The daughter of a Hollywood VIP grows up too quickly after she meets his best friend. 5,517 words. Illustration by The Fates.
I sat back on the soft white leather couch and watched Charlie meticulously roll a joint. The leather smelled clean and, looking around the apartment, I noticed that the decoration was sparse — only a standing lamp and small coffee table were used to fill out the rest of the room. He still looked good: sexy, handsome and alert. At that moment, he looked up and I could tell he was wondering what I was thinking. This time I had decided we both would get what was coming to us, what we had been waiting to happen for some time. I was 17 and had known Charlie almost half my life…
It all started at The House, which was sprawled out along a plot of land that seemed to go on forever. I could whistle on one side of the house and not a peep could be heard on the other. There were no wall-to-wall carpets – only thick Spanish tiles, which often cooled off my bare feet on hot summer days. Or, wearing socks, and carrying a big bowl of Sugar Corn Pops filled with milk, I could slide along the smooth floor confident that not a drip would fall to the ground. Outside, there was a heart-shaped pool and a hip little cabaña to go with it. The House seemed to have everything a grown person could ever want — but of course that was never enough.
I often wondered what it would feel like to be surrounded by adults who had enough. Did such people even exist? People who would be satisfied with a large creamy vanilla shake in a glass sweating pellets of condensation down its sides, a funky transistor radio, and a moderate sized apartment, just big enough to hang their hat and rest their sleepy head. I wanted to know these strangers, but for years when I was young they only existed as characters I could play with in my head, characters that wouldn’t be put off if I asked them for a sip of their shake or a crayon to color with — an adult who might even take the time to color with me — not just to gain favor from the man of the house, but simply because they wanted to.
There were always people at the House. As the voices grew louder, the place seemed to swell, as if at any moment it would reach its breaking point and suddenly pop like a balloon. Most just seemed to be using my father, buying time I guess, perhaps anticipating the day when they would have to get up off the couch and make it on their own, instead of just hanging out and leeching off Dad. There were production assistants, chiropractors, lawyers, playwrights, producers, and high-profile dentists. In my mind, they all somehow seemed to morph into one. Maybe they thought if they just stayed around long enough my father’s genius would rub off on them.
Now Pops, he got The House from making movies, lots of them.
He owned The House, which had two stories, with a balcony overlooking a huge bird fountain that intermittently spouted water, and the fancy car.
And boy, he sure had discovered many a star and starlets. Pop had so many productions running at once he needed three assistants just to keep track of his schedule. He seemed to have everything but time — he never had enough time — certainly not for me. Other people hanging around seemed to have more of it, and they seemed to care about me, but of course I was never sure of their intentions. Growing up I was free to roam, to fall through the looking glass whenever I pleased, I imagined tea parties given in my name with mounds of fresh-cut berries, and guests, all the wonderful friends I had, each arriving at my beautiful home with summer bonnets and colorful dresses. This was my escape, a secret — a kind of innocence that the adults never could take from me.
The day Charlie arrived came as a surprise because no one had told me he was moving in. Early that morning, I heard a loud, rumbling car pull up the driveway. I ran through the kitchen and into the dining room where I could peak out the barred window to see who it was. And there was Charlie, dragging a couple of suitcases and his funky standing-lamp out of the trunk.
Charlie was about 10 years younger than my dad at the time he moved in, making him around 25. We never did know much about Charlie’s past. We heard that prior to arriving at The House, he had produced a musical on Broadway which had flopped. Curious, I wanted to know him, talk to him. For the first time, I became aware of myself. I wanted to be gorgeous, to be grown-up, not just a 10-year-old girl in a worn-out t-shirt and dirty jeans. I suddenly felt uncomfortable in my own skin and knew I had to escape before he caught me spying out the window. I quickly ran away through the kitchen into my bedroom and slammed my door.
Eventually, I heard him at the end of my hallway entering the bedroom I already knew my father would put him in. It was the only vacant bedroom on this side of The House; the other side was strictly off limits to anyone who wore pants, only women being allowed to occupy the Master’s quarters. I listened from behind my door as he quickly unloaded his things and headed back through the kitchen towards the living room.
