Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Three

stories about strange things
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Short Story

After a muttered, quiet phone call, Alex sat at one of the tables and patiently crossed his legs. In the meantime, Wendy had emerged from the kitchen, her hair tied in a short ponytail as well and fresh gum in her mouth.

“What’s up?” she asked, her chewing barely slurring her words.

“I just don’t get him,” Jennifer said, mostly to herself.

“Not everybody has to hate their job, y’know.”

“It’s not that,” Jennifer continued. “It’s…he just doesn’t seem all the way there. Not stupid or anything, but like he left a part of his brain back home.”

“Kind of a shitty thing to say about someone,” Wendy said as she spat her gum into its wrapper and threw it away.

“I don’t dislike him. It’s not mean or anything. Like I said, I just don’t get him.”

“’Kay,” Wendy said, flatly. She started to plod back to the kitchen. “Call me when a customer comes in.”

“I don’t know why I even talk to you, Wendy,” Jennifer grumbled.

“Neither do I,” Wendy shouted as the swinging door cut of her sentence. Jennifer turned back just in time to see Alex sit up in attention. Putting his cell phone back in his pocket, he quickly made for the door, his ride evidently outside.

As the door shut behind him, Jennifer caught out of the corner of her eye Alex’s paycheck, still lying under the register. Without a word, she snatched it up and swiftly jogged around the counter, deftly slipping by cooking equipment, precariously balanced dishes, and Wendy, standing obstinately still.

Jennifer made it outside, just in time to watch Alex slam the trunk of a large, black SUV, its passenger-side door opened. As he saw her walking toward him, Alex lurched forward in a panic. Reaching out, he caught the open door with the tips of his fingers and slammed it shut, but not before Jennifer caught a glance at the driver, a bald, pale man in his thirties or forties. As she stopped, taken off guard by this, Alex strode across the sidewalk, quick enough to be almost aggressive.

“Yeah?” He asked, almost demanding. “Is everything okay? What is it?”

“Uh…” said Jennifer’s slack mouth. She had a mild short-circuit from the barrage of strange information her brain had just taken in.

“What?” Alex barked. Jennifer jumped at the order, the cushion around his demeanor completely absent.

“Jesus, man,” she said, holding out the envelope. “You just forgot your paycheck.”

He stared at it, silently, as if trying to remember what it was. He slowly blinked before gingerly sliding it from between her fingers.

“Thanks,” he grumbled, nearly whispering. Spinning on his heel, Alex glided back to the SUV, still idling. He opened the door, this time barely cracking it ajar, before slipping inside. Alex absentmindedly kicked a fast food wrapper to the concrete before slamming the door shut. Jennifer could barely see even a silhouette through the tinted windows, but she barely had the time to look as the engine rumbled into action, sending the car speeding down the street.

Even more perplexed than before, she stepped into the road to watch the monster of an automobile pass through three stop lights before vanishing through a left turn. Jennifer stood in the street, oblivious to any traffic, as she tried to make sense of what she had just witnessed. All her brain had been able to come up with so far was an exasperated “What the hell?”

“What the hell?” Jennifer sighed exasperatedly. Running her fingers through her hair, she sighed again. Before walking back, she stooped to pick up the discarded wrapper. As she balled it up in her hand, Jennifer spotted two objects that had been hidden beneath it. The first was a quarter, which was quickly pocketed. The second was a small, pink rectangle, just a little larger than a dime. Carefully lifting it, she examined the little square in the afternoon light. It was only slightly translucent, with an opalescent tint to the color. The bottom end was tipped in a pale white and smooth to the touch. Fiddling with it between her fingers, Jennifer plodded back onto the sidewalk and toward the bakery door.

“Eeugh!” She shouted, hurling the rectangle into the street as her brain finally clicked on what it was. A fingernail. Not a clipping, an entire fingernail.

Jennifer watched it sail over the blacktop, making impact with a park bench on the opposite sidewalk, before she sprinted back inside. Briefly considering a flying leap over the counter, she ducked behind it instead, maneuvered around Wendy again, and plunged her hands into the sink. Turning on the hot faucet, and only the hot faucet, she scrubbed her hands raw and burning with as much soap she could pull out of the dispenser. Jennifer grabbed a handful of paper towels and wrung her hands dry. Considering it, she dropped the paper towels and washed her hands a fourth time, making sure to get under her own nails.

Finally, soaking wet with both sink water and sweat, Jennifer turned around, panting, to make eye contact with Wendy. Instead of speaking, Wendy slowly blinked her half-lidded eyes.

“I-” Jennifer began, “I really don’t fucking get that guy.”

next chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Four

previous chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Two

all chapters: Cupcakes and Fingernails


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