Thursday, October 16, 2014

Betty-less in the Wild, But Oh! So Many Doctors!

The Southern Belle has had some endocrinological issues of late that have kept her tied to an IV tube for four hours every few weeks.  Yuck!  But the tests at world-renowned Johns Hopkins proved that her condition wasn't a symptom of blood cancer, which is what her condition usually is.  So yay!  Since her insurance is good, and the issue vexing, and the possibility of kidney failure uncomfortably real, when Baltimore and Boston's finest and most world-renowned endocrinologists were stumped, she decided to consult with the even-more-world-renowned Mayo Clinic team.

The Mayo people weren't sure how long they would need her, which made booking a flight tricky.  Unlike in Betty's world, in the S. Belle's world we don't just show up at the airport when we're ready to leave, brandishing a fistful of cash.  So she opted to drive, about 1,000 miles each way.  Since her condition results in frequent fatigue and occasional blurred vision, I insisted on co-piloting, which is how I wound up in Rochester, Minnesota, surrounded by medical men, women, buildings, schools, paraphernalia, procedures and substances.

But I forgot to bring any Bettys...  or did I?

The S.B. kisses her house-bunny bye-bye.

We made a pit stop in Pittsburgh on day one and found, amongst its many glories, a park full of flourishing magnolia trees.  Wait a minute -- magnolias blooming in late summer?!?

And actually, magnolias in Pittsburgh?!?

On very close inspection, we realized that the flowering trees were one of the many miracles of art the city offers.  They are sculpted in some sort of metal or resin, and we were very close indeed before we were convinced we were gazing on the work of human hands.

In which Betty did a louse get shipped to Pittsburgh to enjoy
artistic magnolias?

Three fair-sized rivers helped Pittsburgh to thrive in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Even today, you can see an occasional barge plying the Allegheny.  Or maybe the Ohio, or Monongahela.  But I'm pretty sure this one is the Allegheny.

Which Betty prominently features a barge?

We made about 700 miles on day one, and then pulled into a cheap motel somewhere between GARY, Indiana; Gary, INdiana; Gary, InDIANa and Chicago.  The restaurant next to the motel had a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Liberty, not necessarily of London.

After two days full of appointments, tests and procedures, the S.B. had a day off from medicos, and we used the break to visit Como Conservatory in Minneapolis.  Or maybe St. Paul.

The Japanese Garden is lovely, and, at moments, somewhat serene.

The Sunken Garden was my favorite.

We stuck closer to Rochester the next day, given appointments.  But we got to see a one-room schoolhouse and several other 19th-century buildings uprooted from their original sites and brought to the Olmsted County Historical Center.

Why were no Betty heroines teachers?

We also made it to Mayowood, the extensive mansion begun in the early 20th century by Dr. Charles H. Mayo, younger son of Dr. William W. Mayo.  W.W. founded the clinic in partnership with Mother Alfred Moes, a Roman Catholic nun who had worked with him to care for victims of an 1883 tornado.  Two of W.W.'s sons joined the clinic, which thrived over the next few decades; who knows why.  Rochester was not a center of anything, nor is it close to anything vital.  But after dad's retirement in the 90s (he died in 1911), the Mayo brothers, called 'Dr. Will' and 'Dr. Charlie,' grew ever more famous and were consulted by presidents and kings and celebrities etc.

Somewhere I heard or read that Dr. Mayo taught his children that to die rich was to fail in one's duty to humanity, and at some point the brothers turned the clinic -- a multi-doctor partnership -- into a not-for-profit enterprise.  Before that, though, Dr. Will told his brother that he ought to have an impressive house, to give patients confidence in his medical skill.  So Dr. Charlie and his wife built Mayowood.  There's no photography allowed inside, so you'll have to check it out yourself.  It's supposed to be glorious at Christmastime.

Three generations of Mayos lived here, but then they couldn't
afford it anymore.  That's what happens when you believe in
dying broke.  Or at least middle-class.

Final question:  which four books are featured here, and why?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Huge Roses: The End

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!  Their paths naturally cross in the small town, but his request that she accompany him to France and Namibia to care for an elderly friend throws them together more than either one had hoped.

