Salty

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• 2 •

S L O A N

Elbow deep into the mailbox, her arm swirled around its metal interior, once again feeling the heartache that what she was searching for wasn't there.

Empty.

"Dammit," Sloan mumbled.

After retreating her arm, she slammed the front of the box shut, followed by a quick scan of the neighborhood to ensure that no one witnessed her getting angry and talking to a mailbox. The last thing she needed was her neighbors thinking she had completely lost her mind, because her best friend likely already did. Her search came up empty, minus a stray tabby cat that ducked himself beneath a blue Buick across the road. She was in the clear—this time.

It had been two months since Hallie had submitted the culinary school application, and Sloan still hadn't received anything back regarding it—no acceptance or denial letters. Knowing that classes would begin in exactly one month's time, she knew that today was the day that all of her hope towards this goal was lost. Perhaps one day she would have the courage to reapply, but for now, Sloan knew she needed to focus on herself and her immediate future. This included finding a job, and this was not happening as easily as she had hoped either.

The day's weather was far from perfect. Dark gray clouds hid every bit of sunlight; there was a slight wind that made the air cool enough to need a jacket, and now it had begun misting a cold rain. It definitely was not the ideal spring day for a walk, but due to her dwindling bank account, her own feet had become Sloan's main method of transportation. She had hated it when she first started, nearly giving up her food money for gas money, but now her walks had become almost enjoyable, therapeutic in a way. Alone time was proving to be beneficial—not completely healing, but it was better than becoming a recluse and crying all day in her bedroom. It's harder to cry when you're out in public.

Before beginning today's jaunt, Sloan grabbed the only jacket she owned, a pale blue one made of slick material that she was hoping would help keep her dry. This was donned with a pair of white capris, the nicest black shirt she could find in Hallie's closet, and a pair of open-toed black sandals. She knew sandals weren't exactly ideal for job searching, but she couldn't walk around the burbs of Chicago all day in heels. These particular sandals were strappy and on the dressier side of the shoe scale.

The challenge for today—and there always seemed to be one—was keeping her resumes from the elements. This is where her best friend came in for the rescue and slid the crisp white papers into a large zip-lock bag, keeping them perfectly free of wrinkles and creases yet maintaining their current perfect status as dry. They were now tucked safely into her jacket, laying flat against her stomach, with her arms wrapped around herself to keep them in place.

Even with the cruddy weather surrounding her, she was relieved to be out of the house. Fresh air was seriously underrated in her opinion. Since a therapist was completely out of the question, Sloan had to find cheaper ways to make her heartbroken depression manageable and fresh air seemed to help.

During her walks, she attempted to focus on silly things. She would recite song lyrics in her head or dream up recipes she immediately wanted to try once she was home. Anything that would take her mind off of Steve and how their lives had come to this. These tricks only worked for so long before one particular house near the edge of the business district would remind her just where she came from.

The pale pink home—which was once red but had faded without proper upkeep—now had a large 'X' spray-painted in black across the door, along with a notice that it was condemned. Not surprising, it was complete garbage the three separate times that Sloan had been fostered there. The state never cared though, just as long as they had somewhere to stick you. The Murphy's—the couple that had taken her in multiple times by request—were pieces of shit in every definition of the phrase. They only liked fostering Sloan because she was old enough to take care of herself and every other kid that got them a monthly paycheck. No one truly understood or could relate like Steve, Hallie and TJ. That's what made them all so close. The moment they met in a group home for foster-less children, they were inseparable. That was until Hallie and TJ found their forever homes. That left only Steve to keep her sane though the most hellish of times and she did the same for him.

She thought that growing up in that house would be the biggest low of her life. Now everything was just a fucking disaster and worse than ever. The man who kept her sane was now the one who had her losing her shit. She never dreamt that she would end up with Steve and now she couldn't fathom being without him.

Today, she decided she that she would attempt the outlet mall just on the brink of town. Sloan had already attempted just about every kitchen and waitress position she could find and was yet to receive a callback from any of them. Options were becoming scarce and retail was something she had never attempted before. It didn't help that Hallie and numerous horror stories from working in a large retail chain throughout their high school days. Sloan wasn't sure if she could keep her mouth shut if homemaker Susan with the mom-haircut and minivan came in demanding use of an expired coupon—what a rough life that must be.

The door of the first clothing boutique in a long line of stores chimed above her as she entered. She had been in this store once in her life and was immediately turned off by the steep prices of their merchandise. Hallie had insisted that this store would have the perfect dress for Sloan's rehearsal dinner, but she couldn't bring herself to purchase anything. Instead, she had worn a gray cotton sundress that she found for seven dollars on an Old Navy clearance rack. She spilt a cocktail down the front of it while dancing and never wore it again—money well spent.

Today the store was relatively empty of customers, minus two women that appeared to be sifting through hangers on opposite ends of the store. Sloan followed a wood flooring trail, past many creepy mannequins that were dressed better than she ever would be, before finding herself at the purchase counter. She tapped a small metal bell, sending out a chime throughout the store. Now, she just had to wait.

"Hi," a cheerful woman appeared from behind her. "What can I help you with?"

