Bernie Wolfe had gone through life known by several different titles, some more welcome than others. Some were a result of her own hard work - Ms Bernie Wolfe, surgeon. Major Bernie Wolfe VC, decorated Army medic. One was a quirk of birth and largely ignored – Lady Berenice Wolfe, due to her father's very minor hereditary peerage. One was tried briefly but swiftly discarded – Mrs Marcus Dunn, wife. The titles with which Bernie Wolfe currently felt most kinship however, were the self appointed ones – failure, fuck up, washed up cripple.
Blown out of a fulfilling and rewarding career, courtesy of an IED planted at the roadside, she had been dropped into this grey, drab existence. No longer saving life and limb, with her very purpose ripped away, Bernie's days were now spent drinking too much whisky and avoiding the outside world as much as was humanly possible.
*beeeeep* “Bernie, pick up the bloody phone, I know you're there. Bernie! I can't believe you chased away yet another physio. Bernie? Oh for fuck's sake, look this is one battle you are not going to win. I'm just going to keep on sending new physiotherapists until you come to your senses and start actually working with one. You're my oldest friend, and I love you dearly, but this has been going on far too long now. It's time to pull your head out of your arse and actually start living again. With the right help, you can regain full mobility and even think about going back to work. You know me, Berenice Griselda Wolfe. You know I won’t give up.”
Bernie toasted the answerphone message with her grubby tumbler of Lagavulin “Yeah sure Cass. Have you forgotten how stubborn I can be when I really put my mind to it? You'll find some other charity case and move on soon enough.”
Bernie Wolfe seriously underestimated Cassandra Wilde and her levels of cunning and determination. She knew the ex soldier only too well. From the moment Bernie had tried to stop her visiting the hospital after being transported back to the UK for life saving surgery, Cass knew something was very wrong and that she was going to have a fight on her hands. She charmed, wheedled, flirted, bribed and, on occasion, blatantly snooped to make sure she knew exactly what was happening with her friend’s treatment.
Best friends since the dark days of boarding school, they had initially been thrust together in class seating plans and dormitories thanks to alphabetisation. They had become firm friends, in spite of their personalities being almost polar opposites. Cass put it down to them both having ancient Greek names. Bernie could never really see it herself, what with Cassandra being a beautiful, elegant name and Berenice being just plain weird. Whatever the reason for their friendship however, shy and socially awkward Bernie was eternally grateful to have been taken under the wing of the more outgoing girl. Wilde and Wolfe were almost instantly inseparable. The odd couple. Cassandra had the wild ideas, regularly getting the pair into any number of scrapes, and Bernie would try and be the voice of reason. It even occasionally worked.
Cass had always been there for Bernie. She encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a surgeon, supported the decision to join the RAMC in the face of fierce family opposition. She had tried to like Marcus Dunn when Bernie attempted to appease her family by marrying. She had obviously tried to subtly steer Bernie away from him, it being all too clear to her that the odious little man was no more than a gold digger and terrible social climber. Sadly Bernie had almost no self confidence with men, and he had been the first to show real interest around the time her father had started making increasingly loud noises about marriage. Cass went with Bernie to the solicitor when it became clear just how big a mistake the marriage had been. She even knew way, way before Bernie herself had realised, that Bernie was gay. She was damned if she was going to let Bernie give up entirely on life and drink herself into an early grave. Not when a bit of hard work, determination and sweat could give Bernie a new lease of life.
It may be something of a cliché to claim to know someone almost better than they know themselves, but in the case of Cass and her knowledge of the way Bernie’s mind worked, this was no mere exaggeration. Bernie was a stubborn mule of a woman, but Cass knew the right buttons to press, and exactly how to press those buttons, before Bernie would eventually give in.
Cass had spent weeks on end, after it became clearer and clearer that Bernie was determined to just rot away in her flat, researching and interviewing physiotherapists until she was finally ready to put the wheels of her plan in motion. She had a very good idea how many physios Bernie would reject out of hand. Therefore, the ones who went before were mere cannon fodder. All skilled, experienced and highly qualified physiotherapists obviously, just in case Cass had for once miscalculated her friend, but cannon fodder none the less.
Although she would deny it until the cows came home, Bernie Wolfe had a very distinct type. At school there had been Mrs Schmidt, the German teacher and Miss Barker the biology teacher. Both beautiful, brunette and velvety voiced. Of course, had you asked Bernie at the time, they were just brilliant, inspirational teachers... That Whatshername at uni (who Bernie had just pined desperately over from a distance). When she was doing her training at St Bart's there had been consultant Ms Keating (beautiful, brunette, velvety voiced) just a brilliant, inspirational doctor, surgeon and mentor. These were just the few that Cassandra could remember off the top of her head, too. It wasn't until Bernie was deployed in Afghanistan that the penny well and truly dropped, and she finally fell into the arms of Alex Dawson, beautiful, brunette and velvety voiced anaesthetist. It hadn't ended too well of course, but whose first love generally does?
Enter, one Serena Campbell.
In which we meet Serena Campbell - physiotherapist.
When Cassandra Wilde was searching for the perfect physiotherapist for Bernie, she made two piles of possible candidates – the men who made the grade in terms of qualifications and experience went into one, and the women into another. She felt horribly sexist doing this, but “Needs must when Bernie's devils drive.” she kept telling herself, both as mantra and self justification.
To put her plan into place, it was only the four best female candidates who received an invitation to come and interview for the job. Well, you could hardly email them and ask them to provide you with an 8x10 and a voice recording, now could you?
The first two interviewees were unfortunately both firmly in the cannon fodder column, both nice enough and obviously very well qualified, but too far from Cass's template for Bernie’s ideal woman. Bernie had never shown any interest in blondes, and as attractive as it was, pillarbox red hair was unlikely to have much effect on Bernie. The third was a possible – brunette and attractive enough, but the shrill voice was a worry. Cass needed someone to cajole and encourage Bernie back to fitness, and the whining, drill-like quality of that woman’s voice wasn’t too likely to achieve that.
And so it came to the fourth and final female candidate. To say Cass was worried by this point was an understatement. She was desperate to get Bernie the help she needed and she was almost out of options. At this rate she would be reduced to hoping that either candidate one or two might be persuaded to reach for the hair dye!
Cass checked her notes on the woman she was about to meet.
Serena Campbell, 51, with over 25 years experience as a physiotherapist. Ah yes, this had been the CV that Cass had been most impressed with out of the dozens she had pored over, both male and female. On paper at least, she was absolutely perfect, having worked extensively with ex-servicemen and women over the years. Now it was all down to looks, voice and personality.
“Call yourself a feminist, Wilde? Barring the swimsuit round, you might as well be on the judging panel for Miss frigging World, the way your mind is working.” she muttered under her breath.
“Excuse me, are you Ms Wilde?” A voice like rough velvet, wrapped in silk asked. “I’m Serena Campbell”
Cass froze. She hardly dared to look up. Cass stood and blindly thrust her hand out to shake the other woman's hand.
“Ms Campbell, thank you for...”
She trailed off, suddenly lost for words. If you had taken every physical aspect of every single woman that Bernie Wolfe had fallen for, in all the years Cass had known her, and distilled them into a single entity, it would have been Serena Campbell. Forget Kelly Le Brock, this was some seriously Weird Science!
“Uh, yes sorry, Ms Campbell, thank you so much for coming, please take a seat.” Cass mentally shook herself and tried to gather her thoughts.
“Please, call me Serena”
Oh lord, Cass had always been a fully paid up member of the dyed in the wool heterosexual club, but Serena's voice was even doing things to her. Bernie didn't stand a chance!
Cass had been pretty honest with all the potential candidates – that Bernie Wolfe was in dire need of a physiotherapist but was fighting against it, that it was highly unlikely she would co-operate and would send them on their way out of hand. Well, she wasn't a totally heartless bitch. All of them had a living to make, and she would hate to think of someone turning down another job in favour of this one, only to have the door slammed in their face.
So this was the next hurdle – would Ms Campbell, Serena, be willing to take a chance? Even though Cass was almost 100% certain that Bernie would be powerless to resist, she just couldn't offer Serena a cast iron guarantee.
“So, that is basically the situation I find myself in, Serena. Bernie will fight against this until I can grind her down. The thing is, I know my friend very well, and I know I can get her to give in and accept help. I just need to throw enough at her until she caves.”
“I see. So I could be… Disposable?” Serena arched an elegant eyebrow.
“W...well…well, technically, yes” Cass stammered. “But you are the one I really, really want for Bernie. I think you would be a perfect fit. Your experience, the sheer amount of work you've done with ex military personnel, you're the Mary Poppins of physiotherapists!”
“Mary Poppins?” Serena looked confused.
“You know 'practically perfect in every way'? No? Well, never mind that. The thing is Serena, I want you to be my secret weapon. You will be held in reserve, so to speak, until I wear Bernie out with a parade of other physios who she will immediately reject. She’ll then finally give in to my nagging and in you swoop to save the day.”
“I've gone from nanny to superhero now? I'm flattered” Serena quirked that eyebrow again. “How long do you think this process is going to take Ms Wilde? I would have to make quite a few arrangements to accommodate a live in post”
“Can you give me four weeks? Bernie has already kicked a few into touch, so I'm fairly confident of my timeline.” Cass could feel the sweat prickling her scalp with the anxiety that Serena would say no.
They sat for a minute or two in silence, which was eventually broken by Serena.
“While this is a rather unconventional situation, at the bottom of it, there is a woman in need of help, and for me that’s always a powerful motivator. You have your four weeks Ms Wilde. If you could please keep me updated with your 'grinding' progress? You have my contact details” Serena stood and held out her hand. “I look forward to hearing from you”
Cass leapt up and grasped Serena's hand in a fervent two handed grip. “Oh thank you Serena, thank you. You are literally a lifesaver!
In which Serena and Bernie meet for the first time.
Some ableist language again I'm afraid, folks.
I decided to post a day early as some small consolation for the BBC’s cruel decision to allow football to interfere with our Serena ahem, I mean Holby, viewing!
Four weeks later, almost to the day, saw Serena Campbell pull up and park in front of a large, detached Victorian house. She peered at the print out of Cassandra Wilde's email. 'Bernie’s is the door at the side of the house. Don't bother knocking, just let yourself in because she never answers the doorbell.'
“Great, I get to walk blindly into the house of a potentially unstable ex-soldier.” Serena muttered under her breath.
As if she wasn't already second guessing herself for having agreed to this whole scheme. She had never been a big fan of the idea of a live in position at the best of times, but a live in where she hadn't even met the client and said client didn't even really want her there? The whole thing felt like a disaster waiting to happen. Serena couldn’t help but regret allowing Ms Wilde to persuade her to get involved.
“What the hell have you let yourself in for?”
Serena grabbed her bag off of the passenger seat next to her, took a deep breath and climbed out of her car. No point humping her big case or her equipment around just yet if Berenice Wolfe was only going to 'kick her into touch' to use Ms Wilde's phrase. No matter the reassurances Cassandra had been at pains to keep giving her over the course of the last few weeks, that Bernie was on track to accept Serena, and finally, had in fact relented and agreed to Serena's presence, she remained somewhat sceptical.
Walking up the side of the house, Serena paused and knocked on the door in spite of instructions. It just went against the grain to stride into a stranger's house totally unannounced. She let out a breath, then pushed down on the handle and entered into the unknown.
The interior was gloomy and there was a definite tang of cigarettes and alcohol in the air.
“Hello, Berenice Wolfe? It's Serena Campbell, the physio. Ms Wilde retained me on your behalf.”
She heard something that could only be described as a grunt emanating from the half open door on her right. “Here goes, old girl” she told herself, and went to meet her new client.
As Serena pushed open the door, she recoiled slightly from the stale air. There was a set of patio doors at one end of the room, curtains partially drawn. Beyond that, Serena could see an unkempt lawn. There was an over full waste paper bin, spilling rubbish on the floor, an almost overflowing ashtray on a sticky looking side table. Sitting in the armchair next to it, cigarette smouldering in one hand and a glass of what looked like scotch in the other, was a scarecrow of a figure. She had a wild tangle of blonde hair and a long skinny body wrapped in a scruffy dressing gown. In front of her was a foot stool, upon which she had propped one pyjama clad leg.
“Hello, Ms Wolfe, I'm Serena Campbell, your new physio.” Serena held out her hand to the woman in the chair, who just looked at it.
“I know who you are, I heard you the first time. I'm crippled, not deaf!”
“Oh, no! No, no, no. We do NOT use the c-word!” Serena positively growled.
“Huh? I thought the c-word was cu-”
“Yes, that will do!” Interrupted Serena. “I know exactly what most people consider the worst c-word, thank you. I've been called it more than enough times in my career, generally preceded by 'sadistic' as it happens. No, I will not allow that c-word to be used. It is derogatory and offensive...”
Bernie, if truth be told, had stopped listening. She had finally really registered the woman standing in front of her, hands angrily on her hips. Oh no, she was in big trouble. Short, salt and pepper brunette hair, sparkling warm brown eyes, amazing cheekbones, a dimpled chin that she immediately wanted to nibble, sinfully curvaceous body. And the voice? Oh lord, The Voice! Bernie immediately imagined that velvety Voice whispering filthy things in her ear..
“Are you listening to a word I'm saying Berenice?”
Oh hell, The Voice could even make her hated name sound sexy as fuck!
“What? Oh yeah, derogatory. Fair enough, consider me educated Campbell. Now it's my turn. I don't know what my dear friend Cass has told you, but I neither want nor need a physio. I am however, sick to the back teeth of her nagging phone calls and the stream of people she has sent here, week after week when all I want is to be left alone. So, this is how things are going to work. You will stay, you’ll keep out of my way and keep Cassandra 'pain in my arse' Wilde off my back. This means you get paid to sit round and paint your nails all day, or whatever, and I finally get some peace and bloody quiet.”
Serena was silent for a full minute while Bernie looked defiantly at her.
“What? What do you mean, two weeks?”
“I will give you two weeks of my time, to make up your mind whether or not you want to try to regain full mobility and finally rejoin the real world. I won't sit around 'painting my nails' indefinitely for your benefit Berenice Wolfe, when there are plenty of other people out there who need me. After those two weeks are up, should you have decided not to cooperate, you're back at the mercy of your friend. The friend incidentally, that you sit there sneering at, who has been working away for weeks, trying to help you.”
Bernie actually felt a small twinge of guilt at Serena's words.
“Fine, two weeks of peace is better than nothing” she mumbled. “Your bedroom is the one on the right. Welcome to my lovely home!” she added, sarcastically.
Casting her eye over the mess that was Bernie Wolfe's living room Serena thought to herself yet again “What the hell have you let yourself in for?”
In which Serena makes herself at home.
After being so summarily dismissed by Bernie, Serena turned and left the stuffy, dimly lit living room. Time to take a look at where she would be living, for the next fortnight at least. Opposite the living room was a large kitchen. Serena took a quick look inside. If she overlooked the chaos of ready meal packaging littering the work surfaces and the sink full of washing up, it was a lovely room. Much bigger than her own modest galley style kitchen at home, and she looked forward to cooking in there. Next to the kitchen was an open door revealing what was obviously Berenice’s bedroom. The king size bed was a rumpled tangle of sheets and blankets, chest of drawers with a tumble of clothes hanging out, full ashtray and empty whisky bottle on the bedside table. Next was the bathroom, bright, spacious, and thankfully clean. Serena came to the final door, mentally crossed her fingers and entered the room.
“Oh thank goodness!”
Serena was relieved that the room was clean and tidy, clearly a rarely used guest room. Even more importantly, it contained a double bed. She enjoyed her creature comforts and while a king size was her preference, a double was more than adequate. She had been dreading the prospect of being stuck in a box room on a single bed. Or even worse still, a camp bed. There was also a wardrobe and a good sized chest of drawers. Opening the wardrobe she found a decent amount of clothes hangers and more importantly, a stack of pillows and a folded duvet. A quick check of the drawers found a couple of sets of clean, folded bedding and some towels. Excellent. Serena headed out to her car to retrieve her belongings. Time to make her temporary home rather more homely.
A couple of trips back and forth later, Serena had everything piled into her temporary new living space. First things first, she unpacked her suitcase, which, once emptied, she slid on top of the wardrobe. Then came the big hold-all with other essentials, a large selection of toiletries - she liked plenty of choice, scented candles - she often liked to create an atmosphere and loved a candle-lit bath when in the right mood. Then came the tangle of wires and chargers. Serena huffed in annoyance. Each of those cables had been neatly, individually wound when they went in the bag, how had they managed to knot themselves together like this? Why did modern life demand so many things to be constantly charged? Well, she knew she only really had herself to blame on that score, being as inordinately fond of a gadget as she was. Laptop, tablet, mobile phone, Bluetooth speaker, Bluetooth earphones.
On the bedside table, a photograph of her beloved took pride of place. This was absolutely the worst part of taking the live-in position, being separated from him. Next, she swiftly made the bed. Ideally she preferred a high thread count Egyptian cotton for her bedding, but this would suffice. Serena straightened up and surveyed the room. Yes, it would do for however long she ended up being here. She hoped she could get the reluctant Major to come round to the idea of accepting her help and expertise. Having looked at all the medical information Cassandra Wilde had gathered, there seemed to be nothing significant that should prevent Berenice from fully recovering from her injuries and subsequent surgery. Well, this was going to be a challenge, but Serena loved a challenge!
Serena went back out into the kitchen to have a bit of a nosey about. Under the sink were plenty of cleaning supplies, most appeared untouched she noticed without much surprise. There was also a washing machine, tumble dryer and dishwasher. A tall cupboard revealed laundry supplies, an ironing board, iron and a couple of clothes airers.
“All the mod cons, very nice. At least I won’t be slumming it. Well, once I get the place cleaned up a bit anyway.” Serena muttered to herself.
The food cupboards proved less well stocked than the cleaning one, however. A couple of dusty looking tins of soup and a box of cereal that Serena was sure had a packaging redesign at least a couple of years previously. A quick look at the ancient best before date seemed to bear that thought out. The fridge wasn’t much better, it too being almost empty except for some spreadable butter and a few crusty looking old jars and bottles of condiments. There was at least some food in the freezer - ready meals and frozen pizzas, a solitary bag of frozen peas, sitting alone in the bottom drawer. It seemed clear that Berenice was existing solely on convenience food. That, and toast, if the amount of crumbs littering the kitchen were anything to go by.
Opening the windows to allow in some fresh air and donning a bright yellow pair of Marigolds, Serena set about restoring some order to the messy kitchen. She was so absorbed in the task that she didn’t notice Bernie, leaning against the door jam watching her.
“You’re making yourself at home then I see, Campbell.”
Serena slowly turned around. “Well Berenice, I don’t intend to live in a pig sty, that’s for sure.”
“I left behind the military discipline when the military left me behind.” responded Bernie, with more than a hint of bitterness.
“It’s just as well I hadn’t planned on a bed inspection then, isn’t it?”
Bernie tried not to think about Serena Campbell in her bed.
“Before I forget Berenice, do you have a door key I can use?”
“I don’t bother locking the front door. It saves me having to get up and answer the damn thing.”
“Well you might be happy to risk yourself and your belongings, but I would rather not, if it’s all the same to you.”
“I’ve got nothing worth bothering about, but if you’re that fussy, there are keys on the hook in the hallway. You’d better answer the bloody door if anyone knocks though, because I’m not.” With that, Bernie turned awkwardly and moved slowly back to the living room.
Serena took her first opportunity to watch the former Army medic move. Not great, but not quite as bad as she’d feared. Bernie clearly had some mobility without constantly relying on a walking stick, which was better than Serena had half expected.
Emptying the dustpan full of toast crumbs into the bin, Serena looked around at her handiwork. Yes, that was more like it. Now she just had to get some actual food in to cook.
Grabbing her handbag and one of the keys off of the hook in the hall, Serena poked her head around the living room door. “I’m just off out for some shopping Berenice, is there anything you’d like me to pick up for you?”
“100 Marlboro and a couple of bottles of Lagavulin would be handy.”
“Hmmm, I’m here to try and help you improve your health, not help you destroy it. Try again.”
“Oh, just bugger off!” Growled Bernie in frustration.
At that, Serena just raised an eyebrow, turned on her heel and left.
In which Serena and Bernie share a meal and a civil conversation.
Serena knew from the beginning that this job was going to be hard, but it looked like the Major was going to be quite a tough nut to crack. She did have quite a few tricks up her sleeve though, so all was far from lost. Time to head to the nearest big supermarket to begin the first small step in the plan - trying to lure Berenice into healthier eating. The weather was lovely and hot, but Serena was going to have to curb her own usual warm weather eating habits. She had a feeling Berenice Wolfe wouldn’t exactly be tempted by a mere salad, that might take some working up to. At least getting her reluctant client away from living off of ready meals would be healthier, if nothing else.
Whatever happened, Serena certainly wouldn’t be supplying her with hard spirits and cigarettes. Not no booze entirely of course because Serena had no intention in the slightest of forgoing her own tipple of choice. She wouldn’t however, be adverse to sharing a glass of Shiraz with Berenice, after all, red wine was good for you. Thinking of red wine inspired Serena’s choice for that evening’s meal. She would sacrifice a small glass into the sauce for a Bolognese.
Bernie awoke from a doze, bleary-eyed. She winced as she sat straighter. Falling asleep in the chair came at the price of a painful, stiff neck. Well more accurately, it increased the pain and stiffness always present in her neck and shoulders. She groaned and shifted to try and ease the discomfort. Wait a minute, what was that smell? Had she put something on to cook and dropped off? Bernie sniffed the air, rich with the smell of garlic and herbs. No, none of those plastic meals, passing themselves off as food, smelt anything like that.
Suddenly, the penny dropped. The physio. Serena Campbell, owner of the sexiest voice she had heard in her entire life. And she could cook if the delicious aroma was any indication. Bernie carefully pushed herself out of the chair and stood gingerly, waiting to see that her legs were going to cooperate. She slowly followed her nose across the hall into the kitchen. Oh god, she had forgotten quite how gorgeous the brunette was. Pink and flushed from the steam arising from the amazing smelling pans on the hob, she looked good enough to eat.
“Ah, Berenice. You’re just in time. Take a seat, dinner is almost ready.”
“Umm, I have… You don’t need to…”
“Berenice, I enjoy cooking and it is no more effort to cook for two as for one. Come on, sit.”
On the small dining table, there were two bowls of crisp looking salad and a basket of crusty French bread. There was also a bottle of wine and two glasses. Bernie looked over at Serena.
“Just because I refused to buy the hard stuff, it doesn’t mean I’m going to deny you a glass of wine if you want one, Berenice.” smiled Serena, as she drained the pasta. “I’m rather fond of a glass of Shiraz and I would hardly be so hypocritical as to drink it in front of you without sharing. In fact, would you do the honours and pour, please? It is rather a nice one. I had a little taste earlier before I used some in the sauce.”
Feeling slightly bemused, Bernie sat down and poured wine into the two waiting glasses. The combined savoury smells of the fresh bread and the meaty sauce Serena was ladling over the pasta made Bernie’s stomach rumble and her mouth water. Serena placed a dish in front of Bernie, who immediately inhaled the fragrant steam rising off it. A small, involuntary moan left her as she exhaled.
“This smells amazing, Campbell. I can’t remember the last time I had a home-cooked meal.” Bernie said, a little gruffly.
“I hope you enjoy it. I fear I was more than a little heavy-handed with the garlic today.”
“I love garlic, so that sounds good to me.”
“It’s fine as long as you’re both having it.” Serena said, with the barest hint of a wink. “Don’t forget your salad Berenice.”
Bernie glanced up from the pasta she had been shovelling in as though she hadn’t eaten in a week. “I won’t. I love salad and we didn’t get much of it when we were deployed, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
Serena smiled to herself, happy that her assumption about Bernie’s lack of interest in salad had proven incorrect. Happier still that Berenice had managed some civil conversation.
Subject: Day One
Good evening Cassandra,
I believe that my first day with Berenice went as well as can be expected. As you had assured me, she has accepted my presence. However, she has also made it clear that just because she didn’t immediately throw me out, it doesn’t mean she is planning to cooperate. With this in mind, I have given her a two-week deadline. I cannot sit around doing nothing indefinitely waiting for her to see sense. I am hopeful though, that within this fortnight I can help her see the benefits that working with me could bring.
I wanted to ask you about the food situation. Berenice informs me that, to all intents and purposes, food appears weekly. Am I correct in assuming you arrange that? While I am here, I intend to cook for us both, therefore there is no need to replenish the supply of frozen convenience food. If you are also the supplier of spirits and cigarettes, that is of course, entirely at your discretion. I have informed Berenice that I will not purchase them on her behalf.
I will keep you apprised of any progress I make.
re: Day One
Thank you so much for the update. Bernie didn’t immediately show you the door, so this is already progress. I can understand your need to set her a time limit. I do so hope however, that you won’t immediately pull the plug at two weeks, should you feel you’re close to a breakthrough. I have such confidence that you are exactly what she needs to turn her life around.
