There’s a cardboard box resting in the corner of Lydia’s closet, strategically hidden behind her long pea coats. It’s in perfect condition, not a single corner bent, sealed shut with a long strip of packing tape. Lydia ignores the dust slowly collecting on its lid, sticking to the ends of the tape. She ignores that the box is there in the first place, most of the time, everything still too fresh and raw.
No one else knows it’s there. She’s made sure of it, her room always warm and heady with the smell of perfumes and lotions and scented candles. Scott can’t stay long in her room without getting a headache, and Kira knows better than to go snooping through Lydia’s belongings.
(Stiles doesn’t, but he also very, very rarely comes into Lydia’s bedroom.)
Lydia has everything under control. She doesn’t have to look at the box or think about its contents, most days. She’s never been very good at policing her thoughts; it’s much harder to root out hurt and worry and loss than it is to project its absence. It isn’t easy for her to ignore how she feels when she’s walking around at school and sees the locker that she carefully stuffed with balloons one day before school, or when she sits in the stands for a lacrosse game all by herself, her sign teetering in the wind because she’s used to another set of hands.
There are things she can do, though, and carefully weeding out every article of clothing that isn’t Lydia’s, the dress that was a little too short that made its home in Lydia’s closet, the denim shorts that were left in the bathroom by accident after swimming, the beanies that always seemed to slip from coat pockets and wind up on the floor of Lydia’s bedroom.
They’re all sitting in that box. Lydia knows she could donate it; the clothes are cute, and someone would appreciate them. She can’t bring herself to do it, though.
Lydia screams for the dying and clings to the dead.
Lydia never accounts for Malia.
She expects that Malia will be deterred in the same ways that Scott is, but Malia’s far more tenacious than Lydia ever gave her credit for. Lydia’s bed is comfortable, and Malia likes sprawling all over it when they trudge through math notes. She says that if she’s going to do math, she should be comfortable, but Lydia suspects it’s really that she wants to have an excuse if she starts dozing off. Malia complains about the smell, but it doesn’t stop her from showing up with her books and her chemistry notes and more highlighters than Lydia thought could possibly fit in a single pencil case.
Lydia realizes very quickly that Malia is actually serious about learning, that she’s trying really hard, and that Lydia’s making it even harder. It’s enough to make Lydia guilty. She appreciates the effort Malia’s putting in; she recognizes that this isn’t easy. Malia’s trying to cram more knowledge in her head than even the average, struggling high school student. She listens to Lydia and asks Lydia questions, and she gets frustrated and impatient, but she’s working at it.
Lydia starts opening a window before Malia comes, so the air is cleaner and cooler. By now, the box is probably so drowned out by the smell of everything Lydia has pumped in the air that Malia couldn’t smell anything different about it if she knew to try.
It makes a huge difference for Malia’s ability to process information, and it makes her way easier to work with. Lydia finds that she can actually appreciate Malia’s bluntness and honesty a lot, when it’s not tainted by grouchiness, and Malia draws out short, surprised laughter more often than she expects.
Malia is endlessly curious and endlessly determined, and Lydia decides she likes her.
One day, instead of having Stiles drop her off, Malia shows up on her own, half-shifted and soaking wet. She tells Lydia the rain was making her antsy and that she needed to run, and Lydia accepts it for what it is. She does not, however, accept Malia dripping all over her carpeting, let alone her bed.
Malia’s body type is different from Lydia’s, and Lydia knows that none of her clothes will fit Malia properly. She offhandedly sends Malia off to the closet to look, anyway, not thinking about what she’s suggested until Malia asks, “What’s in here?”
Before Lydia’s even started to answer, the room’s filled with the sound of sharp nails tearing through tape, and the flaps of a box opening.
“Whose are these?” Malia asks, holding up the jean shorts that Lydia knows were at the very bottom of the box. “They’re my size.”
Lydia feels pinned and transparent when she says, “Allison’s,” and Malia gives her a heavy look.
“Scott’s ex-girlfriend?” Malia asks.
“My best friend,” Lydia replies. She eyes the box of clothes and the jean shorts in Malia’s hands. There’s not going to be much else that will fit Malia, pants-wise, so even though disturbing the contents of the box is the last thing Lydia ever wanted, she doesn’t know that there are actually any better options.
“Try them on,” Lydia says. “You can borrow them.”
They fit perfectly.
When Lydia doesn’t seal the box back up, other items start making appearances, a beanie on Malia’s head or a nice shirt that actually fits Malia better than it fit Allison. Lydia thinks it should make her feel empty, that she should miss Allison more seeing Malia in her borrowed clothes. In some ways, it does.
Mostly, though, it makes Lydia notice more. It makes her think about how much time she spends with Malia, how comfortable she is slowly letting her emotions ease out for Malia to see. It makes her think of how Malia and Allison, in spite of their shared clothes size, aren’t interchangeable or comparable. No one can replace Allison. Allison was her best friend, and she loves her with everything.
The more time she spends with Malia, the more Lydia knows that Malia isn’t simply filling the hole Allison left behind. Malia is unintentionally brash and unapologetic and surprisingly sweet and gentle and gorgeous when she smiles. Malia makes Lydia feel good, smart and in control without having to work for it.
Lydia thinks she may love Malia with everything, too, in a very different way.
Luckily, Lydia doesn’t have to sit on it for long. When Malia passes her algebra final, she kisses Lydia hard, Allison’s beanie pulled haphazardly over her messy hair. Lydia feels breathless and pleased and warm, and although she knows that the physical confirmation that it works doesn’t necessarily mean anything, it’s a nudge in the right direction. It’s enough for Lydia to ask Malia out on a date - a real date, dinner at a restaurant that Malia doesn’t have to dress up for and Lydia doesn’t have to dress down for.
Malia shreds the paper from her straws and glares at everyone that gives them looks, and it’s one of the best dates Lydia’s ever been on. When she strides proudly out of the restaurant, Malia’s hand in hers, she feels happy.
She thinks that Allison would be proud.