Bernie Wolfe sits, cosy in an oversized armchair, firmly settled beside a roaring log fire. She loves nothing more than to feel comfortable in the country-style decor of her living room. Although she has a very wide-ranging taste when it comes to decoration, she has always had a soft spot for antiques. Recently she has begun collecting very valuable paintings to hang in various rooms of the partly renovated barn she now calls home. Since she’s moved in, she has busied herself with her work as a Trauma Surgeon, building up her antique collection and continuing the renovation of her homely but modest barn conversion.
She is content to wander about the house, preferring the slower way of life after being seriously injured whilst serving in the RAMC. These days, as a Locum, she can pick and choose what to do with her time, switching from one post to another as she pleases. The peace she is enjoying is shattered when her husband comes rushing into the room obviously unhappy.
“What’s the matter now Marcus?” She asks with a sigh, aware Marcus has had a problem with the place since they had moved in three months ago after both Cameron and Charlotte had moved out of their old house and ventured off to student halls.
“I was in the shower and the water suddenly went cold. Honestly, Bernie, nothing works in this bloody place!” Marcus hates the barn conversion with a passion and doesn't understand why Bernie loves it so much.
“I’ll take a look at it and see if I can find out what’s wrong.” Bernie stands to check the boiler and soon finds, as she had suspected, it has broken down. She sighs and calls Marcus into the kitchen. “The boiler is cactus. I’ll have to call a plumber tomorrow.”
“And just what do you suggest I do in the meantime?” He asks, eyes blazing with anger.
“Do what they did before boilers were invented. Boil some water and fill up the bath. Surely you don’t need me to tell you what to do?. After all, you are a grown man.” She flips the kettle on.
“Oh, for god's sake! This place should be condemned; it’s a heap of crap.”
Bernie rolls her eyes. “Look, you’ve already had a shower, the boiler will be fixed tomorrow. What’s the problem?”
“I’m off to a hotel for the night. I can’t live like this any longer.” Marcus storms upstairs to dress. Bernie follows.
“Why? The fire heats the whole place. I’ll just load it up before we go to bed.”
“Fine, you do that, but I’m still leaving.” Marcus shoves his things into an overnight bag, storms back downstairs and slams the front door behind him.
Bernie goes back downstairs, but instead of following Marcus to of the door goes to the kitchen and makes herself a cup of tea. She knows exactly what’s wrong with Marcus. Country life isn't what he imagined it would be. He expected something far grander. Bernie doesn't see the point in that; spending huge amounts of money when she could put cash to better use. Like regularly donating sums to army charities, something else Marcus detests.
All Bernie wants is a quiet life after the horrors she had seen on tour. Lately, she hasn’t been getting it. Marcus is never happy, no matter how hard she tries to please him. It ranges from what she prepares for dinner to which wine she buys and everything else in between.
After rinsing out her mug and leaving it to drain, she loads up the fire for the night and turns in. She snuggles down under the duvet and closes her eyes, blocking out any thoughts of Marcus. She isn’t worried, knowing full well he’ll be back in the morning when he’s calmed down. She feels guilty wishing things were different. Wishing she was loved by someone who truly loves her for herself. She’s always known deep down Marcus was never really the one for her, nor was any man for that matter. She wishes she’d more time with Alex: a fellow comrade, a woman, the one she’d had a secret affair with during the last months she’d been in Helmand Province - before she’d been blown back to reality by an IED. She drifts off to sleep wondering how it would feel to be truly loved and to truly love someone in return.
The next morning after breakfast and the plumber’s successful visit, Bernie decides to head into Holby’s city centre. Marcus is still missing in action, but that’s nothing unusual. He’s been disappearing rather a lot recently. She knows he’ll be annoyed when he gets home and finds she isn’t there; well, the note she left him will have to suffice.
She makes the most of the leisurely drive through a small winding village, which is usually quiet no matter what time of the day, before she arrives on the outskirts of the city. She travels towards the city centre intending to treat herself to a shopping trip at her favourite antique store.
By the time she parks the car and exits the multi-story car park, she starts feeling better than she has in a long time. Freezing in the bitter wind, her messy blonde hair whipping around her head as she walks along the pavement, she thinks happily about how she’ll soon be in the comforting warmth of the store and surrounded by the smell of the hundreds of old, dusty things lining every surface. It’s like stepping back in time, and all to easy to believe that the world beyond the door belongs to a more gentle time than the one she inhabits.
“Good morning, Ms Wolfe.” The older lady who owns the store greets her and smiles up at the tall lean woman she has come to regard as a friend.
“Good morning. Hideous weather we’re having.” Bernie smiles.
“Oh, it is. How’s Marcus?” The older woman has met Marcus on a few occasions, but she can honestly say she isn’t fond of him at all, unlike Bernie.
“The usual. Nothing is ever right or good enough. He stayed in a hotel last night, He lost his temper over the boiler breaking down.” Bernie shrugs, smiling, knowing the older woman has never liked him and well, she couldn’t blame her.
“Blimey! In my day we had no choice but to just get on with things. We didn’t have many luxuries,” she replies, shaking her head with a smile. “Feel free to have a good browse. Let me know if you need any help.”
“I will. Thank you.” Bernie nods.
Over the last few months, Bernie and the older woman have got to know each other quite well and they often have long conversations about the history of many of the items on display.
Normally when she browses the shelves, Bernie is normally mesmerised by all the different choices of historical items. Today, she can’t find anything she likes. Still, she’s happy just to wander around the store with the outside world long forgotten.
“Haven’t you found anything you like?” The store owner asks when Bernie finishes her fourth circuit of the shop.
“No, not yet. I’m in the mood for something quite different today, something, um… special.”
The old woman has a special portrait out the back; something she’s kept hidden. It’s been a long time since there’s been someone she has wanted to give it to. She wonders if Bernie would be the right person to take care of it. Nobody so far has been, and the painting was returned each and every time. Perhaps this time it might be perfect?
“I have something I’ve been saving out the back; it might be just what you’re looking for. Why don’t I fetch it?”
“That would be excellent, thank you.”
The older woman smiles and potters into the back room. Slipping a key from her pocket, she unlocks an old wooden box in the corner and lifts the lid. Inside, wrapped in some soft fabric, is an A4 sized painting surrounded by a golden frame. The word ‘Spellbound’ is signed in the very bottom left-hand corner. She feels a rush of excitement, knowing Bernie as she does, that it could be the answer to all the blonde’s problems. Carrying it back into the store she hands it carefully to Bernie without a word.
Bernie smiles and thanks her as she looks at the painting. She finds she’s looking at the portrait of an extremely beautiful woman with long braided chestnut hair. She’s wearing a very old-fashioned dress and Bernie notes the portrait’s apparent age. The golden frame, which is surrounding it, is in surprisingly good condition. The painting shakes with a tiny but strong vibration and Bernie has the sudden urge to gaze into the eyes of the woman eternally.
“It’s very elegant. I’d be willing to buy it if it’s for sale.” Bernie says, feeling, inexplicably, slightly dizzy.
“I’d like you to have it, as a gift, from me,” the older woman replies, smilin growing more certain she’s found the right person to give it to, “I know you’ll take good care of it.”
“I couldn’t possibly. It must be worth a small fortune.” Bernie’s shocked by the fact that her friend is so willing to give such an item away.
“To be truthful, the painting is priceless to some, but to others it’s worthless. Please accept it and make an old woman happy.”
Bernie nods and beams a smile, knowing she’s beaten. “Thank you so much. I’m extremely honoured.”
“You’re welcome. Remember, it’s no ordinary painting - you’ll soon see why. Now enjoy and please call in when you’re next in the city.”
“I will. Thank you,” Bernie replies clutching the portrait tightly in both hands, barely noticing the old woman guiding her towards the door.
Despite being eager to hang the painting somewhere in the house, she’s not quite as eager to face Marcus, so she decides to spend the next hour window shopping.
As she pulls up outside the house, all pleasant thoughts quickly disappear as she sees Marcus’ car sitting in the driveway. It causes her mood to drop. She takes a sharp inhalation of air and quickly opens the front door with her key.
“Marcus?” Bernie calls out as she closes the front door behind her.
“In the kitchen,” Marcus replies in an icy tone, “Where the bloody hell have you been Bernie? I’ve been calling you non stop and it just kept hitting your voicemail.” He continues as the blonde enters the kitchen.
“I went shopping. I left you a note.” Bernie answers, her previous euphoria at finding a new antique for the house forgotten.
“I didn’t expect you to be gone all day.” He snips. “Anyway, forget it. I can’t be bothered to argue with you” He stops speaking when he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. Quickly glancing at the screen before he walks in the direction of the hall. “I’m going out.” he announces The invitation he’s received from the woman he’s been having an affair with for a while seeming a much better offer.
As the front door slams again for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Bernie shakes her head in desperation, not knowing how much longer she can cope living in the lie she calls her marriage. All she really wants is someone to love and for that someone to genuinely return her love instead of just pretending.
After several satisfying hours doing odd jobs around the house, Bernie throws more logs on the fire and settles down in her armchair. Marcus is still not home and she has no idea when he will be. She’s glad of the peace and the opportunity to inspect her new painting closely, without interruption. She unwraps the blanket she encased the portrait in earlier after Marcus left and holds it carefully with both hands. She takes a good look at the craftsmanship of the golden frame but she finds her gaze steering towards the woman. Bernie is astounded when she thinks the woman in the painting has winked at her.
She shakes her head and blames it on an overactive imagination before, beginning to study the portrait in more detail. In doing so, she becomes mesmerised by the woman’s eyes, suddenly aware of how extremely beautiful she is. Bernie wonders who the woman could’ve been and which time period she might’ve lived in. With those thoughts in mind, her hands begin to tingle as the painting vibrates again within her grasp.
Upon hearing a noise, she suddenly glances up and jumps to her feet, almost dropping the painting when a clap of thunder rumbles loudly in the evening's sky. She frowns because when she sat down, it was still light outside and now it’s pitch black. She glances at the clock and is immediately startled to realise that what seemed like mere minutes of staring at the painting, had actually been three hours.
Before she has a chance to question how time slipped by so quickly her phone chimes. It’s Marcus letting her know he’s decided to stay out for the night. Knowing she has the rest of the night to herself, she decides to make a light dinner and pours herself a small measure of whiskey before settling back down in her armchair. She picks up the painting again and notices a tiny piece of paper is sticking out from the bottom of the backing. Intrigued, she pulls the paper oh so carefully through the tiny gap, trying not to rip it. Noticing the paper is written upon, Bernie continues on to read it.
She soon finds herself captivated in a tale of a noblewoman who’s had a curse placed upon her by an enchantress after refusing to marry her son. The punishment was to be condemned to a life trapped inside a portrait of herself until she finds her one true love. Bernie is fascinated with the tale but thinks it couldn’t possibly be true. “What a load of nonsense.” She thinks aloud. “There’s no way the woman in the portrait is trapped inside. Even if it is true, surely a woman who is so beautiful would certainly find true love and then surely the curse would be lifted?” Bernie continues to think out loud, failing to notice the woman in the painting has raised an eyebrow, amused by the blonde’s spoken thoughts.
Before she has given any more conscious thought, Bernie reads the rest of the short tale to the end. Puzzled by the strange ending, she sighs. It says how the woman has been periodically released from the portrait but has always been drawn back in when it has become apparent that she hasn’t found her true love. “Who would be so out of their minds to think this beautiful woman isn’t their one true love?” Thinking to herself.
Reluctant to leave the painting downstairs within any reach of Marcus and quite frankly not wanting to be parted from it, Bernie carries it up to bed with her and places it by the side of her bed. She slips beneath the duvet and closes her eyes.
Bernie Wolfe and her Husband Marcus have been renovating a barn conversion and attempting to renovate their stale marriage. As Bernie’s passion for Marcus and her marriage wanes, her new passion for antiques grows. A regular visitor to the best antique store in Holby Bernie is befriended by the mysterious old lady who owns it. When the old lady gifts her an exquisite portrait of a beautiful 15th Century noblewoman Bernie is strangely drawn to the image. Things take a strange turn when Bernie takes the portrait home and she’s not the only one who gets more than she’d bargained for.
Will Bernie realise that she can no longer live in the lie that her marriage has become? Will the course of true love run smoothly? Will Dom and Lofty help or hinder? Who exactly is the old woman from the antique store? A rom-com tale of magic, miscommunication, meddling friends and true love, with an added dash of angst.
When Bernie wakes she feels rested, but still a little troubled about the short story she’d read the night before. She picks up the painting and immediately sees the portrait has changed: the woman is no longer sitting in a wooden armchair but is sitting on the side a four-poster bed, smiling. She knows she isn’t imagining it, she’d spent long enough staring at it the previous evening, she knows exactly how the woman was posing. Strangely though instead of feeling alarmed, it intrigues her and makes her want to know even more about the beautiful stranger.
She takes her time showering and dressing, but when she’s finished, there’s still no sign of Marcus. She makes her way downstairs to the kitchen and makes herself breakfast. As soon as she’s finished eating she heads back upstairs to her bedroom, The painting, wrapped in a blanket until she decides where to hang it, is exactly where she left it. Picking up the painting, and pulling off the blanket, she notices there’s something quite captivating about the woman’s smile, it makes her feel more drawn to her. Bernie feels herself longing to be able to crawl into the painting to talk to the other woman, to touch her and feel her warmth.
Bernie shakes her head and feels foolish. It was just a silly fairy story and the woman isn’t really in the portrait, but she can’t help feeling more attracted to her as the minutes' tick by. She forces herself to wrap the blanket back around the painting, knowing she’s done almost nothing but stare at it since last night. She feels she needs to get out of the house for some fresh air, a run is exactly what she needs.
Bernie runs for a few miles, blowing away all the cobwebs and clearing her mind before she decides to turn back. As she steps into the warmth of the house, she realises how cold it must’ve been outside and climbs the stairs for a long hot shower. Half an hour later, she emerges from the bathroom and hears Marcus stomping up the stairs.
“In the bedroom.” She calls out before Marcus has the chance to demand where she is.
“The boiler is fixed then?”
“You know it is. I told you in the note yesterday, Marcus.” Bernie returns in a stern tone.
“Let’s not argue. I’ve missed you. Bern.” Marcus is suddenly attentive for reasons Bernie can’t fathom.
“Have you? Well, that’s alright then,” she replies, sarcastically as she rolls her eyes.
“Good. I hate it when we fight.” Oblivious to her sarcasm, He advances towards his wife, taking in the tall, lean body with slight curves in all the right places then runs his hand over her firm stomach.
“Marcus, I’m not in the mood.”
He takes his hand back and angrily folds his arms. “You’re never in the mood anymore.”
“Can you blame me?” She mutters under her breath, but obviously not muttered enough because Marcus is still able to make out what she said. It was supposed to be more of a rhetorical question than a serious one. In spite of this, it seems Marcus intends to answer anyway but is cut off when Bernie’s phone rings.
“We aren’t finished with this Bern.”
“Hello?” Bernie says into the phone, ignoring Marcus’ comment. “Dom?” She questions eagerly. “Hello, you! How was the holiday?”
Marcus scowls when he hears who’s on the other end of the phone. There are many things he criticises about Bernie’s life, her friends are just one of these.
“No, I haven’t got anything planned for tonight… I’d love to… Okay, I’ll see you soon. Bye.”
“Let me guess, you’re going out?”
“I am, actually. Shouldn’t bother you though. It’s not as if you’ve been home a lot lately” Bernie replies and almost challenges Marcus to dare tell her what she should or shouldn’t do. She turns and selects an outfit from the wardrobe and begins changing.
“I want you to stay. We should spend time together, Bern.”
“Tough. I haven’t seen Dom for two months and I’ve missed him.”
She finishes dressing and styles her hair in her usual messy curls before applying perfume. Pleased with the result, she begins gathering her things and waits for a taxi, whilst Marcus rattles on, in a whiney voice. about her calling her friend back and cancelling the plans. It has no effect on Bernie, she’s adamant she’s going.
After ten minutes the beep of the taxi’s horn outside shuts Marcus up. Bernie breathes a sigh of relief and leaves the house.
The bar Dom has chosen for them to meet at is sophisticated. It’s not too loud so conversation should be easy. It’s taken Bernie half an hour to arrive in the heart of Holby’s nightlife and in that time she’s forgotten all about Marcus, fully prepared to have a great time catching up with all her friend’s news from the last few months.
“Travelling definitely suits you.” Bernie comments, taking in her friends tan and the twinkle in his eyes, she doesn’t think she’s ever seen before.
“I must admit, it does.” Dom grins.
Bernie can tell there is something else going on, by the cheeky grin on Dom’s face. “So, who is he?
“His name is Ben, Well, Lofty. Don’t ask, it’s an old nickname apparently.” Dom replies.
“And what’s he like?” Bernie’s genuinely interested. In all the time she’s known Dom, he’s only been a couple of short relationships.
“Oh, he’s wonderful! He’s sweet and kind, cute even, but let’s not forget the most important part, hot, he’s very hot!”
Bernie laughs. “I’m so very pleased for you. He does sound nice. I hope he stays that way because I don’t want to have any reason to use my army training..” She teases.
“Well, you can find out just how spectacular he is for yourself, he’s just walked through the door,” Dom announces with a chuckle.
The evening sails by, full of laughter, fun and of course drinking. Bernie can’t remember the last time she laughed so hard. Before they know it, the bar is calling last orders and they leave ready to flag down a taxi back to Bernie’s.
Marcus is still awake, and on the phone, to the woman, he’s having an affair with, until he hears noises and guesses correctly that Bernie is home. He apologises to the woman on the other end of the phone and hangs up quickly before pretending to be asleep on the sofa. Bernie stumbles through the living room door dragging Dom and Lofty along with her. She notices Marcus is asleep and begins to regret bringing Dom and Lofty back with her.
“Still married to him then?” Dom comments. He’s never been Marcus’ biggest fan.
“Shh, you’ll wake him and I can’t deal with the arguments any longer. My ears are still throbbing from the loud music.” Bernie shushes him, trying to keep the noise to a minimum.
“What time is it,” Marcus asks trying his best to sound groggy and not best pleased Bernie’s decided to bring company home.
Bernie’s smile vanishes “Around two. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“I was waiting for you.”
“You shouldn’t have. It’s late, so you might as well go to bed.” Bernie’s eager for him to leave the room. She doesn’t want him doing his best to insult Dom and she most definitely isn’t in the mood for an argument.
“Are you coming up soon?”
“Yep,” Bernie answers moving swiftly away from Marcus trying to kiss her. She turns to Dom and ignores the eyebrow raise. “Kitchen is through there.” She gestures to the younger men.
Marcus turns and stomps up to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Bernie winces as a piece of plaster from the ceiling comes loose and hits the floor. She’s too tired to care anymore.
“Lord of the manor is his usual happy self, I see.” Dom slurs sarcastically as he collapses onto a chair at the kitchen table.
“When is Marcus ever happy?” She mutters, opening the paper wrapped around the carton of chips she’d been clutching. They all dig in.
“How long have you been married?” Lofty asks between mouthfuls.
“Twenty-five years too long,” Bernie answers with a sad sigh.
“Why haven’t you divorced him yet?” Dom questions, trying to force his friend to talk about her feelings.
“Mostly because of the children. It was good at the start, for a while and I thought I loved him and that he felt the same. Things have been strained for years, but it’s been quite a lot worse recently. I need to be brave and talk to him before it’s too late.”
“You can do a lot better,” Dom remarks, picking up a ketchup bottle.
“I know that now. Pity I didn’t realise my attraction to women sooner.”
Dom’s grip tightens around the bottle and he squirts far too much sauce onto his pile of chips and almost wobbles off his chair, shocked by that particular piece of information.
Bernie instantly regrets letting that particular snippet slip
“If you decide to leave him, I’m sure you’ll find someone else sooner or later.” Lofty adds sympathetically.
“You really should leave Marcus. Your kids are grown and have left home now. You’re obviously not happy, so do something that makes you happy for once. Don’t live a lie, you’ll come to regret it, that’s if you don’t already.”
Bernie thinks about what she really wants “The problem is the person I wish I could be with doesn’t exist.” She sadly explains.
“I thought the same until I met Dom. You just have to wait for the right person to come along.”
“That isn’t what I mean. The woman literally isn’t living. I’ll show you.” Bernie staggers to her feet not catching the confused expressions on her friends' faces that follow her as she leaves the room.
“What is she talking about?” Lofty asks.
“Who know?.” Dom shrugs and carries on eating.
Bernie picks up the painting and it quivers gently in her hands, as it always does when she touches the golden frame. She walks back into the kitchen, places it on the table in front of Dom and Lofty - and notices the woman’s face seems “zoomed-in” somehow. Bernie can see her in more detail, can see how stunningly beautiful she really is.
“This is the woman I want, but as I said, she literally doesn’t exist.” Bernie sits down again as her friends look at the painting bemused and intrigued in equal measure.
“She has very pretty eyes,” Dom says. He can see what must’ve attracted Bernie straightaway.
“She lovely.” Lofty agrees. “What’s this.” He asks Bernie noticing the piece of paper she’s holding.
Bernie reads them the short story as both men sit and listen intently. Now she’s voiced her feelings, she feels sad about it. The truth, that the woman will never exist, becomes all too real. She can’t help feeling the way she does about her. She longs desperately to set her free, to be her knight in shining armour, but how can she? It’s a fairytale, and fairytales are not real.
She mentally shakes herself for being so soft. It’s unusual for her to get a crush on somebody who is absolutely and undeniably unattainable. She had crushes as a teenager but learned quickly as she grew up, she was only ever in love with the image and not the person themselves. It’s impossible to love somebody you'll never get to know. The logical, sensible part of her believes this, but her heart keeps telling her the complete opposite.
“This is so heartbreaking,” Dom replies, looking as if he could cry.
“Aw, Dom.” Lofty fusses, hugging his boyfriend and passing him a tissue.
“Don’t mind me. It’s the alcohol.” Dom laughs at Bernie’s grin.
The three of them sit talking until it’s very late, so late that it becomes very early. Bernie shows them to the spare room before collecting a blanket and a pillow and making a bed up on the sofa. She has no desire to lie beside Marcus and isn’t sure she ever would have again. She snuggles under the blanket and she drifts off to sleep, lost in dreams about what it’d be like if she could meet the woman she’s so captivated by.
Bernie Wolfe and her Husband Marcus have been renovating a barn conversion and attempting to renovate their stale marriage. As Bernie’s passion for Marcus and her marriage wanes, her new passion for antiques grows. A regular visitor to the best antique store in Holby Bernie is befriended by the mysterious old lady who owns it. When the old lady gifts her an exquisite portrait of a beautiful 15th Century noblewoman Bernie is strangely drawn to the image. Things take a strange turn when Bernie takes the portrait home and she’s not the only one who gets more than she’d bargained for.
Will Bernie realise that she can no longer live in the lie that her marriage has become? Will the course of true love run smoothly? Will Dom and Lofty help or hinder? Who exactly is the old woman from the antique store? A rom-com tale of magic, miscommunication, meddling friends and true love, with an added dash of angst.
