Everyone has so much to say
They talk talk talk their lives away
Don't even hesitate
Walking on down to the burial grounds
It's a very old dance with a merry old sound
Looks like it's on today
The thing about Serena being gone is that it is so very quiet.
Bernie had always lived very much in her own head. She’d been a shy child, always wandering off with a book, or scampering through the forest alone. Her dresses were always muddy from the ground, where she had laid down on the fabric as she watched the clouds drift by. The puffy white had transfigured again and again. Sometimes the clouds were ships with massive sails, and then a rabbit with a fuzzy tail, and then, quite suddenly, just a cloud again.
Her grandmother hadn’t known what to do with her. During afternoon tea Bernie would sit silently in the corner, listening to her Mother, Aunt, and Grandmother gossip. They were always talking away, and to Bernie they sounded like clucking chickens in the coop. Their endless chattering had never seemed to mean much of anything, so Bernie sipped her tea, quickly ate some biscuits, then darted out the back door and into the garden once more. In the garden she could be a pirate, a soldier, a doctor, and not just a girl sitting still on a cushion.
When Bernie was little her hair was wild, and it was always escaping her barrettes. She kept it short, and always liked how it felt when it flew behind her as she ran across the fields beyond the garden. It was still short at university, and even shorter when she was in the army. Bernie cannot remember a time when her hair ever went passed her shoulders. She laughs when Jason says her hair isn’t as bad as Serena said it was. She smiles at the thought of Serena looking at her hair. She feels her heart lurch at the thought of Serena looking at her at all.
In the army, silence was necessary. She had a family; a husband and two children, but silence was necessary. Especially when she met Alex.
Alex was tall and beautiful and full of stoic silence and Bernie could not help but be drawn to her. They were always quiet when they were together, and Bernie never spoke to her of love. She never made sweeping declarations, nor made any promises. In being with Alex, Bernie broke the promise she made to Marcus, and she feels all twisted and bitter and angry. She does not feel shame for being herself. She is not ashamed of who she is, or of who she always was. But she is ashamed of the hurt she causes. She cannot finds the words to tell Marcus it’s over.
Words were never Bernie’s strong suit. When Alex arrives at Holby and wants to talk things over, wants closure, Bernie finds it difficult. She confesses in the locker room, her voice hushed and wavering. But they are not the right words and she finds the courage too late. Alex leaves and Bernie reminds herself that she never was any good at being brave.
And then Marcus finds out.
He is so angry, and Bernie cannot bring herself to speak to him when he eventually wants to talk things through.
Work was always her safe haven. Bernie was always better at work, better at being a doctor and a soldier then she was at being a wife and mother. She feels guilty, but there it is. Its why its such an intrusive act when Marcus comes to the hospital. He is an invader, an unwelcome guest. He is a spectre from the recent past that makes Bernie want to scream and tear her hair out.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she asks him in theatre. She realizes with a start it is the same thing she’d said to Alex. The spectres keep haunting her.
Marcus walks down the corridor with Serena and Bernie feels brazen and frightened and flirtatious and sad and she wants him gone. She doesn't talk to him about Alex, avoids the inevitable confrontation. and when she reaches out to Serena, to see if she still wants that drink, Serena says no.
Before Serena finds out about the divorce, Serena and Bernie had had drinks together, and Serena had said Marcus was probably getting all maudlin. Serena had said that Marcus still wants Bernie by the sound of things. But freedom is much sweeter than any reconciliation could ever be, and Bernie dreams of going home to a flat and not having to ask Marcus about his day. She dreams of an evening full of not having to listen to Marcus speak and rattle on as he attempts to get her to participate in a conversation that is only based on ceremony and politeness. There is no substance and no real connection between them, at least not any more.
Bernie supposes she should feel sad about the divorce. Instead, she feels relieved.
Serena is nothing like Alex or Marcus.
Yes, she is a talker, with the gift of the gab, and speaks French fluently, and has a low, melodious voice that sends shivers down Bernie’s back. But Serena is different and Bernie could listen to her voice forever. Serena is so full of words, and Bernie gathers them up, as if the sounds that come from Serena’s mouth were tiny jewels; perfect stones of emeralds, sapphires, and rubies. Bernie dreams of Serena’s voice, even when they are still just friends.
