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The Woman at Table 10

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On entering the Crow’s Nest, Bernie greets Dom at the bar where he’s drying a tower of glasses for the evening crowd. They exchange the usual pleasantries and the usual gossip. Who’s shagging who now and who’s on the outs, who finally got noticed by the record label execs and who’s lost their deal due to drink. The indie circuit is dog eat dog on the best of days, but the meanest dog any act’s ever faced is its own demons.  Bernie gave up a chance at fame in her twenties when her demons caught up to her. Thirty years later, she’s finally feeling stable enough to play music in public again.

During a lull in conversation, Dom gives a whistle and jerks his head toward something behind her.  “Your girl’s back.”

“She’s not my girl,” is out of her mouth before she fully registers what he’s said. Once her brain catches up, she turns to take in the early arrivals for tonight’s set, and he’s right: sat in a cozy corner booth is her mystery woman. No name as yet, despite Dom’s offer to scour the pub’s receipts for her contact details, just an omnipresent face in the crowd.

Bernie’s takes a sip of her sparkling cider to settle her nerves. As much peace as she’s made with the past, performing still gives her the jitters. This woman, she must admit, makes her a touch nervous, too.

She’s a brunette of indeterminate height with pretty, striking features.  She’s roughly Bernie’s age, give or take a couple of years, attired in a very loud but somehow fetching leopard-print blouse. And for as long as Bernie can remember, this woman has been attending her shows. Wherever in Holby it may be, whatever the hour, there she is. Bernie can count on one hand how many the woman has missed since she started her pub tour four months ago. It isn’t necessarily her loyal attendance that catches Bernie’s notice, however; Bernie has a few fans left over from her first try, a dozen or so who make the trip to meet her at every show. They’re the ones that motivate her to return to stage again and again, but none of them make her choke on her drink when they glance her way. Not like this woman.

Dom lunges over the bar to slap Bernie on the back when her cider goes down the wrong pipe and she begins to hack futilely into her fist. Bernie spins around on her stool and hunches down, hoping the woman won’t notice her making a tit of herself. 

Dom wrinkles his noses at her raspy wheezing. “She’s still watching you. I think you’re worrying her—and me. Do you need the Heimlich? I bet I can get Mrs. Robinson to do it for you. Bet she’d even volunteer.” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively in the direction of her distant admirer.

Do it and you’re dead. Bernie would say something like that if she weren’t currently wringing out her lungs one by one.  Bernie keeps coughing to clear her airway and waves him off. She doesn’t want the other woman anywhere near her before she goes on; the embarrassment won’t help her stage fright. That’s her kryptonite, stages and audiences, and occasionally women who can flirt more effectively with a raised eyebrow than Bernie can with a four-minute song and both hands.  She loves performing just the same, only she needs time to put her game face on.  Head in the game, Wolfe. The show must go on.

When at last she gets her breathing under control, she squints into the bar mirror to see if she can make out her favorite attendee.  She never has her glasses when she needs them.

“Is she still watching?”

Dom, to his credit, peers discreetly over Bernie’s shoulder to see.  “Mmm, no, I don’t see her anymore. Looks like she did a runner while you were at death’s door.” He finishes up his drying and starts stowing the pint glasses out of sight under the bar.  “Nice going, woman. That’ll get you laid.”

Bernie hisses at him, scandalized, “I’m not trying to sleep with her, Dom!” She lowers her voice when another regular concert attendee comes up to her to make a song request. Smiling politely, Bernie takes a notepad out of her jacket pocket and notes it down. She usually prefers requests to go through her drummer or Dom, but she isn’t opposed to taking them personally. She isn’t nearly that degree of famous and she hated distant affectation back when she was.

“Some light snogging would do you, though?” Dom continues after her requester’s gone.

Bernie grunts and ignores his jibe. She’s a little disappointed the woman in leopard hasn’t reappeared five minutes out from their sound check.  “Cider’s on my tab, along with anything for the crew.”

“And your muse.” He flutters his lashes prettily and she lobs a balled up paper napkin at his head. He darts out of range, laughing up a storm as he goes to take drinks orders from the slowly filling tables.

Bernie has this habit dating from her pre-fame days where she picks someone out of the crowd to serenade during her performance. She once foolishly referred to such a person as her muse and the name stuck. Her muses tend to be women, not of any conscious decision on Bernie’s part but because her shows are more heavily attended by women than men. She used to question why women drew her notice so easily where men tended to be lost in the shuffle of the singing audience.  She scoffs at her youthful naiveté every day.  The word I wanted back then was ‘lesbian’ and I couldn’t pick it out for the moon and stars.  She doesn’t have that problem anymore.

Bernie manages to finish her cider without the distraction of that specific woman to threaten her life. No risk of aspiration this go round.

She grabs her guitar from the manager’s office and makes for the stage in time for their scheduled sound check. Her band consists of her niece Charlotte, her nephew Cameron, and a couple of her mates from the army. They each managed to wheedle her True Hollywood Story out of her at some point and it turned out they all liked her music enough to want to back her up. They gel together pretty well for a rag tag bunch of former soloists making it up as they go along.

She seeks out her leopard-clad woman without success while she warms up with a B-side from her debut album.  Every lyric she’s ever written remains etched in her memory well after the inspiration for the songs has slipped her mind. A blue-eyed girl she met in Lower Sixth and a doting barista from a Belfast cafe; the Creative Writing teacher who gushed over her poetry in secondary school, more than once. All right, some of them she remembers better than others. She still thinks about Mrs. Chalmers’ hazel eyes sometimes; they’re as inspirational today as when she was sixteen.

Her promoter waves at her from the back of the pub when it’s time for the show to begin.  Charlotte taps the cymbals a few times to rouse the crowd. Bernie takes it from there.

“Good evening, all. Welcome to the Crow’s Nest. We’ve put together a show I hope you’ll love.” She has to pause for whoops and hollers. She raises her hands for quiet when it goes on too long.  “Come on now, we’ve got to get started if we want to get through it all.” She leans into the mic to stage whisper to the crowd, “I’ll get yelled at if we run over. Best not!” She gets a round of laughter and her anxiety gradually begins to lessen.  She can do this.

“Now, you all know how this starts.” She drapes a hand over her eyes in imitation of some fainting maiden of old. “My poor nerves.”

They laugh again. Her stage fright used to come up in every interview she gave, so compelled was she to apologize for it. She loves being the center of attention and she hates it. Swings and roundabouts.

“My poor nerves need a focal point or I’ll forget all the words. Who’s going to be my friendly face in the crowd tonight?”

