When April was 8 years old, she mastered the skill of debating. She found out that debating would help steer her daddy’s attention away from her obsession with girls. So, it became her new obsession. She refused make a decision without debating about it, convinced to be the best debater that ever existed. Team Stevens didn’t do things halfway. Team Stevens wins. Always. So, when her parents were yelling at each other late at night, as April was secretly reading a book, she figured they were having a particularly heated debate.
The next day at school Sterling asked her to come over for a play date. April immediately said yes and didn’t pay attention to her teachers the rest of the day. Thinking of everything she and Sterling were going to do.
When the final bell rang, April went home with Sterling and Blair. After a snack and a drink, they went to play outside.
“So, what do you want to do?” Blair asked.
“Let’s play hide and seek?” Sterling questioned, while April said, “play tag!”
They looked at each other, Sterling laughing, April’s face hardening. She didn’t want to yell at her best friend, but she had to practice her debating skills and this was a perfect opportunity.
“Hide and seek is for kids who can’t run fast enough. Only scared little kids play hide and seek!” She yelled at Sterling, tears forming in the eyes of her best friend. She kept going,
“Don’t you know that tag is way better for you? You can practice your running and it’s way more fun. Playing tag is definitely the better option.”
April ended her speech looking down, almost whispering. She couldn’t bear to look at the twins. Sterling crying uncontrollably, Blair looking as if she was going to kill April with her bare hands.
Blair took Sterling inside as April sat down against the fence of the garden, wondering what went wrong. Sterling was supposed to yell back, like her parents did.
After being alone with her thoughts for a while, April could hear someone approaching. She looked up to see Mrs. Wesley standing in front of her.
“Can I sit with you?”
April nodded and Mrs. Wesley sat down next to April against the fence.
“Can you tell me what happened? I’d like to know your side of the story.”
This made April tear up, her parents never listened to her explanations, only telling her she was a disappointment for Team Stevens and to stop making up excuses.
“Well, we were figuring out what we were going to do, and I said tag, but Sterling said hide and seek. And my daddy says I need to practice my debating. So, I just wanted to practice with Sterling.”
The tears in April’s eyes started falling as she said, “I promise I didn’t want to make her cry, I’m sorry.” She ducked her head down, awaiting the harsh words of the parent. They never came.
“Can you tell me how your parents were debating, April?” Shyly April looked at Mrs. Wesley.
“They were being really loud. I was reading my book and I could hear them all the way in my bed. I don’t think anybody won though.”
“Oh April, honey, listen really closely, okay?” April sat up straight and nodded, “Sometimes adults have feelings that they can’t really handle. Like when you’re so sad, the only thing you can do is cry. Sometimes grown-ups feel so angry and they don’t know what to do. Then they talk too loudly and say things they regret later on. And there’s a little secret I’m going to tell you now: adults don’t know everything and they sometimes have to learn new things too.”
April’s eyes widened in shock, Mrs. Wesley continued talking,
“Sometimes adults pretend they know everything, because they are actually a little bit scared of things they don’t understand. And nobody likes to feel scared, right?”
April nodded, eyes still wide.
“I don’t think the way your parents were debating, was the right way. At least not for kids. So why don’t we try and think of other ways to practice your debating?”
April nodded again, deep in thoughts. “Maybe I need to talk in a normal voice.”
“Yes April, that’s a really good start. And you can try to say things that don’t hurt anybody, use facts instead of opinions. So, you can say ‘we should play tag because running is good for you, and it’s a fact that you run more in tag than hide and seek’, instead of ‘we should play tag, because hide and seek is for scared little kids’, do you understand?”
April looked at Mrs. Wesley thoughtfully and said, “So my opinion doesn’t matter?”
“No, no, no, of course it matters! But when you’re in a debate, you need facts as arguments instead of opinions. When you’re just talking, not debating, then you can calmly say you want to play tag, because you like it more. But try not to use mean words. If someone likes hide and seek and you say it’s for scared kids, that hurts the kid that likes hide and seek.”
“Oh, I think I get it now, thank you for not getting mad at me. I need to say sorry to Sterling now, I think.”
Mrs. Wesley laughed out loud, squeezed April’s shoulder and said, “I think that’s a good idea.”
Then more seriously, “April, please remember I care about you, okay? You’re friends with Sterling and Blair so you’re a part of this family. I’m here if you want to talk about anything.”
This gave April a weird feeling in her tummy, so she just smiled at Mrs. Wesley and walked inside, to Sterling’s room.
April knocked and opened the door when she heard Sterling say, “I’m here”. Sterling was on her bed, eyes still red from crying, writing something.
“I’m sorry Sterling. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. Or made you feel stupid for liking hide and seek. I don’t actually think it’s for little, scared kids.” She was looking straight at Sterling, ignoring the weird feeling she got when Sterling looked back with her big blue eyes.
“Why didn’t you just ask to play tag instead of yelling at me?” Sterling says with a soft, fragile voice.
“I-I, uh, thought I was practicing my debating skills. But I realize I was doing it wrong. And your mom said I should ask next time I want to practice with you.” April said, looking at her feet now, feeling embarrassed.
“Oh. Uh, okay then, wanna maybe play on the swings outside now?” A smile spread across the faces of both girls as April said “yes, I do.”
April was 10 years old when her parents sat her down for a talk. It was the summer holiday and she was spending every available second with Sterling, playing outside, swimming, having sleepovers, watching movies and giggling about everything and anything.
“We’ve noticed you are spending a lot of time with that Wesley girl.” Her daddy stated.
April could feel her heart drop to her stomach. She was well aware that her feelings towards her friend were way too much.
“You better not turn into one of those dykes. It’s a disgrace for this family. If you don’t stop this disgusting behavior, we’re going to need to get you some help. And talk to the Wesley’s to get that girl some help too.”
“Daddy, I’m sorry. I would never turn into something like that. I promise as part of team Stevens, I could never embarrass our family like that. Sterling and I always hang out with Blair and Hannah S. and Hannah G. So, there is no need to worry. Either way, I will act more appropriately.” April looked her dad in the eyes, knowing they would get punished if she didn’t. His eyes were cold and hard and there wasn’t even a glimmer of love.
“Okay April, you’re dismissed until dinner.”
She cringed at the sound of her own name, it wasn’t a word said with love and endearment. It was said in a derogatory and dismissing way. April stood up and walked to the door to go outside.
“Don’t you dare get those clothes dirty, young lady!” her mom told her.
When she was out the door, April started running towards the Wesley household. When she knocked on the door, Mr. Welsey opened the door.
He only let out a soft “oh.”
He seemed shocked by April’s appearance. All of a sudden she could feel her cheeks being wet with tears. She didn’t know when she started crying, but it must have been somewhere along her run over to the Wesley household.
“April, why don’t you come in. You can go sit on the couch. I’ll be right there.”
She sat down and tried to calm down her breathing and stop her tears, until Mrs. Wesley walked in.
The woman sat down next to April, asking “honey, do you need a hug?” April could only nod as she was being wrapped in Mrs. Wesley’s arms. She started sobbing, she wasn’t even sure what she was so upset about. She just knew her own parents would never react so nicely to her showing up crying and red-faced and out of breath.
When she calmed down, Mrs. Wesley asked her what happened.
“What’s a dyke?” April whispered.
Mrs. Welsey looked stunned, mouth slightly open as she tried to think of an answer.
“Well, uh, a dyke is a lady who is in love with another lady. But dyke is not a very nice word to use for that.” She carefully answered.
“Do you think I act like one? Because my daddy said so, and I really don’t know what I need to do different. And you helped me with the debating thing. So maybe you can help me again? With what I need to do differently?” April let out the words before she could hold herself back.
She was being pulled into a hug again and thought that maybe Mrs. Wesley was crying now.
“I’m sorry. What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing honey. You did nothing wrong. Please believe me when I say there are a lot of happy people that are in love with someone of the same gender. They are able to be proud of themselves and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay or a lesbian, okay?”
April nodded slowly, waiting for the but.
“However, it’s different than what people are used to. Remember when I told you sometimes grown-ups get angry about things because they don’t understand it? This is one of those things. You are perfect and you don’t have to change anything about yourself.”
