The room soon filled with the giggles of the Fletchlings, and the occasional braying explosion from Bernie, which made the children and Serena laugh even more. Theo was causing chaos running in between everyone’s legs making his siblings collapse in a heap before Bernie barely had a chance of getting one limb onto the mat. In the end Serena coaxed him over to help her spin, promising he could point to the spot they had to use. They were just getting settled into a new game when they heard the front door open and Fletch’s “hello” echoed through the house. He poked his head around the door with a big grin on his face that Serena was pleased to see, it had been a while since she had seen him look so relaxed. However, rather than the welcome home greeting he may have been hoping for, Mikey simply looked annoyed.
“Oh great! You're not much later than when you've had a difficult handover at work. Please don’t say we have to bed just yet dad? We’ve hardly got started because of him.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of Theo. “Couldn’t you just take him upstairs?”
“Evening to you too,” grumbled Fletcher, his good mood seeming to dissipate. “It’s good to know I’m needed for something I suppose.”
He leant across to where Theo was trying to tuck himself into Serena’s side and effortlessly lifted him into the air.
“Come on you little monkey, it’s past your bedtime. But if you behave I might let you have a bath..with bubbles.”
The monkey stopped wriggling and starting clapping his hands, and Ella also scrambled to her feet.
“Me too?” she asked and Fletcher smiled and held out his hand for her to take. “Well someone appreciates having me around,” he said looking at her fondly, she reminded him so much of their mom. Clearing his throat he checked with his two bosses if they were okay to stay a little longer, and then turned to Evie and Mikey.
“Right, listen up. I’m going to get these two washed and into bed. You can stay up until I come back downstairs, but I want to see this room put back into order by then. Which means you’ve got around thirty to forty minutes I would think. Do I make myself clear?”
Serena had to stifle a snort of laughter as she watched Bernie solemnly nod her head along with the two children. As soon as he left the room 3 pairs of eyes turned towards Serena.
“Don’t hang about then, get spinning,” Mikey said, giving his best impression of a sergeant-major, and this time it was Bernie who was trying and failing not to grin at the sight of Serena being given her orders. Mikey caught sight of it and gave her a hard stare.
“Not sure why you’re smiling,” he said cheekily, “you might have the longest legs blondie, but I don’t reckon you stand a chance against two younger bodies. But to make sure there’s no advantage I reckon Serena here can decide which spot you have to reach for.”
He gave Serena a huge wink while Bernie was bristling at the insinuation that she wouldn’t win because of her age. Serena thought that Mikey may have misjudged just how competitive Bernie could be.
Twenty minutes went by very fast as the three of them scrambled about on the mat, and Serena was delighting in making Bernie stretch her long limbs (which she was appreciating more and more with every second that passed), and surprisingly supple body (that she tried very hard not to dwell on) in as many different directions as possible. On more than one occasion Evie had had to remind her to spin again because her mind had drifted into realms that were entirely inappropriate when there were children present. The rather shrewd looks that Bernie was sending in her direction made Serena think that her motives may have been more obvious than she had thought. A few spins later and Serena was feeling very hot under the collar as the position that Bernie had been forced to assume meant that her very firm backside was only a few inches from Serena's face, meaning once again the spinner was forgotten as she struggled to breath normally. This time it was Bernie who interrupted her.
“Not wishing to disturb you,” she said through gritted teeth, “but can I remind you that my spine is, as Mikey admirably pointed out, not as flexible as it once was?”
Making a strange gargling noise in her throat Serena mumbled, “sorry, yes…sorry” and her rather shaky hand spun again as she tried to bring herself back into the moment. She was saved from further impure thoughts as the move that Evie was attempting resulted in her toppling sideways taking Bernie with her and Mikey leapt into the air pumping his fist in joy.
“I think that’s probably the best place to finish,” Serena said, trying to regain some control over the proceedings. “Your dad will be down soon, and we’ve still got to get this room put straight.” Serena was prepared for the protests from Fletch’s eldest, but hadn’t counted on Bernie joining in with the most adorable pout on her face.
