Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter Four, part one:
The doctor lived up to his self-imposed ban on Tory’s company, bar sending flowers and a brief thank-you note, and she went about her days much as usual. If she kept watch for the big Mercedes, or scanned the horizon during her daily walks with more attention than in the past, those were small things, and she knew she’d quickly get over them. It was odd – weird – monumentally coincidental – that their ships had passed twice in the night, but coincidences happened.
She did spot a shining Land Rover parked outside the Shop ‘n’ Save one Thursday, and inside the store wondered which of the handful of strangers might be Max’s housekeeper. Probably the middle-aged, blond man in a dark suit. Who else would wear a suit to the Shop ‘n’ Save?
A few days later, as she walked to the community center, she saw Fleurie Gold holding open the door of Golden Treasures. Today she was a vision in cotton-candy pink silk, with a cerise blouse. Apparently for Fleurie, four-inch spiked heels were the norm, even in rural New England. As usual, her face was a flawless mask of foundation and rich color, and her hair could feature in an overpriced-shampoo commercial. She smiled vaguely in Tory’s direction, her smile seeming to fade as she took in the bulky parka and hiking boots. “’Afternoon,” Tory greeted her.
“Oh, hello,” Fleurie replied. “I do know you. I thought I did. I have a memory for faces – and the last face I saw you with was especially memorable. Our new neighbor. He was very interested in having me show him a bit of Hanover, and a place to get a decent meal. I could tell the poor man wasn’t expecting anything quite so...” she paused, looking arch, and then trilled a laugh that didn’t occur in nature, “quaint, I guess. That’s this town – quaint.” She bestowed a triumphant yet pitying smile on Tory, who could only murmur, “Oh, yes. We’re quaint, all right.”
“Well, ta ta, then,” Fleurie concluded, closing the shop door, and Tory walked on, her usually light step taking on a trudging note. If Fleurie Gold was the doctor’s idea of an enjoyable companion, she could just stop the horizon-scanning right now. In fact, she ought just to stop anyway. Women like Fleurie and the juffrouw she’d met in Amsterdam, who could buy couture clothes and achieve perfect make-up, over 30 and incapable of blushing, were the type who dated the Maxes of the world.
The following week, though, brought exciting news at the office: when she settled down with Dr. Bachman and a mug of tea to recap the day’s activities, he asked about her continuing-education efforts. She reminded him of the online courses she’d taken – neonatal care, adolescent psychology and cardiac rehabilitation were the most recent – and proposed an evening course in geriatric nutrition at the university starting in the new year.
“Very good, Tory,” Dr. Bachman approved. “But I’ve got a great opportunity for us both right here in the office. You know the man who’s living at Josh Brown’s, and working with him on orthopedic research? He’s also got a project in Europe around elderly ortho rehab, and I’ve proposed collecting some data for him based on our patients and others in this area. You’re welcome to join me, and we’ll both get credits we need, and most likely learn some useful approaches.” He then added on a tangent, “I enjoyed working with Janice” – his previous nurse – “but it’s great to have you here. She spent most of her C.E. time on dermatology. Dermatology. Not our most pressing need.”
“Teenagers?” Tory proposed tentatively. “It helps build a connection?”
“Ha!” said Dr. Bachman. “More like middle-aged boomers. Tory, the day I have to go the Botox route to keep this practice in the black...” he faded out, and sat glaring at his desk.
“Well, I’d love to help with the ortho project,” she interjected after a moment. If she didn’t bring the conversation back to a more constructive subject, he’d get going on obstetrical malpractice insurance costs, and she’d be there through dinner.
“Wonderful. Geriatrics has always been a big part of this practice, but it’s the wave of the future all over the country. You’ll build some great career skills with this one. I’ll let Van den Nie know we’re on board.”
As she chopped onion and mushrooms for a stir-fry that evening, Tory reported on the conversation to the dogs. “I doubt Max will get involved himself,” she speculated. “I mean, not with our bit. But he’s obviously very smart, and designing high-caliber research, so I’ll learn a lot. And I don’t need to see him personally, after all, to learn from his work. It’s not like we have anything in common, even if we did get on well that one day. Well, two days.” She wondered what the doctor was having for dinner, and whether he ever prepared his own meals. What did having someone housekeep for you mean, exactly? Maybe Jane would know.
