GARY’S GIRL PART I
Shawn yawned, “Stupid horny Americans! Why should a pair of bare breasts turn men into crazed animals?”
“Dunno,” I said, into the paperback shielding my eyes from the sun.
The fanfare of wolf-whistles started anew with the echo of hammers on metal, cat-calls and sexual remarks by the roofers on a neighboring condo.
“Laura, how can you endure it? I’m bored with the juvenile attitudes of uncultured men!”
My friend Shawn, a twenty-three-year-old zaftig blonde could be mistaken for a sixteen-year-old Lolita. Her compact body enhanced her deep bronze tan and attracted wolf whistles once more when she sat up to sip her iced tea.
“You’re only encouraging them, Lolita!”
“Not funny! how dare them!”
I placed my book on the tray and stood. I sauntered to the edge of our rooftop in my tiny bikini bottom and peered up shielding my eyes with my hand, “Hey guys!”
Shawn complained, “What the hell are you doing?”
Two of the men stepped back, but one took a stance, fists on his hips. He was shirtless, wore a bandana on his forehead, his long silky black hair blowing in the breeze and built like a Rodin sculpture.
I watched the sweat beads roll off his pecks.
“Sorry for the offensive language,” he said. “These idiots are an embarrassment to mankind…or womankind,” he smiled.
“Hard to blame them when we’re lounging out here half-naked.”
His eyes roamed my bare breasts, the same way I’d stared at his chest, “Yep, I suppose so, but it’s still disrespectful,” he said.
“I don’t mind if they look, just teach them some manners. They’re young, can I trust you to tame them?”
“You bet! I’ll take care of it.” He pulled a card from jeans pocket and threw it to me. “I’m Jack, call me anytime you need a real man to save your day.”
I walked to my lounge and tucked his card in my paperback, “Got me a hot date, girlfriend.” Shawn laughed at that because she knows me better. I’ve been off men since I lost Nathaniel. I’m still half in love with a law recruit who didn’t accept his invitation to work for the firm when they offered him the full enchilada. It was an unfortunate loss for me as well because he had a fiance’ at home in New York City. Yeah, my heart was, is, still broken. Moving on, I realized he was too young to take on a family. No regrets, but God he was fine!
I divorced my children’s father, and every other weekend I Keep my ten- and seven-year-old busy with extravagant excursions. No sitting around watching TV. The ex-husband had expected me to be a stay at home domestic, which was the opposite of my ambitions. Who knew my life would be so stifling? He held the key to freedom, and I felt chained. After I left him, he settled with a woman willing to be trodden on. I’d freed myself. It’s funny considering the romantic I am. I was all for freedom of choice. In 1978 that was a radical idea, and I guess you could say I broke the glass ceiling on every domestic issue.
After our laze in the sun, Shawn prepared a light supper. She’s a passionate chef. My tastes are adventurous, and I encourage her brave concoctions.
“Are you ready?”
“I am,” she beamed.
This evening’s sudden sultry weather held the aura of a heady atmosphere.
“Something’s in the air tonight,” I said.
Shawn entered the kitchen wearing a long floral skirt with a peasant blouse that fell off one amber shoulder with a large gold hoop earring dangling over the other. She’d slicked her short blonde hair away from her face and tucked the earring side behind her ear, allowing a perfect symmetry when her hair fell over one eye.
“You look unusually unbound,” I said.
“Good, it must be my glow from the sun.”
“Always the bohemian…are you really going barefoot?”
“I deplore shoes,” She said, holding up a pair of toe loop sandals.
I pulled a white spandex skirt from my bag and wriggled into it, then slid a criss-cross turquoise halter over my head that hugged my ample breasts.
“D cup, right?”
“Well. I’m the one with the Porsche,” she laughed.
I’d pulled my hair into a slick high ponytail with a few tendrils flowing tendrils and slipped into open-toed high-heeled pumps.
