Home > Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #1)(8)

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #1)(8)
Jenny Colgan

1942

If it hadn’t been for Ida Delia Fontayne, it seemed unlikely that Lilian would ever have given Henry a second thought. Although he had lingered … A young man, even an infuriating one, asking her to a dance wasn’t something that happened every day. Lilian was too thin for the current fashion; too pointy of nose and elbows and knees to be considered one of the village beauties, like Ida Delia Fontayne, whose thick blonde hair and round blue eyes and soft high bosoms drew the eyes of every man in the village up to Lord Lipton himself, it was rumoured; and didn’t Ida know it. Mind you, she’d been a general showbox since Miss Millet’s schoolyard, always in charge of the games, elbowing out shy, caustic, wiry-haired Lilian; fluttering her eyelashes at teachers, the vicar or anyone even passingly likely to show favour. They’d been best friends when they were little; Lilian’s father thought she was adorable and would let her have an extra piece or two of fudge, and Ida Delia caught on to the wisdom of this arrangement and started inviting Lilian to her birthday parties, or to play dominoes, or to summer hangouts round the swimming hole.

At first scrawny Lilian, with no mother and three big brothers and no knowledge of fashion or Hollywood film stars or lipstick, felt out of place and awkward. But as they grew older, Ida Delia took to Lilian’s sharp, funny tongue and clever ways with homework (handy for copying) and for a time they were close. Then adolescence had begun in earnest, like a winnowing of who the boys liked and who wasn’t going to quite make the grade. Lilian could tell, as Ida Delia announced loudly how embarrassing it was being measured up for a brassiere then getting the same bus home as the vicar, that their friendship might not survive the dawning interest from the lads of the town, and she had been entirely correct. Ida Delia had palled up with Felicity Hayward from the neighbouring farm, whose russet curls and bright green eyes made cows out of boys all the way to Hartingford, and left Lilian with Margaret, who didn’t always look directly at you. Margaret was fun enough, but Lilian hated the idea of friendship being traded as a commodity, and could neither forgive nor forget.

Lilian liked to think that since she’d started working and living like a young lady, she was less bothered by the likes of Ida Delia Fontayne, or so she thought that summer until she saw her walk down the main street side by side with Henry Carr, laughing uproariously at one of his jokes. Lilian knew Henry wasn’t anything like as funny as that. Mind you, nobody was as funny as the way Ida was going on. She held up her shopping basket and smiled at them politely, but inside her guts were twisting furiously. So, you ask someone to a dance one day and then the next you’re up and down the high street with the town flirt. That was clearly how it worked. Lilian was amazed to find how annoyed she was about someone she didn’t even like. It was just bad manners, that was what was getting her riled.

‘Miss Hopkins,’ said Henry.

‘Hello, Henry,’ said Lilian, as coolly as she could muster.

Ida obviously wanted to stop and show off her prize. ‘Henry and I were just heading the same way,’ she said, flicking back her elegantly permed hair that, as she never tired of telling everyone, she had to get done up in Derby at Gervase’s as nowhere else could quite get it right. ‘It’s a shame you missed the dance on Saturday – such fun!’

She turned to Henry. ‘Lilian’s not really one for the dancing. Do you remember that school dance when she tripped over the squash table? I thought I’d die laughing.’

Lilian waited for Henry to laugh cruelly along with Ida, but surprisingly he didn’t; he merely nodded and smiled, almost sympathetically. Well, she didn’t need his sympathy now. She hadn’t, she remembered, had it at the time.

She’d been thirteen years old, just after she and Ida Delia had gone their separate ways, and it was the school’s summer dance. Her brothers – Terence, Ned and Gordon – had teased her ragged round the table. Well, Gordon had, he was always a bit of a rascal. Terence tried to tell him off, and tell her off for dressing loosely – Terence was a prig, always had been, thought he was in charge. Gordon, the youngest, little (he had been born early), always the joker, was carrying on about how Errol Flynn would be all over her when he saw that dress and Lilian had coloured and told them to shut their holes. It was only Neddy, sweet Ned, the middle brother, whom Lilian absolutely adored, blond and handsome, sweet and dreamy, who had told her not to worry, she looked absolutely beautiful. And he had made her feel like a princess, right up to the point where she had tripped over the stupid tablecloth in front of everyone and drenched herself with squash.

Henry Carr had laughed every single bit as hard as Ida and her cronies and everyone else, as the juice had run down the old-fashioned dropped-waist dress someone had passed down to her. Ida, of course, had been taken to a dressmaker for the occasion and wore a neatly cut dress with a full skirt. It was a beautiful dress, and its pale blue colour had set Ida’s cream skin and wide eyes off perfectly.

Lilian, in dated hand-me-downs, taller than nearly every other child her age, had felt awkward enough to begin with, even before she’d tripped over. Henry had been in the corner with the older boys, guffawing mightily.

‘I must get on,’ she murmured in the street, banishing the memory while feeling the colour rise once again in her cheeks, and Ida raised her eyebrows and waved gaily. Just once, Lilian glanced back at Henry, and was shocked to find him also looking after her. There was something in his nut-brown eyes that, for once, wasn’t mockery or teasing. Something that, however much she wanted to fight against it, suddenly seemed to make her heart jump and flutter on the wind.

Rosie thought about Gerard as the bus lumbered on. He’d always been around, but she’d only really noticed him after Mum took off. He’d always had a friendly word for the nurses on his rounds, but they’d mostly just humoured him; his round cheery face and chubby cheeks made him more ‘aww’ material than the latest hunk in Radiology.

After Rosie had gone with her mum to Heathrow that dank, miserable November Monday morning with an insane amount of luggage and kissed her goodbye, and her mum had asked her one more time if she wouldn’t consider joining her and Pip in the sunshine, she had almost – almost – wavered and changed her mind. But she was halfway through her training and had settled in, and was making her own life now. It didn’t stop her feeling completely and utterly alone, though. She seldom saw her dad, and it tended not to be a great experience when she did. He tried his best but, as he explained when drunk, family life wasn’t for him. Why Rosie was meant to find this useful she had no idea.

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