Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter Three, part 2:
Forty minutes later, she heard the doctor’s car pull up to her house, and was glad she hadn’t dawdled over her shower and change of clothes. She’d made time, though, to flick on some mascara and whisk a pale gloss across her lips. She pulled on her heavy tweed coat, tweaked a beret into place, grabbed her purse, and pulled open the front door to find Max on the doorstep, reaching for the heavy brass knocker.
“Hello again,” she greeted him. “That needs polishing.” Digging gloves from her pockets, she missed seeing him grin.
“Hello again, yourself,” he answered. “You’re admirably prompt, and your hair looks glorious. Do you bring your own prayer book?”
Taken aback by his compliment – mousey hair rarely gets described as glorious – Tory had to think about the question for a moment. “My mother does, but I don’t even own one. I think Neil’s the only one of us who does; his godmother took her work seriously. But he doesn’t bring it; we’re regular enough churchgoers that we know most of the words, and Neil’s not shy about mumbling when needed.”
“I hope I get to meet him one day,” Max murmured. Then, louder, he asked, “Neil is your brother? The one who has made use of Josh Brown’s services?”
“Yes; he and Emma – they’re twins – both ski and snowboard competitively. Sometimes maybe too competitively. Collarbones and shoulders and tibias and ankles and one quite drastic femur. That was Emma’s. It’s not really a bad record, when you consider they’re almost thirty.” Tory was confused to see that the doctor was coming around to the passenger side of the car with her, and boggled slightly when he opened her door for her. “Oh,” she exclaimed, and tried to recover with a more subdued, “thank you.” Shoulders shaking, he closed the door and walked over to the driver’s side while she buckled her safety belt.
He seemed to be quite familiar with the route, though she volunteered a suggestion or two. Other than that, conversation was minimal, and the silence perfectly comfortable. ‘That’s because it’s not a date,’ Tory thought to herself. ‘If it were, I’d be struggling to seem interesting.’ Rather than struggle, she contented herself with watching the passing trees, checking on neighbors’ shoveling progress, and enjoying the comfort of the powerful, well-padded car. “Rear-wheel drive,” she announced, speaking a thought aloud. “Mercedes are always rear-wheel drive.”
“My friend Jaap arrives tomorrow to housekeep for me,” the doctor replied, “and he’ll have a Land Rover for us. I’m not entirely impractical.”
‘Just stinking rich,’ Tory thought, and felt a guilty pang immediately as the church steeple came into view. ‘But it wasn’t judgmental,’ she reasoned. ‘Only an observation, really.’ As he parked the car, she reminded herself of the old-fashioned courtesy he’d offered in holding the car door for her, and except for unbuckling her seat belt, kept still after he cut the engine. Sure enough, he swung his long legs from the driver’s seat, then walked around to her side and opened the door for her. Despite feeling self-conscious, she managed to exit the car, one hand on his, without stumbling, dropping anything, banging into her companion or otherwise disgracing herself and her athletic family. ‘Although,’ she reflected as they entered the lovely old white-clapboard building, ‘he’d be a decent person to bump.’ Sitting down, she stifled the thought and stilled her mind for the service.
Soothed and centered by the ancient liturgy and rites, Tory rose for the processional, enjoying the rumble of the doctor’s deep baritone beside her. After the benediction, they began their shuffling exit. Max complimented Mr. Rourke on his sermon regarding humility, and Tory led the way to the parish hall for coffee hour. “We should spend a few minutes, anyway,” she explained to the doctor. “It’s not a large congregation, and we’re always very excited to see each other, let alone guests.” That time she did notice the sudden quirk of Max’s lips, and his dropped eyelids, but had no chance to ask what he’d found funny before old Mrs. Tambor from the Altar Guild pounced.
Fortunately for the doctor’s sense of privacy, neither she nor any of the long-time parishioners who followed her were as interested in him as they were in talking about themselves. Tory made an introduction or two and then wandered away to find a cup of tea and a cinnamon bun, leaving Max to stories of grandchildren, cataracts and snowstorms past. Glancing at him from across the room, she thought of an ocean-side cliff, massive and reliable as the waves of elderlies eddied around him. Not a perfect analogy, she realized, but a vivid one. After fifteen minutes or so, she returned to offer him tea and a chance to leave, and he took both graciously, leaving an interested murmur behind as they walked toward the door.
“A very welcoming group,” he observed as they stepped outside. “Thank you for introducing me.”
“I hope you don’t mind,” Tory said, “I mentioned to a few people that you’re here to cover for Josh. After she talked to you, Mrs. Tambor came over fishing for information, and she’d gotten the idea that you were staying at our house or something, so I wanted to straighten that out before the game of telephone could start.”
He looked at her quizzically, and she explained the children’s game of a whisper chain, where the sentence the final player hears can be dramatically different from the one the first player whispered. “Aha,” Max nodded. “Gossip.”
Tory laughed. “I suppose,” she said, “but that’s got a very negative connotation, doesn’t it? I’m just thinking about people chatting; keeping each other up on the local news.”
“In fact, a valuable social function. And research certainly seems to be moving toward a conclusion that interaction with others, and especially forming intimate relationships, is vital for longevity in good health. Though exchanging information about a newcomer to the community hardly qualifies for intimacy.”
“No, but it may be a step in the process. And that kind of deep relationship is really valuable, but I suspect any engagement in the social web is useful. From my candy-striping through my hospital clinicals and now at Dr. Bachman’s, I see so many people I wish I could prescribe a couple of friends for. It’s not just old people, either. We get people in their twenties and thirties who are just doing so much, or focusing on one goal, like a fast-track career or raising super-children or even just buying a Camaro or whatever that they’re giving themselves blood pressure problems, stress injuries, digestion issues... I want to sit them down and tell them to spend ten minutes patting a dog before they can leave.”
Max’s rich laugh enlivened the chilly air for a moment, and Tory smiled at the friendly sound. “I want to tell you a bit about my research,” he said, “but I’m not sure where we’ll be going. Do we want the car?”
Recalled to the purpose of their outing, Tory declined the car and swept an arm before her to show Max the small town center. “Just down the hill,” she said, “is pretty much everything we offer, except groceries, which are to the west on Pleasant Street. Otherwise, we’ve got the library, yoga, several burger and pizza options, beer and plenty of antiques. A lot of places don’t open on Sundays, especially in the winter, and some close down completely for the season in mid-October, and don’t open again until April or May. Restaurants are mostly pizza and burgers; the diner will give you breakfast all day, and it’s a pretty good one. Real eggs, from shells.”
“Should I ask what other kinds of eggs there are?” Max inquired doubtfully. Tory paused a moment, pursed her lips and shook her head. “Well,” he responded, eyes twinkling, “shall we take a bit of a look around, or do you need to get back home?”
“Oh, I’m always happy to poke through a few shops,” Tory assured him, and they headed down the hill together.