April adjusts her mic, the starched white of her shirt comforting beneath her fingertips. Not that she needs comfort right now. There’s a buzz running from where her fingers touch her mic down to the sensible heels that had been picked out just for tonight. She can’t stop the almost maniacal grin that comes over her face. This is the moment she’s been waiting for just shy of three decades.
The crowd on the other side of the curtain roars, and April feels the ground beneath her vibrate from it. It’s still surreal, even after months on the campaign trail. Even after crowded stump speeches and sold out fundraisers and shaking the hands of so many voters that her Purell runs out, it still baffles April that these people are still overflowing with enthusiasm. All for her. No one else. Her. If she had ever partaken in an illegal drug, she would imagine it would feel something’s like this. And right now she is high out of her mind on it.
“Ready to get out there?”
She turns to see her campaign manager grin at her with a hint of something like tears in her eyes. April straightens her collar and sets her shoulders.
“Never been more ready in my life.”
With that she takes the steps, pushing the curtain open to a swell of applause and the flash of cameras. She smiles, her political smile, wide and bright but not fake. Never fake. Her hand comes up to wave and the audience screams their approval.
She stands behind the podium, and lets the tension drain from her body. This is where she belongs. She’s at her first forensics meet in middle school, she’s giving Willingham’s valedictorian speech, she’s president of the Harvard student body. Her hands flex on the wood grain.
Only now it’s better.
“Hello Georgia,” she yells into the crowd, “we made history today!”
Now, it’s Congress.
April is five the first time she sees her Daddy become physically violent. She’s making her way through Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but keeps getting distracted from the ship and the adventure by her father agitatedly yelling at the screen.
“North Carolina and Virginia? He fucking won both?” followed by a cry of, “Florida? The bastard got Florida!”
“Language,” her mom says flatly, but Daddy doesn’t care, face getting redder.
It’s past April’s bedtime, but no one seems to notice she’s there, her parents’ eyes on Fox News, a specific kind of shocked on their faces that April hadn’t seen since she fell out of that tree when she was four, trying to climb just a hair too high to reach the brightest orange.
Daddy’s face gets redder and redder as the TV shifts from numbers and percentages to a tall Black man with a wide smile waving at a massive crowd. April’s eyes are drawn to the woman at his side, so pretty and poised that April can’t look at anything else.
The spell is broken when the man announces he’s the president now and her daddy punches a hole in the wall.
Minutes later, he’s holding her and kissing her head and telling her he’s so sorry baby girl, but she can’t shake the memory of his face squeezed up in hard rage, the way he yelled as his fist broke the plaster, just because some man with a nice face and a pretty wife was the president.
The girl standing outside April’s door has a cheery grin plastered on her face, shiny blonde hair pulled into a ponytail and a clipboard clutched to her chest.
April immediately hates her.
“There’s no soliciting in this neighborhood,” April says in lieu of a greeting.
“Oh, I’m not soliciting!” The girl says, quickly, still smiling in a way that should be fake but is so disarmingly genuine that April is caught off guard for a moment. “I was hoping to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Stevens about Stacey Abrams running for governor.”
April can’t help but laugh. “Oh honey, you’re barking up the wrong tree here.”
“Could I speak to your parents?”
“No need. Trust me, the last Democrat the Stevens supported was Andrew Jackson.”
She expects the girl to be discouraged by this, but she just laughs, eyes crinkling up at the corners and ponytail swinging. It’s distracting.
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Have you thought about supporting Stacey Abrams?”
It’s April’s turn to laugh.
“First of all, I'm clearly too young to vote. Secondly, I was the one who founded my middle school’s Young Republican club and thirdly-”
“You’re not too young to volunteer.”
April huffs, both at the rude interruption and at the lopsided smile on the girls face.
“Second of all,” the girl continues, “that’s really impressive initiative, you could be a great organizer someday. Once you realize that your politics don’t have to a hundred percent line up with your parents’.”
“I form my own opinions, thank you very much.” April sneers.
The girl shrugs. Her nonchalance catches April off guard again, and she’s tired of this. This stupid girl with her stupid ponytail and stupid smile and stupid persistence like she doesn’t have to go to school everyday trying not be affected by certain people with faces like that.
“I highly suggest you get off my porch,” April grits out.
“Absolutely, Miss Stevens, you have a wonderful day,” the girl says with a grin, before quickly taking a piece of paper out of her clipboard and jotting something down on it. “In case you change your mind.”
“I won’t!” April calls after her, but all she gets in return is a thumbs up then the swing of a too shiny ponytail. She has the sinking feeling in her stomach that she’s lost whatever argument this was.
She looks at the sheet of paper in her hands, a picture with a gap toothed smile of a Democrat front and center and her inane policies bullet pointed on the side. When she flips it over she finds an address scrawled on the back, along with the words weekly youth phone bank Wednesdays at four and a smiley face.
The audacity of some people.
April hides the flyer deep in her desk, feeling like she’s hiding porn. No that she would ever do something like that. It’s 2018, all the good porn is on the internet.
She tells herself she doesn’t throw the flyer away because if her parents saw it in the trash, there would be a huge fight and Daddy would end up breaking a dish and April doesn’t have the capacity to deal with any of that.
Even with the paper stashed far away, the address still sticks in April’s mind, despite attempts to rid herself of it. Sometimes it’s vexing to have such a perfect memory.
There’s supposed to be Fellowship after school on Wednesday, but Ellen’s cat is sick, so it’s cancelled at the last minute. Which isn’t a sign from God or anything, it's just a sick cat. It has to be. April looks at her phone, reading 3:30, and, out of mere curiosity, types The Address into her phone. It’s only a 15 minute drive, 30 by bus. No that April would willingly take the bus to go to a place full of Democrats.
The girl’s perky smile sticks in her mind though, and April can’t help but imagine the shocked look on her face if April stormed in and gave her a piece of her mind. She smiles at the thought, and somehow finds herself getting on a bus.
The campaign office isn’t what April had expected. It’s clean and energized and full of people talking excitedly over one another. April can’t help but feel a thrill at it; it’s the same energy of a team right before a debate, the fight and the camaraderie and the conviction. April looks around, feeling a rush in the tips of her toes.
“Well, if it’s isn’t Miss Young Republican 2018,” she hears from behind her and turns to see Perky Girl from before wearing a startlingly bright Turn GA Blue t-shirt that fits her better than a tacky shirt has the right to fit anyone. “Here to do a phone bank shift?”
“No,” April says, annoyed at the lack of conviction in her tone, “I’m here to give you a piece of my mind.”
The girl laughs. “You’re cute,” she says.
April feels whatever she was going to say die on her tongue and an embarrassing blush wash over her face. She clenches a fist. She is not going to be flustered just because some admittedly attractive blonde Democrat called her cute.
“I’m not cute,” she says.
“Agree to disagree.”
The girl shoots her a grin and April’s heart is suddenly beating faster than it should. She knows she should leave, knows that 50 things about this situation would wreck her reputation, but the girl is still smiling at her, and the hum of passionate voices in the background make her want to see what it is that gets them so fired up.
“Hey Michelle!” someone calls, “we got some more drop in vols!”
The girl, Michelle (like Obama, April’s traitorous brain supplies), turns her head and yells “coming!” before looking back at April. “Stay right here, I’ll be back with the other new recruits and then we can train y’all.”
April wants to object, wants to say something about how she is not a new recruit, but Michelle just squeezes her arm, and all April can do is swallow in response and watch her walk toward the two girls who just came into the office.
Then her heart sinks through the oddly clean floor.
Because of course, of course, the two girls who just walked in are the Wesley twins. Fight or flight courses through April’s body and she chooses flight for once. She looks to the exit, which is tragically blocked by the people she desperately needs to avoid. Her eyes quickly find a sign for the bathroom and dashes for it, out of the main office quicker than she can be spotted.
She leans against the sink, trying to regulate her breathing. This can’t be happening. She’s surprised she’s still alive; that the world hasn’t combusted from the combined annoyingly pretty cheery blonde energy of Michelle the Organizer and Sterling Wesley in the same room.
April looks around, scouting for an exit. Her eyes spot a window to her left. In any other situation, she would never stoop so low to climb out a window like a common criminal, but she’s not sure if there are any other options here. If Blair or Sterling see her, then the whole school knows that she has set foot in the pro-choice, anti-gun, anti-everything-her-family-stands-for lair.
Suddenly, there’s a creak of the bathroom door opening and April dives for a stall, locking it behind her, as she hears two familiar voices start bickering. April shrinks herself into the corner. Maybe this is how she dies.
“Mom and Dad are going to kill us,” Sterling is whisper-shouting to her sister, “actively volunteering for a Democrat.”
“You are so dramatic, they are not!” Blair huffs.
“Dad has a Brian Kemp yard sign!”
“Which is wrong, Sterl, come on. Don’t you believe everyone should have equal rights?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“And that racism is bad?”
“Yes, Blair, that’s not-”
April holds her breath, feels her blood rush to her face, body straining at the stall door.
“Duh,” Sterling says, so easily, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, “God loves everyone.”
April tries to steady her breathing, to steady anything, and fails spectacularly.
“Exactly,” Blair says, unaware of the panic occurring just through the metal door, “so all we are doing is supporting someone else who believes all that too.”
“Ugh, you’re right,” Sterling huffs, and April knows without looking that she is doing the thing where she tries to blow away one of those long strands of hair that always hangs down over her face. “I do think this is probably your most productive way of being rebellious yet.”
“Oh my God, thank you, I’m pretty proud of it.”
“You should be!”
With an alarming speed, the two continue to volley compliments back and forth until their footsteps finally retreat from the bathroom. April leans back against the stall wall, slides down to the floor, suddenly unable to stand. She’s angry, furious, at these two idiots for interrupting this day that was supposed to be April’s; at how easy it seems for both of them to casually mention their parents' disapproval without a shred of fear; at how Sterling can denounce homophobia like it’s nothing. Before she knows it, tears are leaking from her eyes, and she’s sobbing on the Stacey Abrams North Atlanta campaign office bathroom floor.
She cries for another seven minutes, then carefully stands up, washes her face, and climbs out the window, dignity be damned.
Two months later, Brian Kemp wins Governor of Georgia, and her Daddy whoops and picks her up like she’s still a kid. April smiles at him, tells him we got another one, and tries not to think of Michelle in that office, the way all that contagious enthusiasm must be deflated. She tries not to think about Sterling Wesley, about how her duh in the face of prejudice compares to a man taking office who definitely hates one specific part of April.
April’s been reading Politico and The Washington Post on the computers at school where her parents can’t check her history and she’s pretty sure that this weak-chinned Romney guy isn’t going to cut it. She still has the memory of the blood on her Daddy’s knuckles four years ago, the fear that coursed through her at the sight of him, teeth bared and heaving.
She takes a deep breath and looks at Sterling across the lunch table. Her eyes are crazy blue, and it’s enough to distract April for a minute. She clears her throat then, trying to sound casual, but it all comes out in a rush.
“Hey, do you think maybe I could sleep over at your house tomorrow? I know it’s a school night but I really can’t - I can’t be home tomorrow night.”
Sterling cocks her head at her, and April swallows, feeling exposed somehow.
“Are you okay?” Sterling asks, and April nods a little too fast. “Are you sure?”
April reaches across the table to grab Sterling’s hand almost involuntarily. She notices how Sterling smiles at the contact.
“I’m sure,” April says, smiling back because she can’t help it sometimes.
Sterling grins widely, a couple of teeth still missing.
“A sleepover on a weeknight would be so cool! I’ll ask my mom!”
April breathes a sigh of relief, and Sterling looks at her in that knowing way again but doesn’t say anything.
Daddy’s already stone faced and nervous Tuesday morning, but he still kisses her cheek and claps her on the back like he does every morning. April takes this as a good sign, hugs him extra tightly, and goes off to school with a smile on her face that’s immediately matched when she sees Sterling in class, like they have a secret. A weeknight sleepover kind of secret.
Blair’s asleep by 8 p.m., which makes April giddy in a way that she only is when she gets a hundred percent back on her tests. It’s not that she doesn’t like Blair, it’s just that there’s something in the air when it’s just her and Sterling. They lay back on Sterling’s bed and giggle about the way Hannah G. fell off the jungle gym last week, about how no one else in class gets fractions yet, about the way Blair is snoring right beside them.
April can’t stop smiling. She wants to stay in this giant comfortable bed forever, watching the way Sterling’s eyes light up when she says something funny. It’s too big of a thought all of a sudden, bringing up things she doesn’t want to think about, so she gently nudges Sterling with her toe and asks, “snacks?”
It’s past their bedtimes, so they’re quiet when they sneak into the Wesleys’ kitchen. April can hear the low hum of the TV on in the background as Sterling tries to reach for the Oreos on a high shelf. April glances into the living room and sucks in a breath as she hears the news waft into the kitchen. And with the votes from California counted, Barack Obama has officially won a second term in the White House.
She hears the TV stop abruptly, and tenses all over. This is what she’s been trying to avoid. She looks over to Sterling, who’s just smiling as usual, gleefully holding the pack of Oreos. April wants to warn her about what’s going to happen, about how Dads get on election night, even when they are sweet and good and read to her and tuck her in, this night does things to them.
