Leonard’s father had used the same solicitor for as long as Leonard could remember. Not that he had needed him that often in any official capacity. Once for conveyancing forty-six years ago when they purchased their current home, another time for the dispute with a neighbour over a shared driveway, and, of course, for the writing of his last will and testament. Mr Dawson—neither Leonard nor his mother had any idea of his given name—used to be a sole practitioner, his office a single room above a newsagent on Norwich High Street, but had joined a larger legal firm some years back. Haven and Trollope, the new firm, stood in a modern characterless three-storey complex on the outskirts of town. One advantage to the location was the many parking spaces designated to the law firm clients. Leonard’s mother insisted he drive around the car park three times until she pointed out a parking space that met her approval.
Best of all, the drive barely took half an hour during which time his mother sat quietly, listening to the car radio which she insisted be tuned to BBC Radio Four, to a topical political debate. Leonard’s mind had been elsewhere but he occasionally heard her tutting whenever she felt someone had made an inconclusive statement or had circumvented answering a simple question.
All day Sunday, while he had begun to tackle the back garden and then cleared his business email, Leonard mulled over his chance meeting with Adrian. By Sunday evening, he had almost called and invited his new friend out for a drink. But he had no idea what Adrian did at the weekend, didn’t know if he would be intruding, feeling sure such a good-looking guy would have other plans which probably included a boyfriend.
Strange, really, but even though they had only just met—because they had never been friends—he felt really comfortable with him, as though they had known each other for years. After heading to The Red Lion, they enjoyed a couple of drinks, both opting for the same pub lunch of home-made Shepherd’s Pie and fresh garden vegetables, and chatted about their old school.
Adrian seemed purposely vague about his life after leaving the education system, deflecting with trite sayings such as ‘oh, you know, here and there’ and ‘a little bit of this and that’ which Leonard took to mean he didn’t want to talk in detail about his young adult life. Sensing the guardedness, and knowing from Eric about Adrian being gay, Leonard pointedly avoided probing into Adrian’s romantic life and noticed Adrian did the same with him.
What he did find out was that Adrian worked locally, although he had no jobs on right now. From stories of work he had carried out, Leonard could tell his popularity with the local community, including some the clientele in the pub he indicated, who he had done work for at some time or another. As the afternoon wore on, Leonard realised he liked Adrian and, before they parted ways, swapped mobile phone numbers and agreed to meet up again after the weekend.
Inside the reception for Haven and Trollope, after asking to see their identification, one of the two receptionists, a pretty young thing his mother openly gawped at, with bright orange hair and multiple piercings in one of her ears, led them up a flight of stairs to a large glass conference room. Inside, Aunt Millicent and Matthew already sat there quietly, looking sullen and bored. After offering Leonard and his mother drinks and both declining, the young girl left them alone. His aunt and cousin had already stood, and his mother went to shake hands, with Leonard waiting to do the same. Once they took their seats, each pair on opposite sides of the table, the room fell once again into awkward silence.
To Leonard’s relief, Mr Dawson entered ten minutes later. In his mid-to-late sixties, he reminded Leonard of one of his old college professors, with his olive green tweed suit, black and white polka dot bow tie, steel rimmed glasses with thick lenses, and full head of pure white wavy hair, held firmly in place with either too much Vaseline or hair gel.
In his hand, he carried a thick manila folder, which had a large label on the front. Leonard could easily make out the full name of his father in large capital letters.
Without shaking hands, he lowered himself into the seat at the head of the table, immediately opened the folder and took out a single sheet of paper from the top.
“Good. Well. Thank you all for coming here today and being so punctual. Apologies for my tardiness, but I had a call from another client that went on longer than I had expected. I am Hubert Dawson of Haven and Trollope, and the deceased, Colin Montgomery Day, appointed me as the sole executor of his will. This is a simple enough matter and should not take long. Rather than read all the legal speak in the formal last will and testament, I’ve had a one-sheet summary put together, but naturally, all those named as beneficiaries will receive a full copy of the legal document. Is everyone present comfortable with this?”
Although nobody spoke, everyone around the table nodded their assent.
“Excellent. Well, in summary, the deceased left almost everything to his wife, Mrs Geraldine Olivia Day, which includes their unencumbered residential home, 14 Collier Drive and all investments, shares and possessions in Mr Day’s sole name, his pension and, of course, the proceeds from his life assurance policy.”
That his father had left him nothing came as no surprise to Leonard. His father, being a pragmatic man, had spoken at length about the eventuality of his death, during which Leonard emphasised his own financial independence, and his desire for his father to make sure Leonard’s mother would be the principle beneficiary.
“There are two caveats to this is under the General Provisions clause. The first is that he wishes to donate the sum of ten thousand pounds to the college research facility, and the second, that the family’s country home, Bryn Bach in Wales, changes ownership to his son and only child, Leonard Frederick Day.”
Leonard had never heard his father mention a holiday home before and began to turn to his mother for clarification. Before he could, Aunt Millicent drew everyone’s attention when she let out a loud strangled gasp and sat forward in her chair. In the room, only her son Matthew seemed unsurprised by her reaction.
“No! There must be some mistake. As the last surviving sibling, I should be the one to inherit Bryn Bach. It’s what our mother and father would have wanted, and something Colin promised me, should anything happen to him.”
Mr Dawson sorted through the larger document, the full will, and flicked to a particular page marked by a yellow post-it note.
