck by the woman's sudden pensiveness, stayed quiet, simply blinked and watched her.
After a moment, the woman turned to face her. She was really smiling, a full open smile, and she was absolutely gorgeous. Pepa felt like she'd been punched. The woman stuck out a hand. Mechanically, Pepa took it.
"Maca," she said. Her grip was firm. Pepa smiled in return.
"Wait, a Wilson?" Pepa asked, incredulously. "One of the Wilsons? As in the family that owns three-quarters of Jeréz Wilsons?"
"You exaggerate," Maca said, neatly spearing a piece of steak. "We only own half."
"Half!" Pepa said, and it was almost a strangled squeak. Maca gave her that 'don't cause a scene and don't be stupid' look, and Pepa gulped down half her beer. When she put it down, she was slightly calmer.
"And you waited until I've known you for two months to tell me?" Her voice was plaintive.
Maca gave her a compassionate but unyielding look in return. "You're the first person in Sevilla that I've told," she said quietly, and made a point of chewing her steak. Pepa gave herself a few moments to process.
"Well, now I know how you can eat at restaurants like these almost every night." Pepa shook her head and sighed. "And how a med student like you can afford your clothes."
Maca considered this for a moment, then grinned. "I do have nice clothes," she commented, and Pepa gave her a look. Maca bit down on another smile, another piece of steak.
Pepa sat back, started in on her fish. "You have lots of clothes," she finally muttered, aggrieved, and Maca laughed beautifully as she poured more wine.
"Unngh," Maca heard beside her.
She cracked an eyelid.
Pepa was beside her, face buried in a pillow.
"Morning, sunshine," Maca said, and it was low, a little throatier than she intended. She blushed, suddenly discomfited. She had never been good at mornings after. Not even when she had practice with them, or knew Pepa far too well to be truly embarrassed.
Pepa just moaned again.
"Hangover?" Maca asked sympathetically, running a hand across Pepa's forearm. Pepa moved her pillow, made a face.
"Not too bad, actually," she said, stretching, curling around Maca. Maca's mouth suddenly went dry. "Hungry more than anything else." She caught Maca's hand with her own.
"We did burn a lot of calories last night," Maca commented, and Pepa laughed, rolling over and pinning her.
"Always a doctor," she murmured against Maca's throat. Kissed her lips.
Maca shook her head. "Not a doctor yet," she said, smiling wryly. "Still just an intern." She moved her hands down Pepa's ribs, her hips, relishing how Pepa's breath caught at the light touch.
Pepa smiled, and her nose crinkled. "Some day, though," she said, and kissed Maca again. Maca pulled back.
"Someday I'm going to be the best doctor in Sevilla," Maca whispered, lips barely brushing Pepa's.
Pepa leaned back for a moment, waggled her eyebrows. "Want to examine me?" she asked hopefully.
Maca stared at her, incredulous, for a beat.
"That is the worst line I've ever heard." Pepa wilted a little. Maca snorted.
Then she tickled Pepa. Pepa screeched, laughed, curled into a ball, lashed out with her elbows. Maca was slippery and cunning, though, and finally she had Pepa, limp and boneless and wheezing, trapped beneath her.
"Want my diagnosis now?" she asked, and Pepa stuck her tongue out. Maca grabbed it, and Pepa neatly snapped down on her fingers and would not let them go.
Clearly she needed to be distracted.
Maca moved her other hand lower, and Pepa bucked against her. She let Maca's fingers go, arched forward to kiss Maca's pulse point.
"Not at the moment," Pepa whispered, and then they weren't talking at all.
They continued not talking on their way to the shower, in the shower, and over breakfast.
Later, after they had finally finished (and thoroughly wiped down Maca's kitchen table), they left together. How domestic, Maca thought, and for a moment, just a moment, wondered how things would be if they were different.
"Do you ever think we'll stop this?" Pepa asked, echoing her thoughts. It was an idle question as Maca was locking her door, one to which they both already knew the answer, and Maca barely considered before answering.
Maca turned around, gave Pepa a smirk, swatted her ass. "Not until I find someone," she said, and laughed as Pepa bumped her into the wall with her hip.
