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Bimbo Bakeries

The Botanical Inn was a mere ten-minute jaunt from my doorstep, or fifteen when the summer road blockage altered the street’s usual flow. Yet every dawn, like clock-work, I managed to navigate my way to work with precisely two minutes to spare, finding solace in the hotel lobby bathroom. I dedicated these fleeting moments to perfecting my customer service smile, gauging my daily progress by how much of my back molars were visible. My boss, in my thoughts affectionately referred to as ‘Gay Matt,’ seemed content with my punctuality, and I half expected it had earned me a reputable mentor for front desk training. His formal name wasn’t actually Gay Matt, but my mental moniker was more of a categorical designation given his unabashed homosexuality. Gay Matt’s daily attire somewhat resembled funeral garb: a consistent ensemble of black slacks. Black iron-pressed shirt. Black leather moccasins, spiked with stubby silver rods reminiscent of porcupine quills, perhaps to warn off predators. His “Friday shoes,” as he called them, but I took note that they were a daily staple and often contemplated what it might feel like to be kicked by them. Each step he took compressed the leather, revealing more of his feet than I cared to witness.   


For two weeks, I’d immersed myself in front desk training via a mind-numbing computer simulation. The tasks were mundane: drag the cursor to secure a reservation for Mr. Beethoven. Mr. Beethoven forgot to mention that he brought his shedding black Labrador along with him for his business trip, make sure you click the right button to charge him a pet fee! That kind of shit. Though, there was a certain poster on the wall near the computer that always caught my eye while I mindlessly dragged the mouse to and fro:  


World renowned Chef Wilson could pay a surprise visit to a hotel near you if enough people scan this code below and fill out a survey!  


I found solace in stealing glances at the poster. The chef looked pleased with his life, an older guy with a big smile. I’d learned the hard way about the deceptive allure of advertisements like these; once a fool, I believed in their magic after mailing a letter to Cheerio, lured by the possibility of a year’s worth of free cereal on the box. Either way, the man on the poster almost convinced me again that I had a possibility of meeting him if I took this survey. I was fully aware that my chances were slim, but I completed the survey nonetheless, clinging onto a sliver of hope in a final attempt to test fate. After I clicked “submit” I searched up this Chef Wilson on the computer I was supposed to be tasking on. He was one of those famous television guys that went around undercover just eating food and giving it so many stars out of five. Wikepidia also said that his favorite food was Cheerios. I hoped the survey was another scam; Chef Will sounded like a quack.  


On my first day Gay Matt had promised a transition from the simulated tedium to the real action: dealing with actual Beethovens and their furry companions. Today marked that transition, prompting a thought: would it be completely out of line to inquire about the hotel’s quitting protocol? Some places frown on quitting without notice, a notion I found puzzling. No offense, but if it’s a shit place to work in, shouldn’t I have the liberty to just leave? I resolved to grant the front desk a week’s worth of my fidelity. Then, if each morning’s wake up call felt like a heavyweight existential gut-punch, I’d clock out for good. Seventeen and in the midst of summer, I could be doing other things, like drugs and stuff, with my time. That’s what kids usually do in the summers I think.  

Gay Matt, self-proclaimed top notch trainer, chose himself for the task of training me. By noon, I’d barely managed three yawns, finding it odd no one had swung by the front desk. The only notable occurrence was a certain Fredick Kissemmee calling to cancel his booking.  


I hated the phone script: “Botanical Inn on 30th, how may I serve you?” I noticed Gay Matt mouthing along like he thought life was a Disney sing-along.  


“This is Frederick Kissemmee canceling my rez, found a cheaper spot. Lower your prices.” What an ass. He was right about the prices though.  


“Have a great stay elsewhere, Frederick, you can kiss my a–”  


Gay Matt ripped the phone from me and slammed it back into the phone box. I caught a glimpse of the horror in his eyes but picked up a mangled paperclip resembling his wonky eyebrows. He peered at me for some time. 


