Bernie and Charlie anxiously await any word from their partners.
Serena and John continue their chats about their significant others.
Charlotte Wolfe had kissed her new husband goodbye just hours after marrying him with a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. His promises of returning a few days later made her worry, but she trusted him. Trusted that he’d return with her stepmother and the things that were overwhelming her by a week at most.
However, they are nearing two weeks now. Charlie had read reports of intense flooding in the region where she knew Serena Campbell’s flat to be, but was ever so slightly relieved that Serena’s flat was a first floor walk up. However, radio silence never put anyone at ease. Charlie brings her mobile up from her pocket, reading over the single message she’s received from her partner.
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.
Charlie’s chin trembles, her eyes damp. All she feels like doing anymore is crying. She’s probably read this message hundreds of times by now.
Bernie Wolfe enters the kitchen space, seeing her daughter just staring at the screen of her mobile as she faces a window leading to the back garden. “Anything?” Her voice is hopeful, the soft hiss of oxygen at her nose from the pack on her back. She’s come so far in just a few short months, hardly ever needing her cane at all.
“Just the one John sent a couple days after he would have gotten there. At least I know he’s safe...they’re safe, right?” Charlie turns slowly before tossing her mobile onto the kitchen island a bit harder than she intended, luckily the clear protective case works, keeping the device intact.
Lifting the device in her hand, Bernie uses the other to scroll through the other messages Charlotte had sent in reply. All unanswered, all unread. “I um...I remember when there would be bad storms that we’d lose all connection.” Bernie nods a little, “it’s...the memory is vague, but it might explain things.”
Raising an eyebrow, Charlie stares her mother down, “and you’re just now remembering this?”
“Yes.” Bernie answers simply, unbothered by the look her daughter is giving her. Setting the mobile back onto the kitchen island, she takes a seat on one of the stools, “I’m intrigued by Alex’s presence.”
“She probably thought Serena would be alone.” Charlie sighs, leaning her back against the counter top near the sink. “Cuppa?”
“Let me get it.” Bernie effortlessly slides off the stool, rounding the kitchen island to the same side as her daughter, “you take a seat. You’re still on bedrest.”
“Hopefully not for much longer.” Charlotte mumbles, but does as her mother says. She then closes her eyes, sighing, “if Johnny isn’t back in a couple of days, he’s going to miss my next appointment.” Charlie carefully slides onto the stool, “I just...completely forgot with everything going on...or not going on.”
Bernie pauses, deciding not to look toward her daughter as she speaks, “if you’d like, I could go with you.” When she doesn’t hear an immediate refusal, Bernie glances over toward the young woman slowly, “but if you’d rather I-”
“I would appreciate that.” Charlie offers her mother a slight smirk, “as long as you want to. I don’t want you to feel-”
“I want to.” Bernie smiles to herself, a wave of relief flowing over her. She faces the single serve cup machine again, “which one would you like?”
“I’d love some black tea, but we don't have any more decaf. In fact, we’re sort of...running out of everything.” Charlie sighs softly, “there’s, um...white tea there, I think. I’ll have that.” She watches as her mother places the cup into its place and closes the lid. “We should do the weekly shopping later.”
“I can go.” Bernie tries, “I’m not an invalid.”
“Neither am I and I’ve seen what Serena would bring home when you’d go with, opposed to when she started going by herself.” Charlotte watches her mother, amused, “we’ll take stock and make a list before we go. A list that we will not deviate from.”
“So,” Bernie removes the mug of hot tea from the device, carefully turning and setting it in front of her daughter, “if we add things to the list, that means we must buy them...” She offers, noticing her daughter’s shrug, “okay then.” A clever smirk begins to grow across Bernie’s face.
“Don’t get any ideas, please.” Charlie mumbles, hearing the hazardous squeaking coming from the leather shoes that Nicky would put on Tala. Spinning on the stool to face the babe, Charlie smirks, “there’s my girl.”
“Any word?” Nicky McKendrick asks as she rounds the corridor from the stairs clad in aubergine scrubs. Since the guest house hadn't finished its repairs, she and her daughter were still living on the second floor.
“Afraid not.” Bernie shakes her head as she answers for her daughter, glancing down to her granddaughter when the girl steps around the kitchen island. “We’ll be heading to the grocery in a bit, is there anything you’d like to add to our list, Nicky?” She carefully lifts Tala into her arms when the girl holds her hands up, demanding attention. Bernie was always a bit hesitant and nervous about holding her granddaughter when she wasn’t sitting down because of the weakness in her hands due to what happened to her in Mogadishu. “Those little...puff snacks that she likes, maybe?”
“She still has a canister of them, but I’m sure she’d love variety.” Nicky smirks, tilting her head to the side, “oh, also, I caught her trying to get over the gate at the top of the stairs. Just wanted to make you all aware.”
Bernie sets the girl on top of the kitchen island, keeping a protective arm around her as she leans down, “is that so, little cub?” She receives a slobbery kiss to her cheek from the babe, causing her smile to grow into a broad grin.
“We’ll get her something.” Charlie smirks at how loving her mother always seems with the girl.
“Okay, I’m off.” Nicky reaches over the kitchen island, giving her daughter a kiss on the head before collecting her things, “let me know if you hear anything?” There's a tone of concern in her voice. Nicky had grown much closer to everyone in the house since moving in a few months prior, especially Serena Campbell since the woman was once her work superior and professional mentor. Nicky notices the subtle nod from the younger of the two women, “good then.”
Charlotte lifts a hand, running it through her own hair, “I’m going to shower so that we-”
“You’ve hardly slept, Charlie.” Bernie points out, keeping her tone serious enough for her daughter to take note, “it isn’t safe for you to drive.”
“Well, you aren’t driving.” Charlie raises an eyebrow, glancing over to her mother, “and staying in the house any longer would just drive both of us mad.” She pauses, bringing her mug to her lips and blowing softly before mumbling, “madder than we already are.”
“Ha.” Bernie smirks, standing upright and carefully letting Tala back down onto the hardwood to explore. “I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car in months...or years, if you want to count that bit where I was... out .” She explains, keeping an eye on her granddaughter even though they could both certainly hear where she was with the squeaking of the babe’s shoes.
“I’ve taken my blood pressure this morning and it’s...fantastic. You, technically, don’t have a driving license.” Charlie takes a long sip of her tea.
Bernie raises an eyebrow, “why the pause?”
“There was no pause.” Charlotte sighs, motioning to Tala, “are you keeping an eye on her while I-”
“Charlotte, we’re fine.” Bernie shakes her head slowly, “kept you alive all that time, didn’t I?”
“Barely.” Charlie mumbles jokingly, quickly finishing her tea. She slides off her seat and begins to make her way down the hall when she hears her mother’s mobile ring. Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, the song Charlotte knew was the ringtone for Serena. Charlie stops in her tracks, turning slowly.
Bernie is quick to reach into the back pocket of her black jeans, touching the screen of the mobile, “Campbell?” She tries to listen, only to hear a static filled mess. Bernie shakes her head a little, bringing a hand up to cover her other ear, “you’re breaking up.”
“We’re fine. Just waiting for the airport to open again.” Serena tries, bringing her free hand up to rub over her brow, hearing Bernie just fine, but noticing the raised volume to her voice. Serena knows that the connection isn’t clear enough. “I love you.” She says, hoping at least that gets through before she touches the screen to end the call. Serena takes a deep breath, standing by the window in her flat that she knows gets the best reception during times like this. She’s used it plenty of times with Jason and even a few with Cameron.
John Hampton steps closer to Serena, placing his hands onto his hips, wearing only a pair of his cotton lounge shorts. The only time he has left the flat was to walk Alex Dawson to the clinic, roughly half an hour from Serena’s flat with water that was just above his knees. That was only a day or two after his arrival. Nearly a fortnight later, the streets still contained quite a significant amount of water and various government agencies were attempting to help their people to the best of their abilities. “Were you able to get through?” Everything they needed to do at Serena’s flat was already finished within a few days and her landlord had offered to purchase the furniture within, whatever she didn’t want or couldn’t take with her. She had far too much furniture anyway for a house that rarely had anymore than a single visitor.
Taking a moment before turning around, Serena starts to nod, “hardly.” She swallows, “just...Bernie. I don’t know about Charlotte.”
Nodding a little, John continues to keep his eyes on her, “they’re probably living it up over there without us. You have nothing to worry about.”
“I have everything to worry about. We both know they aren’t going to follow any medical direction given to them.” Serena leaves her mobile on the window sill, stepping over to take a seat on the sofa, “well, Charlotte may because Bernie would attempt to enforce them, but they’re both so stubborn.” She closes her eyes, exhaling slowly, “I just don’t want the two of them stuck together because they’re generally unable to go anywhere, falling back into old habits. I don’t want them to argue.”
John waits a moment, taking a seat on the other end of the sofa, “you might not have known Charlie very well before she came to find you, but...since finding out that her mother was alive, Charlie’s been like...a whole different person. She used to really guard herself. Um...I could have counted on two hands the amount of times she said she loved me in four years.” There’s something sad about his expression, “she always had this...playful side as well as a...don’t-let-them-see-ya-sweat sort of attitude. She’d bring the second one home more often than not.”
“That’s tough.” Serena adjusts her position on the sofa, looking over to the man while sitting sideways, her head leaning against the back of the sofa. She wears a cotton, maroon sleeveless shirt. She had bought some for hot days while at home, especially here. Luckily, they were still here.
He shrugs, licking his lips. “I loved her. There was never any other option.” John slowly inhales, then exhales, “I understood the affair...” He begins to bite the inside of his bottom lip, “I took her on as a patient when she was nineteen. I...found myself having feelings for her...and there was this...youthful wonder in regards to the world.” John stops his biting, smiling softly at the thought of Charlotte when he first started speaking to her. “She...adored her mother. Even going as far as to call Bernie her personal hero. When the IED happened and Bernie came back here, I remember how anxious Charlie was. By that time, we’d stopped being doctor-patient and became...romantically involved.”
Serena certainly wasn’t expecting that. She remembers the young woman who seemed busy and stressed with University and having a side job as an assistant at a local law firm. During the only Christmas that they all spent together, Elinor’s last, it seemed as though Charlotte desired more from her mother, but couldn’t bear to say anything. Charlotte was smart, confident, and inches away from giving Elinor a piece of her mind when the young woman had said some harsh things to Serena. She still remembers the hug that Charlotte gave her after Elinor stormed from the house. “I-I don’t understand the leap.”
“When she found out about Alex Dawson and how Bernie carried on an affair, she was more hurt than anything. Hurt that her mother couldn’t trust her enough to tell her the truth. Then it turned into this...jealous anger.” John shrugs, “she’d text or email...even call and...maybe a tenth of her calls were returned or got through. It all just...festered. Little things would set her off, like Bernie visiting Holby for your nephew’s wedding, but not for a Christmas with her own children.”
“Bernie’s always had a habit of going radio silent.” Serena responds quietly, “not in a malicious way, she tends to just...focus on what’s in front of her and not what’s at home.” She smiles softly, “but she loves to surprise people. So she would really go quiet before just...showing up unexpectedly.”
John huffs a soft laugh, actually glad they weren’t watching another DVD or listening to the radio, as they had been doing with their free time. He loved talking with Serena. With the stories they both told about their significant others, they would continually make one another laugh with the similarities. “Yep.” He starts to smile, “you know, there’s so much we can compare and contrast, whether we do that consciously or unconsciously, but I can see why Charlie respects you as much as she does. The two of you are very similar as well. Especially with the way you treat other people.”
“You were just saying she was cold to you.” Serena furrows her brow a little, not only was John Hampton handsome, but he was a great conversationalist. It all causes her to feel a bit flustered. You’re a married woman and he’s a married man, technically your son-in-law. Knock it off. Serena licks her lips, adjusting her position on the sofa before picking up one of the books she kept out of her packed box that were sitting on the table to fan herself with.
“To me, yes, but not to others. Not really.” John smirks a little, “she would be stern with her clients, but...also offer a shoulder for them to cry on and the only reason I know about that is because of her assistant telling me.” His smile grows a bit, “I’ve always thought of her as an enigma. Sometimes...most times, I just never know what to expect.”
“I have...three bottles of shiraz left.” Serena nods, “I say we should have a toast...to the women we love.”
“I can agree to that.” John nods, watching as the woman stands. He continues talking as she disappears into the kitchen area, “I’ve been meaning to ask, why such a...mediocre wine?”
“Oh, John, we’ve been getting along so well.” Serena raises an eyebrow, her voice lowering with mock distrust, “don’t force me to view you with contempt now.”
So, we're back. I'm aware that wasn't much time before last story and this story, but I hope you'll still enjoy it.
Charlotte feels the weight of her own anxieties.
Bernie steps out of her comfort zone to help her daughter.
Bernie sets up the travel cot in the room she shares with her wife before gently placing her half dazed granddaughter into it. The girl had been up early, usually waking before Nicky’s earliest shift. Tala was set on a schedule, thankfully. Breakfast, midmorning snack, naptime, and lunch when she wakes a couple of hours later. She and Charlotte decided to head out to the grocery after going out for lunch. It would all work out.
Smiling softly, Bernie turns on the baby monitors, leaving one next to the cot and clipping the other to her jeans pocket. She moves back to the door after seeing the babe instinctively settle, leaving the door open just a crack as she leaves the room. Passing the master bedroom, Bernie notices her daughter sitting on the edge of the bed, clad in a pastel blue silk robe, seemingly needing to take a minute. Whether it be from a spinning head or from being short of breath, Bernie isn’t sure. Having left her small oxygen concentrator on it’s charging dock, she knows her footsteps make virtually no noise as she moves around the house. Bernie has accidentally scared Serena dozens of times already.
Moving into the bedroom, Bernie studies her daughter, finally sighing softly after a few moments, “where’s your monitor?”
The sudden voice of her mother causes Charlotte to jump a little, “you’re going to make me piss myself.”
“You’re evading the question.” Bernie says again, her voice all business.
“Mum, I’m fine. Just a little winded after getting out of the bath.” Charlie waits a moment when she notices her mother isn’t about to just give in to her before finally mumbling, “in my bedside table drawer.” Just out of her reach, Charlie nonchalantly motions toward the side table with her hand.
“You look pale.” Bernie steps around the bed, tugging open the drawer and retrieving the self monitoring forearm blood pressure cuff. She quickly wraps it around her daughter’s wrist, “and your respiration is a tad shallow.”
“They are not.” Charlotte touches a couple of buttons on the monitor out of habit, feeling as it begins to assert pressure. She knows she isn’t going to win an argument when her mother is like this. “Just because Serena and John are in Nairobi doesn’t mean I need you hovering in their stead.”
Bernie raises her brow, lifting her daughter’s wrist to look at the monitor when it beeps, signifying its finish in measuring, “94 over 62 with 89 bpm.” Bernie scowls slightly, “and you said it was normal...”
“All of those numbers are within normal range.” Charlie retorts, “in fact, they’re quite good for being in my third trimester.” Feeling her mother let go of her wrist, Charlie brings her hand back to hold onto the edge of the bed. She sits up a bit straighter, “I just...” Charlotte can feel her eyes starting to burn with unshed tears, “I just really miss John.”
Slowly taking a seat next to her daughter, Bernie folds her hands into her lap, “and I miss Serena, but that doesn’t mean we can-”
“Please, don’t take offence to this, but when I missed my menses and took a pregnancy test, you were the very last person I imagined being at my side.” Charlotte responds quietly, a tear escaping her eye and rolling down her cheek though her face hardly displays any sort, “I even...prayed to whatever eldritch being Dad worships...just asking that your spirit watch over me.”
“To my credit, you did believe me to be dead at the time,” Bernie listens intently to her daughter, reaching a hand over to the young woman’s arm, cautiously running her fingertips along the skin. When Charlotte doesn’t flinch or pull away, Bernie extends her hand a bit more, offering her daughter reassurance, “I don’t know what you-”
“Nothing.” Charlie shakes her head, “I don’t want you to do anything.”
Furrowing her brow a little, Bernie seems at a loss for words, “darling, excuse me for not understanding.” She licks her lips, moving closer again and placing a delicate arm around her daughter, “but this doesn’t appear to be much different than when you were a hormonal teenager.” She smiles softly, “and your mind was a mess of thoughts that all bothered you and you didn’t quite know how to deal with them.”
Feeling her chin dimple as it trembles, Charlotte swallows, “I wrote you a letter nearly every day while you were away then.”
Bernie hums her approval, “I remember getting a thick stack every fortnight when the post would come in. You were...eleven or twelve...”
“Dad would take me to buy whatever stationary I wanted...I had all different sorts, sent a different style or color each time I’d write one. Made sure to. Luckily, Dad didn’t need to pay for postage, he’d have spent a fortune.” Charlie exhales with a smile forming in the corner of her mouth, “god, I sound so ridiculous.”
“Hardly.” Bernie keeps a tender arm around her daughter, “the third trimester isn’t as fun a time as everyone tries to make it out to be.”
Charlie nods a little, fully supporting her mother’s notion, “I’m not one to complain though.”
“Neither am I.” Bernie shakes her head, rubbing her hand gently along her daughter’s back, “but I’d really like it if you did, at least to me, so I could be better suited to help you.” When Charlotte tilts her head to the side, placing it on her shoulder, Bernie can’t help but smile warmly to herself. She mutters, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”
“You’re going to make me cry again.” Charlie responds softly.
“So, let’s fix your current predicament.” Bernie answers confidently, “though your BP is within normal range, it’s still a bit low for my liking, and your HR is a bit fast, but that could have just been by overexerting yourself when you got out of the bath. We’ll assess again in a bit.”
Lifting her head, Charlie smiles to herself, “You’re loving this.”
“I don’t love that you aren’t feeling well.” Bernie keeps a hand on her daughter’s shoulder as she stands, “so, I’m going to bring you up that large neon yellow thermos for water that you have and something for you to eat. You have a history of dehydration and anemia, so the least we can do is treat for those.” She places her hands at her sides, continuing, “when I return, if you’re unable to before then, I’ll help you change back into something comfortable.”
“Okay.” Charlie nods absently, not about to argue over something so trivial. When she sees her mother move back toward the bedroom door, Charlotte lifts her head, “Mum.”
Bernie pauses, turning around in the doorway to face her again, “yeah?”
Glancing over to her mother, Charlie licks her lips, offering an anxious half smile, “thanks.” Watching as her mother returns the expression with a nod before taking her leave, Charlotte returns her gaze to be directly in front of herself, her mind racing. Placing a hand to her middle, Charlie feels like the babe within her has grown exceptionally in the last two weeks, though she knows it’s probably all in her head. “You’re the size of an aubergine now. I um...that’s what the app says.”
“It's not safe for you to be out of your tank yet, but I know how you love to give me scares throughout the day with your practice contractions.” Charlie licks her lips, “and I constantly wonder how I’m made to last another twelve weeks. I just want to sleep. That’s all. Just let me have a proper sleep without waking me up with contractions or excited movements. Not letting me sleep more than an hour straight for the past...few weeks, it’s a form of torture, you know. You’re committing war crimes.”
“Who is committing war crimes?” Bernie returns, large thermos of iced water in one hand and a wax paper wrapped breakfast sandwich in the other, “egg and cheese sandwich.” All as promised.
“Thanks.” Charlie nods, watching as her mother moves around in front of her to set them onto the bedside table, “uh...the baby. The baby’s been committing war crimes by keeping me awake.” She exhales a huff of a laugh, “probably just a warning of things to come when he actually gets here.”
“You should probably report him to the UN.” Bernie offers a soft smile, “now, seeing as you haven’t changed your clothing, while I was-”
Charlie’s interruption is just above a whisper, “I lost track of time.”
-fixing you something, how about I help you with that?” It isn’t actually a question, it’s just a statement of Bernie’s intentions. “Shorts or long pajama bottoms?” When Charlotte doesn’t answer, Bernie sighs softly, “Charlie, please...”
“Short ones, I’m running hot.” Charlotte answers quietly, “and there’s a crop t-shirt in there as well. Baby’s moving around quite a bit and I want to be able to see it better.” She watches her mother as Bernie seems to tense at the mention of fetal movement, causing Charlotte to laugh a little to herself again, “and, I guess, for you to see it as well.” When her mother retrieves the clothing she had mentioned and moves back over to the bed, Charlotte continues to watch her, “I noticed it while I was in the bath. I didn’t have to gently press my hand against the skin anymore to feel something slight, he just thumps all over. Like he’s playing the ultimate game of footy in there.”
Bernie smiles warmly, assisting her daughter without commenting on the intimacy of the situation between them. Something Bernie knows would have never occurred before she moved to Mogadishu years ago. She pauses, Mogadishu. It’s something people told her about, but she was never quite comfortable discussing. Mostly because she just couldn’t remember any of it. “When I was pregnant with Cam, your father and I were convinced we'd be getting a footy champion.”
“Cam tolerates it now. Not much for sport.” Charlotte looks down at her middle once she’s changed her top, tossing her silk robe to the end of the bed. She looks to her middle, bringing a finger to tap softly against the skin.
Seeing the flurry of movement, Bernie starts to genuinely grin. “Well, would you look at that.” She laughs a little, “forget football, maybe he’ll be a gymnast.”
“Whatever makes him happy.” Charlotte responds with quiet conviction. She’s surprised when her mother doesn’t get up, instead continuing to kneel on the floor to better see the movements of her daughter’s belly. Charlotte reaches a hand out, gently running it through Bernie’s hair, “I’m glad Dad’s eldritch sky daddy answered my prayers.”
“Me too, darling.” Bernie’s smile softens and she finally gets up, taking a seat next to her daughter again. She wraps her arms around the young woman, slowly coming around to outwardly show affection, especially toward her own children. All she can do is try her best and, luckily, everything seems to be going well.
The eldritch sky daddy that (Atheist) Charlotte is talking about is in reference to Marcus' Catholicism.
Let it be known that I went to Catholic school as a kid.
Serena becomes nostalgic after too much shiraz.
John lends an ear, but ends up roped into uncomfortable topics.
TRIGGER WARNING: Grief, War, and the aftermath of war. PTSD is not mentioned, but implied.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Serena opens one of the smaller suitcases, feeling incredibly nostalgic when she’s had a bit to drink and is at home. She takes another sip of her shiraz, already on the second of her three remaining bottles. Conservation went right out the window. Gently rifling through the organized bit, she finally opens an album, old and worn at its sides and spine. She’s looked through this book many times.
John finally steps out from the laundry nook, using their few hours of electricity allowed during the city-wide emergency declaration. “That should be finished in no time with your combo unit.” He motions to the single appliance, “and I put our stuff all together so it has a better chance of finishing. Not like there was much to worry about, but I promise I won’t try to wear your skivvies.”
“I’d hope not, they’d fall right off of you.” Serena hums a low chortle, leaning back against the sofa with the large photo album in her lap. She’s had too much to drink and she knows it.
“What’s this?” John leans over her shoulder, over the back of the sofa, smiling softly at the pictures of a young Serena. He whistles, “beautiful then and you’re beautiful now.”
“Flatterer.” Serena shakes her head, waiting for him to walk around to sit next to her. “Feel free to watch something on telly.”
“I’m interested.” John shakes his head, still looking at the album. He points to someone with her, “who is this?”
“That would be my ex-husband, Edward. Bastard.” Serena raises an eyebrow, “we met at Harvard. This particular picture is in one of the pubs not far from campus. We had quite a few mutuals who decided to set us up on a blind date because we were both British.” She shakes her head slowly, “sounds ridiculous now.”
“My Mom once told a friend of mine, he was a hockey player, known in our inner circles to be gay. Not just our inner circles, whatever. Well, Mom just thought that meant every gay person knew every other gay person or that every gay person was attracted to every other gay person. A grandson of one of her friends was gay, so she tried to say they’d be perfect for one another, based solely on that.” John smirks, “besides, yours seemed to work for you. You ended up marrying him.”
“I did.” Serena nods, turning to one of the pictures of them in an antique car, “that was my father’s.” She motions to another picture of the outside of the car, Serena and Edward peering through the backseat window. “Edward and I were...already fighting. It wasn’t...anything too serious, just some petty squabbles, but it was enough. My father came to me before the ceremony and asked if I just wanted to go. Said he had a bad feeling about this whole thing.” Serena exhales, amused by the memory, “oh how right he was.”
“If it isn’t too painful for you to talk about, what happened to end it?” John actually really loves this. Not just the old pictures and the story, but seeing Serena in a life before she was his stepmother-in-law. That sounds so weird.
“He was a drunk and a cheater.” Serena starts to laugh bitterly to herself, “suppose I can’t really...” She swallows, stopping herself. She was slowly turning into Edward, or maybe not so slowly. At least she was in the time she had ended things with Bernie years ago. Serena offers John her glass to set on the table, easier for him since he didn’t have a large book in his lap. “He’s an anesthetist and surrounded by pretty, young nurses. He wandered very quickly.” She pauses, loving to remember the good times, “we divorced when Elinor was small and I took him for everything he was worth.”
John glances at her face, then back to the page, “There’s still something about him that you look back on fondly though.”
“He gave me the greatest gift in the world...” Serena points to another picture, her holding a newborn Elinor in the hospital with her mother next to them, “he gave me Ellie.” She nods, smiling warmly to herself, “that’s my Mum with us. She...stayed with me through it all. Both of my parents. Edward’s presence was sketchy at best toward later on in my pregnancy because he knew I wasn’t going to go and look for him anymore, also made harder by my not drinking at the time, not frequenting hold haunts.”
“That must have been difficult.” John’s eyebrows pinch.
Serena nods slowly, “he didn’t show up until three days later. My-my father let him have it.” A smile snakes its way onto her face, “that’s why there are no photographs of Edward from the left side with Elinor as a newborn, he had a shiner.” Her smile grows a bit more, “my father was a doctor. It’s where I got my interest for medicine from. He was always very kind, mild mannered, incredibly caring. To know that his anger and frustration had hit a level where he saw no other alternative than to strike my husband...spoke volumes.”
John leans against the back of the sofa, watching her, “were you surprised?”
“I was...wishing I had listened to my father before the wedding.” Serena answers quietly, “I’m sure there was some...alternate timeline in the grand scheme of the universe where I did, but...then I see a picture of Elinor and...” She swallows, contemplating the notion as she tails off. Serena sniffles, “she’d be doing amazing things were she alive today.”
Nodding slowly, John rubs a hand on his stubble, “I went to her funeral, but...when we met, I realized you didn’t remember.”
“I felt like I was in a daze for the first few days. Just...going through the motions.” Serena responds softly, “I remember Bernie...holding me in bed when she’d come round to check on me. She’d clean up...ensure that I was eating. I’d...I started drinking too much. Started putting myself into dangerous, questionable situations.” Her eyes grow glassy, “started treating her terribly...as well as everyone else around me. I was ready to watch the world burn.”
“Understandably.” John nods, glancing at the book again, almost absently. “My kid isn’t even born yet and...I can’t tell you what I’d do for him.”
“Good.” Serena nods, reaching a hand over to pat his leg in an encouraging platonic way. “Word of advice though,” her words are starting to slur ever so slightly, “don’t you dare let him out of your sight...whatever you do.”
“I’ll try my best not to.” John tries his best to reassure her.
“You mustn’t try, but do.” Serena continues, using her hand as she speaks, keeping her other hand placed protectively on the photo album, “because if not, you’ll lose them.” She flips toward the end of the book, a picture of her and Bernie with all of their children together. Smiles on everyone’s faces, but there’s something...uncomfortable about it. Serena falls quiet again, glancing back to the photograph. “Right after this was taken, Elinor disappeared to her bedroom which...I thought maybe she needed a couple of minutes as a breather.” Serena shakes her head, “I know now that...she was snorting a line. She was...very into cocaine.”
“Addiction is heredity. There’s nothing you or your ex could have done differently.” John shakes his head, “as difficult as that might seem to hear, even though your ex was an alcoholic-”
Serena mutters softly, “I think I may be too.”
“I can help you with that.” John answers honestly, “just like Nicky, but that’s only if you want it.”
“Let me finish what I have?” Serena swallows, then bites her lip, “I’m-I’m not ready-”
“Serena, I’m not forcing you into anything.” John shakes his head, “no judgement. I’m just telling you that when you’re ready, I’m more than happy to help you with that...or to put you in touch with someone else who is not me, but can help with the same thing.” He nods, watching her still, “but let’s go back. We were talking about your Christmas.” John reaches over, gently tapping his finger next to the picture, “you were a brunette.”
Serena nods a little, following his hand and looking at the picture. “I’ve thought of...maybe doing it again for fun.” She pauses, “it was a lovely Christmas though...before Elinor did what she did. Cameron and Charlotte were all too happy to keep Jason content with a card set of Christmas trivia questions that Bernie had gifted him. Elinor...couldn’t be bothered, but...” Serena licks her lips, thinking back, “it all felt so...normal. We...” She goes quiet for a moment, then continues, “Bernie and I thought it might be a changing point. That...her children and Elinor might be willing to spend more time together...or with us. May want to communicate more.”
John remembers Charlotte’s optimism from then. Speaking to her on the phone while sitting in his parents’ guest room, watching the snowfall through the window. His flight was delayed because of the weather. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Serena.”
“Me too.” Serena responds softly, just staring at another photograph, Her finger begins to absently trace Elinor’s jaw on a picture of the two of them together, “she was talking about moving back home. I-I really wanted her to. Jason was so excited.” She inhales slowly, “but she’d be dead...a few weeks after this was taken.”
“I wish I could have gotten to meet her.” John watches as Serena begins to break down, placing an arm around her shoulders and letting her lean against him. “I want you to think of something, though.” She doesn’t look up at him, but he knows she’s listening, “just because she isn’t here, doesn’t mean her spirit isn’t here.” He pauses, “and I don’t mean that in a religious way.” John licks his lips, not moving, but he feels her settle against him. “Spirit is the only thing about a person that isn’t physical. I’m certain her spirit still shapes you, stays with you...and it’s more than just being her mother.”
Serena clears her throat, feeling that it’s too hot for this. She slowly sits back up straight. Just listening to him.
“I don’t know what she was like. Jason’s daughter doesn’t know what she was like, Tala, and my boy when he gets here.” John continues, “the kids will never have the opportunity to meet her in person, but there’s no reason for them not to feel like they have. No reason for her spirit not to be shared with them. No reason for her spirit not to live on.”
Smiling softly to herself, Serena nods a little, “Guinevere’s middle name is Elinor. Jason told me and I managed to keep myself together at hospital. Many things happened the day she was born, luckily Bernie was there.” She trails a little, bringing a hand up to push her own hair back, damp with sweat even though there’s a fan in the room. The shiraz isn’t doing her any favors. “Why am I telling you all of this, why...” She looks down at her lap, shutting the photo album and placing it back into the suitcase once it shuts.
“Because it’s on your mind.” John nods, turning on the television finally. May as well enjoy something while they have electricity. “When you’re left to your own devices and stuck in a house on fire...gives you time to think.” He shrugs, “whether you want to or not.”
“Thank you for putting up with my musterings.” Serena swallows, sobering up a bit out of sheer embarrassment, “you should have just told me to shut up.”
“Why would I do that?” John shakes his head, his eyes just looking at the television screen, a part of him disappointed, “I find you interesting.” He inhales slowly, “I didn’t just go into psych for the money or to help my clients. I like to hear about peoples’ lives, their loves, their losses, and their triumphs.” John continues, “I’m here to ensure they win at the game of life...and I’ll make damn certain my family does as well.”
