A holland-kiss
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A holland-kiss A holland-kiss Document Transcript

  • A HOLLAND KISS By Dawn Michelle Copyright 2011 Dawn Michelle SMASHWORDS EDITION ~~~~~ Thank you for downloading this ebook. Although this is an ebook, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Thank you for your support. ~~~~~ Chapter 1 “Blasted bees!” Puffing, Dutch tried to blow at them with his nonexistent breath. “I’m sick and tired of their buzzing Dutch couldn’t help being grumpy. It was early March and, like always, the bees would hound him relentlessly again this year. And the birds. Dutch cringed thinking about the poop bombs they left as gifts for him. “Oh sweetheart, calm down.” Tulip smiled brightly, with a twinkle in her beautiful blue eyes. “It’s your flowers. They smell them and the pretty colors attract the birds and bees.” Tulip loved the sweet fragrance she now associated with her beloved Dutch boy. Dutch was shocked. “What? What are you talking about? What flowers? I don’t have any flowers.” Dutch tried to play innocent, but knew she’d figured him out. Darn. For the last 50 years, he’d been waiting for just the right moment to give Tulip her bouquet, with the hope a kiss would follow. But since they were concrete and plaster, there wasn’t much chance of that happening. But Dutch vowed one day he’d give his Dutch girl her flowers and get that kiss. “Don’t play coy with me, young man. I know you have a bouquet hidden behind your back,” Tulip said knowingly. She, too, wanted that kiss—almost as bad as she wanted her flowers. “Don’t know what you’re talking about woman. I think your braids are too tight!” “Oh hush. Our day will come. Until then, let’s enjoy the sunset,” Tulip said just as tears began to fall down her perfect plaster face. “Tulip? What is it, flower? What’s wrong?” The concern in Dutch’s voice warmed Tulip’s concrete heart. The town’s storm siren began its awful wailing, hurting Tulip’s delicate ears. The tears she shed were that of the rain that had begun to fall. Lightning streaked through the darkening sky and the thunder grew so loud that Tulip wanted to tremble. “Please don’t cry, Tulip. Let’s talk about something, something nice.” He would divert her attention until the storm passed. That always worked. Tulip loved to talk.
  • “Just think, in a few weeks it will be Easter. The flowers will be blooming. Your flower will be blooming,” He said with emphasis. “I know how you love tulips.” Of course, Dutch was smiling; that’s all he ever did. No matter the situation. ~~~~~ So this was how I was going to die. Dressed as Tulip, the world’s largest Dutch girl. Just minutes ago – or what is hours? – I’d been sitting on my couch making a list of all the pros and cons of my life when the TV weatherman demanded I seek shelter. From the sounds of the storm now raging, the “con” side of my list was taking the lead. Gale force winds were blowing and stuff – I have no idea what – was being blown around. My windows were rattling and there was an eerie sound to the raging wind. As if it were alive, heralding my impending death. Born and raised in southern Indiana, one would think I’d be better prepared for severe weather, but nope. Not me. Even though the news had predicted storms for this evening, I figured they were just crying wolf. Every spring, we go through this. From March to June, it’s an atmospheric free-for-all. Holland has never been touched by a tornado, so maybe I wasn’t taking the warnings as seriously as I should have. Now I was paying the ultimate price. My obituary would read like this: Lillian Kay Mein, pronounced mine, lived a short, but happy life. That’s it. That’s all it would say. That, and I was dressed like Tulip when I died. Why was I dressed as one-half of the famed kissing couple, you might wonder? Well…I don’t really have a good answer for that one. I made the costume for Halloween last year, but something possessed me to put in on when I’d seen it hanging in my closest earlier in the evening. Dutch and Tulip never fail to bring a smile to my face. And recently my face hadn’t been doing a whole lot of smiling. After leaving school, where everyone was talking about their Spring Break plans, I was feeling pretty pathetic about my life. My Spring Break plans are simple. I don’t have any. At 24, my life is far from what you see on TV or read in those chick lit books. I don’t own a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. Heck, I don’t even know where to buy a pair. I don’t go clubbing or meet friends for cocktails. So yeah, my life is not a rerun of Sex in the City. This is what I had been focusing on before an apparent tornado made me take a hard look at how good my life really is. I’m young, healthy and have a career I love. I should be happy, except for the about-to-die part, yet something was missing from my life. Now huddled in the northwest corner of my basement, wrapped in a quilt, cell phone in hand, I realized what that something was. The man I love doesn’t love me. For this very reason, I was considering moving from the only town I’d ever lived in. When the man you love doesn’t love you, what choice do you have but to move on? So here I sit. Alone.
  • Waiting to die. Alone. Not wrapped in the arms of a loved one. I’ve no clue what other people do when riding out a storm, but this was how I was spending the last few moments of my life. Thinking of what could have been. Things I could have done. Places I could have gone. My parents and friends knew I loved them. I tell them often enough, but I’d never have children or grandchildren. I’d never grow old and have pearls of wisdom and a lifetime of memories to share and reflect on in my old age. All I had was a just the hint of a life. One more item for the “con” side of the list. The storm outside was worsening. I hadn’t thought that possible. It sounded as if it were barreling through my living room. I just knew that, at any second, the windows in my basement were going to shatter and kill me. Getting blood all over my Tulip costume. By the way, if it’s not too badly stained, go ahead and bury me in it. Something else I could add to my “pro” list, or you can, since I won’t be around to do it. The town’s siren was blaring, or had been when I’d raced downstairs, but it was hard to tell with all the roaring going on outside. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here in the dark, contemplating my life, but then almost as quickly as it started, it stopped. Was it over? Or was this just a break in the action before the big finale? After several more minutes of relative quiet, I decided it must be over. The storm was subsiding, but it was still raining. Thunder was growing fainter and the siren was definitely silent now. I think that was the scariest sound of all. Silence. Somehow the sounds of destruction let me know my place in the world, but now that it was over, what would I find when I went outside? “Lily! Lily? Where are you? Lily!” Nearly jumping out of my skin, I left the safety of my corner to find my neighbors Bill and Tootsie entering the basement. I love Bill and Tootsie and sent up a quick thanks for their safety. They’re like grandparents to me, since I don’t have any of my own. They take care of me and I do the same for them. Hugging each, I assured them I was fine. “You guys okay?” I asked. Holding my hand, Tootsie answered, “We’re fine.” She was smiling and gave me a once- over before asking why I was dressed as Tulip. I lied and said I’d just finished sewing it and was trying it on. She didn’t look convinced, but didn’t press for more. “Power’s out,” Bill informed me. He was smart enough to have a flashlight when all I had was my generation’s version: my cell phone. Bill is what you’d call barrel-chested. Large and in charge, Bill is completely bald, except for his handlebar mustache, which he keeps in place with Elmer’s glue. He’d come over one afternoon asking to borrow some. Straightening my apron, I ventured outside with them to check on the rest of the neighborhood. Taco, Bill and Tootsie’s dog, was marking the now-unfamiliar domain of fallen trees. I guess her territorial instincts had kicked into overdrive, because every few seconds she squatted. It was only sprinkling now and pitch black. The occasional streak of lightening gave us little light and a cloudy sky covered the moon. With the power out, the street lights were dark, so Bill was shining his flashlight around our yards. The three of us took in the aftermath of the tornado speechless. Other neighbors were coming out now, a sea of flashlights illuminating the night. We soon determined that everyone was accounted for and fine, well, physically fine at least. Kids were crying and parents were trying in vain to calm them down. Ruth, my backyard neighbor, looked shaken, but not hurt.
  • If Bill and Tootsie are like grandparents, then Ruth is like my great-grandma. At 82, Ruth lives alone, but she belongs to the whole neighborhood. The matriarch of our block, she was currently standing with her hands on her hips, muttering to herself in German and looking lost. “Bill!” I yelled over the sounds of children crying. “Keep an eye on Ruth. I need to get a flashlight.” Pretty sure I have one under the kitchen sink. Shaking his head, Bill answered, “Here, take this one,” and handed me his FBI-grade torch. “We don’t want you to trip and get hurt. Not after surviving a tornado.” Since he was retired Army, I took my orders and marched Ruth home. Directly behind my house is Ruth’s, an old alley separating our yards. Alley is a loosely used term in Holland. It isn’t a paved or rock driveway, just double imprints of tire tracks in the grass, but we called it an alley. Ruth eyed me for a minute, making me wonder if she was okay, before she smiled and said, “You look so cute dressed like Tulip.” I’d even braided my hair, completing the ensemble, although I drew the line at wooden shoes. Stepping over and around fallen trees, Ruth and I made it safely to her home, which is identical to mine in size and layout. The only difference on the inside was the smell. Hers does. Mine doesn’t. It’s not that Ruth’s house stinks; it just has its own smell, whereas I don’t think my house smells like anything. Our neighborhood is one of those post-WWII housing blocks, where all the homes look alike. Oh sure some people were more well off and had an upstairs, some even had brick or at least the front was, but mine and Ruth’s was just plain vinyl siding. White for me. Grey for Ruth. “How we holding up?” I asked. I didn’t want her going into shock and was glad my cell had reception. Surely, the land lines were down. Ruth refused most technology and still had a rotary phone. I cringed, wondering how long it would take to dial 911. Mental note: buy Ruth a new phone. One that looked rotary, but secretly had buttons. Maybe I’d trick her into this century. Still shaken, Ruth was rallying. She felt better in the safety of her own home, now lit up by a dozen candles. “You know, I think I’m fine,” she answered. Shuffling to the cabinet above the fridge, Ruth grabbed a bottle of whiskey. “How ’bout a drink?” Shocked, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Ruth drinking? My elderly, hair-always-in-a- bun, never-go-out-in-public-without-lipstick neighbor kept whiskey in the house.? Not that I blamed her. I felt like a drink myself. By midnight, I was sure of two things. I’d survived a tornado and Ruth could drink me under the table. ~~~~~ The sound of a chainsaw woke me bright and early. I was in bed, but it wasn’t mine. The chainsaw was growing louder, then fainter, then louder again. Turning my head on a foreign pillow that smelled like VapoRub, I knew whose bed I was in. After our trying experience, Ruth and I had tied one on. I don’t remember going to bed with Ruth, yet here I was. Ruth’s hair was unbound now. Taking a moment to study and feel its soft texture. This was the first time I remember seeing her hair not in its usual bun. Pure white, with just a hint of grey. Still dressed like Tulip, I was sure my braids were a mess.
  • I then realized the chainsaw sound was Ruth’s snoring. She was out, just like the electricity. Stretching, I felt a monster of a headache coming on and the early morning light streaming through the window hurt my eyes. Crap! I hope that’s early morning light. What time is it? I had to get to school. Did I mention I’m a teacher? A teacher with a hangover. I don’t think my principal would appreciate my being late to school because I’d gotten toasted with my elderly neighbor. As a second grade teacher, there are certain things you can and can’t do in a small town. This was one of them. Checking the time on my cell, I saw I had a text. School was cancelled. Thank God. Since it was the Friday before break, I knew I had ten days off school. It was a little after seven and I had to pee. I’m not much of a drinker and now I know why. Not worth the return. Or returns, if I threw up later. I was going to need those ten days to recuperate. Maybe that makes me a lightweight. Actually, I know it does. Holland is a German-settled community and, like most of Dubois County, holds fast to its beer-loving heritage. In the bathroom, I discovered all kinds of things about Ruth that I didn’t want or need to know. She’d had the presence of mind to remove her teeth last night and her hemorrhoid cream was lying on top of the toilet. Leaving Ruth a note to call if she needed anything, I tried to straighten my apron and was glad to see that my costume was only dirty, not torn. I could salvage it. Walking home and surveying any damage along the way, I saw that my roof was missing some shingles on the back side. Okay, not so bad. My willow tree was leaning into the clothesline. Again. Not so bad, even though I loved that tree. And my car looked fine, besides being covered in leaves. All the siding was in place, but the entire front of my roof was gone. Well, shit! The roof had been replaced just four years ago and I have no idea what my deductible is. Limbs, shingles and someone’s t-shirt were littering my yard. A rather large limb had fallen close to my Dutch and Tulip statues. They’d been a housewarming gift from Mom. Growing up we, like most everyone in town, had a Dutch and Tulip. When Mom moved, she’d taken her set with her, even though she didn’t live in Holland anymore. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, but couldn’t stop myself from uncovering my kissing couple. Lugging the limb was no easy task, dressed as I was, but when I managed to get the limb away from the side of the house, I was horrified at what I found. Dutch was lying on his side, a big chip in his shiny red hat. Suddenly, I felt like crying. Maybe it was the letdown from last night’s scare or Ruth’s whiskey, but seeing Dutch beaten up made me sad. Standing him upright, I placed Dutch so that his lips were just barely touching Tulip’s. There. All better. Later, I’d make a point to go to the tractor dealership and buy a new set. I only hoped they had red. Even though the real Dutch and Tulip wore red, some in town chose blue for their kissing couple. Mrs. Julian even had the audacity to have a green set. As if Dutch and Tulip would wear green. I could live with seeing them in blue, but green? Really? What are people thinking? Luckily, my Tulip was unharmed, looking quite fashionable in her red-skirted jumpsuit. Her white blouse was crisp and matched her starched apron and bonnet, held in place by kissers. Large gold squares that are worn at the temples, kissers originally signified a person’s religion. Tulip’s were adorned with tiny windmills and her braids were accented with red bows. Today I was her twin. Only my red bows had fallen out, probably in Ruth’s bed.
  • Dutch was dressed to match his love, only he was wearing pants. Mop-cut blonde hair, covered mostly by his red fishing cap, and of course he was holding a bouquet of yellow tulips behind his back. The statues, bent at the waist, are about two feet tall. Their chubby little faces, with pink puckered lips, are the sweetest sight. Though my Dutch was now chipped and scuffed, he was still a handsome young man. Tulip was a very lucky lady. Already at it with a chainsaw, Bill was now cutting my beloved willow tree into woodstove- sized pieces. Noticing me, he cut the engine and waved me over. “You get Ruth all squared away last night?” He didn’t ask, but I know Bill was curious about my costume. “Yes. She’s fine now. I think having someone with her helped,” I lied. Ruth might have been shaken, but she was tough and would have survived quite fine without me. Now that I think about it, I needed her more than she needed me. “Let me go change and I’ll give you a hand,” I said as I headed inside. But before I reached my door, I noticed a red truck. The red truck I love seeing. The one that speeds up my heart rate each and every time I see it. Jay Heimerschmitt was pulling into my driveway. Great! I looked terrible. Hair a mess, sleep in my eyes, not to mention the fact that I was dressed like Tulip. Not exactly how you want to look when the man of your dreams shows up. Jeremiah Frederick Heimerschmitt. Yeah, I know, the name sucks. No wonder he went by the nickname Jay. I’d been in love with Jay since…well, since forever. That childhood crush, the one everyone has, but usually grows out of, that was Jay. In reality, I have no hopes for any kind of relationship with him. But it’s obvious by how I dress that I don’t live in reality. But a girl can dream. Jay’s mom and mine work together. Have my whole life. Mom unknowingly gives me updates on his life, and so, I know everything about him. Knowledge I store away like a hoarder. My mind is stacked high with Jay information. I know he is an avid outdoorsman, loves football and is a volunteer fireman. He lives in a pole barn on seven acres, just outside of town. It’s a really nice pole barn, though. Two stories. He lives on the second level and, even though I’ve never been there, I know it has hardwood floors and his trophy kills hang on the walls. He has a lake and can often be found fishing, when he isn’t working in the downstairs shop. At 31, Jay is seven years older than me. Never been married, several serious relationships, yet he’s never lived with anyone, Jay is six feet fall exactly, trim and drop-dead gorgeous. He has one of those big smiles that show all his teeth. One is crooked, but when he smiles, you don’t even notice. Jay runs a small construction company with his cousin Jonas, so his hands are rough. Not that they’d ever touched me. I couldn’t be so lucky. I fantasize about his hands, though. Even with callouses, his touch would be pure magic. Amazing blue eyes and, of course, he’s tow-headed. Not sure where that term comes from, but I know it means blonde, just like me. The one thing we have in common. Jay is the perfect all-American guy. He is my ideal. Jay is the man every other man has to live up to. Too bad none ever had. Too bad none ever could. Unfortunately, Jay doesn’t know I exist. Oh sure, he knows me, but I don’t think he really sees me. Jay thinks of me as a child.
  • Or maybe he doesn’t think of me at all. Getting out of his truck, he stopped short, taking in my outfit. Dammit! “Wow. I don’t know what to say about your get-up.” He smiled, all his white teeth gleaming in the early morning sun. “All dressed up and nowhere to go?” I felt like a child playing dress-up, which I guess is why I’d put on Tulip’s outfit in the first place. I wanted a mental escape from my ho-hum life. Not knowing what to say, I said nothing to the man of my dreams. Jay shrugged, before making a visual inspection of my house. “I couldn’t help notice half your roof is missing. Want me to cover it until you get it fixed?” His baby blues didn’t even bother looking at me now. Instead, he was looking around my house with a critical eye. “That would be great, if you don’t mind.” It would also be great if you pledged your undying love to me. But I kept those words to myself. “I was going to call you, anyway,” I said. “Think you’ll have time to fix it before it rains again?” Jay nodded. “It’s a small roof, so yeah, I think we can get it done. Jonas or I’ll get a crew started on it tomorrow.” That was really sweet. Surely, there was a lot of damage in town, yet he was getting to me first. My heart swelled with unrequited love. Trying to keep the conversation going – not that it was much of conversation, but I wanted to keep his attention while I had it – I ventured, “How’d the rest of the town fare?” It was a reasonable question. The storm was a safe subject. “Not bad. No serious damage anywhere. A few downed trees, lots of roof damage. The Bertman’s had a window broken, but other than that nothing major.” “I guess we were lucky then.” Geez! Could I be any more ridiculous? Stating the obvious. I hate when people do that. Jay was rummaging through his work truck, the kind with two upright tool boxes. After he had the tools he needed, he went to work patching my roof. I hadn’t realized flannel could be so sexy. The tool belt around his waist put me over the edge. Here was a hardworking man. That was sexy. Trying to be polite and get closer, I hollered, “Do you need any help up there?” Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was climb around on my roof, but for Jay I’d brave it. Then I remembered my costume. “Nah. This will only take a minute.” Jay was already hammering away. “Did you hear about Dutch and Tulip?” He called over his shoulder. This caught my attention. “No. What?” I had big plans for Dutch and Tulip. I was going to do it under them some day. Not that kind of “do it.” Get married under them. Someday, when I find the right guy, that is. After Dutch and Tulip were erected, it became tradition for couples to marry at the park, under the loving eyes of the kissing couple. Those who married under them stayed together. Their track record was spotless. It was as if they were magical and blessed a couple’s life. A blessing I wanted. Jay, not sensing my distress, continued hammering before returning his attention to me. “You know that big oak tree?” he asked. I nodded my head, even though he couldn’t see me. “It fell into Dutch and cracked him, but Tulip is fine.”
  • Nothing major! Nothing major? How could Dutch being damaged be considered anything but major? I always knew that tree was a bad idea. Nothing should be that close to my Dutch and Tulip. Apparently, Jay was done, because I was momentarily distracted by his backside coming down the ladder. “So what happens now? They’re going to fix him right?” I tried to keep the sense of panic out of my voice. They had to fix Dutch. What would Holland do without the kissing couple? How was I supposed to get married? “Don’t know, but I guess they will. The town keeps insurance on them. They asked me to take a look and cover the crack, but that’s all I know.” Jay was down, putting away his tools, while I was still absorbing the news as if someone had died. “Lily?” Ruth was up and sounding spry, yelling from her back porch. Lipstick on, not a hair out of place, she must be able to handle her liquor better than me. “Over here, Ruth.” Guessing my time with Jay was up, I focused my attention on my new drinking buddy. Ruth spotted Jay, taking the opportunity to tell him all about our wild night. “Threw up twice already. You?” she asked in my direction. Sounding proud of herself, she added, “Oh, and I found your bows.” Chuckling, Jay got in his truck, without a backward glance, and drove away. But I’m sure I heard him mutter something about my braids. Chapter 2 “How do you feel, sweetheart?” Tulip had been unusually quiet since the storm, but now she felt better. The people had come and that nice young man had covered up Dutch’s butt. “I’m fine. Nothing to worry about.” Dutch knew he must look ridiculous, but didn’t want to whine. No one liked a cry baby. When the sun had risen, the people who ran the ice cream shop across the street had seen the fallen tree and come to investigate. They’d immediately taken action and, soon after, Dutch received what Tulip was now calling a bandage. Bandage, my ass, he thought. Of course, he didn’t say that to Tulip. She was especially touchy about such things, but he was embarrassed. He knew the blue tarp would stick out like a sore thumb against his red overalls, but at least he couldn’t feel the breeze inside anymore. “I just knew they’d come and help. Did you hear them talking about insurance?” Tulip asked. “Of course I did, dear. I was standing right here.” “Oh, I know. I just want them to hurry and get you fixed.” Over the past several years, people had mentioned repainting them. Tulip, like all women, was excited about getting a makeover. “Just think. If they repaint us, maybe someone will get married again. It’s been too long. Why do you think that is, Dutch?” Tulip’s favorite days were those when someone chose to marry under their loving eyes. All the pretty flowers. And the people were always so happy. “I don’t know, flower. People are different now, but I’m sure once were all shined up, someone will. And then maybe you’ll let me kiss you?” Hope was evident in Dutch’s tone. “Silly boy. I told you I won’t kiss you until I get my flowers.”
  • ~~~~~ After drinking a gallon of water and taking more than the directed dosage of ibuprofen, my stomach was rumbling. Not sure if that was from hunger or Ruth’s whiskey, I decided against breakfast. Best to get dressed and start cleaning up. Even though what I really wanted was to crawl back into bed, even Ruth’s, and sleep off my hangover. By the time I got back outside, Bill was done cutting up my willow tree. I spent the next several hours picking up debris and helping stack wood. I started in on Ruth’s yard next. Lucky for me, the only debris in her yard was my roof. Ruth invited me over for lunch, which my stomach could now handle. I hope. Since the power was still out, our meal consisted of Ruth cleaning out her refrigerator. I hadn’t realized people made deviled eggs other than on special occasions. While we ate, we listened to Ruth’s battery-powered radio. Again, I am so not prepared for emergencies. Ruth wanted to know all about the damage in town and I needed to get to the park and check up on Dutch, so after my rather odd lunch, I did just that. Walking down Haupt Street, which is our version of Main, I was shocked at how my small town looked. It looked like a tornado had struck, but according to the news, we hadn’t had a tornado, after all. Just a really bad storm. Tree limbs were everywhere and there was a downed power line in the post office parking lot. Unlike most buildings and homes in Holland, the post office stands out. Its mid-century design is straight out of the 1960s. Large rectangular windows and a one-slope roof make the building almost out of place in a town where everything is turn of the century. Twentieth century, that is. But I love it. It’s unique. The business district, as I like to call it, consists of the Dairy, with its shiny, orange, milk house block; Boom’s Café, which now stands empty but used to serve the best cheeseburgers; and an empty gas station. The kind where they put the gas in for you, while cleaning your windows and checking your oil. The hose that alerted the attendant that a car had arrived was still there. I remember riding over it on my bike as a kid, trying to make the bell go off. I never weighed enough, but the older kids could do it. Across the street is another gas station. This one, too, abandoned. The owners had built a new one in the ’80s. We thought we were really something then. Not only could you get your car serviced, but you could buy a gallon of milk and a bag of chips. Yes, Holland has a convenience store. It’s all we’ve got in the way of a grocery store now. Barth’s Market shut down years ago. Next to it is what used to be the laundry mat, closed as well. Sad, really. Our so-called business district doesn’t do a whole lot of business. At one time, Holland could support two gas stations, a grocery store and laundry. Looking around, I realized that, though a storm could destroy a town, change could as well. Yet seeing the town’s residents cleaning up their yards and hearing the chainsaws buzzing, I knew Holland wasn’t dead, just transitioning. I guess we’re a bedroom town now. I hate that term. It sounds so…boring. Holland is not boring. It’s wonderful. How could I even think of leaving? This is where I grew up and I turned out just fine. I would raise my children here as well. But first I had to get married. And for that to happen, Dutch had to get fixed.
  • Going down the steep hill in front of the school, which was scary to me as a child on a bike, a familiar voice called my name. “Lily!” Jonas Heimerschmitt, Jay’s cousin and business partner, was waving and smiling. Jay and Jonas look so much alike they could pass for brothers. Jonas is two years older than me and he, like Jay, was doing what he could to help out, replacing the broken window at the Bertmans’ house. “Hey, Jonas,” I said with a wave. “How’s it goin’?” “Good. Once I’m done here, I gotta go back to Mom and Dad’s. They lost a big tree in the backyard. Dad thinks he can handle it himself.” He rolled his Jay-like blue eyes at me. Jonas’s parents live on Snob Hill. If Holland had an exclusive, “Oh I want to live there” neighborhood, Snob Hill was it. A two- block stretch on Kirche Avenue. See that’s how fancy they are. They are an Avenue. The only one in town. “Heard you and Ruth had quite a night? Even played dress-up.” Jonas was trying hard not to laugh, but lost the battle. “Sorry. I’m just trying to picture you and Ruth getting drunk.” “Well, in my defense, Ruth was scared after the storm.” Jonas wasn’t buying it, though, so I slugged him in the arm. Not hard. As if I could hit someone very hard with my 105 pounds. “Yeah, right. Ruth scared? Just keep telling yourself that.” Jonas looked good wearing a t- shirt, his flannel shirt was tossed on the hood of his truck. He may look like Jay, but he’s bigger by several inches and stockier. Not fat, but muscular, having played high school football. And all his teeth were straight. “So, Jay patched your roof?” “Yes. Said he’d get started on it tomorrow.” I couldn’t wait. I’d do what I could to help, but mostly I was just looking forward to an excuse to be near Jay. I’d bring him cold drinks, maybe fix him and his crew lunch. If all went well, maybe he’d stay for supper. And then the night. “Actually, I’ll be doing your roof.” Dang! Not that I didn’t like Jonas, but he was no Jay. I couldn’t very well substitute one Heimerschmitt for another. I really did like Jonas, though. He was a great guy. In fact, I considered him a close friend. He also knew how I felt about his cousin. “Sorry, Lils. You’ll just have to satisfy yourself with me.” He waggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated gesture of seduction. “Oh, I think you’ll do just fine.” I waggled right back. Jonas and I had that kind of relationship. We teased and taunted, maybe a little flirting, but it was all innocent. “Fine? Fine?! I’ll show you fine one day,” Jonas winked, stepping closer. I stepped back. If I didn’t, he’d tickle me until I couldn’t breathe. “What are you doing – just walking around town? Shouldn’t you be helping clean up? Or are you too hung over?” Jonas bent over, imitating throwing up. I slugged him again. “That’s what I’ve been doing, but I wanted to check on Dutch and Tulip. Have you seen them yet?” “Yeah, I was with Jay when he patched Dutch.” Jonas had a funny look on his face, like there was something he didn’t want to say. “What? Is it that bad?” Anxiety colored my words. Shifting, Jonas appeared to ponder the question long enough that I was getting more anxious by the ponder. “I know how you feel about them, Lily. Tulip is fine, but the crack in Dutch is pretty severe. I’m just warning you.” Now I felt like he’d punched me in the gut, and he didn’t do it playfully.
  • “Okay, but they’re going to fix him, right? I can’t imagine Holland without Dutch and Tulip.” “Me either. They’ve been here my whole life.” I guess he could sense my concern, which was now overwhelming. “Don’t worry, Lily. I’m sure he’ll be fine. I’ll even make it better by kissing you under them.” It’s a wonder Jonas didn’t have a permanent twitch as much as he winked. Such a ladies’ man. “I’ll hold you to that.” But suddenly, I didn’t feel so good about it anymore and teasing with Jonas was only making me feel worse, not better. I needed to get to the park. “Don’t work too hard,” I said, turning to leave. But before I made it two steps, Jonas stopped me. “Hey, you’re off school for break, right?” Jonas asked. “Yep. Ten whole days off.” My plans were to go shopping with my best friend Kelly and maybe see a movie. Nothing major. No trips to Florida for me. “I’ll give you a call and we’ll do something.” It was a statement, not a question. Jonas and I often did things together. Not dating, though. Remember, he’s the wrong Heimerschmitt. “Sure, just give me some notice this time.” Jonas usually called at the last minute when other plans had fallen through or if he was bored. Which was fine with me, as Jonas is easy to hang out with. I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong. We are not friends with benefits. “Great. Just be sure and dress up like Tulip for me. I’ve always had a Dutch girl fantasy.” Jonas ducked my next punch, which I’d put more force into. ~~~~~ Dutch and Tulip are Holland’s claim to fame. Standing at 57 feet tall, it’s easy to see why. They’re hard to miss and impossible to ignore. Their home, the Holland American Legion Park, is everything a great park should be. Thirty acres of mostly woods, two playgrounds, three shelterhouses, a softball field and two walking trails, one circling the lake, a really great lake. With a beach for swimming. And just like in the real Holland, we have a two-story windmill. Which is dwarfed by the statues. As you enter the park on the rise of a small hill, Dutch and Tulip stand guard at the main entrance, faithfully watching over Holland. Dutch is on the left and Tulip on the right as you drive under them. That’s why they’re so big. The town wanted people to be able to drive under them. Why? I have no clue. Honestly, they are ridiculously large. But I love them. They’re adorable. All chubby and innocent-looking. When we built our world’s largest, we went all out. They could have been smaller and still been the largest the world has ever seen, but no. They’re gigantic. They are supposed to be kissing, like all good Dutch boys and girls, but because of a miscalculation when placing them, their lips are just inches from touching. So even though we claim to have the world’s largest kissing Dutch couple, it’s more like almost kissing. When Interstate 64 was built just outside town, almost 50 years ago, Holland wasn’t even going to merit an exit. The town council fought hard to get one, but would have lost if it hadn’t been for the Dairy. The Dairy is just that. A Dairy. The owners needed that exit onto the new road to run their milk routes. So along with the rest of the town, they raised enough money to have the world’s largest kissing Dutch couple built. Dutch and Tulip became such a tourist draw that the state had
  • to give us an exit. There’s even a sign along the interstate advertising the famous couple. Holland would have died without that exit. As it was, we were almost dead anyway. It was a different time then. Small towns like Holland had to fight or be passed by for larger towns. For this very reason, the United States is home to all kinds of “world’s largest.” In High Point, North Carolina, you can see the 38-foot-tall, world’s largest chest of drawers. Complete with socks dangling from a drawer. Collinsville, Illinois, has the largest catsup bottle. Actually it’s a water tower, so I’m not sure its 170-foot dimension really counts. Like the water tower, some of the world’s largest things serve dual purposes. The Longaberger Basket company’s home office, for instance. Newark, Ohio’s seven-story office building is modeled after a basket. As another perfect example of 20th -century Americana, our world’s largest was a successful attempt to draw tourists. But that was then, and a lot has changed. People don’t visit Dutch and Tulip anymore. It’s not like people plan vacations around them. If we’re lucky, we get a handful of visitors a year. Assessing Dutch’s damage now, I could see that Jay and Jonas were right. The crack wasn’t visible since it was covered, but it looked like it went straight down the middle of Dutch’s ass. Wonderful. I can already hear the jokes. Putting my hands on his large clogs, I looked up at Dutch’s face. He was so handsome and his lips were all puckered up, ready for that long-awaited kiss. Tears burned my eyes as I thought of all the times I’d come here as a child. “Poor Dutch.” I know it’s stupid, but I always talk to Dutch and Tulip. Always. They’re magical and really good listeners. “Don’t you worry, old boy. We’ll get you all fixed up. In the meantime, you have Tulip looking out for you.” I actually felt better just saying the words aloud. We’d gotten lucky last night, the only casualty being Dutch’s ass, but overall it was going to be fine. We’d fix Dutch – and maybe give Tulip a makeover as well. This could be just the kick in the butt we needed. I would not be adding this to my con list. Chapter 3 “It’s Lily! I knew she’d come to check on us.” Tulip knew all the people of Holland. It was her job, after all, and Lily was one of her favorites. “You do remember her, don’t you, Dutch?” If he could have, Dutch would have rolled his big blue eyes at her question. “Of course, I remember her. You worried yourself sick over that little girl for days – and that was 16 years ago.” “Well, that awful boy gave her a black eye. It was scandalous!” Tulip had watched in horror as Jay Heimerschmitt hit a baseball, perfectly innocent, mind you, since the kids were playing baseball. Until the ball connected with seven-year-old Lily’s eye. “It was an accident, dear. I hardly think Jay meant to hurt her.” Since Dutch was facing Tulip, he hadn’t seen the crime committed, but in Tulip’s eyes it had been dreadfully awful. “He did say he was sorry and walked her home.”
  • “Oh I know, but still…. Besides, I think she had a crush on him,” Tulip said knowingly. She may not have liked the boy, but he did resemble her Dutch. And who could resist a good- looking catch like that? “Well if that’s true, then I’m sure she didn’t mind one bit.” Tulip doubted that. Lily had cried terribly. The next day, while Lily was walking with her mother, Tulip had seen the little girl’s black eye and had wanted to throw something at the young man responsible. “I bet he kissed her and made it all better. We could do the same.” That would make his butt feel better. Dutch tried again to lean in closer to Tulip, but the inches separating their mouths refused to be spanned. But he wouldn’t give up on his dream. One day he was going to kiss his girl. ~~~~~ I’d done my usual school work over break – lesson planning, grading, etc. I’d even gone into school once, spending the day redecorating my classroom for spring. Dutch and Tulip graced one bulletin board and a countdown until school was out was on the other. One day, Kelly and I went shopping. Kelly had been dying to check out the new organic grocery store in Evansville. Since she’s so picky about free range this and organic that, going out to eat with Kelly is difficult, so we’d eaten a lunch, she’d packed, while sitting in her car, while I stared longingly at the mall knowing the food court was just steps away. She’s constantly on me about my eating habits, although I don’t know why. I eat healthy, but to Kelly that’s just not good enough. My fruits and vegetables aren’t organic, so I may as well not even bother. She refuses most lotions, sunscreens and makeup for the same reason. Says the chemicals used in them leach into our blood stream, likely the blame for the rise in all types of cancers. And recycling. Kelly reuses or recycles everything. Except plastic, but only because she doesn’t buy anything that would come in such damnable packaging. I admire Kelly and her fight to save the environment, but sometimes I’m lazy and throw my cardboard toilet paper roll away instead of recycling it. I always check my trash before Kelly comes over, in case she decides to spot check it. Now it was the dreaded first day back after Spring Break. The best of times, the worst of times. The best because school is almost out for the summer; the worst for the same reason. The kids are a mess. Their sleep habits are out of whack and, since the weather’s getting nice, all they want is to play outside. Truly, it’s a nightmare. I propose we skip it and let school out a week early. But this year I was actually glad for the break. It gave us time to clean up from the storm. By now, the town looked pretty much back to normal, albeit with a few less trees and me with a brand new roof. I dressed in my standard school attire – khakis I’d found on the clearance rack at The Loft and a polo shirt. No, we don’t have uniforms, but working with little kids, one doesn’t want to get too fancy. I spend half my days cleaning up messes or sitting on the floor, so I have every kind of khaki known to man, Gap being my preferred brand. Although I love JCrew, I don’t prefer their prices. After fixing my hair, I was ready to go. My hair, long and naturally wavy, doesn’t require any effort on my part. It’s my only real asset. At 5’4”, I’m just the average girl next door. By the way, the average height for a man is 5’10”. Just another reason Jay is out of my league. He exceeds our national standards.
  • The morning went as expected. My students were full of piss and vinegar. All they wanted to do was talk about what they did over break or their experiences during the storm. I didn’t have the energy to keep them on track. We’d never even made it to the track. Knowing some of the kids had been frightened by the storm, I figured it was good therapy to talk about it. All part and parcel of what is known as being a teacher. Sometimes I’m a child psychologist as well. Like Superman, I have more than one identity. Nurse, disciplinarian, friend, therapist, all roles I play in the course of one school day. Each student wrote a paragraph, a term most second graders haven’t grasped yet, and drew a picture. I put them, even the less-than-stellar ones, on the Dutch and Tulip board. Taking inspiration from the kissing couple, many students drew them. Some were actually quite good – really capturing the essence of our town’s mascots. Austin made a point of drawing Dutch with a huge crack down his ass; the entire class thought that was a hoot. I, however, hated it. Poor Dutch. I’d gone to the park several times over break and volunteered with the cleanup. Every time I looked at Dutch and his butt, I wanted to cry. And Tulip. She must be so worried about her Dutch love. When the bell rang for lunch, I grabbed my Hello Kitty lunch box. Yeah, I carry a Hello Kitty lunch box. See, that’s the great thing about being an elementary teacher. I can get away with that and no one can say a word. I bet you wish you had a cute lunch box, but you probably have a very respectable, adult-looking one to carry your lunch in. Let me let you in on a little secret: bologna and cheese taste better when carried in a Hello Kitty lunch box. Last year, I chose the Disney Princesses to carry my lunch. It had been a tough choice to make. SpongeBob almost won out. In the lounge, other teachers were already seated and complaining about what all teachers complain about. Students. Don’t get me wrong, we love our job or we wouldn’t do it. But like I said, this time of year is tough all around. Dana and Kara, the two kindergarten teachers, were discussing the storm when I sat down. Opening my lunch, I quickly joined the conversation. Later, I was sorry I had. My day went on a downward spiral after that. “No, I’m serious. I heard the council is thinking about selling them. Insurance is expensive and, honestly, they don’t look so good anymore. Plus Dutch is now damaged.” Dana’s neighbor is on the council. She always knew what was going on. Nearly choking on my CheezIt, I swallowed and tried to absorb what I’d just heard. “What? Surely they wouldn’t get rid of them.” Right? Dana and Kara just looked at me and shrugged. We were friends, so they knew of my plans to marry under Dutch and Tulip. “What else did you hear?” I needed to know more. My heart was racing and I had to take a deep breath before continuing. “The council can’t just take them away.” Kara, who lives in nearby Huntingburg, didn’t seem concerned. “Well, they do look kind of ratty. If they can’t afford to fix them, what do you expect them to do?” I’ll tell you what I expect! I expect someone to find a way to make things right, that’s what I expect. But I answered, “I don’t know, but they can’t just take them away without some kind of vote. Right?” Like I knew the first thing about politics. “If you’re really interested, you should go to the meeting tomorrow night,” Dana said.
