Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 64

AT first it was all hugging and crying. Understandable, Holly knew, for here were the three of them, reunited in the very place their friendship had been formed.

But she was keen to know how Francesca had come to be there, and at last they all heard her story.

She had found out only that morning that Two Shires Oak was on land being bought by Ollie.

“I heard it from your dad,” she said to Ollie, then she explained to the rest of them that Ollie’s father, James, was a solicitor.

“That type of work isn’t his field and anyway . . .” there was another big smile for Ollie “. . . it isn’t your way to tell any of us much about what you’re doing until it’s all sorted out, is it? But that’s OK – we understand.”

However, a colleague of Ollie’s father had been handling the matter for Ollie, and James had just happened to be in that colleague’s office that morning, and had seen a plan of the land.

“He knew I’d grown up around here, and about the tree, because of my leaves necklace that Marianne was always borrowing from me at the time James met her. So he started wondering and got in touch with me.” Francesca laughed. “And I was so devastated about the tree being in danger that I got in my car and drove straight up!”

While she spoke, Francesca had been very composed but as soon as she came to mentioning the tree being in danger, her whole demeanour changed. Evie and Grace had been right, Holly reflected. Francesca would fight for the tree just as they would.

Though, in fact, it seemed nothing further was necessary.

“The tree is safe,” Ollie assured his grandmother, with a smile that showed his love for her. “Safe as . . . dare I say, my houses, now that I know its importance to you!”

A great cheer rose up, ringing out like bells, Holly thought as Ollie now hugged his gran. Yet it seemed to her that he was looking at her all the while.

* * * *

Holly and her mum, Suzanne, opened the big dining-room table as far as it would go. They had to push another one alongside it to extend it further – her gran had prepared so much food for the party! Of course, Grace was brilliant at that. Holly reckoned her catering had contributed to the success of the venture in France every bit as much as her grandad’s painting classes.

Mind you, that wasn’t to say that Phil didn’t paint beautifully. Holly stood back and looked at the big painting he’d done of Two Shires Oak, the one she’d copied for her CD boxes. She was aware that the evening’s guests would soon also all be admiring it.

“Is that everything done?” she asked Suzanne. “OK, I’ll go and get ready now.”

A short while later the guests arrived. They came in two taxis. In the first, a large people-carrier, were Evie and her husband, Stan, daughter and son-in-law, Julia and Marco, Marco’s dad, Luigi, Jessica, of course, and her younger brother, home from medical school.

The second taxi, pretty well on the first vehicle’s tail, contained the London contingent who were staying overnight in the hotel where Jessica was still sometimes working, and so had come from the same direction.

Holly, feeling uncharacteristically nervous, watched them getting out. Francesca and her husband, Oliver, very distinguished-looking; their daughter, Marianne, so stylish, and her much more conservatively dressed husband, James. Then came Ollie who, once inside the house, immediately introduced her to his parents. The butterflies flew away, for really Marianne and James were very nice and easy to talk to.

Her mum came over, saying to Marianne that no-one would remember but they had met before when they were very small – the two of them, and Julia, too.

“She’s over there. Come and have a word,” Suzanne said, linking Marianne’s arm and leading her across to where Julia was seated.

Watching them go, Holly was pleased that her mum and Ollie’s seemed to be hitting it off. The way things appeared to be going, it was important to her.

That memorable day when they were all round the tree, after Francesca had arrived and Ollie had announced that Two Shires Oak was safe, he had invited Holly out for dinner.

“Just, you know . . . to show there’re no hard feelings,” he’d said.

She had agreed, for the same reasons. But later, and not that much later – probably even before they’d got to the dessert and they had still several cups of coffee to go – it was apparent there was more than that. On both sides.

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”.