There’s flour everywhere, that’s the first thing Serena notices as she walks into her kitchen at the end of a very long shift, wanting only to open a bottle of Shiraz and sit down with her feet up.
“What are you doing?” she demands, probably a little harshly, but honestly, no one wants to come home and find a messy kitchen at the end of a long day.
Bernie Wolfe, her partner?, lover?, significant other? The woman with whom she’s been sharing a bed and a delicious number of orgasms, whips around, her messy blonde hair flying everywhere. There’s flour dusting her hair, too, Serena notes.
“Hello, love,” she says, and gives Serena that little half smile that she seems to reserve just for the brunette. “Baking chocolate chip cookies.” She nods at the kitchen counter. “There’s a bottle open already.”
“Right, well that’ll have to wait until I’ve cleared up this mess.”
Serena sees Bernie recoil just a little, probably because that harsh note is still in her voice.
“You don’t need to,” Bernie says, sounding a little bit hurt. “I can clean up my own mess. And I will clean up once I’ve finished.” She swallows, the sound loud in the otherwise silent kitchen. “I’ve already got a hotpot in the oven for dinner so all you have to do is sit down, put your feet up, and drink your Shiraz.”
Serena feels her eyes widen at the news that Bernie’s made dinner too, although when she stops and focuses her attention on it, she can smell the hotpot, one called Cottage Chilli Hotpot, which is, in fact, a really nice one to have on a cold late autumn evening when the weather’s wet and miserable, and the day’s been long and awful. She knows she shouldn’t be surprised that Bernie’s made dinner too, she often does, it’s just that her emotions are messed up right now.
“I’m going to have a bath,” Serena says, and ignores Bernie to pour herself a glass of Shiraz, which she takes, along with the bottle, out of the kitchen and upstairs to their ensuite.
She doesn’t see Bernie’s shoulders slump as she goes out, or the hurt in her eyes as Serena more or less scorns her efforts to do something nice for her to make up for the awful, difficult day she’s had at work. Bernie had received texts from both Donna and Raf letting her know that Serena had lost two patients in surgery, and from what both of her friends had said in the subsequent phone calls, even if Bernie had been working today, she probably wouldn’t have been able to save them, as they were both pretty far gone before they even arrived at Holby. So Bernie had made the hotpot they’ve often enjoyed on cold, wet days ever since she’d found the recipe a couple of years ago, then she’d decided to make Serena’s favourite chocolate chip cookies, which feature large chunks of dark chocolate inside, and a layer of white chocolate ‘icing’ on the top.
And yes, she’s aware the kitchen needs tidying up. It had done after she made the hotpot, after all, but Serena ought to know by now that Bernie always does clear up and wash up after she’s been cooking. They’ve been living together again, following her stint working in Nairobi, for three and a half years, and Bernie does slightly more than half of the cooking of their evening meals, so it’s not as if Serena doesn’t have lots of empirical evidence for Bernie’s ability to both create a mess and (more importantly) clean it up afterwards.
She sighs, then turns back to the table and checks whether the cookies are cool enough to ice yet. They are, so she spreads a thick layer of melted white chocolate atop each biscuit, then adds an extra bit of decorative icing to half a dozen of the biscuits, which she arranges on a plate. She puts the remainder of the biscuits into an airtight box, then she sets about clearing up while the hotpot continues baking in the oven.
Twenty five minutes after Serena disappeared upstairs, the kitchen is pristine, as is the cook, and Bernie’s prepared a steamed green vegetable side dish to serve with the hotpot. She sighs, then heads upstairs. She understands why Serena was snippy with her, but it still stings that her partner couldn’t give her the benefit of the doubt.
When she gets upstairs their bedroom door is ajar, which is a relief – Serena’s been known to lock Bernie out of the room on certain, truly awful, occasions when they’ve argued. She pushes the door open carefully, although she can’t hear any movement within the room. Serena is not in the bedroom, and then Bernie hears sobbing coming from the bathroom, and she rushes across the room and opens the door (glad that it, too, is ajar), and finds her partner sitting on the floor, fully dressed still, while the bath’s empty, and the wine bottle beside her is now half full.
“Oh love,” Bernie says softly. “I’m sorry you had such a pig of a day.” She gets down on the floor beside Serena, ignoring the way her back protests, and wraps her arms around the other woman, drawing her in close.