You are correct in your assumption regarding the food. Although the ready meals are far from ideal, it seemed the lesser evil to provide convenience food rather than worry if she is eating at all. Left to her own devices, I fear she would be existing on malt whisky and tobacco. I have been including whisky and cigarettes in the weekly shop up until now. I’ll need to have a think about this because I’m not sure cutting Bernie off entirely would help either of you. I have your bank details for salary purposes of course, therefore I shall also transfer a weekly sum for expenses. I am very happy to hear that she will be eating healthily while you’re there.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
In which Serena takes a shower.
Bernie slowly, reluctantly awoke. “Christ, how much did I put away last night?” she croaked quietly.
She was used to waking with a headache these days, thanks to the single malt she self medicated with on a daily basis, but this was something else. She felt like there was a bassline pounding through her skull. She hauled herself upright. Hang on, there actually was a bassline, pounding through the wall next to her!
She fought her way out from under the covers and groped for her cane. Bernie was always pretty stiff and immobile first thing and had learnt the hard way that even her spectacularly stubborn nature wasn't enough to get her through the first minutes of the day without the support of the hated thing. She stood for a moment, hissing at the pain that shot down her spine, then flung her bedroom door open and hobbled to the bathroom door.
“Campbell! What the hell is going on with all this bloody racket? Campbell?”
Bernie pulled the bathroom door open.
“Ca...” The word died on her lips. Her mouth dried and her throat snapped shut.
Magnificent. That was the only thought that immediately bounced around inside Bernie's otherwise frozen brain. There was Serena Campbell, singing and dancing in the shower whilst running her sudsy hands all over her magnificent naked form. Bernie, transfixed for a moment by the gyrating figure, couldn't have moved if her very life had depended on it. 'Oh, she has a tattoo!' was the first semi-coherent thought that filtered through the fog in Bernie's mind. Followed closely by 'I had better get the fuck out of here, before she sees me and thinks I'm some kind of peeping Tom pervert!' Still her feet remained rooted to the floor, seemingly unwilling to remove Bernie from the spectacular sight of Serena’s shapely behind.
Serena knocking a bottle of something into the bottom of the bath was finally the catalyst that broke the spell that had held Bernie transfixed. She backed out of the room, flushed and ashamed of herself - spying on the other woman like that was unforgivable. She shuffled back to her room and perched on the edge of her bed, head in hands. It had been a hell of a long time since the sight of a woman had such a strong impact on her, not since Alex back in Kabul. Bernie really didn’t want to think too hard about Alex and Kabul.
A knock at the bedroom door made her jump.
“Berenice? Berenice, are you awake?” Serena called through the door.
Nothing but a dry croak emerged from Bernie’s mouth. She cleared her throat and tried again.
“Y-yes, I’m awake.”
“Ah good. The bathroom is free and I’ll be starting breakfast in about five minutes, okay?”
“I don’t-“ Serena cut her off.
“I want you in the kitchen within the next 20 minutes Berenice. No arguments.”
Bernie found herself standing, walking across the hall and entering the bathroom almost on autopilot. What kind of witchcraft was the woman using? She breathed in deeply, the air still steamy and full of the smell of Serena. Bernie’s eyes drifted closed, and the memory of Serena under the shower spray… No! Enough of that, just get washed and get on with it.
20 minutes later, right on schedule, Bernie limped into the kitchen to the aroma of coffee, smokey bacon and toast. Serena was wearing a light summer dress and god, she looked amazing. How was it that the woman appeared to become even more beautiful every time Bernie set eyes on her? She clasped her fingers together as they twitched with the desire to reach out and stroke Serena’s hair, to see if it was as silky as it looked. The woman hadn’t even been there for a full 24 hours yet, and Bernie had fallen under her spell. Carefully lowering herself into the chair, she tried not to stare as Serena moved around the kitchen putting the finishing touches to breakfast.
How was she meant to survive having the stunning physiotherapist in the flat without pulling the other woman into her arms, Bernie wondered. Immediately followed by the invasive, treacherous notion that even if she had Serena in her arms, she’d barely be capable of doing anything with her. She was startled from her thoughts by a plate of food and a mug of coffee being placed in front of her.
“You erm, you’re spoiling me with this home cooked food. I already know I’ll miss it after your two weeks are up.”
Serena arched an elegant eyebrow, “You know exactly what to do to extend my time here, and therefore the amount of time you get to enjoy the fruits of my labour in the kitchen, Berenice. Eating well is an important starting point towards getting you fighting fit again.”
Bernie just kept her eyes on her plate and started eating.
Serena sighed faintly and began to eat her own breakfast.
“Do you have a mobile phone, Berenice?” Serena asked after a few minutes of silence.
“What? A mobile? Well, I have a cheap thing that Cass got me as a temporary measure. My iPhone didn’t quite make it back from Afghanistan in one piece. I meant to get it sorted out, but what was the point? It’s not like I call anyone.” grumbled Bernie.
Serena rummaged in her bag and pulled out a scrap of paper. “I’m going to the supermarket after breakfast. If there’s anything you can think of that you would like, text me a list. And before you ask, no to single malt and no to cigarettes.” Bernie just huffed in irritation. Serena scribbled down her mobile number and slid it across the table.
“I thought you went to the supermarket yesterday.” Bernie mumbled, through a mouthful of toast.
“I did. I only bought a couple of meals worth though. Now we’ve established that we’ll be eating together, I can plan out our meals. So like I say, if there’s anything that you especially fancy, just let me know. Oh, and if there’s anything I should particularly avoid, let me know that too. Finished?”
Bernie laid her cutlery neatly together on the empty plate, sat back and sighed. “Oh yes.” She looked up almost shyly through her unruly fringe at Serena, who had stood up, plate in hand. “That was lovely. Thank you.”
Serena smiled gently at the ex Army medic. “You’re very welcome. It’s always nice to have one's cooking appreciated. I’ll just stack the dishwasher, then I’ll be off. Don’t forget to text.”
Half an hour later, as Serena was pulling into a space in Sainsbury’s car park, she heard a series of notifications from her mobile. Pulling it out of her bag, she had to smile. Berenice. She quickly added the number to her contacts, then read the series of text messages, laughing to herself.
Berenice: i hate bbbaked beanss nd corianderr
Berenice: I AALSO HAT THIS DUCKING PHONE
Berenice: ducking phone
Berenice: i give uppp
In which Serena shares a little of her past history.
The c-bomb gets dropped again.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Oh, Berenice?” Serena's velvety voice drifted across the hall.
“Yes, what is it?” Bernie found herself getting up and moving towards the kitchen, almost without conscious decision.
“Is it okay with you if I throw away this antique box of cereal? Or does it have sentimental value, a family heirloom perhaps?”
Bernie sat down at the table. “You're hilarious Campbell, you should be on the stage.” she responded dryly.
Serena gave a cheeky grin, and added “Also, what about the elderly cans of soup? Given that you ‘hat’ coriander, shall I dispose of these too?” She held up the cans of carrot and coriander soup for Bernie’s inspection. The blonde just gave her a “huh” and an eye roll in response. Serena binned the offending tins then carried on putting away the bags of shopping.
Bernie eyed the cardboard box sitting on the counter. “Stocking up, Campbell?”
“Ah, yes. The supermarket currently have a ‘buy 6 bottles, save 25%’ promotion. This is the Shiraz we enjoyed so much last night, which was already on special offer. It was just too good to pass up, so I bought a dozen. What can I say? I love a bargain.”
“You’re set for a couple of days at least then?”
“Have you been listening to the rumours then, Berenice?” Serena replied with a laugh. “Some say my capacity for the consumption of Shiraz borders upon the legendary. So tell me, what kind of things do you like to cook?”
“Cook? Me? I don’t. Toast, microwave meals. I can generally manage not to burn a pizza in the oven. Beyond that, I have made a bacon sandwich or two in the past. That’s about the pinnacle of my culinary ability. I am a whizz with a takeaway menu mind you. What on earth made you think that I could cook?”
“Most people don’t have a kitchen set up like this, unless they’re really into cooking. You have an awful lot of gadgets tucked away in your cupboards for someone so heavily reliant on their microwave.”
“Ah yes, that would be the handiwork of one Cassandra Wilde. When I was buying the flat there were some unexpected delays, so by the time the sale finally completed, I was halfway around the globe. Cass decided she was going to ‘make it homely’ for me before I came back on leave” Bernie rolled her eyes. “Her idea of homely unfortunately, was to half empty my bank account buying a fuck ton of gadgets I will never use.” Bernie flushed suddenly. “Sorry, sometimes I forget I’m not still surrounded by soldiers.”
Serena let out a peal of laughter. “Good god Berenice, I’m no stranger to a bit of salty language. I’ve been surrounded by the men and women of the armed services for over 25 years, don’t forget. Your lot are a creative bunch when it comes to swearing, that’s for sure.”
“Have you really worked with a lot of soldiers?”
“An awful lot. It has been both a great joy and a great sadness. I find it such a huge honour to offer help to the men and women who have served their country. At the same time however, it has broken my heart time and time again.”
Bernie could see a sheen of tears in Serena’s eyes.
“I know that me being here wasn’t your idea, Berenice. I’m just another unwelcome, unwanted thing that Ms Wilde has stuck in your home. The thing is, unlike the pasta machine, the Kitchen Aid, or the… the bloody air fryer, I can actually be of a great deal of use to you. No instruction booklet needed. I could help you turn your life around if only you’d let me in. Sorry, if you’ll excuse me.”
At that, Serena swept out of the room, visibly upset. Bernie remained seated, staring at her hands. There was certainly no denying that Serena was passionate about her job. Was she, Bernie being stubborn, just for the sake of being stubborn? Christ, how the hell had she allowed Serena Campbell to get so far under her skin in a single day?
Bernie was so lost in her own thoughts that she jumped at the sound of Serena’s voice.
“I’m going to share something with you Berenice, that I never, ever tell my clients.”
Bernie looked up, surprised and confused to see Serena wrapped in a silky looking dressing gown. Serena turned her back to Bernie and dropped the dressing gown off her shoulders and onto the floor.
“S… Campbell, I…”
“The scars Berenice. Surely someone of your professional background must be able to take a good guess at the cause?”
Bernie looked at the series of faded surgical scars running either side of Serena’s spine and down the backs of her legs. Tried to remain dispassionate and ignore the sound of the pulse thundering in her ears at the sight of the beautiful brunette in front of her, naked save for a pair of lacy knickers. She was an expert trauma surgeon for heaven's sake. How the fiddly fuck had she missed the scars that morning when she’d seen Serena in the shower? Well, undoubtedly it was the same thing that currently had her sitting on her hands to prevent herself from reaching out to stroke the length of the shapely body in front of her.
“A massive car crash, resulting in extensive spinal surgery, orthopaedic reconstruction of both legs. I still have enough hardware inside that I worry about passing through an airport metal detector. On paper at least, I should never have walked unaided again. Would you care to hazard a guess at how I now stand before you?”
Serena bent down and retrieved her dressing gown, wrapping it back around herself, before sitting across the table from Bernie.
“Physiotherapy, hard work and the sheer determination that I wasn’t going to be a… a cripple. Yes I know, I used the c-word! I was a little like you in the beginning. I could only see what I had lost and couldn’t see a future for myself. I lay in that hospital bed mourning for my… Well, mourning the future that should have been. I had no interest in working with the physio and told him to fuck off in no uncertain terms, on a daily basis. Eventually he snapped, and told me to get over myself, that I was lucky to be alive and that I was being selfish, not trying to make the most of the opportunity to regain some mobility. The rest is history.”
“Is… is that what inspired you to become a physio?” Bernie asked, tentatively.
“It is. I was actually just about to start my first hospital placement after my medical degree. Yes, I was going to be one of your lot, determined to become a surgeon too. It was a change of direction that I have never once regretted. My mentor was ex-Army and he inspired me to specialise. Sadly there have been more than enough people needing me from that sphere to keep me busy. I had to fight for every step in the beginning. Now I fight for every single client, to help them regain their lives. ”
“I… I don’t-“ Bernie started, before Serena cut in.
“You don’t need to say anything right now. I’m not trying to guilt trip you into anything, honestly I’m not. I just want you to think about what I’ve said. You’re only 51 years old, you have so much more to give, so many more lives you could be saving. If you’re willing to save yourself first.”
Serena stood and looked down at Bernie. She briefly clasped a warm hand to the blonde’s shoulder, before walking out of the room.
Bernie was shocked to realise she had just thought of herself as a trauma surgeon for the first time since the explosion. A trauma surgeon. Not an ex trauma surgeon.
I have zero knowledge of what the scarring following extensive orthopaedic surgery would look like. Just in case that wasn’t obvious!
In which Serena faces up the consequences of her actions.
Serena sat on the side of her bed, staring into space. Had she really just stood naked in front of a client? That was the most unprofessional thing she had done in her entire career. What the hell was she thinking? She never even talked about her accident, never mind show the scars to anyone. What was it about Major Berenice Wolfe that had just made her throw her own long held rules straight out of the window? Maybe it was just the thought of how many lives that could be saved if Berenice was able to return to medicine.
Serena had heard about the Major’s past career. You couldn’t work with as many injured ex army personnel as she had, without hearing about the legendary work of Major Wolfe mentioned. She had worked with several men that had been brought back from the brink of death by Berenice Wolfe. If Serena could help Berenice regain her mobility, how many more people could be helped in turn?
All this justification didn’t make Serena feel any better about her spur of the moment decision to strip off. There was no explanation on earth that could begin to justify that particular action. She would have to apologise to Berenice, of course. Surgeon or not, the poor woman was undoubtedly mortified. Her face had certainly been very red while they had been talking. Should she offer her resignation? No. No, she couldn’t. No matter what had just happened, there was definitely some sort of rapport building between them. If Serena left, the chances of anyone else receiving anything more that a door slammed in their face seemed unlikely.
She looked at the little travel alarm clock on her bedside table. Nearly 12.30. She should be thinking about making some lunch, but the thought of going out there and facing Berenice just yet was still too much to bear. Serena decided to lay back and do some breathing exercises to try and calm her thoughts.
Whatever calm Serena had managed to summon, was abruptly lost at the sudden onset of a piercing alarm shattering the peace of the afternoon. She hurriedly shrugged out of her dressing gown and dragged on a pair of knee length exercise leggings and a t-shirt.
There was a haze of smoke coming from the kitchen doorway. As Serena approached, she could see Bernie frantically flapping a tea towel at the ceiling. Taking in the situation, Serena moved the smoking frying pan from the hob, which she switched off, before going across and opening the windows as wide as they would go. Grabbing a tea towel of her own, she joined the blonde, flapping away to try and dissipate the smoke and calm the alarm. The shrill beeping stopped as abruptly as it had started, and they both let out a sigh of relief.
“At least we know the smoke alarm works.” Bernie said, sheepishly.
“I thought you were going to leave the cooking to me, Berenice? You should have just called me if you were getting hungry.”
“I wanted to save you the bother. I was trying to make us bacon sarnies, but I hadn’t taken into account the fact that I don’t move very quickly.”
“Oh Berenice, that was a lovely thought. A small word of advice, maybe the next time you cook bacon, don’t have the hob turned right up to ‘inferno’?” Serena smiled gently and patted the blonde’s arm. “Did you particularly want bacon again? I had planned on cheese and tomato, but if that’s what you fancy?”
“What? Oh no, I’m not fussy. Cheese is fine.” Bernie mumbled, unable to drag her eyes away from the subtle sway of Serena’s unbound breasts, beneath the fitted white t-shirt. Oh god, was the woman trying to kill her?
Serena moved around the kitchen, disposing of the cremated bacon and putting the pan into the sink to soak.
“Cheese and tomato, cheese and salad, cheese and pickle? What’s your preference? Berenice?” Serena raised her voice slightly as Bernie appeared not to be listening.
“Hmm? Oh sorry, I’ll have whatever’s easiest. Whatever you prefer is fine.”
This was about as bad as Serena had feared. Berenice clearly couldn’t even look her in the eye after her little stunt earlier. She was still obviously feeling completely humiliated by Serena’s unprofessional behaviour.
Little did she know that Bernie was, in actual fact, completely mesmerised by the sight of Serena’s unfettered bosom. ‘Come on Wolfe, get a grip of yourself. You’re practically panting over her like a horny dog.’ Bernie silently berated herself. ‘You’ve seen breasts before, for Christ’s sake. Stop it before she notices and you get a well deserved slap!’ Oh hell, the woman had a perfect arse as well. The leggings she was wearing moulded a pert, rounded… ‘Stop this right now Wolfe, before you get done for sexual harassment.’ At that thought, Bernie turned in her chair and stared out of the window.
Serena placed a plate of sandwiches and a bowl of crisps in the middle of the table.
“Help yourself, Berenice. I went for cheese and salad in the end. We might as well get a couple of our five a day at lunch.” She waved at the glasses of juice she had put in front of each of them. “I hope you like tropical.”
“Uh, I’m pretty easy really, as long as there aren’t beans and coriander involved.” She gave Serena a small, shy smile and reached for a sandwich.
“About earlier Berenice. I… I acted rashly. I thought knowing some of my history might somehow help. I showed you my scars because I wanted to, and beyond that, I wasn’t really thinking. I can see… how uncomfortable the whole thing’s making you. If you want me to resign, to leave, I completely understand. I was utterly unprofessional and for that I can only apologise unreservedly.” Serena toyed with the crust of her sandwich.
With her eyes downcast, Serena couldn’t see the expression on Bernie’s face transform from surprise to affection to absolute horror.
“Campbell...” She took a deep breath, “Serena. As much as it surprises me to say this, I don’t want you to leave. You have given me a lot of food for thought. I’m not saying I’m on board with physio, but I definitely have some things to think about. I’m not uncomfortable with what happened earlier, honestly. I am a doctor don’t forget. Plus, I was in the Army for over 25 years, you do get very used to nudity. It certainly beat the sight of a bunch of hairy arsed squaddies thinking they’re being hilarious by pulling a synchronised moonie!”
Serena looked up from her mangled sandwich and gave what Bernie thought was without doubt the sweetest smile she had ever seen.
“Well, if you’re sure?”
“I am. We can… we can draw a veil over all of that. Besides, I am rather enjoying having someone to cook for me. Why would I say goodbye to that in a hurry?”
Serena held up her glass in a toast. “Here’s to keeping it professional?”
Bernie sent up a fervent prayer to gods she didn’t even believe in, that she could manage just that. “To keeping it professional.”
In which Serena and Bernie discuss gardening.
“Tell me about your garden, Berenice.” Serena said, taking a sip of juice.
Bernie threw a confused look at the other woman. “My garden? What do you want to know about it?”
“Well, from the little I could see of it yesterday, it looked a smidge… neglected, shall we say? You don’t have anyone coming in to keep the grass under control until you’re able to get back to it?”
“I’ve never been a gardener, I was never really in one place long enough to even think about it. This is actually my first civilian home. The first place that is all mine. I had finally felt that, at my age, I should have somewhere that wasn’t owned by the MOD. Like I said to you earlier on, I was deployed by the time the purchase of this place was completed and Cass basically took over everything. She furnished it, kitted out the kitchen and hired someone to give the place a monthly once over, including the garden.”
“Dare I ask what happened? I don’t think there’s only a month’s growth out there.”
Bernie’s face took on a look that Serena could only really think of as ‘naughty school child’.
“There was a… How shall I put this? It was a… a difference of opinion. I was of the opinion that the lawnmower was too noisy and he should fuck off and leave me in peace. Oh, actually, not entirely a difference of opinion after all, because he also thought that I should fuck off.”
Serena’s velvety laugh was joined by Bernie’s rusty staccato bark.
“Oh, Berenice. What am I going to do with you?”
Bernie tried her best not to imagine all the things she’d like Serena Campbell to do with her. To her.
“Do you happen to know if the tools were provided, or if I’m likely to find anything in the shed I spied down at the far end?”
“I haven’t a clue, sorry. Do I take it you fancy getting all Percy Thrower out there?”
“Percy Thrower? You’re showing your age. And before you get too outraged, there are only a few months between us. I am the younger though.” She added a trifle smugly. “What I want to do is tame your lawn. The weather is beautiful for a change, and I’d like to use the outdoor space.”
Bernie tried her best not to imagine Serena Campbell stretched out in the garden, on a towel, wearing a tiny bikini.
“Use the space? What for?”
“To exercise. Yoga, Tai Chi, that type of thing.”
Bernie tried her best not to imagine Serena Campbell stretched out in the garden, on a yoga mat, wearing Lycra.
“Can you do the… Oh, what was it again? One of the nurses back in Kabul did a bit of yoga and she was very proud of her one legged king eagle. Whatever the fu-flip that means.”
Serena caught the stumble. “I’ve told you Berenice, you really don’t have to moderate your language on my behalf.” She was tapping away at her phone screen. “As for the one legged king eagle? I think you mean king pigeon, which looks like this.”
She handed her phone across to Bernie who peered at the screen in front of her.
“Oh fuck that! Firstly, king eagle sounds so much cooler than king pigeon, and secondly, just how and why would you fold yourself up like that? I could never have achieved that pose, even at my absolute fittest, and I used to run marathons just for shits and giggles.”
“For shits and giggles? Did you model yourself exclusively on Paula Radcliffe?”
They looked at each other and immediately broke down again into fits of laughter.
“God, I genuinely can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.” Bernie spluttered.
“Laughter really is good for you, Berenice. Not as good as some highly expert physio with me of course.” Serena said, archly.
Bernie’s face immediately dropped and she struggled to her feet. She walked out of the room without another word and moments later, Serena heard a door slam.
“Oh marvellous job Campbell, marvellous!” Serena slapped a palm against her forehead. “Could you have been a little less subtle with that bloody sledgehammer?”
She sighed and began to gather the lunch dishes. A small chink in the Major’s armour had appeared and she’d managed to immediately stomp it shut. Great, back to square one. She just hoped Bernie wouldn’t decide to hold the earlier incident against her now.
In her bedroom, Bernie sat on the end of her bed. Why had she just stormed out? Was she being completely irrational in just wanting to be left alone, to live her pathetic life in peace? She scrubbed a hand through her hair and flopped back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Laughing with Serena had almost tricked her into thinking she was still her old self. But she wasn’t, she was still a huge, useless mess. It had felt good to laugh like that though, there was no denying it. Until she had ruined it. Like she ruined everything. She could never just let things go, always had to react. Overreact.
Ow, Jesus! Bernie should have known better than to lie on the bed like that. Her back started to spasm and she couldn’t straighten up. Stifling a groan of pain, she awkwardly rolled on to her stomach and, manoeuvring her hands under her chest, managed to push herself upright. Grabbing the nearby wardrobe door for support, she stood, panting with the pain and exertion, cold sweat rolling down her face. It hadn’t been this bad in a little while and she was going to have to give in and take some painkillers and muscle relaxants.
Bernie managed to reach out and snag her stick, knowing she was going to need the extra support while her back was in spasm. Leaning against the bedroom door, she listened intently. Was Serena around out there?
“How the hell were you in the Army, Wolfe? Even non-combatants shouldn’t be gutless cowards.” Bernie ground out, from between gritted teeth.
Taking a shaky breath, Bernie threw her bedroom door open and slowly limped her way towards the bathroom medicine cabinet. Just as she reached it, she heard Serena’s door open. Ignoring the other woman, she shut herself in the bathroom. Casting a longing look at the bath, wishing for a scalding hot soak, she settled for some chemical relief instead.
As much as she almost wished she could retreat to the privacy of her bedroom again, Bernie knew she would need to be sitting properly upright for a couple of hours at least. She used the loo, knowing that once she was settled, there would be no moving again for a while. Washing her hands, she also rinsed her clammy face, which made her feel marginally more human. She hesitated, reaching for the doorknob.
“Sod it! This is my house and I’m not going to remain in hiding. I just can’t allow myself to be quite that big a coward.” Bernie muttered to herself.
Standing as straight as she could, she plastered what she hoped was a neutral expression on her face and left the bathroom. There was no sign of Serena, so Bernie let out a small sigh of relief and shuffled slowly, painfully and awkwardly toward the marginal comfort of her chair in the living room.
Settling herself in her chair with a small grunt, Bernie closed her eyes in relief. She immediately opened them again, confused. What was different about the room? Ah, it was bathed in afternoon sunlight. The usually closed curtains had been thrown wide, and the patio doors stood open. She could see down at the bottom of the garden that the shed door was also wide open. Serena was clearly going ahead with her plans to tackle the lawn...
For the youthful and the non-Brits:
Percy Thrower, MBE became nationally known through presenting various gardening programmes, starting in 1956 on the BBC's Gardening Club then later on the BBC's Gardeners' World from 1969 until 1976. He has been described as "Britain's first celebrity gardener"
To me though, he was the creator of the Blue Peter garden during my childhood.
Paula Radcliffe, MBE is an English long-distance runner. She is a three-time winner of the London Marathon, three-time New York Marathon champion, and 2002 Chicago Marathon winner. She has been the women marathon world record holder since 2002.
However to many, she will be forever associated with pausing to poop at the side of the street during the 2005 London marathon. She won it though, so good for her!
