Vanessa grabbed her backpack then gave me a hug. “Bye, Daddy.”
I kissed her forehead. “Bye, Tesoro. Have a good day at school.”
Conway came to me next and gave me a quick hug. “See you later, Dad.”
I patted him on the back before I watched him walk out to the car.
Pearl came to me next, her sunglasses pushed back on her head with her purse on her arm. “When are you going to tell them about the dog?”
“Maybe tonight over dinner.”
She smiled then leaned in to kiss me. “Have a good day.”
“You too, Button.” I cupped her cheeks and kissed her, my fingertips feeling her soft hair. “I love you.”
She rubbed her nose against mine before she turned away. “Love you too.”
I gave her ass a smack as she walked away.
She turned around to wiggle her eyebrows at me before she lowered her shades and walked out the door.
I stood there and watched them pull out of the driveway and onto the road, another beautiful, sunny day in the heart of Italy. Sometimes I wanted to give the winery to Cane so I could stay home with my wife all day, so we could make love and go to lunch until the kids got out of school. But I needed to have a bigger purpose in life because I was too young to retire. I needed to be a role model to my kids, to show them that you should work hard even when you don’t need to.
Besides, she and I still had our nights together.
And those were pretty incredible.
I closed the door and walked back into the house.
Lars crossed the main room as he headed to the kitchen, carrying our dirty dishes so they could be washed in the sink. He could only carry a few things at a time because he was too weak to do more than that. “Did you have a good breakfast, Mr. Barsetti?”
I told him to stop calling me that, but he continued to do so. “It was excellent, as always.”
He nodded and continued to walk.
I followed him. “Lars, can I talk to you for a second?”
“Of course, sir.” He set the dishes on the kitchen island then turned to me.
“I told you to stop calling me sir.”
“I know. But it’s hard. I’ve been calling someone sir for fifty years…” He still wore his butler’s uniform every day even though our lives were casual. He never missed a day except one year when he got the flu. He never took time off because he said he had nothing to do with his time anyway. “How can I help you?”
I moved to the dining table and pulled out the chair for him. “Take a seat.”
He hesitated because I’d never asked him to do that before. Dread entered his features as he lowered himself onto the chair.
I sat across from him. “Lars, you’ve been so devoted to the Barsetti—”
“You’re firing me…” He dropped his chin, devastated, like he might start crying.
“No, Lars. I’m not firing you.” I was a lot more delicate with him than I would be with anyone else, because I knew he was fragile and sensitive. He was emotional about his position because it was his entire life. “Pearl and I have noticed you’ve really slowed down for the past year, and we think it’s time you took a step back. We don’t want you to get hurt carrying on the same responsibilities you did as a young man.”
He kept his chin down because he couldn’t look at me, his hand resting on the surface, his skin wrinkled with age. “This job is all I have, Mr. Barsetti. I have nowhere to go.”
“Lars. Look at me.”
He lifted his gaze, tears in his eyes.
“You aren’t going anywhere, Lars. We want you to live with us. This is your home.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll live here with us for the rest of your days. You’re a part of this family. Always have been.”
He dropped his gaze again.
“We’ll get someone new to take over your position. It’s time for someone to wait on you for a change.”
“But I need to earn my keep—”
“You have,” I said quickly. “With fifty years of service.”
He lifted his chin and looked at me again, still emotional. “That’s very generous of you, Mr. Barsetti.”
“I’m not being generous. You’re a part of this family. You’re one of us. It’ll be nice to have you at the table for every meal, to watch TV with us in the evenings, to spend time with us in a different way than before.”
He stared for a long time, his eyes still wet. “I just…I don’t know what to do without my job. It’s been my life for so long. I know I’m not a strong man anymore, that my body is slowly becoming weaker so I can’t do as much as I could before, but I try to push through it…because it makes me happy. It’s my purpose in life. What will I do without a purpose? Just wait to die…”
“No. You have a new purpose now.”
“What is my purpose?”
“You’re a grandfather to my kids.”
His eyes became wetter, filling over the brim.
“You’re the only grandfather they’ve got, Lars.”
He bowed his head, like he was ashamed of his response.
“You’re a Barsetti. Always have been. Grandpa Barsetti.”
He couldn’t lift his gaze now, breathing hard. “I…I don’t know what to say.”
I was quiet as I let him gather himself, let him breathe through the emotion that incapacitated him for a while. “You don’t have to say anything, Lars. You can help me find a replacement. And I’m sure you’ll train them to be the best.”
He nodded. “I will.”
“And now you have a whole new chapter in life to look forward to.” After Button told me her fears about the kids moving away once they were adults, I started to look at aging differently. There was a lot to look forward to, and since Lars didn’t have anyone but us, I knew life was drastically different for him. His job was never about the money. He never spent his money on anything because he lived here for free. The only retirement he wanted was us.
Button texted me. Lars told me about your talk.
How is he?
A little emotional but in good spirits.
It’ll be a rough transition for him, but I honestly think he’ll be happier once he gets used to it. I sat at my desk in my office, the window showing the vineyard behind me. It was hard for me to take away the one thing that mattered to him, to break his heart like that, but I really believed he had something to look forward to.
He was really touched by your offer.
It was hard to watch his reaction. It even made me choke up a little.
You’ve given him a home…just like you did with me.
I stared at her message for a while before I released a sigh. This place never felt like home until you, Button. Not until she filled the empty hallways with grace and my dead heart with love. Not until she gave me two beautiful kids that were as pure as she was.
My assistant stepped into my office without knocking—which was a first. “Mr. Barsetti?”
I looked up from my phone, seeing her ghostly white face. “What is it?” I didn’t get angry that she burst inside my office without permission because it was obviously an emergency.
“There’s a group of men who just came onto the property…and they don’t belong here.”