I moved over to my closet doors and looked at myself in the mirror. I noticed for the first time ever that my hair had not been combed. In fact, I never bothered to comb my hair unless my father insisted. I was not ever even sure where my brush was. I quickly used my fingers instead and straightened out the knots.
Looking in my closet, I searched for something I knew was shoved all the way in the back. It was an outfit that one of my dad’s girlfriends had bought me for the upcoming school year. Her name was Cleo and she had been sleeping with my father for years. She was madly in love with him, but he wasn’t. I guess she settled for the time they did spend together, rather than not having him at all. Until then, I had forgotten all about it, but right then, I wanted to look nice. It was a pink rayon skirt and a light purple top stitched with tiny white bows. The skirt was much too pink and much too short.
I opened the door slightly and peeked out. Charlie’s bedroom door was ajar. My heart began to pound as I nonchalantly walked down the hall.
The way I felt reminded me of those times I’d pass Billy walking down the hallway at school. He was a very cute surfer boy who was two grades ahead of me at school. But this was different, I wanted something in return now: I wanted Charlie to notice me, to discover the female I had not yet become, the one I could not yet see or even recognize within myself.
I reached Charlie’s door and walked right in. One of his suitcases was open and some of his clothes were laid out on the bed, exposed. I picked up a white turtleneck sweater and brought it slowly towards my face. It smelt musty, but this had been partially muted with some sharp tangy cologne. Charlie always smelled of that mixture — of disuse, disguised by sweet perfume. This scent would draw me to him like some animal’s pheromone.
I carefully laid the shirt back down and walked out through the kitchen. I could hear muffled voices coming from the patio just outside the living room’s French doors. I noticed my dad was sharing some Beluga caviar, which Charlie had brought as a moving-in present. Charlie looked at me and quickly scanned my small frame from head to foot.
I had never had a man look at me that way. I had witnessed plenty of men at The House giving women the once-over but this had never happened to me. It made me feel powerful.
“My goodness, darling,” my dad said, “what have you got on?”
“What are you talking about, Dad?” I said as if I dressed liked this every day.
Maybe he got the hint because he changed his attitude right away. “Well, pink certainly is a good color on you — don’t you agree, Charlie?”
Charlie assumed this gave him unspoken permission to follow the path of my figure again, which he did before replying, “Yes. And who may I ask is this?”
“Oh, I didn’t realize you two hadn’t met.”
I looked at my dad, annoyed. He always seemed to forget little details about my life that were pretty crucial to me.
"Charlie, this is my lovely daughter, Samantha.”
Charlie stuck out his hand affectionately. “Nice to meet you, Samantha.”
I reached for his hand and my heart started pounding so hard I was afraid he would feel it in my palm. I managed to respond with just a “Yes.”
“Can I call you Sam?”
He had thought of a nickname no one else had ever called me and I dug it. I looked down at my feet to try and figure out a way to exit quickly. I needed some time to acclimate myself to Charlie. He made me feel anxious and noxious at the same. I thought there was something wrong with me. How could I have a thing for Charlie? It just didn’t seem right, but the longer he stayed at The House the more normal it felt.
Charlie was funny, even hilarious; he could literally charm the pants off anyone. He carried himself arrogantly with a big bushel of long curly brown hair that rested gently on his broad shoulders. This mop was perfectly highlighted, as if the California sun had handpicked which strands to sprinkle just so. As I stared at it from certain angles, the golden-dipped tips seemed to beckon me to touch them, though of course I didn’t dare. He had tiny brown eyes and a huge nose, which the hair perfectly camouflaged, making it smaller, yet present. That hair was so invitingly sexy it made up for the rest of him, which just wasn’t quite there — if there is what you want to call attractive.
Charlie lived at The House and therefore reaped all its benefits — he got free room and board, gourmet meals and all the women he wanted. He was treated like an honorable American guest at some fancy Indonesian hotel. Nothing was too good for Charlie. Nothing. My father adored him; Charlie was the only man I ever saw get this close to my father, they did everything together — work and play. Dad trusted him. For Charlie’s birthday, my dad bought him a brand new red Alfa Romeo convertible. And in 1979 those cars were real hip, the ‘it’ car back then, the car everyone wanted to be spotted in driving 90 mph down Sunset Boulevard.