  • The first Tuesday of each month, the town council meets. Not sure what they do exactly, Holland only has 636 residents, but I knew I’d be at that meeting. ~~~~~ The rest of the day seemed to drag on, and by Tuesday evening I was a mess. Get rid of Dutch and Tulip? Was that even possible? They were landmarks. Famous. Holland wouldn’t be Holland without Dutch and Tulip. My nerves were on edge and everyone around me shared in my frustration, but only because they had to deal with my mood. The meeting couldn’t arrive soon enough for me. I live exactly two blocks from what I guess you’d call the Town Hall. The sign above the door proclaimed it as such, but it’s really just an old garage that had been fixed up and houses the town’s snow removal equipment. I knew I’d be welcome at the meeting. It’s not like we’re overly formal here or anything. As a teacher and lifelong resident of Holland, they wouldn’t mind me sitting in. The council consists of five members, six if you count Faye’s husband Walt; I guess we get two for the price of one. The meetings, I’d learned from Dana, usually start at 6:30, that is, if all the crops are in or it isn’t deer season. During those times, the council dwindles to three members. I arrived at 6:15, just to be safe. All the members were present, except for Gloria Lardner, who owns Tulip’s Flower Haus. I made my greetings, told them why I was there and was invited to take a seat around the table. Like a kid sneaking a place at the adult table on Thanksgiving, I felt nine years old. Gloria’s absence wasn’t a pressing concern, because after Rev. Koeln’s opening prayer, they started the meeting without her. Like I said, informal. For the next half hour, I sat uncomfortably on a metal folding chair, half listening as they discussed this and that. A road that needed repaving, an ordinance on dogs running loose in town. That kind of thing. Finally, Gloria entered with a flourish and cookies. Gloria makes the best sugar cookies, so we spent the next few minutes oohing, aahing and eating. “Lily! Nice to see you. How’s your mom?” Gloria and Mom quilt together. “Great. She’s got a new quilt ready to put in the frame.” They’re always trying to get me to join them, but I just can’t do it. It’s boring, even with my iPod. Just because I can sew doesn’t mean I want to spend hours with a needle and thread making hundreds of tiny stitches. And let me tell you, my Mom counts each one. When I was little, I wanted to take piano lessons, but we didn’t have a piano. What we did have, however, was a sewing machine. Instead, I took sewing lessons. I know. Believe me, I was less than thrilled at the time, but when I made Mom an apron with a towel sewn into the side, the look on her face was priceless. Now I’m glad I can sew. I don’t do it very often, only if I need new curtains or a Halloween costume. And of course, when Mom guilts me into sewing together a quilt. After Gloria settled into her own metal chair, we finally got down to why I was there. Glen Moller, town council president, began by giving an overview of what damage the town was responsible for. “Then there’s the matter of Dutch and Tulip,” he said with distaste. “In the past, we’ve discussed the idea of selling the statues. Now with the damage, I think the time is right.” The bastard! He’d already made up his mind. Clearing my throat, all eyes focused on me. “You mean you’ve actually talked about getting rid of Dutch and Tulip before?” Shouldn’t people know this? Shouldn’t I know this?
  • “Yes, Lily.” As if I were a child. “Insurance is expensive and tourists don’t come to see them like they did at one time. It’s not fiscally responsible to maintain them any longer.” Looking directly at me, Glen continued, “We’ve been approached by a company form the Netherlands. They want to purchase the statues.” Screw that! That company can just build their own kissing couple. They should have thought about that before. They really are Dutch, after all. “You can’t just get rid of them!” I was getting upset now. The tears that always show up when I’m mad were threatening to overflow, but I had to remain calm if I wanted to be taken seriously. “The people of Holland should know about this. Let them decide.” Tiny Brockmeyer, who isn’t tiny or fat, said, “We’d have to vote on it, but I think Lily is right. The town needs to know about this.” “I second that motion.” Yeah, so I wasn’t on the council, but it sounded good, until Glen looked at me like I was a talking pig. I shut up then. “I second the motion.” Thank you, Faye Hahxley! I knew Faye’s parents had been married under Dutch and Tulip; maybe she felt some special bond with them. “Let’s ask around town. See what people have to say and talk about it at the next meeting.” Her suggestion sounded great to me, but we couldn’t wait another month. “We have to do something in the meantime or Dutch’s damage could get worse.” See. I sound very professional. Maybe I’ll run for town council. Glen glared at me. I knew he was wishing I’d keep my mouth shut. In my mind, I stuck my tongue out at him. Not very mature, but I felt better. “Fine. We’ll have a special meeting in one week.” Faye, bless her heart, patted my hand. “It would be a shame to lose Dutch and Tulip.” That’s all she said. “I think I’ll head over to the Shoe for a drink.” With that statement, the meeting was over and Glen was gone. I knew better, though. He was going to railroad Dutch and Tulip to anyone who would listen. I had no choice but to go as well. Probably not my best decision since it was a school night and people always know what’s happening in town. Parents don’t like the idea of their children’s teachers sitting in a bar on any night, but especially not a school night. Directly across the street from town hall is the American Legion or, as it’s better known, The Wooden Shoe. The Shoe is in the basement of the Legion. With its wood-paneled walls and horseshoe-shaped bar, it smells like chicken grease and cigarette smoke. One-half is used for family dining, where most of the town can be found on Friday and Saturday nights. Kids playing pool or feeding the jukebox quarters. The dart board is hung dangerously by the side door, so anyone entering has to be careful of someone’s poor aim. Food is served on mismatched dishes, some are antiques that I’d love to get my hands one, and they serve the best custard pie. The upstairs sits empty unless the Kiwanis are meeting or someone rents it out for a private party. I was good and didn’t drink anything but iced tea. Honestly, I rarely drink and after Ruth and I had imbibed – I like that word; it sounds so much better than “I got tanked.” I knew my body couldn’t handle it again so soon. Glen did exactly as I thought he would. He spouted off about how old Dutch and Tulip were and how Holland could use the money for improvements. He made crude jokes about the crack in Dutch’s ass, which garnered him a round of laughter and several hearty slaps on the back.
  • A good old boy through and through, that’s Glen. Everyone likes him. I did. Until tonight, anyway. He’s civic-minded, goes to church regularly and helps his neighbors. What’s not to like? He’s a plant manager at one of the furniture factories in Huntingburg. He makes good money and provides well for his family. Yada. Yada. Yada! Whatever! A good old boy wouldn’t want to get rid of Dutch and Tulip. I can’t understand why he’s so against them. Everyone loves Dutch and Tulip. Glen has a way with people, though. His easy-going nature wins people over, especially when they’d had a drink or two. By the end of the night, I was truly worried about the future of the wedding I’d been planning since I was nine, when I’d first read At the Park with Dutch and Tulip. At the Park is a children’s book written by a town resident, just after the kissing couple arrived and it was printed, not really published, right here in Holland. It’s the tale of a group of children who play at the park, where Dutch and Tulip secretly come to life and have adventures with them. I love the story and its ’50s-era illustrations. Everyone in town has a copy. I have four. From that moment forward, I knew I’d marry under Dutch and Tulip someday. The only thing missing now is my groom. Chapter 4 “Aren’t we in Holland? I don’t understand what they mean.” Tulip was bewildered. More than one Holland? How was that possible? “We can’t go to Holland if we’re already here. Can we?” “I believe there must be other Hollands.” Dutch, too, was confused, but was trying hard to hide it from Tulip. He needed to be strong for her sake. “But I don’t want to go to any other Holland. This is our home.” They’d lived here their whole lives. They’d married here. Why did they have to leave? “It’ll be fine, flower. We’re not going anywhere.” Dutch hoped. “Oh Dutch! What if we get lost?” Tulip was close to tears, thunder rumbling in the sky. Dutch couldn’t bear to see her cry. It broke his heart each and every time a tear slid down her smiling face. Spring was the worst. Tulip cried often, then, yet it seemed to make her flowers grow. “We won’t get lost because we’re not moving,” Dutch stated firmly, willing the words to be true. “Besides they have those GPR things now. We could find our way home if we had to.” Worse than getting lost would be getting separated from her Dutch. What would she do without him? “Hold me, Dutch.” Those words were more painful than the crack in his butt. His Tulip needed him. Dutch longed to hold her in the safety of his arms, but of course he couldn’t. “It’s okay, Tulip. Don’t worry, the people won’t send us away. They need us.” “You really think so?” Holding back tears, Tulip smiled brightly, as the sun broke through the clouds. “I know so.” Dutch couldn’t imagine a Holland without a Tulip. How would he get his kiss? ~~~~~ Just like Mom to be right.
  • When I’d gotten home from the Shoe last night, I’d called her. Mom always has the right words. She’s a strong woman. She had to be, having raised me virtually on her own. My parents divorced before I was even born. This is probably where my obsession with Dutch and Tulip comes from. If only my parents had married under them, I’d have married parents now. And they would love each other to distraction. Somehow as a child, I guess it was easier to blame my parental state on that than the fact my parents were ill-suited. After the divorce, Dad, who’s an engineer, moved to Indianapolis where he had more opportunities. I saw him on a regular basis as a child. As an infant, not so much. Mom thought it would be too difficult to shuttle a baby back and forth, so I never saw Dad much until elementary school. Dad and I have a unique relationship. If you could call it that. He’d always been there for me financially, but emotionally? I don’t think he knows what that word means. When I was in college he and I came to an understanding. The understanding being we were strangers. When I needed parental advice, I went to Mom. When I needed financial advice I went to Dad. Little did I know that before this was over, I’d come to rely heavily on both. “But Mom what if they get rid of Dutch and Tulip?” I was lying on my bed, bawling like a baby. Mom was probably wishing she could ship me off to Indy right now. But I could do that with mom. I was her only child. She had to listen to me cry. “Well honey, Dutch and Tulip need serious work and Holland does need the money. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you need to face reality sweetie.” Mom wasn’t doing a very good job of making me feel better. Hadn’t she read the job description? I could picture her sitting in the family room of my grandparents’ farmhouse. When they’d passed on—one from cancer, the other from heartbreak—Mom had moved in and sold me her house. Oh fine! She gave it to me if you must know! She didn’t take much with her either. Meaning I had a house and everything in it. My bedroom suite had been my grandmother’s. It was solid oak and intricately carved. Anything Mom hadn’t wanted, she pawned off on me. This was her way of getting what she wanted in new furnishings. Her Queen Anne couch looked pretty, but wasn’t very comfortable. She was probably sitting on it now with buyer’s remorse. “I know Mom, but Dutch and Tulip? You can’t put a price on them.” I said, grabbing another Kleenex. My pile was growing quickly, if this kept up, I’d have to resort to toilet paper. “Actually honey you can. How much do you think it would cost to build statues like that today?” I could hear her dog yipping in the background. “It would cost millions. The town could really use the money. Besides Holland doesn’t really care about them anymore. If they did, Dutch and Tulip wouldn’t look so bad.” Wow! Whose side was she on here? “Are you trying to piss me off? Cause if you are, it’s working.” Probably a mistake on my part. I never talk to my Mom like that. And what did she mean about them looking bad? Dutch and Tulip look awesome. “Atta girl! That’s exactly what you need to be. Quit your bellyaching and do something about it. The meeting is in one week. Use the time wisely.” She had that tone. The tone I’d heard all my life. The one that said get off your lazy duff and do something. The same tone that told me to go to college, when she hadn’t. The tone that said get your Master’s before you get married and have kids. “What are you saying Mom?” Just spell it out for me please.
  • She was trying to calm Penny down. Penny is a miniature pinscher, one Mom spends tons of money on. Last year she spent as much on that dog as I did on one year of college. I hate Penny. It has some kind of nervous condition. Stress upsets it. Really? It’s a dog. I love animals as much as the next person, but a nervous condition? What could the dog possibly have to be nervous about? Penny’s wedding wasn’t in danger. “Sorry Lils, Penny can’t find her blanket.” Oh for crying out loud! “What I’m saying is you’re a smart girl.” Unlike Penny I thought. “You’ll figure something out. Sleep on it tonight. By morning you’ll have come up with something.” There was that tone again. “Love you. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” She always said that. Not the love you part, that was a given in all our conversations, sometimes when I can’t remember if I said it, I’ll call her back under false pretense, just so I can tell her. The bedbugs part was something she always says before going to sleep at night. ~~~~~ After sleeping on it and avoiding all bites from bedbugs, I knew that I would save Dutch and Tulip. Not sure how I was going to make it all happen, but I’ll figure it out. I was going to put up a fight the likes of which Holland has never seen. Riding on a wave of righteousness, I entered the school ready to tackle my day, even though the day came too bright and too early after my late night. I cleared my head and looked forward to a fun-filled day. The other second grade teacher and I were taking our classes to Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home. Just 30 minutes away, Lincoln State Park is picturesque and easy on our meager budget. Honest Abe wasn’t born in Indiana and he didn’t die here, but we’ve staked a claim to his childhood years. Illinois claims his adulthood and Kentucky his birthplace. Our states share in Lincoln’s fame, each having sites dedicated to him. Loading 48 students and eight parent chaperones onto the bus, we headed out for an educational day. On the way, the kids had a ball just riding the bus. We could have driven around for all they cared. I was seated next to Stacy Holzmer; her daughter was in my class. A cute little redhead. “Have a nice time last night?” Stacy asked. Her tone was critical. Great. Not much happens in Holland that people don’t find out about. “Actually I went to the council meeting. Did you know they’re thinking of selling Dutch and Tulip?” I hoped to divert her attention. “I was referring to your spending the evening at the Shoe. I would think a teacher has better things to do than spend her nights in a bar.” My diversion tactics obviously lacking. “Yes I was there, but not drinking.” I couldn’t help throw that in. I wanted her to know I wasn’t a lush, not that it was any of her business what I did in my free time. “After the meeting Glen and I thought it would be best to get a feel for what people thought about the situation.” Let her think Glen and I were working together. “And you thought a bar was the place to do this?” She just wasn’t going to let up. “Why not? Everyone goes to the Shoe. I learned a lot. Did you know that Walter’s dad helped in the design of Dutch and Tulip? And Mary’s parents were the ones who came up the idea of marrying under them?” This diversionary tactic seemed to work. Stacy and I were soon discussing Dutch and Tulip, trying to compile a list of all the couples we knew that had married under them. I felt sad when we couldn’t come up with a more recent couple.
  • Why was that? I’d dreamt my whole life about my wedding. I’d wear a gorgeous white dress, probably strapless, and my groom, whom I always imagined was Jay, would look dashing in a black tuxedo. We’d marry with Dutch and Tulip’s blessing and live happily ever after. ~~~~~ Yesterday’s field trip had given me inspiration. Kids always go home and tell their parents about what they did at school. This would be to my advantage. Still forming my plan, I knew that I was in the perfect position to make a difference. Being subtle, yet decisive, I would weave Dutch and Tulip into my lessons from this day forward. Today, I had a great lesson planned and was gonna kick some second grade butt. Sometimes lessons work out great, while other times I wonder why I even bother calling them in from recess. But today was my day! I know it’s low, but the kids are an easy group to target. Captive audience. I began by reading At the Park with Dutch and Tulip, doesn’t matter that most of the kids are familiar with the story; it’s a good jumping off point. Each student was to ask their parents their favorite kissing couple memory. Yep, my little messengers would get the word out. The town of Holland would remember how great Dutch and Tulip are. By lunch I was stoked. Sitting down I jumped right in. “I’m going to save Dutch and Tulip.” I stated boldly. “You go girl.” This from Kara, with her Vera Bradley lunch tote. At least she was trying. “Count me in. My parents married under them. Whatcha got planned?” Dana always loved a project. I knew I could count on her. Although at the moment, I was distracted by her very boring lunch cooler. “Actually…..I don’t know. What do you think?” Ever had what you thought was a good idea? Maybe a great painting, only you can’t paint. That was me. I had an idea, but no idea how to put it into place. Kara and Dana looked at me. I’m assuming they were thinking and planning, because another word was not spoken until lunch was almost over. “I’ve got it!” Dana said with so much enthusiasm I couldn’t wait to hear. “We’ll have a bake sale!” ~~~~~ Okay, by the end of the day, my high had crashed. I was like an addict coming down hard. A bake sale? After changing out of my standard work clothes, I searched the internet. I needed to get the word out, but in Holland most people wouldn’t be swayed by the World Wide Web, but I got some ideas. Maybe a petition? Flyers? Starting a blog? Whatever I choose, I’d have to play on people’s emotions. And of course I’d continue using the children. They would be my minions. After a quick bite, I printed off some flyers. Kelly is sure to gripe about the waste of paper, but the environment will have to wait. I figure the flyers are a good start. They were simple. Stating the time, date and reason for the special meeting. I’d ride my bike around town posting them. Entering the Shoe carefully, to avoid any errant darts, I tacked one up on the bulletin board. Next stop the Post Office, where I picked up Ruth’s mail, putting into my basket. Yes. My bike has a basket.
  • I know I’m limited with free advertising. Maybe an ad in The Herald and The Huntingburg Press. But that would cost money. My money, but then again my future wedding is worth the cost. Windmill Works, the convenience store, and Tulip’s Treats, the ice cream shop across the street from the park, would also get flyers. Tomorrow during lunch, I’d call the tractor dealership, doctor and dentist office and the Bank. No one would mind advertising for the sake of Dutch and Tulip. While riding around town, I made small talk with those who were out. It was a sunny day, warm and the smell of fresh cut hay wafted in the air. I sneezed, but inhaled deeply anyway. My allergies might hate this part of the country, but I love it. At Tulip’s Treats, I considered getting a cone, but the sight of Jay’s truck across the street at the park stopped me from indulging. I was going there anyway. I needed to speak with Dutch and Tulip. Running my ideas by them would help me focus through the haze of my sinus pain. Jay was there, tools out, tailgate down and he looked better than any ice cream cone. “You look like him.” I said without preamble. Jay looked surprised. I guess he hadn’t heard me lurking behind him. “Who?” Looking toward Dutch and back again, I answered. “Dutch. Blonde hair, blue eyes. You could be the grown up version.” Jay didn’t look convinced. “So I look like a fat little boy, with a bad haircut? Thanks for the compliment.” He was smiling, so I knew he wasn’t serious. “No really you do.” Again I look terrible. My hair was pulled into a ponytail and was sticking out the back of my Colts baseball cap. Wearing my oldest jeans and a t-shirt, hoodie tied around my waist, I probably looked about twelve. That should tell you something about my body. Why did this always happen around the one guy I was interested in? Must be a fate thing. Damn fate! “What are you doing?” I asked. The tools were a clear sign he was working on Dutch, but I’m an idiot when it comes to Jay. He was balancing a plaster thingy in his hand, the kind you see drywallers use. “I don’t know when they’re going to do anything about Dutch. I thought it would be best to patch him up. His damage will only get worse.” He loaded up on plaster and climbed the ladder applying it to Dutch’s crack. Literally. “That’s really nice of you. I’m glad someone else cares enough about them to do something. Anything.” Of course Jay would be interested in the couple. Lucille Heimerschmitt, Jay’s great-grandma, had been the one who’d named Dutch and Tulip. As part of the reveal, almost 50 years ago, the town held a contest to name the couple. Competition had been fierce. Everyone had an opinion, but in the end, hers had been the winning entry. “Yeah well I hate driving by here and seeing Dutch with a tarp on his ass. The patch job won’t last, but it’ll do for now.” He continued slathering plaster on Dutch’s backside, while I stood and watched his. He has a great backside. Jay, I mean. Not that Dutch’s isn’t cute. I could look at it all day. Maybe he could sense me ogling him because Jay turned around and continued our conversation. Must be my lucky day. “Putting up flyers are you? Gonna save the old couple?” Jay nodded toward my basket, smiling. Aww. He though it was cute I had a basket. What would he say if he saw my lunchbox?
  • “I don’t know that I have to save them, but I’ll do what I have to. You really don’t think they’ll sell them do you?” I’d been asking myself and anyone who would listen that question for days now. Jay must have been done, because he descended the ladder and came to stand next to me. “Honestly I don’t know. Two million dollars is a lot of money.” “Two million dollars? I didn’t realize it was that much.” Shit! Shit! And shit! How the heck was I supposed to compete with that? All the joy I’d been feeling by being close to Jay suddenly evaporated. I slumped my shoulders, scuffed my feet on the ground and generally just pouted. Jay nudged me. Apparently he could sense my mood. “Maybe you should ask a few people to come to Tuesday’s meeting. A show of support might be a good thing.” Packing up his tools, I realized I must be depressed, because not even watching him bend over made me feel better. I did have enough sense to watch him get in his truck though. The blades on the windmill caught my attention then. They hadn’t moved in years. Taking in the disrepair of the windmill, its chipped paint and worn shingles, I realized Mom was right again. Had Holland stopped caring? It would be neat to see the windmill open and moving again. There wasn’t a single place in town where people could buy souvenirs. Originally the windmill had been used for that purpose, but now it sat empty decaying just like Dutch and Tulip. Tulip looked good for her age, but Dutch’s paint was worn and chipping away in several spots. His red overalls were now faded. Weeds, instead of flowers surrounded them. How had this happened? When had we stopped taking care of them? And why? “You look like her too ya know.” Jay said. “Sorry?” I hadn’t kept up with the conversation. “Tulip. Especially when you had your hair in braids.” There was that devastating smile again. Dang it. How did he do that? “So I look like a fat little girl? Plus in case you hadn’t noticed, my eyes aren’t blue.” I threw his earlier remark back at him. When I’d told him he looked like Dutch, I’d meant it as a compliment, but now when he said the same thing, I felt like he was making fun of me. He didn’t even know what color my eyes were. Men! By the way, my eyes are green. Chapter 5 “Am I fat?” Tulip asked. “What? Of course not, flower. You’re perfect.” Dutch couldn’t imagine what was going through her pretty little head. Fat? Where had that come from? “I was just thinking that maybe I’d go on a diet.” Whatever that was. For years, Tulip had listened as women walking in the park talked about calories and losing weight and thought perhaps she should do the same. “Don’t be ridiculous.” Dutch couldn’t believe they were having this conversation. His Tulip was exactly as she should be. “And you should get a haircut.” Tulip hadn’t appreciated Jay’s remark about Dutch’s hair, but what if he was right? “What’s wrong with my hair?” Dutch asked.
  • “Nothing’s wrong with it. It’s fine.” Tulip sighed, knowing that she’d hurt his feelings. “I’m sorry, Dutch. Forget I said anything.” But Dutch couldn’t forget so easily. What if Tulip no longer found him attractive? He’d never get his kiss. “Do you think I’m fat?” “No. You’re well fed. That’s all.” “Hmmph!” A thought occurred to Dutch then. “I know what will make everything all better.” “What?” Excited, Tulip couldn’t wait to hear what they could do to make Holland love them again. “We could kiss! That would make everything better,” Dutch suggested, trying to stretch his neck forward. Just a little more. He stretched again, or tried rather. If only life was as simple as a single kiss righting all the world’s wrongs. “We’ve been through this, Dutch.” Tulip hated disappointing her love, but a girl couldn’t be too careful with her kisses. “Not until I get my flowers.” ~~~~~ The rest of the week flew by. I used my time wisely, printing up more flyers and took Jay’s advice and asked people to attend the meeting. Mom and Kelly were coming, not that their opinions mattered, since they don’t live in town, but I needed their support. All my neighbors would be in attendance, along with several teachers. Overall, I felt optimistic, but didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be as simple as a handful of people showing up in support of Dutch and Tulip? Probably not. This time all five members, six with Faye’s husband, were on time. Since Dutch and Tulip were the only items on the agenda, the council wasted no time. “This meeting is to discuss the future of the kissing couple statues.” From the look on Glen’s face, it was obvious he was unsettled by all the extra people in attendance. “As many of you know, the statues no longer bring tourists to Holland. This, in addition to the insurance premiums, and now the damage to one of the statues the council feels it would be best to sell them and use the profit to better Holland. We’ve outlined a number of projects that would benefit the town and its residents.” Glen continued his obviously practiced speech for several more minutes, all without every mentioning Dutch and Tulip by name. I wanted to jump up and scream their names. Was Glen afraid that if he said them out loud, he might ruin his chances? Jinx his nefarious plan somehow. By the time he was done I was sure Dutch and Tulip were already on a ship bound for the Netherlands. Along with my wedding. Faye spoke next, “It’s true we’ve discussed selling Dutch and Tulip.” I was relieved she could verbalize their names. “But, I think we should discuss it further.” Maybe she hadn’t appreciated Glen’s use of the word “we” in his “let’s sell them” speech, because she looked at Glen with narrowed eyes. “I agree,” added Gloria. “Let’s vote on it,” Tiny suggested. “Agreed.” This from Glen. “The council will vote. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ll do just that.” I’d sat here, in an incredibly uncomfortable chair, and listened to him and now he just wanted everyone to leave so he could persuade the council to sell. I started to rise, but Tiny stopped me.
  • “No. Not that kind of vote. I say we have a special vote. We’ll let the town decide.” Tiny looked around the crowded room, nodding his head. Several people were standing due to lack of seating. I took this as a good sign. “This is hardly something the five of us should do. I sure as hell don’t want the responsibility. My mother, God rest her soul, would tan my hide if I had a hand in getting rid of them.” Tiny finished. I love Tiny! You can never go wrong with a man who is scared of his mama. Dead or alive. Glen looked flustered, but what could he say? Of course he figured it out pretty quickly. “A town vote? Seriously? They’re just a couple of statues for Christ’s sake. Selling them is best for everyone.” Wrong answer. It most certainly is not the best thing for me. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I didn’t. I scooted back my chair, making that fingernails on a chalkboard sound, “A couple of statues? Dutch and Tulip are so much more than that. They represent all that is good in Holland.” I gestured around the room, hoping everyone would feel a fraction of what I felt. “They are Holland. They just need a facelift.” Glen laughed at me, but the rest of the crowd nodded in agreement. “You’re saying Holland is a couple of rundown old statues that have seen better days? Excuse me, but that’s not sayin’ much.” Glen is an asshole. Ignoring his nasty comment, I looked around the room for moral support and found it. Mom smiled proudly. Kelly gave me a big thumbs up. I’m sure in her head she was giving Glen the finger and in the back I saw Jay and Jonas. Jay’s smile and reassuring nod lifted my spirits. “A vote is perfect. Let the people decide.” I’m not sure where my sass was coming from, but I had to do something. “Listen young lady, you’re not part of this council.” Did I mention Glen’s an asshole? Tiny cleared his throat and shot Glen a disapproving look. Glen composed himself. “Well.” He seemed to be thinking something over. “What if we sold them and replaced them with a smaller version? Would that satisfy you?” Nice try. But I wasn’t about to be placated so easily. Dutch and Tulip are irreplaceable. Period. Faye and Gloria both rolled their eyes at Glen. “How about this? Next week both sides will present their case to the town. Then, in another week, we’ll have a town vote. Whichever way it goes, that’s what we’ll do.” I knew I had an ally in Gloria. Thirty-five years ago, she’d married her high school sweetheart under Dutch and Tulip. If Glen looked flustered before, he looked ready to have an aneurysm now. “Fine. Next Tuesday it is. Who exactly is going to present the case for keeping the couple?” He was looking around the room, ignoring me. “I’ll do it. I will represent Dutch and Tulip.” What was I a lawyer now? “Next week I’ll show you exactly why Holland needs Dutch and Tulip.” “Fine.” The asshole spoke again. “Fine.” I said, only I’m not an asshole. Tiny thought things were getting out of hand, because he called an end to the meeting and instructed everyone to pass the word around town about next week’s vote.
  • Wait! “We should meet somewhere else. This isn’t big enough.” There was no way the town hall, which was just one room and already full to capacity, could hold the meeting. “How about the gym?” I suggested. “That’s not a neutral site. You work there.” Oh for the love of Christ! I shook my head and felt like I was dealing with one of my students. “Now I own the gym? Glen I’m simply trying to think ahead. Where would you suggest we meet?” I was full on in teacher mode now. Gloria agreed with me though. I guess Glen didn’t want to look like a cry baby so he didn’t argue anymore. With everyone starting to leave, I didn’t notice Jay until he was beside me. “Listen Lily if there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know. Okay?” I watched as he pulled something out of his pocket. Not gonna lie, I pretended it was a little blue box from Tiffany’s, but it was only his business card. “Here’s my cell number. Call if you need anything.” Okay so it wasn’t an engagement ring, but hey at least now I had his cell number. Jay was so gorgeous that I wanted to tell him there was plenty he could do. It included a kissing couple, only not statues. I put those thoughts aside. I had to if I was gonna save Dutch and Tulip. Now was not the time for me to obsess over Jay. That’s what the rest of my life is for. “Thanks Jay. Just help spread the word about next week and about the vote.” Wearing a button down chambray shirt, his blue eyes twinkled under the fluorescent lights. Britni Eisen approached us then. Three years older than me, Britni is beautiful. Tall, with short brown hair and divorced, she’s the type of woman that looks good no matter the situation. I watched in horror as she wrapped her arms around Jay. I wanted to cry on the spot. This was something Mom had failed to mention. “Hey Lily. I just love Dutch and Tulip. I always thought it would be sweet to get married under them. Maybe that’s where I went wrong the first time.” She was looking at me, but I could tell she meant this as a not-so-subtle hint to Jay. “Give me some of those flyers and I’ll pass them around at the shop.” Britni owned Britni’s Beans, a coffee shop on Fourth Street in Huntingburg. As much as I now hated her it was a good idea and kind of her to offer. “That would be great. Thanks.” I tried to smile and sound grateful, but I’m afraid it may have come off wrong. Then I sneezed. Probably from Britni’s perfume. Britni looked at me funny, before returning her attention to Jay. “You still coming over tonight? I made dessert. Seth’s been expecting you to read him another bedtime story.” Gag! Dang Mom! She should have warned me about this. Britni and Jay have obviously been dating awhile. I watched as the two of them left, but didn’t get a chance to feel bad before Mom and Kelly surrounded me. “You did great. Seriously you were awesome.” Kelly has always been my biggest cheerleader. “What do you have planned for next week?” That is an excellent question. Sadly, I don’t have an excellent answer. ~~~~~ I took a personal day on Friday. Hey! I’m allowed to do that. I have them, their mine. That’s why they’re called personal. Only working 182 days a year, I do feel bad though, but I was afraid the weekend wouldn’t leave me with enough time to prepare.
  • I’d called Dad earlier in the week and gotten some sound advice about how to get money for such a project and who might do the restoration work. He suggested a company, Indiana Restoration Group, out of Indy. After researching their past projects, I was impressed with their work. They also gave me a ballpark figure for the restoration. A figure that scared me like Pennywise had when I’d watched the movie IT. I always think of Dutch and Tulip as one entity, but in reality they are two separate statues. I was going to need double the money. I also paid a visit to the quilting ladies at my church. Even though it’s held at the Augustana church, ladies from the other four churches attend. It’s not mutually exclusive membership. Anyone who wanted to join could. They meet every Thursday at 1:00 and make a day of it, each bringing something for a potluck supper. Mom is of course a member. I knew telling them about the meeting would be better than putting it on the news. This way members of all five churches would know, hence the entire community. I also knew I had technology on my side or so I figured. I made a killer Power Point presentation. Glen’s probably not that tech savvy, so I’d have him beat there. That’s bad of me to judge, but my own mother could barely text let alone produce a presentation. Using some of my savings, I printed up more flyers and had a dozen t-shirts made. They said “Save Dutch and Tulip” on the front. On the back it said “Can’t Dutch This!” I didn’t spend the extra money to have them in color, but the black silhouette looks great against the red background. Plus red and black are the school’s colors, so I was showing good team spirit. The best part was that Dad also put me into contact with a preservation group that provided matching funds to restore historical and significant structures in Indiana. Dutch and Tulip met both criteria. All I had to do now was get my application accepted. And I can’t do that until I win the vote. Which I will. On Sunday, I reminded everyone at Church about the meeting, even though I didn’t have to. The whole town had been in a buzz about it all week. I received warm hugs and several people called to wish me good luck or share their own Dutch and Tulip story. It was like I was the human face people put with the couple. I like that. It felt good to be connected to them. I felt taller somehow. Jonas stopped by on Monday, watched my Power Point and commended me on a job well done. He hinted that I should dress like Tulip, made remarks about my butt and how he couldn’t stop fantasizing about me in the costume. “I bet all the men in town would love seeing you dressed like Tulip.” I kicked him out after that, but he won’t stop. He never does. Too bad I’m not in love with Jonas. Chapter 6 “Roses may be red, violets may be blue But tulips are by far the best, just because of you. My only wish is to make you my prize
  • You are my perfect match and just my size. I stand here now in perfect bliss Hoping and wishing for my first kiss.” “Oh Dutch! It’s beautiful. I love it.” Tulip was flattered that her love had written her a poem. And impressed by his literary skills. “It’s nothing really. Just a little something I wrote to show how much I love you.” Tulip might have been impressed, but she wasn’t fooled by his sweet words. “You aren’t by chance thinking that I’ll kiss you, are you?” “Well, the thought did cross my mind.” Surely his words would be enough to earn her affections. But by the look in her eye, his words weren’t enough. “I love you, Dutch, but pretty words aren’t what I want. If you really loved me you’d give me my flowers.” Wasn’t a boy supposed to give the girl he loved flowers? That’s what men often did, while standing under them. “Yes. But don’t I deserve something for my efforts?” Frustrated, Dutch the bard sighed, but smiled brightly anyway. ~~~~~ It was a beautiful early May morning, so I decided to ride my bike to school. See that’s why it has a basket. Excitement was in the air, my air at least. Tonight is the night I save Dutch and Tulip. It was gonna be a great day, but my day started off with a bit of a rough patch. It’s never a good thing when a group of children is huddled around something on the playground. Sure as the world, there’s probably a kid bleeding to death on my watch. Approaching the gathered students, I saw the reason. A cat had wandered into the fenced playground and nabbed itself a chipmunk. Doing what all cats do, it was toying with its prey until it finally killed it and left it on someone’s doorstep. Some of the kids were crying, others, mostly boys, were excited about the upcoming slaughter. Chipmunks are just so darned cute. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. Separating the students was like trying to part the Red Sea. Although I’m sure Moses had an easier time of it. Nothing like a good mauling to get kids attention. Grabbing the cat by the scruff, I shooed it away. Picking up the chipmunk, I felt like a kid. I’d always wanted to hold one, but there so elusive. And so cute. Like a teacup squirrel. I stood holding the tiny ball of fur, whose heart was racing so hard, I feared it might have a heart attack. Do chipmunks have heart attacks? But the next moment, I stopped caring about chipmunks and their demon hearts. I was being attacked. Apparently the chipmunk didn’t view me as its savior and returned my kindness in saving its life by trying to end mine. Okay, so maybe that’s a touch dramatic, but when it bit into my finger, I wasn’t so sure. Pain shot through my hand. In case you didn’t know, chipmunks have very sharp teeth. Staying calm is what I should have done as a teacher, but at the moment I was under attack like one of those people you see on TV where they lived to tell how they survived a mountain lion attack. Screaming and jumping around, I tried to shake off the tiny demon spawn, now hanging from my finger. The blasted thing would loosen its jaws, only to tighten them again and again. I was being mauled. I guess all my screaming was alarming to the kids. The ones who hadn’t been crying were now. The ones who had been crying had graduated to screaming and running around. Brayden
  • and Cheyenne, not watching where they were going, ran straight into each other. In a loud smack of young heads they collided, each falling to the ground. Meanwhile I was still contending with the maniacal creature attached to my finger. Finally getting ahold of myself, I grabbed the chipmunk and yanked. Silently praying that it didn’t take my finger with it. After I had my finger safely extracted, I threw the chipmunk to the ground. Luckily Kaleb leapt out of the way, because I threw it directly at him. Principal Kyser showed up just then. Clearly not happy with the events taking place on his playground. “What the devil’s going on? Miss Mein?” He was waiting for, I’m sure, a logical explanation. Shaking from my near death experience, I tried to calm down enough to answer clearly. “There was a cat. It had a chipmunk. I saved its life.” Ungrateful wretch. “But it bit me.” Rabies! Just what I needed. As if I don’t have enough on my plate today. Principal Kyser glared at me. “All right kids. Everything is fine now.” Of course everything wasn’t fine. Brayden and Cheyenne were both bleeding. A huge goose egg already forming on Cheyenne’s head. Brayden, since he’s taller, had a bloody lip. Taking in the injured students, Principal Kyser took control of the situation and called another teacher to escort the now traumatized kids inside. Turning to me he said. “Go to the bathroom, I’m sure the nurse will be quite busy with Brayden and Cheyenne. Get cleaned up and meet me in my office.” Here I was an adult and I was being called into the principal’s office. Sad thing is, Mr. Kyser had been my principal and as a student, I never had been called to his office. In the teacher’s bathroom, I assessed my injuries, which I was sure would be horrific. Washing my hands, I was shocked that the skin had not been broken. There was no blood. How was that possible? I was sure I’d find half my finger gone and that chipmunk cooties were already racing through my bloodstream. Taking an extra few minutes, before making the dreaded walk to the office, I washed my face and took a calming breath. Twenty-three to be exact. Mrs. Bass, the school secretary, offered me a sympathetic look before telling me to go right it. “Have a seat Lily.” Principal Kyser instructed, obviously not worried with my nearly chewed off finger. Doing as instructed, I took a seat and looked around. The office was clean, pictures of his grandkids on the desk. I took a deep breath and sneezed. Principal Kyser had been trying to kick the habit for years, but my sinuses detected cigarette smoke. “How are Cheyenne and Brayden?” Please, please, please let them be alright. “I’m sure they’ll be fine. Mrs. Bass called their parents. Brayden broke a tooth. The nurse took him to the dentist.” Lucky for me the dentist office is directly across the street. “Lily I’ll be honest. I’m worried about you.” Principal Kyser did seemed concerned. I was surprised. “Honestly, I’m fine. It didn’t even break the skin. Can you believe that?” Again, thank you God. Shaking his head, Principal Kyser actually snorted. “Not the chipmunk. You and your behavior lately. What’s gotten into you?” “What are you talking about? What behavior?” I asked, bewildered. As if being attacked by a chipmunk was a thrill I’d been seeking. “First, I have parents complaining about you going to the Shoe on a school night, now this? Really Lily I expected better from you.” Principal Kyser loosened his tie and looked worn.
  • Ouch! My finger didn’t hurt nearly as bad as this. “Is there a law against my going to the Shoe on a school night?” I asked, but by the look on his face, there is in fact such a law. “Listen Lily I’ve known you all your life. You grew up in Holland. You know better. Parents don’t want to see their children’s teachers in a bar. Ever!” His voice was not quite a yell, but close. “Not to mention the fact that two students were injured because of you and your little stunt.” Huh? How was a cat wandering into the school yard, subsequently nabbing a chipmunk, albeit offspring of Satan, my fault? “I’m sorry. I was only trying to help. The kids were upset when they saw the chipmunk attacked.” “Yes well they’re even more upset now. Parents are sure to call about this. They expect their children to be safe while at school.” He emphasized, as if I didn’t already know this. “My phone will be ringing off the hook.” “I’m sorry.” That was all I really could say. I couldn’t say what I was really thinking, which was that I was only trying to help. But I think I already mentioned that. “Go home. Mrs. Bass will cover your class the rest of the day. Take this time to think about your future.” My future?! Holy cow! He acted like he might actually fire me. Could he do that? Over a chipmunk? Before I left his office though, he added. “Have that finger looked at too, just in case. And good luck tonight.” He didn’t smile, but I felt somewhat better about his overall attitude toward me. ~~~~~ I can’t believe I got sent home. And that someone had called to complain about me at the Shoe. Honestly this isn’t 1870, when female teachers weren’t allowed to have a life outside school. A student once asked me where I slept. For a moment I wasn’t sure what they were getting at until they continued with “Where’s your bed? Do you sleep in the teacher’s lounge?” Oh the innocence of childhood. It makes sense if you think about it. A lounge could be for sleeping. Maybe they envisioned me rolling out a cot or sleeping under my desk. I’d use a sheet and make a tent, just like camping in the living room as a kid. School hours aren’t from eight to three for teachers. Most days I don’t go home until 5:00, just like people with other jobs. During conference time, it was usually close to 10:00 before I get home. There were days when I truly did feel like I lived at school. Besides my life is far too busy to sleep at school, I do plenty of things? Don’t I? Riding my bike around town, since I had the time now, I had to wonder. Do I have a life outside education? Being a goal setter by nature, I’d mapped out the last seven years of my life. After high school there was college, followed by getting a job. And then getting my Master’s degree. I gotta say now, I was lucky to get a teaching position my first year out. That rarely happens in smaller communities. You have to work your way up. Pay your dues. Substitute teach, which sucks. The kids know subs don’t have any real authority and the pay sucks even more. Volunteer for everything under the sun. Be at every, and I do mean every, school related event, coach volleyball, when you never played it yourself and maybe throw in a little luck for good measure. All of this while kissing up to the Principal and any school board members. I knew when I got my job, I would retire from Holland Elementary. Maybe not though.
