“And people taking to the skies for travel this weekend are advised to check their flights as services are facing cancellations due to this unexpected bad weather.”
The voice on the radio droned on and Serena groaned as she pushed the duvet down to open up the curtains. A thick layer of snow had blanketed the world outside, but it did seem that the road outside her house was passable, judging by the deep grooves carved out by morning commuters. She still had plenty of time to get to the airport, she could leave a little earlier to allow time for any slippery conditions. The sky itself was clear, the hazy winter sun weakly emitting light over Holby. She hoped her flight was still scheduled, despite being reluctant to book this trip away, the increasing business on AAU in the run up to Christmas had left her itching to take a break.
The email had arrived at the beginning of the year and although she should have been proud at the recognition, the timing of the news had twisted a knife further into the wound of her own making.
We are currently looking for speakers and trainers to facilitate the 2019 Royal College of Surgeon’s Care of the Critically Ill Surgical Patient (CCrISP) course at our Edinburgh site on December 10th 2019. Following yours and Ms Wolfe’s experience and success with Holby City’s Trauma Unit and your esteem as a vascular surgeon, we would like to invite you to give a lecture and oversee a workshop with a focus on vascular compromise and trauma.
Further details will be provided and we look forward to hearing from you.
Mr Brian Parks
Consultant General Surgeon, Director of the Faculty of Surgical Trainers
MBBS, MSc, FRCSEd
The reminder of the trauma unit had stung and she had been tempted to turn the offer down. It was more Bernie’s expertise than Serena’s and she couldn’t see what she would bring to the table. Fleur had promptly told her to stop being so self-deprecating and to make a holiday of it. A few days in Edinburgh before the inevitable Christmas madness considering Guinevere would have reached the terrible twos. Serena had acquiesced.
The website showed her flight as going ahead so she packed up her last few toiletries and loaded the car. Traffic was light and she made it to the airport with a few hours to spare. The wind had picked up slightly and snowflakes had started to gently drift down. In the time it had taken to get there, her flight had been delayed by an hour, leaving Serena to mooch through duty free before sitting down to have a coffee.
The café was filling up around her and she decided to stay put, starting the book she had purchased on the discount stand. She was only pulled from the gripping story when a collective groan emitted from fellow travellers. She glanced up to see the departures board filling with red. Every flight from the airport had been cancelled. Serena packed up and began to follow the mass migration of people towards the information desks. She was annoyed, but perhaps it was the weather in Edinburgh that was preventing her own flight. On her way she caught a glimpse of the outside conditions. What has started as a flutter of snow had now turned into a grey, swirling cloud of frozen water battering against anything that stood in its way.
She could hear the strained voice of one of the staff members trying to cut across the clamour of questions from disgruntled passengers. “We can’t predict when flights will be able to depart again, but it is unlikely to be today. Please find somewhere to stay tonight and hopefully everything will be running tomorrow.”
She huffed, but decided not to stay longer. She could get back home and try again in the morning, or perhaps drive. It was annoying, but she had planned to travel up early for exactly this reason. Always have a plan b. She shuddered slightly as she left the warm shelter of the airport, but it was more the words haunting her, reminding her once again of the trauma unit, of the reason for the trip, of Bernie. Through the sleet she could almost imagine seeing a mop of blonde hair, a tall, slim figure wrapped in a thick pink coat leaning against the taxi rank sign. She shook her head, Bernie was in Mogadishu. Cameron had said she was trying to get home for Christmas, but leave was in short supply. Chiding herself for being ridiculous, Serena pulled her hat further down to shield her eyes and headed for the car.
It seemed her luck had well and truly run out. The car sputtered with each turn of the key, the engine protesting at being made to work in such dreadful conditions. She flopped against her headrest in despair. It was probably for the best she mused as a car came skittering to a halt trying to avoid another driver reversing out of a space. She doubted very much any mechanic would be able or willing to come out to her, she would just have to get a taxi, or wait in the airport overnight.
Not wanting to spend another moment in the freezing conditions she hurried out of the car and slammed the door closed. Before she knew what was happening, one foot slipped from beneath her on a hidden patch of ice and she was hurtling to the ground. Out of nowhere, before she could meet the cold tarmac, an arm wrapped around her and she hit soft wool. She felt the blush rushing to her cheeks, stammering out her thanks and embarrassment when an oh so familiar voice stopped her mid-sentence.
“Careful there Campbell.” Bernie’s crooked grin beamed down at her as she pulled herself upright and dusted herself off. “You’re lucky a big macho army medic was around to save you.”
She stuttered out an indignant reply but the effect was lost by being stunned. “Perfectly capable, didn’t – I’m f- Why are you here?”
She’d imagined seeing Bernie again repeatedly over the past year. This wasn’t how it had gone in her head.
“Well apparently your broken down car seems to bring us together,” she gestured vaguely and Serena let out a half-laugh. “And I saw a damsel in distress.”
She rolled her eyes. “I really don’t think you can do anything about this, not that you were much help the last time. No, Bernie why are you stood outside Holby Airport in the middle of a snowstorm? Shouldn’t you be in Mogadishu?”
