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Old 06-05-2015, 06:46 AM   #1
Tad
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Default The Fruit of the Vine by BBD (~BHM, ~~WG)

~BHM, Eating, Romance. ~MWG - a vintner finds Nirvana

The Fruit of the Vine
by Big Beautiful Dreamer


The longer Edge sat at his desk, the more he was distracted by the realization that sitting had lately become increasingly uncomfortable. His chair was snug, and sitting just felt oddly different.

The thought, complex as it was, flitted through the edge of his mind and was gone. Almost subconsciously, he stood and stretched. Ah, that felt good. Tiring of the dim light of the warehouse, he left his scarred, cluttered desk, slid back the huge wooden door and strolled outside.

Every time he looked over the rolling fields of vines, he couldn’t believe how the last decade had unfolded. At 32, without having inherited anything, he was the owner of Intermezzo Vineyards – revenues of $2.5 million last year, personal income of more than half a million. He was a maverick banker who had taken a risk when he absolutely should not have a couple of times, an inerrant sense for the rhythms of the wine market, and – last, but most important – that instinctive oenological sense of taste and smell. He knew when a wine was good. He also knew when it was bad.

Speaking of smell. Edge inhaled the deeply pungent scent of the soil. When he opened his eyes, Jake Hill was approaching. Jake, the overseer, was one reason that Intermezzo was successful.

“Hello, sir,” he said. Edge had given up trying to have Jake address him as anything but “Mr. Whitley” or “sir.” It was disconcerting, since Jake was a good 20 years his senior. On the other hand, it tended to impress corporate and individual buyers, investors, and anyone else who needed impressing.

“How’re the grapes?” Old joke.

“They’re good,” Jake replied. Thank Goodness. Downy mildew was proving a problem this year.

“Going to be a good year?”

“Too soon to tell.” As always. Edge knew that it was always too soon to tell until the first glass was poured and taste-tested.

After a little more conversation, Jake went back to the grapes and Edge back to his desk to finish the books for the month. In the evening, he nursed a glass of his own Merlot from 2002, a good year, then went inside and heated up some chili, which he ate while sprawled in his favorite club chair with the Ramones on the CD player. After some more time with the books, he padded up to the bedroom and undressed.

That’s when he noticed it. Naked, he felt something like a rash around his waistline. He looked in the mirror and saw it. A deep red welt, going all the way around his middle, exactly where his pants waistband had been. Gently, he rubbed it. It was a little tender and was starting to itch. He frowned. Were his pants really getting that tight? It was too late at night to worry overmuch about it, but as he drifted off to sleep, he stroked his midsection, wondering how much weight he’d been putting on.

By morning, he’d forgotten about the red mark; and he absentmindedly put the same pants back on. Already loosened by wear the day before, they didn’t pinch too badly in the waist. As before, though, when he sat at his desk he felt his belly pooching out over his belt. He kept trying to dismiss the thought – he had enough on his mind – but could not entirely forget about it.

In the evening, he went to a dinner party, at Stargazers, a restaurant where one of his good friends was the sommelier. About a dozen restaurant owners, chefs, sommeliers and vintners gathered once a month at one of their places after hours. Most people brought something to eat or drink, and a good time was had by all. Everyone put in money to hire a van and driver so no one had to worry about driving while impaired.

As usual, the food, wine, and conversation all flowed in roughly equal measure. Edge didn’t realize that he had filled his plate and emptied it twice until he helped himself to some more risotto.

“Hey, save some for the rest of us,” Andrea said. Edge couldn’t tell if she was joking.

“Edge is the cleanup crew,” Paolo threw in. “Saves us from having leftovers.”

Laughter followed, in which Edge joined, but the words stung.

Since he’d put the risotto on his plate, he ate it, but the fun was dampened. When he rose with the others to leave, though, he realized how stuffed he was. His stomach ached and his belly was stretched tight. His pants were pinching his waist so badly that he could scarcely breathe.

Inconspicuously he unbuttoned the pants, but it didn’t help much. The ride home was torture. Squeezed into a seat, he felt his overloaded gut slosh and churn, and he was absurdly grateful for the cool night air that bathed his face when he got out. Man, was he full!

