‘These things are evil,’ Stiles declared flatly, staring at the half of her foot that was sticking out through the sheer material of the tights Lydia was trying to force her into.
‘It would help if you tried to slide your foot in and not ram it down the leg,’ Lydia said dryly.
Next to Stiles, Allison had a hand over her mouth and she was shaking from a pathetic attempt not to laugh. Although whether she was laughing at Stiles’ terrible attempt at putting on tights, or Lydia’s reaction to Stiles’ terrible attempt, Stiles couldn’t say.
In Lydia’s hand was another pair of tights and Stiles squinted at them. ‘Where did those come from?’
‘Do you really think that I would assume you would be able to get on pantyhose in one go?’
‘I feel like I should be horribly insulted by that assumption.’ She stretched out a hand. ‘But give them here and I’ll try again.’
This time Stiles eased her foot into the leg, careful to keep her toes pointed, so that she didn’t rip through them. By the time her foot was halfway down she was feeling confident that she’d got it in the bag, but then she felt the material snag on the toenail of her little toe and the inevitable ladder ended with her foot wedged right through the hole and, somehow, her fingers twisted in the material. She tried to pull her fingers free, but instead, she lost her balance and capsized sideways onto the bed. ‘A little help?’
With a snort, Allison produced a pair of nail scissors and cut Stiles free. Lydia was staring at Stiles like she couldn’t believe Stiles had managed to make it to near adulthood without killing herself.
‘I don’t even know how that happened,’ she wailed. She didn’t even have toenails, dammit. They had to be kept short for karate. Free of her nylon trap, Stiles flopped back on the bed and groaned. ‘I don’t know how you two do it. I really don’t. I give up. I’m not wearing tights.’
‘Then we go into the bathroom and shave your legs.’ Lydia waved a pack of disposable razors in front of Stiles. ‘We came prepared.’
Stiles curled her legs up under her. ‘You are not shaving my legs,’ she said, horrified.
Allison handed her another pair of tights. ‘Try bunching them up so you can put your toes in the foot part first,’ she suggested. ‘Then you can pull them up.’
Unlike the previous two pairs, these ones were thick, granny tights and Stiles scowled. But her protest died on her tongue when she saw the quelling look Lydia was giving her.
Bending her knee so she could rest her cheek against her leg, she wiggled her toes to the edge of the bed and bunched up the tights like Allison had suggested. ‘You know, I have put on tights before,’ she grumbled.
‘That remains to be seen,’ Lydia said.
As she pulled the tights up her legs, Stiles stuck her tongue out at Lydia.
Lydia raised an eyebrow. ‘Congratulations. Now stand up before you crease the dress.’
‘I thought you chose this dress because I’ll have a hard time creasing it,’ Stiles said, standing.
‘That’s not the point,’ Lydia said, pushing her over to the mirror where she paused. ‘Stiles, why is your mirror covered with postcards?’
Stiles pointed at the pinboard by her bed, and the one over her desk. ‘Overflow. And it’s hardly covered in them.’
‘Do you think you could clear it enough to be useable?’
‘If you insist.’ Stiles unwedged several and piled them on the floor, at the bottom of the mirror. ‘Better?’
‘Much.’ Lydia positioned her in front of the mirror. ‘Now stand still and let me look at you.’
‘Why do you have postcard overflow?’ Allison asked, standing and crouching down next to postcards. She picked one up and turned it over. ‘Wow. This is from Derek.’
‘Yeah, I know.’
As far as Stiles knew, dad didn’t read Derek’s postcards whenever he got the mail before her and she wasn’t too sure how she felt watching Allison reading the back of a postcard Derek had sent to her only.
Allison flicked through a few others before she looked up at Stiles. ‘Are they all from Derek?’
Lydia paused, lipstick in her hand and glanced from each pinboard to the mirror. ‘Has he even been to that many countries?’
‘He’s been to that many cities,’ Stiles said, eyeing the lipstick in Lydia’s hand with suspicion.
