Serena is getting ready for her date – date! – with Bernie when her phone rings. “Jason?” she answers, sudden panic setting in that her plans are about to be scuppered.
“Alan told me that you and Bernie are going on a date,” he says abruptly. “That’s very confusing to me, I thought she was going to tell you more about tanks.”
“Ah. Well, she was making a joke,” Serena says, sinking onto her bed with a sigh of relief. “Teasing me.”
“But I wrote a list of questions that I’ve thought of and I was going to ask you to give it to her so she can answer them.”
Serena smiles to herself. “I can still do that, if you like.” It might be something of an icebreaker. Goodness knows she’s not normally nervous about going on dates but there’s something about Bernie that’s got her aflutter.
“I’ll ask Alan if we can drop it round in five minutes.”
Serena checks her phone; there’s still half an hour before she needs to leave. “That’ll be fine, Jason.”
Serena walks into Albie’s with an envelope containing Jason’s tank-related questions in her purse and butterflies in her stomach. The pub is blessedly empty of her colleagues and as she looks around she spies a flash of blonde hair at a table in the corner. Bernie sees her at the same moment, stands to greet her, and Serena can’t help gaping. Bernie in fatigues had been commanding. Bernie in skin tight black jeans and a white shirt, her hair brushing her shoulders in gentle curls, is something else entirely.
“Serena!” Bernie’s smile is bright, “What are you drinking?”
“Oh, um, Shiraz please,” Serena says, finding her voice eventually. “You – you look nice.”
Bernie gives her a long, hungry look. “So do you.”
They stand next to each other at the bar, hips and shoulders brushing and Serena can’t ignore the tingles that run through her at the feel of Bernie’s body against hers. She hasn’t felt this needy for a very long time. Bernie gets their drinks and they make their way to their table. Bernie slides into the bench seat first and Serena follows, resisting the temptation to press her legs against those sinfully tight jeans.
“So,” Bernie says with a smile, “Tell me about yourself.”
Serena gives her a very potted history, ending up with her recent discovery of her nephew and subsequent accompaniment of said nephew to the army open day earlier.
“I thought it wasn’t your ideal Saturday,” Bernie grins, “But I’m very glad Jason persuaded you to go.”
“That reminds me,” Serena says, digging in her bag, “He’s written out a list of questions he thought of after we left.” She puts the envelope on the table and pushes it hesitantly towards Bernie. “You, you wouldn’t mind, would you?”
“Not at all,” Bernie says, and opens it up. She unfolds the paper inside and scans it briefly, then laughs. “Did you read this?”
“No,” Serena says, suddenly worried, “He hasn’t asked anything awful, has he?”
“Not at all. Tell him I’ll email him with all the answers he’s looking for. Sensible lad included his email address.” Bernie’s gaze softens. “You must be a very special aunty.”
“I’m not. I didn’t even know he existed until a few months ago.”
“But you’re making up for it now.” Bernie’s hand covers Serena’s and she strokes her thumb gently.
Serena ducks her head, embarrassed, then gets a grip on herself. “What about you? Do you have kids?”
“Two, about your Elinor’s age. Left the marriage that produced them behind a long time ago though.”
“There’s something we have in common,” Serena laughs, because really there doesn’t seem to be much.
Bernie’s hand is still on hers. “We’ve got at least two things in common, don’t you think?” Bernie says, and Serena raises her eyebrow. “One – useless ex husbands and two – recognising our undeniable sexual chemistry.”
Bernie is very, very close now. There’s not a fingers’ width between them.
“Don’t you think?”
Bernie’s lips are soft but the arms that find their way around Serena’s waist are very strong. Serena relaxes into the kiss, sighs when Bernie pulls away. “Undeniable,” she agrees.
“If you wanted to go somewhere else,” Bernie murmurs, “I have an idea.”
“I don’t jump into bed on the first date,” Serena says sternly, then winks, “No matter how undeniable the chemistry.”
Bernie grins, “It’s a different idea, actually. But maybe just as fun.”
As Serena follows Bernie out of the pub, eyes lingering on her long legs, she thinks that it can’t possibly be as fun.
“Major,” the soldier on duty at the barracks greets them.
“Fletcher,” Bernie replies smartly, “Got a guest to sign in.” Serena has been hanging back but Bernie beckons her forward. “You need to sign the visitors book and get a permit,” she says softly, “Then we’re free to go.”
“Have you got any nice… plans?” The soldier addressed as Fletcher queries as he passes book and pen to Serena.
“Watch it, Fletcher,” Bernie warns, but Serena can hear the laughter in her voice. Then, swiftly, a photo is taken, printed and attached to a lanyard.
“Free to go, Major,” Fletcher says and salutes.
