The Butterfly Room

Lucinda Riley | 20 mins

Chapter 1

Posy was in the kitchen garden picking some carrots when she heard her mobile ringing from the depths of her Barbour. Pulling it out of her pocket, she answered it.

‘Hello, Mum. I didn’t wake you, did I?’

‘Goodness no, and besides, even if you had, it’s lovely to hear from you. How are you, Nick?’

‘I’m good, Mum.’

‘And how is Perth?’ Posy enquired, standing up and wandering through the garden and into the kitchen.

‘Just starting to hot up as England begins to cool down. How are things with you?’

‘I’m fine. Nothing much changes around here, as you know.’

‘Listen, I’m calling to let you know that I’m coming back to England later this month.’

‘Oh Nick! How wonderful. After all these years.’

‘Ten, actually,’ her son confirmed. ‘It’s about time I came home, don’t you think?’

‘I do indeed. I’m over the moon, darling. You know how much I miss you.’

‘And I you, Mum.’

‘How long will you be staying? Could it be as long as to be the guest of honour at my seventieth birthday party next June?’ Posy smiled.

‘We’ll have to see how things go, but even if I decide to come back here, I’ll make sure I’m there at your party, of course I will.’

‘So, shall I come and pick you up from the airport?’

‘No, don’t worry about that. I’m going to stay in London for a few days with my friends Paul and Jane as I have some business I want to sort out, but I’ll ring you when I’m clearer on my plans and drive up to Admiral House to see you.’

‘I can hardly wait, darling.’

‘Nor me, Mum. It’s been too long. I’d better go, but I’ll be in touch soon.’

‘Righty-ho. Oh Nick . . . I can’t quite believe you’re coming home.’

He heard the catch in her voice. ‘Nor me. Lots of love, and I’ll call you as soon as I have things organised. Bye for now.’

‘Bye, darling.’

Posy sank into the ancient leather chair next to the Aga, feeling weak with emotion.

Of her two sons, it was Nick of whom she had the most vivid memories as an infant. Perhaps, because he’d been born so soon after his father’s tragic death, Posy had always felt that Nick was utterly hers.

His premature arrival – hastened almost certainly by the appalling shock of losing Jonny, her husband of thirteen years, so tragically – meant Posy, with three-year-old Sam on top of the newborn Nick, had found little time to wallow.

There had been much to sort out, a lot of hard decisions to make at a time when she was at her lowest ebb. All the plans she and Jonny had made for the future had to be shelved. With two small children to bring up alone – children who would need their mother’s love and attention more than ever – Posy had realised it would be an impossible task to try and run Admiral House as the business they had planned.

If there was ever a particularly bad moment to lose one’s husband, Posy thought, that had been it. After twelve years of being stationed around the globe, Jonny had decided to leave the army and fulfil his wife’s longed-for dream: to return to Admiral House and give their young family – and the two of them – a proper home.

Posy put the kettle on to boil, thinking back to how hot it had been that August thirty-four years ago, when Jonny had driven them through the golden Suffolk countryside towards the house. She had been newly pregnant with Nick; anxiety mixed with morning sickness had caused them to pull over twice. When they’d finally driven through the old wrought-iron gates, Posy had held her breath.

As Admiral House had come into view, a flood of memories had washed over her. It looked just as she remembered it, perhaps a little older and wearier, but then again, so was she. Jonny had opened the door of the car for her and helped her out, and Sam had run up beside her and gripped her hand tightly as they had walked up the steps to the huge front door.

‘Do you want to open it?’ she had asked him, placing the heavy key into the palm of his small hand.

He had nodded and she had lifted him up so he could slot the key into the lock.

Together, they’d pushed open the heavy door, and the sun had shone a path into the dark and shuttered house. Going on memory, Posy had found the light switch. The hall was suddenly flooded with electric light, and they had all looked upwards at the magnificent chandelier hanging twenty feet above them.

White sheets were draped over the furniture, and dust had lain thickly on the floor, whirling up into the air as Sam had run up the magnificent cantilevered staircase. Tears had come to Posy’s eyes, and she had shut them tightly as she had been assailed by the sights and smells of her childhood, Maman, Daisy, Daddy . . . when she had opened them, she had seen Sam waving from the top of the stairs and she had joined him up there to see the rest of the house.

