CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Reunited
The doorbell rang at six that evening, without warning.
“I bet that’s Vinzent,” said Blaise, racing to the window. “He’s been gone weeks.” But the window was parallel with the door, and she couldn’t see who could have rung the bell.
It was Dan and Dee who opened the door, when Aoife called that she was busy washing up in the kitchen, and everyone else was in the sitting room quietly settled.
Dan opened the door wide, and framed by the doorway was a tall couple who looked vaguely familiar and a small boy of about Blaise’s age.
“Hello,” Daniel said uncertainly. “Do you want Dad or Aoife?”
“Well we’d like to see both of them, please,” said the anxious-looking woman, gazing critically at him in an entirely disconcerting way. “You’re a Thimble, aren’t you?”
The man ogled at him knowingly. “You’ll be on your mother’s side, lad,” he said. “But the girl is a typical Thimble.”
“I…I’ll f…find Aoife,” Delia said, running upstairs in the opposite direction of the kitchen where Aoife was doing the washing up, and peeing through the banisters on the landing.
“Aoife, you’re wanted!” called Dan towards the kitchen. “Sorry, my sister’s been extra-shy since her last illness. Come in, by the way.”
The woman, who was fair and tall, stepped in uncertainly, and the man, who was dark and tall, followed her example. The boy, looking faintly scared, followed them, and Dan closed the door.
“She’ll be here in a moment,” he promised. “She’s just doing the washing up. We do the breakfast washing up, and we go on picnics at lunch, and Aoife or Lindy always does the dishes in the evening. You’re lucky Aoife is here today. She usually goes out painting in the evenings, or off walking with Vinzent Watersheen or Élodie Atkins, when they’re around. Shall I get Dad, too?”
“We have quite an important matter to discuss,” the woman said. “I think we’ll wait here till…till Aoife comes.”
Daniel raised his brows, but made no comment. Who were these people who spoke so familiarly of his family? He glanced over his shoulder, but there was no sign of Aoife or his father, so he turned reluctantly back to the strangers with the purpose of amusing them. He didn’t know what he was rattling on about, or why, but he was completely at ease with them – but then he and Blaise were at ease with most people. It was Delia who was the shy one, and she had made good her escape.
Blaise herself, curious about the strangers, had gone out the back sliding doors and come round the front; now she entered right behind the small boy through the front door, making him jump with wonderful success.
“Hello,” she said in her breeziest fashion to the boy, who looked startled. “Aoife not here yet? She’s probably drying her hands. I expect Lindy will finish the washing up. Aoife’s our cousin, you know. She answers the door and does the washing up and all those things because our mum died three years ago. She’s nineteen now. That’s very grown up, isn’t it?”
“Very,” the boy answered faintly.
“Dad says we’re very lucky to have Aoife. I don’t know what we’d do without her. She’s always been here, you see. She lived with us before I was born, believe it or not, and I’m nine now.”
“I’m nine tomorrow,” the boy said, a hint of a smile on his face. “My name’s Lion.”
“Lion? Really? That’s a funny name. I’ve never heard it before. I’m Blaise Elizabeth Thimble. And I don’t care if Blaise is a boys’ name, because it sounds better on a girl, just as the name ‘Rowan’ sounds better on a boy.”
“It’s Lionel, really. It’s French. I was born in France, even though both my parents are English. I’d never been to England since last week.”
“Why are you here, anyway? You don’t usually find thoroughly British people prancing round in the middle of Austria. We’re different: Dee had pneumonia and Dr Kennedy ordered us here. And Vinzent and the Atkins girls are different too. Do you know the Atkins family? They’re half-French and two of them live in France. I wonder if you’re staying near them.”
“No. I haven’t been to France since I was born either,” Lionel said more confidently.
“Oh, Aoife’s coming,” Blaise cried, mounting the sixth step of the stairs where she and Delia had a good viewing point. Daniel thankfully abandoned the strangers and joined them.
Aoife stepped into the hallway. Tall, slim, graceful and dignified, olive eyes sparkling with fun, long fair hair springing with life, and with that aura about her that told of someone special, she appeared at the edge of the fray, half-aloof and half-assertive. And there was silence for sixty seconds, as she and the strangers studied each other.
Aoife was the first to spring forward, with a sharp cry sounding to the electrified three on the stairs like “Mum!” and she fell into the arms of the tall woman.