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.
Bernie opened her eyes and immediately regretted it. Her head hurt and even the dull light coming through the curtains was enough to make it throb. She rolled over and found herself face to face with the back of an unfamiliar sofa. She started into a sitting position, no idea where she was until she looked around the room and knew straight away.
She lay back down again and groaned. Why on earth was she in Serena’s living room? What had she done last night? God, she had probably just made everything worse again. She was supposed to be getting over Serena not sleeping on her sofa. There was nothing else for it, she would sneak out now before Serena woke up and hopefully nothing more would need to be said about it. She’d head back to Cam’s flat and tell him that she had a one-night stand or something. Or nothing. She’d tell him nothing. Because she didn’t want to embarrass herself further by making up some lie that he’d see right through. If only her head would stop hurting so much she might be able to come up with a better excuse.
She kicked the blanket off her legs and tried to place her feet on the floor. But there was something there, next to the sofa, preventing her feet from reaching the carpet. She down at the floor and found Serena and her heart stopped. Because Serena was there. Serena had slept on the floor next to her. And she looked as beautiful as she ever had. And Bernie’s feet were resting on her leg.
Serena snuffled slightly and batted at Bernie’s feet as she woke up.
“Guin dear, not now.”
Serena opened her eyes when Bernie’s feet didn’t move.
“Guine…” she started. “Oh. Bernie.”
Bernie hastily swung her feet up on to the sofa. Well so much for her plan of not waking Serena.
“Hi Serena,” she said sheepishly. And then a wave of nausea hit her and she ran for the toilet.
She felt a hand rest on her back as she knelt before the toilet.
“Nothing left to come out?” Serena asked.
She shook her head.
“Think you emptied the contents of your stomach last night.”
Bernie slowly turned her head to look at Serena. “I threw up last night? I’m so sorry if you had to deal with that.”
Serena just nodded. “Come on. I’ll dig out a spare toothbrush and then let’s get you some coffee and painkillers.”
Perched on a chair at the kitchen table watching Serena make coffee, Bernie downed paracetamol dry. Serena tsked at her and filled up a glass with water.
“You need liquid Bernie. You’re a doctor. You know how hangovers work.”
Bernie obediently drank the water before Serena placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of her.
“Strong and hot,” Serena said and blushed. She turned away from Bernie towards the kitchen counter. “Toast?”
The caffeine soon hit her system and made her more aware of the world around her. She leant her head to the side and watched Serena move around the kitchen slicing bread and fetching butter and jam from the fridge. Serena seemed to have some kind of peculiar reflex action as she worked where she kept touching one of the pockets of the fleece she was wearing. Bernie watched her carefully wondering what she was doing. Then she spotted the bulge in the pocket. The bulge of a distinctive shape and size. Discretely she patted her own pockets and found them empty. Was that…? Had she…? She didn’t usually bring the ring out with her but she did sometimes. Liked to have that reminder that there was once someone who truly loved her. So either she’d left it behind safe in her suitcase, taken it out and lost it or she’d done the unthinkable and actually proposed to Serena. She wasn’t sure whether it would have been possible for her to get drunk enough to think that was a good idea. But then again she was waking up at Serena’s house for some reason. And she had no idea why.
Serena plated up two lots of jam on toast and came to sit down opposite Bernie. Bernie ate the toast gratefully. She was beginning to feel a bit more normal again. Although she really would like to just crawl back to the sofa and sleep for a few more hours. Well if she was really being honest with herself, she’d really like to crawl into Serena’s bed and sleep for a few more hours with Serena in her arms. But she was going for realistic goals here. How much had she had to drink last night?
Silence fell once the toast had been eaten. Not a comfortable silence like they used to have between them but an oppressive one. Bernie couldn’t stand it and jumped to her feet, taking the plates over to the sink to wash up.
“Leave them for the moment Bernie,” Serena said, “I think we need to talk about what happened last night.”
