Authors: Cathy Bramley
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Humor, #Topic, #Marriage & Family, #Romance, #General, #Collections & Anthologies, #Family & Relationships, #Marriage & Long Term Relationships, #Love & Romance
Trust blooms at Ivy lane . . .
Life at Ivy Lane allotments is as hectic as always. With crops to harvest and weeds to tackle, Tilly is busier than ever, but she can never resist chatting with Alf, an elderly widower with top-notch turnips and many a story to tell.
When the announcement of a young offenders project sends waves of suspicion through the allotment, Alf and Tilly must persuade Ivy Lane to trust the newly arrived teenagers . . . but what secrets is Tilly keeping to herself?
With best friend Gemma to support her, Tilly must face up to her difficult memories and finally reveal what happened to change her life for ever. But can she open her heart to love at the Hallowe’en party?
Ivy Lane is a serialized novel told in four parts – taking you through a year in the life of Tilly Parker – with Autumn the third part.
A TV crew arrived at Ivy Lane to capture life inside a modern-day allotment and excitement amongst the community reached fever pitch – even more so when Tilly Parker was picked as star of the show!
Feeling happier than she had in years, her heart slowly began to open up to the possibility of love again, and she found herself the attention of not one but two suitors, TV producer Aidan and plot holder Charlie. But even though Charlie told Tilly he’s falling in love with her, it was kind and handsome Aidan who Tilly couldn’t stop thinking about …
And Gemma had an even bigger secret to tell – she’s going to have a baby!
So why did this upset Tilly? Will she tell her new friends about the past that she can’t let go?
and find out . . .
It was mid-September. The new school term was well under way, the six-week summer holiday was already a distant memory and I had had barely a moment free to spend at Ivy Lane. But today I was determined to plant my cabbage seedlings.
I finished the weeding and dabbed my nose with a tissue. The air was nippy this morning, as if summer had packed its bags overnight without warning, leaving a brisk autumn to take up the reins. My hands were brittle with cold and I wished I’d brought some gloves.
I went into my shed to put away the hoe and blew on my fingers to warm them up. When I came back out, I’d got a visitor.
‘Shall I tell you my guilty secret?’ Gemma sank gracefully onto my cream wrought-iron bench and stroked her belly with a serene smile.
‘Gemma! How lovely to see you!’ I dropped a kiss on her cheek and tried not to stare at her tummy.
She was huge.
I had only seen her at the end of August, which was . . . I did a quick mental count . . . two weeks ago! To be fair, Roy had warned me that she was ‘swelling up nicely’ in the same proud voice he used for his swedes. Apparently, he’d said as much to his daughter and she had burst in to tears.
Best avoid all mention of hugeness.
I processed her question but didn’t answer straight away and focused instead on the instructions on the box of fertilizer I had bought from the newly stocked allotment shop. I wrinkled my nose; it didn’t smell very nice and the fact that it was called ‘Hoof and Horn’ wasn’t helping.
Gemma scooped up an apple from the ground and crunched into it.
‘You can pick a fresh one from the tree, if you like,’ I said.
My stumpy little tree had come into its own this month and the branches were trembling under the weight of their ripe, crisp apples. They were ‘Newton Wonders’ according to Vicky’s apple book and I was now officially an apple devotee; I couldn’t imagine eating a supermarket apple ever again.
I stepped back onto the bare earth and sprinkled the fertilizer liberally across the soil where the spring cabbages were about to go and dug it in with my fork. The summer plants had all finished cropping and despite my best efforts with the hoe, my plot looked a bit scruffy and I was longing to get something new in the ground.
‘Nah. The dirtier the better. A bit of morning dew, the tang of mud: perfect,’ said Gemma. She poked her toe at a tray of sturdy little cabbage plants. ‘To tell you the truth,’ she said in between noisy mouthfuls, ‘I could even eat one of those. Soil and all.’
Gemma’s cravings had ceased to surprise me: bricks, pickled eggs, chalk and now, evidently, soil.
‘Please don’t. It’s taken me two weeks to acclimatize those darlings for planting,’ I said, pushing a strand of hair out of my eyes.
‘Oh, come and sit down and talk to me,’ she said, patting the bench. ‘I’ve haven’t seen you since you went back to school.’
I abandoned my cabbage patch, grabbed my flask from the shed and poured us two mugs of hot water. Wiping my hands on my jeans, I added a cranberry teabag to mine (it had taken me six months to get used to the taste and now I actually quite liked it) and picked a huge sprig of fresh mint from my pot for hers.
‘So,’ I said, enjoying the steam from my mug on my face, ‘your guilty secret.’
Gemma chewed on her bottom lip and pulled her pashmina across her chest. I resisted a smirk at this pale blue one. Since finding out that her baby was due in December she had adopted a new dress code of loose-fitting smocks and long scarves frequently worn over her head and had, on more than one occasion, compared herself to the Virgin Mary.
Although I was prepared to bet that the mother of Jesus didn’t hold her curls back with a cat-ears headband.
‘Peanut butter,’ she said, leaning in to me conspiratorially. She took a sip of her tea, pulled a face and helped herself to another handful of mint leaves. It looked more like a floral arrangement than a beverage. ‘By the tablespoonful. Can’t help myself. Every time I pass the cupboard I’m like this . . .’ She pulled a face like a squirrel with cheeks full of nuts. ‘I won’t fit in my shed soon, let alone any clothes.’
‘Can’t fault you,’ I said. ‘I adore the stuff too.’
