A Hollywood male boss-female employee relationship becomes rape. 2,841 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
When they sashayed like movie stars out of the limo onto the theater’s outdoor promenade, Jenny was shocked by the number of women wearing dresses just as short and even tighter than Lacey’s. She felt as if she had gone to the zoo and was now passing through the “beautiful people exhibit.” She was mesmerized by the level of perfection these women had achieved with their hair, their skin, their tailoring. And she blushed every time she made eye contact with one of the many impossibly hot men with their perfectly chiseled faces.
Suddenly, Jenny became aware of her $100 dress, the one she’d bought three days before at the mall. She couldn’t place the feeling. She still loved the dress, still felt fantastic in it. She just had the odd sensation that some force from above was holding a mirror over all of their heads, and was now taking inventory.
“There she is,“ whispered Lacey.
They looked to the red carpet receiving area where photographers were taking pictures of Anita Addington, who had just arrived. It was true. Anita carried herself with such an air of regal sophistication that Lacey’s story about her being a showbiz ninja panned out.
Just then a man said, “Hey baby…” and Jenny turned to see Todd Dangerfield putting his arms around Lacey’s shoulders. He was squeezing them tight. Todd was slightly tanned and coiffed; his tailored suit was just undone enough to make people think he wasn’t vain.
Lacey tensed but greeted him with a warm smile.
“Hey Todd, this is my best friend Jenny. And this is my boss Todd Dangerfield.”
Todd forced a meager wave with minimal eye contact, then leaned in to Lacey. “Let’s get a drink before they close the bars down.” With that, he whisked Lacey away from Jenny’s side, off to the bar. Lacey looked back to her friend and mouthed: “I’m sorry! Be right back.”
“That dress looks great on you. It would look even better on my bedroom floor,” Todd giggled boyishly, acknowledging that he had just said something totally inappropriate and outrageous. But, of course, the laugh conveyed that he was joking and it was all normal Hollywood behavior.
Lacey’s stomach lurched but she swallowed the stale vapor in her mouth and forced a smile.
“You’re such a pig.”
“You love it,” Todd smiled.
It really wasn’t flirtatious. Neither of them were making eye contact with each other. They were both scouring the event, clocking the guest list. This was not a date. This was not fun. This was work whose importance was always at the forefront. Their work was all that ever really mattered.
Lacey thought her hard work was about to pay off when she saw Anita step up to the bar. The indie film producer’s brown freckled face exuded power and confidence despite barely any makeup and seemingly little fuss. Lacey wondered silently, How does she do that?
And then, Speak up, idiot!
Todd and Anita were bantering back and forth about the success of the evening. Todd was great at portraying the ever charming, ever professional, team player when he had to. But Lacey hadn’t said a word. There was no way for her to interject without looking desperate. Plus, she couldn’t really talk about her skills, her plans for her future and what a perfect fit she would be at Anita’s new company, with Todd standing there. Damnit.
The lights were blinking. It was time for the screening to begin.
Say something, Lacey mentally kicked herself. But it was too late. Anita was turning to leave. And then Todd fixed everything.
“Anita, I’ve reserved a suite upstairs. We’re all going to have a drink later. Come by.”
“I’ll be there.”
And so will I, thought Lacey.
Lacey made her way inside the theater and sat next to Jenny just at the moment it was starting. She had already seen the cut five times over, at every stage of post, but she clapped as though it was the first time. The film was good and the audience’s warm reception truly satisfying. Lacey was proud of the notes she had given at every step of the process. When the writer turned over the first draft, it was her notes that helped shape the pacing of the story. And when the director’s cut came in, it was her suggestion to juxtapose the two scenes at the end of act two so as not to telegraph the plot twist. Jenny didn’t know that. Anita didn’t know that. Lacey was pretty sure that no one who was actually in the room when she gave the notes even remembered those ideas came from her. But she knew, it, and knew she was good at what she did, and it provided her with oxygen when she felt suffocated.
She had to believe it would all pay off. Someday.
Todd looked back from his seat and found Lacey ten rows back with her childhood friend. He smiled and gave her a thumbs- up.
Jenny whispered to Lacey: “He thinks you two are dating.”
“What? No. He’s like that with everyone. We worked so hard to get this movie off the ground. He’s just excited. It means nothing.”
“Where the fuck is it?”
