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The Italian Lesson [Installment 10]
Chapter Two, continued
A couple of hours later I knew all about Bella’s history and I had learned some of Matteo’s as well. It turns out he had known Bella her whole life.
“I actually gave birth to her,” he said, with obvious pride.
“Are you a vet?” I asked. That would never have occurred to me.
“No, not even close,” he laughed easily. “But I’ve been working at the vineyard basically forever so I’ve taken a turn at everything at one time or another.”
Saying “at the vineyard” was like saying “at the Italian hill town” but I suppose it didn’t really matter which vineyard he was talking about.
“Her mother went into labor in the middle of the night and it happened so quickly there wasn’t even time to ring for the vet. She’d come earlier than expected and she was such a small, ugly little thing.”
“So, you named her Bella.”
“Yes. I always wanted her to hear people tell her she’s beautiful. She was very sick at first and I nursed her. Now we’re basically inseparable.”
“Except for those times she runs away.”
“Ha, well, she wasn’t running away. She just has an independent streak and likes to go wandering off sometimes. This is her first snow—I think she got over-excited and lost track of where she was going. I started worrying I would never find her—the vineyard is over 10 kilometers from here—but it turns out I’m also an animal tracker.”
“You are a man of many talents.”
He stretched out his legs and pointed at his boots. “Not really. Turns out it’s pretty easy to follow hoofprints in the snow. And she usually sticks close to the road—she’s very thoughtful that way.”
“How did she get home—and please don’t say you put her in the trunk,” I said raising a hand to stop him before he could make that mistake.
“Our manager, Jeanne, came to get her in the horse trailer.”
“You have a French manager for a vineyard in Chianti?”
“Jeanne is our secret weapon. I swear she can do anything. She knows the business better than most people who grew up in it.” Matteo spoke of her with such sincere, straight-forward admiration I was intrigued. “She had been working in Bordeaux for about ten years and, luckily for us, was looking for a change when our old manager retired. Guiseppe was wonderful but very old school and Jeanne came in and breathed new life into the place. Don’t get me wrong, we’d always been a well-oiled machine and produced a lot of decent wine—better I dare say, than this lovely vintage,” he said pointing to the now empty bottle.
“I’ll have to be the judge of that,” I said, as I opened the second bottle.
“I hope you will.” He paused, lost in thought for a second. “Anyway, Jeanne really shook things up. She’s extraordinary—as a person, as a boss, but she also has amazing instincts. She seems to know exactly when to push the envelope or stay the course.” He shook his head as if he still couldn’t believe his luck, “It’s really quite something.”
“She sounds like my friend, Isabella. She owns a small bakery in town and before I really got to know her, I thought that was it. I had no idea she basically supplies every hotel and restaurant in Tuscany.”
“You mean Isabella di Stefano? You know her? Wow. We have tastings and host the occasional event, so we’ve been buying from her for years. She’s an absolute legend.”
It gave me a warm feeling to hear my friend praised. Between that, his deep respect for Jeanne, and the almost impossibly sweet story of Bella I thought I might have misjudged Matteo after all.
He sipped his wine and asked how Isabella and I had met.
I gave him a brief history of how I came to buy the café and move to Calabresi. “I joined the Women’s Business Owners Association before I even got here. Isabella is on the Board so when I finally arrived, she invited me to the annual luncheon.”
“At Castello di Speranza?” he asked.
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“That’s our vineyard!”
“That’s the vineyard you’ve been talking about? Oh, it’s stunning!”
“I can’t believe you were there.” The idea seemed to please him and he smiled. I admit, now that I was sitting across from him, without distraction, I found him almost handsome. I had already noticed his thick, wavy black hair, but his eyes were expressive and the kind of blue that draws you in, if he looked at you a particular way. Which is how he was looking at me now.
We both reached for the bottle of wine at the same time and when our hands accidentally touched, I knew it was time to call it a night.
I stood up, more abruptly than I intended to. He jumped out of his seat. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, fine. The day has just started to catch up on me. I’ve been up since five and then I had a really unsettling encounter with a guy and his cow.”
“I’m so sorry about that. I hope you will recover,” he said very seriously, drawing his perfect eyebrows together, which created an adorable furrow between those eyes.
“Seriously, though,” I said, to put things back on track—or derail them, “thank you for your help.
“And thank you for the company,” he said, somewhat formally. He wrapped his scarf around his beautifully shaped neck and put on the down coat I’d seen him in earlier in the day.
I walked him to the door but before he left, he turned to me and asked if it would be ok if he gave me his number.
“No,” I said to myself. “It is absolutely not OK.”
“Sure,” I said out loud doing my best to sound unenthusiastic, as if it were an everyday occurrence that I could either take or leave. He handed me his card. It was ivory and made of heavy linen stock, but other than his name, Matteo Vinci, the name of the vineyard, and a cell number, there was no other information. I realized I’d forgotten to ask what exactly it was he did, but I wasn’t going to ask now.
“It would be very nice if you call me, if you want. Or come visit us at the vineyard.” I wasn’t sure if he meant him and Bella or him and Jeanne.
I smiled noncommittally and, as he walked out the door, told him to drive safely. Every single one of my nerve-endings was screaming at me not to do what I knew with absolute certainty I was going to do. Because instead of closing the door behind him, I stepped outside and called, “Matteo!”
He turned towards me and looked expectant if not hopeful, the amber light of the streetlamp deepening the blue of his irises.
“Can I take you to dinner sometime?”
He nodded, as if afraid he’d say the wrong thing.
Before I could convince myself not to appear over-eager, I asked, “Tomorrow night?”
“Not now?” He managed to say the wrong thing after all.
I wasn’t sure if he was mocking me and I was just about to tell him to forget it when he rushed over and said, “Of course not tonight. It’s too late. Tomorrow night will be perfect. I mean, that’s fine. You have my number.”
I did, indeed.