Chapter 1: Dirty Talk
Bernie likes to talk to Serena on the mornings when they are both off from work. When the dust dances in the angled sunlight streaming in through the bedroom window, Bernie stirs and unhurriedly awakens. The warmth of the bed soothes her and she slowly stretches her legs and arms out, careful not to disturb Serena. Turning to look at her, Bernie takes in the sight of the other woman.
Serena is still fast asleep, her back towards Bernie with her mouth slightly agape and snoring softly. Her hair is thoroughly tousled, with a large cowlick standing up at the back of her head. Bernie has never seen anything so lovely.
Content to simply watch Serena sleep, Bernie props herself up with an elbow, her right hand tucked under her chin. She wonders at how strange it is that there was ever a time in her life when she did not love these moments before a lover would wake. With Marcus, it was always a struggle to maintain an air of intimacy. The ritualistic closeness of matrimony had been positively stifling and Bernie always felt anxious in the mornings. She would spring out of bed and start breakfast for the children or go for a run, always with the claim of being a “morning person”, or in need of an early start. With Alex- well, there had never even been a leisurely second with Alex. With Serena, the quiet of the morning is altogether peaceful and almost heavenly.
While Bernie still cannot rightfully claim the title of “cuddler”, she would admit to almost always waking to some kind of physical contact with Serena. Whether it be a hand on Serena’s hip, or their legs intertwined, the physical connection is a constant. When the nightmares of distant and foreign lands come, Bernie always reaches for Serena, seeking out her grounding presence. At times, a simple touch is all that is needed to calm the raging storm inside her. Bernie places her forehead on the back of Serena’s neck and breathes in and out until her breaths match Serena’s. Other times she rouses her, needing the soft words only Serena can conjure. Soothing whispers fill the night air and Bernie falls back asleep with kisses on her temple, in her hair, and on her eyelids. The worst nights come when she dreams of explosions and sand whipping around her, and she cries, as if the sands of Kandahar are still stuck in her eyes. On those nights Serena sings to her. Gentle lullabies or sweet love songs lull Bernie back to sleep. Although it should make her feel childish, the songs only make her feel loved.
And she is loved. Serena has always been vocal about that fact. It did take some time and a rather unfortunate trip to Kyiv and back for Bernie to catch up to her. But she is here now, in their bed, with the intention to make it up to Serena for the rest of their lives. The prospect of being permanently fixed to Serena’s side is alarmingly glorious and the perpetual haze of happiness that radiates between the two of them seems to also be an indefinite fixture in Bernie’s life. How marvelous.
Suddenly, Bernie’s thoughts are interrupted by a soft moan from Serena. Looking back down, Bernie realizes that Serena must be dreaming. A quite pleasant dream by the sound of things. Smiling, Bernie shuffles forward on the bed until her entire front is pressed against the other woman’s back, her left hand diving underneath the duvet to travel between soft thighs. Breathing out into Serena’s ear she murmurs her lover’s name.
Always slow to wake, Serena simply mumbles incoherently and shifts her legs, sleepily granting access to Bernie’s hand. Bernie begins to pepper soft, open mouthed kisses down the column of Serena’s neck and once she reaches the shoulder, licks her way back up to the ear. Her left hand gently hooks under Serena’s left knee and pulls it back over Bernie’s hip.
“Serena”, she whispers again.
Her hand travels to the apex of Serena’s thighs and finds ample evidence of Serena’s arousal. Groaning into Serena’s shoulder at the wetness, Bernie takes her index finger and delicately strokes through her folds. Serena whimpers but does not stir and Bernie continues the loving ministrations. Working her way up, Bernie circles Serena’s clit and focuses on the area just underneath the nub. Taking a breath, she rubs earnestly and bites down at the sensitive spot on Serena’s neck.
Serena gasps and wakens, instantly moaning Bernie’s name at the sensations coursing through her body. “Oh, Bernie”, she sobs and turns her face into the pillow.
“You were dreaming”, Bernie says hotly into Serena’s ear. She licks the shell and moves her way down the ear before taking the earlobe into her mouth. She nibbles and slowly inserts a digit into Serena, causing the woman to gasp and begin to move her hips in tandem with Bernie’s movements. “Tell me” Bernie quietly commands. One of her favorite things about making love to Serena is how flustered she gets. The normally calm and collected surgeon can be easily reduced to a babbling mess with a few teasing touches and whispered words. Especially when asked to talk during sex. After the discovery was made one night in the backseat of the car, Bernie vowed to always offer words of encouragement during sex, loving the instant effect they had on Serena, who had come in a matter of moments when Bernie whimpered “God, you’re gorgeous when you’re desperate”.
When Serena does not answer her, Bernie repeats more earnestly “Tell me, tell me what you were dreaming Serena.”
“Oh”, Serena gasps as Bernie picks up the pace slightly, and a second finger begins moving in and out of her. “I…I… you, please Bernie- I was dreaming of you”. Smiling at the breathy response, Bernie moves to suck at Serena’s pulse point, causing the woman to press her face into the pillow again.
“Good” Bernie growls, the possessiveness causing Serena to buck her hips towards Bernie’s hand. “Tell me how I should take you, darling”. Serena’s internal muscles clench down at the term of endearment. “Shall I take you slowly?” and Bernie slows her fingers, pulling them out deliciously, then softly plunging them in again, working Serena into a frenzy, her hips fighting to replace the much desired friction. “Or shall I have you fast Serena?” her fingers suddenly working quickly, and her thumb gently rolling Serena’s clit, making Serena cry out in need.
“Please, don’t tease me”, Serena begs, her own hand reaching down to grasp Bernie’s hand, attempting to keep it in place. “Please, just… just….” Serena’s words are cut off by her own gasp as Bernie begins to work in earnest. She moves impossibly closer to Serena and begins to pant into her ear, loving how Serena shivers at the sensation. “Like this?” Bernie asks innocently.
“Yes”, Serena groans, pushing her face into the pillow in an attempt to stay quiet. “Like that.”
Bernie grins down at Serena and continues moving in and out of her, teasing her clit, knowing direct attention will quickly coax her to an orgasm. Serena’s hips cease to remain still, working constantly in response to the glorious sensations coursing through her. Her hand leaves Bernie’s under the duvet and comes up to tangle in the sheets in front of her. She clings to the bed, hopelessly seeking an anchor as Bernie winds and coils her tighter and tighter. She grinds her rear into Bernie’s front, causing Bernie to moan and work even faster.
When Serena begins to whimper with every breath, Bernie starts to talk again. Soft utterances of wonder spill out of Bernie’s mouth as she works to pleasure Serena with every fiber of her being. “You’re soaking you know that?” she says. “I love it when you get like this, when you’d absolutely kill me if I stopped.”
“No!” Serena cries out at the mere notion of stopping.
“Hush”, Bernie soothes. “I’m not stopping. I promise. That’s it, that’s my girl”, as Serena whimpers in response. She’s too worked up to come up with a retort and shuts her eyes tightly against the onslaught of pleasure. Bernie gazes down at Serena bathed in the pale light of morning and feels so fantastically in love that she wants- no, needs Serena to come now. Right this instant.
She leans ever closer and whispers “I’m going to have you again tonight.” Serena shudders at the implication that even in the throes of their embrace, Bernie wants her again. Bernie doubts they will ever get enough of each other. “I’m going to have you pinned down on this bed Serena”, she states calmly. “Would you like that?”
“Fuck” Serena sobs.
Bernie’s grin grows impossibly larger. “Yes, Serena Campbell. I’m going to fuck you with my tongue between your legs. I’m going to have you until you beg me to stop.” Serena begins to pant and claws at the bedding. “I’m going to have my tongue right…. here”. And with that, Bernie applies exquisite pressure to Serena’s clit and she comes with a wail.
Working her through her climax, Bernie continues to roll Serena’s clit between her fingers, until the aftershocks have faded and Serena stills. Bernie murmurs over and over “That’s it, that’s it. I’ve got you my love, I’ve got you.” She slowly removes her fingers, causing Serena to shudder once more. She kisses Serena’s forehead as she slowly recovers and turns towards Bernie. “Jesus, Bernie” she croaks and smiles, placing her head on the other woman’s shoulder.
“What can I say, I love talking to you in the morning”, Bernie confesses. She runs her hand through Serena’s hair and says “You’re just so responsive.” Bernie looks down and beams as she realizes Serena is blushing at her words. “Well you are awfully good at talking Major” Serena says as she lifts her head to capture Bernie’s lips in a slow and lazy kiss, morning breath be damned. Her hand meanders down to the apex of Bernie’s thighs but stops when Bernie tangles their fingers together.
“You’re about to fall asleep again my love”, Bernie observes as Serena drifts further into a post orgasmic daze.
“Am not” Serena protests as her eyes slowly slide shut.
Bernie kisses Serena’s forehead and murmurs “We’ve got time Serena.” And they do. They have the rest of their lives it seems. Pulling Serena closer, Bernie settles back into the bed and pulls the duvet over Serena’s bare shoulders, their hands still grasped tightly together. This could constitute as cuddling Bernie thinks, and thrills at the thought. She angles her face towards the sunlight and swiftly joins Serena in dreamless slumber.
Chapter 2: Shop Talk
Serena talks Bernie through a procedure.
One morning, on a rare shared day off, Bernie enters their bedroom and laughs. Serena is sitting up, Bernie’s reading glasses perched low on her nose, surrounded by binders and her notebook. She looks incredibly sexy, there amongst the work, silky negligée and all. She looks up at Bernie’s laugh and furrows her brow.
“You look wonderful is all,” Bernie says with a smile. She walks into the room, steaming cup of tea in one hand and places it in Serena’s eager fingers. Serena smiles and murmurs “Thank you,” before turning back to the binder.
They are scheduled to do a tricky procedure tomorrow, one that Serena has never done. Although Bernie would be there with her, Serena had insisted on studying the procedure inside and out. She wanted to be proficient, and Bernie was once more fascinated by Serena’s unending thirst for knowledge. Her passion for their work was one of the first things Bernie had admired about Serena, and she still finds it incredibly endearing. And sexy, Bernie thinks.
Serena sips the tea and hums, eyes closing in pleasure as the heat of the liquid works its way through her. She opens her eyes and sees Bernie watching her, heat in her eyes. She instantly holds up a finger and says “No Bernie. I’m studying.”
