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Empire Burlesque

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Summary

Olivia, Caleb, Justin, Sam, and Wren are five best friends seeking one thing: opportunity. For these twenty-something university students, Empire Burlesque represents freedom. An escape from their summer jobs, mundane lives, and overbearing parents. They constantly craved the adrenaline of performing on stage. It was an incomparable high. Each night they played their regular gig, they were adorned by an audience who fed their addiction. However, they craved more. Wren searched for love. Justin craved spontaneity. Olivia sought a second chance. Caleb wanted an opportunity at fame. Sam desired the freedom of self-expression. As the skin-hugging heat of summer rolls into the twinkly metropolis, so does a life-changing opportunity: a highly-publicized national music festival organized by one of the premier music labels in the country. A spot in that festival would kick-start a long and lucrative career for any ambitious, young artist. From the heart of a dark, smoky lounge, EMPIRE BURLESQUE describes the journey of five best friends determined to realize their Rockstar dreams, no matter the casualties and despite jealous competition or old friends with hidden agendas

Genre:
Drama / Romance
Author:
rossapeonies
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

“I’m Going to Kill That Damn Blackbird”

People are nothing if not dreamers. Dreams are the gateway to one’s subconscious desires, so to understand someone’s true wishes, ask them about their dreams. Which dreams are witnessed in full technicolour, which dreams leave a lasting impression on one’s mind, and which dreams were so vivid that they had to be written down moments after gaining consciousness so they wouldn’t be forgotten?

Olivia Flores’ dreams had changed in the past couple of months. What were once endless nights filled with dreams that made it difficult to escape the daily stresses of reality had quickly turned into simple black nothingness. No dreams of fields of flowers, standing on mountaintops or swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

No, Olivia now dreamt of sold-out stadium shows so vivid that she could practically feel the chants of the crowd rattle the foundations of the arena. In these dreams, the crowd would scream for them to perform encores.

Them. Empire Burlesque. A garage band of which Olivia was the lead singer.

The crowd was endless. A sea of people would scream their names. Olivia’s name merging into Caleb, into Justin, into Sam and Wren. In the dream, it would be impossible to make out, but the one thing certain was that the crowd loved them. In this dream, Empire Burlesque had made it. They had gone platinum on their debut album. They had a best-selling world tour. Their dreams had come true.

In this dream, Olivia would stand there, clutching the microphone to her chest, taking in the moment. Her eyes would wander over the white specks of light across the vast arena, desperately holding onto this feeling of exhilaration.

To her left, Caleb Moretti’s mischievous dark eyes twinkled under the bright stage lights. His callused hands hovered over his bass guitar.

To Olivia’s right, Justin Parrilla was breathing hard with a huge grin on his face. His forehead glistened with sweat. One hand clutched his ruby red Gibson guitar while the other reached for the bandana tucked in his back pocket. In the space behind Justin and Olivia, Wren Larson-Shimizu stood behind the keyboard with his hands on his hips as he looked out at the crowd in wonder. The drummer, Sam Nently, mindlessly fiddled with his drumsticks, expertly moving them across his fingers, over and under, as his eyes scanned the stage before him with a satisfied smile.

Olivia’s blood pumped savagely, thumping so loudly through her veins, she could hear it in her ears and feel the pulse beat in her hands. The pulsing increased until, in the background, Olivia could hear music. It was faint but just clear enough that she could make out the words to the Beatles’ Blackbird.

Her phone’s ringtone.

Beautiful dreams must end, and unfortunately, reality is a severe downgrade and certainly not as glamourous.

Passing out on the couch in her living room had not been the plan. She had meant to take a fifteen-minute break from studying for her economics final. She didn’t even want to take a peek at her watch for fear she had severely overslept.

Her eyes were unfocused as she squinted at the ceiling. Her mind was replaying as much of her dream as possible before those small details left her memory. Turning on her side, Olivia made herself as small as possible, reaching blindly for the blanket at the end of the couch to cover herself.

The window peripheral to the couch had the most beautiful view. Her eyes lingered lazily on the white curtains, watching through hooded eyes as they moved slightly from the breeze that had escaped through the crack in the window. Sunlight streamed into the room and covered her legs. It was silent and warm and reminded Olivia of summer. Not a single cloud graced the blue sky. A perfect April day. Mother Nature was taunting her. Telling her to ignore her studying and take a walk.