‘Anyone would think she’s doing this on purpose.’
She huffed and rolled her eyes.
“Fine! Mikey, left arm yellow.”
This time around Serena applied all her strategy to keeping Ms Wolfe’s derrière well away from her, but it didn’t stop her appreciating it any the less. They were all laughing so hard that it came as quite a surprise when the door opened to reveal Fletcher standing there with his hands on his hips attempting a stern look that he didn't quite manage to pull off. The surprise element however made Bernie completely lose her balance and she staggered forwards as she tried to avoid landing on Mikey or Evie. It was a noble gesture that Serena would normally have applauded, but not when it resulted in Bernie landing face down in her lap. There was a moment’s stunned silence and then Fletch and the children roared with laughter as Bernie scrambled to her feet, her face every bit as red as Serena’s. When they all calmed down, he ushered his children out of the door, and Bernie and Serena worked together in silence to put the room back to rights. It didn't take long and when finished they both sat down on the sofa to wait for Fletch’s return, and Serena did her best to lessen the uncomfortable atmosphere in the room.
“You did a great job here today you know. You’ll be doing me out of my babysitting duties completely. And I’m sorry if it seemed I doubted your child-minding capabilities, earlier, I….I think I was just foisting my insecurities onto you.”
Bernie looked surprised.
“Why would you think that I could replace you in their affections? It’s blatantly not true, they all obviously adore you. I was just a distraction, something different, that’s all.”
Serena gave a frustrated sigh.
“Why do you always do that? Accepting a compliment does not make you weak you know. If it’s not trauma surgery then you constantly seem to want everyone to believe that you’re hopeless at anything else. Being modest is one thing but you don’t need to put yourself down all the time. It gets a little tedious.
Bernie felt herself tense as she listened to Serena’s words, and couldn’t help but sound bitter in her reply.
“Well if you were to speak to my children, you’d soon get a very different opinion of my parenting prowess. And I’m sure there would be a million other failings they could list for you too.”
Serena’s heart ached to hear her sounding so defeated and reached across the gap between them to place her hand over Bernie’s, wanting desperately to make her feel better.
“We all make mistakes with our children but it doesn’t necessarily make us bad parents. You’re no different to me in that respect. I’ve been quite the bitch today and yet look at how you’ve helped me. I was at the end of my tether less than 10 hours ago and then suddenly there you were, my knight in shining armour, working your butt off to make my day as easy as possible. At work and out of it. You always do, even if I don't appreciate it at the time.”
Serena felt all the emotions she had been trying to hide about Bernie come bubbling up inside her and were now dangerously close to the surface. She was trying hard to push them back down when Bernie’s fingers entwined with her own, and her breathing hitched as she looked straight into her eyes.
“You…you make it very easy for me to want to help,” Bernie stuttered. “There’s hardly anything I can think of that I wouldn’t do for you.”
Not trusting herself to speak, even if she could have found the words, Serena moved towards Bernie and before either of them could form a coherent thought, soft lips were brushing against soft lips. After mere seconds they both pulled apart searching each other’s face for some sign that this was okay, that they weren’t making the other feel uncomfortable. Just as they were both leaning back towards one another they heard feet galloping down the stairs and Bernie leapt up from the sofa to put as much distance as possible between them. Fletcher entered the lounge with a big grin on his face, totally oblivious to the tension in the room.
“Ladies, can’t thank you enough for today.” His eyes roamed around the room. “And you’ve even tidied up in here as well, I’m quite overwhelmed.”
He gave Serena a fond smile.
“You've always gone out of your way to help me, even when I've really messed up, and I don't say thank you often enough. Look at today, first you help out Ric, even though I know you didn't want to spend the day staring at spreadsheets, and then after that you still turn up here. Evie was so thrilled you made the effort you know, you're her hero. I think owe you glass of your favourite tipple the next time we’re in Albie’s.”