“Jasmine, right? How old are you?” 


“Julie, actually. I’m seventeen, still a minor!” I was always awkward around adults.  


“At seventeen, my parents tossed me out for being gay,” Matt grandstanded his success story– getting hired by the Botanical Inn as only a teenager– for an imaginary audience. As he spoke, he meticulously straightened pencils on the counter, testing their sharpness with a poke. I half-expected his finger to burst like a balloon.  


“So guess what, Hon? You’re not some trailblazing seventeen-year-old here. And let me tell you, using that tone on the phone won’t fast-track you to where I am,” Matt concluded his spiel.  


Well, thank the heavens, I had zero desire to end up in Gay Matt’s weird leathery porcupine shoes.  


I had prepared my own lunch at home: a sweat-beaded Capri sun paired with a PB & J sandwich salvaged by cutting off the moldy crust. If Boss's pep talk hadn't made me feel like a child, this lunch certainly did. It didn't help either that I knew I'd have to tip-toe at the front desk for anyone to see my full face; the Botanical Inn wasn't built for someone of my stature. Seizing my brown paper sack of lunch, the crinkle caught Matt's attention, but he remained engrossed in a llama video on his phone. Seeking a moment of freedom in the mandatory fifteen-minute break, I settled on the sidewalk outside, attempting to bask in some sunlight while pulling weeds from the cracks. I mentally listed apologies owed: Fredrick Kissemmee (for the tone I took), Mom (also for my tone this morning), God (for petty theft).   


An unusually large man in a police uniform, sporting a thick Russian accent, interrupted my internal reckoning. He pointed at the hotel and inquired if I was staying there with my parents. Accusations of me being a child seemed to be the theme of the day. Irritated, I replied that I worked there, mentally adding another apology for my tone to the list. 

The officer, now with tousled hair from rubbing his hand through it, warned me about a loose dog. He asked if I'd seen the dog, cautioning not to panic if spotted. No sightings on my end. He thanked me and strutted off– damp uniform, a strange swagger. If he had a tail, he could pass for the missing dog.  


My fifteen minutes of freedom were over. Swinging my brown sack into the trash can labeled “Botanical Inn Waste,” I took my last bite of PB & J, met with a crunch that wasn’t peanuts. Tooth on tooth–mouth still vibrating from the impact. Swallowing, I glazed my tongue over the wounded area and felt the sharp edge of what used to be a full front tooth. The tragedy registered and a hefty sprint back to the bathroom revealed a mirror mocking my half-tooth grin, foretelling parental wrath. Nausea hit, clutching my stomach, I sulked to the toilet and vomited the sandwich. There it was amidst peanut butter broth and jelly swirls: my half-tooth. In the mess was my reflection, swirling water aligned the tooth and I smiled with my full set of teeth again; my back molars could be seen in all of their glory. Just when my customer service smile was getting good, of course this happened. I reminisced, chuckled, then flushed the past away. Back at the front desk, hiding my half-smile, I hoped for short visitors.  


Gay Matt left for his–allegedly necessary–second lunch break around one claiming that the second break optimized his productivity on the clock. It sounded like the kind of logic I usually subscribed to, so I sent him away with a thumbs up, careful not to open my mouth. He was on an errand to pick up his Range Rover from his mom and he estimated his absence for–his words–“an hour or three,” suggesting I contact Janice from HR if I needed help. Not knowing how to contact Janice, I decided to not need help.  


An hour of being vigilant for stray dogs and tonguing my jagged enamel passed. I couldn't help but sneak a few looks at the poster of Chef Wilson to pass the time. He had a complete set of teeth and a career he adored. Chef Wilson seemed to have it made. 

As I was sulking a group arrived, youthful and honing in on me quickly. Remembering Matt’s absence and Janice’s unavailability, I mimicked confidence as Mom always advised, pursing my lips instinctively.  


