“Welcome, Sara,” Mike chimes in eagerly. “About time he brings a woman around.”
I blush and shake his hand, but he pulls me close and hugs me. He leans back to inspect me. “Let me look at you. No. No, you don’t look like a wine virgin to me.”
My cheeks heat further and I laugh. “I guess the excellent Cabernet I had in the limo saved me.”
“Broke your cherry, aye?”
I laugh and so does Chris, who pulls me under his arm and leans near my ear. “I thought I did that.”
“Mike!” Katie chides. “She doesn’t know you well enough to get your sense of humor.” She motions us forward. “I have a special tasting room set up for us but we won’t be allowing Mike to taste of the festivities.”
We fall into step behind Katie and Mike. “They like you,” Chris whispers.
“They were close friends of my parents and they never had kids of their own.”
I inhale at this announcement, stunned to realize Chris has done more than bring me some place he doesn’t bring other women. This is a piece of his past that I didn’t think he would allow me to see, but he’s let me inside his world, at least this tiny part.
My steps are a little more anxious as we enter a room with a huge wooden table spanning several feet, with a dozen or so chairs on each side. Fruit and cheese trays are displayed in the center of one end of the table.
Chris and I sit side by side and Katie and Mike sit down across from us. Katie is studying me with interest and I tie the shawl around my shoulders, afraid I’ll ruin the ‘virginal’ image I’ve been granted with too much nipple action. “Chris tells us you’ve recently went to work at a gallery in the city?” Katie asks.
“Yes. The Allure Gallery downtown where Chris has a collection for sale. That’s how I met him.”
“I know it well,” Katie comments. “And you were a school teacher before this?”
I’m surprised by how much Chris has shared with her. “I was. I am. My degree is in Art and it’s my true love. We’ll see how the summer works out. My boss says he has high hopes, but seems to think I need to know about wine to truly navigate the art world.”
Mike knocks on the table. “Right he is. Everyone needs to know about wine.”
“Chris doesn’t think so,” I dare to remark.
Katie’s gaze falls on her godson. “Then why does the local gallery serve wine?
“Because this is Napa Valley.”
“Exactly,” she concurs. “Wine and art go together.”
Mike waves at a waiter. “Sounds like the cue to start the sampling. It’ll loosen everyone up.” He winks at me. “That’s when you really get to know someone.”
Chris looks amused. “Good thing I don’t loosen up easily.” He nudges me. “You do though. Are you going to tell us all your secrets over Cabernet?”
“Hold out for a good year, honey,” Katie whispers conspiratorially. “Make him pay for your confessions.”
I glance at Chris and he smirks. “Name the year and I’ll gladly pay the price.”
“I’m not the one who’s lacking in a confessional,” I remind him. “Maybe we need to get you a case of beer.”
“Not in the Chateau you won’t,” Katie assures us.
Chris leans close. “It’s going to take a whole lot more than a case of beer.”
Yes, I think. It will. I’ve opened up to him, but he hasn’t to me, but I am here, with what amounts to his only family, and again I think — it matters. I don’t allow myself to think about how I’ve gone from an escape to looking for things of consequence or where that may be leading me.
Time becomes inconsequential as I taste wine after wine, nibble cheese, and listen to Mike and Katie tell me stories about how they got started. It only marginally surprises me to learn they met his father through the big Paris 1976 tasting that put them, and Napa Valley, on the wine map.
“Chris’s parents traveled with us for moral support,” Katie explains. “Danielle - Chris’s mother — she was like a guardian angel. I swear that woman had a way of making a person smile, even the Paris locals who didn’t want us Americans in the competition couldn’t resist her charm.”
It’s hard to gauge Chris’s response to Katie’s memories of his mother with him beside me, but I wish I could. Too soon, more wine samples arrive and the conversation shifts. My window into Chris’s family life has, at least for the time being, closed.
With each wine we taste, I listen to stories about how Katie and Mike crafted the flavors down to the soil, the climate and processing. They sprinkle stories of the rich and famous who have visited the Chateau, and acquired each variety.
“Chris is always our number one star, though,” Katie declares.
Chris snorts and sips from his glass. “I’m just-”
“A famous artist,” I finish for him and kiss his cheek.
He runs his hand down my hair and kisses my forehead. “Me,” he says, staring down at me. “I’m just me.”
I smile, feeling the effects of quite a lot of wine. “ Hmmm. Yes. Just you.”
He arches a brow. “What does that mean?”
A waiter approaches, and Katie and Mike chat with him. I lower my voice. “I like ‘just you’.”
Chris’s eyes darken. “Do you now?”