Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 65


“THANKS.” Holly smiled at him as he brought her a glass of her gran’s punch, then started laughing.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Us.”

“Well, yes. I didn’t expect that we, of all people, would be seeing in the next year as a couple!” He laughed, clearly also thinking back to their earlier, less than cordial encounters. “Maybe I should have expected it, though,”
he added more seriously, “because right from the start I couldn’t get you out of my mind.”

“Nor could I get you out of mine,” Holly said.

When she had phoned Glyn for advice at the start of the campaign to save the tree, she had briefly wondered whether she’d made a mistake finishing with him. But she was now certain she’d done the right thing. Glyn had never filled her thoughts the way Ollie had, from the very beginning.

Ollie went to assist Evie’s Stan, who appeared to be having trouble opening a bottle of wine, and Jessica took his place by Holly’s side.

“I heard what you were saying. Do you think,” she said to Holly, “I should maybe set myself up as a fortune-teller? Because I certainly expected it! I knew from that first meeting that you were destined for each other.”

Holly looked at her.

“Was that why you broke up with him?”

“Yes. There was no way I could compete, even if I had wanted to. Ollie saved Two Shires Oak for you, Hol. Oh, I have no doubt he would have saved it for his grandmother, anyway.

“But I was watching closely that day, and I can tell you for certain that he hadn’t spotted her at the moment he shouted out to the men to stop. So it was all for you.”

Holly’s grandad, Phil, joined them then.

“How’s the job search going?” he asked with genuine interest. Holly knew he liked Jessica, whom he described as one of those people who made the world a brighter place. Holly knew what he meant. Certainly she was brightening the house tonight, looking stunning in flame-coloured silk.

“I’ve decided,” Jessica replied, gesturing over to where Luigi was now trying to help get the awkward cork out of the bottle, “that when my grandad returns to Italy next week, I’m going with him, to look for work there.” She paused, her face oddly flushed. “Italy is, after all, where I fell in love with art.”

“Good.” Phil nodded. “If you need a reference at any time, you’re welcome to give my name. I’ll tell them you were my prize student!”

“Oh, thank you!” Jessica was herself again, all dazzling smiles. “It’ll be a great help, I’m sure, in my first step to becoming director of some big important gallery in Milan or somewhere!”

Phil laughed, but it occurred to Holly, as once before, that beneath her frivolous front there was a lot to Jessica.

At that moment they all turned, their attention distracted by a happy yell from over by the fireplace. Evie had noticed the necklace Francesca was wearing.

“That’s the one you had made from the three leaves you took from Two Shires Oak! I’m so pleased you’re wearing it, because I’ve brought my leaves, too.”

She broke off to find her bag and get the old nursing textbook in which she’d preserved them.

“Is that the book that kind nurse gave to you after the accident at the pit?” Grace asked. “Sylvia?”

“Yes, duck.”

The three older women fell silent, thinking back to the disaster which had had repercussions for so many in the community, including themselves. It was that very incident which had ended their time together beneath the tree in such a very sad and sudden way.

Holly particularly noticed Evie’s expression. No doubt she was thinking of Alan, her first husband, whom she’d met when he’d helped after the explosion. They had married underneath the old oak, but had too few years together.

“I’ve still got my leaves,” Grace said, “but they’re not here with me, unfortunately.”

Holly wondered if she was about to say more, but Grace left it there. Probably, Holly guessed, she did not want right now to go into how she’d given them to Holly’s mum, Suzanne, when she had first joined the overseas aid agency and travelled abroad, to keep her safe.

Suzanne had then left them with Holly’s father, Tom, to keep him safe. For a moment, Holly felt tearful. Here were two people she was sure loved each other, just as she was starting to think she loved Ollie, yet they were separated by circumstances.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.