“I’m Megan from Bimbo Bakeries. We have a conference room reserved for 2,” she, apparently the group’s spokesperson, scanned the vicinity. Towering over me, Megan could see the entirety of my face despite the distance between us. That meant extra facial precautions on my end. Feigning keystrokes on the computer, aiming for a competent impression (truthfully, I just relished the clacking sounds), I typed adjfjksdfkldgksldj into the search bar. I smiled up at Megan by curving my mouth to the high heavens and squinting.   


“Yeth, Bimbo Bakerieth, I’fe got you right here, jutht follow me!” I attempted to mask my fresh lisp, tensing my mouth muscles until they ached, puffing out my lips–only resulting in whistling air as I spoke. Suppressing a chuckle at the company name and my own absurdity, I guided the group to what I hoped was an empty conference room, signaling Megan to enter. Grateful thank-you’s followed from the group; I merely shook my head, locking my lips into a smile that more than likely resembled pain; at least in this my appearance was honest, my gums were still throbbing from the earlier impact.  


Trying to recall where I’d encountered “Bimbo Bakeries,” a morning flashback struck: mold-infested bread crust, a callous remark to my mom about the oversight in buying the loaf. The crumpled plastic wrap bore the logo of Bimbo Bakeries. Lost in thought right outside the conference room, squinting and gripping my fists till my nails drew blood, I released myself from my own grasp. As I reopened my eyes, the world appeared dark, speckled with color from prolonged closure. The spots faded, revealing a man in the conference room smiling sheepishly through the door window. I blushed, imagining he thought I’d had an aneurysm. Wiping my hands on my sweater, I returned to the front desk. Matt was already tidying the pencils I’d fiddled with, my distraction from the missing tooth.  


“You’ll never guess what happened, I hit a freaking dog with my Range Rover on the way back,” Gay Matt didn’t seem too torn up about the dog. I wondered if it was the dog.    


“What did it look like?” I moved my lips as little as possible.   


“Loads of dents. My mom took it back to the shop,” he replied. 


“I meant the dog,” I clarified with a restrained smile.   


“Oh, it seemed fine. Got up and ran off. Didn’t get a close look.”  


His expression was oddly inquisitive, and I realized with horror that I was still smiling. Thiit Thiit. Even my thoughts echoed with a lisp. 


“Are you ok? Did someone give you a hard time, maybe that caller from earlier?” Matt’s amusement overshadowed any concern he might’ve had.  


I clarified that it was my PB & J mishap, and we left the matter alone, although amidst chuckles, he jestingly offered to fib to customers, labeling me mute and a pity hire if I preferred not to talk. Oddly sweet of him, I thought.  


The day unfolded somewhat routinely, given the absence of my prized tooth. As the clock ticked closer to the end of my shift, I was anticipating divulging to my parents our upcoming dental bill when a face appeared at the desk– or rather, half of one due to the Great Wall of China between us. Short in stature, much like me, his age was somewhat of a mystery to me. Devoid of forehead wrinkles or gray hairs, his youthful voice resonated when he greeted me.  


Introducing himself as Andres from Argentina, recently hired by Bimbo, claimed he’d seen my eyes and “discerned something” from them upon entering the Botanical Inn. Astonished that one could glean such insights from mere eye contact, my astonishment only grew when he invited me to a business dinner with his colleagues. I blushed, comforted by the fact that he couldn’t see the hole in my mouth when I smiled. His eyes captivated me: long carbon eyelashes and a golden ring encircling his brown irises. Against my better judgment, I surrendered my phone number by jotting it on a sticky note and sliding it across the marble countertop. As he departed, I saw from a distance a fleeting smile adorn his face. A glance from Gay Matt conveyed disapproval, jolting me back to the reality that I was merely seventeen; perhaps not the wisest choice to accept a date with an adult, even if posed as a business affair.  


