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 - Installment 21 - Installment 22 - Installment 23 - Installment 24 - Installment 25 - Installment 26 - Installment 27 - Installment 28 - Installment 29 - Installment 30
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
On that same day, but six time zones and three thousand miles away, Marijke van den Nie was assuring Jaap that his Christmas tie was just the thing for greeting the family and friends who would be arriving for a small Boxing Day luncheon. “And have you seen Max? Will he join us?”
“Indeed, yes, Mevrouw. He is in his office now. I believe he attends to the mail still.”
“Well, we must hope it contains some cheerful wishes. He is not entirely happy, is he, Jaap?”
“Mevrouw,” her friend and employee cautioned.
“Oh, very well. I can guess, in any event.” She hurried up to her room to freshen up before anyone arrived, and was downstairs in good time to greet Joke, Henrik and little Julius. The youngest Van den Nies, Pleane and Karel, were staying at the family home, and came bounding down the stairs to gaze adoringly at their baby nephew, and tease their sister. An elderly family friend, Professor van der Pol, was next to arrive. “And you, honorary Uncle Marius, shall take your godson for a moment,” Joke declared after general greetings. She plopped the baby down into the delighted professor’s arms, and strolled into the hallway in time to see Jaap open the door to Everard and Adela.
“My dears, how wonderful to see you! How brown you are – aren’t you wearing your sunscreen?”
“All day, every day,” Adela assured her. “But it’s summer where we live, and there’s not enough sunscreen in the world. How’s the baby?”
“He is wonderful. He slept six hours last night. Henrik slept three, and I almost four. How is it we can be so thoroughly exhausted, and not unconscious every chance we get?”
“It amazes me every time,” Everard sympathized. “Is Henrik going into the office each day?”
“For a few hours only these first few weeks. But let us not mind him for a moment. Tell me about our friend Tory. I thought Max would certainly be an engaged man this Christmas, but instead he returned to us with a smile that won’t reach past his lips, and very little to say on any subject. What on earth could have gone wrong?”
Everard opened his mouth to encourage caution, but his wife answered before he spoke. “I can’t imagine. She’s delightful, and they seemed perfect for each other. If he’s glumpish, we’ll have to ask what happened.”
“He is hiding in his office. Let’s tiptoe along, shall we?”
“Or perhaps you might let him alone,” Everard suggested. Joke raised her eyebrows, and very delicately shook her head. She paused at her brother’s office door, then cracked it open before knocking gently and sticking her head in. “Here’s Adela and Everard,” she announced. “May we join you here, or shall we wait in the drawing room?”
Max had looked up from a letter he was holding, but seemed to need a moment to process her question. Then he shook his head as if to clear something, and stood up with the smile that wouldn’t ‘reach past his lips.’ “Please, do come in,” he invited. “How wonderful to see you both after such a long... way, if not a very long time.” Again his lips quirked, but only to acknowledge a mild jest. “Are we being rude to our other guests?” he asked Joke.
“No, no – only Uncle Marius, and he’s got Julius.”
“And my mother is with the children at Everard’s parents, and they’ll be along to create chaos, but not until after lunch,” Adela added. “We were hoping we might get to introduce them to Tory.” Her gaze was a question.
“Adela, I am quite certain it is we Dutch who have a reputation for directness, while you English are meant to hint at what you really mean, obliquely.”
“Perhaps I was born under a bad moon.”
“My dear, like any of us, Max deserves his privacy, and we should go greet his mother.”
“Mother’s quite occupied with Uncle Marius,” Joke interjected. “Max, I am Dutch, and your loving sister. Now, will that dear American become my sister?”
“She will not. Tory, as you note, is American, and has no desire to become Dutch. She is also eleven years younger than I, and additionally, has expressed serious reservations about our...” he glanced around the sumptuous room, “...the style in which we live.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Adela!” Everard exclaimed.
“Age doesn’t matter once you’re old enough to know your own mind. She’s not a teenager. And she’s unflappable and adventurous, and her eyes shine as bright when she looks at you as yours do when you look at her. When you invited her to Amsterdam, she didn’t even hint that she might prefer to head straight back for her own home, which she could have done easily – she’s clearly accustomed to traveling alone. But she wanted to stay with you.”
