Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

Page 29


‘Are you CRYING, Lakeman?’ she said, reaching back and squeezing his hand.
‘NO,’ said Stephen, forcing himself to buck up. ‘It’s so flipping cold in here, my eyes are watering.’
‘That’s right. You’re not at all crying.’
‘“A star, a star… dancing in the night… with a tail as big as a kite”,’ sang Rosie tunelessly.
‘“And is it true?”’ quoted Stephen, looking out at the night sky. ‘“And is it true?” For if it is…’
‘Are you going pious on me in my old age?’ said Rosie.
‘No,’ said Stephen. ‘But on a night like this… so silent…’
‘Yes!’ said Rosie. ‘Almost like, you know, some kind of SILENT NIGHT.’
Stephen laughed, finally.
‘Do you ever feel that things are meant to happen in a certain way, Rosebud?’
Rosie didn’t take her eyes off the road.
‘Of course not,’ she said.
‘You don’t think you and I were meant to meet? I mean, we wouldn’t normally.’
‘What, because you’re posh and I’m common as muck?’
‘Yes,’ said Stephen.
‘Oh,’ said Rosie. ‘Well, anyway, no, of course I don’t.’
‘Nobody’s up there guiding us?’
‘Nobody was guiding those rebels in Africa, no,’ said Rosie softly. ‘It’s rubbish. The idea that somehow some benevolent deity sends an angel to watch over whether American football players will win a match but wants every third baby in Liberia to die. It’s disgusting. That God would bother about whether we fell in love but wouldn’t bother that there are kids in India whose eyes get eaten by worms whilst they’re still alive. Okay, you know, I don’t THINK so. It’s just us, my love. Making the best of the here and now.’
Stephen was silent for a bit.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Gosh, I didn’t realise you felt so strongly about it.’
‘Try working in A and E,’ she said. ‘Anyway, you of all people know life isn’t fair.’
‘I know,’ said Stephen with a sigh. ‘Just, on a night like tonight… so beautiful… and I’m on my way home, and Edison’s getting better… No, you’re right, of course.’ He was still gazing out of the window.
‘Well, whatever gets you through the night,’ said Rosie. ‘If it makes you happy.’
‘I think I’m just so relieved,’ said Stephen. ‘I’m coming home all fine, nice and cosy, and we’re going to have a lovely quiet Christmas and not go out at all, apart from to my bloody mother’s every day, but at least I’ll be working… and Mrs Laird can bake us things, and we’ll have Christmas just the two of us in front of the fire, all to ourselves, and not get dressed all day and it’s going to be amazing. It’s not been easy, Rosie. But it makes me happy now.’
Rosie glanced at him one last time.
OH GOD, she thought in despair. I HAVE to tell him Angie’s coming. I MUST. But looking at his beautiful face, no longer screwed up in pain, or irritable or cross, just tired and homesick, she found she was too drained – or, to be strictly honest with herself, too much of a coward – to tell him quite yet. She would, she would she would.
‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ came on the radio.
‘Now THIS is my religion,’ said Rosie quickly, whacking up the volume, and they bopped along home the bumpy road to Lipton.
Earlier the man had walked round the care home on his own. Matron had been welcoming but a little puzzled.
‘So he’s outside?’
‘Yes, he’s in the car,’ said Edward Boyd. ‘We’re looking at homes… You’re quite far away, but we heard really good things about you.’
Cathryn Thompson raised her eyebrows.
‘Well, that’s nice.’
Edward, whose car had barely a scratch on it, and who hadn’t a clue about what had happened with the lorry, had emailed Moray after the incident in Rosie’s shop, and Moray had obligingly sent back a list of decent homes that could cope with dementia. He’d made it entirely clear that Cathryn’s was quite the best he’d seen, and he had seen them all.
‘It’s a bit of a drive, but nothing we don’t mind making.’
Cathryn looked at him.
‘Does he still know it’s you?’
Edward shrugged.
‘Sometimes. He spends a lot of time talking about his boyhood. It’s odd, because when I was little, he never mentioned growing up at all. He was badly injured in the war, and we knew better than to ask him. But now he talks about it a lot.’
‘That’s very common,’ she said. ‘People lose their recent memories, but retain their old ones – especially youth. For some reason adolescence writes itself ridiculously strongly on the brain, which given what an awkward time it is in most people’s lives is a bit annoying. But it means that those memories stay, even when people can’t recognise their nearest relatives. Your mother?’
‘Breast cancer,’ said Edward. ‘It was… it was a long time ago now.’
‘And your father was fine?’
‘No, he was heartbroken. But then he got over it and he seemed all right.’
‘Did he meet anyone else?’
‘He never did,’ said Edward. ‘We were really surprised, to be honest. He was only sixty, and a really handsome man.’ He grimaced. ‘I take after my mother’s bald, chunky side of the family, I’m afraid. My father has a wonderful head of hair.’
Cathryn nodded politely.
‘But no, he was a one-woman man, I think. He always kept himself to himself rather. I don’t even know what happened to him in the war, not properly. Then in the last five years…’
Cathryn nodded.
‘It’s difficult to watch.’
Edward looked out of the window. He’d had to leave the engine running to ensure his father didn’t freeze.
‘Money isn’t a problem,’ he said. ‘It’s just… oh, it’s hard to say goodbye.’
Lilian and Ida Delia were earwigging furiously through a partially open door.
‘Is it a man?’ came Lilian’s voice finally.