For installment one, look here. Installment two is right here, and installment three here.
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter Two, part 2
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!
Before she could call a greeting, the dogs began their own, barking and leaping clumsily through the foot-deep snow. “Good mor – Hal! Jennet! Quiet!” Tory shouted. “Come back here!” But her ill-mannered companions had already reached their target.
“Not to worry, please,” Dr. van den Nie called. “I like dogs.” As he fondled first one and then the other, rubbing behind their ears in the magical dog spot, the animals showed they clearly liked him, too. Jennet leaned bonelessly against him, enjoying the patting, while the impatient Hal butted his new friend’s legs, flattened himself in the snow with tail wagging, turned a quick circle, and barked encouragingly for attention.
“I am so sorry,” Tory said, catching up. “You would think they’d never been out in public before. And I’m sorry you’ve run into trouble with your car. The road drops off sharply at the edges. I’ll try to help you get it out if you like, but those are rear-wheel drive, aren’t they? I bet it will need towing. If you’d like to phone from my house, you’re very welcome to stop here until a truck can make it out. Oh,” she paused, suddenly self-conscious. “I don’t know if you’ll remember me. I was in Amsterdam earlier in the month, when you helped an English tourist with a broken leg.”
“Indeed I do remember you,” the doctor answered, “and I’m delighted to see you here. Miss Bird, isn’t it? Or Nurse Bird. You make a regular habit of turning up just in the hour of need, it seems.”
“Oh, yes. Right. I mean, not really. And it was last month, since today’s November.” Tory stopped her dithering speech and took a deliberate breath, then started over. “Please, do call me Tory. We’re much less formal with names here than people in the Netherlands.”
“Then I shall be Max,” he answered, holding out an elegantly gloved hand. “Max van den Nie is the full-length version. I do think you’re very right that recovering my car will require more than you and I can accomplish together. If you’re quite sure, I’m pleased to accept your invitation for shelter. It will be very welcome.”
Tory felt her cheeks warm as they shook hands, and hoped to goodness she wasn’t blushing – but knew she probably was. She could only hope Max would put her reddened cheeks down to the cold air, and turned to lead the way back to the house. He followed, having grabbed a small case from the abandoned vehicle. “Well, here’s the house, and of course I’m sure you’re welcome. We New Englanders are proud of our hospitality, you know. And you’re hardly dressed for a tromp through the snow.”
“I’m not equipped for a drive through the snow, either,” he responded. “I ought to have pulled off when I encountered it, but the highway was well cleared, and after a long flight the thought of getting to a comfortable home was too tempting. If I had known of the conditions when I arrived in Boston, I might have stayed there.”
“My sister’s in Boston, and they hardly ever get snow when we do,” Tory commiserated. “Have you just come from Amsterdam? And are you staying here in Bristol? We’re not really on the way to much of anywhere.”
Max laughed. “Do you know an orthopedist named Josh Brown? I’m to stay at his house for a few weeks and take on some of his practice while he recovers from a complex ankle break.”
“Oh, yes, I know Josh. He lives just a few miles from us, and since I work for the local family doctor, I get to know pretty much everyone in town. It’s a small place, anyway, and I have a brother and sister who’ve needed orthopedic assistance more than a few times. But how do you know him?”
“We met at a medical conference several years ago, and have stayed in touch. I’m working with him and a few others at the hospital here on some ideas to help athletes return to full participation in sport after accidents. As much as we get done via e-mail and file sharing, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to spend some time at the research center here. Poor Josh’s accident offered an excuse.”
“I saw Sheila – his wife – a week or so ago,” Tory offered, pushing open the front door and gesturing a welcome, “and she told me he’s been a miserable patient, but everyone at the clinic is too afraid of him to make him behave. Apparently he’s so embarrassed about crashing his bike that he’s trying to make a super-fast recovery.”
“Yes, that sounds quite right. In fact, he was trying to jump rope on his one good leg recently, and set his recovery back quite a bit jostling his cast. So Sheila is forcibly removing him from the center and taking him to a facility in Maryland, where the staff can treat him like any other patient. It is humbling sometimes to see how very imprudent many in my profession can be when we’re in our patients’ place. I often see colleagues doing things in recovery that they would condemn in the people they care for.”
“The surgeon’s god complex carrying over from the operating room,” Tory laughed, then stopped abruptly. “I’m sorry, I hope that didn’t sound rude. I always think you do so much good, and sometimes so dramatically, that you have a right to a complex – especially with open heart and organ transplants and that kind of thing.” She stammered to a halt.
“Goodness, Tory, you’re welcome to say what you like. I expect you were joking, and in any case, you should, indeed, speak up if you see someone suffering delusions of grandeur. That can be plain dangerous in operating theater or examining room. But how solemn I am! Please extend some more of your New England generosity and believe I’m not deliberately being pompous!”
“Of course not,” she chuckled. “You set a great example of generosity. Here, let me take your coat. I can hang it by the stove so it drips onto the hearth, and I guess you’d better take off your shoes. Do you have a change in your bag?”
“My track shoes – or runners? No, what do you call athletic shoes?”