At the end of the night, Maca was left at the bar, finishing her vodka tonic. Amateurs, she thought affectionately, as the rest of her fellow internsno, residents, she corrected herself with a rush of pridestaggered out the door.
Damn but they couldn't hold their liquor. Then again, Maca had always had a ridiculously high tolerance for a woman her size. Given her family's occupation, she figured it was bred into her blood.
"Ready?" Pepa asked, plunking down beside her and putting her empty beer bottle on the bar. Maca gave her a speculative look.
"She was hot," she said, the statement also a question, and Pepa smirked.
"She was," Pepa acknowledged. She flashed a scrap of paper at Maca. "She has a very nice number, too."
Maca laughed, clearly struggling for something to say. "Good," she finally said, and glanced away. When she looked back, Pepa was studying her, serious and intrigued.
"And you?" Pepa asked. "You seem happy. You've been smiling at nothing all night. And you keep losing your train of thought. It's very un-Maca-like."
Maca had to grin wryly, duck her head in acknowledgment. "I met someone," she confessed, staring into her glass. She tried to fight the smile, but couldn't.
"Bitch, you didn't tell me!" Pepa smacked her on the shoulder, swinging down to sit beside her.
Maca just shrugged, kept staring into her glass and smiling. She knew she wouldn't have to wait long.
"And?" Pepa drew out the word.
Maca finally looked at her, grinned. "Her name is Azucena."
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Pepa asked, frustrated. "We've been planning this trip for weeks and we leave tomorrow and now you're acting like someone killed your dog!"
Maca's mouth moved. "I lost a patient today," she finally said, looking down. Pepa winced.
Party of one at the guilt buffet, she thought, and tentatively covered Maca's hand with her own. She was heartened when Maca didn't shrug her off.
"Was there anything else you could have done?" she asked gently. Maca snorted, shook her head, looked away. Her eyes were shining with tears that she refused to let fall.
"No," she said. Her jaw was moving. She was looking upward, as if for answers.
Pepa gazed at her compassionately. She knew how seriously Maca took her job, how hard she took it when she lost a child. "Then you shouldn't feel guilty, huh?" she asked, and Maca snorted again. "You can't save everyone, you know."
Maca looked at her, and the ghost of a grin flittered across her face. "I can try," she said, and Pepa wrapped her up in a hug as Maca's body shook.
Maca stared at Pepa as she took a sip of her soda. "Let me get this straight," she said.
"Please don't," Pepa muttered. Maca gave her a repressive look.
"You saw this woman through a window. Crying."
"Yes," Pepa said, like it was the most normal thing in the world to spy on a total stranger during an obviously private moment. She reached over Maca, grabbed Maca's soda, took a sip of it.
"They mixed ours up," Pepa said matter-of-factly, switching them. "And yes, I see her all the time, crying in the bathroom."
"Ah," Maca said, nodding like this made all the sense in the world. "In the bathroom. Right. That makes matters so much clearer." Pepa made a face at her as she paused, struggling for words. "So you're in love with her. And want to meet her."
"Sí, claro," Pepa said. She shot Maca a 'where have you been?' look as she opened the Hot Tamales and handed them to Maca.
"You're a stalker," Maca said conversationally, and Pepa flicked her ear.
"Ow!" Maca yelped, glared. They settled down for a moment, Maca still shaking her head incredulously as Pepa opened a second bag of candy, took a handful of Reese's Pieces, took another handful of popcorn. Finally, she stared at Pepa until Pepa looked over.
"Do you ever do anything by the book?" Maca demanded as the previews started rolling.
Pepa popped a piece of popcorn into her mouth. "Where's the fun in that?" she asked, and did not say why, because it's working so well for you?
"Hospital Central, eh?" Pepa asked. She smiled and hugged Maca hard. "Congratulations! That's impressive. Even I know that it's the best hospital in Madrid. You start in six months, you said? That doesn't give you much time between finishing your residency and moving."