April wasn’t sure what the feeling in her stomach meant, it almost felt the same as when Blair teased her about not asking for a second sister or when Sterling assumed she would be staying over for dinner, saying, “well duh, it’s breakfast for dinner day, a family tradition. Of course you’re joining.”
She smiled at Mrs. Welsey and asked where Sterling and Blair were.
“I think they’re outside making a fort out of something, you should join them. And April? Please remember I care about you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Welsey.” And they both knew what April meant.
At age 12, in sixth grade, April wasn’t friends with Sterling anymore. Quite the opposite actually. April had started avoiding her former best friend, after said girl gave her away like she was nothing.
April didn’t care. She pretended she didn’t cry over it every night. She pretended she didn’t miss Sterling’s extreme enthusiasm.
Instead, she focused on school and church, she did what was expected of her. Her conversations with her daddy and Mrs. Welsey completely forgotten.
Then they had their first class debate.
“It’s practice for high school, where some of you might get into a debate club”, their teacher said, while looking directly at April. Her debating skills had gotten so much better over the years. Her daddy debating her on every little thing, training her. She debated him on having her hair up or down. On what Star Wars movie they were going to watch, what book she would read next. She was ready for this. Last month she won a debate against her dad about whether or not they should get a cat, so now they had a little kitten named Sgt. Bilko terrorizing the house.
The topic was ‘should school give out free lunches or do they need to be paid for?’ April didn’t know a lot about this topic, but in the hour of preparation they got, she figured out a lot of facts to support both sides of the argument.
She watched as her classmates stumbled over their words. Feeling a weird sense of pride when Sterling won against a dumb boy and feeling her stomach plummet when she was up against Sterling.
It shouldn’t be hard. Just another stupid classmate that was below her. No need to worry, she got this. She was ready for this.
But all she saw was those nervous blue eyes and all she could think about was her previous experience debating with Sterling, making her cry. April swallowed and started her argument.
“I think lunches should be paid for. If parents don’t have enough money, they can pack lunches for their kids. And those who do get a school lunch have a significantly healthier lunch than if said lunch would be free.” She wasn’t thinking straight, so her argument was weak.
“I believe school lunches should be free. Seeing as we wear uniforms and are basically forced to do the same things as each other all day long, we should also eat the same thing. If the lunches are free, that means every kid gets to eat. Even when their families don’t have a lot of money. All kids get the same, so their performances won’t be negatively influenced by bad food.”
April was shocked at the strong argument Sterling came up with.
“So, you mean to say you would rather have low quality, unhealthy food for every single kid than a paid lunch that’s way healthier for those kids whose parents can afford it? Don’t those kids deserve more if their parents pay more money?” April questioned.
“Not at all actually. I think it’s more important for every kid to have a lunch, than a few who feel like they’re more special to get more at the expanse of poor families.” The timer went off and Sterling won.
April was furious. She decided that the next time she would have to debate against Sterling she would crush her. As if giving her away wasn’t enough, she had to rub it in by winning a debate. For the rest of the day April sulked. Barely paying attention to her teacher, only speaking when spoken to. She stayed at the school library after school, getting a head start on the books for sixth grade, was her excuse. In reality April was making up a story about how she won the debate. Getting herself together, get her story straight.
That evening when her daddy asked her how school had been, she smiled and answered with “It was great, we had our first class debate.”
“And did you win? You have to win, Team Stevens always wins.
April’s smile faltered for a second, before saying “Of course I won, daddy. Team Stevens always wins.”
And she was determined to win each and every debate that was to come. No matter how low she had to go, how mean she had to be. No matter who she would hurt in the process. Team Stevens wins.
As if being forensics team captain wasn’t stressful enough, she was team captain of a forensics team that had Sterling Wesley in it. Sterling Wesley who, after her one win in sixth grade, never won a single debate. Always stuttering over her words, having weak arguments, eyes always filled with tears. Face red with nerves.
They were 16-year-old teenagers, so of course there was the extra layer of teenage angst. Said angst being Sterling having sex with Luke and April outing them, taking the position of Fellowship leader right off Sterling’s back. Said angst also involved rumors about April’s dad being a horrible person.
April needed a win. Team Stevens needed a win.
So, April prepared for the debate tournament like it was the last thing she would do. Getting dossiers on every opponent they would face, getting every bit of information she was able to get on paper. She stayed up late at night, reading through everything, thinking of all the ways she would be able to make her opponents cry.
During the tournament she was trying to be less mean than normal to Sterling, seeing as they were on the same team. A fact Ellen pointed out multiple times before they even so much as looked at each other. She even went to Sterling’s room to give her some advice.
“Move when he moves, dance with him.” She told Sterling, knowing debate was not her strong suit. But Sterling was oddly relaxed, making a weird comment about a cat’s tongue. Before going to her own room to prepare her statements April told Sterling, “Just win.”
April crushed every single one of her opponents. Making three of them cry, which definitely felt better than it should. Weirdly, Sterling was also crushing it. Maybe her advice did do some good. Or maybe Sterling changed more than April thought. April watched two of Sterling’s performances, one of her responsibilities as the team captain, and was thoroughly impressed. Sterling stood with confidence; eyes fixed on her opponent. Arguments strong, factual, unable to be argued with. Questions sharp and on point, making her opponents stumble over their words and look at their notes with panicked eyes as they realized they were losing. And even though April didn’t want to admit it, Sterling didn’t even need her dossiers. She won just because of her skills. No personal attacks needed. April felt something in her lower stomach that she was very much ignoring. She crossed her legs and watched closely as Sterling destroyed her opponent.
Then April was up against Craig Wu. The very same one that destroyed them last year. This year though, she was prepared. Having information that would definitely make him lose his focus and lose the debate. It was all she needed to get to the final round and have victory, she could already feel it.
She confidently stepped to the front of the room and the debate started. April’s arguments were strong, but Craig had strong points too. April was going to win, and she wouldn’t even need her dossier, just like Sterling.
But then Craig Wu brought up her dad.
April’s mind went blank and then was full of thoughts, just not the right ones. She realized she was way too quiet for way too long, but try as she might, no words were coming out of her mouth. After the timer went off April almost ran out of the room and escaped to the toilets.
She took some deep, calming breaths, told herself to calm down and went to the main room. Where she saw that Sterling was now up against Wu.
This was amazing news. Sterling could still win. They had a chance. Sterling looked at April with more concern in her eyes than she probably should’ve and April said more than she probably should’ve. April told Sterling what to do and what to say, and when Sterling began talking about not being able to stoop so low, she could feel the anger rising in her body. She calmed herself down and told Sterling to bring up Craig’s secret, before walking away. How dare Sterling forget giving April away. Something that haunted her for so many years. Making her hate Sterling with all she got. Something April cried over at night for months. Something that always made her feel like she was nothing, never enough for anyone. And now Sterling is saying she forgot? This girl better win the debate or April was going to explode.
She didn’t bring up Craig’s cheating mother.
All April could see was red.
She walked up to Sterling and started yelling at her for an explanation.
Then Sterling began talking about fifth grade and giving her away and healing their relationship and apologizing.
April grabbed Sterling’s arms to shut her up and yelled at her again.
After a moment she realized what she did, Sterling looking scared again with those big blue eyes, and it brought her back to yelling at Sterling at 8 years old.
She let go and ran out of the building.
The day after the lock-in, April didn’t go home. Instead, she went to the Wesley household. One she had visited so often. A house she cried and laughed in. A house that had felt more like her home than her actual home did. A house with so much love and acceptance in it, April couldn’t believe it was real.
She knocked on the door and no one answered. She had tried calling Sterling and even tried Blair a couple times, but everything seemed like a dead end.
She knocked again. Her thoughts flashing back to leaving Sterling outside. Not looking back because she knew she would break down. Not giving Sterling the chance to debate her, knowing she would lose if she did. She was never good at debating with Sterling after all. She couldn’t afford the risk. Not when her daddy was back and the fear of him finding out about them bigger than ever before. Not when he already asked about Sterling and Blair.
