| I knew that the new girl was weird the moment I first saw her. It was not something one would recognize immediately: the girl looked normal enough, with medium-length auburn hair, subtle blue eyes and a fair sprinkling of freckles. It was something in those eyes. It was as if she was haunted by something.
That first day of school the teacher introduced my class’s one new girl. Her name was Olivia Vida. When the teacher mentioned her name, she neither stood nor waved nor smiled nor made any acknowledgement that she had been mentioned to the entire class. She just kind of sat there.
I observed her for weeks afterward. There’s nothing I love more than a good mystery. I am a nosy, selfish, haughty, independent girl. There’s no point denying it. I take pleasure in involving myself in situations in which I have absolutely no business being. There was a burning passion in me to learn Olivia’s secret. I just knew she must have one.
Olivia never raised her hand or volunteered information in class. However, whenever the teacher decided to call on her (in a futile attempt to get her involved), she answered him correctly. Whenever I passed out papers (I always volunteered to, I absolutely needed to know what other people received on tests), I saw that her scores were never lower than 95%. She paid rapid attention in class, hanging on to the teacher’s every word. Most of the time, anyway. Every now and then, she would go into a deep phase. Her eyes would be open, her posture unfailing, but she was definitely not where the rest of us were. Her eyes would have a glazed look, as if they were being haunted by something. She would come back around eventually, but there was definitely something up with her.
My mom was a psychiatrist. I talked to her about Olivia’s strange behavior.
“She’s probably depressed. Broken. Leave her alone.”
“But she doesn’t have any friends! She can’t be alone forever! You always say how I need to get friends, how friends are so desperately important!”
“She is none of your business, Carly. You have no idea what she’s experienced. I know you, and I know that you in particular need friends. She could already have some. Just stop spying on her, will you?"
I tried to listen to Mom’s advice, but one day I could stand the mystery no longer. I watched as Olivia packed up her books (by watching her meticulously put them into her bag, I realized that I had forgotten my algebra textbook). I lingered outside the classroom. She left and didn’t see me. I followed her onto the playground. The sky was dark and threatening, so everyone was trying to go home before the storm hit. No one meandered around to talk. It was a perfect situation.
I cornered Olivia. She seemed a little shocked, but not scared. If I was her, I know I would be, but I can be such a coward sometimes.
“What do you want with me?” she asked. Her tone wasn’t timid or harsh, but incredibly firm.
“You’re broken,” I said simply. The words had slipped out of my mouth before I had time to process what I wanted to say.
“You’re broken. Something’s wrong. You need friends.”
She stared at me.
“You need friends. A confidante. My mom’s a psychiatrist, and she says the best way people can fix themselves in by telling their troubles to others. I think you should tell me. It’s not like I’m going to tell anyone else. I have no one else to tell, except maybe my mom.
“I don’t need a confidante. And I don’t want a friend.”
“You need both.”
It was a question I had asked myself before. I had never found an answer myself, so how could I provide one to her?
“Just trust me. You do. Come to my house after school tomorrow. I live on 1220 West Oakley.”
To my surprise, she just stared at me, as if sizing me up.
“Alright,” she said slowly.
“Carly Osyn, I promise I will go to your house after school tomorrow.”
With that, she just walked away.
Olivia was true to her word. The next day, she arrived at my house after school. It was kind of embarrassing, because she arrived there before I did.
We climbed up to my attic. She spoke not a single word.
“You can tell me—“ I began.
“I know. But under one condition.”
I stared at her.
“You need to do your best to answer my question.”
With that, Olivia started talking. She told me everything.
Friday, December 13th
Livvie Vida’s heart was clamoring in her chest, her mind racing. Today was the day of the audition. Today was the day that all of her dreams depended on. Today was the day that could make her future career as an actress.
And if the chance to perform in a real, professional movie wasn’t enough, her friends would be there too. They meant everything to her.
The morning was a frenzy, and yet it passed too slowly for Olivia. Her monologue repeated over and over in her head. She knew how she was going to act, and yet knew that it would be best if it came from her feet, from her heart.
She had as good a chance of being cast as anyone. A better chance than some people. She had been in acting workshops and plays for as long as she could remember. Acting was her one passion. It was what she lived for.
Eventually the much anticipated time came. Her mom drove her to the theatre where the auditions were being held. It was a grand theatre, and a second home to Livvie, who had been there numerous times before. Almost every play that she had been in was held somewhere in here.
Nearly as soon as she had arrived, Livvie spotted her closest friend. Elly Torm. She had been friends with Elly since second grade. Elly and Livvie’s personalities fit together like pieces of a puzzle. They were exact opposites of each other, which was what made them such close friends.
“Hi Livvie!” cried Elly, her face as nearly as filled with excitement as Livvie’s.
