The Call Of The City – Episode 07

Juliet and Grace in New York Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Juliet hugged Grace, enveloping her in a cloud of expensive-smelling perfume, her fair hair brushing against her cheek.

“It’s so lovely to see you, darling. It’s been too long.”

“It has.”

Grace studied her aunt. Juliet was so different from her mother: smaller boned, more elegant and with a brittleness unlike Meg’s easy, cheerful warmth.

There was a cautious distance in her aunt’s hazel eyes even as she smiled.

“Is that your only bag?” Juliet asked, gesturing to the duffel looped over Grace’s shoulder. “Goodness, you travel light. I’ve never managed it.”

“Do you travel much?” Grace blurted out before she thought better of it, and a slight, taut pause followed.

“Only holidays,” Juliet murmured as she weaved through the crowds filling the airport’s hall. “And not much recently.”

As Grace followed her aunt out of the terminal, she was struck afresh by how little she knew her.

“We’ll take a taxi uptown,” Juliet said, and raised an arm to hail one of the yellow taxi cabs queued up in front of the terminal’s entrance. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Grace said.

The air was cold and sharp and the sky was aglow with city lights, the pavement in front of the airport heaving with people.

Standing there, her bag and violin case by her feet, Grace felt overwhelmed and exhausted, searching for that flicker of excitement she’d felt before.

She was finally in New York City for her Juilliard audition, and the whole world felt as if it were opening up in front of her.

But she was so tired, and everything felt so strange.

Juliet glanced at her, a smile softening her face.

“Oh, Grace, my dear. You look absolutely shattered.”

Her slight American twang was less noticeable as she took Grace by the arm and steered her towards the waiting cab.

Seconds later, they were speeding towards the lights of Manhattan.

“So, this audition,” Juliet said once they were on their way. “You must be terribly excited.”

“Nervous, really.”

Grace’s stomach flipped as she thought about the audition the day after tomorrow, and the flight home two days after that.

She was only in the city for four days, yet those precious hours held so much promise.

This could be the beginning of everything she’d ever dreamed of.

“I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully,” Juliet said, although Grace didn’t think her aunt had ever heard her play.

She hadn’t seen her since she was four years old. Still, she appreciated her vote of confidence.

“It’s very competitive.”

“So it’s an honour even to get an audition. Well done, Grace. You must have worked hard and be really talented. I’m sure your mother is proud of you.”

There was a repressive note to her aunt’s voice that Grace didn’t understand.

Something had happened between the two sisters, she knew, but she had no idea what it was.

Her mum never talked about it, and Grace and her sister Kerry had never dared to ask. It was the unacknowledged elephant they all stepped around as they went about their comfortable lives.

Their aunt Juliet, living so far away, never visiting, barely talked about . . .

“I think Mum is as nervous as I am, but for a different reason.”

“What reason is that?”

“She’s afraid I’ll stay in New York for ever.”

As soon as she spoke, she knew she’d said the wrong thing. Juliet’s expression froze, then she turned towards the window.

Grace wondered if she should apologise, but for what?

“That sounds like Meg,” her aunt said at last.

They didn’t talk much after that. Grace was flustered by her faux pas and her aunt seemed more remote than ever.

Grace wished she could make up for the blunder, but she didn’t know how and she was too tired to think clearly.

By the time they arrived at Juliet’s apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Grace was practically tottering.

Juliet ushered her into a marble-floored lobby with two doormen standing at attention, and then into a wood-panelled lift.

The luxury made Grace’s eyes pop.

“This is so nice, Aunt Juliet!”

“I’ve lived here a long time,” Juliet said. “Now, come inside. I’ll make us a nice cup of tea.”

To be continued…

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.