“Well my flight just managed to land before all this started and apparently no taxi company in Holby wants to send a car out in this weather, so I’m rather stuck I’m afraid. As for Mogadishu, that’s a long story that should be saved for somewhere drier and warmer. Back to the airport?”
Serena could see the fatigue in Bernie’s face, she had been travelling overnight and she suspected probably working too hard for the last year. She herself didn’t fancy dozing on airport seats for the foreseeable future so she shook her head.
“I think we can find somewhere more comfortable, most people are getting away in their cars so hopefully the hotel won’t be full.” She pointed up at the airport hotel, not a long walk and they both were travelling light.
The receptionist pulled a face at Serena’s request for two rooms and her dreams of a warm comfortable night were shattered. No room at the inn, it seemed.
“Sorry ma’am, we only have one left. This weather means people have had to stay for extra nights.”
She sighed in relief, having expected worse news.
“It’s not a stable is it?” Bernie piped up from behind her, leaving the receptionist looking bewildered. “You know…like the nativity?”
Serena couldn’t help but laugh. “I think you’re getting into the Christmas spirit a bit too early there. Sorry about that” she turned to the poor lad who had probably had a very stressful day. “Can I book that room just for tonight?”
“Yes, is that for the two of you?” He looked between them; she could see him trying to work out their relationship.
“No, Serena you have it yourself, I can kip at the airport it’s fine.”
“Bernie don’t be ridiculous we can share a room.” She passed over her card and ignored any other protests Bernie had.
Once in the lift Bernie piped up again.
“At least let me take the sofa.”
“Will you stop being so noble, you’ve been on a flight for god knows how long, sleeping on a sofa is not going to do your back any good at all.”
She bit her lip, feeling a stab of nostalgia at the familiarity of conversations like these, bickering borne from care. Bernie didn’t help at all with her next sentence.
“I’ll arm wrestle you for it.”
Serena glanced across and could see Bernie’s smirk, knew that it was reflected on her own face. She cursed inwardly at how easy this felt and how quickly it would be gone again. She shouldn’t indulge herself; it would only hurt more, especially if Bernie had moved on. But when had she ever made a sensible decision when it came to Bernie?
“Ah,” there was a problem with this plan as soon as they stepped in the room. “No sofa.”
They could see why this was the last room to be offered out. A double bed pushed into a corner, a small desk with amenities and TV and a single chair that didn’t look comfortable enough to sit in, let alone sleep on.
“Well, looks like we’re sharing then?” The words left her mouth feeling dry. Was that overstepping, after everything that had (or hadn’t) happened between them?
Bernie eyed the bed, avoiding eye contact with Serena. “If, if that’s okay with you? I can always –”
“Don’t you dare say go on the floor or anything else,” Serena cut Bernie off and tried to relieve the tentative awkwardness that had settled around them. “Besides, I could probably do with being next to a human radiator, that duvet looks pitifully thin.”
“Ha, uhm right,” Bernie looked around the small room, clearly wanting to change the subject. “Tea?” She grabbed the kettle without waiting for an answer and busied herself with the drink preparations.
Serena could see she was working up to saying something, using the task to prepare herself and she gave her the time, not wanting to push her. It ached deep in Serena’s chest that she was still able to read Bernie so well, that the need to reassure and comfort her wasn’t any less after all this time.
Eventually she sat down in the chair, handing a mug to Serena who was perched on the foot of the bed.
“You asked why I wasn’t in Mogadishu,” she started and Serena sensed it was more than being back around Christmas. She nodded, allowing Bernie to continue. “I’ve left the army. I, uh, I mean, you would have heard it eventually from Cameron anyway I’m sure but this isn’t quite how I imagined you finding out. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to know anyway.”
“Well, it’s been a year and, not that I thought you would have but you might have, well, lost interest. Which of course isn’t a problem you know, I left and you should be happy and –”
“No, Bernie I meant why did you leave? I, well, of course I haven’t lost interest,” she couldn’t process all the rest that Bernie had said, wanted to stick to the facts. She seemed relieved; it was still a bit too soon to bring up the deeper parts of this conversation. Serena knew it would have to happen though, there was no avoiding it trapped in the hotel with only each other’s company.
“Right, yes, well I’ll start from the beginning. I don’t know how much Cam has said but he doesn’t know the whole story, so,” she took a long sip from her mug and then set it down decisively. “The trauma centre was up and running and I was getting stuck in, but various politics started to interfere. I tried not to get involved, but the government wanted us to charge for treatment. I was set against it, I’d suggested finding sponsors but the other consultants who were leading it found out about…well, my relationship preferences and I had to leave.”
The worry Serena was feeling must have shown on her face because Bernie reached out and squeezed her knee in comfort.
“There was nothing nasty, a white woman can be above the law in Kenya when it comes to that, but I lost respect and they were leaving me out of the decisions. I couldn’t work at the hospital once they started charging patients and I saw the post in Mogadishu and got in touch with my old CO. Things were going well but I think the universe had already decided by then that I shouldn’t be there and it was going to convince me.”