Bernie wakes to a mid-morning symphony of clattering noises in the kitchen. She glances at the clock and sees it’s just after mid-day. She groans when the room spins and her head starts to pound. She closes her eyes, blocking out the stabbing light, and pleads for the world to slow down while she recuperates. Knowing she needs some water and some paracetamol she gets off the sofa and makes for the kitchen just in time to catch Marcus slamming a coffee mug onto the counter in a temper.
“You didn’t come to bed last night.” Marcus accuses and proceeds to intentionally make noise by slamming a cupboard door.
“Sorry. I fell asleep on the sofa.” Bernie replies, as she gets some orange juice from the fridge and adds a couple of fingers of whiskey to the glass as an afterthought.
“For god's sake, Bern, don’t you think you drank enough last night?” Marcus snaps as he watches her down the liquid in one.
“Hair of the dog. It’s either that or I’ll feel like death.” Bernie shrugs. “Anyway, if I wanted a lecture I’d call my Mother.”
“Let’s not fight. I was only saying.”
“Well, try saying nothing:” Bernie snipes as she leaves the room with a glass of water and a couple of painkillers.
Later that afternoon, Bernie is itching to leave the house and gain some respite from the atmosphere in the house and put some space between Marcus and herself. “Who fancies a walk?” She asks on the spur of the moment, desperately needing to get out of the house and some fresh air.
Lofty nods enthusiastically, jumping up from the armchair to join her, but Dom is hesitant, sprawled out on the sofa and hiding his head under a cushion
“Age must finally be catching up with you. The Copeland I remember doesn’t do hangovers.” Bernie teases.
Dom moves the cushion and glares at her as wickedly as he dares in his delicate state. “Can’t you see I’m trying to die in peace?”
"Stop being so dramatic!” Bernie rolls her eyes. “Come on, get up soldier, at the double.”
Dom moans and rolls off the sofa onto his feet. They collect their coats and head out the door. A gust of wind forces the front door to close harder than Bernie intended. Marcus, who’s sitting at the kitchen table jumps at the noise. Pleased the house is now empty, he enters the living room with his phone in hand, ready to make a call.
As all three of them have almost made it to the end of the road, Dom realises he’s left something behind.
“I’ve forgotten my phone, wait here and I’ll go and grab it quickly.”
“Here you’ll need these.” Bernie hands Dom her front door keys.
Dom walks speedily back down the road toward the house.
When Dom opens the front door he can hear Marcus speaking. He closes the door almost silently and hovers outside the living room door, eavesdropping.
“Yes, but I’m not sure how or when. Bernie has friends staying with us at the moment and I…. Okay, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll call you later, okay?.... Love you too. Bye.”
Dom steps back from the door and attempts to look as innocent as possible when he hears Marcus has finished the call.
“Hi, I, er didn’t realise you were here. I thought the house was empty.” Marcus says after opening the living room door to see Dom standing in front of him.
“We left but I came back to grab my phone.” Dom studies Marcus' demeanour closely. He looks jumpy. Dom thinks something is definitely going on.
“Ok, well, I’m starting dinner. Fancy anything in particular?”
“Whatever you're planning will be fine. Thank you.” Dom knows for certain something is wrong. Marcus is never pleasant to him.
“I’ll make Bernie’s favourite then. Is that okay with you?”
Dom nods as he picks up his phone before heading back out the door.
As Dom reaches Bernie and Lofty at the end of the road, he witnesses Bernie lighting a cigarette.
“I thought you’d given up smoking?”
“I only gave up because Marcus wanted me to. Last night, you said to do things that will make me happy. So I am. Smoking this cigarette will make me remarkably happy.”
Dom laughs. “It’s about time, Major.”
Bernie and Lofty walk off in front of Dom. It warms his heart to see them laughing and getting on so well. He wishes Bernie could experience the same level of love and devotion he has found with Lofty.
He decides not to mention anything to Bernie about Marcus, after all, what would he say? He doesn’t actually know anything, he just has suspicions. He does decide to keep a close eye on him.
“Oh, Lord of the Manor is cooking dinner. Apparently he’s making your favourite." Dom remarks casually when he catches up with his friend and partner.
“Blimey! I wonder what he’s done now? He only ever cooks for me when he’s done or wants something.”
“I’ve no idea.” Dom shrugs. “Can we turn back soon. I’m freezing.”
Dom walks hand in hand with Lofty with Bernie walking beside, deep in thought as they turn around, wondering what Marcus has done indeed.
The atmosphere at dinner is strained; Marcus is quiet and Bernie isn’t making much of an effort to talk to him. She chats with Dom and Lofty but they all feel rather awkward and decide to concentrate on eating their meals instead. Marcus is occupied, pondering ways he could leave the house without Bernie suspecting anything is going on when he comes up with the perfect idea.
“What do you have planned for tonight?” He plays with his food and glances over at Bernie.
“We’re going to play Monopoly.” Bernie finishes her glass of water.
“Sounds like it could be fun, count me in.” He says, smiling, causing Bernie to worry. Marcus hates board games.
After everyone has finished eating, Bernie helps Marcus tidy the kitchen whilst Dom and Lofty are settling in the living room. Marcus starts the dishwasher, then leans back against the counter watching Bernie clean the table. Bernie knows she’s being watched but wants to avoid acknowledging it.
“How much longer are they staying for?” He asks.
“I don’t know. Why?” Bernie pauses and looks up.
“You and I never spend time together these days.”
“We would spend time together if you weren’t swanning off every chance you get.” Bernie resumes wiping the table, not wanting another argument.
“I knew it’d all be my fault. This house is the cause of all our problems. Everything has fallen apart since we moved here and your so-called friends aren’t making it any easier.” Marcus snaps, his voice slightly raised.
“Keep it down, they’ll hear you! There’s nothing wrong with the house and as for my friends, I will invite who I want, when I like, Marcus.”
"Sometimes, I think you care about everybody else more than you do about me. I’m sick of playing second best, Bern.”
“That’s because I do care about everyone else more than you - you’ve hit the nail right on the head. Thanks to you, I only have a handful of friends. You managed to single-handedly alienated every single one I had before I started working as a locum and I’m still trapped in this sham of a marriage with you!” Bernie throws the dishcloth across the room and it lands in the sink.
“Well, if you’re stuck in this marriage, why don’t you leave? You know exactly where the front door is.” Marcus’ voice rises a couple more octaves, calling Bernie’s bluff.
“No, technically this is my house, so if anyone’s going to be leaving it’s you. I’ll even pack your bags and call you a taxi.” Bernie storms out the kitchen heading towards the hall.
As Lofty sees Bernie marching past the living room doorway, Marcus closely behind, he raises his eyebrows and receives a shrug in response from Dom.
Marcus continues the argument whilst Bernie rams his clothes into a suitcase and does her best to ignore him. Feeling her temper reaching near boiling point after a particularly cruel comment, she makes a huge effort to bite her tongue. Even though she knows Dom and Lofty are aware of the situation, she abstains from losing her temper and alternatively hopes Marcus will eventually calm down.
When she’s finished packing she glances towards where she’d left her painting earlier and notices it isn’t there. “Where’s the painting I bought the other day?”
“Why are you asking about a stupid picture at a time like this?”
“Just answer the question, Marcus. Where is it?” Bernie’s heart pounds. She needs to know where it is desperately.
“I don’t know and to be honest, I couldn’t care less.” Marcus waves his hand in a gesture of dismissal.
“Do not push me, Marcus. Where is it?”
“I’ve thrown it away,” Marcus replies nonchalantly, wondering if it had been a step too far.
“YOU DID WHAT?!” Bernie explodes, her chocolate brown eyes glinting dangerously.
“I said, I’ve thrown it away! You’ve done nothing but stare at it since you bought it home. It is not normal, Bernie.”
“How would you know? You’re hardly ever here! Where is it?”
"Outside, in the wheelie bin.”
Bernie shoves passed him, racing outside, nearly slipping on the wet patio as the rain falls torrentially. She quivers in the cold as she lifts the bin lid and frantically rummages inside. To her great relief, she soon finds the painting, resting safely between two bags, looking entirely undamaged. Tucking it under her shirt to save it getting wet, she swiftly heads back inside, feeling her heart rate slow down as relief washes over her.
“Found it then?” Marcus asks as Bernie enters the bedroom.
“Yep.” She replies. “Now get out of my house. I hope you enjoy your own company because it’s all you’ll have for the foreseeable.” She grabs the suitcase and carries it downstairs to the front door, she opens it before shoving the suitcase out. Marcus stomps down the stairs.
“Bernie please we can sort this. Where am I supposed to go?” Marcus pleads.
“Oh, I think he’ll have somewhere to stay,” Dom says as he steps into the hall. Bernie looks to Dom confused.
“Stay out of this,” Marcus warns.
“No, I won’t stand by and let you treat my best friend like this .” He replies before looking at Bernie. “I know I should have told you sooner but I heard him on the phone earlier, telling someone he loves them and from what I could understand, he wasn't sure how he'd leave the house tonight because we're staying at the moment. I think he’s having an affair.”
Bernie looks at Marcus and can see the truth is written all over his face.
“It’s true. I’m so sorry Bernie.” Marcus apologies.
“Don’t be because I’m not,” Bernie replies as she pushes him out the front door and closes it in his face.
“I’m sorry you both had to witness that.” Bernie looks sad. Dom feels compelled to put an arm around her.
“Don’t worry about it. Lofty and I aren’t fazed. Good riddance I say.” Dom comforts his friend. “I’m proud of you for being brave and taking control of your life.”
“Thank you. I wish I’d done it sooner.” Bernie smiles slightly.
“Will you be okay? We can stay longer if you want us to.” Lofty asks.
“No, it’s okay. I’ll be fine, really.” Bernie answers feeling tired and out of sorts.
Lofty nods. “Okay, come on.” He says as he slips his hand into Dom’s. “We’ll leave you in peace.”
“If you need us, please don't be afraid to call,” Dom adds.
Bernie walks them to the door, feeling grateful for their help and support. “I will.” Bernie smiles.
After they’ve left and finds herself alone in the house again, she drags a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and sits at the kitchen table staring at it, wondering how her life has suddenly become even more complicated.
Her twenty-five-year marriage is over and it’ll take a bit of adjustment to get used to being single and alone, even though she feels as if a heavy weight has been lifted from her shoulders and she can finally live her life as she wishes and be true to herself. The only products of her past she doesn't regret are her army career and her children. She can only change her future now. Her immediate worries are about Cam and Charlotte’s reactions to their parents split, they’ll obviously divorce and she knows Marcus’ affair will come out, and so will her infidelity with Alex.
She sighs heavily and places the bottle back in the cupboard knowing alcohol won’t make her feel any better. The only thing that would make her feel better doesn’t exist. She feels the pull of the painting and the urge to look at the portrait but knows clinging on to something that will never be real is unhealthy. Still, she thinks she can afford to indulge herself one last time.
As she sits with the painting and looks at it, she is certain she can smell perfume coming from the surface. She laughs at the idea, knowing how absurd it seems, feeling convinced it’s, again, her imagination. The longer she gazes the stronger the aroma becomes. So strong, she’s sure she can almost reach out and touch the floral-scented air.
Bernie feels the painting begin trembling in her hands. Vibrating a great deal more than ever before. She looks at it bewildered and wonders what will happen if she continues to sit with it in her lap but the portrait abruptly stops moving. She’s disappointed, feeling as if she was going to discover something only for it to be snatched away.
She thinks about the situation logically. Paintings don’t vibrate and tremble on their own. Portraits don’t change constantly and adjust themselves. They don’t smell of perfume and they most definitely don’t feel as warm as a living being.
Bernie knows the only logical explanation is that she’s tired and tiredness plays tricks on the mind. Deciding it’s time for bed, she automatically picks up the portrait and heads to bed, hoping she’ll feel better in the morning.
When she gets underneath the duvet, she holds the painting once more. The woman is smiling at her mysteriously from the four-poster bed she is sitting on. Bernie detects a slight glint of something almost as if the woman knows something she doesn’t. She feels foolish about what she wants to say, but she says it anyway.
“I would give anything for you to climb out of this portrait Lady Serena Campbell. I truly wish you were real.”
It’s the first time she has uttered the woman’s name, saying it makes everything seem real somehow. She places the painting carefully on the floor beside the bed and switches off the bedside lamp before falling quickly into a deep sleep.
Bernie Wolfe and her Husband Marcus have been renovating a barn conversion and attempting to renovate their stale marriage. As Bernie’s passion for Marcus and her marriage wanes, her new passion for antiques grows. A regular visitor to the best antique store in Holby Bernie is befriended by the mysterious old lady who owns it. When the old lady gifts her an exquisite portrait of a beautiful 15th Century noblewoman Bernie is strangely drawn to the image. Things take a strange turn when Bernie takes the portrait home and she’s not the only one who gets more than she’d bargained for.
Will Bernie realise that she can no longer live in the lie that her marriage has become? Will the course of true love run smoothly? Will Dom and Lofty help or hinder? Who exactly is the old woman from the antique store? A rom-com tale of magic, miscommunication, meddling friends and true love, with an added dash of angst.
In the early hours Bernie mumbles and turns in her sleep, her subconscious reacting to the portrait shuddering beside the bed. The vibrations are powerful and a strange yellow light begins emerging from the centre of the canvas. Suddenly, the light becomes brighter and a hole appears accompanied by a crackling sound, echoing around the room. It becomes blinding before fading rapidly. Bernie shoots upright, her heart racing, trying to catch her breath.
“Oh, where has my damn candle gone?” Bernie hears a voice mumble to themselves before she hears a loud thud. “Ouch, my toe!”
Bernie reaches out and switches on the lamp. To her astonishment, the woman from the portrait is sitting on the bedroom floor holding her foot after falling over the blonde’s slippers in the dark.
“Oh, uh… my.” Bernie stammers.
“Who on earth are you?” The woman asks, in a velvety voice. It’s unlike any Bernie has ever heard before.
“Berenice Wolfe. Bernie. Fortunately for you, I already know who you are.” Bernie sits up further having trouble believing this bizarre situation is happening.
“This isn’t my bed-chamber. Where am I?” Serena looks around the room becoming more confused by the second.
“Before I begin to explain, would you like a drink?” Bernie asks. “Because I know I do.” She mutters to herself.
“Yes, that would be most kind. Thank you.” Serena stands before picking up the lamp from the bedside table about to follow Bernie out the room. As she follows, the room is plunged into darkness when the plug is pulled from the wall. “Oh, the candle has burned out.”
Bernie laughs in the darkness “Not to worry.”
The brunette flinches when Bernie switches on the bedroom light. She proceeds to follow Bernie downstairs to the kitchen curiously.
As Bernie opens the cupboard, pulls out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses Serena looks around the room, wide-eyed and bemused. She opens the fridge and peers inside with ill-disguised curiosity.
“It’s called a fridge. It keeps food cold to prevent it from spoiling too quickly.” Bernie isn’t sure what’s going on but she’s absolutely certain wherever Serena comes from, she most definitely hasn’t seen a fridge before.
Bernie takes in Serena’s appearance that she’s come to recognise so well, her curvy figure, braided long silky brown hair and eyes she can now see are brown, sparkling brightly, taking Bernie’s breath away. She turns back to the whisky and pours a little in each glass.
Glasses in hand she turns back to Serena in time to see the woman is about to lodge a fork into the toaster.
“Serena, no.” Bernie snatches the eating utensil away from her quickly. “Don’t do that. You’ll electrocute yourself.” Her voice softer this time, aware it’s not the woman’s fault she’s never before set eyes on a toaster.
Serena’s eyebrows knit in baffled confusion. “Electrocute?”
“It means to be killed or injured by volts of electricity surging through the body,” Bernie explains with a half-hearted hand gesture.
“What is electricity?” Serena raises an eyebrow, quizzically.
“Oh, uh. It’s an electric charge made up of electrons which flows through a conductor to make the lights and objects like the fridge work.” Bernie explains, but Serena looks even more confused. “A little like lightning from the sky.”
Serena nods satisfied by the answer and Bernie breathes a sigh of relief.
“Where am I?”
“Holby. Well just outside of the city.” Bernie answers.
“Which year is it?” Serena continues questioning, wide-eyed.
“2016” Bernie replies.
“2016! Oh dear, no.” Serena sinks heavily onto a chair at the kitchen table and looks defeated. “I dwell in the year 1497, that’s a difference of 519 years. I can’t be here. I’m one of the last of my house and my mother is in ill health.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Bernie sympathises. “What do you mean by ‘last of your house’?” Bernie asks confused after a short pause.
“I thought you said you knew who I am?”
“Yes. Lady Serena Campbell.” Bernie nods.
“I’m Lady Serena Campbell descendant of the house Plantagenet.
“You’re royalty?” Bernie asks wide-eyed, in shock.
“No decently related. What am I doing here?”
“I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe things will become clearer in time.” Bernie doesn’t think Serena will be able to handle the truth just yet. She obviously has no recollection of what has happened to her.
“I need to go home to my Mother.” A sad expression crosses her face and tears start rolling down her cheek, “but after more than 500 years she’ll no longer be living.”
Bernie pats her gently on the shoulder as she cries and offers her a tissue. Serena’s sobs subside after a while and Bernie hands her a whisky glass, sure it’s the very thing she needs.
“What is this?” Serena asks after almost choking on a sip of the liquid. “Am I supposed to drink this or take the varnish off floors with it?” She grimaces into the glass.
Bernie’s pleased she has a sense of humour. “It’s whiskey. I thought you’d like it.”
“No, it is most horrid.”
“I might have a bottle of red wine somewhere in the cupboard,” Bernie announces. She searches the kitchen cupboards and finds a bottle before pulling out a wine glass.
“Now that’s more like it!.” Serena smiles.
Bernie pours the wine into a glass before placing it on the table in front of Serena.
“Sit here and don’t move. I need to use the phone.”
“It lets someone hear voices out of thin air,” Bernie answers, noting the shocked expression on Serena’s face.
Dom blinks in the darkness and reaches over Lofty to answer the phone. “Hello?”
“Thank goodness. Dom, I need your help. Get here on the double.”
“Bernie, it’s two in the morning.” He complains.
“Yes, I’m aware of the time. You won’t believe what has happened. Serena has appeared.”
“Serena? Who?” Dom asks grumpily at being woken.
“Serena. The woman from the painting. The one who’d been cursed, remember?”
“Huh?” Dom wonders why his friend is suddenly making no sense whatsoever.
“She’s here. I know it's strange, but it’s true.”
Dom notes there is an underlying tone of panic in her voice. “Okay, calm down. We’ll be right over.” He puts the phone down and wakes Lofty. “We need to get to Bernie’s quickly. I think there’s something seriously wrong with her.
“Something wrong with Bernie? What?” Lofty asks, still half asleep.
“I’ll explain on the way,” Dom answers, knowing Bernie needs help fast. They don’t have time to lose.
Bernie paces the living room while Serena sits on the sofa, watching and asking periodically about objects around the room. Bernie reels off answers but wishes Serena would be quiet so she can think properly. Words echo in the back of her mind, a phrase her Mother uses often. “Be careful what you wish for.”
The sound of the doorbell announces Dom and Lofty’s arrival. Bernie rushes to the door and opens it, thankful to see her friends. She is almost knocked out by Dom as he enters the house, shortly followed by Lofty.
“Are you okay?” Her best friend asks.
“Thank goodness you’re here. It’s about time.”
“What’s happening?” Dom enters the living room first and notices Serena is sitting on the sofa with her hands clasped in her lap.
“See I told you,” Bernie says with an over-exaggerated hand gesture as Serena smiles at the newcomers, playing with her necklace, nervously.
Dom and Lofty are speechless and shocked.
“What on earth happened?” Lofty asks when he finally finds words.
Bernie blushes a deep red knowing Serena will be listening. “I told the portrait I wished she was real then kissed her goodnight.”
“Go on?” Dom asks desperately trying to keep a straight face.
“I went to sleep then the next thing I know, she was clattering around my bedroom in the dark.”
“Lady Serena Campbell. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” She stands to greet the men.
Dom nods. “Likewise. I’m sorry, but this is too weird. Are you sure you haven’t taken too many of the pills for your neck?” He looks at Bernie.
“No, I have not! Besides, you can see her too. She’s unmistakably from the portrait, just look at her dress.” Bernie replies pointing at the garment in question.
“You’re right. Doesn’t exactly look like it’s just fallen off the catwalk.” Dom moves closer to Serena and studies her closely.
Serena looks annoyed. “You do know it is rude to stare.” She raises her eyebrows.
“Sorry.” Dom backs off giving her some space whilst Lofty is still looking shocked.
“Are you both from the same family?” Serena asks, pointing at the men.
“No, we’re together.” Lofty replies, shaking his head.
“Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Lovers, boyfriends, whatever you want to call it. Gay. Homosexual.” Dom answers.
“I see. We call them sexual deviants. It does not bother me, for I have a friend who is a secret deviant.” Serena smiles brightly.
Dom is amused and chuckles. “I’ve been called many things but never a deviant. It has a ring to it.”
Bernie looks at the wall clock and decides it’s time to convince Serena to go to bed so she can talk to Dom and Lofty alone. “Serena, are you feeling tired?”
“A little weary, yes.” The woman uses her hand to cover a yawn.
“Of course you must be. Follow me to your bed chamber?”
“Bed chamber?” Dom snorts.
“Shh, it’s what she understands. After all, she is from 1497.”
Dom and Lofty look astounded as Bernie guides Serena upstairs to the spare room.
After escorting Serena into the spare room, Bernie makes sure the other woman has everything she needs before leaving her alone for the night.
“This is most charming. Thank you.” The decor is unusual and not at all to Serena’s taste but she doesn’t want to appear ill-mannered.
“You’ll need some clean clothes.” Bernie realises. “I won’t be too long.” She leaves the room and returns minutes later with a plain t-shirt and a pair of pyjama shorts.
Serena stares at the garments in her hands and wonders what she’s supposed to do with them.
“Everything ok?” Bernie asks concerned.
“Oh, um, yes -” Serena looks up at the blonde. “I’ve never readied for bed unaided. Would it be too much trouble to ask for your help?”
“Uh, no… it’s no trouble.” The words leave Bernie’s mouth before she realised what she has agreed to.
“Thank you.” Serena smiles before moving her braided hair and turning.
Bernie steps forward and begins loosening the lace of Serena’s dress, finding it remarkably difficult to keep her hands, normally dexterous, from trembling.
Once the corset is untied and the dress removed Bernie struggles for breath, failing miserably to avert her eyes from the incredible beauty before her. Taking in Serena standing there in only her underwear, even though it’s extremely old-fashioned and leaves everything to the imagination, causes the hairs on the back of her neck to stand on end and a thrill runs down her spine.
“Would you help remove my undergarments?” Serena asks, she’d always had a ladies maid to help her and is unaccustomed to undressing alone.
Bernie gulps almost audibly and begins helping Serena with the rest of her clothes, almost having a coronary as Serena stands in front of her completely naked. After helping her on with the shorts and t-shirt, Bernie stands back and admires how beautiful Serena looks in a simple t-shirt, even if it is slightly on the tight side. Random thoughts of taking the woman shopping for plain clothes soon turns into clothes of a more intimate nature.
“Thank you, you may go now,” Serena says as she turns then smiles at the blonde.
