For Ashley & Nat, my two biggest supporters
“Next time…” Her father motioned for Julie to stand up, “You’ll come home on time.” He patted her hair gently, smoothing the curls over with the rough edges of his fingers. He dragged the knots through with them. Julie flinched. At her actions, the backside of his palm went up and connected with the soft flesh. Connected with the tears.
“David!” The shrill voice of a beaten-down mother called, “Don’t.” Her hands shook as Julie wept silently. She had grown accustomed to these weekly occurrences. Her father, noting the tone of Julie’s mother’s voice grasped the bottle on the counter and stumbled back to the den.
The monster had retreated for now.
“Jean-Claude won’t like that, my flower.” Her hands, marred from days on her hands and knees, scrubbing floors, brushed across Julie’s cheek as the daughter brushed her away and removed the pillbox sitting atop her head, placing it next to the controversial coat before entering the adjacent parlor room and sitting next to the lively fire place.
“Momma, would you rest for a few minutes? Jean-Claude can handle some of this.” Camille rolled her eyes, as if her daughter was little more than a waste of time to her. Shaking her head, she returned to the fire, ready to throw another log on the blaze.
“Would you stop?” Julie grumbled, “It’s nearly 70 degrees outside already!” Her mother’s hands shook as the piece of wood tumbled from her hands and onto the floor. How frail she had become in the last 20 years, plagued by constant anxiety. As if he would come sweeping back into their lives.
“Momma…” Julie sighed, watching as her mother receded into the lavish couch cushion, looking far smaller than Julie had ever seen her. The wispy hair on her head looking grayer, although Julie knew she tried to dye it constantly, “It’s alright.”
Julie grasped the fingers of her mother who nodded in silence, a silent tear streaking down her face, dipping below her chin.
“Are you staying for breakfast dear, he’ll be up soon and if you’re here…well…” Her eyes brimmed with tears again and Julie shook her head, sighing again as her mother lit up another one of her cigarettes, hands still shaking.
“Has Hugo returned from New York?” Julie questioned before standing and looking at the framed picture of the four of them in Paris nearly a decade ago, “He promised to bring me word of the World’s Fair.”
“Darling, sweetheart…” Camille chuckled weakly as her daughter looked earnestly towards the fireplace's mantle, gazing at the photos Hugo sent from New York, “It’s 1962, it won’t be for another two years.”
Julie smiled uneasily at her mother in reply, “Can I just have a cup of tea before I go?”
“Why are you here, by the way, we rarely hear from you now?”
“That’s because you’ve sent me away to live in that damned hotel, remember?”
“Lovely, aren’t you happy with it? Oh, I told Jean-Claude moving you to the Bungalows was a mistake. He didn’t think…. oh, goodness, we’ll have to move you back up to the suite and then you’ll have to move all your things again.”
“The bungalow is fine, mother.” Julie smoothed out her dress and looked at her mother still engulfed by the lavish couch before she exited the increasingly warm room and headed to the side kitchen where the maid was not yet there, nor the cook. She grabbed the tea kettle on the site of the counter and filled the water quickly, listening attentively as her mother shuffled into the kitchen.
“Darling, Julie.” Her mother’s hands clutched Julie’s slender arm, “If you think for a second you’re not as bright or as beautiful as the others that live there…don’t think for a second you’re not. You are just as beautiful and talented as….as….” Camille couldn’t place her finger on the other inhabitants who resided there, but found none.
“As Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe? Momma…I don’t...we don't... come from backgrounds like that. I don’t want to be like that, ‘sides, they aren’t there most of the time anyways.”
“Julie,” Camille’s grip tightened around her daughter’s arm, “You will appreciate the things that are given to you, all the Jean-Claude has done for us, done for you, and me…” She trailed off, exuberant and fiery, before her fingers released from Julie’s arm, “You will live this life now, go out, have fun, live a bit…he went to a lot of trouble to get them to transfer you.”
“Yes, Momma.” Julie conceded before she heard the booming laugh come down the side steps leading into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Camille, mi amore.” The mustachioed, salt-and-peppered hair man stepped into the kitchen, clad in a far too short red robe and matching slippers.
“Julie…a surprise.” His smile dropped from the façade it had taken up, “How’s the new bungalow treating you?”
