Sorry for the long wait. I had hoped to upload this chapter sooner but it didn't work out that way. Still, I hope everyone had a good Christmas and maybe next year will be better. Please leave a review and thank you to everyone who has reviewed so far!
Things were changing for the Oompa-Loompas. The little ones had never seen their parents' homeland and probably never would. All they knew was the world of the factory, with the playground and community areas and the huge machines that churned out candy all day. The children who had been brought to the factory along with their parents were young adults now and needed to be trained for all the various jobs necessary in running such a huge place. So many skills were needed, not just in the production areas but in the office and many other parts of the factory.
It was for this reason that Mr Wonka was so interested when Charlie, his mother and his Grandpa Joe came to see him to discuss the possibility of introducing new subjects to the Oompa-Loompa classroom. He agreed that the curriculum, if you could call it that, was fairly limited and agreed to arrange a meeting with some of the leaders to talk about this further. Mrs Bucket was surprised when Mr Wonka asked her to lead informal English classes, aimed at the older generation, but after a little persuasion from Charlie and Joe she agreed. This would be an exciting challenge for her and would help the Oompa-Loompas too.
At the meeting a few days later, it was felt that more should be done to explain Oompa-Loompa culture and history to the children, given that they had never lived there, and that suitable teachers should be nominated by the Oompa-Loompas themselves. Charlie wondered if they needed to learn subjects like geography if they were never going to travel anywhere or even visit the outside world. He felt sorry for them, missing out on so many experiences. On the other hand, how would they cope at his school, with boys like Jack and Eddie around? And some of the girls could be nasty too, come to think of it; goodness knows what they would make of kids with orange skin and green hair.
But after discussing it further with his family he came up with the idea of buying a screen and a projector for the community room so that they could hold movie nights of some description and maybe show training films too, in such areas as typing and first aid. He wondered if they could ever have a proper movie theatre in the future so that Zed and his friends could finally enjoy a night at the movies. Or maybe a swimming pool, so that they could get some exercise and learn to swim? It all seemed impossible to him but here in the factory he was gradually learning that "impossible" didn't exist.
Christmas was coming and the grandmas were knitting a sweater for Mr Wonka between them, using wool in his favourite shade of purple, or as near as they could get to it. They had never seen him wear a sweater but they thought he might like something warm to wear at this time of year. Mrs Bucket was working on an embroidery sampler with the words Home Sweet Home embroidered on it in purple and lilac threads. She thought she might get it framed somewhere to make it look more like a gift. It did not sound like much but what could you buy someone like Willy Wonka?
They bought a tree and some new decorations, taking great pleasure in decorating their home together. Myra and Yan could not understand why they were putting up a tree indoors. Mrs Bucket tried to explain Christmas to them but although they were very familiar with the idea of a big family meal she was not sure they understood the spiritual aspect of it. "It's something to do with a baby," Myra told her friends when they asked her about the "funny" tree in the Bucket's window.
Mr Wonka visited them one day while Charlie was at school and discussed the idea of the six of them buying him a new bicycle for Christmas, instead of separate presents. They all agreed that it would be a great way for Charlie to get to school and to his friends' houses.
With all the Christmas candy being produced the Toffee Treat would have to be postponed but they were sure they would see it very soon. They had presumed that Mr Wonka would call it Wonka's Toffee Treat but surprisingly he insisted on keeping the original name. Not only that, he wanted them to benefit directly from any money the bar made and promised they would talk more about it in the New Year.
Not long before Christmas, Joe lost his old friend Sam from the café and he attended yet another funeral, an ever more common event these days. This time his family came with him, apart from Charlie, who was taking an important test at school that day. Mrs Bucket had not known Sam very well but she wanted to be there for Joe and to help him get her parents there and back. They had known him years ago, before they stopped going outside.
"Don't worry about Charlie. He can come over to the factory when he gets home and I'll soon find him something to do," Mr Wonka told them gently, as they set off to the church in their best clothes.