Serena pretended to be offended, but truthfully she was feeling very emotional.
“I think you meant to say bottle, isn’t that right?”
Fletcher grinned and nodded, but Serena was still battling with the fact that she and Bernie had just kissed, and felt extremely grateful when he turned his attention towards her friend.
“And you too Major, you have been an utter star. Ella told me how you encouraged her to get to the top of the climbing frame, promising you would climb up and get her if she got worried. And Mikey thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread, already asking when I’m going out again so you two ladies can come and hold the fort.”
Bernie gave one of her small, self-conscious smiles.
“You have a lovely family Fletch, you should feel proud.”
But it was obvious to Serena that she was still feeling awkward, shifting her weight from foot to foot as she looked everywhere other than at her.
“Anyway, happy to help. I think I’d better get off now, things to do..you know.”
She had her eyes fixed firmly on the door so she failed to see the hurt look that came across Serena’s face, or the flash of annoyance in her eyes. Serena was trying to deal with the fact that Bernie wanted to escape as quickly as possible and couldn’t work out if it was due to embarrassment at having nearly been caught kissing her friend or because she regretted that it had happened. In attempting to salvage her own dignity she once more went on the attack.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said her voice carrying a steely edge. “If you’d said you had somewhere to be when I arrived you could have gone straightaway. I forget what a busy social life you have sometimes. Perhaps you'd already told me and I forgot, so please, remind me why you have to rush off?”
Fletcher’s eyes flicked from one to the other, not exactly certain what he had missed. He did his best to diffuse the situation.
“Look, surely you both have time for a quick cuppa? I’ll go and put the kettle on.”
“No.” Bernie’s voice sounded harsh. “Thank you, but no. Like I said I should be going.”
She knew she was cocking this up, making things worse, and she was caught between wanting to explain and apologise to Serena for kissing her, but she only managed to flick a glance in her direction before she was in the hall and heading to her car.
Fletch turned startled eyes in Serena’s direction and could see instantly how upset she was. In the beginning, when Bernie had first started working on AAU, he and Raf had a small bet on how long it would be before their co-leads had a real bust-up. After all, two strong-minded women who were so different in many ways would surely reach a point where they couldn’t work with each other. But instead they had both noticed a genuine friendship developing between them, and right now Fletcher would stake his life that feelings might be a little deeper than that. He cleared his throat and decided it was definitely worth a risk to offer his opinion if it meant helping Serena
“I know it’s not really anything to do with me, but why don’t you go after her? I have no idea what’s happened but I think she was as upset as you seem to be.”
Serena felt herself blush, but wouldn’t acknowledge that there was any truth in his observation.
“I’m not sure what you’re saying Nurse Fletcher, but I think you should keep your nose out of other people’s business, especially when you don't know what you're talking about!”
Fletcher spread his hands wide and shrugged as he crossed the room to glance out of the window.
“I’m sorry, you're probably right..but it’s just…well, Mikey said that you two couldn’t stop looking at each when you thought the other wasn’t. He might be child but I think they often see things that even the most intelligent adult miss.”
He wasn’t looking at Serena, but he held his breath, expecting to hear a torrent of well chosen words to be hurled in his direction, but instead all he heard was a hitch in her breathing and could imagine her hand had flown to her throat, pulling at that necklace. Still looking out of the window he continued.
“It would seem the the Major is also struggling with something, considering she’s still sat on the drive in her car, banging her head on the steering wheel.”
Without giving herself time to overthink Serena scrambled to her feet, and not even stopping to put on her shoes she wrenched the door open and ran towards Bernie’s car. Seeing Serena hurtling towards her Bernie had been shocked out of her misery and began to fumble for her keys. Fortunately the sharp reflexes she normally relied on failed her miserably and Serena flung herself into the passenger seat closing the door before Bernie could get the car to start.
“That’s fine, go if you want to,” Serena said breathlessly. “Because wherever you’re going, I’m coming as well.”
Bernie gave a deep sigh and leaned back, closing her eyes in frustration at herself.
