*Unedited and subject to revisions
When Olivia exited the elevator heading for her fifth floor office, she didn’t realize she was smiling. Karen from word processing was the first to notice.
“Wow, someone’s in a good mood!” Puzzled, Olivia shook her head and continued on. Peter, who specialized in adoptions, was standing in the door of his office.
“Hey now! Did you get laid last night?”
“Sheffield! Do you mind? Have you had lunch? Was it in a shot glass?” He laughed maniacally as she rounded the corner and nearly collided with Randie, her paralegal. Olivia quickly reached out to catch the files slipping from Randie’s arms.
“I’m so sorry, Randie! Sheffield was giving me a bad time and I…I… well, I walked right into you. Are you okay?” She shuffled the file folders together and handed them to Randie. She accepted the files while giving Olivia a scrutinizing look.
“Did you do something different with your hair? You look different today.” Olivia squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head.
“Did I walk into an alternate universe? Why is everyone acting so strange and what’s so different about me?”
“It’s not a bad ‘different’, Olivia. It looks good on you.” Sighing, she let it go.
“Thank you, Randie…I think.”
Margo Schultz was simultaneously on the phone and Internet when Olivia passed her desk. She held up a finger to get Olivia’s attention and thrust a handful of files and messages in her direction. Olivia chuckled, knowing she had a full afternoon ahead of her. Entering her office, she quickened her step to her desk where she unceremoniously dumped the stack of paperwork and documents. Closing the west facing blinds to block out of the glare of the afternoon sun, Olivia turned up the air conditioning then plopped into her custom-made office chair. She loved that chair. With an extra high back, extra wide seat, cushioned armrests, and built-in massagers from the lumbar all the way to the neck, she didn’t mind the long hours she sometimes had to spend in it.
Kicking off her shoes under her desk, a glance at her desk clock startled her. 1:15? Had she really spent half the day with her newest client? Thinking back over the morning, Olivia pulled out the notes she’d made at the hospital, then grabbed a fresh legal pad and made notes in three columns – ‘Known’, ‘Unknown’, and ‘???’. Getting Rena an appointment for a psyche eval was a priority. Olivia wasn’t sure if it was consciously or subconsciously, but Rena Averest was holding in an incredible amount of emotions. Pain, loss, fear, and even anger were probably waging war inside her, and not knowing how to deal with them all at the same time, she held them all in. Olivia had seen it too many times. She had lived it too many times.
Livvie stared at the wall, willing her tears not to fall. “Oh, sweetie. Please don’t be angry. It will only make you feel worse. Everyone was only thinking of what was best for you”, the nurse cooed. She reached out to touch Livvie’s arm, but stopped short and pulled her hand back. The child met her gaze with defiant glare.
“You wait days to tell me my daddy’s dead, and now days later, you tell me they already had his funeral.”
“Honey, you were so weak, and your social worker said it was best for everyone not to tell you at the time, and just let you get better.”
“What social worker?”
“Your social worker, Mrs. Jenkins.” Livvie’s eyes widened.
“That tall woman with the ugly hair and mean face is my social worker?”
“Livvie! That’s not nice!”
“I only remember seeing her once, and she never looked at me…not one time. I don’t want her to be my social worker!” The nurse sighed heavily.
“Certain decisions have to be made for you right now, Livvie, and since you’re not an adult, the state has to step in and help out.”
“What about my mom?” The nurse looked away and smoothed the bed covers. “She’s still in a coma, isn’t she? And you were not going to tell me.”
Straightening her back and standing to her full height, the nurse’s voice took a firmer tone.
“You have no idea what your body…and your mind have been through, Livvie. As a child, you’re not able to understand how serious this all is.” Livvie pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing from the pain.
“My daddy’s dead, my mom’s in a coma and I have no one. People who don’t even know me get to tell me what to do.” She continued before the nurse could speak. “We don’t have any more family. We only had each other. So strangers buried my daddy, and no one told me. I’m ten and a half, not stupid.” She reached for the child, but Livvie pulled away, wincing again.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye. My daddy’s gone…and I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
“Livvie, I’m so sorry-…” Ignoring the pain, Livvie turned on her side with her back to the nurse, and spoke barely above a whisper.
