A group of two dozen spills out through the swinging doors of the tasting room, the buzz of genial chatter breaking the stillness of the sloping green Sonoma County vineyard. The sign above the door reads, Welcome to Craidenton Family Vineyards, Est. 1960. Beside it, a brightly lacquered sign proclaims that the vineyard is Woman-Owned and Operated.
The proprietor, a woman with spiky blonde hair, holds the door open and gestures to a gazebo in the distance.
“That’s our next stop, folks, just up the hill.”
The tourists shade their eyes with free hands as the sun pierces their wine glasses.
The proprietor is ambiguously attractive, pushing a youthful forty in work boots, faded jeans, and a black tank top that shows off an intricate tattoo sleeve. A giddy bachelorette party files outside and the proprietor nods at the plump woman in a white sash with “Bride to Be” embroidered in pink.
“Photo-op here, ladies!” commands the bachelorette, pointing up at the sign. She offers her phone to the proprietor. “Would you mind …?”
“Not at all.”
Half a dozen of the bachelorette’s companions squat around her, hands on their knees.
“And I love your tattoo,” the bachelorette adds, nodding to the vines snaking around the proprietor’s sculpted bicep.
“Thanks,” the blonde woman grins. She is used to this kind of flirtation. She could plot it on a graph relative to the quantity of tasting pours.
“One, two, three.”
“Thank you so much,” the bride-to-be says, taking back her phone.
A petite woman with a long, dark ponytail slows her pace, hanging back from the group as it ambles two and three-file to the next point on the tour. The proprietor closes the door of the tasting room and draws even with her in a few strides. The younger woman smiles nervously. She might be thirty, but it is hard for the proprietor to tell.
“This really is so delicious,” she says, gesturing at her drink.
“What’s that, the cab? Yes, I love that one. You can already tell that 2019 was a good year.”
The tourist nods. Her glass is a blinding ruby glare. She holds it close to her side, across her body, and grasps her elbow with her other hand. She has fallen in step with the proprietor but says nothing further.
“So, you’re with the bachelorette party? Where are you ladies visiting from?”
“Yep. Bachelorette party in wine country. Such a cliché.” She shrugs, then adds, “Most of us are from Georgia.”
“Hey, we love bachelorettes,” the proprietor winks. “We’re just glad to have groups and conventions back again.” She nods in the direction of the gazebo. “These are almost pre-COVID numbers. Half that group is in town for an Essential Oils convention.”
The tourist smiles and unclasps her arms to pull her ponytail over her shoulder. “Essential oil of grape,” she says dryly, nodding down at her glass.
The proprietor laughs. “That’s good.”
“So,” the younger woman says after a moment. “‘Craidenton’ is a unique name.”
“Yeah,” the proprietor shoves her hands in her pockets. “We’ve always been a small band. Three generations here—I hope I didn’t bore you guys too much with the family history—”
“Oh no!” the tourist assures.
“—but the Craidentons never proliferated that much. Anyway, we’re lucky to be here, especially after the pandemic. Winemaking is still very much male-dominated, like I was saying earlier. This cultural reckoning we’ve had against the patriarchy in the last couple years has been great for my business. And it would be amazing to have more racial diversity in this business, too,” she hurries to add.
“Yeah?” The younger woman takes a sip from her glass. Ahead, a pair of tourists in matching straw hats have paused, bent over to catch their breath from the short hike. They look back towards their blonde guide, smiling embarrassed smiles.
“It’s quite an incline,” she calls out to them, encouragingly. “Yeah,” the proprietor continues, turning back to her conversation. “And it’s not exactly that people suddenly want to support women in this industry. It’s more like people have stopped blocking the door, you know? Fear can be just as effective as altruism in motivating change.” She chuckles.
Overhead, a lone sparrow soars, giving dimension to the monochromatic deep blue doming the vineyard.
“I actually knew another Craidenton,” the younger woman says.
“No kidding! And not in California?”
She shakes her head. “Not in California.” After a beat, she adds, “Jack Craidenton, was his name.”
The proprietor stops and turns to look at the tourist. “Jack Craidenton is my brother’s name!”
The tourist’s jaw drops open and she brings a hand to her chest. “What! That’s … that’s so funny.” Her face ripples in a series of expressions that are hard to decipher. “Your brother’s not in academia, is he?” she says in a half-joking tone. But the proprietor’s eyes widen.