Bernie groans and whines “Come on Serena. Jason is out and you know this stuff by now.” She sits on the bed, displacing some of the pads, and Serena clucks her tongue.
“Oh no you don’t Berenice Wolfe. I am taking the morning to study this procedure.” She moves away slightly and narrows her eyes as Bernie continues to move ever closer.
“Fine,” Bernie says, not moving away.
“Yes,” Serena states with finality, before moving her attention back to the binder in her lap. She flips the page and reads on, taking sips of her tea intermittently. She pointedly ignores Bernie, who sits back against the headboard, her own cup of tea cradled between her fingers. They sit in compatible silence, the snow falling softly outside, and the warmth and coziness of the bedroom wrapping around them.
“I’ve got it,” Bernie suddenly declares, extremely excited by her own genius.
“What?” Serena asks, preparing herself for whatever Bernie says.
“I’ll quiz you,” she says with a grin, placing her tea on the bedside table before shimming up to sit just behind Serena. She wraps her hands around her torso, hands clasped together and coming to rest on her soft stomach.
“Talk me through it,” Bernie commands softly into her ear. Serena shivers and Bernie takes Serena’s tea and places it beside her own. She turns back and nuzzles Serena’s neck with her nose, blowing softly into Serena’s ear. She moans and Bernie smiles before slowly kissing down her neck.
“Bernie…” Serena whispers. Her eyes are closed and her head thrown back. Bernie almost giggles. That didn’t take much, she thinks to herself.
“Talk me through it Serena,” she gently prompts.
Serena whimpers then clears her throat. “We start with the incision,” she says breathily.
“Scalpel?” Bernie asks.
“Number eleven blade. Sharpest one we’ve got.” Serena is breathing more quickly.
“Then what?” Bernie asks, her hands running up and down Serena’s sides.
“Retractor to keep the incision open.”
“What kind?” Bernie questions, her left hand coming up to gently cup Serena’s breast.
“Weitlaner,” Serena rasps. “Blunt and self-retaining. Protects the blood vessels.” She whimpers when Bernie begins to palm her breast, gently and teasingly.
“Good girl,” she coos into her ear, making Serena blush. “Keep talking.”
“I… oh-”. Serena whimpers again as Bernie kisses behind her ear, momentarily distracting her.
“I… we then… Bernie.” Her voice dwindles to nothing as Bernie’s other hand snakes down between Serena’s legs. It pushes up the negligée and the back of her fingers brush against Serena’s inner thigh.
“We make the repairs, cauterize if necessary.” Serena gasps as Bernie’s fingers advance. She groans when they stop just short of her center.
“And?” Bernie says teasingly.
“Sutures. 4-0 Prolene. 5-0 If need be.” She gasps as she is rewarded with soft touches, achingly slow and good. Her curls are wet and she feels as if she is on fire. She shivers and begs quietly “Bernie, please.”
“Enough talk?” Bernie asks facetiously.
“Yes,” Serena gasps. She turns back to meet Bernie’s lips with her own, the angle strange, but the kiss necessary. She sinks into it, allowing Bernie to guide and coax her. Serena moans as their lips meet, softly and gently. Bernie’s fingers slip inside her, and Serena pulls away to gasp, her head falling back onto Bernie’s shoulder. “Yes,” she declares again.
The angle is difficult, Serena nearly lying on top of her. But it’s glorious and the heat searing, and Bernie’s need to touch Serena entirely urgent and desperate. Sometimes it is like this, Bernie in charge and coaxing Serena to completion. Other times she comes home from work, places her keys in the bowl by the door and feels Serena’s arms wrap around her from behind. Serena drags her up the stairs and has her every which way, Bernie underneath her, wanting and wanted. It is a never ending adventure, their sexual chemistry undeniable and insatiable.
Serena comes softly and with a quiet “Oh.”
Bernie smiles and kisses her hair, her throat, her cheek. Serena hums and falls back limp and sated.
After a few moments she says, “Hand me my tea.” She holds her hand out expectantly.
Bernie rolls her eyes and reaches across, placing the cooling cup in her hands. Serena sips and snuggles further into Bernie’s side, cocooned in post coital bliss. Bernie strokes her hair and smiles as Serena sighs with the motion.
“You’re going to be amazing tomorrow, you know that right?” Bernie asks.
“Thank you, darling. It’s just that… I want to be prepared.” She looks up into Bernie’s eyes, her head on her shoulder and smiles softly.
“You are prepared. And if you have any questions I will be there.” Bernie mumbles, gazing down into Serena’s lovely face. “I’ll always be there.”
Serena hums and closes her eyes and cuddles closer. “I know.”
Bernie watches the snow outside their window, creating softness in the quiet world. The trees are weighed down by layers of white and ice clings to the branches, crystal veins reaching up to the sky. Serena drags the binder back up and settles it in Bernie’s lap. She begins to read again, and Bernie stays still, enjoying being a table.
She looks down and says with a start “Aren’t those my reading glasses?” The accusation is light, and practiced, the script old and familiar.
“Maybe,” Serena mumbles her typical response, pushing the spectacles further up her nose. Serena refuses to go see the optometrist, and instead steals Bernie’s glasses on the sly. Bernie does not mind sharing.
“Perhaps I’ll get you a pair of your own for Christmas?” Bernie says with a smile. Serena grins and hums, turning the page and tracing the diagram there with her finger. Bernie places an arm around Serena’s shoulder, pulling her closer and placing her chin on Serena’s head. She drifts back to sleep with the binder in her lap and Serena’s head tucked into her side. The last thing she hears is Serena quietly humming Silent Night.
Who knows man.
Chapter 3: Morning talk
Sometimes Bernie talks in the morning without thinking.
Bernie shouts from the bedroom, elbow deep in the sock drawer. She cannot find any of her clothes that she had secretly tucked away in there.
“Have you seen my black shirt?” Bernie hollers again. She knows Serena is somewhere downstairs in the kitchen. She had claimed she was off to make coffee. It could all have been a lie. She could be dead for all Bernie knew. Silence only answered her cries for help.
They had woken in the middle of the night and made love, slowly and with eyes closed, the darkness wrapped around them like a shawl of stars. And now Bernie was running behind, having pressed snooze on the alarm one too many times. Serena had woken her with a grumble before turning over and mumbling “You’re nearly late darling.”
“What?” Bernie had gasped after glancing at the clock on the bedside table, and began to scramble about the room, fighting time.
Serena had simply giggled and rolled out of bed, pajamas and spiky hair and all, looking like coziness personified and muttered something about making coffee and wandered out the room. It was her day off today.
Bernie continues to rummage, looking desperately for any of her own clothes. It has been a few months since she came back from Ukraine, since she had been given a reason to stay. Bernie has settled in her old barren flat, but also has spent most of her time in Serena’s home. Therefore, her clothes are here and there, on the floor in her flat, or perpetually missing in the void of Serena’s endless closet and bottomless drawers. Living in this heavenly in-between is a logistical nightmare, made easy because it comes with Serena’s smiles, her laugh, and her voice low and dark in the morning before the day begins.
However, Bernie is currently only clad in trousers, borrowed socks, and her bra. No black shirt in sight. She holds up her arms exasperatedly and turns towards Serena’s own clothes. She grabs the blue one that flows and matches the color of her own scrubs. Bernie cannot help the smile as she quickly buttons the shirt. Sharing clothes is not something they do often, but it feels intimate and personal and somehow thrilling. The thrill of simple things like this has not faded; getting dressed in the soft lamplight as Serena putters around in the kitchen downstairs, the world outside promising crisp air and the coming of sunrise.
She dashes downstairs, top two buttons still undone and quickly dons her pink coat and black scarf. It has been cold recently, and she shivers just at the thought of walking out the door. She sits on the bench by the back entrance to put her boots on. As she pushes them onto her feet Serena comes to stand in front of her, a travel mug of coffee in one hand, a chocolate croissant tucked away in a napkin in the other. Bernie stands up, now with two boots on her feet and takes the offered treasures. She leans forward and pecks Serena’s lips, the kiss hurried and practiced, before murmuring “Love you.”
She opens the latch and walks out the door and into the morning air.
It is long past the middle of her shift before she realizes. The red phone had rung twice and she had worked hard, blood on her hands and on her gown. She had saved them both and she had wandered back into her office in the early evening. She is standing at her desk, dreading the paperwork, and thinking about dinner when she looks over at Serena’s empty desk and goes still.
Her hand comes up to gently trace her lips, as if wondering at their betrayal. Her lips had spoken in the haze of the dawn and without her brain’s interference. Serena had still been in her silk pajamas with the warmth from the abandoned bed upstairs still clinging to her. She had been soft and warm and Bernie had said she loved her.
Bernie had felt if for a long time. She thinks Serena feels it too, that they love each other. But it had gone unspoken, only hinted at in their handholding, their walks on Sunday afternoons, and in the way their eyes meet over broken bodies in theatre. Bernie never thought she would be the one to say it first.
Her lips curve into a smile, and she traces that too. Mapping the physical and emotional response as it filters through her. This morning she told Serena she loved her. Bernie laughs and settles down to the paperwork.
Her mind wanders back to the declaration as she drives home in the darkness. The winter renders her life a strangely nocturnal existence. Driving to work in the pre-dawn and driving home after the sun has disappeared below the horizon, the world dusted in sparkling snow and the air piercingly cold. She thinks about the exchange this morning, her declaration soft and like a habit, as if she would say “Love you” to Serena every morning for the rest of their lives. Bernie smiles the whole way home.
When she enters through the back door she finds the house eerily quiet. She looks down at her wrist and sees that it is time for Jason’s QI reruns. She had missed dinner and she walks into the kitchen to find an open bottle of shiraz as well as an empty glass and a plate of lasagna waiting. She puts the plate in the oven before popping her head into the sitting room.
It is dark and only lit by one lamp and the blue light of the television screen. She sees Jason on one of the armchairs, thoroughly wrapped up by the program and he only smiles in greeting before turning back to the television. Serena is on the couch, feet curled beneath her and covered by a blanket Bernie bought her for Christmas. She is sleeping softly and Bernie smiles at the sight before seeing a third figure in the second chair. Cameron waves and offers a small smile but does not speak. Jason does not like interruptions during his programs.
