Chapter 1: A Strange Couple

Disclaimer: Characters belong to RTD and all sweets belong to their respective manufacturers, though I could really do with a Wispa now. Ooh, and none of the magazines mentioned belong to me, either :)

Author's Note: This is what happens when 90's nostalgia kicks in. Ohh yes; I'm a 90's kid and I knew all the words to 'Wannabe'...I collected pogs...I watched SMTV:Live :) I wrote this after having Billie Piper's 'Girlfriend' stuck in my head for most of the day. Let me know what you think :)

There had been the old man with the lisp; he came every day at about 8am for his morning papers, (the Daily Mail usually) and a packet of wine gums. Then there had been the dark-haired woman who always seemed to be constantly tired and hung-over, who came in at about 8:30am for her usual packet of cigarettes, chewing gum and a Diet Coke before running for the number 36 bus. Of course, with Jericho Street Primary and Comprehensive just around the corner there were a lot of school kids who came trailing into the small, quite dingy newsagents at about 8:45am, spending their pocket money on football stickers to swap at break time. They'd be back again at half-three, their school jumpers tied sloppily around their waists, slugging their bags behind them to buy sweets to devour on the way home…

The elderly, sometimes-grumpy shopkeeper remembered everyone who came into her newsagents; she knew most of her regulars by face and purchase if not by name and liked to keep a track of what time they came in, what they usually bought and whatnot. She had an excellent memory, and over the years she had been serving them she'd worked out a few things about her customers. For example; the latest the old man had ever come in had been 8:15. The tired, dark-haired woman never varied the flavour of the chewing gum she bought; it was always Extra: Cool Breeze, and the school kids never loitered around for longer than ten minutes at the most; and that business was slowest between the hours of 1:00pm and 2:00pm. No one came in over lunch. Never. Well, hardly ever, which meant that she often used to leave the counter unattended and retreat to the backroom to put her feet up with a cup of tea and watch repeats of Neighbours, only returning irritably to the front of the shop when she heard the tinkle of bell as someone came in.

One of the main reasons why she kept such a close record of the comings and goings of her customers was so that she'd notice if there was anything or anyone strange and mysterious because, these days…well, you couldn't be too careful, could you?

Today, the old man had bought a packet of pear drops along with his wine gums and his newspapers, and the dark-haired woman hadn't been in at all, yet that wasn't what had captured the shopkeeper's intrigue. No, today, what was unusual was the sudden appearance and strange behaviour of a tall, skinny man and a young blonde woman, who she'd never seen before. The woman in particular was very odd; though she sounded as if she was a local, she didn't seem familiar at all and kept on dashing from the magazine rack to the shelves of sweets, picking up children's comics and gabbling excitedly, grinning from ear to ear like a little girl at Christmas whilst the tall man watched her with amusement. He looked to be in his early thirties and would have seemed very over-dressed in his pinstriped suit and long brown trench coat, had he not been wearing white Converse, making him look curiously like a trendy Science teacher…if such a thing were at all possible.

"Look!" cried the blonde woman, excitedly, picking up a brightly coloured packet of sweets. "Opal Fruits! They're still called Opal Fruits! They haven't been changed to Starburst yet!" she burbled fondly, thrusting the Opal Fruits under the man's nose.

" Err, yes Rose; that's lovely, just put them back and keep your voice down." He glanced nervously towards the shopkeeper. "The shopkeeper's watching you," he warned her in a low voice.

The woman peered around the shelves towards the counter, where she saw an old, grey-haired woman in ridiculously big pink glasses and a blue tabard openly staring at her.

"Oh, let her watch…mad old bat. OOH! Wispa's!" she crowed cheerfully, turning her attention away from the woman as a blue rectangular bar bearing a red slogan caught her eye amongst the shelves of chocolate. "I haven't had one of those in ages," she enthused. "They stopped making them…mum was gutted," she told the tall man, picking up three of them and then racing around the stands to the magazine rack.

