“Will you stop moping!” Fleur said, glaring at Serena. “Honestly woman. Have a drink. Relax!”
Sian poured Serena a glass of wine and pushed it towards her. “Come on.”
Serena toyed with the glass. “I just don’t feel like it.”
Fleur glanced at the calendar that hung on Serena’s kitchen wall. “You’ve got another week to go. You can’t carry on like this! When Edward used to go away you were delighted.”
“Bernie isn’t Edward,” Sian pointed out helpfully.
“That is one of her charms, in fact,” Serena said, mustering a grin. “Definitely not Edward.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. I just miss her.”
“How’s she getting on?”
Serena leant over to her counter and retrieved a postcard. “Fine. She sent this, I got it last week.”
“Very busy, very hot. Good to be back doing some good. Miss you.” Fleur read. “A woman of few words.”
“You could say that. I wasn’t expecting a missive, but...” she sighed again. “I didn’t think it would be this hard.”
“You can’t crack up after only three weeks of not being in the same country,” Sian said bracingly. “Drink.”
“I know you don’t believe this,” Serena said, “But alcohol is not the solution to all life’s problems.”
“Of course not, it just helps you forget about them for a bit. And you have changed your tune, haven’t you!”
A knock at the door saved Serena from thinking up a witty retort. “I’ll just get that.” As she hastened to the front door she wondered who would be calling at half nine at night. The usual suspects were, after all, already ensconced in her kitchen drinking her best wine.
She opened the door with a frown and stood stock still in astonishment.
“Surprise?” Bernie said with a sheepish grin.
“Bernie!” Serena threw herself into Bernie’s arms, clutched her tightly and kissed her fervently. Bernie held her tight, returned her fervour until they were both breathless.
“I missed you,” Bernie said, as she finally drew back.
“Well,” Fleur said, and Serena swung round, Bernie’s arms still around her, to see Fleur and Sian watching them from the kitchen door.
Behind her, Bernie huffed with laughter and leant her head against Serena’s. “Hello, you two.”
“I don’t think we’re wanted here any more,” Fleur said to Sian. “Shall we leave them to it?”
“We shall,” Sian agreed. “But we’ll take the wine with us.”
Bernie stepped into the house and Fleur and Sian disappeared down the path, arguing with each other over custody of the bottle.
Serena shut the door thankfully and turned to Bernie. “You’re really here?”
“I’m really here.”
Serena ran her fingers through Bernie’s hair, enjoying the feel of the curls. She looked her up and down, tracing her eyes over that beloved figure. “You’re so brown.”
“It was Africa,” Bernie said with a laugh.
“Sit down and tell me all about it,” Serena said, tugging Bernie over to the sofa. “Your postcard wasn’t exactly informative.”
Bernie sank down with a grateful sigh. “Oh, that’s comfy. I came straight here. Only stopped at home to have a wash to get all the travel grub off me. Come here, you.” She wrapped her arms around Serena. “Ah, that’s better.”
“I wasn’t expecting you so soon,” Serena said, leaning into her. “Oh Bernie, I have missed you.”
“I managed to get through everything quicker than I expected. I could have stayed longer but … well, I wanted to be somewhere else.”
“What was it like?”
“Beautiful. Hot. Challenging.” Bernie pressed a kiss to Serena’s head. “I’m glad I went out. But I’m even more glad I got to come back to you.” She traced her fingers down Serena’s arm to tangle their hands together. “Serena Campbell, I adore you.” She paused for a moment, biting her lip.
Serena longed to kiss her again, to lead her upstairs to her bedroom and let go of three weeks of frustrations. But she made herself sit patiently; Bernie clearly had something she wanted to say. “And… Serena?”
“I was – wondering… if… I -”
Serena held Bernie’s gaze with a fond smile. “You haven’t had this much trouble getting your words out since the night we kissed for the first time.”
“And what a kiss that was,” Bernie said reminiscently.
“Bernie...” Serena nudged her, and squeezed her hand. “You were trying to say something.”
“Oh yes,” Bernie said. She took a deep breath. “I was wondering if you’d like to move in with me.”
She looked up at Serena through her fringe. “I’d understand if you didn’t want to, I know it might be-”
Serena cut her off by kissing her firmly. She pressed her head against Bernie’s, savoured the feel of Bernie’s breath against her cheek. “I love you,” she whispered, “And I’d love to live with you.”
A luminous smile spread over Bernie’s face. “I love you too. You make me… God Serena, you make me so happy. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” And then she yawned widely. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.”
