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While wine-tasting on the North Fork, friendship turns sour

By K. C. WexlarPublished 4 months ago 19 min read
Photo by Edge2Edge Media on Unsplash

They say the best memories are forged in college. We find our kindred spirits, best friends, and if lucky - the love of our life. Rebecca considered the strange way this luck had twisted, like how her car wound down the blind curves and bumps of desolate Country Road 25.

"It's the best sex of my life, hands down!" her passenger, Zoey, laughed as she cocked back a plastic champagne flute with its bottom missing. It was Zoey's 21st birthday, and the two girls were seated in Rebecca's 1985 Firebird, her late grandfather's pride and joy, hitting the Long Island Wine Trail to celebrate the "glorious" milestone. At the same time, Rebecca's tightening hands on the wheel turned increasingly paler shades of white.

Rebecca had been less than thrilled when paired with this twit as a freshman roommate. While unboxing designer dresses with the tags still on, Zoey had boasted how her parents had attended this school, so she'd naturally follow suit.

"I'm majoring in environmental studies," Rebecca had said softly and placed an ill-fated plant on the window destined to become Zoey's bong water dumping zone. "How about you?"

Zoey had just laughed. It didn't matter what she majored in. Her father's company would secure her "some role in events" where she'd already "interned" over the summer, a job that consisted of throwing down the company card at various clubs, figuring out which one of the finance bros had the best coke and which one had the best cock (Never the same person, Becky!).

Listening to Zoey rattle off accomplishments, each milestone an obvious tee-up if not a blatant giveaway from Daddy, caused Rebecca to chew the inside of her mouth and mentally count how many days until she could ask the RA to switch. Of course, she'd take a triple at this point. But despite the mismatch of interests and intellect, the rooming assignment offered non-cerebral benefits. That night Zoey took Rebecca to her first off-campus party, her first real party ever, and provided social introductions to a group way out of Rebecca's league.

Like him.

That had been four years ago, and even now, when they were seniors, thoughts of him still consumed Rebecca's every waking thought. Now her scorching resentment at the birthday girl seemed to pulse off the Firebird's interior. Rebecca had worn this tight veil of friendship throughout college, masked to both of them. She wanted to lie down with one for the rest of her life. The other, she-

Her thoughts were interrupted by Zoey's cackled giggles which she was always powerless to tune out.

"He's just so giving in bed," Zoey dramatically sighed, "And I like to be selfish."

You don't know any other way, Rebecca pulled into Osprey's Estate with gritted teeth. She was grateful Zoey's birthday landed on a February weekday, the absolute deadest it ever got in wine country. The girls quickly parked and teetered through ice on their high heels toward the tasting room. Rebecca was hustling up the unpaved walkway when she accidentally plunged her brand-new shoe, modeled after Zoey's signature stiletto style (which Rebecca never could quite strut in without feeling like a clomping cow), straight into an ankle-deep puddle. She yelped and pulled the ruined peep-toe out of the icy muck.

"Oh my god!" Zoey drunkenly mawed from the top of the stairs, "I wish I got that on TikTok!"

Rebecca should have felt cold after dunking her bare foot in frozen slush, but her internal boil made it impossible to feel anything but white-hot hate.

At Osprey's elegant tasting bar, the birthday girl guzzled the world-famous Chardonnay like a high schooler chugged Gatorade after a long-distance track meet. Rebecca, the designated driver, took tight sips through a fake smile, twisting more into an open sneer with every stop. As Zoey rambled about her unique ability to have multiple orgasms for the hundredth time, Rebecca's mind wandered (as it did with ever-increasing frequency) to the first time she'd met Zoey's oh-so-giving boyfriend because she—Rebecca— who had him first.

It nearly didn't happen. Back at that first freshman college party, Zoey had instantly jettisoned her: See ya in the AM Roomie:-P! Rebecca had felt completely awkward with minimal social experience. On the table, and against all odds, there was a bottle of drinkable wine. The red's warm embrace from the first sip washed over her like a balm. But then, when two pretty girls had giggled in her direction, Rebecca had been forced to recall the worst moment in her short life - when she'd earned her famous nickname.