In which Serena flexes her green fingers
Serena had walked out of her bedroom, only to see the back of Bernie disappear into the bathroom. So it didn’t look as though she was going to be instantly dismissed at least. She hesitated. Hang about waiting for Berenice to emerge, and try to discuss what had happened? Offer to resign from the post? Again. Or go ahead with her plans to tackle the overgrown, shaggy lawn? The latter seemed by far the best of the three options. That way at least the situation would have some time to settle down and nothing would be said in haste.
Entering the gloomy living room, Serena picked her way past the overflowing waste bin and looked around. If she hadn’t blown things completely, she would have to see if she could diplomatically offer to help clean this room up. At the very least she could get a little fresh air into the place if she left the patio doors wide open. For as long as Berenice would tolerate the noise of the lawnmower at least. If there was a lawnmower of course, and hopefully a strimmer too, given the length of the grass.
Opening the shed door, it immediately became obvious that Cassandra Wilde’s penchant for spending money on her friend’s behalf on kitchen gadgets had extended outdoors as well. The shed was equipped with lawnmower, strimmer, electric hedge trimmers, a compact gas barbecue and various other things that Serena wasn’t particularly familiar with. Alongside the gadgetry were all the usual manual tools too. There was also some nice, solid looking garden furniture tucked away, a couple of chairs and a small table. She would definitely be dragging them over to the small patio area once the grass was dealt with. Should she still actually be in a job, that was.
First things first, she removed the strimmer from its hook, took it over to the outdoor power point she had seen by the door and plugged it in. This should take care of the worst of the long grass and then she could smooth everything else out with the lawn mower. Squeezing the handle, it hummed into life. Not too noisy, so hopefully it wouldn’t antagonise the Major too quickly. Serena swept the electric tool back and forth across the grass, making good progress with the small lawn. She suddenly became aware of a tingling sensation between her breasts, and realised the mobile phone she had tucked inside her sports bra was ringing.
Switching off the strimmer, Serena perched on the low wall that bracketed the sides of the patio and pulled the phone out of the neck of her t-shirt.
“Hi Suz, how are you?”
“Good, good. How has he been? Is he behaving himself?”
“Is he missing me?”
“Well I know he won’t tell you anything Suzanne, I’m not that naïve! Does he seem himself though?”
“Is he eating properly?”
“Well that’s good.”
“Yes Suz, I know you don’t particularly like him, but that shouldn’t stop you from-”
“Y-yes Suz, I know I owe you, just try and stop him from sniffing around that little slut from next door!”
“Yes, I know you can’t keep an eye on him 24/7. I’m going to drop in to say hello tomorrow.”
“Yes… Yes I know. You’re an angel. Give him a kiss and a cuddle from me. Well actually, on second thoughts, maybe don’t! Bye love, I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye!”
Bernie, sitting rigidly in her chair, heard every word of Serena’s side of the conversation through the open patio doors. Of course Serena had someone in her life. Why wouldn’t she? She was beautiful. It was just that it sounded like he had a wandering eye and that made Bernie angry. Serena deserved better, she deserved someone who would love her totally, unconditionally and above all, faithfully.
Although she knew that her experience with Alex Dawson had somewhat coloured her view of love and relationships, Bernie did still believe in love. Didn’t believe she would ever personally find it again, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t out there for other people. If Serena was having to get this friend Suzanne to keep an eye on her man, it didn’t exactly bode well. Without trust, what was a relationship worth? And once that trust was broken…
The sound of the grass cutting thing restarting broke into Bernie’s thoughts. Her eyes once again drawn to the limber form out in the garden. How could anyone that had a woman who looked like that in their life, look elsewhere?
At least while Bernie was stuck, waiting for the drugs to kick in, she had some amazing scenery to look at. She admired the elegant and fluid motion as Serena was sweeping the long red implement across the straggly grass. It was amazing to think that Serena had suffered injuries that might well have been at least as serious as her own. Minus the cardiac complications, presumably. Reflexively, Bernie rubbed at the scar tissue that ran down the centre of her chest. Serena’s injuries had indeed proven to be life-changing, just not in fashion the doctors had predicted.
Lost in her thoughts, Bernie hadn’t noticed the buzz of the strimmer stop, or Serena approach the doorway.
“Berenice, do you happen to know if your council have a garden waste recycling scheme?”
Almost completely transfixed by the sight of Serena’s thin white t-shirt, made nearly see-through in places by sweat, Bernie was slow to respond.
“What? A what?”
“A garden… Never mind, I’ll check for myself. While I’m in here Berenice, do you want a drink? I’m just going to get one for myself. You look a little flushed, you could probably do with a nice cold glass of water.” Without waiting for a response, Serena strode out of the room, towards the kitchen.
Serena was back within a couple of minutes, holding out a glass, tinkling with ice towards her. She reached out for it, forgetting in that moment that her back was still punishing her for failing to offer it enough due respect earlier on. Stifling a groan of pain, Bernie’s hand dropped.
“If you could just stick it it on the table, that’d be great.” She mumbled.
Serena’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, but she kept quiet. She wasn’t about to poke the bear twice in a single afternoon. “Your garden shed is very well equipped, Berenice. I imagine it was Ms Wilde’s hand at work again?”
“Uhm, it must be. I’ve never even been in it.”
“There all the different garden tools and gadgets under the sun tucked away down there. I think I even saw a wood chipper! I’m going to rake the worst of the loose grass up now, then go over the lawn with the mower, to smooth it out, okay? There are some electric hedge trimmers in the shed too, but personally I prefer to leave things natural, don’t you Berenice?”
“I prefer a natural, untrimmed bush, don’t you?” At that Serena walked back out into the garden, leaving Bernie open mouthed behind her.
In which Bernie admires Serena’s... gardening style.
“There you go again Campbell! Unprofessional behaviour. I’m quite sure that the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy wouldn’t exactly advocate euphemistically discussing your damned pubic hair with a client!” Serena berated herself. What was it about Berenice Wolfe that seemed to bring out the worst in her? Could it be the fact that Berenice was just the sort of person she could see herself being good friends with, under different circumstances? She was always a bit of a flirt, it was just in her nature, but this was a step too far. Whatever was going on, Serena needed to rein it in!
God, the shed was like a sauna! Swiftly grabbing the rake, a pair of gardening gloves and a flexible plastic tub to hold the grass, Serena quickly went back outside into the afternoon sun. In spite of the fact it was well beyond midday, it was becoming hotter and hotter. Serena drew her t-shirt off over head, and after wiping her damp face, threw it on to the low wall by the patio. As an afterthought, she then pulled her phone out of her crop top style sports bra and laid it on top. Now she had spoken to Suzanne, there was no need to risk moisture damage in her sweaty cleavage!
Gulping down the last of her glass of water, she poured the few remaining fragments of ice into her palm and rubbed them across her heated face, neck and chest. That was a bit better. Now back to work.
Indoors, Bernie felt her poor battered old heart speed up at the sight of Serena stripping off her t-shirt. The brunette was completely and utterly magnificent. She watched the muscles in Serena’s neck work as she drank her water. Oh god, how was she going to cope with having this woman in the house for 2 weeks? How was she going to feel when she left?
If Bernie thought things were bad when Serena removed her t-shirt, they became infinitely worse at the fevered vision of her rubbing ice over herself. Was the woman deliberately trying to induce heart failure? Bernie felt like a voyeur, as though she should look away. She didn’t. Couldn’t.
As Serena turned and began raking up the loose grass, Bernie’s eyes were drawn to the faded surgical scars running down the other woman’s back. Seeing the ease with which Serena was moving around, bending and twisting, it was amazing to think she had once not been expected to walk again. It was clearly a testament to her tenacity, hard work and undoubtedly, a bloody good physiotherapist. Bernie began to wonder, was she cutting off her own nose, just to spite her face? Being a ridiculously stubborn fool just for the sake of it? If there was a chance of regaining enough mobility to get back into surgery somehow, did she owe it to herself to try, at the very least? Bernie needed to do some serious soul searching over the next few days.
In spite of feeling more than a little ashamed about it, Bernie decided to distract herself from all serious thought by feasting her eyes on the fabulous sight of Serena Campbell bending over, scooping up grass cuttings. She wondered if there was any fertiliser amongst the equipment in the shed. Bernie vaguely remembered seeing adverts for some product that would miraculously improve the growing speed of grass. If it got Serena out there like this regularly, it would certainly be worth any cost!
Bernie hoped she didn’t look too much like that horny wolf from the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Serena truly was a sight for sore eyes though. Curvaceous, yet toned, with that amazing bosom currently being restrained by the sports bra, reducing movement to barely a jiggle. Bernie’s mind turned back to how Serena had looked in the kitchen earlier, bra-less and unrestrained. Her eyes drifted closed as her imagination took over.
Bernie’s reverie was suddenly, rudely interrupted by a roaring noise. Her eyes flew open to see Serena pushing an orange lawnmower around across the lawn. Here was the god-awful noise that had sparked the argument with the gardener. Somehow the racket didn’t seem quite so bad when it was offset by the sight of a beautiful woman wielding the contraption. Perhaps Cass should have had the foresight to employ a woman to tend Bernie’s garden? But no, she was quite sure no one else would have had the same kind of impact as Serena had over the past… Bernie’s eyes widened as it hit her anew that the physio had been there for only just over 24 hours.
The roar of the lawnmower stopped as abruptly as it has begun. Bernie watched as Serena unplugged the machine, then dragged it and the other gardening gadget back to the shed. This was followed by more raking, and more bending. Bernie was beginning to feel like one of those workmen or white van drivers who ogle passing women. At least she had managed to refrain from cat-calling or wolf whistling though!
Serena stepped back through the patio doors, wiping her moist forehead with her discarded t-shirt. Bernie looked up at her, hoping the guilt she felt wasn’t written all over her face.
“All done, Campbell?”
“Phew, yes. I hope it wasn’t too noisy for you. At least using the strimmer first drastically cut down on how long the lawnmower was needed. I should have closed the doors really, but I thought this room of yours needed a good bit of fresh air.” Serena raised an eyebrow.
Bernie looked around the room. Seeing it with the curtains fully opened for the first time since… well since she moved in, and with the afternoon sunshine streaming in was a bit embarrassing.
“Umm… yes, I suppose it needs airing out. Amongst other things.” Bernie muttered.
“Look, I have to pop back to my place for a while tomorrow, but I’ll be here in the afternoon. I can give you a hand tidying around a bit if you’d like?”
Bernie thought for a moment. “Thanks Campb…” she paused and cleared her throat. “Thank you Serena, that’s very kind of you. I would appreciate it.”
Serena smiled broadly. “Excellent. Well, I think I’ll just jump in the shower to cool off before I start dinner.”
A couple of minutes later, Bernie heard the thump of bass as Serena’s music started up. So it seemed Serena really didn’t like to shower in peace and quiet. Oh well, Bernie thought, there were worse habits to have to live with. She shifted slowly and carefully in the chair, to see if the drugs had begun to ease her back pain. Okay, she was a little more mobile, but still sore. The pain was par for the course though. Bernie hadn’t been pain free since that IED had sent the jeep rolling into a poppy field all those months ago.
About 10 minutes later the music stopped and Bernie could hear Serena coming towards the living room. She wasn’t prepared for the sight that greeted her however. The brunette walked into the room, wearing a pair of cotton shorts with a towel clutched to her chest. That was it. Shorts and a towel. She really IS trying to kill me, thought Bernie, frantically.
“I’m so sorry to be a pain, Berenice. I completely forgot about sun protection earlier. I’m usually so careful, but I’ve really caught the sun and I can’t reach to put cream on my back and shoulders. Would you mind?” Serena held out a bottle of aloe vera after-sun towards the stunned Major.
“Er, I um, sure, okay. Turn around.” Bernie carefully sat forward in the chair. “Would you uh, would you mind coming down to my level a bit?”
“Oh of course, Berenice. How thoughtless of me!” Serena turned her back to Bernie and crouched down between her legs, one hand still holding the towel to her chest and the other steadying herself on Bernie’s knee. “Is this okay?”
“Fine!” squeaked Bernie. You can do this, Wolfe she thought, it’s just skin. Just don’t think about the fact that the skin belongs to the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. Bernie uncapped the bottle, squirted some on her palm and taking a deep breath, started smoothing it across the other woman’s shoulders.
“Mmmmm that feels wonderful. Thank you so much Berenice. I’m doing chicken and vegetable stir fry with noodles for dinner tonight. Okay?”
“Huh? Oh yeah, that’s fine.”
Subject: Day Two
Good evening Ms Wilde,
Today has been filled with a few ups and downs. In general however, I am cautiously happy with my progress so far. I can’t say for sure yet of course, that Berenice will come around to the idea of physiotherapy. I genuinely do think and hope that she might.
With regard to the whisky and cigarettes issue. Berenice has made no mention of either today and I haven’t seen her smoke at all. We have shared a couple of glasses of Shiraz over the last two evenings, which may have been enough to prevent her desire for spirits. May I suggest you hold off from doing anything for now? I will let you know if anything changes.
Re: Day Two
I am so happy to hear that you feel like some progress is already being made. Keep up the good work!
I’ll completely take your lead in regards to Bernie’s bad habits.
As ever, thank you for keeping me up to date. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
In which Bernie gets a rude awakening.
There’s that music yet again, beat seeping through the wall. Serena Campbell disturbing her sleep - again. Bernie throws back the covers and gets out of bed, determined this time to confront the brunette about the music. She pulls the bathroom door open. It is dimly lit, a multitude of flickering candles the only light source. Serena turns to her. Bernie can see the water on her smooth skin, sparkling in the candlelight. Droplets of water, like twinkling diamonds are hanging from taut nipples.
“Finally, Berenice. I’ve been waiting for you” Serena holds out a hand. “Come on in, the water is divine”
Bernie takes hold of the strong fingers, steps under the spray and into Serena’s arms. Soapy hands begin to caress. At last, those magnificent breasts are pressed against her. At last, that strong, silky thigh is rocking between her legs. Bernie breathes in the intoxicating scent of Serena Campbell. At last she is going to press this woman up against the tiled wall and…
Who is knocking on the door? Bernie grunts and tries to ignore it, filling her hands with the firm flesh of Serena Campbell’s amazing arse.
“Berenice?” There was the knocking again.
“Berenice? Are you awake?”
Bernie abruptly returned to consciousness. “Yes, yes I’m awake.” She managed to croak, mouth dry.
She realised several things as her head cleared properly. She had been dreaming. She was bathed in sweat. Her hand was inside her pyjama bottoms and buried between her legs. And for the first time in god alone knew how long, Bernie Wolfe was soaking wet and horny as hell!
“May I come in Berenice, is that okay?” Serena called through the door.
Bernie hastily sat up and wiped her damp hand on the sheet covering the mattress. “Umm, er yes. Yes, you can come in.”
“I’m sorry to do this again, but can I just ask you to pop some after-sun on for me, Berenice? My shoulders are still feeling a little warm this morning.”
With the image from the dream still at the forefront of her mind, Bernie looked up at the brunette. This morning she was wearing a pair of smart looking pale grey linen trousers, but as had been the case yesterday afternoon, she was holding a towel across her otherwise bare chest with one hand, whilst clutching the soothing aloe vera with the other.
Serena handed the bottle of after-sun to Bernie and perched on the edge of the bed, turning her back towards the blonde. “I really appreciate this. I still can’t believe I was silly enough to be out in the sun like that yesterday with no protection, it’s so unlike me. ”
Bernie squirted some of the cooling gel into her palm and reached to rub it into the creamy, if slightly pinkened shoulders in front of her. The moment her hand touched Serena’s skin, it struck her, she was touching the other woman with the hand she had removed, only moments before, from between her own thighs. Her face flamed and she hoped with every fibre of her being, that Serena wouldn’t be able to smell the scent of her arousal over the fragrance of the after-sun.
“Oh that does feel lovely. Thank you so much, yet again Berenice. Shall we say half an hour until breakfast? I need to finish getting ready, and that should give you ample time for a shower.”
With that, Serena stood, turned and gave Bernie’s arm an affectionate squeeze before taking the bottle of aloe from her hand and exiting the room. Bernie felt a little shell shocked. Serena was a mite overwhelming at times, to say the least. She slumped back against the pillows, torn. Should she finish what the dream had started, or get up and washed? She decided on the latter, after thinking for a minute. Serena would undoubtedly only come knocking again if Bernie was late for breakfast, and she wouldn’t relish trying to explain why, after 30 minutes, she was neither washed nor dressed.
As she crossed to hall to the bathroom, Bernie was very aware of the ache between her legs and decided that cold water was probably the best bet. As she closed the door behind her, she inhaled deeply and breathed in the intoxicating smell of Serena Campbell. She was transported straight back to her dream. Yes, cold water was very much needed!
After breakfast, Serena returned to the bathroom before heading off for the day. As she stepped up to the sink she realised the area was soaking wet again. The same had been the case the previous morning. What on earth did Berenice do in there?
“Oh, of course, I’m so stupid!” Serena groaned quietly. She should have realised the first time she even looked into the bathroom. How on earth would someone with Berenice’s currently limited mobility be able to step in and out of the bath unaided? This was quite easily solved, but how would the proud and sensitive Major react?
Bernie was feeling at a loose end. It didn't really make much sense as it was just another day, like all the others since she got out of hospital. Why was she feeling so restless? She looked at the clock on the wall. Just after midday. Maybe she should see about getting some lunch. That should keep her busy for all of the 5 minutes the microwave meal would take. Better than nothing she supposed. Or she could see what there was in the fridge. That sandwich Serena had made the day before had been nice. Bernie rolled her eyes at that thought. Serena. She had almost managed a full five minutes without thinking about Serena bloody Campbell!
She wasn't kidding even herself with casting her mind about for the cause of her restlessness. It was Serena. Or rather the lack of Serena’s presence in the flat. The woman had somehow wormed her way into Bernie's mind. “Oh stop lying to yourself, Wolfe! I fancy the arse off her. That's why I'm missing her so much.” It actually almost felt like a relief to say the words out loud. “Hello, my name is Bernie and I fancy Serena Campbell.” Bernie snorted at how ridiculous she was being, at the same time as wondering if there was a 12 step programme designed to help her get over the stunning physiotherapist. What was that saying? The best way to get over someone is to get under them. No that couldn't be right, could it?
Bernie got up and crossed the hall into the kitchen. The first thing she noticed was a little note stuck on the fridge door:
‘Berenice, I thought I would spare your neighbours another potential smoke alarm serenade. Lunch is made up for you in the fridge. I hope you enjoy it. See you this afternoon. Serena xx’
She ran a fingertip over the two little Xs at the end of the note and felt a little flutter in her chest at the sight. Bernie carefully folded the note in two and slipped it into her trouser pocket. She already had it bad. Bernie shook her head. She had it SO bad.
Serena sat, parked in front of Bernie’s house gripping the steering wheel. This felt like a strange repeat of her arrival earlier in the week. While she wasn’t as apprehensive as then, Serena was certainly nervous. Knowing just how touchy Berenice was about her mobility problems, this needed to be handled just right. It had been playing on her mind all morning, just how best to approach the subject with the Major.
Well, just sitting there wasn’t going to achieve a thing. Serena got out of the car and retrieved the equipment she had made a detour earlier to collect. Juggling the equipment and her keys, she opened the front door and went straight to her room to stash everything. She wanted to talk things through before springing anything on the former Army medic. Serena also changed into a comfortable pair of yoga pants and a white vest top.
“Good afternoon Berenice. What are you reading? Anything good?”
Bernie jumped, she hadn't heard Serena’s return to the flat, absorbed as she was in reading. “Bloody hell Campbell, don’t sneak up on me like that. My heart isn’t what it used to be!”
“What? There was nothing in your notes about a cardiac condition. I’ll need to take that into account if you decide to go ahead with physio.” Serena replied, worried.
Bernie chuckled “I don’t have a cardiac condition, amazingly my ticker is actually in good condition, considering. During my… my accident, I suffered a chest injury which caused a ventricular pseudoaneurysm. There was a fun and lively debate between my neurosurgeon and my cardiothoracic surgeon about how they were going to fix me up. I ended up having to throw my weight around and tell them what to do. Surgeons and their bloody egos. Anyway, during the spinal surgery the aneurysm ruptured and I was technically dead for a few minutes before they got me going again. I have a very dashing scar to show for it too.” Bernie pulled down the neckline of her t-shirt several inches, revealing the top of a thick pink scar running down the centre of her breast bone.
Serena perched on the footstool that was placed in front of Bernie’s chair. “Berenice, can I talk to you about something?”
Bernie narrowed her eyes. “This sounds serious. What’s wrong?”
Serena took a deep breath. “This morning I realised something that I should have noticed almost the minute I stepped into your home. That you have been unable to have a shower or bath. Now I realise that your reduced mobility is a temporary thing and obviously you wouldn’t have wanted to make any permanent changes to your bathroom. However, there are temporary solutions that can allow you to make full use of your facilities.” Serena reached out and took Bernie’s hand, trying to reassure her. “I’ve brought some things back with me that I can set up in a jiffy.”
Bernie was transfixed by the warm, soft hands holding hers. Serena may have thought she was being reassuring and soothing, rubbing her thumb across the other woman’s knuckles. How wrong she was. Bernie felt like she was going to combust at the feel of Serena’s strong fingers holding her hand. She also felt like she would agree to anything asked of her at that moment as long as Serena promised to never let go.
“I’ll set up a couple of grab handles for you, they’re held on with suction cups. I have a non-slip step to help you into the bath and also a stool, so you can sit to shower if you need. I’ll give you a hand in and out, for the first few times at least, while you get used to it. I realise this will be a bit odd, but you spent half of your life in the military. Getting your kit off is practically mandatory after a couple of pints, never mind communal showers and shared living quarters. A hell of a lot of my clients over the years have been officers as well as squaddies. I know what you lot get up to! I have spent over half my life as a physiotherapist, bodies are my bread and butter. I’ll give you a supporting hand in and out, otherwise I’ll just sit quietly and you won’t even know I’m there. You will feel so much better for having a proper shower, trust me.” Serena had begun to ramble, almost sure that Bernie was going to erupt in anger any moment.
“Okay, that would be lovely.”
“Wait, what?” Serena could barely believe Bernie agreed so readily.
“I said that would be lovely. I got used to doing without a regular shower. There were frequent water shortages in active war zones, and patients always came first. Got used to it, but obviously didn’t exactly like it. Give me the option and the opportunity to shower regularly again, and I grab it with both hands.”
They sat, smiling at each other, Serena oblivious to their still linked hands, Bernie hyper-aware of them.
In which Serena and Bernie talk about useless exes and look at some old photographs.
Serena gave Bernie’s hand a final companionable squeeze and then let go.
“Shall we make a start on having that tidy round we talked about yesterday? Once we make a bit of progress, we can celebrate with a shower.”
Bernie’s mind immediately jumped back to that morning’s dream. Now that would be one hell of a celebration, she thought to herself.
“Oh, yes. Sorry, I was miles away for a moment. A celebratory shower sounds perfect,” Bernie smiled across at Serena. “Where do you think we should start?”
“I’ll grab some supplies from the kitchen and if you open up the patio doors again for some fresh air, we’ll take it from there.
Serena laid a warm hand on Bernie’s knee for a moment before standing up and leaving the room.
‘I’m finally going to have a shower again.’ Bernie thought delightedly, as she rose to open up the doors to the warm afternoon air. ‘This is going to be blissful. Oh fuck, I’m going to have a shower in front of Serena. I’m going to be naked in front of her. Okay, don’t be silly. I can do this easily enough. It’s not like there’ll be inappropriate erections to deal with!’ That thought prompted a slightly hysterical giggle.
“You sound happy, Berenice.” Serena had reappeared behind her without Bernie realising.
“Oh, uh. Ha, I suppose so. The prospect of a shower has put a bit of a smile on my face, I admit. So where shall we begin?” Bernie glanced around the messy room.
“Okay, well why don’t you start bagging the rubbish that’s spilled out of your waste bin and so on, and I’ll grab anything that’s for recycling. Then we can start finding homes for everything else, finish off with a clean of the surfaces and I’ll have a hoover round. It shouldn’t take too long.” Serena gave a little reassuring rub between Bernie’s shoulder blades.
While Bernie picked up the rubbish scattered by the waste bin, Serena began to gather together the scattered newspapers and magazines. “Oh really, Berenice. Fifty Shades Of Grey? This is your idea of entertaining reading matter?”
Bernie’s head shot up, and there was a distinct rabbit in the headlights look in her eyes. “Um, er. Well. It’s… it’s not mine!”
“That old chestnut? The ‘I was only holding it for a friend’ defence?” Serena chuckled.
“Honestly, I have no idea where it came from. I had run out of things to read, and even that drivel seemed better than nothing. Which actually wasn’t the case as it turns out. I think I could actually hear my brain cells screaming for mercy and gave up after a few chapters. I didn’t even make it to the first spanking, or whatever is meant to happen.”
“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of light spanking, but that whole book is just terribly written.”
Serena probably said other things after that, but Bernie’s brain was too overwhelmed by the thought of Serena and spanking.
