Bernie couldn't help but let out a laugh as she sat down on the floor, an open bottle of red wine and two chipped mugs sat beside more paint swatches and wallpaper samples than Bernie had ever seen before, an old radio on the windowsill playing songs from the seventies. "Why do I feel like this is one of the craziest things I've ever done?"
"Maybe because it is?" Alex smiled as she poured the wine into the mugs and handed one to Bernie, blue eyes sparkling with happiness as she sat cross-legged on the bare floorboards, "to us?" she smiled as she held out her mug.
Bernie nodded, gently tapping her mug against Alex's, "to us" she repeated, "and to our home."
"Our home" Alex smiled softly. "I like the sound of that."
"I like that one" Bernie gestured to one of the wallpaper samples, a striped design in varying shades of blue and teal.
"I like this one" Alex picked up another sample, this one a pale grey with, overlaid with a geometric pattern in metallic silver.
"Really?" Bernie frowned as Alex held it up towards the wall they'd already agreed would be the feature wall in their living room, "you don't think it's a bit…" she gestured vaguely as she shrugged.
"No" Alex shrugged, "I like it, and if we put bookcases either side of the chimney breast then you won't see all that much of it anyway" she said as she took a sip of her wine.
"Why don't we put it on a 'maybe' pile?" Bernie suggested, not wanting to spend their first night in their new house arguing. "We could stick it on the wall for a few days, see what we think when we're seeing it all the time?"
"Yeah, alright" Alex agreed, "what about the kitchen?" she asked, I was thinking yellow and grey"she reached for the paint swatches, "with cream units and a wooden worktop."
Bernie laughed and drank her wine, it was going to be a long night.
It soon became clear that Alex was much more interested in the decor of the house than Bernie was, opening a second bottle of wine as she explained her ideas for the house, even down to which wallpaper she thought would look good in the downstairs toilet.
Bernie tuned out, the wine had gone straight to her head and she couldn't focus on the words Alex was saying. Her attention completely captivated just by the mere sight of the woman sat beside her, her happiness unavoidable as she talked happily about gloss paint and wallpaper paste.
Conversation soon dwindled onto other topics and it wasn't long before Alex and Bernie were leant into each other, both women propping the other up, empty pizza boxes strewn on the floor from the takeaway they'd ordered earlier that evening. Alex turned her head, smiling down at Bernie, dipping her head to rub noses with the blonde before kissing her softly, "we should probably go up to bed" she whispered after their lips parted.
Bernie chuckled, trying to tuck a stubborn lock of Alex's fringe behind her ear, "we haven't got a bed, we haven't put it together yet."
"Well then we should probably go up to our mattress on the bedroom floor".
Bernie nodded and smiled, "you'll have to help me up though, I think my legs have gone to sleep."
Alex scrambled to her feet before holding out her hands, helping Bernie to her feet before pulling her close and kissing her again, "I love you" she whispered.
"I love you too" Bernie smiled happily, 'I almost can't believe this is real."
"It's taken us long enough" Alex linked her fingers with Bernie's as she headed for the stairs, "but it's real, and today, we'll it's only the beginning Bern, there's so much more to come."
Things slowly started to come together over the next couple of weeks, their bedroom was decorated as was the smallest bedroom that had been designated as an office. They had dates for the fitting of both the new kitchen and the new bathroom, ensuite and downstairs toilet, the third bedroom was half finished and they'd even, finally, managed to agree on wallpaper for the feature wall in the living room, wallpaper that they'd hung together just that afternoon.
"Hello" Bernie smirked as she felt Alex's arms snake around her waist as she filled her glass with water, "are you okay?" she asked as she turned to face her partner.
Alex nodded and smiled before softly asking Bernie, "dance with me?"
Bernie frowned, "what?"
"Dance with me" Alex repeated as she took the glass from Bernie's hand and placed it on the side, wrapping her arms around Bernie’s waist as she began to sway along to a song only she could hear.
Bernie smirked, slightly amused by Alex's behaviour but she didn't say anything, simply held Alex close and danced with her in the silence of the kitchen, the tiled floor cold beneath her feet.
It had been a tiring couple of weeks, working long shifts and trying to renovate a four bedroomed house, and, as Bernie heard Alex let out a quiet sigh, dropping her head onto Bernie's shoulder, she realised that perhaps, all Alex had wanted was a moment of calm in the madness. A moment that was just about the two of them, no talk of workmen or surgery, no discussion of gloss or guts, just the two of them spending a quiet moment in each others arms.