A walk wouldn’t hurt, she thought, biting the inside of her cheek. She adjusted her head on the pillow, deciding whether she should get up. As if Mother Nature knew the internal debate Olivia had with herself, birds began to chirp outside the living room window.

“Okay,” she said aloud, pushing the blanket off with her feet. Her stiff body protested as she sat up. As she shifted from side to side and stretched her arms over her head, Olivia’s eyes flickered around her still living room, from the beige walls to the tall bookshelf that stood against the wall, filled with decorative and fictional books that her family had collected over the years.

She had been alone for only three days. Her parents had left Thursday evening for the airport to take their honeymoon. Now that both their daughters were in their twenties and more than capable of taking care of themselves, Ilir and Vera Flores felt comfortable taking the honeymoon that they hadn’t had the opportunity to take twenty-five years ago when they married.

With her parents spending the next couple of weeks at their old home back in Switzerland with their family relatives, and her sister Thea, in Los Angeles finishing her Masters, it’s the quietest the house has been in years. The quiet didn’t bother Olivia. In the mornings, she would wake up and go about her morning routine without having to worry about Thea hogging the bathroom. She’d make a small breakfast without her mother worrying if she’s eating enough. And since it was the end of the semester, Olivia didn’t have to escape to the library to get some peace to study, but could freely study anywhere in the house. It had been three days of quiet bliss.

The sound of her Beatles ringtone snapped her back to reality. She had zoned out again. It took her a moment to determine where she had left her phone, before padding across the carpet to the adjacent dining room table where she had discarded her phone along with her laptop and textbook.

“Caleb,” she muttered annoyed, scrolling through his messages.

Olivia

Oliviaaaa

Babe answer your goddamn phone!!! WE HAVE A BAND EMERGENCY

Olive…I know you’re reading these

C’mon! SOS I need to discuss strategy with you. You’re my right-hand woman

After a minute of debating with herself whether she should respond, Olivia gave in to the urge. One glance at her notes and her eyes glazed over.

Aren’t you supposed to be studying?

Caleb shot back a reply within a minute.

Caleb: Done with that. I need you

Olivia: What now?

Caleb: What do you mean what now? We have band shit to deal with. Cosmo and Zane will have my ass if I don’t get a setlist in for our return gig this weekend. Correction: Cosmo will have my ass

Olivia: Hahahaha

Caleb: Not funny

Olivia: It’s pretty funny I just imagined Cosmo trying to manhandle you.

Caleb: I already have those nightmares Olive thanks. Although side note – I’m not sure if anyone’s ever told him that booze and bar food aren’t part of a healthy diet?

Olivia: We’re getting off point. You do realize that you’re the only one who’s concerned about our setlist?

Caleb didn’t reply right away. Instead, less than half a millisecond later, his name popped up on her screen accompanied by the Beatles song that was beginning to grind on Olivia’s nerves.

“Caleb!” she exclaimed, sliding into her seat. “I’m thinking of changing your ringtone to something as disruptive as you. You’ve officially ruined Blackbird for me.”

“I – wait, you had the Beatles as my ringtone?” Caleb laughed in his distinctive rusty voice. “Babe, that’s something you should put for Sam. I think I’m more deserving of a Jon Bon Jovi tune, don’t you think?”

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’ll find something. What do you want?”

“What do I want?” Caleb repeated incredulously. She could hear the sound of footsteps scampering across the hardwood floor before the ungentle slam of the door. “Babe! We are in a crisis and you are worried about studying?”

Olivia sucked in her bottom lip to keep from laughing. “Caleb, what do you want from me? Technically, I’m supposed to be unavailable. Zane and Cosmo were super generous to give us a grace period for our exams so I plan on using every second. You’re forgetting that we still have one more week left in the semester.”

“You miscalculated, babe. We have t minus six days before we’re back on stage at The Margarita Club and I swear Cosmo will have my ass if we don’t deliver him a new kickass setlist. Olive, I have nothing! Wren has gone freaking AWOL ’cause of his damn mystery girl. Justin has conveniently made himself scarce the past three days. My parents have locked me out of our garage studio and I haven’t touched an instrument in an entire week. I’m going mad.”

