Bernie Wolfe had only been part of the AAU team for a month when she’d first forgotten the money for her morning coffee. Cameron had started answering her calls, but his words were always brusque and closed-off, and no matter how many times Charlotte’s phone went to voicemail, she never gave up trying. ‘They’ll come round’ Serena had offered on a rare quiet afternoon in her office, and Bernie had believed it. But her mind was always racing, running over the events of the past few months, tying the threads of her life into knots and making futile attempts to untangle them.
Lately, this had resulted in absentmindedness. Going to the shop for milk and returning with a packet of twenty cigarettes that she knew she wouldn’t smoke. Leaving washed laundry in a heap on the floor until the only clean clothes she had left were crumpled and in want of ironing. One morning, she’d forgotten her house key. She’d moved into a new place and (as expected) not immediately attached them to her car key ring. Arriving back to the flat, exhausted and unable to get inside, she had slumped onto the floor, head against the door. Luckily, she had learned to pick locks as a child, and she had never forgotten.
Today, it is her purse that receives the distinction of being left behind in place of some other important thought. Only when she has ordered her coffee at Pulses does she discover it to be missing from her bag, leading to an embarrassed apology and a quick dash up the stairs. She'd rather be out of breath than await the lift to be stared down by the disgruntled customers in the queue behind her.
She throws her coat onto the chair in Serena’s office, and goes to the AAU staff room to find a mug and a caffeine boost to clear her head. It is the first time she’s really been here, often eating on the run or at home. The room is empty, so she begins to open and shut cupboards in quick succession in search of a spare mug. She is crouching by a cupboard near to the sink when two feet appear next to her, and she has to steady herself to avoid falling over backwards.
“Looking for something?” Serena says, and Bernie can hear the smile in her voice, almost feel the warmth of it.
“Um ... cups,” she says, standing up. She pushes her fringe out of her eyes.
Serena moves to the other side of the room, to a cupboard Bernie swears she has shuffled through already, and pulls out two mugs. One is printed with 'World's Best Auntie'; the other covered in a generic flowery pattern. She puts them onto the counter top while Bernie grabs a jar of instant coffee and flicks the kettle switch on.
She twists the top, squeezes it, her knuckles whiten under the pressure. Serena is hovering behind her, her body barely an inch from Bernie’s and she can feel the heat rising in her neck as she struggles with the jar.
“Big and macho army medic, are we?” Serena says, her breath hitting Bernie’s bare neck and sending shivers down her spine, “Need a hand?”
Bernie turns and sees her smiling face, handing over the jar in defeat. Serena twists it once, effortlessly removing the lid and using a teaspoon to put the coffee into the two cups. She doesn’t say anything else, but Bernie can tell she’s brimming with victory.
She determines to get to the gym and lift weights straight after work.