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been thinking 'bout the way you smile golden (wanna move inside your light)

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April Stevens plans everything ahead of time. She doesn’t like to be caught off guard and she likes to think there’s nothing that can surprise her if she’s ready for it. She hates the unpredictable and she prides herself in being cool, calm and collected. 

Except when it comes to Sterling Wesley, that is. No matter how much time passes, the blonde always seems to get under her skin. So when she found out in summer she would be her roommate at college, it all came crashing down. She tried to get the university to let her switch roommates to no avail.

And now here she is, standing in front of her dorm building, scared out of her mind. She’s glad she at least has Ezequiel at the same campus. She turns to him.

“Ezequiel, I can’t do it.”

Ezequiel rolls his eyes, already used to her panicking. He’s probably tired of her complaining.

“April, we’ve been over this,” he says. He grasps her shoulders, trying to put on a serious face that looks like it’s trying to do exactly the opposite. “You’ve been waiting your whole life for college. This is your moment.”

She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Inhale, exhale. She opens her eyes again. Ezequiel is right despite the fact that she can see a laugh wanting to bubble out of his chest because of how ridiculous she’s being. She isn’t going to let her less than ideal roommate situation ruin what should be the best experience of her life.

“Besides,” adds Ezequiel, letting her shoulders go, “maybe it’s time that y’all relieve all that sexual tension.”

She gasps and Ezequiel finally laughs at her affronted look. He experimentally avoids April’s hand, headed right to slap his arm.

“Girl, you know I’m right.”

“Whatever,” she says. She doesn’t deny or confirm it and Ezequiel raises an eyebrow at that. “I can do this. It’s fine.”

“Damn right.”

She turns to face the building again. Ezequiel observes her quietly until he decides he’s been supportive enough.

“Well, I gotta get to my dorm, you know,” he says.

Ezequiel starts to walk backwards and April faces him once more, a look of panic settling on her face for a brief second until she’s back to her confident facade. He gives her a thumbs up along with a final “you can do it!” but April doesn’t feel any more ready.

She takes another deep breath before finally entering the building. She walks up the stairs, glad that she’d already moved her stuff in early in the morning with her mom, trying to avoid the dreaded reunion as much as she could. After her mom left, she’d helped Ezequiel set up his own room and then they had gone on a small tour around campus until it became clear she had to stop running from her own dorm. She is going to have to deal with Sterling Wesley being her roommate during the whole year. The sooner she accepted it, the better.

Besides, Sterling Wesley is just a girl. Smart, pretty, and her first love, but that’s in the past. April has moved on, and Sterling Wesley is just a girl. She repeats this mantra to herself until she reaches her floor.

It’s when she’s only a few steps away from her dorm that she hears her voice.

“Blair, can you get me the last box from outside?”

“Do it yourself, I’m busy.”

“You’re literally laying in my bed. You said you’d help me!”

“I did. Right now, I’m busy.”

April hears what sounds like a grunt and then the two sisters are quiet. She gets to the door at the same time that Sterling comes out, apparently to grab a box April hadn’t realised was there. Sterling takes it in her arms and April simply stares until the other girl finally notices she’s standing right there.

“April!”

She looks surprised at first but then Sterling is smiling at her impossibly wide and oh.

Who exactly was April trying to kid?

Sterling Wesley will never be just a girl.

***

Blair acknowledges her with a polite nod and April considers that a victory. For what, she doesn’t know, but it makes her feel good nonetheless. She sits down on her bed and goes over her schedule for the hundredth time, trying to ignore the two sisters on the other side of the room. 

Blair helps Sterling set up her final things and leaves shortly after. The window is open but April feels like she suddenly can’t breathe, left alone in this enclosed space with Sterling. It takes April approximately 15 minutes before she panic texts Hannah and Ezequiel.

[Ezequiel] are we really talking about this again???

[Hannah B] are you okay April?

I am not.

She’s on her bed listening to music but it just feels REALLY awkward being in the same room.

 

[Ezequiel] it’s the sexual tension, i told u. u need to get it out of ur systems

Why am I friends with you again?

 

[Ezequiel] bc i’m fabulous and u would not survive college without me. clearly. 

