Home > Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #2)(4)

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #2)(4)
Jenny Colgan

Stephen watched her through the window. Even though Rosie had told him a million times that she’d had a happy childhood – that she and Angie (her mother, very young when she’d had her) and her younger brother Pip (who now lived in Australia; Angie had joined him and was looking after Pip’s three children, who according to Rosie were wholly terrifying) had had a good time, growing up in a council flat without a garden, eating fish fingers in front of the television, catching the bus to a school that had one high-fenced concrete play area and not a blade of grass; even though she, on balance, had probably had a better childhood than he himself had had, isolated, and butting heads with his father, his mother always busy with her dogs and the crumbling, creaking house, and money troubles at every turn – Stephen still enjoyed seeing her take pleasure in her new life.

He knew Rosie had grown up poor, but she had never seemed to feel it; she had related to him without embarrassment how one year Angie had had absolutely no money and had resorted to wrapping everything in the house in cheap paper – toothbrushes, combs, ashtrays, forks, individual Quality Street – and leaving it all under the tree, which had led to much joy and jubilation as Pip and Rosie had exuberantly torn off all the packaging, breathless at the sheer mound of gifts and display of plenty, and caring nothing for what lay within. Perhaps it was because no one she knew had much, whereas the schools he had had to go to had made him always aware of the gulf.

Anyway, he relished the sheer joy she got from things he had always taken for granted – a garden, for one. He liked working in there too, growing things, providing the odd stunted lettuce or minuscule carrot.

However happy Rosie’s childhood, though, she was certainly adding to her enjoyment of life now, as she played hopscotch in her pyjamas, the daft wellingtons flying. Stephen finished the last of his coffee with a gulp, then took advantage of Rosie’s absence to hurl the poached eggs in the bin before the cold drove her inside again. Although, he reflected on seeing her delighted face, obviously she was now just going to think he adored poached eggs and make them three times a week.

‘Do you want me to make you a packed lunch?’ said Rosie as she prepared to open up early – catching the passing school traffic was always lucrative.

Stephen made a face.

‘I’m not GOING to school, I am a teacher,’ he said grumpily. Rosie knew better than to try and talk him out of a mood like this. His handsome face looked a little taut and nervous. For a man who had walked into war zones unprotected; who had worked in some of the most dangerous regions on earth, it was quite amazing that he was so anxious about a clutch of eight-year-olds. But wisely she said nothing, instead kissing him lightly on the nose.

Stephen opened the front door – which opened directly on to the cobbled main street, still thick with snow but showing a couple of Land Rover tracks and some hoofprints – and sniffed. The snow was still falling.

‘Half the kids won’t be in,’ he said. ‘They’ll be needed on the farm, or their parents won’t send them in case it doesn’t let up and they can’t get them home.’

‘Excellent,’ said Rosie. ‘Well, you inspire the hell out of the ones who do make it.’

Stephen smiled, shrugged on his heavy waxed jacket and stepped out into the snow.

‘AHEM,’ said Rosie, until he came back inside and kissed her firmly on her plump pink mouth.

‘That’s better,’ she said. ‘I always fancied my teachers anyway.’

‘Your PRIMARY teachers?’ said Stephen, horrified.

‘Oh God, no,’ said Rosie.

‘Well that’s a relief,’ said Stephen. ‘One CRB check was quite enough, thank you.’

Suddenly he grabbed her face and gave her another kiss.

‘I love it when you make me breakfast,’ he said. Rosie smiled up at him.

‘Well don’t expect poached eggs every day.’

‘A solitary piece of toast,’ said Stephen, pushing a strand of her hair behind her ear, ‘is like a feast to me. Sorry I’m a bit cranky and nervous.’

‘I like you cranky and nervous,’ said Rosie, kissing him again. ‘Anything else would make me suspicious.’

Stephen laughed, extricated himself from the kiss before it threatened to turn more serious, tightened up his heavy boots, then tramped off down the road, which was slowly beginning to fill up with people. The bakery down by the war memorial was already open and doing a brisk business; Malik’s Spar, of course, would have been getting the daily papers in since 6 a.m.

Rosie looked at the falling flakes and the pale blue early light. She would need to get moving herself. She watched Stephen’s tall figure limping only slightly down the cobbled street, then lifted the tea towel she was still holding and waved it at him.

At 8.30, she unlocked the door of Hopkins’ Sweetshop and Confectionery, the sign to which had been over the door now for nearly ninety years, give or take something of an interregnum when Lilian hadn’t been able to manage on her own.

Rosie, sent up from London to close the place down and arrange care for Lilian, had instead completely fallen in love with it, and had ended up restoring it to its former glory. She still used the old pre-decimal till (with a card reader on the side), and had kept the great glass apothecary jars, filled to the brim with favourites old and new: flying saucers, barley sugar, lemon sherbets, lime sherbets, melon sherbets, chocolate peanuts (all the peanut candies Rosie now kept on a side shelf, like dynamite, to avoid the possibility of them mixing with another sweet and affecting an allergic child, something Lilian thought was modern nonsense simply, Rosie knew as a nurse, because she hadn’t ever seen it happen).

The old wooden shelves with the library ladder that swung along them held the less popular and out-of-fashion items: travel sweets, humbugs, jujubes, jawbreakers, rhubarb and custards, rosy apples and fairy satins; further down were the sharp, sour flavours, the branded jellies and the soft flumpish marshmallow varieties popular with their younger clientele.

There were tightly packed rows of mints and gums, and of course a traditional selection of chocolate bars, excepting Topics, which Lilian had taken against in a fit the previous summer; despite Rosie insisting that they were the most innocuous of chocolate bars, she had never been able to stock them again.

The old advertisements – cleaned up and polished, if they were tin – still lined the walls; for Cadbury’s Cocoa, and Dairy Milk, all with healthy apple-cheeked children wearing purple, or skipping, with large blue eyes and extravagant hats.

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