You Had Me At Merlot Angela Ford ©2021
I was sixteen when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. A strategy for winning arguments, though neither of us knew it at the time. “When you are a dreamer, mess happens.”
I remember her words. I wish I could show her how I’ve mastered being a dreamer in a neatly ordered environment. “Clutter free,” I whisper, softly and rather sadly, missing her.
Everyone has been separated since the world-wide pandemic attacked, forcing us into isolation for more than a year. Unfortunately, she’s one person I won’t get to see again once our world opens up. After many unpleasant days in the beginning, and the forced isolation, I felt that invisible strength inside me. I changed my outlook to take on new and exciting adventures within the walls surrounding me. Calming pastels that invited my most serene of dreaming moments. The focus of my life’s journey–writing. Happily-ever-afters for a ridiculous number of followers I never imagined would enjoy my stories. I’m slow to love. A loner who writes love stories without one of her own. My mother always said what my best friend believes—that my one-true-love will appear when least expected and sweep me off my feet. Now how that will happen in a pandemic, is beyond my belief.
After pouring my wine, I settle in front of my laptop as the familiar ring echoes throughout my small studio apartment. Her smiling face appears on my screen, and I hear her sweet voice, “Annie-Belle.” My name is Annabelle, but she loves the nickname given by my mother. My best friend has taken control of it–and mothering me. I love her, so I accept it.
“Hey, Mandy. How’s your week going?”
I sip my wine, ready to hear the rundown of life working from home, being a wife, and a new mom. Her life—so much more exciting than mine, unless I read her a scene from my work in progress. Which is likely to occur before our second glass.
“I started a new project this week.”
Excitedly, she lifts up a photo album. It takes me back to the memory of my mom’s pile of them from the days she met my dad to my baby photos.
“Looks like a retro-project,” I snicker, and raise my glass.
“Ha!” Mandy loudly attacks my sarcasm. “I’m transferring photos to digital for mom and dad’s anniversary.”
Right. Her parents’ thirty-fifth. I wonder if I’ll be able to travel home by then. I’d love to see them all. Especially my dad. We video chat weekly but it’s not the same. Mandy and I grew up together. Neighbours. Best friends. Still, even with the miles in between, we remain connected. Her parents–like I’d been blessed with a second set. And her brother—Mitch Barrett. God! I haven’t thought about him in so long. I’m lying. He’s never left my thoughts—or fantasies. I haven’t seen him since Mandy’s wedding where we both had a plus-one. Not that we’re friends. He’s Mandy’s older brother. Period. My first crush I never told her about.
“Check out this picture!” Her shriek pulls me out of my head. “Mom and Dad’s twenty-fifth.”
I smile, remembering—Hawaii. While her parents were there, we were having a huge party in their house. Crashed by her brother’s sudden appearance. The night he kissed me.
“Earth to Annabelle.” She calls me by my given name when I drift.
“Just thinking of that party.” With a heavy sigh, I remind her of the fun we had that night. Her girlish giggle pouring through my speakers is still cute at twenty-seven. I love it as much as I love her. When she stops and catches her breath, she rolls her eyes, “The night you kissed my brother.”
Oh Shit! How did she know that piece of information? Did Mitch tell her? She never confronted me. Innocently, I pretend it didn’t happen. “Yeah, right.”
“I walked past the kitchen that night you two were locked at the lips.” Shrugging her shoulders like it didn’t bother her in the least. “Ten years later, neither of you have confessed.”
Tilting her head, waiting for me to confess, explain—share. None of which is going to happen. I mean, it’s been ten years. Okay, I still think of him, his kiss, but he’s Mandy’s brother.
“Can I take the fifth?” I lift my wine to my lips, hoping she’ll change the subject. Not. A. Chance.
“How come nothing came of that?”
I set my glass down. The question that never left my brain. I answer with the only reply I have. “He’s your brother.”
“Can we change the subject?” I top up my glass. At this point, if she doesn’t, I’ll see the bottom of that bottle.
“No way!” She’s not going to let me off easy. “Why haven’t you told me?”
This time, I take a big gulp. I wonder if it’s the wine or the steamy romance I’m writing that has me admitting my deepest-darkest-secret. I decide to throw her off her game with a bold reply that only one of my characters would say. “You want me to confess your brother has been the only one to ever make my panties wet—with—Just. One. Kiss?”
I hear a voice. Not Mandy’s. His. Mitch Barrett just heard me confess my innermost memory of him. Oh Shit! I feel my cheeks flush to the same color as my wine. His face appears over Mandy’s shoulder. His smile alone tells me his ego has grown a few notches. Those eyes, staring at me. My god, they still get me. The deepest blues like the deep end of the ocean. His arm hovers around Mandy, offering me wine.
