Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 60

THIS girl had been with him when Holly had confronted him beneath the tree that afternoon in autumn. And that same evening in the hotel bar, when she’d first sung the song she’d written, it had been clear to her there was something between Jessica and the developer.

Holly wondered briefly whether she was mistaken. But no, it definitely was her. The girl’s striking looks made her memorable.

Wanting space to weigh up this unexpected situation, at first Holly stayed in the background, getting tea or coffee for everyone. After all, everyone was talking, including her grandad, who knew Jessica from the summer school at which he had taught. It struck her that Phil seemed quite fond of Jessica, which confused her even more, bearing in mind the way he felt about the tree.

“I didn’t write as often as I should have towards the end of our time in France,” she heard her grandmother apologising to Evie. “I’d started feeling homesick, you see, and hearing from people back here made me even worse. But as soon as we returned, I went to see you.”

“And I’d gone.” Evie nodded her understanding. “Yes, we’ve moved a lot recently. It’s Stan, he’s got itchy feet. But we’ve never strayed too far from Two Shires Oak. And, like we said on the phone last night, isn’t it terrible what that man’s thinking of doing to our tree?”

Holly, like Evie, was a straightforward person. She decided the best way to find out where Jessica stood was simply to ask her.

“This business with the tree must put you in a difficult position,” she said as she refilled her cup with tea.

Jessica looked at her, blankly at first, then light seemed to dawn.

“Oh, no, Ollie and I aren’t romantically involved, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Ollie?” Enzo, who’d been looking out the window, turned round quickly. “Who is Ollie?”

“He’s the guy who wants to develop the land round Two Shires Oak,” Jessica told him.

Then she turned round to the others.

“I went out with Ollie a few times, true, but there is nothing whatsoever between us now. I want our tree saved every bit as much as anyone else here. Believe me!”

That last, Holly thought, was particularly directed at her. And she did believe her. She would tell Jessica so.

“So, Evie, you’re staying with Julia while you get work done on this last house you’ve moved into?” Grace asked, returning the conversation to where it had been.

“We are. And I’ll tell you the same as I’ve told Stan, this is the last time. I’m never moving again! I guess, too, that was how we both lost touch with Francesca. I mean, with her marrying Oliver, and him an architect, you have to assume he’d always be designing them showpiece new homes.”

“Hang on!” Jessica interrupted her grandmother. “This other friend of yours was called Francesca?”

“That’s right, duck. I must have mentioned her over the years.”

“Possibly, but I just never took it in, I guess. The thing is, I’m sure Ollie said his grandmother was called Francesca and that he was named after his grandfather. So he must have been Oliver – who was an architect! I’m certain he told me that.”

“Do you know the name of his mother?” Grace asked, eagerly exchanging a look with Evie.

“It was Marianne.”

“Francesca’s girl!” Evie said. “So this Ollie must be . . .”

“. . . Your old friend’s grandson!” Holly finished for her.

Apart from the wailing wind outside, the house, which just moments earlier had been so alive and noisy, suddenly fell quiet. Then they all started talking again, mostly about why they hadn’t realised earlier. But, as Holly pointed out, why should they have?

“He hasn’t got the same surname as Francesca and, anyway, everything’s in his company’s name, not his. That’s what we’ve always been hearing and reading about.”

“You’re right, Holly.” Grace nodded. “I knew Marianne had married, but I couldn’t have told you her husband’s surname.”

“Me, neither,” Evie said, “but I can tell you something – there is not a chance our Francesca can know his intentions. She would never let him cut down Two Shires Oak!”

“That settles it, then,” Holly said. “Our next step has to be . . .”

“. . . To find Francesca!” Grace and Evie chimed in.

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”.