Bernie savors the closeness with her daughter.
Charlotte promises her mother something she's been asking for.
The sun rises on the Whetstone, London home. At nearly the same time, the whirling of drills and the banging of hammers begin. Charlotte “Charlie” Wolfe opens a single eyelid as a beam of sunlight manages to project directly into her eye line, causing her to groan, “Johnny, who is banging on the house?”
Not receiving an answer, Charlie rolls onto her back, flinging her arm over to the space next to her, finding it empty. A whine of discontent escapes her lips as she pushes herself to sit up in bed, finding the rest of the large bedroom empty as well. Having just returned home from Hargeisa the day prior, she’s exhausted.
Charlotte climbs out of bed, clad in one of her fiance’s large t-shirts. Though she had been shown around the new home yesterday, Charlie still isn’t terribly familiar with the layout. She swallows, starting to become nervous that she might be alone in this house and all the things that transpired over the past month was just a lengthy dream. Charlotte slowly makes her way down the hallway, hearing the loud commotion that had awakened her coming from the floor below. Her hand slides against the textured wall as she passes each doorway.
“Charlie!” A familiar voice.
Quickly turning toward the exclamation with wide eyes, Charlotte finds her mother propped up in bed. She grins toward the woman as she walks into the room more, “someone is banging on the house.”
“Started about a half hour ago.” Bernie Wolfe smiles toward her daughter, reaching a hand out to motion her daughter closer.
Charlotte crawls up into bed next to her mother, fully aware of the woman’s canister of oxygen in the room, not too far from the bed. “Your bed is more comfortable than I thought it would be.” She comfortably cuddles up next to the woman, “where’s Serena gotten off to?”
“She and your John decided to head out to pick up a few things she nor I remembered to pack as well as some breakfast or brunch for you and I.” Bernie explains, waving her eyebrows a little, “he offered and she, very eagerly, accepted.” Bernie nods, “quite thoughtful of him.”
“He’s like that.” Charlie tilts her head to the side, resting it on her mother’s shoulder, “and your girlfriend is a flirt.”
“Oh, I’m aware.” Bernie finds herself smiling, “she’s very good at pushing buttons and manipulating. I imagine those abilities are reasons the pair of you got along swimmingly.” She feels as her daughter takes hold of her hand without prompting, “seeing as you both do them very well.”
“Manipulation always has a negative connotation.” Charlotte takes the time of closeness to examine the room that John had given to her mother and Serena to stay in, “I’m jealous, this room is beautiful.”
“I doubt it’s more beautiful than yours.” Bernie shakes her head, “you and Serena were given the tour last night, maybe you and I could do a bit of exploration on our own this week?”
Charlotte smiles to herself, true comfort flowing over her, “Absolutely. I know Serena mentioned something about visiting Jason and his family before heading back to Nairobi to pack. John does most of his work from home, but I know his usual hospital day is coming up.”
“Hospital day?” Bernie asks, her brow furrowed with curiosity.
“To check up on some of his patients that are in hospital. He’s given some thought as to increasing his time, but has let off of it since news of the baby came in.” Charlie exhales slowly, “I mean, I don’t mind if he goes for his patients, but I’d rather he didn’t get wrapped up with a hospital schedule if he doesn’t need to.”
“Maybe he does, though.” Bernie motions with the hand that isn’t being held by her daughter to the area surrounding her, “this house couldn’t have been inexpensive, especially for your location. I believe I remember Serena saying we were in Whetstone, correct?”
Charlotte nods, “we’re fine in that aspect though.” She exhales, “oh, I have your clothing. I’ll need to ask John where he might have put the box when he returns home.” Charlotte brings her free hand to her middle, “though you’re welcome to mine as well. Not even halfway through this and I already can’t fit in my jeans.”
“When is your next doctor’s visit?” Bernie leans her head back against her pillow, having been awake for quite some time at this point.
“Don’t know. I’ll need to phone. I did speak with the gynae specialist while we were in Hargeisa.” Charlotte exhales slowly, “I had some spotting...and I didn’t want you or Serena to worry.” She licks her lips, “I was scared, but...everything was fine.”
“You could have told us, darling.” Bernie absently rubs the back of Charlotte’s hand with her thumb as it rests in the palm of her own. “We’ve both been where you are before.”
“I know, Mum, but Serena and I were pretty preoccupied with you and the last thing I wanted was to take her attention from you for even a second if I couldn’t be there.” Charlotte lifts her head to look over to her mother fully, “and I’m not going to listen to your arguments about it, wouldn’t have changed anything.”
“Tell me if there’s a next time?” Bernie asks gently, “if you’re worried and...” She swallows, her voice trailing a little, “I want to be present for you.” Bernie licks her lips, falling silent a moment before continuing, “like mothers are supposed to be when their daughters are pregnant.”
Charlotte is familiar with the distance between her mother and grandmother, knowing it had been there most of her mother’s life and only got worse when Bernie and Marcus divorced. “Of course, Mum. I’d love that.” She flashes her a smile, “we have quite a ways to go just yet though.”
“I’m aware.” Bernie falls quiet again.
“How about we plan to visit Cameron tomorrow?” Charlotte can feel that her mother was probably about to ask the question. Bernie had asked a few times yesterday when they arrived home. “If you want and if you feel up to it, of course. We aren’t pushing ourselves. Isn’t as if he’s going anywhere anytime soon.”
Bernie gives her daughter a light glare, “be kind to your brother, please.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Charlotte carefully sits up more to face her mother, “do you need to use the toilet or anything?” She pauses, “want to take a nice, long bath with bath fizzies?” When Bernie seems unimpressed, Charlotte sighs, “I doubt you’d prefer to sit around and look at the walls.”
“Charlie, I’m content just to sit here and spend time with you.” Bernie keeps herself calm, drawing her lower lip into her mouth to bite softly, “but I understand if-”
“Well, now you’re pouring on the guilt.” Charlie mumbles softly, looking away. “I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to apologize for, darling.” Bernie reaches her hand over to gently touch Charlotte’s arm cautiously, as if asking for permission.
Charlotte leans forward, placing her head on her mother’s shoulder, next to her neck. She feels Bernie’s arm wrap around her back to hold her closely. “I’m happy that you’re here, Mum. I’m happy you decided to stay with me.” She pauses, “not that I gave you much choice in the matter, but...you still could have declined my invitation.”
“I wouldn’t have.” Bernie swallows, pressing a gentle kiss against Charlotte’s head, “unless you were still living in that one bedroom flat...but only because I didn’t want to put you out.”
“Even if I was living in the one bedroom flat, I’d just tell John to sleep on the sofa.” Charlie smiles to herself, “we’d have made it work.”
Bernie never would have thought her daughter would go the distance when it came to her. If this was a few years ago, Bernie knows she would have properly received a different response from Charlie. Really, a different response from either of her children. “Thank you,” Bernie whispers, only lifting her head when she hears a knock against the door frame.
“Am I bothering you?” Serena Campbell smiles a little as she enters into the room, a reusable shopping bag in her hand. “I picked up toiletries for us. If you want to bathe later on, I’ll be more than happy to help.” She winks to her girlfriend, noticing that the young woman laying against her hasn’t moved. “She okay?”
“Think she may have fallen asleep.” Bernie nods, rubbing Charlotte’s back again and listening to the steady breathing in her ear. She begins to remember all the bizarre circumstances she had fallen asleep in when she was pregnant with her own children. “I’ll wake her. Is there something to eat downstairs?”
“Yes, but John is putting everything on dishes to bring up here so as to not disturb the workers.” Serena nods, making her way to their connected bathroom to unload the things she had chosen for them at the store. “I had forgotten how crowded things can be so early in the morning.” She pauses, checking her wristwatch, “well, not terribly early, but it felt earlier.”
“Time is it?” Bernie savors this closeness with her daughter, that much is obvious as she continues to gently stroke Charlotte’s back absently.
“Half past ten.” Serena stands in the doorway of the bathroom facing the bedroom, smiling sweetly to her girlfriend. “No matter how old they grow, they’re always up for a good cuddle.” She moves a bit closer, “even if they’re nearly a parent themself, apparently.”
Bernie smirks to herself, mumbling, “anytime she wants.”
Serena nods, casually folding her arms across her chest, “Apparently there’s a small lounge area in the master bedroom. I believe that’s where John is taking the dishes. Would you like to-”
“I don’t want to move, honestly.” Bernie keeps her voice hushed.
“Bernie, she was obviously awake long enough to make her way in here.” Serena offers, “she’s always tired as it is. After lunch, I’m sure the both of you can catch another kip. I’ll close the door.”
“And where will you go?” Bernie gazes up at her girlfriend, a clever smirk forming in the corner of her mouth, “I remember how jet lag always affected you...and I doubt much has changed in that department.”
“It’s bizarre, the things you remember.” Serena gives a dazzling grin before leaning down and pressing a soft kiss against Bernie’s temple. “Wake her up, you know she’ll be disappointed if she misses a meal.” Having lived with the young woman for a month in close quarters, helped Serena not only form a closer bond with her, but it helped her understand the young woman’s behavior much more than what she thought she knew previously.
“I’ll take care of it. We’ll be there in a moment or two.” Bernie watches as Serena takes her leave after a moment of hesitation. Bernie reaches up, removing the oxygen cannula from her nose. She closes her eyes as she inhales her daughter’s smell slowly, smiling to herself after. “Darling, wake up.”
“Wasn’t actually sleeping.” Charlotte mumbles, lying. “I mean...I know I’m not exactly sitting in a position that looks comfortable, but it is.” She yawns, not wanting to move. Really, Charlotte has missed this closeness with her mother as well. “They brought food, right?”
“I thought you weren’t asleep.” Bernie knows the truth, she could hear the steady breathing from her daughter, the very same sound she’s made since she was just a girl.
Slowly sitting up, Charlie smiles to her mother, “do you want me to turn your tank off?” She motions with a nod toward her mother’s oxygen tank. They had traveled with a couple and there would be someone coming to install a machine either today or the next day in order to make things easier on them all. “You can put it back on after lunch.”
Bernie glances over to the tank, then back to her daughter, “I’ll hear it from the warden if I do that.” She teases, then sighs softly, “we can give it a try-”
“And I’ll run back in here to get your tank if you need it, but you need to be honest about it.” Charlotte yawns again, “if you’re going to try pushing through it, we’ll scrap the idea.”
“Don’t know unless you try.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, slowly edging her legs over the side of the bed. She reaches for her cane as it rests against the bedside table next to her, using it as leverage to help her stand. Bernie removes the tubing from around her head, offering it to Charlotte after.
Charlie smirks, getting up and shutting the tank off. She wraps the tubing of the nasal cannula, setting it on the machine itself. Charlotte walks ahead of Bernie, motioning for her mother to follow with a tilt of her head, “take your time. There better be some toast and jam...or I’ll give him back the bloody ring.”
“That’s quite excessive, isn’t it?” Bernie concentrates on her steps, while also paying attention to her daughter.
“No, he knows how much I like toast.” Charlotte smirks, staying with her mother. At first, she wasn’t so sure about having her mother home. Charlie knew she was going to tend to Bernie, but didn’t quite know how much it would impact her. Not only has she started to grow as a person, but Charlie actually wants to be a better daughter now. First time in her entire life and she’d work hard to do so.
Thanks for coming back, if you're coming back, or welcome if this is your first time!
I only bite a little bit.
Charlotte finds simple things difficult to understand.
Serena purposely fails at a pep talk.
Since I'm a visual reader and some of you might be as well. Here's a visualization of the general layout and appearance of the house. Some things will be different, of course, but if there's movement between rooms, now you understand what I use as a general layout.
“Is this why you put a lounge in our bedroom?” Charlotte brings a cornered slice of toast to her lips, a layer of butter and strawberry jam covering the top. “So we could snack and not worry about crumbs in the bed?” She teases as she takes a bite of her toast, watching her fiance.
“Or because I sometimes might not want to work at my desk, but sure.” John Hampton dips his toast in the yolk of his over-medium cooked egg, taking a bite of it, “especially given that I told the workers to handle our office space among the last, it allows me to help Ms. Wolfe with whatever she may need if I’m on the same floor.”
“I thought there was a whole basement thing and,” Charlotte scowls, knowing he’s only eating his toast that way because he knows how much she used to love to do so, “when you showed us around yesterday, I saw no basement space.”
“That was another place.” John explains, shaking his head a little, “we didn’t get that one. So, I told the-”
“-estate agent-” Charlie preemptively corrects him, knowing he’d use the American version of the word that drives her crazy for reasons she can’t explain.
“Right, I told him what I liked about that house and he managed to find another that was comparable...if not better.” John cuts his bacon, taking a bite of it. “Still has an extra house in the back, but no basement. Extra bedroom compared to the other one. However, the ground floor has a dedicated office area instead of a basement that we were going to flip. So...I didn’t think you’d be too bothered by it.”
“I did have a look about when the builders had gone home late last night, into the early hours of the morning.” Serena glances between the two, “as I was telling John in the car just a couple of hours ago, it’s going to look amazing when it’s all finished and furnished.”
“When I return to work, I’m not going to have much time for it.” Charlotte shakes her head, leaning back against the sofa, “though I think I’m going to scale back my hours and be more selective about my cases.” She exhales slowly, “I just need to be careful. Half the firm already hates me. Mostly old white men who automatically believe I slept my way to the top.”
“Bastards.” Bernie mumbles, listening to the conversation as she eats a piece of the same frittata that her daughter has on the plate in front of her. “When I was in my early years, I was accused of dating my superior officer, a man who was easily thirty to forty years my senior.”
“Little did they know.” Serena smirks, amused with the thought that anyone would assume or accuse Bernie Wolfe of being with a male superior. “I find that most female professionals, regardless of whatever field they go into, suffer from the same accusations if they succeed quickly in said field.”
“You should have told me, I’d have taken care of it.” John offers, still partaking in his runny yolked egg and organ meat sausage. All things Charlotte is unable to currently have because of her pregnancy.
“I don’t need you to fight battles for me. I’m more than capable of taking care of myself.” Charlotte answers calmly, though it’s obvious there was something in his words that might have offended her. “Is that the same response you had while I was arguing down the rantings of a cult leader a few months ago? Same response you had while I was receiving death threats and had a police escort and round-the-clock protection?” She smirks a little to herself, knowing he wouldn’t have known much about any of that. “I handled them myself...as I have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”
“You go girl.” Bernie smirks, proud of both her daughter’s sentiment and quick response. “You need to eat something other than toast.”
Charlie shakes her head negatively, “it’s nearly time for the morning sickness to start. Actually, it’s past due. So...I’ll take things lightly until-”
“Maybe you’re finished with that.” John interrupts, then immediately raises his hands as if apologizing for interrupting her, “I’m not counting chickens before they hatch or anything like that, but...here you still sit.”
“You’re actually right in the time frame for it to end for most women. Not all, of course, some women have hyperemesis gravidarum for the entirety of their pregnancies and some don’t have anything at all.” Serena explains, shaking her head as she continues to tuck into her chocolate pastry and coffee. Her eyes shift over to Bernie out of habit, watching the subtle movements of a woman having a difficult time breathing and attempting to hide it. “I’ll be right back.” She rises from the curved sofa, glad she was sitting on the end. Serena gently touches Bernie’s shoulder as she steps past her.
John observes everything taking place in front of him, watching Bernie to continue focusing on her own breathing. He licks his lips, glancing at his fiance while watching Bernie from the corner of his eye, “Ms. Campbell was saying you were a good roommate while you were in Somalia.”
“I’m a good roommate everywhere I go.” Charlotte smirks to herself, then motions to his plate with her fork, “what were you thinking with all of this? Did you plan to make me miserable, or did you just think this was funny.”
“Honestly, I just wanted eggs and sausage...and rashers, but you all call it bacon.” John curls his lip in a mixture of disgust and disappointment, “could have done without the last one though.”
Only a moment passes before Serena returns with Bernie’s smaller tank of oxygen and her nasal cannula, gently placing the tubing onto the woman’s face and tucking the excess behind her ears. “You did great without it, darling. Just short of an hour.”
Bernie doesn’t want to talk about herself really, taking a moment to inhale from the supplied oxygen before speaking in general. “The frittata tastes quite good. Campbell, was that you?” Her eyes follow her partner as Serena returns to her seat.
“Me, actually.” John offers, finishing everything on his plate and sopping the remnants with a piece of toast, “Ms. Campbell tried for porridge.” He huffs a soft chuckle, “when they finish with the kitchen, I’ll make us a real breakfast though. Pancakes and syrup for starters.”
“His pancakes are like cake and nothing like our pancakes.” Charlotte glances down, noticing the collection of crumbs that have formed atop of her small belly. She snorts, amused as she gently brushes them onto the plate in front of her. “Serena, you’d absolutely love them. Sweet and buttery, every last one.”
“Much like myself after a wild night.” John winks to his fiance, earning a blush and a soft laugh from the woman, “we can put blueberries in them or chocolate chips.” He shrugs, “breakfast is always kind of my thing. Bums me out when Charlie is in a rush to get to work, usually a half hour early, and misses on even a muffin.”
“American muffins, let’s specify.” Charlie shakes her head, sighing softly. She’s now downed four corners of toast, two pieces worth, and is eyeing the frittata that is lukewarm at best. “Completely different from our muffins.” She pauses, “your mother really enjoys them too. Made them fresh last time they visited, didn’t she?”
John nods, “I follow her recipe.” He folds his hands in his lap as he leans against the back of the sofa, “I’m sure your mother has something she cooks well.” The comment elicits a quick laugh from Serena, nearly startling him, “I’ll take that as a no then.”
“I once tried to make my father’s biscuits over to Serena’s around Christmas, but they didn’t turn out well and she will not let me forget it.” Bernie shakes her head, “after all these years.”
“She nearly burned the house down. Completely forgot about them when she popped to the garden for a fag and a cup of coffee.” Serena continues a soft chuckle to herself, then allows the laugh to slowly lose it’s steam. “It was the year we had our family Christmas. Freezing cold outside and there we sat with all the windows open in an attempt to aerate the smell of smoke.”
“One time. One time this happened and I was never allowed to cook in the kitchen again.” Bernie mumbles toward the end of her statement, remembering her emotions of wanting to surprise her children with her father’s recipe for biscuits, something they loved when they were small. “I am more than capable of cooking. I’m just either kept from doing so or choose not to on my own accord.”
“Do you remember Jason trying to cheer you up that night?” Serena never knows what intricate detail from their time in a relationship Bernie will remember, especially since a bit of it was a jumbled mess to her.
“He gave me this uh...” Bernie motions with her hand, remembering the small movements of the toy, but the word evades her, “a small man.”
“One of his favorite strong men figurines.” Serena helps fill in the blank.
“I was curious what that was about.” Charlotte smiles to herself, “it was among the personal effects that the Army gave to Cam and I. Uh...red spandex jumpsuit and long hair pulled up on top of their head with a beard...” She shrugs, watching her mother and knowing the woman doesn’t remember, “I thought it was absolutely bizarre why you’d have something like that in your possession, but now it makes sense.”
Bernie nods almost absently, her words are lost and to the air in front of her though everyone knows she’s speaking to her daughter, “will you show me what you were given?” She swallows, almost afraid of what there might be. “Also, the clothes you said were mine. I’d like to try them on, if possible.” Bernie had lost some weight during her time recuperating, not that she needed to, but with only basic nutrition and passive exercise, it allowed her figure to slim even further and her muscles to lose some of their definition.
“They’re in the storage area. I, personally, made sure all of your belongings were handled with care.” John nods, offering his fiance’s mother a reassuring smile, “I’ll bring them to your room for you when you’re ready for them.”
Charlotte swallows, her eyes damp with tears. She rises from the L-shaped sofa, having been sitting near the corner. “I have to pee.” Charlie clears her throat, using her long legs to effortlessly step over her mother’s lap and around the small table her fiance had set up for them, glad there was a bathroom just off of her bedroom as she walks in the direction.
Serena brings a hand up to stifle a yawn that manages to escape her lips, “I just realized what it was that I forgot.” She nudges John softly in his side with her elbow to garner his attention, finding the man not only easy on the eyes, but easy to talk to as well.
“You kept saying you were forgetting something.” John smirks, looking over to the woman. “Whole ride home, that’s all you kept saying.”
Nodding a little, Serena smirks, remembering the younger man offering multiple times to turn around for her to do another sweep of the store, “shiraz.”
John laughs softly as he slowly nods, “big wine drinker?”
“Puts it mildly.” Bernie cautiously watches the pair, “it’s said that about sixty percent of the human body is composed of water, but I’m fairly certain Serena’s is just shiraz.” They’re a bit too chummy for her liking, but she wouldn’t just say anything with the pair of them sitting here. Bernie will ask Serena about it later on, when they’re alone. She clears her throat, glancing toward the ensuite bathroom, “she’s taking longer than usual.” Bernie decides not to finish the sentence with ‘ I think’ . She’s said it too much already, she knows, but is certainly aware that she’ll probably continue to do so since she easily loses track of time.
“I’ve learned not to bother her while...” John trails, deciding not to finish the sentence with ‘ in that state’ as to not worry Bernie. “I’m sure she’ll come out when she’s ready.”
“Well, luckily, I’ve learned nothing after living with her for a month.” Serena offers a cheeky smirk, getting up from the sofa once again and making her way to the room. She gives a quick knock before pushing the door open, knowing full well the young woman wouldn’t be on the toilet.
Charlotte sits on top of the vanity, between the two sinks, working very hard to calm herself down. Tears trickle from the corner of her eye, next to her nose. She just looks at Serena when the woman closes the door behind herself. Unsure if she can, or should, say anything. Charlie licks her lips as she takes a deep breath, tilting her head back when she does so. “I should be out in a moment.”
Serena hums as she nods, “I’m sure you will.” She moves closer to the young woman, placing a hand on the vanity and leaning against it comfortably. “You’re not in this alone, Charlotte. I know how difficult it is to see your mother like this.”
“No, you don’t.” Charlie shakes her head, her hands resting against the edge of the vanity as she leans forward. “Which...is absolutely fine. There’s some things we say to make people feel better even though we don’t necessarily mean them.”
“Honestly, I do though.” Serena shifts her stance, folding her arms over her chest, “I watched as I slowly lost my mother to dementia after she suffered multiple strokes. In fact, a stroke is what actually killed her.” She takes a deep breath, “Bernie is having moments of forgetfulness, yes, but if you listen closely...it isn’t all gone. Just jumbled.” Serena looks up at the young woman, “and she’s been remembering more and more.”
Charlotte swallows, taking a moment, “I um...I mean, ever since we...” She closes her eyes, taking a slow, deep breath. “Ever since Hargeisa, it’s...” Charlie clears her throat, “I know we’ve been familiar with this new...this new person for a month, but...I’m still not used to it.”
“I don’t see a new person.” Serena shakes her head, “this is the same Bernie Wolfe that I fell in love with years ago.” She reaches over, gently placing her hand on Charlotte’s leg to garner her attention, “this is less about your mother and more about you understanding her, the person you were too angry with to give a chance to years ago.”
“I’m a terrible daughter.” Charlotte shifts her gaze toward the tile floor of the bathroom.
“A terrible daughter wouldn’t have flown over a thousand miles into war torn Somalia while pregnant just to catch a glimpse of her mother. A terrible daughter wouldn’t have spent a month there just to be near her mother.” Serena stands upright from leaning against the vanity, still watching Charlotte, “I think you forget that. You’re the one that wants fresh starts and yet, you’re the one keeping yourself from them.”
Biting the corner of her lip, Charlie carefully pushes herself to stand, “how do I-”
Serena interrupts her by shaking her head negatively, reaching a hand out to gently touch the young woman’s upper arm, “there are no cookie cutter answers. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable, allow yourself to show that weakness to others, and maybe you’ll find an answer or two.” She stands there for a moment more before turning away and taking her exit to the others in the bedroom.
Charlotte folds her arms over her chest, staring toward the indistinctive space in front of her in thought. Vulnerability is something she was always taught not to show, ever since she was a child. Something that only rang more true when she decided to go into law. Her mother was the one who told her to buck up any time she would fall and scrape her knee or told her to dry her tears when she felt left out during an activity. How could she possibly go back on everything she was ever taught by her mother, in order to help her form a better relationship with her mother?
John helps Charlie understand his intentions.
Serena finally informs Bernie about their dark past.
Later on, still that same day.
John disconnects from the therapy session of his last patient of the day, closing his laptop as he takes a deep breath. Psychiatry, in any form, is an emotionally taxing profession. His experience in it is no different. However, being able to work from home allowed him to have a much larger, and more prestigious, client base. He lifts his head, having heard the soft moaning of his resting fiance as she rests on the bed not far from him. John licks his lips, getting up from the sofa and moving over to her, taking a seat on the opposite side of the bed. Gently rubbing her upper arm in an attempt to wake her, “Charlie.”
Groggily opening her eyes and glancing up to him, Charlie exhales softly. “Hey.” She swallows, slowly waking up with each passing minute, “was I snoring?”
“No, groaning.” John smiles softly, looking down at her, “feeling okay?” He casually pulls his sleeves up to the middle of his forearm, “I bet your mother and Ms. Campbell think we’re doing something far more...exciting in here.”
Charlie starts to smile, leaning forward a bit to affectionately lean her face against him, “just cramping probably. I mean, I feel it now that I’m awake and I’ve been growing used to it, but I’d bet that’s what was the cause of the ruckus while I was out.” She sighs, “I don’t like to complain about it.”
“Well, I want you to.” John nods, “I want to know when you aren’t feeling well or when you’re upset. I want to know when you’re hungry or thirsty. I want to know-”
“-when I need to use the toilet.” Charlotte teases him, but understands the sentiment. “That’s sweet of you.”
“You’re the blood that flows through my veins, Charlie.” John just watches her, his hand moving up to gently push back her hair that has fallen into her face. “Even though I spoke to you nearly every day, the past month has been... really hard for me without you here.” He offers her a smile, “it’s...it’s been three and a half years sleeping next to you and I had the worst insomnia when you weren’t here.”
Blushing, Charlie carefully scoots up in bed. She leans over, pressing her lips tenderly against his. “I had Serena next to me instead.”
“Well, now I’m jealous.” John teases as he reaches down, gently placing a hand on Charlotte’s belly. “You’re glowing and...they’re growing. I haven’t been able to help you as much as I could have.” He swallows, “I thought about surprising you in Somalia, but...I know how important it was to you to go alone.”
“I’d have probably been pretty cross with you for showing up unannounced.” Charlie brings a hand up, resting it against his cheek. Her thumb softly glides over his cheekbone, “and you have hardly missed anything, just a voracious appetite, falling asleep in Mum’s hospital room more times than I can count, and morning sickness.” She leans in, gently kissing him again. “Nothing missed, promise.”
John intensifies another kiss, carefully leaning over top of her as he mutters, “says you.” When she opens her legs for him to comfortably hold her closer, John’s lips trail to just under her ear, then her jaw and neck. “My queen.” He lifts his head to look her in the eyes, whispering, “is this uncomfortable?”
There’s nothing more that Charlotte wants to do right now, in the middle of the day, than to have her way with this man. Her eyes show a glint of excitement as she brings her hands up to rest on his face again. “There are other people in our house now. It isn’t just us having it off in front of a big window overlooking the Thames anymore...not caring what the neighbors think or...see.” Charlie grins, a blush flourishing across her features.
He pauses his movements, his hand gently stroking her outer thigh up to her hip. “So...” John pauses, thinking for a moment of what she could want, “I should lock the door?” When she nods, John quickly jumps up from the bed.
Serena pauses in the hallway, seeing the door to the master bedroom close so quickly that it nearly slams shut. She folds her arms over her chest, considering if she wants to press her ear against the door to see if her instincts were correct. Being away from one’s partner is never easy. Serena remembers that clearly from all times she and Bernie would travel back and forth between Holby City and Nairobi with long stretches between. Turning around, Serena returns to the bedroom she’s set to share with Bernie, offering the woman a quick smile.
“That was quick.” Bernie lifts her gaze from the laptop in front of her, something that Charlotte had let her borrow hours ago just to give her something to do instead of stare at the walls.
“Well, they’re...” Serena trails, thinking about the best way to say what she’s about to say as she moves over to the bed to sit next to her girlfriend, “having some alone time and I didn’t want to interrupt them.”
Bernie smirks, “Wolfe irresistibility, I gather?”
Serena rolls her eyes with a smile, “they’re newly engaged and just spent a month apart from one another.” She swore to herself that she wouldn’t speak about what she felt Charlotte and Cpt. Long may have done together while back in Hargeisa on the night before they left. It’s all she could think about whenever she would see Charlotte and John spending time together. “And...maybe, when you’re ready...” Serena raises an eyebrow, wanting her mind to focus on something else.
The smirk once covering Bernie’s face fades slightly as she licks her lips, “yes.” She nods quickly, “but not right-”
“ Not right now . You’re in the middle of...a sitcom from a year ago, of course not right now.” Her tone ever so slightly passive aggressive, Serena sighs softly, disappointed in herself. “I’m sorry, it’s something we both need to be in the mood for.” Serena falls silent for a moment before continuing, “just know that...I’m ready when you are.”
Bernie swallows, closing the lid of the laptop. She doesn’t look over to the woman next to her. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.” She bites the corner of her lip, “I don’t want you to get your hopes up.” She still doesn’t look over to Serena, unsure if she even can. “I don’t know if...” Bernie trails, “I don’t feel like myself.”
Serena closes her eyes for a moment, “Bernie...” She exhales slowly, “I didn’t mean to-”
“I know your appetite for sex is voracious.” Bernie continues, “and you’re a notorious flirt. I could see it in your eyes with Charlie’s fiance.” Her gaze shifts over to Serena finally, “the two of you have gotten rather close in a short time span.”
“Now, wait just a minute.” Serena adjusts her posture to face Bernie completely, her legs bend comfortably underneath her. “What exactly are you-” When Bernie averts her gaze again, Serena sighs, “I went to Nairobi to feel closer to you ...even though I knew you weren’t there anymore. Bernie, I went to Hargeisa to be with you because I realized how...how much I had taken you for granted when we were together.” Serena places a gentle knuckle under Bernie’s chin, gently lifting her head to look her in the eye, “I...entertained Alex bloody Dawson because I thought that’s who you chose to be with before you died. I thought you’d be happy that we got along.”
Bernie begins to shake her head negatively, but only slightly, “Alex and I-”
“I’m aware of that now, but I only found out because she sent Cameron a letter just before Charlie and I came to you.” Serena licks her lips, “I was told about said letter when Charlie told me of it and the admission was verified by Alex herself.”
“You were familiar enough with Alex that you entertained her.” Bernie furrows her brow, doing her best to piece things together in her head. She understands now why both Serena and Charlie were rather pensive about things before they arrived in Hargeisa, “were the two of you together?”
“She isn’t my type.” Serena shakes her head, “though I’m sure she wanted to be. It was never going to happen.” Serena continues to look into Bernie’s eyes, her own eyes gently drifting over Bernie’s other features, “but, Bernie, even if it did...I thought you were dead. Before that, I thought...I thought we agreed to live apart.”
Bernie doesn’t remember any of that. She doesn’t remember ever breaking things off with one Serena Campbell. That portion of her memory was just...dark in her mind, like a blackened portion of a government document that isn’t for public knowledge. “We did?”
“At the time...” Serena swallows, trying to think of how to word things, “at the time, we agreed that...love wasn’t enough for us. Agreed that it wasn’t fair to one another to live apart and alone...simply because we love one another.” Her voice softens with regret as she continues, “but I was stupid and...wrong. I made asinine mistakes that were...fueled by needing you and a bottle or three of shiraz.” There’s tears forming Serena’s eyes as she attempts to make her case, “I’d much rather keep that portion of our life in whatever...dark cavern I threw it into, if it’s all the same to you.”
Bernie shakes her head, “I...” Her gaze appears to be going past Serena as thoughts fill her mind, “I remember traveling and keeping a journal for you so that you’d feel like you were on a journey too and how we’d live at your place when I was finished...because you were needed in Holby City at the time, but I don’t remember ever... actually breaking up.” Bernie folds her hands in her lap, the fingers of her left hand anxiously fiddling with the nails of her right hand, “those thoughts are only...slight, as if I watched something on telly and was attempting to recap it to someone.”
“That’s because it was never supposed to happen.” Serena answers with certainty before a silence falls between the two. A rhythmic thumping is heard echoing through the hallway, causing Serena to bite her lip with an embarrassed blush. “Well, that’s...that’s quite the-”
“You said yourself, they’re engaged and haven’t seen one another for a month.” Bernie leans back against the pillows of her elevated mattress head, her voice falling into a mumble. “Were you...were you ever going to tell me about the things that I had forgotten?” She licks her lips in thought, “the bad times?”
“Not if I didn’t have to.” Serena replies honestly, “but...if you had remembered it, I would have.” She watches the woman next to her, exhaling slowly, “even though there were bad times, Berenice, there was never a time where I didn’t love you...or where we didn’t love one another.” Serena reaches a hand to push away a few strands of hair that had fallen into Bernie’s face, “you were my best friend long before we were ever together romantically. That has never, and will never, change.”
“But?” Bernie swallows, “sounds as if you’re-”
“No, no exceptions.” Serena shakes her head, leaning in and pressing a soft kiss to the corner of Bernie’s mouth before looking into her eyes, “you’re more than welcome to be disappointed in me, lord knows I’m disappointed in myself because of my actions of the past, but I won’t feel that way about the future.”
Bernie gently places her hand over Serena’s, never being forceful in her show of affection, “what if you do?”
“Impossible.” Serena beams, keeping her face only a few centimetres from Bernie’s, “I’m giving up my position at the clinic in Nairobi effectively immediately once I return, moving house, and coming right back to you.” She pulls her face back a little, “and we’ll focus on you getting better and us...the time we’ve missed together.” Serena explains, “and, when you’re ready, we can travel again. Something we both love to do.” She presses a soft kiss to Bernie’s eyebrow, “we just need to see what we have to do in order to, legally, bring you back to life.”
The joke causes Bernie to smile softly, “what if you start to regret leaving Nairobi?”
“I only moved to Nairobi in order to be closer to you, metaphorically.” Serena knows she’s already said those words or something akin to them, but is well aware of how often she’s had to repeat herself to Bernie already. “I’d much rather be closer to you, literally.”
Bernie raises an eyebrow, time for her own joke, “And you aren’t only moving to be closer to Charlotte’s fiance?”
“How could I possibly hold out against your Wolfe irresistibility?” This time, Serena captures Bernie’s lips, knowing that the woman has always enjoyed a good kiss. Though many things change, some things never do.
Charlotte finally takes her mother to visit Cameron.
Day or two after the last few chapters.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie peers through the window of her daughter’s electric sports sedan, watching the storefront of the building that the young woman had run into, claiming she had to urinate. However, this was taking much longer than that. Really, she’s starting to worry, deciding to carefully reach into the back seat for her cane when the driver’s side door opens suddenly. “I thought you were having a wee.” She lets go of the cane, sitting forward again.
“Yes.” Charlie nods, climbing in with the small bag. Taking a moment to catch her breath, Charlie reaches into the bag, fishing out the small box containing a mobile phone. “Same thing I have. You’ll be able to phone us, video conference, and play games that will help your reflexes and response times.” She smirks, opening the small box to show her mother the streamline black device, “the WiFi at home is very good and I’ll have you added onto the mobile plan with Johnny and I for the times when you aren’t home.”
She looks at the device, then back up at her daughter. Bernie’s expression remains relatively unimpressed. “You took all that time just to buy me a new mobile?”
“Not just that.” Charlie fishes into the bag again, pulling out a much smaller box, having one of her own. “Nicotine free, electronic fag.” She grins, “I know I bloody miss it and-”
“Oh, you’re joking.” Bernie seems more excited about the cigarette than she does the mobile. She takes her time to carefully open the small box with her left hand, “does it taste-”
“Menthol, apparently.” Charlotte nods, opening up her own box and screwing the flavor cartridge onto the metal tube. She does it slowly enough so that her mother can catch on without possibly needing help. “And we’ll keep this between us. No need to rouse any arguments with the S-Os.” She leans back against her seat, bringing the device to her lips and inhaling.
Bernie feels a sense of accomplishment when she brings her own e-cigarette to her lips, her portable oxygen tank hissing softly from the seat behind them as the cannula rests beneath her nose. “I don’t think we would, actually. I just wasn’t aware these came without nicotine.”
“You, maybe, but I would hear it from Johnny.” Charlie raises an eyebrow, “at least you can smoke while in the house since it’s only water vapor.” She smirks, pressing the button next to the steering wheel to start the car, “and I won’t even mind.”
“Though it’s no real substitute for the real thing, it’s a great alternative that I will not cause Serena to want to lob off my head.” Bernie smirks, glancing over to her daughter, “you know, I think this might be the first time I’ve ever been in a car with you while you’re the one driving.”
“Well, not quite.” Charlie shakes her head, focusing on the road while balancing her electronic cigarette between the fingers of her non-dominant hand, “driving legally, yes, but there was the time when I was fourteen and you had taken me to drive around the property. That was when we all still lived at Marcus’ mother’s house though.”
Bernie doesn’t remember. She doesn’t even know why Charlotte is referring to her father by his first name and not his familial title, especially since she’s always been a bit of a Daddy’s Girl, or so she thought. “Did we...How did you do?”
Her brows raise as an amused smirk forms in the corner of her mouth, “drove into a ditch and you took the blame after checking to make sure I was okay.” Charlie nods, wishing her mother was able to remember even the slightest bit, “you seemed pleased, at the time, that I was a bit of a speed demon though.”
“Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Bernie glances through the passenger side window, a comfortable quiet falling between them as the radio plays some older music from the seventies and eighties. Luckily things she knows and remembers. “How did you manage to talk Serena into letting it be just the two of us?”
“Well, it was less about me convincing Serena and more about convincing you.” Charlie tilts her head to the side, taking a drag of the cigarette, “since I explained to you for the second time that I was pregnant while you were in hospital, you’ve been hesitant to let me do anything. Which, I’m sure, you’re certainly aware of.”
“You’re pregnant?” Bernie looks over to her daughter, then smiles when the young woman appears alarmed for a split second, “kidding.”
“Very funny.” Charlotte shakes her head. The drive doesn’t seem nearly as long as it had the last time she visited her brother. Probably because of her mother’s mumbling of song lyrics as the radio plays, she isn’t sure, but Charlotte certainly is amused. “I can have my mobile in there because I’m a lawyer, but you can’t so I’ll just skip it. We’ll put yours in the glovebox, same with the fags. The fewer questions we need to answer, the better.”
Bernie nods slowly, understanding the idea, “is there...is there something you believe I need to know before we walk in there?” Her tone is quiet, “can’t say I’ve ever...been to a place like this.” Bernie swallows, “can’t say I ever thought I’d...” She trails, leaning forward to open the glovebox and placing the electronic cigarette inside. When Charlotte offers hers as well, Bernie takes care of it before sitting back in the seat again after closing the compartment.
“There’s...” Charlotte sighs, pulling into a parking space so that she can speak without the added distraction of driving even though they aren’t quite to their destination, maybe five minutes away. “There’s things I know I needed to come to terms with before even...taking a phone call from him.” She shakes her head, “things that aren’t easy to fathom, but...we know, because of trained medical professionals, that his actions were caused by mental illness.”
“I would have...I could have supported him.” Bernie says quietly, leaning an arm against the door.
“Had we known, at the time, that you were alive, I don’t know if he’d have taken the path that he did.” Charlotte says honestly, turning in her seat to face her mother a little, “but I don’t know that for certain. No one can know that for certain.” She licks her lips, “this could have been something that festered and...still happened, even if you were...still living in Holby City at the time.” Charlie shrugs, “we don’t know.”
Shaking her head, Bernie mutters, “I know Cameron. He wouldn’t have intentionally done anything to hurt another person.”
“Well, technically, you’re correct. Except for the intention bit.” Charlie explains, “he never...did anything directly to kill anyone. Not really. However, it was his inaction, savior paradox, and his paranoia that got the best of him.” She comfortably folds her arms over her chest, “when he was first taken to prison, he phoned me, asking me to represent him.” Charlie shakes her head, “I was so angry...and I didn’t quite know how to deal with it. So, I spoke to my boss, explained the situation...and he decided to keep my familiar connection with his new client from the rest of the office. He didn’t have to do any of that, but he did, and I was able to watch the trial from the wings.”
Bernie has memories of the siblings fighting when they were younger. Memories of Charlotte intentionally doing things because she knew her parents wouldn’t find out, or wouldn’t blame her if they did. Bernie usually knew, of course. However, she’d always have a bit of a soft spot for her daughter because of the young woman’s fighter instinct she’s had since her difficult birth. “Thank you.”
“He’s my brother. I’ll always take care of him.” Charlie gives her mother a reassuring smile, “regardless of how much of a prick he is.” When she can tell her mother is about to scold her, she lifts her hands in defense, “he’s gotten better, but...he was pretty insufferable for a while there.”
