four || leslie's french stick

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Nothing ever happened after eleven o’clock on a Saturday night when Leslie stayed at home. Occasionally she would go out, perhaps to a bar or on a date, but on the fifteenth of February, she was alone in her flat with the frumpy weatherwoman for company at quarter to midnight.

“Time for a haircut, Jane,” she muttered to the woman telling her all about the rain she was to expect. Curled up in an armchair that engulfed her, she reached out of her blanket for the remote, switching channels until she found one scheduled to show a classic eighties film. If there was one category Leslie loved as much as a good action flick, it was the little gems that came out of the eighties. It was set to start in twenty minutes, giving her enough time to brew a coffee and find something sweet to chew on.

Reluctantly throwing off the cosy blanket, she stood and yawned as she wandered through to the kitchen. There were plenty of liquorice laces in the drawer but as she tipped coffee granules into her mug, she realised that what she really fancied was a baguette. With every second that she thought about it, she wanted one more until the need for a French stick overrode the desire to stay warm inside her flat. Swapping her slippers for a pair of boots that pretended to be designer but had really cost a fiver, she wrapped a cardigan around herself over her pyjamas and stuffed her purse and key into her pocket.

The little all-night shop, which was due to shut as soon as Saturday became Sunday, was only a couple of doors down from her flat and once nightfall hit, it was oddly common to see people popping in and out in the pyjamas. Unfortunately for Leslie, it was usually harrassed new parents or old women. The young man behind the till didn’t seem to care. He didn’t even look twice at sleepy-eyed Leslie in her stripy top and bottoms, arms folded across her chest to keep warm in the February night chill. For a moment, she stood under the heater by the door until she noticed the time. She had five minutes to find herself a baguette.

There were three. Despite the temptation to take them all, Leslie only had a pound coin in her purse and each stick was eighty pence. Giving each one a squeeze, she settled on the second and dug the coin out of her purse. The floor was tacky under her feet, the remains of a spillage earlier in the day, and one of the lightbulbs was flickering. If she was in there for much longer, it would give her a headache. She wondered how the cashier coped.

A tap on the shoulder. Her first thought was that it was the police, lecturing her on how to dress accordingly in public. Her second was that double denim guy had somehow tracked her down and was after a quickie out by the bins. She shuddered at the thought. Those shameful days of too much drinking and not enough sense were long gone.

“Hey, stranger,” came a tired, familiar voice. Leslie’s insides fizzed with glee under the bad fluorescent lighting when she turned around to see a baggy-eyed Greg behind her in the two person queue.

“Greg? What’re you doing here?”

Though Greg only lived down the road from Leslie in a virtually identical block of flats, if not a little grottier, she rarely saw him within a mile of his home. They met in town, with an array of coffee shops, cafes and pubs to choose from. The cashier coughed, interrupting their exchange, and Leslie stepped forward. Greg hovered by her side, holding a litre carton of Tropicana.

“Well, I realised I had no orange juice and I need orange juice with my Sunday breakfast. I didn’t want to have to wait until ten tomorrow.” He grinned and eyed Leslie’s baguette as she paid, dropping the twenty pence change into a charity tub.

“So you’re up at midnight because you want orange juice tomorrow?” Leslie asked.

“Says the girl with a loaf of bread.” He waited until he had finalised his purchase to question her. She began to nibble the end the second they were out of the shop.

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