It’s the way he says it that causes Serena to smile softly, her tone teasing, “the game of life...”
“Favorite board game.” John smirks, “still...I mean it. I’m not telling you to talk to me on a professional level. Again, you’re family so it wouldn’t exactly be...ethical, but that doesn’t mean we can’t just...talk, in general.”
“That means for you to talk to the rest of us.” Serena finally looks over to her stepson-in-law, “and I get the feeling that you don’t like to share much about your past.”
John takes a moment before replying, “what gives you that idea?”
“Charlie didn’t know you were in the military until a few months ago, when Bernie and I moved in. That’s rather odd considering the length of time that the two of you have been together.” If there’s one thing Serena Campbell is good at, it’s reading people. She’s good at getting the best out of people, but also causing them to perform their worst. “Wouldn’t you say?”
Shrugging, John doesn’t look over at her, “what do you want to know?”
“How long were you in the service?” Serena turns her body sideways on the sofa to face him, feeling a bit sleepy from her intake of shiraz, “why hide it from Charlotte?”
“The first one is...technically, I’m still in the service. Some of my telemedicine appointments are with service members, active and inactive, and I’m given a stipend by the US Government for them. I’m not going to be called to the front line or anything like that, so I just think of them as my regular clients.” John answers as simply as he possibly can, “and I didn’t hide it from my wife, it just never came up.” He shakes his head a little, “which I was fine with.”
Sinking into the sofa a bit more, Serena rests her head on the back cushion, “Why don’t you like to talk about it?”
“It isn’t that I don’t like to talk about it, it’s that I sometimes find it painful to talk about.” John nods, “I joined the military in order to go to college, it isn’t covered for everyone there like it is here. My parents didn’t have much when I was growing up and...it was either that or getting stuck in Illinois.” He explains, finally looking over to her, “so I went into medicine with the intention of practicing general surgery with a specialty in neurology, of all things.” John smirks at the thought now, “but...I realized, at least in the states, that mental health took a backseat there for service members.” He swallows, “there’d be a lot of talk, but no one wanted to actually...do anything. They’d hire doctors at the VA hospitals that had never been in a warzone or on a military base. There was...a major deficit in psych specialists that knew or understood what their clients were talking about.”
Serena furrows her brow, “that seems counterproductive.”
“And it was...still is.” John nods, an ounce of frustration in his tone. “A decade ago, four-hundred and fifteen US service members lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan compared to the UK’s forty-six, not that it’s a competition. Some were in combat and some weren’t, some were self-inflicted.” He licks his lips, returning his attention back to the television so she doesn’t see his glassy eyes, “some of my best friends died there and at home from the war...and I promised myself that I’d make sure that not a single one of them died in vain.” He clears his throat, quickly bringing the back of his hand up to wipe his dampened cheeks, “that’s why, the longer we stay here, the more I feel like I’m neglecting them...because I am.” When she doesn’t respond, John turns his head toward her again, glad to see she’s fallen asleep. The less he needs to talk about his time in active service the better.
The facts listed about the war are 100% accurate, btw. As is the story about the VA system here in the states. To say we neglect our veterans is an understatement.
ALSO, the bit about Serena and Edward...I'm not sure about and I like to stick as close to canon when I'm able to. We know they were together while they were both at Harvard. Serena working on her MBA...and who knows what Edward was working on. We also know that Edward had at least one other marriage between Serena and Liberty. So...I'm just kind of filling in the blanks and bullshitting my way through...per the usual. I couldn't find much about Serena's father, but we know he was a doctor...just not sure what kind.
Fake it 'til ya make it.
Charlie realizes she needs to amend her birthing plan.
Bernie sees a familiar face during Charlotte's appointment.
“Dr. Newman is fantastic.” Charlotte informs her mother as they walk through the halls of the hospital. Finally finding a lift, Charlotte pushes the button to reach the upper levels. “He’s young, he’s-”
“Youth breeds inexperience and ego.” Bernie mumbles, “though, if I remember correctly, London General isn’t a teaching hospital. So...I suppose that’s a tic in your favor.” She sighs softly, glancing over at her daughter when she feels the young woman’s eyes burrowing into her, “darling, I simply want my grandson to be tended to by the best. I don’t believe that’s too high an expectation.”
“The young and experienced are more likely to listen to their patients than the old and stubborn.” Charlie looks forward again, stepping onto the lift with her mother once the doors open and the people file out, “it should serve you well to remember that.”
Bernie smirks to herself, remembering when she and Cameron worked on the same ward and he diagnosed a patient with blindness when Bernie wouldn’t consider it. “Duly noted,” Bernie smirks, wearing her backpack, but deciding not to use the oxygen until she absolutely needs it. Things have been going pretty well thus far. Once they reach the waiting room, Bernie motions to a cluster of chairs in the waiting room, “I’ll check you in if you’d like to have a seat.”
Charlotte nods, offering a quick, thankful smile. She takes a seat in a padded chair against the wall, the fabric a pastel pink to match the rest of the room. The office seemed to be in a nineties motif with a modern flair, something of the times. This place must be redecorated regularly. Really, she thinks about it every time she has an appointment here.
The young attendant behind the desk gives Bernie a smile when she notices her approach, “Afternoon. Name?”
“Charlotte Wolfe in for Newman.” Bernie informs the young woman, only to see her appear surprised, “something wrong?”
“Um...was she not phoned? The attendant furrows her brow, standing up and glancing over at the patient in question sitting against the wall, “should have been...weeks ago.”
Charlotte notices the office attendant appearing concerned. She starts to wonder what her mother could have said, if anything, to warrant the response as a whole. Getting up from her seat, she exhales before finally reaching the counter, “is there a problem?”
Familiar voice. Bernie lifts her head, looking behind the young attendant. She isn’t sure where the voice came from, much less who it could have been. She looks back to her daughter, “what was that?”
Shaking her head negatively, Charlie turns when the door leading to the back offices opens excitedly, “friend of yours?” Her voice mumbles, taking in the sight of the short statured redhead. The sheer excitement on this other woman’s face causes the corner of Charlie’s mouth to turn up slightly.
“Werewolf, I’m so happy, I could hug you.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.” Bernie smirks anyway, remembering the playful animosity between them, “Fleur Fanshawe, this is my daughter, Charlie.” She nods a little, “she’s here to see Newman, but your attendant seems...horrified at best. Doesn’t exactly build confidence.”
“Ah.” Fleur nods, “in that case, you’re with me. I’ll explain more in a few moments. Let me just have a sip of my coffee and I-” She exhales, thinking a moment, “unless I can have my coffee with you-”
“If you bring me herbal tea, it’s a deal.” Charlotte responds without hesitation.
“Perfect.” Fleur glances at one of the nurses, “Kasha-” When the nurse nods, about to do what Fleur was about to tell her anyway, Fleur gives Charlotte and Bernie a smile, “I’ll be there in a moment, Kasha’s going to take vitals and make you comfortable before I come in. Sound do-able?”
“Of course.” Charlie nods to the woman, following the nurse as instructed.
“Bernie.” Fleur says, causing the blonde to stop in her tracks. “I’m glad to see that reports of your death were largely exaggerated...and that you’re actually doing well-”
“Much appreciated.” Bernie offers a thankful smile to the short statured woman.
“-and that you’re going to be a granny.” Fleur nods, finishing her statement. Of course she’d get in a playful jab if she can.
“Don’t push it.” Bernie teases, “Cameron already has a little girl, Tala.”
The space between them goes quiet before Fleur finally musters up the courage to ask, “how is he?”
“Tip top.” Bernie doesn’t want to speak about him, much like family members when their loved ones are off to war. Her love for her son could never diminish, but she’s well aware how uncomfortable the situation might make others. “Getting better every day and I couldn’t be more proud of him for that.”
Fleur nods, clasping her hands in front of her, feeling the need to change the subject, “Does um...Have you been in touch with-” She considers her words for a moment, “I know there were...rumors that you had moved on, but-”
“Are you attempting to ask me if I’m in contact with Serena Campbell?” Bernie raises her brow, seeing Fleur’s interested tilt of the head, urging her to continue, “you’ll be disappointed to learn that I married her.”
A grin grows across Fleur’s face, “the universe has been corrected then.” She nods, “congratulations, Werewolf, on both the grandchildren and the marriage.” Fleur motions to the hall, signalling that she’s about to talk about Charlotte, “how many other cubs do you have that are going to crawl out of the woodwork?”
“Only have the two.” Bernie nods, tilting her head toward the hallway, “speaking of which, I had better get back to-”
“Yes, certainly. I’ll be there in a moment.” Fleur nods, watching as Bernie begins to walk away, "blue flag."
Bernie starts to smirk to herself, knowing Fleur means the plastic tab hanging out from the doorway to signal where Charlotte had gone. Of all people, Fleur Fanshawe. Out of habit, Bernie gives a quick double knock on the hardwood door before turning the doorknob. “Sorry about that.”
“No, I’m happy there’s someone outside of our bubble that you know.” Charlie nods, the head of the exam bed raised and she’s already nude from the waist down, wrapped in a bedsheet, “no reason for you to stay home with me while the others are away. You should spend your time getting in touch with your old friends...have a bit of fun.”
“I have plenty of fun. ” Bernie mumbles, watching her daughter as the nurse straps the blood pressure cuff on her arm, “in fact, I’m having the time of my life.”
“Oh, the puns.” Charlie groans playfully, smiling after.
Kasha chuckles softly at the mother-daughter pair, “the two of you are quite close.”
“Suppose so.” Charlotte answers quietly, knowing how far they’ve come to be considered close . She finally looks over to her mother, noticing Bernie’s proud, yet humble glance to the floor.
Bernie finally lifts her head after a moment, looking at the nurse, “BP, HR, and temp?”
Kasha hears the patient’s mother, responding quickly, “one twenty-two over eighty-four, heart rate is eighty-seven, and temp is thirty-six point four.”
“You’re no longer hypotensive, at least.” Bernie tilts her head to the side, sighing, “but I’m certain you’ll hear more about that from Fleur.”
“Are you in medicine?” Kasha can see it from a thousand paces, especially with the way Bernie seems to be carrying herself. This was all familiar to her, but no longer regular. Of course, she wants to ask the woman questions, but decides against it.
When her mother takes a moment to reply, Charlotte decides to do so for her, “my mother is a world renown trauma surgeon. She’s shaped the way front line medics treat wounded in the field.” Charlie nods, being calm about it all, “Guess you could say I’m incredibly proud to be her daughter.”
“She’s buttering me up for something...I just need to figure out what it is.” Bernie teases, a smirk growing across her face.
Fleur gives a quick double knock on the door before letting herself in, juggling her cup of coffee and two thick paper cups of tea. “Hope I haven’t kept you waiting.” She offers a thick paper cup to Charlotte, “as promised, herbal tea.”
“You’re a godsend.” Charlie nods, taking the cup into her hands, and quickly bringing it to her lips for a sip.
“For you, Werewolf.” Fleur offers the other woman, smiling softly. “Normal tea, cream and sugar.”
Bernie accepts the cup with a thankful smile, “Appreciated.”
“So, are you assessing me today?” Charlotte asks, a nervous tone to her voice. She attempts to keep herself from appearing nervous though.
“More than tending, if you’ll allow.” Fleur nods, returning to her patient. “As I’m sure you’re aware, there was a bit of a miss in communication and no one ever informed you of new developments.” Fleur pulls over the rolling stool, taking a seat, “unfortunately, Dr. Newman was in a motorcycle accident. He’s fine, but in order to recover and to be able to perform his job to the best of his abilities, he’s decided to take some time off.”
Charlotte begins to process this slowly, anxiety starting to set in, “Some time off...”
“Meaning, you may want to amend your birthing plan because of it.” Fleur takes a sip of her coffee before holding it to warm her hands, “now, I’m the current locum here and I’m taking on Dr. Newman’s patients. If, for some reason, you don’t wish to have me tending to you, I’ll be a tad upset, but I’m a tough old gal and I’ll find a way to press on.”
“How could I possibly say no to that?” Charlie smirks, watching the woman even though her insides are jumbled with worry. She takes a quick glance to her name badge, then back to the woman’s face, remembering stories told by Serena while they were in Nairobi, “were you the one to deliver Jason’s daughter?”
“I was, yes.” Fleur nods, carefully adjusting the stirrups at the end of the bed, “Serena and I have always been very, very close and your mother-”
“Watch it.” Bernie interjects playfully, taking a sip of her tea.
“Either way, you’re in good hands.” Fleur offers a reassuring smile, watching as Kasha moves out of the way for her to be in her element a bit more.
Bernie mumbles from her seat against the wall, folding one leg over the other, “That remains to be seen.”
“Not exactly inspiring confidence, Mum.” Charlie doesn’t look at her mother, biting her lip. She follows the gentle instructions given to her by both Fleur and Kasha, but feels her jaw tightening up. Charlotte outstretches her open palm toward her mother.
Noticing her daughter’s hand, it takes Bernie a moment to understand that her daughter needs her. She gets up from her seat, stepping silently over to the young woman before taking hold of her hand. She doesn’t say anything, feeling Charlie pulling her hand close like when she was small. Bernie then realizes this is Charlotte’s first appointment since her assault. She feels like she needs to calm the situation, “Fleur used to be head of Obs & Gynie at Holby City. She and I have our own...qualms with one another, but none of them have to do with our professional abilities.”
“Nicest thing she’s ever said to me.” Fleur smirks, surprised that Bernie Wolfe would say anything to show her in a positive light, “no need to stop there.”
Bernie scowls playfully toward the woman again, “Don’t push it.”
Of course Fleur was going to be there. Like...did you expect me to not have her show up?
Also, I know it kind of sucks having everyone apart from one another. I know. I'm not a fan either. There should be a couple/few more instances of it, but...hopefully it doesn't last too much longer.
Charlotte wakes her mother after realizing there are intruders in the house.
Bernie refers to her Army training to protect them all.
Few days after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie opens her eyes groggily to see her very much awake daughter standing next to her bed. The room is dark, only lit by the nightlights from the hall illuminating the room through the open bedroom door. “What-what is it?” She blinks quickly, trying to make out her daughter’s facial expression in the dim light, “what’s wrong?”
Hushing her mother softly, Charlie whispers, “I think there’s someone in the house.” She shakes her head, “I checked on Nicky and Tala and they’re fast asleep.”
“As was I.” Bernie instinctively runs her hand through the blonde fringe in her face and removes the oxygen cannula hissing at her nose as it does every night. She lowers her voice a bit as she able to hear better, matching her daughter’s whisper, “okay, you stay here and-”
“I will not. I just need backup.” Charlie shakes her head, “I’ll grab something if we need a weap-”
“Charlotte, I know thirteen ways to kill a man with my bare hands. I don’t want you grabbing anything.” Bernie answers honestly, carefully pushing herself out of bed more, “that’s something that, once you’re trained, you don’t forget. Regardless of...everything that comes one’s way.”
“Including a bunch of mini-strokes?” The question is rhetorical and earns Charlotte an unimpressed glance from her mother, “it’s your past. Can’t pretend it didn’t happen.” She follows behind her mother as they leave the room, making it halfway down the hall before pulling on her arm when she hears the intruder ascending the stairs.
Bernie instinctively pushes Charlotte into the master bedroom that they were standing near, shielding her daughter with her own body before quietly closing the door. “Charlie, get back. I won’t have you injured.”
It’s the way that her mother says it that Charlie knows she shouldn’t argue with her. Simply can’t argue with her. Charlotte hides on the side of the bed, kneeling, but able to see the door and her mother if she tries. The floorboards creak and Charlie’s certain she can see the shadow of someone standing in front of the door via the gap underneath, illuminated by the hallway lights. Her hands don’t tremble, though she thought they would. In fact, she isn’t nearly as afraid as she thought she would be.
Hearing the doorknob turn, Bernie hides against the wall behind the door, ready to take the intruder from behind. Knowing the exact pressure point she needs to press in order to temporarily incapacitate them. Bernie watches the dimly cast shadow as the door slowly opens, tall, athletic build, short hair. Probably male. Not the smallest man she’s taken down, but certainly not the largest.
Once the man takes a few more steps into the room, Bernie quickly moves behind him, looping her right arm around his neck and securing it with her left as she pushes a foot to the back of his knee, causing him to almost instantly kneel. However, her arm isn’t nearly as strong as it once was because of her past injuries. Regardless, the man is brought down quickly and she’s able to keep him there without much effort, watching as he raises his hands in innocence. “What the hell are you doing in this house?”
“I live here.” This certainly wasn’t the reaction John was expecting upon his arrival back, “Bernie, it’s me.” He groans from the pain she’s causing him, relaxing a bit when she releases her hold, taking a step back.
“Johnny?” Charlie turns the bedroom light on as she exhales a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding and moves from hiding on the side of the bed to be in front of him, kneeling on the floor. Wrapping her arms around him and closing her eyes, Charlotte doesn’t know if she ever wants to let him go again.
Bernie starts to grin, leaving the room without a word and quickly moving to the steps, descending them quietly. She catches her wife at the sink in the kitchen, filling up the glass electric kettle. Bernie moves behind her, placing her hands over her wife’s eyes.
Serena jumps a little, but knows Bernie’s touch all too well. “And here you thought you were the only one who could surprise anyone.” Setting the kettle onto the base, Serena turns in place, coming face to face with her wife, wrapping her arms around her. She leans in, capturing Bernie’s lips tenderly with her own and keeping her face close after. “I’ve missed you so, so much.” There’s tears in her eyes, sheer joy of being with her partner again.
“Ditto.” Bernie nods, brushing her lips against her wife’s jaw. She feels like they can’t possibly stay close enough to one another. After standing that way for a few moments, overcome with sleep and relief, they part, a pleased smile painting Bernie’s face. “How was the flight?”
“When the cell towers were functional again, I managed to get in contact with the high commission who were incredibly helpful. We were on the first flight out when the airport opened back up.” Serena gives a rueful smile, “started to feel as if we were never getting home.”
“I would have come to you.” Bernie shakes her head, “I’d have found a way.”
“I know you would have.” Serena instinctively runs her fingers through the hair at Bernie’s temple, just focusing on her eyes. “John wanted to check in on Charlotte, he was going to sleep on the sofa. Did he wake you?”
“Charlie thought we had a break-in.” Bernie keeps her arms wrapped tenderly around her wife’s waist, “I, of course, had to look into what was going on before she went and phoned the police.” She leans her head forward, softly brushing her lips against Serena’s collar bone as she tilts her head down. “Luckily, my strength isn’t what it used to be and I was only able to-”
“You didn’t hurt him too much, did you?” Serena starts to smirk, half teasing her wife.
“Nothing he won’t recover from with a cold compress and some rest.” Bernie replies nonchalantly, lifting her head up when she doesn’t hear Serena say anything in return, “he’ll be fine. Nothing he hasn’t been taught himself...I’d bet. Not entirely sure, actually.”
“Berenice.” Serena exhales, meeting her wife’s eyes, “I’d tell you to take him a bag of ice, but we both know what they’re probably up to at the moment.”
“Fleur suggested that she not, actually. Not until she’s closer to her due date.” Bernie shrugs a little when Serena’s expression changes to one of worry, “though her blood pressure was normal for a change, Fleur is concerned about preterm labor still, and doesn’t want her risking that with a shag.”
Serena begins to shake her head, “what does Fleur have anything to do with this?”
Bernie realizes she never sent a text or email, like old times. She steps away from her partner, “there’s...a lot that happened while you were away.” Bernie runs a hand over her own face, still tired after being awakened abruptly not too long ago, “and Charlie...” She licks her lips, pausing for a moment to find her wording, “I underestimated the...mental undertaking. Not that I’d do anything different, but...every pain she feels is familiar to me and her openness...is so foreign.”
“Because things are different now, Berenice.” Serena reaches a hand out, placing it on Bernie’s upper arm. “We’re home now, John and I. This isn’t all on your shoulders anymore.”
“She holds herself back, I can tell.” Bernie nods a little, tugging open the cupboard next to the fridge, retrieving the empty cloth ice pack and absently screwing off the lid.
“From what?” Serena just watches her wife, leaning against the counter, her hands resting comfortably on the edge.
“I can see that she’s in pain. I remember that from...from Cameron. I know what she’s going through.” Bernie tugs the freezer food open on the refrigerator, slipping some ice into the bag before screwing on the lid, “it wasn’t a fun experience for me and I know it probably isn’t for her either.”
Serena furrows her brow slightly, “I don’t-” She shakes her head, not quite understanding her partner’s train of thought, “what is she holding herself back from?” When Bernie doesn’t answer, Serena places a hand on her forearm, stopping her in her movements and casually taking the bag of ice from her, “Bernie, you’re half asleep. How about I take this to Charlotte’s room and you head back to ours?” Her voice is gentle, reassuring. “I was making chamomile tea to help myself wind down from...everything that happened today on my end. I’ll bring you a mug as well. How does that sound?”
Her voice of reason. Bernie swallows, glancing away, but nodding, “yeah, okay.”
“I’m here now. Everything in Nairobi is finished.” Serena responds simply, still watching her wife, “and we’ve hardly celebrated our marriage.” She sees a smile forming in the corner of her partner’s mouth, “not that we’ll do much of anything tonight, but...we’re together.”
“That’s all I need.” Bernie glances over to Serena, her smile growing a bit more, “that’s all I’ve ever needed.”
“Good.” Serena nods, taking a step in and placing a gentle kiss on her partner’s lips and looking her in the eye after, “I love you.”
“I love you too, Campbell.” Bernie leans in, capturing another quick kiss, “welcome home.”
Serena watches as Bernie turns away, ascending the stairs again. She inhales and exhales slowly, reminding herself to retain her inner peace. Serena rattles the bag of ice in her hand, glad to finally be back in the fold of things.
NGL, I was getting tired of them all being apart. It was actually, originally, going to go on much longer with John and Serena helping at the clinic in Nairobi in the meantime.
So this chapter had me out of sorts because I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do with it, but I'm pretty pleased with my decision here (there were SO MANY).
Charlotte doesn't know how she feels to have her husband back.
John realizes he's been away too long.
Occurs just after last chapter.
Slowly getting up off the hardwood floor after just staying there for a few moments in one another’s arms, John rubs a hand over the side of his neck, “your mother is not one to be messed with.” He chuckles a little to himself, holding out his other hand to help his wife off of the floor, wrapping an arm around her once she rises, and pulling her in for a kiss
“You certainly know how to make an entrance.” Relief has washed over her already and Charlie’s eyes seem to sparkle in the light from their bedroom.
Bringing his hand down from his neck, John gently places it on Charlotte’s middle, “the little dude has certainly grown in the time away.”
“Little dude?” The words are in unison and Charlotte glances over to the doorway for the other voice, spotting Serena standing there with a bag of ice in her hands. “Sight for sore eyes, you are.” Charlie grins toward her stepmother, breaking away from John for just a moment and accepting a hug from the woman. “You’ve gotten so tan. People might mistake you for John’s sister.”
“You know, it’s the one thing your mother didn’t notice...or just didn’t mention.” Serena answers with a smile, releasing Charlotte and offering the bag of ice to John, “heard my big macho Army medic may have-”
“She took me down. I’m impressed.” John nods, taking the bag of ice thankfully and placing it onto his neck, “and, fortunately for me, I could tell she was hardly using any force at all.”
“Well, I thank you for not fighting back.” Serena winks to him.
“No, really, Serena. Her skills have not diminished even slightly in that department. She was in control the entire time.” John shakes his head, moving around to the bed and taking a seat on the side. “I know I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”
Serena furrows her brow, “Expecting it of her or-”
“In general. I know she could take a guy out if she wanted to.” John smirks a little, moving the bag of ice around his neck.
“Abso-bloody-lutely.” Serena relaxes her face, smirking. She returns her glance to Charlotte, “going back to when I was walking in, he’s right, baby has certainly grown quite a bit.”
Charlie sighs softly, “thanks.”
“Oh, darling, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” Serena keeps an arm around the young woman’s shoulders, “pregnancy is a wonder of the human body and you’re at that stage where you can finally see the life you’ve been growing inside from the outside...with little foot presses that you’re able to see on the skin of your belly and moving lumps of a tumbling babe within.” She runs her hand over Charlotte’s back, still watching her face, “don’t you ever feel embarrassed about that.”
The corner of Charlotte’s mouth turns up, “thanks.”
Serena realizes she’s just keeping her arm around the young woman a moment longer than originally intended and finally lets go, “I’d better get out of your way. I’m sure the two of you have much to discuss.”
Charlie watches as the woman moves back toward the doorway, “Serena.” When she turns, Charlotte bites her lip, pulling it through her teeth, finally continuing, “you’ll be home tomorrow?”
“Of course.” Serena notices the same subtle nervous habit Bernie has, whether either of them notice they’re doing it, she isn’t sure. “I’m certain John probably has something to get to, but...I’m officially retired-”
“Unless I can con her into helping out at the clinic from time to time.” John smirks, having spoken about it with Serena during their time together.
“Yes, but not any time soon.” Serena tilts her head down, looking at him playfully through the tops of her eyes. Straightening up, she looks over to Charlotte again, “we’ll talk in the morning.”
Charlotte stands there still, even when Serena closes the bedroom door behind herself. Despite her partner sitting behind her on the bed, she isn’t sure she wants to stay here. Nearly a month of not having her new husband nearby and missing him deeply and now she hardly wants to be in the same room...and she doesn’t know why.
“Babe.” John watches as she stands there, finally getting up from his seat after a moment, “Charlie.” He doesn’t touch her, but stands not far from her within the confines of their shared bedroom. “You uh...you had an appointment while I was away.” John tries to take her mind off of things, “I’d love to hear what was said.”
Turning her head toward him slightly, Charlotte swallows, “I-I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I know.” John smiles softly, “and I’m not actually going anywhere tomorrow, but I do have two mid-morning virtual appointments. Just two hours of my time taken up by my clients. That’s all.” He shakes his head, “I’ll even make you breakfast in-”
“There’s no groceries. Um.” Charlie shakes her head a little, turning toward him more, “I-I was going to have some delivered because...Mum didn’t want me to drive and I didn’t want Mum to drive...and we didn’t want to put it all on Nicky. It was a whole ordeal.” She sighs a little, “we managed to tend to Tala well enough...and that was our only real accomplishment while you and Serena were away.”
“Nah.” Replying with certainty, John garners his wife’s attention. “I’ll go in the morning. Make the house one of my famous breakfasts, but you had many accomplishments while we were away.” He wraps an arm around her when she moves forward and places her head against his chest. “You and your Mom had time to get to know one another more than you had in years. You've learned to trust and rely on her again.”
Charlie swallows, turning her head to the side with her ear on his chest, able to hear the soft thumping of his heart. “I was...afraid I’d say the wrong thing or...I’d hurt her somehow and she’d leave-”
“She isn’t going anywhere, babe.” John answers, bringing his other arm around to envelop her better, “she isn’t.”
“You don’t know her like I do. It’s been months and...I know she’s itching to...go anywhere that isn’t here. Anywhere that isn’t with me or Cam.” Charlotte shakes her head, “and now with Serena back, she has the ability to finally do that. Th-they could go to France, I know Serena loves France and Mum...really liked being there with her-”
“Charlie, stop.” John shakes his head slowly, trying to calm her even slightly, “I understand your fears and they are...absolutely founded, but you’re both older now. Both you and your mother are in different places, mentally, than you were when you last parted...before everything. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Charlie nods a little, sighing softly as she pulls away. Moving over to the bed, she takes a seat on her side, “I sound like a child.”
“No, you don’t.” John exhales with a smile, “at all. It’s just something you need to work on. We all have something we need to work on and you have a full house of people who are here to help you. Really, we’re all here to help one another with whatever we’re trying to overcome.” He continues to watch her, “and I love everything we’ve put together so far...because I couldn’t-wouldn’t have done it without you.” John takes a seat next to her after moving over to her side of the bed, “and it took everything in my power not to just throw down all the bags and race up here to you, but Serena thought I would have scared you if I did that, and she’s probably right.”
“Thought we had a break-in. I-I had read an article the other morning that...there were a few not far from here. Cars mostly, but...” Charlie responds quietly, “woke Mum up...which I feel really bad about.”
“Because of her own medical stuff, I was...worried about leaving the two of you, must admit.” John responds, sitting up and turning his head when Charlotte leans her head against his upper arm, near his shoulder. “After tonight, I realize it was all for nothing.”
“My Mum’s kind of...bad-arse, would you say?” Charlie smirks again, picking her head up to look at his face.
John hums his approval with a nod, “I’d also say that she has a pretty badass daughter too.” He accepts a soft kiss from his wife. “I’m sorry for surprising you. I should have called you while we were on the plane.”
“It’s okay,” Charlotte replies softly. They sit there in a comfortable silence for a bit before she reaches over, taking his hand and placing it on the side of her belly. “Feel that?”
Smiling a little, John lets out a soft chuckle, “is that a foot?”
Charlie nods, “that’s all he’s been doing as of late, laying sideways and stretching.” She smiles softly, “hurts like the dickens, let me tell you.”
“Boy, this is your father.” John leans forward, speaking to her belly as he hears an amused giggle from said belly’s owner, “you’re not supposed to be bothering your mother this much before you’re born. You’re supposed to wait until after.” His thumb softly continues to rub over the spot Charlotte had placed it, “and, you’re supposed to be getting your head down. You’ll feel more comfortable, as will your Mom.” Feeling some more movement underneath his hand, John shakes his head slowly, “already a handful and he isn’t even out yet.”
“Speaking of which-” Charlotte starts, running her hand over the hair growth on her husband’s head from his time away, smiling softly when he presses his ear to her belly. “I...I know you probably want your mother in the delivery room since I’m having my mother there-”
“No, actually.” John sits up, watching his partner as she continues to stroke his hair absently. “I know it’s a really...private thing. I’m not going to force you to have my mother in the room with you. I know how pushy she can be at times.” He starts to smirk, “why do you think I chose to live here instead of staying in the states in the first place?”
“You...you wouldn’t be upset if I asked Serena?” Charlie swallows, honestly expecting him to be angry with her for wanting her mother’s partner as opposed to the baby’s biological paternal grandmother there with them.
John shakes his head, “Not even a little bit.” He offers her a smile, “and, to make it easier on you, I’ll even go as far as suggesting we not tell them anything until after the boy’s clawed his way out.”
Charlie grimaces, “that’s...not exactly something I’d like to think about.” She pauses, “I mean, these are my reproductive organs we’re talking about...and I highly doubt you’d like to think of your todger obliterated by someone clawing at it.”
“Sorry.” John sighs, “you’re right.”
“I usually am.” She replies without missing a beat, breaking out into a grin after. Charlie feels herself relaxing more and more as the minutes go on with John, but knows she’ll need to bring her anxieties up with him at some point. Happy to have him home, but anxious to have him too close? That isn’t going to help anyone.
John continues to watch his wife, knowing he's been away too long. He's able to see it with every movement she makes, whether it be warming toward him, or nervous. However long it takes to earn her trust back, he will gladly do it.
Serena helps Bernie come to a few conclusions.
Bernie offers her wife her support.
Hours after last chapter.
