Major Bernie Wolfe had operated in some of the most war torn parts of the planet, and although she had never got accustomed to working while surrounded by the noise of shells exploding and gunfire, she had always been able to keep her reflexes under control when in the hopital. A skill that seemed to have deserted her now that she was a civilian working for the NHS. She positively jumped up from her seat as the door to the office banged open to admit one Serena Campbell, her co-lead on AAU, sporting a face that looked like thunder. She was so caught up at the sight of the angry woman in front of her that she forgot to ask what was wrong. Until that is, the full force of Serena’s glare was turned in her direction as she slammed down the files she was carrying onto her desk and threw herself into the chair opposite.
“Problem?” Bernie managed to stutter, wondering if it’s something she has done, even as part of her brain is thinking how attractive she looks when in a rage.
Serena rolled her eyes at what she considered to be an inane question, but actually just the sound of Bernie’s voice helped her to bring the room back into focus.
Trying to calm herself she took a deep breath before replying.
“Ric bloody Griffin is the problem if you really want to know!”
Not exactly sure of how best to reply Bernie merely raised her eyebrows with what she hoped was an enquiring look, to persuade Serena to continue.
“As if I don’t have enough on my plate, he’s had to bugger off home because Darla is in some sort of trouble at school, again, and has saddled me with the job of finishing the quarterly figures and report to send to the board. And guess when it’s needed by? Tomorrow!”
Serena slapped her hand on top of the files she had been carrying.
“I mean look at this. Finishing is hardly the word. More like barely started.”
Bernie tipped her head to one side and changed her facial expression to one she hoped showed a degree of sympathy.
“Not to mention the mountain of paperwork I already have here, that I wanted to get done today. So that I could have at least one day before the weekend when I wasn’t stuck in this bloody office!”
Serena put her head in her hands and groaned loudly. Bernie decided that now was as good a time as any to risk a remark.
“Well…” she began tentatively, knowing full well that what she was about to say could generate at least a sarcastic comment if not a full blown tirade.
“I could give a hand with the AAU stuff. See what I could get out of the way..if it would help?”
Serena’s head shot up and for a second, and as their eyes met Bernie seriously considered ducking under cover of her desk, but almost instantly the expression on Serena’s face softened and when she spoke the bite had gone from her voice.
“Are you sure? I mean for once it’s not your mess, but it would give me a small breathing space.”
There was now even a small teasing smile pulling at the corners of Serena’s mouth and Bernie felt her own mouth respond in like.
“Of course I’m sure. You’ve done the same for me on many an occasion,” she risked a quick wink, “and we are equals after all.”
Smiling properly now, but still with a slightly wild look in her eyes, Serena gathered up everything she had just deposited on her desk and stood up.
“In that case I gratefully accept your offer and I’m going to head to Henrik’s office in the hope I can work in relative peace while he’s away. Please don’t hesitate to page me if there’s an emergency down here though.”
She had just reached the door when she turned back and took a couple of steps over to Bernie’s desk to place a hand lightly onto her forearm.
“Thank you,” she said warmly. “On days like these I really don’t know how I ever managed without you.”
Bernie was left gazing at the space in the room she had just occupied and there was a tingling sensation on her arm where Serena’s fingers had gently squeezed before she had left. She shook her head slightly to try and clear it as she reached for the first file.
‘I hope you never have to find out,’ she thought. ‘Because I’m not sure if I’d cope without you.’
The day was progressing quite well Bernie felt. No red phone had interrupted her personal mission to try and clear both her own and Serena’s paperwork. Morven had called her for a couple of consults on two new admissions, but until the tests and scans she had ordered were complete, the ward seemed more than capable of functioning without her presence. She screwed her eyes up to relieve some of the tension that had built up from peering at the discharge sheets and reports as she’d entered them on line, and glanced at her watch. She was surprised to see it was nearly 2pm. No wonder her attention was starting to slip, she needed some food inside her, and another coffee probably wouldn’t hurt either. If she got called into emergency surgery she would need some reserves to draw upon, a lesson she had learnt very early on in her army career. Taking her debit card with her she headed for Pulses, making a small stop at the nurses station to tell Nurse Fletcher where she was going. As she started down the stairs it struck her that it was highly unlikely that Serena had eaten anything either, especially as she remembered seeing her bag, and presumably her purse, still in the corner of their office. She decided to grab a drink and a sweet treat for her friend, as the idea of an already grumpy Serena Campbell deprived of food didn’t bear thinking about. And even if she had eaten Bernie couldn’t imagine that she would refuse her current favourite snack, a pain au chocolat.
