Chapter 1: Gift Wrap
It had been a long day on AAU acknowledged Serena, but this close to Christmas it always was. The usual mixed bag of admissions were augmented by this years current selection of winter bugs and flu, putting pressure on already scarce beds. If you added to that pot the increase in seasonal accidents – most directly related to the amount of Christmas spirit consumed by the unfortunate revellers of Holby, a quiet day was a virtual impossibility. Today had been particularly trying. Serena had barely had time to breathe, let alone stop for lunch. The day might have been more tolerable if her co-lead had been there, but she was off duty today, and as far as Serena was aware, had been making the most of the opportunity to catch up on sleep.
The final nail in the coffin of her patience had been the patient A&E had insisted on sending up to her for surgery just an hour before the end of her shift. Yes there had been vascular issues, but nothing that Connie couldn't handle. Not with her new Trauma Theatre ready and waiting, Serena had thought bitterly. Deciding that it would take more energy to debate the issue than to do the surgery. Serena had scrubbed in as rapidly as she could. Apparently Mr Cassey had been standing on a chair putting up decorations when he slipped and fell on a string of battery operated fairy lights. He had landed heavily and the fragile lights had shattered and embedded themselves in his thighs and various other body parts in that region. There were a number of glass fragments close to major veins and it would be tedious work to extract them all safely. Fortunately (or not depending on your point of view) Mr Casey seemed not to have been wearing any clothes at the time of the incident, so there would be no cloth fragments to concern them.
When Serena had walked into the Theatre the first thing she had realised was that, despite their mishap, the lights were still working. Turning to Fletch who was gowned ready to assist she had said.
“Perhaps, now that we have established that the lights at least are still functioning, we could turn them off? Preferably before Mr Casey starts thinking the light really does shine out of his backside” her tone very efficiently stifling the laugh that Fletch had been about to release.
It was two hours after her shift had supposedly ended that Serena was finally able to leave the hospital and head home. She had high hopes for the evening ahead. Bernie had offered to cook dinner and had agreed to watch “It's a Wonderful Life” with her. Bernie had somehow managed never to see the Christmas staple film which just happened to be one of Serena's all time favourite movies. It never failed to lift her spirits and she was looking forward to curling up on the sofa and sharing it with Bernie.
All things considered she'd been in a reasonably good mood when she had walked through the door, but it had soon started to dissipate. Bernie's welcome home had been less than effusive, she hadn't even got up from the sofa to hug her. Serena had contented herself with pecking her partner on the check before she sat down. Whilst the smell wafting from the Thai takeaway cartons in front of them on the coffee table was delicious, it wasn't the home cooked meal Bernie had offered. She brushed both these minor disappointments as far to the back of her mind as she could and dug in hungrily.
The food had been eaten and the film half way through before Serena snapped. Pausing the DVD she turned to Bernie.
“If you're not interested in the film, you don't have to watch it.” she said rather tartly.
“I do want to watch it! What makes you think I don't?” questioned Bernie, slightly taken aback.
“Oh, I don't know.” retorted Serena “Maybe it's the way that you're fidgeting and sighing all the way over there? Maybe it's just me that's boring you then?”
“No Serena, no” interrupts Bernie.
“You didn't bother saying hello when I got home, certainly didn't think I was worth cooking for – like you promised to.”
“Serena, it's not that, it's not you, it's me.”
“I've heard that one before!” says Serena indignantly
“Oh God, I didn't mean...” Bernie dips her head as she struggles for the right words, but the rest of her remains motionless, bolt upright in the corner of the sofa. “Will you let me explain?” Serena gives a small nod of her head which Bernie interprets as permission to give this explanation her very best shot.
“It was the gift wrap.” she says. Serena's eyebrows rise in disbelief. “You know I'm not good at wrapping things.”
“I think that's been established.” notes Serena.
“Well, this afternoon I thought I'd take advantage of having the place to myself and wrap your Christmas present. Well, it's umm, sort of delicate and I was using my elbow to hold the paper together on it while I broke off some sellotape with my mouth. I was a bit too, um, enthusiastic, and when the tape gave I recoiled a bit. My elbow slipped and your gift started to fly off the table. I grabbed for it, and got it just in time. Unfortunately I sort of threw myself off the chair to reach it and landed in a rather odd position. I've done something to my back muscles. They keep going into spasm and it makes it hard to move, and sit completely still.”
“Bad?” Serena asks in a less angry tone.
“Pretty bad.” says Bernie with a grimace.
“Ok, so for that I can read you're in agony?”
“Um. Not far off.”
“Why didn't you say anything?” asks Serena, her voice much more gentle now.
“It's a bit embarrassing really. And I knew how much you were looking forward to dinner and the film. I didn't want to spoil it for you, so I did the best I could. Takeaway because it was too painful to cook, and I thought if I sat in the corner of the sofa you might not notice I was uncomfortable.” Bernie says sadly.
“And all I did is come home and take my frustration out on you. I'm so sorry. It was a really tough day and all I wanted was for you to hold me. I didn't even notice you were in pain. I'm sorry.” and by now there is a look of sympathy on Serena's face.
“I was trying to make sure you didn't notice. It was kind of the point.” says Bernie reasonably.
“Let me make it up to you. We can watch 'A Wonderful life' another time. Head to the bedroom, take your top of and lay on the bed.” smiles Serena.
“Much as I'd like that, I don''t think I could manage any, um, funny business.”
“Bernie, I'm not entirely certain what you were thinking, but I was offering you a back massage to try and sort the muscles out. Certainly no 'funny stuff' as you put it.” Serena is now trying to hold back a smile.
“Oh, well,” says Bernie. “That would be, that would be very nice.”
“Go on then. I'll be up in a minute, just got to do something first.”
“What'?” Bernie asks.
Serena smiles broadly
“Order you a selection of gift bags. I think it'll be safer.”
Chapter 2: Family
Serena sips contentedly on her strong coffee as she sits propped up against the headboard of her bed. The house is quiet and the street outside is strangely still for 8.30am on a Tuesday morning, devoid of it's usual buzz of activity. But then Christmas Day is a different kind of day, she thinks to herself. Serena revels in the peace she has before her day starts properly, and the calm is shattered.
She has until about 10am before she needs to make a start on the Christmas lunch. Jason, Greta and Guinevere are due to arrive at 11.30 and Serena is keen to have the food prepared for cooking before they arrive so she can spend time with them. Realistically she knows that Guinevere is far too young to understand what's going on, but Serena is looking forward to having a child around at Christmas again, to watch her take in the sparkles, colours and lights, to see the wonder on her face. She hadn't been sure that Jason wanted to spend Christmas with her – not now he had a family of his own. Serena had been meaning to ask him what he was planning to do. If he didn't want to spend the day with her she had decided she would volunteer to work, let somebody else spend the day with their family. It would have been better than rattling around her leafy detached alone.
In the end she hadn't needed to say anything. Jason had simply asked her what time he was expected on Christmas Day, responding to her surprised look by declaring.
“Christmas is for family Auntie Serena. You, Greta and Guinevere are my family so I should be with you all on Christmas Day. It's logical.
“Indeed it is.” Serena had replied with great affection for her nephew. “Shall we say 11.30?”
If she had been pleased that Jason was joining her she had been delighted (and, if she was honest, somewhat overwhelmed) when Cam had called her and carefully asked if he and Charlotte might visit her her at some point on Christmas Day. He and Charlotte were spending the morning with their Father. Marcus was having lunch and spending the afternoon with his new partner's family, Cam had explained. Neither of them wanted to join him and so they had the rest of the day free, if Serena would like them to pop in, he told Serena.
“You must both have Lunch with us.” Serena had immediately offered realising that they would likely be fending for themselves otherwise.
“Oh, we couldn't possibly...” Cam had attempted to argue.
“Nonsense.” Serena had retorted “You're always welcome here. Come over when your ready and stay as long as you like.” Serena had instructed, and added as an after thought “Besides, what would your Mother say if she found out I knew you were on your own at Christmas and didn't invite you? She'd never forgive me!”
“Thank you.” Cameron had capitulated gracefully. “We'll bring Shiraz.”
“The perfect guests!” Serena had declared her face beaming on the end of the phone.
Jason had seemed rather pleased that Cam and Charlotte would be joining them for Christmas. He'd even been willing to adjust his regular lunchtime to accommodate them. Apparently, as it was Christmas, small changes were permissible. He was, he'd said, interested in their opinion of the 13th Dr Who, knowing that they were both long term fans of the programme.
Serena was delighted to have so many of those she counted as family around her to celebrate Christmas. Her hand came up to fiddle with the pendant around her neck and she let out a gentle sigh. There was a gap where Elinor should have been. An empty space that should have been filled with the vibrancy of her daughter who was full of potential and life one minute, and gone the next. A wave of fresh pain at the loss swept over Serena, the only visible sign being the tightening of her grip on the coffee mug. As the pain ebbed away and her grip loosened Serena acknowledged that the pain never truly left her. Probably never would. It was, though, no longer so all encompassing and she was learning to live with it, rather than just survive.
Her thoughts turned to Bernie. She was full of pride at what her partner had achieved setting up the Trauma Centre. It was just that Kenya was so very far away and she'd been there so long. And Serena was needed here.
Bernie had tried to arrange leave over Christmas so they could be together, but with the Trauma Centre only up and running for six months Bernie it had proved impossible to take leave. Serena had tried very hard to keep the bitter disappointment out of her voice the day that Bernie had told her over the phone she wasn't going to be able to make it. Didn't think she'd entirely managed it.
“Soon, darling, soon.” Bernie had said softly “ I promise.” and Serena had decided that whilst she couldn't have everything she wanted for Christmas she had enough, and what she had she would enjoy.
Serena had decided she would make the most of having the house to herself on Christmas Eve. She'd managed to get out of work at somewhere approaching the correct time. She'd soaked in a gently scented bath, eaten pizza and drunk Shiraz in front of the TV and felt thoroughly relaxed. The Agatha Christie she had been watching was reaching it's dramatic conclusion and she was finishing the last spoonful of ice-cream in her bowl when the doorbell had rung. Looking at her watch she realised it was very nearly ten and wondered who could be at her door at that time of the night. Dragging herself up rather unwillingly and heading for the door she pulled her dressing gown round her more tightly. It better not be Carol Singers she thought as she pulled the door open – and came face to face with Bernie.
“Any room at the Inn?” Bernie had offered as Serena had dragged her through he door and into a tight embrace.
Serena's eyes went to the sleeping woman laying next to her, messy golden hair spread out on the pillow, her face a picture of relaxation. Serena was happy just to watch her sleep, to have her back by her side. Behind the excitement Bernie had shown at their reunion, Serena had seen the exhaustion. When they had finally made it to the sofa Bernie had explained that she had managed to juggle the rotas to give her four full days in the UK. She'd had to fly straight after a double shift and would be working every weekend for the next month. Absolutely worth it Bernie had confirmed a good while later after they had fully re-aquainted themselves with each other. Then, curled up together, sleep had claimed them both.
It was going to be a real family Christmas, Serena thought to herself. Maybe not the most traditional of families, but their family never the less. And Serena wouldn't change it for the world. Well, maybe she would, she thought. She'd want Elinor back, of course, but there was something else as well. Ever since Bernie had said to her 'Greta thinks of me as family. You don't.' she'd been unable to get that note of hurt in Bernie's voice out of her mind. She'd never meant to make Bernie feel like that, as something less than family. Because she wasn't, not to Serena, she was more than family, Bernie was the one she chose. She'd realised that it must be hard for Bernie to feel part of Serena's family whilst they were all in Holby and she was so far away. It hadn't taken long for Serena to realise that she very much wanted Bernie to feel part of the family. It was time to make it official.
Serena's hand hovered over the pocket of her pyjama bottoms and checked the small box was still there. Brought soon after Bernie had returned to Nairobi, in preparation for the right moment it had been waiting in her desk drawer. She visualised the contents, the simple yet exquisite ring, it's central sapphire - a deep shade of blue that reminded Serena of the scrubs Bernie used to wear so well – was flanked by two small yet perfect diamonds all set on a bright yellow gold band.
Smiling, Serena put her now empty coffee down on her night stand and rolled over to kiss the woman she hoped would soon be her fiancée awake.
Serena sashays her way round the hordes of people in the overcrowded shopping centre, laden with bags of all colours and sizes. It's three weeks before Christmas and Serena is in her element buying more presents that she needs and spending more that she ought. That's not to say that some of the gifts she has purchased haven't been extremely good deals (Serena does love a bargain) but she has enjoyed spending with gay abandon, shrugging of the excess with the smiling retort 'It's Christmas' to which Bernie has yet to find an appropriate response.
Bernie is not a fan of shopping, and particularly is not a fan of Christmas shopping. She would much rather order on line – and if she does have to venture to the shops she plans her excursion like a military hit and run manoeuvre. A clear objective, in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Despite their differences in approach, Bernie had been remarkably keen to join Serena, wanting to be involved in all aspects of their Christmas together. “Well you know what the say about love”, Bernie had noted, “makes us do things we'd scarce imagined.”
However, two hours in, it had become clear that Bernie was rapidly reaching the limits of her patience and equally clear she was not going to admit it.
“I could use a coffee.” Serena had said in a carefully casual voice.
“So could I.” Bernie had replied making a great effort not to appear over enthusiastic at this suggestion.
“Bit of a queue though.” Serena states, gesticulating at the cafe in the middle of the shopping centre. “Why don't you go and join the line, get our coffee and see if you can find us a table? I can do the next couple of shops and come and find you.”
“If you're sure?” says Bernie, in a rather unconvincing attempt at reluctance. Serena lets out a laugh, gives her partner a gentle nudge and says
“Go on you.” and Bernie bolts before Serena has a chance to change her mind.
It's a good half an hour (if she's honest, probably much closer to an hour) before Serena arrives in the cafe carrying several more bags than she had been previously. Spotting Bernie in the corner she winds her way towards her and sinks blissfully into one of the comfy armchairs by the table Bernie has secured. In front of her she sees a steaming hot coffee (Bernie had sensibly ordered Serena's in an insulated travel mug to keep it warm.) and a pain au chocolat. She loves the way Bernie knows her so well. She looks up to tell her partner as much, when she sees that Bernie hasn't noticed that she's back. She's staring off into the distance, and Serena is sure she's holding back tears. Following the direction of her gaze Serena sees a choir of school children and their teachers singing christmas carols with great enthusiasm, but somewhat less effect. It's a heartwarming sight though and Serena isn't sure how or why it seems to have caused such a reaction in Bernie. Carefully and gently she stretches her hand across the table and lays it on top of Bernie's.
“I'm back.” Serena says gently. Bernie jumps at the unexpected touch and rapidly fixes a smile on her face that does little to hide the glistening tears in her eyes.
“Penny for them” Serena asks.
“What? Oh, nothing, nothing.” Bernie says quickly.
“Clearly.” says Serena with a raised eyebrow. Knowing that resistance is futile when Serena sets her mind on getting answers, Bernie sighs.
“It's the carol singers. They make me think of all the Christmases I was in the army.”
“I wouldn't have thought carols and soldiers would have been a natural mix.” Serena said.
“You'd be surprised.” Bernie replied. “When you're that far away from home, from your family, you want familiar things around you, want Christmas to seem as normal as it can. You'd be shocked how well some big burly soldiers can sing. Mind you, they didn't always use the official words. Some of the alternatives were rather inventive, if biologically impossible..”
“I dread to think!” Serena said with a smile. “You've never talked much Christmas in the Army. What was it like?” Serena asked gently.
“We tried to uphold as many traditions as we could. Not always easy in the desert, or when you had to be ready to work at a moments notice. More often than not the mess managed to rustle up something like a Christmas lunch. It's even been known for there to have been crackers and paper hats! The Padre would put on a Christmas service, and there would be carol singing. I remember one year they put on a nativity, well a version of one. Pretty sure that the official story doesn't end with a row of nurses turning their backs, lifting their skirts and displaying the backs of their knickers to spell out Happy Xmas.”
“Sorry” she says. Bernie smiles.
“The lucky ones got packages from home, full of stuff they couldn't get, that they'd missed. Personally I used to look forward to the gun fire.”
Serena looks rather bemused.
“I wouldn't have thought that would be something to look forward to, rather dangerous really.”
It's Bernie's turn to grin.
“Not that kind of gun fire. It's an old Army tradition. Officers get woken on Christmas morning with a cup of black tea laced with sugar and rum. It's called gun fire. It was pretty lethal stuff. Not really ideal if you might have to operate later in the day. I had to discreetly dispose of it after a few sips several times.”
“It sounds like you managed to have fun.” Serena says.
“We did our best, but, well, you never forget that you're not with your family. All those Christmases away that you can never get back.” Bernie says ruefully. “I missed so much. Charlotte sang a solo in her school carol concert once. She so wanted me to be there to hear her, but I was on deployment. They let Marcus film it for me, but it wasn't the same as being there.” Bernie tailed off and Serena squeezed her hand.
“Well, you're spending this Christmas with them. You can make new memories.” said Serena trying to soothe Bernie.
“I know. I still can't quite believe that they want to spend it with me, with us. I thought, after all that has happened I'd blown it with them. I'm sorry. The carol singing got me all maudlin. I am so looking forward to this Christmas with you, and my kids. I just want it to be perfect.” Bernie smiled warmly at Serena.
Realising that Bernie had talked all she was going to, and satisfied there was nothing seriously wrong Serena decided to lighten the mood.
“Well it won't be perfect if we don't get all this shopping finished. Come on soldier, we've got a few more shops to go yet” Bernie groans.
“Seems like you need a little encouragement.” Serena get up from her seat, walks round to stand behind Bernie and with a wicked grin on her face says “Help me finish the last of the shopping and when we get home...” The rest of the sentence is whispered into Bernie's ears. Bernie's face flushes pale pink and she jumps rapidly from the seat, grabs the bags and heads briskly to the cafe exit. She can't be certain, but Serena is pretty sure she heard a 'Yes M'am' coming from the blonde as she walked away.
The nurses and knickers nativity thing. True story. Not only that it was put on by the members of the RAMC in a field hospital. The timescale and location fit nicely with the canon about Bernie's backstory and it would have been entirely possible for her to have seen it
The gun fire tradition is true too.
Chapter 4: Mrs Claus
AAU had always done a Secret Santa at Christmas. It had been a well bedded in tradition even before Serena had arrived on the ward. Finding people to participate had never been an issue. Getting someone to co-ordinate the event had always been a little more 'tricky'. It had come, therefore, as something as a surprise when Bernie had offered to take on running the thing this year. There was no reason why Bernie shouldn't do it. She was a professional, intelligent woman and organised (when she wanted to be). Co-ordinating Secret Santa wasn't exactly rocket science. It ought to be a walk in the park for a woman who could pull off a successful Atriocaval Shunt on the hoof. Serena, being a sensible woman and not one to look gift horses in the mouth, accepted Bernie's offer with gratitude. Only now she is beginning to wish she hadn't.
Ever since Bernie set the date for the dishing out of the presents - after shift on the 23rd in Albie's, - she's been nervous and on edge. Whenever Serena tries to find out what's worrying her Bernie comes over all evasive and mutters about not wanting things to go wrong. Serena does her best to calm and reassure her partner, but nothing seems to work.
