'Five Seconds' by Sal Page

Chrissie grabbed two salads, span round and slammed right into him. He moved his cappucino up out of the way in time but one of his doughnuts jumped off the plate. He put his coffee and the other doughnut back on the counter, Chrissie put the salads down and they both bent to pick the doughnut up, very nearly bumping heads. Chrissie grabbed it. They looked at each other and said, in unison, the same three words.

    ‘Five Second Rule.’
    Laughter. Not only from the two them, from counter staff and nearby customers. Chrissie flung the doughnut away, picked up the tongs and slid another onto his plate. She noticed his hand shook as he took it and muttered his thanks. She picked up the salads, a slice of cucumber frisbee’d off and she kicked it under the counter.
    Lunchtime rush done, Chrissie took two coffees over to his table.
    ‘Can I join you? My shift’s finished.’
    She sat down before he could answer. He scooped up the papers he’d spread across the table. She introduced herself and found out his name.
    ‘Thought you might like another coffee, Alan. What’s all this?’
    Alan removed his glasses and cleared his throat. ‘I’m working on a research project.’
    ‘What about?’
    ‘Er … this is quite a coincidence actually. It’s about the five second rule.’ He glanced up for a second then looked away.
    ‘Really?’
    ‘I’m testing the theory out. Dropping different foodstuffs onto different surfaces and leaving them for varying amounts of time. We check them for contamination and record the results.’    
    He didn’t seem to be able to look at her. He began listing bacteria. Chrissie remembered some from her food safety course. She watched his mouth form the words. Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus, E-Coli … and yeasts, human skin and ordinary dust.’
    Elbow on the table, she lifted her cup. ‘That doughnut would’ve been fine. Reckon I got it in four and the floor’s mopped every day.’
    Alan looked serious. ‘But think of all the people who come in here. All the places they’ve walked. Take me, for example.’
    Chrissie shifted in the chair. She’d like to do just that.
    ‘Today I walked along the river and through the park so …’
    ‘Duck poo. Dog poo.’
    ‘Exactly. And that’s just for starters.’
    Chrissie laughed. ‘You go to some strange restaurants.’
    He smiled. Blushing was endearing. On Alan. He looked right at her and swallowed.
    ‘I like Bertollini’s. Maybe, I mean only if …’
    Chrissie decided to be kind and guess the rest.
    ‘I’d love to. You need proper food tonight. Two doughnuts is not a good lunch. I’ll meet you in five.’
    Chrissie hung her apron up and fetched her jacket, not knowing that in five hours she’d be in his bed, dropping pieces of Bertollini’s profiteroles onto his bare chest. That in five days she would be unable to imagine life without Alan or that in five weeks she’d be his assistant. Dropping food for a living.

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