She knocked one last time, deciding that if no one answered she would leave.
Mr. Wesley opened the door.
“Oh, hi April, now is not really a good time.”
He looked as if he hadn’t slept for a week. His voice filled with an odd mix of the usual tenderness and an unfamiliar sadness.
“I’m sorry for disturbing. Could you please tell me if Sterling is okay?”
This seemed to shock Mr. Welsey and Blair appeared behind him.
“I’ll talk to her, go back inside dad.” Blair said as she passed April through the door and stood next to April’s car.
“What’s going on?” April asked once she caught up with Blair.
“It’s none of your business actually, but I know I reacted badly when Sterl told me about you and her. So I want to make it up a little bit. Something big and bad happened last night. We’re all okay. Just know that we might not be at school for a little while. And that it has nothing to do with you.”
All April could do was stare in shock.
Blair rolled her eyes, “goodness, they really picked the best debater to be the team captain.” With that she walked back inside. Leaving a stunned April at her car.
April didn’t ask more questions, she didn’t tell Blair they broke up. She let Blair go inside and felt her heart break a little more.
She went back home and acted as she was supposed to. Her daddy acting as if nothing happened and her mom, shockingly, did too. It was almost as if she dreamt that her dad went to jail. She watched movies with her parents, read her books, studied, went to church and tried to take her mind off of Sterling or Blair or Mr. Wesley.
Soon, it was their senior year. Sterling and April hadn’t talked since the lock-in. Their short week of making out seemingly forgotten. Some things did change though. April’s daddy told her about Sterling and Blair Wesley taking him in, before being caught again, having trial again, and being in prison again. For a while this time. April made sure of that.
Sterling for her part, changed too. The first two weeks after the lock-in she was absent. The first month she was back, she said nothing. Looking down, letting Blair do the talking. When her eyes were not on the ground, they looked so, so scared that it terrified April. What happened to her?
But then, almost out of the blue, on one Monday Sterling came to school with her head up, eyes cold, and no Blair at her side. She started talking again, but with an unfamiliar voice. One that was cold, empty and bordering on mean. She barely participated in anything voluntarily, but did her part when asked. This new Sterling terrified April even more. But she couldn’t ask. Couldn’t deal with the cold looks Sterling gave her. As if she was nobody. As if she didn’t even exist.
The forensics tournament was at Willingham last year, meaning they had an away tournament this year. They were going to leave on Friday after school and come back Sunday morning. Bright and early before church.
Because Willingham was a private school, with very privileged parents paying the bills, every student got their own room. April and Sterling next to each other.
On Friday evening, after dinner, coach Esposito got their team together to practice. They all debated each other on topics from previous years and Sterling was looking at April with a look April couldn’t place. After debating for about an hour, coach let them go back to their rooms. Sterling and April walked back to their rooms together, except when April opened her door Sterling walked in with her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” April asks, eyebrows raised. Sterling just closes the door and says, “tell me to stop and I will.” Before she processed what’s happening, Sterling is pushing April against the door and kissing her. After the initial shock April kisses back and doesn’t tell Sterling to stop. They kiss until they’re both out of breath and then some. April knows this is a bad idea. Like the worst idea ever. They haven’t had a conversation in almost a year.
The thoughts disappear as Sterling presses biting kisses across her neck.
She forgets their history as Sterling’s hand reaches her ass.
No problems exist when Sterling pushes a thigh in between April’s legs.
But then, her doubts are confirmed when Sterling lets go of April and walks out the door. Leaving April alone with her thoughts.
April always wins. She’s good at debating, like really good. She knows this. So it’s no surprise that she crushes the day and ends up in the finale.
She shouldn’t be surprised by Sterling being in the finale against her, but somehow she is. Today Sterling seems to be even more void of emotion than the past year, if that’s even possible. And April’s getting nervous. She’s never been good at debating with Sterling and she feels like this new Sterling is not going to hold back spitting out secrets.
April reminds herself that she’s good at debating, she’s been doing this her whole life. And Sterling can’t out her without outing herself, which is good. Comments about her dad don’t hurt her anymore. So everything will be fine.
The topic of the debate is ‘should the government place laws against international adoption’. They shake hands before they begin their debate. Sterling’s eyes going over April’s body hungrily. And then they start. April has the affirmative.
“There are thousands of kids in foster care, who would love a warm home. There are so many children being abused, ignored and forgotten in America, so why do we need to get children from other continents? I believe international adoption should be more closely regulated. First we should take care of the children in this country whose parents gave them up.”
April finishes her opening statement and looks at Sterling, whose mouth is slightly open and whose eyes are wet with tears. With a shaky voice Sterling starts her opening statement, “I believe, uh” she coughs, takes a deep breath, and starts over “I believe every person should be free to adopt anyone, from anywhere. Adopting a child out of foster care is a long and very expensive process. Many people are being denied the right to foster a child, purely based on income or sexuality or other unreasonable factors. The right to take care of a child when you, yourself can’t conceive one should not be any harder than it already is.” April can’t deny that it’s strong argument. She starts the question round.
“How would you feel if you were in foster care and some kid from the other side of the world got chosen over you?”
“I would be thankful that those wouldn’t be my parents, as they’re not seeing what’s right in front of them. I want someone that wants me for who I am, not because I’m easier to get or cheaper. I want a parent who would protect me at all cost and not someone w-“ Sterling is looking at her hands, voice getting softer and softer, until she stops talking altogether. She looks into the crowd, then at April. The panicked, scared look is back in her eyes. She runs out of the room. What’s happening? What happened to the cold Sterling from last week? The confident one from last night? April is declared the winner, but for the first time ever, she doesn’t care that she won.
April knows that the way Sterling acted last night was unacceptable. She knows she’s being used. She knows she shouldn’t care after all the girl has done. But she can’t help herself.
She walks to Sterling’s room and knocks.
“I don’t want to talk” Sterling sounds like she’s crying.
“That’s okay, we won’t talk. I’ll be here.” April sits down against the door and after what feels like a day, the door slowly opens. She walks inside. The door closes behind her and she is pulled into a hug and Sterling starts sobbing onto her shoulder. She hugs Sterling tightly, rubbing circles over her back. After a little while she pulls back, Sterling is still sobbing.
“Come on, we’re not gonna keep standing here all night.” April says while taking Sterling’s wrist and pulling her towards the bed. They sit down and Sterling cries more. Anything April says just seems to make Sterling cry more, so she stays quiet until the tears slow down and Sterling’s breathing becomes regular again.
Then they’re kissing again and Sterling’s breathing is fast and loud against April’s lips, for different reasons this time around. They lay down on the bed, impossibly trying to get closer to each other. “Tell me to stop and I will” Sterling repeats the words she used last night. April doesn’t tell her to stop as a hand trails down over her stomach.
With April’s father in prison and their time at Willingham getting to an end, there should be no reason for them to keep hiding in the closet. But April isn’t ready. She has a plan and she can’t seem to let go of that just yet.
After the debate tournament they had a long talk about what happened to Sterling and about Sterling and Blair taking in her father. April didn’t bother being mad. She already knew and she was glad to have him out of her life. Together they cried and laughed and hugged and kissed. They decided to stay in the closet for half a year longer. According to April’s plan. When they would go to college they’d come out.
But about two months into their secret relationship Sterling invites April over for a talk. Her parents know they’re friends again, so April has been coming over quite often. She missed everything about the Wesley household, and even though it’s different, it also holds the same infinite love and acceptance it always did.
Today when she comes over and Sterling takes her to her room right away, April feels something is wrong. She feels it in the way Sterling’s eyes avoid hers. She feels it in the way no one is asking her if she wants a drink. She feels it in the way Sterling looks around the hallway before softly closing the door. She feels it in the soft but urgent whispers coming from downstairs, seemingly coming from Mr. and Mrs. Wesley.
“I came out to my parents.”
There it was.
She couldn’t think.
All she saw was red.
She ran out the room and then out of the house.
Someone was yelling after her, following her.
“April! Wait, stop!”
When her legs finally stopped moving, she leaned against a wall, catching her breath.
“Geez, you’re faster than you look Stevens.” Blair said through heavy breaths.