Lacey’s hand slipped off the bathroom sink as she tried to balance herself. She almost fell to the floor but caught herself with her other hand, then leaned back on the sink’s ledge for balance. The white marble floor was moving as she fumbled through the contents of her sequined evening bag looking for the vial of coke. How did she get so wasted? Where was the rest of her blow? Could she have done it all?
Lacey braced herself against the wall, ran the faucet, wet her hands, put them against her face, and tried to piece together the night’s remnants floating in her brain like a broken puzzle.
Jenny had been at the party and then wanted to leave. Why wasn’t she having fun? Why didn’t Lacey go with her? She knew she should have. Her gut told her to go with Jenny. She remembered that. “I’m such a bad friend — damnit — I’m a bad friend, she thought, disappointed and angry with herself. The one friend that had been there for her at every step in her life, and Lacey let Jenny go home alone in a strange town she’d never been to before.
But there’d been an important reason why Lacey had stayed. She’d been waiting for something. What was it? Martinis? There were martinis in the suite. Todd’s suite. That’s where she was. Lacey pulled out her cell and swiped through the contacts looking for Jenny’s number. But as she tried to dial, her phone went crashing to the floor.
She crawled across the white marble to reach the cell that landed in the corner near the toilet. She rested her hot face on the cool surface for just a moment and gave the phone another try. She tried to find “Jenny” as a contact, but everything was out of focus.
Just then, the bathroom door opened. It was Todd. He swayed in the doorway, focused on Lacey and laughed whimsically.
“What are you doing on my bathroom floor?”
He crumbled next to her, with his back against the tub and regarded her. Suddenly, Lacey had an overwhelming desire to get out of there.
“I gotta go home.”
She stumbled, trying to climb over his legs. But Todd grabbed her arm.
“Wait a minute. Let me look at you. God, you are beautiful.”
“I just want to go home.” she repeated and tried to push past him.
But he leaned forward, against her.
“No, you don’t.” Todd was smiling. “We’ve been waiting for this all night. That’s why you’re in here, right?”
He put his mouth to her mouth and kissed her.
She tried to push him off, but Todd was raging with hormones, pulling his pants down as he climbed on top of Lacey who was still trying with all her might to push him off.
“No, stop. I want to go home.”
Todd wasn’t paying attention to Lacey. He wasn’t paying attention to anything but the blood coursing through his veins. He climbed over her and shoved himself into her mouth. Lacey, riddled with a wave of horror, tried to turn her head. But Todd wanted it badly so he forced himself toward the back of her throat until he wanted something else and ripped down her underwear.
Lacey, 100 pounds weaker than Todd, was cornered on the bathroom floor, unable to breathe, unable to physically outmaneuver him. So she stopped trying to do anything at all. She crawled into an orb of light and hid there until it was over. Until he was limp, out of her, exhaling air that smelled of vodka, on his knees, barely looking at her face.
He kissed her cheek and smiled.
“You can stay if you want. We can have breakfast in the morning.”
That was all he said as he got up and left her on the bathroom floor.
Her vomit was acidic. It burned her raw throat when the vodka came back up, along with the venom, shame and disgust, and found its way into the toilet of the ladies room in the lobby.
Tears fell into the toilet on top of the puke.
She heard someone enter the bathroom and occupy the stall next to her. Finally done retching, she grabbed some tissues and wiped her face, opened the stall and headed for the sink. That was when, out of the occupied stall, walked Anita Addington in all her regal perfection.
Lacey was mortified. And then she remembered.
“I was waiting for you.”
It all came back. “You were the reason I went to Todd’s suite. I wanted to talk to you. You said you’d be there.”
Anita could see that Lacey had been crying. Something was very wrong. She noticed that a part of the hem on Lacey’s dress was ripped and there was a scratch on her upper arm.
“Are you okay?”
Lacey couldn’t answer.
“Do you want me to call someone?”
There was no one to call.
“Maybe Todd can get you a car?”
“No! Not Todd. It was Todd.”
The words rolled out of Lacey’s mouth before she could stop them. Anita put the pieces together.
“Do you want to call the police?”
Lacey jolted awake, the seriousness of the situation hitting her. What just happened felt like it warranted the LAPD. But the word “Yes” did not come out of Lacey’s mouth.
Instead, three different words. One. By. One.
“…And then what?”
