The Keeper of Youth

Melissa L. White

© Copyright 2023 by Melissa L. White

Photo property of the author.
Photo property of the author.

Alan Weisman stood at the window observing the anthill beneath him. New York City, seen from any number of penthouses he had owned over the past decade, frequently reminded him of ants. Workers. Drones. A colony of social insects scurrying around in their frenzied, methodical missions.

He shuddered. Turning away from the window, he shoved his hands in his pockets and took a deep breath. He couldn’t believe he had opening night jitters – not after all these years. Glancing up at the antique clock on the mantle, he decided to go out for a walk. There were still four hours before show time and he didn’t want to sit in this mausoleum of an apartment all alone. This production was a nightmare from its earliest inception. Nothing about this play had been easy. God only knows why he’d stuck with it. He regretted leaving Hollywood.


After the fiasco of the play, where that vapid actress, Celeste-what’s-her-name, left out most of the final scene— he felt like slitting her throat. How could she be so damn stupid?

He went to the cast party simply to find her and fire her on the spot. What excuse could she possibly offer him? It angered him because he had gone with this gut feeling and cast her against the advice of everyone involved. She’s a nobody, they all said. And a has been.

How can you be both?” he demanded in her defense.

With much cajoling and persuading, he finally had his way, and she was cast for the lead. And now he regretted it.

He wondered how she would react. Would she grovel? Or just cry? He hated it when women cried. It was so degrading.

At the party she looked ethereal, almost other worldly. Standing alone near the bar, she held a drink in each hand. He watched her, waiting to see if anyone would approach her to claim their drink. Of course, no one did. Everyone was avoiding her. In fact, after a few minutes, Alan realized that she was drinking from both glasses.

Excusing himself from the conversation, Alan headed across the crowded room towards the bar. As soon as she saw him, her otherworldly quality vanished immediately. She was gearing up, he thought, getting ready for battle. How the hell will she try to defend herself?

When he reached her, she lowered her eyes for a moment, then looked up at him and smiled. It caught him off guard. The look on her face reminded him of a small child all alone— timid and shy— unsure where to turn without her mother nearby to hide behind her skirts. He stood there not quite sure what to say. She seemed too innocent for him to deliver the thrashing he’d planned.

She blushed and said softly, “I’d offer you a drink, but I’ve been drinking them both.”

Alan laughed. “I noticed.”

Glancing up, her eyes softened into an embarrassed smile as she realized he’d been watching her. She studied his face for a moment then proffered him a glass.

He disliked the taste of Pinot Grigio. It was far too sweet for him.

Pursing her lips, she then took a sip from the other glass.

Alan smiled, remembering how his mother used to do that at parties with a drink in each hand and a cigarette dangling from her lips. At least this girl didn’t smoke.

He glanced over his shoulder and noticed a photographer against the wall. He took her arm and steered her away from the bar. The last thing he wanted was his picture in the tabloids with some inane headline such as, “Director Shreds Actress to Tears.”

They stepped into an alcove then Alan pulled back the curtain and held it for her. She stepped outside to the landing, setting both drinks on the railing, then wrapped her slender arms around her shoulders, hugging herself. With her porcelain skin glowing in the incandescent outdoor lighting and her big almond shaped eyes, she seemed so much like a child’s discarded china doll that he could not bring himself to yell at her like he had intended.

Instead, he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out his investment portfolio statement. What the hell was he doing unfolding this and showing it to her? Had he lost his mind? He put it in his pocket earlier for good luck. Directors are as superstitious as baseball players. Each of us has our own rituals and lucky charms. This one obviously has lost its charm.

Alan took stock of the situation. Never had one of his plays flopped so badly on opening night, and it had certainly been a long time since one of his films had ranked as anything less than the top grosser on opening weekend.

Look here, Celeste.” He pointed to his ending balance. She stared at it a moment, then glanced up at him, confused.

He pointed to the opening balance and said, “When I first opened this account two years ago, this is what it was worth.”

She read from the statement, “One hundred eighty-two thousand dollars?”

Right. And this is what it’s worth today.”

He watched as she read it again. She grinned up at him and giggled. “Forty-one million? Why are you showing me this?”

He shrugged, then slowly folded the statement, and stuck it back in his breast pocket.

I have no idea. It came in the mail today and I carried it with me tonight for good luck.”

Her smiled faded, as if she knew what was coming. She suddenly looked small and afraid. Her fear utterly embarrassed him.

He grabbed one of her half-finished glasses of Pinot Grigio and guzzled it. Why did he let this woman bother him like this? He usually had no trouble letting an actor go, even on opening night. He’d done it before. Twice. But this was different somehow— if only she didn’t look so damn much like his mother.