Charlie could easily make you feel dependent on his confidence in you, no matter if what you were doing was unhealthy or immoral. It’s as if he were there to service, like a high-class pimp. “Come on baby,” he would say, “this is what you really want, this is what you need.” With me, Charlie could turn a simple thing like serving ice cream into a grand affair. He would set the bowls and spoons out in an orderly fashion on the kitchen counter. Then he would carefully open each ice cream lid — there were always at least 5 to 10 flavors of ice cream in the freezer — and lay them out slowly. Then he would wink slyly while performing for me. “OK, which flavor would you like to today? If you are feeling lonely, chocolate could be an unlikely friend. Or if you’re feeling kind of sexy, have some strawberry with a dash of lemon-lime sorbet.”
In the height of summer, I went into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich. I spread extra mayo on a soft French roll and then carefully laid fresh turkey across it. There was an extra long hallway leading to the kitchen, and I heard a creak along the hardwood floors, alerting me that someone was coming. As I looked up, Charlie appeared in the archway, smiling listlessly. He winked at me and began to strut in my direction — sliding up close. I could feel the heat radiating off his skin.
“Whatcha’ got cookin,’ kid? I hope it’s just as fresh to eat as you,” Charlie said with a slick, innocent grin.
“Only just as fresh, not fresher?” I replied playfully.
My bare feet were freezing cold before he walked in and now they were burning up.
Charlie leaned over and gave me a slow kiss on my cheek, dangerously close to my lips. Then he grabbed and hugged me almost too tight. This gesture was brilliantly disguised with all of the best intentions.
“You know you’re going to be gorgeous when you grow up, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t know that, Charlie, and I won’t until I’m a grown up, okay?”
We left the kitchen together and headed towards the pool.
Charlie dove into the deep end with a single forward flip, the Pretenders blasting out the windows of our red and white striped cabaña. I was in the pool too, my tiny frame cutting through the deep end and piercing the refreshing water. I swam up and lifted my elbows onto the pool’s edge and took in a deep breath. I felt long pearly drops of water leap off my nose and watched as they hit the concrete, creating steam on the ground as they evaporated. I felt my innocence peeling away with every drop, yearning for experiences I was not ready for. I caught a few droplets with my tongue and the water tasted bittersweet.
Where was Charlie? Suddenly, I felt his leg rubbing against mine. He came up out of the water and placed his sleek, taut arms over the edge. He looked at me and his image began to blur as our faces came closer.
I felt very conflicted about my attraction to Charlie, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how it might feel to collapse into his embrace. Drops of water continued to fall from my face as I looked over at Charlie. The phone rang loudly in the cabaña and Charlie hoisted himself out of the pool. Right then I decided I could handle this whole thing and anything else that got thrown my way.
That summer was a non-stop fun ‘parade.’ There was no form of adult entertainment – sex and mild contraband – not present. And the women just kept coming through. Charlie became the protectorate of good and evil, at least where I was concerned. He made sure no one stepped over the line. Charlie had two basic sides to his character: the fun-loving uncle-type and the sexy charmer. Sometimes I saw both of these Charlies simultaneously. Most of the time, though, the uncle-type was reserved for the child in the room, and the ladies’ man was there for everyone else. Early in the morning, I could watch with fascination as a woman quietly departed carrying a bundle of last night’s clothes, with a bra dangling from her arm. I would feel blessed, knowing I’d never have to be a girl leaving Charlie’s bedroom, never to return.
Except this one woman Asia, she wanted nothing else but to be a star. So she knew better than to have sex with Charlie. Because of this Charlie wanted her badly, he couldn’t stop talking about her when she wasn’t around. My dad knew her kind of well from working in the business his whole life and would warn Charlie that she was never going to be an easy target. “She wants something, but it’s not you, Charles. So give it up,” warned my father. “Move on. She’s a rose with thorns. Too sharp, Charlie.”
Asia would come over sometimes on a Friday night when my father would hire an accompanist to play on his shiny black grand piano. Her voice sounded like a flute, and when she sang the whole room would quiet down to listen. She would slowly sway back and forth and her flowing silk dress would follow, clinging to her luscious breasts that jiggled gently to her voice’s vibrations.
