The figure now came into being, every next stroke layering upon the previous to mold its stunning physique. Before, the image had seemed merely chaos, but the more he worked the clearer it became.
His pencil glided across the page, creating what he willed to bring about. Slowly but surely the likeness of a woman emerged, the shiny graphite contouring her lithe features. He twirled the writing utensil like a baton and came upon its eraser, which he used to shear away what lines should not remain visible. And once he gusted away the rubbery scraps he looked over what he had completed thus far. There was no shading, and certain details were obviously absent, but not even he would have been ignorant enough to deny that this picture looked quite alright.
Immediately the boy put the notebook to his chest, so that not even he could examine the drawing any further. To his right the youthful voice had erupted, accompanied by the slight creak of floorboards. He could view a little girl scurrying down the stairway that led straight into the living room, and he groaned under his breath.
"Whatcha doing?!" she yelled straight into his ear the moment she arrived.
The boy winced and waved her off. "Please leave me alone, Pazi."
Yet it was evident that she wasn't going to heed his plea. "Are you drawing?!" she continued to speak at the top of her lungs. "Can I see?! Can I see?!"
She leaned on the armrest of the velvety maroon couch and started to bounce where she stood. The boy hugged the book more closely to himself, and eyed her in annoyance. "No," he put frankly, but that meant nothing to his little sister.
"C'mon!" she begged with all of her might whilst perfectly maintaining the impression of a pogostick. "Please, Bernie, please please pleeeeeease!"
"No, Pazi!" he shouted, adjusting the notebook over to the other side of his body. "And don't call me Bernie!"
Pazi let go of the armrest and stood straight up, a mischievous smile spreading across her face. "Why not?" she teased, cocking her head sassily with every word she spoke. "I can call you whatever I want! Bernie, Bernie, Beeernieee!"
Most eleven-year-old brothers in such a situation would have threatened, bargained, tattled, lashed out, walked away—take your pick. But not him. Because as much as his little sister did enjoy pestering him, he was aware of her intentions. And despite the looks of it, they were truly pure.
The boy set his sketchbook on the couch's side table and leaned forward. "Oh, you wanna go there?" he taunted, eyes squinted and a grin peeking at his mouth. "Do you really wanna go there?"
The little girl held her hands in front of her and swung her body at a pivot. She saw this as her chance "Yeah..." she said, giggles tugging at her words, "...Bernie."
Her brother shot up from the sofa at the name, and Pazi knew immediately to begin her escape. However, she was laughing far too much to make any real progress, and she suddenly felt herself being hoisted into the air. She squealed in surprise, though more in hilarity. The boy set his sister upon his right shoulder, and his feet started to spin them around. The girl roared with a contagious laughter, for some reason not bothering to plead for her release. Her brother laughed along with her. It was a valid fact, Pazi could be a brat at times. But she was his sister, and he really did love her. And seeing her this happy only made him just as much so.
The boy was starting to grow sick from spinning so much, but he wouldn't need to keep going for long. For after a minute or so a familiar lady soon clomped into the room. She was professionally clad in a navy dress that fell mid-thigh, while a purse perched on her shoulder and high heels encased her sore feet. Yet while a weariness displayed upon her face like a portrait, she couldn't help but smile. "What are you two doing?" she chuckled.
Brother and sister ceased rotation, as they both looked at the woman. "Oh hey, Mom," the boy greeted.
"Hi, Mommy!" Pazi shouted, peeking from over her brother's shoulder. Contrary to the norm, she didn't yell in Bernard's ear; but with that volume she might as well have been an inch from his face.
He grimaced before he spoke, "We're just playing around, you know?"
Their mother's eyes widened slightly, and she nodded very slowly. "Huh, I see," she said, in the end shrugging it off. After all, she had come across much stranger things than this.
She lifted her bag off of her shoulder. "Hey, Bernard, could you let your sister down for a minute?" she asked, slipping her heels off as well. "I need to talk with you for a moment."
The boy looked over at Pazi, and Pazi looked at him. "Put me down!" she commanded, gratefully not as loudly as she had spoken before. Bernard much obliged and carefully placed her upon the wooden floor, and as soon as she was grounded she ran straight to her mother. The two locked in a quick hug, before the woman suggested, "Why don't you go play in your room upstairs? I need to talk to Bernard about something."
Pazi nodded and sprinted to and up the stairs. Though not before chanting behind her, "Bernie's in trouble! Bernie's in trouble!"