Allison stood, postcards still in her hand and Stiles wanted to tell her to put them down, but Lydia was holding her chin with one hand and applying lipstick to Stiles’ lips with the other.
‘I thought Derek wasn’t sending postcards to anyone.’
‘Nina got a few,’ Lydia said.
‘Well, yeah,’ Allison said. ‘But that’s because your sister is terrifying and she’d have castrated Derek if he hadn’t sent her at least one.’
‘Please,’ Lydia scoffed, ‘Nina would be so much more creative than mere castration.’ She stepped back from Stiles. ‘There. What do you think?’
‘Guys, I’m really not sure about this this.’ Stiles eyed her reflection doubtfully. ‘In fact, I’m pretty sure this is a terrible idea.’
‘Nonsense,’ Lydia said, studying Stiles’ face critically, mascara in her hand. ‘You look gorgeous.’
‘But I feel ridiculous.’
‘That’s only because you’re not used to wearing dresses,’ Allison said, sorting through the pile of discarded clothes splayed across Stiles’ bed.
It looked like a clothing bomb had gone off in her room, when in reality Allison and Lydia had raided their closets looking for clothes for Stiles. In amongst everything they’d managed to find a dress that they both agreed suited her.
‘Yeah.’ Stiles smoothed her hands over her stomach. ‘I’m beginning to remember why I hate them.’
Allison picked up a couple of the rejected dresses. ‘I’m just going to hang these in your closet, Stiles, so they don’t get rumpled.’
‘Mi closet et su closet.’ It wasn’t like Stiles used it for anything other than storing sports equipment and her one good coat.
‘Stand still,’ Lydia told her, smacking her hands away from where Stiles was poking at her lower lip, not used to seeing them such a deep red. ‘And now I have to reapply your lipstick. Stop it.’
Stiles rolled her eyes but remained still while Lydia applied mascara, fixed the lipstick and completed the finishing touches to whatever she was doing to Stiles’ face.
From downstairs there came the sounds of the front door opening, a greeting yelled to dad, and then feet rushing up the stairs.
Erica was flushed and grinning happily when she threw open Stiles’ bedroom door. She paused in the doorway and looked Stiles up and down. ‘Holy crap, Stilinski, you clean up good.’
Stiles took in the tight green dress with the, for Erica, modest cleavage, and felt a little better about the even less revealing neckline on her own dark blue dress. ‘I’m not the only one.’
‘Please, I always look this good.’ She clapped her hands. ‘Are we ready?’
‘Nearly,’ Allison said, standing up.
Lydia packed away the makeup while Allison picked up a light blue cardigan and handed it to Stiles.
‘Well, hurry up,’ Erica said, bouncing on her feet. ‘I don’t want to be late.’
‘We aren’t going to be late, Erica,’ Lydia said. ‘It’s only ten o’clock, and the party goes all day. Calm down.’
‘Talia isn’t going to be be pissed if we’re five minutes late, you know,’ Stiles said, pulling on the cardigan. ‘Especially if you have me in tow. She’s had seventeen years to get used to the fact that I make everyone late. Relax.’
‘Stiles, this is my first Hale party as a wolf. I wanna make a good impression.’
Erica had been going to the Hale Summer Party ever since her family had moved to Beacon Hills seven years ago. She’d always planned to ask for the bite at eighteen, which she’d turned just a few days ago, but in the end her seizures had worsened, and her mom had finally signed the consent form that allowed Talia to give Erica the bite early. It hadn’t surprised Stiles one bit that Erica had taken to being a werewolf with relish. Now Erica was happy and confident and everyone saw the awesome person Stiles, Scott and their friends had always known.
‘You do realise that once Talia’s bitten you, all impressions have been made, yeah? You don’t need to convince her of your awesomeness anymore. She’s been convinced. The proof is in the bite.’
Erica stuck her tongue out at Stiles, who, in a bout of extreme maturity stuck her tongue out as well. At least until Lydia smacked her arm and glared.