Before everything changes they would go to Ablie’s after a shift. Bernie would sit next to, or across from Serena. They would linger in the booths or at the table in the corner, sipping wine late into the evening. Sometimes they would finish one bottle, sometimes two. These evenings in Albie’s always left Bernie feeling warm and drunk on wine and drunk on Serena’s voice. Serena, who likes to talk even when she’s sober, is a friendly and gregarious drunk.
She speaks and speaks and Bernie loves to sit back in her chair, or lean forward on the table and rest her chin in the palm of her hand. She watches Serena, who starts to use her hands as she talks, the movements getting bigger with each glass of shiraz. The words are like magic and Bernie feels an aching in the pit of her stomach whenever Serena tells her about her day.
Serena seems content to let Bernie watch her, and Bernie is always a little quiet. She’s even quieter when their colleagues join them at the table, and Serena always insists Bernie sit next to her as they move to make room for Raf, Fletch, Morven, and sometimes Ric. Bernie always moves when Serena asks, coming to rest in the chair beside her. The table is small and they crowd around it, with Bernie’s thigh all pressed up against Serena’s. It’s warm and friendly and Bernie dies a little at the contact. She suddenly orders a whiskey when Serena casually rests her arm on the back of Bernie’s chair. It’s all too much, and Bernie downs the fiery liquid in one gulp.
Serena always tries to include Bernie in the conversation, by asking her questions, and looking to her over the top of her wineglass. Bernie blushes furiously the first few times, and stumbles her way through the words. With time and practice, she learns to open up to this little AAU family. She begins to feel at home, and eventually, some of that feeling of camaraderie that she thought she’d left behind with the army comes back. She feels part of the team, and slowly but surely, Bernie feels a little less afraid of being known.
She talks to Dom on the roof, and feels strong instead of vulnerable. She teases Fletch and his kids, gangs up on Raf with Morven, banters with Jason, and flirts with Serena in theatre. Everything starts to click and she gradually shakes off that heavy feeling of guilt. When her divorce is finalized she resists the urge to immediately call Serena and tell her the news. Bernie worries at the feeling, and realizes she’s never truly had any one she wanted to tell good news to.
She doesn’t tell Serena for a few days, and lets the knowledge that she is single shift around in her head for a while. Twenty Five years. All gone with the shuffling of a few papers and a line with her name written on it. Bernie finally tells Serena when they are at Albie’s. She’s a little drunk and Serena is pressed up against her, even though they are alone at the table. Serena’s eyes go wide in surprise before she instinctively reaches out to wrap her hand around Bernie’s wrist. She squeezes tightly and Bernie looks down at Serena’s hand on her skin.
Serena doesn’t say anything for a while. She doesn’t say how sorry she is, or that Marcus is a pig, or that there are other fish in the sea. They don’t toast to Bernie’s newfound freedom, nor do they drink any more that evening. Instead, Serena seems to understand and simply holds her hand for a little while. They mourn the time lost, silently recognize an ending, and embrace the unknown beginning in friendly quietness.
Despite her comfort and ease around Serena, Bernie is still terrible at communicating her feelings. When Fletch gets stabbed the words come tumbling out of her mouth as she sits on the floor. Her guilt and anger at herself come back, those familiar feelings bursting in her chest and she says it’s all her fault. Marcus had always said it was her fault, and her grandmother always was frightened of her too-big eyes and quiet ways, and she’s always afraid of the day Serena will become tired of her. Today may be that day because their friend and colleague is fighting for his life and it’s all Bernie’s fault. But Serena says she is fantastic and fearless and Bernie somehow believes her. She looks at Serena and sees such kindness in her eyes that Bernie doesn’t know what to say. So she kisses her instead of talking. She kisses Serena because she wanted to, because no matter how long they sat on the theatre floor, Bernie would never have been able to say what she meant. So she says it with a kiss.
The kiss makes Serena uncomfortable, and Bernie watches Serena sputter and trip over her own words. Serena says she went to party in Stepney. And then in fact, she hasn’t been to Stepney, and it was a lie to cover her blushes. Bernie feels guilt come creeping back in, and she worries she may have lost her best friend. She finds the words, and avoids Serena for weeks.
And then, Ukraine.
Bernie wants to say so many things. She wants to tell Serena that being co-lead on AAU is her dream job. She wants to say that Serena makes her so very happy, and that she laughs more now than she ever has. She yearns to say that Serena is her best friend, and that she feels something, a pull and affinity that is undeniable. That it's not just sexual tension.
But she only says “Serena.”
She hears Serena say “It’s just that-”.