“Too much?” I asked.
“No, chérie, Vous êtes la perfection,”
“I’ll take perfect anytime, let’s get out of here. May we take the Porsche, please?”
I hated showing up at a posh restaurant in my Toyota. The Porsche is Shawn’s mother’s car, but oh how we love driving up to valet parking in the Porsche 911 Euro Carrera.
“Jack’s isn’t Beverly Hills you know, the sea air can ruin the paint,” she teased.
“For god’s sake Shawn, you live half a mile from the beach!”
She smiled and grabbed the keys from the rack next to the door.
Jack’s joint sat on the strand near the Santa Monica Pier perched high on wooden pylons buried in the sand. When the surf was up the windows fogged, the walls breathed and creaked along with the planked wood planked floors while we trembled as if on a ship at sea.
This was one of those nights.
We claimed two stools at the bar and Shawn ordered a decent wine. I mention this knowing that Shawn will peruse the wine menu and order only the finest. We perched, sipping a full-bodied French Bordeaux when the sensual pounding of the waves came rolling in and hit the beach with a thunderous boom. When the sea crashed under the creaking restaurant beneath our feet, the place rocked. I grabbed my glass when it toppled, “Whoa!” The bartender never flinched, he looked at me, “What a ride, huh?”
There came a silence while the customers took a breath, murmured, then picked up their conversations. But the briny scent and pull of the waves always awakened my yearnings. A sultry free and earthly sadness overcame me, “God I miss Nathaniel,” I sighed.
Shawn peered over her glass, “How do you mean?”
“It’s strange. I get this impulse to run into the waves and drown myself.”
Shawn relaxed, complaining, “Must you be so melodramatic?”
“Well, it might be a fitting end,” I said.
“Laura, my friend, you are a disheartened romantic!”
“I know. It’s the ocean, it makes me want to have sex. Crazy, huh?”
“Sex is just sex, and you take it, I should say, a little too fiercely?”
“Yep, that’s me, All those men at my feet, and not a lover in sight. Hey, I thought you French were the romantic culture!”
“As they say, French is a Romance language. It’s true, but they’re called romance languages because they originate from the Romans who wrote stories during the middle ages.”
She scanned the room full of couples emerging from the dining room. “Just so you know, Laura, I take after my mother who’s more interested in practicality. We put our careers first, then find a man who fits, or not.”
“Shawn, that’s the most unromantic comment I’ve ever heard! Don’t want to alarm you, but there’s a guy coming your way.”
A polished young man wearing a sports coat sauntered up, “Whatever you girls are drinking, may I get your next round?”
I was fine with his offer, but Shawn rolled her eyes, “Can you believe he called us girls?”
I extended my hand, “Hello, I’m Laura.”
“Ron,” he said, shaking the tips of my fingers. Please, order whatever you like.” Then he leaned toward the bartender “Get these girls anything they want and put it on my tab.”
Ron turned and walked out into the storm with his party.
We shrugged at our good fortune. I ordered Hennessy in a snifter, I could at least enjoy a romance with a top-shelf cognac.
“Laura, you baffle me. You’re always spouting out about being a radical Feminist, and yet you disintegrate when you fall in love.”
I thought Shawn might understand when and if she ever fell in love.
“Well Shawn, I’ve fallen in love only once, does that not count as feminist restraint? I still die a little every day. It’s a beautiful thing, honoring it. Nathaniel and I first made love on this beach, what is now a reverent burial ground.”
She looked at me, and picked up her glass, “Here’s to lost love, mon ami.”
Ron sauntered back inside combing fingers through his thick hair, “Whew, that’s some storm! Sorry, my friends needed to get back to LAX tonight. Do you mind if I join you?”
“Okay,” Shawn said.
She liked him, but he was looking at my chest. I wished he’d pay attention to Shawn because they were the same age, and I was not interested, something to do with his limp handshake.
