Charlotte stands in the airport terminal, trying her hardest to keep her emotions at bay as her chin subtly trembles, her hands at her sides. The thumb of her left hand slowly spins the golden band adorning her ring finger. This was harder than she thought it would be. Her gaze fixed to the direction in which her husband walked off to, even though he was out of sight by this point.
Bernie holds a bottle of water in her hand, just purchased from one of the vendors lining the walls. She looks over at her daughter, seeing how broken she seems. Bernie moves over to her, coming to stand next to her. “Serena’s retrieving him when he arrives in Nairobi. Best case scenario, they’ll both be back in a few days.”
“This is the first time he’s ever left. I’m...I’m the one that always...wandered away.” Charlie sniffles, a tear escaping from the lower lid of her eye, though she doesn’t wipe it away, hardly even noticing it. “I feel so stupid.”
“You shouldn’t.” Bernie follows her daughter’s eye line, realizing she’s looking at nothing except the end of the terminal. Her free hand gently touches the back of her daughter’s, “after Elinor died, Serena and I were still...partners, both in life and at hospital.” She takes a breath, “she thought she could just...jump right into things, but couldn’t. I could only help her so much at home, she needed time to herself. Time that wasn’t with me.”
Charlotte swallows, finally lifting a hand to wipe the skin beneath her eyes, “So you think he-”
“I wasn’t finished.” Bernie smiles a little to himself, “I felt lonely. First time since we had made ourselves official that one of us had left the other.” She licks her lips, “There was a jaunt months prior to help set up a Trauma center in Kiev, but otherwise-”
“Is this supposed to be a pep talk?” Charlie furrows her brow, finally glancing over to her mother, “because you aren’t exactly-”
“What I’m saying is that it was different. I missed her while I went to Kiev, but it didn’t keep me awake at night like when she left for France.” Bernie looks to her daughter, “I couldn’t stand it...and I finally ended up going to her after...after a reasonable amount of time.”
“I’m not exactly at liberty to do that, neither are you.” Charlotte mumbles, “or else we could have both gone.”
Bernie nods a little before muttering, “Difference now is that...I’m not alone this time.” She feels Charlotte finally take her hand, causing her to exhale softly, “and, speaking from experience, when you aren’t alone...it makes the time go by quicker. Makes missing them easier, if only slightly.”
Looking forward again, Charlotte swallows, lifting her free hand to wipe another tear, “I could use a drink.”
Humming a soft chuckle, Bernie nods, “as could I. Care to share a glass of wine before heading home?”
“I’ll only have a sip.” Charlie smiles a little as she and her mother finally turn away from where they were standing, making their way to the nearest airport restaurant.
John finally steps away from hiding behind one of the many columns in the airport, smiling softly as his wife walks with her mother, hand in hand. Showing his boarding pass to one of the attendants, he’s quick to get on the plane.
There’s something peaceful about a near nine hour flight taking off in the evening. People are genuinely tired, they ache for a comfortable bed and privacy. The only ones that really seem awake are the cabin crew. Settling into his first class cubicle, John opens the window blind, peering through the clouds. The one thing he actually missed from when he was in the military was traveling, but now both he and Charlie’s careers make that nearly impossible and with a baby, he may as well just forget about it all together.
Eight hours, thirty-seven minutes. He had phoned Charlie when they were finally only an hour out from landing, giving her a rundown of the flight and how comfortable his flight accommodations were. Luckily, he had managed to get a bit of sleep during the other hours, allowing him to be ready for when he landed.
Serena sits in the terminal, staring at her mobile. She slowly replies to essential emails and texts from Jason about how Guinevere is doing and how things were at Holby City Hospital. All things that just feel like a waste of time at this point. Reaching on top of her head for her glasses, she sighs, realizing she’s left them at home.
“This seat taken?”
Shaking her head, she notices the man’s feet near her, but doesn’t look up. “Feel free.” Serena moves the mobile away from her face, trying to make out the small lettering.
“Either you like to play the trombone or you don’t know how to make the lettering bigger on your phone.”
