American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist. After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States, daydreaming of the handsome Dutchman. To her surprise, Max arrives in Tory's New Hampshire village a few weeks later!
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 - Installment Eighteen - Installment Nineteen - Installment Twenty
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Gradually the first course drew to a close, as forks and tongues slowed. Mrs. Bird, her social skills honed by decades in academic circles, smiled at Great Aunt Lindy and suggested, pleasantly, “Shall we adults stroll into the living room, Aunt Lindy, and let the children clear up? Jaap, Peter – you’ll join us? And Paul, of course.” Thus an earlier century’s tradition of men and women separating after dinner evolved. The ‘adults’ duly adjourned, chatting desultorily; Fleurie and Max joined that group, as did Ilona with her groggy toddler. Jane took charge of the ‘children,’ directing food-storage and dish-washing activities as if she were head of a triage unit. She had, of course, held that post during her time in Uganda.
Bob was clearing, scraping and stacking, Tory and Jane wrapping and refrigerating, Emma loading the dishwasher and Neil doing the hand-washing when Max sauntered into the kitchen, took up a towel and began wiping Neil’s dishes dry. “Tory, go put those things away,” Jane directed, and her youngest sister moved over to the sink.
“Thanks for helping,” she said quietly to Max.
“This is one of the best parts of the evening for me,” he answered. “Jaap won’t let me assist at home – and I admit it enables me to get much more done on my case notes and research – but when I’m visiting with friends, we almost always have group clean-ups.”
“Us, too,” Emma said dryly. “Everyone pitches in to throw away the pizza boxes when the maid has a night off.”
“Pizza boxes are rough,” Jane commiserated. “They will not fit in the trash unless you break them down, and that cardboard is really sturdy.”
They laughed together, and Bob began a story of a college-era blow-out at his off-campus apartment. Tory skimmed across the floor, carrying a freshly-dried vegetable tureen to return to the top shelf in the big china cabinet. As she bent to grab the step-stool that allowed her to reach that high, Max was suddenly beside her. “Please, allow me,” he said, taking the tureen and easily storing it. He smiled with such warmth as he did so that her heart tattooed irregularly, and she found herself thinking, ‘He is not for you.’ Rather than return his smile, she ducked her head and grabbed the crystal water carafe.
Soon enough, Jane declared dining room and kitchen ready for dessert. Tory and Emma fetched the apple and cherry pies they’d made the night before from the pantry and set them in the oven, and pulled pecan and pumpkin pies from the refrigerator to reach room temperature. Then the cleaners trooped into the living room.
Tory’s mother looked up, smiling at her children. Indeed, they made a handsome group: fit, happy and successful in their own distinct ways. Then she glanced out the window. “It’s just a bit too dark out for a little lacrosse, isn’t it? Shall we go for a walk together, or just stay in by the fire, maybe with a jigsaw puzzle?”
Fleurie stood abruptly, her earrings jangling. “Goodness, it is dark, isn’t it? I know I shouldn’t eat and run, but really I ought to get home – lots to do with Black Friday shoppers out tomorrow! Max, dear, I took a cab here. Perhaps I’m silly, but I get nervous about driving in the evening. Could I beg a ride from you? The cab driver went on endlessly about the holiday and his grandchildren; I’m almost afraid to ask him to come and picked me up. Besides, I abhor a chatty cabby, don’t you?”
“I should be pleased to escort you home,” Max agreed readily, and the two headed into the hallway, with Tory’s dad accompanying them to help with coats.
“I hope you’ll return to join us for pie,” Dr. Bird said.
“Oh, I’d be happy to give you coffee and some sort of dessert at my place,” Fleurie offered. Max thanked both of them, confirmed to his host that he would return for a second course and to collect Jaap, and gently escorted his companion out the door as she assured him that someone at the farmhouse would be happy to drive his servant home. Dr. Bird returned to the living room, where every word had been audible, with his lips pursed. “Well,” he said to the silent group, “jigsaw or walk?” and a babble of talk broke out.