“He’s a literature professor!”
She stares at the younger woman, who stares back. The tourists in the straw hats have resumed their trek and trailed ahead, leaving the two of them alone.
“This can’t be the same Jack, right?” The proprietor’s face is animated, eyes sparkling with the thrill of coincidence. “How do you know your academic Jack Craidenton?”
The brunette picks at the collar of her flannel shirt. “Did, did,” she corrects the tense. “He taught my American Lit class.” She names the liberal arts college. “He was working on his doctorate at the time.”
“Ho-ly shit,” the proprietor exclaims. “That’s him, alright! What a small world!” She gives the tourist a friendly shove, and the young woman’s cabernet sloshes over the rim of the glass onto her hand.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the proprietor apologizes.
The tourist wipes her hand on the side of her shirt. “It’s fine; it’s fine.”
The two women resume walking. In front of them, the tour group has bunched into the shade of the gazebo, mingling and posing for pictures against the backdrop of the vineyard. A table is prepared with a line of bottles. The white tablecloth flutters in the breeze.
The proprietor shakes her head, grinning. “He will get such a kick out of hearing I ran into one of his former students. I’ll have to tell him. What was your name?”
“Oh – no, no, don’t. Don’t bother him.”
The proprietor looks puzzled. After a moment, the tourist adds, “My name is Teshelle. But in college I went by ‘Shelly.’”
The proprietor purses her lips, thinking.
“I didn’t feel like spelling it out every interaction,” the young woman explains, “and so I just took a shortcut for a while …” her voice trails off.
The proprietor’s brow furrows, then clears with sudden understanding, and her face melts into something wistful and emotive. She brings a hand to her mouth. “Shelly. Oh my – oh Shelly, I remember. I’m Rachel. I’m Jack’s big sister. I – I so wanted to meet you.”
Teshelle looks away for several long seconds, then looks back at Rachel. She smiles with one side of her mouth. “Rachel. Who went to France to study wine. I remember now.”
Rachel brings two hands to her heart and smiles warmly. “That’s where I was, back then.”
“Wow,” Teshelle says softly.
Rachel looks at her boots, shaking her head. “Shelly. He was so fond of you, you know.”
Teshelle looks away again, turning half her body this time, fists propped on her hips. When she turns back to Rachel, her eyes are watery.
“I was very fond of him, too,” she says.
Rachel clears her throat. “You know, he said we would love each other, and,” her voice cracks for a moment, “things weren’t great with my family at the time, and that just …” she trails off.
Teshelle closes her eyes.
“It meant a lot,” Rachel finishes, “that he was thinking of family for me.”
Teshelle exhales. Rachel holds open her arms uncertainly, and the two women laugh a little and meet in a tentative hug. Rachel wipes at her eyes.
“Whoa. Okay. How nuts, Shelly. I gotta get this group through the sparkling wines, but we’ll talk more, okay?” They arrive at the gazebo. Rachel draws a deep breath and claps her hands. “Alright, friends! Who’s ready for bubbles?” Her audience cheers.
At the gazebo, Teshelle’s friends beckon her for a photo. She leans in and shows her teeth, then retreats to the back of the crowd. She drains the rest of her cabernet and sets the empty glass on top of a table made from an oak barrel. She does not come up to the table for a glass of sparkling wine, but one of her fellow Georgians passes a glass back to her. When Rachel finishes explaining the fermentation process and characteristics of sparkling wines, she is joined by a short man in a wide-brimmed hat.
“José is going to take you all into the vineyard to tell you about harvest.”
“Yes please,” José calls musically. “Follow me.” He beckons, and the tour group follows him.
Teshelle has not moved from the back of the gazebo. Rachel corks the last bottle and wipes the condensation on her hands onto her jeans. She walks towards Teshelle, smiling. One of the Georgians looks over her shoulder to call for her friend, then shrugs when she sees her speaking to their attractive guide. “I guess Tee really likes learning about wine,” she says to no one in particular, faintly slurring the words.
“You know,” Teshelle begins in a rush while Rachel is still advancing towards her, “I haven’t kept up with your brother. I haven’t even Googled his name, if you can believe me. What is he up to these days? You said he was a professor? It’s tough to get those jobs. Competitive. That’s impressive.”