Nicky descends the stairs from their top floor quarters with Tala comfortably seated in her arm, expecting to see Bernie making coffee or tea in the kitchen, as is the case every single morning. It had grown to be a habit over the course of the past few weeks. However, today was different. “Light isn’t on,” Nicky murmurs to herself, glancing toward the lower level. She pauses, turning around and glancing between the bedrooms, nightlights illuminating the floor in the early morning hours. Hearing Tala begin to whimper in her ear, Nicky sighs, “it’s okay. Just...need to decide who to disturb.”
Biting her lip, Nicky slowly makes her way down the hall, gently knocking on Bernie’s bedroom door. Tala, still half asleep, rubs her face against her mother’s shoulder. She sighs when she doesn’t hear an answer, turning away from the door, “Aunt Charlie then...”
The door opens, causing Nicky to jump as she turns back around, Serena standing there. She grins, moving closer again, “Ms. Campbell, you’re back.”
“I am.” Serena gives a genuine smile, holding her hands out for Tala only for the baby to rub her face against her Mother’s shoulder.
“She’s a bit grumpy this morning.” Nicky still hands the baby over, “I’m not waking you, am I?” She pauses, “We usually see Ms. Wolfe downstairs around this time and-”
“It’s okay. She’s awake. We were just talking.” Serena runs her hand through the baby’s soft curls, “you’d better be off, Dr. McKendrick, before you’re late.”
“Right, of course.” Nicky nods, leaning in to press a kiss to Tala’s cheek, “Be good for Gigi and Granny. I’ll be home later.”
She says her goodbyes and takes her leave so quickly that Serena doesn’t have a chance to say anything in return, glancing to Tala in her arms she slowly closes the door behind them. Hearing her wife’s low chuckle coming from the bed, Serena scowls, “shut it, you.”
“It’s sticking.” Bernie grins, propped up against the headboard, her oxygen cannula resting comfortably under her nose. “Reckon she might go back to sleep. I forgot that Nicky has early days on the weekend. Allows her to be home earlier and spend more time with Tala going into Sunday.”
“Nicky could have just left her in her cot and given us her baby monitor instead of waking the poor girl.” Serena carries the baby to their bed, letting her continue resting against her chest as she takes a seat and leans against the headboard. “Though, she probably does it so that one of us isn’t forced to race up two flights of stairs to get to her if she cries.”
“Now you’re catching on, Campbell.” Bernie turns to her side, placing a hand on Tala’s back when she notices the baby groggily staring at her. “You’re exactly where I want to be, with my head on Gigi’s chest. You know that?” She’s well aware that the baby wouldn’t have a clue as to what she’s saying, causing her to smirk to herself, Tala slowly blinking as she sucks on a pacifier.
Serena rolls her eyes, blushing at her partner’s words. “Berenice,” she says in warning.
“But I won’t make you give up your spot...because I know how much you missed her too.” Bernie’s thumb gently strokes the baby’s back, lulling Tala back to sleep. Her gaze looks up at Serena’s, offering her a smile. “And I don’t know how you aren’t sleeping after a cup of chamomile. That usually knocks you right out.”
“That and your lavender scented pillow case.” Serena smirks, turning her head to the side to watch her wife, “I think the adrenaline is still a bit too high after everything.” She sighs softly, “the problem is, I know I’m going to bottom out with exhaustion at some point today, it’s just a matter of when that’s indeterminate.”
“You’ll be able to rest with Charlie, at least. She’s at that stage where all she wants to do is rest anymore.” Bernie exhales with a soft smile, “at least Fleur told her she doesn’t need to worry about bed-rest if she takes things easy and monitors her blood pressure-”
“Yes, where does Fleur fall into all of this?” Serena shakes her head a little, “you mentioned it earlier as well.”
Bernie goes into detail about Fleur Fanshawe taking over as Charlotte’s treating ObGyn specialist and how impactful the appointment was as a whole, “you’d be proud, I even complimented her.”
“There must have been a reason though.” Serena watches her wife as Bernie rolls to her back again, “I can’t ever see you giving Fleur a compliment.”
“Well, we were...having a laugh of sorts and...I realized just how scared Charlie actually was.” Bernie answers quietly, the memory obviously affecting her. She takes a moment, staring straight ahead before clearing her throat, “she gripped my hand during the entire appointment. Nearly lost circulation.”
Serena thinks for a moment, “she...acted a bit odd.” She sighs softly, “do you think it has something to do with being alone with John?” Carefully rolling to her side, she gingerly settles Tala between them, allowing Serena to look at Bernie better, “did she say-”
“I’d find her crying from time to time, saying she missed him.” Bernie shakes her head a little, “so I don’t think John is at fault for-”
“Maybe it isn’t directly.” Serena replies quietly, “maybe it’s just...missing him, but having him there is...” She shakes her head a little, “it hasn’t been long since her assault. I wouldn’t put flashbacks and nightmares past her.” Serena thinks about it, “or lying in order to downplay the situation...in order to give you peace of mind.” She watches as the thought finally dawns on her wife, she continues, “we can reassure her and speak from experience about what she’s going through, but...neither of us really have any idea.”
Bernie licks her lips, her eyebrows raising as she gives a subtle nod, “At least not with those two things occurring at the same time.” She scoots down in the bed, matching Serena’s height in order to continue conversing with her effectively. Giving herself a moment to think about things, Bernie turns to her side to look at her wife’s face, “she’ll talk to you.”
“She’ll talk to you too.” Serena smirks a little to herself, “she’s talked to you, almost exclusively, for nearly a month’s time. I can see how much you’ve progressed...together.”
“She’d...” Bernie starts to silently laugh to herself with a huff, “she’d come in here and just...lay down and fall asleep. Just...wouldn’t say a word...because I think she believed me to be asleep, but it was nice to see her sleeping face in the morning.” She smiles warmly, “not every...not every night, but...most nights.”
“Because she was afraid to be alone.” Serena replies, a hint of knowing better to her voice. “Probably has abandonment issues.”
“I-I wouldn’t though.” Bernie shakes her head, “we’re...things are different.”
“I know, but...I’m betting she understands that one day, you’re going to want to move out.” Serena explains quietly, “for the two of us to have a bit of privacy.”
“Not until we need to.” Really, Bernie worries that things between her daughter and herself may fall back into old habits. That, one day, Charlie is going to regret having her move into the same house as her again, “we’re given plenty of privacy already.”
“To a degree.” Serena nods, “and it will get even better once Charlie returns to work...which I’m betting she looks forward to as well.”
“Her assistant has been coming over every couple of days and they discuss the big case that she’s...consumed herself with. She’s still set on going into the courtroom in a few weeks...which, I don’t believe I’m supposed to be aware of.” Bernie raises her eyebrows, “she doesn’t foresee the trial lasting very long once they go in.”
“Well, she’s your daughter. I have no doubt that she’ll want to continue to do her job up until her due date.” Serena watches her wife, “and you’re changing the subject.”
“I am. It isn’t something I want to discuss.” Bernie replies honestly, “you just got home, Campbell...I’m sure much happened in Nairobi because you’re choosing to focus on me.”
Serena nods, knowing her wife is able to see right through her. “I’ve decided to stop drinking or...figuring out a way to...minimize my intake.” She pauses, “I don’t like myself when I’m drunk...regardless of how much I appreciate shiraz, it’s never exactly done me any favors.”
Bernie offers her a kind smile, “I’m proud of you.”
“R-really? You don’t think it’s-” Serena suddenly looks a tad nervous, “you don’t think it’s a fool’s errand?”
“I support you through and through, darling.” Bernie responds quietly, yet confidently, “I know you can do anything you put your mind to...and I’m not just saying that, you’re the most stubborn person I know.”
Serena knows that’s Bernie’s way of giving a compliment. She cautiously leans over the sleeping baby between them, pressing a gentle kiss to her lips, “thank you.”
“Of course.” Bernie nods after, watching Serena’s face. “I’m really glad you’re home, Campbell.”
“Me too.” Serena whispers, watching her partner as she finally finds herself feeling tired, “I love you, Berenice.” Her arm wrapping around Tala’s sleeping frame from her spot between them, as someone might hold onto a stuffed animal.
“I love you too.” Bernie smiles, watching as her wife slowly drifts off to sleep. The topics of their conversation continue to cloud her mind and, though she can’t get enough of watching her wife and granddaughter sleep comfortably in one another’s arms, Bernie doubts she’ll be able to fall asleep herself.
Charlie starts to close herself off again.
Serena attempts to get to the bottom of things.
Morning after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Give them my contact information.” Charlie replies into the speaker of her mobile, “I want to speak with everyone at least twice before the trial. Once to catch up and one right before to prep. Whether that’s in person or video conference. I don’t mind a phone conversation, but one chat must be visual. I need them to understand that I’m still in this...if Weston didn’t cock it up too horribly by his...demands.” She sighs, running her other hand through her hair. It’s obvious something else is being said on the other line when Charlie responds, “oh, I know he isn’t going to be happy, but I’m not here to make him happy. I’m here to ensure my clients receive the attention and representation they deserve.”
Serena follows Tala through the second floor hallway, smirking when the baby peeks her head around the doorway and into the master bedroom, able to hear her aunt’s voice.
“Couple days?” Charlie nods, “and you’ll-” She pauses, noticing her niece carefully step into her room from the corner of her eye, causing her to smirk as she listens to her assistant on the other end of the line, “Just see what we need to do. I will suggest calling from your own mobile and restricting the number. I know the police have been watching the lines within the office.” Charlie smiles softly, “until then.” She touches the screen of her mobile, tossing it to the side as she sits on the sofa in the corner of the bedroom, “good morning.”
Moving into the room behind the baby, Serena gives a quick glance around, “I see your other half is missing as well.” She raises her brow, “have any idea where they might have gotten off to?”
“Johnny wanted to make one of his big breakfasts and we haven’t any groceries, so...I reckon they’ve gone to do the shopping together.” Charlie sighs softly, adjusting her position on the sofa, never actually feeling too comfortable at this point, “who knows what they’re liable to come back with.” She watches as Tala attempts to climb up on the sofa on her own, deciding to carefully help her up when the baby begins a frustrated babble.
“Did we interrupt you?” Serena takes a seat on the other end of the sofa, watching as the baby excitedly begin to crawl between the two women, “you seemed...quite passionate on your mobile. We could hear you down the hall.”
“Ah...well, it seems my boss managed to muck up one of my cases quite a bit. Instead of hearing out what the police are offering and...reading through their proposals, he’s denying everything brought forth, forcing a trial.” Charlie explains simply, “and it’s very...concerning because the proposals have stopped.”
“Charlie, aren’t you supposed to be taking things easy?” Serena watches the young woman, “that doesn’t sound as if you’re doing that.”
“I’m no longer on bed-rest. Ms. Fanshawe explained that she isn’t sure why I was placed on bed-rest in the first place instead of focusing on diet changes.” Charlotte shakes her head, “and I’m not some...delicate flower. There’s no reason I can’t take care of this...or, at least, smooth things over to the best of my ability.”
Serena watches the young woman as she accepts a kiss from her niece, “If I told you that I think this is a bad idea, would you listen to me?”
“You’re only saying that based on stories my mother has told you, no doubt.” Charlie sighs softly, shaking her head. “These people put their trust in me, Serena. I’ve already disappointed them by allowing myself to become a target for the police, then while I was in hospital...” Slowly drawing her lip into her mouth, she runs it against her teeth. “Time and time again, I’ve given these people every opportunity to give up on me. They listened and trusted me when I allowed Weston to take it over. Not that I doubt his abilities, but...there’s a time and a place to force a trial. I didn’t want these people, who have already gone through quite the ordeal, to then be subjected to intense questioning and doubt of their stories in the press...all caused by whoever the police get to represent them.”
“You don’t think you’re taking this a bit personally?” Serena looks to Tala when the baby offers her the mobile that had been previously tossed onto the sofa, she motions to Charlotte as she mumbles, “that’s Aunt Charlie’s, sweetheart.”
“How can I not?” Charlotte accepts her mobile from the babe, touching a few things on the screen before handing it to Tala, watching as the baby becomes almost instantly bewitched by the device. “I made them a promise...and I don’t break my promises.”
“You know that isn’t what I’m talking about.” Serena looks to the baby, watching as she dramatically lies on the sofa between them, holding the mobile above her face. She smirks, but keeps herself from laughing at the girl’s antics.
“I really wish you wouldn’t though.” Charlotte answers softly, “not everything needs to relate to that, you know.”
“No, but your actions are speaking louder than you intend for them to.” The room falls silent as Serena’s eyes shift from the baby to her stepdaughter, “you know, while I missed Bernie dearly while John and I were in Nairobi, I missed you a great deal as well. I was concerned for you.”
Charlotte swallows, staring blankly toward the end of the bed near her. Really, toward anything that wasn’t Serena Campbell, “You didn’t need to be.”
“I think I did.” Serena nods, “from the way Bernie explains things-”
“Exactly, the way she explains things. Mum always thinks I’m on my deathbed or...underplaying everything.” Charlie laughs lightly to herself, “I’ve been...having a bit of shortness of breath when I overexert myself...like getting out of the bath after a soak or...cleaning up Tala’s toys. It really isn’t a big deal, but...she made it one.” She sighs softly, “just...automatically into doctor mode.”
“Because you terrify her.” Serena leans an elbow against the back of the sofa, sitting mostly sideways, “and she’s worried about disappointing you.”
Charlotte opens her mouth to say something, closing it after as she slowly glances over to Serena, “I-I wouldn’t-”
“The two of you are in this loop where neither one of you will just...truly talk to the other. Reassure one another that these...fears are unfounded if you just...say what needs to be said.” Serena shakes her head, “that’s why you’re pushing yourself with work again. You’re a people pleaser...as is your mother.”
Furrowing her brow, Charlie starts to shake her head, “Mum isn’t-”
“Oh, but she is.” A smile spreads across her face, Serena gives a quick glance to Tala before looking back to Charlotte, “whether it’s with a patient, with myself, or with her children...she absolutely is, regardless of what she wants other people to believe with that brusk exterior she puts up. You get it honestly, darling.”
“Suppose so.” Charlotte looks away again, resting her head against the back of the sofa. She stares toward the ceiling, the room falling quiet other than the light children’s music coming from her mobile as Tala holds it. A tear escapes Charlie’s eye, one that she didn’t feel or think were forming.
“Charlotte, listen to me. I’m not your husband and I’m not your mother. There’s no reason for you to try to impress me because I already know you’re splendid.” Serena doesn’t move, almost as if she’s just studying the young woman, “you need to allow yourself time to recover from what happened to you.”
Cautiously pushing her hands against the sofa in an effort to stand, Charlie mumbles, “I’m fine.”
“Okay.” Serena replies simply, watching as the young woman continues to struggle, “need a hand?”
“You don’t get to do that.” Charlie finally glares at the other woman, coming to a stop with her attempts while on the edge of the sofa, “you and Johnny were away for nearly a month. Yes, I’m well aware of the lines being down and no flights and...and the flooding, but...” She finally manages to push herself to standing, feeling like she needs the height in order to claim the literal high ground, “it was a month that the two of you were away...incommunicado. A month that I-I’ve had to do exactly that. I can’t wallow in my own thoughts. I need to move on.” Charlie swallows, just looking back at Serena at this point, “you don’t get to just...drag me back to that mindset because you weren’t here for it in the first place.” She pauses, her hands resting at her sides, slowly rise up to her hips, “you didn’t care.”
“Now who isn’t being fair?” Serena sits up, folding her hands in her lap.
“You wouldn’t have left if you cared.” Charlotte moves around the room to the chest of drawers, obtaining her own underclothes and something to wear for the day, “I think I should, um...I haven’t visited Cameron and-”
Serena listens to the young woman, getting up herself and walking over to be closer to Charlotte as she opens the closet door, “I’d...wake in the morning and...rush to my mobile to see if service had returned.” She licks her lips, “I was able to conserve a bottle of shiraz to...help numb the pain of missing you and your mother for...quite a while. Small glasses, but...the pain became too much and...” Serena shrugs, falling quiet, “I was prepared for a few days away. Not weeks.”
Charlie licks her lips, listening to the woman as she holds the closet rod, “you could have stayed here. We could have just sent John.”
“They’re my belongings. I’m responsible for them.” Serena explains simply, “and though I trust John with many things, I trust no-one with the securing and transportation of Elinor’s ashes.”
Closing her eyes, Charlotte realizes how silly she’s being with this.
“I spent a month, over a month, with you. The two of us in my flat or in a hotel room.” Serena continues, “I’d like to think, in that time, we got to know one another more intimately.” She pauses, folding her arms over her abdomen, “and I thought you might have come to trust me more.”
“I do trust you.” Charlotte replies softly, still standing in the closet.
“Obviously not enough that you’d honestly believe that I didn’t care about your assault.” Serena watches as the young woman exits the closet, their eyes meeting. “You needed your mother.” She stands up straighter, lowering her arms, “her physiotherapist never thought that she shouldn’t go, they were just doing me a favor.” Serena raises her brow, “not that I needed to give your mother an excuse to stay, but...you needed her far more than I did and you needed her more than you needed me .” The way Charlotte is standing there, looking at her with uncertainty, reminds Serena of Bernie so much.
Charlotte swallows, taking a couple steps closer before they embrace one another tenderly, “thank you.”
Serena offers the young woman a smile when they part, “now, would you please listen to not only me, but to the other two doctors that live here as well as Fleur, and take it easy?”
“I’m only doing phone calls and video conferences. When I go into the courtroom, I’ll be sitting for the majority of it.” Charlotte glances over Serena’s shoulder when she notices her niece slowly climbing off of the sofa, “there’s never a time where I’ve stressed in the courtroom.” She breaks apart from the other woman more, moving over to the girl when she notices her mobile in Tala’s mouth. Charlotte quickly takes it away from her, causing the babe to pout.
“There’s never been a time where you’ve been pregnant in a courtroom either.” Serena points out.
“Seems like it’s going to be inevitable that things come to that, but if you’re so concerned, why not come with?” Charlotte offers, “Nothing is stopping you.”
“We’ll see when the time comes.” Serena lifts Tala into her arms when the girl pats on her leg for attention, “maybe John would want to go instead.” Seeing Charlotte tense up a little as she returns to the chest of drawers, Serena nods, “think I wouldn’t notice?”
Charlie brings a hand to her face, rubbing her eyes a little before pushing her fringe back, only for it to return to her face after, “Serena, I don’t really want to go over this first thing in the morning. I only woke like...an hour ago when Beryl phoned. I’ve yet to get dressed, I’ve yet to have coffee...even though it’s decaffeinated.” She places a hand on her hip as she continues, “there’s plenty I want to discuss with you, things I want to ask you, but...let me wake up first.”
“You seem pretty alert to me.” Serena teases, smiling at Charlotte when she appears ready to argue. “I’m going to take Tala to get changed and we’re heading to the lounge. I’d rather be the one to organize the groceries than to leave it to Bernie.”
“Pure bedlam, I’m sure.” Charlotte teases, smirking to herself. “I really am glad you’re back, Serena.”
“As am I.” Serena nods, finally moving to the door. Moving to the stairs to the floor above and Nicky’s quarters in order to get Tala changed. Serena may have allowed Charlie to chase her off for the moment. However, if there’s one thing Charlotte Wolfe should have caught onto by now, it’s that Serena Campbell doesn’t back down easily.
The past few chapters have been one after the other with only a few hours in between. Just want to clear that up. <3
John and Bernie arrive home from grocery shopping.
Tala's first word is met with chagrin from her family members present.
Not too long after the previous chapter.
“Let me carry something, please.” Bernie stands next to the car, watching as her son-in-law gathers the cloth shopping bags from the boot of the car in his muscular arms.
“Sure, carry yourself into the house.” John replies with a joking smirk, “really, Bernie, I’ve got this. Just do me a favor and open the door.” When she doesn’t move from next to him and instead folds her arms, John looks over to her, “unless you want me to jump in through the window, I don’t know how you think we’re getting in the house.”
Bernie sighs, grabbing the keys from the top of one of the bags and making her way to the door. She stands there a moment, putting all her focus into trying to hold the key between the fingers of her injured hand. Bernie swallows, quickly switching to her other hand. She exhales a sigh of relief as the door opens on its own revealing her wife on the other side, “Hey, you.”
Smirking to herself, Serena leans in, giving her wife a quick kiss. “Charlie and Tala are in the lounge.” She steps aside to let her wife pass, but instead is met with the other woman’s folded arms. “What is it?”
“I want to help.” Bernie replies confidently, “and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Looking at her wife for a moment, Serena nods, “of course...I just thought you’d want to see Tala since she’s finally awake.”
Moving into the house, Bernie proceeds to remove her jacket and purse, “I watched her sleep throughout the night.” Looking down the hallway that would lead to the lounge, she sees her granddaughter at the gate, trying to see what was going on in the other room. Bernie sighs, knowing how impossible it is to ignore her granddaughter in any capacity. After hanging her jacket and purse in the coat closet, Bernie finally goes to the lounge, seeing the excited reaction of Tala. The baby grinning with her hands clapping, an excited squeal escapes Tala’s lips, causing Bernie to huff a soft chortle, “Good morning.”
“She’s being a terror this morning trying to roughhouse, which I know she does with you.” Charlotte says from her place, sitting on the floor. She carefully moves to her knees before slowly getting up with the assistance of leaning on the coffee table. “She’s gotten used to you in the mornings...and the rest of us aren’t good enough.” Charlie offers her mother an amused smirk, “only has eyes for Granny.”
“I don’t know if I’m feeling the name Granny.” Bernie lifts the girl up into her better arm, accepting an eager hug. “Mind getting the gate?”
Charlie does as asked, but the question still gives her pause. Everyone in the house, aside from Nicky, is tall enough to step over. In fact, Serena has teased her mother in the past about her giraffe legs. “You okay?” She asks her mother as she walks through the, now open, doorway.
Bernie gives an absent nod as she takes a seat on the sofa with her granddaughter, “just letting John carry the groceries in before I help in putting them away.”
Tilting her head to the side, Charlotte watches her mother, “tingly or numb?” When her mother glances up at her with confusion, Charlie motions to the woman’s hand, noticing the subtle movements she’s making with it. “I’m not giving you up, you’ll do that yourself when you go... help. ”
It’s the way her daughter says it that causes Bernie to smirk to herself, her daughter was more knowledgeable about this than she previously gave her credit for. “Pins and needles,” Bernie finds herself admitting, something she wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Charlie nods slowly, “anything I can do to help?”
“No, darling, but thank you.” Bernie replies quietly, touched that her daughter would offer.
“Okay.” Charlie sighs, “I need to pee, but I’ll be right back. Do you want me to get you a coffee?” She pauses, tilting her head to the side, “cream and sugar?” Charlie raises an eyebrow, “I know I like to hide that decaf taste as much as humanly-”
“No, thank you.” Bernie shakes her head, holding Tala closely when the baby nuzzles her face against her hair. She isn’t doing much roughhousing now that her grandmother is home, “just let Serena know I’m staying in here and-”
“Mum.” Charlotte puts her hands up as if signaling her mother to chill out. Turning away from the room, Charlie does as she said she was going to do. Quickly using the toilet and washing her hands, Charlotte makes her way to the kitchen, seeing Serena already mostly finished putting things away aside from what John has set onto the counter in order to make a large American style breakfast for everyone. “Johnny, why don’t we just order something and you can do this tomorrow...so that Nicky can partake?”
John sighs softly, not having actually started to assemble anything yet, “we can do that.” He nods, “how about I make Tala a quick cheesy egg while you order it, babe?”
“She does not need cheese in the egg.” Charlie smiles to herself, shaking her head as she turns to return to the lounge to obtain her mobile.
“Uncle John’s girl gets whatever she wants.” John answers with certainty, glancing over to see the niece in question toddling into the space, followed by her grandmother. Having not seen the baby since returning the night prior, John looks over the kitchen island, “Tamale!” He hears the excited squeal of his niece, watching as she turns around and holds onto Bernie’s leg, burying her face.
Serena finds herself grinning as she puts things in the cupboards, not really paying John any mind even though Tala continues to grow more excited. “You know, Bernie, it’s actually quite good that you and Charlotte focused on what was home and ordering take-away for as long as you did. Actually allowed the cupboards and the larder to clear out significantly.” Serena nods, “did you want to do these cans?”
“I-if you’d like.” Bernie bites the inside of her cheek, attempting not to let on to what she and her daughter had just discussed.
Returning to the kitchen area with her mobile, Charlie catches the interaction, “Mum, do you want to take a look at this menu?” She attempts to save her mother from Serena finding out there’s anything remotely off, “entirely up to you.” Charlie comes to stand next to her mother, scrolling a little on the screen.
Bernie nods thankfully, glancing over to her daughter before looking at the mobile, “yes, okay.”
John leans down to gather up his niece in his arms, the babe haven gotten bored and toddling over to him. He stands upright, Tala resting in the crook of his arm. He watches the interaction of the Wolfe women, then notices the way Serena is giving quick glances toward them. “Let’s make you eggs, Tala.” He places the girl in her high chair, securing her with the buckles inside before placing her tray over top, “and...fruit? Is that a good idea?”
Serena only half hears him, causing her to look over, “good choice.” She smirks, “get all the practice that you can.”
“Raspberries. I’ll cut some in half.” John nods, “I don’t think she’s had those before. At least, not that I noticed. So, Bernie and I thought she might like something different.”
“I can cut them. You go ahead and make her egg. We all know she isn’t a fan of being contained for too long.” Serena gives him a pat on the arm near his shoulder as she moves over to the refrigerator to obtain the berries.
John nods, keeping a few eggs and cheese out before putting the other things away. It all seems so mundane, but it’s something he doesn’t know if he’d ever want to change. Laughing a little to himself as he cracks a couple of eggs into a bowl to beat with a fork, thinking about if anyone else could or would say the same about their partner’s parents.
“Your turn, Serena. Johnny, I added your usual. The largest beans on toast they could manage.” Charlie smirks, teasing the man.
“Beans are not a breakfast food.” John shakes his head, reading a frying pan with a little butter before beginning to softly fry the seasoned scrambled egg.
“The biggest, Johnny!” Charlie says again, looking to her niece, “show him how big, Tala.” When the baby holds her arms up, showing a ‘so big’ display that they’d all taught the baby while Serena and John were away. “That’s it. That’s how big the portion will be.”
John grins, shaking his head, “I like and agree with all your other breakfast things, maybe apart from your pancakes as well, but the rest of it is fine. Beans and your crepes that you try to pass off as pancakes. Just call crepes what they are...crepes.”
“He’s very passionate about this.” Charlie leans against the counter next to him, giving a mischievous smirk as she looks at his face, attempting to get a playful rise out of him. “May have ordered you an eggs benedict instead...possibly...”
Sliding the hot eggs onto a plate, John sets them onto the counter in order for them to cool before giving them to Tala. He leans over to his wife, planting a long, tender kiss to her lips and looking her in the eyes once they part. It’s a behavior that, in the past, Charlie simply wouldn’t display often, especially in front of other people. However, John isn’t sure if it’s the hormones of pregnancy or just a whole different state of mind over the past few months that have changed his wife. He couldn’t possibly complain, “maybe?”
Bernie blushes, her side leaning against the kitchen island, “Don’t get too many ideas, you two. She might be off of bed rest, but she’s under strict-”
“Oh, Berenice. Live a little.” Serena washes her hands at the kitchen sink after cutting the last few berries for the baby sitting in the high chair.
“I’ve lived plenty and I won’t allow any risks to my grandson, even if that makes me a...” Bernie pauses, muttering to herself, “what do they call it...”
“Clam jam.” Serena offers, shaking the water from her hands and the knife off in the sink before drying them on the kitchen towel hanging from the oven door handle. When she turns her head, realizing the term earned her the attention of the other people in the room, “that’s what Fleur called it.”
“That’s the lesbian version, but the two of you are doing a great job at it regardless.” Charlie glances between her mother and step-mother, “and it isn’t as if I was going to do anything anyway. A girl can play once in a while, you know.”
“Where I’m from it’s called a cockblock, but it’s fine.” John shakes his head a little, “admittingly, it’s hard to keep my hands off of my wife...and sometimes I need the reminder.” He pecks Charlie’s lips again when she looks up at him, “especially when she’s this breathtaking...and I’ve been away for nearly a month.”
“I bet.” Bernie replies sarcastically, doing her best not to roll her eyes.
Serena, having moved around to stand next to her wife, gently nudges the woman with her elbow before speaking quietly to her as the younger couple kisses again, “they’re newlyweds.”
“As are we. You don’t see us having it off on the kitchen island in front of everyone...including our granddaughter.” Bernie nearly pouts before glancing over at her wife next to her.
“We’re the only other ones here and they’re doing nothing to Tala.” Serena chuckles a little to herself, “Berenice, we’re all adults and there’s nothing as beautiful as young love.”
Tala holds up one of her halved berries, her mouth containing all of two teeth beams toward her uncle. Wanting him to notice her, she utters her first word, “Dada.”
The room stops moving, everyone stops speaking, and all parties turn to look at the girl.
“Shit,” Charlotte exhales, wondering how she’ll manage to explain this to Nicky...or to her brother...or even if she should say anything at all.
Bernie has an unexpected bad dream.
Serena does her best to reassure her wife.
Few nights after the events of last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie opens her eyes slowly, the sun shining in through the window. This isn’t her usual room. There isn’t much in this one. A hospital room? Bernie furrows her brow, trying to make out the figure standing across from her, reading through her large patient file, or what she’s sure is her patient file.
“Ms. Wolfe.” The figure moves closer to her, folding the file and setting it into the basket at the end of her bed, “good to see you’re finally awake.”
“Cameron?” Bernie shakes her head a little, “I don’t-”
“If I’m not allowed to call you Mum at work, you don’t get to refer to me as Cameron. It’s Dr. Dunn to you.” Cam’s voice sounds jovial as he gives a smirk, but it’s easy to see there’s something else hiding behind his eyes, “how are you feeling? Gave everyone a bit of a scare after breakfast.”
Her confused stare speaks volumes. There was no incident after breakfast, at least, as far as Bernie can remember. She can recall sitting on the floor in the living room, playing with simple wooden blocks with Tala. The girl had more fun knocking down Bernie’s simple tower and giggling at her grandmother’s playful pout. Aside from the baby’s gaffe earlier in the day, the rest of it was fine. “How are you here?”
“What do you-” Cameron begins to shake his head, exhaling slowly as he appears offended, “worked my way up, of course. I’m a registrar here in the AAU.” He exhales, shaking his head, “I’m trying to help you, treat you, and-”
“I stand corrected, Cameron.” Bernie shakes her head, “I’m just...confused on several-” She closes her eyes, swallowing.
“As am I.” Cam nods, casually moving to the head of the bed, “you lied about being dead, then you slowly try to erase me from my daughter’s mind, replacing me with your darling Charlotte and her husband. You even have her calling him Daddy. ”
Bernie continues to shake her head negatively, “It was just because she’s around him more often. She didn’t actually-”
“You weren’t there for Charlie and I...and now you want to ensure I’m not there for mine.” Cameron reaches over to the bedside table, picking up a small glass vial with a rubber and metal top, as well as an empty syringe. “I can’t say I’m terribly fond of your plan.”
Unable to move her limbs, Bernie watches as her son carefully pulls up a dosage in the syringe, though she’s unsure of the contents, “what...what are you doing?”
“I’m taking care of things...getting rid of the middle man, or woman in this case.” Cameron starts to smirk, “at the moment, you have a mild paralytic running through your veins and in a moment,” He wiggles the syringe between his fingers, “this will further that...stop your heart...” Cam’s smile grows, “and we’ll finally be rid of you, exactly how it was supposed to be.”