Maca laughed, blushed. "Yes, well, I needed a change," she confessed. Pepa nodded. Leaving your fiancée (and five hundred guests) a week before the wedding, leaving the woman you've been seeing for well over a year, telling your family you're gay yeah, might as well go whole hog and uproot the five percent of your life that remained untouched.
Not that Pepa wasn't glad Maca was doing it. She had never liked Azucena. Maca's family had never liked her. And Fernando she just felt sorry for.
But she did worry about the fallout.
"Won't that be one hell of a commute?" Pepa asked. Maca shrugged.
"I already have a really nice apartment in Madrid, actually," she said, and smiled broadly. "I decorated it yesterday. I really like it, truth be known. And I have plenty of space if you ever want to come visit."
Pepa smiled, squeezed her hand.
"Are you going to ride your bike to work the first day?" Pepa asked, grinning impishly. Maca considered.
"No, probably not," she concluded, flashed a smile. "I'll let them get used to me before I pull the bike out."
Pepa threw her head back, laughed. "They'll never get used to you," she said fondly.
They were quiet for a moment, finishing dinner, the only sound Pepa's TV in the background.
"How goes Mission Impossible: Marta?" Maca finally asked.
Pepa sighed. "She's still straight," she said morosely. Maca shot her a laughing look.
"We were once, too," she reminded Pepa, and ran her big toe up Pepa's calf.
Pepa's eyes were heavy-lidded. "Imagine that," she said, and tackled Maca. Good thing Pepa has thick carpeting, Maca thought, and then stopped thinking altogether.
In the morning, frantically applying lotion to fierce rug burns, Maca revised her opinion of Pepa's goddamn floors.
Pepa groaned, stirred. Her body felt like it weighed a million kilograms. Her eyelids were several tons each. She slitted them open, wincing at the bright light. A pained moan escaped her before she could choke it down.
She heard a scrabble, then a thump.
"Hey there, cariño," she heard a familiar voice say softly, and she cracked her eyes open a bit further. Maca was there, above her. Pepa wasn't sure, but it looked like Maca had been crying.
Another noise escaped her, and Maca nodded. "Open your mouth," she said, and Pepa complied. Maca placed something cool on her tongue. Ice, Pepa realized gratefully, and sucked on the cube as Maca looked at the array of machines around her, frowning slightly. For the first time, Pepa noticed a constant beeping.
"Happened?" she finally managed to croak out, and Maca took her hand, touched her cheek.
"You got yourself shot, imbecile," Maca said. She bit her trembling lip. "Although your instructors are impressed that a first-week Academy rookie managed to stop a robbery all on her own."
Pepa struggled to give her an arch look. "Told you I would be top of my class," she finally managed to get out, and shut her eyes as the dam burst and Maca, freely crying now, buried her face in Pepa's shoulder. She wanted to pat Maca's hair, but her arm was far too heavy, so she turned her face and nuzzled her cheek against the back of Maca's head.
"I'm serious, Pepa," Maca said, wagging a finger at her. "Be careful, okay? I don't want to have to move back in a week before I move just because you were stupid and over-exerted yourself."
Pepa smiled, shrugged her newly-healed left shoulder in a full circle.
"Don't worry, Maca," she said with a smile. "I'm fine."
Maca looked at her. Her smile slipped, but held. She pulled Pepa into a tight hug.
"Don't ever get shot again, okay?" she requested, and closed her eyes when Pepa had trouble wrapping her left arm around her.
Maca finally arrived for dinner, tripping over herself to apologize for being late. Pepa waved her off easily.
"Just tell me about this Esther," she said as she picked up another French fry, and Maca smiled. It was a fully, happy smile. It lit her up. Maca, Pepa realized, had finally come home.
No. She'd finally found home.
"What's to tell?" Maca asked with a shrug, a coy smile. "She's the girl I'm going to marry."
Pepa paused mid-chew, then swallowed. "Does she know that?" she asked.
A smile broke across Maca's face. "Not yet. But she will."
Pepa gave her an intrigued look. "What's she like?" she asked. She'd never seen Maca like this before, not even with Azucena. And Maca had loved Azucena very much.