“Well, gosh darn it, I thought we might have had that one,” Mr. Wesley’s voice carries over from the living room. He sounds disappointed, but still somehow casual.
“Can’t win ‘em all,” Mrs. Wesley says, like she’s talking about a little league game, not who is the president.
“I suppose you’re right, hun,” Mr. Wesley says with a sigh, “maybe next time.
“That’s the spirit.”
Then there’s the sound of the two of them getting up. April had been too focused on the confusing words coming from Sterling’s parents that she hadn’t thought about being caught and before her brain can catch up, Mr. and Mrs. Wesley are standing in the kitchen. April’s breath catches.
“Oops,” she hears Sterling say behind her.
April braces herself.
“Sterling,” Mrs. Wesley says, arms crossed, but smiling, “I know you aren’t sneaking snacks back to your room, now are you?”
Sterling drops the Oreos and shakes her head. April looks to Mr. Wesley, waits for the incoming storm. Mr. Wesley just laughs of all things, and scoops Sterling up in his arms. April’s mouth falls open.
“Come on, Debbie,” he says, grinning, “can't blame a growing girl for wanting a little extra.”
He presses a kiss to Sterling’s forehead and April feels a sense of longing that she can’t place.
“Don’t want her to be a bad influence on poor April here,” Mrs. Wesley says, running a hand over April’s hair.
“I’m not a bad influence,” Sterling pouts.
Her parents both laugh at this before taking them up to bed. April watches as Mr. Wesley sets Sterling down, then picks up Blair to move her to her own bed. It’s all so soft and sweet and April wants to cry.
After Sterling’s parents leave, April ends up face to face with Sterling on her big bed, neither of them wanting to close their eyes, though she notices Sterling struggling to keep them open.
“Are you really okay?” Sterling whispers, barely loud enough to hear. “You can tell me anything, you know, you’re my best friend.”
And April wants to cry again and she doesn’t know why. It’s late and Sterling’s eyes are falling shut and something about it gives April the courage to say, “I don’t want to go home. I just want to stay here.”
“Then stay,” Sterling whispers as her eyes fall shut, “just stay here forever.”
“Okay,” April breathes with a small laugh. Even at nine, she knows it’s impossible, but she wishes anyway as she falls asleep, dreaming of living in a house with laughs and forehead kisses and nothing to be afraid of.
“It’s unfortunate that the biggest televised debates are between these dozen idiots,” April says, standing at the front of the classroom, “but there’s still a lot to learn from them. Know thine enemy.”
She puts the sound back on the Democratic debate and settles next to Sterling. Just because it’s the only open seat in the front row and the other nerds on this team aren’t known for smelling good. Not that she notices how Sterling smells, it’s just… less awful.
“You know we’re supposed to be non-partisan, right?” Sterling whispers. “Know thine enemy? Really?”
“Oh no, am I upsetting your liberal sensitivities?”
Sterling rolls her eyes. April grins. She notices a small smile on Sterling’s face too.
“Stop staring at me, I’m trying to watch the debate,” Sterling says and April blushes a little, hoping it’s not noticeable in only the blue light from the TV.
She tries to concentrate, even though her eyes start to glaze over when the random white guys on the furthest ends of the podiums are introduced. Sterling is slouching in her chair, writing in her notebook. April bets she’s doodling Luke with a bunch of little hearts around it or something trite like that. But when April looks over she sees that Sterling’s actually taking notes. She is taking notes on a debate at a non-mandatory forensics meeting in summer. April can’t help the rush of something akin to affection that courses though her.
April swallows. She has got to get this stupid not-crush under control. Sterling has a boyfriend and is straight and is a girl and April has already made plans to wait until she’s at least at Harvard to come out. Something as asinine as Sterling Wesley taking notes on a debate isn’t going to change that.
Absently, April’s aware of the debate still happening; Senator Harris says something biting to Vice President Biden and the crowd goes wild.
“Damn,” Sterling whispers, “she’s hot.”
April coughs loudly. The entire room looks at her.
“Wrong pipe,” she says.
“You didn’t drink any water,” Sterling says.
“Shut up.” Then she hesitates, steadies her breathing, waits for most of the attention of the class to go back to the TV. “Did you really just say Senator Harris is hot?”
Sterling shrugs, like it’s the most easy thing in the world. “Yeah, she totally is.”
April feels like her world is tilting slightly. It’s nothing. Girls find other girls hot all the time. It doesn’t mean that Sterling is… it doesn’t mean anything. It just means that Sterling appreciates a woman in a blazer who can take a man down a peg. That’s basically just April if she started wearing blazers. Maybe April could get into blazers.
No. April sits up straighter, stops her foot from tapping anxiously on the ground. This line of thinking won’t get her anywhere.
“You heathen,” she hisses out, and Sterling just laughs.
April turns her attention back to the debate to distract herself from the way the sound of Sterling's laugh sets her blood on fire.
“Do you think any of these imbeciles even know how to craft a comprehensive piece of legislation?”
Sterling rolls her eyes. “Call me when you’re elected to congress, then.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
“Ooh, can’t wait.”
April knows that Sterling is being sarcastic, but there’s a shine in her eyes and her mouth is still frustratingly smiling and God, April wants.
Sterling is straight, April reminds herself. Straight and taken and hates her anyway. She repeats it like a mantra. Straight, taken and hates me. Straight, taken and hates me. Straight, taken and hates me. Straight, taken and -
Months later, Sterling is pressing her up on a desk, in the backseat of a car, in an arcade and April realizes none of those things are true and that all those months, years, of wanting can lead to something like this. She’s breathless for it, for the way her chest feels like it’s expanding when Sterling smiles at her like she’s the only person in the world. She never knew something could feel like this, that her of all people would deserve this kind of bliss.
April wishes she was surprised when it all comes crashing down.
It’s her third case. The client is a woman named Katrina, a sex worker who’d tried to cross state lines after she was arrested, but was brought back in. April likes her, she’s funny and fiery, not anything like the clients her professors had warned her about when they cautioned her against becoming a public defender.
“I can’t get you off,” she tells Katrina, leaning across the table from her.
“Oh don’t underestimate yourself,” Katrina says with a wink. April laughs.
“But we can definitely reduce that sentence.”
“That’s what the last guy said.”
April leans in conspiratorially.
“Pardon my candor, but the last guy sounds like an idiot.”
Katrina grins at that and April finds herself grinning back. She can do this. She tries to ignore the extra pressure of it all; doesn’t think about the reason she started working at the public defender’s office the second after she passed the Georgia bar. Katrina is her own person, not a manifestation of her family’s past sins.
She reduces Katrina's sentence down to six months from two years and it feels incredible. Katrina pulls her into a very unprofessional hug after she gets the verdict and April lets herself be held, lets her victory wash over her. Seven straight years of higher education might just be worth it to give this woman 18 months of her life back.
“Thank you,” Katrina whispers in her ear.
April reigns in her emotions. Not here, not in court. Luckily, even with a half a decade of therapy under her belt, she still has the power to repress when need be. She tactfully removes herself from Katrina's very toned arms to see her expression harden.
“The fuck are you doing here?” She snarls to someone over April’s shoulder.
April turns around and does an almost comical double take when she sees Blair Wesley, arms crossed, leaning against the wall of the courtroom like it’s her Dad’s truck ten years ago.
“What are you doing here?” April echoes sans profanity, keeping her expression neutral, trying not to conjure up worst case scenarios of why the sister of her kind-of-ex-something-significant is showing up to a small Atlanta courtroom on a Wednesday afternoon.
“Sometimes I like to follow up with my skips,” Blair says, nodding casually over to Katrina who gives her the finger.
“You’re still doing...that?” April manages to get out, still trying to wrap her head around this situation she’s found herself in.
Blair grins. “Gotta pay the bills somehow.”
Her smiles fades and they look at each other a little awkwardly. April knows they’re both thinking about The Fight all those years ago; of April screaming at her and Sterling in front of everyone, the way she was crying and yelling and spitting how could you until she couldn’t breathe.
“You two know each other?” Katrina asks, thankfully breaking April out of her memory.
“Oh, she used to fuck my sister,” Blair says casually.
April chokes on nothing. Katrina laughs.
“Nice going, Stevens.”
“This is so unprofessional,” April manages to get out, and Blair start laughing.
“Good to know that Harvard didn’t take the stick out of your ass,” she says, with a smile that’s almost fond.
“Yeah, well you can take the girl out of her extremely repressed youth…” April says, and Blair laughs again.
“Damn, when did you get funny?”
“I’ve always been funny!”
Blair shrugs. Then she gives April a look like she’s trying to suss her out.
“Do you want to, like, catch up or something?”
They end up going over to the Mexican place across the street from the courthouse. It’s happy hour and Blair buys them both Margaritas and a massive plate of nachos that are just for her.
“I’m only doing this because I feel like the bounty on Katrina paid better than defending her,” Blair says, when she hands her card to the bartender.
“To the broken criminal justice system,” April says.
They toast, before falling into a not quite awkward silence for a minute. April tries to remember that today is about her success, her helping those who aren’t helped by the system. She knows she should talk about the case or ask Blair how she’s been or reminisce about some shared memories from their youth.
“So how’s your sister?”
Blair throws her head back and laughs and laughs and April can’t help but laugh back a little, not embarrassed one bit at her transparency.
“I should have timed you,” Blair says, wiping her eyes, “good to know that even though you’re a badass lawyer now, you’re still holding that torch, huh?”
“You think I’m a badass?”
Blair rolls her eyes. “Not the point, dude, but yeah, you were fucking amazing today, I think the judge nearly shit himself.”
April grins. “He did, didn’t he?”
“It is really cool,” Blair says, straightening, “that you’re helping people like Katrina especially after… you know.”
April fiddles with her drink. “Well that’s why, really. The system’s stacked to protect rich white assholes like my dad and the laws are designed to punish people like Katrina, so I have to…” she swallows. “I just have to.”
Blair nods, looks down at the nachos. April suddenly realized that this is the longest conversation they’ve ever had without a buffer. And it’s surprisingly not terrible.
“What else are you gonna do, change the laws?” Blair jokes.
April’s grins wide. “Actually, yes.”
Blair blinks. “Fuck, when did you get so cool?”
“I’ve always been cool.” April steals a nacho. “Anyway, how’s your sister?”
Hannah B.’s mom is sick. Which is fine, who cares, things happen, but that means that April can't go over to Hannah B.’s after school, and she can’t go over to Ezekiel’s because both their parents have a no boy-girl sleepover rule (years later, April and Ezekiel will lose their minds laughing about much this rule backfired), which means April has no choice but to go home, which means that she has to be witness to whatever Daddy is going to do if Hillary Clinton becomes president.
She stays in her room after dinner, refreshing the election results before the polls even close, trying not to have a panic attack. It will be fine, she hasn’t seen Daddy actually do anything violent since Obama first got elected. But she does remember the way he threw the remote at the TV just last summer when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.
“John,” her mom had sighed, “it’s doesn’t have to be a big deal-”
“But it is,” he’d insisted, fist balling up, “they’re changing our values, it’s just not right.”
And April had nodded enthusiastically, then she’d gone up to her room, buried her face in her pillow and tried not to think about the way she notices Jessica’s legs when she wears short shorts, the way she can’t look away sometimes when Sterling smiles, the low backed dress Taylor Swift wore to the Grammys last year. Earlier that year she’d heard a song on the radio that crooned make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s what you’re into, and April had wondered if maybe it was that easy, then her Dad had made that face and said those words and she knew it never would be.
When Virginia goes blue, April viciously slams her laptop shut. She pulls her Bible off her bedside table table and decides to read that instead, something familiar and calming and not the storm that is surely gathering in her living room.
She doesn’t realize she’s fallen asleep until her bedroom door bursts open and she hears Daddy yell, “April!”
April sits up with a start, immediately wide awake. Her heart slams against her ribcage and she tries to force her body to do anything, but it's paralyzed. Her dad has never hurt her or her mom before, but if -
Then, suddenly, he’s picking her up like he did when she was little.
“We did it,” he laughs into her hair, “we got America back, baby girl!”
“Oh,” April says lamely, then remembers herself and gives him a big smile, “that’s great, Daddy.”
“Sure is.” He sets her down on the floor. “Now what do you say to some late night ice cream, just this once to celebrate?”
April nods and follows him mutely into the kitchen. She still can’t quite believe that it’s not another night of broken glass and bloody knuckles and hiding in the corner, and she’s suddenly giddy with it, laughing over their homemade sundaes and feeling the familiar sense of comfort of just the two of them.
On the way back to her room, she catches the TV in the background, sees the man who is apparently going to be president give a speech and something uncannily like disappointment slithers into her gut.
It’s almost a relief when the schools close that spring. April doesn’t know if she can face the pitying looks on her teachers' faces now that Daddy is back in prison, for a much longer sentence this time. She can’t face the way Hannah B. tries to be extra cheerful now, like nothing has changed this whole year, Ezekiel’s oh honeys when he catches her at less than 100 percent. And she definitely can’t face Sterling’s wide doe eyes in class, the way the guilty way she’s been looking at April after April found out. After The Fight.