Bernie smiles back and turns round and into the kitchen once more. At first it had been strange, the causal drop-ins and the visits by colleagues. Bernie had always had a private life, work and personal staunchly separate. But it was common for her to arrive at Serena’s and find Fletch’s children scampering about the corridor, or Cameron and Charlotte and Eleanor suddenly over for an impromptu family dinner, or Serena greeting her at the door and murmuring that Morven had a tough day and would be spending the night. The casual kindness and warmth that radiates off of Serena is never something Bernie had embodied in all her life. It endears her to Bernie, and makes her want to be better, to have that kind of comforting effect on others. Morven says she always feels sorted after a hot meal and a dreamless night at the Campbell household, and Bernie feels the same way.
Serena’s effect on others makes Bernie’s interaction with her children more frequent than ever before. The sight of Cameron on the chair still gets to her though, makes her feel light, and her heart soars as she walks back into the sitting room, dinner in one hand and wine in the other. She sits next to the woman she loves and devours the left over lasagna.
When QI is over Jason stands up, says goodnight and heads up to bed. Bernie smiles and says goodnight after him before she walks Cameron to the door. They are no longer awkward around each other and she hugs him before he leaves. Bernie sees that his eyes are sparkling and he giggles. “What?” she asks.
Cameron laughs again and whispers as if it is a great secret. “Apparently someone said the ‘L word’ today.” He grins as Bernie blushes and steps back.
“Did… did she say anything?” Bernie is suddenly uncertain and looks away before glancing back at her son.
“She says she’s happy Mum, and that you beat her to it.” Cameron hugs Bernie again, surprising her, and he leaves with a smile and disappears into the night.
Bernie sighs after him and cannot stop a smile of her own. She sorts the remaining dishes in the kitchen and washes her hands before placing the half empty bottle of shiraz in the fridge. She wanders back into the sitting room and finds Serena unmoved and snoring softly. Bernie bends down until she is crouching before her and gently strokes away Serena’s hair from her forehead. She strokes along her cheekbone and traces Serena’s lips before leaning in to brush her own lips against Serena’s, waking her with a kiss.
Serena rouses slowly and hums into the embrace and smiles when Bernie pulls back slightly. She looks around and notices they are alone and that the television is off.
“Did I fall asleep?” she sweetly asks, furrowing her brow in drowsy confusion.
“Afraid so,” Bernie whispers before leaning down to kiss her again. Serena reaches up and tangles her fingers in Bernie’s hair, the kiss slow and lazy.
“Come to bed,” Bernie murmurs and stands as she reaches down to take Serena’s hand. They wander around the house hand-in-hand turning off all the lights together. Once the house is plunged into darkness they turn upstairs, Bernie guiding Serena into the bedroom. When they are curled together under the duvet and surrounded by quiet, with the softness of sleep slowly creeping in Serena snuggles impossibly closer and whispers into Bernie’s ear, “I love you too.”
Bernie drops a kiss to Serena’s temple, drifts to sleep, and does not dream.
Lasagna is the best. Fight me.
Chapter 4: Evening talk
Bernie is not on Serena's quiz team.
Serena had always surprised Bernie with her ability to understand and see her. Bernie had spent a quarter of a century married to someone who never knew her, although Bernie had not helped him in that department. Rather, she had always presented the version of herself she thought Marcus wanted. In this way, he thought he knew her every thought, and he loved her.
But it was not an unconditional love, not a love based on truth. Half-truths and broken promises and thousands of miles between them were the defining factors of their marriage. A splintered self, a part of her forgotten and dormant for many years was what Marcus loved. And when she threatened to walk her own path, to return to the army, he held her hostage in a promise she made when she was too young to understand “forever.”
If she does not make a go of it everything will fall apart. And it will all be her fault.
These are Serena’s words, said with kindness and a gentle, knowing smile. They are sitting outside the hospital in the dark, grey hoodie over maroon scrubs and Serena resting her coffee over her crossed legs. Sitting together is nice, and Bernie is shocked at how easy it is to confess to this woman with the kind eyes and voice like velvet. Sitting and talking with Serena will become one of her favorite things. Broken pockets of time, moments between surgeries, early morning before heading to work, or nights like this when the world is closing in and she feels so very tired.
Serena sees her. Knows why she must try to make the whole life- work-balance thing work. Although it would be easier to simply try and cure cancer. Her kindness rocks Bernie to the core. This woman who is still a stranger knows her feelings, accepts them, and does not shame her. Marcus had always loved using shame as a motivational tool. Her self-esteem was a bargaining chip in the endless negotiation that was their life together.
When she begins a relationship with Serena she is always shocked at the lightness she feels, even when she fucks up. She buggers off to Ukraine, leaving Serena a washed up mid-life lesbian. But she comes back, shiraz in hand, her heart on her sleeve, and she does not want that horrible, empty, lonely feeling ever again. Those few weeks without Serena had been far worse than all the months and years she had spent away from Marcus put together. They had been agony.
And Serena wants her back. For the miracle of it all is that Serena understands Bernie, sees her, and wants her still. Serena wants her after the business with Ukraine. Wants her after she lied to her about the affair. Wants her after she lied about Cameron and Keeley. Wants her even though she is, well, Bernie.
Serena wants her.
Serena loves her.
To be loved by a woman like Serena is heavenly. Bernie floats with the iridescent shining of it, feels light and free. She grows more confident in herself, feels more clear of head than ever before. Her work is hard but it is joyful, and she leads AAU with pride. The ward becomes a family. Turns out, they want her too.
Leading on Serena’s day off had originally daunted Bernie because this was very much Serena’s ward, Serena’s family. But Raf encourages her, Fletch teases her, and Lou silently supports her. And so when Morven launches herself at Bernie she does not hesitate to hug back.
A wonder indeed, for Bernie has AAU written right through her too.
And so, Bernie would think Serena would be the perfect ally, one to always support her in all things. But this is not the case. On quiz night Serena turns vicious, cut throat even. And she has a had a couple glasses of shiraz, if the glow on her cheeks is anything to go by.
Bernie is on another team, with Raf and Fletch and it is absolutely hopeless. Serena has Jason and Morven and is dominating the evening. Serena keeps catching her eye, hurling smack talk across the bar, adding to the general raucous of the evening. She grows bolder as the evening goes on, continuing with the trash talking until Bernie has had enough.
When Serena goes to the loo Bernie follows. She finds Serena washing her hands and their eyes catch in the mirror. Serena is flushed and rosy, looking all together ready for a different kind of competition. Bernie crowds her from behind, grabs her hand and drags her into a stall.
Serena had been talking all night. Now it is Bernie’s turn to talk.
She pushes Serena against the wall and threads her fingers through the hair at the nape of Serena’s neck. She pulls gently, until Serena’s neck is bared and ready for Bernie’s exploration. She nuzzles her nose against the pulse point she finds, smiling at Serena’s whimper. Bernie turns and breaths out into Serena’s ear, knowing the sensation makes her weak in the knees. Serena moans softly as Bernie gently takes her ear lobe between her teeth before whispering.
“I’m going to take you home in a minute.”
Serena gasps, as Bernie gently bites down on her neck, scraping her teeth up and down the column. She clutches at Bernie’s shoulders, the feeling making her feel faint.
“But first, I’m going to make you come.”
Bernie says this oh so softly into Serena’s ear, the promise said with tenderness that makes Serena’s heart race. “So you’ll have to be quiet Serena.” Bernie taunts her gently, knowing Serena is anything but quiet when in the throes of passion.
Serena burrows her head into the crook of Bernie’s neck and whimpers again. Bernie smiles and lifts Serena’s skirt slowly. She bunches the fabric up at Serena’s waist, reveling in the feeling of her lover’s legs trembling softly. She slips her fingers between her thighs and coaxes her to completion, marveling at Serena’s cries and desperate, quiet pleas. Serena shivers when she comes, sobs into Bernie’s neck, but remains quiet, just as Bernie commanded.
“Good girl,” Bernie whispers.
Serena is boneless now, drunk from shiraz and intoxicated with Bernie’s touch and Serena wants more, wants her now. So they slip away into the night, snow falling outside the bar and the city hushed with the quietness of winter.
They fall into bed and Serena whispers “I want you.” And she has Bernie, slowly and gently then fast and desperate, their breaths intermingled and ragged in the night.
Jason comes home, complains they abandoned the quiz night. But he forgives them, says Serena was not that helpful to the team any way and that he and Morven were just fine by themselves. Serena makes them both a cup of tea, and they sit in bed and talk. Bernie finds this therapeutic unwinding of the day to be like that night they sat outside the hospital, the night Bernie felt understood.
Bernie can say anything to Serena, can be wholly and unapologetically herself. Marcus would never have understood this version of Bernie, this kind of freedom. Sitting in the golden lamplight in the cool of the evening with the tea steaming and her feet clad in wool socks, wearing borrowed pajamas with reindeer trekking across the fabric and her feeling sexy and confident and warm and loved.
Bernie loves to talk to Serena.
She also loves listening to Serena, who always has much to say. Her voice casts a spell over Bernie, enchants and bewitches her, so that she is spellbound by the vowels and the consonants, the rise and fall of pitch. She smiles when Serena slips into a faux Scottish accent, or gets excited about a new procedure, talks faster and brighter with the anticipation. Serena’s voice is one of Bernie’s favorite things.
And when they run out of things to say they simply sit and Serena softly runs her fingers through Bernie’s fringe, over and over until she falls asleep. How strange Bernie thinks, that the mundane details of life are made magical, the everyday somehow thrilling, to lie beside another and to be entirely content just as long as one can touch them. The thought fills Bernie with that intangible feeling of happiness she used to feel only rarely. She cradles it in her mind, brings it close, tells herself to explain it to Serena in the morning, and drifts to sleep.
Chapter 5: All talk
The thing is, sex is not perfect. Of course, it is wonderful and lovely and filled with laughter, teeth bumping teeth, and the slow unbuttoning of shirts. Sex with Bernie is the most freeing experience, because there is no presumption that it ever will be perfect. Serena had had her doubts, had worried she would be subpar and simply not good enough, which was an unacceptable notion. So when Bernie was buggering off to Kiev she had simmered and researched, binged watched the entire box set of Orange Is The New Black in three days.
