The Little Orchard on the Lane – Tilly Tennant

The rendering of Oleander House glowed cream in the afternoon sun. Posy counted four high sash windows across the top floor and three across the bottom, framing an entrance porch hugged by rambling honeysuckle. There were also two windows sitting in the roof that must have shone light into attic rooms. Posy had spent the last two weeks dreaming of what this impossibly romantic-sounding place might look like in real life. She’d spent hours poring over their website, but seeing it in photos was hardly the same. It was like looking at the moon in the reflection of a street puddle – you knew it was beautiful, but you got only the diluted emotional effect. Oleander House was bigger than it had looked in the photos too. Much, much bigger. In fact, Posy had never seen a house with so much space that hadn’t belonged to a Russian oligarch or Saudi prince. But then, she had spent her life living in London and you needed a lot of money to buy space in London. Her family weren’t poor by any standards, but they certainly weren’t rich enough to buy a place like this where they lived. She took a breath in. The air was heavy with the scent of the giant rhododendrons that bordered the gleaming gravel path to the house, boughs laden with purple and fuchsia blooms. She couldn’t remember ever smelling anything so sweet and intoxicating. She must have, of course, because it wasn’t like flowers didn’t grow in London, but she couldn’t remember it right now at all.

An immense, iridescent dragonfly crossed her vision, sapphire and emerald scales glinting in the sun – its presence must mean there was water close by, though Posy couldn’t see it. Perhaps the grounds of Oleander House had a pond, or even a lake. She hadn’t seen that on the official website but perhaps that was private, just for the family. The thought was exciting, but the idea of such grandeur was also a little daunting. They’d parked some metres away, on the road, leaving the car out of sight of the house. Somehow, even though they’d been invited, to be here felt like trespassing. And Posy, hard though it was for her to admit, secretly wanted some kind of get-out clause. If the occupants of the house didn’t see them arrive, they could always make a quick getaway if her courage failed her. She turned to her mum now, who had a hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes against the sun as she gazed up at the house too, the same look of wonder and trepidation on her face. ‘This is definitely the right place?’ Carmel – Posy’s mum – nodded uncertainly. ‘I followed the directions to the letter. But it’s…’ ‘Massive!’ Posy breathed. ‘They must be loaded!’ ‘I don’t know about that. We’re judging prices here by London standards. It might be a lot more affordable to have a house of this size in Somerset.

’ ‘Even so, it’s a fair pad and not too shabby a location either. It must have cost more than your average house.’ Nerves showed through the thin veneer of Posy’s laughter. The only way she could deal with this was to make light of it, but the fact remained that she was about to meet her blood relatives for the first time – two uncles who, until very recently, had been blissfully unaware of her existence, as she had been theirs. Their relationship would doubtless prove to be complicated too. From what Posy had managed to glean, her biological mother, Angelica, had done something dreadful that had led to her leaving their family home – Oleander House – as a young woman and cutting herself off from them for many years. She’d later died, but not before she’d given birth to Posy and in the same breath given her up for adoption. Angelica’s brothers – Giles and Asa, both younger than her – hadn’t been in contact with her and hadn’t even known she’d had a baby. The only person who had known was Philomena – their mother and Posy’s biological grandmother – who had since died from cancer but had left the bombshell secret she’d kept for the past twenty-odd years to be revealed in her will. It was like something out of a midweek TV drama, and Posy could scarcely believe this melodrama was her beginning. The life she’d been given with her adopted parents, Carmel and Anthony, was so ordinary and secure, so far removed from such tidal waves of upheaval, that it felt as if all that was someone else’s origin story, not hers. She’d asked herself many times since the start of the year, when she’d first been contacted by a solicitor, how she felt about it all, whether there was any sadness for a mother who had been marked by such tragedy, for a grandmother who had seemingly done very little to help her, keeping Posy’s existence a secret from everyone else. Eventually she’d had to conclude that because it all felt so utterly removed, and as if it was happening to someone else, there was no sadness, only curiosity, a thirst to discover the truth of who she really was. Carmel had told her that was a good, sensible attitude to have, and that she ought to keep her guard up because she honestly wondered if this new family would prove to be a little toxic, and Posy had been forced to agree on that point. For a start there was her grandmother, Philomena.