Then Bernie tries to tell her with another kiss. She pulls Serena close, and wraps her arms around Serena’s shoulders. She buries her hands into the hair at the nape of Serena’s neck. She kisses her again and again, surging even closer when she hears Serena moan softly. When they break apart, Bernie is not quite done. So she kisses her quickly, softly, just one last time.
Later, Bernie tells Serena she wants to have that conversation. And that as much as she wants to talk and talk, they can’t. Kathy is dying and her husband is lost and afraid and there is nothing Bernie can do to make it better. But she tries, and Bernie does it so that Serena will feel better. Throughout their friendship Bernie has spoken through actions, through offerings of coffee cups, through long, quiet evenings spent in Albies, and through a gift wrapped in paper and tied up in string. Bernie tries to tell Serena how she feels with an invitation for a quick bite at an Italian restaurant with an extensive wine list.
She apologizes to Serena by giving Kathy and Pete a second chance. But Serena talks in the corridor and the words are frightening. Serena says she’s fallen in love before, that she recognizes the symptoms, and Bernie is afraid of causing more pain. She’s just been divorced, and they’ve become such close friends, and she’s destroyed so many friendships. She cannot destroy this one. So she leaves, for she never was any good at being brave.
“You stupid, stupid coward,” she says, over and over.
She says it in the car, in the cab, on the plane. She says it in her flat as she reads Serena’s emails and texts. Murmurs it as she lays in bed, cradling her mobile to her ear, listening to Serena’s voice on her voicemail. She clings to Serena’s voice, and repeats the words, “You stupid, stupid coward.”
In time, she finds herself ready to be brave, and finds the words she wants to say. She writes them down, scratching out the speech on used napkins, on take-away boxes, and on the scraps of paper that litter her flat in Kiev. Words and words and words that she hopes will make Serena understand, will help her to tell Serena about this horrible, empty, lonely feeling. She feels hollow, as if a part of her is missing. And that is frightening too.
Ukrainian is easier to pick up than Bernie expected, and she learns new words, phrases, verbs and tenses. She begins to translate in her head, and she wonders what Serena’s voice would sound like in Ukrainian, what she sounds like in French. She accidentally deletes one of Serena’s voicemails and cries. It was the longest one, almost two minutes. Bernie feels the words slipping away, and she tries to write down the transcript of the message, tries to recall the rise and fall of Serena’s pitch, her velvety, dark laugh. Bernie finds she cannot remember all of it, and crumples up the paper and throws it in the bin.
She finishes her speech. Well, it's less a speech and more a smattering of ideas. The half-finished sentences are like the clouds she used to watch when she was little. The words keep changing, taking on different forms, but in the end they all mean the same. The words say, “I love you, please forgive me.” Bernie prays that Serena will understand.
She buys a bottle of wine in the airport, and she knows the gift is cheap, yet symbolic. It is a peace offering, an olive branch. Her heart is in her throat and she can feel it pounding when she turns and sees Serena looking so very beautiful. But Serena has forgotten all about her, and Bernie gently places the bottle in the bin.
Serena looks beautiful and Bernie cannot stop looking. Her eyes keep searching and she feels faint at the sight of her, after so many months apart. Bernie is breathless at every interaction, and cannot believe she flirts at the nurses station, and is not entirely sure how she manages it.
But Robbie is back on the scene, and Bernie cannot seem to focus on anything else. She mutters over a computer screen, stutters and avoids eye contact, only looking up through her fringe. She cannot stop the self-hatred that drips from her mouth, oozing into every word. Wrong words, that sound twisted and torn up.
“Mind? I was away.”
She closes her eyes as Serena walks away.
It takes Jason locking them in the office to get her to say the words, to finally face the music, and to talk. Bernie had gone to Ric, had almost sounded the retreat, and yet, she is somehow brave enough. For once in her life, Bernie lets herself be brave.
Serena can't even bring herself to look at her.
But then, slowly, they stand closer and closer. And Bernie tells her everything. She tries to explain, stumbles over the sentences, trying to remember the speech she wrote and rewrote, but the passages come unraveled. Her heart aches, and she clings to a pen, looking anywhere but at Serena.
And then, she cannot look away. She looks down at Serena’s lips, soft and welcoming, and so very near. Serena gives her a reason to stay. Bernie tries to tell her again with a kiss, tries to say how much she missed her, how she listened to her voice every night, how she longed to phone her. Bernie longs to say that she is sorry, that Serena deserves so much better, that Bernie will try with everything she’s got. She knows they need to talk, properly talk. But Serena is dragging her even closer and she sighs into the kiss as she yanks down the blinds.