Charlie didn’t listen to my dad’s advice, and I watched Charlie’s ego dim every time Asia entered the room. Eventually Asia stopped coming over and a few months later I got a postcard from her. It was from NYC and Asia had signed it with a red lipstick kiss atop her name. When I showed the postcard to my dad he laughed, his laugh sounded like a series of quick thunder bolts so powerful that is felt as though the pictures on the walls would come loose from its force. He told me that he had passed her name onto a director who was casting a musical, and she had gotten the lead role. She was talented but I had a feeling my father needed to get rid of her because she was killing Charlie.
It bothered me, the thought of not being pretty enough. I was constantly forced to compare myself to the women who passed through The House almost every day of the week like cows on a drive. I knew their sexuality had power and I wanted some of it. They got lots of attention and gifts and dinners brought in, and late-nights with all the drugs and alcohol they could consume. There were two or three women that would visit more often than others. I knew the women were young and didn’t understand that Charlie was using them to feed his unquenchable ego. Just like me, I know they just wanted to be loved, but they made themselves sexually available to almost anyone in order to please Charlie. I think these girls believed they needed him to feel complete.
Charlie began to tell me about his recent escapades, his current ‘kill,’ his girl of the moment. Although I thought I hid it well, I was thrilled to be in on Charlie’s secrets. He would talk to me about women as if I was his best guy friend, not like a girl who was just about to start 6th grade. He had this remarkable ability to make me feel like an adult.
“So, what do ya think, kid? Should I call her, or just let this one slide?” He allowed the last “s” to hiss off his tongue like a snake.
“What did you say her name was?” I thought of myself as a legitimate judge of women, a bonafide expert schooled by my dad and company, the best men in the business.
“Theresa. Remember the one with the green eyes and extra long legs? She has that mole just over the left side of her upper lip. I could just lick it right off her face.”
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t really talk to her. Why don’t you have her over again so I can check her out?”
“Sure, toots, anything for my girl.”
When it came to me, Charlie was the only exception to his own rules. Oh, I played along, enjoying the ride, but I saw right through him. I think he kind of knew that, and feared it too.
But I sensed a slow-approaching doom — like a tornado whose disastrous wake can already be felt while it’s still several hundred miles away — and I knew the impending storm had to start with Charlie. This sense both thrilled and sickened me.
A few days later I walked into my father’s office. He had this large, dark-oak desk, scattered with many photos, his framed memories. He also always had a few New Yorker cartoons, none of which I understood, taped to his desk lamp.
“Yes, my darling?”
“I don’t know if Charlie’s idea about the Italy trip is right.”
“Oh, yes?” he said, surprised at my observation. “Why?”
“Do you really know if his intentions are good?”
“What do you mean?”
“Does he really love you the way he says he does? Is all this good for you, or him?”
“Both of us.”
Yet my dad still seemed intrigued by my suspicions. “Come over here.” He wanted to give me a hug. “Charlie just wants me to be happy and take advantage of my success while I can.”
I walked towards his chair. “Don’t you know all fans wither when the cheers die down?” I asked blankly.
He instantly laughed, stood up and gave my backside a gentle pat, hugged me tight, and told me not to worry so much.
Unfortunately, Dad seemed more impressed by my wit than my point. I turned around right before exiting the room. My father gave me a look, it was as if he almost knew that somehow I was right.
Some time after he moved in, Charlie was made producer on a film my father directed, which was a huge hit. Thereafter Charlie became involved in another movie that Dad had been developing for years. The project had been difficult to get off the ground because most felt it was not commercial. However, my father was absolutely committed to the project and finally convinced the studio to commit. They had agreed on condition that my father make certain changes to the script.
My father began to implement these changes. But what nobody knew, not even Charlie, was that the story was extremely personal to my dad.
Late one evening, following a heated meeting he and Charlie attended with the executive producers of the project, my father got drunk. He’s not a drinker, so I mean he was well beyond his limit. From my bed, I could hear him screaming clear across the house. I left my bedroom and slowly crept across the living room tiles to get closer to my father’s office.