It comes to a head the week before the gifts are handed out. It's been a hard long day with several intricate surgeries as well as a mountain of paperwork. Serena is exhausted and wants nothing more than to curl up on the sofa with Bernie, a bottle of Shiraz and a fluffy Christmas film. Bernie is bubbling energy, so much so Serena can feel her thrumming as she leans against her. To add insult to injury Bernie is constantly fiddling with her phone. Serena's patience is almost at breaking point. She shifts on the sofa so she is looking at Bernie and says.
“Nothing.” says Bernie far too quickly. She earns herself one of Serena's looks – one of those ones that can stun an F1 into insensibility from fifty feet – and a raised eyebrow into the bargain.
“It's just the Secret Santa, you know, just want to make sure it all goes well.” Bernie adds rapidly. Serena decides that Bernie is either far to worried about the Secret Santa, or there is something else bothering her which she is not going to share, not tonight at least.
“Would it help if I was your Mrs Claus?” Serena asks, hoping that the offer of assistance will take some pressure from Bernie.
“My Mrs Claus?” asks Bernie confused
“Yes. You know. You're Santa and I'll help you. Doesn't that make me Mrs Claus? – because I'm certainly not going to be your elf.”
“Um, yes. I suppose it does. Thank you.” says Bernie. She ponders for a moment and then asks with a grin. “Does that role come with an outfit? Short, fitted red dress, fur trim, knee high boots, that sort of thing?”
“Don't push your luck.”
“A girl can dream.”
“Sit still and watch the film.”
By the time the 23rd arrives Serena is sick of Secret Santa. She's just thankful that it will all be over soon and her partner might just return to normal. She's not sure the offer to be Mrs Claus helped particularly, as Bernie has remained a bundle of nerves and seemingly constantly distracted despite the suggestion. As Serena sits down next to Bernie in Albies, a bottle of Shiraz in front of her and her colleagues crowded round she's looking forward to it all being over and (she hopes) things getting back to normal.
It goes very well. Bernie, in her roll of Santa, pulls the presents from the sack one by one and hands then to Serena, as Mrs Claus, to pass to their recipients. Everybody has a gift, no one has been left out and there are no duplicates. Humorous gifts have always been very well received in the past, and this year is no exception. Ric laughs at the “Grow your own Girlfriend” he has been given, and observes
“At least it's not a grow your own wife. I'm not in the market for number seven.”
Mr Duval had been less than impressed by his gift of a mirror, but had, at least attempted to take it in good heart. Fletch had groaned at the beard glitter he had been given, saying,
“You do know the kids are going to make me wear this and it's going to get everywhere.”
Bernie puts down her sack and takes a large swig of her whiskey. Serena looks round the table at her happy and smiling colleagues. Serena was pleased for her partner that it had been a success and turns to tell her so. She stops as she sees that far from looking happy and relaxed Bernie looks pale and even more nervous that before. Serena was about to quietly ask her if she's OK when Donna exclaims.
“Oh, Ms Campbell, you haven't had a gift from Santa.” Damn, thinks Serena. She was hoping that nobody had noticed that little omission. She didn't want Bernie to feel bad that not quite everything had gone to plan. Before she could say anything to smooth things over Bernie has slipped to the floor and is searching in the depths of the sack. With a smile of success her hand reappears from the sack clutching a small box triumphantly. Still kneeling on the floor she faces Serena and steadies herself by bringing one knee up.
“You've done a fantastic job as Mrs Claus, I wonder if you'd like to see how being Mrs Wolfe would suit you?” Bernie asks, opening the box to reveal a beautiful solitaire diamond ring. In the space of a nano second it all makes sense: Bernie's offering to run the Secret Santa, her nervousness, her odd behaviour. All her colleagues are watching the scene play out in front of them with baited breath but Serena is oblivious to them all. Her eyes and attention are firmly on Bernie.
“Are you...” she asks
“Then, yes. Definitely yes.” The crowd watching cheer and clap, but Serena doesn't hear it because she's too busy kissing her fiancée.
“And if you ever change your mind about the Mrs Claus outfit...” Bernie whispers in her ear.
“Don't push your luck.”
“Sorry, you've done what?” says Serena, her voice full of disbelief.
“Um,” responds Bernie, realising that this may not have been her best idea ever. “I told Fletch we'd look after the kids' new puppy overnight.”
“Why?” questions Serena.
“Because they are going to London for the night, to take the kids to Winter Wonderland and do some shopping. They couldn't take the puppy so….” Her voice tails off as she looks at the Serena's face.
“Why, please tell me, why, did you agree that the puppy could come here?”
“Um, I though it might be nice. He is very cute. I thought that you liked dogs?”
“I do. But not in my house. Does anything about this, beautiful, well ordered and tidy house suggest it might be improved by a puppy running wild in it”
“Oh.” says Bernie looking crestfallen.
“When exactly is the puppy coming? I don't suppose there's time to find someone else who could dog sit.”
Before Bernie can answer the sound of the doorbell, shortly followed by a spate of barks, prevents her.
“I should, um...” she manages before she heads rapidly to the door, followed by a rather icy glare from Serena.
“Serena, meet Patty” Bernie says as she reappears in the kitchen with a small, wriggling Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in her arms. She lifts one of the dog's paws and waves it at Serena.
“Patty?” asked Serena.
“Because he likes pats.”
“Theo.” Bernie replies confirming that the youngest Fletching had been responsible for naming the puppy.
“Humph.” responds Serena. The puppy is really very cute, the long ears, and those eyes, but she's not letting Bernie off the hook that easily. “Oh, fine. He can stay – one night though and that's it. But you're responsible for looking after him, and cleaning up any mess he makes.”
“Of course “ Bernie says rapidly a grin lighting up her face.
It doesn't go well. Of course it doesn't.
“Bernie” calls Serena.
“He's traipsed mud all over my clean kitchen floor!”
“He was having so much fun in the puddle. He got a bit muddy and then he wanted to come and see you...”
“Mop” says Serena.
“Bernie” calls Serena
“When I sat down to read the paper with my coffee there were two biscuits on my plate.”
“Oh, Patty must have got hungry.” Serena just looks at Bernie. “Let me get you some more, and a clean plate.”
“Bernie” calls Serena
“Have you been doing admin in our office?”
“It's just that there are papers in random piles everywhere and some of them look rather creased and beaten up. I thought you might have been, looks like your style of dealing with paperwork.”
“Ah, that would have been Patty. It seems digging in piles of paper is great fun.”
“Bernie” calls Serena
“Why is the dog running around with something that looks suspiciously like my knickers in his mouth?”
“That's because they are your knickers. The elastic makes them a great tug toy.”
“You're buying me new ones.” Serena states matter a factly.
“Of course I am” Bernie concurs rapidly. “Several pairs of expensive ones.”
“Bernie” calls Serena.
“Where's the blanket from the sofa.”
“Oh, Patty's made a bed in it. It's so sweet, come and see… Or not...”
“Make sure you put that on a hot wash when he's done.”
“Bernie” calls Serena
“Why has the dog just soaked me?”
“We went for a walk and it started raining. He just wanted to get dry, you were just, um, in the way.”
“Bernie” calls Serena,
“I'm trying to eat my lunch”
“Oh, right. I'll take him into the living room.”
“Bernie” Serena mutters against her partners lips.
“Yes.” purrs Bernie
“I can't do this.”
“Why not” asks Bernie confused, “It's just a kiss.”
“We're being watched.”
“What?” Bernie spins round searching for whoever is watching them. Serena indicates the floor where Patty is sat, head tilted appealingly to one side, beautiful large eyes focused intently on what Bernie and Serena were doing.
“Oh, he feels left out!” coos Bernie when she see where Serena is indicating.
“You can either kiss him, or me. You're not doing both.” Serena states flatly.
“Bernie” calls Serena
“I'm trying to read the Lancet.”
“It's a bit difficult to concentrate with all that barking.”
“Patty's just heard something outside. He's just protecting us.”
“He'll need protecting from me if he carries on.”
“Bernie” hisses Serena
“Yes” says Bernie.
“It's two in the morning.”
“Then why aren't you asleep?”
“I was.” Serena switches the bedside light and Bernie sees Patty stood balanced on Serena's stomach.”
“Oh, he missed us”
“The deal was he slept in the basket in the kitchen. Perhaps you need to go over that with him again. Downstairs.”
By the time Fletch comes to collect Patty Serena has had about as much as she can take. Patty is lovely, a lot of fun, and very cute, but she very much prefers him not in her house. Serena is sat on the sofa as Bernie shows Fletch and Patty out. Serena hears the door close behind them and breathes a sigh of relief.
“Bernie” she calls.
“Yes” replies Bernie.
“Shiraz.” she says.
“Of course” comes the reply and Serena turns to see Bernie already leaning against the door frame, a bottle in one hand and two glasses in the other.
“Not doing much good over there.” Serena points out. Bernie sensibly hurries over, pours Serena glass and waits until she has drunk at least half the contents and put the glass down on the coffee table before she speaks.
“I'm sorry, I thought it would be fun having a puppy around for a bit. I was wrong.”
“I know you did. Still you did clean up after him, so I think we can draw a veil over it.”
“So,” says Bernie, “no chance of us getting a puppy of our own then.” She looks at Serena's expression and says rapidly “Thought not.”
“The only puppies coming into this house from now on are these ones” Serena says placing her hands on her breasts.
“Works for me.” grins Bernie. “Am I allowed to stroke them?”
My other half and I borrow a dog. The majority incidents in this story are things that have happened to us with the dog (or variations of them).
Chapter 6: Mistletoe
Apologies for any medical inaccuracies.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
AAU is busy. AAU is always busy. The addition of seasonal ailments and accidents has meant that they are well and truly bursting at the seems and all the staff have been working flat out. Bernie and Serena have been moving smoothly from one patient to the next in a well practised choreography all day. Whilst they are on top of the patient care, Serena is dreading the pile of paperwork that will have been accumulating in the office whilst both Co-leads have been out on the ward. She suspects Bernie will be less concerned about it. Serena glances round the ward to see where Bernie is. There's barely been time to smile across the ward at each other, let alone take a break. Serena still searches the ward with her eyes at intervals to confirm where Bernie is. Even that fragile connection, just knowing where Bernie is, grounds Serena.
It's not until late in the afternoon that Serena has a work related excuse to talk to Bernie.
“Ms Wolfe” she says, with a smile slightly too broad to be purely professional, as she walks towards Bernie, “Can a borrow you for a consultation?”
“Of course.” Bernie says and leans closer to Serena to add quietly, “anything for you.”
“Yes, well, It's the patient in bed four. Glandular fever, possible complications.” She hands Bernie the patient notes and waits whilst Bernie flicks through them.
“So, you're thinking what, the spleen?”
“Well the spleen is definitely inflamed on palpation and she has severe abdominal pain the upper left quadrant. Bloods and platelet counts are all down.” says Serena as she walks with Bernie towards bed four.
They arrive just in time to see the patient roll over and vomit into a bowl held out by Donna - long years of experience allowing her to position herself well away from any risk of splatter.
“Could you get me the portable ultrasound please Nurse Jackson?” requests Bernie, and Donna, delighted at the opportunity for a break from the lingering smell of vomit, obliges.
Bernie introduces herself to the patient and calmly explains what is going to happen.
“It might feel a little cold.” she warns as Donna hands her the fast scanner. It's not long before Bernie holds the monitor towards Serena. “Do you see that?”
“Free fluid in the abdomen.” Serena concurs. “Contrast CT?” she suggests.
“It's definitely a splenic rupture. It doesn't look too serious though and she seems stable at the moment, we've got time to get her to CT and see exactly what we're dealing with. If we're lucky we might get away with conservative treatment.”
“Time for a coffee? I think we've earned one.” asks Serena.
“Lead the way!” says Bernie enthusiastically. They have almost got to the ward door when the sound of a patient monitor alarm fills the ward. Donna comes bounding up to them “Bed Four. Complained of pain in her left shoulder then lost consciousness. Blood pressure is in her boots.”
“Damn.” Bernie exclaims. “The spleen must have developed a second bleed. Prep her for theatre and an emergency laparotomy please. Cross match 8 units of blood to start with.” Donna hurries off “Spoke too soon Serena.” Bernie adds.
“Rain check on the coffee?” asks Serena
“'Fraid so. Would you scrub in? She's young and I'd much rather do a splenic embolisation than splenectomy. I could use your vascular skills...”
“All yours Ms Wolfe.”
It's almost three hours later and the end of their shift before Bernie and Serena finally find themselves back in their office catching their breath. Serena is slumped back in her chair and Bernie, her aversion to chairs well known, is perched on Serena's desk.
“We make quite the team.” Bernie remarks. “That was some very impressive work Ms Campbell.”
“Would have all been for nothing if you hadn't pulled her back from that arrest.” Serena adds.
“That's true. Do I get a reward?”
“You mean other than saving a young woman's life?” Serena asks, raising an eyebrow.
“I was hoping for something more tangible...” teases Bernie.
“In that case, you can complete the paperwork.” Serene says with a wicked glint in her eye and thrusts the file into Bernie's reluctant hands.
“You're no fun.” pouts Bernie.
“Oh I disagree.” says Serena as she gets up from her chair, steps round to stand between Bernie's legs and brings her mouth forward to meet her partners.
It's a few minutes later; with hair obviously tousled, lipstick smudged and clothes somewhat askew, that they break apart. Berne's arms are wrapped around Serena's waist and she lets out a small hum of appreciation.
“Wait 'till you see what I've got planned for you when we get home.” Serena says in the low silky voice that she knows Bernie loves.
“Can't wait” replies Bernie.
“Well the sooner you finish that paperwork the sooner I can take you home...” Serena notes, and Bernie is suddenly very keen to catch up on her admin.
It's a few moments after Bernie sinks into her chair and flips open the patient file Serena gave her before she exclaims,
“How did I miss that!”
Serena is immediately on the alert.
“What?” she says anxiously “What did we miss.”
“Her name.” says Bernie, trying not to giggle.
“Toe, wasn't it?” queries Serena. “I'm not quite sure what difference that makes?”
“First name Lorna...” hints Bernie. Serena looks blankly back at her. “Miss L. Toe...”
“A bit unfortunate, I grant you but….” She stops as she sees Bernie trying not to laugh.
“A bit? Miss L. Toe is in for Glandular Fever – you know, also called the kissing disease. It's pretty ironic.” grins Bernie.
“I suppose it is,” says Serena, “but not that funny.” she adds as Bernie suddenly convulses with laughter.
“What?” Serena question as Bernie's laughter quietens.
“Oh, Serena, I just realised. Miss Toe is in Recovery at the moment, isn't she?”
“Yes,” concurs Serena, “and...”
“The Recovery suite is just above us, isn't it? So that means that we just..”
“Don't say it, just don't say it.” Serena begs as she realises where this is going.
“Kissed underneath the Miss L. Toe.” Bernie finishes triumphantly.
Serena buries her head in her arms on the desk. A small quiet voice coming from somewhere in the middle of the tangle mutters
“Kill me now.”
You cannot believe how excited I was when I discovered that a ruptured spleen could be a complication of Glandular Fever! This story wouldn't have worked without it.
Serena wasn't very good at waiting. Particularly when what she was waiting for was something that she really wanted. Having Bernie home from Nairobi for Christmas was most definitively something that she really wanted.
It had been five long months since Serena had seen Bernie; since she had flown out for the opening of the Trauma Centre. She had been so proud of Bernie, of what she had achieved; but Bernie's time had been monopolised by last minute preparations and crisis. There had been very little opportunity for them just to be together.
This time it was going to be different. Bernie was staying for two whole weeks. Serena had juggled her shifts and called in favours to make sure they had as much time together as possible. She couldn't wait!
It was for this reason that Serena found herself, on the morning of the 23rd December, wide awake stupidly early. 6.00am stupidly early. Stupidly early for a day off anyway. There was no good reason why she shouldn't roll over and go straight back to sleep, she thought – except for the fact that she was thrumming with excitement and anticipation. Bernie was due home tomorrow and Serena couldn't wait.
Abandoning the cosy bed for the kitchen and the coffee machine, Serena made her way downstairs and started to think about what she could do to fill the time between now and Bernie's arrival. After all, it would be a shame not to put all this energy to good use.
By 10.am Serena has run out of ideas. The last of the presents had been wrapped and were settled under the fully decorated tree. The house had been cleaned to within an inch of it's life. The guest room is ready for Jason, Greta, and Guinevere who were arriving tomorrow evening and staying until Boxing Day. Serena has even managed to bag a Christmas Eve delivery slot and spent a pleasant half hour choosing treats and luxuries to add to the contents of the stuffed fridge and groaning pantry – and to fill the Shiraz stash to overflowing.
Putting the coffee machine to good use once more Serena decides that sitting down to catch up with the latest British Medical Journal is not going to cut it. She still has far to much excited, nervous energy to allow sitting down. She needs to do something active. A cake. She thinks, she can bake a cake. Except Serena doesn't bake. She has no idea why the idea has come into her head but it has taken firm root and nothing is going to satisfy her now short of having a home baked cake ready to welcome Bernie home tomorrow. How hard can it be? Serena thinks to herself. She's highly intelligent and good with her hands (has to be as a surgeon). It's simply a case of following a recipe. Surely she can do that. She grabs her phone and googles 'Delia Smith cake'.
It turns out that it can be hard, can be pretty hard indeed. It's like a whole new vocabulary. What, thinks Serena, does creamed mean? I thought coffee was creamed, not cakes. And how do you sift flour into a bowl without covering the whole worktop with a white dusting of flour? And yourself. Serena throws caution to the wind and removes her flour covered blouse. She is not to be deterred, this cake is not going to get the better of her! If she has to make it in her bra, that's what she'll do. The best part of an hour later, she's managed to get the hang of it. Granted, a lot of the cake mix ended up everywhere but the mixing bowl – well Delia never mentioned this would happen if you started “combining the ingredients” with the electric mixer on its highest setting. Despite it all, Serena had quite enjoyed herself. Something resembling a cake mix was in the oven, the radio was belting out Christmas classics and Serena, having researched icing recipes, was covering the kitchen surface, along with herself, in a sticky, sugary substance.
Bernie wasn't very good at waiting. Particularly when what she was waiting for was something she really wanted. And Bernie really wanted to go home to Serena for Christmas. She had thought that flying home for the 24th would have been enough, but here she was on the 22nd December unable to think of anything but Serena; unable to wait even another twenty four hours. Of course, as Co Lead of the Trauma Centre, she could easily have pulled rank and had somebody cover her shift on the 23rd , leaving her free to get an earlier flight. But the idea of doing that didn't sit right with Bernie. Her ethics only went so far though, it turned out. When she was invited to join a game of poker, organised by her Consultant colleague Jeremiah who wasn't working on the 23rd, it was too good an opportunity. There had been no reason to mention the undefeated champion status she'd earned in the Army, or how long she'd held it.
It had been worth sitting through the mansplaning, unsolicited advice and sympathetic looks she had been on the receiving end of to enable her to lull her colleagues into a false sense of security. After all, without it, Jeremiah wouldn't have been confident enough of winning to put 'covering a shift of your choice' in the kitty when the cash he was willing to risk had already been staked. And Bernie certainly wouldn't have been sitting on a Royal Flush about to play her hand and make one of her colleagues very unhappy. Her luck was clearly in that night as the overnight flight from Nairobi to Holby was leaving in four hours, and had (or rather had had ) one seat available.
