Morning May 19th
A plaintive call from upstairs stopped her in her tracks. Serena put down the frosting and ran upstairs. Adrienne was a frightful task master at times. Today she was fretting about lunch. She'd had a long spell of nothing being good enough and it was exhausting. Today it was the soup. Yesterday it was the pillows. The sunlight seamed through the curtains and haloed her contrary figure and Serena reflected on how wrong a picture it made. She looked out of the window for a distraction and was rewarded with the sight of a new houseboat gliding into view. She couldn't make out the name but it was mainly black and white with a few stripes of pale blue. That was something different. Maybe it was a hipster couple. They'd had a few recently. Maybe they liked cake.
Serena was a stress baker and had put it to good use by setting up a cake shop in the garden. Medical receptionist by weekday, baker by weekend, she managed to make it work. Visitors to the canal streamed in, lured by the scent of sugar and the cheery sign urging them to take a break. It paid for her mother's weekday carer. No rest for the wicked, she reasoned. Adrienne sometimes called her that. Wicked girl. Maybe she was confusing her with her sister. Adrienne had never liked her sister. Serena hadn't even met Marjorie and never knew why.
She re-seasoned the soup and fluffed up the pillows.
'I'll just be baking so ring me if you need me.'
Adrienne mumbled and started slurping. Serena set off to complete the coffee frosting for the upcoming birthday cake for a 65 year old man. Her assistant, Frieda, was busy with Victoria sponge fairy cakes. Despite her goth girl demeanour, she baked like a dream and was very popular with the guests as a novelty. Serena viewed her as her right hand woman. Black clad and plain talking, she had been invaluable in all sorts of ways. She could even handle Adrienne in her own way, no matter how rude she was. Serena cast the thought aside and turned her attention to the cake stand. She was a bit of a perfectionist.
She looked out of the window hoping for a glimpse of the possible new customers. Maybe they could try some fresh pineapple upside down cake that was still in the oven. She could eat cakes and pastries anytime of the day and night so she was prime taster but she liked other people's opinions. No sign of life from the new boat and she sighed, suddenly hit with that pulse of disappointment she seemed to be experiencing a lot lately. Her boyfriend, Robbie, often worked away from home and she'd spent too much time recently draining a bottle of Shiraz with the TV for company. Her daughter contacted her when she wanted money, her ex-husband was a dick and her mother was a pain in the arse. She'd been so melancholy recently that even a visit from Robbie hadn't cheered her up. Half the time he prattled on and didn't notice how quiet she could be but the last time he'd picked up on her weariness, asking at the end of the night if she was alright. She claimed tiredness and he'd never asked since. She needed something new and distracting in her life to wake her up. She wandered outside still holding a plate of cakes.
Afternoon May 19th
A lone traveller emerged from the cabin; tall, blonde and lanky. Serena waved as she looked up and a slight smile swept her face.
''Hello, what brings you here?'
Bernie was relieved to see such a friendly face. She'd been on her own for too long and this resident had cake.
'Well. Cake, really.'
Serena looked down at the plate she was holding. That was handy. Her visitor was obviously hungry and hopeful. They introduced themselves and Bernie was rewarded with cake.
'My colleague made these' Serena informed her, wondering what Bernie was short for. Bernadette? She had a steady handshake and a broad smile and Serena liked her instantly, especially how much of a cake appreciator she was.
'I need an unbiased tester for my pineapple upside down cake, perhaps you'd like to volunteer?'
Bernie perked up like a hopeful puppy.
'One of my favourites. Are you sure?'
Serena chivvied her to the garden and sat her down where she sampled not just the promised tester but pastries fresh out of the oven. Even Frieda took a liking to her and gave her a cookie. Bernie felt spoilt.
'I feel like Hansel and Gretel being lured into the gingerbread cottage by the wicked witch' she dared to say. Serena laughed.
'Frieda's not so scary.'
The woman in question glared at them and disappeared back beyond the French windows into the lovely little kitchen. Customers were approaching the garden and Bernie let them get on. She would see how it went and then she'd offer help if needed. Maybe some garden maintenance would be useful. It was a beautiful spot. She spent more time watching her friendly hostess bustle around. She liked that saucy smile and that red button up frock she was wearing. At times she'd disappear into the house for a little while and Bernie would let her attention drift to the scenery.
