I didn't expect to update this story, either, but... I was inspired :) There may be one more chapter to this series, but I'm not quite sure yet.
She sits in the school bus, her eyes moving to watch the view as the bus passes quickly down the street. Her fingers are curled around the school books in her lap, her dress neatly smoothed onto her thin legs. Her curly brown hair is pulled into a ribbon; she hears a giggle beside her and as she turns her head, her hair falls gently against her shoulder.
Her best friend Karen is beside her, laughing at the funny faces that Thomas, a boy in the row of seats ahead of them, is making. Olivia blushes, looking away. She has a teeny tiny crush on Thomas and looks down to avoid letting him see her face all pink like the inside of a grapefruit.
"Olivia!" Karen squeals, patting her friend's leg, "Look at Thomas! I think he likes you!"
"No he doesn't," she whispers back, into her friend's ear. "Mary told me the other day that Thomas said girls have cooties." She pulls away, shaking her head. "He's never gonna think I'm as cool as I think he is."
"You should ask him!" Her blonde best friend encourages her, but Olivia shakes her head.
"I can't! I'll die of embarrassment!" She shoots her friend a look and both of them begin giggling, falling back against the seat of the school bus. Karen is one of her only friends at school, and they have so much in common that sometimes, without even trying to, they wear almost the same outfit or pack the same lunch.
Of course Olivia likes all of the normal things about Karen. She likes that they enjoy the same music, movies, and that they both think their teacher Mrs. Peterson is just about the meanest old lady ever. But her most favorite thing about Karen is that she doesn't live with her mom, either. She lives with her Grandma and Grandpa, not even her dad, like Olivia. It feels good to talk to somebody else whose mom isn't around, especially another ten-year-old girl like her.
"Maybe you can ask your dad if I can come over after school," Karen suggests as the bus begins to slow and approach the best stop just a block away from Olivia's house. "My Grandma and Grandpa won't mind."
"Okay," Olivia grins, and in her mind, she's already planning the fun things they can do until it's time for Karen to go home for dinner. It's been a long time since Karen has been to her house, but she recently got a new baby doll that wets itself and she is so super excited to show her best friend.
The bus pulls to a stop and Olivia follows Karen off, waving to their friends as it takes off again. They begin to walk down the street towards Olivia's house, kicking at tiny pebbles on the ground and talking about all of the cute boys in their class. Luckily, one of the things that they do not have in common is a crush on the same boy, because that would make Olivia absolutely crazy with jealousy.
They reach the front door of her house and Olivia turns the knob, pushing the door open and stepping inside. The house is quiet, and she glances around as Karen steps in behind her.
"Daddy?" She calls out, "I'm home from school!"
It's a little bit weird that he isn't waiting for her like he usually does, especially because she got her science test back today and Daddy's always very concerned about her grades in school. She puts her books down on a table by the front door and Karen follows her into the kitchen. Olivia begins to take out a plate for her after school snack when she hears a loud click and looks to see her father emerging from behind the heavy basement door. Her belly feels funny and she turns away from him, because she knows what's behind that basement door.
"Olivia," he smiles at her, the handsome smile he always has. "And..." he looks to her friend, "Karen! It's good to see you again, honey." He walks closer to Olivia, slipping a hand around her shoulder and squeezing softly. "How was school today, girls?"
"Good," they answer in unison, and Olivia looks up to his face. "Daddy, can Karen stay over for a little bit?" She asks hopefully, "Please?"
He smiles down at her and she clasps her hands together, her lower lip sticking out a little. She knows that her pout face usually works on him, but this time he shakes his head, pressing his lips together.
"I'm sorry, Olivia. It's not a good time."
"But, Daddy-" she begins to whine.
"Not today," he tells her again, this time his voice sounds more serious and she decides not to ask again. "Karen, you better be on your way home. I promise, another day, you can come over and stay. Okay?"
"Okay," Karen nods, grinning. Her face is going all mushy and Olivia rolls her eyes, because that's the same face she makes when she sees Thomas. Karen thinks her dad is so handsome, and it's a little bit embarrassing, especially when he's right there. Karen grabs her things and heads to the door. "See you tomorrow, Olivia." She looks back. "Bye, Dr. Thredson."
"Goodbye, Karen," he calls to her, and both of them stand silently until they hear the front door shut behind her. He turns back to Olivia.
"I'm sorry she couldn't stay," he tells her. "But we have something important to do."
"What's so important?" She asks, tilting her head up at him.
