“Do you think you can handle it?”

After half an hour of familiarizing her with the products they sell, their prices and packaging, Uncle Tom led Wendy to the counter, showing her how to operate the cash register. If his nephew could do it alone, she had to show her skill for the rest of the afternoon.

Still, no customers, she took Rusty’s portable video player for a quick viewing.

“Let’s see what you have here.”

“He’s not much of an outdoors guy.”

Uncle Tom spoke from behind her, surprising her with the remark.

“Why do you say that?” she turned around and watched Rusty’s uncle slicing a loaf of bread.

“He seemed to be burdened by something he would not tell me.”

“Any girlfriend?” she was afraid to ask but she did it anyway.

“I don’t know,” Uncle Tom replied. “Women come here often to buy. I feel some of them wished he would make a move but then Rusty would keep his distance. He created a wall, which he explained to me as business-to-customer relationship. Never cross that line, he said.”

“Did he tell you something about the past?”

“Just in passing. He talked about a girl who left. That’s it.”

“Was he angry at her?” she waited with bated breath what the old man would reveal.

“Well, he laughed like crazy.”

“Why?” Wendy was confused. Perhaps, it was about another girl, not her.

“It’s funny really because while he was laughing, tears fell down his cheeks. He did not explain why.”

Wendy felt the urge to tell Uncle Tom the whole story. However, she desisted at the moment, fearing the old man would see her as the villain who ruined his nephew’s life. She had to talk to Rusty first and told him the truth: she was wrong to break his heart.

– o –

The trickles began after three.

Preparing for merienda, the local term for a quick bite two to three hours before supper, residents trooped to the bakery. It was a routine they were accustomed to.

“Where is Rusty?”

Seeing a new face manning the counter, almost everyone asked the same question before specifying their orders. It would seem Rusty became popular because he had the knack to give repeat customers the items they often bought before they even ask. That was the missing connection she lacked.

One customer, perhaps too friendly with him, gave Wendy a bit of a headache she did not need. Quite frankly, she felt jealous for the woman’s presumed closeness to him based on her words.

“Where is he?” the Marilyn Monroe look-alike asked. “Please tell him I am here.”

“He is unavailable,” Wendy curtly replied, noting her skimpy outfit without a doubt longed for attention.

“Since when?” she asked, her face showed shock. “I always thought he is still single.”

Wendy wanted to laugh but she resisted. It was obvious the woman misinterpreted the reason given her.

“Ma’m, he is out somewhere,” she said, emphasizing the point, clearing the issue. “Don’t ask me because I don’t know.”

“Please give him this,” she said, handing Wendy a denim jacket fitting his size. “I promised him that last week.”

“I am sure he’d like it,” Wendy sighed, the tinge of jealousy evident in her voice.

“I don’t know,” the woman confessed. “Everything I gave him, he returned.”

Wendy wished she could be happy to know that but she wasn’t. She pushed Rusty to the Arctic, so to speak. He became frigid.

(to be continued)



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