“Excuse me?” Serena finally turns her head, seeing John sitting there. She starts to smirk, leaning over and hugging an arm around him tightly. “You are a godsend.”
John gently takes her mobile from her free hand, quickly accessing the settings and making the text a bit bigger before offering it back. “No godsend. It’s what family does.” He nods, watching as she leans back, the sheer amount of stress weighing on her. “There’s no time limit for this to finish. This could take days, it could take a week. We’re going to take our time and be thorough. Alright?”
Serena’s eyes shimmer with tears as she gives a faint nod. “I-I hired the man that aided Charlotte when she was here, but...things became too personal and it wasn’t fair to him to see me like that.” She shakes her head, “I paid him for his time that I requested, but...”
“It’s alright. Don’t worry about it so much.” John gets up from his seat, motioning with a quick point toward the baggage claim, his duffel bag containing the only clothes he’ll need is slung across him.
“You brought more luggage?” Serena asks, confused.
“Bag in a bag in a bag. All empty.” John nods, “they all have really good trackers on them. So we can properly pack your pictures and personal effects without worrying about them getting lost in the mail. I’ll just cover the cost of the extra luggage coming home.”
“Y-you don’t need to do that.” Serena shakes her head, only to be met with a look from him, as if signifying that she wasn’t going to win this argument. “You don’t.”
“I might not need to, but I want to.” John retrieves the bright red colored luggage from the claim. There are security locks on the zipper pulls and a large luggage tag with a picture of him and Charlotte on top of the Sears Tower while they were visiting his parents in Chicago a few years ago.
Serena notices the picture on the tag, smiling to herself. “How was everyone before you left?”
“Charlie and Bernie accompanied me to the airport.” John nods, “I uh...I waited until they walked away to board the plane. Charlie was...pretty upset. I’m glad Bernie was there for her.” He exhales softly, “called her a bit ago while on the plane, but...we can call them together when we get back to your apartment.”
Nodding a little, Serena walks with him, leading him from the airport and to her car. “I-I have everything out and it appears...incredibly unorganized-”
“You’re moving. Nothing looks organized when you’re moving.” John smirks, glancing through the window, “when I decided to move to England, I was lucky. I had an apartment, but there was hardly anything there. I bought a bed, a beanbag chair, and a tray table. Mostly, it was just my clothes, which I didn’t really have much of because I just wore t-shirts and sweatpants during sessions, unless I was going out and I had a few pairs of jeans, a single suit for important things, but there really wasn’t much. I could just throw everything in my huge-ass military issued rucksack and I’d probably still have room.”
Serena furrows her brow a little, “that doesn’t exactly-”
“Moved to England, used a sleeping bag and didn’t bother buying any of the other stuff. Lived that way for a few years.” John shrugs, “then Charlie and I...decided to get a place together, especially after she saw how I was living. Wasn’t until we were settled that I started fleshing our flat out.” He glances over to Serena, “you thought you would be staying in Nairobi. You were comfortable here, comfortable to the place where you and Bernie were truly last together...as a solid, happy couple.”
There are tears in Serena’s eyes and she’s glad that the turn to her flat has finally come up. She clears her throat, “the um...the flat is just over there, two-thirteen.”
“Actually looks pretty nice.” John nods, getting out of the car. He makes quick work of retrieving his bags before following behind Serena. “Not that I expected any less from you.”
Serena smiles to herself, but doesn’t turn around. “The weather report is calling for some flooding tonight. It normally subsides fairly quickly, but I’m glad you were able to get here in time.”
“Well, now so am I.” John smirks, noticing something a bit...odd about Serena’s door before she reaches it fully. “Serena, wait a minute.” He notices that the door is slightly ajar when he finally reaches it close enough. “Let me go in first.”
“John-” A sense of terror strikes her in the chest, multiple scenarios rolling through her head, none of them any good. Serena bites her lip, absently gripping the shoulder strap of her purse, “be careful.”
