The Call Of The City – Episode 14

Kerry relaxing in a bath as Daniel makes a meal Illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

“You seem distracted, Juliet.”

Juliet glanced up from her porcelain cup of Lapsang Souchong tea with a little grimace.

“I’m sorry, Anne. I am distracted,” she told her friend.

They met for lunch every Friday at an elegant café off Madison Avenue, and exchanged gossip about the magazine world.

Today, with Grace having left last night for England, Juliet couldn’t concentrate on anything but her niece – and her sister.

Was Andrew all right? How was Meg coping?

“My niece was visiting, and she had to leave suddenly because my brother-in-law, her father, had a heart attack.”

Saying the words made a ripple of apprehension steal through Juliet. Kerry had sounded so anxious on the telephone.

Juliet barely took in the salient details – that Andrew had had a heart attack and surgery and was now in hospital. Things looked serious.

She didn’t remember how she’d replied to Kerry; in a daze she’d got off the phone and had gone to Juilliard to find Grace.

“Your niece?” Anne looked surprised. “You’ve never mentioned her. In fact, you’ve never mentioned any family.”

“No, I suppose I haven’t.” Juliet lowered her gaze as she placed her teacup in its saucer. She felt near tears.

“Are you close to your niece?” Anne asked.

Was she close to Grace? No, she barely knew her, yet the two days she’d spent with her had been, well, wonderful.

Awkward at first, Juliet acknowledged with a wry smile, as they’d moved around each other with caution. Then, somewhere between the Cooper Hewitt and dinner at Juliet’s favourite French restaurant, they’d clicked.

It had been a lovely, lovely feeling.

“We’re getting to know each other,” she told Anne. “After some time apart.”

It was a big understatement, but she was still speaking the truth.

She had been getting to know Grace, and she hoped to have a chance to get to know her more, if Grace was offered a place at Juilliard and she accepted.

Would Andrew’s condition change Grace’s plans? Guilt crept into her thoughts at that prospect.

Her own mother’s death hadn’t changed her plans, it had cemented them.

“That’s lovely,” Anne said, drawing Juliet out of her unhappy thoughts. “Your family is all in the UK?”

“Yes, in Yorkshire.”

“And they’ve never visited before?”

“No, and I only visited them once. We’ve been a bit . . . estranged.”

Anne nodded.

“Families. You can’t live with them – and you can’t live with them!” She laughed lightly.

Juliet tried to smile. Once, not long ago, she would have agreed with the rueful sentiment. She couldn’t live with her family; she’d chosen not to.

Now, when Grace had just left in tears, and Meg’s husband might be nearing death, she wasn’t sure she felt that way at all.

“It’s nice your niece has visited,” Anne said. “Poor thing, having to hurry home because of illness. Do you think her father will recover?”

Anne sounded dispassionate, only mildly curious, and once upon a time Juliet would have felt the same about her family.

“I don’t know.” Juliet fought a tide of fear. “I should ring them later. In fact, do you mind if we cut this short?”

She half-rose from the table, lifting one hand to summon the waiter.

Anne looked mildly affronted.

“Of course, if you feel you must . . .”

It was unheard of to end one of their leisurely lunches for any real reason, yet here Juliet was, throwing bills on the table to cover the tab and hurrying towards the door.

“I’m sorry, Anne!” she called over her shoulder while her friend looked on in annoyed bemusement.

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.