Chapter Five [III]

When Aoife came around, she was tucked up in bed in her room. The curtains were drawn, but no light came through them, and as she turned her head to look at the clock she saw that it was nearly eleven at night. Then her eyes began to swim, prompted by that slight movement, and for a second she could not see who had made that sharp exclamation which had awoken her.

She heard footsteps on the landing, and the front door clicked closed. Then low voices, more footsteps, and the bedroom door creaked open. Aoife saw a figure in the doorway, silhouetted in the dim light of the landing. Then she fell asleep once more, and knew nothing until some time later.

Aoife’s cheeks turned crimson over their pallid background.

“She’s waking up,” Daniel alerted, and the girl’s eyes went straight back to the sofa and forgot all about the little episode. Delia was indeed waking up, and Aoife turned her full attention to her cousin. Delia was not yet far away from pneumonia, as she had thought yesterday, and she was still quite delicate enough to have a bad relapse from this latest. Aoife was only thankful she had fainted, and so had not seen the greater horrors of the storm.

“Aoife,” Delia whispered as her eyelids crept open, “is the storm gone?”

“Not yet, but it soon will be,” Aoife said gently as a rumble of thunder rolled round the lake, racking the whole valley. “Try not to worry. I’m going to give you a hot bath and then you’re going to bed.”

Delia closed her eyes again and left Aoife to heave her into a sitting position. “Can you walk to the bathroom, Dee?”

“I suppose,” yawned Delia. She was obviously little the worse for her little faint.

That second they heard a car, and in record time the other members of the party were back in the house.

Between them, Lindy and Aoife bathed Delia in a hot bath in the downstairs bathroom, and tucked her between the sheets between two hot water bottles found in one of the cupboards the previous day, by which time she had drifted off to dreamland and was sleeping like a baby. Lindy took her leave to bed after that, having nothing better to do, to quote her, and not being hungry enough to want a meal.

Aoife trudged downstairs again to find that the storm had nearly passed away; its remnants were merely a curtain of torrential rain. Blaise and Daniel were reading quietly in the lounge, the two youngest children safely in bed grace of Rob, and the men were talking with the man named Vinzent in low tones by the window.

Aoife unthinkingly cooked bolognaise in the kitchen, for this had been a meal her aunt often cooked three years ago, and it had scarcely been cooked since, as Aoife dared not trust herself to do it. But she knew the recipe well, having cooked it so many times with her aunt three years ago, and now she did it without thinking.

Aoife looked down at her ingredients as she put the water on, and big tears dripped down her nose and into the cooking water so that she had to refill the pan with fresh. She fought with herself valiantly as she stirred the sauce, and it gave her a little release to be cooking bolognaise – a small rest from the strain. But really it had let loose the floodgates, and she could hardly speak for the feeling that she was about to burst into tears at any moment.

The family began to filter into the kitchen when the smell of pasta reached the living room. Sir Humphrey came into the kitchen with the tall stranger.

“Vinzent will stay for dinner tonight,” he said. “Is there enough?”

“Plenty,” Aoife said, attempting a warm smile. But for once it failed, and she shivered instead, and Sir Humphrey noted the ashen hue of her skin. Perhaps a meal would revive her.

“Are you hungry, Aoife?” he asked.

“No. I’m not eating,” Aoife said.

“Not eating? Don’t be silly. Of course you must eat, Aoife, girl.”

“I truthfully can’t eat, Uncle,” Aoife said, employing what little energy she had left to use her hands to emphasise her point. “I’m going to have a shower. I’ve been too occupied with Dee to do anything else.”

“You do that, and get warm as soon as possible, but eat afterwards. I’ll keep a portion hot for you,” Sir Humphrey said with a frown. His niece was not behaving normally, and that was something new for him. He could always rely on Aoife, he knew; but for once, Aoife had not the air of willingness to be relied upon.

The fact of the matter was that Aoife was very highly-strung and had been living under a strain for hours. In fact, she had been living under an enormous strain for three years, since her aunt had died, and Sir Humphrey realised this more forcefully than ever as he watched her face, heard the catch in her voice. The truth was that everything felt too much just then, and Aoife was so very close to tears. She had a monstrous burden for a nineteen-year-old, and only her tower-of-strength character type could enable her to cope with it all. But now, just for once, she needed to get away and have a good sleep. She knew she was just very, very tired, and acted accordingly.

“No promises.”

She managed a wan smile, and turned to leave the room. But all of a sudden a waft of the bolognaise fragrance reached her nose, and the maddeningly familiar scent suddenly overwhelmed Aoife.

For the second time that day, the tall stranger called Vinzent was just in time to catch a girl as she fainted.

When Aoife came around, she was tucked up in bed in her room. The curtains were drawn, but no light came through them, and as she turned her head to look at the clock she saw that it was nearly eleven at night. Then her eyes began to swim, prompted by that slight movement, and for a second she could not see who had made that sharp exclamation which had awoken her.

She heard footsteps on the landing, and the front door clicked closed. Then low voices, more footsteps, and the bedroom door creaked open. Aoife saw a figure in the doorway, silhouetted in the dim light of the landing. Then she fell asleep once more, and knew nothing until some time later.

The End

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