Ali and I spent the first night in California as honeymooning newlyweds, but the next morning he shifted into business mode. I was really ticked, because he’d packed business suits, ties and dress shirts. That old feeling of being played crept back up my spine. I laid in bed with one eye open watching him quietly shower and get dressed. He’d called to have breakfast and coffee brought to the room. I laid still in bed watching him at the dining table working on his laptop, until he got a call and crept out to the patio to take it. I got out of bed and tiptoed into the bathroom. When I returned, Ali was back at the dining table and greeted me warmly, “Good morning, Beautiful.” He moved the chair back and motioned for me to sit on his lap. He was so outrageously handsome and charming, his eyes sparkled in the valley’s magnificent morning light and his dimples were on full strength, in this light. I walked over and spread my legs across his lap. “Were you going to sneak out on me, Hubby.” I whispered in his ear as I lightly kissed it. He groaned in a low, sexy tone, “Never that, Wife. I was just double checking some mock ups for Kai.”
“Then why are you dressed for the office.” I kept nibbling at his ear. His pants stiffened beneath me and he mumbled, “I work better in office attire.”
“I want them off.” I said sternly and started unbuckling his belt. He didn’t resist. We were back in bed with our naked bodies intertwined before both of his shoes were off. Morning lovemaking bought me another two hours of honeymooning, but duty called and he asked me to get dressed while he made a few calls.
“How should I dress for a working honeymoon.” I sarcastically called to him from the bathroom. Not missing a beat he tossed back, “Whatever you wear, you’ll be an asset, Mrs. Robinson.” .”Pfftt.” I huffed loudly enough for him to hear me, but he didn’t react. After a few minutes I came out in a pair of slim fitted khakis, a navy and white, striped top with a bateau neckline and a pair of espadrilles. Although it was the end of September, California’s wine country boasted mild, Indian summer like temperatures. I spritzed on some perfume, tied on an aqua and navy blue infinity scarf around my neck and put on my own gold tone aviators. I stood by the door full of sass and attitude with arms defiantly crossed across my chest and called to Ali, “I’m ready when you are Boss.”
I wanted to hold on to my indignation, but the Russian River Valley was absolutely stunning. I broke my vow of silence to declare, “This is truly God’s country.”
Ali smiled. “Do you think you could live here.” he asked in an even tone.
I thought to myself, “I freaking knew it.”
I summoned a calm, unaffected tone and replied, “What would I do here? Make wine? Run an inn.”
He didn’t respond, so I asked more directly. “Well? Ali? What would I do here? Huh.” I could hear the annoyance in my tone growing.
“Calm down, woman. I’m just making conversation.”
I snapped back, “Are you, Ali? Or are you planning solo again? If you are, please clue me in, because I’m not grieving now.”
He pulled the car over on a run off shoulder at the side of the road, and turned to face me. “Are you picking a fight right now, Love.”
To my own surprise, I yelled, “Maybe I AM.”
The shock of my answer stalled him for a second, then he burst into laughter. “You are one crazy woman. You are tripping right now and I can’t even be mad because you are so damned cute when you’re mad.” He chuckled a little more then settled. “Cam, what’s going on in that beautiful head of yours. This is not like you. So talk.”
I hated it when he disarmed me. But, I was committed now and so I started, “One. Are you trying to move us out here to California? And two. Am I about to be left wandering the countryside alone while you’re working with Ms. Bollywood.”
He laughed again, but took my hand this time. “You’re funny. Wandering the countryside.” He chuckled again and then something came over his face, “How’d you know Amita was Indian.” He carefully asked.
Now it was my turn to answer carefully, “Camilla told me. She was the one who saw you kissing her on your date.” Despite my best effort, I couldn’t mask the accusation.
Ali took an exaggerated breath, “So that’s who told you.” he said under his breath and drove the car back onto the roadway without saying another word. We rode that way for miles before he spoke up. “I didn’t kiss her. And I’ve already told you that, MRS. ROBINSON.” he emphasized the Mrs. Robinson and went on without looking at me, “And, no. You won’t be left alone wandering the countryside. And no. I’m not trying to move us to California.” He was very curt in addressing all of my concerns and added in a softer tone, “I just realize how much I miss it whenever I get out here; it’s beautiful and it’s a special place for me, which is why I wanted to share it with you, Camisha Ann Robinson.”
