Diana Corbitt is a retired elementary school teacher who has lived her entire life in northern California. She has two sons who, although grown up and out of the house, still live nearby. Besides writing, Diana enjoys creating stained glass windows and lamps, travel, and eating popcorn at the movies.
A LONG WEEKEND
I always said if you’re going to do something, do it right. After staying at the most expensive hotel, touring a dozen wineries, and eating in the finest restaurants, our weekend in the California wine country had run up quite a bill. But neither Kerry nor I minded one bit. We’d squeezed every possible moment of fun from that weekend, leaving the last of Sunday’s four wineries late that afternoon.
Grinning, Kerry looked back at the five cases of pinot we’d stuffed behind the seats. “I think we can squeeze in another if I slide my seat forward.”
I pushed my BMW convertible as fast as I dared on those winding country roads. “If it was up to you, we’d drive home with your legs squashed into the glove compartment.”
She gave me a playful punch. “That last stop was your idea. Now, we won’t get home until after eight.”
“I know. It’s just I hate to leave. Even you said you’d like to stay forever.”
“Well, who wouldn’t?” She raised both arms above her head and kept them there as we breezed past vineyard after coppery-leafed vineyard.
With my left hand on the wheel, I used my right to pull her over for a kiss. “We had a good time, right?”
“Wonderful,” she whispered, snuggling against me. “And when―” Kerry’s eyes grew wide. “Look out!”
Instead of the open road, a huge oak tree filled my vision. Adrenaline surged through me, and I gave the wheel a hard yank to the left. We swerved past the tree close enough for Kerry to touch the three foot wide trunk with her hand. Gravel battered the undercarriage. It spewed out behind us as we lurched back onto the road with a deafening clatter.
“Jesus, Mike!” Her hand gripped the dashboard. “You could have killed us!”
She was right. Even though the car was safely back on the road, my heart still beat double-time. I unclasped a trembling hand from the steering wheel. “Look at that,” I said, forcing a half-hearted chuckle.
“My God,” she muttered. “Don’t ever do that again, okay? At least not when you’ve been drinking.”
I sucked in a deep breath in an effort to calm myself. It didn’t work. “Holy, cow, if we’d hit that tree…I―we should stop somewhere. My head’s throbbing and I’ve got the heartbeat of a hummingbird.”
“Sure. How about there?”
Up ahead, a large billboard announced the opening of a new winery, Eternity Vineyards:
Enjoy delightful wines and soothing music as you relax in our lush
courtyard atmosphere. You’ll never leave.
“Sounds perfect.” I clicked on my turn signal and pulled off, anxious to get out of that deathtrap of a convertible.
The newly paved road led us up a vineyard covered slope and then curved down into an empty stretch dappled with the shadows of ancient oaks. Since there was only enough space for one vehicle to pass at a time, I wondered what we’d do if a big delivery truck came along. None did. Not even a bicycle. After a while, the smooth pavement transitioned into bumpy cobblestones, and I downshifted into second gear. Rock walls now bordered both sides of the road. A golden sand color, they started out low, but grew as we putted along. It wasn’t long before huge fortifications framed us in.
“Wow,” Kerry said. “It’s like we’re heading into a medieval fortress.”
“Yeah. Talk about security.”
She giggled. “Maybe they’ve had problems with roving bands of grape thieves.”
The road ended abruptly in front of two enormous wooden gates with the word “ETERNITY” carved into a wooden sign above them. “Geez,” I said, squinting up at the too foot tall lettering. “Are you sure that billboard said this was a winery? It looks more like we’re heading into Jurassic Park.” I glanced around for a way in.
“Maybe there’s one of those speaker thingies,” Kerry suggested.
“Well, if there is, I don’t see it.”
“Honk the horn, maybe?”
I gave the horn a few taps. Nothing. On such a narrow road, I’d never get the car turned around.
“Great, they’re closed.” I thumped my hand on the steering wheel. “Just what I need, a five mile drive in reverse.”
Kerry sighed. “Well…just take it slow.”
I turned in my seat and moaned at the sight of the long narrow road behind us. This sure wasn’t going to help my headache any.
Just as I shifted the car into reverse, the gates slowly began to creak open.
Relieved, I turned to see what had brought us so far out of our way. Patterned after a Moorish garden, the courtyard was jaw dropping with its manicured hedges, gushing fountains, and patios framed with intricately carved stone archways.
Kerry’s eyebrows shot up. “Not exactly Jurassic Park.”
I edged the car through the opening. “Yeah, but keep a lookout for dinosaurs anyway.”
“This place is amazing,” Kerry said, “but isn’t it strange that we’ve never heard of it?”
I pulled into a small parking lot, the only car in sight. “Looks like we’re not the only ones who haven’t.”
As we climbed out of the car, our senses were greeted by the sweet smell of jasmine and a choir of song, as if every bird in the county had assembled just for us.
“It’s like heaven.” Kerry said. Since the cobblestones were making her stumble, I wrapped my arm around her waist to steady her. We followed the path of rustic slate tiles through a small plot of vineyards, their colorful leaves and plump purple grapes complimenting the beautiful arches that surrounded us. It reminded me of the Alhambra, an Islamic palace we’d visited last year during our trip to Spain.
“Don’t you think it’s a little creepy?” Kerry asked as we strode past a koi pond stocked with fish the length of my arm.
