The Brand Ambassador at the End of the Universe

Submitted into Contest #193 in response to: Write about somebody whose intentions are pure, but somehow always manages to do the wrong thing.... view prompt

19 comments

Fiction Romance Drama

After quitting a telemarketing job that wasn't my aesthetic, I spend a lot of time at home. Dad watches me eat my breakfast each morning, then go to my room to play computer games, with steadily escalating frustration as the days and weeks go by. I hear him mumble the word 'failure' to Mom behind closed doors, while she murmurs more comforting sounding words. She must be restraining Dad's bootcamp drill sergeant instincts, for now, at least.


From the way his foot taps the floor more loudly each morning, he must be reaching his breaking point, when with a strained smile on his face, he suggests, "I don't want to force you, but how about you try a job with Uncle Mark at his wedding planning company?"


He’s already had a talk with him. Uncle Mark said he doesn't accept slackers and drove a hard bargain. If I accept, I will begin working for free, and Dad will give me $50 a day for 'volunteering'. With my ADHD, and friends who say I have people pleasing tendencies, hosting wedding parties, this might just work.


**


When I was offered the services of my nephew Jake—a 23-year-old man-child who has never held a proper job—my first reaction was that I didn’t want him anywhere near our family's business. My brother, however, was insistent, and the company is short-staffed so I grudgingly lower my hiring standards and accept his offer for a free worker.


The next Saturday morning, Jake shows up at our pre-rehearsal prep. He's looking energetic and bright-eyed, yet slightly docile like an obedient pet. I give him a variation of the standard new hire speech.


“Your father speaks so highly of you. I know you have hit a rough patch lately, but I have always seen your talent from an early age. We are happy to have you on the team.”


**


“Thanks so much!” I say to Uncle Mark. “I look forward to working for you.”


Uncle Mark believing in me really means a lot. I will try my best today. Having hit rock bottom society lately, I just want to be useful.


**


Jake is useless. We all know that in the family. Undependable. Flaky. He famously came an hour late to his own birthday party. 


I give him a server uniform–an AirTag tracker in the inside pocket. All my staff are required to wear them. Everything and everyone needs to be tracked and meticulously organized for our customer’s big day. At today’s rehearsal, my wife Cathy is organizing the kitchen, I will lead the guest rehearsals, and our daughter Liz will do the wedding photography.


A server doesn't show up–I’ll terminate him tomorrow. Jake should be able to handle appetizer service. I switch Adriana into the missing server's position.


**


“Would you like an appetizer?” I ask guests as I wind through the party, desperately trying not to drop the tray of tiny tidbits that Aunt Cathy has designed..


Uncle Mark greets customers and guides them through where they will sit, where they will stand on stage, how to use the microphone, and any other preperations they need to do before tomorrow's ceremony. Suited up, with perfectly sculpted grey hair, he projects confidence and authority–something I will never have in a million years. The best I can do is try to be as authentic as possible.


“Today is my first day,” I say, as I pass out the appetizers. 


A woman wearing glasses with a no-nonsense air studies me. “They hired beginners for my nephew’s wedding?”


I feel my cheeks flush. “No, just me. I’m the beginner.” This is embarrassing


I dish out appetizers silently, thinking of what else I can say to the guests, until a bridesmaid looks at my serving tray and asks, “I'd like one. Which one do you recommend?” 


A question. I can handle this. “I recommend the chicken skewers. The shrimp may have been in the sun for too long.” 


“Thank you so much. You may have saved for tomorrow.” She smiles, then goes back to mingle with the other bridesmaids. Was she flirting with me?


Getting appreciation feels great. This is the best I've felt today since my Uncle told me about spotting my talents.


**


I don't know what Jake did, but at the end of the night, we have 40 plates of shrimp left over and a complaint from the groom’s father that we have run out of food. 


He needs to be pulled from serving. Jake puts away folding chairs as I stop him to have a word. “You did a great job today, Jake.”


“Thanks Uncle.”


“Tomorrow we will have another server joining. So, we are able to shirt you into the position of Brand Ambassador. After all, you are family.”


“What do I need to do?”


I explain to Jake that after setting up the chairs and helping guests sign in, he doesn’t need to do anything except smile politely.


**


After a good night's sleep, the day of the wedding has arrived. And guess what? I have already got a promotion.


Being the brand ambassador for Opala Events means I will no longer have to do the hard work of weaving through guests with wobbly plates of appetizers while giving dietary suggestions.


I now represent the brand. 


I greet customers as they arrive and let them know Opala Events is happy to have them. I hand out a list of our services to anyone who appears interested. This is my first actual marketing position after graduating with a business degree. 


To show Uncle Mark that I can master this, I did extra homework last night and have come fully prepared. And I’ve found the perfect gift for the new couple.


The guests begin to arrive, dressed more formally than yesterday. A string quartet begins playing Canon in D. I learned the name of the song last night.