I felt awful for being so insecure, but I also felt a tinge of pride for speaking up for myself. “Thank you.” I humbly offered.
He didn’t respond right away, so I tried again, “Thank you, Ali.”
“Is that an apology.” He shot back.
Now, it was me who took a second before answering, “It’s a thank you.”
Shortly afterwards we turned at a worn wooden sign that read, “Beltram Ranch Winery, Est. 190.”. The ranch was bustling with activity. There looked to be hundreds of Latino men and women plucking at the delicate vines and carrying buckets filled with bright green bunches of grapes. We made our way through neat, dusty rows of grapevines amongst pickup trucks and tractors, to the grand, yellow and white, two story mansion of Harold and Sandy Beltram. The historic home boasted balconies on both stories and was nestled beneath stately oak trees and lush gardens. Before Ali had completely parked the car, Kai and his parents were walking towards the cars, wearing bright, welcoming smiles on their faces. Kai was even more handsome in his own element. He was just a shy bit shorter than Ali, but he was easily as handsome. And today at his childhood home, he looked more rugged than he’d looked at the wedding. I thought to myself that he must’ve gone through some major manscaping for his best friend’s wedding. His tanned face was almost completely covered by loose, dirty blonde waves and matching facial hair, and at the wedding he’d worn his hair neatly trimmed and tucked behind his ears. The facial hair was new, to me. None of which did anything to dim his sparkling blue eyes and movie star good looks. He looked every bit the California surfer type. “Lennox.” Mrs. Beltram sang with outstretched arms. Ali unbuckled his seatbelt and bounced over to meet her embrace. “Hi, Sandy! It’s been too long.” He lifted her off of her feet in a great big hug. Mr. Beltram stood behind his wife and hugged Ali as soon as she’d released him.
“Hello. You must be the beautiful new Missus.” Mr. Beltram playfully shoved Ali and took me in his arms next. Sandy smiled, shaking her head and teased her husband, “Down boy, she’s taken.” She hugged me next, “You are a stunner.” she said, .”just as Kai reported.” I blushed and removed my sunglasses. “Thank you. I’m Cami Robbins --son.” I stuttered. “You have a spectacular home, Mrs. Beltram.” She jumped in, politely correcting me, “Please, call me Sandy. Mrs. Beltram is my mother--in--law.” We all laughed. She turned and swatted at Ali with the tattered straw hat she was wearing, “Then why did your husband rent a room, instead of staying here, with family.” Ali grabbed her and hugged her again. “Oh, come on now. Who stays with family on their honeymoon, Sands.” She conceded with another swat at him and told us to come in to wash up before lunch. Although it was well after noon, the Beltrams always had lunch with the pickers on Fridays because they worked through the morning stopping around one o’clock. Many of the pickers lived on the ranch with their families. The elders cooked Friday lunches over outdoor fire pits and big barbecue grills. The men butchered and cooked the meat, while the women prepared the side dishes. I was in food heaven with all of the farm fresh offerings. I offered to help with lunch and to my surprise and delight the women welcomed my assistance. While I washed and chopped vegetables and fruits for the salads and ranch--style sangria, Sandy and Harold shared with me the story of the ranch. They took a great amount of pride in the its rich and diverse history. It had been in the Beltram family since the early 1900s, when it and surrounding homesteads were purchased by Harold’s great--grandmother Marilyn Eileen Love, a larger than life figure in the valley. The mulatto daughter of a slave, came out West from New Orleans and rose to a position of considerable financial and political power. She was credited with helping abolitionist John Brown before the Civil War and with guiding the Underground Railway. In 1919, she met and married Lawrence Beltram, a French immigrant with winemaking in his blood. The Beltrams weathered the strains of Prohibition by selling grapes to the wholesale market and by receiving a special dispensation to sell sacramental wines to the region’s churches. I had to admit, I was really enjoying getting to know Sandy and Harold. Kai and Ali had long disappeared to discuss business, I’d supposed.