There’s a bit of laddish jostling as attendees goad each other into volunteering. Bernie spares an eye for the booth where her ever-present woman was seen cooling her heels earlier in the night. A huddle of university students have crowded into the booth now, Bernie realizes with a pang. Her lady is nowhere to be found. She swallows her disappointment and begins to look in earnest for a worthy substitute.

Co-eds in groups at tables 1 and 3. Men scattered about. Women of a certain age in batches or pairs, some singular. One singular. Just re-entering to occupy a reserved seat at table 10 in back. Dark-haired. Taller than previously thought. Flustered like she’s come out the losing side of an argument. Taking off her coat to show a blouse covered in a leopard’s spots. The woman sits down and accepts a glass of red wine from one of the servers making the rounds. Bernie’s constant star.

“Any volunteers?” she asks in the name of fairness. There’s still a chance somebody else will catch her eye.

Hands go up all over. She makes a show of scrutinizing her choices. She pauses in front of a table packed with university students, all of them women.  “You lot are a bit young for me. Call me in a decade, and then we’ll talk!” They giggle. At least a couple blush at her flirtatious tone. Bernie’s always had that effect on girls.

She singles out a tall, reedy man in glasses about the middle.  “I’m loving your suit, mate. Who’s your tailor?” He actually tells her. She nods. “Give him my regards. You’re looking spiffy.” He ducks his head and adjusts his tie pin. She’s a dab hand with the boys, too, when she puts her mind to it.

Bernie points back at a table stacked with porters from her temporary ward at St. James.  “And don’t think I don’t see you cowering in the corner over there. Let’s give a round of applause for our severely underpaid and overworked NHS personnel. What a thankless job you’ve got.” She gets the applause going and Cameron pumps it up with a musical beat. The woman at table 10 is a surprisingly raucous participant of the ovation Bernie leads.

Bernie’s going to cover the porters’ drinks as well as that of the crew. She indicates as much to Dom and he confirms from the bar.

She keeps dawdling, engaging her concert goers with a witty remark here and there, but her attention unfailingly drifts back to table 10. Leopard-print woman appears less frazzled now that she’s made quick work of her first glass of red. She’s watching Bernie with all the keenness of a spectator at Wimbledon though Bernie isn’t doing anything so engrossing. The fascination is mutual.

In for a penny…

Bernie picks her woman out of the audience after another minute’s deliberation over the packed seating area. There are others in brighter clothes and shouting her name over the speakers playing a backing track till the live singing kicks off, but none of them stand out like she does.  Bernie finally has an excuse to learn her name.

She signals for Dom to wade through the listeners to bring the woman a spare microphone at her seat. The woman blinks and flicks a look at Bernie to see whether Bernie’s made a mistake. Bernie points at her directly.  You’re the one I want. Yes, you.

“What’s your name?” Bernie asks her at last, via microphone.

Dom mimes speaking into the open mic for the woman in question and holds it in front of her face. She lowers to a more comfortable level for speaking. 

“Serena,” she says, her voice clarion and husky, resounding through the pub to the stage with ease. Serena has the voice of a singer or a politician; she’s a woman who knows how to make herself heard. Bernie likes her already.

“Welcome to the show, Serena. What should I sing for you tonight?”

Serena plays with her necklace.  “I’m partial to everything you sing.”

Bernie ducks down to stroke the polished body of her guitar.  Her fringe falls into her face and she leaves it; all the easier for her to hide her eyes.  “No one’s partial to everything. You must have a favorite. What are you in the mood for? A love song? A heartbreaker?”

Serena still looks mystified and not a little ecstatic to be in the hot seat, if Bernie’s reading her expression correctly.  “I don’t know, maybe a love song? Something uplifting.”  

Bernie bobs her head, mentally reviewing her backlist for an appropriate track.  “I can do uplifting. I’ll be singing to you, Serena, so don’t go anywhere.” She winks at her muse and Serena illuminates her corner of the pub with the brightness of her smile.  

“I’ll be here till the very end,” Serena vows. Something Bernie can’t bear to name swells inside her chest. Now she knows her muse is going to be a problem.

Bernie strums an absent chord on her guitar, her prevailing nervous tic.  She wants to keep that smile alive.  “I’d like that.”

She nods for Dom to leave Serena be and turns to her band to confer on a song to sing. 

They’ve been going through her extended discography in rehearsals on the off chance somebody requests something obscure. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being caught mixing up the words to her own song–and fans notice! They know her work note for note and they love it with each beat of their hearts. She’s seen stripped-down, acoustic covers on YouTube done by fifteen-year-olds that put her original recordings to shame. She’s caught herself nodding along to newly released ballads that sample her songs and remix them till they’re nigh on unrecognizable.  Though she might have left the industry, the fans have kept her work alive in so many ways since that putting in the time to be good is the least she can do.

Bernie sweeps her hair away from her eyes.  “What about that one song? Uh, the one about wanting to be in love. The one I wrote for that American.” Bernie doesn’t have a mind for the titles of her songs. She’s written hundreds for dozens of artists on either side of the Pond; they run together.

Charlotte, her drummer and self-proclaimed music archivist, scrolls through her iPod Classic to find it. “Got it.” She adds it to the top of the set list.

“Cam, you remember that one?”

He gives her the okay sign that Bernie will believe when she sees it. His F1 training at Holby City Hospital is keeping him busy and on the verge of collapse; he’s missed plenty of rehearsals for it. She’ll go without him at the electronic keyboard if she has to. His studies come first.

She sets down her guitar; she won’t need it for this song.

“Okay, let’s do this.”

Bernie returns to the mic stand and the audience falls silent. Bernie begins to feel the rush.  All eyes on her. The tension mounts. The second bass guitarist starts them off with a whispered count.

“1...2...1, 2, 3.”

Charlotte drops the bass line while Cameron brings in the melody, and then Bernie begins to sing.

 

 

Serena sits forward in her chair, chin cupped in her hand. The recessed lighting cast her in unobtrusive spotlight, rendering almost everyone around invisible. A halogen halo glints off her dark hair. It’s no trouble serenading her. It’s remembering there are others who came to see her that has Bernie clutching the mic and turning to someone else lest she linger on Serena too long.

Bernie detaches her wireless mic from the mic stand and stalks the length of the stage extorting the virtues of being in love.  She keeps Serena in her peripheral vision to drink her in. Though the pubs low light obscures the color of her eyes, Bernie imagines they must be brown. They’re keen and large, following Bernie like a figure in some hyperrealistic painting.  Bernie has to look away or she never will.

She pins a pretty redhead in place with a smolder hot enough to scald, and sings words that beg her for a kiss.