**


Over the last 20 minutes, I've seen Jake push company leaflets into disinterested people’s hands, tell a woman that her birthmark was a smudge she should wipe off, misplace someone's car keys, tell jokes to guests that didn't laugh, and make a baby cry. 


At least, these are all things guests will soon forget.


Servers pour champagne for the guests. People begin to make toasts. Friends and family members make short speeches and say the usual happy wishes for the couple's future together.


Then Jake approaches the bridal table and picks up the microphone.


“On behalf of Opala Events, and being the brand ambassador for our family, I’d like to present you with a gift.”


What is he doing? The bride unties the ribbon and opens a small box. 


Oh no, oh no, it’s a… I rush over and pull the box out of their hands.


“A massage machine,” I tell the guests. “It’s the thought that counts!”


“Uncle, we could put our company’s name of them, and then couples can remember us every time they…you know.”


**


The DJ has turned the music up, so I can't finish the speech about the gift. I return to smiling politely and looking for guests that need someone to talk to. I have another speech prepared for later.


Being self aware, I know I’m not the hardest worker, but I do keep a close eye on the people around me. I see Uncle Mark glancing at his mobile at regular intervals, Cousin Liz spending time lingering around cute guys in the wedding party, and Aunt Cathy making excuses to rush back to the kitchen.


A group of teens are looking at a mobile phone. Then they point at Uncle Mark and giggle hysterically.


The teens walk up to Cousin Liz, show her the mobile, and ask, “Is that your Dad?”


She look closely at their mobile, and then her face turns bright red.


Uncle Mark is standing next to the wedding cake.


Liz pushes through the crowd, sticks her hand into the wedding cake, takes a whole handful of pink frosting and slams it into Uncle Mark’s face.


“They,” she says, pointing toward the teens, ”found your picture on a hookup app. What about Mom!”


“I…can…explain,” Uncle Mark says, his confidence fading with each syllable.


The awareness that something is happening spreads like a Mexican wave through the crowd. The conversations stop and everyone stares at Uncle Mark.


**


The entire wedding party is staring at me as I wipe cake off my face.


The groom whispers to the bride, as he points at the disfigured wedding cake. Her face contorts into shocked disgust.


The silence feels as if it goes on forever. 


Cathy comes out of the kitchen with a puzzled look. “What exactly is going on out here?”


The words to say don’t come to me. No one else in the party knows what to say either. 


The bride is the first one to speak.


“This feels,” she says in a shaking voice, that leads into a howl, “like the end of the universe!”


.**


My uncle has pink frosting on his face, the bride is in tears, the groom in shock, my aunt stands befuddled, and my cousin's face burns red with rage.


It’s time to take the stage for my next speech.


“Hello, I’m Jake. Weddings!” I shrug my shoulders and chuckle to break the tension. “By the way, I’ve had a glance at this beautiful couple’s social media history.”


People now gaze intently at me, looking relieved to have something new to focus on.


“And the bride and the groom are both animal lovers. In fact, they met at the Natures Villa Pet shop while they were both watching the guinea pigs.”


The bride looks at me and nods through tears.


My cousin sees that it's almost time to do her part, and I continue my speech, “There’s something the bride and groom had promised they would do together someday.”


A high-pitched bark echos from the back of the crowd. Soon everyone sees Liz push her way in walking with a chihuahua. A tiny dog with huge, bulging eyes.


The bride squeals. The groom furrows his brow and glances back and forth between the tiny canine and his bride.


**


I'm still cleaning the frosting off my face as Jake continues his speech. 


“The dog breeder says you can return him anytime you wish,” he says.


“No. We will not be doing that.” The bride, crying even more than before, continues, “Oh my, he’s beautiful. We are keeping him.”


She puts her arm around her soon-to-be husband.


The groom kisses her, and picks up his microphone. “Watching young Jake over there, who gave us a sex toy and a chihuahua on our wedding day, reminds me that none of us are perfect and all we can do is to try our best. This is the best day of my life.” 


He takes the bride by the hand, walks her to the wedding cake. Together they take the knife, and with their hands as one, cut a slice and give it to Jake, and then serve their family and friends.

April 13, 2023 16:46

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19 comments

Michael Clark
15:42 Apr 21, 2023

Hilarious! I love that Jake was trying so hard, but his uncle, the one with the air of perfection, is truly the one who screwed up! I wanted to know more about why Jake left his previous job that "wasn't his aesthetic." I'm sure that would have been quite a scene. Loved the swapping of POV. It kept me engaged throughout the narrative, and paced the events rather nicely as things happen and the narrator switches.

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16:44 Apr 21, 2023

Thanks for reading! I read that's a gen-z expression, things being "my aesthetic". Now that you mention it, that might have been a fun paragraph to explain a blowup. All the advice said not to switch POV, but after watching the 'Glass Onion', wanted to experiment with that, happy to hear it worked.

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Michael Clark
18:03 Apr 21, 2023

Loved that movie! Such a trip. As was your story. Take the risk!

