“Will you?” Bernie pleads, staring up at Serena with her big dark eyes imploring.
Serena almost laughs, “If you really need me to.”
Which is how Serena finds herself wearing a ball gown which hasn’t been out of her cupboard in a couple of years, waiting for Bernie to pick her up for Holby’s first civic Pride event. All the major organisations in the town will be there, showing off how LGBT friendly they are. Not Bernie’s scene at all, she thinks wryly. She’ll have to socialise, and Bernie is really not good at small talk, dress up smartly when her favourite clothes, as far as Serena can tell, are her scrubs. Hanssen had twisted her arm into attending. As Holby City’s most senior LGBT employee her presence was, if not actually mandatory, then certainly expected.
Bernie had been almost desperate when she asked Serena to be her plus one. Claimed (correctly) that Serena had much more experience at these sort of events, that she was better at polite chit chat (also true) and that without a lady on her arm she would be a target for any single women of the sapphic persuasion there (almost definitely true). How could a friend resist such a plea, Serena wonders as she waits by her door.
She swings the door open as she hears Bernie’s footsteps and gapes momentarily. Her friend is wearing a very pale purple lacey dress, which dips to a low point at the front. It’s embellished by tiny flowers. Bernie’s brushed her hair and waved it slightly, pulled her fringe off to the side so it only covers one eye for a change.
It is not what Serena had expected, and she stares.
Bernie flushes uncomfortably, “Do I look alright?”
Serena finally manages to say something, “You look lovely. I… I was expecting you to wear a suit, that’s all. But I’m glad you didn’t,” she adds hurriedly as Bernie frowns slightly, “You do look spectacular.”
Bernie smiles, “So do you. Bet you’re glad for an excuse to wear that dress again, no good hiding it in the back of your wardrobe. Come on Campbell, time to go.”
The event’s in the town hall, and they take a taxi there. It’s busy, really incredibly busy as they go through the main doors into the entrance hall. A band is playing, scarcely audible over the hubbub, and there’s barely room to squeeze through the room. Serena slips her arm through Bernie’s so that she won’t lose her.
“Ms Wolfe, Ms Campbell,” a voice shouts and they peer through the crowd to see Dom barrelling his way towards them.
“Mr Copeland,” Serena says, “Nice to see you. Here on your own?”
He grins, “Hoping to meet someone,” he looks them up and down, “Looking good, ladies, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Dom...” Bernie’s voice is low and warning but he simply winks and slips away.
“Yes please,” says Bernie fervently. They elbow their way to the bar and Serena brightens.
“Now if you’d only used the words ‘free bar’, Bernie, you wouldn’t have had to do all that pleading. Two red please,” she says to the bartender.
Drinks in hand they head into the dining room. It’s emptier, and they can talk without struggling to hear. Bernie studies the seating plan and finds their table; it’s at the far end of the room and Serena sighs as she realises that they are as far from the bar as can be. They make their way there, Serena enquiring after the ward. She’s been enjoying a day off today while Bernie has been hard at it by all accounts. Two trauma patients have come in and Ollie Valentine who’s been on the ward to make up staffing numbers has been infuriating Bernie.
“He wants to take everything so slowly,” she groans, “No sense of urgency. I’m trying to get through to him that we can’t afford to be so delicate but it’s not getting through.”
Serena shakes her head, “He’ll learn. We all did.”
“And then there’s Raf and Fletch...”
“Oh?” Serena sits up a bit. “What have they been up to? Not like them to be making mistakes?”
“No, not that. They couldn’t stop making eyes at each other across the ward.”
Serena makes a sound a little like a snigger.
“Well honestly, every time I looked up I saw them staring at each other mournfully. I just wanted to shake them both. They can’t work on the same patients all the time just because they can’t bear to be five metres apart!”
“Did you say anything?”
“Threatened them with separate shifts. That sorted them out in the end.”
“No doubt,” Serena murmured.