“Sneakers, sometimes, or running shoes, tennis shoes, that kind of thing. You’ve got a bit of an accent that seems more English than Dutch to me. Did you learn to speak English in England?”
“Partly that,” he answered, “but I learned your language in Holland from the time I was quite young, with the help of my English grandmother and that lovely, old-fashioned tradition, an English nanny. My native languages are Dutch and Fries – and both of those are so difficult that few people outside our country learn them. So, as you probably know, most of us learn at least one or two other languages from childhood.”
“What’s Fries?” Tory asked, adding quickly, “Wait, don’t explain yet. Come through to the kitchen and we can call for a tow truck, and I’ll start some breakfast. Have you eaten?”
“Breakfast would be very welcome,” Max replied. “What a delightful house this is. It has great warmth and character. Have you lived here long? Forgive me if the question is too personal, please.”
“Not at all. If that’s what you consider a personal question, you are in for some culture shock here! Believe it or not, my mother’s great-grandparents built the place when they married about 150 years ago, and it’s passed down to sons and daughters ever since. Though I suppose 150 years doesn’t sound that long to you, does it?”
Max chuckled, a deep, warm sound in the stone-floored kitchen. “I’m afraid my family home in Amsterdam is about 400 years old,” he admitted. “What’s more, I’m not aware of any case where a daughter got to inherit. Still, I’m a strong proponent of a family headquarters that spans the generations.”
Tory, having found the number for the local repair shop, got back to business. “The phone’s right on the wall,” she said. “I’m afraid it’s likely there won’t be anyone there yet, but you can leave a message and have them call you back here. The power’s out, but the phone’s usually very reliable in bad weather, and that will help save your cell phone battery.” After checking with his car-rental agency, Max put through a call to the local mechanic while Tory began scrambling eggs on the old gas stove.
Many hours later, having waved her unexpected guest goodbye, she padded back into her kitchen to slump at the well-scrubbed wooden table and reflect on an extraordinary – yet very ordinary – day. Max had settled into the old farmhouse like he’d been born there. After getting through four eggs, a mound of hash browns and copious amounts of toast, he had pitched in on the dishwashing like an expert. That chore finished, he volunteered to help with the shoveling. Dressed in oddments from his carry-on and Tory’s brother’s wardrobe, finished off with her father’s hip waders, he’d done yeoman work on the front walk and driveway. Then, while Tory made soup and sandwiches for lunch, he’d tackled some of the ancillary pathways.
Over lunch, he’d filled Tory in on the history of Frieseland, a part of the Netherlands with its own unique language and culture. She had to do some guessing, since Max kept his narrative largely impersonal and always modest, but she inferred that his family was ancient, close-knit and prominent. The conversation did give her a chance to thank him again for the symphony tickets he’d kindly provided in Amsterdam. “I’m delighted you were able to use them,” he said. “My mother sang your praises, as well. She thought you deftig, and you should know there’s no better compliment my mother can bestow.”
“Deftig,” Tory mused. “That’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well, isn’t it? I think someone told me it means elegant or chic or distinguished, which doesn’t seem like me, actually. Anyway, it’s a lovely compliment.”
She hadn’t meant to be funny, but Max’s chuckle rumbled out. “But the graciousness with which you’ve welcomed me here, and your ease and self-possession, are the kind of elegance the word encapsulates. Mother has a fine eye for those qualities.”
She was blushing again, and jumped up quickly, gathering dishes. “How very nice of you to say, and of her, too,” she said quickly. “I’m sure she’s very deftig, much more than I. At least, I think I’m sure she is!”
After their morning’s hard work, Tory recommended a restful afternoon, and they had alternated reading from the Bird family’s extensive bookshelves with a few hands of gin rummy until the sound of a booming engine broke into the living room. The plow had finally arrived, and the two of them headed out to meet it.
“Hey, Patrick,” Tory called, waving to the local man driving the truck. He pulled to a halt in front of the house, and pointed toward the Mercedes. “Colin will be along to help your friend out of the ditch,” he promised. “We tried to phone but didn’t get an answer.”
“We were out shoveling all morning,” Tory explained. “And with the power out, the answering machine wouldn’t have picked up. It doesn’t have a battery; I should have thought of that.” Patrick grunted a reply in typically laconic New Hampshire style. “Give a holler if you need anything,” he added, and maneuvered the plow carefully past the stuck car.
Colin had been equally economical with both words and motions. With a bit of help from Max, his truck had the Mercedes back on the road quickly, where they could see the damage had been minimal. One tire change later, her surprise visitor was bidding Tory good-bye. “I’m sure we’ll meet around the town over the next few weeks,” he said as they shook hands. “I look forward to getting to know all my new neighbors, if I may go by the standard you set for consideration and welcome.”
His lavish compliment set Tory to stammering and blushing again. Before she became hopelessly entangled in counter-thanks and disclaimers, Max had leaned down from his great height and kissed her, very lightly, on each cheek. “The continental style,” he’d explained, and swung around, sliding gracefully into the powerful Mercedes before putting the car into gear. Thankfully, Tory had had – just barely – the presence of mind to reply in kind to his farewell wave before pressing her mittened hands against her cheeks. “Oh, my,” she breathed, watching her breath fog in the cold air. “Oh, my.”