Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

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Mrs Baptiste came in for cough drops and was forced to admit that yes, the local council had suggested that the children be bussed to Carningford Primary ‘until a solution could be found’.
‘That sounds ominous,’ said Rosie.
Mrs Baptiste nodded her head.
‘I agree,’ she said. ‘As soon as they start, there’ll be no going back. And it’s an hour there and an hour back; they’re too little for that long a day. So what will happen?’
‘They’ll move away,’ said Rosie glumly.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Baptiste sadly.
‘But the parents will get anxious, won’t they?’ said Rosie. ‘About the children missing school.’
Mrs Baptiste sighed.
‘Yes. I know.’
Just then the bell tinged and Lady Lipton swept in.
‘I’m going to see Stephen,’ she announced crossly. ‘Can you give me his toothbrush and a change of clothes.’
‘Of course,’ said Rosie, still feeling guilty about being so aggressive the previous day. ‘I’m sorry if I was rude before.’
Lady Lipton looked completely surprised.
‘You?’ she said, as if Rosie was a bug who’d passed her on the street. ‘Oh, I didn’t notice.’
Rosie internally rolled her eyes.
‘Okay, good,’ she said. ‘You can take him his post, too.’
A huge mound of cards had arrived that morning, similarly illustrated to Edison’s.
‘What is this rubbish?’ said Lady Lipton.
‘I’ll take it,’ said Rosie, conscious that it might end up as kindling otherwise. ‘I think he’ll be out in a few days.’
‘Good,’ said Lady Lipton. ‘I’ve no truck with hospitals.’
Rosie popped out and came back with a change of clothes and the new Tom Holland book.
‘Tell him I’ll be in later,’ she said. ‘In fact, if you wanted to wait, we could go together.’
Lady Lipton looked astonished.
‘Why would we —’
‘Never mind!’ said Rosie quickly. ‘Just tell him I’ll be there later.’
As Henrietta clanged out of the shop, Mrs Baptiste and Rosie exchanged a glance.
‘Oh, she is DIFFICULT,’ said Rosie.
‘She’s all right,’ said Mrs Baptiste with the instinctive village loyalty. ‘And you know…’ She paused, as if something had just struck her.
Rosie saw it straight away from her face.
‘She does have the space,’ said Mrs Baptiste.
‘Oh my God!’ said Rosie. ‘I didn’t think about that. Move the school! Do you think she would? Yes. I mean, she’d have to, for Stephen’s sake.’
‘Doesn’t she hate him being a teacher?’
‘Yes, but if it was under her roof… she could keep an eye on him.’
‘And there’d be a million and one health and safety hoops to jump through,’ mused Mrs Baptiste.
‘Well, it’s only a temporary emergency measure,’ said Rosie. ‘Just till the council fixes the school.’
‘Decides on a solution,’ corrected Mrs Baptiste. ‘Well, it would save them the cost of a bus.’
‘I think it’s a great idea,’ said Rosie. ‘Well, no, it’s a terrible idea given that Lipton Hall is unheated and slightly falling down. But it’s about a million times better than sending them all away. If Lipton loses its children, it’ll lose everything. ’
‘I completely agree,’ said Mrs Baptiste. ‘So would you be a darling and ask her?’
‘WHAT?’ said Rosie, spying a well-laid trap. ‘Me? Why do I have to ask her?’
‘Because she’ll do what Stephen wants. Anything from us will just go straight over her head.’
‘She hates me.’
‘Don’t be daft,’ said Mrs Baptiste. ‘She talks to you. If she really hated you, she’d never notice you at all.’
‘I think I’m going to join the Socialist Workers Party,’ said Rosie crossly.
‘Could you get Stephen to do it?’
‘He’s a bit off his box at the moment,’ said Rosie. ‘Also, anything that involves him setting foot in that place for longer than is strictly necessary makes him extremely uncomfortable.’
‘There you go then,’ said Mrs Baptiste. ‘You know, in the old days, Lilian would have done it.’
‘Now you’re just trying to make me feel guilty on purpose,’ moaned Rosie.
‘Is it working?’
The phone rang.
‘SO, I’ve booked the tickets,’ came a loud and lively voice. ‘We can’t wait!’
Rosie’s heart stopped. She had completely and utterly forgotten about Angie. Or, to be strictly accurate, Angie, Pip, Desleigh, Shane, Kelly and Meridian. All of them. Descending.
‘Oh my God,’ she said.
‘What is it now?’ said Angie. ‘It’s not like you ever get up to anything in that sleepy little place you live in.’
‘No,’ said Rosie. ‘Hardly anything at all. When are you arriving?’
‘Next Thursday! We’ll be there for two weeks! Isn’t it bonzer!’
‘You don’t say bonzer,’ said Rosie. ‘Surely. Do you? Do you say that now?’
‘Oh yeah! Good on yer!’ said Angie. ‘Listen, it’s twenty-six degrees today. The kids aren’t going to know what’s hit them.’
‘They sure aren’t,’ said Rosie, glancing outside at the deep drifts. There had been no more snow today, but the top had crusted over with ice. The attic room, without Stephen’s comforting presence, had become unspeakably cold; there was frost on the inside of the window. The previous evening Rosie had had to pile every article of clothing from her wardrobe on top of the bed just to keep the heat in. Fortunately the combination of a sleepless night the night before and the knowledge that nobody was actually going to die had combined to make her drop off almost immediately, whereupon she had dreamed repeatedly that she was being buried alive.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Great! We can’t wait either… Did you say you’ve booked the flights?’
‘Booked, paid for, non-refundable!’ said Angie. ‘We had to use up basically all of our savings, but it’s totally going to be worth it, I can tell.’