Bernie realises she’s being dismissed but doesn’t take offence. “Oh, um, goodnight then.”
As Bernie closes the door behind her and makes her way back downstairs, she feels a sheen of sweat forms on her forehead. She wipes away the evidence of her racing hormones quickly before Dom can pick up on it. She’s quite certain that if she witnesses Serena in the nude again anytime soon it’ll be the death of her.
“I made some coffee. I thought you could do with it.” Dom points to a mug on the table.
“Thank you.” Bernie smiles before it turns into a yawn. “What a night.” She sips her drink thoughtfully. Her mind wanders and she thinks whether Serena will like coffee, making a mental note to make her some when she wakes up.
“What are you going to do?” Lofty asks, still not able to get his head around it all.
“I don’t know. I’m not even sure this is real, but if it is, I’ll need to look after her. She is all alone and I’ll need to teach her everything. I shouldn’t have wished for this.” Bernie holds her head in her hands wondering if this is all a dream and she’ll wake up any minute.
“Everything?” Dom raises his eyebrows and grins wickedly.
“Dom!” Bernie warns with a stern look before becoming embarrassed, avoiding eye contact.
“What? You did say you wanted a woman you couldn’t have and now the said woman is here.” Dom teases.
“Well, quite, but what am I supposed to say? Excuse me, I know you’re from 1497 but I more than like you. Would you mind awfully being my lesbian lover?” Bernie quips, shaking her head.
“That’s rather forward of you.” An amused voice responds from the living room doorway.
Bernie turns her head and almost gives herself whiplash. “Serena, I thought you were sleeping.”
Dom and Lofty exchange amused glances; they too have noticed Serena is quite the dry wit.
Bernie’s pleased she isn’t the only one who’s noticed. “Sit down. I’ll get you something to drink.
“Thank you, anything but whiskey, it is repugnant.” Serena smiles widely and sets Bernie’s heart racing. “Have you any more Shiraz?”
“I do but I have something else I think you’d like.,” Bernie replies. She’s back a few minutes later with a steaming hot mug of coffee. “Try this, but be careful, it’s hot.”
“Thank you.” Serena takes a careful sip and her eyes widen. “It is… what is the word?”
“Strong?” Dom tries helping.
“Yes but that is not it, it’s unusual,” Serena comments but seems happy enough to drink it. “It’s exquisite.” She states after another sip.
Bernie looks thoughtful for a moment and almost feels pained as she opens her mouth to speak. “If you really want to know why you’re here, I’ll try my best to explain, but it won’t be easy for you to hear.”
“Please, I need to know and understand” Serena pleads.
Bernie explains the situation as Serena looks shocked. For a few moments, Serena is silent and a single tear escapes down her cheek. She is obviously contemplating everything she’s just been told. Bernie feels the woman’s heartbreak and has a strong urge to hold her and never let go. She desperately wants to console the woman and make everything right but doesn’t know how, and isn’t sure how Serena would react if she made physical contact with her.
Serena stands abruptly. “Please excuse me. I am feeling rather weary. I think I shall retire.”
“Of course,” Bernie watches Serena leave the room. She concludes it’s best to let her go and suspects she needs time to think about things on her own.
“She’ll come round, Bernie. It’s not every day someone finds themselves catapulted into the future after being cursed. Just the thought of it sounds impossible.” Dom tries to reassure the blonde.
“She just needs some time.” Lofty agrees.
“I think the only way I can help her is by going back to the antique store. The owner might know more and then maybe we can start figuring out this whole situation.”
Dom stands and collects all the empty mugs from the coffee table ready to take them into the kitchen then turns to Bernie. “Lofty and I will stay while you travel into the city. It’s safer than leaving ‘Catherine of Aragon’ on her own.”
“Thank you.” Bernie chuckles. “Take my bed. I’ll spend the rest of the night on the sofa.”
“Are you sure?” Lofty asks.
“Absolutely. Thank you for coming over.” She smiles sincerely.
As Bernie lies on the sofa sleep doesn’t come. Serena doesn’t belong in this era and if she can find some way of getting her back home, she will. It’s strange, but she already cares so much about the woman and she’ll do anything for her, even if it means never seeing her again. She is determined to get as much information as possible from the older woman at the antique store as possible. The blonde is convinced she holds the key to everything.
“Serena put the spatula down!” Dom warns after witnessing the woman tapping the television screen with the utensil.
“What is this?” Serena asks for the third time, pointing at the object.
“I told you to come and eat your breakfast.” Dom reminds her sternly as if he’s telling off a naughty child.
“I cannot possibly eat what you’ve presented me with. It looks nauseating.” Serena replies as she follows Dom into the kitchen and sits at the table.
“It isn’t that bad. Give it a try, you might even like it.” Dom tries to convince.
Serena pulls a disgusted face as she pushes the soggy Weetabix around the bowl. She shakes her head and puts the spoon down.
Dom turns to Lofty who’s struggling to hold in laughter. “What’s so funny?”
“You’re treating a grown woman like a child,” He replies chuckling.
“That’s because she is acting like one.” Dom stands back and leans against the kitchen counter.
“Take no notice of Dom. How about I make you something different then I’ll show you something special?” Lofty suggests to Serena.
“Something special? Can I see it now?” Serena’s face lights up. She’s eager to learn new things from this strange world she finds herself in.
“No, you’ll need to eat first.” Lofty folds his arms and shakes his head.
“If I must.” Serena nods with a smile realising Lofty will make a good ally.
Bernie stands patiently in the antique store and waits for the older woman to greet her at the counter.
“Ms Wolfe, how lovely to see you again so soon.” The older woman greets with a warm smile.
“Likewise. I wonder if I could trouble you for some advice?” Bernie asks.
“Ah, I see, it’s happened already.” The older woman smiles mysteriously. “Come through to the back and I’ll make some tea.”
Bernie follows the shop owner into the back room. The woman obviously knows more surrounding the situation. She watches her fill the kettle with water before switching it on.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the portrait when you gave it to me?” Bernie asks.
“If I had, would you have accepted it?”
“I don’t know. No, probably not..” Bernie shakes her head.
“That’s why I didn’t elaborate. Let me make the tea then I will explain everything.”
As the older woman turns back to her task, Bernie is left with her thoughts. Perhaps if she can learn more about the situation she may gain the answers she needs; answers to questions Serena has either already asked or will.
“You’re bound to have many questions, so once I’ve finished, feel free to ask away.”
“Thank you.” Bernie smiles as the woman hands her a steaming hot mug of tea.
“The painting has been in my family for an extremely long time. You see, the short story is true. As you already know Serena has been cursed ever since she turned down the marriage proposal and has been released only a handful of times. The last time was almost twenty years ago by a rather unworthy man, luckily she was drawn back inside the portrait before she spent many years with him. Since then I’ve waited to find the right person and I think you’re perfect.” The woman smiles and Bernie blushes.
“Serena has no memory of him?”
“No, I wouldn’t have thought so. She’ll only remember her life until the point the curse took effect. Serena will obviously find things strange, as anyone would in this situation.”
“She wants to be with her mother desperately. Is there anything I can do to send her home?”
The shop owner shakes her head. “No, unfortunately not. Whilst she is trapped, time stands still and she doesn’t age or change in any way. There isn’t a way back and until she finds true love she’s trapped inside or tied to the portrait. The best she can hope for is now, in 2016.”
“So, I have to find somebody who loves her enough to break the curse?”
“Yes, but the love must also be returned otherwise the curse will not be broken. If the love is genuine and she returns it, she’ll gain her freedom.”
Bernie chuckles lightly. “I better sign her up to one of those dating apps then.”
“I don’t think she’ll have very far to look.” If the other woman isn’t mistaken Bernie already cares deeply for Serena and she has quite a good feeling about the situation.
Bernie’s phone rings and she smiles apologetically as she takes the device out of her pocket. She answers the call and listens in amusement to Dom complaining about Serena, trying to hold in laughter throughout the entire conversation.
“Sorry, it was my friend Dom. He wanted to know when I’ll be home because apparently Serena is driving him about the bend. She needed convincing to eat breakfast and is firing questions left, right and centre.”
“Oh, dear. Well, it’s to be expected. We all act strangely when we feel a loss of control. My advice would be to teach her things, teach her about the modern world so she understands. If she gains her freedom the knowledge will come in very handy.”
“This is going to be difficult,” Bernie mutters to herself.
“I think you’ll cope. As soon as she starts learning, she’ll become her normal self.”
“I hope you’re right.” Bernie smiles. “I better be going. Thank you for making time to explain things.”
“You’re most welcome. Take care and I hope everything goes well.”
Bernie bids farewell and heads to leave the shop.
The older woman smiles as she finishes the rest of her tea. She knows Bernie has forgotten about the golden rule. Since Bernie is the one who wished Serena from the portrait, she is the only one who can set her free. Serena isn’t permitted to find love elsewhere. It’s a condition of the curse that features in the short story. The shop owner is absolutely certain Bernie and Serena are the perfect fit for each other.
As Bernie lets herself into the house she is worried immediately when she’s greeted with complete silence.“Hello?” She calls out warily.
“In the kitchen,” Dom replies.
She soon finds everyone sitting at the table, watching her as she enters the room. Serena is looking freshly showered and dressed in clothes a little tight for her.
“Hello,” Bernie says as she sits down.
“Hello,” Serena smiles, “the men have been teaching me how everything around the house works. I know how to make toast, use the microwave and how to use the television. It’s not hard when you get the hang of things.” Her smile turns into a proud grin.
They have obviously spent a lot of time explaining things to her. Bernie is amazed. Serena is also starting to use a more modern vocabulary. They’ve been very busy indeed.
“Pleased to hear.” Bernie smiles.
“Now that you’re back, Lofty and I are going to leave the two of you to it. Call us if you need to.” Dom announces.
Bernie shows them to the door and says her farewells before moving in the direction of the living room. Serena is quiet and she wonders what she is doing. However, she sees that the woman is, in fact, curled up on the sofa flicking through the TV channels.
“Serena, are you okay?” Bernie asks concerned as she sits beside the woman
“Yes, I’m just taking it all in still. The world jumped over five hundred years into the future and failed to take me with it.” Serena explains sadly.
“You seem like a fast learner. You’ve very much mastered the modern way of speaking.” Bernie smiles brightly and leans towards her, brushing her tears away tenderly.
“I have a retentive memory. I’ve listened to the way you all speak and it’s not hard to pick up but I’ve still got a lot to learn. Will you help?”
“It'd be an honour. You’ve got the TV, toaster and microwave off to a fine art so we can progress from there.” Bernie answers, relieved when Serena cheers up at the prospect of learning something new. You look a little tired. Why don’t I make you a hot drink then you can have a rest?”
“A lie down does sound rather appealing, but, Bernie?”
“When I go for a nap, will you stay with me? I don’t want to be alone.”
Bernie can see Serena is genuinely afraid to be alone right now “Of course.”
“Thank you.” Before either of them know what’s happening, Serena throws herself into Bernie’s arms, hugging her tightly.
Bernie lies in bed listening to Serena’s soft and even breaths, her chest rising and falling gently in a peaceful sleep. She feels tired herself, but her mind is a whirl of thoughts and emotions. Trying not to feel anything for the woman and keeping her distance is easier said than done. Her hormones are conspiring against her on a regular basis. Serena’s arm is resting across her stomach and has been for the past half an hour. Her skin tingles whenever they touch. The gentle weight of the brunette’s arm feels more right than anything ever has.
She knows she has no option but to put aside her personal feelings because there is a great deal to sort. At some point, she will need to discuss what she learned at the antique store with Serena, but she wants to give it some time without overloading the poor woman. Knowing Serena’s tendency to ask questions, she has a feeling the conversation will happen very soon.
Serena murmurs in her sleep, causing a rush of affection in Bernie’s chest. It takes a few minutes to realise the strength of what she feels coursing through her body. She feels quite off balance by it all. The thought of helping her to meet someone else cuts into her like glass, knowing she’ll hate watching her fall in love with anyone but her after the intimacy of laying in bed together.
Dating apps, she muses, are probably the best place to start. Isn’t that one of the most common ways people meet now? Bars are also a possibility. She makes a mental note to ask Dom’s advice on the dating scene, wanting to give Serena the best chance of escaping the portrait. The ache in her heart becomes worse, she doesn’t remember the only chance of granting Serena her freedom rests with herself.
The silence stretches on until Bernie feels Serena stir beside her. She closes her eyes quickly and pretends to be asleep, not wanting the other woman to see the mixed emotions welling up inside her.
Serena moves closer, enjoying the warmth and safety she’s being provided with by the blonde’s arms. She snuggles further into Bernie’s body, resting her forehead against the woman’s neck and feels her pulse beating reassuringly against her skin.
“Bernie.” Serena whispers.
“Hmm?” Bernie knows it’s no use pretending to be asleep.
Thank you for helping me. Without you… I’d be rather lost.” Serena says sincerely.
“My pleasure,” Bernie replies, smiling in the darkness of the room as she rubs Serena’s back softly.
“I can never go home, can I?” Serena asks, her voice cracking with emotion.
“It isn’t possible, sweetheart. If it was, I’d make absolutely sure you’d be reunited with your Mother.” Bernie feels a golf ball sized lump in her throat at the tone of defeat in the other woman’s voice.
Serena shifts and looks at Bernie, her eyes heavy with unshed tears. “I can’t stay here with you either, can I?”
“It depends. Remember the curse I explained to you?” Bernie moves on her side to face the woman beside her.
“Well, if we can help you find true love, the curse will be broken and you’ll be able to stay. We can be good friends and we can visit each other as often as you like.”
Serena nods and feels her heart break. “It wouldn’t be the same as being here with you.”
“I know, but you’ll always have friends in Dom, Lofty and myself,” Bernie reassures. “I also learned the reason why you can’t remember. Each time you are drawn back inside the portrait, your memory is erased until the point the curse took effect.”
“Well, that explains a lot. All I can remember is getting ready for bed, then, I’m thrown five hundred years into the future, specifically your boudoir.”
Bernie grins and Serena laughs musically.
“How long will I be able to stay?”
“I really couldn’t say. There isn’t a set rule or time frame.” Bernie answers.
“Oh.” Serena looks crestfallen again. “If I’m forced to go back, I shall not remember you, or Dom and Lofty. It all seems rather unfair.”
Bernie brings her hand up to Serena’s cheek in an affectionate gesture.
“I understand it’s difficult, but maybe you should see the portrait and read the story. It might help you understand more.” Bernie knows it isn’t very useful but at least she may become a little clearer as to why she is here, even if it doesn’t help her escape.
“I suppose it’s worth a try.”
Bernie climbs out of bed and gently places the painting on Serena’s lap. She watches her run her hand down one side of the golden frame nervously.
“So this is it,” Serena says in amazement, not quite able to believe it.
“Why don’t you begin reading this and I’ll make myself useful elsewhere?” Bernie suggests as she hands Serena the paper on which the story is written, “Then, later, I’ll make us something for dinner.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Serena smiles.
Bernie returns a smile before leaving Serena alone.
Several hours later, Serena is finished reading and has had some time to reflect. Bernie is busy setting the table for dinner. She decided it’d be wiser to order in some food after the lack of sleep had finally caught up with her. The Chinese takeaway soon arrives. As she carries the bag full of food through to the kitchen, Serena appears with a huge smile. The very one Bernie has grown so used to seeing whilst she was still trapped.
“You seem in a much brighter mood,” Bernie comments as she removes the lids from the foil containers and the aroma of noodles fills the air.
“I’m feeling much better now I know everything. But, I can’t help but shudder at the thought of who might’ve released me in the past.” Serena cringes.
“The less said about that the better, I think. Apparently, the last was a man rather unworthy of you.”
“What else did the shop owner tell you?” Serena asks, still smiling brightly.
“As much as you now know. She didn’t have much to add.” Bernie answers.
“Are you sure?” Serena questions, raising her eyebrow playfully.
“I’m positive.” Bernie looks at her suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason, honestly.” Serena smiles innocently and sits down as a plan forms in her mind. Bernie obviously doesn’t remember she is the only one who is permitted to fall in love with her. She isn’t going to spoil her own fun by revealing the forgotten information.
Over dinner, they talk about a variety of topics. Amazingly the gap of five hundred years and a completely different way of life makes very little difference to how well the women get along. Serena continues smiling. The more she does, the more Bernie is puzzled by what could have possibly happened to raise the woman into such a radiant mood.
On the other hand, Serena isn’t confused and can see the effect she has on the blonde clearly; the feeling is mutual. Only, she knows that Bernie is entirely unaware of being the object of her affections and feels extremely positive. If her feelings at the moment are any indication, it won’t be difficult to fall head over heels in love with Bernie.
“Bernie? What’s this?” Serena holds up the food item and frowns.
“A prawn cracker,” Bernie answers without much thought. She breaks a piece off the cracker and places it in Serena’s mouth. The blonde is amused by the wonder on Serena’s face as she encounters something new; the cracker melting on her tongue.
“It’s rather strange, but pleasant,” Serena exclaims as she reaches for another.
Bernie tries her best to teach Serena how to use chopsticks, but it ends in disaster when her noodles make a habit of escaping the more she laughs. She notices Serena possesses a deep smouldering laugh; it is infectious and she finds it rather endearing.
Dinner over, they tidy the kitchen before heading into the living room. As they make themselves comfy on the sofa, Bernie picks up the TV controller and flicks through the channels until a program catches Serena’s eye.
“Oh, what is this?” Serena asks.
“A medical drama by the looks of it. I’m not such a fan but it doesn’t seem like anything much better is on.”
“Who’s that?” Serena gestures towards the woman currently on the screen.
“She must be a doctor of some sort, maybe a surgeon.” Bernie answers after observing what is happening on screen for more than a few seconds.
“And who is this?” Serena asks, pointing to another figure on the screen.”
“She’s probably a nurse. There seems to be some sort of romantic connection between the two.” The on-screen chemistry is obvious between the two characters.
Serena nods. Armed with the information, she sits with her eyes glued to the screen. There are certain parts she doesn’t quite understand clearly, mostly due to the modern language barrier but that doesn’t stop her enjoyment.
“So who do you think the male character is?” Serena asks once again pointing to another figure on the screen.
“Possibly another doctor.” As Bernie answers Serena’s question the female and male characters share a kiss.
“Doesn’t she love her girlfriend anymore?” Serena looks suddenly glum.
“It’s probably very complicated. Fictional or not these things usually are.” Bernie replies.
“That’s rather sad,” Serena comments before wildly gesturing as she shouts at the screen. “She’s kissing him again! Hussy!”
Bernie crumples with laughter at Serena’s outburst. “You don’t approve?”
“Absolutely not! In my day you’d be dragged behind a cart for being a hussy!” Serena folds her arms, unimpressed.
“In your day? That makes you sound ancient.” Bernie teases with a grin.
“Well, in a way I am. I’m over five hundred years old, after all. I think I look rather good for my age.” Serena adds dryly as they both laugh.
Bernie feels overwhelmed by her feelings for the other woman again. She has laughed more in the last few minutes than she has in a long time. “I’m pleased you’ve got a great sense of humour.”
“That’s not all I’ve got.” Serena winks, wanting to make sure Bernie knows she is most definitely flirting with her.
“I… I’ll just make us both a drink. Any preferences?” Bernie asks.
“Shiraz. If you have any, please.”
Serena watches Bernie leave for the kitchen as if her rear is on fire. She grins knowing the reaction she has caused “Let the games begin” Serena mutters to herself. She is sure that Bernie is completely oblivious to what is to come.
A few days later, Bernie is in the kitchen when the doorbell chimes. She rushes to the front door but finds Serena has beat her to it and is peeping through the letterbox. Yesterday the brunette had been caught off guard and needed rescuing from a door to door salesperson, so Bernie is very much on high alert.
“If you’ve come back to sell something you can F**k off home!” Serena yells through the letterbox.
“Serena!” Bernie is horrified but also slightly amused. “Come away from the door. I’ll deal with whoever it is and it’ll all be fine.”
The blonde watches Serena move away from the front door then opens it to Dom and Lofty who are standing on the doorstep in fits of laughter.
“Sorry.” Serena apologises as the guests enter the house and Bernie closes the door. “Perhaps I should abbreviate it to F.O.H instead.” She suggests.
“I think that would be for the best.” Bernie agrees and leads the way into the kitchen.
The group are soon sat happily around the table enjoying cups of strong and hot coffee, which is exactly how Serena has decided she likes it. Dom's phone rings and he answers it with apologetic glances at the table at large. After a brief conversation, he hangs up.
“Sorry, it was work rearranging a shift I’m covering.” Dom informs them “So, Serena, has Bernie offered to take you out into the big wide world yet?” he asks.
“No, not yet. But, I’d like to see more of modern life while I’m feeling braver.” Serena replies.
“In that case, how about we take a trip into the city? We can shop for some things you need and visit the antique store.” Bernie suggests “The owner might be able to answer any other questions you have.”
“That sounds like a great idea.” Lofty agrees.
“It does,” Serena adds.
That afternoon, Serena is ready and waiting for Bernie in the living room. The blonde is surprised to find Serena sitting on the sofa fully dressed and looking neat, tidy and, Bernie thought very fetching The last time Serena had endeavoured to dress by herself it was a comedy of errors after she’d somehow trapped her head in the armhole of a t-shirt and been unable to find her way out.
“You’ve made quick work of getting ready.” Bernie remarks.
“I told you I’m a quick learner. You could teach me absolutely anything and it wouldn’t be long before I’ve mastered it.” Serena smiles.
“I bet it wouldn’t.” Bernie flirts before recognising what she’s doing. She clears her throat and continues, “Um, if you’re ready, shall we go?”
“Oh, I’m ready to be taken anywhere.” Serena teases.
Bernie is now looking undoubtedly flushed. “Hm, I think we should take this trip out at a pace you’re comfortable with.”
“I’ll be sure to take things slowly.” Serena licks her bottom lip flirtatiously. She is pleased to see it is having the desired effect on Bernie
Serena is somewhat apprehensive as they step outside the house. She’s been inquisitive as to what the modern outside world is like; she has only observed it from the window so far. As they approach the car, Serena looks at it curiously. She understands what it’s for but she is yet to experience it.
Bernie presses a button on her car key and the car unlocks with its lights blinking extremely fast. Serena is startled and jumps and hides behind a nearby bush.
“Serena, it’s okay. It was only the car unlocking.” Bernie explains, finding it very difficult to hold in laughter. She holds out her hand and helps Serena to her feet, then neatens the woman’s hair. It looked a little wild after becoming tangled in the shrubbery.
“Oh, right.” Serena seems satisfied with Bernie’s explanation. She gets into the car after the blonde opens the passenger’s side door and holds it for her.
Bernie sits in the driver’s seat and shows Serena how to put on her seatbelt, then warns her about the engine noises. Serena nods and watches Bernie inquisitively as she puts the car into reverse, removes the handbrake and backs off the drive.
Serena clutches the sides of her seat apprehensively. She had travelled in carriages many times but this is completely different; a car travels at a much faster speed. The brunette stares out of the window astonished by all the modern things she’s never seen before and asks Bernie questions along the way. The blonde answers them as honestly as she can.
