Rated PG; violence, mild language
Prompt: Write a story including the phrase "Better late than never."
Author's note: maybe I'm entering my "almost too long to enter" phase.
I’ve done it.
I made the conscious decision to lock my door. I was very much aware as I rode down the elevator to the lobby. I didn’t hesitate as I got in the car and began the path to Bernadette’s cabin. I had a clear head as I drove the path into the woods. I planned out my movements as I parked in the snow in front of her house, walked up the porch steps, and raised my hand to knock.
Here, I freeze up, only now caring that I don’t have a reason for my visit. I’ve had a lot of conversations with her over the past few weeks, but they’ve all been about my commissioning her art. Now all the paintings have been made and the money given. They’re hanging in my apartment right now. But I need to talk to her more. I need to make her laugh and get into an argument about. . .anything. I need her to titter and for her curls to flounce as she walks me through her painting process. I need her to dot a little paint on my nose. I need her.
While I was thinking, my knuckles rapped against the wooden door. I hear footsteps. A lock clicks, and there she is. Her curly hair is in a ponytail. She’s wearing light eyeliner, a black hoodie, dark grey sweatpants, and red socks.
“Hey, Bernie.” I give a little wave, feeling the smile and blush grow on my face.
Bernadette grins. “Lil, perfect timing.”
She called me Lil. “Really?”
“Yes, couldn’t be better. Come in.”
She steps back as I walk into her cabin. Joy fills my heart at the smell of pine and wet paint. Bernadette is looking in a small mirror nailed to her wall at face height. She’s applying chapstick.
“So,” she smacks her lips. “Why are you here at this hour?”
“I. . .just wanted to say thanks.”
“For what? the paintings?” She slips brown combat boots onto her feet.
“They’re really beautiful,” I speak honestly.
Bernie brings her feet to her waist height one at a time, leaning against the wall as she zips the side and ties the laces.
“You’ve already said thanks. When I finished the job and you handed me the cash, remember?”
“I saw them and thought they warranted another one. Trust me, I don’t give out thanks lightly.”
One genuine thank you is enough per task, in my opinion. You sound like an idiot if you say it too much. Or lovesick. Bernie pulls a jet-black cloak off the coat hook. She clips the beautiful butterfly clasp in front of her.
“Hey, I’m not complaining. I need your help. I was a bit worried I’d have to do this on my own.”
she grabs a duffel bag off the floor. The first thing she pulls out of it is another cloak. She does a lookup and down of me. I squirm.
“That outfit will work. But you have to wear this.” She throws the cloak at me.
I’m grateful for it. In my rush, I didn’t put on a coat.
The second thing she pulls out of the duffel bag is-
“A gun?” I scream.
She winces at my shrill voice. But she turns to me, laughing.
“It’s not loaded. Just for show.” She slips into her cloak.
The third thing that comes out of the duffel is a shiny, wooden-handled hunting knife. She also puts it in the inner pocket of her garment. The fourth thing out of the bag is another hunting knife. It’s smaller and handled with rubber.
She hands it to me, holding the blade so I take it by the handle.
“There’s a pocket on your left side. Slip that in and zip it. It’s sturdy.”
I hesitantly feel the pocket of the inside of my cloak. The knife goes in. I pull the zipper across the opening. It closes as easily as a dress.
“Okay,” She tosses the chapstick into my hands. “So you’ll help me?”
Bernie pulls open the door. The wind has started and is blowing snow into the cabin. The flakes glow around her in the porch light like a halo. She flashes her teeth to me, her lips tilted upwards and a loose curl beside her right eye. A yes is behind my teeth when my brain turns back on again and stops focusing on her collarbone.
“Wait, what am I helping you with?”
Bernie points to the trees to the north, the entrance to a forest leading to somewhere.
“They stole my art. I need to get it back. It’s a very important piece to me.”
I pull my cloak tighter around me, feeling the bulk of the knife against my breast. The porch isn’t cold--the cloak is pretty warm. I’m gripping onto it for security because Bernie just asked me to do something pretty impossible.