"Are you okay." Bernie asked gently, kissing Alex's hair when she got a quiet hum in response. "Why don't we forget about the decorating for tonight, we can go up to bed, I'll order a takeaway and we can watch a film or something."
"Are you sure?" Alex asked, still swaying gently with Bernie in her arms.
"Or course, one night off won't make a difference, not after how long it's taken us to finally get here."
"I suppose you're right" Alex smiled slightly before asking, "can we get Thai?"
"Of course" Bernie nodded, "why don't you go and start running us a bath or something? I'll order the food and then come up."
Alex nodded, "Okay" she whispered, "I love you Bern."
"And I love you too" Bernie smiled, "more than you could ever know.
"I do know Bern, all this…" she gestured vaguely, "we're only here because you love me."
"Oh Alex" Bernie kissed her softly, "I don't think there's anywhere else I'd rather be!"
Alex smiled as she took a step backwards, reaching out to straighten the photo she'd just hung, Bernie and a group of the other medics they'd been stationed with at Camp Bastion, strangers that had quickly become family but her smile soon turned to a frown when she heard a grumble of, "fucking thing" from the kitchen.
"Bern" she frowned as she walked into the kitchen to find Bernie knelt on the worktop, the front panel of the boiler in the sink.
"Bastard thing's not working again" Bernie grumbled.
Alex bit her lip to hold back a chuckle, it had been less than a month since they'd moved in and the battle between Bernie and the boiler had been ongoing since day one when Bernie had smugly told it it couldn't beat her after she'd managed to get it to fire up after almost half an hour of trying. Unfortunately her triumph was short lived and she'd found herself trying to fix it several more times since.
"I think we might need to admit defeat and get a new one" Alex said as she walked over to Bernie, slipping her hands under the hem of Bernie's top, fingers trailing over the soft skin that had been exposed when Bernie had reached up to fiddle with something.
"But then it's won" Bernie pouted as she relaxed into Alex's touch.
"No, we've won by getting a boiler that works properly" she chuckled, "and we can see about getting it moved into the utility room too, before the new kitchen's fitted."
"I suppose you're right" Bernie sighed as she slipped from the sideboard, allowing herself to be pulled close to Alex, Alex's hands slipping into the back pockets of Bernie's jeans, "it's just another thing that needs doing before we can get settled properly" she sighed.
"I'll ring the plumber tomorrow" Alex stole a kiss, "if he gets it done before the new kitchen goes in then it won't add any more time to anything. I know how you feel Bern, I just want it all to be finished so we can get on with our life, so we can just enjoy our home but we've waited years to get here. Another couple of weeks is nothing if it means we get things perfect."
"I know" Bernie nodded against Alex's neck, "I'm just being impatient."
"You are" Alex teased before kissing Bernie's hair as she held her close, "but like I said, I'll call the plumber tomorrow, ask him to fit us in ASAP, and in the meantime we can go into go into work early to grab a quick shower before our shifts because I am absolutely not going back to cold showers, especially if we haven't got any heating either."
Bernie laughed, "looks like I'll have to spend tonight cuddled into you so we can share body heat to keep warm."
Alex smiled and rubbed noses with Bernie before kissing her again, "it looks like you will." She kissed Bernie's lips. "we'll get there Bern" she whispered, "I promise."
"It's me" Bernie called as she kicked off her shoes, the smell of gloss paint assaulting her nostrils almost as soon as she'd stepped through the front door.
"In the kitchen" Alex called back, having spent her day off, as promised, painting the kitchen that had only been fitted the week before.
"I'm going to get changed" Bernie called back, raising her voice to be heard over the music that was, no doubt, playing from the radio that had found a home on the kitchen windowsill, "I'll be through in a minute."
Bernie couldn't help but smile as the horseshoe hanging by the front door caught her eye, shaking her head as she noticed a new potted plant sitting on the hall table, she'd have to have a word with Alex before their house became a garden centre.
The horseshoe had been a housewarming present from Alex's Grandmother, the woman taking it from her own wall before handing it over, "my own Grandmother gave me this on my wedding day" she'd told them, "and it's probably just coincidence but me and your Grandad lived very happily until the grumpy old bugger went and died on me. I hope this will bring you all the happiness that we had" she'd told them.