Purchases complete Bernie unusually took the lift up to the 6th floor where all of the admin offices were. She reasoned that even a big macho army medic might struggle to run up that many flights of stairs with two coffees and a bag of food without risking spillage. A smile spread over her face as she thought about the occasion when Serena had called her that nearly three months ago, and how could she forget the arm wrestle that had followed. She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t even notice that the lift doors had opened, her mind taken completely over with the memory of Serena’s triumphant smile as she had won, and the goosebumps that had run down Bernie’s spine when Serena had leant over to crow about it, her breath blowing gently on the back of Bernie’s neck.
The voice seemed to come out of nowhere and Bernie had to blink rapidly to bring her surroundings back into focus. Standing in front of her, one hand holding the lift doors open, was Hanssen’s PA , obviously waiting for Bernie to vacate the lift, as there was no higher floor she could be travelling to.
“Oh! Right, sorry I was miles away.”
As they exchanged places Bernie murmured, “Is…um?”
“Ms Campbell is in Mr Hanssen’s office, yes,” came the prompt reply, and Bernie strode off down the corridor as the young woman smiled and shook her head in disbelief. ‘These surgeons might be at the top of their game in the operating theatre,’ she thought as the doors closed, ‘but I doubt that many could find their way out of a paper bag.’
When she heard a knock on the door Serena gave a loud sigh and couldn’t keep the exasperation out of her voice as she shouted “Come in.” Which was hardly justified as she hadn’t had many interruptions at all, but knowing there was still a good three hours work ahead of her the last thing she wanted was someone telling her she was urgently needed elsewhere. So when the first thing that appeared around the door was a hand holding a cup of coffee, followed by a head surrounded by blonde curls she felt a wave of relief wash over her.
“Is it safe to come in?”
Serena laughed out loud at that.
“If you’ve got coffee and it’s strong and hot, then I’ll do my best not to bite your head off.”
“Not just coffee,” Bernie strolled in shaking the bag of food in Serena’s direction. “I was taking a late lunch when I realised you might not have eaten either. I’m afraid I’ve only bought you a pastry, but I’m willing to share my Mexican bean wrap if you’re desperate?”
Serena shook her head emphatically.
“Not that desperate, no. However if that’s a packet of crisps I spy sticking out of your pocket, I’ll happily steal a few of those.”
Bernie perched on the side of the rather large desk and tossed them in front of Serena.
“Have the whole thing, it was more of an afterthought if I’m honest. I’m quite content with this.”
Bernie opened her snack of choice and took a large bite making Serena tut.
“For pity’s sake Bernie, there are chairs right there..”
Bernie made a mumbling protest as she shifted herself onto a more acceptable seat.
“You don’t normally have a problem with my sitting on your desk. Happy now?”
She missed the pinking of Serena’s cheeks as she took another bite.
“Yes,” Serena retorted before relenting.
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t want crumbs or mayonnaise or stuff falling onto my papers.”
Bernie quickly licked at some dressing that was in the corner of her mouth and smiled her understanding. And for the next few minutes they chatted about things down on AAU and speculated on how long Henrik might be away. Ric might have accepted the role of acting CEO, but they both knew that it was always going to be Serena who picked up any slack. Her decision to resign as Hanssen’s deputy when Jason had come into her life, didn’t mean that she stopped caring about the running of the hospital. Bernie finally stood up brushing any crumbs onto the floor.
“Well, I suppose I’d better get back to our ward and leave you in peace.”
“Do you have to?”
Serena always enjoyed having Bernie close by she admitted to herself, she made her feel.…safe and cared for. The pout on her face made Bernie smile.
