“You couldn’t have injured yourself on a quiet night could you!” Serena’s tone is playful despite the scorn of the words. Their wait is destined to be long; A&E is hectic primarily due to a brawl at a nearby football match. Holby FC were taking on hated local rivals Wyvern Athletic when a controversial refereeing decision has caused a fight on the pitch; the players got involved, then the fans and judging by the uniforms, the officials have also been in the melee. Now they are at the back of a very long queue.
“Just go home Serena, I can wait on my own.”
“Do you think I trust you not to just leg it the second my back is turned?” Serena jibes back. Bernie pouts, half in upset at Serena’s assessment and half because she knows Serena was right. “I’ll go get us some coffee, promise you won’t move while I’m gone?” Bernie nods and settles back into the hideously uncomfortable plastic chair she is perched on.
It seems a fight has erupted in the waiting area between the rival factions while Serena has been gone and it is in full flight when she returns. She can see Bernie through the flailing limbs but can’t reach her with both her coffee and probably her teeth intact.
Suddenly across the reception area a fiery brunette storms out. “This is a hospital, not a boxing ring. Anyone wanting treatment will sit down and shut up. Anyone else – the door is over there. Do not make me come back out here and have to sort you out again. I will not be so pleasant.”
Serena would be impressed and maybe even a smidgeon attracted to her but now that the tough macho men are all sat like meek little lambs she has a clear, uninterrupted view of Bernie and Serena watches as the blonde rakes her eyes up and down the retreating woman, not even trying to conceal her interest, mouth agape and a flush gracing her neck and cheeks.
Serena marches straight over, deliberately placing her body between Bernie and the object of her lust. “See something you like?” Her tone is barbed and maybe it is that sharpness that snaps Bernie’s head away, her features returning to her shy smile once more.
“Never hurts for a girl to look, but even if she was playing for my team, and despite my squiffy gaydar I can see she is not, I think she would eat me alive.”
Serena nudges her playfully, handing over her coffee and they share a smile. “Bet that would be a hell of a way to go, though!” Bernie laughs emitting a great honking sound that seems to reverberate off every surface and stuns the entire waiting area into silence. Serena realises with a guilty pang that she has never heard Bernie laugh before, finds that she delights in the sound, the very unguarded nature of the thing and resolves to make it her mission to hear it as often as possible.
They have been waiting for three hours already and Bernie’s head is lolling forwards repeatedly as she fights the sleep that is overpowering her.
“Come here.” Serena opens up her arm and invites Bernie to rest against her. “Get some sleep, you look shattered.” Bernie is too tired to even argue and shuffles over tilting her head against Serena as she feels the weight of her arm against her shoulders, the grip of her fingers pulling her tighter and she submits.
“Berenice Wolfe” A voice is calling, dragging Serena from her slumber. The first thing she notices is the smell, a delicate vanilla scent and there is a tickling against her nose, she opens her eyes finds her face pressed to Bernie’s head, nose buried in her hair and it is her scent engulfing her. Serena can feel Bernie’s breath against her neck where the blonde is still snoozing, lips grazing her skin where they have shifted together imperceptibly during their nap. She moves away, doesn’t want to but is scared Bernie will be embarrassed when she awakes. The motion stirs the blonde regardless and Serena can’t help the swell of emotion she feels when Bernie’s eyes shake off the remnants of sleep and her mouth curls into a slow, lazy smile.
“Come on Major, they are calling you.”
The next morning Serena is awake long before her alarm, has been awake so long she could arrive at the restaurant with ample time to make the call to Hanssen and formally retract her resignation before anyone else would even consider coming in. Now it was with a renewed sense of optimism that Serena faced the day. Today would be new start for both of them and she is looking forward to working with Bernie properly for the first time.
Serena’s mind was whirring though; she slept fitfully when she slept at all. She had finally left Bernie last night, at the blonde’s insistence, while the junior doctor was just finishing up. Thankfully there had been no serious damage but he had instructed Bernie to keep the wound clean and sterile for a time while it healed no mean feat in an environment where cleanliness was paramount. It was not however concerns for Bernie’s well-being that beset her dreams, it was the intensity of the sensation she had felt when their bodies had brushed against each other, where their hips had collided, the lingering scent that seemed to cling to her hours after she had got home. It had been a long time since she had felt such a pull towards another person and the feeling scared her, especially given the fragile cessation of hostilities that was just about holding between them, the last thing Serena wanted to do was to mess this up again.
The door to the restaurant swings open and the shy smile of the object of her thoughts drags her mind back to the present.
“How’s the hand?”
