Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 42

“SO you’ve come out here to Italy a few times over the past . . . how long is it now since Marco and his dad were reunited?” Evie asked Julia.

“Nearly two years. And, yes, this will be our fifth trip to see him.”

The two women were sitting together outside a café in the central square of the pretty little town in the hot south of the country where Marco’s dad lived.

Julia and Marco – and Jessica, of course – were becoming regular visitors. But this was the first time Evie and Stan, Julia’s stepfather, had accompanied them. They were about to move house and had fancied a break before the upheaval – though it was not far, just nearer Stan’s home town of Sheffield.

“As you know, this is my first time abroad,” Evie continued. “But I like it! Except maybe for the garlic. I’m not keen there. Grace wasn’t, either, when she first moved to France.”

“How is Grace?”

“I hardly hear from her these days.” Evie shook her head and frowned. Then she smiled. “And the trees here are pretty, all the lemons and that, but not a patch on our Two Shires Oak, I don’t think.”

Julia smiled, too.

“I agree with that!”

* * * *

In the big mirror in her and James’s bedroom, Marianne had a last look at herself in her Jean Muir dress. Was she dressed suitably for an evening in a posh London hotel with a load of top designers and architects? Of course she was! A successful interior designer herself, in matters of style she had the “eye”.

She gave her silky blonde hair a final brush, squirted on some Opium perfume then took off her shoes to tiptoe into her young son’s bedroom. Ollie – Oliver Ian, after his two grandfathers – had recently started school and was presently falling asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. Exhausting days, obviously!

She kissed his forehead and went downstairs.

“Are you still sure you don’t want to come?” she asked James. “We can get a babysitter.”

“No, I don’t mind staying here,” James insisted. “‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ is on the telly.” He glanced out of the window. “I think your taxi is here.”

Reflecting that James would probably be happier watching TV than attending the dinner, Marianne went out to the waiting car.

Cliff Richard’s hit, “We Don’t Talk Any More”, was playing on the vehicle’s radio. Marianne reflected that, though that would be going a bit far, it was true that, outside their home, she and James led very different lives. The remarks she’d first overheard when they’d started dating had persisted. What was a trendy interior designer, winning awards, her reputation growing all the time, doing with a frankly rather plodding solicitor like James?

Very occasionally, she wondered if they might each have been better off with someone more like themselves.

But once at the hotel Marianne wasn’t alone for long. She knew nearly everyone there and almost immediately fell into conversation with an architect called David from her father’s firm. They were discussing the hotel’s decor – too much brocade and gilt for Marianne’s own taste – when her parents, Oliver and Francesca, arrived.

Giving them each a hug, she was pleased by how well they looked. Recently, her father had given partner status to a number of his employees, including David with whom she’d been talking, and she’d wondered if he was thinking of retiring. He was still young. Was he perhaps ill? He had seemed preoccupied.

She’d been worried, but seeing them tonight, she felt reassured. Oliver was as lively as ever. When the five-course meal was finally over, a couple of people started clearing their throats to make speeches. Marianne could have predicted who they would be – those who famously liked the sound of their own voices!

Her dad was certainly not one of that group. No speech-maker he. So when he stood up, she was surprised, and after he spoke, she was stunned . . .

She was still in a state of shock when she arrived back home to James.

“My parents are going off around the world to see all the magnificent buildings he says he’s always wanted to see. They might be away a year!”

“Good luck to them!” James sounded genuinely delighted. “With the way your father has always worked so hard, they’ve never had proper holidays.”

“You’re right, it’ll be a wonderful experience.”

But at the same time Marianne felt uneasy . . .

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.