Wino Rhino.

Back in the 5th grade, before she'd received her many diagnoses in endless therapy sessions, Rebecca was the weird girl who was forever alone at lunch, pretending to read.

In a moment of uncharacteristic bragging, she had mentioned to some cool girls that her Italian family would allow her to taste wine with dinner. Instantly the clique had begged her to sneak some from her parents' vineyard. Chubby, lonely and desperate to be liked, Rebecca obliged. The following day she brought a metal water bottle which the group passed back and forth during art class.

Rebecca's self-consciousness had melted away by the warm embrace of female camaraderie and cabernet, eternal ether for womankind. The four of them laughed together, painted watercolor penises and asked Rebecca if she'd ever kissed a boy (Because Becky, you’d be really cute, if you just lost some weight). In vino veritas.

The principal was not too pleased when Tiffany Y. and Tiffany R. were three sheets to the wind by lunchtime. The lunch lady, no stranger to a good ol' girl time bender, had smelled the sour stuff on them, but girls had claimed Rebecca forced them (She's always been a weirdo! Peer pressure, Mr. James!). Of course, if the administrator had been a woman, it would have been evident that Rebecca was not the peer of these conniving shrews, but Principal James believed the blondes. Sucker for life, that one.

The fallout was apocalyptic, especially in the eyes of an eleven-year-old who had already been a social pariah. Her parents had been investigated for allowing minors to access alcohol. Rebecca's grandfather told her she'd brought shame to the Raphael family's legacy. The final cut was when the kids called her the torturously catchy "Wino Rhino." She left to be homeschooled and kept her head in novels or her journal until it was time for college. Rebecca likened herself to the grapes locked away in their cask, eventually transforming into otherwordly liquid magic.

At her first college party, this was easier said than done, of course. Inside, she was complex, subtle, deep—a rare spirit waiting to be poured and drunken in with sweet abandon—but Rebecca's shyness was like a cork that nothing had the power to remove.

Just then, she had overheard someone say, "I swear, man, not counting the Wikipedia synopsis, has anyone here read anything for real but Harry fucking Potter?"

The indignant speaker met Rebecca's eyes as she laughed throatily despite herself. He'd grinned, revealing a gorgeous smile with full lips. Rebecca, of course, was still a virgin and immediately lost all interest in remaining so. She had felt a bolt of electricity from heaven itself. Later close on the couch, intensely discussing Jay Shetty, he leaned in, and his perfect mouth was on her. That night after he'd fallen asleep, Rebecca lay next to him, not wanting to move a single inch for fear of disturbing him and being shown the door. In the hours until the sunrise, she watched his perfect face, the body rise and fall, and reveled in his arm wrapped tightly around her.

When he woke, he didn't act cold or have "something early to do." Instead, he made her Jasmine tea in mugs that his Mother had made in her backyard kiln (Have you ever been to Santa Barbara?), and they had cuddled in bed until Rebecca's stomach embarrassingly growled. He had made toast with rhubarb jam, the most delicious thing to ever pass her lips besides his tongue. Then they'd watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on his laptop (I'm like this, once I fall hard for a girl, I'm done for life).

After the movie, even the socially green Rebecca knew she'd better pretend to have something to do. So, contrary to a "walk of shame," she proudly wore his Ted Baker hoodie, inhaled his Burberry cologne, petals beneath her feet and a sun that shone just for her. She couldn't believe her luck. On the first night of college, she'd already found it.

True love.

However, in a nightmarish reversal of fortune, Rebecca's bliss was cut short as a delicate Pinot grape's life on the vine when her forever soul mate caught another's eye the next day at a football game. Zoey had swooped in, a lethal kamikaze of boobs, blonde and blowjobs, and he was entirely and utterly bewitched. Nevertheless, Rebecca kept close any way she could and swapped her major to English and most of her schedule to be near him.

"You always impress me, Becky," he had said as he accepted her notes from a missed lecture. "You have the most interesting perspective to share in class." Giving as he was, he never asked back for that sweatshirt, so Rebecca had hidden it away and smelled it more frequently than she'd admit. "I don't know what I'd do without you as a friend."


