Excerpt from Whispering Vines

  Lunch at Da Mimmo, a favorite of the Baltimore business crowd, was very nice, and Alex enjoyed sharing stories about Signora with Peter, Signora’s attorney.  Bald at the top, but fit and trim, Peter looked darn good for his age, not that Alex knew what that was.  She was never good at guessing ages.  He was charming and kind, and Alex couldn’t help but wonder why all men couldn’t be like him.  Their coffee had just arrived when Peter opened his briefcase and took out a manila folder.

     “I would like to go over the contents of Signora Fonticelli’s will,” Peter said as he opened the folder.

     Alex wasn’t sure how to react.  She picked up her napkin from her lap and wiped her mouth.  “Okay,” she said hesitantly.  “I’m not sure how that affects me.”

     Peter put on a pair of reading glasses, glanced at the file, and then looked over the lenses at Alex.  “I assume Signora never mentioned anything to you about her will.”

     Alex shook her head.  “Nothing.”

     Peter took off his glasses and closed the folder.  “This may come as a shock to you.”  He put down the file and folded his hands on the table.

     Alex held her breath as he leveled his gaze on her.  Everyone else in the restaurant seemed to fade away as she waited for him to go on.

     “Alex, do you know anything about Signora’s estate and holdings?”

     Alex shook her head, unable to speak.

     “Of course, there is the house in Baltimore,” Peter paused, and Alex nodded.   It would be just like Signora to leave Alex her home knowing that Alex was weeks away from graduation and would need to be thinking about her future.  Peter went on, “In addition, there is the vineyard and villa,”

     “Excuse me,” Alex stopped him.  “Vineyard?  Villa?”  Her head began to spin.  She had no idea where this was heading.

     “Yes, just outside of Verona in the Valpolicella region.”  He paused for a second and smiled at Alex.  “My Italian is not that good, but Signora insisted I learn to at least pronounce that correctly.”  Alex smiled and motioned for him to go on though her mind was yelling for his to stop.  Alex had no idea what was coming, but she had a growing feeling that it was going to earth shattering, at least for her.

     Peter picked up the folder again, opened it, removed a document, and replaced his reading glasses.  He cleared his throat.  “I, Isabella Abelli Fonticelli, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath the following:

     To Alexandra O’Donnell, my dearest companion and caregiver, my house at 117 Trinity Street and all of its contents, to be done with as she wishes (though I recommend selling it all and taking the money – you’ll need it to pay off your college loans).”  Peter looked at Alex and smiled.

     “She always did like to give me advice on how to run my life,” Alex said quietly as tears formed in her eyes.  As she suspected, the house.  That wasn’t such a big deal after all.  “That was very sweet of her.”

     “There’s more,” Peter said, and Alex gasped in surprise as Peter looked back down at the document.  “…. I also leave Alexandra one half of my family’s vineyard, Belle Uva, to be shared with my great-nephew, Nicolas Giordano.”

     Alex placed her hands on the table to steady herself as the earth shattering commenced.  She wished she had not had that glass of wine with her lunch.  It suddenly left a sour taste in her mouth, and the Italian cuisine that had smelled so wonderful just a few minutes before, now seemed strong and overpowering.  “Bell… what?”

     “Belle Uva, which until last week, Signora shared with her great-nephew who inherited his grandfather’s half of the estate.  The name means ‘beautiful grapes.’  Signora stipulates that you and her great-nephew, Nicolas, are to share the estate and run the winery together.  I have papers and pictures for you with all of the details about the estate.  I’m afraid that it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.  The winery doesn’t seem to be as profitable as it once was.”  Peter began to pull more documents and photographs out of the folder, but his words seemed to be coming from the other end of a distant tunnel.  Alex felt dizzy.  “Signora and her great-nephew already had a contract that dealt with how they maintained their shares and profits.  Those conditions will remain unchanged.  You will simply inherit her shares and assume her profits.”

     “No, please, stop,” Alex shook her head in confusion.  “I don’t understand.  I don’t live in Italy.  I know nothing about wine or vineyards or estates.  I’ve never even heard of Nicolas Geor, whatever his name was.  Talk about shares and profits is something I’ve never tried to understand.  This must be a mistake.”

     Peter took off his glasses and looked at Alex with sincere compassion.  “I’m afraid I didn’t do a very good job preparing you for this.  I did say it would be a shock.”

     “To say the least,” Alex said as she buried her face in her hands.  She looked up and shook her head.  “I don’t know what to say.  What do I do?”

     “I’m afraid I can’t answer that,” Peter said.  “If you wish, I can continue to handle the affairs of the vineyard, putting the profits, if there ever are any, into a portfolio for you.  You wouldn’t have to do anything except perhaps hire an accountant to look over my shoulder, which is the smart thing to do these days.  Would you like to take the papers and photographs with you and go through them?”

     Alex nodded, her mouth agape, as she reached a shaky hand for her cup.  “Yes, I guess so…” she whispered before she gulped down the lukewarm, now bitter-tasting coffee she had ordered after finishing her wine and tried to figure out what had just happened.  She spent her entire life dreaming of going to Italy, seeing the famed Uffizi Gallery in Florence, walking along the Gran Canal of Venice, visiting the Vatican.  But never in her wildest dreams had she ever imagined that something like this would be the catalyst to take her there.  Alex had a lot to think about, but one thought ran through her mind over and over as she stared unseeing at Peter putting together a stack of papers – with no family to speak of, no boyfriend, and no job tying her down, what did she have to lose?