“The attack?” Serena had heard through Cameron that Bernie had been involved, although luckily unscathed by the incident.
“Partly, but before that, well,” she looked down as if not wanting to say the next bit. “Alex arrived.”
She paused and Serena braced herself for the next bit. She had no right to be jealous, knew that she should be happy that Bernie had found her own happiness after Serena had let her go.
“We, er, we tried again, but we still had to be discreet and it didn’t feel right, for either of us. I realised I wanted something more…domestic. Maybe that’s not the right word, but not just lust, a solid relationship, someone to come home to and put the world to rights with over a glass of wine after a busy day. I hadn’t known that when I first met Alex, wasn’t ready for it then, but she couldn’t be that person for me. We agreed to continue as colleagues, friends even but there was always something unspoken. We both knew I was still, uh, still in love with you,” she briefly met Serena’s eyes and bit her lip. “Anyway, then a few weeks after that the attack happened and it felt like a final sign from the universe. I was enjoying the job but I didn’t feel as fulfilled by it anymore. I wanted to get back to the kids, be there for them as they became adults. It just brought it home that I could have died and they wouldn’t have seen me again. So I handed in my notice and now, here I am.”
She rushed through the last part and Serena found herself staring out the window watching the snow still swirling around, a reflection of how her thoughts and feelings had been turned upside down and shaken up.
“I’m sorry, Serena, I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean to pressure you, I hadn’t planned on seeing you this early after coming back but then you were there in the car park and I couldn’t not talk to you. It’s been a year I know and I don’t expect you to say anything but I need to be honest. I hope you’ve moved on, well, uh I don’t I guess, but I hope you’re happy. That’s all I ever wanted for you.”
“I haven’t moved on,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. She never thought she would have the opportunity to say this. “I still love you too, Bernie.”
Her eyebrows pulled together in a confused frown. “But, I left.”
“I pushed you away, I shouldn’t have but all I ever wanted for you was to be happy, to have your dream job. I couldn’t keep you from that.”
“It might have been a dream job, but I think my dreams had changed without me even realising it. I would have taken the most boring job in the world if I could have spent the rest of my life with you.”
“You’d have come to regret it, resent me if I’d made you make that decision.”
Bernie sighed and reached out to take Serena’s hand.
“You didn’t though, you never made me make a choice.”
Serena chuckled. “We never learnt, did we?”
“To communicate with each other, to let the other know how they felt instead of making assumptions.”
Bernie’s lips crept into a shy smile. “No, I guess we didn’t. Would you like to though?”
“Would I like to what?”
“Learn to communicate. Do it properly this time, without anyone flying half way across the world, start slowly.”
Her heart started racing in her chest, perhaps now was the right moment. It had taken years for their lives to align but now there would be no rush, no leaving once they were just getting to know each other. They could spend time together, build up their relationship again. A second chance she wasn’t sure she deserved but she wasn’t going to pass on.
“I’d like that,” she tightened her grip on Bernie’s hand, not entirely sure that it wasn’t all a dream.
Bernie leant closer to her, eyes darting to her lips, and Serena met her halfway. The familiarity covered her like a warm blanket and she sighed into the kiss. They were only interrupted by Bernie’s stomach grumbling. She pulled away reluctantly.
“Sorry, the plane food wasn’t exactly nourishing.”
Serena glanced at the time, surprised to see that it was close to dinner anyway.
“Shall we sample the hotel restaurant?”
“Is that a date, Ms Campbell?” Bernie smirked.
“Possibly, although I usually put more effort into how I look for a date.”
“I hardly think this is conventional, anyway, you look gorgeous, as always.”
“Very charming, Ms Wolfe. Come on, let’s get you fed.”
The restaurant was, unsurprisingly, packed. They were squeezed into a corner, brushing knees under the table. The food was unremarkable, but Serena hardly noticed, she was so caught up in Bernie. They talked and talked, about experiences, about patients, about Guinevere, Charlotte, Cameron. It was only when a waiter coughed politely and asked if they could leave as they needed to clear the table ready for breakfast that Serena realised the place had emptied out around them. Reality caught up to them both and Bernie yawned, bringing attention to how tired she must be after the travelling.
They thanked the waiter and hurried back to the room. They both went through their routine in a comfortable silence. It was only when Serena slipped under the covers and patted for Bernie to follow that anyone spoke.
“Are you sure?”
“Bernie don’t be silly, we have shared a bed before.”
“What about taking it slow?”
“I promise to keep my hands to myself if you do the same. And looking at you, I’m fairly sure you’ll fall asleep as soon as your head touches the pillow, so it shouldn’t be too hard.”
To confirm how tired she was, Bernie yawned again and had to acquiesce. They immediately gravitated towards each other and Serena revelled in the feeling of falling asleep next to her once again. The weather outside may have been cursed by many today, but as far as she was concerned, it had brought fortune. If her week away was cancelled, so be it, she thought, as Bernie curled her arm around Serena’s waist. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.