‘As much fun as it is watching you two devolve to toddlers, you need to put these on.’
‘What are those?’
‘No, those are deathtraps,’ Stiles said, staring at the strappy monstrosities Lydia was holding out to her.
‘No, Lydia. Seriously. Those are heels. Like, really high heels. I’m either going to fall down the stairs, go over on my ankle or accidentally kick them into someone’s face. Those are a terrible idea.’
‘I told you she’d say no,’ Allison said. She rummaged around on the bed and produced another pair of shoes. These ones without the lethal heel. ‘Here. Try these.’
Stiles took them and eyed them dubiously. ‘I can’t run in these.’
‘Why would you need to run?’
‘I dunno, but if I have to wear a dress, I want to err on the side of being able to run away if I need to.’
‘Nope. I’m vetoing the shoes.’
‘You aren’t wearing your sneakers. Not with that dress,’ Lydia said.
‘Fine. How about a pair of very flat sandals that my aunt sent me last year? I can slip them off if I have to.’
‘Let me see them.’
Stiles retrieved them from the back of her closet, finding them gathering dust under a tennis racket, and presented them to Lydia with a flourish, making Erica laugh.
Lydia narrowed her eyes. ‘Dust them off. They’ll do.’
‘Which is a relief,’ Allison said. ‘I’d hate to see how a shoe-off would end between you two.’
Lydia looked down at her own six-inch-heel shoes and then at the ones Stiles was strapping on. ‘I think we all know there’d be no contest. Now, shall we go?’
‘Finally.’ Erica linked her arm through Stiles’ and dragged her out the room. ‘Derek’s back, you know.’
Stiles had been checking she had everything she needed in her bag, but her head snapped up at Erica’s words. ‘He is? When -?’
For the last four months and three days (not that she’d been counting or anything), Derek had been away travelling, putting space between him and Talia while they disagreed about what he should do now he’d finished college. Which was how Stiles had ended up with an extensive European postcard collection.
‘Either last night or this morning. Talia was yelling at him when I was on the phone with her earlier.’
Stiles started down the stairs and somehow - she couldn’t say how - her foot slipped on the top step and she started to wobble. Fortunately, Erica grabbed her arm and stopped her before she fell all the way down the staircase.
‘I thought flats were supposed to stop you taking a header down the stairs,’ Erica said.
‘No, they just reduced the likelihood,’ Stiles told her with a grin.
‘Well, it failed,’ Erica said.
Lydia snorted behind them. ‘No shit.’
Stiles ignored the mockery thanks to long practice. ‘So, Talia was yelling at Derek, huh?’
‘I don’t think it was anything bad,’ Erica offered, keeping a tight grip on Stiles’ arm. ‘It sounded like she was saying something about dirty socks.’
‘That sounds about right,’ Stiles said. ‘Talia’s been yelling at Derek about leaving his dirty socks lying about the place for as long as I can remember.’ He’d probably been out for a run around the preserve and pulled his socks off in the kitchen, meaning to throw them in the washing machine and forgetting about it in preference to getting juice from the fridge. It was a routine that had entertained Stiles many times over the years.
Dad wandered out from the living room. ‘You girls off to the Hales’ now?’
Stiles nodded. ‘Yep.’
He didn’t say anything about the dress she was wearing. Probably because he’d seen her look of horror when Allison and Lydia had walked in with armfuls of clothes. In fact, he’d patted her shoulder in commiseration as he beat a hasty retreat.
‘I’ll be there after I’ve checked in with the station.’
‘You’re my ride home later tonight, dad, so let me know if you’re not going to make it.’
‘Not taking the Jeep?’
Stiles scowled at Lydia, who smiled in a manner that could be described as sweet by someone who didn’t know her, and shook her head. ‘Apparently driving the Jeep will mess up my clothes, so Allison is driving.’
‘Well, have fun.’
Stiles gave dad a quick hug and followed the others out to the car. Sliding into the back seat, Stiles was actually glad that she didn’t have to climb into the Jeep in a dress. She wasn’t entirely sure she’d have managed without flashing the neighbourhood.