Either way, she knows it makes her a bad person because people are dying, but a reprieve from seeing anyone except her mom for a while is exactly what she needs.
She spends the hours where she’s not in virtual school or virtual church researching. By the end of April, she’s pretty sure she has handle on divorce laws in Georgia, and slowly walks her mom through what she needs for full custody, and how to milk him for everything he’s worth. Her mom cries at first, and April wills herself to not cry with her.
“I’m so sorry, honey, I shouldn’t have stayed with him, I shouldn’t- I was so scared he would hurt you-”
Then April does cry and lets herself be fully held for the first time after all these terrible months.
“We’re going to be okay,” she tells her mom, who gives a watery laugh.
“I should be telling you that.” She wipes a tear off of April’s cheek, which only makes April cry harder. “I love you so much, baby girl, no matter what. It’s you and me.”
April thinks about telling her then, and almost does, but she couldn’t handle what would happen if her mom had a less than perfect reaction. She’s already lost one parent this year. Her mom’s been different these past few months, not the weak echo of her father April had known for the past sixteen years, but she still can’t get a full read on her. So she just leans in and closes her eyes and pretends she has no more secrets.
Junior year ends anticlimactically, right around the same time she thoroughly exhausted all of her resources on civil court. Her mission trips have been cancelled for obvious reasons, so she spends the first few weeks of summer swimming in the pool, covertly checking out Judith Butler books from the library, and skipping Kacey Musgraves whenever she comes on shuffle.
One summer night, she’s awake at 2 a.m., tired enough to let her guard down and start fantasizing about blue eyes and soft hair and sweet sighs. She quickly pulls herself out of it, getting up off her bed and pacing the floor.
Finally, she sits down at her desk and Googles something she has wanted to for months now but hasn’t had the nerve to.
Sex workers’ rights Georgia
She finds out things that make her stomach turn, that makes her unable to face the reality of the man who raised her. She thinks about when he had come back the first time, and he’d smiled at her the same smile he used to always give her when he came back from business trips and it had just seemed so right that she let herself fall into him. The fact that, even if only for a few months, she let herself forget what he did, who he hurt, still makes her want to throw up and weep and punch him at the same time.
Sometimes she wishes she never had the image implanted in her mind of Sterling hitting her father of the head with the butt of a gun; she wishes she had been the one to do it. Sometimes she wishes she could bring back the anger of those first 24 hours after she found out, instead of this muddled complicated thing it settled into.
Browsing through the lack of legal protections for sex workers, she feels the rush of anger come back, a better kind than that of a heartbroken and betrayed teenager, a solid rage that settles in her gut at just how much she hates the man who raised her now. And she wants to do something about it.
April’s research hole leads her to the website of a state senator who introduced a bill to decriminalize sex work last year, which was downvoted, but it allowed a smaller bill to pass, something unassuming about shorter sentences tacked onto a different bill about Atlanta prisons.
It’s six a.m. and April finds herself on Senator Tanisha Taylor’s website, trying to find out more information about what specific plans she has for sex workers. The website blinks at her, in an alarming blue and white, asking if she’s interested in volunteering to get Senator Taylor re-elected.
She’s not. Not after her disastrous attempt at volunteering two years ago. Not after she’s at least 75% sure she’s going to click the “R” next year when she registers to vote.
But if Senator Taylor doesn’t get re-elected, no one in the State House will fight for people like the one her Daddy hurt. The shining take action on the website taunts her, because she wants nothing more than to take action; to tangibly atone for the ways her father ruined everything.
She signs up for a phone bank shift.
Marcia, the field director, walks April and dozen or so other volunteers through how to make the calls, Senator Taylor’s big platforms, and the “persuasion universe,” as Marcia puts it, the people whose minds could maybe be changed. April takes it all in with a fierce concentration, taking notes and screenshots when she can. She might have been cautious about signing up for this, but April Stevens doesn’t half-ass anything.
It takes her seven phone calls before she reaches a person. Diane Johnson, 45 F, no party listed. April clutches her phone until her knuckles turn white when Diane answers, eyes boring into the script.
“Hi there, my name's April, I was looking to speak to Miss Diane,” she says, trying her best to be the sweet Christian girl her criminal father raised her to be, “regarding her local State Senate race.”
“Oh honey, I don’t do politics, you'll have to talk to my husband.”
April rolls her eyes. This is every woman who goes to her church with a fake smile asking her if she has a boyfriend yet. Which means that she knows exactly what to say to her. She plasters on a smile because she knows that people can hear a smile even if they can’t see it.
“I understand ma’am, I do, I don’t care for politics much either. In fact, I never thought I would be here volunteering for Senator Taylor, but life really does surprise you.”
She can hear the hesitation through the line, Diane weighing the options of taking the bait.
“So, what did make you volunteer? Oh, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Not at all, Miss Diane.” April’s church voice takes over. “You know, when I watch the news and see all those people fighting with ugly words on TV, it made me so discouraged. But then I heard about the work Senator Taylor’s done with-” she checks her notes, “education and making sure our kids don’t go hungry, well that’s when I realized that politics can be more than just folks yelling at each other. Senator Taylor had an initiative that gave hundreds of kids lunches across the greater Atlanta area, and it’s just things like that; things that make a difference, that make me want to spend my time talking to folks like you.”
She takes a breath, her hand not clutching the phone tapping her desk anxiously.
“Well, I’ll be, Miss April,” Diane says, “you may have just convinced me to go out to the polls this year.”
It turns out that April absolutely loves phone banking.
It’s the same thrill as debate, when someone on the phone says they aren’t voting, or they don’t know Senator Taylor, or they would never vote for a Democrat. April always grins alone in her bedroom and hits them with a local elections can make even more of difference than anything you see on the news or a she’s a mother and lawyer and is fighting for our communities or her favorite, I never thought I would like a Democrat either, but trust me, Senator Taylor is different.
She’s good at it, in a way that feels more validating than even school. Marcia gives her a special shoutout on her third phone bank, calling her a “Super-Vol” and April absolutely beams.
She finds herself spending her week looking forward to the phone banks, for her opportunity to go into battle mode. The other weekly volunteers are mostly older Black women, and April gets used to being the youngest and whitest face on the calls, starting to feel a sense of pride in going against what is expected of her.
One of the other volunteers on the debrief comments on it after April boasts about getting a 19-year-old Republican male to vote Taylor.
“Can you believe Miss April is spending her time making these calls with us instead of having fun with her boyfriend or whatever kids do these days?”
“No boyfriend!” April says quickly, with an overly bright smile. She looks at all the faces in their little squares, so kind and open, and takes a deep breath. “It, um, it would be a girlfriend anyway, if I... had one.”
She holds her breath. It’s silent for a few seconds, but then one of the old ladies looks closer at the camera and says with no pretense, “my granddaughter is a lesbian, I can give you her phone number.”
Then they all laugh, and April feels herself relax in a way she hasn’t in months, laughing with all these women 50 years her senior after they make phone calls for a Democrat. It’s been a weird year.
“You should apply for our internship,” Marcia tells her the next week. “It will look killer on your college apps.”
“I’ll think about it,” April says, already structuring her cover letter in her mind.
Part of the interview process is meeting with Senator Taylor herself. April feels her heart rate pick up waiting to be let into the call. She’d seen her pop up on a few volunteer appreciation events before, but one-on-one is different. She’s alarmingly gorgeous, even through a computer screen.
“Senator Taylor,” April says, all her years of Southern politeness coming up, “thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to talk with me.”
“How could I not?” The Senator says with a wide smile, “I’ve been told your phone calls might single handedly help me win this election. And please, call me Tanisha.”
“Thank you,” April says with a smile, offering her rehearsed, “I just try to do what I can to give back.”
“So what inspired you to start volunteering with us?”
It’s a simple question, very basic for a job interview. There are dozens of things April could say about civic engagement and learning about her local politicians but, for some reason, she wants this woman to know the truth. So she looks down at her hands for a seconds, then into the eyes of the woman she’s now spent hours advocating for, and tells her about her Daddy and the arrest and the politics she was raised with and how it led her here.
Tanisha is quiet for a second and April wonders if she’s ruined it all, because this was an interview, not a therapy session and April maybe just blew it out of an uncharacteristic need to overshare.
Then Tanisha carefully wipes something away from her eye and says, “thank you.”
“For reminding me why we do what we do.”
She gets the internship.
In the week before she starts, April spends time researching other races in Georgia, so her knowledge is airtight and unmatched. There’s a pastor running for Senate in a special election, and April reads an article where he talks about encouraging the church to support same-sex marriage when it was legalized. April signs up to volunteer before she even finishes the article.
The phone bank is bigger than the ones for Tanisha. It takes April a minute to adjust to all the faces she sees. One face strikes her as familiar, and before April can figure it out, she starts speaking.
“Thank y’all so much for coming out to make calls for Raphael Warnock today,” she says and oh my god April knows exactly where she recognizes that face from, “I’m Michelle, a regional organizing director for Raphael and I can’t wake to get to know y’all.”
April wonders if she remembers her, the stuck-up kid on her porch two years ago, but what feels like two lifetimes ago, before her dad got arrested, before she kissed a girl for the first time, before she found out that the girl she kissed was the one who got her dad arrested.
Before she can wonder any more, someone else from the campaign starts talking and April gets a DM in the chat box, Well, if it isn’t Miss Young Republican 2018.
April lets out a laugh, knowing that Michelle will be able to see it on camera and not caring. I’m actually just here to give you a piece of my mind, she writes back and sees Michelle smile.
Turns out your ideals don’t have to line up with your parents’, huh?
You have no idea.
They chat through the rest of the training, and text a little the next day, April telling her about Tanisha’s campaign and Michelle regaling her with the woes of professionally organizing. April thinks they’re becoming friends, in a weird way when you don’t actually just see each other. April realizes her little crush two years ago might have been slightly unfounded given that Michelle is 24, but it’s nice to have someone to talk to, someone who is removed from all the harrowing realities of this past year.
“Do you know about the hard ask?” Michelle asks over FaceTime, prepping her for the first day of the internship.
“It’s like the holy grail of organizing. Basically, if you ask someone point blank if they want to volunteer, they can easily say no. But if you hit them with -” she clears her throat and puts on her talking-to-voters voice, “it’s actually super easy to get involved in the campaign. We have phone banks Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Which one works better for you? Boom. Hard ask.”
“That’s… actually kind of genius.”
Michelle grins. “I love teaching the youth of America.”
So April does Wednesday phone banks for Raphael and Saturday phone banks for Tanisha and interns Monday-Tuesday-Thursday, plus SAT prep to raise her score past 1500 when she retakes them this fall.
It’s good, busy in a way that makes her collapse on the couch with her mom to watch Jeopardy and fall asleep during the few minutes where Alex gets to know the contestants. It’s a good kind of exhaustion, the kind that comes from the anticipation of asking a State Senator for a college recommendation and her saying yes, or an undecided voter saying fine I’ll vote for her, you wore me down.
The worst part about the summer is the prospect of going back to school. It looms over her, not just because it’s incredibly unsafe in Georgia right now, but also because it means this bubble will burst. She will have to be around people who have their own warped perceptions of her from years of history and gossip, instead of these new people who only know this version of April.
April sends an email to the faculty advisor for Young Republicans the week before school starts saying that she has to step down for family reasons. She knows that that will get her no follow-up questions asked. Her finger hovers over the send button for a second, knowing that this should be significant, a turning point, but somehow she passed that point back when she made her first phone call for Tanisha. She presses send.
School is weird, to say the least. The disastrous problems the world at large have taken over the public consciousness rather than any drama involving April’s family, so at least there’s that, but mostly it feels just like everyone is unsure they should be here, or yelling very loudly about how they have a right to be here. April just counts down the days till graduation.
She’s in basically all AP classes which means that she’s in basically all her classes with Sterling, which produces its own unique kind of anxiety. Even after six months off of the grid, Sterling still shoots her these little doe-eyed looks which April absolutely cannot deal with.
They’re asked to partner up for AP Lit, to choose someone to study with outside of class, and she sees Sterling staring at her, so she quickly hard asks Ezekiel, “does study hall or after school work better for you?”
Ezekiel looks like a deer in headlights and quickly says, “study hall,” and April relaxes just a tiny bit more.
They take a practice AP test in AP Chem, Mr. Townsend’s way of showing them how much they still need to learn. It’s not that effective, given that April gets a four on the first try.
“With the exception of one student scoring a four,” Mr. Townsend smiles at her, “Congratulations Miss Stevens - and one student scoring a three - congratulations Miss Wesley - we clearly have a lot of work to do.”
April turns around to Sterling, who is smiling because she got second place which is so frustratingly Sterling that April whispers, “anything under a four is basically community college.”
Sterling looks startled at the comment and April realizes far too late is the first thing she’s said to her since The Fight, almost a year ago now. Then Sterling smiles at her, which is absolutely not the reaction April was going for.
“At least at community college I won’t be around your massive superiority complex.”
It’s not even a good comeback, and it’s made even worse by Sterling’s stupid smile through it all, but it makes something in April’s chest loosen.