“I AM SO EXCITED!!!” Livvie shrieked. Elly smiled.
“This will be interesting,” she said with a calmness that Livvie could not imagine feeling. However, the light in Elly’s eyes told her that Elly was not as collected as she appeared.
A few minutes later, Livvie ran into her friends Jana and Shia. They were friends she had met when she switched from Elly’s school. Sometimes Livvie thought Elly might be a little jealous of them, but she had no reason to be. Livvie loved Jana and Shia, but they would never replace Elly.
The girls talked excitedly while they waited for their auditions. They could hardly contain their excitement. Livvie couldn’t remember ever feeling happier.
Finally, the auditions started. Jana went first. Livvie was called next. With her heart beating harder than it had ever beaten before, she walked into the room.
A casting committee of three people sat behind a desk. Papers were sprawled all over it. One woman attempted to organize them frantically, while the others, a calm-looking man and a very smiley woman, watched Livvie enter.
“Your name?” asked the man.
“Olivia Vida, but I go by Livvie,” she said with a smile.
“Excellent!”said the smiley woman. “My name is Fifi, this is Mark—“ the man gave a nod of his head, “and this is Flora,” she pointed at the frantic woman, who didn’t bother to glance up.
“Do you have a monologue prepared?”Mark asked.
“Yes, I do,” said Livvie with a smile.
“We’d love to hear it.”
Livvie executed the monologue more perfectly than she could have imagined. She did not say every line right, but it worked out amazingly well, as she improvised it better than the original. More importantly, her heart was in it. By the time she finished, she was completely drained, but content.
Fifi’s smile was bigger than ever, but Livvie was more encouraged by Mark’s expression. He looked intrigued.
And that let Livvie know that she would be given some part.
Livvie was in her room, deep in a book, as she often was. She often thought it was her love of reading that, in part, made her such an insightful actress. She was suddenly interrupted when her mom screeched “LIVVIE, COME HERE!!!”
Nervous, Livvie left her room and walked over to her mom.
“Read,” her mom ordered.
An e-mail was open. It read:
Congratulations, Olivia Vida! You have been cast in our production of Young Dreamers! You are Nelly Pohe! Below is the calender. Attendance is necessary at all days in which your part is needed....
Livvie couldn’t believe it. Nelly was a major part, one better than she could have dared hope for. For once, she was speechless. Never had something so wonderful happened to her.
She hugged her mom, and then raced to the phone to call Elly.
“Did you get a part?” Livvie asked as soon as Elly had answered the phone.
“Yeah. Nikky,” she said, her voice full of excitement. Livvie felt mixed feelings. Nikky was a speaking part, but it was minor. Not like Nelly.
“I’m Nelly!” Livvie nearly screamed into the phone.
“That’s...amazing. Congratulations,” Elly responded. Livvie thought she could hear a little jealously in Elly’s voice.
“Nikky’s a good part, and we’ll be together! I can’t wait! I’m going to go call Jana. See you soo,n Elly!” Livvie said. Now that she had checked on Elly, she needed to know if Jana and Shia had been cast.
It turned out that they had been, but were extras. Livvie was still ecstatic that they were all in the movie.
Over the course of the next few weeks, rehearsals began. Livvie was in many of them. They were hard work, but Livvie enjoyed them immensely. They were made all the better by her friends. Livvie thought that it might have been the happiest stretch of her life.
Friday, January 10th
After rehearsal, Livvie’s mom surprised her and told her that they were going sledding. It had been a long day, and Livvie was excited for the break.
The hill was crowded and icy. Livvie was constantly having to use her hands to avoid hitting people. It was incredibly annoying, how people didn’t move out of the way as soon as they finished sledding, but it was worth the thrill of speeding down the slippery slope.
Livvie was climbing up the hill after about an hour’s worth of sledding. She nearly tripped on the icy stairs. Huffing and puffing, she reached the top. She found an open lane and climbed on her sled. She took off. The crisp air whirled past her face, her heart was beating ever so quickly, adrenaline pounded in her every vain...
And then it happened. She heard a call of “watch out!”, but before she could even think of moving out of the way, excruciating pain took over all of her senses. It seemed strongest at her right leg. The world was spinning, everything was pain, pain, pain, and it all went black.
When Livvie regained consciousness, she found that she lying down on a soft cot. Her mother sat next to her, looking sympathetic and sad.
“Where am I?” Livvie asked groggily.
“You’re in an ambulance, sweetie,” her mom responded gently.
“A couple of boys on a sled crashed into you. They weren’t watching where they were going...”
Anger pounded in Livvie. Stupid, rude, inconsiderate boys who thought only about themselves. She wanted badly to swear at them, swear what they had caused her, swear at the feeling that one hundred needles were piercing her leg, but she had the self-control not to.
