The Livingwater Crisis - Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Olivia Livingwater
Greg tilted his head forty-five degrees, raising an eyebrow at his reflection in the Men’s Room mirror. Nice, he thought, applying a light splash of water to his hair, pushing the bangs to the side. Girls don’t know what they’re missing. But I know. That’s all that matters.
The silhouette of another gentleman washing his hands appeared two sinks down. Greg straightened himself and sniffed through a nostril, self-conscious. He cleared his throat, turning to look for a hand dryer.
The sound of Xaviere’s foot slamming through the door sent an echoing shockwave through the tiled room. Greg’s shoulder bumped hard against the wall as he raised an arm to defend himself.
“Are you in here?!” her voice boomed from around the frame.
Greg and the man at the sink exchanged an uncomfortable glance. “...Yes?”
Xaviere’s leg kicked the door open a second time as it tried to swing itself shut. “Get your keys! I’m going to the car!”
Finding a paper towel dispenser nearby, Greg grabbed a sheet and reached for the door knob with a covered hand.
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“Come on! Answer!” Xavier fiercely tapped away at her phone as Greg drove. She alternated between a barrage of texts and failed calls. “What is she thinking? WHAT IS SHE THINKING?! Why aren’t you picking up?!”
“I don’t understand-“ Greg started, but he was hushed by a viper-like snap of Xavier’s hand.
“Oliver! You call me back as soon as you get this! I swear I’m gonna tell dad if he doesn’t already know! He is absolutely going to kill you and every one of those lowlifes you work with, if I don’t finish them off first! I’m on my way with Greg right now - you’d better be at your studio - What are you thinking?! You’re a role model for Astrid and Geno and countless shallow tweens, and mom is watching ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!” Xaviere jammed her pointer finger against the helpless touch screen, hanging up. She crossed her arms and her right leg bounced furiously against the car’s carpeted floor, which worried Greg.
For a few months now, Greg suspected that rust had been forming underneath the passenger side door. The rear suspension sometimes creaked in a way that gave him pause too, though he decided not to bring any of this up. Instead, speaking in a calm, measured voice, he chose his next words carefully. “For real, though, where are we go-“
“The city! Obviously!”
Greg’s intestines gurgled. “But you know I don’t like driving in the city! I’ve only done it twice in my entire life. What if we don’t have exact change for the tolls? You know how I don’t carry a lot of cash or coins, and the prices went up again since last year. What if the car breaks down in the tunnel or on the bridge? What if everyone thinks we’re terrorists, and they get out of their cars and Zerg rush us before we have a chance to explain?”
Xaviere glared at the driver through the corner of her eye.
“What if I get towed?” Greg asked a half hour later, driving slowly as he and Xaviere looked up and down the narrow one-way street, with vehicles parked on both sides. Each of the many honks from neighboring cars made Greg sweat and tremble. The engine chugged ominously close to one-thousand RPM’s, which meant a stall could happen at any moment - although that had only happened in his previous old car. This one had a history of overheats, and though he paid a lot of money to a mechanic who claimed it was fixed, Greg never really believed it. That’s why he named it Chicago Wind: because it seemed likely to blow up at any minute.
“What are you doing?!” shot Xaviere. “That was a spot right there!”
“It wasn’t big enough,” lied Greg, unsure. He had already coasted past and couldn’t tell. He wouldn’t dare to risk going in reverse in the city, where the Police are reputed to bully out-of-towners.
Miraculously, a space was available within eyeshot of the destination Xaviere pointed at. Greg thought it seemed too good to be true as he pulled into place with a clean two-point parallel park. After dropping too many quarters into the nearby meter, he eyed every notice along the sidewalk. “What’s the active area of effect for these parking signs, you think?” He asked. “Like, if it says ‘no parking here,’ does that mean here exactly, or anywhere we can see it?”
Xaviere seemed too distracted to answer. Greg followed as she stomped up the adjacent curb and up a flight of very clean stone stairs. She hammered a fancy doorbell belonging to a company marked Barbuzala Photography, LLC.
“Do you think the windows face the street up there?” Greg asked. “I want to keep an eye on the car...”
Xaviere stomped. “Give me your keys if you’re going to panic so much about it! I’ll put them in my bag and if anything happens, I’ll tell Mr. Popo the car is mine.”