And that was how Bernie came to be at the door of Serena's house a full 24 hours before she was expected. She still had the key that Serena had given her and she decided to surprise her partner. She opened the door as quietly as she could, put her case down in the hallway and followed the sound of the radio to the kitchen. And that was when Bernie realised that Serena wasn't the only one who was going to get a surprise that day.
Bernie stopped at the doorway to the kitchen, leant against the doorframe, barely able to believe what she was seeing. Serena had her back to her, and the radio was loud enough to have covered Bernie's footsteps, and she was oblivious to Bernie's presence. If she had known that Bernie was there Serena would most certainly not be standing in the midst of a kitchen covered in what Bernie thought looked like flour, sugar – and was that cake mix? The work surfaces were stacked with bowls, spoons and all manner of baking equipment.
Whilst this particular scenario was about as far from how Bernie had thought she would discover Serena as it was possible to be, it isn't this which has thrown Bernie off her stride. It isn't even the fact that Serena is wearing nothing more than a pair of trousers and a bra. It's the fact that she was singing along with 'Santa Baby' in a voice so sweet and sultry it was doing 'things' to Bernie. And then she started dancing. No, thought Bernie, not dancing, gyrating. And it was positively sinful. Bernie was transfixed. Her brain said she should cough or announce herself to Serena, but her body, and particularly her eyes, refused to do anything that might stop what was happening in front of them.
Bernie's trance was broken when the song came to an end and the radio segued into 'All I want for Christmas '. As Serena's body stilled, Bernie's was galvanised into action. Stepping silently across the kitchen floor (the louder shoes requested by Serena never having actually been purchased) Bernie came up behind her still singing partner. Just as the radio and Serena reached the first “is you” Bernie joined in the song and slipped her arms round her partner's waist.
Serena, who had been happily in a world of her own (who knew baking and dancing around the kitchen could be such fun) jumped as she felt the arms wind their way round her waist and heard the familiar voice in her ear, and her heart leapt. She turned round in the embrace to find herself face to face with Bernie. Serena's face lit up, and Bernie's lips gently met hers.
“What are you doing here?” asked Serena when they finally came up for air.
“Until a few moments ago, kissing you.” said Bernie.
“No, seriously. I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow.”
“Couldn't wait that long, so I got an earlier flight. Of course, if you don't want me here early I can always go away again….”
“Don't you dare!” says Serena with a beaming smile.
“Perhaps I should be asking you what you're doing?” says Bernie causing Serena to remember the state of her kitchen and her state of undress, and flushes slightly.
“I was baking you a cake.”
“That's a lovely thought, but, Serena, you don't bake.” says a bemused Bernie.
“Quite.” says Serena gesturing at the disaster zone the kitchen has become.
“Doesn't explain everything, though” says Bernie fixing Serena with a knowing gaze.
“How long have you been here?” asks Serena.
“Long enough to get quite the show.” Bernie grins, and Serena flushes even deeper.
“Well,” replies Serena attempting to change the subject “my dancing was always better than my baking. There's no guarantee that this cake will be edible.”
Bernie brings up a finger to her lips, wets it and runs it gently down Serena's cleavage and then over the start of the swell of her left breast, where she scoops up the drop of cake mix that has settled there. Bringing her finger back to her mouth, she closes her eyes and pops the tip of her finger on her tongue, closes her lips gently and sucks the mix off with a gentle sigh.
“Very edible indeed.” she just manages to pronounce before Serena dashes out of the kitchen towards the bedroom, pulling an unresisting Bernie behind her.
It's not until quite some time later that the smoke alarm reminds them Serena had been thoroughly distracted before she had the chance to remove her cake from the oven.
At no point during the writing of this fic did I dance around my flat singing Santa Baby.
I cannot promise that no Christmas songs were harmed in the writing of this fic.
Chapter 8: Snowball Fight
When the weather forecast had said there was a good chance of snow just before Christmas, Bernie had lit up with childish delight. When it had become clear that the promised (or threatened, depending on you opinion) snowfall had failed to materialise, Bernie's disappointment had been written all over her face.
“You don't get much snow in the Middle East.” Bernie said wistfully, when Serena asked her why the snow had been so important to her. “I missed so many Christmases at home when I was in the Army. I always had this image in my head of what it would be like, a white Christmas; playing in the snow with Charlotte and Cam, snowball fights, snowmen. I missed all my chances to find out. Somehow I never managed to be in the UK when the snow was. Cam always said he'd beat me in a snowball fight. We never got the opportunity to put that particular theory to the test...” Bernie tails off.
“You'd have given him a run for his money.” Serena offers gently.
“Probably.” says Bernie. “Still, I've got something better than snow for Christmas. I've got you.” she continues, almost, but not quite, without any sadness.
“Indeed you have.” says Serena and plants a tender kiss on Bernie's forehead.
Serena doesn't like seeing Bernie maudlin. If it had been within her power she would have filled Holby with inches of fresh, pure snow and strung icicles from every available rooftop, arch and lamp post, just to see the glee on her face. But she couldn't. There must be something she could do to put a smile back on that face, she mused. What if, she thought… then dismissed the idea that had entered her head as far too off the wall. But then, maybe, just maybe, off the wall was exactly what was required? What did she have to lose, except, maybe, a considerable amount of dignity? Deciding that it would be more than worth it, she picked up the phone and composed her text. It wasn't long before the reply from Ric arrived.
*Are you serious?*
*As a psudoeaneurysm of the splenic artery Are you in?*
*Absolutely! I'm not missing this for anything.*
Sighing a little at Ric's response, she realised she might just have let herself in for more than she had bargained for. Still, it was too late now. Serena went to rally the troops.
It was a fortunate coincidence that Bernie and Serena were both on shifts that finished at the same time. It was even more fortunate that, for once, AAU was ship shape enough for them to hand over on time to the night shift. Even the red phone seemed on board with Serena's plan and steadfastly refused to ring in the hours before home time. The end of their shift found Bernie and Serena in their office, paperwork for once complete (or as complete as Bernie's got).
“I'm done.” announced Bernie as she reached forward to turn off her computer. “Are you ready to leave too?”
“Right behind you.” said Serena, her nerves making the statement slightly chirpier than was warranted.
“Do we have plans for tonight? I could think of some possibilities...” says Bernie suggestively, switching from professional Consultant to Girlfriend mode as the clock marked the end of their shift.
“Interesting as that sounds” replied Serena. “I'm afraid I've agreed to a bit of a ward drinks in Albie's: Fletch, Raf, Morven and Jasmine, and I said we'd both go. You don't mind, do you?”
“I'll have to wait a bit longer to get you alone then? I'll do my best to survive it.” she grins. “Of course, if you were buying, that would help...” Bernie adds as she grabs her bag and walks towards the door. Serena raises one eyebrow and follows her out of the ward to the lifts.
It's only a few minutes later that Bernie pushes open the door to Albies – and stops dead, causing Serena to narrowly avoid barrelling into her.
“What on earth is this?” asks Bernie, her face full of confusion as she gestures towards the table lined with glasses, pitchers of a very odd yellow coloured drink, a bottle of Sambuca, their colleagues, and Ric, standing under a large poster proudly proclaiming 'The AAU Snowball Fight'.
“Well,” starts Serena hesitantly, not quite sure how Bernie is taking this. “You seemed so sad about the lack of snow and what you'd missed, I wanted to cheer you up. This was as close as I could get to a snowball fight. I'm sorry, it was a bad idea you don't have to...” she tails off as Bernie takes her hand and looks into her eyes.
“You organised all this for me?”
“Well, yes. Silly really.” Serena says
“It's lovely.” says Bernie. “You're lovely” she adds as she drops a kiss on Serena's forehead. “I'm not quite sure why it's a snowball fight though?”
“The drinks in the jugs are Advocaat and lemonade.” Explains Serena to Bernie's blank face. “It's called a Snowball. It's also rather potent.”
Realisation dawns on Bernie.
“Are you challenging me to a drinking contest Ms Campbell?” she says in a mock stern voice.
“Well, yes I suppose I am.” admits Serena with a degree of trepidation.
“Oh, well then, lead on Ms Campbell, lead on.” replies Bernie mischievously.
It doesn't take long for Ric (who has been roped in to umpire) to establish the teams – Jasmine and Morven are with Bernie and Raf and Fletch with Serena. The rules are straight forward enough. Each member of each team will go up against a member of the opposite team, the first one to down their pint of snowball will be declared the winner, and the entire losing team will have to down a shot of Sambuca.
First up is Fletch v. Morven. It's a close run thing, until the bubbles in the lemonade cause a coughing fit in Morven, allowing Fletch to drain his glass and slam it down on the table to claim victory. Amidst slaps on the back for Fletch from his team mates, and murmurs of 'unlucky' to Morven from hers, Ric lights the sambuca's in front of the losing team, and they are dutifully drained – the accompaniment of whoops from the winning team.
Next up is Jasmine v. Raf. Bernie's team's pride rides on Jasmine and she doesn't disappoint, claiming victory easily - despite a determined effort from Raf. High fives for Jasmine from her team are echoed by commiserating pats on the back for a good effort to Raf. Sambuca's are poured and lit and this time it's Serena and her team who down them with good grace.
With the scores neck and neck it's Bernie and Serena's turn to face the challenge. Both step up to the table as Ric, who has got far too into this umpiring role for Serena's liking, reminds them that the hopes of both their teams are riding on them. Ric counts them down and both women start to drink. They are neck and neck – Bernie's military past standing her in good stead, Serena's Shiraz habit finally paying dividends. And then Serena glances over at Bernie and sees the same look in her eyes that she had when they arm wrestled. She remembers how Bernie had let her win, denied it of course, but she had nevertheless. Somehow, despite her competitive nature Serena no longer wants to win. She carefully, almost imperceptibly slows her drinking down. She looks like she's making an effort but Bernie is edging ahead. Serena sees the look of delight on Bernie's face as her glass hits the table a full second before Serena's
Ric, who has seen Serena neck an entire bottle of wine in less time than it took for her to drink her pint of snowball, declares Bernie and her team the winners. In the midst of the other team's celebrations, Ric shoots a bemused, but knowing, glance at Serena, who mouths back “What?” with a look of feigned innocence.
Ric declares that the losing team have to down two Sambuca's each, Serena and her team submit to the umpires ruling with as much good humour as they can muster. Drinks downed, Serena turns to the barman and says
“A bottle of Shiraz, and whatever this lot are having” proffering her card. The others head to the bar to place their orders but Bernie catches Serena's sleeve and holds her back. Stepping forward she leans in to whisper into Serena's ear.
“That was the best snowball fight ever. I can't believe you went to so much trouble just to cheer me up.” She places an affectionate kiss on Serena's cheek and takes the opportunity to whisper more closely in her ear.
“You do know what happens to snowballs when you take them home? They melt. When we've finished our drinks I could take you home and make you melt. What do you say.”
“I wish I'd ordered by the glass.” Serena replies wistfully.
Chapter 9: Christmas with Adrienne
This was a tough one for me as I came to the Holby party after the Adrienne storyline. I have spent many pleasant hours watching old clips and episodes, which I hope have given me enough insight to make a decent attempt at this. Please forgive me if it isn't quite right though.
It's late on Christmas night when Bernie and Serena retire to bed. The day has been busy - full of family and fun. As they both settle into the comfortable mattress Serena rolls towards Bernie and Bernie gently pulls Serena closer into a deeper embrace, moulding her back tightly to hers. Under the duvet it's warm and cosy, and they are both full of good wine and good food. By rights sleep should already be claiming them, but Serena is thinking. Thinking so hard that Bernie can almost feel it.
Bernie strokes a reassuring hand over Serena's shoulder and in a tender voice says
“Oh nothing.” Serena replies too quickly. Bernie tilts her head questioningly, and knows that Serena feels rather than sees it. Serena sighs.
“It's funny, I thought that today any maudlin thoughts would be about Elinor. I was wrong. Turns out they were about my Mother. Not that they were particularly maudlin, but they were about her. So there you go.” Serena finishes rather abruptly. Bernie's hand moves slowly and soothingly between Serena's shoulder and neck, brushing unconsciously over the scars Serena's mother left when she had been too ill to know what she was doing.
“But they've upset you?” Bernie asks, probing.
“Unsettled I think, rather that upset me.” Serena offers after a moments consideration.
“Would it help to talk?” Bernie asks gently. Serena turns in Bernie's arms so she is facing her.
“If you don't mind?” asks Serena.
“Of course I don't, you can talk to me about anything.” Bernie confirms, then in an attempt to keep the mood as light as possible adds “You know how much I love your voice, you could read the dictionary out loud to me and I'd listen.” It raises a weak smile from Serena.
“I was thinking about how much has changed in my life since she died; I found out about Majorie, gained a nephew, lost a daughter, acquired a niece-in-law and a delightful grand niece. And I met the love of my life, who just happens to be the most amazing woman I know. I sometimes wonder if my Mother would recognise me now, my life is so different.”
“Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?” asks Bernie.
“Both I suppose.” reflects Serena. “I'm glad she wasn't here when Elinor died. They were close, and I really can't imagine how she would have faced losing her granddaughter, and seeing me go to pieces. She certainly wouldn't have approved.” Bernie humphs under her breath, but says nothing. She's told Serena many times to stop beating herself up about behaviour after Elinor's death. Serena had tried, but never quite got over the guilt and horror at how she reacted and lashed out at those closest to her.
“I never got the chance to ask her about Marjorie, about why she gave her up. Why she never told me about her. Would she have minded that I found out? Did she know what happened to Marjorie? Did she know about Jason? I wonder what she would have made of him? He's such a wonderful boy, kind and gentle, with such a good heart. Would Adrienne have seen that, or would she have seen his way of looking at the world as somehow not good enough? I hope that she would have been proud of him, been able to see how much he's grown, how well he's done. She was always a very demanding woman, difficult to live up to her expectations. Maybe it was best they never met, I couldn't, wouldn't want, to see her disappointed in him, not when he didn't deserve it.”
“What do you think she would have thought of you?” asked Bernie, sensing that what her Mother would have made of the way Serena's life had played out might just be at the bottom of her introspection.
“She wouldn't have understood me standing down as Deputy CEO. She was delighted when I got that post, always so disappointed when I never made it all the way to permanent CEO. I think, in her mind, if you were going to have a career you had to make it to the very top. Anything less just wasn't quite good enough. Never quite fulfilled my potential, in her eyes.” Serena said sadly.
“And me? Or rather, us? What would she have made of that?” Bernie asks cautiously, fearing she might be treading on dangerous ground.
“She would have liked you. Decorated Army Officer at the top of their field. What's not to like?”
“That I'm a woman.” Bernie says quietly, but calmly.
“Oh, well, she had no problem with people being Gay, Bi, Lesbian, or however else they wanted to describe themselves. But that was abstract really. Not sure what she would have made of me being with a woman.” says Serena. “Would probably have put it down to my short hair.” she adds as an afterthought.
“Well, I for one love your hair” Bernie says, gently brushing her fingers through the silvery strands. For a moment they both lay together quietly, and then Bernie asks.
“Do you want to know what I think?”
“I don't know.” responds Serena. “Do I?”
Bernie takes Serena's hand in hers and brings it up to her mouth so she can place an achingly tender kiss on the back of it.
“I think,” she says, “That you are an incredibly brave woman to go through what you have and come out the other side with the ability to love still intact. I think you are a wonderfully kind and compassionate woman who was able to open her heart and life to a special nephew who needed her, despite the particular challenges he brought with him. I think you are a very intelligent woman, to have realised that fighting for the top job was not going to bring her the happiness she could have, or deserved. I think your Mother should have nothing but pride in you, but even if she doesn't I am still grateful to her.”
“Why?” asks Serena, glad that the light in the bedroom is dim and that Bernie can't see her blush.
“Because without her I wouldn't have you. If it helps, I'm proud of you, and so very proud to be your partner.”
“It does help, thank you.” Serena manages, touched by what her usually taciturn partner has said. Bernie drops a feather light kiss on Serena's forehead and allows the woman in her arms to sink into the comfortable silence that surrounds them as she gathers her thoughts
Serena knows she has spent much of her life not feeling good enough, chasing after the next promotion, the next achievement – none of them ever delivering quite what they promised. No matter how far she went, or how successful she was, there always seemed to be one more thing; another way to push her self, something to overcome or to conquer. Whilst she knew that she was her own harshest critic, she also knew that a large portion of her drive to succeed was a result of Adrienne, or rather her desire to obtain Adrienne's approval. Oh, she had no doubt Adrienne was proud of her and what she had achieved; but she had always seemed to hold something back, always wanting something more from Serena before she was 'enough', before the pride was unconditional and absolute. Then their was Bernie, sweet, wonderful Bernie, who had just offered her that total and unconditional pride, not based on what she had achieved, or how successful she was but just on being who she was. For being true to who she was and what she and her family wanted and needed. Serena could not imagine a more perfect Christmas gift.
Sensing the change in mood, Bernie looks at Serena with a mischievous glint in her eye
“You know what else I think? I think you're probably the sexiest woman I've ever met?
“In that case, I'm going to have to provide you with enough empirical evidence to change your preliminary conclusion of 'think' to 'know'. Any suggestions on where I should start?”
The knock at the door rouses Serena from the pile of paperwork on her desk, well the CEO's desk really. Serena has made it very clear that this new role of Acting CEO is a very temporary one. Someone has to steady the Holby ship after the disaster that was John Gaskell; and with Abi gone and Henrik far too close emotionally to the whole situation (despite his best efforts to hide it) options were limited. The Board had asked Serena to step in, and she had agreed to it as an interim measure. The permanent role of CEO no longer appealed to her. She had, as she had told the Board, other priorities now.
The door opens as Serena looks up and Bernie steps into the office.
“Hello Scrooge” she says with a smile.
“That's no way to speak to you boss.” Serena retorts.
“But it's 8.30pm. Your shift finished at 7pm, so as of then you're not technically my boss.” smirks Bernie “Just my very gorgeous girlfriend.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere. Not with this pile of work to get through.” Serena says in a voice full of resignation.
“It's Christmas Eve.What on earth could be that important that people want it between now and the end of Christmas Day?” Bernie reasons. “Besides, there's a bottle of Shiraz at home with your name on it.”
“You win.” concedes Serena, standing up and stretching behind the desk, letting the kinks in her shoulders neck and arms ease away. “But I want to walk through a couple of the wards on the way out - just to make sure all's well.”
“Come on then.” says Bernie, knowing that this is the best deal she's going to get.
They walked onto Darwin ward to see that Mo has everything in hand. It's not been the easiest of tasks for her, not with Jac recovering in a side room. Most other Consultants would have run a mile, especially as Jac was of the opinion that she could lead the ward from her sick bed. Fortunately Mo was made of sterner stuff than most and had taken it in her stride. Serena, in her role of Acting CEO was thrilled that they'd been able to persuade her to step into the breech left on Darwin.
“I'll leave you in peace now.” Serena says as she finishes discussing Darwin's current patient list with Mo. “I'll just look in on Jac on my way out.”
“I wouldn't if I were you.” grins Mo.
“Why? Is she in a bad mood?” Serena asks.
“See for yourself.” Mo gestures towards the side room where Jac is being unhappily kept away from the main body of the ward. Serena and Bernie's eyes both follow the path Mo's arm has indicated. Through the door window they can see Jac smiling. It takes both of them a moment to recover from the shock of that sight; which is quite helpful because the next shock comes when the see who she is smiling at – as Fletch, holding one of Jac's hands leans over her bed and proceeds to carefully, but thoroughly kiss her.