The woman gulps her pint.

Bernie crouches on the edge of the stage to take the woman’s hand.

The ginger blushes. Bernie smirks and saunters to the next pretty face down front. Farther back Serena is pulling a face that isn’t readable as anything but unhappy, and Bernie won’t stand for that.

As the song rounds to the bridge, Bernie makes a whirling gesture behind her back to let her band knows what’s coming. She sidles down the steps at the end of the dais and winds her way through the seated crowd. This part is easy. Being Bernie Wolfe, the public persona, is like putting on shoes, one foot at a time.

She rubs shoulders and squeezes extended hands between lines. Someone, she suspects the redhead, tucks a slip of paper in her back pocket that’s probably a mobile number she won’t call.

She hones in on Serena’s position by way of every other patron. Touch, wink, smile. Smolder if there’s time. Bernie’s got the pattern down. She drags her fingers over Serena’s back as she passes behind her, glances a thumb off the downy nape of her neck. She thinks she feels Serena touch her back, their fingertips just glancing on a pass. Their eyes meet as Bernie declares once again how much she wants to be in love. This time, with someone strong and kind.

Serena smiles and there’s a charming little divot in her chin. Her eyes are kind, brown as packed earth, and her cheekbones are high and round. Bernie lingers over her lips. Serena is singing along with her, silently but word for word. Happy wonder warms Bernie’s to the core.  She’s being serenaded in return.

So distracted is she with her muse, she almost misses her cue for the penultimate verse. 

Caught in Serena’s twinkling stare, Bernie croons about romantic dinners, set with candles and complete with wine.

She perches on Serena’s table to steal a very quick, cheeky sip from her glass and sings that the morning after won’t see her at work on time.

Serena raises a regal eyebrow at her and steals her drink back. Tease.

Oh, Bernie wants to be in love. 

They share a grin at the soppy lyrics and Bernie’s just a touch off beat for the rest of the song. Bernie is never off-beat.

By the time she’s back on-stage, Serena no longer looks sad at all.

Bernie lets herself look her fill for the next several songs.  Serena sings every word. She laughs. She smiles. She even dances as the night wears on and the complimentary drinks wear away at her decorum. She’s an effervescent sight for sore, lonely eyes.  A jealous churning invades Bernie’s gut when the man in the well-turned suit dances with her like they’re old chums. Only when they part with a friendly cheek kiss and the man exits the pub can Bernie relax back into her performance.  Serena’s attention is hers alone once again.

From here on, she makes sure to hold Serena’s eyes at all times.  Tonight is the night for something unexpected. Maybe even a little romance. Certainly some bravery. Bernie’s specialties.

The backing track for one of Bernie’s steamier hits from the 80s begins to pour from the mounted speakers. The older fans perk up in their seats, clapping.  Serena goes still, utterly transfixed. Exactly how Bernie wants her. This is one of Bernie’s most kinetic songs for all that it keeps her tethered to the stage.

Bernie feels nineteen and on top of the world.  Nothing can stop her but for the only things that will.  She grabs her guitar, already plugged into the amp downstage, and lets off her opening riff.

 

 

Words of frustrated desire pour forth in a flood. Bernie’s first great love affair turned bitter envy but the yearning remains.  Yearning outlives all.  She fixes her gaze on Serena as she sings the first verse, flitting her eyes between Serena’s eyes and mouth, an act that must be nearly unnoticeable over the distance.

Except to the woman who won’t take her eyes off Bernie.

Serena’s elegant fingers twine through the chain around her neck where a flush is stealing its way under her skin to make her glow.  

Bernie fantasizes about venturing into the audience again just to get close to that neck. Just to peek under her collar to see how far down Serena’s adorable blush starts.  She might like to find out how she can make it spread farther, to spread Serena farther if she could.

Focus! Focus. Finish the show and then get your girl.  Bernie smiles to herself and runs her fingers through her hair as the song heats up. The electronic keyboard ramps up, the drums intensify. She sings lower, rougher, deeper, faster. Her fingers work the strings between the frets by muscle memory alone. 

Bernie saunters halfway across the stage, guitar cradled to her side like the lover she hasn’t got waiting for her at home. She sings a breathy tune, rolls her shoulders to the beat, and blows a kiss to a woman on a date who looks like she might faint.  Serena’s eyes narrow and Bernie shoots her a challenging look. Serena isn’t the only one who can tease.

The second bass guitarist plays back to back with Bernie through the second verse, and laughing, they sing together into the mic. Focus.

She manages for the three lines.

Serena loosens a button revealing the lace edge of what might be a black camisole, might be a bra, if Bernie isn’t wishing desperately.  

Bernie lets her eyes rove around the audience restlessly through the refrain, only to land on Serena all over again.  Serena continues to look fascinated and if Bernie doesn’t miss her guess, aroused. Yes, you. I want you.  Everything else is a distraction.

She does want Serena.  Over the past several weeks, Bernie’s traversed all the stages of confusion and attraction where Serena is concerned. She’s been baffled and flattered at her attention. She’s been intrigued by her constancy. Now that she’s heard Serena’s voice and put a name to a face, she has to admit she’s also felt the undeniable stirring of attraction.  Serena is beautiful and Bernie wants to see every inch of that beauty up close and tangible, shivering under her touch.

Bernie undoes a button of her own shirt to fight the heat of the lights and Serena’s gaze. Serena shifts in her seat and her tongue darts out to wet her lips.  Bernie imagines tasting Serena’s lips right now, wine-stained and parted for Bernie’s tongue. Serena gulps as though she can read Bernie’s mind, and maybe she can. It would make things so much easier on Bernie’s end. Less talking and more feeling. Doing. Taking. Having.

She’s playing with her pendant again.

Bernie knows she’s won a victory when Serena lays a hand across her collarbone and strokes it along the column of her neck. Goose bumps rise on Bernie’s skin.  Bernie has never wanted a woman so fiercely after sharing so little.  But all she wants to share is more.

The song, her song, rises to a sensual peak that thrums through Bernie’s body like nails raking up the back of her thighs.  And if she imagines they’re Serena’s nails, that’s her secret for the keeping.

Her fingers drag and caress the strings the way Bernie would caress Serena if she were standing right in front of her. In a perfect world… 

She leans into the song, her voice deep and rough, aching for a lover someone else has that used her be hers. Her hips rock to the rhythm of desire. Sweat drips down her face. Her shoulders writhe.  Her guitar sings like the equal she’s never found. A duet for one.

