Olivia lost track of time and had no idea of how long she had cried in her hallway. It had been years since she felt this overwhelmed. Again, she thought about finding a therapist to try and work through the darkness in her mind, but once again, she quickly vetoed the idea. Olivia had attempted counseling twice while in college and both times were exercises in futility. With each visit, she felt more positive, more in control. She knew she was moving forward. But sharing the story of her violent beating and physical attack in her mid-teens seemed to undermine her sessions and distract her therapists both times. From that point on they would each focus on the sex and encourage Olivia to be more open and honest about sex. Olivia couldn’t deal with the foolishness. Her problems didn’t not start the day she was beaten and attacked. Her problems began when her father was killed in a car accident – she knew THAT much. After one or two more sessions each time, she withdrew from counseling. The second therapist had made an eerily prophetic comment at their last meeting. “I’m sorry we won’t be continuing, Olivia, but regardless, the root of your anxiety and internal pain will not go away until you force it into the light and confront it.”
Olivia didn’t believe him. At least, she didn’t want to. She focused on her studies, graduated with honors and moved on to law school without missing a beat. Olivia immersed herself in public interest law, always focusing on any class, conference and academic group dealing with child welfare. Impressed with a paper Olivia had written taking the entire foster care system to task, one of her professors passed her name and the paper on to a good friend of his, a judge. Robert Dennison couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen knowledge of the law, practicality and passion so smoothly blended. He asked the professor to arrange a meeting simply so he could meet the author of the paper, but by the end of the meeting, he had offered Olivia Chandler an intern position in his office. Judge Dennison was a high profile, influential judge and the internship was coveted by many – seniors, first year graduates and even second year associates. For it to be given to a junior – the young, soft-spoken African American woman who always knew all the answers when called on in class – immediately made Olivia’s name part of the legal world buzz, and sent her life into high gear. Everyone wanted to study with her. Her opinion was always sought on pending cases. She was asked to chair several committees.
Olivia took it all in stride, and added it to the experience column. She didn’t think she was that much smarter than anyone. She had the advantage by not having a personal life. No parties, no meeting friends for dinners, no sporting events, and very few dates. Olivia never even pledged the leading female legal-focused sorority (and they tried everything to get her), because she feared the girly get-togethers and the chatty sessions about life and families. She knew she had nothing positive to offer. She could just imagine all the sharing – “My mom took me to the mall and bought me the coolest pair of shoes”, or “My mom made lasagna while I was home…she knows it’s my favorite.” When it came her turn, she didn’t think, “I didn’t see my mom. She’s locked away in a mental institution” would add to the positive flow of the conversation.
Still, Olivia’s mood always became darkest during the times meant to be spent with family. She did have some place to go though, thanks to Willis Benson. She could go home, to the house her father intended for her to grow up in. Sometimes, the echoes of memories past would cause the stinging needle prick sensations in her hands, and breathing would become difficult. Stumbling down the hallway, Olivia would sit on the floor and lean against the door to her late father’s office. It always made the anxiety fade away, and Olivia felt…safe. No one and nothing could touch her when she was home. There, she was a ten-year-old girl again…protected by the dead.
Sighing wistfully and deciding to prepare for the next day, Olivia entered her spacious walk-in closet. Moving past all the black and grey business suits, past the pinstripes and hounds tooth ensembles, Olivia stopped in front of her more colorful apparel. By the time she met a child, they had already seen more than their share of dark business suits. Bright, vibrant colors improved their mood and attitude, and Olivia already had the obstacles of a child who had been seriously injured, lost her mother, and had no idea how her father was. Her eyes snapped to the silk Armani, and Olivia nodded to herself. The black flared skirt would allow her to move around unencumbered, and the soft pink jacket was welcoming and friendly without making her look like a piece of Tutti Frutti Bubblicious. She moved the garment to the valet near her dressing table, snagging a three-inch pair of black pumps from the shelf along the way.
As she turned away from the dressing table, Olivia froze at the sight of her reflection in the large bronze framed mirror. While very particular about her appearance, Olivia Chandler very rarely looked at herself in the mirror. She made sure every hair was in place, garment lines were straight, and everything was snapped, buttoned, zipped or tucked as it should be. But, she never looked into her own eyes. She didn’t know if it was self-doubt, self-hate, or self-pity, but the mask she successfully wore in front of others never held up to her own scrutiny. Olivia wondered exactly what others saw when they looked at her. Men always gave appreciative glances, but Olivia was pretty sure that was more because of her bra size and plump butt than anything else. Women often complimented her perfectly round honey brown eyes and dark brown hair that fell three or four inches past her shoulders when she allowed it. Olivia usually wore her hair in what Margot called her “school marm bun.” She had admired several shorter styles on other women that she thought about trying…except, she had long ago made a promise. Closing her eyes, Olivia reached back for the memory.
“A woman’s hair is her crowning glory. Never cut your hair, Livvie…ever.”
“I promise, Daddy.”
Of the few clear memories she could still recall, Olivia knew that Benjamin Chandler never wanted her to cut her hair. And except for regular trims, she hadn’t. One of the few times she had talked back to an adult was when foster mom, Myra Coffey, a truly mean and offensive woman who always made it a point to tell Olivia how much extra work she created for her, threatened to shave Olivia’s head because combing out her extremely thick hair was so time-consuming. Before the woman was even finished speaking, Olivia had jumped up from the chair she was sitting in, and turned and faced the woman, nearly growling, “No one cuts my hair, ever. If it’s too much for you, I’ll do it myself.” Olivia then stormed from the room before the stunned woman could reply. Just before she reached her back bedroom, the Coffey’s college-age daughter, Jeannie, home for the weekend – and the only family member Olivia liked, pulled Olivia into her bedroom and closed the door. After calming Olivia down, Jeannie patiently combed out the tween’s hair, then styled it into large block braids. Jeannie gave her a scarf and told her to tie her hair up “tight, tight, tight” every night, and a jar of olive oil crème she was to rub into her scalp 2-3 times a week. Jeannie said she’d be home again in three weeks, and would help Olivia wash and re-braid her hair.
Olivia never saw Jeannie again. Myra Coffey had put in a call to DCS complaining that Olivia had spoken to her in a “threatening and disrespectful” manner, and she wanted Olivia out of her house. When Olivia arrived home from school Monday afternoon, she saw the dusty Ford Taurus in the driveway and knew Rosalind Jenkins was waiting for her inside. She entered the home to the glares of the two women, and passed by them without a word to pack her few meager belongings. Returning to the living room, Olivia couldn’t resist throwing one last menacing glance in Myra’s direction. Proceeding back to the front door, Olivia took a guarded step backwards when Myra jumped up and blocked her path.
“Not so fast. I need to check those bags to make sure you’ve taken nothing that doesn’t belong to you.” Myra reached for the battered suitcase and large black trash bag, but Olivia took another step backwards and held them out of her reach.
“I am not a thief, and there is nothing in this house worth embarrassing myself over.” Stepping around Myra, Olivia said, “I’ll wait next to the car” loud enough for Rosalind Jenkins to hear. She knew the two women would talk about her badly, but she was past caring. Sitting her bags down, Olivia leaned against the car and waited for Rosalind Jenkins, wondering what she’d have to deal with at the next foster home.
Opening her eyes, Olivia stared at her reflection, disgusted by the haunted eyes staring back at her. “This is not about you, Chandler, and don’t you dare screw up! If you can’t deal with it, just bury it deep down. You’re good at that.”
Nodding at herself, Olivia decided to return to the kitchen for another look at the Averest file.