Bernie was never one for fuss, never liked being the centre of attention. So she’d neglected to mention that she was rapidly approaching her 60th birthday.
Serena knew, of course. Hers was only a couple of months afterwards so there was little chance that she was going to forget it.
Her children definitely knew the date of her birthday, but whether they had remembered her age, what with their increasingly busy lives, she had no idea.
Her work colleagues definitely did not know. And would not be finding out. From anyone. Bernie had made that explicit to Serena when she had mentioned potentially organising a party for Bernie. The fire in Bernie’s eyes showed how serious she was and Serena had quickly dropped the subject and the idea.
But Serena still felt that it was important to mark the occasion in some way, even if small. And so plans were made, presents bought on days off, food cooked while Bernie worked and phone calls taken in the dead of night.
Bernie had elected to work on her birthday, just a short shift though. Serena had offered to swap her day off but had been met by one of Bernie’s stares. So she’d woken up in the morning to Serena kissing her on the forehead.
“Happy birthday, darling.”
Bernie groaned and opened her eyes. Serena was sat on the bed next to her, a tray full of breakfast foods on the side. She smiled and pulled herself into a seated position, letting Serena arrange the pillows to help.
“Don’t want you getting uncomfortable in your old age,” Serena quipped as Bernie swatted her arm.
Serena pulled the tray over both of their knees and they sat, pressed together, nibbling on croissants, bagels, and fruit washed down with big mugfuls of coffee. Bernie had thought when their relationship was new that this would get old and stale somehow, and yet after all these years she still felt warm and tingly when she was close to Serena. Their hands brushed as they reached for the same piece of apple and Bernie gave up her quest for fruit and took Serena’s hand in her own instead.
“I love you Serena,” she said, turning her head to face her.
“I love you Bernie,” came the reply before Serena pressed their lips together in a chaste kiss. Bernie leaned closer and snaked her free hand under the covers, stroking Serena’s leg.
Serena pulled away, chuckling.
“That will have to wait until later darling. You’ve got work to get to first.”
Bernie sighed. “Remind me again why I agreed to work today?”
“Because you are ridiculous and refused to admit to anyone else that this is a very special day.”
Serena kissed her again quickly and took the tray off her knee.
“Now go and get into that shower. I’ll clear up this.”
Bernie reluctantly slid out of bed and headed for the bathroom. The cold water hitting her body cooled her passions and she was soon washed, dried and dressed ready for the hospital. She found Serena in the kitchen.
“Ready to go?” Serena asked.
Bernie kissed her, wrapping her arms around her waist and sliding them down to her bum, squeezing slightly.
“Am now!” she said.
“Text me when you’re heading home,” Serena called as she grabbed her coat and opened the door.
“Will do. Love you.”
Work was its usual self. Busy at times with streams of patients coming through the door needing treatment followed by calmer periods where Bernie sat in their office and tried to make head or tail of the paperwork. She wished Serena had been working today. Paperwork was always a bit of a slog without her. In the five years since they both returned to Holby, they’d come to a bit of an understanding where Serena would take most of the paperwork if Bernie would make more of an effort to keep the office tidy. It worked for the most part. The office today was looking pretty good, no rubbish littering Bernie’s desk or cast off clothing hanging on the furniture. And in return, the paperwork pile that Serena had left was really rather small.
Temporarily giving up on the paperwork, Bernie looked up and smiled at the picture on her desk. It had been taken three Christmases ago and featured not only Bernie and Serena but their entire family. Jason was there with Greta, Guinevere sat on her mum’s knee. Cameron and Morven held baby Jessica. Even Charlotte was there, her arms around Cam’s dog Archie. It was the last time that all of them had managed to be together. Yes, she’d seen them all separately but it wasn’t the same. She wondered if they might manage a big family Christmas this year again.
Donna hurried her out of the door when her shift finished.
“Go on, get home to Serena. We all know you want to.”
Bernie pulled her phone out of her pocket and sent a quick message to Serena. She briefly wondered what Serena had planned for tonight, because even though she hadn’t mentioned it, there was no way that Serena Wendy Campbell had not planned something for tonight. Hopefully it would be small and simple like a nice meal out or a few drinks at the local pub. Knowing Serena it might be something more. She tried not to worry. Serena understood her. Serena had never forced her to do something she didn’t want to do. Everything would be fine.
She unlocked the front door and pushed it open.
“Hi Serena, it’s me!” she called into a suspiciously quiet house. Was Serena out?
Serena’s head stuck out from around the kitchen door.
“Hi love, how was work?”
Bernie hung her coat on the hook and removed her shoes before trailing into the kitchen after Serena. And stopping suddenly still. Because it wasn’t just Serena in the kitchen. It was everyone. Crowded round the large oak table Serena had insisted on buying for their newly renovated kitchen-diner was their entire family.
There was a chorus of Happy Birthdays as everyone spoke at once. Bernie just stood there, hand over her mouth, until Serena took pity on her and wrapped an arm around her waist.
“Come on birthday girl. Let’s get you sat down.”
It was a squeeze to get everyone round the table. Cameron and Morven’s six month old Oliver had claimed the end of the table with his highchair where he was busy making music with his spoon on the tray. Bernie slid into a chair next to him and Serena kissed her on the top of her head.
“Dinner won’t be long, love.”
Bernie tipped her head back to meet Serena’s lips with her own.
