Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Two
“The way I see it,” Alex finally continued, “just working in a place so bright and colorful and sweet, that makes people so happy, just makes me feel good.” Alex’s appearance, meanwhile, was explosively, dynamically, indisputably average. White skin, brown hair, clean face, five feet, seven inches, blah blah blah. It was his eyes that ultimately set Alex apart. Jennifer had Googled it and found that he was born with a genetic anomaly called heterochromia. Alex’s left eye was a light, hazel brown, but his right was a vibrant, electric blue. While at first disorientating, Jennifer discovered that the condition was likely the only interesting thing about Alex.
“But it’s just soooo bright and colorful and happy-sunshine-farts that I can’t be cheered up by it.” Jennifer continued to whinge. “It’s like trying to get cheered up by a baby toy or something. It just stops working after a while.”
“I guess,” Alex said, looking away and rubbing the back of his head. “Well…my home life is kind of, uh, complicated. Working at Gateau is relaxing for me. It brings my mood up.”
“Oh,” Jennifer said, trying to talk around the foot in her mouth. “It’s, um, not stupid or anything. That’s your own way to see it, and that’s fine. It…uh just doesn’t work…for me.”
They fell silent, both looking away and absentmindedly thumbing a different part of their clothing. A car rolled by the store with its radio turned up, briefly breaking the silence, but for the most part, Jennifer just silently listened to the public-domain muzak that played over the store sound system. Finally, mercifully, the bell on the front door jingled like the herald of a
Christmas sleigh as someone walked inside.
At first putting a friendly smile on her face, Jennifer let it fall once she saw Dwayne’s shining, pale head. That was how she always saw her boss: chrome-dome first, face second. He came swaggering through the door with his face unnaturally bright and a bundle of mail under his arm.
“Hey there, party people!” he boomed, too loudly for any time of day. “What’s crackin’?”
“Morning, Dwayne!” Alex called, waving ecstatically. Wendy poked her head out of the kitchen like a gopher from its hole. She vanished for a good thirty seconds before emerging, popping gum into her mouth.
“Hey Dwayne,” she murmured as she shuffled behind the counter. Once Wendy spied the letters in his hand, her gaze locked onto them with a feral intensity. “Are those our paychecks?”
“Oh! Um,” Dwayne stammered. He seemed to have forgotten what he was holding. “Yeah! Ok, hang on.” Bringing the letters closer to his face, he began to shuffle through them.
Jennifer couldn’t help but notice that at least one envelope was very clearly a parking ticket. Dwayne stopped his rifling with a contented sigh as he handed off an envelope to Wendy. She stared at the slip of paper for a moment, blinking slowly.
“This is supposed to be direct-deposit, Dwayne,” she said, looking up at him. He stared back at her, mouth slightly open in a mild gape and his eyes locked open like a fish on a hook.
“Whatever. Never mind,” Wendy sighed. She slipped past him back into the kitchen, saying “I’m sure it’ll drill through if I say it enough times” as she did.
Dwayne stared dumbly for a moment before giving his head a quick shake, as if he’d come out of a trance. Re-discovering the stack of mail, he shuffled through them again before producing another envelope.
“Alex, this is yours,” he said, handing it over Jennifer’s head while very pointedly ignoring her. Alex took it with a nod and a smile, but tucked it into his back pocket without a word. Jennifer turned to Dwayne, watching him dig through the mail more deliberately this time, his eyebrows buried into a deep ‘v’ on his forehead. He sped through the stack like cards, two or three more times. Dwayne looked up, met Jennifer’s gaze, and smiled. She didn’t need to be a mind reader to see it was nearly paper-mache fragile.
“Jennifer,” he said, warmly.
“Dwayne,” she responded, cautiously.
“I think you’re doing a fan-tastic job.”
“You’re-You’re killin’ it out there. Thanks a lot for your help around here.”
“Don’t thank me, Dwayne,” Jennifer said, holding out her hand. “Pay me.”
“Oh my God, again?” Jennifer snapped, arm falling to her side.
“It’s accounting’s fault! You must be in the system wrong or something,” Dwayne stammered.
“There’s going to be a point where I stop believing that,” Jennifer said.
Dwayne threw up his hands, dropping a bill to the cold floor.
“There’s nothing I can do.”
“There’s something you can do,” she scoffed. “I don’t know what, but there’s something.”
“Just cool your jets, homegirl,” Dwayne said while backing up, hands held out.
“And stop calling me ‘homegirl!’”
“Alright! Alright! I’ll go call the accounting guys and see what they can tell me. Happy?”
“No,” Jennifer glowered, “but I’ll stop yelling.”
“Good enough,” Dwayne said, flashing another plastic smile before he zipped from the room like a cartoon character. “Oh, Alex!” He called from a darkened hallway. “You’re off today!”
Alex was in the middle of ripping open his envelope when he stopped at the sound of his name.
“What?” He called.
“You’re off today!” Dwayne responded.
“Uh,” Alex faltered. “No. That’s alright. I’m good.”
Dwayne stuck his head out from around the corner and shook it.
“Nuh-uh, playa. You’ve worked too many hours. I gotta cut you off sometime.”
“Oh. Uh, okay. I guess so. Let me just…” Alex trailed off. He shifted past Jennifer, one hand tugging his apron over his head, the other fishing in his pocket for his cell phone. What Jennifer found bland and lacking in Alex’s personality, his few eccentricities had the market cornered in weird. For one, Alex didn’t own a car. He got around with rides from friends he was able to hitch onto. He was always picked up from work in the same car, simply hopping into the passenger seat before it sped away. When pressed, he never gave names, only passing out that he was “good at making friends.”
next chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Three
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more by WILL HEMLEPP