A Glass Of Red

The vines drooped in the breeze, small clusters of grapes shriveled in their bunches and the tang of overripe fruit perfumed the air. A crow cawed from a branch in the nearby orchard, where the trees also looked decidedly withered. I glanced down at my phone again, giving my friend a side-long glance. Candice did not seem impressed.

“Google maps says this is the right place.” We both looked around at the weeds bursting through the cracks in the pavement and the building that could very well collapse if a strong wind came through. Candice looked over my shoulder, raising her sunglasses to peer at the phone.

“We didn’t pass anything else for miles. Maybe they went out of business and never updated the website?”

I shrugged. Our European Going to be Wine road trip was not off to a good start. The plane in from Newark had been delayed. The flight absolutely horrific, setting a new all-time low for air travel experiences everywhere. And it looked like our first B&B vineyard stay was actually out of business.

I walked over and kicked the tire on our rental, half expecting it to pop off and roll down the mountainside. We’d hit a snag there too when the luxury model I had reserved had somehow ended up in a lake. The rental places excuses sounded far-fetched enough that I was starting to doubt they ever had a Land Rover in their parking lot. What we had driven away in something that only resembled a Volkswagen in that it had the expected round shape. Its various parts had been Frankensteined together in some mad mechanic’s shop. There were rusted out roof, a doughnut where the left rear tire should have been, and a dripping oil pan that left a pool of motor oil if the car sat for more than an hour. They’d hustled us out of there with a spare that was nicer than the tire on the care and a crate of oil, promising to bring the Land Rover to us as soon as it was ready. I had high hopes for that.

I leaned against the car, staring at the stone stacked walls of the house. Candice kicked a rock away with her sneaker and shuffled over to me. She looped her arm through mine and laid her head on my shoulder.

“I mean look at the bright side, sis,” she sighed. “We wanted an adventure, and we’re definitely getting one.”

I let out a sarcastic chuckle.

“We wanted an unforgettable trip. Something to take our minds off all the nonsense back home.”

“Unforgettable is perhaps the most positive thing we can say about this trip so far,” she mused. A smile threatened to curve across my mouth as I leaned my head against hers. “And I don’t know about you, but I haven’t thought about home since the plane took off.” I lost the battle to be upset and grinned in spite of myself. I raised up and looked at her.

“That was horrific wasn’t it?”

She nodded, her blonde ponytail bouncing furiously.

“I’m pretty sure the meal was cooked in jet fuel, and whatever was going on in the seat next to me was probably a felony.” I smiled at the thought.

“At least your couple got up and took it to the bathroom for a while. The old lady next to me snored and drooled on my arm the whole while gramps next to her was unashamedly watching porn on his iPad.” We both erupted into laughter.

“You have a point,” she said between chuckles. I grinned, wiping a tear away from my eye. We straightened, stepping back away from the car.

“Well, we passed a town a few miles back. Let’s head that way and see if they have an inn or something for the night. Then we can call the next place and see if we can move up our booking.” She saluted me.

“Sounds like a plan chief!” I rolled my eyes and walked around to the driver’s side. Candice opens her door and, seeing the steering wheel, shouts “Nope!” I laugh and we hurry to switch places. We were still getting used to driving in Europe. Just as we’re about to climb in we hear a joyous salutation. We turn and see an elderly stooped man coming out from the crumbling house, carrying a case of wine. He slowly lowers the box down to the ground and waves us over. We step hesitantly away from the car.

“Where the hell did he come from,” Candice whispers from the side of her mouth.

“Not a clue,” I grit back through a smile. He’s chatting on in some local dialect that neither of us bothered to learn before coming here. I mean we tried, but there’s only so much the language apps can prepare you for. We keep smiling as he shuffles forward and it finally dawns on him we have no idea what he’s saying.

“Americans?” He asks. We nod and his smile widens, his palms coming together before him as he bows. Candice sneaks a glance at me, her eyebrow quirked. “Apologies! Welcome friends to Sangre Vineyards. I do hope you weren’t waiting long.” His English is flawless, only slightly accented. Candice smiles back, stepping forward with her hand extended.

“Just a moment,” she says. His gnarled hand envelops hers. “Honestly, we thought we had the wrong place.” He looks behind him and gives a dismissive wave to the old building, laughing.

“Oh, no,” he chuckles. “This was the original house. We’ve remodeled and moved up the drive to a beautiful overlook. But we still use this as storage.” He glances behind him. “The family is hoping to restore it to its former glory soon.” He steps forward and shakes my hand. I keep smiling but something has me on edge. I can’t put my finger on it but this man is overly joyful. It’s got me feeling uneasy. Then again I never trust people straight away.

“We didn’t get a note in the directions about continuing up the drive,” I say, pulling my hand back quickly. He gives a playful scowl and shuffles back over to the crate.

“My nephew must have sent the old instructions by mistake,” He shuffles over to a small scooter tucked against the building, settling the crate into the box in the back. “Follow me up to the house,” he shouts as he cranks the engine and slowly folds himself onto the seat. He settles a helmet on his head and slowly motors out in front of us and up the dirt and gravel road winding up the hillside. We climb into our car. It takes two tries to get the engine to start. Candice pulls her seatbelt over her shoulder.

“Five bucks that thing doesn’t make it up the hill.”

“Candy, I’ll give you ten if we make it up that hill.”


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