Eduard had met Kathryn at the Vanderloo home the day before she was to return to Holland. She was waiting for him at the door. Joanna Vanderloo made a lunch on the back patio. Eduard was amused at Henry’s competition with him on building the better mansion. The Vanderloo home was an immaculate brick two story with an expansive stone patio.
Joanna put out cut up fruit, and Karla’s potato salad. She placed Boar’s Head lean roast beef and Virginia ham on an oak cutting board. “You two sit,” she said. “I’ll fetch the iced tea.” She whisked back into the house through the open French doors.
Eduard tried not to look Kathryn in her ashen eyes, but she was only two feet away from him. Her sweet smell and freshness made him think back to the time when they were first married. It was a day much like today. Kathryn still looked like a young woman with those inquisitive eyes.
“So Eduard, do I always have to make the first move?” Kathryn asked.
Eduard couldn’t think of anything to say. His wife stood in high heels in the sweltering heat of the afternoon. The broad overhead fan under the canopy stirred the air with a steady breeze. “I would ask you to marry me, you know, if we weren’t already married.”
“Two people who are married should live together too,” Kathryn said in a singsong Dutch accent. She knew that her husband liked a little accent.
Eduard’s eyes smiled even if his lips stayed stiff. “You were the one who decided to leave.”
Kathryn picked up a piece of light green melon. She licked her index and middle fingers after she put the fruit into her mouth. “As much as I love my homeland, I love this land too,” she said again with a little accent. “I still love you, Eduard.”
“Then why can’t we leave here and go home man and wife again?”
“You know the answer,” Kathryn said. She sat down in a chaise lounge chair, crossing her legs. Two small blue veins above the outside of the knee were the only blemish on her creamy white legs.
Eduard had not held his wife in his arms for eighteen years. He remembered the last time and the exact day.
Joanna came back onto the patio with a glass pitcher of iced tea. “Oh, look at the time,” she gasped. “I’ll miss my hair appointment.” She set the pitcher on the glass table top. “You two eat, please.” She hurried back into the air-conditioned house.
Kathryn looked up at her husband. “She obviously wants us to be alone?”
Eduard nodded; he almost smiled.
Kathryn slinked back against the chair, and hunched up her shoulders. “Did you push your daughter into this divorce?”
“I did not.”
“She still loves Joseph you know.”
“It was Susan’s decision.”
“I want Susan and Joseph to visit me in Holland. Bring the boys. Let them find love together again.”
“Why don’t you stay here, and let them find love again?”
“Is that your way of asking me to stay?”
Eduard looked at his wife with softness in his eyes. “You know I won’t do that. I can’t do that.”
“What must I say?” Kathryn was exasperated with her husband. “Say ‘I need you, Kathryn. Say I want you, Kathryn. I want you next to me every night. I love your touch. I love you.’”
Eduard remained standing. He took a clear plastic plate. He slapped a slice of beef and ham on wheat bread.
Kathryn leaned forward. She cupped one hand into the other. “You don’t care about your daughter. You never cared about her husband. All you wanted were those boys. If Andy and Maria marry, all the better.”
Eduard scooped out the rich potato salad. He sat down on the lounge chair next to his dazzling wife. “You think I only care about money?”
“Not money, Eduard, power,” Kathryn said. “In the beginning, I was all you needed. I was all you wanted. I married a kind and thoughtful man. What happened to that man? I left so long ago because I didn’t matter to you.”
“You mattered,” Eduard said loudly. “You always mattered. You took up with that Andre’ awfully fast.”
“Is that it,” Kathryn scoffed. “He has always been there for me.”
Eduard munched on a mouthful of his sandwich. He tore off another piece from his sandwich.
“When that lovely, happy man returns, that’s when I will return.”
“I am happy with those boys. I will do anything for them.”
“You need to do whatever it takes to allow your daughter to return to her husband.”
“What is done, is done,” Eduard said. He stood up from his half eaten sandwich. He hadn’t touched his potato salad. He walked towards the French doors.
“Too proud to admit a mistake. Too stubborn to change your mind,” his exquisite wife called after him.
Eduard turned to look at her. She did mean everything to him. He closed the French doors behind him.
Abbey had lured Thomas to the old mill by the dam. She promised him a treat of chocolate chip cookies. Not just any chocolate chip cookies. They were fresh baked with so many chocolate chips that they almost fell out of the cookies themselves. They were still warm. Thomas had become addicted to them when he was at Dan and Annette’s two months ago. He wanted to cool his and Abbey’s relationship, but she was playing hardball with the cookies.
“I know you love them,” Abbey said, watching Thomas gobble one cookie down after another. Chocolate was smeared on the sides of his mouth and stained his teeth.
