When we left the hotel that morning, her blue and white dress hung from her body in waves, breathy and casual in the morning air. But we’d been in the sun for too long, and it had begun to cling to her thighs like spider web. Her skin – already tan from a summer spent at the beach – was starting to burn and her hair stuck to her forehead in clumps. She wore exhaustion well.
We’d been drinking wine for days, hopping from vineyard to vineyard, and pretending to know about legs and tannins. There had been photos taken in front of enormous oak barrels and guided tours through miles of vines. With each glass of red or white, we toed closer toward a line clearly felt but not yet seen.
Neither of us was hungry, but we ducked into a café off the square – as much for the air conditioning as anything. Most of the tables were empty – the lunch crowd having long dispersed into the surrounding vineyards, full with bread and cheese and thirsty once again. Behind the bar, an uninterested man in a stained apron wiped water spots off long-stemmed glasses. He nodded at us silently and glanced across the empty tables, encouraging us to sit anywhere.
She picked a spot near a window overlooking the square. Outside, the town’s four main roads converged to frame a small park. Families and couples lounged in its shady grass, enjoying a break from the heavy heat of the day and sinking into the contentment of each other’s company. As the waiter – another tired-faced man, bored with tourists – poured us tall glasses of water, she pointed out a young family of three spread out under a thick American Elm.
“Where do you think they are from?” she asked.
I pretended to think about the question deeply for a while, enjoying the game we had played all week.
“Tampa Bay,” I said eventually, “It’s their first vacation since having the kid, and he’s worried she’s doesn’t love him the way she used to. She thinks he works too much, but she is proud of him for it. The daughter’s name is something vaguely hippy. Meadow, maybe.”
“No,” she stopped me.
She leaned across the table, her chocolate eyes narrowing a bit with privileged information.
She burst forth with laughter that swept me up with it, and together we traded ridiculous names until the waiter returned with a wine list and a basket of bread. She picked a chardonnay from a vineyard up the valley and changed the subject to her flight the next day. After a couple of glasses, she turned again to the park and grew quiet.
“Do you think they are happy?” she asked softly, pressing a finger to the window in the direction of the Elm tree.
The family was gone, but she knew I understood.
“I think so. They looked happy,” I said, matching her quiet voice.
“They did, didn’t they?” she said, the corners of her mouth flirting with a smile.
I reached again for the bottle, offering her the dregs. She shook her head no.
“Are you happy?” I asked, pouring what remained into my own glass.
“Not entirely,” she said, “but I think I’m getting there.”
The sun had dropped significantly in the west, and the day’s heat had begun to fade. We left the café, and I pointed the car in the direction of the hotel, beginning the slow drive back to where we would spend our last night together. As I drove, she dropped her window and scooped her arm slowly through the evening air like a wing. We rounded a long curve and came alongside an old vineyard, unmarked and immense. Its rows sloped gently toward a outcropping of red rocks high above the valley.
“Pull over,” she said suddenly.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
I moved slowly to soft shoulder of the road, and she bolted from the car without a word. She ducked under a fence and ran into the field full-tilt, waving behind for me to follow. I caught up to her a hundred yards from the car when she finally stopped running. She walked ahead of me, running a hand along the length of each plant, careful not to damage the delicate vines. They looked primeval – their thick gray trunks gnarled and sturdy, tapering into green tendrils bearing bulging clusters of fruit. She picked a plant at random and stopped in front of it, again touching its leaves and crop, before picking a handful of grapes and popping one in her mouth.
“Here,” she said finally, “try some with me.”
She reached for my hand and gave me a half-dozen of the small purple grapes. We stood inches apart, chewing deliberately. For the first time that day, I felt the full weight of the wine. I turned to spit the seeds on the dry, cracked soil. She looked up at me, eyes wide with curiosity.
“They are sweeter than I thought they’d be,” she said.
I moved for her, hesitating at first, but then with a force that had been building for weeks. Our mouths met in a fury, and a grape seed passed between us – lodging itself momentarily under my tongue before being lost for good in the torrent. She pressed herself to me, and together we teetered toward the vines. Her back found solid berth against the trunk, and she wrapped a leg around my calf, opening herself as I moved the hem of the dress over her thighs. Behind her shoulder, a bunch of grapes gave way under our weight and a thick, crimson-blue trail made its way across her collar-bone. I caught it with my lips, tasting the sweetness of the berries and the salt of her skin. I pressed into her, silently begging forgiveness from the ancient plants as they strained against their wire frames. Through the haze of the evening, she whispered my name.
Somewhere near the car below, the line had been crossed.