She arrived at the hospital soon afterwards. She was taken into the emergency room. She was examined and given a cast. Her dad came not long after she had arrived at the hospital.
“It’s looking bad. We think we’ll be able to fix it, but not anytime soon. This type of injury will take years to heal,” the doctor told Livvie.
“Will I be able to walk again?” Livvie asked anxiously.
“Eventually,” the doctor said. It was not a satisfactory answer, but Livvie knew it would have to do.
Livvie spent a few nights at the hospital. The aching in her leg was constantly lessening, but she desperately wanted it to go away completely. She was given a temporary wheelchair. It was kind of cool, wheeling around, living at the hospital for a few days. Sympathetic glances and get-well-cards flooded her. She didn’t have to worry about school or homework at all. It was a nice break.
Still, Livvie wanted more than anything to go back to her life. She was happy to learn that she had been released from the hospital. Livvie wheeled her way to her family’s car, her parents walking besides her. They helped her climb in, and started driving.
“Livvie...there’s something we have to tell you,” her dad said. Livvie waited.
“Honey, I’m really sorry, but...your mom and I have decided that you can’t do the movie. Not like this. Nelly isn’t supposed to be in a wheelchair. And the doctors aren’t going to want you on your feet when you get crutches. By the time you’ve healed...it will all be over. It’s just too much to handle. You can’t have this injury and still be Nelly.”
Livvie hadn’t realized that her injury might mean giving up the movie. She had been too focused on the pain, and how neat if felt to be living at the hospital. Tears filled her eyes. She did not blame her parents for their decision, but she wanted more than anything in the world to be in the movie. A sudden hatred of the boys who had made her break her leg spurted like lava in her, followed by a spurt of pain. She suddenly felt weak and exhausted. She let the tears fall. Her dream was broken. She had lost the one thing she had wanted most. The one thing that would lead her to fulfill her dream. Could she be an actress now? Everything seemed lost.
Friday, January 17th
It had taken Livvie the entirety of the week, but she finally accepted that she would not be in the movie. It didn’t seem as bad now as it had in the beginning. There would be other opportunities to act. Besides, Elly was coming over!
The door bell rang, and Livvie wheeled over as quickly as she could. Elly stood there, smiling, carrying a wrapped package. A present.
“It’s so good to see you, Elly!” Livvie said excitedly as she attempted to hug her friend.
“It’s good to see you too, Livvie! I brought you a present,” Elly smiled. Livvie smiled back. Elly was often bored at her house, so it wasn’t uncommon for her to make little presents to give to Livvie.
Livvie tore open the wrapping to reveal an adorable picture of Elly and Livvie when they were just 9 years old. Their arms were linked together, and they were both smiling widely. The picture posted on a hand-made potholder.
“Thanks Elly,” Livvie said. The picture was nice. Maybe she would put it on her desk.
The girls talked for a long time afterwards. Elly did most of the talking, with Livvie nodding and adding in her own tidbit every now and then. It was a lot of fun. Well, except when Elly talked about the movie. A painful burst of longing and envy engulfed Livvie. If only she had never gone sledding! It was so stupid of her mother to take her, of her to agree to go. She hated that day with a passion.
But Elly did not dwell on that for long. She told hilarious stories of her toddler brother and of things at Livvie’s old school. Livvie felt such a close connection to Elly. It was the way things were meant to be between them.
For the first time since the accident, Livvie was truly happy.
Friday, January 24th
It had been a long week at school. Livvie was so glad that it was finally Friday. She always took Fridays off of homework. They were her one chance to chill out and not worry about anything.
She wished so badly that she could have spent this time at rehearsal. But maybe this was the way things were meant to be.
She and her mom walked into the house after the drive home from school. Livvie went to go get a snack and hang out at her computer. Her mom was reading the news online in the other room.
Suddenly, Livvie heard her mom gasp, and she practically screamed “LIVVIE, COME HERE!!!”
“Coming!” Livvie responded, annoyed that her mom couldn’t just tell her whatever she wanted to tell her without making Livvie stand up and walk over.
Livvie was shocked and frightened to find her mother in tears. She walked over to the computer and saw the article on the computer:
58 People Killed in Raging Fire
Earlier today, a fire killed 58 people, the cast of the play Young Dreamers. It is unknown what caused the fire. Firefighters appeared on the scene to find that the building had collapsed. No survivors were found....”
Livvie raced back to her room to find her phone. Almost without thinking, she dialed Elly’s number.
“Hi. This is Livvie. Is Elly...” Livvie gulped. “... alright?”
“We should have called you, Livvie. It’s just that... it’s been so hard for me. She’s...gone.”