[Hannah B] I think you should talk to her it’s a fresh start for both of you

[Hannah B] It can mean a fresh start for your friendship too!

 

That’s… great advice, Hannah. Thank you.

At least one of you supports me.

 

[Ezequiel] bitch i’ve dealt with ur emotional breakdown all day. respect me.

[Hannah B] I respect you!

[Ezequiel] thanks honey

April grins slightly at her phone against her better judgement. The past two years have been hard, but Hannah and Ezequiel have always been there for her and their friendship has strengthened because of it. She’s thankful that she now feels free enough to give back to them. 

She wants to start a conversation with Sterling but she’s not sure where to begin. What is she supposed to say? They were civil enough during their senior year in high school, after both of them seemingly left the past behind. But they only ever talked about school stuff, never delving deeper into their personal lives. April wants… she doesn’t know what she wants, but she doesn't have any more time to think about it because suddenly Sterling is standing up from her bed and walking towards her side of the room.

“April.”

April simply looks up at her from her position on the bed, which is a bit intimidating because it makes Sterling look a lot taller. But then the blonde doesn’t keep talking. She’s just closing and opening her mouth and April notices with a start that she’s actually nervous, which makes her feel more relaxed.

“Yes?” April asks, arching an eyebrow.

“I- um,” the girl in front of her starts. She rubs the back of her neck anxiously. “Well I was gonna go find something to eat so I was wondering if you wanted something? Or you could come with me. Or stay here and I can bring it to you. I don’t mind-”

“Sure,” responds April, incredibly proud of herself for how calm her voice sounds. There’s a storm happening inside her but she hides it well.

(She’s always been good at hiding stuff.)

“Oh,” Sterling manages to get out, clearly surprised. “Sure?”

April stands up from her own bed. “Yeah, I’ll go with you. I’m hungry too.”

They walk silently down the hall. It’s a lot less busy than it’s been during the day and April welcomes the quiet. It’s not as awkward as it was in the room, but there’s still a tension around them that they can’t seem to get rid of. Also, she’s pretty sure Sterling keeps stealing glances at her and she doesn’t know how to react to that.

So she speaks, trying to fill in the silence and fix this weird dynamic they have going on. She turns to look at Sterling.

“How have you been?”

Sterling looks back at her, eyes wide. April apparently keeps catching her off guard and that realization makes the shorter girl feel a lot better. More in control.

“Oh, good, yeah,” Sterling finally answers. She tucks a stray hair behind her ear. “It was not an interesting summer, honestly. Just some family bonding time before Blair and I left.”

April hums in acknowledgement. “That’s good to hear. I didn’t see much of you,” she adds before she can stop herself.

There’s a short pause before Sterling speaks again.

“Well, you did break my heart.”

April actually gapes at that. But Sterling is smiling and there’s a clear teasing tone to her voice.

(She looks like she’s expecting something, she’s looking at April like she wants something and April ignores the tingling sensation in her chest.)

April does smirk at the expectant look on the other girl’s face, though.

“And you put my father in jail,” she finally retorts.

It’s Sterling’s turn to gape but April is still grinning at her. 

Sterling snorts. “Touché.”

It feels like a weight has been lifted off April’s shoulders. The banter feels natural and easy, despite both topics being a sore point for both of them in the past. April has made her peace with who her father is and more important, with who she is. She hopes Sterling knows that she’s not mad at her for what she and Blair did, not anymore. Judging by the slight quirk of her lips, she thinks she got the message across.

***

Blair is writing an essay for class and enjoying it, surprisingly. Granted, it’s for her favorite class, but still, she’s proud of herself.

Her concentration is interrupted when someone very aggressively knocks on her dorm door. And there’s only one person who would knock on her door like that.

She opens her door and, exactly as she thought, Sterling comes barging in. She starts pacing the room back and forth and Blair simply stares until Sterling finally stops her pacing.

“I can’t do this anymore.”

“Ah, there it is,” says Blair, going back to sit on her bed, nonchalant. 

“What?”

“Your gay breakdown over April Stevens being your roommate,” Blair answers, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s been a month. I’m surprised you lasted this long.”

Sterling should definitely not be surprised at how well Blair knows her by now, but she still somehow is. She supposes the longing looks didn’t go unnoticed. She sighs and sits down next to her sister who’s looking at her amusedly.

