When the four Atkins’ left late that evening, they left with the precious painting wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. Aoife was sad to see her masterpiece leave, but she felt a curious thrill as she counted out her first earnings: two hundred and sixty pounds. She did have a career now, whatever people might say. Her first earnings! That felt good. Besides, the Atkins had promised that the Thimbles should visit them whenever they got the chance, and arrangements had been made for them all to drive down sometime in the New Year, when Basilie and Coralie would be staying at Mr Atkins’ Devon home. She would see her beloved painting again.
She also felt good after her talk with Daniel. Her head was still whirling with all that he had said, brief though the talk had been, and yet one of her uppermost thoughts was that Dan had finally grown up. He would no longer be part of her burden. He was now a companion for her – another fellow in a world of confused feelings and countless things to remember.
When Aoife went upstairs to tuck the girls in that night, Blaise had just a little more to say to her.
“What’s wrong with Dan?” she queried. “He’s suddenly turned annoying and responsible.”
“He’s just a little more mature,” Aoife said, smiling.
“But I don’t want him to be more mature. Our arguments are fun as they are,” Blaise said rebelliously.
“Well, he is thirteen now. High time he should be growing up,” Aoife said seriously.
“You’ve been talking to him,” Blaise accused astutely. “I wish you wouldn’t. It’ll make life more boring. Being grown up must be really dull.”
“It isn’t, Blaise; it really isn’t,” Aoife assured her.
“Oh, I didn’t mean you,” Blaise said quickly. “You’re the best, Aoife. Your life can’t be dull.”
“Not with us lot to look after,” added Delia from her side of the room. The girls giggled. Delia had a healthy voice and a healthy look, and Aoife was satisfied with her.
“August tomorrow,” she said softly. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” the two girls murmured.