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"toc_marker-4" class="Chapter">JANUARY 1 “If you were still alive, you’d pay for this one, Daddy.” The moment the words escaped her lips, Cassidy Knowles slapped a hand over her mouth to negate them, but it was too late. The sharp wind took her words and threw them back into the pines, guilt and all. It might have stopped her, if it didn’t make this the hundredth time she’d cursed him this morning. She leaned in and forged her way downhill until the muddy path broke free from the mossy smell of the forest. Her Stuart Weitzman boots were long since soaked through, and now her feet were freezing. In a last gasp effort before the chill trees would let her go, a root snagged two-inch heels again and tried to flip her into the mud. Free at last, Cassidy stared at the lighthouse. It perched upon a point of rock: tall and white, with its red roof as straight and snug as a prim bonnet. A narrow trail traced along the top of the breakwater leading to the lighthouse. The parking lot, much to her chagrin, was empty; six, beautiful, empty spaces. “Sorry, ma’am,” park rangers were always polite when telling you what you couldn’t do. “The parking lot by the light is for physically-challenged visitors only. You’ll have to park here. It is just a short walk to the lighthouse.” The fact that she was dressed for an afternoon lunch at Pike Place Market safe in Seattle’s downtown rather than a blustery mile-long trek on the first day of the year didn’t phase the ranger in the slightest. Cassidy should have gone home, would have if it hadn’t been for the letter stuffed deep in her pocket. So, instead of a tasty treat in a cozy deli, she’d buttoned the top button of her suede Bernardo jacket and headed out onto the trail. At least the promised rain had yet to arrive, so the jacket was only cold, not wet. Finally free of the trees, a new problem arose. Beyond the lighthouse ranged a vast expanse of Puget Sound and it was being whipped into a frenzy like someone desperate to make a towering meringue rather than a smooth zabaglione custard. Whitecaps tore off the tops of waves, dark clouds scudded low over the water, and the far shore might as well have been the North Pole rather than Bainbridge Island for how inviting it looked. The towering heights of the Olympic Mountains scraped at the clouds with glacier-clad peaks. Her jacket’s stylish cut had never been intended to fight off these bajillion mile-an-hour gusts that snapped it painfully against her hips. Her black leggings ranged about five layers short of tolerable and a far, far cry from warm. Approaching the lighthouse across the exposed—and utterly vacant—parking lot, any part of her that had been merely numb slipped right over to quick frozen. Leaning into the wind to stay upright, tears streaming from her eyes, she could think of a thing or two to tell her father despite his recent demise and her general feelings about the usefulness of upbraiding a dead man. “What a stupid present!” Her shout was torn word-by-word, syllable-by-syllable and sent flying back toward her nice warm car and the ever-so-polite park ranger. A calendar. Her dad had given her a stupid calendar of stupid lighthouses and a stupid letter to open at each stupid one. He’d been very insistent, made her promise. One she couldn’t ignore. A deathbed promise. Cassidy leaned grimly forward to walk through the onslaught only to have the wind abruptly cease. She staggered, nearly planting her face on the pavement before another gust rescued her but sent her crabbing sideways. With resolute force, she planted one foot in front of the other until she’d crossed the open pavement. There weren’t any handicapped people crazy enough to come here New Year’s morning. No people at all for that matter. The empty lot and the lighthouse were separated by a short path along the top of a rocky breakwater. Boulders the size of her car had been piled up to resist the pounding of the sea. The top had been made into a solid path, so her footing was sure even if the wind continued to buffet her wildly. The building’s wall was concrete, worn smooth by a thousand storms and a hundred coats of brilliant white paint. With the wind practically pinning her to the outside of the building, she peeked into one of the windows. Her hair blew about so that it beat on her eyes and mouth trying to simultaneously blind and choke her. With one hand, she smashed the unruly mass mostly to one side. With the other she shaded the dusty window. The cobwebbed glass revealed an equally unkempt interior: no lightkeeper sitting in his rocking chair before a merry fire with his smoking pipe and a lighthouse cat curled in his lap. There was some sort of a rusty engine not attached to anything. A bucket of old tools. A couple of paint cans. A high wave crashed into the rocks with a thundering shudder that ran up through the heels