“Happy Birthday!” The cheer lifted above the noise of the bar as the three lads all clinked their glasses with hers. She chuckled softly. “We are going to regret this in the morning when Nathan gives us a ticking off for starting a new project hung over…”
“Ah come on Sabine, it’s your birthday. Relax and leave it all to us, yeah?” Matthew cut her off, a heavy arm slapping down over her shoulders. She shot him an amused sideways glance before she took a gulp of whiskey from her glass.
“Famous last words...”
It wasn’t really her birthday…but it was as close as. Three years ago to the day, she had woken up in a hospital bed with no identification and no memory. It had been a slow start. She could only understand so many words at first…until one of the doctors finally tried introducing other languages. It turned out she knew more French than the language spoken around her. Bits and pieces had come back but not enough to figure out who she’d been before that day. Rather than spend her life agonizing over it, she committed to making a new life for herself which led her to toasting with Lucas, Gabin, and Matthew in a bar in the South of France.
The morning was as miserable as the night was wonderful…but they all insisted it was worth it. True to his word, Matthew took on Nathan’s wrath for the rest or the crew. Sabine and Lucas unloaded the truck and Gabin poked around the customer’s yard, checking for any obstacles that may need to be avoided or corrected. Nathan seemed to have moved past the crew’s shenanigans by the time he returned from his talk with the customer inside. He got straight to work, spreading out the plans on the portable table Lucas has set up on the edge of their new work site. A few problems were apparent already. They brainstormed and found solutions to most of the problems but there was one area that seemed to have no work around…that part of the customer’s plans would have to be removed or replaced with a newly designed section.
Nathan went inside to discuss this with their customer but it didn’t go well if the state he returned in was any indication. Flushed, he’d slammed the plans back down with a few harsh words about their customer refusing to relent to even the smallest of alterations…thinking she knew better…and how she should just build the garden herself if she knew so damn much. Nathan set it to task for the team to think of workarounds and come back with their pitches the next day. Sabine was the only one who had any solution by the time they all stood around the table again…but it was not a solution without compromise on the original design. It was still less of a deviation than the original proposal so Nathan went to the client with it…only to return once again seething over the client’s unwillingness to bend on this. Frustrated but at a loss for what else to do but to fulfill their client’s wishes, the team started work on the landscaping, putting off that one area as long as possible.
The third day, Nathan left Matthew in charge so Nathan could oversee another project since by this point they would just be following the plan. The problem came when they could no longer put off working the area they had no real solution for. After an hour toiling over it, trying to force it to work and getting nowhere, Sabine threw down her tools and stepped back. “Enough is enough…” She complained as she began removing her work gloves and marching off towards the house.
“What are you doing?” Lucas called out to her as the other two watched her go.
“Sorting this out.” She replied firmly, grabbing her drawing of the altered version off the table on her way up to the house. The boys looked to Matthew who’s only response was to chuckle and motion for them to get back to work.
“Maybe Mme. Campbell will have as difficult a time saying no to Sabine as we do…”
Serena turned from her book with an incensed look over towards the back door, where a rather persistent rapping originated from. Setting her wine glass and novel down with a sigh she made her way over. Swinging the top section of the dutch door open Serena expected to see that sour faced little man who kept complaining about changing the plans.
“What is it now?!” She snapped before every ounce of fight left her all at once. She was left, slack jawed, staring at the spitting image of the very author of those garden plans she was adamant be followed to a T. For a moment she thought she must be dreaming…or seeing things…but the vision didn’t clear even as it spoke to Serena in her voice…well in French but still…without a doubt, her voice.
“I’m sorry to disturb you Madame Campbell, but I must speak with you.”
“Bernie?...” Serena breathed out feeling as if she would fall at any moment. She wasn’t all together sure the floor would even be there to catch her if she did.
“Pardon Madame? Do you mean our boss?” Sabine assumed the Madame had misremembered Nathan’s name. “He’s attending to other business at the moment. My name is Sabine. May I come in?”
“…Of…of course…” It was all Serena could do to step back and allow this specter to enter. “I think…I need some water” – Serena paused to turn back to Sabine with a rather alarmed stare – “Would you like some?”
