The Secret Valentines

The following story is true, as told to Kevin Chesley by a sommelier who wishes to remain anonymous. All names have been changed to protect the somm, the winery, and the lovers involved…

A Little Sleeze With Their Wine

I didn’t become a Sommelier because I was looking for love. I’m open – we’ll see what happens – but silly old-fashioned me got a job at a winery for the boring, vanilla reason of having a deep interest in wine. I know, what a revelation! Cassidy, however, obviously took the job because of a deep belief that it was a sexy look for her. She’s her own greatest admirer, never met a mirror she could pass by, but I have to admit she does have the looks to back the ego. When the two of us are working the counter, her always-mid-toss blond locks easily attract most of our male tasters. Whereas I’m the opposite of ashamed to admit that I have a more bookish girl-next-door quality. Also, I’m plagued with a, I dunno, let’s call it a sense of integrity? However you want to put it, my end of the bar tends to look a little bit less like buffet night at Spearmint Rhino.  

Do they have buffet nights?

Either way, don’t get me wrong. I think Cassidy is a riot. She could use a touch of self-respect and control, but I do admit that a part of me enjoys being her favorite work confidante for lurid stories of taking advantage when customers slip her their number. I could never play the field like her, but I enjoy a bit of vicarious fun listening to her sensual tales.

So Cassidy’s milkshake brings all the boys to the yard… whereas my vibe tends to welcome the couples who are – rightfully – more focused on each other. They’re my favorites to serve up to. I’m a ninja when it comes to tagging in with the next pour only when they’re not whispering sweet somethings and diving into each other’s eyes. The perfect Cab-slinging wingwoman to keep their whistles whetted without the worry of a plunging neckline or flirty hair flips making it awkward. I’m here with the wine and nothing else.

100% True Love

Whenever I want to remember that there IS true love in the world, I just think back to the couple I poured for last Valentine’s Day. (Yes, we’re open on Valentine’s Day. Yes, I worked a shift. And yes, I happened to have had a date that night too. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. You’re sweet.) The front of the house had been festooned with all manner of red hearts and pink bunting. The last snob I poured for thought it looked gaudy… but I suspect that was because he was drinking alone. Even in the years when I’ve been single, hating on Valentine’s Day always lands with a dull thud for me. I’m a celebrator.

So I was happy to celebrate a lovely couple that came in as soon as Dr. Milksop left (without leaving a tip, natch). These two were precisely what Valentine’s Day was all about. She was drifting in a flirty flowy sundress – just sexy enough, but not trying too hard. Heels with ribbons up the calf. Work it, cuteness. He looked sharp too. I could tell he was a jeans guy, but knew today wasn’t the place for that. He had dared a tie, but it had been loosened up – I was choosing to fantasize that she had done it… a perfect message that she appreciated his formality, but wanted to have fun today too. They looked great, and their spirits were high. I clocked no rings, and I got the feel early on that this wasn’t their fiiiiiiirst date? But it was close.

I did my dance for them. Ducking and weaving in only when they desired. Almost like they could tell I was a bit in awe of them, they even gave me their names as well: Theo and Michelle. They introduced each other to me, savoring their names – another way I could tell the romance was strong. I asked them if they wanted to start with some Cuvée Rouge bubbles before their tasting (they did!) and if they wanted the blinds up when it got shady (they definitely didn’t). They looked like a couple that comes with the frame in a store, but I could also tell there was a sense of mystery about them. Something amiss… not in a bad way… more like a sexy secret. The best kind. The way they had enjoyed saying each other’s names to me, “This is Theo.” Michelle was thrilled just to say his name as the man she was with. They had both been heavily looking forward to this. The gossip girl in me checked those ringfingers again, looking for impressions that might betray infidelity. Nope. Her fingers, in particular, were flawless (I was a bit crushing on her) as she danced her nails around her glass… his hands… his knee…

Here’s a subtle tip from a girl who has worked it all: restaurants, wineries, nightclubs. Hey, Happy Couples? It is NO secret what is going on underneath the table. No matter how many tablecloths you’ve got for cover. Believe me, those of us working your table know precisely any way you’re “working it” under ours. Simple footsie is an easy spot, of course, but anything more has countless tells. The body language. The breathy pause in the conversation. I can tell when a frisky pair are trying to get away with something. Not judging. Just making sure you don’t think you’re getting away with it. Cheeky flirts.

These two were keeping it PG for the most part. Soft touches over clothes with no one scoring past first base. You’d be surprised where hands wander in public after I get a few pours in. The most innocent of sundresses can be inviting, even in a high-end establishment like I work in. No, these two weren’t needing to rush anything. I could tell there was always “back at the hotel.” She traced her heel up and down his leg. They laughed at each other’s jokes and fed each other charcuterie. Theo and Michelle would have been disgusting if they weren’t just so darned cute.

All that and they tipped great as they left.