He plodded heavily up the stairs, thinking about the evening. “Saves us from having leftovers.” So not only were his pants getting tight, others were noticing. He was painfully stuffed, he now realized, and a little lightheaded from so much food and wine, but he still peeled off his clothes and looked in the mirror, wincing at the brightness of the bathroom light. The welt was back, worse than the night before.

Not only that, his belly was like a foreign object, totally unfamiliar. It gleamed in the bathroom light, full and round. Beginning below his pecs, his torso arced outward, taut and pale except for the welt, a thin red mark all the way around at his waist, like an equatorial mark. He rubbed his chin. Was he getting a double chin there? Experimentally, he sucked in his gut. Nothing moved, and he was too full to really draw a deep breath. He tried again, resulting only in a painfully sharp hiccup. He smacked his stomach, producing a hollow thump.

In the days that followed, he spent more time studying himself in the mirror, patting and stroking his midriff, running a thumb around the inside of his waistband. The last gesture quickly became a habit; every pair of pants he owned was now too tight, and he had become accustomed to having to suck in his gut to button up when he dressed. The last straw, though, was his underwear. Imperceptibly, the leg holes had tightened and the waistband now sank into his softening belly. Even before he’d put his pants on, he felt constricted by his underwear. Finally, reluctantly, he hauled the scale out from the corner of the bathroom and stood on it one morning, no clothes, no nothing … how bad could it be?

He blinked. That had to be wrong. Right?

Wrong.

The needle had stopped unhesitatingly at 215.

He weighed 187! He’d always weighed 187. Hadn’t he?

Edge sat down heavily on the side of the tub. Two-fifteen minus 187 was … twenty-eight pounds.

Crap.

Well, no wonder his pants were tight, Edge thought. Twenty-eight pounds was a good little addition to his belly. Sighing, he got dressed.

In the afternoon, he reluctantly bought some new pants and underwear, wincing at the sizes. He had to admit they felt much better. No wonder Paolo had called him the cleanup crew. To put on almost 30 pounds, he must have been doing a lot of cleanup.

The fall passed. Gradually, imperceptibly, his new pants became a little snug. The grapes were harvested and it looked like a good year – not a great year, but a good year. Thanksgiving approached. As always, Edge and his friends were celebrating; this year, he was the host. He set up tables on the large two-level deck and indoors, so guests could move about depending on how cool it got.

Andrea brought the turkey; Rick brought several of his signature vegetable dishes; Suzanne was in charge of dessert – this year a pumpkin flan, a maple-walnut cheesecake and a cranberry torte. The wine was from Edge’s cellars.

In addition to lemon braised Brussels sprouts, steamed asparagus, and honey-roasted carrots, Rick brought a friend. Her name was Rosie, she was the new sous-chef at his restaurant, and she was new to the area. She was gorgeous, Edge thought: maybe 5’6” with a round, radiant face framed by black hair in a long braid. She wore a soft, dark green sweater that hugged her curves and dark brown suede pants that did the same. Funky handmade jewelry and a light woodsy scent that wafted by his nose as she hugged him in greeting.

“Thanks for having us all,” Rosie said happily.

“Uh, my pleasure,” Edge stammered. “Would you care for some wine?”

“Lovely,” Rosie said. “Whatever you suggest.”

Edge gave her a pinot grigio from 2004. She inhaled gently, then sipped. “Ah, that’s really good,” she said. She smiled. “My compliments to the vintner.”

Rick was quick to notice the chemistry between chef and vintner, but said nothing. He did make sure to steer her to a seat at Edge’s right at the main table. It took a shrill taxi-summoning whistle to quiet the 30-plus people seated indoors and out.

Edge raised his voice. “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Happy Thanksgiving!” came the chorus.

“Let’s give thanks,” he said. “We are thankful for the sun and rain and soil that give us these gifts from the earth. We are thankful for good friends, good fellowship, and good food. Enjoy!”

