Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Chapter Four, part four:
As they waited, Tory quietly studied Carrie Frieder, standing near Dr. van den Nie. The researcher was about 40, dressed in a grey wool trouser suit with a quiet sage pinstripe, and a dark green cotton turtleneck with a silver chain around her neck. Her make-up was subtle, and her glossy hair, flecked with white, pulled back into a French pleat. She had shown herself nearly as good a speaker as her colleague during the question-and-answer session, albeit with a tendency to digress on occasion. The two clearly had a strong working relationship, and Tory wondered idly if it amounted to more than that. She would certainly wish someone more like this strong, smart woman for Dr. van den Nie than a Fleurie Gold or haughty Dutchwoman.
The restaurant staff did their work efficiently, and they were seated quickly. Tory found she was between Dr. Bachman and Dr. Frieder, and began a polite conversation with the latter as the waitress handed menus around. Dr. van den Die, the wine list resting on the table next to him, broke into Tory’s explanation of her proposed participation in the geriatric research, saying to the table at large, “I believe Tory likes white burgundies; shall I order a bottle?” To her considerable vexation, Tory felt her cheeks flush as the twins turned their bright blue eyes on her like laser sights. Carrie Frieder distracted their attention by saying, “That sounds wonderful to me, even if I am a Californian. The surfing end, I’m afraid, not the skiing and winemaking part of California.” She smiled brightly at the twins, and Neil – easily distracted – informed her he loved surfing, though he’d always opt for the snowy Tahoe area over the beaches and deserts of southern California. As the conversation turned general, Dr. Frieder whispered to Tory, “I’m a youngest child. You, too?” Tory nodded and grinned. It was great to find an understanding ally.
Dinner was delightful; at Max’s suggestion everyone ordered appetizers before their entrées. For Tory, that was a wild extravagance, but she loved every bite of her mushrooms in garlic sauce, and only lost two spoonfuls to her brother. As they were finishing their main course, Dr. Bachman’s phone buzzed in his pocket. With a quick apology, he pulled it out and looked at the screen. “Good news,” he reported into the sudden silence around him. “Diana Schwahnn’s headed to the hospital, just when she should be. It’s her third, so I’ll have to leave all of you and try to get there ahead of her. Her second was just a few hours of labor, and it wouldn’t do for me to be late.” Suddenly he looked at Tory with almost-comical dismay. “Well, Tory, it won’t hurt you to join me on this, although I’m not sure what the on-site nurses will say. I’m sure it will be okay.” Still, he looked doubtful.
“Easy enough,” Dr. van den Nie announced. “I’ll be headed back to Bristol after our meal, so I can bring Tory home.”
“Ah, excellent.” Dr. Bachman’s relief was obvious. “In fact, the Bird place is right on your way to Josh’s.” Tory couldn’t object, although her immediate reaction was more alarm than pleasure. She settled for helping the doctor with his coat and asking him to give Diana her best wishes at an appropriate moment. “Thanks, Max,” Dr. Bachman called, “sorry to rush off like this,” as he hurried away to the front door.
Tory sat back down again, noticing Neil’s narrowed gaze on her. Emma was looking at the ceiling, so she asked Dr. Frieder about her Thanksgiving plans. “Please, call me Carrie,” the other woman replied. “I’ll be headed to San Diego to be with my parents. One brother and sister-in-law will be there, too, with a nephew and two nieces. Then another brother arrives for dessert, usually with his ex. It’s one of those ‘it’s complicated’ relationships,” she added. “I’m guessing you all get together?”
“I’ve got the whole long weekend off,” Neil reported proudly. “I know I’ll pay for it at Christmas, but the food’s not as good then, anyway.”
“Dr. van den Nie, do you have Thanksgiving plans?” Emma asked. “If not, you’d be very welcome to join us.” Tory shouldn’t have been surprised – there was a well-established family tradition of opening their home to strays and wanderers, in the spirit of Thanksgiving – but although the doctor had seemed entirely at home when he was stranded at her house for a day, she somehow couldn’t picture him in the midst of her rowdy family.
“Please,” he answered her sister, “do call me Max. You’re very kind to offer, but I think I’d better plan to spend the day at home. I have a friend keeping house for me, and I’d hate to leave him alone on a holiday, even if it’s not one we’d usually celebrate.”