“This is serious, Blair.”

Blair puts her hands up in the air as a peace offering. “I’m not doing anything.”

“I’m pathetic and you find that funny.”

Blair lets out a chuckle at that and Sterling huffs. 

“Alright, alright,” the brunette says. “I’m serious. What’s going on? Aren’t you two like… sorta friends now?”

“We are!” Sterling answers, throwing her hands up in frustration. 

“So what’s the problem?”

“That we’re only friends, Blair.”

“Oh,” Blair says, realization dawning on her. “So you like, like her, then?”

Sterling falls silent. She thinks about the past month sharing her dorm with April. April, who cleans her side of the room every three days and chastises Sterling for not doing the same (Sterling has come home some days to find her side a lot cleaner than she left it. She pretends she doesn’t notice.). April, who is supportive and soft and attentive whenever she facetimes Hannah B. April, who is teasing and free and happy whenever Ezequiel comes around, a sibling like nature to their friendship that Sterling hadn’t truly seen before and warms her heart. April, whose eyes shine everytime Sterling comes to the dorm after class with her favorite coffee order from her favorite coffee shop on campus. April, who took care of her after Sterling had a particularly bad day and came home drenched from the rain and with a runny nose, and then didn’t complain once when Sterling spent the entire night coughing.

“Okay, yeah, that look tells me everything I need to know.”

Blair’s voice snaps her out of her thoughts. 

“What look?” Sterling feigns confusion.

Blair rolls her eyes. “Your fucking lovesick look-”

“Language.”

“-that honestly makes me want to vomit.”

Sterling lets a frustrated sound from the back of her throat and lays down on her twin’s bed. She brings her hands up to her face.

“My Gosh, you got it bad, sis.”

She takes her hands out of her face and looks at Blair, blue eyes wide with desperation.

 “It’s not fair, Blair. She’s so pretty and smart and-”

“You’re pretty and smart too.”

“Not like that!” Sterling denies it. “She’s doing all these classes - like politics and forensics and also Spanish? And she’s at the debate club and she still has time to support Ezequiel at the LGBTQA+ club and facetime Hannah B and drive me absolutely insane while doing all of it.”

“Stop your rambling,” Blair says, “and just ask her out.”

Sterling sits up straight on the bed again. She shakes her head repeatedly. “I can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not? You kissed her after like, one week of being civil after years of hatred.”

“I was 16 and naive,” replies Sterling, looking down to her hands. There’s a vulnerability there that Blair hadn’t seen before. “What if she doesn’t like me like that anymore and I mess it up?”

Blair puts her arms around her sister’s shoulders in support. “First of all, if she doesn’t like you back she’s an idiot -” Blair ignores Sterling’s look and continues, “- and didn’t you say that life’s too short to not go for love or whatever?”

“I was 16 and-”

“And naive,” interrupts Blair, rolling her eyes. “I get it.”

Sterling sighs, crosses her arms. “We’re friends, I think, but I’m not sure where we stand. I don’t know if she’s come out or not. She seems to be on good terms with her mom, but I just- I don’t know, Blair.”

“Talk to her then, Sterl. Open up yourself and I’m sure she’ll do the same.”

“When did you get so wise?”

Blair huffs. “I’ve always been wise.”

Sterling spends the next hour talking with Blair and it feels good to catch up with her. Despite being on the same campus and not living too far away, they have different schedules and classes, and they don’t get to spend as much time together as they’d like.

She leaves to go back to her dorm feeling lighter but still with a million thoughts running through her mind, all of them suspiciously shaped like April’s teasing smirk.

When she enters her dorm, she’s surprised to see that April has fallen asleep while studying. She’s lying on her bed in an awkward position, her laptop laid open on the end of the bed, and the notes from her class are spread all over. Sterling allows herself one longing look, soft smile on her face, before going over to her. She carefully closes the laptop and puts it on her desk. She starts to gather the notes when April moves slightly. She rubs at her eyes, clearly tired.

Sterling finds it extremely adorable.

“Hey sleepyhead,” the blonde greets her, softer than she intended. April simply groans and Sterling laughs. “Go back to sleep, I’ll leave the notes on your desk.”