“Damn those bastards!” my father roared.
When I heard the rage in his voice, I jumped back behind a large curtain in the hallway adjacent to his office door.
“Now, calm down, Pops.” Charlie said softly. “It will all work out, we just need to get our bearings.”
Suddenly, my dad started to cry uncontrollably. “This is easy for you, it’s not your sister we’re talking about here!”
There was a short pause.
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Nobody knows about my sister, nobody knows because she barely existed.”
“I’m not following,” Charlie said.
“My parents ran a small bakery in the Bronx. Then when I was nine, my mom got pregnant.” My dad stopped, and I could hear ice clinking in his glass.
“They put me to work and I learned how to bake.” He said, slurring his words. “But don’t you ever ask me to. I hate baking.”
“So Sadie’s Bakery…?” Charlie began to ask.
“Yes, you idiot.” Sadie’s was the name of the bakery in the script and also the location where most of the action takes place.
“So your mother…?” Charlie was beginning to figure it out.
“Yes! It was my mother who died.”
“And the sister was…”
My father interrupted, “was put up for adoption. The sister, it was my sister. We’re not talking about a script, Charlie. This is not a character in some fucking movie.”
In the film, the father blamed his newborn daughter for his wife’s death and therefore put her up for adoption.
“I only had her for four weeks,” my father said in a choked voice, “but I loved her.”
Dad told me later that he was never the same and hated his father to this day. But that night, there was a long silence, then my father said quietly, “All the money, and all this power and I can’t find her, Charlie.”
“Yeah, but the character could, Pops.”
There was a large crash against a wall, and I could hear glass shattering.
My dad exploded. “No, he couldn’t! And he won’t! They’re not going to get their fucking happy ending, Charlie. And don’t you ever mention this again! Never.”
“But Pops, be reasonable…”
I ran back to my room. I pulled the covers over my head and cried. I wanted to forget everything I had just heard. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking that this was all Charlie needed; he now knew a secret about my father that nobody else knew, and this knowledge could give him the power he was looking for.
The next morning I heard Charlie wake early. I came into the kitchen where he was stirring up some oatmeal on the stove.
“Where are you going in that business suit?” I asked.
“I got an early business meeting, curious George.”
“Is my dad coming with you?”
“Sam, there are some things that I can do on my own, you know.”
“Yes, I’m sure there are.” I said.
“You’re quite cocky this morning, aren’t you, little lady?”
“Don’t call me ‘little lady,’ my name is Samantha.”
I turned and stormed out of the room.
My father would not change the ending of his movie — the young boy searches, but never finds his sister. This became a point of contention between him and the studio. They felt my dad was being unreasonable. After all, most of his films had happy endings, so why not this one too? Charlie then used the information only he had, explaining that Pops was obviously “too close” to the material to be objective. And pretty quickly Charlie was able to convince the executives that they could have everything they wanted if they just got rid of my now overly volatile father.
And it worked. Since they already had the rights to the script, they were able to replace my father with a then-hot director in his mid 20s.
And Charlie? Well, for his good work, he was made a producer, and with its happy little ending — the guy finds his sister — the film went on to become a smash hit.
“You fucked me, Charlie, didn’t you?” My dad said as he entered the kitchen, the evening after he had been kicked off his own movie.
I stood in the corner petrified; my dad hadn’t noticed that I was in the room.
“Business is business, Pops. What can I say?”
“You know something?” My father said with complete disgust. “You never did have much to say.”
Then my daddy turned towards me and, as he blew me a kiss, the unspoken words between us flew across the room.
Charlie arrived with the Beluga caviar and left when The House’s last China bowl was sold. Not long before my dad kicked Charlie out, I was sitting in the cabaña wondering how much longer my father’s success was going to last. The sunlight was fighting to come out, but it was losing the battle to the persistent low-lying smog. Charlie was grinning as he walked into the cabaña as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“What’s so amusing, Charlie?” I asked sarcastically.
“Sam, that Alfa Romeo will be yours when you turn 15.”
Sam. I still loved that nickname. But who did he think I was? I couldn’t be bought. But why all this generosity coming suddenly out of nowhere? Was he prepping me for the ‘kill’? I had just turned 13 and wondered if maybe he felt guilty because he knew what was coming.