John leaves the larger piece of luggage just outside the door, knowing it would be safer for Serena not to enter just yet. Using his tactics he had learned during his time in the military, John absently finds himself reaching for a sidearm, something he hasn’t had or carried in many years. He sighs, disappointed that he’s easily able to fall back into old habits. The flat appears relatively dark, all the windows have their blinds shut.
He isn’t familiar with the layout of the flat and finds himself carefully moving along the wall until he glances back, seeing exactly what the sunlight illuminating from the door is able to show in the lounge area. Someone on the sofa, appearing to be asleep. Their sneakers next to the coffee table. Odd.
Slowly returning to the doorway, John keeps his voice hushed as he speaks to Serena. “Someone is asleep on your couch.”
“What?” Serena shakes her head, finally pushing her way inside, she opens the blinds in the room, letting in the sunlight. Her face fills with unimpressed disbelief, motioning to John with a nod that she was familiar with the intruder. “Alex Dawson.”
“No shit.” John raises his brow in disbelief, “I mean...I remember all the stuff from the funeral, but...” He shrugs, slowly lifting his luggage into the apartment before closing the door. “I was mostly focused on Charlie.” John moves around the apartment, taking in how nice things appear even though it doesn’t seem as if there’s much Serena has done. At least, not in this room. “So, do you want to wake her up?”
Serena shakes her head, “I need a glass of shiraz first.” She exhales, making a beeline toward the kitchen, gently taking off her purse and placing it on the dining room table with her keys. She goes through the motions of pouring herself a glass of wine, glancing over to him when she notices John leaning against the fridge. “I’m glad Bernie and Charlotte were unable to come.”
“Why?” John casually folds his arms, “because of her?”
Nodding a little, Serena takes a long sip of her wine before turning around, leaning her back against the counter next to the sink. “She and I became great friends. I-I trusted her because I thought Bernie did. I thought...Bernie chose her because...because I was stupid enough to let her go.” She swallows, taking a moment before she continues, “the biggest mistake of my life.”
“Yeah, but...you and Bernie are married now and...something tells me that Ms. Dawson just wanted respect when we all thought Bernie died.” John shakes his head, “I’m betting she didn’t think of repercussions.” He shrugs, “we’re all guilty of that sometimes.” John tugs open the refrigerator door, glad to see sealed bottles of water. He takes one, opening it before closing the door. “You and Alex worked together to heal over your shared love and admiration for one Berenice Wolfe. Regardless of what she stirred up at the time, that’s a fact. You guys got to be friends.”
Serena swallows, taking another sip, “you’re...you’re very good at what you do.”
“I know.” John gives a cheeky smirk, “the point I’m trying to make is...there’s no reason you need to cut her off. You can still be friends and keep in touch. Charlie and Bernie would get over it. It isn’t as if you slept with her.” He pauses, “unless you did-”
“No, no. She um...she isn’t really my type, actually.” Serena smiles to herself, “beautiful smile, gorgeous as a whole, but...not for me. Alex deserves someone who appreciates her.”
“I had someone who appreciated me.” Alex sits up on the sofa, rubbing her hands over her face to rid the sleep from her eyes, “I had someone I made a life with.” She notices the vaguely familiar man enter her field of vision once she lowers her hands, “Ser-Serena?”
“Stop shouting.” Serena responds strongly as she enters the room, her glass of wine in her hand, “you broke in.” Her tone is flat, unimpressed, “what were you thinking?”
“You don’t know what it’s like to love someone and to be with them for years and... you meet their family and...” Alex shakes her head, glancing over to Serena, “and she strings you along, telling you that she’ll leave her husband and...and that it will be just the two of you...and you save her life, but she calls you and calls it off to work things out with her husband when you both knew it wouldn’t work.” She shakes her head, “and then you find out that they’ve...left their husband and fell in love, but...it wasn’t with you.”
“Alex-” Serena mumbles.
“She phoned to ask if I could help in Nairobi when you decided to stay in Holby City. You know that? She called me .” Alex swallows, standing up from the sofa, “and then when...when you broke things off with her finally, we traveled. I thought...I thought things would go back to what it was between us...before the IED. I allowed myself to love her again.” She shakes her head, “and then I found that fucking journal...and the reasons she wouldn’t kiss me or touch me all made sense.” Alex moves closer to Serena, standing directly in front of her. Her expression softens, “then we went to Mogadishu...it was supposed to be simple work with the military.”