“Don’t do this, please.” Bernie’s eyes plead with her son and she’s almost certain she can feel her eyes filling with tears, “you’re so much better than this.”
“You hardly know who I am,” Cameron finally injects the solution into the IV line, a sinister smirk growing on his face, “goodnight, Madre.”
“ Bernie! ” Serena gently shakes her wife awake, brow furrowed, thoroughly worried once the blond opens her eyes, “that’s it. Wakey wakey, darling.” She reaches a hand up, gently running her shortened nails through Bernie’s hair.
Bernie cautiously glances around the room, the bedroom she’s been sharing with her wife for the past few months. She wonders if this is real, or was the other one. “Where’s Tala?”
“At this hour, I’d imagine she’s upstairs with her mother, asleep.” Serena blinks, not having been awake very long, but long enough to just watch her wife mumbling and lightly thrashing while still asleep. “You’re pale as snow. Bad dream, darling?”
“Uh.” Bernie swallows, searching her mind for something, anything to say. Something that isn’t going to worry the woman next to her, something that isn’t going to warrant looks of pity. “Something like that and before you ask, I don’t wish to speak of it.” Bernie licks her lips, sighing to herself. “I’m sorry for waking you.”
Serena begins to shake her head slowly, “no, it’s fine.” She offers a light smile, knowing whatever was on Bernie’s mind was probably going to shape the day for her, especially with the way her face looks at this moment. Downplayed bewilderment. “Are you...” Serena sighs softly to herself, “are you planning to go back to sleep or-”
“Don’t know if I can at the moment.” Bernie mutters, “um...I’ll listen to an audiobook. I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Berenice.” Serena watches as her partner continues to look uncomfortable, “I’ve already said...” She trails, shaking her head, “does this have to do with our trip to see Cameron tomorrow?” Serena sighs softly, “If it’s going to bother you, darling, we needn’t go. I just thought you might like it to just be the two of us since Nicky is visiting her family with the baby. We’ll be free.”
“He’s my son. I need to see him, I know.” Clearing her throat, Bernie absently looks toward the end of the bed, “but...I can just do a phone call this week...and we can visit Jason and his brood. I still haven’t seen him since we arrived from Hargeisa. Only through video conference.”
“We can do that another day. Maybe we can...have a proper date.” Serena starts to smile, her air optimistic, “just...spend time together without worrying about the others for a change.”
“I-I don’t have anything to wear for a proper date.” Bernie mumbles quietly, not wanting to disappoint her partner. She doesn’t understand where this wave of inferiority is coming from.
Serena moves her hand from Bernie’s hair to her shoulder and upper arm, trailing it down further to take hold of her hand. “Lunch date. Something casual.” She chortles softly to herself, “you have your own clothes and Charlotte’s non-maternity clothes. How do you not have anything to wear?”
“You know, Marcus had given her some of my things that had been up in the attic. Some of which were maternity clothing from what I understand. I haven’t noticed her wearing any...at least none that I recognize though.” Bernie sadly smiles to herself, “not that...it’s just been a difficult thing...remembering. Not all the time, but...”
“I know it has been for you.” Serena nods, “but working on it will help. Small exercises, chess, crosswords, but only if you’d like, of course.” She offers, wanting to make her partner hopeful even slightly, “I’ll speak to your therapist.”
“No, I’ve sent her away.” Bernie licks her lips, shaking her head, “I’ve um...I’ve come to terms with my limitations.” She slowly glances over to her wife, then back toward the end of the bed, “not that I won’t continue on my own, where I can, to improve, but...I know I’m never going to be able to successfully hold a scalpel again or to suture a minor injury. Not in my cards, Campbell.”
It’s sad really. Serena leans over giving a soft peck against her wife’s cheek, “you’re incredibly good at teaching though, darling. There are plenty of young people who would be partial to hearing your wise words.” She places her head against Bernie’s shoulder, “being unable to complete a suture or hold a scalpel isn’t the be all, end all.”
“To you, maybe, but...” Bernie shakes her head a little, “when I was in Uni, Marcus and I would compete our suturing techniques. He was quite good, but I was better. I was superior at nearly everything compared to him. He was often jealous.”
Serena furrows her brow slightly, “what does that have to do with-” She exhales slowly, “you’re changing the subject.”
“I know.” Bernie draws her bottom lip into her mouth, slowly pulling it over her teeth. She stops after a moment, the room remaining silent, “I...I don’t want to fear my son.”
“You’ve been to see him.” Serena shakes her head a little, not understanding the sudden change, “Charlotte always says they’ve gone well. Did something happen?” Though she’s wanted to, Serena has had yet to visit her stepson since her previous return from Hargeisa. Not that she hasn’t wanted to, but she always felt visiting him was a very private thing, shared primarily between his mother and sister, “I don’t even...when was the last time you’ve been?”
“I’ve sent letters...and spoken to him on the telephone.” Bernie responds quietly, “at least that’s how it has been since you’ve been away. Fairly difficult while Charlie’s been on her bedrest. I didn’t want her to drive and I don’t quite trust myself to drive the distance.”
“Understandable.” Serena nods, holding her wife’s hand. “Well, darling, I’m leaving it entirely up to you. I’m not going to force you, but I also don’t want you to push yourself to the point of being uncomfortable. He’d only pick up on the feeling and it wouldn’t help anyone, really.” She squeezes Bernie’s hand gently, reassuring her, “don’t worry about it tonight, darling. We’re retired. We have plenty of time.”
I truly apologize for these large breaks of time between chapters. Well, long to me. Life is wild...as is writer's block.
Charlotte breaks some news to Cameron.
Beryl helps her boss prepare for her trial.
Around the same time as last chapter. Might a few days after.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So...how are you?” Cameron smiles a little, standing at the desk with the corded phone pressed to his ear, “bet the baby is getting big.”
“Yes, Cameron, I’m as big as a bloody house. Is that what you’d like to hear?” Charlotte teases her brother, hearing him chuckle softly on the other end of the line. This isn’t exactly a pleasant call for her. Not really. “How about you?
“Oh, Dad came to visit, actually.” Cam nods, “I was...in painting therapy and they told me I had a visitor.” He smiles a little to himself, “I didn’t think he knew where I was.”
“Well, I told him that I’d go with him. Shows how much he listens.” Charlie leans back in her office chair within the law firm, lifting a hand to push through her hair. “How...um...was everything okay with him there?” She pauses, “there weren’t any...” Charlie sighs softly, “I just didn’t want him to be an arse to you, Cam.”
“I’m your big brother. I’m the one who is supposed to be doing the protecting.” Cameron leans a comfortable elbow on the desk, absently glancing around, “and, believe it or not, things went rather well.” He nods to himself, “I mean...awkward, of course, everything always has been with Dad-”
“With you and Dad, yeah.” Charlotte teases gently.
Cameron nods, smiling to himself, “yeah, well...”
“Sorry.” Charlie mumbles softly, “I um...I just know how he was and I didn’t want him to...to come around you without me there to mediate.”
“It truly was fine, Charlie.” Cam nods, “we...we had a nice, long chat. Said he’s set up a uni fund for Tala already.” He smirks a little, “and he’ll do the same for yours...for all his grandchildren.”
“You haven’t any more that we don’t know about, do you?” Charlotte lifts her head when her secretary enters the room with a file she’s been waiting on. She motions the woman closely, motioning for her to take a seat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, signaling that she’ll be with her in a moment. When he doesn’t answer right away, she sits up, “do you?”
“No, of course not.” Cameron sighs, seeing the nurse tapping her wristwatch from behind the desk to him, “they’re telling me I need to get off.”
“Yeah, one moment.” Charlie licks her lips, reaching up to tuck a portion of her hair behind her ear, “I um...I phoned to tell you that Mum’s been asking questions about your trial...about what happened to get you there. I think she’s been reading news articles.” She exhales slowly, “I just want you to...I want you to be prepared that she may ask you questions.”
The last thing Cameron wants to hear. He nods a little, “well...bound to happen sometime, right?” Cam leans his head back, slowly considering and understanding his sister’s words, “nice while it lasted.”
“It will be okay, Cam.” Swallowing, Charlotte exhales, “I need to get back. I’ll talk to you later.” She’s quick to end the phone call, placing her mobile on the desk after touching the screen. Charlie looks to her assistant, seated in front of her, “do you have any siblings, Beryl?”
“Only child.” Beryl smiles a little to herself, “why do you ask?”
“You’re lucky. Siblings are a pain in the arse.” Charlie leans forward, taking hold of the files in front of her, “what’s this?”
“Your usual focus points. Haven’t put them together in a while.” Beryl grins a bit more, proudly, “of course, as always, we’ll have one final time to come to a solution before heading into the courtroom. Rumor has it, they’re very eager to do just that.”
“That’s the...double edged sword.” Charlotte nods, flipping through the notes, “on one hand, I’d rather not drag this family through the stress of a trial...a trial we both know will be expensive and large. Not for them, but...in general.” She tilts her head to the side, placing the file onto her desk again, “on the other hand, the notoriety this case would gain, would bring scrutiny to the practices of the police. Possibly causing them to weed out their repeat offenders of excessive force.”
Beryl nods slowly, “what is your gut telling you?”
“My gut is telling me to make sure they get a good deal.” Charlie licks her lips, “but my heart...” She shakes her head a little, absently touching the side of her belly, “I could use the class action to draw attention. That was...that was my original plan when I initially took these cases.” Charlie exhales, a soft laugh to her lips, “and now...now I just want them to receive what they’re owed.”
“What changed?” Beryl continues to watch her boss turned friend, “because that certainly isn’t the Charlie Wolfe that I know.” She leans forward a little, “the Charlie Wolfe I know wouldn’t give a hoot about who she pissed off or how far she had to go.” Beryl shakes her head a little, “she would fight until she couldn’t.”
Charlie smiles so quickly that it looks like a wince as she hears her friend’s words, “the Charlie Wolfe you know is tired.” She nods, “and has been listening to questions over the past week about what earned her brother a place in St. Jerome Hospital.” Charlie swallows before clearing her throat, taking a moment as she formulates her next words, “and it doesn’t matter how much I say, it’s never enough.”
“Mothers are known worldwide for never being satisfied.” Beryl shares a laugh with the woman in front of her, “but I can tell that it’s tough on you as well. Maybe you should tell her.”
“That’s the thing. I don’t know if it’s tough on me because I’m pregnant or if it’s tough on me because it’s actually a difficult subject to talk about over and over?” Charlie sighs, “I just have to...look at it in increments, I think.” She stretches her back a bit, “this case, I mean. Increments. I will take care of this case tomorrow, hopefully, and then the bigger one after I’ve had the baby. It will give me time to relax...de-stress a little.”
“You seem unsure of yourself.” Beryl shakes her head a little, “you can’t be uncertain, Ms. Wolfe.”
“I know that, Beryl.” Charlie closes her eyes, sitting there like that for a moment before she continues, “I know...and I won’t be. There isn’t anything for you to worry about, we’ll do what we can for these people.”
Beryl sighs softly as she stands from her seat, “it isn’t the clients I’m worried about...it’s you.” She takes a moment to look at her friend before finally taking her leave from the office.
I think it's safe to admit, this trial isn't going to go to plan.
ETA- Apologises for the double chapter post. I was experiencing a glitch when posting 11 that made it appear that it didn't post. Glad to see that it did.
Also, so sorry for the shorter chapter. I'm having issues with writer's block. <3
Charlotte offers her mother a gift, much to Bernie's chagrin.
Serena has a heart to heart with her wife.
Charlie sees her mother sitting at the kitchen island of the house as she returns home from work. Her comfortable fur lined, suede boots hardly make a sound, but her closing of the entry door behind her is loud enough to garner the woman’s attention. She had only stayed in the office for a few hours for preparations and paperwork. “Sorry.”
Bernie shakes her head slowly, looking at the laptop in front of her, “no, darling, you’re fine.” She sighs a little, reading through yet another article on Cameron. She swallows, closing the lid of the laptop before glancing over to her daughter, “how was the office?” She pauses, “didn’t push yourself too much, did you?”
“No, Mum, I did not.” Charlie responds triumphantly, hanging up her jacket before walking in more. When she sees the woman start to open her mouth, Charlie interrupts her, “I have a gift for you.” She sets her messenger bag on top of the kitchen island and pauses, glancing back to her mother, “well...maybe not a...a gift, per say, but-”
“What is it?” Bernie watches her daughter, the corner of her mouth turning up into an amused smirk.
“I used my boss powers of making my assistant do whatever I want and had Beryl compile all legitimate, factual articles concerning Cameron’s arrest and trial.” Charlie answers simply, “and I even had her include whatever notes were put together about the ordeal on our end while maintaining client confidentiality...even if he is family.” She pulls out a small binder of information, setting it on top of her mother’s laptop, “and that’s absolutely everything.”
Bernie didn’t expect the young woman to ramble the information in such a way. Her eyes follow the binder, gazing as it rests on the lid of her silver laptop. There’s a cover and everything. “ All Pertinent Information Concerning Cameron Dunn ,” Bernie reads the cover, her expression remaining neutral, “why are you giving me this?”
“Because I can’t take the questions anymore.” Charlotte responds bruskly, “I was there when it happened. I watched from the sidelines because that’s all I could truly do. Just sit there and hope that my boss didn’t royally cock things up for him.” She shrugs a little, “it could have been so much worse for him.”
“I couldn’t be there, Charlie, because I was in a coma.” Bernie shakes her head, “and if I had just...stayed home, it probably would have never happened.”
“You don’t know that.” Charlotte shakes her head, “it’s a mental illness. It would have just manifested differently.” She doesn’t say how she actually partially blames Alex Dawson or how things were at the time of her funeral. This isn’t the time for that. “Is that what all this has been about?” Charlie furrows her brow, leaning comfortably against the kitchen island, “you blame yourself?”
Bernie doesn’t answer her questions, instead picking up the book and carefully sliding from the stool she was sitting on, “this will be very helpful. Thank you.”
“Please, don’t walk away.” Charlie responds quietly as the woman takes off down the hall, her mother freezing in her tracks as she attempts a retreat to the lounge, “this isn’t the...the Bernie Wolfe I grew up with.” Tilting her head to the side, she continues, “not that I expect the Major to make an appearance, in fact, I don’t want her to. I just...I want to understand what’s going on with you now.” She slowly rounds the kitchen island, glad her mother still hadn’t moved, and touches the woman’s arm, slowly stepping around to face her completely.
Her eyes reddened, filled with tears. This isn’t a side of herself that Bernie shows to anyone, much less her children, and she’s incredibly embarrassed by it. She swallows, knowing her daughter may not understand, “my son was hurting and I wasn’t there to help him.” Bernie responds simply, “as were you, but...you’re a different breed. Always were.”
“Apples don’t fall far and all that, Mum.” Charlotte mutters, “I take after you and Cam takes after Dad.”
“I’m aware...and I’m so sorry.” Bernie takes a moment before finally glancing over to her heavily pregnant daughter, “if I had just...paid more attention to you, if I had just...sucked it up and-”
“Mum, stop.” Charlie says again, her voice raised and her tone commanding. The space between them goes silent as they stare at one another for a moment. They hear as the entry door opens again, little footsteps can be heard. Leaning in, Charlie whispers into her mother’s ear, “We’ll continue this later.”
“Go ahead, call Granny. Let her know we’re home.” Serena tells the excited girl, removing her own jacket to hang on the coat cook near the door. She starts to laugh as the baby yells out something indecipherable. Serena follows behind Tala with a couple of shopping bags in her hands, which she places on the kitchen island as she passes it. Taking note of Bernie’s laptop on the surface, she glances around, knowing the woman had been virtually inseparable from the device for at least a fortnight. Serena follows Tala’s excited squeal, hearing it come from the hallway.
Charlotte crouches down to the baby, accepting a slobbery kiss to her cheek from her, Bernie having retreated to the stairs. “Thank you so much.” She grins, prepared to put up the metaphorical mask of everything being fine.
Serena is pleased to see the young woman home, knowing she couldn’t rely on the presence of the car out front since Charlotte had started using ride shares. “Certainly didn’t expect to see you home just yet.”
“I was only staying a few hours. Tomorrow I’ll be out for most of the day.” Charlie explains, rubbing her niece’s back before carefully standing up with her in her arms. She presses a kiss to Tala’s temple, trying to catch her breath before waddling to the lounge.
“Where’s Bernie?” Serena furrows her brow, able to smell her partner’s perfume in the air, signifying that she had been there probably only moments prior.
Charlotte turns, her expression neutral, “upstairs. She’s still on her Cameron kick.”
“I noticed the laptop-” Serena gives a subtle motion with her hand toward the kitchen area.
“I gave her a thing.” Charlie responds quietly, not going into more detail than that. She groans a little, feeling the growing babe within her stretching as she lowers herself onto the sofa. Charlie leans forward, placing her niece onto the floor as she continues to speak with her step-mother, noticing Serena had followed behind, “maybe you can talk to her. I’ve...I don’t know what else to do to get her off of this and I’m just...I’m tired.”
Serena nods, knowing full well what the young woman is referring to. “I believe it’s even consuming her in her sleep.” Rubbing her hand over her own face in thought, Serena sighs softly, “I just don’t know anymore.”
“That’s an unacceptable answer.” Charlie mumbles a little, leaning back against the back of the sofa. “I have my trial tomorrow. You need to take her to see him.” She responds emphatically, “don't tell her where you’re going, just go. Do not give her the opportunity to withdraw from an uncomfortable situation.”
“She already has...” Serena closes her eyes for a second before speaking again, “she’s remembering more about her time in Somalia as well.” She licks her lips, “and we both know how she’ll process that.”
“She won’t.” Charlotte looks away, just watching her niece as the girl walks around the lounge with the hand of one of her stuffed animals hanging from her mouth. “She isn’t going to talk to me about this though.” She smiles softly at Tala when the girl looks to her for attention, “look at you, Wolfe cub, asserting your dominance with those fangs of yours...”
Serena considers staying in the room for a moment, but instead turns around and takes to the stairs, completely abandoning the purchased baby clothing on the kitchen island. Entering the room she shares with her wife, Serena tilts her head, seeing Bernie on the bed with a white binder left closed at the foot, “hey.”
“I hadn’t realized I was...such a burden to everyone.” Bernie responds, having just been sitting there in silence with her thoughts.
“I know for a fact that no one would tell you that you were being a burden.” Serena sighs softly, closing the bedroom door, “because you aren’t one.” She slowly makes her way to the bed, sitting next to Bernie, but not before picking up the binder at the end of the bed. “What’s this?”
“Charlotte told me to stop asking her questions about Cameron’s trial.” Bernie motions toward the book with a nod.
“Because you’re not getting anywhere by asking them.” Serena shakes her head, “just like you aren’t getting anywhere by reading the articles over and over again.” She reaches over, gently taking her wife’s hand, “and you’re...ridiculously intelligent. You know what is required to prove an insanity plea...or at least have a general understanding of it.”
“I just...want him home.” Bernie finally says, her eyes glassy as she slowly glances over toward her wife, “I...I don’t want to have to go to St. Jerome to see him, even if he’s been given more privileges because of his...good behavior and response to treatment.”
“And home is here?” Serena asks quietly, “it is now, of course, but...do you think he’d want to live in this crowded house?”
“Home in the metaphorical sense. Nicky has been looking for a flat.” Bernie responds quietly, “she’s hesitant to take the guest house.”
Serena’s glad that she has the woman on a slightly different subject, “she also said that they were just friends.”
Bernie shakes her head, “I wasn’t implying that they were anything more, but I imagine they might attempt to cohabitate in order for Tala to know her father.” Even saying it out loud, she knows how ridiculous it sounds, “I...I just want her to have her father.”
“We all do.” Serena shakes her head, “I reckon it’s why John has been taking more shifts at the hospital and clinic. He feels awful about what happened.” She softly rubs Bernie’s hand with her thumb out of habit as she continues to hold onto it, “I would have never thought something so...trivial could bother you so much.”
“I chose to...stay away from them.” Bernie says quietly, still staring at the foot of the bed, “I did that.” She swallows, lifting her head, her gaze slowly shifts to Serena, “he never got the chance.” Bernie bites her lip anxiously, “he didn’t hold Tala when she was born and...and now she only sees him once every few weeks, if that, because it’s all he’s allowed.”
“Since he’s gaining more freedom, there’s no reason you and I can’t take her to visit.” Serena offers, glancing over to her, “and since Nicky is home tomorrow, we’re going to see him ourselves.” She’s actually surprised when Bernie doesn’t seem to argue, “and finally purchase a vehicle of our own instead of using Charlotte’s or securing rentals.”
“I’d like that.” Bernie replies simply, leaning in and pressing a soft kiss to her wife’s lips. “I’m sorry I’ve been a terror about this.”
“You were always a terror.” Serena starts to smile, “but you’re my terror...and I wouldn’t trade you for the world.”
“Don’t really have much of a choice in the matter, do you?” Bernie playfully curls her lip, “we have that whole certificate saying that we pledged ourselves to one another.”
“Oh, I suppose.” Serena exhales dramatically, grinning after. She’s glad to finally see her partner smile without being so focused on thoughts of her son. Serena knows Bernie may change her tune tomorrow before they leave, but forcing her to go, as Charlotte advised, probably wouldn’t be the best course of action.
They would get there eventually.
Welcome back, Major.
That's all I'll...all I'm going to say about that.
What a time to be alive...
No pun intended.
Maybe a small pun intended.
Charlie speaks to her partner before her case.
Nicky has a setback.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You’re more nervous than I am.” Charlie holds her mobile to her ear, walking alongside Beryl as they enter the courthouse. She usually speaks on her mobile as a power move, whenever she knows there may be reporters present, as she enters or exits a courthouse.
“Well, you’re like...six weeks from your due date and insisting on taking care of this case on your own when you know they were already in good hands.” John exhales, watching her on the news feed, “people are all over this, you know. Debating live on air with...various, so-called, experts. There’s a live feed of you right now, talking on the phone.”
“Yeah, well...you know how I love to make an entrance.” Charlotte turns, glancing around for the camera that he was talking about, giving a cheeky smirk when she sees it. She turns again and enters the building, the various doors being held open for her by Beryl. “Quite honestly, I’m hoping we’ll be able to cobble together a plan. I’d really prefer this not to be held in front of the judge.” Charlie sighs, “I mean, I’ll do it, but...I’d rather not at the moment.”
John smirks to himself, “Is it the dumb wig?”
“I rarely use it and it cost nearly a grand.” Charlie smirks to herself, “one moment.” She hands her assistant her mobile around the side of the metal detector before stepping through, taking the mobile back once she does. “Last thing I want right now is a long, drawn out trial. I’ll do it if it’s required, but...”
“I understand, babe.” John leans back in his office chair, a small television set at the corner of his desk that he’d occasionally use as a second monitor when needed.
“Wasn’t able to use my usual tactics for getting my adrenaline going.” Charlie hears her husband chuckle on the other end of the line. “So...I have to hope for the best, I suppose.”
“You also get that same adrenaline spike when you watch reruns of cooking shows from the nineties.” John turns when he hears a soft hit against the bottom area of the door, knowing it to be Tala knocking. He doesn’t know if he should answer it, not wanting to encourage the girl to believe that he’s her father.
Charlotte starts to grin, “Two Fat Ladies is not-” She stops herself, knowing he’s playfully gaslighting her, “I’m hanging up now.”
John continues to laugh, placing his mobile on the table when his partner ends the call. He finally stands when there’s another knock, pulling open the door, the girl giving an excited giggle when she sees him and toddling away. “Where is everyone?” John follows behind his niece as she leads him to the lounge, Nicky asleep on the sofa. This isn’t her usual behavior.
John glances about the room, noticing the two glasses on the coffee table and proceeds to lift each to his nose. Iced coffee and...another he can’t quite put his finger on. He brings it to his lips, taking a quick drink. “Vodka,” he whispers to himself, shaking his head. John takes the glasses to the kitchen, washing them thoroughly before returning to the lounge, Tala offering him her favorite stuffed dog with weighted paws. He beams down to the girl, taking a seat on the floor with her.
Nicky hears her daughter babbling and slowly opens her eyes, not realizing she had fallen asleep. She looks to the coffee table as she slowly pushes herself up, seeing that it was cleared. John is sitting not far from her on the other side of the coffee table. “I...I must have dozed off.”
“How long has it been since you started drinking again?” John asks outright, letting Tala show him each of her toys, slowly making a ring against him with them, “is this recent or...have you been lying to us for months?”
“I-it isn’t like that.” Nicky replies quietly, staring at the coffee table.
“So explain it to me.” John continues, “because if Charlie found this and not me...this would be a very different exchange right now.” He looks over to her, “really, there wouldn’t be one. You’d be packing your bags.” When Nicky doesn’t answer, John sighs, “and while you’re supposed to be watching Tala.”
“I was wa-” Nicky stops herself, knowing it was a lie. She swallows, shaking her head a little, “it was becoming too much.”
“And I told you...months ago, to tell me when you were feeling that way. Did I not?” John glances at Tala again, smiling at the babe when she carries him one of her books.
Nicky licks her lips, nodding a little, “you did.”
“So, now, to...keep you in this family’s good graces and to...help you be the best mother you possibly can be to Tala, as a medical professional, I think it would be in your best interests to go to rehabilitation.” John takes the book from the baby as she takes a seat on his lap, “Right, Tamale? We want your Mommy to get better so that she can take the best care of you ever.”
Knowing she doesn’t have much say in the matter, Nicky feels her chin start to tremble, “please don’t-”
“We play this my way and get you the help that you need, or we tell Charlie.” John shakes his head, “it’s your choice, of course, but-”
“You’re blackmailing me.” Nicky says softly, lifting her hand to tuck her hair behind her ear, “you aren’t-”
“It isn’t blackmail when you have a choice.” John shrugs, opening the book when it seems Tala wants to babble it to him and not that she necessarily wants him to read it to her. “This little girl, even though she’s just my niece by marriage, is incredibly important to me and I treat her like my own...and I know she’s your world. I know you wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her, or for her to feel...neglected in any sort of way.” He smiles at Tala when she looks up to him for approval, then back to her book.
Nicky realizes that by drinking, she did just that. Tears escape the confines of her eyes, which she’s quick to wipe away with the back of her hand, “she is...she is my world.”
“Right...and we both know that if you got this careless, this has been going on for a while.” John notices how she doesn’t deny his assertion, but decides not to draw attention to it. “I have a place where you’ll be comfortable...and I’ll take care of your absence at the clinic as well as any expenses you may incur there.”
“Why...” Nicky shakes her head a little, “why would you do all of that for me?” Her toes start to bounce on the hardwood floor out of anxiety, “you...you welcomed me into your home and I betrayed your trust...” Nicky licks her lips, “and you’ve supported me at every turn without reason-”
“You’re Tamale’s Mom. I thought we went over this.” John watches as the girl gets up again, going to get her comfort blanket. “You won’t need to take much. They’ll give you some scrubs or sweats to wear there. Keeps everyone on the same playing field.” He nods, “you’ll be able to talk to us whenever you want and I think they started some video conferencing in recent years, so we would happily take advantage of that.”
Nicky swallows, finally standing, “Still doesn’t really explain why-”
“Because you’re family.” John answers simply, “you made me an uncle and Charlie and aunt. Not to mention making Serena and Bernie grandparents.” He lets the baby lean against him again, feeling as she takes turns rubbing her own face and his face. “I might have been...worried about her getting the wrong idea, but...I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t really matter. I’ll always be her Uncle John, no matter how much I treat her like my own.”
Knowing this isn’t a battle she’s going to win, nor does she even necessarily want to fight, Nicky nods, “what can I...what can I take?”
“Stationary, pictures.” John thinks, “uh...I don’t remember if you’re able to use a cell phone, so if you want to take it and they decline, I can bring it back home for you.” He offers, “undergarments.” John smirks a little, “you’re going to be super comfortable there while you work on yourself and better coping mechanisms.” He carefully gets up from the floor, lifting Tala into his arms, “we’ll knock this one out and it will flash by so quickly that Tala will hardly notice you’ve gone.”
“How long?” Nicky follows behind the man as he walks past her to the hallway, “the-the treatment. How long is it?”
“There’s different lengths depending on severity.” John explains, “again, in my personal and professional opinion, I think you should go for about a month.” He can hear her continue to follow her as he takes to the stairs, “it’s not the longest amount of time they have, nor is it the shortest, but...I think it would be right for you.”
“That’s...quite excessive, don’t you think?” Nicky furrows her brow, watching as he sets the babe into the travel cot in Bernie and Serena’s quarters at the end of the hall, Tala is ready for her nap.
John sets up the baby monitors, placing the one he’s due to carry on his hip as he closes the door to a crack, returning to Nicky, “a week wouldn’t be long enough. Addiction is hereditary. The less exposure Tala has to addictive behaviors, the better.” He folds his arms, “the clinic has been stressful, often is during this time of the year, and it’s okay to admit when it’s too much.” John walks with her, “it isn’t, however, okay to revert to dangerous coping mechanisms.”
“You wouldn’t say these things to Ms. Campbell and she’s far worse than I am.” Nicky causes the man to stop in his tracks, “she has shiraz coming through her pores, I bet.”
“It certainly isn’t any of your business, but since we’ve returned home from Nairobi, she decided to quit.” John shakes his head, “even though I told her that it would be easier to slowly wean it from her, Serena decided it wasn’t worth it.” He casually folds his arms over his chest, “all or nothing with her.”
“Exactly.” There’s a slight chuckle to Nicky’s voice, “hypocritical of-”
“She hasn’t had a drop.” John replies, causing Nicky to stop in her tracks. “Partially out of respect for you, actually.”
The color drains from Nicky’s face at the thought, how ridiculous she’s been , “you think a...you think a month will be...”
“Just take it one day at a time. Don’t think about how long you’ve been there, think about working on yourself and gaining safer and healthier coping mechanisms.” John shakes his head, “you went through a lot with everything that happened with Cameron, a pregnancy that you went through alone, trying to keep your daughter safe in an unsafe environment.” He points out, “not to mention getting to a point where you were ready to leave your daughter with us because you thought it better for her. I know that must have been hard for you.”
“It was.” Nicky replies softly, nodding, “hardest thing I ever had to do.”
“Right.” John nods, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder, “that’s how I know you’ll be successful at rehab.”
Nicky smiles softly, starting to climb the stairs to her quarters. Pausing midway, she turns, looking at him again, “thank you.” She nods with glassy eyes, “thanks for believing in me.”
It's nice to be excited about this show again. I can't lie.
Well...not the whole show, but a particular...
I don't think I need to explain myself.
Serena helps Bernie face her son.
Cameron feels left out of the loop.
Occurs paralell to last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Cameron enters the secured room at St. Jerome Hospital, where he’s been serving his time for his crimes. He smiles, surprised to see Serena, who seems eager to give him a hug, “so good to see you, Serena. I’m glad you didn’t float away.” When the woman appears confused as they separate, Cam clarifies his statement, “um...Chaz said there was flooding in Nairobi.”
“Chaz?” Serena furrows her brow.
“Something he’s always called Charlotte.” Bernie rises from her seat, still speaking to her wife as she sets her eyes on her son. “Only reason he does it is because he knows it drives her mad.” She looks him over, quickly coming to terms with her own thoughts. This isn’t a monster. This is just her little boy.