“He’s welcome, too,” Neil urged through an unfortunate mouthful of mashed potato. “Whoops, sorry,” he added after swallowing. “Thanksgiving is better with a crowd. I’ll be making the Brussels sprouts. Plenty of garlic.” The last bit earned him a glare from his twin.
Max laughed easily, and asked, “Are you very sure?” Witnessing the three smiling, nodding heads, he accepted graciously. “Could I bring anything?” he asked. “It’s usually a group effort, isn’t it, your Thanksgiving meal?”
“White burgundy!” Neil suggested enthusiastically. “This one’s great!”
“An antidote to Brussels sprouts,” Emma suggested sourly.
“Actually,” Tory essayed tentatively, “if you’d like to bring wine, that would be great. We don’t always pay much attention to it.”
“Mum and Dad might bring some back with them. They do that sometimes,” Neil recalled.
“They’re in Turkey,” Emma reminded him.
“Turkish wine with roast turkey,” Neil retorted. At any minute they’d start sticking out their tongues at each other, Tory thought affectionately.
“Jane might bring something. She’s getting pretty sniffy about her wines these days,” Emma mentioned, speculatively.
Tory noticed that Carrie had turned her head away and suffered a few discreet, not-quite-real coughs, while Dr. van den Nie’s lips looked tense and slightly twisted. Her mind wandered away for a moment, and she felt herself blushing again. Realizing she oughtn’t to look at his lips, she stared at her siblings and suggested, “Pinot noir, or Beaujolais Villages, or we’d all be just as happy with a white, but more likely a sauvignon blanc or pinot gris than this lovely thing.” At that last, she raised her wineglass shyly in his direction, and risked a peep at his face. He was looking right at her, with an expression she didn’t understand. She dropped her gaze again, disturbed, and too brightly asked Carrie, “Does your family fight about the Thanksgiving menu, too, or is it just these two?”
Carrie, thankfully, understood her gambit and launched into a disquisition on proper preparation of cranberry sauce that evolved, quickly, into childhood memories and the power of smell. “Nutmeg,” all three Birds pronounced, in chorus, when she paused.
Tory explained to their puzzled companions. “Our grandmother babysat the three of us when we were little, after our mother started going into the office most days. She loved nutmeg, and grated it onto almost anything. Chocolate chip cookies, cauliflower, cocoa or warm milk, cheese sauce, melon slices. Jane, our older sister, was in school already by the time we started spending so much time with Gramma, so she didn’t eat there as often. She says Gramma is lavender, from reading in the laundry room in the winter, and hay, from reading in the barn in the summer. She died three years ago, 91 and all marbles intact.”
Dr. van den Nie raised his glass, saying, “To Gramma,” with delicate gravity. The others joined the toast, and Tory smiled at him with profound gratitude for his kindness. “There’s apple tart on the menu,” he noted after a moment. “Shall we test it for nutmeg?” He signaled the waitress subtly, and she produced dessert cards.
“Chocolate mousse,” Tory sighed blissfully. “Fruit plate,” Emma declared virtuously, while Neil requested pecan pie. Carrie declined dessert for a decaf cappucino, while Dr. van den Nie ordered a cheese plate.
Their desserts arrived, and Tory dug in with pleasure to the pile of cream atop her mousse. She explained earnestly to Carrie, “Whipped cream may not be the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s better for you than being cranky.” The others, overhearing, all laughed aloud delightedly. “All things in moderation,” Carrie agreed, adding three packets of sugar to her frothy coffee.
It was almost nine by the time they all headed for the door and divided up. Everyone thanked Dr. van den Nie, and the three siblings shared big hugs and a flurry of advice, serious and teasing. Carrie gave Tory a hug as well, almost maternal in its gentleness. Then she strolled off down the street, hopping into a bright blue Ford Focus with a clear ‘AWD’ insignia, while Dr. van den Nie took Tory’s arm and guided her to his rented Mercedes. “Sorry,” he said as he settled her into the passenger side. “It will take a moment for the seats to warm up.” Tory’s mind boggled at the idea of heated seats, let alone the concept of apologizing for their not being instantaneous.
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.”