Salty

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7

S L O A N

The Uber smelled of cheap beer mixed with vomit and not even the open windows or the air conditioning on full blast on cool day was helping. The driver had apologized as soon as Sloan had entered, telling a wild tale about a poor guy getting abandoned on his twenty-first birthday, found the ‘love of his life’ while waiting on the sidewalk of Chicago, then ordered an Uber to take them back to his place and then was puked on by her just before she fled. There was a lot of nodding with this story and a lot of trying to ignore the smell of sick and the throbbing in her head after a night of heavy drinking. It didn’t even compare to the throbbing left between her legs.

She’d been raptured all right.

She was sore absolutely everywhere, quite literally from head to toe. Just as Sloan found a spot where fresh air from the window could hit her face and where her head was comfortable against the leather backseat of the car, it finally came to its stop in front of TJ’s. She first looked at her shoes and then her sore feet, then back at the shoes. Nope—not happening. Barefoot was the only option.

Sloan rushed to the doors of the consignment shop, cursing beneath her breath when they took too long for her patience. Finally, the automatic doors parted for her and she entered, not seeing any sight of TJ yet. According to her phone, her shift started twenty minutes ago and she had seriously underestimated the morning commute from inner Chicago.

Thankfully, the store appeared empty. There was not a customer in sight and it gave her time to rush to the ladies’ clothing section to grab a plain black tee and a pair of white shorts that she would normally avoid. Today, she couldn’t be picky. The shop had almost everything she would need for the day, with the exception of essential undergarments. Sloan was lacking a bra and was wearing last night’s panties.

“You’re late.” The less than enthused voice of TJ caused her to jump and drop the items in her arms, including Hallie’s heels and a stolen condiment. “Since when are you ever late for anything?”

This couldn’t be more accurate. Sloan liked to be the first one to any event she had on her schedule and was fairly certain she had never been late for work in her life. She didn’t even like to call in when ill, but that was more for the sake of needed income. Sloan was, in fact, the most reliable person she knew. She was likely the most reliable person that TJ knew.

Bending down to pick up the hangers and shoes, TJ quickly diverted his eyes to the florescent lights in the ceiling and then pretended as if he heard the door open and looked there. The dress was definitely revealing in many different places and was definitely not work appropriate. It was the type of dress that ended in nights like the one that had occurred last night. This dress told TJ everything he needed to know.

“You can uh, change after you clock in. The store is empty. If you want to just bring the stuff back tomorrow, you won’t need to pay for them.”

“Thank you,” Sloan exhaled and gave the little black dress a tug down as much as she could to cover her ass without losing coverage of her breasts.

Before TJ could ask her about the night, or judge her for it, she diverted to the shoe section to grab the only pair shoes her poor feet would be able to handle today—a pair of bright orange flip flops that had bedazzled plastic straps. They were hideous, but they weren’t going to make her feel like she was dying every time she took a step either. After clocking in, she winced her way to the fitting rooms, shutting the flimsy door to have some peace for the first time today.

She dressed rapidly, not wanting to test the patience of TJ and definitely not wanting to face herself in the mirror. It was only a matter of time before the escapades of last night caught up to her psyche and she was going to do everything in her power to avoid it. It was hard to not think about it though, because last night was fun and that was the problem. Her skin was now a road map of pleasure—want to know how to get Sloan off? Follow the spots where Ollie had sucked her skin raw. She could only imagine the markings she left on him last night. Her best guess was that he looked like his back had an unfortunate encounter with a cat. Perhaps she could have looked his way this morning, but she was trying to avoid his tent he’d pitched at the sight of her sheet falling. Unfortunately, she had to take one last glance in the mirror to do something with her hair. A few good brushes with her fingers and some makeup removal with her fingers, she was as good as she was going to get.

Gurgling from her stomach reminded Sloan that she hadn’t really eaten anything since dinner last night. The fries she had bought remained on the bar top uneaten, and nothing but drinks had taken their place. So, Sloan scooped up her dress, heels, and Worcestershire, and headed to the breakroom in search of anything to snack on. The room was fairly small, with nothing but a few shelves, a dorm fridge, a coffee maker, and a microwave. She was one of six employees that shared the space. Sloan tossed her things to the counter, added the condiment to the fridge for safekeeping, and began scrounging the shelves for food. Most of it was various flavors of K-cups, but she did find a box of granola bars labeled ‘Nicole’.

“Sorry, Nicole,” she whispered to herself as she tore open the bar from its wrapper.