What a perfect couple…

Romance on the DL

… but not much of a story, right? Meh. Move along. That was nice, but no “Confession” there so far. No, my secret came the next time Theo and Michelle came to the winery – exactly seven days later – and they didn’t come alone. I was delighted to see them both and intrigued to find that, this time, they were surrounded by an entourage of friends. No date night today – it was a big friendly get-together that arrived in one of those shuttles that make sure none of them has to drive. Cassidy doesn’t love huge groups (unless they’re all guys) so she was relieved that I wanted to serve this one so much. I stepped right up to Michelle, “Well, hey! Welcome b-“ and she stopped me right there, “Hi! I’m Michelle!” She… introduced herself to me? I was immediately disarmed, taken aback by the bizarre re-meet with this woman who – and I could tell this behind her eyes – totally, absolutely, 100% remembered me.

Theo then introduced himself too, giving me a very pointed and powerful handshake as I led them to the table… where Theo and Michelle made it a point to sit on the far ends of. As distant as the table would allow. “Oh no!”I thought, “Trouble in paradise?” I shook this off, however. They were still laughing together, friendly towards each other, just being so in the midst of a group at large. Breaking up is hard to do, but it doesn’t ever make you flat out forget people you’ve met. They hadn’t just flubbed my name or something – it would have been totally fine and understandable if they had – this was different. They were acting as they had never seen me before. Cutting me off before I had the chance to give a, “Remember me? I’m [name redacted].” In fact, Theo made it a point to ask me to give him “the winery’s story.”

So there I stood, arm crooked to hold my tasting menus just so, and delivered an entire monologue for the group – knowing that I had said the exact same words to Michelle and Theo just a week before. “… and that’s how [insert winery name I’m not going to tell you] began!” Michelle even clapped, “Wow! So interesting. I’ve never heard anything like it!” It was impossible for me not to raise an eyebrow at this. Not only was she acting… she’s was overacting now. Selling it just a bit too hard. Were they being kidnapped and trying to signal to me? Were they brainwashed? Was this a sex cult?

As I delivered the first pouring of Sauv Blanc, I watched the body language of the group. Listening to the repartee. Everything seemed normal. Theo and Michelle were quite comfortable amongst the others, ever though they were hiding the truth from them. When Theo told a joke and Michelle guessed the punchline, it wasn’t weird. The others didn’t consider them exes or mates or anything more than just two members of their urban tribe. To them, they were just Theo. And Michelle. (Not “Theo & Michelle,” as I knew them.) That’s when I realized what was going on here.

Their friends didn’t know they were a couple.

But why?

The question hounded me throughout the rest of the pourings. I didn’t have my answer until Theo ordered full glasses of the group’s favorite – our 2018 Pinot – for the entire table. Once everyone was served, he seemed happy to have me in earshot as he stood and gave a toast… for a friend of theirs – his ex-girlfriend – who they had all tragically lost just two years ago.

Their table grew quite teary. I confess I certainly did too. I’m not going to give their friend’s name, or detail how the group lost her here. That wouldn’t be a confession, it would be inappropriate. All that mattered was that this crew of friends was working through it. Together. Theo’s eyes met mine as he sat, eyes wet with emotion. One of their friends even opened up that they knew, someday, Theo would once again have love in his life. Theo smiled and promised his friends that he had faith that was true, “And I promise to open up to you about her when the time is right.” Michelle looked at me in that moment and softly mouthed two words to me: thank you.

Theo had found his next love. She was sitting right there at the table with them. In light of the fragile nature of grief, both of them weren’t ready to open up about it. Even to their closest friends. Not because they were doing anything wrong. I could tell. This hadn’t been an affair. Just something lovely and new that had grown between them after a proper amount of time. It was beautiful. Sad, of course, but such an intimate moment for me – their dorky Sommelier wingwoman – to be privy to.

Risqué Role Reversal

After they left, I spilled the entire story to Cassidy (no, that’s not her real name either, perv, so don’t go looking for her). She teared up with me… for about a minute… then immediately dived into a story about the muscular guy she had served at her end of the bar on Valentine’s Day. She went into such detail about using his number. Getting dolled up and meeting him at a bar. She told me what they drank. What color his boxers were. Favorite position. The works. But this time, this Cassidy story was a revelation to me as well…

… because I happened to know it was a lie.

I knew for a fact that she hadn’t been with that guy that night. Wanna know why? Heh. Because he had been with me. (See? I told you not to worry about me that Valentine’s Night.) It was my second revelation of the day. Call Cassidy what you will, but I had never entertained that some of her tales were untrue. I had already kept a big secret for Theo & Michelle that day. Now I decided to keep one from Cassidy as well. Now the only one that knows the real truth… is you.

For Kevin, being a writer has always required a great deal of wine. He never dreamed he’d be able to combine his love for the two. His screenwriting includes works for Paramount, MTV, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Bad Robot, and his role as Executive Story Editor on “Blood & Treasure,” an action adventure show on CBS and Amazon. Before that, his thirst for sketch comedy led to pieces for The Onion and National Lampoon – as well as the stages of UCB, HBO Workspace, Comedy Central Stage and festivals in San Francisco, NYC, Vancouver and beyond. He’s a write-at-home dad always ready for a winery road trip… especially a dog-friendly one.