Chapter Ten: “Or it could be like a body snatchers thing”

Tallulah worked at a record store with five other people. They didn’t all have shifts together; usually there were only two people working in the store at any given moment. Sometimes, if there was a sale, the store owner Chuck would schedule three of his employees at once. It was almost never necessary, but Tallulah still got paid for being there when she really didn’t need to be so she wasn’t about to complain. Besides which, for the most part, she didn’t mind working. She liked a lot of her co-workers; a lot, but not all.

Tallulah didn’t mind working with Chuck himself, who was blustery and aggravated roughly ninety per cent of the time. He kept to himself except for the occasional rant about the youth and how wrong it was for them to value Taylor Swift records over Fleetwood Mac. Chuck felt very strongly about Fleetwood Mac. Tallulah, who had no particularly strong feelings about Fleetwood Mac, was more than happy to listen to Rumours on repeat for several hours a shift. She also didn’t mind working with Robin because they got along really well and spent most of their combined shifts trying to reorganize the Fleetwood Mac albums in a way that would make Chuck’s gigantic forehead vein appear the next time he was in. Chuck was under the impression that their co-worker Evan was the one doing it because Robin told him Evan was the one doing it.

Tallulah also didn’t mind working with Penny, the high school student who came in for shifts Monday evenings and weekends. She was adorable and innocent and didn’t know who Bruce Springsteen was. Evan sang the chorus to “Penny Lane” literally every time he saw her and Tallulah hated it, even though she wasn’t even involved, so she could only imagine how greatly Penny disliked it. Penny had a colossal crush on Robin, which she’d admitted to Tallulah once in what Tallulah assumed was a moment of weakness and now regret. It wasn’t as if Tallulah hadn’t already been able to tell, though. She was certain Robin could also tell because it was blatantly obvious, but he was either nice enough or apathetic enough not to mention it.

Tallulah did not enjoy the shifts she had with her other two co-workers. Evan was like an anamorphic pitbull with a chest tattoo. He made faintly icky comments to Tallulah and Penny alike. Tallulah was offended on her own behalf, but horrified on Penny’s. Evan also spent at least some portion of any shift talking about his pet pitbull Lilah, the only woman in his life who had never let him down. Tallulah wasn’t the least bit interested in Lilah or Evan and thus loathed those moments she was forced to endure.

But Tallulah’s fifth co-worker was by far her least favourite. His name was Nick Finch, but he went by Finch, and he was terrifying. He never smiled. He had a buzzcut and nose ring. He wore black exclusively, which didn’t necessarily make him terrifying because so did Tallulah, but it was the attitude that came with the clothes. He had a leather jacket that he wore every single day. When it became too cold in the winter and he eventually gave up, he wore a black parka that he managed to make look threatening. Everything about him was threatening. He was sour and he brooded and he hated chatting. The shifts she had to spend with Finch were long shifts.

On one such shift, Finch came into the store in his black leather jacket, radiating haughty anger. He walked over to the front counter where Tallulah was already sitting, waiting for a customer. She’d started her shift two hours previously and no one had come in yet. The weather was beginning to get bad, snow billowing outside the front windows in the stiff November wind. Finch’s cheeks were red from the cold and there were snowflakes melting rapidly in his closely shaved hair. Tallulah watched him approach warily. He looked pissed off. To be fair, he always looked pissed off, but he looked even more pissed off than normal. She braced herself for a long evening of steely silence.

“Fuck winter,” he grumbled bitterly once he’d stepped behind the counter as well. There wasn’t anything to be shelved. Tallulah would be stuck with him for the entire evening and he was already in a terrible mood, angry at the weather. He was probably annoyed that he’d have to give up his bad boy jacket soon. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as he peeled off his jacket and sat down on the stool next to hers. Then he began digging through the backpack he carried with him everywhere and pulled out two plastic bags, each of which held what appeared to be several homemade butter tart squares. He tossed one on the counter in front of her. She stared at it, trying to work out what exactly he wanted her to do with it. He had opened the bag still in his hands and was beginning to eat. Several minutes of uncomfortable, taught silence passed.

“Jesus, they aren’t poisoned,” he muttered darkly to her after a while.