He smiles and then kneels down in front of her, taking her hands. She knows she's older now, she's not a little baby anymore, but when Daddy holds her hands he makes her feel really tiny but also safe. She smiles, too.
"I think you're ready to start helping me out more," he squeezes her hands, "Do you know what I mean, Olivia?"
Her dark eyes raise past him and to the heavy basement door. She swallows hard and looks back to him. She hasn't been down in the basement for a long time.
"I thought the lady went away," he says, trying to make herself sound more brave than she feels. She remembers Daddy being so mad one night, hearing him yell at the lady, even though she wasn't supposed to be able to hear anything through the basement door. She was supposed to take the lady her lunch, like she's been doing for years now for all the different ladies, but his yelling scared her and she hid in her room for the rest of the night. The next morning, when she woke up, the lady was gone and Daddy didn't want to talk about her anymore. Another lady hadn't been in the basement since before school started, and Halloween was only three weeks away.
"There's a new lady downstairs," he tells her. "She came here last night. I think you'll really like her. Would you like to meet her?"
She takes a deep breath and looks at the door again. She always likes meeting the ladies, even though they never stay. Daddy says he takes such good care of them that they get better and go home, but she's never seen one of the ladies ever again. He's so nice and handsome, so why wouldn't they want to come visit once they left?
"Yes," she decides, and he smiles big.
"That makes me very happy, sweetheart." He takes her hand and leads her to the basement door. She waits while he unlocks the door and follows him down the steep stairs. The lady is on a table in the middle of the room, making noises that don't sound very healthy or happy. She guesses that's why she's here, to get better.
She knows what she usually does, but she has a feeling that this time will be different. She's never done more than bring the ladies some food and hand Daddy his tools. This time, he's looking at her differently.
"I brought someone to meet you," he tells the lady on the table, who is being held down by chains on her ankles and wrists. She doesn't know why he needs the chains, she never has understood. She asked him before but he ignored her every time, so she doesn't ask any more. The lady's eyes get bigger and Olivia steps forward, looking at her scared face. "This is Olivia. She's going to be helping me out today."
Olivia stands still, watching her. It's always a little scary to meet the ladies, but once she sees them, she isn't so afraid. Daddy has taught her not to see the fear in their eyes anymore. Now all she is supposed to see is her mother, and how much she hurt them when she left without them.
In fact, Daddy gave her a picture of her mother a few years ago and told her to memorize the picture. And she did. Every night before bed, every morning before school, she looks at that picture until she knows every part of her mother's face. Her dark eyes, dark hair, long face. She still thinks she is beautiful, even if she is supposed to be learning to hate her. And when Olivia looks in the mirror, she sees her mother's lips and nose. It's hard to hate somebody who is so much a part of you, but she is trying hard, and every single day she thinks it will get easier.
"What... what are you doing?" The lady asks, and Olivia looks up to her father. He tilts his head, looking at the woman. The lady pulls on the chains and starts to cry. Olivia keeps watching her, unsure of what to do next.
"Olivia, the tape, please," Daddy tells her, and she hurries over to his work bench. She retrieves it from his tool box and brings it back to him, watching as he pulls off a long piece of the silver tape and rips it from the roll. He places it carefully over the lady's mouth as she shakes her head back and forth.
"This young woman," he begins to Olivia, "is a very bad girl. I want you to look at her, Olivia. What do you notice about her?"
Olivia steps closer to the woman, her head tilting as she studies her. The woman's eyes squeeze shut, jerking away from their view, but the chains won't let her go very far. Olivia sees her chest moving up and down quickly as she breathes very hard.
"What am I supposed to be looking for, Daddy?" She feels silly asking the question, but it's the first time he's ever asked her to do it, and she wants to make sure she's doing it correctly. She looks back at him, but he's already at his work bench, slipping into a dark green coat. She turns back to the woman and squints her eyes, focusing very hard on her.
She watches her for a moment before she recognizes the dark eyes, the hair, her long, thin body. She feels a rush of excitement inside and turns to look at him.
"She looks like my mother," she reports excitedly, watching as he breaks into a grin.
"Very, very good," his response to her makes her smile. "I found her specifically for you. I knew you would need to start with someone you recognized."
As he turns his body to her, she looks at what he is wearing and giggles quietly. Under the dark green coat, he has on a woman's nightgown, black and lacy. It's so silly that she almost forgets what she's supposed to be doing, but a stern look from him brings her back in line.
"I got something for you, too," he tells her, and hands her a long white apron, like the one butchers wear. She stands very still as she slips it over her head and he ties it in the back for her. She looks down at the white apron covering her dress and then looks back to him.
