Chapter Eighty-Seven: “I don’t think Keith is a drug dealer”

Bernie was going to meet Lawrence’s friends for the first time at his birthday party. They mostly spent time with her friends, which she assumed was a direct result of her having lived with two of them and across from a third for the beginning of their relationship. It was difficult to escape the people that you lived with and it was near impossible to escape Jemima at all. Bernie was nervous, to say the least. She had once met one of Lawrence’s friends during high school. She and her mother had gone to drop something off at their house and he had been chatting to one of his friends at the end of their driveway. Bernie couldn’t remember much about the girl except that she had been beautiful. At the time, Bernie had had braces and feathered bangs like DJ Tanner, even though it had been 2006.

Lawrence’s friends came over for dinner to celebrate on the Friday following his actual birthday. Bernie had insisted on cooking dinner because it was his birthday celebration so he shouldn’t have to do anything. He conceded to her, stating that it was very kind, but not without a modicum of apprehension. This turned out to be for good reason because Bernie, as she well knew, was a terrible cook. Two hours before the guests were set to arrive, by which point her pork tenderloin should’ve been waiting moistly in the oven, she was frantically phoning Priscilla to help, faced with a particularly dry tenderloin. It had shrivelled to half its original size.

“What the hell is this?” Priscilla asked, bent over the oven to peer at the tenderloin as well.

“It’s dinner,” Bernie answered simply. She had sent Lawrence out so that he would be surprised with freshly cooked dinner when he returned. At this rate, he would instead be surprised with a paperweight lump of meat.

“For humans or sparrows?” Priscilla returned incredulously. “This will not feed your guests. This is barely enough food for one baby. This wouldn’t even feed eight squirrels.”

Bernie huffed.

“Well it shrunk,” she defended herself.

“I should certainly hope so,” Priscilla retorted. “I don’t even think you could buy a piece of meat this small. Maybe if you were a hamster. Or maybe if you were buying a hamster.”

Bernie glared at her.

“Are you going to help me or what?” She asked darkly, arms folded over her chest. Priscilla sighed deeply, like it was such an inconvenience to her. Bernie supposed technically it was. She moved around the kitchen, pulling out ingredients.

“We’ll make risotto,” she announced, dropping a box of rice down on the kitchen counter.

“And we could put the tenderloin in the risotto!” Bernie added excitedly.

“No,” Priscilla returned bluntly immediately. “You’re going to throw that out. It’s so hard and dry, you could use it for flint.”

Bernie glared at her, but threw out the tenderloin anyway. It made a thunking sound when it hit the bottom of the garbage can, like a stone ricocheting off plastic. Priscilla shot her a wry look, which Bernie pointedly ignored.

When Lawrence arrived home, half an hour before his friends were set to arrive as well, they had finished preparing the risotto. More accurately, Priscilla had finished making the risotto and Bernie had been relegated to salad-making. She didn’t even get to make most of the salad; Priscilla had only allowed her to shred and wash lettuce.

“Smells great in here!” Lawrence announced as he wandered into the kitchen. “Oh hey, Priscilla! Are you coming for dinner as well?”

He was genuinely pleased to see her. Bernie was delighted despite herself.

“Oh well, I was just helping,” Priscilla answered with a pointed look in Bernie’s direction.

“Stay,” Lawrence urged, grinning.

“Well, okay then,” Priscilla replied, returning his smile.

“I’ve got a single friend who’s coming,” Lawrence added and she looked significantly less pleased about that.

Lawrence had five close friends, two of which were couples. Bernie had spent a lot of time mocking Iggy for being a couple friend to Melly and David and now she had become one of her own. At least she didn’t have to spend countless evenings playing charades with Melly’s horrible friend Danielle. Having become part of the group through living with Priscilla, she had mostly escaped Melly in nearly all forms. She only really had to interact with her when she was invited to things hosted by Priscilla or Iggy, circumstances that were increasingly fewer and fewer due to Melly’s motherhood and changing priorities. Bernie was okay with it.

The first of Lawrence’s couple friends were comprised of his best friend Georgia from university and Mickey, who apparently had been Georgia’s random, internet-found roommate in fourth year. Georgia worked in PR for an airline and was startlingly successful. Mickey had his own carpentry business and was also shockingly successful. They had been married three years previously, at age twenty-three, and were waiting to have children because, as Georgia put it, they wanted more time to travel, and, as Mickey put it, children were a big fucking responsibility to have for an eternity and he had struggled committing to the purchase of their twelve year old cat.

