Sarah wiped her forehead. Almost done, she thought. Just these three more outfits to be marked and logged into the store's computer and she would be finished. And that wasn't good. She was glad to be at the end of these last three weeks, working from whenever she started until whenever she quit, but at the same time she was worried. What was she going to do for work once this temporary job was done? Just a few more months and she would have saved enough money to hopefully carry them through. But now she didn't know.
Until about a month ago Sarah had been working in a nice woman's clothing store in her home town. She functioned as a saleswoman, cashier and generally did all the work the other employees couldn't be bothered with. All the others, including the manager, were in their early 20's, single and lived for the weekends. Sarah was almost 30 and married, well, she still thought of herself as married, with two children. Her objective was to finish her college courses and earn her certification as an elementary school teacher. The others' objectives seemed to be partying and avoiding work. She even looked different. The others all seemed to be tall blondes with long legs and big chests. Sarah was medium height with dark hair and eyes and a respectable, if not impressive body. She smiled sadly to herself. Before his accident, her husband Rick had always told her she was perfect just as she was and that had been all that was important.
Four weeks ago she had been working as usual in the middle afternoon. Sally, the manager, along with Debra and Ruth had been on the sales floor while Sarah unpacked the latest shipment and checked it. As she came out of the back room to update the computer at the main checkout she noticed an older woman customer in the store. Customers had become fewer over the last six months. Sarah sighed to herself. No wonder, since as always, the three were ignoring the lady to continue their conversation about last Saturday's beach party.
Sarah laid the manifest down by the register and walked over with a smile. "Hi, can I help with anything?" She asked.
"Yes, thank you," The older woman, who seemed to be in her mid-fifties, replied. Sarah noticed her startling blue eyes. The woman went on to ask several questions about different outfits and the prices of them. She wanted to try on one outfit. Sarah looked her over and made a judgment about what size to get, based on the woman's build. She was about 5' 4"and maybe just a tiny bit overweight, not much, five pounds perhaps. Sarah selected the correct size and suggested several accessories to go with it. The woman tried on the outfit, asking Sarah for help in adjusting it properly. Sarah helped without thinking too much of it, except to notice the woman had very nice legs and hoped her own would look so trim at that age.
After some discussion the lady decided to buy the dress along with a scarf and a brooch Sarah had matched with it. Sarah rang up the sale and thanked the older woman for shopping there.
"You're quite welcome, my dear. Thank you for all your assistance. You've been very helpful."
The woman's sincere compliments made Sarah blush, "Thank you," she repeated. "Have a lovely day." The woman smiled at her as Sarah picked up the manifest and returned to entering the shipment data. Looking up she saw the woman had paused at the door. She was looking at the three girls, who had not slowed their chat a single bit the entire time she had been in the store. Shaking her head, the woman left.
Two hours later, Sarah clocked out, grabbed her purse and headed for the door. Fortunately, for once Sally didn't come up with a dozen reasons why she had to "do something important" and Sarah should close for her. Sarah got into her 8 year old car and drove home.
She loved coming home. Turning down the rutted dirt road to the country home they had bought five years ago when she and Rick had determined to do more than spend their lives than just work at dead end jobs for other people. And they had been achieving their dream. Sarah slowed, blinked tears from her eyes and then set her jaw and finished the drive.
When she came through the door off the kitchen. Caroline, her eight year old daughter was taking supper out of the microwave.
"Hi sweetie. Where's your brother?"
"She's out back with grandmomma getting in the laundry."
Just as Sarah started for the back door it burst open and her mother staggered in the door. The older woman was proceeded by a bundle of energy that flung its arms around Sarah.
"Momma, I was helping grandmomma!"
"So I see," Sarah ruffled her six year old son's hair and hugged him back. She relieved her mother of the clothes basket and braced it on her hip. "Go wash up and help your sister set the table and we'll eat."
After supper the children cleaned up while Sarah and her mother folded the laundry and put it away. They put the children to bed and relaxed on the sofa. Sarah sighed to herself as her mother opened up her favorite conversation subject.