Leaning in, Cameron wraps his arms tightly around his mother, feeling her respond in turn. He closes his eyes, just holding onto him. “Still wearing Charlotte’s clothes?” Cameron doesn’t want to let Bernie go. Every time he sees her, he feels the need to pinch himself.
Bernie is the one to separate from him first, reaching a hand up to run against the hair growth on his face. “Don’t know if I’m crazy about this though.” Bernie smiles, lowering her hands after a moment, “makes you look older.” She pauses, “and it makes me feel older.”
“Tala doesn’t seem too fond of it either, gives it a tug whenever Nicky brings her by.” Cameron nods, “how um...how are they?” He licks his lips, “Nicky says she’s staying over to Charlotte’s with...you all...” He shakes his head a little, “pardon me if I’m unable to imagine Chaz wanting a house full.”
“Your sister has been through a considerable amount.” Serena shakes her head, taking a seat in the plush high backed chair, letting the mother and son share the sofa. “The sister you knew as a child or...even as an adult, is not the same person she is now.”
“Certainly not.” Bernie mumbles to herself before motioning for Cameron to take a seat on the sofa with a gentle tilt of her head.
“In my therapy group, one of our mottoes is ‘ grow through what you go through’. ” Cameron follows his mother’s direction, glad when she sits next to him. “There’s uh...different ones in these...picture frames on the wall.” He feels as Bernie takes his hand, smiling a little, “I thought maybe...maybe if I get a place once I get out...maybe I could do something like that in Tala’s room.” Cameron smiles to himself, “I want her to be as confident in herself as she can be...among other things.”
“I think that’s a brilliant idea.” Serena offers him a smile, reaching over to pat him on the knee. “In fact, if you have some sayings, we could put them up now for her to begin learning. That way, when she hears you say it, she’ll already be acquainted with the ideas.”
Cameron shrugs, “I know they probably all sound so cliché, but-”
“If it’s a simple saying that helps you get through the day, I don’t think it’s cliché at all.” Serena continues, leaning back in the seat, “include them in your next letter and I’ll see to it that she’s surrounded by them.”
“Thank you.” Cam nods, absently giving his mother’s fingers a gentle squeeze as he glances over at her, “you know, Dad came by.” He smiles a little to himself, “he uh...” Cameron pauses, “he actually apologized to me.”
“Marcus, occasionally, has his bright spots.” Bernie nods, smirking warmly to herself.
“Reckon he’s apologized to all of us.” Serena offers, “even sent me flowers.”
“I’m convinced he fancies her and the flowers have absolutely nothing to do with the apology.” Bernie replies dryly, keeping her facial expression stoic as she makes the joke, “I’ve got my eye on him.”
Cameron grins when he sees Serena’s dramatic eye roll, glad to hear his mother and her partner jesting with one another like old times, “two of you ever planning on making it official?” He pauses when they both stop and look at him, “I’m sorry, did I...did I say something wrong?”
“I thought I-” Bernie exhales, “we had put our papers in within the week we returned home from Hargeisa...and wed just before Serena left for Nairobi.” She smiles softly, “I thought I told you, Camron. I apologize.”
“It was...very last minute.” Serena tries to smooth things over a bit, “we were watching Tala and just...decided to go.” She sits up again, folding her hands in her lap, “in case anything happened to me while I was on my way to Nairobi or while in Nairobi, I wanted to ensure that your mother was...seen as my partner in an official capacity.” It wasn’t the truth, but Serena had always been very good at bending the truth to fit her circumstance.
Smiling ruefully to himself, Cameron takes his hand from his mother’s grasp out of instinct, “and, I assume, darling Charlotte is aware?”
“Married her partner not long after.” Bernie replies quietly, beginning the skin of her lip after, “not the same day or anything like that, but-”
“Both my mother and my sister were married to their partners and neither of you decided I was important enough to tell.” Cameron glances absently toward the ground, absently smiling to himself. “I always knew she was like you, always been your favorite, but I never thought-”
Bernie’s brows pinch a little, “It really isn’t like that.”
“It’s always been like that.” Cameron shakes his head slowly, willing himself not to get up and leave the room.
“I’m sorry you’re hurt, Cameron.” Serena maintains her composure even though the anger and distrust rises in the young man across from her, “I truly am. We had no intention of hiding it from you, and I doubt your sister did either, but I can’t speak for her.”
“Two peas in a pod...Chaz and Mum always were.” Cameron mumbles, finally looking over at his mother, “and who do you treat Tala like? Me or darling Charlotte?”
“That will be enough.” Serena says again, garnering his attention off of his mother. “You’re getting angry over absolutely nothing.” She shakes her head, “no one was there except your daughter. We didn’t have any sort of...party or fancy dinner after. We had Chinese at the dinner table, that’s it. Your sister was still poorly after just getting out of hospital and-”
“She was in hospital?” Cameron shakes his head again, quieting the room once more as he looks between the women, “is there anything you all have told me?” His eyes are glassy, though he doesn’t draw attention to them.
“Your mother has been obsessing over where she’s gone wrong with you for weeks.” Serena shoots back, “is that the type of information you want to hear?” She knows she’s said too much when Bernie seems to draw into herself slightly. However, if this is how Cameron wants to act, she’ll give it right back to him. “She researches news reports about the trial, hasn’t been sleeping well, forgetting to eat. She has nightmares almost every night...”
Bernie rises from her seat, ready to leave the room from her own embarrassment and the anxiety rising within her. She never realized the severity of her own actions. This is probably why Charlotte told her what she did. However, she feels her son take her hand again, stopping her from moving past him, but can’t bring herself to look at him.
“You did nothing wrong, Mum.” Cameron responds simply, not letting go of his mother’s hand, “I’m old enough to be in control of my own actions and I accept the punishment for what I’ve done.” Cam bites at the skin on his lip, “and I blamed you...for a while. That’s what...urged me on to continue. I wanted to make you proud.” He shrugs, “but how could you ever honestly be proud of a murderer?” The question was rhetorical, Cameron swallows, “I’m sorry you’ve...gone down that rabbit hole.”
“I was always proud.” Bernie replies quietly, her eyes glassy and her voice shaky, “the you that you were before...I was always proud.” She clears her throat, considering her next action before deciding to return to her seat, “and I’m proud again for the progress you’ve made during your stay here. I’m proud of how you’ve matured.”
Cam nods a little, “thank you, Mum.” He finally moves forward, carefully wrapping his arms around her again in an embrace. “I’m glad you and Serena are married...and Charlotte, that girl’s been living in sin for years.” He teases, earning him a soft huff of a laugh from his mother that he can hear in his ear.
Bernie makes eye contact with her wife as she looks over Cam’s shoulder, noticing Serena’s conspiratory wink. Everything would work out fine.
Believe it or not, I wrote this over the weekend. I was on a roll with writing (after being blocked for a bit), but I sat on this chapter because I didn't want to post them too quickly (after posting 2 one day after the other).
And now it looks like I wrote this because of the show, but that just isn't the case.
Beryl prepares her boss for the case.
Charlotte finds herself in a troubling situation.
“This place even has the same smell.” Charlie smiles a little, walking back to the quarters provided for them upon entering. “I know that’s...definitely a...niche observation, but with these sodding hormones, the scenes are heightened to a level I could have never imagined.”
Beryl snorts, having set up her boss’ papers while she was away, “by my realistic estimates, and not your...superheroine-who-is-able-to-smell-everything estimates, I gather this case may take a week or two...as long as everything runs smoothly.”
“Nothing ever runs smoothly in these types of cases, Berry. You know that.” Charlotte takes a seat on the wooden chair at the small table, sighing with relief to be off of her feet. “I don’t know what possessed me to go for the kitten heels, but here we are.”
“I just hope we finish up by Christmas.” Beryl mumbles, earning her a hit to the arm with a folder.
“Now you’re just hexing us.” Smirking, Charlie opens the file, glad it was the right one on the first try. A generalization about each family’s complaints. There were pages. So many ways these people felt slighted because of the handling of the Children of the Anointed by the police.
Nodding toward the coat rack before moving toward it, Beryl smooths her hand down the black robe of her boss. She usually wore it as she walked inside, but today was different. “Did you want to put on the robe now?” She pauses, “you usually like to do this stuff in the robe.”
“Nope. I’m peeing every fifteen minutes and it’s just another thing I have to lift.” Charlie answers absently before motioning to one of the points on Beryl’s list, “I thought the Morgans lost their son to a heroin overdose.” She raises an eyebrow, “says here that he was hit by a police car.”
“He was hit by the police car while in the middle of a heroin overdose, supplied to him by CotA. He was lying in the street.” Beryl folds her arms, when she’s met with Charlotte’s confused gaze, “Children of the Anointed.” She motions to another folder on the desk, “if you want to look through that one just to make sure-”
“I believe you.” Charlie holds her hand out toward the woman, “you’re awfully jumpy today.”
“Because something is in the air.” Beryl shakes her head, moving over to the table and taking a seat in another one of the wooden chairs, “something...off.”
“Spidey-senses tingling?” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, “last that you were like that, the milk had gone bad in the breakroom.” A smirk starts to form on her face as she continues to read the papers, “do you think you could be jumpy because...we haven’t done this in a while and this is a...rather large case?” Charlie closes the folder, setting it onto the desk as she looks her assistant in the eye, “Maybe because you always expect the worst to happen that the opposite, thinking it might not be so bad, is absolutely terrifying to you?”
Falling silent for a few moments, Beryl breaks eye contact with her boss, “shut up.”
Charlie starts to grin, hearing the door to their conference room open, able to tell by the footsteps the identity of the person, “morning, Mr. Weston.”
“Lovely day, isn’t it?” Reginald Weston offers the two women a smile, “I do hope you weren’t waiting terribly long.”
“We’ve been here for a while. Usual fare.” Charlotte has one leg crossed over the other out of habit, though it isn’t particularly comfortable. “See, Beryl, Mr. Weston isn’t wearing his robes just yet either.”
“He never wears his robes until he’s inside. We all know that.” Beryl scowls playfully at her boss, “you, on the other hand, usually do.”
“Well, I’m also not usually this pregnant either, so...” Charlie smirks, then notices her boss is just staring at them, “what?”
“Are the two of you going to be this unbearable all day?” Weston glances between the women, earning him an unexpected laugh from them.
Hearing a knock against the frame of the door before it opens, everyone seems to pause before glancing over. “Pardon me, I don’t mean to intrude-”
“Well, Commissioner, not only are you intruding, you’re stepping into a place where a representative of the defense should not tread.” Charlie responds kindly, but doesn’t necessarily go to the lengths of pushing him out of the room. Her tone, however, should have been a hint. She doesn’t get up. This is her turf and she isn’t about to show him any sort of pleasantries.
“Ah.” Commissioner Gregory Montgomery nods a little, “well...Ms. Wolfe, might I speak to you for a moment?” He motions toward the door, “I’d rather not have anyone suggest double-dealing in this case.”
Charlie sighs softly, “as long as you make it quick. I have to get ready.” She carefully rises from her seat, carefully making her way to the hall. She’d rather do this where more people could see or hear them anyway.
Following behind her, Montgomery closes the door. “Ms. Wolfe, you...” He lifts his elbow up, coughing into it before reaching into his deep pocket to pull out a small bottle of water, “I apologize. Something in the air always...dries me in here.” He takes a longish swig of water.
Sighing, Charlotte knows this isn’t going to help. In fact, watching the man drink his water is only making her have to go to the toilets again. “Um...could we...speed this up?” She nods toward her own middle, “weak bladder.”
“Yes, of course, I apologize.” Montgomery replaces the cap back onto the bottle, screwing, “I just wanted to wish you luck before we head in there. I know there’s going to be...many unforgivable things said between our parties because we’re just doing our jobs, but...know that I’ve been slowly weeding out those who...do not truly believe in truth and justice.”
Smiling softly toward him, Charlie nods, “thank you. That’s all my clients have ever asked. I’m just sorry to see that it had to come to this.”
“From what I understand, it wasn’t really your fault.” Montgomery nods a little, absently unscrewing the water bottle cap again, “have you been well?”
Charlie furrows her brow, “you’ve been keeping tabs on me...”
“Of course. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to you before this.” Montgomery shakes his head, “in fact, I wanted to assign a guard to you until the trial is over. Maybe we can speak about that after proceedings-”
“I’ve spoken to you about corruption in your ranks and you want to assign someone to me?” Charlie starts to shake her head a little, “are they still using my photo as target practice in your firing range?” When he doesn’t have an answer to that, she offers him a cordial smile, “you have a good day, Commissioner.” Turning in place, Charlotte takes off toward the ladies’ toilets.
“Walk in the light, Ms. Wolfe.” Montgomery smiles as he crushes the now empty bottle, shoving into a bin near the door before walking away.
Charlotte pauses, turning her head slightly. She’s almost sure she heard him use the Children of the Anointed’s tagline. That’s something she’ll have to delve into later, but she must urinate this instant. Rushing into a stall at the end of the row, she quickly closes the door and unzippers the hip of her skirt before letting it down and sitting on the toilet.
Soft clicks of a low heel. Not a kitten heel, like she’s wearing, but a pair of flats. The other stall doors are pushed open, as if checking each one. They stop just before getting to her stall and she’s able to catch a glimpse of black, patent leather buckle shoes before they walk away. A couple moments later, a heavy sliding is heard, then a thud. The bin.
Furrowing her brow, Charlotte swallows. This doesn’t feel right.
“You can’t stay in there forever, Ms. Wolfe.”
Lifting her head, Charlie can feel the anxiety beginning to rise within her. “This is the fourth time I’ve used the toilet since getting here. It feels as if I’ve been here all day long, honestly.”
“Don’t get cute.” The voice is older, feminine, and a longtime smoker.
Also a drinker , Charlie thinks. She finishes wiping herself and flushing the toilet before standing and zippering the hip of her skirt. She steps out of the stall and heads to the sink, washing her hands as if nothing bizarre was going on. She decides against saying anything.
“That’s a very nice suit you have on.” The woman smiles toward her, navy trousers and a black cardigan.
A walking pet peeve, Charlie thinks. She finishes at the sink before turning to look at the woman. “How can I help you?”
The woman’s long salt and pepper hair pulled up in a bun toward the apex of her head. “You’re taller than I thought you’d be.” She starts to push her sleeves up, “not that it ever matters, but...” She shrugs, “I thought you’d be my height. I’m about five feet, three inches.”
“Five feet and eight inches.” Charlie keeps her wits about her, doing her best not to appear provoked, especially when the woman lifts her sweater and removes the blade from its holder that was previously hidden at her waistband. “Ceramic?”
The woman hums her approval, holding it up as a hunter would, with the blade closest to her smallest finger. “Made it myself years ago. I sharpen it regularly. Never know when I might need to use it.”
Charlie swallows, “well, it appears well loved.” She nods a little, watching as the woman moves closer, “as I asked you previously, how can I help you?”
“Call off the case.” She shakes her head a little, moving behind this young woman, “get your clients to drop-”
“That’s not how it works.” Charlie answers softly, suddenly held by the woman, using her hair as leverage to hold the homemade blade to her throat. She’s done this many times , Charlie thinks.
“That’s not what I wanted to hear, Ms. Wolfe.” The woman shakes her head, pulling the woman down even more by her hair. It doesn’t matter to her that this woman is hugely pregnant.
“I wouldn’t lie to you.” Charlotte drops to her knees, making it easy on herself. “You, however, do you think this will help spread the message of the Children of the Anointed?” When she doesn’t receive an answer, she continues, having a feeling the woman was with that particular organization, “if there’s one thing that people are aware of, it’s that I came in here today and the case that is being held. They know the people that are coming after me.”
“I only spread the light.”
“The poor souls that follow you will flee your flock like rats on a sinking ship.” Charlotte continues, “this will only make your group look more like a dangerous cult and less like the religion you want to be seen as.” She moans softly, knowing the contraction her son is causing is because of her own stress. “They know the police wouldn’t make such a stupid mistake.”
“Do they, Ms Wolfe?” The woman starts to smirk, amused, “you know, Father said you would try to talk your way out of this.”
“I know public opinion. I know PR. If I wasn’t a lawyer, I’d be doing that.” Charlie closes her eyes, “at least tell me your name.” When she’s met with silence, she asks again, “your name.”
“Mathers...Edwina Mathers.” The woman continues, “you would have made an excellent addition to our ranks, you know. You’re smart, you’re capable, you’re brave. You’re prepared to go toe to toe for your beliefs.” Mathers smirks, “you’d be perfect.”
Feeling the woman tug her hair back, exposing herself enough for the blade to push against the side of her neck, Charlie swallows, “My father’s a Catholic, but as I’ve already told him...I’m not into cults.”
“Walk in the light, Ms. Wolfe.”
Beryl moves away from pressing her ear against the door to the ladies’ toilets, having been unable to open the door. The hallways start to get busy as one of the other early morning trials goes to recess. She tries to open the door again, hearing the scratching sound of something blocking it. Grabbing the closest security personnel, she points to the washroom door, “kick it down.”
I actually wasn't going to write this chapter. Chapter 16 was actually originally Chapter 15 and there was just going to be a lot of...talking about what happened. That's still in there, but I thought it might need a bit of...building up. I just hope this is legible. This week has SUCKED. lol.
Did you think this was going to be Charlotte's troubling situation?
Serena hears a worrisome radio broadcast.
Bernie takes care of things for her daughter.
Three-ish hours after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Driving home in her new car in silence, Serena smiles to herself as she glances over at her wife, sleeping peacefully for what seems to be the first time in weeks. Their meeting with her stepson seemed successful and allowed them all to cover many topics and concerns between them. Thankfully, after their first kerfuffle, Cameron was very open and honest with his mother about his wrongdoings.
Serena hears her mobile start to vibrate and notices the caller identification of her stepdaughter show up on the dashboard display. Luckily, she had one of her wireless earbuds in, something she’d grown used to while driving after being advised by Charlotte not to use the in-car stereo. Her smile grows a bit more once she touches the screen and accepts the call, “hello there, darling. Wait until you see this new auto. Your mother was positively giddy when she chose it.”
“So...you’re in the car?” Charlotte asks cautiously, lifting her head as she watches various nursing staff move about the unit, “by chance, anywhere near London Mercy?” She speaks about the small Hospital just outside the city center.
Her body tenses and she’s thankful to be at a stop light, Serena licks her lips in an attempt at keeping herself calm, “what happened?”
“I...” Charlie sighs softly, “I’m in their AAU. Nothing to worry over.” She pauses, “but don’t turn on the radio or anything. If you do, see to it that it isn’t a local station.” Charlie’s glad Beryl was quick enough to at least grab her purse. “Promise me.” She had heard the radio playing at the nurse’s station and they spoke about the ‘attack’ multiple times in her few hours here.
“You’re in the AAU and telling me not to listen to the radio, there’s obviously something to worry over.” Serena maintains a low, neutral tone. Not wanting to wake her wife just yet. “Ten minutes.” She sighs softly when she hears Charlotte abruptly end the call. Serena decides not to listen to the young woman about not listening to the radio, that was oddly specific.
Reports of violence out of the Square Mile this afternoon as high profile civil rights lawyer, Charlotte Wolfe, was reportedly attacked by one of the very organizations she’s vowed to take down. Ms. Wolfe was found mutilated in the ladies’ toilets before the start of proceedings against the police force, having been allegedly wounded by a representative of the sect group, Children of the Anointed-
Serena shakes her head, unsure of how long she’s been listening. Her body is in autopilot, needing to see for herself that Charlotte was okay.
-Edwina Mathers, aged sixty-two, was found attempting to flee the scene of the crime through the toilets’ window and was quickly apprehended by police. Ms. Wolfe’s condition is currently unknown. If you have any information concerning the attack or Children of the Anointed, please contact-
Reporters. She wasn’t expecting reporters, but they were flooding just outside the Emergency Department entrance. Serena glances over at her wife again, unsure if she should wake the woman or let her sleep, deciding the latter. After finding a parking space, Serena gets out of the car, sending Bernie instructions in a text message for when she awakes. She manages to step around the reporters, informing the hospital security guards that her daughter was inside. The term feels foreign in her mouth, having gone so many years without needing to use it. However, though Charlotte was the spitting image of her mother, there were many mannerisms that she somehow shared with the young woman. She and Serena were more alike than either cared to admit.
Following the signs leading to London Mercy’s Acute Admissions Unit, Serena is apprehensive about what she might stumble upon. Knowing full well of Charlotte’s habit of downplaying events, another thing she shares with Bernie. Stepping in front of the nurses’ station, she asks for the young woman’s location and is pointed into a secluded room, flanked by hospital guards on either side of the door, she’s allowed entry.
Charlotte Wolfe lies in the hospital bed, clad in a light gray maternity pantsuit, matching kitten heels tucked just under the bed. Something she had bought around the time they returned home from Hargeisa, Serena remembers that day fondly. Just the two of them wardrobe hunting while John watched over Bernie since the woman had her therapies. However, it now has a large red spot covering it. A brown paper bag containing the suit jacket rests at the bedside table, peering inside, Serena can see that blood has stained it more severely.
Hearing the soft rustle of the bad, Charlie groggily opens her eyes, “hibiscus and...honey.” She smiles to herself, “you smell nice.”
Serena exhales an exasperated breath, taking in the sight of the young woman’s gauze covered neck. “What are we going to do with you, hm?” Really, she’s more nervous than anything. Charlotte appears pale. Very pale.
Charlotte can see the slight horror in Serena’s eyes, “I told you not to listen to the radio.”
“Well, when one tells another not to do something-” Serena raises an eyebrow, reaching a hand up to stroke through her stepdaughter’s hair.
“And you give yourself up.” Charlie playfully furrows her brow, “you’re losing your touch.”
Serena expected to hear the name Campbell after Charlotte’s words, “you sound like your mother.” She offers the young woman a soft smile, “what happened?” Serena pauses, “if it’s too-”
“I had to pee. We’d been there...not terribly long. Um.” Charlie swallows, watching as Serena moves to the end of the bed, picking up the young woman’s chart from a basket against the footboard, “we were waiting for Mr. Weston. I’d...gone three times already.” Charlotte starts to shake her head, moaning as she realizes she shouldn’t be moving her head so much. “Then he arrived and I had to go again.”
Humming, indicating that she’s listening, Serena looks over the file.
“There was a woman waiting for me. Older...older than you and Mum.” Charlotte doesn’t actually look upset, just tired. “She had managed to...conceal a homemade knife. It was...ceramic or something. Metal detector couldn’t pick it up and...she looked normal enough to not require a pat-down or anything.”
“She tried to cut your throat.” Serena says quietly, lifting her head up from reading the file to look at her stepdaughter.
“Weston...he had the judge...put an indefinite stay on the case.” The corner of Charlie’s mouth turns up, “and I get some blokes who protect the house for a bit.”
“I don’t care about the case.” Sighing, Serena shakes her head, returning to her reading of the file. “She nicked your jugular-”
Charlotte sighs, “I only required a few sutures.”
Serena begins reading word for word of the initial report, “ Pressure was applied to the wound by the patient until she was unable to do so while en route to hospital via ambulance.” Noticing Charlotte’s preparation to object, she continues, “patient remained conscious despite blood loss, but was not fully lucid until blood (patient reported she was A-negative) was provided once reaching the hospital.”
“I am A-negative.” Charlie mumbles, knowing she isn’t about to win any arguments since an initial intake report was provided in the file, “and I remember everything just fine.”
“ Working in tandem with obstetrics, delivery was not deemed necessary given the age of the fetus and the rapid actions of those on the scene.” Serena continues, flipping one page, then another as if looking for something. She licks her lips, nodding a little as she reaches what she was looking for, “ wound was flushed with a saline solution, four sutures applied to the jugular vein itself. No nerves were damaged. Remaining affected area sutured. It should be noted that the wound was only centimeters from the carotid artery.” Serena licks her lips, taking a moment before closing the file and lifting her head to look at her stepdaughter again.
“It’s been one hell of a year, hasn’t it?” Charlie maintains a neutral expression still, a cheeky smirk.
“You nearly died.” Serena shakes her head, carefully placing the folder into the basket at the end of the bed.
Catching only the last two sentences of the exchange, Bernie stands in the doorway, having read the text message supplied by her wife and making her way inside the small hospital. Her eyes set on her daughter’s form in the bed, the large patch of gauze on the side of her neck. Her eyes are glassy as she glances between Charlotte and Serena, “do I want to know?”
“No.” Charlie responds quickly, begrudgingly. Her head slowly turns to look at her mother, but only a little, her eyes do most of the work. “Reason why I didn’t phone John. He’ll overreact.”
“You’d better hope he doesn’t turn on the radio then.” Serena folds her arms over her chest, sighing as her eyes shift to her wife, “I thought it best to let you rest. I originally got the impression that I wasn’t going to be very long, but...via these documents, they’d like to keep her for observation.”
“I’m not staying for observation for some sutures.” Charlie replies quietly, swallowing. “That’s ridiculous. I live in a house full of doctors.”
“They would if your jugular had been cut.” Bernie tilts her head as if already knowing the answer, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, “that’s a zone two trauma as it is and if you then lost enough blood to require a transfusion, they’d be concerned for the baby as well. Hypovolemia can cause early labor...among other things.”
“You can take the girl out of trauma surgery, but you can’t take the trauma surgeon out of the girl.” Serena smirks proudly, giving her wife a wink.
“At the very least, it’s an overnight stay. If your stats-” Bernie absently glances to the small monitor next to the bed, noticing that it’s on, but there isn't any input. She follows the line down to see her daughter had removed the finger clip, causing her to sigh exasperatingly. Bernie moves closer to the bed, reaching in to lift her daughter’s hand, and replacing the monitor, “if you remain stable, they may allow you to leave tomorrow.”
Charlotte uses the opportunity to take hold of her mother’s hand, making the woman aware of the trembling in her hands that she was attempting to conceal. Her eyes go back to Serena, “I just want to go home...and sleep in my bed.” Charlie’s eyes grow glassy as her chin begins to dimple with emotion, “I’ve had a rough day.”
Serena gains a pleading look from her wife and steps over to the other side of the bed, “out of the three of us, your mother is the trauma specialist. So, she would be best suited to speak to your attending physician in order to ascertain the best course of action for your care currently.” She takes a seat on the side of the bed, the young woman reaching over to her with her other hand, which Serena lovingly takes.
Once being released by her daughter, Bernie slides her hands into her jacket pockets, “if they believe a short stay is in your best interest, you need to listen to them. They’re doing it for a reason. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Major.” Charlie replies quietly.
“Campbell, was she administered a sedative at the very least?” Bernie asks, watching as her wife turns a little in order to see her better. “I know you would have taken a gander at the chart by now.”
“Not that I had noticed.” Serena shakes her head, “might be something to mention.”
Bernie nods, glancing between the two most important women to her. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Serena notices a tear finally escaping the young woman’s eye once Bernie leaves the room, though her expression seems relatively neutral, if not stoic. She reaches over, placing a hand on her cheek to wipe it away with her thumb, “everything will be fine, darling. You’ll see.” Serena leans in, pressing a soft kiss to Charlotte’s temple before running her shortened nails over the area, “you’ll see.”
“You can’t tell John. He’ll be disappointed.” Charlie swallows, her face still neutral despite the tears flowing from her eyes. “He...he didn’t want me to do this. He said it would be too much.”
“I don’t believe he factored in an attack on your life when he said that.” Serena replies gently, truly worried for the young woman. “You mentioned that you’ll have guards watching the house. That may alleviate his fears a bit...and your fears-”
“I’m not afraid.” Charlotte responds quickly, a little too quickly, as if covering for herself. “It’s going to be more difficult now and I need to find other allies.” She swallows, “and the case may not matter to you, but it matters to me and a lot of people who have been wronged and deserve justice.”
“Not at the risk of your life.” Serena swallows, moving forward in order to get Charlotte to focus on her, just staring into the young woman’s big brown eyes, “I refuse to lose another daughter.”
Hearing Serena refer to her as her daughter causes Charlotte’s chin to tremble again as she inhales deeply, her tears finally flowing from her pinched features. She feels Serena gently take hold of her as best she can, not wanting to cause further injury or pain. Charlie closes her eyes, letting the woman fully comfort her. Today has been a tough day.
This might be one of my favorite chapters that I've written in a while TBH.
Marcus phones his ex-wife after viewing the news.
Bernie finally admits her fears to her daughter.
We're at about 5-6 PM at this point. Still the same day.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Marcus uses his single eared bluetooth device in order to phone his ex-wife as he drives his antique car. He had watched the news broadcast when they reported the news of the London courthouse attack and how information wasn’t being released. His heart beats out of his chest, needing to know if his daughter was even remotely safe.
Bernie glances to her mobile screen, sighing softly. This might actually be the very last person she wants to speak to right now. It isn’t as if she and Marcus were on bad terms any longer, but this was already a stressful situation. It had taken her and Serena an hour just to convince Charlotte to change into a hospital gown. Touching the screen and bringing her mobile to her ear, “hello, Marcus.”
“I’m assuming you’re with her.” Marcus absently taps the steering wheel of the car, wishing he could go faster. “How is she?”
“Sedated.” Bernie keeps her voice low, not wanting to alert her daughter that she was speaking with someone. Staff had given the young woman a sedative not long after she and Serena managed to get her to change into a gown, “not quite asleep, but...relaxed.”
Marcus bites his lip, nodding, “and the baby?”
“He’s fine too. Staff doesn’t believe delivery to be necessary.” Bernie wants to move her chair closer to the bed, but also doesn’t want to alarm the young woman. She’s able to hear the revving of his antique car, “I can keep you informed, I’m sure you’re-”
“What hospital, Bern?” Marcus asks quietly, “I’m roughly...twenty from her place. Is the hospital-”
“London Mercy.” Bernie offers, “I suggest going through an alternative entrance, there’s quite a few reporters in front of the ED. I’ve seen security push them back a few times, but...doesn’t do much.” She licks her lips, absently just staring toward her daughter’s form as Charlie listens to Serena’s stories about when she and Bernie had just started dating years ago.
“The...the boyfriend, is he there?” Marcus’ tone turns to that of caution, ready to give the man a piece of his mind. He never did trust him, regardless of what Charlotte has told him. Hearing a longer pause, which perplexes him, Marcus continues, “Bern-”
“No, but that’s only because she asked us not to phone him.” Bernie bites her lip a little, realizing that Marcus, like her son, wasn’t aware their daughter had been married despite being over to the house a couple of times in the past month. “Please, respect Charlie’s wishes about this.” She knows how he is, ready to pounce when he thinks one of the children is being wronged. Of course, she does the same, but in a different way from that of Marcus.
Marcus hums, disappointed. “Where is he?”
“Marcus-” Bernie warns, her tone flat, “if you’re coming, just come.”
Serena sits up when she hears her wife, a mischievous smirk in the corner of her mouth as she glances over at her, “I’m betting that’s not the first time you’ve said that to him.”
Bernie blushes, trying to keep herself from a laugh. When she realizes the line has gone flat, she sighs. “Stubborn.” She mumbles, noticing her daughter is now looking over at her, “Charlie, darling, please sleep. You’ll feel better with a bit of rest.”
“I’m fine.” Charlie responds softly, able to see how nervous her mother appears. “Meant to tell you, I’m proud of you.” Her inhibitions are virtually nonexistent since being injected with the sedative, “the way you went and spoke to staff. First doctor-like thing you’ve done since helping me while Serena and Johnny were away...and you were fantastic, Mum.”
