THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter 1, part 1
Amsterdam, justly renowned for the beauty of its city center, is nonetheless a bit of a maze. Tory stopped in a convenient ell to study her map. After a not-very-edifying morning around Dam Square, she wanted a traditional Dutch pancake for her lunch, and had no interest in accidentally veering into the Red Light District on her way to the pannekoekhuis. “If I’ve figured out how to pronounce it,” she muttered, tracing the swirling lines of the city’s spiderweb, “I should be able to get to it.” She lifted her head, though, when an unexpected sound penetrated the bustle of the city – a shout for help?
Tory trotted toward the sound, and it came again as she reached a corner. There, just ahead on the side street, were three or four people clustered around a man lying on the sidewalk. She joined the group quickly, saying, “I’m a nurse. Could I help?”
“Thank goodness,” one of the women standing by said with an English accent, as the man on the ground spoke up through clenched teeth.
“I only stepped off the curb, but my foot slipped oddly from under me, and my right leg’s quite painful.” His pale face, lightly beaded with sweat, testified he was understating the case.
“Has anyone phoned for an ambulance?” Tory asked, kneeling by the stranger and beginning a gentle examination of his leg. “It’s easier than you might think to break a bone just by twisting it while walking about. And I’m afraid,” she added, skimming a hand lightly over the tell-tale protrusion, “that you’ve fractured your fibula.”
Her sidewalk patient grimaced while above them the Englishwoman cried, “Oh, Frank!”
“The ambulance?” Tory asked again.
“Perhaps I might assist?” a new voice interjected, in a deep rumble with just a hint of the mellifluous Dutch accent. Tory glanced up – and up – a long way up! The newcomer was strikingly tall, and strikingly handsome; and now he was kneeling on the other side of the injured man from her, speaking rapid Dutch into a cell phone. While her hands automatically did the limited first aid appropriate, her eyes and brain registered fair hair shading to silver at the temples, pale blue eyes, determined chin, not-quite-Roman nose and full lips. She blushed as she realized those lips were now directing a question to her, and those eyes had noticed her staring.
“You’re a doctor?” he asked. “I am, as well; an orthopedist with a practice here in Amsterdam.”
Tory rushed to explain, “I’m just a nurse, doctor. This gentleman seems to have a closed fracture of the fibula, with possible involvement of the tibia. I think I’ve done all I can for first aid.”
“Surely there’s no such thing as ‘just’ a nurse, please,” the doctor replied. “You and your colleagues are essential to the successful practice of medicine, and you’ve done well here. I’ve contacted the hospital, and our ambulance will be along shortly. How are you feeling now, sir?” he asked, turning to the patient. “The technicians will be able to administer some pain relief.”
“Well, I’m very grateful for the diagnosis and the young lady’s help,” the Englishman answered. “I admit I wouldn’t say no to some kind of painkiller, though.” As he spoke, the sound of a siren neared, and people moved away to make room for the ambulance. Tory stood and felt a hand on her elbow. The Englishwoman who had spoken first had grabbed her.
“Thank you so much for helping my husband,” she said. “Poor Frank! My nursing skills don’t go beyond sticking on a plaster, and I know he was in a lot of pain, even if he was trying not to show it. I didn’t want to make it worse! Do you think he’ll be okay?”
“I’ve heard great things about the medical care in the Netherlands,” Tory answered. “In fact, I think the medical school at Leiden was one of the first in the world. Your husband should be fine here, and lower-leg breaks usually heal up thoroughly in a few months.”
“What a way to end a vacation! I’m Valerie Bailey, by the way; and Frank and I are indebted to you. Could I offer you dinner tonight as a thank-you?”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t take you away from your husband tonight. He’ll probably need a minor surgical procedure, and maybe a night at the hospital. And I barely did anything.”
“Well, let me know your name, at least. Are you a tourist, like us?”
“Tory Bird.” They shook hands. “I’m here for just a few days, sightseeing. Then I’ll head home to the U.S.”
“Isn’t it funny you’d be the one to help us? We’ve been staying at the American Hotel, thinking it was an odd name for Amsterdam! It’s lovely, though the Leidesplein is a bit bright. But now here’s an American to help when we need it most. Are you staying at the hotel, too?” Valerie kept on chattily, keeping one eye – sometimes both – on the activity by the ambulance.
“I’m at the Pulitzer,” Tory answered. “They put it together from something like twenty of the old town houses, and the place is like a jigsaw puzzle with funny corners and doorways and odd little hallways, two steps up, then jog left and turn sharp right for the elevator. But it’s right on a canal, with the old-fashioned street lights. It’s a gorgeous city, isn’t it?” Tory figured some mindless social chat might help calm Mrs. Bailey’s jangled nerves.
“Oh, beautiful. And so romantic.” Valerie perked up as the doctor gestured to her. “They’ve settled him, I think, so I suppose I’ll be off. Thank you again for everything.” Another handshake, and she was darting away to follow her husband’s recumbent form into the back of the ambulance. Tory dusted herself off, slung her purse back onto her shoulder, and began to dig for the map she had stowed there.