“Break into their house? Contact the police.”
“They don’t care. It’s worthless to them. Like if someone borrowed a t-shirt and didn’t give it back.”
“Why’s it important to you?” I ask.
Bernie grabs my hand and pulls me down the steps. “You’ll help, right? All you have to do is take it from their office while I distract them. The knife’s just in case their guard’s there.”
“Guard? For a worthless painting?”
“Will you help or not?” Bernie’s finally impatient, which makes me panic that she’ll hate me.
“Yes! I’ll help. Of course.”
Bernie hugs me. I almost yelp as her arm slings over my shoulder and she pulls me flush against her.
I melt into her arms at the nickname.
I’ve hit my face against a branch. Again. Bernie says their house is also in the woods, and this is the only safe way to enter the property. I don’t think it’s safe, as I’ve hurt myself twice.
I fall back into the snow. My glasses fall off my face.
“I should have worn contacts.”
I hear Bernie’s knees crunch on the snow as she leans down to retrieve my glasses. I can barely make anything out in the dark. I feel the arms being pushed over my ears, and see my visions clearing up. Bernie’s there now, half-smiling. The asymmetrical expression gives my heart a scare. She holds my cheek as she pushes them up the bridge of my nose. I don’t want it to stop. But it does as she helps me up and whispers, “Wearing contacts wouldn’t have been near as fun.”
She pulls me along for a few heavenly minutes until we reach a clearing. There’s a house too small for the big area devoid of trees. We run-up to the brick building. I nearly trip. We lean against the side of the house, Bernie points to the porch.
“I’ll knock on that. Once they answer, run around to the back, and enter through the back. It’s not locked.”
“What if it is locked?”
“It doesn’t have a lock. You’ll be fine.”
“O. . .okay.”
“Are you alright?”
I probably look pale, which would still be fairly dark compared to her light skin. She takes my face in her hands. I nearly throw up from nerves.
“You can do this. The office is the red door. The painting is hung behind the desk. You’ll see my signature. Take it. Run out. Back to the woods. I’ll be there in ten minutes at most. I swear.”
I nod. She kisses my cheek. “Thanks.”
She runs off to the porch steps. I grip the side of the house as I lean out. She knocks on the door with more ease than I did an hour ago. I take a deep breath as the door opens. Bernie plasters on a smile and I run, not knowing who I’m leaving her with.
Lil better get the hint. I planned to give the thing to her on her own, but finding it herself might work better. If she doesn’t understand, then the problems will start. I did kiss her cheek, though. So maybe she’ll get it?
My train of thought screeches to a halt as the door opens. Blake stands behind it. He smiles warmly at me.
“Bernadette! Better late than never. Ready to pay for your little painting back?”
I give him the same smile. A family trait, I guess.
“I need it immediately. It’s very important.”
“Well, come in.”
I walk into the house, scanning which area will be best. The door leading to the kitchen is closed. The kitchen leads to the office, behind the stairs. The living room is right here. There's a glass vase, and those cushions look comfortable. That will do.
“Please, take off your cloak, because you were burned in the 1690s for witchcraft.”
I stick my tongue out at him as I pull the weapons from the cloak. I toss it to the ground and take off my sweatshirt, throwing it at his face, revealing a red t-shirt. Blake’s eyes light up at the colour.
“You want to settle it like that?”
I nod, leaning my head to the side. He won’t give the painting back even when I win. “Knives allowed, but nothing serious. No concussions, either. Maybe a day or two recovery, not including scab to scar or small bruises.”
Blake pulls his knife from his belt. He grabs a red bracelet from the tray on the table near the door. He slips it onto his wrist.
“Deal. But what’s with the gun?”
I push him over, jumping onto his couch. The cushions are soft, but still firm enough that I can stand up.
I throw it at his vase. It knocks the glass off the coffee table and onto the floor. It shatters. The daisies scatter and the water stains the carpet. Blake’s eyes are tinted with fury. He runs at me, knocking me over and pushing me into the ouch. He slashes my nose, which is all he can get as I thrash beneath him.
