DISCLAIMER: Hospital Central and its characters are the property of Telecino. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Tiny Wrinkle
Leafing through a batch of medical histories, Maca found her mind wandering, and her eyes quickly following suit. The small clique standing around the admissions desk were chattering animatedly, laughter and smiles erupting frequently as they shared their gossip and speculations. More than once the sound of her own name, half whispered, had caught her attention, but every time she tried to listen closely she found it impossible to discern what they were saying.
A particularly exuberant burst of laughter broke out and three heads turned in her direction before quickly looking away. Teresa was shaking her head, a frown on her face, and whatever it was she was saying had both Rusti and Esther in tears of laughter. The sight would have brought a smile to Maca's lips if she hadn't half suspected that they were laughing at her.
"Hello," Hector greeted, his pile of histories joining Maca's on the counter.
Maca's smile was half-hearted. "Hello."
It was at that moment that Esther turned to observe the subject of her previous conversation, her smile faltering as she saw the forlorn look on Maca's face.
"Is everything okay?" Hector asked.
"Yes." Maca shuffled her histories into some kind of order. "Everything's fine, Hector, thank you."
The gossiping trio fell silent as they watched Maca depart, her paperwork shoved haphazardly under her arm and a look of resignation on her face. Then, once she'd disappeared from view, the chattering start up once again, although one of the group failed to participate with the same gusto as before.
Relaxing into the couch, Maca tried not to remember the last time she'd been in this room, but the memory wouldn't stay hidden. The feel of Esther's skin beneath her lips had been intoxicating and she could have sworn, if only for a moment, that the young nurse felt the connection just as strongly as she did. Then everything changed and Maca found herself alone and questioning every interaction she'd ever had with Esther Garcia.
The friendship they had formed seemed but the first step on the way to something deeper, but she'd obviously been wrong. The subtle cues and shy smiles she'd thought echoed her own interest were nothing more than an overture of friendship. A friendship she'd left in tatters with her over confident actions.
She'd thought that by taking an extra day she'd be able to put the incident into perspective but the minute Esther had walked in the door it had been as if the rebuff had happen only minutes before. She'd done her best to act indifferent. The famous Wilson aplomb had served her well, but as the day wore on and Esther continued to avoid her company, that too vanished into a mild depression.
Eva poked her head into the room. "Maca?"
"Yes?" Maca did her best to smile at the paramedic.
"There's someone waiting for you in the reception area."
Maca reached for her stethoscope, its metallic feel a welcome talisman against whatever tragedy she was about to witness. All thoughts of Esther and her lacklustre love life subsumed beneath the call for action.
With practised ease Maca searched the bustling reception area for any sign of her patient, but the only children she could see were impatiently waiting on an adult, and displaying all the signs of good health. It was then that she noticed her.
"Azucena?" Maca couldn't keep the annoyance out of her voice. "What are you doing here?"
Azucena pushed a lock of hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture Maca hadn't seen in years. The woman's entire demeanour screamed penitence and it only succeeded in making Maca nervous.
"I've left him," Azucena murmured.
Maca closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer of dissatisfaction to the patron saint of bad timing. For over a year she'd yearned to hear those words and start a life with the woman she loved. Then, just as she'd managed to put her life back together and meet someone new, here she was, saying the right thing at the wrong time.
"What do you want me to say?" Maca looked behind her to the reception desk, further discomforted to find Esther watching her intently.
"Tell me that it makes a difference," Azucena begged. "I left him for you."
Maca hadn't expected to feel guilty, the marriage had been over long before she'd met Azucena, but that didn't stop the pang of shame. Because if Azucena really had left her husband just to be with her, then she'd left for nothing.
"I can't do this here." Maca looked around the waiting room. "This is where I work."
Azucena reached out a comforting hand. "I'll go," she promised. "But say you'll meet me tonight?"
Maca wanted to say 'no' but she just couldn't, she felt as if she owed the other woman that much. "You know where I live?"
"Yes." Azucena smiled for the first time. "Eight o'clock?"
Esther watched the little exchange, her stomach tightening into knots as she witness the smile that broke out on that woman's face. She had know that Maca's ex was desperate to get back together with her the week before, when she'd arrived, child in tow, at the hospital. At the time she'd been a tiny bit jealous to discover just how close Maca had been to the woman, but that was nothing compared to how she felt at that moment.
All morning she'd been trying to work up the courage to speak to Maca about the kiss and how she'd overreacted. But each time she found herself alone with Maca she ended up running in the opposite direction, both afraid of admitting what she was feeling and petrified that Maca had changed her mind. Now, it looked as if her only chance had been squandered, and that woman had stolen what should have been hers.