Jonny had loved it too, though with obvious reservations about its upkeep.

‘It’s enormous, darling,’ he’d said as they’d sat in the kitchen in which Posy so vividly remembered Daisy rolling pastry on the old oak table. ‘And obviously in need of some updating.’

‘Well, it hasn’t been lived in for more than a quarter of a century,’ she’d answered.

Once they’d settled in, the two of them had talked about how Admiral House could provide a much-needed income to supplement Jonny’s army pension. They’d agreed that they could set about renovating the house and one day, open it as a bed and breakfast to paying guests.

Ironically, Jonny’s death, after all his years in the military, had come only months later at the metal teeth of a combine harvester, which had hit him head-on as he negotiated a narrow bend only two miles away from Admiral House.

Jonny had left her his pension and a couple of life insurance policies. She’d also inherited her grandmother’s estate when she’d died a couple of years before, and had put the money she’d received from the sale of the Manor House in Cornwall into investments. She’d also received a small bequest from her mother, who had died of pneumonia (a fact that Posy still found odd, given she’d spent many years in Italy) at the age of fifty-five.

She’d considered selling Admiral House, but as the estate agent she’d brought in to value it had told her, few people wanted a house of that size any longer. Even if she found a buyer, the price she’d get for it would be well below what it was worth.

Besides, she adored the house – had only just returned to it after all those years – and with Jonny gone, Posy needed the familiar and comforting walls of her childhood home around her.

So, she’d worked out that as long as she remained frugal with their living costs, and braced herself to dip into her savings and investments to subsidise her income, the three of them could just about get by.

Throughout the lonely, dark days of those first months without Jonny, Nick’s sunny, undemanding nature had provided endless solace, and as she’d watched her baby boy grow into a happy, contented child, toddling around the kitchen garden, he’d given her hope for the future.

Of course, it had been easier for Nick; what he’d never known he couldn’t miss. Whereas Sam had been old enough to acknowledge the chill wind of death as it blew across his life.

‘When’s Daddy coming back?’

Posy remembered him asking the same question every night for weeks on end after his father’s death, her heart breaking as she saw the confusion in his big blue eyes, so similar to his father’s. Posy would steel herself to tell him that Daddy wasn’t coming back ever again. That he’d gone up to heaven to watch over them from there and finally, Sam had stopped asking.

Posy stood listening to the sizzle of the water beginning to boil. She stirred the coffee granules into the milk at the bottom of the cup, then topped it up with hot water.

Cradling her cup, she walked towards the window and stared out at the ancient horse chestnut that had stoically given generations of children a bumper crop of conkers. She could see the green, prickly husks already formed, heralding the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn.

The thought of conkers reminded her of the start of the school year – a moment she’d dreaded when her boys were younger, as it marked the buying of new school uniforms, the label-sewing and the trunks she’d heave up from the cellar. Then the dreadful silence when they’d left.

Posy had thought long and hard about sending her beloved boys away to boarding school. Even if generations of both Jonny’s and her own family had been sent away, it had been the late seventies and times had changed. Yet she knew her own experience had not only given her an education, but independence and discipline. Jonny would have wanted his sons to go – he had often talked about sending them to his alma mater. So Posy had dug into her investments – comforting herself with the thought that her grandmother would approve too – and sent them away to school in Norfolk; not so far that she could never see them play rugby or appear in a school play, but far enough so she couldn’t be tempted to fetch them on the occasions when one or the other of them was homesick.

Sam had been the most frequent caller – he’d struggled to settle and always seemed to be falling out with one of his friends. When Nick had followed his brother three years later, she’d rarely heard from him.

In the early days of her widowhood when both the boys were small, she had longed for time to herself, but when both her sons had left for school and she’d finally had it, the cool breeze of loneliness had blown through the damp walls and lodged in her heart.

For the first time in her life, Posy remembered waking up in the morning and struggling to find a reason to climb out of bed. She’d realised it was because the core of her life had been torn away from her and everything around the edges of it was merely padding. Sending her boys away was like going through bereavement all over again.