Becoming used to the view from the window, Serena decides it’s a good idea to examine the interior of the car instead. She reaches over to the radio and jumps when sound blasts from the speakers after fiddling with a button.
“Don’t panic. It’s just the radio.”
“Okay, and what is one of those?” Serena looks pale as Bernie uses the controls on the steering wheel to turn down the volume.
“More or less the same as television but only there’s no picture, just sound,” Bernie explains.
“I see.” Serena looks a bit happier. “So, that wretched sound is what you call music?” Serena sniggers.
“Well, technically, yes some people do. I realise it’s a bit different to the music from your time.”
“Quite. What type of music is this?”
“Unfortunately, it’s grime. It’s not to everyone’s taste, especially not mine.” Bernie chuckles. “You can change the station if you like. Just press that button there until you find something you’d prefer.”
“Alright.” Serena leans forward and presses the button a few times until the car is filled with voices.
“What is this?” Serena asks.
“ The Archers. It’s a radio drama . I think it must be a repeat of yesterday afternoon’s episode.”
“This is more like it.” Serena nods, listening intently. She seems rather fascinated by it. Every time a piece of frilly music plays between scenes, she taps her hands to the rhythm on her lap.
“Ha! I should’ve known you’d like The Archers .” Bernie laughs as she continues driving. Serena is adjusting to modern life exceptionally well. The blonde hopes she can help the woman escape the portrait. She thinks modern life would quite suit her.
Serena entertains herself with the radio and the occasional glance out of the window until she suddenly starts feeling hot and a little queasy.
“Can we stop? I don’t feel too well.”
Bernie looks concerned and pulls the car over, alongside the curb. Serena unclips her seatbelt and fiddles with the inside of the door until she finds the handle to open it for some air.
“Here. Drink some water. You’d just probably have a little bit of travel sickness.” Bernie hands over a bottle of water she had found in the compartment of her door. Serena takes the already opened bottle and has several small sips.
“Are you feeling any better?” Bernie asks after a few minutes.
“Yes, a little.” Serena smiles. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Water usually helps. It seems it was just what the doctor ordered.” Bernie smiles back warmly. “Let me know when you’re ready to head off again. Take your time. There’s no rush.”
Serena looks very confused. “There aren’t any physicians here.”
“Actually, I’m a doctor,” Bernie replies.
“Ah, women couldn’t become doctors in the time I’m from, which is a shame because I’ve always been fascinated by human anatomy. Actually, there was quite a lot women couldn’t do in the fourteen hundreds. All rather silly I thought.”
“Thank goodness for progress! I was, until recently, a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps.” Bernie reveals proudly.
“Really? Well, that’s very interesting. Maybe you could tell me all about it later, over dinner.” Serena suggests.
“I’d be happy to.”
“Why haven’t you told me about any of this until now? We never speak about you.” Serena asks, realising she knows very little about the blonde.
“It just didn’t come up during any of our conversations. I guess there is still a lot we don’t know about each other.”
“Of course, you’re right.” Serena agrees “I’d like it if we got to know each other more. But maybe later, I think I feel well enough to continue our journey now.”
Bernie feels relieved that Serena hadn’t asked any other questions about her. She is not quite ready to reveal how she is still technically married to Marcus and has two practically grown children.
The blonde restarts the car and drives off once Serena has reattached her seatbelt. The brunette sinks into her seat and rests her back. She closes her eyes as the motion of the car starts making her feel a little nauseous again.
It isn’t long before they arrive in the city centre. Bernie parks the car as close to the shopping area as possible. Serena feels a little better now the motion created by the travelling has stopped and she has exited the car.
The shopping area is very busy and Bernie notices the panic building on Serena’s face. Serena has never seen so many people in one place or heard so much noise. Her mouth begins feeling extremely dry and she can hear a pulse pounding in her ears.
“Serena, it’s okay. Here, take my hand.” Bernie reaches out for Serena. The brunette doesn’t hesitate and joins hands with the blonde. “You’ll be safe. I promise.” Bernie smiles soothingly.
“I know I’ll always be safe with you. But, please, don’t let go.”
“Try and make me.”
Bernie squeezes Serena’s hand lightly before they start walking towards the shops again at a leisurely pace.
Bernie pushes the door to the antique store open and accompanies Serena inside. It seems rather peculiar to be visiting the same place she acquired the portrait with the brunette at her side, rather than in the frame. She almost expects Serena to recognise her surroundings but dismisses the thought; she was trapped in the portrait the whole time she was here and wouldn’t have been capable of remembering. The blonde notices the shop owner at the back of the store, dusting some shelves on the wall. Bernie guides Serena towards the older woman just as she turns around.
“Ms Wolfe, Serena, how nice to see you both.” The owner greets them. “Very pleased to finally meet you.”
The older woman holds out her hand to Serena but the brunette doesn’t take it. She just stands there on the spot, quiet and staring into a trance. Instead, Serena grasps Bernie’s hand tighter. She can barely handle the shock, her mind is working overtime, attempting to find an explanation for how this can be. There’s something about the woman that Serena instantly recognises, but she can’t quite put her finger on what it is, or who the woman is,
“Ms Wolfe, why don’t I take Serena into the backroom for some tea? She looks rather overwhelmed.”
“Ah, yes, of course.” Bernie smiles. She senses there's a reason the older woman wants to be alone with Serena. She turns to the brunette, “Is that okay with you?”
“Mm, what?” It takes Serena a few seconds to realise that she’s being spoken to. “Oh, yes that’s fine.” She clutches Bernie’s hand absentmindedly.
“I’ll just be over here while I have a bit of a browse. I’m here if you need me.” Bernie reassures. Serena smiles apprehensively before letting go of the blonde’s hand and following the shop owner out the back.
As the older woman makes two cups of tea Serena sits down on one of the comfy chairs arranged around a small wooden table. She is in a state of shock and can’t quite believe what is happening. After what life has thrown at her in the last few days she’s sure she would believe anything.
Serena is handed a steaming hot cup of tea before the other woman sits down opposite her. She still can’t put her finger on why the shop owner looks so familiar. The woman’s eyes are twinkling mischievously with a slight hint of flirtatiousness. It’s an expression Serena recognises extremely well. She studies the older woman’s features briefly before it all suddenly comes back to her.
“Fl… Fleur? Is that you? What on earth is going on?”
“I’ve always wondered if you’d recognise me but I’ve never had the chance to find out until now.” Fleur laughs. “Before I explain, how are you?”
“I’m fine, a bit bewildered and extremely confused. Life is very strange right now.” Serena sips her tea.
“I can imagine. How is Bernie treating you?”
“Wonderfully. She treats me as if I’m a queen.” Serena smiles. “I like her rather a lot, but I do tease her awfully. It’s amusing when she gets all tongue-tied and flustered.”
“Ah, you haven’t changed a bit. Still driving people mad.” Fleur laughs. “You always were such a minx.”
“Oh no! If I recall that was all you!” Serena laughs before becoming serious. “You look much like you used to but -” Serena trails off.
“Older? It’s ok, you can say it. I made my peace with that a long time ago. I am old. Five hundred and sixty-six years old to be exact. Time moved on for me, though at an extremely slow rate, much slower than the average. Of course, time stood still for you.” Fleur smiles. “You look almost the same, if not better. You’re still the sexiest woman I’ve ever had the pleasure to lay my eyes on, and you don’t look a day over five hundred!” Fleur teases, laughing.
“Such the charmer!” Serena rolls her eyes dramatically before laughing. “Oh, how I’ve missed you. But, how is this possible? I understand why I’m here but I can’t quite work out why you are.”
“Well, that’s going to take some explaining. Are you sure you have the time? I don’t want to keep Bernie waiting. She must not know a word of anything I tell you.”
“I’m sure I can convince her to wander off on her own for a little while. She won’t mind.”
“If you’re sure.”
Serena heads back into the shop and finds Bernie browsing the displays on the wall towards the entrance. She explains how she’d like to have a proper chat with Fleur, hoping she’ll have the answers to a long list of questions she has and convinces the blonde to make a head start on the shopping they’d planned to do.
Bernie agrees, happy that Serena will be safe with the shop owner. For being so understanding, Serena rewards Bernie with a small tender kiss on the lips. It’s delicate and almost featherlike; the blonde is shocked and can’t believe it’s happening.
“Thank you.” Serena replaces her lips with her thumb, caressing the woman’s bottom lip as she removes any lipstick transfer.
“I’ll be back soon,” Bernie replies in a post kiss haze.
“Don’t be too long though, otherwise I’ll miss you terribly,” Serena tells her, believing it’s time to make hints about how attractive she finds the blonde and put down foundations of what she hopes they can build together.
Bernie nods speechless before leaving the store and Serena heads back to Fleur.
Fleur replenishes Serena’s cup with fresh tea and hands it back to her before they both make themselves comfortable again. She knows Serena isn’t going to like what she is about to hear but she needs to be told.
“It all started the same afternoon you refused to marry Edward. Of course, his mother only wanted you to marry so she could control your fortune through him, but he didn’t want to marry you either, he wanted to marry someone else; me. I didn’t return his love, he wouldn’t be my type as you very well know. I was smitten with your chambermaid, Anne.”
“I thought you were, but you never said.” Serena smiles fondly.
“I really wanted to tell you, but I had to keep it absolutely secret. I feared she would find out and I didn’t want to ruin our friendship, she wouldn’t have ever felt the same.” Fleur continues. “Anyway, one of the housemaids came and warned that she had heard what Edward’s mother was planning - but it was too late. By the time I could get away from my father and find you Edward’s mother had already cast a control spell to force you and Edward to marry. The spell rebounded horribly after the ceremony and it cursed you. I begged her to help you but she refused. She’d got what she wanted - you were married and she knew it’d be easier to control Edward, and your fortune, without you around. I offered her anything and everything I had to bring you back but she just laughed. She said if I valued our friendship so highly I could spend eternity proving it. She placed a curse on me too and the only way to bring mine to an end is to make sure somebody breaks yours.”
“You’re cursed as well? How?” Serena asks quietly as the shock spreads throughout her body.
“I was made the owner of your portrait until you are released. Turns out it’s much more difficult than I could ever have imagined. I’ve really tried my best over the years to find someone who could set you free, but each and every time it wasn’t the right person for you and you were drawn back inside the portrait. I wouldn’t change any of it, but I’m old and tired now and I want to leave it all behind; find some peace. As soon as you gain your freedom, I shall be granted mine.” Fleur smiles.
“Oh, this is all my fault. I should’ve married Edward willingly then none of this would’ve happened.” Serena says feeling tremendous guilt.
“Now, come on Serena. You are not to blame and you have no reason to feel guilty. You would’ve fought to bring me back if our roles were reversed, wouldn’t you?”
“You know I would have.” Serena whispers.
“See, absolutely nothing to feel bad about. Edward’s mother was a bitter and twisted old woman who thought she was entitled to whatever she wanted. This is all down to her and her spite, and greed. I’ve had a wonderful life and loved some remarkable women along the way. I want you to find true love, Serena, and be truly happy. I have to admit, I think, I’ve overlooked the obvious over the years and maybe that’s why you haven’t been granted your freedom. You’re attracted to women as well as men aren’t you?”
“Yes, I know I should’ve told you, but, like you, I was afraid. Afraid of my mother learning the truth. There always seemed to be someone lurking around the estate watching me and they would’ve taken great pleasure in telling her if I’d ever been found with a woman. It was just easier to be seen with men in public.”
“That’s why this time I decided to give your portrait to a woman who I knew would be capable of giving you the love you deserve.”
I’m so very glad you did because I like Bernie a great deal. I think, maybe, I’m falling in love with her and she may feel the same, but she hasn’t said anything of the sort. Although sometimes the way she looks at me makes me think she feels more than she’d like to admit.”
“Watching her with you earlier I know she cares for you very much. I honestly think she’s the one.” Fleur smiles brightly. “She has forgotten about the golden rule though - how it’s the owner of the painting who has to fall in love to break the curse and set you free.
Oh, I know she has, but I haven’t mentioned it to her. I want to make sure she falls in love with me of her own free will, not because she feels it’s her duty.”
“My thoughts entirely. So it’s our little secret - like old times?” Fleur teases.
“Yes, our little secret, obviously.” Serena agrees.
“And, you promise not to speak a word of anything I’ve told you to Bernie? She must not know about my curse.”
“I promise. But is there any specific reason why she can’t know.” Serena asks.
“It’ll put her in an extremely difficult situation. She doesn’t need the dilemma. She'll be torn between loving you and causing the end of my life. We’ve become good friends over the last few months and she’ll want to do the right thing for both of us. No matter how many times I impress upon her that I’m ready to go, she’ll struggle with it. We need to resolve the situation if we are all to get what we want.”
“I’ll make sure she doesn’t find out. I really do hope there is something we can do when my curse is broken. You’ve sacrificed your whole life for mine. I must do something to help. Bernie is a doctor, she might be able to save you towards the end.” Serena suggests.
No, I don’t think so. There is no saving me Serena. All I want is for you to find true love and happiness. That is enough for me. So smile and be happy.”
Serena does her best to do as her friend says but she can’t bring herself to smile. Just as the conversation is finishing the bell above the shop door jingles, announcing Bernie’s arrival.
The car journey home is much quieter than the journey into the city. Bernie is aware that Serena is being very reserved. She’s already asked her if she’s okay and she’d insisted she is fine. The blonde isn’t convinced.
“Are you sure you’re okay? Bernie asks once again.
“I’m fine, really, I am.” Serena makes the effort to smile, but she can’t stop thinking about Fleur.
“Have I upset you in some way? Because if I have, I’m sorry.”
“No of course not. You haven’t done anything wrong.” Serena reaches over and squeezes the blonde’s arm gently and smiles.
“So long as you’re sure.”
The rest of the journey home passes in a somewhat uncomfortable silence and when they finally get home Serena heads to the bathroom for a long hot shower. She needs some time to herself to let everything she’s been told sink in. She’s finding it very challenging keeping everything to herself. She desperately needs to talk it all through with Bernie but she’d promised Fleur she wouldn’t say a word.
The shower helped somewhat, but it can’t completely distract Serena from her thoughts. The brunette heads to the living room, picks up the TV controller and flicks through the various channels hoping to find something to take her mind elsewhere, but it fails. It doesn’t work at all. She knows Bernie senses something is wrong, so decides to try and put the woman’s mind at ease without mentioning anything about Fleur’s curse.
Serena goes in search of her and finds her in the kitchen, rummaging through the freezer.
“Hello, you. Are you okay?” Bernie straightens up when she notices Serena in the doorway.
“I’m fine.” Serena stands in front of Bernie and boldly wraps her arms around her. Bernie draws her closer, “I’m feeling much better now I’m having a cuddle.” She pauses for a few seconds before continuing. “Please try not to worry about me. I just think today was a bit much to take in, in such a short space of time.”
“I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to take you out so soon.” Bernie replies full of concern.
“No apologies needed. I was going to have to go out someday, you did the right thing.” Serena smiles before becoming serious. “Bernie, there’s something we need to talk about.”
Just as Serena is about to tell Bernie the truth about her curse and how she is the only who can free her, the doorbell chimes.
“It’s probably someone selling something. We can talk later if you like.” Bernie smiles and without much thought kisses Serena on the forehead as she leaves to answer the front door. Leaving Serena standing, slightly dazed in the kitchen doorway.
The opportunity to talk properly again doesn’t come until that evening. Over dinner, Bernie had told Serena about her time in the RAMC as she’d promised. When they’ve finished eating they eventually settle on the sofa in front of the TV. The blonde is surprised when Serena lies down and rests her head in her lap. Bernie strokes the brunette’s hair tenderly and wishes she could tell her how she truly feels. As the evening wears on Serena becomes drowsy and falls asleep. Bernie lets her sleep until it gets very late. Reluctantly she wakes her gently and informs her it is time for bed.
Bernie, can I sleep next to you tonight?” Serena asks sleepily.
“Of course. Let’s get you upstairs and ready for bed first.” Bernie answers.
They both head upstairs to Bernie’s bedroom and the blonde helps Serena by pulling the tags from the pyjamas they’d bought while in the city. Bernie finds herself being pulled towards Serena once the task is done. The brunette buries her face in the blonde’s neck and tightens her arms around the woman’s waist. It feels so right. Bernie’s heart aches to know that soon Serena will either disappear or end up in someone else’s arms. She removes herself from the woman’s arms and hands her the pyjamas.
While Serena is changing, Bernie readies herself for sleep before pulling the duvet back and getting into bed. Serena lies beside her under the covers and moves closer until they are almost touching.
It isn’t long before Serena is asleep while Bernie can’t seem to drift off. There are far too many thoughts swimming around in her mind to allow sleep to come easily. Thoughts about Serena and whether all the flirting has any meaning, thoughts about whether they realise what they are doing, wondering if Serena could ever fall in love with her. There are so many unanswered questions. The more Bernie thinks about it, the more impossible it all seems that anything could ever happen between them, the more it feels like her heart is breaking. She tries to banish all thoughts from her mind, closes her eyes, and wills sleep to take over her body.
Serena wakes the next morning and climbs out of bed, cautious not to disturb Bernie who is sleeping peacefully. She heads downstairs and makes some coffee and takes it to go and sit in the living room. Serena is relaxing on the sofa and watching the news when she hears Bernie’s mobile ringing from the console table in the hall. She panics. Not too sure whether to answer it or let it go to voicemail - she remembers Bernie’s explanation of how smartphones work. Even though she feels nervous she chooses to answer, not wanting to wake Bernie.
“Hello?” She answers hesitantly.
“Serena? Hi, it’s Dom. Is Bernie there?”
She breathes a sigh of relief. “She’s sleeping. Can I take a message?”
“I’ll speak to her later. It’s only about work. The hospital is sending us to a conference.”
“If you’re sure. Anyway, I’m glad you called because I need some advice.”
“Okay, I’m happy to help if I can,” Dom replies.
“I’m very fond of Bernie. I like… I like her a great deal, more than as a friend - but I’m not sure how to tell her. I’ve tried being as obvious as I can but it doesn’t seem to be working. I even went as far as kissing her yesterday and she’s acting as if it never happened. Has she mentioned anything to you?” Serena asks.
“Serena, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. I know she more than likes you, but I hadn’t realised the feeling was mutual.”
“Very much so. She’s gorgeous.” Serena replies.
“Well, why haven’t you just explained to her about how you feel?” Dom asks.
“If I tell you, can you promise to keep it absolutely secret?”
“I wouldn’t dream of telling a soul.”
Serena goes on to explain how Bernie, as the person who wished her free from the painting, is the only person who can break the curse. Only if Bernie falls in love with her, and she falls in love with Bernie can she be freed permanently. She also reveals the reason she hasn’t told the blonde the truth.
“Right, I understand. Here’s what I think you should do…”
Serena, knowing Dom well enough already to realise this is going to be some elaborate plans, heads back into the living room, mobile clamped to her ear, makes herself comfy on the sofa and she listens eagerly. By the time he’s finished explaining she’s not sure she can do what the man is suggesting.
“I’ll only do it if you think it’ll work? This is much more obvious than the things I’ve already tried.” Serena asks, uncertain.
“Definitely. Just have to remember to be blatant otherwise Bernie will probably not get the message. Do exactly as I’ve explained and you’ll be fine.”
“I hope so. Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome. I hope it goes well. Let me know if it’s worked.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be the first to know if it does. Bye.” Serena hangs up and grins. She hurries to find Bernie’s laptop and proceeds with the first part of the plan.
A few days later, after she’s finished work, Bernie pulls onto the driveway and struggles to carry the takeaway and Shiraz she’d picked up on the way home to the door. .When she finally makes it to the front door she rearranges what she’s carrying to free one hand to rummage in her coat pocket for her keys. Just as she manages to put them in the lock Serena opens the door wearing only a towel.
“Sorry, I would’ve answered the door sooner but I’ve only just got out of the bath,” Serena says as she takes the wine bottles from her and carries them through to the kitchen. Truth be told she had been waiting secretly by the living room window for Bernie to arrive home for the past fifteen minutes.
“No problem. I can sort the food while you get dressed.” Bernie grabs some plates and a couple of wine glasses from the cupboard.
“I’m standing here with only a towel covering my modesty and you want me to get dressed? If I didn’t know any better I’d say you’re being a terrible lesbian right now.” Serena teases, laughing and knowing the effect she is having on the blonde.
“Would you?” Bernie strides forwards, grasp a corner of Serena’s towel, pulls it off, leaving the woman standing there completely naked, and drops it on the floor between them
“Just you wait, Berenice!” Serena is shocked for a few seconds but is soon smiling wickedly. She gives Bernie a full view of her ample breasts before turning around and bending over extremely slowly to pick up the towel, giving the blonde an eyeful of her bum in the process.
“Don’t wave your backside around like that, Campbell. I’m about to serve dinner.” Bernie teases with a smirk, trying desperately to mask her hormones and the effect Serena is having on them.
“And, what is wrong with my backside?” Serena raises an eyebrow playfully.
“Honestly, not a thing. Would you like an expert opinion?” Bernie replies equally mischievously. She advances towards the woman with a huge grin. She can’t help but flirt with Serena it seems. Serena laughs in a velvety tone and runs off towards the stairs. She isn’t about to let the blonde win so easily.
Bernie laughs to herself but she stays in the kitchen and dishes up the food. She realises if she isn’t careful she’ll be in danger of accidentally revealing her true feelings to Serena. The brunette is soon back in the kitchen, now dressed in something more substantial than a towel, her long brunette hair still damp, glistening in the light.
When the women are sitting at the table making short work of their take away, Serena is reminded of the conversation she’d had with Dom a couple of days ago and the advice he’d given her. After the flirting earlier, and what felt like a positive response from Bernie, she doesn’t feel so unsure about proceeding with the next phase of the plan. As they eat Serena’s movements are deliberately slow and seductive. The sexual tension grown to fills the space between them and it’s so tangible it could be cut with a knife. Bernie becomes increasingly warm and flushed.
“I’ve been thinking about what I should wear tomorrow night when we go out with Dom and Lofty. I didn’t have anything suitable so I ordered a few outfits online with the money you gave me. I know you said it was for emergencies, I hope you don’t mind.” Serena says between mouthfuls.
“No, I don’t mind at all. I was going to suggest a small shopping trip tomorrow afternoon but it seems you have everything under control.” Bernie smiles. “What did you choose?”
“I was torn between two dresses, one black and the other a deep burgundy so I ordered both. Which colour do you think would be more suitable?”
“I think you should wear whichever you feel suits you best. You’d look nice in either, I’m sure.” Bernie answers.
“I really can’t choose. Would you help me decide after dinner?” Serena asks.
“Of course.” Bernie doesn’t trust herself to say anything else.
Once dinner is finished and the kitchen is tidied Serena leads Bernie upstairs to her room. She takes the dresses out of the wardrobe and spreads them out on the bed. Bernie is leaning on the door frame watching Serena’s every move.
