Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Seven

suspense fiction short stories

Short Story

Alex emerged from the bathroom at just the right time, drying his hands on his apron. Wendy and Jennifer broke their conversation and turned their backs on one another. He stopped in front of the counter, the electricity between them nearly dangerous.

“Were you fighting or something?” Alex asked, somewhat timidly.

“With her? When isn’t she?” Jennifer scoffed.

Alex frowned, letting the apron fall back down to his thighs. He rounded the counter and elbowed his way in between Wendy and Jennifer. Alex didn’t touch Jennifer, but he put his hands gently on Wendy’s shoulders and physically turned her around. She expected her to flinch and swat him away, but she didn’t.

“Gateau isn’t like a bakery or a sandwich shop. Atmosphere here is everything. Customers should only come in a good mood and leave in a better one. This,” Alex said, waving a finger between the two, “isn’t an option.”

“I’m not apologizing,” Wendy scowled.

“You don’t even have to talk,” Alex said, glancing longer than normal at Wendy. “Just be civil. Please?”

“So did Dwayne die and crown you manager, now?” Jennifer said. Alex shot a steely glare at her. The effect was disorientating. His brown eye seemed dull and bored, while his blue eye intently pierced into her.

“Dwayne is a bad manager. But coming into Gateau is the happiest part of my day and one that I really, really need. If I could just go into your brain myself and change things, I would. But I can’t, so I have to ask nicely. Roll back the attitude. Please?” He glanced at Wendy. “Both of you?”

Wendy and Jennifer once again glared at each other. It was Jennifer that yielded first, rolling her eyes with a sigh.

“Fine,” she said, curtly, before dropping heavily onto her stool and pulling out her cell phone to fiddle with.

“I don’t like you,” Wendy said, her tone rough as sandpaper. “I won’t pretend I do.”

“Copy that,” Jennifer grumbled, responding with a mock salute.

“That’s not what I’m asking,” Alex interjected. “Just live and let live, okay?”

“Alright,” Wendy said. She broke away, pulling out a pack of cigarettes from her pocket. “But this time, I get to hang out in the kitchen.”

As she disappeared past the swinging door, Alex sighed and pulled over another stool to sit on. He scratched his head, rubbed his temples, stretched his face muscles, and did a number of other cliché relaxation techniques.

“You alright?” Jennifer finally asked, but without concern in her voice. Her accusations may have stopped, but here uneasiness did not.

“I don’t like to delegate stuff like that,” he said, sounding much more tired than he had a minute before. “I just like it when things do what I tell them to do.” He paused. “Like computers. People are hard.” Alex glanced up at her, brown eye first. “Do me a favor, please. Don’t make me do it again.”

Jennifer, caught off guard by his honesty, nodded. His features relaxed slightly and he leaned on the counter, gazing at the beautifully made (by Dwayne’s standards, of course) cupcakes. After a minute, he stood, stretched, and got to work making another batch by filling a clean pan from the sink with some pre-made batter from the mini-fridge.

“Hey Alex,” Jennifer said, after a few silent minutes. “Do you have a Facebook?”

Alex hesitated just a fraction of a second, but a fraction long enough for Jennifer to notice.

“Yeah,” he said, nonchalantly. “A friend of mine finally convinced me to get one. I barely have anything up.”

“Ah. Cool,” she said, hesitating herself. “Maybe I’ll look you up sometime.”

“Sure.”

They quickly ended the conversation that was already feeling forced from the beginning. Jennifer looked bored out into the still-empty cupcake shop, but in reality was drumming her fingers under the counter and milling through her options.

She wondered whether to bring up yesterday or not. He avoided the subject as if he didn’t even remember. Perhaps it was true, that his angry explosion was something so routine or banal to Alex that he had never thought to mention it. Alternatively, Alex was embarrassed about how he acted and was hoping Jennifer would just forget. What good would come of it to bring it up if he was ashamed? If he wasn’t, then why compromise her position? Alex could assume that Jennifer either forgot about it or was too afraid to say anything. In either case, she was being underestimated. That could work in her favor.

What favor? Jennifer thought. She put her head in her hand and sighed. What the hell am I doing? This is paranoia or a phobia or something. At worst, Alex is kind of a dick. He’s not worth getting so worked up about.

At any rate, Alex’s motivations were not the first thing in mind. She waited for what seemed to be an appropriate amount of time before standing up and stretching, making a show of it more than she meant to.

 

next chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Seven

previous chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part

all chapters: Cupcakes and Fingernails

more by WILL HEMLEPP

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