“Really?” says Serena to Mo.
“Yep.” replies Mo. “been inseparable all day. I'm not complaining mind. Keeps her off my back.”
“It would do.” says Serena. “I'll leave them to it. Wish them both Happy Christmas from us – and tell them I said to remember this is still a hospital and they are supposed to be professionals.”
“Oh no.” says Mo. “I wasn't born yesterday. You can tell them that yourself!”
Bernie smothers a laugh and earns herself a raised eyebrow from Serena.
“Sorry.” she mumbles, trying and failing to keep the mirth out of her voice.
“We'll leave you to it.” Serena says “Have a lovely Christmas.”
“You too” Mo calls after the two Consultants heading towards the stairs.
The next stop is Keller Ward and Serena spots Sasha immediately. It wasn't difficult as he is wearing a particularly colourful shirt (even for him), appropriately themed with holly and ivy. Keller is particularly quiet – as an elective ward they try to schedule surgeries so that people will not be in hospital over Christmas. Sadly it's not always possible and one unfortunate man is particularly unhappy that minor post operative complications mean that he has to stay in for the next couple of days and miss Christmas at home. Serena is relieved when Sasha tells her that he's had a chance to explain to the patient what happened and why he needs to stay where he is. Common sense has prevailed and the threat of a complaint is gone.
“Our very own Christmas miracle!” Serena notes as Sasha finishes imparting the good news “Thank you.” she adds sincerely. The threat of a complaint was certainly not something she wanted overshadowing her Christmas, or anybody else's. Sasha smiles at Serena and says.
“Have a good Christmas ladies.”
“You too.” replies Serena. She turns towards the doors to head for the stairs, but Bernie catches her arm and stops her.
“Lets take the lift.” she says. Serena looks nonplussed.
“You don't like taking the lift though?” Serena queries “I thought that you considered it too prone to breaking down and trapping people? Why would you want to take...” Serena tails off as she glances towards the doors to the stairs, and sees Dom and Lofty the other side. They're wrapped around each other, kissing in a manner that can only be described as heated.
“Oh, really!” exclaims Serena as she starts to move towards them.
“Oh, leave them.” says Bernie reasonably. “It's not as if they're doing it in front of the patients. You said yourself the ward's not busy and everything is in hand. Besides, they're newly weds.”
Serena mutters something about professionalism, but follows Bernie towards the lift.
Their final stop is AAU. Even though she is Acting CEO Serena is still Co-Lead of the ward, though Bernie is shouldering most of the responsibility at the moment. Serena doesn't want to leave without showing her face on her ward, and Bernie needs to get her bag from her locker. It doesn't take long for Bernie to collect her belongings from the locker room, whilst Serena catches up with the staff at the nurses station and casts her eye over the patient list.
“Are you done?” asks Bernie as she comes up behind Serena, her bag slung over her shoulder.
“Just want to say goodnight to Donna, but I haven't seen her.”
“She's in the office.” Bernie tells her.
“I'll just pop my head in and wish her Happy Christmas and then we can go.” says Serena. “Hang on. Why is she in our office?” asks Serena.
“You sure you want to know?” asks Bernie. Serena's eyes flick to Bernie, then to the office. Donna is not in the office alone. It looks like Xavier is in there with her, but it's hard to tell as the man's face is obscured by Donna's face and hands as they kiss enthusiastically.
“Oh, come on!” says Serena.
“A very good idea.” says Bernie loudly and moves Serena away from the nurses station. As she does so she takes the opportunity to whisper in Serena's ear
“They could at least have closed the blinds like we did.” Serena pretends not to have heard as she makes her way to the lift.
The journey down to the lobby is slightly uncomfortable. There is clearly something on Serena's mind, it's given away by her rigid posture and the way she is obviously focussing on keeping her composure. Bernie waits until the lift is empty and asks
“Nothing.” replies Serena far to rapidly and blithely.
“Serena.” Bernie says in a tone that clearly say she doesn't believe Serena for a second.
“Ok. Fine. It's the kissing.”
“I was under the impression that you quite liked kissing.” said a bemused Bernie.
“I do like kissing. I like kissing you anyway.”
Bernie fixes Serena with her best confused look.
“Then I don't understand? What's the problem...”
“Because all I've wanted to do since you walked into my office is kiss you into next week. Seeing everyone else taking advantage of the festive cheer, or whatever they've put in the water has been torture. It's not as if I can drag you into the nearest cupboard. Wouldn't exactly be professional CEO behaviour. It was very tempting though.”
“I quite like the idea of being dragged into the cupboard by the CEO – well one particular, very sexy CEO anyway.”
“Not helping Bernie.” Serena grinds out.
“This might.” Bernie leans past Serena to press the stop button on the lift control panel. “I assume that, now there's no chance of being seen, professional concerns can be put aside in favour of other things.” Bernie wraps herself around Serena as she stands back up straight again.
Do lifts even have stop buttons?
Sorry, not sorry.
Chapter 11: Tradition
The first Christmas after Elinor dies Serena is in the South of France. Bernie is working in the Sudan and Serena is alone. It's not that Bernie didn't offer to be with her over the holidays, nor was it that people in the village hadn't extended invitations to the reserved English woman with the excellent French accent who lived so quietly among them. It was that Serena wanted to be alone. Serena's sabbatical had gone a long way towards healing the tears in her soul that the loss of her daughter had left; but the pain was still there, still palpable, still real. It was, however, no longer as all encompassing as it had been, and slowly but surely hints and snippets of the old Serena, or rather the new version of the old Serena, had begun to surface. But Christmas, the first Christmas with out Elinor, Serena isn't ready to face that. She doesn't want to be jolly around others and their families when hers is fragmented by death, distance the size of continents and the chasm of her grief. If she has to do this, the Christmas thing, she wants to do it alone. She wants to work through it herself, to be able to cry, shout, down bottles of Shiraz, remember her daughter, do whatever it takes and not have to worry about spoiling the day for anyone else.
She decides against decorations, doesn't have the heart. Her compact living room wouldn't really take a tree, and even if it could, there would be too many memories of past Christmases with Elinor. She decides on a candle. Sits it on the window sill and lights it every evening. Likes the symbolism of light holding back darkness, of hope in dark times. She writes a letter to Elinor, seals it in an envelope and props it in front of the candle. Can't remember what the letter says. She never opens it, never reads it again after she has written it, but packs it up safely after twelfth night. She lights the candle every night, keeps doing it until one evening the flame gutters and goes out as candle burns down to it's stub.
The second Christmas after Elinor dies Serena finds herself back at Holby, much to her surprise. She had intended to be in Nairobi, but she wasn't. Instead she was a great aunt with a married nephew and very firmly anchored to Holby by this new shape of family. This year there is a tree, decorations and jollity. She has a great niece who needs happy Christmas memories and newly weds to indulge. What there isn't is Bernie. There was supposed to have been Bernie, but Serena has let her go, set her free to live, refused to pin her down to this domestic life in Holby. In her place there is pain, and heartbreak. A hole where the love of her life had once brought light and peace. There is a brave smiling face for her confused little family.
She buys an ornate box, puts the letter she wrote to Elinor last year in it, places another letter to Elinor deep in the heart of the Christmas tree where it can't be seen and places one to Bernie next to it. When Christmas is finally over she puts both letters in the box and takes the tree outside to be recycled.
The third Christmas after Elinors dies Serena is in Holby and she is alone. Jason and Greta have taken Guinevere to spend Christmas with Greta's family. Serena can't complain. She was with them last year and she sees them all the time, her little family. She can't begrudge Greta's family time with such a precious little one. So she doesn't. She sends them off on their adventure with an early Christmas celebration and a small but elaborate tree and smiles.
Serena works on Christmas Day. Volunteers to do a double shift. Let those with families spend time with them while they can she thinks. There's no one at home waiting for her, keeping Christmas dinner warm. Since Bernie there been people, dalliances, even an almost relationship; but they have all been flawed. Fatally irredeemably flawed because they are not Bernie. And Bernie still holds her heart.
She arrives home late from hospital, heats a microwave meal and opens a bottle of Shiraz. Tries to forget what day it is. Hopes the wine and busy shifts will bring sleep all the sooner.
Halfway through the bottle she drifts of on the sofa, fully clothed, facing the Christmas tree where, if you had known to look for it, a letter to Elinor and a letter to Bernie are propped against the trunk.
When she wakes the following day, stiff and sore, Serena decides she has had enough of Christmas, enough of the tree. She takes the letters and places them carefully in the box along with the other unread letters, and plants the tree in the garden as she had promised Guinevere she would.
The fourth Christmas after Elinor dies Serena is in Holby for Christmas, but this time her heart and home are full. Guinevere, now a lively and loving toddler, supervised decorating the tree - the biggest tree Serena had ever had - the adults indulging her. There are piles of presents underneath it, and come lunchtime on Christmas Day the table is groaning not only with food but with people. Jason, Greta and Guinevere are there of course, but also round the table are Cam and Charlotte, because they wanted to spend the holiday with their mother who is sitting, beaming, next to Serena. Bernie, wonderful, lovely Bernie, had come back to Serena. Had worked out her notice at the NTC, had travelled where she felt she was needed, but never stayed long in any one place. Had tired to find a home, but failed, because she knew - had always known, that Serena was her home. So she had given Serena time and space to work out what she did want. Waited until she could offer Serena more than long distance and then came back. Turned up on Serena's doorstep, put her heart and hopes in Serena's hands and waited to see what Serena would do. Serena held them both, in hands that said they were unworthy, that could not wipe out past hurts. So then they had talked, of infidelity and expectations, of hurt and radio silence, of abandonment and competing priorities, of fresh starts rather than continuations, of finally having a chance to do “this” properly, of hope, trust and love and of home. And together they became home for each other.
It's Bernie who buys the huge tree, an exuberant celebration of the Christmases they had wanted and never had. It's almost perfect; and in the almost perfectness Elinor's absence is felt almost more, though it is less sharp and penetrating a pain now
As the tree is decorated Bernie, put in charge of unpacking the boxes of tinsel and baubles by Guinevere, finds the box with the unopened letters in and says nothing. She smiles later as she is sitting with the fairy lights untangling the knot that was once a straight string and sees Serena place two envelopes high in the tree, hidden round the back of the trunk.
The following day Serena sees that the two envelopes have been joined by a third. She smiles and says nothing. No words are needed then, or when they, together, put the three letters in the ornate box unopened as they take the tree down.
And that's how the letters become their tradition, and the contents of the ornate box grows year on year: unopened, silent, but full of words and meaning, testament to years of life together.
Chapter 12: Sparkles
“Ow!” Bernie jumped as the hair curlers (tongs? Straighteners? She wasn't sure which they were, or what the difference between them was) connected painfully with the back of her hand. There was a reason, she thought, as she went to run her hand under the cold tap, that she didn't normally devote so much time and attention to her hair. Her normal style – rough and ready, occasionally saw a brush – was a lot less hassle, and a lot less painful she thought.
Today was different though. Today she had to make an effort. It was the Annual Chief Executive's Christmas Ball. The members of the Board would be there; local dignitaries and community figures would be there, rich potential donors and wealthy philanthropists in need of charming out of as much of their money as possible would be there, and so, much to her dismay, would Bernie Wolfe.
“Which part of obligatory for all Senior Consultants to attend are you having trouble comprehending Ms Wolfe?” Henrik had said when she had presented her best arguments for her not attending. Henrik had been immovable.
“But..” she had protested.
“No buts Ms Wolfe. You will be there.” he had replied in a voice so icy any further thought Bernie had harboured of arguing was effectively frozen out of her.
Serena, ever the social butterfly, was rather more enthusiastic about it than Bernie (which wasn't difficult). She had waxed lyrical about the venue (Hebton Manor – very luxurious and exclusive), the quality of the food – and of course the quality of the Shiraz. Bernie had managed to remain fairly stoic in the face of this onslaught, not wishing to dampen Serena's enthusiasm - right up until the point Serena mentioned the dress code. For some reason it hadn't occurred to Bernie that the event would have a dress code. How had she been so stupid - of course an event like that would have a dress code. She wondered briefly if she might be able to get away with her dress uniform, but that hope was rapidly crushed when Serena started talking about black tie, dinner jackets and cocktail dresses. When Serena started to ponder aloud whether any of her existing dresses would be suitable or if a shopping expedition was required Bernie couldn't help but let out a groan.
“What's wrong?” Serena asked?
“I just hate all this Ball stuff. Fancy dresses, extravagant hotels and small talk. It's just not me.”
“Oh” said Serena looking rather crestfallen. “I was quite looking forward to it, well to being able to go with you. As my partner. I wanted to show you off. I've never been on the arm of the most beautiful woman in the room before.”
“Oh.” said Bernie, the single word heavily laden with the realisation that she had just made a rather large mistake.
“Dom” Bernie says in a panicked voice down the phone. “I need your help.”
“I've messed up.”
“What've you done? asks a slightly too gleeful for Bernie's liking Dom.
“I may have suggested to Serena that I wasn't keen to attend the CEO's Annual Christmas Ball.”
“And...” Dom pushes
“Serena was looking forward to going – with me – as her partner.”
“I'd say you'd messed up pretty well there. What do you need me to do?”
“I have to wear a dress.”
“I don't have one.”
“You're going to make me say it, aren't you.”
“Absolutely.” Bernie can almost hear Dom's smile down the phone.
“Can you please help me find a dress? Something that will impress Serena?”
“Darling, I'm already in a cab on the way over.”
“Don't know what I'd do without you.” said Bernie with great relief
“Neither do I!”
“So, where are we going?” asks Bernie as she settles back into the cab with Dom.
“Francesco's” replies Dom, and tries not to laugh at Bernie's blank face. “It's a high end dress salon, owned by my friend Francis. Lets just say he owes me a favour and he's agreed to fit you in for an appointment this afternoon.”
“Since when did you need an appointment to dress shop?” asks Bernie bemused, and this time Dom can't help but laugh.
“Oh sweetie, you have no idea...”
Francesco's is not like any shop Bernie has ever been in before, and there's a good reason for that she thinks. The place shouts luxury and elegance, not really Bernie's go to style. Dom, having left Bernie to gape at the outfits on display, returns with Francis and bearing glasses of champagne. Introductions made Francis gets straight to the point.
“So, Dom has filled me in on your, um, situation.” he says. “Did you have any thoughts about what kind of thing you were looking for?”
“Something smart, maybe black?” Bernie offers hopefully. Francis looks Bernie up and down, a look of horror on his face. Dom, always one to be direct, offers;
“I thought you were trying to show Serena you were making an effort, that you wanted her to be proud to be out with you. I didn't realise you were hoping to be mistaken for someone serving drinks.” Seeing Bernie's downcast face Dom adds, “Sit down, drink your champagne and leave this to the professionals.” Bernie has seldom been so grateful for a get out clause in her life.
Bernie has lost track of how long she has been in this shop, and how many dresses she has tried on. Everything she has modelled so far has been deemed “not the one” for a whole range of reasons. Bernie is not sure that she understands most of them. She's pretty sure she's past caring. She finishes pulling off the latest dress and slipping into the next one in the pile. As soon as she's done she steps out of the dressing room and stands in front of the mirror. She doesn't bother to look. There's no need. Dom and Francis will soon tell her what's wrong with this particular dress and send her back to try on yet another outfit. But neither of them says anything, instead, by some kind of unspoken agreement, they both circle round Bernie taking in the dress from every angle.
“Well?” says Dom carefully to Francis. Francis nods imperceptibly.
“That's the dress.” they both say together. Bernie takes a few seconds to compute what they have said.
“It is?” Bernie says taken by surprise.
“Look.” says Dom gently, indicating that she should look in the mirror.
“Oh” says Bernie seeing her reflection. “It's perfect. Serena will love it. Thank you so much, both of you. Let me go and get changed and you can both get on with the rest of your days”
Dom and Francis laugh out loud at this, leaving Bernie confused.
“We're not done yet!” grins Dom.
“But, I've got a dress – that's what we came for.”
“You have, but a dress isn't an outfit.” explains Dom carefully. “Now you need shoes, a bag, a wrap, and jewellery. When you've chosen, or should I say we've chosen those for you, you have a session booked with Sophia.”
“Sophia?” Bernie asks confused.
“She's going to sort you out with the right lingerie and give you a hair and make up lesson.” Dom finishes triumphantly.
“I think,” says Bernie as she sinks into the soft arm chair in the corner of the dressing room, “That I’m going to need considerably more champagne.”
And that was how Bernie, on the night of the ball, came to be dressed up to the nines running her burnt hand under the bathroom tap. At least until Serena called out to her.
“Darling, the car's here.” Now or never, Bernie thought as she draped her wrap around her shoulders, threw on her coat, grabbed her clutch bag and made her way (slightly more cautiously than normal on her higher than usual heels) down the stairs to met Serena and on into the waiting car.
The car journey wasn't long, but it was slightly tense. Bernie was still worried she wasn't one hundred percent forgiven for her thoughtless comments about the Ball. She turned in her seat to look directly at Serena and said.
“You know, you do know, how much you wanting me to come tonight as your partner means to me.”
“I know.” responds Serena, squeezing Bernie's hand reassuringly.
The car drops them right outside Hebton Manor and they hustle into the warm lobby, balancing minimising time in the cold with maintaining a professional demeanour.
“Divide and conquer.” Bernie decrees. “I'll check our coats into the cloakroom and you go and get us a drink.” Serena is more than happy with this arrangement and rapidly shrugs her coat off and hands it to Bernie. There's no reply from Bernie as she is unable to focus on anything except the expanse of cleavage now on show; framed between the two sides the wrap around top of the silky deep red dress Serena is wearing. Her ability to speak is not helped when Serena turns and walks towards the bar, leaving Bernie staring after the swaying hips that the silky fabric is failing abjectly to hide.
Serena is happily chatting to Ric at the bar, when Bernie comes up to join them, all three of them fortifying themselves before facing the round of glad handing and networking that is to come. As the contents of their glasses are imbibed, and the room starts to fill, the temperature starts to rise. Ric and Serena are deeply engrossed in debating the merits of a proposal that is due to come to the Board in January. Bernie, who is less invested in the discussion offers to take her wrap, and the wrap Serena is now clearly finding is far too warm, to the safe keeping of the cloakroom. Shrugging out of her own wrap and draping it over her arm she takes Serena's places it on top of her own, and turns to head to the cloakroom.
Ric, who has just been expressing his opinion that there is a hole wide enough to drive a coach and horses through in the Board proposal, is expecting Serena to agree vehemently with him. He's therefore rather surprised when he gets no response at all. Turning to look at her he can see that she is no longer paying attention to him, her entire focus is on the back of her partners retreating figure.
Serena was dumbfounded. She knew Bernie had made a special effort tonight; she had noticed the carefully applied make up, the styled (rather than just about brushed) hair. She had even noticed the elegant heels Bernie was pulling off with seeming ease. Indeed she would have told Bernie how good she looked, how much she appreciated the efforts that she had gone to, but there hadn't been time in the rush to get to the car. There had been a slightly tense atmosphere in the car, and not wanting to make it worse, Serena had decided it was safest to say nothing.