“...don’t you think Berenice?”
“Hmm? Sorry, I was wool-gathering, what was that?” Bernie hoped she didn’t look too guilty for being lost in mental images of Serena bent across her knee.
“I was asking if you had considered buying an e-reader? You have WiFi, so it would be as easy as pie to download any book you fancied in an instant.”
“I have WiFi?”
Serena gave a husky huff of laughter. “Haven’t you ever wondered what the box with the blue light on the hall table was for?”
“Is that WiFi? I just assumed it was another gadget Cass had bought. Which it is, I suppose. So an e-reader then? Is it easy to use? Bear in mind that unless it’s a piece of lifesaving medical equipment, I’m a bit of a technophobe.” Bernie grasped on to the topic, to distract herself from her highly inappropriate thoughts about the woman in front of her.
“After dinner I’ll show you mine. Well, mine is a tablet as well, which is even better because you can do so much more with it. You said you had an iPhone before, yes? This is very similar, just bigger. So what do you think, recycling for Ms James’ literary efforts?”
They carried on in a companionable silence, clearing away the weeks of accumulated detritus. Bernie was embarrassed to have been living like such a slob. She wasn’t merely being bitchy the other day, about leaving the discipline of the Army behind her. The tidiness of the military life never came naturally to her, even during a career spanning over 25 years. Serena seemed to just take it all in her stride however, and showed no sign of judgment, which endeared her even more to Bernie.
“Is this a photo album of your Army career Berenice? Do you mind if I have a look?”
Bernie looked over and saw the green covered album in Serena’s hand. “Um, it’s… it’s not exactly. It’s full of pictures sent to me. The one with the brown cover is the one which I suppose covers my career.” Bernie said, hesitantly.
“Will you sit and look at them with me? It’s always better to go through photos with the person who knows exactly what you’re looking at.” Serena sat on the sofa and patted the cushion next to her. “Which shall we do first? Brown?”
“Okay, if you like.” Bernie sank down beside Serena, very conscious of the warmth of their thighs and shoulders pressed together as they perused the album balanced between them.
“Oh, young and fresh-faced Berenice!” exclaimed Serena at the sight of Bernie’s passing out photo. “You do look so smart and handsome in your dress uniform. Is that Ms Wilde with you there?”
Bernie smiled fondly at the picture of the pair of them, taken what felt like several lifetimes ago. “Yes, Wilde and Wolfe, together again. We had such a drunken night out after that. After going through boarding school together, and then going to the same university, my Army training was the longest we had been significantly apart since we were kids.”
“I hadn’t realised your friendship went back that far.”
“Oh yes, we’ve been friends since we were 8 years old. Through a lot of ups and downs. Marriage and divorce, family estrangement, life changing injuries. And that was just me! Cassandra has actually had a very stable life. She has a loving and supportive family, married her university boyfriend and they’re still very much in love. Yet another way in which we have always been complete opposites. Ours is one of those friendships that on paper just shouldn’t work.”
“You were married? Me too, fairly briefly.” Serena offered. “Way, way too young. You?”
“Too young, for all the wrong reasons, to the wrong person. You name it, my marriage was it. Apart from happy. How did Cass put it? ‘You married the first jumped up little social climber who looked in your direction Bernie, you twat.’ I believe is a verbatim quote.”
Serena laughed, “I knew there was a reason I liked Ms Wilde as soon as I met her! You didn’t take his name when you married I assume, from Wilde and Wolfe?”
“No, thank goodness. Ironically, I was rather fond of my family name, so stuck with it. Either way, I think you’ll agree that it beats Dunn as a surname?”
“Undoubtedly. Berenice Wolfe sounds both distinguished and exciting. Dunn just sounds boring and humdrum. Edward insisted I take his name when we married. I had other, more important things on my mind when we split and divorced, so never bothered with the palaver of reverting to my maiden name.” Serena sighed and continued turning the pages of the album.
“You didn’t… He didn’t… Tell me he didn’t leave you right after the accident?”
“I can’t, because he did.”
“The fucker. I’ll kill him.” Bernie growled, from between clenched teeth. “How could he?”
“Darling Berenice. Never fear, he is slowly, but surely killing himself. He has a chronic alcohol problem, a failed medical career and ex wives two and three are currently financially draining him dry. I believe the saying that ‘Karma’s a bitch’ is very apt here.”
“Well if you change your mind, I can always make a few phone calls.” Bernie grumbled.
Serena turned back to the album. “So we’ve reached Afghanistan now?” She said hesitantly.
Bernie ran gentle fingers over the photographs. “Kandahar and Kabul, yes.”
“And so this is the last squad you worked with. Who’s who here?” Serena pointed to a group shot of grinning men and women with arms flung around each other’s shoulders.
Bernie pointed out fellow surgeons, theatre nurses and orderlies telling Serena about their nicknames and little anecdotes, before hesitating, finger tip poised over the picture of an extremely attractive brunette. “Our anaesthetist, Captain Dawson. Alex.” Bernie’s tone of voice made Serena look sharply at her.
“We… Captain Dawson… Alex and I… were lovers. Officially very much not allowed. But we kept it absolutely secret. We were in this amazingly happy bubble.”
“You’re not still… I mean, it didn’t last?”
“No, that happy little bubble well and truly burst.” Bernie’s voice had gone quiet.
Serena put her arm briefly around Bernie’s shoulder. “Shall we have a look at the other album, or just get on with things?”
Bernie gave her a small smile. “No. Alex is in the past. This other album always cheers me up, it’s why I keep it close to hand. I used to get sent lots of these photos and still receive a few that get forwarded on by the M.O.D.” She opened the album to reveal a picture of a smiling man with a prosthetic arm, holding a small baby. “Men and women who I patched up and sent back home over the years. I still get quite a few Christmas cards too. Believe it or not, there are even a couple of little Berenices running around out there, the poor little buggers!” Bernie laughed, slightly shakily. “This first picture is one of them. Berenice Rogers. Her dad was amazing. Even when they brought him in, almost completely broken, he never stopped smiling.”
They carried on looking through the album, with Serena able to point out several people who she had worked with over the years.
“I don’t have any mini Serenas out there, but I have gained 4 godchildren.”
“Thank goodness none of them ever asked that of me. I’m far from someone you’d want keeping your child’s morals on the straight and narrow!”
As they reached the end of the album, Serena drew in a deep breath and made a decision. “Look Berenice, I’m not going to lecture you, or try to pressure you. I’m still here for another week and a half, no matter what. I just wanted to point out that every one of these men and women owe you their lives. There are countless other men, women and children out there that you could still be saving. Hard work, sweat and determination could get you back to medicine and back in an operating theatre.”
Bernie went very quiet and seemed to completely withdraw, in spite of not having moved. Serena thought she had blown it and that an explosion of anger was imminent.
“You’re right.” Bernie said in a whisper, then carried on, more strongly “You are right. I’ve been selfish, hiding myself away. I’ve been thinking about it, particularly since you told me about your accident and how you fought back from it. You could have given up, but you turned things around and gave back. I need to do the same. It’s time to start living again.”
“Oh Berenice! Fuck the housework, this calls for a glass of wine!”
In which Bernie tells Serena a little more about her past.
Oh yeah, and Bernie takes a shower...
“Do you know Serena, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think I would prefer to finish tidying up first. I think it will feel more like a completely new start that way. Does that make sense?”
“It makes perfect sense Berenice. In fact, once we’re done in here, shall we give your bedroom a quick tidy and change your bedding? That way tonight, after you shower, you can slip between crisp, fresh sheets. Bliss.”
After allowing herself a moment to imagine Serena between her crisp, fresh sheets, Bernie answered, “That sounds like a lovely idea. You shouldn’t have to do all this though, you’re not a bloody cleaner. I feel terrible about how I’ve treated you since you arrived.”
Serena sat back down and took one of Bernie’s hands between both of hers. “Berenice, I knew when I allowed Cassandra Wilde to persuade me to take this on, that it wasn’t going to be an average physio job. Live in positions aren’t exactly commonplace for a start. It’s also highly unusual to have a client you’ve never met and who categorically doesn’t want anything to do with physiotherapy. Besides, apart from a single ‘bugger off’, you haven’t even sworn at me! Mind you, we haven’t started on any of the fun stuff yet, so there’s plenty of time.”
Bernie was transfixed by the feel of Serena’s hands holding hers, thumb stroking lightly across the thin, delicate skin of her inner wrist. “I hope I can refrain from swearing at you again, Serena. You don’t deserve it.”
Serena gave a husky laugh. “Wait until I’m pushing you for 5 or 10 more reps when you’re way beyond ready to stop, or when I’m digging my steely fingers into your spine. You’re likely to change your mind then, believe me. I’ve had the foulest language coming from the most innocuous of people in the past. I had an elderly vicar as a client once, many years ago. You would not believe how creative and colourful his swearing could get! He wouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, but he sure as hell would take mine.”
“I had the sort of upbringing where there was the chance of an actual mouth washed out with soap if I was caught swearing, so I think it became a bit of a guilty pleasure because of it. I did become quite foul mouthed for a while. Only in secret of course. I wasn’t much of a rebel at that stage.” Bernie said, ruefully.
“You were a rebel? I can’t say that entirely surprises me.”
“By most standards, I really wasn’t. By my family’s standard? I was a misfit, ungrateful and rebellious and not fit to carry the family name.” Bernie couldn’t sit still any longer. She reluctantly pulled her hand from between Serena’s and stood up, taking the photo albums and putting them on the shelf of a bookcase.
“As far as the family were concerned I was meant to marry, produce a few children and just be the good little woman.”
They carried on tidying and cleaning as Bernie continued. “They ‘indulged me’ university, even though they thought it a waste of time. I think they really only allowed it because they thought it would make it easier for me to find myself a husband. In spite of the fact I was studying medicine, they didn’t expect me to pursue it beyond university. Marrying Marcus was meant to have a twofold benefit. Keep the family happy by ticking the husband box, but also as my husband he would have been able to…” Bernie broke off, and Serena could see the other woman clench her fists.
“I realise this sounds ridiculously archaic, but as my husband he would have been able to give me permission to carry on with my goal to become a doctor.”
“My god Berenice, your family sound like they belong in the dark ages.”
The conversation paused at that point, drowned out by the roar of the vacuum cleaner.
“In spite of being the youngest, with two older brothers who had already produced the required male heirs, I was still expected to toe the line. Maybe if I had chosen a husband more wisely, my life would have been very different. Unfortunately I married Marcus Dunn.”
“The social climbing little twat, wasn’t it?”
Bernie gave a little bark of laughter. “Not quite, but that’s close enough. Cass told me I might as well be marrying a sack of spuds as Marcus Dunn, and she wasn’t wrong. He was so desperate to try and be something he wasn’t, that he would never have dreamt of siding with me against my father. The irony of the whole thing is that if they had just left me to do my own thing, I would undoubtedly have ended up being a GP in a safe little private practice somewhere. I just wanted to be a doctor.”
By this time, they had moved on to Bernie’s bedroom.
“So how did you end up being a world class trauma surgeon with the RAMC?”
“It’s amazing what being completely cut off by your family will do for you. I told them I was divorcing Marcus and was determined to carry on toward becoming a doctor and they cut me off. Disowned me. Even the fact Marcus had hit me wasn’t enough for them to condone divorce.”
Serena’s head whipped around. “He hit you? The fucker hit you?” She was clearly furious. “For all Edward’s many, many faults and failings, he never laid a finger on me in anger.”
“Marcus discovered I was on the Pill and slapped me. He was desperate to get me knocked up as soon as possible in an effort to curry favour with my father. I was equally desperate not to get pregnant. A baby would certainly have been the end of my already precarious dreams. The slap was a backhander, hard enough to give me a black eye, but still not reason enough for divorce in the eyes of my father though, apparently. Don’t worry Serena, I didn’t take him hitting me lying down. I marched into the kitchen, grabbed the largest butcher’s knife out of the drawer and let him know in no uncertain terms that I would put my medical knowledge to very good use in removing his minuscule genitalia if he ever even thought about laying a finger on me again.”
“Personally I think you should have threatened it with a blunt and rusty bread knife, Berenice.” Serena said with a dark frown.
That made Bernie laugh. “I like the way your mind works. Cass was all for hiring some thugs to drag him into a dark alley and kick seven shades of shit out of him. I settled for the divorce. Anyway, I was summarily cut off from the family. Cass put me up, bless her. She was newly married and I’m sure could have done without me hanging around. I started to look at how I was going to finance the rest of my medical training, and the Army was the path I ended up taking. Through that I discovered a skill and aptitude for surgery, and the rest is history.”
At that, Serena gave the freshly made bed a final smooth down and the bedroom was done. There was a large pile of washing to be done of course, but otherwise the room looked lovely. She looked around at their handy work. “That’s a lot better don’t you think? So. The shower. Do you want to get yourself ready while I put things in place? It won’t take a minute. We’ll almost certainly need to adjust the position of the grab handles, but it’s very easily done. I’ll see you in the bathroom when you’re ready.” She patted Bernie’s shoulder and left the room.
Bernie looked around the room, happy with how clean and tidy it looked. Thought for a moment about how the shower could be seen as washing away the last of her old life. “Oh what a load of old wank. Come on, just get your kit off Wolfe. And try not to think about being stark bollock naked in front of the most stunning woman you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in the buff!”
Stripping off and carefully putting the clothes in the overfull laundry basket, rather than discarding them on the floor as per her usual habit, Bernie wrapped herself in a towel. She was feeling rather shaky and was also in some pain from the unaccustomed physical activity and just hoped she could get through the shower without falling on her arse in front of Serena.
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Bernie checked her towel was securely tucked in and opened her bedroom door. Crossing the hall to the bathroom, she could see Serena’s back to the doorway. Bernie found herself trying to channel Homer Simpson ‘Think unsexy thoughts, think unsexy thoughts!’ However, she had a feeling this bathroom would be forever associated in her mind with a naked and soapy Serena Campbell.
“Uh, Serena, can I just get past you to the bathroom cabinet?”
“Are all your toiletries in there? I was just wondering what you were planning on washing with.”
“Um. Oh yes, in the cupboard under the sink.” She bent stiffly and retrieved her bottle of shampoo and bar of soap, before reaching into the cabinet over the sink to get a painkiller and muscle relaxant.
Serena looked at Bernie with narrowed eyes. “You’re in pain. You should have said Berenice. You shouldn’t have done so much this afternoon. I’ll bring my table in from the car and give you a massage later on, that should hopefully loosen things up a bit.” She glanced at the bar of soap in Bernie’s hand. “Is that what passes for toiletries in your mind? Hold on a minute.” She left the room without another word, returning moments later with a black and pink bag crammed full of bottles and tubes. “Now these are toiletries!”
Serena began to rummage in the bag. “Okay, shampoo you have.” One by one she pulled things from her supply. “Conditioner to tame the hair.” Bernie self consciously ran her fingers through her tangled locks. “Moisturising face wash, facial scrub, shower gel. Oh, and a bath puff. Don’t worry, this is my spare, so it’s new. This is your first shower in… Well I don’t know how long. You deserve to celebrate by pampering yourself a little, don’t you think?” Serena placed the bottles and tubes on the shelf by the bath, before turning the water on.
Bernie looked at the bath, where Serena had added her modifications - a step, a seat in the bath and the grab bars. The seat made her feel about 100 years old, but she knew it would come in useful.
“These will probably need moving to get them in the best position for you. I have another pair in the car too, so if you think more would be useful, just say.” Serena said, pointing at the bars. “Ready?”
Bernie unwound her towel and hung it on the rail. “As I’ll ever be.”
Serena held out a hand to help steady Bernie as she stepped up, and into the bath. “I’ll be right here, so don’t worry. Okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Thank you Serena.” Bernie ducked under the warm spray and couldn’t suppress a groan of pleasure.
Serena couldn’t help but smile at the sound, remembering how much she had enjoyed finally being able to bathe after her accident all those years ago. She looked at Bernie’s back, surprised at quite how toned and muscled it was. Her legs were understandably thin and something they would be working on strengthening up. Serena found her eyes lingering on Bernie’s shapely bum, before mentally shaking herself.
“I… I think I’m getting a bit tired Serena.” Bernie reluctantly admitted after a while.
“Okay Berenice, sit down. I’ll give your back a quick scrub for you, then wash your hair, if that’s okay with you? And Berenice? Well done for acknowledging your limits and accepting help. Those are incredibly important things to remember.”
She took the bath puff out of Bernie’s hand and started washing her back. Using the step and standing up tiptoes, Serena reached the shower head down and rinsed Bernie’s back before dropping it into the bath. Grabbing the shampoo, she perched on the edge of the bath and began to lather up Bernie’s hair, noticing how silky the blonde strands felt.
“So I see we both have tattoos in the same place. Is yours the RAMC crest? I don’t think I’ve seen one before.” Bernie just nodded, lost in the sensation of Serena’s fingers massaging her scalp. “Mine is the crest of the CSP - the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. I had it done the day I fully qualified. You should have seen the look on my mother’s face.” Serena tried to tell herself that she wasn’t babbling nervously as she rinsed Bernie’s hair clean.
Bernie finally found her voice. “I was told mine was a long held tradition. A rite of passage when I was promoted to Major. I was drunk enough to believe the buggers and got it done. I never regretted it though, even when I sobered up enough to realised I’d been had.”
Serena combed conditioner through Bernie’s hair with her fingers, smoothing it from root to tip. Bernie let out a small moan. “Sorry, it’s been years since someone washed my hair and this is bliss.”
“Okay, that’s you finished.” Serena said heartily once Bernie’s hair was rinsed, before turning off the water and reaching for the towel that had been flung over the rail. Waiting for the other woman to wrap herself up, Serena then held out her hand and carefully helped Bernie stand and then step out of the bath. “Right, well I’ll leave you to it and go and make a start on dinner.”
With that, Serena darted out of the bathroom, leaving Bernie feeling a little like she had just stepped off a rollercoaster!
In which Serena flexes her fingers.
Serena stood, staring blindly into the fridge. What the hell had just happened in the bathroom? When she had said to Bernie earlier on that bodies were her bread and butter, it was completely true. Over half her life had been spent working with the human body in all its shapes and sizes. Never once, in more than 25 years as a physiotherapist, had a client stirred any thoughts beyond the professional. Until now.
“It must be the unusual live in situation.” Serena muttered to the contents of the vegetable drawer.
“It’s the only thing it can be.” She explained to the pack of chicken breasts.
“Just need to get a grip and get on with my job.” She told the pair of steaks.
Serena closed the fridge and ran a hand through her hair. If she was going to give Bernie that massage, there was no better time to do it than now. Massage on a full stomach did no one any favours. She went out into the hall, to see the bathroom door was open and Bernie was still in her towel, rubbing her hair dry.
“Um, Berenice, don’t bother getting dressed.”
“Pardon?” Bernie looked up, startled.
“The massage I offered. It’s best if it happens before dinner. It can be uncomfortable if you’ve just eaten, so unless you’re particularly hungry?”
“Oh. Right. No. No I’m not. Not particularly hungry right now.” Bernie’s brain, not yet fully recovered from being naked in front of Serena, not to mention the hair-washing, stuttered and short-circuited at the thought of more touch and more nudity. Luckily Serena seemed too distracted to notice Bernie’s less than articulate response.
“I’ll just go out to the car and get my table in. If you can grab a couple of extra towels while I do that, please? I’ll set the table up in the living room.”
Bernie took two towels from the cupboard and limped into the other room. She was struck by how nice it was to have a clean and tidy living space. It was embarrassing to think about how she had been living up until this point. Well no more. Even after Serena left, she would continue to maintain a better standard.
After Serena left. That thought send a dart of pain through Bernie’s chest. She sank into her chair. Damn, this was more than lust. This felt similar to her old feelings towards Alex, only far stronger. That couldn’t be right though, could it? She had only known Serena a couple of days. No, it must just be that she was finally horny again after all this time. It was only natural, triggered by seeing Serena in the buff the other day. That must be it. Surely.
“I think maybe you should close the curtains, Berenice. I’m not sure you want to risk giving the neighbours a free show, do you?”
Bernie jumped, not having noticed Serena entering the room. “You’re right. No one needs to be subjected to the sight of this knackered old carcass.”
Bernie got up to close the curtains and missed the incredulous look on Serena’s face. “It’s far from knackered Berenice. There’s some work to be done, absolutely, but we’ll get you there. Come on, up on the table and face down please. I’ll give you a hand.”
Bernie couldn’t stifle the grunt of pain as she manoeuvred on to the massage table.
“Painkillers not kicked in yet? Don’t worry, hopefully this will help loosen things up. Try and relax as much as possible, Berenice.”
“I’ll try. I’ve never been too great with people putting their hands on me. I’m from a very non-demonstrative family, you won’t be too surprised to learn.” Bernie settled down on the towel covered, padded surface and tried not to think too hard about Serena’s hands rubbing oil into her naked skin.
Serena loosened, then removed the damp towel from Bernie, before draping another across her bottom half. “So Berenice, I’m just basically going to give you a relaxation massage tonight, rather than a therapeutic one. We need to sit and talk about how we’ll be approaching your physio before we start all that.”
“So tonight, this is just trying to work out some of my kinks then?” Bernie felt herself flush as soon as she said the words. Oh god, me and my big mouth!
“I would have you down as relatively vanilla, Berenice. Mind you, one does hear things about boarding schools.”
Serena was glad Bernie was face down. Thank goodness she couldn’t see the blush Serena could feel suffusing her face as she thought about what she had just said. You couldn’t just let the potential double entendre go Campbell, could you? She grabbed the massage oil and squirted some into her palm.
“Here we go Berenice. Now as I said, this is a relaxation massage, but as you’re experiencing some pain, there’s a chance some parts might be uncomfortable, okay?” Trying to ignore the faint tremor in her hands, Serena spread the oil across the smooth, pale skin of Bernie’s back and began to knead into the muscles.
Bernie tried her best, but there was just no stopping the involuntary groan of pure pleasure at the feel of bunched muscles finally relaxing under Serena’s expert fingers.
“Oh my god Serena, that feels amazing,” moaned Bernie.
Trying to ignore the effect Bernie was having on her, Serena cast her mind about for a topic of conversation to distract herself. “So Berenice, your upper body has remarkably well developed musculature for a woman who has been sedentary for a prolonged period of time. You’re lucky.” She rolled her eyes at herself. Great. Point out how long she’s been out of action.
“Oh. Um, well. Well I haven’t been completely sedentary. You probably didn’t notice, because they’re in the bottom of my wardrobe, but I have a set of kettlebells that I’ve been using to try and rebuild some strength.” Bernie was ready, expecting a telling off at this admission.
Pausing the massage a moment, Serena sighed. “And you’re expecting a bollocking? I can tell, because you’ve tensed right up again Berenice!” Resuming kneading Bernie’s shoulders, she continued, “I’m not going to have a go. I’m actually quite glad for a couple of reasons. For starters, it cuts down slightly on how much work we need to do with you. It also shows that you really hadn’t given up the idea of improving your strength and mobility. From now on though, I’ll want you to follow my prescribed regimen. Deal?”
“Okay, I’m going to cover your back and shoulders to keep them nice and warm and supple, then move on to your legs. I won’t do too much tonight, just enough to help the blood flow and loosen up the muscles a bit. Your pins are where we’re going to be doing a lot of our strengthening work.”
She lifted the towel and draped it over Bernie’s upper body. Trying her best to keep her gaze clinical, Serena studiously ignored just how pert and lovely Bernie’s bum was.
Bernie wasn’t really listening any more. She was too busy hoping and praying that Serena’s hands didn’t stray too close to intimate areas. It would soon be all too clear exactly what effect this massage was having on her if those talented fingers travelled too far up her inner thigh.
True to her word though, Serena didn’t spend very long on the leg massage. Bernie didn’t know whether to be disappointed it was all over, or relieved. Draping the towel over the length of Bernie’s body, Serena stepped back and wiped her oily hands clean.
“Okay, you just stay there for a short while and relax. I’ll go and get you some water because you’ll need to make sure you rehydrate well. Then I’ll get dinner on the go. I thought we’d have a nice juicy steak tonight, with a big salad. It’s quick to do and it’s getting late. How does that sound?”
“Hmmm. Sure.” Bernie felt wonderful and boneless. This was as close to pain free as she had felt since before the accident. Serena was a goddess. A miracle working goddess.
Half an hour later saw them at the kitchen table, tucking into steak and salad.
“I feel amazing Serena, thank you. I wish I’d known before, how great a massage would make me feel.”
“Well, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet too hard, I am pretty good at it.”
They both laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with having confidence. It’s a great trumpet.”
“Can I ask you something, Berenice?”
“Of course. I may not answer, but you’re welcome to ask.”
Serena huffed in amusement. “Okay, how can I put this? I was wondering about a little… A little quirk in your speech patterns.”
“A quirk? You have completely lost me.”
“You have this slightly odd habit of over-emphasising the letter ‘T’ at times. You sometimes say, well for example, you just said ‘you compleTely losT me’. Or you might say trumpeT.
Bernie looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Do you know, I was genuinely unaware that I still sometimes do that. How odd.”
