I said his name with that odd mixture of measured distance and wry familiarity that one might offer to an old friend that had not been a friend in many years. I had waited for the first few groups of starry-eyed admirers to shake his hand, blurt out some glowing, gushing compliments, and then nervously wander over to the backstage food table, still keeping an eye on him, entranced. Everyone loved Charlie, except perhaps for his ex-wives, his kids, and a long line of frustrated and abused accountants.

He matched my careful grin with his own, put a hand on my shoulder, gave me a peck on the cheek, and carefully surveyed me. "Heyyy...Bauer... how are you, darlin'?" He squinted his eyes as he looked at my face, and grinned a little wider. I was momentarily surprised and pleased that he remembered me after 20-odd years and knew my new last name, until I realized that his assistant had whispered it to him right before I approached. I knew him well enough to know that he was wondering if I had ended up marrying a Jewish guy in the industry.

I felt awkward, too aware of time, past and present incarnations both. I rushed to speak about the business we had; a good choice, for it calmed and focused me and relieved him of trying to remember anything about me, for he knew that he should. Charlie hated expectations, and was an unparalleled master at delivering a blank stare that would instantly end any such intrusions. I didn't want to take any chance of seeing it directed towards me.

The conversation went very well, and people would contact people, we said. It was both satisfying and strange to speak to him for the first time as something of a colleague. I had grown up, he had grown older; I had married and went to college and had children and started a business, and he was still...Charlie.  At one point in my life,  I blamed myself for our lapsed friendship. And then one day, I got it. There was only one Charlie, but countless girls like Julie Murphy Bauer. Over all the years, he needed the Julies more than he needed almost anything else -- their energy, their sparkle, their silliness, their youthful prettiness, their devotion, their admiration, their perfect unconditional love. The Julies never asked anything of Charlie. But all of them, one by one, grew up, changed and didn't see Charlie with such rosy glasses anymore. Another Julie would step in. Endless, forever fueling fire.

It was never personal with Charlie, a large reason why there were ex-wives and sad children, and would be more. It was the cost of doing business, of any kind, with him.

Others were pressing in around us both or order to get their chance to speak with him. I excused myself and walked over to a mini-fridge stocked with beer. As I looked around for the bottle opener, Charlie's assistant, a nice woman in her early 30s named Emily, tapped me on the back, and handed it to me.

"I'm so glad you were able to come! We were really happy when we saw your name on the list. Were you able to talk about the project?" Emily bubbled and schmoozed at me.

"Oh! Well, yes, we had a good talk about it and we agree it should move forward. Thank you so much for your help."

"No problem! Let me know if you need anything else, Julie. There's some sandwiches at the end of the bar, yourself!"

I nodded, ambled over to the sandwiches, stared at them, and decided to forgo. I chatted with some fans, two radio station dudes, and a woman closing in on 60 named Gloria who wore a pink feather boa and a miniskirt. There were always Glorias, too...although they seemed to be getting on in years. I smiled.

The room started thinning out a bit, and I felt like it was time for me to leave as well. Charlie was standing by himself over by a folding table, staring at a sandwich on his paper plate, not eating it. I walked over to him.

"Charlie, eat!" I grinned. He was always too skinny.

"Ah, it's shite, I don't want it. You don't want it. Even if I autographed it, no one would want it!"

I laughed. Skinny Charlie was also a funny guy. I did miss him sometimes, and sometimes I missed him a lot. I didn't know if I'd ever see him again, which caused me to speak without thinking.

"Charlie...I just wanted to say thank you. You were always kind to me and you made a real difference in my life. I never would have had a lot of the opportunities in life that I did if not for you. I've missed you."

He looked at my face, didn't smile, and didn't respond. In fact, he looked a little irritated, and I mentally kicked myself. It was too much. Fortunately, a trio of giddy boys in their early 20s barged in right then.

"Charlie! Oh my freakin' GOD! It's Charlie! Man, you fuckin' ROCK, man!"

I slid away again, drank one more beer, said my goodbyes to a few people, and headed towards the door.

Right before I got there, someone grabbed my arm from behind, a bit roughly. I turned, confused. It was Charlie, still not smiling. Uh oh, I thought. Stupid mouth. Expectations!

"You are Julie Murphy."

Charlie stared at me and I stared back, and everyone else stared at us.


A slow, curving, sad smile came to his mouth, and he cupped my face with both of his hands, kissed me quickly on the lips, and then pressed his forehead to mine, and rested it there for a few moments.

When he let go, I had tears in my eyes. He bent down and hugged me tightly, with a short laugh, and I laughed as well.

I let go before Charlie did, turned and walked through the doorway, throwing a hand in the air to wave goodbye, not wanting to look back.