“I’m sorry I was such a pig,” Serena says between sobs.
“Shh, it’s okay. It doesn’t matter.” Bernie kisses the top of her head, rubs circles around the top of her shoulder, and murmurs “I’ve got you, love” at intervals until Serena’s sobs gradually abate and she rests, soggy and somewhat uncomfortable, in Bernie’s arms.
“C’mon, love, let’s get you up,” Bernie says, and bites her lip as her back twinges really hard when she gets herself and Serena back up from the floor. “Now, do you want to have that bath, or would you rather eat? Because I came up to tell you that dinner’s just about ready.”
“Food first, please,” Serena says, sounding congested.
“Okay.” Bernie leads her into their bedroom, and snags a box of tissues from Serena’s nightstand, then grabs some makeup wipes from the top of the dresser.
“I must look a complete fright,” her partner says thickly, then blows her nose.
“You don’t look quite as put together as usual, it’s true,” Bernie tells her. “But I still wouldn’t call you a fright.” She ducks into the bathroom to retrieve the bottle of wine and the glass, then turns out the light.
“I’m going to head downstairs and lay the table,” she tells Serena, who’s cleaning the ruined makeup from her face.
“I’ll be down in two minutes.”
The dining table’s been laid, and there are even two candles lit and sitting in their paired candlesticks when Serena walks in two minutes later.
“Grab a chair,” Bernie says, coming in from the kitchen at the same time, the dish of hotpot carried carefully in her oven-gloved hands. She sets the dish down, then goes out again.
“Can I help?” Serena calls, wanting to make up for her earlier unkindness.
“I’ve got it covered, thanks,” Bernie responds, and returns a short time afterwards carrying a tray. She sets it on the corner of the table, and proceeds to unload two chilled bottles of the Vienna lager that they’d discovered pairs nicely with the chilli hotpot, then a dish of steamed green vegetables, drizzled thickly with sour cream, and a jug of water and two glasses.
“Eat. Enjoy,” Bernie says with a smile, taking the seat opposite her.
“This looks and smells delicious,” Serena tells her. “Just what’s needed with that weather outside.”
“Glad you think so,” Bernie says, ducking her head with that shy smile she so often wears when people compliment her.
They talk about Bernie’s day as they eat; recently she’s been doing a lot of teaching of trauma techniques at hospitals up and down the country, so much so, in fact, that she’s now only working part time at Holby since she sees it as her duty to pass on her hard won expertise to the benefit of patients everywhere. But just a few days ago the BMA asked her to convert her lectures into a trauma handbook that people can purchase to keep on their wards for reference purposes, and she’s been working hard to do that. It’s not been easy, Serena knows, because Bernie normally lectures with only a couple of notecards filled with her untidily scrawled abbreviated notes in front of her, and now she’s having to write actual pages full of words instead.
After they finish eating, Serena insists on clearing the table, telling Bernie to finish her beer, and she first carries the empty hotpot and vegetable dishes out to the kitchen, then piles their plates and used glasses, and the empty beer bottles onto the tray, along with the half empty water jug, and carries that out. She puts on the coffee machine for their post-prandial cup of coffee, then recalls that Bernie was baking cookies when she arrived, and she thinks that a cookie each to go with their coffee would be nice.
She crosses the kitchen towards the cupboard where they keep the cookies and notices a plate on the counter with a doily underneath it. There are half a dozen cookies on the plate – her favourite kind, the ones with chunks of dark chocolate in them, and a layer of white chocolate ‘icing’ on the top. But these six have an additional icing decoration on them: in red icing, the half dozen cookies have been individually iced with words that spell out ‘I’m’ ‘Sorry’ ‘Serena’ ‘I’ ‘Love’ ‘You’, with a heart instead of the O in ‘love’.
Serena feels a sob threatening to burst out of her at the sight of them: knowing that her partner is apologising to her, when she was the one who’d come home in such a bad temper and then had unfairly taken it out on Bernie, is almost too much.
“Hey, I was thinking–” Bernie cuts herself off as Serena turns to her, her expression stricken with guilt and remorse. “Serena? What’s up?” She hurries across the kitchen as Serena cannot answer, a hand clamped over her mouth to keep in her sobs.
Bernie wraps her arms around her, cradling her tightly against her chest. “What is it, my love?” she answers, her tone tender and loving.