Maca smiled againor, Pepa thought, maybe she had just never stopped smiling. "She's totally wrong for me," she said, shaking her head. "We're complete opposites. She's kind loving open gentle silly, sometimes. She thinks she's straight." They both chuckled. "I don't even know if she likes me as a person. Her family is poor. My mother would scream if she saw the way Esther dresses on a daily basis. And her hair!" Maca smiled fondly, glanced down, shaking her head.
"But you're going to marry her," Pepa prompted her gently, and Maca looked up and her eyes were shining and her smile stretched from ear to ear.
"Yeah," she said softly, taking a sip of wine. "I am."
A week later, the sting of rejection still lingering in Maca's eyes, Pepa and Maca spent the weekend getting absolutely smashed (although Pepa noticed that Maca barely looked at any other women). Maca switched a shift, and they spent Sunday afternoon sobering up, chugging water and groaning in Maca's living room and bathroom.
Maca called her Monday night and left her an incoherent but excited voicemail. Tuesday, they went out again, and as they stumbled back to Maca's apartment Maca recited some stupid poem about love. Pepa shot her a look, muttered about spoiled brats and their education.
"Neruda," Maca said, and smiled. "I bought his whole book this afternoon."
Pepa turned around, obviously staring at the ass of the brunette who had just left the cafeteria table.
"Pepa!" Maca hissed, and thumped her soundly on the arm.
Pepa turned back, smirking. "Is she single?" she asked Maca. Maca just glared.
"Not that you asked, but her name is Cruz, and no, she is very much not single. She's also very straight." Maca took another bite of her salad, still annoyed, as Pepa sighed. The good ones always were.
Then she saw Maca's face light up as her phone beeped. Three guesses who that is, Pepa thought, and had to snicker as Maca pulled it out and texted back with inhuman speed.
Done, Maca put her phone slowly back in her pocket. "Esther will be here soon for her shift," she said regally, ignoring Pepa's smirk, but ruined the effect by smiling like a mushball as she bent back to her salad.
That's why we have to convert them, Pepa thought, and grinned.
Maca smiled proudly at the younger woman. "Congratulations, Pepa," she said, pressing a kiss to each cheek. "Esther's sorry she couldn't make it, but she has the morning shift tomorrow," she explained, stepping back and holding Pepa at arm's length.
Pepa looked so official, so serious in her new dress blues.
Then, of course, Pepa ruined it by cracking her irrepressible, irreverent grin, and grabbing Maca in a bear hug. Maca shrieked as she was twirled around, and when Pepa finally deposited her back on her feet, they were both smiling.
"Esther's finally making an honest woman out of you, eh?" she asked, picking up Maca's hand and admiring the ring. Maca had to smile. It was not the most expensive, nor the most glamorous ring she had ever receivedto be honest, it didn't even come closebut it meant the most. It meant so much. She would never take it off, she knew.
"I was right," she reminded Pepa, knew by the flash of white teeth that Pepa remembered their conversation, too.
"You're just lucky she waited for you to muster up the cojones to ask her," Pepa teased. "And I heard what a great proposal you made." Maca made a face at her, then sobered.
"I think someone else is waiting for you," Maca said softly, and nodded at Marta. The older subinspector was fidgeting across the room, clearly uncomfortable as she scanned the room and kept coming up with recently-graduated pupils. Her hands buried themselves in her pockets as she shifted her weight from foot to foot, looking like she was about to bolt at any minute.
Pepa looked at her, looked away. Took a deep breath and marched over to the older woman, and Maca had to gulp down a smile at the way Marta immediately beamed, the way her hands came out of her pockets and her body opened.
It reminded her of Esther when they'd first gotten together.
Before she left, Maca committed a minor breach of etiquette by not saying goodnight. But based on howoccupiedPepa and Marta were, she thought she could be forgiven.
She smiled wickedly as she closed Pepa's door. She was never going to let Pepa live this down.
Pepa had to miss the wedding, but the present she sent made Maca slam the lid back on the box, blush, and resolve never ever to open it again.
At least not when her mother and Esther's mother were around.
