Elizabeth kept her morning nausea and her secret to herself. By Christmas Eve, there was no doubt in her mind what her problem was. The only trouble was how was she going to break the news to Robin and Dean? She didn’t think either of them would be happy about it. Yet she feared Robin’s reaction more than Dean’s.
Dean, for his part, sensed that something was amiss, but thought it was probably the whole marriage thing again and decided to let Elizabeth tell him what was going on when she was ready.
Robin was simply too preoccupied to notice anything going on with anybody. She told herself she was concentrating on the candle trade and keeping Master Chandler safe out on the streets. But finally, on Christmas Eve, she had to face facts. She was falling fast and hard for Master Chandler.
They had slipped out just after the clock had struck eleven to a house in the neighborhood, where Master Chandler said the solemn Midnight Mass. Afterwards, they only stayed long enough to greet everyone there, and then were sent off home.
“What a night,” Master Chandler sighed with deep satisfaction, as they stepped outside. He adjusted the cloak Dean had loaned him and chuckled, his breath making little clouds in the cold air. “It’s beautiful tonight. I do believe the clouds are clearing. Look, you can see a couple stars, and wait, there’s the moon. I can’t wait until tomorrow. I do hope Mistress Elizabeth will be pleased.”
“About what?” Robin asked.
Master Chandler smiled mysteriously. “I’ve arranged a little surprise for the three of you. You’ve all been working so hard.”
Robin shrugged. “I guess. I don’t mind. It can be pretty satisfying.”
“Working hard and well usually is.”
“It is.” Robin shivered a little in the chill, then looked away. “Do you ever get lonely, like for a woman?”
Master Chandler chuckled. “As in desiring a woman’s flesh, I take it. Is that what’s been troubling you, my son?”
“More or less.”
“You’re young and healthy. It’s no surprise. Even I occasionally feel the yearnings.” His smile grew utterly beatific. “But then I think of Christ crucified, there’s no more glorious thought.”
Robin pressed on. “Don’t you ever regret giving all that up?”
“A family, you mean?”
“And, you know, relations with a woman.”
Master Chandler smiled and shook his head. “I’ve never regretted it. I’ve found such inexpressible joy in God’s service.”
Robin forced herself to smile. “I can see that.”
Master Chandler paused and looked at her. “Are you thinking of taking up the religious life?”
“Hardly.” Robin wanted to talk him out of it. “It’s too dangerous.”
“For the body, perhaps.” Master Chandler trudged on. “But far better for the soul. I can think of no greater pleasure than to look upon God’s face and offer Him boundless praises.” Master Chandler’s face all but glowed. “It’s the old Pauline dilemma, I’m afraid. I want so to continue here, serving His people, and yet to be with Our Lord is such a far greater thing, I can’t help but long for it.” He chuckled. “But bound to earth I am. I’ll make the best of it. Well, here we are already.”
In the kitchen, Master Chandler stopped long enough to give Robin his blessing before they went upstairs.
Robin went to bed feeling vaguely annoyed, but less with Master Chandler than with herself. She remembered reading somewhere that women who continually fell for inaccessible men had some issue or other, and she couldn’t remember what it was. But it certainly seemed to be her pattern.
The next day, after church – Master Chandler made a habit of showing up like any other neighbor at the regular Church of England services and always with his new household in tow – Robin wearily made her way upstairs to her room. Dean followed her.
“There’s gonna be a lot of people coming over,” he told her.
“Yeah, I know.” Robin pulled off her boots. “I’m going to try to catch a few before they get here.”
Dean watched her for a moment. “You seem kinda depressed.”
Robin glared at her left boot. “I don’t know.”
“Elizabeth said you were.”
“Did she say what about?” Robin snarled.
“Hell, how’s she gonna know?” Dean’s voice got more defensive than he intended.
Robin backed down. “I guess she wouldn’t. I shouldn’t have snapped.”
Dean sat down next to her. “Is it Christmas?”
“What do you mean?”
Dean shrugged. “It just doesn’t seem like Christmas. There’s no tree, no presents, no carols, just an extra-long church service.”
“Wait ‘til this afternoon.”
“Well, if it isn’t Christmas, what are you bugged about?”
Robin sighed. “I don’t know if you’d understand. You’ll probably think it’s silly.”
Robin gazed out of the window. “I think I’m in love with Master Chandler.”
She glared at him. “Dean, for starters, I’m a man, or supposed to be one.”
“So, tell him the truth. He’d probably understand.”
“Like hell, he would.” Robin got up and started pacing. “And even if he did, there’s the whole time issue. I’m not staying here for the rest of my life and bringing him with me is not going to happen.”
“You could work around that, maybe go back and forth a lot.”
Robin rolled her eyes. “It’s not that simple and even if it was… Dean, it just wouldn’t work. He’s too absorbed in his candles and his charity work to be absorbed in me. It’s the same problem I always have. Inevitably, I fall for the guy whose first love is something else. “
“Or just plain not available.” Dean sniggered. “Who was it when you were in college? That married physics professor?”
“Let’s not go through the list.” Robin stopped. “How did you know about that?”