"Sarah, you know that you don't have to rush home every night as soon as you get off work. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of the children. You need to take a little time for yourself occasionally.
"Mother, I appreciate what you are saying and its not that I don't think about it every now and then. But I just don't feel like it."
The conversation went on in its well worn grooves. As always, her mother got the last word.
"What you need, young woman," her mother shook her finger at Sarah in mock frustration, "Is to get out and live a little." Her visage softened. "Yes, dear, I know you still miss Rick. I know that a year and a half is not too long to mourn. I still miss you father and he's been gone for ten years. But, I won't say 'Move on'. Only you know when you will be able to do that, but I will say it wouldn't hurt you to take an occasional night for yourself."
A week later, Sarah was holding down the fort at lunch time. The others had gone out to eat. Sarah had stayed behind to run the store and was seated at the central desk, eating her brown bag lunch. She saw the older woman from a couple of weeks ago enter the store. She laid aside her salad and stood up with a smile. that smile became a little uncertain when she say the woman was accompanied by Mr. Kleigeman, the store owner.
"Good afternoon Mr. Kleigman."
"Hello Sarah," smiled the elderly man. "Where is everyone?"
"Off eating lunch."
"Well, I guess we'll have to wait then. By the way, this is Ms. Wosley. Dee, this is Mrs. Thompson."
"We've met," replied the other woman. She took Sarah's hand and shook it. "Why does it not surprise me that you are flying solo here? But then even when the others are here you pretty much are anyway."
Eventually the others returned. The younger women all exchanged guilty looks. Sarah thought they darned well should, the trio had been gone over an hour and a half, an hour since Mr. Kleigman and Ms. Wosley arrived.
"Sally, please lock the door and turn the sign to 'Closed'." instructed Mr. Kleigman. "Then all of you come into the back."
When they were all in the storage area, Mr. Kleigman shifted from one foot to the other and opened his mouth twice and then closed it. Sarah had never seen him look so uncomfortable.
"Ladies," he began finally. "I have sold the store. To Ms. Wosley. I'm sorry, but there really was no other choice in the matter. Ms. Wosley is the new owner." He paused and fumbled for words. Sarah's heart went out to him. He looked so old, so tired. She wanted to go and hug him. But he avoided eye contact with everyone and walked from the room.
There was a bit of silence, finally broken by Ms. Wosley. "Girls, I know you feel badly about this. And I'm afraid I have more news and its not good either. I have been going over the books. Mr. Kleigman was on the verge of losing this store. Money was going out of here faster than it was coming in. I tried to make as fair an offer as I could, but there is no choice. I really only paid for the stock on hand and the fixtures. I'm afraid I'm going to have to close the store. I can use the merchandise in my other stores, but this one is just dead weight."
There were gasps and mutters from the younger women. Sarah hung her head. The news was unwelcome, but hardly a surprise. She knew how bad business was. But what was she going to do? Her mind raced as she tried to compute her bills and savings and then factor in the cost of her last two terms in college. It wasn't going to work.
Ms. Wosley broke the silence again. "Now then, instead of two weeks notice, I have severance pay for each of you that will amount to a month's pay. I see that some of you are owing money to the store for clothing you purchased on account. I will be happy to work with you to ease those payments if need be. Now then," she went on briskly, "Sally?" One by one she handed each of the girls an envelope.
Finally Sarah was the only one left. Surprisingly, Ms. Wosley walked to the small table and sat down. "Mrs. Thompson," she gestured to Sarah, "would you please have a seat? I would like to talk to you a minute." When Sarah had seated herself the older woman continued. "Mrs. Thompson," she paused in thought for a moment. "That's very formal for a discussion about a job around a back room table. Would it be rude of me to ask you for your first name?"
"Its Sarah." The excitement that the mention of a job brought must have been reflected in Sarah's face for Ms. Wosley seemed to start one thought and then changed it.
.... There is more of this story ...