(see header in part one)
Harassment, by Scott J. Welles
Maggie swallowed, wondering if she wanted to go through with this. She hadn't had the courage to come out and ask what Elizabeth had in mind for tonight, and the surgeon's poise left her few real clues to her intentions.
She checked her reflection in the hallway mirror, checking that no dust or lint marred the deep black of her 'hot date' dress. Well, maybe 'dress' was being kind; more like a swimsuit that was left open at the bottom. It left her arms and shoulders bare, and showed off her legs nicely. Her mother had once commented that, if the dress were any shorter, people could see her underwear. Maggie had solved that problem; she wasn't wearing any.
She'd given her hair a little extra fluff, and applied a carefully chosen shade of lipstick, not too loud, but just enough to suggest sensuality. She didn't wear much makeup, usually, since it never seemed too practical on the job, and she'd always hated the term 'lipstick lesbian' - sounds like a cheap porn flick - but for a special occasion, it seemed right. If only she knew what kind of occasion this was, a real date or just hanging out...
That reminded her of the asshole patient the other day who'd overheard her talking to Chuny about their love lives, or lacks thereof. The guy had asked her whether she considered herself a Butch or a Femme. She'd forced a smile and told him she considered herself a doctor, and anything beyond that was none of his business.
The part she'd really vacillated over was the shoes. Her best imitation black leather open-toes with four-inch spike heels. They made up in sexiness what they lacked in comfort, but only just barely. Her brother always bitched about having to wear a necktie every day, which made her snort with derision. Let him try wearing heels for a while, then he'd see how little he had to complain about!
She mustered up her courage and knocked on Elizabeth's door.
It opened a moment later, revealing Elizabeth in a tan thigh-length sweater-dress, belted at the waist, and sandals of the same color. She looked relaxed and casual, just about the opposite of how Maggie felt right now.
"Hi," Maggie said, holding up the bottles in each hand. "I didn't know whether to bring red or white."
"We may end up going through both." Elizabeth smiled at her - a little nervously? Or was it her imagination? - and invited her in.
"How'd you put up with working for Weasel Boy?" Maggie asked, halfway through dinner.
"The very same."
"Oh, you know, he really wasn't that bad," Elizabeth answered. "Certainly, he took advantage of my repeated internship to put me through all the usual drudgery. But I really had no one but myself to blame for it; I knew there would be a fair degree of that when I made the decision. And he surprised me on occasion, by showing some unexpectedly professional behavior with patients." She refilled their wineglasses. "I remember being with him last Hallowe'en, when he had to inform some parents that their daughter was actually, in a sense, their son."
"Whoa. How'd he handle that?"
"Remarkably well. He didn't talk down any more than necessary, and he was appropriately sensitive and calm with them."
"We are talking about DALE Edson, right? Surgical resident, about this tall?" Maggie held up a hand. "Brown hair, and nose to match?"
Elizabeth nodded. "I know he's not well-liked in the ER, but believe me, he was a cakewalk compared to some of the stuffy old gits I had to deal with during my original internship. And that was back when I really didn't know what I was doing. We Brits didn't invent the stiff upper lip for no reason, you know."
"So Edson wasn't that bad?"
"All things considered, he was a small price to pay."
"Then you'd work under him again if you had to?" Maggie lifted her glass to her lips.
Elizabeth's voice dropped a full octave. "Not if you held a fucking shotgun to my skull."
Wine spewed as Maggie burst out laughing. "Oh, jeez, I'm sorry!" She didn't know which to mop up first, the wine soaking into the tablecloth, or that which dribbled from her chin.
"Don't worry, I'll wash it later," Elizabeth assured her with an easy smile. "I got Peter to do the same thing, once."
"Benton, the Great Stone Face? How'd you manage that?"
The Englishwoman just smiled more broadly and didn't answer.
"Never mind, I think I can guess."
"Have you finished?" Elizabeth stood, collecting her dishes.
"Yeah, it was wonderful," Maggie said, meaning it. "A lot of people don't really know how to cook vegetarian, but this was great."
"I tried it for a while," Elizabeth said, carrying things into the kitchen, "but the truth is, I'm rather fond of meat. Perhaps not so highly evolved of me, but there it is."
Maggie paused, wondering if that was Elizabeth's subtle way of saying that she was a confirmed heterosexual. All through the evening, they'd skirted the line between friendship and flirtation, without ever managing to cross it. "So, you and Peter are really through, huh?" she said, bringing her dishes into the kitchen with her.
"Oh, Maggie, you don't have to do that. I'll take care of the dishes."
"Come on, I grew up with working class parents and a bunch of brothers. Nobody eats for free."
"All right, how about you load the dishwasher?"
