Author's Note: This is a OUAT doctor AU. Dr. Inez Fernandez (Regina) visits her father for dinner and meets Dr. Jill Barnett (Emma), her boss's date. The setting is partly inspired by crossing Miami Medical with House M.D. and then there's influence from the rock song "Jessie's Girl." The prompt from Swan Queen Spring Break Week 2021 was Dinner/Picnic.
Inez Fernandez was in her Jeep enroute to her father's home in less than ten minutes. After the hurricane, she had started having dinner more often with her only parent. At the same time her father had taken a liking to Matt Porter, her boss, so Sundays had become a strange mix of the professional and personal, with her father's and Matt's stories intermingling over Cuban dishes, as her father seemed to take it upon himself to immerse the Connecticut transplanted Porter in the culture of Cuban Miami.
She knew her father harbored a desire to see her develop a relationship with Matt. They did have a good working relationship. For one, though, Inez wouldn't date a boss, and Matt, while dryly fun, was not Inez's type. Though what her type was, Inez wasn't sure she really knew. Too caught up in her work in the trauma unit until she was the most senior member, she hadn't seriously dated anyone in nearly three years.
Pulling into her father's driveway, Inez noted Matt's Euro-classic already parked beside her father's well-tended but very pedestrian blue Dodge Omni.
Glancing at the sky, she secured her Jeep's canvas top in place and headed inside the squat Spanish-style adobe and brick home.
"Papi?" Inez called out as she tucked her key back in her purse and turned away from closing the front door.
"Backyard, mija." Her father's voice drifted in through what she could now see was the open sliding glass door. The night screen had been closed across it.
She paused in the kitchen on her way. "Anything I can check while I grab a drink?" she asked, pitching her voice so it would carry easily.
"I have the timer on it already. Just bring your drink. Matt's brought a friend."
Inez frowned. Matt brought someone else to Sunday dinner? She retrieved a bottled beer and popped the cap, dropping it in a small wastebasket just outside the house. Then she slipped off her sandals and stepped out onto the concrete slab that extended into the fenced yard.
She was lowering her chin from raising the bottle to her lips when her eyes fell on the blond woman sitting with one leg crossed over the other in a folding chair between Matt Porter and her father. The flames from the backyard fireplace made the air shimmer between them, but she was certain the other woman was looking at her as well.
Inez froze. Dios Mio, she's stunning.
"Inez? Good. Good. Come meet Dr. Jill Barnett." Her father pushed up from his folding seat and waved her over to his chair and began to sit in the fourth empty chair. When she sat Inez realized she would be next to the blonde woman. Her brain stuttered over the idea. Her father's hand landed on her back and propelled her forward. Inez grasped the arm of the empty folding chair as if she might lift it as a shield. It swayed under her unsteady grip. She very nearly fell into the chair, unable to take her eyes from the other woman.
"Dr. Fernandez," said a liquid voice, the woman's slender hand lifting slowly toward her. Inez's pulse thundered in her throat and her vision shrank to a pair of green eyes.
She didn't have time to respond to the woman's greeting before her father wrapped his arms around her in his enjoyment at seeing her. He turned, still holding her against him with one arm, and introduced her formally with pride filling his voice. "This is my Inez." She blushed.
Matt smiled at her and gestured to the blonde. "Your father said I could bring her. Jill is a new member of Miami Central's ER team."
She works at Central? Inez felt the news like a gut punch; no work relationships. Until she actually formed the thought and found it depressing, she hadn't categorized her reaction as anything more than being stunned by her beauty. But there was want in her. For this woman. Madre de Dios! The woman presented her hand. Inez recovered enough of her wits to glance down and recognize the gesture. She fumbled her beer bottle to her other hand before taking the woman's hand, viscerally aware of the shiver that passed up her arm and lodged in her chest. "Uh. Hi."
"I'm pleased to meet you." The blonde's voice rolled over Inez's ears. She almost sighed with happiness. When Jill continued though, a chill struck Inez's heart. "I met Matt at the M & M meeting today." That had been the meeting where Dr Sandoval had intended to recommend Inez be censured.
But the way Jill said Porter's name distracted Inez from that fact. Based on the way the blonde had glanced toward Matt, Inez wondered if he had found himself another romance. He went through women fairly frequently on the hospital's staff. The blonde's gaze held the same admiration that Inez saw in most women who met Dr Matthew Porter.