“Alright. Thank you,” Livvie said, and she hung up on Elly’s mom.
She felt stunned, numb. This wasn’t right. This couldn’t possibly be right. Elly could not really, could not possibly, be dead. It was just something that could not be.
She called Jana and Shia’s parents almost absentmindedly. The calls were almost identical. Livvie had no idea what to think. A pain that her broken leg could have given her no preparation for filled all of her senses. This was wrong, this was a nightmare, this could not possibly be happening...
She curled onto her bed and let the tears stream down her face. She had no idea why this was happening. She didn’t even know what was happening anymore. Time rushed by as quickly as she had on that fateful icy slope...
The slope. The broken leg. She could have so easily been in that burning building. So easily she could have been kilked with her friends...
The thought that would haunt her without rest in the months to come seemed hardly relevant in the current pit of endless despair that she was feeling. There was no escape. Unlike the leg, there was no end. There was nothing except this deep, pain.
She almost didn’t realize when her mother climbed into the bed and held her, singing soft songs, cooing her. It felt so nice to have her mother here, to snuggle in her mother’s warm arms, to think that this day could have been just one long dream...
Livvie woke up warm and happy. It was the weekend!
Slowly the memories of yesterday’s events trickled into Livvie’s mind. She felt as deflated as a popped balloon as the pain flooded her once again.
She stared at the picture Elly had given her the last time she had seen her dearest friend alive. It represented so much.
Why couldn’t she have died for Elly, Jana and Shia? Why couldn’t she have the peace that surely came with death?
Saturday, January 30th
The cruel wind whipped Livvie’s hair. The feeling that she was being eaten by some invisible force determined to crush the hopes and dreams of a lifetime filled her. She was cold.
Everything felt cruel to Livvie. Heat, which was in the fire that had taken her friends’ lives. Cold, that horrible sensation. Loneliness, where she was forced to dwell on what she had lost. Companionship, when she wanted only the company of her friends.
Elly, Jana and Shia were being buried on the same day, next to each other. Their bodies. All that was left was the funeral.
Pain unlike any other filled Livvie as she watched the remains of her friends lowered into the ground.
Slowly she walked up to Elly’s grave and placed the photograph of the two young girls on her body. Did Elly remember anything about her living friend? Did Elly even have thoughts?
Livvie knew that she had been cast in that deadly play, too. How simple it would have been, to have her killed with her friends. Why hadn’t she died?
Because she hadn’t been able to stay in the play. Because she had broken her leg. The one thing that had broken her dream had saved her life.
And Livvie knew that it was no accident that she was alive. Something told her that it was not luck or chance. She had been spared.
Why had she been allowed to live when all of her friends could not? Why was she standing here, watching her friends being lowered into the ground? Why had she been spared?
She could not answer. The only answer that she could find was that she had a reason to live. But that only created more questions. Hundreds more.
Why, oh why, was she spared?
After the funeral ended, Livvie realized something. She could not bear to stay in this city. She could not go to the school that had been Jana and Shia’s. She could not live in the house where she had spent so many long nights talking about the deepest of things with Elly. She could not live in the town where the fire had been.
She brought the matter up during dinner.
“I want to move,” she had told her parents. She had seen her dad glance at her mom.
“We’ll talk about it,” he had said simply.
3 months later, Olivia was living in a condo in Chicago. Unlike that in her leg (she now had crutches), the pain of losing her friends had not gone away. It was lessening. Olivia knew that she was healing. But she was always, constantly, haunted by the same question.
Why was she spared?
Why was she spared?
Why was she spared?
“Why was I spared?”
“I don’t know,” I said softly. Her story was nothing like what I would have expected. If I could have gone back and chosen not to hear it, I think I would have liked not to.
“You promised me you’d give me an answer. That was my condition for telling you.”
“Maybe it was just luck, after all.”
“IT WASN’T!!!” Olivia shrieked. She looked furious.
“You don’t understand, do you? You still don’t understand! It was not luck! I was spared! And I don’t know why! I’ll never know!”
Olivia burst into tears.
I had no idea what to do, how to react.
“I can’t tell you why you were spared. But—I think you have to make it worth it. Prove that you deserve to live.”
I couldn’t believe I had just said that. It sounded so unlike me. It sounded way more like my mom.
“I need to go home,” Olivia said.
With that, she got up and left the room.
Olivia was different after that. She raised her hand in class. She talked a little. And one day, she asked me if she could come to my house.
Slowly, she and I became friends. I got used to when she randomly burst into tears, or had the glazed look in her eye, and her intense hatred of fire. In turn, she was not afraid to come and see me, and never minded my nosiness.
Livvie will always be scarred. She will always feel the pain of losing her true friends. But she will heal. And I think that one day, she will find why she was spared.