The internet had been informative, but not necessarily the guide Serena had been looking for. But Bernie’s voice in her ear, whispering her desires, taking Serena’s hand and placing it between her own legs, urging her to touch herself, and then having her touch Bernie. Oh, this was how to learn. Serena had always excelled at practical exams.
Bernie had to talk her through their first time.
She had been so gentle, going slow and checking in with Serena. They had waited, letting the longing and yearning simmer over late dinners at the Italian restaurant with the extensive wine list. Bernie had held back, kissing Serena at her back door, grazing her teeth against Serena’s neck. Serena had gone weak at the knees, clutching Bernie’s shoulders, moaning into the crook of Bernie’s neck. But Bernie had always pulled back, leaving with that smug look she always has after she makes Serena come the least bit undone.
Bernie had kissed her in the car in the car park during the early hours of the morning before their shift. Her hand had reached across the console, slithered up underneath Serena’s blouse and possessively cupped Serena’s left breast. Serena had been taken by surprise, and was gasping into the kiss before resting her forehead on Bernie’s shoulder, trying to hide her face from the outside world despite the pre-dawn darkness. But Bernie had stopped suddenly when it was nearly time for work. Serena had protested, trying to capture Bernie’s lips once more, desperate to continue. Bernie had chuckled and mumbled something about punctuality being the art of waiting for the careless. Serena had been on edge the entire shift that day, nearly tackling Bernie once they were home.
Talking was not Bernie’s forte. But sex was certainly up there in her arsenal of Sapphic talents.
Serena had an excellent teacher and had greatly benefited from Bernie’s tutelage. However, today was the day the student became the master. As she makes her way slowly down Bernie’s body, she lingers at Bernie’s breasts, smaller and more sensitive than her own. She takes a nipple into her mouth, grazing it with her tongue while she teases the other one between two fingers. She looks up and sees Bernie arch slightly at the ministrations, her eyes still closed. Bernie’s eyes had slipped shut as soon as Serena had whispered into her ear, “My turn.”
Serena licks her way down the skin between the breasts, pausing to nip at the skin here and there. She bites at Bernie’s hip bone, grinning as Bernie whimpers. She slowly spreads Bernie’s legs further but decides she needs more room. So she pulls away and stands up at the foot of the bed, grinning as Bernie opens her eyes in confusion at the interruption. Serena grasps behind both of Bernie’s knees and oh so slowly drags her down to the edge of the mattress.
“Oh god,” Bernie moans.
Her head lolls back at the movement and she does not see Serena settle in between her now splayed legs. Serena hoists Bernie’s left thigh over her shoulder and begins.
She kisses her way up the left thigh, although the connection is almost more of a caress of her lips than a kiss. The skin is so soft here, she thinks, and Serena continuously stops to lick and taste the inner thigh. She comes to the place where Bernie needs her the most and notes with satisfaction that Bernie’s hips buck as she breaths softly against the curls there. But she does nothing more than softly blow against Bernie’s center, the breath making Bernie sob.
“Not yet,” Serena whispers sweetly, before starting the ascent again on the right thigh this time. Bernie’s hands come down to rest on Serena’s head, her fingers threading through her hair. She does not tug or try to control Serena, simply seeks more connection.
Serena hums at the feeling of Bernie’s hands in her hair and Bernie whimpers. “Please, Serena.”
“Patience,” Serena tut-tuts in mock disapproval.
She comes back up to the apex of Bernie’s thighs and slowly spreads her, kissing the outer edges with feather-light touches. Then, she licks the labia, slowly. She takes her time, listening to Bernie’s breath, the way it hitches and catches and sometimes stops altogether. It is a heady thing, the power to render Bernie helpless. Serena revels in it, using it to bend Bernie to her will.
She licks and kisses the inner lips, until Bernie is canting her hips almost constantly. Serena looks up and sees Bernie’s head rolling gently from side to side, writhing in time to Serena’s touch. She smiles against Bernie and hooks an arm around her lower abdomen before kissing the skin just above Bernie’s clitoris. Bernie cries out and arches, her hips held in place by Serena’s arms.
“Fuck,” she groans. “Serena…I… I can’t….I can’t take much more.”
“I’ve got you,” Serena whispers back. She decides not to tease any longer.
Serena strokes up and down with her tongue, creating shapes and letters. When they had first been together Bernie had suggested Serena do the alphabet, spelling out an A and then a B, with Bernie coming somewhere around M. Now Serena starts with an F, and then an R. She changes her approach each letter, sometimes licking fast, sometimes slow, sometimes just over the clit, sometimes everywhere, sometimes hard, and sometimes with a barely-there lick with the tip of her tongue. It drives Bernie wild. Serena goes quickly on the A and then takes nearly a minute to complete the U. She takes her time to finish the L, then the E.
She stops her spelling to take Bernie in her mouth, humming and sucking the nub until Bernie cries out. Her cries are wordless now, just simple exclamations of pleasure. Every now and then she can manage a strangled “Serena.”
But Bernie surprises her, managing a single word. “More,” she begs.
Serena obliges, slowly slipping a finger into Bernie. After a minute she works another one in, going slow and steady, Bernie whimpering with every gentle thrust. She makes a “Come hither” motion with the fingers, grazing the inner walls until Bernie is wailing. She spells out the I and then the N, completing their own secret term of endearment.
Serena kisses her clit again and picks up the pace, moving in and out until Bernie cries out and comes with a whimper and Serena’s name on her lips. She makes sure to pull back afterwards, still slowly caressing with her fingers. But she loves to sit back on her haunches on the floor and to look up the slopes and plains of Bernie’s body and see the flush and sweat, the physical and emotional relief of the orgasm lingering in the air. Serena loves to see the remnants of her power as it settles in Bernie’s skin, until she is boneless and lying panting and sated on Serena’s bed.
Sex with Bernie makes her feel powerful. She revels in the imperfections of it, how her hair must look a fright, tousled by Bernie’s desperate fingers. She feels her legs stiffen from the position, but stays and leans forward, resting her elbows between Bernie’s legs. She grazes her fingertips up and down Bernie’s inner things, smiling at the aftershocks as Bernie shivers with the touch.
“I love you,” she says from the floor. Her eyes slip shut at the ridiculousness of the position, her on the floor and Bernie naked and splayed out on the bed. But it is as good a time as any to confess. She is already on her knees.
Oh, they had said “I love you,” before. But it always feels so utterly vital; the three words whispered over and over still stop Serena in her tracks, hitting her like a freight train. She loves this woman, has just made love to her for the umpteenth time, yet it still feels world changing. The sex will probably never be perfect. Serena hopes to spend the rest of her life perfecting her technique, under Bernie’s guidance, as a matter of course.
“Come here,” Bernie mumbles, reaching out for Serena’s hand. She places her hand in Bernie’s and laughs as she is tugged quickly down beside her in the bed. She snuggles closer, sighing at the feeling of Bernie’s arms wrapped around her. Serena hums as Bernie places a soft kiss to the top of her head, and smiles as she looks up, the lips ghosting across her own.
“I love you so much,” Bernie whispers.
“Good,” Serena chuckles, her eyes drifting shut, suddenly heavy with sleep. “Otherwise it would be most inconvenient.”
Bernie giggles, reaching down to pull up the duvet and turning out the light. When they are settled once more in the darkness Bernie takes a breath. “Your technique has improved.”
“I told you,” Serena gloats sleepily, not able to hold back the lazy grin spreading across her face.
“Yes, I know!” Bernie sighs. “I’m just happy you weren’t all talk.”
“Never,” Serena promises, before promptly drifting to sleep.
Chapter 6: Parler
Missparker asked for Berena on a proper date. I came up with Serena talking to Bernie in French.
Bernie tends to go overboard at times. For example, when they were still strictly nothing more than friends, Bernie gave Serena a gift with a book about swearing, a device to abort irritating conversations, a flask, and shiraz to go in the flask. All of this was carefully placed in a cheeky camouflage case, a nod to her army days.
When Serena returned from her suspension, Bernie attempted to stay, to give Serena her control but still help on the ward, give her “a proper hand-over." Bernie wanted to make sure the person taking over had Serena’s back. She bought Serena coffee, sometimes two or three times a shift. The beverage became a kind of peace offering, a wordless nudge to energize, and a kindness that became customary and expected. And then there were the nights at Albie’s, the two of them pressed together and getting buzzed on shiraz and whiskey. Bernie tended to drink less in order to be sober by the time they were finished, to give Serena a lift home. Lifts home were another kind of gift – after the first time, when it had merely been an olive branch.
These gifts were Bernie holding back. Bernie realized long before they ever kissed that she spends quite a lot of time trying to ensure Serena is well cared for.
When she returned from Ukraine she held back again, only bringing a single bottle of wine hastily wrapped in the back of a cab. She had wanted to bring something else: a simple bangle that matched the necklace Serena always wore around her neck. Bernie loves to watch her fiddle with it, rolling the pendent between her fingers when she’s nervous or anxious or flirting. The little old jeweler in Kiev had grown wary of Bernie since she stopped in nearly twice a week to look at the bracelet. He had probably thought she was a jewel thief casing the place, so often did she wander into the shop, tucked away on a side street. He had stroked his mustache and adjusted his large spectacles, eyes never leaving Bernie as she wandered, always stopping to stand in front of the bracelet. It would have suited Serena, the silver lines simple and elegant. But Bernie had held back and gone for something hasty and haphazard, rather than something as romantic as the bracelet in the glowing showcase in the little shop in Kiev.
And now Bernie tends to go overboard with gifts, spoiling Serena rotten. It’s hard to find a balance and Bernie decided to swing to the overboard side of the pendulum, rather than remaining on the side with secondments and fleeing the country. So when they have a weekend free, Bernie whisks Serena off to Paris. It is a proper date, rolled into a proper weekend.
I may have gone a bit overboard, Bernie thinks as they board the train.
They take the Eurostar, their bags safely stored above their heads and the train traveling under the sea. Bernie had always liked that, hidden beneath a world of water, coming out to the surface in another country, another continent.