The idea that Dr Barnett would be a conquest of Porters' settled uncomfortably in Inez's gut as she sat down next to Jill.
But she tried to rationalize it out; running through details often helped Inez put things in perspective. Jill was a blonde, the same as an orthopedic surgeon Porter had dated for a while. She was Inez's age though, which she hadn't thought interested Matt much.
She squeezed the chair arm and then unclenched her fingers consciously working out frustration. Why did her chest tighten at the thought that the two might be dating? Porter had not once lost his perspective, professionalism, or been late to a single shift, during his brief affair with the orthopedic. She had no reason to think this woman would be any different. The pressure in Inez's chest lessened slightly.
She drew a breath and finally offered a longer welcome. "How are you finding Miami? Is it very different from..." She trailed off in invitation, meeting Jill Barnett's gaze as steadily as possible while butterflies fluttered in her stomach as she tried not to focus on the woman's mesmerizing eyes.
"Chicago. It's different, but a good different," Jill said. The dry tone accompanied a faraway look that aroused Inez's curiosity. "The politics was really beginning to wear on me." The blonde slid back a bit in her chair. "I'm sorry, you don't need my story." Oh , but Inez thought, I want it. Desperately . "You just finished your shift."
Abruptly Inez decided Jill's eye color was aquamarine. It matched the coral offshore of a Caribbean atoll where she'd taken one long weekend vacation alone two years ago. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Matt looking at her and leaned back. Whatever she wanted to say died unformed behind her lips which she pressed against the mouth of her beer bottle.
A timer in the kitchen dinged and Inez's father excused himself, waving down Inez's attempt to jump to handle it. "Sit with your friends, mija."
Inez claimed her role as hostess. "Can I refill anyone's drink?" She glanced at the Corona bottle in Matt's hands. A glass of vaguely amber liquid caught her attention with Jill's fingers sliding through the perspiration on the side. "Dr Barnett?"
"Jill, please. Apparently I have been declared a friend."
"Jill spoke at the M & M meeting," Matt explained.
"On which case?" Inez asked, though she felt her stomach twist.
"The internal decap," Jill replied.
Inez's stomach lurched, her face pinched as she thought she might throw up. She held it all inside behind a quick swallow from her beer. If she'd commented, that meant Jill had read the file and knew Inez's connection to the case. She set her bottle aside. Pointedly she looked at Matt. "Tuck said it's over."
He nodded at Jill. "Because our new ER colleague here apparently has a great deal of experience recognizing ego."
Inez dropped her gaze.
"Not yours." Inez's gaze shot up from Jill's hand which had landed on hers on her lap. The contact was hot, cold, and electric all at once. She gasped. "Hers,"
Jill continued. "I used to work with someone who also could not stand to see someone else get credit."
"Oh." Inez was surprised she had managed a sound. She pulled her hand from Jill's, who pulled back as well.
"One of the many reasons I left Chicago," Jill said. She pursed her lips. "I really don't want to …" The woman's voice trailed off as her gaze lifted
Inez turned to see her father had come back outside. "Hate to interrupt shop talk," he said, "but dinner's ready."
Feeling sheepish, as though she had been caught doing something inappropriate, Inez remembered her father's dry tone on the words 'shop talk' and decided he must be needling them about that.
"Inside or outside tonight?" he asked her.
"The humidity isn't too bad," Inez suggested. For some reason she couldn't articulate, she didn't want the four of them crowded around her father's small inside table. She glanced to Jill, seeing the orange-gold light from the outside fireplace flickering over her features. "Is that all right?"
"Fine with me."
"I'll get the rest of the dishes," Inez said, quickly rising to her feet and disappearing inside the house. She stepped past her father, ignoring his consternated expression and inhaling the aromas from a serving bowl of Pollo en Salsa de Frijol Negro.
Pulling a tray from alongside the cabinet, Inez cleared the small table, stacking bowls, dishes and silverware, and grabbed the salad bowl from the counter with her other hand.
Jill pulled the paper napkin from her lap and dabbed at her lips. "It's delightful," she complimented the elder man, Eduardo Fernandez. He smiled at her; his expression was fatherly - or at least what she imagined doting fatherliness looked like since he had cast the same expression several times on his daughter Inez. Jill's own father had never had eyes that twinkled in the same way when he looked at her. Instead he more frequently wore an expression of exasperation or disappointment.
She looked over at Inez who lowered her eyes to her plate. The woman had been doing that all through the meal every time Jill turned her head. She wanted to ask why.