"Sure." Maggie hadn't missed how Elizabeth had ducked her question. "If you don't want to talk about him..."
"I'm not sure if I do or not," Elizabeth replied, vaguely. "So, how about you? Anyone special in your life?"
Maggie's spine tingled at the question. Was that a casual inquiry, or an attempt to see if the field was open? "Well, you know how hard it is to meet anyone, with the hours we work," she said, noncommittally.
"And no one in the workplace that tickles your fancy?"
You mean besides the one right next to me? Maggie thought. "Well, yeah, but how many of 'em go for women?" She shrugged. "I always thought Carol Hathaway was kind of cute, but she's so obviously not interested. We didn't exactly get along at first, anyway. When I first met her, she must've been in some kind of early mid-life crisis or something, 'cause she was really running hot and cold on me. One minute she's getting bitchy with me over minor stuff, then she's trying to kiss up and play good neighbor. I could never seem to get in synch with her moods."
"Well...Carter once as much as accused me of having the hots for Anna Del Amico. Remember her?"
"I didn't, exactly, but I had to laugh at his assumption. I swear, I'd've hit him with a harassment suit, too, if I didn't know what a nice guy he really is, deep down. What are you smiling about?"
"It's funny you should mention those particular women. Peter came to my door one night, hoping to find me alone. We hadn't yet begun our relationship in earnest, but his interest was clearly piqued. So imagine his surprise when he found I had someone else with me that evening."
"Better. He was just starting a flush of jealousy when Carol Hathaway came to the door behind me..."
"Oh my God!"
"...followed closely by Anna Del Amico."
"Oh my Double God!"
"We gave him a polite brush-off and sent him on his way. Honestly, we were just having a few laughs and a few drinks - you know, a real girls' night in - but from the look on his face, I imagine he was picturing a full-scale lesbian orgy taking place!"
"And him not allowed to take part in it, poor guy!"
After they had laughed about that one for a minute, Elizabeth said, "Peter could be quite a good lover, but his heart clearly wasn't in the relationship. It wasn't easy to draw him into it, and once he was in, he took very little interest in its upkeep."
"Ahh, that's men for you," Maggie said with a smile.
"I don't think that's necessarily true of all men," the surgeon replied, not unkindly. "It's just that Peter was - and is - a very driven, goal-oriented person. He commits all of himself to something, and everything else has to take a backseat to it. In his case, it was his son. Having no children of my own, I don't know what kind of parent I'd make, but I should hope I'd be as devoted to them as he is to Reese."
Maggie hadn't dealt directly with Benton very much, but she knew Carter had always spoken highly of him...when he wasn't griping about him. Maggie had the impression that he was a real hardnose, but an excellent surgeon. Maybe the two went together.
"I just wasn't part of his picture of the future," Elizabeth went on. "Our relationship ended mostly because it had outlived its usefulness to us both. It was primarily filling a need, like food and rest. It became clear, eventually, that he didn't want or need anything more than that."
Elizabeth stopped rinsing the serving dish and looked at Maggie. "I don't know," she said.
Maggie dropped her eyes, wondering how they had ended up focusing the conversation on Benton. It wasn't a good sign, she thought, when you're with a woman and you end up talking about men.
"I don't blame him, in any case," Elizabeth said, drying her hands, then offering the towel to Maggie. "What little of his time and energy Reese didn't occupy, his work did."
"Career above all." Maggie followed her back to the living room, snagging the wine bottle and glasses from the table. "All surgeons are like that. I remember talking to Carter once..."
"I beg your pardon! I believe I represent that remark!"
"Okay, all male surgeons, then."
Elizabeth eyed her as they sat on opposite ends of the sofa. "What is this particular animosity you have for surgery?"
"It's nothing personal," Maggie assured her, pouring more wine for them both. "I just hate how cutthroat it all is. There's supposed to be this kind of honor code among the surgical elite, but the ones who make it to the top are always assholes like Romano. I mean, who'd he screw to get where he is today?"
"Believe me, you have no idea," Elizabeth muttered, taking a large sip.
Maggie picked up on it. "What did he do to you?"
The surgeon looked away.
"Did you and he...?"
"What? Oh, GOD, no!"
Elizabeth sighed. "He screwed us both, Maggie. You and me. I should say, you through me."
"What are you talking about?"
She raised her wineglass. "I must have had too much of this, or I'd never have said anything."
"Well, you said something now. C'mon, don't leave me hanging."
Another sigh. "He implied that if I gave Kerry Weaver my testimony in your case, he'd inform Anspaugh of my former relationship with Peter. I'd probably have gotten off lightly, but Peter's career could have been irrevocably damaged."
Maggie stared at her in astonishment. "Oh my God," she said quietly. "Is that why you pulled out?"
"You were protecting him? Not yourself?"
