Sander De Vries watched the fair-haired child in blue overalls approach his grandson Liam in the sandpit at Ballam Park. The child, Sander assumed a boy, reached out for Liam’s spade. Liam, in typical three-year-old fashion, yanked it away and yelled “Mine!”.
“Liam! You can share!” Sander exclaimed, rising to his feet.
The child’s mother stood to the left of him, ruffling her short, brown hair in frustration. “Aidan don’t snatch!”. She walked towards the sandpit, as did Sander. Both of them crouched down to the children’s level.
“Is my spade, Opa!” Liam protested indignantly.
Sander smiled quickly at the other boy’s mother before addressing Liam. “You and your new friend can play together, can’t you?”. He turned to Aidan, his hazel eyes twinkling. “Your name is Aidan, yes?”.
Aidan nodded. “You talk funny” he informed Sander.
Sander laughed, a deep, rumbling chuckle. “I’m from a country called Holland” he told Aidan. “A long way away from here. My name is Sander De Vries, and this is Liam”. He turned to the woman as he introduced himself and his grandson.
“I’m Emily McLean” Aidan’s mother introduced herself, blushing at Aidan’s candour. She offered her hand for Sander to shake. His large hand engulfed hers. Emily noted how strong his grip was. He had lovely shaped hands and his right wrist was adorned with a beaded bracelet and several leather bands. Emily had always been a sucker for male arm jewellery. It wasn’t just his hands that were attractive, either. Extremely tall, Emily guessed about 195 centimetres, and broad-shouldered, his well-built body was that of an avid exerciser. His beard and hair were more salt than pepper, but his physique was that of a much younger man. Emily blushed again as she contemplated how handsome Sander was.
“It’s nice to meet both of you” Sander beamed at Emily. He gestured to the boys, who were now playing together quite happily, heads close together. “We’ll be here for a while, I think. Shall we sit?”
He waited for Emily to sit on the nearby park bench before he sat again, next to her but not too close.
“I heard Liam call you ‘Opa’. What does that mean?” Emily wondered.
“Grandpa” Sander answered, proudly. “Liam is my daughter’s son and my eldest grandchild”.
“He’s adorable” Emily remarked, smiling fondly at the two little boys.
“He is”, Sander agreed, “and so is Aidan”.
Emily’s button nose wrinkled. “Aidan is lucky he’s so cute because he’s a complete ratbag!”.
Sander laughed again. “That is my favourite Australian word” he confessed. “It took me ages when I first came here to properly use that in a sentence!”.
“How long have you lived here?” Emily queried. His accent was quite strong, but his English was excellent.
“I moved here when I was twenty-six, so….”, he mentally calculated, “twenty-six years ago”. He smirked at Emily. “Don’t mind the hair colour. I started going grey at thirty!”.
Emily laughed. “You’ve lived here longer than me. I’m twenty-four. You have a lovely accent” she complimented Sander.
Sander shrugged. “Not bad for an old Kaaskop”.
“What’s a Kaaskop?” Emily’s face frowned in puzzlement.
“A Cheese-head. That’s what the Germans started calling the Dutch in World War Two. It was meant to be an insult, I think, but every Dutchie I knew just adopted it” Sander explained, grinning. “I’ve been called worse!”
“Yeah, and probably since migrating to Australia” Emily guessed. “Aussies are a bit brutal!”
“’A bit’? Aah, there’s that wonderful Aussie trait of understatement” he teased her. They both laughed. After a minute or two, Sander spoke again. “Would you like a coffee? My treat”. He motioned to the coffee van stationed on the outskirts of the park.
Emily couldn’t resist the opportunity to tease him back. “I heard all Dutchies were tight!”. Her green eyes sparkled with mirth as she looked at him.
He shook a long finger at her, chuckling. “Stout meisje! Naughty girl!”. He stood, brushing the seat of his jeans. Emily stole a quick look at his toned behind before meeting his eyes. He noticed and grinned, which made her face redden again. “What would you like? A latte? A cappuccino?”
“A cappuccino, please. No sugar” Emily requested, barely able to speak through her embarrassment.