Erica joined her in the back and Stiles couldn’t help but smile at her excitement. ‘Anyone would think this was your first Hale Summer Party.’
‘Says the person whose heartbeat went all haywire when I mentioned Derek.’
Stiles scowled as her heartbeat jumped again and she could feel her face heat up. ‘He’s my best friend. Of course I’m excited about seeing him again.’
Lydia turned around in her seat. ‘Friend. Right.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘You know damn well what it means, Stiles. We all know you’re more than friends.’
‘Guys, we’re just friends,’ she protested. ‘Really.’
‘Uh-huh,’ Erica said, bumping shoulders with Stiles and winking. ‘A friend you want to bone.’
‘That’s so -’
‘Crude, but accurate,’ Lydia interrupted. ‘Don’t lie, Stiles. We’re your friends.’
‘And you know Lydia knows all about being “friends” with a Hale,’ Erica said with a wink.
Lydia turned her icy glare on Erica, but Erica was unfazed, poking Stiles and wiggling her eyebrows.
‘I’m not lying.’
‘Even if Erica wasn’t now a werewolf, we would all know that’s a lie,’ Allison said, glancing in the rearview mirror at Stiles.
‘Even if it is, I’m not talking to any of you about it.’
The crash and burn of Scott and Allison’s own freshman year romance was still fresh in her mind, even if it wasn’t in anyone else’s. Starring in a badly written sequel wasn’t really on her to-do list. Especially if it meant losing everything she already had with Derek.
‘Not even about the fact that Derek’s been sending you postcards?’ Lydia asked sweetly.
Erica squealed and Stiles flinched away from the sound. It looked like everything was dialled up to a ten with Erica for the day. ‘He’s been sending you postcards?’
‘I think it’s safe to say that we’ve established that Derek’s been sending me postcards,’ Stiles gritted out, glaring at the back of Lydia’s head. ‘What’s the big deal?’
‘You mean other than the fact that he hasn’t been sending them to anyone else?’ Erica asked. ‘Because I know he sent one to the house when he first got to France. And he’s sent a few to Cora -’
‘And Nina,’ Lydia injected.
‘And Isaac said Cameron got one,’ Allison added.
Which made Stiles wonder if Allison and Isaac had got over themselves, and were finally dating, or if they were both still dithering about, worrying about upsetting Scott. She knew Isaac was lower on the pack pecking order than Scott, and that dating Allison after Scott might feel weird to his wolf instincts, but Scott was happily dating Kira and would probably be really upset if he knew that he was a stumbling block for them. If Cameron was at the party, Stiles might try her hand at getting him to have a word with Isaac again. If there was anyone Isaac might listen to, it was Cameron. Stiles kind of envied how close they were, and wondered what it would be like to have a sibling who always had your back.
‘But other than that Derek’s been on radio silence, Stiles,’ Erica said. ‘You know that. Laura’s been like a wolf with a sore head about it, so I think it’s fair to say that this is a big deal.’
‘And yet, I still don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Oh, Stiles, come on,’ Erica cajoled. ‘Don’t be like that.’
‘Not. Talking. About it.’ She bopped Erica on the nose, sniggering when Erica recoiled slightly, a look of surprise on her face. ‘Understand?’
‘I believe Stiles isn’t taking questions on the subject of Derek Hale at this time,’ Erica said, rubbing her nose.
‘I’m glad we got that sorted,’ Stiles said, settling back in the seat and watching the houses go by until they thinned out and became trees.
As Allison turned onto the track that led to the Hale house, Stiles pulled at the hem of the dress. It was strange, unnerving even, to have material brushing her knees. It made her feel undressed and vulnerable. But along with feeling as though her skin was on all wrong, there was a kind of thrill to dressing in a way she didn’t normally. Although, if she’d known Derek was back, she probably would have refused the dress. The idea of Derek seeing her in it made her feel weird, especially as it would be the first thing he’d see her in after so long apart.