“Actually, I don’t know.”
As soon as those words had registered in April’s mind, she felt that tiny glimmer of hope that this was just a not now fade away into the abyss of never. She looked down at the ground. She know that if she walked away now, this was it. Her heart was aching, longing to just take it back. Longing to just say yes to holding hands under the cover of darkness. Her head was racing with all the reasons why that couldn’t be. The comments she had heard from her parents over the years. Her dad asking about Sterling. The fear that had set into her body at hearing her dad mention Sterling paired with her knowledge of the kind of man he was. In that moment, sitting on a bench next to the girl whose life had been inexplicably interwoven with hers for as long as she could remember, she let the fear win out. She tried to think of any words that would maintain this connection they had formed. Something to say that would allow her to keep the one person who she had been her true self with but came up empty. She allowed herself one last look at the blonde sitting next to her. As she saw the tear slip from Sterling’s eye she knew that she had to go. That one stray drop had shattered her heart but she couldn’t let it shatter her resolve.
“Bye Sterl.” The words slipped past her lips, barely managing to keep the waver from her voice, as she stood and walked away. She didn’t dare look back, knowing that one glance could break her resolve. She missed the way Sterling’s eyes followed her and the tears that fell from the blonde’s eyes as she watched her walk away. All April knew was that she had to get away before she fell apart. Before those compartments she kept her feelings neatly organised in broke down and everything came tumbling out. She walked back into the building and made her way to the Fellowship room where she had left Luke.
“Hey April.” Luke looked up as she approached him. The smile he had greeted her with dropping slightly from his face as he took in the look on her face. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine.” She waved off his concern and took a deep breath before continuing. “I think you should go and check on Sterling. She’s sitting on the bench outside and seemed upset. She could do with a friend.”
Luke looked into April’s eyes for a moment before nodding and making his way out of the room. April followed him out of the Fellowship room but lingered by the first doors that led outside. She watched as he made his way out to where the blonde stood. As Sterling turned, April saw the smile that appeared on her face and turned away. She knew that there was someone there to comfort the other girl but she didn't want to watch the scene play out when that person wasn't her. She made her way back through the corridors to find Hannah B and Ezekiel. She needed to focus her mind on something else, anything else, that would stop it from drifting to what might be happening outside. She settled herself on the floor beside her friends as they discussed Hannah B’s next song for Fellowship. April did her best to engage with the conversation and focus on what they were saying but internally she was trying to patch the walls that were slowly but surely crumbling. As soon as Luke walked back into the room with a smile on his face, her attention fell away from the chatter of her friends.
“April? What do you think?” The sound of Hannah B’s voice brought her focus back to the pair sat before her. She could see the expectant look on Hannah’s face and noted the quirk of Ezekiel’s eyebrow as she didn’t offer an immediate answer. Her mind scrambled to come up with an answer that could pass for whatever question she had missed without raising suspicions that she hadn't been listening to them. As she opened her mouth to speak, Ellen’s voice rang out across the room.
“Alright y’all it’s time to settle down and get some sleep after all the excitement of tonight. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” The various conversations started to dissipate as students began moving to their claimed sleeping spots. April made her way into the other room and settled herself into her own sleeping bag. Moments later she became aware of Luke shuffled himself into his sleeping bag moments later.
“Yes Luke?” April had hoped that there wouldn’t be any conversation between them when he arrived but it seemed she was not that lucky.
“I just wanted to…well…say thank you. For telling me about Sterling I mean.” April bit the inside of her lip upon hearing the name of the girl she so desperately wanted to be next to her. She mustered up a half smile for the boy beside her.
“Did you not want to sleep beside her tonight?” April didn’t know why she asked, other than to try to reinforce in her own mind that any hope she had needed to be quashed.
Luke smiled. “Oh. No. She went home with her mom. She said she might text later though.”