“No,” April complains, attempting to sit up straighter. “I have to finish this essay.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. “April, knowing you, that essay is not due until next week and you have plenty of time to finish it.” April’s slight blush tells Sterling everything she needs to know. “Take a nap.”

The shorter girl finally relents and lies down properly. “Thanks, Sterl,” she mumbles before closing her eyes.

Sterling pretends like there aren’t what feels like a million butterflies in her stomach and sits down on her desk to work on her own classes. She spares a glance or maybe two or three to April, but none is there to witness it, so she lets that giddy feeling she hasn’t felt in a while settle down in the pit of her stomach. 

***

April wakes up about an hour later to Sterling’s voice.

“Yes Mrs. Stevens, I’ll let her know.”

There’s a brief pause before she speaks again.

“Thank you, you too. Bye!”

April’s mind finally rids itself of the grogginess of her nap to realize that Sterling is looking at her after having just hung up with April’s mom. On April’s phone. She simply raises a questioning eyebrow, satisfied to see Sterling squirming under her gaze.

“Sorry, um, your mom called and you were still sleeping.”

“That’s okay,” April says, sitting up on her bed. “What did she want?”

“Just to catch up, I think.”

April hums in acknowledgment. “I’ll call her later. Thanks.”

“Sure, no problem.”

Silence fills the room and April can tell by the way Sterling is looking at her that she’s dying to ask her about something. She doesn’t know what it is exactly, but she decided a while ago that she enjoys it a little too much when Sterling gets nervous around her, so she stays quiet. Sterling has never been a patient person anyway, so April knows she won’t have to wait long.

“So, are you on good terms with your mom, then?” Sterling blurts out.

April smiles to herself. Sterling Wesley has become more and more predictable with each passing day. 

(She likes that).

“Yes,” April answers. “We… had a rough patch after my dad was arrested again,” she admits. 

Sterling sits down next to her on the bed and April is thankful for the silent support.

“We went to therapy. Together and separately,” April continues. She almost chokes on her words because of Sterling’s intense stare, but she manages to keep talking. “It was good for both of us and it was also hard on both of us. She’s my rock.”

April is actually getting kind of emotional just talking about her mom. It has been a hard two years, trying to repair a relationship built on her father’s manipulative lies and she can’t help but feel extremely grateful for still having her mom in her life after everything that’s happened. 

Sterling squeezes her thigh in support and April looks at her. There’s a soft, understanding smile on her face that makes April want to spill all her secrets out.

And so she does.

“She was very supportive when I came out to her,” she says through the lump in her throat. Sterling’s look turns even softer somehow. “She didn’t truly understand at first but she’s always made sure I know I’m loved no matter what.”

“That’s so great, April,” Sterling says. “You deserve it.”

There’s a sincerity to her voice and to her face that makes it harder for April to breathe. She doesn’t have much time to dwell on it, however, because then Sterling’s whole demeanor shifts and she’s suddenly looking down at her hands.

“I had… my own rough patch with my parents, you know.”

“Oh?”

April doesn’t push any further than that. Sterling takes her time trying to get the words out and the shorter girl starts to get a bit worried until she finally sees Sterling take a deep breath, clearly preparing herself to say what she wants to say next.

“My parents aren’t my biological parents.”

Well, shit.

Turns out Sterling Wesley is still as unpredictable as she always was. April should have known that the other girl will always find something to surprise her with.

(She likes that, too.)

***

There’s a change in their relationship after that. There are more longing looks without either of them looking away, more soft touches that leave April’s skin tingling for the rest of the day. April sometimes hangs out with Sterling’s group of friends, and Sterling gets to know April’s too (which it’s just Ezequiel, a few of his friends from the LGBTQA+ club, and the only classmate April doesn't find infuriating, but still). 

It’s a new dynamic that April is still getting accustomed to. It seems to be building up to something wonderful and new that April is not sure when it’s going to come, but she doesn’t want to rush it. Not again.

April is happy with how things are. She enjoys the nervous anticipation before seeing Sterling, she enjoys the easy banter between them. She even enjoys the constant teasing from her friends. It’s liberating, being able to have a crush so openly, being able to hide her blush, or to get embarrassed when Sterling makes her ears turn red.