In fact, her oldest sister called that evening, after Tory had washed up and taken the dogs for their evening walk. She was scribbling a few reminders as a grocery list – couscous, cloves, yeast – when the phone rang. Jane, just back from a business trip to St. Louis, described the marvelous tea room she’d visited there, and promised Tory a packet of their Bedford blend of green tea. She had also attended a fundraiser at the city’s art museum. “It’s a marvelous museum,” she said, “and it’s free. So is the zoo. But they still got all these people to pay six hundred dollars each to go to a cocktail party there. I mean, it’s mostly a donation, but I never get over these black-tie parties to help the poor.”
“What did you wear?” Tory asked, eschewing for the moment the grand philosophical question of caviar for charity.
“Dark green silk, empire waist, with spaghetti straps and a little velvet bolero-thing. I know this is practically the dictionary definition of a first-world problem, but finding evening dresses that are warm and at least a little bit professional looking is a giant pain. And then I’m not sure about the rules for re-wearing dresses, but I’m going to keep this green thing going for a long while yet.”
Tory laughed at her sister’s peevish tone. Jane wasn’t a fan of protocol under any circumstances, and when it concerned what she considered ‘first world problems,’ she could get very testy indeed. “Well,” she consoled, “at least you’re saving the world with your bolero. And the parties do get people thinking and talking about real problems.”
“Sure, when they’re not complaining about the service.”
“Jennet and Hal are always complaining about the service around here,” Tory joked. “They want three big walks a day, not just two. Try explaining to them about the need to balance sufficient income generation to keep us in kibble and the time required for walks. They just don’t get it.”
“Meanwhile, I can’t even keep my apartment clean,” Jane laughed. “You’ve got that entire house, grounds and menagerie in perfect order. How does she do it all?” Tory chuckled at the teasing, and thought of Max with a housekeeper.
“Do you know anyone with a housekeeper?” she asked.
“Oh, sure,” Jane answered. “Most of the portfolio managers at the office have someone come in once a week to clean, and a few get made-up meals delivered, too, but the senior partners usually have live-in help.”
“Oh,” Tory replied vaguely. “I wonder what that’s like. I kind of like taking care of myself. Although maybe a little less dusting and polishing, and especially shifting furniture to get at the floors.”
“Actually,” Jane confessed, “I’m hiring a weekly cleaner. And I buy most of my food pre-cooked at the grocery store, so I just have to microwave it. I love to cook, but if I’m working ten hours a day, trying to fit in a work-out, and I need to read the paper, it’s just really hard to make the time. Diane at the office has a dog, and she’s got a half-hour commute each way, and the only reason she manages is because she gets her exercise walking the dog. Almost all the guys with kids have stay-at-home wives, and all the women with kids have full-time babysitters. And the partners have both wives and babysitters. There’s a snide crack in there somewhere.”
“I’m exhausted just hearing about it,” Tory said. They were both silent for a moment, listening companionably for each others’ breathing down the phone line. “I guess it’s really just not my kind of world.” Tory summed up her feelings about both Jane’s hectic professional life and Max’s upper-crust milieu.
“Oh, darling,” her sister protested, “ever since you were little you’ve had a natural grace and ease. I think you fit in beautifully anywhere you want to go. Of course, it’s the ‘want to’ that’s the most important part.” Hanging up the phone a few minutes later, Tory thought about Jane’s comment. She loved her life, but it wasn’t entirely one she’d actively chosen. She’d settled in Bristol because she was happy and comfortable there; she’d traveled a bit because her parents had taken the family off on research trips, or because Jane or her college friends had invited her to accompany them; she loved her career but she wanted... something else. She stumped slowly up to bed, pondering her future. With her teeth clean, hair braided and face shining with drugstore lotion, she curled up in bed with Fiona on the quilt by her midsection, and drifted off to sleep contemplating the directions she might choose to take herself. In the haze of fatigue, her eyelids seemed to be running a slideshow of children’s faces, gardens, swings and pets and herself, smiling and content, with a blurry man in the background. Tall, broad, blond and blurry. That night, she dreamed she was dancing with Max, in a 1950s hospital ward lit with crystal chandeliers, her hair in pigtails and magical ski boots on her feet, with cruise ships sailing by on the Danube outside a never-ending row of Regency windows. She woke up confused and oddly happy.