  • Geez! Thinking about it now, it sounds kind of pathetic. My entire world is wrapped up in Holland. I’ve done very little to branch out. Is that a bad thing? Am I a failure because I haven’t left Holland or Dubois County? Are the people I graduated high school with, the ones who moved away, are they happier? The list of pros and cons I’d been making the night of the storm was getting more cons. Maybe I should take Dad up on his offer and move to Indy. I could get to know him better and have a change of scenery. That would have to wait, though, until Dutch and Tulip were safe. Maybe then I’ll go. ~~~~~ By 5:00 that evening, I was back at school. Okay, so maybe I do live here. I assume I’m allowed back, technically school is out. Holland Elementary is the glue that holds the town together. In the ’70s, Holland lost its high school to consolidation. The Holland Dutchmen were no more and the Huntingburg Hunters ceased to exist as well. Together the two schools formed Southridge High School, where I’d graduated from. After that, Holland retained its elementary school and the students were bussed the 15- minute drive to Huntingburg for middle and high school. When they tore down the high school, we got a brand new elementary school. The high school’s original stone entrance gates still stand. I thought that was a nice touch. The old and the new. Tradition and progress. Exactly the place to showcase Dutch and Tulip. Kelly was with me and Mom would be here shortly. Wearing my nicest black slacks and flats, I look very respectable in my “Save Dutch and Tulip” t-shirt. Kelly had made signs and was going to pass them out as people entered, while I stood at the door passing out informative pamphlets I’d made on the computer. Thank you Microsoft Word. “You sure you’ve got everything ready?” Kelly asked. She and I were in the gym setting up the screen for my presentation. The janitor, Mr. Schon, was giving the gym floor a final pass with a dry mop. The gym was shining, the red painted bleachers freshly dusted. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” Looking at my watch, I realized I had too much time on my hands before the meeting started. I was feeling anxious. Suddenly the idea of speaking in front of the town made me nervous. Who am I kidding? I’m more afraid that no one will shop up. Spring is a busy time of year for farmers and their families. Depending on the weather, they are planting or getting ready to plant. I should have thought about that sooner dang it! High school baseball, softball and little league might also interfere with people attending. In Dubois County, school sports schedules rule. Period. It’s one of the things I love about this area. And the smell of manure. No matter what, people support their school. Whether it’s attending the high school’s plays or the elementary schools fifth grade basketball games. Even when families no longer have children in school, they still come. I’d never stopped supporting Southridge and never would. I’m a homer. Kelly rolled her eyes at me, but gave me a reassuring smile, when I went over my speech again. She’d heard it twenty times already. “You’ll do great. You always do.” Kelly’s a nurse, so it’s a job requirement for her to positive. But I needed the pep talk. “What are you gonna do after tonight? Between now and the vote? I know Holland’s not that big, but are you really gonna go door to door?” I’d mentioned doing that, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
  • “We’ll see how it goes tonight. I guess it depends on how many people show up, but yeah if I have to I will.” “If it comes to that, which I doubt, I’ll help. I may not be from Holland, but then again this isn’t just about Holland,” Kelly said “What do you mean?” I asked. “Dutch and Tulip might belong to Holland, but they’re good for the whole area.” Wow. Kelly was right. I hadn’t thought of it like that. “You’re right! I need to think bigger. Get other towns involved. What’s good for Holland will be good for them too. If we can get people to come and see Dutch and Tulip then surely other communities will benefit too!” This was good. Glen didn’t know what he had coming. Saving Dutch and Tulip, like all my plans, I intended to achieve. But the thought of $2 million dollars had floated around in my head all week. That and visions of Dutch and Tulip setting sail for the real Holland. Of me getting married in a church, instead of outside at the park. I know it’s wrong, but the thought made me sad. At 6:30 on the dot, Glen began the meeting. By the look on his face, he was surprised by the number of people in attendance. The gym holds around one thousand. Okay, so there weren’t that many people, but there was at least 50. I felt this was a good turnout. Behind an old podium, Glen opened the meeting. “We all know why we’re here tonight.” Ruth was wearing her t-shirt, holding a sign, so the reason was pretty clear. The doctor and dentist were in the crowd with their families. Several teachers, including Principal Kyser, and Bill and Tootsie. All the Heimerschmitts, sans Britni, and several members from my church. Since Glen and I had flipped a coin, he got to go first. Which was fine by me. It’s always a good thing when giving a presentation to go last. Or at least I told myself that. This way the last thoughts in people’s heads would be the ones that I put there. “As you know, Dutch and Tulip have been an important part of our community.” Aha! He did know their names. “Yet they are no longer serving Holland’s needs. I propose we sell them and use the money for other endeavors.” There was a smattering of chatter, but otherwise the crowd was still waiting. “A company has approached us and made an offer to buy the statues for a price of $2 million dollars.” Now the crowd was in awe. Their stunned silence scared me. I could imagine all the things going through their heads. All the things Holland could do with that much money. Shit! My presentation had a lot to live up to. Glen didn’t have a Power Point or handouts. He hadn’t even bothered to put up flyers. I guess he didn’t have to. He had two million good reasons, which I did not. Not even bothering to go into specifics, Glen finished with a smile and politely stepped away, leaving the podium to me. There was a short applause, while I took the stage, projector clicker in hand. I mustered my courage and faced the crowd. Since I’d stood handing out, well, handouts, I took my newfound courage and jumped right in. “Thank you Glen. Not only for your presentation, but also for your years of service to Holland.” So I was sucking up. “If I could direct your attention to the screen, I’ll tell you why Holland cannot do without Dutch and Tulip.” For the next 20 minutes, I didn’t want to be too long winded and lose their attention, I gave the mother of all presentations. Starting with the history of Dutch and Tulip. I chronicled their
  • lives through pictures of couples marrying under them and children playing. A photo of Governor Whitcomb, when he’d visited the area, gracing Holland with his presence. I ended with a flourish, by outlining how Dutch and Tulip could once again be our saving grace. “In the past few years we’ve taken Dutch and Tulip for granted. It was wrong of us to neglect them. But now we have the chance to correct this. We need to look at this as an opportunity. This is our chance to put Holland back on the map.” The crowd agreed with me, the applause was much more enthusiastic. Taking the podium again, Glen informed the crowd that next week voting would take place at the Methodist church. Just like on real election days, the polls would be open between the hours of six and six. Later that same evening the votes would be tabulated and posted at Town Hall. The future of Dutch and Tulip would be posted, as if they were nothing more than a couple of statues. The future of my wedding hung in the balance. Chapter 7 “Are those bells ringing?” Tulip asked. “I believe so, flower,” Dutch answered. But what did that mean? Every day the church bells rang at noon and at six o’clock on Sunday evenings. It was neither. Had someone died? Dutch hoped it wasn’t them. “Maybe someone’s getting married? Oh Dutch, how exciting!” There was nothing Tulip loved more than a wedding or when someone came to Holland Kiss under them. “You don’t think it’s Lily, do you?” Now Tulip was disappointed. Lily was supposed to marry under them! “No. She wouldn’t get married without us.” “What’s going on then?” Tulip knew the vote was tonight. “Did we win the popularity contest?” “I think we must have won our vote.” Dutch prayed that was it. What if the bells were tolling bad news? Better safe than sorry. “We should kiss in celebration,” he said. Dutch only hoped he wasn’t kissing his love goodbye and that one day he could celebrate with his own Holland Kiss. “There’ll be time for that later. Now be quiet. I want to see if I can hear anything.” ~~~~~ The wedding is back on! Yeah, yeah. I have no groom, but still I did it. Actually, the people of Holland did it. The vote was over and Dutch and Tulip had won. It wasn’t even close. Here I’d worried myself sick and for nothing. The final vote was 216 to 39. I wanted to find those 39 people and soap their windows and TP their trees. Kelly would help. She’s very sneaky, although she’d complain about the impact on the environment. But those people didn’t matter now. It was a landslide and I felt victorious. Glen was very nice about the whole thing. Shaking my hand, “Well, it looks like the people have spoken. What are your plans now?” Glen seemed genuinely interested.
  • Crap! Okay so I hadn’t really thought about that yet. I was taking this one step at a time. But now that I’d won, I had to come up with the money. And I had to do it by next April if Dutch and Tulip were going to be ready for Holland’s 150th anniversary on the Fourth of July. The people of Holland had given up two million big ones. I couldn’t let them down now. “Fundraising.” I said. Lame, I know, but it was the best I could come up with at the moment. “Let me know what I can do to help.” Glen offered. Now I feel bad for having thought he was an asshole. Can I retract that earlier statement? I hope so. Maybe he really did just have Holland’s best interests at heart. “We should form a committee. See to the fundraising, make plans, that sort of thing.” Glen continued shaking my hand and smiling. My new best friend. “You’re right. Thanks Glen.” I said. Trying to extract my hand. “I’m sure all the council members will want to be involved and the Heimerschmitts.” The name recognition would be good for our efforts. “And of course you Lily.” Even though he tacked me on as an afterthought, Glen was trying. “Here sweetie. Take this to start your money drive. Who do I make the check out to?” Mrs. Deiser said, handing me a check for $5,000. Whoa! Of course Mrs. Deiser would want everyone to know she’d made the first donation and that it was a doozy. But I didn’t care. I was so happy that I’ll have it noted on my tombstone when I die. Okay. This is good. Raising the remaining money will be a piece of cake at this rate. “Oh my God! Lily this is awesome! You did it! You really did it!” Kelly, bless her heart, had taken off tonight so that she could be with me when the results came in. In case I needed a shoulder to cry on. I didn’t think Jay would lend me his. What seemed like the entire town was at Town Hall, many had made their way to the Shoe, a small crowd was gathered on Haupt, blocking traffic, but no one cared. There was a festive feeling in the air. The Lutheran Church bells were ringing in celebration. Junior Oster, our town marshal, joined in the celebration. Holland didn’t have need for a full time cop, so Junior, a retired state policeman, stepped up and acted as our marshal. In reality, he drove around town in the evenings rarely writing tickets, but he did give the occasional verbal warning. The lights on his patrol car were on and he’d sounded the siren several times, to the joy of the kids. Currently he had a couple of boys in handcuffs, they were eating it up. “Congratulations Lily.” Jonas was there, picking me up and swinging me around like a kid. Laughing, I felt amazing, plus it always feels good to be swung around. “I know! Can you believe it! I feel so good.” Better than good. Great. “You should. Let’s go get a drink and celebrate,” Jonas said. Principal Kyser and his wife were talking to Ruth, she smiled at me and waved. Principal Kyser nodded his head making it clear he was keeping an eye on me. “I better not. Maybe some other time.” Like when my Principal didn’t hate me perhaps. “You know I’ll be calling on you to help now.” Jonas wouldn’t be given a choice in the matter. He was going to help me whether he wanted to or not. “Whatcha gonna do for me in return?” His smile was pure mischief and I was beginning to worry about that twitch in his eye. “What’s who gonna do?” Jay had joined the celebration, but he wasn’t looking very happy.
  • “I was just telling Jonas that I’ll need his help. I was thinking we need one of those thermometer-looking things to show how much money we’ve raised.” Using my hands, I demonstrated the gauge’s size, but I knew they understood what I wanted. “I’m better at that sort of thing. I’ll do it.” Jay offered. “We should put in front of the windmill. That way people can check on our progress.” With Mrs. Deiser’s donation, we had a healthy start already. “How about I make in the shape of a windmill? Big, maybe 10 or 12 feet tall.” Jay looked to Jonas again. “Awesome. When can you have it done? If you drop it by my house, I’ll paint it.” Actually, Kelly would be painting it. I’ll mention it to her later. “I’ll get started on it tomorrow.” Jay looked from Jonas to me like he was trying to figure something out. Maybe he was trying to figure out how to get out of his relationship with Britni. He’d seen the light of day, thinking that he and I should be together. Not him and stupid Britni. Who spells their name like that anyway? Britney was a perfectly acceptable spelling or maybe Brittney. This spelling suited her though. It was just different enough to be cute. I spotted her then, much to my dismay. Dressed in tight jeans, with an even tighter shirt, she should have looked like a floozy. Instead she looked incredible. I could never pull that off. She was holding her son Seth’s hand, smiling, deep in conversation with Jay’s parents. Argh! She’d probably be their daughter-in-law soon. Curses on Britni and her misspelled name. This was my night. Well, it was really Dutch and Tulip’s, but still. Britni was raining on my parade. A parade? Hey! That’s exactly what we needed for next year. It would end at the park, with all the floats and the high school marching band passing under Dutch and Tulip. That would be the perfect way to celebrate their restoration. Or better yet, a couple could get married under them, jumpstarting the tradition again. I left the impromptu party soon after that and got to work brainstorming. My mind was suddenly overflowing with ideas and ways to make this work. Mrs. Deiser was a perfect example of how generous people could be and how Holland did have its share of wealthy families. Whether it’s the German upbringing or the small town values, people here don’t spend their money, at least not the older generation. Holland is home to several millionaires, but you’d never know it by the way they dress, the homes they live in or the cars they drive. This is likely why they’re wealthy and I’m not. It’s not my fault that I want a nice vehicle to drive. Credit cards and me had a nasty history, this also is not my fault. I couldn’t very well help the fact that there had been a mall so close to my college campus. Somehow I had to get people to loosen the purse strings. Hmmm? Some kind of incentive maybe? So much to think about. So much to do. When I went to bed that night, I could hear people still celebrating at the Shoe. ~~~~~ The next day at school, everyone continued to congratulate me, offering their help and ideas. Problem was I didn’t know where to go from here. I had a check, but since I hadn’t known who to tell Mrs. Deiser to make it out to, she had left that part blank. That was pretty trusting on her part, but then again, she’d been my Girl Scout leader. I’d earned a badge in trust. Besides people did stuff like that. It’s not like I was gonna run off with the money.
  • Principal Kyser offered the use of the gym if I needed it for any reason. He didn’t even suggest sending me home either. In fact, he was eager to discuss Dutch and Tulip. The earlier chipmunk incident seemed all but forgotten. After school, still nervous about the check, I called Dad. When he’d called last night for an update, our conversation had been one of winning, but now there was real work to be done. “What do I do now Dad?” Trustworthy as I was, I didn’t like having that much money in my hands. “Go to the bank and open an account. Put that check in it immediately and for God’s sake, start keeping a ledger and document everything. And I do mean everything. I know Holland is a small town, where everyone trusts everyone, but money can make even good people do bad things.” I rolled my eyes at that one. “What do you have in mind for raising the rest of the money?” Dad was all business now. That was the key problem, wasn’t it? Holland was forever having little fundraisers, usually within the many churches, for this or that. New carpeting for a church, a family in need, new fire department equipment, but those were always smaller amounts. I needed serious money. After calling the restoration company and scheduling a visit, they gave me a rough estimate. I needed $70,000. This was if I was lucky and the preservation foundation approved my application. If not, I was going to need $155,000. Maybe I should run off with the money. Fly to Vegas and hope to win big at the craps table. My poker face stinks, so I knew that was out. Kidding, I’m kidding. I would never do that. What kind of person do you think I am? Chapter 8 “We get to stay in Holland!” Tulip was so happy she couldn’t stop smiling. The sun was shining brightly and birds were singing a happy tune. “That’s right, flower. I told you Holland wouldn’t get send us away.” Dutch was relieved. His Tulip had worried so much that her tears had fallen for days. “We should celebrate with a Holland Kiss.” “Oh yes! I’ve always wanted one of those.” People always came to the park for a kiss. Dutch and Tulip had watched as hundreds of couples had kissed under them. A Holland Kiss they’d heard it called. “But what would we kiss under?” Tulip remembered the first Holland kiss. It was just after they arrived in Holland. There was a big party and someone had what they called a Kissing Stand. Couples had paid to kiss under them, getting their pictures taken. But Tulip didn’t understand why kisses had to be bought with money. Wasn’t that what flowers were for? “I don’t know. I think we’re the biggest things in town.” Frantically, Dutch tried to recall if he’d ever heard mention of anything in Holland big enough for them to stand under. “I’ve got it! The water tower!” Although he’d never seen it with his own eyes, Dutch knew that he and Tulip’s image was painted on it. “Silly. Who kisses under a water tower?” That wasn’t very romantic. ~~~~~
  • The last five weeks of school were a complete blur. So much happened in such a short amount of time, I could hardly keep up. The town council, Jay and I formed a committee to oversee the fundraising and plan next year’s celebration. The plan was simple. We’d reveal the newly restored Dutch and Tulip at the Fourth of July picnic. This would coincide with Holland’s 150th anniversary and Dutch and Tulip’s 50th year. The timing couldn’t have been better. I wanted to call it a birthday party, but got voted down. We sent letters to everyone in town and to all the businesses in Dubois County requesting donations. All five churches made donations and, as promised, Jay made an awesome windmill- shaped gauge to show our progress. It was placed next to the real windmill, which was now opened as a souvenir shop. Glen, Jay, Jonas, Kelly and I spent several days cleaning it up. The senior citizens group had volunteered their services and were manning it. They hawked Dutch and Tulip merchandise to anyone who stopped by. And people were stopping by. Both county newspapers did nice little articles about Dutch and Tulip and the radio stations had interviewed me and Jay about our fundraising efforts. All the free press was great. The response was overwhelming. Not only were local people stopping by, but travelers were coming off the interstate as well. I was even asked to write a weekly update for the newspaper. “Tulip Times” they called it. I wanted to write it from the perspective of Dutch and Tulip, but the committee thought that was a silly idea and I got voted down. Again. “I think it’s a good idea,” said Jay, who had voted in favor of my idea. I’m a teacher not a writer, so I didn’t feel very confident in my abilities, but it’s not like they don’t have editors for that kind of thing. I hope, anyway. There was a downside to all this. I was spending way too much time around Jay. Raising the money had become a team effort, which was great for Dutch, Tulip and my wedding, but my childhood crush was turning into an adult obsession. Jay became a real part of my everyday life, not just my imagination. I found myself laughing with him as we worked side by side. This, too, would have been great if it hadn’t been for Britni. When Jay had dropped off the windmill gauge, so Kelly could paint it, Britni had been with him. Bringing reality and destroying the perfectly good fantasies I’d created for us. The windmill gauge was set up in $5,000 increments and by mid-June we’d raised half the money needed. What local businesses didn’t immediately contribute, I sent another letter reminding them and letting them know which businesses had donated. In turn, they saw the error of their ways and made donations. The PTO gave money, but it was used for the purchase of items sold in the windmill. Postcards, coffee mugs and magnets were the only trinkets our budget could handle and sold out quickly, affording us the opportunity to broaden our horizons with reusable shopping bags. This was, of course, Kelly’s idea. Windmill Works donated t-shirts. These were so much better than mine had been. Dutch and Tulip were proudly displayed in color. At just $14.00, everyone in town had one. The restoration company and preservation group made visits. Jay met with the restorers to discuss boring construction stuff, so I entertained and wowed the preservation group. But they weren’t wowed with me. When they left, I felt personally responsible not only for the damage to Dutch, but also for the years of wear and tear the couple had endured.
  • “Most of this could have been prevented. If only you would have maintained them properly,” said the head of the preservation group, looking directly at me, blame in her eyes. Hello? I wasn’t even born when Dutch and Tulip were built. And wasn’t I doing everything I could now to right that wrong? In the end, her attitude toward me didn’t matter. The application was accepted and all seemed to be moving along. Dutch and Tulip even got their own Facebook page and blog. Every few days one of the committee members, usually me, would update the blog. People could also donate via the page, which was soon being added to as people shared their stories, pictures and memories. It was my hope that we’d exceed our goal and be able to fix up the windmill as well. It was in sore need of more than just a good cleaning. It needed a new roof, wood railing for the second story and a new door. That’s how I came up with the idea of commemorating donors. Bricks engraved with the donor’s name and gift level would pave a walkway to the windmill and around Dutch and Tulip. The highest level was a windmill, $5,000; a wooden shoe, $1,000; and anything below that would be a tulip. Not the real Tulip, but the flower. Mom and Dad both made generous donations. Mom actually did two. One in her name and the other in memory of my grandparents. Bill and Tootsie made one for each of their children and Ruth one for her late husband. I was waiting until closer to the deadline to make my donation. I needed to see how much money we would need, but Kelly surprised me on my birthday with one in my name. She also informed me that, at 25, I was a quarter of a century old now. That made me feel so much better about my life. We were hoping to do a brick for each couple who had married under Dutch and Tulip as well. Their brick would be free and include silhouettes of Dutch and Tulip along with their wedding date. All in all, things were going well. And with school out, I thought I’d have the summer to focus my attentions on Dutch and Tulip, but I was wrong. Since I knew I needed every penny I could get my hands on, I found myself director of Park and Recreation. My paycheck was direct deposited straight into Dutch and Tulip’s account. Park and Rec, as it’s known, is a summer program for the kids of Holland. From 8:00AM until 12:00PM, for three days a week, I continued to knowingly use the children of Holland. It sounds bad when said like that, but that’s what I did. We’d spend the summer doing the usual “keep kids out of trouble” things. Only this summer Park and Rec had a theme. Three guesses and the first two don’t count. Wow. You’re really good. That’s right. Dutch and Tulip. We swam, took nature walks, cleaning the park as we went, painted all the 55-gallon drums used as trash cans with Dutch and Tulip themes. The kids loved that. Several high school students were helping as part of their senior service projects. Luckily, one of them could draw, so all the kids had to do was attempt to stay in the lines. The trash cans turned out great. My favorite was the one of Dutch and Tulip actually kissing. I had Jay place it by the windmill. We did some amateur landscaping around the windmill. Gloria was kind enough to donate the plants and the usual circuit of speakers entertained and educated the kids. A magician, storyteller, a re-enactor from Lincoln Park and Santa himself stopped by.
  • Kelly also gave a very informative lecture on the value of eating healthy, while at the same time giving a basic first-aid course. The kids liked the latter, the former? Well, let’s just say her snacks were not well received. But my favorite was when Jay came and spoke to the kids. I’ll state for the record right now that I do not like snakes, but Jay does. He’s Holland’s unofficial snake guy. It sounds creepy, but he’s really quite knowledgeable. The kids, even the girls, ate it up. Probably because Jay truly likes kids and it shows. He’s not fake or stiff with them. The fact that Jay is gorgeous helps as well. Kids really do notice that sort of thing. From the information I’d collected about Jay over the years, I knew he had several snakes. I remember once his mom telling mine how she’d let him put one in her terrarium, but somehow it got loose. Can you imagine having a chicken snake loose in your house? Me neither. I don’t know if they ever found it. For all I know, it’s still slithering around his parents’ home. I was surprised at the variety of snakes he showed up with. An Albino Burmese Python, chicken, garter, black snake. Okay, so I quit trying to keep up, got past my squeamishness and enjoyed watching Jay with the kids. He was so patient. Answering all their questions, letting them hold the smaller snakes, getting his picture taken. I was dying to get my picture taken, but thought that might seem strange. I’d frame the photo and place it next to my bed so the last image I saw at night would be of Jay’s handsome face, blue eyes and dazzling smile. This would ensure pleasant dreams every night. The shelter house was wide open, a slight breeze attempting to make the temperature more bearable. We’d swum earlier, so I was wearing my bathing suit under a tank top and cut off jean shorts. Hair in a ponytail, I could feel sweat running down my neck. Here, Lily, you hold one.” Jay was watching me, something he rarely does when talking to me. “That’s okay. I’ll pass.” As if I’d hold a snake. “No really. Show the kids how brave you are. Come on kids. Don’t you want to see Lily hold a snake? I promise it won’t bite.” Like the chipmunk, I wondered. After all the kids got in on the “do it, Lily, do it” act. I did it. But I swear Jay handed me an electric eel instead of a snake. Our hands brushed and I suddenly felt even hotter, if that was possible. Jay was wearing camo cargo shorts and a red tank top that really accentuated his muscled arms. His blonde hair was much lighter now, probably from working out in the sun most days. I hope he wears sunscreen. I noticed his ears looked a touch pink. “Do you name your snakes?” Asked Kelsey, a very brave seven-year old. “Of course. Jay smiled and winked at me. Must be related to Jonas. “The one Lily’s holding now is actually named Lily.” I almost dropped my namesake. “What? What kind of name is that for a snake?” I asked, revolted. “Mr. Schon called me from school several months ago. He’d found a snake in the bathroom and wanted me to come get it. Since you’re a teacher there, I knew it was the perfect name.” Jay continued to smile, looking quite satisfied with himself. Wow. I guess I really rated in Jay’s eyes. He’d named a serpent after me.
  • “I suggest we rename it. What do you think kids?” For the next half hour, the naming process was taken with all seriousness. Finally the kids decided on Raider, which is the school mascot. All the kids took turns holding Raider and, before I knew it, it was noon, time to send all the kids on their merry snaking-loving way. Jay was packing up his slippery friends and I wondered if he had one named after Britni. “That was great. The kids really loved it.” Using antibacterial wash on my hands, can’t you get some kind of disease from snakes? Like salmonella or something? “No problem. I enjoy working with the kids and showing them how snakes aren’t all bad.” Jay said. “What are you like the Snake Whisperer of Holland? Are all these actually yours?” I was trying to imagine where he kept them. Surely not in his house. How could you sleep at night, knowing there were dozens of snakes just waiting for you to fall asleep so they could crawl in bed and kill you? “I guess. You wouldn’t believe the calls I get. Is this a water moccasin? Is this a copperhead? People love thinking they’ve come across something deadly, but then they want me to come and get it.” Shaking his head, the smile never leaving his face. “And no, they’re not all mine. Since you called, I’ve been on the lookout. I’ll let most of them go now.” To snake heaven, I hope. Or would that be hell? “You should take my snake.” Jay’s face immediately got red as his shirt. “I mean, do you want to keep Raider? He’d make a great classroom pet.” Still trying to get past the mental image of Jay and a different kind of snake, I shook my head. “No thank you. Mom would end poor Raider’s life in a heartbeat. She hates snakes.” Mom’s preferred method of killing is a garden hoe. We talked for a few more minutes, mostly about Dutch and Tulip until Katy Perry’s Firework started playing from his cell phone. “Well I gottta go, that’s Britni calling. We’re having lunch.” He looked uncomfortable telling me this or maybe he was embarrassed by the ringtone, but I don’t know why. I like Katy Perry. “See you at the next meeting,” he said, and with that he was gone. Taking my snake fantasies with him. Ack! I wanted to be sick. Britni gets a special ringtone and I get a snake named after me. Chapter 9 “Why does it have to be so loud?” Tulip loved the pretty sparkles in the night sky, but the sound hurt her ears. Dutch, however, loved the explosions. “They have to do that, flower. Or else you wouldn’t get your pretties.” This was Dutch’s favorite day of the year. Not only were there fireworks, but it was the day he’d met his love. From the moment Dutch had laid eyes on Tulip, he’d known she was the one. “Do you know what today is?” “Of course I do, silly. It’s our anniversary.” Forty-nine years and still in love, Tulip looked at Dutch and smiled. She had quite the adoring husband. “That’s right. I got you something.” What Dutch really wanted to give Tulip was her bouquet, but he hadn’t figured that one out yet.
  • “A present! For me?” Tulip loved gifts, or thought she did. “What is it?” “A kiss,” Dutch said, smiling brightly. Tulip ignored that, because they both knew the outcome to this conversation. ~~~~~ I hate playing softball. Kelly is so much better, having played in high school, but when our church team is short a player I step up. Mondays and Wednesdays are reserved for ladies softball, while Tuesday and Thursdays was men’s. This, like all things in Holland, was attended by most everyone in town, but today the whole town really was here. The Fourth of July picnic is a big deal in Holland. It’s the town’s anniversary and we’re always looking for a legitimate excuse to gather. The softball tourney always draws a large crowd. It’s free and parents get a break when the kids spend most of their time playing on one of the playgrounds or running behind the fence hoping to catch a homerun ball. The churches had agreed to further help the Dutch and Tulip cause by featuring the couple on this year’s shirts. Tulip for the women’s and Dutch for the men’s. But you’re smart enough to have figured that one out. Each team could add two non-members to their teams. This meant some serious competition when the ones they added were usually former college players. To say I was in trouble is putting it mildly. Sometimes when Kelly is off, I can talk her into playing for me, but she had to work tonight. Fourth of July, always good for a firework injury or two. Somehow I managed not to strike out and got walked. This is my usual strategy. Not to actually hit the ball. Now I was on third, praying that I wouldn’t have to slide into home plate. The catcher waiting for me was a frightening sight. I didn’t know her, so I knew she was a heavy hitter the Methodists had brought in. She was a brick house. There were two outs and I was hoping our next batter would strike out. She didn’t and I took off, fast as I could for home. Brick House was waiting for me with way too much enthusiasm in her eyes. Pumping my little arms, I did the unthinkable and slid. Unfortunately for me, the catcher held her ground. I heard the pop and felt the pain before I landed on top of what felt like a pile of bricks. I must have cried out, because next thing I knew Dr. Rob was kneeling before me, my foot in his lap. I closed my eyes, trying not to cry, but what the heck it hurt. “Lily. I’m going to remove your shoe and sock and have a look. I doubt it’s broken though.” Rob’s wife played for the Methodists, lucky for me he supported her softball efforts. “How’s it look, Doc?” Oh God. Please let that not be Jay. When I opened my eyes, I saw the concern in his. I knew he’d been working at the concession stand. He’d smiled and wished me luck when I’d gotten my Gatorade before the game. Now I imagined that when he saw me go down, he’d jumped over the concession table, rushing to my aid. While Dr. Rob examined my throbbing ankle, Jay continued to voice his concern, while rubbing my shoulders. Supporting me with his delicious body, he used the end of his t-shirt to dab the tears from my eyes. I risked a look at my ankle. Big mistake. It looked bad. Swelling was setting in and it was starting to turn colors that weren’t natural.
  • “Someone get some ice.” Dr. Rob instructed before turning his attention to me. “Not broken, but it’s a pretty nasty sprain. Once you get home, RICE it for the next 48 hours. Did you drive here or walk?” Dr. Rob asked. Sniffing and sneezing, probably from the dust I’d kicked up with my ill-fated slide, “I rode my bike.” After three more sneezes and an offer of a tissue, “What’s RICE?” I asked. “Rest, ice, compress and elevate. You’ll need to ice it for 20 minutes every three or four hours and you might want to take something for the pain.” Dr. Rob asked his wife, who along with a dozen other people, were crowded around me, to pull their car around. “We’ll give you a ride home. Do you have an Ace bandage?” “I think so.” I lied. As we all know, I’m not the best prepared for emergencies. “If not Tootsie or Ruth will,” I added. Tootsie had everything and, even if Ruth didn’t have a bandage, I bet she still has some whiskey. “I’ll take her home and make sure she gets settled in.” Jay gently pushed me from the comfort of his chest and took off at a run before I could stop him. “You don’t by chance have a pair of crutches, do you? If not, I can run some by in the morning on my way into the office,” Dr. Rob offered. Only in Holland could you expect your doctor to make house calls. And who in the world keeps a spare pair of crutches just lying around? Trying to get up, I didn’t like all the attention, but my ankle did. I stumbled around, before admitting defeat and setting back down in the dirt. Brick House apologized, but she was grinning sadistically as she said it. I knew this would be a topic of discussion at the Works in the morning. All the men in town analyzed every softball game and my error was bound to make the Holland Top Ten Plays. Then Jay was back, picking me up in his arms. Brick House handed me my shoe and sock, but I was too wrapped up in Jay’s arms to be offended by her smug look. “You don’t have to do this, Jay. It’s the Fourth. Go celebrate with everyone else.” Where was Britni? Jay had played his game earlier. Surely, she should be here cheering him on. I had. He’d looked so cute in his black athletic shorts, he’d cut the arms off his t-shirt, exposing most of his chest in the process. “Nah, I got this.” By now we were at his truck. His non-company truck. A newer model black Chevy extended cab complete with blue light on top. Carefully, as I was breakable, he put me in and then leaned over me and fastened my seatbelt. After loading my bike in the back, we were on our way. In my driveway, I tried unsuccessfully to get out on my own, but Jay would have none of it. He picked me up again. “You got your keys?” Jay asked. “It’s not locked.” It’s Holland; no one locks their doors. Jay shook his head. Taking me straight to the bathroom, he sat me on the toilet, removed my other shoe and sock and washed my feet, even the good one. While he rummaged around in the cabinet under the sink, I hoped he ignored the box of tampons. Jay located an Ace bandage and wrapped my ankle with such tenderness that I felt butterflies in my stomach. “Let’s get you on the couch, get that foot elevated, and I’ll get some ice and ibuprofen.” Jay started to walk away, but stopped when he looked at my watery eyes. “Do you want something for your sinuses too?” “No. They’ll settle down now.” I hoped. Nothing like a leaking nose to attract the attention of a man.
  • Minutes later, I was lounging on my plush velvet couch like a lady of leisure with Jay as my servant. “How about something to drink?” Jay asked. “If it’s not too much trouble.” Stupid. I was already troubling him, what was one glass of water? “Mind if I make myself something to eat?” Jay asked politely. “Sure. Whatever. I think there’s some deli turkey in the fridge. Just look around till you find something you want.” Me. Me. Want me. “You want something?” Yes, but I shook my head at his real question. My stomach felt off. I didn’t want to risk it by eating something other than the butterflies I was already snacking on. I could hear him in the kitchen, the fridge door and drawers opening and shutting. I looked around the living room, grateful that it was picked up, but my kitchen was another story. I’d spent so much time on the Dutch and Tulip effort lately that my housework was being neglected. What if I didn’t have any food? What if Jay preferred organic food like Kelly? The last time she was over, she’d eaten the last of my hummus and oat crackers. Well nothing I could do about it now. Grabbing the remote, I surfed through the channels and decided on HGTV. I love watching House Hunters. It’s neat to see the way people decorate in different parts of the country. And the prices. Yikes! How did people afford homeownership? Look who’s talking. The girl who got her house free, along with most of the furnishings. Apparently, Jay liked the show too, because after washing my dishes, he sat down with a sandwich, I was grateful I had bread that wasn’t moldy, and watched with me. He kicked off his shoes and made himself at home in a way that made the butterflies in my stomach flutter till I thought they’d take flight. Not that I didn’t love having him here, though. Sitting on the opposite end of the couch, he held my feet elevated by a pillow in his lap, every now and then rubbing the good one. All the while asking how the other felt. “Where’s Britni?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted asking. He looked uncomfortable, but answered. “She and Seth went to her parent’s cabin on Patoka Lake. They’re coming back tomorrow.” “Oh. She won’t mind this then?” Not that I had the ability, but I didn’t want to be the cause of any trouble between them. Maybe a little trouble? “What’s to mind?” Jay looked at me, still rubbing my foot.“It’s kind of like the time I walked you home after that black eye. Remember that?” As if I could forget. “Yeah. Thanks to you, I got my one and only black eye.” My foot twitched. My feet are ticklish, but I didn’t want to lose out on Jay’s touch, so I was trying hard to control the urge to wiggle my foot, which also hurt my injured ankle. Ah, the price we pay for love. “Sorry about that. It was an accident, though.” He looked like a little boy. Mischievous. “I know. I’m kidding. I shouldn’t have been playing anyway. Obviously, I was terrible then and not much has changed.” I was in love with Jay at seven and at 25, I still was. Yep. Not much has changed. “How about you? Anyone special?” Jay was looking at the TV, but the pressure in his rub had increased and was no longer ticklish. “Me? Oh no. Not with everything else going on right now.” But I’m sure I could find the time. Go ahead and put me down for the rest of your life.
  • “Ah. Well you’re young.” Still not looking at me. “Young? I’m 25.” Hint. Hint. See me all grown up. Not a child anymore. Nope. There’s a full-grown woman sitting on the couch with you. Oh, who am I kidding, I can’t compete with Britni. I grew up years ago, have lived in the same town with Jay all my life and he’s yet to see me as a woman. Why would he now? “You’re right. I guess I just remember you as that cute little girl running around the neighborhood.” At least, he thought I was cute at one point. “Feel up to watching the fireworks?” Jay asked. The abrupt change of subject startled me. “You’ve got chairs on the front porch right? We could sit outside and watch them.” He didn’t pick me up this time, but did lend me his arm, which I took full advantage of, leaning on him heavily. Sitting outside with Jay by my side, my ankle didn’t hurt so badly anymore. The fireworks display, which was partially blocked by trees, was marvelous all the same. Next year’s would be even better. It was after midnight when Jay left. He made sure I took something for the pain and iced my ankle one final time before he all but tucked me in. Not once did his cell phone ring, maybe he had it on silent, but at least I never had to endure Katy Perry taunting me. Chapter 10 “Now that we have money, let’s buy something.” Tulip had never considered shopping before, but now that they knew they were worth millions, she was very interested. “But we don’t have any money.” “Yes we do. Didn’t you hear Lily say we have a bank account now?” Tulip didn’t know what a bank account was, but assumed it had something to do with money. Lately, all everyone did when they came to the park was talk about money. “What would you like to buy, flower?” “A new dress. Purple maybe. And you could use some new pants.” “I don’t think purple’s my color. How about blue?” Dutch knew he had to dress to match his love, but purple? And Tulip was right. He did need new pants. The mid-summer sun was out, white puffy clouds in the sky, as Dutch looked into Tulip’s blue eyes and smiled. He wanted very badly to give his girl something nice. The bouquet hidden behind his back wasn’t doing him any good. Maybe flowers weren’t the answer after all. ~~~~~ My ankle slowed me down some. Dr. Rob did stop by with those crutches, which the kids thought that was “way cool.” I let them all take turns walking around with them the following Monday. It was our last week of Park and Rec and we were finishing with a bang by having a picnic. Ruth insisted on helping me out. “You can’t do everything on your own sweetie. It’ll be fun for me.” Ruth and her late husband never had children, which was too bad. They would have been great parents.
  • The Dairy donated ice cream and Gloria brought sugar cookies in the shape of Dutch and Tulip. Glen surprised me by showing up before the picnic with an inflatable bounce house he’d rented. “I thought the kids would like this. We rented it for our last family reunion.” He began setting it up and stayed for the picnic, making sure not too many kids got in at one time and that the bigger kids didn’t trample the smaller ones. I was dying to get in myself, but couldn’t. Hobbling around on crutches, I made sure all the kids received the projects they’d made over the summer, while Ruth tried to persuade Glen to let her have a turn in the bounce house. He had his hands full. I laughed, imagining Ruth jumping around with the kids, but laughed harder by the looks on Glen’s face as he pleaded with me to help him with Ruth. Jonas was manning the grill and he was the one who saved Ruth from a broken hip by offering to take her for a ride on his motorcycle instead. “Jonas.” I said, pulling him away from a now eager Ruth. She wanted her ride right now. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. Ruth’s in her 80s.” “Trust me. She’ll wear a helmet and I’ll go slow.” There was that wink again. “I’ll take her for a quick trip through town later. No biggie.” But it was a biggie to me. I worry about Ruth. Sure, she seems healthy enough, but I’m not sure she could survive a motorcycle accident. She’d be safer in the bounce house. I lost, and after the picnic was over, Ruth got her ride. I prayed the entire time Jonas and Ruth were gone on their grand tour. Pacing back and forth outside the shelter house. Not pacing so much, as gimping I guess. “Thank you, Jonas. That was lovely.” Ruth’s hair was a mess from the helmet and I was sure she’d go straight to the bathroom to fix her bun. “I can still feel the motor humming.” Giggling like a girl, she weaved like a drunk and sat down at a picnic table. “Haven’t felt vibrations like that since Gerald died.” Jonas looked embarrassed by this tidbit of information and I beat him by winking first. ~~~~~ A week after the motorcycle sex, Ruth and I were cleaning out her attic. Glen had made a very good suggestion and had taken it upon himself to do all the planning and advertising for a town-wide yard sale. “I need to clean out my garage and Linda keeps too much stuff as it is,” he explained. He’d put up flyers, which impressed me, since he hadn’t bothered with them during the vote. Glen also put an ad in the paper and yard signs around town. Everyone who took part agreed to give a portion of their earnings toward Dutch and Tulip. Not having anything to sell, I volunteered to help Ruth. She couldn’t get into her attic herself, so I was lugging out boxes and heaving them down the pull-down stairway, sneezing the entire time. Years of dust layered every surface and the ventilation was nonexistent. My ankle was better now. Still ached sometimes, but I was walking without a limp. This would likely do me in, though. Her attic was like stepping back in time and some of the boxes weighed as much as I did. We sorted through years of junk and sentimental items. One box, in particular, contained her brother’s WWII uniform, helmet, gun and letters he’d written home before being killed on some European battlefield in 1943. It was neat to read the letters, imagining what life must have been like then.