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.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Eleven, part one

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!  Their paths naturally cross in the small town, but his request that she accompany him to France and Namibia to care for an elderly friend throws them together more than either one had hoped.

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

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

In the next second, with a muttered foreign word, his precious face swooped down to hers, and their lips met with a ferocious passion she had never experienced before.  She swung her hands up to grip his shoulders, clinging desperately to his solid form, and opened her mouth to allow her tongue to tease his lips.  He responded in kind, and she felt as if her brain were swirling about in an electric whirlpool of colored lights and soaring cello chords.
And then the elevator chimed, loudly, and they pushed away from each other, breathing heavily, as the metal grated door ground open.  “Do you want to come in?” Tory panted, as the new arrivals walked down the hall in the other direction.
“Yes,” he declared, “but I won’t.  Tory...”  They both waited for him to finish.  Instead he shook his head, took her hands, and kissed her lips, as lightly as milkweed down floating on a puff of summer air.  Then he walked to the stairs, turning when he arrived there.  “You will be one of my happiest memories,” he said.  “Thank you for everything.”  Again he turned, and headed down and away – away from her, forever.


Tory staggered into the apartment, and found a note from Jane stating that she had gone to bed, and was wearing earplugs as she’d been sleeping poorly for the last few weeks – “So if you need me, knock hard.”  The implication – that Jane had prepared to give them the maximum possible privacy – made Tory choke back a sob.  Then she stumbled toward her sister’s room, knocking violently as she shoved the door open.  Jane sat up in alarm, took one look at her baby sister, face red, wet and twisted, and threw her arms wide.  Tory fell headlong into the embrace and began to sob.
“Is it bad-bad or sad-bad?” Jane demanded fiercely.  “Tory, answer me.  Are you sad or are you hurt?”
“He’s leaving, he’s leaving,” Tory cried.  “I’m so sad.”
Jane’s voice dropped to a murmur.  “Oh, yes, of course you are.  Oh, my poor darling, oh, Tory, Tory, Tory, oh so sad.  I’m sorry; I’m sorry.”  She stroked Tory’s hair, whispering condolences.  It felt like hours, but was only about ten minutes before they were sitting side-by-side, backs to the headboard.  Tory’s cape was off, and she clutched a handful of tissues, still snuffling and weeping, her head against Jane’s shoulder.  There was nothing much to say, so they were quiet.  Eventually, Tory stripped off her beautiful gown and its investment infrastructure and pulled on flannel pajamas.  She slept on Jane’s bed with her big sister, in a welter of sheets and throws, with the comforter wadded awkwardly between them.
Max slept not at all, standing in his four-star hotel room, looking down on the lights of the Public Garden, and drinking a glass or two too much.  He looked forward to the headache.
In the morning, while Max pushed his big rental car rapidly up the highway, Tory picked at the blueberry pancakes Jane offered.  Then she let herself be bundled into warm clothing, and taken out for a walk along the river, crunching gently through an inch or two of frosty snow.  The wind off the water almost brought some color to her face, and she clutched Jane’s arm tightly as they strolled the curving paths.  Back at the apartment, Jane installed Tory in an oversized velvet armchair with a mug of cocoa, then went away and packed her little sister’s overnight bag for her.  She insisted on driving Tory’s Subaru back to Bristol for her.  “I’ve already booked a car to collect me and bring me back to Boston, and I’d have to pay them if I cancel anyway, so don’t argue.  Let’s go.”
In the car, Jane nattered gently about a promising diabetes drug in clinical trials, their mother’s latest research paper and the possibility of growing a few tomatoes on her building’s roof deck.  Tory suggested a pot of basil as well, and was unsurprised when she saw Emma’s small, four-wheel drive Chevy Colorado parked by the family farmhouse.  Both twins were in the kitchen, and after a meal of minestrone and thick slabs of bread and butter, Jane handed over her charge like a precious package.
