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
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
The meal was coming together beautifully at a few minutes before 4:00. Jaap had joined Dr. Bird in gravy-making, the family matriarch having abandoned her kitchen duties for the chance to play peek-a-boo with eighteen-month old Paul. Everyone else was gathered in the living room when Neil’s sharp ears picked up a tentative scratching at the front door. When he opened it, the sound of Fleurie Gold’s high-pitched voice easily penetrated a lull in the general conversation. “You handsome thing,” she began. “Is your family really all here? You and I will have to have a bit of private time to get to know each other better.” Neil flung wide the door and turned to stare toward his twin, eyes wide and the day’s final guest attached to his elbow with one magenta-gloved hand.
“Goodness, what a crowd,” Fleurie cried, entwining her arm fully with Neil’s, and thrusting a bakery box at Emma as she moved to her brother’s aid. “Here you go,” the older woman announced, “cinnamon rolls for your breakfast tomorrow. I always think there’s too much food at Thanksgiving dinner, don’t you?” she asked, turning to stand very close to Neil, and gazing up at him with something like adoration, her false lashes fluttering.
“No such thing as too much food,” Neil answered with a cheer only slightly tainted by desperation. “You need to meet everyone.” He steered her first toward their mother, and then around the room. Emma had dropped the box of breakfast rolls on a convenient table and was looking fierce, but Jane and Tory were close together and trying not to giggle. Neil stumbled over his guest’s name, and it was frankly funny to see how she had turned the tables on their flirtatious brother, clinging and stroking. They were less amused when Fleurie took an obvious step back on meeting Paul. Who could fail to be charmed by that angelic face and wobbly stance? Max and Aunt Lindy had retreated to a corner together, and were the last to meet Fleurie. Tory was torn between amusement and nausea at how quickly she dropped Neil’s arm and assumed a less girlish tone when she spotted the doctor.
“Why, Max, darling,” she exclaimed. “How marvelous to see you on this special day. I do keep hearing your praises sung in our little village.” She stepped neatly in front of Aunt Lindy, who moved aside with her eyebrows arched. “You must tell me what you think of our American holiday.” She had taken one of Max’s hands, and lowered herself into a convenient armchair. He sat by her readily, it seemed to Tory, and the two settled to a private conversation. The others were departing to disperse the various side dishes about the table while Dr. Bird carved at the sideboard. When Fleurie and Max joined them in the dining room a few minutes later, the lady looked smug. The gentleman’s expression was unreadable, Tory thought.
Max introduced Fleurie first to Dr. Bird, and then to Jaap. “Oh, are you a relative of Max’s?” she asked the latter.
“His housekeeper, madam,” Jaap answered.
“Oh.” Fleurie seemed taken aback. “Are you dining with us?” Eyes rolled and a sudden spurt of conversation broke out, but Max seemed unmoved by her faux pas.
“Jaap is one of my oldest friends,” he asserted, guiding the older man to his seat at the middle of the table.
“How marvelous,” Fleurie trilled. “Look, placecards. Now, I must insist on sitting by Max – as we’re both strangers, we’ll want each other to talk to.” With the words, she dropped into the seat designated for Jane – who was perfectly content to go around the table and sit by her father. Tory’s outrage at their guest’s cavalier behavior quickly ceded to guilt at her condemnation of a near-stranger, alone in an unfamiliar setting on a family holiday. Of course Fleurie must be feeling uncomfortable.
Mrs. Bird, at the foot of the table, interjected her clear, pleasant voice into the quiet babble around her. “Before we begin the meal,” she said, “we enjoy a tradition of reflecting on the blessings for which we’re thankful, in lieu of a grace. I have so much for which to be thankful, but gathering here today I’m struck by the good fortune of seeing all my beloved children brimming with good health and great intelligence.” She looked to Bob, on her left, who mentioned young Paul’s recent successful surgery. Family and friends were the common refrain as they went around the table. Jane mentioned the vintage Chauteauneuf-du-Pape Max had provided. Neil was thankful for predictions of a snowy winter. Fleurie almost tittered as she gave thanks for “such a sympathetic dining companion. I am,” she continued, in hushed tones, “so frequently lonely.”
That left Max, who turned to Mrs. Bird with a pleasant smile and said, “I am deeply thankful that fate – and my poor driving – brought your daughter into my life, and that she brought Jaap and me into all of yours. This is a delightful afternoon, and from the aromas around me, I can only imagine it continues to get better. Thanks to all of you for your kind welcome.” They all raised their glasses at his words – and then the dishes began to fly about the table.
No holiday could top Thanksgiving, Tory thought, remembering happily the wonderfully romantic Valentine’s Day she’d enjoyed with Rob Tucker in her last year of high school. She always had a great Christmas, usually in this house, and Fourth of July fireworks still thrilled her with their bright colors, explosive strength and reminder of the noble principals of her nation’s founding. But nothing beat having the whole family together, working on the meal for almost an entire day, with none of the pressures of gift-giving and gift-getting that came along with birthdays and Christmas. Tory was familiar with stories of guilt-tripping parents, drunken uncles and simmering sibling rivalries ruining family holidays, but she’d been fortunate not to suffer them herself.
The re-arranged placement had her sitting directly across from Fleurie, and not even the sight of the other woman’s sleek golden head turned toward Max could dim her enthusiasm for the feast and the happy babble of conversations. Max’s obvious enjoyment of his neighbor’s low-voiced monologue wasn’t entirely to her satisfaction, but after all, she was pleased he was well-entertained. She got caught up with Cousin Bob’s business, which took up much of his thoughts, and had a chance to hold little Paul while his father offered the toddler his first bite of sweet potato – well mashed, of course. She and Jaap got to talk a bit, and Neil discovered that the older man had been a talented amateur speed skater in his youth. Their discussion of the evolution of skate design somehow drew in Tory’s mother, who turned it to various ways of delivering medical services to isolated communities in Arctic climates. Tory decided Neil’s latest method of preparing sprouts was excellent – shredded, and pan-fried with shallots, chopped pecans and the inevitable nutmeg. She noticed that Max wasn’t shy about accepting seconds, and thirds, and liked him for it. Fleurie had a few bites of turkey, and some of Jaap’s salad – no dressing.