“Eww. Keep it to the bedroom, please!” cried out Cam.
Bernie turned to him and raised an eyebrow. He visibly shrivelled under the glare. Serena laughed.
Dinner was busy and loud. Everyone wanted to fill Bernie in on what they were getting up to now. Morven and Cameron talked about how Jessica was getting used to being the big sister now and how she was going to start nursery in September. Guinevere wanted everyone to know that she’d got full marks on the times table test last week in school and that she had been asked to do a reading in assembly next week. Charlotte was quieter but once Bernie asked was happy to discuss her work in London and the holiday to Greece she’d just taken with a couple of friends. Bernie let the talk wash over her, revelling in the chance to have everyone she loved here in one place. She ate the lasagne that Serena had prepared, savouring every delicious morsel. Jessica escaped her chair and crawled under the table to her. She picked her up and placed her on her knee, feeding her some of the lasagne in between her own mouthfuls.
It soon became clear that not only was the entire family here for dinner, but they were all staying the night as well. Bernie revelled in being able to join in with bathtime, even though Guinevere had declared herself too old to have a bath with “the babies” and wanted a shower instead. Bernie splashed the water over Oliver’s chubby legs and washed Jessica’s hair for her. Soon, both the children were clean and dry and tucked up in make-shift beds on the floor of the guest room. Bernie was glad that she and Serena had invested in the travel cot once Guinevere was born. It had got quite a lot of use over the years. Serena came in to read them both a story. She had always been the favourite story teller, better at the voices. Bernie sat close to her and rested her head on her shoulder.
Guinevere also wanted a story from Serena so the pair of them traipsed through into what would always be Jason’s room to read her a story. Bernie had worried that she would think she was too old for stories as well as bathtime but it turned out to definitely not be the case and she listened to two stories from Serena before her eyelids began to droop and she fell asleep.
Back downstairs in the living room, the rest of their guests had set themselves up in front of the tv. A selection of DVDs had been lifted out and Bernie was instructed to choose one while Serena went to find some wine.
“Carol again mum?” Cameron moaned half-heartedly.
“It’s my birthday and my house,” she replied.
“Our house,” Serena said, coming into the living room just then, arms laden with wine and glasses.
The wine was passed out, only Jason refusing. He had a bottle of ginger beer with him for just these occasions. Bernie curled up to Serena on the sofa and sighed as Serena’s hand found her hair as usual. None of them needed to pay much attention to the film. Over the years both Bernie and Serena had forced it upon all of their guests multiple times.
“Do you think we can manage a big family Christmas again this year?” Bernie asked as they watched Carol choose a Christmas tree.
“Me and Morven were thinking about taking the kids skiing,” Cameron said, “But maybe we can fit something in before or afterwards.”
Bernie felt her heart sink. Of course someone was going to be too busy to come for Christmas.
“What if we all come with you?” Serena asked, sensing Bernie’s disappointment. “We could get one of those big cabins in France or Switzerland or something and hire the whole thing out for a week.”
“I don’t think I’ll like skiing,” Jason said.
“Oh but you won’t have to,” Serena countered, “Those that want to ski can, and the rest of us can have a jolly old time in and around the cabin. We can go sledging or have snow ball fights or just sit around an open fire and read.”
Bernie smiled. Serena’s idea sounded wonderful. There were a series of agreements from everyone in the room. Bernie shuffled even closer to Serena and kissed her cheek.
“You really are marvellous,” she whispered into Serena’s ear.
Serena turned her head and kissed her fully on the lips.
“And so are you my dear.”
Once the film finished, they all headed to bed. Serena found Charlotte some pillows and blankets for the sofa and the others crept into the rooms where their children were sleeping. Bernie kissed Charlotte on the forehead before she climbed the stairs.
“You know you can always bring someone with you to these things,” she said, knowing how awkward it could be to be the only one not coupled up. “Doesn’t have to be a partner, could just be a friend. I’d love to meet the people you spend time with.”
“I know mum. Maybe next time?”
Bernie smiled and left her daughter to sleep. She pushed the door open to her bedroom and found Serena inside using the en-suite.
“Won’t be a moment,” she called from behind the door.
She appeared minutes later, face cleared of make up and mouth smelling of mint, wearing a short, rather silky, burgundy nightgown. Bernie’s eyes dropped to her chest which was displayed very nicely.
“New nightie?” she asked.
“Especially for you.”
Bernie kissed her as they passed, swapping places. She used the bathroom quickly before walking towards the bed, stripping off clothes as she went.
“One day you’ll learn to fold your clothes neatly as you take them off,” Serena commented, her eyes gleaming as a naked Bernie slipped under the covers next to her.
“Oh sorry, should I get out of bed and sort them out?” Bernie teased, her hand already reaching for the straps on Serena’s gown and pulling them down.
“Not on your life!”
They curled up together afterwards, bare skin pressed together.
“Thank you for this evening Serena,” Bernie said, pressing kisses along Serena’s shoulder. “It’s been perfect.”
“I’m so glad,” Serena replied, “Because you’ve only got three months to plan my perfect birthday.”
“I’ll just order a vat of Shiraz and some skimpily dressed waiters and waitresses to serve it.”
“You know me so well,” Serena said.
She pulled Bernie closer and together they drifted off to sleep, a house full of love surrounding them.