Chapter Twelve

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"Don't feel sorry for him, it's his own fault," Dorothy insisted, shifting on the hard stairs as the pins and needles invaded her bottom.

Robbie chuckled and popped the cap on the cherry soda he had brought that night. "Sometimes I wonder if you're really like this, or if working for my mother has made you so unforgiving."

"I know you're trying to insult me and get me going, but it's not going to work."

She accepted the pop from him and took a sip. The tartness exploding on her tongue reminded her of summer, when her mother would give her and Ian a few dollars to bring back enough for the entire family. She sighed and settled back, legs stretched out alongside of his.

"Were you a poor student?" she asked him.

"I wasn't allowed to be a poor student. If your grades slipped at my school, you had an appointment with the headmaster and his yard stick. A round of that and you never flunked a test again."

"The strap never made a difference for me, but my mother used a wooden spoon on the knuckles," she told him, and laughed when he cringed. "Not when I brought home a poor mark, mind you, and I had enough of those. It was when she had us at the kitchen table doing our lessons and we'd start to carry on. She'd appear like a ghost and you would still be wondering where she came from when you'd feel the pain rush up your whole arm. 'Smarten up,' she'd say, and we'd smarted up for a little while. Ian would always start again, kicking me under the table or trying to do something to make me lose my temper. I used to get so mad at him because he'd be the one to make me holler and we'd both get the red knuckles."

Robbie looked up the stairs to the closed door. "Maybe you should try the wooden spoon on him."

"It would only make him mad at me and I'd have a tantrum to deal with. Even Ian would have a fight on his hands. Charlie never had to deal with anything like that, except for a spanking once or twice from Dad when Mum had enough of him." She took another gulp and then sighed. "He doesn't have to have the best grades. He just has to pass. Some days I think I should let him give up school and work for a month, then he'd realize how easy he had it."

"He wouldn't. He'd get that first pay and it would be like heaven."

"How would you know?" she asked, and regretted it immediately. "I don't mean to say you don't know how to work --"

"Don't apologize. I wouldn't know how to work, at least not the kind of work Charlie would get. I'm much better at scheming and planning, but if the work I'm doing has no ending I can see, I lose interest."

He groaned and stretched and his ankle touched hers. When he didn't move it, Dorothy pulled her knees closer to her. She'd gone shy again and she felt a little silly as a result -- he had kissed her and they had shared a bed -- but with all those confusing feelings that rushed up lately when Robbie was around, she was desperate to keep that boundary between them while she could still see it.

"What do you plan to do with yourself, anyway?"

He shrugged. "I'll go to university, eventually. I'll start with correspondence courses and see where that gets me. It would make more sense to go right into the newspaper, but to be honest with you, I've got no desire to do so. I'd rather make my own way and do something that appeals to me."

"Such as?"

"I don't know. I haven't yet gotten back in the habit of thinking further ahead than the next week. What about you? What will you do when the war is over?"

"That depends on the state Ian is in when he gets back. I don't even know if he'll even want to stay here. Anything I can do here, I can do somewhere else."

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