“It was a conscious choice once upon a time?”
“We have to travel back in time to my teenage years. I was about 14 or 15, I can’t remember exactly, and I was suddenly swept up in the idea of becoming a punk.”
“You weren’t! Really?”
“I’m afraid so. Lady Berenice Wolfe playing at punk princess. Ooh, try saying that without spitting all over yourself.” Bernie laughed.
“I’m sorry, Lady Berenice Wolfe?”
“Didn’t you know? Oh yes, the right honourable Lady Berenice Griselda Wolfe, VC at your service. Anyway, I decided I was this bad to the bone punk. I made, what was in hindsight, a pathetic attempt at a Mohican, by slicking the sides of my hair down and spiking up the middle. I even used felt tip pens to add some colour.” Bernie shook her head ruefully at the memory.
“Ha, I performed my first ever surgical procedure at this time as well. I pierced my own ear with a safety pin. Just the one of course, because I was so rebellious. Strangely enough this spotty youth wasn’t exactly well versed in the latest surgical scrub techniques and I ended up giving myself a lovely infected lobe. Look, you can still see the mark it left.”
Bernie tucked her hair behind her ear and turned toward Serena, who leant in closer to see. Bernie immediately lost her train of thought as Serena’s scent filled her nostrils. She then immediately forgot how to breathe when Serena’s fingertip gently stroked the small scar on her left earlobe.
“We shall return to discussing your appearance later Berenice, never fear, but the odd speech pattern?”
“As well as my frankly embarrassing fashion sense, for some reason known only to my teenage self, I decided to adopt what I believe is now known as a ‘mockney’ accent. Thank god I didn’t start spitting or picking my nose. I restricted most of my punk look to outside the school day because this anti establishment rebel didn’t want to get in trouble, believe it or not. The faux cockney however, crept in to the classroom and ended up getting me into the most trouble out of all of it. ‘Berenice. A lady talks correctly. A lady does NOT drop her tees and aitches.’ I was given half an hour of detention for every time a teacher heard me drop a T or an H. I started taking great care not to drop them.”
Serena just laughed and reached for her phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“No one, I’m emailing Cassandra Wilde. She’s your oldest friend. She is bound to have photos of the punk princess!”
I have the greatest pleasure in telling you that Berenice has agreed to go ahead with physiotherapy. We have had a few conversations over the last couple of days that filled me with optimism that she was seriously considering it, but I barely dared hope she would come around so quickly. Tomorrow we will sit and discuss our plan of action.
Oh my dearest Serena!
You have made my day. My week. My year! I knew as soon as I met you at the interview that you were the perfect woman for the job, and you have proved me right in spectacular fashion.
Expect to see a bottle of the finest champagne arriving tomorrow.
Thank you so much,
As much as I appreciate your offer of champagne, Shiraz will always be my tipple of choice.
There is something that I think you might be able to provide me with, that I think I would enjoy almost as much. Berenice was telling me tonight about her ‘punk princess’ phase. Please tell me you have pictures?
Shiraz it shall be then.
I do happen to have a photo or ten. Please see the attached.
In which Serena flexes herself.
Bernie awoke with a start to a knock at the door. For the second morning in a row, she woke with her hand buried deep in her pyjama bottoms and her mind filled with images of Serena Campbell in the shower.
“Berenice, is it okay if I come in?” Serena called through the door.
Bernie hastily sat up and cleared her throat, “Uh, of course Serena. Come in.”
Serena entered the room, hair still damp, clad in workout gear, and perched on the side of the bed.
“Good morning Berenice.” She frowned, “Are you feeling alright? You look very flushed.” Serena reached out and rested a cool hand on Bernie’s forehead. “You’re feeling quite warm.”
“Oh, uh well I was under the covers. I must have got too warm in my sleep.” came Bernie’s slightly incoherent reply.
“Well as long as you’re okay. Right, so I wanted to see when you would prefer to shower. I don’t envision us doing a great deal with you today, we need to plan our physio strategies first. So with that in mind, do you want it now or later? Or both of course, if you like.”
Bernie considered for a moment being naked in the same room with Serena Campbell twice daily and felt almost dizzy at the thought.
“S… shower? Oh once in a while is fine. I’m happy enough to just, you know, have a wash, like I’ve been doing up ‘til now. There’s no need for me to bother you every day. I’m fine.” She slowly ground to a halt and looked at Serena.
Serena looked at Bernie with those warm brown eyes, “Berenice. I am here to help you get healthy and hopefully, also happy. Part of that is feeling good about yourself again. In a war zone or during a water shortage, fine. When the only thing standing between you and a shower is a few minutes of my time? Not fine. Showers will be happening a minimum of once a day.”
The steely edge to Serena’s velvety voice sent a ripple of desire through Bernie. She tried not to imagine what it would be like to have Serena murmuring words of passion in her ear.
“Are you sure you’re not coming down with something? You really are very flushed.” She stroked the back of her hand against Bernie's cheek. “I’d better keep a close eye on you today. Anyway. Shower. Now, later or both?”
“Later. Later is fine.” There was no way Bernie could cope with being nude in the same room as Serena right now, with the haze of desire and the memory of her dream still clinging on.
“Okay then. 20 minutes until breakfast, so get your bum out of bed!” With a pat on Bernie’s shoulder, she left the room.
Bernie sank back against the pillows. ‘Do you want it now, or later?’ Surely Serena was trying to kill her, coming out with questions like that! She threw back the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Wow, it seemed like the massage from the night before had lasting effects. She was definitely not as stiff and sore as she would usually have been first thing. If a relaxation massage could have such a favourable result, she was looking forward to seeing what a therapeutic one would achieve. Exactly what could Serena’s magic fingers do for her? Bernie snorted. Now there was a thought to conjure with!
Twenty minutes later, Bernie was dutifully sitting at the kitchen table while Serena moved around, making breakfast.
“I’m assuming scrambled eggs on toast, with sausages and tomatoes is okay with you, Berenice?” Serena asked.
“Er, can I have the toast on the side please? I have a thing about wet bread.”
“I beg your pardon? Wet bread?” Serena was a little nonplussed.
Bernie sighed. “Basically, anything that gets the bread moist. The liquid in scrambled eggs wets the bread and that makes me feel quite sick. Bread and butter pudding is an absolute horror show as far as I’m concerned. I know. I’m odd.” she rolled her eyes at Serena.
“So, if I want to be really cruel, I just need to put a plate of beans on toast in front of you? Duly noted!” They both laughed.
Serena placed the plate in front of Bernie, alongside a glass of juice and mug of coffee. In her own place was just juice, coffee and a couple of pieces of fruit.
“You’re not eating, Serena? Here, share mine!” Bernie went to move her plate.
“No, no don’t be silly. I’m planning on having a yoga session after our physio planning sit down. It’s best not to eat much for a couple of hours beforehand.”
“Oh, is that because of the farting?”
Bernie immediately clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide with horror. She was unable to believe she had just asked Serena, the most beautiful woman she had ever laid eyes on, if she farted during yoga!
Serena positively howled with laughter, both at the question and the sight of the former army medic’s look of sheer dismay.
When she finally calmed down, she wiped the tears of mirth away and replied, “It’s not entirely because of that, Berenice. I’m sure you know that any exercise on a full stomach isn’t advisable. And yes, there can be a tendency towards wind during yoga. The positions do lend themselves to shifting gases around. Just stay downwind, you’ll be fine.” Serena started laughing again. “Come on, eat up before your breakfast goes cold. I’m just glad coffee is allowed. I wouldn’t fancy having to forgo my morning caffeine fix.”
Bernie pushed the food around her plate, her appetite gone.
“Berenice. Please look at me. Stop being silly, I thought it was hilarious. There’s no harm done. Seriously.” she reached over and covered Bernie’s hand with her own. Bernie finally looked up from her plate and met Serena’s eye. “Let’s eat our breakfast so we can get our plan of attack formulated shall we?”
Bernie gave a small, shy smile and resumed eating.
As Serena was stacking the dishwasher, the doorbell rang. She looked at Bernie, who just shrugged.
“I’m not expecting anyone. I never have visitors.”
Serena went to the front door.
“Delivery for Serena Campbell. Sign here please.”
An electronic handset was thrust at her, and she automatically scribbled on the touchscreen.
“Here you go love. Mind out, it’s heavy.” As he said that, he thrust a cardboard box into Serena’s arms, turned and walked down the driveway, whistling.
Returning to the kitchen, Serena put the box on the table and detached the envelope from the side. “Aha, I see,” she said, skimming over the contents. “Your friend has amazing taste in Shiraz. Half a dozen bottles is way too much though.” She went on to tell Bernie about the email exchange from the night before, including the scanned photos of a young Bernie that had been included.
“Come on Siouxsie Sioux, let’s go and get comfortable and talk you through this physio plan, shall we?”
By the end of it, Bernie’s head was swimming slightly, with talk of treatment massage, various stretches and an extensive exercise program. Well, Serena was the expert and she would just act the good soldier and follow orders, Bernie thought.
Serena re-entered the room, with a grey, rolled yoga mat under her arm. “It’s about time I made use of my gardening efforts, don’t you think Berenice? Who knows how long the good weather will hold out. Why not come and sit outside and watch? Once we get you a bit further along, some of the simpler yoga poses are great for stretching and relaxing too. Hang on, I’ll bring over the patio furniture that’s stashed at the back of the shed.”
As ever, Serena was like a whirlwind passing through, leaving Bernie breathless in her wake.
“Cassandra was definitely quite free with your bank account where equipping the outside space of your home was concerned too, Berenice. These chairs are top quality, and they weigh a ton!”
Serena plonked the chair down on the patio, “Come on out. Get yourself some natural vitamin D from that sunshine. I’ll just get the cushions.”
Serena went back and forth between shed and patio until two chairs were complete with cushions and in between them, a small round table with a parasol, ready to be put up should shade be required.
She disappeared inside the house and emerged with an orange bottle in her hand. “No repeats of my mistake from the other day. I’ve already used this, and you’d better do the same.” Serena handed the sun cream to Bernie. “We don’t want you getting sunburn. Any bits you can’t reach, just say.”
Bernie rubbed the cream into her arms as she watched Serena unroll her yoga mat and begin. Seeing Serena bending and stretching, Bernie was amazed by her sheer flexibility. If she could manage to become even half as limber through the physiotherapy, she would be more than capable of resuming work as a surgeon. Not in the Army of course. That ship had very much sailed, but the NHS, who had saved her life and saved her from paralysis, could certainly use her skills.
It was genuinely so hard to imagine that Serena had not been expected to walk again after her accident. If Bernie had thought that was the case before, while watching Serena in the garden earlier on in the week, it was hammered home watching the ease and grace of her movements, as she flowed from one pose to the next. Bernie also tried not to think too hard about what that flexibility would make her capable of in bed. Tried and failed.
Suddenly, without warning, Serena dropped to the mat with a harsh cry of pain.
In which we find out what happened to Serena.
“Shit, bugger and fuck!” Serena growled through gritted teeth.
Bernie dropped painfully to the ground next to Serena, reaching out automatically to immobilise her head and neck.
“It’s okay Serena, I’ve got you. Stay very still for me please.” she looked around, hoping Serena had left her mobile within easy reach.
Serena took hold of Bernie’s arm. “It’s okay Berenice, I don’t need immobilisation. It’s my shoulder. Nothing to do with my spine or neck. It’s happened a couple of times before. I have a slight weakness in my left shoulder. It means that very occasionally it partially pops out, just momentarily. It goes straight back in, but hurts like hell.” She was panting with the pain, sweat beading on her forehead. “I just need to stick an ice pack on, take some pain relief and rest it for a couple of days.”
“Berenice, trust me. I know my body and I don’t take silly risks with it. If I had the slightest worry it was anything other than a very brief subluxation, I would be straight to the hospital, believe me.” she rubbed Bernie’s arm, hoping to reassure her. “Come on. We’ve got to work out how we’re getting up off the floor!”
“Oh god, I didn’t think of that when I got down here. This should be interesting. How the hell are we going to do this Serena?”
With some careful manoeuvring and the odd profanity from Bernie, the pair managed to get themselves back on their feet.
“Sit down Serena. I’ll get you some pain relief. Actually, I think I might join you. The effects of the massage have started to wear off.”
“Berenice, I can-”
Bernie put a hand on Serena’s uninjured shoulder. “No. I’m the doctor here, remember. I’m willing to accept your self diagnosis to a certain extent, but I’m just going to do a few checks. Sit down and let me take care of you for a while. Please?”
“Very well. I think I remember seeing a bag of peas in the freezer I can use as an ice pack.” Serena winced as Bernie checked circulation and range of motion.
“They might as well get some use, I never touch the things. Alright, everything looks fine. As well as I can judge without imaging anyway. Sit tight and I’ll be back in a minute.”
As Bernie left the room Serena felt a flash of guilt. She could see by the stiffness of Bernie’s gait that she was in pain, caused by the doctor’s instinct to leap to the aid of the injured and sick. No wonder she had been amazing as an army surgeon, rushing to help others without considering her own wellbeing.
A couple of minutes later Bernie returned, awkwardly carrying pill boxes, a glass of water, tea towel over her shoulder and with a bag of frozen peas tucked under her arm.
“Ooh, take the peas can you, Serena? I have a frozen armpit!”
Serena plucked them from under Bernie’s arm and grabbed the tea towel.
“You didn’t think to wrap them in the cloth before sticking them under your arm?”
Bernie showed the pill boxes to Serena. “I would never usually advocate sharing prescription medications, but these are what I have and you’re welcome to a couple. I don’t know what you would usually take.”
Serena looked at the labels, “I’ve actually been prescribed all three of these over the years Berenice, so don’t worry. I think I’ll have a pain killer and an anti inflammatory please.
Bernie popped out the appropriate pills, handed them to Serena, then passed the glass of water. “Are you comfortable enough? Can I get you some cushions? A cup of tea? We’re British, hot sweet tea is surely what’s needed here!”
“Stop fussing Berenice. It’s adorable, but it’s honestly not needed. Once the drugs kick in I’ll be fine. I just need to take things easy for a few days, that’s all. It’s just frustrating as hell, when we were finally going to embark on your physio program. I’m so annoyed with myself.” she shook her head in irritation.
“Let’s not worry about that at the moment. You’re hurt and we need to take care of you right now. Once you’re fighting fit again, then we can start. I’m not going to turn around and change my mind, if that’s what’s bothering you. I really do want to get better. You need to make sure you allow yourself enough time to let this settle down and heal before you put strain on it.”
They sat in a comfortable silence for a while, Serena tapping away at her phone, both waiting for the medication to kick in.
“Swimming!” Serena suddenly exclaimed, out of nowhere.
“Swimming. We can go swimming to kick start the physio. Hydrotherapy. It will be a great way to exercise your legs and strengthen your back. It’s zero impact too. I’ve checked, and there’s a great pool nearby with good access. I don’t often use hydrotherapy because it can be hard to find good facilities. This is marvellous. I can adjust our program to include hydro even after I’m back to full strength.”
Seeing Serena’s face light up made Bernie feel warm inside. Until the implications of swimming dawned on her. Serena, in only a scrap of Lycra, wet and wearing next to nothing.
“S..Serena I don’t-”
“Have a swimming cozzie? Not a problem. Amazon Prime will provide. I’ve just ordered a couple of different choices for you and they’ll be arriving tomorrow.” Serena rubbed her hands together happily, before wincing at the pull in her shoulder. “I feel so much better for knowing I haven’t managed to completely derail the physio train.”
There was no way Bernie could bring herself to be the cause of removing that look of happiness from Serena. She would just have to get on with it. She had always managed to maintain a professional facade with Alex, surely she could call on those same reserves to keep her hormones in check with Serena?
“Shall I microwave us a couple of frozen ready meals for lunch? Or there’s a pizza in the freezer, if you’d prefer?” Bernie decided a change of subject was needed, before she thought too hard about the prospect of being wet and nearly naked with Serena Campbell.
“Hmm. I think, between us, we can do better than that, don’t you? You’re a world renowned surgeon. I’m willing to bet you can slice and chop with extreme precision. I propose we finish off the last of the salad for lunch, but before that, together we’ll assemble my recipe for slow cooker chicken curry and set it going for tonight.”
Serena stood and moved her arm carefully. It felt like the medication and the ice pack had done the trick.
“How are you doing Berenice? Are you ready to lend me a hand in the kitchen? Quite literally in fact. Time to lend your surgical skills to veggies and chicken.” She held out her good hand to Bernie.
“This should be interesting, Serena. Do you really trust me to cook, after the bacon incident?”
Bernie took hold of Serena’s hand and allowed herself to be pulled up out of the chair.
“I think we should be able to manage between us and not tax the smoke alarm again, don’t you? I’ll keep an eye on everything, don’t worry. I’ll mainly be relying upon your skilled hands anyway.” Serena blinked, and looked down at their still clasped hands and tried not to think about just what those skilled hands would be capable of.
They slipped immediately into an easy, companionable way of working. Serena directing operations, and Bernie slicing, dicing, measuring and stirring. It was like they had been cooking together for ages. It was no great surprise that Bernie did indeed have a natural aptitude for precision when preparing chicken breasts and chopping vegetables.
“This is very satisfying Serena. I do wonder you know, if my life had turned out differently, whether I could have been a decent cook. As it is, I went from being fed by one institution to another. Boarding school to university to the Army. There was the mercifully brief marriage of course, but we lived in the ancestral Wolfe home, so that Marcus could feel like lord of the manor. When that all went to pot and I moved in with Cass, she didn’t trust me to go anywhere near her kitchen.” Bernie was turning out the most precise, finely diced onions Serena had ever seen cut by hand.
“We can continue to cook together if that’s something you’ll enjoy, Berenice. I’m more than happy to utilise your knife skills and I can show you some really good, simple meals. I don’t go in for overly complicated cooking, so I’m sure you’ll be able to pick them up very quickly and easily.”
Bernie gave one of her shy smiles. “I think I’d like that. Thank you, Serena.”
Serena was so happy at another sign that Bernie was ready to embrace life again.
Once the curry was in the slow cooker, simmering away and they had eaten lunch, Serena decided to go for a soak in a hot bath. She generally found this helped relax tense, sore muscles.
She added some soothing essential oils to the bath, set some mellow music going, playing via her Bluetooth speaker and just relaxed into the hot, fragrant water.
Bernie thought she heard Serena call out.
She obviously had heard Serena call her. She pushed herself up out of the chair and walked into the hall.
“Serena? Where are you?”
“I... I’m in the bathroom. I’m terribly sorry to ask, but could you come in for a minute please?”
“Are you alright?”
“Well, no. Obviously not.” Serena snapped.
“Okay, okay. Bloody hell. I thought I was meant to be the miserable one.” Bernie muttered to herself.
Oh god, here goes nothing, Bernie thought and pulled open the door. Shit, it was worse than Bernie could possibly have imagined. Serena Campbell was sitting stark naked in the bath. Of course she was fucking naked, Bernie’s ever so slightly hysterical brain told her, she’s in the fucking bath. What would you expect, a fur fucking coat? Bernie’s eyes immediately shifted toward the ceiling and away from the sight of the woman in front of her.
“Ah, erm, uh Serena?”
“Berenice, I’m utterly embarrassed. I can’t believe I didn’t consider whether or not my sore shoulder would impact upon my ability to get back out of the bath once I got in. I feel ridiculous. Can you possibly help me up? I’m so sorry to have to ask.”
Serena sounded so upset that Bernie couldn’t help but look back down at her.
“It’s okay, Serena. Don’t worry. Come on, you helped me with my shower, so it’s obviously my turn to help you. Any ideas for how we’re going to do this?” Bernie kept her eyes steadfastly on Serena’s.
“Well I’m afraid I going to make you wet…” Bernie’s brain threatened to shut down at that. “...but if I can just put my arm around your shoulder, you pull and I’ll push with my legs and hopefully between us we can get me up and back on my feet.”
“Okay, let’s give it a try.”
Bernie bent forward and placed her arm down across Serena’s back, trying not to notice the feel of the warm, wet body beneath her hands, the proximity of Serena’s breasts to both her hand and her face, in fact anything at all about Serena’s soft, gleaming, naked…
“Okay Berenice, one, two, three and go!”
Bracing her other hand on the side of the bath, Bernie straightened up as best she could. Serena pushed up and somehow between them, they got Serena on her feet. That Serena’s other arm had instinctively thrown itself around Bernie, wasn’t something either of them had anticipated. Or the fact that this would result in Bernie’s face being buried between Serena’s breasts.
“Uh, it’s okay Berenice, you can let go now. I’ll be fine.”
Face burning, Bernie let go and stepped back. She reached blindly behind her towards the towel rail, snagged the bath sheet hanging from it and thrust it towards Serena.
“Here. Um. Yes” At that she turned and left the room without another word, and definitely without another glance in Serena’s direction.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org o.uk
Subject: Minor Setback
Good evening Cass,
As you will gather from the subject of the email, there will be a small delay in beginning the physiotherapy regimen I have planned for Berenice. Unfortunately an old minor shoulder injury of mine has flared up today. I’m pleased to say that should only take two or three days until I’m back to full strength.
This has actually turned out to be a mixed blessing however, as it lead me to discover that there are excellent swimming facilities very nearby. As soon as the swimming costumes I have ordered for Berenice arrive, we will begin with hydrotherapy and swimming. I’ll also be integrating them both into my physio program too, once I’m fully fighting fit again.
You have my sincerest apologies for the terrible timing. I feel terrible about any delay, particularly now, just as we were about to finally get going. It makes me feel awfully guilty about the amazing case of wine you sent. It’s far too generous, especially under the circumstances.
Re: Minor Setback
I’m so sorry to hear about your shoulder. I do hope you’re taking proper care of yourself. I know the timing is unfortunate, but please, please make sure you allow yourself the necessary time to heal before rushing into the full physio program. Bernie has been resistant for so long, a few days of delay won’t make that much difference. I bet she has said the same to you herself.
As for the wine? You’ve earned every drop and more Serena.
Take care of yourself. I mean it!
In which ‘bathgate’ is not talked about.
Serena lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It had been a long night, with very little sleep. Every time she closed her eyes she kept reliving that moment in the bathroom. Bad enough that she had needed to call Bernie in to help, purely because she hadn’t had the common sense to move the grab rails down. Nor had she thought to ask Bernie to detach the grab rails so she could reposition them and pulled herself out of the bath. But to have essentially shoved Bernie’s head between her breasts…
No wonder the poor woman hadn’t been able to look at her all evening. That had been one of the most awkward meals Serena had ever sat through. The pair of them doing little more than pushing the food around their plates, both seemingly having lost their appetites. The silence had been incredibly uncomfortable, in between a few stilted attempts at conversation.
Serena was also trying to forget the feeling of holding her. The feeling of clasping the other woman to her, of those strong arms wrapped around her. Maybe she just needed to get laid. Could these unusual and generally unwelcome feelings just be stemming from frustration? It was certainly possible. She did have a very healthy sex drive after all. Just because she was on the wrong side of fifty, didn’t mean she was dead from the waist down. Serena resolved to bring back one or two of her favourite battery operated friends with her. Maybe they would do the trick to help keep her hormones in check.
The thought of a full day of this tense atmosphere, with no activities to occupy them, had already made Serena decide to go home for the day. At least the following day they would be able to go to the local pool and get going with the hydrotherapy sessions. If the shoulder injury hadn’t happened, she would have held off going back home for a little while, in order to establish a smooth routine. Following the bath incident, a tiny bit of breathing space would probably do them both a lot of good.
Serena had felt both guilty and relieved the previous evening, when Bernie had turned down her half-hearted offer of a shower. She felt like a hypocrite, particularly after the lecture she had delivered only that morning, but the thought of being back in that bathroom so soon, with a naked Bernie had felt like too much to deal with. She didn’t push in the slightest when Bernie had gone red and mumbled a quiet ‘no thanks’.
She sighed and threw back the covers. There was no point lying there, staring into space any longer. After getting out of bed, Serena carefully tested her shoulder. Hmm, it was still a bit sore, but she had full range of motion. A day off, followed by a couple of days of light exercise with swimming and hydro, then she should be fine to get going with the full program. Her own yoga would need to be approached with caution for a week or two, but that wasn’t the end of the world.
Time to go for a shower, then get the day started.
Bernie awoke to the increasingly familiar combination of the knock at the door, and the heavy feeling of arousal following another dream featuring a wet and naked Serena.
“Are you awake? Breakfast in 20 minutes, Berenice.” Serena called through the door.
“Okay. Yes. I’m awake.” Bernie sat up and scrubbed at her face with her hands.
The dreams were getting worse. Or better, depending on your point of view! Definitely worse from the viewpoint of having to go out there and face the star of her increasingly pornographic dreams. Having to look her in the eye and try to hold a coherent conversation. Dinner last night had been nightmarish. Serena had clearly been feeling awkward at having had Bernie’s hands all over her. She could only hope that Serena hadn’t picked up on just how attracted Bernie was towards her. The last thing she needed was Serena feeling awkward because she had a hard up lesbian lusting after her.