The group had long since finished the dinner and were now enjoying iced coffee and flan, which she hadn't even thought of as Cuban.
Jill watched Inez's cheeks turn pink while she muffled a chuckle. Her father, Eduardo, completed the story of Inez's first time cooking their main dish on her own at 12 years old. "Blackening the kitchen even more than the beans."
Inez lifted her head then, meeting her father's eyes and the love there made Jill's throat tighten. She could only hope she created as close a relationship with her son as a single mother.
Taylor. The direct thought of her son made Jill startle about the time. The sun had long been set. Almost afraid, she looked at her watch. They had lingered over the meal for more than two hours. The hospital care would close very soon. She glanced at her silenced phone, noting no missed calls.
She looked over to Matt as she started to her feet. "I'm so sorry. But. I have to go."
"Something wrong?" Inez asked, her eyes shading from cinnamon to dark chocolate.
"It's late. I have to go get my son."
"You have a child?" Matt asked.
It hadn't come up in conversation yet, even with Eduardo telling stories on Inez. "I do. He's two."
"You must bring him next time." Eduardo's invite was warm, insistent.
Inez had turned to look at her father. Jill was surprised as well. She said, "Hospital schedules can be irregular. But I'll keep the invitation in mind."
Eduardo smiled. "There are few enough places to go out when one has a child. The walls of this house should echo with a child's laugh again."
Inez turned her gaze from her father. Jill answered Eduardo's generosity though. "You are kind."
"Always a pleasure to make new friends," he said.
Matt was getting to his feet beside Jill while she pondered the elder Fernandez's words. In the space of just these hours, she was surprised to acknowledge that, yes, she had made these people friends. That had never happened before. The emotion caught her off guard and created a lump in her throat that brought moisture to her eyes. She nodded again, unable to think of anything else to do.
Matt said, "I'll take you home."
"Taylor's at the hospital daycare," she explained. "And my car's still in the lot."
"Oh. Well. That's fine." Matt's reluctance told Jill what she'd already guessed: going back to the hospital was out of his way.
Inez stood, drawing Jill's attention with the suddenness of it. "Wait. I live close to the hospital. Matt, you live so far south. I, uh," she looked at Jill. "If you want, I could drive you?"
Inez's expression told Jill she hadn't expected to make the offer. She looked at Matt again. "I wouldn't want you to go out of your way."
Obviously coming to terms with leaving, Inez turned to her father. "Papi, I'll come over tomorrow around ten for shopping day, all right?"
"Of course, my dear. I love you." He kissed her cheek wrapping her up in a hug.
"Love you, too, Papi."
"Jill." Eduardo offered his hand, continuing to speak only once she had taken it. "It was a pleasure to meet you."
"Thank you for welcoming me into your home." The grip was warm and firm.
Inez turned to Matt. "See you at work on Tuesday."
"Of course." He looked to Jill. "Good night to you both."
Jill followed Inez in silence out the front door to a Jeep. "Hop in." Inez had swung into her driver's seat. Inez laid her hands on the steering wheel and stared at them in the silence. Jill studied the way the lighting between the streetlamps and the house touched on Inez's arms, illuminating every muscle twitch under the brown skin as she adjusted her grip. At long last Inez's voice broke the silence. "So, um, did you know Matt before Miami?"
Jill fell silent under Inez's dark and solemn gaze. The world held still for a breath. The woman's brown eyes were framed with long dark lashes, only slightly edged with mascara. "No," she finally managed to speak. "Today was my first day. I only moved to Miami over the weekend."
Inez turned the key and the Jeep's engine purred to life. "A dinner invitation to end your first workday."
"I'm always looking for friends, but I probably shouldn't have gone out until I settled in more. Certainly will need to find other arrangements than the hospital daycare."
Inez seemed to jump at that. "Right. Your son. What's his name?"
"You moved from Chicago with a three year old?" Inez took a turn off the causeway and Jill saw the hospital looming up ahead.
"Job opportunity. His father's not part of the picture. Never has been."
Jill decided the personal questions deserved turnabout. "Have you lived in Miami all your life?"
"No, my parents came here when I was six."
"Oh? Where are you from?"
Jill was surprised; the brunette had almost no accent. "Were you ever in school in Cuba?"
"No." Inez turned off the engine. Her reaction suggested to Jill that the topic was uncomfortable. The dark haired woman's words confirmed she was anxious to move on. "Let's get you back to your son."