The perfect match, p.21
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       The Perfect Match, p.21

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
Page 21

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  Obviously able to commit.

  Seems nice. (Okay, that was pretty weak. She could only imagine telling her father that one. )



  Reasons against:

  Basically a total stranger.

  Doing this is illegal.

  Isn’t in love with me.



  “Then again,” Honor said aloud, her breath coming harder now, “that’s not uncommon. No one’s ever been in love with me before. ”

  Spike barked.

  “Except you,” she corrected.

  There was no reason to think Tom was any worse of a choice than the men on eCommitment. And then there were Goggy and Pops. Theirs had been an arranged marriage. Okay, bad example.

  If I land this jump, Honor thought, it’s a sign I should go for it.

  She did the easiest jump she knew, just a little leap. Fell on her ass.

  “If I land this second jump,” she told Spike, “it’s a sign I should go for it. ”

  She fell on that one, too.

  * * *

  HONOR SPENT THE rest of Saturday in her office, researching marital fraud and immigration and giving herself an ulcer. Good God. To soothe herself, she forced herself away from YouTube and checked some orders from her distributors, ran a quick inventory, designed a new label and made sure the Black and White Ball link was live. Jessica was great, but it came as almost a relief that Honor still had things to do. Then, exactly at four, she left her office, Spike under her arm, and went into the tasting room.

  This was, understandably, her favorite part of the wine business. The family gathered several times a year at least to pour the newest vintage, discuss its flavors and selling points. If it was a new variety, they’d pick a name—Half Moon Chardonnay, for example, because the harvest had gone on into the night one October and the moon had been so clear.

  The rest of the family was already there. Pru, with Carl, who was making a rare appearance, and Ned. Faith and Levi, holding hands. Jack and Dad, both of them in faded work shirts and Blue Heron baseball caps. Mrs. Johnson was setting out wineglasses. Goggy and Pops sat at opposite ends of the tasting bar where, even so, they managed to annoy each other. Abby was curled into a chair, reading. “Hi, honey,” Honor said, giving her niece’s head a kiss.

  Then Goggy spotted her and pounced, surprisingly lithe for a woman in her eighties. “Whatever happened with you-know-who?” she asked, dragging Honor a few yards away. “Who needed the you-know-what?”

  “Um, let’s talk later,” Honor whispered.

  “He’s nice, isn’t he? And handsome?”

  And great in bed, Goggy. “Very nice,” Honor admitted.

  “See? I told you. ” Her grandmother gave her a triumphant smile, fluffed her hair and walked back to her seat.

  Honor put thoughts of Tom aside. She’d deal with him soon enough, and besides, she had work to do.

  When she’d graduated from Wharton, her first order of business was to overhaul the tasting room, and it was her pride and joy. A long, curved bar made by a Mennonite craftsman from wood harvested here on Holland land. A blue slate floor below, arching beams above, a stone fireplace in the corner and, best of all, the windows, which looked out over the vineyard and woods, all the way down to the Crooked Lake.

  It never failed to thrill her.

  As the boss of everything, she now turned to the rest of the family. “Everyone ready to taste some excellent wine?”

  She poured the first, a pinot gris, and held the glass to her nose. Green apple was her first thought, then some vanilla and clove. Very nice.

  “Anyone getting apple?” Dad asked.

  “I am,” Goggy said. “Green apple. Tart. ”

  “I’m getting red apple. A new red apple. McIntosh,” Pops said.

  “It’s definitely green apple,” Goggy said with a glare.

  “I get red,” Pops said blithely. “An unripe red apple. ”

  “Which is a green apple,” Goggy growled.

  “Isn’t it time for one of them to go to a nice farm?” Ned whispered.

  “I heard that, young man,” Pops said. “Respect your elders. ”

  “I wish I could,” he said.

  “A little limestone, maybe?” Faith said, and Honor nodded encouragingly. Faith hadn’t been around too much in the past few years. It was nice to have her back.

  “I’m getting nesberry,” Mrs. Johnson said.

  “Oh, yes, nesberry,” Dad agreed, smiling at Mrs. J. , who didn’t seem able to meet his eyes.

  “What’s a nesberry?” Jack asked.

  “I don’t know. But I bet it’s wonderful,” Dad murmured.

  “Anyone else picking up some hay?” Pru asked.

  “Definitely,” Ned said. “Wet hay. ”

  “I’m getting overtones of fog and unicorn tears,” Abby said from the couch, “with just a hint of baby’s laughter. ”

  Honor smiled at her niece and typed up the other comments. The nose of the wine, the taste, the finish. The texture, the overtones, the legs. Wine was like a living thing, striking everyone a little bit differently, changing with air and age, dependent on the life that happened before.

  This was the culmination of the family’s work. From the care of the soil and vines to the harvest to the wine-making itself, every one of them had a hand in it, big or small. The whole family, taking care of family business. Sort of like the Mob, but a little bit nicer. No murders, though you could never rule it out with Goggy and Pops, who were still fixated on the green-versus-unripe apple debate.

  How strange, to picture Tom here, too. She might be married. Soon.

  The thought of it made her knees zing with nervousness.

  An hour later, they’d tried all four of the new varietals. In a few weeks, Honor would do another tasting with the staff and sales reps and get their input, too.