Soon the room starts to fill and Serena is embroiled in small talk with a man from the council. Bernie sits uncomfortably and tries to make appropriate noises at intervals to show she’s paying attention. Food is a welcome respite for her, but soon the main course is being cleared away. Serena eyes their empty glasses. “Another, Bernie?”
“Please,” Bernie mutters and Serena heads towards the bar. Bernie watches her go, admiring the way her dress swishes as she walks.
There’s a queue at the bar and it’s a good ten minutes before Serena gets back to the table. Bernie isn’t there. She’s standing close to the wall, looking like a deer in headlights and a tall brunette lady is talking to her animatedly. As Serena watches, the woman reaches out to stroke Bernie’s bare arm. Bernie is stuttering, Serena can tell. She looks incredibly uncomfortable. Serena places the glasses on the table and moves towards the pair.
“I’ve got a girlfriend,” Bernie is saying, slightly desperately. Does she, Serena wonders? She’s never said.
“Oh, she doesn’t need to know. This can just be a one night sort of thing,” the woman is practically purring.
“She’s,” Bernie looks round and sees Serena approaching, “She’s here,” she says with relief.
Serena understands completely; she said she’d have Bernie’s back and she will. Will save her from this predator.
“Hello, darling,” she says huskily as she slips around the brunette and puts an arm round Bernie’s waist. “Did you miss me?”
There’s intense gratitude in Bernie’s eyes as she looks at Serena, and Serena shrugs mentally, thinks she might as well make the point. She moves forward and presses her lips against Bernie’s. Bernie makes a small noise of surprise but doesn’t move and Serena is tingling all over, electricity is racing through her because surely this isn’t what kissing a friend is like. She can taste the wine on Bernie’s lips and a trace of the lipstick that she put on earlier. Her pulse is racing; she needs to step back now because she’s crossed a line but she can’t, oh, she can’t. And then Bernie makes a noise, a moan, and Serena parts her lips to Bernie’s tongue. Serena pulls Bernie closer as Bernie deepens the kiss. Runs her hands down the back of Bernie’s dress, up to the silky smoothness of her bare skin. Marvels at the way it feels under her hands. Bernie’s hands are moving too; to caress her neck and bury themselves in her hair. After several long moments Bernie breaks the kiss slowly and Serena sighs at the loss, leans her head against Bernie’s and closes her eyes. She can feel Bernie’s heart pounding and knows it’s only echoing her own.
“I didn’t know,” Serena whispers, “How blind am I?”
“No more than I am,” Bernie replies softly, and she cups Serena’s cheek and forces Serena to meet her eyes. “Do you… would you… want this?” Bernie asks hesitantly.
“Yes,” Serena replies instantly. She tangles Bernie’s fingers with hers. “More than anything.”
A luminous smile spreads across Bernie’s face. “You’re my best friend,” she says.
“And you’re mine,” says Serena, “You know that.”
“Come to mine tonight?”
Serena shakes her head regretfully and Bernie’s face falls, she turns away. Serena tugs her back.
“Bernie,” she says gently, “Jason is expecting me back tonight and it’s pancakes for breakfast in the morning.”
“So how do you prefer yours? Traditional? Nutella?” Serena grins as relief spreads across Bernie’s face.
“Jason won’t mind?”
“He’s quite fond of you. Goodness knows why.”
“Come home with me, Ms Wolfe,” Serena presses a kiss to Bernie’s cheek. Bernie twists to catch Serena with her mouth.
“There’s nothing I’d like more, Ms Campbell,” she replies before she takes all of Serena’s breath away.
They go into the office together the next morning, trying to look like the consummate professionals that they are and less like the giddy teenagers that they feel.
There’s a note taped to Bernie’s computer. She pulls it off and opens it.
It’s a picture of them wrapped round each other and scrawled across the bottom is ‘About time!’.
“Dominic Copeland!” Bernie roars, and charges out of the room as Serena collapses in hopeless giggles.