Celeste suddenly burst out laughing. “Haven’t you already made a lot more money than this in your life? I mean are you trying to impress me?”

She offered him the other glass of wine. He took the glass and drained it in one gulp.

Well?” she asked.

He set the glass down, saying nothing. She stepped up to him and threw her arms around his neck, embracing him. He grabbed her wrists and started to pull away from her, then changed his mind. She even smelled like his mother. Nina Ricci. L’Air du Temps. As she hugged him tighter, his look of exasperation relaxed into a resigned smile.

He instantly thought of watching his mother on stage when he was a little boy. She was a torch singer in the 1940’s and 50’s and Alan used to go with his nanny to watch his mother rehearse. Watching her sing the old Rodgers and Hart classic, “Where or When,” filled him with joy. Right now, he had a very nostalgic and clear picture in his mind of sitting in a dark Manhattan bar in the middle of the afternoon, drinking a Shirley Temple, and watching his mother on stage as she sang.

It’s almost like magic,” Celeste whispered, closing her eyes, lingering over her words just to make their embrace last longer.

He tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let him.

She sighed. “Whenever I’m around you, I feel so good.”

Panic registered now on his face. He started to speak but she interrupted.

I mean just now, showing me this investment. You make me feel special, as if what I think really matters. I mean, who am I? ‘A nobody actress with mediocre ability,’ to quote my last review. But you’re this big-time director, and you took a huge risk even casting me, and now after I totally blew it tonight, you’re still trying to make me feel like a queen.”

Rolling his eyes, he started to pull away again, but she reached up and kissed his cheek.

Thank you,” she said, pulling back enough now so she could see his face. “Really. I mean it.” She hesitated, twirling a lock of his hair on her finger. “Why are you trying to impress me?”

Just then Marco, the assistant director, stepped through the doorway.

There you are. I’ve been looking every…”

Marco stopped in mid-sentence as Alan jumped away from Celeste. She blushed, seeing how much it embarrassed Alan that Marco had caught him hugging her.

Marco took out a cigarette and lit it. “If you’re busy, I can come back. I mean how long can it take?”

Marco shot her a malicious smile then glanced back at Alan, “Or shall I do it for you?”

Alan took Marco by the arm and led him away. “No thanks. I’ll handle it,” Alan said.

Well hurry up. Lowenstein and his pack just called a meeting. They’re all upstairs.” Marco stepped back inside the bar. Alan turned to face her.

Honestly, you make me feel like a better person.” She hiccupped.

Alan cringed.

You give me this warm sort of life inside, so I can do a better job, or just feel good about myself.” She shivered and bit her bottom lip. “This is how I imagine love must feel.”
Alan blurted out, “Celeste you left out most of the final scene. Something like six pages of dialogue. It’s amazing the rest of the cast had enough presence of mind to finish the ending. If not for Marco’s cueing from the wings the entire finale would have come to a screeching halt.”

Celeste’s shoulders slumped as she crawled into herself like a turtle retreating into its shell.

Marco wanted to fire you just then.”

She looked up at him and he could see the tears rimming her eyes. She stared at him for a moment then said, “Marco’s just easily excited. It was a fluke. I’ve never missed a cue before in my life. Please don’t fire me.”

I’m sorry. I’ve got to go upstairs.”

She grabbed his sleeve. “Who is Lowenstein?”

The backer. The guy who writes our paychecks.”

Yours too?”


Stunned, she watched him go then yelled out, “Why did you show me your bank statement?”

He stopped then turned to face her. “I don’t know. Stalling, I guess. Firing people never bothered me before.”

She smiled through her tears, running up to him, “See? There’s a connection between us. You feel it too.”

You’re imagining things.”

No! It’s real!” She reached for him.

He grabbed her wrist then held it. She tried to pull her arm free, but he held it tight. “Celeste, I’m gay. Believe me, whatever there is between us is all in your head.”

She hesitated then laughed, hysterically. “Oh, my hell! That’s even better. If you’re gay, then you showed me your bank statement not because you’re trying to impress me, but because it made you happy and you wanted to share it.”

Not true.”

Yes it is!” Her emphatic insistence surprised him. “Think about it,” she continued. “Money’s a big turn on. I’ve gotten enough expensive gifts to know what I’m talking about. But you’re the only man who’s ever displayed that kind of wealth to me without trying to get in my skivvies.”

He laughed.
We’re just two people sharing something good. Admit it Alan, you see something in me you like.”

He shook his head.

