Chapter Ten

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"They look so unhappy," Dorothy said of Robbie's birds, all of which now crowded and fluttered in a small cage next to the coop, save for one with a wounded wing that Robbie had asked her to hold.

"It has to be done. It's been an age since this hutch has had a good scrubbing."

Robbie sounded more irritated than he had moments before when she'd cheerfully said something similar.

June stood alongside of the cage with a sour expression. While Dorothy had the easy job of cuddling the soft bird, June had been recruited for the messy job of catching the scummy run-off that Robbie scraped from the bottom of the cage to keep it from settling on the ground and stinking up the yard -- something they had all heard Mrs. Monroe warning him against as he led his team of two outside.

Still, Robbie had the worst job of all. For at least twenty minutes now he had been scrubbing the interior of the coop and he was covered in sludge. It hadn't been done properly in ages, at least not to his standards, and he wanted the pen to be as clean as he could get it. He planned to take the birds to the country before Christmas to get them situated in the toasty new hutch at the house, where a local would take care of their feeding until the new year, but in the meantime Robbie said couldn't let them live in filth.

Dorothy wanted to torment him some more, but she couldn't speak comfortably with June scowling, nor with Mrs. Monroe about. As Dorothy traipsed behind Robbie with a bucket full of water, she'd caught his mother's lingering stare upon her and felt its frost.

She tried not to read too much into it, preferring instead to presume that Mrs. Monroe was unhappy with her son for taking away her employees -- and unhappy with both June and Dorothy for agreeing so quickly to get out of the house-- but Dorothy's intuition told her that any venom Mrs. Monroe was gathering was going to be meant for her after the unstoppable giggles as she followed Robbie.

Aside from Helena and June, who else could he recruit? Alan had gone to visit his brother in New Brunswick for a few days. Louise had quit as soon as she found out her husband was coming home with one eye and gone to live with his sister. Even if Helena had agreed to help, Mrs. Monroe refused to let Robbie take her out of the kitchen when there were puffs to be creamed, and so it had been June and Dorothy, whether Mrs. Monroe liked it or not -- so said Robbie when his mother made a fuss.

Dorothy was glad to be out of the house, and not just because it was a pleasant day and she was bundled in a warm old coat Robbie had produced for her. Daniel had decided that she needed his company as she was changing the bedding in his room. He'd plunked by the windowsill and made conversation neither of them was interested in. He'd clearly decided to ignore Robbie's warning, his hungry eyes following her.  Dorothy had said nothing in return. She was grateful that he at least kept his hands off, and also didn't allude to what had almost happened.

In the days since their trek, Dorothy and Robbie had not crossed paths much in the house. Save for tea and meals, he was either in his room or outside with his birds. At first, she'd thought he'd changed his mind about their friendship, but when the evening came and she headed home, Robbie had been outside and called to her, talking for a few moments and then asking for a chance to win back some of the pride he'd lost when she had beaten him at poker after their walk.

They took the trolley to her flat and got off at an earlier stop so he could get his cigarettes. The day of their walk up Fort Needham, he'd apparently gone into the shop across from her flat and came out red-faced after he was propositioned by one of the girls inside, and he swore not to return. When he told her, Dorothy had laughed so hard she was almost sick.

That evening, he planned to come by after Charlie and Dorothy had eaten their supper and he'd gotten a bath. Charlie was allowed to join them once he did the dishes and did his schoolwork. She was willing to bet her grocery money that Charlie would complete his studies without complaint that night if it meant another chance to prove himself to "Rob."

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