Sander wandered to the coffee van. Emily watched him saunter off gracefully on his long legs. Stop checking him out, woman! You are acting like an idiot! She mentally berated herself, but there was no denying that the man was extremely attractive. He’s only fifty-two. Brad Pitt is older than him and you’ve always thought Brad was hot she told herself. Still, it felt kind of strange to have these type of thoughts about a man she’d actually met who was twenty-eight years her senior and a grandfather. Grandfathers were supposed to be cute and sweet, but not sexy as well, though this one was.
Emily was still pondering over the appropriateness of her thoughts about Sander when he came back with their coffees. He handed Emily’s to her. “I got you full cream milk. I hope that was okay”.
“Thank you” Emily accepted the paper cup gratefully. “How do you say, ‘thank you’ in Dutch?”
“Dank je wel” he informed her, pronouncing ‘wel’ as ‘vel’.
She repeated the phrase hesitantly, earning a smile from Sander. “Erg goed – very good” he praised.
An expression of consternation crept over her face. “I’m not sure that I can make that noise” she said, referring to the guttural ‘g’ sound that he’d made in his reply.
“You’ll be right, mate” Sander wisecracked, in an attempt at a broad Australian accent. He winked at her. She giggled. Sander caught his breath at the sound. How lovely to hear a young girl laugh he thought. And Emily was young – less than half his age. The lyrics of The Police song Don’t Stand So Close To Me snuck into his head: Just like the old man in that book by Nabokhov. Sander was attracted to Emily. He felt somewhat guilty about it, but, then, he’d caught her checking him out as well. The short-statured brunette who sat beside him was beautiful and sweet-natured, with a good sense of humour. She was a petite woman, but her smile was enormous and lit up her heart-shaped face. He surreptitiously glanced at her left hand. No wedding band, not that that meant she wasn’t married. Godverdomme, man, what are you thinking? He swore at himself. She was just chatting with him, being friendly to an old man. He fiddled with his coffee cup to divert his attention to something else.
“You said Liam was your eldest grandchild. How many more do you have?” Emily’s question interrupted his thoughts.
“One more. An eight-week-old sweetheart called Faina. Would you like to see a photo?”.
“I’d love to” Emily stated enthusiastically. Sander got his phone out of his pocket and pressed a few buttons, then turned the screen to show her a picture of a tiny infant with light brown skin and a mass of black hair.
“My son’s partner is of Indian heritage” he explained.
“Oh my god, what a beautiful little doll!” Emily exclaimed.
“Her name means ‘fairy’ in Gujarati. My son-in-law’s family is originally from Gujarat” Sander explained.
“And how old is Liam?” Emily asked. It was abundantly clear that Sander doted on his grandchildren.
“His birthday is in August– he turned three. My daughter, Saskia, and her husband threw him a Paw Patrol party”.
Emily smiled. “Aidan likes Paw Patrol too, but he’s really into dinosaurs. His third birthday was in July. I made him a Stegosaurus cake. It turned out pretty well, I thought”. She flicked through her phone and held out a photo of the cake for him to see.
The skin on the sides of his eyes crinkled as he smiled. “That looks fantastic”.
“Thanks. I love baking and it saves money on buying cakes” Emily stated. “Kids are great but they’re expensive”.
“They are. I don’t know how young families survive without help from their extended families these days” Sander commented.
“We wouldn’t. I’m a single mum and, if Aidan and I didn’t live at home with my folks, we’d be stuffed!” Emily blurted out without thinking. She took a gulp of scalding hot coffee to stop herself from talking further.
“It’s good that your Mum and Dad are raising Aidan with you. My wife always used to say that it takes a village to raise a child” Sander said.
“Mum says that as well. She minds Aidan when I go to work, so I don’t have to put him in Childcare. She’s an awesome grandmother. I bet your wife is too”.
Sander digested her words with a wistful smile. “She would have been a wonderful Oma. Sadly, she passed away before Liam was born. Cancer”.
Emily gasped and covered her mouth. “Oh. I’m so sorry”.
She looked so distraught that Sander touched her hand. “It’s all right, liefje. It was a while ago”.
