The time of the party had come, and no one was more antsy about it than me. So far, the voices in my head had behaved better than expected. Trying to control them had been exhausting, especially with the news that Amphitrite was stuck in Guam. This might be one of the few parties I would want to be done with sooner rather than later.
To their credit, Luis and his team had done a fantastic job with the process. The travel and the paperwork and the implementation of the Two-Threes and the Expo and the meeting. I knew everyone involved was running low on energy and patience, so there was no going back on the upcoming event. The frenzy had been bubbling to the point where it was threatening to spill out, and what more perfect place to do that than in Nouvelles Règles.
It took a bit of legwork and some extra money for the vineyard to be transferred to the new owner, Fran, but that was part of the plan, anyway. She already held the keys to the building, which was a lot more modern than La Dolce Vita. After everyone cleared out last night, I had made my way here to get a feel for the state of the vines, and the results were not good. It was obvious that caring for the source of the grape was at the bottom of the priority list, so I went to work right away.
I reached out with my senses to put the vines at ease and removed a few dozen of the best saplings, sending them my love and attention as I set them aside. It was time to start over, and the whole vineyard could sense it. There was both sadness and excitement flowing from the leaves to the roots for what was to come.
Tears escaped me more than once as I stood witness to the destruction of most of the vines. I walked around in the dark, singing praises and whispering my thanks for trying to please a master that knew nothing about the love of the vine. Over the long emotional night, the whole area was reworked. New canals were dug, and the saplings were planted with the love and reverence they deserved. With my help, the entire process of maturity to bearing grapes would take half the usual time.
By mid-day, the building was cleaned of any personal effects, and the new rows of saplings were already taking hold. Most of the wood from the old vines was now a part of a big bonfire stacked up into a cone the height of two humans, and the flames were roaring. The tables were set, and the wine was already flowing. The meat was roasting over coals dug out from the fire, and the rest of the food was prepared.
The sun was slowly changing colors as it made that last part of its trek across the sky, and the party was just getting started. Antonio and his family, minus the kids, were the guests of honor. They were expected to arrive soon, but there was already a steady stream of people making their way onto the property. There was talk, and there was laughter, and there was music playing in the background.
By the time Antonio, Fran, and Steve arrived, everything was in full swing. People were eating and drinking and singing, and I could sense the tension of the events from the past few days, leaving tired shoulders en masse. I even noticed that people had cleared off an area in the corner and were wrestling like the times of old. The old man’s eyes were everywhere as he was trying to take in all the happenings. He was stopped many times by people for congratulatory pats on the shoulder and handshakes. It was obvious that everyone liked him and his family, which reaffirmed that I had made the right choice.
When he walked up to me, I offered him the seat to my right as I had done during the meeting. He took my hand, squeezed it, and patted my shoulder with the other before he sat down. Fran sat next to him, with Steve waving at me with a smile one chair down from that. Noticing that the main table was now full, most everyone returned to their places and settled down, expecting a speech of some sort. I turned to Luis and nodded. He stood and raised his hands to silence the multitude of claps, hoots, and whistles.
“It is good to see everyone gathered here today. And even though I got to meet many of you face to face for the first time, I can feel the love we all have for one another. A love of brotherhood, caring, and so much more. That love was cultivated on us by someone who knows no bounds to the meaning of love. Not just for vine, grape, and wine, but also for mortals and mankind. None of this would have been possible without his love and guidance. Dionysos!”
To even louder claps, hoots, and whistles, Luis turned my way and bowed just slightly, saying “Haire Mega Kyrie” at the top of his voice, which of course, made me snort a bit and cringe on the inside. On the outside, I smiled big and waved, blowing kisses at the crowd. Antonio must have heard the snort, so he patted my arm lightly and chuckled. Luis gave me a classic cat-that-ate-the-canary look and turned back to face the other tables one more time.
“As luck and Master Dionysos would have it, this gathering has more than one significance. As most of you know by now, Dionysos has decided to return home to his family in Olympus. Soon enough, his residence there will also serve as a new central hub for the whole family. That is what the master plan has been about all along. As a bonus, we have the pleasure of having our extended family grown by one. Antonio and his lovely family are now a part of us.”