“So Cami you have to tell me how you and Lennox met.” Sandy gushed. She was beautiful. The wear on her skin from long days in the sun and hard work gave her a naturally sun--kissed glow, that was highlighted by her long, blonder than blonde hair and crystal clear blue eyes, which were obviously the genes that provided Kai with his own impossibly blue eyes. Had I not just heard the story of Harold’s family, I’d have never known he was of African descent or Kai either for that matter. I smiled and told her an abbreviated version of pining after Ali on the train for years and finally meeting him one freakishly cool morning in late July. I told her that we’d married after only having known each other for just over a year. She and Harold exchanged flirty smiles.
“I saw Sandy in Chinatown one day and put a ring on her finger three months later.” he walked over and kissed her on the forehead.
“When you know, you know.”
The main cook, Javier rang the lunch bell signifying that lunch was ready.
We’d spent the whole day touring the vineyard, the wine room, the guest cottages and Sandy’s beloved gardens. We had dinner with the Beltrams and listened to Kai and Ali pitch their ideas for modernizing the brand. I had never seen Ali work. I mean I’d seen him beating on the keys of a laptop and I’d heard him on conference calls, but I’d never seen him work. I found him to be very confident and articulate and most of all passionate about what he was working on with Kai. I was very turned on and couldn’t wait to get him alone. I helped Sandy clean up after dinner, while the men went out onto the porch to further discuss the new direction for the Winery.
“Oh, Cami! I have something for you and Lennox. I’ll be right back.” Sandy said with a finger in the air and hurriedly left the room, yelling out to Ali, too. He joined me in the kitchen and hoisted himself onto the counter.
“What’s she up to.” Ali asked and I shrugged. He beckoned for me to come closer and I coyly refused.
“Behave, Mr. Robinson.” He flashed his million dollar smile.
“Have you enjoyed yourself today.” he asked in a very seductive tone. I didn’t get to answer because Sandy bounced back in the room with the biggest picnic basket I’d ever seen. “I wanted to get you guys a little something.” She sang.
“Sandy, you didn’t have to do this.” Ali protested.
“I know, but I love you like a son. And we couldn’t make it out East for the wedding, so. Here. Here. Open it.” She handed the basket to us and eagerly gestured for us to open it. Ali and I lifted the lid together, as we were instructed to do.
In the basket was a classic, checkered picnic blanket, two bottles of white wine, a bottle of their own olive oil, a summer sausage and a long crusty loaf of french bread. She’d also included a jar of raspberry preserves from her own cannery and a round of brie. There was a sealed envelope tucked in between the bottles of wine. When Ali pulled it out, Sandy stopped him and asked that we open it when we picnicked and asked that we read it together. With her final instructions she hugged us and waved us off. We joined Kai and Harold on the porch, thanked them for their hospitality and wished them a good night. Kai and Ali shook hands, then Kai hugged me again and said, “Enjoy our little slice of heaven and I guess we’ll see you guys in a few days.”“See you then.” I said and hugged him back.
On the drive back to our resort Ali and I recapped the day’s events. But, all day I’d been bracing myself for Ms. Bollywood’s appearance and I simply had to ask him about her not being there. “Ali.”
“Yeah.” he answered coolly.
“What happened to Amita today.” I asked equally as cool.
“She won’t be here until the end of the week.” He looked straight ahead.
“Was that always the plan or did you rearrange things.” I thought I should’ve stopped while I was ahead, but my curiosity edged me along.
“I asked Kai to schedule her for later in the week, but that was always the plan.” He glanced over at me and put his hand on my thigh. “Cam, I’m sorry. I have to do better -- no I’m going to do better about communicating things to you and about including you in my plans. I’m just so used to only having to consider myself. But, now -- now I have a family to think of. Right.” he asked with a pat on my thigh. I forced a little smile and agreed. He seemed pleased with my response and started telling me about all of the things he had planned for us. I shook my head, but he didn’t notice in the dark.