“Okay.” Bernie exhales slowly, watching as her daughter begins to check her mirrors before pulling out from the parking space. “Does he know we’re visiting today?”
“I phoned and informed staff that we would be, but not to tell Cam that we were. Let him roast and think he’s in trouble when thrown into a conference room.” Charlie laughs a little to herself, “I’ll always take care of him, Mum, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have a little fun at his expense once in a while.”
“You play the part of the little sister very well.” Bernie shakes her head with a smirk, knowing she’d probably have done the same if the situation were different.
“I’m really good at being a bitch, Mum.” Charlie waves her eyebrows, driving a little bit longer. “How about I drop you off at the entrance and park the car? We can walk in together.”
Bernie sighs, objecting, “I need to walk longer and get used to walking longer-”
“While that’s absolutely true, your second day home might not be the best time for it.” Charlie explains, motioning to the boot of the car with a tilt of her hand, “I brought your lightweight chair for this exact reason.”
“Please...” Bernie glances over to her daughter as the young woman nears the hospital, “if the need arises, I believe it’s a hospital. I’m sure there’s a bloody closet or something with one hanging about.” There’s a tone of sarcasm to her voice, earning her an unimpressed look from Charlotte. “I’ll be fine.”
Charlie gives an exasperated sigh, “fine, but we’re taking our time and if I say you’re using a damn chair, you’re using the chair.”
Bernie brings her hand up to her brow, giving her daughter a salute, “yes, ma’am.”
“Damn right.” Charlie finds a parking spot close to the entrance, glad they didn’t need to go to the stacked car park. “I’m taking your chair with us, but you don’t need to use it unless you’re ready for it.” She pauses, noticing her mother about to argue, “hell, I might have you push me around.”
“You shouldn’t be lifting that chair.” Bernie shakes her head, “it’s unnecessary and I’m more than capable of walking.”
“The truth emerges.” Charlie smiles to herself, turning off the car. She pulls the visor down and checks her makeup quickly before pushing it back to the ceiling of the car. “Just hold still and let me help you.” She warns, hiding her purse under her seat before opening her car door.
Bernie, of course, doesn’t listen. She opens her door on her own, collecting her cane. She watches as her daughter scowls, “I need assistance with my oxygen. See?” Bernie tilts her head to the side, “I’m letting you help.”
“You’re being a pain.” Charlie opens the back door, retrieving the backpack with the small oxygen tank and helping her mother put it over her shoulders. “Behave, Berenice.” She does her best posh accent, playfully mimicking Serena and causing her mother to huff with a soft chuckle. Standing upright, Charlie offers her hands to help her mother stand, only for the woman to ignore her offer in favor of her own cane. “Mum, come on.”
Exhaling slowly, Bernie glances up at her daughter once more, “there’s more that I can do that you and Serena aren’t allowing me to do. There are things that you shouldn’t be doing, whether you believe you can do them or not. One of them is heavy lifting. I’ll be...I wouldn’t dare put you or my grandchild at risk.”
“I don’t lift you, I’m not using muscles, you lift yourself. I only steady you.” Charlotte corrects, “no risk to either one of us.”
Bernie swallows, a quick glance to her daughter’s middle before back up to her eyes. Placing her cane to lean against the door of the car, she then carefully takes Charlotte’s hands, rising on her own. Charlie was right. “I thought...”
“You had the right idea. There’s more you’re able to do than any one of us believe.” Charlotte decides against getting the chair, holding her mother’s free hand as she uses her cane with the other. Their movement is slow and careful. Charlie doesn’t focus too much on her mother’s steps, making a point not to draw attention to them. Though the interior of the facility is hospital-like, there’s also areas where the patients and inmates are able to relax in a more social setting.
This could have been worse , Bernie thinks, deciding to not focus on her steps and naturally finding things a bit easier to maneuver. “Is he...is Cameron happy here?”
“He’s safe here.” Charlie nods, explaining simply, “and, by proxy, I’d assume he’d be happy here to a degree, yes.” She stops at the desk in the middle of the hallways, checking in and giving them a very quiet heads up about the situation. She’s told that they’d be taken to a meeting room first with the patient brought in after, and stands still as they’re quickly scanned by a handheld metal detector. “The bigger room. Lucky us.” Charlotte is glad the staffer is quick with their search as they walk off.
“Do you visit often?” Bernie takes a moment to comfortably lean against the wall as they wait for the room to be prepared.
Hearing her mother’s question, Charlotte moves away from the desk and back over to Bernie. “Uh...” She thinks of the best way to answer, sliding her hands into the hip pockets of her blazer since there aren’t any on her maternity jeans. “I’m incredibly busy with work, but...when he drops a bell, I answer.” Charlie decides to take the fall for the absence of conversation with her brother. Telephones work both ways. She decides that her mother doesn’t need to know just how angry Cameron was with his sister following the trial where she served as a character witness, helping the case for an insanity plea even though he wanted his lawyer to go in a different direction. “He likes receiving post, so I hear. Serena and he communicated often once he was...checked in.”
Bernie can tell there’s something her daughter isn’t telling her, but won’t mention her suspicions now. This isn't the place or the time. “I’ll ask him which he’d rather have when I see him,” she mumbles to herself, then watches as Charlotte paces slowly, absently. “You okay?”
“Ace. You?” Charlotte answers quickly, stopping her pacing to look her mother over, “do you need to sit?”
“No, I’m sure we’ll be doing that shortly anyhow.” Bernie offers a satisfying smile as she nods toward the staffer who seems to be waiting patiently for them to wrap up their conversation. They’re escorted into a family meeting room at the end of the hall, Bernie taking a seat on the end of the sofa, placing her oxygen on the armrest next to her so that she’s able to lean back. She offers the staffer her thanks and watches as Charlotte sits in the high backed chair across from her.
“I’ve aided a few clients that were brought here and...have seen quite a few of the St. Jerome meeting rooms. I’m confident that they intentionally make the furniture uncomfortable, but these actually aren’t too bad.” Charlotte contently exhales, pressing a hand to her belly absently as she speaks, “this room does say much, though not directly. Means he’s either had significant improvement or good behavior and doesn’t need to be cuffed to tables anymore. Trust means breathing room.”
“Well,” Bernie wouldn’t have thought about that, “that’s great. I’m proud of him.”
“I’m sure he’ll tell you more about it shortly.” Charlie nods, reaching over to gently pat her mother’s knee. “Just relax.”
“Darling, if I were more relaxed, I’d melt.” Bernie mutters, causing her daughter to laugh, “I just...it will be nice to have both of my children in the same room. It’s...it’s been years.”
“Since you’ve been alive, you mean?” Charlotte teases slightly, sitting back against the high backed chair, “he and I actually got along at the funeral...and even when I visited to see him a month ago before coming to you.”
Bernie offers her an approving smile, “well, it can only continue its upward trajectory.” She watches her daughter for a bit longer before there’s someone aggressively speaking from the other side of the door, giving her son a difficult time. Something they were influenced to do by her daughter, “Charlie.”
Charlotte laughs to herself, “worth it.” The door opens and she continues to grin as her brother is pushed through the door. “Fancy seeing you here.” Charlie stands, looking at her elder brother.
Cameron turns, a confused expression that he was making to the staffers that had pushed him in. When he hears his sister’s voice, Cam visually relaxes, walking closer to her. “Don’t know how you convinced them to do that.” He hugs her tenderly, then holds her at arm's length, “you uh...you look-”
“Pregnant.” Charlotte corrects him before he’s able to insult her, “so...watch it.”
Cameron starts to grin, then laughs a little to himself. “That’s fantastic. Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Charlie nods, “but I didn’t come for you to fawn over me. I uh...brought someone along that you might know.” She motions to the sofa behind him with a tilt of her head, something he hadn’t noticed when he rushed to show his sister affection.
Once her son slowly turns to face her, Bernie graciously looks at his face. Not only happy to see her son, but thrilled that her children were actually getting along. “Hello, Cameron.”
Cam stands still, unsure if what he’s actually seeing is real. He swallows the lump that’s forming in his throat, “Mum.” Her name is uttered breathily as he takes in her difference in appearance from when he had seen her last. Different hair, visual burns near her neck and obviously trailing down to her hand, a cane resting against the wall next to the sofa, nasal cannula and portable oxygen pack . He exhales, beaming. “I um...” His voice begins to waver, “I’ve really missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too.” Bernie nods, taking a moment before holding out her hands and flexing her fingers to the best of her ability, signalling for him to hug onto her.
“I...I don’t want to hurt you.” Cameron swallows, delicately taking a seat next to his mother, sitting sideways to face her.
Bernie sighs softly, lowering her arms as her gaze follows him. “You wouldn’t hurt me.” When he gives her an uncertain look, she tilts her head to the side with a negative shake, “I promise you.”
Cam leans forward, cautiously wrapping his arms around his mother in an embrace. Resting his head on her shoulder, he closes his eyes, tears forming when Cameron feels his mother hold onto him in return. He doesn’t want to let her go. Not even sure if this is real or a hallucination...possibly a dream. “I’m sorry.” He whispers next to her ear, his voice catching as he lets his tears fall freely. He isn’t sure if he’s apologizing for showing his emotions with her, denying her initial request for a hug, or for his felonious transgressions.
Gently stroking the side of his newly shaved head with her trimmed nails, Bernie softly presses a kiss to his cheek, not ready to let him go. She shushes him, “it’s all going to be okay now.” Bernie smiles softly to herself, lifting her gaze only to see her daughter sobbing, “Charlie?” She asks, concerned. However, Bernie doesn’t release her hold on her son.
Charlotte waves her hand in the air, signalling for her mother not to pay her any mind, “sodding hormones.”
I feel like a Wolfe road trip could be fun. lol.
John finds something surprising on his doorstep.
Charlie doesn't know what her next steps should be.
Occurs about an hour or so after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Charlotte glances over to her mother who seems to be napping with a smile on her face, causing a wave of warmth to flow over her. They had been driving for something like twenty minutes following a pit stop at a drive through for drinks and chips after visiting Cameron. Hearing her mobile ring for the third time, Charlie sighs, carefully reaching next to her seat for her bag and earbuds she perpetually kept within, thankful she had taken it from under her seat as she slips one into her ear, answering the bell of her mobile. “You are the most impatient-”
“Hey, are you going to be much longer?” John paces within the confines of the kitchen, the workers having accomplished quite a bit for the day. With the promise that only finishing touches were needed the next day on the ground floor, John had sent the workers home.
She furrows her brow, able to hear the uncertain quiver in his voice. “I don’t know, like...twenty minutes or so, but there’s a bit of traffic.” Charlie shrugs, sighing softly as she leans back in her seat, “everything okay there?”
“You aren’t going to believe it.” He runs a hand over his own shaved head, “like...really aren’t going to believe it.” John swallows, “how many people do you know that have this address?”
“I mean...seeing that I hardly know it myself.” Charlie trails, “Serena and Mum, but that second one is probably...slim to none.” She tilts her head to the side as she leans back in her seat, “I told Cameron what it was before Mum and I left so that we’re all able to write letters between one another. He writes them as one of his therapy things.” There has to be a reason for him to ask. “Is someone there asking for me?”
“Well...kind of.” John sighs softly, reaching up to rock the seat as it sits on the counter. The cry of a baby is heard over the line. Nothing too loud, mostly a whimper in fact. “Uh...”
Hearing the commotion, Charlie shakes her head, “Johnny?”
“Listen, I thought one of the guys had left something behind when I heard a knock. I answered the door and there was a baby sitting there.” John answers simply, “I thought this kind of thing was only done in movies or...in the forties.”
“Have you phoned the police?” Charlie glances to her mother, thankful she’s still asleep,
“Not just yet. Baby was all wrapped up in this blanket and strapped into her car seat. There was a letter with your name on top of the blanket.” John exhales slowly, “it’s uh...it’s folded up.”
“Too much to ask you to read it, I suppose.” Charlie replies sarcastically, surprised the man seems so anxious about this. “There weren’t any...speeding cars or-”
“Nothing.” John swallows, removing the letter and carefully unfolding. He quickly reads over its shaky handwriting, trying to also pay attention to the baby in the seat. “Um...” He sighs softly, “hold on.” John licks his lips, setting the piece of paper down for a moment as the baby’s crying intensifies. He carefully attempts to cradle the mobile between his ear and shoulder.
“Is there a mobile number or a name?” Charlie glances to the side of the road, tempted to pull the car over. However, she knows that would be counterproductive to getting home as quickly as possible, “any sort of...identification?”
“I’m trying to get them out of their seat.” John places his mobile onto the counter, touching the screen for speaker mode. He continues to attempt figuring out the seat, following each strap. This was far more difficult than he thought it would be, “are they usually this-”
“What’s going on?” Charlie swallows, “isn’t Serena there? She can probably help you.”
“Let her borrow my car to go to the store for her and your Mom. Give her some time to herself while the two of you are...out joyriding.” John smiles to himself when he finally releases the baby from the seat, “she’s...it’s a girl, by the way. She’s really cute, Charlie.” He is careful with the baby, holding her comfortably in the elbow of his arm, “all...pudgy with big brown eyes...”
Charlotte smiles softly to herself, “babies often are, aren’t they?” The most experience with children that she had was during her time as an EMT. There was never a time where she babysat as a teenager, too focused on her studies and moments of overachieving. Otherwise, the concept of children was still foreign to her and the anxiety-inducing thoughts about how quickly the time of motherhood was approaching were nearly smothering at times.
“She came with a bag of some supplies too.” John sighs softly, returning to the letter, “okay, uh...” He starts reading to himself, “it says she’s of your blood and that her mother isn’t able to take care of her right now.” John reads a little further, deciding to read it verbatim instead, “ I tried contacting someone in your family at the address Cameron gave before. His father was there and told me that he no longer had a son. I couldn’t tell him that my baby was his grandchild. I can’t let my baby know that anger.”
“Why would she think I’d be any different?” Charlie says rhetorically as she shakes her head, of course she was different. After the funeral, Charlotte quickly understood just how different she and her father were, quickly understood just how shallow his love actually could be. “What else?”
“ You seemed kind when I had last spoken to you. I realized that you were prepared to protect your brother during the trial, regardless of how angry he was at you for it. You said that he needed to pay his dues for his wrongdoing, but that didn’t mean you were ready to cut him out of your life. In fact, it was the opposite. You said he needed you more than he ever did.” John starts to walk around the kitchen island in an attempt at keeping the baby calm. “ Skip ahead, skip ahead.” He licks his lips, “ I’m not prepared for this. I tried. I love her more than anything, but I can’t do this.” John nods a little, “there’s uh...there’s information about her birthday and birth weight, how long she was when she was born. She’s like...” He thinks for a moment, doing the math in his head, “three, almost four months old.”
“That’s it?” Charlotte sighs softly, doing her best to keep herself calm.
“Baby’s name is Tala Mac Dunn.” John sets the paper back onto the counter finally, glancing to the baby in his elbow, “I like that name. Suits her.” He picks the baby up so that she can look over his shoulder, his muscular arm rests across her back.
“Tala...and not Talia?” Charlie furrows her brow, “I don’t understand why the mother would give her my brother’s last name after my father apparently wasn’t...wasn’t the best. I know I’m thrilled that I don’t have it.”
“I don’t know. Maybe there’s more to it.” John offers, “I mean...those are only parts of the letter. It’s like...three pages.” He starts to smile, deciding to tease his fiance a bit to lighten the mood, “had I known you were inheriting a baby, I would have been more diligent with our condom quality.”
“We don’t even know if she’s really Cam’s, Johnny. Don’t get too excited...or attached.” Charlie finds herself mumbling, “just...take care of her until I get there. Fold up the letter. Last thing I need is for...” She shakes her head, there’s no real way to hide just what’s going on and that starts to dawn on her. “I’ll be there soon.”
“Too late. Already attached.” John can hear the baby whimpering in his ear again, “I think she needs a diaper change...which I can totally handle. Just didn’t want you walking in and being blind sided. Be careful out there. I love you.” Hearing her repeating the sentiment of love, he ends the call by tapping the screen of his mobile.
John touches the screen a few more times before looking into the bag. “Mat...diaper, some wipes. Sounds about right.” That is pretty much the extent of his knowledge of this. John nods, “going to have to learn sometime, right?” He speaks to the baby, knowing he isn’t going to receive a reply. John puts on a video on his mobile, teaching him how to easily change a diaper.
Serena enters the house a couple moments later, bags in her hands of things for Bernie and herself. “Smells of sawdust and amber.” She carries the bags into the kitchen area since the workers were obviously gone for the day, stopping abruptly when he sees the man attempting to change a nappy. “Who is this beauty?” Serena smiles a little, setting the bags onto one of the other counter tops besides the island. “Eyes like mud puddles.”
“A lot has happened since you went to the store.” John secures the taped ends to the diaper, finishing up rather quickly for doing the task for the first time. “There was this whole...time change thing. Like...a time machine showed up right here and-” When he feels Serena’s unimpressed scowl, he laughs a little to himself. “Apparently, she’s Cameron’s.”
Furrowing her brow, Serena begins to shake her head, “you must be joking. The one person that definitely doesn’t need that responsibility.” Her eyes follow the direction of a subtle nod made by him to a folded up piece of paper. Taking note of Charlotte’s name being scribbled on the outside, Serena decides against actually reading anything, deeming it to be an invasion of privacy. “I-I-I don’t understand.”
John lets the baby lie on the mat on top of the kitchen island still, “You see, when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much-”
“No, no. I mean, I wasn’t aware that Cameron was in a relationship. He never mentioned anything about another person, pregnancy, or child in any of his letters or phone calls. At least, not in a romantic sense.” Serena explains, then looks at the baby again, “not that he would tell me everything , but there was quite a bit of oversharing, in his letters especially. This would have been one of those things.”
“Her last name is Dunn. Mother would have been certain enough to go the extra mile.” John carefully picks the baby up again, placing her with her head over his shoulder, “Tala is her first name.”
“Tala and not Talia. How much do you wager that it means something?” Serena asks rhetorically before reaching a hand out, gently placing it onto the baby’s back as she looks into her face, receiving a gummy smile from the babe.
John uses his free hand, fully aware of Serena’s fawning of the baby, and looks up the name on his mobile. He begins to laugh a little to himself, “ready for this one?” He shows Serena the screen of his mobile.
“Wolf. Her name means wolf.” Serena holds her hands out, gently prying the baby from John’s grasp. “Three or four months?” Seeing his nod, she smiles to the baby in her arms, “have you spoken to Charlie yet?”
“Called her a few minutes after finding Tala on the doorstep.” John sighs, slipping his mobile into his pocket. “She didn’t come with much.” When Serena appears interested, he turns to the supply bag and carefully empties it. “Few bottles, few diapers, few sets of clothes.” John shakes his head, “how about the three of us go to the store and get Tala what she needs?”
Serena raises an eyebrow, knowing he’s probably asking her to come along because he has no real idea what to buy in the first place, “sounds like a plan.”
Right now, though we all know that it's Nicky, no one in the story knows the identity of Tala's mother is besides Cameron.
Just keep that in mind for the next few chapters.
Charlie receives a call from someone unexpected.
Bernie better understands the damage she inadvertently caused her children.
Charlotte races into the house after parking her car, needing to use the bathroom after her drive. She closes her eyes as she sits on the toilet, exhaling softly. Feeling her wrist begin to vibrate with a phone call, she’s glad her earbuds are still in her ear without actually seeing who was phoning her. “I’m in the toilet. I’ll be out in-”
“Well, if you think I need to know that. Let me tell you when my last bowel movement was.”
Her eyes pop open and she can’t help but smile to herself, “Ben.” Charlie exhales, “certainly wasn’t expecting you.”
Cpt. Benson Long sits at his desk within his personal quarters, going through a few files he had brought home. Paperwork he wasn’t able to finish while at the hospital, though it wasn’t as if he actually needed to at the time. He smiles to himself, “back in the swing of things already?”
“Not quite.” Charlie lifts her hand, pushing it through her hair. “Went to see Cameron and I found out that he might have a daughter. Not from him, but because she was left on my doorstep not even a half hour later.” The words fall from her lips and she sighs softly, “sorry...I know you didn’t want to hear all of that.”
“I did, actually.” Long laughs a little to himself, sitting back in his desk chair, “did you take the Major to see your brother?” He pauses, “I remember her asking no less than a million times.”
“Yeah, today in fact, uh...you’re going to hear a toilet. Hold on.” Charlotte gets up, adjusting her clothing before flushing the toilet and moving to the sink to wash her hands, “it was just...really sad. He cried for most of it and she just...held him as if he was a child.” She licks her lips, turning off the taps and looking at herself in the mirror.
“You said before that your brother had taken her death hard, didn’t you?” Long begins to shuffle and neatly stack the files on the side of his desk before getting up from his chair. His movements and cleanliness are meticulous. Long carefully pushes his chair in, “not that you didn’t, but-”
“You’re right, I showed up to the funeral in a red dress covered in sequins.” Charlie smirks to herself, then lets it fade as the space grows quiet between them. This isn’t something she thought she’d give in to, even accidentally.
“I um...I went to the Major’s old room today, ready to give her a hard time, but...Lt. Conroy doesn’t exactly seem like the person that would enjoy my rugged good looks.” Long smiles to himself, remembering how he couldn’t even bring himself to meet with her on the day they all left. “Not being able to see your...well, that’s a whole other thing.”
Charlie feels her chin begin to tremble and her eyes suddenly going damp with tears as she brings her hand up to cover them. She does her best to not allow herself to be heard crying over the microphones of her buds, quickly losing that battle when she inhales sharply.
“Hey, hey. No crying.” Long feels his shoulders drop, “I know, um...” He feels at a loss for words, but wants to make her smile somehow. “How was the flight?” Small talk? Long brings his hand up to rub the back of his neck, “I know they put in the extra effort to put you up in first class.”
Actually, that’s exactly what she needed. Charlie swallows, smiling a little to herself, “we had these...little cubicles. It was weird, but...fabulous at the same time.” She clears her throat, opening the door to the rest of the house finally. “Mum and Serena were supposed to share a couple’s cubicle and I’d take the window, individual one. However, Mum wanted to look out the window...so Serena and I shared instead.” Charlie smirks to herself bringing a hand up to wipe her cheek, “like a child when it comes to traveling, that one.”
“She deserves it.” Long nods, “I’m never able to stomach the window seat, take an aisle anytime.”
Charlie walks around the house from the bathroom, “fear of heights?”
“Mild one.” Long smiles to himself, glad he’s taken her mind off of things for a moment.
Standing at the kitchen island, Bernie holds onto a scribbled note in Serena’s handwriting and only reads it aloud when she notices her daughter in her peripheral vision, “ ran to the supply store to get things for Tala. Be back in a jif. ” Bernie lifts her head, looking at Charlotte, “what is Tala?”
“Ben, I need to call you back.” Charlie touches her ear, ending the call abruptly. She folds her arms, “I was coming back out to help you from the car.” Charlie licks her lips, doing her best to save herself some time and to find the right words to explain the situation.
“I didn’t need help.” Bernie shakes her head, setting the paper down with a confused furrowed brow, “is Tala a...holiday or something that I’m not aware of?”
Charlotte walks closer, “You should-”
Bernie lifts her cane suddenly, pointing it in Charlie’s direction to keep her at a distance and to keep the young woman from attempting to coddle her. “Now.”
Carefully and tactfully explaining the situation, Charlie remained level headed and calm through it all. She folds her arms over her chest, “I haven’t yet read the letter myself, but...” Charlie lifts a hand to thread through her own hair, still watching her mother, “I gave Cameron our new address just before we headed out. He would have had to have phoned the girl almost immediately after we left and she would have had to have been in the area already.”
“Tala Dunn.” Bernie starts to smile to herself, lowering her cane, “and she’s going to stay here.” It isn’t a question.
“Mum, we don’t even know if she’s really Cam’s. We’ll tend to her for a bit...then contact the authorities.” Charlie shakes her head, “I have no problem with taking care of a child of Cameron’s, but-”
“She’s your niece.” Bernie walks around the kitchen island, cane thumping on the hardwood flooring, “and we’re going to take care of them.”
“Mum, whoever it is, abandoned their child.” Charlotte watches her mother for a moment before looking away with a sigh. Memories of waking up with Milky Buttons that smelled of her mother under her pillow, candy that she would never actually eat until her mother’s return home fill her mind. Her eyes flood with tears once again and she shakes her head, moving away from her mother, to the stairs leading to the floor above. She takes a seat among the bottom few.
Bernie gives her a moment, picking up the folded up letter with her daughter’s name on the front of it, taking note of just how shaky the writing is as she steps to the stairs, thinking her daughter had ventured up them to lock herself away in her room. Something Charlie would do since she was a child. Bernie lowers herself to the step next to her, casually hanging her cane on the handrail as she pulls her knees up a little. “Want to talk about it?”
Charlie shakes her head negatively, “I’m just...really hormonal today, I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for.” Bernie just sits with the young woman in silence for a moment before continuing, “I know this isn’t exactly something you want.” She licks her lips, “taking care of a child can be overwhelming, no matter how you look at it.” Bernie opens her hand, showing the folded note, “and with the way even your name is written, I’d bet that Tala’s mother was just as emotional when she wrote this as you are right now.”
She knows what her mother is holding, but can’t bring herself to look over to it. Charlie swallows, “I hardly know if I can take care of my own child, much less one of Cam’s.”
With that, Bernie carefully places her arm around Charlotte’s shoulders, knowing full well the feeling that Charlie is experiencing, “maybe one day, Tala’s mother will return and realize that she made a mistake, but if she doesn’t...we aren’t going to abandon her either.”
“Did you just,” the words strike a cord within Charlotte, causing her to sit up and look at her mother suddenly, “did you just not like Cam and I?” She brings a hand up to wipe her wet cheeks quickly, not exactly liking the feeling of appearing weak in front of her mother, or anyone else for that matter. The space falls quiet again as she adjusts her posture, looking ahead, “I’m sorry, I-”
“You and your brother were the only good things that happened during my marriage with your father.” Bernie doesn’t let her go, doesn’t move from her place on the step to walk away. “I love the two of you more than anything or anyone.” When her daughter still doesn’t speak, Bernie leans in, pressing a kiss to Charlotte’s temple, “I didn’t like myself at the time, and I didn’t want either of you to ever feel that.”
“I...I always promised myself that...if I ever had a child, I’d never leave them.” Charlie shakes her head, “never...never make them feel like they weren’t wanted like I-” She trails, not wanting to finish the thought when she realizes that she might upset her mother.
“Darling, you were always wanted.” Bernie says softly, her voice just above a whisper in the otherwise silent house. “By me, by your father...” She shakes her head, “the only one that tried to convince us to give you away was Cameron.” She smirks to herself when her daughter exhales with an amused smile, “even when Marcus brought him to visit us in hospital after you were born, he asked when we could give you back.” Bernie laughs quietly to herself, “I don’t know where he thought we received you from, but...he was determined.”
Charlotte carefully takes the letter from her mother’s other hand after a moment and slowly opens it. Few pages long and she can see the tear stains in some areas, blurring the handwriting a tad, “I would have helped her...” She says before beginning to read, “if...if she needed a break, I would have helped her.”
“We, Charlie, we would have helped her.” Bernie lowers her hand a bit, but keeps her arm wrapped around her daughter’s back.
“No offense, Mum, but you don’t have any money, a place to call your own, or even memory half the time. You’re building from the ground up.” Charlie smirks to herself, then immediately begins to worry if she said something wrong when she doesn’t hear a response from her mother. She turns her head to look at the woman, “I’m sorry, I-”
“No,” Bernie starts to laugh, leaning back against the stair behind her, “no, darling. You’re right, but...I’d like to think you would allow me to help.”
“Well, we have this.” Charlie shakes the papers a little, beginning to read over them. She shakes her head a little after getting to a certain point, “she didn’t want to do this.” Charlie swallows, “uh...Tala’s mother. This isn’t something she wanted to do in the slightest.”
“Never is.” Bernie raises her brow.
Charlie licks her lips, reaching the end after a couple of moments and folding the paper again, “I need to find her.” She slips the letter into the pocket of her heather gray blazer, “we need to find her.”
“Well, I’d rather we didn’t go anywhere just yet.” Bernie offers a gentle smile, “we’ve both had quite the day already and you’ve been driving about for the majority of it.” She leans her head down in an attempt to see her daughter’s face, “and I’d like to be here when the others return...as I believe you would too.”
Exhaling slowly, Charlie glances at her mother, taking a moment to resign to herself that her mother is correct. “I hope those two aren’t going overboard.” She pauses, “but then I hope they are at the same time.”
Bernie sits back against the stair behind them, “this makes you Aunt Charlie and me...Granny?” She pauses, “do I look like a Granny?”
Charlie begins to chuckle, “I’m more amused by Cam being someone’s Dad.” She pauses, thinking about her brother being placed in charge of a small child, “I wouldn’t trust him with a house plant.”
“Neither would I, if I’m being completely honest. I suppose that’s where you come in.” Bernie reaches for her cane, carefully taking her time to get up from the stair. “I’m heading upstairs.” She licks her lips, looking down at her daughter, “you should come up as well. We can watch something together until the others return home.”
Nodding, Charlotte gets up, “we should get you a stair lift. I know I’d feel more comfortable.” She starts her way up the stairs, hearing her mother behind her.
“Again, not a pensioner.” Bernie sighs, then tilts her head to the side as if considering something, “though the bed with the ability to raise at the head has been much better than I thought it would be.” Waiting until they reach the top of the stairs, needing to take a moment to lean against the wall, “Charlie.”
Charlotte turns, having been on her way toward her own bedroom to change into something a bit more comfortable, “yes?”
“You’re going to be a fantastic aunt.” Bernie gives her daughter a proud half smile.
Standing a bit straighter, Charlie returns the sentiment to her mother, “you too, Granny.”
Bernie discovers something surprising about her future son-in-law.
Charlie divulges her plans for the next day.
Later on the same day as the last few chapters.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Charlotte sits on the end of the sofa within her bedroom having dinner with the others in her household. She tilts her head to the side, watching her niece as the baby reaches for various noise-making toys on a playmat. “Mum, did you phone Cameron?”
“I thought we agreed that we weren’t doing anything until tomorrow.” Bernie brings a forkful of mashed potatoes to her lips with her weak hand, doing her best and smiling to herself when she’s successful. Noticing Charlotte staring at the baby, Bernie laughs a little, “Charlie, why don’t you just bring her over here instead of just staring at her?”
Lifting her gaze from her niece, Charlie looks over to her mother, “she’s content.”
“Good on you. First rule of motherhood, if they aren’t bothering or hurting anyone, leave them alone.” Serena smirks, bringing a piece of her chicken breast to her lips with her fork. Taking a sip from her glass of wine when she finishes chewing, Serena shakes her head, “you needn’t be worried as much as you seem to be.”
Charlie shakes her head, adjusting her posture to sit up, “Serena, I need to return to work for a few months at least before needing to leave for maternity leave. You need to go back to Nairobi to gather your things. Johnny has patients during-”
“Babe, we will make it work.” John glances over to his fiance, speaking honestly. “Watch over Tala tonight and we’ll look for her mother tomorrow. Who knows, she may even return on her own.” He places a hand on the small of Charlie’s back, “you need to eat though. Your mother said all you had earlier was some fries and a soda.”
“I’m not hungry.” Charlie tilts her head to the side, her gaze returning back to her niece on her play mat. Her mind races still, “with the baby’s age, her mother would have had to have gotten pregnant about a year ago. Serena, when you left the hospital at Holby City, was Cameron with anyone at the time?” She pauses, “it would have happened after that, I reckon, but it may be a place to start.”
“I wasn’t exactly on the up and up on your brother’s dating life.” Serena shakes her head, glancing at Bernie who is still using her right hand to feed herself. She decides not to draw attention to it. Moving her eye line to Charlotte, Serena continues, “last I knew he had two roommates, both women.”
Charlie begins to nod slowly, attempting to think of what she wants to say, “the rape of one of them was the catalyst of...his spiral. Her rapist was the first one he allowed to...slip away.” She folds her arms, casually leaning back in her seat on the sofa, “one of the only ones I actually understood his motives for.”
Bernie finally sets her fork down when the trembling in her hand becomes just too much. Too much too soon. She shakes her head, “Charlie, I’d rather not think about that.”
“It was at the cottage that, for some godforsaken reason, you gave to Cameron in the will.” Charlotte licks her lips, tilting her head to the side, “and who knows where that key is now to even...go and check on the place.” She pauses, closing her eyes a moment. Charlie knows she, herself, is deflecting, but doesn’t quite know why. “Sorry.”
Deciding not to say anything else about it, Bernie glances over to the play mat, smiling a little when she notices the baby looking over to them. “She has your eyes, Charlie...and Cameron’s eyes.”
Serena follows her partner’s gaze, “I think you mean your eyes, Berenice.”
“They’re brown eyes. It isn’t as if they’re special.” Charlie mumbles.
“They are to me.” John raises an eyebrow, glancing over to his partner, “and I bet they’re pretty important to the other two gorgeous women at this table too...mostly because they also have them.” He notices Charlie’s sheepish smirk, “and our beautiful niece has them too.” John tilts his head toward the inquisitive baby on the play mat, who continues to stare at them. “Right, Talie?” He calls to the girl, only to receive a babbling reply, “that’s what I said.” Rising from his seat, he carefully steps around his partner, moving over to the girl and lifting her into his muscular arms, grabbing a few of the toys that Serena had chosen for her to chew on.
“She was content!” Charlotte looks to her partner, sighing.
“She wants to be a part of the action.” John walks back over to the rest of the group, taking a seat between the two Wolfe women, where he was before. He sets Tala securely in the corner of the sofa, laughing to himself as she curiously stares over at Bernie.
Bernie reaches a hand over, gently stroking the babe’s cheek with her knuckle, only for the babe to root toward her finger. “When was her last bottle?” Her question is directed to no one in particular before lifting her head and looking at Serena when she doesn’t receive an immediate reply.
“She’s probably due for her baby milk.” Serena nods, “I’ll go downstairs in-”
“I’ll get it.” Charlotte gets up from her seat, abruptly leaving the room.
Serena sighs softly, glancing over to John, “any ideas?” She finishes her meal before lifting her glass of shiraz and glancing over to the man. When he seems confused, Serena smirks, “you’re the psychiatrist here and you’ve lived with her day in and day out for nearly four years.”
“I promised her that I wouldn’t psychoanalyze her.” John begins to shake his head.
“Doesn’t mean you kept your promise.” Serena raises an eyebrow, taking a sip from her glass, “especially when Charlie was your patient before she was your partner.”
Bernie lifts her head, being unaware of that aspect of the relationship, “your patient?”
John glances at Serena for a moment as if questioning why she’d even mention it before he looks at Bernie, “yes, but I won’t go into that to protect doctor-patient confidentiality, regardless of how long ago it was. We...had decided to stop the medical aspect of our relationship long before moving on to a romantic one.” He does his best to explain simply, without going into detail. John’s gaze returns to Serena, “and, no, if she asks me not to do something, I don’t do it.”
Serena sighs, rolling her eyes a little as she mumbles, “Mr. Straight and Narrow.”
Looking at her daughter’s partner, Bernie begins to furrow her brow, “what branch?”
“Bernie, John never-” Serena looks over, a slight worry washing over her that Bernie might be confusing the man for Cpt. Long.
“No, Ms. Campbell, she’s right.” A smirk begins to form in the corner of John’s mouth, “what gave me away?” When he notices Bernie’s shrug, John chuckles softly to himself, “that was a long time ago.”
“Sorry, that had taken me so long, had to use the toilet.” Charlotte clears her throat as she enters the room, a warmed bottle of formula in her hand as she carefully slides around her partner. Charlie carefully lifts her niece into her arms before sitting, offering Tala the bottle’s teat. She remains close enough to her mother so that Bernie can keep stroking the girl’s curly hair. Glancing around to the other adults when there’s a hush about the room, Charlie can feel something in the air, something she can’t quite put her finger on, “what’d I miss?”
“We were discussing John’s military service.” Bernie answers almost absently, still running her shortened nails through Tala’s soft hair.
Looking over to her partner, Charlie furrows her brow slightly, “you were in the military?”
“Navy.” John nods, “signed up while I was in high school. They paid for everything while I was in college, including medical school, I just had to give them a few years of my time.” He offers Bernie a quick smirk, “truly, I thought about becoming a neurologist after I served.” John shakes his head a little, not wanting to even think about the things he had seen, “but I realized psychiatry was where I was needed more.” He swallows, “trauma was never in my cards. I commend you for that.”
“Navy...” Bernie nods a little, “commission?”
“Straight out of medical school, yes. Except the Navy wasn’t something I was planning to be a part of for my entire life. Though, most of my patients now have a military background. Not all of them, but a majority.” John casually places his arm over the back of the sofa, behind Charlie. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d prefer not to talk about it though.” He swallows, cutting a piece of his chicken. John uses his fork and brings it to his fiance’s lips, “eat, please. It’s good.”
Charlie taking the bite of food, sighing with relief as she does so. That’s why she hadn’t heard anything about his military service, he just never wanted to speak about it. That’s something she can respect about him. Glancing down to her niece in her arms, she realizes the baby is starting to fall asleep, only suckling every few seconds. “Mum, you’re putting her to sleep.”
“John, you don’t strike me as a seaman, if I’m being honest.” Bernie stops stroking the baby’s hair, sitting up a little as she folds her hands in her lap. This line of conversation is interesting to her.
“Military works a different in the states when it comes to our medical corps. We all take care of one another. I was usually with the Marines. Army has their own thing, but...” John shrugs, “it’s just different there.”
“Mum, Johnny said he didn’t want to talk about it.” Charlotte warns gently, sighing when her mother lifts her hands up in resignation.
“It’s okay.” John offers a reassuring smile to his partner, “I don’t mind talking about technical stuff, I just don’t like going into detail about my deployments.” He folds one leg over the other under the table, absently keeping track of how much his girlfriend is eating as he casually fills a fork to hold at her mouth.
Bernie lifts her head, “rank?”
John starts to smile to himself as he shakes his head negatively, “ma’am, I-”
“Rank.” Bernie says again, her hands comfortably held in her lap.
“Things are different between the US Navy and RAMC.” John sighs softly, “my rank isn’t important to-” When he notices the look in her eye, John instantly becomes aware that he isn’t going to win this argument and she certainly isn’t about to drop the subject. He licks his lips, stabbing a few green beans on his fork to hold up to his fiance’s mouth. John’s voice remains low and calm, “Commander.”
“You outrank me.” Bernie begins to chuckle to herself, “that’s impressive.”
“Different countries, different branches, different expectations.” John shakes his head, “you have more experience than I do, ma’am, and trauma is...a whole other beast from what I do.”
“Telemedicine...allows you to remain active in a way.” Bernie points out, “brilliant decision.”
“It works for me.” John answers simply.
“Bernie, he doesn’t want to talk about it.” Serena takes her partner’s hand, her fingers moving in between Bernie’s, “let it go.” When she sees John about to tell her that he doesn’t mind, she shakes her head, essentially telling him to keep quiet before speaking up. Giving a quick glance to Charlotte, she notices half the bottle empty, “Charlie, don’t forget to wind her. When they’re that tiny, do so half of the way through and at the end. Lowers the possibility of colic occurring.” She pauses, feeling the need to clarify, “not necessarily ridding the chance, but it does lower.”
Charlie nods a little, placing the bottle onto the table in front of her before slowly bringing the baby up to sit as she gently pats her back, “I um...I haven’t done this just yet.”
“It’s okay. You’d have to learn sometime.” Serena offers her a smile, looking at the baby’s face. “She’s so cross.” A laugh escapes her lips as she comfortably leans against Bernie’s arm.
“I get pretty angry when people suddenly take my food from me as well.” Charlie mumbles absently, earning a glance from her niece, “just...wind yourself and you can have more, promise.”
“So, I only have three sessions tomorrow and then I’m otherwise at your disposal.” John offers, “all in the morning, so I’m good to go by noon unless my presence is required at the hospital, obviously.” He looks to his partner, “what are your plans?”
“I want to take Mum over to Dad’s and let her hide in dark corners so the bastard thinks he’s being haunted.” Charlotte teases, but only partially, maintaining a straight face as she hears the other women at the table chortle. She looks at her mother, “I never told him that you were alive. There’s...not a very many people that know, actually.” Charlie tilts her head to he side, hearing her niece burp softly before she gently lies her down for the rest of her bottle, “and with the way he carried on during your funeral...I’d still like to kick his arse.”
“Or give him a heart attack.” Bernie shakes her head a little, “you shouldn’t be this angry with your father. If the tables were turned, I’d have made sure he had a proper service.”
“You wouldn’t try to keep people from those services though.” Charlie shakes her head, “especially those most important to him.” She sighs, “look, Mum, all you need to know about your funeral is that he made it a fucking mess. I don’t want to go into it, really.”
