Little White Lines (Olivia)
You never know which day will be the last day of your life.
I’m pretty sure this is the last day of mine, right now, as the sound of gunshots whites out the world around me into nothing but reverberating echoes, then splashes that emptiness with blood.
My ears are ringing.
My heart hits my ribs, racing so fast, running on pure adrenaline and moving at Mach speeds.
Jesus, there’s a dead man at my feet.
I don’t know him, never met him. But I know if I live past this frozen, pulse-stopping moment, I’ll never forget his face.
I’ll never forget his strange look of shock, eyes wide, like he’s not really dead. Just frozen in time. Caught in the moment he realizes the two men leaning out of a nondescript, matte grey van outside my sister’s palatial mansion are pointing their guns right at him.
Only, that was fifteen seconds ago. Now, he’s crumpled on the sidewalk, and those guns are pointing at me.
I can feel the sights of the weapons like they’re touching me, reaching across the motionless space between us to caress the vulnerable places of my body and make them quiver, tremble, tighten up with frightened chills.
Everything goes loud. It's not just the surrealness either.
The men are shouting something, but I can’t make out the words.
I can’t make out anything but the rattle of my own breathing. Then one word repeating over and over in my panicked brain.
Ask me later, and maybe I’ll tell you I made a calm, calculated decision, took a risk, and did something badass to save my life.
Ask me now, though, and the only thing I can say is my mind isn’t moving but my legs are, my lizard brain taking over and deciding the best option out of fight or flight is flight. No contest.
I don’t look where I’m going. I'm just airborne, so fast and frantic I can't feel my feet touch the ground.
The only direction that matters is away – away from the dead man, away from the danger, away from the van full of men with guns. I don’t realize I’m fleeing right out into the busy street.
Until I almost die for the second time in less than a minute.
I’m lucky the cab driver saw me coming and slowed down.
His front bumper only jolts against me, just hard enough for the pain to slap me out of my daze of animal panic. I tumble against the taxi's hood, clutching the metal to keep from falling, my feet wobbling under me.
For half a frozen second the taxi driver and I stare at each other through the windshield, his eyes wide and ringed in white, my face feeling like a frozen mask caught mid-scream.
Then a gunshot rings out behind me, loud as an explosion, and I fly into motion.
I scramble around the side of the cab, grabbing at anything I can reach until I feel a handle. It’s not even the right door, but I don’t care. I yank the front passenger side door open, throw myself inside, slam the door shut behind me, and immediately duck down below the dash.
“Listen, I’ll double your fare, I don’t care, but if you want to get us out of here alive – just drive!”
The driver stares at me for a second too long, an eternity where I feel my heart stopping and restarting all over again. Then he slams down on the gas so hard, he nearly throws me against the dash.
I barely catch myself, flinging my arms out and smacking them against the glove compartment hard enough to form bruises.
I can feel everything, honestly, my senses ramped so high by adrenaline that just the tickle of my own hair on the back of my neck is like claws and feelers raking over me, making me want to scream.
Shaking, I push myself up and grab the seatbelt strap, though I can’t bring myself to move enough to actually put it on.
Staring in the rear-view mirror, I see traffic scatter around us as the driver rockets down the street. I don’t see the van anymore.
I don’t see anything but annoyed people honking at us, flipping us off, and my sister’s front gate receding rapidly in the distance.
Not rapidly enough.
I don’t think anything is fast enough to put real distance between me, them, and what just happened.
“Miss?” the driver ventures tentatively. The violent vibrations of the car around me ease a little as he lays off the gas as we get deeper into traffic. “Miss...I think you should call the police.”
“Yeah,” I manage shakily. “Yeah, probably. I don’t...I don’t know what that was. Why they...”
Words die when my stomach suddenly revolts. I clutch harder at the seatbelt strap until it’s just a scrunched up ribbon in my hands. Everything turns sideways, wrong-ways, and my gut roils and my head is swimming and my mouth floods with a terrible salty taste.
“Pull over,” I gasp.
“But Miss –”
“Pull over, I said. I’m going to be sick!”
The driver goes pale. The tires screech as he wrenches toward the curb, rocking me wildly enough that I almost lose it then and there. I can feel sweat against my spine, and everything smells too sharp.
He barely bumps up against the sidewalk before I’m bolting out the door, my world on fire.
What happens next isn’t dignified. It isn’t graceful. It’s not anything I ever pictured happening to me, bent over crying and expelling my fear until my throat aches and my chest hurts, and I still don’t know what’s going on.
I only know I feel awful.
This...this whatever it is, it's all wrong wrong.
This isn't what happens to Olivia Holly.
Not to a girl who's always had servants and a father who's in the one-percent's one-percent. Not to a girl with a world famous sister who has fifty million Instagram followers, and who's been around more celebrities and billionaires than most freaking private jets.
Oh, but ready or not, here I am.
Sicking it up in a gutter on the side of a busy Seattle street, with a dead man’s blood on my four-hundred-dollar shoes.
