Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Six

suspenseful short stories

Short Story

Jennifer slammed her car into park, causing the entire frame to rock like a boat on the ocean. Yanking her keys out, she shoved open the door, locked it as she got out, and slammed it shut.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” she shouted as she bolted through the front door and pulled the hat over her head.

“Dwayne isn’t here yet,” Wendy said. She had taken a chair from one of the outside tables and sat on in behind the counter with her head perched in her hand.

“He isn- What?” Jennifer pulled out her phone and checked the overhead clock to make sure. “Didn’t we open an hour ago?”

“Yyyyyyep,” Wendy responded.

“So where is he?”

“Where were you?” Wendy said, deftly raising a single eyebrow without changing her expression. Jennifer frowned right back, shoving her keys into her pocket as she walked around the counter. With a shuffling, Alex emerged from the kitchen with a broom and dustpan.

“Morn- Uh,” he stopped to glance at the clock before looking back, just as chipper. “Afternoon!”

“Hey,” Jennifer said, noncommittal. Even after the drama of last night, she still had Alex’s odd behavior squatting on the top of her mind. He had become so hostile the moment he left the bakery, she could have sworn he was a different person. And yet, he stood around Gateau looking as placid and non-threatening.

What bothered her most wasn’t the fingernail. It was the van. Alex has never tried to hide that he has drivers, but he has always tried to hide who they were. Yesterday might have been the closest she had come to seeing one of them. When pressed, Alex only referred to them as his ‘friends’ that came to pick him up, but the large man that was driving didn’t seem like the kind of friend any 20-something should be making.

“We need a new broom,” Alex said, dejectedly. “I don’t think the dustpan came with it. What next?” Jennifer sat up to respond, but found, to her surprise, that he was talking to Wendy.

“Could you please go check how much icing we have left in the cooler?” she said, the irritable edge to her voice gone.

“Gotcha. What do we need?”

“Hang on,” Wendy said. She ducked under the counter and opened the cabinet under the prep station. “I only have one cotton candy left. Get one of those, two more chocolates, and one…uh, blue flavor.” Standing up, the two locked eyes for a moment and froze. They kept perfectly still for a few seconds before breaking into a nervous laugh. Alex was the first to break away, nearly sliding back into the kitchen. Wendy still had a smile on her face as she turned the counter and flipped hair out of her face.

“What. Was. That?” Jennifer said. As Wendy glanced over, she saw the smile melt from her face like makeup in a thunderstorm.

“Not. A. Thing.”

“That was the sappiest little schoolgirl bullshit I’ve ever seen.” Jennifer said. “Have you started writing ‘Mrs. Wendy Crowley’ on the inside of your trapper-keeper?”

“Crowley?” Wendy said, glancing over the shoulder to the kitchen. “Is that his last name?”

“Apparently, Ms. Oleander.”

Wendy looked away, with a slight frown and an eyebrow raised. She gave a noncommittal “Huh,” before reaching under the counter to restock the sample forks. Jennifer stared, waiting for a response that wouldn’t come. She sighed, running her fingernails through her hair.

“Look,” she said, quietly, “something is just off about Alex. He might be hiding something, or lying or… I don’t know. I don’t trust him.”

“But didn’t you-” Wendy began, but she was cut off by Alex backing out through the kitchen door. He carried an armful of full pastry bags that he set carefully down in front of Wendy.

“This is what I found back there. If I didn’t get it right just… uh, let me. Know. Um.” He glanced away awkwardly, rubbing his hands together. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder, toward the bathroom. “I’ll just be a minute. Ok.” Alex left as quickly as he came, slipping into the bathroom like a snake.

“How can you call that,” Wendy said, motioning toward the bathroom, “anything but harmless? Yesterday, you said that you ‘don’t get that guy.’ You’re right. You don’t.”

“And you’ve got him all figured out? In a few hours?” Jennifer said, an incredulous expression crossing her face.

“No, I’ve just been paying attention the whole time. The difference, Jennifer, is that I just didn’t want to get to know you. I didn’t try.”

“You didn’t see him after his shift ended. He walked out that door and did a complete 180. He’s unstable.”

“And you think that’s some big fucking insight? Alex is a happy, shy dude who has some baggage and likes his privacy, and you’re not doing him any favors right now.”

“’He was so quiet. He never gave anyone any problems. I can’t believe he would do something so horrible,’” Jennifer said in a mocking tone. “Sound familiar? It’s the easiest front in the book. How someone may act in one place can be totally different from how they really are.”

“You are basing this on nothing, Jennifer,” Wendy hissed, making a wide gesture. “Dislike him if you want, I don’t care. I don’t remember asking for your input anyway.”

“I just wanted to help.”

“There’s your problem.”

 

next chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Seven

previous chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Five

all chapters: Cupcakes and Fingernails

more by WILL HEMLEPP

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