Her stomach growled. At least her appetite had clearly returned after the previous evening. It was a shame she’d had no stomach for food, because the curry had turned out to be delicious. The first proper meal she had ever really been involved in cooking, and neither of them had been in the mood to eat.
“Better get up and face the day, I suppose.” she murmured to herself.
Fifteen minutes later, Bernie was wearing the least wrinkled pair of trousers she had been able to find, and a surprisingly crisp white shirt unearthed from the back of the wardrobe. She smoothed down her hair as best she could, considering she apparently didn’t own a hairbrush. It was time she tried to show Serena that she meant business. That she was ready to really make the effort to improve all aspects of her life, not just her mobility.
She entered the kitchen to see a plate on the table, with bacon and scrambled eggs, toast on the side. Just a single plate again.
“You’re having a sandwich for breakfast, Serena?”
“What? Oh, no these are for you, for lunch. I hope ham and cheese is okay. As there isn’t much we can do here today, I’m using the opportunity go home and take care of a few things. I’m going to do a food shop on my way back though, so if there’s anything you can think of that you need, just text me. The parcel containing your swimming costumes is out for delivery, so if you can keep an ear out for the door, that would be great. I’ve taken the liberty of setting up your smart TV and adding my Netflix account on there. I’ll show you how it works before I leave, which should help keep you entertained. Eat up please, Berenice. I want to set the dishwasher going before I go out too. I’ll be back in a minute.” With that, Serena swept out of the room, leaving Bernie with the feeling yet again, of having been caught up in a brief but intense whirlwind.
Bernie had barely got the last morsels of egg in her mouth when Serena bustled back into the kitchen and cleared the table.
“Okay Berenice, come through and I’ll show you how to access Netflix. There are hundreds of films, TV series and documentaries. I’m sure you’ll find something to watch.”
Bernie dutifully got up and followed the other woman through to the living room, where she was given a very quick introduction to Netflix, before Serena then rushed out of the house. Bernie felt like she had just encountered the Tasmanian Devil from the old Looney Tunes cartoons of her youth.
Bernie sat down, remote control clutched in her hand and looked at the television screen, confused by the amount of choice. She had never been much of a TV watcher, usually too busy. Or in a war zone. How to choose what to watch, out of so many different options? She poked away at the arrow buttons like Serena had shown her. ‘Popular on Netflix’ might be a good place to start. Popular programmes are probably good, surely? Orange Is The New Black. She was sure she had heard someone talk about that before. Why not, she thought and pressed play.
“Oh my. I wasn’t expecting that!” Almost immediately there were two woman showering together, kissing. Bernie could feel herself blushing, in spite of being alone.
All of a sudden, the screen went dark. What had she done? Had she pressed a button by mistake? Hang on, ‘Are you still watching?’ What a strange question, of course she was still watching. Bernie glanced at the clock, and was shocked to see that nearly 3 hours had passed. Maybe she should have a break, for lunch at least. She stood up, groaning and wincing at how stiff she was. So this was what binge watching felt like!
Bernie suddenly heard an unfamiliar beeping and buzzing sound and looked around, confused. Over on the side table, her mobile phone was flashing away. Well that almost never happened! She picked it up and peered at it, to work out how to answer.
“ Darling, behave. Yes, I know you’ve missed me, but I’m on the phone.”
“Hello? Serena, is that you?”
“Ah yes, sorry. Hello Berenice. I just wanted to let you know I’m not going to be coming back tonight after all. Darling, stop it! There’s plenty of the curry in the fridge from last night’s dinner that you can warm up and pouches of microwaveable rice are in the cupboard. Hey, that tickles!”
“It’s your life, Campbell. Nothing to do with me.”
“I’ll get the food shop done first thing, and I should be back by mid-morning.”
“Yes, whatever. Bye.”
In a fit of anger, Bernie turned and threw her phone against the wall and saw the cheap plastic casing smash.
“Fuck. FUCK. FUCK! ”
In which Bernie is home alone.
Please note the rating change, lovelies. If that’s not your cuppa, you can just skip the last bit of the chapter, after the asterisks.
I’m posting early as some small compensation for us all having to wait an extra day to see what happens on screen between our beloved couple ❤️
After her angry outburst, Bernie sat back down and took a calming breath. She was briefly tempted to retrieve the last bottle of Lagavulin that was tucked away in the sideboard. No, she was meant to be turning over that new leaf, and drowning her sorrows in single malt was the old leaf, the old screwed up Bernie Wolfe.
“She has every right to spend the night in her own home. She’s your physio, you don’t bloody own her. If she wants to spend the entire night shagging, it’s none of your damned business. Get a grip Wolfe!”
There was a knock at the front door, a relatively unfamiliar sound. Bernie was about to ignore it until she remembered Serena had asked her to take in the delivery. That done, she went and retrieved the sandwiches that had been left in the fridge for her and returned to the television. As she was about to sit down to join the women back in Litchfield Penitentiary, she noticed her destroyed phone lying against the wall.
“Bugger. It’s just as well I didn’t get round to replacing the cheap mobile.” She bent painfully to pick up the cracked handset. “Yes, that is well and truly knackered.”
As she sat back down and reached for the remote control again, it occurred to Bernie that maybe watching a programme that had a lot of lesbian content in general, and sex scenes in particular, wasn’t the best idea right now. She was frustrated enough, between Serena in the flesh and the Serena who visited her at night in her dreams. Maybe fanning those particular flames wasn’t the cleverest thing to do.
After pressing a few buttons on the remote control, Bernie worked out how to get back to the Netflix home screen. More scrolling ensued, until she came to a face she vaguely recognised from seeing on television in her university days. Stephen Fry, significantly older of course, but definitely familiar. QI looked like it might be quite interesting. Oh yes, this looked like it would be just the thing. Funny and also a bit of a work out for the brain cells. She didn’t recognise the other people on the teams, but that was no real surprise. Popular culture had rather passed her by over the last 25 plus years. This programme didn’t seem to involve much pop culture though, filled with obscure facts as it seemed to be. Yes, this should hopefully help take her mind off of Serena. And sex.
Bernie sat for the rest of the afternoon, watching episode after episode of QI. It felt so good to laugh and feel intellectually stimulated at the same time. She could almost fool herself into not missing Serena’s presence. Almost. How was it that she could miss someone so badly that she hadn’t even known a week?
As darkness began to fall, Bernie’s stomach began to rumble, the sandwiches having been eaten hours ago. Time to reheat yesterday’s curry. She pushed herself stiffly out of the chair, and headed for the kitchen.
“She said something about rice I think. Where would that be? Nothing in the fridge.”
Bernie opened the freezer. The first thing she saw was the bag of peas Serena had used as a ice pack the previous day. She must have replaced them in the drawer in case they were needed again. Bernie ran a finger over the bag.
“Oh come on Wolfe. You’re getting sentimental over a bag of Bird’s Eye frozen bloody peas now? Get a grip!”
Eventually she found the rice in plastic pouches in the cupboard, read the instructions and came to the conclusion that even she couldn’t mess that up. 10 minutes later she was sitting at the table with a steaming plate of food and a glass of Shiraz. There was something very important missing though. Some one. Without the distraction of the television, there was just no more denying to herself that she missed Serena.
As she slowly ate her evening meal, Bernie did a very rare thing - she tried to analyse what she was feeling. Usually anything approaching a strong feeling or emotion was swiftly squashed down and placed firmly under lock and key, right at the back of her mind. Yes, there was definitely lust, absolutely no denying that. An undeniable sexual chemistry, on Bernie’s part at least. Serena Campbell was a stunning woman whose voice alone turned her on. As a complete package of looks, voice, sense of humour, compassion, intelligence, strength… She could go on. Serena was, to all intents and purposes, her dream woman.
Bernie gave a short bark of laughter. “My dream woman. Both literally and figuratively!”
So yes, she was intensely attracted. She then did another thing, even rarer than thinking about feelings and emotions in general. She thought about Alex Dawson. Thought about how she had felt about Alex at the height of their… their relationship. Thought about how she had felt when it had ended (minus the IED).
Bernie then tried to imagine Serena gone from her life. Immediately that hurt more than everything she had gone through with Alex, everything. And she had been head over heels in love with Alex Dawson. Realisation came like a punch in the gut.
“I think I love her. I think I might have fallen in love with Serena Campbell.”
Was that why she had been so quick to agree to anything Serena had suggested or offered? Why her stomach twisted at the thought of Serena in someone else’s arms, particularly someone seemingly so unworthy of her? Why she had spent the whole day desperately trying to tell herself she didn’t miss Serena, when in actual fact, she had spent the day desperately missing her?
When she had fallen for Alex, it had been Alex who had done all the running. Bernie had been ‘so deep in the closet, she was in bloody Narnia’ to quote Cass, and had basically been seduced by the anaesthetist. Bernie had spent so much time resisting because she was scared, because it was against the rules, because she was a coward who had spent so long running from who she really was.
This thing for Serena though, this had come out of nowhere and Bernie felt knocked for six. It couldn’t go anywhere of course. Serena was not only her physio, she was her heterosexual and in a relationship physio.
“No, this isn't real. I've known her all of five minutes. Yes, she's my ideal woman, but she's also just about the only woman I've seen in months.”
So it was time to squash the feelings down and put them under lock and key in the back of her mind. Now if only she could get her subconscious and libido to also cooperate.
Bernie washed up her plate and cutlery, mindful of the new leaf, and not wanting to leave dishes for Serena on her return. She then took a second glass of Shiraz through with her to watch some more QI. Laughing at Alan Davies yet again guessing that blue whale was the answer, and sipping her wine, Bernie realised she felt genuinely relaxed. She could do this. She could carry on as if nothing had happened, and act normally in front of Serena. She had to.
On her way to bed, Bernie briefly considered taking a shower. The kit Serena had put in place for her seemed to beckon. Common sense took over however, when she pictured herself slipping, falling and being stranded on the bathroom floor all night until Serena came home. Hmm, maybe not. She felt inadequate enough, without the prospect of being rescued off of the floor like a little old lady with a broken hip.
Bernie awoke with a start. She was breathing heavily, covered in perspiration and yes, her hand was yet again buried deep in her pyjama bottoms. As she went to pull her hand free, it occurred to her that this morning there was no Serena waiting outside her bedroom door. No time limit given to be up, dressed and at the breakfast table. Maybe if she just dealt with the frustration now, the dreams would stop.
She placed her hand back into the damp heat between her legs and ran her fingers through the curls of hair. Taking a deep breath, she allowed her fingers to probe deeper and immediately shivered. Had she ever felt this turned on before? Bernie didn’t think so. Imagine if those were Serena’s fingers? She immediately began to imagine they were Serena’s fingers.
With her other hand, she pushed up her t-shirt and she began to caress her nipples, already stiff and wanting. Her eyes closed, and she began to picture Serena, naked and stroking Bernie’s hot, almost feverish skin. Her fingers moved faster as she felt herself getting closer.
“Oh… Oh S-Serena!!” Bernie cried out as she felt the waves of the most satisfying orgasm of her life crash over her.
Bernie lay there panting, her damp hand resting on her stomach. She started laughing. If that was the result of fantasising about Serena making love to her, the real thing would probably kill her! She felt amazing, relaxed and almost boneless. No wonder it was reported that masturbation is good for you, because that was a hell of an endorphin rush. Now if physio could only make her feel this good, she would be on to a winner.
In which Serena returns from her night away, and neither of our ladies can quite look each other in the eye.
Yet again, Serena found herself parked outside of Bernie’s house, clutching the steering wheel and putting off going inside. This really was becoming something of a habit. Today though, she didn’t really have the luxury of time on her hands. There was a boot full of food shopping and it was another hot day.
“Pull yourself together Campbell!” Serena admonished herself and pushed open the car door. “Sitting here over analysing everything won’t help one little bit.”
Retrieving the bags from the rear of the car, she was pleased to feel that her shoulder seemed to bear carrying a couple of bags without any pain. She would still take it easy today as a precaution, but she certainly felt on track to get the physiotherapy program fully underway the following day.
“Good morning, Berenice,” Serena called out.
She wrestled the shopping through the front door and made straight for the kitchen. She was pleasantly surprised to see it was as clean as she had left it the day before. So either Berenice had tidied up after herself following last night’s evening meal and breakfast this morning, or she hadn’t eaten. Serena opened the fridge to start putting the perishables away, and yes, Berenice must have eaten because the leftover curry had gone. Taking more pride in her living space seemed like another great sign that progress was being made.
Closing the restocked fridge, Serena moved about the kitchen putting the rest of the shopping away. The flat seemed oddly silent for this late in the morning. She hadn’t exactly expected Bernie to come running the second she returned, but there had been no response when she called out the greeting. Folding her shopping bags and leaving them by the front door to take back out to the car, she saw the Amazon parcel from yesterday was sitting untouched on the hall table. She picked it up and took it through with her to the living room. No Berenice. Surely she wasn’t still in bed?
Going back out into the hall, Serena noticed the door to the master bedroom was standing partly open. As she was poised to knock, she glanced through the gap and her hand froze. Berenice was sprawled on her back, clearly fast asleep. Her t-shirt was rucked right up under her arms. One of her hands was resting low down on her stomach and the other was just below her breasts. Serena wasn’t sure how long she stood there staring through the gap at the sleeping figure on the bed, but a little snuffling noise from Bernie snapped her out of her reverie, and she turned away from the doorway.
Heading back through to the living room, Serena tossed the Amazon box on to the sofa, slid open the patio doors and stepped outside. She sank on to one of the garden chairs and buried her face in her hands. It was pretty clear what Berenice had been doing just before she fell asleep. The flash of pure desire that shot through Serena at the thought was breathtaking. She couldn’t help but think back to last night, and her attempts to exorcise the feelings of lust that first seeing Berenice in the shower and then the bath incident had stirred up. So much for her theory that a few good orgasms were all that was needed. Not when all three were fuelled by mental images of warm brown eyes, tousled blonde hair, a generous mouth and strong surgeon’s hands.
“Can I, in all good conscience, be her physio? It’s just not right.” Serena whispered to herself. “I have to though. If I walk away there’s no way she will trust anyone else.”
She got up and began to pace around the garden, trying to order her thoughts. “I can do this. I’m not some horny teenager with no control over my hormones. I just need to get on with it, attraction or no attraction. There’s obviously just something about Berenice Wolfe that pushes my buttons.” She thought about that for a few moments and then mentally told herself to get her mind out of the gutter.
“Serena Campbell, you are a highly trained, highly experienced medical professional. Berenice Wolfe is your client. The attraction is as irrelevant as it is inappropriate. Getting her fighting fit is all that matters.”
It was time to stop over-thinking the whole situation and just get on with the day. Time to wake Berenice, and have some breakfast. Serena glanced at her watch. Make that brunch, then get the physio programme underway at the local pool. With that in mind, Serena went back inside and opened the box with the two swimming costumes she had ordered. One was navy and the other was red, both in slightly different designs.
As Serena held up the red costume, it suddenly struck her. Berenice and her, both wearing nothing more than a brief, thin covering of Lycra. Wet and wearing next to nothing.
“I’ve never backed away from a challenge in my life, and I’m not about to start now. The swimming and hydro will be no worse than the massages, the showering and all the rest of it. I can do this.” she murmured to herself.
Serena took a deep breath and, both costumes in hand, turned to leave the room. Her eye fell on a smashed lump of plastic on a side table. It was the sorry looking remains of a cheap mobile phone. She wondered what on earth could have happened to it. It had obviously been in working order when she had phoned the day before. Maybe it was time for Berenice to get a decent phone. They could probably do that on the way to the swimming pool, as they had to pass a retail park en route.
Making her way back through to Bernie’s bedroom door, she paused and took a cautious look through the gap in the doorway. Thank goodness, Berenice had obviously shifted in her sleep and covered herself up. Serena knocked and called out, “Good morning Berenice! Wakey wakey lazybones. You’re having a good old lie in today. Do you mind if I come in?”
To her own ear, Serena sounded full of forced jollity. She could hear the rustling of bedclothes before a voice, husky with sleep called out.
“Uh, sure, okay Serena, come in.”
Serena pushed the door open and leant on the frame trying her best to look casual and relaxed.
“Morning Berenice, taking advantage of my absence eh?”
Serena was so busy not looking at Bernie, sure the other woman would see the guilt in her eyes over her fantasies of the night before, she didn’t see the look of horror on Bernie’s face.
“While the cat's away, the mouse will sleep until nearly ten o’clock it seems!” Serena cringed inside. For some reason, she seemed to be channelling Miss Roberts, her old ‘jolly hockey sticks’ games teacher at St Winifred’s School for Girls.
She also didn’t see the look of utter relief on Bernie’s face when she realised the physio wasn’t talking about her Serena-fuelled moments of passion earlier on.
“I… I um, I must have been tired, I suppose.”
“Well, you’ll be sleeping like a log once we really get going,” Serena replied, heartily. She then told herself to stop talking like an over the top school ma’am and just act normally. “So here are the swimming costumes that arrived yesterday. I thought you might have tried them on already.”
“How could I have tried them on when you’re only just giving them to me?” Bernie was confused.
“I just thought you might have opened the box up and at least had a look, that’s all.”
“I would never dream of opening something addressed to someone else. Never !” Bernie was obviously quite upset at the thought. Serena watched Bernie’s hands clutch at the covers, bunching the material in her fists. “Violating someone's privacy like that is unforgivable.”
Serena straightened up, concerned about Bernie’s obvious distress.
“It’s okay Berenice, I do agree with you about privacy. I wouldn’t have minded at all if you had opened the parcel as the contents were for you. I didn’t explicitly tell you to open it though, so I do appreciate your concern.” Serena watched as Bernie’s hands slowly released the sheets and she visibly relaxed her shoulders.
“Anyway, here are the two costumes. How about you put one on now, and if it feels comfortable, you might as well just throw some clothes on top. Saves time at the pool. It’s what I’m about to do.” Serena stepped over to the bed and laid the scraps of Lycra on the end. “Breakfast in about 15 minutes okay? That should give you time for a quick spruce up. There’s not much point having a shower, or even a proper wash when we’ll be in the pool in an hour or two.”
Bernie barely had time to nod in agreement before Serena whirled around and left the room. Bernie leant back against the headboard. She was torn between feeling guilty about picturing Serena earlier when she got herself off, and still feeling bloody amazing after the orgasm. It’s just like fantasising over a pop star or a TV actress though, right? They’re all equally as unattainable after all.
Bernie recalled her teenaged self, quietly fumbling and exploring under the blankets while thinking about Jill Gascoine and Lynda Carter. She snorted with laughter at her own naivety at not realising she was gay way back then rather than trying to justify it to herself as admiring strong and confident TV characters. It really was true that Cass knew way before she did! When they finally talked openly about it years later, Cass had explained a few things about heteronormativity and her ultra-traditional family’s expectations moulding her early view of herself.
She got out of bed, stripped off her pyjama bottoms and t-shirt and threw them on top of the overfull clothes hamper. She made a mental note to ask Serena to help her bring it through to the kitchen for washing. That made her smile. What had Serena said the other day? Something about the importance of knowing when to ask for help. This must be more new leaf behaviour. She would be a reformed character in no time at this rate.
Bernie picked one of the swimming costumes up off the bed. She started to climb into it and tried to remember the last time she had gone swimming. Long enough ago that she had forgotten what a pain in the arse it could be to get a costume on. She hoped it would be easier to take off. Then briefly allowed herself to imagine Serena helping to remove it, before shaking her head. Enough of that.
Opening up the wardrobe, Bernie did something for the first time in a very long time. She looked at herself in the full-length mirror on the inside of the door. From the waist up, she thought she looked okay. Pale and pasty, but not bad. The exercises she had been doing with the kettlebells had maintained her arms and shoulders and had been worth all the pain as far as she was concerned. She took a deep breath and looked down. Gone were the toned and muscled runners legs. Replaced by two scrawny, spindly white pipe cleaners. Hopefully, that would be remedied soon enough. She doubted she would be running marathons again, but she would happily settle for being able to stand comfortably for as many hours as were needed to perform in the operating theatre.
Closing the wardrobe, Bernie started rummaging around in the chest of drawers for something to wear. She found her favourite pair of old cut-offs that hadn’t seen the light of day in an age and pulled them on. They hung quite low on her hips, but they’d do. She might as well start getting a bit of sun on her skin. With that in mind, she also dug out a white vest top. That should be respectable enough to face the outside world.
Then it suddenly struck her. Other than the brief trip between the hospital doors to the taxi, then from taxi to front door, this would be the first time she would be going out since the IED and the crash. The first time in over 25 years that she would be going outside as a civilian. The first time she would be going out as a cri… No! Not that word. Not anymore. It would be the first time she would be going out and facing the world with her current limited mobility. That’s how Serena referred to it, and that’s how Bernie needed to think of it.
In the bathroom, Bernie splashed her face with cold water, then ran her wet hands through her hair. She rummaged around in the cabinet and found a hair tie. Gathered her unruly mess of hair as best she could, she tied it back in a ponytail. She stared hard at herself in the mirror over the sink.
“Okay Wolfe, this is it. First steps towards getting your life back. Or at least a new version of your old life. Now just remember, no staring at Serena. Yes, you are going to see her in a swimming costume. No, you may not ogle her!”
Lynda Carter and Jill Gascoine were my own dream women as a teeny, tiny baby gay.
In which Bernie faces the outside world.
As Bernie entered the kitchen, she could hear Serena singing along softly to music which was playing quietly in the background. She stood in the doorway and listened to the husky tones. Of course she had an amazing singing voice, it almost went without saying.
“How’s your shoulder feeling today, Serena?”
Serena whirled around, her hand flying up to her chest. “Berenice! You made me jump! My shoulder is feeling fine, thanks. I’ll give it a light workout today with the swimming. I’ll make sure I stick to breast stroke.”
She faltered at that point, mind wandering. This went unnoticed by Bernie whose thoughts also went off at a tangent.
Bernie cleared her throat after a few moments, “So, um, I was wondering Serena, if you would be able to help me bring through my mountain of washing so I can make a start on it? Between your injured shoulder, and my, well my injured everything, we can hopefully wrestle it through together.”
A big smile and look of genuine joy immediately lit up Serena's face. It made Bernie instantly resolve to do her absolute best to inspire that as often as she possible could. Serena's already lovely face was radiant and even more beautiful.
“Let’s bring it through now, and we can put a load on before we go out. Things will dry in no time if we hang them outside, with the weather still so spectacular.” Serena put a hand on Bernie’s lower back, and guided her out of the door. She tried her best not to stare at Bernie in denim cutoffs and the figure hugging white vest top. Tried not to imagine what she would have looked like when still in the RAMC, tanned and toned and marathon fit.
The overfilled clothes hamper was dragged through, with Serena trying to subtly take most of the weight, and Bernie subtly allowing her. They argued good naturedly about loading the machine. Bernie favoured the ‘stuff things in willy-nilly’ method and Serena the more tried and tested ‘sort lights from darks and don’t over fill the machine’ method. Serena won.
Finally, they sat down to a late breakfast of croissants, fruit salad and Greek yogurt drizzled with honey. Serena asked how Bernie had got on with using Netflix the day before and laughed about how overwhelmed Bernie had felt by the sheer amount of choice. Bernie told her about becoming absorbed watching QI and studiously avoided mentioning her initial viewing choice.
“By the way Berenice, what on earth happened to your mobile phone? I noticed it on the table in the other room earlier.”
Bernie fought to keep a neutral expression on her face. “Oh, er, well I dropped it, then managed to tread on it. Cheap, rubbish phone it just erm, wasn’t up to a little accident.” She hoped Serena took the explanation at face value, and didn’t wonder how someone who was always barefoot had done so much damage.
“I had wondered if you had tried texting again, and had taken a hammer to it in a rage,” Serena joked.
Bernie nervously tore a piece of croissant to shreds “Ha. Er no. I think I definitely had my fill of trying to text on that piece of crap the other day.”
“We have to pass a retail park on the way to the pool, and I think there are a couple of different mobile phone places. We can stop on the way if you want. We could probably look at getting you a tablet or e-reader while we’re there too.”
A thought suddenly hit Serena. This would no doubt be the first time Berenice had been out since her return from Afghanistan. Well, possibly for occasional medical appointments along the way, but that would be all. It might just a bit too much to handle in one day. The last thing Serena wanted to do was overwhelm her on her first real trip out of the house.
“On second thoughts Berenice, we can always look online for a new phone for you this afternoon. Let’s not overdo it too much today, shall we?” Serena reached across the table and patted Bernie’s hand, scattering a shower of buttery crumbs.
“Okay, whatever you think. I was never much of a shopper really, so uh, online sounds like a good idea.” Bernie was just glad the subject of the old phone had been dropped.
Serena stood up from the table and began to gather the breakfast dishes. “Why don’t you get your bits together, towel and what have you, and get some shoes on while I get this lot in the dishwasher?”
Bernie went and grabbed a towel from the cupboard and unearthed an ancient old hold-all and a pair of trainers. She carried them through to the living room and was trying to bend far enough to tie the laces as Serena came into the room.