It wasn’t until half of it was in her mouth that she realized she should have looked at the expiration date. That’s what she got for this being her second theft of the day and it wasn’t even noon yet. It tasted like cardboard with a hint of stale chocolate and dried strawberries. She tossed the remainder of the treat into the trash bin on her way back out to the sales floor. She could only hope that this would give her enough energy to last the next seven-plus hours on her feet with little sleep.

The store was still dead quiet. TJ appeared to have given himself the project of rearranging the furniture that sat in front of the shop and Sloan decided she would organize behind the counter to stay as far away from him as she could. They were both very aware of what happened last night and this was going to open the box of questions that she knew TJ has been dying to ask her. She was already trying not to ask herself those very questions by keeping her mind on stacking register paper and making sure all the money was facing the same direction. This had to have been the worst possible day for the store to be this slow.

It was another hour before Sloan heard the familiar chime of a customer entering with the sound of the automatic doors parting. Hoping that TJ would greet the customer first so that she would have to do less peopling, Sloan grabbed a tote of consigned goods and leaned against the counter to begin her pricing. It wasn’t rocket science when it came to this; TJ was fairly organized and had a binder of prices for items. Antiques and collectibles were searched on eBay for appropriate pricing before being placed on the floor, many times going to a locked cabinet. Working here was easy, but she couldn’t wait to begin school, something that she needed a way to tell her boss about. She was going to have to switch from full-time to part-time. She knew he would be happy for her, but she also didn’t want to press her luck with him today after already being late.

“Hal!” TJ’s voice boomed through the store, causing Sloan to look up towards the door.

Hallie—dressed in scrubs and looking just as much of a hot mess as Sloan herself did—was storming towards her best friend with one arm held out behind her with her pointer finger up in the air to stop her ex from giving her the time of day.

“Hallie!” he yelled again; this time angrier that she wouldn’t even look in his direction.

“Do not even get me started with you!” Hallie yelled, devotedly holding her grudge. “I’m not here to talk to you!”

Sloan took a deep breath and placed the ticketing gun on top of the pile of dishes she had just started pricing. She was already biting at her cheek as Hallie arrived on the opposite side of the register counter.

“Hey,” Hallie offered a small smile, treading as lightly as she could.

“Hi.” Sloan shifted on her hurting feet and then gripped her elbow. “I should have called you so that you didn’t panic. I’m so sorry if you were worried, Hal.”

TJ appears behind Hallie but still keeps distance between them. His gaze remains upon her as hers remained on Sloan.

“That’s okay, honey. How uh, how was your night?” Hallie took one careful step forward and pressed her palms onto the counter. “I talked to toothpick guy, but you had already left.”

Releasing her cheek from her teeth, Sloan gave Hallie a guilty smile and instead gave her lip a quick bite. Where could she even begin about last night? It was likely the best sex she had ever experienced.

“Holy shit, Hal, the sex I had last night...” Sloan giggled. “It was intense, and fucking hot, and I’m pretty sure at one point I was upside down and held against the wall of his hallway by my hips while I sucked him off and he went down on me...”

“Jesus,” TJ huffs with widened eyes and is quickly hushed again with Hallie’s hand.

“And today?” Hallie held a forced smile. “How are you this morning? Doing okay?”

Sloan’s chest felt tight, like it was going to expand to the point where it broke every single one of her ribs in the process. She was holding down an imminent sob. Instead, she shook her head no, keeping her eyes locked with Hallie’s. She was so glad that Hallie was here, because she needed her best friend right now.

“Okay,” Hallie nodded, carefully taking two more steps to move around the counter, holding up the same hand to Sloan that had stopped TJ, attempting to keep her calm. “I’m sure TJ will give you the day off, right TJ?”

Sloan’s breathing became rapid, tuning out whatever response TJ had just given to Hallie’s question. Her eyes burned with the need of a release. She was all too familiar with this, but it had so long since it had happened. Her stomach was in knots that made her want to be sick, she felt embarrassed that this was going to happen here. As soon as Hallie took one more step forward, Sloan lost the fight with herself and broke.

She dropped to the floor before Hallie could reach her in time, covering her head with her arms as she began hyperventilating and releasing uncontrollable sobs. Hallie quickly dropped beside her best friend, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and pulling Sloan’s face to her neck where she began to wail.

“It’s okay,” Hallie comforted her by running her hands through Sloan’s long tangled hair. “I’ve got you.”

She wasn’t going to stop until she was home and in her bed, her and Hallie both knew it. She couldn’t count the number of times they had been through this same scenario before. She just wanted to go home.

“I w-w-ant t-to go,” she stammered into Hallie’s neck, clinging to her for dear life.

Hallie, left with no other option, was finally forced to look up to her ex who looked utterly terrified by what he was witnessing. His mouth was covered by his hand, eyes locked to Sloan sobbing on the floor, not even noticing that he now had Hallie’s attention.