“Yes, I do. You’ve still got this to finish and I happen to know that Fletcher is very anxious to leave on time today and I promised him, barring emergencies, that it wouldn’t be a problem.”
She had turned towards the door and hadn’t noticed how Serena had frozen at her words.
“If you think you’ll be late finishing let me know. I can always pop Jason home if you need me to, I’ll even stop to pick up his fish and chips.”
When she finally looked at Serena for confirmation she was concerned to see such a stricken look on her face.
“Serena, what’s wrong? I know Jason doesn’t like it when his routine changes but I don’t think he’ll mind that much.”
Serena shook her head.
“No, no, it’s not Jason. He’s already going to Alan’s straight from work today because I …. I promised Fletch I’d look after his kids from 5pm. Raf’s on this facial reconstruction course for another week and I thought Fletcher was looking a bit tired the other day so I offered to give him a couple of hours respite.”
She screwed her eyes up in frustration as she reached for the phone.
“I’ll have to ask him if he can postpone it until the weekend which means I’ll have to juggle Jason’s schedule again. God I’m so stupid! I hope he’s not planned anything special.”
She started to dial AAU’s extension when Bernie darted forward and took the phone from her hands as she ended the call.
“You don’t have to. I’ll go instead of you as long as he’s okay with that. I know they don’t know me as well as you but I’m not a complete stranger to them. Even if my own children aren’t exactly singing my praises right now, I’m sure they would agree that I didn’t suck that much at feeding them and keeping them entertained.”
Serena looked at Bernie her face a mixture of uncertainty and hope.
“Are you sure? I mean Evie’s fine to look after herself and Ella shouldn’t be much of a problem, just a bit clingy at times. But Mikey and Theo combined can be quite a handful if I’m honest.” She faltered. “No, no it’s too much to ask. I’ll explain and.. and he might even have another babysitter he could ask if it’s not too short notice.”
Bernie moved backwards so that Serena couldn’t take the phone from her hands.
“You’re not asking..I’m offering. As long as Fletch is okay with it then it’s fine by me. It will be good to test if I have any of the skills I once had, when trying to reconnect with two children who often looked at me as if I was a complete stranger after a 6 month posting away from home.”
Her voice had taken on a wistful tone that made Serena’s heart ache. Bernie didn’t talk that much about her relationship with her children, but Serena had seen first hand how devastated she had been at Marcus’s attempt to drive a wedge between her and them over the divorce. She walked around the desk and put a hand on her shoulder.
“If you really mean it, then I would be extremely grateful…again. I promise to join you as soon as I can.”
Without really thinking she rested her head against Bernie’s and pressed a small kiss to her cheek, as she whispered “thank you.”
Hand still on her shoulder Serena moved her head away and got caught up in Bernie’s soft gaze. They seemed to be frozen in time, seconds that were as long as minutes. Then Bernie cleared her throat noisily as she managed to find the will to move, handing Serena the phone back.
“You’re very welcome,” she said softly and nodded as she headed out of the office.
Serena held onto the desk as she returned to her seat, her heart beating inexplicably fast, making her feel quite lightheaded.
‘What happened there…was that..a moment we just shared?’
She knew that she had glanced down at Bernie’s lips as they had stood there and she was certain that Bernie’s eyes had flickered down to hers.
‘Did I nearly kiss her?’ she thought incredulously.
Almost angrily she shook her head hard to dispel such distracting thoughts, and turned her attention once again to the pages of figures spread in front of her and groaned.
When Bernie returned to AAU she called Fletcher into the office and explained the situation and how, with his approval, she was happy to step into the breach. That way Serena didn’t have to feel guilty, and he could still have his few hours of freedom. Predictably he protested, saying that he would rearrange his plans for another time, and Bernie felt herself getting just a teeny bit annoyed.
“I know it’s all a bit short notice, but between you and Serena I’m beginning to think that neither of you feel that I’m capable of doing this. If you really don’t trust me then I know it’s unlikely I’ll change your mind, but at least tell me that straight.”
Fletcher sighed as he sat down on the spare chair.