Sabine let herself in, closing both sections of the door behind her. “Yes, actually. That…would be really nice, thank you.” Sabine replied grateful for something cold to sate her thirst from hours laboring under the unrelenting sun. Even with the sunblock she applied, Sabine made sure to cover her pale skin with long trousers, long sleeves, a lightweight scarf to protect her neck and a hat to avoid burning from the time she spent outside for work. Even with breathable fabric, it left her sweating out much of her hydration throughout the day. Sabine removed her hat, letting it hang at her back from the cord that wrapped around her neck to tether at each side of the hat band. The client’s courteous offer hadn’t exactly been the type of interaction she’d been preparing herself for and it offset some of her nerve. Sabine wrung her gloves between her hands as she stood awkwardly in Mme. Campbell’s living room, looking around at the décor and waiting for the woman to return. “You moved in recently?” She called towards the kitchen mostly in an attempt to fill the silence.
“What? Yes, how did you –” Serena replied as she returned, a glass of water in each hand. She handed one over to Sabine, eyes still drawn to the woman with a somewhat morbid fascination.
Sabine gave a timid smile and nodded towards the mostly empty walls and shelves. “Doesn’t quite feel lived in does it? Sorry! I didn’t mean that in a judgmental way, just that –”
Serena cut off Sabine’s rambling, waving off any presumed offense. “No, no you’re right…you said your name is Sabine?” It was uncanny…even her mannerisms…the way she moved…but there was not even a flicker of recognition in the woman’s eyes. Serena was…she was no one to this Sabine. Was it the heat? Was Serena going insane? Or, the strangest option of all, was this woman really so startlingly Bernie’s doppelganger that even Serena was struggling to find a difference?
“Yes, Madame Campbell...” Sabine was beginning to feel self-conscious under the intensity of Mme. Campbell’s gaze. She couldn’t help take in the pristine room and pressed lines of Mme. Campbell’s clothes…the perfect makeup, not a hair out of place…and wonder if maybe the intense stare was due to how very out of place Sabine was amongst all that: dirt stained and frayed, sensible, durable clothes...flushed cheeks and sweaty brow topped off by an untamable mess of blonde curls clipped up off her neck. Sabine looked down a moment as she cleared her throat and tried to get back on task. When she turned her head back up, she avoided looking directly at the woman…not that she was worried about the inevitable conflict. No, Sabine was not what anyone would call timid natured but something about Mme. Campbell…it was like trying to look directly at the sun: everything else got lost in the glare and you ended up distracted by afterimages even after you’d stopped.
“I came to discuss the cables running through–”
“Let me stop you there, I’ve already had this conversation with your boss–”
“I’m not changing the plans.”
“The plans won’t work as they—”
“Then find a way to make them work…isn’t that what I’m paying you for?”
“Mme. Campbell, I mean no disrespect but you paid us because we know what we are doing. No one can dig on that spot, this isn’t negotiable. Please”—Sabine cut off Serena as she opened her mouth again—“It is not logistically possible to complete the original plans in that space without alterations.”
“What if you moved the plans? Turned them, shift them off to one direction—”
Sabine frowned at the woman, watching her carefully as she began to have a thought. “Madame Campbell, why is keeping this plan the same so important to you?”
Serena stopped, breath catching as her head pulled back with a rather aggressive expression. “Excuse me?”
Sabine elaborated, keeping her voice kind as she tried to make it clear she really was trying to understand, “Why does it mean so much that there are no changes to your plan…I mean, is one small change going to make so large a difference?”
Between the answer to Sabine’s question and the woman’s concerned expression indiscernible from the Bernie in Serena’s memories, Serena was teetering on the verge of tears. Thankfully she was a near expert on hiding that behind anger.
“That’s none of your business. If you can’t do it I’m happy to find another crew who can.”
“There is no crew who will do what you are asking Madame…but…if you will just hear me out...I know you probably have this…this whole picture in your head of the perfect garden. You want that picture to be real…but pictures in your head don’t show you storms, or pipes, or power lines, or beetles…it’s a perfect fantasy. Perfect fantasies are hollow: it’s the…unexpected troubles that make reality so much better than any fantasy. They allow us to band together, to grow, to find something we could never have imagined. For a plant to survive it must be able to adapt Madame Campbell.”
