Lydia was three when she got her first library card. She wrote her name on it in wobbly but determined capitals, and with far more attention than her parents ever paid to anything she ever checked out. They were prepared to invest in her educational development, of course—hence the boxes of Baby Einstein VHS tapes which were gathering dust still in their basement—but the actual process didn't interest them much. Put her down in front of the TV and let her absorb some culture; drop her off in the kids' section of the library and let her pick out what she wanted; whatever, so long as it didn't interfere with their respective work schedules.
The librarians tried to steer her towards chapter books with lots of pastel illustrations and ponies, but Lydia soon learned to sweet-talk them into letting her into the young adult and the nonfiction sections. She'd worked her way methodically through the science and math holdings of the Beacon Hills library system, with detours into their books on women's history and the history of science. Lydia learned about Marie Curie, and the Fields Medal, and Ada Lovelace; read about how Rosalind Franklin had been overlooked and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin had been denied a job and Rita Levi-Montalcini had had to construct a makeshift laboratory in a country cottage.
On the afternoons when her father couldn't get away from work but there was no sitter available, Lydia spent a lot of time sitting in the reception area of his company's offices. Under Miriam's watchful eye, she'd done her homework or read a magazine, but Lydia had also spent time silently watching the people who passed through. Most people weren't inclined to notice a small eight-year-old, swallowed up as she was by the big wingback chairs, and Lydia paid attention to what men in a biotech company said about women, and what the women who worked there said, and the way sometimes the women wouldn't say anything at all but their mouths would tighten.
Once, curious, Lydia had googled her dad's company—a big multinational with offices all over the world and a healthy NASDAQ listing. Its Wikipedia page linked to a report on the company which noted the percentage of its middle and upper management which was female. It wasn't big. Lydia clicked through to the company website and scrolled through page after page of men in bland red or blue ties to find the women. It seemed you didn't get to be a female executive without favouring conservative skirt suits, tasteful make-up and shoulder-length, mid-blonde hair.
There was no glimpse on the website of women like Miriam, or any of the other women whom Lydia saw in the Beacon Hills office—the women who were black or Latina or fat or plain, the women who cleaned bathrooms or worked at data entry in drab cubicles.
Lydia had always excelled at drawing conclusions.
She knew, from reading women's history, how this was supposed to go: she was supposed to realise all of this and get angry and decide to buck the system. But Lydia was eleven, and then twelve, and then fourteen and starting high school—she was petite and pretty and people made assumptions which let her get away with things. And Lydia was eleven, and twelve, and fourteen, and she'd never had much patience for people who weren't her, and it wasn't as if giving up her mani-pedis was going to help anything in the grand scheme of things.
Not much that she could do as a minor in small-town California was going to accomplish anything in the grand scheme of things, and anyway Lydia had always been deeply cynical about the power of Statements. She was far too busy with making sure that her college and scholarship applications were foolproof to want to be anyone's mascot, not when she fully intended on being a leader.
Besides, if she knew it was all just an act—if she was aware of her own intelligence, and the fact that liking pink wasn't a weakness, and that she was just biding her time before she got the hell out of dodge with a full ride to Stanford or MIT—then it didn't really count, right? She was just playing a role, she wasn't buying into any of it, and anyway once she got to college she'd be able to prove herself and it wasn't like anyone was going to give a damn whether she wore high heels to lectures. Logical people just wouldn't think that way.
Except it turned out that sometimes what you thought about yourself mattered less than what other people thought of you. Lydia had spent years ruling over the student body of Beacon Hills Middle School and High School with a benevolent despotism, but it turned out none of that mattered if people thought you were nuts. Be as well-groomed and elegant as you liked, none of that was worth a damn if you had teenage boys snickering at you in the school hallways because they'd all heard the stories about you wandering naked in the woods.
It didn't matter, Lydia told herself then, letting the gazes slide over her, striding down the hallways like she couldn't hear the whispers; pointedly ignoring the way people stared at the ligature marks round her neck; pretending to misunderstand when her guidance counsellor gently slid her draft of her personal essay back across the desk to her and suggested maybe taking a year out before going to college. None of it mattered; none of it should matter. She still spent one Monday morning scrubbing at the door of her locker, trying to remove the words someone had spray-painted onto it.
Sometimes it didn't matter if you weren't playing the game—you could still be caught by the rules regardless.
That evening Lydia went from school to the library to Deaton's office, getting back late to the soulless condo her dad now rented because of his little mid-life crisis escapades. It was her week to stay with him, which meant seven nights of sleeping on a decidedly non-orthopaedic mattress and ordering in dinner because her dad's kitchen contained little more than a box of triscuits and a bottle of Scotch. She hauled her bags and a box of grimoires, newly borrowed from Deaton, into the elevator and up to the condo, where she found her dad sitting at the table in the big open-plan living room. He was peering at something on his laptop screen, phone in one hand and a sheaf of printouts in the other.
"Oh, hey honey," he said absently, not looking up from the laptop. "Dinner's in the fridge, the service just dropped back your laundry. Could you get me some water on your way back? Thanks."
Lydia stood and stared at him for a long moment, trying to assess him as if he were some stranger she'd just met in the street instead of her own father. But it was difficult to do because she kept thinking about how he hadn't even glanced at her. He hadn't seen the valiant job her concealer was doing at suppressing the evidence of three all-nighters in a row, translating a horrifically verbose fifteenth-century Latin text just in time to stop Scott and Stiles from making a really huge mistake. Her dad hadn't noticed the dust on her skirt from hauling old books out of storage, or the bandaids on the back of her hand from when a ritual had called for a banshee's blood; hadn't seen the early acceptance letters sticking out of the top of her handbag.
One of these days, there were going to be books about Lydia shelved in the library, a goad and a caution both. She knew it, even if her dad couldn't see it; she'd get her Fields Medal and keep her pack safe. Lydia Martin was going to be extraordinary; she was not going to be ignored. She walked into her bedroom and set the box of books down on the little dresser there, before leaning in to look at herself closely in the mirror.
One of these days, she told herself firmly, one of these days she was going to scream, and the chances were good that she wasn't going to stop. Her reflection nodded back.