“Fuck.” She kicked the machine. “Don’t do that you fucking stupid thing.” She kicked the coffee machine again, it didn’t deliver the coffee then either. John watched her taking out her rage on it and couldn’t help smiling. Others around them weren’t so forgiving, a nurse glared at her from her desk and if she wasn’t embroiled in a phone call with some other equally underfunded department, she would probably be heading over to kick the woman out.
“Eaten your money?” He asked. The woman turned, her face was bright red but she was drained from fighting.
“Right.” She leaned back against it. “I left my purse back on the ward, just brought enough change down for a drink.” She kicked it again with her heel. “I think it wants a tip.”
John fished in his pocket for some change. “Let me.”
“Oh no, please. There’s no need.”
“Don’t worry about it.” He dropped the coins in and stood back while she hammered at the buttons. “You’re clearly having a bad day.”
“Aren’t you?” She peered at him over the plastic cup and then wrapped her hands around it. She looked cold.
“Nobody loves a hospital, I suppose.” He walked back to the seats in the waiting area. “But everything’s routine for me. A scan, a trip to the pharmacy and then home. Nothing serious.”
She smiled and it was the first smile John had seen on her. It didn’t suit her, but he supposed it was a good sign. He dropped into one of the chairs and she dropped down beside him.
“Not heading back to the ward?”
“I don’t have the energy, and I won’t be needed for a while.”
“Oh,” he asked. “Mind if I ask why you’re here?” And he saw her face pull together ever so slightly, he had asked the wrong question. “I’m sorry, it’s not important.”
“It is to me,” she brushed the hair out of her eyes. “I got a call saying my daughter had been in an accident, by the time I got her she was already in surgery. Nobody wants to tell me anything, so…” She froze, John could see tears welling up in her eyes. He placed a hand gently on her shoulder and could feel her shaking right up to his shoulder.
“I’m sure they’re doing the best they can for her.”
She sat back, tried to wipe the fear from her eyes. “Right. What else would they be doing.”
“I’m sorry, I…”
“I know what you meant,” she smiled again. “I guess I don’t want to talk about it until there’s something to talk about.”
That drew a line under it, he half thought about leaving, but she was a mess. She shouldn’t be left alone.
“So what shall we talk about?”
“I don’t know, tell me where you’re from.”
“Well, I was born in France but I haven’t been there since. English parents, raised nearby.” Boring topic really, but it would pass the time. “And yourself?”
“Oh I’m a local girl.” She smiled. “Never left the country.”
They talked like that for a while before a nurse arrived down from A&E, she stepped into the waiting room and peered around as if she was going to find who she was looking for by intuition alone. Eventually she cleared her throat and spoke up. “Mrs Clary?” His new friend started to gather up her things and waved to the nurse, but she started to approach. “Follow me, Mrs Clary.”
“How’s she doing?”
The nurse was noncommittal. John knew it was bad news, you couldn’t hand around hospitals as long as he had without picking up on the bad news face. She was oblivious, he almost felt glad she was. “If you’d like to come with me, the doctor will speak to you about your daughter’s condition.”
She nodded and smiled, and then she gathered up her things. She held her coffee and her coat in one hand and extended the other to John. He took it and did his best to look hopeful. Then he watched the pair of them walk off down the corridor until they turned off towards the lifts. And he felt sorry for her. It wasn’t hard, under the circumstances, but it caught him off guard. He’d only known her a few minutes.
It was probably time to leave. He grabbed the coat from the chair and slipped it off his shoulders. It had been a mistake coming here really, but he’d got what he wanted in the end. He’d recognised her immediately. Same hair, same eyes. He thought he might not, he’d only got a quick look at the daughter through the side window and when you’re travelling at that speed there really isn’t time to stop and take in the details. But when her car had started to wobble and he’d tugged on the wheel, well her face was so perfect. He’d taken in every detail, and he wouldn’t be forgetting it any time soon. He should feel something for her, he supposed, but he didn’t. He didn’t do it because of anything she did, or was, but because she had been there just as the impulse had taken him. He hadn’t even seen the driver before he’d started grinding the metal of his jeep against the side door. By the time she’d spun off into the river, the fun was gone.
Outside the hospital, it was snowing. Maybe a White Christmas, that would be nice. Still, he should just have stayed in. He’d driven slowly the rest of the way home after the crash and parked up in the lockup. Then he’d walked round to the front and taken out the little hatchback. Then he drove straight to the nearest hospital and waited. He thought maybe he shouldn’t be doing that, maybe it was a risky thing and what were the chances anyway, but then he’d seen her fighting the coffee machine and it was so perfect. Well, it had to be fate. He found his way back to his little car, sat quietly underneath the streetlight. He would miss the Jeep on the drive home.