Besides, Bernie had been covered in a coat and wrap for their car journey. Time enough for compliments, Serena had thought, when they had safely arrived and divested themselves of outdoor layers; when she would be able to fully appreciate what Bernie was wearing. It hadn't been Serena's fault that Bernie had dispatched her to the bar before she had removed her coat, nor that she had been deep in conversation with Ric when she had joined them at the bar. There hadn't even been a moment in which Serena could have leant over and whispered in her ear just how lovely she looked, because she did indeed look lovely. The sophisticated yet simple up do was softened by the lose curls framing her face, her make up, whilst heavier than Serena was used to seeing on her brought out her natural beauty and made her positively radiant. The dress, well the dress was a revelation. Serena had never seen Bernie in a dress before, but she was certain she wanted to see her in one again. The dress was a simple knee length, three quarter sleeve shift style; the shape emphasised Bernie's slender frame and the deep dusky rose colour complimenting Bernie's skin tones perfectly. It was elevated from what would have been a underwhelming outfit by the artfully draped layer of silvery grey chiffon that floated over it, creating endlessly intriguing layers of light and dark. Serena had been happy to wait to find the right moment to tell Bernie just how beautiful she looked, until Bernie had turned to walk away from her.
It wasn't until Bernie had removed her wrap, turned and headed towards the cloakroom that Serena realised what it was about the dress that took it from beautiful to absolute perfection. It was the back. Or, to be more precise, the lack of a back. From the nape of her neck, right down to the small of her back where the sides of her dress met in a tapered point resembling a heart Bernie's back was completely bare. No, thought Serena, no completely bare, because starting nestled between Bernie's shoulder blades and running down her spine was a delicate yet strong silver chain, and dotted along the length of the chain at regular intervals sparkled crystals of gradually increasing size until the final largest pear shaped crystal brushed against the small of Bernie's back, emphasising her hips and the swell of her buttocks. It's no wonder Serena's attention had wondered. She didn't stand a chance.
Ric turned to Serena with concern. It wasn't like her to be short of an opinion. He looks at his colleague and friend and, sees that her lips are pursed in an approximation of an ”O”. He follows the direction in which her eyes are fixed and sees exactly what has taken her attention. Smiling to himself he gently and without words removes her glass from her hand and nudges her in Bernie's direction, she wastes no time in moving towards her.
Serena catches up with Bernie as she is putting the cloakroom ticket into her bag. Taking her by the arm she guides her, without saying a word, into a private side room.
“What...” says Bernie. And manages no more before Serena's lips are firmly on hers, her tongue easing it's way into Bernie's mouth as the kiss deepens and Bernie melts against her. Serena's hands slip round Bernie's waist and make the most of the expanse of exposed back, one smoothing over the strong shoulders, the other teasing it's way down the path marked out by the back pendant on Bernie's spine, and finishes by tracing the boarders between the edge of the dress and Bernie's skin.
“Do you have any idea,” says Serena after long moments of exploration, moving her mouth millimetres away from Bernie's lips. “what you are doing to me in that dress?”
“You may have given me an indication.” smiles Bernie, barely masking her delight in Serena's approval.
“Where did you get, how did you….” Serena's brain is still playing catch up, and sentences are proving rather tricky to form.
“The dress? I went shopping. Dom might have helped.”
“Remind me to thank him.” Serena notes.
“He might have made me buy new lingerie too.” Bernie says as she takes Serena's hand and places it on the back of her thigh, allowing Serena to feel the unmistakable shape of a suspender belt. Serena's breath hitches.
“Remind me to send him a very large basket of muffins.” Serena manages to get out. Bernie smiles, enjoying having reduced the normally eloquent Serena to near incoherence.
“Come on.” says Bernie, untangling herself from Serena. “I believe we have some mingling to do and, I understand that someone wants to show their partner off.”
“I may have changed my mind once I saw what you were wearing.” Serena says as she watches Bernie head to the door. “How do you expect me to focus when you're dressed like that? All I want to do is work out how long I have to survive before I can take you home.”
Bernie stops at the doorway, the door ajar and says.
“Oh, I don't intend going home for quite a while.” She steadies her self against the door frame, pulls a key out of her clutch and holds it up. “I've taken the precaution of booking us a room here.”
Serena's mouth practically falls open. The door is just open enough to let in a shaft of light which sparkles off the key Bernie is holding aloft, and the diamantés dotted along her back, flashing sparks of light into the corners of the room. But they are no match for the sparkles in Bernie's eyes.
Chapter 13: Christmas Jumpers
The loud ringing of the phone wakes Serena and rouses Bernie (although she makes a very good effort to return to slumber as soon as her half awake brain concludes that it is not her phone).
Serena reaches for her phone, which is the source of the noise. As she does so her sleep fuddled brain registers that it's 8 am in the morning – on Christmas morning. Groaning inwardly she wonders who would be phoning at such an early hour on such a day. She is disappointed, but not overly surprised, to see the Hospital switchboard number. Putting as much of her brain into Senior Consultant mode as she can manage in the circumstances, she answers the phone.
Bernie hears Serena greet Fletch and realises that there's only one reason he would be phoning them so early on Christmas morning. They are needed at the hospital. Trying not to yawn Bernie sits up in bed and Serena switches the phone to loud speaker so Bernie can hear what he's saying.
“Happy Christmas.” Fletch starts cheerily.
“I wouldn't know I've just woken up – and that was only because I had to answer the phone. I assume that you're not calling me this early on Christmas morning just to offer seasons greetings?” Serena queries with a note of warning in her tone.
“Afraid not.” says Fletch, not in the least put out. “There's been a bit of an incident with a charity bungee jump taking place this morning. The crane was all set up ready in the field they were using, but when they swung the jib the shifting weight caused a sink hole to open up. The crane toppled over and landed in the crowd. Took out a catering van on the way down for good measure. Multiple casualties – entrapments, impalements, crush injuries, burns...”
“Burns?” queries Serena.
“Gas canister in the catering van went up. Connie has declared a Majax. It's all hands on deck.”
“Great. How long till the first casualties arrive?” Serena asks with resignation.
“About 15 minutes. A&E has a triage team on site. Most are going to be taken into the Emergency Department directly to be stabilised and then onto the appropriate operating theatre or wards from there. If the numbers are as large as we fear, you may well have some coming straight up to you.”
“Right, OK. Tell Dr Duval to make sure that theatre is ready and fully stocked, and to make as much space in the ward as possible. We'll be there as soon as we can.”
“Cheers.” says Fletch, “By we do I take it you mean you and Ms Wolfe? She's next on my list to contact, so if I could assume that she already knows it would save me a phone call...” says Fletch, rather cheekily.
“You can assume,” says Serena firmly, “That I will make sure Ms Wolfe knows her services are required, and that how that comes about is none of your business. Be grateful it's too early for me to give you my hospital gossip lecture.”
“Shame.” says Fletch, it's a good lecture.”
“Good bye Fletch” says Serena firmly and hangs up.
Serena leans over, kisses Bernie and says “Happy Christmas”, which Bernie mutters back to her. “Do you want the first shower or to make the coffee?” she adds. Bernie groans.
“I hate Christmas jumpers.” she says with feeling.
Both Bernie and Serena are far too used to being called in urgently to be caught unprepared. Fifteen minutes later they are dressed, holding coffee's and heading to Serena's car. Serena passes the keys to Bernie and takes her coffee.
“You drive” she says “I'll WhatsApp the kids, let them know where we are, and where to find the lunch things in case we're not back in time. Jason still has a key so they can let themselves in.” she finishes as they slip into the car.
Bernie's hands tense slightly on the steering wheel she is now in front of. Whilst things between Bernie and her children are significantly better that they used to be, it's not all plain sailing and Bernie agonises over anything that happens that could be seen as her letting Cam and Charlotte down. Serena rests her hand on Bernie's thigh.
“They will understand.” she soothes. “Come on. The sooner we get in the sooner we can get back – see what damage the kids have done to the turkey.” Bernie smiles weakly and eases the car off the driveway.
It's gone 5 O'clock before Bernie and Serena are finally able to scrub out from their last surgery of the day - a long, complex procedure and a hard battle to save a young man's arm, that had required both their skill sets. It was unsurprising that the surgeon's were feeling drained.
Connie had indeed been right to call a Majax. The volume of injuries had been staggering. Whilst they didn't know how all the casualties had fared, those that had passed through their hands (and there had been many) were at least in with a fighting chance.
They scrubbed out together in companionable silence, both gathering their thoughts.
“I think,” started Serena, “that we have very much earned ourselves a coffee.” Bernie, calculating just how long it had been since the coffee she had drained in the lift on her way up to AAU, swiftly agrees.
“Absolutely. Lets get back to the ward and check all is OK before we head to Pulses. We can do a ward round once the caffeine levels are topped up. With a little bit of luck we might, finally, be able to head home after that.”
“Not sure that heading home is going to be as restful and relaxing as you seem to be assuming.” Serena notes. Bernie looks confused as Serena continues, “We have left the kids in our house, which is full of booze, to their own devices with only the briefest of instructions on how to cook the turkey. I think having a house to come back to at all would be classed as as win.”
“Well,” responds Bernie with a grin. “you should have a little more faith in them. Anyway, isn't it supposed to be the season for miracles?”
“They just better have left me some Shiraz.” Serena says with a smile
“They all know better than to drink you out of Shiraz.” Bernie reassures her partner, not entirely jesting. “Your phone's in your desk – you can check in with them on the way to get coffee.”
They arrive back on the ward to see it busy and full, but calm and obviously under control.
“Bernie” says Serena. “Did you shut the office blinds?” She gestures to the clearly shut blinds of their office.
“No” says Bernie. “I was far too busy trying to finish my coffee before I went into surgery.”
“Then who did?” asks Serena confused as she pushes open the door, and stops.
Bernie, who manages to stop before she cannons into Serena's back, sees over her shoulder what has stopped her partner in her tracks. The small office is full of people, Cam and Charlotte on Bernie’s side of the office, Jason and Greta on Serena's, a peacefully sleeping Guinevere laying next to Greta on the sofa. Space has been carefully cleared on their desks and filled with plates of turkey sandwiches, cold ham, pickles, sausage rolls and mince pies. There's a bottle of Shiraz and a box of crackers. The occupants of the office are already wearing party hats and Christmas jumpers. Cam's features a larger than life reindeer head dominated by a red nose, Charlotte's a fairly tasteful (for a Christmas jumper) snowman on an ice blue background. Greta is in a Mrs Claus sweater dress, Jason is in a plain burgundy sweater, emblazoned with the words “Christmas Jumper.”. Even little Guinevere has got in on the act with the words “Little Elf” over her chest, and a suitably sweet image below.
Serena and Bernie stand there frozen in tired disbelief until Cam pipes up,
“If you won't come to Christmas dinner we decided to bring Christmas dinner to you.” he says with a grin “Happy Christmas” he adds as he pull his mother in for a hug. After that the ice is well and truly broken and it's hugs and cuddles with Guinevere all round (except for Jason who hands Bernie and Serena a cup of steaming hot coffee each – to stop them getting grumpy – but follows it up with a glass each of Shiraz).
Bernie turns to Serena and sees that she is beaming with happiness at having her family around her. Bernie suspects that she has a grin just as wide on her face. She leans over and says gently in Serena's ear “Happy Christmas darling.” Serena responds by turning her face and pressing her lips to Bernie's, earning them a round of cat calls and groans from the occupants of the room, but neither Bernie nor Serena care. They are far too happy.
It may not be the Christmas that they had planned, but they are together and with family. In it's own special way it's perfect. Bernie chinks her coffee cup with Serena's and says.
“I might not hate Christmas jumpers as much as I thought.”
Chapter 14: Candlelight
Serena let out the breath she had been unconsciously holding and allowed herself to sag a little with relief. The doors had started to close and she was still alone in the lift. She was finding it increasingly difficult to be around her co-lead and she wasn't sure she could maintain her composure any more today. At least now she could head home, open a bottle of Shiraz and relax - all without having to face Bernie again.
It wasn't that she didn't like Bernie, quite the opposite. It wasn't even that she was terrified that she had been kissed by Bernie – and had kissed her back. Obviously she had been terrified, but that had been at first. Once she'd had a chance to get her head round the sudden discovery of her previously unexplored sapphic side, her terror had quickly turned to enthusiasm to explore what it might mean further. What was troubling Serena was the drink they had shared in the office after 'the kiss', and more specifically the way in which Bernie had steered the conversation.
Serena had thought that they'd worked through the awkwardness. There had been awkwardness - of course there had been. Their discussion outside their office door had been excruciating. Serena still wasn't one hundred percent sure what had made her come up with the Stepney lie. Bernie though, had been true to her word, kept her promise and not turned theatre into a sapphic angst fest. As they had operated together, working seamlessly, they regained their former ease. Serena felt they had re-found their feet. When her offer of a drink had been made and accepted she had dared to hope that perhaps this could be something more.
It had come as something of a disappointment when Bernie had made it clear that she was not on the same page as Serena. True, she had acknowledged the undeniable sexual chemistry (at least Serena thought, she hadn't been the only one to have felt that), but unlike Serena hadn't wanted to take it any further. Before she knew what she was doing, had a chance to assimilate what Bernie was saying, she was drinking to 'keeping it confined to theatre' and trying to draw a veil over her sense of loss, of opportunities passed up.
Working in such close proximity to Bernie had not made it easier for Serena to regain her sense of equilibrium. Nor had it helped her banish the lingering sense of embarrassment she felt for thinking that Bernie might have wanted anything more from her on the basis of one kiss in a highly charged situation. One that it seemed Bernie now regretted. Was it any wonder, Serena thought, that she was looking forward to leaving the whole situation behind her for the night?
The lift doors had almost completely closed when a hand appeared in the narrow gap, causing the safety mechanism to kick in and the doors to slide open. Serena looked up to see the figure of Bernie revealed slowly in front of her, and her heart sank into her boots. 'Come on Campbell' she thought to herself 'you can cope with this'. It was, after all, only a lift ride. How bad could it be?
Bernie grinned shyly at Serena and said an awkward “Sorry”.
“All done for the day?” Serena offers in a voice much more cheerful voice than the occasion warranted.
“Yep.” replies Bernie, and then offers cautiously “Might be a small amount of paperwork left on my desk.”
“There usually is.” counters Serena with a wry grin. The lift falls into a not entirely comfortable silence.
“Any exciting plans for tonight?” Serena offers in an attempt to ease the atmosphere between them.
“Nothing particular. You?”
“Glass of Shiraz, maybe a second glass to follow. That's as far as I've got.”
Avenues for small chat seemingly exhausted they lapse into silence. Bernie's hands start twisting in front of her, a clear indication she is uncomfortable. Serena's fingers are worrying at her necklace. The lift seems to be taking forever. It feels like it's slowing down, stretching out this awkwardness deliberately. Then Serena realises that it's isn't her imagination, the lift is definitely slowing down. Until it isn't any more, because it's come to a jerky halt right between floors.
“You have got to be kidding me!” exclaims Serena, and hits the ground button repeatedly, achieving exactly nothing. Bernie, taking a deep breath, pulls out her mobile and calls Fletch. It's clear from the half of the conversation Serena can hear that the news isn't good.
“Fletch says it's going to take the engineers an hour to get here at the very least, going on past experience.” she says to Serena apologetically as soon as she has ended the call.
“Absolutely marvellous” Serena pronounces, with ill disguised annoyance.
“Is the thought of being in the same place as me for that long really such terrible one.” Bernie says rather quietly, a sad tone in her voice.
“Well, it's a bit..” she starts and then tails off as she sees the flash of pain race across Bernie's face. “No. No, It isn't. It's fine. Really.”
“I don't want you to feel uncomfortable around me, you know, after what happened.” Bernie says earnestly. Serena can't help herself, she can't stand to see Bernie hurting, and, damn it, she wants to spend time with Bernie. Before she was anything else, was the possibility of any thing else, she was her friend. Serena wants this awkwardness between them gone. She places her hand on Bernie's arm and says
“We're fine. Honestly.” She is rewarded with a week smile from Bernie. “Seeing as it looks like we're going to be here a while, can I suggest we make ourselves more comfortable? I for one don't intend to spend the next however long it's going to be standing.” Serena lowers herself to the floor, leans against the wall of the lift and tries to make herself comfortable. Bernie joins her moments later.
“Do you need to let Jason know what's happening?” she asks. Serena is reminded that one of the many reasons she is drawn to Bernie is the way she seems to simply accept Jason and his particular needs without fuss or resentment.
“World's Strongest Man night at Alan's. He won't be home till tomorrow. With any luck we'll be out of here before then.” Bernie smiles at the attempt at a joke. Serena reaches for the shopping bag next to her, fumbles for a moment and triumphantly pulls out a bottle of Shiraz. “No glasses I’m afraid, but we can always drink it straight from the bottle, if you don't mind sharing?”
“If you're offering to share your wine with me I must be back in the good books.” Bernie tries. Serena lets the comment slide, not ready to start that sort of discussion quite yet, in favour of handing the bottle to Bernie and starting to rummage in the depths of her handbag.
“I think we may have a problem.” says Bernie. “This bottle has a cork and we don't have a..” she stops as Serena withdraws her hand from her bag and raises a corkscrew in the air in triumph. “Of course you have a corkscrew in your handbag.” says Bernie incredulously.
“Doesn't everyone?” Serena asks in a serious questioning voice, which is undermined by the laughter in her eyes. Suddenly the tension has dissipated and they are both smiling. Serena starts to think that maybe they can do this, that they'll work out how to be around each other again.
Bernie does the honours and opens the bottle, passing it to Serena so she can have the first swig. A careful, but companionable silence fills the lift as the women pass the bottle back and forth. That is until they both start to speak at the same time, resulting in a flurry of self conscious laughter and 'After you's' . In the end neither of them says what they has been planning to say, they are rather more concerned by the lift carriage having been suddenly plunged into darkness.
“Brilliant!” says Serena.
“Could be worse.” says Bernie. “I'm still holding the wine bottle. If I'd put it down we'd never find it again in this dark. I don't suppose you've got a torch in that bag of yours.” Bernie adds.
Serena pauses a second and then asks her Co-lead.
“Have you got a lighter on you.”
“Odd time to take up smoking Campbell.” Bernie responds as she pulls her lighter from her pocket and sparks it up. The small amount of illumination the lighter provides is just enough for Bernie to see that Serena is once again searching for something in her bag. Seconds later Serena is proudly holding two fat pillar candles towards Bernie for her to light.
“I'm trapped in a lift with Mary bloody Poppins!” Bernie quips. “What else have you got in that bag?” she asks.
“Wouldn't you like to know.” responds Serena. Whilst she can't see it, Bernie can almost feel the flirtatious look Serena is accompanying this comment with. Swallowing she leans over and lights both candles.
The gentle glow of the candles allows just enough light for them to see the outline of faces and bodies, the flash of features. Somehow everything seems visible and half hidden at the same time.
“A centrepiece.” says Serena.
“What?” asks Bernie, confused.
“The candles. They were a centrepiece for the table, for Christmas dinner.”
“Oh.” Says Bernie, not quite sure why Serena is telling her this.
“I brought them on my way in this morning. It's why they were in my bag. I didn't want you to think that I usually carried candles around with me.”
“Right.” says Bernie. There's something in the way Serena is speaking, and the way the candle light is simultaneously hiding and revealing their faces that makes Bernie feel bold. “I'd got the impression that you weren't too bothered what I thought of you any more.”
“What makes you think that?” Serena replies in surprise.
