Serena groaned and pulled the pillow over her head. Once again she was regretting living round the corner from a pub with such a late closure time. It was a good pub, served a great Shiraz, but chucking drunkards out at 3am did no favours to the local residents. Tonight it appeared that someone was feeling musical. The dulcet tones of a woman, half the words slurred, had pulled Serena from her sleep.
She closed her eyes and hoped that the woman would pass by quickly. She had an early surgery in the morning and it would be no good for the lead consultant to turn up with bags under her eyes. Unfortunately the singing just seemed to get closer.
“You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine,
You make me happy”
The singing was now very close. So close that Serena was worried that someone was in her garden. She grabbed her phone from the bedside table with the intention of calling the police on any trespassers and slipped out of bed to the window.
She peered out through the curtains and, sure enough, there was a shadowy figure in her garden, swaying from side to side as she sang. Serena sighed and reached for the catch on the window. She’d give them one chance to leave before she called the police.
She pushed the window open and leant out. She opened her mouth to shout down when the woman lifted her head and looked up at her. And she froze.
Bernie waved up at her from the garden before tripping over her feet and falling on the ground, giggling to herself.
“You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine,”
Serena just stared out of the window. Because Bernie was the last person she expected to see in her front garden in the middle of the night. As far as she knew, Bernie was still in Nairobi. So why was she here, completely plastered, sitting on her front lawn?
“S’rena!” Bernie shouted from beneath the window, shocking Serena into movement. She pulled her dressing gown on and went down the stairs to the front door. She didn’t know what else to do but she could at least let Bernie inside the house before she woke the whole street.
By the time she had opened the front door, Bernie had laid herself down flat on her back on the dewy grass. She was still singing. She waved at Serena stood in the doorway.
“S’rena! Come here. Got something for you!”
Serena raised an eyebrow but Bernie just beckoned her over. She gave in and slipped on some shoes before walking over to Bernie.
Bernie giggled and beckoned her closer. Serena took a step closer and bent down. Bernie took the opportunity to grab her hand and pull her down onto the grass. Serena let out a cry as she tumbled forwards but Bernie caught her in her arms and laughed with glee.
“S’rena! Look at the stars! They’re so pretty. Like you!”
Indulging her for a moment, Serena rolled off Bernie and onto her back. She looked up at the night sky and the stars twinkling above her. She felt Bernie’s cold, damp hand slip into her own and she turned to find Bernie staring at her.
“You’re so pretty,” Bernie whispered.
Serena didn’t know what to say or do. She didn’t understand why Bernie was here. She wanted nothing more than to pull her into her arms and never let her go but that wasn’t what they agreed on all those months ago.
The dampness from the grass soaked into the back of her dressing gown and she shivered.
“You’re cold,” Bernie stated. “I’ll warm you up.”
Bernie reached over to try and pull her close but Serena gently pushed her away.
“Let’s go inside,” she suggested, “And I’ll make us both a nice cup of tea.”
Bernie grinned at that and allowed Serena to help her to her feet. She was like a newborn colt, too long legs without the strength to hold herself steady. She leant against Serena and they slowly made their way to the open doorway.
Once inside, Serena pushed the door closed and shrugged off her now rather sodden dressing gown, swapping it for the fleece hanging up in the hallway. She looked over at Bernie and saw immediately that her face had gone a rather strange colour. She recognised the look on Bernie’s face.
“Come on. Toilet. Now.”
Serena hurried Bernie along the corridor to the downstairs toilet just in time. Bernie fell to her knees and retched into the toilet bowl. Serena took a deep breath, trying to ground herself, and pulled Bernie’s hair out of her face. With her free hand, she rubbed circles into Bernie’s back.
“Just let it out darling. You’re ok. Everything’s ok.”
Not that is was all ok. But what else were you supposed to say when your ex was throwing up in your toilet in the middle of the night?
It all stopped soon enough. Bernie rested her hot forehead against the cool toilet seat and Serena ran a flannel under the tap.
“Here,” she said, passing it to Bernie, “Feeling a better?”
Bernie wiped her face and nodded. “Sorry.”
Serena nodded. “Come on now. Let’s go and sit somewhere more comfortable.”
Bernie let her help her to her feet and lead her through to the living room. She sank into the cushions of the sofa and closed her eyes briefly. Serena just stood there and stared at her, unsure about what to do next.
Bernie blinked her eyes open and looked straight at Serena.
“Serena,” she said, a big grin spreading over her face, “I wanted to see you. Got something for you.”
She began to wriggle, trying to get her hand into her coat pocket. There was a lump in the pocket. A remarkably square lump. Serena panicked and desperately tried to come up with an excuse to leave the room.
“I’ll go and get you a glass of water,” she said and headed into the kitchen before Bernie could produce whatever it was she was looking for.
She took a moment to breathe and think as she filled a glass from the tap. So Bernie was here. Drunk. In her sitting room. In the middle of the night. With what might be a ring? Serena hated herself for hoping. Because she knew that despite all their months spent apart, she would struggle to resist a proposal from Bernie. But maybe it was nothing of the sort and this was all just a figment of her imagination. Maybe Bernie was just passing on something she’d left behind in Nairobi. Something small that had escaped both of their notices until recently. She mentally ran through the items of jewellery she often took away with her and wondered if she had seen them over the last few months. Nothing sprang to mind.
There was nothing for it. She was going to have to go back in and face Bernie. Find out what she had for her. Deal with the consequences as they came. Try not to lose her head once more.
Bearing the full glass of water, Serena pushed open the door to the living room. With only the glow of a lamp, the room was dim. Bernie was still there on the sofa, her hair splayed across the cushions and her eyes tightly shut. A gentle sound came from her that Serena immediately recognised from nights lying next to her in bed. Bernie was fast asleep.
