The Call Of The City – Episode 22

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

“Do you want to go for a coffee?” Lewis asked as she slung her case over one shoulder. “I’ve got an hour before my lecture in Diatonic Harmony.”

“I’m in the same lecture,” Grace answered. “And yes, that would be lovely.”

They walked out on to the Kennedy Center’s wide plaza, where Juilliard’s campus was located.

“There’s a place around the corner,” Lewis said.

Grace nodded her agreement. She didn’t know the neighbourhood, but she hoped she would soon.

If she wasn’t kicked out of school for being useless, she thought grimly.

“Why the long face?” Lewis asked, smiling. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“It was terrible. I made so many awful mistakes.”

“We all did.”

“No-one was called out except me,” Grace reminded him.

Miss Chen had barked at her several times, always calling her number four. It had been humiliating.

“Exactly,” Lewis replied. “We’re all envious.”

Grace let out a laugh.

“Why on earth would anyone be envious?”

“Because she paid attention to you, and no-one else got a look in.”

He smiled wryly.

“I made just as many mistakes as you.”

“I don’t think it was a compliment to be harped on,” Grace insisted as they stepped out of the humid summer air into the cool coffee-scented atmosphere of a small, trendy café.

“It certainly didn’t feel like it.”

“Trust me, it was.” Lewis nodded towards the glass counter. “What would you like? My treat.”

“Mocha, please.”

As Grace settled on to a stool she found her misery over Miss Chen’s brutal attention waning.

It was lovely to have found a friend so soon, although she suspected Lewis was just making her feel better with his talk about being envious.

Still, she was determined to see the bright side of things. She’d practise the Hoffman for hours, and she’d play it brilliantly during her next tutorial.

She’d make sure of it.

* * *

Kerry’s Land-Rover bumped down the rutted track of a farm in Nidderdale.

This was her busiest time of year, her parents needed her more than ever and she was tired and just plain worn down.

Last week her father had had another ECG. He had several severely blocked arteries, and was looking at another bypass surgery in the near future.

Andrew had been devastated, and so had Meg. They’d been hoping for better news, but now it looked like Andrew wouldn’t be back to work any time soon, if ever.

With a sigh, Kerry parked the car in front of the low, rambling farmhouse of golden-grey York stone.

She’d had three farm visits in one week, up and down the county. All the driving, plus walking through various fields and pastures, inspecting hedgerows and wells and fallow fields, had exhausted her.

She was ready for the weekend – starting with a bath tonight and a nice lie-in tomorrow.

“Hello, Kerry!” Nigel Thornton, sixty years old and hale and hearty, waved to her as he came out of the house. “Ready to look at my hedgerows?”

“Of course.”

Nigel had applied for the Hedgerows and Boundaries Grant as part of the Countryside Stewardship scheme, and this inspection was to make sure he was complying with the many guidelines.

It was more of a formality than anything else; Nigel had always been proactive in maintaining his property in compliance with the government’s requirements.

Sure enough, two hours later, having walked the boundary of Nigel’s farm, Kerry was happy to tick all the necessary boxes and retire to the welcoming farmhouse kitchen for a much-needed cup of coffee.

“How is married life treating you, then, Kerry?” Nigel asked as he dumped instant coffee granules into two cups.

Kerry stretched her aching feet towards the comforting warmth of the ancient Aga and smiled.

“Quite well, thanks.” Even if, some days, she felt as if she had to convince herself of it.

Daniel was lovely and she loved her job. What did she have to complain about?

“It can be a bit hard, adjusting to it, though, eh?” Nigel, a confirmed bachelor all his life, said with a sympathetic smile.

Kerry realised she must look grim indeed for him to make such a comment.

“I suppose, but I’m used to farming life, and Daniel’s wonderful,” she said firmly. “No complaints.”

For some reason, she found herself thinking of Grace’s effusive WhatsApp message to the family last night, detailing all the thrilling things she’d done in New York.

She’d started classes as well as made a friend, and over the weekend they’d gone on a boat trip around Manhattan.

Kerry had dutifully typed back an enthusiastic text, ignoring the pang of something like envy that had arrowed through her.

Now, as Nigel set a cup of strong coffee in front of her, she told herself there was no reason to feel as disgruntled as she did.

She just needed to get on with things.

“Thanks, Nigel,” she said. Then, as Kerry raised the mug to her lips, the aroma of coffee hit her nose and her stomach seethed in rebellion.

With a jolt she put the mug back on the table, sloshing hot coffee on to her hand.

Her stomach seethed again and she clapped her hand over her mouth.

“I’m sorry!” she managed to get out before rushing for the loo.

She returned to the kitchen a few minutes later, feeling limp.

“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I must be coming down with the stomach flu or something.”

“Or something,” Nigel agreed with a knowing glint in his eye.

Kerry frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m naught but an old bachelor, but my mam had seven children and I was the oldest.

“If I had to make a guess, I’d say you were expecting.”

He smiled. “But what do I know?”

To be continued . . .