"Well they bring them back in 2007," the tall man grumbled, following her like a dutiful puppy.

" Do they?" asked the woman, looking up at him from where she'd begun to pore over a selection of girlish-looking teenage magazines. "Ahh good!"

"Mmh," the man responded, watching her flick through a copy of Smash Hits that had a picture of the Spice Girls splashed across the front cover. "Bit of a boring year, 2007, though."

"Oh," she said, distractedly, in the middle of reading an article on Hanson. "Think I'll buy this," she said brightly, rolling it up and then picking up a copy of Mizz and Girl Talk. "And these…"

The tall man stared at her, open-mouthed. " What for?" he asked her incredulously. " You've got more than enough magazines lying on your bedroom floor…I should know, I slipped on a copy of Heat this morning and spilt tea down my shirt!"

"Then you should look where you're going," she told him, sidestepping round him and making her way back over to the shelves of sweets and crisps.

"But…but…" protested the tall man, seemingly at loss for words. "Those are out of date," he whined, joining her in front of a stand displaying Milky Ways. "What's the point in buying them if they're out of date? And they're for pre-teens anyway, why do you want them?"

The blonde woman raised her eyebrows (which were surprisingly, quite dark in contrast to her blonde hair) at him, unimpressed at his complaints. "I used to love reading Smash Hits and Girl Talk when I was about nine-ish," she said reproachfully, rearranging the magazines and the Wispa's in her hands as she crouched down to survey the bottom shelf. " Ooh Love Hearts she mumbled to herself," picking up two packets.

"But you're not nine," he pointed out, taking the Wispa's out of her hands as she looked to be in great danger of dropping them all over the floor.

"Really?" she replied, sarcastically, rolling her eyes at him. "They're for nostalgic purposes…old times sake and all that," she told him, primly. "You used to be able to get free nail kits sellotaped to the front and everything…look," she waved Girl Talk at him, which offered a heart-covered nail file as a free gift and featured "How to make groovy friendship bracelets" across the front.

"Well, as long as you promise to paint my nails and make me a err 'groovy' friendship bracelet later…" he commented dryly, following her to the counter with his hands shoved into the pockets of his coat.

"Oh shut up," she said fondly, smiling at him over her shoulder.

"Make me," he retorted, winking at her and giving the old woman behind the counter a wide smile, who glared back at him, stonily. "Just these, please," he prompted; pushing the Wispa's towards her as the blonde woman dropped the magazines and Love Hearts on the counter. "Annnd," he mused as she began to scan in the items. "Four sherbet fountains please, if you have any?"

"Four?" repeated the blonde woman disbelievingly. " What do we need four, for?"

"I like four," said the man nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders as the crotchety old shopkeeper sighed heavily and reached down beneath the plastic-topped counter and brought out four orangey-red paper cylinders with sticks of black liquorice sticking out of the twisted tops. " There were four Beatles…four seasons…the Fantastic Four…"

"Riiight," said the blonde woman slowly, obviously deciding to humour him. "But if you're sick after eating four sherbet fountains I'll have no sympathy…I'll just stand there and laugh," she told him warningly.

"You wouldn't,"

"I would."

The young couple pretended to glare at each other, before cracking out into identical toothy grins. At least, the shopkeeper assumed they were a couple. They looked nothing alike and so couldn't possibly be brother and sister, and were far too familiar with each other to be just friends. Yes; a young, unmarried couple, the shopkeeper decided, noting the absence of any rings on the woman's left hand.

Unhurriedly, the shopkeeper carried on scanning their purchases; putting them in a pink and white striped plastic bag as the tall man began to drum his fingers on the counter slightly impatiently, before the blonde woman clamped her hand over his to make him stop...thankfully.

