For installment one, look here. Installment two is right here.
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter Two, part1
Her five days in Amsterdam had been wonderful, but after an uneventful flight and the long drive home from the Boston airport, Tory was thrilled to see her elderly Subaru’s headlights shining onto the Bird family’s 19th-century farmhouse. Life in a sleepy lakeside village in New Hampshire held plenty of excitement for her, especially with her parents out of the country for a year-long research and teaching project in Turkey. She switched off the engine and heard the welcoming barks of Jennet and Hal, the family’s adopted mutts, and smiled with deep contentment. As she opened the door, the dogs rushed out while a long-haired grey cat, Fiona, slipped in.
Tory turned up the thermostat, dropped her suitcase at the foot of the stairs and checked food and water bowls; Jenny Fisher, her nearest neighbor, had taken good care of the pets while she was gone. Jenny had also left a loaf of bread on the kitchen table, and a note directing Tory to a pan of lasagna waiting in the refrigerator. She set the pasta in the oven to warm and headed upstairs to unpack, shower and change. Thirty minutes later, in flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers, she sat at the scrubbed wooden kitchen table, tucking in with the peculiar hunger of the jet-lagged. With the cat on her lap and the dogs at her feet, she felt the strong, peaceful pull of home. There might be a tinge of loneliness, but the next day would bring work, neighbors and friends. Jane was right, and Tory felt herself fortunate in living a very good life.
In the next few days, she slipped quickly back into her daily round, helping patients at the local family doctor’s office and doing chores at home. There was always a lot to do, since the Bird family home was old, and sat on a large plot of land. Tory tilled compost into the vegetable garden, picked the last of the apples to make and can applesauce, and called on that high school boyfriend, Rob Tucker, to help her get the storm windows up. She stopped by the Shop ’n’ Save to re-stock the refrigerator and pick up ingredients for Halloween cookies, looking forward to the parade of ballerinas and goblins that arrived that night. Walking and biking around her small town, she took time to notice the fading autumn colors against the brilliant blue of the October sky. It was always especially vivid at this time of year, and Tory relished it as insulation against the greyer days to come.
At work, Dr. Bachman and his receptionist, Millie Sharpe, quickly brought her up to speed on town happenings, with an emphasis on the progress of the local infants and elderlies, with an occasional foray into cancer, heart disease or bone fracture. Josh Brown, a town stalwart and busy orthopedist, was getting a first-hand view of his own rehab facility in Hanover after shattering an ankle while mountain biking. Millie’s mother was talking about moving to South Carolina. Diana Schwahnn, eight months pregnant, asked about the sisters’ trip to the Netherlands after her check-up. “I really, really envy you,” she said. “All your traveling! I told Andrew that we may be baby-bound this winter, but next year, as soon as the thermometer hits freezing, we’re flying out of here. This little girl won’t get that helicopter-parenting thing. As soon as she’s big enough to stay with her grandpa and grandma, I’m finding myself an exotic vacation spot and fleeing the cold and snow.”
“Well,” Tory answered, “I’m trying not to envy you a great husband and a baby on the way. Seriously, if you need a break when your daughter comes, I’d be happy to come over one evening.” She smiled at the thought of a fuzzy-haired newborn, and Diana smiled back.
“It’s a good thing you’re such a happy person, Tory,” she said. “You’re just beautiful when you smile. And there’s no one I’d trust more to babysit. When you’ve found Mr. Right, we can start one of those childcare cooperatives. Now I’d better waddle out of here before the snow starts. I don’t know what I’ll do if there’s a blizzard on when I go into labor!”
Diana hadn’t been speaking idly; the local news was warning of an early snowfall. At home, Tory checked the pantry to be sure of her supplies: canned food, of course, plus kerosene for the lamps, fresh batteries for the radio, and a couple gallons of water. It would be unusual to get a serious storm before November, but as Jenny down the road had remarked, “The weather around here is always unusual,” and Tory believed in being prepared. She trundled more logs up from the barn and stacked them in the mud room, ready to feed the wood stove.
The skies held out long enough for the smaller children to do their trick-or-treating in daylight. The office closed early that day, so its employees could be home to greet the early arrivals. Tory exclaimed over visiting astronauts, dragons, mice and witches and encouraged the kids to take miniature packets of peanuts or trail mix, rather than sweets, from her cauldron of treats. “I have to admit,” she told one rueful mother, “I would have taken something chocolatey when I was their age, too. In fact, I probably still would.”
“Speaking of chocolate,” her friend answered, “Jenny shared some of those chocolates you brought her from Amsterdam with me. They were outrageous! If that’s the payment, please let me take care of the dogs next time you’re away. Any more plans to travel?”
“Good heavens, I just got back. Mother and Dad would like me to come out to Turkey while they’re there, and I might try that toward spring. It’s a long trip, though; it’s hard to do with just a week off from work.”