  • Germany was our enemy, yet we were a German community. Many people in town still spoke German at the time. How must that have been? When I asked Ruth, she didn’t have a good answer. Instead, she was fascinated with the helmet and wanted to know if she could possibly wear it for her next ride with Jonas. I wasn’t aware there was to be another ride. “Oh yes. I called Jonas last night. He’s taking me again this weekend.” She had the helmet on now; the anticipation was evident in her eyes. Jonas could be expecting a phone call from me. Another box caught my attention. It was a treasure trove of Dutch and Tulip memorabilia— blueprints, sketches, artist renderings of the couple. I could see that they’d had several kissing couples to choose from. In them, Dutch looked the same, but the Tulips varied. Short hair, pigtails, various colors for her apron detail. Not sure who made the decision to have her with braids, but I was glad. The braids suit Tulip. The box also contained a copy of At the Park with Dutch and Tulip. “Ruth, look!” I said as I sneezed, pulling out the book. “How did you end up with this stuff?” “Gerald was on the original committee. They were going to throw this stuff out, but I just couldn’t bear it.” Ruth smiled, taking the book from me. “This is amazing. Would you mind if I borrowed these and made copies?” I’d have them framed and displayed in the windmill. It would be a pictorial history and would be a nice touch. Ruth handed me the book and patted my hand. “You can have them, sweetie. They mean more to you than anyone else. Besides they’re not doing anyone any good boxed up in the attic.” Perfect. Now I have five. Ruth, who hadn’t driven in years, was also selling her car and donating the money. So I spent the next day cleaning it out. The car was in decent condition, but it had the same problem the rest of Ruth’s house did. It smelled. The yard sale was a financial success, which was a good thing. Donations had slowed. The windmill gauge which had risen so quickly in the beginning, was slowing in its rise to the top. $20,000 is all that was needed to save my wedding, er, Dutch and Tulip I mean. I thought about taking out a loan, but Dad stopped me, insisting that we had months to go. “Calm down, Lily. You’ll get there,” he’d said. I know he’s probably right. I just want it done, though. The sense of urgency I’d felt that day in the lunch room had never left me. I was racing, full steam ahead toward the finish line. The Facebook page continued to be a smash, and by summer’s end, Dutch and Tulip had nearly 1,000 friends. I posted the photos and sketches found in Ruth’s attic. Several people requested copies and soon we were selling photos of the couple. People from all over the country had taken our cause to heart. A Route 66 enthusiast group had contacted us and were planning a visit next year. Several couples had shown interest in the idea of marrying beneath Dutch and Tulip and one was planning a wedding, but not in time for the big reveal. I was trying to come up with new fundraising ideas, but the constant effort and strain of the summer was wearing on me. I’d lost a few pounds and wasn’t eating right. Kelly took me shopping for vitamins. But not just any vitamins. Oh, no. My vitamins couldn’t come from just anywhere. My vitamins were from a health food store and cost me a small fortune. “Well worth the added expense. You really do get what you pay for in this case.” Kelly had also signed me up for yoga, trying to lower my stress level, but I skipped class. I couldn’t very well spend my time in downward dog, when I needed to save Dutch and Tulip.
  • I hadn’t done a darn thing to prepare for the start of school, which to me is the official end of summer. Early August was just around the corner. I guess I’ll recycle last year’s lesson plans. That should make Kelly happy. Kelly also suggested I start dating, but who would I date? The guy I wanted wasn’t interested in me and the pickings in Holland were slim. Most eligible bachelors were snatched up, with the exception of Jonas. For some reason he’d managed to avoid all serious relationships. Strangely, I hadn’t heard a word from Jay since the Fourth and I gotta say that hurt. I kind of expected him to at least call and check on me. I deleted Katy Perry from my iPod. Hearing her sing, which I’d once enjoyed, now brought me pain. ~~~~~ A week before school started, Jonas called. “Lils, let’s take a break and go to the drive-in.” It had become a summer ritual for us. I love the drive-in. They have the best french fries. Forty-five minutes away, in Reo, the Holiday Drive-In has five screens. For just $7.00, you get to see two movies. Seriously? Who can beat that price, even if it was two in the morning when you got home. We loaded up a small cooler, a couple of lawn chairs and we were set. Usually we’d just stay in Jonas’s Blazer, parked facing away from the screen and open up the back. We laid the seats down, so if it wasn’t too hot we could sit inside, free from the mosquitoes. Tonight we’d be sitting outside. It was unbearably hot and humid. The first movie was great. An action movie. I know I’m a girl, but I prefer them any day over a romantic comedy. Nothing like big strong men, hopefully with no shirts on, fighting to save the world. My current favorite man of action is Chris Hemsworth. Tall, blonde hair and blue eyes, he’s the perfect on-screen crush. Next to him would probably be Chris Evans, equally stunning, but without the blonde hair. Sad really, when I think that even my celebrity crushes have to meet Jay’s standards. Between movies, while standing in line for my second helping of french fries, I heard a familiar voice. “Hey, Lily.” Directly behind me was Jay. Great. Again I look like crap! The drive-in isn’t the place to go to dress up dammit! A lot of people wore their PJs, for crying out loud. Jonas didn’t care how I dressed and I wouldn’t have cared even if he did. I was wearing a navy tank top, paired with a pair of Abercrombie boxer shorts. They were really cute, bright green with navy mooses all over them. “How’s the ankle?” Better late than never, Jay asked. “It’s fine. What are you seeing?” I looked around for Britni, when I didn’t see her, I wondered if he was here with someone else or a group of friends. Do guys do things like that? I know when they go to the regular movies they each sit a seat apart. Would a bunch of guys go to the drive-in? I doubt it. Seth approached before Jay could answer. “I got my ice cream.” Seth noticed me and smiled, before appropriately addressing me as a teacher. “Hi Miss Mein. What movies are you seeing?” After telling Seth my movie selections, Jay shook his head. “My Mom won’t let me watch those movies. Says they’re too violent.” Only he couldn’t pronounce violent, it sort of came out like wilent. “Probably a good idea. Are you having a good summer?” I asked eager for any details I could gather, even if it was through Seth’s six-year-old eyes.
  • His eyes lit up, then he looked at Jay. It was clear that Seth idolized him. We had something in common. “It’s been the best! Jay lets me help with his snakes, he built me an awesome tree house, we go fishing. This week we’re taking our station.” “Stay-cation.” Jay clarified. “Yeah stacation. We went to the zoo yesterday, then played putt-putt. We slept in today so I wouldn’t get tired for the movies tonight. And on Friday we’re going to Splashin’ Safari. Jay’s gonna ride the water slides with me.” Seth was so excited. And I was getting excited as I imagined Jay in a pair of Speedos. “Jay. You lazy, good-for-nothing bum. Takin’ a week off, just when you knew we had three roofs this week.” Jonas winked and put his arm around me in a familiar way. Apparently, Jay didn’t expect to see me with his favorite cousin. “Jonas.” He didn’t bother with chitchat or their normal joking. Rubbing Seth’s head, “Hey little man. How’s that tree house?” Jonas asked Seth. “My tree house is so cool!” Seth went into great detail, giving us the full specs. Finally when he was done, “What movies are you seeing?” Seth asked Jonas. Maybe six-year-olds don’t notice things like this or maybe Seth didn’t think I could get a date. After Jonas told him, realization hit. “Oh you and Miss Mein see each other like my Mom and Jay. Are you gonna get married?” Grr. I wanted more than anything to marry a Heimerschmitt, just not Jonas. Wait! Did that mean Jay and Britni were that serious? I felt my face fall. Jonas noticed it as well and squeezed my shoulder. “Nah. We’re just friends, Seth. What are you up to this summer?” Jonas was a kid guy, too. As Seth again went into his grand summer with as much detail as he had when describing the tree house, I watched as Jay surveyed his cousin, before turning his eyes to me. I smiled, but Jay only looked away. “Come on Seth. Your Mom will be wondering if we got lost.” Taking Seth’s hand, Jay said his goodbyes and gave Jonas a long pointed look. “Well, you boys enjoy your movie.” Walking away, I couldn’t help but glance back. Jay was watching me and he wasn’t smiling. “You okay, Lils? You look kinda lost.” Jonas ruffled my hair, just like I was six. What was it with the Heimerschmitts seeing me as a kid? “You’ve had a crush on him since we were kids.” No use trying to hide it from Jonas. “I know. Stupid, isn’t it? How long have they been dating?” I couldn’t help asking. “Not long. I think they got together over New Year’s. She’s been going to church with him though.” This was a big step and Jonas looked pained to tell me. As we made our way back to our spot, Jonas was yawning, so I knew I’d be driving home. Sadly, this gave me time to think. So Jay and Britni were pretty serious. Taking a vacation together. Shit! Surely, they weren’t living together? Jonas would have mentioned that. Was Seth’s tree house at Jay’s? Suddenly I felt horrible. Britni had him. They were probably going to get married. She would become Mrs. Jeremiah Heimerschmitt. That was supposed to be my name. My heart would be broken even further if they did it under my Dutch and Tulip. I wanted to cry. I wanted what Britni had. What would it be like to have a family? Have a husband to share a life with? Would I be a good wife and mother? Britni managed to run a business, raise a child and look amazing. How did she do it? I was always exhausted after a day of school and never could attain amazing looking. I can’t imagine
  • coming home and essentially starting a second job. A husband, kids, cooking, cleaning, laundry. How did women hold it all together? Could I? Heck yeah I could! I’d be an incredibly loving wife and mother. My husband and I would take our kids, two boys and one girl, to the drive-in every summer. We’d watch a quality family movie first, our kids well behaved, the boys would look out for their younger sister. Since they were such great kids, we’d let them get a drumstick, eating it during the movie. After the first movie, my handsome husband would take the boys to the bathroom, rinsing their mouths and washing their hands. Of course, they’d also use the bathroom. I’d take our daughter, who by the way will be a knockout when she’s older. Her dad is going to hate that. After getting the kids settled in the back of the mini-van, they’d chatter amongst themselves before falling asleep. My amazingly sexy husband and I would cuddle under the stars, watching a romantic comedy. Yeah, yeah, whatever! I’d watch a romantic comedy with the man I loved. I give up all my on-screen crushes for Jay. Him, I mean. My husband. We’d make out and mess around a little. After the movie was over, we’d load up and drive home. Putting the kids to bed, my husband would say his love for me was boundless and we’d make love. In reality, my husband would probably complain about how late it was, falling asleep during the second movie. The kids would have stomachaches from too much popcorn and ice cream. Of course, my youngest son would be allergic to peanuts so we wouldn’t have had drumsticks. I’d drive the 45 minute drive, while my husband slept, stopping twice, once for my oldest to throw up and once for my daughter to pee. Driving home, with a snoring Jonas, my night was ruined, even though the Chrises had done all they could to cheer me up. Even their shirtless, perfectly sculpted abs didn’t lighten my sour mood. You know it’s a sad day when that happens. And my husband didn’t even attempt to have sex with me. Chapter 11 “Say cheese,” Tulip instructed. She’d never understood why people always said that. What did cheese have to do with having one’s picture taken? But she smiled brightly anyway. “Is my bonnet straight?” “It’s perfect, flower. Just like you.” Dutch smiled. It wasn’t that he didn’t like getting his picture taken, but he was sure that Tulip wouldn’t kiss him with people around. More and more people came to the park now. And all of them had their cameras. Some even had video cameras. Tulip loved being a movie star. Like all celebrity couples, Dutch and Tulip were gorgeous. “In the movies, at the end, the couple always kiss. We should do the same,” insisted Dutch “We haven’t practiced our lines yet. We can’t kiss until the big finale.” ~~~~~ “So that’s where we’re at, guys. By this time next year, you’ll be good as new.” Standing under Dutch and Tulip, I was giving them an update on our progress. They enjoy knowing what’s going on and deserve to be kept in the loop.
  • There was a family visiting them now, so I had to shut up, but I loved watching the kids look at Dutch and Tulip in awe. I took their family photo under the statues and suggested they post it on the Facebook page. I know Tulip loves all the attention. She’s a beautiful girl, who deserves to have her picture taken. Visiting Dutch and Tulip was a daily ritual for me, but with school starting, I likely won’t have as much time to devote to them. Which I hate. When school started, I found myself dreading it for the first time in my career. I needed to work for Dutch and Tulip, not the school board. I’d done the bare minimum to prepare, but had made a nice home for my new classroom pet. Raider. Yes. I kept him. By the way…why can’t he be a she? How does one determine the sex of a snake, anyway? Principal Kyser hated Raider, but didn’t argue when the kids got their first look at her. They were so excited. Many of them had been present for the naming and they wanted to get class t- shirts made featuring our classroom mascot. Over Labor Day weekend, I made up for lost time and spent most of it preparing for school, even though it had already started. Next weekend was Bill and Tootsie’s anniversary party and I knew I’d be busy. Forty years. That’s a long time to be with just one person. In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine couples making it that long, but Bill and Tootsie had. When their daughter, Angela, called and asked for my help, I was only too happy to lend a hand. Bill and Tootsie’s family was planning a surprise party for their anniversary and it was my job to get them to the Shoe. Which was harder than I thought it would be. Finally, I had to resort to flat out lying. I told them I wanted their thoughts on having a New Year’s party at the Shoe. Even though they insisted on staying home, I managed to drag them there, where they were happily surprised. Tootsie may have been surprised, but she was anything but happy due to her state of dress. Oops. I guess I should have thought about that, but Angela didn’t say I was supposed to get them here dressed up. I can’t be held responsible for the fact that all their ruby anniversary photos will be of them dressed in sweatpants and t-shirts while everyone else was wearing their Sunday best. Bill thought it was a hoot, laughing as he twirled the ends of his mustache. “Sorry, guys.” I said lamely. Tootsie was gracious and forgiving. “That’s all right, Lily. You really had us going, though.” She smiled and reached for Bill, who was already headed for the food table. “Just think, we’ve been married all these years.” The love in Tootsie’s eyes made me wish for my own happy ending. Why couldn’t everyone be as happy as them? This kind of love should be celebrated and remembered every day. This is exactly what I needed for Dutch and Tulip. Before Tootsie could wander off, I grabbed her arm. “Will you do something for me?” This was a trick. “Of course, dear, anything. What is it?” Tootsie said absently. She was watching Bill, who was stacking his plate high with fried chicken and German fries. “What in the world does he think he’s doing?” Bill was on a diet and Tootsie was on him hard to follow it. “I’m sorry hon. What did you need?” “I need you to get married.” I was smiling hugely, almost dancing around I was so excited. “Again.” I added when Tootsie looked at me as if I’d forgotten our reason for being here.
  • “What on earth do you mean? I’m already married. I don’t think Bill would appreciate me doing it without him.” Now she was just being mean, probably paying me back for her ensemble. “Ugh! You know what I mean. I need for you and Bill to renew your vows under Dutch and Tulip at the reveal. It’ll be perfect.” Tootsie didn’t look convinced though. “Come on. Please say you’ll do it?” Pleading with my eyes, I knew she’d eventually give in. “It is a sweet idea. Bill and I wanted to marry here, but he was stationed in Washington at the time. All right, we’ll do it,” she said, after a moment of hesitation. “Thanks, Toots. I love you.” “Love you, too.” She said hugging me. “I wish you could do the same, but your day will come.” Tootsie added with a smile, but I had to wonder about that last part. If my day was coming, I wish it hurry up. The upstairs of the Shoe was decorated with ruby and ivory accents. A photo of Bill and Tootsie on their wedding day was framed and sitting on the gift table, surrounded by snapshots of their children and grandchildren. There was a nice crowd. Some were eating, and the younger crowd was dancing. Ruth with Jonas, though I’m sure her real motive was to finagle another ride out of him. I danced with Bill, his grandson Brock and then Jonas grabbed me for a round or two. All the while I was preoccupied thinking about the renewal that I had just added to the reveal. I hadn’t thought to share my idea with the committee. It just kind of snuck up on me, like Jay did now. “Nice party.” Jay looked his ever handsome self. Khakis and a white dress shirt with a blue tie that really set off his eyes. “Yes. I think they were really surprised,” I agreed. “Ya think? You should have seen the look on Tootsie’s face. It was shock, then she just looked pissed.” Jay was laughing. “Maybe she preferred to stay home and celebrate.” “Yeah. That’s probably it. She wanted Bill all to herself.” Men are really dumb sometimes. Only they would think it appropriate to show up at a party dressed in sweats. “By the way, I sort of added something to the reveal.” Sheepishly, I started to tell Jay what I’d done, but Jonas interrupted. Grabbing my hand, “Lily, dance with me again.” Jonas had had a few too many already and his speech was slurred. Jay grabbed my other hand. “Actually, Lily and I were just about to dance.” I felt like I was the rope in a tug of war. No surprise who I wanted to win. “Oh come on, Lily. You’re the prettiest girl here, besides if Jay wanted you, God knows he could have you. But he doesn’t and I do.” Jonas could say things he shouldn’t when he was drinking and he couldn’t get his winks right. Both eyes were twitching, first one, then the other, like he was taking turns with his blinks. I felt my face get hot with embarrassment, but Jay played it cool. “Tough. This dance is mine.” Jay tugged harder than Jonas. Of course, it helped that I went with his tug and extricated my hand from Jonas’s grip. When Jay put his hands on my hips, I was so overcome with emotion that I stood completely still, before coming to my senses and putting my hands on Jay’s shoulders. Now let’s just take a minute to analyze this shall we? Me, Lily Mein, in the arms of Jay Heimerschmitt. Imagine all the things running through my mind and body. This was different than when he’d cared for my ankle. We were dancing! Body to body. His was warm and smelled freshly showered. A hint of aftershave, mingling with my
  • perfume. We made slow circles in time to the music. And I allowed myself to simply enjoy the feel of his hands touching me in such an intimate way. Okay, minute’s up. “So what were you trying to tell me before my cousin rudely interrupted?” He looked down at me. Our faces were so close, that if I tiptoed I could kiss his neck. I had a hard time remembering what I had to tell him, so focused on what I wanted to do to him. “I asked Bill and Tootsie to renew their vows under Dutch and Tulip next year, during the reveal. I know I should have discussed it with the committee, but I thought it would be sweet.” Jay didn’t answer immediately, which made me nervous. “Good idea. My parents should do the same.” Jay looked away, but moved his hands from my hips to my back, pulling me closer. “Why can’t they? We should try to get as many couples as we can and have a group ceremony.” At least I think that’s what I said. He was now rubbing my back. Slow delicious circles that were making me think I had vertigo. “And you’re right. It is a sweet idea.” Looking down at me again, he whispered. “I think you’re sweet.” Sensory overload! I was afraid I was going to start hyperventilating. This was just too much. Yet not enough. I wanted more. “What’s going on here?” Britni didn’t look pleased to say the least. Jay set me away from the closeness of his body, but didn’t release me. “Lily just shared some good news with me, that’s all.” Jay smiled at her and continued. “Jonas was trying to dance with her, but he’s drunk, so I came to her rescue.” “Yes that’s right. Actually, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll find Jonas and drive him home.” My body protested as I left Jay’s embrace. “What good news?” I heard Britni ask as I walked away. Britni looked stunning, as always, in a skin-tight, strapless little number that was fire engine red. My very sensible little black dress and stick figure body couldn’t hold a candle to her bonfire. She’d replace me in Jay’s arms now and I wanted to scream. And I knew just the person to scream at. Now I just had to find his drunken ass. Chapter 12 “You should be a cowboy, with a hat and boots.” Tulip so loved seeing the kids dressed up, but she didn’t understand why they got candy. She never got candy and she was always dressed up. “I want to be a hero, with a cape. Like Superman or Batman.” Dutch didn’t know what his superpower would be, but it would be something that would impress Tulip enough to kiss him. “What should I be? A princess?” Tulip asked. “You could be an angel because you are one.” Yep, Dutch’s superpower was going to be kissing. The hero always flew in and saved the day, earning him a kiss from the damsel in dress. “Eww! I don’t like that one!” Trembling, Tulip watched as a monster approached them. He looked so mean. She wished she was braver. What if he hurt someone? “Don’t worry, Tulip. I’ll protect you.” Tulip screamed when a vampire came near. Fangs scared Tulip. Dutch didn’t particularly like them either. Didn’t vampires turn into bats?
  • When the vampire left, he said, “It’s fine now, flower. See? The vampire is gone. I saved you.” Dutch was disappointed, though, when he didn’t get his kiss. Tulip was now distracted by a group of butterflies and fairies. ~~~~~ Fall was turning out to be everything a picture perfect fall should be. The temperatures stayed in the 60s during the day, before dropping into the 50s overnight. It was perfect sweater weather. The town was decorated for fall with sort of a harvest theme. Which made sense, Holland was a farming community. New banners on the light poles showcased Dutch and Tulip, along with pumpkins and corn stalks. My own front porch was home to a dozen pumpkins and gourds. Mom always plants a separate patch just for decorating purposes and I was glad I had access to free pumpkins, because I’d already had to replace several that had been stolen and smashed in the street in front of my house. It would only get worse the closer we got to Halloween. The kids think this is delinquency in its highest form, but I’d done the same as a teen, so I couldn’t expect anything less. I did move my Dairy milk box inside the house though, in case someone tried to steal it. The milk boxes were a long ago part of the Dairy’s history. At one time, the Dairy would deliver milk products to your door. Mom always let me fill out our order form. I’d place it in the clip, under the lid, and know that in the morning my chocolate milk would be waiting for me. Home delivery was discontinued years ago, but it’s a nice remembrance of a time gone by. I’d had to fight Mom for ownership of the box, but in the end I won out. I had to have it. Dutch and Tulip’s image graced the front. Taking Halloween as another golden opportunity to fundraise, I enlisted the help of the high school drama club and planned a Haunted Trail at the park. We also set up a Haunted House at the old log cabin. It would be perfect. I, of course, was going to dress as Tulip. I already had the costume. I thought it best to have no scare hours, so we opened on Friday night at 5:30. The younger kids could go through the haunted house and walk the trail in the daylight, without any of the scary creatures jumping out at them. They got a big kick out of seeing the older kids dressed as zombies, werewolves and any number of assorted bloody things. The drama club demonstrated how to apply scary makeup. We had games and bobbed for apples. Kelly was instructing everyone to have their parents inspect their candy before eating any. She’d also brought alternative treats. Individually bagged mini carrots, called Scarrots. Each bag was decorated with a carrot dressed in a costume. My favorite was the Frankenstein one, complete with bolts extending from his carrot neck. No surprise that most of the kids passed, instead gravitating towards Ruth’s more traditional caramel-covered apples. The committee had helped with the setup and many were back now. Glen and his wife, Linda had their granddaughter, a princess, with them. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Jay and Britni showed up with Seth. He looked adorable as a Ninja. Not having seen Jay since Bill and Tootsie’s anniversary, I felt uncomfortable as they approached. “I love the costume! Did you make it yourself?” Britni, ever bubbly, but why wouldn’t she be? She had Jay and her very own ninja. “Yes. I thought it was appropriate.” I answered.
  • Jay was looking at me funny, but he’d seen me in it before. I realized I looked kind of silly in my get up, but come on. I was working here. Not just farting around with a date. I was trying to accomplish something for the greater good. That’s really not fair though. Jay had been more than helpful in getting the haunted house ready. He even loaned us a couple of snakes. Which Ruth now had draped around her shoulders. I shuddered hoping the python wasn’t hungry. Seth led Britni away, for some reason he was interested in what Kelly had to say about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, so I was left alone with Jay. Scary music played in the background. I’d found the CD at a party store. The X-Files theme, Star Wars, Jaws, Psycho, wolves howling, all the classics were adding another layer to our theme. “Where’s Jonas?” Jay asked, picking up a jar of eyeballs. “He came by earlier, but he had plans tonight.” Jonas had called me last night to tell me he had a date and to apologize for ditching me. He was supposed to judge the pumpkin decorating contest. He also apologized again for his poor behavior at the anniversary party. I’d chewed him a new one, then felt bad about it later. “Ah.” Jay said, eyeing the eyeballs with intensity. “Really is a nice costume. The braids are a nice touch.” “Thanks. And thanks for all your help with everything.” “Don’t thank me. You’re the one working your ass off for Dutch and Tulip. If not for you, they’d already be in the other Holland.” Jay continued looking directly at me. “Nah. Surely someone would have stepped up.” I hated to think about life without Dutch and Tulip, but right now I hated thinking about Jay and Britni more. I also hated the next words out of my mouth. “Any chance you and Britni will be tying the knot? You know we’re looking for a couple to get married under them on the Fourth next year.” Please, please say no! At this point I found myself bargaining with God. I know you can’t really do that, but it was worth a shot. Jay looked uneasy and abandoned the eyeballs for a jar of bloody fingers. “I don’t think I’ll be getting married under Dutch and Tulip.” Crap. What did that mean? Was he planning on getting married and Dutch and Tulip were just too corny or was he not marrying Britni at all? “Oh, come on. Your parents married under them. Surely you’ll want to do the same?” “Do what?” Britni asked. Seth was going to town on his caramel apple, getting it all over his black costume. Secretly, I hoped he got his sticky hands in his mom’s perfectly styled hair. “Nothing. Lily and I were just discussing the restoration. I told her I didn’t want to be involved with the actual work. Let the professionals handle that.” He smiled good naturedly, set the bloody fingers aside, took Seth’s hand and led them away. Whoa! He was lying to her. Probably because he wanted to surprise her with a ring. My Tiffany’s ring dammit! A million images flashed through my mind. None of them good. Some included me dressed as Freddy Krueger. ~~~~~ The weekend after Halloween was the PTO Fall Festival. As a teacher, I was expected to be there, but as a resident of Holland it was a given. Everyone came for the festival. An annual event starting…I have no idea when it started, but as a child I remember looking forward to it every year. The gym was decorated for fall and there were games for the kids along with a silent auction and raffle. One of the locker rooms was used as the jail. It was great fun for the kids and some
  • adults to get carted off to the “big house.” Insurance could be bought, and most adults took advantage and were walking around with a “Jail Free” sticker. The school cafeteria was now acting as a restaurant, serving soups and desserts donated by parents. The older students bussed tables and refilled drinks. I ate more than my share of chili and pumpkin pie before showing up for my assignment. Working the face painting booth, I silently prayed that no one wanted anything too intricate. Why does everyone assume that elementary teachers are artsy? I know I can sew, but I can’t draw to save my life. Luckily, Kelly had volunteered her services. In college one of my education professors had given us the basics on face painting. It was actually quite easy. Even I could do it well enough to please six-year-olds. My favorite was a frog, tongue extending to the side of the face, capturing a fly. It was always a crowd pleaser. After painting what felt like my hundredth frog and fly combo, my time was up. Heading to the silent auction, I checked out the usual items. Each class was responsible for a themed basket. The Christmas one always got my attention. I’m a sucker for Christmas stuff, but this year the third grade had outdone themselves with a spa basket. Loofah sponge, bath salts, the usual, but it also had a gift certificate for a massage and facial. I bid $50.00. I could already feel my cares exfoliating away. My class had been assigned a movie night theme. Basically, our basket was filled with $5.00 DVDs from the cheap bin at Wal-Mart, I hadn’t heard of most of the titles, and microwave popcorn. I didn’t have high hopes for our basket, but I’d sprung for a cute red and white striped bowl, with POPCORN written in big red letters. It looked like the containers you get at the movies. I was happy to see my hand-sewn Dutch and Tulip dolls were doing well. $64.00. Modeled after the old Raggedy Ann and Andy, mine were dressed exactly as the real Dutch and Tulip. They would make some little girl very happy. I’d sewn an extra set for myself. I couldn’t help it. They were too sweet. Maybe someday if I have a daughter her room can be decorated in a Tulip theme. How cute would that be? Plus I had the copies of the pictures and sketches found in Ruth’s attic. They would be the perfect wall art in a yellow painted room, with red accents. Jay, Britni and Seth were there, too, Britni was admiring my dolls. Suddenly, I saw my Dutch and Tulip dolls in the bedroom of Jay and Britni’s future daughter. I wanted to grab them up and run. Especially after I saw Jay bid $75.00 for them, Britni smiling smugly by his side, pretending not to have noticed. Jay complimented me on the dolls and I pretended that he thought they’d look cute in our daughter’s room. We’d name all our daughters with l’s and our sons with j’s. We’d even name our first daughter after his great-grandma, Lucille. See how well that works? Lily and Lucy. “Did you make them?” Asked Britni. She was holding Dutch in her hands and I was sure Tulip wouldn’t appreciate another woman’s hands on her man. “Yes.” I said, wanting to save this Dutch and Tulip as well. “Just like your costume huh? I didn’t know you were so talented.” Jay was fingering Tulip’s red bow, which I’m sure she didn’t mind. Jay was as handsome as Dutch. “I’ve got all kinds of talents,” I said, taking Tulip from him and setting her back down, Britni was still holding Dutch and I started to get a bad feeling. Jonas was bidding heavily on the Colts tickets someone had donated, but I could tell he was torn between them and the signed Indiana University basketball. Just before the silent auction started, yeah that is kind of weird. It’s not really silent. Everyone bids on what they want, but
  • then they open the bidding, starting with the highest silent bid. Principal Kyser asked me to join him at the podium. When he refused to tell my why, I started to worry. Surely, he wouldn’t fire me in front of all these people? I hadn’t done anything wrong. Not a hair sighting of a chipmunk in months. And, trust me, I was constantly on the lookout for the impish creatures. Using a bullhorn, Principal Kyser announced that it was time for the auction to begin. After everyone quieted down, a fifth-grade student, Clair Reister, came to stand next to me. Miss Mein, this is for you,” Clair said, handing me an envelope. “Go on, open it.” She was smiling brightly, as only a ten year old can. It was a check for $721.37. I was overcome with emotion. The .37 cents is what got me. “All the students took a collection. We want you to have this for Dutch and Tulip.” Clair was proud of their efforts and of the fact that she was acting as spokesmen for the student body. Hugging Clair, I had to fight back tears. This was what Holland was all about. What Dutch and Tulip were all about. I’d make sure they got a special brick, in honor of the children of Holland Elementary. Taking the bullhorn, I thanked the kids. “I also want to thank all of you for coming to tonight and supporting our school. The money raised here will be used by the PTO for end of the year field trips and Field Day.” I thought this would make Principal Kyser happy, but since I had the bullhorn, I took the opportunity to give a Dutch and Tulip update and urge people to keep donating. “We’re close to the money needed. I’ve been in contact with the restoration company and preservation group. If all goes as planned, the restoration will begin in April.” I felt like a cheerleader, only without the pompoms. After a thunderous applause, Principal Kyser took the podium and began the auction, now not so silent. I went to stand by my dolls and was shocked to see that someone had outbid Jay and that he had in turn, outbid them. The price was up to $125 now. “Ruth!” I yelled. I could see her standing by the jail, trying to get in. “Yes, dear. Oh, Lily, the dolls turned out so cute. You really out did yourself.” She was holding Tulip in her hands, playing with her braids. “Yeah, yeah. Listen I need you to bid on these and win them. I’ll pay you back. Okay?” Ruth looked confused and with good reason. She knew I’d sewn myself a set and was probably wondering what was wrong with me. I just couldn’t let Jay win them for Britni. I couldn’t. Dutch and Tulip wouldn’t feel comfortable in Britni’s house. “Why don’t you just bid on them?” Ruth asked genuinely. “I just can’t. It would look weird.” “All right. How high should I go?” Ruth looked excited now. “As high as you have to. Just get them.” I urged. Jonas got his Colts tickets, but Bill beat him out on the IU basketball. The auction’s pace was picking up. “Next we have our town mascots brought to life as dolls, kindly donated by our own Miss Mein.” Holding my dolls, Mrs. Bass walked around with them held high, as Principal Kyser started the bidding. Jay and Britni were sitting in the front row and I got that bad feeling again. “I see we already have several interested buyers. Bidding starts at $130. Do I hear $140?” Ruth, Jay and a dozen other people raised their hands.
  • Clearing his throat, Principal Kyser continued. “All right how bout $150?” That figure didn’t scare anyone and even more people raised their hands. “$175?” Principal Kyser offered. Ruth looked at me and I nodded, then leaned over and whispered in her ear. “Get them.” She raised her hand, and I’ll be danged if the same people didn’t as well. “$200?” Principal Kyser was getting into it now. Like a real auctioneer. He was doing the whole “Do I hear” thing. I rolled my eyes. At $300, I thought Ruth had them won, but Jay nodded and so did Tootsie. Dammit! Now I was bidding against the man I loved and my neighbor. I wanted to scream at Tootsie to stop. I’d make her a set for free. Then Glen got in on the action. For the love of God! How much was I gonna have to pay for my own dolls?! At this point, Principal Kyser was too far gone, pretending he was an auctioneer. “$500?” He yelled. Ruth raised her hand. I sighed and cringed. Ouch! That was a lot of money, but it was money well spent if it saved my dolls from the hands of Britni. I bet she was one of those girls who cut her doll’s hair or ripped their heads off as a child, so no one would be prettier than her. “Do I hear $600?” Principal Kyser waited and was just about to say sold, when Jay raised his hand. Can you believe it? Britni must really want those dolls. The higher the bidding went, the more I hated her. It was as if the dollar amount was buying me more hate. Ready to admit defeat, I wasn’t expecting Ruth to counter Jay’s bid, but she did. Okay, it’s alright. What’s another $100, I told myself. Ruth became an unstoppable force after that. Back and forth it went, until Ruth and Jay were the only bidders left. They were going at it as if they’d lost their minds. I realize people can get swept up in the moment, but Ruth was taking my money with her. At $1,100, I felt faint. I grabbed Ruth’s arm to put a halt to the madness, but I think she took that as a sign to keep going. And she did. “$1,200!” exclaimed Principal Kyser. At this point, the entire gym was caught up in the frenzy. The Colts tickets and IU basketball hadn’t gone for this much together. I risked a glance at Jay. He looked determined, as Britni sat by his side smiling proudly. Ruth wore an eager grin on her face. It was obvious she wasn’t going to let up. But I had to stop her. Grabbing her arm again, I said, “Ruth, stop. Really, it’s okay.” My eyes were wide with the same fear I’d felt after opening my first credit card statement. Principal Kyser yelled, “$1300?” And almost simultaneously, Jay nodded, as if he was expecting the madness to continue. Fine. Jay had won my dolls, but at least I’d made him pay out the wazoo for them. Ruth was shaking and before I realized what was happening, she raised her hand, stood up and yelled, “$1,500!” I think I might have blacked out at this point. The gym got suddenly hot and spots clouded my vision, unfortunately I could see well enough to watch in horror as Jay nodded and spoke calmly. “$1,600.” My first car didn’t cost that much. Granted it was a piece of junk, but still?
  • Principal Kyser looked confused and angry that he’d lost control of the situation. “Ruth?” Looking directly at her, it was obvious no one else was bidding, but the whole town watching. Bill and Tootsie sat in stunned silence. Probably wondering if Ruth needed her meds checked. Ruth looked at me and I shook my head back and forth with enough force that I was sure I’d have whiplash. “Come on, Lily, just a little more?” Ruth sounded like one of my students. “No, Ruth. We’re done.” I hoped I said it loud enough for her to hear, yet soft enough that no one else did. Ruth muttered something to herself in German, before accepting defeat and sitting back down. “$1,600, it is. Sold! To Jay Heimerschmitt.” Jay approached Mrs. Bass, who reluctantly handed him my dolls. It was if they had been touched by Midas and she wanted them now too. I couldn’t watch anymore as Jay made his way back to his seat, where an anxious Britni sat waiting for his return, as if he was the conquering hero of dolls. Ruth patted my knee and snorted, “I’m sorry, Lily.” “It’s okay. It was stupid of me anyway. I shouldn’t have asked you to do that.” But she’d had fun almost spending my money. I didn’t bother staying for the rest of the auction. Who cares how my class basket did or if I got the spa treatment? Britni had my dolls and my man. Chapter 13 “Why does he always look at us with a frown on his face?” The people who came to visit always smiled, but this man never did. He just stood and stared at them. And he never took their picture. “I’m sure he’s just trying to figure out how to start storing us, flower.” Dutch hated lying to Tulip, but didn’t want to see her upset. Dutch didn’t like the man either. He came almost every day now and stood watching his Tulip. What if this man wanted her for himself? What if he gave her flowers first? Tulip might kiss him instead. “Tulip?” “Yes, dear.” Tulip was only half listening, watching as cars passed by on the road. The headlights reminded of her of fireflies and she smiled. “You’d never take flowers from anyone else, would you?” Dutch asked, tentatively. “Of course not.” Tulip couldn’t imagine flowers from anyone else. “But then again, you never give me flowers.” Dutch ignored that. “You wouldn’t let anyone kiss you? Would you?” Tulip snorted, “In case you haven’t noticed, no one kisses me. Not even you.” “I’ll kiss you now.” “Do you see me holding my flowers? I didn’t think so.” And with that said, Dutch knew he was in for another long night of not kissing. ~~~~~ I felt terrible when Ruth called later that evening, apologizing again for not winning my dolls. She was upset Jay had out bid her and felt she’d let me down. But it wasn’t Ruth who’d let me down. It was me and my ridiculous Jay fixation.
