Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

Page 23


Rosie gently let her head slip to the countertop. Mr Dog, who was having a quick snooze underneath, reached up and licked her hand. Rosie nuzzled him.
‘You,’ she said after she’d hung up the phone, ‘are the only uncomplicated person round here.’
‘Aooow,’ said Mr Dog in a comforting fashion.
‘We have never been busier,’ said Rosie to Lilian.
‘Don’t show off,’ said Lilian fussily. ‘They feel sorry for the children.’
‘Yes, I know that,’ said Rosie. ‘I was just looking for, you know, the bright side.’
They were doing up the home for Christmas, in nice traditional wreaths, no cheap tinsel. Every resident had been invited to contribute something from their own past Christmases, and Rosie had brought up the carved wooden manger, which fitted beautifully on top of the drawing room mantel.
Lilian sniffed.
‘Well, when you have to sell the house and the shop, try and sell it to some City banker who’ll pay far too much money for it. I don’t want to come and live in your London squat.’
Rosie was horrified.
‘What do you mean, London squat? I live here.’
‘Yes, but what would you do with no school, no sweetshop? Live off Stephen’s teaching earnings?’ Lilian chuckled, a hollow sound.
‘I can’t believe you’re being so defeatist about everything.’
‘I’m an old lady,’ said Lilian. ‘The world is in the business of letting me down. It’s not for the faint-hearted, getting old, you know.’
‘Well that’s fortunate,’ said Rosie. All the trepidation she’d felt about getting on to Lady Lipton about the school situation suddenly drained away in the face of Lilian’s lack of confidence. She’d show her!
‘Actually, I have a plan to save the school.’
‘Do you?’ said Lilian sniffily.
‘Yes! We’re going to move it into Lipton Hall.’
Lilian blinked twice and her lips twitched.
‘You’ve mentioned this to Hetty?’
‘Not exactly.’
‘Okay. Well I can’t imagine anything she’d like more than forty snotty-nosed brats charging around the Constables. And who’ll pay to heat it?’
‘The council,’ said Rosie stubbornly. She had only the very vaguest idea of who the council was and what it did.
‘Oh, Roy Blaine?’ said Lilian. ‘He’s agreed to help you, has he?’
‘He’s not?’ said Rosie.
‘Head of the council,’ confirmed Lilian.
Roy Blaine was the local dentist, who’d been waging war against the sweetshop for years; he’d wanted to buy the property and turn it into a car park last year, but Rosie had managed to fend him off. This had made him more disagreeable than ever.
‘Well he doesn’t want Lipton to shut down!’
‘He’s talking about moving to Carningford, taking on a bigger place,’ said Lilian. ‘He reckons he’s got too big for Lipton. So if the council sell the school to developers and get a load of second-home incomers in, it’ll be all to the good as far as he’s concerned. I heard him talking to his grandfather about it. He shouts. He pretends it’s because Jim is deaf, but he isn’t in the slightest. It’s just that Roy likes everyone to know how well he’s doing. He is such an inspid worm of a man. And those teeth scare me.’
Roy’s teeth had been veneered and whitened to within an inch of their life. The rest of his face was sunken and a little grey. The effect was horrific.
‘Oh BUGGERATION,’ said Rosie, exasperated. ‘Do you think you could talk Hetty round?’
Lilian looked at her.
‘I’m not in the business of upsetting my few visitors by irritating them,’ she said.
‘Really? You don’t seem to mind with me.’
Lilian ignored this.
‘Where’s tea? It’s scones today.’
‘I’m going to move into this care home,’ said Rosie, not for the first time.
‘So tell me about Angie and Pip and everyone,’ said Lilian. ‘Do you think Angie will remember me?’
‘Of course she will!’ said Rosie. ‘Pip remembers you too. You used to send us sweets at Christmas and he used to guzzle the lot and throw up all over the place. Every single year.’
Lilian smiled.
‘I have a soft spot for greedy boys,’ she said. ‘It’s the hoarders and the misers I can’t abide.’
‘Everyone likes Pip,’ said Rosie. ‘He’s the most laid-back guy on the planet, that’s why Australia suits him so well.’
Lilian nodded.
‘And the children?’ She had a crotchety look for children, but it was all for show. Lilian had never forgotten a child she’d served – half the assistants in the care home she knew by their first names – and always had a generous hand on the scales for the poorer mites.
‘Not sure,’ said Rosie tactfully. ‘I hear a lot of yelling. But that might be, you know, just kids generally.’
‘Speaking of which,’ said Lilian, fixing her with her sharp eyes, ‘I don’t believe I see you getting any younger.’
‘As always, my dear great-aunt, that’s my cue to go,’ said Rosie, kissing the old lady gently on the cheek and nodding to Dorothy Isitt, Ida Delia’s daughter, on the way out.
That left Stephen. He was lying on his side today, facing the window.
‘Ha, you look like you’re ignoring me,’ said Rosie. ‘Or posing for a life model class. Can I sketch you like this?’
‘I have never been so fucking bored in my entire life,’ came the voice, slightly drawling. ‘I haven’t slept a fucking wink and I want to go home.’
‘You’re better,’ she observed and came round the other side. ‘Ooh, you’re growing a beard. Do you want me to shave you? Or no, maybe leave it, it’s sexy. A bit painful. But quite sexy. Hmm.’
‘Can you shush, please, so I can kiss you?’ said Stephen. ‘Do notice I’m kissing you, even through my terrible pain.’
‘What would you rather have, a kiss from me through terrible pain, or more drugs?’
‘Don’t make me answer that.’
‘When can I take you home?’ said Rosie with feeling.