Authors: Nicole Richie
Charlotte was offended. “Greta, you’re exaggerating.”
“I am not. We went through three pool boys at the summer house one year. And you were only seventeen, so Lord alone knows what you could do now that you have more experience.”
Charlotte giggled. “Yes, that was a great summer.”
Greta looked firm. “For you, it was fun; for them, it was a disaster. Some people need to work, you know.”
Charlotte was unbowed. “Look, Greta, I didn’t make them do anything they didn’t want to do. They weren’t much older than I was. We were just having fun.”
“Hmm. Well, my point is that you’re not seventeen anymore, and people like Andy have responsibilities beyond protecting rich young women from sunburn and over-chlorinated swimming pools.”
Charlotte put up her hand. “OK, Greta, I get it. I hear you. No messing with Andy. You have my word.”
“That and a MetroCard will get me anywhere. Promise?”
Greta looked at her for a moment. “Are you looking forward to going back to Yale in the fall?”
Charlotte thought about it. “No, not really.”
“Because I don’t find the studies very interesting, and because people are going to remember the whole stupid building thing. I wish I’d gone to Juilliard instead.”
“To study singing?”
The younger woman nodded. “I don’t think I would make the same decision now.”
Several years earlier, at the ludicrously expensive private school Charlotte had attended, the college counselors had been discouraging about Charlotte’s chances of a musical career. “The kids who go to Juilliard are going to be professional musicians,” they’d said. “You don’t have a classically trained voice. You’ve been gaining a traditional education. If you wanted to be a musician, you should have gone to a music school. No, Miss Williams, you should consider your voice a wonderful gift from God, something lovely to share with your future husband and children. Have you considered medicine? Or the law? A law degree could offer you freedom to follow multiple careers. Yale is an excellent school. Think about Yale.”
Embarrassed, Charlotte had shut down, taken the information about Yale, filled out the paperwork, and let the school handle the whole thing. Unsurprisingly, Yale had accepted her sight unseen, the historical relationship between the two schools as strong and preferential as ever.
“Have you been to see Janet yet?”
Charlotte smiled. “I’m going later this morning. We’re going to do a lesson and then have lunch.”
Janet was Charlotte’s voice coach and one of the limited number of people Charlotte felt truly comfortable with. You wouldn’t think to look at Janet, in her Stevie Nicks handkerchief hemlines and general love of the witchy look, her long gray hair defiantly undyed and untamed, that she was one of the leading music teachers on the East Coast, but she was. She guided many members of the Philharmonic, frequently held master classes for members of the Metropolitan, and taught the talented children of the wealthy. Charlotte loved her.
“In fact, I’d better go get dressed right now.” She turned back at the door. “I think there’s a leak in my shower. Do you think Andy could come and take a look?”
Greta opened her mouth to chastise her but then realized she was teasing. Charlotte headed upstairs, still giggling.
Greta sat for a while, thinking. She wasn’t sure what was going to become of Charlotte, to be honest. She had so much—looks, money, opportunity. But to Greta, Charlotte would always be the sobbing seven-year-old, calling for Mommy in the night, her father too anguished to hear. A few weeks after Jackie had been killed, a nanny had arrived, found by Greta, and Miss Millie and Greta had raised the girl between them. Jacob was a doting father, but he spent all his time at work. And something had changed in him when Jackie had died. Greta saw it; so did Davis. Miss Millie had been a wonderful nanny, though, very loving and firm, and Charlotte had recovered and eventually started to flourish. Seven years of relative peace had passed, but then one of Millie’s own children had needed her back in Louisiana, and she’d had to leave. Charlotte hadn’t ever really gotten over the loss, and Greta missed her
colleague and friend, too. Early in Charlotte’s teen years, things had started to go badly, with boys and God knows what else. It was hardly surprising; there was no one there to set an example, although Greta had done what she could. Now Charlotte was a young woman, and there wasn’t much Greta could do to protect her anymore.
In fact, there wasn’t anything anyone could do.