Neil made tea while Emma popped a batch of applesauce cookies into the oven.  Tory sat, sniveling occasionally, with both dogs’ heads on her knees.  She knew she should feel grateful for the love her siblings showered on her, but she was having a hard time feeling anything at all – until she looked up from the wooden tabletop, and saw her loose cannon of a brother placing the lid on the teapot with a degree of control very different from his usual slapdash approach to kitchen chores.
“Neil, don’t do anything.  Promise me you won’t talk to him or hit him or anything,” she gasped in horror.
Both twins looked at her with concern.  “Of course I won’t,” Neil said.  “I absolutely would if it would do any good, but we all know that the only thing that cures sorrow is time.  Sorry, kiddo.  I’d fix it if I could.”
“Time and work,” his twin amended.  “You’re working ’til Christmas Eve, right?  We have to leave early tomorrow, but not before you do.”
“Oh, you should head home now.  Please, I’ll be fine.  I mean, I’ll be okay.  It’s really nice of you to be here, but you really don’t have to.”
“We know,” Emma said, “but we want to be here.  And we’re staying until morning.  It’s called love, and there’s some loyalty in there, too, and apparently these are qualities in short supply in the Dutch medical profession.”
“He’s not,” Tory choked.  “He doesn’t, I mean, he never...”  Neil glared at his twin.
Eventually Tory dragged herself up to bed, to find that one of her siblings had unpacked her case.  When she slid herself under the covers, both Emma and Neil appeared, to sit by her bed and take turns reading from a collection of Robert Frost poems.  Tory managed to cry silently, both in sorrow over the loss of Max, and in appreciation of the bittersweet kindness of her family.  Eventually she drifted into a sort of dozing state, waking too often and feeling the freshly-stabbing pain each time.  Finally, she could get up, shower and dress.  She chose to bike to work despite the cold, and could see the predictable approval in Neil and Emma’s faces as they hugged her good-bye, with promises of seeing each other very, very soon.
Auto-pilot took her through the work day; the dogs, cats and chickens, and her decision to cut her own Christmas tree, kept her busy through the evening.  By the time she had cleaned the ax, dragged the tree into the living room, and set it up in its stand, she was battered, scratched, filthy and exhausted.  After a long, hot shower, she fell into bed without noticing she had had no dinner, slept for a couple of hours, and then woke again to toss and turn until the cats abandoned her.  She grabbed her laptop from the desk and went back to bed with it, to watch superhero movies until it was time for work.
At the office, her mind kept wandering south toward Logan Airport – had he boarded yet?  Was he boarding now?  Would he have an overnight flight, and spend the afternoon strolling Newbury Street, picking out Christmas gifts for his family?  ‘No,’ she thought viciously, ‘he’ll get everything in the Netherlands.  There’s nothing in America that he would want.’  She smiled brightly at Millie on the thought, and whisked herself into the powder room, hoping the sound of running water would cover the noise of her two-minute breakdown.
It was early day at the office, so she had plenty of time at home to wash the kitchen floor and polish each of the copper-bottomed saucepans before Jane arrived a few hours after sunset.  Tory looked up from her final pot as her sister strode into the kitchen, and began, once again, to weep silently.  Jane pulled off Tory’s rubber gloves and damp apron, smoothed her hair, and pulled her into the living room, where they could sit close together on the sofa.  After a few minutes, the tears ceased to dribble out of Tory’s tired eyes.
“So, other than that, how are you?” Jane asked, and Tory managed a damp chuckle.
“Merry Christmas, Jane.”
“What do you need from me?”  Jane had always been direct.
“Well,” Tory admitted, “I need you to sit in the kitchen, with your back to the table, while I wrap my presents.  They’re almost all from Amsterdam and Namibia, and I don’t want to be alone with them.  Does that sound foolish?”
“Heavens, no, sweetheart.  Although, anything any of us says when we’re heartbroken sounds at least a little foolish.  You go get them, and I’ll make tea.  And maybe toast some English muffins; I’m in no mood for Christmas cookies.  The office is so piled with sweets I couldn’t find files I needed three times today.”