Greg complied, though in a way this only made him feel more helpless.
A buzzer rang, allowing the pair into the narrow lobby. The interior of this building seemed a lot cleaner than Greg imagined it would have been, especially for downtown. So many buildings in the city reminded him of the phrase, A gold ring in a pig’s snout. He didn’t like it here. It felt like he was losing Health and Stamina with every passing moment.
Xaviere’s footsteps clapped up the stairway. The ascent only seemed to warm her up; Greg huffed behind for the three stories, until they reached a pair of tall glass doors to the right, lined with gilded metal. Xaviere pushed both doors open like a professional wrestler entering an arena. She didn’t hold either open for Greg, which didn’t bother him. (He would have done, though.) He slipped in before they closed.
Greg squinted as a broad lobby stretched out in front. The polished floors reflected brilliant blue late-afternoon sunlight from the generous floor-to-ceiling windows to the right. To his left extended what must have been a photography studio, hidden behind faraway curtains, fancy dividers and closed doors. Vague European dance music played from somewhere while Xaviere’s steps, in tune with the beat, echoed ahead off the tall ceilings held up by marble pillars lined with elegant purple veins. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness Greg spotted a slender, long-haired feminine figure jogging happily in Xavier’s direction from a pair of doors on the opposite end of the room. Greg put his hands in his pockets and stepped in further, past the Receptionist who seemed to have no interest.
“Omigosh, Greeeeeg!” cried a confident, gentle voice from the figure as she jogged closer. Greg could see that it was indeed Olivia, who raced past her younger sister of two years and gave him a generous hug before he could compose himself. Without meaning to, he gasped and got a lungful of her lovely perfume - if she had been wearing any at all. Perhaps Olivia always smelled like peaceful memories and fluffy clouds, of ice cream and childhood, when everything was safe and fun, and nothing bad ever happened. Greg couldn’t help tensing up as he patted Olivia on the back, trying to send the message that she wasn’t obligated to prolong the affectionate gesture. Nonetheless, she seemed genuinely happy to see him, squeezing even harder for a few seconds longer and bouncing playfully from side to side while pretending to shriek. “I haven’t seen you in for-ev-er!”
Standing there locked in place, Greg had an epiphany that he was being silly about the car outside. What had ever worried him in the first place? So what if it got towed? What point was there in worrying about anything? Our anxieties are mere flashes in the pan, he realized. Our problems are so small, and yet they consume so much attention, distracting us from what is true, wholesome, and good. Like hugs. Silly concerns like city traffic, what other people thought of him, or the fact that his hands smelled like car keys - these were meaningless trifles. Everything was okay; it always had been, and it always can be.
“How come you never visit the house anymore?” Olivia asked, gripping Greg’s shoulders at arms’ length so she could get a good look at him.
It was almost too much to look directly at her. His vision seemed to go hazy. ”Well, you know...” Greg stammered, feeling his ears go hot and red. “It’s not a big deal or anything... just... with work and stuff... not that I mean I didn’t want to visit... only... y’know...”
“Do you still work at the factory in town? Working for the man?”
“I... er... part time...”
“Are you a famous artist yet?”
Vague sounds dribbled from Greg’s mouth as he sloshed away, toward a nearby couch facing the windows. He lowered himself onto the farthest cushion and leaned against an arm for support.
Xaviere pinched her sister’s arm from behind. “Is it true?!”
“Ow! What?” Olivia guided a few loose strands of perfectly straight black hair behind her ear.
Greg’s attention waned as Xaviere explained something which had to do with something she overheard at the bookstore. He looked around and fixed his eyes on the Receptionist, a seated fellow who must have stood an easy six feet tall, with muscular shoulders which rolled like the hills of the African prairie, hugged tightly by carefully torn designer sleeves. His shaved head glistened in the ample sunlight.
“S’cuse me,” Greg muttered toward the man, who didn’t appear willing to take his eyes off the nearby computer screen. Greg scooted over and caught a glance of Minesweeper. It seemed like a wasteful way to procrastinate when there were so many other, better, free-to-play games to be enjoying, but that was none of his business.
“Hm?” The Receptionist murmured, realizing the words had been directed at him.
“Is my car okay to park over there, across the street?”