“What?” She asked, looking over at him. She hadn’t taken her eyes off the baked goods since he’d thrown them in front of her. She was half-expecting them to do something, like spontaneously combust.

“Fine, eat them or don’t, I don’t care,” he continued to mutter. Tallulah had lost track of what was happening. He seemed angry still, but also slightly miffed, like she had offended him by not understanding that the sandwich bag of baked goods he’d chucked in her vicinity were for her to eat.

“Oh, uh, thanks,” she said in a meager attempt to fix the situation. She grabbed the bag, opened it, and began eating one of the butter tart squares. Part of her still expected them to actually be poisoned, but she figured that would, at the very least, get her out of the incredibly uncomfortable situation she’d found herself in. Finch didn’t say anything. He continued to not say anything for the remainder of their shift together until the store closed, at which point he pulled his jacket back on and left without even a glance in her direction. Tallulah went home feeling very confused and also wondering who exactly had made the butter tart squares. She had a sneaking suspicion that he had, but that thought was almost too much to handle.

The next time she came in to work, she was on a shift with both Robin and Penny. Chuck had scheduled the three of them because he was expecting a frantic Christmas rush on the weekends. It was barren when Tallulah stepped inside, which was not the least bit surprising to her. Very few people bought records, no matter what season it was.

“Have you ever noticed how weird Finch is sometimes?” Tallulah asked Robin during a lull. The whole day had been a lull, but Penny was off restacking Barry Manilow records on her own, leaving Robin and Tallulah to laze around the front counter on their own. Robin snorted at her.

“Sometimes?” He repeated incredulously.

“He brought me butter tart squares the last time we worked together,” she continued.

“Are you sure?” Robin returned. Tallulah considered it a nonsensical question.

“What?”

“Like, are you sure they were for you?” Robin clarified.

“He threw them at me and said they weren’t poisoned,” Tallulah explained dryly.

“Huh.”

“Is it possible that he’s getting nicer?” Tallulah asked.

“Nah,” Robin answered immediately. “Maybe he’s dying. Or it could be like a body snatchers thing.”

“The weirdest part is that I think he made them,” she mused, remembering the squares. They were really good, too. Flaky and buttery and warm like he’d made them that same day.

“Well now I don’t believe you at all,” Robin said. “Are you sure you didn’t hallucinate this whole thing?”

“No,” Tallulah answered honestly.

“Maybe he has a crush on you,” Robin suggested a few moments later, waggling his eyebrows at her in a horrible way.

“Christ, what a terrifying thought,” was her response.

The next time she worked with Finch, she smiled at him as she came into the store and he walked out of the break room at the back. He narrowed his eyes at her until she stopped. It did not seem very much like he had a crush on her. To be quite frank, it seemed far more likely that he would crush her. The chances of him doodling her name on his notebook like a smitten sixth grader were slim to none.

“Thanks for the butter tart squares, by the way,” she said to him during a particularly slow part of their shared shift. He glared at her again, which was pretty much the reaction she’d been expecting, but not the one she’d been hoping for.

She tried to start up another conversation later in the day. He’d spent the majority of the morning in the metal section, flipping through Slipknot albums and glaring at customers who got too close to him. Tallulah was surprised by the number of people who didn’t flee from him in terror. They were clearly braver than she was.

“So do you do a lot baking?” She asked, aiming for casual. Finch looked at her like he could make her head explode from sheer force of will. He didn’t respond for a very long time. It eventually reached a point where she was certain that he wouldn’t respond and then moved even further past that into astoundingly uncomfortable territory before he finally answered.

“Yes,” was all he said when he did finally reply. Tallulah wondered if all of his conversations were this painful or if this was a special level of hell he reserved solely for his co-workers. She tried to picture him smiling with friends in his downtime and it was very, very difficult.

“Cool,” she nodded. “They were really good.”

He glared at her some more. He definitely did not have a crush on her. He very clearly didn’t like her at all. Talking to him had been a mistake and not one she’d be quick to repeat.

But then, the next time they had work together, he chucked a Tupperware container of peanut butter cookies at her with a glare and she was left even more confused than she had been before. The cookies were ridiculously good though.

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