It gets a little easier after that, school just being something she sits through before going to her internship or doing a lit drop or helping her mom look over divorce papers.
Her mom’s ballot comes in the mail in October, and April spends a solid minute debating the ethics of filling it out, forging a signature, and sending it back, before she reluctantly takes it into the living room with the rest of the mail.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research into local elections if you wanted me to help you with the down ballot races,” April blurts in a rush as she hands her mom the mail.
Her mom looks at her with a small smile, as she opens her ballot. April is almost giddy. Tanisha’s on that ballot. Raphael is on that ballot.
“Honey, you’re practically glowing.”
Her mom hands her back the ballot. “I trust your judgement on this one, sweetheart. You’re the one making those phone calls at all hours of the day.”
April stills. “You can hear those?”
“The walls aren’t exactly soundproof. I think it’s good, finding ways to give back.”
She hands April the ballot, and April feels herself tearing up a little bit. She thinks about telling her now, leveraging this moment, but the paper is thick in her fingers and maybe her mom trusting her daughter’s judgement only extends to her straight daughter’s judgement. So she just nods and goes to leave.
“Oh and honey,” April’s mom calls. Her lips are pursed and she looks down at her hands for a second before coming up to look at her daughter. “Don’t vote to re-elect that man. Your daddy loved him a little too much.”
April has no idea what to say to that. She stares for a second, before nodding solemnly and letting out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding.
April is busy translating the voter scripts in AP Spanish (¿Ha hecho un plan para votar por Tanisha Taylor?) when Blair slams the door open with a bang, making all heads turn to her.
“Can you believe it?” She’s saying, practically beaming back at Sterling who follows her into class with an equally radiant smile on her face. April quickly turns back to her notes.
“We really did it!” Sterling squeals, bouncing on her toes.
“Señoritas!” Señora O'Reilly scolds.
“Lo siento,” the twins say at the same time, looking sheepish but still utterly thrilled.
“¿Qué es tan importante que lleguen tarde?”
“Mi hermana y yo,” Blair struggles, “uh, convenció nuestros padres a votar por Biden con - como se dice ‘baggage’ - de familia y - como se dice ‘guilt trip’?”
April looks up, surprised. Not that the Wesleys would give in to their daughters’ wishes, she wasn’t born yesterday, but that there even is family baggage in their world. She wonders if Sterling has come out to them yet, then quickly banishes that thought from her head. It’s none of her business anymore.
She goes back to her notes - puede dejar sus boletas en su lugar de votación el 3 de noviembre - and tries to ignore the giggling as Sterling and Blair settle behind her.
“Hey!” April hisses before she can think better of it. Both sisters look at her in shock. “While you’re at it, get them to vote for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for Senate. You guys live in District 11 right? That’s Dana Barrett for Congress, Tanisha Taylor for State Senate. You know what, I’ll just text you who’s on the ballot, I know things tend to go in one ear and out the other with you two.”
“What are you playing at?” Blair asks, but Sterling just stares at her, head tilted like she’s trying to figure something out.
April swallows. “I just think if you guys are going to manipulate your parents to vote against their own party, you should at least be thorough about it.”
Then she turns back to Señora O'Reilly like her heart isn’t beating más rapidamente.
Tanisha has a backyard party on Election night in her absolutely massive lawn. It’s April’s first time meeting people from the campaign in person, and there’s something thrilling about being face-to-face with these people even though their faces are all half-covered. She meets Tanisha’s family, Mr. Taylor giving her a firm once-over and saying she seems like a bright young woman, and April beams at the praise.
Tanisha’s daughter is gorgeous and aloof and in college and definitely too cool to talk to one of her mom’s interns, while her younger son runs around in the yard with his friends and her older son gives April a polite but practiced smile, which tells her he’d rather be anywhere else. April wonders if he remembers her from the club, if he knows that they are kind of almost kissing cousins. She thinks about telling him hey, I got your ex-girlfriend to get her parents to vote for your mom but decides against it.
Instead she spend her time with the staffers, laughing at Marcia’s story of trying to help a 90-year-old man find his polling place, getting into a spirited argument with one of the other interns about manual dialing versus ThruTalk, and joining the rest of the group in huddled anxiety when the results finally come in.
She knows that the Presidential and Senate races won’t be fully counted for hours, probably days, but the final results for Tanisha come at about one a.m. and the suddenly the whole house is shrieking and clutching onto each other for dear life, and then are tears streaking down Tanisha’s face when she gets the concession call and she’s hugging her husband and her kids and April doesn’t realize she’s crying herself until Marcia comes over to her, beaming.
“We made those calls, April. We did this,” she whispers, like it's a secret just for her and it’s maybe the best feeling in the world. Or at least tied.
“We did this,” she repeats, willing herself to remember this moment.
It’s not until later, when she falls exhausted into bed with only four hours left until school starts, that she realizes this is the first election night in a dozen years where she hasn’t been scared of her father.
“Canvassing is the most effective form of voter outreach.”
“April, I know.”
“I know you’ve spent the past four years sheltered at Harvard, but this how we actually reach people and have face-to-face conversations.”
“You’ve also spent the past four years sheltered at Harvard.”
“That doesn’t negate my point.”
Lucy huffs. April looks up at her, squinting in the summer sun. Cambridge has made her weak; she’s sweat through all her shirts this first summer back in Atlanta, but she will knock on these doors if it’s the last thing she does.
“You can go back to the house if you want,” she tells Lucy, “but I’m staying out here.”
Lucy steps a little closer to her, tilts her chin up. “Come on, I flew all the way down here to spend some time with you. I’m sorry if it’s disrupting the political process that I want to spend time with my girlfriend. Sue me.”
“Technically, that’s not grounds for a suit-”
Lucy laughs. “We get it, law school.”
April forces a smile. She’s trying. God, she’s trying so hard to do the whole compromise thing.
“Come on,” Lucy says, “let's go spend the rest of the afternoon in your mom’s pool. Let the other volunteers knock on the doors.”
“This is important to me, Luce. Go back if you want. But I’m doing this.”
“Seriously? God, fine.”
Lucy shoves the Tanisha Taylor for Congress lit back into April’s hands and stalks off toward the car. April knows that she should go after her, that’s what a good girlfriend would do, but she still has 20 houses on her list to hit and there’s no way in hell that she’s giving up on Tanisha just because she had a fight with her girlfriend.
By the time April finishes her packet, she is pouring sweat. She’s pretty sure the last house said that they would vote for Tanisha just because April looked like she was going to pass out, but a strong support is still a strong support. She walks back to the campaign office, feeling the start of a blister on her toe, but that doesn’t stop her. She checks her phone; nothing from Lucy. April considers asking her for a ride, but that would mean admitting she’s wrong in some capacity.
The cool air of the AC blasts onto her face when she enters the office and April breathes a sigh of relief.
“Stevens, did you drown?” Marcia asks as she walks past, but April just gives her the finger.
She grabs a mug from the kitchen and fills it with cold water, downing it in two gulps, then splashing some on her face for good measure, until she feels slightly like a functioning human again.
“Shit, April, are you okay?”
April knows who it is before she turns but it’s still a shock to see Sterling Wesley standing here in Tanisha’s campaign office, holding a clipboard and wearing a Taylor for Congress button like it's nothing. April blinks, makes sure she’s not seventeen and having a sexual fever dream.
“What are you doing here?”
Sterling smiles, the same big dopey grin she’s had for twenty years. “I’m volunteering. Duh.”
“Why?” April crosses her arms, then stops, uncrosses them. “Sorry, that was unnecessarily hostile.”
Sterling’s smile gets impossibly bigger. “Hey, watch it, you know I like it when you’re unnecessarily hostile.”
April snorts at that and then she’s laughing and Sterling is laughing and it’s the first time all day she’s felt relaxed.
“Seriously, what are you doing here?” April asks, once she’s recovered. She’s aware she’s smiling far too widely.
“Oh,” Sterling twirls a bit of hair around her finger. “I saw you post and I quote ‘anyone who cares about the future of this country will canvass for Tanisha Taylor in this special election.’ End quote.”
“Wow, I guess you care about the future of this country a whole lot.”
“Something like that.” Sterling looks down, then back up, all wide eyes.
“I have a girlfriend,” April blurts.
“And I have social media, trust me, I’m well aware.” She reaches an arm out to April, then pulls it back. “I wasn’t - I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable or anything, I just wanted to see you. And also get bragging rights on Blair about how civically engaged I am.”
“You know, canvassing is the most effective form of voter outreach.”
Sterling’s eyes legitimately sparkle. “I’ve heard that, actually.”
And it’s easy.
“Hey,” Sterling says, “wanna get a drink or something? In a super platonic way. Crazy platonic. Almost heterosexual in how platonic it is.”
April realizes she would be better at being platonic if she could stop smiling for one minute. But she can't. And she has a girlfriend. Even if they’re fighting, it’s Lucy, who made her eat three meals a day during LSAT prep, who spent hours debating the ethics of religion with her, who flew all the way to Atlanta just so she could spend time with her.
“I can’t,” she tells Sterling, whose face immediately falls like a hurt puppy, “I have... Lucy is visiting and she’s at my house because we had a fight because I happen to think that doing everything in my power to get the woman who can change a broken criminal justice system elected is more important than a few hours with her in a pool. And I guess that makes me a bad person by some lesbian code of ethics so I should really-”
“April.” Sterling’s looking at her all soft and familiar and fond. “I get it, okay. We can take a raincheck.” She smiles, slow and easy. “And as someone who only subscribes to the bisexual code of ethics, I think you’re doing just fine.”
“Thanks.” April smiles, feels herself relaxing again. “Wait, you didn’t drive here, did you?”
The car ride to her house from Tanisha’s office fully traverses the city of Atlanta, but somehow it seems short. They talk about the campaign, April filling Sterling in on ground game, on the policy implications, and Sterling nodding and smiling in the driver’s seat. April never would have thought she would miss people from the South so much, but she did. Not having to over explain that you actually have to be polite when talking to people, not having to question any cultural slip-ups. It’s nice. Everything about talking to Sterling is nice.
By the time they get to April’s house, Sterling’s deep into explaining her recent college graduate existential crisis.
“And then,” Sterling’s saying, one had on the steering wheel and the other gesticulating wildly, “I was drunk out of my mind in Fort Lauderdale living the full spring break cliche and thought, why not go even more cliche and apply to the peace corps? So I did, while consuming several Smirnoff Ices in a row and now I guess I’m going to Romania to teach kids English.”
“Like, I am. For real.”
“Sterling, that’s… congrats.”
Sterling pulls into her driveway, then turns to April looking shy, almost. “I mean, it’s no law school, but it’s something.”
April puts her hand on Sterling’s forearm over the console. “Sterling, it’s really great. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks.” She looks down at April’s hand. April quickly removes it. “Uh, we’re here.”
“Right. I should apologize. Be a good girlfriend. Grovel.”
Sterling snorts. “I’d pay good money to see April Stevens grovel.”
April grins, opens the door, and steps out of the car, before looking back at Sterling. “Thanks for the ride. And the talk.”
Sterling smiles her Sterling smile. “Any time. Well, any time in the month before I go to Romania.”
“You’re ridiculous. Oh, I should send you some information about the geopolitical climate in Romania right now, it’s fascinating.”
“And I’m ridiculous?”
April smiles again, before making herself wave goodbye and close the door, only to be stopped by Sterling’s hand as she leans over to hold it open.
“Sorry, that was so supposed to be smoother,” she says, looking up at April from the car, “I, uh, just wanted to say, in a totally unbiased way, that if you feel like you have to apologize to anyone for caring about the things that you care about, that’s stupid. The fact that you care so much about things like criminal justice reform and different translations of the bible and effective voter outreach is amazing and endearing and hot and I know I shouldn’t say that because you have a girlfriend and I’m about to go to Romania, but we were never great at timing, and this isn’t even because of anything with us. I just - I just want you to be happy, April.”
And all April can do is stare at her, at a face she’s known for two decades blinking up at her from her parents’ Tesla with the most earnest look in her eyes.
“Sterling,” April starts, amazed at the effect this girl still has on her after four years of an Ivy League education and three years of therapy.
There are a thousand things swimming in April’s head but she can’t say them right now. Not after all these years. Not while she has someone waiting for her inside.
“Request your absentee ballot early so you can still vote in Romania,” she says softly.
Sterling does a very dorky half salute. “You got it, boss.”
“I’ll-” April feels her throat start to close, “I’ll see you around, okay?”
“You know it. Call me when you’re elected to congress.”
Then Sterling’s shutting the door and driving away and April smiles, watching the Tesla swerve dangerously out of her driveway with an odd surge of affection rising unbidden in her chest.
She finds Lucy in the pool, floating on her back with sunglasses on. It’s a nice picture. April sits down, dangling her feet in the water, until Lucy eventually swims over.
“Hey,” April says weakly.
“Hey,” Lucy echoes, before giving April’s knee a soft kiss. “Look, I’m only here three more days, and I don’t want to spend them fighting.”
April nods. “Okay.” She runs a thumb along Lucy’s forehead. “I do always appreciate a good debate though.”