She wants something to happen but she truly believes the pieces will start falling into place soon enough.

Ezequiel, however, has other plans, because he keeps bugging her about it. They’re currently walking to one of Ezequiel’s friends’ flat. He’s holding a party and Ezequiel had practically begged April to come with him. It helped his case when he said that Sterling would be there too.

“Tonight’s the night,” he says on their way.

“What are you talking about?”

“The night that you finally bang Sterling Wesley.”

April rolls her eyes. “Not this again.”

“April, I love you, which is why I want you to get laid,” Ezequiel tells her, completely serious.

“Please stop,” she says, cheeks already burning.

“You’re so in love it’s adorable,” Ezequiel swoons. “But also I’m tired of watching you pine after Sterling. For your own good.”

April rolls her eyes. “We’re great and I don’t need you to meddle.”

“Fine,” Ezequiel raises his hands in surrender. “I won’t meddle. I do plan on getting you drunk, though. Can I do that?” 

“That’s acceptable,” she agrees, after thinking about it for a brief moment.

He puts a fist up in victory and April rolls her eyes once again, but there’s a fond smile on her mouth. 

They enter the flat when the party is already in full swing. April thinks there might be about 30 people in this living room that really shouldn’t be able to hold that many drunk students. She scans the room looking for a certain blonde and Ezequiel rolls his eyes at how obvious she is being but she can’t help herself. She hasn’t seen Sterling since breakfast and she went to Blair’s dorm to get ready, so she’s all giddy and excited to see her.

It’s clear she’s not in the living room, though, and Ezequiel drags April to the kitchen, where surely Sterling must be. True enough, the Wesley twins are there. Blair is hoisted up on the kitchen counter with Sterling in between her legs and they both have matching red cups on their hands. 

April cannot stop staring at Sterling because she looks absolutely stunning. She’s wearing tight, black jeans and a blue shirt that makes her eyes pop.

“Let’s go get your girl,” Ezequiel says, practically pushing her forward. “And pick your jaw up off the floor while we’re at it.”

They take a few steps forward before both twins notice them. Sterling’s whole face lights up when she sees April, and she immediately separates herself from her sister to go over to her.

“Hey,” Sterling greets her, giving her a hug. April should be used to it already but she really isn’t. “I haven’t seen you since this morning! How’s your day been?”

“Just got so much better,” she replies before she can stop herself. Sterling makes her dizzy and she has trouble pausing to think before she speaks.

Blair fake gags behind her sister but Sterling is smiling at her impossibly wide, and April feels like she’s floating. 

Ezequiel interrupts the moment. “Let’s get drunk.”

He’s got a bottle of tequila in one hand and April wonders when and where he got it from, but she stopped questioning things about Ezequiel long ago.

“My kind of guy,” Blair says, getting down from where she was sitting on the kitchen counter.

The four of them take a few shots and afterwards the rest of the night is kind of a blur for April. She already feels kind of tipsy after her third one, but Ezequiel is already putting another cup on her hand and dragging her to play beer pong. And they do. They play and win against a lot of people, surprisingly, because not only is April getting drunker by the minute, but she’s also extremely distracted by Sterling dancing away the night with Blair.

After a while, beer pong gets boring and April sits down on one of the couches in the living room. She realizes that it must be later than she thought, because the flat is a lot quieter and there are less people roaming. The alcohol must also be affecting her, because she feels a bit dizzy. The room seems to be spinning. She closes her eyes in order to stop that sensation.

She doesn’t know how much time passes until she feels the couch shift with someone else’s weight. She opens her eyes to see Sterling sat next to her, thigh brushing hers. She stares at her grinning mouth and wide eyes and sweaty face and gives her a dopey smile back.

“Hey there,” Sterling says. “You okay?”

April simply keeps staring at her, all kinds of thoughts jumbling together in her mind. She sees Sterling’s lips move again but she doesn’t hear what she says. Sterling looks really pretty tonight and April really wants to kiss her.

Sterling slaps her thigh to grab her attention. “Hey!”

“Yeah, what?”

“Oh my God,” Sterling laughs. “You’re so drunk.”

April frowns. “I am not.”

