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
THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission
Max, driving Josh Brown’s BMW coupe toward his home office for a quiet evening amongst his data sets, saw the bright green bicycle lying next to the pavement first. Almost immediately, he noticed the shapely lower body extending from a roadside shrub. Tory had changed into shiny grey exercise tights for the ride home, and their spandex blend did nothing to hide the curves of her legs and hips. She vaguely noticed the sound of an engine, but paid no attention as she seemed to have gained the kitten’s trust, and her focus was on emerging safely with the frightened animal.
Max had pulled the car over and was approaching her as she began her backward crawl, murmuring reassurances to her small burden as she went. The doctor observed her progress, and eavesdropped shamelessly on her mutterings, with profound appreciation. Concerned not to startle her, he made a point of shuffling his feet through the dry leaves. The tactic worked; Tory turned her head, the kitten safely cradled in one arm, and smiled. Then she realized how compromising her current position was, and dropped her head again to struggle for composure.
First things first, she thought, and pushed herself into a crouching position. Then she looked back up – and up, and up – at Max, managed a smile, and stated the obvious. “I found a kitten. It’s hurt.”
His face, even his posture, immediately registered concern, and Tory liked him for it. He held out a hand to help her to her feet, peering at the bundle of fur in her left arm. “Could you tell how badly? And what type of injury?” he asked her, looking eager to do an exam himself. In response, she gently held the kitten out toward him, using both hands now.
“I don’t think it’s been in a fight. The cut is too clean. But you can see the gash on its shoulder. It’s also far too thin, and since the wound is fresh, I suppose it must be a stray, probably abandoned. Poor little thing,” she added with compassion.
Max, meanwhile, had pulled off his gloves and run gentle hands over the small body. “It’s certainly too thin, and it seems tender in several spots. However, there’s no swelling, so we’ll hope for the best. Come with me and let’s get this wound stitched. I’ll have everything I need at my temporary home.” He turned and headed toward the sports car, grabbing her bike with one hand as he went. She was startled to see him lower the car into the narrow space behind the two seats.
“Um, my bike isn’t very clean,” she pointed out.
“Quite all right,” he replied. “This is Josh’s car, and he tells me he often transports his mountain bike this way. Your bicycle is spotless by comparison. Will you be all right with the top down? It’s less than a mile,” he added.
“I’ll be fine,” Tory assured him. “And I’ll hunch over the cat a little so it won’t be bothered by the wind.” The doctor, opening her door, turned away to hide his smile.
They made the drive in less than three minutes, pulling up to an elaborate front door, which opened as Max helped her from the car. The man standing in the hall to welcome them in was the same one Tory had spotted in the grocery store earlier in the month, and he seemed incongruous in his quiet suit. In fairness, she had to admit that anyone would look incongruous in Josh and Sheila’s soaring hallway. “I’ve never been inside this house before,” she mentioned. “I’ve wondered what it looks like.”
From the outside, the house – built to Josh’s custom design just a few years before – was a mix of Alpine, mountain cabin and modern styles, none of them quite blending in Tory’s eyes. On the inside, the clash of aesthetics continued, with a thick, white fur rug on a gleaming stone floor – marble, maybe? A Murano glass chandelier illuminated a huge fireplace, trimmed in brass, and a dark, wood staircase with a wrought-iron railing spiraled up to the next floor.
“Not entirely to my taste,” Max confessed. “Meet Jaap Hol, my right hand. Jaap, Tory Bird has found a kitten that needs a stitch or two.”
Tory waved her hand toward the older man. “I shan’t shake hands,” she excused herself, “as it’s filthy right now.”
“Miss Tory,” Jaap smiled and bowed his head slightly. “Mr. Max, may I suggest the pantry for your operation?” At the doctor’s murmured assent, he whisked away. Tory, gazing from spot to unexpected spot, followed Max through a living room (magnificent bay window, tartan curtains and a stag’s head on the wall) and dining room (octagonal, with a circular blond wood table on a gray slate floor) into the pantry. They found Jaap spreading clean white packing paper over a high serving table. A heavy black bag in an old-fashioned style was open on a nearby chair, revealing first-aid supplies. Spotting a deep sink, Tory started the water running to get warm and resumed her soft murmuring. Jaap stepped forward as it to assist, but then took a step back. Perhaps he recognized the hand of an expert at work.
