Salty

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9

O L L I E

New Message: Unknown Sender:
Kit helped me get a cellphone!

New Message: Unknown Sender:
I’m hip now!

New Message: Unknown Sender:
How do I get the Snapchat? I want to look like a cat. Madison will get a kick out of it.

New Message: Unknown Sender:
When are you coming home for dinner? I can cook too, you know? Meat loaf tonight. I was thinking ham and smashed potatoes for tomorrow but I need to run to the store.

New Message: Unknown Sender:
The barn door is falling off again.

New Message: Unknown Sender:
Did you see that Betsy from down the road is getting married? She’s such a sweet girl. She has a sister that is lovely. I should introduce you.

New Text: Unknown Sender:
Kit said to send you this 🍆🍑. What does that mean? Is this some new secret recipe you’re working on?

New Text: Unknown Sender:
🍆🍑

Christ. Thanks a lot, Kit.

Ollie silenced his phone to stop the constant tones from sounding off as his students took their first test. Peering around the room to roughly twenty heads that were focused on their papers and not on his mother’s messages, he tucked the phone safely back into the pocket of the leather jacket which hung from the back of his seat.

His work at the Culinary Institute was his time away from his family, time that he needed. Now his phone wasn’t even safe. He loved his mother more than anyone in the world, but giving her a cellphone was a terrible idea and he could only blame his little sister. He had to give Kit props on the emojis though, it was funny. Now he had to decide whether to explain that to his mother or come up with a recipe using eggplants and peaches.

The class was a cluster of white with the exception of one student—one that Ollie had been avoiding all week—who was wearing a vibrant shade of yellow today. Yesterday it was pink. He was now positive that Sloan was testing every bit of patience that he had left. Avoiding her was becoming difficult and not really an option. If the entire class has to wear their coats, she does too. The problem was that this meant he had to talk to her about it and that didn’t seem like an option either. If he could barely stand to look at her, speaking to her wasn’t happening. He preferred she just stayed a yellow blob in the corner of his left eye.

Ollie still didn’t know what to make of the situation he was in. Not once did he think he would be in the student-teacher-relationship predicament, but here he was. The thought of it made his stomach sour. His mind still wasn’t convinced that she was just a stranger whom he stumbled upon twice. Sloan herself had even mentioned that running into someone twice in Chicago was unheard of. The feeling of being targeted just couldn’t be shook.

There of course were stories of students doing this to teachers—tricking them into sleeping with them to get ahead in class—but would she do that? It may just be a knife skills class, but Ollie wasn’t stupid. He was known for being tough on his students. And now here he was, allowing Sloan to get away with something solely for the fact that he didn’t want confrontation with someone he had slept with. The repercussions for this would end his credibility with the school.

The pocket of Ollie’s jacket began to consistently buzz with the sound of silenced text messages. He sighed and ran his hand down his tired face, knowing eventually he was going to have to answer. Class had only just started and it was his first one of the day. The students were only a mere ten minutes into their first safety test. The exams were purposefully difficult so that they would take the entire hour and get him out of a day of productively teaching.

Giving up, he reached into the pocket and pulled from it his pack of Marlboro reds, his father’s favorite zippo, and his cell. He tossed the cigarettes and lighter to the desk, wishing he could smoke one now as he returned messages to his mother.

A paper being smacked down to his desk stopped Ollie from adding his mother’s number as a new contact. He only looked up in time to see a flash of yellow hauling ass back to her station.

There’s no way...

Ollie glanced quickly between a finished exam to the clock that hung on the wall above the door. It had only been fifteen minutes since he handed out their papers and all other students still had their heads down, madly scribbling sentences and appearing utterly panicked...as they should.

He felt heated now, like he was in an argument or a battle of wits with the crazy student that slept with her teacher. She was only proving him right at this point. If Sloan honestly believed that she could half-ass an exam and he would just write an A across the top because she had something on him, she was dead wrong.

