Home > The Christmas Surprise (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #3)(8)

The Christmas Surprise (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #3)(8)
Jenny Colgan

But he was still having treatment for his PTSD; still on occasion had nightmares, the terrible sweating dreams that left him pinned to the bed, staring wildly, the sheets screwed up in his fingers, Rosie by him, holding him close, bringing him back home, back to normality.

She was not thrilled when he got emails from Africa.

‘What is it?’

‘Someone else is pregnant,’ said Stephen heavily. He shook his head. ‘Wow. Weird.’

‘Who? What? Stop being cryptic.’

‘Jabo … and Akibo …’ He still found it very difficult to say the boys’ names, even after all this time, though Rosie knew it was good for him to do so. ‘Jabo and Akibo. They had a big sister.’ He frowned. ‘Not that big. She didn’t go to school.’

He glanced warningly at Rosie, in case she had something to say about this, but she kept silent.

‘She’s having a baby too. The family wanted me to know. In fact I think …’ He half smiled, then his voice went rather wobbly. ‘I think they want me to be godfather.’ His hand went to his mouth.

Rosie was by his side immediately.

‘Sssh,’ she said. ‘Ssh. I think this is amazing. They’re showing you … they’re showing you they don’t blame you. That it wasn’t your fault. Which it wasn’t.’

Stephen nodded slowly.

‘She can’t be more than fourteen. Oh goodness. I think we’d better send them some money.’

‘I think so too,’ said Rosie, full of relief. She had been absolutely terrified for a moment that he was going to say ‘I think I have to go out there.’

Stephen shook his head.

‘When’s she due?’ said Rosie. ‘Is there a pic?’

But there wasn’t, just the bare facts relayed by someone called Faustine.

‘What a terrifying name,’ said Rosie.

‘She is terrifying,’ said Stephen. ‘But in the best possible way.’

He noticed Rosie getting up and picking up her coat.

‘Where are you going? Don’t go out in this. Stay home, please.’

‘I have to,’ said Rosie. ‘I have to go to the home before Lilian finds out and has me flayed.’

Stephen nodded and got carefully to his feet, glancing briefly back at his laptop.

‘I’ll drive you,’ he said. ‘My most precious cargo.’

‘Bit less of the cargo,’ said Rosie. ‘Though I’ll be the size of a tugboat by the time this thing’s finished.’

She was surprised, truly, at how happy the news made Lilian. She was expecting sarcastic remarks and jibes, the normal way her great-aunt showed her affection without ever really letting down her guard; a carapace against a harsh world she had worn her entire life. But her face was wreathed in smiles, and for once she was short of a snappy answer and simply said, ‘A baby.’

‘Looks like it,’ said Rosie, enjoying the huge fire, even if it was gas, in the residents’ posh lounge, football free as insisted on, even though the men of the institution had protested furiously, pointing out that they were hopelessly outnumbered as it was, whereupon the old women had pointed out that that meant they were spoiled all the time and the nurses gave them extra cake and they always had someone to dance with at the tea dances and it really wasn’t fair, and the whole thing had turned into a gigantic standoff until Cathryn, who ran the home kindly but with absolute authority, told them all to behave themselves or no blackjack, which calmed things down quickly enough. Lilian had had the temerity to add, ‘So it’s settled, then. No football on the big TV,’ and Cathryn had sighed and said fine, and the men had all kicked off again until Lilian and Ida Delia had quelled them by turning round and – in unison – announcing that they were recent widows.

Now, Lilian was unusually speechless.

‘A baby,’ she said, and her clear, very pale china-blue eyes watered, very slightly. Then she glanced down. ‘Well. Well it will be nice to have a baby.’

‘If I’d known you’d enjoy it this much, I’d have had one before,’ said Rosie, delighted.

‘Yes, who with?’ said Lilian. ‘Could have been anyone really.’

‘Yeah, all right.’

But Lilian smiled again.

‘Well. It is wonderful to have a baby around the place.’

Rosie nodded. She was beaming, glowing with happiness and excitement. She looked into the fire and dreamed of showing Lilian the little bundle, with Stephen’s blue eyes and her black hair, pink of cheek and round and warm as a loaf of new bread; she dreamed of watching her grow, going to the little village school with her father in the morning, him pointing out the animals and the trees and …

The two women sat companionably together, both lost in reveries.

It was the last peaceful moment Rosie was to know for a long time, for the tinsel was gone, the joyful lights had been put away and the Christmas bells had ceased to chime. A dark door had somewhere slammed open, and a cold, desolate wind was beginning to blow.

Chapter Three

For the days they are gone and the night soon must fall

No longer will oxen stand warm in the stall

But surrounded by darkness his power glows bright

His love heals and guides us through cold endless night

The prince of compassion concealed in a byre

Watches the rafters above him resplendent with fire

‘The Nurses’ carol’

Moray’s kindness and gentleness oddly enough made it worse.

Rosie and Moray were best friends really. She was used to them sharing a bottle of wine, slagging each other off, making stupid jokes. As he was the local GP and she an ex-nurse, she often helped him out with certain patients here and there when they were short-handed – it was very hard to get full community coverage out in the wilds of Derbyshire, where farmers lived few and far between, and disliked being treated by outsiders. So she and Moray were good muckers, ever since her arrival in Lipton two years before, all alone and a complete stranger to country life.

So it was hard to see the sadness in his shrewd blue eyes, and to hear the tenderness with which he’d said, ‘Oh Rosie, I am so sorry’ when she came back after the awful trip to the hospital in Carningford, after the awful, awful ultrasound, Stephen standing there gripping her hand tightly as they both looked at the little screen, Rosie with blue gel on her tummy, both of them staring quietly, endlessly at the grey, fuzzy, indefinable space where they’d expected to see a baby.

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