“Why did she do it? We had a deal. They’re gonna tell my mom and she’ll tell my dad and it’ll ruin my life!”
“Okay first of all. She came out, she said nothing about you.”
April let out a relieved breath.
“They did guess though and you Sterling can’t lie and on top of that you’re not at all subtle. But they promised not to tell anyone. We know you better than you think April. We all knew you’d freak out. You’ve been in our family for years now, just because you had your petty little fight all those years back, doesn’t mean you changed.”
April could feel the tears in her eyes and was desperate not to let them fall.
Blair squeezed her shoulder before saying, “We should head back. I’m sure Sterl is having a mental breakdown of her own and instead I’m here with you.”
April nodded and followed Blair back to the house.
Sterling was indeed having quite the breakdown, when April and Blair came back, they heard both Mr. and Mrs. Wesley comforting Sterling, who was loudly crying. “I got her!” Blair yelled upstairs. It almost sounded like they planned it.
The three of them met April and Blair in the living room. Sterling still avoiding April’s eyes, Mr. Wesley rubbing her back and Mrs. Wesley looking at April with a concerned look.
“April, honey, do you need a hug?”
April couldn’t answer, emotions overwhelming her, clouding her vision with tears. She hid her face in her hands as Mrs. Welsey stepped towards her and wrapped her in her arms. She softly said, “we care about you honey, you’re not alone.”
Then someone else walked up behind April and joined in on the hug.
“I’m sorry April, I really am.” Sterling whispered in April’s ear. Then two more pairs of arms joined the hug and April cried more for all the heart-warming support she never had from her own parents.
Mr. Welsey spoke next, “I don’t want to break up this lovely family hug, but I have something for you April.”
They all stepped away and Mr. Wesley handed April a little wooden duck, painted in the colors of the rainbow. April was at a loss for words, as happened so often when she was with this family. She blushed as she managed to say, “thank you, this means so much.” But then her eyes darkened, “I won’t be able to accept it though. My mom will ask what it means and how I got it, and I just can’t come out to her yet. I’m sorry.”
“Come on Stevens, you can put it in Sterl’s room. And then every time you make out, it will be watching over you.” Blair said.
“It could be a reminder that you always have a home here, whatever happens.” Mr. Welsey explained. “I could use some food after all that, who’s with me?” And with that, he walked to the kitchen.
April squeezed Sterling’s hand and mouthed “thank you.”
April got accepted into Harvard to study law, as everyone expected. April knew this was where she would end up and everybody around her knew it too. What no one expected though, was the fact that April hated it. She hated learning about the way to win in court against an innocent man. She hated finding out about the way her father got cleared of his charges. She hated watching innocent people lose their lives over money and corruption. She made it to the end of her second year. Then she dropped out. After days and nights of crying alone in her room, sobbing to Sterling on the phone about how miserable she was, she finally quit. April felt more lost then ever. She had a plan, and now without the plan she had nothing.
She did the only thing she still knew how to do. Call her girlfriend. Sterling always had the answers April didn’t have, always said the right words and was quiet at the right moments. Sterling was safe.
When Sterling answered the phone, she said “okay I found the perfect career for you. Ready to hear the plan?”
“You already have a plan?” April shouldn’t be surprised. Her girlfriend always knew what to do.
“Well duh, my girlfriend, whose entire, lifelong plan just fell through, needed a little pick me up. So I got you what you like most: a plan.” April took a shaky breath as she felt her eyes water again. She thought she would’ve used up enough tears to last a lifetime, but apparently not. “Okay, I’m ready to hear the plan.”
“NYU has a schooling program for social worker. And social work is like, the perfect job for you. So here comes the plan. 1. Get accepted into NYU. 2. Move in with me. 3. Become the most badass social worker New York has ever seen. 4. Live happily ever after.”
“What exactly does a social worker do?”
“Well you get to help all sorts of people. From teen moms to seniors with a burn-out. You get to help immigrant families adjust to America. You get to help kids when their families are doing a bad job raising them. You get to help people who got fired and are now unable to find a job. You get to fight injustice by helping those forgotten by society. You can help them making goals and working towards achieving them.” This all sounded very nice to April. Almost similar to being a lawyer, except hopefully more action and less rich, white men getting away with everything.
“You want me to move in with you?” April said, already doubting this part of the plan.
“Well, yes. I know we’re young and we barely had time to be in a not-long-distance relationship. But I know I love you and I know I want to spend all of my time with you for the rest of my life. So why not start now?” Sterling ended her speech, hope lingering through her voice.
April wasn’t so sure, “statistically couples who move in together while in school are more likely to get a divorce later on in life. They also have a decreased chance of actually getting a degree. Besides that, we will be so busy that we won’t have time to enjoy our time together. It’ll be fun for a month, then we start living next to each other instead of with each other. We’ll stop being in love, get more and more annoyed with each other and break up.”
Sterling was quiet for a little while. Maybe April took it too far again, she was never good at debating with Sterling. She messed it up, Sterling was going-
Her spiraling was interrupted by Sterling’s voice, strong and confident. Her debate voice.
“You’re scared that we won’t make it. But those statistics you’re citing are old. First of all they’re not representative of our current generation, a lot changed. Second of all, they’re based on straight people only. I’ve got some statistics for you too. Same sex couples move in together 2 years earlier in a relationship than straight couples. They also have a bigger chance of marrying their high school sweetheart. Lastly LGBT+ couples are 40% less likely to divorce than straight couples. In conclusion: we’re queer, we just wanna move in together and are way more likely to succeed at marriage than straight people.
And to use a personal argument, we’ve been enemies, we were in a closet-relationship for half a year and have been doing this long-distance thing for two years. I bet you we can do anything.”
A few weeks later Sterling was at the airport to pick her girlfriend up with all her things.
April really loved her social work course. The teachers were professional and dedicated and good at their jobs. The assignments were mostly fun and new and interesting. She even made some friends. The real kind. Not the only-friends-for-safety kind of friendship she used to have with Hannah B and Ezequiel. Now that she was living outside of her childhood town, learning about social issues, father long gone, she felt comfortable sharing her life with her newfound friends.
A week from now she and everyone from her sociology class were hosting a women’s march. She wasn’t in charge. In fact no body was in charge, they just all worked together. Still she was stressed and nervous, she was still April.
So the entirety of the week April sat at their table in the living room at 3 a.m. or in the campus café until they closed. Preparing and organizing. Calling sponsors, making flyers, spreading the news. She barely saw Sterling, even though they lived in the same space. On Thursday, two days before the march, Sterling cornered April. “I know you’re super busy and stressed and all. But you literally haven’t said a word to me today. Actually we haven’t had a real conversation this entire week. You know I love you and will always support you, but this sucks. Don’t cut me out like this. Please?” That last word was more of a whisper and April thought she maybe imagined it. Sterling looked at her, not with the sadness April expected. Sterling was annoyed. Too bad April was tired and stressed and couldn’t deal with that right now.
“Sterl, you know I’m not cutting you out. You’re being dramatic. In a couple days I’ll be all yours again. Just wait it out, alright?” She knew she was harsh, she also knew Sterling was right. So she did what she did best, she walked out the door. April took a walk across campus, called one of her friends to vent a little, before going back to their apartment. Only to grab her bag and leave again. The rest of the day she stayed in the college building, under the pretense of studying and preparing. At 4 p.m. she texted Sterling to let her know she would be eating at campus as well.
At 10.30 at night April finally came back home. Sterling was already asleep. Her face red and blotched, her closed eyes swollen. She felt the guilt in her stomach and her throat. Still she got in the bed next to her girlfriend and tried to fall asleep. It must have worked, because before she knew it April was being woken up by an alarm and a shifting Sterling. “Stupid alarm” she heard Sterling muttering and she turned towards her girlfriend.
“Good morning Sterl.”
“Since when do you talk to me?” was the cold response she got.
Okay, so acting like nothing happened definitely wouldn’t work. Shit.
“I’m sorry, really-“
“April, not to break up your heartfelt apology, but I have class in uh, 10 minutes. So I gotta go.”