of her boots and whipped a chill spray into the wind. Salt water on suede—Daddy now owed her a new coat as well. Cassidy edged along the foundation until she found a calmer spot, a little windshadow behind the lighthouse where the wind chill ranked merely miserable rather than horrific on the suck-o-meter. Squatting down behind one of the breakwater’s boulders helped a tiny bit more. She peeled off her thin leather gloves and blew against her fingertips to warm them enough so that they’d work. Once she’d regained some modicum of feeling, she pulled out the letter. She couldn’t feel his actual writing, though she ran her fingertips over it again and again. His Christmas present: a five-dollar calendar of Washington lighthouses from the hospital gift store and a dozen thin envelopes wrapped in a old x-ray folder with no ribbon, no paper. In the end he’d foiled her final Christmas hunt. It had been her great yearly quest—the ultimate grail of childhood—finding the key present before Christmas morning. There was no present he could hide that she couldn’t find. Not the Cabbage Patch Kid when she was six; the one she’d had to hold with her arm in a cast after falling off the kitchen stool she’d dragged into her father’s closet to aid the search. Not the used VW Rabbit he’d hidden out in the wine shed thinking that she never went there anymore. And she didn’t, except for some reason that day before her eighteenth Christmas. A part of her wanted to crumple the letter up and throw it into the sea. It was too soon. She didn’t want to face the pain again. Too soon. She looked out at the crashing waves. With a sudden howl of wind, a s***h of spray roared by mere feet from her face, barely averted by the staunch tower of the lighthouse. Clearly someone wasn’t happy about her desire to avoid the task at hand. The rest of her body did what it supposed to do. The dutiful daughter opened the envelope and pinned the letter against her thigh so that she could read the slashing scrawl that was her father’s. Even as weak with sickness as he must have been, it looked scribed in stone. His bold-stroke writing gave the words a force and strength just as his deep voice had once sounded strong enough to keep the world at bay for a little girl. Dearest Ice Sweet, He’d always called her that. Icewine. The grapes for icewine were traditionally harvested on her birthday, December twenty-first. “The sweetest wine of all, my little ice sweet girl.” By the age of five she knew about the sugar content of icewine, Riesling, Chardonnay, and a dozen others. By eight she could identify scores of vintages just by the scent of the cork and hundreds by their logos though she’d yet to taste more than thimblefuls of watered wine at any one time. Cassidy stared at the waves digging angrily at the rocks not far below her feet. The wind dragged tears from her eyes even as she struggled to blink them dry. She hadn’t cried in a long time and she was damned if she was going to start now simply because she was cold and there was a hole in her heart. Just seven days. She’d looked away for a one moment seven days ago—and he was gone. Christmas morning. He’d hung on long enough to tell her of his last present, hidden in plain sight in the used x-ray folder on the bedside table. A long list of crossed-out names had shuttled films back and forth across Northwest Hospital. I bought this calendar the day you moved back to Seattle. Marked in all the “dates.” Now I know that I won’t get to go with you. I’m sorry to leave you so young. “I’m twenty-nine, Daddy.” But it felt young. Her birthday gone unremarked because he’d never woken that day so close to his last. The hole in her heart was so broad that it would never be filled. He’d only been gone a week. Cremated, waked, and ashes spread on his beloved vineyard by the permission of the new owners. They’d owned his vineyard for five years, but still, they were the new ones. It wasn’t right—them living in the place where her father belonged. She could picture him so easily striding among the vines, rubbing the soil in his palm, showing his only child the wonders of the changing seasons, the lifecycle of a grapevine, and the nurturing of honeybees. For our first “date” I will just tell you how proud I am of you. My daughter took a vintner’s education and turned herself into the best food-and-wine columnist ever. He always believed in her. Always rooted for her. Her number one fan had always cheered her on. He’d been the same way with her boyfriends: welcoming them when they arrived, consoling her when they were gone, and offering no harsh judgment—not even about the boys she should have avoided like a bottle of rotgut Thunderbird. The wind rattled the paper, drawing her attention back to the letter. You are so like me. You figure out what feels right and you just go do it; damn the consequences. I could never fault you for leaving. I always did