“Caleb—”

“My parents literally locked the damn garage door. I don’t know if I should applaud their audacity or laugh at their foolishness.”

Olivia couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her.

Caleb sputtered on the other end. “Babe, is this . . . funny to you? Is our band crisis amusing?”

He barely gave her enough time to respond before Caleb set off on another tangent. “Oh—I was brainstorming some possible kickass songs to really vamp up our repertoire and impress Zane and Cosmo. Hopefully, speed up this contract renewal thing ’cause I don’t have the patience for ‘if they, won’t they.’ Wren wants us to go with some more jazzy tunes, but I’m thinking we keep it on rock for a bit more. There are some classics from the 70s that we haven’t played. Olivia, I really think you could pull off Janis Joplin.”

Olivia scrunched up her eyebrows, making a face. Janis Joplin? Her raspy vocals are what makes her songs so classic. There is no way I could pull that off without a minor key change.

“Caleb—”

“Now, I know, you’re going to say that’s teetering into country and blues and you know I wouldn’t touch country with a 24-foot pole, because why should I torture myself? However, she is an icon of 60s rock. I was thinking that if we arrange for Justin to have a solo, it would really give us an edge and bring it more into that traditional rock sound. What do you think?”

Olivia rubbed her temple.

“First of all, breathe. Secondly, Janis Joplin is what you think Cosmo means when he said he wanted more diversity in our song choices?” Olivia asked, scrolling through her unread emails. “I would be open to an arranged version of whatever track you’re thinking, but keep in mind we’ve covered 60s up to 80s rock to the point where, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I’m sick of it. I’m with Wren. Find something a bit more subdued and contemporary. Can we please keep it within my vocal range? I was straining on some of the pieces we performed before the exam hiatus and I feel like Zane and Cosmo are going to notice.” Olivia paused, her eyes sliding across the living room. “But if you’re adamant, I’ll make some key adjustments to the Aerosmith sheet music.”

Caleb was deathly quiet on the other end. Olivia pulled her phone from her ear to make sure she hadn’t accidentally hung up.

“Caleb—?”

“And another thing!” he exclaimed. Olivia could hear the crash of a chair in the background and she had to cover her mouth to suppress her amused snort. “I had to learn from Sam that Wren sent out the sheet music for Aerosmith? This was at the top of Zane’s queue list for this weekend! I’ve been trying to learn this shit by ear until Wren got his hands on it. You’re telling me you had it all along? What the FUCK?”

Olivia groaned, dropping her head until her forehead gently smacked against the glass table. “Seriously?” she said quietly after a moment.

Caleb let out a long exhale, causing noise over the receiver. “I’m stressed the fuck out Olivia.”

“I know, but one thing at a time, okay? Wren sent over my part Friday. I just forgot. I promise I’ll bring it over tomorrow.”

“Fuck tomorrow. I need it now.”

Olivia said back up. “Can you relax for two minutes? The only new piece Zane wanted us to perform on Friday is Dream On. We already discussed that we’d be performing songs from our old repertoire to fill up the rest of our slot. Now breathe. Everything has been planned.”

Caleb clicked his tongue over the receiver. “They haven’t extended our contract, Olivia. We’re signed on to play until May. That’s next week. I don’t have a fucking backup plan! We need the money from this gig. I can’t go back to how it was. Playing empty clubs. At best, three or four people watching us. Giving my heart and freaking soul to a song, praying that the stage underneath me won’t collapse. Don’t get me started on those harsh as hell stage lights which, for some reason, everywhere we went, made that annoying buzzing sound. And then, if that wasn’t enough, at the end of a gruelling gig, the owner of the bar would refuse to pay more than fifty bucks. Screw that. I refuse, Olivia.”

Olivia sucked in her bottom lip. Caleb tended to curse a lot when he was stressed out. Exclamation points were also commonly used in times like these. “Yeah,” she sighed. Olivia didn’t need to be reminded of what used to be their never-ending cycle of heartbreak before booking The Margarita Club. She knew the stakes of their come-back performance this weekend. Their bosses paid them quite handsomely. It was the only way she and her bandmates had been able to afford their university tuition.