“I’m sure you’re capable of barking out instructions to a whole platoon of squaddies marching around a parade ground or clambering over an assault course, but my four are….” His voice petered out as he struggled to find an adequate adjective. “Let’s just say they can test your patience. Evie’s not normally too much trouble but she was very much looking forward to spending some time with Serena, so she’ll probably go into full-blown sulky teenager mode. And don’t get me started on Mikey, I doubt the devil himself could handle him without getting his fingers burnt. Ella and Theo are still at the stage of using their cuteness to get what they want, but often have tantrums if they think that the other one is getting more attention.”
Bernie waited for a moment to see if he had anything further to add, but he seemed to have run out of steam.
“Which is exactly why you need some time for yourself.”
Bernie sat down in Serena’s chair opposite to him.
“I get why you’re hesitating, I really do. But just because I wasn’t around all the time my two were growing up doesn’t mean I didn’t ever see them sulking or screaming the place down or just being plain naughty, to see if they could break me. Whatever you’ve heard or imagined, I wasn’t absent for years on end when I was posted abroad, I do have relevant experience.”
“And did they?”
Bernie looked puzzled.
“Did they ever break you?”
“God yes. Cam in particular. But at least with him, once you’d meted out the punishment he would shrug his shoulders, accept and move on with no recriminations. Whereas Charlotte, she could sulk and hold a grudge for England.” She sighed softly. “Still can.”
He seemed to have run out of arguments but still didn’t look entirely convinced.
“Look Fletch, I know that at least one of them will be disappointed that I’m not Serena, but she’s still going to come as soon as she’s finished. I’m happy to take them to the local park to let them burn off some energy and push them on swings or roundabouts. We’ll order pizza for tea if you’ve no objections and I promise I’ll play any game they have at home to keep them entertained. I’m not promising there won’t be any tears, but if I’m genuinely worried I’ll ring you.”
Bernie decided that if he was still unhappy about it there was nothing more to be said. She’d tried her best but she wasn’t going to beg. She was suddenly struck by the thought that if it wasn’t for the fact that she wanted to help Serena, she probably wouldn’t have argued her case for quite so long.
Fletcher slapped his hands on his knees stood up and smiled.
“I’m sorry for doubting you, think I was just feeling guilty about wanting some time for myself. So..thank you.”
As he opened the door to go back to work he turned around looking a little embarrassed.
“I think perhaps I should warn you, Mikey has a habit of referring to you as, um.…‘the blonde job’. Not sure where he got that from, sorry.”
Bernie’s unmistakable laugh followed him out of the office and onto the ward.
Serena's hot flushes seem to be getting more frequent. And Bernie definitely isn't helping.
Bernie allowed Fletcher to leave a little earlier than when his shift was due to finish, so that he would have time to collect his children together and explain the small change of plans, but even so she was feeling a few butterflies in her stomach as she watched them say goodbye to him. Almost as one they all turned to look at her, waiting for her to tell them her plans. When she didn't say anything immediately, Mikey, unsurprisingly was the first to speak.
“So Bernie, what’s your plan for keeping these two amused?” He indicated Theo and Ella. “Cos me and Evie have arranged to meet a couple of friends down the cut. Dad knows and said it was okay with him. Gives you less to worry about, he said.”
He looked meaningfully at Evie, because this was certainly the first she’d heard about it. But she was willing to go along with it because why should she make things easy for this woman, even if she was Serena’s friend.
“Yeah, that’s right,” she said, with an air of defiance. “He only said we had to be back by 8.00pm and he trusts me to keep an eye on this one.”
She put a protective arm around Mikey’s shoulder and sent a challenging glare in Bernie’s direction.
‘She’s good at this,’ was Bernie’s first thought as she bent down to pick up Theo who had started to grumble. She held their gaze for what seemed a very long minute, her eyes narrowing slightly which had the desired effect of making Evie feel as if Bernie could see right through her, causing her to shift uncomfortably. Eventually Bernie spoke, her face showing a small grimace.
“Well, that’s a difficult one, because your father never said a word to me.”
She pretended to consider it.