With equal parts tender words and a firm grip, Tory got the little animal cleaned up a bit, and was pleased to hear its pitiful mews of protest. “Finally, he’s talking,” she said happily to her companions. As the doctor stood by silently, a smile in his eyes, Jaap replied, “A very good sign, indeed,” and handed her a clean, white towel. She blotted the kitten briefly, then set him on the table. “I thought it was,” she said to Jaap. “Craig – that’s the vet here in town – always says cats are experts at masking pain, so it’s especially hard to tell how much they’re hurting. By the way, he’s male. The cat.”
She realized she needed to stop talking, and turned toward Max, who held a threaded needle and a gauze pad. “He it is, then,” he answered her. “Shall I stitch, or will you?”
“Do you mind? I haven’t stitched since Emma cut herself water-skiing a couple of years ago. The kitten will probably fight more, but I’m pretty good at holding critters over objections.”
The doctor’s chuckle rolled across her, warming her from the inside out. “Certainly, Tory,” he answered, and leaned over the table to set to his task.
The kitten certainly did fight, despite the anesthetic Max swapped across its shoulder, but Tory had spent her life amongst litters of pets, and the little cat struggled in vain. As they finished their work, Jaap reappeared with a nicely-sized wooden box lined with another fluffy white towel. “Oh, just the thing,” Tory exclaimed, stroking their small patient a few more times before depositing it in its new bed. “I’ll bike home and get my car and come back to fetch him, if that’s the right thing. Do you think?” She cocked her head, gazing trustingly at Max. He looked back, the smile in his eyes extinguished as his lids dropped lower. Before she could puzzle out his expression, Jaap intervened.
“Tea is ready, Mr. Max,” he stated clearly. Max hesitated, then smiled and said, in a voice like silk, “Well, Tory, I hope you’ll stay for tea. We can discuss your protegée over biscuits.” She agreed uncertainly, and was soothed by his adding, in a much warmer voice, “We’ll go into the morning room – or den, I think Josh and Sheila call it.” Holding the pantry door, he gestured for her to precede him through it.
The den was another amalgamation of styles and eccentricities, but, like the living room, it contained a bay window with a magnificent view of the descending hillside thickly covered with mature pine trees. The larger living room was situated to catch the sunset, but even here the last rays were reflected in the clouds to the south. “Pretty,” Tory commented, looking toward the sky. “Very,” Max replied. With her gaze on the view from the window, Tory didn’t realize Max’s eyes were focused on her.
He took the cat’s box from her, gently setting it by a small table loaded with snacks and a sizeable tea pot. “How lovely,” Tory exclaimed, taking in the tea set and all its accoutrements.
“Again, I agree – very lovely,” Max answered. This time, she looked up to find him looking at her. She was disconcerted briefly, but eased by his asking, “Do you have the expression, ‘be mother’?”
“We don’t have tea often enough to use it in America,” Tory replied, “but my dad’s dad was English, and we lived in Northumberland for a year on a dig, so I know it. So... I guess I’ll pour?”
“Thank you,” Max accepted her offer. “And I see Jaap has provided an extra saucer, so we can give the cat a bit of milk. And a morsel of chicken salad, perhaps.” The saucer placed into the box, and cups handed round to the humans, Tory began an exploration of the several small serving dishes. She chose a tomato sandwich with pleasure.
“I love tea,” she reported, and watched the kitten begin lapping his milk.
“Jaap insisted on bringing the tea set over from our Amsterdam house,” Max explained. “I think he’s more thoroughly indoctrinated by Nanny Winton than my sisters and brother and I.”
“How many sisters?” Tory asked.
“Three, all younger, two with children of their own,” was the answer. “And just the one brother, the youngest of us all. He and my sister Pleane are both still at university; he for his medical degree, and she for a doctorate in art history. She especially is a great one for cats, which reminds me that I must ask you to choose a name for this one, so we have some way to discuss him.”
“I’d like to name his something Dutch, or Fries,” Tory replied promptly. “And I took two art history classes in college, though I didn’t have time for more. But that’s not important. Could you please offer me some names?”
The doctor’s warm smile – very nearly a grin – spread across his handsome face. “I shall of course. There is Friso, which essentially means ‘Frisian;’ I doubt your friend is that. Hidde, a warrior’s name, and Adde means ‘noble.’ There’s a village near the main city, Leeuwarden, called Kooten, which he might dislike as he gets older.” Max stopped his recitation and frankly grinned at Tory. She grinned back. “No, not Kooten.”