And they did. The meal began at 2:00 and no one rose from the table until nearly five. Edge did justice to Paolo’s unflattering nickname: he heaped his plate high several times and did his share in helping finish off this or that. His belly steadily growing, he loosened his belt a couple of notches after finishing a mountain of stuffing and unbuttoned his pants before dessert. Or rather, desserts. He knew he was full, he knew he had eaten too much, but the food, the company and the wine were all so good he had to have just one more mouthful, one more roll, one more swallow of wine. His midsection inched visibly outward. The pants were destined for the dustbin. Still he ate. Chase the spiciness from his mouth with a swallow of mashed potatoes, one more sliver of torte.

Every dish was empty. The hired van, which held 15 people, made two trips. After the first vanload left, guests helped put up the tables and chairs to be returned to the rental company, carried dishes and glasses in, straightened up, all moaning about how stuffed they were. Edge was so full that he wanted only to lie down, but he still had a houseful of company.

He suddenly found that Rosie had elected herself to help with the washing up.

He washed, she dried, and Edge, at least, certainly noticed the buzz that went through his body whenever they touched. They made casual conversation about work, backgrounds, the meal.

“Everything was delicious,” Rosie said. “The wine was so good.”

“Ate too much,” Edge admitted. He patted his belly, which was painfully full. He wished that everyone was gone so he could take off these too-tight pants and gain some relief for his bloated and aching midsection. Except Rosie. He wanted Rosie to stay for a very long time. Ow. His gut clutched and he involuntarily pressed his hands to his bulging tummy.

“You okay?” Rosie was concerned.

“Yeah,” Edge managed. “Just … stuffed.” He somehow managed to stifle a belch. The worst passed and he was able to manage a smile. “Getting too fat, anyway.” He patted his belly again. “Trying out for the part of Santa Claus.”

Rosie changed the subject. “I think the van’s here.”

Edge walked the rest of the guests out. As Rosie moved to step into the van, however, Edge took her arm, holding her back.

“I’ll take you home,” he blurted. Rick grinned. Rosie seemed pleasantly surprised.

The house quiet, Rosie and Edge sat in the living room, savoring coffee with their sockfeet up on footstools. The conversation came easily, as if they’d known each other for years. They talked about Rosie’s work, about how Edge came to own a vineyard, about the characteristics of different wines. Every once in a while, Edge would venture a comment about his own size, which Rosie seemed not to hear. Finally, he said bluntly, “I’ve put on almost 30 pounds lately. I really need to go on a diet.”

Rosie rolled her eyes. “What difference does it make? You’re a vintner, not a model, and this is Santa Rosa, not Hollywood. You like your life, you like good food and good wine and good friends … all the things you just said you were thankful for.” She rose, her radiance somehow dimmed. “Time for me to go home.”

Edge stood automatically when she did. “Stay the night,” he blurted, then blushed crimson. “I mean … I have a guest room … I would love for you to … um … spend the night … here …”

Rosie’s ebullience couldn’t be dimmed for long. Although she’d clearly grown impatient with his griping, there was also clearly a chemistry between them, as magical as the chemistry that allowed yeast to consume the sugar in the grapes’ natural juices, converting into that magical alcohol.

“Well,” she said softly. How had they come to be in each other’s arms?

“Well,” he repeated.

“Show me the room.”

He did. She took a deep breath. “All right,” she said.

Rosie stayed that night and many nights thereafter, but Edge, by his own preference for the pace of a relationship, kept to his bedroom and did not enter hers. Rosie seemed to appreciate his gallantry, and they certainly enjoyed the hand-holding, embracing, kissing, and cuddling that went on during their waking hours.

Since Rosie was a chef, she naturally took over his kitchen. Those pants that had grown snug over Thanksgiving were history before Christmas, and Edge found himself going shopping for new pants and shirts in the middle of the holiday crowds. The scale crouched in the bathroom, mocked him. The mirror brightly lit in the bathroom mocked him.

His incipient double chin became unmistakable; his cheeks became chubby. His chest broadened and softened and a round pot belly perched above his belts, flopping over into love handles, soon to become a spare tire. His backside widened and his waistline grew steadily thicker as Rosie set stews, caramelized winter vegetables, poached pears, homemade farmer’s loaves on the sturdy dining table. Finally, dreading it, he stepped onto the scale and closed his eyes. When he opened them the needle was at 240. Holy moley. He looked in the mirror and a fat man looked back.