Serena had turned away from Sabine part way through her speech. It hurt too much to endure both her voice and appearance. All Serena could picture was Bernie…in the trauma bay…always a plan B…always some out-there solution or tool derived from necessity. It would have been what Bernie would have done: adapt…but how cynical of fate to have that reminder delivered by this woman who for all but her own admittance could have been Bernie Wolfe?
Sabine waited anxiously, hoping her words had gotten through. Finally, Mme. Campbell took a breath and looked back to Sabine. The woman’s glare had softened and Sabine couldn’t help but ache for how much the woman resembled a wounded animal, warily accepting a hand after hours of fighting and just as likely to return to that fight at first sign of betrayal.
Sabine smiled warmly, relieved that she’d at least gotten a foot in the door. Stepping forward, she presented her drawings in the space between them, holding the paper taught so they could both look at it. “If we were to build this in place of the original design, it would elevate the bed so we wouldn’t have to disturb the earth in that section.” – As she spoke, Sabine glanced up from the drawing over to Serena, finding her gaze tracing over her jaw and cheekbones before she remembered herself enough to return her eyes to the paper – “Now we could minimize it to just the area effected by the wiring but it wouldn’t look very nice. It’d be clear that it was moving around an obstacle…If, however, we followed this design here, it becomes an intentional shape…something that becomes an accent not a disruption.”
Serena agreed to the woman’s plan. Her apprehensiveness remained though. She found herself watching through windows…going out to bring the crew refreshments as she asked them about the progress. All to make sure the work would live up to Bernie’s vision…never mind that most of the time her watchful eye was directed at one worker in particular. Never mind she found more and more excuse to stand outside with them…to start up conversations with Sabine…conversations that occasionally branched out past the confines of landscaping.
3 weeks later and the work was nearly complete. The progress looked amazing and Serena could already tell it was going to be better than she envisioned…but she didn’t feel as excited as she’d have expected to. There was an underlying anxiousness that she couldn’t pin down…or maybe that she didn’t want to.
Sabine was pretty sure, or maybe it was just the boys’ teasing getting inside her head, but she was pretty sure Mme. Campbell, or Serena as she’d since asked to be called, was interested in her. What’s more, Sabine was pretty sure she liked her back…but there was just…this feeling she got…that something was holding Serena back. Maybe it was because they were both women? Whatever it was…she thought it must cause Serena a great deal of pain because in the few times when Serena had pulled away from whatever it was going on between them…her face had dropped into such sorrow that Sabine had to resist embracing the woman.
As time progressed Sabine became annoyingly aware that her window of opportunity was shrinking. After steeling her nerves she told the boys to head out for the day without her and she would clean up the site after she’d finished planting the last of her section. She hoped it would give her a chance to speak with Serena alone. A storm crept up while she was working, letting loose sheets of rain as she rushed to get the last flowers in the ground and the more fragile sections of garden covered with mesh nets. Her spirits had taken a drenching of their own as she hardly saw herself getting a chance to speak with Mme. Campbell now…she’d best hurry to the truck.
Only, when she turned to start away from the garden she found the back door propped open by a shadow framed in warm light. Serena beckoned her in with such fervor Sabine didn’t dare argue and force the woman to expose herself to the elements any longer than she had to. Serena shut the door behind Sabine as she stood shivering and dripping on the floor mat.
“Here, let me grab you a towel. Wait right there.”
The woman was gone before Sabine had a chance to do more than look up at her retreating form. When she returned with the towel Serena reached expectantly towards Sabine. “Come on, I’ll hang those to dry.” Serena nodded at Sabine and Sabine mirrored the nod, removing her hat and scarf. If Sabine’s eyes hadn’t been watching her own fingers as she unbuttoned her shirt she may have noticed Serena’s chest expanding in a rush, eyes dark. Once the heavy checked shirt was off, she handed it over to Serena, leaving her in her white undershirt. Serena cleared her throat and offered Sabine the towel as she moved towards the kitchen to hang up Sabine’s clothes. “Leave your boots on the mat and I’ll get you some tea to warm up.”