Okay. How many people have you shared this little secret with tonight? I mean do you make it a habit of showing your cast your bank statement?”

Oh, Christ.” He loosened his tie. “Why do you make this so hard on me? Celeste. You’re fired. It’s that simple.”\

She blinked. Then pulled off her false eyelashes and dropped them into her glass.

He winced and thought: Stop. Put them back on. He glanced at his watch.

Okay,” she said. “I’m fired. So, what if I cut my hair and dye it red, and change my name?”

He stood there grinding his teeth, feeling that blood vessel engorge itself just above his eyebrow. His pulse pounded in his ears.

Suddenly Lowenstein burst through the alcove door.

Alan. There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.”

Celeste turned away, hiding her face as she desperately tried to fish her false eyelashes out of her wine glass.

Alan. You’re a genius. I loved the new ending. Tightened up and all.”

Are you kidding?” Marco stammered, hurrying up behind Lowenstein. “Have you lost your mind?”

Excuse me?” Lowenstein turned around slowly. “Nobody talks to me like that.”

Marco dropped his cigarette on the floor and ground it out with his foot. Lowenstein planted his hands on his hips. “My secretary will call you tomorrow with severance and all that.”

Severance?” Marco’s eyes widened.

Lowenstein frowned. "Your services are no longer required.”

Fine!” Marco slammed his wine glass down on the ground, shattering it to pieces. “You’ll hear from my attorney!”

That doesn’t scare me,” Lowenstein said, smoothing down his lapel. “I have the best contract attorney in the city.”

Marco kicked the door on his way out.

Lowenstein turned back to face Alan and Celeste. “As I was saying, you two are brilliant together. I want to sign both of you to a three-play contract. What do you say?”

Alan laughed out loud. Celeste took a Kleenex from her pocket and gently wrapped her false eyelashes in it. She tucked them into her purse and smiled serenely at Lowenstein.

My dear,” said Lowenstein, taking her elbow and leading her to a chair. “You were simply fantastic this evening. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of you. Your comedic touch is first rate. I want to do a modernization of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. And I think you’d make a dazzling Rosalind.”

Alan moaned.

What do you think old man? Wouldn’t she be fantastic as Rosalind?”

Alan scratched his chin. “Have you ever done Shakespeare, Celeste?”

She blushed. “I played Hermia in our high school Interscholastic League competition.”

Alan smiled. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream. How did you do?”

Fine.” She glanced at Lowenstein then back at Alan.

I mean in the competition. How did your school place in the tournament?”

We finished third in the State competition.”

Well, there you have it,” said Lowenstein. “If she can do Midsummer she can do As You Like It.”

Alan cleared his throat.

I’m thinking of setting it in Queens circa 1945, with a family of Greek immigrants.”

Alan laughed out loud.

See?” said Lowenstein, “It’s funny just thinking about it. Come to my office tomorrow, both of you, and we can discuss it further, after we sign that three-show contract.”

Celeste looked at Alan and grinned.

Then it’s settled,” Lowenstein said, reaching for Alan’s hand. “I’ll see you both tomorrow at noon in my office.”

They shook hands then Lowenstein leaned down and kissed Celeste on the cheek.

Till tomorrow,” he said and left in a hurry.

Celeste reached up and held her hand against her cheek where Lowenstein had kissed her.

Wow,” she said softly to Alan. She sat down slowly in the empty chair against the wall. “If I had a bank statement, I’d show it to you right here and now.”

Alan chuckled, noticing all at once that her mascara was smeared beneath her eyes. “You look tired,” he said. “Can I see you home?”

Home?” she said, amazed. “I want to go out and celebrate. Don’t you?”

Alan sat down beside Celeste. “I want to go home and re-read As You Like It, then go to bed early so I can be rested and at the top of my game tomorrow with Lowenstein.”

Celeste lowered her eyes. “Yes. I guess you’re right.”

Alan stood up and held his arm out for her. “Come on. I’ll see you home.”

In the taxi on the way back to the upper West side, Alan asked Celeste if she wanted something to eat.

I’m famished,” she said, glancing at her watch.

Come to my place and I’ll cook you an omelet. We can talk about Shakespeare. I’m curious about you as Rosalind.”

Celeste smiled at him. Alan leaned up and spoke to the driver. “72nd and Central Park West.”

The driver nodded and switched lanes.

Celeste smiled shyly. “I’m so nervous about tomorrow. It’s a good thing he wants both of us there, so you can do all the talking.”


Because sometimes I have this overwhelming fear that everyone will realize I’m completely incompetent and dump me like a hot potato.”

A hot potato?” Alan laughed. “I haven’t heard that since grade school.”