“Mama told me how you first met her,” Joke added. “And then to find her again as you did, well! You had best take care, or the fates will arrange something worse to bring you together again.”
That, at least, won a deep chuckle from her brother. “Enough, my dears. I’ve thought it over long and hard. I couldn’t ask it of her.”
“Perhaps you should try talking it over instead of thinking it over, talking with the person most directly involved, and discover whether she would like to be asked. Imagine what might have happened if Everard had decided he couldn’t drag me away from England. And he’s eight years older than I am.”
“The world would have been spared three very naughty children, and Max an impertinent lecture. You have made your point; let’s have a drink.” This time Everard succeeded in hustling them all into the hallway, and back to the drawing room.
An old family friend with a penchant for matchmaking, Mevrouw Hengsma, had arrived, with her young friend Magriet. Max greeted everyone courteously, then engaged Magriet in conversation. She was a very pleasant woman, about 30, engaged in research on refugee issues. Her interest was focused, however, on her training regimen for an upcoming triathlon. As they served themselves lunch from the sideboard, Max learned a good deal about Margriet’s glycemic index, and her aversion to carbohydrates.
After lunch, a few others arrived, including Max’s sister Stien, with her husband and toddlers, and Adela and Everard’s children, with Adela’s mother, her husband and his adult daughter. Max had a chance to meet his young namesake, and delighted the boy with lap-rides and rhymes. Magriet seemed slightly alarmed by the influx of children, and steered clear. Adela’s step-sister (“not a sister – we never met until we were in our twenties!” Adela had once protested) attempted a flirtation with Max, but her heavy-handed approach was not one he admired, so he responded with a bland and unbreachable wall of perfect good manners.
Eventually, people began to trickle away, and as the pace increased, Max stood in the hall offering goodbyes and holiday wishes. Adela stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, and took the chance to whisper, “Well, perhaps you’d be better off with Maureen. She’s so very confident. Or someone like this Margriet. Your Tory smiles too much.” She whisked herself away before Max could reply.
And what he might have answered was a mystery; he had no desire to discuss his ‘love life’ with Adela. He was, in fact, trying not to think about it. Instead, he plunged himself into work at the clinic. His private office and hospital business could wait for the new year, but the clinic was chronically short-staffed, and its patients always in real need of his services. Despite his best intentions, though, smiling hazel eyes and a gurgling laugh swept frequently through his thoughts.
On the day before New Year’s Eve, snow began to fall again, after a spell of warm, clear weather. He took Juniper and Tooantoo out for an early morning walk at the Vondelpark, and when he bent to scrape together a snowball for them, he had an abrupt experience of déja vu that left him momentarily dizzy. He had suddenly seen the pines and rocks of Bristol Lake under a heavy snow, and two mid-sized retriever mixes, instead of the bare branches and manicured landscape actually before him, and his own huge purebred and miniature mutt. He had not seen Tory in the image, but had been very aware of her presence, warm and steady, somewhere in the scene.
As the Vondelpark re-emerged around him, he said one sharp, short syllable into the clear morning air. Then he pulled his phone from his pocket, and began to make travel plans.
Jane took the days between Christmas and New Year’s as vacation, and spent the time in Bristol. Dr. Bachmann kept office hours that week, since it was a handy time for many of his patients to schedule appointments, so Tory went in to work. Jane prepared elaborate meals: soufflé one night, an involved curry with nine side dishes another. Tory had a reassuringly hearty appetite, although her alert sister could tell the younger woman still was not sleeping well. Tentatively, she proposed they return to Boston for First Night, a city-wide celebration with indoor and outdoor performances by every imaginable type of artist. Tory mulled the idea over – “lines bad, ballet theater good, freezing cold bad, fireworks good” – and voted in favor. Jane was relieved to see her taking an interest, but worried that she had to force herself to do so.
They left after lunch, and got to Jane’s apartment enough before sunset to afford a decent walk along the Charles, Jennet and Hal acquitting themselves well on the unaccustomed leashes. Back home, while Jane attended to the heat and mail and showed the dogs around the place, Tory headed to the kitchen to make fried-egg sandwiches. Jane’s refrigerator held limited supplies, but the hot, buttery snack would help keep them warm over the next few hours. They bundled themselves into multiple layers and headed out into the bustling Back Bay.