Bernie wasn't superstitious, had never been a big believer in 'luck' but so far, the horseshoe seemed to be doing it's job. All she seemed to have done since she and Alex had moved in together had been laugh, even after the most stressful of days, when they'd come home after an awful shift to a house full of mess left by workmen, they'd just tackled it head on, as far as they were concerned, once the door closed behind them, the stresses of the world stayed outside, the house, no matter how dirty, chaotic or cold, it was, was their safe haven. Their happy little bubble, and they both hoped it would stay that way.
Alex finished glossing the door frame and glanced at the clock on the oven, frowning slightly when she realised it had been almost 20 minutes since Bernie had returned home and she still hadn't come back downstairs. She dropped her brush into the sink and made sure the lid was firmly on the paint pot before flicking off the radio and heading upstairs in search of her partner.
She couldn't help but smile as she saw Bernie stood on the landing, gazing into the empty spare bedroom, so obviously lost in her thoughts, "penny for them?" Alex wrapped her arms around Bernie's stomach, resting her chin on Bernie's shoulder.
Bernie smiled and relaxed back into Alex's arms, "just thinking about the future" she smiled, "when we finally get round to decorating in here… when we get to lay our baby down to sleep in here."
It had been the night of Alex’s 40th birthday when it had first came up, the pair had stumbled in from an an impromptu party in Albie’s, both a little worse for wear. Alex had grabbed a bottle of whiskey and a glass, Bernie had picked up her cigarettes and a lighter, both making their way onto the small balcony that sat off the living room of the one bedroomed flat they shared. “So” Bernie was first to speak as they watched the stars twinkling in the dark night sky, one glass of whiskey and a single cigarette shared between them both, “40… any regrets?”
Alex shrugged as she thought, “that we didn’t get together sooner?” she suggested, taking another sip of whiskey, “that I never got to raise a child.”
Suddenly all Bernie could think about was Alex, skin glowing, stomach swollen as she carried a child, their child. “I wish we’d got together sooner too” she sighed, “but we can’t change that as much as we’d like to…” she took the empty glass from Alex, clumsy pouring out another generous measure before telling her, “you’re only just 40 though, you could still have a baby if you wanted…”
Alex frowned, turning to face Bernie, “I…”
“We’d have to move out of here” Bernie said nonchalantly as she swallowed a mouthful of whiskey, “get somewhere bigger first.”
Alex had been the one to cautiously bring up the subject a few days later once they were both sober and their hangovers had worn off, asking Bernie if she really meant what she said.
Bernie had thought for a minute, surprising herself when she'd nodded, taking Alex's hand and telling her, "yeah, I did." She'd never really felt maternal, she loved Charlotte and Cam, she'd never deny that but she was well aware that she'd only had them because Marcus had wanted to start a family, but this, now she'd started thinking about raising a family with Alex, she couldn't think of anything she wanted more than to raise a child with the woman she loved, even if that meant becoming a mother again a few years after her fiftieth birthday.
It had been the catalyst for their move, both knowing that the one bedroom flat they shared was completely impractical for them to raise a family in and they'd began a search for something bigger.
The house they'd found had been perfect, both in terms of location and size but it had needed a lot of work doing to it and the price reflected that. They'd spent a while talking things over, weighing up the pros and the cons before deciding to go for it, to buy the house, to do it up and then to look into IVF.
Alex smiled as she too thought about the future, about the day they'd hopefully bring their baby home, "I still can't believe you agreed to even think about it."
Bernie smiled, turning to face Alex, "you'll make a wonderful mother, I could never deny you that" she said before running her fingers along a smudge of pale grey paint on Alex's cheek, "someone needs a shower" she chuckled.
"I know" Alex winked, "care to join me?"
"Hmm" Bernie pretended to think as Alex's fingers trailed under her tshirt and along her spine, "seeing as you asked so nicely" she chuckled, kissing Alex again before taking her hand and leading her into their ensuite.
Bernie rolled onto her side as she laid in bed after their shower, smiling as her eyes locked with Alex's, "I'm sorry" she whispered, "that I ran, that I didn't give us the opportunity to do this years ago."
"You don't need to apologise" Alex reached for Bernie's hand, "we're here now, that's all that matters, "and anyway. This, what we have, living here, with you, planning to have a family, knowing I get to spend the rest of my life with you… it's something that I didn't even dare dream about before, and yeah it might have taken us a while to get here, but my darling, you were more than worth the wait."
We've waited a long time for this,
And now we are on our way.
We have to be patient dear,
Cause home wasn't built in a day.