Around four in the afternoon, I headed home, a text waiting in my inbox revealing the details of the Bimbo dinner and their proposed time. The text also expressed delight in meeting me earlier that day, causing my cheeks to slightly flush with color. Before departing from work, I’d noticed the conference room where I had placed the Bimbos was completely dark and sealed shut. I assumed it might be a team-building activity, yet I felt a pang of disappointment that I hadn’t glimpsed Andres’ complete face. It was nice of him to like my eyes even if he hadn't seen my chipped tooth. Replying that I couldn’t attend due to a family dinner– a lie motivated by Gay Matt’s disapproving face– Andres responded, expressing well wishes for my family and adding that he’d see me tomorrow at the front desk. He signed his text with a winky face. After reading it, I placed my phone down, feeling the onset of a toothache and reaching for Advil. My parents weren’t too upset about the tooth; they figured insurance would cover it but firmly advised against indulging in another PB & J for the foreseeable future. I also told them about Andres, leaving out the mystery of his age, and they promptly declared a dating embargo until my tooth was restored, but still urged me to get a good look at his face the following day. 


I arrived late for work the next morning, thanks to a throbbing mouth that kept me up most of the night, leaving me with only an hour of sleep before my alarm. I stumbled into the Botanical Inn, messy hair and unbrushed teeth, all thirty one and a half of them. Matt’s eyes shot daggers as I approached to clock in, but I flashed a sheepish smile to disarm his glare and he just stared at my teeth.  


“Looks like you’ve got a one-man fan club forming,” Matt’s voice sneaked into my ears, urging me to pivot. There stood Andres, or at least the visible part of his face. Today he’d arrived bearing a gift, a sizable bag emblazoned with the slogan: “Muffin compares to Bimbo!” Corny.  


I thanked Andres profusely, keenly aware of Gay Matt’s looming presence as he craned his neck for a peek into the bag. Andres, in his charm, proposed a post-shift rendezvous in the back hallway. Matt, the ever-watchful owl, coughed pointedly, still snooping around my shoulder. I rethanked Andres for the mysterious contents, vowing to unveil the surprise only after punching out. Gotta save some thrill for later, right? With a smirk and a reminder to meet him in the back hallway, Andres retreated to the conference room, leaving me to wonder what on earth was stuffed in that bag. 


The screech of the computer’s clock-out beep almost shattered the windows. Bidding a hasty farewell to Matt, I nearly face-planted over the forgotten gift bag from Andres. With an improvised purse-style grip, I slung the bag over my arm. Glancing at Chef Wilson for the last time, I realized his image had morphed from my earlier perception. Lo and behold, I'd overlooked his secret—a chipped front tooth—a detail begging for attention. Or maybe I was just projecting.  


I set off on a brisk walk, my heart in a wild marathon with each step. The bag was drumming against my thigh. I had this gut-punch feeling: I didn’t want to see Andres again. Halting on my heel, I intended to retreat to Matt’s station. But in that moment, a voice called my name, slicing through the air, emanating from the mouth of a youthful looking figure. Andres. There he stood, a mere speck in height. I half-grinned at the realization: he was shorter than me.  


“Hey Julie,” his voice rang out, a familiarity that chilled me, “have you opened the bag yet?” 


As I closed the gap between us, the air grew heavy with a sense of foreboding. With every step toward Andres, an inexplicable feeling of dread crept over me, urging me to bolt in the opposite direction.  


My lips sealed shut, my head slowly swaying in a cautious ‘no’ in response to his question. He wore a smug smile, exposing almost every glistening tooth; I could see his back molars almost completely from my angle. His eagerness was unsettling, he was almost shaking while pointing to the bag.  


