Monday pushed Iris through her limits at work. By evening, she was tired and cranky, but satisfied. She had finished the last of the reports that had to be sent to Sienna office. Sitting in the chair for four hours had her stiff.
She wondered what Ernesto and Antonio would be doing. She regretted the fact that she won’t be seeing them this week. She had remembered just in time in the morning to call Clara and inform her that she won’t be able to see the children this week. She would be attending the food & wine festival at Cortona with Felipe Bertoni, where their wines would be served to selective customers. Clara had assured her that she would let the children know. For sure they would be disappointed but they would look forward to her visit when she returned from Cortona. Clara had also begged her to enjoy herself, since this was one of the festival typical of Tuscan culture.
The thought of seeing them after she was back from the festival brought a smile to her face. She moved her neck to one side and found it aching. To relax her posture, she stood up, leaned forward and stretched back to relax her back muscles and neck, and almost toppled on to the floor when a voice from the door observed, “I wonder how far back you could stretch.”
Regaining her balance at the last moment, Iris stood straight and scowled. Felipe Bertoni stood by the door, his eyes alight with laughter. He came in and greeted her by shaking her hand boisterously, as if they were long lost friends, “ Iris! How good it is to see you again! I do wish though you would take better care. Marvellous balance though. Were you an acrobat at any time? ”
Iris shook hands with him and replied back in a dry tone, “ Yes, it is good to see you again too Signor Bertoni. Not attempted as an acrobat yet, but I might soon if you make me jump like that. “
“Now now Iris, we’re acquainted enough. You can call me Felipe, as I’m going to be not just your boss, but also your guide at our sojourn to Cortona. And I was never one of those fearsome ogres that would eat your head when I caught you stretching about a bit. You know that!”
It was impossible to resist such charm. Iris smiled warmly, “That is true, indeed, Felipe. “
“Come, we must sit. I need to relax and I’m sure you do too, after a long day at work.” He gestured at the garden outside and Iris followed him out. There were chairs kept in the garden, with cool drinks at the table already served. Iris picked up one of those and said, “Ah, bliss! Bepe knows I love her mint lemonade at the end of the working day. Picks me right back up, it does.”
Felipe clucked his tongue, “Don’t let Alessandro hear you say that. You are in a vineyard and yet you prefer lemonade! He would rightfully stamp his foot in anger.”
The image of Alessandro stomping his foot in anger had Iris smiling. That smile however vanished in a second at the memory of his face last evening. She muttered while sipping her lemonade, “That’d be too human of him. Huh.. stamping foot and all.”
“Beg your pardon?” Felipe goggled at her, the look on his face showing his incredulity at her words. She shook her head, smiled sweetly, and took another sip.
“So all ready to depart tomorrow for Cortona? I know that a certain person in Cortona is very excited at the thought of your visit to his town.” Felipe stated, taking his glass of wine in his hand, deciding to let go of the previous statement.
A smile broke through on Iris’ face at the mention of Lorenzo. How she missed his friendly & cheerful presence out here! She said, “I do hope I get enough time to visit Lorenzo.”
“I am sure you can be freed for an evening. “ Felipe said, slyly adding, “Alessandro had mentioned that you would need an evening off out there and arrangements, thus have to be made for it. Quite attentive my cousin is, to ensure his staff is able to relax.”
Iris tried to look nonchalant at this news and had a hard time controlling the blush that spread across her cheeks. Sure Alessandro would want her to have a good time; he himself was going to have a great time in Luxembourg, of that she had no doubt. Not giving too much import to his words, Iris said, “That’s kind of him. Do we have an agenda while attending Sagra della Bisteca?”
Felipe rubbed his finger over his chin and looked thoughtful. He knew Alessandro had not been too happy to go to Luxembourg with Vittoria Terzo. In fact, if he was right, Alessandro would have loved to send him; Felipe to Luxembourg while he accompanied Cortona with Iris. Something was cooking between these two ! It would be fun to see the mighty Alessandro on his knees for this lovely woman. He would take his time and draw his own conclusions. He had the whole week to confirm his suspicions. He would observe Iris and share his observations with his brother Felice. After all, it had been their idea to get them together and watch the fireworks!
He gave Iris a bright smile, ” Sorry, got distracted there for a moment. Let us discuss what we do out there.”
And they went on to do just that.
A WEEK LATER
Iris dropped her bag on to the floor in her room, exhausted. It was nearly midnight and she had just arrived back from Cortona. She sat down on the chair by her window and poured water into the glass from the jug Beppe had kindly placed on the table, relaxing for the first time in the whole week.