“A glass of merlot for that story.”
“Mitch!” Mandy lifts his arm, pushing him away from her. “A little privacy here, please.”
Thankfully, he listens and follows his hearty chuckle out the door. I hear it close, and he disappears out of my life. Again. I down my wine, feeling as empty as the glass.
“Sorry about that.” She apologizes for the intrusion.
“Hmmm.” I mutter out a sound that even stumbles as if I’d tried to speak. Knowing she feels bad, I try to lighten things up, “I should add that little scene to my story.”
“Why not make your own love story finally happen?”
Her eagerness for me to find love makes me laugh out loud, “Like that’s ever gonna happen.”
“Do you mean with my brother, or in general?”
I roll my eyes. “Both,” I answer.
Respectfully, she ends the awkwardness with some lame excuse about finishing dinner. I know our chat night consists of Pete, her hubby, ordering a pizza. I say nothing. The sudden onset of desire racing through my veins makes me want to write.
I sing along to the words streaming through my phone, I can’t live if living is without you. My mom loved every song by Mariah Carey. My fingers, frozen on the keyboard, the scene in my mind–paused. I can’t forget this evening or your face as you were leaving. But I guess that’s just the way the story goes. The song takes me back to that night. My heart aching, remembering his face as he left me dazed and confused from his kiss. The one I haven’t been able to forget.
The blaring ring tone pulls me back, and I jump to my feet. Damn! I need to remember to stream music on Alexa and not my phone. The display shows Mandy’s request to facetime. Great. She’s changed her mind and wants to drill me about her brother.
“I’m not saying anymore,” I answer, firmly, before seeing his face on my screen.
“I’ll raise that glass to a bottle of Merlot.”
His begging eyes, playful pout, almost makes me agree. I ignore his offer and raise my voice.
“Does Mandy know you’re using her phone?”
He lifts a finger to his lips. His gesture tells me she has no idea. “Annie-belle,” he whispers. I forgot he called me that too. It weakens me but I refuse to soften, and instead—argue.
“I’m not seventeen anymore.”
“No,” the corners of his mouth form a grin. A damn sexy one. “No, you are definitely not.”
“What do you want, Mitch?”
After a moment of silence, I ask again. I’m not in the mood for games. And I’m not in the mood to boost his ego any more than the slip of my words did earlier.
“I–I just wanted to catch-up.”
Asking for a date. A date? Has he forgotten the miles between us and the fact we’re in the midst of a pandemic? I hesitate. For only a second. His nervousness, or mine, plays in my mind. Maybe he feels the same. We’re older. Wiser.
Three days later, I’m staring at the mess in my bedroom. This time I’m not dreaming or writing. It took me two hours to find the perfect outfit for tonight’s virtual date with Mitch. Our first official date. I admire his creativity. Our day started with grocery shopping, together—virtually. Tonight he’s giving me a cooking lesson and then we dine by candlelight—separately, but together. He’s not only a Chef but a wine connoisseur. I discovered this after arriving home from the grocery store to a package he couriered. He sent me the cookbook I mentioned the other night, ‘The Food Almanac’ by Miranda York, and a bottle of Merlot from Bright Cellars called ‘Meet Cute’. Even the name reminds me of our meet-cute story. It contains all my favorites--plums, raspberries, black cherries with dark chocolate to finish. I believe I’m in good company. If tonight doesn’t go well, I can always block him on social media and still enjoy the cookbook and wine.
It did go well. The past month has been spent texting, face timing, emailing, and exchanging pictures of the last ten years we haven’t seen each other. He’s my ‘one’. Someday I’ll tell our grandkids how we pandemically-dated. A courtship to be remembered. Our life together is ready and waiting for the safe world to return. Knowing someday we will be in the same time zone–together. For now, we’re having fun virtually dating. Separately, we’ve cooked together, binged on movies with the app Netflix Party, grocery shopped, toured each other’s homes, and even had a picnic. The wonders of today’s technologies. Of course, each date accompanied by a bottle of Merlot.
The pandemic hasn’t exactly lent itself to physical contact. But discouraging touch doesn’t mean discouraging romantic pursuits. Our initial phase of wooing is taking longer than it typically would have–I’m not complaining. Our dates have been replaced by modern technology and old-school routines of writing letters and old-fashioned phone calls. Allowing us more time to evaluate what’s important to us in a partner. It is an exciting journey, embarking on a relationship we never took a chance on when we were too young to realize this is what we want. Mitch continues to seek out creative ways to deepen our connection and has a playlist perfect for our story in progress. There’s something sacred about listening to our songs together and separately. It only heightens my yearning to kiss him–again. Someday.
Thank you for reading, You Had Me At Merlot! Hope you enjoyed a glass of wine with it! Ange