Serena tries the burgundy dress on first - but almost immediately declares it looks too casual for a night out and moves onto the next. It’s a simple black bodycon made of an elegant silky material with broad straps and a v-shaped neckline. It’s the type of dress that would be better worn with a strapless bra or in Serena’s case, no bra at all. She doesn’t own a strapless bra and was unsure of all the modern underwear sizing and wasn’t going to attempt to buy one without help. On this occasion she’s quite thankful for her lack of knowledge about the modern world, she thinks as she reaches around behind her back and unclasps her bra straps. Bernie is failing miserably trying not to watch Serena take her bra off - the same one the brunette purchased during their trip into the city last week. She is given an unhindered view of Serena’s full and shapely breasts, which almost unhinges view. Serena stands in front of the blonde purposely taking her time removing the dress from its hanger, seeing Bernie looking very flushed and not able to look her in the eye. Finally, she pulls the garment over her head and slides it slowly down the length of her body.
“Could you help me with the zip please?”
“Yep.” Bernie steps forward and helps fasten the dress while Serena holds her hair out of the way. She notices the dress is a very snug fit and clings to the woman’s curvaceous body in all the right places.
“What do you think?” Serena asks as she looks in the full-length mirror on the wardrobe. She already knows what Bernie thinks from her expression but she wants to hear her say it aloud.
“It’s, uh, v… very nice.” Bernie stammers.
“Only very nice?” Serena questions not satisfied with the blonde’s answer.
“You look beautiful,” Bernie replies quietly.
“I’m not quite sure about my knickers though.”
“Knickers?” Bernie gulps almost audibly.
“Don’t you think they ruin the line of the dress? I’ll just take them off.” Serena reaches under the garment and wiggles her hips as she slides a pair of black lacy Brazillian knickers down her legs. Bernie watches transfixed. Serena had ordered them along with the other clothes having taken a calculated guess her size in knickers would be the same as her size in trousers.
“I hadn’t noticed, I’m sure the dress looks fine with them on.” Bernie is starting to feel warm. In fact so warm she thinks she might pass out at any minute and decides she needs to sit down on the side of the bed.
“That’s better. They were drawing attention to my behind instead of my bust.” Serena says, admiring herself in the mirror. She’s pleased with her choice and even more pleased with the effect she is having on Bernie.
“I’m pleased you’ve come to a decision. Was that all you needed from me?” Bernie asks, wanting to escape downstairs and into the back garden for some fresh air and preferably a cigarette.
“There are many more things I need from you. That’s if you’ll willing to stay around for long enough.” Serena replies seductively.
“Oh... Uh… I… is that the phone ringing?” Bernie asks wanting a way out of there fast.
“No, I don’t think so. I can’t hear anything.” Serena replies. “Oh, Berenice, don’t tell me you’re shy.” Serena walks over and sits astride the blonde’s legs.
Oh my goodness! Bernie thinks, reminding herself to keep breathing.
“So, what’s your verdict, in or out of the dress?” Serena questions alluringly, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m quite sure that’s the phone.”
“I’m certain it isn’t.” Serena leans forward about to kiss the woman she is sitting on, but before she reaches Bernie’s lips the phone does indeed ring.
“See, I told you. It’s ringing.” Bernie moves Serena off her lap and flees the room.
“Bugger!” Serena exclaims flopping backwards onto the bed in exasperation.
Serena swallows down her disappointment, changes into her pyjamas and heads downstairs in search of Bernie. She finds her in the living room, looking out of the window, her back to the doorway, arguing with someone on the phone.
“-yes Marcus. No - Just sign the bloody papers so we can all move on with our lives… No… I’m hanging up.” Bernie says as she disconnects the phone and turns around to see Serena standing in the doorway looking worried and confused.
“Who’s Marcus?” Serena asks.
Bernie knows it’s about time she is completely honest with Serena and bites the bullet. “He’s, um, my husband, ex-husband, or he will be. We aren’t together any longer. We’re divorcing.” Bernie explains, her voice barely above a whisper, looking down at the floor. She can’t bring herself to look Serena in the eye
“You’re married?” Serena questions, feeling disheartened. She has so many questions and thoughts running through her mind.
“Technically, yes, but as I said we’re divorcing,” Bernie answers as she walks towards Serena and takes hold of her hand. “I’m not in love with him… I-” She wants desperately to tell Serena she’s the one she is in love with but she stops, she can’t. It wouldn’t be any use.
“Divorcing?” Serena asks quietly.
“Yes, sorry. It’s a process of ending a marriage legally.”
Serena nods with understanding, “Next you’ll be telling me you’ve got children.” She laughs nervously.
“Actually, I… I do. Cameron and Charlotte. They’re both adults and practically grown.
“Right.” Serena removes her hand from the blonde’s and hopelessly tries to hold back tears.
“Are you okay?” Bernie knows it’s a silly question. It’s obvious the woman is upset, but she doesn’t know what else to say.
“I’m fine. It’s a lot to take in.” Serena manages to answer. “I’m rather tired. I’m going to head to bed.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, Serena. I hope this doesn’t affect our friendship.” Bernie says sincerely.
“I don’t know. I hope not.” Serena replies before leaving the room and heading upstairs.
Reaching the spare bedroom Serena closes the door behind her and readies herself for bed. As she sits and braids her hair, her mind is full of unanswered questions and she feels overwhelmed, she has such mixed feelings towards Bernie. For the most part, she is hurt that she felt Bernie couldn’t tell her about Marcus and the children until she was backed into a corner with no choice after she had been truthful and confined in her over the last couple of days about her arranged and forced marriage to Edward. Even though all the signs have been there she starts to doubt whether Bernie really does have feelings for her. She wonders why the woman would keep such significant information about herself from her if she does mean anything to her. Fighting off negative thoughts brings her to the conclusion tonight’s revelation must be why Bernie has been avoiding her true feelings and resisting the temptation to further their friendship. Giving up on braiding her hair she climbs under the bed covers and closes her eyes, hoping for sleep.
The next day both women try their best to avoid each other. By the time the evening comes, the pair have barely exchanged more than a few words The atmosphere in Bernie’s barn is thick and tense, so thick it’s almost visible. But it’s not the heavy kind of atmosphere that comes from animosity - by no means is there any animosity between them, far from it. What has been keeping the thoughts of both women occupied - with a mixture of excitement and trepidation - is counting down the hours until Dom and Lofty arrive to help with the final preparations for the big night out they’ve been planning for the past week.
Things don’t get any easier for Bernie when Dom and Lofty do finally arrive that evening. She’s sat on the sofa, ready to leave, Dom and Lofty are shut in her spare room with Serena, helping her get ready, she has no idea what they are doing in there that is taking so long and she glances at her watch impatiently for the second time in less than five minutes. She knows tonight is going to be difficult enough without waiting around, and every moment spent waiting feels as if it’s prolonging the agony. After she’d told Serena the truth last night she hadn’t been able to sleep for the thoughts invading her mind. Subsequently, She’d written off any chance of a romantic relationship happening between her and Serena and decided to focus on finding the woman someone to break the curse and set her free.
Tired of waiting, and needing to do something, Bernie marches upstairs to the spare room to try and hurry the trio along. When she arrives she knocks on the door loudly.
“Are any of you ready yet?” She shouts through the closed door before anyone has a chance to answer the knock.
“No!” All three voices chorus back.
“Well, are you all at least decent?”
No one answers. Instead, Dom opens the door, and Bernie can see everyone except Serena is ready. She is far from it - she is sitting on the bed still wrapped in her dressing gown.
“Serena, you haven’t even started getting ready.”
“Perfection takes time.” Serena flashes her a dazzling smile.
“You’re already perfect,” Bernie mutters a little too loudly. She feels awkward and embarrassed when she realises everyone has heard. “Could you please get ready.” She closes the door and hurries downstairs to the kitchen as fast as her legs can carry her. “Stupid!” She tells herself as she pours whiskey into a glass, hoping a drink will help calm her nerves.
Lofty decides it might be a good idea to leave Dom to help Serena get ready and heads downstairs and to keep Bernie company. He also knows that earlier in the day, Serena had called Dom. She’d asked for his advice about what happened between her and Bernie the previous night. He’s pretty sure that Dom and Serena could use a chance to talk more privately.
Like Bernie, Serena hadn’t slept well either, spending most of the night trying to decide what she should do. On the one hand, she feels hurt. She's angry and disappointed with the blonde. But, on the other hand, she’s in love with the woman and that, it seems, outweighs any ill-feeling. After chatting with Dom earlier she’s come to the conclusion that enough is enough. If Bernie isn’t going to make the first move, she will. Tonight she plans to finally tell Bernie how she truly feels and that she is the only one who is able to break the curse.
After Lofty has gone downstairs, Dom retrieves a bag from the corner of the room and gives it to Serena. He had mentioned something about bringing her a gift to help with tonight’s plan earlier on the phone, Serena recalls as she watches him.
“Don’t think I forgot to bring the present I promised.” Dom grins wickedly. “Bernie won’t be able to resist you in these.”
Serena takes the paper bag she’s handed, and peers inside. It contains a high quality and expensive looking gift box. Removing it and opening the lid she raises an eyebrow as she sees the contents. Rustling through the tissue paper she takes out an underwear set, which is, to say the least, rather raunchy.
“I don’t remember trying to kill her being part of the plan.” She tells Dom and laughs. “I didn’t have any suitable underwear to wear with my dress, but these are perfect. Thank you.”
“I thought as much and under no circumstances am I allowing you to go out commando.” Dom teases as Serena stands and grabs her clothes ready to leave the room and change.
When Serena arrives back from the bathroom fully dressed Dom helps to curl her very long hair while she carefully applies a light coverage of makeup. Normally she wears her hair in a braid but she wanted to try a more modern hairstyle tonight and she hasn’t quite mastered the fine art of hair appliances just yet. It takes almost half an hour before she is ready, hair and makeup done to her approval. Now though, fully dressed and beaming with confidence as she is, she looks absolutely stunning. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror she hardly recognises her reflection, she can’t quite believe how changing her image slightly enhances her beauty.
“Come on, we better get moving before Bernie goes all ‘Major’ on us.” Dom jokes.
“I don’t think I’d complain if she did.” Serena retorts as they leave the room.
Bernie’s jaw drops when she lays eyes on Serena standing in the living room doorway, wearing the same dress she helped her with the night before paired with black tights, heels and a light jacket. She’s speechless. She runs her eyes up from the brunette’s legs until she’s looking her directly in the eye. There isn’t much thought put into the blonde’s next actions. She walks towards Serena until they are standing mere inches apart and whispers in the woman’s ear, “You look absolutely beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Serena replies, overwhelmed by the way Bernie is looking at her, love sparkling in her eyes for a brief moment. She feels disheartened immediately, in fact, so dejected that she almost doesn’t realise the blonde is placing a tender kiss on her cheek.
“Right, let’s go,” Bernie announces as she steps away from Serena and marches off towards the hall. Serena follows wondering what the hurry is all about. As they leave the house the brunette starts feeling conflicted about whether or not to tell Bernie the truth about her curse - and that she has fallen head over heels for her.
The bar in Holby’s city centre is already crowded even though it’s still relatively early. The group struggle to find a space in the crush at the bar to queue for a drink. As they wait patiently, Serena observes the strange atmosphere around her. she notices how the lights ricochet off the walls and the beat of the music vibrates the floor underneath her feet. She thinks there is something rather mesmeric about it all. The air is smothering and the heat is unlike anything she has experienced before; it’s bordering on tropical. She looks around and notices none of these things seem to be bothering anyone, not even the people packed onto the dancefloor.
All of a sudden, she feels panicked and overwhelmed. Bernie notices and keeps a firm grip on her hand, directing her through the crowd to an empty space she has spotted at the bar. Serena feels herself calm as they move out of the press of people, she doesn’t feel so boxed in. The blonde shouts over the music when it’s her turn to order drinks but keeps a watchful eye on the other woman. Serena is receiving glances from admirers of both genders but Bernie can feel jealousy boil within her and scowls at anyone paying Serena too much attention willing the message that she’s unavailable to get through, even though she knows it to be untrue.
Bernie and Serena, carefully carrying the drinks through the throng of people arrive at the table Dom and Lofty had been lucky enough to lay claim to. They all spot a man, who is battling his way through the crowd heading straight for them. Bernie feels jealousy building in her bubble more energetically from within as she realises he has his eyes set on Serena.
“Hi, Robbie. Please to meet you.” He grins as he holds his hand out to Serena, hoping for a handshake.
“Hello. Serena.” Serena replies, forcing a smile, but ignoring the outstretched hand. She isn’t in the least interested. Bernie is the one she desires and she isn’t about to let anyone spoil the plan.
“I couldn’t help but notice how great you look in that dress as you walked over here with your friend. Do you mind?” He gestures to the spare seat around the table before he sits uninvited. The lack of a handshake doesn’t seem to have put him off at all.
“You’re extremely attractive, you know…” Robbie stops mid-sentence, feeling as if the fiery glare he’s receiving from Bernie is burning through his flesh. “Is there a problem?” He asks, peering at the other woman.
“Nope.” Bernie snaps without thinking. “Anyone want another drink?” She asks between draining the rest of the beer from her bottle and standing. She doesn’t want any trouble in front of Serena - or to ruin any chance of her finding someone who could potentially break her curse.
“I’ll have a pint, thanks” Robbie announces with a grin, and to Bernie’s annoyance. Before heading back to the bar Bernie gives Dom a pointed look, indicating that he should keep an eye on Serena.
As the evening progresses everyone has more and more drinks. Some are more affected than others. Dom and Lofty are gyrating together on the dancefloor while Bernie and Serena, accompanied by Robbie, are waiting to be served at the bar. Serena is bored to tears by him rambling on about his job with the police and the ins and outs of the legal system. Bernie is frustrated by the cheesy chat up lines he’s aiming at Serena every now and again, which are failing miserably which eases her annoyance somewhat. Finally, he’s interrupted full flow when Serena is nudged and pushed into the side of the bar forcibly by a man trying to jump the queue. It’s an unwelcome distraction, but it’s a distraction nonetheless. When the man fails to acknowledge his actions or apologise, Robbie confronts him.
In a blink of an eye, the situation escalates and Bernie decides it’d be best to leave the men to it. The last thing she wants is for her or Serena to be caught up in an altercation. Before she can guide Serena away to find Dom and Lofty, Serena decides to step in and fight her own battle, she knows she’s more than capable.
“Excuse me,” Serena shouts over the music as steps in between the arguing men, facing the man who had pushed her. Bernie is quick to stand closely beside Serena, on high alert, ready to tackle anything she has to. After all, she does know how to kill thirteen different ways with her bare hands. “I’m well aware that you intend on apologising, but it seems you haven’t had the chance, so I’m waiting.” The brunette folds her arms and glares at him, raising an eyebrow.
“You must be joking.” He replies, laughing loudly.
“No, I’m deadly serious. There are two choices, either you apologise or there’s a rather high chance you’ll be needing something extremely precious from down below surgically removed from your nostrils.” Serena replies looking extremely serious. Bernie can’t stop herself sniggering. “I’m sure my friend here would be more than willing to reattach them back in their rightful place. Trauma is her speciality.” She continues as she looks to Bernie.
“Pfft, I wouldn’t count on it.” Bernie answers.
“Alright, alright. I’m sorry.” The man holds his hands up in surrender before walking away sharpish, realising she isn’t bluffing.
Bernie honks a laugh out loud. It seems Serena can certainly take care of herself and perfectly able to take someone down a peg or two.
Erm… Serena, would you like to dance?” Robbie asks as the women are about to walk away to find Dom and Lofty. They’d forgotten he’d been staying there all this time.
“Do I have to?” Serena whispers to Bernie, reluctant to accept. She wants to get Bernie alone - finally!.
“Well, no, but it would be rude to refuse, wouldn’t?” Bernie replies.
“Ok. Fine.” Serena rolls her eyes and allows herself to be led to the dance floor.
Bernie watches from the edge of the dancefloor. She sees Robbie encircling Serena’s waist with his arms when a relatively slow song starts playing. She keeps a particularly close eye on where he’s placed his hands. As much as she wants Serena to meet someone to help free her, she doesn’t like it at all - and she doesn’t like Robbie in the slightest. Dom spots Bernie and can see how difficult she’s finding watching the dancing pair from her pained expression on her face and her awkward body language. But he isn’t concerned, he knows exactly where Serena’s affections lie - and they are not towards anyone else but his friend. The brunette has made it pretty obvious, without being impolite of course, that she isn’t interested in the man in the slightest, it’s not Serena’s fault that he can’t take a hint. Bernie really doesn’t have anything to worry about he knows, , but of course, she is completely unaware that’s the case.
As she continues to watch from the sidelines, Bernie feels jealousy building inside her again when she notices Robbie’s hands beginning to wander further down Serena’s body. In fact, she feels so overwhelmed by her feelings she has a strong urge to storm over there and threaten to use the fourteenth way to kill someone with her bare hands she has created in the short time since Serena and Robbie began dancing. She’s never felt such jealousy, she had been jealous once or twice during her brief relationship with her comrade, Alex, but that was nothing compared to how she feels right now, She certainly never felt jealous about anyone paying attention to Marcus during her marriage.
Managing to control herself for Serena’s sake, she puts up with the situation and continues to stand and watch. When she sees the other woman react at lightning speed to move his hands back to their original position - the safety of her waist - a grins slowly appears on her face when the obvious hits her. Serena isn’t going to stand for his nonsense and of course, she can take care of herself.
Just as Bernie begins to relax, partly due to the alcohol and partly due to her feelings of jealousy starting to subside now that she has realised the chances of Serena and Robbie hitting it off are slim, she sees him pull Serena closer into his body. Her annoyance skyrockets when Serena doesn’t attempt to put some distance between them. Irrationational thoughts flood her mind - thoughts of Robbie proposing and Serena wearing a wedding dress. She feels increasingly warm and begins to sweat as she acknowledges she won’t be the one Serena will be marrying. The final straw comes when she looks away momentarily to take a sip of her drink, and when she looks back she sees Robbie’s lips attached firmly to Serena’s.
“I can’t bloody watch this any longer” She mutters to herself as she slams her glass down on the nearest table and marches off outside to the smoking area for a cigarette, passing Dom and Lofty on her way, who looks extremely concerned.
On the dance floor, it takes a split second for Serena to realise what is happening. But when she does, she pushes Robbie away and digs the heel of her stiletto into his foot.
“Urgh… what was that for?” Robbie asks, wincing in pain and limping on the spot.
“For forcing yourself on me! At which point did you think I issued an invitation for you to kiss me?!” Serena replies very annoyed. She walks away, leaving him alone on the dance floor not giving him any chance to reply. She’s absolutely not interested in any pathetic excuse he could manage to come up with. The only thought on her mind - other than annoyance at Robbie - as she rushes off to find her friends is Bernie and how she absolutely cannot wait any longer to tell her, or better still show her, how she really feels about her. Dom spots her hurrying towards the booth he and Lofty are now occupying.
“Could you go and see if Bernie is okay while I explain what’s happening to Serena please?” Dom asks his boyfriend before the brunette is in earshot. Lofty agrees and leaves Dom to wait for Serena to make her way over while he heads off towards the fire exit door leading to the beer garden.
“Where’s Bernie?” Serena asks when she arrives at the booth, looking around for the blonde, concerned and confused.
“We’ve got a bit of a problem.” Dom starts to explain. “Bernie saw Robbie kissing you, she stormed before she had the chance to see you pushing him away.”
Serena doesn’t reply, she just sits down and puts her head in her hands.
“I need to find her and explain. I have to tell her how I feel before it’s too late.” She says more than a few seconds later, panicking, ready to walk off.
“No, Serena. The best thing you can do is stay here with me. Lofty has gone to find her.” Dom explains, trying to calm the woman down. “It’ll be ok.”
“You do know he forced himself on me before I had a chance to move.” Serena wants to make sure the sequence of events is absolutely clear, that she had no part in wanting Robbie to kiss her.
“I know, there really is no need to explain. Lofty and I saw everything. Bernie will understand when she knows the truth.”
“I hope you’re right.” She feels distraught. The last thing she wants is to lose Bernie now, after everything they've been through together so far. Who’d have known she’d fall in love so deeply and in such a short space of time. She can’t imagine a life without Bernie now she’s met her She just hopes that it isn’t too late.
Please note the rating change.
Bernie stands at the back of the beer garden leaning against a brick wall, smoking a cigarette and listening to Lofty. He’s attempting to explain what actually happened between Robbie and Serena. Although she truly wants to believe the words she’s hearing, her brain just simply won’t allow such a thing. She saw the kiss for herself and she can’t rid her mind of the image.
“You would’ve thought I’d learned my lesson by now. First Marcus and now Serena. Just as I’d built the courage to risk everything and tell her how much I like her, she decides she’d rather kiss him!” Bernie rants, unable to listen to what Lofty is saying any more. She knows Marcus wasn’t the only one guilty of crimes against their marriage, she made far too many mistakes of her own - but that’s beside the point she’s trying to make.
“That isn’t fair comparing Serena to Marcus. She’s nothing like him. Everything I’ve just explained is the truth! Serena pushed Robbie away as soon as she realised what was happening. Please don’t read too much into it.”
“No, you’re right, that wasn’t fair. Serena is everything Marcus isn’t. The point is, I stayed with Marcus for far too long after I realised he wasn’t the ‘one'. Now I’ve fallen in love with Serena. I’ve never felt like this before and frankly, uh… it’s terrifying.” Bernie sniffs and looks down at the ground, “But, we can’t ever be together. She’ll always be the one who got away.”
“Everything will turn out okay in the end. I’m sure it will. But I know for a fact it won’t do any good standing out here in the cold. Why don’t we go back inside and have another drink?” Lofty suggests, wanting to lure the woman back into the bar so Serena can talk to her and, hopefully, reveal how she feels about her, at last.
“Oh, I don’t know if I can. I wouldn’t want to be tempted into unarmed combat.” Bernie jests.
“I think Serena is one step ahead of you in that department.”
Bernie looks extremely confused before Lofty continues.
“She broke most of Robbie’s toes when she stamped her heel into his foot.”
Bernie can’t help but chuckle, feeling better about the situation instantly. It finally sinks in that she might have overreacted and that she might have jumped to conclusions about how Serena felt about Robbie. How could she ever have thought Serena could be remotely interested in Robbie? When she really gives the situation some thought, she knows there could possibly be a slight chance that she’s been a fool to resist Serena’s all too obvious advances. The flirting hasn’t been completely one-sided. She's flirted as much as she's been flirted with. Is bearing her true feelings to the brunette worth the risk of ruining their friendship?
Serena and Dom are sitting and chatting at the same table when they spot Bernie and Lofty re-entering the bar. Serena feels her heart beating loud and strong, thumping in her chest as she watches the pair approach them. Nervousness washes over her, she’s never felt like this before and is afraid that if she doesn’t tell Bernie that she is in love with her their friendship may cease to exist. That would be unbearable.
“Bernie, I think we need to talk,” Serena says nervously as Bernie arrives in front of her. “Maybe, we could go somewhere a little quieter?”
“How about we call it a night and go home. We can talk there.” Bernie suggests.
The group rapidly agree on calling it a night and heading back to Bernie’s house. It’s not as if the evening has gone entirely to plan. They leave the bar and hope that it won’t take them too long to find a taxi.