This was a language that Anita and Lacey shared, a communication clandestine within the walls of ambition and dreams and having nowhere else to go. Anita knew that when you leave your home and move to a town so cutthroat you can’t trust your closest friends, when you have nothing but the glimmer of belief that you have something to offer that could contribute to the fabric of the world but that thing is not concrete like science or invention, it’s elusive, it’s creative, it’s magic, and the world of concrete and plaster regards you as fiction because you’ve based your livelihood on intangible things… then no “normal” language like “Call the police” applies. And Lacey knew that when you can’t go back home because you never had a home in the first place and L.A. was your refuge, when you can’t give up your job because of those times when you created something special and it made people laugh and cry and share an emotion together, it made you feel worth the breath you take, and when every other life you could choose that doesn’t include that magic would leave you desperate to just let yourself die… then, no, you don’t call the cops on your boss, Your boss who has the power to fire you and take away the only thing you care about. And so, in that moment, you decide that what happened on the marble tile was just an unacceptable, disgusting, macabre side note.
Anita and Lacey stared at each other, understanding that they were part of the same club.
Fucking men, Anita thought from her gut, remembering back to when she’d been just starting out in Hollywood and didn’t understand how ignorant she was. Fuck the smug entitled men who just take and take because they think “whatever they want” is their birth rite. And fuck the parents of little boys taught the lesson that if they’re cute enough, strong enough and rich enough, they can have “whatever they want” in life and don’t take the time to explain that “whatever they want” doesn’t include people, and sometimes no — NO — they can’t have whomever they want.
Anita stared at Lacey’s short dress and thought, Fuck Disney who has been dressing their women in tight waist-pinching princess dresses for decades so that little girls are hypnotized by the message that beauty gives them power from the minute they’re born till the minute they die. So that when they grow into women they’ll spend their last dime and dignity trying to achieve that beauty and siphon out its baseless shallow power.
When will that change? Not any time soon, Anita thought sadly. Men won’t change until we change how we raise them. Women won’t change until we change the narrative. So what can be done in this very moment? The only thing women can do is protect our damn selves.
Three seconds had passed while Anita thought all of that. She wished she had someone who could have explained it to her way back when. But she knew full well that her young, pig headed, full of piss and vinegar self wouldn’t have understood it anyway.
She looked to Lacey hoping maybe Lacey was different, maybe Lacey could understand, and said, “What were you doing in his Suite by yourself?”
Lacey tried to explain again.
“I was waiting for you! You said you would be there. I want to work for you. I was there because of work.”
Anita asked, “And when you got to the room and saw I wasn’t there, why didn’t you leave?”
Lacey couldn’t answer, it was all so foggy: “I don’t remember. I was drinking…”
“Playing the Hollywood game,” Anita surmised.
Lacey didn’t like the way Anita said that. But, yes, that’s what she had done. That’s what she was taught to do. If you wanted to be a player, you played the game, mingled, made connections, got yourself noticed.
Anita nodded. “The game is bullshit. Made up by monsters and predators who’ll do anything — sex, drugs, blackmail, screw over their friends or their own family — all in the name of work to get the power. And then once they’ve got the power, abuse it because they’re drunk on it. Are you one of them?”
Lacey was confused, but she thought of Jenny, out there all alone because Lacey had to do something for work. Was she a power-hungry monster? She felt like vomiting again.
Anita took Lacey’s silence for admission. “You lose yourself quickly trying to play the middle.”
Lacey uttered, “I don’t want to be that.”
“Then don’t ever, ever, put yourself in a situation where you’re among them and not in total control. Don’t stay long at the parties, don’t drink, don’t do drugs and don’t dress like that.”
“Wait a minute! Are you saying what just happened to me is my fault?”
“No, I’m not accusing you. It was not your fault. I’m just suggesting you understand that this is a business, not a game, and that you need to decide what you’re selling: your ass or your brains. They are two very different things.”
Lacey hadn’t thought of it like that. Anita recognized the confused look, having donned it once herself, and asked Lacey point blank, “Are you good at your job?”
“I’m fucking great at it.”
“Great doesn’t matter. There’s tons of great out there. You have to be the thing they don’t already have. You have to be the smartest, the most resourceful, the fiercest. You have to be the one person that, without you, the project falls apart. Then, if a line is drawn, a line you don’t want to cross, you don’t have to cross it and you don’t have to fear that you won’t make it in this business. Because projects will come and go, as heartbreaking as that is to accept, but you will be the thing that won’t disappear since you’ve got what this town really needs: skill. Your skill is your currency.”
The only thought that popped into Lacey’s mind was, surprisingly: “showbiz ninja.”
After a moment, Anita placed her hand on Lacey’s shoulder.
“Are you going to be okay?”
Lacey nodded: “I don’t have anything else.”