Bernadetta looked up from the book as the bell over the door jingled as a woman entered her bookshop. Immediately she could tell this was not an average office worker as the woman wore a well fitted suit and her long blonde hair was in a tight braid. She looked around the bookshop with stern, piercing green eyes like she was expecting danger to pop out of every corner. As she looked at Bernadetta, Bernadetta had to fight the urge to run away screaming.
Alas instead of browsing the books, the woman walked over to the counter, rested her elbow on it and gave Bernadetta a once over.
“Can I help you?” stammered Bernadetta.
”I really don’t get it. You’re definitely not the type he usually likes to be around.”
“Ingrid, come on now!” The bell over the door jingled and Bernadetta could feel herself relax slightly as Sylvain walked into the bookshop. He crossed his arms, his expression annoyed. “Don’t scare her.”
Ingrid sighed and leaned away from Bernadetta and put her hands on her hips. “Well I couldn’t help but be curious about where you were spending your time.”
Sylvain rolled his eyes. “Well you know now so you can go. Bye.” He gave her a dramatic wave.
Ingrid narrowed her eyes and for a moment Bernadetta feared she was going to punch Sylvain. Instead she gave him an eyeroll back before looking back at Bernadetta. “Nice meeting you.”
“Nice meeting you,” Bernadetta echoed back in a stammer.
As Ingrid walked to the door, she gave Sylvain a playful push which he responded with one of his own. A moment passed between their eyes and Bernadetta could feel her stomach churning uncomfortably as she watched them interact.
After making sure Ingrid was gone, Sylvain walked over to Bernadetta. “You okay? Ingrid didn’t do or say anything weird right?”
Bernadetta shook her head. “Nothing really. She just came in and made a comment.” She hesitated, not sure if she should ask the question or not.
“What is it Bernie? You can ask me anything.”
She fiddled with one of the baubles near the register. Knowing Sylvain for about half a year now, he had gotten very good with reading her. Which is something the her from six months ago would never believe. Little Bernadetta, friends with a man that was in the mafia. He never said it to her outright, but she wasn’t stupid. The clues were all there and this wasn’t counting their very dramatic first meeting.
“Does she also work uh where you work?”
Sylvain nodded. “Yeah, we’re coworkers.” He gave her a dorky grin. “Pretty obvious though right?” He gestured to the well-fitted suit he was wearing. “Don’t worry about her. I think she was just curious to see who you were since I have mentioned you before to her.”
“You have?” Bernadetta couldn’t help the tell-tale squeak in her voice.
Sylvain looked at her sheepishly and rested a hand on the back of his neck. “Should I not? I mean I let her know you helped me out months ago.”
“No, no it’s okay…” She looked down at her hands. “Just weird to know I’m being talked about you know,” she added softly.
“I get that. Don’t worry, it was nothing bad Bernie, all good things.”
“That’s good to hear.” The real question she wanted to ask him was stuck in the back of her throat. Were they together? From their brief interaction she could tell they were comfortable around each other. More than just coworkers it looked like. Well it made sense. Getting to know him, Sylvain was very sociable and open, the complete opposite of her. Of course he would probably be with someone like Ingrid. Someone very confident and who probably didn’t take anyone’s crap.
“Bernie did you hear me?”
“Sorry, what?” she asked.
“I wanted to know if you wanted to try the new Mediterranean place for lunch? It just opened last week.” Sylvain gestured to his phone where he had the menu up.
Another thing that had changed for her in the last six months. Sylvain would come by at least once a week to have lunch with her. He always insisted on paying for it no matter how much Bernadetta protested otherwise. They always chatted during these lunches. Nothing too personal, usually just about the day, likes and dislikes and random things on the internet. She did not peg Sylvain as the type of guy who enjoyed board games and reading non-fiction books but he was! He even brought a few different games during their lunches and taught her how to play.
“That’s fine. I’ve been wanting to try it myself.”
“Awesome.” Sylvain handed her his phone and she began looking through the menu and picked what she wanted to eat. As she handed the phone back to him, a text came in and she saw the preview for it appear at the top of his phone from someone named “Boss” and it was “urgent.”
“You uh, got a text,” she said clumsily. She didn’t want him to think she was snooping because she definitely wasn’t supposed to see that. She thought it would be worse if she pretended to not see it. Or was she thinking too much into it? Maybe. Probably to be honest.
“That I did,” he murmured. He checked the text and his expression shifted into a frown and then he sighed. “Sorry Bernie, we need to try the Mediterranean place later. Work calls.”
“That’s okay. Uh, stay safe.” She bit her lip, not sure if that was the right thing to say.
He chuckled. “Thanks Bernie. I’ll see you later.”