“You were the one to mention it in the first place.” Bernie mumbles, absently stroking the back of Serena’s hand with her thumb as they continue to hold hands. “So, we will visit your father tomorrow...because...” She shakes her head a little, not able to draw any conclusions from her daughter’s words.
“In the letter, Tala’s mother mentioned visiting him because Cam had apparently told her to seek him out if she needed help. He was a prick to her, of course, even went as far as to say Cam was no longer his son.” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, “which I totally believe.” She takes a bite of cheesy pasta from her partner, “you wouldn’t recognize him anymore, Mum.”
“I was married to him for nearly twenty-five years.” Bernie glances over gladly taking her granddaughter when Charlotte lays the sleeping girl against her, doing so in a way so that she doesn’t need to support her much. No son means no granddaughter, something even she couldn’t imagine after meeting the baby girl today. She’ll take care of one Marcus Dunn, though she isn’t completely certain how she plans to do so just yet. “I’ll be the judge of that.”
The US military and the UK military differ quite a bit while also remaining pretty similar. Medical services is one of those areas where they differ greatly. I did a little bit of research, but I'm in no way an expect, nor would I ever claim to be. Just remember that I'm mostly an idiot who likes to write. lol.
Bernie fears communication with her daughter.
Serena is surprised when asked an important question.
Night, early morning hours after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Serena keeps her arm comfortably around Bernie’s midsection as they lie in bed. Hearing soft murmurs, Serena opens a single groggy eye, not expecting for it to be pierced by the light illuminating from Bernie’s new mobile. “Darling, you must be tired.” Her voice is low, filled with sleep. Serena is almost sure she felt Bernie jump a little, surprised by the sound of her voice.
Bernie’s gaze darts toward the woman next to her before returning to her mobile’s screen, mumbling her words, “couldn’t sleep.”
“Want to talk about it?” Serena clears her throat, pulling closer to the other woman a little. She closes her eyes again as the side of her face rests against Bernie out of comfort. When she doesn’t receive an answer, Serena opens her eyes again, “Bernie?”
“I um...” Bernie starts after taking a moment to swallow, “I’m not so sure I want to...pursue this...path of vengeance that Charlotte has.”
“So then say something to her.” Serena responds simply, effortlessly stroking Bernie’s side with the hand that’s wrapped around her, “Charlotte’s no shrinking violet. She can be just as brusk as you are at times. Apples don’t fall far from their tree, darling.”
“It isn’t that simple.” Bernie shakes her head subtly, finally reaching over to place her mobile on top of the device’s charging mat. She looks forward, the room only dimly lit by the moonlight and street lights creeping through the window blinds. Her arm then gently lays over top of Serena’s as it remains wrapped around her. “I can’t...bear to think of the relationship with my daughter regressing to...to the point...to the point where it was when I left for Mogadishu.”
Serena listens intently, furrowing her brow, “why would it?”
“I’ve never seen anyone hold a grudge like her.” Bernie huffs a soft chuckle to herself, “ever since she was small. If someone had the audacity to tell her ‘no’, she would go completely silent for...an abnormal amount of time. I used to call her ghost-”
“Because the only one brave enough to tell her ‘no’ was you.” Serena resolves, leaning her head back a little in order to look up at Bernie, “so you were the one she ghosted most often.” Bernie doesn’t need to respond, Serena already knows the answer. Exhaling softly, Serena leans her face forward, returning it to the place where it was previously. “She’s promised a change, but you must promise yourself to change as well...especially if either of you want your changes to actually work.”
Bernie feels her jaw starting to tighten, but she does her best to keep herself from getting upset. “I can’t lose her-” She sucks in a breath suddenly, losing her battle as her eyes fill with tears, “-lose her like before. I can’t bear it.”
This causes Serena to sit up a bit as she wakes more, allowing the room to remain dark. She shushes the other woman, gently pulling Bernie to her chest as she affectionately places her chin on her head. “That’s never going to happen. Not with either of them.”
There is certainty in Serena’s words, a tone that causes a wave of relaxation to flow over Bernie. Swallowing, Bernie does her best to calm herself. “I’m not...I’m not usually this-”
“Bernie, you went through so many things over the past two years. Things that you don’t remember, things that have changed you in ways that neither of us are due to understand just yet. That includes your emotions and perception among other things.” Serena keeps her words slow and comforting, “Charlotte is not going to be upset with you if you don’t want to participate in her anger triad. She isn’t going to be angry if you simply want to stay home and rest.”
“I know that...whatever he did, truly hurt her.” Bernie swallows, not wanting to move. “I may be wrong, but...I believe it must be more than either of us know.”
“Doesn’t make it right.” Serena strokes Bernie’s hair absently, “but you shouldn’t feel guilty about talking to your daughter...especially when you disagree with her.” When Bernie doesn’t respond, Serena sighs softly, “I’ll speak to her for you, but I really believe you should have a chat to clear the air. Your poker face isn’t as good as it used to be.”
“I only ever used it when speaking to patients or...you know...for poker.” Bernie sighs softly, relaxing against Serena further. She feels Serena lower the head of the bed slightly, making them more comfortable, “never worked with you regardless.”
“Worked until I...realized that what I felt for you might be something more than friendship.” Serena exhales as she smiles to herself, “and I never looked back.” She presses a kiss to Bernie’s hair, “never wanted to.” A comfortable silence falls between them and Serena begins to believe that Bernie may have drifted off to sleep.
“When I...When I came for Jason’s wedding at Christmas.” Bernie starts, her voice smaller than usual. Her memories were slowly doing their best to sort themselves out, as they liked to do especially late at night. Though they were more difficult to hash out than she believed and they didn’t always stay sorted after the fact. “I had a ring...a ring that...I was going to give to you at Christmas.”
Serena feels a pang of regret stab her heart as her eyes snapped closed, “Bernie, you don’t-”
“Please, Campbell...” Bernie whispers her way through her words, “I don’t know where the ring buggered off to, but it doesn’t matter. The feelings remain the same.” She swallows the abundance of saliva that has formed in her mouth.
Exhaling softly, Serena affectionately rubs Bernie’s back, “You’ll wake tomorrow and forget this ever-”
“No, I won’t.” Bernie licks her lips, “it’s been on my mind since I saw you again in Hargeisa...and even before that, if you want to get technical about it.” She pauses, slowly sitting up in order to meet Serena’s eyes, “From what I’ve been able to piece together, you were treated terribly after I was reported dead...and this is...this is something I wanted to do...forever ago.”
Serena begins to shake her head negatively, but doesn’t mean to denounce Bernie’s train of thought. “Bernie, you’re half asleep after a stressful day. This is a conversation that I’d much rather have-”
“Serena, marry me.” Bernie searches Serena’s eyes in the dim light, “please.”
Swallowing, Serena reaches up to stroke a piece of Bernie’s hair back, tucking it behind her ear. “I don’t want you to wake tomorrow and regret asking me so shortly after-”
“I was in bed for two years. I could...hear voices around me, native people asking any...English person they came into contact with, if I looked familiar.” Bernie shakes her head, her eyes glistening with unshed tears, “I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t...” She swallows, taking a moment before continuing, “my hope with my children...that was long gone. I had no idea the military had written me off as well.” Bernie’s voice catches as a single tear escapes the confines of her eye, “the only voice I wanted to hear was yours.”
Serena leans in, capturing Bernie’s lips with her own. They tenderly kiss before Serena pulls back, glad the sudden movement quieted her partner, “of course I’ll marry you, of course.” She exhales with a grin as she notices Bernie’s relief, “there should have never been any doubt on your part. Of course I’d agree...I just didn’t believe you’d ask me so shortly after returning home.”
“I’m just...having a difficult time with all the changes.” Bernie swallows, “and if there’s one thing I can return to that seems...remotely familiar to me, I’m going to.” Her fingertips gently touch the back of Serena’s hand as if asking for permission to show the slightest bit of affection, glad when the other woman turns her hand over to hold. “Regardless of our...of our mistakes in the past.”
Really, her own past mistakes have been all Serena can think about. Science Bernie was declared Missing-In-Action, the guilt that has weighed on Serena has teetered on consuming her. Her eyes start to glisten as she leans in, pressing a soft kiss to Bernie’s lips again. Pulling back, she meets her partner’s eyes as she whispers, “thank you.”
Bernie shakes her head, “not needed.” She offers Serena her best reassuring smile.
Pressing another soft kiss to Bernie’s lips, Serena nods as she finally leans back fully, returning to the pillow beneath her. “Darling, get some sleep. We’ll speak to Charlotte in the morning.” Serena pauses, “and if you’d prefer not to be the one to talk, I’ll...I’ll hand it.”
Licking her lips, Bernie glances over to her partner, “thanks.” Though the last thing she wanted to do was lie to her daughter, regardless of how small. “Do you think she’ll be-”
“Darling, I think you’re both trying incredibly hard to be better than what you were before to one another.” Serena answers as simply as possible. “She has hormones that are all over the place and you’re still in recovery. Not to mention the stress of finding Tala’s mother is putting on her.”
“I’m not stressed over it.” Bernie ends up smirking to herself, “she’s adorable and...even seems to like me.”
“With you as her grandmother, of course she would.” Serena reaches up again, tucking a piece of hair behind Bernie’s ear that had fallen into her eyes. “Still sounds bizarre.”
Bernie huffs a soft laugh, her smirk growing into a grin. “Ungrateful children of mine...having children of their own.” She teases lightly before falling quiet again, “I just hope I can just keep up with them.”
“You will.” Serena cuddles up to Bernie’s side again, “I’ll make certain of it.” Serena’s smile fades slightly when she knows her face is hidden. A whole life that Bernie’s able to live and celebrate with her own children, a life that she’s never going to be able to live with Elinor. Truly, this all is shaping up to be difficult for them both.
This is a shorter one than what I've been doing for this story. Sorry about that. I've been having some bullshit going on that's left me in a...less than creative mindset.
Hopefully, next chapter should be a longer one. <3
Charlotte feels herself growing soft with her niece.
Serena helps Charlie talk through things.
Opening her eyes slowly, Charlotte can hear the playful screeching occurring not terribly far from her. Her brows furrow, disturbed by the amount of sunlight in the room. It nearly gives her a headache. “Well, I know I don't have a bloody hangover.” Charlie mumbles to herself, slowly pushing herself up onto her elbows. She notices the tiny hand of her niece reaching up to the mobile toys hanging above her, causing her to smile softly to herself. “Morning, Tala.”
Of course, she doesn’t expect the babe to respond. Charlie sits up further, swinging her legs around for her feet to touch the floor. “Have you been awake long?” She sighs, feeling tired in more ways than only physically. Yawning, Charlie rises from her place on the edge of the bed, moving over a few steps to her niece’s playmat. “I’m really glad you aren’t able to move about too much just yet.” She crouches, lifting the babe into her arms. Charlie smiles softly to herself when the babe grips her tiny fingers onto her oversized t-shirt, one of John’s that she usually will wear to bed.
“I’m betting your Uncle Johnny is busy, but...that doesn’t mean Granny is.” The term for her normally spry war veteran of a mother always makes Charlie laugh to herself, “maybe even Serena...Granny Serena?” She shrugs, knowing that isn’t really her call. Casually opening the bedroom door, she’s glad to find the space relatively quiet. No hammers, no drills. Peace. Stepping in front of the room containing her mother, Charlotte realizes the woman is still asleep and certainly doesn’t want to wake her. She sighs softly, “well, let’s head downstairs and-”
“Oh, good morning.” Serena carries a mug of coffee in her hand with a thick book tucked under her arm. “I heard the baby and thought I may be able to snatch her up before she were to wake you, but...seems I was too late.”
“It’s okay.” Charlie shakes her head with a soft smile, tilting her head back to her bedroom. “Care to take solace on my sofa...as Tala screeches like a howler monkey while attempting to reach small toys just beyond her range?”
“Yes, I wanted to speak with you as well.” Serena nods, following behind the young woman when she returns to the master bedroom.
“Nothing serious, I hope.” Charlotte asks cautiously, picking up the soft playmat from the floor and placing it onto her bed while still holding Tala on her hip. “I need to begin getting the pair of us ready regardless-”
“Yes, it’s about that.” Serena lowers herself to the edge of the sofa, watching as Charlotte slides Tala onto the playmat on her belly. “I don’t believe it would be in your mother’s best interest to head out anywhere today.” She notices how Charlie seems to be watching the babe intently and is curious as to why she didn’t just leave the playmat on the floor.
Lifting her head to look over to Serena, Charlie’s expression seems to be that of concern. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing to worry over. It all just...was all a bit too much for her too quickly.” Serena explains simply, “and she doesn’t have the heart to tell you because she’d rather just spend time with you” She gives a gentle smile, “and worries that you’ll be cross with her.”
“I’d never-” Charlotte sighs, shaking her head as she leans over a little, absently stroking her niece’s foot with her knuckle, “I’d never be angry over something so trivial.” She swallows, “my main modus operandi, besides helping to take care of Mum and...trying to figure out how to fit everything together, is to find Tala’s mother.”
“If you were to find her, what is your projected outcome?” Serena tilts her head to the side slightly, as if studying the younger woman, “what if she doesn’t want to come back?” She pauses, “what if she’s too...mentally unsound to tend to her?”
“Then we would handle it.” Charlie swallows, reaching over to her side table, sliding open the drawer. She retrieves the letter from the day prior, folded up and treated with care after reading. Charlie climbs off the bed, setting the letter on the table in front of Serena before returning to her place on the bed. “Read it...and you’ll understand.”
Serena sets her book onto the table, taking a sip of her coffee before taking the folded letter into her hands. She reads over the contents, deciding not to skim over it. Word after word of care and love spread throughout four pages.
“Whoever she is, she was desperate. She wanted Tala to know her father’s side of her lineage because she needed our help, but not only because of that.” Charlotte sighs softly, “I...I’ve read through it several times now. The teardrops may have dried, but their stains remain.” She offers a smile to Tala when the babe seeks her attention in order to squeal. “There should have never been any doubt for her. Her actions may have been a sensible solution to gaining Marcus’ attention, but they didn’t need to be taken with me.”
Reaching a section of the letter, Serena raises an eyebrow, “it seems that she’s met you before.”
“I saw that...and I keep racking my brain for who I’ve met in association with Cam, but it wasn’t as if we had any mutuals. I don’t remember ever being introduced to anyone or...” Charlie shakes her head, “anything like that. It isn’t as if Cam and I have ever really been...close.” She sits up a bit more, tilting her head casually, “except when we had to make funeral preparations...before Marcus proceeded to...make an arse out of himself.”
“Did anyone attend the funeral with him?” Serena asks quietly, finally reaching the end of the letter and proceeds to fold the papers delicately. “Friends who happen to be women?”
“Honestly, there isn’t much I remember about the funeral aside from my father’s antics and how angry I was.” Charlotte responds quietly, then flashes a quick smile to Serena, “John said it’s common, thankfully. Grief just...affects people differently.”
“Certainly does.” Serena nods, looking at the babe again as she kicks her little legs, excited and still trying to reach the soft toys hanging above her. “Are you still planning to visit your father today?”
“Well, Mum not going has somewhat...put a damper on things.” Charlie sighs softly, “I didn’t even...she didn’t have to get out of the car. I just wanted him...I just wanted him to see that I wasn’t lying.”
“Do you often lie to him?” Serena takes another sip of her coffee, “for you to believe that would be his first thought?”
“No, but he’s always thought that I am.” Charlie bites the corner of her mouth, making herself busy by getting a clean nappy and wipes that sit on her bedside table. Charlie gently slides Tala down from her mat before starting to gently undress her. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it either. I’ve never given my father any reason to ever doubt me, but...here we are.”
“I’ll go with you.” Serena lifts her head, “to ask about Tala’s mother.”
Charlotte begins to shake her head negatively, “Dad sees you and he’ll start insulting you without any sort of basis and I won’t-”
“Charlie, I’m a big girl. Machiavellian men with a superiority complex are my specialty.” Serena smirks a little, “in fact, I eat them for breakfast.” She offers, holding onto the handle of her coffee mug, “I’ve been taking care of them for years.”
“I understand that, ditto, but I still won’t have him being rude to you. I’ll give it back to him with both barrels and I’ll probably leave without any real answers strictly based on my own inability to control my temper with Marcus.” Charlotte sighs softly, gently rubbing her finger along the side of the baby’s chubby belly. She looks down to her niece, seeing how happy the baby seems to be, “free from those cloth bindings and you couldn’t be more thrilled.” Charlie starts to grin, especially when it seems the baby is trying to talk back to her with a babble, “I know it. Don’t worry, it’s just me and Granny Serena here-”
“Granny Serena?” The woman instantly furrows her brow, “oh, no. I couldn’t possibly-”
“Why not?” Charlotte lifts her gaze, “we know how you and Mum are. Only due time until-” She pauses, noticing Serena look away quickly, “or has she already asked a...rather important question...”
Serena takes a sip from her coffee, “look-”
“Oh, she has.” Charlie starts to smile again, still watching the other woman, “just yesterday, I’d bet, with the way you’re going all crimson and trying hard not to break out in a grin.”
“Are you finished?” Serena stands, picking up the folded letter and placing it back into the bedside drawer from which she had seen it removed. “Are you able to truthfully promise me that your actions today with your father will be strictly for the reason of retrieving more information on Tala’s mother?”
“Yes. I don’t want to speak to him any longer than I need to.” Charlie starts to carefully change the infant’s nappy, “the things I said last night...I was only having a bit of fun.” She motions to the small stack of clothing on the other end of the sofa, “pick something out for her today?”
“Then I might be able to get your mother to agree to it.” Serena moves over to the stacks of clothing, choosing a white one piece romper with small cobalt flowers covering throughout and a peter pan collar, as well as an undershirt with a snap at the bottom to change her diaper. “As long as she doesn’t overexert herself and-”
“She only needs to ride shotgun. No reason for her to even get out of the car.” Charlotte notices the uncertainty in Serena’s gaze as the woman hands her the clothing, “I swear to you. I just need Marcus to see that his actions were all for naught.”
Serena nods a little, “have you tried phoning Cameron yet?”
“I mean, no. However, knowing my brother, I doubt he’ll give up anything.” Charlotte carefully dresses the baby before lifting her up to stand, chuckling to herself when the girl supports herself enough to bounce. “There’s a reason he never mentioned anything to Mum or I while we were there and there’s a reason he quickly phoned Tala’s mother when we left.” She raises an eyebrow, “he doesn’t want us to know who she is just yet.”
“Suppose you’re correct.” Serena takes a seat at the foot of the bed, “suppose he doesn’t wish to reveal those things, what if Tala gets sick or injured?” She focuses on Charlotte, “Cameron won’t be able to rush out to be with her...and I’m not saying you wouldn’t be there, of course you would, I mean...for health reasons or medical history.”
“I don’t even know ours.” Charlotte replies quietly, “my parents have always been...relatively healthy.” She pauses, “I only ever remember my Mum getting sick once and, thinking back, I think that was because I probably brought it something home from nursery.”
“I kept you in bed with me. All you wanted to do was cuddle.” Bernie says from the doorway, her arms folded as she leans casually against the frame. “We had...read books and watched movies. Your father had brought a telly up to the room for us and had taken Cameron elsewhere so that he wouldn’t bother us.” She places a hand on the wall to keep herself steady, but doesn’t actually lean on it as she makes her way to the sectional sofa in the room to take a seat.
“I remember...being in the bath together with Vicks in the water. You fell asleep.” Charlie smiles to herself, “I was...young. What, three or four?”
Bernie nods, “you’d make me sing the large squid’s parts in-”
“Little Mermaid.” Charlie watches her mother with an amused expression, a quiet falling upon the room with exception to Tala’s babbles, “how much have you heard?”
“Enough.” Bernie folds her arms casually across her chest once more, watching her daughter, “we venture over to your father’s, and then what?”
“I work very hard to keep a level head while speaking with Marcus and then we head home.” Charlie nods, “or...whatever. If you have something you want to do-”
“Make an appointment to get this bloody hair back to normal.” Bernie smirks, fully aware that the top half of her hair was its natural brunette, and the other half a processed blonde. Still healthy, but Bernie Wolfe’s hair has been something she’s found comfort in. A way to make her feel like herself would be to return it to what it was like before.
“I’ll phone Philippe.” Charlie nods, returning her niece to the place on her soft mat on the bed, “would you both mind keeping an eye on her while I have a quick wash up?”
“Of course.” Serena nods, remaining seated at the foot of the bed, “I meant to ask you, why put the mat up here instead of leaving it on the floor?”
“The floor is hard. Couldn’t possibly be comfortable enough to lie on, regardless of what little padding is available. So up here is better as long as I keep an eye.” Charlie answers simply, noticing Serena’s amused smirk. “Yes, maybe I’ve...softened up a bit when it comes to my niece, but...can you blame me? Look at that smile.” Charlotte motions to the babe before Tala gives an approving squeal.
“You take your time to get ready. I’ll go along for the ride.” Serena says, stating a fact and not at all a question. She rises from the bed before carefully plucking Tala from her playmat and holding her to her hip, using her other hand to carry the playmat with her. “Come along, Berenice.”
Bernie carefully stands from the sofa as Serena leaves the room, “hey, Charlie.” When her daughter turns to face her again, Bernie continues, “I still remember all the words to those songs in The Little Mermaid.” Seeing her daughter’s broad grin, Bernie finally leaves the room, following behind her fiancée and granddaughter.
Charlotte's meeting with her father goes far different than what she expected.
The moderate estate that the Wolfe women had called home for over a decade slowly grows larger as the sports sedan nears the large house. Honestly, Bernie hates this. She hates that she’s back here, remembering when her former mother-in-law died and her ex-husband quickly had them move in instead of allowing them to slowly transition.
Sure, there were many arguments, but also many fond memories here. Playing football with Cameron or making snowmen and pulling Charlotte around on a sledge, having a picnic and even managing to get a rebellious pre-teen Cameron to join in. “Looks exactly the same,” Bernie mumbles under her breath, knowing the others in the car are able to hear her, “down to the hedges.”
“Damn.” Charlie whispers, “I forgot...”
“What did you forget?” Serena asks from the back seat, doing her best to keep Tala content in her car seat. Mostly, it was the baby babbling and Serena pretending to understand her.
“To have Marcus roll out the red fucking carpet to welcome us back.” Charlie replies cheekily, noticing her mother’s subtle chuckle from her place in the passenger seat. “I could have called ahead. Tell him to put the kettle on.” She smirks, “biscuits in the oven.”
“Charlie, please.” Bernie shakes her head a little, amused.
Charlie notices her father’s car, a refurbished green Aston Martin from the 60s. Something that’s had nearly everything replaced under the hood and is just a shell remaining. “Dare me to key it?” It’s a car she remembers her father purchasing when she was small, something he’s had for a very long time and probably considers just as important as his children.
Bernie knows all too well how much her ex-husband adores the car, “I’d rather not see you arrested today, darling.”
“You’ll achieve nothing by destruction.” Serena shakes her head, feeling as Tala takes hold of her index finger, “in this instance, at least.”
“Oh, I’m keenly aware, but it’s fun to think about.” Charlie smirks, parking the car close to the front pathway of the home. She pulls down the visor for a moment, checking her makeup as if it truly matters. Charlie knows she must look presentable if her tactic with her father is even going to remotely work. “I’ll be back.”
“Remember to keep a cool head.” Serena leans forward, “this is your bread and butter.”
Charlie gives her a quick, reassuring nod before slapping the visor back up and carefully climbing from the car, closing the door behind her. She takes a deep breath before walking up the path toward the large detached house of her father, a place she hasn’t ventured for the past two years. Charlie reaches up to use the brass ring, slamming it against the door in order to knock before sliding her hands into the pockets of her cobalt cardigan.
Having noticed the unfamiliar vehicle trundle up the driveway, Marcus Dunn isn’t terribly far from the front of the house. He opens the entry door, catching sight of his daughter standing not far from him. “Charlotte.” He stands a bit straighter, a genuine smile forming across his face. He certainly wasn’t expecting this. “It’s been two years. I’ve-” Going in for a hug, he’s stopped by his daughter’s hand on his chest. The older she grows, the more she looks like Bernie. Marcus stops with a nod, “do you want to come in? Catch up?”
“This isn’t a social call.” Charlie shakes her head, “I’ve come for answers.”
Marcus gives a quick glance to the car his daughter was driving, realizing she hasn’t come alone. He looks back at her, “what sort of answers?”
“About a year ago, give or take some months, a young woman would have come here for aid because Cameron would have told her to. Do you remember anything about the woman?” Charlie maintains eye contact, “and while we’re on that note, what is this I hear about you saying that you no longer have a son?”
“That’s what you came here for?” Marcus softly chortles to himself, “come on, Charlotte.”
“Answer the questions, please.” Charlie gives a quick glance over to the car before looking back at her father, “time is of the essence.”
“Who did you bring along with you?” Marcus places his hands on his hips, “you seem concerned.”
“Please, just answer my questions first and I’ll answer yours.” Charlotte sighs softly, “it’s a warm day. I don’t want to be standing here for the majority of it, I’d rather be enjoying the sun.” Charlie straightens her back a bit, sliding her hands from her pockets and folding her arms across her chest, “pretty simple, if you ask me.”
“Maybe someone came, maybe they didn’t-” Marcus begins, only to receive an unimpressed glare, “I’m not about to give every low life friend of Cameron’s a handout. He put himself into his own position. Cameron killed those people. Their blood is on his hands. How could I ever consider someone like that to be my son?”
“Because he’s unwell, mentally.” Charlie shakes her head, “and all he wanted was your support that you’d want him to feel better.” She continues to focus on him, “and he wasn’t sending friends for a handout, he sent that woman to you because she was pregnant with his child and needed a place to stay...or...money for food.” Charlotte swallows, “and you slammed the door in her face.”
Marcus starts to shake his head, “What? Charlie, I-”
“As am I. So...if Cameron is no longer your son, then you no longer have a daughter, and you no longer have two grandchildren...one in the car being watched over by Serena Campbell and the other...in my womb.” Charlotte answers simply, “Cam needs you. We need to come together.” Charlie glances away, “and Tala needs her Grandad.”
“Tala.” Marcus glances between his daughter and the car, seeing someone in the back seat with the aforementioned baby, but also someone in the passenger seat. “I...I didn’t want anyone taking advantage of you...you and Cameron.” He bites his lip, “I...I realize now that I was grieving when-”
“All for nothing.” Charlie continues, “Mum isn’t even dead, she’s in the car too.” When she notices him ready to walk away, toward the car, Charlie quickly grabs his forearm, causing him to focus on her again, “Tala’s mother. What can you tell me about her?”
“Young, tan skin. Um...she seemed nervous.” Marcus licks his lips, “she was at the funeral with Cameron. One of his roommates, possibly...” He starts to shake his head, “what do you mean, your mother isn’t dead?”
Letting go of his arm, Charlie raises an eyebrow, “if you promise me that you’ll try harder with Cameron...that you’ll be present for him...” She pauses, “then we can go back to being positive for one another. Mum included.”
Marcus swallows, nodding before taking off down the path, needing to see her for himself. Of course, he’d never stop loving one Berenice Grizelda Wolfe, regardless of how hurt or how cross he was with her past mistakes. He feels tears beginning to form when he finally catches sight of his ex-wife’s large brown eyes. “Two years, Charlie.” Marcus can feel her behind him, “what have I done?”
“I was set on coming here to...give it to you with both fists.” Charlotte tilts her head to the side, “metaphorical fists, of course, but...I know how much Cameron needs you, even if he won’t admit it.”
“I failed him. Several times over, I failed him.” Marcus answers quietly, his emotions beginning to form in his throat, “and I’m embarrassed about that, but...you’re right. There’s no reason we can’t...wipe the slate. Appreciate what’s in front of us rather than...public perception.”
Bernie carefully climbs out of the car, keeping a hand on the vehicle as she closes the door behind herself. She could see the anguish on her ex-husband’s face once he was able to truly see her. “Hello, Marcus.”
Walking closer, Marcus comes to a stop directly in front of the woman he was once married to. He starts to look over her to see if he’s able to see any differences, quickly noticing the burn and some surgery scars. New ones. A smile slowly creeps across his face, “you look pretty amazing for a walking corpse.”
“Reports of my death were vastly premature.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, surprised by his outspread arms. She allows him to hug her, almost certain she can hear a sad sniffle in her ear from the man.
Marcus slowly takes in her smell, a part of him believing this is all just a dream. A tear runs down his cheek, causing him to quickly wipe it away, “I...” He clears his throat, stepping back after a moment. They were divorced. They were living different lives. “I’m glad to see you’re well and I realize now that I have much to make up for.” Marcus glances over to Charlotte again, “you...you mentioned grandchildren?”
“The woman who came to visit you, did she mention her name?” Charlie tries again, her hands returning to her pockets as she watches her parents seemingly getting along after what feels like an eternity. She sighs softly when he shakes her head negatively. Charlotte motions to the back seat of the sports sedan, which he rushes to only to be stopped again by his daughter’s slightly raised voice, “Before you open that door, get it into your head that Serena is family and you had better respect that. More than you did at the funeral, am I understood?”
Beginning to smirk, Marcus glances at his ex-wife, “all grown up and she’s still as bossy as she was when she was three.”
“Difference is, she gets paid for it now.” Bernie offers, watching as he finally opens the back door. She slowly moves to the front of the car, edging a seat against the hood, glad when her daughter comes to sit next to her. “You went easy on him.”
“Yeah.” Charlotte swallows, facing away from the car, “I might have joked about it, but...I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of...the animosity and the anger.” She shakes her head, “Cameron needs to hear his apologies and...the kids deserve better.” Charlie pauses, “and they deserve to have the love of all of their grandparents.”
Bernie gently leans over, tapping her shoulder against that of her daughter, “I am so proud of you.” She smiles softly, “do you know that?”
“It feels nice to hear you say.” Charlotte licks her lips, quickly glancing over her shoulder to Serena and Marcus still sitting in the back seat, fawning over her niece, still in her car seat. “I...received some clues. I think Serena might be able to shed a light when we get home.” She pauses, “I told Serena she can borrow my car to take you to your appointment with Phillipe, my hair guy, later today.”
“It will be nice to...feel like myself.” Bernie nods to herself, “especially looking in the mirror.” She pauses, “I don’t recognize myself at the moment.” Bernie flashes a smile, “haven’t been a brunette since before I married your father.”
Charlotte loops her arm with her mother’s, joining her mother as they continue to look out onto the grounds, “don’t you worry. It’s all going to be sorted.”
Charlie finally meets Tala's mother and makes her an offer.
Charlie turns as the mail slot opens again, having just retrieved the mail from the small metal cage to keep it from going onto the floor. She notices another thick, folded up letter drop into it, causing her to quickly race to the door, mail abandoned on the floor. Charlie pulls the door open suddenly, seeing a young woman walking away. “Wait,” she calls out, causing the figure to freeze.
Slowly, Charlie moves closer to the woman, wild curly hair tied up in the back of her head. “Please...turn around. Don’t...don’t walk away from her again.”
Nicky McKendrick slowly turns in place, her eyes full of tears. She can’t bring herself to look at Cameron’s sister and she doesn’t exactly know what to say either.
“I know you didn’t want to leave her in the first place and...whatever reasons you have, I know you probably think they’re valid.” Charlotte continues, “but I’m not my father. In fact, I couldn’t be further from him.” She keeps her hands at her sides, “the last thing I want is for Tala to be without her mother. So...” Charlie trails, taking a deep breath, “whatever it is that you need, know that we’re here to help you.”
Certainly not expecting this reception, Nicky lifts her hands to her face, quickly wiping the tears from her eyes. “I...I can’t-”
“I know you named her after my mother...in a very...cool way.” Charlie gives a half smile, “and you wouldn’t have done that if you hated my brother.” She continues to study the other woman’s body language, “I remember you at some of the proceedings. You never gave up on him.”
“He was my best friend.” Nicky lifts her gaze, finally taking in the sight of Charlotte Wolfe, “you...you’re pregnant.” She bites her lip, “I...I shouldn’t have forced-”
“She’s my niece. Of course I’d take care of her no matter what.” Charlie glances up at the sky, what was once bright and blue has turned a dark, angry gray. “Come in, we have pizza. These nimbostratus clouds tell me it’s due to rain shortly.”
Nicky starts to shake her head, “I shouldn’t-”
“Explain to me inside, please. Come and check on her...see how she has my fiance wrapped around her little finger.” Charlie offers again, sensing the other woman’s hesitation, she reaches forward, gently taking Nicky’s hand. “Whatever it is you think-”
“I shouldn’t be near her.” Nicky shakes her head, “I’m...I shouldn’t-”
“Come and check on her...and we’ll talk.” Charlie says gently, “the others should be returning shortly and I know they’d love to meet you.” Sensing the other woman’s trepidation, Charlie licks her lips, “at least tell me if you’re in a safe situation...or even the number to your mobile...”
“I...I don’t want her around my mother.” Nicky glances toward the pavement, away from the other woman, “I trust her less than I trust myself.” She glances up at the house, then back to Charlotte, “not the I believe she’d intentionally hurt Tala or anything like that, but...I need to know that she’s...she’s properly tended to during the day while-”
“Nicky...that’s your name, right? Nicky?” Charlotte continues to watch the other woman’s glistening eyes, glad when she nods, “my partner is a doctor. I think it would probably be a good idea for you to have a chat with him-”
Nicky flashes a quick smirk, interrupting her, “I’m a doctor.”
“He isn’t that type of doctor.” Charlotte replies quickly, still able to see the young woman’s nervous fidgeting. “If you want to...sit out here and talk, that’s fine. I want to talk to you, but...I just need you to help me understand.” She exhales slowly, “I read your letter cover to cover. Not the new one that you’ve just left, of course, but...the first one.” Charlie tilts her head to the side, “and you seem...lost.”
“Look...” Nicky swallows, “I have a drinking problem. I’m working on it, but...it’s proving to be more difficult than I originally thought it would.” It’s hard for her to say and she’s actually surprised when she’s able to, Nicky bites her lip in some vain attempt at keeping herself from crying. “Tala...she deserves so much better than what I can give her.”
“I’m her aunt. Aunts do the fun things, right? Spoiling and road trips. I’m here as an escape for her parents.” Charlie offers her a half smile, “but I’m not a replacement for her mother.” Noticing the worry fill her face, “I have the room if you need a place to stay. Third floor walk-up...and it’s available to you whenever you need it, as long as you continue to work on your sobriety.”
Feeling herself tremble, Nicky balls her hands into fists and shoves them into the pockets of her sweatshirt in an attempt to hide them, “why...why are you being so nice to me?”
“Well, besides the fact that you’re my only niece’s mother,” Charlotte takes another step closer to her, “my brother told you to bring Tala here. He told you I would take care of her.” She shrugs, “and you trusted Cam enough to do as he suggested.”
“He...he wants to be a good father.” Nicky licks her lips as her mind races, “and though he can’t be here, he said you could...you would be a good...” She shakes her head, “you must think I’m the worst.”
“No, not at all.” Charlie offers her a subtle smile, reaching out and taking hold of her hand to reassure her. She follows Nicky’s gaze when the woman’s head raises as if looking for someone. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
John holds Tala in his muscular arm, walking to the pair of women, “you left the door open and everything. I thought you were kidnapped.” He pauses, “or...regularly napped.” John shrugs, looking over to the other woman. He offers his hand to shake, guessing his partner probably knows this woman. “John Hampton, Charlie’s fiance.”
“Wow.” Nicky mutters to herself, taking his hand with her free one and accepting the shake. She smiles softly when Tala shyly places her head down on his shoulder with a gummy grin toward her. “She’s...she’s already getting used to you.”
“Maybe she could tell where she stands already. Between the pair of us, Mum, and Serena, she’s pretty spoiled already.” Charlie replies effortlessly, “see? No reason for you to run off now.”
“Wait...I...I went to your mother’s funeral.” Nicky starts, shaking her head a little as she fills with worry. Maybe Charlie Wolfe wasn’t too far detached from her brother’s behavior. Maybe she was the same. “And-and Serena...do you mean Ms. Campbell?”
“Oh, I wasn’t aware you’d know one another.” Charlie starts to smile.
“It’s a long story and I’m sure...Charlie would love to tell it again.” John offers, tilting his head toward the house, “come, we have pizza...also your baby. Right, Tamale?” He bounces the baby in his arm a little, “Been trying to figure out which nickname sticks. It’s a process.”
Nicky can tell how cared for Tala seems with her aunt and uncle, causing her to nod a little, finally following them into the house. Upon entering the threshold, she takes note of how barren it seems. The smell of sawdust and fresh paint hit her nose. “You just moved?”
“Well, I’ve been here a bit longer than the girls, but yeah. Interior designer arrives tomorrow.” John leads the way up the stairs, “so we’re doing this in the meantime. “Designer should do the downstairs first, then this floor. I want to make sure Ms. Wolfe and Serena have a space more comfortable to their tastes.” He nods, “and when the guest house is finished, if they decide they want to move in there, it will be available to them.”
“This is...way more than I thought it would be.” Nicky shakes her head, entering what she quickly understands to be the master bedroom.
“I still miss our flat, but...with the baby, there wasn’t going to be enough room.” Charlie shakes her head, “and it’s better to...act early rather than acting too late. I wouldn’t want to be...a week from my due date and still not having a place to stay where we’d all fit. So, Johnny saw to everything while I was in Hargeisa.”
“Especially with Ms. Wolfe’s return.” John mumbles with a nod.
“I...I still don’t understand that bit.” Nicky glances between the two adults, since the man was saying it as well helps her understand that isn’t isn’t just a family trait. After sitting down, Charlie gives her a quick recap of recent events and apologizes for her father’s previous behavior on his behalf.
Charlie absently places her hand on the side of her belly, “So, because of my own child, and now Tala, I’ve...I’ve somewhat made it my mission to get everyone on proper terms.” She takes a seat on the sofa, leaning back comfortably, “I’ve...I’ve been too comfortable in...in my silence where my parents are concerned. I...regretted my lack of relationship with my mother and...when I thought she was gone, it was something that haunted me every day. Even though I never actually said anything.” She licks her lips, reaching forward and taking a piece of the ham and pineapple pizza from the box on top of the table. “Please, Nicky, help yourself.”
John smiles genuinely toward his partner, “I couldn’t be more proud.” He sets Tala in what has become her spot in the corner of the angled sofa, placing a pillow near her as she looks between everyone around her. John quickly obtains a couple of toys from her playmat, setting them within her reach. John opens the other box sitting on the table, feel free to take this one as it isn’t that abomination my girlfriend adores.”
“Shut it, you.” Charlie playfully scowls toward her partner and the group comfortably catches up with one another. Charlotte listens to Nicky’s stories about work not far from her mother’s house and how she’s needed to sleep in her car as of late. Stories about how she wishes to get back into medicine, but has just been doing what she could to take care of her daughter. Hearing the door open from the floor below, Charlie mumbles, “here comes the calvary.”
Not paying much attention to her, John raises an eyebrow as he continues to focus on Nicky, “I might be able to help you with that. I do some work at the hospital near here and some at a small clinic in the inner city when they need me. They both always seem short of staff.”
Nicky shakes her head a little, “But you...you don’t know what sort of-”
“You’re a surgeon looking to help other people.” John answers simply, “even if you don’t use the surgery aspect, I’m sure there are other directions you can take in order to lend a hand.” He shrugs, “if you want, obviously.”
Serena is the first one to enter through the door, noticing the pizza first before having a look around the table, “your mother is going to be thrilled.” She mumbles, then notices the new, yet familiar, face at the table. “Ms. McKendrick.” She starts to smile, “what-” She paues, giving a quick glance to Tala, then back at her as things quickly click together. “Oh, you’re joking.”
Nicky quickly rises from her seat, “Ms. Campbell...it’s nice to see that you’re well.”
“Likewise, but I do wish it were under better circumstances.” Serena nods, placing a reassuring hand to Nicky’s upper arm.
Bernie could see the back half of her girlfriend sticking out of the door, causing her to smile. “I smell pizza.” She calls out, peeking a head over Serena’s shoulder once she reaches the door. “Good pizza from the looks of it.”
Serena steps aside, letting her partner enter more. “Bernie, this is Nicky McKendrick, she was finishing up her foundation years when I left Holby City. I assume you’ve completed-” Seeing the young woman’s subtle nod, Serena smiles softly.
“Nicky is also Tala’s mother.” Charlie then says, “Nicky, you know Serena, but the newly back-to-blond woman next to her is my mother, Berenice Wolfe.”
Nicky’s face softens slightly, as she offers a hand to shake, “Ms. Wolfe, I’ve...heard many stories about you.”
“If they were from my son, only a quarter of them are true.” Bernie teases, taking the handshake with her wounded hand. She’s been trying her hardest not to pay much attention to her condition and more to what occurs around her. “Tala has been a pleasant surprise for us all.”
