Chapter Thirty-Three: “You look like a senator’s wife”

 Bernie and Lawrence went on their first real date the Friday before Christmas. It was the official beginning to their romantic relationship. That, at least, was how Bernie explained it to Priscilla, Jemima, and Sybil when she dragged them to her bedroom to help her pick out something to wear. She had thought she could do it on her own. She’d picked out an entire outfit, only to later realize that her dress was completely see-through when she was fully dressed. It was a bit worrying because it was a dress she often wore to work. Clearly she needed to invest in a slip. Slips had always seemed like too adult a garment to her, though. Slips were things that her mother wore underneath the dresses she wore to bridal showers with her nude-coloured pantyhose and her chunky, sling back, one-inch heels.

“Do you think I can wear jeans tonight?” Bernie asked her three friends for advice, standing in front of her open closet. Several of her dresser drawers were also open. She’d tossed numerous articles of clothing on to her bed, where Priscilla was now sitting. Sybil was slouched in her desk chair and Jemima had taken up residence on her bedroom floor. She was lying on her back, hands clasped over her chest, not even bothering to look at anything Bernie was holding up anymore. They’d been at it for a while. Jemima kept complaining about hunger, but Bernie was ignoring her. She had more important issues to think about, at least in her opinion. Clearly Jemima didn’t feel the same way.

“You’re just going for dinner,” Priscilla pointed out. “Why would you not be allowed to wear jeans? He’s not part of a royal family. He’s just Lawrence.”

“Excuse you, he is not just Lawrence,” Jemima said in his immediate defense, not moving from her position on the floor. “He’s Lawrence Wu. He’s the most perfect human. No, you cannot wear jeans.”

“Why don’t you wear one of the thousands of other options you’ve already shown us?” Sybil asked with an eye roll.

“We vetoed them for a reason, Sybil,” Bernie returned matter-of-factly.

“Yes, but that was before you showed me every single skirt you own and I subsequently lost the will to live,” Sybil said. “Now I don’t give a shit about what skirt you wear to dinner. Now I want to leave and never come back.”

“God, I’m so hungry,” Jemima chimed in from the floor. “Do you think food still tastes good? I miss it.”

Bernie rolled her eyes at both of them, but ignored them otherwise. Instead, she reached into her closet and pulled out a red dress she’d bought for her cousin’s wedding. It had kind of a deep neckline so she didn’t wear it very often, but she figured that would be okay on her first official date with Lawrence. After all, she did want to be alluring. She turned back to her friends and held it up for them to see. Jemima still didn’t look. Sybil barely looked. Priscilla was the only one who gave it any serious consideration before speaking.

“No,” she said after a moment.

“Why?” Bernie asked. Even she was getting frustrated with herself. She just wanted it to be perfect because, as Jemima said, Lawrence was perfect. Besides which, if she fucked it up by wearing something that clashed with her boots and her mother found out, she’d literally never hear the end of it. Of course, it also seemed highly unlikely that Lawrence would ditch her for something as trivial as a mismatched outfit. He’d probably leave her for a deeper reason, which would inevitably be a much more crushing and enduring pain.

“Because this is the dress we call your hooker dress behind your back,” Priscilla answered simply. Bernie gaped at her, trying to find the words to properly express how much she protested that.

“What?” She demanded finally, outraged. “I wore this to my cousin’s wedding!”

“Yes, and I still can’t believe you did that,” Priscilla replied.

“I’m surprised your mother didn’t say anything about it,” Jemima interjected without looking up. “The amount of side-boob in that dress is astounding.”

Bernie, mildly mortified, put the dress back in her closet. Although, from the sounds of things, she should’ve seriously considered donating it to a prostitute in need. Instead, she took out yet another dress that she didn’t wear very often. She had bought it on sale because she’d thought that she would have several occasions wherein to wear a navy blue velvet dress. It looked nice on her though and, as far as she could tell, wasn’t horrendously inappropriate.

“What about this?” She asked. “There isn’t an inappropriate amount of side-boob in this one, is there?”

