Words: Jenny Colgan
Illustrations: Luis Tinoco
No,” I said grumpily. “I’ll look like an idiot. And lose a finger.”
Jonty wasn’t taking no for an answer – she never does. This, I will tell you, has gotten me into more trouble over the years than you would believe. Memorable instances include shoplifting lipstick (I felt so guilty I dropped them back the next day) and the ‘drinks on fire’ evening which was, well, never mind about that now.
But I love her, like a sister, because the whole point of a best mate is that they see your flaws and you see theirs, and you don’t give a toss, do you? And when I broke up with Jamal, when everybody – everybody – else was going, “Never mind babe”, “You’ll find another guy babe”, and, “Don’t you think you should eat something?” So, anyway, when that happened it was Jonty who was sitting in my bedroom at Mum’s going, “Seriously, I’ll stick him.”
(She wouldn’t really, but she said it like she would.)
So when Jonty suggested we go ice skating I was like: a) no, it’s stupid and for children, and b) it’s dangerous. Because all I know about ice skating is that if those blades run over your finger, you are toast.
And she says, “Look, it’s two-for-one.” But it doesn’t matter because I’m still not going.
“This is what Jamal did to you Sez,” she says. “Made you all boo hoo, I tried one thing in life that didn’t work out, let me stay at home forever and only eat yoghurt.”
“Yeah, sorry, but I only take life advice from people with their own hair,” I said, sipping my cup of hot water. I could see my mum and Jonty exchange looks over the sofa. I hate this, they were at war for years because my mum thought she was a Bad Influence and now suddenly they’re all in it together just because… well.
“And it’s cold,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s winter?”
“No, I mean, the ice is cold.”
“Is it hard, walking about being such a genius?”
The two of them wrapped me up like I was a toddler: scarf, mittens (“do they stop you getting your fingers chopped off?“ I asked crossly as mum hushed me), and about three layers of woollies. I’d been cold since Jamal had gone. I know Mum thought it was just a boyfriend break-up, but we’d been together since school and, well, I’m no catch. I’m at college, I know I’m fat, whatever they say, I live with my mum, and I’m pretty sure I’m never going to get another boyfriend. My heart got broken and now I’m damaged goods and it’s just going to be like this forever now.
“Stop that,” warns Jonty.
Jonty’s different. She’ll try anything. Anything she sees, she runs at with both hands. Sometimes it gets her into trouble, but sometimes it doesn’t.
It takes forever to get there on the Overland, and then the Tube, which is bursting with overexcited toddlers in animal hats, and tired but rosy women with shopping bags, and people a bit tipsy from office parties, and an energy I haven’t felt for months.
Then we get out at Temple and all the lights are strung up along the Thames, and the big wheel is red and festive, and it’s so beautiful I want to just stare at it. Jonty is pulling me on, so we walk through the huge arch of Somerset House, which I am never sure if you’re allowed to just walk through, it is SO fancy. And there’s the big cobbled square; but in the middle, lit up in the dark, is a huge ice rink. There’s an amazing smell – of spicy wine – and people are laughing and joking with pink cheeks, children are yelling and skating with little penguins in their gloved hands, and music is playing.
Jonty shoves me past the line and we get our boots. I take my first step onto the ice, wobbly and terrified, clinging to the wall and bending over from the front as if that will save me, bum straight out. Jonty just winks at one of the lads who works there and he comes up to us.
“So you’re the one,” he says, in a strong eastern European accent. Jonty kisses him and nods.
“You are —” he says, shaking his head softly, “you are too light to skate. To skate you have to be strong, no?”
“I can’t skate,” I say.
“Well, of course you can,” he says. He takes my hand – my cold hand – and glides off silently, under the noise and the cacophony going on everywhere else. As if by magic he cuts through the crowd, traces his own path, and takes me with him. He is fast, so incredibly fast, and although I stumble a couple of times, it’s like my skates find their own line as he pulls me round in great central arcs and skids. At first I am petrified, but gradually, as I realise how good he is, I relax just a bit and let myself be pulled along faster and faster, spinning round the rink so quickly I am giddy. I glide past the crowds, only seeing a blur of faces as we pass, and occasionally Jonty’s laughing one, and the freezing white stars above us, and the ancient cobbles below us, and feel the warm gloved hand in mine. Flying – that is what it feels like – flying.
And after hours, or minutes, or seconds, I cannot tell, he releases me back to Jonty, shaking and with my heart full of wonder. She’s laughing with her head thrown back, and for a moment I can’t hear what she’s saying, but I can smell all around a blur of hot wine and doughnuts fresh with sugar, and pancakes with Nutella, and warm apple cider. “Wanna get something to eat?” she asks, insouciantly, just like she always does. Only this time, suddenly I realise, I am hungry.
Christmas At Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, £12.99) is out now in hardback