Serena laughed softly. “Come on then you, let’s get you to bed.”
They trailed up the stairs, hand in hand. Bernie laughed ruefully. “I imagined sweeping you off your feet, carrying you upstairs and...”
“And?” Serena raised a teasing eyebrow.
“Showing you a good time.” Bernie stopped and turned to Serena, kissed her gently. “But I’m afraid the only thing I can show you right now is how tired I am.”
“There’s always tomorrow,” Serena said comfortably. “Just having you here is a treat enough. I’ve been thoroughly lonely.”
“With Fleur and Sian to keep you company?”
Serena opened her bedroom door and pushed Bernie gently inside. “Let’s be very clear, Bernie. I have not had either Fleur or Sian in my bed.” She sat Bernie down on her bed and tugged off her boots. “There you go.” She threw Bernie’s boots under her bed. “You go and get washed up. Your toothbrush is where you left it, and I’ll get your pyjamas. And then it’s time to sleep.”
Bernie smiled wearily. “Thank you.”
It didn’t take Bernie long to brush her teeth and get changed. Serena had a quick shower herself and by the time she’d arrived back in the bedroom, Bernie was tucked up in bed fast asleep and making little snuffling noises. Serena slipped carefully into the bed beside her. “Goodnight, Bernie,” she whispered, and then she rolled over, to drift off to sleep with the comforting warmth of Bernie beside her.
Serena woke unwillingly; she’d had lovely dreams of Bernie. She stretched and rolled over, to see Bernie smiling at her. “Oh,” she said, “You’re not a dream.”
“I’m not,” Bernie agreed, and brushed a kiss over her lips. “Good morning.”
“It really is,” Serena agreed. She pulled Bernie close, slipped her arm around her waist until they were pressed together. “Do you have anywhere to be?”
“Nowhere.” Bernie’s voice was husky and the look in her eyes made Serena melt.
She tangled her fingers in Bernie’s hair, teasing through her curls, stroked her thumb over her cheek, and kissed her hungrily. “Good,” she murmured.
“Are you going to miss it?” Bernie asked, slipping her arms around Serena’s waist, and Serena leant back against her while she surveyed the empty lodge.
“Maybe a little. It grew on me, after a while.”
Bernie nuzzled her nose into Serena’s hair. “We can always spend an odd weekend over here.”
“If we get bored of the manor?” Serena asked, laughing. “A holiday a whole field away?”
“Like camping,” Bernie agreed. “And the kids can use it when they come to stay. We can offer it to Elinor when she comes next month.” Elinor had actually expressed an interest in visiting, and Bernie was thrilled for Serena. Sometime they’d have to introduce all the kids to each other, but she’d worry about that another day.
She watched Serena lock the front door for the last time, then offered her her arm. “Shall we?”
They strolled down the footpath and over the now-sturdy bridge.
“This isn’t going anywhere,” Serena said with satisfaction, and stomped her foot down hard.
“It wasn’t much fun, falling through it.” Bernie still had nightmares about getting stuck in the stream, on nights that her back was particularly painful.
“Good for us, though.”
Bernie laughed and smiled at Serena. “Every cloud.”
It wasn’t long before they emerged on the manor drive. Serena stopped still and Bernie watched her as she studied the house, tears in her eyes. “Welcome home, Serena.”
“Oh, it is good to be back,” Serena whispered. “I could do without unpacking again, though,” she said a few moments afterwards, as they stood in the hall, boxes all around them.
“Why don’t I start in the kitchen, and you upstairs?” Bernie suggested. “We’ll get it done in no time.” She pushed a few boxes into the little lift and grinned at Serena. “See, it is good for something.”
It was a long, tedious few hours, but soon all that was left in the hall was the old picture of the first Serena and her Captain.
“Where should they go?” Bernie asked.
“They used to be hidden in the small bedroom at the back, because Edward didn’t like them,” Serena said, “But I don’t want to put them back there.”
“No,” Bernie agreed, “They deserve better.” She eyed the hall thoughtfully. “On the stairs?” Serena nodded and she smiled. “I’ll hang it later. I think we deserve a sit down with a cup of coffee now.”
It didn’t take long for the coffee to be made, and then Bernie led Serena outside. “You like this view so much, I thought I’d invest in this.”
“Bernie!” Bernie grinned at the look on Serena’s face. “That’s perfect! Why didn’t I think of that?” She sat down comfortably on the swing seat and smiled blissfully at the rolling countryside in front of her.