Life can’t possibly get any worse.
Then, naturally, it does.
* * *
I don't have to wait long to find out how wrong I am.
My life definitely gets much worse.
Okay. So, maybe my decision-making processes aren’t the best right now.
So, maybe I should’ve had that cabbie drop me off at a police station so I could immediately go into protective custody. Instead, I had him take me to the Seattle Edgewater, because I felt safer surrounded by a lot of people in a very secure hotel where Daddy’s credit card buys me, at the very least, the illusion of being protected in a top-floor locked room while I wait for someone in my family to come get me.
But that illusion is shattered now as I answer the door for a very timid-looking bellhop with my room service order. If I’m being honest, it's mostly an attempt at normalcy when I can’t stand the idea of food right now.
Especially because he’s shown up with more than the cart. He’s got a crumpled piece of paper in his hands, cut down the middle with a slash, and all I can see is black and red ink. But from the way his shoulders are hunched, I know what it means.
More bad news.
He fidgets then offers me the page. “I think this was intended for you, Miss Holly...”
I don’t want to take it.
I hold back, hovering, my fingers curled against my chest, my heart doing that scary jitter that makes me feel like it’s going to stop mid-beat. “Oh. Thanks. Did you see who left it?”
“N-no.” There’s no mistaking his fear – his eyes too wide, beads of sweat on his forehead, and he keeps sucking in his upper lip.
He’s holding the page like it just might burn him, and his voice drops to a strained whisper as he says, “It was stuck to the service door in the alley.” Lower still, eyes widening further. “With a knife.”
There it is.
That moment when my heart truly stops and my chest feels too tight.
We stare at each other. It’s like a standoff, him holding the letter, me not taking it, both of us so scared it’s like a silent scream between us.
I knew it. I should’ve called the cops. I should’ve...
Honestly, I don’t know what I should’ve done.
This isn’t my world, or my life. My life is living in my sister Milah Holly’s pop starlet shadow, following Daddy around to all his rich functions to make him look good with his meek, pretty daughter on his arm, and not doing much of anything with my day that involves making a single decision for myself.
I’m not equipped to know what to do when a man gets shot to death in front of me.
And I’m not equipped to know what to do when someone leaves me what’s clearly an ink-scrawled threat, either.
But this won’t end, this standoff, until I really look at it. Take it in, figure out what’s going on, and make a choice about what to do. I need to do this.
I need to be an adult and figure out how to handle it, instead of staying paralyzed in the doorway with this poor boy who shouldn’t even be involved with whatever misfortune has landed at my feet.
The paper crinkles far too loudly in my hand as I pry the page from his clenched fingers and smooth it out. My name jumps out at me in black ink: Olivia Holly.
I’m at the bottom of a list that makes everything inside me twist up in pain and fear.
My father, my sister, and me. All three names written in black ink and slashed through with red Xs crossing us out.
It doesn’t need to say another word to be a proclamation of doom, loud and clear, screaming almost as shrilly as my pulse.
The man who died on the sidewalk wasn't a mistake. It wasn't a simple, nasty case of wrong place, wrong time.
Someone wants to kill my family, and they’re still after us. I don’t understand why. I don’t know what’s going on.
God, why would anyone want us dead?
I lift my head. “You're sure you didn’t see –”
Too late. The bellhop is gone.
It’s just me in the hallway with the room service cart, feeling far too exposed and alone when even this high security luxury hotel isn’t safe.
I’m not sure the kind of safety I need is anything money can buy.
Crap. All I wanted was a day away from Daddy hovering all the time.
Spending the weekend at Milah’s Seattle place seemed like a good idea. My party girl older sister at least knows how to relax, even if she’s not good at much else but singing.
I should’ve known I was biting off more than I could chew. Most of my weekend was spent keeping Milah from tripping into the pool and drowning herself while drunk, and then searching her a little too extensively for my liking for any little white baggies.
I know she’s trying to kick her habit. She’s in a twelve-step program for cocaine addicts especially, but I wish she’d told me she was in need before I was flushing a dime baggie of cocaine down the toilet and rocking her in the shower through withdrawals.
Another relapse, a little less ugly than the last. I thought I’d gotten her settled, finally, and was fully prepared to go home and just resign myself to another week of being the perfect shadow daughter.
Only to walk outside, into a nightmare straight out of a mafia movie.
I need to get inside. I’m suddenly convinced no one’s coming, my father and sister are dead even though I just heard their voices on the phone twenty minutes ago, and then the panic hits.
I hear my own name. Just once. Loudly.
Let a girl scream, okay?
Look, I’m not Lara Croft or Bayonetta or even Princess Peach. When I was little, I used to daydream about being the first female Starfleet captain in those kicky little boots and cute A-line uniform dresses, but that all boiled down to wanting to look pretty while shooting lasers at bad guys.
As most little girls do.
I didn’t grow up a fierce, unstoppable warrior heroine.
