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 - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen - Installment Seventeen
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Titus was sensibly docile when introduced to his new home, and housemates. As a result, Fiona didn’t object to his presence, and Hal and Jennet accepted him peaceably. Tory decided to thaw a block of the pesto she’d made toward the end of summer, and had just set a pot of water to boil for the linguine when she was surprised to hear the chiming that signaled an incoming Skype call. Usually it was only her parents who Skyped, and sure enough, there was Mother when she clicked to accept the call. Tory, startled, was doing some muzzy calculations of flight schedules and time zones as her mother caroled, “Hello, darling.”
“Hey, Mum. Where are you? What time is it?”
“We’re in Boston, Victoria, at your sister’s. The weather forecast was a bit uncertain and there’ve been protests – well, you know that. So we thought it safest to take an earlier flight. Anyway, the jet lag hasn’t caught up yet, so I thought I’d give a call tonight and see whether we should pick anything up in the city. We’re going to leave about mid-day tomorrow, so we should be with you in time for tea. You have that early start on Tuesdays, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes. Funny about teatime; I just had a proper tea party at a friend’s house the other day. Oh, I’m so glad you didn’t get held up over there. Let’s see... groceries. There’s nothing essential you need to bring. We can get the turkey from the Musgroves again; I reserved one already. And there’s plenty of all the veg and things here. Max is bringing wine, and it should be excellent – that’s this Dutch doctor the twins know. He’s coming to dinner, and his housekeeper. But if you want to bring some fancy, big-city treats for hors d’oeuvres or chocolates or something, that would be great.”
“I’ve got an amazing pepper spread from Konya that we can snack on while we’re cooking, and some – well, slightly peculiar, really, but so interesting – little pickles. Maybe I’ll sprint over to Formaggio’s in the morning and pick out some cheeses and trimmings for a lovely cheese tray. And I can send your dad off to Burdick’s for chocolates. Now, don’t fuss about beds and dusting, sweetheart, we’ll have plenty of time to take care of that for ourselves. Here’s your father,” she said as his pleasantly rounded, spectacled face joined hers on the screen.
“’Lo, Tory.” Her dad sounded like he was on a very different sleep cycle than her mother. “All set for the invasion?”
“Welcome home, Daddy,” she smiled. “I’m ready, but there’s a new boarder who may freak out a bit.” She lifted the screen to point the camera toward Titus, sitting up in his bed. “I found him by the road, hurt. He seems pretty sanguine about the new environment so far, though.”
Putting the screen back on the table, she could see her father’s gently resigned expression. “I suppose we couldn’t expect to come home to the same number of animals we’d left,” he said. “I hope he’s a more active mouser than Fiona, that’s all. Have you taken care of all the logistics with your mother? You know we’re bringing Aunt Lindy?”
“Yes, all set,” Tory assured him as her mother came back on screen, looking unexpectedly dazed.
“Jane’s calling us for dinner, Peter,” she said. “And I’m suddenly so sleepy. We’d better hang up now. Oh, and Tory, Neil and Emma have each told me a bit about their friend Max, so don’t, please dear, indulge in further prevarication. We’ll see you tomorrow. Night-night!”
“G’night, Mother, g’night, Dad. See you soon.” Tory clicked to hang up, then uttered a groan as she turned back to her merrily bubbling sauce pan. “Why would they tell? What did they tell? Oh, brother. And sister. And mother, the last living American to say ‘prevarication.’ What does she think she’s talking about?”
After washing her dinner dishes, Tory whisked through the living, dining and sitting rooms, with a final flick of the duster, and swept away the various litter the animals had managed to spread since her big clean on Monday evening. Then she made up the beds in three rooms, dusted, and set out clean towels. She closed the bedroom doors carefully to ensure pet hair wouldn’t be part of the family’s welcome the following day.
