Serena comes home from Guides in a bad mood. Throws her bag on the floor, takes off her jacket and doesn’t even bother to hang it up, just leaves it draped over her chair.
‘Darling?’ Bernie pokes her head around the kitchen door. ‘Everything okay?’ Serena slumps against the kitchen counter, shrugs, so Bernie squeezes past her, puts the kettle on, then turns to rub Serena’s shoulders. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘A whole world of possibilities in front of them,’ Serena says, rubbing her face, ‘And all I’ve heard all evening is oh no Serena, I couldn’t do that, that’s for men.’
‘I thought you were doing street art tonight?’
‘Oh, we were, that wasn’t the problem. It’s the young leaders you see; they’re starting to pick their university courses.’ She sighs, ‘Nothing like internalised misogyny, is there?’
Bernie rubs Serena’s shoulders reassuringly. ‘Maybe you could provide them with some real life examples? Get in touch with Holby Uni, see if they have a female scientist or two who’d like to come for an evening. You could contact the police and the fire station as well. I know there’s at least one female firefighter in Holby.’
Serena looks up with narrowed eyes, ‘Oh you do, do you?’
Bernie laughs at her, ‘Would it bother you?’ she teases, ‘If I happened to notice a firefighter with lovely auburn hair?’
Serena raises an eyebrow. Bernie kisses it. ‘You know you’re the only person I have eyes for.’ She strokes Serena’s hair gently from her forehead, ‘I suppose I could come along as well and there’s probably a few people from my old regiment around. Tell you what,’ she kisses Serena firmly on the mouth, ‘Give me a date and I’ll sort it all out for you.’
‘You do know how to treat a girl, don’t you?’
‘Damn right. Now go sit down and I’ll make us some coffee.’
Serena finds a free space in the term, tells Bernie and then doesn’t hear anything more about it for a while. Serena doesn’t push her on it; she knows she needs to let Bernie do this her own way. She’s happy to hold her hand when she’s using GO (because god knows it’s a pain) but Bernie has to spread her wings sooner or later.
One evening, Bernie is round for dinner. She’s toying with her food, keeps glancing up at Serena and looking away again. Eventually, Serena puts down her fork.
‘Darling, what’s wrong?’
‘I – uh – I emailed my old regiment,’ Bernie says slowly, ‘And one of them has said she’d like to come to your Guide session.’
‘I’m sensing there’s a ‘but’ coming?’
Bernie breathes out. ‘It’s Alex.’
‘I see.’ Serena has extracted some details about Alex from Bernie over the last few months. Alex, who has short hair and dark eyes and a wicked sense of humour and no sense of propriety. Alex, the catalyst for Bernie’s gay awakening. ‘You don’t have feelings for her any more.’ It’s a statement, not a question. Serena is completely secure in Bernie’s affections.
Bernie nods, ‘But, Serena, if it’ll make you uncomfortable to have her there I’ll just say thanks but no thanks to her.’
‘Is she good at her job?’
Serena watches as Bernie’s eyes glaze over, as she goes back to the time when she lived and worked in heat and danger. ‘She’s the best anaesthetist in the regiment. And that’s an unbiased opinion.’ Bernie winks and Serena chuckles.
‘Does she know about us?’
‘Tell her, and if she still wants to come then she’s more than welcome.’
Bernie reaches for Serena’s hand, grips it tightly. ‘I love you,’ she says.
A familiar tingle runs through Serena and, god, it’s not fair that Bernie can still make her feel like this with just a touch. She pushes her plate away. ‘I think I’m finished,’ she murmurs, gets up from her place, moves round the table to sit on Bernie’s lap. She winds her fingers in Bernie’s hair, pulls her head back a little.
Bernie’s eyes have gone dark and she licks her lips. ‘Room for dessert?’
Serena leans down to kiss her. ‘Where you’re concerned, there’s always room.’
Bernie’s hands find her waist, then the edges of her shirt and Serena shivers as cool fingers touch her skin.
‘Let’s take this upstairs, shall we?’
Serena puts on her Guide uniform with only a hint of trepidation. Bernie has told her firmly that she has nothing to do tonight except turn up. She hasn’t had a meeting where she’s been so in the dark for years.