“Serena…I’m sorry for running out..and for what happened in there. You know, you were there..the kiss…it was a mistake…an idiotic thing to do.”
Having said what she had spent the last 5 minutes turning over and over in her mind she screwed up her courage and opened her eyes to look at Serena, and couldn’t quite believe what she saw. Instead of having a face like thunder she actually appeared to be smiling.
“Well, I’ve been called many things in my life, but no one has ever told me I’m a mistake, at least not to my face. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve behaved quite stupidly on more than one occasion, but I really don’t believe this is one of them.”
She rested her hand gently over Bernie’s that was still clutching the steering wheel.
“It wasn’t me kissing you, or you kissing me..we kissed each other. And in my experience what happened in there barely qualifies as a kiss. Although, if 'superdad' hadn’t chosen that moment to come downstairs, I honestly think things would have progressed quite nicely.”
Bernie’s head was swimming even more than it had been.
“What? But that means….but you’re not…”
“If you say I’m not that way inclined or that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool heterosexual I may have to hit you.”
A devilish grin spread over Serena’s face.
“Or kiss you again…or both.”
She raised an eyebrow suggestively and Bernie let go of the breath she had been holding with a whoosh, but her face remained serious.
“This isn’t funny Serena, at least not to me.”
Serena immediately felt remorseful and squeezed Bernie’s hand briefly.
“I know, I know and I didn’t mean to make it seem trivial. I’m nervous too you know. Which is exactly why we need to talk about this.”
She glanced towards the house and spotted Fletcher peering through the blinds.
“But not here.”
Putting her hand on the car door handle she looked at Bernie earnestly.
“Can you promise me that you won’t drive off the minute I get out of the car? I need to collect my shoes and the rest of my belongings and then, perhaps we could go somewhere to try and make sense of this..development.”
Bernie gave her a small smile and a brief nod, feeling a little calmer than she had a few minutes ago. As Serena moved to get out of the car she paused.
“And just in case your nerve doesn’t hold, remember that I do know where you live and I’m quite capable of sitting outside your front door for however long it takes, waiting for you to return home. Okay?”
Serena walked back into the lounge where she found Fletch pretending to sort through some papers on the coffee table. Picking up her handbag Serena addressed him directly.
“I’m glad we could help you out today, you know you only ever have to ask. But…if I hear one word about my….my friendship with Ms Wolfe anywhere in the hospital over the next few days I give you my word that as soon as Raf is back I’ll have you pulling double shifts for at least a month. Do I make myself clear?”
Back on the drive Serena leaned down to Bernie’s open window.
“I was going to suggest you came back to mine as Jason’s staying at Alan’s tonight, but I’m thinking we need to be on more neutral ground and somewhere that we wouldn’t be tempted to let things escalate.” Bernie’s eyebrows shot up at that but she didn’t interrupt. “Are you okay to follow me?”
“Of course,” Bernie murmured. As she pulled away after Serena she could only hope they didn’t end up in a busy bar or pub. She was having enough trouble trying to make any sense of this, and the thought of trying to think clearly with a couple of whiskeys inside her did not sound like a good idea, although she could see the appeal of being drunk right now.
Her concerns faded as she followed Serena away from Holby city centre to a nearby beauty spot that was high enough to see the town spread out before them. The daylight was waning when they pulled onto the car park, and she was soon following Serena across a small rise to a bench where they could sit and hope to come to terms with this new aspect of their relationship. They sat in silence for a few minutes as they both tried to think of how to approach things and when Bernie finally steeled herself to speak, her voice sounded shaky.
“Quite a day wouldn’t you say?”
Serena huffed, but thankful that Bernie had broken the silence she made a small movement to slide a little closer to her.
“Yes, I think you could say that.”
Bernie gave a long sigh.
“I’m so sorry that I’ve made things awkward between us. I simply wasn’t thinking.”
Serena turned to look at Bernie and shook her head in disbelief.