Bernie soars into her guitar solo with emotion born of experience, pouring all the jealousy and buried love of a scorned lover into each pluck of the strings. She peers at Serena for every one of the fifty-five seconds her solo lasts, unblinking even as her hair falls into her eyes. For reasons she can’t explain she wants Serena to know how it feels to long for someone being touched by another with every fiber of her being.  She wants her to know that Bernie can burn with desire, too.

Serena grabs her wine and drains it without taking her eyes off Bernie.  They’re both the victims of a great and wonderful thirst.

The song simmers. It rises and falls, and decelerates. The chords peter off into infinity like some endless hymn, its melody an eternal refrain echoing in Bernie’s chest.  Love denied is haunting. It’s the denial Bernie remembers best.

The backing track fades and Bernie’s fingers fall still. The clapping begins like it always does. This is the song that made people wonder and it’s the one that finally set her free. The clapping grows louder and it takes Bernie’s rubbing the back of her hands in her stinging eyes to see it’s Serena adding to the furor.

Bernie reddens, sheepish. Has she been too blatant in making her intentions known?  Wanting strips her naked of the trappings of the stage and makes her vulnerable. She hasn’t been this vulnerable in such a long time.

She scrubs beads of sweat off her face with her jacket sleeve.  She forgets how much work it is performing till she’s up here doing it again.  She finishes off a chilled bottle of water between the next few songs. These are slower, easier, not about Bernie’s broken heart or foiled desires. She could perform these in her sleep.

Cam calls for a forty-minute intermission when he gets a page from the hospital. Bernie checks her phone to make sure St. James isn’t involved. Nothing. She checks in with her band and crew, chats with the guests who want to talk with her, and laments that Serena doesn’t appear to be among them. Serena’s on her phone, her expression increasingly grim.  Bernie pats a budding musician on the back and leaves them with her old manager’s contact info. She wants to see what’s got her muse tied up knots when Bernie’s just got her smiling again.

Only there’s the matter of introducing herself when they’ve technically already met. Bernie grabs her guitar case and fingers the pack of cigarettes in her jacket pocket for strength. She approaches the woman at table 10.

“You come to all my shows and you never say a word to me. Why not?”

Serena lifts her eyes from her mobile and puts it in her purse when she sees it’s Bernie addressing her.  “I wasn’t aware you had an open door policy. I didn’t want to be a bother.”

Were that anybody else took that view.

“Anyone who makes time to see me play is someone I have time for, not a bother.” She pulls up a chair to Serena’s table for one. “You were looking sad tonight.” She winces inwardly at the inelegant segue.  She couldn’t think of a better way to broach the topic.  “Erm, earlier, before. Would you like to talk about it? I’m not much good for lifestyle advice, but I’m told I’m an above average listener.”

Serena sits back and crosses her arms over her chest, all skin, leopard, and lace.  “Is that where you get all your material? Accosting unsuspecting women with compassion?”

“I’ve got enough stuff of my own to work through, actually. I’m just trying to help if I can. It’s part and parcel of my personality, wanting to help people make sense of things.”

Serena gives her a wan smile. It pales in comparison to what others she’s shown tonight.  “Since you’re asking, it’s been a tough couple of years.”

Tell me about it. Bernie sets her guitar case on her lap and rests her folded arms on its scuffed surface.

“Bad marriage?” Bernie hasn’t seen a wedding ring and she’s most certainly checked.

Serena rules that out with a shake of her head. “Behind me. Not as far behind me as I’d like but behind me.”

Bernie suppresses a pleased grin in lieu of humming in a neutral key.  Serena needs a friend, not Bernie triumphantly pumping her fist about the fact that she is unattached. Well, unmarried. They aren’t always synonymous.

“Trouble with work?”

“There’s a loaded question. Let’s say, work’s been a handful and home isn’t any better, for different reasons.” The creases in her face deepen under some unknown strain Bernie wishes she could erase.

“I’m sorry to hear that.  Why don’t you let me buy you a drink? Or dinner.”  That’s normal, right? Asking a woman to dinner when you want to get to know her better and make her night.  Bernie needs to date more, she’s out of practice.

“Your set’s not done.” Serena indicates the remainder of the band where they’re milling about on-stage sipping club soda.

“I could leave early.” She shouldn’t, but she could, technically.  There isn’t much show to be had without her.  She takes her guitar pick out of her breast pocket to mitigate her nerves.  She was less apprehensive before performing than she is talking with Serena.

“You don’t do that,” the other woman counters. “You always play through. I’ve heard you sing with a head cold.” 

Blame her staunch British reserve for her refusal to say die in the face of a miserable cold.

“Don’t remind me. I must have sounded dreadful.” Bernie had worked two shifts back to back before that show a month ago. The performance was a blur though she’d only heard good things about it on social media after the fact.

“Dreadful isn’t the word I’d use.  Your voice was very sexy. Sexier than I’d heard before, which I didn’t think was possible up to that point. Like a shot of bourbon, straight.”

The only thing straight about me.

“I should have recorded my performance that night for comparison. Which brings me to my real question.” Her pick sails between one finger and the next, similar to a coin in a street magician’s grasp.

“I didn’t realize you were working your way up to something.”  Serena’s fingers drift to her prominent collarbones, unadorned nails scratching distractingly at the hollow of her throat.  Bernie’s eyes linger on the delicate skin until Serena softly clears her throat to remind her she meant to speak.

“I suppose I wasn’t at first, uh, working my way up to something. But this seems like the right time to ask, so here we go. Why do you always come to my shows? Not that I don’t want you at my shows. I love seeing you here. You’re...gorgeous and age-appropriate, and did I mention gorgeous, because that’s really a huge advantage of you always being around. I was just wondering why.”

Serena’s features shift through a range of expression as Bernie speaks, rambles really, before settling on nonplussed.  “I like your music.”

“Liking my music is buying it on vinyl or streaming it online. Not showing up to almost all my live shows on a work night. You seem to be a busy woman. Where do you find the time?”  They’ve ignored the ringing of Serena’s mobile twice in their brief conversation. And Bernie has no idea why she’s bothering with the question. Why does it matter why Serena comes, so long as she does?  For a woman so gifted at songwriting, her conversation could use fine-tuning. She rolls her guitar pick around between her fingers faster.

“I am busy, usually incredibly busy.”  Serena checks her watch.  “I’m a busy woman who enjoys live music. Your music. I didn’t know I was being conspicuous.”

Bernie pockets her pick to hide how much she could do with a cigarette just now. “That’s all right. You’re not an easy woman to overlook is all.  A girl could forget her place in a song seeing you every week.”  They share a long look.

Serena traces the rim of her glass. “Well.”