Rebecca grimaced and bit the inside of her cheek so hard it bled.

Now four years later, here they were about to graduate. All this time, her vapid roommate still had him hooked while Rebecca watched the golden couple from the sidelines. To save face, she laughed away the one-night stand (Just a way to swipe the v-card, right?!) to become the "cool girl" in the most torturous of roles.

But it wasn't a one-night stand.

"Hello? Earth to Becky?! Getting bored here!"

At the Osprey's Vineyard, Rebecca's mind snapped back to the present day as Zoey knocked back the end of her wine and openly belched.

She's rich but so classless. He's too goodhearted. He never stood a chance with this scheming slut.

How can one pretend to be friends with someone she secretly hates for four years? That question may be a matter of not knowing anything about a woman's commitment to the long game. Also, Rebecca hated to admit that, in truth, Zoey was FUN. If not for the freshman pairing, Rebecca never would have been invited to ski trips, loft parties, gallery openings or Hamptons getaways with this new elite friend group.

As she cruised the Firebird past Harbes Family Farmstand, Rebecca had a flashback to sophomore year, a different memory, a moment she felt genuine love for Zoey. It had been a summer afternoon and the girls were picking up a few things for a BBQ at Zoey’s summer house when, to Rebecca's horror, working the register had been - Tiffany Y.

"Oh my god, it's Rebecca Raphel!" Tiffany Y. gasped and fawned over Rebecca with the faux concern of a Lifetime movie D-lister. "We all wondered what happened to you! People said you had to go away for a while," Tiffany Y. trilled as she rang them up, and Zoey gave a suspicious side-eye. "We can all laugh about it now, right?"

When the two got back into the car, Rebecca had bawled uncontrollably so Zoey pressed her to spill the painful "Whino Rhino" humiliation through fitful sobs and shakes.

"Which one is her car?" Zoey said with a coldness Rebecca had never quite heard before.

Scanning the lot, Rebecca guessed it was the sporty Audi with the license plate TIFFYY.

Zoey nodded and rose like a Kung Fu Bitch Master before a final face-off. She strutted to the Audi and opened the Harbes bag, which contained a rhubarb pie (His favorite, of course.) She ceremoniously took the pie and smashed it across the windshield in an explosion of slimy chunks. Immediately, Tiffany Y. ran out screaming she would call the cops.

"Farm-fresh bitch! But don't worry, we'll all laugh about it someday!" Zoey roared, her blonde hair wild with a lioness's fury as she spun back toward the car. "No one messes with my Becky!" Rebecca was so stunned, her mouth hanging agape at the splayed dessert. (Drive, moron!)

As they peeled away, Rebecca's tears had dissolved into so much manic laughter that Zoey made them pull over so they didn't crash. For a brief moment, Rebecca thought she could forget about him - maybe a real friendship was her consolation prize?

Later at the BBQ, when he heard the story, he'd taken Rebecca aside, confessing his own tough time in school (You're such a gifted person, and sometimes people are punished for being so special). Then, he leaned in for an embrace that set Rebecca's skin on fire while he brushed his perfect lips on her cheek.

"I should be jealous," Zoey had snuck up behind him. "But we all know Rebecca's not your type."

Interrupting another intimate moment with him with her smug dismissiveness instantly negated Zoey's justice by pie served on Tiffany Y.'s car. Rebecca snapped right back to where she'd been before Harbes Farm, in love with him, in hate with her.

With every year, Rebecca had more obsessively fantasized about him, unable to turn it off. Her therapist advised fantasy is highly addicting and that Rebecca needed to move on, but Rebecca moved on without the therapist. The man wrote sonnets and knew the difference between Napa and Sonoma Cabernets. No one just moves on from that!

As they drove, thoughts of him again made her so distracted that Rebecca swerved on the ice and almost missed the next winery's turn.

"Becky, take it easy! We don't want to get in an accident!" Zoey pulled out an expensive-looking pair of red gloves. "By the way, don't you just love these?" She conspicuously pulled one over her hand. "They're cashmere. He has such good taste."