“I suppose it’s possible he forgot, I know he was quite excited about going out tonight,” out of the corner of her eye she saw Mikey begin to grin, his head nodding slightly. “And I certainly don’t want to bother him so soon after leaving, he might think I don’t trust you.”
The head nodding was becoming more pronounced and Mikey was now bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.
“But I can’t help feeling it would be irresponsible of me to just let you go out of the door without checking a few details.”
Evie had already cottoned on to the fact that this woman was not falling for their downright fib and just gave a slight shrug and assumed a disinterested air. She tried to get her brothers attention to indicate it wasn’t worth the hassle, but Mikey’s eyes were still shining with hope.
“So,” Bernie continued, “rather than let your pals down, why don’t we give them a ring and invite them to join us at the park. In fact, if they live pretty close we could stop by and pick them up on the walk up there.”
Mikey frowned at this, suddenly realising that ‘the blonde job’ wasn’t going to be the pushover he’d thought. But never one to back down he still persisted.
“Nah, they’ll already have gone I expect. No point in dragging these two,” gesturing at Theo and Ella, “all round the houses.”
Evie had already got the double buggy out of the cupboard under the stairs and opened it up ready for Bernie to strap the two youngest children in, a sneaking admiration growing for this friend of Serena’s who seemed to have the means to deal with her cheeky brother. Bernie smiled gratefully at her, thankful to see that Evie was prepared to make the best of it. As she wrestled slightly to get a wriggling Theo into his seat, she gave a little sigh.
“Okay. In that case we’ll walk you to where you’re going to meet up and I’ll have a chat with your friends first. Just to make sure they know what time you have to leave so that you’re home before your Dad. I’m sorry you’ll miss the pizza I’ve ordered for our tea but if you’re lucky this lot might save you a slice.”
Bernie could practically see the cogs turning in his brain as she manoeuvred the buggy out of the door, and was keeping her fingers crossed that the promise of pizza would be enough to sway him from pursuing this lost cause any further. She was rewarded by a shrug and a conciliatory smile.
“You know what?” Mikey said in a resigned voice. “Let’s just go to the park. I can help you when Theo races off towards the duck pond. Okay to bring a ball with us?”
“Of course,” Bernie said as she pulled the door to behind her. As they reached the front gate Evie tugged gently at Bernie’s arm.
“Thanks,” she said shyly, “for not calling Dad. He would have come straight back if he thought Mikey was giving you a hard time and he really deserves some time away from us.”
Bernie’s face softened and she gave her a wink.
“I need to thank you. I’m sure I’d have had a much tougher time of it if you’d carried on playing along.”
Seeing their brother well ahead of them she bent her head over the two youngsters she was pushing.
“Hold on you two, let’s see if we can beat that brother of yours to the park.”
With a long loping stride she set off in pursuit, loving the giggles that were coming from Ella and Theo. She got pretty close to Mikey, but was very careful to make sure she never quite caught him.
Serena had only been interrupted once after Bernie left and very nearly whooped with joy when she finally sent the figures and report to the trust board members at 5.30pm. She emailed it separately to Ric with a few choice words about how leaving it until the last minute was fine if he could be sure he was the one spending the whole day stuck in front of a computer screen surrounded by the paperwork that some heads of wards hadn’t got around to putting onto the database. She tempered it slightly by saying she hoped he had managed to sort things out with Darla’s school. There had been a few memories of meetings like that over Elinor’s behaviour which were always tricky. When she left the office she had a smug look on her face, knowing that even though she no longer desired to be a CEO or even take on the deputy’s role, she still had what it takes to get things done, and done well. Returning briefly to AAU to collect her things and check that there were no last minute emergencies to be dealt with, she looked at their unusually tidy desks and her heart swelled with gratitude for the woman who had made the day a lot easier than it could have been.
‘She really does have my back,’ her mind taking her back to a conversation that had taken place in Albie’s a month or so ago. A small snigger escaped her as she wondered how Bernie was managing the children, spurring her to get a move on. She had promised to get there as soon as possible and she wanted to show Bernie that the promise they had made to each other that day really did work both ways. They sometimes exchanged sharp words with each other and probably always would, especially over Bernie’s gung-ho attitude to the hoops they had to jump through with hospital red tape and some of the procedures that had to be followed.