“She certainly seems to have everyone in this family wrapped around her finger.” Serena motions for the young woman to return to her seat, “have you come to retrieve Tala?”
When Nicky hesitates, Charlie speaks up, “we’re going to help one another out for a while longer.” She answers with conviction, “we’re going to fix upstairs to be a bit more comfortable for guests, including Nicky, and she’s welcome to stay for as long as she needs to until she gets back up onto her feet.” Charlie licks her lips before glancing at Nicky, “right?”
Nicky has tears in her eyes, touched that Cameron’s family, especially his sister, would go the extra length for her. She takes a moment before nodding, a relieved smile spreading across her face, “right.”
Are you surprised by the response Nicky received from Charlie? Did you think it would be more harsh than it was?
John helps Nicky when Tala fells poorly for the first time.
Bernie quickly diagnoses her granddaughter.
Day or two from last few chapters.
Serena lies next to Bernie, her leg wrapped around the other woman’s waist. She smirks to herself, the arm she’s lying on absently plays with Bernie’s hair. “Who would have thought a bit of bleach and a trim would get you in the mood.” Serena softly kisses Bernie’s jaw as she hears the blonde give a throaty chuckle, “different state of mind, at least.”
“I hardly did anything, you did most of the work.” Bernie’s glad to feel her skin completely engrossed in Serena Campbell’s body again, “and you were amazing.”
“I haven’t had to be that quiet in years.” Serena’s face displays a healthy post-coital flush and she feels as if she can’t hold Bernie close enough. “My last time was with you, you know.”
“Over to your old house. Jason had to stay over because of the wedding.” Bernie grins to herself, thinking back to that night for them, as bittersweet as it may have been, “must say, I’m going to miss that house...and all the memories we had there.”
“Jason and Greta live there with Guinevere and are making their own memories as a family.” Serena explains, “the house was...completely paid off and Elinor isn’t exactly here for me to pass it down to, nor would she have probably wanted it. Wasn’t quite her style.” She sighs softly, rolling onto her back, “Greta tells me that Jason won’t allow them to change Elinor’s former room.”
“I wasn’t aware you had left it as it was.” Bernie reaches down, taking hold of Serena’s hand, needing to continue touching her in some capacity. When her partner doesn’t reply, Bernie brings her held hand up to her lips, softly kissing Serena’s knuckles.
“Edward and I straightened away her flat at Uni, but...” Serena shakes her head, knowing Bernie probably wouldn’t have realized, “I just couldn’t bring myself to do so at home.”
“I thought you did so while I was working.” Bernie licks her lips, exhaling slowly. She feels the need to change the subject, but isn’t quite sure what she wants to change it to, or how to do so eloquently. “I phoned Cameron after meeting Tala’s mother. He sounded very...relieved.” She tilts her head to the side, keeping her eyes on Serena. “I don’t get the feeling that they were in any sort of relationship.”
“Nicky now is...just a husk of the young woman I knew.” Serena sighs softly, disappointed, “such potential...such promise.”
Bernie thinks about Serena’s words for a moment, “do you think Cameron had much to do with that?”
“Cameron with his antics at the time and...unexpected motherhood, probably.” Feeling Bernie pressing the button to lift the head of the bed a bit, Serena offers her a thankful smile. “Cameron wasn’t...the man you knew before you left or the man you know now. He was manipulative, spiteful...if not hateful at times. I’m not entirely sure how he made any friends, much less managed to bed Nicky McKendrick.”
“Despite the grandchildren, I’d prefer to think of my children as virginal beings. Thank you.” Bernie mumbles, earning a soft chuckle from her partner. “I, honestly, can’t believe Charlie’s behavior as of late. She’s...calm. Peaceful, even. Neither of my children are who they used to be.”
“Her entire way of life has been upended. You, Tala, and even having John back after a month and...forming some sort of romantic relationship with Cpt. Long.” Serena raises an eyebrow, noticing Bernie’s surprised expression, “oh, surely, Berenice, you recognized their flirting.”
Turning to her side, Bernie faces her partner, “I’ve seen your flirting as well and-”
“You become insanely jealous.” Serena furrows her brow, amused by her girlfriend, “but, yes, there was...definitely something going on between the two.” She exhales slowly, “on our final night, Cpt. Long had her over for dinner, and then they invited me over and...I couldn’t quite decipher what occurred before I arrived.” Serena motions with her hand that there is more to the story, including uninteresting parts. “Anyhow, there was...just some sort of...energy in the room. Something familiar, but something I was unable to pinpoint.”
Amused with the prospect, Bernie starts to smirk, “Energy, Campbell?”
“You know what I mean.” Serena scowls toward the other woman, wrapping a comfortable leg around Bernie’s pelvis again. “There’s definitely something there that she isn’t willing to talk about.” Serena turns her head to the side when she hears Tala start to cry, causing her brow to pinch, “First time I’ve heard her cry.”
Bernie lifts her head, hearing the jog down the stairs, the cry getting louder, “and there’s Nicky.”
John, having been looking over patient notes before tomorrow’s sessions, feels the slight jump from his partner next to him as she hears the gentle rapt at the door and the infant crying from the other side, “Go back to sleep, babe. I’ve got this.” He places his patient notebook on the side table next to him before climbing out of bed. Clad in a pair of pajama pants and no shirt, John opens the bedroom door, seeing Nicky’s alarmed face. “Hey, what’s up?”
“She’s burning up and...I-I think it’s just...” Nicky shakes her head a little, feeling overwhelmed. Not much different than she usually feels when her daughter is crying, but she’s never dealt with an ill child before. At least, not her own, where she’s expected to not be a doctor to her.
John closes the door behind himself, “first, take a deep breath.” He gently touches Nicky’s upper arm, “I’ll go and get her some infant paracetamol. Probably perk her right up. Not a big deal.” John sighs softly when the baby reaches a hand for him, “and maybe we can take her for a ride in the car? Serena said she fell asleep every time the car was in motion the other day.”
“I...” Nicky glances down to her daughter, carefully handing her over to the man and watching as Tala calms significantly as she settles into his elbow. “I’ll go by myself. I-”
“Is that the best idea?” John interrupts her, looking into her eyes. He knows that if Nicky leaves the house this late at night, she would probably go to procure some sort of alcohol, making Charlie’s deal with her null and void, “if you don’t want to go together, how about I take Tala for a ride and you go back upstairs for a bit more shut eye?” John offers a reassuring smile, “Tamale and I will be fine, promise.”
Nicky looks between the baby and the muscular man, thinking for a moment before she nods. Really, she didn’t have a foot to stand on. She needed a drink, but she needed her daughter to feel better even more than the drink, “as long as you’re sure.” Nicky backs up toward the stairs, “she...she...” Eyes glistening, she shakes her head, “my daughter hates me.”
“No, she doesn’t.” Bernie stands just behind John, causing him to turn around. Glancing between her children’s lovers, Bernie lowers her focus to Nicky. “I’m not a psych specialist like John here, but...I know a thing or two about poor relationships with daughters.”
Really, the mere presence of one Bernie Wolfe still throws Nicky for a loop, regardless of the stories about Hargeisa and the adventures had on the military base there. The stories Cameron had told her about his mother didn’t exactly paint the woman in the best light either. Overbearing, demanding, absent. “I’m just...tired. Sorry.” Nicky doesn’t give Bernie the opportunity to respond as she retreats up the stairs once more.
Bernie tilts her head down, ruefully smiling to herself. “If you wouldn’t mind a partner, I wouldn’t mind joining you, Mr. Hampton.” She looks up to her daughter’s partner, “also, I’ll stay in the car with the baby while you run in the chemist.”
“Great plan. I just need to grab a shirt.” When Bernie takes a seat among the bottom few steps leading to the top floor, John gently places Tala onto her lap. He quickly disappears into the bedroom he shares with Charlie to get changed.
When the baby stares up at her inquisitively, Bernie raises an eyebrow to her. “Well, Tala. If I were a betting woman, and I am-” Using her smallest finger, Bernie gently rubs it along Tala’s bottom gums, feeling the hardened bump and earning an excited bite onto her finger. Hearing a soft giggle from the babe, Bernie can’t help but smirk.
Only taking a couple of moments, John returns to the hallway, hearing the whimpering from Tala had stopped. He looks down at the baby and her grandmother, grinning, “you’re magic, Ms. Wolfe.”
“Hardly. She’s teething.” Bernie shakes her head, “be sure to get her something to numb her gums as well and a teether for the times between.”
“Of course.” John leans down, gently removing Tala from Bernie’s lap before offering the older woman a hand to help her stand. “Do you want me to get your cane or do you just want to hold onto my arm for this one?” When Bernie seems surprised that he’s offering, John smirks, “I think you’ll be fine and we’re just going to the car. Fashionable woman, such as yourself, probably thinks the idea of going into a store in your pajamas is-”
“Unheard of, but I’d do what needed to be done.” Bernie allows him to help her, as they move to the steps, “how would you have any idea about my fashion sense?”
“When things were going on, before you were dead-” John pauses, placing her hand on the handrail of the stairs to carefully walk down, as he walks ahead of her, “and Charlie was given a box of your civvies, as the Army called them. She quickly took out a few things to wear, but...” He won’t go into how Charlotte would wear something of Bernie’s from time to time and cry to herself on the sofa, “put it this way, you and Charlie have similar fashion sense.”
Bernie smiles softly to herself, amused that she and Charlotte have something so trivial in common, “My old clothing is currently too large, so I’ve been wearing a few of Charlie’s things that she no longer fits in.”
“You’re welcome.” John cheekily waves his eyebrows, hearing her chuckle from behind him. He’s moving far slower than he otherwise would, wanting to remain close enough to Bernie just in case he needed to catch her during a fall, but he wouldn’t dare admit that to her.
Shaking her head, Bernie bites her lip with an amused smirk, “suppose that is your doing.” She continues to make her way down to the final step, taking a seat among the final few to catch her breath. “Charlie doesn’t...seem the sort to want children, if I’m honest.”
“It was...” John retrieves Tala’s car seat, not believing he’s having this conversation with the woman set to be his mother-in-law, “a surprise to us both, but...not unwanted.”
“You’re nearly forty. Technically, I’m closer in age to you than you are to my daughter.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, “and you think I was born yesterday?”
“A broken condom isn’t exactly something either one of us can control, Ms. Wolfe.” John gently secures the infant in the seat, placing her pacifier in her mouth, glad they had accidentally left it in her chair during their previous adventure the other day, “did I want children sooner rather than later, yes, but...sometimes things just fall into place in a way we just...can’t understand.” John returns to the woman, car seat in one hand with his wallet tucked into the side near Tala’s leg as he offers his hand to Bernie again. “I understand your suspicion, but...I love Charlie more than anything in this whole world. Having a child with her is...a dream come true, but I would never force her to do anything against her own terms.” He pauses, “nor do I think I’d be able to.”
“My daughter is rather headstrong.” Bernie admits, taking hold of his hand and then arm as he guides her toward the outdoors.
“Puts it mildly, Ms. Wolfe.” John grins, “but it’s the part of her that I fell in love with...and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.” He continues to escort Bernie toward his car, having secured the entry door close behind them, “she’s going to make an amazing mother.” John gives a glance to the blonde on his arm, “same as I know you’ll make an amazing grandmother.” He pauses, “have been so far.”
“It’s different when grandchildren come into the mix.” Bernie answers quietly, “entirely different beast from children.” She swallows, letting him help her into the back seat of the car before placing Tala’s car seat in the middle. Looking down to the baby in the seat again, Bernie waits to speak to her granddaughter when John closes the door, leaving them alone for a moment. “I promise you, Tala.” She licks her lips, reaching a gentle hand into the seat and letting the baby hold onto her finger, watching as Tala immediately brings it to her mouth to bite on, “even if I’m simply a chew toy for a bit.”
Charlie returns to work, much to the surprise of her coworkers.
Charlotte flips the switch for the light to turn on within her office, luckily the cleaning staff had kept up on dusting. She makes her way over to her desk, lowering herself in the chair before exhaling with a smile. Charlie unbuttons her blazer in an effort to feel more comfortable. She places her hands onto the sleek wood of the desk, slowly realizing how much she’s missed this.
“Mr. Weston is not going to-” Beryl calls out, jogging toward the office when she notices the light on and the door open. She stops in the doorway, seeing her boss and friend sitting behind the desk. “Are you...are you really back?” Beryl starts to grin, slowly moving into the office space more, “look at you, tan and...glowing.”
“We set up a...little pool for my niece in the back garden while the designer does what they do best.” Charlie smiles a little, “my Mum and I are outside with her as often as possible.” When Beryl appears to be anxiously fidgeting, Charlie stands, opening her arms only to be nearly knocked over by a tight embrace from her friend. “Hopefully Weston has been kind to you.”
“I’ve been given the task of assigning simple cases to the...lesser experienced solicitors.” Beryl nods, “at least, until your return.” Another smile as she pulls back, looking her friend over, “baby’s grown.”
“Twenty weeks.” Charlie sighs softly, placing a hand on the side of her belly, “had to buy a whole...whole new wardrobe of...business wear.” She pauses, “trousers and blouses, at least. Jackets and button-up jumpers I can continue with, luckily.” Charlie shrugs, “doesn’t really matter though. All that matters is that I’m back...for as long as I’m able to be.” She pauses, tilting her head to the side, “and hopefully that’s for some time.”
“Hopefully, is right.” Beryl stands a bit straighter, rubbing her sweaty hands down her brown and yellow plaid skirt, “did Mr. Weston know you were returning today?”
“I’ve been sending him e-mails, same as you.” Charlie glances back to her desk, motioning to the stack of files on the corner with a nod of her head, “what are these?”
“From the cult thing you did. These are some of the individuals that still haven’t found their families. They’re curating a civil case against the police for failure to perform.” Beryl raises an eyebrow, “Mr. Weston thought it best if they were handled in a class action manner instead of individually.”
Nodding a little, Charlotte still looks at the stack of folders. “Are Kenneth and Robin Barlow in that stack?” When her assistant appears confused, she continues, “Natalie Barlow was kidnapped from a grocery store car park and taken roughly twenty kilometres away to an underground bunker where she was abused, tortured, among other things. Because of it, the things her captors began to tell her started to...make sense to her.”
“So,” Beryl watches as her boss rounds the desk, “some sort of...Stockholm Syndrome?”
Charlie shrugs, taking a moment before she continues, “she gave the Children of the Anointed, a name they hadn’t yet set into stone at the time, access to her money. Uh...her home, her vehicles. Her husband was found dead in the attic upon later investigations.”
“So, where do Kenneth and Robin Barlow come into all this?” Beryl shakes her head a little, following her boss as she starts to leave the office.
“They were nineteen and thirteen at the time.” Charlie gives cordial nods to other staffers who call out her name in welcome. “The police were informed of the odd behavior in the area around where the bunker was located long before the house was taken over. Kenneth and Robin were kept in the basement, where the group attempted to indoctrinate them as well, believing it would be as easy as it was with Mrs. Barlow.” She holds her head up as she walks, “the school had phoned the police, asking them to look in on Robin because she was missing classes. Possibly have child services phoned. Guess what the police did...”
“Don’t...don’t laugh if I’m wrong.” Beryl starts, “they ignored the calls?”
“They ignored the calls.” Charlotte repeats and starts to shake her head negatively, “all of them. From the school, from Mr. Barlow’s place of work, from people living in the surrounding area to the bunker, from neighbors to the house. They were all ignored.” She sighs softly, “the only reason something had...been taken seriously, for a change, was because Mrs. Barlow’s sister was good friends with the mayor’s wife and asked for a favor.”
“That’s terrible.” Beryl replies softly, “I just...they were aware this was going on with this group, weren’t they?” She pauses, “I thought the police had been searching.”
“For other people, but not the Barlow family.” Charlie stands just outside Weston’s office as she glances to her assistant again, “if the Barlows are in that stack, I want you to set them aside. They deserve to have a case all their own instead of being lumped into a class action.” Charlie smiles at Beryl once more, watching as she sets off toward her office. Her attention faces forward again as she glances at her boss’ secretary, “is he available, Felicia?”
Glancing away from her computer screen for a moment, Felicia gives a curt nod. “He’s just off a call, I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you.” Though the rumors circulating about the young Ms. Wolfe and the elder Mr. Weston were stories she shot down often, she always thought that maybe there was some spot of truth to them. However, it isn’t any of her business. Felicia is quite aware that her job is to keep her boss stress free and if the occasional meeting with Charlotte Wolfe was going to make that happen, she’d ensure it.
Giving a quick knock and listening to a grumble from within to enter, Charlotte finally pushes the door open to her boss’ office. “Mr. Weston, is this a bad time?”
Reggie Weston starts to grin from behind his desk, standing quickly as he sees the younger woman, “of course not. Come in.” He motions to the small sitting area not far from the door as she closes the door behind herself, “I thought I told you to stay in touch.”
“I did, sir. There were emails.” Charlotte moves over to the sitting area, as instructed, taking a seat on the sofa.
“Felicia.” Weston calls out, stepping over to the small sitting area. When his secretary steps in, he places his hands on his hips, “why wasn’t I informed about Ms. Wolfe’s emails after I specifically told you to-”
“Sir, you receive anywhere from eighty to one-hundred-and-thirty emails a day.” Felicia watches him, knowing exactly how to handle the man, “I do my best to weed through them, but there are many that get by...because you refuse to hire someone to help me with just that even though I’ve asked multiple times.”
“There’s plenty of interns that want to get their feet wet, especially here. Sounds like the perfect job for them so that Felicia could focus on more pressing matters.” Charlie offers her a soft smile, then looks back at Weston, “no skin off your end.”
“You’re right, Ms. Wolfe.” Reggie glances back to his secretary, “take a look at who you’d like to move up and give me a few names...or just...whoever. I trust you.”
Felicia starts to smile, giving a quick nod of thanks to the young woman on the sofa before taking her leave.
“Is that the first time you told her that you trusted her?” Charlie looks at the man, slowly folding one of her legs over the other, her hands resting comfortably in her lap.
“This has nothing to do with me and everything to you with you and your journey.” Reggie takes a seat opposite her, “how is your mother?”
“Regular physio, three times a week. They come to the house, so I reckon she feels more comfortable that way. She isn’t too keen on appearing weak in front of other people.” Charlie continues, pulling up pictures on her mobile to show him of her, Serena, and Bernie at the hospital in Hargeisa. Charlie finds herself pausing over the picture of Cpt. Long and herself, causing her to swallow before quickly scrolling past.
Captain Benson Long. Someone she simply couldn’t get out of her head despite all of the other things she’s been through in the past month.
“Sounds like someone else I know.” Weston’s words snap her out of her bout of nostalgia. “Your mother is a beautiful woman. It’s easy to see where you get it from, Charlie.” He offers her an earnest smile, “I’m glad to see things went off without a hitch, but I’m afraid I’ve left you a bit of work here on the home front.”
“I saw. I’ll sort through the dossiers.” Charlie lifts a hand to tuck a portion of her hair behind her ear, “though you thought they’d all fit into a class action situation, some may warrant separate cases.” She shakes her head a little, “even if I do something pro-bono. These people deserve better.”
“And that earns us a positive reputation in the public eye, warranting more clients.” Weston grins even more, “I don’t know how we managed to get by while you were away, to be honest.”
Their casual meeting goes off without a hitch and Charlie returns to her office, telling her assistant to leave her be for a bit. She quickly checks her wristwatch, trying to decipher the time in Somalia before touching the button on her mobile for a video conference. She reaches into her handbag for her red wireless earbuds, slipping them into her ear to make the conversation more private.
Cpt. Benson Long grins to himself as he sees Charlie Wolfe’s picture on the screen of his mobile, touching the button to answer the call. “Well, well, well. Hello, beautiful.” He lies in bed, holding his mobile above his head, “this is quite the surprise.”
“We;, I’ve been a bit...busy. Today is my first day back to work.” Charlie sighs softly to herself, “I’m sorry, I should...I should be phoning you more often.”
“Like you said, you’ve been busy.” Ben shrugs, “it happens.”
“Doesn’t make me feel any better.” Leaning back in her office chair a little, Charlie attempts to find a comfortable position. “I hit twenty weeks today, my brother’s daughter and her mother have been living with us for the past month, and I finally have a living area...which was only put in a few days ago.” She shrugs then begins to smile a little, “Mum and Serena also sent off their letters of intention since Mum proposed.” Charlie opens the dossier of her client information, wanting to go through them herself. “You’re in bed already?”
“Haven’t really been feeling too hot. I’ve been here for two days thus far.” Ben sighs, watching her, “something is going around on base, and subsequently the hospital. Meaning, I can’t do my job which...is bloody awful.”
“Just a regular norovirus?” Charlie gives a quick glance to the camera, doing her best to multitask.
“Reckon so.” Long listens intently, smirking to himself, “must admit, you look particularly radiant when you’re all...business-like.”
“People only really use that descriptor when one is pregnant.” Charlie raises an eyebrow, a cheeky smile forming in the corner of her mouth, “tell me what you really think.”
“Well, I’m having some impure thoughts that I’d share with you, but I doubt you’d want an obscene phone call.” Long teases, noticing her blush. It really wasn’t doing anything erotic to him, but he knows how she’d react. “Meant to tell you, I have a couple weeks of leave coming up. Rest of it is around Christmas.”
Charlie realizes she probably isn’t going to get much, if any, work done at this rate. She sits back in her desk chair, “that’s fantastic.”
“I’d...” Long knows he’s probably going to regret this, “I’d really like to see you for some of it.” He shrugs, “before I head off to see my Mum.” Long draws his bottom lip into his mouth, biting it softly, “if you...if you’re prefer that we didn’t, I’m not about to-”
“I’d love to see you.” Charlie answers quietly, “but I’m not nearly...” She sighs softly, “I’m just...very pregnant and I’ll be even larger when your leave occurs. I don’t look the same as I did when I was there.” Charlie exhales a soft chuckle to herself, “far from it.”
“I can see you right now, so I know you’re lying.” Long raises an eyebrow, “besides, some men love it when a woman is pregnant. I mean, it isn’t a fetish for me or anything, but...I can see the appeal.”
Charlie begins to shake her head negatively, “Ben-”
“It’s a yes or no, Charlie. I’m not going to pressure you into seeing me.” Ben watches her on the screen of his mobile, turning to his side on the bed, “if talking to me now is too much for you...that’s fine too.” He draws his lower lip into his mouth, anxiously biting at the skin.
“Ben, you’re a handsome man with a big heart. You have compassion, loyalty, honesty, and a gorgeous smile.” Charlotte starts, noticing his smile begin to fade on the screen, “I...I have a fiance and so much baggage that I need several storage lockers in order to contain it all.” Glancing away for a moment, her eyes shimmering, “why can’t you find someone more available to you that’s able to give you what you’d want in life?”
“Because if I did that, whoever I were to find still wouldn’t be you.” Ben continues to watch the screen, noticing how difficult of a time she’s having. “Now, Ms. Wolfe. No need to get upset. I’m not asking you to a hotel room or anything of the sort. I’m simply asking for dinner.” He smiles softly when she looks back at the camera, “that’s all. I could really go for a proper steak that I’m surely not getting here.” Ben raises a hopeful eyebrow, “what do you say?”
Charlie smiles to herself as she shakes her head, not believing him, but not about to deny him a simple meal with her. “Fine, I’ll have dinner with you.”
Long’s smile grows, “I’ll text you when I know the date of my leave for sure so we can make arrangements.” He watches her for a moment more, “I’d better disconnect and try to get better faster. Not about to expose you or the bambino to norovirus.” Ben pauses again, “I do love you, Charlie.”
“I know.” Charlie licks her lips, feeling the same toward him, but unable to bring herself to say it. “I’ll speak to you later.” She disconnects the call, biting the corner of her mouth as she closes her eyes. Dinner shouldn’t be that bad, but would she be able to restrain herself to simply dinner when she finally sees him? Charlie isn’t too sure about that.
There are many OCs in this chapter and many I haven't mentioned since the last story. Hopefully, no one is terribly confused.
Charlie loses track of time.
Serena finally has a heart to heart with Charlie.
Serena drives home after her weekly trip to the grocery. Though she usually takes her wife, Serena decided to go during Bernie’s physiotherapy session so the woman wouldn’t be there to grab various snacks like she often does. Slowly driving down the residential road, she notices a familiar figure slowly walking until the figure pauses to bend over with her hands on her thighs. Rolling down the passenger window, Serena furrows her brow, “Charlotte?”
“Oh, my saving grace.” Charlie offers her a quick smile, “mind if I catch a lift?” Clad in a pair of sunglasses, athletic shorts, sports bra, and vest with large arm holes, there was no way she could possibly hide her pregnancy anymore, even if she wanted to. Charlie tugs open the passenger side door, climbing in. “I went a bit over five kilometres and was on my way back when I started having a contraction that just...took the wind out of me.”
Her eyes widening with slight alarm, Serena begins driving again. “How far out was that?”
“Uh...” Charlie shrugs, “I couldn’t tell you. I took a moment, sitting on the pavement.” She leans back in the seat, folding her hands in her lap. Charlie seems oddly relaxed for something that has seldom happened.
“Why were you jogging so far out?” Serena furrows her brow, “you usually only ever go out for two kilometres at most.” She licks her lips, “have your contractions been regular?” Seeing Charlie’s negative head shake from the corner of her eye, Serena sighs with relief, “probably just a Braxton Hicks contraction then...and based on your reaction and the fact that you’re so calm, I’m betting it wasn’t your first.”
“It was.” Charlie responds quietly, looking through the window, “but...I don’t know, it didn’t feel...”
There’s something about the young woman’s voice that causes Serena to pull the car over, not yet in front of the house. Seeing Charlie tense up, Serena puts the car in park, turning her head to finally look at the young woman, “Charlie, why did you run so far from the house?”
“I uh...” Reaching up to wipe tears threatening to leave the cover of her sunglasses, Charlie shakes her head, looking through the passenger window. “I just lost track. Happens sometimes. No cause for concern.”
“Except I am concerned for you.” Serena exhales slowly, “you’ve been...incredibly absent minded as well as distant in the past few days and those just...aren’t personality traits I’m familiar with you possessing.” Gently touching the younger woman’s chin, gently bringing her gaze to meet her own, instead seeing the tightened emotional chin wobble. “Charlie, darling, what’s wrong?”
Charlie removes her sunglasses, quickly wiping her reddened eyes and cheeks before replacing them. “I don’t want you to think any less of me and-”
“Try me.” Serena’s low voice seems nurturing and causes Charlotte to give a subtle smile, “if it has to do with a mistake, I can accurately tell you that we’ve all made them. We must, or else risk not learning from them.”
Thinking for a moment whether or not she wants to say anything, Charlie swallows. “I spoke with Ben the other day...and he said he’s due to go on leave soon. That he wants to see me and...for us to go to dinner, but...I don’t know if I can contain myself to just go to dinner and it makes me feel like rubbish.”
“What do you want?” Serena asks softly, “to happen...what do you want to happen?” She refinds her question, able to tell just how fragile Charlotte seems at this exact moment. Serena reaches over the center console, gently taking Charlie’s hand in her own.
“I love John more than anything.” Charlie shakes her head a little, “but I also have feelings for Ben. Very...very serious feelings.” She swallows, “I told him that I loved him while we were in Hargeisa, but...I don’t know. I just...I don’t know how I feel..about anything.” Charlie’s chin begins to wobble again as she falls quiet, “a part of me wishes I would have never met Ben Long, but...another part of me knows I was meant to meet him.”
“In your heart, how do you think John would react?” Serena leans back against her seat, still holding the young woman’s hand to display her support. “John has been your partner for four years...and then Cpt. Long comes around. He’s...fascinating and new. He’s different from John enough that...it’s a different experience than what has been your constant.” She swallows, “I’ve been there. I’ve...I was the reason your mother and I...” Serena’s train of thought trails, “I strayed, Charlie. I did. Not your mother. She always remained loyal.”
Charlotte falls quiet, just staring at the woman next to her, “I...I didn’t know that.”
“It was one of the biggest regrets in my life.” Serena looks through the window in front of her, “and I...I blame myself for your mother leaving the final time...Cameron did as well.” She exhales slowly, “he and I had a drink and deep conversation over to Albie’s... before everything happened with him.”
“So what do I do then?” Charlie asks quietly, “do I tell John what happened? Do I...not say anything? Do I...” She flinches, feeling another contraction, “damn it.” Charlie whispers, slowly inhaling in an effort to calm herself down.
“The stress of this is negatively affecting you and the baby, Charlie.” Serena glances over to her, “as much as it may pain you to hear this, you must choose sooner rather than later.” She reaches her other hand over, gently touching Charlotte’s pronounced belly. “When is your next obstetrics appointment?”
“Scan at the end of the week and an appointment a few days later.” Charlotte bites her lip, swallowing, “thank you, Serena.” Her voice is quiet as she places her hand over Serena’s, moving it to where she could feel the baby moving, “you didn’t need to tell me that, but you did...and I thank you because I know how difficult it probably was.”
Serena nods absently, “not to change the subject, but as a medical professional, I truly think you should take things easy until you speak with your Ob.” She sighs softly, “just...set all of this on the back burner until you see to it that you’re safe. Twenty weeks can have Braxton Hicks, of course, but...it’s still rather early...and combined with your state of mind and stress at the moment, I’d prefer it if they didn’t turn into the real thing.”
“Is that a thing that can happen?” Charlie asks quietly before tilting her head to the side when she doesn’t receive a response, “Serena...”
Her expression is that of a loss for words, Serena shakes her head, “no, but...stress isn’t good for either one of you. Stressing over men certainly isn’t advised.” Serena’s brow softens as she finally pulls her hand from Charlotte’s belly, “just...don’t let a month of flirting disrupt something you’ve built for over four years thus far. You’re better than that.”
Charlotte considers Serena’s words, falling quiet herself, “so you think this is just-”
“Your loins talking, yes.” Serena replies quickly, placing her hands on the steering wheel before shifting the car into drive.
Falling silent for a few minutes, Charlie licks her lips, “I ran so far because I just...didn’t realize how far I had gone. I started to panic because I just didn’t know where I was and I turned around.” She flashes an embarrassed smirk before continuing, “I knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to get back. Straight roads and all, but it didn’t help that I was just...completely off my head.” Charlie absently places a hand on the side of her belly, “running and crying...lucky that I had my sunnies or else I’d look a bloody fool.”
“Hormones go mad while one is pregnant.” Serena smiles to herself, “and they are known to do so during the second trimester, especially.”
“You aren’t just saying that, are you?” Charlie sighs with relief as Serena shakes her head slowly. “I...I think it would be in my best interest to write Ben an email. If I were to attempt telling him via video conference, I don’t know if I’d be successful.” She pauses, “or I just...ghost him, but...that just seems cruel.”
“A letter should suffice.” Serena nods, pulling up into the driveway only after a few minutes. “I still want you to take things easy today though. Maybe a hot bath or...something. I don’t know. I’d tell you to have a glass of wine, but...don’t.”
Charlie gives a weak salute before climbing out of the car, offering a smile to her partner when she notices him leave the house and approach the car. “I was wondering when the muscle would show.”
John pauses, furrowing his brow as he looks to his girlfriend, “where the hell have you been?” A playful smirk covers his face, “you took off for a jog and...I thought you were halfway through London center by now.” He finishes walking the rest of the way to the car, opening the trunk out of habit.
“Thanks for the concern.” Charlie mumbles, her smile fading slightly as she moves past her boyfriend, only for him to gently take hold of her wrist as she passes him. She doesn’t turn her head to face him, but does turn her head slightly to show she’s listening to him.
“Much longer and I was going to take off looking for you.” John answers quietly, “I tried calling you, but you left your phone on the kitchen counter. So, I thought you didn’t want to be disturbed. Swear to it, babe.”
Charlie begins turning to face him, “I hadn’t realized I left it.”
“Yeah, so...it’s probably baby brain or whatever.” John offers her a genuine smile before gently pulling her into an embrace with his arm. “You still have some of those bath fizz things. How about you go and relax in that giant tub we have?” He presses a kiss to her hairline, “and then I’ll help you...moisturize after.”
Really, she can’t turn that down. Charlie starts to smirk, rising on her tiptoes to peck a quick kiss on his lips, “you’d better not forget.” She turns toward the house once he releases her.
Serena watches the young woman as she disappears into the house before glancing at the man at the boot of the car. “She’s having a difficult time, you know.”
John nods, managing to gather all the cloth bags onto his arms with little effort, leaving Serena to close the boot of the car behind him, “I’m aware, but...I’m not about to push her for information. I’ve already told her that if she wishes to speak to me about it, I’m more than happy to listen.” He sighs softly, “being in my profession is both a blessing and a curse at times.”
“Being confronted with the stress at work and the stress she passively incurs here, isn’t doing her any favors.” Serena follows behind him into the house, closing the entry door behind them, “and it’s only going to get worse as her pregnancy progresses. The less she’s able to do, compared to what she could do before she was pregnant, the more frustrated she’s going to be.”
“And too much frustration equals high blood pressure...and a whole other...wealth of issues.” John sighs softly as he listens to the woman, setting the bags on the counter of the kitchen island. He opens some of the cupboards, going through the bags to slide in whatever belongs there before taking the rest to the larder and the fridge, respectively. “I know, Serena. I know all of this. I’m not a surgeon, but I had taken the same medical courses as you and Bernie.” John shrugs, “I know it might seem...difficult to fathom, but I have a general idea of what issues await my girlfriend from a medical standpoint.”
“My standpoint is that of experience.” Serena watches him, “same with Bernie. We’re both surgeons, yes, but we were both pregnant at one time or another. We were both parents, regardless of how much our children wish we weren’t.”
The way she words her thoughts causes John to raise his brow in thought. “Charlie’s relationship with her mother has improved significantly.” He pauses, “but does Charlie still worry that she might become her mother once the baby is born?” Really, it isn’t a question for Serena to answer, merely himself thinking out loud.
“Just be there for her, John. That’s what she needs. Just be present and rub her feet and... whatever else. ” Serena offers him a wink before stepping away to the stairs, “don’t try to interpret her actions.” Giving him a knowing scowl, Serena smiles to herself, “you wouldn’t want to make her angry.” She doesn’t give him time to respond before finally ascending the stairs.
Serena talks through things with her partner.
Bernie feels the need to check on her daughter.
Not long after the events of last chapter. Same day.
“I don’t understand how a jigsaw puzzle would develop fine motor skills.” Bernie mumbles, a large piece of felt splayed out over the foot of the bed. Her legs are folded and she’s hunched a little. “Therapist just gave this to me, helped me start the first few dozen pieces, and said to try and finish it before my next meeting with them in a few days, without any help.”
Serena smirks to herself, raising an eyebrow, “you know exactly how it would. The pieces aren’t terribly large.” Moving closer to her partner, she sees just how much is finished, “I’m impressed. What is it supposed to be?” One of the corners is finished and it seems Bernie is slowly filling pieces in toward the next corner.
“I don’t know.” Bernie shakes her head, “no picture on the box and Marcel said we could glue it together once finished.” She lifts her gaze to look over to her partner, “so, I’m assuming, it’s going to be something that matters to me and not just...an ocean scene or...a quaint village or something I couldn’t care in the slightest about.”
“Interesting, yet impressive, tactic.” Serena nods, doing her best not to help her, “you’re doing an amazing job, by the way.” She leans in, pressing a kiss to Bernie’s temple before moving away from the woman. “Depending on how you’re feeling tomorrow, I thought we could possibly visit Jason? What do you think?”
Bernie starts to smile, trying to continue focusing on her puzzle, “I’d love that.” She places another piece of her puzzle into the corresponding slot, “do you think he’d want to visit here at some point?” Her tone is hopeful, “I’d...I would love to have him and Charlie together.” Bernie doesn’t mention Cameron, knowing where he is has turned into a sore spot for her.
Serena finds the question odd, but shrugs anyway, “I reckon he might for Christmas holiday and whatnot if asked.”
Pleased with the response, Bernie gives a subtle nod, replying softly, “I’d appreciate that.” She clears her throat, “Nicky’s taken the baby to see her grandmother, but Tala’s been having the sniffles. Summer cold, I believe. Charlie and I noticed while we had her in the wading pool the other day.” Bernie pauses, watching as Serena moves around the bedroom, collecting their dirty laundry into the cloth hamper, “or was it last week...”
“Either way, it probably wasn’t the best idea for her to be near Nicky’s grandmother. The woman is in her eighties, I believe.” Serena pauses her movements, looking over to her partner, “unless she isn’t.”
Bernie pulls her attention away from her puzzle, meeting Serena’s eyes, “where else could she have gone?”
“Taken Tala to meet her father.” Serena raises an eyebrow, glancing over to her partner. “She’s mentioned, on numerous occasions, that she didn’t really want Tala around her family. Now, she suddenly changes her mind?” Serena shakes her head negatively, “while I’m not saying it is impossible, I’m saying it seems more feasible.”
“She also said she didn’t want Tala to know of her father’s whereabouts.” Bernie mutters, returning to her puzzle.
“She’ll hardly have any memory of anything at five months old.” Serena sighs, setting the hamper aside to take a seat next to Bernie. “I know she’s been speaking with John on a...quasi-therapeutic level...and I believe he’s helped her significantly. Especially when combined with her AA attendance, Nicky seems in a much better state of mind compared to when she first arrived here.”
“Oh, I agree.” Bernie licks her lips, “honestly, I just wish I could have been there to show them both support.” She tilts her head to the sight, a thoughtful look in her eye, “and for selfish reasons as well...I’d have loved to see my first born hold his first born for the first time.” Bernie slowly looks to her partner, “I’m hoping you’re wrong, but...I’m hoping you aren’t at the same time.”
“It’s long overdue.” Serena wraps her arm around Bernie’s back, pressing a soft kiss to her shoulder. They sit in silence before Serena lifts her head, “how about I roll this puzzle up and we get out of this room?”
“I wanted to go shopping with you.” Bernie mumbles, giving a slight pout as she tilts her head down, looking at her partner at the top of her eyes. “It’s the only real time I’m able to truly get out of the house.”
“I’m not spending any more money than I need to, darling, and I’ll be damned if I allow you to choose four different bags of crisps.” Serena shakes her head, “or several packets of biscuits and digestives. I don’t know where this unhealthy behavior has come from, but-”
“I’m not the only one that eats them. Charlotte’s been on a Jammie Dodger kick as of late. Has four of them with her decaf every morning.” Bernie retorts, “I’m not about to let my daughter be unsatisfied during a pregnancy craving either. She mixes the prawn cocktail crisps and chocolate chip cookies.”
Serena scowls playfully, honestly not minding one way or the other when Bernie wants to snack on crisps. “That covers one bag of crisps and two types of biscuits, but that isn’t-”
“And we can switch to healthy alternatives like popcorn...which John seems very keen on already.” Bernie offers, only to receive Serena’s hand over her mouth.
“I want you around for years to come...and you’re still hopelessly thin. So, they’re both fine for the moment, but not in the long run and not every week.” Serena shakes her head, leaning in to softly press a kiss to the corner of Bernie’s mouth. “For you or Charlie.”
Bernie begins to smile, her attention on her partner, “don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I found her roughly five kilometres form home wandering aimlessly on the pavement. I’d say crisps and biscuits are the least of her concerns.” Serena mumbles, then nearly instantly regrets saying anything, “she’s fine, by the way. Lost track of time, is all.”
“Losing track of time is my job.” Bernie shakes her head, “I’d better look in on her.” She starts to climb out of bed only to be pulled back in by Serena, “what is it?”
“I don’t think that’s the best idea.” Serena’s eyebrow slowly raises, hopeful that Bernie may read between the lines.
“She’s been acting bizarrely since returning to work. You don’t find that alarming?” Of course Bernie didn’t read between the lines, she isn’t even aware the lines exist in this instance. “I just...” She swallows, “over five kilometres?” Seeing her partner nod, Bernie rises from the bed again, still being held onto by Serena. “I need to check on her.”
“I’ve already checked on her. She's just incredibly tired currently.” Serena tries again, “and I know John is in there...helping her.”
It takes Bernie a moment, studying her girlfriend’s face, “oh, you think they’re having sex.”
“It’s a possibility.” Serena nods slowly, “a very good possibility.”
“But just a possibility.” Bernie grabs the cane resting next to her bed, slowly making her way to the doorway connecting their bedroom with the main hallway, “and I reckon she’d be too tired for that after running so far...while twenty weeks pregnant...and incredibly hormonal.”
“Ah, but the hormonal portion of your statement is what makes my hypothetical statement a possibility.” Serena slowly rolls up the puzzle in the large piece of felt, gently setting it on the desk within the room, which is a much better area for it anyway.
Bernie begins to take to the hallway, noticing the door of her daughter’s bedroom open. She smiles a little to herself stopping at the doorway to knock on the frame. “Mind if I come in?”
