LATE SUMMER 2009
It's a peaceful night. The insects around her all buzz, letting out low droning noises that mean god knows what in bug speak. A soft breeze has rolled in from who knows where, carrying the scent of pine and dirt and fresh cut grass. Stiles closes her eyes and listens to the breeze play through the graveyard, drifting and chasing. It snakes along her ankles, whispers through the shorn grass.
So Stiles opens her eyes and stares down at the gravestone. It's solid black, with the name CLAUDIA STILINSKI carved into it, almost silvery in the fading light. Beneath her name and the dates, they'd engraved the words Nothing gold can stay. But nothing about her mother had been gold, save the honey-brown eyes that Stiles had inherited.
"I'm sorry," she says again. She's actually lost count of how many times she's said it, but it bears repeating. Endless repeating. "I'm so sorry. I know you were scared. I was just... I was scared too, and I didn't understand, and I'm so sorry I made it harder on you."
And, because it needs to be said — even if she doesn't actually believe her mother will hear, Stiles adds in a near whisper, "Thank you for holding on."
Later that week, in her psychiatrist's office, Stiles crosses her legs and lifts her chin. The office is a soothing place, with wooden blinds on its tall windows, gauzy curtains, and the fact that every wall is lined in books. Not even all the books are about psychiatry or ADHD.
Maybe the calm of the room is why she can say, "I don't want to talk about my ADHD."
Dr. Williams only blinks her green eyes once before she nods. "Was the anniversary any easier this year?"
"No," Stiles says. She shakes her head, her eyes falling half closed, and adds, "I'm tired of feeling guilty."
"Your mother's death," Sarah says, very softly, "wasn't your fault. There was nothing you could have done."
"I could have made it easier on her."
"You were eight years old."
"I could have been a better kid," Stiles snaps. "I get that I couldn't have changed anything, couldn't have cured her. But I still..."
"Have you given any more thought to my suggestion? Turning your grief into something productive?
"I have," Stiles says, and feels a pang at the thought of losing her buzz cut. "And I think I'm ready."
For the first time in seven years, Stiles skips her monthly hair appointment. She can go until she gets ten inches from the nape of her neck.
Stiles has never really been big on the more obvious girly stuff. She wears skirts every now and then, usually some shade of red or a particularly ugly plaid, but she wears jeans under them. She wears nerdy tees under baggy button-downs, doesn't really bother dressing her hair. It's easier to throw it into a pony-tail or a hat, and she doesn't really think of it as her hair. It's for somebody else.
Maybe once it's woven into a wig, it'll go to some adorable little girl with leukemia. The little girl will brush her wig every night, and be happy to have her own beautiful hair, will like having it in precisely the amount Stiles hates it.
But she's not a total tomboy. Sure, Stiles doesn't bother with make-up or piercings or manicures, but she does love pedicures and painted toenails. Her father had tried to sign her up for ballet lessons. She'd taken one look at a bellydancer spinning and spinning and suddenly falling to the floor and chosen bellydance instead, and even if she gave it up for lacrosse, she'd been good at it.
She idly listens to the police scanner while she runs her a hairdryer over her toes and then inspects her handiwork. She's never really thought of herself as having the fine motor control or hand-eye coordination for painting her own fingernails, but this shade of red is delicious. Frankly, she'd probably paint her eyeballs with it if she could.
She's just debating the attempt when Deputy Wojcik radios dispatch and rattles off a string of numbers that sends Stiles running for her red hoodie.
After that, there's a baseball bat, a drive to the preserve, an encounter with her father, and being made to drive home in shame. Her father is so furious they don't speak much that night.