To the group’s delight, Antonio straightened in his chair, looked at me, then did his best to mimic my smile and wave. Everyone, including me, lost it when he bounced in his seat and started blowing kisses to all the tables as well. I laughed even harder than Ray Liotta did in Goodfellas, and I had to lean back in my chair so that I could breathe. Luis clapped and extended his arms toward Antonio right over my head and let the cheers and laughter crescendo and die down on its own.
Eventually, everyone quieted, and Luis cleared his throat and sat back down. I reached for my glass, took a sip, and looked up to hundreds of pairs of eyes fixed on me. I almost choked on my wine, which is quite a feat in itself since I could drink just about anything without consequences. Groaning to myself, I realized that everyone expected me to say something as well.
Antonio nudged me before I could think of an excuse to stay quiet and whispered, “Ti amano per un motivo. Ricordaglielo.”
I leaned forward in my chair to get up and whispered back as I winked at him. “There is no reason to remind them why they love me. They’re drinking it.”
I rose to my full height and reached for my wine, raising it high, trying to catch each gaze with my eyes. I brought the glass to my nose, taking in the aroma, and then to my lips. Everyone around me mirrored my actions slowly and methodically. That was our bond, after all. That is what kept us together. I took a long drink and set the glass down with a happy sigh.
“You all know I hate making speeches, so I’m going to make this short and sweet, a bit like Antonio, over here. When I made my way back home, I was very excited because I knew it was time for the master plan to take place. For all of us to gather and celebrate everything that we have accomplished together. Together. In a way like we have not done in decades.”
I held each gaze for a moment before moving on to the next, letting them see as well as hear my sincerity.
“On the flight here, I told Luis to give me a list of Two-Threes. I thought that since we would all gather and honor tradition with this festival, why not help someone that needs it in the process? So here we all are. Celebrating the old and the new with the old and the new. So en—”
Suddenly, there was a bit of commotion coming from the very back of the gathering, followed by surprised voices and curses. The bonfire was still going strong, but it was already dark, so it was hard to tell the reason behind the interruption. I did not have to wait long, though. In the light from the dancing flames, I saw a figure I recognized coming toward me with purpose…and about a few dozen of what looked like bodyguards following closely behind.
I raised my hands high in the air, letting everyone else know that everything was under control and that they shouldn’t get involved. Once everyone settled, I sat back in my chair and waved an arm in a semicircle in front of me, and spoke loudly for not only the short blonde woman and her small army to hear but everyone else as well.
“Why, Miss Debbie Fleming! How cliché of you to literally crash the party. Did you forget that you were fired?”
For a brief second, she really looked at me. Seeing that I was not going to be intimidated by her, she took a step back. She looked around at her goons, their presence giving her enough courage to speak. “We’ll be crashing a lot more than the party if you don’t give me back what is mine!”
“In most cases, determination is a good thing. It will help you keep fighting for something that you might originally think is unattainable. Sports figures use it. Soldiers use it. Everyday people reaching for a goal use it. Unfortunately, there is a difference between determination and foolishness. This is a foolish move you are making, Miss Fleming. Nothing good will come from this.”
Now that the whole invading group was closer, I could see weapons in the men’s hands, shining in the dark by the flames of the bonfire. There were knives, and chains, and bats….Oh my! Knives, and chains, and bats, oh my! That sounded familiar to me, but now was not the time, so I rapidly blinked the thoughts away and concentrated on the now.
“You are right for once, Mr. Winemaker, or whatever your name is. Nothing good will come from this. For you. You really think you outsmarted me? The vineyard is nothing compared to what is in store. You have no idea how far the reach of my daddy and his friends go.”
I could feel the misplaced confidence oozing from her. This was a spoiled little brat that used her privilege and family station in life to bully everyone until she got what she wanted. People like that always sickened me. The ones that have should be more humble and giving, not the other way around. This bully mentality went against everything I have been teaching humanity since the beginning of my travels.
“Does your daddy know that you’re here with goons and weapons, threatening my family and me? Does he know how foolish and petulant you are acting right now? Your bullying days are over. Be smart for once and do not escalate this to something that is beyond your control.”
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