I grew up into a spoiled, bratty, rich girl’s younger sister, and spoiled, bratty, rich girls’ younger sisters scream like hell when you scare the crap out of them.
I’m one second from bolting back in the room when I get a glimpse of hot pink and my anxiety ramps down in a heartbeat.
No assassin ever would show up in a pink mohair tube top that’s at least a decade out of style, even if it’s so Milah, it’ll probably bring the fashion back.
Sis comes tearing around the corner of the hallway, her eyes too wide, her hair in a wild disarray of highlighted gold, her mile-long legs tottering on platform boots. She looks as scared as I feel, and all the worried frustration I’d felt over her weekend backslide melts away when I realize she’s honestly afraid for me.
Milah and I are as different as night and day, but we’re still sisters.
She loves me. I love her.
I’m just not a fan of her life choices.
She slams into me so hard she nearly cuts the breath out of me. I can tell from the strength of her grip that she’s sober. But while her hands are steadier than normal, it’s her voice that’s wavery when she demands, “Oh my God, Liv. Oh my God. Are you all right?”
“No,” I whisper, then burst into tears.
Let a girl scream. And let her cry, too.
I’m not used to being the little sister, not feeling like one, even if I’m two years younger than Milah – but for once instead of me taking care of her, she’s taking care of me.
She holds me in her spindly arms while I cry, then ushers me inside and sits me down on the edge of the bed to carefully peel me out of my bloodied clothes. She’s brought me a change of clothing, and with a little too much practice, she carefully lays out the dirty things on a chair.
“Don't touch them again. For the police,” she says gently, then settles down next to me and plucks the crumpled note from my trembling hands.
“Holy fuck-a-roo.” Her brows knit as she scans over our names. Then she shakes her head, looking at me with her wide blue eyes pale, worried. “How'd this happen?”
I sniffle, rubbing at my eyes.
Maybe I feel a tad better now that I’m not wearing that outfit. I hope the police burn it when they’re done with it, but I’m better able to speak, to pull myself together, and I tell Milah everything.
“This black car pulled up to the curb right when I was leaving your place,” I say. “This guy got out and started asking me about you. I thought he was paparazzi and was just going to blow past him, but then he said something about how you owe him for a ‘special delivery’ and that you’d remember Vancouver. I...I didn’t even know what he was talking about. But then this van comes roaring down the street and these other men lean out and next thing I know there're gunshots and a dead body.”
“Two,” Milah corrects, her voice ragged at the edges, almost a croak. “There were two dead bodies.”
“What?!” I feel the blood drain from my face. “Two? No...no, I only saw them kill one...”
“The driver,” she whispers. “We found them both out front. They shot the driver while you ran.”
“The second gunshot.” I swallow back the thick, awful feeling in my throat. “I was running and heard a second gunshot. I thought they were firing at me, but...”
“They would've.” Milah lets out a worried, fretful sound, pressing her fingers to her mouth, then just buries her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking. “Oh, fuck. Fuck, Liv, this is all my fault...there was a show in Vancouver. Several tours ago. I don’t remember much of it, I wasn’t really myself –”
Wasn’t really myself. That’s Milah code for on another coke bender.
“But listen, hon, I know I fucked up. I wanted to impress a lot of people up there and I blew a lot of money on some really good stuff. Like, really pure, best I’ve ever had.” She breaks off and gives me a guilty look. “I don’t mean it like that, I guess. Just that it was expensive, and I guess I must’ve borrowed from the wrong people. I’m sorry, Liv. I’m so, so sorry, I can’t believe what a fuckup I am. I’m trying to do better, but this stuff just comes back to –”
“Milah.” I try to keep my voice gentle. Here we are, back to being the older younger sister. “You owe people drug money?”
“Maybe.” She gets off one word and then she hangs her head.
Mutely, she nods, her little-girl pout drawn and trembling. I sigh, pressing my fingers to the bridge of my nose.
“Paying them off isn’t going to work. People are dead now. We’re calling the cops. Maybe even the FBI.”
“No!” She goes pale, shaking her head frantically, her ponytail bobbing. “The freaking Feds? We can’t!”
“Hey, you were the one preserving evidence over there like it’s an episode of CSI: Miami.”
“That was before I knew what this was about.” She bites her lip, turning the full force of those pleading baby blues on me. “Going to the police will just make it worse. Trust me, Liv...they may even arrest me for possession.”
I tense. “What? Are you carrying right now?”
“No!” She knots her hands together. “Just, you know, past stuff. What if they take these guys down and I go with them?”
I roll my eyes. “Then I'm sure Daddy will be standing by with a legion of lawyers to bail you out.”
Groaning, I flop back against the Egyptian cotton sheets. Suddenly I’m less afraid of these men with guns and more resigned to whatever mess Milah has gotten herself into now.
“Can't we just get this over with? Tell Daddy to fix everything like we always do?”
“Daddy won’t need to,” Milah says almost triumphantly. “Because I know just the thing. And the man.”