Home > Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #1)(9)

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #1)(9)
Jenny Colgan

When the cherubic-faced Gerard had popped up on Monday morning as she checked on Mrs Grandle’s fluid levels and asked her if she was all right, he wasn’t to know that he was the first person to ask. Her best friend Mike was on lates so she hadn’t dared phone him. And Gerard, a kindly soul, was genuinely concerned when pretty, bubbly Rosie burst into floods of unexpected tears.

‘Hey, hey,’ he had said as she explained. ‘It’s all right. Come and have a coffee on break. Cor,’ he said with some force, ‘I don’t know how I could cope without my mother.’

This remark had proved to be somewhat prescient.

But his kindness and sense of fun had helped things along. He had introduced her to silliness and enabled her to rediscover her love of sweet things; he had the dietary habits of a let-loose five-year-old. They had fun eating pick-and-mix at the movies, and every Friday she would find a treat in her locker – a walnut whip, or a little bag of rock. It was cute, even if it hadn’t done much for her waistline.

‘Is that it?’ Mike had said, a bit snippily, frankly, when they were discussing Gerard in the pub. Hospitals were small places, without secrets, and everyone knew everyone else’s business. ‘I just thought he’d asked out everyone else and they’d all said no.’

‘That’s not true,’ Rosie had protested. ‘He’s really nice when you get to know him.’

He was funny, and kind, and seemed keen. The idea of someone she already knew, with a steady job, rather than someone she bounced off of on nights out, was beginning to appeal – after all, she wasn’t getting any younger. She explained this to Mike, who rolled his eyes and continued to talk about Giuseppe, who made his life a living hell, but it was worth it because of their unbelievable passion.

‘What about when that dies down though?’ protested Rosie. Passion wasn’t everything. The last time she’d felt unbelievable passion, it was for a drummer in a failed rock band who’d given her scabies.

‘I’ll just provoke a fight,’ said Mike, getting up to fetch another bottle of wine.

‘But don’t you yearn for the nice, quiet, simple things in life? Someone to come home to every night? Being settled?’

Mike shrugged. ‘Do you?’

‘Well, maybe a rest is as good as a change,’ said Rosie, pouring out the wine. ‘Maybe I’d like things just to be nice and calm for a while, no one yelling their head off about moving to Australia.’

And they had been nice and calm – perhaps a little too nice and calm, but Rosie put that to the back of her mind. Not earth-shattering. Not fast-moving. There were no massively romantic declarations; no ring. But then, Mike and Giuseppe got through a fortune in crockery. And nothing much had changed in eight years. Until now.

The first thing Rosie noticed about Lipton was that it was possibly the quietest place she had ever been. The main street of the village was completely deserted even though it wasn’t long after eight o’clock. There were only a few street lamps, old-fashioned lanterns that lit up a pub, a large square stone house that looked like it might be the doctor’s surgery, a post office and a couple of small businesses Rosie couldn’t identify. Over the tops of the opposite buildings, blocking out the stars, loomed the great dark shapes of the Pennines, over which she’d just pootled in the bus. A huge fat harvest moon sat low in the sky, silvering the landscape. Somewhere, far away, Rosie could just make out the hoot of an owl.

After Paddington, with its brash neon and sirens and fast-food joints and late-night trains and street-thronging hordes, Rosie felt as if she’d been picked up and set down again a hundred years in the past. She turned round slowly and picked up her big suitcase, almost scared to make a sound. There seemed to be no lights on in the buildings at all. It was rather unnerving.

Rosie had printed out a map from Google that showed her aunt’s house, and it quickly became clear from the size of the place that she wouldn’t have far to go.

The cottage was absolutely tiny, like something out of a fairy tale. It really did have a thatched roof with a dormer window, and smoke coming out of the chimney; it looked like someone ought to be sculpting it on to a plate or lighting it up to use as a tacky Christmas decoration.

‘Hello?’ Rosie yelled nervously.

‘All right, all right,’ came a cross voice. ‘I’m not deaf.’

There was a pause, then a shuffling noise, and then, after some wrestling with the doorknob, Lilian opened the door.

The two women regarded each other. Rosie had been expecting a very old lady; Lilian had been old when she had been a child. Instead, in the murky light, she was greeted by a bowed but still slender figure, with a severely cut bob, wearing what seemed to be a maroon chiffon dress and full make-up.

Lilian in return had been expecting a young girl, not this curly-haired, rather weighed-down-looking fully grown woman with bags under her pale grey eyes. She remembered little Rosie as a pretty, sparky thing, always putting her dollies to bed and tucking them in and staring at her bag, shyly, too polite and nervous to ask if she had any goodies within.

‘Hello,’ said Rosie.

Lilian eyed up Rosie’s shoes. They were flat and clumpy and covered in mud. She wondered if she could ask her to take them off. But that really would be getting off on the wrong foot.

‘You’d better come in then,’ she said.

Rosie followed her over the threshold, noticing as she did so the pained stiffness in her aunt’s movements. Inside, the room smelled beautiful, of a warm, flowery beeswax. Through another beamed doorway was a little sitting room, toasty warm with a wood-burning stove flickering away merrily in the grate. The mantelpiece was entirely covered in framed photos, many old, but without a fleck of dust. Rosie surmised they were of Lilian herself, and she had clearly been something of a glamour puss in her younger years. Rosie admired a beautiful fifties shot of her, framed in black and white.

‘Is this you?’ she asked.

‘No,’ said Lilian. ‘I’m creepily obsessed with someone who looks a bit like me.’ Rosie glanced at her to figure out if this was a joke. Lilian’s face gave nothing away.

‘So,’ said Rosie, looking around. The living room was tiny. Her enormous, mucky bag seemed to be cluttering the whole place up. Lilian sat herself down carefully in her armchair, as if her bones were made of glass.

‘Thanks for having me to stay!’ said Rosie cheerfully, as if she was a house guest and not someone with her heart set on getting in, completing an unpleasant job and getting out as quickly as possible.

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