"What do I need this for?" She asks, smoothing her hands over the fabric. It covers her clothes all the way from her chest past her knees.
He tilts his head at her before kneeling down to her.
"Olivia, tell me the truth. Do you still want to be a doctor when you grow up?"
She watches him for a moment. Honestly, she has never really thought about ever being anything else, because being a doctor seems very important to Daddy. There are girls at school who dream about being actresses or teachers, and she thinks that maybe she'd like to try one of those other jobs, but making Daddy proud is more important to her than what she does for a job. She wants to make him happy, so she nods.
"Yes," she answers. "I do."
He grins at her, taking her hands again.
"That's my girl," he strokes the back of her hands with his thumbs. "If you're going to be a doctor, you'll need lots of practice. And I've got the perfect job for you."
"What is it?" She asks excitedly as he crosses behind her, moving to his work bench. She spins on her heels, watching him as he approaches her with a pair of gloves and a tiny knife. She slips the gloves onto her hands, recognizing the tool as a scalpel.
He turns the tool in his hand, offering her the handle. She hesitates before he waves it at her, encouraging her to take it. Her fingers reach up to grip the handle and she's holding the cold steel in her palm, staring at it as if she expects it to perform a trick. He grins at her, stepping out of the way and gesturing to the woman on the table.
"Make your first cut," he tells her. She looks back at him unsurely.
"Where?" She wonders, looking the woman over.
"Anywhere," he replies, "Maybe let's start with the leg."
She's seen Daddy do this to a few ladies before, she knows it can get really loud and messy, so she tries to keep her hand still, but her fingers are shaking.
"I don't know if I can," she tells him, looking back at him. "I'm shaking too bad."
"Here," he steps forward, taking her hand within his and guiding the scalpel to the fair skin. A straight line, just like you're using a ruler."
She feels the moment the scalpel slips through the skin, and the woman flinches and pulls away, screaming through her gag. She looks up to the woman and her hand instinctively tries to pull away, but his hand on hers keeps her from being able to.
"That's it," he encourages her as they draw the knife over her skin, leaving a thin red ribbon of blood as they move. "Just like when you were little and I used to help you with your letters." He smiles at the memory and pulls his hand away after a moment. Her hand continues to draw the knife down the woman's leg, watching in a trance as the blood spills out. "You're doing much better than I expected you would. It's beautiful."
"Why are we doing this?" She asks, her hand pausing just before she reaches the woman's knee.
"We're helping her remember," he says after a minute, and his voice sounds dreamy and far away.
"Remember what?" She asks softly, placing the scalpel on the table next to the woman and turning to look at her father.
"How much she hurt us when she left," he responds, his lips turning into a smile as he watches the woman's face while she tries to scream in pain.
Olivia is confused for a minute, and furrows her eyebrows.
"But..." she looks back at the woman, "This isn't my mother."
Daddy looks angry for a minute, and she looks up at him with big brown eyes. Her throat and stomach feel funny, like she might need to throw up or like she can't swallow.
"She doesn't have the same kind of lips," Olivia says suddenly, looking back to the woman's face. "See her lip? My mother had a bigger top lip. And her neck isn't so skinny. And her hair isn't the same length. And," she adds almost as an afterthought, "my mother's forehead was much bigger. Like mine."
Daddy smiles so big it looks like he just won a million dollars.
"You've been looking at the picture I gave you?" He asks, his voice soft.
"Every morning and every night," she tells him.
"That's very good," he tells her, nodding. "And how does looking at that picture make you feel?"
She hears the woman crying and making muffled noises behind them and she turns to look at her. Her eyes are wide and her face is red with tears and fear. She glances back at Daddy, but he's still looking at her, paying no attention to the woman behind them. It scares her a little bit, how he's able to totally ignore her, even when she's making so much noise and her chains are rattling so loudly against the metal table.
"It makes me feel sad," she answers him, already knowing it's not the answer he wants and is expecting from her. "But it also makes me a little bit mad."
"A little bit mad?" He asks, sounding like he doesn't quite believe her. She nods and he sighs, dropping his head. "Olivia...honey. I think it's time I've told you more about your mother."
This is the first time she's ever heard him say the words, and her stomach is very nervous. Of course she wants to know more about her mother... she's wanted to know more ever since she can remember, but now she doesn't think she's going to like what she finds out. Daddy starts to pace the small area and she takes a second to look back at the lady, who is now bleeding out onto the table, the blood circling into a drain at the base.
"Okay," he says finally, after she's spent a long time watching the lady bleed. "Sit down."