"So Marta ." Maca began. Pepa didn't let her continue.
"We're fine," Pepa said. "She said she's sorry, she'll never do it again, and we're fine." Maca winced. Pepa made a point of staring straight at the screen, unmoving, until the movie began.
Despite the belly that was starting to make movement a challenge, Maca got up twice to get more snacks. Pepa let her pay for all of them, and put her head on Maca's shoulder when Maca wrapped a gentle arm around her.
"Undercover?" Maca asked, startled. "Again? After last time? How long?"
Pepa shrugged and looked down at the dinner she'd only picked at. "Probably a few months."
Maca sat back, stunned. She'd known Pepa and Marta were having problems, knew the breakup had been rough .
"Pepa, are you sure? You almost died last time." She reached across the table to touch Pepa's shoulder. Pepa almost flinched back.
"I'm sure," she said, determinedly trying to smile. "Marta and I need the time and space. I might as well be productive with it."
Maca nodded, backed off, wondered how much longer Pepa's superiors would indulge her death wish. They made small talk over the rest of their dinner. When dessert arrived, Pepa mustered up her courage.
"How's Esther's pregnancy coming?" Pepa obviously wished she hadn't spoken when Maca's jaw tightened. Pepa tried to cover Maca's hand with her own, but the doctor moved her hand away.
"The last time I saw her, she was fine," she grated out, and didn't meet Pepa's eyes.
They hugged on their way out the door. As was becoming the norm, Maca watched Pepa's retreating back and wondered how long it would take Pepa to get herself killed.
When things were at their blackest, Maca and Esther considered baptizing Patricia. Pepa looked at Maca, knew it was because they didn't want to take any chances. Not when you can't really know these things for sure.
"Pepa," Maca got out. Esther's arm tightened around her middle. The pregnant nurse was already crying.
"If " Maca swiped at her eyes. "If we go ahead and baptize Patricia, we'd like you to be the godmother."
Pepa bit her lip and nodded.
They sat in silence as Pepa rocked her almost-goddaughter.
It didn't happen. Patriciaat least for the momentwas relatively recovered. From then on, though, Pepa made a point of visiting between assignments, whenever she could, and always bringing something for the baby.
When Maca confessed she was cheating, Pepa didn't say anything. She just tossed back another shot of tequila and kept ordering drinks.
In the morning, Maca saw the look in Pepa's eyes, knew Pepa viewed her just a little bit differently than she had the day before. It was the straw that broke the camel's back, and Maca sat in the bathroom and cried for half an hour.
Pepa didn't come in, just silently handed Maca a canister of coffee as Maca hurtled out the door to work.
Pepa ate dinner with Esther and Maca the next night. Maca excused herself to go to the restroom. Pepa took one look at Esther's face and knew she knew.
"Esther," Pepa said, taking the nurse's hand. Esther, eyes devastated and trying not to let it show on her face, too, looked up. She looked into Pepa's eyes and Pepa knew Esther knew she knew.
"She was with me last night," Pepa offered, and Esther choked back a sob.
Then Maca was back, and she kissed Esther's cheek and took her hand, and they all pretended things were normal again.
Pepa bit her lip, glanced from side to side, gathered Maca close. "Come in, come in," she said, and shut the door firmly behind them.
Once inside, she poured two stiff drinks of brandy, and watched as Maca all but poured one down her throat. Silently, Pepa refilled her glass.
She'd never seen Maca this undone.
"I can't do this anymore," Maca finally said. "I can't ." She shut her eyes. "Every time I'm with Vero all I can think of is Esther and how I fucked up with her and how I can't fix it. But then I think to myself I should be fine, I have Vero, and I do care for her, but I can't see myself with Vero in ten years and I don't know what to do. And Esther went to Paris and I, and it bothered me, and Vero took care of the kids, and I think she wants to get married, and I just ." Maca trailed off, took another large gulp of brandy.
Pepa didn't look at her. "You're not being fair to either of them," she said quietly, and Maca half-choked, half-sobbed.
"I know," she said. "I know."