“There is so much riding on our come back this weekend and these fucking exams are just getting in my way. I can’t wait for this semester to be over.”

Olivia shifted to sit cross-legged on the chair. “We’re one of their biggest money-makers. Sherri works the bar all night and she’s never had anything terrible to say about patron feedback. You’ve seen how the crowd reacts to us. They love our shows.”

Caleb grumbled incoherently over the line.

“In the meantime, you can’t think about it. You need to study. You have a GPA to maintain.”

“Yeah,” Caleb sighed softly on the other end. “I took one look at the lecture slides and concluded I’m fucked.”

Olivia smiled, leaning her chin on her hand. “Didn’t Sam give you his notes for your exam on Tuesday?”

His voice noticeably lightened; a teasing tone had subtly slipped in. “Sam’s notes are shit. His handwriting is horrible. Chicken scratch more like it. It’s worse than mine, which is saying something.”

“Well,” Olivia mumbled, clicking around on her laptop. “At least you’re self-aware.”

“At least,” Caleb chuckled. “Hey, do me a favour and text Justin and let me know if he responds? I think he’s purposefully ignoring my calls just ’cause he doesn’t want to be involved with band shit which is freaking selfish of him. Excuse me! Do I look like a secretary?”

Olivia fought back a laugh. “Are you saying Justin is purposefully ignoring you? Because he likely is. You know you get snappy when you’re stressed.”

“Pfttt, Parrilla is a fucking snake. He had no problem showing up yesterday to my soirée but slipped out the door just when I actually needed him. We were supposed to meet up Friday evening and he bailed on me like a ditchable prom date. Didn’t have the decency to text me.”

She cleared her throat, still smiling, “Um, we were working Friday at the lab all day. He was teaching back-to-back guitar lessons all afternoon yesterday at the community center. I taught piano all morning and caught him as he was coming in.” Olivia paused, looking up across her still living room. The wooden clock on the wall quietly ticked away the seconds of the afternoon, reminding her of all she had to accomplish today. “Wait. What soirée?”

Caleb snickered on the other end. “You don’t know.”

Olivia leaned both elbows on the class table and adjusted her grip on her phone. “No, so can you tell me?”

“So, Michael Renos and I were talking the other day and—”

Olivia bit the inside of her cheek. “I love Michael, but anytime you two come together, you form one brain cell and it’s always one that demands something outrageous.”

“Just listen!” Caleb laughed. “We have big plans for the summer.”

“Alright,” Olivia said, leaning back. “What did your one brain cell advise this time?”

“So, we got to talkin’, right?”

“Mhm.”

“Well, we were thinking . . . since your parents are going to be away, and you have the house all to yourself—”

“I already know what you’re going to ask, and the answer is no.”

“—that we can have a backyard party?”

“My house is not going to become your bachelor pad this summer, okay? No way.”

“Olive!” Caleb whined.

“Nope.”

“But Michael and I are planning the wildest shit. And you have the best backyard. What about a pool party?”

Olivia let out a laugh, shaking her head softly. “Caleb, I don’t have a pool!”

“Michael has a huge inflatable one! Don’t worry, I’ll plan it all to the last detail. All you have to do is say yes.”

“No.”

“Babe!”

“Caleb!” Olivia laughed. “My parents are returning in June expecting that the house didn’t burn to the ground.”

“Youth is wasted on you Olive. You need to live it up!”

“Can you stop being such a smartass?” she asked, readjusting her position, crossing one knee over the other.

“That’s like asking me not to breathe. It’s natural. Just let it happen Olive.”

Olivia laughed. “You’re not breaking me down on this Caleb.”

“Well, it was worth a shot,” he sighed.

“Don’t tell me you mentioned Michael only to soften me up to your ridiculous pool party idea.”

Olivia could sense his smile when Caleb replied, “You wound me, babe.”

“Yeah, well your ego could use a little bruising,” she teased. “Now, what soirée?”

There was shuffling on the other end as Caleb moved from his desk chair to lie on his bed. “Rivi and Malcolm came back from a semester abroad in Australia and there were . . . developments. Speaking of friends rudely going on trips without me. Have you talked with Dawn and Amanda?”