Thomas could hear Abbey speaking as if she were many yards away. His concentration on the warm cookies was so great, he could barely hear the water tumbling over the dam.
“Do you like what I’m wearing?” Abbey teased him.
“Uh, what?” Thomas smacked out through his puffed out cheeks.
“I guess I should have brought another basketful,” Abbey said, admiring Thomas’ capacity to wolf down three cookies at once.
“Will a half gallon do?” Abbey laughed.
“Girl, you are the best.” Thomas finally focused.
“I really am the best girl for you,” Abbey said.
Thomas was so excited over the cookies that he had fallen into her trap. “Abbey…ain’t we gettin’ a little too serious?”
“Not at all,” Abbey said. “I want you to admit I’m your girl.”
“You do mean so much to me, but I gotta think about my dad.”
“Will you really go to the base?”
“If Dad says it’s all right, then I’m bouncin’ that way.”
“What if your dad wants to live here?”
“That can’t happen,” Thomas said. He washed down the cookie feast with a series of milk gulps. “No way that’s gonna happen.”
Abbey took Thomas’ hand and squeezed it lightly. “There’s talk about Nikki and your dad.”
“No way,” Thomas stressed.
“They were in love years ago I heard.”
“No way, no way.”
“Thomas,” Abbey cried. “What if he comes back to Nikki? You don’t have to go. You don’t have to leave me.”
“I’m goin’ to college just like my cousin Hector.”
“Then I’ll go to the same college,” Abbey said desperately.
“Abbey girl, please,” Thomas yelled. “We’re gettin’ too serious.”
“I want to be serious. Can’t you understand?”
Thomas stood and pulled his hand away from Abbey’s tight grip. “I gotta go.”
“I gotta go,” Thomas said. He took two steps, squatted down like a frog, and leaped over the four foot high concrete barrier.
“You know Sweetie,” Henry Vanderloo said, “It’s not the end of the world.”
Maria had been despondent for a week after learning of Chloe. She could not sleep. She would yawn and yawn, then cry. Her mother wanted her to stay away from the work in the fields, stay away from the temptation to see Andrew. “Grandpa, I wish I hadn’t fallen in love.”
Maria, you have a crush,” Henry said. “You will find the man of your dreams anytime, and anywhere. Andrew is down here now. You can’t change that.”
“Grandpa, did you know it was love when you first met Grandma?”
“She was like a dream to me. I could not concentrate in any class where we found ourselves together. Joanna was a very good engineering student. Her mind is as beautiful as her appearance.”
“All the other kids were put off by Andy’s birthmark, but not me. I could see past it. The girls made fun of him behind his back. His eyes were so sad when he heard the giggles. I wanted to punch them.”
“Do you feel sorry for Andy?” Henry tilted his head.
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Are you confusing love with compassion?”
“I love Andy,” Maria said, staring ahead.”If love can happen anytime, why can’t it happen when I’m eleven?”
“Then you will have to fight for Andy,” Henry said.
“I don’t want to confront Chloe in front of Andy.”
“One day I saw your grandmother talking to another guy, this after we had gone out for a few dates. I was sure Joanna was the one, but seeing her talking to another guy hurt me deeply.”
“What did you do?” Maria’s eyes lit up. “Punch the guy?”
“I made sure she didn’t see me looking at her talking to this guy, but she seemed to hang on every word he was saying. I asked her after ‘Strength of Materials’ class to meet me for coffee. We talked and talked about everything under the sun. I wanted to see if she would hang on my every word.”
“Well, did she?”
“No,” Henry said. “She told me that I talked too much. No one was left in the café. It was midnight. When we walked out into the street, she intertwined her fingers in mine. She led me to a dark doorway; pushed me up against the wood door, and kissed me so passionately, like no girl had done before. I knew she would be my wife.”
“Grandpa, I can’t see you and Grandma kissing like that,” Maria said. “Then I will kiss Andy like no girl ever will.”
“You are the only girl who has kissed Andy,” Henry smiled warmly. “Don’t scare him.”
“That Chloe better not have kissed my sweetheart. He is mine forever.”
“Sweetie, you can’t possess someone. It has to happen naturally. One day you both will know.”
Susan waited for Jules in the temporary trailer that had become permanent. She elected not to attempt wedging her bottom into a children’s chair. She thought back to the day her mother left for Holland, how she wanted her parents to reconcile. She thought about that night in Columbus, when Joe told her he was married. Her father produced the atmosphere that drove her mother away to begin with, and the wealth that made it possible for her ex-husband to attain the annulment. Her love for her father was always rewarded with pain. He never could tell her how proud he was of her basketball career. So far he had never told her what a great job she had done to expand his empire.