A trampoline show, the ballet theater, line-dancing lessons, a tour of the ice sculptures and a singer-songwriter showcase later, they stopped at the edge of the Boston Common to confer. “Ninety minutes to midnight,” Jane said. “There are one-act plays at Emerson, raunchy stand-up at the edge of Chinatown and performance art somewhere in the Ladder.”
“And Baroque music at Emmanuel,” Tory added. “But unless you’re enthused, I’m tired enough to sit in a coffee shop somewhere until the fireworks start.”
“Or, how ‘bout this: we head home. There’s Champagne in the fridge and chocolate in the cupboard, and we can pick up some milk and cream for proper cocoa, and my roof-deck will give us a decent view of the fireworks. It’s better for Fourth of July, but not bad for tonight.”
“Blissful!” Tory concurred, and they turned toward Marlborough Street.
“I don’t usually stay up this late, you know,” Tory confessed a few blocks later, as they emerged from a convenience store with the necessary dairy products. “Sorry if I’m starting to drag.”
“You may be dragging me, soon. I’m past my bedtime, too.”
As they moved farther into the residential area, the crowds of horn-blowing, clacker-twirling revelers thinned out considerably. So when they were half a block from Jane’s building, a tall, broad figure in an impeccably-cut, sober wool coat, emerging from a large Mercedes, stood out. Tory stopped short and shook her head; Jane frankly stared. Max, walking toward them with an armful of roses, said apologetically, “I’ve been trying to phone all day.”
“I don’t have my phone,” Tory whispered. She wondered if she were talking to a mirage.
“Mine is in here somewhere,” Jane explained, patting her layers of down and fleece as the doctor’s gaze turned to her. “Would you like to come in?”
“Yes, thank you.” They were soon indoors, the dogs greeting them vigorously.
The three of them stood awkwardly in Jane’s foyer for a moment, until Jane cleared her throat and asserted, “I have to... do things,” and darted down the hall toward her bedroom.
“Kitchen!” Tory declared, almost leaping into that safe space. “I’ll make tea.” Max followed her at a more languorous pace, setting the huge sheaf of flowers on the counter.
“A hot drink would be lovely,” he said, and the normality of his tone and his words brought Tory back to earth.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I need to talk to you,” he replied. “I finally realized, yesterday, that I do indeed need, very much, to talk with you. The New Year is a fairly major event on the family calendar, though, so by the time I finished making my excuses and arrangements, it seemed rather late to let you know I was coming. Then, too, I believe the tradition of romantic excess would have me surprise you. Instead, I drove to Bristol and was surprised to find you not there. Lemon? Sugar?” He was collecting mugs and spoons while Tory found a vase for the roses and spooned leaves into a nicely-warmed teapot.
“Just lemon for me, thanks; and Jane never has sugar. Though maybe we won’t see her. So, umm, I guess you guessed I’d be here?”
“I called on David Bachmann, actually, and he provided me with Emma and Neil’s numbers. They suggested I try here. I expect they have both texted you, and tried to phone as well. I am grateful Neil isn’t here in guard-dog mode.”
“Well, I’m sorry I didn’t have my phone with me. I’m kind of bad about it, I guess.” She led the way into the living room, and set the teapot on the sofa table and the roses on the wide window ledge. Max set down three mugs, then took a seat at one end of the sofa. Tory sat at the other. “What do you want to talk about?” she asked, pushing Hal back to the floor, and rubbing his ears to keep him there. In the hallway, Jennet was on her back, and let out a muffled howl as she scratched and stretched.
“Tory,” Max said, when that odd noise abated, and paused as they heard a door open.
Jane sprinted into the room, grabbed the dogs’ leashes, and exclaimed, “I have to walk the dogs.” She took a minute or two to don coat, hat, boots and gloves, and then was gone in a canine whirlwind, the door banging behind her, leaving silence and four staring eyes in her wake.
The silence was powerful, but short-lived, as Max threw back his head and roared with laughter. Tory bent forward and giggled until her eyes watered and her breath caught. When she started to hiccup, Max stretched over and thumped her on the back. “Oh, dear,” she said weakly. “Oh, my goodness.”