She caught hold of Frieda as she came past.
'There are a few things going astray in the garden. Would Serena want someone to look at it?'
Frieda sniffed dismissively.
'She has boyfriend for that although you wouldn't know it. Useless potato faced weasel.'
Oh dear. That didn't sound good. Her heart dropped slightly at the thought of the weasel although loved the sound of Frieda's tongue curling disdainfully around those words. Of course Serena had a boyfriend.
'Well I'm happy to have a look at see what I can do.'
'You can't do worse than weasel' Frieda informed her.
'Well it doesn't look like much has been done.'
'Correct. Nothing has been done.'
Bernie now understood why anybody would be an improvement. She decided to talk to Serena about it.
Afternoon May 23rd
'Well it looks so much better now' said Serena, admiring the view. Bernie's gardening expertise had framed her café nicely. She thanked her gratefully.
'No problem. I'll give you a few tips to keep it maintained.'
'Were you a landscape gardener in a previous life?' Serena wondered, fingers playing with her necklace, a habitual thing. Bernie liked watching her do it. She had clever fingers.
'A electrician actually.'
Well that was handy. Someone else with clever fingers. Serena had noticed those.
'You couldn't have a look at something in the house would you?' I'd pay standard rates.'
'No problem, let's have a look and see first. If it's a little thing you could pay me in cake.'
They smiled shyly at each other. Serena had never had anyone around that would just do things for her. Robbie didn't count. She wondered how long she could keep Bernie around. Sabotage the whole house? Oh, that reminded her.
'Would you like to come and have lunch with me? It's a new recipe and I want to try it out for dinner tomorrow night.'
'Sure. What's tomorrow night?'
'Oh. Robbie's coming over. He works abroad a lot. I don't get to see him very often. I like to surprise him with something new each time.'
Bernie's mood darkened. She'd not seen the boyfriend yet and suddenly felt silly trying to do nice things for Serena; trying to impress her in her tasks, like she'd been trying to replace him. She followed her into the kitchen and tried to forget about it. The stroganoff was so good she had seconds. Lucky boyfriend. She clutched at straws to come up with the idea that Serena had made it for her as she'd tried it first.
'It's delicious, Serena. He'll love it.'
The smile she was given stopped the spoon to her mouth. She wished she could see that smile every day.
'I'm glad you liked it. For that you can have as much as you like.'
Bernie smiled back, boyfriend forgotten. The truth was, she'd grown fond of spending her time with Serena. She liked everything about her and covertly watched her whenever she could. The lift in her heart when Serena smiled her way and laughed at her jokes. It was dangerous territory. The last time she'd felt that way about someone, it had backfired immensely. And yet, Bernie just couldn't keep away.
Afternoon June 2nd
Bernie relaxed on her boat and watched the view, shimmering in the afternoon heat. She could see the garden and the gingerbread house from the cabin and she watched it for a while, the peaceful stillness in the sunshine. The window at the top must be Serena's for she could see a robin pecking at the windowsill. Luring someone in with crumbs again, she made a habit of that.
Bernie had more reason to watch when Serena did appear, leaning against the wall and looking out into the distance. She realised that Serena was absentmindedly unbuttoning her shirt. Bernie's gaze dropped to the clever fingers slowly working their way down, revealing a sliver of pale skin, a curve of breast in a flash of lace. Bernie hadn't seen a sight of that in a while and she heard herself emit a sound of longing. She blushed, hoping that nobody was around to see her act so disgracefully. She was embarrassed by her blatant display of need. It had been two years since Alex, since she'd touched another woman. The desire had roared out of dormancy and hit her like a freight train. Her traitorous pulse in the inner thigh had started beating like crazy, shocked into ignition. Lord help her, she was getting a hot flush.
Serena looked away and finally saw her. A look of horror drew across her face and she froze, hand on the last two buttons. Neither of them could keep their eyes off each other. It felt like eternity until they both drew another breath. Bernie woke herself up to tear her eyes away but like a magnet, she looked up again. Serena hadn't moved, she was watching her, still looking scared but her hand continued to the next button. Bernie silently urged her on. Just as the last button was popped, a cry came from inside the house and her head turned sharply. She fled, fumbling with the buttons and Bernie was left bereft, the spell had been broken. She felt ashamed of herself. Ducking into her cabin, she softly struck her head against the door a few times in recrimination.
