You’re standing in the middle of the busy café. You’re holding a box of cupcakes, but cannot, for the life of you, remember who they belong to. You turn your head back to your father behind the counter. He is madly checking the many ovens to check that his evil cakes are not burning between taking orders.
“John!” He yells, attempting to hurry you up.
Your name is John Egbert. You hate everything related to cakes. Your dad, however, appears to love them so much you suspect it’s gone on the stage of sexual. You shake your head to get the thought far away.
“I don’t remember who these go to.” You say when you walk up to your dad. He sighs heavily and tells you to go stand on a chair and announce what order of cupcakes you have. You do exactly that. Your dad knows best. “Excuse me.” You say, completely ignored by the customers. “Excuse me,” You say again. “I have an order here of-” Some boy from your school walks past and hits the cupcakes out of your hands.
“Woops.” He laughs and keeps walking. You stare at him as he walks before getting down off of the chair to clean up the mess he made.
“Come with me.” Someone said calmly. You look up to see Dave, your best bro, talking to the bully. He was going to fight him, Dave that is, and win. He always stuck up for you, and had the class to do it outside, rather than in your father’s shop.
You scoop up chunks of cupcake in your hands and throw them in the box. You’re dad is going to be so cross with you, though he wouldn’t show it until you were both alone and at home. Scolding is for the privacy of both the scolder’s ears, and the scoldee’s, he’d say, though you’re certain scolder and scoldee aren’t words.
You place the box next to your dad and stare up at him. His eyes glide over to the box then back to what he was mixing in a bowl. He sighs. He thought you were useless, and he was right.
“I dropped them,” You lie. “When I was getting onto the chair.”
“What were they? I’ll make more.”
“Six blue tops.” You answer in a weak voice. He sighs again.
“Okay. Now go take orders. Can you do that for me, champ?” You nod and walk over to the daunting line of customers.
Many of them ordered cupcakes that were sitting behind the glass on display. You liked when they ordered those, you wouldn’t have to remember their faces. Dave came up to the counter next.
“You owe me.” He said, looking at the cupcakes on display. “Which one’s the best one? I get it for free, yeah?”
“I don’t know, I don’t eat a lot of them, these ones though,” You grab a vanilla one out. “Seem to be selling a lot.” You hand it to Dave. He takes a large bite out of it and continues to talk with his mouth full.
“You’re dad’s a dessert wizard.” He took another bite though he wasn’t finished with the one swimming in his mouth. “When do you get off?”
“Five.” You answer. Dave attempts to whistle around his food but fails. A rather pathetic airy sound escapes his lips.
“David,” Your dad says, handing you a new box of cupcakes. “John doesn’t have time to talk.”
“Sorry, Mr. Egbert. Just thought I deserved a treat for defending your kid again.” Your dad shifts his gaze to you. You take the cupcake out of Dave’s hand as he went to take another bite. “Hey!” You ignore him and turn around to go find whoever these cupcakes belong to. You wanted to be anywhere but there.
“Son.” Your dad scolds, though he’d swear that’s not a scold. You turn around but keep walking, going backwards.
“We don’t have time for chats, dad. You just told Dave off; don’t want to be a hypocrite do you?” You got him there. If there was one thing your father hated more than being a hypocrite, it was being caught out about it.
“We’ll talk later.” He decides. “They go to that young lady there, with her brother.” He points to a girl in a yellow dress. She looks five. Her older brother stands protectively over her. Everyone is so protective in this town.
You weave your way through the crowd until you make it to the siblings. You hand the box to the smiling girl and apologise to the brother for the wait. He hands you a twenty dollar bill and tells you to give it to “that kid” for “defending your sorry excuse for a life”. Make that, protective and rude.
Dave is sitting at a free table when you find him. He has a box of three cupcakes in front of him. He is onto his second.