what I wanted, too. Saw it and went right for it, no discussion needed, always wearing perfect blinders that blocked out everything else. You got that from me. You come by your whimsical stubbornness honestly, Ice Sweet. But he was wrong, she wasn’t stubborn. It had taken years of careful planning for her to reach this far. Even her move to Seattle to be with him had been calculated, though she never told him about that. She shifted on the hard rock that was in imminent danger of freezing her butt. Her father kept apologizing for all the wrong things. Seattle had ended up being a great career move, or was finally becoming one as she’d hoped. In New York, she worked as one of a thousand food and wine reviewers. Okay one in fifty—maybe even one in twenty-five, she was damn good—but there were only three women at that level. The other twenty-two were members of longstanding in the old boys’ club. “We’re looking for someone with a more refined palate.” Read that as someone who was “male.” She’d let go of her sublet in Manhattan when she’d found out her father was sick. Bought a condo in Seattle to be near, but not too near him on Bainbridge Island. Helped him move into the elder-care by Northgate when he couldn’t care for himself any longer and from there to Northwest Hospital where she’d lived out his last two weeks in the chair by his bed. The Village Voice dropped her the day she left Manhattan. That had hurt as they’d run her first-ever review, a short piece on Jim and Charlie’s Punk and Wine Bistro. Jim and Charlie’s was still there, partly thanks to that review that was still framed and hung in the center of bar’s mirror. But in Seattle she was rapidly rising to the very upper crust of the apple pie. Her reviews ran in every local paper. The San Francisco Chronicle had picked her up for their Travel section the next week making it difficult to stay grumpy about the loss of The Voice. Then AAA took her national with a regular column for their magazines. From there, it hadn’t been a big step to national syndication. Six more months in New York and she’d have still been grinding her way up from the twentieth spot to the nineteenth. She was going to bypass the lot of them by skipping right past the “required” and sitting at the head table herself. Her father’s cancer had brought at least that much good. Now if only it hadn’t taken him with it. And she wasn’t whimsical no matter what he thought. Her dad had always described her mother as the organized one. And Cassidy had done her best to be just like her. You didn’t become a top columnist by following the wind all willy-nilly. If she didn’t hurry, she was going to freeze in place. She chafed at her legs with one hand and then the other, but it didn’t help. She was cold past any cure less than a piping hot bath. She peeked ahead in the letter, just two and a bit more pages. She turned to the second sheet, barely managing not to lose the first to the wind. I started the vineyard after my tour in Vietnam. Got signed off the base and walked out of San Francisco right across the Golden Gate. No home, no job, and no one to go back to. I headed up into the hills; didn’t even know why or where I was. I walked and hitched ‘til dark, slept, woke with the light, and kept moving. One morning, I woke up in a field close to a rotting, wooden fencepost, looking at the saddest little vineyard you could imagine. Poor vines dying of thirst. I found an old bucket and started watering them from a nearby stream. An old man came out to lean on the fence. Watched me quite a while, a couple hours maybe. I didn’t care about him. Those vines were the first thing I’d cared about in a long, long time. “You want ‘em?” the old guy asked. “Five hundred bucks and they’re yours.” I don’t even remember how it happened. One minute my final pay was in my pocket, then in his. Later on, other vets drifted in. I charged them fifty bucks to join. Five of us worked the land and recovered those vines. That was the start of the thirty acres of Knowles Valley Vineyard. She’d never heard how his first vineyard started. Didn’t even really know where it was, somewhere in the hills of northern California. Though he might have ambled all the way to Oregon for how much she knew. Walk the year with me. Let’s take our time. My past is mine, but your future is not. That’s only up to you. That I leave you to walk alone, though I’ll warn you that it’s a rough trail often over rocky soil. But keep your head high and you’ll go far. Whatever happens, know that I love you. I’m so proud of you. Love you Ice Sweet, Vic Vic. He always signed his letters “Vic.” Never what she’d always called him. “Daddy.” I could never fault you for leaving. Yet between the lines that’s just what he did. Nothing on the backs of any of the pages. She worked to refold the pages in the wind. The damp chill was now worse inside than outside her skin. The weather was