'Stupid, stupid, stupid!'
Now she'd wrecked everything.
Morning June 3rd
Bernie tried to play it cool but felt herself faltering as she walked into the kitchen. Serena was there in a t-shirt, mercifully. She looked up and blushed slightly but they both stood their ground.
'I'm really sorry about yesterday. I really didn't mean to spy on you. I just saw you and just…couldn't drag myself away.'
She was aware of how pathetic it sounded.
'No, don't worry. We just didn't realise either one of us were there.'
Serena's eyes were downcast but Bernie knew she was observing her. She knew she looked guilty.
'I had no intention of making you feel uncomfortable.'
Might as well tell the truth. Serena turned to face her shamelessly.
'I was shocked to see you watching me. But I enjoyed it.'
Bernie did her goldfish expression. Apparently she was good at that.
'It's been a while since someone's looked at me like that.'
Bernie didn't know what to make of it. Serena was popular, flirtatious and she had a boyfriend. Oh. The boyfriend. Bernie had forgotten about him. She felt like a bucket of cold water had been thrown over her at that thought. But something in Serena's tone had signalled that not all was well.
'Trouble in paradise?' She couldn't help asking. Sometimes she really could just kick herself for opening her big fat mouth.
Serena's face closed up and Bernie was sorry that she'd asked.
'Sorry, I didn't mean to sound insensitive.'
'Well it's more like being stuck in limbo.'
She smiled slightly but it wasn't a happy smile. It was obvious that she was disappointed that Robbie wasn't making her feel that way. Bernie knew what being taken for granted felt like.
'To be perfectly honest, it was thrilling' Serena continued, a little more blithely. 'It's been a long time since someone's made me feel that way.'
Bernie was surprised. Serena effortlessly collected compliments and basked in them. People like her made it look so easy, it was a shock to think that maybe someone like her wasn't getting that.
'Well I'm a little relieved' she confessed. 'I felt like a massive pervert. I feel incredibly guilty about it.'
A hammering on the ceiling broke their bubble.
'Sorry, I'll be right back.'
Serena put everything down and exited upstairs. Bernie had no idea what had just happened.
'Her mother. Old bag.'
Bernie jumped as Frieda materialised over her shoulder.
'She took her to her bed and treats her daughter like slave. She has phone but prefers to bang on the floor with her cane.'
Now Serena's disappearances made sense.
Afternoon June 7th
‘I never caught your name.’
‘I mean, what is it short for?’
‘Oh.’ Bernie felt stupid. Serena thought that the blush was cute. Softened that angular face.
‘I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours’ Serena’s voice teased her, quivering the air like a butterfly.
‘Serena Wendy McKinnie Campbell.’
‘That isn’t bad at all. Mine is.’
‘I’m sure it is. So why don’t you tell me.’
‘Wow. That is epic.’
‘It gets worse. Griselda.’
‘Christ, were your grandparents Teutonic Viking invader people?’
‘Wolfe. With an e.’
Serena raised her eyebrows. ‘Goodness. That is quite a name.’
Bernie’s bark of unnecessary rue delighted her. From the first time she had heard it, she was charmed. She glanced at the boat, happily moored and sparkling in the sun. She squinted to read the name. It was as unusual as the owner and her laugh.
The Wolfesbane. A play on words. How clever. Hopefully that didn’t mean Bernie was bad news. She liked having her around.
Evening June 26th
Bernie didn't like Robbie. She hated to admit it but the green eyed monster struck her in the gut and Bernie was ashamed of it. There was nothing wrong with him, just an average guy. They made a nice enough looking couple sat next to each other on the sofa with a glass of wine but 15 minutes into conversation Bernie could see that he wasn't right for Serena. He wasn't a cruel man, a belittler or a gambler. He just didn't appreciate Serena. He didn't stop to notice that smile, those charming expressions. The way that she fiddled with her necklace and that hesitation just before she laughed, tongue between her teeth. He didn't look at her fondly often enough.
The only person who noticed was Frieda. Of course she would. Frieda lived to observe people. She didn't miss a trick.
'I think I'll invite Bernie to dinner more often' Serena thought out loud, stacking the dishes on the sideboard, seconds before the woman in question would walk in and insist that she do it.
'She would like it too' commented Frieda. 'She would do a lot more if you asked her.'