Sterling finished grabbing her stuff and ran out the door. It looked like they were not going to make up before the march. April was supposed to be at her friend’s dorm at one and then it would be time to prepare. They were all sleeping over so they could work until they couldn’t keep their eyes open anymore. She went to take a shower and got ready. With nothing to do until it was time to leave, she started thinking about Sterling and about their relationship. She was already in her second year, Sterling was graduating this year. It was beyond her how she was more stressed than Sterling. Her girlfriend had been right, moving in together was great. It was actually so much better than great. Sure they had a small argument from time to time, but who wouldn’t. She realized this was their first big fight since senior year at Willingham. It scared her so much, she repressed it and called Ash, where they were preparing and sleeping, to ask if she could come over early.
“If you help cleaning up this mess of an apartment, sure!”
When Ash opened the door she said, “wow you look, uhm” Ash didn’t finish her sentence, clearly getting the warning look on April’s face. “don’t start” April grumbled.
“Well when is Sterling coming over? She should be able to cheer you up!” Ash tried to lighten the mood.
“She isn’t coming.”
“What?! But you guys are the most disgustingly close couple I have ever met!” The other girl exclaimed.
Ash seemed to tie some things together as she said “so that’s why you’re walking around like someone killed your cat. What did you fight about?”
“No, no, I didn’t invite her. She doesn’t even know we were allowed to bring someone. I just- I guess I just wanted something for myself again. It’s been so nice having friends and stuff and- I knew if I told her I didn’t want her to come, she’d convince me in no time. So now I ignored her for a week and she’s mad at me, and I’m mad at me and I’m mad at her and everything sucks.” April couldn’t keep it in any longer, tears threatening to fall.
Ash gave April a concerned look “April. Please remember you’re a great friend and you’re never getting rid of me. You have like, half of my heart. But. This is 100% your own fault. She’s your girlfriend, I’m pretty sure she called you her soulmate once. She would do anything for you and yes, maybe she is clingier than you are, but ignoring her is not gonna help that. Talking to her might. Just tell her how you feel and I know for a fact that she would understand. She’s not mad about you needing your own thing, she’s mad about you not communicating.”
“I’m so stupid. I told her she was being dramatic, which is really mean because I know that hurts her and she was right. I’m so stupid.” She looks at Ash as if she’s on the verge of a panic attack and honestly, she feels like that might be exactly what’s happening. Ash picks up on it, grabs her shoulders and says “April, hey. Calm down, it’s going to be okay. She will forgive you, I promise.”
“No n-no she won’t, not again, I messed up. Like always and she’s gonna kick me out and I’ll-“
“April! Stop talking and breathe, okay? Focus on my breathing. It’s okay.”
April did what she was told and then started crying so much Ash pulled her in for a hug. They stood like that until April stopped crying and pulled away.
“Thanks, I guess I needed that.” She said, a bit embarrassed.
Ash shrugged “that’s what friends are for, right? So let’s get to cleaning up this mess.”
“Which one?” April laughed an Ash laughed too.
They cleaned the apartment and together they wrote a text to sent to Sterling.
Sterling, I’m really sorry about the things I said. I guess you were right about me cutting you out. I promise you I didn’t mean to. I’ll be home tomorrow around 4, I hope you want to talk then. And if you need me, I’m only a call away. I love you, Sterl.
She didn’t get a response until way later. By the time she got an answer the others had come in, they prepared and were almost asleep.
Okay, I love you too. See you then. Bring comfort food?
April could barely contain her smile as she fell asleep.
The women’s march was a roaring success. April had prepared a speech that made multiple people sniffle and laugh. When she was done the crowd went wild and she was on the high on all the praise for the rest of the day. She took pictures with her friends and laughed with them and for a moment she felt like this was exactly where she was supposed to be.
She smiled all the way to the shitty fast-food restaurant to pick up food and all the way home. Her smile dropped only when she saw Sterling’s face. She had never, ever seen Sterling this angry. “Why are you on pictures with Nicole and Sam and Sacha?” Sterling seethed “actually answer me this. Why am I not in those pictures?”
“Sterl, I can explain, but then you do have to listen.” April said in her debate voice. Getting ready for the fight. Knowing she would break down if she didn’t put up a front.
“I need some privacy in my life Sterling.” Her girlfriend scoffed, but April kept talking.
“I feel so happy to finally have friends and that I’m finally doing something I love. And for the first time I have people I want to talk to that are not you, and I’m excited about things that you aren’t into. And I want to explore those things separate from you. I want to be able to come home and tell you about what I learned or what my friend said. You always had your own thing with Blair and I feel like my whole life is just you and I knew that if I would tell you, you would get upset and I would cave, because I always do. So I ran away and cut you out, like I also always do. And I’m so incredibly sorry for that. I know all of this is not an excuse, but I hope you understand where I came from. I was scared Sterl. I’m always so scared. But now I also have Ash who told me this was my fault and Nicole who told me to suck it and enjoy the day and Nick who made stupid jokes and made me laugh. And I don’t want to let that go.”
Sterling’s eyes softened for a bit, before turning cold again.
“Sure, good points all around. Everyone deserves their own life and we should not be co-dependent. I’m so happy for you that you found your people April, I really am. I’m not mad about that, not jealous or whatever you think. I’m mad because you lied to me. You said it was a class-exclusive thing that everyone would be missing their partners and you would bond over that or some bull. That’s what I hate April, why don’t you understand that? All I ask of you is tell me the truth and don’t cut me out. You know how much I hate lying, especially when it ruined so much already. If this would’ve been easy, it wouldn’t be called love. Love is scary and dangerous and sometimes you have to risk it all by telling the truth and sometimes you’re so scared that you think you might die. But that’s what love is supposed to be like. And if you’re not ready for that, we both need to move on.”
Her last sentence in so filled with pain and her eyes are big and blue and so scared.
“I’m ready. I promise.”
April has never been so happy to lose a debate, since it meant getting her girlfriend back.
She leans in to hug Sterling and they squeeze until they can’t breathe and Sterling whispers “so I would like that comfort food now.”
It happens slowly, so slowly April didn’t even realize it was happening.
Sterling’s stories about work became shorter. The spark in her eyes absent.
Leaving for work before April even woke up and coming home when it was dark and April was getting ready for bed.
April always thought she was a workaholic. She convinced herself Sterling was just having a busy and stressful time. They would get through it.
But then Sterling stopped greeting her in the mornings with a smile and a kiss on the weekends. She just got up, took a shower and went for her walk. She didn’t bother asking April to join her. She came home with coffee but didn’t bring anything for April.
Sterling didn’t grab April’s hand on the off occasion they did take a walk together. Her Sundays were spent alone. Sterling spent the day watching a show or a movie or reading a book. Whenever April suggested to do something, Sterling dismissed or ignored it.
When April complimented Sterling on her cooking, Sterling’s eyes stayed cold. Only a tight-lipped smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
And April got scared. She got so scared that she ended up being right. They weren’t going to make it, it was only a matter of time before they started yelling at each other. She didn’t know what to do, so she called Ash.
“You have to talk to her.”
“No. If I talk to her, we’re breaking up. I can’t do that.”
“April, listen to me. Your girlfriend is unhappy. This probably isn’t even about you, but if it is, the only way to make it better is to talk to her.”
“Ash, I’m losing her. Why do I keep messing this up?”
“You’re not messing anything up. Talk to her. I gotta go, tell me how it went, love you.”
April was still getting used to the random expressions of love from her friends. Every “love you” leaving her speechless. Every hug bringing her close to tears. She was rapidly realizing she needed therapy. But maybe Ash was right. She couldn’t avoid talking to Sterling forever, that had been the problem before, so she decided to wait up for Sterling and have a talk.
It was 10.30 pm when Sterling finally walked through the door. Late as it was, April was convinced to have her talk. Sterling looked surprised to see her. Not happy, not unhappy. Just surprised.
“Hey April, don’t you have school early tomorrow?”
April swallowed the lump forming in her throat.
“Yes I do, but we need to talk.”
Sterling’s face fell and April’s heart sunk.
“Sterl, what are we doing?” April winces at the sound of her own words as she tries again.
