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Every version of us

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Pulling up in the wide drive, Bernie was filled with an inexplicable feeling that she’d come home. She eyed the beautiful old house and wondered what it was that drew her in. She’d spotted the house for sale online and known that she had to see it.

A young man came hurrying out of the house.

“Bernie,” she introduced herself.

“Tom, from the estate agency.” He shook her hand and then checked his watch. “As this house is so far away, I’m showing you and somebody else around at the same time. I hope you don’t mind?”

It wasn’t like she could object now, she thought, so she smiled and nodded politely.

“I wonder where she’s got to,” he said, just as they heard the crunch of tires on gravel, and a car came into view.

The car pulled to a halt next to Bernie’s and a woman got out. She was about the same age as Bernie, short dark hair, slick red lips and ridiculous leopard print shoes. Bernie was again struck forcefully with a feeling of home. She stared at the woman, taking in every inch of her, and the woman stared back at her. Bernie wished she’d brushed her hair again before she’d left home.

“You must be Ms Campbell,” Tom interrupted the silence. “I’m Tom.”

“It’s Serena, please.” She shook Tom’s hand without looking at him, eyes still fixed on Bernie.

“I was just explaining to Bernie, I’m showing you round at the same time as this place is so far from our base.”

“It’s fine,” Bernie interrupted.

“No problems here,” Serena agreed.

Tom looked between them. “If – you’d like to come with me then?” He led them through the old stone porch into the large entrance hall.

He was talking again as they stood in the hall, gazing around, but Bernie wasn’t listening. She looked around the old building in delight. There was a small lift, tucked in one corner, and Bernie half registered Tom saying something about it being useful if you wanted to turn the house into a small hotel.

She ran her fingers along the carved wooden bannisters that ran the length of the swooping staircase, feeling every tiny knot and bump in the wood.

“Shall we go up?” Serena had joined her, clearly paying as little attention to their estate agent as she was.

She smiled. “Let’s.”

They climbed the stairs side by side, Tom hastening along behind them, asking them to wait.

“Original fixtures,” Tom was saying as they reached the landing, “And over here something very special – some old portraits.” His voice trailed off as he looked at the paintings in question, and then he sat down with a thump on the floor.

“Tom?” Serena bent over him. “Tom, can you hear me?”

Bernie wasn’t paying attention to him; she was transfixed by the portraits. Two, hanging side by side. She trembled, reached out for the bannister to steady herself.

“Bernie?” Serena said sharply, “You’re not going faint too are you? What is it?”

“I think – I think you’d better come over here,” Bernie said faintly. “Serena.” Serena’s name felt comfortable on her tongue, like she’d been saying it for years.

Serena stood, leaving Tom with a gentle pat on his shoulder, and joined Bernie. “Oh,” she said. “Oh.” She stretched out a tentative hand. “It’s – that’s us.”

“And so is that,” Bernie said, nodding towards the other portrait.

Side by side, Bernie and Serena studied the pictures. One was very very old, seventeenth century, if Bernie knew her history. The other was more modern, twentieth century probably.

“What made you think of buying this place?” Bernie asked quietly.

“When I saw the photos, it felt like home,” Serena said simply.

“For me too.”

They stared at each other. “Do you believe in reincarnation?” Serena asked abruptly.

Bernie shook her head. “I don’t know what I believe.”

“Could I -” Serena brushed her fingers against Bernie’s, and Bernie nearly jumped at the electric sting of her touch. “Could I buy you a drink? There’s a pub just down the road, I saw.”

“We should probably take him too,” Bernie nodded at Tom, who was still slumped feebly on the floor.

“Get some food in him, that’ll sort him out,” Serena said, not unkindly. “I feel like you and I should get to know each other better.”

Bernie caught Serena’s hand gently. “I feel like I already know you. I think this is home and you and I belong here together.”

Serena laughed shakily. “When I saw you outside, it felt like I’d been waiting for you forever and I looked at you and thought oh, finally.”

Bernie stroked her cheek gently. “I think maybe we need some food too. We’ve had a shock, today. Some food, a glass of wine.”

“Shiraz,” they said simultaneously, and stared at each other in mute silence.

Behind them, Tom struggled to his feet. “Sorry about that, ladies. I – um. I -” he trailed off as he caught sight of the portraits again.

Bernie and Serena exchanged a smile. “We’re taking you to the pub,” Serena said.

“Oh good,” Tom said with relief. “Off we go.” He scampered down the stairs at high speed and Bernie and Serena laughed and followed him.