John pauses mid-stride, a bottle of cocoa butter lotion in his hand. He sets the bottle onto the side table, looking over to her, “Charlie’s in the bathtub.”
“I’m aware.” Bernie nods, “gives me the opportunity to speak with her without her finding a reason to run off on me...knowing full well I can’t give chase.” She offers a soft smile, “you’ll be able to use that with her all you want. I just...want to make sure she’s okay.”
“At the moment, she’s crying, but...” John shrugs, “I’m sure there isn’t anything she has that you haven’t seen before.” He takes a seat on the bed, motioning toward the en suite bath with a tilt of his head, “feel free, Bernie. God knows she isn’t going to tell me what’s bothering her. You’d probably have better luck.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Bernie slowly uses her cane as she moves to the bathroom, opening the door to enter and closing it behind herself. Her daughter gently weeps in the deep violet colored water, only really heard by her with the occasional sniff and sudden intake of breath. Bernie slowly lowers herself to the tiled floor on the other side of the claw foot tub, sitting opposite from her daughter, her upper body where Charlotte’s lower body is contained. “How does one make bath water this color?”
Well, that is the last person Charlotte was expecting. She lifts her head, seeing her mother leaning against the wall near her feet. “Uh.” She swallows, “arnica, hypericum, and calendula mixed with aloe vera...I think. Um...it’s in a fizz thing that Johnny picks up for me all the time. Great after a run...or just when I need to release tension.” She doesn’t worry about covering herself, the water offering enough of a barrier to her sensitive regions. Her belly and the crests of her bosom are the only things to breach the water’s surface from their darkened depths.
“John was ready to come in here and give you a rub down, but...I stepped in. Sorry about that.” Bernie watches as her daughter glances up toward the ceiling, a comfortable silence falling between the two. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Charlie answers a little too quickly before continuing, “I’m about to do something I don’t want to do for the greater good.” Her eyes fill with tears again before she continues, “and I’m...” Charlie clears her throat, a rueful smile growing on her face, “none of this...none of this is what I wanted. I...I’d have been comfortable and content just living with John for the rest of my days and...and now I’m getting married and having a baby and...it’s all changing too fast.”
“That’s what life does, Charlie.” Bernie answers delicately, bending her knees up a little to rest her wrists atop them out of comfort. “Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes it pushes you into things. I’ve...I’ve been there. I’ve been where you are.” She offers a quick, reassuring smirk, “when I was your age, I thought...that the feelings I was having were wrong. I met this great guy, he cared for me deeply, but...all I could think about was my roommate...and how much I wanted to kiss her.” Bernie licks her lips, “then Marcus asked me to marry him...while we were in Uni. I thought it was the right thing to do, but...then I realized I was pregnant and...I figured the cosmos made my life decisions for me with that. Which...I guess they really did. Military was my saving grace, I...I got to be who I truly was. Then, you came along...and it...set me back, in a way. I wasn’t much of a mother and I don’t just mean because of my absence.”
Charlie knows what the woman means wholeheartedly, listening to her every word intently. She places an open hand on the side of the tub lip. “I know.”
Bernie nods a little, “but I tried my best. Which...probably wasn’t much, but...you were fed three squares a day, a roof over your head, independent school, and...whatever your heart desired.” She notices her daughter’s hand finally, reaching up to place her hand onto the open palm, “I know I was harsh on you at times, but-”
“It was for the best.” Charlie sighs softly, “I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I am now if you weren’t.” She bites her lip, thinking for a moment before speaking, “when Tala sees me, she smiles. She...she starts clapping those chubby little hands of hers and...I’m sucked in.” A tear escapes Charlie’s eye as she takes a breath, “and I just want to protect her with everything I have. I...I owe it to Cam.” She pauses, “but I think of...this one inside me and...I don’t know if I’ll be able to feel the same way. I-I don’t want to disappoint-”
“You’ve twenty weeks to go and you’re already being too hard on yourself.” Bernie hums a chuckle, “wait until they get here, won’t you?” She sits up, still holding Charlotte’s hand, “I may not have...initially had any sort of motherly instinct, but I grew into it and you will also. You and Cameron are the greatest thing to ever happen to me...and you always will be.” Bernie pauses, “besides, I get to be a grandmother now. That means spoiling your children rotten and telling them embarrassing stories of when you and your brother were small. I think I’ll be much better doing that than being a mother anyhow.”
Charlie starts to giggle, her anxiety clearing from her mind a bit. As her enjoyment calms, she squeezes her mother’s hand, “thanks, Mum.”
“Besides, when I had Cameron, I had no real support. Marcus’ mother wasn’t about to lend a hand with either of you and he was busy at the hospital.” Bernie shakes her head, a new smile on her face, “we’ll always have your six...no matter what.”
“Okay.” Charlie nods, looking at her mother still. There’s something about the way her mother is sitting that causes her to form an amused smirk, “you can’t get up, can you...” It isn’t a question, more of an observation. Charlie begins laughing a bit harder when her mother slowly shakes her head negatively.
Charlie and Nicky come to a new agreement.
About two months since the gang has returned home. About a week or so since the last couple of chapters.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Charlie, would you mind if I talked to you for a moment?” Nicky stands in the doorway of the office, noticing her daughter making her way across the floor in her walker. She had wondered where the babe went, though knew she had to be safe. This all has become a common practice during Nicky’s stay there. “If you’re busy I-”
“No, I was about to...put things away anyhow.” Charlie nods, glancing down at her niece as the girl comes to a stop next to her, “right, Tala?” She smirks a little, standing as she nearly combines papers in a folder before placing them into her briefcase, “then, when we finish, someone gets some of those little puffed snacks while Aunt Charlie makes a cuppa with some biscuits.”
“You have a whole routine?” Amused by the display, Nicky smirks. This woman, who at first was visibly nervous with the mere presence of her niece, now regards the baby with the highest esteem. “I received my gold chip today.” Nicky holds the poker chip appearing object up between her fingers.
“Which one is gold?” Leaving her briefcase on top of the desk, Charlie turns, hearing the excited footsteps of her niece, “I know there’s different colors for different amounts of time in AA.” She closes the door once Tala slides through the threshold.
Nicky grins proudly, “Sixty days sober.”
“Oh, Nick.” Charlie pauses in her stride, looking the other woman in the eye, “that’s fantastic. Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Nicky continues to keep up with the other woman when she begins moving toward the kitchen area again. “I didn’t think I could do it...and I probably wouldn’t have if you hadn’t put me up to it.” She nods, “so, this is as much my achievement as it is yours.”
“Oh, I couldn’t drink even if I wanted to with this big ol’ boy rolling about in here.” Charlie nods down toward her own abdomen, offering Nicky a smirk after, “cuppa, Nick?”
“Yes, please.” Taking a seat on top of one of the stools at the kitchen island, Nicky watches as her daughter continues to follow her aunt. “I promised myself that...if I could make it to two months, I could keep on going...and...” She licks her lips, “and I think it’s nearly time for T and I to move on.” Nicky replies quietly, “not...not like, far away or anything, but just to our own flat. I’ve put away enough money for us. Tala and I would need to be close enough for me to bring her by before my shifts. Ms. Campbell and Ms. Wolfe even threatened me if I tried to put her in a nursery.”
“Sounds like them, but don’t let those old bats bully you.” Charlie smirks, “I do have a better idea though.” She pauses after turning on the electric kettle, folding her arms across her chest as she turns around to face her niece’s mother. Charlie reaches up to the window above the sink, overlooking the back garden, “the guest house.” She tilts her head to the side, “I’ll have Johnny get someone on it.”
Nicky furrows her brow, slowly shaking her head, “Wa-wait. I can’t ask you to-”
“You asked me nothing. Only problem is that it’s a bit far from the house and there’s no possible way to pave the driveway over.” Charlie continues, “of course, I’ll ask you to pay for your utilities and we’ll figure out a feasible rent for you...if you want.” Really, Charlie doesn’t care about either thing. She just wants her niece close and to keep her promise to her brother that she’d take care of both Tala and Nicky. When Nicky seems unsure, Charlie continues, “London is expensive. Your job at the clinic is close by, as is your AA group. It would be silly if you went too far out of your way...especially since we have a whole bloody house that no one is using.”
“I thought you said John’s parents would use it when they visit and we both know they’ll be here once you have the baby.” Nicky licks her lips in thought, “I wouldn’t want-”
“John’s parents, though I love them dearly, are a pain in the arse. If I can put them at a bit of a distance once I give birth, I’ll jump at the chance.” Charlotte offers, “meaning, they can stay at our old flat. They’ll enjoy the scenery much more anyway.” She opens the cupboard door, fishing out the container of the puffed treats that melt in Tala’s mouth, smiling when the baby begins to clap excitedly, knowing what’s to come. Charlie shakes the container, letting quite a few of the treats onto the tray in front of the baby. Placing the lid back on the container, Charlie puts it back into the open cupboard.
Nicky nods a little, taking a moment to sort through her own feelings. “You and your family have done so much for me and...I don’t know how I could ever repay you.”
“Your repayment is allowing us to play a role in Tala’s life...allowing us to see her grow.” Charlie responds honestly, “your repayment is continuing on your path of sobriety and being the best mother you can be.” She offers the other woman a smile, “I mean that.”
Looking down, Nicky smiles to herself. Her gaze lifts after a moment, “you know...all the stories that Cameron told me about his upbringing and...how...tough his mother was on him-”
“Cameron was always a bit of a drama queen.” Charlie smirks to the woman before turning around to face the counter again, finally making their mugs of tea. “When I was four, he tried to convince me that I was adopted...until my father sat me down with a photo album containing pictures of my mother through the years.” She turns, placing the mugs onto the kitchen island, slowly sliding one over toward Nicky. “I was the spitting image then, and as I grow older now, I’m unsure how I ever believed him at all.”
“You were four. There doesn’t really need to be any other excuse.” Nicky shakes her head, “it is rather rotten of your brother though.”
“I’ve let him have it plenty of times, never you worry.” Giving a quick wink, Charlie brings her hot tea to her lips, taking a sip despite it’s warmth. She’s always liked her tea ridiculously hot. “But, again, as one grows older, we realize that sometimes things are more important than we thought they were, others are not, and never the two shall meet. We just...need to know where to file each situation, each thought.”
Nicky starts to grin slowly, “that’s something John has taught me.” She watches the other woman, feeling as if something dawns on her, “he’s told you that too...”
“He was my therapist before he was my partner.” Charlie smirks a little to herself, “but he wasn’t...predatory or anything like that. I started having feelings for him...and the idea for us to stop our sessions was a mutual one. He helped me find another therapist. Few months later, we realized that we were still talking to one another through email and on our mobiles...and decided to go on a date.” Charlie licks her lips, blushing, “and...we never looked back.”
“How old were you?” Nicky remembers hearing that they had been together for some years already.
“When I started seeing him on a doctor-patient level, I was nineteen. He asked me to marry him six months after we started seeing one another, I was twenty.” Charlie laughs a little to herself, letting it slowly trail off. “Part of me believes he got me pregnant just so I wouldn’t have this...stupid fear of commitment anymore.” She tilts her head to the side, smirking, “I jest, of course.”
There’s something in the other woman’s expression that causes Nicky to furrow her brow slightly, “are you sure?” She finally lifts her mug to take a sip of her cooled tea, lowering it after a moment. “Your brother and I were great friends before things turned sexual. I felt a certain way about him, but...he didn’t feel the same way and-”
“He used you...just like he’s used everyone else.” Charlie replies quietly, “and...I’m sorry you had to experience that, but...on the bright side, Tala is adorable as hell.”
“When I...I had taken Tala to visit him. I phoned the hospital ahead of time, to...see if it would be okay. Explained the situation and...I actually got their picture.” Nicky reaches into her pocket for her mobile, expertly touching the screen to retrieve the aforementioned photograph. “I thought your Mum might like a physical copy.”
Charlie studies the pictures, her finger gliding over the screen of her mobile. One of her inquisitive niece tilting her head as if studying Cameron. One of Tala leaning in to bite Cameron’s nose. One of the aftermath of Cameron’s nose being bitten. Charlie’s eyes begin to fill with tears, causing her to quickly sniff them back as she slides the mobile back over to her, despite knowing there’s probably many more. “They uh...they look great.”
Nodding, Nicky clears the screen of her mobile before slipping her mobile back into her pocket, “sorry.”
“No, no. You’re fine. This is all just...hormones.” Charlie shakes her head slowly, reaching over and gently touching Nicky’s wrist, “thank you for changing your mind about Cam being a part of Tala’s life. I think it will help him immensely and help Tala as well.”
“Do you...do you think he’ll be able to change his ways?” Nicky glances over to Tala as she begins to venture around the room again, eating the remaining puff snacks on her tray as she goes along. “To...make a good father for her?”
“When he isn’t acting like an arse, Cam has the ability to be incredibly kind. I think he had some underlying issues and that’s the reason he just...wasn’t someone we recognized...or I recognized. It’s only been a few years that you’ve known him.” Charlie shrugs, following Nicky’s eyes over to Tala, “once he works on those issues, he’ll be a better person all around.”
“You know...helping T and I all that you have, there’s no reason you and I can’t...be friends.” Nicky’s voice sounds quiet, cautious. She’d like nothing more. “My...my other roommate, the one that...” She shakes her head a little, “my other roommate told me that I was mad for keeping my pregnancy when I told her the baby was Cam’s. She...berated me about the damage he did and how my baby would be just like him.”
“Doesn’t sound like much of a friend then.” Charlie shakes her head slowly, “friends support and protect. Friends are loyal and understanding. Friends don’t lie to one another or stab one another in the back. Friends don’t use each other.” The corner of her mouth turns up, taking a long drink of her tea. Charlie’s gaze shifts to the woman on the other side of the kitchen island, “if you can agree with all those things, you’ve got a friend in me.”
“I thought that was all just common courtesy.” Nicky smirks, honestly surprised that the other woman agreed, “at least I don’t have to worry about our relationship turning sexual and you getting me pregnant.”
Charlie starts to laugh, nodding, “at the very least.”
Charlie has an interesting conversation with her boss.
Few days after last chapter.
“Well, this is a surprise. Thought Felicia was keeping you in your office against your will.” Charlie smirks, watching as her boss enters her space. She moves her hands against her desk, slowly preparing herself to stand.
“Relax, relax.” Weston waves his hand, as if telling her not to bother and to stay seated all in one motion, “Beryl said you gave Dave Esposito a run for his money.”
“Beryl exaggerates.” Charlie leans back against her chair, watching as the man takes a seat in one of the chairs on the other side of her desk. “It’s nothing to celebrate. Just means we’re taking the class action suit to court, which I was trying pretty damn hard to...ensure that wouldn’t happen.” She exhales slowly, “if it weren’t for this paperwork, I’d probably just have a lie down on the sofa for a few minutes.”
He smiles softly to himself, “I can get you a bit more help if you believe you need it.” Weston offers, “you forced me to get an intern to help Felicia, why not have one help you?” He watches her, “I know many of them want to learn from you as it is.”
“There’s nothing to learn.” Charlie mumbles, adjusting her position in her seat. “No, actually, there is. Don’t wear heels during a tribunal when you’re over five months pregnant. If one must, make sure to have a pair of plimsolls or those foam clogs in the boot of your car and not just waiting for you under your desk in your office.” She lifts a hand, running it through her hair before tucking a bit behind her ear, “sorry.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever had those issues before.” Weston smirks, garnering a soft chortle from the young woman. “I uh...I want you to cut down your workload. Let me take this case for you or...let’s work together instead of all that stress of a class action being put on you.”
“You don’t need to do that. I’m fine, just cranky.” Charlie responds, shaking her head when she receives a disbelieving look from the man. “Reggie, I promise.”
Weston exhales slowly, “I thought you might make this easy on me.” He sits forward, resting a hand on his knee as he attempts to decide the words he wants to use. “Beryl has brought some...very interesting messages to my attention. I have no reason to doubt their existence, I know she wouldn’t go over your head if she felt her message was of the utmost importance. I’ve forwarded them to my contact in MI5.”
“How the hell do you have a contact in MI5?” Charlie shakes her head, furrowing her brow. Really, she’s amused, but not terribly surprised. Reginald Weston is the type of person that just knows someone in whatever field the need may be required.
“You’d be surprised.” Weston watches her, “The threats are coming from a place you don’t want them to and I’m not talking about the cult.”
“The police?” Charlie whispers as she leans forward a little, “what the hell is going on?”
“Which is why I’d like to take the case from you, but taking you off completely would be a...blow to the trust you’ve developed with your clients. So, we’ll need to take extra precautions. If you begin to notice anything suspicious while at home, I want you to phone me so that we can take care of it.” Weston replies honestly, “on occasion, these sorts of things happen. You’ve...been a target in the past and we both know you’ll be one in the future given your history.”
Charlie smirks to herself, mumbling, “my history.”
“When you go after the police in any fashion, there’s always people you’re going to make enemies of.” Weston responds honestly, “and being where you are in your life, with the people that depend on you, not even including the baby, I will not put you at risk.” He licks his lips, shaking his head, “in general, I’m not about to put you at risk.”
“Reggie,” Charlotte begins to shake her head, “I don’t need you to protect me.”
“I know you don’t, but I will nonetheless.” Weston raises an eyebrow, “I gave you this office because I know you’re more than capable. You have the youth, the sparkle, and even the air of fearlessness about you that this job requires. You put people first without a care to who you’ll anger or make uncomfortable. Hell, even I wish I were as fearless as you at times.”
“You can say whatever you want to make me feel better, but I’d rather not faff about.” Charlie’s aware that he’s trying his best not to hurt her feelings. “Do you want me to recuse myself?”
“That’s entirely your decision. Public opinion is something you’re incredibly good at predicting.” Weston watches her, “we’ll make whatever accommodations that are needed to ensure-”
“You know, half of this office thinks this is your baby.” Charlotte sits back in her seat, “if you start taking extra precautions toward me, it’s only going to make things worse. They’ll be shouting nepotism from the streets.”
“Nepotism implies that there’s no merit to your position and that I only gave it to you out of my affinity for you. That’s not the case. You’ve earned this spot ten times over. That’s not why I’m coming to you and that’s not why I’m telling you all of this.” Weston shakes his head, “I’d prefer it if you cut your in-office hours until things settle. Beryl tells me you’re already having issues with stress and this is only going to magnify that. We can communicate via video conference or mobile. You can...maybe, do two to three days a week, maximum, instead of the five or six you do now.”
“You think they’ll try tapping the phones?” Charlie knows they would, but notices his subtle nod nonetheless. “Once things calm down in court, and the police realize we aren’t blaming the entire force, just a select few-”
“You think they’ll listen to that?” Weston starts to laugh, getting up from his chair and adjusting his suit jacket at the same time, “all for one, one for all with them.”
“They’ll listen if I show up to speak with the Commissioner of the London Police.” A clever smirk begins to form on Charlotte’s face, her back straightening a bit. “The young, pregnant lawyer currently on the front page of every reputable local news source wanting a word with the Commissioner about the corruption within their ranks. I leave these offices through the front door and there’s reporters. I leave the courthouse, there’s reporters. So, in all actuality, it would be in his best interest to see me, showing that he’s taking these accusations seriously.”
“And if he doesn’t, what’s your Plan B?” Of course she’d come up with something like that, Weston raises an eyebrow.
“I promised an exclusive interview to Marcia Yanagi as it is. I’ve given her a heads up about an attempt to speak to the police about corruption, hopefully it will go well. However, if it goes sour, she’ll hear an interview about the police perpetuating corruption. Paints the department in an incredibly bad light. Something they really can’t afford at the moment.” Charlie slowly folds her arms over her chest, resting atop her belly. “No squawking, no anger, just disappointment from a concerned citizen.”
Chuckling softly to himself, Weston begins to slowly shake his head, “Why didn’t you go into PR?”
“This pays better.” Charlie curls her lip playfully, leaning her folded arms onto the desk. “I won’t live in fear, Reggie. I refuse.”
“I know.” Weston gives a quick nod before walking back to the door.
Beryl waits for the man to walk fully around her desk before she goes into her boss’ office, an air of excitement on her face. “Well?”
“He’s worried about my stress, nothing major.” Charlie shakes her head, “so I’ll only be here two to three days a week. My meetings will be held on days I’m here. I won’t have you canceling a single thing. Understood?” Seeing Beryl’s nod, she continues, “if a call sounds creepy, don’t hide it.” Charlie sighs softly, “this is going to be more stressful than just doing my usual routine day in and day out.” Charlie decides against telling her friend the severity of the situation. “If you feel unsafe at any time, tell Weston. Okay?”
She’s been doing so for a while, but Beryl decides to play innocent instead, “sure.”
“If you figure a way for all the calls to your desk to funnel through to a burner, I’ll happily get one for you.” Charlie offers, “you can hang about over to mine instead of being cramped up here all the time.”
“A burner?” Beryl raises an amused eyebrow, “are we drug traffickers now?”
“Fine, stay here. I’ll enjoy time with my adorable niece while you rot into your office chair.” Charlie replies with a coy smirk, “just know the option is on the table for whenever you want to use it.”
A flash of worry flows over Beryl’s features as she takes a seat against the edge of the desk, “what does this mean for the case though?” She pauses, “for you?”
“Oh, there’s no keeping this old girl down.” Charlie slowly inhales deeply and exhales at the same pace, still watching her assistant. “Beryl, promise me something.” When her words garner the slightly older woman’s attention, Charlie continues, “you won’t put yourself at risk for this job...or any job. Not for me or...anyone else. Promise me.”
Beryl furrows her brow, watching her boss, “What’s-”
Charlie rises from her desk, “this job isn’t all paperwork and...thanks from clients. This is a dangerous profession. Something I wish I could just...ignore, but...there are so many people that are taken advantage of, or treated unfairly, or...” She shakes her head, gathering and shuffling the papers on her desk to place into a folder before lifting her brown leather briefcase on top of her desk, “like the cult. Those people just wanted acceptance and belonging. Even the parents who abandoned their children to do so.” Charlie pauses her movements, then slowly places the folder inside her briefcase before closing it.
“You okay?” Beryl reaches a hand out, gently touching her boss’ upper arm, “Charlie?”
“Yeah, just...just tired.” Charlie gives her best reassuring smile, though it isn’t terribly convincing, “I’m going to head home for the day. Just...be more selective when speaking on the telephone about appointments and whatnot. Unless it’s a previous client or their story checks out, nothing new. Alright?”
“I’ll handle it.” Watching as Charlie slides her shoes on, Beryl sighs, motioning to the things still on the desk. “I’ll file these away as well, but...text or phone when you arrive home?” When Charlie rounds the desk, moving to the coat rack, Beryl isn’t sure she heard her, “Charlie.”
Charlie gives a quick nod, setting her briefcase on the sofa for a moment in order to pull on her own overcoat, “see about getting me an appointment with the Commissioner of Police...London office, of course. If they decline me, I’ll just show up anyway, but I’ll be benevolent enough to try for an official appointment.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Beryl smirks, watching as her boss finally leaves the office. Her smile fades and she wonders if she should contact her boss’ partner, giving him a heads up. Beryl exhales a breath she wasn’t aware that she was holding. Surely, things can’t be so terrible.
John understands his partner.
Charlie has a moment over coffee.
Morning after last chapter.
John holds his partner closely, her pronounced belly resting against his side with her head on his chest. He smiles a little to himself, reaching a hand over to gently stroke her abdomen. “Good morning, beautiful.”
Hearing her partner’s calm voice, Charlie smiles to herself. “If it’s eight in the morning, I’m going to hit you.”
Chuckling softly, John stops the movement of his hand when he feels the fetus within his partner begin to move, “nine.”
“Saved by the skin of your teeth.” Charlotte nuzzles her face against him, “I only just fell asleep a few hours ago. Your son was working on his calisthenics...until he tired himself out enough for me to close my eyes.” She sighs softly, “I expect him to be really into footy or parkour when he’s born.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, babe.” John moves his hand from her belly to run through her hair, “is today a ‘stay in bed’ kind of day?” He smiles a little to himself when he notices her subtle nod. “I’ll call Beryl and-”
“She knows.” Charlie replies quietly, opening her eyes to look up at her partner, “Mr. Weston is worried about my stress levels. Told me to only go into the office a couple times a week...if that.” She tilts her head back down to close her eyes again, “we’ll conduct business via video conference and mobile calls when the time is needed. He’s going to work with me on the two major cases that I’m on right now...and then I think I’ll start my maternity leave.”
“Did something happen that he’s concerned about?” John continues to gently run his fingers through her hair before Charlie reaches up, quickly taking his wrist to place his hand in the exact spot the baby is moving most. He smirks, “That probably feels weird on the inside.”
“Puts it mildly.” Rolling onto her back, Charlie props herself up onto her pillows. She can tell that he’s watching her from the corner of his eye as he gently rubs his thumb over the light thumps he’s able to feel from the surface of the skin beneath. “Johnny, to be honest...Weston is worried. Not about anything that happened to me, per say, but...” Charlie swallows, “because of the case I’m currently on.”
John slowly glances over to her face, “threats?” Seeing her subtle nod, he sighs softly, “is two days a week even safe?”
“I’m only going in if I need to. I plan to go on different days without any sort of...pattern.” That aspect puts Charlie on edge, but she shakes her head, “I offered to recuse myself, but...I don’t want to disappoint my clients. I don’t want them to lose trust in me if I just...give up on them. Especially since I’ve been dealing with this case for nearly two years now.”
“What sort of threats?” John adjusts his position in the bed so that he’s sitting up a bit more, facing her.
“I don’t know.” Charlie shakes her head, “Weston’s already handed them off to a high ranking friend of his...high ranking on a national level and an investigation is underway.” She licks her lips, “so I don’t feel...as concerned as I otherwise would be.”
“Yeah, but...knowing you, you have something up your sleeve.” Seeing her slight smirk, John begins to chuckle. “Nothing that would put you in any...unnecessary risk, I hope.”
“Not unless they want a public uprising.” Charlotte begins to absently bite the skin of her lip though she continues to smile. “Beryl actually managed to obtain a meeting for me...much to my surprise.” She places an absent hand to her belly, “few days from now. So...my focus is mostly what I plan to wear.”
“Do you...want me to go with you?” John asks cautiously, knowing that she probably hides even more from him.
“No.” Leaning in gently, Charlie places a tender kiss on her fiance’s lips, “I’ll be fine.” Another kiss, “my knight in shining armor.”
“Your knight in a ripped up t-shirt.” John grins against her lips, “Lady Charlotte.” One more kiss and he starts to climb from the bed, “I have a meeting with the contractors for the guest house in about,” John glances over to the clock on the bedside table, “forty-five minutes, so I’d better get a move on. Figure we’ll hire the same people.”
“Whatever you think is best. I trust you.” Charlie relaxes against her pillow for a moment longer, watching as he removes his beat up t-shirt, “just make sure it’s suitable for Nicky and-”
“Tamale.” John nods, smiling as he hears his partner’s chuckle.
Watching as her partner finally enters the bath, Charlie climbs out of bed herself clad in one of John’s button down shirts. Whenever she notices one on the bed from that day, she quickly puts it on to sleep in for the night. Charlie finds it relaxing in a way. Opening the main door to the hall and the rest of the house, Charlie begins to absently roll the sleeves of the shirt up a tad, just below her elbow. She inhales as she moves, able to smell food cooking.
“Tala, chew, chew, chew.” Nicky smiles at the babe as she sits in her high chair. She keeps a close eye on her daughter as the girl eats her soft scrambled egg, new flavor and texture experience. “Is that so delicious?”
“Morning.” Charlotte enters the kitchen space after descending the stairs, she smiles toward her niece as the girl glances over to her with a confused expression on her face, “do you have eggs today?” As if on cue, the girl holds up a handful of the warm eggs from her tray, as if offering them. Charlie shakes her head, pressing a kiss to the baby’s temple, “all yours, lovey.”
“First time trying them. She doesn’t seem too sure.” Nicky shakes her head, an amused smile on her face, “I can make you something quick if you’re running-”
“No, no. I’m home today.” Charlie offers a thankful smile to the other woman as she rounds the kitchen counter. “Just...might do a bit of relaxing and...” She pulls the drawer open underneath the single-serve coffee machine, sighing softly, “where are the...the extra boxes of coffee cup things?” She pauses, glancing over her shoulder for a moment, “the decaf ones.”
“Uh...not sure. Don’t know if there are any, unfortunately.” Nicky watches the young woman, “I can have coffee delivered through-”
“I thought I was the only one to drink it.” Charlie mumbles to herself, running her hand through her hair as she returns her gaze to the machine. “Berenice,” her voice like a growl as she says her mother’s name, leaning her head back in frustration. Charlie takes a moment, taking a deep breath as she formulates a plan. “Thank you for offering, Nick, I’ll pick up the tab though-”
“Charlie, you’re giving me a house. I can manage a coffee.” Reaching into her pocket, Nicky retrieves her mobile, gliding her finger across the screen a few times, “decaf with...” Her voice leads a little, wanting the other woman to continue the thought.
“Decaf, soy, caramel frappe.” Charlie mumbles, “but only if you’re-”
Nicky continues, “Chocolate chip muffin?”
Charlotte doesn’t answer this time, biting her bottom lip. “I’ll be back.” She turns on her heel, but is met with her mother reaching the bottom step and slowly entering the kitchen space, using her cuffed cane as she moves along. “Know what would be nice right about now? Coffee. Know what I don’t have in a form I’m able to drink? Coffee.” Charlie’s head tilts to the side, “which means there isn’t any for you either.”
“Yes, there is.” Bernie furrows her brow, amused by how pitiful her daughter appears over something so trivial. “Have you looked in the larder?” She pauses, “I mentioned to John that I couldn’t bend down to get them yesterday and he said he’d take care of it.” Bernie exhales slowly, “did he forget?”
Leaning her back against the counter, Charlie exhales slowly. “I shouldn’t be this upset over bloody coffee.” She brings her hands up to rub over her face, “Sorry, Tala.” It’s almost as if Bernie and Nicky both begin to laugh at the same time, causing Charlie to lower her hands and glance between the women with tears in her eyes, “what is it?”
“I broke out in a cry when I was pregnant with Cameron because I couldn’t put my own socks on.” Bernie answers with confidence, slowly hobbling closer to her daughter.
“I once cried because the chips I had gotten for lunch were cold...and I knew they wouldn’t taste as good if I reheated them.” Nicky nods, noticing her friend’s teary smile, “and don’t get me started on the chicken nuggets.”
Bernie cautiously wraps an arm around Charlie’s back as she stands next to her, unsure of how the young woman will react. There’s been no reason for Bernie to be insecure in regards to the relationship with her daughter based on the young woman’s behavior over the past couple months. When she feels Charlotte lean against her a little, a relieved smile breaks onto Bernie’s face. “All of the adult women in this house have been exactly where you are right now. You aren’t alone, darling.”
“I appreciate your reassurance, but...it doesn’t help how ridiculous I feel.” Charlotte swallows, shaking her head, “because I’m aware of the absurdity, but...I can’t control the reaction and...and I’m sorry.”
Gently rubbing her hand up and down her daughter’s upper arm, Bernie gently speaks, “Serena and I were going to Holby City today in order to visit with Jason, but we can postpone if-”
“No, no. I’m crying over coffee and he hasn’t seen you since your return...and it’s been months.” Charlie shakes her head, “no, no, I’m-”
“You could come with.” Tilting her head to the side in order to see her daughter’s face, Bernie’s voice lightens, almost hopeful.
Charlie turns, finally facing her mother fully, “Mum, go and see Jason...just you and Serena. I know you’ve missed him.” Her chin trembles uncontrollably as her eyes flood again, “this will pass...and I’ll still feel like a fool an hour from now. No, you go and see him. I have no doubt how happy he’ll be to see you.” She knows it was a big step for the woman to show her emotions for her, regardless of how small it seemed. Charlotte leans forward, wrapping her arms around her mother tenderly in an embrace. When she feels her mother return the emotion, it only causes her to let out a sob.
“Let Serena go by herself. I’m not quite feeling up to it, I don’t think.” Bernie glances over her daughter’s shoulder to Nicky, mouthing for the woman to Tell Campbell. Seeing Nicky move as quietly as possible, Bernie just continues to hold her daughter, “rather just...watch some old films on the telly, if you don’t mind.”
Serena lifts her head when she sees Nicky poke her head in, slowly closing the drawer on the chest of drawers, “Good morning, Nicky.” She’s smiling, an excited buzz about her whole body as she moves about the room, setting the clothes out on the bed, “sleep well?”
“Um...well...” Nicky tilts her head to the side.
“Bernie and I are going to visit Jason today. We haven’t seen him in...well, I haven’t seen him in quite some time and it’s been even longer for Bernie, obviously. I’m not counting video conferencing. It isn’t nearly the same thing.” Serena glances to the top and pants laid out on the bed, “do these go together?”
Nicky bites her lip, “Well, cheetah print is kind of...your signature, so...”
“You’re right, he’s seen me wear it many times before.” Serena sighs softly to herself, “I should have gotten something else. Maybe the one he sent for Christmas. I’m not very into snake skin print, but-”
“Ms. Campbell-” Nicky tries again, her hands awkwardly at her sides.
The interjection causes Serena to glance over the young woman, noticing her nervous stance, “what is it?”
“I don’t think...” Nicky sighs softly, “look, Charlie’s having...a moment-”
Serena furrows her brow, “a moment?”
“She cried over coffee...and then cried harder and...” Nicky shakes her head a little, “she’s having a tough time today. Bernie sent me to tell you. I um...I’m not sure of her intentions. I don’t know if she believes she needs help or...what...” The would woman shrugs, still watching her former boss, “I just know they’re in the kitchen at the mo, holding onto one another with Charlie crying like someone just died.”
Heavily sighing to herself, Serena shakes her head a little, “you’re joking.” She knows the young woman isn’t, but sees her negative head shake anyway. “Over coffee...”
“I mean...we tried to make her feel better already with our stories. Bernie with socks and me with my chicken nuggets and chips, but...it didn’t seem to work.” Nicky licks her lips, trying to think of something, anything to cheer her friend up quickly, “I ordered her a coffee...and a muffin.”
“I once phoned my mother from work to tell her I had forgotten my mobile at home...with my mobile.” Serena offers a quick story of her own experience, “then I cried for twenty minutes at how stupid I probably seemed.”
Nicky smiles at Serena, amused by her story. “Maybe...talk to Bernie...and Charlie? You and she...I gather the two of you grew close while you were in Somalia, even before moving here.”
Serena starts nodding slowly, as if that was an understatement, “very much.”
“Probably why Bernie wanted me to say something.” Nicky shrugs a shoulder, glad when the older woman finally walks closer to her, leading the way back to the hall and finally downstairs.
Bernie notices her partner finally entering the space and widens her eyes a little, glad she’s finally there. Her daughter remains in her arms as Bernie absently strokes the back of Charlotte’s hair. “Charlie, darling, how about we have a seat in the lounge? Your old Mum isn’t as spry as she once was.”
The sight warms Serena and even makes her a tad jealous, though she isn’t terribly certain of the reason. She swallows, giving herself a moment before moving over to them, “Charlotte, come along. Let’s have a sit-down.” Carefully prying the younger woman from Bernie’s arms, Serena keeps an arm around her waist, “sofa good with you?” She doesn’t expect a response and doesn’t receive one.
Watching as her daughter is guided toward the direction of the lounge, Bernie looks back over to Nicky, “thanks.”
“I wasn’t a fan of the crying segments when I was pregnant either.” Nicky shakes her head, glancing over to Tala, who is scrunching her nose in a smile as she brings another piece of egg to her mouth. “It’s always worth it in the end though.” Nicky reaches a hand out, gently brushing egg pieces from her daughter’s hair before pressing a soft kiss against her head.
“Yeah, it is.” Bernie watches her granddaughter for a moment before using her cuffed cane to make her way to the lounge.
Charlotte speaks with the police commissioner.
Five inch heeled boots weren’t one of her brightest ideas today, but she’d push through climbing six stories to the Commissioner’s office, knowing full well the force was playing a prank at her expense. Charlotte Wolfe hasn’t muttered a single complaint since arriving and doesn’t plan to now. Her feet and her back are both killing her.
“Commissioner Montgomery should be finished with his meeting any moment. Could I get you anything?” The secretary offers, feeling like a neutral party for the most part.
“I’d appreciate a bottle of water if it isn’t too much trouble.” Charlie won’t finish that with needing to see through the liquid, or else she’d be asking for a decaf coffee. She absently places a hand on the side of her belly, knowing she shouldn’t have climbed those stairs. Seeing the young secretary give a quick nod before he takes his leave, Charlie sighs to herself, “I had to prove a point.”
Several moments go by with the secretary returning with a bottle of water, which she’s glad to hear a soft snap as she unscrews the lid. Charlie knows she’s being paranoid about this, but she isn’t about to take any risks. After taking a sip of the cooled water, the door to the office opens again, causing her to stand once more.
“Ms. Wolfe, so glad to finally...meet you.” Commissioner Gregory Montgomery offers the young woman a smile as he waves his hand for her to return to her seat, “no need to stand on my account.” He gives a quick, unconscious glance to her middle as he moves around to his desk. “Please, have a seat. I’m just going to get things in order while we speak, if that’s okay.”
“Oh, of course. I hope my secretary didn’t schedule this meeting on a day that was overly busy for you.” Everything about Charlotte’s ensemble and how she’s carrying herself is all to her own advantage. Olive green colored body contour dress that makes her look far more pregnant than she actually is, a camel colored blazer with heeled boots that match. Her light brunette hair in natural, curly waves just past her shoulders. Charlie Wolfe gives off vibes of femme fatal, but also the warmth of a mother.
“No busier than any other.” Montgomery shakes his head, “though, to be perfectly honest with you, I’m incredibly surprised that you’d have the cojones to even walk through those doors.”
“You’d be pretty surprised just how full of cojones I am.” Charlie leans back in her seat slightly, one leg folding over the other as she hears the man’s softened chuckle. “I counted six cameras and even more reporters as I entered those doors downstairs, barking questions to me about my sudden appearance. I didn’t say a single word to them, of course, didn’t need to because it’s none of their business, but they have footage of me entering this building. So, if something were to happen to me here, it would just make your officers look a lot worse than they’ve already been appearing lately.”
Clever. Montgomery smirks to himself, completely entranced by the young woman. He pauses in his movements, finally taking a seat in his own office chair and setting his shuffled papers aside. “Why do you believe something might happen to you?”
“Word has it that my photograph is being used on your firing range as target practice, I continually receive threatening phone calls to my office traced back to this building, there’s a police cruiser in front of my home with officers inside that just watch me as I go off to work or...out for a walk...” Charlotte shrugs, “I’ve plenty of reasons, but I digress. That isn’t the reason for my visit.”
“Okay.” Montgomery nods slowly, “I can’t discuss the case with-”
“Oh, Commissioner, I’m a professional. That has nothing to do with you.” Charlotte shakes her head, seeing his sigh of relief before she continues. “No, I come here today as a concerned citizen...who happens to have a platform. I, actually, want to offer you a bit of an olive branch.”
“I thought you weren’t discussing the case.” Folding his arms, Montgomery leans back in his office chair, actually quite interested in the young woman.
“We aren’t.” Charlie shakes her head, “we’re talking about something that is plaguing your police force. We’re talking about how claims of police brutality and excessive force have caused thirty-three trials to be dismissed. We’re talking about, to put it in simple terms, good police protecting bad police because of a family mentality. We’re talking about people wanting your force held accountable for their actions...” Charlotte rises from her seat to pace a little as she speaks, “we’re talking about bad PR.”
“We have a public relations department, Ms. Wolfe.” Montgomery watches as she slowly walks back and forth.
“What is currently being done to put the public’s mind at ease about the steep rise in the claims of police violence?” Charlotte asks simply, moving over to the desk to edge a seat on the ledge of the desk, wanting to stare down at him to earn herself some light intimidation points. “You haven’t done a single briefing on the subject.”
Montgomery starts to slowly shake his head, “I’m not about to admit to police brutality.”
“Just because you don’t admit to it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.” Charlie responds assuredly, “is...is what you said what you were told by your HR department?” She begins to smirk when he doesn’t answer, “ bad cops need to be held accountable for their actions...because if the public sees one cop commit a crime...” She pauses, “Grayson Sylvester, I’m sure you know that name by now.” Charlie raises an eyebrow, not surprised when he doesn’t respond, “Let me remind you. Fourteen year old, deaf, autistic individual. Tasered within an ounce of their life because they weren’t following commands to kneel from an officer. They did absolutely nothing wrong, except walking while black. You had an older, white, lard ass of a constable on a power trip.”
Sighing softly, Montgomery finally speaks, “that was a one time-”
“He was back out on the streets the week after. Nothing was done to reprimand him while Grayson was still in a hospital bed, fighting for their life. Five months, in a hospital bed...because of a power trip.” Charlotte watches the man, “no formal apology was given by the police either. That was the kicker for me, you guys still haven’t admitted you were wrong.”
