The sun was barely up above the horizon and already all the women in the Beringer household were up and busy with small things. Hannah sat with her first cup of steaming coffee, on the floor, playing with Dawg and Tom. Teasing the pair as she let the first light crawl across the parquet floor towards her. The dog nuzzled at her fingers as she closed her eyes and breathed in the damp air. The patio doors thrown wide open to the elements. She loved to sit here as a kid, and now was no exception. Happy to be home for the summer. She heard the soft pad of bare feet before she saw and smelled her mother come in behind her. The soft scent of her cologne always made her feel safe. How would she ever tell her about what had happened? She didn’t know. She put up a hand as her mother passed. Fingers were caressed.
“Hello cupcake.” Catherine brushed at her daughter’s raised hand as she leafed through a sheath of paperwork, glasses perched on the end of her nose as if she was unwilling to wear them. She couldn’t get her head round how the price of everything rose not by the year, not even by the month but seemingly, by the week. She sucked at her breath wondering how they’d make it through the summer, never mind how they’d make it to the the end of year and the harvest. She felt in her blood this might be a great harvest, however, it might not be the Beringer’s to harvest come September.
The thought scared her. What the hell had gone wrong? She stood by the open patio doors and took a deep breath.
“K, mum?” Hannah asked looking up at her mother’s unusually worried face.
“Yes, no…I don’t know.” She turned and faked her best smile for her daughter.
Hannah saw the crinkles at the corner’s of her mother’s eyes and wondered if she knew Gran, herself and Mia had arranged something for her birthday tomorrow? She hoped it was going to be a lovely surprise. She’d promised Gran, who knew her own daughter well, there would be no masses of friends, no strange family members, no big fuss. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t do something all together. Meaning, the Estate.
Her mother, Hannah thought, seemed intent on turning fifty quietly.
“You want to play hooky at noon and go skinny dipping down at the pond?” Hannah spoke cheerfully trying to hide her own sigh of irritation. She knew her mother was worried but, as usual, never trusting her with the details. When would she be allowed to inherit her mother’s worries?
‘When you’re thirty I’ll start to bore you, when I know you’re done sowing your oats.’ Was all she got from her. Oats? Like she was farmer Bill. She did sigh, sure that when she reached thirty her mother would come up with some other ploy. She knew she wanted to be a Beringer. It was there encoded on her DNA, it was only her mother who thought she didn’t know her own mind. Even Gran knew what she wanted. Shame her mother didn’t even know her own mind.
“Your frowning at me.” Catherine said as she passed, heading for the kitchen, Mia and she hoped, some hot coffee. Hannah had a habit of drinking two or three cups back to back and then, wondered why she wouldn’t let her handle the heavy machinery. Carlos always had to be on hand.
With a soft smile, she wondered when those two would realise they were meant for one another? She pushed open the swing doors and strode, bare foot, into Mia’s domain. Mia was only a scant handful of years older than her, but she acted more like her mother than her own mother, Elizabeth, did.
“I’ve made you eggs and pesto toast, so I want to see an empty plate. And better hurry with the coffee. Hannah is on her second.”
Catherine nodded her thanks in passing, took a mug from the side and went to pour herself the last of the coffee, knowing Mia had another already on the go. Mia might be housekeeper to the Beringer family, but was more like the sister she had never had, than an employee.
“So, is she staying for the summer?” Mia couldn’t keep the tone from her voice.
“I think so.” Catherine slid up on the stool and looked down at the plate Mia slid in front of her. Her mouth watered. She always wondered how she’d stayed so thin eating solely off Mia’s cooking.
“You work too hard.” Mia gave her that motherly look, having read her thoughts.
She might work too hard, but it still wasn’t enough to keep their head above water, Catherine thought. It was closing in fast. She just might have to bite the bullet and auction off some futures. Her father would probably turn in his grave. Still, she saw little option. However, that option was only a short term finger in the dyke solution. It wouldn’t stop them haemorrhaging if she couldn’t figure out a long term solution. And she needed one of those, fast.
She forked the easy over eggs into her mouth and bit into the toast as she staked the papers to one side. Enough. She wanted to be out walking the vines this morning, not reading paperwork and fretting.
“You should shred that as it arrives in the mail.” Mia said as if that would really solve the problem, always attuned to her moods and what was going on.
“I’m sure the bank would love me for that.” Catherine wasn’t tart with the housekeeper, simply matter of fact.
“Hello darling.” It was her mother’s voice that brought Catherine round on her stool as the double doors swung open. Her mother was dressed in something light and shimmery, looking to all the world like she’d just stepped off a movie set. She knew why her father had whisked the beautiful woman off her feet before anyone else could get a word in. Elizabeth always looked chic, even when up to her elbows in paperwork or, as in years gone by, tending the barrels and grape harvest with her husband.