During the taxi ride home, Dom and Lofty offered to go back to their place and leave the women to talk. Bernie and Serena wouldn’t hear of it, insisting that they stay over as planned When they arrived back at Bernie’s barn Serena follows Bernie into the kitchen and Dom and Lofty head into the living room, partly to give the women some space and privacy to talk, but also to set up the guest bed and ready themselves for sleep
Bernie and Serena sat opposite each other at the kitchen table in an awkward silence. They both know this is the perfect opportunity to air their feelings - but that’s easier said than done! It’s not as if anyone can say that communication has been their strongest point since they met.
“Bernie, I love you.” Serena blurts out spontaneously. “I’m in love with you.”
Bernie stares at the woman across the table, wide-eyed like a deer in the headlights. Her mouth opening and closing, willing words to come. But they don’t. As much as she wants to say it back, she can’t. She’s terrified and the immediate fight or flight reaction kicks in. Serena can see from her eyes how scared she is. She’s known her long enough now to see when the woman is itching to run. She decides to continue, to explain, hoping that Bernie will stay to listen.
“I’m bisexual, well that’s what Dom says. He’s been helping make sense of it all. There wasn’t exactly a name for it back when I realised I was attracted to men and women.” Serena pauses to catch her breath, “I’ve been interested in you from the moment we met. I’ve been meaning to tell you, but I couldn’t. There’s something else you need to know too. Something that I should’ve told you sooner.”
“Go on.” Bernie manages to reply, head still reeling.
“Do you remember the story which came with my portrait? There is a very significant condition attached to the breaking of the curse. One, you’ve either missed or forgotten.” Serena pauses, feeling nervous. But she knows she has to carry on now she’s started explaining. “Only if the person who triggered my release from the painting falls in love with me can the curse be broken - and that’s you. You wished that I was real and I appeared. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about that particular little stipulation sooner.”
“You’ve known about this condition all this time and you didn’t think to mention it?” Bernie tries to understand.
“I had a good reason why I didn’t. I wanted us to get to know each other without the added expectations of knowing you were the only one who could free me. if you were to fall in love with me, I wanted it to be your choice and not out of a sense of duty. It really wasn’t my intention to complicate things.” Serena tries to explain further, tries to help Bernie understand why she kept such an important piece of information from her.
“As much as I understand your reasons, you still should have told me. Do you realise how difficult it’s been to deny my feelings towards you? I cared more about your happiness and freedom more than my own.”
For the last few minutes, Dom has been eavesdropping at the kitchen door and has heard the entire conversation, can still hear what they’re saying. From what he gathers it’s not going well, not in the slightest. He decides to help Serena plead her case and goes into the kitchen. The situation between the women needs resolving once and for all - he doesn’t want Bernie to throw her chance of happiness away for the sake of her own pride.
“Bernie, Serena really didn’t intend to upset you. She got it wrong but she was only doing what she thought was best. We all make mistakes.” Dom’s gaze doesn’t waver from Bernie’s. “She has been trying to show you how she feels for days. Tonight she was going to tell you, but it didn’t exactly go to plan. For once, just give in to how you feel and live the life you’ve always wanted. Serena loves you and all she wants is for you to love her back.”
“I already do,” Bernie confesses, sorrowfully, before leaving the room and heading upstairs, leaving Dom and Serena in the kitchen.
I’m sorry tonight didn’t turn out how it was supposed to.” Serena apologises to Dom in the now much quieter kitchen. “I’ve made such a mess of things and ruined it all.” Tears begin trailing down her cheek.
“No, you haven’t. I have a feeling everything will work itself out. Knowing Bernie she just needs some time to realise what a fool she’s been. She loves you, she just said as much.” Dom tries to console the woman.
“I hope you’re right. I couldn’t bear it if I lost her.” Serena wipes the tears on her cheek with her thumb and sniffs. “I’m going to head to bed. Will you and Lofty be ok on the guest bed?”
“We’ll be fine. See you in the morning.” Dom smiles. Serena forces a small smile and makes her way upstairs.
Upstairs, Bernie is laying on her bed when she hears what she knows must be Serena’s footsteps on the landing, followed by the opening then closing of the spare room door. As silence returns, she realises it’s quite possible that she is overreacting. She understands why Serena kept this snippet of information from her and she feels foolish for reacting how she did when she learned the truth. It’s not as if she has been entirely truthful with Serena since she appeared , she thinks. Thoughts continue to invade her mind. She can’t quite believe Serena returns her feelings. Is it too good to be true? Does Serena really love her? What a fool she’s been , she thinks. It all begins to sink in. Deciding she needs to speak with Serena and make everything right between them, she leaves her room and closes the door behind her quietly, heads across the landing and knocks on Serena’s door lightly.
The brunette opens the door just wide enough to poke her head though.
“Can I come in?” Bernie asks. Serena steps back and opens the door wider inviting her inside the room.
“I’m sorry about earlier. I think I… I overreacted a little.” Bernie looks down at the plush carpet dragging her foot over the deep pile.
“No, I should be the apologising. Robbie really did take me by surprise and I didn't reciprocate the kiss. If you’d been around I would’ve kissed you straight after I walked away. Hopefully, then he would’ve got the message loud and clear.”
“No apologies needed. I believe you.” Bernie steps closer to Serena and takes her hold of her hand, entwining their fingers.
“You know, I had everything planned to show you how I truly feel about you but I didn’t count on you running away.” Serena smiles, a hint of flirtation shining through.
“Sorry.” Bernie smiles slightly as she rubs her thumb over the back of Serena’s hand gently. “There’s a lot I should be apologising for. I should’ve told you about my marriage and the children sooner, but it didn’t come up straight away. As more and more time passed I was terrified it would ruin our friendship, and I’ve destroyed too many of those over the years.”
“I think we can draw a veil over all of that.” Serena smiles, before looking serious and slightly nervous. “So, what happens now?”
“First of all, I think, I should start by telling you that I love you too, Serena,” Bernie replies.
The women look into each other’s eyes as Bernie moves her hand to stroke Serena’s face tenderly. She feels as if her heart is so full of love it could burst at any minute. Serena is certain she has finally found the place where she belongs, and the person, she cannot imagine a life without. As Bernie continues to stroke Serena’s face lovingly, moving a strand of her long hair away from her forehead she feels foolish to have ever questioned Serena’s feelings. It is evidently visible in the woman’s eyes. Dom is right, she should start living her life for her, finally, succumb to her emotions and follow her heart. Slowly, she moves her face closer to Serena’s, coming so close their lips are almost touching - but not quite. The air between them is thick with all the sexual tension that’s been building since Serena appeared. Gradually, their mouths meet and they’re kissing each other tenderly.
Bernie pulls back from their embrace, takes Serena by the hand, and guides her towards the bed. They sit down on the edge side by side.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I kept avoiding your advances?” Bernie asks.
“I am, actually. If you have feelings for me why didn’t you just say?”
“I didn’t think I’d be your best chance of freedom. I convinced myself you’d be happier with someone else. I scarcely imagined you'd ever be interested in me.”
“Oh, believe me, I’m more than interested in you Bernie. This isn’t some sort of experiment. I realised my sexuality a long time ago - 1474 actually. There just wasn’t a name for it. I’ve known much longer than you.” Serena teases.
“H..have there been any women… you know, in the past? Well, that you can remember?” Bernie asks curiously.
“Well, I once kissed a woman behind an alley wall in Stepney. But any kind of relationship with a woman was extremely difficult. It Was easier to be seen in public with men. Have you?” Serena questions.
“One. Alex, when I was in the RAMC. We served together. It was absolutely not allowed, of course. I was above her rank. We didn’t care. We built our own little bubble and it was good for a while - until I was blown back to reality and didn’t renew my commission. I came home to Holby and gave the whole marriage thing a go. Obviously, that didn’t work out.”
“It sounds as if it was serious between you and Alex.” Serena comments.
“It was at the time, but in hindsight, it would’ve never worked outside of army life.”
Serena nods in understanding.
“How about we start afresh and concentrate on now and the future?” Bernie suggests. “I’m hoping there could… um… be an ‘us’.”
“That sounds like a splendid idea.” Serena smiles. “I’d like nothing more than for there to be an ‘us’. I really do hope this is it because I cannot possibly go back inside the portrait. Being without you just isn’t an option.”
“You won’t have to be. Not if I’ve got anything to do with it. I’ve got a feeling this time there’ll be a happy ending.”
“I think you’re right.” Serena leans forward and places her forehead against Bernie’s.
Both women know where this is heading and think it’s about time. There’s been sexual tension between them from the moment they met. They’ve both been aware of it and now is the perfect time to act upon it. Serena shuffles closer to Bernie, her hands heading straight for Bernie’s golden locks. They gravitate towards each other until their lips are touching and they soon lose themselves in a passionate kiss.
Without breaking contact for too long, Bernie gestures for Serena to sit on her lap. She runs her hands up the woman’s thighs slowly and feels the smooth silkiness of the tights she’s still wearing. As they continue kissing her hand moves further up and under Serena’s dress. She breaks the kiss and instead trails gentle kisses down the brunette’s neck. When Serena feels the woman’s tongue following the shape at the hollow of her throat she gasps, shuddering in pleasure at the sensation caused by Bernie’s teeth grazing lightly along her skin.
Serena moves from Bernie’s lap so she can lie down on the bed, pulling the blonde with her as she moves. As they settle on their sides, facing each other, Bernie resumes her gentle exploration of Serena’s neck and moves a hand over the woman’s leg. She kisses her way across the woman’s collarbone and Serena begins to become breathless. They both imagined this many times since they met, Serena especially. Nothing, though, could have prepared her for the feeling of utter arousal that’s spreading throughout her entire body at this very moment.
“You are absolutely wearing too many clothes,” Bernie announces. “And, for the record, I most definitely prefer you without the dress,” She whispers seductively into Serena’s ear.
“No one is stopping you from helping me out of anything I’m wearing.” Serena quips.
They both sit up and face each other. Bernie reaches behind Serena and begins unzipping her dress. Once the zipper reaches the bottom, she ever so slowly slides the straps down Serena's arms, removing the top half of the garment and leaving it pooled at her waist.
The raunchy underwear Serena has on is now in full view and Bernie can’t help but run her hands over the black lacy material. Not able to wait much longer to touch the skin underneath, she reaches around and unhooks the strapless bra. It’s tossed aside with urgency. As she finally touches Serena’s soft breasts, her fingers grazing a stiff nipple, sensations of pleasure ripple through Serena's body. When coherent thought returns Serena unbuttons Bernie’s crisp white shirt, slips her hand inside and under the woman’s white cotton bra top. She runs a thumb over an erect nipple, returning the gesture, and is pleased when she hears a low moan in response.
Bernie continues exploring Serena’s breasts, massaging the sensitive flesh before replacing her hands with her mouth. She uses the tip of her tongue to swipe across the brunette’s nipple and creates tight circular motions around the bud. The action draws the sound of soft moans of ecstasy from Serena. As Bernie Aåmoves her tongue to swipe across the underside of the Serena’s’s breast she feels fingers run through her messy blonde curls. Serena squirms, arching her body, trying desperately to get as close as she possibly can.
“I’ve imagined this many times but never thought it would feel like this,” Serena says breathlessly.
“It’ll get much better,” Bernie replies huskily
Suddenly, Serena starts feeling nervous and extremely aware of where Bernie will eventually be heading.
“Bernie, please stop.” Serena requests seriously.
Bernie stops immediately and moves away slightly from Serena to give her some space.
“What’s wrong?” She asks, looking very concerned and hoping she hasn’t done something Serena is uncomfortable with or hurt her in any way.
“I… I… I haven’t done this before.” Serena flops back on the pillow feeling embarrassed. Bernie lays on her side next to her.
“As in with never with a woman or…?” Bernie asks wanting to clarify.
“Never before, well not that I can recall. It’s not as if I never wanted to, it just never happened before I became trapped. Times were different back then.” Serena explains.
“Serena, it’s ok. I understand. No explanations needed.” Bernie smiles. “I’m not exactly experienced. I’ve only ever been intimate with one woman and it wasn’t anything remotely like this. It was quick fumbles in secret. We could learn together.”
“I’d like that.” Serena returns Bernie’s smile on hearing the suggestion, feeling much more reassured. “If this is the first time I’m glad it’ll be with you. But, before we get too carried away could you please take off those ridiculous skinny jeans?”
Bernie chuckles, “As long as you take off your dress properly. Oh and the tights.”
“If you want to stop again, we will.” Bernie touches Serena’s face and looks at her adoringly.
Once clothes are removed the women get into bed, under the duvet, lying on their sides facing each other. They gravitate towards one another effortlessly. Bernie smiles before she touches her lips with Serena’s, nibbling on her bottom lip before deepening the kiss. With Serena’s assistance, she begins removing the woman’s knickers before breaking contact and sitting up to discard her own bra. Not wanting to waste any more time Serena guides Bernie on top of her and resumes kissing her passionately, breasts touching and desire heightening. Bernie feels Serena’s leg wrap around her waist, pulling her as close as possible. She grinds her pelvis against the brunette and feels her rock in response. Their need begins to grow and Bernie decides to give Serena what she wants.
As Bernie kisses her way down her trembling body Serena laces her fingers into the woman’s golden tousled hair. She closes her eyes when she feels the warm wetness of Bernie’s tongue beginning to caress her. Serena bucks her hips, trying to find a rhythm of her own that’s in perfect unison with Bernie’s tongue. When the moment is right, Bernie enters Serena, sliding a single finger ever so gently. Taking it slowly in an attempt to avoid causing any potential discomfort. A low moan of pleasure escapes the brunette as she moves slowly within her. She continues circling her tongue where Serena needs her the most as she builds a steady rhythm. Serena moans louder and moves her legs further apart granting the woman greater access as she runs her short nails across Bernie’s scalp.
Bernie can sense Serena is close when she feels the woman’s muscle tighten around her finger. She speeds her movements up and Serena’s breathing quickens. The woman’s need for oxygen is too great. Serena buries her head into the pillow in an attempt to control the sensations mounting inside her
“It’s okay. Just let it go.” Bernie says as she comes up for air, without letting up the movements she’s making with her fingers. She replaces the circular movements she had been creating with her tongue on Serena’s clit with her thumb.
Serena moans loudly as her orgasm rushes in from all sides. Her toes tingle and she experiences a deep aching throb in the pit of her stomach. She holds onto Bernie as she rides through the waves of her climax before relaxing into the mattress when the tension leaves her body. Bernie kisses Serena on the forehead before she moves to lie next to her. She takes her into her arms and holds her tightly as she comes back down to earth.
It’s some minutes before Serena can speak, she feels exhausted but content. Her limbs refuse to cooperate. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined it’d be like that.
“I feel as if I can’t feel my legs.” Serena states.
“I obviously did something right.” Bernie chuckles as she grins, looking far too smug.
“I have to say, you’re very good for someone with such inexperience.” Serena laughs before suddenly becoming nervous. “ What if I’m not as good as her and don’t live up to expectations.” She thinks. She wants to make Bernie feel exactly how she had a few minutes ago.
Bernie can see the sudden change in Serena’s expression and can guess exactly what is going through the woman’s mind.
“Serena, I don’t expect anything more than what we’ve already done. We can slow things down if that’s what you want.” Bernie says seriously, she doesn’t want Serena to feel pressured.
“No, I want to. I’m just a little nervous.” Serena explains.
“There’s no need. Just do what feels right and I can promise I’ll be more than happy with that.” Bernie smiles.
“If I can’t please you, I suppose practice makes perfect,” Serena replies seductively as she pushes Bernie back onto the mattress and climbs astride her.
“I don’t think they’ll be any danger of that.” Bernie laughs before closing her eyes when Serena starts exploring her body. She’s barely been touched and already feels as if her skin is on fire.
Serena marvels at the soft skin of the woman beneath her. She gains confidence quickly as she realises Bernie is enjoying the feel of her touch. It isn’t long before the blonde feels her own orgasm approaching rapidly. She groans and calls out Serena’s name as it arrives. Exhausted, but happy, the women curl into each other and fall into a deep sleep as the light of dawn begins creeping through the gap in the curtains.
Bernie and Serena are still sleeping peacefully in the spare room when later that morning Dom knocks on Bernie’s bedroom door. He waits a few minutes but, to his surprise, is met with no answer. It had been a very late and stressful night, he knows, but normally Bernie is awake at the crack of dawn, no exceptions. It's a habit from her army days she’s yet to kick. After a night out with Bernie, if he stays over, he usually wakes to find a glass of water and a pack of painkillers nearby. If he fails to rise before what Bernie deems an acceptable time she’s dragging him out of bed as if he’s a soldier under her command. This morning none of this has happened and he’s curious as to why. He opens the door slightly, pushing it wide open as he realises the room is empty and the bed hasn’t been slept in. “Strange”, he thinks. Considering for a moment, and coming to the only logical explanation he can think of as to where Bernie might be, he walks across the landing and knocks on Serena’s door instead. But there’s no answer from this room either.
“Serena?” He says as he opens the door very slightly, leaving a gap just wide enough to assess the risk of witnessing anything he doesn’t wish to. When he realises it’s safe, he opens it wider. Both women are in there, sleeping soundly in each other’s arms. He can’t help but smile widely at the scene before him, thinking they look perfect together and pleased that Bernie has finally come to her senses.
“Bernie?” Dom calls quietly. He hates to have to ruin the moment but they have some work to do, preparing for a conference the hospital is sending them to and duty calls. “Bernie?” He tries again a little louder. This time it causes her to stir.
“What time is it?” Bernie asks sleepily, eyes still closed, pulling the duvet up to make sure they are both properly covering their modesty.
“Half eleven. Are you planning to get out of bed anytime soon? We need to make a start on the presentation.”
“Yes, sorry. I’m usually awake by now. I must’ve been tired.”
“I’m not surprised.” Dom looks around the room at women’s clothes from the night before scattered around the room. “You’ve more than kissed and made up by the looks of it.” He laughs as Bernie tries awkwardly to remove Serena’s black lace strapless bra from the shade of the bedside lamp.
“Serena.” She strokes the woman’s face gently. “It’s time to wake up.”
“I’m awake,” Serena announces from beneath the covers as Bernie kisses her forehead before moving down and placing another on her cheek. Serena turns her head and their lips meet. Innocent small kisses turn into ones of passion.
Dom clears his throat purposely to remind them he’s still in the room. “Didn’t you two get enough of each other last night?”
“No, nowhere near enough,” Serena responds, breaking the kiss.
Dom pulls a mock-disgusted face before leaving the room and closing the door.
“Morning beautiful.” Bernie beams brightly as she looks at Serena amorously. The brunette hasn’t ever seen her looking so happy.
“Good morning gorgeous,” Serena replies as she stretches her arms out sleepily.
“As much as I’d love nothing more than to stay here in bed with you, we’d better get up before Dom comes storming back up here.” Bernie chuckles.
Serena agrees she shouldn’t keep the man waiting any longer to start working on their presentation. “I’m going to have a quick shower then I’ll be down.”
Bernie kisses Serena on the lips quickly before getting out of bed, finding the shirt she wore last night and using it to cover her modesty on the way to her en-suite. Serena is out of bed shortly behind and makes her way to the main bathroom for a shower.
It’s only a short while later, before Serena and Bernie, freshly showered and dressed, are sitting around the kitchen table with Dom and Lofty. As they chat and drink strong coffee the women can’t help but smile at each other. The cheerful atmosphere is so infectious Dom and Lofty find themselves grinning too, pleased their friends have finally found happiness with one another.
“You two truly did kiss and make up last night.” Dom teases knowingly.
Before either woman can reply Dom’s phone rings. Looking apologetic, he takes the call into another room, answering it as he goes.
Minutes later, Dom rejoins the trio. “Sorry.” He apologises to everyone before looking at Bernie, “That was Hanssen. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, our presentation slot has been brought forward, so we’ll have to leave earlier than planned.”
“How far forward?” Bernie asks, dreading the answer.
“By a day. We’d need to leave tomorrow.” Dom replies.
Bernie sighs. She’s known the days were counting down until the conference, but it still seemed to have arrived so fast. She’d planned to spend as much time as physically possible with Serena before she and Dom had to leave.
“Don’t worry, darling. I’ll still be here when you come home. I’m sure Lofty will stay here and keep me company.” Serena places her hand on Bernie’s knee under the table, hoping to reassure her. She can see how much the woman is troubled by the thought of leaving her. As
much as she doesn’t want Bernie to go so soon after their union, they both have little choice in the matter.
Bernie manages a small smile and places a hand over Serena’s “I know. I just don’t want to leave you so soon.”
“Cheer up! As Serena says, she’ll still be here when we get back.” Dom tries to lighten the suddenly sombre mood filling the room. “You knew you’d have to come back to work at some point. I don’t think Hanssen will grant you annual leave indefinitely. We need to hatch a plan now we know Serena will be here for the long haul.” Everyone agrees.
Once brunch is eaten and initial plans discussed and debated, Lofty decides to take Serena to the supermarket. He’s hoping that it’ll help take her mind off Bernie leaving. As he rightly points out Bernie’s cupboards are almost bare - they’ll need to stock up, at least on the basics, to keep Serena fed over the next couple of days while Bernie and Dom are working away. He also wants to give the pair some peace to work on their presentation without distractions. Serena has never been to a supermarket before and is rather excited and looking forward to the experience.
After a relatively short drive, which Serena takes in her stride, Serena and Lofty arrive at the Supermarket. Lofty grabs a trolley on their way inside and Serena’s eyes widen when he tells her they’ll need one to carry all the provisions they’ll be buying. Before they left the house Bernie had given Serena her credit card, explained how it worked and all the necessary information about credit limits. The woman understood completely. She had used the card before. She realised though that using it in person would be somewhat different to using it virtually. She’d become quite the expert at that thanks to an online clothes shopping spree the other day.
Serena is having a great time as they venture around the store. She’s amazed by all the different choices of food available. Just the fruit and veg aisle looks like an exotic garden to her. She’s never seen a potato before, and pineapples and bananas are so far beyond her experiences that she is having trouble believing they are real and not some kind of joke. Lofty feels as if he’s shopping with an over-excited child, as Serena decides that the only way to avoid being overwhelmed is to embrace it all. She wants to try everything, evidently, the trolly is half full of different varieties of chocolate, crisps and ice-cream, exotic fruit and veg and more ready meals than they’ll ever be able to eat.
“What is a chicken nugget?” Serena asks, equally confused and curious, as they reach the freezer aisle.
“It’s a bitesize piece of chicken coated in either batter or breadcrumbs.” Lofty explains. “Those, in particular, are coated in the latter.”
“Sounds interesting. We’ll get some of those.” Serena smiles wide as she throws a bag into the trolly.
As they explore the rest of the aisles, Serena scans the shelves for anything else that might take her fancy. The trolley is filling up nicely as they work their way around the aisles and soon they’re approaching the alcohol section. The woman’s eyes are as wide as saucers in amazement as she sees an entire aisle full of wine. All the bottles are lined up on shelves, ordered by different varieties, from various countries. The sight is like nothing she’s ever seen before. Her Mother had a wine cellar, a well-stocked one at that from what she can remember that was nothing compared to what’s in front of her. She is well and truly astonished at the sheer quantity and variety.
“One minute,” Serena says as she abandons Lofty and the trolley to run off towards the small sign she’s seen hanging from a shelf.
