ii: leslie's ex

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NOVEL TIMELINE: February - May 2013

ONE SHOT TIMELINE: September 2012

Pacing helped. Or maybe it didn't. Leslie wasn't quite sure whether stomping round and round the flat was helping her sort out her mixed-up head or only making it worse. She was caught between a rock and a hard place, tangled up in fury and self-doubt. The ring on her finger taunted her, the optimistic sunlight glinting off the diamond. Whether it was an actual diamond, she had no idea: Rick was a cheapskate. She couldn't imagine him forking over the cash for a proper ring, but she liked it nonetheless. Simple. Understated. Twisting it round and round until it irritated her skin, she took the ring off and fought temptation to throw it across the room, instead slipping it into the pocket of her jeans.

Rick was due home any minute. Staring at the clock, Leslie watched the seconds tick and the minutes accumulate until her eyes fizzed and her legs ached. Rick finished work at four o'clock every day. Allowing for traffic, he should have been back at four thirty. It was after six. He hadn't rung, though he rarely did when he was late. Leslie gritted her teeth. He couldn't even be bothered to lie to her about where he was to ease her mind, instead letting her sit there worrying that he was dead when, in all likelihood, Leslie was pretty sure he was balls deep in his ex-girlfriend.

Twenty to eight. The floorboards in the hallway creaked; a key turned in the lock. Leslie stood up, hands by her sides and her feet together. She didn't know what was the right way to stand for a situation like this, whether there was a protocol for confronting a fiancé.

"Hi, Les," Rick said, dropping his bag by the floor and enveloping Leslie in a hug that she didn't reciprocate. When he leant in for a kiss, she turned her head and he got her cheek. "What's up?"

"You really want to ask that?" She focused all of her angry energy on keeping her voice as calm as possible. If she yelled, he would only get defensive and petty.

"What do you mean?" he asked, frowning. His eyes, the clearest shade of blue that Leslie had ever seen on a man, creased and he tilted his head like a questioning dog.

"Tell me that we're ok," she said, forcing herself to hold her gaze even though she really didn't want to.

"What?"

"Tell me we're fine."

"We're fine, Les," Rick said. He smiled at her and tried again with the kiss but she put her hand up between them. "What's going on? Is everything alright?"

"You tell me." All she wanted to do was retreat, to sit down and let out the white fury inside, but that would get her nowhere. She wanted answers more than anything.

"I would, Les, but I have no idea what's going on." He glanced down, caught sight of the tan line in the absence of her ring. Taking her hand, he lifted it, inspecting her finger. "Where's your ring?"

"Where's your fidelity?"

Rick wasn't good with big words so his confusion was genuine at that one. "Les, tell me what's going on."

She crossed her arms across her chest. "Tell me that you love me," she said. "Tell me that you can't wait for us to be married and be together for the rest of our lives. Tell me that I'm the only one for you and you can't imagine being with anyone else." Her voice began to shake. "Tell me that you're not cheating on me. Tell me it's all in my head, that you're faithful and I'm just paranoid. Can you tell me that? Can you mean it?"

Rick's stunned silence told her everything. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. Leslie bowed her head, swallowing hard and blinking away the tears that begged to fall.

"Fuck you," she muttered.

"Les..." He reached out for her but she snatched her hand away. "I do love you."

"You don't. If you loved me, you wouldn't be cheating on me. Who is she?" She held up her hands, shaking her head. "No, no, I don't even want to know."

"I'm sorry."

"Fuck off."

"Les."

"No, fuck off. Actually, no, I'm going to go." Swinging her bag over her shoulder, she shoved past her now ex-fiancé. "Fuck you, Rick. Fuck. You." Stalking towards the door, Leslie stopped just before she slammed it behind herself. "If you couldn't tell, we're through, ok? We're done. This is over."

The door slammed shut. She managed to hold off the tears until she was sitting in the driver's seat and dropped her head to the wheel, aching sobs tearing her chest open. Two years, she had been with him. Two years of rejoicing that she had found a serious relationship, one that could actually go somewhere, only for it to be thrown down the drain by a man who didn't care half as much as she did.

Ten minutes passed. Rick didn't come down to beg her forgiveness or insist he was an idiot, that he made a mistake. It wouldn't have made a difference if he had but Leslie still hoped that he would, that he did regret cheating. But clearly he didn't.

*

Greg opened the door after two knocks and Leslie fell into his arms, a fresh round of tears starting up just at the sight of her best friend. He was always there, as though he subconsciously knew when Leslie would need him.

"Hi," he said, as he held her shaking body. "Jesus, Les, what's up?"

Leslie wrapped her arms around him, her height just about equalling his in her flat shoes, and let out an almighty sob. Greg swayed her, strong hands cradling her back.

"It's ok," he murmured, resting his cheek on top of her head. "Do you need to talk?"

Once her tears had subsided for the second time, Leslie nodded, still clutching Greg for dear life. He had always been her best friend, ever since she'd met him six years ago, and he knew when to talk and when to listen far better than anyone she knew. Her parents asked too many questions; her sister could be too dramatic. Greg was perfect.

*

Curled up on Greg's sofa with a glass of red wine in one hand and a few chocolate biscuits in the other, she rubbed her nose with the back of her wrist and drained her glass.

"I'm sorry for barging in on you like this," Leslie said. She set the glass down and balanced the biscuits on her knee to push her hair out of her face.

"What happened?" Greg sat next to her, sideways on the sofa so he was directly facing her. Concern etched premature lines into his twenty-four-year-old youth and he wished he knew the best way to comfort her.

"Rick's cheating on me. I ended it. We're done." She pulled her knees up to her chin, arms wrapped around her legs, and bit her cheeks to stop any more tears from falling.

"Shit, Les. Shit. I'm so sorry. God, what a prick," Greg said. He squeezed Leslie's hand, shifting closer to her when she didn't resist his touch. With his arm around her shoulders, she leant against him and closed her eyes. For every drama over the past few years, of which there had been more than enough, Greg had been her person. He had been the one to comfort and console and hold off on judgement. He knew when she needed advice and when she just needed a shoulder to cry on.

"It's ok," she murmured. "It wasn't meant to be. That's life."

"It's ok to be sad," Greg said, rubbing her arm.

"Thanks, Greg." She smiled, curling against her best friend. "If I kill hi-"

"I'll help you hide the body," he said, pre-empting her question. Leslie laughed.

"Is it totally pathetic that I want to get revenge on him? Is that really childish of me?"

"Not at all. I would if I were you. I'd want him to hurt. An eye for an eye and all that, right?"

Leslie put her hand on Greg's chest. "You're the best, Greg, really. Never leave me."

Greg paused for a moment, taking in the moment, a potentially pivotal point of their friendship, and held her closer. "I don't plan to."

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