John watches as Alex stays close to Serena’s face, with Serena growing more and more uncomfortable. He gets up, taking a step between them, “Ms. Dawson, how about we take a seat?” John makes eye contact with her when she looks over to him finally, motioning with a nod of his head toward the sofa, “please.” His voice remains gentle, but protective.
For some reason, Alex backs away, returning to the sofa cushion. Her knee begins to anxiously bounce with the ball of her foot on the floor. “Who are you?” She swallows, “I know you from somewhere.”
“You do, but that isn’t important at the moment.” John responds simply, noticing Serena take a seat at her kitchenette table, away from them, but still close enough. He takes a seat in the single, high backed chair. “I understand that you’re upset. I do. However, you can’t be angry at Serena for Bernie not loving you.”
“She wasn’t wearing her vest and I dragged her away. Her....her pulse was virtually absent.” Alex swallows, “she was so burnt...I thought she was about to die, but...there were so many others.” She glances down at her hands, her elbows comfortably leaning on her knees as she hunches over. “I saved her life twice. Two times.”
“And you think she didn’t care.” John sighs softly, “she did though, Ms. Dawson.”
“No, she doesn’t.” Alex shakes her head, “or else she’d be with me.”
John takes a deep breath, “you don’t think she was offering you her friendship in order to keep you in her life, but you...expected there to be more?”
“Hold on.” Serena furrows her brow, “she was alive when you-”
Alex doesn’t look over to her, just staring toward the floor, “one of the...younger doctors declared her to be dead when they found her vest...along with some...body pieces from a few of the others in the room that didn’t make it.” Her voice trembles as she speaks, “I thought she was dead or...nearly dead. I took her to one of the clinics that wasn’t far from our camp...I knew there wouldn’t be time for her to be airlifted to base or...anything like that. Then I had to get back before I was declared AWOL.”
“You knew the remains that Cameron and Charlotte were given of their mother were not actually hers.” Serena starts to shake her head, “just when I thought you couldn’t get worse.” She brings her glass to her lips, taking another sip.
“Everything I did, I did because I love her.” Alex turns her head to the side, but doesn’t look at either of the other people in the room. “She would not have been alive today had I followed procedure...had I waited for air-vac to base.”
“That’s why you felt guilty and got in touch with Cameron about the engagement.” Serena finishes her glass of shiraz before quickly rising from her seat and moving to the field of vision of the woman, “you thought that enough time had passed and that you would have heard something about her survival, either from your military cohorts or from Bernie herself.”
Alex stares at Serena in disbelief, “You think they would have understood? They hadn’t spoken to Bernie in so long before things happened. She yearned to have a decent relationship with those spoiled children of hers. Cameron is, essentially, in prison and Charlotte...don’t get me started on that manipulative-”
“I’d watch it if I were you. Charlie happens to be my wife.” John is quick to stand up for his wife, “now, I’m trying to help you clear the air here. Serena could have easily just called the police, who would have charged you with breaking and entering, or a similar charge, and you probably would have had your medical license suspended.” He watches the woman, “now, I understand why you did what you did. I truly do. I don’t understand, however, why you’re here.”
“I thought Bernie and I would have lived happily ever after, but...all she asked for is Serena.” Alex replies with dampened eyes, “she didn’t...she didn’t remember our time together-”
“I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion.” John shakes his head, “Bernie loves Serena. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t care for you and your well-being.” When Alex doesn’t appear so sure, he continues, “the only reason Bernie has to be angry with you is because of your actions with her children. That’s it.”
“Until she finds out that you dumped her at a clinic, at least.” Serena mutters before bringing her hand to the pendant that constantly dangles from her neck, something Bernie had given her for Christmas years ago, something that always brings her comfort. “You could have at least told me, Alex.”