“It won’t do us any good.” Montgomery looks up at the young lawyer’s face, “look, I know what you’re trying to do here.”
“Oh? What is that?” Charlie’s expression lightens.
Montgomery smirks, “You want me to say we were wrong to help you make your case with the jury in-”
“You’re not a terribly good listener. I told you, it has nothing to do with the case.” Charlie gets up from the desk, returning to her seat, “I want you to pledge to take a harder stance on crooked cops...and I want you to give that speech in a very public manner.” She does her best to find a comfortable position, “I have absolutely no qualms toward the police. In fact, I’ve lent a hand on multiple occasions. I believe that we can both agree that when someone drops the ball in our lines of work, innocent civilians get hurt.” When the commissioner doesn’t appear too sure of her words, she continues, “I think you’re a good cop. Bit stubborn, bit...naive in ways. I think you want your subordinates to see you as a friend rather than a boss they should be afraid of.”
Folding his hands on his desk, Montgomery sits a bit tad straighter. She figured him out quickly. “Easier said than done, Ms. Wolfe.”
“No, it isn’t. You need to command respect. You need to put your foot down and regain the trust of the city with one single speech.” Charlotte leans an elbow on the armrest of the chair, “the ones who are following the rules and doing what is expected of them, have nothing to worry about. The ones that...aren’t, are going to suddenly become very nervous, allowing you to focus on them more.”
Montgomery chuckles softly to himself, shaking his head a little in disbelief. She makes it sound so simple, and really...it seems foolproof. “One speech?”
“That’s all it takes. Apologize to those who were wronged in the past by crooked cops and promise consequences in the future. Don’t be afraid to put actions to your words.” Charlotte shrugs, saying as much as she’s needed to. “The meeting you were in before returning to your office, was that on this floor?”
Montgomery shakes his head, “second.”
“And how did you go from the second floor to this one?” Charlie opens her bottle of water and brings it to her lips again.
“Lift.” Montgomery furrows his brow, “why?”
“Strange that I was forced to walk up six flights because the lift was down.” Charlie smirks, getting up from her seat finally. She outstretches her hand toward the man, “it was a pleasure to speak with you.”
Standing quickly, Montgomery takes her hand in his, “likewise.” He pauses, “I underestimated you, Ms. Wolfe. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Well, we all need to make mistakes before we learn from them.” Charlie responds as she makes her way to the door of the office, taking her leave without any more words required. She doesn’t really know why she decided to come here today, just to get things off her chest? Possibly. To put a sprig of doubt into the commissioner’s mindset? Definitely.
Things start to catch up with Charlie.
Bernie does her best to be supportive for her daughter.
Same day as last chapter.
Shoes in hand, a slight limp to her step, Charlie returns home. Tossing her shoes next to the door once she opens it, releasing a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding, Charlotte leans her head back. Too tired to take another step, she’s tempted just to take a seat here. You’re being ridiculous.
John enters the house from the door leading to the back garden, having taken out a cooler filled with bottles of water surrounded by ice. Tilting his head, he spots his partner near the entry door. “Hey, babe.” When she doesn’t respond, he moves closer, reaching just in time as her knees give way. John spares her from hitting her head on the floor as she faints. “Charlie.”
Carefully gathering his partner in his arms, John carries her to the lounge, where Serena carefully folds laundry with Bernie as a form of therapy, Tala crawling and pulling herself up on various pieces of furniture. “Can someone grab the gate?” The only time they use the room dividing gate is when Tala is out of her walker.
Serena turns her head, catching sight of John with Charlotte in his arms. “What happened?” She quickly rises from the high backed chair, really it feels as if she can’t move fast enough. She quickly swings the gate open for him, securing it once more when he enters the room.
“Caught her before she went all the way down. I think she just got home.” John places her on the sofa, carefully placing her head on Bernie’s lap.
Bernie’s glad to have her daughter so close, even in these circumstances. She wouldn’t have been able to help otherwise. Reaching her hand over, she gently feels for a pulse on the young woman’s neck. She hasn’t done anything to put her medical training in action in quite some time, but it feels like riding a bicycle, you never really forget. “Charlotte, darling.” Bernie’s tender, yet worried voice escapes her lips. Something much different than the other two were expecting.
“I’ll get her some juice.” John exhales slowly, trying very hard to maintain a calm disposition as he starts to step away from the women.
“John, you wouldn’t happen to have a stethoscope, would you?” Serena glances over to him, keeping track of Charlotte’s pulse at her wrist. When he gives a subtle nod before stepping over the gate to finally leave the room, she licks her lips, glancing up at Bernie, “pulse is slightly elevated and respiration is normal.”
“I know.” Bernie whispers, moving her hand to her daughter’s carotid to her hair, gently stroking. When her inquisitive granddaughter pulls up on her leg in order to get a better look at what is going on, Bernie bites her lip, unsure of what to tell the babe.
“Aunt Charlie isn’t feeling very well.” Serena instinctively wraps an arm around Tala, her words meant not only for the babe, but also Bernie, “but she’ll be just fine.” She smiles a little when the baby follows Bernie’s movements in trying to touch Charlotte’s hair. Tala quickly pulls her hand back, squirming to get out of Serena’s hold. “Well, okay then.”
Charlie’s eyelids begin to flutter open, slowly taking in her surroundings. This definitely wasn’t where she was before. Mum looks worried. “Happened?” Her mouth is dry and she can feel the comforting movement of her hair being stroked.
When she realizes Bernie seems at a loss for words, Serena speaks up, “you fell out. Not to worry though.” A pang of jealousy strikes Serena’s heart, but she manages to hold her emotions at bay. “John should be back in just a moment and we’ll get a better idea of what we’re working with.”
Bernie swallows, licking her lips before finally finding her words, “how do you feel?”
Humming softly, Charlotte closes her eyes to shield them from the sunlight beaming through the windows. “Headache...and I feel a tad dizzy.” She feels something soft rubbing against her cheek only to see her niece standing next to her, gently rubbing her face with her security blanket. Something Tala does to herself when she’s tired. Charlie grins, “glad she’s keeping the dummy to herself.”
When Tala pats her arm to get her attention, Serena realizes she wants to lie on the sofa too, “Aunt Charlie isn’t feeling well at the moment, Tala.” She shakes her head negatively, “let’s get you a pillow and-”
“She’s okay.” Charlie cuts in, “just help her up?” When Serena appears hesitant, she continues, “I haven’t seen her at all today and...most of my day has been awful.” Charlie watches the woman, “I didn’t have any coffee or tea before I left. I wore this dress as if it was a good idea. I had to climb six flights of stairs in those tan booties, without complaint, just to prove a bloody point.” When Tala babbles next to her, as if understanding the situation, Charlotte nods, “I’ve already told Serena to help you up, but-”
“Next to you. I want to have a listen to the baby whenever your other half gets back.” Serena sighs softly, carefully lifting the girl to lie next to her aunt. She smiles to herself when Tala gives a grin around her pacifier. “You manipulative little something-or-other.”
“She’ll make a brilliant lawyer in a few years.” Charlie beams before yawning.
“Thought I heard you.” John steps over the baby gate, stethoscope and juice in hand. “Sorry about the wait. Forgot I even still had my stethoscope and, of course, it was in the back of the closet.” He moves closer to the group, offering the device to Serena as she was the one to previously request the item. “I see Tala found her way to you.”
“Yep.” Charlotte blinks heavily and only then realizes that Bernie is still stroking her hair, causing the corner of her mouth to turn up.
“Charlotte, stay awake a bit longer, please.” Serena places the eartips to her own ears before using the diaphragm portion of the stethoscope to gently press to the young woman’s chest, taking a moment to listen before she speaks, “Slowing down compared to where it was before.” She raises an eyebrow, “Charlie, you said you didn’t have any tea or coffee, have you consumed anything today?”
“One of those...small bottles of water.” Charlie thinks for a moment, “almost, I didn’t quite finish it.”
“A-ha.” Bernie leans back against the sofa again, having just been paying close attention to everything occurring around her. “Dehydration, possible hypoglycemia, and elevated blood pressure.” She watches as Serena lowers the diaphragm of the stethoscope to Charlotte’s abdomen, “based on your rundown of your series of events from today, I’d say those were the most likely culprits.”
“I second that.” Serena nods, removing the buds from her ears while still holding the diaphragm to a spot on the young woman’s abdomen, “want a listen?” When the young woman nods a little, Serena gently places the eartips to her ears.
Charlotte closes her eyes, focusing solely on the sound in her ears, “seems fast.” Her eyes open and she absently looks to her mother’s face for reassurance.
“Completely normal.” Bernie offers a weak smile to her daughter, her mind traveling back to when she had heard Charlotte's heartbeat for the first time. Having fainted while on base, they lifted her onto one of the gurneys in the medic tent. She was clad in her fatigue trousers, her olive drab t-shirt pulled up just under her chest with a doppler pressed to the skin of her belly. The sound of an eager heartbeat filling the space as she slowly woke. Her Colonel scowled at her with an amused smirk from the end of the gurney, ‘ the only thing to bring the Wolfe down is her children ’. Bernie shakes her head a little, pulling herself away from the memory.
“Johnny.” Charlotte says, unsure of where he is in the room, reaching her free hand up to remove the eartips.
“I’ll do it later when we’re in bed. Let your Mom listen.” John had been watching everything unfold. The way Serena exudes warmth with an underlying hint of sadness, the way Bernie seems cautious in the way she shows her daughter affection, the way Charlie is having a hard time keeping her eyes open, even the way Tala flexes her hand over and over against the fabric of Charlie’s dress as she falls asleep. Subconsciously, John takes notes of these things. “I’ll get you food, babe. What’ll it be?”
Charlie isn’t hungry, but knows she needs to eat for the baby, “haven’t a clue.”
“How about I fix lunch?” John offers, glancing at the other women, “chicken on the grill?” He thinks for a moment, “some kind of vegetable?”
“Yeah, but...make your cheesy pasta too. The one you make...in the big thing.” Charlie finally glances over to where she thought he was standing, only to see he’s moved behind the sofa to see her better. “Please? I’ve been wanting it for days.”
“Mac and cheese, babe.” John grins, leaning over the back of the sofa to press a kiss to her lips, also handing Serena the bottle of juice he carried in with him. “Of course. Something tells me I’ll need to keep it on tap.”
Charlie watches as he moves away from the back of the sofa again, using her hand to offer the stethoscope eartips to her mother, her voice remaining soft, “here, Mum.”
“Don’t know if the little one changed positions, so...you might need to fiddle with that.” Serena lets go anyway. Really, she wants Bernie to hold a stethoscope again, though she won’t admit it outright.
Biting her lip, Bernie places the eartips in her ears, using the diaphragm portion and gently presses it against her daughter’s abdomen, near where she’s sure she saw Serena holding it before. It takes her a moment as she gently moves the device before finally finding the quickened heartbeat of her grandchild, causing the corner of her mouth to turn up. Bernie’s eyes begin to well with tears, but she manages to mumble, “sounds perfect,” as she does her best to quell her heightened emotions. Bernie carefully removes the eartips from her ears, setting the stethoscope on the arm of the sofa.
Serena takes a look at the small plastic bottle of juice before unscrewing the cap, “I hope you like mango.” She sets the cap of the bottle onto the coffee table, using her hand to help Charlie tilt her head up enough for her to drink, “would have been easier with a straw.”
“Probably.” Charlotte carefully takes a sip of the juice, enough to please Serena for her to replace the lid and set the bottle onto the coffee table. “I’m just...really tired if I’m being honest.”
“It’s going to take John some time to prepare and cook all that he needs to. Sleep until then.” Bernie notices Serena get up from the floor with her peripheral vision as she continues to focus her gaze on her daughter, “you probably wanted to change into something more comfortable.”
Lowering her mobile from taking a quick candid snapshot of the three generations of Wolfe women on the sofa, Serena relaxes her shoulders a little, “I can get you something. I’d prefer if you didn’t stand just yet.” She places her mobile onto the table, “pair of leggings and-”
“You know what I like.” Charlie answers quietly before she yawns, “I trust you.”
Walking closer to the sofa, Serena gives her wife’s shoulder an instinctual squeeze as she continues to speak to Charlie, “you had better.” She smiles to herself as she moves to the baby gate, carefully opening and closing it behind herself. Serena won’t bring up her recent dreams of Elinor sitting in their old living room, telling her that she’s replacing her memories of Elinor with memories of Charlotte. “Nothing is being replaced, Charlotte and I just have similar personalities.”
“What was that?” John lifts his head, having been seasoning raw chicken breasts at the kitchen island.
Serena shakes her head, not realizing she was talking to herself aloud. “Oh, no, nothing. Just trying to decipher what Charlie wants me to choose for her to change into.”
“Sweatpants and a tee have been her go-to.” John smirks a little, setting the prepared and seasoned chicken aside before he turns to wash his hands. He continues to speak over his shoulder, “yoga pants, but that’s more for my benefit.”
“That’s enough, you.” Serena finds herself blushing a little before she takes to the stairs, able to hear his hearty laugh from the kitchen as it echoes through the house.
Charlotte gets a shock from a surprise visitor while in the office.
Few weeks after last chapter.
TW: Long's actions are a bit predatory here and might be triggering to some. I don't know if they would be, they're mild, but I figured I should still put up a warning.
AN: If you didn't get around to reading The Wrong Word, you might be a bit lost with who Cpt. Ben Long is. So...just a heads up, he features prominently in that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Berry, my father is coming in for lunch later and I need you to decipher what the most impressive take-away place is around here. Maybe see what...” Charlie tilts her head back once she lowers herself into the high backed office chair, “I don’t even know what he likes.”
“Well, good morning to you as well.” Beryl holds her hand out, clipboard tucked under her other arm and ink pen between her fingers, “your coat?”
Sighing heavily, Charlotte stands slowly to remove the overcoat, “not entirely certain why I wore it. Rather warm outside.” She glances at her assistant who just laughs, causing her to look down at herself. “Am I...am I wearing two different shoes again?” It’s something she worries about after wearing a black shoe and a navy shoe a few weeks prior, luckily she had changed into the foam clogs under her shoes and placed them in her bag. Thrilled to have a ‘paperwork’ kind of day.
Beryl shakes her head slowly, still chuckling to herself, “No, you look amazing, as usual.”
“That, that,” Charlie motions with her hand waving over her assistant’s form, “why are you laughing?”
“I just haven’t ever seen you this nervous. Not even during the tribunal for the Barlow case last week and every law reporter was at our heel when we left the courthouse.” Beryl sets her clipboard down on the corner of the desk, tucking the ink pen behind her ear before moving back to the doorway to hang the overcoat on the antique wooden coat rack. “You handled all of it like a pro. I’m...I’m still in awe.”
“It wasn’t that serious.” Charlotte replies quietly, returning to her chair, “besides, they believe there was criminal intent by way of the police that were assigned. So, now there’s another investigation occurring via MI5 into the whole ordeal, including the lack of protocol followed and something with the superiors having cult sympathizers...” Charlie pauses, “but I’m not supposed to know about any of that...and neither are you.”
“My lips are sealed.” Beryl returns to the desk, lifting her clipboard. She studies her boss for a moment before speaking again, “how is Junior this morning?”
“Wouldn’t let me sleep because of indigestion, then would cause me to feel lightheaded any time I’d attempt to find a more comfortable position in bed. This morning, my feet are swollen and he’s sideways.” Charlie shows, gently pressing on her own abdomen for a moment in order to explain, “head by this elbow, feet by the other.”
“I’m sorry you’re having such a sour time.” Beryl offers an empathetic smile, edging a seat on the side of the desk. “Is there anything I can get you in order to help...any of those issues?” She absently bites at the skin of her lip, “maybe a pillow for you to sit on or...something to prop your feet up with?”
Charlie shakes her head negatively, “just see to it that everyone knows I’m only staying in the office today until after lunch.”
“Good, then that means you’re free for dinner then.”
Beryl turns in her seat toward the doorway, noticing her boss doing the same. The handsome military official that was in the office before Charlie Wolfe had gone off to Somalia. She quickly stands, noticing Charlotte do the same. “Hello,” Beryl raises her eyebrow suggestively, the corner of her mouth turning up.
“Berry, could you give us the room?” Charlotte offers the woman a quaint smile, but it’s obvious there’s a storm brewing behind her eyes, “hold my calls and...maybe look into what Dad might want or...whatever...” Her mind runs a mile a minute and she slides her hands into the pockets of her dress in an effort to conceal their trembling.
Picking up that there was more to this than Charlie was willing to admit, Beryl gives a quick nod. “I’ll be at my desk. Let me know if you’d like a coffee or...a pastry or something.” Not expecting a response, Beryl slowly slinks out of the office.
Charlie waits for the door to close then immediately begins to glare toward the man, “What the hell are you doing here, Captain?”
Cpt. Benson Long slowly begins to step over toward the desk, “I was in the area and thought I’d drop by.” Of course, she isn’t amused. Ben motions to her belly with a point, “you were right, baby has grown.” He pauses, “boy or girl?” When she doesn’t answer, Ben sighs to himself, “come on, Charlie.”
“I told you that I couldn’t...wouldn’t continue this. There wouldn’t be a relationship between us.” Charlie starts to back away from him as he moves closer, “in fact, I thought I was rather kind and delicate about it.”
“Well, you sent me a Dear John letter of the modern age...an email.” Long shakes his head a little, “I felt as if you may have been under duress when you wrote it.” He continues to move closer, stopping finally with a sigh when he realizes he might be scaring her, “I needed to know you were okay...and you weren’t taking my calls or...answering texts.”
Swallowing, Charlie shakes her head a little, unable to make eye contact with him. “Please...please, don’t do this.”
Long starts to sadly smile to himself, “you can’t even look at me.”
“Because you’re being selfish right now.” Charlotte swallows, “I asked you to forget about me and yet...here you are.”
His eyebrows raise with incredulousness, “I’m being selfish?” Long doesn’t move away from standing in front of her though. In fact, he just looks at her harder than he was previously.
“Do you think it was easy for me to decide to cut things off with you?” Charlie shakes her head, “I have a partner and a child on the way-”
“A child you don’t even want.” Long starts to laugh bitterly to himself, “a life you aren’t satisfied with and feel trapped in. Wow. Congrats.”
“I never said I didn’t want my son, I never said I wasn’t satisfied.” Charlie finally lifts her gaze to look at his face, “is that what you’ve been going on, trying to convince yourself of? Or, better yet, telling yourself I wasn’t happy so that your actions would be justified?”
“If you were truly satisfied, we wouldn’t have done what we did.” Long is glad to see her eyes, even though they’re angry at him for the moment. “If you truly wanted your child, you wouldn’t have hid their existence from me for a month.” He casually folds his arms over his chest, the cap to his uniform still in his hand, “Also, you came onto me. I held myself back.”
Charlie smirks to herself, not believing his words, “before I wrote that letter, I was...so incredibly lost. I was losing track of myself. I’d...try to live life, and then you’d phone as if everything was...was fine and there was some future awaiting us, as if I’d be able to live some double life.” Charlotte shakes her head, “I don’t want that. I have a life. I have plans and...relationships that I need to work on.” She falls silent for a moment, “none of them concern-”
She’s interrupted by continuing, however, when Long finally closes the gap between them and presses a kiss to her lips. Tender, yet passionate. When Charlie doesn’t push him away immediately, Long comes up after a moment, his eyes scanning her face. “You never have to accept the hand that you’re dealt, regardless of who deals.”
“Please, respect my wishes.” Charlie has tears in her eyes, her throat on the verge of a sob.
“I can’t...when they aren’t really your wishes.” Long presses a kiss to her jaw, then her neck, “They’re only what you believe people want you to do.”
Charlie swallows, closing her eyes, “Ben, please...”
“But I’d rather you choose for yourself, Charlie. Choose what you want...and where you want to be...” Long softly brushes his lips against her collarbone, “and who you want to be with.”
Biting her lip, Charlotte leans her head back, “you still wouldn’t win.” She lets him go a moment more until she feels his hand attempt to caress the side of her body, when she quickly takes hold of his wrist and tilts her head back down to look him in the eye. “What we had...that was to remain in Somalia. That was...very much the old me. Not now.” Charlie gently places her free hand on his cheek, “and I can’t continue this...I can’t.” She shakes her head, “I’m a daughter and an aunt...and soon I’ll be a wife and mother. I have many priorities...and, I’m sorry, but you aren’t one of them.”
“So why not tell me while we were in Somalia?” Long continues to gaze into her eyes, “why string me along? Why...why take my calls and write me emails?” He shakes his head, “to make yourself feel better?” Long begins to smirk to himself, “or is it because you truly do care about me?”
“Saying that you aren’t a priority to me doesn’t mean I don’t care about you.” Charlie shakes her head, “of course I care about you. That’s why I want you to move on...and stop focusing on me.” She pauses, guiding his gaze back to her when he glances away, “Stop focusing on what can never be...and just live, Ben.”
“You’re the first person in...a decade or so, that I’m even...remotely interested in. Remotely, Ms. Wolfe.” Long tilts his head to the side, “you’ve been with this guy since...what, you were just a kid.” He shakes his head, “you haven’t truly had the opportunity to live. So...what if I’m your white knight? What if you were set to meet me, by some unseen holy being, at this time in your life for you to take a chance?”
“If you want to go there, Ben, how do I know you weren’t sent, by this unseen holy being, to test the relationship I’m in now?” Charlotte shakes her head a little, her voice and demeanor remaining calm, “your argument doesn’t hold water.” She lowers her hands, still standing there, standing her ground. “Now, if you’d like a coffee and to have a seat on the sofa, I wouldn’t mind catching up, but...if you don’t believe you’ll be able to contain yourself, there’s the door.”
Long draws his lower lip into his mouth, still staying very close to the woman, “That’s easier said than done.”
“I know...for me too.” Charlie offers him a rueful smile, the space falling quiet between them. She tilts her head to the side, “you haven’t been sleeping well.”
“With you in every dream, how could I?” Long blushes, absently scanning her face, focusing on her lips for a moment, then back to her eyes.
Charlotte sighs softly, finally loving away from him, returning to the place behind her desk, “if this is too painful for you, Ben, I’d understand.” Really, she feels the same way.
“No, I just didn’t expect you to look more beautiful than you did when you left.” When she looks at him with her head tilted down, Long gives a cheeky smirk.
“Wasn’t aware you had a pregnancy fetish.” Charlotte pulls her office chair out before slowly lowering herself down to it, “I have lunch with my father in a bit, but...why don’t you come to mine for supper? I know Mum and Serena would be thrilled to see you again.” She pauses, “and you can meet John...if you want, of course.”
“Kick me while I’m down, why don’t you...” Long lifts a hand, running it through his jet black hair, “like a game show. May not be able to have a life with Charlie Wolfe yourself, but here’s what you could have won! ” He sweeps his arm out as if displaying a wall of prizes. Long doesn’t hear the knock at the door, “why would your other half want to meet the man who fucked his betrothed?” The space falls silent, causing Long to follow Charlotte’s gaze just beyond him, causing him to turn around.
Charlie wets her lips with a quick flick of her tongue, still looking at her secretary, “what is it, Beryl?”
Beryl glances between both the Captain and her boss, certainly not expecting that to come out. Anything except that. “Your father has offered to reschedule your lunch. He’s having car issues.”
“Uh.” Charlotte gives it a moment of thought, “no, tell him I’ll retrieve him...and we’ll go out to lunch instead of him coming here.” She pauses, “is he still on the line? I’ll tell him myself.” Charlie gives a quick glance to Long, “it was nice to see you again, but I’m rather busy at the moment and-”
“Yeah.” Long whispers to himself, “Charlie, I-”
“Ben, just go.” Charlotte swallows, “I’ll...I’ll speak with you later.”
Beryl steps aside as the man strides past, looking over to Charlotte after a moment, “are you okay?” Seeing the woman’s quick nod, Beryl flashes a reassuring smile, “your father is on line two.” She notices another nod before pulling the office door closed, returning to her own desk.
Well, were you expecting Cpt. Long to just show up? Especially after Charlotte ceased contact? Do you think Charlie's going to contact him again?
Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments below. I'd love to see them! <3
After her difficult interaction with Cpt. Long only hours before, Charlotte finds herself in a fragile state.
Charlie finds solace from an unlikely source.
Few hours after last chapter.
Charlotte leans back against the driver’s seat once she pulls up the drive to her childhood home. She stares through the front window of her car, attempting to calm herself enough to face her father. Charlie was already anxious about having lunch with her father since the morning, the sudden arrival of Cpt. Long didn’t do her any favors. “Just keep it together, Wolfe,” she whispers to herself, “last thing...and then you can go on home and...have a lovely bubble bath or...one of those fizz things.” Charlie swallows before jumping a little when she hears a tap against the passenger side window, seeing her father’s gentle smile.
Marcus tugs the door open when he hears the mechanical unlock sound, “am I interrupting?”
“Uh,” Charlie shakes her head a little, adjusting herself in the seat to sit up a bit more, “no, of course not.” She watches as he climbs in, “so, Bessie finally...kicked the bucket?”
“Not for long. I believe in her.” Marcus answers confidently, “all of her moving parts are new, so...she’s essentially a brand new car, except for the body.”
“But is that fair to her, being a husk just for your own personal enjoyment?” Charlotte can see Marcus’s quick glance, worried he had upset her in some way. It causes her to form an amused smirk, “you could get another old car. Be one of those...old car men. Old Cars and Men. You can start a club.”
“Very funny,” Marcus shakes his head a little, chuckling to himself. He allows the music filling the car to create a comfortable silence between him and his daughter before he says anything else, “how are things at work?” Marcus pauses, “I read the interview you did with that woman from London Fare. I was impressed, you handled yourself very well.”
“My job is about never letting them see you sweat. There might be...a clause or something.” Charlie feels herself focusing on her breathing, not because she wants to do that, but is doing so without realizing it. “Can I ask you a very...weird question?”
He smiles as he looks through the passenger side window, “of course.” Marcus really never knows what to expect with his daughter, never has. She was always like her mother that way.
“When you...when you met Mum and asked her to marry you, how did you know she was the one?” Charlotte focuses on the windshield in front of her, “like...properly knew.”
“When she told me she was pregnant with your brother.” Marcus chuckles softly, “no, but honestly...I don’t know. When you meet someone and that’s...the only thing you can think about, that it consumes you...” He pauses, shaking his head a little, “are you having second thoughts?”
“I don’t know.” Charlie shrugs a shoulder, her eyes glassy as she drives. “This...this isn’t a conversation for you. I’m sorry.”
“You’d be surprised by what types of conversations you can have with me.” Marcus glances at her, watching as she pulls over into a parking space near one of the fancier establishments in Holby City, not terribly far from the house. “No need to hide anything from me.”
It’s the wording he uses, hide, that strikes her oddly and she isn’t terribly certain why. Charlie draws her bottom lip into her mouth, running it against her top incisors. “I’m...I’m sorry, this was a mistake. I should have just rescheduled and-”
“Charlie.” Marcus reaches over, taking her hand from the steering wheel into his own to rest on the middle armrest of the console, “I’m your father and I love you. I can...tell you’re nervous. What for, I haven’t the foggiest, but...you can always come to me for advice without any sort of...repercussions or...beliefs that I’d think of you differently.”
“I just mean because I’m not feeling very well.” Charlie shakes her head, using her free hand to run through her hair, “that’s all. I’m not really up for much talk about my personal life...even though I was the one to bring it up. So, I apologize. Everything is fine with John, he’s...he’s amazing and I don’t deserve him.” Her chin begins to tremble and she’s quick to purse her lips, doing her best to maintain composure.
“We can do this another day.” Marcus shakes his head, “I’ll drive you home, spend some time with that granddaughter of mine, and catch a taxi back.” He watches her, “and, when I have Bessie back, I’ll drive to your office. I’d really love to see it.”
No. This isn’t the one she should say anything to. This isn’t the one that would understand or give her the anger she so deserves. Charlie just sits still, still staring toward the windshield, “do you think...do you think I moved too fast with John?”
“Moved too fast?” Marcus asks for clarification.
Charlie doesn’t move, doesn’t budge, just blinking slowly as thoughts continue to swarm her brain like a bunch of angry wasps, “Do you think I’m afraid of commitment or...or do you think being with someone for four years from the age of twenty is-”
Marcus interrupts his daughter, still holding her hand. He keeps his voice low and calm, “I think you saw a very...painful and bitter divorce between your parents. I think you saw me at my worst and...I’m not proud of that time in my life. I’m not proud of...forcing you and Cameron to take sides. That should have never happened. Circumstances between your mother and I were...very different compared to other couples dealing with infidelity.”
“How so?” Charlie whispers, feeling him gently stroking the back of her hand with his thumb.
“Your mother didn’t do what she did because she didn’t love me. In fact, she loved me so much that...she didn’t want to break my heart.” Marcus responds sensibly, “she knew of the circles we associated ourselves with, the field of medicine and acquaintances...we’ve shared along the way.” He continues to watch his daughter, even if it’s only her profile, “and she didn’t want to...ruin that for me. Even if it meant staying in some...desert laden African country as to...keep up the facade that would give us each the best of both worlds. I was proud of my wife and her abilities, receiving positive attention and well wishes from that, and she was able...to be herself.”
Charlotte listens to her father intently, fully aware of how far he’s come over the years in regards to the emotions and feelings between he and Bernie Wolfe.
“I was...more hurt that she thought she couldn’t tell me the truth.” Marcus licks his lips, “I would have...supported her no matter what, but she was afraid of what my reaction would be.” He continues, “and, because of how I found out, I played right into that fear for her.”
Finally glancing over to her father, Charlie continues to rake her lip against her teeth absently, each time very slowly. “While I was in Somalia, I...I ended up falling for the Captain that um...that was overseeing Mum’s care.” Charlie starts to shake her head, “and I...I thought the last I’d see him would be in Somalia, but now he’s on leave and...he showed up to my office...not long before I left to come here.”
Marcus thinks for a moment before speaking, “Well...do you want a-”
“He ignored an email I wrote him...over a month ago.” Charlie shakes her head, “I chose Johnny, but...Ben keeps putting these thoughts in my head that...maybe I haven’t dated enough, maybe I’m just settling.” She swallows, “and with the hormones and these...wild emotions, I don’t know what I feel. I care for Ben...and I care for Johnny.”
“Do you truly care for them both or are you afraid of disappointing or hurting one of them?” Marcus asks simply, biting the corner of his mouth when he sees his daughter start to cry, “hey, hey now, Char. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“Because everything I’ve...I’ve ever imagined my life being, was always with John. Everything.” Charlotte presses her free hand to the side of her belly when she feels the fetus stretch, “these doubts just...it’s all too much.”
“Understandable.” Marcus nods, “but, right now, you don’t need to think about any of that. Not a single thing. You’ve got your dear old Dad with you, out to lunch. There’s no John or...Ben...and it’s just the pair of us eating overpriced salads.”
Charlie starts to smile, amused and relaxed by her father’s words, “It’s farm to table.”
“Should be a mansion to a poor house.” Marcus mumbles, causing the young woman to chuckle. Waiting for his daughter to settle a bit before he glances over to her again, “see? Speaking to me wasn’t too bad, was it?”
“Suppose not.” Charlotte swallows, offering him a gentle smile.
“You know, I acted like an arse at your mother’s funeral. I think about it every day and how much I regret that I did that. I was grieving...which was hard because everyone around me acted as if I shouldn’t care. Looking back, the things I put you and Cameron through were terrible, but I can’t take that time back.” Marcus nods a little, “you had no reason to...ever want to have a relationship with me again, but...I’m glad you decided to let me back in.”
Charlie’s expression doesn’t change, she blinks slowly again, “your therapist has performed miracles, Dad.”
It’s the first time in a very long time that he’s heard her refer to him as her Dad. He’s worked hard on his anger and having healthier reactions to events outside of his control. Marcus feels warmed by hearing her use the term again, giving his daughter’s hand a squeeze, “it was worth it.” He offers her a genuine smile, "shall we have lunch?"
"I'd like that." Charlotte nods, watching him for a moment as he gets out of the car. Definitely not expecting a heart to heart with Marcus Dunn today, but as it turns out, a heart to heart with Marcus Dunn is exactly what she needed.
Charlie asks her mother for a favor.
With the help of Serena, Bernie realizes what her daughter is up to.
Not long after the lunch between Charlotte and Marcus.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie sits on the floor with her granddaughter, an earbud in her ear to allow for hands-free communication on her mobile. “Darling, I just don’t understand. Why couldn’t you have just phoned John to tell him you wouldn’t be home for dinner?” She raises her eyebrows, offering Tala a smile when the babe holds up one of the wooden pieces to her alphabet puzzle. “Where does that one go, Tala?”
Charlotte bites at the skin of her bottom lip, knowing her niece was right there as well. “Because he’ll worry. I’m just staying over Dad’s a bit longer and I’ll be home later tonight...if not tomorrow. I’m just...exhausted. The drive and...” She closes her eyes, leaning her head back against the headrest of the driver’s seat in her car, “just all of it, Mum. I’d rather not risk anything and staying the night over Dad’s isn’t the worst thing. Our lunch went really well.”
“I’m happy to hear that, darling.” Bernie nods, having actually worried that the interaction might end in her headstrong daughter and equally headstrong ex-husband may come to verbal blows. “Tell me, is he a full blown vegetarian now?” Her tone teasing, but without any sort of negative connotation.
“Pescatarian.” Charlie smirks, able to hear the good humor in the woman’s voice. “Will you tell Johnny I’m staying over Dad’s?”
There’s some sort of intensity, worry Bernie can sense through her daughter’s voice. “Why would I tell him something like that if it isn’t true?” She’ll go out on a limb, her instincts are rarely ever wrong. Bernie wraps an arm around her granddaughter when the babe moves closer to her, the wooden piece at her mouth. When Bernie doesn’t hear an immediate reply, she wonders if the earbud had died, “Charlie?”
“I...” Charlotte swallows, “there are loose ends I need to tie up. Things that would worry Johnny or cause him to jump to conclusions if he were to really know.”
“You haven’t lived in Holby City for years, I-” Bernie stops herself, “if I were a betting woman, and I am, I’d wager that you aren’t even in Holby City anymore...”
Beginning to shake her head, Charlie isn’t even sure what her next words should be. Of course she’d figure it out.
“I doubt you’ve gone off to see Cameron with Marcus, I don’t know if Cameron would wish to see him at the moment, based on the contents of his post.” Bernie smiles softly to herself when Tala does her best to climb up on her, wanting a cuddle since it was getting close to her bedtime, just a few hours off. “At least tell me the truth, Charlie.”
“I really can’t, Mum. I’m sorry.” Charlotte swallows, touching the screen of her mobile to disconnect the call. She leaves her car in the parking garage, pressing the button of her keyless entry to lock the doors. Charlie takes the elevator to the lobby of the hotel, giving the name of the person she was there to see.
When Bernie realizes that her daughter had disconnected the call, she doesn’t know what to make of it. Finding herself gently running her fingers through her granddaughter’s hair absently, her mind races as she stares toward the puzzle in front of them. Not for any reason, but just trying to sort her thoughts.
“Plane ticket purchased, assistance in place.” Serena smiles down toward her partner as she enters the lounge, “Nairobi isn’t going to know what hit them.”
Bernie finally turns her head, offering Serena a light smile, “I wish I could go with you.”
“As do I, but I spoke with Carley and your GP, neither of which believe it to be a very good idea for you to travel at the moment.” Serena takes a seat on the end cushion of the sofa. “Carley believes it may be too much walking and physical exertion-”
“Carley doesn’t know that for certain.” Bernie’s words sound as if she’s pouting, mentioning her physiotherapist, “I’m able to do more than she gives me credit for.”
“I know that, but...” Serena sighs softly, “I need to pack not only my flat, but also my office at the clinic.” She pauses, “just essentials. Furniture and other things that I purchased, I’m going to donate.”
“Charlie said you had taken a few of my things with you.” Bernie watches as Tala decides to move to her box of toys nestled in the corner of the room, putting the pieces of the wooden alphabet puzzle back together and placing it on the coffee table next to her, “not exactly essentials from when you left here.”
“They were essential to me.” Serena offers her a gentle smile, “I um...I had quite a few. Charlie stole one of your shirts, but...that was only after I found out you were...safe.”
Bernie slowly turns, carefully getting up off the floor with the assistance of nearby furniture. A far call from how things used to be from her before the explosion, and something she still has a difficult time accepting. She doesn’t use the cane as much anymore, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need it. Bernie looks to her partner, “when you return, I’d like for us to finally...tie the knot, if it’s all the same to you.”
“You seem rather eager. How do I know you aren’t just marrying me for my money?” Serena teases, a playful smirk forming in the corner of her mouth, “probably set to kill me off me during our honeymoon.”
“Well, I think I’m much better at...doing other things during our honeymoon.” Bernie gives her girlfriend a cheeky smirk as she moves near her, taking a seat on the armrest of the sofa. She removes the small earbud from her ear, motioning to the coffee table for Serena to hand her the charging case, “not to change topics, because this is certainly one I’d love to continue later, might you know of any reason why Charlie would want me to lie to John about her whereabouts?” Bernie is sure to keep her voice just above a whisper in case the man had sneaked in from his shift at the clinic for the day.
Serena furrows her brow, considering it for a moment, “she doesn’t lie.” She leans back against the cushion of the sofa, “in fact, she once informed me that she’s been known to drop clients if they lie to her. Apparently, it’s earned her a bit of a reputation at her firm.” Serena relaxes her brow, “it also gives her results, so...I suppose it works for her.”
“I think she’s about to do something she’s going to regret.” Bernie responds quietly, drawing her bottom lip into her mouth, gently biting it before running it along her top incisors as she draws her lip out of her mouth. “And I haven’t any idea where she is in order to stop her.”
“Let her make her mistakes, darling.” Serena advises, reaching over to gently take Bernie’s hand in her own, “besides, only thing I can think of that checks all the boxes is that Capt. Long is in town...and she’s gone to visit him.”
“What?” Bernie glances to her partner in disbelief, “why would-”
“Many things happened in Hargeisa besides she and I coming to visit you.” Serena interrupts gently, “she’s been on edge ever since we’ve returned home.”
“Then why would she go with him again if he bothered her so much?” Bernie asks innocently, only to receive a smirk from her partner, as if she should be able to draw her own conclusions. “Surely you can’t believe they’re...doing that. He’s only a few years younger than us.”
“To recite a quote directly from your own playbook, the heart wants what the heart wants.” Serena gives Bernie’s hand a squeeze, “and, I’d like to point out, John is closer in age to us than he is to her as well, but you don’t seem to find issue with that one.”
“I didn’t train John.” Bernie mumbles.
“No, but it does amuse me greatly that she’s been drawn to two military medics.” Serena smirks to herself, hearing her partner chuckle to herself, “and they say girls look for their fathers...” She sees her partner’s soft smile, able to sense her underlying worry. “Bernie, she’ll be fine.”
She won’t. Bernie swallows, standing from the arm of the sofa, “I’m going to use the toilet, keep an eye on her?” She gives a quick nod toward Tala, now sitting in the toy box, before taking her leave. Bernie remembers, very clearly, making the mistakes that she made during her marriage and how deeply she regretted them. The argument could be made that Charlotte wasn’t yet married, but 4 years in a relationship is equivalent. Even in the small amount of time she’s been with Serena, Bernie could never imagine herself with anyone else.
Closing the door to the powder room, Bernie looks at her own reflection in the mirror, oxygen tank in a comfortable backpack design, she sometimes forgets the tubing at her nose. She decides she’ll speak with Charlotte about this when she returns home. “She can’t make the same mistakes that I made,” Bernie whispers, giving herself a moment before turning away to actually use the toilet.
Do you think Bernie is overreacting?
Charlie's weakness has unexpected consequences.
Bernie worries about her daughter.
Quite a few hours after last chapter. A lot happens in this chapter, so...apologies beforehand.
TRIGGER WARNING: Infidelity, Suicide
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“It’s incredible to see the changes your body has undergone in just a few short months.” Ben is crouched next to Charlie’s abdomen, softly pressing a kiss to the side of her belly. “Incredibly lucky boy you have in there.”
Charlie reaches a hand down, gently running her fingers through the captain’s black hair, “I’m the lucky one.” She responds quietly, “I know I don’t deserve him and he isn’t even here yet.” Charlie bites her lip, “don’t deserve him at all.”
“I um...” Ben presses another kiss to her abdomen before he sits up, “I wanted to apologize to you...for showing up at your firm. That was...I don’t know, but I shouldn’t have done it.” He watches the woman next to him, mostly nude with the bed sheet draped loosely across her waist.
“No, you shouldn’t have.” Charlotte sighs softly, still keeping her eyes on him, “you’re better than that. Beryl even offered to phone the police to escort me to my car and home just in case, but...I knew it was all out of frustration for you.” She nods slowly, “both mentally and...physically.”