Emily looked up at him. Her hand was still under his. “What does ‘leefya’ mean?” Emily pronounced the word phonetically.
Sander held her gaze. “It’s a term of endearment, like ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart’”.
Oh, that’s cute Emily said silently. Cute and sweet.
“Mummy, look!” Aidan shouted from the sandpit.
Emily and Sander turned in the direction of Aidan’s voice to see the sandcastle that the two boys had built. The tower of sand rose almost as tall as the builders. “That’s terrific, boys! Great work!” Emily praised them.
“Opa, I’m hungry” Liam announced loudly.
Sander raised his black eyebrows, an indulgent grin on his face. “Of course, you are, mannetje. You’re always hungry!”
“I’n hungry too” Aidan added.
Emily began to unzip the backpack that she’d brought with her. “I’ve got sandwiches in here for you, buddy” she told him.
“Emily, would you and Aidan like to come to Hungry Jack’s with Liam and I? It’s what we usually do after we go to the park. Whoppers are my guilty pleasure” Sander confessed.
Emily hesitated. Aidan needed new shoes this week and she needed to get her car serviced, so money was tight. Sander guessed at the reason for her reluctance to accept his invitation. “At the risk of ruining my miserly reputation again, I would be happy to pay for whatever you and your boy want to eat”.
His lopsided, boyish grin was irresistible to Emily. She highly suspected that he knew its effect on her. Damn him. “Thank you, that would be lovely” she accepted.
The pair stood and Sander called out to the boys. “Who wants to go to Hungry Jack’s?”
“Me! Me!” Both boys shouted and jumped around before tearing over to them.
“Go get your bucket and spade, mannetje” Sander directed Liam, who had left them in the sandpit.
Liam ran back to collect them and then stood at his Opa’s feet eagerly. “Ready, Opa”.
The boys were strapped into their respective strollers and they headed along Frankston-Cranbourne Road to the Hungry Jack’s restaurant situated in Karingal Hub shopping centre car park. They found a table and the boys and Emily sat. They gave their orders to Sander, who went to the counter.
When their food came, the toddlers attacked their chicken nuggets and chips with gusto, keeping up a constant stream of chatter. “I love nuggets. Do you love nuggets?” Liam asked his new friend. Aidan had a mouthful of chips, so he just nodded as Liam continued “Opa likes stinky fish!”.
Emily choked on her water as she giggled. “What?”
Sander ruffled Liam’s strawberry blond hair. “They’re called Rollmops, mannetje, not stinky fish!”. He looked at Emily. “Pickled Herring”.
“Sounds like something the Swedish Chef would prepare” Emily taunted him, smirking.
He shook his head at her. “Not Swedish, Emily – Dutch. Much better” he joked.
God, he’s flirting with me! Emily was suddenly highly engrossed in her chicken wrap. Her stomach fluttered and her breath hitched. He’s flirting with me in front of my three-year-old son and his three-year-old grandson!. She couldn’t decide if she should feel flattered or scandalised, but she was steering more towards flattered.
After they had finished their meals, they headed back to Ballam Park to get to their cars. Aidan nodded off almost as soon as Emily started pushing his stroller. Liam was fighting a losing battle against sleep, judging by the way his eyelids were struggling to stay open. Emily unlocked her green Commodore VY and picked up her deadweight son to place him in his car seat. Sander was about to help, but he saw that she had it covered. She turned to Sander and Liam, who was finally asleep in his stroller. “Thank you once again for a great day. Aidan and I had so much fun”.
“Thank you for your company, Emily” Sander said. “I really enjoyed spending time with you. Would you like to do it again some time?”.
Emily wondered if he meant catching up with the boys or just the two of them. Either way, she was keen for that to happen. “I would like that very much, Sander. Do you have a mobile phone?”
Sander reached into the hip pocket of his jeans and handed her his phone. She plugged her number in and passed it back to him. He grabbed her hand in his as it held his phone. “You are a lovely woman, Emily. I look forward to seeing you again”. His hazel eyes stared deeply into her green ones. “Take care of yourself and your beautiful boy”.