“Right,” he said, composed and almost business-like again. “Tory, you know how much I like you. I believe you know I find you beautiful, and eminently kissable. I hope you won’t mind if I tell you, too, that I love you. Sorry?”
“No, nothing,” she stammered. She had only choked a bit.
“I love you very much, as I have never loved anyone else. I thought a relationship with you was impossible. I am too old for you, I suspect you disapprove of my family’s wealth, and I believed we would find it very difficult indeed to resolve your life in New Hampshire with mine in the Netherlands. However, it finally occurred to me, quite forcefully, that a lifetime with you would be worth any difficulties I should need to overcome. So I flew here to ask whether you see the situation similarly. Please do not hesitate to say so if you think me simply too old, too foreign, or too anything else. I am afraid I am old-fashioned enough to wish for marriage, and to believe that that is not a tie to be broken easily. And I talk too much when I’m nervous.” He stopped abruptly, realizing that he had been looking at Tory’s scalp throughout his monologue. Very slowly, she raised her eyes from his knees to his face.
“Oh,” was all she could manage, but the message in her eyes was clear, and she reached out her arms and began to inch along the couch. He grabbed her hands, leaped from his seat, and bent to lift her bodily into his arms. She flung her arms around his neck and clung. For a moment they stared at each other, then their lips came together, as if they might never part. Max dropped back onto the sofa – dimly, Tory wondered why he had ever left it – and brought his hands to her face, touching her as gently as if she had been the most exquisite porcelain. Her own hands were much less gentle as they explored his magnificent shoulders.
It may have been fifteen minutes later, or a lifetime. Tory had lost her sweater, and something had come unclasped, and her skin was sizzling and her eardrums thrumming and her fingers wrestling with the complexities of buttons under sweater under sport jacket – who wore that many clothes on an airplane, she thought vaguely, too ecstatic over what Max was doing to her left ear to care much about his wardrobe. Suddenly a much larger, much wetter tongue than she liked swept across her lower back.
“Yikes,” she shrieked, which Hal took as an invitation to join the friendly couple on the couch. The ensuing chaos of clothing, animals and confused humans took a few minutes to resolve, to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” as delivered, slightly out of tune, by Jane, who was taking an unusually long time to unwrap herself in the foyer. Max contented himself with a single bellow of laughter before attending to the business at hand, and soon Tory was restored to presentable condition. She strolled through the living room to greet her sister. “Oh, hey,” she said. “How was your walk?”
Jane looked at her gravely. “Your undershirt is hanging out of your sleeve,” she answered, “and I think your mascara has made it to your ear.” Tory’s eyes slid from her sister’s gaze, then returned to hold the stare.
“I like it there,” she said, and they both dissolved, sinking to the floor cackling and hooting. Hal and Jennet were delighted, leaping over and wriggling under the hysterical humans. Max strolled down the hall and made use of the bathroom mirror to ensure his ears were free of make-up.
When the chortling had settled down to a manageable level, he reached a hand down to Tory, and helped her to her feet. He then assisted Jane, saying, “You have my eternal gratitude. I hope that was the best walk ever; I know it was for me.”
“It is so cold, and the dogs were going crazy with all the noisemakers going off in the distance, and I had no idea how long you might need, but it’s nearly midnight. Was it long enough?”
“Perfect,” Max replied, over Tory’s, “It’ll never be long enough.”
“Well, I’m for the roof-deck,” Jane declared. “You’re welcome to the apartment, for another twenty minutes or so.”
“Fireworks!” Tory exclaimed. “There’s fireworks,” she explained to Max.
“No Dutchman misses his New Year’s fireworks,” he replied, and minutes later they were six floors above the city, his arms wrapped around her while Jane sat on a bench with the dogs to help warm her. The crowds were several blocks from them, but they could nonetheless hear tens of thousands of voices, and when the countdown to midnight began, it reached them clearly. “Four,” they joined in, “three, two, one.. Happy New Year!”
Jane popped the cork on her Champagne while Max offered Tory a strong arm for a deep dip, far more flamboyant than the one they had shared on the dance floor just over a week before. As fireworks lit the sky above them, they kissed deeply, briefly, then pulled Jane into a group hug, with kisses. She offered them flutes, then bent to kiss the dogs. “Tory,” Max asked, “will you marry me?”