“Thanks.” Sabine called back a bit shyly before bending over to unlace and toe off her muddy boots. The slosh of her sock as she stepped out prompted her to remove those too, hanging them on the boots. Drying herself off as she went, Sabine padded across the house towards the white light of the kitchen. An open book caught her eye on a side table beside one of the chairs along the way and she paused. Tilting her head to try to view the page better, curiosity got the better of her and she ended up walking over and turning the book to face her. There were more drawings like those in Mme. Campbell's original copy of the garden plans…drawings of the house and flowers and…Sabine’s heart fluttered nervously as her brow knit. The writing in this journal…She flipped over to the next page: more of the same.
When the tea finished and Sabine had still not made it to the kitchen, Serena thought it best to bring the tea to her. She froze once she spotted Sabine with the journal, smile dropping. She couldn’t help the resentment she felt that Sabine would trespass over something so private nor help the anxiety that it may bring up a topic of conversation Serena had been avoiding for the past 3 weeks. A topic she had been hiding from the woman who…who, God help Serena, she couldn’t bear to give up. Not when Sabine was the closest thing she had to being with Bernie (not including the very book the woman was poised over). They were so alike…in more ways than just their faces.
“Sabine?” There was a clear element of alarm in Serena’s voice…and perhaps dread Sabine thought. Turning to face Serena, Sabine dragged her hand over the page, brows knit in confusion.
“Did you write this?”
Setting down both mugs, Serena walked over and gently pulled the journal out from beneath Sabine’s fingertips. Serena closed it and held it to her chest as if she were swaddling a sleeping baby.
“No. My…my ex did.”
“Your ex?” Her eyes remained on the book even though the writing was well out of sight now. It had been uncanny. She looked up to Serena’s face when the woman did not elaborate…did not speak at all. There was apprehension in Serena’s eyes, the kind one has when there is a heavy secret weighing them down. “You built this house…the garden…from the drawings of an ex-lover?”
Serena stared at the woman who had nothing but kindhearted confusion in her expression. It was a moment before she felt confident that her voice would come out as strong as she wanted and she answered, “These plans, this journal, were the last things she left me when she died.” A heavy silence filled the room, the pattering of rain on the roof and windows seeming to grow louder for it.
“I’m so sorry…” Sabine replied quietly, unsure what else could be said. Nothing that would ease Serena’s burdens: that much she was sure of.
Serena shook her head with a brave smile, a hand subconsciously rubbing over the cover. “It was a while ago now…”
“That’s why. Why you didn’t want to make changes.”
Serena diverted her gaze to the floor and she could hear Sabine walk towards her. She felt the woman stop in front of her as much as heard it, and looked up. A steaming cup of tea greeted her along with a kind smile that teased out a more genuine upturn of her own.
“Thank you,” Serena said accepting the cup and inviting the rain soaked women to sit with her.
“I believe that’s my line…”
A small laugh. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.” She took a breath, the look she gave Sabine next appearing guilt-ridden. “Sabine…can I ask you…a rather odd question?”
Sabine’s brow furrowed curiously above her cup as she took a sip. She lowered the cup to warm her hands in her lap before answering with a nod. “Go for it.”
“Have you any family in Britain?...or any family under the name Wolfe? It’s just, well, you have a striking resemblance to…to someone I used to know.”
Sabine’s face fell as she looked down to the cup she was slowly turning in her hands. “I’m not certain Madame –”
“Serena,” she corrected, glancing up from underneath her damp bangs. “I don’t know my family…”
“...No…actually. I…I was involved in an accident three years ago that left me without…without any memory of my life before it.”
Serena paled, nearly dropping her tea as she stared at the woman across from her. “You…what?”
“It isn’t as bad as it sounds really. Can’t miss what you can’t remember. I have a good life and I’ve made good memories since then.”
