Chapter Four

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That night ended a hard day back at the Monroe house, and Dorothy could have kissed Charlie when she walked into the flat and found him on his cot with his homework. She could have kissed him again when she found that he had already fixed supper, even if it was just soup simmering on the stove.

She kept her thoughts to herself about how he must have been feeling guilty over something and smiled. "Come over here and give me a hug, would you? I need it today."

"But I'm doing my homework, Dorothy. It's the most important thing in the world."

"Give me a hug, or else I'll give you one in front of all your friends."

Charlie sprang from the bed and wrapped her in a big hug. She could remember a time when she was the one squeezing him so tight he couldn't breathe and her chin touched the top of his head. Now it was almost the other way around. She wouldn't concede that he was taller than she was just yet but give him another growth spurt and he'd tower over her.

She went to the stove and peeked inside the simmering pot. "This isn't from a tin. Did you rob someone's garden?"

"Mrs. Levangie practically dragged me into the house when I passed. She said I was too skinny and sent me off with the pot, and she stuffed my pockets with chocolate."

She took a deep breath over the stew and could have fainted from how good it smelled. "What is it?"

"Rabbit."

Her mouth instantly watered. "I haven't had rabbit in ages."

He got the bowls out of the cabinet and joined her worship of the stew. "She said her son was going out to do some more hunting. She said I could go with him if I wanted."

"You? Hunting?"

"I'm not as squeamish as I once was. Besides, you're the one who can't even gut a fish without needing to sit down after the first cut." He thrust out a bowl. "You said I'm spending too much time roaming around doing nothing. Well, now I've got something to do, and we'll have meat that we won't have to pay for."

"I'd like to see the day you skin a rabbit without fainting." She poured out two meaty helpings into the bowls and joined him at the table. Her gaze slid to his backpack as she blew on her first spoonful. "Did you remember to go to the post office?"

"There wasn't anything there, and the Salvation Army man didn't come, either."

All good feelings she'd had about coming home to a cooked meal and a productive brother vanished. She couldn't keep hoping any longer. Rent for the month was already past due and she couldn't push it any further. When she got her pay on Friday, she'd have the choice between keeping the roof over their heads or putting food in their stomachs. His plan to go hunting wasn't so far fetched now. She'd probably have to go with him to forage for weeds to boil up in a pot.

Not to mention everything else. With winter coming and this place so draughty, they'd need coal to keep from freezing to death -- if she didn't freeze on her way to work in that thin coat.

Forgetting about Charlie for a moment, she muttered, "What am I going to do?"

He straightened up. "Is it money?"

"Never mind," she said quickly, then crammed food in her mouth.

"If we don't have enough money, it's got to do with me, too."

She didn't know what to say to him. He was right. It had everything to do with him, and if their roles were reversed she would want to know, too. She would have raged at Ian for days if he tried to keep something like that from her.

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