“With all my heart, my dear love. With all my heart.”
With her eyes on the sky, Jane was busily texting. After a few more kisses, Tory begged her phone from her, and dialed Emma’s number. Emma never missed the New Year’s countdown, and sure enough picked up on the first ring, wide awake and avid for news. “He phoned me, you know, to find you. Jane’s sent weird messages, so I guess he’s there. Is it good? Is it all good now?”
“It’s as good as it could be,” Tory assured her. “But you’ll have to be a bridesmaid, and give up your apartment until Mum and Dad get back, ’cause I’m moving to Amsterdam. La la la la la. Emma, I’m way happier than I was sad.”
“Wow. And you were really sad.”
“And now I will never be sad again.”
“You will be HAPPY EVER AFTER!” Emma shouted, and then from the scuffling sounds, Tory knew her brother would be with her in a moment.
Sure enough, Neil was panting, “Great news, Tory,” down the line a few seconds later.
“The best,” Tory agreed. “You know it’s the full deal: church bells, blood tests, drunken college friends behaving scandalously in the sacristy.”
“I can help with that.”
“As long as you don’t tell the groom that you’ll kill him if he ever makes me unhappy.” Distracted by the fireworks finale, she called, “Oh, look,” to Jane and Max. “These fireworks are amazing,” she added for Neil’s benefit.
“Which fireworks?” he asked, lowering his voice and adding some kind of Latin accent meant to sound suggestive. Tory giggled.
“Kiss Emma for me, save some dates and happy new year,” she said. “I want to text Mum and Dad in case they’re not up yet but I don’t want to miss them if I fall asleep, you know? Plus I need to do some snuggling with my fiancé. Ooh, I hate that word. We need a better word.”
As the sky returned to its usual night-and-neon shades, and the noise of the explosions faded into the quieter sounds of a happy, tired crowd headed for the subways, Max and Tory clattered back down the stairs after Jane and the dogs. Her text to her parents dispatched, Tory curled into Max’s broad chest, grabbed his hand and began kissing his fingertips. Jane emerged from her bedroom in wildly-patterned pajamas, pointed to her head and said, “Earplugs,” and then vanished. Max’s deep laugh boomed, and Tory gurgled.
“Ah, I love that sound,” he told her.
“I expect you’ll hear it often,” she replied. “I am always so happy when I’m with you.” His arm squeezed tighter.
“Should we discuss logistics?”
“Yes, please. My logistics are: I can give Dr. Bachmann as little as two weeks’ notice, but would like to give at least a month, of course I can move to Amsterdam although I’m afraid I’ll want to visit New England once every year or two, and probably people will visit me in Holland, and I am type A negative. Not very common, that blood type.”
“Indeed, you are a rare, hard-to-find type. Please talk with Dr. Bachmann on Monday; we don’t need to set a wedding date today. And, while I am yearning to swoop you away as soon as may be, I have waited 36 years to find you and can be patient for several weeks more. If it is your dream to be a June bride, you will be a June bride.”
Tory made a rude noise. “February, maybe.”
“Are you sure you want to live in Amsterdam, Tory? Should we discuss that further?”
“I love Amsterdam, I love your home there, and I adore your mother.” She stopped abruptly, twisting around to kiss his eyebrows, cheekbones and lips. “I have lived in rural New Hampshire, semi-rural England, urban Chicago – though I was young – and a peculiarly suburban part of northern Egypt. I look forward to settling down.”
With a low growl, he kissed her mouth, exploring her lips and teeth in a leisurely way. “Wait,” she gasped, breaking away. “You are so good, and you said so many lovely things, but are you sure, really sure, you want to marry me? And have me in your family’s home, and in your family? We barely know each other.”
“I know you better than I’ve ever known anyone. I look forward to learning more about your life, like your time in Chicago – I can’t quite imagine you there – but the essence of you – your kindness, your quick humor, your ability to focus on the vital, your ability to lead and direct without pushing, your self-effacing tendency – your essential Tory-ness – I know that. I know you, and I love you, my dear. With all my heart.”