I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and the city holds many great memories for me. There is nothing like coming back to a warm, friendly place to catch up with those close to us.
That`s not quite how I felt when I slowed to a crawl as I entered Veikko Aho`s driveway. Creeping between the two stone lions that guard the opening of his drive, I felt kind of little. And poor. Really poor. Like church mouse poor. I was anxious to see Liz and her love, but I was feeling a tad out of place among such wealth.
Aho lives in Radnor Township, a county that is just one of many affluent communities that lie along the Main Line. The history of the area is pretty fascinating. The 'Main Line' refers to the old Pennsylvania Railroad line that ran northwest from downtown Philadelphia parallel to Lancaster Avenue. In the 19th century, the towns along the Main Line slowly became sprawling country estates that belonged to some of Philadelphia`s most wealthy families. Over the years the term 'old money' has been bandied about when describing those who dwell in the Radnor, Lower Merion, Gladwyne, and Villanova counties.
I wasn`t visiting the world of old money today. Nope. Today I was entering the world of new money. Sports money. Big sports money. When I parked my maroon Dodge Caravan with the peeling New York Rangers bumper sticker behind a white Jaguar, I knew I was out of my element. I felt like Granny Clampett when she first laid eyes on Beverly Hills. I exited my van, straightened my slacks and sweater, then gave the gurgling fountain we were all parked around a look. I hurried over to toss a dime into the crystal clear water. I wished not to make a fool out of myself. I gave my watch a fast look. Good. I wasn`t late. Being late, even by a minute or two, is considered very bad form by the Finns.
When I tripped while ogling the exterior of the ten thousand square foot estate, it was Jethro Bodine I most resembled. Obviously the dime didn`t work. I should have used a quarter. My hand was poised to knock when the double doors flew open. I was more than taken aback when someone threw their arms around me. It took me just a moment to realize it was Liz hugging me tightly as opposed to Veikko`s delightful cook/housekeeper, Mrs. Fraser. We both drew back giggling a moment later. I gave the young woman a fast, motherly once-over. It was hard to imagine that this finely dressed, glowing woman was the same Gothic girl we met in Pink Pucks & Power Plays. It appeared that loving, and being loved, by Veikko had helped our shy black and grey caterpillar transform into a vibrant butterfly.
"You look like you won the lottery," I said as we stepped into the foyer, arm in arm. I took a moment to slip off my shoes, as is custom in Finnish households, or so the internet tells me.
"I feel like I did," Liz confided as I was led over black-and-white Italian tiles."We`re really happy you could come out to visit."
"So am I," I said, allowing the new countess to lead me down an airy corridor lined with modern artwork. "Obviously life on the Main Line agrees with you?"
She blushed attractively. "It does," she confessed, "And Mama is doing well."
"Good." I patted her arm. I knew how dearly Liz loved her mother, Helen. And how much Helen depended on Elizabeth. We stepped into the living room. Veikko rose from the couch, an Xbox controller in his hand. I blinked. The goalie winked. I clamped my mouth closed so I didn`t start gushing. Veikko had that effect on me. I wasn`t sure what it was about him. Maybe the icy blue eyes, or the thick sandy blond hair styled impeccably, or the dark blue sweater that made his eyes and perfect white teeth seem that much brighter. Or his cologne. Or the way he tossed the controller aside to clasp my hand between both of his. Yeah, goalies send me
"Please, sit down. Can I get you a drink?" Veikko asked. I sat on the end of a plush sofa, my attention drawn to the black baby grand in front of a wall of solid glass.
"A diet soda would hit the spot nicely. So, tell me about how it`s been since we saw you two last. Or do I need to ask?" I chuckled when Liz grew pink. Veikko smiled at his lady love then went to get my drink. You would think that he would be more touchy-feely but this Finn simply isn`t an overly demonstrative person. Liz sat down beside me. I had always noticed a cool exterior to Veikko. Players on other teams call him cold, or aloof. Uppity has also been bandied about, as well as other derogatory things, most said when Aho has shut out his opposition. I simply chalk it up to his personality combined with his upbringing. He certainly has shown he has a fiery side when he`s alone with Liz!
"It`s been really wonderful. The holidays were super! Someone spent far too much on presents." She gave her 'Count' a pointed look. Veikko shrugged a wide shoulder.
"What is all the money I make if I can`t spend it on the woman I love?" I couldn`t argue with that philosophy. He padded back to us then handed me a tumbler full of fizzy soda. "Kippis!" he said then tapped his soda-filled glass to mine.
"That means 'Cheers!'" Liz whispered as I took a drink. "I`m picking up a bit of both languages."