A genuine smile starts to form on Bernie’s face, that could possibly be the first time she’s ever heard one of her children say they were proud of her, “I-I didn’t really do anything.” She notices Serena’s similar proud expression.
“Oh, yes, you did. I heard you.” Charlotte continues, her words occasionally slurred, “talking about...my GSR score and...how much blood they believed I lost and that I needed another bag and that I should be on an antibiotic saline drip for...um-” She loses her track of thought, her eyes glancing to Serena for assistance.
“Did you see the clothing you were wearing?” Bernie asks quietly, pushing her hand through her fringe, her hair pulled back into a clip behind her head, “and you’re pale, but you’re slowly gaining back color.”
“But you got it done, Mum.” Charlie raises a hand to motion to the IV drip next to her bed, “I want to buy you a beer.”
“Oh?” Chuckling, Bernie glances to her wife, “hear that? A whole pint, hopefully.”
Serena gives a genuine laugh, absently having been holding Charlotte’s hand through most of the day. It’s the first time she’s truly smiled since they’ve arrived, same with Bernie. “Marcus is on his way, I assume.” Seeing Bernie’s subtle nod, Serena exhales, “lucky us.”
“Well, it has come to my attention that Cameron is not the only one that was unaware about someone’s nuptials.” Bernie raises an eyebrow, her eyes setting on her daughter again. When her daughter doesn’t seem phased, she tilts her head to the side, “Charlotte.”
“Me? I thought you meant you.” Charlie furrows her brow, then glances to her belly when the baby seems to stretch against the fetal heart monitor. Lowering her voice, she moves the monitor with her free hand, pushing against the outline of the fetus’ foot softly with her finger, “you’re too big to do that, stop.”
“Let’s find a better place for that, shall we?” Serena offers, knowing her step-daughter isn’t fully cognizant at the moment. When Charlotte doesn’t argue, Serena gently moves the monitor around the young woman’s abdomen until she hears a steady pulse, “there we are. Back on track.”
“Where’s Johnny?” Charlotte leans her head against her pillows, moaning softly when she tilts her head the wrong way.
“You asked that we not phone him...and that was hours ago.” Serena replies gently, surprised Bernie isn’t closer to the bed, but also noticing how she gave a slight jump when Charlotte moaned in pain. “I imagine he’s probably growing suspicious at this point.”
Charlie narrows her eyes as she looks at her step-mother, “I did that?”
“You did. Have you changed your mind?” Serena reaches up to gently adjust the angle of the young woman’s head so she doesn’t pull her sutures too tight. Hearing Charlotte’s affirmative hum, “Knowing him, once you tell him where you are-”
“I don’t want to talk to him, he’s going to be disappointed.” Charlotte mumbles slightly, “like when school phoned Dad to retrieve me because I was caught kissing Bianca Ross in the girl’s toilets in sixth forum.” She exhales a soft laugh to herself, “all red faced and...demanding to know what really happened , but that was what really happened. School didn’t even care that we smoked a fag near the window before anyone came in. Whole bloody room reeked of smoke.”
Bernie raises her brow, her gaze slowly shifting to her wife.
Feeling her wife’s eyes on her, Serena stutters slightly, “Uh, y-yes, well...seems you’ve had some...interesting experiences in various ladies’ toilets.” She offers, grimacing subtly after realizing how ridiculous that sounded, “I’ll give him a bell then. Need to grab something from the vending machines near the waiting area. Believe I saw a coffee machine.” Serena gets up from her seat, letting go of Charlotte’s hand and motioning for Bernie to take the seat.
Taking a moment before getting up, Bernie sighs softly, “I’m fine where I-”
“Come on, Berenice. She’s not going to break. You know that.” Serena steps aside, giving her wife a reassuring squeeze to her arm as she steps in front of her in order to get to the other chair. Watching them for a moment, Serena finally takes her leave, lifting up her mobile. She closes the picture application, something she and Charlotte were looking through to pass the time. Mostly ones of she and Bernie were initially together years ago and recent ones of Guinevere. However, before she gets the opportunity to touch John’s face from her contacts list, the mobile begins to vibrate.
Hearing the phone answer, John lifts his head, “Serena?” Holding his niece in his arm, John feels Tala start to rub her face against his shoulder, “Serena, it’s me.”
“Yes, yes. Hello.” Serena says, en route to the waiting area, “I was just about to phone you-”
“Have you heard from Charlie?” John paces a little within the confines of the lounge of his home, “I haven’t heard from her all day and her cell is off. I tried calling Bernie not long ago, but the line was busy...I think.” He bites his lip, “I don’t know Beryl’s number to-”
“John.” Serena sighs softly, “I’m betting you aren’t sitting down are you.” She smirks a little to herself, “you’re the psychiatrist here and I’m-”
“Wh-why would I need to sit down?” He stops his pacing instantly, the bile rising in his gut, “What happened, Serena?” John swallows, feeling himself hold onto Tala a bit more tightly as he cautiously sinks to the sofa. She doesn’t sound worried, but there is a particular...tone to her voice that he notices.
Serena calmly and precisely informs John about the events of the day and how they came to be aware of it, “Charlotte is absolutely fine, as is the baby, but staff would like for them to stay at least overnight. She’ll be assessed in the morning.”
“It’s nearly Tala’s bedtime and...I’m home alone with her.” John swallows, falling quiet for a moment. When Serena doesn’t interrupt him, he knows that means she just wants more information, “Nicky uh...had a setback. She thought it best that she check herself into a facility for a bit. So, we’re...in charge of Tamale.”
“Well, that couldn’t have happened at a worse time.” Serena licks her lips, “how about this, pack the baby up, we’ll have a bit of a...hand off. You can stay with Charlotte while-”
“How long have you and Bernie been there?” John asks quietly, licking his lips, “to receive stitches and...and all of that, she’s had to have been there for some time. The courthouse would have closed hours ago.” His knee gently bounces, not receiving a response for a moment, “how long, Serena?”
“She was worried that you would be angry with her. Continually brought it up, but she isn’t in the...proper state of mind to make much sense. We thought it best to oblige in order to placate her.” Serena shakes her head, “Marcus is on his way, but I don’t foresee Charlotte wanting his company for very long...though she’s proved me wrong in the past.”
John exhales slowly, “you and Bernie are her go-to people.” He closes his eyes a moment, “let me get Tamale in her pajamas and uh...we’ll head over.”
“I imagine it would brighten Charlotte’s day to see her.” Serena could hear the sadness in his voice, “and you. She married you for a reason...and you get to surprise Marcus with that news as well.”
“She never-” John stops himself, sighing, “can’t wait.”
“Tala’s presence may soften the blow.” Serena offers, smiling softly, “if it’s any consolation, I’m fairly certain Bernie never informed him about us either.”
It does cause John to form an amused smirk, “like mother, like daughter.” He carefully stands up from the sofa, never once letting go of Tala, “see you in a bit.”
Sliding her mobile back into her pocket after ending the call, Serena pays the machine, taking her time to gather a coffee in each hand for she and Bernie. Carefully walking from the waiting area, Serena lifts her head, catching sight of the Wolfe women.
“I didn’t do this on purpose.” Charlotte says quietly, her head wobbling slightly as she lifts it, her eyes absently fix on the foot of her bed, “I didn’t think she’d go through with it. I was...I tried to reason with her.” Her lips burn from their dryness and she’s quick to bite the lower one with her incisors, her voice lowers to just above a whisper, “this wasn’t the first time she’d done this.”
Bernie listens to her daughter, as she leans back in the chair that her wife was once occupying. She sighs softly as she hears the young woman’s thought process, “no one believes you to be at fault for your own injury.”
“I never fought back.” Charlotte continues, her eyes slowly moving to her large pregnant belly, “I didn’t...I didn’t try to protect him. I didn’t care.” Her head leans too far forward, causing her to lose control. A painful yelp escapes Charlotte’s lips, no amount of analgesic could protect her from the sudden sharp pain radiating from her wound.
Instantly on her feet, Bernie reaches over to help her daughter, placing one hand on Charlotte’s cheek and the other behind her head. Her own chin tightens, not wanting to let on just how scared she was for her daughter. Really, not being able to for most of the day. Bernie carefully lays her daughter’s head back against the pillow, feeling her breath catch and her own face tighten.
Charlotte slowly blinks, just staring up at her mother as a tear slowly trickles from the enclosure of her eye, her breathing quivers.
“My darling Charlotte,” Bernie shakes her head, leaning her head down to press a soft kiss to her daughter’s forehead. She swallows, keeping her face not far from that of her daughter’s, her thumb absently stroking Charlotte’s cheek as her own tears escape the corner of her eye, “you just gave me quite the scare.”
“I’m so sorry.” Whispering, Charlotte searches her mother’s eyes, unsure if she’s ever seen the woman cry, “you must be so disappointed.” Her chest heaves slightly and the tightening of her jaw isn’t doing anything good for her injury. Her fears and anxieties from the day boil to the surface and she’s just as bare as her mother.
Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, Bernie allows herself to be vulnerable for her daughter. She removes her hand from the back of the young woman’s head, bringing it to her own face to quickly wipe away the tears from the space next to her nose, then does the same to Charlotte’s, “You could never disappoint me.” Bernie begins to gently shush her terrified daughter, “never."
Serena stands in the doorway, her eyes red from watching the tender scene in front of her and becoming overwhelmed with emotion. A coffee cup still in each hand, Serena swallows, “I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean to eavesdrop or interrupt-” She exhales slowly when Charlotte reaches toward her with her free hand, causing Serena to take a few steps closer, placing the coffees on the overbed table. Serena takes the young woman’s hand, assuming she just doesn’t want to leave her out.
“I don’t...” Charlie attempts to formulate her train of thought, emotion seeping into her voice, “if it weren’t for the two of you enduring my eccentricities today, I’d have been completely alone...and I don’t know if I could have bared that.” She inhales deeply, her arms pulling both women closer, her tears falling freely at this point, “thanks.”
With her forehead softly touching the side of Charlotte’s face, Bernie mutters, speaking honestly, “No matter how old you get or how many babies you have, you’re still my...our little girl.” She feels Serena’s hand gently rub across the back of her shoulders, only lifting her head when she notices Charlotte’s eyes have closed and her hold was losing grip.
“Reckon she tore a few sutures by her whole...tired, head flapping.” Serena motions to the young woman’s neck and a red spot forming on the bandage, “I’m fighting the urge to just...fetch supplies myself.” She sighs, having noticed the entire ward seems to be a shoestring operation.
Bernie shakes her head, “They’re doing their best.” Clearing her throat of her shed emotion, she keeps her voice quiet so as to not wake her daughter, “we’ve both dealt with that in our careers.”
“True...and I imagine the media attention surrounding Charlotte’s appearance hasn’t exactly been easy on them.” Serena gives her partner’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, “I’ll fetch someone to take care of it...before offering my own services.” She doesn’t wait for Bernie’s response, just needing to be out of the room. A pang of guilt forms in Serena’s chest anytime she thinks of Charlotte as her daughter, regardless of how much she opens herself up to the young woman and even vocally says the words to her. Bernie’s right. She’s their girl.
This has been sitting on my drive for a few days now and it's longer than I usually post.
It's also a bit of a...situation dump with two phone calls and an emotional breakthrough all in the same chapter.
Sorry about that.
Marcus arrives to see his daughter and is hit with the truth.
John feels the need to protect his mothers-in-law.
Maybe a half hour or so after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John steps into the hospital room, noticing how crowded it’s starting to become. Serena sits on the bed, carefully applying sutures to Charlotte’s neck as the young woman sleeps. His jacket zippered around Tala’s tired form, the girl sucking on her pacifier. Her hand sneaks out, holding onto her security blanket and up to John’s face, rubbing his cheek, then her own.
Bernie smirks to herself, glad to see her son-in-law finally letting Tala get close again, “I can’t believe you brought her with you. It’s nearly her bedtime.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly have much choice, ma’am.” John sighs, offering a quick, rueful smile. When he notices Bernie’s subtle confusion, he realizes Serena hadn’t said anything about Nicky’s relapse. “She’s been a bit...um...cranky throughout the day. Serena suggested I bring her with me, cheer Charlie up a little, but...we didn’t know she’d be asleep.”
“Fought it just as much as the baby usually does.” Serena responds, preoccupied with repairing the torn sutures. It does allow her to see just how much of Charlotte’s neck her wound encompasses. “Darling, you were right, interrupted over-and-over sutures,” Serena smiles to herself, “first you’re consulting with staff on the procedures used for a Zone 2 neck trauma, and now you’re calling sutures.”
Marcus stands at the foot of the bed, arms folded with a perturbed appearance to his face. “Everyone wants to have a laugh while my daughter was nearly murdered this afternoon.” He shakes his head, not moving his gaze from the suture work Serena is performing, needing to ensure she doesn’t make a mistake as he speaks, “and why isn’t she wearing an overcoat?”
John realizes that Marcus is talking to him about Tala only after a moment of the room falling silent, “it isn’t safe for Tamale to wear one while she’s in her carseat and this was easier, especially when she’s so tired that she’s just going to want to be held the whole time.” He sighs, “she’s been like this for a good hour now.” John motions to his wife in the bed, “and she isn’t only your daughter. Her first port of call was to Bernie and Serena. Not you and not me.”
“Probably because of this.” Serena answers under her breath.
Feeling his jaw tighten with anger, Marcus doesn’t move, “Bernie and I should have been the first ones phoned-”
“No, actually, it should have been John, if anyone were phoned.” Bernie finally speaks up, her voice remaining neutral despite the rising tensions in the small space.
“Berenice.” Serena warns, only giving a quick glance to her after she pulls her forceps back for a moment.
“And she didn’t phone me first, she phoned Serena. I just happened to be in the car.” Bernie continues calmly, “Charlie never lost her faculties or the ability to use her mobile. She phoned who she wanted to phone...and it’s absurd to find offense in something so trivial.”
Marcus furrows his brow, glancing over at his ex-wife, “Serena is not family.”
“Yes, she is.” John is the one to interject this time, “she always has been.” He glances down when Tala decides to peek her head out from the un zippered chest of his jacket, offering her Gran a smile. John decides to change the subject, “Tamale, do you want to come out? You’re acting silly.”
“Punchdrunk...always happens around this time of day, after her dinner.” Serena speaks to him, pulling another suture through Charlotte’s neck wound, wanting to reinforce what was already there, “what did she have?”
“Cheese ravioli with a side of peas and carrots.” John finally unzippers his jacket, “her favorite.”
Giving the other man a look of confusion, Marcus sighs softly, “that’s not a dinner.”
“Well, the pre-made foods company that makes her ‘ravs and veg’ strictly for toddlers would disagree with you.” John points out, still holding her as he removes his jacket, placing it at the foot of the bed, “don’t imagine we’d like it, but she prefers to be independent.”
“Oftentimes to a frustrating degree.” Serena mumbles.
“Like Charlotte.” Bernie and Marcus say in tandem, then look at one another before back down at their daughter.
Serena ties her final suture as she whispers to herself, “okay.” She sets the forceps and supplies to the over-bed table, obtaining another piece of gauze and packet of antibiotic gel. “If you lot could, please, keep it down. Last thing this one needs is to be woken up after the day she’s had.” She swallows, well aware that she, technically, shouldn’t be tending to the young woman. However, Serena couldn’t trust anyone else with the task. She swallows, absently tucking a few stray strands of the young woman’s hair behind her ear, able to see the dried blood near the tips.
Marcus swallows, aware the woman is correct, he lowers his tone, “she was...awake when you all arrived?”
Nodding, Serena gently applies tape to the gauze, knowing a wrap bandage would have worked better given the location of the wound. She removes her nitrile gloves once she finishes, finally turning to gather up the rest of the discarded items. “She’s traumatized, understandably. Didn’t need a psych eval to tell me that.”
Bernie folds her arms, turning away from the group to look through the side of the drawn blinds of the single window in the room at the mention of her daughter being traumatized. That’s something she wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially her daughter. Bernie knew, from the look on her daughter’s face, that’s exactly what was occurring in her mind. She closes her eyes a moment, muttering more to herself than anyone else, “first Long and now this.”
They all heard it. Only two of the others knew what it meant though.
“Long?” Marcus turns his head toward his ex-wife again, then quickly realizing he was an odd man out. “What are you talking about?” When he’s met with the blonde’s silence, Marcus furrows his brow, “Bernie.”
“Old colleague of Ms. Wolfe’s.” John speaks up, incurring the other man’s intense attention, “became obsessed with Charlie...starting around the time they were in Hargeisa...if not before.” He knows that no one in this room wants to reiterate what occurred. John knows this isn’t his story to tell, but sometimes exceptions are required. “Believing that she was...protecting the rest of us from humiliation, among other things, he...took advantage of her.”
“Took advantage-” Starting to repeat the words, Marcus stops himself as it slowly dawns on him what the words mean. His mouth opens, but he doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know if he should say anything.
“I’m only telling you because it’s been confined to our bubble...our home.” John maintains a professional air about him, letting Serena take Tala from his arms when the babe reaches for her, “and you’re her father.” He swallows, “but please don’t bring it up with her. I’m only informing you as a courtesy.”
Marcus is surprised by the man, shocked he’d say anything, “courtesy...” He shakes his head, “my little girl was hurt and no one in this room thought I should know about it?”
“Because of the nature of it, that’s correct.” John continues, “it was her information to tell, if she decided to, but I’d rather you be aware that this attack isn’t the only trauma she’s dealing with...regardless of how eager she is to put it on the back burner.” He sighs softly, running his hand up each arm to push his long sleeves just under his elbows, then slides his hands into his jeans pockets.
“When?” Marcus feels his chest tightening, his frustration rising. He wants to do nothing except protect his daughter, as it always has been. He tries to formulate things in his mind, “recently?” He notices John’s subtle nod, “was it...” Marcus feels his eyes glazing with unshed tears, “was it around the time when she came to Holby City and we had lunch...” It’s as if things are dawning on him slowly, “she had mentioned someone.”
“Yeah.” John nods, “same day.” He can see how hard this is for the older man to hear.
“Because when she spoke to me, she was saying that she wasn’t so sure about her marriage.” Marcus’ eyebrow peaks as he looks to the other man, “how do I know she wasn’t planning on leaving you and you just spun this story in order to make my daughter look bad?”
“Rape doesn’t make anyone look bad except the rapist.” John retorts, looking at the man.
“You’re both getting very off track here.” Serena sighs softly, Tala comfortably laying against her, nearly asleep. “This isn’t about a few months ago, this is about now, Today, this very moment.” She responds simply, “can the two of you contain yourselves long enough to just be present for her?” Serena is starting to understand why the young woman was hesitant to say anything to either man.
This isn’t over, Marcus tells himself. Turning his head to the side, but not directly at his ex-wife, he speaks to Bernie, “you could have told me she was asleep. I would have come tomorrow.”
“You were already on your way.” Bernie replies quietly from the window, finally looking over at her ex-husband, “you act as if you’d have listened to me if I told you to turn around.”
“Just stay at the house.” John knows Marcus Dunn will always be suspicious of him, but he’s still Charlie’s father and he wasn’t about to force him to drive home this late or make him get a hotel, “or, better yet, our old flat, if you think you’d be more comfortable. We’ve done a few online short term rentals with it, but there isn't anyone there now. It’s maybe...ten minutes from here, if that.”
Marcus looks at the man, knowing he’s trying to keep him away from everyone else. “I’d rather be close to my granddaughter.” He doesn’t want to miss a single thing in that house. What else could they be hiding? “If it’s all the same to you.”
“Of course. Like I said, it's entirely your decision. Our home is always open.” John does his best to remain neutral, subconsciously wanting to protect Bernie and Serena from the stress of the man’s presence.
Charlotte opens her eyes a crack, able to hear the low decibels of her partner and father, different from those of her mother and step-mother. She glances at Serena, sitting in the chair next to her, lazily raising her hand to the side rail. Charlie feels like her limbs are too heavy, her head is too heavy. Everything is just...so incredibly heavy. This is taking more effort than it should.
“Char.” Marcus takes a step closer to the bed, his tone frantic, worried.
Hearing the man’s words, Charlotte’s eyes slowly move over to him when she hears his voice. She manages to whisper, “hi.”
Marcus furrows his brow, speaking to the others in the room as he continues to look at his daughter, “She...she’s virtually-”
“Sedated.” Bernie responds quietly, finally taking a few steps away from the window, “she wouldn’t have slept otherwise.” She speaks from experience and concern, one arm remains folded over her chest while the other lifts her hand to her mouth, absently rubbing her thumb against her bottom lip.
Serena watches her wife, noticing how the woman is unable to make eye contact with anyone else in the room at this point. Tala sleeps against her, her pacifier moving every so often out of comfort. “I reckon we all head home, allow Charlotte some well earned shut eye, and come back in the morning.” Her gaze returns to her stepdaughter, watching as the young woman’s hand slowly loses its grip once more, falling to the bed with a soft thud. Serena had a feeling that it would. “We’re all rather peckish, we can order takeaway.” Deflect, take control of the room. “We can all do with a bit of decompression.”
Marcus continues to just stare at his daughter in the bed, “I think I’d rather stay here with-”
“That isn’t an option and the only one that would be able to stay overnight with her, out of all of us, is John.” Bernie answers quietly, “however, neither one of us are any good to her if we’re exhausted...and staying here would do that. She’s in good hands and-”
“You always want to-” Marcus begins to angrily retort.
“Don’t finish that.” John interrupts him, “your negativity isn’t necessary.”
“You’re still new to this, all things considered.” Marcus looks over to the taller man, not to be intimidated, “you have no idea...” His poisonous words hold weight and it’s if all the progress made with his therapist goes out the window. These people, though familiar, are trying to keep him from his daughter, “nor do you have any real say here-”
“She’s my wife.” John finally says, motioning to Charlie in the bed with a quick glance. “Just before I went off to Nairobi. Bernie served as a witness, with Tamale as an assistant witness.” He smirks a little to himself at the mention of his niece, but can see Marcus’ bewilderment and it looks as if he’s prepared to argue, “I wanted her to be the one to tell you, but since you want to...continue to push your agenda instead of thinking what Charlie would want, I thought it fitting.” He pauses, “because if that’s the case, what Charlie would really want is for Serena and Bernie to stay. That’s why she phoned Serena first, and not her mother. She knows her mother can’t drive and they’re a package deal anyway.”
“Anything else?” Marcus swallows, feeling as if the rug was pulled out from under him. When he’s met with silence, he nods a little, “alright then.” Marcus gives a final glance to his daughter in the bed before leaving the room, not making eye contact with anyone else. He couldn’t possibly.
Bernie releases a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding. She licks her lips, giving her ex-husband a moment before following after him. Maybe she’d be able to clear a few things up.
Do you think Bernie will be successful in talking to Marcus or things revert to a bitter exchange?
Marcus airs his gradiences.
Bernie has a chat with her ex-husband.
Immediately after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Marcus slides his hands into the pockets of his coat, hearing the incessant footsteps of someone following him as he makes his way through the carpark. He half expects a mugger to be behind him.
“Marcus.” Bernie finally calls from the middle of the street in the carpark, out of breath. Today has taken a lot out of her. Mentally, physically, emotionally. Her muscles ache, her head throbs. The small heels of her boots knock against the pavement, “don’t leave, please.”
When he hears the tired, pained voice of his ex-wife, Marcus slowly turns in place to face her, “I’m not wanted. You all made that very clear.”
“No, we didn’t.” Bernie licks her lips, a part of her still intimidated by this man. She slowly makes the rest of the way, edging a seat against the hood of the car she knows to be his.
“Two years.” Marcus just watches her, “two years, I thought I was helping them with your funeral. I thought it’d be too painful for them, that they’d be too busy to put anything together.” He watches Bernie, “two years since I...since she stopped talking to me. I was alone.” Marcus licks his lips, just watching Bernie, “things didn’t end well with you and I, but...I never stopped loving you. Don’t think I ever could. I was...I was grieving and I had to do it alone.”
Bernie stays still, absently focusing on the pavement as Marcus continues on.
“And then you were alive again and she...was on my doorstep.” Marcus shakes his head, falling silent for a moment. “I saw Tala...and I realized I needed some help. I started speaking to a therapist and...bettering myself. Not just for me and the kids, but...for our grandchildren.” He swallows, just watching his wife even though she wasn’t looking at him. Marcus finally edges a seat against the hood of the car next to his ex-wife, feeling himself start to calm down finally.
Turning her head slightly, Bernie sees Marcus within her peripheral vision.
“Charlie though...she always was more like you.” Marcus swallows, “never had any problem just...keeping to herself.” He laughs a little to himself after a moment, allowing his mind to wander, “I remember when she said she was switching her major from medical to law. I never understood it. She always had more promise than Cameron ever did in medicine. Brilliant, observant, decisive, driven, gorgeous suture work, and her instincts were top notch...just like you.”
Bernie huffs a soft sound of amusement, a smirk starting to form in the corner of her mouth as she lifts her gaze to look straight ahead, “thanks.”
“I thought she and I were...getting back on a better path.” Marcus trails, his hands lazily clasping in his lap, “but she never even told me she was getting married.”
Her arms wrapping around herself, Bernie shakes her head, “it wasn’t like that.”
“I would have dropped everything, Bern.” Marcus answers quietly, “if it meant I got to walk her down the aisle, even at the...the courthouse, I’d have done it in a heartbeat.”
“I know you would have.” Bernie absently rubs her upper arm with her hand as they remain folded over her chest, “Serena and I had...gotten married before she had left for Nairobi. We wanted to take precautions...in case anything were to happen.” She bites the skin of her lip, noticing his back straighten. “She was only supposed to be gone a few days, a week at most, but...things didn’t turn out that way and I was unable to travel with her to help. That’s where John came in...and they felt the same way.”
“He’s too old for Char.” Marcus shakes his head, “his actions were unethical and-”
“I see the way she looks at him and how he’d do absolutely anything for her.” Bernie sighs softly, shaking her head as she continues, “they’ve been together for four years, probably close to five by now.”
“He’s closer in age to us than he is to her.” Marcus continues, sighing softly when he notices her trying to warm herself up. He removes his jacket without saying anything, laying it gently over her shoulders. Just like old times. “That doesn’t bother you?”
Bernie offers a thankful half smile for the warmth of his jacket, despite it smelling like his aftershave, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” She responds quietly with a half shrug, her hands absently pulling his jacket around herself a bit more, “if he had been as old as our parents, would you have the same reaction?” She pauses, “or if the roles were reversed, would you think poorly of her?”
Marcus starts to smirk, amused by the thought, “She’s twenty-five, she’d be in prison if that-” Hearing Bernie’s frustrated sigh, he shakes his head. “I don’t know. It all just...sounds a bit off.” Marcus glances toward her, but not at her, “you’re the one with the instincts though.”
“I’m also there every single day.” Bernie replies quietly, “there’s never been anything that would lead me to question his devotion to her...or if there was some sort of abuse.” She licks her lips with a gentle dart of her tongue, “I mean...he put a rush on buying that house they’re in now so that Serena and I could be accommodated, then Nicky and Tala when we discovered that they needed help...and he acted as if it was never a question that we would all stay there. Abusers don’t bring more people around, especially those related to the abused, they try to isolate them.” Bernie shakes her head a little, finally looking fully over at her ex-husband’s profile, “not to mention, fathers aren’t supposed to like the men their daughters date.”
Humming with understanding, Marcus nods slowly, “I fully remember your father’s dressing down...just like it was yesterday.”
A quick, gasping laugh escapes Bernie’s mouth, “thought he’d have you drawn and quartered.”
“Felt that way.” Marcus continues, smiling to himself and glad to hear Bernie’s laugh. He’s missed it, honestly. “I just remember in the car before, ‘don’t say anything about the baby’, and we didn’t. Not until you after the wedding...past your first trimester. Could you imagine if we had though?”
“They knew I was conscripted to be an Army medic. I had already done my basic training by then. Reckon they believed the wedding occurred so quickly because I was about to ship out or...something of the like.” Bernie falls quiet, exhaling slowly as she looks up at the stars, “that was a whole lifetime ago.”
“Yes...yes, it was.” Marcus nods, “congratulations on the wedding, Bern, the one with Serena Campbell...don’t think that wasn’t lost on me.” He follows her gaze, knowing she’d always do this, since before they were married all those years ago, “it’s as if she was made for you.”
Bernie smiles a little to herself, “I’m incredibly lucky.” She finally lowers her gaze before standing up from the car hood with a soft moan, her back was giving her a bit of trouble at this point, “the code to get into the house without a key is Charlotte’s birthday...and remember with that date, the man that set it is an American.” She starts to walk away, pausing after a few steps to look back at him, “and give Hampton a chance.”
Marcus smiles to himself, watching his ex-wife as she walks away from him fully, back toward the hospital. He pushes himself off the hood of his car, reaching into his trouser pockets for his keys, Marcus holds his arm up, “stole my bloody jacket.”
This was a really short one compared to the others I've written recently. Sorry about that. <3
Charlotte experiences a disturbing dream.
Marcus is met with his daughter's ire when he tries to be supportive.
Trigger Warning: Trauma. Discussion of Charlotte's assault as covered in the previous story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You don’t even care, do you...” Edwina Mathers holds onto Charlotte from behind, homemade knife pressed against her throat. “You don’t care if I end you in the slightest and you certainly don’t care about your baby.” There’a laugh to her voice, “you don’t fight back, you don’t even put up a struggle.”
Charlotte stares ahead of herself, within the ladies’ toilets of the courthouse, kneeling on the tiled floor. Her eyes are glassy, but she doesn’t tremble. She isn’t afraid.
“You’ve given up.” The door to the stall not far from the blocked entry door opens, a familiar muscular man steps out, clad in his most memorable olive drab colored scrubs. “That’s not the woman I fell in love with.”
“Ben.” Charlotte swallows, her eyes glazing over with tears as they follow him, “you’re supposed to be dead.” She manages to mutter, her eyes never leaving the man, “you...you forced-”
“I didn’t force you to come to the hotel.” Capt. Benson Long shakes his head, slowly walking closer toward her before crouching directly in front of Charlotte’s kneeling frame, “I didn’t force you to take your clothes off...and I certainly didn’t force you to screw me.” A smarmy smirk forms in the corner of his mouth, “not the first time...and not the last time.”
Charlie’s chin trembles finally as she looks into his deep brown eyes, “you said...” She shakes her head, her heart conflicted. Charlie swallows as she fixes her gaze straight ahead. “You played on my guilt...and made it work for you.” She misses him so much, but understands how he had taken advantage of her.
Ben starts to laugh, his face only an inch from hers, “played on her guilt, are you hearing this, Edwina?” He continues to laugh a bit more before suddenly turning serious, “I give her my life...and she calls it playing with her guilt.”
“Ungrateful.” Edwina pulls Charlie’s hair back, exposing her neck a bit more.
“You’re dead.” Charlie whispers again, her eyes looking up at the ceiling because of the angle of her tilted head.
“Not to you.” Ben grins broadly, “not ever to you.” He slowly stands, his gaze moving to Edwina, standing behind Charlotte with her homemade knife held to her throat. “Good night, Ms. Wolfe.”
“No!” Charlotte’s voice fills the small hospital room as her upper body flexes up as much as it can out of instinct, her eyes bolt open at the same time as sunshine pierces them, turning them a golden brown. It takes her a moment to realize that she isn’t in the ladies’ toilets of the courthouse. Moaning softly, Charlie brings her hand to her neck, only partially realizing that what happened the day before was not a dream.