By ‘teatime,’ without a moment to recover from a busy work day, she had put chrysanthemums in a few vases for the bedrooms, stirred up a batch of apple muffins and put them in to bake, set plates and cups on the coffee table, and put the kettle to boil. She was putting the remaining groceries she’d collected on a hurried lunch break into the pantry when she heard a car pull up, and the dogs began to bark excitedly. She left the sweet potatoes and onions in the bag and ran to the front door, flew through it and into her mother’s arms.
“It is so good to see you,” she cried, luxuriating in her mother’s solid hug as the two of them rocked lightly from side to side. Then it was Dad’s turn, and by the time they were done, Jane had assisted their father’s Aunt Lindy to emerge from the car. Great Aunt Lindy was spry and alert at 87, but warranted a gentler hug than what she called ‘the young folk’ had shared. After greeting her warmly, Tory gave her an arm to assist her into the house, and installed her in a well-upholstered armchair by the living room’s huge open fireplace. Then she dashed back outside to assist with the luggage, winning an armload of bags from specialty food shops. She dumped those on the kitchen counter and pulled the singing kettle from the stove, and had the tea nicely steeped by the time Jane and their parents had settled the various suitcases and parcels and gathered in the main room.
They spent a lovely hour or two chatting, interrupting, repeating stories and fussing over the dogs, who were elated to have so many hands available for patting. At one point, Mother and Dad had competing slide shows going on their separate tablets, but there would be time to get caught up with all the photos, so no one objected. Eventually the calm induced by hot tea and carbohydrates settled over the group, and Jane had a chance to ask, “Tory, what needs to be done ahead of Thanksgiving?”
Tory, being Tory, was ready with the plan. “I’ve got all the groceries, I think, except the turkey. So someone will need to pick him up from the Musgrove’s tomorrow morning. I’m working until noon, and then I’ll go to the community center to make sandwiches and help pack donation boxes. We gave homemade applesauce and cranberry sauce, by the way, and you’re welcome to come help. Mr. and Mrs. Aboud are going to drive the boxes down to Concord. Of course you can do whatever flower-arranging, centerpiece-making, dusting and table-setting you like. This is Liberty Hall.”
The others were all eager to participate in the food drive work, and turkey-pick-up was soon settled. Jane asked about the regional high school’s senior play, and their mother mentioned, somewhat vaguely, that ‘the children’ might like to get a lacrosse game going. Jane and Tory grinned at that – mother was the gentlest of souls until she saw an incorrect citation in an academic paper, or got a lacrosse stick in her hands. “How many for dinner, total, Tory?” her father asked.
“Twelve in all. Six Birds, Aunt Lindy, cousin Bob with Ilona and the baby, and Jaap and Max from Amsterdam. No known food allergies in the group; Baby Paul may eat some potatoes but they’ll bring mushy food in jars to warm in the microwave.”
“And who’s to make what?” inquired Great Aunt Lindy.
“You’re on cranberry sauce as always, Aunt Lindy,” Tory said. “Emma and I will make pies tomorrow night. Mum and Dad have turkey duty, Jane and Neil peel and chop. Our Dutch guests are bringing salad and wine. Ilona and Bob aren’t bringing anything because Paul had another ear infection and so they took him in for surgery last week and when Ilona told me she couldn’t stop crying. Neil is doing something with Brussels sprouts; Emma wants green beans; I’m making cheesy onions and scissor rolls. My friend Debbie sent me the recipe, and they look delicious, so I don’t care what Miss Manners says about no rolls with dinner. Dad mashes potatoes, Jane glazes sweet potatoes. Isn’t that everything?” she gazed around her, and noticed her audience looked slightly stupefied.
“It is an awfully large meal, isn’t it?” Aunt Lindy pointed out after a brief pause. “But such a lovely one. It will be delightful to see the baby, though I suppose he’s really a toddler now, isn’t he?”
“And that much better at getting in the way, but we can stick him in the mud room with the dogs if we need to.” Jane was almost entirely kidding, but Tory figured she’d keep a discreet eye on the one child in their group, just in case.