There was a loud tinkling of a bell amongst the beeps of the till and the quiet lilt of the radio playing in the back room, and as the shopkeeper looked up warily, she felt her shoulders slump ever so slightly. If those boys were coming in, in all their shell-suited splendor, then it must be about 3:35pm ish…the schools must have just been let out…

The shopkeeper clucked her tongue; she didn't like these boys at all. True, they were still at Jericho Street Primary; in their last year by the looks of it but they were absolutely foul. They were, rude, loud; they intimidated the other customers, shouting and swearing at them. They spat on the floor, never said please or thank you and had dirty fingernails. Only yesterday she'd seen who she supposed was their ringleader; a great, hefty boy with a pudding hair cut, chase a small, tearful brown-haired girl down the street, pelting her with stones. Poor mite.

"Sherbet fountain," ordered the ringleader, trudging up to the counter, his rat-faced cronies hanging behind him.

"They're still being served, thank you," rasped the shopkeeper sharply, with a crow-like voice, gesturing at the tall man and the blonde woman. "Wait your turn."

The pudding haired boy gave the tall man a disdainful look up and down; as if he was something he'd trod on with the bottom of his shoe, seeming not to care that the man was twice his height. The tall man though didn't seem fazed and glared down his rather long nose right back at him, as if he were a mere annoyance.

The blonde woman, on the other hand, had gone very pale and was staring determinedly down at the counter, holding her shoulders stiff; anxious not to look in the boy's direction or to catch his eye in any way.

"Here," she said shakily, her voice sounding very hoarse as she fumbled in her denim jacket pocket and pushed a pink, cracked leather purse into the tall man's chest. "See you outside," she mumbled, pulling the sleeves of her jacket down over her hands as she made a beeline for the door, almost tripping over in her haste to get out of the small, cramped newsagents.

The tall man gazed down at the purse in his hands, holding it limply as if the woman had just given him a flesh-eating spider.

"Wha-?" he stared after her, looking confounded.

"Seven pounds ninety," the shopkeeper told him, holding out an ink-stained hand to accept the money.

The tall man gave her a preoccupied glance, like a schoolboy caught day-dreaming in lessons, barely even looking at the paper notes as he extracted ten pounds from a handful of receipts, bus tickets and photo booth snapshots crammed inside the card-holder bit of the woman's purse. "Just…keep the change," he said vaguely, collecting the carrier bag from the counter and almost running out of the newsagents after his blonde companion.

"Rose?" he called, wrenching open the creaking door and dashing out into the pavement, looking around worriedly for the blonde woman as he was jostled by crowds of Jericho Street Comprehensive students walking in packs through the narrow streets.

Looking out of the grimy, poster-filled shop window, advertising car boot sales and weight-loss clinics, the shopkeeper saw that the tall, skinny man managed to catch up with the blonde woman as he rounded the corner beside the post office, catching a hold of her arm and quite forcefully, swinging her round to face him, his face the picture of concern and confusion.

Then, the shopkeeper couldn't see anymore, as the impatient group of boys had sidled up to the counter and were staring at her menacingly, blocking her view of the odd couple.

"Sherbet fountain," repeated the pudding haired ringleader with a sly smile at his thick-looking friends on either side of him. "Actually, make that two," he sneered; a nasty, threatening look playing darkly across his potato-like face.

Goodness. Why had sherbet fountains suddenly got so popular? First the tall, skinny man had bought four, now this bullyboy was buying two…personally she couldn't see the attraction of dipping a stick of liquorice into a bag of bitter, powdery-white sherbet. Far too...messy.

Nevertheless, she obediently bent down and brought out two sherbet fountains; slapping them down bad-temperedly onto the counter.

"These for the Tyler girl?" guffawed a gormless-looking boy wearing a back-to-front baseball cap pulled down over his forehead as the first boy threw a handful of coins at the shopkeeper, without waiting to be told the price and slouched out of the shop, looking for all the world like an under-grown gorilla.

" Yeah," said the boy, his lip curling as he clenched the two sherbet fountains in his meaty fist. "She didn't like her stone shower yesterday. Let's see if she'll still scream for her mummy when we pour sherbet in her eyes, shall we? Powell Estate cow..."

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