‘I wanted her to fail because I liked being the adventurous one.’
Her thick, permed, ginger hair brushed off her face as she looked up at me, revealing green eyes that were alluring yet so obviously disproportionate to the rest of her face. She was beautiful, no doubt about that, but in an unconventional way; her nose was a little too up-right and pointy, her cheek bones a little too prominent, her jaw line a little too harsh and her lips a little too thin. What was especially odd was how she seemed to emphasise these features; with a thick layer of black eyeliner smudged under her eyes, a chunky silver nose stud pierced through her pasty skin, a dark stroke of blush applied just under her cheekbones, her hair cut in a springy bob and her lips painted bold in what appeared to be the new Clinique Raspberry Glasé that everyone was wearing. She tapped her foot rhythmically on the wooden floor, though not out of nervousness like most newbies.
She wasn’t like any other patient I’d seen; most were meek, plain and boring, with ‘victim’ tattooed across their foreheads. Olivia was different. Wearing a ripped, gold studded denim jacket over a black corseted top that revealed far too much cleavage for someone of only seventeen, paired with leopard print leggings and scuffed ankle length black biker boots, she looked a mess, but owned it in her own way. Leaning forward and looking back down, her elbows on her knees, her head resting in her hands, she went on. ‘I was always the adventurous one. She did everything first because she was the oldest; the path maker, but then I came along and did everything better.’ In the past forty-five minutes Olivia had spoken of little else but her sister. That was the reason she was here, of course, but somehow I was still surprised at the depth of Olivia’s obsession with Emily.
‘I’m not saying she was stupid. She was a solid B student in all the artsy subjects. But she’d always been ditsy. Her mental capabilities definitely matched her hair colour, if you know what I mean…’ She glanced up at me, those cold eyes tracking mine for a few seconds as an almost imperceptible smirk broke across her face. Then she looked back down at her feet. ‘Anyway, Emily suddenly started raising the bar… I don’t know how; maybe she got smarter or maybe I got dumber. I couldn’t keep up with her. And it just went downhill from there…’
Olivia pulled out a packet of Luckies from her skull encrusted Guns N Roses rucksack – typical rock chick – followed by a lighter. She awkwardly nudged the wheel failing three times to ignite it before it sparked a weak orange flame. She watched it and then looked back at me. ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’
‘Do your parents know you smoke?’
‘There are a lot of things my parents don’t know…’ She flicked the cap of the lighter over the flame and tossed it next to her on the brown leather sofa along with the cigarettes. ‘That’s why I’m here.’ She stared at me; I could tell she couldn’t quite figure me out, but she seemed to trust me with her story anyway. ‘Everyone thinks I hate her.’ Shaking off her boots, she leaned back into the comically stereotypical ‘therapist’ couch and crossed her legs while looking around the room I had purposefully kept plain. It was barely furnished except for a few personal touches; some photos here and there, five or six trinkets of bronze fairies with fake rubies that I had collected as a child, my overflowing writing journals, a handful of cassettes and a few novels. I didn’t usually have that much time to read so I only brought my absolute favourites: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Little Women. Every time Olivia adjusted her seating position she inspected my belongings. It seemed as if she half expected them to have disappeared while she was talking.
‘I don’t, you know. I don’t hate her.’ She reached a pale, thin arm over to the pile of cassettes lying on the wooden table by the sofa’s side and picked one up: ‘Take On Me’ by A-Ha. She raised her eyebrow at me. I still don’t know whether she was mocking my taste or appreciating it. She flung it back on the pile. ‘I’ve said I hated her before but everyone’s said that about their sister at some point… You may think you mean it at the time, but you don’t. Everyone should hate their older sisters though. That hate is coded in your genes or in your DNA or whatever. Every little sister has to follow her big sister’s example, but do you know how hard it is when you have a sister who did everything so fucking perfectly?’
Up until this point, Olivia had explained herself calmly, but now she forced her words out, over-pronouncing almost every syllable. ‘She aced basically every single exam in high school, then played the ‘good Samaritan’ card and went on the whole life changing trip to all those third world countries… You know, like Zambia and Malawi… And Yemen. I mean, come on, who goes volunteering in Yemen? And it’s not like she really did any good. Handing out those tiny boxes of raisins to a couple starving kids is hardly going to end world hunger, is it?’ For a second she looked at me as if she expected me to answer, but then carried on. ‘And then she came home and did her BFA at CalArts, got into Yale School of fucking Drama for her MFA and completely blew everyone away there… And then straight out of college, she’s on her own TV show and she becomes this amazing, ‘critically acclaimed’ actress, whatever that means… Everyone thought she was the next big thing; that she was the Meryl Streep of television or the female De Niro…’ She paused, slumping back in the chair. ‘How was I supposed to compete with that?’
Olivia looked around the room again focussing on a photograph of two little girls dancing on a deserted beach that was propped up against some books on the desk behind me. She stood up and walked to that side of the room, shuffling her feet along the concrete floor. ‘I’m not jealous. I’m just telling the truth. She didn’t deserve any of it…’ I turned to face her, but she didn’t look back to me. ‘I worked so hard to beat her, to outshine her like I did when we were kids… Ironic, isn’t it? And now I’m here…’ She picked up the photo and turned it to me. ‘Who’s this?’
‘The younger one’s me and the older one’s my sister. Her name was Hannah.’
‘Yes. Was.’ I smiled at her and then fell back down on my bed. I’d made it very clear from the start that the top bunk was mine, and that Bridgewater was my territory; as long as she realised that, I’d be the perfect cell mate. She didn’t put up a fight, so she must have understood how things worked here. I suppose the other girls had made that clear to her.
‘So, you were the adventurous one too?’
‘Oh honey, everyone here is the adventurous one.’