“Sorry, that came out wrong. I mean, remember when I was so scared to live with you because we would start living next to each other? When I was so sure we would break up because we weren’t ready to live together? I’m scared that it’s happening. I feel like I’m losing you, every day you seem further away from me. Where are you going? What’s happening?”
“April.” Sterling’s voice is small. April doesn’t look at Sterling, knowing she will break down as soon as she looks into those blue eyes. “I- wh- uh, well I” Sterling clears her throat. “I guess you’re right.” April can hear the tears in Sterling’s voice, her own tears starting to fall to.
“I’ll ask Ash if she has a place for me to sleep tomorrow.” The words are barely audible, but she knows Sterling heard her when she hears a strangled sob.
They go to bed together quietly. Both crying, as they brush their teeth and get changed. And while they lay next to each other, April knows neither of them will sleep and she never felt further away from her girlfriend.
April had packed some clothes and her school supplies, but after a week and a half of staying at Ash’s place she is in need of clean clothes and some other forgotten things. She also realized she took a sweater and a pair of shorts that belonged to Sterling.
When she’s standing in front of her own door, she wonders if she can use the key. She texted Sterling she would come over but never got an answer. In fact, Sterling hadn’t even received the messages. Either April was blocked or Sterling turned off her phone.
She took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
April thought about the last time she was standing at a Welsey door, knocking and hoping to talk to Sterling. How devastated Mr. Welsey seemed, Blair looking as if she had been dragged through hell and back and Sterling nowhere in sight.
She knocked again.
That last time, Blair told her she didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s what got her through the rest of the year. Every day Sterling wasn’t at school.
“I had nothing to do with it.”
And then when Sterling got back at school and looked so scared.
“I had nothing to do with it.”
And finally when Sterling turned cold and emotionless.
“I had nothing to do with it.”
She had repeated those words to herself every time she saw Sterling, like it was a prayer, like she would start to believe it if she just said it enough. And finally, she did start to believe it.
April knocked on last time, just like all those years ago. But this time no one answered and she decided to use her key.
When she walked it, April’s eyes filled with tears. Not only because of the safety and familiarity of it all, but because of the state the apartment was in.
It looked as if a hurricane had gone through the living room. Books and clothes on the floor. Kitchen full of take-out boxes, dirty plates and empty cans. The bedroom door was shut. She noticed every picture they hung up together was still there. Her things were almost exactly as she left them, surrounded by a hurricane of mess and clutter.
She knocked softly on the bedroom door before opening it when no answer came.
April peeked around the corner to the bed, and saw Sterling was asleep. She walked in and studied Sterling. The girl was wearing one of her work shirts (“it’s way too much pressure to find something appropriate to wear every day, I’ll just make my own uniform” was Sterling’s reasoning). Her eyes were closed and had dark circles around them. Her hair looked tangled and dirty. Besides the shock of the looks of Sterling, April was shocked because Sterling had work. It was the middle of the day on a Tuesday and Sterling hadn’t missed a day since she started three months ago. Even if working for a publisher wasn’t her dream job, she was good at it and prided herself in that. But now she was asleep in the middle of a Tuesday and their apartment looked a mess.
“Sterling, wake up.” April shook her (ex?-) girlfriend, but she didn’t stir. April looked around the room and saw a couple bottles of some sort of alcohol and panicked.
She found Sterling’s phone and tried turning it on. It was dead, so at least April wasn’t blocked. She put the phone in the charger and while she waited for it to turn on, she picked up the half full bottles next to the bed. The phone chimed it’s turning on sound. Thankfully Sterling refused to use a pin code, so April could see all the messages flowing in.
*ding* a message from Blair
*ding, ding ding* 207 messages from Blair
*ding* 30 missed calls from mom
*ding* 5 voice mails, 13 missed calls from Blair
In total Sterling had 54 missed calls, 10 voice mails and 865 messages. Her phone had been off since April left. April called Blair with her own phone, feeling numb.
“What’s wrong with Sterl? I’m this close to jumping on a plane to find her.”
“She’s eh- she’s just sleeping.”
“What do you mean she’s just sleeping, she turned off her phone for more than a week and now that Dana is out, she knows we’re extra worried!”
“What?” is all April manages to get out before hanging up the phone and shaking Sterling roughly. The girl opens her eyes, squinting at the brightness. She opens her mouth to say something but no sound comes out. April gets her a cup of water, without saying a word. They sit together as Sterling sips her water, April looking at Sterling and Sterling looking anywhere but at her.
After a few minutes of silence, Sterling puts her cup down and lays back down on the bed, as if the act of sitting up is already too much work. She closes her eyes and asks, “what are you doing here?”
April just stares at Sterling before she answers.
“I was coming over to pick up some more clothes and bring back yours that I took.” Sterling grimaces and April doesn’t know why. It feels like she doesn’t know the girl laying on the bed next to her. She reaches for Sterling’s hand and gasps at how cold it is.
“Sterling, Blair told me Dana got out.” Sterling pales at those words and she stands up slowly, takes a few steps before steadying herself against the wall.
“Have you eaten today, Sterling?” The girl shakes her head.
“Okay, when was the last time you ate?”
“uh- I think, no- may- I don’t remember.” Sterling hangs her head and April is scared Sterling might actually pass out. Her fears are not far off the truth if the way Sterling’s eyes close are any indication, so she hurries towards Sterling and leads her to the bed again.
“Lay down, don’t move. I’ll be back. Maybe call Blair, she’s worried.”
April almost runs out of the room and to the kitchen. She finds some crackers and fills another cup with water. Three minutes later, when April walks back in the room, Sterling’s eyes are closed again, but her phone is next to her. A voice that is not Blair’s is coming through the speakers.
“I know honey, but she’s not allowed to come close to you. It won’t happen again.”
“Hello Mrs. Wesley, Sterling fell asleep again, I’m sorry”
“Hi April, I’m so glad to hear your voice. Hope you’re doing okay over there.”
At this April’s brave face actually shatters a bit. A tear slips out and with a trembling voice she answers “Yeah, I’m alright.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Also very thankful that you’re still helping out Sterling, even if you broke up.”
April gapes at Sterling, who seems to be fighting back tears. April swallows dryly and finally turns back to the phone.
“It’s no big deal, I still care about her.”
Then she hands Sterling the crackers and water, ordering her to eat and walks away.
She doesn’t hear from Sterling for another week. And then when the next Tuesday comes around and April has pulled herself together enough to go to class, Sterling knocks on the door. Ash lets her in, gives April a sad smile and flees the apartment.
Sterling clears her throat.
“I- uh, I know you might not want to talk to me ever again, but I miss you April. I’m so sorry I shut you out.”
April looks at Sterling, whose eyes are so genuine and blue and watery. She stays quiet but doesn’t look away. Sterling takes this as a cue to keep talking.
“When I heard Dana was out, I got so scared. I was terrified. I haven’t been that afraid since she took me. And then I got over the worst fear and I just felt nothing. That was so much worse. I wasn’t happy when I saw you or when I did something right at work. I wasn’t sad about movies or my parents not being my parent or losing you. I wasn’t angry at Dana or any of the injustice in the world. There was nothing at all and all I wanted was to feel something. So I pushed you away. I pushed you away to feel something and I’m sorry.” Sterling took a deep breath and looked down.
“Did it at least work?” She doesn’t know why, but this seems like the most urgent thing to know right now.
Sterling flinches at the words, as if she knew they would come. April knows the answer and fights back a fresh stream of tears.
“It didn’t. I just drowned in nothingness until you came to the apartment and made me call Blair and then I called my mom and you looked so incredibly heartbroken when she said we broke up. And then I finally started feeling it too. After you left I cried and cried and my mom was like ‘you did this, you should fix it.’ But I was so scared you wouldn’t forgive me. I’d rather be in this weird state of not together, not completely broken up, than just broken, you know?”
April wiped her eyes and straightened her back,
Her hand reached out to Sterling’s and their fingers intertwined.