“TJ, I need help getting her home. I don’t have my car...”

His head bobbed a few times in agreement, but he made no movements, likely fearful of setting Sloan off anymore than she already was.

“TJ!” Hallie bellowed in a familiar tone that had TJ snapping his head to her. “Help me get her home. Please.”

With one glance around the store to verify that no one had yet snuck in, he pulled the store keys from his pocket and handed them off to Hallie. Then he knelt down and scooped the mess that was Sloan into his arms to carry her out to his car.

***

By the time they had gotten home, Sloan’s crying had stopped. She was on to the next phase of her night, which was becoming—what she referred to as—a “zombie.” She just didn’t feel like she was there. Like she was in the room, but watching from the outside. She was able to walk herself inside the house and then it became a blur. Hallie had gotten her to take a shower where she was pretty sure she hadn’t actually washed, but just stood in there with her face in the stream of warm water. Then Hallie got her dressed while TJ made them food.

“Hands up,” Hallie instructed, her frown caving in the corners of her otherwise gorgeous face.

Sloan did as told, lifting her hands above her head and allowing her friend to slide the familiar oversized sweatshirt over her head. The only other piece of clothing she donned was underwear and she didn’t even care if TJ saw them. She curled herself up in bed and held her pillow tight at her side.

“Do you need anything?” Hallie slid her thumb over Sloan’s cheek, catching a rogue tear that ran down the side of her nose.

Sloan shook her head no. They had done enough and there was nothing anyone could do to make her feel better.

“Sloan,” she sighed, heavily. “Maybe you could go talk to Steve? Maybe it would be therapeutic for you? You haven’t since...”

“It won’t change anything,” Sloan flipped her body to face the wall. It wasn’t the first time Hallie had suggested that nonsense and she knew it wouldn’t be the last.

Giving up, Hallie stood from the bed and turned off the light in the small bedroom. She pulled the door as close to being shut as she could without actually shutting it, knowing that she might have to return in the night if Sloan broke down again.

“Christ, Hal.” Sloan heard TJ attempting a whisper outside the door. “She told me Steve fucked her up, but this...”

“This was the first guy she slept with since Steve. She’ll be okay, it had to happen sooner or later. Honestly, it went better than I thought it would.”

“She’s a disaster...”

Ouch. She knew Hallie likely agreed, but hearing someone say it out loud hurt. She knew she was a mess.

“Yeah, well, this is nothing compared to a few months ago. Guess you lucked out by abandoning your friends. You missed the hell we all went through. You’re witnessing one bad day out of hundreds.”

“I’m sorr...”

“Don’t you dare apologize now. It’s way too late for that. I can’t believe she even went to you for that job after this. Let’s just...eat. If she comes out, we can try and get her to eat something, but she probably won’t.”

“I um, can’t stay, Hal.” Sloan knew by the tone of his voice he was about to admit something that Hallie wasn’t going to like. He was hesitating and they knew their old friend well enough to know that he was about to make a confession, one that she had heard and hoped her best friend wouldn’t.

“Your little girlfriend can’t have dinner alone for one night after one of your oldest friends had a breakdown in your store?”

“My engagement party is tonight,” he exhaled loudly.

Sloan turned her face to the partially shut door, seeing only a flash of light as someone walked fast past it.

“Hal...” TJ called out, but Hallie’s bedroom door slammed so loud that the neighbors were sure to have heard, likely slamming right in his face.

It had been years since their relationship had ended, but that had to have hurt. Hallie and TJ—just as Steve and Sloan had been—were best friends. It wasn’t always Hallie and Sloan against the world. It was two sets of friends in a mutual group of abandoned kids. Two sets of friends that became two couples. TJ destroyed Hallie with his cheating. They had dated since they were fifteen and that next step for them was marriage in her eyes. She lost her boyfriend and her best friend. Hearing that he was now engaged to the girl he cheated with, likely just reopened that wound.

It took a few silent minutes, but eventually Sloan heard TJ leave the hall, put the leftovers away in the kitchen, and then let himself out of their home. Once the sound his car had faded, Sloan got to her feet and opened the door to the hallway. Hallie’s door remained shut, but she slowly opened it to a darkened room. The curtains were drawn shut and she could vaguely make out Hallie’s frame in the bed, her arms wrapped around herself in the fetal position. Knowing that her friend needed her tonight, she pushed all thoughts of Steve aside and pulled back the covers to take her place as big spoon. As soon as Sloan wrapped her arms around Hallie, she felt her entire body begin to shake with tears. And just as Hallie had done for her so many times, she held her as tight as she could for the entire night.

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