But the fat man, above his pendular belly and thickening waist, had a relaxed demeanor. His shoulders had lost their customary tension and his mouth curved more readily into a smile. Rosie had worked a magic on him more potent than any wine. He shrugged into a bathrobe and thumped downstairs into the kitchen, where Rosie was standing by the window with a cup of tea.

“Morning, love,” he said.

“Mmm.” She relaxed into his embrace.

“I’ve put on more weight,” he mumbled into her neck, and felt her slump. She wriggled out of his arms and turned around. She put her hands on his shoulders.

“Do I give a rat’s patoot?” she demanded.

He gazed into her dark eyes. “No,” he admitted.

“Do you spend half your days hiking the hills of the vineyard and the property around the house?”

“Yes.”

“Is the food I give you good?”

“Yes.”

She shut him up with a kiss.

That evening, he was surprised by the sheer number of smells floating out of the kitchen. “We’re going to banish your demons,” she announced. “You’re going to eat until you are well and truly stuffed and then not worry about it. Everyone has kind of a set point of weight, and you may be happiest at 240 or 215 or 300. Stop imposing artificial frameworks on yourself and just enjoy good living and good food!”

Edge frowned. Wow, he thought. He sighed deeply. “All right,” he said thoughtfully.

“You sound unconvinced.”

“No … it’s a new idea, that’s all. But, I think, a good one….”

“Well, then.” Rosie set a masterpiece of a salad before him. What followed was like something from the Middle Ages. Edge lost all sense of time, of place. There was only eating, course after course. He ate, and ate, and ate. Hadn’t Edward the First died of “a surfeit of lampreys?”

He became full, then stuffed, then stuffed to bursting. He became too full to draw breath. He loosened his belt and his stomach swelled visibly. He ate fish, vegetables, beef tenderloin. He loosened his belt again. At some point he must have undone it altogether. At a pause in the meal (meal? Marathon), he fumbled for his pants button and managed to undo it. The zipper surged downward and he belched.

“Pardon me,” he mumbled, but Rosie was in the kitchen and didn’t hear.
Dessert appeared. He plowed on, his bloated belly aching and taut. Another dessert. He made it halfway through, then conceded.

“Hic! No … more,” he puffed. He rested a hand on his belly, which was a lot farther in front of him than usual. His head flopped back, eyelids fluttering. “Oof … (hic!) … ohhh,” he groaned incoherently. “Stop.”

“Enough?” Rosie came up behind him and gently massaged his gut, swollen tight as a drum, with no give, no room at all.

Edge belched. “Pardon … me,” he managed. “No (urrrp) … no. … About … to pop.”

Rosie slowly and gently helped him up. Somehow, sodden with food and drink, he lumbered into the living room and fell clumsily into his club chair. Rosie helped him put his feet up. She took off his shoes. Sated, overloaded, hopelessly dopey, he dimly felt her easing off his pants, then his underwear, tugging off his shirt, draping a blanket over him. She was massaging his swollen and aching tummy … that felt good … ahhhh…. he drifted imperceptibly into sleep.

He awoke before dawn, stiff, drymouthed, nauseated. A glass of tomato juice and a glass of water stood beside the chair on a small tray on the end table. He carefully sat up, rubbing his neck, and drank the tomato juice. Nothing bad happened. He sipped the water, eventually emptying the glass. His robe lay folded on the footstool. He put it on and padded into the kitchen. Rosie was at the table.

“How do you feel?”

“Better now,” he admitted. “Thanks.” He put the glasses in the sink.

“Don’t weigh yourself,” she counseled. How did she know? “Just listen to your body.”

That sounded weird and New Age-y, but she was usually right. He didn’t weigh himself, but that day and in the days that followed found that he wasn’t stuffing himself as much, at home or in restaurants. Food become something to be savored, not gobbled. His weight crept upward, then downward. He stopped bothering with the scale, and made sure he had both “thin pants” and “fat pants” in his closet.

Somehow he didn’t mind anymore. The magical chemistry of the wine had become mirrored in the magical chemistry of his home. And every once in a while, never too often and always unexpectedly, Rosie would feed him into oblivion, then massage him into dreamland.


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