Chapter Two

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Dorothy wasn't expecting the brat to be sitting on the edge of the bed when she stepped into his bedroom.

She stood on the threshold holding the folded pyjamas Mrs. Monroe had gotten herself into a dither over once lunch was finished. As she'd ironed them out, Dorothy was convinced Robbie find a snug fit. She had never seen him in person before the war, but she had a good enough eye to tell that he was broader than the young man in the photograph Mrs. Monroe kept by her bed, taken when Robbie was seventeen and still over a year away from joining up.

"Pardon me," she announced her arrival and smiled as he looked up. "Your mother wanted these ready for you."

He gestured with one hand for her to enter. She passed him and noticed he had something in his hand: a leather collar. She remembered it well and remembered the four leaf clover tag jingling whenever Larsen would get up to shake himself out of a snooze.

As she put his freshly pressed pyjamas into the uppermost drawer of his dresser, she watched from the corner of her eye while he stroked the strap as though it was an actual part of the dog he had left behind.

He looked sad, but the tension he'd worn on his shoulders at lunch was gone. Stripped of his uniform and back in civilian clothes, he looked so much younger and oddly, at the same time, so much older. Or maybe he just looked tired.

Quietly as she could, Dorothy closed the dresser and went to the door. There, she was possessed by the need to offer him some sort of comfort.

"Larsen didn't suffer," she said.

Robbie glanced up, but she couldn't read his blank expression.

"He was comfortable," she went on. "He sat in the coolest spot in the kitchen for days, and when the time came, he picked up him and took him outside under the big elm in the garden. That's where --"

"Please stop talking."

Dorothy closed her mouth and resisted the urge to squirm as he stared at her. She wanted to mutter an apology and be on her way and try to forget it ever happened, but she found she couldn't move under his scrutiny.

Needing something to do with her hands, she tucked them behind her back and waited.

After what seemed like an eon, Robbie finally spoke. "Do you think he missed me?"

Dorothy twisted her fingers together and discreetly let out the breath she had been holding.

"Oh, yes. He'd always sit or lie where he could see both the kitchen and front doors. Helena used to say he didn't want to miss the exact moment when you came back."

Robbie set side the collar and stood. "He should have been buried at the house in Port Williams. He loved it there. We both did. It's where I took him the last time we were together. I skipped rocks down on the pond and he went crazy trying to chase them. I laughed so hard at him I couldn't breathe."

He said this as though he expected her to know it already, and though he had his back to her, Dorothy smiled.

He took the collar to the drawer where he had hidden his cache of taboo things, then paused before the wardrobe where his uniform hung on the outer side of the door. Hands on hips, he stood before it as though facing an intruder.

"Get out, please."

Nearly rendered faint by her relief, Dorothy turned and headed back down to the kitchen. Her thoughts whirring and jerking like a broken mechanical toy, she replayed in her head how the last few moments should have gone in scenarios that didn't end with Robbie Monroe ejecting her from his bedroom.

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