Carlisle pokes his head into the lab. "Edward?"
Edward looks up from the flight of Shiraz he's considering, a hand on his hip. He lifts one boot-clad foot and rubs it against the calf muscle of his other leg. "Yeah?"
Carlisle stops when he sees the row of black glasses lining the bench, lifting his hat from his head and pushing his hair away from his brow. "How's this going?"
Edward huffs out a frustrated breath, his thumb moving to the corner where his neck meets his shoulder and pressing hard against the tightness that's settled there. "Not too bad, I guess. You got a minute?"
"Yep. What's up?"
Edward fiddles around, pouring wines into various glasses. "Okay." He sets a line of five black glasses in front of his boss.
Carlisle nods and raises the first. He noses the glass, and even with the black glass in front of his face, Edward can see his appreciative smile. He chews his lip to keep his own grin leashed. Carlisle takes a noisy sip of the wine, sucking in air with the liquid, letting the wine splash across his tongue, his taste and olfactory receptors transmitting their perceptions to a brain with years and years of sensory experience—experience Edward only wishes he had.
Without saying anything, Carlisle expectorates the wine into the spittoon and huffs some air out his nose, his expression thoughtful. He sets the first glass down, and picks up the second. He repeats the process, moving down the line, filling the air with noisy slurps and swishes and spits.
"Okay?" He looks at Edward, who sees the question in his eyes.
Edward scrubs a hand across his face. "Which one do you prefer?"
Carlisle doesn't think about it, pointing straight at the first glass.
"It's more balanced, right?" Edward grins. "Beautifully structured. Give it ten years, it'll be just gorgeous."
"Yes." Carlisle smiles. "And …" At the sound of heavy footsteps he ducks his head out the door. "Oi! Jasper, come taste this."
Jasper clumps into the room, lips twisted with a grimace. He glances briefly at Edward, then drops his head a little, letting his too-long hair fall in front of his face.
Edward closes his eyes to stop them from rolling. The kid's nearly seventeen, and he's really started taking the whole teenaged-angst thing seriously of late. While Edward doesn't have a lot of patience for his attitude, he will admit Jasper has a bloody good palate for someone who can't even legally drink yet.
He sets out five more black tasting glasses, and Jasper picks up the first glass with a mumbled thanks. Once he's finished tasting, Jasper looks at his father. "This one," he mutters, pointing at the first glass.
"Why?" Carlisle asks.
Jasper's shoulders sag, and he address his Blundstones. "It's more balanced, I think." He kicks a pebble, which skitters across the concrete floor. "They all have lots of black fruit, forest berries and stuff. The earth and leather are really subtle. There's even something almost floral in there, too. But this one–" he waves towards the first glass "–is really nicely balanced. Has a better line, too."
"Good." Carlisle claps his son on his shoulder. "Thanks."
Jasper shrugs off his father's hand. "Can I go now?"
Edward holds back his eye roll, again, but can't help but smirk when he sees Carlisle look heavenward, as though his patience might be stapled to the ceiling.
"Yeah. Go on, rack off."
Jasper turns on his heel, hands stuffed in his pockets, and continues off on whatever vitally important mission he'd been so inconsiderately pulled from.
"These're different oak blends, right?" Carlisle asks, leaning back against the doorframe.
Edward nods. "I know we were shooting for seventy percent French for the Reserve, but this one is eighty percent."
"So there's gonna be a bit of excess American stuff."
Carlisle nods. "No problem, we can blend it into something else."
"'Kay." Edward picks up the glass and takes another sip, nodding to himself—it's going to be a bloody good drop with ten to fifteen years bottle age.
"Edward? I need a bit of a favour."
Edward looks up, his lips pursing. "What's up?"
Carlisle chuckles. "Nothing dramatic. Isabella's arriving next week though, and Esme's decided she wants to paint the cottage for her."
"Do you want a hand?" Edward rubs a hand over his eyes. "I've gotta go visit my aunt this Saturday, but I can stay back a few arvos, and I can probably do Sunday morning–"
"No, no." Carlisle shakes his head. "It's generous of you to offer, but Es and I can do that. I just need a hand getting rid some of the furniture that's in there. There're a couple of grotty couches that need to go to the tip. And some other heavy stuff I can't move on my own. I think there's still an old icebox in there, for crying out loud."
"Sure, that's no problem." Edward glances at his watch. "We can do it now if you want. I just need to chuck these glasses in the dishwasher and clean up here."
"'Preciate that, mate."