“You seem to be avoiding me, after our, well after we kissed. I didn't mean to make things awkward between us. I know I crossed the line, and I shouldn't have. I miss my friend though.” Bernie confides.
“Bernie,” starts Serena and Bernie hears her shift to face her in the half light. “I'm sorry. I miss my friend too. It's just that it's hard, seeing you, being around you after what happened. Wondering what would could have been if you'd wanted me as much as I wanted you.”
“I don't understand. I though I'd terrified you?”
“You did, but not because you kissed me.”
“Really?” asks Bernie, not entirely sure she wants to hear what is coming next.
“As I recall, I more than enjoyed the kiss. In fact I distinctly remember kissing you back.”
“I hadn't realised how I felt about you, about us. I though we were just good friends, really good friends. It wasn't until you kissed me that I realised that I wanted more. I'd never felt anything like that for a woman before. Didn't know I could. Realising something like that about yourself in your 50's is pretty terrifying, you know.” Serena finishes.
“I have some idea.” Bernie adds wryly, thinking of her own experience. “But why didn't you say anything?”
“After 'keeping it confined to theatre' and 'not exactly Mills & Boon'? Didn't really seem to be a lot left to say. You made it quite clear that you weren't interested in me that way. I decided to try and salvage what dignity I had left. I just hadn't realised it would be so damn hard.”
“I thought I was protecting you.” Bernie says quietly, almost to herself.
“From what?” asks Serena, her turn to be confused.
Bernie takes a deep breath. The candlelight seems to make the lift seem other worldly, safe somehow. It feels right to be brave, to put the truth out there into the soft half light.
“From me.”Bernie looks straight ahead, not able to look at Serena until she has said her piece, knowing she will lose courage if she does. “I thought that I'd terrified you, that the thought of me, of kissing me, had terrified you. I wanted the awkwardness to stop. I wanted my friend back, so I tried to box it off, put it aside, pack what I felt away and go back to being a friend. I see now that it didn't work.”
“And what is it that you want?” Serena asks gently.
“You” Bernie replies simply, her courage finally spent.
“Well that makes things simpler.” Serena replies.
“How?” asks Bernie.
“Well, I want the same thing – you.” Bernie turns towards Serena and sees her bright eyes glittering in the candle light, looking at her with such hope, warmth and kindness. It's the most natural thing in the world for them to lean towards each other and bring their lips together.
It's some time later, when they finally break apart, breathing heavily. Serena leans forward and blows the candles out plunging the lift back into darkness.
“Why did you...” Bernie starts, but Serena interrupts her
“Oh Bernie, I want to see you too, but, with what I have planned a lit candle any where in the vicinity is going to be far too dangerous.” Bernie murmurs her agreement against Serena's lips which have found hers again. As far as she is concerned the lift engineers can take as long as they like.
Chapter 15: Karaoke
They hadn't meant to end up in a karaoke bar. When Serena had invited Bernie for a drink they had both understood - though it hadn't been said - that they needed to talk. Needed to talk about the kiss. It wasn't the sort of conversation that either of them wanted to have around their colleagues – which had ruled Albie's out as a venue. Too much chance of running into someone they knew and ending up on the wrong side of the Holby rumour mill. When Serena had suggested they head to the Five Bar (it was close and Serena had heard some nurses talking about what a good time they'd had there) neither of them had realised it was a karaoke bar – despite the less than subtle pun.
It had seemed a standard enough pub when they had arrived. Serena had been able to order herself a large glass of a rather nice Shiraz (one of Serena's litmus tests for a good hostelry) and Bernie had found they kept a more than passable single malt on the top shelf (she felt the need for something with a bit more kick than wine for dutch courage if she was going to have this conversation). Serena spotted a quiet corner with what looked like comfortable chairs and pointed Bernie in its direction.
Bernie looked at the retreating figure of her co-lead in front of her, noted the sway of her hips, swallowed, and followed her across the bar.
It took a few minutes for coats and scarves to be removed, seats to be taken and drinks to be set down. The atmosphere between them was evidently going to take a little longer to settle. Bernie was staring into the depths of the amber liquid in her glass, Serena was running her fingers lazily up and down the stem of her wineglass (this was not completely unrelated to Bernie's decision to keep her eyes firmly on her glass).
“So,” says Serena cautiously, “The elephant in the room.”
“The rather large elephant in the room.” Bernie adds. Serena takes a large gulp of wine and blurts out, in what seems like one breath,
“Serena, that was the last thing I wanted.” Bernie says, looking up from her drink, her face full of concern. “I care about you and I don't want to hurt you. We can just draw a veil over it, confine it to theatre and say no more about it, if you want?”
“I don't think I do.” says Serena simply.
“But, I thought...” starts Bernie, taken aback.
“You did terrify me, well, not you exactly. I hadn't realised I could feel like that about a woman until you kissed me.” Serena stares down into her glass, gathers her thoughts and her courage before raising her eyes to look Bernie in the face and saying “Once I'd had time to think, to get over the shock, I realised.”
“Realised what?” Bernie asks cautiously, not certain that she wants to hear the answer.
“That I like you. That I more than like you.”
“Oh” came the response from Bernie. It seemed it was her turn to stare into the bottom of her glass. She'd thought that the best she could hope for is that Serena would forgive her. That they might be able to get their friendship back on track, but it seemed she'd been wrong. It seemed that Serena was hinting there might be something more on offer, that the feelings Bernie had for Serena might not be as one sided as she had supposed.
“That's good, because I more than like you too.” She raised her eyes slightly and looked at Serena through her fringe. The soft smile she saw on Serena's face was beautiful, and Bernie's heart lurched. Feeling emboldened, she asked
“So, if you don't want to keep it confined to theatre, what do you want?”
Before Serena has a chance to answer, loud music starts to blare out over the speakers, followed closely by some of the most appallingly out of key singing that either of the women had ever heard. Confused, and certainly distracted from what they had been discussing, they both started looking around to try and find out what was happening. It's Bernie who works it out first, recognises that the machine in front of the (for want of a better word) singer is actually a karaoke machine. She reaches down to pick up the menu on the table between them. Just as she had started to suspect it wasn't a food or wine menu. It was a song menu. Silently (there wasn't much point in trying to speak over the noise) Bernie hands it to Serena, who looks at it puzzled for a few moments before understanding what Bernie is trying to tell her; that they have inadvertently ended up in a karaoke bar. Her eyes widen and her mouth forms a perfect “O” as realisation dawns. Bernie can't help but smile as she gestures that they should finish their drinks and leave. Serena nods gratefully in agreement and takes a large gulp of her Shiraz.
It's not long before, drinks finished, coats and bags gathered, they are ready to leave. Deciding to make their way out of the back exit rather than risk walking back the way they had come in – which passes far to close to the stage for comfort. Bernie leads the way round behind the pillar towards the doors, but stops as she emerges the other side. Serena looks at Bernie, wondering what's wrong. Bernie puts her fingers to her lips to indicate (needlessly in light of the noise levels) that she shouldn't say anything. She gestures to the stage and Serena looks over to see that the first singer has (thankfully) finished his number and vacated the stage. A new singer has taken his place. To her surprise the man belting out a fairly reasonable version of 'I can't help falling in love with you' was Ric Griffin. Eyes wide, Serena watches in fascination at this new side of her colleague. She'd no idea that he could sing at all, let alone swivel his hips like that. She turned to Bernie to express her surprise, only to see Bernie with a broad grin filming the whole thing on her phone.
It takes a while before either of them can tear themselves away, but well before the end of the number Bernie leans in close to Serena and says into her ear
“Lets get out of here before he spots us.” Nodding her agreement Serena follows Bernie out of the bar.
They burst out of the pub doors, and manage to stagger round the corner before dissolving into fits of giggles, leaning against a convenient wall for support. Bernie somehow pulls herself together enough to cue the footage of Ric's Elvis impersonation on her phone and moves in close to Serena so they can watch it back. It's even funnier the second time around. It's not long before both women are fighting back tears of laughter. Somehow in the process of settling into a good position to see the small screen Bernie's arm has found itself around Serena's shoulders, and Serena's arm has wound its way along Bernie's waist. It the most natural thing in the world for Serena to rest her head on Bernie's shoulders.
When the re-play ends, Serena turns her head slightly and looks into Bernie's smiling face, meeting it with a smile of her own. There's a moment, a moment when their eyes meet, that seems like they are sharing in pure happiness, which they are, but it's fleeting. Their laughter stills and their smiles drop as the atmosphere between them changes. Slowly, almost inevitably, their lips move closer together until they meet and they're kissing, and it's soft and gentle and so good. Bernie pulls Serena nearer still, moving her hand from Serena's shoulder to cradle her neck. Serena moves willingly closer, tightening the arm she has around Bernie's waist until their bodies are flush together her hand resting in the small of Bernie's back. At first Serena's lips on hers had been soft and almost tentative, but now they hungry and demanding. Bernie moaned gently allowing Serena to deepen the kiss, and responded with everything she had, trying to pour into it all that they had almost, but not quite, managed to say earlier. She hoped that her lips were speaking more eloquently now than when she had been trying to use words.
After what seems like ages, but can really only have been a few minutes, the kiss ends. Arms remaining entwined around Serena Bernie tilts her head back slightly so she can look properly into her eyes, takes a breath and says,
“I didn't mean…, If you didn't want…,” But she's silenced by Serena's finger, which she has placed gently on Bernie's lips.
“I do want it, want you, very much.” Serena says in a low rich voice which sends shivers down Bernie's spine and a broad grin spinning to her face. Serena beams back at her. The moment is perfect and Bernie can't resist moving back towards Serena to kiss her again. The moment however, is lost as a voice behind them lets out an exaggerated cough. Spinning round in unison they both come face to face with Ric Griffin.
“Hello ladies.” he says a knowing grin on his face, “Having a pleasant evening I trust?” Bernie tries to take a step back from Serena, but is stopped by Serena's arm on her waist gripping her tighter and holding her in place.
"Very illuminating." Serena replies with a grin and a pointed look at Ric's pelvis.
"I thought it was you two I saw slipping away."
"I recognised you immediately, but still couldn't quite believe my eyes." Serena say wickedly. "I had no idea you had moves like that. I am scandalised, in the best possible way."
"I could say the same about you." retorts Ric, with an equally pointed look at the tight embrace Serena is holding Bernie in.
"It would seem that tonight has been rather illuminating all round. Although," Serena adds, in a tone that brooks absolutely no argument, "it would be regrettable, very regrettable indeed, if talk of anything that we might have seen tonight found it's way onto Holby's Jungle Drum network."
"Indeed." agrees Ric, "I believe that you and I may be well overdue a meeting with a bottle of Shiraz." He says with a glint in his eye.
"Oh, absolutely. Although I believe my evenings have just become significantly busier." replies Serena, emphasising her statement with a pointed look in Bernie's direction. Bernie, who has decided to leave the talking to Serena, flushes.
"So it would seem." Ric responds with a wry grin. "I'll leave you ladies to the rest of your evening." The gallantry of his gesture somewhat undermined by the devilment in his eyes.
"Good night Ric." Serena says firmly, before flashing him a Serena Campbell trademark stare that frankly dares him to make any further comment. Taking the less than subtle hint Ric turns and walks away from his colleagues. Turning, as he reaches the corner of the pub, with the intention of throwing a casual 'Don't do anything I wouldn't' behind him he realises that it would be a waste of his breath. In the few moments it took him to walk away, Bernie and Serena have moved back together and it is very apparent that they are oblivious to anyone or anything but each other. That conversation with Serena might take more than the one bottle he thinks to himself as he leaves the women to it.
Chapter 16: Ice Skating
The trip to the ice skating rink had been Jason’s idea. He’d been researching what people did over Christmas and he’d picked up on ice skating. After researching the physics of it, the various techniques and moves, and having watched several instructional videos on YouTube he had declared that it seemed fairly simple and straight forward, and that they should go. Serena admitting that, yes, she had skated before – and yes, although she fallen over she had been able to complete multiple circuits of the rink without embarrassing herself, was the final nail in the coffin of Serena’s hopes that she could dissuade him from insisting on going.
And that was how Serena came to find herself, after more years than she cared to remember, gliding round on the ice. Thanks to his meticulous research Jason had actually proved rather adept at skating.
“It’s not very complicated, just simple physics really – and transferring your weight at the right point.” He’d said with as if it should have been obvious when she’d mentioned how impressed she was with his newly acquired skill.“You were better than I thought you’d be.” he had commented generously, raising a smile from Serena, who had decided to accept the comment as a compliment. At least she’d managed to keep herself upright, Serena thought. It seemed that she hadn’t completely forgotten everything she’d learnt in her younger days.
Aunt and nephew had enjoyed several circuit of the rink before a slightly out of breath Serena said,
“I think I’m going to stop now. I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“That would be impossible Auntie Serena, nobody can be younger than they used to be.” he retorts, a confused frown on his face.
“I’m sorry love. What I meant was I’m tired out and I’m going to leave the ice now, but if you want to stay longer I’ll be quite happy to have a coffee in the cafe and wait for you.”
“Why didn’t you just say that?” asks Jason, confused. Serena shrugs in resignation, and he continues “I would like to stay on the ice a bit longer and see if I can increase my speed and maintain the correct technique.”
“Ok, dear,” begins Serena, “I’ll just be in...” she stops abruptly as a thud resounds across the rink and a scream echo's across the ice. Serena’s instincts honed by her years as a doctor, kick in and she looks round. At the far side of the rink she sees, before she is blotted from view by concerned skaters, a young child - about eight or nine years old, on the ice – which is starting to turn pink around where she’s laying.
“Jason, I’m going to help that young girl. Stay here and I’ll come back for you as soon as I can.
“You are a Doctor, you should help.” Jason says matter of factly, but Serena can see he is struggling to process theses unexpected events. Serena pats him on the arm reassuringly, says
“I’ll be as quick as I can.” and skates off.
She arrives at the scene of the accident, having navigated the throng of bystanders to reach the young girl, to see that she’s not the only one who’s rendering assistance. Apart from the quite clearly out of his depth rink First Aider, a blonde woman is kneeling at the girls side giving her what seems like a very competent abdominal examination.
“Serena Campbell, Consultant Vascular Surgeon. Can I help?” Serena wastes no time in introducing herself and the blonde woman responds equally as concisely.
“Bernie Wolfe, Consultant Trauma Surgeon. Could you take a look at the cut on her arm?”
“Of course.” Serena replies as she drops to the ice to begin her examination. “What happened?” she checks as she looks carefully at the injury.
“A skater stumbled into her and managed to knock her, and her support penguin, over. She landed on top of the penguin’s handle and her arm got caught by a flying skate’s blade. Definite abdominal trauma – possible ruptured spleen. The arm isn’t looking good.”
“OK” acknowledging the information and turns her attention to the patient in front of her.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
“Lucy.” stammers the little girl, bravely trying not to cry.
“Well Lucy, you’re being very brave. We’re going to help you now. Can I have a look at your arm?” Lucy nods her agreement and the next few minutes pass in a blur as Bernie and Serena work seamlessly together. Bernie has completed her primary survey and Serena has managed to stem the bleeding from the arm, which fortunately hadn’t been as bad as it had looked.
Initial assessments and treatment completed, and Lucy stabilised, both women take the opportunity to pause and draw breath. They see that a woman, who they assume must be Lucy’s mother has taken hold of her uninjured arm and is talking quietly to their young patient.
“That’s a very brave girl you’ve got there Mum.” Serena says, smiling at Lucy.
“Bravest solider I’ve ever met.” adds Bernie, “and I should know, I used to be in the Army.” Lucy offers a weak smile in return.
“Is she, will she...” starts Mum nervously.
“She’s seriously hurt,” says Bernie matter of factly, but not without kindness, “but she’s stable for now. We’ll know more once we get her to hospital.”
“She’ll be well looked after.” Serena says to Mum, before addressing Lucy again “I happen to know there’s a really nice nurse in the Hospital called Charlie who’s going to love meeting you and will help you get better.”
“It hurts.” says Lucy, becoming a little more distressed as the shock starts to wear off and the pain begins to hit.
“I’m sure it does.” says Bernie “Can you be brave just a little bit longer?” she asks. “The ambulance will be here any minute and then we can give you something to help with the pain.”
“Someone call for an ambulance?” comes a voice from behind them.
“See! They’re here already.” Serena notes, and without looking round adds “You’ve been unlucky though. That’s Geoff. He thinks he’s funny but really his jokes are terrible.”
“Just because you don’t appreciate fine humour Miss Campbell, it doesn’t mean that this young lady won’t.”
Serena rolls her eyes dramatically and Lucy lets out a faint giggle.
Bernie has been quickly and quietly filling the other Paramedic in on the situation, whilst Serena and Geoff have been entertaining Lucy with their banter.
“Hello Princess.” says the other Paramedic as she steps forward and crouches down to Lucy’s level. “My name’s Dixie. You look like you’ve been in the wars. Can you tell me where it hurts?”
Thanks to Bernie and Serena’s fast work and efficient handover Dixie is able to rapidly complete her initial checks and soon Lucy is full of painkillers, properly bandaged, and safely on a trolley. Geoff, despite his best efforts, has been unable to raise so much as a smile from Lucy.
“Told you he wasn’t funny” remarks Serena – immediately raising a giggle from the little girl.
“An unappreciated comic genius, that’s what I am.” says Geoff in mock annoyance.
“ And I have to put up with him all day.” says Dixie. “How about you come for a ride in the ambulance with us to the hospital? Your Mum can come too.” Dixie asks Lucy.
“Can we have the siren on?” she says hopefully.
“Don’t see why not.” Dixie replies with a smile, and leans forward to whisper in Lucy’s ear “If we’re lucky the siren will be so loud we won’t be able to hear Geoff’s jokes.”
“I’m deeply hurt.” Geoff’s voice ring out loudly.
“Oh, OK, you can drive the ambulance then.” sigh Dixie “Will that make you feel better?” She asks as she tosses him the keys. “It’s alright.” she says to Lucy, “His driving is better than his jokes.”
It’s the work of a few moments to get the little girl safely aboard and strapped onto the stretcher and she’s soon heading off to the ambulance – Mum, still in her skates but clutching a bag containing both her shoes and Lucy’s, following behind.
Bernie nimbly gets back to her feet, having no trouble regaining her balance. Serena does the same – but with less agility and the assistance of one of the ring staff who has been encouraging people to leave the rink.
Both upright, albeit slightly damp from their prolonged kneeling on the ice, Bernie turns to face Serena.
“Serena, wasn’t it?” she asks as she holds out her hand for Serena to shake. “Thank you so much for your help.” she adds as Serena nods in acknowledgement of her name, takes the outstretched hand and shakes it.”
“My pleasure.” she confirms. “Are you, by any chance, the same B. Wolfe who wrote...” she’s prevented from finishing the sentence by the arrival of the Manager of the rink, who has interrupted Serena’s question with a torrent of effusive thanks and gratitude.
“I really don’t know what we would have done without you. Let me at least provide you with a cup of coffee and a slice of cake of your choice from our cafe..”
“That’s not necessary” Bernie demurs.