  “While I’ve got you all here,” Dad said as Goggy and Mrs. J. wrestled glasses from each other in the battle for who worked harder, “I have, um, an announcement. Of sorts. Something to tell you kids. ” He swallowed. Blushed. Stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Mom? Mrs. J. ? Would you mind?”

  “Fine,” Goggy said. “I’ll wash up later. ”

  “I’ll wash up later,” Mrs. Johnson growled.

  “Mrs. John—uh, Hyacinth? Would you come over?” Dad asked.

  Honor’s breath caught. She looked at Mrs. Johnson, who studiously avoided her gaze.

  Well, well, well. Her throat was suddenly tight. She glanced at Faith, whose mouth was slightly open, and at Jack, who was eating some cheese with Pops.

  “What’s the matter?” Goggy asked suspiciously. “Is someone dying?”

  “No, no,” Dad said, wiping his forehead with a napkin, “you all remember how I started dating again last fall. ”

  “That woman. Lorena Creech. And those clothes! I saw her at the market last week, and she was wearing nothing but a—”

  “Hush, woman, your son is trying to talk,” Pops interrupted, then paused. “Nothing but a what?”

  “I’m not telling you now, old man,” Goggy said. “Not when you just told me to be quiet. ”

  “Go on, Dad,” Jack said. “If you must. ”

  “It’s kind of funny—no, not funny, really. Uh, why don’t you tell it, Mrs. —um, Hyacinth. ”

  “You have a first name?” Abby asked Mrs. Johnson.

  “Shush, child. ” Mrs. Johnson crossed her arms. “Faith, this is your fault, of course. You and Honor, on a mission to marry off your poor father. ”

  “I was also on the mission!” Pru said. “But I never get credit for that kind of thing. Is it because I wear men’s clothes?”

  “Fine. All three of you girls are responsible, then. ”

  “Responsible for what?” Abby asked.

  “Holy shit,” Ja
ck muttered.

  “Don’t curse, Jackie, my darling,” Mrs. Johnson said. “But yes. After several weeks of your father irritating me and getting in my way, I relented. ”

  “I don’t understand,” said Pops. “Are you quitting, Mrs. Johnson?”

  Dad didn’t answer, but his eyes were bright with tears, and he was smiling. He looked at her and gave a small nod.

  “No, Pops,” Honor said, still looking at her father, and feeling her own eyes well. “I think what they’re trying to say is, Dad and Mrs. J. are getting married. ”

  She couldn’t help thinking that Mom would be awfully happy.

  * * *

  TOM’S CAR, AN unassuming gray Toyota, pulled into the parking lot in front of Blue Heron’s tank room. The man himself got out, looking somber. Honor swallowed. What had seemed easy to say in his kitchen this morning was now a little trickier. This was their fourth meeting, for crying out loud. And that was counting the parking lot where he’d retrieved her keys.

  “Hallo,” he said. That accent was really unfair.

  “Hi. Nice to see you again,” she answered, clearing her throat.

  “You, as well. ” He looked around. “So this is it, then? The family farm?”

  “Right, yes,” she said. “Um, want a tour?”

  He looked at her oddly. They were here, after all, to discuss marriage, not wine. “Absolutely,” he said. Maybe she wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

  “Okay,” she said. “We grow seven different kinds of grape here. Down there is the cabernet franc and pinot noir, to the west is the gewürztraminer and merlot. On the eastern side, we’ve got chardonnay and pinot gris. And up on the hill is the Riesling, which this area is known for. We have some of the best Rieslings in the world, in case you didn’t know. ”

  “Yes, I’ve read the brochures,” he said.

  “It’s the soil. It’s magic,” she said. “I mean, not literally magic, but the weather, combined with the lakes and the hills. . . anyway, we harvest in October or so. There’s the grape harvester there. Those fingers agitate the vines, and the ripe grapes fall on the conveyer belt. ”

  “Fascinating,” Tom said.

  “It is,” Honor said sharply.

  “No, I meant it. I love machines,” he said. “Mechanical engineer, remember?”

  “Right. Sorry. ”

  “Go on, then,” he said.

  She led him around the barn to the juicer, explaining how the grapes were loaded and gently compressed so as not to crush the seeds and make the wine bitter, showed him how the juice ran through the tubes to the fermenting tanks.

  “About ninety percent of our wine is aged in here, the tank room,” she said, leading him into the barn that held the giant steel containers where the grape juice fermented. “Mostly what you need is time, but we add things like yeast, egg whites, sugar, that kind of thing. ”

  “It’s very scientific, isn’t it?” he said, assessing one of the tanks.

  “Yes. Jack likes to say that wine-making is ninety percent science, ten percent luck. ”

  “And who’s Jack?” he asked.

  “Oh. Um, my brother. He’s three years older than I am. He and my father are the winemakers, and my grandfather, too. My sister Pru runs the farming end, and I handle the business stuff. ”

  “I see. ” He looked around the tank room. “Do you use wooden barrels anymore?”

  “We do, though we use the tanks more,” Honor said. “Come on, here’s the bottling room. ”

  “Oh, more machines,” Tom said, flashing that crooked smile. “Lovely. ”

  She started to explain how the bottling machine and labeler worked, but it was clear Tom had already figured it out. He knelt down to look at something under the conveyer belt. Nice to have someone who was genuinely interested in the process. Most people on the tours were itchy to hit the tasting room.
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