Bernard moved to the sofa he had sat in just previously, ignoring his sister's remark. His mother's request was rather unordinary, but he was sure he wasn't being punished. He didn't remember doing anything wrong, and he was most likely correct. Disobeying just wasn't his thing, for he found no reason to go against instruction from someone that most likely knew more than he. This was a common mindset of his, one that earned him a snobby reputation and a wide variety of taunts at school.
Honestly, Bernard was sure fifth grade was where bad people went when they died.
His mother walked over to recline beside him on the sofa, the gentle sinking sensation awaking him from his condemnation of late elementary. She must have something to say to him surely, but maybe he might be able to get this going. Create a diving board from which the conversation could leap and plunge.
"So, how was work?" he thought to begin.
The woman sifted her fingers through her dark brown hair. "Well, it was sure something, I'll tell you that," she said, that smile not fitting her exhausted tone.
Bernard placed a hand upon his mother's shoulder, trying to keep sophisticated, yet somewhat tender. She didn't have many adults to confide in, being a single parent and working herself practically half to death every day she could. There would be no time to socialize and confide with others of similar age, and all because of her two children. Their mother had a home to maintain and mouths to feed, and if she dare take a break to meet with friends the consequences would be dire. Bernard knew that perfectly, and because of it he sometimes would try to offer some sort of maturity in conversation, just for her sake. Although whether or not he succeeded remained unknown, although he hoped that he had.
But none of that erased the fact that her job was slowly draining her life away. This was all that darn bank's fault that his family barely saw each other, and was struggling to keep what they currently had. Bernard couldn't imagine such a weighty burden, the yoke that he was aware his mother bore. He hated seeing her constantly stressed, behind that bright smile she tried to fake every single night.
"I'm sorry," he apologized, although he had nothing to be sorry about. Yet he continued with the philosophy that optimism was key. "But at least it's over for now, right?"
She looked at her son, her expression a mixture of pride and sorrow. "Thanks, hon," she spoke, "but that's actually what I wanted to talk to you about."
Bernard lifted his hand off of her. "...oh," he said, forgetting the maturity that he was supposed to be conveying. "W—what is it?"
His mother sighed deeply. "I know that Wednesday is 'family-dinner-night'," she informed of the obvious, "and I know you guys look forward to it..." Her hands entwined at the fingers. "...but I won't be able to do it tonight."
Bernard's eyes grew wide. "What?" he uttered. He jolted right back to eleven-year-old speak. "Why?"
His mother closed her eyes. "One of our employees is sick with the flu," she explained, "so I have to work extra. I'm going to be gone for a lot of the night." She was aware of her son's downcast face, and she placed a worn hand on his back. "I'm sorry, honey," she said, rubbing her palm from shoulder to shoulder. "I know you and Pazi really enjoy Wednesdays, but you two will have to have dinner without me."
Bernard looked up at his mother, a scowl plastered upon his face. He was beyond upset, but apparently not in the same way the woman had presumed. "I'm not upset about the 'family-dinner' thing," he told, in a tone that shocked his mother. "I just don't want you to work anymore. I mean, look at you, Mom." The woman glanced down to examine herself, as if she would find some abnormality upon her clothing. "You look exhausted. You work all the time! I just want you to stay home!"
Strangely to see, his statement seemed to hit her like a semi. Bernard could see his mother's eyes mist, which was something that he hadn't intended to cause. "I know, baby," she said. "I don't want to work either. I miss seeing you guys every day. I don't want to come home cranky and tired." She swiped away a tear that had somehow escaped. "You know things have been tight lately. If I don't work, then we won't have enough money to live here, or to have food or anything."
Bernard wouldn't allow himself to cry; he needed to stay strong for his mother, although he found it exceptionally difficult. But his mom saw through his straight-faced facade, and wrapped her arms around her son. "It's only one night, okay? I promise things will get better," she spoke over his shoulder. "This is going to work out. Everything will be alright."
Bernard would only allow the one tear to fall, but that was all. "I just don't want this to be normal," he confessed. "I don't want things to stay like this."
The woman hugged him more tightly. "Me neither. And I promise it won't be," she vowed. "I promise, baby." She pulled away and looked into her child's eyes. "My sweet boy," she uttered. "You have such a caring heart." She put her hand to his cheek. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"
Bernard grinned, as he pondered to himself the same.
All of a sudden his mother turned away, and she reached for her purse she had set on the ground. Once placed on her lap, she rummaged through its contents to come across and pull out a ten dollar bill. "Here," she said, handing the green paper to her gawking son. "Could you please take Pazi to dinner for me? I know it won't be the same, but I think she would still enjoy herself with you." She raised her brow, as if an idea had come to mind. "You can even invite a few friends if you want. I wouldn't mind."