“Take it easy.” Marcus is looking over to his daughter, having been startled from his place in the chair next to the bed. His hand touches her upper arm, “you’re in hospital.” His voice is quiet, concerned. Marcus is well aware that he probably isn’t the one that she wants to see first thing in the morning.
Charlie’s head pounds as she carefully leans back to lean against the raised head of her hospital bed. She swallows, her eyes closing a little, “I feel hungover.”
Marcus hums with a nod, “you were sedated.” He swallows, getting up and using his jacket to put over the portion of the blinds that is allowing the sun to creep in and bother his daughter, “common side effect.” Once Marcus decides his jacket is hung well enough, he turns around to move close to his daughter’s bedside again.
“So, how did you hear about this?” Charlotte watches him, not turning her head. She’s in considerable pain, but is doing her best not to display it on her features, “Mum phone?”
“Television report.” Marcus shakes his head, “I phoned her.” He folds his arms over his chest, “I even stayed over yours last night. Your husband was kind enough to set me up in the guest room with an inflatable bed.” Noticing his daughter’s embarrassed sigh as she moves her eyes from looking at him, Marcus slowly nods, “yeah, well...you could-a told me, Char.”
“Slipped my mind.” Charlie lifts her arm, noticing an IV line taped between the inside of her wrist and elbow. She tries to follow the clear tubing up to see exactly what she’s being given, which is serving to be rather difficult since she’s unable to turn her head.
Marcus notices what his daughter is trying to do and reaches over to gently push her arm down, “IV nutrition. They said you weren’t well enough to eat yesterday.”
“They never asked. I didn’t need a TPN.” Charlie sighs softly, her eyes shifting back to her father, “it just means they’re going to try to keep me here longer. Reckon they’ll say I was dehydrated as well. They always do.”
“Charlotte, you’re overreacting.” Marcus sighs softly, shaking his head as he lets go of her in order to hold onto her side rail.
“Why are you here?” Furrowing her brow, frustration and anger rising within her because of the situation, Charlie’s voice is a bit louder than what she was originally intending, “if I wanted you here, I’d have asked you here.” Her tone is cold and she doesn’t want to say what she’s saying, but she also can’t stop herself. Charlie draws her lower lip into her mouth, running it slowly over her incisors before speaking again, “all I want is a bloody coffee and a croissant. Chocolate croissant...or a croissant with that chocolate hazelnut spread that Johnny buys, but pretends that he doesn’t.”
Marcus shakes his head a little as he watches his daughter, “if you want to be nicer, I have no problem fetching those things for you.”
“I phoned Serena and Mum.” Charlotte replies quietly, her eyes are glassy as she stares toward her feet. Anything not to look at her father. “ You wouldn’t understand.”
The room falls silent around them with Marcus not quite knowing what to do or afraid to say the wrong thing, especially in his daughter’s fragile state. However, he has to let her know that he knows more than she believes he does. “Look, Charlie, I...” He pauses, licking his lower lip as he places his hands against his hips, “you’re right, I don’t know what you...what you went through. However, that doesn’t mean I’m the enemy...or unwilling to learn how to better help you.”
Charlotte swallows, absently rubbing the hospital blanket, laid over the lower half of her body, between her fingers.
“John told me about uh...your assault.” Marcus bites the bullet, “a few months ago. I know it can’t be easy to-”
“You don’t know shit.” Charlie interrupts him with a hiss through her clenched teeth, causing the room to fall quiet again. “I fucked up.” She inhales sharply, the glassiness of her eyes turning into tears in her lower lid, “twice now. Twice I’ve fucked up.” A tear escaping her eye next to her nose and she doesn’t make any effort to wipe it away. “I didn’t want Ben to die...I could have prevented that.” Another inhale followed by a shaky exhale, “and I didn’t even...I didn’t attempt to plead for the life of my son.”
Marcus sighs softly, knowing he shouldn’t have said anything, “Char-”
“I cheated on my partner...because I was weak...and stupid.” Charlotte shakes her head, biting her lip, “it has nothing to do with yesterday.” The two events were running together in her mind, but they were otherwise unrelated, “don’t know why he even said anything.”
“Because he thought it to be important that I know as your father.” Marcus focuses on his daughter’s face, “that’s the extent, I promise.” He licks his lips, giving himself a moment to think of his next words, only continuing when she doesn’t say anything, “I always feel like I don’t...I feel like I’m always the last one to know anything. Especially with your mother living with you now...”
Charlie doesn’t know if she should say anything, or even if she could.
“I’m happy the two of you are on better terms. I remember how much that bothered you during the funeral.” Marcus continues, folding his arms over his chest again, “and I know I...blundered things then. I’m sorry for that.” He lowers himself back to the seat beside his daughter’s bed, “I thought we...I thought you and I were moving past that.”
“You’re the one that wants to bring up my mistakes.” Charlotte responds quietly, “the way John sees what happened and how I-I know the facts to be are two different things.” She still doesn’t look over at him, “I was there. I...I made the mistake. I heard the gunshot.”
“Gunshot?” Marcus asks before he’s able to stop himself.
Charlotte begins to chuckle bitterly, a smirk forms in the corner of her mouth after, “he didn’t tell you that bit, did he?” The question is rhetorical, but she answers herself after a moment, “of course he didn’t.”
A bemused expression forms on Marcus’ face as he shakes his head, “I’m sorry, I don’t-”
“He killed himself because I didn’t want to be with him. I wanted to stay with John and...I thought I had made that clear from the beginning, but...I still had feelings for him.” Charlie answers bluntly, “We had it off. I got dressed. We said our goodbyes. I walked out the door, and was hardly a few steps down the hallway when he shot himself in the bloody head.” Her eyes move over to finally look at her father, filled with anger and hurt all balled into one, “I caused a man to kill himself. I did .” Charlotte falls silent for a moment, her eyes returning to focusing toward the end of the bed before she mumbles, “I’m no better than Cam.”
Marcus begins to understand why his son-in-law thought it best to inform him, “that’s not true, you’re nothing like your brother.” He reaches out to take hold of her hand, only for her to pull it away before he’s able to touch her. Marcus sighs, “you know that you aren’t, Char.”
Charlotte doesn’t respond, not about that at least, “since when are you buddy-buddy with John?”
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been.” Marcus replies honestly, “but I’ve come to understand that we have one thing in common...and that’s that we both love you.”
“I want to go home.” Charlie mumbles softly, “if you can’t get me coffee or take me home, then leave me alone.”
Knowing he isn’t going to make any worthwhile arguments that are going to sway her one way or the other, Marcus nods a little, “coffee it is then. I’ll see what I can scrounge up.”
Charlotte doesn’t move her gaze, but watches as her father walks around the bed with her peripheral vision, leaving through the door next to her without a sound. Her chin begins to tremble and her breath catches as she allows herself just a moment of sorrow before swallowing back her emotions and bringing a hand up to wipe away the tears that have left her eyes. Charlie clears her throat, stopping her emotions from flowing.
Taking another look into his daughter’s room before walking away with a sigh, Marcus wonders what else he could possibly do.
“Morning.” John offers his father-in-law a cordial half smile, “thought I saw you head out-”
“I uh...” Marcus shakes his head a little, interrupting the man, “she’s in pain...” He wants to continue on, but knows he doesn’t have the words to explain things a bit more. Marcus begins to chuckle to himself, bringing his hands up to rub over his face. Exhausted from not sleeping well the night before and emotionally spent just from the short time he spent with his daughter. Marcus chuckles softly to himself, “she’s her mother’s daughter...always has been.”
John nods slowly, watching as the man finally wanders away from him. He turns his head, looking toward the open doorway to his wife’s room. Her mother’s daughter. Walking over to the room, he’s able to see the reddened eyes of his wife, but can tell she’s pushed things down. “You have your father roaming the AAU, looking like a lost puppy.”
“He asks questions he doesn’t want answered.” Charlotte swallows, glancing at her partner without moving her head, which is proving to be more difficult than she originally thought. She reaches a hand up to her partner, “you look tired.”
“Me?” John raises an eyebrow, taking her hand when he sees her offer it to him. He makes a point to stand closer to her so she doesn’t have to do much to look at him. “Only reason you slept is because you were sedated.” He leans down, sharing a quick soft kiss with her before standing upright again, “your mother and Serena are staying home for a bit with Tamale. Bernie wasn’t feeling too hot this morning and Serena demanded she hook onto the oxygen for a while.”
Charlotte’s features flash with concern, “what’s-”
“She’s fine. Nothing to worry about.” John smiles at her, “we’ll switch out later on.”
“Where’s Nicky?” Charlie can tell that he’s hiding something from her as he slowly walks around the bed, removing his jacket, “Johnny...”
“Nicky decided to check herself into rehab. Which...” John shrugs, placing his jacket on the back of the chair in the room, “I’m proud of her for making that decision, but it does leave us without the extra hand, especially with you being in here.”
“Bring her here.” Charlotte says quietly, knowing that if she wasn’t so focused on her court case, maybe she could have helped her friend. She promised Nicky that she would help her when it was needed. Just another failure. “If Mum isn’t well and Tala is with them, that means Serena-”
“Babe, they’re fine.” John shakes his head, “it’s early still. Once Tamale takes her nap, that’s when we were going to switch. We have a couple of hours at that point...if she doesn’t cause too much trouble today.” He flashes a reassuring smile to her.
“Takes after her father.” Charlie mumbles, her eyes watching her partner, “can you see if they’ll release me, please?” She pauses, “I’m stitched up like the bride of Frankenstein’s monster and I’ll be back in hospital in like...just over a month for this kid. So, I really just want to rest in my own bed...next to you.” When John simply folds his arms, Charlie pouts absently, “please?”
“We’ll go when your attending says it’s okay for you to go.” John nods, watching his wife, “if they release you today, that’s great, if it’s tomorrow or the next day-”
“I’m signing out AMA.” Charlotte responds quietly.
“There’s nothing for you at home. Even less than there is to do here and there’s a crazy one year old scurrying around there.” John can see her disappointment that he isn’t on her side with this, “at least here, they’ll bring you food and you can people-watch through the door.” He pauses, realizing she probably isn’t able to do that because of her inability to turn her head, “or not, you can meditate and play games on your phone instead.”
“Wow, sounds positively enthralling.” Charlotte replies with dry sarcasm, “especially since my mobile is dead. Can’t even stream telly or read an electronic book.”
“I can get you a charger.” A soft chuckle permeates John’s voice, “not the end of the world. I’d even bet one of the staff might offer you use of yours.”
Marcus returns with a coffee from the vending machine in one hand and a pack of chocolate sandwich wafers in the other, “afraid there’s no croissants to be seen, but I did manage these.” He places both things on the over-bed table, moving it closer, “haven’t they brought in a menu or anything? You’ve been here long enough to be served food.”
“I want to go home, but Johnny won’t take me.” Charlotte glances over to her father, glad there’s coffee. She takes it in hand, inhaling its warmth before trying to drink it without moving her head much. Charlie sighs as she pulls the cup away, mumbling, “tastes like muddy puddle water.” She places it back onto the table, noticing her father hasn’t said anything. “Mum would take me home.”
“Your mother isn’t able to drive.” Johnny shakes his head, knowing she’s trying to manipulate her father. He folds his muscular arms over his chest, “and neither are you, given how pregnant you are.”
“Pregnancy isn’t really...a series of degrees though.” Charlie folds her arms over her chest, “you either are or you aren’t.” She pauses, scowling playfully at her husband still, “one can’t be forty-five percent pregnant.” Charlie’s eyes shift when there’s a soft knock at the door, the form of a young doctor standing there, “morning.”
The young doctor, only a few years older than Charlotte, glances at the two men in the room before looking down at her patient, “I’ve heard of Charlie’s Angels, but I always thought they looked a tad different.” She starts to smirk, “think I’d actually watch it if this were the case.”
“Please, take them with you.” Charlie offers, sighing softly.
The doctor smirks with a nod, sensing the frustration from her patient, “is this an okay time to-”
“Please, I insist that you speak to me about whatever you want.” Charlotte adjusts her position a little, placing a hand on the side of her belly.
“Heard someone that wasn’t staff had fixed up your neck when you popped a few.” The woman moves to the end of the bed, putting a couple of pumps of antibacterial foam into her hands, rubbing them together, “mind if I have a look?”
“Feel free.” Charlotte sighs as her husband and her father awkwardly stand by the window, “any word on when I’ll be able to head home?”
The doctor hums approvingly, “let me take a look at this and we’ll discuss.” She nods, “Serena Campbell is your mother?”
“Stepmother, yes.” Charlie furrows her brow, allowing the doctor to gently open the bandages to examine her wound. “Are you familiar?” She tries to keep herself from laughing when both her husband and father tilt their heads to the side, attempting to gain a look at her sutures.
“Her dissertation on the modern day health care model gave me life when I was in Uni.” The doctor grins, carefully peeling back the surgical tape, “I was hoping to maybe meet her when I saw her name on the allowance list, but...day late and a pound short.”
“I’ll be sure to pass along your appreciation.” Charlotte just looks straight ahead, not wanting this to be more awkward than it already seems, “especially when you let me go home today.”
“I thought I’d say we were going to have a look at this first.” The doctor raises an eyebrow, looking at the reddened wound after the bandage is fully pulled away, “I see Ms. Campbell put a few extra in.” She smiles to herself, “delicate, precise...exactly what I’d expect to see of a vascular surgeon of her caliber.”
“Whole bloody house full of doctors. My husband is a psychiatrist, my father is an orthopedic surgeon, my mother is a trauma surgeon.” Charlotte hopes it might influence the doctor’s train of thought about letting her head home, “only one that doesn’t live with us is my Dad. Mum and Serena are just down the hall.”
“Charlie, just let the doctor work.” John folds his arms, chuckling softly, “we’ll draw her out a family tree when she finishes.” He’s surprised to hear his father-in-law give a soft huff of a laugh from the space next to him, but John continues, “can’t take her anywhere.”
“You aren’t the one in this bed.” Charlie scowls.
“Okay, don’t work yourself into a tizzy.” The doctor sighs, reapplying the bandage, “I’m going to have someone return to clean this as well as another round of bloods drawn.” She gets up, moving to the end of the bed for a couple of pumps of hand sanitizer, “after that, and depending entirely on your blood work, I don’t see why we can’t release you.”
When he notices his daughter not answering and making no effort to do so, Marcus nods to the doctor as she takes her leave, “thank you.” He exhales softly, looking back at Charlotte, “that sounds promising, doesn’t it?” Marcus watches as Charlie’s gaze returns to the foot of the bed, quickly understanding that this has nothing to do with her going home. This is much more than that.
This chapter is too damn long for my tastes.
Especially with it not including any Bernie and Serena.
Sorry about that.
Serena is frustrated with her wife.
Tala shows off her new trick.
Quite a few hours after last chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tala stands within the confines of her portable cot, holding onto the top bumper as she watches her resting grandmother through the screen mesh just underneath. She had been napping for a bit at that point and was now rather hungry. Tala begins to bounce on her chubby legs with a hopeful smile, “Ga.” She tilts her head to the side, stomping her foot when she doesn’t receive an immediate answer, “Ga.”
Bernie opens her eyes as she lifts her head, oxygen tubing under her nose. She had pushed herself too much the day prior, understandably, and started having some difficulty in the early morning hours with her breathing. Unfortunately, scaring Serena half to death. There was enough on their plates for her to start having issues now.
“Ga.” Tala gives her best ‘mean’ face, stomping her foot again.
“You mean me?” Bernie carefully gets up out of bed, her hands a bit shaky, her footing a tad uncertain. This was the first time her granddaughter actually referred to her by any sort of name. Bernie finds herself starting to smile as she cautiously crouches on the other side of the mesh window, “say it again.”
Serena sighs softly as she nears the bedroom she shares with her wife, only to see that she’s speaking to the toddler, “Berenice, you’re supposed to be resting.”
“She called to me.” Bernie continues to watch her granddaughter, “say it again, Tala, please.” When her granddaughter just pouts, bouncing again because no one is removing her from her cot, she sighs, motioning for Serena to go ahead and help her out. Using the cot as leverage to stand back up, Bernie makes her way back to sit on her side of the bed.
Serena picks the toddler up, simply letting her out of the portable cot. “I was downstairs washing up a bit. I contemplated having a rest with you, but I grew tense.” She had found herself listening to Bernie’s breathing instead of just sleeping. “Never received a bell from John, only updates. I informed him when Tala went down as well.”
Bernie lifts her head when her granddaughter toddles over to her, hugging onto her leg. She exhales with a soft smile. “I’d rather we just go to hospital.” She reaches a hand out to gently push through Tala’s dark curly hair, “I feel useless here.”
“Well, we’re useless whether we’re here or there, darling.” Serena responds quietly, keeping an eye on Tala, knowing of the girl’s pension for bothering Bernie, the one who claims she isn’t good with children.
“Not you. You’re able to suture, you’re able to...to open yourself up.” Bernie replies softly, sounding almost ashamed of herself.
“The woman I saw yesterday did exactly that.” Serena places a hand on her wife’s shoulder, “you were doing so well before you became lost in the rabbit hole of Cameron’s crimes. Hyperfixation wasn’t helpful then.”
“My very pregnant daughter is currently hospitalized and you’re suggesting that I’m hyperfixating on her condition?” Bernie helps Tala on their bed and watches as the girl dramatically lays her head against the pillows, causing Bernie to give a soft chuckle. “She’s...she’s unwell. I’m concerned.”
“Of course, darling, I’m not suggesting anything of the sort.” Serena sighs softly, glad the toddler seems to be taking her wife’s mind off the cause at hand. “Guilt,” the word garners Bernie’s attention, Serena giving a rueful half-smile, “you feel guilty, I know what I saw last night. Being someone’s emotional support takes a toll.”
“I’m-I’m glad she knew what to do.” Bernie clears her throat, moving her eyes from her wife to straight in front of herself, “had the blade hit her carotid-”
“Yes, but it didn’t.” Serena gently runs her hand along her wife’s back in reassurance, “there was no way you could have protected Charlotte from this or predicted that it would happen, just like there was no way you could have done anything for Cameron. That’s what I’m referring to when I say guilt.”
“Ga,” Tala pats her hand on the pillow where she’s used to seeing her Granny lay her head to rest, doing her best to garner Bernie’s attention.
“Well, I stand corrected.” Serena raises her brow, giving a soft chortle as she tilts her head back to look over at the toddler.
“Tee.” Tala pats the other pillow, keeping herself in the middle.
“Two for the price of one.” Bernie starts to chuckle, only earning a scowl from her granddaughter. “Hey, no reason for that. We just woke up. Need to decide what to have for lunch, don’t we?” There wasn’t much sleeping going on for Bernie, to be honest. It was mostly just her laying with her eyes closed or just staring at the photograph on Serena’s bedside table of Elinor’s last Christmas with their families blended. Though it wasn’t Serena’s intended use when putting the photograph there after returning home from Nairobi, it helps Bernie keep things in perspective. Another laugh escapes Bernie’s lips with her granddaughter’s loud hum of interest.
Serena’s impressed by the toddler’s effect on her wife. She never would have imagined that either of them would be this way given their adverse reaction to motherhood as a whole. Serena knew things would be different when Guinevere was born. After she had moved to Nairobi, Serena was more than happy to listen to the girl ramble on about school and her friends while on a video conference. Things she was always too busy to do with Elinor. When Serena would Holby City at least twice a year, she would spoil the girl with gifts and cuddles before giving a tearful goodbye at the end of the week. It was a completely different experience to motherhood. Now, that feeling was spreading to let Tala in as well.
Bernie continues to focus on the toddler as she speaks to her wife, “Will you carry her downstairs? I can make us sandwiches and-”
“Darling, I’ll make you a sandwich if that’s what you want. If you want to go downstairs, that’s fine. However, I want you to take things easy. Incredibly easy. Preposterously easy.” Serena shakes her head, “you’ve been pushing yourself more and more for some time now and, though it wasn’t expected, your doing so yesterday seemed to be the hilt.”
Her wife’s words cause Bernie to give one of her loud, honking laughs, “a sandwich is going to sideline me?”
Serena sighs softly, “I don’t want to take the chance, honestly.”
Bernie calms her laughter when she realizes her wife’s concerned expression, “Campbell, stop worrying.”
“You weren’t the one that had to hear their wife begin to choke in her sleep.” Serena replies softly before pushing up off of the bed to stand, her wife’s indifference about what happened the night prior bothering her. Painting her face with a smile, Serena looks at Tala, “ready to go downstairs? I’m thinking of some cheesy pasta for you with some vegetables.”
“Serena-” Bernie tries, not looking directly at her wife, but in her general direction. Serena isn’t swayed though and Bernie is able to hear Serena leave through the bedroom door. She leans forward, preparing her backpack she had gotten used to using before with the small tank of oxygen within. Bernie bites at the skin of her lip, hating that this is something she even needs to do anymore. Lifting her head, Bernie is sure she hears a bit of commotion from the floor below.
“All the favors I had to perform to get out of that joint were a bloody nightmare.” Charlotte teases a little, grinning when her niece gives an excited clap upon seeing her. “Hello, my sweet girl.”
“Upstairs.” John shakes his head to his wife, “you’re to be resting. That was the agreement.”
“Agreement?” Serena places Tala in her high chair, but watches Charlotte after.
John hums his agreement, “they didn’t want to release her, but I managed to talk them into allowing it since she’s in a house filled with doctors and otherwise supposed to be resting completely.” He sighs softly, obviously frustrated by the whole ordeal of the morning.
Charlotte is quick to turn and grab him by the front of his t-shirt at his chest, her face that of stone as she looks him in the eye, “you don’t give me orders.” Her voice is low, stormy, “not about where to go, not about what to do, not about how to feel, and definitely not about my relationship with my father.”
Serena senses the tension between the two. Both are too stubborn to back down from the other. Watching as they stay that way for a moment, Serena finally walks closer, carefully touching Charlotte’s hand for her to release John’s shirt, “I was just about to make lunch and your mother is on her way down.”
Releasing his shirt, Charlie swallows, averting her tear glazed eyes, “what are you making?”
Wrapping an arm around the young woman’s upper back, Serena gives John a nod as she guides Charlie to a stool at the kitchen island. “I’m glad to see you home, you know.” Offering Charlie a closed mouth smile, Serena always was good at de-escalating a situation when she wasn’t directly involved.
“Thanks.” Charlie carefully takes a seat on the stool, glad there is a small back to it. She carefully tries not to turn her head as she glances over to her niece, who is now excitedly kicking her chubby legs in anticipation of food. Charlotte sits there, doing her best to contain herself as she absently stares at the sink. Serena moves around the kitchen, but Charlie can hardly shake her fixation. “J-Johnny?”
John, having not moved from his previous position and only watching his wife, turns his head over to look at her, knowing all too well that her previous outburst was a simple mood swing and not meant to be taken personally. “Yeah, babe?” He pauses, “I’m right here.”
Charlie whispers, “I’m sorry.” She reaches a hand out, just wanting him close. Just wanting her household close as a whole.
“I know.” John stands in the space between her and Tala once he notices Bernie rounding the stairs. It does worry him that Charlie might lash out at her mother as she has her father. John places a hand on his wife’s back, “Marcus expressed interest in spending time with you and Tamale, so I offered him the apartment.”
“Spending time with your father seems like a lovely idea.” Bernie takes the stool on the other side of her daughter, offering Charlotte a soft smile though she isn’t too certain if the young woman is able to actually see it.
“Well, he’s helping me out a bit with painting the baby’s room.” John nods, “I was going to have the contractors do it, but I...got it into my head that I could do it all myself and told them just to head home once they finished the uh...the cottage...or whatever you want to call it.”
“It’s finished?” Charlie raises her brow, “you never told me it was finished.”
“I thought you’d have noticed when there weren’t any more workers or construction trucks around and went over there on your own.” John smiles, making sure he’s in Charlotte’s field of vision. “I’m...shocked that you haven’t, actually.”
“I’ve been preoccupied.” Charlotte responds quietly, noticing her mother’s hand is next to hers on the counter top. “I’d like to see it though. Maybe later?” She pauses, “if not today, maybe tomorrow?”
“Whenever. Isn’t like it’s going anywhere.” John laughs a little, noticing Tala just staring at him, “it was supposed to be your house with your Mom, Tamale, but I’m thinking we give it to your grandmothers instead...and help your mother with her own place. Something close by that she’s comfortable with...when she’s comfortable enough to do so.” He offers, looking around to the other women, “I think it will help her, honestly. If she needs some time to herself, we’ll hang onto Tamale as long as she needs us to.”
Serena gives a nod as she grins, focusing on making Tala’s food first, “I’m sure she’d love that.”
Charlotte had been steadily creeping her hand over in order to touch her mother’s hand before softly taking hold of it, “I-I don’t want that.”
“It doesn’t need to be right now.” Bernie shakes her head a little, finally turning sideways on her stool to face her daughter, “We’ll stay as long as you need us to.” Her presence had always been desired by her children as they were growing up and something Bernie had always shied away from when it wasn’t necessary. However, knowing the danger her daughter had put herself through just to see her again, meant more to Bernie than Charlotte could ever imagine. “Just know that it’s only sixty-seven steps from the door of the back garden. I counted.”
Sighing softly, Serena had a feeling her stepdaughter might react negatively to them leaving the house. She’s felt it for some time. “Charlotte, once you have that baby, you’re going to want time alone...just for you and John. Time for you to savor the brand new family the two of you are well on your way to building.” She spoons some cheesy pasta into a small bowl before opening the fridge door and placing it inside. “Take my word for it-”
“Don’t tell me what I want.” Charlie replies quietly, but not nearly as forcefully as she was with her husband, “I’m tired of people telling me what I want.”
“Okay.” John puts his hands up in defense, “you know Serena didn’t mean that with a negative connotation.” He moves around to the other side of the kitchen island so that Charlotte can look at him easier, “no one is making anyone go anywhere at any time. The options are there if they ever decide to do so.” He places his right hand over his heart and makes a small ‘X’ on the left side of his chest with his thumb, “cross my heart, babe.” John pauses, “there’s no furniture over there anyway. I want whoever goes to stay there to make it however they’d like.” Another pause as he glances at Bernie, “also, sixty-seven steps is like...less than the width of a football field with those legs. My football field, an American football field.”
“Is that a good thing?” Bernie raises an eyebrow, somewhat amused.
“Those legs move mountains.” Serena gives the group a quick wink before moving back to the fridge.
Bernie’s eyes widen before she shouts exasperatingly at her wife, her cheeks already starting to blush, “Campbell!”
“Like mother, like daughter.” John glances over at Serena, waving his eyebrows.
The entire interaction causes a grin to form on Charlotte’s face, making her feel more content than she has in a while. Nothing was going to change her family unit, regardless if her mother and stepmother were staying in this house or just across the yard. However, right now, Charlotte needs them closer than ever.
Are you surprised John agreed to negotiate with hospital staff to get Charlotte released?
Marcus tells his daughter how things truly are.
Charlotte speaks about her cravings.
Couple days after Charlotte's return home.
“You have a brace now.” Marcus starts to roll the sleeves of his heathered gray sweatshirt until they’re in the middle of his forearm, “quite futuristic looking.”
“Canadian collar.” Charlotte gives a soft smile, carefully folding baby clothing as she sits within the confines of the lounge, “I kept turning my head thoughtlessly and Mum suggested it. John went out the morning after I returned home to the druggist, or had a contact or someone that had them.” She pauses, “which...I would have never guessed.”
Marcus nods, “some cervical injuries benefit. That works perfectly with the placement of your wound though.” He slides his hands into his pockets, “where’s uh...where’s Tala?”
“Well, see if you can find her...Gramps.” Charlie laughs a little to herself, knowing it would be obvious.
Realizing that his daughter means that his granddaughter is in the same room, Marcus notices the toy chest on the opposite side of the sofa, nearly every toy emptied, “John said Nicky went to rehab. Is uh...are you all going to be okay with...Tala and the baby?” Marcus pauses, his voice softening, “I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed.”
“I know you don’t, but...John will be here, Mum and Serena will be here...and Nicky should, hopefully, be back when she’s finished with rehab.” Charlotte gives a weak shrug, “I’m not...I’m not forcing her into anything. I just...I want her to feel better.” She bites her lip, “she was doing so well.”
“Addiction is a disease.” Marcus responds quietly with a sigh, “that doesn’t make it easier to witness though.” When he notices his daughter still watching him, as if curious about his reaction, he continues, “my father, your grandfather. Gone before you and Cameron were born, luckily. He was a foul character.” Marcus licks his lower lip, “but, it’s better Nicky has sought out treatment early...and actually wants to better herself.”
“She needs to want to do it for herself though, not for Tala or anyone else.” Charlotte answers simply, pausing for a moment before continuing, “doesn’t matter now. Everything will be tip top.”
“Yes, I...don’t doubt that.” Marcus glances to the toy box, then back at his daughter, “I know I’m not your favorite person right now-”
“Dad, it has...” Charlie starts to fold the baby clothes again, absently, “I wasn’t speaking from the heart. I was...” She tries to find the proper wording, “it’s things I need to get over on my own...and I took my frustrations out on you. You didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry.”
“Char, everything I have ever done in my life has been to protect you.” Marcus nods, noticing Tala peeking through the lid of the toy box as he continues, “I’ve always ever done what I thought was right. Always. You and Cam.” He clears his throat, “I may have...overreacted at times, but I’d rather apologize later on than have been too late.” Marcus glances at the pile of toys that the toddler had thrown out of the toy box, “so when I was told you had been injured multiple times and I wasn’t properly informed about any of them, you could imagine that it might...” He trails, deciding to be honest, “it hurt.”
“You can’t protect me all the time...just like you couldn’t for Cam.” Charlotte begins to smile, “that’s why you stayed away from the trial...and after. That’s why you stayed to yourself until I showed up on your doorstep months ago.” She exhales a soft chortle to herself, “I thought it had to do with your standing in society, but... you were the one who was shameful...and it wasn’t because of Cam’s actions, it was because of your inability to stop them.” She folds another newborn undershirt and she would be shaking her head if it didn’t cause her so much pain, “bloody hell, Dad.”
Marcus crouches near the toy box, still speaking to his daughter as he lifts the lid to the toy box a little to a giggling toddler, “You stopped taking my calls after your mother’s funeral...as did Cameron. I received your messages loud and clear.”
“Well...thank you for coming back.” Charlotte replies softly, folding another undershirt.
“How could I possibly stay away from this?” Marcus lifts the toy box lid again before reaching a hand inside to tickle Tala within, eliciting a belly laugh from the girl.
Charlie smirks, “Just because I know we’ll have it all under control doesn’t mean I don’t want you to visit often, you know.”
“You just try to keep me away.” Marcus grins, finally pulling Tala into his arms when the girl reaches her hands to him for him to hold her in a hug.
“Charlotte, did you want your egg and mayonnaise now or-” Serena begins to speak as she nears the lounge area, finally reaching the gate within the doorway and opening the small door on it. She offers a cordial smile to Marcus, “didn’t see you step in, good morning.”
“Egg and mayonnaise? Breakfast of champions.” Marcus laughs a little, “Bernie craved hard boiled eggs with you as well.”
“I’ve been on this kick for...I don’t know...weeks...months...I’ve lost track.” Charlie sighs softly, “which is just...the biggest pain.” She folds another piece of newborn clothing, “it’s usually at like...three in the morning and...Johnny rolls out of bed every single time.”