“How can you love me?” Serena demands, the sobs escaping her. “I’m such a bitch.”
“Hey now, what’s this?” Bernie asks. “You’re not a bitch.”
“I am. I am.” Serena makes a half hearted attempt to pull away, but Bernie doesn’t let her.
“Serena Wendy Campbell, you listen to me. You are not a bitch. And I love you because you’re a warm, witty, and deeply caring woman.” She tilts Serena’s face up, one finger under her chin. “What’s brought this on, love?”
“Cookies,” Serena gets out, then clings tightly to her partner.
“Well, I know they’re not as good as Nigella’s, but I didn’t think they were quite so bad as to warrant you breaking down in tears.” Bernie’s voice is warm and full of gentle, teasing laughter as she eases back from Serena in order see her expression. She reaches out and snags the roll of kitchen paper on its little stand, and pulls some free, then offers it to her partner for her to mop her face dry.
Then she guides them across to the kitchen table and sits down, drawing Serena down to sit on her lap. “Why don’t you start from the beginning, love?” she suggests as she senses her partner’s sobbing is easing up.
“You were making the cookies when I came home, and I bit your head off, then stormed upstairs to sulk, pretty much, but you still iced those cookies with an apology – as if you were the one in the wrong. I don’t deserve you.”
“Oh Serena, love. It’s not about deserving each other – it’s about loving each other. And the fact of the matter is that we do love each other – very deeply – despite sometimes behaving less than our best towards each other. I knew what sort of day you’d had – Raf and Donna had both let me know, wanting me to be aware so that I could take special care of you tonight – so yes, it did hurt that you were snippy with me, but I understood what you’d been through today, which meant I understood why you weren’t at your best tonight.”
Bernie cups her partner’s face, then leans in and kisses her, not holding back any of the passion or love or care that she feels for the woman in her arms.
“I love you, Serena Wendy Campbell, bad moods and shitty days and all.”
“I love you, too, Berenice Griselda Wolfe.”
“Despite the absurd moniker?”
Serena chuckles, which makes some of the tension in Bernie’s shoulders relax. “I love the ‘absurd moniker’.”
“Coffee and cookies, then a bath and an early night?”
“That sounds like a very good plan, Major.”
“Glad to hear it, Fräulein.”
They exchange another kiss, grin at each other, then set about providing themselves with coffee and cookies, Bernie loading the dishwasher while Serena makes the coffee. They head upstairs to their bedroom hand in hand, their free hands holding their cups of coffee, with the cookies balanced on the saucers. Bernie sets her cup and saucer down on her nightstand, then goes into the ensuite and gets the bath running, adding Serena’s favourite bath salts, and lighting the candles that she knows her partner loves to use to add what she considers a romantic atmosphere.
Returning back to the bedroom, she sees Serena has changed out of her work clothes into the silk robe she usually wears before and after a bath or shower. She’s sitting on the bed, with her back against the headrest, drinking her coffee.
“You should drink yours before it gets cold,” her partner says.
Bernie picks up the cup and swallows half, earning herself an arched eyebrow, then she proceeds to swiftly get undressed, pulling on her own robe, then sitting on the side of the bed facing Serena as she eats her cookie. She notes that Serena had claimed ‘Sorry’ while giving her ‘Love’.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
Serena nods. “Getting there.”
“Thanks to you. I don’t know what I’d have done without you here.”
“You’d have managed,” Bernie says positively.
“Not very well, though.” Serena finishes her cookie, then her coffee. “Thank you for being so forgiving.”
“Well, that works both ways, doesn’t it?” Bernie says. “It’s part of what being in a relationship is – forgiving each other and helping each other to cope with bad times.” She finishes her own cookie, swallows the last mouthful of coffee, then holds out her head. “Shall we?”
Serena clasps her hand, then tugs and when Bernie leans in, she finds herself being kissed thoroughly.
“I love you, Berenice Wolfe.”
“That’s good, ‘cos I love you, Serena Campbell.” She shifts off the bed, and Serena moves with her, and after a brief hug, they make their way into the bathroom, and shedding their robes, they climb in together.
“Let me wash your back,” Bernie says from her spot seated behind her partner.
Serena washes the rest of herself, then leans back against Bernie’s chest, and is asleep within minutes, which comes as no surprise to the blonde. She cradles her partner carefully, hoping that she’ll have a better day at work tomorrow.