“Creepy? A minute ago it was heaven.”
“It is, but where are all the people?”
I shrugged and continued through of the open quadrangle where a round linen covered table drew my attention. A lighted candle sat in the center, and beside it, a small name card. I picked it up and blinked hard when I read what it said:
Reserved for Mr. and Mrs. Vinetti
As Kerry read the card, an impish grin spread across her face. “Oh, Honey, you had this planned all along!” She gave me a big hug and immediately parked herself in one of the two empty chairs. “Is this a restaurant too? Are we staying for dinner?”
“Dinner?” I looked at her sideways. “I had nothing to do with this.”
“Well, don’t look at me. Until I saw that billboard, I’d never heard of Eternity Vineyards.”
Still a little buzzed from all the wine we’d tasted, I pushed my worries aside and took a seat. That’s when a new sound caught our attention. A minute ago, all that moved beneath the covered archways behind us were a few fluttering leaves. Now a dozen finely dressed couples sat at candlelit tables, laughing and chatting.
Kerry waved me closer, and our heads meet across the small table. “Where the hell did all those people come from?”
I blinked hard. “I don’t know. Maybe there’s another entrance.”
As we continued to gape at the new arrivals, Kerry let out a surprised squeal. From out of nowhere, a man wearing a short white waiter’s jacket had magically appeared at our side.
“Mr. and Mrs. Vinetti. So nice to see you’ve arrived. I’m Robert, your waiter.”
“Nice to meet you.” Kerry raised one hand, her fingers waggling an embarrassed hello.
Behind Robert a similarly dressed man was busy lighting a succession of candles sprinkled across the courtyard, giving everything a lovely warm glow as the sun began to set.
“I don’t understand,” I said, addressing Robert. “We came here on impulse. How could you possibly know we were coming?”
“Wine?” The waiter nipped over to the other side of the table where a silver cart loaded with half a dozen bottles of Eternity Vineyards wine had stealthily been deposited.
I grinned. “Nice trick.”
“May I suggest our pinot noir?” Robert scooped up a bottle and presented it for my approval. Our favorite variety, I nodded, and the waiter poured me a generous sampling which I slid across the table to Kerry. “You’re the connoisseur.”
“Me? What do I know?” As I expected, she gave me a playful kick under the table, then grinned up at Robert. “Fill um both up; I’m sure it’s terrific.”
With his work done for the time being, Robert disappeared behind an ivy covered archway.
I raised my glass. “To getting the most out of life.”
We clicked glasses and drank.
“Mmmm, delicious!” I licked my lips. “Best so far, and that’s saying a lot, considering how many wineries we’ve hit this weekend.”
Beneath one of the many stone archways, a string quartet began a new piece, causing Kerry to do a double take. “Those musicians … have they been there all along?”
I took another swallow and chuckled. “Sure, they have. We just aren’t that observant right now.” I took a long swallow, my headache a distant memory. “Relax. You love the good life. I love the good life. Enjoy yourself. This place is awesome, and this wine ...”
Kerry shrugged and picked up her own glass. The pinot showed blackish red in the candlelight.
"You’re right. Tomorrow we work, but now ...” She took another sip. “We should take home a case.”
I agreed, and for a while, we chatted and enjoyed our wine, as well as the atmosphere. It took a while for us to notice that the music had stopped, as well as the conversation.
I looked around. Twenty silent faces stared across the courtyard, right at us. My mouth was full of wine, and I forced it down with a hard swallow.
“I’m getting that creepy feeling again,” said Kerry between clenched teeth.
“Yeah.” I put down my glass. “Ready to go home?”
Again, Robert magically appeared at our side. This time we both flinched.
“Is there a problem?” he asked, smiling indulgently.
I reached for my wallet and scanned the other guests’ faces. It was as if they were waiting for something. “No, no problem,” I said, “we just want to leave.”
“Oh, but you can’t.” Before I could stop him, Robert was filling my glass with pinot.
Kerry covered hers with her hand. “No more, thanks. I’ve had too much already. Bring the check…please.”
All around us the other guests continued to stare. No one spoke. No one drank. Sure Kerry and I were a little loose, but it’s not like we were embarrassing ourselves.
Suddenly, my headache was back, and I reached up to rub my forehead. To my surprise, my fingers came away dark, wet. Surely it wasn’t wine.
“You’re confused,” Robert said, flashing a smile as he selected a fresh bottle. “Don’t worry. It happens all the time.”
The stuff on my hand had grown sticky, so I held my fingers against the candlelight.
“You don’t remember…” Robert paused as he inserted a corkscrew into the latest bottle of pinot.
“…but about an hour ago, your convertible collided with an extremely large oak tree.”
“What? No! It was a close call, but―” I stopped short and stared transfixed at Kerry who was pressing a napkin to her left temple, her eyes wide with terror. A huge gash had opened up, and a river of wine colored blood flowed down the side of her face creating a quickly growing puddle on the white tablecloth below.
“Oh, indeed,” Robert said matter-of-factly. He tugged the cork out with a pop. “You were both killed … instantly.”
All around us wineglasses were lifted, and a melodic voice sang out, “To the Vinettis!”
“It’s okay,” Robert said as he topped off our glasses. “Drink…You’re staying here…forever.”