“Not too bad. A bit of rest and it should be fine. I never properly thanked you yesterday for taking care of me.”
“It was nothing honestly.” Serena can see how embarrassed and awkward Bernie is about what happened and she tries her best to reassure her, desperately hoping to see a return of the carefree, relaxed Bernie of yesterday. “Just stay away from the knives today.”
“Yes, we don’t want to see a repeat of yesterday.”
“No, anymore injuries and the team might think we have resorted to violence to sort out our differences.” Serena’s eyes are dancing with mirth and a soft smile tugs at the corners of her mouth.
“I also wanted to apologise.” Serena tilts her head unsure of what the apology is for before Bernie clarifies. “Erm, for what Mrs Jenkins said. I did not want you to think that I had said anything to her that would lead her to assume we were….” Bernie can’t even bring herself to say the words and flaps her hands between them instead. Serena can see the tension drawn bowstring tight across her whole body, the mere thought of them in a romantic entanglement making her so uncomfortable that words fail her.
“It’s alright, don’t worry about it, she added two and two and came up with ten.” Serena is quick to dispel her concerns, chuckling softly and Bernie’s face relaxes at last and she lets out a contented sigh. Serena was happy to have made Bernie feel better but she just wishes she was not quite so visibly relieved at Serena’s apparent disinterest.
Bernie had always assumed Serena was as straight as an arrow, an indiscriminate flirt yes, but most definitely straight and apart from one drunken moment she had never been given cause to think otherwise. Until last night, until the bossy brunette with the pretty freckles and shapely legs had grabbed her eye. It seemed no accident that Serena had placed her body so suddenly between them and Bernie was sure she heard the bite of jealousy in her words.
Right now Bernie wishes she was someone else. Wishes she was one of these people who could just say what they want and to hell with the consequences. She is not. She can’t tell Serena how fervently she wants so much more for them. How her heart soared when her sleep-weary eyes open to find Serena; for her to be the first thing she sees instead of just the first thing she imagines. Bernie is not a woman of words, but Serena is and it is this that holds her back. If Serena was even slightly attracted to Bernie, she would say or do something about it, she has never restrained her thoughts on any other subject, so why would she start now? The turmoil of the unknown has disrupted her thoughts all night and she needs to know for sure, needs to test Serena’s feelings and get her answer once and for all.
Bernie can feel her whole body tightening in anticipation as she broaches the subject. Mrs Jenkins faux pas of the previous night unwittingly providing Bernie the opportunity to assess Serena’s perspective on them as a couple. Serena’s response is instant, no hesitation, no doubt; it is outlandish and laughable to her. Bernie’s shoulders slump in defeat and she lets out a deep sigh of regret before Serena is quick to change the subject.
“Right let’s get on shall we?” Serena claps her hands in a last gesture of finality. ”So here are my ideas for the pasta. I think the green beans might be better replaces with a softer option, a broad bean perhaps, still a big hit of green in the dish but more attuned to the pasta texture. And if you want to be even braver, I have a more controversial idea too.”
“I like it so far. Please continue.” Bernie’s tone is flat, finds she can’t quite lift herself back up to be enthusiastic.
“Let’s make cheese.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Bernie was most definitely not expecting that.
“Let’s make cheese, cottage cheese to be precise, to replace the ricotta.”
“OK” Bernie is hesitant and unsure and it must be apparent in her tone as Serena looks crestfallen, her eagerness draining away with the sceptical response. Bernie can see the impact on the brunette and had not intended to dampen her spirits. “Talk me through it then.” She replies trying to re-energise Serena again.
Serena carries on but her eyes are downcast and her voice almost timid. “I was only thinking that as we are a British speciality restaurant trying to showcase local food that perhaps ricotta is a bit continental. Instead what could be more local than our own Wyvern cheese. It’s a silly idea, forget it.”
Bernie’s gaze is firmly fixed on Serena, the brunette still fiddling with her thumbnail absentmindedly. “I think it is brilliant.” Bernie grins and Serena finally tilts her chin up to see the other woman beaming at her.
“You…. you do?” Serena’s face splits into a toothy grin and they stand motionless, grin mirroring grin before Bernie finally breaks the gaze and coughs to clear the tight knot that she finds constricting her throat. Bernie averts her eyes as she feels her foolish heart beating erratically against her chest and is surprised when she looks that it is not pounding straight out of her body like a cartoon animation. Even her certain knowledge of the unrequited nature of her attraction has not diminished the power of it apparently.
She has to take a deep, steadying breath before she continues. “Let’s see how it tastes before we make a final call.”
“Care to lend a hand?” Serena flirted gently as the heady atmosphere between them lifted again.
