your engine?â she teased.
He assumed a lofty tone. âOn second thoughts, I think you should stay quietly in the kitchen, which is where a woman belongs. I donât know why we ever gave you the vote. All right, all right, donât eat me!â
He edged away, holding up his arms in a theatrical parody of self-defence.
âIâve a good mind to set Billy on you,â she laughed.
âHe wouldnât do it,â Mark observed. âWeâre the best of friends.â
As if to confirm it, Billy put his nose on Markâs knee, gazing up at him worshipfully. Mark scratched his ears, returning a look that was almost as loving.
Dee was fascinated by this new side of him. His normal personaâcool, collected and humorousâhad relaxed into the kind of daft adoration that dogs seemed able to inspire. She watched them for a while, smiling, until he looked up and coloured self-consciously.
âI always wanted a dog,â he said, âbut my mother wouldnât allow it. I tend to get rather stupid about other peopleâs.â
âI donât think youâre stupid because you like Billy,â she said. âIâd think you were stupid if you didnât. When I set my heart on a dog my parents werenât keen either, but I pestered and pestered until they gave me Billy for my seventh birthday.â
âPestering my mother would only have brought me a clip round the ear,â he said wryly. âShe didnât like what she called âinsolenceâ.â
âShe sounds terrible.â
âNo, she just had a very hard life. She was devastated after my father left.â
âI thought you said he died.â
âHe did, eventually, but he deserted her first. Keep that to yourself, I donât tell everyone.â
She nodded, understanding the message that he hadnât told Sylvia.
âUnfortunately for us both,â he went on, âI look very much like my father, and it didnât help.â
âShe blamed you for that?â Dee demanded, aghast.
âIt wasnât her fault,â Mark said quickly. âShe couldnât cope with her feelings, she didnât know what to do with me.â
âHow old were you when your father left?â
âSix, and ten when he died.â
âNo brothers or sisters?â
âNo, I wish I had. It would have helped if there had been more of us. Or one of you,â he added, looking down at Billy. âYouâd have been a good friend.â
âShe should have let you have a dog,â Dee said. âYouâd have been easier for her to cope with.â
âI got one once,â he said with a wry smile of recollection. âIt was a stray and quite small, so I took him home and hid him. I managed to keep him a secret for two days before my mother found out.â
âWhat did she do?â Dee asked, although she was afraid to hear.
âI came home from school one day and heâd vanished. I went through every room looking for him, but he wasnât there. She said he must have run away, but I found out afterwards that sheâd thrown him out in the rain.â
âDid she give you a clip round the ear?â
âMmm! But I was defiant. I went looking for him.â
âDid you ever find him?â
âYes, I found his body in a pile of rubbish on the street. From the look of him, heâd starved to death.â
âDid you tell your mother?â
Mark shook his head.
She hesitated a moment before asking, âDid she hit you often?â
âNow and then. When things got on top of her, sheâd lash out. I learned to keep out of her way and stay quiet.â
Suddenly he raised his head. âHey, what is this? Why are we being so gloomy? Itâs way in the past, all over.â
Sheâd liked him before, but now she liked him even more for this brief glimpse into the unhappy childhood that must have made him as he was today.