"I speak Pennsylvanian and not all that well," I said, took a sip, then placed my soda to a round cork coaster on the coffee table. "This is really a lovely house," I said, enjoying the warmth of a spring sun flowing in the windows. "I have to ask, since I`m sure the readers wish to know, is there anything that you`ve discovered about each other that -- you were playing Grand Theft Auto 5?"
A sheepish look moved over his face. I noticed the couple were discreetly holding hands.
"He`s a video game addict," Liz whispered. Veikko nodded in agreement." But yes, there are a few things that we`ve discovered about each other since last fall." Liz turned her pretty brown eyes to Veikko. "Can I tell her about your toothbrush thing?"
"If I can tell her about the way you put away laundry."Liz`s cute nose wrinkled."She has this habit of simply tossing her delicates into the drawer!"
"Who cares if your underwear is wrinkled? It`s not like anyone is going to see them," Liz argued lightheartedly. "Am I right?"
I couldn`t help but notice how relaxed and brimming with self-assurance Liz seemed to be. From her casual but well-made pants and blouse, to the new haircut. Even her make-up was light, natural, sophisticated.
"Don`t yank me into the middle of your domestic underpants battle," I replied then took a quick sip of my soda. I just caught the flash of white fur in my peripheral.
"Some help you are," Liz said, working to make her frown look sincere."This man is the biggest nitpicker when it comes to clothes. Everything has to be ironed. Even his socks and underwear."
"My underwear do not have to be ironed, Piglet," he said, squeezing her thin fingers tenderly. "Now my socks on the other hand…"
"You two sound like an old married couple already."
They both said 'Thank You' at the same time. Could two people really be this happy? Do fairy tale romances really happen, and last? I had a thought to ask about future plans. Maybe get a scoop about impending nuptials, a tidbit about any baby plans. I knew both had fervent wishes to settle down and procreate. A snowy ferret climbed up the sofa, then raced across the table, sending glasses, magazines, and the remote for the huge plasma tumbling to the floor.
"Someone`s in a hurry to get to Isengard," Veikko commented, his voice tinted with exasperation. Liz grabbed up her pet. The Wildcats goalie went to fetch a towel from the bar.
"I swear, Gandalf," Liz hissed at the ferret. He squeaked and wriggled. The bid for freedom did not work. Veikko returned, then dropped to one knee to dab at the dark cola staining the new off-white carpeting. "He`s a scamp," the young woman said as she rubbed her cheek against Gandalf`s furry side.
"Scamp is one word for him. Smärta i röven."
I looked at Liz for a translation. She lifted a thin shoulder in reply.
"It means pain-in-the-ass," Veikko informed us without looking up from the stained carpet.
"You love him, even if he is a pain-in-the-ass." Liz winked at me. The man on his knee dabbing soda made a grunting sound that made us ladies smile. A sharp knock on the wall of glass pulled all of our attention from the troublesome ferret, and his mess. Liz`s mother, Helen, and Mrs. Fraser, the housekeeper/cook were waving at us, their hands covered with dirt and their noses red.
"She looks so happy here," I said as we all waved back.
"They couldn`t wait to work the flower beds. Mom`s been rather anxious to get her gnomes outside among the posies." Liz made Gandalf wave a paw. Helen and Mrs. Fraser both laughed then returned to their garden duties.
"Helen has settled in well," Veikko said as he rinsed out the towel behind the bar.
"She really has," Liz said, releasing her ferret. Off Gandalf went. We all had a good chuckle when the impish thing scrambled over the keys of the piano, scaring himself badly. No amount of cajoling from his owner could get him to stay in the living room now.
"It sounds like this house is full of fun times," I giggled as the ferret skidded across the tiles lining the hall.
"It is now," Veikko said, his eyes moving from the dirty towel he was wringing out to his Countess. Liz`s smooth cheeks grew rosy.
I was no physic. I had no finger on the pulse of the future, but I suspected that this new couple would be sharing many tender moments and laughs in the days to come. It`s not often one gets to see love so pure, so sweet, so sensual. I had a warm feeling flare to life deep inside.
"Call me an old romantic, but I can`t wait to see what the future holds for you two," I said, feeling rather verklempt.
"Us either," Liz said rather wistfully. "How long do we have to wait for O Captain! My Captain!"
"Oh, not too long," I teased."Maggie would get snippy if I let her story sit untold."
"I hope she finds the kind of love that we have," Veikko said then lifted his Countess`s hand to his lips. The kiss he placed on her knuckles was regal. The look in his their eyes when Liz looked at Veikko made me sigh internally. "She deserves it."
"Oh, I suspect Maggie will do just fine," I said. So far I was batting a thousand. Oops, wrong sport. Well, you all know what I mean.