There was supposed to be someone to greet us, but there never was. Paige held the box of equipment, carefully packaged to fit in one trip from the car. I leaned my heavy shoulder bag against the customer service counter and pedaled my feet. We had done eight of these so far; we were contracted for ten. The balded heels of my shoes gave no support, but they did tap a soothing metallic sound against the grocery store tile.
“You’re here to do what?” Lynnette said from behind an inordinately tall, wooden wall.
“We’re here for the holiday demo,” I said, craning my neck to look up at Lynnette on her customer service throne. She could seemingly survey the entire Jewel store from her perch, but still could not find Brad, the store manager.
“Paging Mr. McCarver to customer service. Brad McCarver, you are needed at the front,” Lynnette said into a hidden microphone, in a tone much different than she used with us.
“I don’t know where he’s got to, but he’s the only one who knows where to put you,” Lynnette said. Back in her regular voice, the kind parents use with bored children. She gave us a wave to move to the side, and furrowed her brow under her nicotine-yellow, ramen curls.
I took out the scripts to review while we waited. It was an hour presentation and we had done it enough times to go off book, but it was a security blanket and I always felt like we missed something. Plus it kept my brain from wandering to my dangerously low bank account.
“Hello girls,” Brad McCarver said, loudly, as he walked toward us. He had a stunted gait for someone so tall, and a voice that bellowed lower than his thin frame could likely support for long periods of time. “How’re we doing today?”
“Good, thanks,” we said. I wanted to say, “well,” like a good grammarian, but I couldn’t get it to come out.
“I’m Brad,” said Brad. He smoothed his white button-down with his hands, flipped his Bears tie up at the end. His hair, if he were a woman, would be described as “mousy,” but since he was a man, he paired it with a signature mustache. “It’s Kate, and…?”
“Paige,” said Paige.
“Great,” said Brad with too much enthusiasm for only learning two people’s first names. “So, what do we need to get started?”
I began to worry that Brad wanted to do the demo with us since he kept saying, “we.” I pictured trying to talk him through how to cook the braided cherry dessert and making jokes at his expense to the audience. He would get cherry sauce on his tie and we’d all laugh at how bad Jay Cutler was.
“We need to use the bakery, so if you can help us set up there,” Paige said.
“And we have a list of things to get - do you have a card for us to use, or how should we buy them,” I asked.
“Of course, of course,” Brad said. “Let me get you over to the girls in the bakery, and then you can get started.”
We walked through produce section. Workers stocking the vegetables gave head nods to Brad, stared at us.
“Girls! How’re we doing today? Smells good in here,” Brad said.
The “girls” in the bakery were three women with an average age of 58. The bakery section smelled mostly the same at the rest of the store, with a cloud cover of chocolate cookies. The three women blushed at Brad’s presence. They glared at us.
“This is Kate, and…”
“Kate and Paige. They are here to do the holiday cooking demo for the store. So can we show them around, let them set up? How’s the baking today?”
“Oh, Brad, you know how it goes on a Monday,” the woman washing dishes against the wall said.
“Yeah, and Rhonda’s been gone all weekend so she don’t know where an’thing is no more,” the second woman said from behind a rack of rolls.
“Psshh, this place,” the third woman, presumably Rhonda, said as she pulled two trays of cookies out of an oven the size of a futon.
“Haha, alright ladies,” Brad said. He stuck his hands in his pockets like he just realized he had pockets and should put them to use. “Well, I’ll let you get started, you let me know if you need anything.”
Brad backed out of the bakery pen and disappeared past the dairy case.
“So, you girls professional bakers?” Rhonda asked as she peered into the box of equipment Paige had set on the steel counter.
“She is,” I said, pointing to Paige. “I’m here to talk to people.”
“Hmph,” Rhonda said. “What kind of recipes you got?” I handed her the small, magazine-paper booklet we were to hand out to the audience.
“They’re pretty good,” I said. They were not. I feared her reproach as a professional baker herself - us, using processed cans of crap to make recipes that tasted fine but not interesting on any level other than you could make them and keep four children alive at the same time. An underrated selling point, sure, but not what one could call “fancy.”