Quietly Serena set the glass down on the coffee table and perched on the edge of it herself watching the sleeping Bernie. Well that solved once problem and created a million more in its place. What on earth was she supposed to do now? She glanced down at Bernie’s hand to find that there was a ring box now clasped between her fingers. The lid was lifted enough that Serena could see a delicate silver band set with rubies within. So it did indeed seem that Bernie had come here to propose. And Serena’s heart squeezed at the thought of it.
A sound broke through the silence. A ringing sound. Not loud enough to wake Bernie but loud enough to cause Serena to jump and almost knock over the glass of water. She slipped out of the room and upstairs to find her mobile ringing on the bedside table where she had left it.
“Hi Serena it’s Cameron. Sorry for waking you in the middle of the night.”
Serena felt a surge of relief and she sunk down onto the edge of her bed. Cameron was probably the only person in the world that might actually know what to do with his mother.
“It’s ok Cameron. I was awake already.”
“Oh. Ok. Good.”
There was a moment of silence. Neither quite knowing what to say. Then Cameron spoke.
“Look Serena, this is really awkward but I’ve tried everyone else and I didn’t know what else to do. Have you heard from my mum tonight?”
Serena could feel his embarrassment through the phone.
“It’s just that I took her out to a club tonight and she disappeared and I thought she was just heading back to my flat but she wasn’t here when I got back and I’m worried. I mean she doesn’t have many friends so I don’t know where…”
“Cam, don’t worry. She’s here,” Serena said, stopping Cameron’s spiel, “She’s currently fast asleep on my sofa.”
Cameron let out a huge sigh of relief. “Oh thank goodness. I was really worried. She was acting really odd all night and I didn’t know why.”
“Well she turned up on my front lawn a little while ago, singing loud enough to wake the dead. I brought her inside where she immediately threw up in my downstairs loo and then fell asleep on my sofa. Not exactly typical Bernie Wolfe behaviour.”
“No. Not exactly.”
Serena paused. She wasn’t sure whether she should bring up the ring with Cameron. But then how else was she going to find out what was going on? Bernie wasn’t exactly in a position to tell her even if she did wake her up.
“Cam…” she said hesitantly, “Your mum said she had something to give me. And then she got a ring out of her pocket.”
Cam gasped on the other end of the phone. “Oh wow. I didn’t realise she still had that.”
“Wait, still had it?”
“Yeah. Mum bought it months ago. Back in the summer I think. Way before you two broke up. She showed it to me once over Skype. I assumed she’d got rid of it by now.”
Serena’s mind was reeling. “Bernie wanted to propose in the summer?”
“I’m not sure. She was definitely thinking about it. But you know mum. I think she was scared of actually popping the question and admitting the strength of her feelings.”
The line went silent.
“Listen, Serena, do you want me to come and get mum now? Take her off your hands? You shouldn’t be having to deal with her like this.”
“No!” Serena shouted, surprising herself as well as Cameron. But she didn’t want to let Bernie go so soon. Not given what Cameron had just told her.
“No,” she tried again in a more normal voice. “No. It’s fine Cameron. I’ll look after her tonight. I’ll get her to ring you in the morning and you can shout at her for missing her curfew or whatever children shout at their parents for these days.”
Cameron laughed half-heartedly. “Ok. Thanks Serena. And I am sorry. About everything. You and mum were so good together.”
“Yes thank you Cameron, Let’s not go digging up old memories. I’ll say goodnight now and let you get some sleep.”
Serena put the phone back down on the table and tiptoed down to the living room once more. Bernie was still there asleep on the sofa. She wasn’t quite so upright anymore though and her back was at a strange angle. Serena took a cautious step towards her and placed a hand on her shoulder. There was no reaction. She pushed slightly and Bernie still didn’t wake. Serena remembered nights in the past where Bernie would wake at the slightest movement of the bed. How drunk had Bernie got tonight? Well at least she could get her into a more comfortable position. She knew what Bernie’s back was like when she didn’t take care of it properly.
She removed Bernie’s shoes and manoeuvred her until she was laid flat on the sofa, suddenly very glad that she had splashed out on the extra-long one in the January sales. She pulled the throw from the back of the sofa over her prone body, removed the ring box from her loose grip and slid a cushion under her head. Bernie stirred slightly but soon settled. Serena knelt on the floor next to her and found her hand reaching out for Bernie’s soft hair. She ran her fingers through the golden locks before she realised what she was doing and snatched her hand back.
What she should do, what any normal person would do, would be to go back to bed now and worry about everything else in the morning. But she couldn’t do that, couldn’t bear to leave Bernie now knowing that there was a strong possibility that Bernie would wake early and slip out of the house before Serena had a chance to see her in the morning. And she couldn’t let that happen. She stared at the ring box now in her own hand and ran a finger over the ring. She’d never really thought about marrying Bernie, and if she had, she’d assumed that Bernie wasn’t interested. And yet here was irrefutable proof that Bernie was indeed interested. That Bernie had thought about marrying her. That Bernie wanted her to be her wife.
A sob escaped Serena’s throat and Bernie shifted on the sofa next to her. One of her hands fell free from the blanket and Serena couldn’t resist slipping her own hand into it and interlinking their fingers. She moved her legs from under her and sat with her back against the sofa, legs out in front of her. She leant her head back and breathed in the smell of Bernie, currently heavily disguised by the alcohol fumes wafting off her but still there. She slipped the ring box into her fleece pocket for safe keeping. With Bernie’s gently breathing in her ear and their hands still clasped together, Serena found herself drifting off to sleep.