Serena is rummaging in her desk drawers, trying to find her stapler, which she now wonders if she’d lent to Bernie. She casts her eyes over to the blonde’s side of the desk and thinks better of trying to find it there amongst all the chaos. She is just about to ask the woman herself where it is, when her eye catches something tucked under some papers in the open top drawer. She pulls it from its hiding place and then groans despondently.
“Oh bugger, how could I have forgotten?” The sudden frustrated outburst rouses the blonde from her own paperwork.
“Everything ok?” She studies the brunette’s micro expressions, as she notices the tell-tale worry lines now creasing Serena’s face. “Serena?”
“Huh?” Serena sets the offending item on her desk and responds distractedly.
“Are you alright? You seemed to go a bit pale over whatever that is.” Bernie points to the mystery piece of card.
“It’s not... nothing important... I...” Serena starts to say more, but then waves away the blonde’s concern.
“C’mon, I know I’m rubbish at reading people, but even I can see you’re all out of sorts since you found that in your drawer. What is it?” Bernie looks at Serena the way she always does, all soft and caring, and for reasons she can’t quite explain, Serena feels like she’s something precious. No one has ever made her feel quite so cared for as Bernie does.
“It’s a wedding invitation. Frankly, I forgot all about it. I was supposed to be taking Robbie, but as you know, we broke up. It’s an old friend of Elinor's. They grew up together, Clara is a few years older, but they were thick as thieves, always in and out of each other’s houses. Edward and Liberty will be there too. I promised Ellie that I’d go, but I don’t really want to go by myself. I can practically hear Edward’s jibes about being a wizened old crone.” Serena didn’t really mean to say so much, but Bernie always made her feel like she could tell her anything.
“Don’t go by yourself then.” Bernie thinks it’s obvious.
“What do you mean?” Serena can’t quite follow the blonde’s train of thought.
“I don’t imagine you’d have any trouble finding another date. That’s all I meant.” Bernie smiles and then goes off to ask Fletch to set up an IV for the patient in bed five.
When she comes back to the office a little while later, Serena thinks she’s found the perfect solution.
“Bernie?” Serena waits for the blonde to look at her. “You know what I was talking about before? The wedding invite.”
“Yeah.” Bernie nods slowly.
“I was wondering if you might want to go with me.” Serena glances over at her through her eyelashes.
“Uh – what?” Bernie is taken aback completely.
“Would you go with me to the wedding?” Serena says it again, only she’s not as sure this time.
“Wouldn’t you rather go with a proper date?” Bernie’s confusion scrunches up her face and Serena thinks she’s simply adorable.
“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Bernie agrees that they are indeed friends. “And we enjoy each other’s company, yes?” Serena ploughs on.
“Yep. That’s true.” Bernie has always liked being caught in Serena’s orbit, like a gravitational pull was keeping her from straying too far from the brunette’s irresistible charm.
“So, we’d have a good time at the wedding together, I think. Would you join me? Please. I doubt it will stop Edward from making spinster jokes, but at least I’ll enjoy myself if you’re there.” Serena’s smile instantly melts away any words of refusal on Bernie’s part.
“Ok. If you’re sure you’d not want to bring a date instead.” Bernie gives her one last out.
“I’m sure.” Serena asserts with a grin. “Oh, one more thing.” She stops Bernie in her tracks, as she was just about to exit the office. “The wedding is in Cambridge. On the 28th of next month. I’ve booked a room at the hotel for the whole weekend, but it is a suite. Which means we’d be sharing a bed for two nights. That’s not an issue, right?” Serena studies the blonde for any signs of discomfort, other than a slight blush to the apples of her cheeks, she sees none. And even that she could put down to the heat of the confined space.
“Of course not.” Bernie barely manages to whisper the answer, before she darts out of the office.
* * *
“I appreciate you agreeing to come with me.” Serena and Bernie sit huddled together as usual on one of the sofas in Albies.
“S’alright.” Bernie smiles and takes another sip of her whiskey.
“Could be fun. Girls weekend.” Serena enthuses. “We’ll have some free time to ourselves too.”
“Hm.” Bernie is less excited about the idea.
“Are you sure you don’t mind? If you really don’t want to –” Serena senses that the blonde is not looking forward to it.
“Serena, I said I’d go. I’m not going to let you down.” Bernie holds her hand and offers her a small smile when the brunette grasps her fingers in return. “So long as you’re certain that you wouldn’t rather have a date with you.”
