Elisabel unlatched the violin case. Juliet gleamed up at her, warm and bright, as though ready to take on the Zenith judges. And she would. Three days had never seemed so torturously long.
“How’s your father treating you?” Using a worn rag, Grandma Leona rubbed excess rosin from the strings of her own violin.
“Fine,” Elisabel said. And for once, it was the truth. She wasn’t sure what to make of this version of Dad: one who offered to get her a gift––as an attempt to manipulate, she reminded herself––and who bemoaned her impending absence from work––probably another attempt to manipulate. He just wanted her to stay on his property so he could control her. That was all.
“That’s good.” A clear A note rang out from Grandma Leona’s violin, still in tune––probably because she had greater access to the violins than Elisabel did. Grandma Leona moved to the next string, D, which had not fared so well in the days since she had last played.
Elisabel’s chest tightened at the sudden realization. What if the judges ask if I play every day? What am I supposed to say––that my father doesn’t like it when I play in the house? That’ll make a good impression on them. Her lips curled into a scowl, then softened. Unless they would take it upon themselves to rescue a tortured artist from her prison. Hm.
Except Dad had been in such a good mood lately. What if…? Her breath caught. What if he’d be okay with my playing Juliet in the apartment? Maybe he’d be open to it.
Or maybe it would trigger one of his episodes. Did she really want to risk it?
“What’s going on in that head of yours, Belle?” Grandma Leona asked.
“Nothing.” Elisabel worked on tuning Juliet, keeping her eyes focused on the instrument and her face composed. She could feel the steely gaze fixed on hers, not believing her vague answer. Fine. She couldn’t tell her grandma about the audition––though it wasn’t like Grandma could stop her––but she could give something to satisfy Grandma’s curiosity. Besides, it might help to get someone else’s opinion before she ruined the tenuous truce she had going with Dad.
“I’ve been thinking”––as of a minute ago––“that I might see how Dad reacts to my playing in the apartment.” Elisabel forced a laugh. “Who knows; maybe he’ll want me to play in the shop to attract customers.” Like that would ever happen.
Grandma Leona arched an eyebrow. “You think he’ll react well to that?”
“He’s been pretty good lately. Now’s probably the best time.”
“If you’re willing to take that risk.” Grandma Leona set the music sheets on her stand, then placed another copy on Elisabel’s stand. The wrong piece. At least, not the piece Elisabel wanted to work on.
Tension clamped Elisabel’s lips shut. You have to tell her. You need her to help with the piece for the audition. Just say it.
Well, she didn’t have to tell Grandma Leona why she was working on this particular piece. Grandma wouldn’t ask too many questions. Right?
“Oh….” Elisabel’s smiling lips felt like plastic. “I’ve actually been working on….” She pulled the folded sheets of paper from her bag. “Méditation” from Thaïs, written by Jules Massenet.” The music shook with her trembling hands as she handed it to her grandma.
Grandma Leona’s sharp eyes scanned the first page. She said nothing.
Elisabel licked her dry, plastic lips. “You know, Mom’s old favorite.”
“I know,” Grandma Leona said.
Elisabel grabbed Juliet, soothed by the touch of the slick wood. This is what Mom would have wanted, she reassured herself. “I was hoping you could help. It’s a bit difficult.”
Grandma Leona set her violin back in her case. Elisabel swallowed hard.
“What’s this all about, Belle?”
“I just wanted to learn Mom’s song.” Elisabel’s voice pitched high. “Is that a problem?” Her fingers slid across the strings, resulting in a violent thrumming of pizzicato. She winced as the clashing notes rang out into the air, then faded.
“Don’t you ever lie to me, Elisabel Kent.”
Elisabel’s cheeks heated. She couldn’t bear to look at her grandma and see the disappointment written into her eyes.
“Now tell me the truth.”
Grandma Leona wouldn’t be able to tell Dad. They had no contact with each other. All this would do was strain her relationship with the only living family member who actually cared about her. But Grandma wasn’t going to let her get away without a clear answer. Elisabel’s hand clamped around Juliet’s neck. “I’m auditioning for Zenith in three days.”