“I absolutely insist.” The rink Manager replies. “Absolutely the least we can do to thank you.”. Serena says nothing. She’s weighing up her options. She very much wants to say yes. She’s never been one to turn down free coffee, and there’s something about Bernie that’s piqued her interest, something in the air of quiet confidence she had worn when she’d tended to Lucy, and the way she’s hiding her eyes behind her far too long fringe. Serena would very much like to get to know her better. On the other hand, she has Jason to think about. Changes to carefully made plans aren’t easy for him to process, even if they are done in a good cause or an emergency. Her eyes flicker towards where she had left Jason. He’s not there, but she soon spots him in a nearby seat alongside the rink. He looks visibly stressed, and the rink employee who is doing her best to calm him down doesn’t seem to be having much success. The decision made for her, Serena faces the Manager and Bernie and regretfully says.
“I’m sorry, I’d love to, but my nephew, he’s a bit distressed… I need to… excuse me..” she finishes in a hurry and skates awkwardly away in Jason’s direction.
Jason visibly relaxes as Serena approaches. As soon as she’s within earshot he unleashes a barrage of questions at her. Serena reassures him that she is unharmed, that the only person who had been hurt was the young girl, and that yes, she very probably would fine. Yes, Serena did know the Paramedics who had taken her to Holby, yes, they were very good at their jobs. They would certainly make sure that she had enough painkillers, and they would indeed take her weight and age into account when deciding the correct dosage. No, it was unlikely that she would be able to go home today, but Serena would, by all means, check on how she was doing as soon as she got to the Hospital for her shift tomorrow. Serena was so engrossed in answering Jason’s questions that she failed to notice Bernie silently gliding across the ice towards her until she started to speak to Jason,
“Hello. I’m Bernie. Do you like Dr. Who?” she asks him. Serena is too taken aback by the sudden interruption and random nature of the question to say anything. Jason, on the other hand, is immediately distracted from the aftermath of the accident by the mention of one of his favourite programmes – and the puzzle of how this Bernie person knew that he was indeed a fan of the Dr Who franchise. Serena holds her breath and watches Jason carefully. He’s not always good at meeting new people at the best of times, and the accidents effect on him makes the current moment far from the best of times. Serena can’t deny though, that the question has engaged Jason in something other than the accident. Jason preferred direct questions, and so Bernie had got that spot on. She could almost see Jason’s thoughts being processed. She decides to wait and see how it plays out. She doesn’t have to wait long to find out.
“I wouldn’t be wearing a Dr Who scarf if I didn’t” he says very logically.
“That was what I thought.” Bernie replies. “Have you seen the behind the scenes documentary on the episode that’s going to air on New Years Day?”
“No, I haven’t yet. My shifts at work have prevented me watching it.
“Shifts have a habit of doing that.” Bernie notes. May I make a suggestion?” Jason considers for a moment.
“As long as it’s a sensible suggestion.” he stipulates.
“Your Aunt and I need a cup of coffee. I have the documentary downloaded on my tablet and some noise cancelling headphones in my bag. Would you like to sit in the cafe with a coffee and watch it while your Aunt and I chat?” Jason looks a little unsure.
“I don’t like coffee.” he ventures.
“You could have a hot chocolate instead.” Bernie suggests.
“That would be acceptable. How long will you and Aunty Serena talk for?”
“I don’t know exactly. I’m sure we can talk for long enough for you to watch the whole documentary, but not so long that the documentary is finished and you have to sit there bored.” Jason nods once in acknowledgement and satisfaction and starts walking away from the women. Serena decides that she needs to intervene.
“Where are you going Jason?” she calls out after him.
“The cafe is this way Aunty Serena.” he says in a voice that suggests he is having to explain the obvious once again.
“We’ll be right behind you love.” Serena tells Jason, pleasantly surprised that he is handling yet another change of plan so well.
“Don’t take too long. I know how grumpy you get when you don’t get your coffee.” Jason says over his shoulder, not breaking step. Serena is left in slightly embarrassed silence, which only last a few seconds before Bernie says,
“I’m sorry if I overstepped the mark with your nephew. I just wanted to help, and make sure that you got your coffee. I’d hate you to go all grumpy on me.”
“Despite my nephew’s comments I’m perfectly pleasant whether I’ve had coffee or not. And, no, you didn’t overstep at all. In fact I’ve never seen him warm to anyone so quickly. Thank you. He’s a rather special young man.”
“So I see.” Bernie replies “Whatever effect it does, or does not have on you, I wouldn’t want to come between you and your coffee.” she add with a smile and a gesture to encourage Serena to lead the way to the cafe.
The sudden turn of events has left Serena rather flustered, but she gathers herself rapidly and leads the way to the cafe with aplomb. Winding their way through the rows of seat around the rink isn’t conducive to good concentration, and Serena and Bernie make the journey in companionable silence. Serena is quite grateful for the opportunity to gather her thoughts. It’s been quite an eventful morning. It’s by no means unheard of for Serena to render medical assistance when she’s not at work. It is, however, more rare than people might suspect. For the impromptu patient to be a child is rarer still – and Serena has to admit that the ice rink is the most unusual place she has ever treated anybody. Of course, as a professional, she could take all that in her stride. No, what had really thrown her was the blonde woman walking awkwardly behind her through the maze of chairs. There was something about her that intrigued Serena. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it: could it have been the way she’s worked so well with Serena – an almost instant team; or was it the way she’d just taken Jason in her stride seaming to instinctively know how to connect with him? She couldn’t be sure, but what she was sure about was that she wanted to get to know Bernie better. Being something of a career driven, and very busy, Consultant Surgeon finding friends and maintaining friendships weren’t easy feats. Serena didn’t want to let the opportunity to meet someone new pass her by, especially someone with whom it seemed she had a great deal in common. Who knew where a coffee might lead? As if by mutual consent both women let the silence hang between them as they removed their shoes from the lockers by the cafe and replaced their ice skates with more appropriate footwear. Grabbing bags, and dropping their skates down the returns shoot as they pass it, they push open the cafe door and make their way inside.
Jason had wasted no time in the cafe. He had a tray in front of him laden with a hot chocolate, a slice of cake and a steaming cup of coffee.
“You don’t move very fast, do you?” he admonished them when they arrived at his side. “I got you a coffee Aunty Serena, just how you like it. I didn’t know how you took yours Bernie.”
“Strong and hot is all I care about.” Bernie say wryly.
“Woman after my own heart.” Serena mutters to Bernie
“I don’t think strong and hot is an option on the menu.” Jason says, his voice full of concern as he scans the chalkboard list of hot drink options hanging on the wall above the gleaming silver of the large industrial coffee machine.
“That’s fine. I’ll be quite happy with a latte.” Bernie reassures Jason and the efficient woman behind the counter has set the coffee machine whirring into life almost before Bernie has finished speaking.
It doesn’t take Bernie and Serena long to select a slice of cake each. Serena can’t resist the Red Velvet cake – the colour very similar to the shade of lipstick she’s wearing. Bernie opts for a slice of classic Victoria Sponge, which looks as light as a feather. Jason has already secured a slice of a rich and cream covered chocolate gateaux creation. He’s delighted when the woman on the till includes his choices in the complimentary refreshments Bernie and Serena had been offered.
“The way I hear it” the kind woman said when Jason pointed out that she hadn’t charged him “you deserve a treat just as much as these two.” He beams with pride as he leads Bernie and Serena to a table overlooking the ice. Whilst Bernie digs out her tablet and headphones and sets them up for Jason he watches the action on the ice. After the accident the rink had been cleared. The staff had done an efficient job of cleaning up the blood on the ice and the sweeper had been brought out to smooth the rink over. Serena can see that Jason had just about reached the limits of his endurance and is finding things a little overwhelming still. Fortunately it’s a matter of seconds for Bernie to find the downloaded programme and offer the electronics to Jason. Dr Who, even a behind the scenes documentary, it seems is enough to occupy and relax Jason. Its soon clear that he’s fully engrossed in the programme and he’s obviously enjoying it greatly, which leaves Bernie and Serena free to talk.
“So,” Bernie starts, “What brings you to the Ice Rink today?”
“That would be Jason. He was very keen to give it a go, and he was very persuasive. And you?”
“Ah. That would be memories. I used to come every year that I could with my two. I was obviously feeling sentimental.”
“Didn’t they want to come with you today?”
“Well, no. But then they’ve not really wanted to do anything with me since I came back from the army and divorced their Father.”
“Ouch. My daughter wasn’t that impressed when I divorced her Father. She got over it – eventually. I take it that I’m talking to a very recent recruit to the embittered ex wives club.”
“The divorce came through a couple of months ago, so I guess you are.”
“It gets better.” Serena says, and reaches over to pat Bernie’s hand briefly. With her other hand she picks up her coffee mug, raises it and says “To freedom.” Bernie smiles at her, raises her own mug and echo's the toast.
“And freedom from the army too. Can I ask what made you leave?”
“An IED.” Bernie says matter a factly. “I got blown up and shipped home. Once they patched me up I thought I should leave the army life behind and try to patch up my marriage, and earn my motherhood stripes. Didn’t exactly go to plan.”
Serena isn’t quite sure how to respond to this last, rather packed statement. She grabs her fork and loads it with a generous helping of the red cake-y goodness in front of her. It’s as delicious as it looks and Serena savours the flavour, and the opportunity it gives her to come up with a suitable response to Bernie. By the time she’s finished her mouthful the best she has come up with is
“That must have been hard.”
“Mmhmm.” Bernie concurs giving very little away. Serena decides it’s time to change the subject a little.
“So, the Army. Medical Corps, yes?”
“Yes, A Major.”
“Then you must be the B Wolfe who wrote the article in the Lancet about the use of battlefield medical protocols in acute NHS wards? There surely couldn’t be two of you in the Army.”
“Oh. You read that? Guilty as charged.”
“I’m the head of the Acute Admissions Unit at Holby City Hospital. I read your article with very great interest. You made some valid points, and some very helpful suggestions. I was particularly struck by your description of running a ward Kandahar style.”
Bernie visibly brightens at Serena’s praise. It’s not long before both women are lost in conversation, deep in comparisons of various triage and treatment systems, peppered with personal anecdotes about patients they had treated and interspersed with sips of coffee and forks full of cake. It seems no time has passed at all when Jason’s overly loud cough distracts Serena.
“I’m sorry love, we got a bit distracted. Is everything OK.”
“You’ve finished your cake and coffees and I was wondering when you might finish talking. I have a shift this afternoon and I don’t want to be late.”
“I don’t think there’s any chance of that.” Serena says as she looks at her watch, and blanches slightly. “Oh! Is that really the time?”
“If it’s what it says on your watch, then yes it is.” Jason clarifies.
“Thank you Jason. Have you finished watching your programme?” Jason looks at his own watch.
“Seventeen minutes ago.” He tells her with his habitual exactitude. “I didn’t want to disturb your conversation and tell you. That would have been rude. But I also didn’t want to be late for work.”
“You were absolutely right to interrupt us.” Serena reassures Jason as she stands up and starts to stack used mugs and empty plates back onto the grey tray.
“I’m so sorry, I’m really going to have to go,” she says to Bernie with an apologetic smile. “I really didn’t realise how late it had got.”
“I really should be going too.” Bernie offers by way of understanding acceptance, and stands up herself. Jason hands her back her tablet and headphones, all switched off and neatly and tidily piled up.
“Thank you.” He says. “I enjoyed it very much, although there were some inaccuracies and over simplifications, overall it was quite watchable.”
“My pleasure.” Bernie replies as she pops her things into her bag and swings it onto her back. “I enjoyed chatting with your Aunt, very much indeed. Thank you for being so accommodating and patient with us”. Jason grins at the praise and Bernie turns to leave. Serena realises that the most intriguing and interesting woman she’s met in ages is about to walk right out of her life. She’s not sure she’s ready to let her, and the prospect of a new friendship, go. Before she can second guess herself she calls out to the figure that has taken a few steps towards the exit.
“I enjoyed it too. Perhaps we could do it again sometime.” In front of her Bernie stops, turns and looks over her shoulder straight at Serena.
“Oh, I’m sure we will.” Serena looks visibly confused as to how that might happen when they haven’t so much as exchanged numbers. Bernie takes pity on her and adds “Didn’t I mention, I’m the new locum on Holby’s Keller Ward. I start tomorrow. Flashing Serena a brilliant smile she turns back and continues towards the door. Serena stares after her, not quite able to believe what she’s just heard. A shiver of anticipation and excitement runs through her body at the thought of what might happen with Bernie if they are going to be working at the same hospital. Her mind fills with images of coffee breaks discussing treatments and innovations, and drinks in Albies comparing life stories. Jason interrupts her train of thought, asking her loudly
“Are you ready to go yet? I need to get to work on time.” So do I, Serena thinks as she smiles at Jason.
“Come on then love.” she says and Aunt and Nephew walk happily together through the exit, out of the Ice Rink cafe both of them wondering what their next shift at Holby will hold for them.
Chapter 17: Pudding
With many thanks to Squishmitten who gave me the flour prints image from her cutting room floor a very long time ago, I've finally found a place to use it. I hope do it justice
“I thought that you were making Christmas pudding?” Bernie asks as she comes up behind Serena, wraps her arms around her waist, and drops a fond kiss on her exposed neck.
“I was,” Serena says as she turns around in Bernie’s arms. “I mean I did.” she clarifies.
“Then where has all this flour come from?” Bernie asks with a knowing grin as she brushes a smut of flour from Serena’s nose “and since when did making Christmas pudding require a rolling pin?”
“I made some mince pies too. I just hadn’t got round to cleaning up yet.” Serena explained.
“So I see.”Bernie says, deadpan, as she runs her fingers through Serena’s short locks and sets free a smattering of flour to cascade over Serena’s apron to the floor. The look of disappointment that flashes across Serena’s face sets off a burst of sympathy in Bernie and she leans forward to kiss the top of Serena’s now flour free nose. It would have been a sweet gesture if Serena hadn’t turned it into something else. Bernie suspected it might have been her plan when she’d let that look of disappointment cross her face a moment ago, because just before Bernie’s kiss lands Serena tilts her face upwards. It’s just at the right moment to cause Bernie’s mouth to land directly on hers and Serena wastes no time in initiating a deep, passionate kiss, full of feeling. Bernie may just have arrived home from a shift at the hospital, but if Serena was going to welcome her home like this then she was certainly going to find the energy to reciprocate.
Serena isn’t particularly given to spending time in the kitchen baking. It’s not something that she does on a regular basis, but Bernie can’t help but think that right now she has something of a domestic goddess vibe going on. Bernie very much approves.
Bernie doesn’t think much more though, because Serena’s mouth open beneath hers is quite the distraction and most of Bernie’s thought processes have been but on hold. Slowly, not missing a beat of the duet their tongues are currently creating, Bernie walks Serena backwards the few steps between them and the kitchen counter. When Serena’s hip hits the cool marble Bernie drops her arms from around Serena’s waist, wraps them round the top of her partners thighs, and with one smooth, fluid movement, lifts her to sit atop the counter.
The loss of lip contact needed to lift Serena up is temporary, but just enough for Bernie to accomplish her aim - and for her to see the flash of desire darken Serena’s pupils, before they’re kissing again. It’s delicious, as much of a delight to the senses as the aroma coming from Serena’s baking, a mix of Christmas spice, rich fruit and booze. Bernie is pretty sure that she wants nothing more than to kiss Serena into oblivion.
It seems,however, that Serena isn’t entirely on board with that plan. Her legs fall open and Bernie accepts the unspoken invitation to step forward and stand between them. Serena wastes no time in wrapping her legs around Bernie and holding her close. She doesn’t seem so keen to renew the kiss though. Bernie’s face is inches away from Serena’s, clearly waiting for Serena to close that gap, but she doesn’t. Instead Bernie feels one hand plant itself firmly on her back (leaving a ghostly imprint of flour on her shirt that neither of them either notice - or would have cared about if they had). It’s what Serena is doing with her other hand that’s taking Bernie’s attention. Somehow Serena has got her hand in the limited space between them and worked it up high enough to cup and weigh Bernie’s breast. Bernie can’t help but lean into the clever hand that knows exactly how to send longing rampaging through her body with nothing more than a caress. When Serena shifts her thumb to brush over the top of Bernie’s nipple, it puckers almost painfully in response, the material of the bra and shirt covering it doing nothing to reduce the power of the sensation. Bernie lets out a mewl as the touch of Serena’s thumb expertly sends sparks of electric longing spiralling through her.
Bernie know exactly where this is going to end up – with them in bed. She’s absolutely not complaining about that, but she’s very much enjoying what they’re doing right now – too much to put a stop to it just yet. It’s not as if they’re in a rush – and some pleasures just deserve to be savoured. On the other hand, Bernie isn’t going to be satisfied being a passive participant. She slips her own hand between them and works her way down until she reaches the zipper of Serena’s trousers. As she starts to slowly ease the zipper down she leans forward and picks up the kiss where they’d left off – but this time it’s hotter and hungrier.
It takes some doing, and Bernie is very grateful for the dexterity of her slender surgeons fingers, but she navigates her way under Serena’s silky knickers, through the damp curly hair and into the slick wet folds of Serena’s core. When her fingers reach Serena’s clit, Serena moans and breaks off the kiss. She fixes her eyes on Bernie, and Bernie takes the opportunity to watch the results of her fingers’ every move play across Serena’s face. The view does not disappoint. Serena’s reactions are open, unashamed and tell of building desire.
As Bernie’s fingers continue to work their magic and as Serena is driven ever closer to the edge her grip on Bernie’s breast starts to tighten. Bernie’s breasts may not be the largest, but they are beautifully formed and sensitive. Serena has learnt to play their sensitivity to perfection, and illicit the most exquisite responses from Bernie. Despite the distraction of what Bernie is doing to her it’s not long before she’s brought Bernie to the point just before pleasure and teasing become pain. Despite now being very distracted herself, Bernie can tell by the darkness of Serena’s eyes and the deepening of her moans that she’s tight on the brink. She slips one finger deep inside Serena and starts to stroke, shifting her thumb so that it’s resting on Serena’s clit. She starts to apply deep, delicious, pressure and makes firm, focused, circling movements. Serena is so close now, right on the cusp of an orgasm. Bernie can hear her breathing become more ragged, can see the deep red flush rising from her chest and spilling up onto her neck and cheeks, she can feel the warmth of Serena’s arousal radiating from her. Bernie adds a second finger to the one inside Serena and starts gently twisting and curling them around each other. Serena is totally lost in the sensation, giving herself over to the clever teasing of Bernie’s fingers. When Serena holds her breath, anticipating the sweet release of her orgasm hitting, Bernie stops all of her movements and leaves Serena hovering right on the brink, reduced to a needy whimper. It seems like forever to Serena, but in reality it’s no more than a few seconds before Bernie redoubles her efforts. Almost instantly Serena’s head flies forward and buries itself in Bernie’s shoulder as wave after wave of orgasm sweeps over her. Bernie keeps her fingers moving, drawing out Serena’s climax as long as she can. She savours every powerful clutching contraction of Serena’s muscles around her fingers, savours the surge of warm wetness now coating her fingers that she knows she’s caused, and savours the delicious moans coming from Serena that are being partly smothered by her shoulder.
When the strength of Serena’s orgasm has gone from powerful and passionate to gentle soothing waves Bernie carefully withdraws her fingers and enfolds Serena in her arms, gently stroking her back and telling her how exquisite she is, how much she loves seeing her come apart, how much she loves her, how much she wants her. As she speaks she punctuates her words with soft kisses to Serena’s forehead, cheeks and nose, and lets one hand entangle itself in Serena’s hair. When she judges that Serena has regained the ability to stand again, Bernie asks her,,
“Shall we take this upstairs?” The flash of wickedness that darts across Serena’s face is answer enough, and even if it hadn’t been, the blazing kiss Serena initiates leaves no doubt that she approves of the plan.