“You? What were you going to do?” Alex furrows her brow, “rush to Mogadishu for answers?”
“You’re damned right I would.” Serena answers with certainty, “I’d go to the ends of the earth for her.”
“Of course you would.” Alex mumbles before clearing her throat, “I didn’t save her for you. I saved her for herself.”
John shakes his head, “you’d have saved her regardless because you love her. You still love her, you’ll always love her.” He offers a kind smile, “there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“How would you feel if someone new rode in and the woman you’ve loved for years didn’t give you a second-” Alex stops herself, looking away, “when I...when I thought she was gone, I headed to Holby City with the book she kept for her beloved Serena. I certainly didn’t want it and...I would have felt awful if I had just...left it behind or...destroyed it.”
“Thank you.” Serena swallows, nodding a little.
“I also wanted to see what all the fuss was about.” Alex leans back finally, “Bernie would go on and on about Serena. I felt I already knew her. I-I wasn’t expecting someone her own age or graying.” She smiles softly to herself, “I could see what attracted her to you, but...you just don’t seem like her type.”
“Oh?” Serena raises an eyebrow.
Alex continues, “You aren’t athletic, you drink all the time, you aren’t younger than her-”
“You certainly know how to make a person feel better about themselves.” Serena raises an eyebrow, mumbling.
“And then I spoke to you...and I realized how much you loved your family, your line of work, and how much you adored Bernie.” Alex draws her lip into her mouth, absently biting at the skin. “I understood that your relationship was built on more than just sex. So much more. There was...genuine love and admiration, even between Bernie and...Jason?” She isn’t sure she’s getting the name right, but is almost certain that she is. “I didn’t know you were close with Cameron...or Charlotte-”
“I was Cameron’s supervising consultant...for a while at least. Charlotte didn’t come about until later, but was never...bitter toward me.” Serena shakes her head, “I would have always taken care of Bernie’s children.”
“Yeah.” Alex swallows, glancing around the room. “I don’t really know what that’s like...and I don’t know if I ever wanted to.”
“That’s what separates us.” Serena answers honestly, finally moving over to sit next to Alex on the sofa. The room falls quiet, “do you...have anyone?” She pauses, “when you would come over or when we’d work together, I don’t ever remember you speaking of family.”
“There isn’t any.” Alex shakes her head, “my parents threw me out at sixteen...when I told them I was gay.” She exhales slowly, “but I don’t want your pity or anything. I have found family and those I served with...”
“If you’re open to it...I really don’t want to lose you as a friend.” Serena responds simply, “the Wolfe women might need some time to come around to the idea, but there’s no reason we can’t keep in touch.”
“There’s no real reason for me to stay at the clinic. I only went because Bernie asked me to step in for a bit.” Alex shakes her head, “and then there’s that big picture of her in the entryway...they all think she’s still dead.”
“Let them.” Serena answers simply, “there’s much she doesn’t remember or...finds her thoughts jumbled. You’ve made a name for yourself at the clinic though. You might want to give it a try.” She exhales, looking around the room, “I need to crack on. Pack this place up for-”
“Let me help you?” Alex offers, lifting her hand to tuck hair behind her ear, “I’ve always liked this place. I’m even tempted to ask you if I can take it over...if I decide to stay here.”
Serena nods a little, “I’d like that. Thank you.”
“Great.” John finally stands, placing his hands on his hips, “I’m going to put these bags in the spare, and give those beautiful women we’re married to a call. Is that alright?”
“Certainly, but you aren’t going to get any calls out at the moment. Not with the storm.” Serena shakes her head, able to hear the rainfall pitter patter on the roof of her flat, “maybe a text message and hope for the best? Call them in the morning if things have cleared up?”
John nods, pulling his bags into the depths of Serena Campbell’s flat. He removes his mobile from his pocket, seeing that she was absolutely correct about the connection. John sends out a single text message for his wife, not quite knowing what she’ll make of it in the morning.
‘ Got in fine, raining crazy here. Alex Dawson is helping us. Helped them find common ground. She’s actually pretty nice, but will tell you about that l8r. Love you, babe.’