Home > Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #1)(4)

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #1)(4)
Jenny Colgan

Lilian sighed. Derby. There were jobs up there, lots of them. Cotton and munitions and all sorts. Or even down south to London where her brothers had gone, though that was a bit too much, even for her. Her father didn’t like the thought of it, couldn’t bear the thought of her living away in rooming houses somewhere; he’d rather she stay and look after the shop, but she’d said just because the other three had grown up and moved away he needn’t start thinking he could pin it on her.

‘I was looking for some service,’ came the teasing voice intruding on her dreams. ‘But I can see I’ve come to the wrong place.’

Lilian blinked and looked up. Henry was standing in front of her, a rough white shirt on. He looked unusually nervous.

‘Uhm, half a pound of lemon drops?’ he asked, as an old lady browsed beside him and two children bickered on the floor.

‘Have you your coupon?’

Henry looked shifty.

‘Uhm, no. Thought you might slip me a couple, you know.’

‘Of course not,’ said Lilian without giving it a second thought. ‘I would never do that.’

In fact, Lilian, and her father too, had found it impossible not to slip a tiny piece of toffee or the odd gobstopper to some of the poorer village mites. But she certainly wouldn’t be telling him that.

‘No,’ said Henry, rubbing the back of his neck. ‘Well, that’s all right. I don’t really like lemon drops.’ He glanced around. The old lady had left, and the two children were engrossed in their squabble. ‘I only wanted to ask … uhm, would you like to come to the dance tonight?’

Lilian was so taken aback she instantly felt her face pinken up. Henry’s eyes darted around, seeing her confusion.

‘Uh no, of course. It doesn’t matter,’ he said, backing away from the counter. ‘It’s not …’

‘But …’ Lillian pulled herself together and tried to find the words. A bit of her would have liked to humiliate him, the way he made her feel when he cheeked her in the street, or pointed and nudged his mates when she saw them all together. But the look of embarrassed anguish on his face made her change her mind.

‘Uhm, my dad probably won’t let me go.’

‘You’ve left school, ain’t you?’ said Henry, a touch sullenly. All his usual techniques when he liked a girl had come to nothing, which was annoying – most girls liked his wide smile and curly brown hair, but this one thought she was a cut above, obviously. Probably waiting for an airman in from Loughborough to swank around town with.

Lilian hesitated, and they looked at each other. Then the two bickering children leapt up from behind the counter.

‘Treacle toffee!’ shouted one triumphantly, waving his penny in the air. The other looked like he’d been made to give in and stood sullenly to the side. Both watched very carefully as Lilian measured out the thick, sticky shards, making sure the packet came out to an even number. The first child held the bag in triumph as they marched out of the shop. By the time Lilian had closed the cash register, Henry had gone.

Rosie shook her head, and turned another page of the book. ‘Sweets: A User’s Manual by Lilian Hopkins’ was inscribed on the front, along with the insignia of a small press. She glanced out of the window again. The bus showed no signs of slowing down or stopping, so she wasn’t feeling quite as nervous.

There were lights dotted here and there around the valley now, tiny pinpoints that must be farms surrounded by great oceans of blackness. And was that a street down below? The light had a faintly odd glare to it. As she craned her neck for a better look, the bus turned a hairpin bend round the hill and everything disappeared once more.

‘Is it nice, Lipton?’ she ventured, then again in case the driver hadn’t heard her. The beard grunted slightly. She guessed that was all she was going to get. Then to her surprise, he turned round.

‘What you doing here then?’ he asked gruffly.

‘I’m … I’m visiting someone. And maybe staying for a little while. Relax a bit.’

‘By yourself?’

‘Yes,’ said Rosie crossly. This wasn’t 1953. She didn’t need to have it pointed out that she was by herself. ‘I’m just going to relax and have a look at the local countryside.’

The driver snorted. ‘Seen the forecast, have you?’

Rosie never bothered to read the weather forecast, she just checked whether the tubes were running.

‘Of course,’ she replied stiffly, as the bus finally creaked its way along the main street of the village. It seemed perilously small to Rosie, with a few shops, a pub, a Spar and not a soul to be seen, even though it was only eight in the evening.

The bus continued up the little street, then trundled to a stop, the driver ringing a bell and shouting loudly, ‘End of the line! All change! All change please!’

‘It’s OK,’ said Rosie. ‘It’s just me on the bus.’

‘Just checking,’ said the man. ‘I’ll be back here in three days. Pick you up?’

Rosie glanced out towards the pub and back towards the now-darkened shop. She swallowed, then braced herself and her heavy suitcase.

‘Not sure,’ she said, stepping off the bus and on to the quiet pavement beyond.

‘Lilian?’ It had taken her a while even to think who Angie could possibly mean.

‘Great-aunt Lilian,’ said Angie. ‘You remember?’

Rosie looked into the fruit bowl. As usual they were running out of apples (which she liked), but there was a heap of bananas (that Gerard said he liked) going mouldy. Rosie squinted into her memory.

‘The lady who smelled of Parma violets? With all the sweets?’

‘Yes!’ said her mother triumphantly. ‘I know. She started you off.’

Rosie’s love of sweets was a long-running family joke. Even now, she was rarely to be found without a bag of Fruit Pastilles or rhubarb and custards about her person. She said it was for the patients, but all the nurses knew it was Rosie you went to if you needed a quick pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon.

‘Oh goodness!’ said Rosie. She did remember, from when she and Pip were children. An old lady – she had seemed very old to them then; it was hard to imagine she was still alive – who would occasionally visit, bringing mounds of slightly out-of-date sweets with her: Edinburgh rock and hard candies, and humbugs and gobstoppers. She and Pip would stuff themselves silly then lie around groaning and feeling completely green while their mum heaved a sigh and said she’d told them so, ‘Lilian, don’t bring them so much,’ and Lilian had sniffed, and said maybe she should raise children with some self-control. They hadn’t seen her often after that. But Rosie had never got over the excitement of the rustling paper bags, the light dustings of sugar, the sticky, fruity smells.

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