Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 66

THE doorbell rang and Holly hurried to attend to it, grateful to get away for a couple of minutes to compose herself. They had invited the couple next door to drop by, so she imagined it would be them.


For what was probably just seconds but felt far longer, she stood there, gawping at the figure on the step. Then she gasped.

“Dad? Oh, Dad!” With a whoop of joy, she threw herself into his arms.

Her mum appeared in the hallway, alerted by their voices. She, too, just stood and stared at first.

“Tom! You’re here for the New Year with us?”

“I’m here . . . for good,” he replied shakily, “if you want that, Suzanne. I’ve realised I have given enough of my life to my work. Now I want that proper home together that you always talked about. If that’s still on?”

Holly didn’t wait for her mother’s response because at that point someone turned the TV on and she could hear twelve o’clock chiming. Moreover, she knew from the look on her mum’s face what it would be, anyway!

Standing in front of Phil’s painting of Two Shires Oak, Francesca’s husband, Oliver – after whom her Ollie, now standing beside her, was named – led a toast to his wife, Grace and Evie.

“To three much-loved ladies, and to their friendship which has survived, not just into a new century but a new millennium, too!”

Their cheers drowned those from the television, especially when Tom suddenly started searching inside one of the bulging bags he had with him, and produced the little silver frame with the three leaves that Grace had taken from the old tree.

* * * *

Right, so, who can this one be from? Ah, Holly!” Jessica smiled in delight as she identified the sender of the e-mail that had just arrived to her computer.

She had been half expecting one, having herself written to Holly the previous day to wish her a happy wedding anniversary.

Eagerly she read her friend’s news:

And we went for a meal last night to celebrate. Twelve years since Ollie and I got married. Can you believe it, Jessica? Seems just like yesterday in some ways. My mum babysat and said the kids were angels. Well, we had taken them out during the day to get them tired! We had a picnic under Two Shires Oak, which is even more special to me now, since it brought me and Ollie together. Even though I agree it didn’t always look as though it was going to! I’ve attached a photograph.

Jessica opened the picture. In the distance were the houses that Ollie had built – which included one for himself and Holly as their family home. He had gone ahead with his plans, but modified them a lot so they in no way encroached on the tree. And the general consensus was that he had been right. The new houses, with the new people in them, did benefit the community.

In the foreground of the photo Holly and Ollie’s two young boys pulled what Jessica imagined they believed were scary faces, and waved.

Waving back at them, though obviously they couldn’t see her, Jessica returned to the message. Though she knew this through her own communications with them all, Holly confirmed that everyone was doing fine.

You’ll be seeing the original three old friends yourself soon, Jessica, the e-mail concluded. They’re planning a trip out to Italy to visit you, so my grandad told me. He was thinking about you the other day and your ambitions to become director of a big gallery in Milan.

Jessica laughed out loud at that last bit. She stood up and went over to the window. She had gone ahead with moving to Italy. But she was not living in a fashionable, elegant city. Instead, she was in a crumbly old farmhouse, with never a minute’s peace and quiet, what with four kids far noisier than Holly and Ollie’s, or probably anyone else’s in the world. Not to mention her grandad, Luigi, who was in one of their outhouses which had been converted into an apartment for him to play his opera CDs all day!

She smiled, remembering telling Phil that she was returning to Italy because that was where she had “fallen in love with art”.

That had been part of it. But another part was that she’d fallen in love with Enzo, now her husband, still working as a stonemason and also making a name for himself as a sculptor.

So she wasn’t a bigwig in the art world! Who cared? She reckoned hers was still la dolce vita – a very wonderful life.

Going back to the computer, she looked again at the photograph of Two Shires Oak. Yes, she had all the important things. She was sure the old tree, which had seen so much, would agree.

*  *  *  *

Standing sentry on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, the oak looked content with its life, a warm breeze gently shaking its branches. Or was it actually shaking with kindly laughter at the chatter of the young girls from the new houses nearby, who had taken to meeting in its shade every day?

If it could hear them, nothing much of what they said of their dreams would be new to this ancient comforter and protector. But, like so many before them, they were very welcome beneath its boughs.

The End.

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”.