When I stood and strolled to the ladies room, a man turned his head. I felt his eyes watching my hips roll up the hallway. On my walk back he nudged his friend at the bar who turned and lifted his glass toward me.
Ron, sitting on my barstool facing Shawn was getting along just fine. I waited, thinking Ron might stand and allow me to sit, but he didn’t. Then the guy who’d toasted me stood, “Here, take mine. That boy is no gentleman.”
Shawn turned, “Laura, Ron’s from Healdsburg, his family has a winery up there.”
Ah yes, the perfect storm. Shawn is the wine connoisseur. Although I love a good red, she is far more experienced. I had met her mother who runs a winery in France when she came to the states last year. A refined woman. I wondered what it might feel like have that kind of support.
Shawn could hold her own. She and Ron were discussing winemaking, winemakers, vintages. I guessed her aversion to American men might give way, that maybe she was up for a little California winemaking enlightenment. I listened when Ron mentioned his home in Northern California. It threw a screw in my hopes for her. But then he surprised us with an enticing invitation.
He leaned across the bar, “Say, would you two be interested in flying up to the winery for a tour? My dads’ retired from Rocketdyne, but still works as a consultant. He could fly us up together in his private jet. He spends most of his time in Los Angeles, but his first love is the winery. He considers himself a rancher, funny for an aircraft engineer.”
Shawn smiled, “Ron’s older brother is the Winemaker. Isn’t that fascinating?”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I’m finishing my degree at USC,” Ron boasted. Flying home in the family jet as my guests, you could stay a four-day weekend and fly back with me on Monday. You’d have the ranch pretty much to yourselves. I’m flying back anyway, so, you know, it’s no big deal.”
I was already on board. How could we refuse? Tonight it seems like a dream. I couldn’t just fly away on any weekend because of Amy and Carter.
Ron kissed us both on the cheek, “Let’s shoot for the weekend after next.” His eyes passed over my chest again. I shook my head when he turned to go.
“I saw that Shawn laughed. No worries, the winemaker brother is far more interesting.”
We were both ecstatic, but the jet wasn’t available the weekend I was free. I thought the whole family jet thing was far-fetched anyway.
On that note, we planned to drive up the coastline since Shawn had never had that experience. My travels, my whole life took me on trips to Frisco, Tahoe, Camping in the Redwoods, Yosemite. I felt in control. It was my coast after all.
It was a perfect Friday morning when we flew up Highway 101 in the Porsche. We’d planned to take the coast highway making stops in Cambria, Big Sur, and Carmel, might even stop in San Francisco on our return trip if we had time.
We lingered in Big Sur, sipping coffee on the overlook and by the time we arrived in Carmel, it was five PM and another 125 miles to Healdsburg. We found a small motel on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific and woke early to glide over the Golden Gate Bridge and on up through Santa Rosa.
Winding up the road we’d mapped we crossed an old trestle bridge and just north of Healdsburg found the entrance to the winery nestled in a rolling rural valley. I pointed to a curious old schoolhouse perched on a hillside just north of the main home that resembled a hotel, or bed-and-breakfast.
Ron greeted us outside on the large wrap-around veranda of the massive white mansion. He took our bags from the Porsche. “I’ll park it,” He grinned. “Uh uh”, Shawn said, “I’ll drive it to the garage myself.”
“Come, meet my mother,” he said.
We followed him up the gravel driveway to the house.
Mrs. Metzler wore a large straw hat and a flower print long summer dress. She stood with a pair of pruning shears tending a culinary garden that backed up to a large wooden deck.
“Welcome to the ranch, she said. How was your drive?”
“Please don’t let us interrupt you,” I said.
Enchanted by the details of Mrs. Metzler’s skills, Shawn asked, “How did you get a pear to grow inside this wine bottle?”
She showed how she had pruned the pear tree and placed the branch with the pear blossom inside the bottle before it ripened.
