Bernie returned from the Christmas holidays in what Tallulah quickly began to refer to as a hurricane of panic. She had spent the majority of Christmas and Boxing Day being interrogated by her mother. She hadn’t told her about Lawrence, but Lawrence had told his mother about Bernie, which then of course lead to his mother telling her mother. It was everything Bernie had been hoping to avoid. Her mother was beside herself with joy. She was happier about Bernie’s burgeoning relationship with Lawrence than she was the birth of Christ. For her part, Bernie spent most of her time away trying to figure out how she felt about Lawrence. It was obvious that she liked him and she definitely found him handsome, especially his beautiful eyes, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to be his girlfriend. Being his girlfriend meant that she would definitely end up Mrs. Bernie Wu because she’d have to be crazy to end things with Lawrence. As Jemima pointed out at any opportunity, he was literally perfect.
Jemima hosted a New Year’s party at her apartment. Bernie was attending and she’d invited Lawrence before she’d gone home for Christmas. She was both excited and terrified about seeing him for the night. There was a lot of pressure involved with dating Lawrence. She had to look amazing, for starters. He was the most attractive person she’d ever seen in real life, including Jacklyn’s hot neighbour. His sheer existence set unbelievably high standards. She spent a very long time trying to pick out an outfit, as per usual. Priscilla and Jemima were busy getting ready as well, but Sybil had come over early with her co-worker Chris and Bernie was forcing them to help her, much to their combined chagrin.
“How about this one?” Bernie emerged from her bedroom, arms open wide to show off the dress she’d picked out. It was the ninth dress she’d tried on and about the sixteenth outfit in total. Sybil and Chris were sitting on the couch in the living room, looking very bored. Sybil had already opened one of the bottles of wine she’d brought with her and was drinking it straight from the bottle. Chris was sprawled on the other end of the couch, playing sudoku on his phone. He barely looked up when Bernie spoke.
“How is this different than the last dress you tried on?” He asked, turning back to his phone. Bernie glared at him, even though he couldn’t see.
“Well this one is blue and the last one was pink,” Bernie began to explain through gritted teeth. “And they’re completely different styles.”
“Ignore him,” Sybil waved a hand in Chris’ direction dismissively. “He has no idea. This one is better. I mean, they all look fine and I’m slowly losing the will to live, but I like the colour better.”
Bernie was pleased to be getting somewhat helpful advice finally.
“Just wear whichever one shows the most boob,” Chris added after a minute.
“That’s terrible advice,” Bernie scoffed at him, then thought about it, turning back to Sybil. “Wait, is it?”
“Speaking as the only straight dude in the room,” Chris interjected, putting his phone down so they could see how serious he was being. “It’s the best advice you’ve been given all night.”
“Lawrence is a gentleman,” Bernie said like an accusation, jabbing a finger in Chris’ direction. He rolled his eyes.
“Oh, well in that case,” he said loftily. “Just wear whichever one shows the most boob.”
Bernie ended up wearing the red dress she’d worn to her cousin’s wedding, the one that her friends called her hooker dress. Priscilla laughed when she saw her. Bernie had half a mind to change into something else, even though Sybil might beat her, but then Lawrence showed up and he had trouble forming words as he greeted her and he kept looking at her chest when he thought she wasn’t looking. Chris smirked at her smugly as they trouped across the hall to Jemima’s apartment for the evening.
The outfit was only part of the problem though and a very minimal one at that. The majority of the problem was that Lawrence was such a successful human adult and Bernie was not as much. He wore suits to work and she was pretty sure he owned the condo that he lived in. That meant he had a mortgage. She didn’t even fully understand how mortgages worked, which ultimately was fine because she wouldn’t have a mortgage for several years. Another part of the problem was Bernie’s collection of friends. If Lawrence was a more successful human adult than her, he was like a demigod of perfection compared to Iggy, who showed up to Jemima’s apartment after being sort of kicked out of their Melly’s home with her maybe-sort of boyfriend Miles.
