34: “Keep your boobs to yourself and you should be okay”

Bernie was meeting the Wus. She already knew Lawrence’s parents, Alice and Fred Wu, as well as his older sister Leanne, but she hadn’t seen them in quite some time, with the exception of dress shopping with Alice. She hadn’t seen Leanne since the baby shower Bernie’s mother had thrown her, which was before she’d even given birth to her first child. Now she had three and the oldest was eight. And Bernie had never met most of Lawrence’s extended family, with the notable exception of his cousin Gene, who was arguably the most attractive man Bernie had ever seen in real life. She used to think that about Lawrence, but Gene had taken the title. She would obviously never admit that to Lawrence. At the same time, however, Bernie was slightly relieved to find out that Gene existed in the world. She actually felt much more relaxed knowing she wasn’t marrying the most attractive man in the world; she was marrying the second.

Lawrence’s parents hosted a dinner party so that Bernie and her parents could get to meet their family. Lawrence was quite excited about it and Bernie was anxious as hell.

“What if they don’t like me?” Bernie asked Priscilla, Sybil, Jemima, and Noel. Noel had become something of a regular fixture since he and Jemima had begun dating. Bernie wasn’t sure how she felt about it, but she was too nervous to care at the present moment.

“Why wouldn’t they like you?” Jemima returned comfortingly. “They’re going to love you.”

“Just don’t wear that red dress that you wore to your cousin’s wedding,” Sybil advised, being less emotionally supportive, but quite practical. “Keep your boobs to yourself and you should be okay.”

Noel laughed and Bernie briefly wondered if it was weird for Jemima, Noel, or Sybil to all be in the same room together since Noel had kissed Sybil in a bar while Jemima was attempting to date him. It probably wasn’t weird for Noel. It seemed like he took weird in his stride really well.

On the night of the dinner, Bernie and Lawrence turned up at her parents’ house with a nice bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers. Both of them had dressed nicely and Bernie felt a little like a Kennedy. Lawrence’s parents had moved from the house he’d grown up in to a respectable bungalow just on the west fringe of the city. It was a very nice neighbourhood. Bernie didn’t have a hope in heaven of ever living in a neighbourhood so nice. Lawrence’s mother Alice answered the door with a benign smile. She hugged both of them individually, accepted the wine and flowers with graciousness, and welcomed them into her home.

The Wus, ever the picture of class, had decorated their bungalow in varying muted shades of grey, blue, and white. Everything was crisp, tidy, and classic. Bernie couldn’t help but think about her own parents’ house, which had far too much pine wood paneling and a rooster-themed wallpaper border in the kitchen. Sometimes she marvelled at the fact that her mother and Alice were such good friends.

Alice took them to the family room where everyone else had gathered. Bernie’s parents were there, chatting to Lawrence’s sister. Lawrence’s father Fred, meanwhile, was talking to Leanne’s husband John about the landscaping John and Leanne wanted to have done. Leanne and John’s three children, Lucy, Rosie, and Millie, were playing quietly together on the floor. Lucy was actually reading aloud to her two sisters, who were colouring serenely on construction paper. Bernie only had one cousin, who was ten years older than her and lived in Edmonton, so the only frame of reference she really had for young children were Tallulah and Priscilla’s niece and nephew Hilary and Harris. Lawrence’s nieces were nothing like Hilary and Harris. The last time Bernie had seen Hilary, she had offered to cut off part of Bernie’s hair to make her a voodoo doll.

“What seven year old even knows about voodoo dolls?” Bernie had asked Tallulah at the time.

“Honestly, you should just be relieved she asked first,” Tallulah had replied. “And also that she offered to let you keep your own voodoo doll. She just yanked a chunk from Oscar’s head and we haven’t seen or heard about that doll since.”

Gene arrived about twenty minutes after Lawrence and Bernie with his own parents, Alice’s older brother Andrew and his beautiful wife Connie. Bernie saw her mother’s eyes literally light up when she saw Gene. Bernie was certain they’d met before, but it had probably been a while. In any other circumstance, Bernie would’ve been embarrassed by her mother’s noticeable intrigue, but in the case of Gene, she understood. He was too handsome to ignore. No one could play it cool in front of Gene. She wondered if that ever got annoying for him. If she had been as attractive as Gene, she would’ve been so arrogant. And yet Gene found a way to stay grounded. He was truly remarkable.

Alice served pork tenderloin for dinner. It was so good that Bernie was still thinking about it three hours later when she and Lawrence were back at home. Fred said grace, Leanne took a gentle, non-invasive interest in Bernie’s life, and John complimented her wine choice, even though it had been Lawrence’s. Lawrence, gentleman that he was, let her take the credit. Lawrence’s youngest niece Millie told Bernie that she was beautiful, everyone cooed, and Bernie briefly wondered if all normal children were that kind.

The following morning, Bernie went to Priscilla and Tallulah’s apartment to drop off the dress she had borrowed from Priscilla to wear to dinner the night before. It had been a big hit, especially with Alice and Bernie’s own mother, who had been particularly impressed. Bernie got the impression that her mother felt she had turned a corner into something more closely resembling adulthood. It was a little depressing to think all that had been achieved with a dress that didn’t even belong to her, so Bernie was choosing not to think about it at all.

“I think there’s something wrong with your niece and nephew,” Bernie told Priscilla as she handed over the dress. Priscilla snorted in return.

“Oh yeah?”

“Lawrence’s nieces are very gentle children,” Bernie continued with a frown.

“Harris is pretty chill,” Priscilla offered. “Unless you give him too much dairy. Then it’s a disaster, but it’s your own fault. But Hilary’s a monster. She really takes after her mother.”

“Umm, I’ve met Cynthia and she is nothing like that,” Bernie protested. She personally felt that Hilary was far more like Tallulah than anybody else in the Cherry family. Priscilla snorted again.

“Yeah, she’s nothing like that now,” Priscilla returned. “But when we were children, Cynthia used to make Tallulah and I lie down on the sidewalks in our neighbourhood so she could draw chalk outlines of our bodies and then describe our murders in gruesome detail. For like two months when she was four, Tallulah thought her new nickname was ‘Beheading Victim Number Two’.”

“Number Two?!” Bernie repeated incredulously. Priscilla nodded and laughed again.

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