Leaving the triplex an hour or so later, Charlotte decided to walk across the park instead of making Davis get out the car.
“Are you sure, Miss?” Davis looked concerned. “The park? Alone?”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Davis. It’s Central Park in broad daylight, not Tompkins Square at two
. I’ve been taking care of myself in Paris for the last year. I even took the Metro alone, with only a fresh baguette to protect me.”
Davis wasn’t known for his lightheartedness. He went pale. “Your father wouldn’t like it, Miss. It won’t take me a minute to pull the car around.”
She shook her head, pressing the elevator button. “No, Davis. I’ll call you if I need a ride back from Janet’s, OK?” She knew she was making him anxious, but that wasn’t really her problem. Her dad could take care of himself, and so could she.
After the warmth of the apartment, the chill of the park was a shock. She greeted the doorman and pulled her Ungaro cashmere coat tightly around her. She’d forgotten how cold the city could get, especially once you stepped out of the protective canyons of the avenues. Joggers wearing earmuffs and gloves passed her, their breath clouding, their eyes focused, the tinny buzz of their
iPods like passing insects. Charlotte had never enjoyed running—she was more of a yoga and Pilates girl, although mostly, she was a “naturally skinny and likes a big salad” kind of girl.
She found herself thinking about her mother. She wished she remembered more, but her memories consisted of brief scenes, scents, her mother bending down to kiss her good night when she and her father were going out, the smell of Chanel No. 5 and finely milled face powder. Clearly, Jackie had loved her, and she’d taken her everywhere. One of Charlotte’s favorite pictures was of herself as a toddler, backstage at some runway show, covered in makeup and surrounded by topless models, all of whom were smiling down at her like soft-hearted, long-lashed giraffes. She was grinning back, toothless and happy, and at the side of the frame sat Jackie, getting her hair done, her glance proud. In Paris during the last year, she’d been greeted as a prodigal child, welcomed to all the fashion houses, embraced and clucked over by designers whose names were permanently etched on the pages of
. Stories of her mother were told with great affection, and photos were brought out that made Charlotte catch her breath. Many of them were pictures of her as a baby with Jackie. Some were of Jackie pregnant, candid shots of her helping other models get ready for shows she was too spherical to work. And in some, she could see her father, relaxed, smoking his cigars, watching his beautiful wife with hot eyes and a warm smile.
More than one designer told Charlotte she should be a model, but the aging models who’d held her at those long-ago runway shows shook their heads at the idea. “No,” they’d said firmly. Finish college first. Get an education. Your mother would have insisted, and she would have been right.” One woman, Nadia, who’d parlayed a successful modeling career into an even more
successful career as a booker, said she wouldn’t even represent her if she asked.
Non, non, non.
Your mother was my dear friend, and she would curse me from her grave if I even suggested such a thing. Modeling is a cruel business,
, and she would keep you from it. She had fun, because she loved clothes and designers and other models, but it isn’t the way it used to be. It is a big business now, and there is too much money at stake for friendships to be worth very much.” She’d made a very French noise of disgust. “And besides, the models these days are all children, girls who didn’t even get their periods yet, girls who should be climbing trees and kissing boys and running away.” She had turned to look out at Paris and sighed. “If Jackie were here, she would be fat and happy, and you would have a dozen brothers and sisters,
Now, walking through the park her mother had also loved, Charlotte thought about this. Her memories of Jackie couldn’t be trusted, they were melded with the information she’d gathered from the press, from books, from documentaries. There was one about the fashion of the ’80s that had an interview with her mother, and she must have watched it a hundred times. It was long before she was born, and Jackie only talked about one particular designer, but Charlotte could recite every word, anticipate every head movement, every smile.
She kicked along through the leaves on the bridle track, wondering if her mother really would have wanted more children. She’d wished for a sister all her life, and when she was
little, she’d hoped her daddy would remarry, maybe even someone who already had children, maybe several children. The big apartment was lonely and too quiet. Once she was older, she had turned her attention to friends from school whose families she could temporarily join. But those families were almost as cold as hers, sometimes worse. Sisters and brothers rarely played together, shuttled from one after-school activity to another by one nanny or another. Parents worked or shopped or spent time with the needy poor or the neurotic rich, and hanging out with the children was something you paid other children’s mothers to do. It was no wonder she and her teenage friends were such a tight bunch; they just needed someone to play with.