When she comes to a halt at her destination she is pulled up short in more ways than one. The amount of Shiraz on offer and the huge number of different types on the shelves is mind-blowing to her. Every adaptable though she gets stuck into making the tough decisions and It doesn’t take long for Serena to select a couple of varieties to sample. She grabs as many bottles as she can physically carry and heads back towards Lofty.
“I couldn’t carry more than this, but I think we should most definitely stock up,” Serena says as Lofty helps her place the bottles in carefully in the trolly. “Five bottles aren’t going to last very long.”
“If you insist on buying more then I suggest you take the trolley with you. I’ll be just over there.” Lofty informs as he points to the fresh pizza counter. Serena nods and delightedly heads back to the Shiraz.
A few minutes later, Lofty finds Serena still browsing the wine aisle but now with considerably more Shiraz loaded into the trolley.
“I’ve got a couple of pizzas for dinner tomorrow. I have a feeling you’ll like it.” He says as he arrives and places two freshly made pizzas into the trolley, away from the harm of the wine bottles. He sees Serena looking confused so does his best to explain exactly what pizza is to an interested Serena.
“We should pay for this lot and get you back home. Bernie will wonder where we’ve got too.” Lofty announces as he looks at the time on his phone. They’ve been out of hours - time passes quickly when you’re having fun. He’s had great fun out with Serena and is glad they seem to get along quite well.
“Um? Sorry? You were saying?” Serena asks, realising she’s been daydreaming about how well she thinks shiraz will go with pizza and if it might be something Bernie would like.
“I was saying we’d better pay then get you home.”
“Ah, yes. We should. I had a great time but I think that’s enough fun for one day.” Serena replies.
Dom and Bernie are sitting at the kitchen table working supposedly on their presentation but Bernie is constantly distracted by thoughts of Serena. She has no control over her mind wandering back to the events of last night - or rather, early this morning. Images of the brunette’s expression as they’d made love flood her mind’s eye. Her heart aches when she’s reminded they are about to be apart from one another. If she misses Serena as much as she does when the woman has only gone out to the supermarket, she can’t imagine how much she’s going to miss her when she’s away. She has never been in love like this before and quite frankly, it’s terrifying. What is even more frightening is there are no guarantees Serena will still be here when she is back. What if Serena becomes trapped inside the portrait once again? She cannot bear the thought of that possibly happening. Trying to stop herself from overthinking any longer, she shakes her head and tries to rationalise her thoughts. Of course, Serena will be here and waiting for her when she gets home. She truly loves Serena and the feeling is mutual. There is no earthly reason why Serena should ever become trapped again. Surely the curse is well and truly broken. Bernie will only be away for two nights then they’ll have the rest of their lives together. Two nights is nothing in the scheme of things. She laughs at herself for thinking such ridiculous things.
“Serena will be back soon enough.” Dom teases, knowing how besotted she is with the woman, and knowing exactly what’s on Bernie’s mind.
“Mmm? Sorry?” Bernie asks now looking across the table at Dom, her mind finally focusing on him.
“I said, Serena, will be back soon. She’s only gone shopping. You’ve done nothing but stare into space with that vacant look on your face, pining for her, since she and Lofty left the house.” He repeats, chuckling.
“Sorry.” Bernie smiles. “I can’t help it. I feel like a ‘lovesick teenager’.”
“If you’re like this when you’re apart for a couple of hours, how are you going to survive being away for a couple of days?” Dom asks more seriously, “Or when you finally come back to work? You are coming back, aren’t you? AAU needs a new clinical lead and I’m sure Hanssen would agree you’d be the perfect choice to fill the post.”
I’m going to hate every minute away from Serena.” Bernie admits, “And I haven’t even thought about coming back to work. I know I’ll have to come back sooner rather than later and the permanent clinical lead role certainly sounds attractive, but what am I supposed to about Serena? I’m worried about leaving her alone for such long periods of time. She’d get bored and get into god only knows what kind of trouble! I can’t imagine Hanssen would be too pleased if I brought her into work just so I can keep an eye on her.”
“No, I don’t think that’d be wise. Just imagine the potential chaos she could create.” Dom replies amused at the very thought of Serena wandering around the hospital firing questions left, right and centre, idle curiosity consuming her.
“Maybe I should consider taking a sabbatical? Just until I can figure out what the future holds. I’m still only a locus at this point and covering the conference for Sacha. I’m sure we’d manage a while financially. Well, that’s only if the divorce goes smoothly.” Bernie explains.
“You’ve finally taken my advice?” Dom half-jokes.
“I have actually. Seems miracle will never cease. I sent the papers off as soon as I had some spare time. It’s better late than never.”
“I assume you’ve told Serena about Marcus and the children?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t exactly how I would’ve planned to break the news,” Bernie replies. “She overheard a phone call between Marcus and I about the divorce. He’s refusing to sign the papers.” She sighs before continuing. “I explained to Serena, it didn’t go down very well. I didn’t think it would. But, we’ve talked it through and we’ve decided to move on.”
“Ouch!” Doms winces. “I imagine it was a lot for her to take in though. She’s been through the mill recently.”
Bernie in the process of agreeing when she hears the front door opening.
As Serena enters the kitchen holding a couple of bags full of groceries, Bernie breaks into a huge beaming smile and rises from her chair. She takes hold of the bags and places them on the floor before pulling Serena into her arms.
“I’ve missed you,” Serena says low in Bernie’s ear.
“I missed you too,” Bernie replies, resting her forehead against the brunettes.
“I think you’ll find I’ve missed you more.” Serena teases.
“Impossible.” The women smile at each other before leaning in for a kiss.
“The hangover must’ve caught up with me. I suddenly feel nauseous.” Dom teases, smirking.
Bernie and Serena decide that Serena is ready to try dining out and they agree on dinner and drinks with Dom and Lofty at a local Italian restaurant with an extensive wine list. During the meal, all Bernie thought of was how much she isn’t looking forward to going away and how she can’t seem to shift the dreadful feeling rooted deep in the pit of her stomach. She’s terrified Serena will disappear and become trapped in the portrait once again, despite knowing that it’s irrational and illogical. If Serena is truly honest, she isn’t exactly overjoyed by the prospect of Bernie leaving so soon after igniting their romance either. She does understand the situation though. She knows that Bernie doesn’t have a choice. The women decide individually not to dwell on what has to happen and to concentrate on making the most of the time they have together before Bernie leaves
They drop Dom and Lofty at their place on their way home, both looking forward to having the house to themselves. When they arrive back at her house Bernie wastes no time putting her key into the lock and pulling Serena through the front door before turning and closing it, backing Serena up against It’s hard, unforgiving wood in the process. She places her hands on the other woman’s waist and presses her lips to her’s. Serena wraps her left leg around Bernie’s right, in an attempt to pull her in closer.
The blonde’s hand begins wandering from the brunette’s waist to down her outer thigh, and back upwards again. working its way under Serena’s dress. Hands travelling higher and higher until Serena is squirming against her.
Bernie pulls away from the embrace, needing to slow down or she’ll be in danger of getting carried away and taking Serena right there, in the hall, against the front door.
“I’ve been waiting to do that all evening,” Bernie says, trying to regain control of her breathing.
“Now, I wonder why?” Serena teases, smiling wickedly and raising her eyebrow.
“Um… Let me think. Could it have something to do with the fact you were resting your foot in my lap throughout dinner?” Bernie leans forward and asks low in Serena’s ear. It sends an involuntary shiver down the woman’s spine.
“Quite possibly. I could tell you enjoyed it thoroughly. I didn’t hear you complaining though.” Serena manages to answer.
“I more than enjoyed it.” Bernie chuckles. “Tell me, was playing ‘footsie’ a thing in the late fourteen hundreds?”
“It was very popular and highly erotic in those days,” Serena replies a matter of factly.
“It still is,” Bernie states before whispering in Serena’s ear, “especially when you’re doing it.” She begins tracing small kisses down the woman’s delectable neck.
“Well, since you have to wake early tomorrow morning and I’m feeling tired, why don’t we head to bed?” Serena manages to suggest despite her breathlessness.
“I hope you aren’t too tired.” Bernie grins, a knowing glint in her eyes.
“I think I’ve got some energy left,” Serena says seductively before sliding herself out from between Bernie and the front door. “ Maybe you should follow me upstairs and find out just how much,” she travels the short distance across the hall towards the stairs, shedding her dress and letting it hit the floor in the process. Bernie shivers in anticipation as she follows Serena to their bedroom.
When Bernie enters the room she finds Serena laying on the bed, waiting. Her skin is aglow in the soft light and her eyes sparkle as she watches the blonde’s every move. Bernie marvels at Serena’s body. Her eyes travel from her shapely feminine legs to her curved stomach and soft ample breasts. Serena’s chest quivers as she tries to regain control of her breathing under the intensity of Bernie’s scrutiny. The brunette really is a vision of perfection, Bernie thinks. Serena makes short work of removing her remaining clothes and Bernie follows suit. She walks towards the bed deliberately, still taking in every inch of Serena’s physique, she thinks she’ll never tire of looking at the woman.
Finally, she climbs onto the bed and lays on her side facing Serena, bodies touching. Serena rests an arm over Bernie’s waist before moving her hand between them. She runs it down the woman’s defined stomach stopping her movements when Bernie gasps as her fingers become dangerously close to her centre.
Bernie leans forward and captures Serena’s lips in a passionate kiss. Serena moves her hand from the blonde’s stomach to her small and perfectly shaped breasts. Small electric shocks shoot through Bernie’s body when she feels her tweak a perked nipple gently.
Serena parts her legs as Bernie rolls over and holds herself above her. Their bodies instinctively adjust themselves until they’re flush against each other. She swipes her tongue against Bernie’s bottom lip until she’s granted full access. When Bernie obliges, tongues dance around in delicious, warm, wetness. The outside world ceases to exist as hands and lips explore; they both use dexterous fingers to bring each other to climax together; moans filling the air.
Contented, both women lay in each other’s arms. Serena listens to the rhythmic beating of Bernie’s heart. The sound grounds her back down to earth.
“This just keeps getting better.” Serena murmurs.
“It does.” Bernie agrees, stroking her fingertips along Serena’s arm soothingly. “I love you.”
“I love you, darling.”
They’re both mindful of the fact this will be the last time they’ll be sharing a bed for at least a couple of nights, and they want to make the most of it. Bodies sated and intertwined they lay content together until sleep takes them.
Bernie rouses early the next morning and unwillingly forces herself fully awake. The train for Northumberland leaves in four and a half hours; she needs to be ready and fully functional. Serena moans gently as Bernie detangles herself from around her and climbs out of the bed. She stands just watching the brunette sleep for a little while, still not able to believe this incredible woman she loves, loves her back - and only her. Knowing time is not on her side though, she tears herself away and heads for the ensuite and a hot shower.
She emerges from the bathroom a short while later, ready to dress, pack the final necessities, and hopefully avoid waking Serena before she needs to. The women decided last night they want to spend as much time together as possible this morning before Bernie and Dom have to leave, but Bernie can’t bring herself to wake the peacefully sleeping woman before she absolutely has to. She makes short work of dressing and the last of the packing, she wants to be able to give Serena her full attention when she wakes her - and she has a small gift she wants to give Serena before she leaves.
“Serena,” Bernie says quietly as she approaches the bed. “It’s almost seven.”
Serena groans, awake enough to hate the fact it’s morning already, but not awake enough to want to leave the warm cosy bed.
It takes Bernie some persuading to get Serena out of bed and dressed - especially in light of Serena’s must more appealing suggestion that Bernie take off her clothes and get back into bed - but she manages it. An offer of freshly brewed coffee finally persuades Serena up and into the kitchen, The two women savour both the coffee and each other's company as they sit at the kitchen table waiting for Dom and Lofty to arrive. Bernie can’t help but worry about all the things that could go wrong after she’s left Serena. She tries to rationalise her thoughts, knowing that Serena has Lofty on hand if she needs anything. She tries pushing the worries to the back of her mind - she’s done everything she can to make things go smoothly - and focuses on the gift she has for Serena, hoping that she’ll like it. The doorbell chimes, breaking Bernie’s chain of thought. Serena makes her way to answer the door, knowing it’ll only be their friends and it’s safe for her to do so.
It is indeed Dom and Lofty at the door. Bernie greets the pair in the hall as Serena leads them in.
“Fresh coffee in the pot.” she tells them, gesturing towards the kitchen “but you’ll have to drink up.” Dom, taking the heavy hint, leads Lofty into the kitchen so the women can have some privacy.
“ I haven’t got long before we need to leave,” Bernie explains sadly.
“I know. I wouldn’t dream of making you late.” Serena tries to hide her feelings behind a smile but Bernie notices the other woman’s smile does quite reach her eyes as it normally would.
“I have something for you,” Bernie says as she moves to climb the stairs and gestures for Serena to follow her back to their bedroom.
Bernie goes straight to their dresser, routes through the bottom of a drawer for a moment, and pulls out a small gift bag.
“I hope you like it,” Bernie says as she offers it to Serena, Serena smiles wide as she removes a small smartphone box. “Thank you, darling. It’s wonderful.” She hugs Bernie thankfully and is genuinely pleased.
“I’ve gone through the setup process and added all the phone numbers you may need.” She explains further. “It should make it easier for us to keep in touch while I’m away.”
The smartphone isn’t the only gift Bernie is desperate to give Serena, but the second gift is much more significant and she’s afraid it may be too soon, maybe too much for their newfound romance.
“I love you.” Bernie pulls Serena into her arms and opts, regretfully, to resist the temptation to throw caution to the wind and give her the much smaller box she has hidden away. Waiting until Marcus has signed the divorce papers, or better still until it's finalised completely is a much better idea, she knows.
“And, I love you.” Serena replies snuggling her face into the blonde’s hair, breathing in the intoxicating scent she cannot get enough of, that is just ‘Bernie’.
“The next few days will fly by and I’ll be back before you know it,” Bernie says as she holds Serena tight and strokes her hair with one hand.
“I hope so.”
Reluctantly, the women make their way back down the stairs, conscious that they are out of time. Dom and Lofty meet them in the hall, the men have clearly said their own goodbyes, as Lofty is full of puppy dog eyes and Dom looks thoroughly miserable.
“I’ll call you as soon as we arrive, I promise,” Bernie tells Serena as the four of them halt at the front door.
Take care.” Serena replies, managing to smile, if only slightly.
Bernie smiles sadly back at her before she opens the front door and makes her way towards the car on the drive, Dom follows closely behind promising to call Lofty that night too.
It’s a matter of moments to stow the luggage in the boot, strap themselves in and start the engine. Bernie reverses the vehicle onto the road, offers a last wave to Serena waiting at the door, and speeds off. The sadness in her eyes is evident. She misses Serena already.
The sadness in her eyes is more distracting than she realises, because, despite her army training, Bernie fails to spot the figure standing in the shadows on the other side of the street. From his vantage point, Marcus watches Serena and Lofty step back inside the house and close the front door. He’s been monitoring the movement in and out of his former home for the last few days - ever since he learnt about the affair his soon to be ex-wife had whilst she was in the RAMC.
After Bernie had kicked him out, his relationship with Elaine - the woman who he’d been having an affair with - had turned sour. With nowhere else to go Marcus had no choice but move back into the house he and Bernie had previously lived in; the house he’d inherited from his late Mother. He’d refused flat out to put the property on the market when they moved into the barn conversion, but, after much discussion, he’d eventually agreed to rent out the house temporarily until they could reach a more permanent solution. Fortunately for Marcus the most recent tenants had moved out a couple of weeks ago and the family supposed to be taking over the lease had backed out, leaving the place empty and ready for Marcus to move back in. Not long after he’d unpacked and settled back in a woman had turned up on his doorstep looking for Bernie. It hadn’t taken long before the truth had come out, that Bernie had been having an affair with this Alex. To say Marcus hadn’t taken the news well was something of an understatement. Anger and humiliation had burned hot inside him. He was going to make Bernie pay for this, how he didn’t know yet, but he was.
Realising there probably isn't going to much more to see, for now, Marcus gets back into his car and starts the engine. He'll be back tomorrow ready to move onto the next part of his plan that’s beginning to take shape. He doesn’t want revenge on Bernie anymore - he wants her back, and under his control.
Over the last few weeks, he's noticed a woman is living with Bernie and she seems to have taken his place, judging by some of the kisses he’s seen them share. He knows the woman obviously isn't the same one who had paid him a visit a couple of days ago. He’s determined to learn exactly who the mystery woman living with his wife, usurping his place, is. He’s decided he'll do whatever it takes to fix his marriage to Bernie and make their relationship work. If that means getting rid of the third party, by any means necessary, then so be it. Nobody is going to get the way of his plan to glue his family unit back together - even if that means forgiving Bernie for her wrongdoings. The affair he had, was, of course, he believes, not his fault at all. not. The fault, he believes, was Bernie’s - she pushed him to it; she should’ve been more attentive, more compliant, more like a wife...
Bernie throws her duffle bag on her hotel bed and sighs. With every mile away from Serena her heartaches that little bit more, and her body isn’t appreciating the effects of the long train journey. Dom is busy inspecting the contents of the vastly stocked mini-fridge, Bernie cannot wait any longer to speak to Serena. She shuts herself in the bathroom for some privacy and dials the other woman's number, waiting with a mix of anxiety and excitement for her call to be answered.
"Hello." The rich velvety voice Bernie adores answers.
"Hello you," Bernie replies. Serena can almost hear the woman's smile in her voice. "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine. Missing you though. Lofty is keeping me entertained as we make our way through the Shiraz." Serena chuckles, sounding slightly tipsy. It has been several long hours since she and Dom had been left alone in the barn and the sun was well and truly over the yardarm.
"Try not to drink too much.” Bernie laughs.
"Oh, I'm fine. You underestimate my ability to hold my Shiraz, darling." Serena teases. "Lofty is a bit worse for wear though."
"I think we should've employed a babysitter for both of you." Bernie jokes. "Are you sure you'll be ok with Lofty?"
"Of course. If he gets too drunk I'll just leave him where he falls." Serena laughs before she takes another sip from her wine glass.
"Ha, very funny Campbell." Bernie chuckles. "You know I meant are you both getting along ok?"
"Absolutely, we’re getting along great. Please try not to worry about me too much. I will be perfectly fine until you return.”
"I'll try my very best," Bernie promises. "I have to go. Dom needs to use the bathroom, but I will call you tomorrow."
"I'm looking forward to it already." Serena smiles. "I love you."
"Love you." Bernie hangs up and grins as she imagines the state Serena and Lofty must be in and chuckles at the thought of their hangovers in the morning.
When Bernie opens the bathroom door seconds later it’s to see Dom leaning against the wall and the doorframe, smirking.
"That was a long 'I've arrived chat'." Dom teases. "Were you sneaking in some phone sex?"
"No, I wasn't. I was hearing all about your Boyfriend's antics. Apparently, he’s been a little enthusiastic with the Shiraz."
"Oh, I know. I’ve just called him. Could hardly understand a word of our conversation" Dom laughs. "Ready to go downstairs for dinner?"
"Yep, ready when you are."
As they make their way down to the hotel restaurant, Bernie feels herself starting to relax a little. She thinks, maybe it will all be fine. Serena hasn't disappeared just because she's not at home. She knows all the fears are irrational - they’re sure the curse is broken. Serena isn't going to suddenly disappear back into the painting.
She decides instead to envision Serena at the barn, waiting for her with open arms. Quickly her thoughts wander and she smirks as her mind catalogues various ways she and Serena could make up for lost time on her return. She’s thankful that Dom is walking in front of her and can’t see her face, because she is sure what she’s thinking is written all over it.
Serena, meanwhile, is sitting on the sofa in the living room of the barn she now shares with Bernie. Tears of laughter are rolling down her cheeks as she watches Lofty dancing, hideously, to the music playing on the stereo. When the song finishes he flops down on the sofa, feeling rather drunk - to say the least.
"How many bottles have we worked our way through?" He asks with a noticeable slur.
"3 between us. This is my last glass though." Serena smiles merrily.
"Sounds sensible." Lofty agrees, sagely, with an over-exaggerated nod. “Who'd have known you could put so much wine away."
"Oh, I've quite a bit of practice. My Friend, Fleur, and I used to steal bottles from my Mother’s extraordinarily well-stocked wine cellar all the time without anyone noticing. We spent more hours than I care to count drinking in a secluded barn." Serena smiles fondly, but with a hint of sadness at her memories. She turns her head to Lofty and notices he’s fallen asleep whilst she was speaking
Deciding it's time for her to head to bed, Serena removes the almost empty wine glass from Lofty's hand and puts it safely on the coffee table. She pulls the blanket off the back of the sofa, pushes him gently down onto the cushions and covers him with it. Satisfied that he’s safe and comfortable, she turns the lights off and heads towards the stairs.
The next morning, Lofty and Serena are sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast together before Lofty heads into work. Well, Serena was eating breakfast after the amount of shiraz Lofty put away the previous night he has quite the hangover to nurse. He’s making a valiant effort but finding food tough to handle.
"Are you sure you'll be alright on your own while I'm at work? Lofty asks, unsure.
"I'll be perfectly fine here on my own." Serena smiles "The real question is, are you feeling better than you were last night? You do look rather worse for wear."
"I’ve felt better." Lofty replies, "There won't be a repeat performance anytime soon. I’ll survive. Well, I should go before I'm late. Are you sure you'll be alright here on your own?”
"I'll be perfectly fine."
"Well I've saved my mobile number in your contacts, call if you need to.” Lofty finishes the remainder of his coffee with a gulp before heading to the hall to grab his belongings and leaving the house in a rush.
Sitting in his car parked carefully tucked away just down the road, Marcus watches Lofty leaving the house. When he deems it’s safe, and there’s no chance of Lofty returning, he gets out of the vehicle. Crossing the road he walks down the path leading to the front door and rings the bell.
Serena is loading the final piece of dirty crockery into the dishwasher when the doorbell chimes. As she heads towards the front door to answer it, she mentally prepares herself for who might be behind it. She’s not expecting anybody and she’s going to have to be on the ball to handle whoever presents themselves.
Pasting on her most gracious and disarming smile she opens the door
"Marcus Dunn. We need to have a little chat." The man standing on her doorstep says with a smug, nasty, expression on his face.
Serena's smile disappears as Marcus introduces himself.
"We've absolutely nothing to say to each other." She attempts to shut the front door on him but is stopped by Marcus’s foot wedging itself between the frame and the door.
"Oh, I'm certain you'll be very interested in what I have to say." He insists, far too sure of himself for Serena’s liking.
"I very much doubt that. Bernie has told me all I need to know about you. She won't be too pleased when I tell her you've been here.”
"I don’t imagine she will, but then again, she isn't going to want her new ‘bit on the side’ knowing all her sordid little secrets," Marcus says bitterly. "Give me five minutes, hear me out, then I'II leave. No trouble at all. It’ll be up to you what you do then."
"Fine." Serena opens the door wider and allows him to step over the threshold. She only has to endure his company for a few minutes then he'll leave. She thinks it’s preferable to a stand-up row on the doorstep - but only just. Marcus follows Serena into the kitchen and helps himself to a seat at the table while Serena stands opposite him, leaning back against the work surface, arms crossed.
