Turn My 6's to 9's
A truth universally acknowledged
AN: Rated T for drug related themes and some romantic smutty/fluffy bits
The insides of her eyelids were glowing red and the sun was so warm on her face as Beth floated in the pool. She opened her eyes and tilted her head to look up at a sky that was blue and stretching endlessly, filling her whole field of vision. There were no clouds, and the sun beating down on her was steady and hot. She could feel her skin radiating its heat, and she could smell the chlorine and the sunscreen. The cool water felt nice on her toes as she dipped them in.
The first week of summer break was wonderful, and she should have been happy, but she was bored. She couldn't shake the nagging feeling that she was supposed to be doing something- like she'd forgotten to take a final exam, or fill out the paperwork for graduation, but it was all done. Still, the looming sense of something not-quite-right wouldn't leave her head.
She could still remember vividly walking out to the mailbox early one morning in the spring to find the letter, the one she had been waiting for from Pemberley University telling her she was accepted. Prestigious Pemberley: the thought of acceptance there had made Beth's fingers shake as she ripped open the letter. And she still felt the excitement and the anticipation knowing that she would be going there in a few short months, but the summer stretched endlessly before her, and for once, she wasn't pleased by the idea.
Behind her, she could hear her older sister laughing with her boyfriend, Charles. Beth spun herself around to look at them. His auburn hair was slicked back with pool water, his short-sleeve button up was open all the way, exposing pale skin, and new freckles covered his knees, arms, and cheekbones. He was splayed out in a lounge chair, but his arm rested around the back of her sister's chair, and they had pulled the chairs as close together as they could. Her sister, Jane, was covering herself in another layer of sunscreen, and Charles watched the process with goofy and devoted attention. Beth had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. She was happy that her sister had found someone who treated her well and was so free with his affection and compliments, but the pair was a little ridiculous. Still, there was absolutely nothing bad that she could say about Charles. And they were using his pool, after all, and the fully stocked fridge in the pool house, so what wasn't to love?
"How's the water?" Jane called as Beth did an easy backstroke to the edge of the pool at their feet and hung there by her elbows, brushing her dark hair out of her eyes. "It's perfect. Charles, where have you been all our lives?" she called out, melodramatically.
"15 minutes away," was his pragmatic answer.
This was true, as their families both lived in a metro area of D.C., and neither Jane nor Charles had gone far for college.
"I'm still amazed that out of the thousands of freshman students that somehow we were paired together as lab partners in Biology. It was fate, wasn't it?" Jane asked, switching into a tone that Beth had never heard her sister use before she met Charles, but that she was becoming increasingly familiar with. When things really got going, Jane and Charles would both alter their voices into a kind of couple-speak that was difficult to witness.
"Definitely lucky!" Beth called, trying to distract them from each other. "And it's good that you met in college. I don't know any couples from our high school that are still together after graduation." This included Beth's own most recent relationship, but that was nothing to mention in front of Charles.
"I wish I had known you in high school," Charles said to Jane as he squeezed her knee with affection. "But then again, the St. Agnes kids don't get out that much. I don't know when we ever would have run into each other."
Which was the nicest way to say that they came from very different economic backgrounds. Jane didn't seem to notice anything in the comment, and Beth tried not to feel the slight, but she and Jane had both gone to public school while Charles had attended the prestigious local prep school that cost $50,000 a year, and that was the real reason they had never crossed paths. St. Agnes was populated with students from old money and top athletes on full scholarships, neither of which applied to her or Jane.
Beth's high school experience had given her little love for jocks, and she had heard rumors regarding an underground society at St. Agnes with a notoriously dangerous (and certainly illegal) induction ceremony. Although she didn't spend her free time thinking about the private school, she felt annoyed whenever it came up; here was another example of privilege in action. She wanted to say that the expensive price tag didn't necessarily make it a better school or a better experience, but she didn't want to make Charles feel uncomfortable, so she settled for a joke.
"Too busy doing blood sacrifices with that secret society to cross paths with the Bennet sisters."
"Nobody ever would explain to me what all those sheep were for..." Charles said, feigning a dawning understanding. "You're right that Agnes is a weird place, and in a lot of ways it's outdated. And obviously a total waste of money on my parents' part because Jane is smarter than I'll ever be," he finished gracefully. "And you too, Beth."