Sloan took a moment to compare how she was dressed to the woman that now stood on the opposite of side of the counter. A deep burgundy colored pant suit, with a white flowy top and perfectly accessorized gold accent necklaces that were layered. Is this what the dress code was here? The entire ensemble looked like more than her rent.

"Hello," Sloan offered her hand. The woman happily took it and gave a small shake. "I'm Sloan Smith. I was wondering if you had any positions available?"

"Sure we do, Sloan," the woman dropped her hand. Now she noticed that this woman had a name badge clipped to the pocket of her suit with the name Carol. "Do you have a resume?"

"I do."

Sloan cursed herself for not opening the plastic bag outside of the store, but she couldn't risk getting it wet. She awkwardly withdrew a crisp white paper and offered it to the employee.

To be honest, there was not much listed on it. Sloan had only held a few positions in her twenty-two years on this earth, but she was well-liked at all of them. Waitressing and hosting were the only two that she had ever held, but she knew how to run a register. Carol politely held the paper with both hand, scanning it with a smile which slowly began to fade as she progressed to the bottom.

This was always the problem.

"Um," Carol's throat cleared, "it says here you have a GED?"

Sloan forced the smile to remain on her face as she bobbed her head to agree.

Good job, Carol. You can read.

"That's correct. And it holds the same value as a high school diploma."

"Yes," Carol agreed and looked back at the paper. She may have said the word yes, but her tone didn't hold sincerity that she actually agreed with its equivalence. "Well, I will be happy to pass this along to the store manager. Thank you for your interest."

Sloan's nails dug into the skin of her palm as she thanked the woman for her time and slowly removed herself from the store. She already felt like bursting into tears and giving up, but instead walked her way to the next store in the line and held the exact same conversation again. And then repeated this process a few more times.

It was going to be a long day.

***


With a toss of the paper wrapper to the trash, Sloan stood in the donut shop, allowing the rain to subside a little more before she ventured out again. Not even a chocolate long john with pink sprinkles would make this day better, and that was her absolute favorite donut. There was one place left on this road to visit and she was out of resumes. She probably should have just requested them all back since it was highly unlikely that these stores would call her back. Those papers she had fought to keep dry were probably already in trash bins. She wouldn't need one for this store though. She could see it from the window and knew that if she walked in she would get the job.

Hallie was going to murder her for this.

Sloan quickly darted out of the restaurant and braved heavier rain droplets than this morning while she held up her hood. She ran across a traffic-free road and hesitated before pulling open the door to Thomas Jones Consignment.

The store was quite large. There were bright red signs that hung from the ceiling pointing to various departments within it, such as clothing departments by gender and size, household goods, furniture, etc. It had been two years since she had entered the store, but she still found herself lost and searching for the main counter.

"Sloan?"

She turned to the familiar voice, this time unable to hold the fake smile she had been offering employees all day. TJ looked shocked that she was here, likely due to their last encounter being her screaming through his door at three AM for him to open up and prove he wasn't cheating on Hallie. He had been stupid enough to tell Steve. TJ wasn't able to do this—imagine that—and called the police on her. He didn't press charges when he realized he was going to have to open the door and then begged Sloan not to tell Hallie instead. Obviously, Sloan told her best friend everything, but their friendship didn't stick after that, even after knowing each other since children. He lost Hallie and his best friends.

"Hey."

TJ stood quietly, unsure what to say beyond a small wave. Instead, he clutched his short, black beard with his fingers and gave it a little tug while he rocked on his feet. She definitely wasn't used to seeing him in dress pants and dress shirt with a tie. It didn't look right on him.

"I need a job, TJ," Sloan admitted. Why beat around the bush? They both knew she wouldn't be here if she didn't absolutely have to be. He was a last resort.

"Full-time? Part-time?"

"Anything."

"Hallie know you're here?"

Sloan clutched her elbow, not offering an answer, because that was her answer. Hallie was going to hate this and Sloan hated betraying her best friend. She was breaking girl code, but at the same time, she needed TJ's employment to help pay back money Hallie was lending her.

"Didn't think so," he sighed heavily.

"This has nothing to do with Hal. It's me that needs the job. No one will hire me with my GED and you understand why I have it."

"You know I'll hire you. I don't care about a diploma, you know that."

Relief hit her like a wave. "Thank you," she sighed. One problem at a time; she was going to get a paycheck and Hallie would just have to deal.

"Listen, Sloan, I saw Facebook and I..."

"Don't!" she halted his conversation with her hand. TJ's eyes widened with her yell. "I don't want to talk about Steve, okay? I'm a little fucked up because of him, and that conversation is off limits between us."

This wasn't her attempt at repairing a friendship with TJ. This was a job. If one more person told her that everything will work out in the end, she was going to truly lose her mind. She definitely didn't need to hear it from the guy who chose some whore over his lifelong friends. Him not repairing a relationship with Steve was not her problem. He doesn't get details about what he saw on Facebook.

"Okay," he agreed. "I won't bring him up again. Be here tomorrow at eight."

One hurdle accomplished, but Hallie was going to be a whole new issue entirely.
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