Serena turned to stare at her while Bernie walked in and insisted she do the chores. 'I can't do nothing after I've been invited to someone's house' she explained, taking the plates and preparing to clean. 'I've had such a wonderful evening.'
Frieda had noticed how wonderful Bernie had thought Serena was that night. At times her gaze was like smouldering coal. The electrician had hidden depths and was too reserved to reveal it to Serena. But Serena didn't seem opposed to it. She had spent a lot of time eyeing up their guest. There could have been borderline flirting. There were a few seconds sometimes where it seemed as though they shut the others out. Robbie was too busy shovelling his food in to notice. She hadn't seen that flutter of anticipation from Serena a long while, Robbie certainly hadn't inspired that in her. She tutted to herself as she left the kitchen. Serena was too young and vibrant to settle into comfortable boring life with Robbie. She'd been more perked up tonight than she had with any time involving Robbie's presence.
The wind of change was in the air and Frieda noted it precisely. It was the day Bernie had arrived.
Evening July 1st
Robbie didn't stay long. Gobbling down lasagne, he unsuspectedly discussed his business affairs between bites with his distracted girlfriend. One that was treacherously thinking of someone else. A person far more handsome than the one sitting at her table and not for the first time. As usual, he didn't ask about her day; her dreary job, her café weekends. Serena's thoughts kept straying to the vision of unsuitability moored tantalisingly close outside. She'd never admit it but the incident a couple of weeks ago had sparked a rebellion in her. She wanted to shamelessly flirt with Bernie over a glass of wine, not listen to the ins and outs of manufacturing. It had been several weeks since their last in and out activity on the sofa and she was started to get agitated about how restless she felt, how she wanted something completely unsafe to disrupt her routine. Robbie noticed her tapping her fingers on the table and stopped talking.
'Not boring you am I?' He asked waspishly.
'You are as it happens.'
The silence spread out like tentacles. He wasn't sure what to say. She usually listened to him. This time she didn't apologise for cutting him off.
'I find your work utterly boring, especially when I hear about it nonstop every time you come round. Not once do you ask me about my day or how I'm doing. I'm fed up of it always being about you, Robbie. I don't feel like I can talk to you about how I feel.'
The shock of her confession made his drop his fork in alarm. He didn't realise she had feelings to offload, she was always jolly old Serena, ready to take on anything with a smile. He liked that about her. She explained to him that sometimes she just felt so low she could barely talk, the weight of her problems crushing the breath out of her. And he'd never bothered to ask. She just wanted someone to understand, to talk to.
He couldn't understand. He tried but he didn't have the capacity for it. He'd just not noticed enough and she'd realised that he never would. To think about wasting her life with this endless waiting and unsatisfying company made her want to scream. She'd settled for less than what she wanted and now she had to put it right. Even if it meant she would be alone for the rest of her life.
'I'm sorry Robbie but it's not working out between us. I just can't deal with it anymore.'
To his credit, he'd not been vicious or bitter about it. He was still stunned that she'd been dishonest about her feelings towards him, hadn't understood what had changed no matter how hard she tried to tell him how she felt and had quietly stomped off home to lick his wounds.
'You've ruined it now, my girl' Adrienne remarked. 'You'll not get another one like him so fast.' She'd approved of him, a solid respectable man. What more did her daughter want? She wasn't getting any younger and with the terrible choice of her now ex-husband, she'd despaired that her daughter couldn't keep any male for long enough. Adrienne peered at her in irritation.
'There's something about you that pushes people away.'
It was like a knife in the heart. She knew it must be true, even her own daughter was proof of that but it hurt. Why she ever expected some sympathy, she didn't know. Without a word, she drew the curtains, shut the light off and crept to her room. It was still light outside; the windows were letting in a beautiful breeze and she could see the garden and the canal so clearly, The Wolfesbane still comfortingly moored. Bernie was sitting on the deck whittling away at a piece of wood with a penknife. Serena longed to confide in her. She knew Bernie would understand something. As if knowing that she was being thought of, the fair headed lodger glanced up and saw her at the window.
