Chapter Six: “Bernie Wu!”

Once a year, Bernie’s mother arranged a date for her and Lawrence Wu, the son of her best friend Alice. It didn’t matter how much Bernie protested or whether or not she was even single; she went on the same date every single year. And every single year, nothing came of it. Bernie liked Lawrence a lot, he was a really nice guy, but she had never been interested in him romantically before. Besides, of the last eight years it had happened, she’d been in a relationship seven times. Lawrence didn’t seem to mind, though Bernie was certain he’d be far too nice to say something about it anyway, but she was sure he wouldn’t have minded giving up on the charade as well. Unfortunately for both of them, her mother was a very difficult person to say no to and it was far easier to just bend to her whims. And so, every year without fail, Bernie went on a date with Lawrence Wu.

“It’s just not going to work out between Lawrence and I,” Bernie complained to Priscilla and Jemima the night before the date was set to occur.

“Why not?” Jemima returned. “I think you should date Lawrence.”

“I’m already dating Callum,” Bernie pointed out. Priscilla rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything. Priscilla didn’t like Callum, which Bernie knew, but was choosing to ignore. Priscilla barely liked anybody at all anyway, so it seemed logical that she also wouldn’t care for Callum. Bernie was also choosing to ignore the fact that Priscilla had told her it was because he was a ridiculous human being. Bernie was already well aware of that fact and she was choosing to ignore that as well. She was ignoring a lot of things. Ignorance was bliss and all that. It was working out reasonably well for her so far.

“Yeah, alright, sure,” Jemima replied. “But Lawrence is literally the perfect man. He’s good at everything. Literally everything. And you’d think that would be annoying, but it really isn’t. He’s too good-looking to be annoying. It should actually be annoying that he’s so good-looking, but he’s Lawrence so, you know, it isn’t.”

Bernie stared at her for a moment.

“None of that made sense,” she said eventually.

“Also, you should date him for the sheer fact that if you ever got married, you could be Bernie Wu,” Jemima continued.

“I’m not going to marry him,” Bernie protested.

“Bernie Wu,” Jemima repeated.

“I don’t even like him that way,” Bernie tried again.

“Bernie Wu.”

“He’s nice, but I just don’t feel anything for him,” Bernie explained, mildly exasperated.

“Bernie Wu.”

“You’re impossible,” Bernie rolled her eyes.

“Bernie Wu.”

The following night, Bernie took the subway to the restaurant where she was meeting Lawrence. It was a high end place, but he had offered to pay when they’d made the plans via email after their mothers had forced them to. Bernie wasn’t exactly sure what Lawrence did for a living, but he was apparently doing quite well for himself. She wasn’t going to complain. If she had to go on the “date”, she was at least going to get some really expensive risotto out of it.

Bernie had worn one of her nicest dresses for dinner. It was the one she usually reserved for the office Christmas party or winter weddings. It was an evergreen colour with a fitted waist and lace cap sleeves. She wore her control-top tights, the ones that had cost her more than six dollars, and her nicest pair of black heels. She’d stolen them from Priscilla’s closet before she left. Priscilla didn’t willingly let her borrow things because of the one time she’d spilled red wine and burrito sauce on one of her favourite shirts. Bernie had taken the time to do her hair, her make-up, and her nails. But despite all of that, she still felt like a slob as soon as she first saw Lawrence.

He really was extremely handsome. He was quite possibly the most attractive person Bernie had ever seen in real life. He had the facial symmetry and the bone structure of a model. His dress sense was impeccable. He had the nicest shoes, always real leather, and he showed up to dinner in a gorgeous overcoat. He was wearing a silk scarf and he somehow managed to not look completely pretentious. He smiled at Bernie like she was the only person in the room and she could see at least five different people eye her with envy. For one very startling moment, she thought perhaps she could be Bernie Wu. And then she remembered Callum and the fact that Lawrence didn’t actually want to date her either, though that thought interestingly came first.

“Hey, how are you?” Lawrence asked, taking the seat across from her after taking off his coat. He was wearing a suit. Bernie didn’t even think Callum owned a complete suit. He had parts of a suit, but none of it went together, no matter how many times he told her that “eclectic” was a valid dress sense.

“I’m good, how are you?” Bernie returned, mesmerized by his eyes. That was a weird sensation. They were just eyes. They were just black. Everybody had eyes. Well, nearly everybody had eyes. Honestly, it would’ve been more interesting if he didn’t have eyes at all, and yet she couldn’t stop looking at them. And that was weird, wasn’t it? She needed to work out how to stop staring at his eyes because, although eye contact was appreciated, surely that much direct eye contact wasn’t. It was likely very unnerving. He’d leave her soon, driven away by her lack of blinking, and Bernie would have to pay for her own risotto.

