The house was quiet. Suspiciously quiet. All the signs pointed to Bernie being home: her car in the driveway, the warm winter coat (essential during the current cold snap if she was considering going out) hung neatly on the coat hook in the hallway, her house keys hanging on their peg by the door. The house felt somehow empty though. There was no noise, no light seeping into the hall through doorways, no babble of radio or TV. Most tellingly there was no Bernie bounding up to welcome her home with a kiss, not even after Serena had called out the classic line,
“Honey, I’m home...” Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The house, it seemed, was empty. It was Bernie’s day off. She could have headed out to run an errand – but not without her keys, Serena reasoned. She divested herself rapidly of coat, scarf, and overly furry hat and headed through to the living room in search of Bernie.
There’s a single – empty but for the dregs – coffee mug on the side table, but no Bernie. It’s typical, Serena thinks, that on one of the rare occasions she makes it home from a shift on time, eager to spend time with Bernie, the woman is no where to be found.
She decides to check the kitchen for a note. As she turns to head in that direction she catches a glimpse of something in the garden through the glass doors on the far side of the living room. There’s a denim clad leg hanging from a branch of the sturdy old apple tree in the garden. Serena stops and does a double take. Yes, there is absolutely a denim clad leg amidst the branches of the tree. She steps closer and sees that the leg has a companion. There are in fact two denim clad legs in the apple tree in the garden. She takes another step forward and sees that the two legs belong to a body – a slender, yet shapely, body clad in a pair of denim dungarees and topped with a mop of blonde hair scraped back roughly into something resembling a pony tail. The dungaree strap on the left shoulder of the woman in the tree is doing a sterling job in keeping the rest of the garment in place. In contrast the strap on the woman’s right shoulder has completely given up the struggle and is flopping uselessly about half way down the woman’s arm. It was, however, due to the way it was pulling the front piece of the dungarees downward, giving Serena quite a nice view of the white vest top the woman was wearing underneath the denim. Serena felt perfectly comfortable feasting her eyes on the view in front of her, because the woman is Bernie. She makes quite the sight.
Ever since Bernie had first brought out her dungarees to do, as she’d called it, “a spot of DIY” Serena had been hooked on them. Bernie looked so good with them on. Bernie, it had to be said, looked good in most things; her scrubs, hoodie, skinny jeans – almost anything she put on really. There was something about the dungarees though. The mix of strength, and vulnerability, in the way they swamped Bernie’s slender frame maybe, Serena wondered. She wasn’t sure but she looked at the woman in the tree again and was sure that it was a view worth savouring. Bernie was sat astride a branch, using her thighs to keep her balance. Serena could tell because the tension was pulling the fabric over her thighs taught so it clung to her muscles. Her face was rosy with effort, her cheeks an all too pinchable round redness. Her chest, or what was visible of it above the swooping low cut of the vest top, was flushed pink and glistening with a film of sweat – or so Serena fancied she could see. The right side of the dungaree top had shifted along with the strap and consequently almost one half of Bernie’s chest, covered only by the light cotton top was exposed. The vest top was tight, tight enough for Serena to realise that Bernie wasn’t wearing a bra. Tight enough to see that the cold had caused Bernie’s nipple to pucker into taught erectness. Serena’s mind would probably have lingered on this realisation for quite a while if Bernie’s arm hadn’t swung into view. It was a lovely arm. Soft but toned and well muscled. Serena could happily have considered it for quite a while too, except it wasn’t that which was distracting her. What was distracting her was the fact that the hand at the end of the arm was holding a saw.
To say that Serena was unimpressed to find her partner out in the freezing cold, perched in a tree, wielding a saw would have been an understatement. It takes her seconds to bustle out of the Living Room, through the Kitchen and out the back door into the garden.
“What are you doing?” Serena all but shouts at Bernie, her voice full of scared concern as she takes in the full sight; how precariously Bernie is perched in the tree, the amount of branches and twigs on the floor which indicate that Bernie must have been up the tree quite some while.
“What does it look like?” Bernie calls back calmly, having steadied herself on the branch after Serena’s shout caused her to jump several feet.
“Trying to freeze to death? Amputate a limb? Slash an artery?” Serena suggests icily.
“Tree trimming. I’m clearing away some branches so it’s ready for the tree house people to build Guinevere's tree house tomorrow. I didn’t want them to refuse to put it up because there were branches in the way and for Guinevere to be disappointed. They did say it was their last appointment before Christmas.” Bernie tails off. She knows that Serena isn’t best pleased to find her up the tree and she unleashes her best puppy dog eyes. She knows that Serena can never resist them. She hopes that it might cool her anger enough, along with the explanation, to make it safe for her to come down.
Serena knows exactly what Bernie is doing with the eyes. She’s no fool. She’s also fuming that Bernie could have thought that doing something so risky on her own was a good thing. At the same time her heart is melting at the realisation of quite how much Bernie is willing to do for her Great Niece – even if it is reckless. She’s also exasperated.
“Bernie, you do know that the company assembling the tree house is dealing with the ‘tree trimming’ as you put it? They’re bringing a tree surgeon with them just so they can remove the branches in the way without damaging the tree.”
“Oh.” Bernie says.
“You didn’t think to ask me before you risked life and limb – and almost froze to death – up a tree?”
“Obviously not.” Bernie admits sheepishly. She looks crestfallen and it’s enough to chase away any anger Serena was holding onto.
“So, perhaps you could come down and leave the rest up to the professionals? Before you catch your death?”
“It’s a bit nippy – now I’m not sawing to keep warm.”
“I can see that.” Serena notes, her eyes dropping to the part of Bernie’s vest top stretched tight over her bust. “Come down and I’m sure I can find a way to warm you up.” She offers with a raise eyebrow. Bernie had never climbed down a tree faster in her life...