“Go away. Just go…away.” Livvie exhaled when she heard the door open, then close. The tears she had fought so hard to hold on to, now wouldn’t come at all. She wanted to scream and cry. She wanted her daddy to run into the room and save her. Instead she felt as if the lump in her throat would choke her.
Livvie massaged her forehead slowly and closed her eyes. “Why did you leave me, daddy? I’m so scared, daddy. I need you.” Livvie felt her legs and back begin to throb and knew someone would come to give her medicine soon to stop the pain. The medicine would make her sleep and she wouldn’t have to talk. That thought made her smile slightly and remember another time when she couldn’t talk. She’d had her tonsils removed two years ago, and despite being able to eat all the ice cream she wanted, she still cried because of the pain. Her daddy sat close to her on the bed and rubbed her back.
“It’s okay to cry, Livvie-Lou, everyone cries. But I’m going to need you to work towards being strong for your dad. Too much crying is not good for your throat and I know you don’t want to go back the hospital. And you know how your mom feels about hospitals.” Livvie opened her eyes suddenly.
No. She had no idea how her mother felt about hospitals.
“So are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Olivia jumped at the sound of Margo’s voice.
“I’m used to you zoning out and getting lost in your thoughts. I learned long ago that was standard Olivia Chandler. But when you do it right after walking through the office positively glowing, I have to ask why?” Olivia pulled a face and tossed her pen onto the desk.
“What. The. Hell? Why is everyone acting so weird today? Saying I must be in a good mood, I must have gotten laid, I did something different with my hair!” She sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. “You people act like I’m Oscar the Grouch.”
“Oh, you’re a sweetheart and you know it. Your usual demeanor is just a tad more…reserved.” Margo guffawed. She made herself comfortable in one of the overstuffed office chairs across from Olivia.
“You just called me boring, didn’t you?”
“Did you get laid?” Olivia rolled her eyes at her assistant.
“Really? That’s all you got from my rant?” Margo shrugged.
“It was you who taught me to prioritize the details.” They smirked at each other, then laughed. Margo stretched her arms upwards, then laced her hands behind her head. “Sooooo…the details?”
“Margo! No! Did we not talk earlier? I was with our new client. Remember her? An eleven-year-old girl?” Margo acted as though she was pondering an answer.
“Um, that’s true. But, I called you ‘several’ times before you called-…”
“Stop it, Schultz!” Margo tried to suppress her grin.
“Alright. What’s up with our latest little darling?”
“It’s not good, but it could be worse. Eleven-year-old Rena Averest and her parents were involved in that horrible accident on Morrissey Highway back in June. Her mom was killed, and her dad was gravely injured. He broke just about every bone on the left side of his body, had severe internal injuries, suffered brain trauma, and was in a coma for quite some time only recently coming out of it.”
“Damn! And Rena?”
A concussion and several broken bones, including an ankle and hip. Poor thing had a total hip replacement.”
“Yeah. And you know as young as she is, there’s the chance of having to have the replacement replaced somewhere done the road. Just depends on how active her life is.”
“And emotionally? Mentally?”
“I am concerned with both. She only mentioned her mom twice and both times were about her death. There’s no “I miss my mommy”, or “Mommy always did this or that”. The only time she mentioned her dad was when we first met, and she thought I was there to tell her he had died. She’s blocking a lot or holding it in. She’s also in a considerable amount of pain, which is definitely distracting.” Margo reached and snagged the legal pad and a pen off the desk.
“Okay, boss lady – what are we doing?”
“Lawrence Metzgar for a psyche eval and Daniel Kilgore for a complete physical, ASAP.” Margo frowned.
“A physical? I can’t remember you ever having one done for an accident victim.”
“I never have. Rena is tall for her age, and appears to have lost quite a bit of weight. Not unusual for what she’s been through, but I’d feel better covering all the bases. She has physical and occupational therapy daily at St. Mary’s. I need copies of her COT and her ELOT.” She pushed several forms across her desk. Margo picked them up and flipped them all over.
“Yep. Ever see that before?”
“Nope. What gives?” Olivia folded her arms and leaned on the desk.
“It doesn’t feel right. I’ve seen Family History forms with one name, first names only, not applicable and deceased. I’ve even seen “alive but we’re not on speaking terms”, but totally blank? That’s intentional. Rena and I were having a reasonably good meeting until I asked her about extended family. She shut down on me. Her mom has a brother back east, but he’s too ill to care for Rena, and she wouldn’t likely get upset at the mention of that. Get Louis on that for us, please, along with complete background checks for Duncan and Irene Averest. I also need Rena’s old medical records from her pediatrician. Daniel is going to need something to compare his findings to. Judge Dennison will sign subpoenas for anything we need.” Olivia stood and began to pace.