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Chris Campbell
04:05 Apr 16, 2023

Scott, The switching of narrators is a nice touch. In my mind, I saw this playing out as two perspectives on events surrounding the wedding. Jake - in present tense, guided us through his version of events, and his uncle's narrative felt like a post-party interview/recollection in a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The candid feelings of a loyal uncle willing to encourage help his family, gave this piece a nice comedic value. The shrimp story was hilarious. Well done!

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12:55 Apr 18, 2023

Thanks for reading, switching narrators was a bit tricky but I was going for something close to sitcom comedy. Back to deep 1st person pov this week.

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Amanda Lieser
15:29 Apr 15, 2023

Hey Scott, I loved the POC switch. I thought it was incredibly clever. I also really liked the way this story unfolded, with Jake really stepping up to the plate. I thought if blended comedy and drama beautifully while making good use of the setting-weddings are chock full of chaos. I also really liked the way that you made this a hero’s journey for Jake. It made me buy into his character completely. I sincerely hope he has found his forever career. Nice work!!

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15:44 Apr 15, 2023

Thanks! yeah was really wondering what you would think about switching between narrators, and happy to hear it worked. I didn't think about that, it is a bit of a "hero's journey" from computer gamer to event organizer! Nice insight.

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Michał Przywara
23:02 Apr 14, 2023

The first POV switch was jarring, but after that it's clear what's going on. Jake is barely controlled chaos. A force of good intentions going awry. He's not quite potent enough to derail the day, but ironically his antics are what save it. At least, the wedding. No doubt his uncle will have much explaining to do. One advantage of the dual POVs is we get two looks at the same event, and because they are so opposite, it adds a lot of comedy. The whole thing is almost made up of little vignettes, little f ups for Jake, which works to establ...

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03:36 Apr 15, 2023

Thanks Michal, once I had the idea that Jake would be "Brand Ambassador" I was trying to think of a dramatic title...what the worst possible wedding disaster could be...and somehow that "End of the universe" must have popped into my mind from Douglas Adams. In that end of the universe I recall, was a restaurant held in time at the end of universe, with a talking cow being asked to be eaten. I guess this week is very pop culture inspired, as I was watching an episode of Deadliest Catch last week that featured the young Jake Anderson, and felt...

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Kevin Marlow
04:24 Apr 14, 2023

I had trouble following the POV switches in the beginning, yet it came together at the end. There are a lot of story fragments at the start. Maybe combine some of them so they aren't jumping around so much. Just some thoughts, a relatable subject, we all know that person in the family you don't even want to trust with a punch bowl ladle, yet has to be included in the ceremony.

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04:30 Apr 14, 2023

Thanks for reading, agree the POV jumping is something writing guides specifically say NOT to do, so good to have your feedback. Will work to smooth out, maybe merge some of them into longer segments like you mentioned.

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RJ Holmquist
16:42 Apr 18, 2023

Two perspectives was a nice way to approach this, it made that much more entertaining. Jake was a great character. I knew he was going to screw up in hilarious ways, hoped he would find a way to make up for it, and was a happy reader when he did!

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Viga Boland
15:49 Apr 18, 2023

Scott…this was just the greatest read. I loved everything from the plot to the excellent characterization to the underlying theme…not to mention the humor! Everything about your writing style, especially plenty of dialogue, works for me. I’m huge on humor and dialogue as you’ll see if you read any of my “Banter” bickers. Several on my page along with the heavier stuff. Glad I’ve found another enjoyable Reedsy writer. 👌

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Tommy Goround
00:34 Apr 18, 2023

My unfavoritess character: the buffoon. Reading this makes me cringe so many times. It started cute and I had to tap out at the dildo gift. I mean, when I see these characters on sitcoms and movies I throw things on the TV. So...great job.

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03:01 Apr 18, 2023

Well agree it's written exactly like a sitcom. While they can be fun to read, I think I'm not the one who's going to write the next Charles Bukowski-like short story TBH.

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Marty B
23:47 Apr 15, 2023

Poor Jake (Being self aware...!) , his heart is in the right place, he just gets distracted and unclear on social etiquette. Of the two MCs, Jake comes off as the better person, doing extra homework, buying gifts on his own dime (it is the thought that counts!) Uncle Mark seems to be a bit self absorbed. Question- I m not sure what this phrase means 'bootmap drill sergeant instincts'

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02:07 Apr 16, 2023

Thx for reading, yeah he's got his heart in the right place and is just learning the rules of ettiquette, while his uncle is probably more a narcisstist. And thanks, typo. 'bootcamp drill sergeant' My spell checker sometimes doesn't work inside the reedsy online editor when I do last minute tweaks.

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16:48 Apr 13, 2023

First daft of a satirical story with dual 1st person narrators. A bit of a POV experiment, not sure if this works. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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Lily Finch
18:15 Apr 13, 2023

I think it works. LF6.

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