While she wrapped her gifts, Tory tried not to imagine that her whole entire life would be spent in near-solitude, in a lonely kitchen, with too many pets and an occasional visit from a kind relative who would indulge her strange behavior.  It mostly worked, especially since Jane’s obscure grumblings over a report she’d pulled up on her tablet made Tory’s own eccentricity less prominent.  And here was Jane, 34 and still single.  Tory chose to live alone – only for the school year her parents were away, anyway – and she could change that anytime she wanted.
Her heart cracked again as she affixed a last, listless – and seriously off-center – bow on the last gift.  “Jane?” she said meekly.  “It’s a bad one.  I was trying to pretend I’m sad because I’m lonely, but that’s not it.  I am heartbroken because I want to spend the rest of all my days with Max.  I don’t care about kids, or where we live, or what work we do, or if we’re healthy or quadriplegic with scabies.  I just want to make him laugh, and push his eyelids up when he does that irritating half-shut eyes thing, and hold his hand when we play Pooh sticks.  And if the quadriplegic thing isn’t an issue, have sex with him, like, four or five times a day for about three weeks, and then dial it back to about twice a day for another month or two, and then maybe settle down to ten times a week for the rest of our lives.  I have never even seen him with his shirt off, and I am crazed with lust for him, and why I kept my hands to myself on all those airplanes is a complete mystery to me.  Complete, and alarming.  I should at least have jumped him.”
“Except that’s not what I wanted.  I guess.  I guess I knew that.  I mean, I am just not built that way.”
“Do you think he’ll come back here ever?  Should I go over there?  I mean, I could just write to him, and maybe we could be friends, and when he marries some sleek sophisticate, I could go to the wedding and cry and cry and then babysit their kids, crying.  Oh, my heavens, I am a crazy person.  I am so nuts.  I knew it was coming, I knew this would happen, I knew I’d be hurt, and I’m still hurting so much more than I ever imagined.  Oh, you can turn around now, by the way.  I’m done wrapping.
“And, y’know, I’m done crazy-talking.  For now.”
“Anytime you want to crazy-talk, li’l sis, you go ahead.  I’m here.”
That night, Tory slept for several hours.  She still woke long before dawn, but lay still in the darkness, listening for Christmas Eve to settle itself around the old house.
She and Jane spent the day talking, walking and reading.  They got the lights onto the tree, and prepared the family’s quasi-traditional bean enchiladas with red and green salsas, ready to pop into the oven when the twins arrived.  Tory thought frequently of Max, wondering how he and his family were celebrating.  “Christmas didn’t use to be a big deal in the Netherlands,” she informed Jane.  “They did presents and parties on Saint Nikolaas, and Christmas was just a quiet day at home.  But somehow it switched, and now Christmas gets all the fuss and attention.  Isn’t that weird?  How does that happen, to a whole country?”
“Let’s blame Hollywood,” Jane suggested, and Tory started to smile, then remembered.  Her lips collapsed oddly.
“How about popcorn and cranberry strings?” she asked with false cheer.
At 4:30, she raced to the church to help wrangle children in the Christmas pageant.  Jane attended the service, and they drove home together.  The exigencies of getting small shepherds on and off the chancel, on cue and in costume, had swept Max from her mind briefly, but the quiet service that followed the play allowed him to return.  Nonetheless, she was shocked when Jane broke the comfortable silence between them by saying, “You okay?  I imagine being around all those kids must leave you wistful.”
“Being around...  Wait!  You mean, like, wanting to have kids with Max?  Jane, the only wistfulness I feel after that... that... scrum is a vague regret that I didn’t shove that demon baby of Bethany’s into a sack and deliver him to Herod.  Oops.  I don’t mean that, of course, that kid is going to be amazing someday.  But meanwhile, I did almost curse in church thanks to his antics.  I still would love to have Max’s children – oh, no.”  She had teared up again.  “But I don’t want 17 of them, in an enclosed space.”
She paused and reflected a moment.  “Jane.  Do you feel wistful?”
“My biological clock is a few ticks ahead of yours.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.  I wish I knew something useful to say.”
“It’s the knowing you would if you could that’s useful, Tory.  We’ll all be fine.”  The comfortable silence resumed.
Emma and Neil joined them late, bearing a bottle of sparkling wine from California.  “Finished my Master’s thesis,” Emma explained.  “Plus, Merry Christmas.”
