Home > Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #2)(3)

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #2)(3)
Jenny Colgan

‘Whatever,’ said Stephen, kissing her soft scented shoulder, ‘means a warm, cosy house. Unlike this icebox. Come come, my love. Back to bed.’

Chapter Two

Five miles away, Lilian slept in a single bed in a neat little room filled with her pictures and knick-knacks, snoring gently under a duvet she professed to despise. She dreamed, as she often did, of the past: of a boy with nut-brown eyes and curly hair, and a ready smile and a farmer’s tan, who made her laugh when she was happy and comforted her when she was sad, and all the while the silent snow fell and wrapped itself around the house like a blanket, like soft cotton wool covering the well-heated building.

She was walking down the road at the end of a day in the sweetshop, a busy Friday when the men got paid and the ration books were out. The Red Lion would be packed tonight. The harvest sun was hanging heavy in the sky, bathing everything in soft gold, and she was going to post a letter to Neddy, not yet dead. In the distance, his curly hair springing up, his face wiped clean after a day in the fields with the sheep, she could see Henry, waving to her excitedly, and all she could feel was the joy bubbling up in her as she prepared to skip down to meet him, to let him walk her home, even though ‘home’ was the cottage next to the sweetshop. They liked to take a circuitous route. The older folk of the village used to smile to see the two of them, their heads together. That was what they would do, just as soon as…

Lilian had this dream often. It was real, she knew; Henry did used to meet her from work, trying his best to wash in the stream so he wasn’t too filthy. And they had had happy times, before she’d lost Ned, her brother. She treasured them all, because in their short time together there hadn’t been enough of them. She remembered how at school he used to pull her pigtails and she had thought he was being annoying. How he used to hang around the sweetshop, buying caramels for her because they were her favourites. How the back of his neck turned brown in the sun, and how much she wanted to caress it; the warm, sweet hay smell of him when he was near her; his long fingers. The way he held her close when her brother died and made her feel that everything would be all right; the plans they had made. And then he had been caught out: a girl he had slept with before, her erstwhile best friend Ida Delia, had turned up pregnant, and that was the end of everything. And then his call-up papers… and the following year, the dreaded telegram. That Lilian had had to hear about second-hand.

She didn’t like to focus on that. She liked to keep her memories deeply hidden, like pearls, taking them out to polish them. His easy, gangling stride; the way he used to put her on the front of his bike and cycle down to the fields to feed the lambs, her dark hair whipping in the wind. The taste of a shared bottle of brown ale, and some butter humbugs, eaten in the sunny churchyard.

But her dreams were never like that. In her dream – the same one, repeated so often – she could never reach him; never make herself walk forward to take his hand. He would be waving and she could not get to him, and she would wake up frustrated, and alone.

Ninety miles away, a man called Edward Boyd ensured that all the lights were off in the house, double-locked the door and made a final check on the spare room – he liked to be careful about everything, he couldn’t sleep otherwise, plus the old man was always wandering off. Upstairs, his wife, Doreen, was already fast asleep and snoring; the whole house, in fact, was asleep. Well, young Ian wasn’t home yet, but he did keep these funny hours. It was odd, Edward had spent so long comforting Doreen when Ian had left home – and the girls, of course, but it was Ian whom Doreen had mourned the most – and now here he was, couldn’t find a job in Manchester, so he was back living at home.

Edward didn’t begrudge it – and Dor was delighted – but he found it odd. In his day he’d left as soon as he could and never gone back. He’d been so proud to buy the big house – as manager of the local building society, he’d explained to Dor, he should live smartly in the community, and the Grange was as smart as it got (it wasn’t called the Grange then; it was plain old 39 Cormlett Drive, but Edward liked a name on a house, so the Grange it became). Of course he hadn’t foreseen (though Doreen clearly had) that with its high ceilings and its granny flat it would be a perfect place for the children to come back to, and his elderly father to move into, so now he felt rather like the manager of a hotel, but that was the problem with being responsible – everyone just assumed you would do it. He checked the heavy bolt of the back door again. Yup, sorted. The house was still. He could risk going to bed.

Edward was not a man who liked risk.

‘Good morning!’’

Rosie had made poached eggs. She didn’t find it easy. Poached eggs, as far as she was concerned, meant love. As far as Stephen was concerned they meant a shocking waste of an egg. He looked at them in perturbation.

‘Ugh, these eggs have skin.’

‘You’re not at boarding school now,’ warned Rosie. ‘They’re lovely! Eat them. You need a good breakfast.’

Stephen grumbled, still cross at the weather. But Rosie had woken with the lark, lying on her back in the big attic room, wondering at the lovely pattern of white light that danced frostily across the ceiling. She felt excited, like it was Christmas, even though it had never once snowed at Christmas during her childhood. She had always felt cheated by those adverts that insisted that it would; that a Christmas without snow was somehow lacking.

But now here it was: November, and snow was here already! She wondered if it was too early to go and get a Christmas tree. Probably. She wondered if Stephen would get one from his land, like last year. What a lovely thing that had been. They had gone mad and got it far too big for the little cottage, so they had had to leave the staircase to the attic door down all the time, which meant they had to slide past the stairs to get to the kitchen and basically climb a tree to get to bed at night. The intense scent of the wild pine invaded everything, until Rosie had felt that she was sleeping in a forest. It had been wonderful.

She had already stoked the fire – they didn’t really have enough money for it to be on all day, but Rosie figured they could make an exception for the first day of snow – and had peeked her head out into the garden.

‘Close the door!’ barked Stephen, trying to fill up on toast and wondering if he could slip the eggs into his pyjama pockets and dispose of them later.

‘Just a sec,’ said Rosie. She couldn’t resist it; she slipped into her special wellington boots with the little sweets printed on the lining – a peace offering from Stephen’s mother – and leapt out into the virgin snow, hopping about like a child.

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