Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 18

THE telephone rang. It was Francesca’s mother, backtracking on the previous day.

“Just to reassure you, darling, that we’re both fine.”

Her father must have told her that she had paid him a visit at the office. Francesca replied by inviting her parents round for dinner that evening.

She made a chicken main course, and when they had finished, she took a gulp of wine.

“Clear a space please, dear,” she said to Oliver and left the room, knowing they’d all be expecting a big dessert. Well, they would be wrong!

She came back in and placed on the table a model of the house they hoped to have eventually as their family home.

“I told you Oliver was designing something for us. This is it,” she told her parents. One by one she pointed out the features Oliver had incorporated for Marianne’s needs, as a child and later. Her father seemed impressed.

“Will you build it for us?” she asked her father.

“Francesca!” Oliver scolded. “You haven’t spoken to me about this.”

“I tried to. Besides, you have never said my father didn’t build houses well, just that you thought them too basic.”

He turned to her father.

“It is true. I never said your workmanship was bad.”

“And I never said your designs were bad,” her dad retorted. “Just that they seemed extravagant. But times change.” He looked at Francesca. “I’ve been considering what you said, young lady, and you’re right, some materials aren’t as pricey now as they were after the war.”

“So,” Francesca interrupted, her heart soaring, “you admire each other’s work. Why can’t you work together, then?”

Both men needed to have their own shows. If only they could learn partnership in business.

They stayed around the table until the early hours of the morning, Francesca and her mother providing them with coffee and toast. Eventually, they reached an agreement where Oliver’s firm would do some designs for Francesca’s father’s company. Oliver would not charge for them initially, to help his father-in-law’s cash flow. Instead, his firm would take a percentage of the profits on successful completion of the projects.

Dawn was near when she and Oliver, arm-in-arm, waved her parents off. A new day for a new relationship, and not just between her husband and her father. Francesca now had a new relationship with herself. She realised that she could make a difference to those around her. Despite her wealth, maybe because of it and the protected life it had provided, Francesca could see now that she had mainly observed situations, and lacked the self-belief that she could try to fix them herself.

Having never had to struggle for anything, like Grace and Evie had, she’d always doubted her own importance, that her opinions did count for something.

Now she knew that they did.

*  *  *  *

Grace stood by the window, looking out into the darkness and matching her breathing to the sea’s rhythmic sigh to calm her down. She was livid with Sabrina’s impending visit. Francesca had been right in her most recent letter, though her comments had been a bit more confident and forthright than Fran’s usually were, Grace had thought.

The woman is poison, she had written. She’s always been strange with you, Grace. Who does she think she is? My advice is do not have her in your house again.

But there had been other things going on. The realisation that Phil’s money was running out, that they couldn’t continue their idyllic life with her looking after little Suzanne and him painting seascapes. So the issue of Sabrina had never really been discussed. Of course, Phil had noticed Sabrina’s frosty tone with Grace on occasion, but as soon as he reprimanded her she would play it down and apologise.

However, Grace was under no illusions. Sabrina disliked her, and that it had always been because she wanted Phil for herself, she was sure. Phil didn’t see it and wouldn’t contemplate that the woman could possibly like him in that manner.

“I was a friend of her brother’s, I’m sure that’s all she sees me as,” he had said.

And now Sabrina had turned up with Phil’s friends, Jefferson and Mary, who were on their way to Scotland for some landscape painting and wanted to stay overnight. Grace liked the married couple best out of all Phil’s artist friends, and looked forward to seeing them.

“Does Sabrina even paint?” she had asked Phil when he told her they were coming.

He had laughed.

“She tries to, but not very well. Her brother was the talented one.”

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”.