  • Having stayed for the remainder of the auction, Ruth was filling me in on who got what and how much they paid, but at this point I simply didn’t care that the Movie Night basket failed miserably. Snuggled in bed with my Dutch and Tulip dolls, I assured Ruth it was fine and turned my thoughts to my daughter Lucy. She was the prettiest and brightest little girl. Lucy had her father’s eyes. So blue, one would think of the ocean when she looked at you. And you would be swept away by her beauty. Jay was a doting father and I could see them walking, hand in hand, Lucy hugging her Dutch and Tulip, a smile on her precious face. These were the sweet musings that carried me to sleep, but the sound that woke me was anything but. It was just after midnight when I heard a crash and the sound of broken glass. Then the sound of a vehicle peeling off in the street in front of my house. The sound had come from inside my house. Alarmed, I didn’t know what to do. Had someone broken in? Surely not. That kind of thing doesn’t happen here. “Hello?” Okay, that was probably stupid, but I’d never experienced anything like this before. Throwing on my robe, I got out of bed, turning on the light. The sound seemed to have come from the living room. Wait. Should I call someone? I considered calling Jonas, but for what? I didn’t have any kind of weapon. Looking around, I couldn’t even find something to use as a weapon. Oh, this is ridiculous. It was nothing. A bottle of shampoo probably fell in the shower. That happens all the time. Sure of my logic, I left the safety of my bedroom and walked into the living room. The smell got me first. It was overwhelming and I started gagging. There was milk, obviously spoiled, splashed all over the room. The wind was blowing the curtains at the window that had been broken. Chunks of milk were dripping from the ceiling, I realized after a dollop dropped on my head. What the…?! An empty gallon jug was lying on the floor with a rock duct taped to the molded handle. Dialing 911, I didn’t want to disturb anything, even though it appeared as if no one had been in my home. Walking away from the crime scene, I settled into a kitchen chair. “911. What’s you’re emergency?” An older, female voice asked in a professional, distanced tone. What was my emergency? No one was hurt. Is this the sort of thing I should even be calling 911 about? “Um, someone broke a window in my house.” I stuttered, then started shaking. Someone had thrown a gallon of spoiled milk through my window? Really? “Is anyone in the house now?” She asked concerned. “I don’t think so.” I looked wildly around the room, waiting for someone or something to jump out at me. “They just threw a gallon of milk through the window and drove off.” “You are at 701 Krieg Street, correct? In Holland?” She asked. “Yes.” I answered shaking even more. “We’re sending someone now. If you feel unsafe, you should leave the house or I can stay on the line with you.” I hadn’t felt unsafe until she mentioned it. The more she talked like that, the more scared I felt. The thought of actually leaving the house suddenly sounded terrifying. Anyone could be out there waiting to ambush me. “Thank you. I’ll stay here if you don’t mind.”
  • The operator asked if I had carpet. When I answered yes, she went into great detail telling me all about the time her son had thrown up milk in their car. She actually gave me some tips on how to remove the smell. Good advice. I just wish I didn’t need it. Minutes later, I heard sirens. I blew out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding and thanked the operator. “You’re welcome, ma’am. Have a good night.” That struck me as funny and I started laughing hysterically. The town’s one and only cop was pounding on my door, which brought an abrupt end to my laughter. Holland doesn’t need a full-time police force. We didn’t really even need Junior, but right now I was glad we had him. “Lily? Are you all right? Open the door.” Junior commanded, in I’m sure what was supposed to be a reassuring tone. Letting Junior in was weird. I’d known him all my life, but it felt odd having him here in an official capacity. “What happened?” He asked. He looked sleepy. What little hair he had was a mess and his shirt was untucked. Mere inches taller than me, I doubted Junior and his beer gut could run down a perp. Before I could answer, more sirens sounded and vehicles pulled up outside. Did you know that, in a small town, when you call 911 everyone shows up? And I do mean everyone. The entire volunteer fire department was suddenly standing in my house, along with Bill and Tootsie. But at the moment there was only face I wanted to see. Walking over, Jay placed his hands on my shoulders and stooped down to look me in the eye. “My God. What happened?” Couldn’t help it. Really I couldn’t. I started to cry. Taking me in his arms, Jay simply held me. I heard someone say something about shock, but in the safety of Jay’s arms I felt better. If this was shock, I liked it. After I settled down enough to tell everyone what happened, Junior instructed someone to get some wood and board up my broken window. This is Holland, not some big city where they have fancy detective equipment, but Junior did have gloves. He placed the jug into a clear plastic bag. My shocked mind thought that was odd, but it did the job I suppose. Lumpy milk chunks, like cottage cheese, were splattered on every surface. My precious velvet couch was ruined. I think I started crying again. The pictures on the walls hadn’t escaped the milk and I hoped they wouldn’t be ruined. My carpeting was going to need a steam cleaning and the walls wiped down. Thank God for good neighbors, because Bill and Tootsie took control and began to organize the cleanup. When the phone rang, Tootsie answered it and informed a very worried Ruth that everything was fine and that I’d call her tomorrow. Still in my robe, I went to change into sweats. When I came back out, the cleaning process was well underway. Bill was using his shop vac to suck up as much milk as possible from the carpet. The room stunk horribly and I ducked my nose inside my hoodie to avoid the smell. Throughout, Jay and all the volunteer firefighters stayed and helped. Finally, when we’d done all we could at the late hour, everyone began leaving. I thanked them for coming and staying to help. Pretty sure volunteer firefighters aren’t trained for this. “You should stay with us tonight, sweetheart. The spare rooms all made up. I bet Taco would even sleep with you.” Tootsie was holding my hand, with a very mom-like expression on her face.
  • “No, but thanks anyway. And thanks for all your help.” Giving Bill and Tootsie hugs, I told them I loved them and watched them leave. “What do you think happened?” Junior was all hyped up now. A real crime had been committed and he had something official to do now. I shrugged and didn’t want to state the obvious, but I knew what he was really asking. Who did this and why? “I don’t know. Why would someone throw spoiled milk through my window? Was there a note?” I hadn’t thought of that until just now. Didn’t the bad guys always attach a note? “No note. No nothing. Do you think this is about Dutch and Tulip? You’re awfully close to the goal. Maybe someone who doesn’t like the idea wanted to scare you?” Junior offered. Well, mission accomplished. But that didn’t make any sense. The fundraising efforts included the whole town. Why threaten me? This wasn’t some big city. Things like this don’t happen here. They just don’t. “Maybe it was a prank. Some kids out trying to cause some trouble.” Junior offered a new theory. I hadn’t been a teacher that long, but maybe I’d made an eight year old enemy. The absurdity of the situation and the late hour hit me and I started laughing again. Junior shook his head. “I’ll take the jug over to Jasper and see what the State Police can come up with. Did you by chance see the vehicle?” He was in full cop mode now. Glad that I could help in making him feel useful. “Sorry, I was asleep.” I answered, trying to remember if there was anything I’d left out. Maybe some minor detail that would be important, but I was tired and not firing on all cylinders. “Are you sure you want to stay here? Maybe you should go to Bill and Tootsie’s.” Junior had his nose covered with a handkerchief. Somehow I was used to the smell already. “Yes. I’ll be fine. It’s not like they’re coming back.” The looks on both Junior’s and Jay’s faces didn’t make me feel better, but I wasn’t a coward. Maybe a little bit of a coward, but I wasn’t going to let someone evict me from my own home. Junior left shortly after, giving me his cell number just in case. “I’ll drive around town, see if anyone’s out and about.” After what I’m sure was meant to be a comforting look, he left. I hadn’t realized it, but the red and blue light on his police cruiser were still on. Left alone with Jay, I felt nervous as he walked around my house, checking the locks on all the windows and doors. When he went downstairs, he was gone for so long that I feared something might have happened to him. Maybe the bad guy was down there and had gotten him. “Jay!” Standing at the top of the stairs, I yelled down for him. I was relieved when I saw him turn the corner and start up the stairs. “Your basement is damp. You need a dehumidifier,” he said as he closed the door. Jay was all business now. Not a hint of affection, but then why would there be? He’d probably been in bed with Britni when he’d gotten the 911 call. I wished Jay would offer to stay with me, not with any funny business in mind, simply for my peace of mind. I know it’s silly, but my heart wanted him to stay, but that wish was in vain. “Well, I better be going. You sure you’re all right? Maybe you shouldn’t stay here alone.” I wouldn’t be alone if you’d offer to stay with me. “No. It’s late, I’ll be fine.” I lied. Fear was now clouding my every thought. After a quick hug and instructions to call if anything else happened, Jay was gone. And I was left alone in a house that stank like rancid milk. ~~~~~
  • Maybe I was in shock, because somehow I managed to sleep. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out. Waking up, I figured God would give me a pass on missing church just this once. I had some serious cleanup to do today. I’d have to find a carpet cleaner, figure out what to do with my couch and see what else might be salvageable. Coffee was in order before I could face looking at my living room again. The smell was even worse now, the furnace enhancing the sour smell. After opening every window, I dragged my sorry butt to the kitchen for that coffee. Standing at the kitchen sink, I suddenly remembered that Mom had a carpet cleaner. How could I forget that? The woman cleaned her carpets religiously three times a year. It’s a wonder her carpet has lasted. I rarely clean mine. Instead, I never wear shoes in the house. I figure that counts for something. Holy shit! In my driveway sat Jay’s black truck. Through the early morning fog, I could see Jay sitting inside. Not bothering with shoes, I walked quickly out to his truck. Peeking in the window, I saw Jay was asleep. His head leaned back against the seat. Maybe it’s creepy, but I simply stood and watched him for a few minutes. He looked like a little boy, head turned slightly toward me, mouth relaxed, hands lying limp in his lap. I knocked on the window and Jay startled awake instantly. Looking around, he seemed momentarily confused. “What are you doing here?” I asked through the window. Rubbing his hand over his face and through his hair, he looked guilty. Rolling down the window, he didn’t say a word. He just looked at me. “What?” I looked behind me and back to him, but I was distracted when I saw my dolls in the seat next to him. “Nothing. I wanted to be gone before it got light out, but I guess I was really tired.” He looked away. “You slept in your truck? In my driveway?” I said with emphasis. “Why?” “Not that I’m a very good lookout, but I thought if there was another vehicle here, no one would bother you.” Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! That did it! If I wasn’t already head over heels for his guy, I was now. “Would you like to come in? I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee on.” What was I supposed to do? How did I thank the man I loved, who didn’t love me, for being so sweet? I’d offer him breakfast, but all I had were Pop Tarts. My house reeked, but it was the polite thing to do after he’d spent the night sleeping in his truck for me. For me. He’d done that for me. “No. I better get going before anyone sees me here this early.” Yeah. I hadn’t thought of that. He was right. My house was smack dab in the middle of town. Anyone driving by would instantly know who was at my house. Holland was like that. You knew people’s vehicles, even people you didn’t know. Not to mention the fact that I was standing outside, barefoot in only my robe. It might appear that I was wishing my lover a fond farewell from the state of my dress. As if I could be so lucky. “You didn’t have to do that you know. But thanks.” Sometimes it felt like all I said to Jay was thanks for some kindness or service he’d performed. I’d slept sound last night, even though I shouldn’t have. Maybe subconsciously I knew he was outside protecting me.
  • “No problem.” He looked so handsome, with his face a little scruffy, eyes still sleepy. If only I could be so lucky as to wake up to that every morning. Damn Britni. Stepping away from his truck, I couldn’t bring myself to go inside until he was out of sight. Watching him drive away, some of the safety I’d felt went with him. I shuddered from the chill and the fact that Jay had actually spent the night at my house. Yeah, yeah. It doesn’t really count, but still. He’d stayed. I dreaded going back inside, knowing the fresh morning air smelled so different from what I was about to walk into. Next door, Bill came out with Taco. We chatted for a few minutes. Bill wanting to know what he and Tootsie could do for me. I told him they’d done enough and that I could handle the rest. He didn’t like that. Bill likes being in charge of a situation. When I heard a vehicle pull into my drive, I turned around anxiously, hoping it was Jay. Glen yelled out his window, “Heard about the trouble last night. Everything all right?” The Works was no doubt humming about my window break-in. Junior had probably gotten his coffee and doughnut and was relishing telling the tale of a real crime. “Everything’s fine. Nothing a little cleaning won’t fix.” “Didn’t get a chance to talk to you last night after the auction, but you say the work will start in April?” Glen took in my robe, but didn’t comment. “Yes. They want two months to complete the work. That gives them some wiggle room in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.” For once in my life, I wasn’t in the mood to discuss Dutch and Tulip. “You’re coming to the next meeting, right?” Glen asked, even though I hadn’t missed one yet. “Yes. Thursday, just like always.” I smiled brightly, trying not to be sarcastic. “Good. We can start planning the unveiling celebration then. Make it a party like Holland hasn’t seen before.” Glen smiled, too. At the moment, celebrating wasn’t at the top of my to do list. I had a stink waiting for me and I was cold standing outside in my robe. “Absolutely. Dutch and Tulip deserve it. See you later, Glen,” I said, walking away while I had the chance. “Have a good day,” Glen said, laughing. Anyone else find that funny? Chapter 14 “Last night, I had the strangest dream.” Tulip always had pleasant dreams, but this one wasn’t. And it frightened her. “What did you dream about, flower?” Dutch dreamt the same dream every night. “I sailed away in a little boat, but I was alone.” Tulip was getting upset now. “I searched everywhere for you, but when I found you, you said you didn’t want to kiss me anymore.” Was that possible? Tulip didn’t think so, but the dream had felt so real. When she’d woken this morning, she was overjoyed to see Dutch’s face smiling back at her. “That wasn’t a dream. That was a nightmare.” Dutch’s dreams always ended with him kissing Tulip. “It’s over now. I’m right where I belong.” “Did you have a nightmare too?”
  • “No. I had a pleasant dream. You were in it.” Tulip was excited now. “What was I doing?” “We,” Dutch emphasized, “were walking through the park. The sun was out and there wasn’t a bird anywhere. You wanted to swing, so I was pushing you high. You were laughing and smiling. And then…” “And then what?” Tulip asked, anxiously. “Then we kissed.” He paused and said, “Let’s make my dream come true.” “It was just a dream, Dutch.” Tulip was disappointed. She’d imagined they were doing something adventurous. Not boring old kissing. But sometimes dreams are all we have. Sadly, this was true for Dutch as well. ~~~~~ If you thought the spoiled milk through the window routine was bad, well wait till you hear how the rest of my week went. Sunday, as expected, was all about cleaning up my living room and trying to get rid of the God awful smell. When I went to get dressed, even my clothes smelled like rancid 2%. I called Mom and Kelly first thing. I knew they’d hear about what happened and I didn’t want them to worry. Within the hour, both were at my door. Kelly dressed to clean and Mom with her steam cleaner. This was probably the only good thing that happened all week. Well, this and one other thing, but I’ll get to that later. My beloved sage green velvet couch was a lost cause. The milk was dried and matted in the cushions. The three of us managed to get it out the front door and onto the porch. I was sad to see it go. The couch had been my first purchase as a homeowner. Mom had given me a hard time about buying a velvet couch, but I didn’t care. It was beautiful and timeless. I’d pictured myself sitting on that couch years from now. I’ll have Jonas come take it off for me later. During the course of the morning, after countless loads of laundry, a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap and three passes with the steam cleaner, my living room looked and smelled better. I’d thrown out all my pillows and decided that my one and only painting would have to go as well. The pillows weren’t a big loss, but I’d liked the painting. True, I’d only paid a quarter for it at a yard sale, but loved it all the same. It was an old paint-by-number of a wintry scene. It was unique, but the rank milk had made it even more unique, only not in a good way. I was both surprised and ecstatic when Jay showed up, this time in his work truck. “Hope you don’t mind, but I went to Home Depot and picked up a window. Lucky for you it’s a stock size.” Lucky me? Dang right I was lucky. Jay was back. Immediately, he set about removing the wood and Kelly was avidly watching him work, but who could blame her? Nothing like a man who knew how to use his tools. “That’s really sweet of him. Wonder what old Britni would say about that?” Kelly smirked. “Say about what?” Mom knew I’d had a crush on Jay as a child, but I guess she thought I’d grown out of it. I should have. “Nothing Mom. Just that it’s nice of Jay, that’s all.” I know it’s terrible of me, but at this point I was ready for Mom to pack up her steamer and go. My grandpa always said you can’t have two hens in one henhouse. Now I know what he meant.
  • The entire time we were cleaning, Mom was pointing out what I should and shouldn’t be doing. All the while hinting that I should sew more. Mom, having known Jay since his birth, monopolized his attention, which made me want her to leave even more. Yeah, I’m a shitty daughter. While Jay worked, Mom, Kelly and I finished up. When it was close to lunch, Kelly suggested we take a break and get a pizza from the Gaslight. She knew she had me there. I love Gaslight pizza. No one has better. I’d wanted to make sandwiches, but Kelly knew she’d get me with this offer. It’s Kelly’s one food weakness, too. All her organic priorities fly out the window when it comes to their pizza. Lucky for me, Mom had done all she could and was eager to get home to Penny. The dog was probably having a panic attack wondering where Mom was. I wondered how the dog made it through an entire day without my mom. How would Penny find her blankie? Did I mention I’m a bad daughter? I’ll admit it. My mood sucked big fat ones. Someone had threatened me. Maybe threatened was the wrong word, but I felt violated. My things had been violated. Someone had intruded on the safety of my home. While cleaning, we ran through a list of possible suspects. Mom, Kelly and I would suck at being detectives, because we couldn’t come up with anyone. None of this made any sense. In the end, we all agreed it was simply a prank and since my house sits on the corner I was an easy target. Nothing personal. No one wanted to harm be specifically, at least that’s what I kept telling myself. After Mom left, and yes even though I was aggravated with her, I told her I loved her, Kelly went to Huntingburg to get our pizza. I’m sure she was doing this to give me time alone with Jay, because the Gaslight delivers. Bless her heart. “Do you need any help?” I may not have liked what happened, but it gave me time with Jay. Thank you, rancid milk man. “Sure. Go outside. Once I get the window in place, just steady it, while I put the screws in.” Ah. Jay and screwing. Oh wait. He said screws. It didn’t take him long, unfortunately, and Jay was done. “What do I owe you?” I asked. “The window was cheap. Don’t worry about it.” He looked uncomfortable. Was he blushing? “Absolutely not. I have to pay for it. And I’ll owe you for your time. Especially since you came over on a Sunday to do it.” Which again was so sweet of him. I was sure he was blushing, because his face got really red. He looked awkward before saying, “I got you a dehumidifier, too. It’s in the truck.” “Okay, well thanks. I needed a dehumidifier.” Apparently. Lame, but he’d surprised me with that one. I’d always envisioned candy and jewelry from a man, but beggars can’t be choosers, so a small appliance it is. “And I’m paying you for it and the window.” His cell phone rang then. Katy Perry, letting me know it was Britni calling, but Jay ignored it. “Really, Lily, don’t worry about it. Besides you didn’t ask for the dehumidifier.” Jay’s face was returning to its natural color, but he still looked embarrassed. “Doesn’t matter. I’m paying for both. Now go get it and the receipt.” I said firmly. “All right, but I won’t take anything for putting the window in.” Jay smiled, looking more his old self.
  • While Jay went to retrieve my better than candy gift, I risked a look in the mirror, hoping that I’d been transformed into a beauty, but I looked the same as always. Jay plugged my shiny new dehumidifier in and instructed me to empty it once a day. Said I could use the water for my houseplants. Maybe he hadn’t noticed I don’t have any. I offered him a drink, but he declined. On the way to the door, Jay stopped and looked at me like I was a math problem he couldn’t solve. “What?” I asked. “Nothing.” After more looking, “You’ve got my cell right? If anything else happens don’t be afraid to call me. Okay?” Again with the looking. What? Did I have something on my face? I probably stunk to high heaven. That had to be it. “Are you dating Jonas?” Where had that come from? He and Jonas were as close as brothers. Surely he knew we were just friends. “Of course not. Besides he’s been dating someone since Halloween. Don’t you guys talk?” Guys are so weird about that kind of thing. As teens they couldn’t wait to share every detail, but as adults they didn’t? Women did, or at least Kelly and I did. And what business was it of Jay’s if I was dating Jonas. Before I knew what was happening, he kissed me. Jay pulled me into his arms and just laid one on me. I was so stunned that I didn’t respond immediately. Then just as quickly he pulled back, but didn’t release me. Touching my fingers to my lips, I tried not to look at him, but couldn’t help it. Jay was still holding me, looking confused. Before he could pull away, I went up on my tip toes and touched my lips to his. Yep. I laid one on him. I hadn’t taken advantage of the first kiss and I wanted the full effect. I’d waited my whole life for this kiss and wanted to get my money’s worth. The kiss went on, but not long enough for me. Jay’s lips were soft, warm and he knew how to use them. I pulled back first, not that I wanted to, but because I had to. I couldn’t breathe and was feeling dizzy. Proud to say that Jay looked the same. “I’m sorry, Lily. That was wrong,” Jay said. Wrong? Are you kidding me? The kiss couldn’t have felt anymore right. We hadn’t heard Kelly pulling into the driveway, but when she opened the back door Jay released so fast, I stumbled into the door frame. “Hey guys. Get the window all in?” Kelly asked. Her hands were full and I took the pizza from her. “Yeah.” Jay ignored me, instead focusing his attention on Kelly. “Well I gotta go.” He left in such a hurry that he tripped on the threshold in his rush to get away from me. Maybe I’m a bad kisser? “What’s wrong with him?” Kelly asked. “He looked kinda weird.” “I don’t know.” Honestly, I didn’t know what was going on with Jay. “Oh shoot. Sorry Lily, but I forgot to get your pepperoncinis.” Kelly said. Opening my pepperoni, mushroom, with extra cheese pita pizza, I shrugged. “That’s okay. I keep a bottle just in case.” I was dying to tell Kelly about the kiss, but for some reason I didn’t want to spoil it by telling anyone. It was mine and I would treasure it always. To kiss and tell would taint it somehow.
  • Kelly, like Mom, stayed longer than I wanted. The kiss was weighing heavily on my mind and lips. As helpful as Kelly had been, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and to relive the kiss, before the strength of it faded into memory. Finally Kelly left, but then Jonas did the worst thing possible and showed up. Argh! Well, at least he could take my couch off for me. “I just heard what happened. Are you all right?” Jonas looked embarrassed and ashamed for not showing up sooner. “I’m fine. I don’t have a couch, but the rest is all good now. What’s up?” I was sitting at the kitchen table, leafing through a magazine and waiting for the living room carpet to dry. Jonas took a seat across from me and smiled wickedly. “What’s up? Oh let’s see. Someone throws milk through your window and then Jay spends the night. That’s what’s up.” Jonas looked pleased by the events. “How did you know about Jay? And he didn’t really spend the night.” I wish. “His truck was here all night and you’re telling me he didn’t sleep here? Or maybe you weren’t sleeping?” Jonas was having way too much fun with this. “Yes. No. Dang it. Technically, he did sleep here, but in his truck. He was worried whoever broke my window might come back.” I was flustered now, but continued, “How did you know about that?” I was dreading the answer. “It’s all over town. Mom called me. Wanted to know if Jay and Britni had broken up. Did they?” Way too curious, that was Jonas. No. No. No. This could not be happening. “I don’t think they’re broken up. She called while he was here. What are people saying?” More dread on my part. Jonas ignored my question, though. “Let me get this straight. Jay spent the night. Then came back today to fix your window?” “Yes, but I didn’t know he spent the night until I saw his truck in my drive this morning.” I was trying hard to justify what had happened. “Oh this is gonna be good.” Jonas smiled, adding his trademark wink. Chapter 15 Tulip shocked Dutch by saying, “When I grow up, I want to be a mom.” What?! This was good. This was very good. Surely if Tulip was the Mom, then he could be the Dad. Surely moms and dads kiss. “You’re already a mom, flower. You’ve heard the people talk about us in their yards. I think we must have lots of children. Daughters who are as beautiful as their mother.” “Well, if I’m a mom, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “I want to be a farmer. So I can drive a tractor. We could have a tulip farm.” With a plentiful harvest of tulips, his own Tulip would be too busy to be a mom. She’d be busy kissing him all day. ~~~~~ On Monday morning I got called into the principal’s office again. “Lily, do you know why I called you here?” Principal Kyser looked less than thrilled with my presence.
  • “No sir. Is this about Dutch and Tulip?” The smell in the office was clear evidence that he was losing the battle with nicotine and I sneezed. Handing me a tissue, he asked, “Is everything about Dutch and Tulip with you?” Actually the answer would be yes. Currently my life revolved around the kissing couple and my obsession with Jay. I should probably seek professional help with the obsession thing. They are so not healthy. Fun? Yes. Healthy? No. “Did Jay Heimerschmitt spend the night at your house over the weekend?” “Not exactly.” You have got to be kidding me! “Just answer the question.” Principal Kyser huffed, obviously not happy with my answer. “There was an incident at my house Saturday night after the Fall Festival. When I called 911, Jay showed up. In an official capacity.” I had to throw that in. “He didn’t want to leave me alone, so he slept in his truck. Not in my house.” Why? Oh why was I having to explain myself? “Yes, I heard about the window. Any idea who did it?” He wanted in on any juicy gossip. “None at all,” I answered truthfully. “I’ll be honest with you, Lily. I’ve already received several phone calls about this. Parents aren’t happy and that’s putting it mildly.” Sitting back in his chair, Principal Kyser patted his breast pocket, but then seemed to remember I was there and he couldn’t light up in front of me. “You know as well as I do that teachers are role models. We have a responsibility to set a good example for the children. You being single and having a man spend the night is not doing that.” He finished. Of course I knew this. When you’re a teacher, you’re on twenty-four/seven. Not all jobs are like this. In other professions, people can separate their private lives from professional. But as a teacher, I’m not supposed to have a life? It’s not like I ever did anything to bring shame upon myself. “Are you serious? But I didn’t do anything wrong.” Correct me if I’m mistaken, but aren’t I the victim here? “Be that as it may, it doesn’t look good for you or the school. I’m sorry, Lily, but I’m going to have to add this incident to your permanent file.” I guess the look on my face could be called horrified. “I let the chipmunk incident slide, even though two students were injured, but in all fairness to the rest of the faculty, I have to note this.” I gotta give him credit, he did look sorry. I didn’t know what to say. Pleading and begging would get me nowhere. “Are you sending me home?” Standard procedure for dealing with a troublemaker like me. “No, but if I continue receiving phone calls, we’ll have to discuss it again.” I managed to make it through the rest of the school day. I’m not sure how, though. I felt as if I were under a microscope. Thankfully, Dana and Kara, who I’m sure knew all about it, didn’t say a word, but they didn’t treat me any differently either. As soon as I figured Mom was off work, I picked up the phone to call her, but a knock on my door stopped me. “Hi sweetie.” She knew. I could tell by the look on her face. She’d probably had to endure an entire day at the Dairy, hearing all about it. So I did all I could at the moment and started crying. It was like high school all over again. Me crying my heart out as Mom held me. “Listen, Lily. You’ve done nothing wrong. Hold your head high.” Rubbing my back, while pushing hair from my eyes, I knew she was right, but still. “Just be more careful in the future. You don’t want to jeopardize your career over this.” Over what? I hadn’t done anything wrong dammit! In fact, all I’d done since the storm last April was work toward saving Dutch and Tulip. I don’t mean to whine, but come on!
  • Not long after Mom left, Kelly called to check up on me. After telling her about what happened at school, she was ticked. “You should contact the union. That’s total BS!” Kelly growled. “I know, but what am I supposed to do? Calling the union would only make things worse.” If that was possible. After assuring Kelly I was fine, she tried to cheer me up by suggesting we go Christmas shopping soon. She was dating a doctor and they were in that awkward early stage. She didn’t know what an appropriate gift would be or if she should even get him something after only three dates. Jonas called too, but I was too bummed out to talk to him, but he left a very nice message. I had trouble sleeping that night. Worry about my job, my reputation and personal safety clouded my thoughts. And the kiss. What had it meant? To me it meant the world, but did it mean anything to Jay? ~~~~~ Things just keep getting better and better. First thing Tuesday morning, when I arrived at school—early—I was trying to show Principal Kyser how responsible I was, Britni was there waiting to ambush me. “You bitch!” Standing in front of school, Britni was not too embarrassed to chew me a new one, no matter who was watching. My hands were full or I would have used them to gesture in surrender. “Britni, listen, it’s not what you think. I…” But she cut me off before I could finish. “This is for trying to steal my boyfriend,” she yelled, slapping me with enough force that I stumbled back. Too stunned from the first slap, like an idiot I didn’t see the second one coming either. “And that’s for being a bitch! Stay away from Jay. He’s mine.” With what I hoped was her final slap, she huffed her way to her car and drove off. So there I stood, looking like a fool as tears welled in my eyes. It hurts being slapped. I mean big time hurts. My cheeks stung, she’d gotten me on both sides and I was sure they were bright red. Lucky she hadn’t gone for my hair, which I was wearing down. “Oh my God! Are you all right?” Kara took my bags from me and helped me to a bench. “What in the world was that all about?” As if she didn’t know. “Miss Mein. In my office please.” Principal Bertman was standing in the doorway, with a look I hoped never to see again. Great. This was it, wasn’t it? He was gonna can me for sure now. Several students had witnessed the scene, along with parents dropping off their kids early for Math Bowl practice. I mustered as much pride as I could, which wasn’t much, and followed Principal Kyser to his office, my home away from home. Mrs. Bass just shook her head at me as if I were a home wrecker when I passed by her desk. After rifling through some files, Principal Kyser looked at me and frowned. “It looks like you’ve got several personal days. You will be taking them starting now. Go home and straighten this out. When you come back Monday, you had better figure out a way to leave your personal business at home.” Rising from his desk, Principal Kyser left the room, shutting the door behind him. I guess he thought I was gonna break down and he didn’t want to watch. I thought about rifling through his files and finding the pack of cigarettes he kept hidden and lighting up myself.
  • Isn’t nicotine a depressant? Not exactly what I needed at the moment. I could feel a good case of the blues coming on anyway. Thirty minutes later, after composing myself and hiding his cigarettes somewhere else, I left the principal’s office, hoping no one saw me, and drove straight home. I thought about calling Ruth and seeing if she had any more whiskey, but that would probably backfire on me if Junior caught me walking home and arrested me for public intoxication. I turned the ringer on my phone off, before calling dad for advice. “Resign and come to Indy.” Dad was upset, but also eager for the chance it gave him to convince me to leave Holland. “Stop it Dad. You know I can’t leave now. Dutch and Tulip aren’t saved yet.” Lying on the floor in the living room, tissues in hand, I was trying to get Dad to tell me something useful. “What do you want me to say then? If you’re determined to stay, you’re going to have to deal with this.” “I know, but what are my rights as a teacher? Could they fire me for this?” I should know my rights, but couldn’t remember if there was moral clause in my contract. “I’ll do some checking around, but maybe you should call your union rep. Just in case. We wouldn’t want this to prevent you from getting a job somewhere else.” Dad had a friend on the school board in Indy and was sure I could get a job, but not if baggage was weighing down my once spotless record. “I’m still not sure that’s what I want. Holland is my home.” “Indy could be your home too. How about if you came and stayed with me for a few days? You’ve got the time now.” Dad suggested. Ouch. The reminder of having time off made me feel bad. It’s not like I was on vacation. “I’ll think about it,” I said dismally. “Good. You do that. And think about what I said. There are a lot of advantages to living in a bigger city. Museums, theatre, hell we even have these things called grocery stores and restaurants.” Now he was just trying to be funny, but still I wasn’t feeling it. “Maybe, but Holland has advantages too.” We may not have all the things a bigger city had, but we had wide open spaces, fields of wheat that turned golden in the late afternoon sun and clean air. Life here was simpler and unspoiled. It had been for me one time at least, but somehow in the last few days, my simple, unspoiled life had turned on me and a city that had an actual crime rate was almost appealing. ~~~~~ When Junior had called early Wednesday morning, he informed me about the progress on the case. The excited tone in which he spoke made me smile. I had a case. Or was I the case? Whatever the case may be, Junior had nothing to tell me. There were no fingerprints, so the police had nothing to go on. I thought about taking Dad up on his offer and ditching Holland, but running from my problems wouldn’t solve anything. No. I would stay, besides I had a committee meeting tomorrow night. Now that the money was almost raised, we had to move forward with plans for the celebration in July. I knew if I spent today at home, I’d feel worse. If that was possible. I’d cried earlier, after making a list of potential couples to marry under Dutch and Tulip. Jay and Britni were at the top of my list.
  • The weather was decent, cool but sunny so I ventured out of the house, riding my bike, to the bank, where I received less than welcoming service. All the while wondering if the bank teller was the one responsible for my broken window. I stopped by the park and visited with Dutch and Tulip. “Am I a bad person?” I asked them. “No. Of course not, Lily. You’re an angel sent straight down from heaven.” They replied in unison, smiling down at me as they spoke. “I know, but I just feel…I don’t know, off I guess. This whole thing with my window, my job and Jay has got me out of sorts. Know what I mean?” I was leaning against Dutch’s clog, looking up at Tulip. “It’s perfectly normal to feel down sweetheart, but we love you. Don’t worry yourself so. Things will be fine. You’ll see.” Tulip had the sweetest sounding voice. Like the angel she thought I was. Dutch’s deep baritone chimed in words of encouragement as well. “That’s right. And this thing with Jay will work itself out. Listen to Tulip. She’s always right you know.” Dutch laughed and I imagined what Tulip would say to him about that after I left. After telling them my troubles, I felt better. I knew they’d understand and support me through the trials and tribulations that had become my life. If only life could be so simple and I could really talk to Dutch and Tulip. When I got home from my ride, I did nothing. I sat on the floor, where my couch had been and stared at the newly cleaned walls. I was doodling a broken heart on the con side of my pro/con list when Ruth called, inviting me to lunch. It was exactly what I needed. Someone who didn’t hate me. After lunch, I was at a loss. Not used to having free time, especially not in the middle of the week, I could’ve worked on school stuff, but my heart wasn’t in it. So now I was back to staring at the walls, only now I was full. Remember earlier when I mentioned the one good thing did happen this week? Well it came in the form of Gloria knocking on my front door. Which is weird. No one ever comes to the front door, unless it’s a salesman. Cautiously, I looked to see who it was before opening. The window incident had taught me to be more careful if nothing else. “These are for you.” Handing me a bouquet of yellow tulips, Gloria smiled. “I tried to take them to school, but they said you were taking a few days off. Everything okay?” Apparently, Gloria hadn’t heard the details of my life or if she did, she didn’t let on. “Yes. Everything’s fine. The tulips are beautiful.” I smelled them and they made me truly happy for the first time in days. “Good, well I gotta run. I have to deliver an order to the funeral home.” Gloria said, smiling. Then her smile got wider. “So, you’ll you be off tomorrow?” “Yes.” Unfortunately, I would be busy staring at the walls again. “I was thinking since you’re off, and if you don’t have anything else to do, you should come quilt with us. Your mom would love that.” Gloria had that hopeful look in her eye. The same one Mom always got when trying to convince me to quilt. “Maybe. I’ll bring Ruth too.” Ruth quilted at one time, but she’d lost interest and quit years ago. Or maybe she just realized how boring it was. Okay. Getting to the good part. The flowers were from Jay. In his messy hand, he’d written one word. Sorry.
  • Chapter 16 “I’m bored.” Now that Tulip knew they weren’t leaving, she decided that she did want to go somewhere. The park was nice, but after all these years she longed to see the rest of Holland. “What would you like to do, flower? We could play a game?” Dutch was thinking Spin the Bottle. “No, Let’s go for a walk. Maybe go to my flower haus? We could buy some flowers, then walk to Lily’s house.” Tulip was worried about Lily. The last time she’d visited, she’d been so sad. Flowers would cheer her up. A walked sounded like just the thing. Dutch could hold Tulip’s hand and know that he’d be the envy of every man in town with such a pretty girl on his arm. “Maybe after our walk, we can kiss.” Dutch said with a note of hope in his voice. ~~~~~ I called Ruth early Thursday morning. I knew if she agreed to go with me, she’d want to have time to cook something for the potluck. “I can’t stay for the supper Ruth, but I’m sure Mom will bring you home if you want to stay,” I told her. “I’ll have to dig out my needle and thimble, but I’ll be ready when you pick me up.” Ruth hung up on me then, well not exactly. I think she forgot we were on the phone and just laid it down. I screamed into the phone for several minutes, trying to tell her to hang it up, but I guess she was too busy hunting for her sewing box to hear me. The quilting ladies were happy to see us. I hadn’t told Mom, so she was extra happy. You’d have thought I told her I’d won the lottery by the look on her face. This is probably going to backfire on me. Now she’ll think I’ve seen the light and be expecting me every Thursday. We worked on the Dutch and Tulip themed quilt. It was a scrap quilt and someone had appliqued Dutch and Tulip in varying materials. Twenty-four blocks, and in the center was a large block with Dutch and Tulip. Happy 50th anniversary, it said. It was so pretty that I didn’t mind seeing the kissing couple in something other than red. The constant in all the blocks were Tulip’s bows. They, at least were red. The quilt was going to be an amazing work of art. The ladies weren’t sure yet if they wanted to raffle it off or donate it to the town for display at the windmill. Personally, I wanted it for myself, but I’m pretty sure if I offer to help, Mom will make me one of my own for Lucy’s bedroom. Mom would do anything for her unborn grandchild. I was glad when Gloria and I had to leave for the meeting. My fingertips were throbbing and I know Mom is going to rip out all my stiches after I leave. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the hang of it. One stitch would be acceptable in length and the next an inch long. And the gossip. It’s a wonder they got anything done between solving the world’s problems and talking about people I’d known my whole life. I couldn’t decide what to focus on most of the afternoon. My poor stitches or the talk. I may be able to multi-task, but this was a whole other level. I was frustrated from having worked my fingers to the bone, literally, and for what? For them to just rip out all my hard work? Nope. Never coming back here again. Unless, of course, Ruth wants to or Mom makes me. When Gloria and I entered the meeting, I felt better. Today had been good, even if my bleeding fingers didn’t agree. All I needed to do was focus on the positives. Dutch and Tulip.
  • Most of the committee was present, looking over sketches of the park trying to decide where to place the various stands. Tiny was reviewing the schedule of events, trying to spice it up from previous years. “Surprised to see you here,” Glen said when he looked up and saw me. “Why? The meetings not cancelled, is it?” I asked. Remember, I’m slow on the uptake sometimes. Naiveté or sheer stupidity? Maybe both, but I didn’t understand Glen’s statement. “I think we,” nodding to the rest of the committee, “can handle everything from here on out,” Glen said. “Come again? What are you talking about? I’ve worked my butt off for them.” I was going to see this through. Why would I stop now? “What are you going on about, Glen?” Faye asked suspiciously. “I would think that Lily has enough on her plate right now.” Remember when I wanted to take back what I said about Glen being an asshole? I take that back now too. “Glen, stop. You should be ashamed of yourself,” Gloria scolded. “Really? I should be ashamed? Why? I’m not the one stealing another woman’s boyfriend while dating another man. My home’s not been targeted, I’m not losing my job and I haven’t had the tar beaten out of me in front of the entire school.” Glen was frowning and shaking his head, as if embarrassed by me. I couldn’t take it any longer. I’d been nice, even when others hadn’t been nice to me. Plus let’s not forget I haven’t done anything wrong! “What are you talking about? I’m not stealing anyone’s boyfriend.” Even though I wanted to. “The window thing was far from my fault, I didn’t lose my job and what other boyfriend?” “Jay and Jonas Heimerschmitt ring any bells? The whole town knows how you’re bouncing between the two. What? You can’t decide which Heimerschmitt you want?” “That’s enough, Glen,” Jay, arriving late, was coming to my rescue. Only I didn’t want to be rescued, not by anyone. “Glen, I am not even going to attempt to explain any of this to you. It’s none of your business,” I said. “I disagree. You are hardly the type of person we want representing Holland. Your services,” he said with a sneer, “are no longer needed.” I didn’t realize that Glen and Principal Kyser were best friends. “Well guess what? Too bad. I started this and I’m finishing it.” Whoa. I felt a head rush coming on, but continued anyway. Looking each member in the eye, I was glad Rev. Koeln wasn’t present to see this and be further shamed by my wicked ways. “Is that what you want? Does the committee want me gone? Oh wait, let’s take a vote,” I added sarcastically. “I don’t think that’s what any of us wants. I don’t know what all the fuss is about anyway. Lily can sleep with whoever she wants. What this has to do with Dutch and Tulip is beyond me.” Tiny was such an honest man, it was painful. “The money’s almost raised. The rest is a piece of cake. Now can we move on please?” “Tiny’s right. Let’s get down to business.” Faye said, and Gloria nodded in agreement. ~~~~~ If I could have, I would have called in sick on Friday. What I needed was a vacation from my life. How the hell had I gone from being Dutch and Tulip’s savior to the town pariah? This entire week has been a bust. Nothing’s gone right. I could soon be unemployed, the whole town thought I was a loose woman, those were Ruth’s words, I didn’t have a couch or a man’s shoulder to cry on.