The words are kind of slurred together and Sterling just keeps on laughing.

“Stop that,” April whines. “I haven’t drunk that much.”

She decides to shut up when Sterling doesn’t stop laughing. She huffs and closes her eyes again. Maybe she is a bit drunk. But with Sterling pressed up against her so close on this tiny couch, she really cannot think past the right here, right now.

Sterling leaves a few minutes later though and April instantly misses the warmth, but she doesn’t have the energy to ask where she’s gone or to follow after her. She doesn’t have to wonder long because she’s feeling the couch shift again after what only feels like  a few minutes. She opens her eyes and sees Sterling offering her a glass of water. April looks at it confused and Sterling raises an eyebrow.

“Drink, you’ll thank me later,” Sterling explains.

April shrugs and drinks the glass in one gulp. Sterling laughs and stands up again, presumably to go get some more water. She does that three more times until April can’t keep her eyes open anymore. Sterling realizes and immediately pulls her up.

“Let’s get back to the dorm.”

Sterling puts her arms around April’s shoulders and April lets herself be dragged. They make it to the kitchen, where Blair is still amazingly doing shots. The girl really can hold her own. The twins exchange a few words but April’s hazy drunk mind can’t make up what they are. She sees Blair take her jacket, though, so she supposes she’s leaving with them. She briefly wonders where Ezequiel is and she must have asked that out loud because Sterling points her in his direction. He’s busy making out with some guy April’s never seen before. 

April snorts. “Okay, he’ll be fine.”

April is thankful that the flat isn’t far away from campus and they can walk back. The chilly night air helps her feel better.

Blair is rambling about something but April doesn’t care because Sterling is walking too close to her and their hands keep bumping into each other and April feels a bit breathless, mainly because of the alcohol but also because Sterling’s smell has always been intoxicating all on its own.

April really wants to hold Sterling’s hand, and her foggy mind can’t seem to focus on the implications that would entail, so she follows her desires. She takes Sterling’s hand and to her surprise, the blonde immediately squeezes it. She looks up at her and Sterling’s eyes are already on her and she’s smiling at her like April is the only person in the world and oh. Maybe April should be bolder more often.

The rest of the walk back to the dorm is a sort of a blur. April’s sure Blair is the only one who talks all the way and she seems drunk enough that she doesn’t notice her sister and April holding hands with identical dopey smiles on their faces.

When they enter their dorm, April falls down on her bed unceremoniously, closing her eyes. Sterling laughs down at her.

“Aren’t you going to take your clothes off?”

April opens her eyes. “Sterling, take me out to dinner first.”

Sterling goes beet red and sputters before saying, “I don’t think I like drunk you anymore.”

“You like all versions of me.”

April doesn’t know what’s come over her. She doesn’t know if it’s the alcohol, the months of yearning - and all the years before that - or the way Sterling’s eyes seem glued to her. The mood in the room shifts and the teasing smiles that were there before have all but disappeared. April is still on her bed, drunk out of her mind, and Sterling is still staring at her, head tilted to the ide, as if she’s trying to piece together the puzzle that is April Stevens.

“I do like all versions of you,” Sterling finally breaks the silence. She says it gently, as if she’s scared that speaking too loud will break whatever it is that’s happening between them.

April simply stares at her, her lips parted in awe. Sterling has always been braver than her and she should’ve known that if April wanted to be bold, Sterling would match her. For the first time since she started her college adventure, April realizes that Sterling is just waiting for her, afraid of pushing her away. She’s letting April set the pace of this new friendship that will never be just a friendship, content to follow her lead. It almost makes April want to cry.

While April was having this realization, Sterling has somehow gotten closer to her. She leans forward so that her mouth is on April’s ear and April takes a sharp intake of breath.

“If you weren’t so drunk I would kiss you right now,” she whispers. April forgets how to breathe and then Sterling is kissing her cheek and she closes her eyes at the sensation. “Goodnight, April,” Sterling adds, before leaving to go to the bathroom.

April is left alone on her own bed, probably looking like a lovesick fool. She still feels drunk, but probably on something entirely different than alcohol. Sterling’s blue eyes don’t leave her mind for the rest of the night.