Lucy splashes her then and April laughs and it’s easy for a minute. It’s easy for the next three days, like it was back at college, until April’s helping Lucy pack up to go home to Boston, and it becomes very clear they aren’t back in school anymore.
“So when are you coming to visit me?” Lucy asks.
“That’s a weak hard ask, Luce,” April jokes. But then Lucy’s stopping and rubbing her forehead.
“Fuck, I shouldn’t have to hard ask my girlfriend when she wants to see me next.”
And now they are apparently having that fight. She braces herself, preps talking points in her head, which she knows isn’t the best way to approach this kind of discussion, but she can’t help it.
“Answer me this,” Lucy says, “with your first semester of law school and working on a special election campaign, do you really think you’re going to take a weekend of your time to come up and see me?”
It’s another bad hard ask, but April knows better not to comment on it.
“These things are really important to me, and I’m sorry-” she starts, and suddenly all she can hear is Sterling saying if you feel like you have to apologize to anyone for caring about the things that you care about, that’s stupid. She swallows.
“I don’t want to have to apologize for my priorities,” she finally says and Lucy’s giving her this sad look.
“So I guess I’m not your priority, then.”
Someone really should have told April that having your first girlfriend also normally means having your first break up, but a real one this time, not desperate tears on a bench outside of school or an unspoken agreement before boarding a plane to college, but a real, fully adult break up. It’s miserable.
April still drives Lucy to the airport, then cries in her car. She calls Ezekiel after, refusing to wallow. He takes her out to some new shiny gay bar that April had absolutely no idea existed downtown, and forces her to do shots.
“My limit is three!” She yells at him over the pounding of Carly Rae Jepsen, “I can’t be exposed for public intoxication if I’m ever going to run for office.”
“Oh April,” he laughs, casually grinding on some guy, “I take great comfort in knowing you will always and forever be a huge dork.”
She smacks him on the arm, but laughs.
After her third shot, things are kind of hazy, and she maybe should have said two is her limit, because whatever Ezekiel’s giving her is strong.
“Should I text Sterling?” She asks and Ezekiel just laughs and laughs.
“Maybe give it 24 hours, babe.”
He confiscates her phone and she spends the rest of the night dancing, watching Ezekiel make out with a man with at least ten abs, and trying not to think about the look in Lucy’s eyes that afternoon.
The next morning, she’s not quite hungover but everything is too bright and she chugs a bunch of water before looking at her phone. She pulls up a new text and types in Sterling’s name, then stares at the cursor for a solid five minutes.
It’s not like she wants to dive head first into doing something with Sterling so close after a breakup. Not when Sterling is leaving the continent in a month, not when she’s in such an emotionally rocky place. But she misses her, misses her easy smile and the way she always looks at April like whatever April has to say is the most important thing in the world.
Finally, she types out a message.
Hey I know you’re about to leave the country, but I figure you could squeeze in another volunteer shift before you go. Does Friday or Saturday work better for you?
It’s maybe two seconds before her phone dings.
oh god that seemed way too eager didn’t it
im just like super invested in the future of this country or whatever
April gets the email during the last Forensics tournament of her high school career. It feels fitting, like fate, if April believed in anything as ridiculous as fate. Her phone buzzes during the final bought and she pays it no mind, casually eviscerating a man over the second amendment. She’d grilled Tanisha for all of her colleagues’ records before the tournament, so now she has enough insider information to argue the affirmative and the negative in her sleep.
The crowd jumps to their feet when April is declared the winner, and April grins, holds up the trophy like she’s Rocky. It’s a rush, all the attention on her, the proof that she’s better than these idiots heavy in her hand.
Sterling is the first person she sees after stepping down off the stage.
“Hey, great job,” she says, a little breathless, “you almost convinced me to get rid of my guns.”
April smirks at her. “Oh, but then how would you track down all your criminals?”
Sterling tenses. April swallows. They’d been doing pretty good at avoiding it all senior year. Small snipes in class and nothing more, an unspoken agreement not to talk about any part of The Fight. An agreement that April just broke, too high on winning to hold back.
She checks her phone, just for something to do that’s not looking at Sterling’s wide, guilty eyes. The first notification is an email. The email. From Harvard. Her heart speeds up, and she unlocks her phone at a rapid speed, forgetting to breathe until she can open it.
“Are you okay?” Sterling asks.
“I…” April looks up from her phone to Sterling then back at her phone, temporarily speechless for once in her life.
Sterling puts a hand on her forearm. “April,” she says softly.
“I got into Harvard,” April whispers, showing Sterling the phone.
Sterling’s whole face lights up. “Holy shit. Holy shit!”
April looks up at her and there is a massive genuine smile on her face, one that April hasn’t seen in over a year and she’s grinning back, not believing anything that happened in the last five minutes is real. Good things like this don’t happen to her.
“You deserve this,” Sterling says, almost reading her mind, “you deserve this more than anyone, April, oh my god, you’re so smart and work so hard and holy shit Harvard, you are gonna debate those east coast kids into the ground.” Her hand is still on April’s arm and she squeezes just a little. “I’m so proud of you.”
“I... thank you,” April almost whispers, “I really did it.”
“You really fucking did it.”
They stand there for a second just smiling at each until Sterling squeals, “Harvard!” again, wraps her arms around April’s waist and picks her up, spinning her in a circle. Any other day, any other person, April would protest and shove them away, but April just laughs, feeling freer than she’s felt in years.
“Sorry,” Sterling says when she puts her down, “I know you still hate me or whatever-”
“I don’t hate you,” April can’t help but say because she’s tried over and over again but could never hate Sterling Wesley.
“-but I’m really happy for you no matter what, so - wait, you don’t hate me? Not even after…”
April shakes her head. “Not even after.”
“Oh,” Sterling says. “Oh. Wow. That’s good.”
“Don’t be insufferable about it, though.”
“I like it when you tell me what to do,” Sterling says with a crooked smile and April’s heart rate speeds up.
Then Ellen comes over and Sterling blurts that April got into Harvard and then Ellen’s hugging her and the rest of the team is whooping and for just one afternoon, April feels like someone from a movie who had anything akin to a positive high school experience.
For the last two months of senior year, April actually has something akin to a positive high school experience. Things are different with Sterling after that day, they smile at each other in the hallway, and there’s something more playful about their fighting this time around. Neither of them take it any further, though April sometimes gets the feeling that Sterling might want to, getting that same look she had on her face the days leading up to that day where she had kissed her. But nothing tangible ever happens and April can’t tell if she’s relieved or disappointed.
Michelle and her organizer friends take April out to dinner after she gets the news, even Tanisha calls her with a solemn congratulations and her mom just hugs her and hugs her. It turns out Ezekiel got into Boston College and they spent an afternoon in his room looking over what things there are to do in Boston that are between Cambridge and Brighton.
“Ooh look,” he says, “this gay bar has 18-plus nights.”
April stares at him. He stares back. It’s not that April didn’t know, everyone knew, but does that mean that he knows? About her?
“Good to know,” she says casually and he winks at her and then they’re both laughing and it’s so easy.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” she says right before she leaves, “I’m not… ashamed or scared or anything anymore. I just have a plan.”
“Ooh, a Ru-veal!” He says with a grin and April isn’t entirely sure what that means but she smiles back anyway.
When she comes home that day, her mom’s made dinner, something that she’s just been starting to do again, and April comes in and kisses her on the cheek, something she's just been starting to do again.
April’s still high on her conversation with Ezekiel, still high on Harvard, still high on the way Sterling had gently kicked her foot under their desks in AP Lit when she had called Holden Caulfield a good for nothing waste of space under her breath.
So when they sit down for dinner, April pokes at her potatoes, glances up her mom and says, with no pretenses, “I’m gay.”
Her mom looks up at her, eyes wide and unreadable. April scrambles for her backpack, for the Bible she had highlighted for this specific purpose.
“And before you say anything, some say that the translation of the King James text may have been a misinterpretation that wasn’t completely calling homosexuality a sin-”
“It was more condemning statutory rape, which is obviously bad, and God created -”
She finally looks up at her mom, who is... smiling?
“You know I love you no matter what, right?”
April’s throat is closing up, and she didn’t expect her mom to hate her or anything, but she in no way planned for it to go this well. In the time before Daddy was arrested, her mom was always silent, but standing behind him, and now she’s not exactly silent, but still keeps her mouth shut and her head down.
But now she’s standing up and coming around to the other side of the table to wrap April in a hug, whispering “I’m sorry,” into her hair.
Her mom sighs, and April hears tears in it.
“Even before… your Daddy said a lot of hateful things. And I never contradicted him, I never made you believe that this was a house where you would be accepted. I wasn’t brave like you, hun, I had to wait until he was put away…”
Then they’re both crying and it’s not the coming out that April predicted, there are definitely more tears than she anticipated, but it's still perfect.
The weekend before graduation, she finally visits her Daddy. She looks around at all the other prisoners with their visitors, thinking about the criminal justice reform initiatives that Tanisha has been trying to get passed. She wonders how many people in here are on a minor charge, how many have families who need them. She knows the man sitting in front of her isn’t one of them
“Baby girl,” he says, smiling at her too big.
His cheeks are hollower than they were last time she visited and April is torn between her horror at the newfound knowledge of how the prison complex treats its inmates and a sick satisfaction at the man in front of her suffering. She settles on the former, the more Christian option.
“Daddy.” She clasps her hands together on the table like she’s praying and looks him in the eye. “I got into Harvard.”
His smile is more real this time, reaching his eyes. “I’m so proud of you.” They’re the same words that Sterling said, but they feel different this time, chilling, especially when he follows them up with, “don’t you become a coastal elite up in Boston, now.”
“Don’t worry, Daddy.” She leans forward across the table. “I don’t need to go to Boston for that. Did you know I got into Harvard because I spent hundreds of hours volunteering for multiple Democrats. And I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that people like the ones you assaulted are protected by the law. Someday, Daddy, I’m going to meet Barack Obama at an alumni event and he’s going to thank me for all the work I’ve done. And you’re going to sit here and rot and deal with that.”
Her daddy’s face has gone red, hands bracing the table. It would scare her if there weren’t guards around, if April hadn’t spent the better part of a year growing past this fear. She stands up, straightens her shirt and gives him one last look.
“Oh, and I’m a lesbian.”
Then she walks out of the prison.
“I just wanted to thank you for all the work you’ve done. I’ve been following your career and it’s quite impressive.”
“Thank you, sir. Yours isn’t too bad either.”
Graduation day is sticky hot, but April can’t stop smiling. She sees her mom giving her a not-subtle thumbs up and laughs. She almost tears up when she spots Tanisha in the crowd, next to Marcia, next to Michelle who gives her an ever-enthusiastic wave.
“Is that Miles’ mom?” She hears Blair ask incredulously from the row in front of her and April laughs to herself.
She leans forward and whispers, “I interned for her last fall. She wrote a recommendation letter for my college apps.”
Blair turns around. “You interned for her? But you’re… and she…”
“The two party system is a very narrow way to view the world, Blair,” April says, sitting back in her seat smugly.
Blair sputters for a second then turns to her sister, with a, “Christ, keep it in your pants, Sterl.”
Because Sterling is giving her that look again and April can’t help the way her own face lights up.
By the time she goes up to give her Valedictorian speech, she’s sweating under her robe, buzzed on the energy of the crowd. She squints at everyone who matters in her life scattered on a football field. Her mom’s already crying, Tanisha is beaming, and Sterling is looking up at her with an almost predatory grin.
April takes a deep breath.
“Willingham! We made it, didn’t we?”
The students cheer, an aptly timed “yeah, we did” coming though, and April smiles. Maybe she does have a soft spot for these idiots. She starts off small. Classic. Shout outs to faculty, to God, a joke about the vending machine in the courtyard not working, until she’s sure she has a captive audience.
“All this to say, I feel very lucky to have gone to this school, even if it’s an opportunity no one whose parents make under 300k a year will ever have.” She notices a slight squirming in the audience and smiles.
“It’s hard to believe how much I’ve changed in these last four years; how much we’ve all changed. It would be easy to say that Willingham made us into people who could go beyond the mold set out for us. But I think we did it in spite of this school, not because of it. I think it speaks to the resilience of our generation, that someone like me with plastered on conservative values from my criminal father could go to a school that has a straight-straight alliance, and leave here-” her eyes find Sterling because of course they do. Sterling is leaning forward in her seat with her mouth open and eyes focused on April, “- as just a massive lesbian who is working to keep Georgia blue.”
She looks to Sterling again, who April thinks might be crying but also grinning, and suddenly April feels like she might cry too. But she has a speech to finish. And a diploma to get.
“But I’m not giving Willingham the credit for any of that. I give the credit to us. We have the power to change the things we think are unchangeable. So congratulations class of 2021. We are what we make of ourselves.”
At first she thinks that there will just be silence but then she hears a voice that sounds remarkably like Blair say, “fuck yeah, April!” And then the students are cheering and standing and some of the parents definitely look unhappy, but April doesn’t care.
“She! Did! That!” Ezekiel practically yells in her face after the ceremony.