When Elisabel dared to look up, she found Grandma Leona shaking her head, a slow back and forth that curdled Elisabel’s stomach. “What?” Elisabel’s hand strangled Juliet’s neck, and she quickly set the violin back in the case before she did something stupid.
“How do you think this is going to end?”
“It’s going to end with me away at the college I love, far, far away from Dad. How is that wrong? Don’t you want me to go to college?”
“That’s not the problem, Belle. You know that.” Grandma Leona’s lips tightened into a firm line. “It’s the way you’re going about it.”
Elisabel clenched her jaw. “I’m doing what Mom would have wanted. Why is that a bad thing?”
“Belle. Your mother would not have wanted this.” Grandma Leona’s eyes pierced hers. “Aria loved Warren, as stubborn as he was, and she never would have done something she knew would hurt him. She always put him before herself––too much, perhaps, but such is love.”
“She made the wrong choice, then,” Elisabel snapped. “Why would anyone in their right mind choose Dad over violin?”
“Elisabel.” Grandma Leona’s lips tightened. “Don’t speak about your parents like that.”
“Mom’s dead. What’s she gonna care?” She blinked rapidly.
Elisabel crossed her arms and slouched in the chair, trying to quell the burning of her eyes. She would not cry. Would not.
“You know I haven’t exactly had the greatest relationship with your father either, but lying to him is not––”
“Why not?” Elisabel snorted. “Why should I care what he wants? He doesn’t care about me.”
Unbidden, his words from that morning replayed in her mind: “It’ll be strange, not having the two of you around,” and then moments later, “You two bring life to this old shop.”
Manipulation, all of it. She must’ve gotten her inclination for deception from her dad.
“That’s not true. You know he loves you.”
“Great job he does of showing it.”
Grandma Leona frowned deeper. “Belle.”
“What? You know it’s true.”
Grandma Leona shook her head, apparently unable to come up with a sufficient retort. See? I was right. But the thought brought Elisabel no satisfaction.
“So, are you gonna help me with the piece?” Elisabel said.
“Elisabel. You can’t just lie to everyone.”
Elisabel folded her arms over her chest. I shouldn’t have told her. Should’ve just tried to perfect the piece on my own.
“That’s not what Jesus would do.”
Elisabel groaned. “Look, Grandma, I know you don’t like it, but this is what makes me happy, and God wants me to be happy.”
“Elisabel. Your happiness is not God’s greatest concern. He is most concerned with His glory. You are not––”
“So you’re saying God doesn’t care? Is that it?” Elisabel’s words thickened with the tightening of her throat. “Well, yeah, you’re right. If He cared, He wouldn’t have let a freak accident take Mom from us. And if He doesn’t care about me, then why should I care about Him?”
“You said it yourself! He doesn’t care if I have a horrible life. Why would I follow a god like that?”
“He does care. But He’s not the one serving you. You’re the one serving Him. Or, at least, you should be.”
“Whatever.” Elisabel stood up and grabbed her violin case. Maybe she could practice at Gwen’s apartment as long as she wasn’t too loud.
“Elisabel. Stop. Think about this––”
“I’ve thought enough, thanks.” Elisabel walked toward the door.
“You know your father. He cut me out of his life after Aria died. He isn’t always rational. If you do this––” Grandma Leona’s voice trembled. “I’m worried for you, Belle.”
“I thought you of all people would support me, Grandma. But I was wrong. The only person who actually cares about me is Gwen. You and Dad––you just wanna control my life.”
“No, I’m trying to protect you––”
“I don’t need your protection. I need you to stay out of my life.”
The only person who knew her well enough to make her happy was herself. Why hadn’t she realized that before? If she wanted a life with meaning and purpose, she had to take things into her own hands. If anyone didn’t like that, well, they could just deal with it.
Elisabel slammed the door.
By Cassandra Hamm