a nasty, temperamental thing, clawing to reach her; this pain she felt right down to deep inside. “No, you’re imagining things, Cass. You think too much. Get your head out of your own butt.” And she mostly did. One of the many gifts Vic Knowles had given her, the ability to be clear about her own actions and reactions. He’d financed her dream of getting away from the rain capital of the Pacific Northwest. He’d paid for her college in full and cooking school after that. It was only while cleaning up his papers this last week that she saw how close it had come to breaking him. He’d just made it a natural assumption that she’d go to college and he’d pay. Just like her mom who had a degree in economics from Vassar. He’d always talked about how smart Cassidy’s mother was. “Just look in the mirror, Ice Sweet, and you’ll see she was the most beautiful woman you can imagine. I miss her every day.” She tried to see, but all she ever saw was herself. She did better without the mirror. Even now, looking north along the steep, conifer-clad shore and over the heavy waves she could imagine her father happy. A woman with soft brown hair who did and didn’t look like Cassidy at his side. He hadn’t gone to college himself, not even high school. His past was little more than a few facts she’d winnowed over the years. His own dad had left before he could remember. He’d dropped out of third grade to help his mother run the grocery store. They were desperately poor when she died. Then he’d gone to Vietnam at eighteen as the only way to make a living wage. And walked to a vineyard. But he gave Cassidy that gift of education as if it was no hardship to him. Did he now begrudge her that past? The future he never had. No. That didn’t make any sense. He hadn’t thought about the money, he’d invested in his dreams for her. She was just going nuts from missing him so much and angry at him for being dead. “Useful, Cass, real useful.” To prove her sanity, she forced the rumpled letter back into the envelope, as neatly as possible in the midst of the maelstrom, and she forced that back into her leather pack. Her father, the self-educated man, also the most well-read man she’d ever met. But she’d learned early on to do her math and science homework before he came home from the fields. His frustration at being unable to help her there had always been a strain. Cassidy’s mother was a single solitary memory. It had been a night as foul-tempered as this day. Mama had been standing in the open doorway of the house, leaving to answer a call to the hospital. Odd, Daddy had never mentioned her nursing school days, but talking about her had always hurt him, so Cassidy had learned not to ask. The wind at the door had blown her mother’s long hair across her face as she leaned on Daddy’s arm. That was Cassidy’s only memory of Adrianne Knowles, a woman with no face. Then Bea Clark had rushed in from next door to sit with her. She and Daddy did talk about the many books though. He had sharpened her mind as they puzzled them out together. Ayn Rand piled next to Shakespeare, Heinlein beside Hugo, and Dickens leaning against a biography of Jimi Hendrix. Their house was always awash in books. And the massive collection of wine books, thumbed again and again by both of them, the only books to have a proper bookcase, had sat in the place of honor in the living room. Everything else jumbled into stacked wooden crates, mounded on tops of dressers, and enough on the dining table to make it a battle to find room for their two plates. The chill spray of a particularly large wave spattered her with a few drops, and the next with a few more. The tide must be coming in. She scrambled from her hiding place and rose back into the wind which threatened to topple her off the breakwater and down into the roaring waves. She forged her way back to the parking lot. The wind tore at her backpack and thumped it against her spine. The camera. Right. She squatted to get out of the wind and pulled out her trusty point-and-shoot. The wind nearly blinded her when she turned back into it. Her hair swirled about her head, completely in the way. A sailboat. Two lunatics in a sailboat were off the point of land. A cobalt-blue hull climbed out of one wave, pointing its bow to the sky, and then plunged down and buried its nose in the front of the next wave before rising again in a great arc of spray and green water. Huge, maroon sails snapped in the wind, loud enough to sound like a gunshot above the roaring surf. Whoever the captain was, he and his buddy were crazy. They must both be male because no woman in her right mind would ever go out into a storm like this. But if they wanted to sail right into her picture, she wasn’t going to complain; it was a beautiful boat. At the perfect moment she snapped the photo then turned for the woods and the long trail home.
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