“That isn’t a bad thing,” Bernie clarifies, to be on the safe side. “Liking my music is—I might be biased, but I think that’s a display of fine taste. And that leopard-print blouse is a very particular look that nobody else could pull off as well as you can, another point in your favor. Besides, I’ve been looking for an excuse to talk to you, but you haven’t given me one so far.”

“Even though I’m always here?”

“Because you’re lovely and I’m someone who prefers the company of beautiful women, even if I am a bit pants at talking to them.”

“I don’t believe you are.” Serena raises her hand back to her necklace and then, seeming to realize how telling the motion is, drops it to her lap. They exchange sheepish smiles.  Bernie’s stomach flips. It’s like being in secondary school where every emotion feels bigger than the skin she’s in, each one the size of planets when her body’s no wider than a classroom globe.

“Believe me.” Bernie nicks Serena’s wineglass and sits back in her seat, out of reach of any reprisal. She crosses her legs to hide her subtle toe tapping.  I should have quit last year.

“A singer and a wine thief.” Serena folds her hands under her chin.  “Do you also moonlight as a cat burglar?”

“I’ve been told I have cat-like reflexes.”

Serena’s eyes narrow in skeptical appraisal. “Are you sure they weren’t being facetious?”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Serena. This friendship is off to a sterling start. To new beginnings,” Bernie toasts and finishes off what little wine remains in the glass.

“Very few steal my wine and live to tell about it.”

“Then, I must be exceptional. Not the first time I’ve heard that.”

“Or I could be a soft touch for aging pop stars.”

Bernie balks at that.  “Oi, watch the aging bit!” 

“Aging beautifully,” Serena amends. Her eyes are too soft for Bernie to take it as a joke.

Bernie clears her throat. She feels all over warm, and not a little naked under Serena’s laser focus.  “Likewise.” 

One of Bernie’s legs begins to bounce in earnest, jostling the table so noticeably she winces. Cravings. “Sorry, I could really do with a fag right now. If I haven’t made a daft idiot of myself, you’re welcome to join me. I’m just going to the alleyway out back.”

Serena regards her, slightly dubious of her invitation. “If that’s a line, it could use some work.”

“If I was trying to pull you, you’d know.”  Bernie will let her know.

“Believe it or not, that only adds to my confusion. I’ll join you. I should be going soon, anyway.” 

Bernie clutches her sleeve as she stands to collect her coat and purse.

“Please stay. I haven’t been much of a host. I owe you another song.”

“You don’t owe me a thing. I’ve seen you twenty times if I’ve seen you once. We could probably both do with a change.” There’s an odd note of self-consciousness behind her otherwise seamless poise.

“Can’t say I agree.”

Bernie leads her through the throng of pub crawlers to the back corridor, past the toilets, leading to the alley exit. On opening the heavy steel door, they encounter a couple of a smokers coming back inside.  The alley lives up to its name. It’s a narrow gap between the Crow’s Nest and an Italian restaurant Bernie can’t remember by name. There’s a skip near the mouth that reeks of hops and mushy peas, and a bunch of dented bins line the wall behind the door towards the dead end that terminates in a chain-link fence.

“Charming,” remarks Serena in a dry tone.

Bernie is quick to light up once they’ve cleared the fire exit and she’s propped up her instrument out of the way. Her body sings; guilt jockeys for position with relief in her head.  She promised her younger brother she’d quit in the New Year and that was months ago.

“Sorry. Terrible habit, I know, but it’s hard to kick on my schedule. It keeps me going.”

Serena offers no outward judgment.  “It’s the nicotine. It’s a stimulant.”

“Oh, I know. That’s what I’m counting on.”

Bernie and Serena prop themselves up against the pub’s dingy brick wall with Serena standing downwind, ostensibly to avoid getting a face full of smoke. Bernie studies her profile and finds her desirable from every angle.  If I didn’t have a show to finish....

“You could talk to me if you’re going to stare so intently.”

“I don’t think I’ve been this close to you before. I’m admiring the view.”

“Let me guess: You see a very tired middle-age woman who could do with a trip to the salon for a touch-up.”  Serena brushes a hand over her hair.

“I distinctly recall saying beautiful a while ago. Not that one precludes the other.”

Serena’s dominant eyebrow twitches. “You’re laying it on a bit thick. Are you sure you’re not chatting me up?”

Bernie doesn’t think the faintly hopeful tone she catches is wishful thinking on her part this time. “Would it be the end of the world if I was?”

Serena tilts her head to return Bernie’s scrutiny.  “Not the end of it.”

“Good, I was worried about that.  Kiss a girl and end the world, not a good look.”

“You haven’t kissed me yet.”

Bernie breathes in deeply and holds the smoke in her lungs, and then breathes out.  Serena ogles the cigarette nestled between her lips.

“Somebody’s keen.”

Serena opens her mouth and shuts it swiftly with a toothsome click. The single security lamp shining above them provides just enough light for Bernie to see Serena’s face reddening.

Bernie puts out her fag on the sole of her boot.

“Serena Serena Serena, are you a groupie?”

Serena laughs a bit too loud to be convincing. “At my age?”

“At your age,” Bernie confirms.  She turns and plants a hand on either side of Serena’s head, trapping her against the wall. “Serena?”

Serena instinctively inhales the faint trace of smoke Bernie exhales and emits a rapturous sigh.  “Hmm?”

“Former smoker?”

“Only during emergencies.”

“It’s the stimulant,” says Bernie, echoing Serena earlier sentiment.

“Shut up and kiss me.”

“See what I mean? Keen.”

Bernie interrupts Serena’s indignant squawking by bringing their lips together.  She winds an arm around Serena to draw her flush against her chest.  Serena feels as good as she’s imagined. Her kiss is an open invitation, hot and wet and welcoming; her arms are steady and possessive.  She kisses like she doesn’t let go easily.  Good thing Bernie doesn’t either.

The kiss draws to a close and Serena blinks up at her, breathing hard. She makes a halfhearted attempt to regain her composure.  “I told you, I’m a big fan of your music.”

“Four months,” Bernie reminds her.  “Four months and eleven shows, with your arse in a chair in front of me.” She kisses Serena bottom lip with an edge of teeth.  “Groupie.”

“A girl’s gotta have her hobbies.”

“Am I your hobby?”

Serena purses her lips.  Needless to say, Bernie is feeling very smug.  She could grow to love being Serena’s greatest distraction.

“Serena,” Bernie sing-songs amid a stream of kisses meant to coax and provoke.  Despite her grumbling, Serena lets Bernie back into her mouth so willingly Bernie may never leave. Serena wants Bernie as Bernie has wanted her all these weeks.