“I want you to be there.” Serena’s voice is quiet but certain.
“Then I will be.” Bernie reassures her.
“We can travel up together in my car. I very much doubt that my bags would fit in that tiny sports car of yours.” Serena chuckles at just the thought.
“How many are you planning on bringing for one weekend?” Bernie looks alarmed, she’d only be bringing one holdall and possibly a zip-up bag for her outfit for the wedding.
“I don’t really do travelling light.” Serena confesses.
“Why am I not surprised?” Bernie laughs and heads up to the bar to buy another round.
Serena tracks her every movement, overcome with affection for the other woman. It was testament to the blonde’s kindness and supportive nature that they’d become such firm friends in a relatively short space of time. She really doesn’t know what she’d do without her, doesn’t like to imagine ever losing her. She smiles to herself as she watches Bernie bring their drinks back over, and as she hands Serena the Shiraz that she knew the brunette loved without even having to ask. She can’t help thinking that no one has ever known her so well, almost to the point of reading her mind at times.
“Serena...” Bernie is staring at her.
“Sorry, I was miles away.” Serena ducks her head as she feels herself blush. Why was Bernie looking at her so intently? Why was it having such an effect on her?
“You alright?” Bernie rubs her arm soothingly, worried at how quickly the brunette seemed to turn in on herself.
“Yep. I’m all good.” Serena won’t meet her eye, which makes the assertion all the more difficult to believe.
“Are you sure?” Bernie keeps her eyes trained on her, and Serena can practically feel the heat of the blonde’s stare. “What’s say we head home after this one? It was a long shift and we could both do with a good night’s sleep.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right.” Serena glances at her out of the corner of her eye.
“I’ll order us a cab, eh?” Bernie kindly offers.
In no time at all they have pulled up to Serena’s house and are saying goodnight.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Bernie smiles at the brunette in the seat beside her.
“Goodnight, Bernie.” Serena grabs her face with one hand and pulls her in for a soft kiss on the cheek, before slipping out of the car and waving her off.
Serena had never been more than friends with a woman, but suddenly she can’t help wondering what it might have been like to give the blonde a proper goodnight kiss. For her part, Bernie feels Serena’s lips on her skin all the way home, as surely as if she’d been branded by them.
* * *
“That was a tough one.” Bernie puffs out a sigh when they finish and are washing up after surgery.
“Worth it though, to get that little girl back to her parents.” Serena rinses the last of the soap from her hands and grabs a wad of paper towels to dry them off.
“She looks a lot like Charlotte did at that age.” Bernie has a sad, faraway look on her face as she watches the nursing staff take the girl off to recovery.
“She’ll come round.” Serena places her hand on the space between the blonde’s shoulder blade and rubs supportively.
“Will she?” Bernie turns her head to face Serena and the brunette can see Bernie’s eyes are wet with unshed tears. Serena wishes desperately that there was something she could do to absorb her friend’s pain somehow.
“I know it’s hard right now, but she will reach out to you soon, I just know it.” Serena gives her a tiny, hopeful smile and Bernie feels her mood lift instantly.
“Thank you.” Bernie didn’t know what it was about the brunette, but she always made Bernie feel like the best, happiest version of herself.
“Our shift ended ages ago, why don’t we go for a bite to eat?” Serena offers.
“There’s a little Italian place over by St James that I hear is lovely. Great wine list.” Bernie suggests with a chuckle as they walk back to the locker room to change into their civvies.
“Perfect.” Serena laughs along with her.
They change in silence, the weight of such a trying day has worn them out. Serena watches her friend carefully, wondering if perhaps she could reach out to Charlotte on the blonde’s behalf. She hated seeing the blonde so deflated, so unlike herself, but she didn’t want to overstep the mark. Maybe she would bring it up over dinner.
“Ready?” Bernie was back in her own clothes and holding the door open for her friend.
“I’m starving, aren’t you?” Serena walks slightly ahead of the blonde towards their office. Bernie gets caught up with watching the sway of the brunette’s hips, and then has to tell herself to stop ogling her as she looks away with a furious blush creeping all the way up to her hairline.
“Uh huh.” Bernie says distractedly, she thought she’d tampered down her attraction to the brunette but it seemed to be rearing its head again.
“You ok?” Serena looks up from putting her things back into handbag to check on the blonde.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Bernie assures her as she pulls on her coat, and grabs her satchel to sling it over her shoulder. “I’ll drive to the restaurant if you like, that way you can have a drink with dinner. I’ll leave you home when we’re done and pick you up for our shift in the morning.”