Of course, I love them, you cow. Rebecca seethed. Zoey wouldn't know real cashmere from burlap.

His lips had been like cashmere.

Earlier at the break, Zoey had texted a picture of the Christmas gift while Rebecca had sat alone, drowning in loneliness, gulping Rocky Road ice cream with so much blurring, bitter jealousy it had tasted like wet chalk.

Now arriving at Macari Wines, Zoey ordered "whatever the best pink one was" and zigzagged towards the ladies' room. She returned with a smear of fresh lipstick and stinking like a vape pen.

"My grandfather brought over this grape varietal from Italy. Now several of the vineyards here grow it," Rebecca tried to share her source of pride, but Zoey was on her phone, not listening when a massive smile crossed her flushed face.

"Rebecca, look!" A text from him.

Happy Early Birthday Baby! I have another present for your hands.

Can't wait to see you tomorrow <3

"More gloves?" Rebecca asked sourly.

Zoey leaned in conspiratorially, and her foggy blue eyes glinted like the faux rhinestones in her sunglasses, "It's a ring."

Rebecca felt like she'd been hit with the bottle of Zinfandel. "Wha-how, how do you know that?" she forced to get out the words.

Zoey rolled her eyes. "Becky, you think I'd focus on the same guy for the last four years if I didn't think he'd marry me? I'm not stupid."

Yes, you are.

Or am I?

Exploding doubts blasted through Rebecca's mind. Being his girlfriend was one thing, but getting engaged right out of school? Zoey is a trashy, self-entitled moron who will make him miserable. He was so kind, loyal, blind to the evident lack of everything Rebecca knew she was superior. No, this was all wrong.

Driving onwards to their last destination, Zoey was now visibly loopy. Her head swayed a bit as she squinted at her phone. The winter sun was low, and most spots were closed. But Raphael Winery, Rebecca's family's place at the trail's end, did not require arrival during business hours.

Rebecca slid the key she'd received a few months earlier on her own 21st birthday into its massive wooden door. We're ready to trust you now, her family had said. You're a woman who controls her own destiny.

Raphael's architecture had been inspired by her great-grandfather's Tuscan villa, with cool dark wooden eves in the ceiling and high stone walls. The hall echoed their voices as the girls entered.

"Wow, it's like Italian Disneyland in here," quipped Zoey as she mocked one of the family's custom frescos.

Like you would know any art, other than a Monet coffee mug, bristled Rebecca as she ducked underneath the tasting bar and pulled out Raphael's signature crimson elixir, her family's lifeblood. "As in any proper flight," she presented the wine ceremoniously. "We end the day with a full-bodied red."

"Cool," said Zoey flatly, almost tipping off the stool. "But I'm not as full-bodied as you, so maybe give me a small one. I'm really feeling it now."

It took everything for her not to stab Zoey with the wine opener. Rebecca gripped the bottle's neck tightly, feeling her nails dig into her palms. She was chewing the inside of her cheek hard, tasting the blood's copper. Her whole body was twitching with new anxiety as Rebecca questioned what if she'd just built it up in her head all these years.

She never had the chance to show him she was no longer a fumbling virgin, the sidekick, the pity invite. She was the siren, the special Estate reserve. She was the true love. He'd just been blinded, then too goddamn loyal. He'd never leave this dime-a-dozen Upper East Side Daddy's girl who had never loved anything truly other than herself. This was not how it was meant to go. All thoughts returned to him, her perfect drug, her beloved - because he was about to make a future-shattering mistake.

"Let me show you the loft. We should have some snacks up there," Rebecca watched Zoey struggle to dismount the barstool.

At the far corner of the tasting room was a steep wooden staircase that led up to Raphael's balcony. It was a disaster waiting to happen. At on-site weddings, Rebecca had watched countless newlyweds wobble up and down that staircase to make their grand entrance. Almost everyone struggled to descend it gracefully, so a guardrail had been installed. Most times, it was blocked with a Do Not Enter sign. Rebecca's parents had always told her to keep the loft off-limits when patrons had been tasting all day.

But the staircase was open now, the bench and sign removed, beckoning Rebecca's guest to come to explore.