She arrives at the hall ten minutes early, as always. There are four women already waiting there, with several bags each. She could have identified the firefighter even without the helmet that she is carrying; she has a long mane of auburn hair. Serena smiles at them all as she opens up, and they all head into the hall. Each woman has brought along a display detailing their work, and Serena feels a flash of admiration that Bernie has thought of this. She wanders around to chat as they set up.
The firewoman is called Jo. There are two scientists; Emma, a biologist from Holby Uni, and Angharad, a softly spoken Welsh girl who works for a large multinational corporation. The last is a structural engineer called Hannah.
She’s just met them all when a new person walks in swiftly.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ she says, and Serena looks at the camouflage, the short crop of hair and knows that this Alex. Alex glances around the hall then grins. ‘At least I’ve beaten Bern,’ she says, before holding out her hand to Serena. ‘Nice to meet you, I’m Alex.’
Serena shakes her hand. ‘Serena,’ she says and Alex nods in recognition.
‘I’d better get moving.’ she says, and heads to the corner to grab herself a table.
Serena watches her go. She’s younger than she imagined, must only be about forty. The army uniform suits her and Serena can see why she caught Bernie’s eye.
Then there’s another noise at the door and Serena turns. Her jaw drops. Bernie, her Bernie. In camouflage, a belt clinching her waist, hair pulled back tightly into a bun, beret pinned neatly into place.
‘Oh, my,’ she murmurs, as Bernie strides into the room. She’s always had a bit of a swagger but now it’s pronounced, and all Serena wants is for Bernie to sweep her off her feet, carry her somewhere private and ravish her. Repeatedly. Her knees tremble.
Serena suddenly realises that Bernie is speaking to her. ‘Sorry, miles away,’ she grins sheepishly.
‘Would you mind helping me get the stuff out of my car?’
‘Oh, yes of course.’ She follows Bernie out of the building, over to her car. Bernie pulls her gently round, pushes her against the side of the car.
‘I saw that look,’ she murmurs before she presses her lips to Serena’s. Serena’s hands find their way to Bernie’s shoulders, anchoring her as Bernie kisses her again and again. ‘I take it you approve?’
‘Oh, Major, I very much approve.’
Bernie’s thigh has found it’s way in between Serena’s and her fingers are under her top, heading for her bra, when there is a very loud cough. They both jump, release each other guiltily and turn to see Morven glaring at them.
‘Honestly,’ Morven says, ‘You couldn’t wait till after Guides? It’s nearly seven.’
And, actually, Serena has just spotted Evie, standing behind Morven and staring at them. Oops.
‘Sorry Morven,’ she says, abashed.
‘I should think so too,’ Morven shakes her head, sweeps into the hall.
Bernie presses her head to Serena’s and giggles, ‘Why do I feel like we’ve been caught behind the bike sheds by the head?’
Serena sighs. ‘We’d better get a move on. Did you actually need me to help you?’ She moves and Bernie pulls the car door open, passes a large bag to her while she takes the second.
‘Let’s get cracking.’
Morven, Jasmine and Serena sit back at the start of the session. The young leaders are running games, and the adults usually use this time to chat through their plans for the evening. Tonight there is no such need, and Morven and Jasmine have given up on trying to get any sense out of Serena - she’s just sitting gazing at Bernie with a ridiculous expression on her face.
Bernie has a quick word with the other women, then strides into the middle of the room and puts her hand up for silence. It falls instantly. The girls all know Bernie, all have a level of respect for her. But this Bernie, standing at ease in her uniform, is something new to them. There isn’t even a murmur as she introduces the other women and the guides move instantly to gather chairs on her command.
Each of the women gives a short talk on their job and a run down of how how they got there. Serena’s pleased that the girls are listening intently. Bernie and Alex are last; Serena hadn’t realised they were doing a double act, and her insides twinge as they stand next to each other, smiling at shared remembrances. Serena can barely comprehend the work that they’ve done together, what they’ve been through together and she’s jealous of the easy camaraderie that they share.
When the talks are over, Bernie tells the girls to separate into patrols, sends each patrol to a different stand. The rest of the evening will be spent with the girls rotating between them, letting them have a good amount of time quizzing each woman.
