Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

Page 9


‘Well, her father was called Des and her mum was called Leigh,’ explained Rosie. ‘You could think that was rather sweet.’
‘It’s repulsive,’ said Lilian.
It was going to be a long four weeks, thought Rosie. And she hadn’t even told Stephen yet.
‘… and their children,’ she finished.
Lilian perked up. She liked children, which was to say, she liked well-behaved, interesting children. Rosie privately wondered if Shane, Kelly and Meridian were going to fit those parameters.
‘Where are they going to stay?’ frowned Lilian.
‘I’m not sure,’ said Rosie. She wasn’t even close to figuring this one out. Peak House, Stephen’s old home, was empty. It was also right on the top of a very bleak mountain, and absolutely freezing cold, and impossible to get to without a car. ‘If this snow keeps up, in the village hall, probably.’
If the worst came to the worst, she had thought Pip and Desleigh could sleep in the living room, she and Angie could share her room, the children could take Lilian’s and Stephen could go back to his mother’s. This would have the added bonus of pleasing absolutely nobody.
‘It’s a long time to be cramped up in the cottage,’ said Lilian gloomily. ‘Well, if it’s easier on everyone, I can stay here.’
‘You can’t stay here!’ said Rosie. ‘It’s Christmas!’
Lilian’s eyes sidled towards a card placed on the coffee bar top. Christmas Menu, it said. Rosie picked it up.
‘Champagne sorbet? Oysters? Goose or roast topside of beef?’
Lilian looked slightly wistful.
‘What IS this?’
‘Well, the local cookery school has a lot of kids from bad homes and so on. One of those Jamie Oliver charity projects. So they come here on Christmas Day, cook for us.’
‘Give me that,’ said Moray, running his eye down it. ‘Goose-fat roast potatoes? Ginger Pig chipolatas? Chocolate and raspberry bavarois? That’s it, I’m coming here. Okay, Lilian, at about eleven forty-five on Christmas Day, I want you to feign stomach pains, okay? NOT chest pains, that’s an ambulance job, they’ll bypass me completely. Just stomach pains. Pretend you don’t want me called out on Christmas Day, that will make it more realistic.’
Lilian nodded, and looked round for somewhere to jot this down.
‘Pack it in, you two!’ howled Rosie. ‘It’s already tricky enough. They’re coming thousands of miles to see you, which means we all have to be there and have a lovely time.’
‘Eating in a circle on the floor,’ said Moray.
‘YOU are not invited,’ said Rosie. ‘What do you do at Christmas anyway?’
‘Go to Carningford and spend ten hours telling my parents why I haven’t met the right woman yet,’ said Moray with a last longing look at the menu.
‘I cannot understand why a sensible medical man like you, not exactly in the first flush of youth, still can’t come out to his parents,’ said Rosie.
‘And that,’ said Moray, ‘is the one thing I envy you about growing up in London.’
Lilian had calmed down.
‘It will be lovely to see Angie,’ she said.
‘It will,’ said Rosie firmly.
‘I need to thank her,’ she said.
‘I know, it’s such a long way to come.’
‘Oh no, no no, not about that,’ said Lilian. ‘That’s going to be a nightmare, clearly.’
Rosie rolled her eyes.
‘Why then?’
‘For bringing you to me, of course.’
Outside it had started to snow again, gently. Moray looked up at the sky and groaned.
‘Oh, but it’s lovely,’ said Rosie.
‘It’s deadly,’ said Moray. ‘It means our district nurse has to check in on all the old folks, make sure they’ve turned on their heating and they have someone to get to the shops for them.’
Rosie looked at him.
‘Was that a hint?’
She gave Moray a hand from time to time. She had hoped it would help her fit in and become more a part of the community. But it didn’t really seem to work at all; people continued to see her as the London interloper, so she still got a bit of the cold shoulder. Moray had told her this would probably start getting better in about three generations’ time.
‘Well, you’re snowed under with this family visit…’
‘Not quite yet,’ said Rosie. ‘Just say the word. I’ll fit it in.’
She relieved Tina to go and pick up the twins, then set about dealing with the after-school rush – plus, with the snow, a huge pick-up on lozenges and cough drops – making sure she asked after her older regulars. Then, at five, she tinkled the bell and started to cash up. Often she let Tina do it, but she liked to keep an eye on things, though Tina was so accurate that it made her job much easier anyway. She ran her eyes over the figures. They were good; the shop was busy and flourishing, but even so, by the time she’d bought stock and paid Tina and the bookkeeper and the taxman, there wasn’t a lot left over. What there wasn’t, she thought, looking at it, was enough to pay for a week at the Red Lion for Pip, Desleigh and the kids. (They would be in Lipton for a week, and would spend the rest of the time sightseeing and visiting other cousins.) Which meant she was no closer to fixing the problem. She glanced at her calendar. Five weeks till Christmas.
When Rosie arrived home, the smell of the stew made a warming greeting – she slow-cooked as many of their meals as possible, with the reasonable assumption that as she worked next door she would smell it if the house burned down. It meant she could buy the cheapest cuts of meat from the local butcher, and it would still taste ambrosial if cooked for long enough.
But there was another smell on the air, she thought. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. And then, in the next moment, a strange noise, like the tiny pattering clip-clop of nails on a polished wooden floor.
‘Hello?’ she shouted.
She heard Stephen’s careful tread coming through from the tiny doll’s-house kitchen. He had a bottle of red wine in one hand, which usually boded well, and a grim expression on his face, which did not. But she barely registered this. Instead, her eyes swung down to his feet. Cowering there like a shy child was a tiny bundle of fur with a little pink tongue hanging out.