“Sick as hell, your speech was,” Luke says in a Yoda voice, grinning at her.
Hannah B. just hugs her really tightly and April is oddly touched by all of it. When her mom finds her, they’re both crying a little bit and April doesn’t even try to hide it. Tanisha also hugs her which is surreal because she’s an elected official.
April doesn’t remember the last time there was this much open affection showered on her and it’s almost too much.
“Hey,” Michelle says, pulling her aside, “not to interrupt your celebrations, but that girl looks like she wants to eat you alive.”
And there’s Sterling, cap askew, eyes shining and looking exactly like she wants to eat April alive.
“Wait, I think she volunteered for me a few years ago,” Michelle is saying somewhere in the background, but April can’t look at anything but Sterling, the way her tongue is poking slightly through her teeth, the way her fingers come up to brush some hair out of her face.
“Hey,” April says lamely.
“Hey,” Sterling says, stepping closer to her, “great speech.”
“Thanks.” April doesn’t know when she lost the ability to say more than one-word sentences.
“I’ll let you kids get to it,” Michelle says, with an actual wink, which April would roll her eyes at if she wasn’t so busy trying to make her breathing steady.
Sterling leans closer, which does not help the breathing situation, until her lips are lightly grazing against April’s ear.
“So, what you said back when,” Sterling whispers and April can hear the hitch in her voice, “back when we were, um -”
She hesitates, and before April knows what she’s doing, her hand is on Sterling’s waist, pulling her just close enough so she can be the one to whisper in Sterling’s ear.
“Just spit it out, Sterling,” she says, her voice lower than it normally is, but with still a gentleness to it that she can’t help.
Sterling whimpers a little in her ear and it’s almost cute, but then she opens her mouth and says, “you said you wanted to ravage me. And I just - I just wanted to know if the offer still stands.”
Then she’s pulling back and looking at April, shyly and somehow not at all shyly, and April can’t stop the way her cheeks get pinker and her grin gets wider.
“I think that can be arranged,” she says.
Sterling grins and bites her lip. “Cool.”
“Cool? That’s what we’re going with?”
Sterling hits her on the arm. “Shut up.”
“Eloquent as always.”
“So,” Sterling says, glancing over at her family then back at April, “I have this family dinner thing, but afterwards, do you want to maybe...”
She’s clearly flustered and April still can’t believe that after all that’s happened, Sterling is standing in front of, stumbling over her words, while essentially propositioning her. April could make it easy on her, but that would be no fun.
“Do I want to... what?” She asks innocently, tilting her head.
“Do you want to meet me at Franklin’s party tonight or should I just text you after dinner?”
April laughs. “Great hard ask.”
“What’s a hard ask?”
April arrives at Franklin’s party before Sterling does. She carpools with Ezekiel and Hannah B., who pouts in the back seat.
“I can’t believe you’re both gay and neither of you told me. I’m like, so cool, with it. The coolest.”
April snorts, nothing touching the high she’s on.
“Oh, honey,” Ezekiel says, “I’m really not trying to explain the nuances of the closet right now, I just want to get drunk and make out with a hot guy.”
“Yeah, okay, me too,” Hannah B. says, “oh my gosh, Ezekiel, we can talk about boys now.”
Ezekiel mouths save me to April, who just laughs.
The party’s in half-swing by the time they get there. Franklin’s parents are gone for the night and his dad bought him a keg as a graduation gift. April feels like she walked onto the set of a teen movie. She politely grabs a solo cup of water and scans the room.
“She’s not here yet,” Luke says, appearing like a friendly giant, leaning against the counter with a beer.
“Who?” April says, poorly feigning confusion.
Luke grins conspiratorially. “It’s cool, I know.”
“You- you know?”
It must come out harsher than she intends because Luke raises his hands so abruptly that his beer sloshes over a little bit.
“I don’t, uh, Sterling didn’t tell me anything specific, just that she was also into girls, which is super chill, but then you are also into girls and you guys were talking like really close at graduation, and there’s always kind of been vibes so I just figured…”
He rubs the back of his neck anxiously, and April feels an odd sort of fondness for him.
“It’s okay,” she tells him, “you figured mostly correctly, at least. We’ll see.”
He nods. “Cool. I mean I’m cool with it. With the gay thing and the ex thing. Not that you need my approval or anything.”
She laughs, a sort of anticipatory giddiness rising in her chest.
He starts telling her about a new girl he’s into who plays the drums and has a nose ring and is teaching him about feminism and April goes back to scanning the room for Sterling. She realizes she didn’t need to scout after all, because Sterling and Blair come into Franklin’s kitchen the way they come into every space, drawing all eyes in the room toward them.
Sterling’s eyes zero in immediately and April really can’t help the smile that takes over her entire face.
“There she is!” Blair shouts and bounds over to where April and Luke are standing, “you caused a whole thing at dinner.”
“Me?” April looks between Sterling and Blair. Sterling laughs and looks down at her feet.
“It’s not a big deal,” she murmurs.
Blair punches her in the shoulder. “It so is, shut up.”
“What is?” Luke asks.
“So, were getting dinner with our grandparents,” Blair says, hoisting herself on the counter, “and they’re all like ‘it was a lovely ceremony except for that terrible rude lesbian.’”
April snorts. “I’ll take it.”
“And like, they’ve always been assholes so it wasn’t that unexpected - hey Luke, can you hand me a beer - but then they kept going on and on about ‘traditional values’ and ‘whiny liberals’ and then they were somehow racist about it even though you’re white? But it got to a point where-”
She pauses, takes a long sip of her beer.
“You snapped?” April guesses.
Blair grins. “Better. Sterling snapped.”
“I don’t know if snapped is the right way to put it,” Sterling says, with a sheepish little smile, “but I uh, kind of told them that they were old and hateful and that that terrible rude lesbian was a better person they’ll ever be and maybe over exaggerated a bit because I told them we were dating just to rub it in their faces. So I guess I accidentally came out to them.”
“Oh shit,” Luke says.
April takes the step to Sterling, trying to ignore her heart beating faster at the thought of Sterling defending her, at the thought of Sterling saying they were dating. She puts her hand on her arm. “Are you okay?”
Sterling smiles and nods. “Yeah, I mean, they’re raging bigots, so…”
“It’s still allowed to feel bad, you know. Are your parents..?”
“They’re cool,” Sterling says quickly, “more than cool actually. I was… I told them I was bi after I found out like a truly insurmountable family secret, so they kind of didn’t have a choice.”
April has a lot of questions about what in God’s name the truly insurmountable Wesley family secret, is but she figures now is not the time. She nudges Sterling gently with her shoulder.
“I told my dad, you know. Just last week.”
Sterling’s eyes get impossibly wider. “What- how- what did he say?”
“I don’t know. I kind of dropped the bomb and walked out. Of the prison.”
“Damn,” Blair says and April had fully forgotten she was here.
“Are you okay?” Sterling asks.
“I think so,” April says, looking at where her arm is still touching Sterling’s, “for the first time in a while. I think I’m more than okay.”
Sterling’s smile is dazzling. It’s enough to make April lean closer to her, angling up a little so her mouth is close to Sterling’s ear.
“Didn’t we have plans tonight?”
Then Sterling is grabbing her hand, and pulling her out of the kitchen.
“Use protection!” Blair yells, and April starts laughing at all the memories that phrase brings up.
Sterling laughs too and they’re running though Franklin’s house until they're outside and the humidity hits April in the face and the crickets are chirping and Sterling’s hand is warm and solid in hers and for the first time since she got into Harvard, April feels a pang about leaving Georgia in three months.
She doesn’t have time to dwell on it though, because Sterling’s still tugging her along all the way through the front yard and down the driveway and April can’t help but let out another laugh at the sight of a familiar car parked at the end of the driveway.
“Really brings back the good times, right?” Sterling says, and there’s something nervous in her voice as they stand beside the Volt, both breathing a little heavily, hands still clasped.
So April takes her other hand and brings it to Sterling’s neck, rubs her thumb lightly on her jaw and gently pushes so Sterling’s back is flat up against the car.
“Jesus Christ, April,” Sterling gasps out.
“Yes, two greats,” April says and then she’s kissing her.
And God, April’s whole body aches for how much she missed kissing Sterling Wesley. She can feel Sterling’s heartbeat where her thumb is pressed to Sterling’s neck, and she can smell her shampoo and she can feel just how soft Sterling’s lips are when she sighs into the kiss. She’s spent the past two years unable to forget this feeling and several years before imagining it and now Sterling is pressed fully against her and her mouth slowly opens against April’s and April doesn’t know if she’s felt anything better.
“Open the car,” April practically growls, and Sterling quickly obliges, sliding onto the back seat as April follows.
April shuts the door behind them and then it’s just the two of them in a confined space, April hovering above Sterling, breathing hard.
“April,” Sterling whispers, so soft over her name, “I’ve wanted- I’ve wanted this for so long.”
“Me too,” April breathes and then she’s kissing her again, insistent and eager, “God, me too.”
She closes her eyes and lets herself focus on the way Sterling's hands are touching her, the joyous way in which Sterling lets out each breath underneath her, and if April wasn't already so far gone for this girl, this would certainly do it.
“I can’t believe I lost my virginity at a party on graduation night, it’s so cliche,” April laughs, hours later when they’re lying out on Franklin’s lawn, still not ready to go inside yet.
“That was really your first time?” Sterling asks.
April scoffs. “No, I actually spent the year in which we were in a pandemic finding all the available lesbians in my conservative Christian circles to seduce them.”
Sterling laughs, leans her head into the crook of April’s neck.
“Well, not to inflate your already massive ego, but you’re, like, really good at sex.”
“I actually got that from the excessive screaming of my name, but thank you,” April says, then confesses, “I’ve done a lot of research.”
“Of course you did,” Sterling says, rolling her eyes, but still so softly, “I wouldn’t expect any less.”
She takes a deep breath and April feels her whole body move with it. She doesn't remember the last time she was so physically close to someone, so much that she could feel their breathing.
“If you wanted to, um,” Sterling says, “maybe keep researching this summer, I wouldn’t mind.”
“Keep researching, huh?” April says, and she means to tease but it comes out tentative, hopeful.
“Yeah,” Sterling says, “only if you want to. I know you’re going to the East Coast in a few months and you probably are doing something overly ambitious this summer, so I’m not asking you to be my girlfriend or anything…”
April wishes she those words didn’t sting, but they do a little, even though she knows it’s a clarification due to circumstance, not any lack of feeling, but she can help but long for a world in which Sterling is asking her that. But then she looks down at Sterling, whose head is still resting on her chest, but tilting up now and there is such earnestness in her eyes that any bit of hurt or disappointment leaves April as soon as it came.
“I’d like that,” she whispers simply against Sterling’s hair, and she feels Sterling’s whole body smile. And that’s better than the word girlfriend anyway.
If someone had told April two years ago that she would spend a summer going back and forth between a internship at a non-profit specializing in prison reform and having mind-blowing lesbian sex with Sterling Wesley, she wouldn’t believe them. Well, maybe a hopeful part of her would believe the sex thing, but definitely not the prison reform part.
There are parts of it that are so harrowing that April needs to step outside, clutch a wall, and breathe. If she wasn’t already “radicalized,” as Michelle teasingly puts it, this job would do it. About a month in, they go to visit a women’s prison, April and the other intern observing as they give legal council to a group of women who have years tacked on their sentences just for light possession charges. One woman talks about her kids having been forced into the foster system and it's the pure love that April can see on her face that makes April wants to cry.
She goes over to Sterling’s house that night, and just sits on her bed with her legs hugged to her chest, not sure how to have an interaction.
“Hey,” Sterling says gently, “are you okay? We don’t have to fool around or anything if you had a rough day.”
April nods, takes a deep shaky breath.
“It’s nothing to do with me, I just - the world is so awful, you know? And sometimes it just hurts that I can’t do anything to make it better. And then I feel so incredibly selfish for making it about myself, because even with everything, I am so lucky, and I don't-”
She leans her head on Sterling’s shoulder, suddenly so tired. Sterling brings a hand up and strokes her hair.
“You’re gonna change the world, you know that? You’re gonna be like the white, gay AOC from the South.”
April laughs softly. “I think the collective Stevens family just keeled over from that statement.”
Sterling shrugs. “Their loss.”
April leans up and kisses her, softer and lighter then what they’ve been doing so far. She feels Sterling’s eyelids flutter closed against her cheek and April sighs. She leans her head back on Sterling, enjoying the feeling of her chest rising and falling with her breathing for a few minutes.
“Thanks,” she finally says, “It’s been a weird day. We went to a women’s prison today for work and-”
Sterling’s body immediately stiffens under her. “Which one?”
“Which prison? Are you intimately familiar with Georgia women’s penitentiaries?”
Sterling’s not paying attention though, jumping off the bed and pacing. “You didn’t happen to - you didn’t see anyone there who - who looked like my mom did you?”
April furrows her eyebrows. “You mom? Sterling, what? Your mom is downstairs right now, definitely not…”
She notices Sterling’s hands start to shake, and walks over to her, taking them in her own hands. She looks up at Sterling’s eyes, who looks like she’s about to cry.