“You’re too good to me, Bernie Wolfe.” Serena grins as she winds her scarf around her neck and slips on her own coat.
“What are friends for?” Bernie quips as she glances up at the brunette while shutting down her computer. She was happy to at least have Serena’s friendship, if nothing else.
Serena bristles slightly at the word friends but she can’t put her finger on why. Shaking herself out of the momentary drop in mood, she gathers her things and accompanies the blonde out to her car.
“You’ve gone awfully quiet. Penny for them.” Bernie had noticed a shift in her friend’s normally bubbly demeanour.
“Oh, I just... long day... hunger... exhaustion... I’m alright. Really.” Serena reassures her.
“Would you prefer to go straight home? We can do this another night if you’re tired.” Bernie is disappointed that they wouldn’t get to spend the evening together, but Serena’s wellbeing was more important.
“How about a compromise?” Serena keeps going when Bernie looks puzzled. “Why don’t you see if that Italian place does takeaway and we’ll order some and bring it back to mine?” That way she could still spend time with the blonde.
“Alright, let me just check.” Bernie taps in the info on her phone and sees online that they do have a takeaway option. “Here, why don’t you decide what you’d like on the drive over and phone it in? I’ll have the lasagne and some garlic bread please.” Bernie smiles as she hands her phone to the brunette, with the restaurant’s menu on the screen.
“There’ll be no kissing tonight with all that garlic.” Serena had meant it as a joke, but then goes a deep shade of crimson when images of kissing the blonde fill her head. She leans her cheek against the car window, hoping it might cool her down, but to no avail.
Bernie laughs loud and carefree, seemingly oblivious to the hidden weight of Serena’s words. “No such luck, I’m afraid. The women of Holby are impervious to the Wolfe family charisma it seems.” She shrugs, it didn’t really matter since she hadn’t really put herself out there on the dating front.
“Not all of them.” Serena whispers unheard.
“Decided what you want yet?” Serena looks panicked for a moment. Had Bernie heard her after all? The blonde indicates the phone still in Serena’s hand. Oh, she meant the food. Serena sighs in relief.
“Um... yeah... yes... I think I’ll take the chicken carbonara. If I order some chips, we could share.” Serena chances a quick look over at the blonde while she drives.
“Yes, and you can have some of my garlic bread as a trade.” Bernie smiles as she indicates at the traffic lights and turns towards the direction of the other hospital. “Do you mind phoning in the order? Check with them how long it will be and how much. I’ve just got to stop at an ATM. My treat.” She spots one at the garage by the post office and pulls in.
“We can go halves, if you want.” Serena closes the menu and taps on the phone number from the website, giving their order to the girl who answers the phone. Bernie shakes her head as she jumps out of the drivers seat and sprints off to the machine. Quick as a flash she’s back beside the brunette. “Twenty minutes and £32.95 apparently.”
“I could drop you home and swing back for the food?” Bernie kindly offers.
“Would you mind? I just want to put my pyjamas on now. But here...” Serena hands off £20 to the blonde for her half of the takeaway. They mock fight for a minute or two as Bernie tries to refuse the money, and eventually convinces Serena to put it back in her purse.
“Right, let’s get you home.” Bernie raises both eyebrows and starts the engine to head towards Serena’s house. “Oh, what about Jason? Would he like something?” Bernie realises she’d forgotten the young man.
“No, he’s with Alan tonight.” Serena is struggling to keep her eyes open.
“Should we cancel the food? You look like you could go straight to bed.” Bernie notes that the brunette is almost asleep beside her.
“I want to have dinner with you, love.” Serena doesn’t realise what she’s said because she’s so sleepy, but Bernie looks at her wide-eyed for a moment. “I’ll just close my eyes for a sec.” Within an instant the brunette is fast asleep. She doesn’t stir again until Bernie stops at her front door. “Oh, that power nap has done wonders.” Serena exclaims around a yawn and a stretch, feeling a little bit more human again.
“I’ll be back soon with dinner.” Bernie toots her horn as Serena opens the door to step inside her house. The whole time she’s gone all she can think about is Serena calling her love. It might not mean anything, of course. Just a term of endearment between friends, but as she racks her brain, she can’t seem to think of another occasion where Serena had said it to her. Best not to overthink things, Wolfe, she tells herself as she presses the brunette’s doorbell.
