The only sound in the St. Kilda precinct was the steady tapping of typewriter keys as the young man on desk duty typed up a complaint an elderly landlady made against her tenant. Hugh Collins paused and didn't bother to stifle a yawn, and then glanced up at the clock. One more hour till his shift was over, and he could go straight home and collapse right into bed. It was another quiet night at the station, with Inspector Robinson gone home and the two vagrants he'd thrown in the cells earlier sleeping off their alcoholic stupor. Before he set about typing again, he took a sip of his hot tea and grimaced. Inspector Robinson was a marvel at crime-solving but he was second-rate when it came to making tea. He wished Dottie were here, with a canteen of strong black tea and a plate of sandwiches. Her cooking and baking were superb; there was nothing he would like better than to settle down and be happy and get fat. She sure would make a wonderful wife someday, he thought. Lately he'd been trying to figure out how he could introduce her to his mother. If Mrs. Collins knew Dottie was Catholic she'd have an apoplectic fit. Time and time again his mother reminded him how important it was that he marry a girl the whole family would approve. "She wouldn't be marrying the man," she'd say sternly. "She'd be marrying the family." But the more time Hugh spent with Dottie, and the more of her lovely biscuits and cakes he ate, the more he fantasized about sharing a home with her. If only his mum could look past religion and see her for the wonderful person she was! One of the endearing qualities that attracted him to Dottie was her sweet nature, but as he got to know her, he found there was definitely something about her that was not as conventional as he first thought her to be. The memory of Dottie posing as the factory girl Martha would bring a smile to his lips and a shake of his head. Then he remembered almost losing her altogether once, when he read Miss Fisher's book on the art of seduction and he felt sure that he scared Dottie as he stupidly tried those techniques. Never again, he promised himself. He respected her too much to try those things…well, at least before marriage.
When it all came down to it, Hugh felt that Dottie was the type of girl he would be proud to bring home to his mother, even if she was Catholic. Well, there was plenty of time to think of a solution to the problem of his mother later—now, he needed to finish typing the report.
The desk phone rang and Hugh got up to answer after the first ring. "St. Kilda police station. Constable Collins speaking."
"Hugh, it's me, Dottie. What time are you off duty tonight?"
He couldn't help but smile when he heard Dottie's voice. "In less than an hour now." He paused and lowered his voice. "I was just thinking about you."
"Oh?" Dottie asked brightly. "You were?"
"Of course I was."
"Well. That's nice to hear."
Hugh hesitated. Dottie never rang the station unless something was wrong. "But what's the matter? Is everything all right?"
Hugh waited for her to say more, and then coaxed, "Is it a case? Do you…or does Miss Fisher…?" Out of habit he picked up a pencil lying near the phone, ready to take down notes.
"Oh!" she laughed nervously. "No, it's not case related….I'm so sorry, Hugh. I'm disturbing you at work."
"Dot, you're not interrupting anything. Really. I'd rather talk to you than to little old ladies making idle complaints."
He could hear her let out a long breath before she asked, "Could you…would you mind coming over later?"
"Ah, well, I'd like to, but I'm right tired. I've got a mid-afternoon shift tomorrow."
"But I'm off on Sunday night," he hastened to add. "We can go to the pictures to see that new film you've been carrying on about. Or we can go to the new Italian restaurant downtown."
"That sounds lovely, but…please, Hugh, I'd really like to see you tonight. Can you just stop in for a few minutes?"
"I honestly haven't—"
"Hugh," Dottie interrupted, "I think we need to talk."
To talk? Now that sounded ominous, but Hugh knew better than to argue any further. "Very well. I'll see you in a bit."
The night air was crisp as Hugh made his way to the Miss Fisher's Victorian mansion. The street seemed completely deserted at this late hour. Streetlamps cast shadows over the cobblestones, where it broke apart and flowed back together again. Hugh brought a hand to his mouth to cover another yawn. These long shifts were going to get the better of him. Detective work was daunting. It was a job that could wear a young man down, make him older than his years, but Hugh believed in upholding the law, and keeping citizens safe. He knew that it would all be bearable if he had someone to come home to at night, to chase away the darkness and evil.
He was startled from his reverie by the sound of high-pitched laughter. A few feet ahead of him, a young couple crossed the road. Hugh squinted in the semi-darkness, blinking several times, and quickened his pace to get a closer look. The girl's light brown hair was cut short in the latest style, and she was clinging to her young man as though she was his second overcoat. From that angle the girl looked like Dot, but a version of her that was strikingly similar to how Miss Fisher looked. The couple disappeared around the corner, and left Hugh wishing he could turn in the other direction towards home so he could get some proper rest and stop imagining things.
The chime of the doorbell seemed loud in the too-quiet night. Hugh waited, fully expecting to see a scowling, robe-clad Mr. Butler to stare daggers at him. He opened his mouth as the door did, ready with an apology for visiting Dottie at such a late hour, but no words came out. Instead of Mr. Butler, a smiling Dottie in a fringed, low-cut blue dress greeted him. "Hello, Hugh," she said. "Please come in."
His heart did a complete flip-flop as she swung open the door and his nostrils caught a whiff of orange blossoms. He managed to take his eyes off Dottie for a few seconds to cast his eyes about the foyer. "Is everyone asleep?" he whispered.
"No," Dottie answered. "Miss Fisher and the boys are out on a case, and you know Janey's back in school."
"Is Mr. Butler asleep, then?"
"It's Mr. Butler's night off. Why are you whispering?"