Kisses become a daily occurrence, and Bernie becomes fluent in the language of kissing. Different kisses mean different things. Gentle kisses in the morning mean “Good morning”, and Serena likes to take her time on these ones. The pace is languid, and their tongues touch briefly. There is only soft, searching touches, with quiet moans. These kisses happen in bed, when Bernie is still half asleep and Serena’s hair is unkempt and spiky. Sometimes they say good morning in the kitchen, wearing robes and fuzzy socks. Serena cradles a cup of coffee and hums into the embrace, and Bernie holds her tight, trying to stave off the chill of the early hours.
There are also kisses that are rough, harsh and quick. They are filled with Serena panting, trying to steer Bernie up the stairs and to bed. Bernie loves to ignore the silent queues, and pushes Serena up against the wall. She pins her arms above her head and bites down on Serena’s lips. These kisses are about wanting, about their desire for one another. Serena loves these kisses, and always growls when Bernie nips her upper lip and speaks to her in a low voice.
Bernie watches in satisfaction as Serena slowly turns, and Bernie presses her front to Serena’s back, and gently cups Serena through her trousers. The kisses to the back of Serena’s neck are open and wet and Serena always lolls her head back and breathes raggedly as Bernie drags her lips up the column of Serena's neck. With these kisses, Bernie says, “I want you. Now. ”
Sometimes they are simply sitting together on the sofa in Serena’s sitting room. Bernie will turn to see Serena thumbing through a medical journal, humming softly to herself. Bernie leans in to kiss her on the cheek, suddenly and violently overcome with fondness that is so strong it hurts. Fondness, that is love. Although the word goes unspoken. They have yet to say, “I love you.”
On these rare evenings, when they are sitting quietly together, Bernie leans forward to kiss Serena’s cheek. She nuzzles into her, taking a breath, and breathing in her scent. The kiss says “Hello,” and Bernie always heaves a sigh of satisfaction, as if just looking at Serena made her feel less tired. The gentle hello kiss says, “I missed you.” Bernie says it even if they saw each other that morning, even if they made love in the early hours. Bernie kisses her and says it over and over, even if they were together in theatre all the day long.
“I missed you anyway.”
Things fall apart when Elinor dies, and Serena slowly becomes a stranger.
Serena begins to use words as a weapon, and she punishes Jasmine, lashes out at Jason, and puts distance between herself and Bernie. Bernie tries to keep up, tries to follow the mood swings and anticipate Serena’s needs, attempts to be a good partner. But what can she say when Serena refuses to talk to her? Silence comes between them and Bernie finds herself lost. She finds a vineyard in Serena’s desk. She tells Serena how badly she wants to help, pulls herself together and stands tall as she begs Serena to hit her, to use her as a punching bag. She says the words, with terror on her lips.
“I’m tough, I’m bloody tough. And I love you.”
But it won't make Serena feel better, and Bernie is left with a bitter taste in her mouth.
The bitterness lingers until they kiss goodbye on the roof. Bernie doesn't cry in front of serena, doesn't let herself cry, because Serena had asked her not to. Bernie tears up at the thought, that for a while, for a little pocket in time, she was happy. Serena made her happy, and Bernie felt worthy of that happiness, finally worthy. But then to wait all that time, to drag herself through 25 years of marriage to a man who never would be enough, who made her feel unworthy and cruel for being herself. To go through all that and finally meet the right person, only to have her die. It was too much, and those few minutes when Bernie was running up the stairs had been the longest minutes of her life. Her head is still stuck in that moment, when Fletch called security and there was a large door between her and Serena. She couldn't wait, felt hopeless and helpless and terrified and couldn't bear to see Serena dead, couldn’t bear to see Serena out of reach and gone. But the relief is still too much, and she feels as if she is running a marathon, trying to catch up to her emotions. She’s exhausted and sad and she cries as she holds Serena that night. Her quiet weeping wakes Serena, and she worries that Serena will push her away. But Serena’s face is full of kindness, and her eyes are still a little crinkly from sleep. She pulls Bernie close and murmurs over and over again, “I’m so sorry.”
She kisses Bernie, and the she whispers, “You must have been so frightened Bernie, I won’t do that again. I’ll talk to you from now on, I promise.”
