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Snippet: Varietal
Dru
wilowisp
Every Friday evening at 6pm, after he had turned off his computer, said goodnight to the security guard who was deeply engrossed in his phone, and wandered through the mostly empty parking garage to his worn car, he drove to Atkin's Liquor Palace on 5th.  It was late enough that the first few of the weekend's celebrants were gathering their supplies as well - bottles of rum and vodka, peach schnapps and cases of beer.  But it was still early that the huge crowd of youth that would descend on downtown were still out in their homes in the suburbs.  He could navigate the aisles with no difficulty, but still indulge in the vicarious thrill, the contact rush of those few early risers, their bodies taut with youthful hormones and eyes still bright with potential.

He always bought the same thing: a bottle of Dusk Farms Sangiovese  It was a sensible price, and went well with the spaghetti bolognese he always made - his mother's recipe.  He would always check out at lane number 2, regardless of the length of the line or if the cashier was one he recognized or not.  He paid in cash, turned down the inevitable offer to join the mailing list, and drove home to drink and eat in solitude, until he retired to bed at 11.

It was the best part of his week.

Once in a while, to give himself more of a thrill, he would wander the aisles and toy with the idea of a different bottle of wine.  Perhaps he should try the other label of Sangiovese.  Or dare to dabble in the fruit and spice of a Zinfandel.  The labels of all the other wines were a brilliantly colored parade of animals and vineyards and coyly smiling women.  Each promised him a different sort of Friday night.  But inevitably, he decided he wasn't looking for a different Friday night, and grabbed the familiar Dusk Farms bottle, with the copper label and the barn cat watching the sunset.  Those cashiers that took to recognizing him would always suggest something new for him to try, and he always nodded and said he would remember that next time.  And the next time, it was back to Sangiovese.

It was a warming Friday in June when he stopped by Atkin's Liquor Palace.  The daylight was still strong, and the aisles were nearly empty - all the young kids were still basking in the sunlight, delaying their liquor runs.  Today he went directly to his favored bottle, no time for the pretense of browsing the other options.  But as he grabbed the smooth, green neck, he heard the crash of a bottle one aisle open, followed by a string of the most obscure and archaic curse words he had ever heard uttered.</span></span>

His curiosity got the better of him, and he poked his head around the end cap into the next aisle.  A young couple stood over a pool of blood red, smashed glass next to them.  They both were dressed to seize the night - neon colored hair, outfits with a thousand zippers and buckles and buttons, nails and lips and eyes painted.  And they looked mortified to have dropped a bottle.  One of the store workers was already coming up the aisle towards them, asking if they were okay, asking them to stand back and someone would be right by to clean up.  As the boy began profusely and unnecessarily apologizing to the worker, the girl was sidling up against the shelves and stealthily placing bottles in the long and apparently deep pockets of her coat.

She saw him watching her, and shoved her elbow quick into her companion's side.  He grunted, and then saw him as well.  They both disengaged from the worker, and started to approach him under the pretense of clearing the aisle for the eventual mop and bucket.  Once he realized that they were coming for him, he had a moment of panic.  Should he run?  Should he pretend he saw nothing at all.

"Evening, sir," she said to him, bright smile peeking out from plum-colored lips.  "Beautiful night, isn't it?"

He didn't know how to respond, mumbled something in bland agreement.

"Dusk Farms?" the boy chimed in, having somehow acquired the bottle out of his hands.  "Here's a man who likes to be safe."  There was a hint of dark to the way the boy said it.

"Let's recommend something else to our dear friend here," the girl said, looking back to her companion who was nodding agreeably.  They briskly ushered him back around to his aisle, forceful without ever pushing.  He continued to stare straight ahead, watching them out of the corners of his eyes.  They finally stopped midway through, and she reached out with closed eyes, seizing a bottle from the shelf and handing it to the boy.

"Red Oaks Coeur Noir," the boy read from the front of the bottle.  He deftly tossed it spinning to catch it again, and read from the back.  "With hints of danger and mystery, this full-bodied bouquet is reminiscent of nights-long-gone, lover's kisses, and blackberries."

"A most perfect selection!" the girl said with a laugh.  She snatched it from the boy and proudly placed it into his hands.  "A good wine for a good friend.  Or a bad wine for a bad one."

He took it from her, and with slightly shaky hands, he looked down at the label.  It was a stylized oak tree, the kind where branches and roots intersected one another in beautiful, geometric artistry.  He had never heard of a grape or region called Coeur Noir before.  He went to the back of the bottle, but found it bare.

When he looked up, he was alone in the aisle.

Disturbed, he sought to grab his bottle of Sangiovese again, but could not even find the place for it on the shelves.  Still holding the Red Oaks, he peered back into the next aisle over, and saw a disgruntled Friday night worker toiling with a mop and bucket over a red stain on the floor.  The worker looked up, and saw him standing there.

"Can I help you with something, sir?" he asked.

He contemplated asking about the couple, sharing what he had seen about their theft, asking for help, but it all sounded foolish.  The bottle in his hands seemed to grow pleasantly warm once he decided not to say anything.

He shook his head, and proceeded to checkout lane 2 with the bottle of Red Oaks Coeur Noir.</p>
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