For installment one, look here. Installment two is right here, installment three here, and installment four here; installment five is here.
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter Three, part 1:
Sunday morning showed the New Hampshire scenery at its finest, with pure white snow frosting the evergreens under a brilliant blue sky. The sun brought enough warmth to make an early-morning walk tempting, so Tory pulled on her fleece-lined snow boots and set out, with the dogs pushing along with her. They trudged down to the lake, which had a thin coating of ice that cracked and shifted under Hal and Jennet’s investigations. That early in the day, almost no one else was about. The minister drove past on his way to take early service, and Tory saw another walker in the distance, but otherwise she had the beautiful scene to herself. She’d brought a camera along, with vague thoughts of turning a picture into her Christmas card in another month or two, and snapped a few photos of some of the more picturesque trees framing the lake. In the muffled quiet of the dripping day, she let her mind wander.
Peace and quiet, a serene morning, a lovely, lonely scene – they were all important elements of her happy life. Still, the lonely part sometimes felt too prominent a part of her days. Even when her parents were home, Tory sometimes felt an almost-overwhelming yearning for company; for someone who shared her interests and respected her views. ‘Not that Mom and Dad don’t respect me,’ she thought, then shouted to the gamboling dogs, “but you know it’s not the same!” She laughed aloud, reveling in the feeling of independence and abandon that comes with stomping the first set of footprints into a fresh snow. She scooped a handful of snow from a convenient branch and formed a ball, throwing it hard toward the dogs, who chased after it delightedly. They charged back toward Tory, undismayed that their toy vanished on impact with the ground, and the three of them continued to play their abortive game of fetch as they broke ground through the pines toward the town.
She noticed her fellow walker drawing closer around the lake’s edge, and felt a pleasant bubble of excitement on recognizing the tall, smiling Dutchman. Thinking he may have had quite enough of her company, she hesitated about continuing toward him until his welcoming wave drew her forward.
“You’re a morning person,” he greeted her, as the dogs accosted him with wriggles and head butts.
“Not always,” Tory admitted. “Though with these two around, sleeping in just isn’t an option. It’s such a beautiful morning, though, and this snow won’t last, so I thought I should get out and enjoy it. We’ll be ankle-deep in mud by Tuesday, I expect.”
“Isn’t this early for a snowstorm, even in New Hampshire? Not that I prefer mud.”
“It’s early for this much snow, certainly. We usually get a few days in November, though, and December through February should be pretty snowy. Of course, it’s not like it was when my parents were kids!” Tory joked. She felt an instant’s surprise that she could talk so easily with this accomplished, impressive man.
“It never is, is it? My parents grew up skating on the canals of Amsterdam as a regular recreation; these days the ice only gets thick enough every five years or so.”
“Oh, I love ice skating!” Tory exclaimed impulsively. “But I’ve never felt comfortable doing it at an indoor rink. It has to be a pond or lake for me. I’d love to skate along the Amsterdam canals. It’s such a beautiful city.”
“I will say, I think we celebrate the ice quite well in my hometown,” Max answered. “We put up impromptu cafés on the ice, and serve erwtensoep – the richest, most warming pea stew you can imagine.”
“We have to bring our own supplies – usually just cocoa in a thermos.” Noticing a particularly graceful tree limb, Tory raised her camera, aimed and shot a few images.
“You’re a photographer?” Max asked.
“Very much an amateur,” she answered. “I thought I might find a pretty scene to use for my Christmas cards, though.”
“I expect my efforts would be amateurish at the very best, but if you’d like me to take a photo of you for consideration for the card, I’d be happy to do so.”
Tory gave it some thought. She hadn’t ever included her own photo in her annual Christmas mailing, but far-flung family and friends often did so, and she appreciated seeing those visual updates. “That might be nice, actually,” she said. “With the dogs, maybe – otherwise it feels conceited. Or are the dogs too twee?”
“Certainly not,” Max said, after coughing awkwardly, twice. His lids were lowered, a fact that barely registered as Tory looked around for a good backdrop for a picture. Feeling self-conscious, she tried to strike a natural pose, wondering how the doctor would get dogs, snow-covered pine branches, and her into the frame. Maybe it was a silly idea – and he hadn’t even had to talk her into it. Posing was just not her style.
But Dr. Van den Nie had the camera up and pointed so she grinned in his direction while pushing Jennet’s head away from her knees and toward the camera. “That’s lovely,” he called. “I’m not much of a photographer, but I do not believe anyone could fail, with such a beautiful scene for a subject.” A few more clicks, Tory desperately trying to think of some way to start a conversation, and wondering what he’d meant by ‘a beautiful scene.’ The pine trees, surely? Before she could come up with anything to say, he asked, “Would you want to kneel, to be closer to the dogs?”
