This story is by J.H. Bunting.
They were outside La Place Royale, the little restaurant across Place Des Vosges in Paris. He had it in his pocket, and they were talking about the wine.
“It’s kind of spicy. With like a black dark cherry,” she said.
“Yeah I can see cherry.” He said it to agree with her, not because she was right.
“Doesn’t it remind you of those Saint-Emilion wines we had in Bordeaux?”
“I wasn’t there. Remember?”
“Oh right.” She took another sip.
Except for the few days when he was in Spain for work, the last two weeks had been wonderful. That break was almost a catastrophe, but best not to dwell on it now. They were fine now. They were in love.
She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he had ever been with, but she had this air of easy power, as if she could control everyone in the room with a look or a light touch on the arm, and yet she chose to sit back never using it, all potential and danger but also icy control. He had never wanted to be under someone’s control so much.
After Spain, he had seen the ring at a jeweler beside the Louvre. He knew it was too soon, but he also had to have it. Who knows? If things went well, where better to get engaged than Paris in the fall?
“Why is everything French better than everything American?” he asked.
“Everything?” she said.
“Well maybe not everything. Food and wine though.”
It was then that his uncle came up.
“Uncle Frank? What the hell? What are you doing here?”
They hugged and clapped each other on the back not because they were close but because of the excitement and maleness of it.
His uncle was almost the same age, but apart from that they were opposites. His uncle wore a huge watch by a no-longer-in-vogue designer, drove a German luxury car, played tennis and golf, and had a corporate job. The only thing they shared was their interest in expensive booze and because of that alcohol centered all their conversations.
“Fuck it’s great to see you!” his uncle said. “I heard you were in Paris. I was gonna to text you but these fucking SIM cards. I’m pumped we ran into each other!”
“What are you doing here?”
“Just taking in France man. You hear how insane this harvest was? I was just in Bordeaux for the crush. It was unfuckingbelieveable.”
“No way. WE were in Bordeaux. I had to leave early for work, but wow how did we not know this? We could have been knee deep in Cab together.”
Throughout their greeting she was silent, and when he looked at her he saw that her face was filled with a barely suppressed rage.
“I’m sorry. You’ve met my…” he almost said fiancé. God he must have drunk more than he thought… “girlfriend Drew.”
“Yeah yeah great to see you again,” his uncle said. “Last time we met was….”
“Lindman’s party. In July,” she said curtly but the specificity surprised him. He barely remembered that party.
“Right right right that’s when it was. You had that green dress. Great party,” said his uncle. Was he drunk? How did he not remember any of this? “Fuck man you’re empty. Should we do another wine? Or are you guys done?”
“No great. Let’s do another one.”
They flagged the waiter and he told him in French to surprise them for less than 100 euro. When the waiter came back he had him pour without showing them the bottle.
His uncle took up his glass grinning. “You want to do this? Should we do this?”
She shrugged and he could tell she was seething, but that only made him want to show off.
“Sure. You start,” he said.
His uncle sipped. “The wine is ripe as shit but it has acid, a lot of herbaciousness. I’ve got black pepper, smoky meat. No oak. It takes me to one fucking place. Northern Rhone.”
“This is Southern Rhone,” he said between sips. “This is Southern Rhone with a lot of Syrah. I’m calling ’04 Vacqueyrass.”
“That’s a bold call,” his uncle said.
“Let’s look it up.” He handed her the bottle.
She looked at it. She looked at his uncle. “Southern Rhone.”
“Fuck! Let me see it.” His uncle reached but she pulled it away. “Alright alright well played kid. So what did you drink in Bordeaux?”
“Not much man. Yeah it sucked. I had to meet a client in Spain.”
“Wow man. Good for you,” his uncle looked at Drew. “So what did your girl do while you were being a rockstar?”
She glared at him.
“You were at a crush weren’t you?” he put a hand on her thigh.
“Yeah I was. It was amazing,” she said cooly.
“Dude I have to tell you about all the Saint-Emilions we drank. We had this one Angelus that was unbelievable.”
“Oh Drew had a Saint-Emilion. Where was it from?”
“Chateau Angelus,” she said.
“Oh wow. So you both had it. That’s supposed to be an amazing wine. Was it good?” he said.
“It was okay,” she said.
“Four hundred a bottle and it’s only okay!” His uncle laughed.
She got up and while she did she ran her hand under the table over his crotch. “I’m going to use the restroom.” She placed a wet kiss on his lips.
“Damn man. That girl is fine,” said his uncle.
“You think so?”
“You’re one lucky son of a bitch. Where is that waiter? We need another wine. I’m gonna go find him.”
He found himself alone and drunk. He put his hand in his pocket feeling the ring.
The waiter brought the bill and it was more than he thought but he paid it. He saw the bottle they had tasted earlier and picked it up. The label said Northern Rhone. Northern. Not Southern? Why had she said Southern? His uncle had been right but then why had she lied?
But then they came out together and she was putting on lip gloss. She never wore lipstick, just Burt’s Bees with a little sparkle. Was he imagining it or were his uncles’ lips shiny. Was he imagining it or were his pants hiding an erection? It all dawned on him then, and he knew this was why she lied about the bottle. She was throwing him off the scent!
“Hey did you see that waiter?” his uncle said. “I couldn’t find him inside.”
“He came out with the bill. I paid.”
“You didn’t have to do that,”
“No dude we’re family.”
“We are family. Aren’t we?” he said it like an accusal and it hung there.
They got quiet.
“So Drew, I can’t believe you guys didn’t run into each other when you were in Bordeaux?”
“Yeah it’s crazy. Small world right?”
“I was just wondering if you hooked up while you were there.”
“I told you we didn’t.”
“You both had that Angelus. It’s a pretty specific wine.” He turned toward his uncle. “Don’t you have to be on the waiting list for years to get a bottle?”
“You know the harvest. They were pouring the stuff down people’s throats.”
He turned to her. “So was the sex worth it?”
“What? Are you drunk?” she said.
“Maybe. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”
“Dude what are you talking about? Bordeaux’s a big fucking place. I swear to God I never saw her.”
“You shouldn’t swear so much,” he said.
“You’re being crazy. I’m done with this.” She got up to leave. “I’ll meet you back at the hotel.” He realized then this was the only possible moment left.
“Drew,” he said. He had the ring out. She stopped. She looked.
“Jason. What is that?” she whispered.
“Did you sleep with my uncle while I was gone?” he asked.
“Is that an engagement ring? Jesus Jason,” his uncle said.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Tell me the truth.” She had never looked more beautiful as in that moment. It was because Paris of course but also just her. The breeze was blowing through the whitestone arches and it blew her cotton dress around her freckled legs and behind her were the linden trees and they lit up her green eyes which were sad and soft but now he knew they were not soft only looked soft. No they were brittle as coal like the eyes of an angel. He had the ring in his open palm.
“Fine. We hooked up for a few nights. You were gone Jason. I was in France alone. You have no idea how lonely it was. And he was there and he’s your family and it was romantic but it didn’t mean anything! You mean something. You mean everything.”
God he wanted to believe that.
He dropped the ring in his wine glass.
“A toast then. To love and family and a good harvest.”
And he drank and drank and drank.