It doesn't take the two men long to pull two couches, an armchair, an icebox, and an old washing machine out of the cottage. Edward is surprised that the place is in such good nick, until Carlisle mentions that Esme has spent the last few days cleaning the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom up.
As they load the heavy items into Carlisle's trailer, playing an over-sized game of Tetris to get them all to fit, Esme arrives, clambering out of her Land Cruiser, her hands full. She's juggling sugar soap and sponges, rolls of masking tape, an edger, and a four litre tin of paint. She makes a kissy-face at Carlisle and grins at Edward as she stomps across the lawn towards the cottage.
"You gonna start taping up, Es?"
"Nah, I gotta wash the walls down first."
"Okay." Carlisle claps his hands, wiping the dust and grime from them. He looks at Edward. "Thanks for that."
Edward shrugs, using the back of his wrist to wipe away the sweat beading on his brow. "Anytime."
"Thanks, Edward," Esme calls from the wraparound porch. Her elbows are in the air as she rebraids her hair, her cleaning and painting supplies piled at her feet.
He waves in her direction, "No problem," then turns back to Carlisle, swinging his keys around the forefinger of his other hand. "You all good?"
"Yep. I might need a hand moving some stuff in once Es decides on what she wants in here—if that's okay?"
"Sure, just let me know." Edward wonders briefly who this Isabella girl is, and why Esme's going to such an effort for her. He bats the thought away—it's really not his business.
"It's no problem at all. I'll see you tomorrow."
Instead of climbing into his ute right away, Edward wanders into the newly grafted vineyard. In the fading light, with the deep blue shadows of night-time starting to sprawl across the land, he wanders the rows, checking on his vines. He ducks down to inspect graft sites at random, pleased to see the binding tape is holding fast, securing the implanted buds to the sturdy rootstocks that will support and nourish them. As far as he can tell at this early stage, things are progressing as they ought. There's no bleeding at the graft sites, but Edward makes a mental note to come check that again in another day or two.
Folding his arms over his head, Edward watches the last of the day slip behind the mountains. The first stars twinkle against the deepening sky, and the lush green that surrounds him becomes almost colourless as night unfolds like a blanket across the land.
Filling his lungs, Edward lets the air rush across his tongue, cold and fresh. He can almost taste the sweet earth of this place, the characteristic so strong it's expressed in so many of the Shirazes produced in this region. He can smell just the hint of rain, too, which makes him smile—he's hopeful it's going to be one hell of a season.
By Saturday afternoon, Edward feels none of the hope and lightheartedness he found in the vineyard. He climbs into his ute with reluctant feet, feeling as though the soles of his shoes are coated with superglue. He wants to let them stick, to stay standing on his driveway and pretend that this is just another Saturday, that he won't be missing anything if he sits at home with no shirt on, beer in hand, and watches the Swans play their semi final.
Instead, he forces his heavy feet into his car, and he forces himself to drive into the city, and even when he thinks he wants to go for a walk along the foreshore, he forces himself to turn into the hospital car park.
Ignition off, he sits behind the wheel, staring at his hands in his lap. The wail of an ambulance makes him cringe, but it's the push he needs to open his door and slide out of the car.
He treks through the halls, shoulders hunched, tasting the antiseptic that permeates the air.
When he finds his aunt, his stomach rolls over. She's dozing, her skin almost grey, scars marring her face, neck, and arms. The melanoma had been cut away, but too late—the insidious cells had already worked their way into her lymphatic system, beaten down her body's defences and taken her captive.
Edward feels relief spurt through him as he remembers his mother's clean bill of health. The momentary sweetness is chased away by guilt.
He clears his throat and steps closer. "Hi, Aunt Kate."
Her eyelids flutter but don't open. "Edward?" Her voice is less than a whisper, like pushing the breath from her lips to speak is an impossible effort.
"Hey." Edward leans down to kiss her cheek, self-disgust rising like bile as he holds his breath before touching his lips to her ravaged skin.
"How …" she shakes her head, unable to finish.
Finally managing to open her eyes, she smiles weakly. Even her lips have been assaulted by the surgeon's blade.
Edward pulls a chair close to her bed, lowering himself into it and reaching for her hand. It's cold. At a loss, he starts to babble, filling the emptiness with meaningless chatter. He gives her a rundown of everything he's done since he last visited. He describes the springtime beauty of the vineyard, the work he's doing, the new varietal he's grafted in. When he starts to tell her about the wines he's been tasting, she coughs out a laugh and raises her hand slowly, waggling a crooked finger at him.