Serena answers, already in her pyjamas, slippers and fluffy dressing gown. With not a pick of makeup on and her hair a little messy, she takes Bernie’s breath away. “Come on through, I’ve got everything set up in the dining room.” She leads them into said room, which even has some candles lit, and makes Bernie think it’s all terribly romantic.
The blonde dishes up their food and pour them each a glass of the Shiraz Serena had left opened and breathing. Then they settle side-by-side at the table to enjoy their meal.
“Bernie?” Serena wants to broach the subject of Charlotte.
“Hm?” Is all Bernie says around a forkful of pasta.
“I’ve been thinking about the situation with Charlotte. Would you mind if I tried speaking to her?” Serena asks cautiously.
“No, Serena, I couldn’t ask you to do that.” Bernie shakes her head, making all of her curls bounce. “I appreciate the offer, but this is my mess.”
“I want to help if I can.” Serena grabs hold of her hand and implores the blonde to at least let her try. “I could hardly make things any worse.”
“That’s true.” Bernie says sadly. “Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course I wouldn’t. You are important to me and I want you to be happy. Let me see if I can go someway to fixing this.” Serena runs her thumb along Bernie’s knuckles and then rubs it over the inside of her wrist at the pulse point.
“Alright. If you think it might help.” Bernie agrees with a tiny, hopeful smile.
“Great.” Serena enthuses. “Send me her mobile number and I’ll arrange to meet her.”
“Thank you.” Bernie would be eternally grateful if Serena could help her mend the rift between her and her youngest.
“You’re welcome, love.” There it was again, Bernie starts to think that perhaps Serena meant it after all.
* * *
“Charlotte?” Serena decides to meet the young woman at a cafe away from the hospital, so they were on neutral ground. It was obvious that this girl was Bernie’s daughter, she was almost a carbon copy of the trauma surgeon.
“Hi, you must be Serena. I suppose my mother put you up to this.” Seems like the girl was angling for a fight from the get go then.
“She is aware that I’m here, yes, but this was my idea. Can I get you something?” Serena smiles and offers to pay for whatever the young woman would like.
“I’ll have the strawberry and banana smoothie please.” Serena places the order for a smoothie and an americano for herself at the counter, and then sits opposite the girl at their table.
“If you’re here to try to make me talk to her, then you’re wasting your breath.” Charlotte fixes her with an icy stare that might have worked if it had come from the girl’s mum, but Serena had dealt with far too many headstrong F1s over the years to be intimidated.
“Why is that?” Serena thanks the man who brings their drinks over, and she adds a dash of milk to her coffee. She slides the young woman's drink to her.
“Thanks.” Charlotte takes a sip through the straw. “What she did to dad is unforgivable. I want nothing more to do with her. You can tell her to stop phoning and messaging me too.”
“Charlotte, your mum is only too aware of the mistakes that she’s made. She never meant to hurt any of you, and she is so sorry that she has. I’m not condoning what she did, neither is she, but imagine being in a position where you can never possibly be who you really are. Cracks are bound to show eventually. She would be the first person to admit that what she did to your father was selfish and unkind, and that he didn’t deserve it. If she could do things differently, then I know she would take back the hurt she’s caused in an instant. We all make mistakes. No matter what, she will always be your mum. Take it from me, you will always regret it if you don’t talk to her ever again. Time is precious, don’t waste it being angry. Will you think about it at least?” Serena can only hope that some of what she’s said has gotten through.
“Is she ok?” What Serena sees now is a girl who misses her mother, and not the tough exterior she’d tried to convey earlier.
“She’d be better if she could see you.” Serena admits honestly. “I know she adores you and Cameron.”
“Ok.” Charlotte replies thoughtfully.
“She’s here now, you know?” The young woman looks up at her for confirmation and Serena nods. “She waited outside in her car, in case you weren’t ready to see her yet. I can tell her to come in, if you want?”
Charlotte is too overcome with emotion to answer, so she just nods. Serena fires off a quick text to Bernie that she could join them, and seconds later she rushes into the cafe.
“Charlotte.” Bernie speaks quietly, not sure if this is really happening.
“Hi Mum.” Charlotte stands and lets Bernie bundle her up in her arms.
Bernie looks at Serena over her daughter’s shoulder and whispers a thank you to her friend, who shakes her head that there was no need to thank her.
“How about I leave you to it?” Serena stands and decides to give the pair some space.
“No, Serena, you can sit with us.” It’s Charlotte who makes the offer with a watery smile.
“Are you sure?” She glances between the girl and her mother, who both seem to be nodding. “Aright, I’d like that. Bernie, what can I get you?”
