Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

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‘Today if you like,’ said a passing nurse. ‘He’s been nothing but a pain in the arse.’ But she had a smile on her face.
‘Why do you get to be a pain in the arse but people still like you?’ said Rosie once the nurse had gone. ‘It’s really, really annoying that you’re good-looking.’
‘You still like me,’ said Stephen. ‘Don’t you?’
‘I do,’ said Rosie. ‘Do you still like me?’
‘Good. Because you’re not going to in about a minute.’
She explained the plan to move the school to his mother’s house.
‘Oh Lord,’ said Stephen. ‘Really?’
‘She’d do it for you.’
‘She’d do it for me and then lock me in the cellar.’
‘Just be clear. Say you’re not going to move back in, you’re not going to take on the estate, you’re just going to borrow it for a bit.’
Stephen bit his lip.
‘Come on, what’s the alternative?’
He shrugged.
‘Maybe they would be better off in Carningford, without some maniac trying to run them over. Be a bit safer.’ He was facing the window, looking out over Rosie’s shoulder.
‘No,’ said Rosie. ‘Don’t be stupid, okay. It was a freak accident. It’s not even in the papers any more.’
Stephen shrugged.
‘It happened. Maybe Lipton isn’t the best place for them to be.’
‘You can’t believe that,’ said Rosie, horrified. ‘You can’t. You wouldn’t leave Lipton to die.’
‘That’s being a bit overdramatic, don’t you think?’
‘A lorry crashed into the building,’ she said. ‘There’s a kid upstairs hovering between life and death. How dramatic do you want me to be? We need to fix it. And I want you… I want you to be where you belong. What are you going to do if they shut the school? You’ve always been a teacher.’
‘You’re the one that wants me to move back to Mummy’s house. I guess that’s where I belong.’
‘Now you’re being spoiled,’ said Rosie, crossly.
Stephen shrugged.
‘You asked me what I thought and I told you.’
‘I didn’t ask you what you thought,’ said Rosie. ‘I asked you to help me.’
There was a pause.
‘Look at me,’ said Stephen. ‘I can’t even help myself.’
Rosie slammed down the huge pile of cards and letters on his bed.
‘Fine,’ she said. ‘I’ll do it by myself.’
‘Are you being Saint Rosie again? You do just love those lost causes.’
Rosie stared at him and decided to leave in case she said something she regretted.
‘Yeah, anyway, that went well,’ said Rosie to a comatose Edison.
Hester and Arthur were nowhere to be seen – perhaps they’d finally cracked and gone to get something to eat – and the ward was quiet. Rosie sat down by Edison’s bed and held his hand, and snivelled a bit. But she didn’t change her mind.
Downstairs, Stephen glanced again at his watch, wondering how long he would have to wait for his painkillers, trying not to focus on the pain. He shouldn’t have snapped at Rosie, but really, couldn’t he catch his breath, just for a moment? He couldn’t let her see how shaken up he was. Not by the operation, that had been nothing, but the whole thing had brought Africa right back to him, and he couldn’t… he couldn’t bear to feel that way again.
Chapter Eight
The next day, Saturday, was torture. Rosie was hard pressed at the shop, run off her feet. The Santa train had arrived, finally, and just as Tina had predicted, every family in town brought their children out to look at it tootle its merry way round the little snowy hillside. Rosie liked seeing the happy faces of the children, such a contrast with their confused, pained looks of the week before. The adults, though, still bore traces of the fright they had all had.
‘All right, all right,’ she said, knowing how very strongly Lilian would disapprove, and coming out with a bucket of little wrapped bonbons. ‘One each for being very brave and doing exactly what Mrs Baptiste told you.’
The children converged on the bucket, chattering excitedly.
‘Can I have one?’ said Hye Evans, the other local doctor.
Rosie looked at him severely. ‘I don’t know. Do you sit on the local council?’
‘Of course,’ said Hye. ‘I’m an alderman.’
‘Are you going to close the school?’
‘I’m afraid that’s not something I can discuss with you,’ said Hye, his pink face turning red.
‘Well, no sweetie,’ said Rosie. ‘Unless it would help?’
She watched as Hye stomped off.
‘I’m rubbish at corruption,’ she noted gloomily.
She hadn’t been able to get the fight with Stephen out of her head. He hadn’t texted her or anything, which meant he was obviously still adamant that he was right. She could barely serve the flow of customers without checking her phone every two minutes, even though she couldn’t get a signal, and her face was so glum Moray actually laughed when he swung by for some sweet golf balls to take to his new doctor boyfriend in the next village over. He was being very secretive about him for some reason.
‘Look at you, exactly the right kind of person to be in charge of a sweetshop. What happened, eat too many of the lime sours?’
Rosie explained whilst frantically rearranging fudge.
‘I’m not sure what you’re saying here,’ said Moray, absent-mindedly helping himself to one of the golf balls. ‘Are you trying to tell me that Stephen is a stubborn old git?’
‘YES,’ moaned Rosie.
‘Oh my God, let me phone CNN,’ said Moray. ‘Well, you knew this. Hang on – ha! Did you think you’d be able to soften him up and change his mind?’
Rosie shrugged.
‘And make him do what you want? Ha! This isn’t just about the school, is it? It’s about your personal reputation as the only woman who can get Stephen to do something he doesn’t want to do.’
‘It is not,’ said Rosie. ‘Except a bit.’
‘Ahh,’ said Moray. ‘Oh you’re so cute when you’re cross. So, what are you going to do?’