“Sterl, hey,” she says softly, “what’s going on? You can - I know we’re just doing whatever we’re doing - but you can talk to me. About anything.”
Sterling’s hands squeeze hers and suddenly she’s crying, big sobs that have April holding her and walking them back to the bed, so Sterling can fully heave onto her lap. April strokes her back, still incredibly confused as to what is happening.
“My parents,” Sterling says, so quietly that April has to strain to hear, “aren’t really, um, my parents. But they are, they are, just not fully, well, genetically.”
April had, for the last month, given a little bit of thought to what exactly the big insurmountable Wesley family secret was, but she never thought it was anything like this. She’d always been jealous, almost excruciatingly so of Sterling and her idyllic home and sister and now, well.
Sterling keeps talking, still crying a little, telling April about her aunt and her kidnapping, which April doesn’t even begin to comprehend, before Sterling’s moving on to the therapy and the fighting and the crying and Blair not being her twin, but Blair still being her twin, and how she had to be a witness at her not-mom’s trial and by the end of it April realizes she’s crying too.
“Sterling,” April says, when Sterling’s finally done, laying exhausted back on the bed, “I didn’t- I’m so sorry.” She wipes a tear off of Sterling’s face. “For what it’s worth, as someone who has half their genetics from a someone I’m not fond of, it really sucks.”
Sterling gives a teary chuckle. “I was kind of expecting something more poignant than ‘it really sucks.'”
“Well, it does really suck.” April’s fingers slide through Sterling’s hair, and Sterling relaxes a little, sighs. “But do you remember like ten years ago I slept over on a Tuesday because I was so worried about my dad? I remember just watching the way you and your family were together. So good and sweet and easy. Even as a nine year old, I was jealous that you got to have something so good. And I was jealous later, when I knew that your parents were gonna love you when you came out to them. And then they did. I’m sure this is the thousandth time you’ve heard it, but that doesn’t go away because of something like DNA.”
“That is the thousandth time I’ve heard it.” Sterling looks up at her and smiles, still a little teary, “but it sounds nice coming from you.”
April smiles back, but then it quickly vanishes when she’s struck by another thought. “Oh, God, Sterling, I was awful to you last year, I didn’t think-”
“Hey, it’s okay.”
“Not really, I fully reamed you and Blair out for arresting my dad, which was the right thing to do, but I yelled at you and was overreactive because I’m me and I was hurting and I was in love with you and meanwhile you were going through all this trauma-”
“Did you just say you were in love with me?”
April bolts upright on the bed, face immediately turning red. She doesn’t look at Sterling.
Sterling sits up too, and April doesn’t have to look at her to know how she’s grinning. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough.
Sterling’s hand rubs the back of April’s neck, thumb coming up to brush at her jaw and it’s just so tender that April can’t help it.
“I know that it’s a lot,” she whispers, deciding to keep it past tense, because anything else is just too much, “for what was one week of making out and much longer than a week of pining, but I’ve always - I’ve never been any good at half-measures.”
She finally tilts her head and her breath catches in her throat when she sees the way Sterling is looking at her, all parted lips and soft eyes, and when she kisses April, April can’t help but completely fall into it.
When she pulls back it’s only to say in horror, “Did I just make your family tragedy all about me again?”
But Sterling just laughs and kisses her until April can’t remember what she was feeling guilty about.
If April was a bit braver, she would bring up the fact that she’s leaving soon, propose the idea that maybe whatever happens this summer could keep happening miles apart. But April could barely handle parting with Sterling on her own terms after a week of secretive kissing, she’s not sure what she would do if Sterling rejected her after months of sleeping together and telling secrets and laughing through the night together.
As it is, summer ends too fast, and suddenly, April is packing up the only room she’s lever lived in, and bombarding her mom with resources for how to deal with an empty nest, which her mom just smiles fondly at, before giving her a hug, which have become more and more frequent this year.
She doesn’t do a big goodbye, just makes sure to see everyone she cares about before she leaves. She swings by the State House to say goodbye to Tanisha and Marcia, reveling in the fact that she can swing by the State House. Her and Ezekiel coordinate their flights so they are on the same one to Boston, and Hannah B. plans with them as if she’s going. Michelle gives April the contact info she has for people in Ayanna Pressley’s office and then ropes her into a school board volunteer shift the week before she’s due to leave. April does it with glee.
The last night before her flight to Logan, her and Sterling don’t sleep. April thinks it’s going to be maudlin, and there is a part of her deep inside that is still longing for something more than a summer fling, but somehow the time with Sterling can’t help but be joyful.
They find themselves laughing as they drive through the streets of the city, then pulling over to make out until they get hungry. They go back to April’s, sneaking in, so they don’t wake her mom, and laughing as they shut the door to April’s now empty bedroom. Sterling presses her against the bare wall and kisses her until April’s whole body is arching off the wall.
“Don’t forget me once you’re a big deal up in Boston,” Sterling whispers in her ear, fingers trailing down her bare thigh.
“I could never forget you,” April breathes.
“Call me when you get elected to congress,” Sterling says into the curve of April’s neck and April laughs and sighs at the same time.
“Well, I do have to look out for my constituents.”
“God, it’s sexy when you talk politics.”
April doesn’t cry when Sterling leaves in the morning, but they hold each other close.
“You know, this is the first time that we won’t be in school together,” Sterling says, “don’t you dare find another faux-enemy to have sexual tension with.”
April laughs into her shoulder. “No one else will ever have that perfect combination of infuriating and attractive.”
Then her mom knocks on the door and it’s time to go and she hugs Sterling one last time, before she has to load up and go to the airport to the most prestigious school in America.
“Are you and Sterling going to keep seeing each other?” Her mom casually asks in the car.
And that’s when April starts crying.
hey do you have court on sunday
The courts are definitely closed.
riiight god n shit
Exactly. God n shit. So well put. I have church on Sunday though.
Blair, I’m not skipping church for some of your shenanigans.
ooh shenanigans fun word!!! and trust me you're gonna wanna skip church for this.
sterl’s coming home on sunday
April skips church.
She sits in the passenger's seat of Blair’s Mini Cooper and taps her foot anxiously, watching the skyline go by.
“Dude, calm down. It’s the airport, not DEFCON One.”
“I’m calm!” April glances behind her, in need of a distraction. “So wait, when you pick up your criminals, do you have to shove the front seat forward just so they can get in the back?”
Blair laughs. “Yeah, it makes it way harder to escape. Especially when Bowser is in the front seat, which he hates, but it gets the job done. Also, don’t think you can ask about my car just to get out of admitting how nervous you are.”
“I’m not nervous. I’m just, it’s just been a while, okay?”
Blair rolls her eyes. “No shit, dumbass.”
“The signature Wesley wit strikes again.”
“Hey, you’ll get that times two in about twenty minutes, so watch it.”
April smiles, looks down at her hands.
“You dork, you’re still in love with you, aren’t her?”
“What!” April sputters, “that’s ridiculous, I’m not - we haven’t even - it’s been like ten years since - and - I’m a lawyer and I don’t have time - she’s been out of the country for three years that would be -”
“Jesus, don’t have a conniption in my car, it was just a question. Which you have a very unconvincing answer to. I’m a lawyer? That’s your excuse?”
“Good one. How do you win a single case?”
“Please, you’ve seen me work.”
Blair shrugs a shoulder in concession before taking the exit ramp much quicker than April ever would. She clutches the side of the door.
“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t kill you,” Blair puts on a sappy voice, “before you’re reunited with your long lost love.”
April annoyingly finds herself blushing a little, which is absolutely ridiculous. Blair gives her a knowing look, and April just slumps in her seat.
“It’s pathetic, isn’t it?”
“Oh for sure,” Blair cackles, “but if it makes you feel any better, my sister’s just as pathetic as you.”
“Yeah, it’s honestly insufferable how much she brings you up.”
April grins, sits up straighter, before Blair says, “It’s almost as much as you bring her up,” which April probably deserves.
Blair is hungry and has a plan, which involves dropping April off at baggage claim, so Blair can go to Cookout to get them all food for when Sterling arrives.
“Why don’t we both just go to Cookout then go to the airport?”
“Because, what if her flight’s early?”
“Then she’ll wait for five minutes, I don’t see-”
“Just go with the plan, Stevens. I need a cheerwine float stat.”
Which is how April finds herself in the International Arrivals terminal unable to sit still, waiting for a girl who she hasn’t seen in three years, when they’re finally about to be in the same city without an end date for the first time since high school.
April knows Blair thinks she’s being clever and cute about it, and April is oddly grateful for the friendship that Blair has provided for the last few months, but it doesn’t mean she can’t be slightly pissed about this dumb plan. It’s not like they’re in a romcom or anything, for all she knows Sterling could have met some hunk in Romania or some gorgeous tall woman who doesn’t have adult acne in Thailand and then will be disappointed to see April’s boring, familiar, 5’1" ass.
She checks her phone for something to do, not that Sterling would text her because Sterling’s doesn’t know she’s here and not that Blair would text her, because Blair’s driving - well, Blair would text and drive but the last time she did it, April cited statistics at her until she put her phone away.
Her phone is still mostly just work emails and updates from the Castro campaign. She scrolls through a recruitment email, wonders if she has time next weekend to do a canvass shift, shrugs one shoulder and signs up for it. It will be good to stretch her legs. She’s about to text Michelle and ask how field is going for Castro anyway when she hears her name being called.
“April? Oh my god, is that you?”
April turns and there she is, the same Sterling as ever, walking over to her. She’s a little tanner and her hair is a bit shorter, but she’s smiling her same smile, and she’s wearing a slightly worn Abrams for Senate ‘26 shirt and Blair’s definitely right, if April wasn’t already still in in love with her, this would definitely do it.
“No, I’m just a jetlag hallucination,” April deadpans.
Sterling grins. “Okay, definitely April.”
She has a bag slung over her shoulder and another on back and she unceremoniously drops both of them to wrap her arms around April. She still smells the same, and April can’t help but relax into her.
“Holy shit,” Sterling says, “this is crazy. I was just about to text you to see if you wanted to, I don’t know, hang out or something. Now that we’re both here. Did you just fly in too? Where were you? Blair should be coming to pick me up, if you want a ride somewhere, even though she probably stopped for Cookout because the best Cookout is by the airport, everyone knows-”
“Sterling,” April puts a hand on Sterling’s wrist, “slow down.”
“Right. Hi. How are you?”
April laughs, a little giddy. “I’m good. Great. I’ve oddly been spending time with your sister most of the summer and she thought it would be… fun if we got you together.”
Sterling smiles even wider. “Fun?”
“Something like that.”
“Don’t tell me she replaced me as your favorite twin.”
April smiles. “She could never,” she says, a little too softly for three years apart.
Sterling just smiles back, equally soft. “Good,” she murmurs. “So, let me guess, she dropped you off and went to Cookout?”
“She does love a cheerwine float.”
Sterling makes a noise that sounds, if April remembers correctly, exactly like the sounds she makes during sex.
“I am going to lose my mind when she brings the food. I missed American food so much, I can’t wait to destroy a chicken nugget. Or several.”
“Is that all you missed?”
And April means it like a general question about cultural touchstones, or specific Georgia things, or even about Blair, but it comes out high and breathless.
“Of course that’s not all I missed,” Sterling says quietly, and April realizes how close she is, how pink her lips still are, and then both their phones are buzzing with texts from Blair, and April quickly looks away.
They grab Sterling’s bags and head to the curb, where April witnesses the absolutely chaotic and energetic ritual that is the reunion of the twins. April feels like she might be intruding when Blair and Sterling hold each other and jump around and maybe cry a little bit, so she loads the luggage into the car. Which takes longer than she expected, considering the car is a Mini Cooper and Sterling has three years and two continents worth of baggage.
When she’s finally found the perfect configuration, which involves a backpack squeezed in with the spare tire, she looks over to see Blair and Sterling leaning on the hood of the car, faces close together like they’re whispering, but April can’t see their lips moving.
Blair tilts her head toward April and nudges Sterling in the ribs, to which Sterling blushes and elbows Blair, and April must have gotten sentimental in the last few years because watching the interaction does something to her heart.
She has to get it together, so she does what she does best; she crafts a plan. She’s not sixteen and closeted anymore, she can be an adult woman asking another adult woman out. Maybe she can get Sterling to do a canvass shift with her next weekend, but in a somehow romantic way.
“Hey, nerd!” Blair shouts, pulling April out of her head, “get in the backseat.”
“It’s weird that you guys are friends now,” Sterling says, opening the passenger’s side door.
April reaches to pull the back seat forward at the same time Sterling does, and suddenly Sterling’s smiling right in her face, just an inch away from her.
“Hey, I like your shirt,” Sterling says, remarkably cool, given that April feels like a dumb teenager all over again.
April glances down at her shirt, which is just a blue button down, nothing special, but then Sterling’s hand is on her collar and she pulls her closer just a smidge, but it’s enough to kiss her softly on the lips.
“Oh,” April says, like an idiot, and Sterling just grins at her. And April had a plan but Sterling looking at her like that and kissing her like that, like it’s the easiest and most natural thing in the world, is better than any plan.