Joe could not believe that a friend who was a whole decade younger than him had died. How many more friends would he bury before he was being buried himself? Yet again he mourned the lost years and resented how weak he had once been.
Christmas Day was one of the best they could remember. Charlie loved his shiny new bicycle, a nice blue colour with a bell on the handlebars. His family didn't wrap it for him but they did put a purple bow around it before presenting it to him.
"That was Mr Wonka's idea," his mother explained.
"Now, you can ride it anywhere on the grounds but please not indoors." Mr Wonka told him in mock seriousness.
"Don't worry, I won't. And thank you everyone, it's brilliant. I can't wait to take it to school." He hugged each of the adults in turn.
Mr Wonka couldn't believe it when the grandmas handed him his present, neatly wrapped in lilac paper. He squeezed it and turned it around, seemingly fascinated by the parcel itself.
"Go on, open it," Josephine urged him.
"We made it together," Georgina added.
Slowly, he opened it, glancing at Charlie as though looking for reassurance. They could hear a slight gasp as he unfolded the lovely sweater. For a moment he said nothing but simply touched his present gently, brushing his fingers over the wool.
"We had to ask Fitz for your measurements but he was very helpful," Georgina told him. Fitz was the main Oompa-Loompa tailor who made most of Mr Wonka's clothes.
"We weren't sure if you liked sweaters. And the colour might not be exactly the same," Josephine chimed in.
He seemed to snap out of his reverie. "Well, if my dear friends have made it, then I absolutely must wear it," he replied firmly. And he did just that, putting it over his head there and then. He proclaimed it a work of perfection and insisted on wearing it for the rest of the day, which pleased the grandmas no end. And everyone agreed it suited him. He loved his embroidery sampler too and the scarf and gloves that Joe and George gave him.
"You didn't have to give me anything," he told them in astonishment, as he surveyed his new gifts.
"Of course we did," Georgina replied, squeezing his hand, "Our guardian angel."
He bowed his head. "Thank you. This…This is all wonderful, thank you," he told them quietly.
Charlie came and sat next to him on the arm of his chair and hugged him.
"I've never had so many hugs in all my life since you came here," he told his young apprentice.
Mrs Bucket smiled at the two of them and went to check on the meal only to be shooed out again by a trio of Oompa-Loompa cooks who were helping out with the cooking. They had insisted on it after all the English lessons she was giving them and to her surprise she found herself willing to hand over this annual duty and simply enjoy being with her family. What a difference to the first full day here when she had felt side-lined by her new cleaning team.
After their delicious dinner Mr Wonka entertained them with a few party pieces such as playing a tune on his whistle and reciting some poems. "I was going to do a handstand but I don't think that's such a good idea with all the lovely food I've eaten. Perhaps next time though."
Joe stared at him. "You do that a lot?"
"A very good practice first thing in the morning, gets your brain working and all that creativity flowing. You should try it before school, Charlie. In fact you all should. One handstand a day and two on Sundays. You won't regret it," he said, with his usual earnestness.
Later on they played card games and Scrabble, but it was clear that George wasn't feeling well and he retired to bed early. As the others put the games away Mr Wonka tapped Mrs Bucket on the shoulder.
"Everything all right?" he whispered, nodding in the direction of her parents' bedroom.
"I think he's just tired," she replied, although she wasn't too sure.
Later on Joe helped her put the dishes away after Mr Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas had left.
"I suppose he'll be here for New Year's Eve as well?"
"Well, it'll be the first anniversary of us coming to live here, so yes, I was thinking of asking him. That's all right, isn't it?"
"He might as well move in here."
Mrs Bucket closed the cutlery drawer and turned around to face him.
"Not this again. I thought the two of you were getting along?"
"In the factory, yes, but you have to admit he's here a lot lately, charming everyone. This is our home."
"And you want to be the centre of it, just as you've always been, don't you?"
Joe sighed and closed the cupboard door with a bang. "There's no talking to you sometimes. I suppose he can come over and we can watch him do handstands or cartwheels or whatever he decides to entertain us with next."