“Jerk.” I kick his ribcage and punch his cheek.
He goes up into the air like a tissue. I grab his arm and slam him onto the coffee table. He squeezes my elbow between his knees and flips me onto the other couch in the fetal position. I get a slice in his leg. He bites back tears and kicks my chest.
“Breast shot! Not fair!” I protest.
“Dad made you a girl. You kept it, though, so that’s on you.” He smirks.
I mock him and elbow his ribcage, whilst wiping off the blood that’s accumulated on my upper lip. “You’re such a-”
We didn’t make that sound. Blake gasps and turns to me.
“You’re not alone.”
He’s distracted. I toss him on the carpet. He lands in the mess of daisies and water, and probably not glass. I roll off the other end of the couch, which brings it down. I scramble to my feet and kick open the kitchen door, yelling Lil’s name.
I don’t bother being quiet as I ravage the fresh snow. I go as quickly as I can so that no second of time while Bernie distracts the person who stole from her. I’m only careful when I reach the fancy, oak-with-those-four-small-rectangle-windows door.
I sigh a breath of relief as it opens. I almost slide off my shoes as I close the door behind me, but that won’t lead to a quick escape. I leave them on as I walk down the hall. I see the very bright red door next to a staircase leading to a dark upstairs. I hear a loud noise at the front of the house. My instinct is to run to Bernie. But that would blow my cover. I turn the knob and enter the office.
It’s very standard. A printer, a file cabinet, a wooden floor. A fancy silver wastebasket. There are some posters of foreign places on the wall. I go deeper into the room, to get a better look at the framed pictures on the desk. I pick one up. A nuclear family. All in red, standing in a backyard for a summer barbeque. One of the two children is definitely Bernie. I’ll ask about it later. I set the frame down, walking around the desk to finally look at the painting that’s troubling Bernie so much.
I stumble backwards upon seeing it, knocking over the spinning chair and the mug that held pencils and pens in the process. My head is foggy. I am a bit confused, but my cheeks are rosy, I know it. I grip the edge of the desk for a moment.
After that moment, I greedily grab the painting off its nail to inspect it. I run my hand over the paint. I’m hyperventilating and feeling the painting is calming me.
It’s a painting of me. Laughing. Probably with her. Even more breathtaking is it’s all painted in shades of-
“Lilac!” Bernie yells.
Bernie kicks open the door and sees me holding the painting. Her mouth hangs open. Her eyes widen. Her fingers twitch. She looks like she wasn’t ready for me to see it, even though she sent me to get it.
“Bernie, I almost got cut with glass!” A voice yells.
She runs over to me. She doesn’t make eye contact, but takes my elbow and runs out the door. I come along obediently, clutching the painting to my chest. We run down the hallways to the back door. I hear another set of footsteps. I look back as we run away and see us being pursued by the kid Bernie had her arm around in the picture.
“Your brother stole this? Why?”
Bernie opens the door and shoves me out. “He loves to tease me.”
Her feet land on the snowy ground and we’re off to where we came from. Blake is still in pursuit. Bernie takes the knife she put in her pocket--which now has blood on it--and throws it at her brother’s head. He ducks, But he slips and his eyes fall off of us. Bernie swerves us in a different direction and we duck into the trees.
The next ten minutes is Bernie hurriedly taking me back to the path, freezing when we heard a noise. It’s hard for me to keep the painting, but I can’t let it go.
Eventually, she pulls me to the ground at a branch breaking, determines it’s a squirrel, and nods.
“Blake didn’t follow us. We’re safe.”
Not from the conversation that’s coming with this painting, though. It makes my heart do flips, but I’m still dreading it. I put the painting to the side, and am about to start it. But then I realize: why do we have to talk about this? What can we say that we don’t already know?
Bernadette turns her head to me. I take her face in my hands and kiss her. After she stops being shocked she pulls me close and rests her hand on my waist. I move a hand to her hair and let it flow in between my fingers.
“The plan was a success,” Bernie whispers. “I actually didn’t expect a kiss tonight.”