“Mom told me. She was a little worried. I mean, it sounds like fear of intimacy issues to me. You know, ‘cause of her and dad.”
Robin’s heart sank. “You know, that’s the part that really sucks about you becoming a shrink.”
“I suppose.” Dean shrugged. “It could be worse. I could do the whole analysis thing.”
Robin flopped back onto the bed. “It doesn’t matter. Sometimes I wish I really were a man.”
“Even in our liberated times, Dean, men are usually very threatened by women who are smarter than them.”
Dean laughed. “It’s not just the men. Why do you think I play so dumb all the time?”
Robin looked at him. “You may have a point. But guys can still get away with it more easily than women can.”
“In some ways.” Dean’s voice suddenly turned sour. “I haven’t had much luck.”
“You, Don Juan?”
“Do you see me staying with anyone? Sure, I messed around with a lot of girls. But they’re all dumb bunnies, and they made a lot of stupid demands. All they wanted is sex, and I need more than that.”
“No kidding.” Robin sighed. “Why can’t people understand that?”
Dean shrugged. “I don’t know. I wish I could tell you, Robby, but I figure, if it’s beyond you, it’s gonna be beyond me. Maybe you’ll just get lucky someday.”
“Maybe.” But Robin wasn’t holding out much hope.
“Hey, Robby, remember when Mom and Dad broke up, and you used to take care of me?”
Robin shivered. “Boy, do I.”
“I used to think then that I had the greatest, best damned big sister a kid could ever have. I still do.”
Robin sniffed and turned to her brother. “Deanie, you are easily the most incredible, frustrating, aggravating creature I have ever met. But I love you more than anybody on this earth!”
They met in the middle of the room. Dean’s large arms almost smothered Robin as they hugged each other. Robin couldn’t hold back her tears any longer, and Dean caught himself sniffing also. Downstairs came the sound of knocking and merry singing.
“Hey, Merry Christmas, Robby.”
“Merry Christmas, Deanie.” Robin pulled away and wiped her eyes. “We’d better get downstairs.”
“Yeah. Say, Elizabeth told me they give presents out on Twelfth Day. You think we can get together some neat surprises for then?”
“I think we could. Why don’t we talk about it later? They’re calling us now.”
Downstairs they found not only a small crowd of neighbors but a fully cooked feast of chicken, roasted vegetables, soup, bread, apples, tarts, and cakes waiting for them. Elizabeth was in shock.
“Where did all of this food come from?” Robin asked, aghast.
“W-well,” Master Chandler stammered, flummoxed himself. “I had asked Mistress Saunders to provide a dinner for us, so Elizabeth wouldn’t have to cook. That was my surprise.”
Dean laughed. “Looks like they surprised you.”
“Indeed.” Master Chandler laughed, also. “Well, good neighbors, we can’t eat all this ourselves. Will you please join us? Oh, dear. I hope there’s enough porter.”
“We made an extra keg last week.” Elizabeth couldn’t hide her smile as she shook her head yet again at Master Chandler. “Robin, could you help me?”
“Hey, I can get it.” Dean cut in. “Come on, Robin.”
They headed to the cool room while Elizabeth helped the neighbors set up the food and the hot spiced wine. The revelry lasted late into the night. It was close to dawn before the last of the guests departed.
People continued to visit for the following twelve days. Many of them were people Master Chandler had helped during the year, coming to return the charity they had received. The tributes flowed in. Most of them went right back out again with other needy people.
Despite all the visitors, Dean and Robin each got a chance to visit the local marketplace separately. Elizabeth had already run her errands, long after conferring with Robin as far as funding went. On each of the twelve days, Elizabeth served a piece of fruit or some other sweetmeat to everyone. She also smiled with yet another secret, this time a happy one.
The big day, of course, was Twelfth Day. Again, the neighbors were expected. But that morning was reserved for Master Chandler and his new household. Elizabeth produced a magnificent breakfast for the occasion. After they had eaten, all hurried away to their respective rooms to gather all the secrets they had been so carefully guarding. They returned to the best room minutes later, tense with happy anticipation.
Elizabeth displayed her gifts first.
“Robin said I could have some money, and I was able to get some linen and wool.” She displayed the two shirts and the cloak. “Here, Dean, this one is for you, and this shirt is for you, Robin. And, Master Chandler, you may have your cloak on one condition.”
“What is that, my daughter?” Master Chandler’s eyes glowed.
“That you not give it away. Do you promise? You must have something to keep you warm, or you’ll catch your death.”
Master Chandler laughed. “I must promise then, I will not give it away.” He took the cloak gladly. “Now, I must present my gifts. Master Robin, behold your first mold, and the tools to carve it with. I have the same for you, Master Dean.”
“Thanks,” replied Dean, although his smile was a little indifferent.
“Thank you, sir,” Robin replied. She understood what the tools meant in terms of Master Chandler’s regard for her abilities.
“And for Mistress Elizabeth, I have this.” Master Chandler flourished his prize. “I am afraid you will have to cook it yourself.”
“A pheasant!” Elizabeth glowed. “Oh, how wonderful! I don’t mind cooking it at all. It’s been so long since I’ve had any, and I do love it. Thank you, sir.”