The feeling had humbled her – up to that point in her life she had never understood depression and had seen it as a sign of weakness, but in that dreadful month after Nick had first left for school, she had felt guilty for ever thinking one could simply snap out of it. She’d realised she needed a project to take her mind off how much she missed her boys.

She’d been in her father’s study one autumnal morning and stumbled across an old set of plans for the garden in the drawer of his desk. From the look of them, he’d obviously been planning to turn the parkland gardens into something spectacular. Having been protected from light, the ink was still vivid on the parchment paper, the lines and proportions of the park rendered in her father’s meticulous hand. She could see that beside the Folly, he had marked a space for a butterfly garden, listing nectar-rich perennials that she knew would be a riot of colour in full bloom. A wisteria walk led to an orchard full of all of her favourite fruits: pears, apples, plums, and even figs.

Beside the kitchen garden, he had marked out a large greenhouse and a smaller walled garden, with a note that had read ‘willow walkway for Posy to play’. Whimsical garden pathways were sketched in to connect the disparate parts, and Posy had chuckled at his plan for a pond near to the croquet lawn (‘to cool off hot tempers’). There was also a rose garden marked ‘for Adriana’.

So, she’d gone out that afternoon with string and willow sticks and had started marking out some of the borders he’d planned, which would be filled with grape hyacinths, alliums and crocuses, all of which didn’t need much attention and were perfect for attracting bees when they woke from their winter sojourn.

A few days later, with her hands deep in the soft earth, Posy remembered smiling for the first time in weeks. The smell of compost, the feel of the gentle sun on her head and the planting of bulbs that would provide welcome colour next spring, had reminded her of her time at Kew.

That day had been the start of what had become a twenty-five-year passion. She’d laid out the vast area into sections, and each spring and autumn, she’d worked on a new part of it, adding her own designs to those of her father, including her personal pièce de résistance – an ambitious parterre below the terrace, comprising intricate curves of low box hedges enclosing beds of fragrant lavender and roses. It was an absolute devil to maintain, but the view it afforded from the formal reception rooms and bedrooms was sublime.

In short, the garden had become her master, her friend and her lover, leaving her little time for anything else.

‘Mum, it’s amazing,’ Nick would say when he arrived home in the summer holidays and she’d show him the new work in progress.

‘Yeah, but what’s for supper?’ Sam would ask as he kicked a ball across the terrace. Posy remembered he’d broken the greenhouse windows three times as a boy.

As she gathered the ingredients together to whip up a cake to take over to her grandchildren later, Posy felt the familiar twinge of guilt prompted by any thoughts of her eldest son.

Although she loved Sam dearly, she’d always found him far more difficult than Nick. Perhaps it was simply that she and her second son shared so much in common. His love for ‘old things’, as Sam had called them, watching his younger brother painstakingly restore an old chest rotting away from woodworm. Where Sam was all action – his attention span short and his temper quick to ignite – Nick was far calmer. He had an eye for beauty that Posy liked to think he’d inherited from her.

The terrible truth was, she thought as she stirred the eggs into the cake mixture, one could love one’s children, but that didn’t mean to say one would like them equally.

The thing that upset her most was that her two sons were not close. Posy remembered Nick toddling around the garden after his big brother when they were small. It had been obvious he worshipped the ground Sam walked on, but as the years had fled by, she’d noticed that Nick had actively begun to avoid him during the school holidays, preferring to spend time with her in the kitchen, or restoring his bits of furniture in the barn.

They were polar opposites, of course – Sam, so outwardly confident and Nick introspective. Like a silken thread that had been spun through the decades from their childhood, their adult lives were connected, but had continued to take them in different directions too.

Since leaving school, Sam had flunked university and moved to London. He’d tried his hand at computers, cheffing and estate agency. All of these endeavours seemed to have melted away like snow after a few months. He’d returned to Southwold ten years ago, married, and after further failed start-ups, was at present trying to set up his own property business.