Bernard thought for a moment, but reluctantly grabbed the bill. "Yeah," he confirmed, keeping her latter suggestion in mind. "But...are you sure? Like...this is a ten!"
His mother chuckled. "Yes, I'm sure. This is my treat, for not being able to make it tonight. Just remember to give me back the change, okay?" She leaned over to kiss her son on the cheek. "Thank you so much, Bernard. What would I do without you?"
The woman rose from the sofa, placing her handbag down on the floor. "I'm going to rest a little upstairs, okay?" she informed. "If you need anything, that's where I'll be."
Bernard nodded, as he carefully folded the ten into a meticulous origami. "Okay. You go and relax."
His mother smiled, and then made her way to do just that. The young man watched as she ascended the staircase. And once the wall impeded her view, Bernard reached straight for the telephone. He needed not to make too much movement, as the device was placed on that side table he had used just before. Receiver to his head, he fingered the keys he knew would get him who he wanted.
He was so intent and focused on his dialing that he completely disregarded the child tiptoeing down the stairs. And a number of tones later, the familiar voice spoke in his ear.
"Hey, Vix," he greeted. "It's Bernard."
"Oh, hey!" his friend said. "How's it going?"
"It's, uh, going good. Hey, I wanted to ask you—"
"Is that Vixen?!"
Bernard winced. He glanced over to his left to find his sister once again, racing to the couch. Her brother groaned, unknowingly communicating his grief to his buddy over the phone.
"Lemme guess," the voice inferred, "Pazi?"
The little girl hopped upon the sofa, and Bernard nodded his head, as if his friend could hear the gesture. "Yeah, is it any surpri—"
Pazi yanked the handle of the phone from her brother and put the device to her own ear. "Hi, Vixen!" he greeted herself, though as history seemed to repeat itself, it was much louder than Bernard's hello.
Vixen chuckled. "Hi, Pazi," she returned. "Can I please talk to your brother? I think he wanted to ask me something." The girl seemed disappointed, but nonetheless obeyed. She handed the phone to Bernard, but then allowed herself to lay atop his left side. Though in all honesty, he didn't mind in the slightest.
"Hey, so uh," he started back up again, "Pazi and I are going out to dinner tonight, and I was wondering if you wanted to come with us."
His little sister perked up from his side, her eyes gaped. "Yes yes!" she squealed, leaning her head closely to the phone in her brother's ear. "Please Vixen! Please please!"
Bernard pushed her away and moved the telephone to his other ear, only to hear his friend hysterical. "Oh my gosh, I love you sister!" she chortled, forcing herself to calm down a bit. "But for sure, I'd love to go! Where you guys going?"
"Did she say yes?!" Pazi pestered, sprawled back upon her brother's side. Bernard payed no heed.
"Well, I think we were planning on heading to Freddy's," he answered, "if that's alright."
There was a long pause, in the time Vixen was supposed to be giving her answer. "C'mon, Bernard," she finally responded. "You know I hate that place. You guys couldn't have chosen anyplace else?"
Bernard slowly stroked his sister's blonde hair, as she rested beside him, bubbling with excitement. She looked up at him with a smile that could light up the room. "Well, we usually have 'family-dinner-night' on Wednesdays," he informed, honestly a bit displeased with his friend's response. Vixen didn't tend to speak that way often. "Freddy's is like tradition...er, kinda. That's just usually where we go. But, um, Mom is busy tonight, so she wanted me to take Pazi out to dinner for her."
The little girl looked up at her brother, shock thrown upon her face. "Wait, what?" she spoke, but Bernard ignored her for the moment.
He couldn't have seen it, but over the phone Vixen frowned, now realizing the unconventional phrasing she had used as well. "Oh," she uttered. "I—I'm sorry. I didn't know..."
The boy put the mic closer to his mouth, allowing a whisper to be carried clearly to his friend. "To be honest, I don't really care where we go," he admitted. "But it's Pazi's favorite restaurant, and she loves 'family-dinner-night'. I kinda just want to make it up to her as best as I can. But if you don't wanna go, that's totally okay; I'll understand."
Another pause took place, but it was over shortly. "Okay, I'll come," Vixen concluded. "I'm sorry, I was a little out of line there. I don't really hate it that much. I'd love to hang with you guys."
Bernard beamed. "Thanks, Vix," he said. "I really appreciate it."
His friend let out a psh! "No problem, man," she assured. "But you know who you else you should ask?"
Bernard didn't need to be told. "Yeah, I know," he said. "I was gonna call him right after actually."