She takes Serena’s hand as they walk around Paris, stopping near the Seine, meandering slowly towards Notre Dame. The sun is setting when a street artist insists he draw Serena. He is kind and earnest rather than pushy, so Serena smiles and sits. She turns to face him before he protests, in a thick accent: “Non, non, you must look at her!” He gestures to Bernie who is leaning against the stone wall that overlooks the water, arms crossed in gentle amusement. “You are the most beautiful when you are looking at her.”
Serena blushes furiously at this, but tilts her head up and looks over her shoulder at Bernie, who is looking back. It is a look like the ones they used to share across the ward, back when they were still circling each other, still yearning. But now the look is filled with knowledge, with gentle acknowledgment of the other. The connection between them is so apparent a street artist in Paris could see it. Bernie agrees with him: Serena is beautiful like this, with the sun setting and casting oranges and pinks about her hair, her eyes glinting with the dying of the light.
Bernie murmurs a quiet and heavily accented “Merci” to the artist, pays him handsomely and clutches the small sketch to her side. The lines of the drawing are gentle and soft, not a caricature or exaggeration of her features. Instead it is light and graceful, just like Serena, just like that bracelet Bernie left behind in Ukraine.
When the sun sets, the city grows brighter, streetlights flickering on and fairy lights glimmering in the trees. It grows cold and Serena shivers and pulls Bernie closer, tucking her arm around her waist. Bernie pulls her closer still, her hand sneaking inside of Serena’s coat and resting on her hip.
The traveling had exhausted the both of them and a walk is all the two can manage, sleepiness hinted at in their contagious yawns, in the stretching of arms and shoulders. So they return to the hotel, hidden away on a quiet cobblestone road, picturesque and entirely French. They order room service and snuggle together on the chaise lounge, the food glorious and the company perfect. Serena has ordered some raspberry dessert thing and eats it slowly as Bernie watches her with rapt fascination. Bernie brings her fingers up to her own lips, looking at Serena as if she will devour her. But when Serena leans forward to kiss her, Bernie leans away.
“Jason is going to phone in a minute,” Bernie reminds her, pointing to the clock on the bedside table. They agreed to talk to Jason every night at 21:00 and it was 20:57. Serena groans, her forehead dropping to Bernie’s shoulder.
“I forgot,” she mumbles against Bernie’s shirt.
“Hmm,” Bernie hums, her hand reaching behind Serena to snatch up the mobile. “Come on,” she whispers, taking Serena’s hand in hers.
They move from the chaise lounge to sit on the bed, the pillows fluffed up on the headboard, and Serena’s head returns to Bernie’s shoulder. The phone rings softly in Bernie’s hand, and she passes it to Serena who answers and talks to Jason for a few minutes. Serena then passes it back to Bernie who talks to him about their day, asks about his evening meal, and says good night promptly at 21:15 when it is time for Jason to head to bed.
Serena smiles up at Bernie as she hangs up. “You’re so good with him.”
“Really,” Serena breathes.
“Good,” Bernie states after a moment. She always found it easy to talk to Jason. All it takes is a little patience and a good sense of humor. Bernie looks back down and sees Serena is falling asleep, her eyes heavy and fluttering closed.
“Let’s get you to bed,” she says with a small smile.
“Already in bed,” Serena huffs, eyes firmly closed.
It takes a few more prompts, but they change and brush their teeth, wash faces, brush hair, and return under the white fluffy duvet of the hotel bed. They meet in the middle, snuggled close together, Serena’s head returned to its favorite position on Bernie’s shoulder. In the morning they have a lazy breakfast of coffee, chocolate croissants, tangerines, and soft kisses between bites. The meal is slow and easy, the café quiet and only occupied by a few other couples with the same idea. Serena blows softly into the cup cradled between her two hands, her fingers delicately crossed over each other and Bernie falls more in love with her. The steam in the coffee dissipates in the sunlight streaming through the window and Bernie has to look away for a time, a little overwhelmed by the feeling in her chest.
They take the metro to the Louvre, crossing the street hand in hand to enter the large square. The glass pyramid stands in the middle of the square and they enter quickly, anxious to be out of the cold wind. It is quiet in the museum today, especially for a Saturday. But they take advantage of it, meandering the halls for hours, sometimes together, sometimes apart. Bernie likes to slide up alongside Serena and mutter ridiculous pick-up lines, just to see Serena smile.
“Come here often?”
“You’re the real masterpiece in this gallery.”
“Your face is a work of art.”
“At first I thought I was looking at a Monet, but you are so much more beautiful up close.”
Serena giggles, pushing her away gently or playfully swatting her arm. It is heavenly, this time away from work. So often they are running about, shouting orders or chasing bloods, hands deep inside a broken body, heads bent together in theatre. It is nice to sometimes escape, to just be Bernie and Serena and not Ms. Wolfe and Ms. Campbell.
After the Louvre they make their way to the Musée de l'Orangerie. It is smaller, even quieter, and nearly empty. The ramp winds down to the lower level and Serena’s breath hitches as they turn the corner. White walls are simply adorned with the long and curved paintings of flowers, violet and purple, blue with hints of green. It is Les Nymphéas by Monet, the water lilies drifting in the pond next to reflected clouds. Serena walks slowly about the room, tracing each curve with her eyes, her body almost floating as if through those very waters painted so long ago. She stops at the edge of the room and goes still with her back to Bernie. After a moment she turns to Bernie and shakes her head, her eyes filled with tears. Bernie walks swiftly across the room, her arms coming up to touch Serena’s elbows, the contact reassuring.
“What is it Serena?” She says it under her breath, the quietness of the hall echoing in her words.
Serena shakes her head again, a single tear moving down her elegant cheek.
Bernie moves her to sit on the bench in the center of the empty room, turning to her when they are side by side. She takes Serena’s hand, moving her thumb across her knuckles.
“What is it?”
Serena sniffles, her free hand bringing a tissue out from her coat pocket. She sniffles again before looking up at Bernie, a smile on her lips and in her eyes.
“It’s just so very beautiful.”
Bernie laughs in relief. “Is that all?”
Serena’s smile grows at Bernie’s little honking laugh. “Beauty does that to me sometimes,” she confesses, her eyes finding Bernie’s.
They sit for a moment in silence before Bernie asks, “Shall we stay a little while longer?”
“Please,” Serena whispers back.
So they wander some more, leaving the room with Monet’s masterpiece, returning an hour later for a final pass across the sky in the water. As they move to leave, Bernie turns to see Serena lingering in the white vestibule beyond the room, as if taking it all into her memory, looking at the paintings and then at Bernie. Love is painted across Serena’s lips and in her eyes, in her hands as they reach out to grasp Bernie’s. The sight is overwhelming, and Bernie has to look away to the ground, that feeling in her chest pressing against her ribs once more.
“You went a bit overboard.”
Bernie looks up at this. She shakes her head in confusion.
“This is the first date you’ve planned all on your own and you took me to Paris to see Monet.”
“Yes,” Bernie agrees, smiling as she sees Serena shake her head in fond irritation. “Hope that’s alright.”
“It’s wonderful,” Serena whispers.
“Good,” Bernie says quietly. “Come on, there’s more.”
“More?” Serena asks in disbelief.
“More,” she responds with a wiggle of her eyebrows. Serena giggles and follows.
The “more” turns out to be dinner by the river, after the scheduled talk with Jason. The restaurant is small and cozy, the wine list extensive and the food exquisite. It is not as private as their hotel room, but that does not stop Serena from feeding Bernie spoonfuls of their desert. They remain there for hours, on the same side of the table, their legs pressed together and Serena’s hand on Bernie’s thigh. Wine glasses collect on the table, a small army of crystal. Serena leans over halfway through the dessert and begins to talk into Bernie’s ear.
Bernie didn’t know that Serena could speak French.
The words are like velvet, floating in the air and rendering Bernie a mute mess. Wine in her veins and Serena’s French in her ear ensures Bernie is shaking by the time they make it out the door, bill paid and the waitress generously tipped. Serena’s cheeks are red with the wine and the cold, the springtime chill sobering them up quickly as they hastily return to their hotel. They fall into bed together, the kisses sloppy and the unveiling of flesh lazy. There is no hurry.
Serena straddles Bernie, wearing just a bra, and whispers commands in French, translating with her hands, her mouth, her tongue. The talking dissipates after a while, and they only speak in whispers and pleas, the searing and intimate words mangled together in their love making.
When it is all over and they are lying side by side Serena turns to her and whispers in the dark. “I love you so much, Bernie.”
“I love you too, Serena.”
The words are practiced and easy, no longer a confession but an affirmation.
“Promise to talk to me in French more often?” Bernie asks lightly.
“Je le promets,” Serena whispers. And then, Serena whispers, “Je t’aime,” said against Bernie’s cheek. She whispers it again against her ear, and once more against Bernie’s lips.
“Je t’aime,” a final time, before it is sealed with a kiss.
To Be Continued.
Thank you to mylittleredgirl for being the best beta a writer could ask for!!!!!
Chapter 7: We need to talk
Five times Bernie smoked, and one time she didn't.
When Bernie is fifteen she is dragged to a party at someone’s flat in London. Her friend Emily is greeting people Bernie has never seen before, flitting about, always the life of the party. Bernie leans against the wall in the kitchen, cradling a can of beer someone had thrust into her hands the moment they had walked through the door. The hot summer air is stifling, and beads of condensation have formed on the can. Bernie’s hands are cold from it, while the rest of her is hot and anxious.
The noise of the party is overwhelming, and she feels strangely sad when she sees Emily snogging some boy in the loo. The music is loud and Bernie has to strain to hear any conversation and suddenly it’s too much and she has to leave, she has to get out.
She walks swiftly to the garden in back of the house, steps through the sliding glass door, and shuts it firmly. She leans against the cool glass, and sighs, her eyes firmly shut against the din.
Bernie’s eyes fly open and she looks to see a girl sitting cross-legged in the garden. She is slightly older than Bernie, probably eighteen or maybe twenty. Her legs are long and smooth and she is wearing denim shorts and a top with sun flowers on it. Thick, golden hair is plaited and gracefully hangs off her right shoulder. She is holding something between her legs, a small piece of paper.
“Sorry,” Bernie sputters. “I didn’t know anyone else was out here.”
“Come here,” the girl says with a soft smile.
Bernie hesitates, then slowly walks over. She sits down in the cool grass and crosses her legs to match the girl’s.
“Do you smoke?”