Posy always encouraged him as best she could when he came to her with a new money-making scheme. But recently, she’d made a pact with herself that there would be no more lending, however hard Sam pleaded with her. Besides, with most of her investments eaten up by her beloved garden, she had little left to give. A year ago, she had sold one of her precious Staffordshire figurines to finance Sam’s ‘watertight’ business plan to make films to help market local businesses. The funds from the figurine’s sale had been lost forever when the company folded after only nine months.

The difficulty she had in saying no to Sam was compounded by the fact that he had managed to find himself an angel of a wife. Amy was a complete sweetheart who had even managed to smile when recently, for the umpteenth time, Sam announced they had to move from their rented house to another, smaller one, due to lack of cash.

Amy had borne Sam two healthy children – Jake, who was six, and Sara, four – and managed to hold down a job as a receptionist at a local hotel to provide an albeit small but much-needed regular flow of cash into the household, as well as stoically supporting her husband, which made Amy a saint in Posy’s book.

As for Nick, Posy’s heart filled with happiness that her son was finally returning to the UK. After he’d left school, he’d ignored the offers of a couple of excellent universities and instead announced he wanted to go into the antiques trade. After working part-time at a local auctioneer’s, he’d managed to get himself an apprenticeship with an antique dealer in Lavenham, commuting daily from Admiral House.

When he was just twenty-one, Nick had opened his own shop in Southwold and had soon begun to garner a reputation for stocking interesting and unusual antiques. Posy could not have been happier that her son had chosen to live his life locally. Two years later, he’d rented the premises next door to double the space for his flourishing business. If he was away buying, Posy would leave her beloved garden and spend a day in the shop serving the customers.

A few months later, Nick had announced he had taken on a full-time assistant to run the shop when he was attending auctions. Evie Newman was not traditionally beautiful, her small frame and elfin features giving her the air of a child rather than a woman, but her huge brown eyes were haunting in their loveliness. The first time Nick had introduced Posy to Evie, she had watched her son watching every move Evie made, and had known without a doubt that Nick had fallen in love.

Not that Nick was able to do anything about his feelings. Evie had a long-standing boyfriend to whom she was seemingly devoted. Posy had met him once and been surprised that Evie could find the weasel-faced, pseudo-intellectual Brian attractive. A divorced sociology lecturer at the local community college and older than Evie by a good fifteen years, Brian had strong opinions and liked to air them as often as possible. Posy had disliked him on the spot.

As Nick spent more time away on buying trips, Posy had helped Evie learn the ropes at the shop. Despite the difference in age between the two women, they’d become firm friends. Evie had lost both her parents very young, and lived with her grandmother in a rambling Victorian house in Southwold. Having never had a daughter of her own, Posy revelled in the fondness she felt for her.

Sometimes Evie would travel with Nick and Posy would be left holding the fort at the shop. She loved to see Evie’s sparkling eyes when she returned from a buying trip, her expressive hands conjuring up an elegant chiffonier they had got for next to nothing in a sale from a magnificent chateau in the South of France.

Despite her promise to herself not to rely on Nick’s presence in her life, after years of coexisting happily at Admiral House, the shock she’d felt when, out of the blue, he’d told her he was selling up and moving to Australia, had been devastating. This was compounded by Evie announcing soon afterwards that Brian had got a good job at a college in Leicester. He had asked her to marry him, apparently, and she had agreed. They were to leave Southwold imminently.

Posy had tried to discover exactly why her son felt he had to extinguish the successful business he’d worked so hard to build and move to the other side of the world, but Nick was not forthcoming. She’d suspected it was something to do with Evie, and given she was moving away too, something didn’t quite fit.

The business sold almost immediately and Nick had left soon after for Perth, shipping stock over with him to give him a start in his new Antipodean venture. Posy had given no clue as to how lost she would feel without him.

The fact that Evie had not come to say goodbye before she’d left Southwold had cut Posy to the quick, but she’d accepted that she was an older woman in a young person’s life. Just because she had strong feelings for Evie did not mean they were or should be reciprocated.