Despite the fact that the week had been one of the best weeks for Iris, workwise and with regards to knowledge of wines, she couldn’t honestly say that her days had been peaceful. Or for that matter her evenings. Her evenings had been full of meeting prospective clients, talking about non consequential things and generally smiling till her facial muscles ached. But she had been able to enjoy them all, despite all the activity, thanks to Felipe. He had been a great boss and a helping hand where ever she needed it. In fact she could even go to say that they were friends now; not the “secrets-can-be-exchanged” kind of friends, but definitely worth talking to.
A smile came up to her lips as she thought of her meeting with Lorenzo and his partner, Pieter. She had been able to spend an entire evening with Lorenzo, his partner and his family and had enjoyed it very much. Lorenzo had decided to stay put in Cortona and Pieter had agreed to join him, leaving Florence and it’s delights behind. It had surprised her to see Lorenzo’s parents accept his status so affably, but then, as Lorenzo said, his parents were nothing if not open minded.
The smile on her face vanished as she recalled the entire day she had spent before meeting up with Lorenzo. Felipe had been by her side, aiding her whenever she needed help. What she had not counted on then, was coming fact to face with Alessandro’s ex-wife, Flavia. Felipe had tightened his mouth, nodded at her and moved on, or tried to. But it had been Iris who had borne the brunt of that woman’s malice. At every turn, she had tried to provoke Iris into lashing out or responding badly, by provoking her and almost telling one of the prospective clients that she may be Felipe’s arm candy.
It had taken vicious mutterings in her ear by Felipe to shut her up. Iris assumed the mutterings were vicious since Felipe looked furiously angry. Flavia had given her killing looks and walked away with another party, venting her anger out on petty things. Later that evening, Flavia had created a scene when a maid had accidentally bumped into her. Things had eased down after that, but Iris had realized exactly the sort of woman Alessandro’s ex-wife was. Iris was only thankful that the kids wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of her anger. She may have been a horrible influence on them, from all she had heard and seen by now.
She sighed as she recollected the entire day gone by. Today had been a disaster in all directions. The day that had started with a very angry and tensed Felipe flying out to England for a personal emergency, leaving her alone to cope with an irate customer that was hell bent on flirting with her. She had handled the best she could, but it was quite possible that her icy politeness and firm distance may well have lost her company a customer. As if that had not been enough, the day had ended with her lost while driving back, finding directions and finally reaching home, cranky and tired.
Deciding that a bath may be the right thing to relax her body of aches and pains of the day, she turned on the tap, and jumped at the sound of the telephone ringing in her room. Thinking it may be Bepe checking up on her, Iris picked up the phone and said, “It’s alright. I’m back safe Bepe, and will see you in the morning.”
“You will see me later in the morning cara, and I will pass on your message to Bepe. I’m glad you’re back safely.”
“Alessandro!” Iris was shocked into screeching on the phone, her senses on a spin. “You are in Luxembourg.”
She stated, her brain still trying to get a grasp over his phone call. He’d called up to ensure she had reached safely? It was a minute before her brain finally processed his words and automatically added, “You will see me in the morning? You’re home? ”
“I will cara. I’m back home too.” Alessandro’s voice was warm as he said that, making Iris’ nerves tingle.
She stammered, “Good for you. You’re h-“ stopped and said, “Good night then. I will present my report tomorrow.”
“Iris.” Alessandro calling her name, stopped her from hanging up. She put the receiver back to her ear and said, “Yes?”
He breathed deep and said, his voice soft in her ears, “I missed you Iris.”
Simple statement, and yet it made Iris tremble from head to toe. Her tongue got tied into knots, her voice frozen.
“Iris?” Alessandro enquired hesitatingly.
“I’m- here.” Finally she was able to squeak. Clearing her throat, she repeated, her voice still quivering, “I’m here.”
Iris, Tesoro mio, I—“ Alessandro started and then, it seemed to Iris whatever it was that he wanted to say, he gulped it down and said instead, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night Iris. Dream of me. ”
Iris heard him hanging up while she stood by the phone, her mind still reeling over the fact that Alessandro had called her and admitted to missing her. Was this for real?
As if already in a dream, she put the phone down slowly, turned off the tap, took a quick shower, and went through the night ablutions, before turning off the light and snuggling under the covers. Sleep seemed far off from her eyes and yet, she dreamed of a morning where Alessandro would come up to her and tell her how much he had missed her.
She closed her eyes, and quietly slipped into this dream, a small sigh of contentment escaping her mouth.