She looks down at the basement floor, and he's already settling onto the tile. She hesitates for a moment before lowering herself to the floor, crossing her legs and sitting in front of him. In this position, she feels so small.
"There's so much you should know about your mother," he tells her. "So much. I'm not sure where to begin."
"How did you meet?" She asks excitedly. She's always played out the scene in her head... her father romancing her mother under a beautiful sunset, the two of them dancing together on a beach somewhere, maybe in Mexico. There's so much she doesn't know.
"We met at Briarcliff Manor," he tells her, and her eyebrows furrow.
"What's that?" She asks. It sounds romantic.
"It's a mental asylum. The one off the highway, by that shopping mall we've gone to. I was working as a doctor there. Your mother was brought in."
"My mother... was crazy?" The other kids at school like to tell scary stories about Briarcliff Asylum, she realizes suddenly. She always pretended not to get spooked by them, but they always left her feeling a little bit jittery. To find out her mother was one of the crazy people they talked about made her feel sick.
"No, no." He shakes his head. "Your mother was many things, Olivia... but crazy was not one of them. It almost would have been easier if she was."
She sighs a little, in relief, and then tilts her head.
"So you fell in love with her when she was your patient?" She wonders, "And she fell in love with you, too?"
"No," he sighs again. "Your mother was already in love with someone when we met. My feelings for her were less than love, but more than obsession." He looks into her eyes. "But when I looked at her... I saw my past, and my future. I thought she was the one."
Olivia smiles a little because she's heard things like that in romantic movies, and it gives her a little chill. Daddy catches the smile on her face and narrows his eyes. Her smile disappears.
"Olivia, the way she treated me... it was bad enough, but... the things she tried to do to you..." his voice gets quiet and she hears the lady rattling against the table behind her. She's still trying to yell but sounds quieter now, like maybe further away in her mind. Maybe her mind is starting to ignore it like Daddy's does.
"Like what?" She asks, because now she wants to know.
"When she was pregnant with you," he begins, "she forced a coat hanger inside of herself to try and kill you. It didn't work, obviously. But, how she hated you. From the moment she found out you were growing inside her, she did everything she could to end your life." He looks so sad saying the words, and she feels something strange bubbling up inside of her. It's sadness, but also a new kind of anger... maybe even hatred, the way she hates brussels sprouts. But more than brussels sprouts. "She didn't want you. She didn't want you then, and she doesn't want you now."
She wants to ask why, but he already is talking again.
"She hates you, Olivia. The fact that you even exist is a reminder of every moment in her life that went wrong. She couldn't get away from you fast enough after you were born."
The words sting bad, like the time she and Daddy went to the beach and she stepped on a jellyfish. Worse than a jellyfish sting, even. Her eyes are burning and tears are running down her face without even realizing that she started crying.
"Why was I born, then?" She asks, crying loudly and wiping her face to hide the tears and sadness.
"Because, darling," he scoots closer to her, pulling her into his lap like she's still a little baby, rocking her as she cries and smoothing her curly hair with his big hand. "Because I wanted you. I wanted you then, and I want you now." He presses a kiss against her head. "You're all I ever wanted. And I made sure that she didn't hurt you ever again."
She cries against his chest and she feels her tears soaking into the silly black nightgown he's wearing beneath his long green coat. His hand rubs her back.
"And that's why we do what we do," he presses his lips against her head, whispering the words into her ear. "So that she will feel the pain we feel. And with each cut, it starts to hurt us less and less."
She stays in his lap for a few more minutes until he's brushing her hair from her face, wiping her tear-stained cheeks with his thumbs.
"That's why we're practicing, okay?" She hesitates before nodding and sniffling, and she's pulling herself to her feet. He stands up after her, putting one hand on her shoulder. "You wanna try again? It might make you feel better. And if it doesn't..." he is quiet for a minute, "If it doesn't, then I promise I'll never make you try it again."
"You mean it?" She asks. He nods, his dark eyes looking into hers.
"Cross my heart and hope to die," he smiles at her, and she giggles. She clears her throat, and returns to the metal table. With shaking hands, she picks up the scalpel.
"Olivia," he says her name, and she looks up at him. He's holding a needle full of a clear liquid, offering it to her. "A little bit of this and she won't even feel anything. Do you want me to use it on her, to make it easier for you?"
She looks at him for a long moment before shaking her head.
"No," she tells him, suddenly feeling much older and braver than the ten-year-old girl she is. "But can you take the tape off her mouth, Daddy? I think I want to hear Mama scream."
She places the scalpel on the woman's soft white belly and makes the first cut.