“Uh oh. That’s your thinking stance.” Olivia grinned, but did not stop pacing.
“My initial meeting with the Bellamys, Rena’s caregiver family, went well. I didn’t pick up on any signs of deception, they’re genuinely concerned about her, and Rena interacts well with them. It’s obvious there was a well-established family friendship prior to the accident. The Bellamys are also Rena’s godparents, so they must have been pretty close to her parents. They have a nice, well-kept home, and both seem very genuine.” She continued to pace.
“They’re not blood relatives, and to my knowledge, there was nothing in writing prior to the accident appointing them guardians.”
“Can the father make that appointment now?” Olivia threw her arms then let them fall to her sides.
“That’s something else I don’t know. I need to meet with him and his doctor to find out his medical and mental state. If he’s not judged competent, we’ll have a fight on our hand with DCS. This could take time, and as you and I both know, DCS could swoop in at any time and take custody of Rena. Once they get her into their system, it will almost take a military coup to get her out.” A mischievous grin slowly spread across Margo’s face.
“You have a plan.”
“Of course I do, but the clock is working against us.” Margo scooted to the edge of her seat.
“What’s the play?” Olivia returned to her chair.
“I still have to complete the Bellamy formal interview, but I don’t see any immediate problems…except their familial responsibilities can, and have changed. Marissa’s mom goes to dialysis three times a week, and while an aunt heals from a small stroke, Marissa is her transportation, not to mention helping them also with their household needs. Rena feels like she’s an added burden to the family. Once I see the Averest insurance and financials, I’m going to see Judge Dennison. He gave this case to me for more than a couple reasons, not the least being he doesn’t want to see this child go into the foster care system. I plan to ask His Honor to let me hire some part time help.”
“Woman, are you nuts? They’re not blood relatives, AND they have to hire help to care for her? DCS will be out for blood!” Olivia leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs.
“How private money is spent is none of DCS’ concern. But just when did I say I was hiring someone to help with Rena? I plan to hire someone to help with her mother and aunt, and while Marissa does not seem like the type of woman to want or need a housekeeper, having someone for a few hours a week to dust, vacuum, and maybe do a load or two of laundry would take a bit of the workload off her. She has more time for Rena, Rena benefits.”
Margo leaned back in her chair. “That’s why it has to be paid for with Averest money and not the county’s. Boss Lady, I’m so glad you use your powers for good!” Olivia laughed easily, but turned serious.
“This child has been through hell. She’s had no time to properly mourn her mother or see and spend time with her father. Her body was battered and bruised and she’s far too young to know the kind of pain she deals with. The very last thing she needs is to have to adjust to a foster family who may or may not care about her and treat with her kindness or compassion. And let’s not forget about the nightmare referred to as DCS. The state made their budget cuts and is passing financial burdens on to counties. It’s only a matter of time before Hennepin County loses more employees, and social workers are always near the top of the cuts list. Keep in mind, these are my plans and this is what I think is best. But I’m not an attorney ad litum, so what I may think is best takes a back seat to what Rena wants.”
“Do you truly believe she wants to go into foster care?”
“No way. But until I’m certain where her head is emotionally and mentally, I won’t try to second guess her. She might feel it’s the thing to do to free the Bellamys from having to take care of her. I’m walking a very narrow path with this one. Did you hear back about the updated docket schedule?”
“Oh yeah. You’re off the hook until Tuesday.”
“Then let’s get to work and make some magic!” Margo stood and headed for the door. She stopped and slowly turned back to her boss.
“Don’t think for one second that we’re not having a discussion about what had you glowing earlier, got it?” Olivia smirked, but silently said a prayer for having someone like Margo in her corner.
“I hear you loud and clear, Miss Marple!”
“The only reason we’re not having that discussion now is,” she took a couple of steps closer, “because this little girl needs us to move our asses and give her our best. And… you have another call you should make first.” Olivia gave her a curious look.
“Just who am I calling?” Her assistant took a deep breath.
“Willis Benson.” Olivia’s face fell.
Why is nothing ever easy?