A slow grin spread across Olivia’s face as she leaned back against her chair. “Hmm.”

“What?” Caleb replied, a defensive tone slowly slipping in.

“Nothing, it’s just a bit curious. They left last week,” Olivia said with a nonchalant shrug, smiling knowingly. She leaned forward to search for Sam’s typed-up notes saved on her computer. He had sent them to her as a precaution, knowing that Caleb would eventually ask.

“So?”

“So,” Olivia drawled. “Manda gave you the breakdown of their road trip. They’re not coming back ’til mid-May.”

“Can you ever just answer a question?” Caleb sighed. Olivia could practically feel him roll his eyes.

“Last I heard, they were in Washington D.C.”

“Okay cool. Thanks.”

Olivia sucked in her bottom lip, holding back a laugh. “Sure.”

Caleb was quiet on the other end. After a moment of silence, in which Olivia made no effort to hide her glee, Caleb exploded. “Fuck! What?”

“Nothing! I swear.”

“Alright.” Caleb was quiet. “I’m just asking out of the goodness of my heart.”

Olivia fought back a snort. “Alright.”

Caleb was quiet. Olivia could tell he was getting restless. “You know nothing is going on between Dawn and me.”

Now, that Olivia found hard to believe. After years of watching her best friends dance around their feelings for each other, she knew better. “Alright, whatever you say.”

Caleb was quiet on the line, but she could feel his smile.

“Check your email by the way,” she added.

“You know,” Caleb added, clearing his throat, feeling a bit too vulnerable for his liking, “I can feel the judgment over the phone, right? You’re gonna be waiting a long time for that heart-to-heart, babe. I don’t do chick flick moments.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. A teasing tone slipped into her voice. “Well, I was going to say you’re a hypocrite, but I thought you already knew?”

“You know the rules. No personal shit in the band. I’m just trying to uphold my side of the deal.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but you and Dawn are best friends. It’s already personal,” Olivia pointed out.

“So is Sam,” Caleb shot back.

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Sam’s in the band.”

“I’m just saying I don’t want to worry about my best friends eyeing each other in the middle of a set.”

Olivia scoffed. “I guarantee that’s not going to be a problem. Nor has it ever been for the past several months since we started dating. Besides Caleb, have you seen yourself flirt?”

He scoffed on the other end. “That’s beside the point.”

“Well it wasn’t when you couldn’t stop giving your pathetic ‘do-me’ eyes to both those girls you brought in last December and in February. Apparently, the first didn’t want to spend New Years’ alone and the second didn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day alone. Could you be more predictable? We’re supposed to put on a show for the audience, not your hookup of the week.”

Caleb was silent on the other end. Olivia raised her eyebrows waiting.

“Fine,” he finally conceded. “I’m sorry. It’s just that Justin and Wren already gave me so much shit for Dawn before she and Manda left for their road trip. Something about puppy eyes?”

“Well, that’s because you got all clingy on her,” Olivia explained with a small smile. “Doting on her. Giving advice and reassurances. Making her promise you things. Justin was right. You totally lost your cool, Caleb.”

“She and Manda will be all alone ’kay? Just making sure she remembers some of her street smarts. Nothing wrong with that.”

Olivia nodded. “No, you’re right, nothing wrong with that. But you definitely showed that you cared for her more than you claim to do so.”

“Oh c’mon. Now you too? Hell no. To set the record straight. I am not attracted to Dawn and we will not date,” Caleb shot back, emphasizing the last word. “So, unlike you and Sam, it ain’t personal. You can quote me on that.”

“Well, yeah, we know you’re not dating Dawn,” she replied in a sing-song voice. “The whole world knows you’re secretly dying to.”

Caleb scoffed. “Babe shut up.”

Olivia laughed, leaning her chin on her hand. “Why are you being so defensive?”

“I’m . . . not!” he protested. “Fuck, I’m over this. You know what, instead of grilling me, maybe you should turn some of that attention towards Wren.”

Olivia sat up. “Wren? Wait, is this that mystery girl drama you mentioned?”

Caleb’s voice hitched, noticeably excited. “He hasn’t said?”

“No,” Olivia said, furrowing her eyebrows. “Which, now that I’m thinking about it, is insulting. We talk about everything. It’s not bad right?”

