Sunday, 7 October 2012

FICTION - Camomile Crescent - The Winterbournes

26 Camomile Crescent – Eleanor and Andrew

Ellen Winterbourne smiled tightly at her cleaner as she passed through her voluminous kitchen.  She had forgotten that she had approved her employees request to change her usual Tuesday and Wednesday visit for Monday and Tuesday this week.  Ellen usually ensured that her schedule meant that she was out of the house on days her cleaner worked at 26 Camomile Crescent;  a large, over extended detached Victorian property that Ellen, her husband Andrew and their two children; son Alastair, 15; and daughter Ianthe, 14 now called home.
Ellen and Andrew - or Drew - as he was more commonly known, had moved to Camomile Crescent in order to get their two children into The Academy.  That is what most people believed, and to be honest, that is what they were more than happy for them to believe.  Ellen shuddered at the mere thought, of the potential humiliation had their friends known the truth. 
As she and her husband had snapped, almost mercilessly, at the heels of an elderly couple to buy the good sized detached property on Camomile Crescent some of her friends had been a little bemused.  Others had seemed envious of their determination.  Her closest friend, Joanna, had confided in her "Things are quite," she paused "unstable at Grahams company."  She shifted uncomfortably "He says he is going to be fine of course, but with Izzy just about to start at Langmouths as well as Rory," she hesitated again, as if calculating whether she could actually say the words all parents with children in private school are scared to utter 'I'm not sure we can afford it' - it appeared she could not.  "It's all such a worry." She finished generically. 
Ellen sipped at her Espresso and knew this was the ideal opportunity to tell Joanna, to get off of her chest the huge secret she and Drew had been harbouring.  But pride, and the promise she and Drew had made, to tell no-one, stopped her.  She cleared her throat and instead began the planned statement she and her husband had agreed on "Well, we are not."  She gently placed the small coffee cup down on it's saucer.  Joanna looked quizzically.
"Not?"  She asked.  Ellen replied with more confidence than she felt at the statement she was about to give.  The statement that she and Drew had discussed for the last few months.  The statement they were trying to get themselves to believe in.
"We're not sending Ianthe to Langmouths, and we are not re-enrolling Alastair."  Ellen was prepared for the look of shock on Joanna's face.
"Are you going to home tutor them?"  She quizzed.
"No, we are buying a property in Camomile Crescent and they will be eligible for The Academy."  She didn't let Joanna interrupt, she needed to get the well woven, fabricated story she and Drew had devised out.  "Drew and I have been discussing, for some time now, that we believe The Academy to be of a better establishment than Langmouths.  I know it sounds crazy, but we feel Langmouths just isn't providing the standard of education for the children as when we attended ourselves.  We have spent a lot of time," she paused, thought and added "and money, having it researched."  They had not, of course, employed anyone to research this.  Ellen had dedicated many hours herself pouring over reviews and reports and believed if read in a certain way, the results could almost convince her that they would be sending them to a better school.  It had the reputation of being a fantastic school, a sought after school, and that was the most important thing.
In reality, this did not matter at all.  They had no option.  They could no longer afford for one child to go to Langmouths, let alone two.  They could no longer afford their luxury eight bedroom, six bathroom country home either.  Life had changed for Ellen and Drew, but they had decided nobody else needed to know that.  The most important thing for them, was that they could afford a home on Camomile Crescent and they could just about afford to make it look like a home suitable for their lifestyle and fool everyone else into believing it was out of choice.  A choice being made for the good of the children, rather than one being forced by the bank.
"But, your home is just...amazing, why would you want to sell it?"  Ellen felt her heart drop, her home was amazing, it was true.  It was everything she had ever dreamt of and it was heart wrenching that she was being forced to leave it.  But she couldn't let Joanna see that.
"With the children older now, it is too remote for them.  It was great whilst they were little, all that space and fresh air but now they are older, they need to be closer to their friends so they can do things more independently.  The new house was just," she rolled her eyes and waved her hand laughing "a steal and you should see the plans we have for it.  It won't be recognisable.  I am quite excited at having a new project."  She blustered.
"Well, Graham was only saying the other day about the potential to make money from properties in that area.  I think he meant more as a buy, renovate and sell - more than there."  She seemed to choose her words carefully.  "He would never move from The Mews, so I don't think there wouldn't be any point in us looking at somewhere else to live.  But if you think we need to review the suitability of the school?" she looked for confirmation from Ellen who quickly responded.
"Drew and I just believe that Alastair and Ianthe would benefit further from The Academy."  She fumbled with how to reassure Joanna so she did not start researching herself and question Ellen and Drews decision.  "To be completely truthful," Ellen took a deep breath "Alastair has just, never really settled."  This was a lie.  When they had informed Alastair he would be changing schools after just one year at Langmouths he had been far from happy.
"Your withdrawing me?" he had asked with disbelief.

"We're not withdrawing you darling."  Ellen had stipulated.  It was important people did not think they were withdrawing him, that would imply they couldn't afford for him to attend.  They had begged, scrapped and borrowed - even more - to ensure he could actually finish the school year.  "We just do not believe that is the best school for you to be at.  The Academy is far and above 'the' school to be at now.  And that, is the one we are going to get you and Ianthe into." She winked in the hope of it seeming like a wonderful coupe that they had managed to do this.  Alastair was unconvinced but knew better than to argue.  The fact that Ianthe would not even be starting at private school seem to placate him too.  Ianthe had been unfazed when she had been informed and merely shrugged her shoulders.