“What’s today? Friday?” The Receptionist clicked a node thoughtfully on the monitor. No Mines nearby. “Yeah, I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Across the street, though?” insisted Greg.
“What about alternate side parking rules?”
“I always hear about alternate side parking rules on the radio. Are they... y’know, in effect?” Greg didn’t actually know what that meant.
The Receptionist hesitated. “I’m not sure. I use the subway.”
Greg rose to his feet and shuffled to the window, holding his breath so as not to get any mist on the glass. A police cruiser drove past, below. It seemed like only a matter of time before the car got a ticket, or worse.
“That’s not possible!” shouted Olivia, louder than she must have meant to, because she immediately lowered her voice. “I’d never agree to it! How could they publish that! Which magazine?”
“I didn’t check for certain –“ Xaviere interrupted herself. “I was in a rush and the guy who was ogling you is a thought criminal. It’s complicated. But it seemed legitimate, not a tabloid.”
“You know I’d never dress like that in public,” Olivia said, crossing one arm and tapping her other open palm against her cheek. “What could have happened?”
“You’d better find out and quick, before dad hears about it and comes down here.”
“No, no - he can’t find out!” Olivia looked around, pulling Xaviere closer to the window for privacy, only a few feet away from Greg, who went to sit back on the couch out of respect. “Dad ran out on that big job last time. The economy is really bad right now! He can’t afford to lose another contract!”
“How then, Oliver?” Xaviere growled, her teeth clenched.
“I have to think.” Olivia’s footsteps tapped gently as she stepped toward the couch, sitting next to Greg, leaving room on the opposite end, in case her sister wanted to sit too. The leather hissed underneath as Greg squeezed as far to his end as possible without standing back up. He crossed a leg defensively and adopted a posture of deep thought, raising a hand to his chin. Xaviere chose to remain standing, simply crossing her arms and leering down.
“I couldn’t imagine,” whispered Olivia after a long silence. “There’s always rumors of course, like when the paparazzi photographed me doing homework at a café down the street. Rodney Temptation happened to stop in for a latte – he saw me and wanted to say ‘hi’, which was all he did, but they printed those articles saying he and I were secretly dating. Rodney was nothing but polite, but remember? When dad saw me and him on the tabloid covers, he went to the publishers’ offices and hung the entire staff out their windows by their ankles with their camera straps? And he told them to never photograph me again without permission? Afterward, Rodney heard about that and canceled his Temptation Tour in the States, and went to Tibet out of fear for his life, even though I called him and promised it wasn’t his fault. He hasn’t released an album since.”
“I didn’t know it went that far,” Xaviere admitted.
“There’s more... like that time when Jaundice Ronway designed those skimpy dresses and said in the press release that she specifically made them for girls like me, so that we could ‘get outside of our comfort zones’?”
“Oh, God, yeah, I do remember that.”
“Xavier, don’t say the Lord’s name in –“
“Vain. Okay.” Xaviere vaguely made the sign of the cross and clapped her hands three times.
“Don’t make fun!” she hissed at her sister.
Greg, hopelessly embarrassed that his face felt as red as a tomato, saw an opportunity to slip over to the window again without notice.
“I’m not,” insisted Xaviere. “Go on.”
“...Dad didn’t like Jaundice using my name in an immodest way, so he spent his motorcycle savings to buy a plane ticket to France during fashion week without telling me, and he single-handedly ripped out the red carpet with his teeth with everyone still standing on it, before wrapping them all up in it and leaving them stranded on the Siene. Half the industry closed business for the rest of the season because everyone fled Northwestern Europe afterward. They say Ronway herself still lives in the Outback, living off carcasses which the wild Dropbears leave behind in the sand. She said it seemed safer than coming back.”
“Yes, yes, dad came back home by then and told us about it, that he lost his temper and that it was wrong in hindsight. This doesn’t bring us any closer from stopping it from happening again! How many lives are going to be ruined this time?!”
Olivia sighed. “What sickos could be behind this? It’s as if these publicity stunts are intentionally designed to take shots at my career by taking advantage of dad’s paternal instinct. But why? Everyone knows we have an overprotective father...”
Insidious laughter erupted in the spacious lobby, which Greg now realized was empty. The European Dance music had stopped, too. “That,” cackled a voice from behind the pillars, “is exactly what I’m counting on!”
To be continued tomorrow, in Chapter 3!
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