Pepa spent the night on the couch. In the morning, she was awakened by Maca's annoyed shouts from the bedroom.
"Whuuh?" she asked, almost falling through the door, still half-asleep.
Standing by the closet, Maca made a face at her. "Do you own anything other than vests?" she grumped.
Pepa stared at her and wished she had a tennis ball handy. "No," she finally answered, and stumbled back to the couch.
When she woke up again, there was a pot of coffee still on the warmer and eggs and toast in the oven.
"I'm going away again," Pepa's voicemail said. "I'll call you when I'm back."
Maca shut her phone and proceeded to get very, very drunk, alone in her home. She locked her phone before she did, though, and in the morning she was glad she did so. She had a vague memory of trying in vain to make a phone call, but she couldn't remember to whom, or what she was going to say.
"You're moving? To San Antonio?"
Maca felt like she had whiplash. Pepa had just gotten back from being undercover for three months, and now
"It's my family, Maca," Pepa said, and her voice was so earnest. So hopeful.
Maca bit her lip. It was. And Maca knew how badly Pepa had longed for a family, any family, for so long. To have a chance with her own again .
Maca couldn't stand in the way of that. She cracked a smile. "Well, welcome to Madrid," she said, and Pepa's smile unfurled. It was like the sun. Maca had never seen her like this, and suddenly knew Pepa was doing the right thing. And Maca was happy for her, she was, and it would be nice to see Pepa more often. But still, Pepa nodded and waited.
Finally Maca sighed, folding Pepa into a long hug. "I'm going to miss you," she said, and despite the fact that Pepa was moving closer, they both knew what she meant. Pepa gently kissed her cheek.
Maca kept her head down, staring into her drink, color high in her cheeks. Pepa snickered. "Way to go, Maca," she said, and Maca glared. "Only you could have two beautiful women hanging on your every word and fuck things up with both of them."
"Shut up," Maca glared, and tried to ignore the fact that Esther and Vero were both having dinner with other women. In this restaurant. Only a few tables over. And neither of them had so much as glanced in her direction.
She made a discontented noise and almost buried her head in her hands.
Pepa just laughed and laughed and laughed.
"Who was the woman at Rocio's party?"
"What woman?" Pepa asked, trying hard to play it off, be cool. From the snort on the other end of the phone, she knew Maca had seen right through her.
"Don't be silly," Maca admonished, and Pepa had to smile. She could almost see Maca lounging on the couch with her feet dangling off the edges, kicking slightly. "The redhead you came to the club with. The one who tore out of there when the stripper was giving you a lap dance. The one who you stared after for hours, and then when she didn't come back you acted like someone killed your dog. Remember her? That redhead?"
"Oh, yeah," Pepa's tone was casual, too casual, and she knew it. "That redhead."
"Hmmm?" Maca waited.
"She's my sister-in-law's sister. We made out when we were eighteen at Sarita's First Communion, in front of our families and two hundred guests and an orchestra. Actually, I was her first kiss, and she was the first girl I kissed. I hadn't seen her in eight years before I ran into my family when I was undercover. She thinks she's straight. And she's the girl I'm going to marry."
Pepa wondered why people always paused for several seconds after she told them how she and Silvia knew each other. Really, she thought peevishly, they acted like they'd never heard a story like that before. Finally, she heard Maca take a deep breath.
"Silvia," Pepa interrupted, and could all but see Maca tilt her head in concession.
"Does Silvia know she's the woman you're going to marry?" she asked. Pepa could hear the smile in her voice.
Pepa chuckled. "I'm going to break it to her soon."
Maca still sounded amused. "But you're going to marry her." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah. I am."
There was a pause, and they both started laughing.
"Then let's toast," Maca said, and together they took a shot of tequila.
For the next few months, Pepa had a habit of leaving excited but incoherent voicemails on Maca's phone. Maca smiled as she listened to one particularly exuberant one, Pepa's voice so slurred it was barely understandable, until Silvia cut in and their voices merged. Abruptly, the line went dead.
Maca could guess what had happened, though, and smiled as she drank to her friend.