“For the record, I think any amount of side-boob might be too much side-boob,” Sybil retorted. “And yeah, it’s fine.”

“Fine,” Bernie repeated, mulling it over. “Are you saying that because it really is fine or are you saying that because you just want me to choose something so you can leave?”

“Is ‘both’ an acceptable answer?” Sybil returned. Bernie rolled her eyes, but she changed into the dress nonetheless. She paired it with black tights, a gold statement necklace that looked like chain mail, and the black heeled combat boots she borrowed from Priscilla with a promise to return them in the original state under threat of death. She showed the others once she was fully dressed and waited expectantly for them to give their feedback. Jemima even bothered to lift her head from the floor to give her a once-over.

“You look like a senator’s wife,” Jemima commented first. Bernie made to unzip it, reaching behind her back. Sybil groaned and slouched even further in her seat.

“What are you doing to me?” She grumbled to Jemima. “I thought you were starving. This is not the way to food. This is how we end up staying here until we die, trapped in an endless loop of watching Bernie struggle to pick out tights.”

“No, not in a bad way!” Jemima hastily corrected. “You look like a senator’s wife in a good way! Like a trendy political couple, which is good because Lawrence is a very snappy dresser.”

“Snappy dresser,” Priscilla repeated, snorting derisively. “You sound like my grandmother.”

“Jesus Christ, do you both hate me?” Sybil turned her chair to face Priscilla on the bed. “No commenting. Let her backtrack. I want to leave. I’m going to have to pee eventually and I don’t want to be in this room looking at shoes when it happens.”

Bernie rolled her eyes at Sybil yet again, even though she wasn’t really being that unreasonable. They had spent a lot of time in her room trying to pick out something for Bernie to wear. She felt ridiculous about it. She knew she was just allowing herself to fall into stupid stereotypes, but she was really nervous and she just wanted Lawrence to like her as much as she liked him. Maybe if she wore the right dress, he would think her eyes were as beautiful as she thought his were. That seemed unlikely. She was unreasonably mesmerized by his eyes. But maybe he could like her eyes half as much as she liked his. That was much more probable.

She wore the blue velvet dress to dinner. Lawrence wore a crisp chambray button-down and a very nicely tailored pair of navy blue trousers. Both his shirt and his pants had clearly been ironed. Bernie was, quite frankly, amazed. She had only ever ironed one piece of clothing in her life and she’d left an enormous burnt splotch on the back of it. Lawrence ordered them a nice, fairly expensive bottle of wine. He smiled at her and listened to her talk about her job with interest, even though her job was stupidly boring. When she came back from the bathroom, he stood up and pulled her seat out for her. She’d never met someone so genuinely gentlemanly in her entire life. It made her palms sweat.

Halfway through dinner, Bernie came to the realization that Lawrence wasn’t the kind of guy someone just dated off-hand for a bit before moving on to something better. Lawrence was the something better. Bernie had just dated Callum off-hand for a bit on her way to Lawrence. He was it. He was forever. There wouldn’t ever be anybody better than Lawrence. It was an incredibly startling realization to have while in the middle of a first real date with someone. It was a lot. It was too much. It was hard to process.

And Lawrence sat across from her the entire time it was happening, blissfully oblivious to the minor panic attack she was having internally, eating his sirloin and chatting about his plans for the Christmas. He was going home to spend it with his parents and his older sister Cynthia’s family. He’d bought her son Henry a Lego set and her daughter Violet a tricycle. All Bernie could think about was how she would probably be spending the rest of her life celebrating Christmas with his family, helping Lawrence pick out presents for his niece and nephew. Her mother was going to be so pleased.

After dinner, Lawrence walked her back to her building, kissed her night on the doorstep out front, and promised to talk to her the next day. He would too. He was Lawrence. She went upstairs to her apartment where Priscilla was watching Moonraker with Sybil and Jemima when she got in. Jemima was sprawled on the living room floor now.

“How was the date?” Sybil asked, looking over at Bernie from her spot on the couch.

“I’m going to have to marry Lawrence,” was Bernie’s response.

“Bernie Wu!” Jemima called from the floor.

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