Morven and Jasmine decide they’d quite like to join in too. Serena watches them, watches the girls asking eager questions and watches Bernie and Alex laughing. She bites her lip, decides that she can’t go through another hour of this and disappears into their store cupboard to do some organisation.
She’s sitting on the floor and halfway through rolling up balls of wool when Bernie comes in, pushes the door shut behind her.
‘Are you hiding?’ she asks softly.
‘Thought I’d get on with some tidying, as I’m not needed out there.’ Serena waves a ball of wool as she speaks.
Bernie moves closer, pulls her to her feet and removes the wool from her grip. ‘Serena.’
Serena buries her head in Bernie’s chest. ‘Sorry,’ she murmurs. ‘I’m being silly and irrational.’
Bernie strokes Serena’s hair gently. ‘I liked Alex. A lot. But I didn’t love her. There’s only one woman I’ve ever loved and she’s standing here with me, in a cupboard.’
Serena looks up, runs a thumb over Bernie’s cheek. ‘I… it’s just I’m jealous, I suppose. You have so much history, and you look so good together. She’s beautiful, younger than me...’
Bernie kisses her forehead. ‘You’re a fool, Campbell,’ she whispers, before her lips find Serena’s. When Bernie finally draws back, Serena is breathless.
‘You’re the most beautiful person in the room. In any room,’ Bernie says. She runs her hands lovingly over Serena’s shoulders, ‘If we weren’t standing in a cupboard with a hoard of guides outside, I’d show you how much I love you.’ Her hands slip down the front of Serena’s jacket, thumbs circling her breasts gently.
Serena bites her lip, feels her heart racing. ‘The door locks,’ she says, and she can’t believe she’s suggesting this.
‘But just think of the telling off Morven would give us if she found out.’ Bernie steps back, away from Serena. ‘Better get back to it,’ she says, sweeping her gaze up and down Serena’s body, and licking her lips before pulling the cupboard door open.
Serena sighs and leans back against the wall. As her breathing returns to normal, she thinks its a good thing that one of them has some sense.
She spots the ball of wool she was winding earlier lying on the floor, so she picks it up, starts winding it up again. Just in time too, as Jasmine comes in.
‘Just grabbing the pencils,’ she says, ‘Have you been here the whole time? You’ve missed some really good stuff. Bernie was great.’
Serena coughs, ‘Was she? Well, that’s good. I’ve nearly finished.’ She tosses the ball of wool into the basket and follows Jasmine out. The girls are doing a quiz in their patrols and each of the presenters is taking it in turns to ask questions based on the information they’ve given during the evening.
Bernie is leaning against the wall, arms folded, one leg bent up to rest her foot on the wall. She looks around as Serena comes into the room, shoots her a side long glance and a wink that makes Serena feel hot and bothered all over again.
‘Behave,’ Serena mouths back at her.
The quiz is soon finished, they all sing taps and then it’s home time. There’s a little quiet as the girls leave and the adults start packing up their things. Bernie shoves her stuff away quickly, slips over to Serena.
‘You really didn’t have anything to worry about,’ she murmurs, ‘Look over there.’ She nods her head and Serena stares across the hall to see Alex and auburn-haired Jo exchanging phone numbers.
When everything is packed up the other women depart, leaving Bernie and Serena in an empty hall.
Bernie grins, catches Serena around the waist, ‘Now, what were you saying about the cupboard, earlier?’
Serena groans, ‘Can we forget I suggested that, please?’ She looks up. ‘Will you take me home, Bernie?’
Bernie parks outside Serena’s house, nips around the car to open Serena’s door for her.
‘Why, thank you Major,’ Serena smiles up at Bernie, runs her hand up Bernie’s strong arm, squeezing it lightly and enjoying the blush that spreads over Bernie’s cheek.
Bernie follows her up the path, but when Serena unlocks the front door, she puts out a hand, stopping Serena from crossing the threshold.
Serena looks up at her, questioning and the spark in Bernie’s eyes makes her heart start to thump.
Bernie leans down, brushes her mouth against Serena’s ear. ‘I do believe I saw a certain look in your eyes earlier...’
Serena suddenly finds strong arms circling her waist and Bernie picks her up, one arm under her back and one under her knees, cradling her as she steps into the house.
‘Bernie!’ Serena squeaks.
‘You’re coming with me, Campbell.’