In eighth grade Brent Cooper calls Lydia a slut and she knees him in the groin because it is the very last straw.
He’s still gasping on the ground, thighs squeezed to his chest, when she gets hauled off to the principal’s office. She tells him about Brent’s rumors, about boys leering and heckling, about eyes, whispers, everywhere.
The principal asks whether she’s tried dressing a little less “flashy”.
Boys can’t help themselves, he tells her. Be the mature one, he tells her, but all she hears is let them win.
Brent is reprimanded. She’s suspended.
The whispers don’t stop, but they lessen considerably.
Aunt Catherine has a collection of antique bisque dolls that Gigi isn’t allowed to touch.
She thinks about them every time a boy smiles at her like she’s William Darcy’s kid sister, every time someone kisses her cheek instead of her mouth, every time she’s offered cold propriety instead of humanity, because Gigi is bone and viscera and flesh. She isn’t some fragile, priceless thing.
George is the first person to see that.
But he teaches her she’s breakable, too.
Adriana Fernandes kisses her in the dim grimy basement of a house party, surrounded by flattened solo cups, and Lydia’s blood jumps. It’s a whole minute before she realizes the pounding in her ears is actually the frenetic bass line of a Top 40 remix, before she hears the sound of cheering.
She touches the stray bit of lip gloss that isn’t hers on her mouth. Adriana nudges her, hip against hip, and grins. Lydia is flustered and she is seventeen, so she laughs along with everyone else, finishes her drink, takes a bow. She is happy and adored and alive.
She goes home with a boy with candid eyes and stunning abs, because he is beautiful. Because he makes her blood pound just as much, and not as terrifyingly.
Gigi and Caroline go shopping when she’s in L.A. for Thanksgiving. It’s one of those afternoons she wants to gather in her fingers and clasp tight. George is history, months-old, ancient history, but sometimes she thinks William and Fitz still see her as the-girl-who-fell-for-him. It’s exhausting pretending some small, sick part of her doesn’t still crave his easy smile, his careless affection.
Somewhere between their third boutique and trying on her fifth cocktail dress she looks over at Caroline, only not really at Caroline: at arched heels and red silk curving and smooth collarbone lines summed into a polished silhouette.
Gigi blinks, pulls a scrap of chiffon between her thumb and forefinger. Her neck feels warm.
Like sunshine sliding over skin.
There is a necklace wrapped in newspaper inside a box under the furthest corner of her bed, and Lydia still can’t bring herself to throw it out. The stone glitters and reminds her of lights in Las Vegas, of the way George’s fingers fumbled with it when he gave it to her, like maybe, just maybe, he actually—
The first time Gigi steps back into the pool, she revels in the way the water curls around her shoulder blades, cool and reassuring. She’s been swimming lap after lap after lap in her dreams, and he no longer fills the space between her bones.
They meet because Lizzie and Darcy are two halves of one whole, and it is inevitable.
When they’re alone Gigi blurts out: “I’m sorry about—”
“Don’t,” Lydia pleads at exactly the same time, shifting, moving her legs closer to herself.
Gigi worries at her lower lip. The quiet settles like wet cement.
San Francisco is practically drowned the first weekend Lydia visits. She spends her Saturday afternoon watching rain slash across Lizzie’s double hung windows.
Lizzie has Gigi and Darcy come by to liven things up, because Lizzie is the only person on earth who thinks Darcy can make an evening more exciting, but they show up armed with Rodgers and Hammerstein and five different kinds of take-out noodles, and the corners of Lydia’s mouth perk up.
Halfway through “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, Gigi leans her head back, stretches a bare, tanned arm easily across the arm of the couch; Lydia watches her move from across the room.
They laugh at the same parts of The King and I, and Gigi finishes the beef and broccoli when Lydia offers, their fingertips grazing over the proffered paper box.
Lizzie turns twenty-six and Lydia recruits as many people as she can because, duh, Lizzie needs an embarrassingly large party.
Lydia’s tenth grade sort of BFF-turned dropout-turned Totally Professional DJ cancels at the last minute and it’s Gigi who saves the day, arriving with an armload of her brother’s confusing audio equipment and, thankfully, her playlists instead of his.
(Her hair is curled in unfair soft ringlets around her face.)
They take turns convincing Darcy to fetch and drink the frilliest cocktails they can think of, they make sure to get both their siblings’ dorktastic dancing on tape for posterity, and when everything gets kind of pleasantly buzzy, they half-grin at each other, uncertain and honest and sweet.
Mrs. Bennet endeavors to pick out Lizzie’s bridesmaid dresses, and Gigi and Lydia come out of the dressing room wearing matching expressions of horror along with the frothy monstrosities. Lydia doesn’t even try to hold back; her snort erupts into a fit of raucous laughter, fingers combing through taffeta and tulle.
She steps closer and rests her palm on Gigi’s shoulder, warm and unassuming, to slip on high heels. Gigi feels rather than sees her regain her breath.
“C’mon,” Lydia smirks over the frilled bow pressed against her clavicle, moving toward the door. “Lizzie’s gonna freak.”
And Gigi follows, thinking about summer sun and nails painted the color of Damask roses beating a sporadic tattoo on her back.
She is so never having a church wedding, Lydia promises herself in the bathroom at her sister’s wedding reception, muffled refrains of “Unforgettable” filtering in under the door. You want a universally acknowledged truth? Lydia Bennet does not do well with tradition.
She tilts her head at her own reflection in the mirror. She’s only had one glass of champagne, but it feels a little like the world is underwater, so when Gigi says something behind her, Lydia turns, pictures a bubble spilling from her lips, doesn’t catch a word. Gigi’s hair is doing that ringlet thing again, dark brown locks winding past her jaw.
They have speeches to make and half a dozen mostly harmless pranks to pull on the happy couple. Gigi keeps staring at her mouth, and when she notices Lydia noticing, she mumbles a question about lipstick shade—
“Punch Drunk,” Lydia answers, and closes the distance between them.
Their lips are clumsy and their hips keep colliding, but Lydia flushes warm, hairline to earlobes, and Gigi shifts and smiles against her cheek.