As winter had drawn in, again Posy had felt the familiar frost of loneliness. Due to the time of year, her beloved garden was sleeping and there was little she could do until the spring. Without the comfort of that to bury herself in, Posy knew she had to find something urgently to fill the void. So she’d taken herself off into Southwold and managed to find herself a part-time job. Three mornings a week she worked at an art gallery. Even though modern paintings were not really her kind of thing, the job brought in some pin money and kept her busy. She had never admitted to the owner how old she really was and ten years later, Posy was still working there.

‘Almost seventy,’ murmured Posy as she put the cake mixture into the Aga to bake and set the timer to take with her. As she left the kitchen and headed for the main stairs, Posy thought what a Herculean task being a mother was. However old her two sons had become, she had never stopped worrying about them. If anything, she worried more; at least when they were small she had known exactly where and how they were. They’d been under her control and of course, as they had grown into adults and fled the nest, that was no longer the case.

Her legs ached slightly as she climbed the stairs, reminding her of all the things she tried not to think about. Even though she was of an age where she could legitimately start to complain about her health, she knew how lucky she was to be so fit.

‘But,’ she said to an ancestor whose image hung on the landing, ‘just how long will it last?’

Entering the bedroom, Posy walked towards the windows and drew back the heavy curtains. There had never been the money to replace them and the original pattern on the fabric had bleached beyond recognition.

From here, she had the best view of the garden she’d created. Even in early autumn as nature was preparing itself for sleep, the oblique rays of the afternoon sun caressed the leaves of trees that were slowly ripening to gold, and the last of the roses hung heavy with scent. Fat orange pumpkins sat in the kitchen garden, and the trees in the orchard were laden with blush-red apples. And the parterre, immediately below her window, looked simply stunning.

Posy turned away from the beauty outside and faced the enormous bedroom, where generations of Andersons had slept. Her eyes skimmed over the once exquisite chinoiserie wallpaper that was now peeling surreptitiously in the corners and spotted with damp, the threadbare rug that was past recovering from so many spills, and the fading mahogany furniture.

‘And this is just one room; there are another twenty-five that need a complete overhaul, let alone the actual fabric of the building,’ she muttered to herself.

As she undressed, Posy knew that over the years she had done the bare minimum to the house, partly because of money, but mostly because, like a favourite child, she had thrown all her attention at the garden. And, like any neglected progeny, the house had continued crumbling away unnoticed.

‘I’m living here on borrowed time,’ she sighed, and admitted to herself that this beautiful old house was beginning to feel like a yoke round her neck. Even though she was fit and able for a woman who had seen sixty-nine years, just how much longer would she be? Besides, she knew that the house itself was edging to the point of no return if it didn’t receive serious renovation soon.

The thought of throwing in the towel and moving to somewhere more manageable appalled her, but Posy knew she had to be practical about the situation. She hadn’t mentioned the idea of selling Admiral House to either Sam or Nick, but perhaps, now Nick was returning, she should.

Undressing, Posy saw her reflected image staring back from the cheval mirror. The grey in her hair, the wrinkles around her eyes and the flesh that was no longer as taut as it used to be depressed her, and she averted her gaze. It was easier not to look, because inside, she was still a young woman full of youthful vigour, the same Posy who had danced and laughed and loved.

‘Golly, I miss sex!’ she announced to the chest of drawers as she searched for her underwear. Thirty-four years was an awfully long time not to feel the touch of a man, his skin against hers, caressing her body as he rose and fell inside her . . .

After Jonny had died, there had been men who had crossed her path occasionally and shown an interest, especially in the early days. Maybe it had been that her attention was on the boys, and later the garden, but after a couple of ‘dates’, as her sons would call them, Posy had never found the enthusiasm to pursue a relationship.

‘And now it is too late,’ she said to her reflection as she sat down at her dressing table and dabbed the cheap cold cream – the only beauty routine she regularly pursued – onto her face.

‘Don’t be greedy, Posy. To find two loves in your life is more than most people are ever granted.’

As she rose, Posy put both dark and fanciful thoughts out of her head and concentrated on the far more positive thought of her son returning home from Australia. Downstairs, she took the cake out of the Aga, emptied it from its tin and left it to cool. Then she walked through the kitchen door into the rear courtyard. She unlocked her battered Volvo and drove along the drive, turning right onto the road that would lead her on the ten-minute journey into Southwold.