‘Impossible woman,’ she thought fondly and was totally unprepared for the warm feeling that flooded her body, turning her cheeks pink and causing the strangest sensation in her belly. She walked swiftly to the lift with the briefest of goodbyes, not wanting any of her colleagues to see her unsettled state.
Arriving at Raf’s house where Fletcher and his young family lived she was a little surprised when there was no stampeding of feet to answer her knock to the door. She frowned, thinking it would be highly unlikely they were still out and wondered if it was worth trying Bernie’s mobile, but knowing that the chances of her having it switched on were pretty remote she tucked it back into her bag as she considered what to do next. As she stood there hovering with indecision she suddenly heard laughter and small shouts of excitement coming from the rear of the property. Carefully picking her way around the overgrown path to the side of the house she carefully opened the back gate to be greeted with quite the sight. Bernie was standing on the lawn with her back to Serena, legs slightly apart to balance her, and her arms stretched high above her head holding Theo. She was lowering and extending her arms as she would a set of weights, and he was squealing with joy every time she did. Serena’s eyes became fixed on the strip of skin at her waist that was being exposed each time her arms moved upwards as she was only wearing a t-shirt, having presumably removed her black outer shirt to make the process a little freer. Another wave of warmth swept over her, ‘what the hell is wrong with me, is this really just the menopause?’ and her hand flew to her throat to clasp at the necklace she always wore. That small movement caught Evie’s eye and she leapt to her feet shrieking “Serena” as she ran over to her, grinning with happiness at the sight of her favourite surgeon. Bernie had carefully lowered Theo to the ground once she had got over her initial moment of alarm at Evie’s sudden shout, and ignoring Mikey’s pleas of “me next” she walked over to Serena with a shy smile on her face.
Serena nodded, momentarily robbed of words at the look of care on Bernie’s face and instead squeezed Evie tightly to her, the young lady gazing at her with adoring eyes.
“In that case,” said Bernie, “I’m sure you could do with a cup of tea and a bite to eat.” And she headed through the patio doors into the kitchen diner and flicked the switch on the kettle. She turned to look at Evie.
“That’s about all I’ve got,” she said spreading her hands helplessly. “Don’t suppose you could hunt out the tea bags and a mug could you?”
As Evie moved away to do just that, Bernie gave Serena a small smile, a little surprised at her continued silence.
“I hope you like pizza. I managed to persuade them to leave you some, although it’s just a plain margarita and it’s not quite a whole one because Ella was hungrier than I remembered 4 year olds to be, but it’s warm…ish.”
Her voice faltered slightly as she suddenly became aware that Serena was looking at her rather intently and she started to gabble.
“But if you don’t fancy it, I’m sure the children could manage more and I could rustle up some beans on toast if someone will show me where things are.”
The return of Evie by her side, holding out a steaming mug of tea seemed to jolt Serena out of her trance-like state and she cleared her throat.
“No, the..the pizza’s fine. I’m hungrier than I thought, so hot, warm or cold I really don’t care.”
She smiled her thanks as she took the tea from Evie’s hands and sat down at the table where there was still a closed pizza box, many more Serena had noticed, were scattered over the blanket in the garden. Bernie ruffled the young girl’s hair as she moved to sit next to her honorary auntie.
“Not sure how I would have managed without this one,” she said fondly. “You were right when you told me how special she is. Now, you eat while I go and keep an eye on what’s going on out there. Wouldn’t want Mikey to think I’ve forgotten it’s his turn.”
Giving them both a wink she turned on her heel, and Serena found herself very taken with the way her hair whipped around her face as she did, and then forced her attention back to Evie who was telling her about what was going on at school and how Bernie had managed to outwit Mikey.
She’d eaten about four slices of pizza and was just beginning to feel more human when the young man dashed into the kitchen.
“She’s just agreed to a game of Twister,” he said grinning broadly. “Don’t suppose you have any idea where it is do you?”
His question was directed at Evie who rolled her eyes and huffed, and left Serena thinking that she’d possibly had more influence on Fletch’s eldest child than she realised.