He resumed, “Titus Brandsma, a hero of the Resistance; Pier Gerlofs Donia, a medieval hero; Dieter Eilts, a great footballer; Eise Eisinga, the renowned astronomer; Magnus Forteman, a very early governor; Jürgen Ovens, a student of Rembrandt; Menno Simons, the first Mennonite.”
“These are not easy names for an American tongue,” Tory observed. “Fortunately, with cats you don’t have to choose a name that’s easy to shout, since they never come when you call them anyway. I like Titus, and I like the Resistance. Would that be okay?”
“An excellent choice,” Max approved. “Titus it is. Now, it strikes me that your home is quite full of animals already, and young Titus might appreciate a few days to recuperate in peace. He is very welcome here; Jaap misses the kitchen cats at home. Archy and Mehitabel, in case you’re interested.”
“I love those stories,” Tory exclaimed. “I haven’t read them for years.”
“My mother spent a year in Manhattan, studying botany, before marrying my father. She was a bit late for the Greenwich Village heyday, but she enjoyed the Archy and Mehitabel stories, too, and shared that enjoyment with us when we were old enough to understand the jokes. I knew I should have a cat named Mehitabel someday, and when she was joined by a tiny, battered kitten my sister Joke rescued from a canal, he was an obvious Archy. But you understand that Jaap will be pleased to have feline company for, shall we say a week or so?”
“Oh, that’s an excellent idea. I’ll come over and get him on... Monday evening, I think. Then he’ll have time to settle with the dogs and Fiona before Mother and Dad and Jane and Great Aunt Lindy arrive on Tuesday. Will that be okay?”
“Very good indeed,” Max approved. “Now please, have a macaroon or one of these sponge cakes. Jaap finds it difficult to be feeding just me.” Tory nibbled a cake with pleasure – much better to have dessert in the afternoon than at the end of the day, she thought – and together they chatted about the weather forecast and their respective national holidays, in a spirit of perfect accord. It was pitch black outside by the time Tory realized she ought to have left thirty minutes before, or earlier. Just as she did, Jaap came in to draw the curtains across the window.
“I should be going,” she announced, rising to her feet. “Jaap, the cake was delicious, and so were the sandwiches. And the tea; I love Lapsang Souchong. And Max, thanks so much for taking care of Titus today. I guess you’ll have him for the next few days,” she observed, turning to shake hands with the housekeeper.
“A great pleasure,” he replied, and Max said, “Jaap will drive you back, Tory, if you’d like. Given how cold it gets after sunset, I thought that might be better. Your bicycle is in the Land Rover already.”
“Oh, how kind,” she accepted. “I’d really appreciate that.” She bent down to say her farewells to Titus, who’d curled up to nap after gratefully bolting his chicken. He was awake again, and purred contentedly as she stroked his side. “There, he’s purring. He knows he’ll be well cared for here.” She smiled at the two Dutch men, and turned toward the door. Jaap followed her to retrieve her coat from a commodious closet, and Max came after him. Jaap seemed to be taking a good bit of time peering into the closet, and after handshakes and another round of thanks, Tory and Max had little to do but watch him as he shifted hangers from one side to the other. Max cleared his throat audibly, and Jaap spun around, Tory’s coat in one hand and his own in the other.
The drive home was short, and mostly taken up with “the next left,” and “there are a few potholes along here already.” At the house, Jaap pulled her bike from the truck, and set it on the driveway. “Thank you again,” Tory said. “For everything. Cakes, the cat box, the ride home. I’m very grateful.” She smiled shyly, and he said, in his formal English, “Certainly the pleasure is very much mine, Miss Tory. I shall look toward seeing you on Monday.” They, too, shook hands, and he waited to see her safely into the house before returning to the Land Rover and driving away.
Unbeknownst to Tory, after serving Max a light supper that evening, Jaap made a point of mentioning her. “A lovely young lady,” he judged. “Clearly someone of hearth and home, but with a deftig air.” Max simply grunted in response, which his companion understood as a clear signal to drop the subject.
As hoped, though, he got Max thinking – or stirred up thoughts already there. The doctor had sworn off Tory’s company once already, and none of his reasons for doing so had changed. His decision to have Jaap drive her home had been the right one, he decided, as a picture of her leaning down to the teapot, her shining hair swinging free, rose in his head. He didn’t intend starting anything that could only end unhappily.