How a woman could be pregnant for six months without anyone, including herself, realizing was one of life’s mysteries, but according to her midwife, not uncommon. Now Gemma did know, however, she was sharing every intimate detail of her pregnancy with me – from haemorrhoids to heartburn – and every so often, being privy to the changes in her body got a little too much. If I was honest, that was partly why she hadn’t seen me lately; I had been picking my moments to come to Ivy Lane when I thought she wouldn’t be there. Twinge of shame.
She lifted up her feet and started to give me a rundown of her new symptoms, pointing out her swollen ankles and a new varicose vein, and demonstrated how difficult it was already to touch her toes. I smiled and tuned out, sipping my tea and nodding intermittently.
I wish my guilty secret was as simple as hers.
The problem was that Gemma just thought I was a single saddo with nothing more sinister in the closet than a pitiful love life, a slack attitude to cooking and a penchant for privacy.
I had a 365-page calendar in the kitchen with a thought for the day on each page. Today’s thought was from a deceased Scottish author called George MacDonald: ‘Few delights can equal the presence of one whom we trust utterly.’
The words ran over and over in my head as I half-listened to her.
Gemma trusted me; she told me everything. And not only did I trust her, but I loved her company too, and yet I still hadn’t entrusted her with the truth about
. About how I came to be in Kingsfield at almost thirty with no apparent baggage. And while this was initially a self-preservation thing, now I felt a bit grubby for keeping my skeletons under lock and key and the longer it continued, the more gargantuan the prospect of spilling the beans became.
There had been a moment in August, that day that the probation officer, Mr Cohen, turned up out of nowhere, when I had nearly blurted out the whole thing. I had been so convinced that he had come to see me.
As if the whole world revolved around Tilly Parker.
But then I realized there was another reason for his visit, unconnected with me, so I changed my mind and kept my secrets to myself.
He was coming again next week to host a meeting in the pavilion.
Our harmonious little haven, it seemed, was to be joined by a group of young offenders who were coming to do community service on the allotment. Mr Cohen would be available in the pavilion to answer questions and, according to Peter, assuage any concerns.
I wished him luck with that.
At the moment, nobody except me and the committee knew. And I only knew because Mr Cohen and I had history and he had taken me to one side and told me confidentially. Out of concern for my welfare, he’d said.
My gut feeling was that the Ivy Lane community would be horrified.
Part of me wanted to stay away and keep out of the inevitable hoo-ha about allowing these youngsters into Ivy Lane. Unfortunately, the nosy part of me was more dominant. Even though my stomach flipped at the mere thought of seeing Mr Cohen again, I knew I had to go. With back-up, preferably.
‘Gemma,’ I said suddenly, interrupting her monologue about the number of times she got up for a wee last night, ‘will you come to the meeting tomorrow in the pavilion?’
She looked at me and frowned. ‘I wasn’t going to. I’ve more or less given up on the allotment now. With Mum and Colin doing all the work, there’s no point.’
I gripped her hand and forced her to look at me. ‘Please.’
My expression must have convinced her and she sighed. ‘All right. Seeing as you asked me nicely. Oh no, look who it isn’t!’ she muttered.
I glanced up to see Helen the hippie walking slowly towards us hand-in-hand with her daughter Honey who had grown into a teetering toddler.
It had taken me a while to warm to Helen. We had got off to a shaky start in spring when she had spurned my flapjacks; and spurned me, for that matter. She dressed like a scarecrow (not that I was one to talk on that score) and – I was mortally ashamed of admitting this – had a beautiful baby girl. However, a few weeks ago I had been stuck in the allotment loo and had been shouting for help for what seemed like hours when she arrived to set me free with a screwdriver.
It turned out that as well as being painfully shy (hence not being great at small talk) she was doing a research piece for a newspaper about frugal living for a year (hence the allotment and the second-hand clothes) and once she got going, was very interesting to listen to.
‘She is so vegetarian, she makes me want to eat raw steak in front of her and I don’t even eat red meat,’ Gemma hissed.
Just bricks and soil, I thought.
‘It’s not like you to be jealous!’ I said, stifling a giggle at Gemma’s grimace. ‘What has she done to rattle your cage?’
‘Oh, she’s so wholesome and healthy,’ grumbled Gemma, folding her arms and resting them on her bump. ‘And gorgeous – with her smooth complexion, swishy hair and perfect figure. Well, what you can see of it under those baggy clothes.’ She lowered her voice. ‘And I’m such a blob these days I look awful.’
I stared at her open-mouthed. ‘Gem, you have nothing to be jealous about. You are the most beautiful woman I know.’
‘Really?’ She turned her massive blue eyes to mine.
‘I’m filling up.’ She blinked and hugged me.
‘I’m sorry to interrupt,’ said a soft silky voice.
We sat up straight to see Helen standing in front of us with two plastic bottles and cups. Today’s outfit consisted of army trousers, rolled up at the ankle, and a voluminous black jumper. Did she specifically frequent a charity shop for giants, I wondered, or was it simply a comfort thing?
‘Hello, Honey,’ said Gemma, all smiles again. She twinkled her fingers at the little girl.
Honey instantly made a wobbly dash for safety behind her mum and peered at us from between Helen’s legs, two tiny pigtails protruding either side of her calves.
‘You look radiant, Gemma,’ said Helen, smiling shyly.
Gemma ran a hand through her curls and wriggled in her seat. ‘Thank you, so do you,’ she said graciously.
‘I’ve made some juices and wondered if you would mind testing them for me?’ said Helen.
We happily agreed and Helen poured us a cup of juice the colour of sunshine.
‘Well, it looks delicious,’ I said, raising the cup to my lips. I took a generous sip and my eyebrows shot skywards.
Ginger. Not my favourite flavour by a long chalk.
Gemma tilted her cup up and drank it down in one. She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and moaned with pleasure. ‘What is in that?’