"Aunt Kate, you're not going to try to tell me Fruity Lexia is better than my Reserve Shiraz, are you?" He chuckles, shaking his head as she smiles at him.
"Tell you what," he lowers his voice. "Next time I visit, I'm gonna sneak some in. Then we'll see if you still think there's no difference."
His aunt smiles, even though he can see the resignation in her eyes. They both know that's it's all too likely that there won't be a next time.
Isabella holds tight to the railing. Even though the ropes around her waist secure her, her brain isn't quite able to convince her fingers, or her shaking knees, that she's safe. Knuckles white, she breathes deep and opens her eyes again.
"Whoa. This is unbelievable."
She looks across at Emmett, lips pressed together to hold back the slightly hysterical giggle that's threatening to bubble out of her.
"This bridge. I mean …" He shakes his head. "I've lived just a few ks that way–" he points towards the south "–for most of my life. But up here …" Lifting one hand to shield his eyes, Emmett scans the horizon, a low whistle on his lips.
Isabella swallows down her nervous laughter. "It's amazing. Just … stunning."
Her fingers still wrapped around the railing, she looks out over the harbour. It's blue—so blue—streaked with the white wake of the green and yellow ferries that criss-cross its surface all day. To the north a fleet of yachts zigzag upwind, sails full in the north-easterly breeze.
"I didn't think – I mean, I've driven across this bridge hundreds of time. But being up here…" He laughs. "Look at me. I'm all speechless, hey?"
Glancing past him, Isabella catches the wide smile of the tall English girl who climbed behind them. Her eyes—as blue as the harbour beneath them—are fixed on Emmett. Isabella can't remember her name. Rosemary? Rose-something.
Wisps of blonde hair escaping her ponytail flicker around her face, and the girl's gaze skips from Emmett to Isabella, her eyes widen when she sees Isabella watching her. She looks down, her cheeks painted red. Feeling a little bad for her, Isabella leans around Emmett to speak to the blushing girl, "It's amazing, right?"
The girl nods. Her voice is soft, her accent lilting. "It's gorgeous. I almost didn't come up, but I'm so glad I did."
Emmett leans back in the narrow walkway, trying to give the two girls room to converse.
"Heights?" Isabella looks down, the eight lanes of speeding cars is a sharp contrast to the beauty displayed on either side of the steel grey coat hanger.
The English girl nods. "I'm not very comfortable with them."
"Me, either." Emmett interjects. Isabella narrows her eyes. He's spent the last few days punctuating their exploration of Sydney and its surroundings with stories about skydiving and bungee-jumping and abseiling and wanting to be dropped out of a helicopter to ski down enormous mountains. Isabella finds it a little unlikely that he would therefore have problem walking the stairs that follow the bridge's arch.
As though he can feel Isabella's scepticism conducted along the railing they all grip, his eyes flick to her for a moment before he looks back at the English girl. "Well, no. I mean – I can be up high okay, but only for a bit. I'm okay to like, jump or something … but just standing around up here – it's making me a little nervous, actually." He shifts his weight, his fingers still curled around the railing, skin pulled tight across his knuckles.
Gasps and ooh-aah noises capture Isabella's attention then, and she stands on her toes to see what's going on. The last two climbers in their little chain gang have drawn the attention of the rest—the young guy who was bringing up the rear is on his knees in front of his girlfriend. Isabella can't see the girl's face, but she can see the smile that threatens to split the guy's face in half, so she guesses he got the answer he hoped for. A different scene flashes through her mind: another man on his knees, wearing the same smile—proud and joyful.
"Cute." Emmett elbows her in the side, jolting the image from her brain.
She nods. "Yeah, I guess."
"Not your thing?"
Emmett nods. "It's kinda tacky, hey?"
She laughs, but it sounds hollow and false in her own ears. "I've seen worse."
The guide declares it time to begin their descent, and marriage and engagements and public proposals are quickly pushed from Isabella's mind. She stumbles a few times on the way down, too busy soaking up the scene surrounding her to pay attention to where she places her feet.
As they struggle out of their borrowed jumpsuits and refill their pockets with the loose items they weren't permitted to take on the climb, Isabella watches the unsubtle dance of looking-at-you-until-you-look-at-me Emmett and the British girl are engaged in.
She feels almost like she should cheer when Emmett finally works up the guts to ask the girl if she'd like to join them for a beer.
"Your girlfriend won't mind?" The soft-spoken blonde asks.
"She's not – I mean … we met on the plane and–"
"He's my tour guide," Isabella says, smiling at the girl. "I'm Isabella, by the way."