It was hard to feel any resentment after that.
"It's different than you expect; when you get there you'll see," Jane said, knowingly. Beth was sitting in her sister's room after dinner, sharing some of her worries about her upcoming semester at school. "I was so worried that I'd have no one to talk to, that I was going to be that dumb homesick freshman girl. But there's always your roommate and the people on your floor. I met a lot of people in my classes, too. At first, I was so worried that no one would like me. But college won't be like that for you."
Jane was looking especially beautiful, fresh from the shower with her chin length blonde hair wild over her head and her delicate features flushed from a day in the sun. Her kind eyes were warm with love and hope for her younger sister. Beth couldn't believe that someone so beautiful had ever felt these worries or insecurities. Everyone loved Jane, and Beth most of all. To hear from someone that she admired about their anxieties was both eye-opening and comforting. Perhaps part of Beth's worry was the idea of leaving home and moving across the country to where she didn't know anyone.
"I know you didn't feel like high school was a challenge. Think of it as an opportunity to finally take classes that interest you and have teachers that really make you think," Jane suggested. "The whole point of the first year is to explore. It's not like you can make a mistake in picking a class." That point hit home, too. Beth's senior year had left her feeling so bored, and she couldn't wait to prove herself in a new environment. A new challenge always motivated her. The idea that she didn't have to know right away what she wanted was comforting. She relaxed as she sat cross-legged on the floor in Jane's room. Jane always knew what to say.
"And you might just meet someone special," Jane said with a knowing smile, obviously thinking about her own experience with Charles.
"Ew, who would ever date a loser like Beth?" Their youngest sister, Lydia, had stuck her head into the room, overhearing Jane's last sentence. Headphones dangling from her neck, she stuck out her tongue at them and then let out a high pitch giggle as Beth grabbed the nearest pillow and threw it as hard as she could at the door. The door slammed shut, but they could still hear Lydia laughing in the hallway.
"Do you think mom and dad would mind if I murdered her?" Beth asked as Jane laughed.
Jane just shook her head. "She'll age out of it, you'll see. She's only 15."
"That's one thing to look forward to, anyway. Getting away from her."
The two sat quietly for a moment, and Jane had a faraway look on her face. "I hope you do meet someone special, Beth. It's so...I can't explain it. I've never felt like this before. Charles is so great, and when we..." Jane looked swiftly at the closed door before continuing in a whisper. "You know. I just feel so close to him. It's amazing."
Beth knew that Charles was the first person Jane had slept with, and that Jane was usually too shy to talk about such things with anyone. Beth smiled wickedly.
"He's better than anyone else you've dated before," Beth said pragmatically. "What was that one guy's name...Brad! God, do you think he's reached liver failure yet from all those creatine protein shakes?"
Jane burst out laughing. "What was I thinking?"
Beth smiled, still teasing her sister. "I think you were thinking about his perfectly muscled arms, to be honest. But Charles is very kind, which is even better. I haven't seen him drink any nutrition shakes yet, so I think you're safe."
Jane laughed again before her expression turned wistful. "He's so great, Beth. Really. I can't imagine being with anyone else."
"Getting laid will do that."
Jane looked momentarily outraged, but Beth just waggled her eyebrows.
"Was it like that with you and Ben? Did being physical change the way you felt about him?" Jane continued seriously, and Beth made a purposefully awkward face, thinking back to her ex-boyfriend. She'd broken up with him a month before, and he was the first person she'd slept with.
"No!" She laughed at the idea. "It was..." She searched for words to describe the experience, finding herself whispering despite the closed door. "It was fine. I don't know. He was a really nice boyfriend, but...I didn't feel any different about him afterwards." She shrugged and held up her hands, trying to come up with more. There had been a lot of fumbling on both sides. It was over much faster than she had anticipated. What she remembered most was the thought that she didn't understand what all the fuss was about or why people went crazy over sex. They had only slept together twice before she ended it, and she hadn't missed him afterwards. Whatever it was that Jane was describing had not been her own experience.
"Did you two ever say 'I love you'?" Jane asked, and Beth shook her head, realizing what must be on her sister's mind.
"Are you in love with Charles?"
A flush crept across Jane's cheeks, and she nodded, whispering again. "But I don't know if it's too soon, or if I should wait for him to say it first. I don't want to come on too strong and scare him off. I like him so much."
