Being Peach Kenway came with consequences. At six years old I became an expert at table manners, recited the history of tea and could recognize all specialties just by smelling them. By age seven I had read most of the books in Dad’s library.
My parents, siblings, house staff and I lived in a colonial style manor and to everyone it was a dream home. But to me it was nothing more than a big white house plonked in the middle of a never ending field in the outskirts of London. That’s when I wondered whether or not I truly was a Kenway.
Ever since I was old enough to walk, Kenway Manor never had my heart. Maids dressed me like a doll and prepared me for ridiculous social events my mother insisted on hosting and attending. It excited my sisters - they squealed and giggled as soon as Mother made the announcement. Dad rolled his eyes just like me. It sounded truly wonderful, yet it wasn’t.
“You don’t care because you have everything you ever wanted,” one boy said at the book club I found at the age of fifteen in Brick Lane. Little did he know it wasn’t all fun and games. After school came lessons on etiquette, how to behave in social situations and more lessons as if school wasn’t enough. Rarely did I receive toys for birthdays and Christmas. Evenings at the book club flew by and thanks to discussions such as why Long John Silver was the coolest pirate became the highlight of my days. My mother Linda thought I was headed to Benjamin’s house for homework help. Luckily Benjamin always covered for me and thankfully she never found out. If Mother knew about my little trips to Brick Lane with people outside of her precious social circle, I dreaded to think what she would have done.
Being Peach Kenway came with consequences and on my sixteenth birthday it couldn’t have been clearer. Whilst they hammered the rules of etiquette and high society in my rebellious brain, I insisted on reading books and socialising with people from all backgrounds. Quickly, I came to know that being a Kenway was all about appearances, Mother’s list of approved people, saying the right things and looking a certain way. That’s what being a Kenway was about and I had my mother, Linda, to thank for that.
They prepared me to become a gracious debutante and they sugar-coated my childhood, but they didn’t prepare me for the real world. They failed to mention that being a Kenway carried consequences. Being Peach Kenway wasn’t a choice, but when I finally turned eighteen I was smart enough to know freedom was my right. I was Peach Kenway and at eighteen I said no to the life my mother prepared me for. Instead, I said yes to the city, alone and without my dad’s credit card. Yes to independence and maybe I was wrong. Being Peach Kenway was more than having a wealthy family’s name. It meant learning to survive on my own because freedom came with a price.
That’s why at nearly thirty years old I found myself in the backseat of a black cab with a single suitcase and purse to my name. As the taxi driver whisked me further away from the city, my mind wandered. The memories swam in my mind like timeless tides. Everywhere I went they asked me whether I was one of the Kenway sisters, even though I knew they recognized me. People knew who we were.
They’d look at me up and down, starting from my rose-tinted sunglasses to my peach-pleated dress and my pink-embroidered court shoes. My etiquette teachers failed to mention that people were judgmental about everything and even judged for having a favorite color.
During the first two years in the city, every corner I turned someone would ask the question I hated the most. As soon as they recognized me as Peach Kenway they’d ask, why get a job when I came from old money?
They understood nothing about how I never had access to money of my own.The questions kept coming until one December I turned an unexpected corner and got a job as a teller at Atlas Bank. That December I met Fallen Angel - I mean, Calvin. He was the one who didn’t question. He understood my craving for freedom and that’s why I fell so I hard I didn’t even realize before it was too late. He was a blue-eyed, golden-haired city banker Mother would have been proud to have as a son-in-law. Oh, and he was my boss. He proved me right: men were nothing more than lying, cheating sons of—
“Whoah!” I blurted.
I jolted in the backseat of the black cab.The seatbelt pressed against my chest as the taxi sped to a halt.
“Sorry miss,” the taxi driver said. “You wanted to get there fast.”
I nodded as I clutched my chest. Yes, I wanted to get there quick but in one piece. I adjusted the seatbelt and shifted in my seat. Clearing my throat I glanced out the window, as though I didn’t almost end up in the windscreen because the taxi driver didn’t see the fox cross the road. I watched the animal scurry back into the woods.
My mind drifted away to Fallen Angel. As much as I wanted to forget, I remembered that day. We were in his office.
“Well Peach,” he said.
He looked at me from the other side of the mahogany desk. Oh, that mahogany desk, and those tight ringlet curls and blue eyes and angelic voice.
“Looks like it’s the end of the road,” he continued.
I remembered. Chitter-chatter from the banking hall seeped through the closed wooden door. Beeping deposit machines, shuffling of notes at the teller desk and creaking of the ATMs created an orchestra of sounds I grew accustomed to. In that office, I sat opposite Calvin, my boss. At the time, he was my boyfriend too. The past three years flashed before my eyes. How pathetic – that moment I heard his voice, saw the light blue of his eyes and contemplated on the perfect curl of his golden hair. It felt like only yesterday we were in that very office, doing things that we shouldn’t in a professional setting. They warned me not to mix work with my personal life and I should have listened. His jaw dropped and his brows furrowed in the slightest moment of confusion.
“Peach? Are you okay?”
At that point, I remember how I snapped out of my day dream. His expression darkened and his golden ringlet curls no longer glimmered but they cascaded down his face and there was something sinister about the glint in his blue, blue eyes.
“Yes,” I said.
That’s all I could say. What else? I laughed nervously and ran a rather embarrassed hand in my hair to tuck the strands behind.
“Yes, I’m fine. I just don’t understand what you are trying to say to me.”
“I thought it would be rather natural you know, after everything that’s happened.” He paused for a moment and smiled with pity. “I think you should move out.”