“Oh you do know how to show a girl a good time.” Bernie batted it back, eyes narrowed in a smirk.
“Get on with you! Go and make the cheese. I’ve got something else up my sleeve and I need to concentrate.”
Serena had hustled over to the walk in fridge the moment Bernie had turned her back and she stood there now trying to cool her enflamed skin under the pretence of hunting for the ingredients she was missing for her dish.
Serena was a flirt, always had been, men, women, old, young, it did not matter, it was the armour she wore to face the world and she liked it. Bernie Wolfe did not flirt. She was a straight up and down, stiff upper lip kind of girl. So finding herself on the receiving end of what felt like some high-grade flirting from the blonde had seriously messed with Serena’s body chemistry, either that or the menopause was kicking into top gear.
She breathed in the cool air around her, deep, fortifying breaths to calm the inferno she was engulfed in and welcomed the chill that nipped at her lungs, the almost painful burn as it crashed against super-heated tissue. As, at last the fire ebbed away, Serena could hear Bernie calling out to her from the kitchen and quickly gathering what she needed she walked out to resume her prep for the tasting.
Serena had to admit, when they allowed themselves to, she and Bernie worked beautifully together. Sure there were some minor disagreements, small points that they both stubbornly dug their heels in on, but it could not erase the natural way they gravitated around each other, handed missing ingredients over before being asked and seemed to know what the other was thinking without a word being spoken. It was fantastic and terrifying at the same time.
Bernie was the first to plate up her dish. Serena watched the way she did it, she was quick and perhaps not quite as precise and methodical as she herself was in her presentation, but the finished article looked elegant and natural, quite belying the thought involved. As Bernie pressed the finished pasta dish forward towards Serena, it smelled breath-taking and she could not wait to taste it. She lifted her fork to dive into the dish but then stopped. Bernie tilted her head in silent question at her hesitation.
“It’s our first co-creation. Perhaps we should try it together?” Serena handed Bernie a spare fork and they shared a smile, eyes sparkling at each other as they did so. They moved simultaneously and their forks clashed as they went for the same section at the same time, laughing quietly at the ping of their cutlery meeting. “Shall we take a side each?”
Both dove their forks into the velvety pasta with gusto, swirling the soft lengths around and pronging beans and peas to get the full flavour of the dish in one bite. Serena slid the loaded fork into her mouth and watched, eyes wide, as Bernie did the same.
“It’s… it’s…. erm” Serena was on tenterhooks waiting for Bernie’s verdict. Suddenly feeling how important this very moment is to her. “It’s perfect.” Serena beams, overjoyed at the response and the validation of her ideas.
“Well it’s down to your work Bernie, the cheese is sublime and the seasoning just perfect." Bernie just smiles coyly at the compliment before bumping Serena’s shoulder again.
“Come on then. What have you made for me?”
“It’s the salmon and sabayon, but I have added a little twist.” Serena nudges the plate she has prepared over in Bernie’s direction.
She watches as Bernie studies the dish twisting the plate this way and that looking for any visible differences before she collects up her fork once more and loads it with a slice of the fish. Once again Bernie closes her eyes as she lifts the fork to her mouth and parts her lips to receive the delicate salmon. As it hits her taste-buds her head drops back exposing more of the expanse of Bernie’s neck to Serena’s heated gaze and she wonders not for the first time what her skin tastes like, if it is savoury and salty or sweet and heady. Suddenly Bernie’s eyes spring open and Serena is jolted out of her reverie.
“What is that?” Serena smirks, knows which ingredient she is struggling to quite verbalise but unwilling to resolve it for her quite yet. “It’s so subtle but it makes it so much more refreshing.” Bernie seems to roll the flavour around in her mouth for another moment or two before her head twists and lips curl in a slight smile. “Is that tonic water in the gel?”
“You have a good palate to pick it out. I was going to let you stew for a while longer.”
“Oh it’s just…. I can’t even describe how good it is! It really elevates the dish and the way it complements the lemon, it’s inspired. Serena you are incredible.” The words come so fluidly that Bernie doesn’t realise what she has said until she sees the heated flush rush up Serena’s chest and neck and infuse her cheeks with the brightest pink. Bernie can’t stop a reciprocal blush flooding her features at the sight.
“I’m glad you like it,” Serena stutters out. “I’ve been dabbling with a few things at home and well I found the cucumber and tonic combination with the lemon worked really well. Took me an age to get the balance right I can tell you.”
“I’m astounded. Can we put it on the menu tonight?” Bernie was like an excitable puppy and Serena did not have the heart to refuse when confronted with such an expression on the blonde’s face.