“Just a coffee please.” Bernie watches the brunette all the way to the counter, with a look of wonderment on her face.
“So, you and Serena are...” Charlotte watches her mum watch the other woman, clearly she is head over heels for Serena.
“Friends.” Bernie finishes the thought firmly.
“Mum, who are you kidding? You have it bad.” Charlotte isn’t buying it.
“I...” Bernie flounders, what could she say? She knows it shows on her face that Charlotte is right. “She’s straight. I have no chance.” Bernie admits sadly.
“I’m sorry in that case, but don’t give up hope, people can surprise you. She did all this for you so she must care about you a lot. Mum...” Charlotte blushes then, more than a little ashamed of her past behaviour, “... I’m so sorry about shutting you out all this time.”
“We’re here now, that’s what matters. How I treated your father was deplorable, I’m so sorry for causing all this.” Bernie hangs her head in shame.
“I know. I can only imagine how difficult it was for you all these years.” Charlotte holds her mum’s hand tightly.
“That’s no excuse. And whatever else I’ve done wrong, I will never regret having you and your brother. I love you, Charlotte. Always have, always will.”
“I love you too, Mum.” The young woman lets her mother pull her in for another bone crushing hug. “Serena’s coming back.”
“Don’t mention what we talked about, please.” Bernie implores her.
“Not a word.” Charlotte winks at her mum. “So..., Serena, what’s it like working with Mum?” She had promised not to say anything, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t meddle in other ways.
“It’s wonderful. She’s easily the most fantastic, fearless doctor in the entire hospital.” Serena grins at Bernie, and Charlotte thinks her mother couldn’t be more wrong. The brunette definitely has feelings for her.
“It’s bound to be difficult having a personal life, you must be so busy. Do you find time for dating?” Bernie fixes her youngest with a look that says I know exactly what you’re up to!
Serena is thrown by the girl’s question and her directness. “Oh, well I... yes it can be a challenge sometimes, but I’m single at the moment.” Serena looks to Bernie for support.
“Charlie, I really don’t think Serena’s love life is any of our business.” Bernie is a dark shade of pink.
“That’s a shame. How about you, Mum? Anyone special in your life?” Charlotte bats her eyelashes, seeming all sweet and innocent.
“Nope.” Bernie sips her coffee, just so she doesn’t have to say any more.
“Ooh, I know! There’s a new gay bar opening near uni. We could go sometime, Mum.” Charlotte knows there is no gay bar, she just wants to see Serena’s reaction. And bingo! The brunette is definitely jealous.
“Um... ok...” Bernie isn’t sure about the setting, but she’d do just about anything to spend time with her daughter. “Won’t I be too old though?”
“No, that’s the thing. You’re a woman of a certain age, very appealing to a younger crowd.” Charlotte explains making Bernie spit out her coffee and have to wipe it up with a napkin.
“I don’t think... I mean... I don’t want to date someone who’s young enough to be my... my...” Bernie waves her hand at Charlotte to highlight her point. The young woman notices Serena relax at that. She’s almost certain now that her mother’s feelings for Serena are not as one-sided as her Mum believes them to be.
“Well, where can we find someone more your own age then? Serena?” Charlotte has a wicked sparkle in her eye, hoping the older woman will take the bait.
“Me?” Serena flushes furiously.
“Do you know of anyone who would be interested in Mum?” Charlotte pretends that the brunette has misunderstood what she meant.
“Oh... oh I see... I... um...” Serena shrugs helplessly.
“Anyway, enough of that.” Bernie hates to see the brunette so uncomfortable. “Tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself, young lady.” She turns the spotlight away from her non-existent love life to what Charlotte had been up to.
The three of them chat amiably for a while longer, until Charlotte has to get back to uni for an early class in the morning. She nods her goodbyes to Serena and thanks her for arranging this meet-up. Then the brunette leaves Bernie to say goodbye to her daughter in peace.
“Let’s do this again soon.” Bernie hugs her daughter close and whispers how much she loves her and how much she appreciates being given another chance.
“I’ll call you soon, I promise. By the way, you’re wrong about Serena. She has feelings for you too.” Charlotte nods emphatically when her mother stares at her wide-eyed and open-mouthed. “Talk to her, Mum. I meant everything I said before, and you do deserve some happiness now that you have a chance for it.” She kisses her mother gently on the cheek and waves on her way out the door, leaving Bernie to wonder if her daughter was right about Serena. Maybe, just maybe...