Home > The Making of Mila and Blake

The Making of Mila and Blake
Author: Estelle Maskame



   The constant purr of engines and the gentle nudge of turbulence every so often has always been so relaxing to me. Thousands of feet above the clouds, soaring over the mountains below, gliding over rolling fields. I like how peaceful it is up here. I have all the time in the world to just think, and these days that feels like a rarity.

   In my first-class suite, enclosed in my own little bubble by the private dividers, I am the textbook definition of relaxation – feet kicked up on the footrest, seat fully reclined into a flat bed, soft pillows plumped up behind my neck, AirPods on full volume as my Spotify shuffles its way through my country playlist. Current song: “Truth About You” by Mitchell Tenpenny. One I admit I have listened to an embarrassing number of times.

   I’m in that hazy slumber, not quite asleep but tuned out to everything around me, my eyes sealed shut and my heart swelling at the lyrics dancing in my ears. One hour down, three more to go until—

   Hands grab my shoulders and I choke on the gasp that involuntarily escapes my mouth. As I jolt upright, my AirPods fall from my ears and disappear somewhere under the airline-provided blanket I’ve been enveloped in.

   “Dad!” I moan, rubbing my eyes and turning to face him with a scathing look.

   Dad’s suite is behind mine, but he’s standing out in the aisle, leaning over my closed shutters. He props an arm up on the divider and tucks his fountain pen behind his ear. “You’re sleeping?”

   “Forgive me,” I say mockingly as I flip the blanket back and forth in search of my earphones. Mitchell Tenpenny is waiting to sing me back to sleep. “It’s not like I’m exhausted from finals and prom and graduation or anything. This was the first nap I’ve had in forever.”

   “If you think you’re exhausted now,” says Dad, “just you wait until you’re my age. There’s no rest for the wicked, Mila.” He opens up the overheard storage and retrieves a thick ream of paper from his backpack, its outer pages warning “CONFIDENTIAL” in capital letters. So confidential, in fact, that even I don’t know its contents.

   “I thought you were taking this time as a vacation,” I say with a nod to the papers in his hands. “Why are you still working?”

   Dad purses his lips and his dark eyes glimmer. Years ago, he would have hidden behind sunglasses for the entirety of a flight, but lately he has built up the courage to wean himself off this protective habit. He is still one of the biggest names in Hollywood, but it has been two years since his last movie release. He isn’t current. The press doesn’t focus on him so much these days – their focus is always on those in the limelight right here and now – so although Dad still gets stopped for photographs on a daily basis, the scale of the obsession has greatly reduced. He doesn’t feel as exposed as he used to when everyone had their eyes on him.

   “It’s a four-hour flight, Mila,” Dad says, clicking the storage compartment shut, “and I have some reading to catch up on. Oh, hey, excuse me, ma’am!” He catches the attention of the approaching flight attendant and flashes her a dazzling, pleasant smile. “May I have some wine, please? The Sauvignon Blanc.”

   The young woman whisks back down the aisle to the galley to fetch Dad his drink. I’m resigned to Sprite for the foreseeable; I can still taste the vodka from all the post-graduation parties last weekend. Mom wasn’t all that thrilled when I rocked up home long after midnight, but she understood that graduation weekend celebrations are a rite of passage. The hangover the next day was much less forgiving.

   “Your wine, sir,” the flight attendant says as she pivots carefully around Dad, setting the drink down perfectly on the table inside his open suite. She fixes him with an elegant smile.

   Dad takes his pen from behind his ear and settles back into his suite. I twist around in my seat and peer over the divider at him – his seat is bolt upright, his TV screen off. I bet he started working before we’d even left the LAX tarmac. He takes a sip of his wine and spreads the confidential paperwork out in front him, then lifts his head to look at me.

   “Are you snooping?”

   “No,” I lie, resting my crossed arms on the divider with an innocent smile.

   It’s a script, obviously. Dad has spent the past year and a half funneling money into projects he believes will be future hits at the box office. He has just wrapped up on set as one of the executive producers of a screen-adaption of an action novel that he saw potential in – scheduled for release next spring – but now he’s supposed to be on a well-earned vacation. No researching, no working his way through slush piles, no conference calls with fellow producer partners. Yet here he is with more paperwork, which means his next project is already underway and there’s no chance he’ll be able to shut out any work-related stress.

   “Go back to sleep,” Dad says with a teasing wiggle of his thick brows, stretching his hands wide to shield the script.

   I wonder what this movie will be about. I’ve watched Dad wave around so many gun props on screen that I’m so over the high stakes and fast pace of action movies. A rom-com would be my preferred choice of genre for Dad to tackle next, and I would totally vote Zac Efron to be on the shortlist for the main role. But I’ve learned one thing recently: it is much easier to justify being on set when you’re the daughter of the lead rather than the daughter of one of the producers. Those privileges are revoked, so damn – no on-set mingling with Zac Efron.

   “You promise you’ll take a break when we get there?” I ask, a small pleading lilt to my tone. Dad definitely isn’t as high-strung as he used to be, but this new role of his is still demanding. He is so much more fun when he decompresses. “Maybe you can come horseback riding with me. Think of all that fresh air, Dad. Sheri can teach you!”

   Dad eyes me over the rim of his glass. Maybe it’s the cabin lighting, but for the first time, I notice a tiny pepper of gray in his hair. “You will never see me on a horse, Mila, but you’re free to go ahead and have fun however you please. Make the most of your last summer before the hard work starts!”

   I roll my eyes and sink into my seat, fumbling for my earphones and placing them back in my ears, Mitchell Tenpenny gracing me at full volume. At the same time, my stomach knots and I fix my gaze out of the double windows, the dry prairies of Arizona stretching out below.

   Mila Harding, officially an incoming freshman at San Diego State University this fall, the first step of her journey toward her bachelor of science in nursing degree. For all the elation that comes with heading off to college, there’s an equal amount of nerves. Among a handful of rejections – my GPA was less than stellar – there were two acceptance letters. One from San Diego State and one from Belmont in Nashville, the college my parents both attended in their youth, and I waited until deadline day to make my decision. Belmont is the better school, but I can’t face it there. I can’t face him. I want my own school to call mine, so I made the decision to stay in California and accept my place at SDSU. That doesn’t mean I don’t have doubts that I’ve done the right thing, and it gnaws at me daily.

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