“Mr Day’s instructions are very clear; specific; straightforward and unambiguous, Mrs Darlington. And unless you have any legal documentation which supersedes the terms of this will, then there is no mistake. Under the Additional Provisions clause, Leonard’s father leaves in its entirety the farmhouse, Bryn Bach, in Disserth, Llandrindod Wells in Wales to his son, Leonard Frederick Day. He reviewed his will at the end of each year, the last time being December just gone. There is no mistake in—”
“He promised me. We spent our school holidays there as children, my brother, Colin, our parents and me. Until he went off to college on the other side of the country, and thought himself too high and mighty to associate with us, especially when he met her.” At that she glared pointedly at Leonard’s mother. “And when my ex-husband started a new job in sales, when we had barely enough money to survive on, we still managed to provide summer holidays for our three children because my father let us use Bryn Bach. We have many fond memories there. And in return, we have decorated, maintained, and cared for the place without asking for a penny in return. Since our father passed and left the cottage to my brother, he has not once been there. I know this for a fact. We still have friends in Newbridge. And my Matthew checks the cottage over every year for broken pipes and any defects, even though the place is deserted now. Falling to rack and ruin.”
“This is all very well, Mrs Darlington. But legally the property now belongs—“
“What does he want with it, anyway? He’s never even been there. None of them have.”
Leonard peered sideways at his mother, noticed the disapproving assessment at her sister-in-law’s outburst, glaring at her as she would a recalcitrant student. Poor Mr Dawson lifted his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. If he was going to be completely honest, Leonard didn’t care about a holiday home in Wales. He had enough old properties around the country on his books without adding one more to the list. But his father had specifically left the place to him. Surely that meant something?
“What if we were to challenge the will?”
This time, Matthew spoke. Leonard felt a flash of anger ignite in him at the thought of a family member challenging his own father’s specific wishes. For his part, Mr Dawson sat up straight in his chair, his lips pinched together. With both hands pressed together beneath his chin, as though in prayer, he leant forward, elbows on the table, and peered over the top of his glasses.
“I am not your solicitor, Mr Darlington, but if I were, I would strongly advise you against doing so. Not only would you end up spending an unsightly amount of money in legal fees, but in my long experience, challenges of this nature are rarely successful. Possession truly is nine tenths of the law in this country. Look, rather than go that route, why don’t you begin by asking Mr Day junior if he would be prepared to sell the property to you? Or to come to some kind of arrangement?”
Aunt Millicent’s eyes darted to Leonard, a glimmer of hope in her eyes, and a smile replacing the previous unpleasant grimace.
“Would you, Leonard? Would you consider selling our lovely holiday home back to us? It holds such dear memories for me and my family.”
“It’s as good as derelict at the moment,” added Matthew, still unsmiling, but something lighting in his eyes. “Worthless. We’d be doing you a favour taking the pile of rubble off your hands.”
Up until the challenge from his relatives, Leonard had been even-tempered and might have considered coming to some arrangement, as Mr Dawson had put it. But now? He took a deep breath before replying.
“My main concern today was in making sure my mother was taken care of financially, and it appears my father has done that. Until five minutes ago, I had no idea he owned a farmhouse in Wales. But he clearly wanted me to have the place. So I’m not going to make a decision right away. Before anything, I’d like to drive down there and give the place a quick once over. After that, I’ll make up my mind. But rest assured, if I do decide to sell the property, I promise you will get first option to buy. My mother has your contact details, if that is the case. And Mr Dawson here is witness to my promise. So is my mother.”
“Excellent.” Mr Dawson clearly wanted to move the matter along. No doubt, like Leonard, he hadn’t anticipated anyone to contest the will. But Leonard’s aunt hadn’t finished.
“You’re just like him, aren’t you? Just like your father?”
Her caustic tone and scowl left nobody in any doubt about her true feelings, except this time Leonard had no hesitation in glaring back across the table.
“If that’s what you see, then I am honoured.” Leonard turned his attention back to the solicitor. “Sorry Mr Dawson. You were saying?”
“Um, yes, so in order to finish matters off, I’ll need you and your mother to sign the necessary paperwork, and then get copies made for our records. Shouldn’t take more than another fifteen to twenty minutes. In the meantime, Mrs Darlington, if you and your son wish to leave, I can get someone—”
“Don’t bother. We can find our own way out.”
Neither Aunt Millie nor Matthew seemed happy at being dismissed, but they said no more. Instead of waiting around, they rose abruptly from their seats and left without bidding farewell.
After the door shut behind them, Mr Dawson waited a few moments before looking apologetically at Leonard and his mother, gently shaking his head but saying nothing.
“Did you know about this family house in Wales, Mum?”
“I didn’t. Your father mentioned nothing to me. But you know him as well as I do. He did nothing without thinking things through meticulously. In spite of what your aunt insists, if he wanted you to have the farmhouse rather than leave it to her, then there is no mistake and you should trust his good judgement.”
Before they left, Mr Dawson furnished Leonard and his mother with their copies of all the signed paperwork. Leonard thought they had finished, and began to rise until Mr Dawson handed him a bulky envelope.
“The deeds to the property will continue to be kept here, Mr Day, in our safe-keeping, unless you wish them to be held elsewhere. But they will be transferred into your name. These are the keys to Bryn Bach. Somewhere on file we have a photograph of the place so I’ll get my assistant to email a copy to you. And for the record, I agree with your mother. Your father clearly wanted you to have the place, and as such, he did so for a reason.”
All well and good, thought Leonard, as he and his mother strolled unspeaking down the plush corridor, but if that was the case, then his father had taken the reason to the grave with him.
A new twist. Leonard's father had clearly been a practical man. Why would he have done this?
As I've mentioned before, I'm only posting a couple of chapters weekly to give readers a chance to comment or react.