Ben nods a little, “you didn’t have to do this.”
“I just wanted you to get everything out of your system.” Charlotte had struck a deal with him that she’d let him have access to all of her for a short time in return for letting go of the idea of romance between them. If they couldn’t be friends, they just wouldn’t have any type of connection anymore because of their feelings for one another. “I’ve...I’ve held off on getting married because of this,” Charlie pauses, “because of you.”
“What difference does it make?” Ben watches her, “four years you’ve been with him. Four years he’s had to-”
“He first asked me to wed after being together for six months, but...I just couldn’t.” Charlie smirks, “looking back, I probably should have. He and I could have just...grown together. Could have had things more spaced out instead of...everything seeming to be all at once.” She swallows, “I um...I should get going.”
“Charlie, I...” Ben catches her attention again, his voice softening, “I’ll miss you...and I will always love you.”
“I know.” Charlotte gently places her hand on his chin, pulling him in closely in order to kiss him deeply. She breaks it after a moment, then continues to speak with her forehead pressed against his, “and I’ll miss you, but...we both know we won’t be able to continue on like this. Friendship isn’t possible because all we do is...pine for one another when we see each other.” Charlie tilts her head back as she gazes into his eyes, “and I can’t do that to John...because I love him too.”
“I know.” Ben licks his lips, “I just...I wish I’d been sooner.” He smiles ruefully, watching as she carefully gets up from the bed. “And I wish that baby were mine. We’d...have a house, big, but not too big. You’d have everything you’d ever wanted-”
“Ben.” Charlotte says quietly as she starts to get dressed in the clothes she was wearing previously, almost as a warning for him to stop, “I have that now. The house and everything I’ve ever wanted.” She carefully pulls on her undergarments first, “and you will too, but...not with me. You deserve better than me.”
“But you’re the best.” Long shakes his head, “you’re the only one I-”
“Ben.” Another warning. Pulling on her black dress that she, luckily, had laid gently over a chair in order to forego any wrinkles. “I understand that’s what you think, but there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Fish that aren’t with someone already. Fish that aren’t pregnant. Fish that aren’t the daughter of your former patient.”
“The Major was more than a patient.” Ben comfortably folds his arms across his chest as he rests with his back against the headboard.
“Exactly.” Charlie pauses, looking over at him for a moment. “Exactly.” She repeats, pulling up the zipper of her dress located at her side, “too much history. Not to mention, I saw how my father coped while my mother was away...I know how I coped. A...a simple bag of Milky Buttons wasn’t ever going to cut it.” Charlie knows that he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, “Mum would...spray bags of Milky Buttons with her perfume and slide them under my brother’s pillow and my pillow so that...we’d find it as her sort of...kiss goodbye on the morning she’d left, I suppose.” Another pause, she folds her arms, her eyes growing teary, “Cam would rip into his bag, but I could never eat them until she returned...until I knew she was safe.”
“It isn’t like that.” Long sighs, shaking his head.
“It’s exactly like that...every single time.” Charlie shakes her head, “you don’t know because you’re away playing hero. You don’t think about the people you leave at home. Like your Mum. I...I couldn’t imagine being a parent and knowing your child is off playing soldier.”
“I’m a medic on base. I’m not in the field.” Long replies again, “it isn’t the same-”
“My mother was in an explosion working in a hospital on a base. An explosion that everyone thought had taken her life. All I could think of were our last words...were the hurtful things I said to her when I had seen her last.” Charlie starts to laugh bitterly as she slides on her shoes, “You don’t get that. You’re never bloody safe while you aren’t home.” She finally stops herself, taking a deep breath and releasing it as she picks up her purse. She moves over to him as he continues to lie in bed, leaning down and pressing a tender kiss to his lips. “Take care of yourself.”
“You too.” Long nods before motioning to her abdomen with a nod, “and your little boy.”
Charlotte gives a sad smile as she walks away from him, getting to the door. She opens and closes it behind her once stepping into the corridor, sliding on her sunglasses before she allows herself to release a tear. Charlie stands there for a moment before she starts to walk away from the room and toward the elevators. Suddenly, she hears a large bang that causes her to stumble, her hand going out against the wall to keep herself upright. Charlie turns, going back to the door of the room and knocking with her knuckles before turning to bang with her fist, anything to get him to answer the door.
Dread begins to pool in the pit of her stomach.
It all seems like a blur at that point. Hotel staff were called to the floor because of the sudden sound and the banging on the door by the young woman in the hall. Entering on their own and met with the gruesome fate of the man within, the staffers attempt to keep Charlotte from entering as well, but fail miserably. She’s seen enough.
Police are phoned, individuals that aren’t the biggest fans of one Charlotte Wolfe currently. However, the responding offers are decent enough to take care of her. Security camera footage showing she had nothing to do with the death of Cpt. Benson Long, keeping her off the hook. Charlie Wolfe, however, seemed to be fading fast at that point, going as far as to faint during an interview with police. At two in the morning, she’s being rushed to hospital for possible shock.
Bernie lifts her head when she sees her daughter’s partner rush down the stairs as she sips from her mug of tea at the kitchen island. The man can be heard speaking on his mobile, frantic, worried. “John.” She calls, causing him to enter the space as he ends the call, “what’s happened?”
“Charlie was taken to the hospital. They didn’t give me any details.” John shakes his head a little, eyes glassy. “Um...there isn’t much they were willing to tell me over the phone.”
“There’s...” Bernie licks her lips, watching the man, not really knowing what to say, “I would go, but it would take me too long to change, so...keep us informed?”
“Yeah, of course.” John licks his lips, running his hand over his close shaved head. “I don’t know where she was found or...what’s happening. I don’t know.”
“John.” Bernie exhales slowly, “John, whatever you discover, no matter what comes about...know that she loves you.”
John nods absently, only paying half attention to his partner’s mother, “I’ll call when I hear something.” He swallows, meeting her eye once more before walking toward the entry door, still clad in his pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, lucky he remembered to slip on a pair of loafers before leaving the house fully.
Bernie stays still a moment, thinking of the chat she had with her daughter earlier. Knowing there would be something the young woman would regret. However, the only one feeling that way at the moment is herself. Bernie soon wishes she had gone with her daughter’s partner anyway. She turns to the sink, rinsing her mug before leaving it in the sink basin.
Making her way to the stairs, Bernie makes her way down the dark hallway, thankful for the occasional night light illuminating the walkway to her room. Taking a seat on the edge of the bed on her own side, Bernie attempts to catch her breath. Not because she was short of it, but because of her own building anxiety. Feeling a hand running up the middle of her back, Bernie lifts her head, realizing she’s woken her girlfriend. “Hey, you.”
“You’re shaking.” Serena props herself up on her other elbow, licking her lips as she slowly blinks, “what’s wrong?”
Bernie gives Serena a general rundown of events, what little there seems to be. “John’s going to phone when he receives more information.” She pauses, “what if she was injured somehow, or-”
“You don’t know that.” Serena replies quietly in her partner’s ear, “you don’t know what happened, neither do I. Calm down. Take some deep breaths.” She gently pushes herself up a bit to a sitting position, leaning to Bernie’s side to have a better look at her when she hears the woman doing as told, “very good.”
“We’d have the nurses phone family members...and if they weren’t...doing well, they’d know not to give much information.” Bernie feels her eyes starting to burn, “John said they didn’t tell him anything, Serena.”
“That might be the case, but the hospital in London may do things differently than what we did at Holby City together.” Serena’s hand snakes up to Bernie’s hair, gently running her fingers through the blonde locks, knowing most hospitals did the same thing in regards to Emergency and Acute Admissions protocol, but wanting to reassure her. Bernie had told her there wasn’t much she remembers about the other hospitals she had worked at before Holby City. A bit from when she was on active duty with the RAMC, but otherwise, not much. “We’ll play the part of a mother and her girlfriend, waiting at home on pins and needles for one iota of information.” Serena presses a soft kiss to Bernie’s shoulder, “and we’ll visit in the morning if she’s required to stay there.”
“I couldn’t protect Cameron.” Bernie replies, just above a whisper, “I need to know she’s safe.”
Serena is about to argue, but realizes she’d just be wasting her breath. “I know.” She presses another soft kiss to Bernie’s shoulder, “but you’re doing all that you can for the moment.” She pauses, noticing her nod, “I had a feeling that was where you wandered off to...you couldn’t sleep.”
“I had some...chamomile tea.” Bernie responds almost absently, “didn’t want to wake you.”
“Secretly hoping you’d catch Charlotte returning home?” Serena nods, knowing her partner all too well.
Bernie blushes, smiling to herself, “no comment.”
Serena smirks, amused by her partner, knowing her partner all too well. Her hand moves to Bernie’s back again, gently running her hand along the woman’s backbone. “There’s nothing you can do at this very moment, Berenice. Let that chamomile tea do exactly what it’s good at doing and let yourself rest.” Serena scoots back to her side of the bed, “come on.”
Slowly moving to rest against the pillows of the raised head of the bed, Bernie mumbles, “I doubt I’ll be able to.”
“I know.” Serena reaches down, pulling the covers up around them both before keeping an arm around her partner, “but we’re both aware that Charlie’s in the best possible place she can possibly be right now with medical professionals that she isn’t related to, overseeing her care. Agreed?” Seeing her wife’s subtle nod in the darkness, Serena smiles softly, “right. So, catch some shut eye now so that when we’re able to see her tomorrow, or even if she’s brought home tomorrow, you’ll be ready to spend some proper time with her and won’t be too tired to do so.”
Bernie nods again, swallowing as she gives a quick glance to her partner, “I love you, Campbell. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Serena leans up, pressing a soft kiss against her partner’s lips before pulling her close, “and I without you.”
Writer's Room Note: I had plans to end (wow, that sounds dark) Cpt. Long last story. He was going to die in an ambush on the base by militia in the area.
So, while this is much more...gruesome and upsetting, next couple of chapters are going to explain a few things.
Charlotte talks things through with those most important to her.
About twelve hours after last chapter.
TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions, but not directly depicting, coercive rape.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lying on her side in the hospital bed within the confines of the obstetrics emergency room, Charlotte Wolfe begins to slowly open her eyes, seeing her partner next to her. His arms are folded, resting on her mattress, with his head on top. John’s back is curved over in some attempt to find comfort in the early morning hours. She groans softly as she slowly rolls onto her back, causing John’s head to pop up. “Sorry.” She whispers, feeling exhausted and sore. It’s the first time she’s woken since the day prior, or really, twelve hours prior.
“Babe, no.” John exhales with a smile, “no need to apologize.” As relief visually washes over him, tears in his eyes, John continues, “you were dehydrated, among other things, and your blood pressure bottomed out. You were in shock.”
“I do...” Charlie swallows, blinking slowly. Her hand moves to her abdomen, realizing a fetal monitor is wrapped around her, then raises her arms to notice the IV lines running as well, “I do need to apologize.” She flinches when she sees the sunlight beaming in from the window leading to the outside, “would you-”
John nods, rising off of his chair when he realizes what’s causing her discomfort. He makes quick work of closing the blinds before going back to her side, “is that better?”
“Yeah.” She whispers, closing her eyes still. “Sorry, I...I have a headache-” Charlie notices him about to run off again, but stops him by grabbing his wrist. “Just stay here, Johnny. Please.” When he reaches across her, pushing her call button, Charlie offers him a weak smile, “thanks.”
“You know how to scare the hell out of me.” John lowers himself to the chair again.
Charlotte swallows, “I need to-”
“I don’t want to know why you were in that hotel.” John interrupts, “I know someone...died and there’s an investigation, but things seem pretty...open and shut.” He nods, seeing her chin trembling, “and...I know it’s because I pushed you into-”
“Stop.” Charlie whispers, “it had nothing to do with you and...everything to do with me being-” Her eyes glisten, slowly turning her attention to the doorway when she hears a soft rapt against the frame.
“She was complaining about a headache.” John informs the nurse, interrupting his partner.
The nurse moves into the room, absently checking IV lines and heart monitors, “I was just about to come in and check your temperature and BP, so it’s good to see you awake.” They nod, taking a look at the ticker-tape used to keep track of the fetal heartbeat, “baby seems to be doing just fine. Their HR is slightly elevated, but I’m betting that’s because of the electrolytes in your IV.” They flash a soft smile to their patient, “has anyone come by with a menu?”
John shakes his head negatively, “police said they had arrived around seven at night and she was brought here around two in the morning. Since then, all of her nutrition has been coming from the IV.”
“He’s a doctor, I apologize.” Charlotte does her best to focus on the nurse in front of her. “Um...” She clears her throat, “I had lunch with my father yesterday and then nothing after that.”
“Her mother and her mother’s partner should be coming in a bit. I can ask them to bring her-” John starts, watching the nurse.
“Actually, we’d like to monitor her intake for a bit.” The nurse nods, then looks back to their patient in the bed, “low blood pressure is incredibly common during the second trimester, especially for birthing parents that are in the middle of it, which is about where you are now. This could be just one of those things, but we’d like to keep an eye in case it isn’t.” She motions to the door, “I’m going to get the supplies I need and a menu, so I’ll be right back.”
Charlotte swallows, watching the nurse take their leave before she slowly looks over to her partner, “calm down, please.” She bites her lip, “I know you want to help, but...you’re going to pop a vein with how anxious you are right now.”
“I’m sorry.” John replies quietly, leaning back in his chair, “I know it isn’t good for either one of you.”
“And you know it isn’t going to get better unless we talk this out.” Charlie swallows, watching as he gets up from his chair to stand against the wall, next to the windows. “It’s okay for you to be angry with me. It’s okay for you to want to know things.” A subtle tremble in her chin as she feels her eyes warm with tears, “he’s dead now, so...it’s never a mistake I’m going to make again, but...it was a mistake nonetheless.”
John peeks through a sliver in the blinds, toward nothing in particular as long as he isn’t looking at her, “Do I know them?”
“Of them.” Charlie nods, “Cpt. Long and I...we became fast friends while on base. He was the one that came here to tell me about Mum...and he flew back right away. Only came to England in order to tell me about that.” She looks toward the footboard of her hospital bed, unable to look at him. “Then one night, after talking with you on video conference, he and I went to dinner. Platonically, at least it was to me. Always platonic until that point.” Charlie blinks, forming her thoughts as she speaks, “and I was feeling really alone. Mentally. I was...I was missing you, so much.” She sucks in her breath, her eyes filling with tears a bit more, but she tries to keep her composure.
Turning his attention back to her, John licks his lips, folding his arms over his chest as he listens.
“And then he took me back to his place because I had forgotten my key and...I didn’t want to wake Serena because it was really early morning at that point, she was always the one to stay longest with Mum. I’d...I’d always give that to them, that privacy.” Charlie bites the skin of her lip, giving herself a moment before she continues, “and he kissed me, but...that was the extent then.”
“Charlie, kisses don’t lead to a man going on leave and heading to London in order to see a woman.” John responds quietly.
“I wasn’t finished. I didn’t tell him about you until the last night we were there. He told me that he loved me and...a part of me loved him too. I...I thought it would stay there...He and I. Things happened on the last night. It was...quick and meaningless because Serena was on her way to his quarters.” Charlie swallows, “he tried to convince me that there’d be room for you and him in my life. As if I could...have some sort of double life, double family.” She starts shaking her head, “Ben and I stayed in touch, but...he’d always say how much he missed me and he loved me. I wrote him a letter a few weeks ago, saying that...nothing was going to come of keeping in contact. That you and our family were more important than anything.”
“So how did you end up in a hotel yesterday?” John really didn’t want to know, but understands that it would fester and bother him unless they were to just work on the situation immediately.
Charlie glances over to the nurse as they return to the room. She watches as they take her blood pressure and temperature before drawing more blood. Charlie doesn’t continue her story until the nurse leaves, even then she does so after giving herself a moment, “he showed up at the firm. I was worried he’d come to the house. He was...forceful and...” She’s glad when he returns to the chair next to the bed, “I thought...if I just did it one more time and let him get it out of his system, he’d stop thinking of me all the time and just move on...” Charlie starts to break down slightly, defeated.
John shakes his head a little, leaning over to softly press a kiss against her eyebrow. “Police said there was a note. Two. One for you, one for his mother.” He takes her hand again, “if he couldn’t win you over, he was ending it. He was AWOL already, somehow managed to get his sidearm here, but...Police aren’t exactly sure how that happened.”
“I didn’t want him to die,” Charlie whispers, feeling as he reaches a hand up to gently wipe away her tears. “You have every reason to be angry with me and-”
“He was in love with you...and a part of you was in love with him. It was...a stressful time and I know how bad your morning sickness was and...how worried you were about everything.” John offers a sad smile, “I’ve been struggling with the idea that...you might feel pressured into this. Marrying me and...motherhood.”
“It isn’t pressure.” Charlie shakes her head, “I just don’t want things to turn out how it did for my parents, but...the circumstances aren’t the same. I haven’t ever felt like you wanted me to be some sort of...Stepford housewife-”
“No, that’s boring. You wouldn’t be you.” John smirks to himself.
Charlie sighs softly, “I wish you’d be angrier than you are.”
“Disappointed, maybe.” John shakes his head slowly, “but I’m not angry. I know how easy it is to fall in love with you.” He shrugs, “you were nineteen when we got together. You were still a kid, but...you put up with me.”
“You encouraged me.” Charlie licks her lips, glancing over to him. “I’m...I’ll make it up to you, Johnny.”
“Charlie, I don’t think the Captain’s death has really hit you yet.” John answers honestly, “and we’re in the obstetrics ED because you keep fainting.” He shakes his head, “I’d say you’re going to suffer emotionally soon enough and you’ve been suffering physically.” John shrugs, “seeing you suffering, in any way, just makes me feel like shit.”
“You shouldn’t.” Charlotte replies quietly, “I’m the one that-”
“Made a mistake.” John reiterates, “we all make mistakes.” Standing again and moving around the bed, John picks up the menu that the nurse had left on the bedside table, along with a small pencil. “I think your mother is in the hall.” When Charlie looks at him quizzically, John continues, “can hear the tapping of her cane.”
Charlie smiles softly, “when I was a kid, she’d just...sneak up on you.” She nods a little when he seems surprised, “Mum’s starting to get back to that now. She isn’t far from it, actually, but she must be having a bad day.”
“Well, I hear her daughter is in the hospital.” John leans down to mutter to his partner as is spreading juicy gossip only for her to playfully give his arm a squeeze.
Bernie comes to stand in the doorway, seeing her girlfriend hold back to speak with one of the nurses. “Charlie.”
“Johnny’s giving the nursing staff a bit of a show in his pajamas.” Charlie starts to mumble, her eyelids growing heavy.
Waiting for the woman with a cane to enter the room, the nurse enters as well. “Doctor wants you on a sodium drip and we’ll see how you fare after dinner.” They offer a smile as they add the new bag to the intravenous tree, “hopefully it might mean getting you home and on a higher sodium diet.”
“Hypotension.” Bernie mutters to herself, “explains your other fainting spell not long ago.” Bernie’s been bad with time since her trauma, so she’s found using little things to skirt around using definitive measures to be helpful. Could have happened last week or last month, it all feels the same to her. Bernie moves to the side of the bed where she sees the chair, carefully lowering herself once she reaches it.
Serena enters the room finally, taking her place near the foot of the bed. She gently touches Charlotte near the ankle through the covers, “do you mind if I take a look at your chart?”
“Feel free.” Charlie smirks, her hand snaking to gently touch her mother’s arm with her knuckle. When Bernie seems to get the hint, quickly taking hold of her hand, Charlie feels a wave of relief wash over her. Sometimes, all a girl needs is her mother, regardless of how complicated things might be between them.
“Very interesting attire, John.” Serena lifts the folder from the end of the bed, huffing a soft sound of amusement to herself as she flips through the pages.
“Listen, I only wear the very best.” John nods, then looks down to Charlie, “do you want to go through this together or am I right in thinking you’re going to want some sort of chicken?” When she doesn’t look up at her, but he notices her beginning to smile, he continues, “side of chips?” When she finally looks over to him, he raises an eyebrow, “look, you’ve been ordered by a doctor to be unhealthier. I say you run with it.”
“I’d rather pick some chips up when we leave here.” Charlotte offers, “can we do that?”
“Of course.” John leans down, capturing her lips with his own. Their kiss is deeper, more intimate than what they’re usually willing to display in front of others. He looks her in the eyes after giving one more quick peck. When John notices her begin to tear up again, he shakes his head. “I love you. Alright?” He isn’t surprised when he sees her subtle nod, but no verbal response. John stands upright again, marking a few other things on the menu paper.
Serena raises an eyebrow, flipping the pages, “looks like you’ll probably be considered for bed rest. Certainly taking it much easier than you have.”
Bernie listens and observes the people within the space before focusing on Charlotte again, “how are you feeling?”
Charlotte lazily glances over to her mother, “I’m just tired.” She replies quietly, “and a headache.”
Closing the folder and returning it to the basket at the foot of the bed, Serena glances over to John, “why don’t you head home to get changed? You’ll probably feel better.”
John nods, exhaling softly. “You’re right.” He glances to his partner, “where is your car?”
“Hotel car park.” Charlie mutters, “hopefully.”
“Serena, would you mind taking me there and following me home? That way I don’t need to worry about it later on.” John glances at the woman at the end of the bed, “I know you just got here, but-”
“No, that’s fine. I was actually just about to offer.” Serena nods, glancing to her partner, “Bernie, is that-”
“Go, go. We’re perfectly fine here.” Bernie nods, offering a tender smile. There are quick kisses given by their partners before she’s finally left alone with her daughter. The only sound in the room is that of the ticker tape rolling on the fetal heart monitor. It’s subtle and, in some way, relaxing to hear. Bernie swallows, squeezing the young woman’s hand. “When John raced out of the house early in the morning, I-I didn’t know what to expect.”
Charlotte turns to her side, luckily the chair containing her mother is to her left. Her eyes continue to glisten, but her face doesn’t look sad any longer. “I’m sorry for worrying you.”
Bernie shakes her head, reaching over to gently push hair out of Charlotte’s face with her free hand. “It’s okay.” She licks her lips in thought, a motion toward the door with a nod, “I’m guessing he isn’t aware of anything...the way he’s acting.”
“No, he knows everything. I...” Charlotte gives a quick shake of her head, “police told him a great deal, as a dig at me, I gather. So...even if I wanted to hide things, which I didn’t, he knew.”
“Police?” Bernie furrows her brow, a mix of confusion and concern spreading across her face.
Charlie lifts her head from the pillow, realizing her mother hasn’t heard anything. “Um...” She sets her head back down, searching for the words that would work best. Better to just pull off the plaster. “Cpt. Long...died. He’s dead.” Charlie pauses, keeping herself from reacting too much. “It was just after we spent time together.”
“I-I don’t understand. How did he die?” Bernie keeps her voice low, but is very familiar with those that she had worked with over the years dying suddenly. Usually in the course of a battle or insurgents overtaking a camp. However, a Captain on leave? That only has a few causes, especially while at a hotel, “did he take his own life?”
Nodding, the young woman just watches her mother’s face, “I didn’t...I didn’t want that. I just wanted him to move on.” Charlie responds quietly, “and I feel as if I should visit his mother or...write her a letter or something. She’s...she was his only living relative.”
“Don’t think about that. She’ll be taken care of.” Bernie watches her, “suicide is...more common than we’d like to admit in the military. Mental health issues in general.” When she notices her daughter about to argue with her, Bernie shakes her head in order to stop her, “whatever he might have said or didn’t say beforehand...it isn’t your fault...at all. Am I understood?”
There’s a tone to her mother’s voice, a definitiveness, “yeah, okay.” This is what Charlie is familiar with in terms of her mother’s behavior from years ago, but at that time, Charlie would take it as the woman barking an order and not the wishes of a concerned mother. It causes her to form a soft smirk, “Ben was...he was a good man...and he deserved better.”
“I really didn’t know there was anything going on between the two of you.” Bernie mumbles, shaking her head, “until Serena helped me along. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Really, Mum?” Charlie sighs softly, rolling back onto her back as she adjusts the height of the head of the bed, “what exactly did you expect me to say?” When her mother glances away, she continues, “it was a mistake...I...I had feelings for him because of our...closeness while in Hargeisa, but I didn’t really know him very well. We spoke a few times since coming home, but I-I worked very hard for it not to continue.”
Bernie doesn’t meet her daughter’s eyes again as she speaks, “there’s nothing you need to prove to me.”
“I...” Charlie starts to bite her bottom lip, dragging it over her top teeth, “I feel disgusting.” Her eyes filling with tears again, she glances at the monitor, “I can’t...I don’t understand why Johnny isn’t angry. I need him to be angry.”
“Why?” Bernie watches her daughter, “I’d think it would be a good thing.”
“Because now it makes me think, what if he’s doing the same thing? What if he feels validated now?” Charlie hears the heart monitor on her own system increase in rate and knows she needs to calm herself down, “there’s...plenty of times when he’s able to. I’m...I work all day, whether it be at the firm or in the home office.”
“I’m present all day though...and I can easily tell you, that is not the case.” Bernie responds, shaking her head. She takes a moment, attempting to form her thought process into words before she speaks again, “the reaction you’re having...isn’t because he isn’t angry with you.” Bernie swallows, “it’s because you’re...you’re used to seeing...”
“Things...” Charlie finally glances over to her mother, “things were black and white with you and Dad.” She shakes her head, “at first, at least. Then...I don’t know what happened between the two of you, but...Dad was suddenly angry. Really angry, like he sort of cracked...” Charlie swallows, “then he’d just...tell Cam and I all this stuff that had nothing to do with us. Looking back, I get that’s what he was attempting to do, but at the time...I didn’t.” She shakes her head, “what if John does that with our son? Just...waiting for me to give birth in order to-”
“We don’t know that and I highly doubt John would do anything like that.” Bernie interrupts, finally looking her daughter in the eye, “we don’t know how different things could have been for certain.”
“I do. I wouldn’t have been so angry with you.” Charlotte whispers, a tear finally escaping her eye, “so much...wasted time, wasted energy.”
Bernie looks down to the hand still holding that of her daughter’s, then back up at her face, as if studying her emotions, “So is this.” She tilts her head to the side, “We can’t beat ourselves up for trying to decipher who we truly are.”
“You’re right.” Charlie brings her hands up to her own face for a moment, concealing her eyes before quickly wiping away tears and clearing her throat, “you know, these hormones making my emotions go haywire...is really ruining my reputation of being a heartless bitch.”
“Might be your reputation, but I see how you interact with your niece...and I wouldn’t refer to that as heartless in the slightest.” Bernie leans forward after a moment, pressing a soft kiss to her daughter’s forehead, “there isn’t any reason for you to ever put up a front with us...with me.”
“Mostly because you’ll figure it out anyway.” Charlotte teases her mother before falling quiet again, her words just above a whisper, “Thanks, Mum.”
“I will always be your mother, Charlie, and I will always be here for you.” Bernie keeps her forehead pressed against Charlotte’s for a few moments longer, glad she’s able to be the mother she always wanted to be with her daughter. A supportive mother that she’s always dreamed of, but lacked. Bernie could never have envisioned this closeness before she sustained her injuries, but is glad they’re to this point now. Maybe her death was more metaphorical than anything else, allowing her to return to a life she could only dream of, a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
A longer one. Longer than they usually are, at least.
ETA: I wanted to apologize for not putting up a TW when I originally posted this chapter. It is not my intention to trigger ANYONE and I truly, deeply apologize if anyone was affected by my words. They have since been adjusted slightly. I just wanted to let you all know.
John helps his fiance understand what happened to her.
Serena and Bernie surprise the house with news.
Few days since Charlie's hospital stay.
TRIGGER WARNING: Coercive sexual assault mentioned, but not directly depicted.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John watches his partner as she lies in bed, having just finished with his last patient of the day, he leans back against the sofa within their master suite, just staring at her. He licks his lips as he slowly folds his arms over his chest, “Charlie.”
She wasn’t sleeping, just staring at the wall, that’s all she could manage since returning from hospital. Charlotte’s eyes glisten, but whether it’s with sleep or tears, she isn’t sure anymore. Charlie hums softly, affirming that she had heard him, but doesn’t move from her left side, staring toward the bathroom door.
“I think we need to talk.” John doesn’t move closer to the bed, just keeping his distance. “About what happened...”
“I told you everything.” Charlotte’s voice is just above a whisper, tired, spent.
“I know you did.” He nods, “but...I think there’s more than you’re willing to tell me.” John keeps his voice calm, relaxed. Really, it’s his usual demeanor and he knows how important it is for him to be this way though anger boils within him.
“Not about that. I...I did what I did because I was afraid that you’d find out.” Charlotte swallows, finally rolling to her back before edging herself up on the bed.
“I know you did.” John is glad to see her sit up for something other than a meal.
“I cheated on you...physically, emotionally...and I’m not...I’m not sure why you aren’t angry with me.” Charlotte pulls her knees up, her pregnant belly resting between her thighs. “I...betrayed your trust and-and I waylaid a marriage with you...because I’ve seen how my parents’ marriage ended...especially when Dad found out Mum was cheating.”
“Your parents were always going to divorce, babe. Your mother is a brilliant lesbian who deserves an equally brilliant lesbian at her side, making way for Serena.” John answers simply, a smirk in the corner of his mouth. “Is the only thing equating your parents’ marriage or divorce to our situation, the reaction of your father to the infidelity of your mother?” She doesn’t need to nod, he knows that’s the problem. “Babe, you didn’t cheat on me.”
“Yes, I did.” Charlie swallows, “just pretending it didn’t happen-”
“You were raped.” John finally rises from his seat on the sofa, moving to the foot of the bed so he can look her in the eye. “Coercive rape is a very real thing.”
Charlotte begins to shake her head negatively, “but I-”
“It may not have started that way, in fact, I’m positive that it didn’t. It did, however, end up that way. The Captain showed up at the firm, scared you to the point that Beryl wanted you to have a police escort just to get home...it fits the definition to a T.” John continues to watch his partner, “I know this probably isn’t easy to hear.”
“I never told him to stop.” Charlotte mumbles.
“You didn’t need to.” John reaches over, gently taking Charlotte’s hand in his own. “You laid things out for him. He didn’t respect your wishes. You did all that you thought you could in order for him to leave you alone.”
“I don’t understand why you aren’t angry.” Charlie absently presses her other hand to the side of her belly once she lowers her legs out in front of herself, “is it because you...you’re waiting to me to have the baby so that-”
“Charlie, I am angry...just not with you.” John moves a little closer, placing his free hand over hers as it rests against the skin of her belly. “You aren’t alone. Eleven sexual assaults happen every minute in the UK. Only fifteen percent get reported, of all the people that make up that fifteen percent, only one percent of them is coercion rape...because people often don’t realize they were assaulted.” He just sits there with her, close and concerned, “I love you more than anything, Charlie, and...I’m here no matter what. Whatever you need of me or don’t need of me...whether it be to hold you or leave you alone, I will do exactly that.”
Carefully closing the gap between them, Charlie leans forward, pressing her head to his chest, and allows herself to cry. A proper cry. Something she hasn’t done in days, but had just been on the verge of. “I’m sorry.”
John softly hushes her with a hiss between his teeth as he finally embraces her tenderly, nearly holding her completely before pressing a kiss to his partner’s temple. “No more apologies. Just take your time.” He gently rubs her back, “Everything is going to be okay.”
Serena comes to stand in the doorway of Charlotte’s room, seeing the intimate moment within. She takes a moment before lifting her hand, knocking gently. Seeing John’s head turn, acknowledging her presence, Serena speaks, “I’m sorry for intruding, but dinner has arrived...Bernie and I have set up the dining room table-”
Charlie clears her throat as she sits up slowly, bringing a hand up to quickly wipe the skin just beneath her eyes and push her hair back from her face. She offers the woman a quick smile after, “we’ll be there in a moment.”
Nodding a little, Serena doesn’t walk away immediately, unsure if she should say anything else. A part of her wants to help comfort the young woman, hold her in her arms like she would have done for Elinor if she were in the same situation. However, Serena turns away, returning to the stairs and descending.
“I know you’re none too pleased that you aren’t able to have orange chicken and fried rice.” Bernie informs her granddaughter as the girl sits in her high chair, swinging her chubby little legs, “well, I mean, you can have fried rice. I’ll get you some fried rice if you do well with your vegetables and tofu.”
“Berenice.” Serena smirks, stepping into the dining room at the last moment, “she does not need fried rice.”
“Did you hear that? Gigi said no fried rice.” Bernie shakes her head a little, a look of mock disappointment to her face.
Sighing softly, Serena takes a seat at the table, “You shouldn’t give her a name for me. Nicky may not-”
“We’re married, Serena. We spent a few hours this very afternoon doing just that.” Bernie leans down, capturing Serena’s lips with a quick kiss before moving around the table, moving the two unneeded seats from around the table to their spot along the wall, as they often do. The dining room consists of a large, dark wooden table, rust red fabric covered chairs with a sideboard to match, as well as creme accents. Really, it might be Bernie’s aesthetically favorite room in the house other than the bedroom she shares with Serena.
“Only because you were so adamant.” Serena shakes her head, “I still haven’t done anything in terms of my name or...anything like that. I’m still Campbell until I return.”
“I mean...can’t climb a mountain without taking a single step.” Bernie shakes her head, turning her head when she notices her daughter and daughter’s partner move into the space. Fully aware that Charlotte hadn’t really been out of bed for quite a few days, it was nice to see her up.
“Always one for pep talks.” Charlie smirks a little to herself, taking a seat next to Serena as the chair is pulled out for her by her partner, “smells delicious.”
“Orange chicken, fried rice. Egg rolls.” Serena points out, “Bernie wanted us to...have a sit-down dinner before I head off tomorrow.” She raises an eyebrow, “she’s been insufferable.”
“Well, Mum, buy a ticket and go anyway...against all the doctor and physio suggestions and warnings.” Charlie gives a glance to Tala, never seeing someone enjoying carrots and tofu as much as the baby seems to be. It causes her to softly chuckle to herself, “we should have took a punt over how much would actually end up in her mouth.”
“I reckon she’s doing rather well, actually.” Serena kisses the baby’s hand when the girl outstretches it to her.
Once everyone becomes settled and a glass of wine is poured in front of those able to drink, Bernie takes a deep breath, glancing over to her daughter, “so, this dinner also is in celebration.” She nods, lifting the glass in her left hand, not wanting to tempt dropping it with the other. “Serena and I were wed this afternoon. Just...the two of us.”
“Your mother has never been one for pomp and circumstance unless it’s in a military setting.” Serena mumbles, bringing her own glass of wine to her lips and taking a drink.
“That is true.” Bernie has a laugh at her lips as she finally takes a drink from the glass. She was never one for shiraz, but she’d always put up with it because of her partner’s love of it.
“Let me get this straight,” Charlotte glances between the two older women as they all sit at the dinner table, motioning between them with her fork. “While we thought you were...on the verge of depression concerning Serena going back to Nairobi for a week to tie up loose ends, the two of you went to the registrar and got married.”
“Correct.” Serena reaches over to the high chair, tapping a nail next to a piece of tofu that Tala was usually so fond of. There’s carrots and peas, which the babe seems much more interested in today. “We thought of inviting you and Jason, but-”
“We had our own...” Bernie takes a deep breath, exhaling after a moment, “I wished for Cameron to be able to attend and since he wouldn't...” She answers after a moment, knowing that it had more to do with Elinor not being able to be present and not wanting Serena to be upset, but Bernie wouldn’t admit that in order to protect her wife. “We’d want you all to be present and if we couldn’t have that...what we did was easier.”
“Well, I wish you all would have said something. I’d have baked a cake or something.” Charlie offers, smirking a little. “I’m really happy for you both. Serena...you’ve already been a great stepmother to me, I’m just glad to be able to say it officially now.”
“Thank you, Charlie.” Serena finds a blush creeping across her cheeks, Tala offers her a fist full of smashed vegetables before bringing the hand to her own lips. “Your mother was...very adamant that we do so before I head to Nairobi, so it had to be today.”
“It does make me feel better.” Bernie responds with a nod, reaching over her dish to the single glass of wine that she allows herself whenever Nicky is working a later shift. She wouldn’t want to be rude by drinking in front of her when Nicky has been so successful in her sobriety. “We’ll just need to celebrate upon her return.” She pauses, raising an eyebrow at the pure thought, “I’d love to celebrate in Nairobi, see how impressive the clinic we built has grown, but someone simply won’t allow me.”
“Berenice.” Serena exhales a warning, turning in her seat to face the table. She lifts up her silverware in each hand, gently slicing a bite of the chicken.
“Ah.” Charlie’s grin grows, a twinkle in her eye, “I know what this is about. Serena, I’m surprised you haven’t picked up on it.”
John just watches the women, smiling to himself. Serena is a perfect addition to the Wolfe Pack, really, he’s never seen the Wolfe Pack without her. Not that he ever remembers anyway. Leaning back in his chair, he takes a sip of his wine, laughing to himself. When Serena looks to him for more information, John shakes his head, “this is all my beautiful fiance, not me.”
Charlie brings a forkful of chicken and rice to her mouth, taking the time to chew and swallow before looking between the women again, then focusing on Serena. “Mum knows of one person that will be in Nairobi very intimately...and I’m not talking about you, Serena.”
Serena’s back straightens as her attention turns to Bernie, “Alex Dawson.” She starts to laugh, “you’re worried about Alex Dawson.”
“I’m truly not.” Bernie shakes her head.
“She’s worried Alex Dawson will make the moves...because Alex Dawson is a-” Charlie stops herself from the insult, remembering her niece is at the table. “Snake. She’s a snake.”
“I never told her that you were even alive.” Serena shakes her head, “so I’m not exactly sure why you’re worried.” She reaches out, grabbing her glass of wine and finishing it before placing it back on the table. “I’m hoping to go in, retrieve my personal effects from my old office, what little there is, and head out. I don’t wish to run into her after our last interaction.”
Bernie raises an eyebrow, “interaction?”
“To put your mind at ease, Mum, the last interaction was dinner between Serena, Alex, and myself.” Charlotte shakes her head, taking a sip of the electrolyte packed juice within her glass that she’s grown accustomed to drinking throughout the day. “Alex was not happy that I was there.”
“I don’t think she would have tried anything.” Serena exhales, shaking her head.
“Then you’re deaf, dumb, and blind.” Charlie smirks to herself again, bringing another bite of food to her mouth.
John reaches over, refilling Serena’s glass with shiraz before placing the bottle back onto the table. “Bernie, do you often become jealous of the people Serena associates herself with?”
The question piques Serena’s interest, causing her to glance over to her now wife, noticing the woman shaking her head negatively, “Ha.” She says loudly, then glances to the other two at the table, “when Jason’s wife was pregnant with Guinevere, I saw to it that a friend of mine would be their attending gynie. So, when time came around, Fleur was-”
Bernie interjects excitedly, “That woman had her hand on your arse already and would have had her tongue-”
“I don’t want to know where her tongue would have been.” Charlie mumbles, bringing another bite to her lips.
“Do you expect Serena to be unfaithful to you while she’s away?” John glances between the women, noticing them both grow quiet suddenly. “I apologize if I’ve struck some sort of chord. I’m not a marriage counselor, but...I like to think I can get by.”
“No.” Bernie shakes her head, finally speaking after a moment as she leans back in her chair. “I trust her wholeheartedly.”
“I made that mistake before...long ago. One of the biggest mistakes of my entire life next to letting her go.” It’s something Serena has never really wanted to discuss and for good reason, it’s far too painful for her, “this...jealousy thing of hers started long before that though. I find it...endearing.”
“Meaning it doesn’t require assistance.” Charlie glances at her partner, knowing he is only trying to be helpful.
“I apologize if I was being too nosy. I get ahead of myself sometimes.” John nods, picking his glass of wine up and taking a sip again, “I must ask though, who is Alex Dawson?”
Charlie nearly chokes on her drink as she laughs loudly, “You just...really love opening all these tins of worms.” When Tala gives her own fake laugh before bringing a cube of tofu to her mouth, Charlie nods, “exactly.” She brings a hand to her hair, pushing it back and tucking the strays behind her ear, “no one needs to-”
“She was...the woman I was in a relationship with during my marriage.” Bernie answers quietly, then clears her throat, “um...first marriage.” She pauses, “she...she saved my life when our humvee hit an IED. Alex...didn’t take it well when I called things off with her and attempted to give it my all with Marcus. I owed it to him...being away as long, and as often, as I was.”
Sounds familiar. John nods, “okay. I get it now. Thanks for bringing me up to speed.” He sits there, actually able to remember Charlotte speaking to him about the whole ordeal. Remembering how worried the young woman was, though too afraid and stubborn to admit it.
Charlotte reaches over to her partner’s wine, quickly bringing the glass to her lips. There were only a couple sips left within, but she downs them anyway. Clearing her throat after and placing the glass back in front of her partner, Charlie nods, “better.” She gets up from her seat finally, not able to bear this line of conversation any longer, “I’ll get Tala cleaned up.”