Serena only half heard Sabine’s words. Sabine? “And..and your name? Was that from your…”
Sabine laughed softly. “Oh, that. Well, it sounded nicer than L’Inconnue. Very nearly could have been yours instead –” Sabine gave another laugh. Serena’s chest tightened and she felt as though her ears were flooded beneath the depths of some ominous body of water. If Sabine was still talking Serena heard none of it.
“So it wasn’t…it wasn’t from any documentation…any Identification?”
Sabine paused, thrown off by the suddenness of Serena’s question. “No. I didn’t have any on me when I was found…and no one came forward from the notifications we posted so…Serena? What is it?”
Serena’s shoulders had started to jerk as she curled forward. Setting her tea down, her face fell into her other hand. Sabine wasn’t certain if she was laughing or crying at first…not until the woman lifted her head to reveal tear stained cheeks over a weary smile. It would be appear Serena was doing both…a wet, broken, heart wrenching sound.
“Where?” Serena eventually choked out with no small degree of anticipation.
Sabine was beginning to feel unnerved by Serena’s behavior. She cleared her throat, eyes down on her cup as she named the town nearest the spot beside the road she had been found unconscious on.
“I…don’t recognise the name. It isn’t around here?”
“No…I moved here later on. It was in Somalia.”
Serena let out a few more sob like laughs, this time smiling at Sabine in wide eyed wonder, tears gleaming in those captivating orbs. The last thing she wanted to do was to explode at the blonde, to scare her…but it was taking every last bit of concentration to keep herself together. She could feel more tears dripping down from her chin not that she gave a damn…not about the tears, not about anything. Bernie. Bernie was alive! Bernie was alive and sitting in front of her drinking tea. Safe. She was safe…and had absolutely no memory of her life with Serena or her children…but she was safe. God. All she wanted, more than anything, was to run and throw her arms around the woman but she knew that would be too much for Bernie...for Sabine. Serena got to her feet.
“I…wait here. There’s something I think you need to see.”
Sabine’s head tracked Serena as she left, wondering what in the world had gotten into the woman. Serena returned with phone in hand, this time standing behind Sabine’s seat. Serena leant over Sabine’s shoulder to show her a picture on Serena’s phone...a picture of Serena and…and Sabine? But she didn’t remember taking this photo…Sabine didn’t even own clothing like that.
“This…this was Bernie, my ex.” Serena started, eyes watching Sabine’s reaction cautiously as she continued, “There was an explosion in Somalia and they found her body armor but…but her body wasn’t…Sabine, I..I thought it was just a fluke coincidence when I first saw you but…I” – Sabine had put her tea down and stood up by this point, pulling away from Serena and the phone – “I think you are her.”
Sabine was facing away from Serena head shaking slightly as wild eyes stared at the floor. How? Her thoughts returned to Serena’s journal…filled with handwriting that matched her own…to the photograph and finally, as she turned back to Serena with confusion and hurt in her eyes, to the way Serena made her feel. Was she only drawn to this woman because some part of her…had she finally found a link to who she was? Who she had been…but what about who she had become? What if Sabine wasn’t the same as Bernie?
Serena still stood behind the seat, phone lowered now. When Serena spoke again, it was in English. Sabine had been aware she knew the language, had understood it anytime it was used, although she had little opportunity to speak it herself.
“Sabine? I..I know all this must be a shock…trust me…you aren’t alone in that regard.” Serena took a seat on the sofa and reached out towards Sabine with such a soft imploring expression Sabine found it hard to say no. “Please, sit? We, we can talk…” Timidly, Sabine accepted the hand and joined her on the sofa, leaving about half an arm’s length between them: enough space for comfort but close enough to maintain the hold that neither had seemed to drop…the hands that linked so lightly in the space between them that one might assume their hands were made of dandelion fluff threatening to blow away at the slightest jolt. Sabine kept her eyes on the floor. She had no idea where to start or even if she wanted to know any more about this other life.
Serena held herself in her seat, eyes fixed on Bernie. “Where to start? Were there any questions you had?”
Sabine just lifted her head to look at Serena with a lost frown. Since Sabine made no complaint about talking or about the shift to English, Serena continued.