April nodded. “I’m going to get some sleep. Night Luke.” With that, she rolled over to face the wall. Out of the corner of her eye she could see a clock sitting on the table opposite. She closed her eyes trying to shut everything out, all the voices, all the memories, all the feelings. When she opened her eyes again, the clock hadn’t moved. It felt like the rest of that night was going to pass very slowly, prolonging the time she had to spend around others when all she wanted was to be in the safety of her own room and away from prying eyes. She was thankful when the lights were turned out and slowly the voices of the other students faded away as they succumbed to sleep. A silence descended across the room, broken only by the breathing of students and someone quietly snoring. It was in that moment, in the silence and darkness, that April let her tears fall. She could feel her walls start to fall and when she heard someone shift on the other side of the room, knew she had to get out of there. She quietly rose from her corner and crept out of the room. She made her way down the empty hallways until she came across the empty Spanish classroom. Once she pushed the door closed behind her, she felt the tears fall unabated. All the walls that she had been holding up came crashing down letting the full force of the evening hit her. She slid down the door, wrapping her arms around her knees and just cried. She let everything that she had kept bottled up since the moment she opened the door and saw her dad to breaking it off with Sterling flood over her.
Once the tears had begun to subside, she fished her phone out of her pocket. Pressing the button, the screen lit up with 4.35am. She unlocked the phone and opened the message thread between Sterling and herself. The last message of “Looking forward to tonight” caught her eye. Her thumb hovered over the screen as she contemplated sending a message. But what would she send?
I hope you are OK…Just wasn’t enough.
I’m sorry…too late.
Please wait for me…She couldn’t ask that with no timeframe to give.
I wanted to hold your hand at the lock-in…She couldn’t risk that now her father was back. She had to slip into the mould of perfect daughter. And in the eyes of John Stevens, the perfect daughter certainly wasn’t gay. As much as April wanted to believe they could keep seeing each other behind closed doors, stolen touches and kisses after hours, deep down she knew it was too much of a risk. She had always known her parents wouldn’t accept her sexuality, her father’s views on homosexuality had been voiced very clearly. April just couldn’t risk slipping up and having her father find out about Sterling. She would be packed off to conversion camp but Sterling…Her father had showed his true colours with his arrest. If he was perfectly fine with assaulting a sex worker for something she did to offend him in that one moment, April was terrified by what he may do to someone who had corrupted his daughter. She knew that in the eyes of John Stevens, it wouldn't have been that his own flesh and blood was born that way. Blame would have been attributed to a target that didn't share his genetics. When her father had mentioned Sterling earlier that night, she felt her blood run cold as images of what could happen sprang to the forefront of her mind. She would get through whatever program he sent her to but what he may do to Sterling, she couldn’t risk it.
With one last look at the messages, she exited the chat window and deleted the thread. She then opened the photo album and went to the Sgt Bilko folder. Scrolling back through a number of photos of Sgt Bilko, she then found the one she was looking for. Her and Sterling still in laser tag gear as the game had ended. Sterling had her arms wrapped around her from behind and was placing a kiss on her cheek. April hadn’t realised that she had taken the picture until Sterling sent it to her that night. As she looked at it now, as she had then, she couldn’t help but be amazed at how happy she looked, how free. She let her finger ghost over Sterling’s face as she took it in. That moment, was just April and Sterling. The two of them free to be themselves without any fear of repercussions or judgement. That was over now. With one last look her finger dropped to the trash can icon and she pushed it. The confirm delete message popped up and she stumbled. She let her eyes trace over the image once more as she felt the silent tears begin to fall. Leaving it would risk Sterling’s safety for nothing more than a memory, no matter how treasured. April couldn’t do that. Not when she had just shattered both her own and Sterling’s hearts to keep the blonde safe.
Wiping her eyes she stood, took a deep breath and placed her hand on the door handle. As she turned the knob her thumb pressed down on the screen, deleting the image as she whispered into the dark. “Bye Sterl.”