“Tonight it is then.”
The evening service was quite a success. They managed to make it through despite Bernie’s injured hand and the last minute changes to the dishes complicating matters. Jac was not impressed at having to learn a new element as such short notice but even she agreed when she tasted the results.
Bernie for her part was doing everything she could to get Serena back into the team’s good books. She was openly deferring to Serena, asking her for a second opinion at every opportunity and gracing her with as many reassuring smiles as possible. They were a battalion; a unit. Mess with one, mess with all. The kitchen seemed to get the meaning loud and clear and despite a slight reticence around Serena that lingered on, the team took their cues from Bernie and Bernie only treated Serena with warmth and respect.
Bernie has the Wednesday off, so Serena finds herself back in charge of the kitchen once again. Whether Bernie’s absence is a long held plan or another attempt by the blonde to re-ingratiate Serena with the team, she is unsure but has to admit that it has helped. In turn Serena is trying to emulate Bernie’s leadership, spends more time with the commis and talks to them about the flavours, the concept behind each dish; works together with them and listens when they respond.
By the end of the night she wouldn’t say they are back to normal but the team each make the effort to come and wish her a goodnight for the first time since she and Bernie fell out.
Serena drifts off to a contented slumber that night with a feeling of hope, something she has not felt since Bernie started and perhaps much longer if she is honest.
Bernie arrives at the restaurant on Thursday flushed and slightly sweaty from the 7 mile jog she has undertaken to get into work. The distance is longer that she has managed since before the IED hit and she can feel the effects on her limbs as she lightly stretches the tightness out of them. She is mid-stretch when the door of the changing room bangs behind her but pays no heed to it until she hears the sharp inhale which makes her twist her head to see who has arrived. She finds Serena stood open mouthed in the doorway her eyes clearly roaming up Bernie’s long legs.
“Morning, Serena.” Bernie smirks at the brunette and Serena’s eyes snap up to her face, shifting slightly to the side so their gazes don’t quite meet.
“You are all sweaty.” Is all Serena offers in reply.
“I ran in this morning, found it a bit tougher than I was expecting. I’ll shower once I have stretched out. I also have a change of clothes so I won’t be putting off the customers, don’t you worry.” The tension in Serena’s face seems to relax at this. “Was there something I could help you with?”
“No… no. I just wanted to say how well service went yesterday and to thank you for everything you are doing to help. I appreciate it.” Serena’s eyes finally meeting Bernie’s.
“You are very welcome.” Bernie smiled before finishing her last stretch and bending to retrieve her towel and shampoo from the bottom of her locker. She hears a bang behind her and turns back to Serena again. “Are you OK?” The brunette is rubbing her head slightly but smiles tightly and closes the door behind her.
Serena is still tentatively touching the sore spot on her head when she sees Raf studying her with a confused expression.
“Are you OK Serena?” he asks unknowingly mirroring Bernie’s question of moments before.
“Yes I’m fine why?”
“Well you did just walk into the door. Are you sure everything is OK?”
“I’ve just got a lot on my mind.” Serena replies distractedly but curls her lips into a tight smile and pats him on the arm as she passes to her station. Raf is still confused when he sees Bernie’s figure hugging Lycra-clad body emerge from the changing rooms and head for the showers, but it makes him wonder if she was not a factor in his friend’s agitation.
Raf spends most of service observing Serena and although she tried to hide it and is hiding it well, he can see the subtle shift in her expression when her eyes meet Bernie’s. He can see the light flush that blossoms across the apple of her cheeks when they brush against each other. He notices the slight tilt of her body in towards the blonde when they are close. Unmistakeable Serena has an almighty crush on Bernie Wolfe and there is only one way this is going to end. Badly.
Bernie arrives on Friday with a smug grin on her face and Serena is instantly suspicious, even more so when the blonde almost skips over to where Serena is prepping at her station. Bernie leans her long frame against the wall casually but the unnaturally cheerful grin is still firmly fixed in place.
“Good morning, Ms Campbell.”
“Good morning, Ms Wolfe. We are in a cheerful mood this morning.” Serena’s reply is cautious and she narrows her eyes in scrutiny of the languorous form of the other woman.
“I’ve had some good news!” Bernie doesn’t even pause for a reply before she is speaking again. “My hand is healed,” she waggles her fingers as if in demonstration, “and I want to put it to good use.” Serena has to bite down hard to stop the suggestive reply tripping off her tongue and just hums in reply instead.
