“Ms Wolfe? It’s Serena,” Jasmine says, her voice cracking and her eyes big and shining with fear.
She looks like a baby deer caught in front of speeding headlights, waiting for someone or something to help.
“What about her, Dr Burrows?”
“She’s on the roof.”
Immediately, Bernie feels her body click into autopilot. She runs straight out of the ward, not holding the door open behind her. In the distance, she is aware of footsteps following her – but they don’t matter now. The important thing is that she gets to Serena. She has to get to Serena.
She jumps up the stairs, taking them in long strides, ascending two, three at a time. Her hands grip onto the railings and pull her up and up until she reaches the door to the roof.
Her wrist twists as she tries to open it and finds it’s locked.
“Serena? Serena, open up!” she shouts. Her throat is dry and her voice is hoarse with emotion.
No answer. Please, no. She can’t be too late, not again.
Without taking a second to think, she rams her whole body into the metal door. The thick mass of muscle and bone snap the lock free, propelling her outside into the pitch black night.
The orangey glow of the streetlights illuminates half of Serena’s figure. Her coat envelopes her as she stands near the edge - like a tiny child, alone and afraid.
Bernie walks over slowly. She avoids any sudden movements. Fletcher and Jasmine are hanging back in the doorway.
“Serena,” she says, soft and gentle, almost a whisper.
Serena’s eyes are fixed to the tarmac below. There are tears streaming down her sodden face. Bernie stands next to her, watching, sharing a minute fraction of the unbearable pain. All she wants is to make it better for her. And that’s the one thing she can never do.
“Please don’t do this.”
At those words, Serena silently brings a finger up to brush a tear away from her cheek.
“She’s gone. Again,” she croaks.
“Her heart – it stopped beating. Again.”
Bernie can’t find the words of comfort this time. It’s not a shared confidence recently broken. It’s not a misunderstanding over Jason’s new girlfriend. It’s not even the loss of a beloved friend and colleague. It’s Serena’s daughter; her flesh and blood; a part of her very soul has been snatched away, never to return.
“But ... she gave another person life. Even if it was only for a few months. Elinor gave someone more days on this earth.”
Serena blinks, only for her tired and bloodshot eyes to brim with more salty water. Her face is pink in the low light.
“I’ve tried so hard to carry on – and I can’t. Even Jason can’t stand to be around me. It was my job to protect her, and I failed. I failed her.”
“No, Serena,” Bernie sighs, stepping closer and wrapping her arms as tightly as she can around her.
She’ll hold her until the end of time if it means she’ll never suffer this agony again.
Serena turns into the embrace, buries her face deep into Bernie’s chest. Bernie lifts her hand up, runs her fingers gently through her hair, makes soothing circles on her back. All the time, Serena’s body quivers and fresh tears stain Bernie’s hoodie. The cold winter air nips at their faces and hands. Bernie feels the goosebumps rising beneath the thin materal of her scrubs. She wishes Serena safe. One of the people she cares most about in the world.
“I don’t want to lose you – I can’t lose you. I love you so much.”
The unspoken words just spill out of her. They feel natural and familiar on her tongue. Her chest feels aglow with emotion. It’s the first time she’s said those words to anyone, besides her children, and truly meant them. She realises that now.
“Please come back inside ... so we can talk?”
Serena moves out of the embrace, only slightly. Bernie’s long arms are still looped around her, her hands clasped and resting gently on her lower back. She manages a tiny nod and a deep sigh. Bernie reaches up, strokes a thumb across her cheek to brush away the last tear as it falls. She presses her lips to her forehead, and Serena’s mouth twitches slightly. The faintest flicker of hope on a face frozen with anguish.
They walk slowly towards the door; the strength of Bernie’s body and heart supporting her partner all the way.