“We saved the tree to decorate with you,” Tory announced, as Jane flung open the lid on the decorations box.  Somehow, Tory even felt a little bit merry, for minutes at a time.
Christmas Day dawned crisp and lovely, the sky blue and sunshine sparkling on the snowy lawn.  The four siblings unpacked their stockings around the fireplace, showing off the toys, treats, silly socks and ostrich biltong Santa and his helpers had brought.  Their parents Skyped, and caroled their thanks for the small gifts tucked into their luggage before they left New England.
After a big breakfast of blueberry pancakes and hot chocolate, the Birds bundled up and set out with the dogs, dropping gift boxes of homemade soaps and pickles at various neighbors.  “Not the most secret Santas,” Emma noted, looking back at their four sets of footprints and two of paw prints tracked across the Fishers’ lawn.  Tory laughed, and three heads swiveled toward her, startled by the sound.
Back home, they consulted as to whether they should Skype their parents again before or after opening gifts.  “After, of course,” Tory recommended.  “So we can say thank you for whatever they got us.”
“It’s already 7:00 there,” Emma worried.
“It doesn’t take long to open gifts,” Neil replied.  “Especially if we want to be quick.  Smart-quick, not greedy-quick,” he qualified.
They settled back into the living room, and began distributing the gifts they had just spread beneath the tree a few hours before.  Jane was thrilled by the antique Parisian ring, and Emma was delighted to be re-supplied with the ingredients for ginger-and-Gouda sandwiches.
“I could not believe how good those were.  With a jar of ginger this big, I can eat them all winter.  Perfect, Tory!  Thank you!”
Tory’s main gift to her brother was a CD by a Dutch band she had heard in a coffee shop during her October trip with Jane.  “I think you’ll like them – they drive hard, and there’s something very snowy about some of the songs.  And if you do, you can download their other albums with the gift certificate.”  Neil insisted on putting the music on straightaway, and pogo-ing his sister around the coffee table.
Tory’s gifts included a huge, thick silk scarf from Jane, in Delft blue decorated with patterns of lace in white.  “From the Rijksmuseum,” her sister explained.  Her parents had left several gifts, including a luxurious wool shawl in rich browns, reds, yellows and other spicy shades, and a gift certificate for Fortnum and Mason, a swanky English shop with which Tory was oddly, and only very mildly, obsessed .  “Skee!” she cried.  “I get to pick out a hamper.  Chocolate digestives and pickled quails’ eggs.”  Emma and Neil had uncovered a 1920s edition of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories in a Dartmouth bookshop, and clubbed together to buy them on their student stipends.  “You must read them,” Emma said.  “We were stunned when you said you never have.”
“Oooh, I started on the library’s collection,” Tory exclaimed.  “Derek, the new librarian, told me anyone who likes Dorothy Sayers will like Laurie King, but King writes about Sherlock Holmes after Watson, so I have to read the Doyle stories first, and this will make it much easier.  And the books are so beautiful.  Thank you, guys.”
By the time they had finished up, Tory almost felt back to normal.  Too bad she was about to blow it.  “Um, hey,” she said, as they tidied carefully folded paper into the Christmas box for re-use next year.  “Um, I got this little package in the mail, and I don’t even want to think about it, but I think it might be from Max.”  She held up a small padded envelope.
“Do you want one of us to look inside?” Jane asked.
“No, no, I don’t think so.  But will you just be here while I do?  I know it’s silly.”
“If it’s silly to want your family and friends around when you’re going through a rough patch, then I’m ridiculous,” Neil assured her.  Emma snorted.
“Didn’t say it.  I did not say it,” she protested when Neil glared at her.  “Open it up, Tory, honey.  It’ll be something nice.  He may be a jerk about love and commitment, but he’s got very nice manners.”
“He’s not...” Tory protested.
“We know,” Jane soothed.  “Whenever you’re ready.  We’re here.”