"Who is that woman?"
Esther turned on Teresa, the older woman's inquisitiveness sparking her temper. "She's a friend of Maca's."
Teresa ignored the tone, her attention fully engrossed with the departing Azucena. "She looks high class," she muttered. "Trust a Wilson to have snooty friends."
Esther would have been more than happy to find fault with the woman but she couldn't do it at the expense of her friend. "Maca isn't snooty so why do you presume her friends are going to be?"
With a roll of her eyes Teresa abandoned Esther and attempted to intercept Maca before she could escape the reception area. The paediatrician's frown on hearing her name was little deterrent against Teresa's need for gossip.
"A friend of yours?" Teresa asked.
Maca's gaze flickered to Esther before she shrugged in the affirmative.
"She seems very -" Teresa's voice trailed off, as if she was searching for a word that would both flatter and sanction.
"Teresa," Esther warned. Finally turning her full attention to Maca, Esther tried not to let her jealousy show. "Is her little boy sick?"
"No." Maca would have stopped there but as the pause in conversation grew, she could see Teresa working up to ask another, probing, question. "She left her husband and wanted someone to talk to."
"Tsk! No one works at marriage these days," Teresa complained. "If I left my husband every time he got on my nerves I'd never see him."
Esther felt sick.
Maca turned off her motorcycle's engine but couldn't quite bring herself to dismount the machine. For the first time since moving to her new apartment she felt loathed to enter. In less than two hours Azucenda would be knocking at her door and she'd be forced to make decisions she knew could only end up hurting somebody.
Reluctantly she eased off the motorcycle and turned to enter her building, only to discover the focus of her thoughts already waiting for her.
"I know, I'm early, but I couldn't sit around my hotel room another minute."
Maca felt trapped.
"Are you going to invite me in?"
With an abrupt nod, Maca transferred her helmet to her other arm, effectively acting as a barrier against contact, and led the way to her front door. Neither woman spoke.
As the door closed behind them, Azucenda reached forward to engulf Maca in an embrace, her face buried in Maca's hair. "I've missed you."
Looking once more at the crumpled piece of paper, Esther tentatively knocked on the door. She had spent the hour following her shift simply wandering around the streets, unwilling to go home but unsure of her welcome if she followed her heart. The long walk had helped to put a lot of things into perspective and she realised that if Maca wanted nothing more to do with her then it was probably for the best that she discovered it now, rather than six months from now.
The door opened abruptly and a breathless Maca peered out at her.
"I didn't mean -" One look at Maca's dishevelled state was enough to convince Esther that she'd arrived too late. "I'm sorry."
"Don't." Maca reached out a restraining hand as Esther turned, ready to make her retreat. "Why did you come?" she asked, her voice as low and intimate as it had been days before as she'd whispered a private invitation.
"I wanted to talk, about the other day," she hesitated a moment. "About the kiss."
"Maca?" The two women at the door turned at the sound coming from inside the apartment, equal looks of annoyance mixed with embarrassment on their faces.
Esther began to back away. "I shouldn't have come."
"No, Esther, I want you to stay."
"Maca, darling?" Azucenda called again.
"I have to go." Esther turned and fled.
Maca sighed as she closed the door on her second visitor of the day. Azucenda had been far more reluctant than Esther to depart, but after Maca made it perfectly clear that she wouldn't be succumbing to her charms any time soon, her ex finally relented and agreed to give her time to think. Not that she was looking forward to the prospect.
She began collecting the wine glasses from the living room, her thoughts momentarily distracted as she noticed Azucenda's lipstick smeared against one of the rims. It was a lovely shade; rich and inviting, just like its owner. The taste of that lipstick was still on her lips, Azucenda's departing kiss having met its target where all her previous attempts had failed. It had been strange, sharing a kiss after all this time, the memory of their passion still fresh but the reality little more than an embarrassment.
Depositing the glasses in the sink, Maca had little to occupy her mind but the muddled state of her love life. One ex-lover who was desperate to erase the 'ex' from that description, and one friend who she'd thought would never be called lover, but now wasn't so sure. Esther might have sought her out simply to repair their damaged friendship but if that was the case she could just as easily done so at the hospital, rather than seeking her out at home.
There was really only one way to find out.
Maca picked up the phone and dialled Esther's number.
A smile formed on Maca's lips at the sound of Esther's voice. "It's me. Maca."
There was a second's pause. "Hello."
"Hello." Maca would have laughed if it wasn't so serious. "I hope it's not too late to call?"