Lawrence’s other couple friends were one of his best friends from high school, Carla, and her long-term girlfriend Roisin. Carla was the beautiful girl Bernie remembered seeing on the end of the driveway at Lawrence’s family home. She was still beautiful, as was her girlfriend. They looked like runway models, but in casual shoes. The pair of them had the nicest hair she had ever seen, apart from Jacklyn and Georgia. It was incredibly frustrating and more than a little intimidating. Being faced with Lawrence’s perfection had been difficult enough for Bernie to overcome; sitting at a table with four more near perfect people likely wouldn’t help.

And then there was Lawrence’s single friend, his other best friend from high school, Keith. Keith was a godsend. He was not even remotely perfect in any way. That wasn’t to say he was a hideous, unlovable miscreant with no prospects or good qualities. Keith was just normal. Actually, he may have been even better looking than normal, but it was just hard to tell as he sat at a table with Lawrence and his other extremely good-looking friends. Bernie noted that Priscilla also noticed Keith was the overwhelmingly normal one of the bunch, but it wasn’t with the same relief that Bernie felt. Priscilla narrowed her eyes in displeasure.

“Who am I as a person?” She asked seemingly randomly as she and Bernie retreated to the kitchen to serve dinner. “What am I putting out to the world that suggests I want to date other people’s least attractive or least great or drug dealing friends?”

Bernie stared at her for a moment.

“I don’t think Keith is a drug dealer,” she answered eventually. Priscilla rolled her eyes and grabbed the salad bowl.

Bernie spent most of the evening feeling inferior in most ways. Georgia praised her for the dinner, credit she wholeheartedly accepted, Priscilla be damned. She was desperate. She needed Lawrence’s friends to think she was good at something. Carla and Roisin turned out to be literal models. It made sense because they were both exceptionally tall and gorgeous, but it did not make Bernie feel any better about herself. She focused a lot of attention on Keith in an attempt to shy away from her own misgivings. Keith had recently been let go from his bank job and Bernie asked a lot about that. When she found out that his recent foray into internet dating had ended in him being catfished by an agoraphobic man named Jared, she was delighted.

“Man, you have got to ease up on Keith,” Priscilla hissed to her as they retreated to the kitchen to clean up from dinner.

“I can’t help it!’ Bernie hissed back. “All of these people are so much better than me! I have to do something!”

“Okay, first of all, these people are better than almost everybody else, except for maybe the Hemsworth brothers,” Priscilla began to reply. “I’m pretty sure Georgia’s eyes literally sparkle. And secondly, you have to find a different way to cope because there’s a very real chance this birthday celebration will end when Keith throws himself from the balcony.”

When they returned to the living room for casual after-dinner drinks and the opening of Lawrence’s birthday presents, Bernie did in fact ease up on Keith, not that he looked particularly comforted. He kept shooting her wary looks, as if expecting her to ask him a barrage of questions about his unemployment again. She felt bad for harrassing him, but not as bad as when she discovered that Mickey had made Lawrence a custom coffee table and that Roisin had painted him a portrait of himself. It was an oil painting, which she had framed in gold. Lawrence’s friends immediately began discussing where he could hang it in the apartment. All Bernie could think about was the tie and the Young the Giant record she had bought him. He had said he really liked both, but it paled in comparison to a personalized oil painting.

When Lawrence’s friends left, they all thanked Bernie for dinner, even Keith, who still looked a little frightened of her. Priscilla left as well, shooting Bernie a funny face over her shoulder as she walked down the hallway after Keith. Bernie suspected Priscilla wanted to make sure he didn’t hurl himself into oncoming traffic. She and Lawrence settled back into the living room for a bit before bed. Lawrence’s friends, mature as they were, had left at a reasonable time. If one of her friends had thrown the party, they’d still be taking ill-advised shots of tequila and listening to a playlist that alternated between Beyonce and the Arkells.

“Your friends are great,” Bernie told him truthfully. “You got some really cool presents too.”

“Yeah,” Lawrence agreed with a contented sigh. “Although, what the hell am I going to do with an oil painting of myself? It’s actually larger than life. I can’t escape my own eyes. It’s going to scare the shit out of me if I ever get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.”

Bernie laughed, unbelievably relieved that she wasn’t the only one who had been thinking that exact same thing. She loved Lawrence’s eyes, but not that much.

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