Mackenzie’s entrance that night in Columbus was the perfect excuse for her to leave her one and only love. She could not leave the patio fast enough. She left with the consolation prize of Mackenzie. She remembered sitting in a vacuum, surrounded by polished cherry wood and glass in the eclectic restaurant. People around her were talking, but she could only see their lips move. Kenzie was witty as always. She smiled and laughed on cue.
“You know Susan,” Mackenzie said. “You are the most beautiful woman in the room again.”
Susan smiled and laughed. She had not heard a word.
Mackenzie knew she was only humoring him. If she only knew how much she hurt him with the simplest gestures of her face, or the way she held her hands. “All the men are staring at you again.”
“Not at their dates or wives,” Mackenzie said, studying Susan’s eyes.
“I have not been a good date, have I?” Susan asked. She dabbed her napkin at the corner of her eye.
“You have to get over him,” Mackenzie said without his ubiquitous smile. “Why did you agree to the divorce?”
Susan shook her head. “I can’t see him ever again, even when he comes for the boys. I owe you that. I owe you so much.”
Mackenzie stared at her, his face grey in the vague light.
“My ex-husband is remarried.” Susan saw the relief, almost ecstasy, in Kenzie’s eyes.
Susan had not even remembered what she ate that night in Columbus.
She watched Jules through the trailer window, hurrying up to the dented metal door.
When Jules came into the room, Susan said, “Have time for a friend?”
“All the time in the world,” Jules said, walking around to her desk, but stood.
“I wish you had told me about Joe and Esmeralda.”
Jules paused, and looked sympathetically. “She loves Joe. Joe needs a wife. It seemed that you had moved on.”
“I can’t get over him.”
“He’s so sweet.”
“How does he feel being a distant second place?”
“He knows. I know it hurts him.”
“How pathetic of me.”
“You had everything, but didn’t know.”
“I am one spoiled bitch.”
“Susan, you are my best friend,” Jules said. “You are a person whom I trust. Can you let me give you some advice?”
Susan relaxed. “Anything. You have been so good with Andrew. Now you need to tutor me through life.”
Jules sat down at her desk. “The one thing that you need to understand is your father. Eduard and you need to break down the barriers. When you and your father can tear down all the defenses between you, that’s when you can move forward in your life. You both will be wealthy beyond belief. You can marry Mackenzie, and acquire more wealth, but you have to stop some time and find the love of your father. You found the true love of your life in Joe, but it is too late. Don’t be too late with your father.”
“I told Kenzie that I can’t see Joe anymore,” Susan folded her arms. “All the emotions rush at me when I see him. Maybe I should move in with Kenzie. Father has told me that I can’t take the boys if I leave the mansion. Talk about understanding my father!”
“You are a poor little rich girl.”
“I want to sleep with Joe again. I want to hold him in my arms. I had all that. I had to be a jealous bitch over Mary. I just had to conquer New York.”
“Susan, why are you so hard on yourself?” Jules called out. “Are you having a nervous breakdown?”
Susan gripped her forehead, slumping over. “I thought that I could compete in the world of men, but all the men in my life are controlling me; my sons, my ex-husband, my father—now Kenzie wants me in his house—to control me there.”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Jules finally said. “Why don’t you move to Holland with your mother? You are so happy with her. You speak fluent Dutch. With your Spanish and English skills, you could work for any Dutch company. You and your mother could be together. Wouldn’t that be good for you?”
Susan thought for a moment. “I wouldn’t run into Joe. It would give me time for my heart to heal.” Susan paused. “No, I could not be away from my sons. It won’t work. My father has a lock on them. You told me to confront my father. Running away to Holland would only let my father win again.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come back with your mother. Be a team. Your father could never resist two confident and beautiful women. Be one big family again.”
“I’ll think about this,” Susan said. “I could use a break from the world that I have produced for myself.”
“We’ll all be here when you come back,” Jules said. “And all the love.”
“All the love is what scares me.”
Maria skipped across Route 103, her long legs leaping across canal after canal, to the Van Wert maintenance shack. The day was hot and dry. The picnic basket was heavy in her hands, but the thoughts of her sweetheart made the lugging easy. The weeks had been unrelentingly hot and dry. The Van Wert and Vanderloo irrigation system worked day in and day out. Henry told Maria that the danger was a wind through the night that would dry out the fields. If the fields dried out too much, a fire was always possible in the organic soil. A wild fire across the fields would be deadly. She didn’t want to think about that now. Andy was on her mind. It was almost noon. She wanted to surprise him with a picnic basket of her own. Her grandmother, Joanna, had made thick meat sandwiches that Maria knew Andy loved. He never could get enough of Karla’s potato salad. Joanna put cold baked beans with great chunks of lean ham in a porcelain container so it would keep better in the excessive dry heat. Maria had a treat for her sweetheart. She had iced down two one liter bottles of Frosty root beers in an Eddie Bauer fabric holder.