"Sweet!" she laughed. "Well, good luck getting 'pretty-boy' to come, 'kay?"
The boy chuckled. "Okay. Meet you there at, um...5:30-ish?"
Vixen nodded over the phone. "Sounds good to me. See you then?"
Bernard set the phone on its cradle, and lifted the device back on his lap. Pazi looked up at her brother as he started to dial again. "Mommy can't do 'family-dinner-night'?"
Bernard froze in place. "Oh, um, yeah," he stuttered. "I'm sorry, Pazi."
The girl stared off into space, seeming to be thinking hard. "...But why?"
Bernard decided to commence his dialing. "Because her work is stupid," he sneered, causing Pazi's eyes to perk wide open.
"Don't say that, Bernie!" she instructed. "Mommy said that's a bad word!"
The familiar tones played in his ear, and he listened to them rather than his sister.
Though this greeting wasn't the voice he had been expecting.
"Um, hello," he responded to the unknown person. "This is Bernard—"
"Oh!" the girl over the phone interrupted. "Lev's friend, right?"
Bernard was having quite the trouble recognizing this voice. "Yeah," he answered. "May I please talk to him?"
"Sure!" she confirmed, and removed the phone from her ear. Ever so softly Bernard could hear the girl yelling, evidently muffled through her palm on the mic.
And a few moments following another voice spoke, a monotone that the boy certainly recognized.
"Hello, this is Bernard."
"Yo, Bernie!" the voice came, suddenly more excited. "How's it going?"
The boy rolled his eyes. "Dude, don't call me that," he asked.
"Oh c'mon. Don't be lame," his friend teased. "The name suits you."
"Does not!" Bernard burst, but then immediately composed himself thereafter.
"Whoa there, don't wig out on me, dude," the telephone sounded, but Bernard had already moved on.
"Alright, so Pazi, Vix, and I are gonna go to Freddy's tonight. Would you like to come?" He made his statement quick, and straight to the point.
"Who's that?" Pazi asked, still finding her brother's side a comfortable place to rest.
Bernard placed his hand over the mic of the phone. "Leveret," he answered.
A smile spread across her face. "Ooh! I like him too!" she told. "He calls you Bernie too!"
Bernard's eyes rolled again; he was quite aware of that.
"Hm. Freddy's, huh?" his friend reiterated. "That's that freaky pizzeria down the street from school, right?"
Bernard cringed. He didn't like where this seemed to be going. "Um, yeah, that's the one," he confirmed.
As looked to be the a pattern with his friends, Leveret took his sweet, precious time thinking up what he would say. "Look, dude, I'd love more than anything to hang with you guys at that acid trip of a restaurant..."
Bernard scowled; he knew Leveret was being sarcastic.
"...but I got a reputation to keep up, and like, if someone sees me there..." He whistled from high pitch to low, obviously indicating a fall. "...I might as well tattoo 'nerd' on my forehead, ya know?"
Bernard sighed. "What, as if you're so stellar now?"
He was certainly upset. If Leveret didn't want to go, he could have at least been a little nicer about it. Or at least sound like he wasn't completely full of himself.
"Ha ha, aren't you the joker," his friend mocked. "But seriously, I can't go."
And this angered Bernard even more. "No, Lev; you won't go," he corrected. "If you think you're just so fly that you're incapable of going to a child's restaurant to hang out with your best friends, then you need to check yourself, dude."
And that was that.
"Look, I gotta go," Leveret said. "See ya later."
He hung up the phone, and after a moment of silence on the other end Bernard did the same.
"Lev's not coming," he said, to which Pazi frowned. "Yeah. You sounded mad at him," she inferred.
Her brother looked away. "Yeah, well, he's just being a jerk," he muttered. "I don't know why I even tried."
Pazi gave a hm, and cuddled back atop Bernard. "I'm sad he's not coming," she said. "But at least Vixen is. And I like Vixen."
Bernard peered back down at her. "You like everyone, Pazi," he laughed, placing a hand atop her opposite shoulder.
She giggled. "I know," she said, as she beamed up at her brother. "But I love you the most."
Bernard shone a pretty dumb-looking smile, and he responded, "Well, I love you the most."
And it was true; he really did. He loved his sister, beyond what many his age would ever like their siblings. The two had a special bond that few kids ever found, and Bernard was thankful that he and his sister had such a relationship, even despite their five-year age gap. And she loved him back, with what he was sure was more love than he possessed.
Pazi cuddled closer, happiness emanating from her being. "I love you, Bernie," she spoke.
Bernard only grinned, knowing that now was not the time to retort.
"I love you too."