***

After that night, time seems to quicken because winter break is approaching and both April and Sterling are busy trying to meet deadlines. Nothing has happened between them even though there have been moments and there are more soft touches and more lingering looks, but April has always been serious about her studies, so she doesn’t let herself be distracted. They don’t talk about that night but they basically act as if they were dating - except for the actual kissing. 

It drives Ezequiel crazy and he makes sure April knows. She knows it’s just banter though, because one day he tells her he’s happy for her and April is confused until he adds that she’s glowing, that it’s okay if she wants to take things slow because Sterling clearly makes her happy and it’s just a matter of time before they take it further. April is oddly touched by it and goes over to hug him, on the verge of tears.

Before she knows it, it’s winter break and her mom is picking her up. They’re going on a three week road trip, like they have been doing for the past two years. They made their peace with the fact that they’re the only family they have and they spend their Christmas together getting to know new places all over the country.

April is going to miss college and her friends - and Sterling, of course, - but she’s really excited to spend time with her mom. She’s determined to maintain this tradition of travelling during Christmas together for as long as she can. 

When they’re well into the second week, they’re having dinner at a restaurant, waiting for dessert, and April’s phone buzzes. She immediately smiles when she sees Sterling's name on the screen.

[Sterling] my grandparents came over for dinner and i don’t think blair can’t take it anymore please help me.

How am I supposed to help you with that?

[Sterling] you’re smart, i’m sure you can come up with an idea to hide their bodies when blair inevitably kills them. 

I do know a lot of things but that’s not one of them. I could help her defence in court, though.

[Sterling] i’ll take it.

After I graduate, so maybe Blair has to spend some time in jail.

[Sterling] please if you wanted to, you could finish your degree in just one year.

That’s probably true.

[Sterling] i really do find your modesty endearing.

She stops texting when she hears her name being called. She looks up to see her mom’s knowing smile.

“Who are you texting?”

“Sterling.”

Her mom hums. “Of course.”

It makes April blush and her mom laughs. She mumbles some sort of excuse but her mom leans forward to take her hand on the table.

“I’m happy for you, honey. You’re glowing.”

“We’re not dating or anything,” April says quickly.

“But you want to.”

“Yes,” April admits, knowing there’s no use in lying to her mom.

“Well,” her mom starts, “then I can’t wait for you to properly introduce her as your girlfriend.”

April groans in embarrassment and hides her face in her hands. Her mom just laughs, and April thinks she will never get used to loving so openly and so freely.

***

April gets to the dorm a day before Sterling does. She unpacks all her stuff and then meets up with Ezequiel to catch up with him. He tells her he’s still texting that guy he made out with at that party all those weeks ago, and she is happy for him. She knows she’s not the only one that needed college to be able to come out of her shell.

The next morning, while April is on her desk, reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Sterling opens the dorm door. She drags her suitcase in, a little bit breathless, and offers a smile to April as a greeting.

“Man, I love my parents, but it feels good to be back,” Sterling says.

April simply stares. Sterling’s wearing an oversized coat that barely hides her gloved hands. She’s got a blue beanie on and her nose is red, probably from the cold, and April thinks that she looks really cute and that it’s been way too long since they last saw each other. She stands up from her chair and starts walking towards her.

“Hey,” Sterling says, smiling that smile that seems to be only reserved for her. April doesn’t say anything and doesn’t stop walking. “April?”

April walks until she’s so close to Sterling that she can feel the way her breath quickens. April would smirk to herself if she wasn’t feeling so breathless herself. But there’s something about Sterling’s expectant eyes that makes April feel braver than she’s ever felt, and so she does what she’s wanted to do since that dreadful night at the lock-in all those years ago.

She leans up on her tiptoes and kisses Sterling and the little sigh that Sterling lets out into her mouth, almost of relief, makes April whimper and kiss her harder. They pull away a while later, foreheads pressed together, and when Sterling opens her eyes to look at April, she can’t help but feel like everything’s right in the world again, and that the pieces have finally fallen into place.

“Hello,” April says into Sterling’s mouth. “How has your break been?”

Sterling giggles before going back to kiss her again, and April sighs contentedly. 

Yeah, she thinks, college has been one hell of a experience so far, and she can’t wait for what comes next.