Regardless of what had gone on before, what kind of woman refused to help a daughter in need, and what kind of woman kept a granddaughter secret, never acknowledging her to another soul until her dying day? Who had she thought to protect – Posy? The family reputation? Posy was bursting with questions – who else might have known, did anyone suspect, why hadn’t anyone ever gone in search of Angelica after she’d left, why had Angelica given Posy up? Would her new uncles, Giles and Asa, have any answers? Even if they did, would they want to give them? And if their mother, Philomena, was as hideous as Posy imagined she must have been, would they be just as bad? Would Posy regret making this trip to meet them in just a few short minutes? At least, she mused as she took in the view, she’d got a nice weekend away out of it all. If the house was breath-taking, the backdrop was even more so: a patchwork of fields, greens, golds, yellow and lavender, stretching for miles to frame the house with vibrant colour. ‘It is gorgeous,’ Carmel agreed. ‘You could get used to a view like this.’ Posy shook herself. ‘Just because they’ve invited us to talk about the will, it doesn’t mean Giles and Asa want us as a permanent fixture in their lives.’ ‘It seems like a friendly enough invitation though. They didn’t have to reach out personally; they could have done all this through solicitors and never had to meet you. They could have chosen not to contact you at all, but they did.’ Posy nodded, her eyes still fixed on the house. ‘I suppose that makes them good people at least,’ she said, doubting her words even as she uttered them. ‘Nice people… But it still doesn’t mean we’ll ever see them again after today.’ ‘You underestimate how easily people fall in love with you.’ Carmel smiled and looped her hand around the crook of Posy’s arm, pulling her close. ‘So… on a scale of one to ten, how nervous are you right now?’ ‘Twelve.

I’d swear like a trooper if it was anyone but you standing next to me right now.’ Carmel laughed. ‘Feel free to let rip if it makes you feel better.’ Posy gave a quick grin that instantly faded. ‘I feel sick – absolutely horrendous now that I’m here.’ Carmel slid her hand down her daughter’s arm to take her hand and give it a squeeze. ‘I know it’s your big deal and not mine, but I feel a bit sick too. It’s a scary moment.’ ‘You’re perfectly entitled to feel scared too. It’s a whole new family for both of us – of course you’re nervous; I wouldn’t expect anything else.’ ‘Nervous for you more than me. I couldn’t bear it if they were horrible to you.’ ‘They won’t be,’ Posy said, though she didn’t sound certain of that at all. ‘Posy…’ Carmel began slowly, ‘we don’t have to go in. Nobody would blame you if you turned around right now and we never came back.

We could go back to life as it was, forget all this and nothing would have to change… I can only imagine what it took for you to even come this far.’ Posy let out a long sigh, turning her gaze back to the house. ‘I wish Dad could have come with us.’ ‘I’m sure he would have done if he could.’ ‘I know. It’s silly to need him – I’m a grown woman and it’s not as if I’m not used to having to do things without him; he is, after all, away from home more than he’s there. You’d think I’d be more than capable of talking to some people for the first time.’ ‘Not some people,’ Carmel reminded her. ‘ Family. Family you’ve never met and who didn’t even know you existed until a few weeks ago.’ ‘I suppose it’s going to be strange for them too,’ Posy replied thoughtfully. ‘I just hope they don’t see me as a threat.’ ‘Nobody could see you like that.’ ‘But they don’t know me from Adam—’ ‘True. But you’ve decided not to take anything from the estate and so I don’t see what other kind of threat you could pose.

’ Posy had said from the start she was going to tell Giles and Asa that she didn’t want anything from Philomena’s estate, which had apparently stipulated that she ought to receive a sum equivalent to what would have been Angelica’s share, had she been alive. But it was a lot of money and would they take her statement at face value?


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Updated: 10 June 2021 — 18:31

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