With a smile Bernie gathers Serena more firmly in her arms, Serena wraps her legs around Bernie’s waist, having realised what Bernie is planning, and waits whilst Bernie’s arms slip lower, lift her off the counter top and carry her out of the kitchen.
When, much, much, later, Bernie returns to the kitchen in search of wine and much needed sustenance she notices that on the work surface where Serena had been making the Christmas pudding and rolling out the mince pie pastry, where the whole evening had begun so very well, standing out clearly amidst the flour scattered over the counter top, is a perfect imprint of two perfect buttocks.
Chapter 18: Christmas with Jac
Bernie presses the button on her key fob and locks her car. She’s quite surprised that she manges to do it first time, given how cold it is. In the few seconds it’s taken her to clamber out of her car the cold air seems to have frozen her to the marrow and she can hardly feel her fingers. Pulling up her scarf to cover her numb nose she makes her way rapidly across the car park and into the entrance of the Wyvern Wing. Bernie can’t say that she’s thrilled to have been called into the hospital, but it’s the reality of being a Trauma Surgeon – even one who is technically employed as a co-lead on AAU. If trauma surgery skills are needed there is really only one person that Holby City is going to call on. It’s something that Bernie has accepted as going hand in hand with her chosen specialisation and, in truth, she always finds the buzz or any trauma call enticing.
The warmth of the hospital hits her as she walks through the doors. It’s a very welcome sensation and she can feel her fingers and toes start to thaw. She’s pretty sure that sensation is also returning to what she’s sure must be a very red nose. The foyer is all but empty. Pulses is open but almost deserted. A couple of people sit nursing steaming mugs at the tables, but there’s no one waiting to be served. Of course the hospital is usually fairly empty this late on Christmas Eve. The wards do their utmost to discharge as many patients home as they safely can and no one schedules electives on Christmas Eve. Any clinics still running try and end before lunch. By this point any patients in the hospital are the ones who have no choice but to be there.
Bernie’s halfway past Pulses’ counter when the woman serving catches her eye. She’s waving Bernie over very enthusiastically. Bernie looks at her quizzically, and the woman holds aloft a cup full of steaming liquid. Bernie points at herself and the woman nods encouragingly. It seems the cup is for her. Never one to turn down coffee (which the cup turns out to contain when Bernie retrieves it from the Barista ) especially not a free one, Bernie smiles gratefully.
“Jac told me to have this ready for you.” the Barista says as she hands it over to Bernie.
“Thank you,” Bernie says, not quite sure what else to say to the young woman who is gazing up at her intently with what seems like admiration. It’s flattering, but Bernie finds it rather awkward. “Well, I have to..um...” Bernie tries, but tails off and gestures rather weakly towards the lifts.
“Yes. Jac mentioned. Emergency surgery. Good luck” the Barista wishes her with a far too wide grin on her face. Bernie nods in faintly embarrassed acknowledgement, strides rapidly towards the lifts, and hits the call button. She’s delighted that the doors slide open almost at once and she can step in, retreat from sight, and turn her attention towards the task ahead. The smell of the strong and hot coffee clutched in her hands hits her in a waft of caffeinated goodness. She decides to risk a sip, the danger of the hot liquid scalding her tongue be damned. The first mouthful is nectar, hot enough to be satisfying but not hot enough to burn. The hit of caffeine (and there’s a lot of it packed into the coffee) zings around her body jolting her pleasantly into full alertness. The coffee was the least Jac could do, she thinks, after calling her in so late on Christmas Eve - and in such freezing cold.
The lift arrives on Darwin Ward before Bernie can ponder what else Ms Naylor might owe her for turning out when she was neither on duty nor on call. Darwin Ward is, thankfully, cosy and warm and Bernie has thawed out enough to start shedding hat, gloves, coat and scarf as she walks towards the nurses station to find Jac. She’s pleased to note that full sensation has returned to her fingers, which is going to make surgery much easier. She can’t see Jac’s long auburn hair anywhere on the ward, but she does spot Nicky leaning on the Nurses Station engrossed in some patient notes. Bernie heads for her and asks,
“Is Ms Naylor around?” Nicky jumps at the sound coming unexpectedly from behind her and manages to throw the notes she’s browsing up in the air.
“Could you wear louder shoes?” She snaps at the woman who’s crept up behind her, as she watches the file fall to the ground and the loose sheets of paper tucked into it separate themselves - and float gently down to the ground after it - spreading out in all directions. Nicky has, in fact, been so focused on her falling patient notes that she’s failed to notice exactly who it is that’s come up behind her. It’s only when Bernie says,
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you jump.” that Nicky turns and realises who she’s just snapped at. The way her face falls as the realisation travels across it is nothing short of comical. Bernie does her level best not to laugh at the poor girl’s mortification. She knows that her reputation for surgical excellence goes ahead of her and that it can cause a certain amount of adulation and hero worship, especially amongst the Junior Doctors. That she’d stood up to Jac Naylor, in surgery no less, and bested her hadn’t done anything to harm her image. Quite the opposite.
Before Nicky can get out a coherent retraction or apology (Bernie isn’t quite clear which she was aiming for) Bernie throws the clothes she was holding over the counter, places the coffee cup on it and crouches on the floor and begins gathering stray notes. Nicky, still flustered, stoops to join her with an “oh, right” and manages to get out a “you don’t have to do this.”
“It’s fine,” Bernie says kindly “Whilst we’re down here though, you could tell me where Ms Naylor is.”
“Of course. Yes. She’s checking on something but she asked if you could wait for her in Darwin Theatre 2.”
“Thank you.” Bernie says as she stands and hands Nicky the sheaf of paper she’s collected. Nicky takes it awkwardly and adds it to the patient folder along with the notes she’s collected – somehow managing not to drop them again. “Perhaps you’d be kind enough to put my coat and bits and pieces somewhere safe?” she asks.
“Yes. Of course. Not problem. I’ll take them to the locker room personally. They’ll be safe with me.” Nicky rattles off enthusiastically as she drops the very untidy patient file and papers rapidly on the counter of the Nurses Station and fills her arms with Bernie’s possessions. “I’ll take them right now.” she beams, face full of eagerness.
“Nicky” Bernie says calmly
“Do you think I could have my coffee back?” Nicky glances down at what she’s carrying and realises, to her horror, that she’s swept up Bernie’s coffee cup with all her other possessions in her desire to help.
“Yes. Yes. Of course!” the poor girl manages to get out as she thrusts the cup at Bernie and rapidly heads off towards the locker room before she can make the situation any worse. Bernie allows herself a fond smile at the embarrassed F1. She remembers only too well the awkwardness of being a Junior Doctor, especially in front of established medics with reputations that are the stuff of legend – which, much to her chagrin, it seems Bernie is. She takes a large gulp of the coffee and turns her mind firmly towards the patient who’s waiting for her.
Bernie’s mind is busy shifting through the various possible situations that might be awaiting her as she walks towards the Theatre. Jac hadn’t been exactly forthcoming on the phone. In fact she hadn’t said much more than “Get here now Wolfe” brusquely. All Bernie knew was that it was some kind of traumatic heart injury, specifically one that needed her trauma skills to fix. From this Bernie had concluded that the injury must be quite something. Jac wasn’t in the habit of calling in Trauma Surgeons (or anyone else for that matter) to assist with cardio surgery. Jac was at the very top of her cardio thoracic speciality – and she knew it. She very seldom needed help.
There was a grudging respect between Jac and Bernie – an acknowledgement of mutual expertise. Bernie had to admit that she was quite looking forward to operating with Jac again, and to finding out what awaited her. Given that it was late on Christmas Eve Bernie thought the injury was likely to have something to do with alcohol. A drink driving accident, or maybe a fight after one too many glasses of Christmas cheer? She makes a mental note that, whilst she’s not assuming it, there could be excess alcohol in the patients blood stream. Only wise to factor the possibility in. She’s trying to guess what kind of injury it might be (she’s currently favouring some kind of penetrating injury of over a crush wound) as she walks through the Scrub Room and into Theatre.
She’d been expecting to see Jac, but the woman standing in the middle of the Theatre with her back to her isn’t Jac. She’s fuller of figure, a riot of soft curves and soft roundness. Her hair is short instead of long, a beautiful salt and pepper and not Jac’s fiery auburn. Bernie didn’t need the woman to turn round to know who it was. She’d know that figure anywhere. It was Serena. It wasn’t that Bernie didn’t want to see Serena, she absolutely did, it was just awkward. Since the first time they’d kissed things had been uncomfortable between them – to say the least. Not wanting to damage beyond repair the friendship between them, that had come to mean so much to her, Bernie had acted very out of character. She’d confronted the situation. Faced with Serena’s obvious discomfort she’d attempted to reassure her that a single kiss, even one so passionate, didn’t have to change anything. She’d pointed out that a recently out, mid messy divorce, colleague and a dyed in the wool heterosexual co-lead was hardly a winning premise for a Mills and Boon romance. For a while, at least, it had seemed to work.
They hadn’t quite gone back to how things had been before, but it was very close. They co-led the ward as a unified team, they operated together in almost flawless synchronicity as if they could read each others minds. Even their friendship seemed to have got itself back on an even keel – their old easiness around each other making a solid comeback. Things could have stayed that way and everybody would have been happy – well happy enough. But they hadn’t. The offer of a secondment in Kiev had thrown them a curve ball, shattering the fragile balance in their newly shored up friendship. It was replaced with more kisses, declarations of want and desire and, fatally, of love. Bernie had done what she felt she had to – gone to Kiev. She’d claimed it was an opportunity for Serena to consider what she really wanted, but Bernie, it turned out, had also done her fair share of thinking. She’d decided that, more than anything, she wanted to be with Serena. Unfortunately it seemed that maintaining radio silence with the object of her affections hadn’t done much to get Serena on board with Bernie’s plan.
It was certainly in Bernie’s favour that she’d returned to Holby after her sabbatical had ended (even if you took into account that she’d voluntarily extended the stay). She was, however, going to need a lot more in her favour if she was going to stand a chance of taking things any further than friendship with Serena. Since Bernie had made her return Serena had been a model, professional, co-lead and colleague – but the warmth and easiness they’d had with each other seemed to have vanished. When Serena smiled at Bernie nowadays it seldom reached her eyes. Bernie had also heard the gossip doing the rounds about Serena’s Ex publicly returning her body shaping underwear after they’d spent the night together. Was delighted to hear that the idiot had been firmly kicked into touch for that stunt.
Bernie still had hope though. Just occasionally she caught Serena looking at her from across the ward, or found her with a wistful expression on her face. On rare occasions they’d slipped momentarily back into their old easiness. Bernie clung firmly to the fact that she could still make Serena’s smile, all the way up to her eyes, occasionally, as hope that all might not be lost. That, and their continued ability to operate in total unison, had convinced Bernie it was worth staying in Holby, Not to pressure Serena at all, but to try and rebuild their friendship at least, and see if they couldn’t move beyond that. She’d decided back in the Ukraine that Serena was more than worth waiting for.
Still, things were currently a touch awkward between them. They’d not talked about what had happened between them – and it was a rather large elephant in the room. Things were certainly awkward enough for Bernie to freeze for a moment or two when she turned up unexpectedly in the theatre she was intending to operate in.
“S’rena” Bernie manages to get out and Serena whips round at the sound of her voice.
“Bernie!” Serena replies in a tone that suggests she’d just as surprised to see Bernie as Bernie is to see her. “What are you doing here?” she asks.
“Jac called me in. Traumatic chest injury. She wanted my trauma eyes on board. What are you doing here?”
“Jac called me in too. Some kind of blockage in the blood supply to the heart. She wanted my vascular eyes on it.”
“The same patient do you think?”
“So it would seem. They must be having a really bad day if Jac wants us both in on it.”
“Does something seem a little odd to you?” Bernie asks
“You mean Jac asking for help?”
“Well, yes, calling us both in does seem a little out of character. And then there’s the other thing.”
“What other thing?”
“Where’s the patient? And where’s Jac?” Serena doesn’t have time to venture an answer before the door to the Operating Theatre closes behind them with a loud thunk and the sound of the bolt latching home echoes around the room. Both Serena and Bernie jump and look round to see who might have shut it. They can’t see anyone outside the door, but they can hear the intercom that connects the Theatre to the Viewing Gallery burst into life.
“Thank you for coming.” Jac’s voice pours out of the speakers and Bernie and Serena spin round to face the glass of the Gallery to see Jac standing there grinning, clutching a red coffee cup identical to the ones both Bernie and Serena are nursing.
“Naylor, what’s going on?” Bernie asks, annoyance clear in her voice.
“What are you doing out there? And where’s the patient?” Serena asks. Jac’s eyes glint with devilment as she replies
“Your patients are right here. You, traumatic heart injury” she says as she points at Serena. “You blockage to the heart.” she adds as she points at Bernie before smugly folding her arms across her chest. The look on her face dares either of them to question her. But question her Bernie does.
“What on earth do you mean? What are you playing at? Have you dragged us both out to the Hospital tonight as some kind of joke?” Serena momentarily places her hand on Bernie’s arm. She knows Bernie well enough to realise that a lot of effort is going into her keeping her voice as calm and neutral as she is. Serena is very well aware that Bernie is far from happy – and that Bernie getting cross and letting rip is the last thing this situation needs. Although, to be fair, Serena isn’t exactly feeling calm and happy herself. She doesn’t appreciate being called in on her day off for no good reason at all any more than Bernie does.
“I wouldn’t say I was playing at anything – but you two seem to be.”
“Either you stop talking in riddles and tell us what this is all about, or we leave now.” Serena says in the icy tones that she uses with problematic F1’s. In her experience the F1’s usually melt, but the tone seems to be having no effect on the Ice Queen of Darwin.
“The two of you. Pining over each other, staring at each other, making eyes at each other when you think you can’t be seen.”
“What?” Serena defaults automatically to denial. Her views on workplace relationships are well known in Holby – and besides this is absolutely not something she wants to discuss in front of Bernie. She’s been having a hard enough time keeping her feelings for Bernie under wraps and under control as it is with out Jac Naylor dragging them out and giving them a good airing.
Bernie’s tactic is to ignore Jac altogether. She turns to Serena and speaks to her with a voice under iron control.
“I think it’s quite clear that Jac has got us here under false pretences. I suggest that we both go home and try and salvage whatever we can out of what’s left of our Christmas Eve’s”. Bernie is making a huge effort to stop the embarrassment and anger she’s feeling creep into her words. It’s painful how accurate Jac’s analysis has been – but there’s no way she’s admitting it – not in front of Serena. It’s quite possible that their relationship isn’t destined to be anything more than a friendship – despite how much Bernie would like it to – and she’s doing her best to adjust to that reality.
“You’re not going anywhere until you’ve sorted yourselves out. I can’t take any more of the two of you mooning over each other like hormonal teenagers. Quite frankly I’m not the only one.”
“And how, prey tell,” Serena asks, “do you intend to stop us leaving?” Jac lets a broad grin break out over her face as she holds aloft a credit card sized piece of plastic between two fingers.
“Master key to the Theatre Suite. One tap and it’s all locked down. You’re not getting out until I’m ready to let you out. Look at it this way. The two of you have needed to get a room for weeks. I’m doing you a favour.” Jac doesn’t wait for the two women to reply. The look on their faces – a mix of horror, indignation, ire and embarrassment - suggests it wouldn’t be a wise move. Taking her finger off the intercom she leaves the viewing gallery, and the women to their own devices.
Serena is the first one to react.
“I’ll call security. They’ll have us out of here in no time.” she announces confidently as she scrabbles in her pocket for her phone and looks at Bernie for confirmation of her plan.
There’s something in the way Serena’s looking at her, something open, hopeful, trusting, that strikes a chord with Bernie. Despite her misgivings she feels that she ought to reciprocate somehow. She feels incredibly brave and incredibly vulnerable.
“No. Don’t. Not yet anyway.” she says. Serena puts the phone she has just extracted from her pocket back where it came from.
“Why?” she asks cautiously and softly.
“Perhaps we should talk? Make the most of the situation we’re in and the room Jac has so kindly provided us with?”
Serena half perches, half leans, on the cupboards along the wall of the Theatre close to where they’re standing.
“About what?” she asks. Bernie takes a perch next to Serena, but carefully faces forward as she speaks so she can’t see Serena’s face.
“Do you think my heart is blocked?”
“What?” Serena asks, blind sided by Bernie’s question.
“What Jac said. That’s my heart’s blocked. I’ve spent so long denying my feelings that maybe my heart can’t accept love any more. I spent 25 years married and pretending to be straight. When I finally allowed myself to admit I was attracted to women – well that wasn’t much better. There was only really ever Alex. And Alex was a secret I kept to myself. In the end I didn’t, or couldn’t, love her enough to build a life with her, to commit to her. I gave up what we had to go back to my marriage and to pretending. Things haven’t exactly been plain sailing in my love life ever since, have they?” Neither woman answers the question. They both know what she’s hinting at. “Maybe I just blocked my heart off because I couldn’t risk causing any more pain to anyone else. If there’s one thing I regret it’s the pain I’ve caused other people.”
“If Jac is right and your heart is blocked, is mine crushed?”
“Do you think it is?” Bernie replies carefully, not sure exactly what Serena might be getting at, not sure what she might want to hear.
“I certainly felt crushed when Edward started having affairs, and everything else he put me through didn’t help.”
“Edward was a fool.” Bernie can’t help but interject. She’s never met Edward, but anyone who could have Serena and cheat on her is categorically a fool as far as Bernie is concerned.
“Well, arguably, yes, but still… And it’s not just Edward that’s taken a toll on my heart. My Mother, Ellie, Jason. I love, loved, them all – but none of them are easy and it’s hard finding enough love to get you through sometimes. Maybe there’s not enough love because my heart’s been crushed, and maybe that makes me unlovable.”
For a while neither of them say anything. Such confidences seem to deserve quiet and contemplation rather than instant responses. They half it, half perch, companionably on cupboard top, each deep in thought. Eventually Serena disturbs the calm and speaks.
“I suppose I should phone security now and get us out.”
“Wait!” Bernie says, reaching out to hold Serena’s hand back. She looks deep into the eyes of the woman she loves takes a deep breath, and says “I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”
Serena looks at the woman she loves, has loved for longer than she cares to remember and says.
At the Nurses Station up on Darwin Ward Jac switches off the visual feed from the camera in Darwin Theatre 2. For a second a soft, almost sappy, grin flies across her face – not that she’d ever admit it. The “surgery” seemed to have been a success. Those two were meant to be together and now it seemed that they might be heading that way. Certain now that her plan wasn’t going to back fire and that no one seemed likely to get hurt she had no need to watch any more. Nor did she want to. She was happy to be able to switch the camera off and leave them to it. She wasn’t as cold hearted and unromantic as she made out she was, but still, she had limits. Bernie and Serena were free to leave whenever they wanted. She hadn’t actually locked the doors. It was interesting, she thought that neither of them had even tried the doors – just taken her at her word. At least the two of them were headed for a Happy Christmas, she mused as she glanced up momentarily at Fletch, busy on the other side of the ward. With a deep internal sigh she pulls a pile of patient notes in front of her and opens the top one.
Chapter 19: Tree Trimming
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...