“All right. All right,” Serena concedes as they part, grudging and gruff even as she grips the back of Bernie’s jacket for balance.  “I was something of an aspiring groupie in my day, but I could never get close enough to get up to anything truly scandalous. It was a long time ago.”

“Not too long, I hope.” She’d welcome Serena on her tour bus any night.

Serena tows Bernie to her by her belt loops.  “Remind me what I like about you. I’m starting to forget.”

“Aside from my discography?”

“Uh huh.” To say she knows every word Serena affects blasé all too well.

“Aside from my impressive fingering capability?”  Serena jumps when said fingers sneak under the waistband of her trousers to brush her hipbones. 

“To be continued,” Serena advises, though she makes no move to relocate Bernie’s hands as they wander.

Bernie dips her head to lap at the slope of Serena’s exposed clavicle. “My linguistic skill?”

Serena swallows noisily.  “If this is a set-up for a cunning linguist joke—”

“I also happen to be one of those. My French is impeccable. So glad you noticed.”

Serena shoots her a flat look.  “Bernie...”

“Shh, I’m reminding you of something.”

The kissing resumes uninterrupted. Serena twists a hand into Bernie’s hair which is nice and terribly distracting.  Bernie hums tunelessly at the scalp massage that ensues. Her hair is going to be messier than usual when it’s over, not that anybody will notice.  The ‘just shagged’ look is her signature, after all. She plans to earn it.

Serena releases Bernie’s lips with a laughable pop. Bernie does laugh, actually, and Serena joins her.

“Damn, you’re good.”

Bernie can’t feign modesty worth a damn.  “I’m not arguing with you.”

“You’d better not.”

“Message received.”

They lean heavily on each other as they regard their narrow view of Holby and the sky.  It’s chilly and dark and grimy, and the stars are hard to see; it’s better together. Serena watches Bernie more than any of it. Bernie can’t see past her either.

“I sense you have questions. Ask away.”

Serena hesitates. Bernie gives her an encouraging nudge.

“Go on.”

“I’ve always wondered...about before.” There are only a few events in Bernie’s life so momentous they warrant a temporal marker. Before the IED, before the army, before her dreams became nightmares. Before Serena showed up just in the nick of time.

“Before I quit on the job and the life a billion people would kill for and joined the armed forces?”

Serena leans into Bernie. “Uh huh.”

Bernie tries to get a read on her expression and sees only genuine curiosity.  If this story ends up in Page Six, at least I’ll know who sold it to them.

“All the money in the world isn’t worth lying about who you are.”

Serena doesn’t cop immediately, but she catches on in a few seconds, Bernie can tell by the sympathetic expression that molds her features.  She rubs Bernie’s arm in silent solidarity.  This is Bernie’s story to tell and for the first time she wants to tell it.

“You probably know this, but they initially liked me because I wrote all my own music and played all my own instruments.”

Serena dutifully rattles off, “Piano, violin, bass guitar, and…”

Bernie gives her a look. “The drums.  You know your trivia.”

Shoulders rising bashfully, Serena demurs.  “I told you, I was a big fan in university.”

Bernie can picture a university-age Serena in a white concert t-shirt with Bernie’s face emblazoned on the front, with Bernie’s pictures on her walls, singing her songs in the shower.  Her pulse quickens.  Focus.

“No idea how you could stand it. My voice was nothing to write home about.  The record label only agreed to sign me if my manager hired a vocal coach to get my voice up to par.”

“That’s why you’re better than I remember.” Serena cushions the backhanded compliment with another kiss.  Bernie is beginning to remember why being a rock star was so fun in the first place.  

“I liked the lessons more than I liked the industry and kept them up after I was out.  I’ll never be Annie Lennox, but I’m a stronger vocalist than when I started.”

“What happened?”  

“A lot in a brief period of time.” She shoves a hand in her jacket pocket.  “They wanted to change my image for the second album, go more feminine. I didn’t mind that, necessarily, even if I wasn’t in the game for primping. I didn’t care how I was dressed so long as I got to make music and play where people could hear me. But there were other things they wanted. They wanted a say in who I socialized with. They wanted to pick my friends for maximum impact. They wanted me to be seen at certain places and not at others. They had a whole PR scheme planned for my social unveiling. They picked this guy from another band on the label, Marcus…something.” She has the most vivid memory of meeting him and knowing to the pit of her stomach this was the end of her dream.

“Marcus Dunn of One & Dunn?”

“Blimey, that wasn’t it, was it?” Bernie pulls a face that makes Serena laugh.  “I guess it must have been. Anyway, I let them set us up for a meet to see if there was a spark. I knew there wouldn’t be, though.”

“It was in all the tabloids.”

“I remember. The label had already decided the relationship was a dead cert and I was sick at the thought.”

“He always seemed nice in all his interviews.  But I guess he’s supposed to.”

“He was nice. Just nice.  Like someone you meet in the supermarket, not someone you date or marry, or grow old with. I could tell he liked me, but he was all wrong for me and the more everybody pushed him on me, the more miserable I got.”  She had a bodyguard back then, a woman who quickly became her best friend, and then more than her best friend.  She didn’t care much for Marcus either.

“And then the papers started talking engagement,” Serena reminds her; unnecessarily, as it happens. Bernie’s brothers still keep scrapbooks full of those tabloid covers that they like to tote out at Christmas for her youngest nieces and nephews to gawk at. ‘See, your auntie used to be famous,’ they say.  All Bernie sees is that she used to be a mess.

“That’s when things got out of hand. I started lashing out at my management team publicly and drinking heavily, among other vices. I was unhappy and I couldn’t say why. I told them I was unhappy, I told anybody who’d listen and I was told I was replaceable, that my compliance was the price of fame.”

“You decided that was too high.”

“It was.” Bernie blinks up at the smog-filled sky.  “It is. I wouldn’t take it back for anything. I just wanted to make music; the rest was white noise.”

“Am I right in guessing it wasn’t all about Marcus?”

“None of it was.  I’m gay and I was still coming to grips with that when I was being listed among the hottest couples in Tiger Beat with a man I found funny and friendly and totally unsuitable. I wasn’t ready to ransom the rest of my life to a record label who’d discard me as soon as I hit thirty.”

“That’s a big decision to make at twenty-one.”

“It was make it or wait for somebody to make it for me.  I’d been a passenger throughout my meteoric rise, coasting on my good fortune. I figured I’d best start driving or risk disaster on the fall.”

“The army, though?”