“Can I give you a hand with that, Berenice?” she asked.
Bernie swallowed her immediate instinct to deny her need for help. “Yes please. Reaching that far down is a bit of a challenge.”
Serena smiled, knelt in front of Bernie and began to unpick the tangled, knotted shoelaces.
Looking at Serena’s bowed head in front of her, Bernie had to almost physically restrain herself from reaching out and stroking Serena’s soft and silky looking hair. She could try and deny it all she liked, but this was, without a doubt more than just lust she was feeling. She wasn’t one for self-analysis where emotions were involved. Thinking too much about that kind of thing just got you hurt in her experience, but there was no denying that at that moment in time she felt more affection towards the woman in front of her, than she ever had for Alex Dawson. Alex who she had loved. Who she had thought she’d loved. Okay, she thought, I can't deal with this right now, there’s too much going on.
Serena finally got the laces untangled and tied and stood up. “Okay, that’s you set. Shall we get this show on the road then?” She held her hand out to Bernie who allowed herself to be helped to her feet. There was a slightly odd look in her eyes that Serena couldn’t read.
A couple of minutes later they were in Serena’s car, seatbelts on.
“This is the first journey I’ve been on since the accident that I haven’t been pumped full of drugs for.” Bernie said, as Serena put the key in the ignition.
“Are you okay with that? Do you need a minute Berenice?” She shifted around in the seat and put a comforting hand on Bernie’s shoulder. “If it’s too much, we don’t have to do this today you know.”
“I’m not going to lie Serena, I am a bit nervous, but I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Serena gave Bernie’s arm a reassuring rub. “If it makes you feel any better, I have never been involved in an accident in over 30 years of driving.”
She started the engine and pulled out of the parking spot.
Bernie took a deep breath and willed herself to relax. “I’ve never had an accident as a driver either Serena, but our mutual record as passengers is pretty shitty.”
Serena glanced across at her and they both started laughing.
15 or 20 minutes later Serena pulled the car to a halt in the car park of a large, modern looking leisure centre.
“Okay, I have the hydro pool booked for an hour in about 20 minutes time, so we have some time to get our bearings. What I thought we would do today is run through some of the exercises that hydro has to offer, do a few reps of each and see what seems to work best for you. It is all a learning process. After that, into the main pool for a bit of general swimming unless you’re too tired, in which case we get changed and head home. How does that sound?”
Bernie just nodded. Serena got out of the car, grabbed both of their bags then circled round and opened the passenger door. “Are you ready, Major Wolfe?” Serena offered Bernie her hand.
“As I’ll ever be, Ms Campbell. Let’s do this!”
Serena tucked Bernie’s arm through hers as they entered the building and approached the reception desk. Serena explained she had the hydro pool booked, received directions and handed over her payment card.
“We’re in luck Berenice, as no one is booked in before us, we can go straight in and see what we’re dealing with.” Serena said, as she lead Bernie in to the hydro suite. “Oh this looks ideal. Perfect in fact. Are you okay Berenice? You’ve gone very quiet.”
Bernie sank down on to a nearby bench. “Money. I didn’t even think to bring along any money. Meaning you had to pay, just like you’ve been paying for everything since you arrived. I can’t believe it’s only just occurred to me. I feel absolutely terrible.”
Serena crouched in front of Bernie, trying to look into her eyes. “Berenice, please stop worrying. Cass has transferred more than enough money into my account to take care of the food and any expenses like this. Please don’t get upset. You’re only just emerging, blinking into the sunlight. Both figuratively and literally. There’s time enough to start thinking about all the different responsibilities you’ll have outside Army life, and I can help you with that too. Come on, shall we get our kit off and get wet?” She dropped a saucy wink at Bernie, and was delighted to see it bring a smile to her face.
“Thank you Serena. Thank you for everything. I need to thank Cass too. As always, she has gone way above and beyond. I’ve been a terrible friend.”
“No, you’ve been through a terrible experience and Cass understands that. I’ll tell you what would be an amazing gift for her. Allow me to take a few photos of you in action. Just one or two a day that we can email to her and show your progress. What do you think? We can do a quick selfie of the pair of us to start with now.”
Serena pulled her phone out of her pocket, and waggled it invitingly in front of Bernie. She sighed, rolled her eyes and then, needless to say, she agreed. As Bernie was quickly realising, there didn’t seem to be much she could deny Serena.
In which hydro and swimming finally happen.
Serena unpacked a few things from her sports bag and placed them on the edge of the pool.
“Shall we get started then? There’s no need for us to muck about with using lockers in here as it’s just the two of us. Let’s just leave our stuff here on the bench, shall we?”
At that, Serena sat down and began to untie her laces. Bernie took a deep breath. This was it, the first proper step in on the road to starting her new life. She sat next to Serena and shoved her trainers off, still laced, with her toes. She also thanked her excellent peripheral vision for allowing her to watch Serena strip off her t-shirt and exercise bottoms to reveal a bright turquoise swimsuit. Bernie removed her outerwear and stood, feeling self-conscious in her red costume.
“You chose the red Berenice. It looks like it fits well.”
“It feels comfortable so far. I feel like a bit of a fraud in red, I’m not exactly Baywatch material, now am I?” Bernie snorted at the thought.
“Don’t be silly, you look better than Pamela Anderson ever did.” Serena laughed, “Who wants big fake silicone breasts over natural anyway?”
They looked at each other and together both exclaimed, “Men!” and burst out laughing.
Serena offered her arm to Bernie, who took it, and they slowly walked down the shallow steps into the pool. Both, unbeknownst to the other, trying not to notice the warm touch of the barely clothed body pressed against them.
Serena took Bernie through the various different building and strengthening exercises and the options of using resistance dumbbells and weighted wrist and ankle bands. Bernie found herself becoming more and more enthusiastic, much to Serena’s delight. Seeing the look of accomplishment on a client’s face never got old. Serena kept reminding herself again and again that Berenice was a client and the fact she looked amazing in the swimming costume was irrelevant.
With just over 5 minutes of their booked pool time left, Serena brought the session to a close.
Serena was helping Bernie back up the steps, “Do you think you would like to spend some time in the main pool now Berenice? You can relax and paddle around or just float for a while. If it’s too much though, obviously we can get changed and go straight home. I don’t want you overdoing things on the first day.”
Bernie could hear the eagerness in Serena’s voice, could tell she really wanted to go swimming. “Oh, I think I should be okay for a while longer. I’ll just bob about for a bit, while you do a few lengths.” The truth was she was already quite tired, but couldn’t bear to dim the enthusiasm in the warm brown eyes of the other woman.
They stuffed their belongings into their bags and walked down the short corridor to the main pool, still in their cozzies. The pool was divided in two by a long rope of floats, obviously one half for the serious swimmers doing their lengths and the other half for more leisurely swimming. Bernie was relieved to see the pool was entered by a shallow slope, rather than the ladders of the swimming pools of her youth. She was pretty sure she couldn’t have coped with a ladder right now. After putting their bags into a locker, Serena saw her comfortably settled in the shallow end, then headed beneath the divider.
Bernie sat there, back resting against the poolside, with the chlorinated water lapping against her and just feasted her eyes on Serena ploughing up and down the length of the swimming pool. For all she was sticking to breaststroke, Serena was still swimming along at a pretty fast pace. She was clearly more than ready to give her shoulder a workout. That word was echoing through Bernie's mind again - ‘Magnificent!’ Everything about Serena was magnificent.
Sitting in the shallows of a public swimming pool, watching the woman who she had known for less than a week power up and down, Bernie just couldn’t deny or explain away what she was feeling any longer. She was, without a shadow of a doubt, head over heels in love with Serena Campbell. She had thought that falling for Alex was difficult, an officer of a lower rank, with whom she was forbidden from entering into a relationship. Falling for her physiotherapist, her heterosexual and in a relationship physiotherapist? Impossible.
“You certainly do have a genuine talent for falling for the wrong women Bernie Wolfe,” she muttered quietly to herself. At least she might walk away from this one without getting her heart completely shattered. Don’t get involved, don’t get hurt. In theory at least.
Serena was pleased to be getting some exercise, having been so sedentary over the last few days. The previous night’s activities aside, she desperately needed to blow off some steam. As she had expected, seeing Bernie clad in nothing more than a scrap of Lycra had been a challenge. It was just a challenge she would have to deal with. That and seeing Bernie naked, for as long as she needed help in and out of the shower. Serena found herself swimming a little slower as the mental image of Bernie in the shower distracted her. ‘Yes, and how exactly is this keeping it professional, Campbell?’ she thought to herself.
As she swam up and down the length of the pool, she thought more about her situation. Maybe she should be thankful that this was the first time she had been attracted to a client. Over the course of more than 25 years and hundreds of clients, Berenice Wolfe was the first to get under her skin. Serena didn’t know what it was that made Berenice different, but there was definitely an undeniable sexual chemistry. Serena hadn’t been quite so strongly attracted to someone in… Well, she couldn’t remember the last time, if she was completely honest with herself.
Peering at the large clock on the wall, Serena realised she had been swimming for over half an hour. She hadn’t meant to leave Berenice for that long, but between enjoying the exercise and self-analysis, she had lost track of time. Completing one final length, she ducked back beneath the dividing rope and paddled towards her client.
“I’m sorry to have left you so long, Berenice. I didn’t realise the time. You must have been bored.” Serena offered her hand to help Bernie stand.
“I wasn’t bored in the slightest. I was just watching the world go by.” By ‘the world’ she obviously meant Serena. “I have started to stiffen up a little though, so maybe I should have tried swimming around a bit instead of lazing about.”
Bernie took Serena’s proffered hand and tried to stand. It was clear though, that she had stiffened more than just a little. Ducking down to Bernie’s level, Serena wrapped her arms around the other woman, beneath her armpits.
“Arms around my neck, and after three, we both stand, okay? Then we’ll just stay still until you get your balance and are ready to move.”
Bernie swallowed hard and reached out to link her arms around Serena’s shoulders. Tried not to notice the softness of the warm wet skin beneath her touch or the proximity of Serena’s beautiful face to hers. Tried not to think about the other day when the roles had been reversed, and its outcome.
“Ready? One, two, three, go!”
They both surged to their feet, and it was only Serena’s encircling arms that kept Bernie upright at first. Standing there clasped together from thigh to shoulder, both trying to ignore the press of the others breasts against her own. Looking into each other's eyes, they both felt a flash of desire shoot through them like lightning. Bernie looked away and let her arms drop.
“I… I think I’m okay now, Serena.”
Serena looked at Bernie with narrowed eyes, trying to assess if the other woman was really able to stand unassisted, or if she was just being proud and stubborn. She released one arm but kept the other wrapped around Bernie’s waist.
“We’ll take it slowly Berenice. I’m so sorry for leaving you there so long. It won’t happen again, I promise.” Serena shook her head, feeling terrible for having become so lost in exercise and her thoughts that she left Bernie sitting for so long.
They carefully made their way to the changing room, Serena’s arm remaining firmly around Bernie.
“Serena, it’s fine. It was my own fault, I should have moved around rather than just sit there the whole time. I know better than to not cool down properly after exercise.” Bernie was impressed that she could speak coherently with Serena’s arm around her and body pressed warmly against her side.
“You’re being too kind.” She directed Bernie into a changing cubicle and said, “Sit here Berenice, while I go and get our stuff from the locker.”
She returned a minute or two later and handed Bernie her bag. “I’ll be right next door in the next cubicle along Berenice, so just let me know if you need any help, alright?”
Bernie closed the door after Serena, removed the towel from her bag, wrapped it around herself and just sat for a couple of minutes, calming herself down. She tried (and failed) not to picture Serena peeling off her swimming costume just inches away. Thought to herself ‘Yeah, that’s not helping the situation, Wolfe.’ and began drying her hair. She stripped off her own costume, which didn’t prove as difficult as she had anticipated, and towelled herself dry. Reaching into her bag for her clothes, she let out a groan.
“Berenice, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” Serena’s concerned voice came from the adjoining changing cubicle.
“I’m fine Serena, just realised I made a rookie mistake. I completely forgot to put any underwear in my bag. Looks like I’m going commando for the journey home.”
A strange little strangled coughing sound came from next door, before Serena said, “I… er, okay if that’s all, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll be showering off the chlorine when we get home anyway.”
Bernie pulled on her cutoffs and vest, wrung as much of the excess water out of her swimming costume as she could and stuffed it and her towel into her bag. Grabbing her trainers she unlocked the door and emerged to see Serena on the bench opposite running a comb through her damp hair. She stood gazing at her, wondering at the fact Serena seemed more and more beautiful every single time she laid eyes on her. Serena looked up and the smile she gave Bernie literally took her breath away.
“Come on, sit down and I’ll do your laces.”
Serena knelt in front of Bernie and tried her utmost not to think about the denim slung precariously low on the blonde’s hips and the lack of underwear beneath. Or the shadow of nipples just visible through the ribbed material of the white vest. She fumbled Bernie’s damp feet into the trainers and tied the laces.
Half an hour later they pulled up in front of the house, the journey having been made in silence. Both women were far too lost in their own thoughts to make conversation. Once inside, Serena dumped the bags in the hall and turned to Bernie.
“Do you want the first shower, Berenice?”
“Hmmm? Oh no, it’s fine, you go first. I’m in no hurry.”
Bernie gave Serena a small, distracted smile and went into her bedroom. She shoved off her trainers, kicked them into a corner and lay on the bed. A couple of minutes later the now familiar sound of music started up from the bathroom. Bernie closed her eyes and pictured Serena. In the pool earlier, in the shower now. Safe in the knowledge Serena wouldn’t be knocking at her door for a while, she shoved her hand down past the waistband of her cutoffs. She was already wet and ready and it didn’t take long for her to bring herself to a quick and very satisfying orgasm.
What Bernie didn’t know was, as she was laying on her bed imagining Serena, the object of those fantasies was standing under a cool stream of water, one hand between her legs, and the other between her teeth, stifling her groans of pleasure. Yes, she was picturing Bernie. Yes, she felt guilty. Guilt just wasn’t enough to stop her imagination, however. Like it or not, she was apparently completely smitten with Berenice Wolfe.
In which we learn a little more about Bernie’s past.
In which time passes...
After Serena finished her shower and got dressed, she went and tapped on Bernie’s bedroom door. When there was no reply, she opened the door a few inches and looked inside. Bernie was sprawled out on the bed, fast asleep. Serena smiled fondly and closed the door. Clearly the hydrotherapy had completely worn her out. Serena was quite relieved in all honesty, to get something of a reprieve for a while before having to cope with a naked Berenice. The chance to properly cool down before having to face her again was a welcome one.
Serena went into the kitchen and emptied the washing machine. After putting another load on to wash, she took the basket of wet clothes out into the garden and began to peg them out on the rotary washing line. She was pleased that the various activities of the morning had had no adverse effects on her shoulder. Reaching up to peg out t-shirts and pyjama bottoms was easy and pain-free. She was briefly tempted to try a simple yoga session but opted to just sit and soak up some sun instead.
After about an hour, a bleary-eyed Bernie shuffled out onto the patio and apologised for crashing out. They managed to get through Bernie’s shower with minimal embarrassment, and with Serena trying (unsuccessfully) to stop herself from feasting her eyes on the Major. The earlier exercise caused Bernie to become exhausted part way through, and again she had to sit to allow Serena to wash and condition her hair. Both were so absorbed in the sensations that neither noticed quite how long was spent massaging in shampoo and conditioner. Or quite how thoroughly Serena’s fingers ran through the wet strands to make sure they were rinsed clean.
Later that afternoon saw them sitting close on the sofa, heads bowed together as they looked on Serena’s iPad at new phones. Serena was pointing out different options and features to Bernie. Bernie was lost in the sensation of having Serena pressed against her and the feel of the other woman’s breath on her cheek as she spoke.
“I’ll go for the iPhone Serena, it’s what I had before so I should be able to use it easily. I think I’ll get an iPad while I’m at it too. I can read books on one, can’t I?”
Serena turned to look at Bernie, “Well yes you can, but both together will cost you somewhere over £1000 to buy outright, Berenice. We can look at cheaper phones and much cheaper tablets.”
Bernie cleared her throat and twisted her fingers together. “Well the thing is… The thing is that although my family did completely cut me off and disown me, there was nothing they could do about the trust.”
“Trust?” Serena raised an eyebrow.
“Yes trust. Believe me, they tried their damnedest to stop me getting it. They spent a couple of years and a hell of a lot of money trying to break the terms of my grandfather's will. Oddly enough, no judge would deem a surgeon, who was also a serving officer in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces as unfit to receive the legacy.”
Bernie laughed bitterly. “Even my father’s old cronies couldn’t justify a ruling against me. My grandfather was old fashioned enough to write clauses into my trust. The money wasn’t to be mine all in one go. It was divided into 4 portions, to be paid to me every five years from 30 years old onwards. My brothers got theirs unconditionally at 21. The old bugger didn’t think women could really be trusted with money. As I say, he was old fashioned, but luckily he clearly didn’t think to add in any clauses mentioning divorce or defying the family.”
“I suppose that explains Cass spending your money so freely when setting up house for you.” Serena shrugged.
“Hmmm, Cass manages my finances, and she always knows to the last penny how much money I have. Literally since we were eight years old she’s taken care of my money. Don’t look at me like that Serena, she’s a financial genius, a legend in the City. Cass didn’t come from money, her parents absolutely slogged their guts out to send her to that boarding school and to university. By the time that photo was taken of the two of us at my passing out parade, she was already a multi-millionaire. The only real fight we have ever had was because I wouldn’t let her support me financially and pay for the rest of my medical training. She still doesn’t understand why. I’m not sure I do anymore either.”
Bernie got up and walked wearily over to the sideboard and rummaged around in a drawer. She pulled out a battered old wallet and returned to sit next to Serena.
“Anyway, all of that was an incredibly roundabout way of saying I can afford the phone and iPad. I'm sorry, you didn’t need boring with even more of my life story.”
“Is your father still alive, Berenice?” Serena laid a hand on Bernie’s knee.
Bernie shook her head, “No, he died about… gosh, it’s well over 10 years ago now. My eldest brother is now lord of the manor. I’m not in contact with any of them. Why do you ask?”
“Nothing really, I would just liked to have been able to inform him just what a bigoted old dinosaur he was. Only possibly not quite so politely. So, Lady Moneybags, shall we get these ordered for you then?”
The next day when the gadgets arrived, Serena set them up for a clueless Bernie. As Bernie was fiddling about with the new iPhone, trying to re-familiarise herself with how it worked, it vibrated in her hand and... quacked?
“ What the hell?” She tapped the icon to open the message that had appeared on the screen. There was a picture of a pair of mallards and the text underneath said: ‘Welcome Berenice, to your new ducking phone!’ She turned to see Serena standing in the doorway with the biggest grin on her face, and mirth dancing in her eyes. God, she loved her.
So the days passed, and turned into weeks. Bernie began to grow stronger. She no longer had to rely on her detested cane, even first thing in the morning. She slowly came to genuinely believe that one day she would be back to full strength. She also fell more deeply in love with Serena every single day. Serena was, without a shadow of a doubt, very much the one.
Bernie tried to savour every single day they spent together, even the earliest days when she fell into bed and literally wept with exhaustion and when Serena was being a merciless taskmaster. She savoured their times cooking together, when Serena patiently taught her how to make simple but delicious meals. When they giggled together over a spectacularly failed attempt to bake bread. When they endlessly scrolled through Netflix trying to agree on what to watch. She could almost fool herself into thinking they were like an actual couple, pottering around the house together in domestic bliss.
A couple of times a week, Serena would go off for a morning or an afternoon. There were a few nights she stayed away. Bernie missed her presence terribly when she was gone and filled the gap left behind with exercise. Falling into bed with exhaustion was very welcome on those nights.
Unknown to each other, Serena and Bernie also soon fell into a very different kind of routine. Serena fairly regularly made use of one of her favourite battery powered friends (favourite in this case for the subtle quietness of its buzz). And fairly regularly made use of the cover of the music she listened to when showering. And Bernie fairly regularly needed an afternoon lie down. And was occasionally several minutes late to the breakfast table. And Serena pictured a certain blonde. And Bernie pictured a certain salt and pepper brunette. And they both felt guilty. But neither was able (or willing) to stop.
Everything was going along lovely and smoothly, until suddenly, it wasn’t.
It was just another day. Breakfast, followed by a trip to the pool for hydro and swimming, followed by a massage. They were enjoying a post-lunch sit down when Serena’s phone rang and her face softened into a fond smile as she looked at the screen. She stepped out onto the patio, perched on one of the chairs and lifted the phone to her ear.
“Hello sweetheart, how are you? Liv, don’t be silly. Liv… Olivia, darling you know you’re perfectly capable of taking care of yourself when I’m not there. Just think about all the things we do together, then just pick out the things you can easily do alone. Don’t forget, you have all the equipment too. Of course. Yes, I know you prefer it when we use them together, but you can do it… Yes Liv, I’ll be there tomorrow and there are a couple of new tricks I’ll show you too. You know I’ll always make sure you’re well taken care of. Okay, I’ll see you in the morning. Be good. Bye love.”
Serena slipped the phone into her pocket and stepped back inside. She smiled at Bernie and was about to say something when she was harshly cut off.
“You’re shameless. You really are. My god.”
“What? What are talking about Berenice?” Serena was baffled.
“I heard you ‘Oh Olivia, don’t forget all the things I do to you. Don’t worry darling, I’ll take care of you.’ Completely without shame.” Bernie got up and began pacing up and down restlessly.
“I am allowed more than one you know. I can easily handle a couple of people at the same time, it’s no big deal.”
“What?! So I’m meant to just ignore it when you’re busy shagging all and sundry? When you’re practically having phone sex? ‘Oh Liv, I’ll show you some new tricks.’ Good god! What about your bloke? How would he feel if he knew? No wonder he has a wandering eye.”
“Firstly, how dare you eavesdrop on my phone conversations? Secondly, how dare you judge me? My private life is just that. Private. I could be fucking half of the West Ham United football team and the entire local chapter of the Women’s Institute and it would be none of your damned business. How dare you throw that lazy ‘bisexuals are promiscuous and greedy’ stereotype at me. How fucking dare you?” Serena clenched her fists, completely incensed by Bernie’s comments.
Bernie just gaped, confused and a little dazed by the furious reaction as Serena continued.
Serena began to swipe and tap jerkily at the screen of her phone. “This is Liv. See for yourself who I’m apparently having phone sex with.”
Serena thrust her phone at Bernie. She took it and reluctantly looked at the screen, not sure she wanted to see the ‘other woman’. There was Serena, crouched down with her arm around the shoulder of a beautiful redhead. A redhead of about 18 years old, sitting in a wheelchair.
“I… I don’t…”
“For your information, not that it is in any way your business, but Olivia is a client. She is the daughter of a friend who I agreed to help out. Olivia was unfortunately in an RTC three months ago. She suffered some spinal trauma and I’ve been helping her learn to walk again. She’s a scared child who needs reassurance, and sometimes needs a bit of a pep talk. You know, I don’t even know why I’m bothering to explain myself to you. I’m going out. I can’t even look at you right now. Oh and if you’re really that bothered about the man in my life, his photo is by my bed. Go and look if you’re so interested.”
With that, Serena stalked out of the room, without even pausing to take her phone back and moments later Bernie heard the front door slam.
“What the fuck have I just done?” Bernie groaned, as she stared at the empty doorway.
In which a truth is revealed, and Bernie asks for advice.
Bernie dropped on to her chair and buried her head in her hands. Serena was completely correct, what right did she have to pass judgement on what the physiotherapist did outside their professional relationship? What Bernie didn’t understand was the comment about looking at the picture by her bed. Why would Serena tell her to look at the boyfriend’s photograph?
“Oh god, maybe she realises I’ve been lusting after her and wants to rub in my face just how handsome her man is. No, it can’t be that, surely? Serena might have been absolutely livid with me, but she’s not a cruel or petty person.”
There was only one way to find out. She got up and walked slowly to Serena’s bedroom, pushed open the door and then hesitated for a while on the threshold, torn. On one hand, entering Serena’s room was a huge invasion of her private space, but on the other, Serena had told her to look at the photo. She finally made her decision and stepped through the doorway. Serena’s light and musky perfume still hung in the warm air. The mere smell of her sent a tingle through Bernie.
Bernie spotted the picture frame on the left-hand bedside table, next to a small travel alarm clock. She had a tiny, traitorous thought about the compatibility of Serena clearly preferring the left side of the bed when she herself preferred the right. She reached out a hesitant hand and lifted the frame off the table.
Bernie looked at the picture and the breath whooshed out of her. She had got things SO wrong. She sank down on to the side of the bed and stared at the handsome face in the photograph. The handsome feline face. If the name embossed at the bottom of the frame was anything to go by, the man in Serena’s life was a beautiful black cat, with big yellow eyes, called Lucky.
They hadn’t talked about relationships during their many rambling chats over the weeks. Not since the early discussions about their terrible marriages and of course, her admission about how clandestine things had been with Alex. She certainly didn’t ask Serena any questions, as the last thing she had wanted to know were any details of the supposed boyfriend with the wandering eye.