She looked so genuinely worried, but Beth had no idea what her sister was experiencing. Her last relationship was miles short of love.
"It's a bit like the blind leading the blind here," Beth began, trying to offer support. "But I don't think it's ever a mistake to tell someone how you feel about them. Charles must be in love with you, too. Why else would he let us both use his pool all summer?"
Jane smiled sweetly and gave her sister's hand a squeeze. "Maybe he has a friend for you!" Jane suggested excitedly, and Beth's mouth curved into an amused expression at the idea of it. Good, sweet Jane, always thinking about others.
"What can I get you?" the man in the food stand asked. He was wearing a soiled white apron and a frazzled expression. Strangers around her kept jostling her arm, pushing as they walked by, and she had to practically shout to be heard over the din of trumpet and saxophone and the voices of the crowd behind her. It was the 4th of July celebration, and the downtown square of her small town was overrun with people. The town went all out, with a Ferris wheel, children's rides, and food trucks prior to the fireworks in the evening.
"A lemonade!" Beth yelled. She wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead, simultaneously feeling the tiny trickle of sweat that ran down her back. Her shorts were an old pair of cut-offs, fringed at the bottom from frequent washing and extra comfortable, and she'd paired them with a simple tank top. The sun was getting to be low on the horizon, but the air was still unbearably humid. She wondered again, for the millionth time, who decided to build a major city and metro area in a giant swamp. Thanks, founding fathers.
He came back with her cup, and she handed him a few crumpled bills, dropping one into the tip jar for good measure. It was hot outside; she couldn't imagine what it was like in the truck.
She waded through the crowd, trying to find a space where she could see the jazz band. They sounded good, much improved from the barbershop quartet they'd had last year. The brass section was dancing as they played, and the lead singer sashayed across the stage, wearing fringe and sparkles, belting out high notes with ease. Beth took her first sip of the lemonade, closing her eyes in happiness. The cool, tangy sweetness was exactly what she had needed.
Adventurous couples were doing wild, swing-type dancing in front of the stage. Farther from the stage, parents held the hands of their small toddlers who bounced and hopped along. She'd come to the festival with Lydia and Jane, and she'd managed to lose both. She continued scanning the crowd. Young families with strollers had children running freely around them, college students home for the summer were drinking beer out of plastic cups, older adults were in folding chairs on the sideline, a sleazy pair of middle aged men were eying a group of teenage girls.
Beth rolled her eyes as she saw Lydia in that group. As usual, Lydia's outfit was questionable at best, but she was dressed the same as all of her friends. Beth wasn't surprised they were attracting attention. Lydia's shorts were so short that the pockets hung out farther than the hem. Someone had bought them a beer, and they were all sharing it, laughing loudly, ignoring the music. Cell-phones out, they were taking selfie after selfie, all duck faces and peace signs.
Beth struggled not to judge them. They had deep tans and full make-up despite the heat, with lips plumped and over-lined to the max. Beth had not been that type of girl in high school, and she was relieved to have graduated; she never had to see any of those girls again if she didn't want to. She never had to sit through another class, bored out of her mind, listening to the Lydias of the world try to talk their way out of learning something. She hoped that Pemberley might finally give her the chance to meet people more like herself.
Her fingers were damp with condensation from her drink, and she ran them over the back of her neck, trying to cool herself. Not too far away, a blonde with a bob haircut ran her hands through her hair, and Beth recognized her sister, deep in conversation with Charles. She watched as Charles leaned in to say something, and her sister laughed with a hint of pink tingeing her cheeks, giving him a wicked look from under her lashes as his hand ran over the small of her back. Charles mooned over her in a way that was borderline ridiculous, but Beth couldn't blame him. She'd had her whole life to get used to Jane. In the fading sunlight and in her loose sun-dress, Jane was luminous despite the weather.
As Beth approached, Jane walked away in the direction of the bathrooms. Beth paused and considered following after her, but it made the most sense to keep walking toward Charles. Approaching from behind, she noticed for the first time that Charles had a friend with him. Beth could only see the straight line of his shoulders and the wavy dark hair on the back of his head, or occasionally the side of his face. He was their age, but he had to be Charles' friend because she'd never seen him before. She hadn't noticed him because he had been standing an awkward distance from Jane and Charles.
