Eight Hundred Grapes

Then he nodded, trying to decide how hard to push, keeping his eyes on me.

Finn was my good brother. They both were pretty good, but Finn was the truly good one in my book, even if he wasn’t the good one in anyone else’s. Bobby was more ostensibly impressive: The captain of the high school football team, a local legend, a successful venture capitalist with a full life in San Francisco. A beautiful town house, beautiful cars, beautiful family. He was five minutes younger than Finn, but in every other way he seemed to always come in first.

Bobby had bought the bar as a hobby and to give Finn something to do. Finn believed less in employment. He owned the bar so he could drink for free and so he could keep taking photographs. Finn was a great photographer, but he seemed to only work—weddings, family portraits—when the mood struck him. He was a little like my father in that way, adhering to a code of purity that only he understood.

“I missed Dad?”

“He didn’t come in tonight.” Finn shrugged, as if to say, Don’t ask me. “We can call him. He’ll come now, if he knows you’re here.”

I shook my head, keeping my eyes down, afraid to meet Finn’s eyes. Finn looked so much like my father. Both of them had these dark eyes, with matching piles of dark hair. They were handsome guys, all American. The only obvious difference was that Finn liked to keep that mane of hair under a backward baseball cap. Usually a Chargers cap.

It made it hard to tell him what was going on without feeling like I was about to disappoint my father too.

Finn cleared his throat. “So they don’t know you’re here? Mom and Dad?”

“No, and I’d appreciate if you don’t tell them, you know, the circumstances. It wasn’t planned, obviously.”


He paused, like he wanted to say something else, but thought better of it. “They’ll be happy to see you,” he said. “That you came. Whatever the reason. None of us thought you were coming home for the harvest, you know?”

The harvest of the grapes—the most important five weeks in my father’s year. I’d arrived home under duress the very weekend he always held most sacred—the last weekend of the harvest. Every year I came home for it. We all did. We returned to the family house: The brothers slept in their old rooms, I slept in mine. Our various spouses and partners and children filled up the rest of the house. And all of us joined my father to harvest the final vines, to drink the first sips of wine. We all stayed for the harvest party. But this year was supposed to be different. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t supposed to be there.

Finn, realizing his error in raising this, shifted from foot to foot. “What do you want to drink?” he said.

I pointed at the entire bar behind him. The bourbon and scotch and whisky were like Christmas presents.

Finn smiled. He put a glass of bourbon in front of me, and a glass of red wine. “What you think you want,” he said, pointing to the first. “What you’ll actually take more than two sips of.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“My pleasure.”

I sipped at the bourbon. Then I turned, almost immediately, to the wine.

Finn put the bottle on the table so I could see what he had poured. It was a dark and grippy Pinot Noir. The Last Straw Vineyard. B-Minor 2003 Vintage. One of the wines from our father’s vineyard. My favorite wine from our father’s vineyard, mine and Bobby’s. One thing we had in common.

“This is a great bottle,” I said. “You should take it away and save some for Bobby.”

Finn nodded, tightly. Like there was something he didn’t want to say, not out loud.

Then, just as quickly, he softened.

“You hungry?” Finn said. “I could get the kitchen to fix you something.”

“They’re not closed?”

Finn leaned against the countertop. “Not for you,” he said.

It was the nicest thing he could have said, and I gave him a smile so he knew how much I appreciated it. Then he walked back toward the kitchen, taking a sip from the bourbon as he went.

I sat taller on the bar stool, more aware of the looks I was getting, now that Finn was moving away.

Finn turned back for just a second. “Hey, Georgia . . .” he said.


“You know that you’re still wearing your wedding dress, yes?” he said.

I looked down at the sprawling lace, dirty from the five-hundred-mile drive and the run across The Brothers’ Tavern parking lot. And what looked, sadly, like a lost Rolo.

I touched the soft skirt. “I do,” I said.

He nodded and turned back toward the kitchen. “All right, then,” he said. “One grilled cheese coming up.”

The Last Straw

Synchronization. Systems operating with all their parts in synchrony, said to be synchronous, or in sync. The interrelationship of things that might normally exist separately.

In physics: It’s called simultaneity. In music: rhythm.

In your life: epic failure.

I pulled up to the driveway to my parents’ house after midnight, woozy and exhausted. I immediately regretted that I hadn’t taken Finn up on his offer to crash at his place in Healdsburg and to return tomorrow to face my parents. When I was more appropriately dressed. Though, after the day I’d had, I wanted the twin bed I had grown up sleeping in, complete with its flannel sheets and heart-shaped pillows.

As I took the left turn into the driveway, I passed the small wooden sign for THE LAST STRAW, EST. 1979, carved by hand. The vineyard spread out on both sides of me, twenty acres of vines sweeping by on either side of the car. The vines were rich and meaty with grapes and wildflowers, cushioning my parents’ sweet yellow Craftsman straight ahead, up the hill.

It was a lovely house, comforting with its large shutters, flowers on the windowsills, a bright red door. Bay windows lined the back, running the whole length of the house, leading out to the original ten acres of vineyard. And to a small two-room cottage at the back of the property—the winemaker’s cottage—where my father did his work every day.

I shut the ignition and stared out the car window at my parents’ house. Every room was dark but their bedroom. It worried me that they were still awake, but more likely than not it was just my mother who was awake, reading in bed. She wouldn’t hear me come in. She wouldn’t be listening for it.

I stepped out of the car and headed for the front door, grabbing the spare key from the flowerpot. I let myself in. If I was going to wake them, if they were going to hear me, this was the moment. The red door squeaked when it opened. It was a lesson every child of the Ford family had learned the hard way the first time they attempted to sneak into the house after curfew.

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