"Emmett." The big guy extends his hand and shakes Rosalie's. His cheeks are as red as hers.
Isabella can't resist. "I think you two might have gotten a little sunburned."
For the rest of the week, Rosalie joins Isabella and Emmett as they traipse across the greater Sydney region. Emmett's sister, Makenna, joins them once or twice, but most days it's their strange little multicultural threesome. Emmett takes them to pet koalas and coo over kangaroos, and stands by patiently whilst they fill up memory cards with images of the Opera House and The Rocks. They check out all the most popular tourist traps, as well as the places he insists they need to visit to see the "real" Australia.
The bar they're sitting in three days after their bridge climb, however, doesn't feel very Australian to Isabella. In fact, if it weren't for the broad accents gabbling around her, flattening vowels and rolling across consonants, she could almost believe she'd somehow stumbled into 1920's Paris.
Bartenders sporting braces and bowties pour drinks behind a dark timber bar. Low lights and the soft jazz and crooning voices make the air seem thick and hazy, despite the absence of cigarette smoke.
Isabella takes a sip of the Tasmanian whisky the suspendered bartender recommended, and leans towards Rosalie, who is sitting on the stool beside her, ankles crossed, nursing a gin and tonic. "Do you remember how we got here?"
Rosalie giggles. "I'd not have a bloody clue, other than the fact I believe we're underground."
"Yeah, those stairs were kinda steep."
Rosalie nods, scowling at her feet as she swings her legs. "I was so certain I was going to go arse over tit getting down the blasted things." She extends a leg to Isabella. "Death traps."
Isabella nods, looking at the sparkly black heels strapped to Rosalie's feet. She extends her own foot, tapping the yellow patent leather. "Me, too."
She glances around the dimly lit bar, and sees Emmett still chattering with the crowd of guys who absorbed him into their circle with loud cries of "Bro," and "Mate," and a whole lot of back-slapping and hand-shaking about fifteen minutes earlier.
Rosalie sets her drink on the counter, and clears her throat. "So," she drags her fingertip through the condensation on the glass as she speaks, "you're only in Sydney for a few more days?"
"About a week."
Rosalie looks up briefly, her gaze directed not at Isabella but at the group of guys who have stolen Emmett away. She looks back at her drink. She spreads the water dripping from her glass across the varnished timber countertop with her index finger. "And … do you…" She sighs, shaking her head. Blonde hair flops over one eye and she blows it away.
Isabella smiles. "Rosalie, I'm not interested in him. Not like that."
Rosalie lifts her glass, hiding her lips. She asks, "Is there someone else?" then takes a sip. "At home, I mean."
Isabella circles her empty glass around on its base. "No." She sighs and sets the glass upright, catching the bartender's eye and nodding at the silent question he asks with a tilt of his chin. "There was, I guess. But not anymore."
The whisky dissolves the bindings on her tongue, and the words spill easily. "When my mom died, I was kind of a mess for a while. And then my dad—my parents split when I was a baby—got remarried about a month later, and then, well, his wife is pregnant. So, I just – I mean, I decided I just wanted a clean slate – I just want to start again from scratch, you know? So I called up Esme, and she said I was welcome at any time, but they also had a job going …" She shrugs. "So I quit my job, sold nearly everything I owned, and," she puffs her cheeks and blows out a deep breath, "I broke up with my boyfriend of three years."
Rosalie nods but says nothing, a sad smile playing on her lips as she chases a cube of ice around the bottom of her glass with a straw.
"I felt awful, but I wanted … I just needed to cut all the strings." Isabella sighs, propping an elbow on the bar and resting her chin in her palm.
A tattooed wrist pushes another glass of amber liquid in front of her. "Thanks."
"Speyside, this time," the bartender tells her. "Aberlour a'bunahd."
He sets another gin and tonic in front of Rosalie, who gives him half a smile.
"Sláinte." Rose says, clinking her drink against Isabella's. She takes a small sip, then sets her glass back on the bar. "I didn't tell my girlfriend that I was leaving."
She twists the ends of her ponytail around her fingers for a moment, then lays her hands flat against the bar. "We'd been together for almost a year. I was just – I'd just had enough. I did practically the same thing you did … except, I didn't tell anyone I was going until I landed in Melbourne."
She sighs, still talking to her hands. "Jane – I mean, I loved her. I truly did. And everything was humming along just … splendidly. My career was progressing exactly as I planned. I had a lovely little flat, a gorgeous girlfriend, a wonderfully supportive family." She sighs, her shoulders curling in. "But I felt like I was drowning under the weight of my own expectations."