“So do you often bring women back to your barracks?” Serena queries, perhaps a shade more harshly than she intended, as they head through the gate.
Bernie stops suddenly. “Full disclosure,” she says, turning to Serena. “I haven’t been on a date in years. And coming here? Well, I just have a hunch you might enjoy it.”
Serena lets go of the tension that she hadn’t realised she was holding. “Ah.”
“Am I forgiven?” Bernie’s fingers tickle her own and she lets her link their hands together.
“Tell me what it is and I’ll let you know.”
Bernie laughs. “It’s a surprise.”
Bernie leads the way through the barracks until she arrives at a small outbuilding. There’s a keypad on the door and she taps in a number and the door clicks open. “Come on,” she beckons.
“More and more mysterious,” Serena comments as she steps in after her. “Why am I trusting you, again?”
The light is bright inside and Bernie closes the door against the evening and the rest of the world. “Because of the chemistry?” She pushes Serena gently against the door and Serena’s heart races as Bernie studies her, brown eyes glazed. But she’s disappointed when Bernie’s lips merely brush ever so chastely against her own.
“Bernie!” she growls, and Bernie laughs.
“Nearly there.” There’s another door and Bernie pauses before it. “It’ll be dark in here, just to warn you,” she says. “That okay with you?”
Serena’s heart is still thudding in her chest, but she manages to nod. “Okay.”
Bernie squeezes her hand. “Come on then.”
Serena follows her through the door and it is very dark. And cramped – she walks straight into Bernie.
“Got you,” Bernie says reassuringly, slipping her hands around Serena as Serena trips over her. “Hold on a moment and your eyes will adjust.”
Bernie’s hands remain around her waist and Serena tries to concentrate on something other than the feel of Bernie’s body flush against hers. Gradually her eyes adjust and she looks around.
“What on earth?”
“This,” Bernie says with a grin, “Is a tank simulator.”
“You really aren’t used to dating, are you?” Serena shakes her head with a laugh.
“I thought as I couldn’t let you have a go in the real thing, you might like this. And it’d be something to tell Jason about.”
“You’re right there.” Serena looks up into Bernie’s dancing eyes. “Well, why not, then.”
There’s just barely room for the two of them to sit side by side. Bernie helps Serena put her headset on and Serena wonders if she imagines the lingering touch. Then, she points out the controls and fires up the screen. Serena’s perplexed for a moment, but Bernie covers her hands, moves them to the correct places. Her hands are gentle but firm and Serena can’t help but imagine them in another situation, one where there’s less cramped tank and more luxurious bed, and she bites her lip.
“Alright, Serena?” Bernie’s voice sounds quietly in her headset. Serena turns to look at her and god she’s barely an inch away from her. Serena licks her lips, swallows and nods.
“Here we go then.” The tank seems to spring to life beneath her, vibrating and rolling. Bernie brings up a target and shows Serena how to shoot it, coaxing Serena’s hands to the right movements. Then she moves away, to Serena’s great regret. “All yours.”
The next target moves into Serena’s narrow field of vision. She pushes the appropriate controls and – joys! – the target explodes.
“Yes!” she shouts, punching the air and narrowly missing Bernie.
After three successive targets are blown up, Bernie closes down the simulator and takes her headset off. “Enjoy it?” she asks casually.
Serena pulls off her own headset and laughs, “Yes. Thank you.”
“Not such a bad idea after all.” Bernie says, hopefully.
“No.” Serena turns to face Bernie and finds herself almost in her lap. “How on earth do you work like this?”
Bernie shrugs. “You get used to it. And in some very specific situations, there are various benefits.” She leans forward a little and presses her lips against Serena’s. “See?” she mumbles.
Serena finally allows herself to run her fingers through Bernie’s curls. “I do,” she whispers as she kisses Bernie firmly.
Bernie tugs her onto her lap and Serena moves willingly, ignoring the controls that are poking her annoyingly, winds her arms around Bernie’s neck, sighs as Bernie’s arms find her waist, stroking gently.
“I feel like you should be wearing your fatigues in here,” Serena murmurs in between kisses.
“Like them, did you?”
“Oh yes, Major.”
“Maybe another time then.” Bernie’s fingers find their way under Serena’s blouse and Serena hums at the feel of her touch. “If you – if you want to go out with me again.” There’s a hesitant note in her voice and Serena pulls back a little, eyes her confusedly.
“If I want to? Of course I want to. Though,” she finds a stray curl and tucks it neatly behind Bernie’s ear, “Perhaps we could go somewhere more comfortable?”
“We could go somewhere more comfortable now,” Bernie suggests, “My house isn’t far away.”
“Hmmm,” Serena leans down to kiss Bernie again, “Maybe in a minute.”
Bernie’s lips part underneath hers. “Okay.”