“Right, maybe at the beginning then?” Serena started with the basics: her name, when and where she was born, who her parents were, and where she attended school. Nothing too world shattering. Though Sabine was surprised to hear she had a medical degree…even more so when her questions on the matter revealed she had been an army medic of some renown before she came to work with Serena at Holby City Hospital. As Serena explained the accident and resulting injuries she sustained when she left the army, Sabine had taken a deep breath, eyes losing focus. Her mind went to the scars she had many times traced over as she pondered their origin. Sabine frowned and Serena paused, eying the blonde warily.
“What?...Too much at once?” Serena asked.
Sabine shook her head distractedly before responding in English, “No, it’s just…I have a third scar…”
“Ah…” – Recognition dawned on Serena’s features, head pulling back as she tried to think of the best way to break the news on this next part. Serena decided the direct approach may be best. – “Right, that would be your C-section scar.”
Sabine pulled back from Serena at that, eyes wide but hands still joined. “I…we” –She gestured with her free hand between them – “had a...”
“Well, not exactly…you and your ex-husband had two children before you even met me.”
Sabine’s face fell blank as she turned forward again to stare into the empty room. “Right…”
Serena’s brows worried and she gave Bernie’s hand a small squeeze and rub with her thumb. “Look, I know it’s a lot to digest all at once, why don’t we take a break and get ourselves something a little stronger to drink, hm?”
Sabine turned back, at a loss for words as she stared at this woman’s encouraging smile, warmth radiating from her. Serena had always looked at her this way. Well, after their first encounter anyway…and now Sabine understood why Serena had seemed so freaked out when they first met. To Serena, Sabine must have seemed like a ghost. In a way, she was more so now than she had been that day…the living ghost of Berenice Griselda Wolfe. Sabine nodded her agreement, still not all that present. She felt Serena’s hand drag from hers and soon enough the woman had returned with a bottle of Shiraz and two glasses.
“I think I’ve done enough talking don’t you? Tell me more about your life here. I want to know more about Sabine.” Serena handed Sabine a glass of wine as she sat down beside Sabine again, cradling her own very full glass. Sabine exhaled, shoulders relaxing, glad for the change in subject. As they drank, the conversation became more relaxed, focused on Sabine’s life, Serena’s, and to things they both enjoyed or stories they could laugh about. They were coming out of one such bout of laughter when Sabine caught herself staring at Serena again. Serena was so beautiful when she laughed…and the way Serena looked at her when she finally stopped…it stole her breath away.
Serena recognized that look but she wanted to let Bernie direct things…didn’t want to push her too quickly so they stayed frozen in each other’s gaze for a while. Bernie started forward but stopped and looked down.
“Serena…I don’t know what we had before or if I can even be the same person you knew…but” – She looked up at Serena with searching eyes – “I’ve never felt…so pulled towards anyone the way I am when I look at you. The only thing I’ve been able to focus on for weeks…is you Serena.”
Serena inched closer on the sofa, grateful smile never leaving the blonde as she reached up to stroke a strand of hair that had escaped Bernie’s clip back behind her ear. “Bernie” – when the blonde’s eyes diverted, she corrected herself as her thumb stroked the spot in front of Bernie’s ear – “Sabine, I don’t care what you call yourself.” – Serena waited for the woman’s eyes to return to her before continuing – “I don’t care if you never pick up another scalpel in your life. The old you, the new…I haven’t been flirting with you just because of your gorgeous face…though that did help.” – her smile developed a mischievous glint a moment before it fell into pure admiration – “You are the most headstrong, frustrating...funny, brilliant, and wonderful woman I have ever met. You challenge me but only in the best of ways. Bernie Wolfe or Sabine Dubois…in this life, the next, or any other: I will always love you.”
The next thing Serena knew she had a gorgeous blonde on her lips, breaths stolen between desperate kisses and eager hands roaming from her head to her waist. She couldn't help a relieved laugh breaking against Bernie's lips before she responded in kind...so grateful to have Bernie in her arms again that her heart soared and everything outside the two of them faded away. The past, the future...irrelevant because right now they were exactly where they were always meant to be: together.