“I just wish you would’ve told me. This is a very significant thing that happened, so of course it’s going to do something to you. But if you would’ve told me, then I could have helped or been there for you, or at the very least know it wasn’t my fault. We’ve been together for so long already, and you’ve always been there for me. So please let me be there for you for once?”
Sterling squeezed her hand and looked up.
“Do you think you can forgive me?”
“Sterling, I was never mad at you. But yes of course, you’re the love of my life.”
April pulled Sterling in for a hug and they both started sobbing onto each others’ shirts.
“Thank you” a muffled Sterling said into April’s hair.
After both Sterling and April graduated college, they decided to move back to Atlanta. Just a less conservative part of the city. April was working as a civil rights organizer. She worked with politicians, wrote speeches for activists, gave speeches and had a whole book of essays published. She was well known in Atlanta.
As for Sterling, after getting her English degree and working for a publisher, she decided she loved teaching and became an English teacher at a public high school.
“I want some closeted, scared kid to feel safe and accepted. I want be the Ellen of the school.” was what she said when someone questioned why she became a teacher. April smiled at this, her heart so full of love for her girlfriend, it might burst. April had never felt happier and safer in her entire life. She knew Sterling was in this for the long haul and April was convinced to spend the rest of their lives together. She was more open, talking about the things that scared her instead of running away. They obviously had little discussions and arguments. But nothing they couldn’t handle. It was quite the opposite, they both really liked debating and it always turned Sterling on more than anything, even after all this time. Which then turned April on.
They were trying to pick a movie. Both scrolling or their phones, finding something to watch, but Sterling was wearing a dress that hugged her curves just right and showed a lot more skin than it should and April wasn’t really focused on picking a movie. Sterling was a little bit oblivious, saying “April, if you don’t feel like watching a movie, just say so. We could just do our own thing. Maybe you should call Ash, you haven’t talked to her in a while.”
“Sterl, I don’t want to call Ash and I also don’t want to watch a movie.”
Finally Sterling seemed to pick up on what was happening, a smirk forming on her face. “Oh so what is it you want to do then?” She said smugly.
April leaned towards Sterling to kiss her, but she backed away. “I asked you a question, haven’t you learned to answer when someone asks you something?” April groaned and rolled her eyes.
“I want to take off your dress, babe.” She said, hoping it would be enough to convince Sterling. Sterling stood up to close the curtains of their living room and took of her dress. “something like this?” she faux questioned.
April wasn’t going to give in that easily.
“I don’t think you listened to me. I said I wanted to take off your dress.” She told Sterling with a smirk. She was all too aware that she could be a bit intense, and loved the way Sterling reacted to it. As if it was something to be charmed by, instead of something that needs to be avoided. April could be completely herself, with all her traits she used to hide away.
Sterling put her dress back on.
“Well how could I deny such a request?”
She got back to the couch where April was still sitting, kissed April on her cheek, something that should not turn April as much as it did, and waited for April to take off her dress.
The sight of Sterling standing there in only her (very hot) underwear, confidently teasing April, made April’s breath hitch.
“I do believe it’s only fair if you take off your clothes too.” Sterling said, eyes raking up April’s body. This too, was something she still couldn’t get used to. Sterling looking at her like she was the only person in the world, someone to be desired and admired, even when she was wearing sweatpants and an old sweater. When they were both equally naked, they just stood together for a second, looking at each other. Sterling gently grabbed April’s arm.
“Jezus Sterl,” April breathed, “please just touch me?”
Sterling was getting very turned on, if the redness in her neck or her blown pupils were a good indication. But there was something else. Almost something like embarrassment. April never would have guessed that almost 7 years into a relationship, there would still be things to be embarrassed about.
“What’s wrong? It’s okay if you don’t want to. I’m sorry.”
“No, no. It’s just-“
“You can tell me.”
The embarrassed look disappeared and in its place got a confident, smug look. “Why don’t you do it yourself? Let’s make it a game. See who gets you to come quicker.”
This overly confident Sterling made April feel a warmth pool in between her legs. She quickly took off her underwear, settling back on the couch. Sterling getting down next to her.
“Oh you’re on” she said. She took her fingers to her clit and slowly started drawing circles, gasping at her own wetness. And maybe it was the fact that they had been together for so long, or that they knew each other through and through. Or maybe it was just because they were both very into this, but April didn’t feel awkward at all. If anything she felt confident, looking Sterling straight in the eyes. Reveling in how just looking at her made Sterling seem to fall apart. “Fuck, April” Sterling whispered, making April moan. Sterling’s hands started moving up April’s thighs, lips following quickly. April sped up the pace and bucked her hips into her own hand as Sterling kissed the soft inside of her thigh.
“Keep going, love, you can do it.” Sterling said in a low voice as she put her hand on April’s hand that was desperately rubbing at her clit, putting a little pressure on it, making April let out a load moan that sounded like Sterling’s name. Her other hand went up April’s shirt, cupping her breast and that was all April needed to come. The orgasm was coursing through her, Sterling kissing her until her breathing was back to normal.
April wasn’t normally one to get off first. Seeing Sterling fall apart because of her touches, hearing Sterling moan her name like prayer always seemed to do ungodly things to her. But she couldn’t deny that Sterling being confident and in control also did great things.
Now, April went to straddle Sterling’s lap, who had other ideas. Sterling wedged her leg between April’s which made her moan and grind against Sterling’s thigh. She forgot all about her plan to touch Sterling, instead focused on her own pleasure.
“Fuck, Sterl. I love you so much.” She said between gasps, as Sterling grabbed her by the hips encouraging her to keep grinding. Sterling pressed open mouthed kisses on April’s breast. April felt herself being close again and rasped “if you want to actually touch me before I come for the second time, you should hurry up.” Sterling smiled against April’s nipple and slowly put her finger inside April.
April, who was already on the verge of an orgasm, and basically came as soon as Sterling’s fingers were inside her. She sucked Sterling’s earlobe and whispered, “keep going.”
Sterling happily obliged, keeping up the pace of her fingers, getting a shaking April to her third orgasm in 10 minutes and was moaning her name like it was the only word in the world.
When she calmed down, April got up from the couch and basically dragged Sterling to their bedroom. She went to lay down and pulled Sterling on top of her. “Your turn, come here.” She said as she pushed Sterling up. Thankfully Sterling got the hint this time and placed her legs around April’s head. She lowered herself onto April’s mouth and they were both moaning.
April was licking at Sterling’s clit, her hands around her hips, Sterling’s hands in April’s hair. When Sterling grinded down harder, movements becoming more erratic, April pushed her tongue inside Sterling, who came gasping. Before she completely came down again she got off of April’s face. April could feel the desire in her stomach and when Sterling was laying on her back, April’s hand was already trailing down, from her neck, over her breasts her stomach to her clit. She started rubbing over Sterling’s clit. The girl stopped breathing for a second before moaning “Jesus April”.
Then Sterling’s hand was on April’s stomach and then on the inside of her thigh and then touching her clit again. “Tell me to stop and I will” she told April. April didn’t tell her to stop. They were both gasping and moaning and cursing. “April, I’m coming” Sterling breathed. This sent April over the edge too. They both rode out their orgasms, before collapsing into each others’ arms. They snuggled into each other as they fell asleep.
Despite everything, she was still devasted when she heard the news.
Her father had been nothing but mean. When April wrote a letter, coming out, telling him about how free she felt with him out of his life, he wrote back that he didn’t have daughter.
By the time he got out of prison, after 10 years, he didn’t have a wife nor a daughter. April convinced her mother to file a divorce, who, after a lot of tears and raised voices and ugly words finally did.
April gave him another chance when he came knocking on their door. She agreed to dinner with her father, mother and Sterling. He told April about how Sterling took him in that first time. He told Sterling she was going to hell. He tried to get April to get mad at Sterling. She didn’t.
When they got married, he wasn’t invited. He sent them a book about how homosexuality is a sin.
When April’s book got attention, he didn’t get one. He gave an interview spitting out lies about April and her intentions. Accusing her of things he was guilty of himself.
Still, she was devastated when she heard the news. She was at work when she got the call. Her father was dead. He got in a car crash while drunk. He had a 23-year-old girl in his car. She died. He crashed with a mom and her baby. They died.