She headed towards the sea front, and despite the chilly September wind, rolled down her window to breathe in the briny sea air, mingled with the perpetual scent of fried doughnuts and fish and chips from the shop by the pier, which reached out into the North Sea, a steel grey under a hazy blue sky. Smart white terraced houses lined the road, the shop-fronts beneath them filled with beach bric-a-brac, and seagulls patrolled the pavement for stray pieces of food.

The fabric of the town had hardly changed since she’d been a child, but unfortunately, its old-fashioned seaside quaintness had inspired hordes of affluent middle-class families to invest in holiday homes here. This had driven up property prices to obscene levels, and, although good for the economy of the small town, had undoubtedly altered the dynamics of the once tight-knit community. The second-homers flocked into Southwold in the summer, making parking a nightmare, then left at the end of August like a pack of vultures who had finished feasting on a carcass.

Now, in September, the town felt dead and deserted, as if all its energy had been sucked out by the hordes and taken away with them. As Posy parked in the high street, she saw an ‘end of season sale’ poster in the boutique, and the bookshop no longer had its trestle tables offering second-hand novels stationed outside.

She walked briskly along the street, nodding good morning to those who passed and acknowledged her. The sense of belonging gave her pleasure at least. Stopping at the newsagents, Posy collected her daily copy of the Telegraph.

Coming out of the shop with her nose buried in the headlines, she bumped straight into a young girl.

‘Pardon me,’ she apologised, lowering her gaze to meet that of the brown-eyed child in front of her.

‘That’s okay,’ the girl shrugged.

‘My goodness,’ Posy finally responded, ‘do forgive me for staring, but you look awfully like someone I used to know.’

‘Oh.’ The child shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Posy moved aside so she could pass by her and step inside the shop. ‘Goodbye, then.’

‘Goodbye.’ Posy turned and walked up the high street towards the gallery. As she did so, a familiar figure came running down the street towards her.

‘Evie? It is you, isn’t it?’

The young woman stopped dead in her tracks, her pale face reddening from embarrassment.

‘Yes. Hello, Posy,’ she said quietly.

‘How are you, dear girl? And what on earth are you doing back in Southwold? Visiting old friends?’

‘No.’ Evie studied her feet. ‘We moved back here a couple of weeks ago. I . . . we live here now.’



‘Oh, I see.’

Posy watched Evie as she continued to avoid making eye contact. She was far thinner than she used to be, and her lovely long dark hair had been chopped into a short crop.

‘I think I may have seen your daughter just now outside the newsagent. I thought she looked very like you. Back for good, the three of you?’

‘The two of us, yes,’ answered Evie. ‘Now if you’ll excuse me, Posy, I’m in a terrible hurry.’

‘Of course, and,’ Posy added, ‘these days I work in Mason’s Gallery, three doors down from The Swan. Any time you fancy a spot of lunch, you know I’d love to see you. And your daughter, whose name is . . .?’

‘Clemmie, she’s called Clemmie.’

‘Short for Clementine, I presume, like Winston Churchill’s wife.’


‘What a lovely name. Well, goodbye, Evie, and welcome back.’

‘Thank you. Bye.’

Evie headed towards the newsagents in search of her daughter, and Posy walked the last few yards down the road to the gallery. Feeling more than a little hurt at Evie’s obvious discomfort in her presence, and wondering what on earth she had done to garner such a negative reaction, Posy took the keys to the gallery out of her bag.

As she unlocked the front door, entered and fumbled for the light switch, she thought about what Evie had implied: that Brian, her partner of all those years ago, was no longer in her life. Inquisitive to know more, Posy thought it unlikely she ever would. From Evie’s reaction, it was more likely that she would probably cross the street to avoid her the next time they met.

However, the one thing she had learnt in her almost seventy years on this earth was that human beings were a queer lot and constantly surprised her. Evie has her reasons, Posy mused as she went to the office at the back of the gallery and switched on the kettle for her ritual second cup of coffee.

She only wished she knew what they were.