  • I’ve had it! I’m done! Not done with Dutch and Tulip. I needed them to get married. No. I was done worrying about what people thought. All I’ve done for the past seven months is work toward a commendable goal and this is the thanks I get. Yeah, yeah. Holland is a small town. This kind of gossip will blow over, it always does. By next week someone or something else will be more important to talk about than me. Until then, well….Well I’d take Mom’s advice and hold my head high. Head held high, I dialed Jay’s number. “Hello,” Jay’s voice was like hearing a choir of angels singing. The very same lips that were now speaking, had kissed me only days ago. I felt better already. “Hi Jay. It’s Lily.” Now that I had him on the phone, I wanted to tell him everything. About how awful my week had been, fear of losing my job, being afraid someone would break into my house again, how I hated being the talk of the town, my desire to see Dutch and Tulip restored. But most of all, my desire for him. “Lily?” Jay sounded odd and I wasn’t sure about the questioning tone in his voice. He sounded relieved to hear my voice, but what if he wasn’t alone? Hadn’t I caused him enough trouble? On the bright side, maybe Britni was so mad that they’d broken up? Maybe Jay was upset with her and how she’d treated me, coming to his senses, had seen the light of day and ended their relationship. “Hey Jay.” Crap! Didn’t I already say that? “Hey Lily.” Jay mimicked. After an awkward pause, “Did you empty the dehumidifier?” “Umm yeah, I watered my plants too.” What am I even talking about here? How old am I, 14? “I just wanted to thank you for the flowers. I love them, but you shouldn’t have.” I hadn’t mentioned them at the meeting, where Glen would only use it as more ammunition against me. He wasn’t happy that I stayed for the meeting, but he acted more Christian-like after Rev. Koeln showed up. Hallelujah. “It’s the least I could do. What happened wasn’t your fault.” “No. You really shouldn’t have. Things only look worse now. What about Britni? How’s she gonna feel if she finds out?” Not that I really cared about Britni’s feelings, but maybe she’d be mad enough to break up with Jay. “I’m sorry about Britni. She’s usually not so…” Jay paused, like he was thinking of the right word to describe her. Well, I know just the word and it rhymes with ditch. “It’s okay, Jay. Things looked bad, then people started talking, assuming the worst. I guess I can’t blame her.” Did I just let her off the hook? It sort of sounds like I did. If Jay were mine, I’d have done the same thing. I’d fight anyone for him. But I don’t want a guy I have to fight for. I want a man who will love me enough that I wouldn’t have to. No. If Jay were truly mine, I wouldn’t have to worry about such things. And that’s when it hit me. Jay wasn’t mine and was never going to be. My foolish childhood crush that had morphed into an obsession had gotten me nowhere. People were supposed to grow up and move beyond puppy love. Maybe the last few months had taught me that. I needed and deserved a man that wanted and loved me like Dutch loved Tulip. Jay was not that man.
  • “I do,” Jay sounded angry now. “Do what?” I asked, still lost in the realization that my first love wouldn’t be my last. “Blame Britni. There’s no reason for her to be mad. Nothing happened, end of story, and even if something did happen between us, well…” I interrupted before he could finish his sentence. “Listen, Jay, I’ve got to go. Thanks for standing up for me tonight, but I can take care of myself. Goodbye.” I said, ending the call. At the same time, my heart said goodbye to girlish fantasies. Chapter 17 “Do you think Santa will find us this year?” Tulip didn’t understand this Santa fellow. She and Dutch were always good, yet they’d never received a visit from the jolly man himself. “How could he miss us?” Santa must be blind if he didn’t see them this year. The spotlight shining directly in Dutch’s eyes was sure to attract Santa’s reindeer. And as tall as they were, Santa wouldn’t even have to land his sleigh. “Maybe Santa will bring us mistletoe? Then you’ll have to kiss me.” Mistletoe was as good as law. “I suppose so, but only if Santa makes you give me my flowers. Maybe that’s why he never comes. You’ve been bad.” Dutch couldn’t argue with that, especially since he was now worried that the light, which was hurting his eyes, might make him miss Tulip’s precious lips. He’d end up kissing her nose instead. Better to miss out on Santa than to miss out on his kiss. ~~~~~ Somehow I managed to get through Thanksgiving, even though it felt like the entire town hated me. Kelly tried to cheer me up by shopping. This time we went to Louisville. Kelly wanted to check out the Whole Foods and I wanted to check out the two malls directly across the street. Kelly had a blast, buying all the necessities she needed for her organic Christmas and I bought myself some holistic night cream, whatever that is. Dad couldn’t make it down for Thanksgiving, for which I was thankful. I spent the long weekend at Mom’s where we ate an elaborate meal that could have fed a large family, instead it fed Mom and I. I’ll be eating leftovers for a week. I decorated her house for Christmas, nearly giving Penny an anxiety attack. Mom wouldn’t bother decorating if it wasn’t for me doing it for her. She complains every year, because I never come back to help undecorate. We also cut out and sewed a quilt together. She was still under the impression that I’d enjoyed myself quilting with the group. I didn’t have the heart to spoil her holidays, so I didn’t tell her any different. Let her have her delusions. Sometimes that’s all we have in life. For my own home, I go all out for Christmas. Even though I don’t have anyone special to share it with, filling every corner of my tiny house with Christmas makes me happy. And I needed happy right now. This year I was using my brand new tree. I’d gotten it last year, during the day after Christmas sales, for 50% off. It was the pre-lit kind, so I wouldn’t have that headache. Even if I do say so myself, the tree is magazine-cover worthy. It gets any and every kind of ornament.
  • Parents must think that teachers need ornaments, because that’s usually what I get tons of every year, so the tree has a very personal touch. Hundreds of mismatched ornaments in varying shapes and sizes. The rest of the house was decorated with other secondhand finds, but overall it was a neat theme. Very retro and shabby chic. Not to brag, but like I said, it’s the best. All my presents were wrapped and ready for giving. Presents are decorations too, so they were wrapped in coordinating paper. Most years I don’t have enough gifts to fill under my tree. I usually wrap cereal or shoe boxes to make up for the deficit. Even gift cards and small items get big boxes, just to add to the affect. Jonas’s new Colts baseball cap was in an outrageously big box. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he sees it. He’ll think I got him a TV. I’ll wink and smile innocently when he opens it. Mom was getting a new pair of scissors and a subscription to a quilting magazine. I know what you must be thinking, but nice scissors are expensive. Dad would receive a new pair of leather gloves and a book on Art Deco architecture. Bill and Tootsie a gift certificate to the Schnitzelbank, the nicest restaurant in the county, and Ruth house slippers. She’ll be disappointed that I didn’t get her that motorcycle jacket she’s been wanting, but I’m trying to persuade her motorcycles are bad. Kelly already knew what her present was because she’d picked it out. A new yoga mat and workout pants. We’d found them while shopping, but they were wrapped and Kelly was now mad at me for making her wait. Every house in town was decorated. Some with icicles lights and greenery, and families with kids had those blow-up things in their yards. When the wind blows hard, all the Frosty’s and Santas topple over. The street light poles were circled in lights and each had a Christmas banner. The trees in the park got lights and the blades of the windmill were outlined with red lights. Which would have looked nice if the blades actually turned and Dutch and Tulip were showcased by spotlights. My own Dutch and Tulip had received decorations as well. Dutch a Santa hat and Tulip a wreath of greenery for her perfect head. Spotlights shined on them at night. Jonas had complained, but in the end he put up my outside lights. All I had to do in return was cook him supper and endure an evening of relentless teasing. I’d requested no gifts this year. Instead I only wanted the cold hard cash everyone would have spent on me, for Dutch and Tulip. Just like a man, Dad would take this idea and run with it and I’d get no actual gift from him, but Mom wouldn’t let me down. I’d likely get a new purse and perfume. In my stocking would be a couple of ornaments and new underwear. It’s the only time of year I get new ones. Then and when school starts, just like I was a kid. Penny’s stocking would be overflowing with treats, toys and a new sweater Mom had knitted for her. I’d spend several days in Indy with Dad, where he would try and woo me with all the frills of a big city, but it would be cold and snow. So my visit would consist of me sitting around watching TV all day feeling like I was wasting my time and worrying about the road conditions. Donations had slowed in November, but now with Christmas we likely wouldn’t receive any. I tried not to worry about that. It was perfectly normal for this time of year, I told myself. Hopefully, January will be better, but I doubt it. Then everyone will have credit card debt.
  • Not me though. I’d taken Dad’s advice and opened a Christmas Club. The money I didn’t use toward gifts, I’d given to Dutch and Tulip. I was the one and only donation this month. The committee wasn’t meeting until after the New Year and I took it upon myself to make out Christmas cards for all the people and businesses that had donated. Each card was signed by Dutch and Tulip. I didn’t bother asking the committee for their approval. I just did it. Already tired of carols, I was listening to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack. I’d finally gotten around to reading the book, after seeing the movie and was instantly in love with it and the music. The book was tough though. It usually takes me a few days, a week, tops to finish a book, but Jane Austen’s classic stumped me. The language slowed me down. I was glad I’d watched the movie first or I never would have understood what was happening. The time period was fascinating, yet frightening. The social constraints on women and their behavior made me crazy. I would have never made it in Regency England. Doomed to a life on the shelf. Elizabeth Bennett was an admirable heroine and I imagined myself like her, except I can’t play the piano, but I could sew Mr. Darcy a lovely cravat. A soft piano melody was playing in the background when I finished the cards and then finally opened my own mail. Usual stack of Christmas cards, although not as many as last year. Probably because the town thought I should be reading another book I wouldn’t understand. The Scarlet Letter. A pretty green envelope caught my attention. Heavy card stock paper, with gold lining, told me this person took pride in their cards. Sadly, I was right. They were proud of themselves. Only it wasn’t a card at all, but an obituary. Dutch and Tulip’s. Shaking, my heart raced as I read the words— REST IN PIECES: DUTCH AND TULIP The envelope gave me no clues, but the postmark was from Santa Claus, IN. Haha. Very funny. The note was computer printed, cut out and glued to what would have been a nice card if it hadn’t scared me to death. Checking the locks on the doors, I was terrified. Frantically I searched through my remaining mail, but the rest were cards from people I knew and bills. Rest In Pieces. What did that mean? Was it like swimming with the fishes? Why were Dutch and Tulip being targeted? And why was I? Maybe I wasn’t alone in this though. “Faye. It’s Lily. Call me back when you get this.” Leaving a message on Faye’s machine, I tried Gloria next. “I haven’t opened the mail yet. Hold on and I’ll look.” Gloria was shocked when I told her about my card, asking if she’d received one as well. She sounded doubtful, as if she couldn’t imagine being threatened. “Okay. Let’s see. Oh here’s one from your Mom. Cute dog.” Mom had taken a picture of Penny and was using it as her Christmas card. I hate when people who have kids do that. I’m her actual child, but I guess using her adult daughter’s photo might be weird. You didn’t see me using a photo of Raider as my Christmas card. Did I mention Penny will be getting nothing from me this Christmas? Gloria continued to open her cards, describing each one as she went. I realized then that I truly hadn’t gotten as many cards this year. That hurt. Wasn’t Christmas about love and new beginnings? The birth of the Christ child and all that? I must be a bad person if not even Jesus’ birth could earn me forgiveness in the eyes of the town.
  • Well, bah humbug to them. “Lily! We did get one!” Outrage and fear laced Gloria’s voice. “It’s addressed to Walt and me and says the same thing as yours.” Gloria sounded worried now. “It’s a pretty envelope though.” I think she was trying to make herself feel better. “Do you think everyone got one?” Possibly I’m a really bad person, but I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone in this. Safety in numbers. “I’m sure they did. I’ll call the others and see. Then get back with you when I know something.” Gloria sounded hopeful now. First my window, now this. You don’t think the two are related, do you? My phone rang then, but I was too scared to answer it. What if I started to get prank calls now, too? I listened and watched the phone ringing as if it were the enemy. Too afraid to touch it when it was ringing, I picked the phone up and saw it had been Jay. When Jay had given me his number, I’d programmed it into my phone, but now that I’ve moved on I should probably delete it. Shocked, when my phone rang again, I dropped it. When I finally answered, I was breathless from fear and crawling under the table to retrieve it. “Did you get a card in the mail? A threatening one?” Jay didn’t even bother with hello. “Yes. You?” I could be just as rude to the man I didn’t love. “I’ll be right there.” Ten minutes later, Jay was at my door. ~~~~~ Jay’s card and mine were identical. Identically scary. “I don’t like this.” Sitting at my old kitchen table, which had belonged to my great- grandmother, with a glass of water, Jay had a scowl on his handsome face. I may not be in love with him anymore, but I can still appreciate beauty when I see it. “Well, I don’t like either.” I pointed out. “What are we supposed to do though?” “I called Junior and Glen got one too. Rev. Koeln’s pretty upset.” Someone was using the most Christian of holidays to threaten Dutch and Tulip. I’m sure the Rev. was upset. That was blasphemy. Sitting across the table from Jay, toying with a card that was in the true spirit of the holidays, Jay took my hands in his. “Lily. I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think you should step down from the committee. At least until we can get this figured out.” Jay was using his thumbs, rubbing back and forth on my palms. The sensation I was experiencing was making it hard to remember that I didn’t love him anymore. He’s not yours. He’ll never be yours. He doesn’t want you. You deserve better. Chanting the words over and over in my head, I was trying to convince myself that it was true. “What! I’m not quitting because of this!” nodding toward the cards. I would have used my hands to gesture, but currently they were having the best sex of their lives. “That’s exactly what whoever sent these wants. I am not giving up on Dutch and Tulip,” I said with force, at the same time my voice came out sounding throaty, like a purr. “I’m not saying you should give up, just that maybe you shouldn’t be so visible in all this.” Jay’s hands were still dancing with mine. “Forget it, besides it’s not just me. It’s the whole committee. It’ll be fine. The money will be raised soon and whoever sent this can just take a flying leap.” My heart leapt at that moment, because Jay released my hands, scooted his chair over and sat next to me.
  • “I don’t want to see anything happen to you.” When he nudged me with his shoulder, I almost fell out of my chair. My body so on edge, humming from the physical contact. What did he care if something happened to me? My head and body were at war currently. I know Jay only cares about me as a friend, but my body wasn’t so sure. And my hands were definitely convinced otherwise. Needing to think more clearly, I got up and went to the sink, staring out the window. Jay’s truck looked so at home in my driveway. Likely someone would see it here and rumors would start flying again. Britni would really come after me this time and Glen would have me kicked out of Holland. I felt Jay behind me, before he placed his warm hands on my shoulders, turning me to face him. Or his chest rather, since he’s so much taller. Jay tilted up my chin, so that I was looking at him. I thought Jay was going to kiss me again. “I care about you Lily. I don’t want to see you hurt.” “It’s Holland, Jay. No one’s going to hurt anyone.” Rolling my eyes, I leaned in closer, my head almost resting on his chest. Hurt? No matter what, I was being hurt by all this and it had to stop. I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. Why can’t I get it through my head that Jay’s not interested? Possibly because he sometimes acts interested? And isn’t that really his fault? Always looking so good and being nice. Smiling all the time and showing his concern. Someone knocked on the door and Jay answered it as if this was his home. Gloria, Walt, Glen and Rev. Koeln were outside waiting to be let in. “Faye will be here in a minute.” Glen informed me, stepping into my kitchen. My house isn’t really big enough to hold a committee meeting and I hadn’t replaced my couch yet, so our impromptu meeting took place in the tiny kitchen. Faye arrived minutes later and we spent the next 45 minutes discussing the cards, what they could mean and what we were going to do about it. Rev. Koeln suggested we pray for the soul of such a sinner and we decided not to mention the notes to anyone, for fear of spreading panic and negative publicity around Dutch and Tulip. Junior informed us, yes he showed up too, that he’d look into it, but really we had nothing to go on. Just like my window, only this was no prank. This was a deliberate threat to Dutch and Tulip. Gloria and Faye commented on how nice my house looked, Rev. Koeln was happy to see I had a nativity scene, Glen looked around taking in my humble abode, commenting on my new window and Tiny said absolutely nothing. Jay was the last to leave. And no, we didn’t kiss, but my hands were still basking in that after-sex glow. Chapter 18 “I want to build a snowman.” Tulip had watched the children playing and delighted in seeing their tiny red noses and hands encased in mittens. Laughing joyfully, as only children can, she was eager to take part in the fun.
  • Of course Dutch, like all boys, wanted to take part in the snowball fight raging behind Tulip’s back. The children were using them as shields and Dutch relished the feel of being part of their fun. “What are they doing lying down in the snow like that? Did they fall?” Tulip couldn’t understand what the children were doing now. “I believe they’re making snow angels.” Dutch couldn’t help but smile as he watched the children flapping their arms as if they were birds, which made him want to frown. Birds flapped their wings and that was never a good thing. “You would make a perfect snow angel, Tulip. Because you are an angel.” “You’re so sweet. Thank you, dear. And you could be the abominable snowman.” At least she thought he could, but then shuddered from fear. Tulip didn’t like monsters, even if they were snowy. “Are you cold, flower?” Wishing he had a blanket to protect his love from the freezing temperatures. “A little.” Hot chocolate would cure that. With marshmallows. “We could kiss. I bet that would warm you right up.” Dutch stated knowingly, but at the same time he knew that wasn’t going to happen. His hands were frozen from the cold and he couldn’t remember where he’d left his gloves, preventing him from giving Tulip her bouquet. ~~~~~ Kelly had to work the late shift on New Year’s Eve and Jonas was still dating his new woman, who I’d yet to meet. So I spent the evening at home with Ruth, Mom, Bill and Tootsie. I knew I’d be safer that way. The last thing my reputation needed was to be seen whooping it up at the Shoe. By now, most of the gossip about me had died down. There were other, more interesting people to talk about at this point. That and the fact that Jay and Britni were still dating saved me in the eyes of Holland. The window and card still had me freaked out though, and I found myself afraid in my home most nights. School resumed, but got delayed twice and cancelled three times due to snow and ice. Basically, I was a lazy bum on those days. Slept late, read and napped. Could have, should have done school work, but snow days are like little gifts from God or free passes to do nothing. I would have shoveled my driveway, but Bill usually beats me to it. No matter how hard I try to talk him out of it, he refuses to stop. One time I got up extra early, so I’d have it done before Bill, but he beat me to it and was just finishing up when I walked outside. He’d also cleaned off and warmed up my car. That was just after Mom moved out. Now I don’t bother arguing with him anymore. Neighborhood kids were sledding down the hill on Haupt, when I’d cleaned off Ruth’s porch and sidewalk. Not that she was going anywhere, but it made her happy to think she might. I helped them build a snowman in Ruth’s yard. I supplied the scarf, Ruth didn’t have any carrots for a nose, but she did have a pickle. We thought it would be neat to do a Dutch and Tulip snow couple, but I’m not that good. January was turning out to be just like December and donations were cancelled just like school. As I feared, financial hard times were upon us. Dad reminded me that getting a loan was a bad idea, but if something doesn’t happen soon, I’ll do it anyway. I’d slept in yesterday since school was out and had stayed up late last night. Just like a baby, my days and nights were getting mixed up. So when Bill knocked on my door late Saturday morning, I had just stepped out of the shower and was drying my hair.
  • “Hey, Bill. What’s up?” I held the door open for him to come in, but needed him to hurry. All my warm air was escaping. “Get your coat and meet me outside.” Maybe he wanted help cleaning off my car? Hat, gloves, scarf and my winter coat on, I met Bill at my car and stood next to him in shock. All the doors were wide open and through the layer of freshly fallen snow I could see that someone had poured oil all over the outside of my car. The snow that should have been covering my car hadn’t stuck and was lying in goopy piles around it. “It gets worse.” Bill looked upset now and that scared me. Bill is always calm and cool. The inside was filled with snow. Shovel marks in the driveway were clear evidence that someone had shoveled my car full of the white stuff. “I don’t understand. Why would someone do this?” Of course we all know why. “Junior should be here any minute and I called Jay.” Bill said, snow shovel in hand, waiting for the official okay before shoveling out my car. “Why would you do that?” I asked, dubiously. “I had to call Junior. He’s the law.” “Not him. Jay,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t know, it just made sense. I thought you two were ….Nevermind.” Bill looked confused now. When Junior arrived, he assessed the situation, which didn’t take much and Bill and I started cleaning out the inside. Whoever had done this had left behind a mess we hadn’t seen covered by the snow. Inside, the windows had been soaped and there was shaving cream on the seats and floor mats. And the part that made me cry was finding the broken pieces of a Dutch and Tulip set. Red and white chunks of cement were scattered throughout the interior. Whipping my head around, I saw that my Dutch and Tulip were gone. Their tiny imprints barely visible where the snow had fallen. Jay, dressed for the conditions in his coveralls and sock hat, shook his head and cursed when he saw me. That made me feel so much better. He didn’t say a word to me, just started helping Bill with the snow. Tootsie came out to check on Bill and was shocked that such a thing had happened. I don’t know why, though. Nothing shocked me anymore. I waved to Ruth, who was looking out her kitchen window watching us. She made the phone signal with her hand and held it to her ear. I nodded, hating this would worry her. Junior asked me the standard questions, but like my window and the cards, he knew as much as I did. The snow that had fallen during the night was covering any tire tracks that might have given clues. Again, nothing to go on. Junior scolded me for not locking my car doors. I guess I should have learned a lesson from the window thing, but honestly I never lock my car doors, usually leaving the keys in the ignition. I’d taken them out last time I drove, just in case the doors froze shut and I needed to get into school. All three men looked at me as only a man can when they think women know nothing about cars. “Come on Lily. Let’s go.” These were the first words Jay had spoken to me. “Go where?” “My shop. We’ll clean your car where it’s warm and dry.” Jay ignored any remark I might have made, got in the driver’s seat, scooting it all the way back, and waited impatiently for me.
  • Three horn toots later, I was in the passenger seat of my own car, with a very angry driver. “I’m sorry.” I felt like crying. Jay was acting so angry and it was directed at me. What a burden I am apparently. He continued to ignore me and when we were three blocks from my house, “Stop,” I demanded. Jay slammed on the brakes looking around. “What?” “Take me home.” Grumpy Lily. That was me. “Why?” “Because no one asked you to do this. It’s obvious you’ve got better things to do. Now please just take me home.” I said, even grumpier. “You’re right. I do have better things to do, but so do you. If we work together, we can get this cleaned up in half the time.” Paying no attention to my demands to be returned home, Jay continued driving. But he did listen when I asked him to drive by the park. I needed to see with my own eyes that Dutch and Tulip were unharmed and in one piece. If I wasn’t so mad and upset, I’d probably be more excited right now. I was on my way to Jay’s house. A destination I’d only dreamt of, but the window, note and now this were spoiling the moment. What was next, I wondered. “Told you so.” Jay smiled, trying to lighten both our moods. “Told me what? That someone was going to vandalize my car. I must have forgotten that, but thanks for the warning.” “That something like this would happen, but did you listen? No.” He sounded smug. “Whatever.” His smug voice should have made me more mad. Instead I found it cute. “You and I both know this is about Dutch and Tulip. Don’t try and play this one off like your window. Someone is trying to get you to stop.” Wait a minute here! Aren’t guys supposed to shield and protect women from such talk? Keep things from them in order to protect them. Oh yeah. That’s only if you love the person you’re trying to protect. I guess you’re brutally honest with your friends. Kelly always tells it to me straight. Jonas too. I’d known Jay my whole life, but never been close to him. He was the unattainable older guy. But now he saw me as a friend. I should be happy about that, but I think I preferred when he didn’t care enough to notice me. That didn’t hurt as much as being his friend. Now that we were friends, I had way too much exposure. And exposure is never a good thing. It leads to cancer. Jay was like a growth that had taken root in my heart. To remove it would only make it spread or kill me. Looking out the passenger window at the snow-covered fields, I realized exposure could not only kill a person, but break her heart as well. ~~~~~ Jay’s deluxe pole barn was really nice. Beige metal, with a green roof. His downstairs shop was heated and had a floor drain, so my car could drip dry. We spent hours washing it. Inside and out. The outside cleaned up pretty easy, the oil basically slipping away with a little added elbow grease. The inside was a different story. Using his shop vac, Jay sucked up all the melted snow and shaving cream, while I washed the windows. Spending most of the afternoon confined in the tiny space with the larger than life Jay, I should have been ecstatic, but when he threw the pieces of my Dutch and Tulip in the trash, I felt pieces of my heart go as well. This had been my second set in a year.
  • “Let’s take a break and get something to eat, then go to the Tractor dealership and get you a new set.” Jay said. “Two sets I think.” At the rate I was going, I should keep a spare pair. The upstairs living quarters was like stepping into an old lodge. The walls were lightly stained wood, matching the floors. Sparsely furnished and not decorated, I was glad to see that he kept it tidy, no dirty clothes lying around. There was a wood burner in the corner, above hung a deer head. “It’s a twelve-pointer,” Jay informed me when he saw me looking at it, pride in his voice. “Nice.” What else was I supposed to say? Most men in Dubois County hunt, so it’s not like I’d never seen a deer mounting before, but since I’d grown up without a man in the house, I don’t think of them as decorations. “This is my ten-pointer, that’s my other ten-pointer and this is my nine,” he said, gesturing to the walls. “The best one’s in here though.” The smile on Jay’s was so big I couldn’t help but smile back. I followed Jay to the only room in the place. Can’t find the right words to describe my current state of mind. You go on and think of some on your own, because at the moment I’m at a loss. I was now standing in Jay’s bedroom. Heaven on earth. Jay nodded toward his bed, but I ignored the massive deer hanging above it. I think he said something about fourteen-points, but I was too busy looking at the bed to notice. It was made, which was nice. A very manly hunter green comforter, no throw pillows or frills to be found decorating the bed. Jay would be all the decoration needed in this, or any, room. He slept in that bed. Laid his perfect body in that bed every night. He dreamt in that bed. There was no book on the nightstand, only a hunting magazine. No pictures, but there was a bottle of red nail polish. Now my fantasies were shattered, just like my Dutch and Tulip. Britni.It was obvious she was a frequent visitor. Seth too, from the trucks and Mouse Trap game I’d seen by the leather couch. “You hungry?” Jay asked, not realizing that I was about to throw myself on his bed, hugging his pillow close to my heart. Starving. I was absolutely famished, but not for food. “Sure.” I was here, why not torture myself some more? It’s not like I had plans for the day. I’d give myself a much needed mental break and pretend this was a date. That Jay had invited me over for lunch. We made grilled cheese sandwiches and ate sitting at the island in Jay’s tiny kitchenette. He doesn’t have a table, but I could picture mine here. “This is really nice.” It was too, if you didn’t mind living in a barn. Which by the way I wouldn’t. “Thanks. This is only temporary though. I’m gonna build in a few years.” “A log cabin?” It made sense. It went with the whole “I kill animals” theme. “No. Brick. Logs homes are a lot of upkeep.” Looking out the window over the sink, I could see Jay had a great view. It went on for miles, or acres rather. You could see for miles though. Nothing but farmland, bordered with trees as far as the eye could see. Jay’s seven acres was on the edge of small woods that had once belonged to his grandparents. The family farm had been split up and sold, but I knew Jonas owned a few acres out here as well. It would be a lovely spot for a home. The perfect peaceful setting to raise a family,
  • although the closeness of the lake would worry me if I had small children. Lucy would likely be a daredevil and I’d have to keep a close eye on her around the lake. Britni’s, I’m sure, thought about this already. She’s probably got house plans picked out, with a nice white picket fence for safety. Their bedroom would have a beautiful view and she’d have an even better one waking up to Jay each day. Chapter 19 “Will you be my Valentine?” Not only did Dutch want to give Tulip her flowers, but candy too. He just knew that she’d love chocolate. All the women who came through the park did and discussed it as if it saved their lives once a month. “I’m always your Valentine sweetheart. Always have been. Always will be.” Dutch was so silly sometimes. “I believe it’s customary for Valentines to kiss. Will you kiss me, Tulip?” This was it. Surely, Tulip would kiss him now. “Okay.” Tulip smiled brightly and felt her heart racing as she anticipated her first kiss. “Really?” Dutch was so excited. She was really going to kiss him. After all these years, he was going to kiss his girl. He felt faint. “Yes, but first I want my flowers.” “But…” “No buts, young man. I want those flowers.” Tulip’s heart sank as she realized she wouldn’t be getting her flowers or her kiss. But Cupid’s arrow had struck Dutch’s concrete heart hard and he found himself doing what he’d done for the past 50 years. Waiting for his kiss. ~~~~~ The committee met again in late January, but instead of planning anything, all we did was discuss the cards and what had happened to my car. The cards were a worry for everyone. Glen was suddenly a nervous nelly. He was also worried that he might be the next target, since he was the council president. Rev. Koeln, too, didn’t seem comfortable. Faye and Gloria, like me, were scared, but what could we do, but move forward and pray nothing else happened. The only ones who didn’t seem concerned about themselves were Jay and Tiny. Both own guns. The February meeting was postponed due to ice, but when we finally met a week before Valentine’s Day, we were once again productive. Nothing untoward had occurred and exciting things were taking place. The restoration company made another visit, taking measurements and scheduling their arrival, but still short several thousand dollars the renovation wouldn’t be complete. With the money raised and insurance Holland had enough to restore Dutch and Tulip, but they wouldn’t be painted. Only touched up. That wasn’t good enough for me. I was going to see this through. The only thing I had left in the way of fundraising was Kupid’s Kids. I realize, especially as a teacher, that you should never spell words wrong like that, but it was cute and went with my theme.
  • Every year the Volunteer Fire Department holds a Valentine’s Ball. Months ago, I’d gotten the idea to open the school for the evening, so couples could attend free from their parental obligations. We wouldn’t make much money, but at this point every cent was vital to Dutch and Tulip’s bank account. I was planning on using the money raised to help with the landscaping and painting the windmill, but that will have to wait. What good was a windmill if we lost Dutch and Tulip. Several high school students had volunteered to help, having as much luck in the world of love as me, and Ruth would have been heartbroken if I didn’t include her. It surprised me when Britni had signed Seth up. I wouldn’t have thought she’d want me around her son, but maybe she’s a bigger person than I thought. Or Jay put her up to it. Or she wanted to rub my face in the fact that she had Jay, even though I swear I don’t—my money’s on the rubbing it in my face theory. “Hi Miss Mein.” Seth was excited to see me, as his mom looked at me through narrowed eyes. He looked adorable in his khakis and brand name flannel shirt with boat shoes. Britni always dressed Seth like a little man. His look screamed Gap Kids. “Hey Seth. Are you ready for some serious fun?” I asked, ruffling his hair. I don’t know why, I hate when people do that to me. Seth jumped up and down. “Yes! What are we gonna do?” His little arms pumping, hands in fists. Like he was ready to tackle the serious fun coming his way. “We’re going to play games, make Valentines, Ruth’s got stories, movies and we’re gonna make pizza.” I got in on Seth’s excitement and we high fived. “I’m so glad you’re here.” Maybe a little lie, but I wouldn’t hold Britni’s actions against her son. To show how magnanimous I could be, I smiled and said, “Hello Britni. Jay.” Nodding my head to them, “Thanks for bringing Seth tonight.” Britni was dressed like a runway model, even with the freezing temperatures. Wearing a pink cocktail dress that looked amazing with her tan. Her tan? It’s February. Hello? I was wearing jeans, sweatshirt and tennis shoes. A runway model for Farmer’s Almanac. And the only tan I had was leftover from last summer. “It’s good for Dutch and Tulip and Seth likes playing with the kids.” Linking arms with Jay and smiling, she continued. “Besides it’s Valentine’s Day.” Britni hugged Seth before leaving and whispered in his ear. “Remember what we talked about. Okay. I love you.” The kids had a blast. They were captivated by Ruth and her stories. She didn’t bother with books, but told stories from her childhood. I begged her to read Dutch and Tulips story, but her real-life stories about the couple were just as good. Listening to her made me wish there were more. There could be an entire series of Dutch and Tulip stories. All would be centered around the park and the various activities going on there. Maybe in one story, Dutch and Tulip could make a break for it and take a walk around town. They’d go fishing, swimming, take walks and play with the children. They’d become huge sensations amongst the toddler crowd. Get their own cartoon and merchandise. Maybe I could replace my Hello Kitty with a Dutch and Tulip lunch box. If this teaching this goes south, I can always try my hand at writing children’s books. We played games, me getting beat every time I played hangman. Made pizza, which was probably poor planning on my part. The kitchen was a mess, along with most of the kids, but they thought it was fun making their own personal pizzas. I think I might have made an impression with my pizza skills, because I garnered several Valentines. The only ones I’ll be receiving this year. I had a quiet room for the younger kids,
  • most of whom were asleep by 11:00, and a movie rounded out the night for the older ones. We would stay open until 1:00, but with the weather conditions, some parents would likely pick up their kids well before then. I hope. The kitchen wasn’t going to clean itself. Seth was fighting sleep when Jay and Britni arrived. He was a great kid. Polite and well behaved, he’d been a trooper and free with information. I’d learned all kinds of things. Like how Jay didn’t spend the night at their house, but that his mom was hoping Jay would move in. Jay kept clothes and a toothbrush at their house, which told me that Jay did spend the night, but Seth didn’t realize it. It was clear to me that Jay and I were over. I had to remind myself that we’d never started and that I’d moved on anyway. “Any chance you and Jay will be the couple who gets the tradition going again?” I thought by asking Britni I’d be showing how mature I was and that I was in no way, shape or form interested in her boyfriend. Britni clearly didn’t know how to answer, but Seth did. “That would be so cool Mom. Can I be in your wedding?” Seth looked hopeful. Glaring at me, Britni tried to reign Seth in. “No. Seth listen, we’ll talk about this later.” “But Mom. You said Jay was gonna be my new daddy.” Seth’s tiredness was showing in his whiny voice. Jay looked floored by this little revelation, but said nothing. Britni moved beyond glaring at me and I was now dodging the daggers she was shooting in my direction. She picked up a sleepy and paternally confused Seth and all but stomped out the door. Which couldn’t have been easy in those heels. “I am so sorry, Jay. I just assumed.” I shook my head, while handing Jay Seth’s backpack. “I hope I didn’t cause more trouble for you.” I was embarrassed. I should never have mentioned it in front of Seth. Poor kid. It wasn’t his fault I was in love with Jay. “It’s fine. I just don’t want to see Seth get hurt.” Taking the backpack from me, our hands touched, my physical reaction was increased heart speed. Jay’s was to walk out the door. ~~~~~ That was the last I heard from Jay. He quit coming to committee meetings which made me wonder why. Jonas knew nothing, so I had nothing to go on. I saw Jay almost every day though, driving by my house. The first time I noticed it, I assumed it was coincidence. Lots of people drive by my house on their way out of town, but it became apparent he was purposely doing it when he’d drive by every evening and in the morning as I was leaving for school. When I say out of town, I mean the side of town that wouldn’t lead to Huntingburg, so I figured he wasn’t on his way to see Britni. It was both comforting and confusing at the same time. Was he worried about me? I wanted to think that, but when I’d catch him driving by and wave, he rarely returned my attention. I found myself caught up in a vicious cycle of worry. Worry about the money we still needed, worry about who had threatened me and worry about the ominous “Rest in Pieces.” Ever since my set had disappeared, I began fearing the worst for the real set of Dutch and Tulip. Locking things became a new hobby of mine. That and checking. I’d check and recheck every lock in my house and car. I was afraid to put out my new Dutch and Tulip for fear something would happen to them, even though I now had a spare. It seemed like bad luck. The two sets were sitting side by side in my living room where my couch had sat. I
  • hadn’t replaced it yet. I couldn’t find the time to go couch shopping. In reality, I was waiting to see if Dutch and Tulip would need the money. Junior had nothing to tell me about my window, the cards or my car, so I quit bugging him, assuming he’d call if the bad guy presented himself. Thankfully, February is a short month and I’d feel safer when it was over. Spring was just around the corner and I had to find a way to raise the remaining money. Things will be better when everything is greening up and coming to life. People would be outside more, after spending the harsh winter cooped up and the park would be bustling with families. That was sure to be worth a few thousand. I did find a couple though. They were far from perfect; in fact, the more I got to know them, the more I realized they were all wrong for Dutch and Tulip. Bill and Tootsie’s grandson, Brock, had recently become engaged and it was Tootsie who suggested them. I think she, too, knew their relationship was rocky and was looking to Dutch and Tulip for help. Brock and his fiancée, Molly, were leery at first, but after assuring them of how neat it would be to get married under Dutch and Tulip, restarting the tradition, they seemed truly excited. Molly did, anyhow; Brock had his reservations. “People don’t get married on the Fourth of July. It’s weird,” he said. “No, it’s perfect. Think of it this way, you’ll never forget your anniversary and you’ll always have fireworks,” I persuaded. The sexual hint must have done the trick, because Brock agreed. Molly was excited that her big day would be the center of so much attention. The whole town would be there, plus reporters from the newspapers and radio stations. She quickly began compiling her wish list. Or list of demands. I soon discovered that Molly was, how shall I put it? Demanding. She wanted to get married at sunset, she wanted white roses and she wanted to know if we could change Dutch and Tulip’s colors. “I don’t really like red. How about black?” She suggested. Black? Are you kidding me? They’d look like little Amish children or Dutch children in mourning. Did she honestly believe we’d do that? For some reason, Molly had it in her head that this was suddenly all about her and what she wanted. But this wasn’t about her. It’s always been about Dutch and Tulip. Finally, after some serious persuasion on my part, Tootsie’s too, Molly opted for a bouquet of yellow tulips. I suggested they dress the part and offered to make their costumes, but they still refused. “There’s no way I’m wearing a Dutch costume,” Brock informed me. ~~~~~ I’d just finished cutting out Dutch’s costume and was pinning it together—what if Brock changed his mind—when I received Mrs. Furst’s call on Monday evening, I admit I was surprised. Mrs. Furst is the choir director at church. Since I don’t sing, she doesn’t have much use for me. The Fursts were one of Holland’s wealthiest families, having made their mark in logging. “Lily, dear…” She said. When someone starts a conversation like this, it’s usually not a good thing. “Yes,” I replied skeptically. The pins I was holding between my lips was making it hard to talk. “You know my grandson, Anthony?”