The message to his mother was going to have to wait. It was only a matter of time before she began calling him anyway. Ollie tossed the phone beside his cigs so angrily that nearly every head snapped up to see what had caused the ruckus. He gave not one person the time of day because he knew the only person he wanted to stare down at the moment was the one not looking up. Instead, he furthered his commotion by roughly pulling open the top drawer of the desk and tossing the contents of it around with his hand until he finally located a red pen. He used his teeth to uncap it and kept the cap in the corner of his mouth. If he couldn’t smoke and didn’t have a toothpick, this would have to do.

He was already grinning, knowing she—like everyone else who takes this class—was going to answer the first question incorrectly. It seemed so easy that they always wrote the obvious answer and not the answer Ollie wanted. It’s an answer that he never covered in class but is mentioned in the textbook within a chapter that he purposefully skipped.

1.) Explain the first method of determining a knife has become dull: I would hold the knife, with the blade facing upwards, to a bright light. If the blade reflects this light, it has become dull.

His chest was becoming tight as he read Sloan’s answer again, practically making him sweat with frustration.

She was correct.

Ollie huffed and puffed as he graded the twenty-question exam and spit the cap from his mouth when he realized he wasn’t going to get to use the red pen as much as he had hoped. It pained him to use it only once, to add an A+ to the top of her paper. Again, he threw open the drawer—this time tossing the pen back to its place—and slamming it shut as more students began to bring forward their tests. Typically, these were all graded once he was back in the comfort of his own apartment and he was already panicking, wondering if students would notice that he had only graded Sloan’s exam today.

After everyone was finished and had begun shuffling their belongings and leaving to attend their next class, Ollie was still frustrated. His fowl mood had him throwing a tantrum as if he was a child again. As soon as Sloan stood from her seat, Ollie was on his feet and ready to square off. Papers flew all over the desk until he reached the one on the bottom of the pile and he held it up just as she was about to exit the room.

“Sloan, what the hell is this?”

She stopped in her place and he could visibly see her breathing intensify. She was hugging her books tightly and refusing to turn and face him. She cheated, it was the only way she could have finished the exam that quickly with perfect marks. He wasn’t going to allow her to get away with this, no matter what their history was.

“What’s wrong with it?”

She didn’t even turn when speaking to him and that just pissed him off more.

“I don’t put up with cheaters.”

“Excuse me?”

That got her to turn around and he stood a little straighter when her big round eyes finally collided with his glare. She appeared shocked at the accusation and maybe he should have been focused on that, but he wasn’t. It was the first time in a week they had even looked at each other and the first time since she stormed out of the alleyway that they had even spoken. She looked exhausted, like she did the first time they had met at the supermarket, but she also looked more put together than she had that day. Her hair was up in a high ponytail with her bangs unintentionally spilling free from it. She wore the slightest bit of makeup today, which she didn’t need. Her eyes still popped with out it. And the gold chain necklace she wore plummeted into the V of her shirt, to a place he remembered well.

Ollie physically took a step back, hating that he still found her attractive after all this bullshit she was putting him through. “You heard me,” his throat cleared and he decided to look at the paper instead of her. “If I catch you cheating on these exams, you’ll be tossed from this class. It’s needed to graduate. Do you understand?”

The paper was torn from his grasp angrily and Sloan eyed it and then him. He didn’t want to look at her and was beginning to wonder if he’d be able to handle having her as a student much longer. He had no time for crazy women in his life and his safe place was becoming anything but. The only way to handle this was to stay firm and professional with her. She wasn’t going to win by holding a one-night-stand over his head.

“And while we are at it, I’ve warned you once that I expect proper attire in my classroom. I will start penalizing your grade if you continue to neglect your coat.”

“I didn’t cheat,” she ignored his last rant with an eye roll. “You need to get over yourself, Ollie. Some people really do study.”

“Bullshit!” he spat and took the paper back. “And it’s chef, not Ollie. I’m not doing this with you. You aren’t going to be an insubordinate and get away with this and the coat, solely because we had a night together. You can try and piss me off all you want. It won’t work.”

Her head shook with utter disgust at him. She took a few steps forward and dropped her books down to his desk with a loud thud and he was wondering what crap she was going to pull this time.