“And my thanks to you also,” the doctor said, striding briskly toward her. Tory willed herself not to stare, though from his fair hair to his broad shoulders to his powerful legs the man warranted a closer look. “You showed fine presence of mind and kindness.”
“Good heavens, I scarcely did anything.” She ducked her head, embarrassed by the praise, and by the rush of warmth it induced in her.
“But a kind word, a kind smile, and a light touch mean the world to someone in shock and pain. Do you need directions, or transport? Where are you headed?”
“Just off to lunch,” Tory chirped brightly. “Pancakes.”
The giant’s pale eyebrows rose, then his lids dropped to hood the bright blue eyes. His smile was charming. “An excellent choice after unexpected exertion,” he said. “If you follow this street to its end and turn left, you’ll quickly come to the Prinsengracht. Turn right, and a few minutes’ walk will bring you to the Pancake Bakery – the best pancakes in Amsterdam. I’d be delighted to escort you there, but I’m due at the hospital for a consultation.”
“No, no, quite all right of course,” Tory gushed. “I’m really enjoying exploring your city. All quite beautiful and enjoyable.” How she wished for some of her sister’s savoir faire as she struggled not to babble. “Thank you, doctor.”
“Maximillan van den Nie,” he said, extending a large hand. Tory reached out her own, murmuring her name, and risked a glance up. She smiled a good-bye, and he returned the gesture, thinking how delightfully her bright smile transformed a rather ordinary face. Then she turned about and headed away, while Mr. van den Nie resumed his fast pace down the street, deep in contemplation of techniques for rehabilitating elderly knee-replacement patients.
Tory, moving in a more leisurely fashion, was likewise sunk into her thoughts, or rather her impressions of Mr. van den Nie’s deep voice, his strong hands, his thoughtfulness – and her own lack of social grace! She shook her head to clear her mind and struck out more briskly. It was no use worrying about what impression she might have made, or not made, on a man she’d never see again; better to focus on a plan for making the most of the Rijksmuseum in the limited time available that afternoon.
Stuffed with pancakes, 17th-century silver and Rembrandt, Tory strolled back to the hotel as evening settled over the canals and their gracefully arched bridges, peering into the well-lit, centuries-old houses for the ready views of warm, welcoming interiors. After making her way up two flights and down three corridors to get to the hotel room, she flopped onto the bed on her back and lifted her feet toward the ceiling – a favorite posture for relaxing after being on her feet all day.
A brisk stride in the hallway alerted her that her sister was returning from a day of business meetings, and as the door opened she peered around her raised legs to smile at Jane, who dropped her briefcase and kicked off her shoes.
“Busy day? Productive?” Tory asked as Jane flopped onto the bed beside her.
“Great, but now I’ve got tons of notes to sort through. Three days and eleven investment prospects! I think I’ve got two definites and three definitely-nots, but it’s the maybes – the ones I’m not sure about, one way or the other – that are always hardest. How about you, lazybones? Did you find some fun?”
“Dam Square and the Palace, pretty boring; french fries with curry mayonnaise, pretty greasy; gigantic pancake that flopped over the edges of a dinner plate with cheese and ginger, fabulously delicious, yummiest thing I’ve tasted in ages; and the Rijksmuseum is incredible. I would love to go back if you want to take a look tomorrow,” Tory reported.
“Absolutely,” Jane confirmed. “I’ve seen ‘The Night Watch’ but I’d see it again and again, and I’m sure there’s lots more to explore there. So did you like the Rijksmuseum better than the van Gogh?”
“Silly question, Jane. They’re too different. How nice we live in a world where we get both. A world where we have high-powered, glamorous, urban businesswomen and mild-mannered, mousy, country nurses. Oh,” Tory added, raising her arms against the pillow Jane swung toward her head, “I helped out an English tourist who broke his leg.”
“Broke his leg? Here in the city?”
“One of these cobbled side streets, and he caught his foot in a tiny pothole and twisted the leg as he went down. Very nasty way to end your vacation, I must say,” Tory clarified.
“You didn’t have to do much, did you? No splinting? Open break or closed?” Jane asked.
“Don’t turn into Dr. Jane on me, now. Basically just gave him a hanky, identified the injury, and waited for the ambulance. And not even much of that,” Tory admitted, “since a big Dutch doctor came along and took over just before the ambulance got there.”
“A big Dutch doctor? Is that a new specialization? They don’t run to fat much here,” Jane noted.
“Not fat,” Tory said. “Tall. Very tall, and broad, and blond, and actually quite – I don’t know – hunky? – in a well-dressed, low-key way.”
“Well, well, well.” Jane leapt up and began pulling off her dark wool suit. “You’ll tell me more about him over the rijsttafel. Let’s get going soon, though, because I missed lunch and must have my dinner. You’ve got first dibs on the bathroom.”
Tory flipped upright and walked into the luxuriously-equipped bathroom, peering at her reflection in the well-lit mirror. The familiar face peered back, not magically transformed, still soft outlines of rounded cheeks, a slightly snub nose, unremarkable mouth. Her skin shone with youth and health, and her large, wide-set eyes were an unusually deep green, “But who ever gets close enough to look?” she muttered, pulling a brush through her mouse-brown hair.