Tory ripped open the envelope, and pulled out a small, wrapped box and a formal note card.  “A very merry Christmas, Tory, with profound gratitude for your many kindnesses.  I wish you a joyous new year, M blob blob squiggle,” she read.  The box came from an exclusive Boston jeweler, and contained a silver chain dangling a silver pendant of an art-deco snowflake, glistening with a dusting of clear pavé crystals with a large, light blue crystal in the middle.  “Okay,” she announced.  “It’s very nice, and a little personal but not too personal, and not goofy expensive – unlike certain silk scarves on top of the dress and everything, Jane, although I thank you most sincerely.  Anyway, the perfect gift for the woman who helped you in a snowstorm and stood around airports guarding your friend.  Very, very well done, Dr. van den Nie.  I’m okay; I’m fine.  Someday I’ll even wear this,” she added, with a half-hearted smile.
“Neil, start the popovers,” Emma ordered.  “I’ll get Mum and Dad on the computer in their office.”  Tory and Jane joined Neil in the kitchen, the first to whip egg whites for the pavlova, the second to begin a rich mushroom gravy.  Emma jogged down the hall after a few minutes, to ask, “Who’s next?  Neil, you go, I’ll take over.”  When Neil had finished his brief conversation with their parents, Emma put him in charge of the gravy so Jane could have a turn.  Finally, Tory abandoned her meringue and rushed to the computer.
“Jane,” Emma demanded as soon as the youngest was out of the room, “look at my water glass.  I got hold of Tory’s necklace from Max, and it scratches glass.  Does that mean it’s diamonds?”
“The name on the box means it’s diamonds,” Jane confirmed.  “And it may be white gold, though more likely platinum, but it is certainly and entirely not silver.  The central stone, as anyone the slightest bit greedy would have guessed, is an aquamarine, Tory’s birthstone.  Also very pretty in the design.  And probably not too expensive for a rich jerk, but nonetheless far and away the most expensive gift she got this year.”
“Should I have punched him?” Neil asked.  “Is expensive bad?”
“Only if punching him would help get his head on straight,” Emma growled.  “What is this guy thinking?  I know not to meddle, but I really wonder if he’s just being stupid, or if he really is a jerk.  He never seemed like a jerk.”
Down the hall, Tory was assuring her father that Max was not a jerk.  “I know the sibs are all worked up, and I’m awfully sad for now, but he was honest and straightforward and I knew all the time that he was going home without me, and I wasn’t in over my head or anything.  No lies, no insults, no need to fuss.”
“I’m glad to hear he was honest.  I think it’s the most important quality of anyone’s character.”  Her mother’s face appeared on the screen.
“Right, Dad.  He’s a good guy, just not the one for me.  But I’ll be okay, and I love the little Nightingale picture.”
Her father’s smile lit the screen.  “You come for a visit, and I’ll take you to the funny, tiny shop where I found it.  You’ll love the place.  Merry Christmas, Tory – even if it’s not the happiest one ever.”
“My turn, Peter,” her mother asserted; and when he was gone, “Tory, do you feel you can tell me all about it?  Or would you rather not?”
“I want to tell, actually, but I may snivel a bit.”  Tory gave a précis of her brief relationship with Max, a tissue in one hand.  “So that’s about it.  He seems so perfect in so many ways, but he’s a lot older than I – ten years, I think.  That’s a lot, isn’t it?  And he lives so far away.  And, really, I hardly know him.  I mean, you can’t fall in love with someone in, like, two months, right?”
“Your father and I met on a Tuesday and were living together the Friday of the following week.  Ten days, I think?  And if we had been marrying-type people in those days, we probably would have married just as quickly.  But there, you’ve always liked more time to make up your mind.  Just if you do, Tory, make it up according to what you want, and how you feel, not according to what the calendar says or what the fairytales said, or what your parents or his ancestors said or did.  Your heart and your guts are often much smarter than your brain, so don’t ignore them.
“Now, that’s a bit stern for Christmas, so we’ll talk about gifts and dinner for a bit, shall we?”
Dinner was delicious, and afterwards, Emma took a fashion consultation, showing the others the choice of ski suits one of her sponsors was offering.  They decided on a pearly pink model, with black zig-zag stripes.  Then Jane, a yoga adept, pulled out the Twister® game and challenged all comers, which precipitated gales of giggles and several uncomfortable heaps of collapsed siblings, protesting judges’ rulings.  As a nightcap of sorts, Emma shared the Dutch chocolates that had been one of Tory’s gifts to her.  Tory slept, again, for several comforting hours before waking a few hours ahead of the rooster.  She grabbed her new Sherlock Holmes stories and tried to lose herself in Victorian London, but it didn’t quite work.