“If I wanted to piss you off, studying all goddamn night isn’t what I’d do. I’ll happily start with this...”

Ollie watched in horror as she picked up his cigarettes—the ones that he had been craving all morning—and shook them free from their box. Then she tore his last three in half and tossed them straight into the trash bin near their feet before brushing her hands together to rid them of the mess. All he could do was stare at the bin and the tobacco that was spilling free from its rolled paper with self-pity. His mouth was watering to taste the nicotine thats smell was now overtaking the area around them.

“As for the coat, I’m working on it. Go ahead and dock my grade, dickhead.”

With one huff, her bangs flew upwards and she picked her books to hug as she stormed out of the room, leaving her professor with blood close to boiling.

Ollie’s anger made him want to storm after her and yell until she felt two inches tall. He wanted a fucking cigarette...all three of them that he had saved for today. He wanted to smash something. Instead, he kicked the small trashcan over in a rage and fell back into his seat to prepare for his next class.

* * *

The ride from Chicago Culinary Institute to Mulligan’s Bar & Fine Dining took exactly twenty-six minutes each day. Anyone could jog it and likely get there in less time, although Ollie was never one for cardio and he liked the rush of being on the Harley. The two places were a mere block apart. It wasn’t the same as riding it back home where traffic was almost obsolete, but there was also something about the noise of traffic that he enjoyed. Horns and cuss words, loud exhausts that broke state emissions laws, various genres of music being blasted through car windows...all of it helped him sleep better at night. It reminded him that there were another three million people in this city.

Today, however, was one of the few days that he wished he were back on the farm where he could find a place that was silent and had no one around to bug him. Ollie’s head pained him right between the eyes, a plaguing reminder of his first hour class today. The institute, his happy place, was becoming a royal pain in the ass.

The Harley wove between other vehicles with more ease than it should. He was too comfortable on the bike because it was the only one he had ever been on. It was bulky but with proper handling, could make pretty tight spaces. Without worry, Ollie took it up the sidewalk (illegal, yes) in order to get to the bar as quickly as possible. Just seeing all the cigarette butts on the pavement was making the craving worse. He was practically nauseous by the time he was swinging the kitchen door open and sweating by the time he had a hidden pack in his hands.

The downside of driving the Harley was that it never failed to alert Mikah of his brother being back for the night. The cigarette was barely lit before it was being plucked from his fingers and tossed into the oversized sink.

“I thought you quit.”

"Mikah,” Ollie’s headache was searing through his—now closed—eyes, his hands trembling while he forced himself to speak to his younger brother through gritted teeth. “I’m not in the fucking mood for this tonight. I’m having a day from hell. Do that again and I’ll make sure yours is worse.”

Instead of pestering his brother—which Mikah seemed to thrive on—Ollie heard the door to the kitchen swing again. He waited a few moments to open his eyes, finding he was once again alone in the kitchen.

I must look rough if he didn’t even attempt to make my life hell on earth tonight.

Ollie sighed heavily and stared down paper box in his hands. His quitting had become a joke, he knew as well as everyone else that it would never stick. He shook the box a few times above an open hand and threw it when nothing came out. The only cigarette left in the entire building was now in the sink, soggy, and incapable of ever being lit again. There were three hours until the dinner rush and no time left to go to the corner store to get more.

When the kitchen door swung again, Ollie was ready to argue with his brother. The tension of the day had become too much and Mikah had struck his very last nerve. But when he turned towards the sound behind him, his facial features instantly let go of their strain.

“Hey,” Shelby tucked her long blonde hair behind her ear and smiled sweetly. “You okay?”

He blinked a few times before nodding yes and then began to act like he was busy being the head chef. The book bag on his back was dropped from his shoulders and tossed to the ground by the refrigerator door before he began pulling random ingredients and tossing them to the stainless table in the center of the room. Shelby didn’t take the hint of wanting to be left alone, and instead, picked up an eggplant and a peach with a quizzical expression. She was trying not to laugh.