Up close, he looked different. Maybe I hadn’t inspected his forehead closely at the front desk; he was undeniably old. Hair plugs sprouted unevenly from his scalp like a disorganized garden. His hairline resembled an overgrown hedge, and his eyes, while still golden brown, were circled by tired crow’s feet. There was an exhaustion in him I’d failed to notice before. He swayed on his feet with a strange enthusiasm, still pointing to the bag, almost like an overgrown child trapped in an aging body. Thanking him for the gift without parting my lips too much, I turned and began to walk the other direction.  

“Hang on, Julie!” he half-whispered, half-pleaded. I tensed, anticipating something menacing. Instead, he pulled out a retainer, unveiling a complete set of teeth, except for that one chipped front tooth. His resemblance to the man in the poster was uncanny. In fact, this was undoubtedly Chef Wilson in front of me.  


I offered a smile, and he reciprocated with a nod of understanding. We exchanged smiles, our chipped teeth finding an odd comradery between us. Eventually, I delved into the gift bag, discovering an array of Bimbo Bakeries products: loaves of bread, packages of muffins, and bagel bites.  


As I rummaged through the gift bag, Gay Matt's voice pierced the moment, breaking the strange connection I felt with the man.  


“Everything okay here?” he asked, a hint of suspicion in his tone.  

I nodded hastily, concealing my bewilderment. The man and I exchanged a brief glance, both recognizing the interruption. With an ambiguous smile, the man stepped away rather quickly in the direction of his conference room, leaving me to navigate the oddity of the encounter in Gay Matt’s presence.  


There was a phone in Matt’s hand with a number dialed. He was breathing heavily.  I began apologizing, believing he’d called the police on me because I had stolen a pack of paper clips from the front desk before I’d clocked out. Barking echoed from the front desk. Matt and I ran up together, sworn guardians of the Botanical Inn. Andres was in handcuffs against the front desk, his face smashed against one of those posters of Chef Wilson, to whom he bore remarkable resemblance. Gay Matt disclosed that he had been closely observing Andres for several days, prompted by concerns about trafficking and drug-related activities occurring in nearby hotels and restaurants. Instances of missing girls in our area and evidence of drugs had raised red flags. He found Andres' specific attention towards me suspicious, especially his request to meet in the back hallway. Suddenly, everything fell into place: the Russian officer seeking the dog, the unusual gift from Andres, his planned rendezvous. I was lucky not to have become a missing person. However, there was a puzzling aspect: why would Chef Wilson do this? A jolt back to reality hit me hard when I remembered the survey I’d submitted earlier: 

 

Male or Female? Female 

18 or Under? Under 

Which Hotel Will You Be Staying at? The Botanical Inn 

What is Your Name? Julie 

 

Andres really was Chef Wilson. Chef Wilson was just a predator who used the funding from his TV show to run a traffic ring.  


Just as the pieces were falling into place, a dog pounced on me, fixated on the gift bag I hadn't realized I still held. The bag tore open, spilling out more bread in every direction. A closer look revealed mold on many of the items. Bimbo really needed to address their quality control.  


The dog sniffed one loaf, which upon later inspection revealed traces of Rohypnol, a roofie drug, dispersed throughout. After thanking the Russian officer and his dog and watching them take Andres into custody, I turned to face Gay Matt. 


"Matt, I quit."  


He didn't react much, just gave a slight smile, adjusted the pencils on the desk, and chuckled, saying the hotel didn't need a mute employee anyway. I laughed along, once more gracing the front desk of Botanical Inn with my sharp tooth. I thanked him for not letting me get trafficked. He made a comment about how he couldn’t save me from the traffic on the way home. He walked away saying he had a police dog to apologize to. 

When I came home, my mom immediately asked me about Andres. I ignored her question, just told her that Gay Matt had fired me because the customers might find it disturbing, me being the face welcoming them to the Botanical Inn; I pointed to my missing tooth. I knew Matt would’ve found that funny.  


“What an asshole,” she traced her finger along my tooth, then she suggested hiring a personal chef to prevent more injuries like this.  


“I hear Chef Wilson might be visiting town, I love his show!” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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