This time Serena didn't step away. Slowly undoing the buttons, her eyes never left Bernie's face. This time she could assure herself of the other woman's desire. The shimmer of heat radiated between them as she got to the last button. She peeled it off and slid it off. It was a black lacy bra today. Bernie liked black lacy underwear. She certainly appreciated it more than Robbie. Because Bernie didn't shyly duck her head this time or look mortified at seeing her. Her expression was hard to define but she put down her tools and leaned over the side of the boat as though to come closer. All the men Serena knew would have leaned back and smirked, as though she was performing for them but Bernie looked like she was longing to join her and replace the touch with her own.
Serena finally saw what she was meant to see all those weeks ago, that the person she wanted the most was so near to her all along. What Freida meant. She made her decision.
Evening July 1st
A knock on the door stunned Bernie from her daze. Her head had been filled to bursting with everything she’d ever wanted to do with Serena. She opened the door to find her dream standing right in front of her, clumsily dressed and out of breath.
‘Can I come in?’
Bernie took her hand and pulled her through. They didn’t make time to talk; Bernie springing forward and pressing her lips to Serena’s, the sigh she heard in response enough to convince her that the feeling was mutual. There was enough room for them on the bed and that was all that mattered. Their kisses were fierce and thrilling, their clothes ripped off within minutes, both gasping for breath inbetween each touch, each kiss. Serena felt like her body was on fire, her mind wiped to a blank with just her senses blindly leading her over the abyss. Bernie had her pinned down and halfway on the bed and after a minute of glorious rubbing against each other while kissing frantically she bucked up in response, wanting to have free reign over her companion’s body. Bernie let go and reared back, not sure what Serena had in mind. While she was being straddled, melded achingly close to Serena’s body and being kissed anew, slower this time, she felt dizzy, in a dreamworld.
Evening July 1st/morning July 2nd
'Well. That was quite something.'
Serena lowered herself, arms shaking and fingers white from keeping herself upright against the wall.
Bernie sat up and smiled wolfishly. Her usual reserve had evaporated, tinting the atmosphere with a sparkling lightness. Serena straddled once more and wrapped her arms around her. She'd never been eaten out like that before. She had liked it very much. Robbie never would have allowed her to ride his face so brazenly but Bernie had no reservations; sliding down to run her hands over her hips, reclining on the pillows while keeping her mouth anchored inbetween Serena's legs, tongue never stopping, grunting with pleasure. Serena knew she'd woken somebody up somewhere with her moans but for once, didn't care. She'd forgotten what this had felt like. She felt alive again and by the matching flush on Bernie's face, the same effect had been wrought on her.
'You bring out that side in me. I haven't felt like that in such a long time.'
'Big macho electrician like you, you should be used to dealing with a stampede of admirers' Serena teased.
Bernie honked with laughter, arms clasped tightly around her waist.
'Not quite. I was with someone but it didn't work out.'
She seemed reluctant to elaborate. Serena didn't press her for information.
'I broke up with Robbie' she said.
The look Bernie gave her made her heart soar. It was surprised and hopeful and oddly endearing. Here was someone who really truly desired her company. It made her feel good. They had no need to feel guilty about what they'd done. For once, Serena didn't need to think about anyone else. She had some time to do whatever she wanted and what she wanted was to see how far she could expand her sexual horizons with a handsome electrician before the sun came up.
She was humming with excitement when she got back, just in time to put the kettle on and hurriedly make breakfast before her mother woke. She crept upstairs and quickly changed, combing her hair and swiping on deodorant.
'Morning. Breakfast coming up' she said as she bustled into Adrienne's room. She got the usual grumble as she parted the curtains and let the light in. She was glad The Wolfesbane had been moored on the other side, where she could see it from her window. If Adrienne had seen her go there last night, she'd knew she had only just got back.
'You're awfully cheerful for someone who threw away her last chance' the older woman remarked.
Serena wished she'd shut up for once.
'Think of it as taking stock of my life. Robbie wasn't what I wanted.'
'Should have stayed with a sure thing.'
Serena just turned heel and walked out.
Clattering downstairs, Serena continued cleaning the kitchen and making tea and coffee. She didn't need her mother in her head, undermining her with her barbed comments. Frieda was due soon and she didn't want to seem ruffled. It was going to be hard. She felt shaken up, her heart spun in glitter thread and she couldn't stay still. She didn't think she could hide it well. She was right. It took Frieda 2 minutes to figure out the change in her.
'Either idiot boyfriend proposed, or you dumped him. And there's no ring on your finger' she pointed out. Serena put what she hoped was a neutral expression on before she turned to face her interrogator.