“Fancy running the pass and letting me loose on the linguine? I’ve been itching to try out these.” She taps the knife roll that she has laid down on the counter in front of Serena. “After all I occasionally have to do some proper work around here, if only to keep my minions happy.” Bernie is pinching her lips together in mirth and Serena knows she is being mocked but finds she doesn’t care to be annoyed about it just revels in the feeling of the light-hearted banter they are sharing.
Snapping her heels together and mocking a salute she gives a brief “Yes Major” in an exaggeratedly posh voice before marching across to the pass.
Serena loves watching Bernie work; has in fact been watching Bernie work for practically the entire shift. Her close study has revealed a new favourite body part to add to her divine smelling hair, her long sculpted legs, her Lycra-clad arse, her smirking mouth and now her elegant, graceful hands. In the face of these ever increasing distractions, focussing on managing service has been challenging. Serena has on two separate occasions only just stopped herself from calling out the wrong ticket and even though she corrected the stumble quickly she can see Raf regarding her quizzically from across the kitchen. Serena flashes him a quick smile before her focus returns to her duties, well Bernie, but making sure Bernie is fit to work is one of her duties or if it isn’t it should be.
Bernie is struggling. She is loving being back at the sharp-end (not literally thankfully) but she has become unused to the constant pressure and motion required of cooking for long periods, her back is aching from being hunched over and a slight throb is starting up in her palm where her scar is itching slightly. She pulls her brows together in annoyance, wondering when it was she became so soft. Before she has time to dwell on it further, Serena has appeared beside her, her hand resting lightly between her shoulder blades.
“Everything OK?” Serena’s face is a picture of concern and it warms Bernie’s heart. The tightness in her back and the tenderness in her hand seem to fade slightly under Serena’s smile.
“Yes I am OK. Just a bit unused to the rush of a full on service I guess.”
“Here let me help you with this.” Serena reaches around Bernie, bodies pressed tight against each other in the enclosed space of the kitchen and they start to plate up together. Bernie’s speed and Serena’s eye for detail quickly allow them to catch back up.
“Thanks.” Bernie replies shyly, “I think I have it from here.” She feels Serena take a minute step back and she simultaneously misses the warmth and sighs in relief.
“Happy to take over if you want to go back to manage the pass?”
“No I’ve got this Serena.” Serena just nods in response and steps back to the pass, neither noticed Raf’s scrutiny of their conversation.
Serena is happy but also a little disappointed that Bernie got through the remainder of service without any further assistance being required and as the rest of the team gather for a drink Serena retreats to the roof for some reviving night air and a bit of distance from the blonde doesn’t hurt. Her eyes are closed, head angled to rest against the wall behind her when she hears the door open and thump shut again, hears the crunch of footsteps on gravel and feels the warmth of a body slide down next to her.
“So how bad is it?”
“Hmm?” Serena tilts her head and opens her eyes at Raf’s question.
“Your crush on Bernie, how bad is it?”
Serena flushes bright red and her eyes shuffle nervously before she can find a response. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I told you to make up with her, not make out with her.”
“We haven’t…….” Serena stops and knows that the spilled words are already an admission.
“Maybe, but you would like to.”
“Christ Raf, wouldn’t you? Just look at her!”
“So pretty bad then,” her replies answering his original question himself.
“Let’s just say she should be prescribed as HRT as my hormones are just tickety-boo thank you very much. In fact I think I’m regressing into adolescence as we speak.”
Raf smiles wryly. “So are you going to do anything about it?”
“No…… no it’s entirely one-sided, so I will just have to cope for the moment and wait for it to pass.” Raf merely hums in response. “Oh shit. I’ve not finished the orders for tomorrow, sorry got to dash Raf.” Serena bolts for the stairs and the safety of the office below, relieved to have a real excuse to put an end to that conversation.
Sadly on reaching the office it does not provide the sanctuary she hoped for, it does however provide a clear view of Bernie Wolfe. She has for once stayed behind to share a drink and a joke with the rest of the team and as her distinctive laugh fills the air with the joyous sound of the rest of the team teasing her close behind, Serena loses count for the umpteenth time. Closes her eyes and starts again. Finally finishing the last blasted order for tomorrow and clicking send on the email, she shuts down the PC and heads out to join them for a final drink.
Dom and Bernie are huddled close together, heads bowed whispering a shared joke as they both giggle quietly. Bernie must hear Serena’s soft footsteps as she inclines her head and Serena can feel more than see her eyes watching her underneath that long fringe. Even that is enough now as Serena feels that familiar sharp heat between her legs that filters up and blooms across her abdomen. She closes her eyes and remembers her words to Raf. This will pass. She really hopes this is true as the symptoms are getting worse by the day.