And that sentence was far worse than the oppressive silence it had broken. Because however curious Bernie was about what had happened last night, she really did not want to have a conversation with Serena about it. She gripped the edge of the sink and closed her eyes, calming her breathing. She knew, deep down, that the communication issues that they had were the ultimate cause of their break-up. She knew she had to be better, had to fight down the urge to run and hide when things were difficult, had to learn to express her feelings in a constructive manner, had to learn to talk to Serena about what was going on in her head. So she took a deep breath and nodded.
“Yes we do.”
She walked slowly back to the kitchen table and sat down again, eyes down.
Serena’s voice was gentle and Bernie forced herself to look up into her eyes.
“How much do you remember of last night?”
Bernie shook her head.
“Very little. I remember going out to a club with Cam. I remember ordering whiskies. The next thing I can recall is waking up on your sofa.”
Serena nodded. “I thought as much. You were very far gone last night. I don’t ever remember seeing you so out of control.”
Bernie felt her face blush bright red. “I’m sorry. Did I do anything terrible? I’ll pay for any damage.”
Serena stretched out a hand and rested it on Bernie’s arm. “Oh Bernie, no! You didn’t do anything terrible and nothing was damaged. Please don’t feel bad.”
Bernie didn’t feel particularly reassured. Something had happened last night. Something that Serena was reluctant to talk about. It couldn’t be good. Maybe she had proposed after all.
“You turned up in the middle of the night and tried to serenade me from my front lawn,” Serena explained, “I brought you inside so as not to wake all the neighbours and you immediately threw up in my downstairs toilet. Then I sat you down on my sofa. I went to get you some water and by the time I got back, you’d fallen asleep.”
Bernie thought it through. Embarrassing, yes, but not horrendous. “I’m sorry Serena. I shouldn’t have come. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“I do,” Serena replied. She reached into her pocket and drew out the ring box, placing it delicately on the table between them. “You tried to give me this.”
Bernie stared at it. She’d hoped against hope that she hadn’t given it to Serena but it appeared that she had.
“Cameron said you bought it in the summer?”
Bernie balked. “You spoke to Cameron?”
Serena nodded. “He rang me. He was worried about you.”
“Oh. I should call him,” Bernie said, rooting in her pocket for her phone, her attention shifting onto her son.
Serena stood and knelt down next to her, placing a hand on her arm to still her.
“Bernie, he’ll still be asleep. No need to disturb him yet. He knows you’re safe.”
Bernie’s eyes wouldn’t focus on Serena. She tried to pull her arm away but Serena held on. She felt her breathing grow more rapid and her heartrate spike. She needed to get out of this situation before she had a full on panic attack.
“Serena I need…”
“Breathe with me Bernie. Breathe.”
Serena began counting slowly. In for ten and out for ten. She rubbed circles onto Bernie’s arm with her thumb and soon Bernie found herself calming.
“Okay?” Serena asked as Bernie let her head flop forwards, suddenly exhausted.
“Bernie I’m not going to make you talk about this if you really don’t want to but will you let me say my piece?”
Bernie nodded again.
Serena took a deep breath. “I panicked too, when you started to get the ring out of your pocket last night. I ran off into the kitchen to try and escape the overwhelming feelings I was experiencing. But I’ve had a chance to think about it since.”
Bernie glanced up at her trying to figure out what Serena might be thinking. She didn’t know what she wanted Serena to say really, didn’t know where she wanted this conversation to go.
“Getting engaged to you right now would not be the right thing to do.”
Bernie’s heart deflated. It wasn’t like she had expected Serena to just turn round and say yes I will marry you but it seemed she was still holding out a little bit of hope. Because Serena had been so lovely this morning so her heart had wondered, hoped, that there was still some love left between them.
Serena’s hand returned to her arm as she saw Bernie’s face drop.”
“No, no, Bernie. Not like that. I still love you more than anything but we haven’t been together, haven’t even spoken, in over three months. We can’t leap straight into an engagement and you know that just as well as me.”
Bernie nodded. She felt brighter already. Serena had just said that she loved her and that was the best cure for a hangover she had ever known.
“But maybe we should think about where we want to go from here. Because I’ve missed you Bernie. I’ve missed talking to you at the end of a long day. I’ve missed knowing you were there watching my back. I’ve missed sharing my life with you.”