  • Vaguely, but I didn’t say that. Anthony’s parents had done the unthinkable and moved away from Holland after college. I knew of Anthony’s existence only because every summer he’d been forced to attend Vacation Bible School with us. He was that awkward kid at VBS, the one no one really knew, but since he was staying with his grandma for the week, he had no choice but to go. “Of course, they live in Louisville, right?” I said, taking the pins out of my mouth. “Oh good, you do remember him.” Her enthusiasm scared me. I hadn’t actually said I remembered him, only that I knew of his existence. “Anthony’s going to be in town visiting me later this week. He’ll be passing through on his way to Boston. He’s a lawyer, you know.” Mrs. Furst’s voice was singing with pride. Okay. What did this have to do with me? Unless he wanted to make a sizeable donation. “I’ll be entertaining Anthony, but I go to bed early. I was thinking you and Anthony could go out one evening. Maybe dinner in Jasper?” “Oh Mrs. Furst, I don’t think so. I’ve got a million things to do with Dutch and Tulip,” I explained. Not a total lie. “I understand. How is the fundraising going, by the way? Do you think you’ll make it?” She had me there, dang it! Suddenly, I wanted to stick a pin in my eye. “We’re very close.” Was all I said. Anyone who wanted to know, only had to drive by the park and see the windmill gauge. “I’ve been to all the fundraisers, bought cookies, but I’ve yet to donate any actual money,” she said pointedly. Having listened to Dad’s advice, I’d kept records of every donation. I knew exactly who’d given and how much. The first batch of engraved bricks had already been ordered. “That’s alright, Mrs. Furst. Not everyone gives a monetary donation, but your support is valuable to the cause.” “Please, call me Maxine. You need $7,000, I believe?” She sounded too sweet, yet a touch smug at the same time. Ugh. “That’s correct.” Wait for it…. “I tell you what. You go out with my Anthony and I’ll write you a check for the remaining money. How’s that sound?” Honestly, it sounds a little bit like I’m being bought and paid for. But if she gave me the remaining money, I wouldn’t have to take it out of my savings. Which would have wiped me out. I wouldn’t even have had the $1,000 emergency fund that Dave Ramsey insists I keep. It’s not like I was gonna have sex with him. “One dinner?” I asked, just to clarify. Purposely not calling it a date. “Yes, dear, maybe a show after as well.” Would you like me to have your great-grandchildren while we’re at it? I’ve never been on a blind date and now I was being set up by a senior citizen, plus I was getting paid. Well, I wasn’t getting paid, but it still felt dirty. No use trying to come up with good reason why I shouldn’t do this. We all know I’m going to. I’ll do anything for Dutch and Tulip. “All right. When will he be here?” Somewhat reluctantly I gave Mrs. Furst my cell number. I wondered what Anthony looked like. To the best of my memory, I think he was three or four years older than me. So what was the big deal? I’m not dating anyone. We’d go to dinner. I’d pay my half, maybe a movie, then straight home. If I’m lucky, Anthony is dashing and charming and we’ll fall in love at first sight.
  • Chapter 20 “Who is that man with Lily?” Tulip didn’t recognize him, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t like him. Not one bit. “I don’t know, flower. Maybe he just wanted to see us.” Lots of people they didn’t know came by for a visit. Lily was probably just showing this man how special they were. “Well I don’t like it!” What was Lily thinking? Tulip watched as Lily laughed at something the man said. “How can she be with him if she loves Jay?” This wasn’t right! This man was all wrong for Lily. “Dutch do something.” “What would you like me to do?” Where was Jay? He’d know what to do. Jay would be mad if he knew Lily was with another man. And why was the man dressed like that? “I don’t know, but do something before he ruins everything.” Tulip had just the right man picked out for Lily. And this man was no Jay Heimerschmitt. “Dutch! Look at the way he’s looking at her. He wants to kiss her. Stop him! She can’t Holland Kiss him!” “Calm down, sweetheart.” Dutch hated seeing his Tulip upset. An upset Tulip wasn’t good. Besides, women didn’t kiss when they were upset. ~~~~~ “You can’t be serious?” Kelly was less than thrilled when I informed her about my upcoming date with Anthony. She was organizing my recyclables into their proper bins, looking ashamed of me. “I know I said you should start dating, but this is just bizarre. It’s kind of creepy. Like you’re a lady of the night or something.” Lady of the night did sound better than hooker, but she was right. This was weird. I’d put off telling Kelly about the date, honestly I wasn’t going to tell her at all, but she was with me when Anthony called just two days after his grandma propositioned me. “We’re halfway through March. I need that money.” It’s never a good idea to rationalize one’s actions, but I was trying to convince myself and Kelly that this was a good idea. Kelly looked even more ashamed now, but maybe that was because my cardboard and plastics were mixed together. “But I thought you had enough, along with the insurance, to get the restoration going?” “I do, but I want—I need—the full amount to get them properly restored.” Dutch and Tulip deserved nothing less. “This is a bad idea. Didn’t you learn anything from having your window broken and car vandalized? This guy’s gotta be some kind of loser if his grandma has to buy him a date.” Kelly was taking the self-defense course she’d signed me up for, but like yoga I don’t have time to learn how to escape a choke hold. “Don’t be so dramatic. It’s one date. Besides now I can make the announcement that the money has been raised. Dutch and Tulip will be safe. It’s more than worth it.” I hoped. Kelly rolled her eyes and continued lecturing, with a tone that sounded like Mom’s. “I’m telling you there’s something wrong with him. I bet he’s got some flesh-eating disease and he’s incontinent.” Kelly spends way too much time with sick people. Her fatalistic attitude was scaring me, though. I assumed that, since I knew his grandma, Anthony would be a nice guy, but what if Kelly was right and he wasn’t? What if he turned out to be a stalker or something?
  • Doesn’t matter now. I’m doing it. Putting my flesh on the line for Dutch and Tulip. I could rest easy and sleep better at night knowing they were safe. Dutch and Tulip would be restored, but at what further cost to me? ~~~~~ Turns out Anthony Furst doesn’t have a strange disease or wet himself. He wasn’t even ugly. In fact, he was beautiful. Not “Oh my God!” movie star good looking, but pretty. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Impeccably dressed, he looked like a man who used product and got manicures on a regular basis, yet not too feminine. Neatly coiffed black hair, although I prefer blondes, and brown eyes, Anthony had a nice smile. With no crooked teeth. I was surprised to learn he’d been a walk-on at the University of Kentucky. He didn’t look the basketball type. Bike riding type, maybe. He dwarfed me by a foot and in the back of my mind I realized no amount of self-defense training would save me if it came to that. Having just passed the bar exam, Anthony was on his way to Boston for an internship, then returning to Kentucky, where he’d begin his career in Louisville. His grandma had every right to be proud. After I got past my initial musings on what could possibly be wrong with him, I really enjoyed myself. Before leaving town, I asked him to stop by the park. I wanted him to see Dutch and Tulip. Anthony wasn’t impressed. Sure he was in awe of their size, who wasn’t? But he’d seen them before and likely knows their story. I’m sure his grandma keeps him up to date on what’s going on in Holland. He was very attentive, though, as I told him about the efforts toward saving them. I love to talk about Dutch and Tulip. Even if the person listening doesn’t. We had dinner at the Schnitzelbank, where Anthony discussed the wine selection, but opted for authentic German beer. Then to the theatre. It was one of those political agenda movies. I hate those, but Anthony enjoyed it. I don’t go to the movies to be taught a moral lesson or to be preached to. I want to be entertained, plain and simple. That describes me best, whereas Anthony appeared refined and worldly. He was offended when I offered to pay my half and I know I embarrassed him by opening my own door. Not sure how real hookers operate, but I didn’t get my money until the evening was over. I think that must be backward, though. “My grandmother asked me to give you this,” Anthony said, handing me an envelope. I hoped it included my money. Dutch and Tulip’s money rather. I’d developed a habit of calling them mine. I thought of them as mine. “Great.” Not wanting to be rude and open it in front of him, I did anyway. “They’re saved,” I sighed, hearing wedding bells. “Who’s saved?” Leaning down, Anthony’s got wide when he saw the check. “Please tell me my grandmother didn’t pay you to go out with me?” Anthony looked mortified. “No. No. Nothing like that.” I had that “don’t be silly” look on my face. Such a kidder. “Really?” Anthony sounded like a lawyer now and I felt like a criminal. “Really.” Have I mentioned that I suck at lying? “It’s not like she paid me. She donated the money for Dutch and Tulip. You’re just delivering it. That’s all.” I smiled brightly. But Anthony’s years of law school weren’t fooled and he wasn’t buying my innocent act. “To say I’m embarrassed doesn’t begin to describe my feelings right now. I apologize, Lily. She
  • should have never put you up to this. You must think I’m pitiful.” He loosened his tie, stretching out the collar of his shirt. This was the first date I’d been on where the guy was wearing a suit and tie, not counting prom. I was way underdressed in my dressy jeans and cardigan. Really who wears a suit and tie on a date? No one I know. People had looked at him funny when he’d gotten our popcorn at the movies. He was dressed like he was going to a funeral. “Listen, Anthony.” We were standing on my back porch now and there was a chill in the air. But I felt so wretched that I was almost hot. “I’ll be honest. I was reluctant at first, but I needed the money.” Anthony looked even worse now. I tried again. “Wait! That came out wrong.” Blowing out a breath of frustration, I knew I was blowing my defense. “I had my reservations at first, but after spending the evening with you, I’m glad your grandma did call. I had a nice time.” And I meant it. Anthony had been great all evening. He’d loosened up and become less stiff and formal as the night went on. He was funny and I found myself feeling comfortable around him like I did with Jonas. “Grandmother has her heart set on my relocating to Holland and believes a woman is the way to achieve that goal.” Smiling sheepishly, Anthony didn’t look quite so glum now. “Would that be so bad? Moving to Holland, I mean.” We could use a man like Anthony. Smart, good looking, plus his height meant that his future kids would be tall. This would be good for Southridge basketball. “Me? In Holland? I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Now I was offended and it must have shown on my face. “What I mean by that is Holland is nice, but I prefer a city that has more to offer than a single convenience store. Where would I practice law?” “Huntingburg, Jasper. You could even commute to Evansville. Holland could use some young blood,” I stated. Smiling, Anthony took my hand. “Are you propositioning me, Lily?” He kissed the back of my hand and continued to smile, so I assumed he was teasing me. “Isn’t that what this date is all about? You did buy me after all?” Our date ended like that. Anthony was very much the gentleman, kissing me at the door. He didn’t press for more, but we did kiss for a very long time. His kisses were nothing like Jay’s, but I’ll never have a chance to kiss Jay again. I better get used to another man’s lips. Anthony said he’d call me in a few days, but we all know what that means. I’ll never hear from him again, which is fine I guess. I did what I set out to do. The money needed for Dutch and Tulip had been raised and I got a free dinner and movie. ~~~~~ The night of the announcement was one of the happiest of my life. I was so excited to share the news with Holland that the money was raised and Dutch and Tulip would be fully restored. I wanted a big occasion or platform to make my announcement, but nothing was coming up, so I did the next best thing. I joyfully painted in the remaining space on the gauge, getting paint everywhere in the process, updated the blog and Facebook page and told the quilting ladies. It was anti-climactic really. All the hard work that had gone into saving Dutch and Tulip was over. I wanted to throw a party and celebrate, but that would come later. Which Molly reminded me of on a regular basis. She’d gotten into the habit of calling me every day, as if I were her personal wedding planner. She was wearing on my nerves, but she was the bride after all.
  • Now all that was left to do, besides deal with Molly, was to wait for the restoration to begin and finalize plans for the unveiling on the Fourth of July. What am I supposed to do with all my free time? Dutch and Tulip had become my life. The fight to see them restored was now over and my pro list felt longer, yet at the same time my con list was still winning. After depositing Mrs. Furst’s check, I called Mom, Dad, Ruth, Jonas, Bill and Tootsie. Kelly already knew, but I called her anyway. She wanted to make sure I’d survived my date unharmed. But the person I really wanted to call was Jay. Unfortunately, he called me instead. Chapter 21 “Stop it!” Tulip demanded. “I mean it, Dutch! You stop that this instant!” Tulip was curious. No, that wasn’t right. She didn’t know the word, but knew she was mad. Dutch was behaving very badly. Confused, Dutch felt funny, but didn’t know why or what was happening. His legs weren’t working right and his feet had fallen asleep. He couldn’t wiggle his large toes. “Have you been drinking?” What else could explain why Dutch was suddenly acting so strange. Now Tulip knew what she was. She was furious. “You should be ashamed of yourself, young man!” Tulip could have sworn Dutch was swaying, but her eyes must be playing tricks on her. “Dutch? Answer me!” When Dutch didn’t answer, Tulip became even more upset. “If you don’t answer me, I’m never going to kiss you. Do you hear me?” Dutch couldn’t answer his love, for in that instant the world around him changed suddenly. He was unable to speak as a gust of wind whipped around his face, getting dust in his mouth. There was a crashing sound as the world shook, and Dutch knew he’d never get his kiss now. ~~~~~ When my phone woke me at 5:30AM, I knew something was wrong. News is never good when it comes before the sun is up. “Lily. It’s Jay.” As if I didn’t know that voice, even in my sleepy state. “Sorry for calling so early, but something’s happened to Dutch. I thought you’d want to know.” Wide awake I asked, “What do you mean?” “He’s been knocked over.” Jay sounded reluctant to say the words. “What are you talking about? How in the world did he get knocked over?” For crying out loud, Dutch weighs 12 tons. Did we have another storm and I’d missed it? “Looks like someone tied a chain around him and pulled him down.” Jay sounded exhausted and frustrated all at the same time. “I’ll be right there.” Hanging up, I threw on the first thing I could find. So I’d look like I just rolled out of bed when I see Jay. I’ve moved past Jay. Sort of. Fine! Not at all. In the short time it took me to get to the park, the words “Rest in Pieces” haunted me. What would I find when I got there? What if Dutch was seriously injured? Junior scowled when I got to the park. Outwardly it must look like all the trouble surrounded me. Inwardly I had to agree. Rain was beginning to fall, and the early morning sun was just rising through the fog that had settled overnight.
  • “They had to have used a winch. How the hell else could you pull him down?” Poor Junior. I felt sorry for him. He hadn’t signed up for this. At the rate crimes were being committed in Holland, we’d need a fulltime cop soon. As Jay and Junior walked around Dutch, I stood paralyzed. I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. Luckily, it didn’t look like there was any serious damage, but Dutch was lying on his side, parallel to the road. The crack in his ass looked the same and he had some new scuff marks to his paint, but he wasn’t broken. The money was raised and the restoration was set to begin in two weeks. Why would someone do this now? All the other things that had happened made sense I guess if you were crazy and wanted to get rid of Dutch and Tulip. But what did this prove? At least Tulip was okay. I looked up her still smiling face and just knew that if she could she’d be crying. “Looks like they tried to get to Tulip,” Junior said, sounding even unhappier with me now. For the love of all that’s good in this world! Will this never end? Walking across the driveway, in a stupor, I could just make out the telltale scratch marks around Tulip’s clogs. “Why…” But I couldn’t finish my sentence for my own tears. Jay wrapped his arms around me and I let myself go. Finally, when I was done with my cry time, I tried to push away, but Jay continued to hold me, kissing the top of my head. “It’s all right Lily. Dutch is fine. No real damage was done.” He was rubbing my back, rocking us from side to side. “In two weeks they’ll get started on him and this will be forgotten.” “No it won’t. Don’t you see?” Placing my hands on Jay’s chest, I looked up to him, then pushed away when he tried to smile. For some reason his beautiful face brought me no comfort. “What if it doesn’t stop? It’s only a matter of time before something happens that can’t be fixed.” I sounded like a whiny child. Junior had his slicker on now, the rain was really coming down, but I didn’t care. Sopping wet, I paced back and forth on the road between Tulip and where Dutch had been standing. Looking at Dutch’s face close-up for the first time, I started crying again. His eyes were the size of my head. The detail they’d used on his facial features was surprising, since no one should have ever seen the tiny freckles on his nose, or the little dimple in his left cheek. So many details that added to his handsome face, yet I wished I’d never gotten the opportunity to see them. “What are you gonna do about this?” I asked, sounding like I was accusing Junior. Junior refused to look at me, but I already knew the answer. Nothing he could do unless someone came forward. He and Jay continued to stand around, with hands on their hips. The men I expected answers from had none. The other committee members were called. Glen and Rev. Koeln arrived shortly after. Rev. Koeln with his black umbrella lent the atmosphere an even somber mood. I felt like we were at a funeral. And I hated that I might lose this loved one. Glen and Rev. Koeln did just what Jay and Junior were doing. Nothing. They commented about how this could have happened, entering into a very manly conversation about trucks and horsepower. Still in a stupor, I knew what I had to do. Lord knows I’ve wasted enough time waiting on a man to make me happy and look where that’s gotten me. Dutch would be a man of action. He wouldn’t take this lying down. And neither would I. ~~~~~ Camping wasn’t so bad.
  • Two weeks sleeping in my car. Piece of cake. Until someone knocked on my window and I almost peed myself. “Jesus, Jay! You scared the crap out of me!” Or was it piss? “What are you doing here?” I asked suddenly suspicious. Surely Jay wasn’t the one responsible for tipping Dutch? Oh my God! What if he was? Convenient how he’d showed up at my house the night my window was broken and, just because he was such a swell guy, slept in my driveway to protect me. How he’d cleaned my car and how he drove by my house at all times of the day and night checking up on me. Suggesting I step down from the committee because he was worried. For the first time, I took a good hard look at Jay, beyond how good he looked that is. “You son of a bitch!” Throwing open the car door, I went for him. And not in the sexual way like I’d always wanted. “How could you? Why?” I was yelling and clawing at him. Well trying to claw at him, but he’s faster and bigger. Jay grabbed my arms, then held both my wrists in one of his hands. “What’s gotten into you?” Jay didn’t release me. He must have known by the way I was still struggling that I was going to try and attack again. “You did this!” I screamed, trying to gesture with my hands, but remembered they were bound. I nodded toward Dutch with my head, “Why Jay? Why are you doing this to them?” “I’m not doing anything.” Jay and his innocent act didn’t fool me though. “Bullcrap! You’re the one sabotaging Dutch and Tulip. Just admit it.” I was beyond mad now. “Are you insane? Why would I do that?” Jay was clearly upset too, but still didn’t release me. “I came here to check on them and saw your car.” His grip loosened, but he continued to hold my hands. Looking at me tenderly, he asked, “What are you doing here?” “I’m staying here until the restoration starts.” I’d borrowed a baseball bat from Bill and had one of those enormous flashlights you always see police have. I drew the line at a gun, but did have pepper spray. “Excuse me? You’re what?” “You heard me. I’m camping out. So if you want to do any more damage to Dutch and Tulip you’ll have to go through me buddy!” This would have been a lot more convincing if he’d let go of me. “Let me get this straight. You’re camping out. Here? For what? Two weeks?” He paused, I guess, for emphasis. “And you think I had something to do with all the trouble.” It wasn’t a question. I didn’t answer. I was still too angry. I can’t believe this is happening. Was the man of my dreams a nightmare in reality? Then Jay pulled me into his arms and kissed me. Lost in the kiss, I almost forgot that I was furious with him. It felt so right being in his arms. This is how it should be. One of Jay’s hands was in my hair, the other towing the line between my lower back and butt, pulling me closer to his body. I responded eagerly to his kiss and my hands were everywhere. His chest, his back, his hair. I was just about to tow that back/butt line, but Jay pulled back. “Now what do you think?” Jay was breathing heavy. No idea what to think. That’s what I think. I was breathing heavy as well.
  • “I didn’t have anything to do with any of the things that have happened. Honestly.” Jay was rubbing my back and I could have escaped his hold, but wasn’t ready to just yet. “Come on, Lily. You know me better than that.” “Do I? Maybe I don’t know you at all.” Sure I’d been in love with the idea Jay represented for, well forever, but did I really know him? After kissing me again, longer this time and, yes, I kissed him back. Honestly, I couldn’t help it. He’s a darned good kisser. And you know what? Every time we kiss it gets better. And I was hopelessly in love with him, but wasn’t supposed to be. No matter how hard I tried. “Well?” Jay asked. “Well what? You think a few kisses are supposed to convince me of anything?” I wanted to believe him. You know I did, but all the kissing had left me confused. Perhaps I needed a few more kisses before I made up my mind. “Fine.” Taking a step back, Jay released me and turned to leave. “You camp here. But know this. I want nothing more than to see Dutch and Tulip restored.” “Wait! Don’t go.” I hated that my voice sounded pleading. “Oh I’m not leaving. I can’t wait to stick around for you to accuse me some more.” “Who do you think is responsible then?” I asked, watching Jay pace back and forth, kicking at rocks as he went. “I have no clue. I can’t figure it out. But that doesn’t matter now. What matters is you going home. It’s not safe for you to stay here alone.” “I’ll be fine. I’ll sleep in my car.” When Jay gave me a droll look, I added. “I’ll lock the doors.” “Yes. You’ll be perfectly safe then.” Sarcasm wasn’t very attractive. “Let me stay,” Jay offered. “Why? So you can do more damage?” Sorry that was bad of me, but I still wasn’t convinced Jay wasn’t the one. It just makes too much sense. Don’t you think? “Stop being stupid and go home.” Stupid. Did he just call me stupid? “No! You go.” I said firmly. “No,” Jay said just as firmly. “I’ll stay with you then.” No effing way! That’s all I needed. To be seen camping at the park with Jay. Principal Kyser would put an end to my career for sure. “Oh and I’m sure Britni would just love it if you stayed with me. Just go. I’ve got this.” I could only imagine Britni’s reaction if she discovered Jay and I together at the park. I’d have to get my own bodyguard. “Britni and I aren’t seeing each other anymore.” Excuse me? Did he just say what I think he said? You heard that too right? Quick! Pinch me. Because I want to be awake for this. First the kissing and now this. I realized at that moment, my con list didn’t have a chance. “Why?” I couldn’t help asking, even though it was none of my business. “Doesn’t matter.” Was that relief I heard in his voice? But it mattered to me. I wanted to know all the details. Every. Last. One. “Now are you going home or am I staying here with you?” Jay asked again. As tempting as that offer was, I couldn’t allow him to do that. “Neither. Now get. I mean it, Jay. You’ll only cause me more trouble if you stay.” Trouble as in, I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills because I was unemployed.
  • “You’re stubborn you know that. Get in your car, lock the doors and call me at the first sign of trouble.” Squeezing my hand, “And for the record. I don’t like you staying here.” “Yeah yeah. You said that already.” I said exasperated and overloaded with information. ~~~~~ It was a long night. My intention was to spend the night on guard duty. My sole focus protecting Dutch and Tulip. Instead I found myself awake all night thinking of Jay. Which I often did anyway, but this was different. He and Britni were through, but why? Surely she hadn’t broken up with him. What kind of an idiot would do that? Had his kisses meant something? They meant everything to me. Between obsessing over Jay and the new developments in his love life and if I’m lucky mine, and worry that someone might show up to further harm Dutch and Tulip, I had no trouble staying awake. Every sound made me jump though, tightening my death grip on Bill’s bat. My mind was buzzing from fear and excitement. I had so much, too much, to think about. If Jay wasn’t the one responsible, then who was? And what would their next move be and when? I was awake, but just barely, when the sun rose. Birds were chirping a happy tune and there was a chipmunk sitting on Dutch’s ear. I wanted to shoo it away, but was too afraid to get out of my car. After the chipmunk left, I’d thrown a pencil at it, I said good morning to Dutch and Tulip. Rubbing Dutch’s face as I walked by. “No worries guys. I got you covered until help arrives.” They, of course, smiled at me, but I knew they felt better knowing I was watching out for them. After a quick shower at home, I rode my bike to school. I was stiff from sitting up all night and needed to loosen up. Marching into Principal Kyser’s office early, not really early for me though. I hadn’t slept a wink. I smiled brightly at Mrs. Bass as I passed her desk and entered the principal’s office unannounced. “Good morning,” I said in way of greeting. “Morning, Lily.” Notice how he left out the “good” part? “What can I do for you?” “Just wanted to let you know, before anyone calls and complains, that I’m staying at the park until the restoration begins.” “Heard about Dutch. Any idea…” But I cut him off before he could finish. “I’m not taking any chances with them. So if you want to send me home or fire me….” I didn’t finish. I didn’t have to. He knew I was giving him an ultimatum. Sort of. I didn’t give Principal Kyser a chance to reply. I simply walked out of his office and went straight to my classroom. Hoping, no praying, that I wouldn’t get sent home. The sleepless night had left me jittery and apparently full of myself. I wasn’t that valuable to the faculty. I was easily replaced. Which is why I did it, I guess. Dutch and Tulip can’t be replaced. Chapter 22 “Are you all right down there?” Tulip asked, even though she was still quite upset with Dutch.
  • “Yes, I’m fine. It hurt when I fell and I think I skinned my knee. But you heard Lily. They’ll be here soon and help me up.” Dutch’s view of the world had suddenly changed. Around Tulip he could see the vast expanse of trees. And cars going back on forth on the road. “Well this wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been drinking,” Tulip stated. “I bet you have one of those hungovers now, don’t you?” Dutch deserved a headache for worrying her so. Tulip, too, had a new view of the world. For years she hadn’t been able to see around Dutch’s head, but now she could see beyond the park. The school was in the distance and she could see children playing on the playground. “I don’t have a headache, flower.” From his new viewpoint, Dutch could have easily looked up Tulip’s skirt, but was too much of a gentleman to do that. “You didn’t squish my flowers did you?” Tulip wanted her flowers to be perfect, not wilted and dying. Dutch hadn’t thought of that. Oh no! “No Tulip. They’re fine.” He hoped. How was a boy supposed to get his kiss if he didn’t have flowers to give his love? ~~~~~ My second night at the park, Anthony called from Boston. We talked for an hour. He was witty, funny and I genuinely liked him. Liked him enough to agree to a second date. Although I don’t know why. I know it’s wrong since I’m not interested him in that way, but I was so surprised when he called that my yes just kind of slipped out.Now that I knew Jay was single, my heart was foolishly hoping that he’d show some interest in me. Sleep deprivation could be the cause as well. I knew I’d sleep tonight. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. I only hope that if someone does show up, I’d wake in time to stop them from carrying out any more diabolical plans. Junior stopped by, called me an idiot for staying at the park, but told me to call if I needed anything. Glen was with him; although he didn’t actually call me an idiot, I know he was thinking it. Jay called as well. “How’s that stakeout going?” “Fine. And it’s not a stakeout.” More like guard duty. “Okay. How’s the watchout going?” Jay chuckled. “Is that even a word?” I asked, holding back a yawn. “It is now. How’d you sleep last night?” “Like a baby,” I lied. “You?” I’d seen Jay’s bed and imagined him lying in it, maybe he was in it now. All tucked in, head resting on his pillow. I wondered what he slept in. PJs or boxers. Or maybe nothing. “Like shit. I was worried about you all night.” Uh-huh. I’m sure that’s exactly how Jay spent his night. Worried about me. My neck was sore and I’m pretty sure I’ve developed an irregular heartbeat from stress and lack of sleep. As appealing as it was to have Jay on the phone, I needed to let him go, in more ways than one, and not get some sleep. “What do you want, Jay?” I wanted him to want me, but we’ve been there. Done that. “I just wanted to check on you. That’s all” “Thanks, but I’m fine. ’Night, Jay.” Finger on the end button, Jay surprised me by keeping the conversation going. “What are you doing?” He asked.
  • Trying to get off the phone with you and I was doodling in my grade book, but answered, “Nothing.” Suspiciously, I got up and walked around Dutch. What if he was trying to distract me, while someone did something right under my nose? I needed to stay alert. But tired as I was, someone could have loaded Dutch and Tulip up and driven away with them. Am I being paranoid? Probably. Do I have good reason? Absolutely. Jay kept me on the phone for hours. We talked about jobs he was doing. Him telling me funny stories about the things people asked him to do. He asked me about teaching. What I liked best and what I hated. We reminisced about our childhood, which we’d shared in the same neighborhood. Rehashing shared memories. Except in all my childhood memories, I was always the little girl who followed the big kids around. Trying to share in their more mature fun. I’d looked up to Jay then. He was funny and outgoing, not to mention cute. No wonder I had a crush on him then. “Remember that time you threw my shoes on Ruth’s roof?” I asked, smiling at the memory. “No.” “Yes you do. I’d taken them off to run through the puddles after it rained and you tied the laces together and threw them on Ruth’s porch roof.” It had thrilled me to death then. Jay actually knew I was alive and was playing with me. Or so my child mind had thought. “Sorry. I don’t remember that.” I asked him about several more incidents that were branded into my mind. All involving him and our childhood, but Jay couldn’t remember any of them. “I remember the black eye I gave you,” Jay offered. “Never mind.” Clearly Jay and I didn’t have the same childhood memories. I was lucky he remembered my name. The disappointment must have sounded in my voice and I think it made feel Jay feel bad. But it shouldn’t. He was seven years older than me. When he was 15, I was eight, hardly the kind of person a teen boy would notice. By the way, that’s a good thing or I’d think Jay was a pervert, but still it hurt. Realizing that so many memories centered on him, yet he couldn’t remember me was a tough blow. After sitting in silence for several minutes, I felt myself getting sleepier and this conversation was going nowhere. The Jay I’d built up in my mind was fading. “I almost asked you out once.” Jay stuttered. I must be asleep and already dreaming. Because only in my dreams would Jay say that. I think the next time the nurse does hearing checks, I’m cutting to the front of the line, because my hearing must be going as well. “Lily? Are you there?” No. Lily has left her body. She is currently residing on cloud nine. She’ll contact you when she returns. “I’m here.” I didn’t know what to say. Jay had almost asked me out? What was I supposed to say to that? “Did you hear me?” “Yeah,” I whispered. I don’t know why I was suddenly whispering, but it felt right. “When?” I wanted to know what had been going on in my life that I hadn’t noticed any supposed interest Jay might have shown. Had I suffered a concussion at some point? “Just before you got your teaching job,” Jay whispered. “Why didn’t you?” Here I’d had a chance and somehow had blown it? I was mad at myself now.
  • “I don’t know. You seemed different after college. All grown up. I guess I thought you were out of my league.” “Of course, I was grown up Jay. I’m an adult.” Out of his league? What was that all about? I couldn’t imagine the standards of play that put me out of Jay’s reach. Must be a minor league. “I know, but somehow you’d gone from a cute little girl to a beautiful accomplished woman.” Definitely getting a hearing aid. He thought I was beautiful? He must need glasses. “I don’t understand.” I said, honestly. “You Lily. You’re young, gorgeous and educated. What could I possibly have to offer you?” Jay needs his head examined along with his eyes. Now I was gorgeous? What could he have to offer me? Everything, that’s what. My own personal happily ever after. “I don’t know what to say.” A million things were running through my mind, yet I couldn’t verbalize any of them. “Forget I said anything. It was stupid.” Jay sounded disgusted with himself. My cell chirped once and went silent. “Hello?” No answer. “Jay!” I screamed into the phone. My battery was dead. In the confusion of the last few days, I’d forgotten to charge it. Wonderful. I was just having the best conversation of my life. Racing to my car, I plugged in my phone. Praying that Jay would call back, but I fell asleep waiting for a call that never came. ~~~~~ After another nearly sleepless night, I felt like the walking dead. Looked like it, too, apparently. “Gracious, girl. You look terrible.” Tootsie was taking clothes off the line, while Ruth supervised, sitting in a lawn chair drinking a glass of tea. “I know. Think I’ll take a nap before going back to the park.” My speech was slurred now, like a drunk and I’d fallen asleep during my planning period. Thankfully, no one had caught me drooling on my desk. “Why don’t you let Bill and me stay at the park tonight?” Tootsie suggested. “Me too!” Ruth was out of her chair, looking excited about the prospect. Tootsie ignored Ruth. “Taco is one heck of a watch dog.” She said as Taco lay belly up catching some early April rays. A chipmunk could have run over him and he wouldn’t have noticed. I shuddered. “Thanks, but I don’t want to put you out. Besides, I sort of feel like it’s my job. Kelly’s off tonight. She’s gonna stop by and keep me company.” And hopefully awake. Ruth looked disappointed, like I was a parent telling her no to a slumber party. I slept until 7:30, showered and brushed my teeth. My phone was fully charged and Kelly was waiting for me when I got to the park. No one else was around and Dutch and Tulip looked perfect. Not perfect really, Dutch was still lying on his side napping. I envied him. My nap had not been long enough. When Anthony called, I was disappointed it wasn’t Jay. Kelly sat next to me in my car and listened to my side of the conversation. I cut my call with Anthony short, since Kelly was making faces at me, but when Jay called, I forgot all about her presence. She left shortly after, mouthing something about me having two guys on the line. She was eating this up. Along with most of my Gaslight pizza.
  • “Sorry about last night. My phone died.” I wanted to pick up where we’d left off. Maybe I could still get my date. “Figured as much. I didn’t want anything. Just checking in.” Jay paused, “Remember to lock your doors and call me if anything happens.” Jay ended our call and I wanted to scream. No! Let’s talk about us and how gorgeous you think I am. That was a nice thing to talk about. Chapter 23 “Dutch, I miss you.” Tulip was lonely without her Dutch boy. And bored. “I’m still with you, flower.” As much as he missed looking into Tulip’s blue eyes, Dutch was enjoying just laying around all day being lazy. Where was the king and all his men? Tulip wondered. Weren’t they supposed to be here putting her Dutch back together again? Tulip was a little afraid of horses, but still if they helped her Dutch. “You better hope the king isn’t too mad at you.” “What king?” Dutch asked. “The one with all the horses and men. You’re just like that poor Humpty Dumpty.” “Oh that king. We don’t need a king. We have Lily.” Although, a king could order Tulip to kiss him. But that wasn’t right. Dutch only wanted Tulip’s kisses if they were given freely. “You know what ,flower?” “What?” “I won’t bother you for a kiss anymore. You’re right. All these years, I’ve worked and worked, but in the end, you have to kiss me because you want to.” Dutch hoped this new plan worked. “Are you trying to use verse psychology on me?” Tulip may be sweet and innocent, but she was no pushover. Didn’t want to kiss her. Hah! ~~~~~ My entire body ached. Three nights sleeping in my car and already I was beat. How long could I keep this up? Trying to keep an eye on Dutch and Tulip and think about Jay was too much. If you thought all I did before was think about Jay, then you can only imagine how bad it is now. Since he’d mentioned asking me out, I couldn’t think straight. Every second that passed seemed like time wasted. Could I have had Jay years ago? Could I have him now? He wasn’t dating Britni. What was stopping us? True, I’d agreed to see Anthony again, but… When there was a knock on my window, I know my heart stopped beating. I really am going to have to figure something out if I’m going to continue guarding Dutch and Tulip. People keep sneaking up on me. Not good. I blame Jay, though. It was his fault I needed a cardiologist. Luckily, it was Jonas. Still dating the woman I’d yet to meet, Jonas had been absent from my life lately. I took this to mean he was pretty serious about her. I’d have to check her out soon, before deciding if she was good enough for his winks. Jonas ruffled my hair, which I hate, and made of fun of me for camping at the park. When he offered to kiss me, I declined and said it wouldn’t count as a Holland Kiss since we’d only be standing under Tulip.
  • “One of these days, Lily,” Jonas threatened. “Aren’t you dating someone? Someone I haven’t met yet?” I said, stepping back. “You’ll meet her soon enough,” Jonas smiled and I was happy to know that someone had a love life. “Too bad you can’t be the one getting married instead of Brock and Molly.” Molly was an unstoppable force. Every time she called, I regretted having found her. I half expected Jonas to balk at the mention of marriage, but instead his smile got wider. Jonas leaned on the hood of my car, crossing his arms over his chest. “How’s things with Jay?” “Why?” I asked. “I don’t know. Just wondering what’s going with you two?” “Nothing’s going on.” I wish. Although, there have been some recent developments. Jonas looked past me, “You sure about that?” I turned to see Jay pulling up. Jonas went to stand next to Jay, but kept smiling and winking at me when Jay wasn’t watching. I felt my face get hot with embarrassment and wanted Bill’s baseball bat to hit Jonas over the head with. Finally, Jonas left, but only after saying, “Well, since there’s nothing going on here, I’ll be going.” Giving me a quick peck on the cheek, he whispered in my ear, “You are such a little liar.” “Hey,” I said, wondering why Jay was here, but not really caring why. “Hey.” Jay responded. Jay and I need to work on our communication, because we both stood, each looking at the other. “I brought you a snack.” Jay said, handing me a SuzieQ and a pint of milk. “Oh. I love SuzieQs.” I hated lying to him, but didn’t want to spoil the moment. I don’t really like sweets all that much, but ate it anyway. Jay sat with me while I ate, both us of leaned again Dutch. “You’ve got cream on your nose.” Jay informed me. Of course I did. How cliché. Wiping it off, I was thinking about my date with Anthony and feeling guilty. Like I was cheating on one of them. “Glen stopped by earlier,” I said to break the awkward silence that had formed around us. “Said he lined up a couple of bands to play after the wedding.” A country band and ’50s cover band. “Good. That’ll be good. I guess they’ll set up outside the beer garden.” That way people could enjoy the music while getting hammered. Always the best way to enjoy good tunes. “What are you going to do with yourself after this is all over?” Jay picked up my milk, taking a drink. His milk mustache made him look like a poster boy for the Dairy. He would have been perfect for it, too. He looked the part. Very Dutch, yet German. The blonde hair and blue eyes worked for both. “Same things I did before I guess.” My life would seem empty now. I’d be right back where I started the night of the storm. Sitting at home. Alone in my Tulip costume. Making a list. “What did you do before? Besides teach?” Jay asked, watching me as I finished my milk. Licking my lips, I was sure I looked ridiculous with a mustache. “Isn’t it sad, but I don’t know anymore. It’s like everything in my life has changed in the last year. Like maybe I’m not the same person anymore,” I said honestly.
  • “What will you do?” This I was dying to know. Since he wasn’t with Britni, would Jay be open to that date he’d once thought about asking me on? I sent up a quick prayer and looked up to Tulip, as if to will my thought to her. She and Dutch could make it happen. “I don’t know,” Jay replied. Turning to look at Dutch’s smiling face, Jay shrugged his shoulders. “This thing with Dutch and Tulip…I don’t know,” he said again. “I always took them for granted. They’ve always been here and I guess I thought they always would be.” He turned toward me and gifted me with a shy smile. “I took a lot of things for granted before.” ~~~~~ My fifth night on watchout duty, Anthony surprised me by showing up at the park. Evidently I shouldn’t have been surprised though. “Anthony! What are you doing here?” “I told you I was coming tonight. Or don’t you remember?” “I guess I might have fallen asleep.” I seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Anthony kissed my cheek, “Thought so. I brought dinner.” Holding up a carton of Chinese takeout. Opening my fortune cookie first, I always do that, in the hopes that my fortune would be good or I’d have the winning lottery numbers. But when I cracked mine open, it was empty. Not a good sign. We were just finishing our dinner, when my cell phone rang. I ignored it, but only because it was Jay. Here I sit eating Chinese with one man, while the man I want, who might want me, is calling. Minutes later, Jay pulled up and I knew that had been a mistake. Swinging out of his truck, engine still running, door open, Jay looked mad as he approached my car. “Why didn’t you answer when I called? Dammit Lily. You knew I’d be worried.” Jay was clearly upset, his hands balled into fists. Anthony and I exited my car, where we’d been having dinner. Anthony looked ready to tackle any trouble that Jay seemed to pose. “Anthony Furst,” Anthony extended his hand to Jay, while giving him a once-over. He didn’t look impressed by Jay in his faded jeans and t-shirt. Anthony was again wearing a suit and tie. Jay looked at Anthony, then shook his hand longer than I think is appropriate. They were sizing each other up. Men! “Jay Heimerschmitt. Good to meet you.” Only Jay looked anything but happy. “You Maxine’s grandson?” “Yes. Lily and I were just having dinner,” Anthony pointed out. Anthony’s subtle-like-a-block hint wasn’t missed by Jay and he leaned around me to look in my car, as if to confirm that was the case. “I can see that. How long will you be in town?” Well, let’s just get to the point shall we? Next they’d want to compare shoe sizes. Pretty sure Anthony had Jay beat on that one. “I’ll be leaving in the morning,” He replied, coming to stand next to me, marking his territory, “Stop by here every night do you?” Anthony asked, placing his hand on the small of my back. Yep. Clearly marking his territory. I inched away from Anthony, until he was no longer touching me. “Just checking up on Lily,” Jay said through, I swear, gritted teeth.