Zoey started to ascend the stairs but stopped at the second one. "Hm, maybe you can just grab the snacks?"

"Aw, we came all this way," Rebecca said sweetly. "The view is amazing."

"But it's dark out," Zoey protested.

"It's worth it," Rebecca said. "Besides, all the brides do their entrance on the staircase. It will be good practice for when you guys get married. Maybe even here?"

Zoey snorted, "I'm more of a beach wedding kind of gal. No offense, hon, but this place is a little dated for my taste."

Taste?! You have no taste. You're nothing!

Up in the loft, Zoey complained about the cabinet of crackers and pretzels. "And nothing says gluten-free. I'm quitting gluten now that I'm getting engaged. Maybe we should just order a pizza?"

She's a total idiot. I know I'm saving him, saving us.

"Ok, sure, my phone's downstairs," Rebecca's heart was in her throat.

This was it.

"Your treat, right? I'm the birthday girl!" Zoey slurred as she turned and stepped a four-inch heel down to descend the stairs. Rebecca had final flashes of him, her, the person always in the way, the passive-aggressive putdowns, the selfishness….

"Happy Birthday, bitch," Rebecca muttered.

Then she shoved her college "bestie." Hard.

Zoey's ninety-pound frame went flying and bounced down the twenty-odd stairs. An unmistakable sound of cracking bones reverberated off the walls when her body smashed onto the old stone floor. A pool of blood, red as Raphael's famous Merlot, expanded from her head.

Rebecca stared down for a minute and waited for the panic, the remorse. But, to her surprise, she felt calm and even relieved that it was finally done. Never again would she have to listen to this moron or pretend to like her. Never again receive another self-serving braggadocious text. Never again have to watch him wrap his perfect arms around this imbecile.

Rebecca descended the stairs slowly. First, she checked to make sure Zoey was dead. The angle of the body's contorted limbs certainly appeared for that to be the case. Rebecca's hands were surprisingly steady as she felt for a pulse.


What a shame. Now we probably won't be able to get married here.

Rebecca had countlessly imagined doing that as a little girl. Still a small price to pay for the prize of finally being with her soulmate. Maybe she could be a beach wedding kind of girl?

Rebecca picked up her phone to dial 911 and quickly practiced her best distraught voice to have ready for its dispatcher.

Hours later, the police drove her back to the scene to retrieve her car. Statements had been made. Parents had been notified. A tragic drunken accident. All parties had agreed it was best for someone to tell Zoey's boyfriend in person.

"I'll do it," Rebecca pretended to volunteer selflessly. "It should come from someone close to him."

Someone, finally, about to get much, much closer.

Rebecca zoomed the Firebird down the road back to campus to get to him as soon as possible. She was positively giddy as the radio blared triumphantly. He'd need a few weeks, maybe a year, before he realized his true love had been right there, in front of him the whole time. I've been this patient. What did another year matter? They had their entire lives.

Suddenly, something caught the corner of Rebecca's eye - the red gloves were still lying on the passenger seat.

I could give them back to him. To remember-

No way, stay focused and don't be a sap. He needed to forget that twit as soon as possible.

Rebecca cracked the window, tossing them out in the manner a smoker would chuck a cigarette, but a gust of icy wind blew one glove back into the car. She tried again, but the glove returned, hit her face and fell under the driver's seat. Frustrated, Rebecca opened the window all the way.

She'd only taken her eyes off the road for a split second.

That was all it took to miss the patch of black ice. The old Firebird skidded off the road in a squeal. The vintage car plowed full force through the guardrail into a massive oak, a smashing explosion of metal and glass.

Thoughts of him, his mouth on her, all over her again, were the last thing that went through Rebecca's head right before it went through the windshield.

His lips were like cashmere.

Short Story

About the Creator

K. C. Wexlar

Sweet, scary and strange but always satisfying.

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Comments (2)

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  • Novel Allen6 days ago

    I think I saw that coming, had to end badly. Well done. Love the cashmere though.

  • J. R. Lowe3 months ago

    Oooh this went in a much darker direction than I'd expected at the start, but a great read nonetheless! Thanks for sharing

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