Then she put her glass down and started to prepare for her blind date with Julia.
Maca turned her head to stare at Pepa over her glass of cognac. They were sitting on the porch of the Wilson family house, slowly rocking, watching the afternoon fade.
And she couldn't believe what Pepa had just said.
Well, scratch that. Actually, she could believe it.
"You want to get a motorcycle?" she repeated, incredulous. Pepa grinned and nodded, taking a long sip from her own glass.
"Does Silvia know?" Maca couldn't believe the redhead would be supportive of Pepa's plan.
"Nope." Pepa sounded like she didn't care. Like she was maybe actually relishing the idea of a fight with the redhead.
That was not normal.
Maca blinked. "Silvia isn't going to like it."
"Nope." Pepa flashed her 'devil-may-care' grin. Maca blinked again.
"Okay, then. I guess I'll take you out on the bike later, start showing you how to ride it." They settled into an uneasy silence until Maca sighed and rested her head on Pepa's shoulder. Pepa's arm came around Maca. The tension in the air eased.
"Have you spoken to Esther?" Pepa asked, breath tickling Maca's ear, and Maca gave a wry half-smile.
"No. But I don't expect to hear from her for a while. I told her to take as much time as she needs. It's why I came here." She waved at the large, beautiful house, the vineyards in the distance.
Pepa nodded, looked away, sipped her drink again. Maca girded her loins and picked her head up.
"Silvia wanted to have kids?" Pepa tensed, fingers flexing. Her expression snapped shut and just like that, the tension was back.
Maca dared to put a hand on Pepa's shoulder. Pepa was still stiff, so stiff. She raised her hand to the back of Pepa's neck, massaging it, but the muscles stayed knotted.
"You didn't want to?"
"Nope." Pepa still wouldn't look at her.
"And you didn't know how to tell her?"
"And she heard you freaking out about it to Paco?"
"And trying to talk about it afterward didn't go well?"
Maca winced. Pepa saw it.
Maca looked straight ahead, nodding. "Yeah," she sighed. "How we complicate things." Then she shifted, getting to her feet. She held a hand out to Pepa. Pepa looked at her, not understanding.
"Well, come on," Maca said. "Didn't you want to take a ride?"
Pepa gave her a ghost of a grin, took her hand. "I'll take a ride on your motorcycle any day," she came back with the obligatory retort. But it lacked the fun, the essential Pepa-ness of her usual comebacks, and Maca's worry increased. Maca pulled Pepa to her feet.
"Come on," Maca said, and together they wandered over to Maca's bike. Maca showed Pepa how to adjust the motorcycle for different heights, for multiple riders, and then they were off, driving away into the setting sun, hair whipping behind them. Almost like from a movie, Maca thought, and smiled wistfully. If only.
She drove them around her family's vineyard, popping a wheelie every now and then for Pepa's amusement. Finally, she turned the motorcycle up the hill, driving to the very top, to the place that had been Maca's favorite place in the world since she had discovered it at age five. She parked, they dismounted, and Maca led Pepa to the highest point, where a bench had lovingly been crafted out of two tree trunks and some planks. It had taken her father four weeks when she was six, Maca remembered. As she sank onto the bench she fingered the carved initials on the left armrest and smiled.
It reminded her of the only time she and Esther had brought all three of their children here. It hadthey had been falling apart, and they both knew it, and Maca had been lost and confused and drowning and so miserable inside, but for a few hours they had laughed and played with their children and it had been like nothing had ever changed. Esther had given her a peck on the lips, then a real kiss, and they had sat with the kids on the bench. Maca had carved all their initials into the aged wood, under the years-old initials of Maca and her brothers, and then had put her head on Esther's shoulder and Esther had kissed her forehead, and their children had snuggled closer, and Maca had wished she could freeze time.
Maybe, Maca thought, and for the first time in a long time felt a swell of optimism.
"Pepa," Maca said, and looked at her oldest friend with a gentle, wide smile. Pepa looked back.
"Sometimes life is beautiful."
For the first time all day, Pepa smiled a real smile. "Yeah," she said, and they watched the sun set.
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