  • “As you can see, she’s perfectly safe. It was nice meeting you, though.” Anthony looked every bit the lawyer at this point. If Jay wasn’t intimidated by him, I was. And I think I’m kind of dating him. Jay wasn’t so easily dismissed though. “Junior stop by tonight?” Ignoring Anthony, as if he wasn’t towering over our little trio. “No, but he probably will.” Likely calling me an idiot again. “Be sure and call if you need me.” Jay was looking at me, then turned his attention to Anthony, “I can be here in less than ten minutes.” All I can say is that I felt weird. Here I was standing between two men who were acting like they were in a faceoff. I like Anthony. A lot. But I love Jay. A lot more. After a few more tense moments, which consisted of them staring each other down, Jay left. I wanted Anthony to be the one to leave, but what could I say without being rude? I watched him drive away, thinking I’d blown my chance. “I suppose he’s the reason we won’t be seeing each other again?” Anthony asked politely. As if we were discussing the weather and not my love life. What could I say? He was right, of course. My heart belonged to Jay, even if he didn’t want it. Anthony deserved better than what I was offering him. Which was nothing. I had nothing to offer anyone but Jay. Geez! Was this how I was going to spend the rest of my life? Wanting a man I could never have? There would never be another Jay. I’d given him my heart and once you give that away, can you really get it back? “It’s okay, Lily. I like you. You’re sweet, smart and attractive, but it’s obvious your interests lie elsewhere.” That may be true, but Jay and I were most certainly not an item. I would know that, but it was flattering of him to compliment me even though I knew I was none of those things. A smart girl wouldn’t pine away for a guy she could never have. A sweet girl wouldn’t have strung Anthony along, and attractive? Well, he was just being nice. “It’s not like that, Anthony. Jay and I are just friends. Really.” Unfortunately. Laughing, Anthony bent down, a foot to be exact, and kissed my cheek. “We’re friends, Lily. Really.” “I hope we can stay friends. I really like you.” Too bad I didn’t like him enough. Anthony had a lot going for him. He met all my criteria for a man, except one. He wasn’t Jay. “Even though my grandmother bought you for me?” “Don’t. You know it’s not like that.” Not anymore. “I know. My grandmother made a wise investment in you, though.” “Will you come back for the reveal? Your grandma would love that. It would be nice for you to see Holland in all her glory. Maybe change your mind about small town living?” “Yes. I’ll come, but don’t hold your breath on me falling in love with Holland. It’s quaint, but not for me.” I held my breath, puffing out my cheeks. Anthony smiled and laughed at my attempt to make him feel better. After Anthony left, I did what I always do when alone. I thought about Jay. What was he thinking? It was clear he didn’t like Anthony or maybe he just didn’t like Anthony with me? I hoped that was the case.
  • Junior never did stop by, which I found surprising. I knew he wouldn’t want to miss out on another chance to give me a hard time for camping out. When he’d learned what I was doing, I think he was offended. Like I was somehow accusing him of not doing his job. It wasn’t like I didn’t trust Junior, though. I just didn’t trust Dutch and Tulip in the hands of anyone else. The town was quiet, except for the semis running at the Dairy and it was peaceful this time of night. Early spring was beautiful here. Lush, everything greening up from all the rain. Sitting in my car, I leaned the seat all the way back and snuggled in my blanket. Earbuds in, crossword in my lap, I settled in for another night of not sleeping. ~~~~~ With the interior light off, I crept out of my car, quietly as possible. Louisville Slugger in one hand, pepper spray in the other, my heart was racing. What was I supposed to do? Car lights had woken me and I was proud of myself for that, but now I was scared. Creeping around the back of Tulip, I knew this was it! The bad guy was making his move. Why is the bad guy always a man? Women could be nasty and catty. The rancid milk, Dutch tipping man could very well be a woman. Britni had about done me in. I’d almost rather take on a man. If he was small and old. And I weighed more than him. And had a weapon. I tiptoed up behind the figure, deciding it was a man, but not a very large one, raised my bat and swung hard. The figure went down like Dutch, but I sprayed him with pepper spray just to be safe. “Ahh! My eyes!” The figure said. So I sprayed him again. “Lily? What the hell are you doing? Quit spraying that stuff at me!” I recognized the voice. “Junior? Are you the bad guy?” “No. For crying out loud, Lily, get a grip.” Eyes shut, Junior used his arms to feel the air in front of him. When he found my hands, he snatched the pepper spray from me. “Why are you creeping around in the dark? You aren’t the one responsible for all the trouble, are you?” I’d developed a suspicious mind and everyone was a suspect in my book. Junior ignored me and cursed. A lot. I won’t repeat here the words that left his mouth or this would no longer be a lighthearted tale of romance. “I should arrest you for assaulting an officer of the law.” Still prone, Junior began rolling around, like he was trying to figure out the most comfortable position, but I’d hit him pretty hard. Finally, he settled for sitting up and leaning against Tulip’s clog. “I came here to tell you something and you attack me. Damn woman! Get some water for my eyes, before I go blind.” After Junior washed his eyes out, they looked bad and I felt worse. Could pepper spray do permanent damage? “I thought you were the bad guy.” Sitting next to him, I was at a loss. “I am so sorry.” Somehow sorry didn’t seem enough, though. “Are you okay? Please be okay? Should I call Dr. Rob?” Cursing again, only this time not as long or R-rated, “No. Just give me a minute.” “Are you sure? Your eyes don’t look so good.” I was being nice. They were puffy, red and I swear they were about to bleed. “I’m calling Dr. Rob.” “Just hush.” Head back, Junior doused his eyes with water again. We sat in silence for several minutes. At least Junior did. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and kept asking him how he was. Wiping his eyes, which I didn’t think was a good idea, he finally spoke, “I arrested Glen.”
  • Come again? “Glen who?” I only knew a handful of Glens, but at the moment I was still distracted by the damage I’d inflicted on our town cop. I know Junior wanted to roll his eyes at me, but it would have probably hurt too badly. “Glen Moller.” Junior’s tone told me he thought I was dense. “Why on earth would you do that? He’s the council president.” I stated, as if Junior didn’t already know this, but maybe his sudden blindness had made him forget. “Arrested him and Perry Blemner.” Shaking his head, as if that would clear his vision, Junior looked at me through, literally, blood red eyes. “I pulled Perry over for weaving like a drunk, which he was. Got mouthy with me, and said I couldn’t do nothing to him. Finally, I handcuffed him, which I should do to you.” Junior looked at me with narrowed eyes, or maybe they were beginning to swell. “And what do you know, in the back of his truck was a chain.” Perry was Holland’s drunk. I didn’t know him very well, but knew he drove a truck with a winch. He worked odd jobs, moved around town, renting different properties, until he couldn’t pay his rent anymore. No one in town wanted him as a tenant now, so he lived in an old camper parked behind his mom’s house. “It didn’t take Perry long to give up Glen. Said he’d paid him to break your window, mess up your car and tip Dutch,” Junior explained. It was a good thing I was sitting or my legs would have gone out from under me. “Glen did all this?” “Yes and no. Technically, Perry did it, but Glen’s the one responsible.” “But why?” I asked. Why would Glen do this? True, he’d been opposed to keeping Dutch and Tulip, but since then he’d been fully on board in saving them. “Glen didn’t say.” Junior wiped his eyes and looked worn out. “I just arrested one of my closest friends, Lily,” he said exasperated. “Linda screamed at me the whole time.” I guess that was one of the drawbacks of being a cop. Sometimes you had to do that to people you knew and cared for. No wonder people didn’t like cops. “What happens now? This looks so bad for Holland. Our council president, of all people, was the one after Dutch and Tulip all along.” I began shaking my own head, “I still don’t understand why though.” “Glen refused to talk to me. I think he was embarrassed. After he asked for a lawyer, he didn’t say another word to me on the ride to Jasper. He’s being processed at the police post now.” “But…” “I can’t talk about the case with you anymore. I’ve already said too much.” “Too bad! This involves me. I’m the victim.” Dutch too, but since he couldn’t, I’d voice his concerns for him. “Are you sure your eyes are okay?” As mad as I was, I couldn’t help asking for the umpteenth time. Junior ignored me. Blinking his eyes wide, then shut tight, trying to clear them. I called Jonas, who whined and moaned like a child, but after telling him to man up, he agreed to stay with Dutch and Tulip. I was going to jail.
  • Chapter 24 “Did you hear that? I just knew that man was bad. I just knew it!” Tulip wished she had some of that pepper spray stuff right now. And if she did, she’d march right over to jail and spray some in Glen’s eyes. “Don’t get all worked up, flower. It’s over now.” At least, that’s what Dutch hoped. When Lily had sprayed Junior, she’d gotten some on him as well. He’d also seen Lily in action with that bat. Dutch didn’t like bats. They often flew around his face at night, sometimes flying into his eyes and mouth. Once, one got in his ear. No. Bats were bad. Now Junior knew that too. “You don’t think Lily will leave us now, do you?” Tulip was worried for Lily, but she was more worried that Lily would leave them. “Of course not, she needs us to get married.” Even though Dutch was now sore at Lily, she was easily forgiven. She hadn’t meant to spray him. “Well, she better not leave. Someone has to look out for us.” “Once I’m back on my feet, if she tries to leave, I’ll stop her myself.” Surely that would be enough to earn him a kiss. ~~~~~ Having never visited anyone in jail, I didn’t know what to expect. But Glen and I were going to have a conversation. The come to Jesus type. It wasn’t going to be pretty. I was on my high horse, riding hard, but had a big letdown when the police refused to let me speak with Glen at this hour. Even though I threw a fit. Apparently, ranting and raving won’t get you far with the police. My case wasn’t helped when Junior walked through the door. His eyes looked like two burnt holes in a blanket. When Junior arrested Perry, he’d noticed the chain in the bed of the truck, which conveniently had a winch. Perry, drunk as a skunk, ratted out Glen without much persuasion, or so Junior said. That’s all I knew, but I wanted and deserved more. I wanted to know why, but the very large police officer behind the desk, didn’t care about my wants. “Sorry, miss, but you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” I tried calling Kelly, but she was working. I needed to talk to someone. “Lily? What’s wrong?” Jay sounded instantly worried. He probably imagined I needed saving from Anthony. “Glen’s in jail,” I muttered, still dumbfounded. “Glen Moller?” Jay’s quicker than me. “Yeah. He’s the one.” I was still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that Glen was responsible. I kept Jay on the phone until I arrived at the park, but neither of us said much. Jonas was doing a poor job of guarding Dutch and Tulip. I woke him and sent him home. A woman would have wanted to know what was going on, but not Jonas. He didn’t even bother asking where I’d been. He just left me alone, for another night at the park. ~~~~~ “Please?” I asked, smiling like a child. Johnny on the spot. That was me, waiting when the jail opened bright and early Saturday morning. The police were trying to keep me from seeing Glen, but all the press Dutch and Tulip had received helped my case. After some whining, pouting and eyelash batting, they allowed me a short visit.
  • Visit? That’s what you did with friends. Glen and I were enemies and apparently had been. Only I hadn’t known it. But I do now. The jail smelled funny. Not funny haha, funny as in alcohol and bodily discharge. Somehow this setting seemed fitting for Glen. “How could you?” I asked. Glen didn’t look surprised to see me when he’d entered the visitor’s room. I thought he should be shackled at the hands and feel, wearing an orange jumpsuit, but he wasn’t. Dressed in his own clothes, Glen looked terrible. Ignoring me, staring at the floor, he looked as if he’d aged years. “Just tell me why. I think I deserve that much.” Glen’s head came up so fast; I shrunk back in my seat, checking to make sure there were guards around. He stared, or glared, rather, at me before saying, “You! You think this is about what you deserve?” Glen snorted, and then kicked the table. See! I knew he should be shackled. “Just stop it with your “look at me saving Dutch and Tulip” crap! As if you’re the savior of Holland.” Glen leaned forward in his chair and I scooted mine back farther. “If it weren’t for you, Holland would be better off. We could’ve really used that money. But nooo.” He drug the word out. “Not Lily. You had to screw up everything!” I guess he told me. Glen’s yelling caught the attention of the guard, who cleared his throat, but did nothing more. I don’t like being yelled at and somehow I started feeling bad. Like this was my fault. “I did it for Holland.” Keeping my voice even, I could feel the tears coming. “Shut up! Just shut up! I’m sick and tired of your lies. You did it for you!” “Fine! I’m a selfish hag who wanted nothing more than to give up the last year of my life, have my home threatened, car vandalized and crap scared out of me!” I wasn’t yelling yet, but was working up a head of steam. “Because of you, I could have lost my job!” This wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted answers, not a personal attack. “Why do you hate them so much? I don’t understand Glen. Dutch and Tulip are our mascots. They mean so much to Holland.” “I don’t care about them. God you are so naïve.” Glen snorted again, “Thinking everything in life is good and simple. Well guess what? It’s not.” The look on my face must have convinced Glen more explanation was needed. Maybe the guilt was weighing on his shoulders or maybe he knew it didn’t matter now, but Glen finally answered my question. Why? In addition to the $2 million Holland would receive, the company from the Netherlands had agreed to give Glen an additional $250,000, to make things “go more smoothly.” Like a finder’s fee. Only Dutch and Tulip had never been lost. And now they never would. But there were too many bumps in Glen’s way. Well, only one. Me. “I can’t believe you did this. You bastard!” I screamed this time. Wishing I had my pepper spray back. I guess all our shouting was enough to make the guards come running and it was time for me to go. Or so I was informed. The police don’t like it when you upset their prisoners. I left, not bothering to look back at Glen. He’d caused me enough heartache. Jay was walking into the police post, as I came out. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “When I stopped at the park, you were gone. I went by your house, I took a wild guess and came here. What are you doing here?”
  • Still coming to terms with the fact that our town council president, a pillar in our fine, safe and quiet community, had been the source of all the trouble, that’s what I was doing. “Getting a pedicure. What do you think I’m doing? Sorry. I’m just in shock I guess.” Like the night of my broken window, would you like to hold me now too? Please? “Did they let you see Glen?” Holding the door open for me, Jay and I walked outside to the smell of fresh air. “Yeah. I can’t believe he did this though. How scary is that? Really? We’ve known Glen all our lives. How could he?” All my questions came out in a rush of mumbled words, but Jay understood my meaning. “Did he tell you why he did it?” Jay had his hand on the small of my back. “Money.” It was all about the money for Glen. How was money more valuable than Dutch and Tulip? More valuable than the trust of the people of Holland? Or, I know! More valuable than breaking the law? Jay wanted to know the details of my conversation with Glen. We sat in his truck, in the police station parking lot— how romantic—and I told him the tale. I cried sometimes, laughed others, but mostly I felt numb. It was really over. ~~~~~ At church the next day, everyone was talking about Glen like we were in a bar not a church. But who could blame them? This was big news. Rumors were flying about the money Glen expected and the role Perry had played in the saga. I found myself feeling sorry for Glen’s family. Did they know what was happening or were they, too, innocent in all this? Glen had accused me of being selfish. Maybe he was right. I realize what he did was wrong, but maybe I was wrong too. Dutch and Tulip didn’t belong to me, yet I’d become so engrossed in their struggle that I’d let the world pass me by. That was wrong. I’d become so focused on my need to save them that I’d begun to suspect people I’d known my entire life. Good people. I wasn’t giving my students what they truly deserved. Principal Kyser should fire me. A dead-wood teacher described me best this last year. Doing the bare minimum, my classroom was a mess in every way possible. I’d neglected my parents and friends. Sure, I spent time with them, but only when it served my needs and purposes. And what did they do for me? Everything. All the people I loved had supported and helped in my efforts. Me. Me. Me. Glen was right about this much at least. Eight days until the restoration company would arrive and I could sleep in my own bed again. It was probably stupid of me to continue sleeping at the park, but I wouldn’t stop now. I still felt somehow responsible for all the upheaval of the last few months. I’d use these last night’s wisely. Lesson plan. Call Mom and Dad, talking about something other than Dutch and Tulip. What quilt Mom was working on and Dad? I have no idea what I’ll talk about with him, but I’ll give it a shot. Jonas and Kelly deserved my undivided attention as well. As it was I didn’t know what was going on in their lives and they are my closest friends. So that’s what I did. I slept at night, in the comfort of my car, so that I was better prepared for my students during the day. I used my planning period for its true purpose and stayed late after school each afternoon making up for lost time. Kelly and I had long conversations about nothing important, which to me was important. She wasn’t dating her doctor anymore, hadn’t been for weeks, yet I’d missed that. Jonas could
  • have cared less about my new attention to his life. He’s a guy, so I wasted my time with that one, but I felt better for having tried. Ruth got her way and spent one night at the park with me. She kept me up all night. Molly called 13 times. And Jay. Something has to happen with him soon or I’m going to combust from the tension. He called and stopped by those last eight nights. Easily, too easily, if you ask me, forgave me for suspecting him. When he came to the park, Jay always had something for me. And Ruth. Snacks, magazines, a book on tape, which Ruth loved. One night he brought a portable TV/DVD player and we watched a movie. Action, of course. We talked for hours. About everything. Our hopes, our dreams. The future. A future I knew I had no part in, but felt lucky to call him a friend. Even though I was dying to know what happened with Britni, I never pushed him for answers. We were friends and his love life was none of my concern. Sure I wanted his love life to be mine as well, but…well, we all know I’ll always want him. I just need to find balance where he’s concerned. I’ll have to work on that one. Because right now my heart is still too heavy. Maybe time will lessen my burden, but I kind of doubt it. When the restoration company arrived, on schedule, I, once again, slept soundly in my own bed. TWENTY-FIVE “What’s going on?” Tulip didn’t like this. She couldn’t see around her. Someone had rudely covered both her and Dutch, concealing them from the world. “I think this is it, flower. They’re going to fix us up now.” Although Dutch was thrilled that his crack would soon be gone, he didn’t like all the men touching his Tulip. And they did so often. Playing with her braids and admiring her eyes. “I can’t see like I did before, Dutch. Maybe I need glasses? I can’t see you.” Something didn’t feel quite right to Tulip. “What do you mean ? I’m standing right here.” Those men! What had they done? Had they cast some spell on his love? Tulip was right, though. Something was different, but Dutch couldn’t put his finger on it. Not only were they covered, which Dutch had enjoyed. He liked having Tulip all to himself. It was very romantic and secret under the sheet. But Tulip’s face was hidden from him now. The workers had been touching up her face. But on the bright side, the birds hadn’t bothered him in days. Dutch watched in horror as a man touched his Tulip’s lips. “Stop!” Loud as he could, Dutch yelled at them, but the man ignored him and continued touching his girl. Meanwhile, another group of men were doing something behind his back. They were touching Tulip’s bouquet. What if they took it from him? He’d never get his kiss. ~~~~~
  • There was an air of excitement in town. Everyone was thrilled to see progress finally being made on Dutch and Tulip. With the exception of the Moller’s. Glen was released from jail and, even though he couldn’t leave the area, he and his wife had left Holland. They were staying with her sister in Huntingburg. Ruth thought they’d probably move, which was fine by her. I kept my mouth shut, but I knew Holland would never forgive Glen or his wife. Linda was now guilty by association. Jay suggested I get a restraining order, but I couldn’t. I was trying to put Glen and his actions behind me. I wanted to sing, even badly, when scaffolding went up and some sort of sheeting, which looked like two parachutes had landed, covered both Dutch and Tulip, closing the main entrance to the park. The restoration work started slowly. In fact, it didn’t start at all. The April rains delayed any work from taking place. When the severe threats of weather came, I had nightmares about last year’s storm. But, by early May the conditions calmed down and we had several weeks of dry weather. Things seemed to be coming together. Finally! The celebration plans were in place. We had 12 couples who would renew their vows, with Brock and Molly getting their own separate ceremony. I tried again to get them to dress as Dutch and Tulip, but I basically suck at persuasion. The windmill got a new paint job and the brick pathway was laid. All the donors’ names were proudly displayed. It would be several more weeks before the landscaping and bricks around Dutch and Tulip would be complete. Tulips would be first since she required far less work. It was amazing how she looked compared to Dutch. Where his overalls were faded by the sun’s harsh rays, hers were nearly perfect. The last 50 years had not worn on her. Like all classic beauties, Tulip had aged gracefully. I thought that was because Dutch chose to take the abuse rather than have his love hurt in any way. UV rays be damned. The committee, minus Glen, continued to meet and tie up any loose ends. For me, this meant more time with Jay. Gloria and Walt held a cookout for committee members and Jay and I were included, but everyone acted as if we were a couple. Jay didn’t tell them any different and my heart soared at the idea that people saw us as one. Even though we’re not. For the Fourth of July celebration, all the usual community groups would set up their stands, selling everything from walking tacos to turtle soup. Games for the kids and the fire department had a smoke house, used for training, which people could walk or crawl through. Ruth couldn’t wait. The Boy Scouts had donated a new American flag for the occasion. They were to accompany the Legion Color Guard in presenting the flags during the opening ceremonies and the Girl Scouts would sing the National Anthem. The Friday of the anniversary celebration would include the queen’s crowning, a talent show and the thing we’d worked so hard for. The newly restored Dutch and Tulip would be unveiled. Saturday was wedding day. The various food booths and bands would, in effect, provide the reception for the couples involved. Brock and Molly would marry at sunset, with fireworks when it was finally dark. The beer garden would stay open until people were too drunk to drink or sunup. Whichever came first. A 5K run was to take place in the morning. Kelly had worked hard in organizing it, but was disappointed when I refused to take part. The last thing I wanted to do was run a marathon. The last year had been enough of a race for me and I wasn’t to the finish line yet.
  • There would be a nondenominational sunrise service on Sunday. I’m assuming most of the attendees will be hung-over or still up from the previous night. And a parade. Just like I’d imagined, all the floats would pass under Dutch and Tulip before the closing ceremonies. Ruth had been nominated as our grand marshal. Not really. I’d insisted and everyone had agreed. The original photos and sketches of Dutch and Tulip that she’d donated earned her the honor. The windmill, complete with working blades, was now home to the memorabilia and the quilt the ladies had worked so hard on. Holland’s own museum if you will. Jonas and I didn’t have the heart to tell Ruth no, so she would be riding with him on his motorcycle, instead of a convertible as she led the parade through the streets of Holland. I’d bought Ruth her very own helmet for the occasion. In big hot pink letters it said, “Grand Duchess.” School was out for the summer, for which I was grateful. Well, not really. Now that Dutch and Tulip were almost done, what would I do with my time? When I got asked to play softball, I respectfully declined. I don’t mean to whine, but my ankle still bothers me in the mornings. Kelly suggested several exercises, but like yoga and self- defense, I couldn’t find the time. Really I just didn’t want to do it. You’d think Kelly would know me better by now. I would not be leading Park and Rec this year. Dana and Kara had agreed to split the duties, but knowing me, I’d end up at the park anyway. I couldn’t stay away. Even though I was asked to stop coming. “What? You can’t be serious? Why?” I’d asked. Gloria and Faye were ganging up on me. “You’ve done so much, Lily. Let the unveiling be a surprise for you.” When I looked like I was going to argue, each gave me a stern look, “This is not a request, young lady. We mean it. You are no longer welcome at the park. Not yet at least.” They were smiling and I hated what that could mean. Now I was at a complete loss. I couldn’t even visit Dutch and Tulip. I thought about going back to my pro/con list, but instead I threw it away. Life isn’t about lists. I cleaned, and I mean really cleaned, my house. It was getting gross like the apartment I’d lived in my last year of college. I was pretty sure there was something living in my bathtub and I didn’t have time for another pet. Jay surprised me and stopped by on my first night in exile. And he came bearing gifts. “Heard you’ve been banned,” he said, smiling. “Thought you might be feeling lost. There’s a House Hunters marathon on tonight. You interested?” Nah. I have no desire to spend the evening with you Jay. “Yes, but only because you brought Gaslight pizza.” Are we dating? He calls and comes by, but he’s never actually said the words. What do you think? One week passed into the next. I rode my bike or walked by the park a minimum of three times a day, hoping to catch a glimpse, but my hopes were always dashed. Dutch and Tulip were still playing hide and seek under the parachutes. I could only imagine what was going on and how much Dutch loved the privacy it gave him with his love. Dutch was upright now and I breathed easier knowing that much was done at least. Tulip could breathe easier too. She had her Dutch back where he belonged. ~~~~~ June 22nd. My birthday. Over a quarter of century now.
  • Kelly had to work and since it was Thursday I knew Mom would skip quilting to be with her only child, but hated for her to do that. I lied and told her I had plans with Jonas. She and I would do something this weekend. That something probably involving me and a sewing machine, but whatever, it made her happy. Bill and Tootsie were on vacation and Ruth was quilting with Mom, so the neighborhood felt lonely. I wandered around my yard pulling weeds. When I was done with mine, I pulled Tootsie’s too. I adjusted my Dutch and Tulip so they were closer still. Dutch looked like he was about to push Tulip over, but it was cute, imagining them in a game of sorts. Sure they were safe now, I had the spare pair out for display as well. I placed the other set on the opposite side of the house for balance. I didn’t want to be tacky. Just having put the finishing touches on the Dutch costume, I was surprised when Jay called at 4:30PM, which is out of character for him. He usually waits until later to call. Which he does every night now. Even the nights he comes over. Which he does every night now. Again I ask. Do you think we’re dating? It sort of feels like we are. When he kisses me and he does a lot, I’m sure we are. But we never talk about it. So I’m trying really hard not to hyper- focus on that aspect. Instead, I enjoy focusing on all the kissing. “Something’s happened at the park.” Jay announced. Dammit all to hell! At what point did I become such a potty mouth, as my students would say. I know I’m not much for profanity, but gosh dang it! I’m sick and tired of phone calls that start this way. It never, never ends well for Dutch and Tulip. Or me. Somehow their bad luck had become mine and I think we’re due for some good. “What now?” I was already sending up prayers. Please, please God. Let them be okay. Keep them safe from harm. Or more harm. I amended. “You’ll see when you get here.” Jay didn’t sound happy and I wondered what could have happened. I didn’t know if I should be sad or mad, but by the time I got to the park, I was plenty of both. I’d worked myself into a tizzy when Jay met me at my car. “How bad is it?” I asked, dreading the answer. Opening the door, Jay took my hand and said, “Come on and I’ll show you.” Walking hand in hand, Jay led me toward Dutch. While Jay held the parachute aside, I entered what felt like a hidden world. It was bright outside, but under the sheet it was shadowy and suddenly romantic. There was a blanket laid neatly on the ground, next to Tulip’s newly painted clogs. A basket, balloons, candles and my Dutch and Tulip dolls were set out on top. Each doll was holding a single cupcake and Jay had placed them to appear as if they were holding hands. “Happy birthday,” Jay smiled, looking proud of himself. I was no longer sad or mad. I was in love. But, we already knew that. Still holding hands, we walked around the couple I’d loved my whole life. They weren’t quite done yet, but Tulip appeared to be, so I ignored her with a quick glance. Dutch was only complete from the waist up and I sighed in relief noting the crack was gone. The restorers had done a fantastic job. You couldn’t see where the damage had been. Dutch’s ass looked perfectly rounded and crack-free. Whatever material they’d used was a greyish color and would soon be painted a nice shiny red. I looked up to their faces and froze. “Well? What do you think?” Jay asked, excited.
  • Kissing. There was a whole lot of kissing going on. “How…I don’t understand?” I said, dumbfounded. “After Dutch was upright, the restorers realized they could move him where he should have been 50 years ago. Now Holland really does have the world’s largest kissing couple.” I never thought I’d live to see the day. Their lips were touching! They were kissing! I threw myself at Jay. Not very ladylike, but I was so happy. Jay responded by catching me. Then he kissed me. Kissed me under Dutch and Tulip. This was it! I’d gotten my Holland Kiss. My own Holland Kiss. “How long have you known about this?” I asked, still in awe of the fact that they were kissing. “They told me weeks ago, but we wanted to keep it a secret from everyone. Especially you, but since it’s your birthday, I thought you deserved a sneak peek. There’s something else.” Jay turned me away from him and toward Tulip. Nothing could be better than this. Dutch and Tulip lip-locked was the most amazing sight. Dutch was likely over the moon. He could kiss his girl whenever he wanted. “Notice something different about Tulip?” Jay urged. That did it! I cried, not even trying to stop the tears of joy as they ran down my face. My nose started running, ruining any further romance, but I didn’t care. Green eyes. Tulip’s eyes were no longer blue. They were green. Just like mine. “Remember when you said I looked like him?” Jay asked. I nodded, it’s all I could do for the tears. “Then I said you looked like her, but you got all huffy and told me your eyes weren’t blue.” “I did not get huffy,” I managed to speak. I don’t do huffy. “Yes you did. I could see it in your eyes. Your beautiful green eyes. You thought I didn’t know what color they were. But I did. I do.” Taking me in his arms, Jay wiped the tears from my face and continued to sweep me off my feet with his words. “I love the way your eyes see the world. How they see beauty in a wheat field or how they light up when you talk about Ruth. I love how they sparkle when you look at Dutch and Tulip.” He kissed my cheeks. First one, then the other, “I love how your eyes look at me.” “I guess you have a thing for my eyes then?” “For more than that, but yeah. I love your not-blue eyes.” His own baby blues watched me intently. “Why though? People will be expecting her to be the same. Don’t you think it will look silly? A blonde hair, blue-eyed boy with a blonde hair, green-eyed girl?” I didn’t want people to be mad, because this was over the top. Jay kissed me again, before answering, “We thought it would be a nice tribute to you, for all your hard work. And no, I don’t think they look silly. Blue-eyed boys fall in love all the time with green-eyed girls.” Chapter 26
  • “Oh Dutch! I’m so excited!” Tulip could hear people talking outside, but couldn’t see them. But she knew this was their big moment. “This is it, flower. Any minute now, they’re going to show us off to the world. It’ll be perfect.” Dutch just knew that this was his day. “It would be even better if Lily was the one getting married. Brock and Molly aren’t right. They’re just not right for us.” “I agree, but there’s not much we can do about it now.” Or was there? “How do I look?” Tulip suddenly had a case of stage fright. She wanted to tell Dutch to break a leg, but didn’t think he’d appreciate the sentiment. “You look perfect as always.” Although her eyes were no longer blue, Dutch realized that green was his favorite color. “Fifty years, Tulip. I’ve waited 50 years for my kiss.” He didn’t want to plead for a kiss. Lord knows he’d tried. “Will you please let me kiss you? Pretty please?” “We’ll see.” Tulip stated and then shocked Dutch by winking. ~~~~~ “We’re thrilled.” A reporter had just asked me the most ridiculous question. How did Holland feel now that Dutch and Tulip were restored? What kind of question is that? Ugh! Couldn’t they come up with something better than that? Of course, we were thrilled. Who comes up with these questions anyway? Don’t you have to go to college to be a reporter? Sorry. I’m tired, hot, cranky and the day’s just starting. Last night, after the reveal, which by the way was AMAZING! Seriously, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I’ll never, as long as I live, forget how Dutch and Tulip looked when the sheets were pulled down. A gasp had gone through the crowd as everyone got their first look at our newly restored kissing couple. Honest to God kissing! All the couples in the crowd took a moment to do some kissing of their own. And I got another myself. One big group Holland Kiss and no one commented negatively about Tulip’s new eye color. In fact, the committee surprised me further by having a plaque placed at the base of Tulip, explaining the change and reason why. Better than any old brick, I’d be forever connected to Dutch and Tulip. After the reveal, the renewal couples, along with Brock and Molly, had rehearsed for today’s ceremonies. Brock and Molly hadn’t been cooperative. They’d obviously fought earlier and I knew Dutch and Tulip had their work cut out for them with this couple. Mrs. Furst was thrilled that Anthony was here. She was still hoping he’d decide to move, but after Kelly made fun of the way he was dressed and how he talked, I doubt Anthony will be making Holland his new home. Jay didn’t warm up to Anthony either, but that’s okay. I’m pretty sure at this point that Jay and I are an item. His jealousy was flattering. He must not like other men appreciating my green eyes. Anthony took it in stride and he, Kelly, Jonas, Jay, myself and the rest of the committee had stayed late to ensure everything was ready for today’s activities. I was beat tired, but having stayed up late kissing Jay on my back porch was worth any grogginess and bloodshot eyes now. I was dressed in a tank top and shorts; my Tulip costume would have to wait. It was simply too hot to wear it now. I did have the braids though and Dutch’s costume was in my car. Just in case Brock and Molly changed their minds about the costumes.
  • Molly wanted to run through their portion one more time, even though we’d gone through it dozens of times last night. Cold feet or general crabbiness. I had to give her what she wanted. This was her day. I wished it could be mine, but in a way it was. Dutch and Tulip were as they should be. All was right in the world now. Dad, who was staying at a motel in Huntingburg, was by my side. Looking around, I knew he was uncomfortable with Mom on my other side. They were both being very nice to each other. And to me. I needed their support if I was going to deal with bridezilla. “What time is it?” I asked Dad. “Little after one.” Where the heck were they? If Molly wanted to practice so dang bad, she should be here. There wasn’t time for this today. I had to judge the beard contest in an hour. Jay and Jonas joined us. “What seems to be the hold-up?” Jay asked, shaking hands with my Dad and greeting Mom. Jonas didn’t bother with hello, “Who’s bright idea was it to have a beard growing contest in the middle of summer anyway?” Jonas was scratching his scruffy face, just as irritable as I. I ignored that, because it had been mine. Whoops. I guess I didn’t take the heat into consideration when I’d gotten the idea. Jonas couldn’t wait to shave it off, which in itself turned out to be another contest. Again, my idea. Women entered this time, though. Whoever got the man’s beard shaved first, won. Ruth was judging that and she couldn’t wait. She was so excited to be the Grand Duchess that you’d have thought we named her Miss Tulip, complete with crown and sash. Jonas had demanded Ruth be the judge or else she was demanding to shave his beard. I think that scared him. “Seriously Lily! Couldn’t you have picked a different couple? This one sucks!” Kelly was hot and cranky too. Sweat was running down her face. It was so hot that she’d broken down and bought a plastic bottle of water and was using it to wipe across her forehead. She’s probably also worried that she’s going to environmental hell over her purchase. Clearing his throat, while wiping sweat from his own brow, Rev. Koeln responded, “Thank you Kelly. We’ll wait a few more minutes. I’m sure they’re just running behind.” Brock and Molly were so sure of their love that they weren’t concerned with breaking the tradition by seeing one another today. To my way of thinking, they needed all the help they could get. Hopefully, Dutch and Tulip’s magic would be enough to save their future. “Hey! I think that’s their car,” Kelly was pointing toward Highway 161 and we all turned to look. I saw Brock’s car just before I saw it. My next thought was, “No! Don’t swerve!” Everyone knows you should never swerve for an animal. ~~~~~ The ambulance was leaving, sirens blaring, lights on, as it took Brock and Molly to Memorial Hospital in Jasper. Molly was shaken, but otherwise fine. Brock, however, hadn’t come out unscathed. He wasn’t dying, but his left leg was likely broken. He’d carried on as if he’d taken a bullet the entire time Rev. Koeln was praying over him. When he’d swerved to avoid the chipmunk, Brock had overcorrected and driven into the Welcome to Holland sign. Not a good match for a head on with a car.
  • Bad as I felt for Brock, I found myself more worried about the fact that we didn’t have a couple now. Bill, who was escorting Tootsie to their car, wouldn’t be renewing their vows either. “It’s okay, Lily. You don’t have to have a couple get married. The renewals are good enough.” Kelly was probably right, but still. Having a real wedding was going to kick start the tradition and be the perfect end to all our hard work. Argh! Why can’t things just go as planned for once?! “I know, but …I don’t know. I just wanted it to be perfect. Dutch and Tulip deserve as much. Jonas?” Still scratching his beard, he looked like a mountain man. “What would you say to marrying Kelly?” I suggested, jokingly. Even though Kelly and Jonas would make a great couple. Jonas paled and Kelly looked hotter, if that was possible. “Will you marry me?” Jay asked, surprising everyone, his blue eyes twinkling in the afternoon sun. Huh? Was he talking to me? “I’m sorry? What?” I was having an out-of-body experience. I think. “You heard me.” Getting down on bended knee, Jay took my left hand in his. “This was my great-grandmother’s.” Placing the ring on my finger, Jay continued, “I was going to ask you tonight during the fireworks, but now is as good a time as any. Come on, Lily. It’s perfect. Dutch and Tulip need a couple and I need you.” Holding my hand to his chest, Jay continued, “Besides we’ve already got the costumes.” He smiled. The one I loved so much. I looked around. Kelly smiled and Jonas winked. Mom started crying and Dad looked uncomfortable. I looked up to Dutch and Tulip and felt their magic in the air. “Yes, Jay. I will marry you.” And I knew our marriage would be a blessed one. ~~~~~ Sitting under Dutch and Tulip, in the arms of my husband. Yep, my husband, I watched the explosion of fireworks. Lillian Kay Heimerschmitt. That’s me. I’d waited my whole life for this. I’d done it. I’d married under Dutch and Tulip. We’d get our very own brick. Even better, Jay and I had been dressed like them. A blonde hair, blue-eyed boy had married a blonde hair, green-eyed girl. The crowd had loved it. Cheering as we shared our first kiss as man and wife. “Well, Mrs. Heimerschmitt, what do you think?” My husband looked so handsome. Don’t tell Tulip, but I think I got the better Dutch boy. Still holding my bouquet of yellow tulips, I couldn’t bear to throw them, “I think I couldn’t be happier than I am at this very moment. I got everything I ever wanted.” And it had been here all along. Right here in Holland. “Lily mine,” Jay breathed against my neck. The evening had cooled after sunset; it was now a balmy 94 degrees. “Excuse me?” No hyphenated name for this gal. My new name was enough of a tongue twister. “Not that Mein. Mine. Lily mine,” Jay said, as he gave me another Holland Kiss. ~~~~~
  • “We did it, Dutch! We really did it. Did you see the look on Lily’s face when Jay gave here that ring?” Tulip had nearly swooned when Jay had proposed, not that she knew what that meant. “I can’t wait to see what their children look like.” Watching Jay and Lily’s children playing at the park would be yet another dream come true. “Yes, we did,” Dutch said, proudly. “Jay got his Lily. Now do I get my flower?” Bringing his large hands from behind his back, Dutch presented Tulip with her long awaited flowers. “These are for the girl I love. You Tulip,” Dutch smiled, as he handed Tulip her bouquet. “They’re beautiful, Dutch. I love them.” Tulip had wondered all these years what her flowers looked like. Now she knew. Yellow tulips. How sweet that he’d chosen her favorite flower. “And I love you,” Tulip said, suddenly shy around the boy she’d loved since forever. “I know, sweetheart. Now how about that kiss?” Dutch said anxiously. Leaning in, finally bridging the distance that for years had separated him from his love, Dutch touched his lips to Tulips. Finally getting his own Holland Kiss. ~~~~~ A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR Praise to God. Thanks and much love to my husband, children and sister, Kelly; Kara, Dana, Angie and many, many thanks to Mary Jeanne. CONNECT WITH DUTCH AND TULIP If you enjoyed Dutch and Tulip let them know by visiting their Facebook page or emailto:dutchandtulip@live.com There are more adventures on the way for Dutch and Tulip. Look for their next story, A HOLLAND FURST..