“Yes, he’s at Oxford,” Rachel says, her back straightening.
Teshelle looks down into her glass, but her eyebrows shoot up. Her mouth tightens and she nods tight, bobbing nods as Rachel continues speaking.
“He teaches a few classes but spends most of his time writing, which is basically his dream job, I think. He’s got two little girls now—well, not so little anymore—and they all love it over there.”
A yell followed by laughter punctures the white noise of a dozen conversations. “Careful, careful!” calls José. “Is steep!”
Rachel glances down the hill, then turns back to Teshelle. “You know, Sadie, the oldest, she’s such a special kid. Really friendly and adventurous.” She bites her nail and sighs. “I was so glad when he and Daphne separated. And so glad when he was moving on,” she gestures toward Teshelle, and shakes her head. “But life happens. And I was angry at the time. I thought, it’s not going to fix anything, you know? But when he could follow his heart or do his duty, he chose duty.” She nods to herself. “And he made the right choice.” She looks into the distance, smiling fondly.
“Hmm,” says Teshelle.
The women are silent for a moment. “Well,” Teshelle drums her fingers against her glass, “that’s not quite what happened, but I’m curious. You were glad about me? You weren’t concerned that I was his student?”
Rachel snaps her gaze to Teshelle. “Well, were his student, right?” she emphasizes. “It was a little unorthodox, but he always talked about how mature you were. Plus, you two were just a few years far apart. He was, what, 26?”
“27,” Teshelle interjects, “then turned 28.”
Rachel lifts her shoulders. “Okay, so four or five years apart.”
“I was 19.”
Rachel rests her fists on her hips, and looks at Teshelle, head cocked to the side. “Huh. Well, baby brother fudged those numbers a bit,” she says at last.
“Hmm,” Teshelle says again.
Rachel runs a hand through her spiky hair. “Maybe I would have been less enthusiastic. But…what difference does a year or two really make, in the grand scheme of things?”
“Enough to lie about it, apparently?”
Rachel takes a step back. “Okay. But. I doubt it makes a big difference to your analysis of Don DeLillo or whoever. You had agency, I mean.”
Teshelle tilts her head. “True,” she says.
Rachel folds her arms and looks out into the vineyards. “We should probably catch up with the others.”
Teshelle doesn’t move.
“Well, he’d be happy to know you’re doing well,” Rachel scans the woman hurriedly: “Very healthy,” she appraises Teshelle’s body in compliment, “and married,” she points to the band on Teshelle’s finger, “and traveling,” she lifts her hand and looks around, indicating the vineyard.
Teshelle’s thumb tucks under her palm and spins the ring on her finger by the stone, around and around. “Yes, well,” Teshelle says at last. “Cheers to that.” She lifts the glass of sparkling wine and drinks it.
“Ha ha ha,” says Rachel, in a flat, awkward laugh, then turns and walks down the incline of the hill towards the undulating rows of grapevines.
After José has finished his lecture on harvesting, he leads the group towards the wine press. Rachel glances through the leaves and sees Teshelle walking quietly in the adjacent row of grapevine. She ducks beneath a vine at a break in the rows and is at Teshelle’s shoulder. “Hey—what did you say it was—Te-shelle,” she says. “I have a question.” She plucks a leaf from the vine and smooths it in her hand. “This doesn’t seem like a coincidence.”
Teshelle looks at her. “What’s the question?”
Rachel crumples the leaf and drops it to the ground. “Is it a coincidence? Or did you come here on purpose with an axe to grind?”
Now Teshelle laughs flatly. “I didn’t make the itinerary, if that’s what you mean.” Small clouds of dust puff around the women’s feet as they walk. “I didn’t say, ‘Ooh Craidenton Vineyards. What great Yelp reviews.’”
“That’s not what I mean,” Rachel says coldly. “I mean that you knew exactly who I was, and all this chit-chat was just subterfuge.”
“‘Subterfuge’!” Teshelle repeats. “I guess the whole family is literary.”
“Well since you’re apparently such a stickler about other people’s truth-telling, I just find it interesting that you don’t seem too worried about your own disclosures, or lack thereof.”