“Get in the fucking car, you dumbass lesbians,” Blair yells, honking the horn.
April still does her plan. Kind of. She gets Sterling to do a canvass shift for Castro the next weekend, and then changes her shirt four times, even though she knows that Michelle has a Castro shirt specifically for her at the office.
Sterling convinces a registered Libertarian to vote for Castro, using her big eyes and her earnest Southern charm and April has to drag her to the car so she can press her to the back seat and kiss her until they’re both breathless.
“So this is what does it for you?” Sterling teases, eyes glinting.
“You do it for me,” April says, too caught up to have a filter, “always have.” She looks down at Sterling, flushed and panting under her. “Too much?”
“Never too much,” Sterling breathes, “haven’t you gotten that by now?”
“We got Ossoff!” Michelle calls from her office, “he wants to do a joint rally next month.”
April grins. “So if we do a rally with Jon and Stacey next month, that means-”
“National media attention, which means-”
“I was going to say it will propel you to be one of the most high-profile congress races in the country, but sure, money.”
“Money to hire more organizers, which means we can have the best ground game on any race since Ossoff himself, which means-”
“We flip the district.”
“Hey guys,” a tentative voice interrupts. April turns to see Darian, one of the comms guys, looking back and forth between the two of them, “um, you should probably check out this segment that just aired."
April glances at Michelle, who shrugs, before they head over to Darian's desk, where his laptop is showing a poorly produced local news feed.
“It’s not national yet or anything,” he starts, “but it definitely presents a problem.”
He presses play and April has to grip the desk to stay upright. She knew this would happen. She had prepped for this, with the comms team, with Michelle, with Sterling, but prepping did nothing for the way her stomach curls in on itself, the way her breath becomes short.
“April,” Michelle whispers, “you don’t have to watch it.”
“No, I really do.”
To prove her point more than anything, she forces her eyes to look at the screen again, seeing the face of her father for the first time in over a decade.
It starts off innocuous, the reporter, if one could even call him that, asking lowball questions about how it feels to see his daughter emerge as one of the most progressive candidates Georgia has seen. April’s expecting the response, the signature Stevens way of insults wrapped in a compliment with our values don’t seem to line up anymore and she’s always been a headstrong girl and April finds her tension easing just slightly. This is just politics. She can handle politics.
“When did this start to happen,” the reporter asks, “this divide between you and your daughter’s politics?”
“I would say around the time I was wrongfully imprisoned,” her dad says. April rolls her eyes. “You know what happens when a child doesn't grow up with a father figure.”
“Wow, he managed to be homophobic before he gets to the actual homophobia,” April remarks, perfectly casual, pretending that she doesn’t actively want to throw up right now.
“And then of course, she started, well how shall I put this if there are families watching, spending time with other women.”
“And there’s the actual homophobia.”
“It is so easy for young women to fall under the influence of those without God in their hearts,” John Stevens says with a sickening smile at the camera and suddenly April knows exactly where this is going. Dread blooms in her gut. “April had this friend growing up, Sterling Wesley-”
April slams the laptop shut. Darian jumps back from it, but April doesn’t care.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” she says, trying to keep her voice steady, but letting some of the anger seep through. “No official response. We don’t stoop to his level. But Darian, get some motivational story circulating out there about how his arrest and being an awful person is what lead to me getting involved in politics, so when media latches onto his absolute bullshit, the story will be out there, from our side. If it escalates, we go from there, but I have spent the last dozen years building a dossier on how that man has ruined lives, so we will be prepared for whatever her throws at us. Michelle, call legal, I’m going to need a good defense.”
“Defense for what?”
“For killing my father if he ever brings up Sterling again.”
“There she is,” Michelle says with a grim smile, before turning around and facing the other staffers, “the candidate is joking about patricide. But not about that comms plan, let's get on it.” Then, gentler, just to April. “We’ve got this. Go talk to her, okay?”
April doesn’t confirm or deny that she wasn’t being absolutely serious about her intention to murder, but she gives a tight-lipped almost-smile to Michelle before excusing herself. When she gets to her car, she leans her head against the steering wheel, breathing heavily. It was easy to convince her staff that she’s angry, only angry, not whatever is stewing inside of her.
The drive home is blissfully short, April’s muscle memory doing all the work, as her mind sorts out contingency plans for worst case scenarios, so much that when she finally makes it inside, she is verging on the edge of a panic attack.
There’s music coming from the kitchen and April follows it in a haze to find Sterling staring intently at a box of mac n cheese.
“Hey, you’re home early,” she says, not looking up, “I watched this video about how to zhuzh up some mac n cheese and was thinking maybe hot sauce and broccoli isn’t an ideal combo, but for some reason it really sounds good right now.”
And April just stares at her, because she gets to come home to this every day and it’s not fair that the same person who almost ruined this thing over ten years ago is trying to do it again. So April, being an adult woman who is actively running for national political office, sits down on the kitchen floor and starts crying.
“Okay fine, I won’t do hot sauce and broccoli,” Sterling jokes before looking down at April and immediately joining her on the floor, a hand coming up to cup her face, “April, hey, sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
Her thumb brushes a tear off of April’s face and it’s so achingly tender that April can’t breathe for a second. It’s kept happening over these last three and a half years of being with Sterling; small moments of simplicity that April doesn’t even believe are real. The way that Sterling always comes back from the grocery store with a surprise for April, the way Sterling looks over her briefs with her chin resting on April’s shoulder; the way she had held her and whispered I’m so proud of you when April started talks about running for office.
And now this.
“My dad gave an interview today,” she manages to get out, “about me running.”
Sterling stiffens. “I’ll kill him,” she says frankly. “I know you didn’t want to keep guns in the house because common sense laws or whatever but my parents still have them and I haven’t lost my edge and Bowser and Blair definitely know some people who could get rid of a body.”
“Right, sorry. Murder isn’t ideal for the girlfriend of a future congresswoman.” She turns back to April, puts an arm around her shoulders. April instinctively leans into it.
“Seriously,” Sterling whispers to the top of her head, “what can I do, how can I make it better?”
“It’s not-” April’s voice cracks, “it’s not me I’m worried about. He brought you up.”
“Me? About bringing him in the first time?”
April laughs a little. “I don’t think his new media presence will mention that one time two teen girls took him out. No, he cited you as the reason I turned to sin.”
Sterling snorts. “I wish. I think you turned to sin all on your own, babe.”
“That may be true,” April says with a soft smile that’s only for Sterling, though her insides feel like they’re going to combust, “but that’s not what I’m worried about. Sterling, if he knows we’re together, then he knows he can hurt me through you. I know my dad, he won’t stop at anything to get what he wants. Especially with the embarrassment of me running on the platform I am, and using him as my personal story. I don’t - I don’t want to be the reason that anything from your past comes up. If I he goes after your family, Sterl, I-”
She drops her head on Sterling’s shoulder again, tries to steady her breathing. Sterling’s hand finds its way into April’s hair, untying her bun and smoothing it out. April can’t help but sigh at the gesture. Sterling’s thumb tilts April’s chin up so that they are eye to eye.
“April,” she says, fully serious in the way she rarely gets, “we’ve talked this. We had that incredibly long meeting with Michelle where we aired out literally any attacks that anyone could make on you, on me, on everything. And I don’t care what they bring up. I don’t care if your dad runs ads that say ‘April Stevens is dating a sexual deviant who wasn’t even raised by her biological parents and puts objectively bad toppings on mac n cheese.’ I’m still going to be here for you.”
April sniffs. “None of those things are technically untrue.”
Sterling laughs and it’s the best sound in the world.
“That’s my girl,” she says, nudging April gently, “I’m in it for the long haul, you idiot. No matter what your dumb dad says.”
April breathes, relaxes further into Sterling’s hold.
“Thank you,” she murmurs into Sterling’s shoulder, “I couldn’t do this without you.”
Sterling snorts. “I get the sentiment, I love the sentiment, but that’s so not true. You could do this without me. You’d probably be less happy and even more insufferable and not have like the cutest girlfriend to bring to campaign events, but you could do it. You can do anything.”
April doesn’t quite know how to respond to that, so she kisses Sterling. She’s still a little teary and snotty from earlier, but she feels Sterling smile against her mouth and the knot that had been forming in her chest ever since she saw that news clip finally fades. She pulls back to look at Sterling, whose eyes are half closed, grinning dopily at her the same way she did when they were just kids. April’s suddenly overcome.
“Sterling,” she’s saying before she can overthink it, “I’m not going to pull a Buttigieg and get gay-married just so I can be an easily digestible queer politician, but when this is over, win, lose or draw, I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Sterling’s smile grows impossibly larger, before gently shoving April in the shoulder.
“Did you just propose to me? On the kitchen floor? After having an emotional breakdown?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny any proposing-”
Sterling tackles her to the ground and April grins up at her, flushed and exhilarated.
“You’re insufferable,” Sterling says, mouth an inch away from April’s.
“You love it.”
“Obviously.” She kisses April then, too quickly, before pulling back and smiling, “when you do actually ask me, the answer will be yes, by the way.”
“Obviously,” April repeats and Sterling rolls her eyes fondly before kissing her again.
The kitchen floor is hard against April's back, and she’s almost 30, she knows it’s going to cramp later on, but she can’t find it in her to care as she sighs into Sterling’s mouth and pulls her even closer, allowing herself to forget everything else just for right now.
She brings herself back to that moment over the course of the next several months. When her dad does get national media attention, when the religious right spray paints dyke on her office, when she doesn’t sleep for a week because her poll numbers have suddenly dropped, she just remembers lying on the kitchen floor, Sterling's hair falling around her, uniquely safe in the knowledge that she is loved.
She holds onto it when election night approaches at an alarmingly rapid pace and the results are in her favor, then too close to call, then out of her favor, then too close to call again. She grasps Sterling’s hand so hard, she’s sure she’s cutting off circulation, but Sterling doesn’t complain.
When the last precincts come in, April stares at the numbers again and again, convinced that they can’t be real, that someone is pulling a prank on her, that despite the opposite being proven true again and again, things like this don’t happen to her.
“Is this real?” she point-blank asks Michelle.
“Nothing’s real till we get a concession call,” Michelle says but then she’s smiling, beaming, “but we got the votes. Miss Young Republican 2018, you’re going to be Georgia’s newest Democratic congresswoman.”
The room erupts. There are hands shaking hers, clapping her back, April thinks she might be crying, but her face is stuck in a smile so big that her cheeks strain. Everything blurs together for a minute, and then becomes clear as she feels Sterling’s arms wrapped around her just like she’s eighteen and got into Harvard all over again, but better, so much better, because it’s Congress, because Sterling says I love you and you did it and I love you again and April has absolutely transcended.
When the concession call comes, April takes it gleefully, each syllable of the man admitting she has beaten him fueling her. When she hangs up, the room cheers again, then Sterling abruptly drags her into a corner.
“I know you have a billion things to do right now,” she breathes, “but April, your face on that concession call I just-” she leans in, “I want to do ungodly things to you.”
“Watch it, I’m an elected official now,” April says, but she can help the grin that takes over her face, the one that Sterling knows intimately now.
“Stop eye-fucking, you have a speech to make,” Michelle snaps.
“Right,” April says.
Sterling just smiles sweetly, presses a kiss to April’s cheek that should read as completely innocent, but somehow isn’t. April clears her throat, adjusts her mic. She can hear the crowd through the other side of the curtain already.
“Ready to get out there?” Michelle asks, with a grin that’s hiding something that looks suspiciously like tears.
“Never been more ready in my life.”
The roar when she walks on stage is overwhelming in the best possible way, grounding her.
“Hello Georgia,” She yells into the crowd, “we made history today!
“Just a decade ago, they didn’t think this would be possible. I didn’t think it would be possible. But here we are. The first time in over 30 years that a woman has held this seat. The first time in over 30 years that a Democrat has held this seat. The first time in history that a lesbian has held this seat.”
April lets herself soak in the applause that follows. She spots Sterling, who has snuck into the crowd and is gazing up at her, hand clutched in Blair’s.
“There are moments in your life,” she continues, “that you look back on and realize everything shifted. Sometimes they are obvious, like the girl you tried very hard not to have a crush on kissing you after class, or getting the call that your father has been arrested. Sometimes they are more subtle; someone very persistent knocking on your door and changing your perception of politics, gaining the courage to make your first phone call on behalf of someone who wants to stir things up.
“All of those moments changed my life. Because they led me here. I could not be more grateful for every single person who cast their vote for me, who knocked on doors that no one else has knocked on, due to a belief that they can change the system that has been stacked against them. You all put your faith in me and I promise to take that faith and mold it into concrete change.
“Tonight, you elected me to serve you.”
April looks into the crowd, sees smiles and tears and faces that have been working non-stop for this. Her eyes settle on Sterling, like they always do, like they’ve been doing for over twenty years. She suddenly finds herself on the verge of tears. She clears her throat. Later she will go home and cry tears of joy into Sterling’s arms and then do something that is far more enjoyable than crying. But right now she has a ready and waiting audience. She has future constituents and there’s no way she is going to disappoint them.
“But tonight is just the beginning.”