She had to resist the urge to yell "Boo" as she walked up behind them, but their conversation killed the greeting on her lips. His friend's voice carried, deep and clear, as Beth stopped behind them.
"Special...just like all the others were special?"
"It's not like that this time. Jane is the best thing that's ever happened to me. It's not like before," Charles repeated with feeling. His friend was facing forward so it was harder to hear this time, but what it sounded like was: "Right. You said that about Kelsey too, you know."
Brow furrowed, Beth stared at the back of this stranger's head in disbelief and growing dislike. Who the hell was this guy to know anything about her sister's relationship? But the longer she stood there, the more awkward it would be when they noticed her. And, like most eavesdroppers, she found she didn't care for the conversation.
She tapped Charles lightly on the shoulder, mustering the best smile she could under the circumstances. He started, and she noticed the faint blush on his cheeks, but then he was nothing but warmth and happiness to see her.
"Hey! Beth, we were looking for you earlier. Your sister just ran off to the bathroom." He tapped his friend on the arm, and said "This is my friend, Will Darcy. He lives in the city, but he's visiting me this weekend."
Of course, he's handsome, Beth thought in annoyance. Physically, he was exactly her type too, which made it worse. She wanted to dislike him—not be attracted to him. He was taller than Charles and all long legs and broad shoulders. He had dark, unruly hair and a mouth she thought would be sensuous in a different context.
His handshake was nice. Warm, solid. She noticed for the first time how pretty his eyes were. Green and not what she'd expected before they made eye contact.
Then she wasn't noticing anything because the silence dragged and dragged. Normally, she would have made some effort, if only to make a situation less uncomfortable for herself, but she wasn't feeling very generous after Will's previous comment about Jane. And another part of her was dimly impressed that someone could be this socially awkward.
"She's Jane's sister," Charles said when the silence became too much for him. He didn't know enough about her to start a conversation, she realized. He was Jane's boyfriend, after all. Not hers. There was another long pause, and Beth almost laughed from awkwardness.
But then Will spoke, mostly to Charles. "I figured, with the family resemblance..."
This surprised Beth. She and Jane shared the same pointed chin and high cheek bones, but Beth's features were more irregular than Jane's, less delicate. She had dark hair and chestnut eyes instead of Jane's blonde and blue. People didn't always guess that they were sisters.
They were saved from another lengthy silence as Jane joined them with Lydia following just behind. Jane was smiling ear to ear, and it was infectious. Lydia was looking at Will with appreciation, not bothering to hide her interest. She held another full cup of beer, obtained from who knows where. She held out her hand in a way that managed to display quite a lot of cleavage. "I'm Lydia, and who are you?" she asked sweetly.
Ice. Pure, cold, frosty ice was the look Lydia got back from Will. And Beth was impressed that he looked at Lydia's face the whole time and not once at her chest as he introduced himself again. But Lydia received the same silence afterwards as Beth had, though not nearly so lengthy.
"Awesome," Lydia said, deadpan. She shot an expression at Beth that clearly telegraphed "who the hell is this guy", and Beth shrugged.
"This is lame so I'm going back to my friends. Text me when you're ready to go and I'll meet you at the car." Lydia flashed a peace sign and walked away just like that, and Beth had never appreciated her sister more.
"Should we move a little closer to the stage?" Charles asked amiably.
Beth looked at Will sideways as they walked. His face didn't show much emotion. She didn't think he looked unhappy, necessarily. He responded when Charles brought him into the conversation, and he even smiled at Jane a few times. So maybe he had just been trying to be a good friend to Charles. Maybe she hadn't heard the entirety of the conversation and was missing some important context. He didn't act like he had anything against Jane. And maybe he's just quiet, she thought, her conscience getting the better of her. Made a bad first impression.
"What do you think of the festival?" she asked Will when they had all picked a spot, shouting to be heard over the band.
"Sorry, what?" he asked, leaning his head closer to her. She stood on her toes and repeated the question.
"Listen, I don't think it's worth the effort to talk," he said loudly, brushing off her attempt to speak to him and turning to face forward again. Beth heard that perfectly clear. She felt both surprised and a little hurt. Bad first impression- ha! Will Darcy was an asshole. She moved to the other side of Jane and tried to enjoy the band, but some of the enjoyment had gone out of her evening.