The Princess and the Pea, Reworked

February 27, 2008
By Linda Zhou, River Edge, NJ

Another rainy, boring day had passed, and Jill was very, very bored. She had spent the day wandering aimlessly around her gorgeous Victorian mansion, which had been in her family for generations and was the source of much envy. Jill was the richest and of all her friends, and they all knew that, but it Jill who suffered harbored the greatest jealousy. Although she was wealthy and beautiful, Jill was single and childless. She had assisted each and every one of her friends in planning their weddings, picking out their dresses, deciding whether to have white doves or pink doves, and had painfully attended all of their weddings and bridal showers. She had forced herself to smile and congratulate her friends, and always managed to laugh off their casual comments about when she planned to finally settle down with a family.

On this particularly rainy day, Jill was feeling unusually tired. She lay down on a green chaise lounge with gold embellished legs, and the rhythmic pitter-patter of the rain soon put her to sleep. She was enjoying the best rest she had had in days when a piercing knock shocked her awake. She groggily stumbled to her heavy double arch mahogany door and dragged it open. A hooded man, covered with a brown cape and sopping wet, greeted her.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but the rain is coming down so hard now and my bicycle has broken down and when I tried to fix it I accidentally stepped into this ditch and now I fear that my ankle is broken.”
Who still rides a bike around here? Jill thought. “Come in, come in. Get out of this awful rain!”
“Thank you, ma’am. I am much in your debt.”
“Call me Jill.”

Jill eyed the man suspiciously as she guided him away from her more expensive furniture, finally instructing him to sit on a plain brown lyre arm sofa that she had been meaning to replace. When she returned with a medical kit, she was shocked to find that the man, having shed his ugly cape, was actually decent looking. Upon further scrutiny, she noticed his graceful cheekbones, his broad forehead, and his intelligent amber eyes.
“Is something the matter, Jill?”
“Oh no, I was just examining your ankle. It does not seem to be broken, just a strain.”
“Thank goodness for that. I say we have a toast, to your kindness and to my good fortune. I conveniently have a bottle of wine in my satchel and - ”
Jill’s stifled gasp stopped the man mid sentence. That was not just a bottle of wine. What he had taken out was a 1787 Chateau d'Yquem, a wine she had only heard rumors about.
“Ahh, I see you have some knowledge in wines. I purchased this treasure for just $90,000 yesterday, and was on my way home when my bicycle broke.”
“You would have me drink your $90,000 wine?”
“Oh, a saved life is worth far more, I think. If not for your hospitality, I would have frozen in that rain. If you could kindly fetch two glasses, I would go myself if not for my ankle…”
Jill walked hurriedly to the kitchen. The words of her mother raced through her mind. “A man who truly knows his wine is a rare catch, Jill. There are many falsities out there, pathetic men who think they are virtuosos, but be sharp and appraise carefully, and you could find yourself a life partner.”
A quick second later, Jill was in her wine cellar. “This man could be the one of my mother’s provisos,” she though. “I must test him before I do anything rash. Goodness knows I’ve already wasted too much time with false men.”
“Glasses, sir. I have also brought up a bottle of my own wine. I cannot drink your Chateau d'Yquem. I am sorry, but it is of too great a value.”
“My name is James, and Jill, let me comment on your excellent accent. Not many Americans can properly say the name of such a wine.”
Jill blushed, but distracted him by placing the bottle she had brought on the solid oak gateleg table in front of them. She handed him an edinburgh crystal drinking glass, and motioned for him to come forward.
“I obtained this bottle from a merchant in Vicenza. I’ve been told it is the finest Sherry money can buy, 1775. It is my the rarest glory of my entire cellar. Don’t protest, please, have a taste.”
James gazed at her for a second before conceding. “I know a losing battle when I see one. And, shameful though it is for me, I really would enjoy a taste.”
Jill allowed her face a brief smile before pouring him a glass. She noticed how James did not drink until she did, and held the glass properly – his fingers delicately grasped around the stem, not even a brush of a finger against the bowl. “Good manners can take you far,” Jill thought, “but only a true man will be able to see that something is wrong.”
She watched James intently as he gently placed the glass down, holding her breath. He seemed content, and was almost smiling. He didn’t realize. The Chateau d'Yquem, his etiquette, it was all fake. Jill tried to hide her disappointment as she slowly took a breathe. It seemed too good to be true, why hadn’t she stoped and faced reality? Of course he would not be able to tell that it was not really a 1775 Sherry, he was not a true virtuoso, just one of the pathetic wannabes her mother had warned her about.
“Jill, I’m sorry…”
What was this? Jill snapped out of the angry rant raging in her head.
“I’ve been trying to phrase this nicely…but there doesn’t seem to be a way, I will just be blunt. Please forgive me, I know this wine is your rarest, but I do have a speakable amount of knowledge in wine, and this will no doubt offend you, but you said this was a 1775 Sherry? It is definitely not. I could speak forever about the unique flavor and scent of a 1775 Sherry, which, though extremely similar, is not that of your bottle here. I can only verify that this is from a later date, perhaps 1826.”
He said this all very fast. Jill was stunned. James took her silence as anger, and immediately began profuse apologies.
Jill felt the beginnings of a true smile, the first in months, at the edge of her lips. It did not stop at a smile, but blew up into a belly aching laugh. Jill laughed until she cried, and the feeling of an honest laugh, something she had not experienced for years, was so uplifting she could not stop. Through crinkled eyes, she saw the confused look on his face, which only made her laugh harder. Finally, after a solid half hour, she managed to control herself. Turning toward James, she said, “Oh James, please, let us move to a different couch, this old thing is so plain and old, we will sit on my French canapé, circa 1520, solid cherry, rubies lining the arms, only two in the….”

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