Maggie felt ashamed for her earlier wrath toward Elizabeth. Integrity and loyalty, even misplaced, were qualities she had always admired. Carter's covering for Edson's mistake, for instance, had secretly impressed her. She'd thought he was a dope for extending it to someone so obviously undeserving, but she had liked him all the more for it, just the same.
Now Elizabeth had made the same sort of sacrifice. All this time, Maggie had thought she was just too chicken to speak up, when in fact she'd had to choose the lesser of two evils. And Maggie had to admit, the poor evaluation Romano threatened to write her, when mixed in with all her other, far more positive reports, was minimal compared to the harm he could have done Peter Benton. Maggie didn't know Benton well, personally, but there was no doubt that County needed people like him.
"Elizabeth, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I really didn't know..."
"I wish I could have protected both of you, Maggie," the Englishwoman said quietly. "I really do."
"Forget it, it's okay..."
"No, it's not," she replied, vehemently. "It's not okay when manipulative little schemers can get away with abominable behavior at the expense of good, honest people like the both of you."
"Like the three of us," Maggie corrected her. She regarded the woman sitting next to her. It would have been easy, she realized, for Elizabeth to feel bitterness toward an ex-lover, and to make the choice not to protect him. But Elizabeth Corday had too much character for such pettiness. Looking at her now, Maggie was struck by how beautiful she really was. If Benton didn't know what he was missing in giving her up, he didn't deserve her in the first place, Maggie decided.
"Thank you, but I haven't felt good about it, in any case." She offered Maggie a watery smile. "Am I forgiven?"
Maggie leaned closer and kissed the corner of her mouth. "If I am," she replied.
For yelling at you, for hitting you, for being a complete bitch and trying to hurt and humiliate you... "For everything," she said. She gazed into those lovely eyes, so close...
What am I doing, Maggie thought abruptly. She's straight, she's not going to be interested in me. She only invited me here to clear the air. Maggie looked away.
Gentle fingers took her chin and turned it back. "You know," Elizabeth said slowly, "you didn't have to dress up just for dinner with me." She didn't move her hand.
"I didn't know what to expect," Maggie replied in a soft tone.
"You thought perhaps I asked you here romantically," Elizabeth went on, "as a result of your efforts to seduce me?"
"Oh, you noticed..."
"A tongue down one's throat provides a subtle hint."
Part of Maggie began to wish Elizabeth would remove the hand from her face. Part of her wished the opposite. "When you invited me, I wasn't sure what your intentions were..."
She trailed off as a fingernail traced the outline of her lips. "I wasn't either," her hostess whispered.
Maggie shivered under her touch. She closed her eyes.
The touch of Elizabeth's lips on her own was almost too faint to be felt. Maggie felt the vaporous kisses first on her upper lip, then her lower, then a full contact at last. Elizabeth's breath, tinged with wine, tantalized her momentarily, then retreated.
She opened her eyes again, looking into the other woman's. There was a question in them, unspoken. Did you like that? Did I do it well? Do you want me to do it again? Maggie had one answer for all three.
"We're really going to do this, aren't we?" she whispered.
The reply was almost inaudible. "Yes, we are."
Elizabeth kissed her again, bolder this time. The tip of her tongue ventured between her lips, caressing the inside of Maggie's lips without penetrating deeper. She felt the hand move from her chin, down her neck, and cup her breast, the palm seeming to devour her erect nipple even through the black dress. Maggie's arms had slid around her, pulling her closer.
It was too soon when Elizabeth pulled back, gasping for breath. "We're too old to act like teenagers," she said, standing. "Let's do this properly, shall we?" She held out a hand.
Maggie took it and stood, toeing her shoes off. The feel of Elizabeth's carpet beneath her toes was surprisingly sensuous.
They stood, silently facing each other and holding hands for what seemed like an eternity before Elizabeth turned away and walked toward her bedroom. As she walked, she undid her belt, dropping it thoughtlessly to the floor, then pulled the sweater-dress over her head. Maggie had only a glimpse of her bare back before she disappeared into the bedroom.
Maggie stood where she was, her head spinning. Whether from the wine or the kiss, she couldn't tell.
To her surprise, she found that little voice was back. You've lied to her, it said accusingly.
How do you figure that?
You allowed her to think you were trying to seduce her. That's not what you had in mind at all.
Look, do we have to talk about this now??
Maggie Doyle, you know she deserves the truth. She was honest with you. Are you really going to go in there and have sex with her after what you were willing to do to her?
Maggie considered that question carefully. Then she considered the fact that Elizabeth Corday was naked and waiting for her in the next room.
"Aw, screw it," she said out loud. Then she pulled her dress off, flung it inelegantly into the nearest corner, and marched into the bedroom.