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New Wine

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The train winds its way down the coast and as it turns a wide bend near midday Louise can see a break in the rugged hillsides. All of a sudden the view opens up and spread out before her is the wide blue-green of the Mediterranean.
She is somewhere in the south of Italy but she doesn’t much care where. She only knows the name of the station where she will get off and be met by Petra and Giovanni. Petra is an old friend, a school friend, and Giovanni her husband. She is young to be married, but from the pictures Louise has seen, Petra looks happy. And Giovanni looks rich.

It was a bit of a last-minute decision to come here, now, although Louise had been itching to get away for the past three months. She just finished her qualifying exams, and was about to start the process of writing her thesis. She had the rest of the summer off, though, and after six solid years of college she was ready for a change. So when Petra called with her yearly invitation, this time instead of shrugging it off or citing the expense as an excuse, Louise just said yes, and booked her tickets. And now she is here, barely a week after the plan was first hatched.

Louise sees Petra right away when she gets off the train. Her glossy, dark brunette hair, large open smile, and flowing, colorful peasant skirt mark her right away as Louise’s old buddy. They hug, and Petra picks up one of Louise’s cases. “I hope you don’t mind, Lou” she says. “Gio couldn’t come. He’s working on the roof and he didn’t want to stop.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” says Louise. “I am sure we will all have plenty of time to catch up.”

Petra pats her arm, smiles warmly at her. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she says.

A half hour later Louise is nodding off in the passenger seat of the little Fiat as Petra winds her way up into the hills, hugging the coastline as they drive.

“Wake up!” says Petra, poking her in the ribs. “The only way to deal with jet lag is to stay awake.”

“It isn’t jet lag,” says Louise, smiling sleepily. “I should be more awake than I am. I’m just worn out from all the work lately. I am so glad to have a break.”

“I think you’ll like our guests,” says Petra.

“Guests?” Louise’s heart sinks. She thought it would be a nice, quiet week with only Petra and Giovanni, and their two greyhounds loping elegantly around the gardens.

“It’s nothing big, Louise. I promise. Just Gio’s friends from the bank. They came up for the weekend, and they may stay on this coming week if he George can get the time off. They’re just fine. Nice people. She’s a little stodgy, but it’s nothing a little wine can’t fix.” She laughs. “And their nephew keeps to himself, according to Gio.”

“How old is he?”

“Oh, I dunno, I can’t remember. Eighteen? Nineteen? It’s been a while since we saw them. Brooding kind of boy. He and George get into a row every once in a while. Like boys do. But I think they’ll be on good behavior for us this weekend.”
Petra slows the car and makes a sharp turn up a gravelly driveway into the hills. Louise can’t wait to get out of the bumpy car, and out of her traveling clothes, and into the Italian sun.