Bernie laughed. “Glad you like it. Now, budge up.” Serena shuffled up obediently and Bernie sat beside her, their hips and thighs brushing gently.
Bernie’s hand drifted over to Serena’s thigh. She traced her fingers slowly up and down, enjoying the soft feel of her and the little sighs that Serena made.
“I thought we were having coffee and a sit down?” Serena asked, but the look she gave Bernie suggested she wasn’t unhappy with developments.
“Drink up,” Bernie murmured. She abandoned her own mug and turned to press a kiss to Serena’s neck.
“Bernie!” Serena squeaked, “Wait a moment.” Bernie laughed into Serena’s hair while Serena put her coffee on the table next to her. “Well then, where were we?” Serena asked.
Bernie hummed as Serena’s threaded her fingers through her hair. “Have I ever told you how much I love you doing that?” She trailed her own hand up Serena’s thigh to the waistband of her trousers, slipped her fingers underneath her shirt to caress the soft skin beneath.
“Bernie,” Serena groaned.
Serena tasted of coffee and kissing her in the sun was heaven. Bernie had bought the sturdiest, most comfortable looking garden swing she could find and, as she sank into Serena’s touch, she hoped it would be up to the job.
For a while there was quiet, only contented murmurs and little sighs to be heard.
Bernie had undone half the buttons on Serena’s blouse, moved to kissing her collarbone, and Serena was squirming under her touch, when they were rudely interrupted.
“So this is where you two – oh!”
Bernie sat up and glared at Fleur. “Have you never heard of knocking?”
“We did,” Sian said. “You didn’t answer.”
“Because we were busy,” Serena grumbled, doing up the buttons on her blouse hastily. “It’s a good thing you’re my best friends.” She tugged her clothes neat and looked at Bernie. “Shall we get rid of them?”
Bernie sighed exaggeratedly and laughed. “They’re here now.” She winked at Serena. “I’ll make it up to you later.” Serena laughed in return and Bernie thought, not for the first time, how unbelievably lucky she was to have found her.
“We came to celebrate,” Fleur said. She proffered a bottle of champagne.
Serena raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Is that one of mine?”
“Would I?” Fleur asked, “Okay yes, I would, but this one I bought.”
“I’ll get glasses, shall I?” Sian glanced at the coffee mugs. “How sedate of you.”
“Cheers,” Fleur said, when they all had a glass of bubbly. “Here’s to the momentous occasion.”
Bernie chuckled. “Is the occasion Serena moving in with me, or her return to the manor?”
Fleur shrugged. “Either. Both.”
“I knew this was going to happen,” Sian announced. “I told you, didn’t I Serena? You’ll be back in the manor before you know it.”
“I believe you mentioned something about a husband,” Serena said. “And you couldn’t have been more wrong.”
“You thought I was going to be some ancient red-faced man with a moustache, didn’t you,” Bernie chuckled.
“I knew you weren’t,” Fleur said, with a smug smile. “And I knew you’d be perfect for each other.”
“I thought you were after me, the first time we met,” Bernie said reminiscently. “You looked me up and down like you wanted to eat me.”
“Oh, Major,” Fleur purred, but then she laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t have said no to an offer, but I had a feeling you were just what Serena needed.”
“Devious matchmaker,” Bernie grumbled. She raised her glass. “To Serena’s triumphant return,” she said.
“Cheers,” Serena said, and kissed her.
It was late when Serena and Bernie finally headed to bed. They stopped off at the portrait. “I’ll hang it tomorrow,” Bernie promised. She picked up the portrait and inspected it closely. “Look – I never noticed this before. There’s some lettering in the corner.”
“Let’s see?” Serena leant in. “I can’t make it out.”
“Time for glasses, Ms Campbell?” Bernie teased. “Let me have some more light.” She peered at it. “Someone, I tell you, in another time will remember us,” she read.
“That’s beautiful,” Serena whispered. “And we have. We do,” she said earnestly to her ancestor.
Bernie lowered the portrait carefully to the floor. “We should do a matching one, to hang next to them.” She slipped her arms around Serena. “And who knows, maybe in a few hundred years time, somebody will be remembering us too.”
“We’ll have to do something worth remembering, then.”
Bernie kissed Serena long and slow. “How about living many happy years together?”
Serena smiled up at her. “That sounds good to me. And now, I seem to remember you promising to make earlier up to me?”
Bernie laughed. “So I did. Come on Serena, let’s go to bed.”