Bernie clings to her, and this kiss is reassuring. Serena is alive, they're both alive. They are both still here, even though Serena will be leaving in the morning.
When Serena is gone, Bernie dreams of this kiss. There are few words shared over the months Serena is gone. No talking really, just missed phone calls and texts, an email or two. Then, a postcard and a few short letters. Bernie doesn’t feel horrible or empty while Serena is gone. But she does feel lonely. Her job gets her out of bed in the morning, and Ric joins her on the ward. She buries herself in the work, digs her teeth into it, and sets out to find a therapist.
Talk therapy , Bernie scoffs to herself.
She loathes therapy with a passion, and has to suppress the words of doubt that fight to the surface of her throat every time she walks through the office and sits down on the couch. But she books the appointment, goes, and talks.
It’s so hard. The young woman across from her is quiet and steady and Bernie slowly feels herself opening up, peeling back the layers, and letting herself heal.
She talks about her fears, talks about Marcus and Alex, talks about her children. She mentions her grandfather, and her father’s drinking. She talks about the explosion, and how it felt to lie on that stretcher, strapped down and paralyzed by fear. She talks about her grandmother, distant and cold and cruel. She talks about loving Serena, gushes about loving Jason. She cries when she says she’s never sure if she’s good enough. Good enough for anyone, that is. Bernie worries she's still not good enough for Serena.
But Bernie is tough and she remembers that Serena once told her that she is terrible at relationships too. Serena has always had trouble placing anything before work. She once said curing cancer would be easier than the work-life balance thing. She’d said it in the beginning, when Bernie was still a stranger, when they were just two people talking on a bench in the dark.
Serena isn’t there beside her on the couch, and Bernie realizes during the third session that she wishes Serena were there to hold her hand through it. She feels guilty for wanting Serena back, but embraces the fact that she wants anyone at all. Embraces the fact that she yearns for Serena, and loves her still. She cradles that feeling in her heart, and carries Serena with her everywhere.
Serena is with her in theatre, with her at home, with her on her early morning runs when the sun is still tucked below the horizon. Bernie carries Serena with her when she does shots with the AAU staff. She gets rip roaring drunk and out-drinks them all. Morven leaves early in the evening, and Fletch eventually goes home with Raf. Ollie gives up after the sixth shot of vodka, and Ric staggers to the loo after the eighth.
Bernie leans her head against her palm, and takes out her phone as she waits for Ric to return. She takes a picture of a sleeping Ollie, who is draped across a table, and precariously perched on a barstool. She sends it to Serena, and realizes that there is no one else, that Bernie is going to wait, for however long it takes. Bernie smiles as Serena texts back, the words short but sweet, telling her to get home safe.
Bernie sighs, and knows that she has to talk to Serena soon. Her heart is so heavy. It is weighed down with all the things she is carrying. Bernie falls to sleep thinking of ways to tell Serena that she will wait for however long Serena needs. There’s no one else, and Bernie dreams of Serena’s eyes. She starts to feel at home on AAU, and begins to feel more herself. She feels free and light, and happiness slowly creeps back into her life. It takes time, but Bernie begins to be settled, and not restless. It's the first time in her adult life that she doesn’t feel the urge to be somewhere else.
Summer comes and goes in a warm, rainy haze. Suddenly, it's autumn, and the air is crisp and the trees are full of bright oranges and reds. Mornings are full of children running to the schoolyard, with backpacks that are nearly as big as them. Bernie watches time pass, and misses Serena.
And then, Serena says she is returning. She’s finally ready to come home.
Bernie drives to the train station, arrives two hours early. She walks the platform back and forth, chain smoking and pulling her coat tight around her against the cold. She is still somehow surprised when Serena steps off the train, her hair all silvery and her face changed. She looks softer, older. She looks tired.
Bernie doesn’t know what to say, after months of dreaming of their reunion. After so many nights of Bernie whispering into the dark, telling Serena about her day, asking the absent Serena how she is, if there is anything Bernie can do. Anything to make her come home sooner. All that time didn’t prepare her for Serena’s smile, and Bernie cannot find the words. She cannot make a sound, so she kisses Serena instead. She drags Serena close and tries to tell her over and over again- with gentle brushing of lips, with tongues and teeth and a soft whimper. She’s speechless and cold, and she cannot bring herself to speak. Her heart is so full of words but it hurts to try and say them.
On a train platform, with the wind in her hair, and without a word or a bit of talk, Bernie kisses Serena hello.