Bernie does not know why she lies, but she sees that the girl is rolling a fag, the paper soft and delicate on the ground. “Yes.”
“I’ll split it with you.”
Bernie watches as the girl licks the paper, feels her stomach flip, and her heart race. The small fag dangles between the girl’s lips, and she cradles the lighter with her hands blocking the summer breeze. Bernie watches in fascination as the small paper turns orange in the darkness, smoke coming between them and getting in her eyes. She blinks it away and feels herself burn as their fingertips softly touch when they pass the fag between them. It takes everything for Bernie not to cough. The tightness in her chest and the smoke in her lungs makes her feel wild.
They sit in silence, passing it between them, until the cigarette is nothing more than a stub. The girl extinguishes it on the grass, wipes her hands on her legs, then stands up gracefully.
“I’ll see you in there,” the girl says with a smile.
“Right,” Bernie mumbles, not meeting her eyes.
When Bernie is alone in the garden she lets her fingers come up to touch her lips. She traces the feeling of smoking, traces the ghosting of the girl’s lips on the cigarette. Then she imagines her lips on the girl’s, and wonders what those soft hands would feel like in her hair. Bernie feels as if she too is on fire, but left to cool, just like the embers glowing in the grass by her foot. She feels horrible.
She marches back into the flat, finds Emily to tell her she is leaving, then walks the two miles home.
Marcus is lovely. He is kind, and sweet, and easy to handle. Bernie wonders at this observation, thinks it odd that at twenty-three she looks for a partner who is easy to manage, easy to control. He is a safe choice. And he is a good man.
The first time they have sex is nice. He is gentle and goes slow, checks in with her. Bernie thinks she should feel lucky that her boyfriend is so good to her. He is a nice guy, and Bernie loves him. But she is not in love with him. She lays next to him afterwards and looks up at the ceiling, urging herself to feel something, anything other than this yearning in her chest. She realizes with a start that she felt more at that party than she did tonight. Her heart sinks when she realizes that the feeling of a girl’s fingertips gently caressing her own was more powerful than anything Marcus could ever do. Bernie had felt on fire that night, but tonight she just feels empty.
She makes some excuse, leaves Marcus alone in her bed, quickly dresses, and runs out her door. The autumn night air is crisp, and the leafs on the trees are burning bright orange in the light of the streetlamps.
Bernie goes to the corner shop and buys a pack of cigarettes.
She has had the cigarette for two years. Her husband made her quit when British forces left Helmand. She had torn up every cigarette she had, except one. She keeps it as a symbol of her freedom, her old independent self. Bernie nearly lights it in the carpark, but stops when she hears an angry voice. Closing the distance between them feels so strangely wonderful that Bernie is unsurprised when her hand tingles after briefly holding Serena’s hand. Serena’s eyes are so bright and her smile so breathtaking that for a moment Bernie forgets all about the cigarette between her fingers. Then, she lights it for the soldier caught between two worlds. In the carpark, with the woman who so easily could have been her, she takes a quick breath and remembers the feeling of smoke in her lungs, dust in the air, freedom.
She smokes again after Arthur’s death, but only for a little while. Serena is crying in the garden, and Bernie does not know what to do. She murmurs softly that they need a drink, takes her to Albie’s, and feels her heart soar when Serena says off-handedly “you know me so well.”
She smokes in her car on the way home from the wake.
In Ukraine, cigarettes are nearly everywhere. Her colleagues smoke outside, and she joins them, not saying a word. Work is a sanctuary, a haven. At work, she can lose herself for a little while, in the clamor of the builders, in the quiet muttering of the translator who follows her like a shadow, in the colleagues who are somewhat afraid of her. At work, she does not have time to think. And the only thing she thinks about while she is in Ukraine is Serena. Her best friend, Serena. The person who is very much the one, Serena.
Bernie leans back in the chair in her dingy little flat, watches the smoke unfurl, dreams of Serena’s face. She reads and rereads Serena’s email, dreams of their kisses, wakes to find herself miles away from Holby, miles away from Serena. Packs of cigarettes lay littered on the coffee table and Bernie no longer feels free when she smokes. Instead, she feels lonely.
When the work is finished and the trauma unit complete, she decides to stay. One evening she realizes she has smoked an entire pack in one day. Her heart aches, and she decides she no longer wants it. She does not want this horrible, empty, lonely feeling anymore. She does not want to feel it ever again. She throws the feeling away with all the unopened packs.
She extinguishes the remaining cigarette on the crystal ash tray and buys herself a plane ticket home.
Elinor is dead and nothing will ever make it right. Bernie hugs Cameron, pulls him close, desperate to feel him in her arms once more. She is aching with the longing, with her grief, with Serena’s grief. Her son is tall and strong, and looks a bit like Marcus and a bit like her. She loves her children so very much.
Cameron is going to London. He will be far away, and out of reach. Bernie says softly that Serena will never be okay again. Her love, her friend, the woman who saved her. Bernie cannot help her, only be there by her side, try to carry her through it.
“Could we…?” She gestures with her arms, unable to say the words.
When Cameron holds out his arms she drags him to her, clinging to him in the corridor.
“I love you so much. I know I don’t say it enough.” Her voice is tinged with sorrow, and she turns into him and begs softly. “Please stay safe.”
She feels him nod, hears him say he will, closes her eyes when he says he loves her too. Then, she lets him go.
The next day she smokes on her break. She smokes in the carpark, on the roof, on the way home. Serena has been pushing her away, wanting to be alone, and not coming in to work. Bernie hovers, unsure of what to do other than be there for her. Sometimes she cannot find the words, and simply holds Serena as she cries. Her heart is heavy and she is trying so very hard to be strong, to be brave, to be fantastic and fearless. She takes Jason on outings so that Serena can be alone in the house for a little while. Jason comments on the smell of smoke in her car and she apologizes.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” he says.
“I know,” she murmurs back. She starts the car and backs it out into the road.
She watches Fletch drive in with his car sputtering and smoke coming out of the hood.
“Coolant reservoir has had it. She’s cactus Fletch.”
“It’s just a flesh wound, major,” he dismisses. “Nothing that a few parts and a bit of TLC won’t sort out.”
He looks up then, and says kindly, “I thought you quit.”
She shrugs, looking down into the car. “Tough month.”
She’s gone electric, and she deflects with her favorite tactic; making the conversation about the other person. She cannot bring herself to quit this time. Not when the house is like a florist’s. Not when Serena is distancing herself, pushing Bernie away during the day, then clinging to her at night when Bernie is in her bed. Serena’s knuckles turn white with the effort, holding her to her, her face buried into Bernie’s shoulder. Bernie clings back.
When Serena finally drifts to sleep, Bernie gently untangles herself, and goes to smoke on the balcony.
The summer air is warm, and a gentle breeze drifts through the garden at Serena’s house. Bernie cradles the e-cigarette in her hand, lost in thought as she stands on the balcony outside of Serena’s bedroom. She turns when she hears the door slide open, smiles gently when Serena steps out to join her.
Serena crosses her arms and looks out into the night, the streetlights turning on as the sun descends below the horizon. The sky is red, burning with the dying of the day. Bernie and Serena stand in compatible silence, watching the sun set.
“I think we need to talk,” Serena says ominously.
“Oh,” Bernie questions softly. She turns away from the city to look at Serena. The other woman looks nervous, and Bernie’s heart begins to pound.
Serena clears her throat after a moment, and turns to Bernie. She smiles softly. “Do you remember when we first met?”
Bernie, surprised by the question, smiles and nods.
Serena seems encouraged by this and her smile grows slightly. “You were in the carpark and had a cigarette. The one you had saved.”
“I remember,” Bernie says softly. They look into each other’s eyes for a moment, remembering all that has happened. How strange, that so much can change after a chance meeting in a hospital carpark.
“You said that Marcus had made you quit.”
Serena sighs, turns away and looks out into the darkness. She peers across the city, as if unable to look at Bernie. She takes a deep breath and whispers, “I never want to be like Marcus.”
Bernie laughs gently at this. “Serena,” she murmurs.
Serena turns back to look at her. “Serena, I don’t think you could ever be like Marcus.”
“But I need to ask this of you.”
“Ask me what?”
Bernie watches as Serena’s eyes drop to the e-cigarette. “Ah,” she says in understanding.
Serena turns away again, blushing slightly.
“The thing is...” She stops to take a deep breath. “The thing is Bernie, when Elinor died the one thing I kept thinking was that I needed more time.” Serena sighs, tears pooling in her eyes. They had started counseling, and sometimes they went together, and sometimes Serena went alone. It had helped, and Bernie is constantly amazed at Serena’s strength, at Serena clawing her way back to some semblance of happiness. Bernie is always struck by how beautiful Serena is when she laughs, how she has fought for their relationship, how she says “I love you” to Bernie almost every day despite the space between them.
It probably will not ever be the same. But they love each other, they are in love with each other, and Bernie knows with complete certainty that this thing between them is forever.
“I would do anything to have more time with Elinor.”
“I understand, Serena.”
Serena shakes her head. “No, I don’t think you do.” She moves closer, takes Bernie’s right hand and brings it to her lips. She kisses the knuckles there, her lips soft and loving. She looks up at Bernie.
“Every time I see you smoking I think about how it could take you from me, that it could make our time together shorter.” Serena’s eyes are blazing and Bernie’s breath catches at the sight. Her face is full of grief, but also full of such longing and love that Bernie cannot deny her this.
“Do you want me to quit?”
“Please.” Serena’s hand closes tighter around Bernie’s. “I’m asking you this for selfish reasons, I know. But I couldn’t bear it.”
Her voice is fierce and she whispers it again. “I couldn’t bear it.” Serena pulls her close, kisses her wantonly, desperately, with her hands in Bernie’s hair, and their hips pressed together. Bernie moans into the kiss and sighs as they pull apart. They rest their foreheads against each other, panting slightly.
“Will you think about it?”
Bernie nods, quickly kisses her again, then watches Serena go back into the bedroom.
Bernie turns around when she hears the sound of the shower. She stands on the balcony for a long time, looking down at the e-cigarette and rolling it between her fingertips. After a time, she looks away to the giant tree in the garden that Serena refuses to cut down. It is almost as tall as the house, and the branches are large and twisted. Bernie looks up to the sky and sees the stars, muted by the city lights. She breaths in and out, and looks at Serena’s garden, their garden. Ivy grows up and along the wooden fence, winding and lovely.