“Again..why are you apologising? You kissed me, I kissed you, there’s no fault or blame that I can see. Unless of course you really wish it had never happened?”
Bernie was confused, something that seemed to happen a lot around Serena. She gazed up into the darkening sky, and tried to explain.
“No I can't wish that, it just would have been simpler and I’m worried that I’ve ruined our friendship. I’ve tried so hard to hide what I feel about you and now, because of one moment of weakness it’s all falling apart.”
Serena cautiously reached out to touch Bernie’s hand.
“Well I hope that’s not the case, considering I’m very new to all of this and I don’t want to think my recently realised feelings for you are about to be dismissed out of hand.”
Bernie let her head drop until she could look into Serena’s soft brown eyes.
“Really? I mean…for how long?”
Serena gave a self deprecating laugh.
“Honestly? I think today was the first time I allowed myself to accept how important you are to me. I can’t imagine how I’d cope now, without you by my side, and I don’t just mean at work. I’ve never felt so supported and cared for by another person…ever. You crept into my life and under my skin until it feels as if you’ve always been there. What scares me is not that you’re a woman… well… maybe that’s a small part of it. But it's mainly because I’m worried you’ll see me for what I am, and decide I’m not worth hanging around for. Like everyones else who's ever mattered to me”
Bernie’s head was buzzing as she listened to what Serena was saying, and being a woman of action rather than words she knew what to do to prove she could be as brave as Serena.
Her hand lifted to rest against Serena’s cheek and she moved slowly forward until she was pressing those beautiful lips with her own. The kiss started off gently but grew rapidly more intense as Serena responded fervently. One kiss fed seamlessly into another and then another, their mouths parting only briefly to take in small gasps of air. By the time they took a rest from this new glorious sensation the only way they could have been any closer was if one of them had sat on the others lap. When Bernie tilted her head back to look at the sky again, she was surprised to see it was entirely black. The feeling of Serena’s head resting against her chest as they caught their breath was simply wonderful and she was about to say as much when Serena’s mouth pressed against her collarbone. The carefully chosen words she had planned to say disappeared from her brain and a low, soft “oh!” was all that came out. Serena started to lick and kiss her way up Bernie’s neck along her jaw and across to her mouth, her tongue tracing the outline of her lips until Bernie was helpless to do anything but part them, willingly granting access.
This time it was a lot more heated and as their tongues danced around each other, Bernie’s deep desire for this woman began to surface, feelings that had been repressed for too long caused her to feel reckless. It wasn’t long before her hand was sliding down Serena’s back, curving over her hips until it was firmly grasping her bottom, she even considered hoisting her over her thighs so she was being straddled. But when she felt Serena’s hand slide under her clothes to gently touch the skin around her waist then tentatively move up towards her breast, the overwhelming sensations actually startled her enough to pull back. She stared into Serena’s eyes that were dark with want and knew that hers must be exactly the same. Suddenly coming under Bernie’s scrutiny Serena looked away, the skin on her face and neck quite pink and flushed, though whether from embarrassment, arousal or both, Bernie wasn’t completely sure. Serena took a raspy breath and swallowed with difficulty.
“Sorry I …I got a bit…”
“Me too,” whispered Bernie. “And as you put it so perfectly, no need to be sorry unless you wish it hadn’t happened.”
She pressed a kiss to Serena’s forehead and then turned to lean back against the bench, trying to regain her sense of balance. Serena mirrored her move until the only point of contact now were their hands resting between them, and she gave a small chuckle before voicing her thoughts.
“I’d be a lot more sorry if we hadn’t kissed, so currently I have no regrets.”
When Bernie didn’t offer any response, Serena pressed her.
“How about you?”
“None! Unless it’s not letting you know how I felt about you sooner.”
They lapsed back into silence as their hands tangled together, and then in the quietness they heard what sounded like a couple making out a few hundred yards to their right where there was a small copse. Stifling a snort of amusement Bernie stood up, pulling Serena with her.
“Think it’s time to go, yes?”
