Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

Page 25


‘Wait for him to come round.’
‘Got two years, have you?’
‘Bollocks,’ said Rosie. ‘He’s not going to come round, is he? He just won’t talk to his bloody mother.’
‘I would say,’ said Moray, ‘that anything he could do for anyone, he would always do for you.’
Rosie half smiled.
‘You’re going to need more of those golf balls.’
‘Oh yes. So…’ said Moray.
‘So you’re saying…’
‘If you want to save the school…’
‘Into the lion’s den,’ said Rosie, unhappily. ‘Lady Lipton.’
‘The council is taking the vote on Monday. They can have the buses out by Wednesday.’
‘Dammit!’ said Rosie. ‘Damn damn damn. Will you support me?’
‘Hmm, what do you want me to do?’ said Moray. ‘I’m not on the council. I could make several subtle poisons with which to dispose of Hye and no one would ever suspect a thing, but I think I would probably have done that already.’
‘Just talk me up,’ said Rosie. ‘Tell people.’
‘I’ve been talking you up since you got here,’ said Moray. ‘Then you go and let me down by wearing ridiculous clothes and pulling unlikely people. What’s that?’
He’d spied something by the till and grabbed at it. It was a tiny red ruffled coat with a tartan trim.
‘You’re not?’ he said.
‘Ssh,’ said Rosie. ‘It’s freezing outside.’
Moray continued staring in disbelief.
‘If you seriously start dressing up your dog, you’ll be dead in this town.’
Early the next morning, after a long evening with still no word from Stephen apart from a depressing exchange of formal text messages in which they’d both ascertained that the other person was ‘all right’ but with no further discussion of the matter in hand, Rosie woke up and decided enough was enough. And she was going to cycle. No snow was actually falling right at this moment, so it was as good a day as any: she was going stir crazy without any exercise.
She left her bike by the gates and started trudging up the snowy driveway. Mr Dog had had his final injections, so she’d decided to take him on a long run out, albeit wearing the very snazzy new red dog jacket, in the full and angry knowledge that Stephen would find it absolutely appalling.
The big house looked ominous and dark ahead, its chimney stacks cold and empty, its windows blank. Rosie had only been here once before, the previous year, for the hunt ball. Then it had all been lit up and glittering, a glamorous outpost of light and dressed-up people getting drunk and dancing. Now, in the bleak snowy light, it looked slightly sad; unloved and deserted.
Rosie had been in the country long enough to know that nobody answered their front door, you had to go round the back, but it didn’t matter; as soon as he got close enough, Mr Dog set up a delighted howling, as another three dogs, clearly related to him in some way – but much smarter – came tearing out from the courtyard and gave him a hero’s welcome. All four of them rolled about together in the snow in delight. Rosie wasn’t sure, but it looked like Mr Dog was trying to pull off his coat. None of the other dogs had coats.
‘View halloo!’ shouted Hetty, stalking round to the side gate. She was wearing, as usual, a bizarre collection of gardening clothes and ridiculously expensive cashmere covered in holes.
‘Um, hello,’ said Rosie. She’d wanted to practise a speech, but she had ended up so cross at Stephen that she hadn’t had time, spending half the evening mentally continuing her argument with him instead. She took a deep icy breath to gather her thoughts.
‘Have you got time for tea?’
Hetty scratched Mr Dog’s neck.
‘Hello, you lovely chap. What is this awful travesty you’ve been wrapped in then? Is she trying to make you gay? Are you trying to make your dog GAY?’
Rosie screwed up her eyes and reminded herself to keep calm.
‘I thought he might be cold,’ she said.
‘Nonsense!’ said Hetty. ‘He’s part lurcher, part…’ She looked a bit doubtful. ‘Well, anyway. That’s ridiculous. Next you’ll be letting him sleep inside.’
Rosie didn’t explain that she had to let him sleep inside, on her bed, otherwise she’d freeze to death.
‘And have you got a name for him yet, huh? What about Monty? Monty’s a fine name for a dog. Or Ludo.’
‘Not yet,’ said Rosie. ‘Mostly we just call him Mr Dog.’
Hetty looked at her.
‘Does Stephen call him that?’
‘No,’ admitted Rosie. Stephen called him the most lovely gorgeous boy in the whole wide world, but she didn’t want to explain that to Hetty.
‘Well, quite. The dog needs a name, it’s undignified.’
Rosie noticed, however, that she was giving him a massive cuddle.
‘Sorry, what did you want, tea?’ She made it sound like it was the most ridiculous demand she’d ever heard. Maybe it was, reflected Rosie. ‘Hmph. Well we’ll see if Mrs Laird has anything.’
Rosie was led through the back way for the first time. She was surprised by how cosy it was. A little kitchen, dated but immaculate, led on to what had obviously once been the original kitchen – it was a massive room, with a huge table down the middle – but now functioned as the kitchen diner. There was ample room at the other end for a faded floral three-piece suite and a small old-fashioned television, and a massive, terrifying-looking Aga bathed the entire room in friendly warmth.
‘Oh, it’s lovely in here,’ said Rosie, spontaneously.
‘Hello, Rosie,’ said Mrs Laird, who bought a pound of orange creams every Saturday night to watch her shows with, and wouldn’t have confessed in a million years that, contrary to all the village gossip about the London upstart, she thought Rosie was the best thing ever to happen to Stephen. She’d been the one who’d tried to look after him when he got back from Africa in such a state, and like everyone else, she’d failed until this girl had come along. ‘I’ve just made some mince pies, would you like one?’
‘Yes!’ said Rosie. ‘It has been so long since someone offered me anything to eat, I can’t tell you. I’m ravenous. Do you have lots?’