Andy was carrying an armful of long two by fours to a half built wagon. Maria marveled at his strength. Although his eyes seemed to bug out, Andy was grunting loudly, but determinedly to get to the men assembling the flat bed wagon. Maria waved like she did from the fields to get Andy’s attention. “I got us a big lunch,” Maria said, lugging the oversized wicker basket to Andy.
“What are you doing here?” Andrew questioned.
Maria’s heart sunk. “I thought…you know…” She did not want to cry.
“Mr. Reismersma has our lunch,” Andy said.
“But I brought this special,” Maria said, stunned.
“You should have told me that you were com…coming,” Andy said.
Maria never had to tell Andy anything. They were on the same wavelength, always. “But this is what I wanted to do for us. I haven’t seen you for so long.”
Andy looked beyond Maria. His eyes seemed to light up. Maria didn’t need to turn around. She knew that Chloe was walking straight up to her. “Hi,” Andy said sheepishly.
Chloe stared at Maria with sweetness.
Maria’s blood boiled. She could hear Coach Susan admonishing her at a timeout that number twelve was beating her on the dribble. “Hi, Chloe,” Maria spit out.
Andy never saw Maria’s black eyes glow like they did now. “Maria brought me lunch,” Andy said. He felt his muscles twitch in his calf.
Chloe said, “I brought you your favorites.”
Maria knew that Chloe could not know what Andy’s favorites were.
“Meat sandwiches. Chock full of beef roast, just like you love,” Chloe crooned. “The sandwiches are still warm too.”
Maria could not believe her ears. Andy must have succumbed to Chloe’s charms. She was getting sick from Chloe’s girly girl nicey nice way. Chloe swung her knee back and forth, pivoting on the toe of her tennis shoe.
Andy took a small step backward. He could see Maria’s eyes aglow. The muscles in her jaw clenched in and out. Andy had never seen a smile on Maria’s face as he did now. Her big front teeth shone in a snarl.
“We are hungry, aren’t we Andy?” Chloe’s dad said, walking in the middle of the three kids. “The more food, the better, right Andy?”
“That is sure right,” Andy said, taking a step behind Mr. Reismersma.
Maria was angry and hurt that Andy did not stand next to her. He was now completely behind Chloe’s dad with only his head peering around Mr. Reismersma’s upper arm. “Are we going to eat or what?” she asked in an angry voice.
“It’s too hot outside,” Mr. Reismersma said. “We can eat over at that bench.”
Chloe circled around her father before Maria could react. She slid her arm around Andy’s arm and coaxed him over to the bench.
Maria stood alone watching all three take a seat on the workbench. She was hungry when she came into the shack, but now the pain in her heart consumed her. She wanted to run out of the shack. Susan’s words came back to her about ‘the tough get going when times are tough,’ or something like that. She walked to the bench. Mr. Reismersma scooted over so Maria could sit on the other side of Andy away from Chloe.
“Maria,” Mr. Reismersma said, “Chloe tells me that you are a tremendous basketball player.”
“I can play,” Maria said, nibbling on a sandwich that she had packed in her wicker basket. She watched Andy wolf down Chloe’s beef roast sandwich in three gulps. “Andy, aren’t you going to eat my potato salad?” Maria mocked. “I brought it just for you.”
“Yes,” Andy droned through his stuffed mouth. “I…I want all of it.”
“You should always share,” Chloe said sweetly. “Here, I brought a spoon to scoop.”
Maria wanted to gag. Chloe was pushing her buttons, and Chloe knew it. “Oh look at the time,” Maria said. She put her half eaten sandwich back in the wicker basket. “You can have the rest of the sandwiches that I made for you, Andy.”
Andy nodded. “I’ll eat’em. I promise,” Andy had a hangdog look. Trying to please two girls was impossible. He didn’t want Maria to go. He wanted to talk to her. He hadn’t seen her for a long while. Chloe looked so good. Her sandwiches were irresistible.
“Andy, will you meet me at our place this Saturday night?” Maria said, laying the rest of her sandwiches, and the containers of potato salad and baked beans on top of Chloe’s basket.
“Yes,” Andy said eagerly. He wanted to desperately please Maria.
“Will you run up to me like you always do?” Maria said, giving Chloe her best girly girl look.
“I sure will,” Andy said, chomping on another sandwich.
“I will have a treat for you when you get there,” Maria said. She bent over and kissed Andy on the cheek. “It was so good to see you again, Chloe,” Maria said.
“Just like old times,” Chloe glared.
“A delicious treat, don’t forget, Andy,” Maria smiled her most innocent smile.
Andy watched her skip out of the shack. He was so relieved. He looked over at Chloe. She had a strange smile that he never had seen before.