“No, I haven’t,” she said crossly, annoyed at having her conversation with Serena interrupted. “You were probably the last person to use it anyway.”
Mikey shrugged his shoulders.
“Okay. I’ll just pick a room and begin looking then. I may as well start with yours.”
“Don’t you dare,” Evie squealed, and then gave a big sigh. “Okay, I’ll go and look. You’d only wreck the place and I’d end up being the one who’d have to sort it out.”
She stomped out of the room and Mikey sat down next to Serena with a smug look on his face as he eyed the last piece of pizza in the box. With a glare on her face for how he had manipulated Evie, Serena nevertheless nudged the box in his direction and he pounced on it leaning back to watch Serena as she once again turned her attention to the antics in the garden.
“She’s alright, isn’t she? The blonde job? Pretty strong for a girl.”
Serena spluttered indignantly.
“She does have a proper name you know and she’s a woman, not a girl!”
“Oh yeah, right. Bernie, isn’t it? Funny name for a gir..” Mikey caught the look on Serena’s face and changed tack, “woman, if you ask me.”
Serena was about to give him a piece of her mind when Bernie ran into the kitchen holding Theo and Ella under her arms, both laughing at being scooped up.
“Sorry to interrupt,” she said as she lowered Ella to the floor and placed Theo on Serena’s lap. “It’s started to rain and I need to gather up the rest of the stuff out there.”
She darted back through the glass doors and Serena watched her dashing to and fro trying to pick up the empty pizza boxes before they disintegrated, as well as the large blanket they had all been sitting on, the rain coming down harder than ever. By the time she got back indoors she was soaked through and Serena felt her heart rate quicken as her eyes fixed on the t-shirt now clinging even more closely to her body, showing a very visible bra and two unmistakeable nipples. Placing Theo on the floor she told Ella to take him into the lounge and barked an order at Mikey.
“Go and get a couple of towels, and make sure they’re clean ones,” she yelled at his retreating back. Dumping everything onto the table Bernie grinned, quite unperturbed, and shook her head from side to side rather like a dog would after a bath, spraying water everywhere. Then to Serena’s amazement she started to pull up her t-shirt to peel it from her body.
“What the hell are you doing?” she asked in a scandalised tone. “Mikey will be back any minute!”
Bernie stopped as she was just about to manoeuvre one of her arms free, looking puzzled.
“I know. So it makes far more sense to remove this, dry myself and then put my black shirt back on. Thank goodness I left that in here.”
Trying very hard not to stare at the extra expanse of skin that now seemed to be dancing in front of her eyes, Serena attempted to make sure Bernie didn’t disrobe any further.
“I understand your reasoning, but you’re not in the army now,” she hissed. “This is a household with two adult males who may bring dates home occasionally but I doubt that Mikey in particular is used to seeing a nearly naked female body in reality. Just….just wait for the towel and then go to the bathroom before disrobing any further.”
Serena hadn’t meant it to sound like a telling off, but when she saw Bernie’s cheeks flush and a hurt look come into her eyes as she pulled the garment back down, she started to feel as if she might have overreacted.
“I’m sorry, that came out.…too harshly. I just..”
“No..no you’re right,” Bernie said. “I wasn’t thinking. I’ll erm ….I’ll go and see where he’s got to,” and without looking Serena in the eye she left the kitchen.
Left on her own Serena smacked her hand to her forehead.
‘Well done there, you’ve upset her…and for what?’ She sighed, because she knew exactly why she had reacted as she did. ‘Because I was the one whose eyes would have been on stalks if she’d have exposed anymore of her body, and I couldn’t let her see that.’
Needing something to do she pushed herself up from the chair to quickly sort the mass of stuff that Bernie had thrown onto the table, and then wandered into the lounge to make sure a strangely quiet young duo were not killing each other, or attempting to climb the bookshelves.
