Super thanks to belladonnalin and emmytie for their beta help on this one, as neither was familiar with the canon source.
The first time someone called Juliet a slut, she hadn't known what the word meant. She'd heard it before, sure. Brian was her older brother, after all, and Mom was always saying he had a "mouth unbecoming of a priest." Juliet wasn't entirely sure what that meant, either, but Brian said words that she wasn't supposed to a lot. She was twelve, maybe thirteen, and already nobody believed that the blonde hair was real, especially when Jeremy's was such a nice shade of brown. She told her stylist she wanted to look just like Jeremy, but she'd just laughed and said, "How about a pixie cut? They're gonna be the next big thing. You'll see."
They were, too, but Juliet had still kind of wanted brown hair. Nobody ever called Jeremy a slut. And she might not have known what it meant, but she heard how people said it. It wasn't something nice.
She asked Jeremy, but he frowned and said, "Who called you that?"
Juliet shrugged. "People. People say it."
Jeremy said, "People are sluts."
She'd believed him. She'd always believed Jeremy.
She figured it out by the time she was fifteen. It wasn't even that anybody told her, she just watched a lot of movies. People called her stupid, too, and she knew she wasn't as smart as her dad, or anything, but she generally got okay grades in school and when she paid attention, she could answer most of her questions herself. She just didn't always choose to pay attention. She didn't need to, a lot of the time, people were always telling her everything she needed to know, doing everything she needed them to do. She didn't think it was entirely her fault that people thought she was stupid, but she couldn't quite put her finger on whose fault it was.
In any case, she knew for sure she wasn't a slut. But she also knew that people didn't listen to her very often. For instance, she didn't really like the dresses her mom was always buying for her, but she'd told her mom that at least a hundred times and she still got the same dresses every Christmas. Or, she was forever telling Paddy that he needed to be a little more flashy--not in a gauche way, just enough to get people her age, people who would be voting in a bit, to pay attention. But he stayed with his classic suits and Ellen standing placidly beside him, year after year. She thought they both looked unhappy. Juliet would never have voted for someone who looked so unhappy. Unhappy people liked to make other people unhappy. All she had to do to figure that out was look at Brian.
Honestly, it seemed easier just not to respond to people when they called her a slut. Her daddy had always said that bullies went away if you just ignored them, and Paddy had once told her that sticks and stones could break her bones, but words would never hurt her. She wasn't so sure about that; the words had made her cry at least a few times in private, and even once when Jeremy had caught her, but Jeremy never told on her, not about things like that, so that was okay.
As it turned out, the bullies didn't go away either. But by the time she figured out that her strategy wasn't going to work, there were other things at stake.
Sure, Karen seemed happy with a lot of different people, really, sort of anyone who looked her way, but she also didn't seem happy with anyone, and that was what decided Juliet in the end. Everybody made fun of the silly romantic movies she liked, but those women got what they wanted. And generally, they did it by waiting. Karen never waited and she was never happy.
Juliet wanted to be happy. Jeremy said she deserved to be happy, and Jeremy didn't lie--at least not to her.
She saw the way guys looked at her. The way they always saw the Darling before the Juliet, the blonde hair before the girl underneath it. Maybe she wasn't the smartest person, or whatever, but she was more than that. She was. She wanted to act, and she had books that she loved, and movies that she wanted to watch with someone else, and well, she wanted to be something more that just her designer jeans to the person she allowed to take them off.
Instead she waited, and sometimes it was lonely, but mostly Jeremy never let it be, so that was okay. Sometimes she even forgot that she was waiting, forgot that she was anything but what they said she was.
Nick was looking at her like she'd just vomited up a golden cat, or something equally unlikely. "Um. Just so we're clear. . .no kissing? Nothing?"
Juliet shook her head. That was a bit of a shame. She would like to try kissing. But it wasn't like she was old or anything, so really, it would happen. "Nope."
"But." Nick's eyes were narrowed in confusion. "But then, why do you let them say those things?"
Juliet shrugged. "Just easier to let them believe what they want."
Nick was silent for a long time before he said, "That's-- I won't tell anyone, but."
When she knew he wasn't going to finish, she asked, "But?"
"That's the kind of thing I'd want my daughter to be proud of."
The back of her throat felt dry when she managed to ask, "Proud?" People had told her she was pretty and sweet and lots of things ever since she was born. Not one of them had been something she really knew how to feel proud about. Mostly, they were just things that happened.
Nick smiled, a small smile, but he wasn't laughing at her. Juliet knew what that looked like. He said, "Yeah, proud."
"Because I'm not a slut?"
"Because you made a decision that was right for you," he said. "And you don't care what anybody else thinks."
Juliet had never thought about it that way, but after she had for a moment she smiled as well. "Yeah, well. I'm not just a Darling."