The clear night sky was as big as I’d ever seen it, up that high in the hills and filled with stars. The night air was cool and crisp. When we got back to the suite, Ali changed out of his business clothes and climbed onto the loveseat in the sitting area pulling out his laptop. I walked directly to the patio and filled the outdoor whirlpool. There was a new bottle of champagne in the small kitchen and a basket of fresh strawberries with a small jar of chocolate sauce. I poured myself a glass of champagne, took the basket of berries and chocolate sauce to the whirlpool. I took off my clothes right next to the whirlpool and lowered myself into the steamy bath. I must have been out there for almost twenty minutes before my husband missed me and came to the patio door.
“I’m in trouble, aren’t I.” He murmured.
“Not at all.” I answered curtly and put another strawberry in my mouth.
“May I join you.” He quietly asked with a boyish smile.
I sarcastically retorted, “Well, I’m not sure it’s in your plan for our honeymoon, Honey.”
He drew in a deep breath and took off his socks. He took off the shorts he was wearing and then his boxer briefs. He walked over and lowered himself in the whirlpool behind me, wrapping his muscular arms and legs around me. He laid his head on my shoulder, “No more plans.” he said. “We’ll go through some brochures and make plans together. OK.” He kissed my back and shoulders, making me but a puddle beneath his touch and I breathlessly agreed, “OK.”
After we made love on the patio, I was famished and we called for room service. We ate dinner in bed and made plans for the next day -- together.
Fall was a popular season for tourism in the California Wine Region. Everywhere was crowded and busy. We went out to the quaint downtown briefly, but returned to the resort and picnicked there on the grounds. It was turning out to be a beautiful day. Ali hadn’t reached for his cell phone or his laptop. We’d mapped out a wine tasting tour with the aid of the resort’s owner and rented bicycles, which was Ali’s subtle attempt to get a workout in without seeming self--centered again. I was learning a lot about my new husband on this trip and I was slowly letting him down off of the pedestal I’d erected in his honor. He was appearing more human and flawed, albeit quite beautifully. Ali was selfish, materialistic and rigid about certain things, but he could also be very thoughtful. He was smart, confident and hard working, almost to a fault. But he was undoubtedly the most loving man, I’d ever known. The week flew by in a haze of love making and wine tastings. We’d dined at the finest restaurants in the region and Ali spoiled me. Whatever I showed interest in having he saw to me having it. We must have mailed at least three boxes home over the week--long vacation. When Thursday night came, I was acutely aware that I’d be face to face with Ms. Bollywood, the beautiful ex--girlfriend in the morning. I obsessed over what I’d wear to the ranch on Friday, and Ali noticed my efforts.
“Babe, whatever you wear is going to be fine.” He said to me more than a few times.
I complained and grumbled, “I didn’t pack anything that seems appropriate.”
“Appropriate,” he repeated under his breath.
“Yes, Ali! Appropriate.” I shrieked.
“What’s appropriate for a ranch.” he sarcastically mumbled. I could feel my temper escalating.
“Yes! A ranch where your beautiful ex-girlfriend who my mom saw kissing you while you were engaged to be married to ME will be! Yes, what does one wear.” I snapped at him. He lowered the newspaper he’d been mumbling behind to look at me.
He sucked his teeth and shook his head.
“What does one wear.” He laughed and then I laughed at my own pettiness and walked over to sit on his lap. I kissed him slowly on the mouth, “Did she kiss you like that.” I teased. He looked a little confused, but cautiously answered, “No.” I kissed him again, but this time I grinded against him.
“Did she kiss you like that?” I asked him again, in a low sexy groan.
He answered in kind,
“No. Nothing like that, Mrs. Robinson. That’s the kind of kiss that gets you a ring.”
He lifted the thin silk nightgown I was wearing and slipped his shorts off in one move. He entered my throbbing femininity and laid me on the loveseat, “I love you, Mrs. Cami Robinson. Please know that.”