'You're right. I told him goodbye.'
The deadpan expression bored into her and Serena felt like the evenings events were painted all over her face. Frieda nodded.
'Good. He was a deadweight. Now you find someone else.'
'We'll see. I'm not sure I can handle another relationship so quickly.'
'Did Bernie have anything to do with it?'
Serena shook her head. Such a liar. She was sure that Frieda knew it. But the other woman said nothing. She had her suspicions. Serena never went to bed without cleaning the kitchen and there was something distinctly untidy about the place today. Whatever had happened last night, she could bet that Bernie had been in the background. Her almighty crush on Serena had to be factored into Serena's decision. Not even the thud of Adrienne's cane on the ceiling could shake Serena's simmering exhilaration.
Afternoon July 8th
They felt like naughty teenagers. Brushing hands against each other; standing so close they could almost lean over and kiss (they didn't), wanting to drop everything and go out with each other (they hadn't had time). Adrienne had complained that her daughter just wasn't listening to her but Serena didn't care anymore. Her heart was lighter than it had been in years and her dormant libido had roared its ravenous way back into her life. They managed to sneak weekday dinners with each other as often as possible. When Frieda had left for the day, Bernie helped her clean up and then they could finally curl up on the sofa together, kissing like a real couple. Whenever Serena would change a glance at Bernie, she would be met with the hungry look she knew was reflected on her face. She tried to put it out of her mind at work but as soon as she started off home, that was all she could think about. Weekend nights they sneaked away onto The Wolfesbane where they could enjoy each other as much as possible. It was shiny and exciting and they couldn't get enough.
'There's something odd about you' said her mother, eyeing her beadily over her mug.
Serena shook her head and continued changing the bedding. There was an energy radiating from her that Adrienne hadn't seen in a long time. She'd always been all bustle and efficiency but recently there was something different about her. She didn't always come straight away when she was called either. Adrienne wasn't happy about that. What was distracting the girl? She hadn't seen this behaviour in years.
'You're being very flighty recently. Have you met some idiotic no hoper again? You don't need a repeat of that feckless ex-husband of yours.'
'I know' said Serena, trying to keep her temper.
'Then you should know better.'
'Stop treating me like a child!'
The atmosphere stilled, the birds stopped chirping. Adrienne's tone was ice. 'Don't speak to me like that, little madam. Do you remember the last time you told me that and you ended up drunk and married to that lowlife? Pregnant a year later. Did you no favours, much as I love my granddaughter.'
'The granddaughter who never comes to see you?'
Adrienne's mouth was pursed and she looked daggers at her daughter.
'I don't know what I've done to deserve your insolence. Leave me be.'
For the first time in years, Serena did not wish her goodnight. She was too busy pondering on how she thought the same thing about her own daughter, in a vicious cycle that was destined to continue.
She didn't get much sleep that night and resisted running to Bernie for comfort.
Evening July 10 th
'Things didn't work out with Alex. She wanted me to give more than I could. I'm not afraid of commitment. I just wasn't used to public affection and wrapping myself in the gay pride flag. Even if that's what I am. I just didn't feel the need and she felt like I was denying us, hiding us away. I suppose it looked like it was a secret. But the topic never came up with my colleagues and I didn't see the need to shout about it. That wasn't enough for her.'
'It must be difficult, trying to balance all of that.'
'In the end she'd had enough. Left me soon after my accident. I didn't blame her. I wouldn't have wanted to stay with me either.'
Bernie explained how she'd got electrocuted in her neighbour's house. She'd picked herself up but had collapsed with a suspected heart attack within half an hour. She'd been kept in hospital to have her heart monitored and once she had recovered, had come back to a bare fridge and the single life. She felt like she'd deserved it. Alex had deserved better than her reserve and reticence. She had learned her lesson and had slowly become a little more open with her feelings but it was too late for them. And she didn't have that heartache anymore when she thought about Alex. She did feel that desire for intimacy though. She'd missed that more than she'd realised. She was relieved to see that Serena understood. But there was a distance about her today that Bernie had to question. She frowned.
'Is everything ok?'
'Sorry.' Serena gestured vaguely upstairs.
'She never gives up does she?'
Bernie sighed and sat next to Serena on the sofa. She'd peeked in on Adrienne once and had listened in when she had woken up and berated her daughter for something trivial. It annoyed her to see Serena rush to look after someone who didn't appreciate it.