Bernie scuffs a boot on the grimy asphalt below.  “After my record label sued me for breach of contract, going to the army was just about the only way I could pay for school. I’d always said I wanted to be a doctor if I couldn’t be a professional musician and here was my shot.”  Though no longer a part of it, Bernie loves the army. The sense of purpose and belonging, the opportunity to do something good. Her father had been army and he’d been prouder of her accolades in uniform than he ever was of a gold album certification.  Part of her still wishes he could have been proud of both.

“And you stayed all that time?”

“I did. It was a home for me.” The paparazzi were barred from bothering Bernie during her studies and training. By the time she was due to be shipped off, some other brittle pop starlet was falling apart on the front page. They didn’t need her for fodder anymore.

“Why’d you leave if you loved it so much?”

“I got dumped. I got blown up. Thought the universe might be trying to tell me something.”

“Fair deduction. What are you doing now?”

“Locum work.  Music lessons.” She points a thumb back her guitar.  “This. I’ve got the time and I keep getting requests through my fan club for reunion performances with the old band, so I thought why not set up a pub tour? I keep it local.  It’s low pressure and there’s almost no overhead since I walk from home. It’s a pretty happy life for me.”

Serena rubs her back. Sympathy and empathy, not pity.  Bernie has had enough pity from herself not to want any more from someone else.

“Good. I’d wondered what became of you, but I got so wrapped up doing my own growing up that I lost track. Then, I looked you up online after hearing one of your songs on the radio for the first time in ages, and you were doing this. The rest is history.”

“So it is.” Bernie elects to leave history where she always does: behind her. “Care to tell me what’s really bothering you?”

“Can I be honest?”

Bernie cocks her head meaningfully.

“I suppose it wouldn’t be fair of me to refuse after you’ve been so forthcoming.” She takes a deep breath and exhales, and just like that, the misery bubbles to the surface. “I was passed up for a job I earned and my ex-husband made a fool of me in the workplace, assuring I’ll never have that job now. This was months ago but I’m still bearing the repercussions.  On top of that, my mother is gravely ill and it’s down to me to care for her. Me alone. I work impossible hours for next to no recognition, I care for my mother, I try to make time for my increasingly distant daughter, and if I’m very fortunate, I have time to sleep.  As you can imagine, I don’t sleep much. Being here is about the only break I get.”

Bernie’s at a loss.  “Oh, Serena. No wonder you look like you’ve been kicked. You’re having a rough time all around.”

Serena regards the opposite wall stonily. “A very rough time,” she agrees. “There’s nothing for it, I’ll have to get over it. That’s the life of a consultant, isn’t it? If it isn’t death, it’s disappointment. You think I’d be used to it.” Her chin wobbles; it isn’t anywhere as durable as her iron fist.

Bernie cups the nape of her neck in a meager attempt at comfort.  Serena arches into the touch.  Bernie tries valiantly not to envision another scenario where she’d like Serena bowing up for her hands. This isn’t the time.

“Never get used to it.  You deserve more.”  She slides an arm around Serena’s shoulder to pull her into a half-hug she clearly needs. “And, you have to give yourself time to grieve your loss. Take it from me. Be it a marriage or a job, you get to stew in it for a while before you get on with it. I’ll have you know, my music is prime stewing material.”

Serena guffaws.  “I’ve never felt the urge to brood when I hear your music.”

“What do you feel the urge to do when you hear my music?”

“Dance. Snog in a backseat. Shag in a backseat.” All of which sound like marvelous suggestions to Bernie. The saucy gleam returning to Serena’s eyes says she agrees.  The fun we’ll have.

“The holy trinity. Exactly what a songwriter wants to hear.”

“You probably hear it all the time.”

“That’s just the business. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t curious.”  Bernie produces another cigarette from the pack out of habit.  “What does my music make you want to do tonight?”

Serena pockets the cigarette before Bernie can light it.  “We don’t have time for what I want to do tonight.”  Their mutual disappointment fills the air.

“Then let me do one more thing for you before I let you go.”

“I’m listening.”

“That’s all you have to do.” Bernie touches her cheek.  “Let me sing you something, just to cheer you up.”

Serena peers at her with fondness that’s a stone’s throw from tangible. “You’ve spent the last two hours on stage. Aren’t you sick of singing?”

Singing and playing are just about the only things Bernie never gets tired of doing.  “Would it help?” she asks instead.

“I think anything you do might.  You have a funny effect on me.”

Bernie’s sympathetic nervous system could write an epic on what Serena is doing to her.

“Come back inside.” She beckons Serena back up the alley to the rear entry of the pub. “I’ll even play piano for you. There’s a rare sight.”

“All right. Just the one song,” Serena insists.

“Just the one.”

Bernie draws her through the door by the hand. Their hands fit nicely together, puzzle pieces slotting neatly into place.

Cameron’s still MIA when they get back inside and the band has moved on to G&Ts to pass the time.  That gives them another fifteen minutes to kill. Bernie deposits her guitar in the back office with the manager’s blessing and takes Serena over to the piano situated in a corner adjacent to the stage. The pub keeps the piano finely tuned for open-mic nights; it’s one less thing for Bernie to worry about.

She lets go of Serena to lift the cover on the keys and gives them a tickle. Just as she thought, beautifully tuned and ready to play.

She looks to her right to find Serena idling too far away.  “What are you doing over there? Sit with me.” She pats the piano bench beside her. She wants Serena close. She’s got fairy dust coming off her and Bernie’s going to need a hit to remember how this song goes.

Serena settles beside with her hands between her knees. A few inches of space separate them. Bernie allows it.

“Still no requests?”

“Whatever you want. I trust you to choose.”

Bernie gives it some thought while she’s binding her hair in a hair tie. “Bad day. Beautiful woman. Cozy pub. Oh, I’ve one for you. You game?”

Serena confirms she is. She’s smiling again.  Bernie wants to kiss her again.

“This one isn’t mine, but I like it. Maybe it’ll cheer you up. It’s called The Nearness of You.”

Bernie begins to play the melody as she sings.

 

 

Serena is smiling from the first note.

“I adore this song.”

Bernie plays on. “Good, it reminds me of you.” Beautiful, timeless. How could Bernie choose anything else?  “Is it helping?”

“Keep singing and we’ll see.”

“It isn’t your sweet conversation
That brings this sensation
Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.”

Serena scoots closer. She looks between Bernie’s playing hands and her eyes. “Why this song?”

Bernie pauses before the bridge.  “Why not?”

“Just curious.”

“No particular reason. It’s…it’s a nice song.”

“I agree. Not really the cheering type like that Happy Feet song.  More like a song you’d sing to a girl you fancy.”

