Under The Elm Tree – Episode 23

THE day after Boxing Day, Ella was upstairs, packing. She was keen to get back to the cottage and finish clearing it out. She wanted to get on with her designs, too, and she needed another look at Wembury House. The sooner the better, she thought, thinking of her dwindling savings. I’ll ask Joe when I get back, I’m sure he won’t mind.

She was collecting her wash things from the bathroom when the doorbell chimed. She didn’t take much notice, assuming it was a neighbour or someone about the building works, so she was surprised when her mother called up to her.


“What is it, Mum? I’m busy.”

“Can you come down for a minute?”

“I haven’t finished packing.”

“Darling, I think you should. Please?”

She ran down the stairs, but when she reached the hallway, she stopped dead.

It was Martin! He was standing on the doorstep, holding a large bunch of white roses.

“Whatever are you doing here?” she stammered, her heart thumping wildly as she walked towards him.

“I’ve come to say I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly. He thrust the flowers at her, knocking off one of the buds as he did so. “I’ve made a terrible mistake, Ella. I want you back.”

Ella was on tenterhooks. She plumped the sofa cushion behind her, sat back and then sat forward again. She was longing to ask her gran’s friend about the mysterious painting, but she didn’t want her to think it was the only reason for their visit.

“Do you remember my sister, Megan, Mrs Forster?” she asked instead, leaning down to stroke Ruby the spaniel’s silky head.

“Of course I do, dear. And please call me Margaret,” the old lady replied. “Mrs Forster makes me feel so ancient.”

The three of them were sitting in the cosy front room of Margaret’s house on April Terrace, having tea.

“Mind you,” Margaret added, handing Megan a rose-patterned cup and saucer, “you were only little when you used to come to stay with your gran. You’re quite grown up now.”

“Most of the time,” Ella said, pulling a childish face which made them laugh.

Megan took the cup and saucer, and placed it on a little table beside her.

“I’m only staying tonight,” Ella’s sister explained. “I’m on my way back to Southsea – that’s where I live. I reckoned it must be a bit lonely for Ella with just packing boxes for company, so I decided to pop in for a surprise visit.”

“Indeed it must be,” Margaret agreed. She turned to Ella. “Have you decided what you’re going to do, dear? About your job, I mean?”

Ella’s heart sank at the mention of her interior design job. She’d done nothing else but think about her situation lately, and the last thing she wanted to do was talk about it.

“Actually, I’ve handed in my resignation,” she said. “They’re letting me use the holidays I’m owed to work out my notice. It would have been really hard going back to the office with Martin working there,” she added quietly. “I’ve started looking for another post, but I’ve had no luck yet.”

“Just keep trying, my dear. Something will turn up. This recession can’t last for ever.” Margaret held out the plate of scones Ella had made that morning and brought along as a gift.

“I don’t suppose you’ve heard the latest?” Megan said, helping herself to a golden-topped scone.

Margaret looked at her enquiringly.

“Martin wants her back!” Megan declared triumphantly.

Margaret raised her eyebrows.

“And are you going back, Ella?”

Her heart contracted.

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “I still care about him, but I don’t even know if I want to go back to London at all. The only thing is that all the best positions are in London, so I suppose I’ll have to.” Suddenly she bent her head to her hands as the events of the past few weeks pressed down on her. “It’s all such a muddle.”

“Well, if it were me, I’d tell him to get lost,” Megan said, splashing two lumps of sugar into her tea and stirring vigorously.

Ella looked up.

“It’s not that simple, Megs.”

“It is if you want it to be.”

The ticking of the mantel clock sounded loud in the silence that followed.

“If you’d like an old lady’s advice,” Margaret said gently, “then do what your heart tells you.”

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.