“Kit told mom to use the eggplant and peach emojis on her new cell,” he licked his lip before his own smile began to form. “So, I now have the choice of explaining to my mother that she’s been insinuating sex all afternoon to her firstborn child or come up with a recipe using peaches and eggplants. Tonight’s special will be peach and grilled eggplant Caprese salad.”

Shelby’s infectious laughter filled the kitchen, which caused Ollie’s headache to dwindle as he began to laugh. It was a sound he loved and missed more than anything. Perhaps two people in the kitchen would be okay for a bit. His smile seemed to tell her to make herself comfortable and she did. Shelby pushed herself up so that she was now sitting on the stainless table. If anyone else did this in his kitchen they’d be thrown out of here, but she always did get away with more than everyone else in his life.

“I was sort of hoping the special tonight was grilled cheese,” she giggled.

He grinned harder, shaking his head. If he had a dollar for every grilled cheese he had made this girl throughout his thirty-five years on this earth, he would be a rich man. Looking up to the beautiful woman, he knew by her expression that she was craving one.

“Havarti and tomato?”

“With basil!”

“With basil,” he agreed with a nod. How could he forget the basil? He didn’t, he just liked how offended she became if he pretended to forget. It was their game.

The ingredients were collected and placed on the table beside Shelby, where she watched him carefully craft her favorite food. Ollie knew that her favorite part was when the cheese began to bubble and sizzle, and for that reason, he watched her and waited for the smile he knew was coming. And it did. Her eyes fluttered up to his, and it made his chest ache. Everything about Shelby, from every freckle to every smile, was memorized in his brain. He knew that the bracelet on her wrist was a gift from her mother before she passed away and that the sweater she was wearing today was her absolute favorite form a little boutique near the farm in Galena. She loved it so much that Ollie had ordered her three more in the exact same color because he knew that she would spill food on it.

“So,” she braced herself as Ollie placed the sandwich on a plate and handed it to her. She tore it in half—with stringy cheese being the only thing holding it together—and offered him part, which he accepted. “Mikah said you’re moody...moodier than usual.”

Of course Mikah sent her in here.

Ollie bit into the sandwich, tossed what was left down to Shelby’s plate, and clapped his hands together to rid himself of crumbs. Shelby frowned when Ollie’s eyes rolled at her.

“He tossed my last cig.”

“Ollie...”

“What?” he shrugged.

“You’re in a terrible mood! Mikah says you have been all week. What’s going on?”

His head shook as he walked away from her. There was no way to explain to your ex that a one-night-stand turned out to be some crazy stalker student who wanted her way in class. That would be another giant ‘I told you so’ that Shelby loved tossing into his face. She had no love for any work he did as a chef or the girls he took upstairs at night. Combining the two would give her enough ammo for a lifetime. The same argument over and over, always the same outcome...she would never understand.

“You can still talk to me, Ollie. It’s just us back here. Are the two jobs becoming too much for you? Maybe it’s time to take a break from the institute. You went from school and work to work and more work at the school. You never stop.”

“Are we really going to argue about this again?” He began to roughly chop the spinach he had taken out for the salad and now had no desire to look up.

“It takes up so much of your time...”

“What does that matter to you, Shelby? It’s not like you’re waiting for me to come home at night anymore. My free time is just that...mine.”

Perhaps her frown in his direction was a response to what many would assume was a low blow, but she knew he was right. Her argument was more valid when it came from the lack of attention he was giving her. Now it’s because Mikah can’t handle the bar while Ollie is at work. There was no way he would ever feel bad for that.

“Mikah is worried about you. You’re his brother...”

“If Mikah is so worried about me, tell him to come back in here instead of sending my kryptonite. It’s a bitch move and he needs to man the fuck up.”

Shelby exhaled heavily as she jumped back to the kitchen floor. “Always a pleasure talking to you, Ollie. Let’s have another heart-to-heart in another few years.”

And with that, she pushed the swinging door angrily and left him alone once more. The headache immediately returned along with the heartache of watching her walk away from him.

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