“Sure, yes, right,” she said – and was suddenly desperate not to talk. And then, as he kneeled also, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t... you wouldn’t... I mean, you’ll get wet. In the snow.”
“I’m dressed for it today,” he replied. “And I’m having fun. How about getting the dogs’ attention with a snowball?” Tory did as he suggested, but after a few more clicks, insisted on stopping the photo session. “Thank you so much,” she said. “I’ll sort through them at home.”
“It was a pleasure,” Max answered. “You, Hal and Jennet are all excellent models, though I’m afraid, ‘Work it, baby,’ aren’t words that come easily to me.” He choked a bit with laughter as he pronounced the incongruous phrase.
“Okay, this might sound a little stupid, but I’d probably just get confused if you said something like that. I don’t watch a lot of TV, or even movies, so I’m not up on slang and things as much as I should be. We get teenagers at the office of course, but it’s mostly old people, so I hear ‘groovy’ and ‘hip’ a lot more than ‘work it, baby.’”
“Two peas,” Max answered. “I suspect you’re a book lover, like me.”
“Mostly, yes,” Tory confessed. “I love music, too – Gregorian chants to hip hop – and I like movies, but I can’t stand commercials so I can only watch pay movies online, or on disc.”
“Have you seen any you enjoyed especially recently?” he inquired, and they were off. Comedies, mysteries, classics. The doctor matched Tory’s reservations about supernatural dramas with a dislike of most superhero films – “I admit I enjoyed The Avengers.” – and they shared an enthusiasm for Bollywood. Movies quickly yielded to books, with recommendations, disputes and a strong connection over the excellence of Cry, the Beloved Country.
“My brother found a list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century somewhere, and that wasn’t on it. It was the Modern Languages Association or something, and I couldn’t believe it. That may be the best book I’ve ever read,” Tory proclaimed.
“Absolutely,” the doctor agreed. “The language is so vivid, and the story such an honest mix of tragedy and hope and ordinary human life, and the period he’s describing is such an important one in the history of modern civilization, I’m not just surprised by how overlooked it is, I’m close to appalled.” They both went quiet, Tory brooding on unrewarded excellence as she listened to the shush of her boots through the snow. The doctor spoke after a moment. “Let me guess what was on that list your brother found – Joyce, right?”
“Oh, of course. I’ve never tried Finnegan’s Wake; have you?”
“At university. I was glad to have my tutor as a guide through its mysteries.”
The peace and tranquility she’d felt in the early part of her walk was transforming, becoming something shared. She and Max talked as easily as she did with her sisters and brother; as easily as she did with her closest friends in college days, cross-legged on dorm room beds surrounded by nutrition and anatomy textbooks. He wasn’t an intrusion into the serenity of the morning, but an enhancement of the beauty of the day and the joy of an invigorating walk with the dogs gamboling through the morning. Tory noticed the comfort and happiness she felt, but chose not to examine it too closely. One quick thought flitted through the part of her mind that was detached from the conversation: it’s easy enough to have a pleasant chat about books, especially when you’re trying to be agreeable.
The pleasure was undeniable, though, and Tory regretted arriving at the fork in the path that would take her back to the house. “Here’s where I turn,” she told Max, who had been politely waiting for her to try to dredge an author’s name from her memory. “Thanks for your company. I hope you enjoyed getting to see a bit of Bristol’s scenery.”
“I enjoyed it very much, indeed,” Max answered with grave courtesy. “You’ve been generous in sharing your time with me. I wonder if I could trespass further on your kindness, and ask you to introduce me to some of the shops in the town. My friend Jaap will be coming over in a few days to keep house for me, but until then I need to stock up on a few necessities.”
“Sure, of course,” Tory said. “I’ve got a few errands to run after church, so I could meet you on Beech Street, by Dr. Bachman’s office.”
“Would it be an imposition to join you at church?” he enquired.
“Whatever the opposite of imposition is,” Tory assured. “I’m planning to drive, though, given the weather and the Sunday shoes issue.”
“If you’re willing to trust me after yesterday’s mishap,” Max said, smiling, “I’d be happy to pick you up in my car.”
“Oh, of course. If you’re sure. Um, I’m, I guess I’ll go home, then, and change, and I’ll be ready in about...” she checked her watch, “let’s say 45 minutes. That will give us a few extra minutes for the roads, and still early enough to get in the front third of the pews. Mr. Rourke’s voice is getting a bit reedy.”
Max’s laugh boomed into the snowy morning. “Lovely,” he said. “I’ll be with you in 45 minutes. Suits and ties?” he queried, one eyebrow quirked.
“If you like,” Tory reassured, “though plenty of people wear slacks and sweaters, and some come in jeans.” She collected Hal and Jennet with a whistle, and set off, kicking puffs of snow ahead of her with the delight of a small child.