'What did she say this time?'
'Just reminded me what a disappointment I've been. The usual.'
'Seemed extra vicious this time.'
Bernie rested her head against Serena's.
'Don't let her make you feel less than you are. You're fantastic, you know that?'
Serena didn't look like she believed it. Bernie started to kiss her, draw her out of her mood. Under her chin, on her temple, next to her nose. Spending time pressing kisses on the side of her neck. She'd learned enough by now to know what Serena liked. Slowly, gently, Serena started to thaw, letting herself melt back into the sofa, relaxing under Bernie with a sigh. Edging her hand all the way down the other woman's trousers to feel the damp eagerness that had started to feature in her dreams and breathe in that soft Bernie scent. Serena knew what kind of knickers she favoured (plain cotton) and how wonderfully they soaked through when she worked her magic. It didn't take long for Bernie's quiet moans to fill the air as she wrapped her arms around her and buried her face in her shoulder and neck, responding to the welcome fingers of a baker. Serena stroked her hair with the other hand, loving the feel of their bodies together, their hearts beating together, their matching pants and moans. Bathed in the glow of the slowly approaching dusk, they felt content despite their aching hearts.
Morning July 25 th
She'd gone. Died in her bed without a word and Serena felt like she was left with nothing. Cold and peaceful when Serena came in with her morning tea, spilt on the carpet when she'd realised. She cried until she was wrung out, the world turning to ash around her. Her mother was gone and there were no more words between them.
Frieda found her on the floor hunched against the wall in agony, fingers clutching and bruising her own her arms. She gently steered Serena off to bed and sat with her with a heavily sugared mug of black tea. Serena felt like a black hole, empty and cold.
Frieda ran down to answer the door to an unsuspecting Bernie bearing a gift of cider. Right on time except that now was not a good time. Bernie dropped the booze and ran upstairs where Serena was sitting up sobbing her heart out. Feeling enveloped by a pair of strong arms, she gave up and fell into them, soaking her shirt while Bernie's concerned heart beat for her friend. Now Frieda knew that something had gone on between them. It was a lover's arms that held Serena, a lover's eyes that teared for her, lover's lips that soothed and whispered to her. A damn sight better than that useless Robbie. She went downstairs to phone Dr Levy, a kindly bear of a man in eye watering Liberty print shirts who took little time in confirming that she'd had a stroke, too stealthy for anyone to monitor and too powerful to recover from. He provided her with a sedative and stayed to make arrangements with Frieda. He was a doctor known to go the extra mile for his patients, something Serena had always appreciated. All of his efforts with Adrienne had come to nothing but he had kept on trying.
'I neglected her and she died alone' Serena sobbed.
Dr Levy made soothing noises.
'She died comfortable in her bed. Nobody could say that you neglected her, you were at her beck and call. It was just her time to go.'
'Maybe I should have stayed with Robbie.' Serena wasn't sure she believed it but perhaps she could make herself do so. Bernie urgently turned to meet her eyes, simmering in agitation. She nudged Serena's chin with her hand and spoke directly to her heart.
'Robbie doesn't deserve you. I might not deserve you either but he doesn't love you the way I love you.'
Serena stared at her. Up until now she hadn't entertained the idea that this was anything more than a healing crush. Bernie was sure to leave in her boat at the end of the summer. But now Serena could appreciate that Bernie had been patiently waiting for her to figure out that there was something between them that wasn't going to go away. She was inviting her to decide on something. No rush. She'd give her time to work out what her next move was.
Morning August 10 th
'Do you have a day off?'
Bernie walked in to find an unresponsive Serena shrouded in blankets on the sofa. Each day was worrying her more. The café had been put on hold until Serena could function again but it was hard going.
'I've been suspended.'
Bernie was shocked. Serena was meticulous and professional at work.
'I smashed up the kitchen.'
Such a muffled defeated voice. So unlike Serena. Bernie couldn't believe what she was hearing. She stopped her tone from being accusing and put her arms around her, spoke softly. Didn't judge her on her reaction.
'I don't know if I can trust myself anymore. I don't think I can go back there. I don't enjoy it anymore. Just the thought of going through the motions makes me feel sick. I felt so out of control and before I knew it, the kitchen was a mess and they were screaming at me to stop. I ran home in disgrace once they let me go. I've done a terrible thing.'