From thinking of her mother, her mind turned naturally to Miss Millie, who had stepped in shortly after her mother died. Dark-skinned, fine-featured, sharp-tongued, Millie Pearl had been an incredibly important part of Charlotte’s life. Whenever she stopped short of doing the truly stupid thing, when she refused that hard drug, when she didn’t get into the car full of drunken frat boys—that was Millie’s influence. She’d taught the young woman to value what was inside, to think for herself, to judge people by what they did, not what they wore. And she’d loved the girl deeply, hugging her frequently, brushing her long hair every night, and singing to her, making her feel special and safe and surrounded by a warm structure that supported her growth like a trellis in a garden. Charlotte had missed her very much when she left and had been desolate and depressed for several weeks. Then she’d sadly reached the conclusion that people you love were prone to suddenly leaving, and she’d polished herself a hard, shiny shell and kept it on from that time forward.
She was about halfway through the park, past the reservoir,
when a young man approached her. He had something in his hand, and she instinctively took a step back in case it was a weapon. It wasn’t. It was a pad and pen.
“I’m sorry, aren’t you Charlotte Williams?”
She nodded, slowed a little. Maybe she knew him?
“I’m Dan Robinson from the
New York Sentinel
. I was wondering if you had a statement to make?”
She was confused and immediately on her guard. There were a lot of crazy people in the city, and then there were reporters. One had to be careful. Her dad didn’t trust the press, and neither did she.
“A statement about what?” She started walking again, quicker this time.
“About your father’s arrest.” The reporter’s eyes were bright, and he could tell he had surprised her. Her step faltered.
“I think you must be confusing me with someone else. My father is at work.”
“He was at work. Now he is under arrest for embezzlement.”
Charlotte felt and heard her phone ringing in her bag. She pulled it out. It was home. Then another call came in, from Emily. She answered the first one.
Greta’s voice sounded shaken. “Charlotte, where are you?”
“I’m on my way to Janet’s. Greta, there’s a reporter here who says Daddy has been arrested. What’s going on?”
“Come home, Charlotte. Or go to Janet’s if you’re closer. Davis will come and pick you up.”
Charlotte looked up at the skyline. She could see the Dakota.
“I’m closer to Janet’s. Tell Davis I’ll be there in ten minutes. Is it true?”
Greta sounded like she was in tears. “Yes, Charlotte, but we
don’t know anything yet.” There was a pause. “Please hurry, Charlotte.”
She hung up. Emily had long ago gone to voice mail, and as she looked, she saw text after text coming in, voice mails piling up, phone calls on top of phone calls. She looked up. The reporter was still there, a tape recorder in his hand now, stretched out to catch her comments, her first thoughts on whatever it was that was happening. She drew a breath.
“Miss Williams? Do you have a comment? Your father is accused of perpetrating a massive fraud, embezzling millions, possibly billions, of dollars. The SEC claims to have been following him for years. What do you have to say?”
Charlotte narrowed her eyes at him and stood tall. “I have absolutely no doubt that my father is completely innocent and that his name will soon be cleared.”
“It’s your name, too, Charlotte.” The reporter was very still, hoping she would say something that would make his editor proud.
But instead, she said something that would have made Miss Millie proud. “A name is just a label, Mr. Robinson. It doesn’t tell you anything about someone’s character.”
And then she turned on her heel and walked away.
Janet opened the door, smiling, her arms open wide. She had her hair piled on top of her head, antique chopsticks holding it up, rhinestone cat-eye spectacles glinting. She really was one of a kind.
“It is so wonderful to see you, Charlotte. Give me a hug, for goodness sake. I want to hear all about Paris.” Then the elderly woman paused, looking at her young friend more carefully. “What has happened? Are you all right?”