Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
It took almost five minutes for Tory to regain her composure, and when she did, she realized the dogs still needed their night-time run. She took them out the back door and let them race around the barn looking for mice while she grabbed an armful of logs to take back up to the house.
The prosaic activities, unfortunately, let her mind wander. Hardly wander, really, as her thoughts hammered away at the same question, in looping variations: What was I thinking? What did he think of me? Did he think I bumped him on purpose; that I was coming on to him? I don’t even know how to come on to someone! Why did that happen? Should I have done something different?
One thing Tory had learned for certain, observing the romantic tribulations of her older siblings and numerous friends: second-guessing is not worth the time it takes or the agony it extracts. Three steps from the back door, in her good topcoat, with an armful of logs and Hal urging her to start a game of fetch by thwacking a great stick he’d found against her calves, she stopped and took a deep breath of the cold November air. As she exhaled, she imagined all her doubt and anxiety leaving her, wafted away in a cloud of condensation, to dissipate into the night sky. Considerably calmer, she entered the house after commanding Hal to drop his muddy branch. Stacking the logs in the mud room, and still trying to exhale anxiety, she announced to the quiet house, “But crikey, that was one seriously excellent kiss.”
Immediately, the ruckus in her head started up again, as she made her way into the kitchen and slumped down at the table: So it was a great kiss. So I should do it again? And then what? And what if it was just a run-of-the-mill kiss for him? So maybe the next time it might be even better? What next time? He didn’t even like it! He didn’t want to come in, he pushed me away. Would you have invited him in? And then what? He’s here for a few weeks and then he goes home to his Rolls Royce and his perfect girlfriend and his mother in Chanel suits or something. So do you want to be the stammering American girl he slept with a couple times?
“Oh, just shut up!” Tory shouted aloud, standing abruptly. She turned on the radio – Top 40, a bit too loud – and banged the kettle against the sink as she filled it with water. “Right,” she said, more quietly but with decision, “It was just a kiss. I’m making a list. Groceries. No, garden plan. And then to bed.” Thirty minutes wrestling with corn in rows versus corn in clumps, with a mug of peppermint tea to aid her thinking, sent her up to bed drowsy and content. “I’ll probably start worrying again the minute I’m horizontal,” she thought, and fell deep asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.
She felt better the next morning; more clear-headed. As she explained to Fiona, lying atop her to enjoy the early-morning sunshine that touched Tory’s bed, “I am not usually a short-term kind of person. One wowser kiss isn’t going to change that. And he is clearly not my long-term guy, so I can just forget about it. The impulse of a moment, and the moment gone and done. Fine. Move on. And get off me, kitty; I need to wash.” Thus Max van den Nie was labeled, filed and closed up in a box. Theoretically, at least.
Tory did have to listen to the twins’ very different raptures over the Dutchman when they phoned that weekend, but a few ‘uh-huhs’ and a ‘yup’ covered her end of the conversation. Thanksgiving might prove tricky if Neil or Emma noticed any tension between Max and her, but she’d make sure they didn’t. After all, why should there be any tension? They were both grown-ups. Sophisticated adults do not stress out over a couple of enjoyable conversations and a kiss. “So, I have ten days to become sophisticated,” Tory joked to herself as she cycled home one afternoon.
The weather had taken a definite turn to the better, as if in apology for the early burst of winter. She was able to bike to and from work each day, albeit well scarved and gloved, reveling in the blue skies and crisp air. Dr. Bachman kept staggered office hours, 7:00am to 3:00pm two days a week. On those days, she took a direct route on her way to work – less than two miles – but a longer, scenic route home, enjoying the last of the day’s sunlight. The thirty or forty minutes allowed her to exercise her body and clear her mind. Her work wasn’t all new-baby visits – Diana Schwahnn had been in that afternoon with her very tiny daughter: ten little fingers, ten miniature toes and a thatch of down-soft black hair. But they’d also had to share bad results from a mammogram, reconfigure the prescription for a favorite patient, endlessly brave in the face of increasingly severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and spend hours doing paperwork and navigating the labyrinths of various insurers. Clearing her head was an important part of being able to do her work well.
So she spun around the lake, pounded up a few hills, and swooped back down them on the other sides. She was getting ready to turn toward home when she saw, just barely, a small pool of thick, brownish liquid at the edge of the street. She was braking, swinging a leg over her bike, before her conscious mind even recognized it as blood.
The trail of drops was hard to see in the cover of dried leaves and pine needles along the roadside, but the injured kitten taking shelter under a bush was easy to find. The black and white spots of its calico pattern stood out against the rust-colored ground cover. Resigning herself to getting scratched for her trouble, Tory dropped to her hands and knees and began crawling toward the cat, speaking softly as she approached.
Max, driving Josh Brown’s BMW coupe toward his home office for a quiet evening amongst his data sets, saw the bright green bicycle lying next to the pavement first. Almost immediately, he noticed the shapely lower body extending from a roadside shrub. Tory had changed into shiny grey exercise tights for the ride home, and their spandex blend did nothing to hide the curves of her legs and hips. She vaguely noticed the sound of an engine, but paid no attention as she seemed to have gained the kitten’s trust, and her focus was on emerging safely with the frightened animal.