Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter Four, part five:
They headed back south and east making occasional, disconnected comments in place of their usual easy conversation. As they made the turn onto route 104 for the last leg of the journey, the doctor cleared his throat and, eyes on the road, asked, “Tory, have I said or done something to offend? I’ve had a sense of constraint with you tonight that I haven’t experienced at our other meetings. And I think I heard you refer to me as ‘Dr. van den Nie.’”
“Oh, no,” she assured him, sitting up straight with surprise. “Not at all. But I didn’t know before how many papers you’ve published, and all the awards the dean mentioned. I guess I’m a bit intimidated. You just seem a bit more... you know. Higher stature, maybe. Not the normal guy in Dad’s waders throwing snowballs for the dogs. I’m just feeling like I didn’t realize how impressive you are.”
After that mish-mash of burbling, Tory wasn’t surprised to hear the doctor’s shout of laughter. “Please, please, please, call me Max and think of me in waders,” he begged. “By the way, I believe I have never won an award that I didn’t share with others, and I know I’ve never published a paper without co-authors. And your dean dug up some citations that really don’t warrant a mention anymore.”
Tory settled back in to the comfort of the now-warm leather. “Okay, okay. You were really nice to take us all out to dinner. And I think you’re wonderful to thank your interns and everyone who’s working on the research with you. Not many people do that.”
“Yes, I know; I think it’s a shame. I’ve worked with people who go so far as to believe that they could have done all this work on their own, and the critical contributions of others are just a bit of window-dressing. I decided early in my career that it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves regularly that our work is always a group effort.”
“See, you are impressive,” Tory pointed out. “Speaking of groups, you were very good to put up with ours tonight. I hope you and – is it Jaap?” – Max confirmed his housekeeping friend’s name – “will enjoy Thanksgiving with us.”
“My family is large, also,” Max explained. “Both Jaap and I are accustomed to spending holidays feeling like we’re in the middle of a flock of birds, augmented with a large litter of puppies, not quite housebroken. I quite enjoy it, actually. And I was very happy to meet your brother. Your sister, also.”
“Family’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Tory replied. “I can’t wait until they start having kids, and I can be an aunt. Ooh, I wonder how Diana’s doing with her baby. That’s the woman Dr. B left to deliver,” she reminded him.
“Do you not want children of your own?” Max asked. “Or is your ambition solely on aunt-hood?”
“Oh, I would love to have kids. Three or four, maybe. Close in age, or maybe spread out like we are. I love baby smell, and that first time they hold onto your finger, and then when they’re two or three and they’re learning so fast. I know it’s supposed to be horrible to have teen-agers, but I kind of think I’d like that, too. So the maternal juices are all there, all right. It’s just the... well. You know.” Tory sputtered to a stop, horrified by how close she’d come to saying ‘paternal juices.’
“It’s not easy to find the right person to share your life,” Max commiserated, his broad grin hidden in the darkness.
“Do you ride? Horses?” Tory asked abruptly, desperate to change the subject. He did, of course, and they discussed horse breeds, jumping and the difficulty of keeping horses, with their sudden and expensive ailments and injuries. “Still, I think I’d like to have one of my own someday,” Tory declared. “That feeling you get when you meet a jump just right, and everything unfolds like it should, and the horse feels happy and you’re happy and you think you could do this forever.”
“I sometimes feel something like that playing rugby. The team is like that other intelligence with which I have to align myself, and when we all come together to be in the right places, heading in the right directions, to make a pass successfully or score a goal, it’s amazing. ‘Elation’ is the word, I think.”
“Yes. I played lacrosse, and catching that ball and passing it off to the next person, without missing a step. It’s great. Falling down in the mud, however... you do a lot of that in rugby, too.”
“But mind it less, perhaps, because the mud coating makes me harder to tackle,” Max chuckled, and Tory joined him. Laughing together, they pulled up to the family farmhouse. Her earlier constraint had vanished entirely with Max’s easy conversation, their shared views, the warmth of the car and the late hour. Forgetful of his old-fashioned courtesy, she opened her own car door, only to find Max standing ready with a hand out to help her from her seat. Tired by her long day and the relaxing ride home, Tory stumbled a half step, and banged against his solid torso. Max’s arm tightened around her, and Tory drew in her breath sharply. Despite their two coats, she could feel his warmth against her cheek, her shoulder, her chest. For a moment, he held her against him, and she buried her face against the cashmere of his overcoat, then looked up. He gazed back at her, and his head swooped down, his lips catching hers in a firm, warm kiss that sent heat through her whole body, radiating to her scalp, her toes, the tips of her fingers, and she kissed him back with ardor.
The dogs’ barking broke into that moment of passion, and Tory and Max pulled their heads apart. Muttering, almost angrily, “A very normal guy,” Max pushed her toward the door. “You have your key?” Tory pulled the ring from her pocket, jingling, and he took them from her and inserted the largest one into the front door lock. He opened the door and handed back the keys. “Sleep well, Tory,” he said, dropped the gentlest kiss possible on her tingling lips, then turned and strode back to his car. Tory collected just wit enough to call, “Jennet! Hal!” and shut the door as the jubilant animals, ignorant of what they’d interrupted, gamboled around her.