Serena let out a sob and Bernie instinctively reached out for her. Serena pillowed her head on Bernie’s lap as Bernie stroked her fingers through those soft, silvery strands.
“I’ve missed you too,” she said.
Serena’s next words were slightly muffled by Bernie’s thighs.
“I don’t know why you are in the country. I don’t know what’s going on in your life. I won’t let Cameron tell me because it hurts too much. But I’d really like to be part of your life in some way, even if it is just friends who live on opposite sides of the world.”
Bernie’s hand stilled in Serena’s hair. She had something else she needed to admit to Serena. “I quit my job.”
Serena lifted her head. “What? When?”
“Last month. Cam and Lottie talked me into it. Said they missed me and asked what I was still doing there when I spent all my time talking about how much I missed Holby.” And you, she added in her head.
Serena was gaping at her. “So you’re back? For good?”
Bernie smiled. “Well I’m over for a week now to go to a couple of interviews but I’ve still got another month of my notice to work off. After that, yes. I’ll be back. For good.”
Suddenly Bernie found herself with a lap full of Serena Campbell. Serena’s arms wrapped tightly around her shoulders and she kissed Bernie’s cheeks over and over again. Bernie’s hands fell to her hips to steady her.
“Sorry, sorry,” Serena said once she’d calmed down. She reluctantly moved to the chair next to Bernie. “But why didn’t you tell me?”
“I er… wasn’t sure you would want to know,” Bernie admitted, “What with the way we left things. Didn’t think you would want to hear about how I abandoned the dream job after all and was planning on being all domestic in Holby.”
“Oh Bernie I didn’t mean what I said. God. I think I was just trying to make the break-up easier. I didn’t want to force you to stay for my sake when I couldn’t even manage to stay faithful.”
“I can’t pretend that didn’t hurt Serena, but I never wanted to break up with you over it. I really and truly believed we could work through it. Still do.”
Bernie’s eyes were boring into Serena, full of pain but also love.
“Do you think,” she began tentatively, “that maybe when I get back and settled, that we could possibly try again?”
Serena reached out and slid her fingers between Bernie’s own.
“I’d like that Bernie.”
They grinned at each other. And then Serena leant forward and pressed her lips gently against Bernie’s. Just a chaste peck on the lips but it promised more, much more, in the future.
“I promise I’ll be better at keeping in touch this time. While I’m still in Nairobi. And after I’m back,” Bernie said.
“Oh Bernie just you coming back is enough!”
Bernie raised an eyebrow at her.
“Ok so a few text messages and the odd call wouldn’t go amiss,” Serena admitted, “But it is just a month right?”
“Right. I’ve even got a flight booked. I’ll send you the details.”
“Thank you Bernie. Now much as I’d like to stay here with you all day, I should get ready for work and you should call your son,” Serena said, standing up before leaning over for another kiss. “Want me to drop you round at Cam’s on my way to the hospital?”
Bernie nodded. “Please.”
Serena picked up the ring box from the table and handed it back to Bernie, giving her a significant look.
“Keep hold of this. You might need it in the future.”
Bernie watched her go from the room, her hand tightly around the ring box. She didn’t stop herself imagining one day in the near future when she might get down on one knee and propose to Serena properly. When Serena would say yes with no reservations. When they would plan the rest of their lives together. She smiled as she pulled out her phone and dialled Cam’s number.
“Hi Cam, sorry about last night. I’ll tell you everything when I get back.”
Cam shot thousands of questions at her but she just stayed quiet and smiled to herself. Soon Serena would be back downstairs in one of her lovely blouses. Soon she’d climb into the passenger seat of Serena’s car just like she used to. And maybe she’d ask her if she fancied a drink before she flew back to Kenya. Or maybe they’d wait until she was back for good. It didn’t really matter. Because in one short month she would be heading back to the UK and back into the arms of the woman she loved. This wasn’t a second chance, or even a third chance with Serena. They’d had so many chances at love. But this time Bernie was determined to make it stick.