“You’ll do no such thing.” Serena shakes her head, quickly standing in the young woman’s way when she tries to head for the high chair.
Her eyes glisten and she’s having a hard time looking anyone in the eye. Charlie just stands there, feeling as if she needs to contribute in some way. However, it’s as if she’s frozen or even burnt out, like a light bulb. Too anxious to stay in the room, but too nervous to leave at the same time.
Serena cautiously wraps her arms around the young woman, feeling like it’s the right thing to do in that very instance. She doesn’t know the depths of Charlotte’s heartache, not in the slightest. How could she? Feeling Charlotte’s responsive embrace causes the corner of her mouth to turn up. It’s tight and warm, something Serena wasn’t really expecting.
“I’ll get Tamale cleaned up. You ladies just...keep doing whatever that is you’re doing.” John nods, making sure he doesn’t get too close to anyone else as he pulls the high chair away, glad it’s on wheels. Makes clean up easier and quicker.
Bernie watches her daughter and wife, knowing there’s something else there. An unspoken understanding that she can’t quite pinpoint. A part of her might even be jealous. Bernie sits up, carefully stacking the empty plates on top of one another, “Well, I’ll-” She's interrupted by the sensation of her daughter gently taking her wrist and pulling, wanting her to join in the embrace with Serena. Bernie doesn’t understand what this is, but does as requested anyway. She stands from her chair, carefully wrapping an arm around the shoulders of each woman. When Serena lifts her head for a moment, Bernie makes eye contact with her, brow pinched in confusion.
Serena gives a subtle shake of her head before mouthing, “ Later .” She just holds her new step-daughter, pressing a tender kiss to the young woman’s temple before carefully sliding out of her grip, transferring her arms to lay on Bernie’s shoulders. “Stay here with your mother while I clean up.”
Serena’s bass filled voice strikes Charlie in the middle of her chest, just like Bernie’s does. She finds it comforting, reassuring without actually needing to say anything of the type. Charlie’s head rests on her mother’s shoulder and she’s almost certain she can hear her mother humming a song in her ear, causing her to smile slightly.
“You know, after I had you, I had this...awful postpartum depression...among other things.” Bernie finds herself subtly rocking from foot to foot, glad when her daughter does the same, “and the only songs I could sing to you that wouldn’t make me upset were Beatles songs. There are many photographs taken by your father of us dancing around the lounge to Beatles songs.”
“Explains the affinity I have for them.” Charlotte replies softly.
“And I’m always up for dancing around the lounge with you.” Bernie smiles, her hand snaking up to run through her daughter’s hair while maintaining a hold with the other arm.
Charlie lifts her head, meeting her mother’s eyes. “Maybe next time.” She gives a quick glance to the table, seeing that Serena had cleared it completely. “I’m um...I’m going to head back upstairs.” Charlie takes a step back from her mother, “thanks for supper, Mum.”
Bernie gives a single nod, watching her daughter slowly walk away. Her smile fades, able to feel the hurt radiating off of her daughter. “I don’t understand,” Bernie says once her wife returns to the room, “was she...was she that in love with Long?”
“It’s an amalgamation of a lot of things.” Serena answers simply, informing Bernie of the discussion she and John had in the car when Charlotte was in hospital and how the young woman was actually assaulted, “John is helping her understand that she isn’t at fault for what happened, but it’s proving to be harder than originally anticipated.”
“No one likes to be a victim.” Really, Bernie hadn’t realized the depth of what happened either. “If he wasn’t dead already...” She mutters, taking a deep breath as she returns to the chair she was seated in previously, “my poor girl.”
“Obviously, I’ll be gone for the next few days, but...just keep yourself open to her, please.” Serena returns to her chair as well, “she’s, understandably, having a difficult time with all of this. Guilt, grief, confusion. All of that on top of the usual hormone induced emotions that come with pregnancy. It's probably overwhelming in a way she's never experienced. She's...fragile.”
Bernie lifts her wine glass into her hand, taking a sip, “I’ll do my best.”
Next chapter is a bit lighter than these past few have been. Thankfully.
Thank you all for reading thus far. <3
Serena heads back to Nairobi.
Bernie shares a video conference with her wife.
Serena knew there was no right time to return to Nairobi. Leaving her girlfriend in the capable hands of Charlotte and John, even Nicky. It still made her anxious to leave Bernie’s side, especially arriving here, somewhere so far away at this point.
Standing in her old office in the clinic, this all feels so bizarre still. Nothing has been touched, only dusted by the cleaning staff. She moves around the desk and takes a seat in her office chair, pulling open the lower drawer in the right hand side of her desk, and retrieving her bottle of shiraz and singular wine glass. “May as well drink it now.” Serena mutters to herself before uncorking and pouring the contents into the wineglass. She lifts her head when she notices someone standing in the doorway.
“You’re back?” Alex Dawson stands hands in the pockets against the hips of her scrub top, more youthful than Serena remembers with a smile across her face. One thing Serena would always admit is that Alex has a beautiful smile.
“Not to stay.” Serena shakes her head a little, “no, just...packing it up. Personal effects, of course. No, I’ve retired.”
“Retired?” Words Alex never thought she’d hear Serena Campbell utter, she doesn’t understand, not even slightly. “I don’t...” Alex shakes her head, stepping into the office more, “Does this have something to do with Bernie’s daughter? She was here and then suddenly...suddenly you were gone with her. I assumed she had something to do with it...that she might have hurt you.”
“What reason would Charlotte have to hurt me?” Serena takes a sip of her wine, her voice low and spent. She had only gotten to her flat a couple of hours ago, but she’s on a mission here and she doesn’t plan to stay any longer than she absolutely needs to.
Alex shakes her head slowly, “she’s known for-”
“You never cared to know her.” Serena interrupts, lifting her head to look at the woman, “don’t do that. It isn’t very becoming of you.” She takes a sip of her wine, swirling the contents of her glass after. “No, she and I have grown very close over the past few months.”
Bringing her arms up, folding them over her middle, Alex draws her lips into her mouth, thinking for a moment before she continues, “and you...you’ve been okay?”
“Happier than I’ve been in a...very long time.” Serena nods, information of Bernie’s survival has been something she’s kept private, wanting it to be something only those closest to them could celebrate. However, it’s been months and those closest to them are keenly aware of the good news and she’s certain it would have spread through the military by now, at least via those who were familiar with Bernie, “Bernie is alive.”
Alex glances away as if the information is some sort of sick joke, “I’m sorry, I’ll go-”
“I wouldn’t jest about something such as this.” Serena shakes her head, reaching into her pocket for her mobile. “She’s...had to come a long way and is still on the mend, but she’s doing very well.” A picture of Bernie’s first meeting with Tala, the girl gazing at her with instinctual familiarity and curiosity on the screen of her mobile, Serena places it onto the desk for the other woman to see. “This is Bernie’s granddaughter, Tala, Cameron’s little girl, whose existence we only became aware of after arriving home.”
“But it’s been...months.” Alex still looks at the picture, “months, Serena. You could have...told us what was going on. Everyone here has been so worried.”
“I was in Hargeisa...then London. That’s where I’ve been, London.” Serena takes another sip of her wine, “living with Bernie, Charlotte and her partner, as well as Bernie’s granddaughter and her mother. All of us...in a single house.” She chuckles softly to herself, letting it slowly fade. “It’s mad, but...I wouldn’t change it for a single thing.”
Alex slowly looks back to the other woman, “I thought...I thought we were friends, Serena.”
“I suppose we were, but I don’t enjoy being lied to.” Serena answers, her entire demeanor calm, collected. “White lies are still lies, but the one you told...”
“I’m not apologizing anymore.” Alex responds, shaking her head, “I love Bernie. No one knows anything about the relationship between us except for her and myself. My pain, my grief for her was the same as anyone else’s when we thought she was gone.” Alex continues, “and I was going to do absolutely anything I could in order to pay tribute to her.”
“Including making her children feel more awful than they already did.” Serena nods slowly, “it’s fine. I’ve already told you that I-” She stops when her mobile begins to vibrate, Bernie’s face appearing on the screen, a video preview. It seems the woman is speaking to someone else, motioning to the device in front of her.
“I understand that it’s the third time you’ve phoned. Charlie said that the service isn’t very good there.” Nicky helps the woman with a small tripod in the lounge of the house.
“Is there any way we could, I don’t know, amplify the signal?” Bernie watches as the woman moves around the lounge, picking up Tala’s toys as the girl relaxes on the sofa, watching the television with swirling colors and toys as other languages are spoken.
“It definitely isn’t on our side.” Nicky shakes her head, “one of the things John said he worried about was the internet signal within the house because of his line of work.” She places her hands on her hips as she stands upright, “we can try later. It isn’t a big deal.”
Bernie sighs softly, her eyes opening more when the connection finally seems to go through, “Campbell?” The screen is slightly blurry, the connection hanging by a thread, “are you there?”
“Yes, I’m in my office...old office, here at the clinic.” Serena’s voice raises as if her partner is unable to hear her, a smile grows on her face, “Are you able to see me?” She places her mobile against her computer screen to hold it upright.
“Yes, yes, I can.” Bernie beams, “did you get in okay?”
“I did, yes.” Serena takes another sip of her wine. “Alex is here.” She tilts her head for the woman to move behind her, allowing her a look at Bernie, “I’m sure you remember her.”
Bernie didn’t want to see the other woman again, not in the slightest. Especially with the stories she had heard from her children. “Alex.” Bernie leans to the back of the sofa, her wrists crossing as they lay gently on her thighs, “you seem well.”
“Yeah.” Alex swallows, tears in her eyes, “better now.”
Though the stories her children had told her of the woman’s actions, Bernie will always have a soft spot for her. Not just for saving her life, but for helping her realize who she truly was. “Good.” She nods, “has Serena told you that we’re married?”
“No, I haven’t gotten around to it.” Serena answers gently, “I left my ring on the bedside table. Not the best idea to wear it out and about here.” She watches Alex from the corner of her eye, moving to the door, “Alex?”
“I uh...I have patients.” Alex swallows, glancing toward the floor as she speaks, “congratulations to you both.”
Serena sighs, looking at her wife on the mobile screen once Alex leaves the office fully. “That was unnecessary,” She takes another sip of her wine.
“You don’t know her like I do.” Bernie shakes her head, “she had the opportunity, I gave it to her, but she declined.” Bernie answers simply, “years ago, while I was still with Marcus. I was...prepared to lay everything with him out on the table in order to be with her, but...” This is too much information to share, especially in this room with her granddaughter and the girl’s mother nearby. “Thankfully, she didn’t. Else I’d never have met you.”
“I had no idea it had gone that far between the two of you.” Serena yawns, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth casually.
“Never needed to.” Bernie raises her brow, “ancient history that I don’t wish to...explore again.” Her head quickly turns when she feels her granddaughter crawling into her lap, the girl places her head on her shoulder as she holds onto her, aggressively showing her love. “Tala, did you see who it is?”
Serena watches the girl, seeing her bashful grin from around her pacifier. “Her cheeks are red.”
“Yes, she’s feeling a bit poorly today. Fever, drippy nose. Reckon it’s probably some teeth coming in.” Bernie nods, then returns the attention back to her wife, “I thought I asked you to phone when you made it back to your flat...after your flight.” When she sees the woman about to argue, she continues, “didn’t matter what time the plane landed. I was awake.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, resting against Tala’s, “couldn’t sleep without knowing you were safe.”
“I’m sorry, darling.” Serena smiles regretfully, “my flight landed, I had a driver take me to my flat, and I just...slept. Nothing terribly prolific. Once I finish things up here, I’ll head back there and pack up essentials. The driver that I’m using is someone that aided Charlotte in her search for me not long ago. He helped her significantly during her week with me in Nairobi.”
“Well, I’m thrilled there’s someone there to help you...since you wouldn’t let me.” Bernie mumbles, able to see her wife’s eye roll. She starts to smile, “if it gets to be too much though, John’s offered to fly out. He said he isn’t really sure why you didn’t ask for his help in the first place.”
“Oh? You aren’t jealous anymore?” Serena reaches down, retrieving the bottle of shiraz and pouring the last of it into her glass before placing it in the small bin next to her desk..
Bernie exhales slowly, “of course not. I was never jealous in the first place.”
“Berenice Wolfe, that is a downright lie.” Serena tries to keep herself from laughing, looking away so she doesn’t lose her wits about her. She’s met with the faux belly laugh Tala is known to give when she notices others on the verge of laughter, which only breaks Serena’s attempt to contain herself.
Beginning to grin to herself, Bernie pulls her granddaughter into her lap more, the girl snuggling against her with a cheeky smirk from around her pacifier. “Campbell,” Bernie catches her wife’s attention again, “hurry home...on the double.”
“Doing my best.” Serena nods, signing off with a wink as she leans forward, touching the screen of the device to end the call. She sits there a moment longer before standing up from her chair and putting the used wine glass in the box she’s slowly attempting to put together. The time she’s spent here, trying to feel closer to Bernie. Serena never thought things would end like this for her and Bernie, married and with a family they’ve cobbled together for themselves.
Today is my birthday and I wanted to post something up to celebrate that.
Thank you all for your support, thus far. I appreciate it from the bottom of my hearts. <3
Bernie tries to speak to her daughter.
Charlotte receives an unexpected visitor.
A day or so after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie enters her daughter’s bedroom, an air of caution surrounding her. The space is quiet and calming, a soundtrack of trickling water plays on a stereo speaker, but Bernie isn’t quite sure where, it’s just something she can hear.
“Bloody thing causes me to wee twice as much as I otherwise would, I’m convinced.” Charlie smirks, resting against her full body pillow, her head turning to watch the woman, “when you aren’t wearing the oxygen, you’re back to those silent footsteps, Major Mum.”
“How did yow it was me, then?” Bernie raises an impressed eyebrow, taking a seat next to her daughter on the bed. She’s found that if she isn’t walking about too much, she’s able to last longer without her oxygen.
“I could smell your perfume.” Charlie carefully sits up a little, moving the large body pillow onto the floor next to her, “same perfume you’ve always worn, but...I’ve always liked it.” She props herself up against the headboard before looking down to her own middle. “I think he looks bigger today than he did yesterday.” Charlie exhales slowly, mumbling, “feels bigger, at least.”
“You’re nipping at the heels of your third trimester, so I wouldn’t doubt it.” Bernie offers her daughter a tight smile, but is surprised when the young woman reaches over to take hold of her hand. “I um...I spoke with Serena and-”
“How is she faring in Nairobi?” Charlotte attempts to keep things light, craving levity, “does she need Johnny’s assistance?”
“Not that she’s admitted yet.” Bernie is surprised when Charlotte holds her hand against a portion of her belly, “is he sideways?”
“He’s been. He waits until I’m exhausted to move as much as possible.” Charlie smirks, “he just...seems to really like being sideways. He does switch which way from time to time, but...” She shakes her head, placing her palm on the back of her mother’s hand, “see? Right there.”
“He’s stretching.” Bernie can’t help but smile proudly, “as a doctor, I’ve...felt a moving fetus in their mother’s womb plenty of times, I’ve felt them in my own womb as well, but...it never grows tiring.” She turns her head, looking at her daughter’s glowing complexion, “Charlie-”
“I know what this is about. I’ve...Every time you’ve looked at me the past few days, your eyes are filled with regret.” Charlie shakes her head, “I...I thank you, but...I just...” Her movements still, though she strokes the back of her mother’s hand with her thumb as it continues to rest on her abdomen. “I know he was your friend and...it sucks, no matter how one looks at things.”
“That doesn’t matter. You matter.” Bernie mumbles, glancing down to just focus on her hand, feeling her growing grandson move beneath her fingertips, “you and Cameron...you’ll always matter more to me than anyone else. Tala and this little gentleman...they’re up there as well. Even Jason and his daughter.”
“I’m going to tell Serena she doesn’t matter to you.” Charlie teases her mother, receiving a smirk from the woman.
“Different categories.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, the space between she and her daughter grows quiet again before she speaks, “I’ve been trying to find the words for days and...all I can really come up with is that...” Bernie swallows, “I love you, Charlie, and you always have me...whether you think you do or not.”
Charlie moves her hand from the back of her mother’s and reaches up, tucking a portion of Bernie’s hair behind her ear. “Ditto, Mum.” Her eyes glisten, touched by the woman’s words, knowing it had probably taken her a bit of effort to find the right ones. “I keep...thinking about...what it would be like for me to go through this if you weren’t here and...” Charlie licks her lips, shaking her head, “I don’t think I could.” She swallows, “I’d be...I don’t know, but...my life would be so different.”
“You’d be fine.” Bernie moves closer to her daughter, her upper arm brushing against her daughter’s, “you’re far stronger than I could ever imagine being.”
Hearing those words come from her mother’s mouth, it touches Charlie in a way she wasn’t expecting. “Here come the bloody waterworks, sodding hormones.” She gives a throaty chuckle to herself as she wipes away her own tears, “thanks, Mum, really. It means loads to me to...hear you say that.”
“I try my best.” Bernie furrows her brow playfully, her head turning when she hears the doorbell from the floor below, “I’d race to get that, but Nicky is downstairs and is more than capable.”
Nicky rushes to the door, her grow suit-clad daughter in her arm as she quickly tugs the door open without looking through the eye hole. A woman, older than her, but not by much, stands there with a pack of files tucked into her arm. “Hello, might I help you?”
“Tala!” The woman grins, then looks back at Nicky, “um, yes, I’m here to see Ms. Wolfe...Charlotte Wolfe.” She swallows when the woman in the doorway seems uncertain, “I’m her assistant, Beryl Holmes.”
“Oh, okay. Yes, I’ve heard of you, come in.” Nicky nods, stepping aside for the woman to enter, “it was odd that you recognized my daughter before anything, so I was a bit taken aback, I apologize.” She leads the way after closing the front door, toward the lounge.
“No, no need for that. I’m...I could have just said my name first off.” Beryl shakes her head, “is she, um...is she okay?”
“Doctor ordered some bedrest, but she’ll be fine to come down, just take a seat.” Nicky nods, motioning to the sofa, “pardon the mess, we’re slowly working on cleaning up instead of sitting in the toy chest.” She smiles at her daughter, blanket in hand and pacifier in her mouth, “I think, sometimes, she’s part feline.”
“Well, she’s incredibly adorable. Charlie would always show my pictures on her mobile.” Beryl offers a sad smile, actually missing her boss, “before you go to retrieve her, is she um...is she well?”
“Perfectly fine.” Charlie stands in the doorway, clad in a pair of black leggings and a form fitting t-shirt. “Why wouldn’t I be fine?” Her hair is pulled up in a messy bun, “I’m in a house, surrounded by doctors no matter where I look. I expect them to be in the woodwork as well.”
Beryl excitedly jumps up from the sofa, moving over to her boss and hugging her tenderly, glad to receive a squeeze in return. “Everyone is so bloody worried and asking me so many questions that I just can’t answer.” She shakes her head, pulling back finally, “I brought files with me, but...if you don’t want to do any work, if you aren’t able to-”
“Berry, it would be a welcome distraction.” Charlie offers the other woman a soft smile, “anything from the Yard?”
“They’ve been sending paperwork for us to settle, but Mr. Weston has been declining it and sending it back without even...speaking to the clients or looking to see what’s offered, trying to force them into a trial.” Beryl scurries back to the sofa, picking up the paperwork, “not that I think what he’s doing is wrong, but...even you’d read it.”
“Let’s head to the dining room, we’ll have a bit more room than if we were in my study.” Charlotte nods to her, tilting her head to signify the woman to follow.
Bernie stands in the hall, her oxygen pack on her back, “could I get you some tea?” She watches her daughter and the other woman as they walk by.
Beryl stops in her tracks, her eyes widening as she looks at the older woman. Same height as Charlie, same eyes...same face, really, but with different hair. “Wow,” Beryl whispers aloud.
The pause in steps causes Charlotte to turn in place, looking between her assistant and mother as she takes a step closer to them. “Uh...Beryl Holmes, this is my mother, Bernie Wolfe. Mum, this is my assistant, Berry.”
“I’d shake your hand, but it seems they’re full at the moment.” Bernie nods, “I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”
“It’s an honor, Ms. Wolfe.” Beryl promptly drops one of the folders onto the floor, sighing after.
“I’ll get that for you. You both go on ahead.” Bernie nods, starting to crouch.
Beryl doesn’t want to put the woman out, doesn’t want her to worry about what’s happening. “I can get that, ma’am-”
“Berry, first thing I want you to learn whenever you visit here...there’s no use in arguing with the Major.” Charlie shakes her head a little, motioning for her assistant to leave it alone, “dining room, come on.” Pulling one of the dining chairs back, Charlie lifts her head, glad when she sees her assistant enter as well. “Did you tell Weston you were coming?”
“He’s aware that I would, from time to time, come here to...assist.” Beryl shrugs, emptying her hands of the folders held all over the table, “I don’t know. He’s just...” She starts to smirk to herself, amused with the prospect, “as mad as it may sound, I think he misses you .” Beryl starts to fix the folders on the desk, then glances at her boss. “Not like, in a romantic way, but...”
Charlie licks her lips, nodding slowly, “So you think I should take a trip to the office soon...”
“She’s on bed rest.” Bernie carries in the dropped folder, having picked up all the papers that had fallen out. She places it onto the table with the others before folding her arms over her chest.
“Mum, I’ll take it easy. I’ll even wear flats.” Charlie offers, really wanting to return to some sort of aspect of her life. “If you’re so concerned, you can come along.”
“We’ll survive, Charlie.” Beryl shakes her head, “I mean...you’re missed and all of that, but...if Ms. Wolfe believes it in your best interest not to come in just yet, I’d probably listen to her-”
“That’s because you’re afraid of her.” Charlotte sighs, mumbling as she takes a seat in one of the dining room chairs.
“Imagine that one as a teenager with that attitude.” Bernie smirks, raising an eyebrow, earning an amused chuckle from Beryl.
Charlotte suddenly smacks her hand against the table, causing the other two in the room to jump slightly. “I need to feel fucking normal.” She finally says, lifting her head to glance between them, “work, to me, is normal. Reading briefings, reading client files...that’s normal.”
“I’m sorry, Beryl, could you give me just a moment with my daughter.” Bernie maintains a gentle smile, “you’re welcome to have a seat in the lounge...I’ll come and get you.”
“Sure, not a problem, ma’am.” Beryl nods, giving a quick glance to Charlie before scurrying from the room, following orders.
“She’s my assistant, not your subordinate, you don’t get to dismiss her.” Charlotte mumbles, bringing a hand up to sweep away the fallen hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear. She expects her mother to back down instantly, but is surprised when she doesn’t.
“I understand that...your world feels turned upside down. I do. I understand that...being married, being pregnant, being...unable to do the things you were usually able to do without a second thought...” Bernie steps closer, still looking down at her daughter, “I know how hard that is, but I’ll be damned if you put yourself at risk because you need to feel normal. ” She doesn’t receive any sort of response, “risk of fainting while you’re standing, risk of premature delivery, risk of miscarriage.” Bernie edges a seat against the table, “the threats far outweigh the need for normalcy, Charlotte.”
Charlotte’s chin trembles, but she does her best not to let it spread to the rest of her face, “going to the office in order to visit my boss isn’t going to-”
“Yes, Charlie, it will.” Bernie finally answers, “you feel that being moving about in your womb...you know that things are less about you and more about them. Your entire existence, for the entirety of their habitation in your womb, is to protect them. Keep yourself well and safe so that you don’t put them in any sort of danger.”
Lifting a hand to quickly wipe away a tear that’s made its way from her eye, Charlie swallows, “I know.”
“I can take you lashing out at me, but your assistant doesn’t deserve it.” Bernie shakes her head, “do this...” She motions to the dining room table with a tilt of her head, “but venturing out to visit people, isn’t feasible until your OB says it is...no matter how well you believe yourself to be.”
“I don’t like to sit at home.” Charlie adjusts her position in the chair before clearing her throat and leaning back against the seat, her gaze finally lifts to look at her mother’s face, “I don’t like to sit anywhere.”
“Hate to tell you, darling, but you’re more like me than either one of us cares to admit.” Bernie smirks a little, garnering a soft laugh from her daughter in the seat next to her. “I can’t do the things I used to do and neither can you, but we’ll both get back to some semblance of our former selves. You, undoubtedly, will experience that faster than myself.”
“One can hope.” Charlie raises an eyebrow, sighing softly, “I apologize.”
“Thought you might.” Bernie rises from her seat on the table, walking toward the doorway, “I’ll retrieve Beryl for you.” She pauses, turning around and taking a few steps toward her daughter again, whispering, “what sort of name is Beryl anyway?”
“It was something her father heard in the war, apparently.” Charlotte whispers back, “Don’t ask me what war or how pissed he was at the time.”
Bernie gives a quick nod, her voice returning to a normal level, “good then.” She offers her daughter one last smile before stepping from the room.
Are you surprised that Bernie held her ground instead of immediately backing down with her daughter?
Charlie and John make a plan.
Charlie decides to live for herself.
“I feel like Mum and Serena kind of...stole our thunder.” Charlotte mumbles, absently stroking her partner’s scalp with her short nails as they lie in bed together. Her upper body propped up against the headboard as her partner holds onto her lower body, his ear resting against her belly.
“How so?” John closes his eyes, not expecting to hear anything. They aren’t close enough to her due date just yet, but the swirling and swishing of the waters is quite relaxing to hear.
“I mean, I wanted our wedding to be that small and simple. Just us having a quick thing at the local registrar.” Charlie sighs softly, “and now, if we do that, we’ll be seen as copying off of them.” She pauses, “not that I care all that much, but...”
Opening his eyes, John looks up at his girlfriend, “you don’t want to wear a white dress and...be escorted down the aisle by your father?” He carefully sits up, “I thought that was every girl’s dream.”
“Quite presumptuous of you.” Charlie tilts her head to the side, “no, by the way. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve envisioned an actual wedding ceremony for myself. Just...if it happened, it happened.” She exhales slowly, “but I’m betting you’d like your parents to be present and siblings...I’m betting you wish there was a whole thing.”
“I only dream of marrying you. I don’t care how or where...as long as it’s you.” John smirks, seeing her blush. “Maybe a part of me wishes that our family and friends were here, but it isn’t something I’m tied to. I know my parents give you a headache.”
“That’s not true.” Charlie mumbles, seeing his face that he knows her better than she’s giving him credit for. “Your parents are lovely, but...your mother can be a tad pushy.” She exhales softly, “and I know they’re just excited to see you, I understand that, but I wish you’d spend more time with them and didn’t...force me to as well.”
“Babe, I don’t force you to do anything.” John shakes his head, “I don’t think I could if I tried.”
“You give me sad doe eyes and then become passive aggressive when I show any sort of happiness about going anywhere.” Charlie shakes her head, “I’ve, actually, never been happier to be on bedrest...means I can’t take them to be tourists.”
“I think you’re overreacting just a bit.” John smirks, watching her, “you’re getting all up in arms and they aren’t coming yet. Probably not until we’re closer to Junior’s arrival.” He pauses, “I’ve already talked them out of coming now. Not until you’re at least thirty-nine weeks.” John offers her a genuine smile, “see? I saved you from that.”
“My white knight.” Charlie brings her hand to her chest, sighing softly. “I’m sorry, I’m just...stressed thinking about how much Weston is cocking up my case, thinking about your parents, and then thinking about my mother...who I’m not too keen on having her sleep alone at night with her breathing issues and history of-”
“Babe, she’s fine. She’s a grown woman who doesn’t need to be tucked in at night. You weren’t even worried about this when Serena first left...” When John notices her subtle pout, he sighs, “do you want to head in there or for her to come in here?”
“I’ll go in there in a moment.” Charlie nods, cheeky smirk forming in the corner of her mouth.
“Yeah, yeah.” John nods, “you know, I’m free the day after tomorrow-”
“The night Serena is getting in?” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, “the night you’re going to need to retrieve her from the airport?”
“That doesn’t happen until much later. I’m free during the day.” John starts to smile, leaning in to softly kiss her.
Charlotte listens to the plan offered to her from her partner, agreeing with excited delight. Her grin remains on her face as she gets up from her side of the bed, making her way toward her mother’s bedroom.
“Berenice, I’m more than capable. Everything is fine.” Serena sits on her sofa within her living room, “it actually isn’t so bad. Mostly just clothing and...smaller things.” The things she brought with her to remind her of both Elinor and Bernie, even her parents, those most important to her. “Photographs...so many photographs.”
“Are you surprised you have so many?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, glad to see her wife on the video feed.
Serena appears distracted, but is all too happy to speak to her partner. “Honestly, yes. I’m just more concerned about getting everything packed so that it will...safely be transported back.” She sighs softly, “I’m...placing the most important one in my carry-on, but...everything is important, honestly.” Serena stops, swallowing before taking a deep breath, “I only brought the important ones.”
Bernie can sense the mild distress in her expression, “Serena, we’ll get everything here. Not to worry. Even if you need to take an extra day or two and-”
Charlotte stands in the doorway, her arms folded over her chest, “I’ll send Johnny. They’d only be there a few days. He can take a mostly empty carry on. Just take shorts and some cotton t-shirts. That way, there would be plenty of room.” She thinks for a moment, “or, better yet, I’ll have him take one of our larger pieces of luggage. They have locator tags on them for when we visit his parents in the states.”
“Did you hear that, Campbell?” Bernie asks with a smile, “sound like something you could work with?”
Serena swallows, “I couldn’t possibly-”
“Family, Serena.” Charlie calls out, walking away from the doorway.
“Hear that?” Bernie asks the screen, wanting nothing more than to hold onto her partner. She sits forward, placing the laptop onto the bed and adjusting the camera angle before folding her hands in her lap.
“I really wish you all wouldn’t worry so much.” Serena shakes her head, her volume quiet.
“Who is worrying?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, “I do, however, want you to just relax for the rest of the night. Time is ahead there, isn’t it? Must be early morning hours by now.” Time, since all that has happened to Bernie, isn’t her strong suit anymore. She wears a wrist watch, keeps a calendar, but there isn’t much she can do in terms of recalling important times and dates.
“Three hours ahead.” Serena mumbles, finally leaning back against the back of the sofa.
“You must be exhausted.” Tilting her head, Bernie sighs softly, “but you’re packing up a life that you had there...how long was it again?”
“Uh...less than a year, but...I was prepared to stay here. Prepared to move on...at the clinic that I was supposed to...” Serena swallows, shaking her head as she draws her lips into her mouth, biting softly. “Darling, I...I’d hate to cut this short-”
“Try and get some rest, Campbell. I’ll phone when I have more information for you.” Bernie nods, seeing her daughter in the doorway again. “Love you.”
The words coming from her wife’s mouth will always make Serena feel better, “I love you too, darling.”
When Serena ends the call, Bernie carefully closes the lid of the laptop, glancing over at her daughter when the young woman starts to move into the room more, “thank you for putting your foot down about that. I know she’d never ask for assistance.”
“If I were in her shoes, I probably wouldn’t either, if I’m being completely honest.” Charlotte stands at the foot of the bed for a moment, “would you mind if I...if I slept in here tonight?” She clasps her hands behind her back, “Johnny and I came up with a plan for the day after tomorrow...and since he probably isn’t going to be here, it puts a small kink in our plans.”
“Oh?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, then leans to the space next to her, pulling back the covers for her daughter before patting the empty space.
“Johnny and I were going to...make a day of it and get married since we turned in our required papers before I headed to Nairobi. I’m not telling Dad and he isn’t telling his parents, it would be a surprise for them both, but...we both agreed that we’d like for you to be present.” Charlie responds, her voice quiet and calm though she’s nervous as if her mother might refuse her request. “W-we’re on Tala duty already, so she’d be there, but...I really want you there, Mum.”
“I’d be honored.” Bernie answers without a single thought, looking over at her daughter, “but...don’t you believe your father and John’s parents would be hurt?”
“I don’t care.” Charlie replies softly before a smile breaks across her face, “I really don’t care. When it comes to my personal life...especially now, I don’t care about...upsetting Dad or...Johnny’s parents. I don’t care.” She shakes her head, “I...I lived for other people for...a long time. I’m...I was worried about disappointing my Weston, disappointing my parents...worried about not appearing to...have it all together.”
“Darling, I’m in my fifties and I can tell you, ‘having it all together’, is a bloody myth.” Bernie offers a sympathetic smile, “you’ve never disappointed me. I don’t think you ever could.”
“Sure, with a lot of hard work.” Charlotte clears her throat, the corner of her mouth turning up in a grin as she leans back against the raised head of the bed. “Though, I suppose I don’t need to work that hard. Cameron was never really the overachiever.”
“Be kind to your brother.” A part of Bernie is still amused. She picks up the laptop from the end of the bed, opening the door to her bedside table and placing it within, as she usually does, closing it after to look over to her daughter. “Why change your mind?”
“Changed my mind on what?” Charlie reaches up to her hair, brushing the wispy pieces aside to tuck behind her ear.
“I’m sorry, it was a senseless question.” Bernie mumbles, turning away as if still preparing herself for bed.
Charlotte contemplates the question for a moment, thinking about what her mother could mean as well as as a possible answer, “on marrying John?” She doesn’t need her mother’s confirmation, Charlie knows that’s what she was referring to. “I love him. Was I scared, am I scared?” Charlie nods a little, “not because I think he’ll hurt me or...anything like that. It’s...he’s the most loving, caring...thoughtful human being I’ve ever met.”
Bernie stares for a moment at the young woman, “Then why are you scared?”
“Of childbirth,” Charlie licks her lips, shrugging, “of...making a mistake and-”
“Of your marriage turning out like things did for your father and I.” Bernie swallows, cautiously taking Charlotte’s hand in her own. “That would never happen.”
Charlie begins to shake her head negatively, “I’ve already che-”
“No, you didn’t.” Bernie answers softly, “what I did to your father and what happened with you, do not equate. Not to mention, John isn’t Marcus Dunn. For one, he’s taller-” When she sees her daughter huff a soft chuckle, Bernie smirks, “honestly though, Charlie...you haven’t a single thing to worry about. You’re about the same age as I was when I married, when I had Cameron...and I can say, with utmost confidence, that you’re far braver than I could even imagine being at that age.”
“What if I realize I’m a late in life lesbian?” Charlie raises an eyebrow, only half meaning her question.
“You’d know by now.” Bernie shrugs, hearing her daughter’s soft laugh, “otherwise, you’d have to talk to Serena about that one. I was her first girlfriend.”
“That Wolfe irresistibility.” Charlie turns to her side, instinctively cuddling onto her mother, as she usually does with John when they’re in bed together. It’s one of the reasons John bought the large body pillow for her, he couldn’t lay in bed for her to hold onto all day.
It’s been a very long time since her daughter has clung onto her the way Charlotte is now. Bernie can’t help but smile, actually really loving the closeness, “darling, your bed is far more comfortable than this one and I reckon John would appreciate some-” She tries, only to realize that the young woman is already asleep.
Carefully sliding out from Charlotte’s grasp after a few moments of deliberation, Bernie makes her way to the master bedroom, seeing John on his laptop, obviously making preparations for his trip to Nairobi, “Hampton.”
“You know, I’ve been to a lot of places, especially when I served, but...never Nairobi.” John grins, glancing up at the woman in the doorway for a moment, “not that it’s a sight seeing trip, but a guy can pretend.”
“You can do both. I’m sure Serena wouldn’t mind.” Bernie slides her hands into the pockets of her pajama pants.
“I have patients.” John shakes his head, his eyes returning to the screen in front of him, “rescheduling is already a big issue for some of them. Really, breaking any sort of schedule is like...the worst of the worst.” He starts to smirk, teasing, “must be an Army thing, they whine too much.”
Bernie smirks, “the cheek.” She moves into the room a bit more, standing at the foot of the bed, “come and get Charlie, bring her in here.”
“Is there something wrong?” When she doesn’t answer right away, John glances up again, “Bernie.”
“Not wrong, no, but...” Bernie sighs, biting her lip. She doesn’t know if she should even say anything. “I love my daughter...even if I don’t tell her that enough, I do. I want her to be happy and treated well.” Bernie places her hands on the footboard of the bed, “I believe she has all of that with you.”
“Well...good.” John flashes a smirk, “but you seem worried.”
“I implore you to help her understand that you aren’t like her father.” Bernie shakes her head, “it continually comes up in conversation...and it’s a bit out of my depth. I underestimated just how much of an impact the divorce made on her.”
“Was it the divorce itself or the individual actions of her parents during the divorce?” John asks simply, “because that’s what children remember, regardless of their age. They remember how Mum spoke of Dad and how Dad treated their mother when he’d see her...or if they saw one another.” His attention returns to the laptop, “they remember the lead up, the...exposed skeletons in the closet that they didn’t even know existed.” John exhales slowly, shutting the lid to the laptop, “everything I need is being sent to my phone. Can you believe that? Modern technology.”
Bernie listens to his words intently, giving the ideas some thought, “I’ve never been much of a mother.” She responds quietly, “not without trying, but...I was never a homemaker. I know that’s what Marcus always wanted.”
“Apples don’t fall far from the tree because neither is she, thankfully.” John smirks, “She wouldn’t be my Charlie if she were.” He folds his legs cross style as he continues to look at the woman set to be his mother-in-law, “before you rose from the dead, much like a beautiful Frankenstein’s monster, all she could think about was those letters she and Cameron wrote years ago for Marcus’ solicitor.” John shakes his head, “over and over. It consumed her. Took me months to get her out of that.”
“H-how did you?” Bernie asks quietly, remembering how painful it was for her children to take a stand against her, even if it was metaphorical.
John raises an eyebrow, “She kept the letter you wrote to her, the one your friend had brought and...said you asked for her to give your children if-”
“Alex? They had to be years old at that point.” Bernie folds her arms over her chest.
“Doesn’t matter, she carries her letter in her purse. I...see her take it out occasionally when she is too anxious to hold herself together. Even the night she and I were engaged to marry. I had to step away to use the washroom and saw her reading it and touching the ink on the page as I was walking back to my seat.” John shakes his head, “her emotions regarding your divorce and...everything that occurred with that, is something she’ll need to figure out herself over time. I’ve given her no reason to think I’m anything like your ex-husband other than my love for her, just as he loved you. Still does, with the way he acted during services.”
“How can I help her, though?” Bernie asks quietly, never being one to be very good with emotions as a whole.
“She doesn’t read your letter anymore. That’s progress.” John nods a little, “honestly, Bernie, I think you’re doing everything you can. Being present and holding onto her, those are things Charlie responds to. The rest is up to her.”
“Okay.” Bernie nods absently, just glancing around the room at nothing in particular, smirking at the oversized pillow on Charlotte’s usual side of the bed. “Could you come and get her? Last thing I want is for her to feel uncomfortable in the morning because she hasn’t grown used to the bed Serena and I sleep on.” She pauses, motioning to the large pillow, “and, I imagine, she’ll probably want that.”
“She went in there to be closer to you. She’s worried you’ll stop breathing at some point during the night and Serena won’t be there to hear it.” John raises an eyebrow, “I can come and get her, but she’s going to be anxious.”
Bernie furrows her brow, “Serena’s been gone for days.”
“Right.” John nods, “but she feels like she needs to be closer to you right now.” He answers simply, watching the woman in front of him. “She has a habit of...coming up with an excuse to do so.”
Licking her lips, Bernie turns sideways, as if considering that her children would actually want to be close to her and didn’t just miss her because she was thought to be dead. “It’s um...it isn’t something I’m very familiar with.” A soft smile starts to form in the corner of her mouth, “I’ve been-I’ve been trying with them.”
“Must be doing a good job then.” John raises his brow, offering her a reassuring smile.
Bernie glances to the floor, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear with a blush. “You um...you sleep well, Hampton.” She starts to move toward the door, not necessarily waiting for a response.
“You too.” John exhales slowly once she leaves, glancing over to his partner’s side of the bed. He’d have loved to have her close tonight, especially since that wouldn’t be happening for a few days at least. However, her comfort and happiness right now means much more than having her next to him. Much more.
In like a lion, out like a lamb.
Currently working on the last chapter, which seems so bizarre.
It's a pretty chill one, so I'm hoping you all enjoy it.
Bernie helps her daughter.
John helps Serena when she finds her flat broken into.
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.’
Something quick, when John calls Charlie "babe", it's coming from a place of love and not some fratboy stuff. My grandfather always called my grandmother "babe" and I always thought it was the sweetest thing. So, I brought it into here. ALSO, I don't know shit about Alex Dawson's familial ties or even if they've been mentioned. I've looked back at old clips and I haven't caught anything (doesn't mean there isn't anything, I just never caught it), so I just made one up. It especially explains the things that Alex has done within the context of this story.
I want to give a special thank you to EVERYONE who has read, given kudos, and commented. You have no idea how something so simple can keep me going. <3
There's going to be a sequel. Don't worry. Just keep your eyes peeled because I don't really have a title yet.