Catherine received a soft peck on the cheek as Elizabeth made for the coffee pot and looked guilty. It was empty. Not that she’d taken the last cup. But if Hannah didn’t drink so much there would still have been at least one cup left.
“I have more on the go.” It was Mia that rescued them.
“Delightful dear, you always do.” Elizabeth sat at the long oak counter and pulled at a soft errant curl.
Catherine put a hand through her own dark hair. It mirrored her mother’s in all respects except one. Her hair, as her mother and daughter kept telling her, was cut too short. Never mind it being short. This morning in the bathroom she’d spied more grey sneaking in, underneath, when she’d brushed the mess of curls out. She would, she smiled, be like her mother sooner rather than later. Only, as she looked down at her bare feet, already dusty having walked from her room. She would never be as elegant.
Catherine wore an old pair of cut off denims and a crisp white tee that would, by the end of the day, be dirty and more than likely, sweaty too.
It was going to be another warm late Spring morning. It was in the air. She sniffed at the breeze coming through the open kitchen windows.
“Do you smell rain dear?” Her mother asked over her breakfast reading the newspaper with one hand, while eating with the other. How the woman knew what she thought was always beyond her.
“No, I was just taking a deep breath.” She could smell the earth from where she sat, it always set her heart racing. Not much else did these days.
“The bank again?” As always, perceptive.
“Yes. They’re worried.”
“They’re always worried. I could call Charles and bribe him with a couple of bottles of Reserve?” Her mother put the paper down and looked at her. Her beautiful eyes still full of life and vigour. However, Catherine didn’t think it would do any good bribing Charles.
“No, I think he’s looking for crisp new green, not velvety red this time round.” She finished her eggs and sipped the last of her coffee. It was getting late. She wanted to take her walk before everything else took her away from her love.
“They’re not going anywhere Darling. Why don’t we sit outside a moment and talk?” Elizabeth knew there was more to this but her daughter wasn’t helping in any way. Like Hannah kept reminding her, ‘Mum doesn’t have to do it all on her own.’ Hannah was a Business Major and would, she knew, graduate with honours. Like mother, like daughter. It was time Catherine saw Hannah was ready to settle for being a Beringer, even if she didn’t think so.
Why were the woman in this family all so stubborn?
“Mother, I know what you want and no, it’s not fair on the girl, she’s only twenty two. And has her whole life ahead of her…”
“You weren’t much older.” Her mother chipped in.
“I was thirty two mother and I still had you and dad to help me and teach me, and…” And why was she fighting? Because she felt in her heart it was all going to go terribly wrong. Under her stewardship. It stabbed her deep down in her heart.
“I’m going for my walk, I’ll be back later.” She left her plate, the paperwork and kissed her mother’s head as she passed heading straight out the door, with out looking back.
“She’s fretting something terrible.” Mia poured Elizabeth another coffee.
“I know. But she seems to think she has to do it all on her own. I just wish…”
“We all wish too Lily.” Only Mia got away with calling her employer Lily, her husband’s pet name.
Elizabeth reached out and touched the housekeeper’s arm.
“Maybe a miracle will arrive today, we can but hope.”
“And maybe Dawg and Tom will get married.” Mia snapped as she went back to her baking. Folding flour into her mixture carefully.
“Dawg and Tom?” The doors flapped open as Hannah arrived cup held before her and eyes glittering already. Elizabeth intercepted her on the way to the coffee pot. Which Mia had restarted yet again.
“A cat and a dog?” Hannah laughed as she slid onto a stool next to her Grandmother.
“What’s up.” Her Gran had a strong forceful grip on her arm, leaving Hannah to wonder why.
“Exactly what are they teaching you in that overpriced university?”
Gran had that faraway calculating look. Hannah had seen it before. The woman was as shrewd as they came, especially, she knew, when it came to people and their problems.
“Gran, what are you planning?” She asked worried she was being drawn into a scheme and, worse, that it involved going behind her mother’s back.
Mia shamelessly listened in, hovering at the end of the counter. Her bowl momentarily forgotten.
“An assault in Iwo Jima.”
“On what? Gran, make sense.” The girl felt herself pulled off the stool and tugged toward the door.
“Come, we have work to do, while you’re mother’s out walking the vines, we can do something here.” Elizabeth scooped up the discarded paperwork. If she wanted a miracle, she had to do it herself.
Hannah threw a look over her shoulder at Mia who shrugged. ‘Don’t look at me, I only work here.’
The pair left Mia staring for a short while at the flapping doors muttering.
“Of course, no one wants to tell me what’s going on.” Mia went back to her work thinking about making bread next.