“What’s that?” Jane called from her foray through the closet in the next room.
“Just wishing I had cheekbones,” Tory called back, clipping her thick ponytail into a barrette.
“Three shades of foundation and two of blusher, and you’ve got cheekbones,” Jane announced, taking control of the sink and mirror with a thrust of her hip. She had changed into slacks and a thick, cowl-necked cashmere sweater. “You’ll want a warmer jacket, I think. It was getting a bit brisk as I came back.”
Easy to joke, Tory thought as she dug into their shared closet, when you’ve got cheekbones that would slice a tomato, and auburn hair most women dye for, “and you’re tall enough to reach the back of this shelf!” she finished at a quiet roar.
“Oh, dear,” Jane commiserated, reaching over her literally-little sister’s head, “someone needs a good meal with plenty of protein, and a bit of perspective. If you’re not careful, I’ll ask Dr. Bachman to send you to work in a burn ward for a few months. Is this what you want?” she asked, handing over the chunky Nordic-patterned sweater Tory had knit herself the previous winter.
“Thank you, big sis. Let’s get going; you’re right about the protein – though what’s really going to pick me up is a spicy peanut sauce.”
As they left the hotel, Jane asked casually, “So, I thought you were enjoying your visit here. What’s got you needing a peanut-sauce picking up?”
“Nothing, really. I’m loving the time off, and believe it or not I’m enjoying city living for a few days, especially in this particular city. It’s great. I guess I got a little down talking about that doctor, and thinking about how I decided to do my nursing degree instead of going off to medical school, and not being a sparkling, fascinating woman of mystery that tall blond men would follow down the street.”
“Well, I don’t know whether this helps at all,” Jane replied, “but I think all of us have moments like that. I mean, here I am, 34 years old and heart-whole, living a fast-paced, overpaid, high-stress life in investment management when I trained to be a doctor to help and heal. I’ve got a swank apartment and expensive clothes, but when I think of the life you lead in Bristol, and the warmth and kindness of the community you have there, a lot of what I’ve got and what I do seems pretty hollow.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Tory exclaimed. “Jane, you’re so good. You’re such a great sister, and you’re so good at your job, and that socially-responsible investing thing is going to change the world, and – yikes, look! Don’t look!” Tory paused for a breath, then hissed, “Just stop here, stay casual. Look at the canal. Now look just on the other side of the bridge, that gray car pointing toward us. I’m pretty sure that’s Dr. den ver Nie, or whatever his name was, driving.”
“They do have long names, don’t they?” Jane answered, pointing at nothing as her part in the charade. “That’s a Rolls-Royce, by the way. The Phantom. A little roomier, and less pricey, than the Coupé, but still a very rich man’s automobile.” She dropped her hand as the car eased toward them. “And I see what you mean about the driver. Even without the car for background, that’s a handsome man.”
“Well, that’s my Amsterdam adventure, then. Helping an Englishman and stammering stupidly at a millionaire Dutch doctor. Let’s get at that peanut sauce now, and on the way back to the hotel we can peer in people’s windows. I love that they leave the curtains open. I saw one room today, honestly in a 17th-century house or whatever, that had dark purple walls with pale purple trim and wide, random slashes of turquoise. Apparently someone got tired of lace curtains and dark wood and Delft pottery on the mantelpiece, glowing discreetly in a beam of filtered light.”
Jane laughed and threw an arm around her sister as they set off again. At the restaurant, Tory actually forgot Maximillan van den Nie in the novelty of the Indonesian buffet set down on their table, with its two-bite tastes of twenty different dishes to serve over rice. She and Jane laughed and talked their way through the various offerings, celebrating their pleasure in each other’s company, and the fun of trying something new, and the beauty of the Netherlands’s capital city. As they sat over tea after the meal, both quiet for once, Tory reflected on her great fortune in having such a strong friendship with her big sister, despite the eight-year age difference, and the very different lives the two of them live. “And then there’s the twins,” she said, half-aloud.
“What’s that?” Jane asked.
“I was just thinking about the twins,” Tory answered. “I’m going to bring them some gouda.”
“Well, that sounds lovely,” Jane answered, smiling. “You’re such a genuinely nice person.”
“I was brought up right,” Tory teased – Jane having been responsible for much of her upbringing, while their learned parents had focused on academic research, teaching and frequent travel. “Let’s head back, shall we? I’m still fighting the adjustment from New Hampshire time. And thanks for the compliment!”
Just for a moment, walking back in the crisp, fresh air, watching the moonlight gild the water of the canals, enjoying the almost lacey delicacy of the arched bridges, Tory’s mind flashed up a memory of Dr. van den Nie’s smile. It is a romantic place, she thought, remembering Valerie Bailey’s words, and hooked an arm through her sister’s, drawing her close. The two of them strolled contentedly, looking forward to a Saturday exploring together. And not too far away, the big Dutch doctor, checking Frank Bailey’s altogether satisfactory chart, gave a moment’s thought to the quietly competent young American nurse. Lovely eyes, he recalled, and nothing fussy about her.