Do you really think I could play Rosalind?”

Alan thought for a moment then said, “What I’m most unsure of is setting the play in the 1940’s in Queens. I wonder if that’s such a good idea. Shall we read the play together?”

Celeste grinned. “Let’s have a slumber party. You know, stay up late then go to our meeting together in the morning.”

Alan reached into his breast pocket and ran his fingers over his bank statement. He smiled then took Celeste’s hand. “I’m sorry for firing you. But you really did leave out a huge portion of dialogue. You can’t do that with Shakespeare. People will notice.”

Not if it’s set in Queens. The dialogue would be modern vernacular instead of Shakespearean Old English.”

Even so,” said Alan, squeezing her hand. “You have to learn your lines without leaving anything out. That’s the most fundamental rule of the stage. Know your lines!”

Celeste touched Alan’s hand with her other hand, running her fingers over his lamb skin glove. “If you coach me, I can do it.”

I’m a writer, not a coach.”

You’re the best director I’ve ever worked with. You knew exactly what to say all through rehearsals so I could be what you wanted. I don’t know what happened tonight, why I skipped so many lines.”

It was more than skipping a few lines. You left out several pages.”

It’ll never happen again.” Celeste started to cry. She quickly wiped her tears then rolled down the window to let in the cool night air.

Alan reached over and put his arm around her shoulder. Something about her made him feel protective, parental even, as if he was meant to look after her. Celeste smiled at him then rolled up the window. “Whatever Lowenstein wants us to do, I’ll do it flawlessly. I won’t let you down.”

Alan nodded. He thought about being a coach, directing young talent that needed his maturity and expertise. He knew Celeste was a risk, but he had to admit that being around her made him feel young again. He enjoyed her spontaneity, and it wasn’t because she reminded him of his mother. She genuinely made him feel good.

Alan cooked a vegetarian omelet with mushrooms, scallions, and artichoke hearts. Celeste raved that it was the best omelet she’d ever eaten. After dinner, he gave her a pair of his silk pajamas and she pulled her hair back in a ponytail. She looked to Alan like she was seventeen years old.

After Alan lit a fire in the fireplace, they sat on the couch before the flames and read the play together. They laughed and giggled. Alan made several notes about working class Greek immigrants. When they finished reading through the play, Celeste yawned. “If you have a blanket, I could fall asleep right here on this cushy couch.”

I have a guest bedroom where you’d be much more comfortable.”

No really,” she insisted. “This is fine. I want to be by the fireplace.”

Suit yourself,” he said, standing up to get her a blanket. He retrieved the blanket from the hall closet and when he returned to the living room, he hesitated a moment, gazing at the resemblance between Celeste and his mother.

What is it?” she asked.

You remind of my mom, when she was young.”

Celeste laughed. “I do? Was she an actress?”

Alan shook his head. “A singer. She was fabulous and I loved to watch her on stage singing “Where or When.”

Where or When?” she asked.

Don’t tell me you haven’t heard it before. It’s a classic.”

Celeste sighed. “There’s a lot I haven’t heard before.”

Alan gave her the blanket then went to his bookshelf and took out a CD. “You’ll love this. It’s Lena Horne.”

He put the CD on his stereo and played it for Celeste. He sat beside her on the couch and watched her as she closed her eyes and hummed along with the music. When the song ended Alan got up and turned off his stereo.

What was she like? Your mom?”

Alan sat back down on the couch beside Celeste. “She was so sophisticated. And very ephemeral. Her voice was very breathy. Terribly elegant.” Alan got up and took a framed photograph from the shelf. “Look, here.” He gave the photo to Celeste. “This was taken in 1945 when I was one year old.”

Celeste took the photo and studied it. “Very elegant, indeed.” she said. “You have her eyes.” She gave him the photo and started humming the tune. Then she sang the line, “The smile you are smiling—something something— you were smiling then…” Her voice trailed off, as if she was lost in thought. Then she looked up at Alan and said, “Is she still alive?”

Goodness no. She died when I was a teenager.” Alan returned the photo to the shelf and sat back down beside Celeste.

Celeste reached over and touched Alan’s arm. “I’m so sorry. My father died before I was born. I never knew him.”

Alan said, “I’m sorry, Celeste. Did your mother ever remarry?”

She shook her head. “Mom still lives alone in Idaho. That’s where I’m from. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.”

Alan took her hand and held it for a moment. Then Celeste leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s something we have in common.”

Losing a parent early in life?” he asked.

She nodded. “I used to crave having a father more than anything in the world.”

Alan smiled at her.

