We started with four days in wine country, staying at a new Sonoma bed-and-breakfast that comped two nights in exchange for the advertising they’d get to my twenty-five thousand followers. Alex good-naturedly agreed to take my photo doing all kinds of quaint things:
Sitting on one of the old-fashioned red bikes the B and B has for guests, wearing a giant straw sun hat, fresh flowers in the wicker basket fixed to the handlebars.
Walking on the nature trails through the scrubby meadows and their scraggly trees.
Sipping a cup of coffee on the patio, and a chilled old-fashioned in the sitting room.
We lucked out with the wine tastings too. The first winery we visited comped your tastings if you bought a bottle, and I researched the cheapest one online before we went. Alex took my picture posing in between rows of vines with a glimmering glass of rosé, one leg kicked out to the side to show off my ridiculous purple-and-yellow-striped vintage jumpsuit.
I was tipsy by then, and when he knelt, right in the dried-out dirt in his light gray pants, to take the photo, I almost fell over laughing at the bizarre angle he’d chosen for the picture. “Too many wine,” I said, gasping for breath.
“Too. Many. Wine?” he repeated, delighted and disbelieving, and as I fell into a crouch in the middle of the aisle, laughing my head off, he took a few more pictures from way down low, pictures that would make me look like a sassily dressed skin triangle.
He was being a horrible photographer on purpose, not out of protest but to crack me up.
It was the flip side of the Sad Puppy coin, another performance for me and me alone.
By the time we hit the second winery, we were already sleepy from the alcohol and sunshine, and I let my head droop against his shoulder. We were inside, on a technicality: the whole back of the building was a windowed garage door that pulled up so you could move freely from the patio, with its bougainvillea-encroached lattice, to the light, airy bar with its twenty-foot ceilings, big-ass fans spinning lazily overhead, their rhythm like a lullaby.
“How long have you two been together?” the sweet, middle-aged woman running the tasting asked as she returned with our next pour, a light and crisp Chardonnay.
“Oh,” Alex said.
Midyawn, I squeezed his biceps and said, “Newlyweds.”
The bartender was tickled. “In that case,” she said with a wink, “this one’s on me.”
Her name was Mathilde, and she was originally from France but moved to the United States after meeting her wife online. They lived in Sonoma but had honeymooned just outside San Francisco. “It’s called the Blue Heron Inn,” she told me. “It’s the most idyllic place I’ve ever seen. Romantic and cozy, with this roaring fire and lovely patio—just a few minutes from Muir Beach. You two must see it. It is perfect for newlyweds. Tell them Mathilde sent you.”
Before we left, we tipped Mathilde for the cost of the free tasting and then some.
For the next couple days, I deployed the newlyweds card regularly. Sometimes we got a discount or a free glass; sometimes we got nothing but a smile, but even those felt genuine and meaningful.
“I feel kind of bad,” Alex told me as we were walking it off in one vineyard.
“If you want to go get married,” I said, “we can.”
“Somehow, I don’t think Julian would take that too well.”
“He won’t care,” I said. “Julian doesn’t want to get married.”
Alex stopped and looked down at me, and then, entirely because of the wine, I started crying. He cupped my face and angled it up to his. “Hey,” he said. “It’s all right, Poppy. You don’t really want to marry Julian, do you? You’re way too good for that guy. He doesn’t deserve you.”
I sniffed back my tears, but that just let more out. My voice came out as a squeak. “Only my parents are ever going to love me,” I said. “I’m going to die alone.” I knew how stupid and melodramatic it sounded, but with him, it was always so hard to rein myself in, to say anything but the absolute truth of how I felt. And worst of all, I hadn’t even known that was how I felt until this moment. Alex’s presence had a way of drawing the truth right to my surface.
He shook his head and pulled me into his chest, squeezing me, lifting me up into him like he planned to absorb me. “I love you,” he said, and kissed my head. “And if you want, we can die alone together.”
“I don’t even know if I want to get married,” I said, wiping the tears away with a little laugh. “I think I’m about to start my period or something.”
He stared down at me, face inscrutable for another beat. It didn’t make me feel x-rayed, like Julian’s eyes. It just made me feel seen.
“Too many wine,” I said, and he finally let a fraction of a smile slip over his lips and we went back to walking off the buzz.
We checked out bright and early from our B and B and called the Blue Heron Inn on speakerphone as we headed back toward San Francisco. It was the middle of the week, and they had plenty of rooms.
“Would you by chance be the Poppy my darling Mathilde said would be calling?” the lady on the phone asked.
Alex shot me a meaningful look, and I sighed heavily. “Yes, but here’s the thing. We told her we were newlyweds, but it was a joke. So we don’t, like, want any free stuff.”
The woman on the other end of the phone gave a hacking cough, which turned out to be laughter. “Oh, honey. Mathilde wasn’t born yesterday. People pull that trick all the time. She just liked you two.”
“We liked her too,” I said, grinning enormously over at Alex. He grinned enormously back.
“I don’t have the authority to give anyone a free stay,” the woman went on, “but I do have a couple year-round passes you can use to visit Muir Woods if you like.”
“That would be amazing,” I said.