Olivia Twisted Online - Vivi Barnes

Chapter One

“Thus, a strain of gentle music, or the rippling of water in a silent place, or the odour of a flower, or the mention of a familiar word, will sometimes call up sudden dim remembrances of scenes that never were…”

—Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist


I should be used to this by now—the emptiness that fills me when I become homeless for the stretch of a car ride. I’ve done this more times than I can count, but the truth is that it sucks. Every. Time.

Occasionally, my case manager, Julia, glances at me in the rearview mirror. She knows better than to attempt conversation in a useless effort to comfort me.

Or maybe not.

“Bernadette looked so sad about saying good-bye to you, Olivia,” Julia offers in a whine that’s supposed to come off as sympathetic. “It’s nice that they loved you so…” She falters when I turn my withering glare on her reflection.

Nice? Yeah, Bernadette and Marc loved me so much that they wouldn’t take me with them when they moved to Hawaii. I seriously thought the last home would be the last. I swallow hard—I refuse to cry—and turn my gaze back to the blur of trees as we breeze by on the highway. Julia makes another half-assed attempt at conversation, but I tune her out.

The drive to my new home from Bernadette’s is only about twenty minutes once you cross the James River. Julia’s GPS announces various rights and lefts, sending us through a maze of streets dotted with small, scrawny trees. The pastel-colored houses are pretty much clones of one another. Über middle class.

Julia parks in front of one of the clones—a white house with a bright-green lawn and orange and pink flowers lining the front picture window.

I’ve stayed in uglier places.

She pops the trunk to get my suitcase. I step out and lean against the car, not realizing that I’m audibly sighing until Julia throws me a poor baby look. Ignoring her, I sling my backpack over my shoulder, one step ahead as I walk up the stone path. She scrambles to follow me with the suitcase.

Julia presses the doorbell. One thing I’ve noticed in my years of being shuffled around? A home’s doorbell seems to be a reflection of its personality—buzzing for the no-nonsense, cathedral chimes for the snobs, light singsongy bells for the artsy-fartsy. As she releases the button and the cock-a-doodle-dooing ends, my first impression of this home is that the owner might be insane.

Finally, the door opens and an unsmiling woman greets us with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. Her hair is about the same color brown as mine, except short and kind of frayed-looking.

“You must be Mrs. Carter.” Julia thrusts her pudgy hand toward the lady. “I’m Julia Winters from the Richmond Department of Social Services.”

Mrs. Carter looks at the hand for a moment, maybe trying to decide whether it’s safe to shake, then slowly offers hers.

“This is Olivia, the young lady you’ve been expecting.” Julia’s open-palm gesture at me announces, Ta-da! Mrs. Carter just presses her lips together. I’m guessing she’s in her forties or fifties, although she might look younger if she’d attempt a smile.

Julia’s eyes bounce back and forth from her to me like she’s watching an invisible tennis match. It’s not like she hasn’t seen this before: the disinterest, the annoyed “why are you bothering us” mood from the new foster parent. But she always looks so hopeful and happy. Clueless.

Julia clears her throat. “May we come in?”

Mrs. Carter opens the door wider and we step inside. A sickeningly sweet odor almost knocks me over. For some reason, I think of The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is drugged by inhaling the scent of poppies. My eyes burn from the shock of blue floral country decor. And yes, there are the roosters the doorbell promised. They fill every space—clocks, paintings, pillows. As Mrs. Carter leads us to the breakfast room table, my eyes are drawn to a ceramic rooster cookie jar sitting on the kitchen counter. It’s paired with rooster salt and pepper shakers that frame the floral centerpiece on the table.

This isn’t a home; it’s a museum for old ladies.

Mrs. Carter is watching me now, offering no more than the occasional “okay” and “uh-huh” in response to Julia’s blabber. I attempt a smile and fail.

“And she’s been top in her class each year.” Julia turns her honey-sweet smile on me. I disregard pretty much everything she says. She’s paid to care. “Why, she won a contest just this year