Chapter Twenty-Four: “Use your words, Bernice”

Bernie was finally going to break up with Callum. She’d come to the decision not long after her accidental night out with Lawrence. He was just too awesome a person. He was kind, considerate, and handsome beyond any point of reason. Sometimes, Bernie couldn’t believe that he was a real person. He was by far the most attractive person she’d ever known in real life and she was including Jacklyn in that. Jacklyn was literally flawless. She had the style and grace of Kate Middleton, but possibly even more so. Bernie had never seen Jacklyn with bad hair. Tallulah claimed it was witchcraft. Then again, Tallulah was kind of crazy.

By the time Bernie actually broke up with Callum, she’d already tried to do it a grand total of four times. Each attempt had been an unmitigated disaster, each slightly worse than the last. The first time, they’d gone for coffee and a casual stroll through a nearby park. They’d been interrupted before Bernie could even start by a phone call from Callum’s agent. At the time, Bernie had thought it might actually be a blessing. Maybe his agent would give him good news, which would soften the blow of her dumping him. But he didn’t get good news. He’d been turned down for a soup commercial he’d auditioned for. He cried in the park and Bernie had to hold his hand the entire time.

The second time, she invited him over to her apartment to break his heart. She’d made sure Priscilla and Tallulah would be out, for the benefit of everybody involved really. She was just going to tell him it was over and then move on with her life. She was nervous about it and thus not really paying attention to what Callum was doing. As such, she didn’t notice he’d eaten some of the cookies Priscilla had left out on the counter, cookies that contained dried cranberries, to which Callum was very allergic. Instead of breaking up with him, Bernie had ended up sitting next to Callum in a section of the emergency room for a couple hours. And then she couldn’t dump him because he’d almost died.

The third time, she went to his apartment, at which point she was steamrolled by him for an entire evening. He complained about the director of the play he was set to star in for roughly four hours. Apparently he lacked vision. Considering the man was creating a dramatized production of the dictionary entry for the word “battle”, Bernie wasn’t so sure she believed that.

The fourth time, Callum got hit by a taxi crossing the street in front of Bernie’s apartment building on his way over. The cab had only been going about five kilometres per hour, but Callum fell over and hit his head on the curb. Blood from the scrape on his forehead got in his own eyes. Bernie spent the evening holding a compress to his open wound and checking for signs of a concussion.

By this point, she was beginning to think that he had found out she was planning on dumping him and was doing everything in his power to divert it. But Bernie was bound and determined. She’d been messaging Lawrence the entire time and it was just so nice. She felt a bit gross about it, to be honest, but not enough to stop. There were just so many wonderful things about Lawrence, such as the fact that he’d never be in a play built entirely around the word “battle”. He also had the jawline of a Greek statue and beautiful, mesmerizing eyes. She’d checked with Jemima after their night out to see if other people also found his eyes as spectacular as she did.

“He has the most beautiful eyes I’ve literally ever seen on a person,” Jemima had said in response. “Why is that? They’re just black. But, God, I just couldn’t not look at them. I wonder if he gets really weirded out by all the eye contact people make with him. I would find that unnerving. Like, a little eye contact is nice so that, you know, you can tell people are listening to you, but too much eye contact is more like ‘I’m going to skin you and walk around wearing your back as a trench coat’.”

“Horrifying,” had been Bernie’s only comment.

Bernie and Callum went back to the park. It was the closest she’d gotten before anyway. In theory, that made it a good idea. In reality, it was  eight o’clock on a Thursday night at the end of November. It was cold, it was dark, and Bernie wasn’t entirely convinced they wouldn’t be murdered. The park backed onto an alley and there were a couple of unsavory looking guys in the far corner of the park who appeared to be having the kind of conversation that someone would get stabbed for interrupting. Bernie sat down on a park bench as far away from them as possible and turned to Callum.

“I want you to know that I really like you,” Bernie began, aiming for an apologetic tone.

“I really like you too,” Callum replied immediately and Bernie cringed.

“Well, hold that thought because you might want to take it back in a moment,” she said sheepishly. “I don’t think I want to continue seeing you anymore.”