"We didn't get a chance to talk before, when you were here, and I thought that maybe..."
"Is she still there?"
Esther's voice lost some of its chill. "I'm sorry if I interrupted anything."
"You didn't." Maca paused. "At least nothing I didn't want interrupted."
"You looked -" on the other end of the phone Esther was fighting against her jealousy and rapidly loosing ground. "You looked as if you'd been enjoying yourself."
Maca laughed. "Esther nothing happened."
"That's not how it looked."
"Are you jealous?" Maca teased, her uncertainty disappearing in the face of Esther's pique.
"Why would I be jealous?"
"I don't know, Esther, why would you be jealous?"
The pause on the other end of the phone was so long that Maca began to wonder if she'd been cut off.
"Why did you kiss me?" Esther asked.
"Because you're beautiful."
"Maca," she whined.
"And because you have no idea just how wonderful you really are."
"Don't." Maca didn't have to see the colour in her cheeks to know that Esther was blushing.
"I can't help myself." All thoughts of Azucenda had been forgotten and the only thing Maca could think about was the woman on the other end of the telephone. "I want to kiss you again."
"Maca, I -" Her voice faltered. "What about her?"
"If you'll let me, I'll prove to you that she means nothing."
It was all becoming a little too intense and confusing for Esther; so far that day she'd yo-yoed between wanting to be with Maca and thinking it impossible so many times that she had developed whiplash. "I have to go."
"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"Of course, silly, we work in the same hospital."
The two shared a laugh before saying their goodbyes. Nothing had been decided but both women went to bed that night feeling a little more optimistic about the future.
Teresa was getting annoyed. For the second day in a row Esther was fluttering about the reception desk asking her inane questions and peering longingly towards the entrance. She didn't need second sight to know who had prompted Esther's erratic behaviour but if someone didn't tell her soon what was going on she'd explode.
"Teresa have you seen the -"
"Did the two of you have a fight?" Teresa interrupted.
It took a second for Esther to realise she'd been asked a question. "What? Who had a fight?"
With a 'tsk!' Teresa began waving a hand in front of Esther's face, effectively blocking her view of the entrance. "Did you and Maca have a fight?"
"No. Why would you think that?"
Teresa realised that she wouldn't need to answer, as Esther's attention had once more reverted to the hospital's entrance. She really didn't understand Esther's friendship with the new doctor; they had nothing in common and hardly travelled in the same circles. Yet, despite their early arguments, they seemed to get along well. It was a mystery to the older woman but one she fully planned to unravel.
Esther's sudden shift in demeanour announced Maca's arrival even before she came into Teresa's line of sight. She'd half expected Esther to launch into some effusive form of greeting but she'd barely acknowledged Maca's arrival beyond a shy smile and quick departure. There was something going on, she was certain of it now, and if it took all day, she'd get to the bottom of it.
A major traffic accident had kept the ER's staff busy for most of the morning, so it wasn't until after lunch that Esther found herself alone with Maca. The two of them taking up their familiar places in the lounge, resting back on the couch, staring uncertainly at one another.
"A busy day," Esther murmured, trying to find the right words to restart their conversation from the night before, but failing miserably.
Maca smiled. "I still want to kiss you."
"I -" Esther blushed. "I thought we needed to talk?"
"We could do both," Maca suggested, a smile tingeing her lips.
Esther began to lean forward, her gaze resting firmly on Maca's welcoming smile, before the memory of the night before began to intrude. "What about Azucenda?"
"She's not here." The second Maca tried to close the distance between them she realised she'd said the wrong thing. "Esther?"
"If she were here would she be the one you were kissing?"
Maca sighed. "No, she'd be the one I was escorting out the door, so I could come back here and kiss you." She took hold of Esther's hand. "She will always hold a special place in my heart but what we had is in the past and I have no intention of reviving it." Placing a tiny kiss to the back of Esther's hand, Maca leaned in closer. "You are the only one I want to kiss."
They met halfway, their lips pressed gently together in a kiss that was more tentative than either had experienced in a long time. Then, once it became clear that neither of them was going to pull away, the kiss intensified.
When they finally did pulled away they were both smiling.
Esther looked towards the door, before shyly asking, "Again?"
When their second kiss ended it was Maca who spoke, her 'Again' echoing Esther's and causing them both to laugh before their lips joined and amusement gave way to something else.
What felt like seconds later the door banged open and before either woman had time to turn, a voluble "Oh!" split the air, quickly followed by the sound of retreating steps.
Theirs just wasn't meant to be a secret love.
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