"I'm not…." Hugh cleared his throat and resumed his normal speaking voice. "Why are you dressed like Miss Fisher?"
"Do you like it?" She smiled conspiratorially.
"I'm glad. Come in and have a drink."
As Dottie led the way into the parlor, her skirt swayed with each shift of her hips. Hugh followed her like a docile child, all his senses on alert. His eyes lingered over the curves of her figure, the line of her neck and her white shoulders. He was suddenly aware of his wrinkled shirt underneath his uniform jacket, the stubble on his chin, and the lines in his face that showed how tired he was. He suddenly felt light headed, and he wasn't sure if that was the fatigue or the alluring fragrance that drifted in Dottie's wake. The idea that they were the only two people in the house was overwhelming. He sat down heavily into one of the overstuffed chairs and closed his eyes.
"Hugh? You're not going to sleep, are you?" Dottie stood in front of him holding a crystal tumbler a quarter full. "Here."
"Ah, Dottie, I don't need a drink."
"You're off duty, right?" she smiled.
Hugh felt a stab of pressure with Dottie hovering, so he took the glass. He caught himself staring at her décolletage and brought his gaze down, but now he was confronted by the sight of her legs. Clearing his throat, he decided to look at the wallpaper to his right. "What is it you want to talk about?"
"Well…" Dottie began and settled herself on the loveseat, patting the space next to her. "Why don't you sit here?"
Hugh felt his head swimming and once more directed his comment to the wall. "Ah, it's all right. This chair's fine."
"Hugh, I'm over here," Dottie called from the loveseat.
"Right," he said, swinging his head back around and concentrated on her face. Was that lipstick she was wearing?
"And you haven't taken a drink," she pointed out.
Hugh looked at the glass in his hand. "I'm not very thirsty, I guess."
Dottie suddenly felt at a loss. Hugh didn't seem to be comfortable and she wasn't sure what to do next. "Hugh, don't you want to be here?"
"No…yes, I do…I mean…" He thought that perhaps he should just swallow the drink down. He felt warm, and he was sure that it wasn't because of the central heating. "I thought you said we needed to talk."
"We will," Dottie smiled. "But we can't if you're sitting so far away and you won't even look at me."
Before Hugh even had time to respond, Dottie crossed the parlor and settled on Hugh's knee. Her unexpected action caused Hugh to spring up in surprise and the drink sloshed out, dotting the front of his uniform. "Oh creepers!" he exclaimed.
"Oh goodness!" Dottie cried, bolting up and blushing furiously. "I'm so sorry. Let me get a kitchen towel."
Hugh ran his palms over the uniform, brushing off the wetness. "No, no, I'm all right. There's no need."
Mortified, Dottie hid her face in her hands and her shoulders began to tremble silently. Hugh wrapped her in an embrace. "Dottie, it's just a uniform jacket. It's easily cleaned." She sniffed and Hugh pulled back slightly, trying to disengage her hands from her face. "Hey now," he murmured. "It's really all right, nothing to cry about. Here, look at me."
Dottie could hear the smile in his voice and it made her feel even more embarrassed, but something in his tone was reassuring and she finally brought her hands down. They were standing so close to each other, just as close as they were at the theatre all those months ago. She brought her eyes up to meet his disarmingly direct gaze and in just an instant, caught the briefest flutter before dropping her eyes to the floor.
Gently, Hugh cupped Dottie's chin and tilted her face up. That sweet unassuming look tugged at Hugh's heart and he was mesmerized by the hot blush that warmed her cheeks. The color set off her nut-brown eyes and translucent glow of her skin and he could hardly tear his gaze away from her, the perfect oval of her face. Sweet, loyal, uncomplicated Dot. He wasn't entirely sure what she was trying to do tonight, but he was pleased that she was showing a little spirit. As his eyes roved over her face, he sensed something about her, as if she was bursting at the seams, but something was causing her to hold back. There was so much more to discover about her, things about her that he thought he knew but then found he really didn't. And then Hugh was struck with a sudden clarity. Being with her felt right—no matter what mothers or priests or anyone else said. For he had found love, and everything else that worried him no longer really mattered. With his heart hammering in his veins, he decided. I must ask her, he thought to himself. Now, before my courage deserts me.
"Dottie," he began, "I have to tell you something."
"Oh, Hugh," she wailed, bringing her hands over her face again. "I know what you're going to say. I'm embarrassed beyond belief."
His eyebrows quirked up. "But you don't know what I am going to say!" he said, pulling slightly back.
"I really don't know what came over me," Dot went on with a quiver in her voice. "You asked me earlier why I was dressed this way, and right now, I'm beginning to ask myself that very thing. You're wondering, 'What's gotten into Dot? This is not like her.'" Dottie gazed down at her dress. "I look ridiculous, like a little girl playing dress up with her sophisticated older sister's clothes. I feel even more ridiculous because I can't even seduce you properly. I know, you're probably wondering whether I had a drink before you even came over, and I have to confess that I did, just to calm my nerves. Goodness, Hugh, I can't even bring myself to look at you." Her words came out in a rush, and she didn't look up, afraid to meet his eyes. "I'm really sorry. This is not turning out that way I'd imagined."
"You've had a long day, and I shouldn't keep you. Maybe we should call it a night. We can see each other on Sunday."
Hugh firmly took hold of Dot's shoulders. "Would you let me get a word in edgewise?" He reached for her hand and held it in both of his. Without a shred of hesitation, he asked, "Dorothy Williams, will you marry me?"