Casting her mind back as best she could, Bernie tried to remember that first overheard phone conversation that had lead her to the conclusion Serena was seeing an untrustworthy man. What was it Serena was asking the person at the other end of the line? Things like ‘is he missing me, is he behaving, and is he eating properly?’ Bernie closed her eyes and sighed. All things you would commonly ask of someone who was looking after your cat. The thing about chasing after the trollop next door, or whatever it was, well presumably Serena had a neighbour with a female cat.
“Wolfe, you are an idiot. An absolute fucking idiot. You couldn’t just keep your mouth shut, could you? You’ve just destroyed the best friendship you’ve made since you were 8 years old.”
That thought made Bernie suddenly desperate to talk to Cass. She carefully replaced Lucky’s picture on the bedside table and went to retrieve her phone. The lock screen picture, that first selfie that Serena had taken of them together, made her smile, then shake her head in self-recrimination as she thought again how badly she had just alienated Serena. She tapped on contacts and dialled Cass.
“Well hello, stranger!” The familiar, beloved voice brought tears to Bernie’s eyes.
“Cass, I’ve buggered things up royally.”
Bernie went on to fill Cassandra in on her feelings for Serena, the conclusions she had leapt to and what had happened between them, leading to Serena storming out.
“Oh, Stretch. I knew she was just your type, but I have to admit I didn’t think you would fall that badly for her.”
The old nickname from their school days put a little smile on Bernie’s face. Bernie had towered over the tiny Cass from the very beginning of their friendship, leading to them sometimes calling each other Stretch and Titch.
“I didn’t think I would ever fall for someone again, Titch. Not after Alex.” Bernie ran her fingers through her messy hair.
“When Serena comes back you need to tell her everything, Bernie. And I mean everything. If she knows what happened, she’ll understand and she’ll forgive you.”
“But-” Bernie tried.
“ Everything Bernie. I know you don’t want to rake all that up again, god knows I realise it was hard enough for you to tell me in the first place. If you want Serena to understand where you were coming from, she needs to know. Do you think she feels the same way about you?”
Bernie was taken aback by the question.
“Why would she? She’s amazing.”
Bernie heard a snort coming from Cass.
“Berenice bloody Wolfe! You are amazing. You’re a brilliant surgeon, you’re an amazing person, and you’re drop-dead gorgeous. You’re also often completely oblivious. You said Serena’s bisexual, so it’s not entirely out of the realms of possibility that she’s attracted.”
She shook her head.
“Bisexual? I didn’t say that. As far as I know she’s straight.”
“She told you off for buying into the stereotype. Something about greedy, promiscuous bisexuals, remember? That sounds to me like it might be something that has been thrown in her face before.”
“Whatever her sexuality Titch, I doubt she’d be interested in me. Serena Campbell could have anyone she wants. You’ve seen her. Heard her.”
“I’m beginning to think you’re just fishing for compliments now Stretch. You’re beautiful. She’s beautiful. You’re perfect for each other.”
Bernie stiffened as she heard the key in the front door.
“Oh shit, she’s back. I’m not ready for this Cass.”
“You can do it, just be brave and go for it. Good luck. Oh, and let me know what happens okay? I love you, Bernie.”
“I love you too Cass. You’re the best friend a woman could ask for, do you know that? Bye.”
Bernie put the phone down on the table beside her with a trembling hand. She stood up, knees shaky, her fingers twisting anxiously together.
“I’ve come back to get my phone.” Serena appeared in the doorway, eyes cold and face stony. She still looked furious.
“I… Serena, I um. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry about what I said earlier. About jumping to conclusions. I feel absolutely sick that I upset you so badly, Serena. I… You… I- I know I don’t deserve it, but will you allow me to explain a little about why I think I made those stupid assumptions and why, well why I was such a complete bloody fool? Please?”
Bernie bent and retrieved Serena’s phone that she had left on the arm of the sofa earlier. She held it out, almost like a peace offering, her hand shaking. As Serena took the proffered handset, it chirped with an alert. She looked at the screen and frowned as she read the message on it. ‘ Please give my idiot friend a chance to explain. She’s gutted she read things so wrong, but she genuinely does have reasons for putting 2 and 2 together, coming up with 5 and generally making a dog’s dinner of everything. Cass x’
“You spoke to Cassandra Wilde about this?” Serena’s voice was harsh and icy.
“I’m sorry. I just needed... I realised...” Bernie took a deep breath. “When I realised just how badly I had screwed things up, how big a fuckwit I am, I needed someone to talk to. She says I need to tell you everything. The whole story about Alex Dawson. Please, Serena. I hate that I hurt you and hopefully if you know what happened with Alex… Well, I don’t know, but Cass says it might help and she usually knows best in my experience.” Bernie waved a hand at the sofa and gave Serena a pleading look, silently asking her to sit.
Serena turned in her heel and walked out of the room. Bernie sank down on the sofa in despair, tears threatening to spill. She had ruined everything.
In which past events are discussed.
You get a lovely long chapter 25 as a bit of compensation for the previous cliffhanger ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie buried her face in her hands, expecting to hear the slam of the front door. A few moments later Bernie was startled by something cold touching her arm. Serena was standing there, offering her a bottle of water. Serena sat, twisted the cap off her own bottle and took a sip.
“I’m listening,” said Serena coldly.
Bernie closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths while she tried to order her thoughts enough to tell the sorry tale of her relationship with Captain Alexandra Dawson.
“I can’t remember how much I told you about Alex, but she was an anaesthetist who joined our team about a year or so before the accident that ended my career. We seemed to hit it off immediately and quickly became friendly. I’ve always been the shy type, but I found her very easy to talk to. One day, after she had been at the base for about six months or so, we were in one of the supply tents. Out of the blue she kissed me. It was like I had been shaken awake. Like for the previous 49 years, I had been asleep, and Alex woke me up.”
Bernie stole a quick glance at Serena, whose face was unreadable.
“When I told Cass about it, she took great pleasure in pointing out all the women over the years I’d had crushes on. She suggested that given my nightmare of a family, there had probably been an element of self-preservation in burying my sexuality. So anyway, I fell hard and fast, and Alex and I began this clandestine relationship. I was reluctant, never having been a natural rule breaker, but she… God, I know this sounds like a pathetic thing to hear about a 49-year-old woman, but she seduced me. We sneaked around, catching snippets of time alone wherever we could.”
Her mouth had become dry and her throat scratchy, so Bernie paused and took a few mouthfuls of water, wishing it was whisky.
“After several months of us snatching time together here and there, I was in the mess tent one day and overheard a conversation. Two people talking about Alex shagging someone. I felt completely sick, thinking we hadn’t been as discreet as I had believed, that people were gossiping about us. As I sat there frozen, not wanting to hear more, but somehow unable to get up and leave, I realised they weren’t talking about me at all. Alex had apparently begun running around with Nikki, one of the theatre nurses. Then it got even worse, as I heard that Nikki was the latest in a string of women Alex had been sleeping with. One of the gossips said that her technique of reconnaissance was clearly working as well as ever. It turned out that Alex had a tried and tested method of snooping in people’s personal lives to learn as much as she could about someone who took her fancy, before cosying up to them. Armed with whatever private information she had gathered from their social media, letters, photos and whatever else, she could present herself as the perfect partner, with similar interests and experiences.”
Bernie got up and began to pace restlessly up and down.
“I know it might not seem likely from the state of the place when you arrived Serena, but my quarters were always immaculate and organised when I was deployed because there was so little space and anything personal was so precious. As soon as I could move without feeling like I would vomit, I went back to my tent and checked my belongings. Sure enough, letters, cards and photographs were all out of order and it was clear someone had been poking about. I imagine it made it harder for her to do her reconnaissance, me being such a dinosaur. There was no social media for her to use so she had to go completely old school. As I started to turn everything over in my mind I felt so stupid, like I should have known she was just too good to be true. How many places we had both visited. A couple of really random films we both happened to love. There was so much we apparently had in common. All things that were talked about in letters and postcards between Cass and a few other friends and myself.”
“Your overreaction with the Amazon parcel.”
Bernie swung around to look at Serena.
“When the package arrived with your swimming costumes in and I said I was a little surprised you hadn’t opened it to try them on. I thought at the time you overreacted at the suggestion.”
Bernie hoped she wasn’t imagining it, but Serena’s voice seemed to have warmed slightly.
“Yes, I suppose I did overreact. A similar sort of thing happened a few times when I was still in the hospital. I became quite paranoid that my belongings were being tampered with. Personal space and privacy have become a bit of an issue too. In spite of you telling me to go and look at the picture in your room, I still stood on the threshold for a good couple of minutes before I could bring myself to enter your space.”
She sat back down next to Serena, wanting to be able to look her in the eye.
“I… I overheard your phone conversation, back when you first arrived. The conversation that I now realise was clearly with the person looking after your cat. I jumped to the conclusion you were talking about a boyfriend who you didn’t trust to stay faithful to you. Then the phone call earlier that yet again, I got so wrong. It, well I suppose it triggered the bad memories. The thought that you were another Alex? It made me say some horrible things and I hope you might eventually be able to forgive me.”
Bernie leapt up and began to pace again.
“The thing is… I feel like we've become such good friends in the time you’ve been here, Serena. I don’t want to ruin it and I just don’t want you to hate me.”
Serena’s face softened.
“The Alex thing really screwed me up you see. Once I realised the type of person she really was, I immediately told her in no uncertain terms that beyond our professional relationship, I wanted nothing to do with her. She, god knows why, but she didn’t want to take no for an answer. In spite of all the women who were apparently falling at her feet, she decided I was the one, that she loved me and wanted us to be together. Well, there was no way. Without trust, what is there? How could I be with someone who constantly lied and cheated her way into numerous women's knickers?”
Bernie paused to grab her bottle of water and took a couple of deep swallows, while she tried to gather herself sufficiently to tell Serena the final part. The worst part.
“Berenice, you don’t-”
“I do, Serena. Cass said I should tell you the whole messy tale. So, Alex and I got sent out to drive to a village a few miles away to do some general health checks. Things had been quiet on the base, and that kind of thing helped build up good relationships with the local communities. She was driving and the second we pulled out of the compound, she began. Trying to change my mind yet again. The… the next bit I don’t really remember too well, but she was so busy pleading her case with me she wasn’t paying proper attention to the road. I remember shouting when I spotted the suspicious device at the side of the road, but she reacted too slowly. She swerved to try and avoid the explosion, but we still ended upside down in a poppy field. She walked away with a few scrapes and bruises, and me, well you know better than most how well I fared. Life changing injuries and a career ended, all because she was too busy trying to talk her way back into my life. Even once they had transported me back to the UK for treatment she persisted, in spite of still being out in Afghanistan. She sent cards, flowers and fruit baskets to the hospital. She must have noted down Cass’s home address from letters, and once I was released, tried sending me stuff via Cass. Thankfully she didn’t know this address. The one upside of my phone being destroyed was that it meant she didn’t have a number for me. Cass eventually had to threaten her with legal action for harassment and stalking.”
Serena could see Bernie beginning to shake.
“Sit down, Berenice.”
Bernie didn’t seem to hear her, lost in bad memories.
“Berenice? Bernie! Sit down . ”
Bernie looked up, sharply.
“You never call me that,” She sank on to the sofa beside Serena.
“I know, that's because I think Berenice is too beautiful a name to shorten,” Serena shifted closer and took hold of Bernie’s hand, finding it cold and clammy. “I assumed you would have told me straight away if you didn’t like it.”
Bernie’s breath caught at the feel of Serena’s warm hands holding her icy one.
“Usually I don’t. No one has called me that more than once since my family cut off all contact. But I like you using my full name, Serena.” She looked shyly at Serena, through her overlong, tangled fringe.
“So it seems we both have exes with a lot to answer for, Berenice. Now I know what happened, I understand why you reacted as you did, believe me, I do. I told you that Edward and I married young. I didn’t want to, wanted to wait until my career was established but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I still don’t know why he was so insistent. Maybe he was like Alex and didn’t like being turned down. The night of the accident we were arguing. I had just found out he had slept with one of my closest friends behind my back. He was driving too fast, not paying proper attention to the road, busy trying to justify what he’d done. To add insult to literal injury, I later found out that as well as sleeping with my good friend, he was also fucking a whole string of other women. Like you, I don’t remember the accident too well. I awoke in a hospital bed, not expected to walk again unaided and… and I had lost my baby.” Serena’s voice dropped almost to a whisper and a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Oh Serena, I’m so sorry. So, so sorry.” Bernie gently slid her hand from between Serena’s and pulled the other woman into a warm hug. Feeling the sweep of Serena’s eyelashes against her neck, Bernie barely suppressed a shiver. Having Serena in her arms felt so right.
Pulling back slightly, Serena continued, “After the crash they breathalysed Edward, of course. It’s standard procedure. It emerged that unknown to me, Edward had been drinking that evening before we left the house and he was nearly three times over the limit. Even back then it seemed he had a serious drinking problem. He had always been very good at hiding the signs of being drunk and took full advantage. His drinking cost me my unborn daughter and in fact, it turned out he had also stolen my ability to ever have children. He… he tried to say that because I hadn’t even realised I was pregnant before the accident that it wasn’t such a big deal. We always practised safer sex, so I hadn’t worried about missed periods, particularly as I’d never really been too regular. I also put some of it down to the stress of exams and studies. I’m sure you remember yourself, how manic that time was. Not long after one of my earliest operations, Edward staggered into my hospital room, absolutely pissed. He boasted, boasted about sabotaging the condoms. Thought having a child would tie me to him. If I hadn’t been immobilised in that bed, I would have strangled the life out of him right there.”
“If I ever lay eyes on the fucker, I’ll strangle the life out of him,” muttered Bernie, darkly.
Serena cupped Bernie’s cheek and brushed a lock of unruly hair from Bernie’s eyes with her other hand.
“Darling Berenice. My hero,” she murmured.
“Serena, I like you. No, god no. I-I more than like you. I know I’ve messed things up. I’ve done the wrong things. I’ve said the wrong things. But since you’ve been here, there’s only one thing I’ve been able to think about, and that’s you Serena.”
Bernie closed her eyes and waited for the fall out, for Serena to pull away in disgust. What she wasn’t prepared for was the press of warm lips against hers, and the feel of Serena’s fingers running through her hair. An involuntary moan escaped her as the kiss deepened. She felt the soft brush of Serena’s tongue against her lips and met it with her own. Bernie brought her hand up and finally discovered that yes, Serena’s hair really was as silky as it looked.
They slowly pulled apart, both breathless. Serena rested her forehead against Bernie’s.
“Oh, Berenice. What have you done to me? Never once during my entire career, have I looked at a single client with anything other than a purely dispassionate gaze. Until I laid eyes on you. Do you have any idea how difficult it has been to keep things professional when you’ve been naked in front of me, when I’ve had my hands all over you?”
“I imagine it was equally as difficult as it was for me to just lie there while your hands were all over me. Why do you think I go for a lie down so frequently in the afternoons, Serena? I wake every morning, every single morning, soaking wet because of dreams about you.”
Bernie stopped abruptly, suddenly terrified she had gone too far, only to be pulled back into a hot, passionate kiss. As they paused to catch their breath, Serena whispered in her ear, “You’ve been costing me a fortune in double A batteries.”
“Oh, and just in case it wasn’t already clear Berenice, I very much more than like you too.”
“Serena, what on Earth? Your phone. You reach for your phone at a time like this? What are you doing, Twittering about us?” There was a definite edge of irritation in Bernie’s voice.
“No, my beautiful, grumpy darling, I’m emailing. I’m emailing my employer, one Cassandra Wilde, to officially tender my resignation. I am a medical professional remember? I have certain ethics to consider, and have no intention of waiting one second longer than I already have to take you to bed.”
A smile broke out on Bernie’s face. “Can’t you type any faster, my sweet?”
“From the frenzied quacking that has been coming from your phone, I think you’d also better let Cass know what’s happened, Berenice.”
Bernie: All is well Cass. Thanks for the advice.
Good afternoon Ms Wilde,
I have taken my professional relationship with Berenice Wolfe as far as it can go. Please accept this email as my formal resignation, effective immediately.
First off, I want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against Alex Dawson. I know she is a bit of a villain in this, but I’m afraid that’s just how the story decided to tell itself. In reality, I think Alex seemed like a decent person and I am very partial to Heather Peace too.
The fic title coming from an HP song came before the Alex in this universe revealed herself to be a sneaky womaniser. (I realise this makes it sound as though I don’t have control over what the characters do. That’s because it’s quite often the case!)
In which Serena is no longer Bernie’s physiotherapist.
So here we are, lovelies. Six months and 26 chapters later, we’re finally at the end.
When I began this, I never dreamt that the story would be anywhere near this long. Thank you for sticking with me!
Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to comment and leave kudos. Both mean a ridiculous amount to me, and every single one is always very much appreciated. They do genuinely help spur me on to keep going. ❤️
Bernie switched off her phone, and as soon as Serena had clearly finished her email, gently took the iPhone from her hand, and did the same with it. Carefully tossing both on to the armchair, she turned back to Serena.
“Where were we?” she murmured and drew Serena into her arms. She just could not believe she was finally holding and kissing the woman she had fallen so hard and so fast for. Serena began to run her fingers through Bernie’s soft, wavy hair. The blunt fingernails against her scalp sent shivers of desire through Bernie.
“Are you sure you’re real? This isn’t another dream I’m going to wake up from when you knock on the door, is it? Where I wake up soaking wet and aching for you?” Bernie gasped, before capturing Serena’s lips again.
Serena pulled away a little, breathless.
“Oh, this is very real, and I meant what I said about not wanting to wait any longer to take you to bed. If that’s what you want too, Berenice.”
Bernie glanced down at where her hand had disappeared up Serena’s top and was currently cupping Serena’s breast, thumb sweeping back and forth across her nipple, and laughed.
“Only pretty much since the moment I laid eyes on you! Your place or mine?”
“You’re the one with the king size bed Berenice, and I do like plenty of room to manoeuvre.”
“Shall I… shall I change the sheets first?” Bernie asked.
“Don’t be silly, they’re clean on. I only helped you change the bedding yesterday morning.”
“Clean-ish. I went for a lie down after my massage yesterday, before we had lunch, remember? And I was late for breakfast this morning, too.” Bernie blushed, and gave Serena a crooked grin.
Serena’s eyes darkened even further as the implications hit her. “There’s no point in remaking the bed when it is about to get very, very messy.
She disentangled herself from Bernie’s embrace, stood up, took Bernie’s hand and lead her into the bedroom.
At the sight of the bed, blanket clearly hastily thrown back and the pillow deeply dented, Bernie blushed slightly. To her eyes, it was clear what had occurred immediately before the occupant had left it.
“I see that you didn’t want to make yourself even later for breakfast by pausing to make the bed this morning, Berenice.”
Bernie went to pull her hand away from Serena’s, so she could straighten up the bedding and plump the pillow. Serena tightened her grip slightly, and tugged on Bernie’s other arm, to turn her to bring them face to face. She reached up, tangled her fingers in soft blonde hair and ran a gentle thumb across Bernie’s jawline.
“I can practically hear the cogs turning in your head, Berenice. Stop worrying so much.”
Serena gently kissed Bernie, before leaving a trail of tiny butterfly kisses across her nose, eyes and cheeks, ending up at her ear. Suddenly, in a contrast to the soft sweetness of her kisses, Serena nipped at Bernie’s earlobe.
“I expect you to demonstrate your strength and flexibility, and show me how far we’ve come together, Berenice,” she growled softly in Bernie’s ear. “I want to see you crawl your way up my body. You will balance yourself over my face until such time as I decide I have given you sufficient orgasms. Do you understand?”
Bernie gasped at the combination of Serena’s hot breath in her ear, her rough velvety voice, and the immediate mental image of Serena’s mouth intimately caressing her.
“If… if I’m to undertake such a strenuous workout, I think I’d better make sure I warm up very thoroughly, don’t you?”
Bernie reached under Serena’s top and cupped her breast. She swept a gentle thumb across it and felt the nipple tighten in response. She pulled the shirt and sports bra off over Serena’s head then bent her head to replace her hand with lips and tongue. Serena tangled her fingers in Bernie’s hair and arched into the touch, groaning at the scrape of teeth against her exquisitely sensitive nipples. Bernie ran her hands down the length of Serena’s toned back, down the back of her yoga pants and caressed her taut, firm bum. So many years of yoga had done amazing things to Serena’s backside. Bernie carried on pushing downwards, taking the remaining clothing with her, until Serena was naked in front of her. She gently propelled the silver haired vixen backwards, until she was lying on the bed. She feasted her eyes on Serena, who looked so much more amazing in her bed in reality, than the dream figure who had filled her sleeping mind for weeks on end.
“My god, Serena. You are so beautiful.”
Bernie quickly undressed and lay down beside Serena, who immediately reached out to pull the blonde into her embrace. Bernie’s breath caught at the feel of the length of their naked bodies pressed together.
Serena gasped as Bernie sucked on her earlobe, then kissed her way down her neck. She blazed a line of hot, wet kisses across Serena’s throat and clavicles.
“Serena, you’re absolutely magnificent,” breathed Bernie, before returning her mouth to one of Serena’s rosy pink nipples, while caressing the other with eager fingers. She had no idea how long she lost herself in the worshipping of Serena’s breasts.
“Berenice! You’re, you’re driving me crazy,” Serena panted eventually. “I need you to touch me.”
“What do you need? Show me.”
At that, Serena grasped Bernie’s hand and pressed the surgeon’s long and dexterous fingers into the aching heat between her legs. As much as Bernie wanted to continue caressing Serena’s amazing breasts, she was also eager to taste her way down Serena’s body to the feast that was awaiting her.
Bernie began to kiss and lick her way downwards taking her time to touch and taste every available inch of skin. She dipped her tongue in Serena's navel, making her shiver and giggle. Eventually, she parted Serena’s thighs and settled herself comfortably between them. Bernie breathed deep, savouring the scent of her lover’s arousal, she nuzzled her nose in the lush curls and then smiled up at Serena.
“Natural and untrimmed, just like you promised me all those weeks ago.”
Serena’s breathy laughter was cut off abruptly as Bernie stroked down across hot, wet flesh to ease one, then two fingers inside. She began a steady rhythm as Serena writhed against her. Bernie rapidly flickered the tip of her tongue over Serena's clit before sucking it into her mouth. She alternated between the different sensations as Serena gasped and moaned. Bernie hummed in pure enjoyment and the vibration made Serena freeze for a few moments before bucking against Bernie’s mouth as a powerful orgasm crashed over her. Bernie stilled her fingers, but continued to gently kiss and caress Serena’s clit, while she twitched through the aftershocks.
After a couple of minutes, Serena reached down, grasped a handful of soft blonde hair, and gently tugged. Bernie got the message and moved back up the bed to lay next to Serena, who immediately wrapped her arms around her, and kissed her deeply.
“Give me a few minutes to get my breath back, then it’s time to hop on board, soldier.” Serena murmured, huskily.
Much later, they were cuddled together, fingers stroking up and down satiny skin, stealing occasional kisses.
“I think I fell for you the day you arrived, Serena. You were telling me off for using derogatory language, and all I could do was stare at how beautiful you were, and marvel at how utterly sexy your voice was. I didn’t stand a chance from the moment you walked through my front door. I found out today that Cass chose you for more than just your impeccable CV, you know. She always said I had a very specific type, and you… you are just my absolute perfect woman, Serena Campbell. Cass didn’t bargain on me falling hopelessly in love with you though.” Bernie froze, looking very much like a rabbit in the headlights, realising what she had just said.
“Oh I love you too, Berenice. I fought hard against it, believe me. Being attracted to a client was difficult enough, without being in love with her too. There was just no stopping it though. You proved too irresistible.”
“I tried talking myself out of it, dismissed it as attraction, as lust. After Alex, I didn’t think I would, didn’t think I could fall for anyone. You seemed to march right past my defences and there was just no denying it. That first hydro session, when I was watching you swim afterwards. That was the moment I finally admitted it to myself and accepted it. That was how quickly I fell for you, Serena Campbell.”
“So after you helped me out of the bath? You saw me in the buff, then fell for me?” Serena asked, with a raised eyebrow.
“Erm… Actually there’s something I should tell you about, Serena. In the interests of umm, of full disclosure. I did actually see you naked the first morning you were here. It was an accident, honestly.” Bernie winced and awaited the anticipated explosion.
“Berenice darling, I know. I saw you in the mirror over the sink. I’m not blind, you adorable idiot. I just thought it might embarrass you if I let on that I knew you were there. Things were already tense enough without adding that into the mix. Maybe that’s what inspired me to strip off and talk to you about my scars, the fact you’d already seen them.”
A slow smile blossomed on Bernie’s face.
“Oh believe me Serena, I hadn’t. My eyes were focussed entirely elsewhere”
“Really? And where exactly would that be, Berenice Wolfe?”
“Well on your tattoo of course. Where else?”
I accept your resignation with the greatest of pleasure.
P.S. Welcome to the family.