'You're not a terrible person' Bernie reassured her. 'But you need a change. You've been stuck like this for too long.' She'd never seen Serena look so desolate and wanted to climb inside her skin to toss out the grief lurking within her bones.
'I need the money to pay the rent.'
Bernie gathered her in her arms and let her cry until she was wrung out. Stroking her hair soothingly, she made her a proposal. Serena shot up in shock.
'I can't just drop everything and go.'
'Why not? Quit your job, pay your rent to the end of the month and come with me. There are other opportunities out there.'
Serena didn't look convinced.
'I can't think about it right now.'
She left to go upstairs, leaving an upset Bernie. She had intended to move on in a few weeks. She had to be patient but if the answer was no, she had to accept that and move on. But the thought of no Serena in her life made her heart hurt. She'd never felt so deeply with anyone. She thought she'd been in love with Alex but this was a whole other level. She scribbled her plans on the notepad in the kitchen and left it for Serena. She decided to give her space while desperately hoping that she'd get the answer she wanted before she left. She prayed to a God she didn't believe in as she trudged back to the Wolfesbane. Alex's nickname for her. Said she couldn't get enough of her. So she'd named her boat that as a reminder that someone, somewhere had thought she'd been worth something, once upon a time.
Morning September 1st
'Go. You will not get the chance again.'
'What do I tell Elinor?'
'I will tell her not to ring you. If you want to ring her, she cannot ask you for anything. You have a new life now. Keep me updated and visit. But not soon.'
Of course the café was in good hands, Frieda was a genius with baked goods and was a canny profit maker. But it was a wrench to leave behind all she had ever known for the past several years.
'If you do not take what makes you truly happy then you are not living' said Frieda, sealing Serena's choice. She was finally free to please herself and she could choose to have what she wanted. She wanted Bernie. All that distance between them had only intensified her feelings, yet she'd been frightened to vocalise it to the most important person. They'd watched each other but hadn't spoken words. Just exchanged looks in silence. The night before, a note had been slipped through the door and Serena had read it, every eventuality going round in her head until she felt like she would combust. Frieda had urged her to do something adventurous for once and had thrown her neglected suitcase at her. Helped her to pack.
'I like this house. I will pay the rent and live in it. Leave old bag's things to me. I will dispose of them.'
Frieda had decided. Serena should have felt pushed out but she didn't. A weight was lifted off her shoulders. She grabbed her suitcase filled with the photographs, her few clothes and cosmetics, the few household items left to her. She embraced her assistant for the first time and started hesitantly walking down the garden path. The canal was in sight and turning round the corner, there was the Wolfesbane, ready to leave and sail calmingly away. Bernie, dressed in her trusty denim dungarees was checking the rope, clearly intent on going if Serena didn't want her. She looked mournful.
'I do want to' said Serena, stopping by the closest side. Bernie jumped and looked up. She had been so far into her thoughts she hadn't heard a thing. She'd cried herself to sleep the night before, not knowing if she'd see Serena again. She didn't think she'd take a chance on a wandering electrician. She let the rope fall from her fingers and looked hopefully at her.
'I didn't mean to freeze you out. But I needed time to think.'
'I know.' Bernie was softly forgiving.
'You're right. I need a new start. And if the last few months have taught me anything, it told me that I need to take this opportunity with you. I don't want to be without you. I'll go anywhere with you. If there's room for me.'
In her wildest dreams Bernie didn't think Serena would tell her that. She'd been quietly hoping but as the days slipped past, had resigned herself to sailing away without her. The rush of exhilaration went to her head as she exclaimed her confirmation.
'Yes. Yes, yes, yes!'
She reached over and hauled the suitcase over the side, then leaned over for Serena's hand. That jolt of electricity between them hadn't faded, it was a good shock and in that moment they'd both known that they'd made the risk worth it. Serena climbed aboard and threw herself at Bernie, mouth on hers and fingers running through her hair. They didn't leave for a while yet, the early Autumn sunshine seeping through their veins and setting them alight.
That was the last that Frieda saw of her former manager for a long while. Joyfully kissing the handsome stranger on her boat as they prepared to sail into the distance. She smiled with satisfaction and raced to Serena's old bedroom to lean out of the window to watch them go. Despite her goth ways, she did like a happy ending.