"What is it you've come to say? I've got quite a busy day." Serena pushes, impatiently.
"I just thought you'd like to know Bernie asked me to attend the conference with her."
"Bernie asked me to go with her to Northumberland. I said no, of course, knowing that she's in a new relationship. I'm assuming you're the woman in question?"
"I don't see how that is any of your business, but yes, Bernie and I are romantically involved."
Marcus nods sympathetically.
"I thought you had the right to know the truth. I know I would want to know if I were in your situation, Bernie called me the day before she left. She said he wants to rekindle our relationship and make a go of our marriage. She said that we should spend some time together." He searches Serena's face for reaction and doesn’t find what he’s looking for/ Marcus realises she doesn't believe a word of what he’s just said.
"I don't quite understand what you thought you were going to achieve by coming here sprouting your ridiculous lies? Do you really think I’m that gullible? I trust Bernie, she wouldn't do such a thing." Serena starts, "Bernie is finally living the life she has always wanted. A life without you. Wild horses couldn't drag her back to your sham of a marriage. If it wasn't for the divorce and your children you wouldn't be in her life at all."
"If that's what you want to believe, then more fool you. I admit I've made mistakes, you've no doubt heard all about them, but I'm not the only guilty party here. Bernie is no saint. She left me to raise our children almost single-handedly every time she went on tour. Recently I learned exactly what she’d been doing while she was supposedly working. She had an affair with a fellow officer. A woman. It only ended because she was injured and flown home. Who knows how many affairs she had before that? How many other women are going to come knocking on my door looking for her? I'm willing to forgive all her all that, all the affairs, all wrongdoing. I'm sure, in time, she'll forgive me mine. I have to warn you, Bernie may stray, but she will always come crawling back to her family. When she's had her fun and gets bored of you, I'II be waiting to take her back.”
"I've never heard anything more ludicrous. Your time is up. You need to leave. Now." Serena tries to keep as calm as she possibly can despite the anger she can feel starting to bubble within her.
"If it's evidence you need, then listen to this.” Marcus pulls out his phone and dials the voicemail service. He begins playing a recording of a message clearly from the day Bernie left for the conference.
"I'm about to leave for Northumberland. I need an answer, Marcus. Call me back as soon as you can."
Serena listens intently. The voice is unmistakably Bernie’s. A huge wave of nausea washes over her.
"I know this is difficult for you and it's clear to see how much Bernie means to you, but, you'd save yourself a lot of heartache If you left sooner rather than later.” Marcus pauses for a few seconds. "Bernie has a habit of running when things get tricky. Actually, she's very good at it. It's what she does best. Bernie will break your heart whether you stay or leave."
"Get out," Serena shouts, no longer able to curb her anger and upset. Marcus smirks as he leaves, pleased his words have had the desired effect.
Serena slams the door firmly on Marcus’ smug face and makes her way somewhat shakily to sit on the sofa. Her hands are shaking in despair and she’s taking deep steadying breaths. She doesn't want to believe any of what Marcus had said. Her first instinct is to trust Bernie - but there’s a nagging doubt eating away at her. When Serena really thinks the situation over she realises that she doesn't know Bernie as well as she should. They’ve not known each other long and there is still so much they have to learn about each other. What if Bernie is lying to her? She couldn’t bear to have her heart broken further down the line, not when Bernie has come to mean so much to her already. The more she thinks about the situation the more feels she has no choice but to leave. It would be best for everyone. She doesn't want to come between a family reconciling, even if it seems like only the remotest of possibilities.
Decision made, Serena reluctantly throws her newly acquired items of clothing into a suitcase Bernie had left out in their bedroom after she decided to take a smaller one to the conference. Carefully Serena writes a note for Bernie and leaves it on the kitchen table for her to find, along with the mobile phone she’d given her.
Serena knows exactly where she is going and has a plan to get there. There‘s really only place she can go, the one place she thinks she can truly call home now.
For Berena-CPR event.
Following a very successful morning, Bernie and Dom decide to grab a bite to eat before an afternoon full of attending more presentations. As the pair wait for their food to arrive Bernie stretches her arm above her head, aiming to relieve her aching back, then leans back in her chair wearily. A morning spent sitting in the most uncomfortable chair she had ever come across hadn’t done wonders for her recently healed injury. She consoles herself with the thought that there is only one more day of the conference left, then she can get back to where she belongs - alongside Serena.
“Has old age finally caught up with you?” Dom teases, cheekily, amused by her stretching demonstration.
“Something like that,” Bernie answers, her words laced with amusement.
Before Dom can tease his friend further, Bernie's phone begins to ring. She beams a huge smile when she sees Serena’s new mobile phone number on the screen.
“Hello, you.” she coos down the phone as she answers.
“Bernie, it’s Lofty. I’m sure how to tell you, but Serena is missing.”
“Wh… what do you mean missing?” Bernie sits suddenly upright, looking very serious.
“Serena’s not at the house. I came to check on her during my lunch break and she isn’t anywhere to be found.” He explains.
“Oh,” A rapid wave of nausea rises from the pit of her stomach filling her with a warm, burning sensation. That her deepest fears are becoming a reality is the only thought her brain can hold onto for a heartbreaking moment - before rational thought returns to the forefront of her mind. “Check the portrait,” she says urgently to Lofty. “You’ll find it laying on top of the chest of drawers in the guest bedroom.”
Bernie waits, a mix of nerves and apprehension, while Lofty rushes upstairs in search of the painting. It seems an age before his slightly breathless voice comes back on the line.
“It looks empty Bernie. Serena isn’t inside,” he reveals the bad news calmly.
“I’m coming home. Can you wait at the house? Just in case Serena turns up? Either in person or in the portrait?”
“Of course.” Lofty replies gently and too full of sympathy for Bernie’s liking.
“ If Serena really has been drawn back into the portrait does that mean she doesn’t return my love?” Bernie questions in her mind. It isn’t something she wants to contemplate at all. “Surely after everything we’ve been through that cannot be true.” She tries to rationalise her thoughts.
Bernie’s mind is such a whirlwind of thoughts and full of unanswered questions that she doesn’t notice she’s been sitting in her chair for several minutes in stunned silence. Dom has taken her phone and has been talking quietly to Lofty, being brought up to speed on the current situation for the last few minutes.
“-I’ll text you once we’re on the train home,” Dom says his goodbyes before ending the call when he realises that Bernie is almost back with him again.
“-Bernie?” Dom calls trying to attract the woman’s attention.
“Hm, Sorry?” Bernie replies pulled fully back to reality.
“I was saying that we should start arranging the journey home. Could you book some train tickets while I update the hospital? I’m sure I can come up with something along the lines of a family emergency.” Dom knows he’s going to have to take charge of the situation. He’s seen the panic in his friend’s eyes.
“But we still have our presentation this afternoon. We can’t both leave. The hospital is relying on at least one of us.”
“This is more important, Bernie. You’re very much mistaken if you think I’m allowing you to travel back to Holby alone given what’s going on. You just buy the tickets online and leave everything work related to me.” Dom reasons. “And… lunch is about to arrive so we might as well eat before doing anything else.”
Bernie agrees Dom is right. She’s not sure how much of an appetite she’s has left though
Lunch eaten, or moved around her plate in Bernie’s case, the pair decide to head back to their hotel rooms. Bernie needs to arrange the train tickets and pack her case while Dom is left to get them out of staying for the remainder of the conference.
While Bernie is packing the last of her things, Dom knocks on her hotel room door.
“Come in,” Bernie calls as she’s closing the zip on her suitcase.
“It’s all sorted,” Dom announces as he opens the door and enters the room. “I’ve spoken to Hanssen and explained that you’ve had a family emergency. He’s agreed you shouldn’t travel alone and is arranging for the presentation to be pushed back until tomorrow afternoon and is sending Mr Levy as our replacement. I’ve sent him a copy of the presentation. Have you managed to sort the tickets?”
“Yes,” Bernie answers tapping her fingers restlessly on the side of her phone. She can’t stay still and is itching to get home as fast as humanly possible.
“It’s difficult, I know but try to stay calm. I’m sure we'll be able to figure out a way to get Serena out of the portrait.” Dom tries to reassure his friend that all will be okay even if the worst has happened.
“Serena might not have been drawn back into the painting. For all I know she’s changed her mind about us and gone and left me.”
“Impossible. Serena wouldn’t just leave you. She is as besotted with you as you are with her.” Dom gives Bernie a small smile.
“I hope that’s true.” Bernie smiles a little.
“I know it is.” Dom pauses before continuing. “I’m all packed, so let's get going shall we?”
The taxi they got to the station leaves them at the entrance half an hour before their train is due to depart. They decide to wait in the cafe nearest to the platform they need. Bernie is sitting at a vacant table while Dom is queuing for coffee when her phone rings.
“Hello?” Bernie answers.
“It’s Lofty, Serena definitely isn’t in the portrait. I’ve just found a letter in the kitchen. It’s from her ”
“What does it say?” Bernie asks, dreading the answer.
“You want me to open it.”
“Yes. I need to know what’s happened to her. Open it.” For a moment the only sounds Bernie can hear are the ripping and rustling of paper and the loud beating of her heart then Lofty speaks.
“It says she can’t stay here anymore.There’s nothing about where she’s gone or why she’s left.” “Lofty explains. “I don’t understand what could’ve changed. Serena seemed perfectly fine when I left for my shift this morning. She was looking forward to hearing from you later.“
“I can’t quite get my head around this either.” Bernie is rather more worried than before. She doesn’t have any idea where Serena could possibly have gone. It’s not like she knows anyone else in Holby, has anywhere she can go - or any money for a hotel. Serena’s safety may be at risk and it’s Bernie’s primary concern.
“I would’ve tried calling her but she left her phone alongside the note.” Lofty explains putting paid to Bernie’s next move.
Bernie doesn’t know how to respond. A single tear runs down her cheeks as she passes the phone to Dom, who has just arrived at the table and placed two takeaway coffee cups down.
Dom listens as Lofty updates him on the latest developments. He can hear how concerned Lofty is. The man has become closer to Serena in the last few days and now thinks of her as a very good friend. Dom, who is also fond of her, is finding it difficult to keep his emotions in check while seeing Bernie in such evident turmoil. After a few more minutes he ends the call and tries his best to comfort his friend.
“There isn’t much longer to wait. The train will be departing in a few minutes.” It isn’t much consolation to Bernie.
Bernie strides at full speed through Holby train station in the direction of the car park. Dom follows closely behind, breathing heavily, He isn’t used to this amount of exercise, isn’t built for speed. When they arrive at Bernie’s car she unlocks it and gets straight in. She waits just long enough for Dom to sit in the passenger seat and belt up before firing the engine and throwing the car into reverse. The tires screech backwards momentarily then stretches forwards and speeds off towards the exit ramps. Again, the tires scream as she flings the vehicle around the tight corners until they pull onto the main road. Poor Dom holds on for dear life.
When Bernie and Dom screech to a halt in Bernie’s driveway. Bernie all but jumps for the abandoned rather than parking the car. She rushes inside and finds Lofty sitting on the sofa in the living room.
“I’m so glad you’re both back safe.” Lofty says as he gets to his feet and rushes to hug Dom.
“Is this Serena’s note? Bernie asks, not bothering with the niceties of hello as she gestures to a piece of paper placed next to Serena’s mobile on the coffee table and sits down in the armchair.
“Yes.” Lofty replies as he and Dom sit together on the sofa.
Bernie leans forward, takes hold of the note, and reads it. As she scans the handwritten words she notices the ink has been smudged by what seem to be tear stains. Bernie looks questioningly over to Dom and Lofty.
“The stains were already there when I read it.” Lofty confirms.
She was obviously rather upset when she wrote this, Bernie thinks. “Where are you, Serena? Why have you left?” Bernie asks herself aloud as she flops back against the sofa.
The room is suddenly quiet as the trio ponder their next move. They could, of course, report Serena as a missing person, but she’s an adult who can make her own decisions. It wouldn’t be much use. Even if the police find Serena no one could force her to go home if doesn’t want to. Besides, how exactly could you explain a several hundred year old missing woman to the police? There’s no evidence that she even exists, no passport or driving license. No police officer is going to take this seriously.
Bernie tries to come at it from a different angle. She tries to figure out what could’ve possibly upset Serena enough to cause her to leave and where she could possibly have gone. Then it comes to her. Serena had seemed pretty friendly with Ms Fanshawe from the antique store when she’d taken her into the city to visit. She’d thought at the time that there might be more to the women’s fast friendship than Serena had told her. She has nothing to lose by finding out.
Wanting to act promptly, Bernie reaches into her pocket and pulls out her car keys.
“Where are you going?” Dom asks concerned.
“I’m going to look for Serena. I can’t sit here and do nothing anymore. I thought the antique store would be a good place to start.” Bernie answers, already itching to leave.
“Would you like us to come with you?” Lofty offers.
“I’d rather you both stay here in case Serena comes back,” Bernie replies. “I’ll be ok,” she tells them as she disappears out to the living room en route to the front door.
“Hello, Ms Wolfe. It’s a pleasure to see you again. I was just about to close the store.” Fleur greets Bernie with a wide smile as she enters the shop, genuinely pleased to see the blonde. “Is everything okay?” she asks, seeing the odd expression on Bernie’s face
“Not really. I’m not doing too well. Actually, I’m here about Serena. She’s left. She just up and vanished. All she left me was a note that doesn’t tell me anything. I’m worried about her and I was hoping you might have seen or heard from her.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t. Do you know why she’s left?”
“I don’t, no. It’s clear from the note that someone or something upset her, but I have no idea what. She isn't back inside the portrait. That much I do know.”
“I might be able to help but if I tell you what I think, you can’t ask me any question about what I know, how I know it, or what it means. You need to trust me and take what I’m about to say at face value.” Fleur says seriously.
“Okay, go ahead.” Bernie agrees. She’s happy to agree to almost anything if it means she can find Serena.
“Whenever Serena was upset she’d find somewhere quiet to go and think. In fact, she had a favourite place she’d go to if she could. Now, I’m not sure if it’s still standing but I suspect she may have gone home.”
“Home? Where was her home? She’s never mentioned where she lived. I never thought about her having a home before the portrait really. Where was it?” Bernie asks. In spite of all the worry about Serena, he can’t help but wonder how Fleur seems to know Serena so well.
“I’m not sure what exactly Serena has told you about herself, but in her own time, she was a noblewoman. Her mother was a Countess and her father, who died whilst she was a young child, was a Knight of the Garter. They owned The Astwood Estate in the Berkshire Downs and lived in the grand manor.”
“And, this is where you think she could’ve gone?”
“I’m quite sure. It’s the most logical explanation.” Fleur replies. “But again, I don’t have any idea of what state the place is in today or even if it’s still standing.” She jots down the information Bernie needs on a spare piece of paper and hands it to her.
“Thank you. You’ve been a great help.” Bernie thanks Fleur as she takes the paper and starts to leave.
“I hope Serena is found safe and well,” Fleur calls after her as Bernie heads through the door.
Bernie sits in her parked car just down the road while she confirms everything Fleur told her online. There indeed was a Countess Mckinnie who lived at the manor Fleur had mentioned. And her daughter lived with her - Lady Serena. Lady Serena had mysteriously disappeared in the fifteenth century and shortly afterwards her closest friend and ladies maid had disappeared too. She turns her attention to what of the estate still exists in the present day. She is directed to a website for ‘Astwood Manor Hotel and Spa Resort’, where a stay starts at one hundred and seventy-five pounds per night. Bernie just knows this is where Serena has gone.
“I have more than an idea where Serena is,” Bernie announces as soon as Dom answers the call. “She’s gone to find the house she lived in the past.”
“How can you be so sure?” Dom asks sceptically.
“I can’t be absolutely sure but it seems the most likely place to look.”
“Where is this house? Do you want Lofty and I to come with you?”
“It’s in Berkshire. Thank you for the offer but I think this is something I need to do alone. I need to make sure Serena is okay and I don’t want her to feel overwhelmed.” Bernie pauses. “But as soon as I know anything I’ll call and update you.”
A little more than an hour later, Bernie is driving down long and narrow country lanes on her way to Astwood Manor. It’s been an exceptionally long, tiring and stressful day but her desperation to find Serena keeps her going. In order to keep herself awake and alert enough to carry on driving she opens a window to let some much needed cool fresh air circulate inside the car and turns up the volume of the radio. As Bernie concentrates on the road in front of her she sees, at last, a glimpse of the manor in the distance through the mist created by the rain. She hopes, after all this, that Serena is there to be found.
Bernie swerves hard into the middle of the road to avoid a figure that has suddenly appeared on the road in front of her, As she whizzes past the pedestrian she catches a glimpse of their face and screeches to a halt She recognises that person. Bernie jumps out of the
car to see Serena’s rain and tear-stained face staring sadly back at her.
She moves closer to Serena, who is rooted to the spot. She doesn’t speak as she looks Bernie directly in the eyes. Bernie notices Serena’s eyes are no longer filled with love, there’s only sadness. The rain hits the trees and bounces off the leaves making a loud tapping sound, but all Serena can hear is her own heartbeat.
“Serena sweetheart, are you okay?” Bernie goes to touch her but Serena flinches.
“Please leave me alone.” Serena walks right past the blonde and continues following the road.
“Serena! Serena, wait!” Bernie rushes after her and grabs the woman by the arm gently and pulls her around to face her. “I really don’t understand what has happened. Why did you leave? I thought you loved me, Serena.”
“I do love you, Bernie, but I think I should be the one to say, ‘I thought you loved me.”
“Of course I love you. What makes you think I don’t? Please tell me what’s happened.” Bernie asks, confused.
I heard the voicemail you left on Marcus’ phone. The one where you asked him whether he was going to the conference with you.” Serena snatches her arm back and starts walking away again.
“Serena, stop, please wait!” Bernie jogs after Serena, blocking her path when she catches up with her so she can’t continue walking away.
“I don’t deny that I left him a voicemail but I most certainly did not under any circumstances ask him to come to Northumberland.” Bernie moves closer and takes one of Serena’s hands into her own. “I initially called him to ask if and when he was going to sign the divorce papers but he didn’t answer, nor did he call me back. Whatever you heard has been taken in the wrong context. I promise.”
“Is that right? Marcus seems to think very differently. He said I’m not the first affair you’ve had. He said that when you’re finished with me you’ll go running back to your family. I didn’t want to stay and ultimately end up broken-hearted.”
“Serena, you have to believe me, you mean everything to me. I love you. I did have an affair with another woman while I was serving in RAMC but this, us, what we have isn’t the same. It isn’t an affair of any kind. My marriage was over long before you appeared. Marcus just won’t accept it.” Bernie says sincerely, trying to convince Serena that she's being truthful. “How… When did Marcus say all this to you?”
“He came to the house this morning.”
Bernie knows exactly what game Marcus is playing. If he wasn’t the father of her children she’d be ready to throttle him right about now for near ruining her first real chance of happiness and upsetting the woman she loves. She’s not entirely certain that, given the way she’s feeling, being the father of her children won’t save him from being throttled.
“Everything Marcus said is a lie. It’s all lies. I would never leave you for him.”
Serena believes Bernie. She can see the truth written over her face. How could she not when it’s so obvious. Stood here in the middle of the road, soaked by the rain and freezing cold she regrets her hasty decision that morning, regrets running away instead of waiting for Bernie to come home and discussing Marcus’ visit. She'd been scared though. Scared she was going to lose Bernie. Afraid of having her heart broken.
“ - right now I hate Marcus.” Bernie continues, wanting to get everything out while Serena is still listening.” On a good day, I only care about him and what he thinks and does because he’s the father of my children. I’m not in love with him. I never really have been. Nor or will I ever be. You’re the only one I want you, Serena. I love you and only you.”
“Bernie… I…” Serena knows she’s made a mistake believing Marcus, but she feels as if it’s too late to fix it. She took his word over Bernie’s and never gave her a chance to explain. To top it all she’s accused Bernie of being untrustworthy. Bernie deserves to be with someone who trusts her wholeheartedly. “ - I love you too, but it’s too late to fix this.” Bernie looks crushed as she watches Serena walk around and away from her.
After a beat, Bernie follows Serena, wanting, needing, an explanation - not willing to leave their relationship unfixed, not able to give up on it in the current state it’s in.
“Why is it too late?” Bernie asks when she finally catches up with the brunette and falls into step alongside her.
“Our being together shouldn’t be so difficult. You deserve better.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Bernie asks herself more than Serena. “Come on, at least let’s get out of the rain and talk in the car before we both develop hypothermia.”
Serena agrees to Bernie’s suggestion with a nod. She realises that she owes her an explanation at the very least.
Serena slides into the passenger's seat and Bernie takes the driver's seat. There’s an air of awkward silence between them in the car before Bernie breaks the ice.
“What did you mean by ‘You deserve better’?” Bernie asks suddenly.
“You deserve to be with someone who trusts you entirely. I’ve already doubted your loyalty. I love you more than you’ll ever know, but do you really think it’s fair for you to be with somebody who doesn’t trust you enough to stay and give you a chance to explain? You need trust in a relationship and I think I showed today that I believed your ex over you. After that, we’re always going to be wondering if we can trust each other.”
“But you trusted me before Marcus came to the house, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did. I trusted you with my life.” Serena answers without hesitation.
“If I’m honest, I’m not quite sure at the moment,” Serena replies truthfully.
“Correct me if I’m wrong but I think deep down you do trust me but what Marcus said induced doubt. It’s completely understandable and only human. Especially when we both know you’re entirely dependent on me.”
“You’re right,” Serena confirms.
“We have something special and we shouldn’t let that slip away just because my bitter ex-husband is intent on keeping us apart. I understand why you wanted to run - I would probably have done the same thing. Please don’t feel so guilty for making one tiny mistake that you throw us away.”
“Hardly a tiny mistake, it was of fairly epic proportions. All I could think about was what he’d said and how I’d end up losing you. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that I was taken in by what he told me.” Serena begins to cry softly, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Bernie leans over the centre console and draws Serena into her arms. Holding her tightly she tells her. “All relationships have their ups and downs and we all make mistakes. I’d do anything for you Serena, anything. I’ve already forgiven you. I hope that when I make a mistake, which I’m sure I will, you’ll forgive me too,”
“You’re right. I’m sorry I got it so wrong. I don’t want to lose you and I’ll do anything to make this up to you.”
“There’s no need, just having you back is more than enough. All forgotten and in the past? Just talk to me next time - if there’s a next time.”
Serena nods and wipes the tears from her eyes. She feels a weight lifting from her shoulders. Bernie moves strands of wet hair from Serena’s face and kisses her tenderly.
“I love you.” Serena rests her head against Bernie’s.
“I love you too, Campbell.” Bernie smiles. “Now, how do you fancy taking a look around seeing as we’re already here?” Bernie points towards the big house in the distance.
“I’d like to see the place again, but I wonder who lives there now?”
“It’s a hotel. I’m going to book us a room; we need a nice hot shower and some food.”
“A hotel? Really?” Serena smiles knowing times have moved on and things are different no it won’t do any good getting upset about the place no longer being her home. She has a new home now, with Bernie.