See you later seemed to mean a long time. Two weeks had gone by without Sylvain coming by to see her. It wasn’t like she could contact him either. Despite knowing him for six months they never exchanged phone numbers. Their only interactions was when he came by to visit the bookshop. It was never a problem before but now she couldn’t help but wonder if he was okay.
She was closing up the bookshop for the evening when Ingrid rushed in, her blonde hair loose and flowing free down her back. “Good, you’re still here.”
Bernadetta froze in the middle of dusting a shelf, not really sure how to take Ingrid in her shop. “Ummm, the shop is closed for the day,” she stammered.
Ingrid was next to Bernadetta in a few steps. “I know that, that’s why I wasn’t sure if you were still here. I need you to come with me.”
“Come where?” Going with Ingrid anywhere was the last thing Bernadetta wanted to do.
Ingrid’s green eyes flashed with annoyance but then she let out a long deep breath. “I need you to come with me to the hospital. It’s for Sylvain.”
Bernadetta couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Sylvain lying unconscious in a hospital bed covered in bandages. Wires snaked out of him connecting to beeping machines. A blond haired man in a suit with an eyepatch sat in a chair on the other side of the bed and he stood as Ingrid led Bernadetta into the room.
“This her?” he asked gruffly.
“Yes it is sir,” replied Ingrid.
Bernadetta wrung her hands together not really sure what to do in the moment. Ingrid had already shut the door behind them, effectively trapping Bernadetta in the room with him.
The blond man walked around the bed and approached Bernadetta. It took everything in her to not scream and flee. He stopped and held out a hand. She stared at it dumbly for a few seconds before realizing what he wanted and took his hand for a handshake. His grip was strong and she could feel the calluses on his palms. Similar to Sylvain’s she noted numbly.
“I have to thank you for helping Sylvain months ago. I’m sorry for getting you involved in such a matter now, we pride ourselves on not getting civilians involved but I was hoping you could help him again.”
“Me? Help him?” she squeaked. How was she supposed to help Sylvain!? It wasn’t like she could wave a magic wand and fix him.
“He hasn’t woken up since the…incident,” said Ingrid. “The doctor says his brain is fine, he’s just not waking up. So we hope that by you talking to him, it would make him stop napping because he would want to wake up to see you.”
“But I don’t think…” stammered Bernadetta. “I mean I’m not…” Why did they think she would be able to do something that they obviously couldn’t?
The blond man frowned and Bernadetta was starting to worry that her refusing was probably not a good idea. What if he threatened her bookshop? Or worse? Technically all her good fortune with that happened because of Sylvain. What if it was all going to be taken away now?
“You handle this Ingrid,” sighed the man. “I’ll wait outside.”
“Of course sir.” Ingrid gestured for Bernadetta to follow her closer to Sylvain. “Come here, I need to show you something.”
Bernadetta followed Ingrid like a puppet on a string. From by the door she could deny what she was seeing to an extent but now that she was closer and could make out every little detail, it really hit home that Sylvain was lying in the bed, unmoving.
“Sylvain might not show it but he does care a lot about you,” said Ingrid quietly.
Instinctively Bernadetta began to deny it. She was nobody special but Ingrid’s glare made the words die in her throat. Ingrid sighed and looked to Sylvain. “He’ll probably kill me for this but I think it’ll convince you otherwise.” She reached for the shirt that covered his chest and pulled it up high enough that Bernadetta could see his stomach. A tattoo of a lavender flower covered one of his scars. The scar for the injury that she helped sew up months ago.
“I’m sure you understand what that means right.” Ingrid put his shirt back.
Bernadetta nodded numbly, remembering a conversation she had with Sylvain two months ago.
“So what kind of flowers are these anyway?” Sylvain gestured to the plant in the pot Bernadetta kept near the register.
“It’s lavender,” replied Bernadetta.
“Is there a reason you keep it here?”
“The smell of lavender is calming so looking at it helps me relax. And well…” Bernadetta touched her hair absentmindedly. “I like the color purple.”
Sylvain looked at the plant thoughtfully. “I see.” He looked to her with a wide grin. “I think I’m a fan of lavender too.”
“Just talk to him a bit. Please.” Ingrid rubbed her eyes. “I’ll wait outside as well. Give you a bit of privacy.”
Bernadetta nodded and focused on Sylvain. He was just so still, the machines beeping around him. She watched a few medical dramas here and there but she wasn’t sure if the numbers on the machines were good or not. “Hey Sylvain…” She wasn’t sure if she could take his hand or not with all of the wires attached to him so she just rested her hand on top of his. His fingers were so cold, nothing like the Sylvain she knew whose hands were always warm.