"Glad to hear it. Now, seeing as you're here you can sweep the floor and clean the worktops, then come back inside and join us," she replied firmly, "You still owe me a lot of housework."
None of the grandparents wanted to see the New Year fireworks so it was just Mrs Bucket, Mr Wonka and Charlie up on the balcony that night, one year to the day since the family had moved in, sharing a bag of strawberry surprises and a small box of marshmallow snowflakes, which melted on your tongue like a real snowflake. All three were wrapped up warmly, with Mr Wonka even wearing his new sweater under his purple overcoat, along with his new scarf and gloves.
The fireworks were amazing and Mrs Bucket was glad she had joined her son and his mentor this year. What a year it had been! She felt like a whole different person now. Who would have thought she would be working in the most amazing factory in the world and that it would become so normal to her? Charlie was sitting happily between them, turning to watch his mother's reaction now and again. He snuggled against Mr Wonka who put his arm around him and the three of them watched the colourful display light up the night sky.
They still didn't know that much about Mr Wonka. Not that it really mattered; they knew he was always there for them and that he was devoted to Charlie's training and his future.
All too soon it was over and the trio were making their way down the winding staircase steps again, Mr Wonka being careful to assist Mrs Bucket where necessary. Charlie was already making his way down the corridor. He knew this place far better than she did and she was determined to explore a bit more often in the New Year. The Wonkavator didn't intimidate her as much now; in fact it was a fun way to get around.
"May I walk you both home?" Mr Wonka asked gently.
They both readily agreed and Mrs Bucket smiled as their host took off his hat and put it on Charlie's head, pulling it down over his eyes.
As they approached the door Mr Wonka declared that the fireworks were even better than last years. This was one of his few social links with the outside world, the one thing that it provided that entertained him once a year, and she was humbled that he wanted to share it with them.
"It really was a great display. I'm sorry I didn't come with you both last year," she told him as they made their way outside, back into the cold, although the weather was fairly mild for that time of year, at least at ground level.
"Well, it was a big day for you and I'm sure you were all exhausted. Apart from Charlie of course."
"We certainly were."
He swung his cane. "And it was all very new to you. I'm glad you've all settled in since then."
Charlie was already running ahead of them, key in hand. The word "home" made her feel warm inside. As they turned the corner for the Square she could see that he house was in darkness already and she knew one of Myra's friends had called over earlier to check on the grandparents, which was a great relief.
"It's a beautiful home and the Square is just perfect, or it will be when spring arrives."
"Good, I'm glad you like it."
"Even with our eccentric neighbour living across the way."
Mr Wonka turned around, eyes widened in surprise as he walked backwards. "Are you teasing me?"
She was glad he couldn't see her blushing in the dark. "Sorry, that just slipped out."
He chucked a little. "No, it's fine. I'm… well, I'm glad."
"Charlie, come back and thank Mr Wonka please," she called out to him, glad to change the subject, "And I'm sure he'd like his hat back too." He returned a little sheepishly and the two of them hugged and wished each other a happy New Year, with Mr Wonka gladly restoring his hat to its proper place.
"Is it all right if he comes over tomorrow afternoon, to go through some recipes-"
"Yes. Of course it is," Mrs Bucket replied gently. "Now Charlie, go inside and brush your teeth please, I'll just be a moment."
Once he was gone Mr Wonka turned to her. "Thank you for letting me teach him. He really is an remarkable young boy. I know this hasn't been easy for you. I've expected a lot from you; I realise that now. I mean, I pretty much expected you to hand over your son to a stranger."
"But it's been a great experience for him. He's learning things he would never learn anywhere else. And anyway, you're not a stranger any more, you're Charlie's friend."
They were at the front door now and he paused, leaning on his cane. "Yours too, I hope?"
She thought about it for a moment. Willy Wonka was a friend of hers. That was something else she had never even thought would happen. "Yes…You are."