“I forgot – all of you Birds love the winter here, don’t you? Now me, as soon as the kids are grown and I can figure out how to work a telecommute deal, I’m for a condo in Florida from October ’til April!”
Looking up at the sky as the older children started to appear toward dusk, Tory gave thanks that she did indeed love the winter. It certainly looked like they were getting an early start that year, as the clouds massed and lowered, and the wind began to pick up. Switching on the outdoor light, she looked with satisfaction at the Franklin stove that could keep the whole house warm if needed. She’d already started a fire in it, and set a kettle of water on top to heat for a cup of tea before supper. When she opened the door at the next ring of the bell, she saw the snowflakes were beginning to fall.
“Hey, Ms. Bird,” a gangly teenager greeted her from the group on the front step. “We wanted to make sure we stopped by here in case you made cookies.”
“Mack?” Tory asked, and the tall boy’s friends parted to allow a better view. “In whiteface? Oh, you’re a mime! That’s a great outfit.”
“I’m an evil mime,” Mack clarified. “You can tell by the eyebrows.”
“Fantastic,” Tory clapped her hands together, enchanted by the kids’ creativity. “And you must be an evil prom queen, and you are clearly a headless basketball player. And is that Gina? Gina, I’m stumped.”
“I think I should only tell you if you’ve got cookies,” the glamorous girl in cat’s eye glasses, white makeup and a stethoscope answered.
“They’re just out of the oven,” Tory promised. “Oatmeal-cranberry-chocolate chip.”
“Awesome!” came the answer. “I’m an undead movie star! Look at my eyes!” Tory peered closer, and saw someone had skillfully used makeup to create the illusion of eyeballs – bright blue irises and dark pupils on a white field – on Gina’s eyelids. As she fluttered her eyes open and closed, she seemed always to be gazing straight ahead.
“Wow,” Tory said. “That looks really freaky – spooky, even. Congratulations. Hold on just a second, and I’ll get the cookies.” Returning with the cooling rack, she turned a puzzled look to Gina and asked, “Why the stethoscope?”
“Oh, you know,” the girl answered, pulling her opulent fake fur closer and waving her cigarette holder, “just adds a certain something, doesn’t it?”
The headless basketball player, clutching a handful of cookies, said, “You guys, we better get moving. It’s really starting to snow. Are you ready for the blizzard, Ms. Bird?”
“I think so,” Tory replied. “But if you’re one of the Boudreau family, you can be sure I’ll call your dad if anything goes wrong with the pipes. You kids be careful heading home, please – I hate rehabbing sprained ankles. They take forever.” As the group headed back to the street, Tory called after them, “That had better be a candy cigarette, Gina!” She closed the door on what was surely the last of the trick-or-treaters, wondering if the now fast-falling snow would stick, and accumulate, or just peter out. “It’s too early for a real storm,” she muttered.
Still, she was glad to have the wood at the ready and soup on the stove. There was always something kind of cozy about drawing the curtains and dragging extra blankets into the living room to pile on the couch. Curled up by the stove, with the dogs and Fiona the cat variously disposed in prime locations near the heat, she listened with half an ear to the news highlights while focusing most of her attention on her great-grandmother’s hundred-year-old, leather-bound edition of Jane Austen. Austen was always a good choice on a quiet night. “And even better if the lights are out,” Tory announced to the animals as the radio abruptly went silent and the room jolted into darkness. With lamps at the ready, Tory soon had light again, and used it to step to the door and peer into the night.
It looked like a real storm, after all, with an inch or so already accumulated, and the wind blowing hard. Padding up to bed after getting Marianne and Elinor to their happy ending, with the pets trailing behind her, Tory snuggled happily under her down comforter, enjoying a quiet so deep she really believed she could hear the snowflakes falling.
Waking to weak sunlight filtering into her bedroom the next morning, she reached out to flick on the bedside lamp. Nothing – the electricity was still out. Enjoying the feeling that modern life’s stress and busy-ness would have to cede to nature’s demands for a few more hours (or at least until the dogs’ demands got her up), Tory sank deeper beneath her comforter and dozed dreamily, listening for some sign of whether the snow continued. Instead, she heard the intrusive sound of a motor growing louder, then a mechanical squeal and a muffled thump. Someone out before the plows must have gotten into trouble on the turn. Always a good neighbor, Tory flung back the covers and leapt out of bed, not forgetting to proclaim, “white rabbits,” to the new month, a family luck-charm that had survived the Bird siblings’ childhood.
A thick, oversized sweater over her flannel pajamas, sturdy, fleece-lined boots on her feet, and her brother’s battered old ski parka topping the lot, Tory tromped to the front door. Just a few yards down the street, she saw a shiny new Mercedes – a big one – angled awkwardly into the ditch that bordered the street. Covered in snow, the sharp drop-off was impossible to see. With Jennet and Hal floundering happily ahead of her, she made her way to the car to offer assistance. The driver had already emerged to inspect the situation, and with a shock she recognized the blond giant she had met weeks before in Amsterdam!