Serena nodded, sniggering quietly as hand in hand they walked back to the car park. Bernie allowed Serena to pull her towards her car and then found herself pinned against it with Serena’s hands once more sliding around her waist. And Serena being Serena, she wasted no time in addressing the next issue.
“So…what happens now?”
It wasn't as if Serena had ever been shy about asking prospective partners out on a date or back to her home, but this felt different. She also had the impression that Bernie might still be a bit skittish, so offering the decision to her about what to do, seemed to be the right one. Which, Serena thought surprisingly, didn’t bother her at all.
Bernie ran her fingers through Serena’s hair and looked softly at her.
“Right now I think we should go back to our own homes and try to get some rest. And then, I would love to arrange for us to go on a proper date, if you think that's okay?”
Serena nuzzled her head against Bernie’s neck.
“I think I’d really like that,” she murmured, loving the feel of Bernie’s hand lightly stroking down her spine. But there was one more issue that she felt needed addressing.
“The one thing I can’t help feeling might be a little tricky, and that’s work tomorrow. I’m pretty sure I put the fear of god into Fletch about saying anything, but…” Serena felt the colour rising in her cheeks again, and was glad that it was too dark for Bernie to see it. “I think I’m going to find it particularly challenging…..not to look at you differently.”
“Are you telling me that all of a sudden you find me irresistible Ms Campbell? In which case I entirely understand your struggle. I on the other hand have been doing a pretty good job of hiding my feelings for you, so I probably have the edge in that department.”
Bernie couldn’t hide the smirk in her voice and when she heard Serena tut with annoyance she couldn’t stop herself from teasing a little more .
“There’s another way of looking at it though. It could also be a little, I don’t know, maybe…. exciting? Seeing how long we can keep it hidden. Are you good at keeping secrets?”
Serena groaned at the mere thought, and a little shiver ran through her at the prospect of being so close to Bernie but not daring to touch.
“Up until this today I would have said I’m very good with secrets, but,” and her voice lowered, “I’m not sure how I’m going to keep my hands off you.”
In spite of the dark, Bernie was as certain as she could be that Serena was definitely blushing and she felt her own face grow warm as she leant in to kiss her cheek.
“In that case it will be my duty to help you maintain a professional distance. I may have to confine you to the office.”
‘Sod it!’ Serena thought, ‘if that’s the way you want to play it, you’d better watch your step.’
“In that case Ms Wolfe, I would make sure when you come into the office that all the blinds are drawn and you lock the door behind you.”
Bernie’s eyes widened at the thought of Serena pushing her up against the filing cabinet in much the same way she currently had her trapped against her car, and her legs suddenly felt weak. Maybe she had underestimated Serena and tomorrow wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought. Before she could come back with any sort of reply, Serena’s hands moved from her waist to cradle her face, and she pressed her lips once again to Bernie’s. It started off sweetly, but quickly turned very passionate until Bernie could swear her toes were starting to curl with the desire that was flowing through her body. She dimly heard a moan which she was pretty sure had come from her, as Serena’s right leg pushed between her own. A throb of pure lust consumed her and she heard another louder moan as she reacted instinctively, pushing down onto Serena’s thigh. Serena was now the one with a smirk on her face as she stepped away to look at a gasping, wild-eyed Bernie, trying to maintain her balance.
“You know, you’re right. This could be fun!”
She walked around the car and opened the door, ready to get inside as Bernie just about managed to stay upright tracking her with her eyes.
“And just for the record Ms Wolfe, I’m not sure that this needs to stay a secret for very long.”
Moments later Bernie was watching Serena spin the car around, her eyes fixed on the rapidly disappearing tail lights. When she regained enough composure to walk the few steps to her own car some might have said there was a little bit of a swagger in her hips as she replayed the evening’s events over in her mind. By the time she started the car there was definitely a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her lips, that only dimmed slightly when she remembered she had an urgent date to organise.
'Maybe,' she thought, 'the first thing I should do is to go on the internet and buy a game of Twister.'