Isabella searches for words of comfort, but she feels ill equipped to speak them.
"It was a selfish thing to do," Rosalie says. Her voice is quiet, as if all her energy is going into forcing the words to take shape, and there is none left to give them volume. "I know. But I just – I needed to get away before I suffocated."
"How long–" Isabella swallows the rasp in her voice. "How long ago did you leave?"
Rosalie taps a red-painted nail against the wood. "I left London on New Year's Day. It seemed poetic … or something like that."
"And your girlfriend – Jane, was it?"
"Yes, Jane. She was upset, of course. But she hadn't been happy for a while, either." Rosalie rubs her lips together, then sighs. "Maybe one day we'll be friends again."
Isabella waves the bartender over, and he smirks as he pulls the bottle of sparkling wine she requests from the under-counter fridge. "Two glasses?"
"Three." Emmett squeezes between the two women, his smile bright as he rubs his hands together. "What're we toasting?"
Isabella leans around him to catch Rosalie's eye. "To deep breaths."
The one thing Emmett flat out refuses to do is take Isabella and Rosalie to Bondi Beach. No amount of cajoling will change his mind, and even Rosalie's pretty pout seems ineffective.
"I'll take you to Tamarama," he tells them. "It's the next beach south. Tiny, but this time of year it should be pretty quiet. Bondi's full of bloody tourists all year."
Isabella glances at Rosalie, her eyebrows climbing her forehead, We're not tourists? Rosalie shrugs, and they press their lips tight over giggles. Emmett seems to be oblivious to them as he grumbles away about backpackers overstaying their tourist visas.
It's only early-October, but both Emmett and Rosalie wade straight into the water. Isabella follows more slowly, tugging at the ties on her new bikini and watching the waves as they roll onto the shore and are sucked back out.
Isabella takes a deep breath of the salty air and smiles as she steps into the ocean's cool embrace for the first time in her life. The water is crisp, but invigorating—she can almost feel the energy soaking through her pores and settling in her bones.
She stays in the shallows at first, getting used to the sea, letting the foam tangle around her knees as the waves roll in. She watches Emmett catch a few waves, his arms moving in powerful strokes until the wave catches him and propels him forward.
"Oi!" She looks up at Emmett's shout. He's crashing back through the surf towards her, water dripping down his broad chest and splashing everywhere with his powerful strides. "I can't believe I forgot."
"Forgot what?" she calls back. She knows she put sunscreen on—what else is there to remember? She glances over her shoulder to check their belongings are still secure on the sand.
"Is this your first time in the ocean?" Emmett stops a few metres away from her, pointing at the undulating surface of the sea.
"Oh." Isabella smiles. "Yeah, it is."
"Can you swim?"
She laughs. "Yes. Did you ask Rosalie that, too?"
"Rose?" Emmett chuckles. "She can swim better than I can, mate. Surfs, too."
Isabella blinks. "Really?"
"Yeah, heaps of surfers in England. Tough-nuts, too. Water's bloody freezing. Anyway," he waves a hand, "not important. You're in the ocean!"
She grins. "I am."
Emmett sighs dramatically, his shoulders sagging. He shakes his head. "Don't take it personally. It has to be done."
"Wh–" Before she can clarify exactly what it is that has to be done, Emmett has thrown her over his shoulder and is charging out into deeper water. He laughs at Isabella's shrieks, stopping when the water is swirling around his waist. His hands find her waist and Isabella squeals, then holds her breath as she feels herself launched into the blue.
She's only submerged for a few seconds before her feet find the sand and she breaks the surface, but that moment, with the water rushing loud and silent in her ears, is one she'll remember for a long time. She won't remember spitting salt water at Emmett, or the springtime sun warm on her back, or the feel of the sand beneath her feet. What she will remember is the giddy drop of her stomach, the thump-thump of excitement in her bloodstream, the feeling of possibility coursing through her, from her smile to her wriggling toes.
A/N: I've been completely blown away by your kind responses to Terroir. Thank you so much! You guys are wonderful.
You know who else is wonderful? BelieveItOrNot, who beta-ed this for me in the midst of crazy RL hecticness, and whilst she's sick.
Believey, I really hope that one day we'll get to sit on the beach (perhaps not Tamarama, but I totally picked that one just for you, jsyk), and laugh and talk about words and stories. Thank you so much for your help - I am truly so very grateful. (Sometimes, I wish there was a bigger word for THANK YOU.) Feel better, bb!