April knew, logically, she could go home. It would be the smart thing to do. Go home, call her wife, cry and talk and eat ice cream. Instead she finished her workday, happy with the distraction. Her colleagues knew better than to ask if something was wrong. She might have grown since being a teenager, but she could still be very, very mean. Especially when she was feeling bad.
After work, she went home. She didn’t tell Sterling though. She helped prepare dinner, asked about Sterling’s day, cleaned up. Sterling knew something was wrong. April wasn’t talking about work, she was barely talking about anything. Her eyes were far away, body language closed off and distant.
“April, what’s wrong? Did something happen at work?”
“I’m fine. It’s nothing.” April answered.
“I don’t believe you. I’m not doing anything until you tell me what’s going on.”
Sterling was right, they talked about this. April was doing really well at talking about her feelings, but now she couldn’t do it. She could feel her walls go up.
“I said it’s nothing.”
“Okay, riddle me this then: you’ve barely said anything tonight. When I told you about how a kid came out to me you said ‘nice’, when I asked about work you said ‘it was okay’. April, you love your job. The least enthusiastic thing you ever say about that damn job is ‘I learned so much, so I’m really tired’. You can barely look me in the eyes. You need to talk to me.”
“Sterling. No.” April hissed, then she turned around and walked out the door. She took a long walk and when a lady with a stroller walked past, she finally broke down. Emotions quickly catching up to her, she ran home again.
Sterling was in their bedroom. April went in after a “I’m here”. At the sight of her girlfriend who had definitely been crying, April felt her cheeks getting wet. Sterling walked to her wife and pulled her in for a hug, face looking concerned.
“Hey, it’s okay. Come sit with me.” Sterling said softly in April’s hair. She guided April to their bed and sat them down. April couldn’t stop crying. The grief and anger and pain and guilt washing over her, making it harder to breathe. She barely heard Sterling’s words. All she heard was her own ragged breathing. All she could think of was her father killing 3 innocent people. About how she wasn’t even sad about the man who raised her being dead. About how she was sadder about some strangers then her own dad.
“He’s dead.” She choked out.
Sterling just rubbed her back and told her everything was going to be okay and she was safe. April cried more, because those people should’ve been safe but now they were dead and their families had to miss them for the rest of their lives.
“Sterl, I can’t, I don’t know if- how I can live knowing the man who raised me killed three people?”
“Could you tell me what you need right now? Do you want me to just listen or do you want actual things we can do? Or maybe I could tell you you’re wrong, if that helps?”
This got a little smile out of April. Sterling always knew just what to say, knew her better than anyone. “Maybe try to convince me I’m wrong.”
Sterling went to sit up straight, eyes turning hard. She was getting ready for a debate.
“You feel guilty about your father’s actions, but if I’ve learned anything in these past years, it’s that family is what you make it. If the way you are raised would say anything about you as a person, then you would’ve been a lawyer and happily married to a straight, boring, probably abusive man. You would cook and clean and not complain. You are none of those things, you are so much better despite the way you were raised. And that, my love, is because you are nothing like him and he’s not your family. “
April took a breath to respond, but Sterling wasn’t finished, holding up a finger as she continued.
“You’re afraid that you can never make up for what your father did to those people, but you have already helped so many people April. You’ve been writing essays about LGBT and faith, which helped kids figure themselves out and be proud of themselves instead of hating themselves.
You wrote speeches about women who are being robbed of their safety, which helped them feel seen and not so alone.
You fucking convinced a politician to make workspaces be safer for LGBT people. You have saved so many people April. You have made people feel seen and heard. You made them feel less alone, god maybe someone read your book and decided not to stop fighting. You are making the world a better place and you’re so young. By the time you’re as old as that man, you’ll have conquered the world with kindness and acceptance and love.”
April was speechless. Sometimes it was a good thing that she wasn’t any good at debating Sterling. She felt lighter somehow, a little bit of the guilt lifting. She cried again and kissed Sterling softly. When Sterling softly bit down on April’s lip, the kiss turned more heated. Sterling pulled back and said. “Is this the moment I make you forget everything that exists?”
April only nodded and pulled Sterling down on her again.
A week after the news, John’s funeral arrived. It was a small gathering, John being hated by about everybody he knew. His family was there, they didn’t seem devastated. They seemed oddly calm actually, as if this was a regular Sunday morning at church.
April’s mom was there too, together with all of the Wesley’s. They all came to support April. She felt overwhelmed with gratitude for these people who would be there for her through thick and thin. She walked in with her mom on one arm and Sterling on the other. When everyone was seated, Debbie leaned over to April to whisper “I’m so proud of you, we all care about you so much.”
April fought back the tears. Soon enough, it was time for her speech. Sterling kissed her cheek, April’s mom squeezed her shoulder and Anderson gave her an encouraging smile.
She felt her heart in her throat. This might be the first time April was actually nervous about what she had to say. When she was behind the podium, she looked at the people that came to the funeral of a man they all hated, just for her. She took a deep breath and started talking.
“When I was 6 years old, my dad took me to get ice cream. We used to do this all the time. When I was a little older, we got into Star Wars together. We went to the cinema, he spoiled me with popcorn and fizzy drinks and Star Wars presents. Every year we used to go to an exotic country to enjoy the sun, I got everything I wanted if only I asked. We talked about books and movies, while sitting on beaches. When my birthday would come up, he would ask me ‘what do you want princess?’ And he gave me everything I asked for, except I never got what I needed from him. Love.
“At 4 years old I wanted to cut my hair. I had seen a picture of a girl with a short haircut and I wanted to be like her. I wasn’t allowed to do that. I was a girl and girls have long hair. Girls wear dresses and only speak when spoken to. They cross their legs and never smart-mouth adults or boys. I was 4 years old when my dad taught me these things. I didn’t have any control over what I wanted to wear or do with my body. I never asked for a short haircut again.
When I was 7 years old, I was obsessed with the girl at the ice cream shop. I would look at her in awe and talk about her hair and how I wanted to be her friend. My dad told me to stop talking about girls like that. ‘You’re not turning into one of those people’ is what he said. I, of course, didn’t know what that meant. When I was 10 years old, he sat me down to tell me not to turn into a dyke. He said my name so coldly I started hating it. I went to the Wesley’s house, and Debbie explained what a dyke was. She said my name and she called me honey and I thought ‘this is what it’s supposed to feel like to be loved’.
At 13 years old, I was more serious than any teenager should be. I worked hard to hold up the standards my dad set for me, for us as a team. He never referred to us as a family, we were team Stevens. And team Stevens wins. Even if it costs you your health and your happiness.
When I was 16 years old, I had my first kiss, with a girl.
My dad was in prison for the first time and I felt so free. I allowed myself to be happy, just because he was gone. But then he came back. Every moment I spent in the same building as him, I was terrified. I was scared about what my dad would do to me, or my mom, or Sterling.
Then, when I was 21 I finally came out to him. He told me he had no daughter, which meant I didn’t have a dad anymore. But I couldn’t bring myself to be sad, because I had my mom and I had Sterling and Blair and Debbie and Anderson. I had friends who listened to me and cared about me. Who hugged me and told me they loved me.
When I heard the news, I did feel sad. I was devastated. But not because John died. I was a wreck because I felt guilty for the people he took with him. And I was so angry at him, for killing 3 innocent people. I was angry because I felt worse about the death of strangers than that of my own dad.
But then my family was there. Sterling reminded me that his actions are not my responsibilities. My mom reminded me that we were thankful to live a life without him. Debbie reminded me that there are people who care about me. Enough to sit through this endless speech about a horrible man.
I’m grateful for the people who taught me love and happiness.
I’m grateful for my people, and I’m grateful that John Stevens is not one of them.”
When April looked around the faces, she saw a lot of teary eyes. It was awfully quiet as April got of the stage and walked back to her chair, until Blair yelled “Fuck John Stevens” and pumped her fist in the air. Everyone started to cheer and clap through their tears. Once April reached her chair, she was being enveloped in a big hug by Sterling. Soon April’s mom and all the other Wesley’s joined and April felt free.