"At least I won't have to wear that stupid hat."  Ellen was not pleased with the response.  She would have liked Ianthe to have been devastated.  A perfect reaction was to have been a full blown tantrum.  Drew commented on how well it had gone when Ianthe left the room, but Ellen didn't agree.
"Well," Joanna commented "Langmouths is extremely regimented and Alastair doesn't seem particularly suited to that."  Ellen smiled thinly, recoiling at the comment inside, but decided the best thing was to hold her tongue on this occasion.  It was better to say nothing than point out that Alastair had achieved far better results than her son, on the basis that it would thwart her own argument.
This was another sacrifice that Ellen would have to make in order to maintain the Herculean act that the family was putting on.  It was exhausting, pretending nothing had changed when so much had.  Pretending they could afford their affluent lifestyle.  What angered her was none of it was her fault.  They should have been in a wonderfully secure financial position.  Instead they were being forced to downsize their home, potentially harm the childrens education and make other unfortunate cuts, like her beautiful car for instance. 
She would never forgive her Mother for this.  She was still reeling from the day the Last Will and Testament was read out.  Her Mother had declared, as the Executor read out, as her daughter was financially stable she left her estate and contents to the local Dog Rescue centre, with the exception of the antique desk, which she did leave to her daughter.
That whole traumatic episode was a few years ago.  As she and Drew had left the Law Offices in which she felt she had been completely humiliated, Drew had told her that they needed to sit down somewhere to talk.  It was then that he told her, without the expected inheritance they were in deep financial trouble.  It was in a small coffee shop she learnt that they had large and multiple accounts with creditors.  Accounts that every month Drew was just managing to keep at bay, but which he had allowed to develop on the basis that after her Mothers passing they would be in a position to pay off.  Further to this blow, he had also  informed her that his employer would not be rewarding any annual bonuses and that his salary had in fact been frozen as well.
She had stared at Drew blankly, not being able to formulate any comprehension of what this had meant.  He slowly explained to her the extent of their debt and the severe steps they would have to take in order to not lose everything.  They decided, holding hands across the small table that they would change their life discreetly, cleverly and that the most important thing was to keep up appearances.  The creators of The Academy would never know the true appreciation she and her husband felt for the lifeline that was thrown their way by the birth of the much sought after education establishment.
Of course, the property in Camomile Crescent was in no way suitable in it's original condition, and an immediate and large renovation project commenced.  People in the area had thought it very grand, but it was considerably less to renovate the new home than pay the mortgage and upkeep of the old one.  Period properties, although stunning, and although renovated where possible still required huge amounts of money for maintenance.  The Victorian house they purchased, wasn't in the realm of what they had left behind, but with much careful planning and clever cut backs they had done the best they could to make it a house of a suitable nature, and of course under the pretence that they were 'doing it for the children.'
 Ellen entered into the large, front reception room with the beautiful, original feature window and closed the door. The decor was elaborate and looked expensive. Ellen still smiled with pleasure at how well the room had turned out, given the meagre budget she had been allocated by her husband. At first she didn't believe it would be possible to do anything with the room but once she got her creative hat on she had found the sense of achievement actually, overwhelming.  Those who was invited into the room, were always most complimentary.  Ellen usually waved a dismissive hand and said it was all down to the wonderful designer. She omitted to tell them that the designer had been her and not the 'highly overpriced moron' - as her husband called him - that she had once been in a position to retain the services of.   
Ellen set down her bulging Filofax at the heavy mahogany desk that was now the only connection she had to her Father, another fact she could not forgive her Mother for. She ran her hand along it in appreciation of it's beauty.  She remembered the day it had arrived at the family house as a child. With it's intricate carving on the legs she had been a little scared of it, but over the years, seeing her father hunched over it was the thing she remembered most about him.  Some days he would set down his pen and pick her up and tell her far fetched stories about the animals carved into the feet.  She often wondered why he had chosen law as a career path when he was so creative.  As she got older she realised, it was a highly respected career, one his own Father had followed and just as it was for her own family values now, keeping up appearances meant everything.
She wondered if she had not 'kept up appearances' with her Mother for all those years, about how financially stable she and Drew were, it would have made a difference to her Mothers final decision on not giving her the inheritance.  Probably not, she thought coldly.  She had always felt her Mother was jealous of the wonderful, happy and close relationship she had with her Father.  She couldn't control that for all the years he was alive, so she had punished her instead, after he was gone.
Ellen shook her head and took a deep breath as if trying to clear the negativity from her mind.  She had so much organising to do today for the local Hospice Charity Ball she did not want to start the day off on the wrong foot.  She had to find her most charming self to try and negotiate with venues and suppliers.  She already had a good relationship with a lot of acquaintances, but after finally being voted as the Charity Ball president this year, she wanted to make this years one so spectacular no one would want to stand against her in the future for fear of failure.
Thinking of Presidency she made a note for herself that she must ask Ianthe if she had written her campaign plan for her own Class Presidency bid.  She worried a little that she seemed to be dragging her feet on getting herself such positions.  Ellen and Drew had reiterated to her time and time again that she needed to dedicate herself to all these extra things as they would assist her application to University.  She made another note to herself that she must start to look at University choices with Alastair.  They would need to seriously start considering which A-Levels he should undertake, and again she found his apathetic attitude towards this monumental decision somewhat disconcerting too.
She opened the heavy drawer of the desk by the brass handle and pulled out her Rolodex, flipping to V, she perused and started to note down potential, suitable venues for the ball.  

For previous installments of Camomile Crescent please click here.

1 comment:

  1. Really detailed - I got a real feel for Ellen, oh dear though - how the mighty have fallen. Will they be able to keep up the pretence?


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