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Very Sweet Of You

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"I wanted to tell you something," she said, and her voice sounded slow and mumbly, even to herself. "I almost forgot. I wanted to tell you I'm still staying - but not for the Velvet Room. I'm staying for Gwen."

The next Saturday morning Robin woke up reluctantly. It was the Williamses' last day at Las Palmeras. The police wanted Robin handy in case there were more questions, but as she wasn't coming with them, the family had decided not to risk Uncle Joe's wrath by staying for the conclusion of the case.

Soon the bags and boxes would be back on the roof and running boards of the Model T, and the Williams family would be back on the road again - without her. The thought made Robin close her eyes tight and hope she really wasn't awake. But, of course, she was.

When she opened her eyes and thought about it clearly, she realised that she could not have made any other decision. She thought Bonita - how strange to be calling her that, but how right! - had probably meant to persuade her to go with her family, when she told her truth.

But it was the look in her eyes when she spoke about Eric Gunther which had really made up Robin's mind. She loved her family dearly, but there were different kinds of love.

She was sure Bonita would tell her she was too young for that kind of thought, but it wasn't like she was planning some kind of elaborate elopement. Gwen's parents had agreed that she was a good influence on her and should stay. They would have separate rooms - her own bed, after so long sharing with Theda!

But first she had to say goodbye to her family.

As she made her way through the well-tended fields of the rancho, she was quietly glad that she did not have to go to Uncle Joe's. It was not, she told herself, so much the desolate, run-down cottages and the endless dusty plains, but also the man himself. He'd had all the generosity of spirit and care for other humans as… well, as the Crileys seemed to.

Her parents would have each other, Theda would be happy they were nearer a major road so it was easier to get into town, and Rudy would have plenty of things to fix. And Cary and Shelly were still so young, they could work it out. Robin had always been the sore thumb of the family, and Uncle Joe's did not seem like a good place to be lonely.

It was Cary she felt most sorry for. He could read to Shirley, but not very well. Who was going to teach him his words, out there at Uncle Joe's? Bonita had told her that Cary was like her, and here she was abandoning him.

She scolded herself for thinking like that. If she could have kept Cary with them, she would have done that too - but she can already hear the conversation in her head. Cary's too young to be away from his parents. He still needs his real father and mother to finish raising him.

Dad and Rudy were working on the Model T when she got there. She had meant to talk to Cary in particular - maybe encourage him to write her some letters, so she could send him back big long letters with all the words that he wanted, she was sure the McCurdys would let her send him some stamps - but he was nowhere to be found.

Wandered off, she supposed, and for a moment her heart ached for her decision - but he had to be allowed to grow up for himself, the same as she had been allowed to.

Dad's head was out of sight under the Model T's hood, and only Rudy's legs protruded from under the front bumper.

"Dad," she called, "I'm here to help pack the car."

"That's very sweet of you, Big Enough," came the slightly muffled reply, followed by Dad extricating himself from the motor vehicle. "Theda's off with Mama returning some sugar to the Byrants, but I'm sure she'll have some folding that has to be done when she gets back. Why don't you sit down here and you can hand us tools when we need them?"

Robin spent a happy half hour handing them spanners and socket wrenches and whatnot until Mama, Theda and Shirley came in the front door. Mama insisted on hugging her tightly, and for a moment Robin thought she'd never let go. Maybe she meant to bundle Robin into the car like that, and never have to let her go. But eventually she did, and Robin caught her breath and ruffled Shirley's hair.

"Thought you'd be too busy to come help us pack," said Theda, but there was no venom to it; instead there was a kind of weariness, and from the way the little bit of makeup she'd managed to get on her eyes had smudged, it looked like she'd been crying.

Her resolve almost wavered then, especially as Shirley clutched her hand and looked up at her with big, trusting eyes. But she reminded herself that Theda had clearly been crying about losing her friends here - about Joy Byrant and the boys at school - rather than about her.

"I had to see you off," she said.

There was plenty to do, quickly enough, and the time flew by until the Model T was loaded up once again with boxes on the roof and running boards - although this time, there was more space in the back, of course.

Just as she was giving Shirley one last hug, she heard a car approaching. It was the McCurdy's big maroon Buick. Mr McCurdy got out and came over to where the family was gathered.

"Hello, Paul," he addressed Dad. "I'll be sorry to see such a good worker go, and your industrious family too."

Dad inclined his head, clearly embarrassed at being singled out for praise.

"I just wanted to express my profound gratitude that you would agree to loan us your prodigiously talented daughter," he continued. "If you ever have the means to visit, we would be very happy to see you. And here is a little something to be getting on with, and to make sure you can afford to stay in touch."

Dad was very good at schooling his expressions, and muttered an appropriately deferential thank-you; Mama usually was too, but the amount of money that was changing hands clearly surprised her, even so. Theda, of course, was practically salivating at the thought of all the clothes and shoes she could get out of just a portion of that fund.

"Well then, I won't detain you any longer." Then he turned his attention to Robin. "Would you like a ride back to the house, Robin?"

Robin would not really like a ride back to the house, she thought. She would have much preferred to wave the family off and then have some time to herself, walking back, to process everything that was happening to her. But it seemed churlish to refuse, after he has just been so generous.

"Sure," she replied, detaching Shirley and giving her hair a final ruffle.