A Year In France – Episode 55

Supplied © A Year In France illustration by Mandy Dixon

A van turned into the drive and tooted. The desk and the table had arrived.

Half an hour later, the table was in the kitchen looking as if it had always been there and Julia went upstairs to start giving the desk some attention.

Cleaned up, the desk was in better condition than she’d realised from its previous grubby state.

The scratched and damaged leather inlay showed the most wear, but Philippe’s computer would hide the worst of it.

As she began to polish, a deep mahogany colour started to shine through the wood.

An hour later, Julia tiredly pushed herself up off the floor and stood back to look at the result of her hard work. She smiled happily and congratulated herself on a job well done.

She picked up the cleaning debris, then closed the study door and made her way downstairs.

She was throwing the rubbish in the bin as she heard the removal lorry turning into the drive. Perfect timing.

When Philippe arrived a quarter of an hour later, the men were manoeuvring the sitting-room furniture in through the door.

“Come with me,” Julia said, catching hold of his hand. “Your birthday present is upstairs.”

Outside the study door, she turned to him.

“Close your eyes.” Then she opened the door.

“Happy birthday. I hope you like it.” Anxiously she waited for his reaction.

Philippe walked slowly into the room and stretched out a hand to stroke the top of the desk.

“It’s beautiful.”

Julia breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’ve given it a clean and a bit of a polish, but it will need more. The leather inlay will have to be replaced.”

“It’s the best birthday present,” Philippe said, turning to her and giving her a hug. “Thank you. My computer is in the car. I’ll go and get it with the rest of the stuff from my study.”

“Christiane should be here soon with lunch and coffee for the men,” Julia said. “I’ll just go and reassure them that they’ll get a drink soon.”

It was mid-afternoon before the removal men left and the sorting out of the house could begin in earnest.

Julia left Christiane unpacking boxes in the sitting-room and went upstairs to find duvets and sheets to make up the bed ready to collapse into that evening.

Philippe was in his new study busy sorting out a tangled mess of computer wires. He called out as he heard her on the landing.

“I put that black bag with your mum’s boxes in the small bedroom, by the way. It almost got thrown away with the rubbish.”

Shocked, Julia stood still. She’d assumed that Philippe would realise that anything in a black bag was to be discarded.

“I wanted them thrown away,” she said.

There was a short silence before Philippe came out on to the landing and looked at her curiously.

“You can’t be serious about throwing them away without at least checking the contents?”

“That’s what I planned to do,” Julia said defiantly. “I decided I didn’t need to know about whatever else is in the boxes. The decree absolute was enough.”

Philippe sighed.

“You could live to regret that decision. I know it’s hard for you, but you should go through the boxes and then talk to Travis.

“He is the only blood relative you have, after all. I think you’d like him if you’d only talk to him. I do,” he added hesitantly.

“You’ve talked to him?”

“We’ve had a brief conversation. He’s got a box of papers from your father that could perhaps answer some of the questions that your mother’s boxes raise.

“Why don’t you ring him and suggest you go through the boxes together?” He looked at her intently as he took her gently in his arms. “Then we can put the whole episode behind us and get on with our lives.”

Standing there secure in her husband’s arms, Julia felt the urge to fight leave her. Why was she really refusing to talk to Travis?

She knew her mother had loved her unreservedly and nobody could take that away from her, or erase the wonderful memories she had of her childhood.

She took a deep breath.

“OK. I’ll phone Travis later and invite him for lunch and together we’ll go through the boxes. But right now,” she said, moving out of Philippe’s arms, “I’m going to be sick again.”

Julia made a dash for the bathroom, leaving Philippe standing there with a worried look on his face.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.