Bernie’s fingers slip on the keys. She pulls them away to set them on her lap. “Um. Would you prefer something different? I don’t know the Happy Feet song, but I know others.”

“No, no. I like it.” She gives Bernie’s knee a consoling squeeze and leaves it there. She just leaves it there. Bernie’s heartbeat must be audible for all it thumps away behind her ribs. “I’ve always liked you. Even when I was a teenager girl, I used to fantasize about you singing to me.”

“Does reality live up to your daydreams?” Do I?

“Surpasses them.”

Bernie covers Serena’s hand with hers and tangles their fingers together.  “Good.”

Serena mobile sounds again yet they lean toward each other, drawn together by the fine, glittering threads of attraction that snared them months ago.  Bernie wants to take Serena home with her and unravel all her mysteries.

Intent on Bernie’s lips Serena inadvertently brushes the piano’s keys, setting of a discordant note that breaks the spell the music cast over them. Were it not for the look of disappointment that takes root on Serena’s face Bernie would think she meant to do it.

“Although I love having you all to myself, I think I ought to be going. There’s something afoot on my ward, possibly a multi-vehicle RTC meant to roll in at any minute. I have to be there.”

Bernie pouts. An RTC of that caliber is likely to go on all night and well into the morning.

“Will you be around tomorrow tonight?”  Bernie’s pulling a rare two-night engagement since she has the next day off from St. James.

Serena hedges, “It’s possible. My mother will be off with a carer for the evening. In all likelihood I’ll be at home with just myself and my steady girlfriend Shiraz for company.”

“You have a girlfriend named Shiraz?”

“It’s a bottle of red, darling.”  Serena pats her chest consolingly.

Bernie is embarrassed at how her heart had plummeted at the possibility.  Red wine was never her drink of choice.

“I’m glad to hear that. I’m not much of a drinker, but I’m happy to pop your cork if you could use a hand.” Bernie lightly tickles the ivories to hide her smirk at Serena’s groan.

“Terrible.  But you can consider yourself invited. I’ll break out the corkscrew for you.”

Bernie looks at her askance. She doesn’t want this night to end, them to end.  “Are you having a laugh?”

“Only if you don’t want to come over.”

Bernie definitely wants to come over.  She hasn’t wanted anything this much since she decided to start performing again after twenty-nine years.

“I do. I’d love to see where things can go tomorrow, if you don’t mind sharing your wine.”

“Let’s see, a gorgeous woman who enjoys my company and has a predilection for sinfully tight jeans. It would take a stronger woman than me to resist.”

Serena’s phone vibrates loudly in her pocket.

“Come on, I’ll walk you out.”

They leave the pub arm in arm, Bernie giving the performance of her life ignoring Dom’s suggestive looks as they go.  Bernie wants to see Serena safely to her car, not because the neighborhood’s terribly unsafe, but because she wants another chance to be with Serena alone.

Serena stops Bernie at a lime green Saab convertible parked just around the corner.  “This is me.”

“It’s very you.”

“It would be a shame if I never kissed you again, but that could happen.”

Bernie pretends to zip her lips.  Leopard-print blouses and a lime soft-top convertible?  Nothing about Serena is surprising anymore; everything is charming.

“Are you all right to drive?”

“I am. Nursed my last glass for the last couple of hours. Don’t worry.”  Serena produces a business card.  Serena Campbell is the Deputy CEO of Holby City Hospital and the lead clinical consultant on AAU. Small world, thinks Bernie.  “My mobile number’s on the back.  Give us a ring when you have a chance and we’ll make plans.”

Bernie tucks the card in the same pocket as her guitar pick, where it’ll be most secure. “I like plans.”

“So do I.”  Serena takes her hand.  “Goodbye, Bernie. Don’t seduce any other clinical consultants while my back is turned.”

“Damn, I was spoiled for choice tonight, too.” She kisses Serena one more time.  She’s missed kissing pretty girls. Her recent dry spell has been long and especially dry.  “Good luck in the trenches.”

Serena gives her another kiss with her arms looped around Bernie’s waist. She’s a perfect height for Bernie to tip her back against her car door and cover her body with her own, so naturally she does that very thing. Serena raises a knee to bracket Bernie’s waist and tilts her hips toward Bernie’s. The friction between Serena’s fine trousers and Bernie’s rough jeans is delicious. They both groan.

Bernie tugs them both upright. “You’d better go before I forget how to behave in public.”

“Don’t threaten me with a good time.”  Serena pulls out her keys, looking Bernie up and down as she unlocks her car.

“Break a leg up there. Not literally. I have plans for those legs tomorrow night.” Serena's parting leer is spectacular, sending Bernie’s libido into overdrive wondering just what Serena has planned for their first official date. Four months, eleven distant run-ins, and here they are just getting started.  Potentially explosive doesn’t begin to cover it.

After Serena departs in her little green car, Bernie ambles back into the Crow’s Nest with a pep in her step and a smile firmly etched on her face.  Cameron’s already texted to say he’s needed at Holby in the ED and won’t be joining them for the rest of the night. Bernie makes a note to ask if he and Serena have met before.

Dom is conspicuously sorting the notice board by the door on her return.  “So, what’s Serena like?” He makes a naughty sort of expression as he says her name that Bernie dares not interpret.

“You’re not going to keep saying her name like that, are you?”

“I might. Tell me all. Is she as gone on you as she seems, because she was looking pretty far gone tonight.”

“We’re getting together at her place tomorrow evening. I guess that’s when I’ll find out.”  She so wants the answer to be yes.

“The lady killer strikes again–-and it only took you four months to find the guts to ask her name.”

Bernie rolls her eyes toward the ceiling.  “Remind me why I let you harass me this way.”

“Because you haven’t got a wingman or a best mate and you need one.”

“I do all right on my own.”

“Four months!”

She’s never going to be allowed to live this down.

Bernie relents. “I admit I may have been a touch slower on the draw than I used to be, but I got there in the end. You saw us, tonight was practically foreplay.”

Dom pulls a face.  “I literally did not ask.” He shakes his head.  “Never mind, details later. Get your arse back on that stage. Your super fans are getting restless and I think they’re out for blood. Better yours than mine.”

“I really appreciate the support I’m feeling from you, Copeland,” she snarks as she dashes off to retrieve her instrument from the back office.

“It’s all part of the Crow’s Nest advanced customer service. Tell your friends,” he calls after her.

“What good is telling you when you own the place?”

Dom has to give her that one.

Bernie doesn’t see him shrug because her mind is already back on-stage with the band.  The night is young and Bernie’s never felt younger. She can’t wait to see what the next evening will bring.

She’s hoping for an encore that lasts all night long.