By sunrise on Friday morning, I was fully feeling my new role as Mrs. Lennox Robinson and threw on a pair of distressed boyfriend jeans and my off the shoulder sweatshirt that read, ‘Mrs.’ in black sequins across the front. Lacey had bought it for me as a gift to bring on the honeymoon along with a black silk nightgown and robe set. I put my hair up into a side swept messy bun, wore my diamond studded hoops and my tobacco brown riding boots. I brushed on my favorite peachy gold lip gloss, a couple of coats of mascara and swiped some bronzer along my cheekbones. When I walked out of the bathroom, Ali was dressed in a navy suit with a lavender, tan and navy plaid tie. A wide grin spread across his face and he shook his head, “Damn, Missus! You really nailed appropriate for meeting the ex- thing. Didn’t you.” He laughed and winked at me before turning his attention back to his laptop. I deliberately rubbed my breast against him, as I reached around him for my handbag. He grabbed me by the arm and drew me in for a passionate kiss. “Woman, I don’t think you even understand how much I love you.” I responded flirtatiously, “I might have a clu.” and continued kissing him. I pulled away with my purse in hand, “We don’t want to be late.” I sang and headed for the door.
Brilliant yellow leaves covered the vines at the ranch, giving the whole property a glow. And again the pickers were buzzing around like worker bees harvesting the queen’s honey. Sandy was hard at work in the garden as we drove up the road to the main house. She stood up, waved her wide brim straw hat and gave a bright smile. She hugged me first today and took my arm in her arm and escorted us to the porch where Kai, Harold and a leggy brown skinned woman, whom I assumed was, Amita stood to greet us. Kai and Harold took turns hugging me and shaking Ali’s hand. “Amita Sawant, meet Mrs. Cami Robinson.” Kai extended an arm between Amita and me, suggesting we shake hands. Amita was indeed a striking woman, but she wasn’t as pretty as I’d imagined. She had long thick, shiny black hair and she was at least four to five inches taller than me. I quietly thanked the heavens that at least, her long legs were scrawny and she had unusually, big feet. She had beautiful green eyes framed by thick, long eyelashes and an Angelina Jolie like plump mouth. Her eyes were beautiful, but she was no Aishwarya Rai, I thought to myself. She was dressed in a slinky, peacock feather printed, wrap dress. The purples, blues and greens in the dress complimented her green eyes. I confidently reached out for her hand and took it in both my hands giving her a warm smile and direct eye contact. “It’s good to finally meet you, Amita. It’s nice to put a face with a name.” She was shaken and it was obvious as she ran her free hand over the front of her dress, which only emboldened my position, as the chosen, Mrs. Lennox Robinson. She stammered at first in her sophisticated English accent, “Hello, Cami. It’s good to speak with you again.” She turned to Ali and quietly greeted him with a polite nod, “Lenno.”. He stepped forward and gave her an awkward hug. He looked as uncomfortable as she did and nervously said, “Hi, Amita.” Harold cut through the cloud of weirdness by directing everyone inside for an early lunch of smoky grilled romaine with heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers dressed in a garlicky vinaigrette. They also served a braised pork shoulder over polenta. Harold had outdone himself and to top off the elegant lunch, he served us zinfandel marinated peaches with freshly baked shortbread.
“Oh my God Harold, lunch was outstanding,” I exclaimed. He smiled sheepishly and admitted, “Well Cami, your proud new husband gave us a heads up that he’d married a culinary genius and I wanted to make a good showing for you.” Sandy and Kai laughed because he’d been testing out new dishes on them for weeks, in anticipation of our visit. I was flattered and thanked him for the great meal.
“So guys, how has your honeymoon been going.” Kai asked over the table as Sandy and Harold cleared the lunch dishes.
I spoke up first, “It’s been amazing. It’s beautiful here, but I’ve gotta tell you I didn’t expect such large crowds this time of year.”
“Large crowds? Is the resort very large.” Sandy asked.
“Not at all, I think there’s only the main house, with three rooms, and what, about 4 villas, Babe.” I asked Ali for confirmation.
He was gazing off into the distance and didn’t answer me. “Ali. Babe? Sandy asked about the size of the resort where we’re staying.”
“I’m sorry, Sandy. Yes, Cami’s right. There are only four villas.”
I shot a sideways glance at him before turning my attention back to Sandy, “I’m referring to the crowds in downtown Healdsburg, at the shops and restaurants. They’ve been really crowded.”