Bernie sighs and looks back into the bedroom window, sees Serena asleep in the bed with her right arm stretched out onto Bernie’s pillow. Serena is sleeping better these days, and Bernie smiles at the sight. She steps back into the warm house, the room gently lit by the bathroom light. Her steps are soft, so as not to wake Serena. She quietly places the e-cigarette in the bin.
Bernie climbs into bed, pulls Serena close, kisses her head and smells Serena’s shampoo on the pillow. Her heart, heavy for so many months, soars once more at the feeling of Serena in her arms. She feels on fire, burning with desire and love, and hope.
Bernie never smokes again.
I'm sorry this is a bit more angsty than what I normally write. Sorry!
Chapter 8: Girl talk
Basically, just valentine's (galentine's) day fluff.
Charlotte was having a bad day.
At least that is what Bernie can gather from the string of emojis constantly lighting up her phone screen. Angry faces, flaming fires, knives, and then a face with hands on the temples followed by a question mark. Bernie frowns at this, trying to decipher Charlotte’s meaning.
“What are you doing?”
Bernie looks up at Serena. She quickly glances down at the phone then back to Serena.
“Have you looked at your mobile this afternoon?”
Serena shakes her head. “Is there something I should know?”
“Check the groupchat. I think Charlotte’s having a bad day.”
“You think?” Serena asks, raising her eyebrow before turning to rummage through her purse.
“I don’t know! I can never tell when she starts using just the cartoons.”
“Emojis,” Serena corrects kindly.
“Emojis,” Bernie mutters, scrolling up the conversation. She sighs at the red-faced emoji and another face with smoke coming out of the nostrils.
“Oh, yes. Very bad day indeed,” Serena murmurs as she scrolls her own phone.
Bernie hums in response, her brow still furrowed.
“She wants to come over for a night in with us girls.”
Bernie looks up sharply. “What? How do you know that?”
“It says so, on the bottom.”
“On the bottom.” Serena rolls her eyes, smiling fondly across the desks. “The emoji with the massage.”
Bernie looks again at the conversation and sees that Charlotte is typing. Suddenly, a symbol of a hand with nail varnish appears next to the face getting a massage. Followed by three question marks.
“Oh,” Bernie mumbles.
Then, three dots appear. Elinor is typing.
“Meet you at the house at 19:00. Bring the ice cream, I’ll bring the nail varnish. Mum will already have the wine.”
Which is how Bernie finds herself lounging on the sofa in the sitting room with green foam all over her face. Serena had placed two slices of cucumber on Bernie’s eyes. But she eats them after a few minutes.
Serena is lying next to Bernie, green mask on and eyes still covered by vegetables. Her feet are resting on the table, pink toe spreaders on each foot. Elinor had painted Serena’s nails red, and was now working on Charlotte’s left hand. The two of them are sat on the floor, cross legged, and humming along to Enya. They have both gone for a shimmery gold varnish, and take turns painting the other’s nails.
It is one of Bernie’s favorite things, this newfound sisterhood between Elinor and Charlotte. Neither had a sister growing up, and Elinor really brings Charlotte out of her shell. While Charlotte calms Elinor a bit. They are currently chattering away, about television program other. Bernie can’t really keep up and decides to just soak in the moment.
Or rather, soak in the avocado. I’ve got bloody avocado on my face, Bernie thinks.
She looks over at Jason, who is sitting in an armchair and fervently reading a magazine about Transport. He has a black charcoal face mask on, and Bernie suspects he ate his cucumber as well. She watches him slowly turn the page.
Her face is all tingly now, and she feels a little silly.
Bowls of ice cream are littered throughout the room. Two on the floor, two on the coffee table, and one in Bernie’s lap. The remaining dessert has melted in the bowl, and she takes her time, slowly spooning the delicious liquid into her mouth.
Out of the corner of her eye, Bernie sees Serena has taken off her cucumbers and is looking at her. Bernie takes extra care to slowly lick the spoon, grinning when Serena's breath hitches. With the utensil still in her mouth, she turns to look fully at Serena and giggles. The other woman is glaring, but is still covered in face mask. She looks ridiculous and wonderful.
“You look ridiculous and wonderful,” she blurts out.
“That’s flirting mum,” Charlotte teases. “We were promised a flirt-free Galentine's day.”
Bernie sticks out her tongue at her daughter.
“Very mature,” Charlotte quips with a smile. She turns back to Ellie’s nails.
Bernie looks once more at Serena. Then, she reaches over and squeezes Serena’s hand. “I’m going to go wash this gunk off my face.”
Serena nods, and Bernie smiles.
Serena nods again and follows Bernie up the stairs, their hands still linked together. Serena giggles when she hears Elinor shout up at them.
“That’s definitely flirting!”
Once they are in the master suite, Bernie watches Serena wash off the mask. She looks at the marble counter, peppered with different products, scents, lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes. Bernie would never have owned half as many products. But for Serena it is a passion, a luxury, something to indulge in. To her it is perfectly natural to own ten sticks of lip color. Bernie loves her all the more for it.
She busies herself as Serena towels off her face, removing excess pieces of the mask. Bernie looks at the cream pot of eyeliner, black and smooth. Crystal perfume bottles are tucked into a drawer in a cupboard in the wall. Tom Ford and Chanel. Bernie remembers what Serena smelled like the day they met; like lavender and honeysuckle. She remembers how Serena had tasted when they first kissed in theatre, how she had found Serena’s lipstick on her own lips hours later. Bernie smiles and continues exploring.
Powders are in the next drawer, foundation, concealers, and blushes. Pink dust sits on the bottom of the drawer. The brushes for the powders are collected in a brass makeup brush holder on the counter by the mirror.
Then, eye shadow, mascara, and setting spray. Bernie fidgets with the lipsticks on the vanity. She opens one and twirls the end until the pink stick is all the way out. She looks at the shade, the gentle slanted angle, the black packaging with gold lining.
She remembers watching Serena put some on this morning. She had marveled at Serena’s effortless grace in the movements, the unhurried painting of lips. Bernie loves to watch Serena in the morning.
“Your turn,” Serena murmurs. Her face is toweled dry, the skin a little red and flushed.
Bernie nods and moves to the sink. She splashes her face with the cool water, closing her eyes and washing away the foam. The tingly sensation of the mask fades, and she looks at her face in the mirror. Her fringe is a little wet from the spray of the faucet, and Bernie stands slowly, pushing the hair back away from her face.
She takes the towel from Serena’s outstretched hand, then slowly pats her face dry. This pamper evening routine thing is still new to her. The world of shampoos and conditioners, hair masks, and overnight moisturizers is still foreign territory. Bernie was never one for bubble baths and white candles on the window sill, bath bombs and nail varnish.
But she could get used to it.
Suddenly, Serena takes both of Bernie’s hands in hers and looks deep into her eyes. “Are you ready for it?”
“Ready for what?” Bernie nervously asks.
“Girl talk!” Serena grins, and Bernie rolls her eyes.
She follows Serena back downstairs. The lights are a little dimmer, and Jason has progressed in his nighttime routine, and Bernie can hear that the kettle is on. In their absence the wine bottles have disappeared into the bins, and the bowls have migrated to the dishwasher. Elinor and Charlotte are cuddled on the sofa, watching some film with Colin Firth in a sweater.
Serena sits next to Elinor and Bernie goes to the kitchen and pulls out four mugs. She pours the tea. Peppermint for her and Serena. Chamomile for Charlotte, and herbal for Elinor. Jason prefers to pour his own tea. Then, she sits and listens to Charlotte talk about her day. The trains were late, she spilled her coffee on a new blouse, her boss was in a foul mood, her heel broke in a grate on the way back from lunch.
And her boyfriend dumped her via text this afternoon. The day before Valentine’s day.
It turns out most of “girl talk” is just listening. And Bernie is a great listener. At the end of the tears and the sniffles and after a cuddle with Elinor, Charlotte seems right as rain. But Bernie takes her aside when they are clearing up. Charlotte has her coat on, and a big fuzzy hat and mittens. She looks rather sweet, her nose still a little red from crying, and Bernie pulls her close.
Hugging her children becomes easier each time. Bernie smiles as Charlotte holds her tight, her face buried in Bernie’s neck.
“I’m so proud of you Charlotte,” she murmurs quietly. “And I love you so much.”
“I know mum,” Charlotte whispers, her voice a little tearful.
They pull apart slightly, arms still holding the other. Bernie smiles, lets her hand come up to play with a little of Charlotte’s hair peeking out from underneath the puffy coat.
“Shall I have him murdered?” she asks lightly.
Charlotte giggles and sniffs her nose. “Thanks mum, but he’s not worth it.”
Bernie nods with a small smile. “But you’ll let me know if you change your mind?”
Charlotte nods. Then, she leans in for another quick hug, and whispers into Bernie’s shoulder. “I love you too, mum.”
Bernie’s heart soars.
When Jason is asleep and Elinor and Charlotte have left, Bernie and Serena meander upstairs. The lights are slowly turned off, and the house is plunged into darkness. A candle flickers on Serena’s side of the bed. It’s scented. Some sort of vanilla thing, Bernie thinks. It smells like Christmas cookies.
Bernie is wearing her PJs, wooly socks, and a jumper. She always gets cold at night, despite the warmth that practically radiates off Serena. Her head is resting against the headboard, her pillows fluffed, and a book resting on her lap. Bernie cannot focus on the passages, and her head is nodding forward and back. Girl talk takes a lot of energy it seems.
She hears Serena come in, moisturizer applied and eye cream dabbled onto delicate skin. Bernie looks up and smiles, and places the book on the nightstand. She curls into Serena, wraps her hand around Serena's waist, pulls her close until they are lying side by side. This is Bernie’s favorite way to end the day: gazing into Serena’s eyes.
Bernie supposes this makes her a romantic. She does not mind, and leans in to kiss Serena’s closed eyelids.
Serena is nearly asleep, exhausted after a long day on the ward. Her breathing is slow, and Bernie is surprised when she hears her mumble.
“What?” Bernie whispers.
Serena looks up. “I said, never dump me the day before Valentine’s day.”
“Oh,” Bernie says quietly.