I think that’s why I became an actress. To satiate my constant lack of— and need for— attention.”

I know that feeling. Trying to fill a void like that was a big part of my life for a very long time.”

Celeste closed her eyes, smiling. “Thank you,” she whispered.

For what?” he asked.

For giving me a chance.”

He nodded. “Your first audition really impressed me. I knew instantly that you were perfect for the role of Marina. It was as if I’d written the lead in Taxi Dancer expressly for you.”

She glanced at him sideways. “If you knew right away, then why’d you make me go through 13 call backs?”

He sighed. “The producers wanted someone else. It took a lot of convincing on my part. But I believed in you from the very beginning.”

Celeste grew silent. Thoughtful. Then she took his hand. “Thank you for believing in me when no one else did.”

He gently kissed the back of her hand. “Hey. I want to give you something.”

He stood up and went to the bookshelf and took down a small wooden box. Opening the box as he returned to the couch, his eyes twinkled with delight.

I want you to have this.” Grinning, he took a cameo broach from the box and gave it to Celeste.

It’s lovely. Is it an antique?” She took the cameo and examined it closely.

It was my mother’s. Her grandmother gave it to her. It was handcrafted in Vienna in the 18th century. It’s been in our family for generations. I’ll never marry or have any children, so I want to give it to you. Mother would approve hole heartedly. I’m sure of it.”

Celeste beamed at him. “Here, pin it on me.”

Alan scooted over closer to her on the couch and pinned the cameo broach to her pajama top. She hopped up an went to the mirror next to the bookshelves, gazing at herself, and the admiring the cameo. She spun around and scampered up to him, then planted a kiss on the top of his head.

It’s beautiful. I will treasure it always.”

Good.” Alan stood up and hugged her. “I feel certain, my mom would want you to have it.”

She grinned, running her fingers gently over the cameo. Then glancing at Alan, she tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

Alan looked at his watch. “It’s late. There’s a toothbrush in the guest bathroom, never been used. Still in the package.”

Thanks Alan. We really do make a fantastic team.”

I agree. Well, goodnight then,” he said.

Goodnight.” Celeste curled up on the couch, laid her head down on the pillow and closed her eyes.

Alan went to his bedroom and took off his clothes. He looked at himself in the mirror. He had gray hair on his chest and shoulders. His muscles sagged here and there. He looked every bit his age.

Alan took a quick shower then put on his pajamas. He got into bed and kept thinking about Greek immigrants.

He fell asleep quickly and dreamed about Celeste forgetting her lines. The nightmare continued as he dreamt that the play had tanked in the third act, and the audience walked out in droves before the final curtain. He shuddered as he read the horrible reviews in the Times. He woke with a start and glanced at the clock by his bed. It was 4:46 am. He got up, went into the living room, and tiptoed over to the fireplace. Standing by the couch, he gazed down at Celeste, smiling as he thought of how angelic she looked asleep, so much like a child.

He hurried to the kitchen, made a pot of coffee, then went to his office and turned on his laptop. He sat down and quickly wrote an outline, then hammered out a treatment in less than an hour. He started writing the play, but surprisingly, he kept adding in camera angles and scene descriptions. He opened a new file and started a screenplay, writing seven pages without stopping. He then glanced at the clock and decided to check on Celeste again.

Alan went back to the living room and watched her lying there asleep. As a young man, he had never wanted to have children. But now, watching this young woman sleep, Alan wondered what it would be like to be called “Daddy.”

He went quietly back to his office and shut the door. When he started writing again, the words poured out of him and onto the page. He thought of a perfect idea for the ending and immediately wanted to share it with Celeste. This is how it feels to have a daughter, he told himself; to want her feedback and ask her opinion.

Staring out the window, he saw joggers entering Central Park. Taxis and buses crawled down the street. Gazing across the park as the sun started to rise above the tree line, he thought of Celeste hugging him last night at the party and he felt good inside.

He sat back down at his desk and continued writing with an invigorated passion and an uncanny ease, which he hadn’t felt in years. Utterly inspired, the words flowed from him like a river, and he lost track of time. At 8:44 am he heard Celeste turn on the shower in the guest bathroom. He yawned, satisfied with the morning’s productivity.

This is exactly what I needed,” he said to himself as he printed the first dozen pages of his script. He took a sip of his coffee then scrolled down the title page and typed in the dedication.

To Celeste. For making my writing sing.”

He laughed out loud then deleted that last line. What could he say that would make her understand how she made him feel?

He typed in a new line, “To Celeste. The keeper of youth.”

He printed the page then went to the kitchen to make blueberry pancakes for himself and the keeper of youth.

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