“Yeah.” Ali finally chimed in, “we’ve picnicked, done a few tastings and we biked to most of them, which was interesting.” he chuckled and winked at me, because I was not a good cyclist.”but for the most part we’ve stayed in.” he chuckled again and reached for my hand on top of the table. Sandy and the guys laughed along with Ali. Sandy qualified Ali’s last comment, “As newlyweds should. The Napa Valley will always be here, your first days as husband and wife are fleeting.” She raised a glass and toasted, “To Lennox and Cami.” We all followed her lead by raising our own glasses and clinging them together. Ali leaned over and lightly kissed me to a collective, “Awww.”
Amita spoke for the first time, “How long will you lovebirds be out here.”
As if she didn’t already know, I thought to myself. But, Ali answered, “We’ll be flying out tomorrow evening.”
“Oh.” she exclaimed, “then we’d better get to work.” I wondered if her question was a cleverly veiled segue to get Ali away from me.
Kai agreed with her and stood, “Thanks for lunch Dad, but Sawant’s right, guys. We’d better get to work.”
Sandy told me that we’d be touring the whole operation and said that she wanted to show me the house and orchards. “Cami you are here at the best time of year to witness the whole process, from the vine to the press.” She sang and stood up. She motherly ordered Ali to walk with us, out to the winery. He stood and pulled out my chair. I looked him in the eyes for some familiarity, because he’d only pulled out my chair once before and he was posturing that time, too. Sandy interlocked her arm with mine again. Amita chirped, “Take care, have fun.” as the wood framed screen door slammed behind us. Ali placed a hand at the small of my back, but neither of us outwardly reacted to Amita’s jab. Ali walked us to the winery as Sandy had ordered and bid us farewell with kisses.
Sandy did just as she’d promised. She took me through the winery explaining the pressing process, the aging process and the bottling. I wished Oliver could have been here to experience the winery with me. I knew he’d love it! We took her pickup truck and drove out to the far reaches of the ranch. It was massive and I marvelled at how a mulatto woman had amassed so much property back then. The vineyard was only a small part of their operation. There were also olive orchards, grass--fed cattle and heirloom fruit groves.
“This place is amazing, Sandy.” I complimented her.
But, she had other things on her mind.
“So I’m guessing you know that Lennox and Amita were once a couple.” Her words came across as a statement, but she paused to wait for an answer from me.
“Yes, I know.” I quietly answered.
“They dated through most of college.” She paused again, before adding,” I never thought she and Lennox were suited for each other.”
“And what do you think about me and Lennox.” I turned in the passenger seat to face her.
She smiled and said, “That’s a funny question, Cami.” It was and I explained that Ali and I were so different. He was in a completely different class than I was. I told her that the plane trip out here was my first. I told her how I’d worked my way through a local college and that I’d finished my Master’s degree through an online university, nothing like Ali and Kai had. I told her about the way I always worried that I wasn’t good enough for a man like Ali. I often questioned if he’d eventually tire of me and want more. She cut me off and set me straight.
“Listen to me Cami. You two are right. He’s a completely different person with you. He’s better with you.” She went on, “We were pretty sure Lennox wouldn’t marry and if he did marry we thought it would be more of a strategic, career move.”
“Really.” I interjected. Her last statement really surprised me.
“Yes, indeed. Kai came back here on cloud nine about his best friend being in love. Amita never loved him, she saw him as an asset for her own ambition.”
A subtle giggle escaped her, “I’ve never seen him so at ease or smiling so much. Who knew the man had dimples?” We both laughed about that. “Now if I could just get Kai on that train to snag the love of his life.” She laughed again and put a hand on top of mine. “You are just what Lennox needed. And I’m glad he was smart enough to recognize it.”
When we returned Amita had left and the menfolk were underneath a majestic oak with a few of the ranch hands drinking beers around a smoking grill. “Look at how he lights up.” Sandy pointed out as she parked the truck. Ali was laughing with the others, but his piercing brown eyes were locked on mine. She giggled again and remarked, “Dimples. Lennox has dimples.” He did look happy to see us and at that very moment, I felt more than good enough. I was perfect. I was exactly what Ali needed.