And then, softly and with infinite tenderness she whispers, “I’m not ever going to dump you, Serena.”
“Nope,” Bernie murmurs.
“Good, because you’re incredibly lucky to have me Berenice Wolfe,” she declares sleepily. Her eyes drift shut once more.
Bernie chuckles and kisses Serena’s forehead, before turning to switch off the lamp. As she does, Bernie glances at the clock on the nightstand. She notices that it has just gone midnight. She turns back and sees that Serena is asleep. She whispers into Serena’s ear.
“I love you Serena.”
And then, after a few moments, she whispers once more into the muted darkness.
“Happy Valentine’s day.”
Still a bit in denial. Sorry!
Chapter 9: Small talk
They are at a party, some kind of fundraiser with tuxedos and evening gowns. Sparkling necklaces glimmer around perfectly powdered necks, and doctors and hospital administrators rub elbows as their elegant hands grasp crystal champagne flutes.
It is Bernie’s version of hell.
Small talk never was her strong suit. A string quartet plays in the corner, and pockets of people are scattered throughout the ballroom of the English mansion. The soft din of conversation and idle chatter rumbles along in the evening air, and Serena talks and talks, fully in her element while wearing a crisp evening suit.
Bernie mumbles through a few exchanges, shakes hands, and talks about the trauma bay. She murmurs quiet pleasantries to people she doesn’t know, let's Serena lead the conversation. She fetches a soda water for Serena, lingering at the bar, then slowly weaves her way back across the room. They’ve only been here for an hour, but Bernie feels tired, emotionally drained. She entertains herself by watching the way Serena unconsciously plays with an earring, or how she sips her drink, how the loose blazer of the suit frames her shoulders.
Bernie finds it a little strange that she loves Serena’s shoulders so much. So she shakes her head, and tries to pay attention instead of drifting, and realizes that the couple Serena was talking to is leaving. They are suddenly alone in the crowd. Serena turns to her and looks at her over her glass as she drinks the last of the fizzy liquid.
Bernie licks her lips as she watches Serena swallow.
“You’ve been watching me ever since we got here,” Serena murmurs.
Bernie smiles slightly. “I thought you liked it when I watched you,” she says softly.
“I do, but-”
Serena stops mid sentence, seemingly distracted by Bernie’s lips as she licks them once more. Something in Serena’s face changes, grows darker and harder to read. Her eyes are gleaming in the chandelier light, and Bernie’s breath hitches.
“Come with me,” Serena says quickly, and suddenly Bernie is being led through the crowd, her hand tightly grasped in Serena’s. She follows, smiling at the decadent strangers as they make their way to the edge of the ballroom. Bernie loves holding Serena’s hand, especially when Serena is tugging her along.
Then, they leave the party, entering a long, dark corridor. After a few twists and turns, Serena opens a large, heavy wooden door tucked away in a small alcove. She turns the round, gold knob with ease. The thick door clicks shut behind them and the world is all muted darkness, the sounds from the party filtering in like some far away dream. Silver moonlight slants in through the large window at the back of the room. Serena pulls Bernie further into the gloom, their hands still firmly clasped together.
“I told you I’d been here before, for Ric’s reunion,” Serena whispers.
Bernie’s eyes adjust to the darkness and she realizes they are in a small library, or a very large study. The smell of books fills her senses, and she closes her eyes, breathing it in.
“I love the smell of books,” she whispers.
“I know,” Serena says softly.
Bernie opens her eyes and sees Serena standing very close. Too close. Her eyes are gleaming in the dark and Bernie lets herself be spun and pushed up against the shelves. Yes , Bernie thinks. The wooden bookshelves rise up from the floor and run all the way up to the vaulted ceilings. Bernie leans against the wood, places her hands behind her to steady herself and lets her fingertips brush against the spines along the shelf.
Serena’s hands are on Bernie’s shoulders, gently pushing Bernie back against the books. Her fingers are resting on Bernie’s skin, cool and soft. She looks up at Bernie, her face open and wanting. It is an invitation. Serena leans up for a kiss, and Bernie leans down to meet her halfway. Bernie moans softly against the tender kiss. It is almost chaste, simply a brushing of lips together. Serena tastes of lipstick and the lime from the fizzy drink left on a lonely cocktail table. Bernie sighs and sinks into Serena.
They break apart after a minute, breathing a little quickly. Bernie brings her hands up to frame Serena’s face, and her thumb brushes against Serena’s bottom lip. She gasps when Serena licks the thumb. She sighs when Serena turns against Bernie’s right palm, kissing it and cradling the back of Bernie’s hand with her own. Bernie’s chest aches, and for a selfish moment she wishes that this was the entire world; the two of them in moonlight, somewhere apart from everything else. Somewhere away from grief and sadness and out of the shadow of death, away from the fear that Bernie feels when Serena goes to work without her. Far away from the feeling of Serena slipping through her fingers, drifting farther and farther out to sea, swept away by deep waters.
Bernie holds tight and whispers in the dark.
She drags Serena closer, impossibly closer, until they are kissing wantonly, with sharp gasps and smothered moans.
“We have to be quick,” Serena whimpers between kisses.
“Then be quick,” Bernie says.
Serena’s breath hitches at the challenge, and she bites down on her lower lip, and Bernie has to kiss her again. But Serena shakes her head when Bernie leans forward, and Serena pulls away slightly with a mischievous grin. Bernie sighs as Serena’s fingers thread through her hair. Serena forces Bernie’s head back against the shelves. She comes closer and licks Bernie’s ear, her tongue flicking along the shell. She sinks her teeth into Bernie’s earlobe, and Bernie feels her knees buckle.
“Oh, god,” she groans.
Serena breathes out harshly into Bernie’s ear, then slowly kisses her way down Bernie’s neck. Open-mouth kisses with her tongue gliding down. When she reaches Bernie’s shoulder she switches to the other side, biting down slightly.
“Yes,” Bernie whispers.
Serena nibbles her way up Bernie’s neck and Bernie groans again. The bites are harder now, almost goading, and Bernie shuts her eyes as Serena forces her head back further. Serena’s fingers are still buried in Bernie’s hair.
“Quickly, my love,” Bernie hears herself say. Her arms are looped around Serena’s neck.
Bernie feels Serena gathering the silky fabric of her skirt, pulling them up and up along her thigh. Serena yanks them up until they are bunched up at Bernie’s hip. Then, a hand is delving between her thighs, and Bernie has to bury her face into Serena’s neck because it's too much.
Serena’s hands are always maddeningly slow, the movements calculating and devastating. Tonight it is the same, and Bernie cannot help but move her hips against Serena’s hand. She moans into Serena’s skin as a finger dips past her wet knickers and slips inside her.
The sounds of the party are far-flung and muffled by the distance and the thick door of the library. The sound of Bernie’s breathing roars between them, and it takes a moment for her to realize that Serena is panting too. She’s focused and slow and Bernie listens to her breath as the wooden floor panels creak beneath their feet. Their faces are so close together, and she knows without looking that Serena’s eyes are hooded and lovely. Dark and deep.
She hears Serena whisper her name as a particular twist makes Bernie shudder. She’s tightly wound and the aching is so good that Bernie knows it won’t take much. Serena murmurs her name again, soft and sweet, her voice low and husky.
They have never done this before, sex in public. But there is an ancient door between them and the outside world, and the movements are familiar, thrilling and hurried, gentle. Serena adds another finger, and her thumb comes up to graze Bernie’s clit.
Bernie sobs at the contact, the thumb fleeting and teasing. She grips Serena’s shoulders, and winces slightly as she feels her back pressed against the shelves as Serena pushes into her again and again. Bernie feels a little lost in the movements and imagines once more that they are somewhere else, quiet and peaceful- somewhere high and full of solitude, a place belonging only to them. She is aching and so full of a strange, wanting feeling, and her fingers are curled in the soft fabric of Serena’s suit. Her mouth is open and her lips are pressed against Serena’s ear, hot breath against cool skin.
“Close,” she whispers to Serena.
“Now,” Serena demands, her voice hard as iron.
Bernie clenches down at the command in Serena’s voice, and she comes with a growl. She bucks against Serena’s hand, whimpering as Serena kisses her forehead and works her through it.
The recovery is soft and unfurling, the kind of ending that makes Bernie yearn for more. Serena kisses her eyelids, her cheek, and then leans up to kiss her lips. It is a good kiss. A kiss that makes Bernie want to leave the party and drive home through the bleak night and follow Serena up the stairs to bed. But she stays still, trying to calm her breath. She rests her forehead against Serena’s, and notices she’s a little sweaty and warm. She leans forward to capture Serena’s lips again.
But then, Serena steps back, moving farther away toward the door. She is moving out of the moonlight and into deeper shadow, sliding across the floor. Bernie takes a step to follow and feels herself dragged along with Serena. They do not speak.
They watch each other, and the gaze is altogether different than the gaze Bernie had out in the ballroom. She steps farther into the blackness and listens to Serena breathe. Serena is recoiling into herself and Bernie watches as Serena’s walls are built and fortified once more. The brief moment of vulnerability is over and gone. Bernie watches Serena drift a little farther out to sea.
“We should go back,” Serena whispers.
Bernie draws a deep breath and nods. She follows Serena into the light again, and watches as Serena washes her hands in the washroom. Then, they step out onto the ballroom floor and smile and glimmer, shake hands and talk and talk and talk. She watches Serena shine, but sees the hints of sadness, and worries. After the soft moonlight the ballroom seems too sharp, too real and loud, too full of other people. Bernie stays close, and takes Serena home when she turns to Bernie and says, “I’m so tired.”
“I know,” Bernie says.
She crawls into bed beside Serena and curls around her. She hums when Serena turns over so that they are lying face to face. Bernie tries to speak, but sees Serena shake her head as Bernie opens her mouth. She settles for watching Serena sleep, and her heart aches as the worry lines fade with slumber. Serena’s face slowly becomes peaceful and still.
As Serena drifts, Bernie swims. She swims farther and farther, out and away into the waters that Serena is treading so desperately. Bernie wades into the raging grief and tries to understand, tries to put things back together, tries to make it somehow better. Bernie cries at the way Serena falls to sleep gripping her like a lifeline, as if trying not to drown.
Chapter 10: Talk
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.