Under The Elm Tree – Episode 35

ELLA sat in a chair on the other side of the fireplace.

“You look gorgeous,” Martin said, raising his glass to her.

So do you, she thought, and it was on the tip of her tongue to tell him so. He’d always made her pulse race, and tonight was no exception, but again something held her back.

“It’ll only take us ten minutes to walk to the pub,” she said, keeping the conversation on a safe level.

“Good.” He reached for the bottle which Ella had placed inside the fender. “I’ll have a top up, then.”

An hour later, Martin had booked into his room at the Fox and Hounds, and they were being shown through to the restaurant area for their meal.

Friday night in the pub was always lively, and the sound of voices and laughter drifted through from the public bar.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “but there’s a band playing tonight. It makes for a good atmosphere, but it might be a bit noisy.”

“It’s great,” Martin assured her. “We can go round and listen when we’ve had our meal, if you like?”

Ella nodded. It sounded good. She hadn’t had a night out for ages.

The restaurant was softly lit with candles and a little vase of flowers on each of the tables, giving the room a romantic atmosphere. I hope Martin doesn’t get any ideas, she thought.

“So, how have you been?” Martin asked once they’d ordered their food.

“How do you think!” The retort was out before she could stop it. He reached out and touched her hand, which lay on the table, but she withdrew it as if she’d been stung. It was clearly not going to be as easy as she’d thought to talk about things.

“Don’t worry, Els. I understand, honestly I do. I hope you’ll feel differently, though, once you’ve heard me out.”

Their starters arrived – prawn cocktail for her and minestrone soup for him. The candlelight flickered gently on his skin, ironing out the tiredness in his face. He picked up his soup spoon and put it down again.

“The thing is,” he began, “what happened wasn’t anyone’s fault. You know, the thing with Karen and me.”

“No-one’s fault?” She stared at him. She’d thought she’d get an apology at least. “These things don’t just happen.”

“But that’s just the thing.” He leaned forward. “It did just happen. I wasn’t looking for anything, I promise. I bumped into her in the accounts office. Quite literally, as it happens.” He laughed.

Ella looked at him.

“And that’s funny, is it?” How could he be flippant when her heart had been torn to shreds?

“Don’t be like that.”

The waiter was hovering nearby, so they continued to eat their starters in silence.

“What do you think, then?” Martin resumed, when the dishes had been cleared.

“Think about what?” Ella knew she was being difficult, but she just couldn’t help it. There was an elephant in the room – an elephant called Karen.

As the main course arrived, the sound of musicians warming up drifted through from the public bar.

“I’m looking forward to the band,” she said, trying to keep the conversation general as she cut into her steak.

“We could go back to the cottage for coffee instead, if you like, to talk about things?”

She shook her head. It was proving more difficult being with Martin than she’d imagined.

“We can talk tomorrow,” she said firmly. “We’ve got all weekend, haven’t we?”

“I suppose so.”

The musicians launched into their first song, an Oasis number called “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”. Not bad advice, she told herself wryly.

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”.