Ten minutes later with Ella playing with some Lego on the coffee table and Theo being firmly corralled on Serena’s lap as she read The Gruffalo, she started to wonder where everyone had got to. Absentmindedly playing with Theo’s hair as she read, a corner of her mind began to imagine what Bernie’s hair might feel like between her fingers. Her voice faltered as the image grew and she felt her eyes close as she surrendered to her daydream, a soft smile spreading over her face. She instinctively tightened her grip on a wriggling Theo but the visualisation in her mind was of her hands at the back of Bernie’s head pulling her ever closer until…
BANG! The door to the lounge was pushed open with some force and slammed against the wall as Mikey, Evie and Bernie (in that order) made an entrance.
“Having a nap were you Serena?”
Mikey’s voice seemed to echo in her head as she tried to bring herself back into the present, at least enough to answer.
“Not at all,” she said firmly. “I was just daydreaming a little.”
She heard a throaty chuckle from Bernie who thankfully seemed to have recovered her good humour.
“What about I wonder? Given the smile on your face I would imagine it would have to involve a very large glass of Shiraz or possibly George Clooney.”
Evie and Mikey both laughed out loud at that and Serena felt herself blush with embarrassment so that when she spoke she once again took the offensive, sounding rather sharp.
"Yes, well, instead of standing there making clever remarks perhaps you could go and do something useful like putting Lego away so that I can actually let this little man onto the floor without fear that he might ram a piece up his nostril!”
There was a moment of stunned silence before Bernie’s eyes became like slits as she dropped the towel she had still been drying her hair with onto the arm of the sofa where Serena was sitting. Striding across to Ella she paid her compliments on what she had built and then gently encouraged her to pop everything else back into a box while she placed her finished models onto the windowsill out of Theo’s reach, promising they could play something else as soon as it was put away. Serena wanted a hole to appear in the ground at her feet so she could sink without a trace, hardly able to believe how awfully she was behaving. She wanted to be both a million miles away from this room at the same time as wanting to be as close to Bernie as she could.
‘What a day to find out that you probably more than like your best friend.’
Her hand flew once again to her throat, twisting her necklace so hard in her fingers she was in danger of it breaking. She took a deep breath as Bernie turned back to face her and with cheeks redder than ever, Serena mouthed the word ‘sorry’ to her, her brow furrowed with anxiety that if she carried on like this she was going to ruin her friendship with the woman who had gone out of her way to help her today. The thin line that Bernie’s mouth had been compressed into, instantly relaxed and she nodded briefly, indicating her apology was accepted.
“Right,” Bernie’s voice commanded attention. “We can’t play Twister outside now, but it would be a shame if Evie’s efforts in finding it were wasted. So let’s push anything that can be moved to the side of the room so that we have a big enough space in here.”
There were cries of delight from the children and with everyone, including Serena, lending a hand the youngsters were soon trying to smooth the play mat onto the floor. Bernie gravitated to Serena’s side and despite the twinkle in her eye she sounded rather shy when she spoke.
“Are you going to join in?”
Serena rolled her eyes at the thought of stretching her body into all those impossible directions and gave a half smile.
“Well, apart from the fact that I’d worry about over balancing and squashing one of Fletcher’s brood, I rather think, due entirely to my own stupidity, that I’ve lost my status as best surgical babysitter.”
“That’s a pity,” said Bernie huskily, the sound of which sent shivers down Serena’s spine. “Perhaps you could be in charge of the spinner then.”
She looked at Serena questioningly and after Serena agreed she placed a hand on Bernie’s arm.
“We…we are okay aren’t we? I’m sorry for..the way I’ve been acting since I got here.”
Serena was whispering, not wanting to attract any of the children’s attention. Bernie looked at her for a long moment trying to work out what was going on with Serena, but dipped her head in acceptance.
“Of course we are…it’s been a long day, one way or another.”
As Serena sat on the closest chair she suddenly wished she was alone with Bernie. She rather thought that a frank and honest discussion somewhere quiet might help her make sense of what was turning out to be one of the strangest and most unnerving days of her life.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Bernie and Serena finally find themselves on the same page.
Considering this whole fic was written when I first started posting, I apologise for the delay in getting this last chapter to you. I got side-tracked by the Berena tbc event.
Thanks to all of you who have left kudo's and comments. And if you've read it and enjoyed it I couldn't ask for anything else.
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.'