“I guess it’s my turn,” Robin began awkwardly. “I really didn’t know what to get, so I did my best. Here, Dean, I got you this Shakespeare book, the folio.”
Dean burst into laughter. “You would. Thanks, Robin.”
“And, Elizabeth, please don’t get mad. I got a real good deal on it. I just hope it fits.” Robin presented the dress. “It’s just a work dress, but yours is getting a little worn.”
“Indeed, it is.” Elizabeth couldn’t help laughing to herself. However masculine Robin might be at times, the woman in her had won out and found the one thing Elizabeth had been hoping for. “If it doesn’t fit, I can fix it.”
“Good.” Robin flashed a sheepish grin. “And for you, Master Chandler, I got this. It was the best one I could find.”
Master Chandler took the bottle of wine and looked at it.
“I shall relish this,” he said when he, at last, found the words.
“Hey, it’s my turn!” Dean burst in. “Look at this, Master Chandler. Isn’t it cool? You can stick it in your boot and have an extra for when you’re wandering around at night.”
It was a knife, clearly meant to be a weapon as opposed to the belt knives worn by nearly everyone and used for eating. Master Chandler accepted it chuckling.
“I got one for you, too, Robin.” Dean handed it to her.
“Thanks, Dean.” Robin laughed, mostly because Dean had blown it yet again. She put the knife in her boot just to placate him.
“And I got this for you, Elizabeth,” Dean continued, blissfully ignorant. “Why don’t you close your eyes?”
“As you wish.” And Elizabeth did.
Dean slid the chain and pendant over her head. “Now, look.”
Elizabeth opened her eyes and felt the chain with her hand. She looked down at the pendant in wonder. Suddenly, she jumped up and ran upstairs crying.
“What?” Dean was flabbergasted.
Robin sighed. “Dean, that cost a fortune, didn’t it?”
“Only ten pounds.”
Master Chandler laughed out loud. “An entire year’s salary, young man? Still, I’ve seen other boys do even more foolish things. And I must say, Elizabeth does deserve it.”
The dimmer switch in Dean’s brain slowly slid on. “Maybe I’d better go talk to her.”
“Maybe I’d better,” said Robin.
“Nope.” Dean held her back. “I did it. I’ll talk to her.”
“All right.” The sudden display of responsibility surprised Robin, but she decided not to comment.
Dean found Elizabeth in her room. She sat on the bed crying.
“I guess I went a little overboard,” Dean said.
“Oh, Dean, it’s beautiful!” Elizabeth sniffed. “It’s just far too rich for me.”
“No, it isn’t.” Dean sat down next to her and cradled her in his arms. “Even Master Chandler said you deserved it.”
“No, buts. Remember that contract? You’re supposed to get an allowance. So, I spent it for you.”
“Ten pounds?” Elizabeth gaped. “Oh, Dean, so much! And that was for after we’re married. And we’re not, and…” She buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing.
Dean sighed. “Elizabeth, did you have to bring that up?”
“Pray forgive me, Dean, but I must now. It’s more important than ever.”
“Why? I mean…” It hit Dean. “You’re not trying to tell me you’re…”
Elizabeth sniffed and nodded. “I am. I’m certain now.”
Dean groaned his favorite obscenity.
“I’m sorry, Dean.” Elizabeth looked at him fearfully.
“But you can’t be. I mean, we’ve been using that—” Dean swallowed. “We didn’t that one time, did we?”
Elizabeth ducked her head. “I forgot. It’s my fault.”
“It is not. I’m just as responsible for remembering.”
“How are we going to tell Robin?”
“Don’t even.” Dean got up and started pacing. “She’d have my butt in a sling so fast.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “We can’t hide it forever.”
“You’re not too far along, are you? We’ll just have to go home. It’s no sweat. We can get an abortion. Hell, I’ll even pay for it.”
“You mean kill it!” Elizabeth was horrified.
Dean continued pacing. “Elizabeth, will you get a hold of yourself? It’s no big deal.”
“It is so!”
“All right, maybe it is. But it’s the only sensible choice. For crying out loud, we can’t support a kid right now.”
Elizabeth scrambled to her feet. “If you can buy me a necklace, we most certainly can.”
“Yeah, here. But it’s a whole different story back home, and that’s where we’re staying.”
“Yes, Dean.” Elizabeth bowed her head.
Dean sighed. “Damn it, Elizabeth. Don’t go all subservient on me.”
“That is my place.”
Dean heaved an even greater huge sigh. “One of these days you’ll learn. Look, it’s going to be all right. I’ll figure something out. Okay? Are you going to trust me?”
She sank back onto the bed, weeping once again. “I always have.”
It took Dean a moment to realize what she was really afraid of. He plopped down next to her and bundled her into his arms.
“Look, I’m not going to abandon you,” he told her softly. “Whatever happens, we’re going to do this together. And I’m not going back home without you. Honest, Elizabeth. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me and I love you and it’s going to be all right. I don’t know how yet, but it will. I promise.”
Elizabeth sobbed even harder. “Thank you, Dean.”
Dean held her tightly and rocked her, wondering what on earth he’d gotten himself into.