By the time I was 14, Charlie was long gone and my father had lost everything — the women, The House, the big car, everything but me. He had sued the studio and lost, it had been a very public battle. No one wanted to work with him after that. The phones had stopped ringing and lawyers mostly visited The House instead of the usual crowd of producers, singers, actors, and agents. I always felt that Charlie was responsible for the beginning of the end, and yet I wished he had held me just once more before he left.
At 17, I had become a dark and mysterious girl. I got a lot of attention at school, but this had little to do with my personality, and all to do with my looks. The boys began to stare at me, sort of like Charlie had. I was outwardly charming and fun to hang out with, but inside I was secretive and suspicious of everyone. I didn’t trust men, not in the least, yet these feelings didn’t stop me from fooling around with boys and leaving a few hearts broken along the way. By then, everybody called me Sam.
I pulled up to a red light at Sunset and Doheny, and I heard The Pretenders blasting from a car next to me. I looked over, and there was Charlie in his Alfa Romeo with the top down. No, of course I never got that car. Instead, I was driving an old beater whose transmission was always teetering on the brink of collapse. Charlie was no dummy: when my dad kicked him out, he took the only thing he knew he could get away with.
I looked over at him and he could feel the stare. It took him a few seconds to recognize me. He shook his head in the same seductive manner that I had learned to love. I nodded hello and turned my head back towards the traffic light. He honked and made a gesture with his hand –-an invitation to follow him.
He pulled over. I pulled up behind him. He got out of his car, came to my window, and leaned his elbows against the top of my door. He looked down at me. He had cut off all his goldilocks but still looked sexy. And as we talked, it all came back: the flirting, the teasing, the silent exchanges. Oh, and he still could make me laugh.
“You know, Sam, I always knew you were going to turn into a gorgeous young woman.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure you did,” I replied.
He said he lived right up the street and asked if I would come over. I was curious. I wanted to see how he was living now.
We got on the elevator and he pressed floor 18 in one of those high-rise apartment buildings that run along Wilshire Boulevard adjacent to Beverly Hills. He had a typical bachelor pad, nothing fancy and everything fashioned in either black or white. And now, here we were, both seated on his white leather couch. He lit the joint and offered me a hit. This time he was serious, and this time I took it and inhaled deeply. I was no longer the voyeur, I was no longer the child.
We talked about the good old days — well, at least they were good for him. My good days were just starting. Slowly the couch began to feel soft and the room began to feel hot, and I wanted him to touch me. I took off my shoes and asked for some ice water. Charlie returned from the kitchen and handed me the glass. I dipped my index finger and thumb into the water and grabbed a piece of ice. Bringing it to my lips, I began to paint them like lipstick. Drops of melting water fell onto my lap; a few dropped my bare legs.
Charlie stared at me, riveted. He couldn’t resist, and moments later, he gently clasped the back of my neck and brought our faces so close that I could feel my icy mouth cooling off his warm face. He remained there for several seconds, trembling, until finally our lips met. Pretty soon, we both seemed to be making up for lost time.
I got what I had been waiting for, and made sure that I gave him what he wanted too, maybe even more then he ever thought he would get. I made sure he would never forget me. Not then, not ever.
I left after a few hours, just in time to meet some friends down at the beach. By then I understood why so many women had fallen for him. He had a way about him that was like no other. It’s not as if I was that experienced, but I certainly had come to know the difference between good and bad sex. I smiled all the way to the beach, knowing that I would probably never see him again. And if we did chance to meet, he certainly would never see me again, with even so much as the shoes off my feet.
This short story first posted here on August 3, 2015.
4 comments on “Vanilla Shake”
I found myself having to fight my urge to scroll prematurely forward while reading. Love the chemistry and playful but palpable tension between Sam and Charlie. It made me hold my breath!
That story is so well written. I felt like a voyeur reading it. Antonia: you are good!
Love it. Love it. Really love it, thought you just made movies, ps, loved the writing in "Phantom Halo" too.
Wonderful story. A bit over my head perhaps. Then again, I’m a man.