“But now she’s wanting them during the day and so we keep them stockpiled.” Serena smiles a little, “it actually works wonders as physio for Bernie’s hands, so it isn’t a problem in the slightest.” She instinctively places her hand between Charlotte’s shoulder blades as reassurance, “dozen eggs every few days. Not bad at all.” Since Charlotte’s return home a few days prior, Serena has resigned herself to being more open of her affection toward the young woman.
“Is Mum aware of your secret plan?” Charlie finds herself smirking, but unable to comfortably look up at Serena.
“Does it matter?” Serena glances over to Tala, who has since climbed out of her grandfather’s lap and is walking over to her, “would you like some juice?” The question earns her an emphatic nod from the girl and she leaves the gate open, allowing Tala to follow behind her.
“John is upstairs.” Charlotte watches her father, “I can’t thank you enough for helping him.”
“Of course. All you ever had to do was ask.” Marcus groans out of habit as he pushes himself up off the floor, “besides, it will be nice to be able to help prepare for a grandchild instead of coming into things after the fact.” He pauses, “I’d have done the same for Tala and her mother had I known...” Another pause, “had I not been...”
“Dad, she’s still little. There’s plenty of time to make up for what was lost.” Holding her hands up, Charlotte shakes them a little, “help a poor, fat lady.” It earns her an amused chuckle from her father as he takes hold of her hands. Charlie continues holding onto his hands, looking him in the eye after she stands, “if I snap at you again, know that it isn’t anything you’ve done. It’s me...and these hormones and-”
“Your trauma.” Marcus finishes for her, nodding to show that he understands. He takes a moment to lean in to press a kiss to her forehead before letting go of her hands and moving to the doorway, then stairs.
Charlotte sighs heavily, pressing a hand to her lower back as she walks toward the kitchen, groaning a little in the hall, “I’m so tired of weeing.” She calls to the air, taking a moment before waddling toward the water closet just off of the kitchen.
Bernie starts to snicker to herself upon hearing her daughter, but thinks better than to lovingly explain that it isn’t for much longer. She remembers quite well how the last month or so seems like it takes forever. Bernie is quite aware that her warm wishes would fall on deaf ears. Sitting at the kitchen island, Bernie carefully peels an egg, much slower than she’d like, “when I was pregnant with Charlotte, I’d-”
“Marcus said hard boiled eggs were the object of your affection then.” Serena nods, tugging one of the drawers open, just underneath the silverware drawer for the egg slicer. She takes Tala’s toddler training cup of juice back when the babe offers it up to her.
“Understatement.” Bernie smiles softly to herself, “six, seven a day...at the very least. I’d just...peel and pop. Thankfully, she usually takes hers as an egg and mayo.” She nods, finishing the peeling of a third one and placing it with the other two she had done just before. Bernie flexes her hands a little, feeling them cramping ever so slightly.
Serena notices the slight movements of her wife’s hands, “want to give them a wash? I’ll just put the rest in the fridge for her to have later.” She sees Tala’s hand go out, motioning that she wants whatever it is they’ve fixed. Serena takes the third egg, giving it to the girl.
Giving a subtle nod, Bernie carefully slides from the stool, “I should get her water jug to refill. I know she has a habit of being a camel during the day without realizing it. Better she just have a large, neon colored jug of water by her side to remind her.”
“I can get it, Mum.” Charlie enters the kitchen space after using the toilet, sighing softly as she leans an arm against the kitchen island, “wonder if Ms. Fanshawe will let me be induced when I see her at the end of the week.”
Serena chuckles softly, “oh yes, I totally forgot Fleur was your doctor.” She’s pleased when Tala seems completely content using what few teeth she has to bite into the peeled egg as a snack.
“She, apparently, has a note on my file for them to find her whenever I have an appointment instead of letting a midwife handle things.” Charlie raises an eyebrow, “poor John is susceptible to listening to her flirt for the duration of my appointment.”
“Sounds like her.” Serena slices the eggs, placing them in a small bowl to mix with mayo, “she isn’t too much of a bother, I hope.”
“Harmless,” Charlotte smirks, “I do love seeing my husband squirm though.” She watches as Serena stirs the concoction before reaching a hand out, “I’ll take it like that instead of the bread, if it’s all the same.”
“Oh, sure.” Serena slides the bowl and fork toward her, “listen, if Fleur becomes too much-”
“Do you want to go with me to the next one?” Charlie stands up, pushing the fork into the mixture, “I’ve been ordered to appear every week now, so...”
“Only if you’re sure.” Serena offers a soft smile, “though I’m certain John-”
“Did you not hear the part about every week?” Charlie raises an eyebrow, taking a bite of the food. She smiles a little at the taste out of habit, “besides, she asks about you every damn appointment. May as well surprise her this time.”
“Of course she does.” Bernie mumbles, standing at the sink to wish her hands, allowing the warm water to comfort her tired knuckle joints.
“Your mother always was the jealous sort.” Serena responds after, an amused grin starting to brighten her face.
“Had I not been there, I have no doubt that she’d have given you a proper snogging.” Bernie shakes her head, hearing her wife and daughter’s soft laughter. She turns in place, glancing between the two as she leans her back against the counter where the sink is located, “and this one is no better.” She nods to Serena as she speaks to Charlotte, “with all her eye rolls and telling me I was overreacting.”
“Because you were, Berenice.” Serena shakes her head, cleaning up the discarded egg shells into the bin and placing the other eggs into a plastic ziplock bag. “Though, I must say, it does excite me a bit to see you so hot and bothered.”
“I’m walking away now.” A smirk finds its way to the corner of Charlotte’s mouth as she waddles back toward the lounge, small bowl of simple egg salad in hand.
“Tee.” Tala offers the egg back to her grandmother, only a quarter of it gnawed on.
Serena reaches down, taking the egg from the girl before watching her stand and take off after her aunt. She shows her wife the food, smiling a little before tossing it into the bin, “what did you crave with Cameron?”
“Tomatoes.” Bernie watches the girl toddle down the hall, “consumed so much that my palms and soles turned yellow.”
This intrigues the scientist in Serena, “too much carotene?” The question was rhetorical, but she notices her wife nodding anyway. “You know, we could head over to the...small house and look around inside while everyone is preoccupied. See what would fit and how we could set things up.”
“Not yet.” Bernie shakes her head, responding quickly, “I’d rather not upset Charlie if I can help it right now.” She exhales slowly, “especially in regards to something so trivial. It can wait.”
“Or we can all go over after Marcus heads out for the day.” Serena offers instead, hopeful, “with her and that little one.”
Giving a quick nod, Bernie offers a soft smile, “I can agree to that.” She watches her wife for a moment longer, Serena leans over to kiss her lips tenderly. Bernie’s smile widens a bit more, “can agree to that too.” It earns her another kiss through Serena’s newly formed grin.
“We’ll have a...bit of fun later...” Serena gives one more quick kiss before winking to her wife. She backs away, set on cleaning up the rest of the kitchen.
“Count on it.” Bernie finally moves from in front of the sink, walking around the kitchen island to head toward the lounge.
Serena sees an old friend.
Charlotte asks Serena an important question.
Roughly 5 days post attack.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“It’s fine. I just can’t have any sudden moves.” Charlotte sits back in the passenger seat of Serena’s sedan, her first day without wearing the Canadian collar that her husband had bought her earlier in the week. Her head slowly turns to look at Serena, a pleased smile on her face, “see?”
“Well, as long as you feel comfortable.” Serena stops at a sign, looking both ways before pushing her foot gently on the accelerator again, “you’ve taken great care of your wound, so...I have no doubt you wouldn’t now.”
“I’ll forgo the covering tomorrow at home, I just don’t want to...freak anyone out today.” Charlie looks forward again, placing a hand on the side of her belly when she feels a Braxton Hicks contraction, “my app says that he’s the size of a pineapple today...but I wonder if he might also have spikes.”
“Never heard of any spiked newborns yet, but you might be the first.” Serena smiles to herself, “never know.”
Charlie exhales slowly with a soft moan. However, she does her best not to draw too much attention to her own discomfort. The last thing Charlotte wants is for any one of her parents to worry about her, especially with what happened earlier in the week. Make small talk. “I thought John was going to want to name the baby as a junior, or...I guess it would be a third because John’s a junior, but...he was very not into that. Thankfully.”
“ Thankfully is right.” Serena focuses on the road ahead, “not that John isn’t a perfectly normal name, it is rather boring and old fashioned.” She rests the elbow of her arm against the middle console, “what do you want his name to be?”
“I have a short list, but...if I tell it to you now, it’s just going to ruin the surprise, isn’t it?” Charlotte smiles a little, “did you have a suggestion?”
“No, not at all.” Serena shakes her head, “I didn’t even have any ideas when my own daughter was named.” She exhales a soft chuckle, “no, my mother named her, but...it suited my Ellie.” Serena finds herself growing silent before clearing her throat. “Mum was religious, it means ‘God is my light’.”
Charlie reaches a hand over, placing it on Serena’s forearm as it rests on the center console, “it’s a beautiful name.” She nods, “it’s also Jason’s daughter’s middle name, isn’t it?” Noticing Serena’s subtle nod, Charlotte continues, “I thought I remembered Mum saying something about it not long after she was born.”
Serena nods a bit stronger, “it was...very kind of him.” She clears her throat, relieved when they pull up to the hospital and she quickly finds a parking spot in the car park. Serena quickly paints a smile on her own face, knowing she can’t continue on this thought path if she’s going to be productive today, “shall we?”
Charlotte does her best to get out of the car, groaning softly once she manages to stand. She leads the two of them with a waddle, standing in front of the lift, “this hospital is actually not bad. Modern...and constantly revamping.”
“Well, we are in London. When tourists are hurt, one wouldn’t want them to encounter a slightly run-down or visually overworked facility.” Serena reasons, glancing around to take in the appearance of the hospital entryway, “only bad thing about it is that other facilities on the outskirts of the country, the ones that are not frequented by tourists, may not receive the required funding because it’s all going to places like this.”
“Very true.” Charlie inhales and exhales slowly, finally stepping onto the lift once the doors open. She stands toward the back of the elevator and raises her head once other people start to file in. Charlie can feel her heart begin to race, and she closes her eyes to try to block out the crowd. She feels the need to push through these people, the need to get out .
Serena’s eyes absently begin to scan the faces of the others in the lift, looking for the source of a gasping, ragged breath that she can hear, worried she may have to step in to help. It takes her a moment to realize it’s coming from no one other than her step daughter. Taking Charlotte’s hand tenderly, Serena leans over to mutter in her ear, “how many extra bolts do you expect the cot to have left in the baby’s room after John and your mother have finished?”
“H-hopefully none.” Charlotte keeps her eyes closed, but gives an amused smile as her voice wavers, “he was...a-adamant that the nursery was s-something built as a family, not just f-furniture chosen and th-thoughtlessly d-delivered.” Her words stutter as she does her best to regain her own composure, luckily feeling her heartbeat starting to return to normal with Serena’s touch.
“And what colors have you chosen?” Serena continues, trying to take her mind off the matter at hand.
“I wanted green accents.” Charlie swallows, “g-gender neutral, grays, golds. Doesn’t really m-matter though.” Her eyes stay closed, but she isn’t sure how much longer she’s going to be able to continue, “a-are we close? Sixth floor.”
“Next stop.” Serena reassures, “did you see the room after John and Marcus finished painting?”
“Wouldn’t let me.” Charlotte starts to smile a little again, “he said f-fumes, but I kn-know he’s up to s-something.”
Serena leads Charlotte from the lift once the metal doors slide open to the sixth floor, muttering apologies to other people on the lift as she pushes past. Finding the closest empty chair, Serena delicately leads her step-daughter over to the piece of furniture, helping her sit before crouching in front of the young woman, “okay, darling, you can open your eyes now.”
Charlie hesitates for a second before slowly opening her large brown eyes, her jaw tightening in a subtle tremble. She exhales through a small part of her lips as she focuses on Serena in front of her, “thanks.”
“You did great in there, Charlotte.” Serena offers her a smile, “I am so proud.”
Shaking her head a little, Charlie just blinks slowly, “no reason to-”
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Wolfe club and delicious Serena Campbell...or is it Wolfe now as well?” Fleur nears her old friend and patient, but furrows her brow when Serena doesn’t open her arms to give an eager hug. “Something happen?” She touches Charlotte’s shoulder, able to feel the young woman’s instinctual muscle tensing. Fleur pulls her hand away, still observing.
“Everything is fine.” Serena glances up at Fleur, hoping her old friend can pick up on her wordless inference that they’d need to speak in private.
“Right, well, how about we get you set up in a room, Charlie? One of the nurses can work on your vitals and help you get comfortable.” Fleur watches the young woman, watching her leg bounce anxiously against the floor with her toes. “Might even give you a sample of our most excellent vintage of...oh, what is it called...oxygen. I hear it has a light and airy bouquet.”
Charlotte smiles a little, relieved by the woman’s good natured humor. “I r-really am okay.”
“Yep, sounds like it.” Fleur motions one of the nurses over, giving them instructions to get her patient settled in one of the exam rooms, “while you’re doing all of that, I’ll have a quick catch up with Serena and-”
Serena stands, feeling Charlotte grip her hand ever so slightly tighter, a hand she hasn’t released since the elevator, “I don’t think that would be the best idea, actually. For the moment, at least.” She reaches her free hand, tucking a piece of Charlotte’s wispy hair behind her ear. “I simply advise you to read the latest addition to your patient’s file...should help explain a thing or two.” Serena notices Fleur’s confused nod before the woman slowly moves away from them.
Once they enter the room and the nurse excuses herself to gather required supplies, Charlotte slowly turns her head to look over to Serena, her voice is low and thoughtful as she slowly releases Serena’s hand, “you didn’t need to do that.” The slight stuttering is gone now that they’re alone instead of a busy hospital corridor, her breathing is slowly starting to calm on its own as well.
“Do what?” Serena starts to remove her well worn coat, placing it onto the seat against the wall before moving back over to the wheelchair in the room to help her stepdaughter remove her jacket as well.
“With Ms. Fanshawe. She’s your friend.” Charlie shakes her head to Serena, signalling that she can take off her own jacket, before carefully standing from the wheelchair. Seeing Serena’s curious expression, Charlotte continues, “You brushed her off.”
“I did nothing of the sort. I’ll be more than happy to speak with her when she returns.” Serena shakes her head, placing Charlie’s jacket with her own once the young woman hands it to her. She averts her gaze during the act, knowing that once she meets Charlotte’s gaze, the same one she sees when she looks at her wife, she isn’t going to be able to maintain her collected charade anymore.
Charlie watches her, unimpressed with her answer, “she was excited to see you and-”
“Because your safety is more important to me than socializing.” Serena answers honestly, “I’ve had moments of anxiety in my life, as many do, but never a panic attack.” She bites her lip, moving to the cupboards in the room, knowing one would contain a blanket to provide Charlotte with modesty as she prepares for her exam.
Charlotte furrows her brow, “But...that wasn’t-”
“It was textbook.” Serena carries a found blanket over to the exam table, only then lifting her eyeline to that of the younger woman, “do you need help with your trousers?” Once receiving the young woman’s negative headshake, Serena unfolds the blanket, holding it at waist height for Charlie to wrap around herself when she’s ready.
The question causes Charlie to exhale a soft chuckle, “I don’t believe so, but thank you for your offer.” She sighs softly, “you know, I had ulterior motives for inviting you today...besides seeing if Mum’s jealousy was warranted.” The comment earns Charlotte an amused scowl from Serena, “I’ll have a better idea when she comes back.”
“What are your ulterior motives?” Serena finally asks, picking up Charlotte’s trousers and pants from the floor once the young woman pulls the blanket around her waist. She hears the soft rapt at the door, signaling Fleur’s return. Serena begins to gingerly, and absently, fold Charlotte’s trousers.
Fleur pushes the room to the examination room open, looking between the women, then focusing her eyes on her patient, “well, you have certainly been through it this week.”
“Something like that.” Charlie replies quietly, hoping the doctor doesn’t ask too many questions about the ordeal.
Serena places the trousers and pants with the rest of their belongings, finally accepting a hug from Fleur when the woman approaches her with open arms. “She certainly is a trooper.” There’s a quick peck on the cheek between the friends and a warm smile.
Charlotte understands her mother’s jealousy, but can tell Serena means all her affection to be platonic with Ms. Fanshawe. There’s another soft knock at the door before the nurse from before opens it and slowly wheels in a trolly containing a portable ultrasound machine. “That’s me...the super trooper.” She replies dryly, “could we um...get this show on the road? This isn’t exactly-”
“You don’t enjoy laying around, nude from the waist down, covered in only a sheet?” Fleur starts to smirk as she takes a few steps closer to her patient, taking notice of the young woman’s uncomfortable, anxious gaze. She places a hand on her upper arm, “just lay back, Charlie. Feet in stirrups. You know the drill.”
The drill sets Charlotte on edge a bit. She’s noticed things affecting her differently since the attack earlier in the week, though she doesn’t want them to. It’s as if she has no control over her emotions with some things. Though, whether that’s the trauma or the hormones is anyone’s guess. Charlotte does as she’s told, allowing Serena and the nurse to help her.
She doesn’t remember much about the exam. Almost zoning out for most of it, Charlie would hear Serena occasionally answering questions for her.
“What?” Serena’s head snaps to look at Fleur, her voice is low and filled with concern.
“Oh, relax.” Fleur sighs, her hand gently moving within her patient’s nether regions, “she’s only a centimeter dilated and not at all effaced.” She shakes her head, sitting up a little to look at Charlotte’s face as the young woman stares at the ceiling, “Charlie.”
It takes her a moment to realize her name is being said, Charlotte swallows, “yeah?”
“Serena said you’ve been having contractions. Have they been regular at all?” Fleur is gentle with her questioning, not wanting to alarm the young woman in the slightest, “Braxton Hicks are completely normal now, but are also irregular and cause just mild discomfort instead of anything...sharp or painful.”
“They aren’t regular. He um...” Charlie thinks about it for a moment, “he usually waits until I’m eating or trying to sleep or...attempting to +be remotely productive before he starts up.”
Fleur nods, mumbling, “sounds like a man.” The comment garners an amused smirk from her patient, “if they start to feel normal, you need to come into hospital. You’re a centimeter dilated, but I really don’t think you’re in active labor or anything to be concerned about. Some women will just walk about being a centimeter dilated up until their due date without even realizing it.” Fleur explains gently, “if you’re able to assess yourself, or have someone assist, and you move past three centimeters, come into hospital. Something tells me once you move to that point, everything will move quickly for you.”
“And what do you attribute that assumption to besides intuition?” Serena raises an eyebrow, holding Charlotte’s hand throughout the exam as she looks at her friend.
“Intuition.” Fleur replies anyway, finally starting to remove her gloves and tossing them in the bin. She nods for the nurse to help Charlotte lower her legs from the stirrups and adjusts the head of the exam table to lie slightly flatter. Fleur reaches into her pocket, producing measuring tape, “we’re nearly finished. Just need to do some measuring and give you a scan.”
Charlotte begins to zone out again, but is only brought back to her senses when she hears the fetus’ thumping heartbeat, causing her to slowly turn her head to look at the monitor. She smiles softly as she feels him move as they attempt to get pictures for the sonogram, “Seems like he’s camera shy.”
“It does seem that way.” Fleur nods, “I am noticing that he seems to be breech. Sometimes they’ll work it out themselves to turn around, but I just want you to know that.”
“I’m just glad he isn’t sideways anymore. That was just...painful.” Charlie exhales, “I didn’t expect him to be complicated until he was born.”
“Well, he is related to your mother.” Fleur teases, earning a raised eyebrow from Serena, “just a friendly jab.”
“I bet it was.” Serena shakes her head, letting go of her stepdaughter’s hand to gather the young woman’s pants and trousers once the sonogram pictures are printed out and placed on Charlotte’s chest. There’s a round of ‘goodbye’ and ‘see you soon’ before it’s just the two of them again. “Faring okay?” Serena holds the articles of clothing draped over her arm.
Charlie swallows, holding the sonogram pictures above her eyes, “no, not really.” She answers honestly, licking her lips, “I...I always thought about things that...I’d do differently if I had children, compared to my parents, my mother. Ever since I was young.” Charlotte feels the head of the bed move up to sitting, realizing Serena is pushing the operational button, “but it was always an ‘if’ and never a ‘when’...because I wasn’t so sure I even wanted children. I didn’t want to...fuck them up.”
A smile creeps to the corner of Serena’s mouth before she warily helps Charlotte turn her body for her legs to dangle over the side of the table, “I don’t know of anyone who ventures into parenthood not planning to try their hardest.”
“ Trying isn’t good enough though.” Charlotte starts to watch Serena as the woman slowly aids with her pants and trousers. “John is going to be an amazing father, but...I know I’m not going to be a very good mother.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. You’ve been terrific with Tala.” Serena glides the pants up as far as she can while adjusting the blanket to still give Charlotte her modesty, “you started off unsure and worried about your capabilities in caring for her, but you’ve turned it around.”
“A niece and one’s own child are two different things.” Charlotte continues, placing the sonogram on the table before cautiously getting up to pull her pants up the rest of the way and removing the blanket, making things a bit easier for them both, “I might love her like my own and tend to her the same way, but...she isn’t mine.”
“I know.” Serena nods, feeling the same way with Jason, “but it doesn’t negate the strides you’ve made with your own motherly instincts. Progress you’ve made with those who look to you for care and affection.”
The room grows silent, an unspoken understanding between the women.
“Before Ms. Fanshawe came in, I was starting to say that I’m allowed to have three people in the room when I give birth. John and Mum are...obvious choices, but I was wondering if you’d be willing to be my third.” Charlotte bites her lip as she adjusts her trousers once Serena helps her pull them up.
“W-what about your father or John’s mother even?” Serena turns away to retrieve their overcoats, “I wouldn’t want you to regret-”
“Serena, we’ve...we’ve had quite the year.” Charlotte smiles to herself as she continues to watch her stepmother, “I really don’t think I could have gotten through it all without your support.” She shakes her head a little, “and I know it’s hard for you to deal with, I can tell, but...know that it’s appreciated from the bottom of my heart.” Charlie’s tongue darts out to lick her lips, “and if you aren’t comfortable being my third, I’d...be disappointed, but I’d understand. The last thing I want is for-”
“I’d be honored.” Serena clears her throat, finally looking Charlotte in the eye, “as long as you’re certain.”
Charlie nods slightly, moving closer to the woman. She wraps her arms around Serena in an embrace, being mindful of her own tender neck, closing her eyes when she feels Serena hug her in return, “thank you.”
One more chapter!
As I've said before, we'll close out this series with one more story. Bittersweet, but it's been a fun ride.
John shows his mothers-in-law their new house.
Bernie tries to thank her daughter, but receives unexpected results.
“So, I had them put in a half bath downstairs and a full bath upstairs, instead of the glorified outhouse that was here before. I know I wouldn’t want to fumble my way in the dark to a different floor while half asleep.” John explains, letting a squirming Tala down from his arm as he slowly walks his wife and mothers-in-law through the extra house on the property, “the washer and dryer is also in the upstairs bath, just to make things easier...and because it doesn’t make sense to be in the kitchen.”
“He goes on and on about the washing machine.” Charlie shakes her head, “all I heard when we moved to the other flat was about the washing machine in the kitchen.”
“Americans.” Bernie mumbles in jest, only needing to use the cuffed cane for stability and taking her time if she needs to catch her breath. It’s frustrating to her, the amount of fluctuations her own health has taken lately. However, Bernie wasn’t about to stop pushing herself. “The exterior doesn’t appear as modern as the interior.”
“No, I wanted to maintain the structural integrity of the external stone siding.” John explains, excitement in his voice, “It’s been there since the early eighteen hundreds.”
“Nerd.” Charlie smirks, looking around. She motions to an outlet in the upper middle of one of the walls, “what’s this about?”
“TV mount. No wires shown, especially with the rise of streaming services. I’ll get things set up for you both when you’re ready to move over.” John smiles cleverly, “new appliances in the kitchen, plenty of other outlets for electronics, as well as access to our Wi-Fi.”
“At least you have your priorities straight.” Serena gives him a pat on his upper arm, a smirk on her face.
“You say that, but I haven’t heard any complaints about the living room.” John responds proudly, knowing the women are just teasing him for fun. “I want this place to be perfect for you guys. So, whenever you’re ready to move in, whenever it might be...again, no rush whatsoever, I want you to have the best of the best.”
“The best of the best, Campbell.” Bernie mutters to her wife, waving her eyebrows. She glances down when she feels Tala take hold of a couple of her fingers, trying to pull her around to show her things even though it was the girl’s first time here as well.
“Tala, let Granny have a better look. Can you show me?” Charlie offers her hand to the toddler, watching as Tala considers the offer for a moment before letting go of Bernie’s hand to teeter over.
“Don’t push yourself, please.” Serena replies out of instinct.
“Serena, that’s the fourth time you’ve said that today and it’s only half past noon.” Charlotte shakes her head, amused. Serena had been on edge since joining Charlotte for her obstetrics appointment a couple of days prior. “How about this, if I start to feel poorly, I’ll yell for you personally?”
Serena rolls her eyes with a sigh, folding her arms over her chest as she mumbles, “you’re making jokes.” She lifts her gaze toward her stepdaughter, speaking with confidence, “yes, I’d appreciate that. Thank you.”
“Glad to see you finally catching on.” Charlie cheekily smirks at Serena, the same smirk that Serena is all too familiar seeing on her wife’s face when the blond has gotten her way. Charlie lets Tala pull her to the stairs, causing her to shake her head, “we’ll go see that in a moment. Be patient, please.”
Tala folds her arms, stamping her foot on the ground with a scowl toward her aunt.
An amused smirk starts to form in the corner of Bernie’s mouth “plans to beat you at your own game, Charlie.”
“I don’t huff and stomp, mother.” Charlotte rolls her eyes, hearing her mother’s gasping chortle after. “I get even.”
“Creepy.” John says playfully before leaning over to her to give her a kiss, “almost the season for it.”
“It is the season for it. We need pumpkins and gourds.” Charlie nods, “he carves one every year...on his own...without children...and as an old man.” She honks a quick laugh, earning another kiss from her partner.
“Incredible.” Serena shakes her head, folding her arms over her chest. Glancing down when she feels the gentle tap of Bernie’s walking stick against her leg, she realizes her partner is attempting to discreetly get her attention. “You’re getting a bit too comfortable with that.”
Bernie raises an eyebrow, not about to comment on her need to use the cane at the moment, “Shall we check upstairs?”
Tala rushes over at the sound of venturing to the floor above, already starting to climb the stairs.
“In the end, she usually gets what she wants.” Charlie folds her arms, watching as her parents follow the girl. She decides to stay on the lower level, not wanting to climb more stairs if it isn’t required.
“I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere before.” Serena raises an eyebrow, earning a glance from her wife, causing her to mutter, “fine, yes, we’ve both said it.”
Bernie watches as her granddaughter toddles over to an alcove, able to look out over the back garden. She turns her head, holding a hand out to Serena. “Well...I kind of love this place.”
“As do I.” Serena holds her wife’s hand, “gives us the opportunity to...stay home.” She glances over to Bernie, “are you prepared to settle?”
“Yeah, I think I am.” Bernie glances around the room, “with you.” Her eyes then fall on her wife, gently squeezing the woman’s hand a little tighter. “We’ll have this and we’ll be able to travel from time to time once everyone...settles in and Charlie has the baby and...” Bernie shakes her head a little, “I know you probably would rather be closer to Jason.”
“If I were to move house closer to Jason, he would begin relying on me too much again. At least we can visit weekly if we wish.” Serena smiles softly at the thought, “have them over from time to time. Holiday together.”
“We can have Guinevere over for a playdate with Tala.” Bernie offers, “I know she’s a tad older, but...I’d like for them all to know one another. Have a bit of fun.” She shrugs, noticing Serena fall silence, “I know we had a great life in Nairobi and-”
“But it stopped when I lost you.” Serena shakes her head a little, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears, “and Alex gave me that...diary you kept of your travels and while you were in Mogadishu. As I read it, I...I ached for the life we lost. The...domesticity of it all. Something I never thought I ever wanted,” Serena finally turns to face Bernie better, “but I wanted it with you.”
“Home is wherever you are to me.” Bernie genuinely smiles, “I don’t care where we are as long as we’re together.” She captures Serena’s lips, her hand gently caressing Serena’s hip then lower back, absently pulling her closer.
“If the pair of you want to have a snog, at least wait until we leave.” Charlotte stands at the top of the stairs, amused her mother and stepmother didn’t hear her walk up the stairs, “bad enough we heard the pair of you the other night.” She gives a quick glance to Tala before looking back to her parents, “at least someone is getting action in that house.”
Serena gives an amused grin when she notices her wife’s blush and sheepish smirk, pivoting on her foot in order to look over at her stepdaughter, “you did not.”
“You’ll never know.” Charlotte raises an eyebrow, amused by her mother’s blush. “Tala, Uncle John is heading back to the house to make dinner. Do you want to go and help?” Seeing the girl’s negative headshake, Charlie continues, “he might be making biscuits as well, but if you don’t-” The girl begrudgingly climbs from the alcove, teetering to her aunt before carefully climbing to the stairs, “take your time, please.”
“No.” Tala replies loudly, taking her time to carefully go down each step.
“Okay, well, that’s good. Thanks.” Charlie mumbles, knowing it’s her niece’s new favorite word.
“Tank.” Tala already halfway down the stairway, says after.
“At least she has manners.” Bernie offers, slowly letting go of her wife’s waist as the space around them becomes relatively silent, “Charlie, I can’t thank you and John enough for-”
“No, I don’t want you thanking me at all.” Charlotte shakes her head, “it’s a new dawn for this family. We’ve been given another lease on...having the relationships we should have had a long time ago.” She answers honestly, sliding her hands into her jeans pockets, “you have the love of your life and grandchildren now. Things are different than they were even a few years ago.” Charlie licks her lips, her eyes starting to grow glassy, “and I’ve found...your presence and Serena’s presence essential through all of this.”
Bernie feels her daughter’s warmth, giving a tight lipped, soft smile, “you’d have made do without us.”
“Yes, probably, but I wouldn’t want to.” Charlie continues, finally moving closer to the women when Serena outstretches her arm for an embrace, “not everyday your mother comes back from the dead and you gain an amazing stepmother out of the deal.” She rests her head on Serena’s shoulder, but looks to her mother, “and suddenly, you have the family you truly always wanted.”
Serena lifts her eyeline to meet her wife’s, smiling softly. There’s a sadness behind her own eyes though. The family she has always wanted would include Elinor, alive and well. However, if she couldn’t have that, Serena knows Elinor would have wanted her to be happy at the very least, which she could honestly say she currently is now. A part of her will always feel guilty about her close relationship with Charlotte and how she wishes she could have had the same with Elinor, but she doesn’t know if it would have ever happened in the way she wishes it could.
It might not have be exactly what Bernie wanted, but it was pretty close. Reaching a hand out to place on her daughter’s upper arm, Bernie nods, “agreed.” Standing in their near huddle, the women share a sense of belonging. This is their family.
Thank you all for reading, for your comments, and your encouragement.
They all mean a great deal to me. Seriously.
One more story to the Wolfe Blood series.
Who is ready for Halloween?