“Absolutely terrific.” Julie lied through her teeth, before diverting her attention back to her mother,“Momma, I’m going to the Disney Studios today, they’re testing callback models for a new film Mr. Disney’s working on.”
“Best of luck, my flower.”
“The Disney Studios?” Jean-Claude laughed, “You’re not a child, far from it.” He glanced at the eldest Westwood before laughing again, “If you wanted to be an actress, you should have told me years ago.” His thick accent was broken by another broad laugh, Julie recoiling slowly with each word he spoke.
“You’re much too old, now…” Jean-Claude tutted angrily under his breath. She was only 31, but he could pick out the faults, “You should have said something when you were back at the Westmont School, or better then when you were at Bryn Mawr. Arthur Miller was looking for someone then.” His fingers tapped the counter top as he thought about the last ten years.
“Here’s what I’ll do, Julie…” He looked directly at her, “I’ll set you up with a nice little secretary’s office in Mr. Capra’s studio. Would you like that?” His fingers went back to tapping along the counter again.
“No…thank you. I don’t want to be a secretary.” Julie raised her voice, and at that, Jean-Claude eyed her up, testing her, wanting her to snap. Again.
“Why not, Julie? You’d be great at it, I promise.” He forced another smile and Julie’s lips curled back slightly in a sneer.
“Because I don’t know shorthand, and I don’t want to file the world, I want to run it…In any case," She cut the conversation short, not wanting to hear another second of what he had to say, "I must be going now, good day, to both of you.”.
“Oh, Julie!” Jean-Claude called her back into reality, “Whatever did happen to that James fellow, by the way…James…Dean was it?”
Her hand curled into a fist, he damn well knew what happened to James, he covered it in the LA Times, for Christ’s sake, “James died, Jean-Claude.” She turned back around to face the commenter.
“Now, Julie, you’ve known me for how long?”
This idiotic ploy again, “Nearly twenty-five years.”
“And in nearly twenty-five years, what have I told you.”
Julie deadpanned, feigning shock, “What have you told me?”
“Papa!” He cried out, grasping her fingers playfully, “You, you must call me Papa, like Hugo.”
“Next time, perhaps,” They both knew what a sham that was. In the twenty-three years since Jean-Claude had walked into their lives, uprooted them from their quiet home in the valley and sent Julie to boarding school and Julie’s mother inside this mansion, they had been bickering over names. Hugo was a mistake, Jean-Claude was one half of an affair, he was one of the head producers for the Los Angeles Times. Camille Westwood was a maid at the office. It has been a mistake, but then David Westwood had died, in a car accident, drunk.
And Camille was with child, Jean-Claude’s child, and the decision was made to wed. Camille didn’t want it. Julie didn’t want it. But it was 1939, it was the only thing the two could do. But, when Hugo was born, the executive decision was made to send Julie to boarding school in Montana. She received a fine education, but in return she was silenced. Hugo grew up with an adoring (and rich) mother and father. Julie grew up with twice yearly visitations when her mother would visit for Christmas and Easter…the day’s following, as the actual holidays were spent with their real family.
Hugo, a young 23, knew Julie simply as Cousin Julie. There was no half-sibling attached to her name. There was more secrecy between the family then there was about Marilyn Monroe’s affairs. And Jean-Claude, while he put on large airs of endearing feelings towards Julie, was consumed by her last name, resentful of where she had come from, inferior to the Avington name.
“Well, Momma, I better get going,” She hugged her quickly, placing a light kiss of the aging cheek of her mother before showing herself out.
“Julie, remember to fix your hem, it’s a bit short for an interview!” Jean-Claude’s voice called and she curled her hands into fists, silently screaming towards the front door.
“And darling, don’t forget the garden party in two months, I’ve already told Mrs. Worthington down the street that you’ll be there!” Her mother’s voice carried after his and Julie sighed. Yet another day she would have to lie to Hugo and pretend to be a person she clearly was not.
She exited the door, coat and pillbox in hand as she walked towards her car before sliding gracefully into the driver’s seat. She had a set to get to, makeup to finish, and warmups to practice. As she pulled out of the driveway, hands tightened around the wheel, she found she couldn’t concentrate. Jean-Claude had sent her into a panic mode – if he, someone who had been reporting and editing and knowing about all of these things for years, didn’t think she had the ability to accomplish this, who would?