“The word ‘bad’ is subjective here babe. Good for us. Bad for him,” Caleb laughed. “I’m officially calling an intervention.”

“No!” Olivia exclaimed, hand falling on the table, while the other gripped her phone to her ear. “No intervention. No emergency band meeting. I need to study.”

Caleb groaned. “Why are you so studious? Can you just come over, please? You’re my right-hand woman. I can’t do this without you. Besides—oh damn, I owe you big time. Are these Sammy’s notes?”

“He typed them up and sent them to me. I had an inkling that you were procrastinating because that’s what you always do around exam season.”

“Babe, you know me too well and I think I should be scared.”

Olivia’s face contorted in amusement as she leaned back in her chair. She tucked her phone against her shoulder and dropped her hands in her lap. “Did it really take you that long to open your computer?”

Caleb shrugged on the other end. “I read chapters all day. I’m exhausted. This is the first time I’ve lied down.”

“Liar.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. The squeak of the mattress pushing into the bedframe jumped through the receiver as Caleb lay down. “Although I have done real schoolwork today. You’d be proud of me. Also, Sammy is a fucking snake. I knew he had them. He was just playing dumb with me. Unbelievable.”

Olivia bit the inside of her cheek, pulling at a loose piece of thread that had unravelled from the hem of her sweats. “Be grateful he even had the time to type them up. His dad is making him work long hours at the hotel outside of class.”

Caleb shook his head. “His freak-control parents are driving him crazy. Sammy hasn’t even finished the semester yet and they have him running around hotel operations like a puppet on a string.”

“I feel for him,” Olivia pressed her hand to her cheek. “We’ve texted a bit, but they’re going through some internal management shift, so his dad wants him onsite as much as possible. I haven’t seen him in three weeks, Caleb. I don’t know how I can help him. He refuses to accept anything sometimes.”

“His pride will kill him. So will his stubbornness,” muttered Caleb. “Listen, I think he just needs you, Olivia. To hold you and talk to you. He wants you to support him and tell him what he wants to hear. I mean, that’s what I’d want if I was in Sammy’s position.”

Olivia paused, her eyes focusing on the flower vase in front of her as she processed Caleb’s words. Although she knew this, somehow hearing him say it helped give her some perspective.

“Babe take it easy on yourself too. I know I joke about you two as a couple, and you know it comes from a good place, but the truth is, this is your first genuine relationship. You’re not going to be able to do everything perfectly, but you’re trying, and I know Sam sees that and I know he appreciates it.”

“Yeah,” Olivia exhaled slowly, nodding. “Thank you. It helps to have a guy’s perspective sometimes.”

“This shit with his parents has gone on long enough. He’s turning twenty-two in August. He can’t keep taking orders from them. He hasn’t known peace since he started his training program at his parent’s hotel management office. I’m just waiting for the day he finally wises up and whisks you away somewhere where his parents don’t dictate everything he has to do.”

Olivia laid her chin on her hand, her smile slowly fading. “Sam is figuring it out, Caleb. Take it easy on him. You know how his father is. The family business means everything to him. Besides, even if I wanted him to, Sam isn’t going to ‘whisk’ me away anywhere. Not as long as his parents have anything to say about it.”

“Babe, that’s what I’m saying. I love Sammy like a brother and I want the best for him, but the man has to understand that he can’t blindly follow his parents’ word for the rest of his life. It’ll bite him in the ass one day.” Caleb cleared his throat and lowered his voice. Olivia swallowed hard, her eyes tracing the sunlight as it cast shadows across her living room carpet. “You never heard it from me, but I swear Sam’s dad is up to some shady shit. He just looks like he knows something. I met the man one time and was left with a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t know how you put up with it.”

Oliva sucked in her bottom lip. “Sam’s father is alright once you get to know him,” she insisted, although this reassurance was partially for her benefit as well.

She had met Sam’s parents no more than four times in the past two years with varying levels of success. Despite Sam’s reassurances that everything had gone alright, Olivia was always left with a pit of despair in her gut after each meeting. She hated that feeling. Every time Sam would mention his parents, she was reminded of his father’s indifferent stance and his mother’s smile. A smile that never seemed to reach her eyes anytime Olivia was in the room.

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