“You know, it was pretty scary when Ingrid showed up at the bookshop and then meeting that boss of yours. At least I think he’s your boss, he has that kind of vibe. But it’s nice to meet them, I guess, in a way. I think. Maybe. You know what, I’m not going to think about that too much. But I really hope you wake up soon Sylvain. It…”
Her lip quivered as she tried to hold back tears. “You said we would eat at the Mediterranean place the next time you visited. You promised me we would Sylvain.” Tears rolled down her face as she was unable to hold them back. What if Sylvain never woke up? What if Sylvain died? She didn’t want to think about what it would be like if he never showed up at her bookshop again.
Bernadetta’s head jerked up as she looked at Sylvain’s face. He was squinting, his eyes barely open but he was awake! She clutched his hand tightly. “Welcome back Sylvain,” she whispered.
The bell over the door rang while Bernadetta was putting a few books on the shelf. “Welcome!” she called out before going back to her work. She wanted to get these books put away before she forgot to do so.
Once she was done, she turned to head back to the counter and startled as she saw Sylvain leaning against it.
“You were discharged from the hospital!” She hurried over to him, giving him a critical look over. Due to the extent of his injuries Sylvian had been stuck at the hospital to recover from his injuries. “You should have told me you were getting discharged.”
“But I wanted to make it a surprise,” he replied with a grin. “Wasn’t it a good surprise?”
Bernadetta rolled her eyes. “I guess so. When were you let out?”
“Today actually. This is the first place I decided to stop off.”
Bernadetta’s eyes widen and her attention darted to the lavender plant sitting on the counter.
Sylvain pulled out his phone. “Did you have lunch yet? You want to try the Mediterranean place? I know it’s like a few months late but…”
“We can.” Bernadetta guessed her sandwich for lunch would be for tomorrow.
“Awesome. Here, you can pick first Bernie.” As Sylvain held out his phone to her, Bernadetta couldn’t help but glance at his abdomen where she knew the tattoo was. She knew she could ignore it, every time she visited the hospital, they always talked about other things but now they were back in her bookshop, everything going back to normal. It also wasn’t lost on her that her voice was the one that brought Sylvain back as well.
“Bernie? Earth to Bernie?” Sylvain waved his hand in front of her face. “Did you get enough sleep last night? It isn’t like you to doze off. You want to take a nap in the back? I can watch the bookshop for a bit.”
It might change everything but she knew she couldn’t just leave it in the background. Not when it was on her mind like this. She was a lousy actor all around. “When Ingrid brought me to help you wake up, she uh showed it to me.”
“Showed what?” Sylvain asked with a frown.
She gestured to his abdomen, too embarrassed to say it.
His hand immediately went over where the tattoo was and his face took on a shade of red. “Damn it Ingrid,” he murmured under his breath. He sighed. “Well there’s nothing much I can do about it now I guess.” He looked to her, his usual confident expression giving away to awkwardness and he rested his hand on the back of his neck. “I honestly wasn’t going to tell you. My job is very dangerous and you’ve seen what happens when things go wrong. I wouldn’t want to stress you out like that, although I think that already happened so I’m sorry about that Bernie.”
“But why me?” she whispered. She glanced at where the tattoo was on him. “And why would you…”
“Because I enjoy our conversations. You are very cheerful and bright and you worked so hard for your little bookshop and I have to admire your strength. This tattoo is a memory of what you did. Like I said before, not many would stick their necks out like you did. And well, it’s a bit corny but even if we stopped talking for whatever reason I would still have a memory of our time together. I know that it’s a bit weird but.” He let out a sad sigh. “I’m sorry if I made things weird.”
Bernadetta shook her head. “No, you haven’t I…” What in the world was she trying to say? What in the world could she say? This was pretty much a love confession wasn’t it!
“Maybe I should go for now.”
“Wait!” Bernadetta grabbed his hand before he could walk away, her grip tight. She was afraid if she let him go he would disappear from her life. “I…” She looked at the ground and struggled to pull her thoughts together. “I know your job is dangerous and more often than not you are in trouble and have to deal with crazy situations but I wouldn’t mind trying at least. I mean if you want to, you don’t—”
She yelped as Sylvain swept her into a tight hug.
“I do, I do so much Bernie,” he murmured into her hair. He pulled back and gently pressed a kiss to her forehead. A blush rose up her cheeks and she looked away in embarrassment.
“Go slower, got it,” he commented. “Sorry about that Bernie, I was too excited.”
“It’s okay,” she stammered. “You just surprised me that’s all.”
“Well then I’ll warn you next time, how’s that?” He gave her a side hug, his arm protectively around her shoulders. “We’ll do our best okay? I’ll do my best.”
Bernadetta nodded. “Okay,” she whispered.
He pulled out his phone. “So uh, want to get food from that Mediterranean place for our first meal as a couple?”
She couldn’t help but giggle. “Sure, what not?” She knew there would be plenty of hardships ahead, there was a risk of dating someone in an occupation as Sylvain after all but for now she wanted to try.