Tory elected to join the walkers, and the group bundled up and headed out to a favorite trail. “The Fleurie’s cabby must have been Bob Winsett, right?” Neil asked her in an undertone.
“Unless she got a service from Laconia or something.”
“The Winsetts daughter had the little boy with muscular dystrophy, right?” Emma joined the conversation.
“Cerebral palsy,” her sister corrected. Three more lips pursed, a three-way understanding glance exchanged, and they dropped the subject.
Everyone took turns playing fetch with the dogs, identified a few constellations, and imagined exotic vacations in Chamonix, France, Wanaka, New Zealand, and other famed ski resorts. Neil encouraged Ilona to get Paul on skis as soon as he could stand steadily, and Emma urged Jane to find a long weekend to make the trip up from Boston for some snow time. Cognizant of the pies in the oven, they turned back for home after 15 minutes. As they passed the barn, Tory wheeled off to grab a few apples from the root cellar – her pie was extra-deep dish this year, which had meant getting through almost all the apples in the pantry. Everyone liked to have a few fresh ones available for eating straight from the hand, so she needed to re-stock.
She was climbing up the short staircase when she heard a noise in the darkness beyond the well-lit cellar. “Hello?” she called. “Is someone there?”
“I’m here,” came Max’s baritone. “I saw you separate from the others and wondered if I could help with anything.”
“I’ve just got a basket of apples,” Tory answered, lowering the bulkhead door and flicking off the light. “One will hold us for a couple of days. But thanks.”
He stood in front of her, blocking the path. The look on his face was hard to read by moonlight – by any light, Tory thought – and she dropped her eyes to the fruit she was holding. “May I carry your basket, Tory?” he asked gently. Silently, she handed it to him, and he stepped aside to allow her to go first toward the house. “It’s been a delightful day,” he offered as they walked.
“I’m glad,” she answered, her voice huskier than normal.
“And it seems to keep getting better,” Max added. He must have really enjoyed taking Fleurie home, Tory guessed. They had certainly appeared to get on very well together. As she pulled off her coat and boots in the mud room, she was surprised to hear Max speak her name in a low voice. When she turned, she saw he’d put the apples on a shelf and was gazing intently at her.
“You are so lovely,” he said, stepping closer and taking her hands. “In every way. And you’re entirely happy here in Bristol, aren’t you? It’s part of your beauty.”
“Not... entirely, maybe,” she whispered. “I’m lonely sometimes.”
“Everyone is,” Max stated. They had somehow come very close together. He raised his hands to her shoulders. Though they rested very lightly on her heavy sweater, she felt him burning into her skin. Knowing it was foolish, knowing it was useless, she still wanted, intensely, to hold him closely, and her lips parted as she tried to form a request.
No need. Max’s hands slid down her back, pulled her tight, and his head descended toward hers. It seemed forever before his lips touched hers, and she thought she could feel the universe expanding as they kissed, gently at first, then with increasing passion. Max murmured her name, and she replied, raising her hands to his hair, feeling its silk and the warmth of his skin, caressing his neck and shoulders, slipping down his arms and along his back.
“Ahem,” Neil said. “We’re sitting down for pie.”
They jumped apart, and Tory spun around to face her brother. “We’ll be there in a minute,” she said with a glare, spitting out the syllables. Neil looked troubled, but turned on one foot and let the door bang behind him.
“I’m sorry,” Tory began, but Max interrupted.
“I’m not,” he said. “Tory, you are a delight, and I am sorely tempted to try to badger you into some kind of relationship that, I fear, would make neither of us happy in the long term. I’m going to resist that temptation. I wish it were otherwise – that I were younger, and the distance between our homes and our lives not so vast. I am, nonetheless, very glad to know you. I hope we can stay friends.”
He smiled – maybe a bit bleakly? – and held out a hand. Tory put her own into his, and felt her palm tingle.
The apple pie, served with cheddar cheese, was especially good.