We raised our heads when we heard the neighing of horses and realized the term ranch was appropriate.
Ron came out and picked up our bags, “Let me show you where you’ll be staying”.
Mrs. Metzler reminded him, “Ron, please come right back and carry these cuttings to the composter.”
He shrugged, “Sure, ma.”
We trekked up the hill following him across a large expanse of lawn to the old schoolhouse we’d seen from the road. A massive oak tree stood in front with a swing hanging low from a sturdy branch and an extraordinary view of the vineyards that went on for miles on the hillsides.
The schoolhouse was a renovated home with a full kitchen, a living room, and a bath. The beds sat in semi-private alcoves. A polished hardwood floor throughout, and the ceiling at least twenty feet high, and the place, well-lit with windows all around.
“The school house was built in 1868. Dad had it moved up here in 1972.”
A river rock fireplace towered to the ceiling, with fresh wood stacked beside it. I looked around wondering what other surprises awaited us and claimed a bed near the fireplace. Eager to explore, we didn’t bother unpacking.
“I’ll give you a tour of the grounds and the winery before drinks on the veranda unless you want to meet Hank right now.”
Shawn responded, “Yes, can we do that?”
“Sure, but it could take a while, he frowned, Hank likes to brag on his viticulturist skills.”
Hank offered his large hand to Shawn. I noticed his eyes flash before he turned. He looked nothing like his brother, tall and broad-shouldered with long hair he wore in a ponytail, a serious looking scientist in khaki shorts with a fly fisherman’s vest and wire-rimmed glasses perched on an expert nose.
“This is my laboratory. I spend a great deal of time up here.” He showed intense passion and dedication. I relied on Shawn to ask the questions since I knew only how to appraise the finished product.
“Pop bought the property in the 1960s, sight unseen. He planted the vines in 1963. I was just a kid, but I helped him place the stakes, tie the canes and trim the vines. In 1968 we trellised the vines, then we began grafting the chardonnay, Cab, Merlot, and other varieties. I’m proud to say I was sixteen the day we bottled our first Cabernet. We filled two fifty-gallon barrels! That’s when I decided winemaking would be my life’s work.”
Hypnotized, Shawn asked, “Where did you go to school?”
“I graduated from UC Davis with my degree in fermentation science. That’s the year my father built the winery. We’re now producing some pretty good Cabs and Merlots.”
I had investigated. They were better than that, receiving glowing reviews in 1987, and 1988 promised to produce award winning wines.
I ventured a question, “Did you ever crush grapes with your feet in the old days?”
Shawn laughed, “The old days of feet grape-mushing goes back to Italy in the 15th century.”
I felt embarrassed, but Hank saved me. “Funny you should ask. In the old days of our era, during our first pressing, pop talked mom into taking her shoes off and picked her up and helped her into a vat with him. They were laughing and carrying on. I jumped in too. I’ll never forget that sensual sensation of grapes popping their juices between my toes. Mom had purple feet for a week. I think it was an erotic experience for them. But I was just a kid.” He looked at Shawn, “Maybe we should try it sometime?”
Shawn flushed, “Seriously?”
He escorted us into the barrel room. The fragrance of grapes in wooden casks were musky and sensual. I felt drunk just inhaling the heady perfume, and I felt that longing again, a deep need for what I could only call desire similar to the musky aroma of the sea…a deep haunting, a summoning.
Hank and Shawn shared private thoughts, smiling into each other’s eyes. It felt so right. I understood she had found something meaningful here.
He looked at Shawn. “I have work to finish, I’ll meet you up at the house before dinner?”
Shawn skipped like a kid when we hiked back up to the schoolhouse. She stopped and grasped the tree swing, sat, and lifted off, the breeze blowing her soft blonde hair. I brought my camera out and got a shot of her flying like a child with the vineyards in the background.
We unpacked and changed clothes. I slipped into capris and a top that floated and billowed with the breeze while I descended the hill.