And my world crashed. And he tumbled down the pedestal I put him on for a number of years.
Dumped and potentially homeless. That day my best friend and colleague had named him Fallen Angel and I could find a handful of more fitting names that Mother would disapprove of.
That’s why at nearly thirty, I found myself in the backseat of a black cab heading out of the city and retreating to Kenway Manor, in the English countryside. My nostrils flared as I gripped my purse. The cab sped in the middle of nowhere over the unsteady country road. I glanced back. City skyscrapers were far behind and buildings became more and more separated from each other until the only things I could see were a blue summer sky, green pastures and the odd cattle. I was returning to Kenway Manor. I was returning to the very place that never felt like home.
My chest tightened and my eyes stung. I inhaled and tried to steady my breaths. Calvin destroyed what we built in three years in a single moment - what a jerk. I cleared my throat. Mother would scowl if she heard me use that language. I shook my head. I knew it. He cheated and there was no turning back. Calvin proved me right yet again – there was only one word to describe men: liars.
“We’re nearly there Miss,” the taxi driver said.
Liar. We were still on the country road and I couldn’t see my parents’ estate yet. I glimpsed at him through the rear view mirror. His bushy brows were midnight black and his skin the color of cinnamon. His face was chiselled giving him an exotic look but his Cockney accent told a whole other story. My hand reached into the blush-coloured purse I bought with my first pay check. After rummaging I found it: Treasures Forever scratch-card.
“Aren’t you Linda and Budd Kenway’s daughter?” The taxi driver asked.
I quickly glanced at the taxi driver as I scratched the card with a penny.
“Yes,” I said.
“Is that a…scratch card?”
“Yes,” I hissed.
The taxi driver raised his brows. He was judging me too but I didn’t care. That third Treasures Forever scratchcard yielded nothing.
Finally, the black cab slowed as we approached Kenway Manor. Lush plants and trees surrounded the estate enchanting the white building. Leaves of the willow tree by the lake swayed in the summer breeze. Seeing Kenway Manor after so many years made me realise that maybe, it really was a dream home…just not my dream home.
Wobbling out of the black cab I glanced at my childhood abode: Kenway Manor. Alabaster masonry gave it a Georgian touch and those enormous windows reminded me of how I’d lean out as a child, observe nature and take in every moment of peace whilst Mother had heart attacks for fear of me tumbling down from the third floor.
I gathered my things, thanked the driver, paid and stumbled out of the cab. Still in awe, I didn’t realize when he left. I treaded over the dual-toned grey gravel and swallowed hard as I reached the front door with a terrible realization. Returning to Kenway Manor meant one thing: no privacy.
My finger reached for the doorbell but didn’t have time to push the button. The grand oak door swung back.
“Not another one!” My mother, Linda, exclaimed.
She glanced at me from head to toe and then sighed as she glared at my suitcase.
“Hello Mother,” I said with a nervous smile.
My brows furrowed in confusion – not quite the reunion I had imagined.
She pulled me in her arms and for a moment, I realized how much I missed my mother. Her lavender scent lingered but then, the warmth faded as soon as she pulled away and her gaze lowered to my suitcase.
“You too?” she asked.
Her pearl-white manicure matched her pastel linen blouse and pants. She stood as graceful as a dancer. Her circle frame glasses slid down her nose as she peeked through.
“What do you mean?” I asked back.
I dragged my suitcase over the threshold as she stepped aside to let me in. Then I saw her. My sister Vera. In tears. With a suitcase. My jaw dropped. Her wavy hair hung matted on her drooping head. Mascara tears trickled down her cheeks and the heart-broken woman before my eyes wasn’t the oldest sister I knew. Always poised and level-headed, but not that day.
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” I muttered under my breath.
She stood in the hallway with her designer suitcases. Sobbing. Vera’s marriage was always the subject of discussion at every family event but no one ever thought they’d get a divorce. It was on and off ever since they got together so many years ago.
“All I want is for my daughters to be married and stay married. Is that too much to ask?” Mother said, in an exasperated tone.
“Not this story again!”
That deep voice. That Southern drawl. My dad Budd. I smiled like the Cheshire cat as he strolled out of the living room. He greeted me with a hug. His medium stature and broad figure always reminded me of one of those cowboys in the States. His stone-washed jeans complemented his checkered shirt. He always wore those shirts. And suddenly it was like I never left home.
“Welcome back! Guess it’s true what they say: home is where the heart is,” Dad said
I pulled away and saw a glint in his dark brown eyes. His happiness filled me with joy and his smile was wider than mine. My shoulders dropped in relief. At least he would not lecture me about being nearly thirty with a failed relationship behind me and not a single asset of my proprietorship.
His warm-toned skin revealed his passion for sunbathing. Some things never changed. But something was different. My nose twitched as I pulled away. No pungent scent of alcohol mixtures hovered over his clothes. Dad always had a weakness. In fact, it wasn’t surprising that my parents met at some pub in South Carolina. What was someone like Mother doing in some South Carolina pub? I couldn’t tell you. But they met one summer evening and five daughters and one son later, the rest was history.
“I haven’t disappointed you have I?” I asked, with a sigh.
“Don’t be silly. Top teller at Atlas Bank. Smart. Not a follower. You’re a true Kenway,” Dad replied. “I just wish you’d accept your monthly allowance.”
“This is unbelievable. Two daughters.” My mother shook her head as though breaking up with jerks was a crime.
“Relax Linda,” Dad said. “Y’all are too fixated on the marriage thing.”
At least dad was on my side. Like me, he was a free spirit and always went counter-current.
We never followed the crowd.
We always did it our way.