“We definitely ruined Melly’s New Year’s party,” Iggy informed Priscilla and a very nervous Bernie. “Melly’s going to be so pissed at me.”
Lawrence was chatting to Sybil and Chris by the window and Bernie kept looking over to make sure it was going alright. Out of everyone in her friend circle, Sybil was definitely the most mature so she figured it would be alright, but Jemima was quite near them and that was worrying.
“Although, in my defense, it was Miles’ fault,” Iggy continued.
“So your defense is throwing your boyfriend under the bus?” Priscilla returned, one eyebrow raised skeptically.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Iggy replied immediately and Bernie rolled her eyes. Iggy was so bad at communicating and she was equally as bad at dealing with important things. Bernie figured that even if Miles was in fact her boyfriend, Iggy would definitely be the last to know.
“You’re real quick on the draw there, Sundance,” Priscilla remarked, rolling her eyes just as hard as Bernie had. “You can relax, I’m not trying to marry you off to him. Anyway, I’m far more interested in Bernie’s new boyfriend.”
Bernie glared her.
“Fuck off,” she said darkly.
“I noticed you’ve worn your very best dress,” Priscilla commented, laughing partway through. “Or should I say your very breast dress.”
Bernie glared at her again for good measure and then walked away, pausing only briefly to adjust the top of her dress. She could hear Priscilla laughing behind her.
Later, when Bernie had had at least a couple hours to drink and steadily work her way into a mental frenzy about the future of her relationship and essentially her entire life, Lawrence found her outside on the balcony of Jemima’s apartment. It was incredibly small. There was only room for one potted plant, which Jemima definitely should’ve brought inside several months earlier before it started to frost over. It was also insanely cold, it being the very end of December. Bernie wasn’t wearing a coat and she’d lost most of her finger dexterity. Lawrence came to stand beside her at the railing, moving only to take off his suit jacket and drape it around her shoulders, which was such a stereotypically chivalrous thing to do that she laughed.
“What?” He asked, watching her as she laughed.
“You’re too perfect,” she told him earnestly. His eyes widened slightly, probably because she had managed to make the words “too perfect” seem like a bad thing.
“I am not perfect,” he protested. Bernie snorted skeptically.
“You’re more perfect than I am,” she said.
“Not true,” Lawrence shook his head. “Look, I can’t cook. I burn pancakes all the time. And sometimes I forget to clean my toilet. I run all the time, like I’ve run a half-marathon, and I still have chicken legs. I’m serious, I have the skinniest ankles in the world. I think my sister is really annoying.”
“Well, I’ve met your sister and she is really annoying,” Bernie interjected and Lawrence laughed.
“Yeah, but if I was perfect, I’d find a way to raise above that,” he countered.
“I guess…,” Bernie agreed uncertainly. She wasn’t sold. Burnt pancakes and skinny ankles didn’t really seem as major as all her many flaws.
“Look, you know nobody’s actually perfect, right?” He asked and she narrowed her eyes at him, bracing herself for a pseudo-lecture on body positivity and self-confidence. “But you’re amazing. You’re so smart and beautiful and funny. You have this terrible job that you hate, but you’ve never once given up. You have great friends, who obviously love you so much. And you could date anybody you ever wanted to and you chose me and my skinny ankles.”
Bernie stared at him for a moment.
“Oh my God, that was so corny,” she told him. “But also the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
“Good. Can we go back inside now? I’m freezing my skinny ass off out here,” he jerked a thumb toward the door. Bernie laughed and lead the way back inside. They were just in time for midnight. She kissed him, still slightly amazed that her weird friends had managed to make such a good impression on him. Then Tallulah announced that the person everybody had kissed at midnight would be the person they’d be spending the following year with. Bernie looked at Lawrence and thought that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.
She could basically feel Iggy’s panic from across the living room.