“You got a tip.” You say, dropping the bill in front of him and placing his other cupcake in the box. He cocks his head as he takes a bite of the cupcake in his hand. “That man told me to give it to you for defending me.”
“Cool.” He shoves the rest of the cupcake in his mouth. “Annoy people more often. I like this.” He snatches the bill off of the table and stuffs it into his pocket. “Is there any way you could get off early so we could hang?” You shake your head.
“Okay. I guess I’ll go home then and give this cupcake to Bro. See you tomorrow.” He nods at you as a cool way of saying goodbye before leaving. You work in as much silence as you can manage for the rest of the day, avoiding your father’s gaze when he talks to you.
Eating dinner is awkward. You feel your dad’s gaze on you, and try your best to act normal, though by being quite, you are anything but. He knows you get picked on in school, but, like you, he is shocked that they’d bring that into your everyday life.
“What happened?” He asks, sitting his fork down onto his empty plate.
“What happened when?” You reply, eyes locked to your plate of food.
“Today, in the shop. Why did David have to defend you?”
“He didn’t have to, he just likes to fight.” You shrug.
“Who was it?”
“Nobody.” You snap. “Nothing happened.”
“Son, you’re contradicting yourself.” You drop your fork noisily onto your plate and look up to your dad, only to look down again.
“Some kid who picks on me in school knocked the cupcakes out of my hands.” You whisper. “It was an accident.”
“Did he hit you?” You shake your head. “Did he try to?”
“No, he just said ‘woops’ and kept walking.”
“Did he laugh?” You nod and feel your eyes start to prick with tears. “It wasn’t an accident, sport. Who was it? I’ll ban him from the shop.”
“That would only make matters worse, dad. Don’t worry.”
“If it upsets you, I’ll worry.” You don’t say anything. “Look at me.” You stand up from the table, still looking away from your father.
“I need to go clean the floor.” You answer. It’s your job to clean the shop’s floor when it closes, and your dad’s to clean the ovens and dishes. He decided to have dinner before cleaning up today, probably to interrogate you.
You walk out of the kitchen, through the living room, and down the spiralling stairs to the shop. Your house is a single floor above the shop. Your dad puts up a gate to the entrance of the stairs when the shop’s open so customers don’t think it’s a second floor with different food or something and go wandering up there. You used to keep glancing to the stairs when you first started working here to make sure no-one went up there. It wouldn’t matter anymore. The shop struggled to get started, and your dad had already bought all the equipment. He sold a lot of stuff from your house to help pay them off. There wouldn’t be anything to steal now if anyone went up there.
You grab the broom from the closet and begin sweeping up various crumbs from beneath the tables and around the ovens. You brush all the mess into one pile then collect it all up with a dustpan and throw it in the trash. You loathe busy days.
“I’m going to bed.” You tell your dad when you walk past him as he scrubs the ovens.
“John, it’s barely seven.”
“I’m just really tired.”
“I know when you’re lying, John. Wait on the couch. We’re going to talk about this.”
“There’s nothing to tal-”
You sit on the small yellowing-with-age couch for twenty minutes or so until your dad walks up to you with his silent steps. He sits on the couch and stares at you. You keep looking at the empty wall in front of you until his stares became uncomfortable. You turn your head to look at him.
“Not going to speak?” He asks. You look back to the wall and bring your legs up to your chest to hug.
“There’s nothing to say.” You push. “A stupid kid did a stupid thing to another stupid kid.”
“You’re not stu-”
“Yes I am!” You shout, your view becoming blurry from tears. “I’m stupid and useless and a sorry excuse for a human!” You bury your face into your knees as you sob. Your father slides over to sit next to you and pulls you into his arms. You fall helplessly into him, the comfort of his arms pushing more tears out of your eyes. He takes off your glasses and lets you cry into him, running his hand up and down your back, running fatherly through your hair. You cry for a good while, only stopping when you feel ashamed for causing a scene and no longer want to be seen. You call it an early night.