Teshelle rolls her eyes. She turns her glass upside down and shakes out the remaining droplets.
“If you have some problem with Jackson,” Rachel continues, “his email address is right there on the internet, which I’m so sure you’ve never used to find out exactly where he is.”
“I never have,” Teshelle spins to face her. “Never.” The women emerge from the vineyard and onto the grass outside the wine press. Teshelle stands beside her friends, staring straight ahead while José demonstrates the mechanics of his trade.
Rachel makes small talk with the conventioneers as the group shuffles to its final stop. Teshelle is hanging back again, staring until she catches Rachel’s eye.
“Great to meet you all,” Rachel pats the shoulder nearest to her. “You folks head up to the tasting room and I’ll join you there.” She turns expectantly towards Teshelle and crosses her arms.
Teshelle’s jaw is quivering. “If after all these years I still remembered the sister that he couldn’t wait for me to meet, the rebel, the farmer, the one who was going to carry on the family business and leave him free to follow his dreams—gee, does that ever seem to be a theme—then what do you think that says?”
Rachel walks, and Teshelle follows behind her. They’ve circled back to the beginning of the tour, and the group has congregated at another table in the shade of a large oak tree next to the tasting room and gift shop. Several people crane their heads in Rachel’s direction, waiting for refills. A few of the conventioneers have emerged from the tasting room with a girl in a white shirt and black pants, who hurries over to uncork the bottles.
“Sorry,” Rachel says at last. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.”
Teshelle shakes her head. She starts to cry.
Rachel looks up nervously, gauging the distance of the other guests. They have crowded around the server from the tasting room, clamoring for the varietals. “Obviously, you’ve got some issues with how things went down. I wasn’t there, okay, so I don’t know what you want from me.”
Teshelle’s tears are streaming now. She raises her voice, loud and choking, to speak through them. “Did you know I was pregnant?”
“Fuck, please, keep your voice down.” Rachel grabs Teshelle’s arm and pulls her to face away from the table. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“She would have been your niece, too.” Teshelle’s shoulders collapse. “But he picked the one whose mother came with a fellowship in Boston. ‘Duty.’ He picked the one who was best for his career. What a nice white family.” She wipes at snot now streaming from her nose.
“Shelly,” Rachel’s voice is low and steady, “Please look at me. Whatever you’re talking about happened ten years ago.”
“Okay. Eleven years ago. Truthfully, I have no idea about what you’re saying. And whatever the hell you’re insinuating about—” she looks anxiously over Teshelle’s shoulder at the guests milling in the shade, and drops her voice lower— “race, or whatever, sounds crazy. So I don’t know what you’re talking about. But what it sounds like is, a woman seduced a married man, the relationship ended, and then eleven years later, when he’s successful, and when his family is finally on its feet, now here she comes, making allegations.”
Teshelle laughs mirthlessly. She brings her hand to her cheek. “Nothing’s ever his fault. You’re all the same.” She drops her hand. “Don’t worry. I’m not here to have my hashtag-me-too reckoning, you fucking hypocrite.”
Rachel shakes her head. “I don’t care why you’re here. This tour is over.” She strides quickly towards the table beneath the tree. Teshelle jogs after her.
“Hey,” Rachel calls out loudly, and claps her hands together. “The tour is over. Thanks so much, everyone. Maria will walk you out to the gift shop.”
The girl pouring the wine looks up, confused.
Rachel turns and stalks towards the back of the building.
Teshelle hurls her wine glass against the door of the tasting room. It breaks against the door, then drops to the concrete and shatters, spewing shards of twinkling glass. Rachel pauses for a moment at the sound but doesn’t turn around. She keeps walking.
“Should we call the police?” a man squeaks to the back of Rachel’s head. The two dozen tourists look from the door to Teshelle and back to the door, aghast. Several conventioneers pull out their phones like cocked weapons, waiting for the call to fire.
At the same time, three members of the bachelorette party rush to Teshelle’s side, speaking over each other.
“Tee, what’s wrong?”
“Oh my God!”
“Are you okay? What the hell was that?”
Teshelle has stopped crying. She wipes her eyes and shrugs. “I guess I’ve just always wanted to break a glass.”
“Miss!” calls José, full of consternation. “You will have to pay for that.”
“I know,” Teshelle says. “I know.”