“Yeah, I’m alright,” Lawrence said brightly, smiling so that the corners of his eyes crinkled and Bernie stared at that as well. “Your mom was telling me that you moved to a new place.”

As they began chatting about Bernie’s apartment, he continued to smile at her like he was genuinely interested in her Ikea bedroom set and why she had decided to paint her bedroom walls pale blue. Callum had never showed so much interest in her bedroom walls before. To be fair, no one had. Bernie hadn’t even been that interested in them. Lawrence was just incredibly good at paying attention. It was part of what made him so charming. That and his unbelievable handsomeness.

Lawrence ordered them wine with a flawless French accent, told her about his job as an actuarial, and then talked about all his favourite bands, which turned out to be all of Bernie’s favourite bands. After the second glass of the most expensive wine she’d ever drunk, Bernie fled to the bathroom. She immediately called Jemima.

“Oh my God, Lawrence,” was all she said as soon as Jemima answered the phone.

“Bernie Wu!” Jemima shouted back excitedly. Bernie had to hold the phone away from her ear for a moment.

“No Bernie Wu,” Bernie hissed. “I’m dating Callum.”

“Yeah, but why?” Jemima asked, sighing. “Iggy said he fell off a stage a week ago. Who falls off a stage?”

“It was an accident,” Bernie protested. He’d been at rehearsal for Hamlet: The Musical and taken a wrong step. He was fine, but his ego was more than a little bruised. Incidentally, so was Bernie’s pride.

“Lawrence would never fall off a stage,” Jemima said seriously. It was probably true. Lawrence wouldn’t even be on a stage in the first place, unless he was accepting an award for being a generally amazing human being. And even if he did fall off, he’d probably land on his feet. He’d do a backflip or something equally as impressive.

“I can’t stop staring at his eyes,” Bernie grumbled, changing the subject.

“Well, I mean, that’s usually not a bad thing,” Jemima returned. “It’s better than staring at his crotch or, like, an alarming cluster of moles.”

“You are so unhelpful,” Bernie told her darkly.

“Bernie Wu!” Jemima said again.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Bernie grumbled. “Bernie Wu.”

Bernie continued to stare at Lawrence’s beautiful eyes for the rest of dinner. She ate her expensive risotto and thought about how it was even possible for someone to look so nice in a dress shirt. Lawrence laughed at all her jokes, listened fully to all of her stories, and then paid for dinner with a generous tip to the waiter, who was equally as smitten with him as Bernie and nearly everybody else in the restaurant. She was half convinced that the women at the table next to theirs would ask him for a photo for all the staring she was doing. Bernie couldn’t even blame the woman because she too had been staring.

Lawrence offered her a ride home on his motorcycle and she offered him a tour of her apartment when they got to her building because he had seemed so interested in her paint choice. Priscilla was reading on the couch when they came inside and Bernie saw her eyes widen at the sight of Lawrence. She was probably stunned by how handsome he was. Tallulah was fortunately nowhere to be found because Bernie could only imagine the kind of comments she’d make.

“This is a very nice colour,” Lawrence told her, standing in the middle of her bedroom as he looked around. She was immensely glad that she’d cleaned fairly recently because her room was usually in a perpetual state of disaster. Priscilla had once accused her of hiding woodland creatures in the vast piles of dirty clothes that regularly covered her bedroom floor.

“Oh thanks,” Bernie replied, standing beside him and willing herself to stop looking at his eyes. She managed it, but then she started staring at his mouth instead and then she started inching toward his face with her own face, as if she was going to kiss him, but that was a really bad idea for numerous reasons, least of all because she could see dirty underwear peaking out from underneath the bedskirt her mother had forced her to buy.

About halfway to Lawrence’s mouth, she began to think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. Really, she’d get it out of her system, realize that he wasn’t exactly the perfect man everybody claimed he was, and move on with her life. She’d probably have to reevaluate her relationship with Callum at some point, but it was at least very likely that she wouldn’t ever have to hear about him falling off a stage again. Actually, it was entirely likely that Lawrence wouldn’t even let her kiss him.

But then Lawrence didn’t stop her and they were kissing. As it turned out, he was good at that too. All she could hear was Carly Simon singing “Nobody Does It Better” in her head, which felt inordinately ridiculous.

“Clearly I should compliment paint colours more often,” Lawrence told her once they’d broken apart. He was smiling again and Bernie was staring at his damn eyes again. Carly Simon was reaching the end of the song, but now Jemima had joined in with a rousing chant of “Bernie Wu!” over and over again.

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