“You don’t want to continue seeing me?” Callum repeated, sounding both hurt and indignant. “I think we’re more than just seeing each other. We’re in a committed relationship with one another. We’re dating. We’re together. I’m your boyfriend.”

Bernie had never seen Callum express so much passion before. She couldn’t help but think that if he applied even a little of this drive to his acting career, he might not be the lead role in a play called “Battle: The Story of Battles”.

“Okay, sure,” Bernie agreed. “But not anymore. Because I want to break up.”

As far as break-ups went, it could’ve been a hell of a lot smoother. Bernie had never really been all that smooth though, hence why she couldn’t stop staring at Lawrence’s eyes or the fact that she had dated Callum in the first place.

“Why?” Callum demanded bluntly. He was taking it a lot harder than she thought he would’ve. She was extremely glad she hadn’t just dumped him after he’d been rejected for a part or after his allergic reaction or after he got hit by the cab. It was a small comfort to know that it could’ve surprisingly gone worse.

“Because I don’t see us working out in the long run,” Bernie answered vaguely. She was fairly certain that telling him it was because she had kissed another guy, who was infinitely his superior would not help make the transition any easier. As it was, being stabbed by the sketchy guys at the other end of the park was beginning to look rather appealing. Bernie was considering attempting to mug one of them.

“But what does that mean?” Callum pressed. Bernie had been hoping he wouldn’t ask that.

“Well, it means that I don’t want to be with you anymore,” she said, struggling to come up with a nice way to say it. She was almost certain she hadn’t.

“But why not?” Callum asked desperately.

“Because I don’t,” she said in exasperation. There really wasn’t a good way to explain it. She thought he was a tool. That seemed like something he probably wouldn’t want to hear, though.

“Is there someone else?” He asked, sounding angry. Bernie was growing slightly concerned about his intense emotional state. His eyebrows looked like he might be plotting her murder. She’d brought him to the perfect spot too. It was dark and deserted. Even the two sketchy guys at the end of the park were beginning to walk off into the alley. Bernie’s body would be left for days, preserved by the snow, only to be discovered by a child on their way to school like the most horrifying cold open of Criminal Minds ever.

“There doesn’t have to be someone else, Callum,” Bernie said, trying to diffuse the situation while simultaneously edging away on the bench so that she could make a run for it if need be. “I just don’t feel about you the way I used to feel about you. I’ve changed. People change. You need to be with someone who loves you more than anything.”

Bernie thought it was a nice sentiment.

“You know what? You were holding me back creatively anyway,” Callum spat at her.

“Pardon?” Bernie returned after a stunned silence.

“You’re holding me back,” Callum repeated bitterly. “I’m glad we’re over. I could use some better inspiration.”

Bernie was insulted for about a minute and a half, mostly because it sounded like Callum was trying to blame her for all his failures. But then she thought about the time he’d toppled off a stage mid-interpretive dance sequence while holding a chiffon scarf and she felt much better about the whole thing.

When Bernie got back to her apartment from the park, having left Callum to stew in his anger and all his newfound creativity, Priscilla and Tallulah were watching what appeared to be a One Direction concert video with Jemima.

“Why?” Was all Bernie asked, stopping in the doorway to kick off her boots and shrug off her parka.

“You’re probably going to need to be more specific than that,” Tallulah returned, though she clearly knew what Bernie had meant. “Use your words, Bernice.”

“Did you finally dump him without incurring some kind of near-death experience?” Priscilla asked Bernie, ignoring Tallulah and Bernie’s conversation entirely.

“Yes,” Bernie answered, coming to join Tallulah and Jemima on the couch. “It was awful. He wanted to know why. I didn’t know how to explain why. He told me I was holding him back.”

Priscilla snorted derisively.

“Holding him back from what?” She returned. “Dance lessons? Falling off more stages? Really, really shit musicals about things that shouldn’t ever have been made into musicals?”

“No, no, Priscilla, you’ve forgotten that he’s been in two separate toothpaste commercials,” Tallulah cut in. “Remember? He was the ‘before’ shot in one of them.”

“Well, now you’re free to become Bernie Wu after all,” Jemima grinned at Bernie, patting her on the back of the hand.

“Yes,” Bernie agreed. “My mother must never find out.”

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