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Our Darkest Moments

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6 months ago

April looked at herself in the mirror, running her hand over her hair to tame the last stray strand back into place. She gave herself a quick glance over to ensure that everything was as it should be. The perfect image of what a good Christian girl should be. The image of the perfect daughter to fit in alongside the perfect family. For years she had bought into the perfect family she had been sold by her parents. Years of feeling like she was the only imperfect part, the only piece that doesn’t quite fit with the rest. Not that she would ever let on about that perceived imperfection, certainly never daring to vocalise the thoughts that invaded her mind when she finally stopped. As far as those thoughts go, they were not to be dwelled upon. Process it, sort it and pack it away in a neat little box in her mind and close the lid tight. It had worked for years. She had lived up to every expectation her parents had of her. If there was a test in school, she aced it. A new society that would look good on her college applications, she would not only join it but become an integral part of the leadership. An event at church, she was the first to volunteer. Every day was spent working to ensure the spotlight fell on her to highlight all her successes. To make them stand out and draw the focus of her parents to all those things that were exactly as they expected. To show them she was the perfect daughter they wanted. Yet when darkness fell and everything in the world became still and silent, April would let her perfect persona slip. It was only when she was awake in the small hours of the day, while everyone else slept, that she would entertain the thoughts that fell so dismally short of the perfect image she had painstakingly crafted for herself. In the times when it was just herself and God, she would let those questions and thoughts emerge from their boxes. It was in those private moments that April would acknowledge her true feelings. The ones she knew could never be shown in the cold light of day. The ones kept hidden in the shadowy depths of her mind.

April caught sight of her eyes for a moment. Caught that glimpse of the fractured walls that lay behind them after the events of Friday. Walls that had held strong for years that had started to crack and crumble all with one person at the heart of it. Sterling telling Blair about them. Sterling wanting to tell everyone about them. Her dad returning. Her dad asking about Sterling. The two facets of her life seeming to collide in one moment. The perfect Christian daughter, member of the straight-straight alliance, Fellowship leader whom her father respected and loved; and the lesbian who had developed feelings for her previous nemesis who she had spent hours kissing in school, the car, laser tag arena whom her father would kick out of the house in a heartbeat. The flash of Sterling’s face and words from that bench sent a new wave of sadness through her. Another hairline fracture forming in one of the carefully constructed compartments.

Knock Knock

April tore her gaze away from her own reflection to look over to her door. “Come in.”

The door opened to reveal her dad standing there. The same smile on his face from Friday as the same greeting fell from his lips. “Hey little Padawan. You all ready to head out?”

April smiled, enough to convince her dad but certainly not the kind of smile that reached her eyes, not like when she was with…she cut her own train of thought off. “Yes daddy.”

“I’m really looking forward to sitting down with you later today to really catch up on everything that has been happening while I’ve been away.” April knew this conversation was coming for the past two days, ever since she made her excuses to leave to head to the lock-in. She followed her dad and he made his way downstairs and out to the car. Trying to dampen down the feeling of anxiety that flashed that maybe he knew something. Maybe someone had seen or heard and it got back to him. The Stevens house had been tense since his return with so many questions unanswered between them. April had delayed going home on the Saturday as long as she could by helping Ellen tidy up everything from the lock-in. Knowing that upon her return, there was the chance her dad would want to pick up the conversation where they left it the night before. That was a conversation she hadn’t been ready for. There were still too many raw feelings that she hadn’t been able to organise and she couldn’t risk getting into that conversation without a clear head. Luckily when she had returned home on the Saturday afternoon, her dad was out and her mom was shut in her room which had bought her more time. Today was the first time they were going out in public as a family. April could see her mom had slipped on the mask of perfect wife to fit with their family image. April slid into the car and began to prepare herself for the next two hours.

The car pulled up outside the church and as the engine shut off, April steeled herself for the stares and whispers. She waited until her parents had exited the vehicle before following closely behind. Making sure she kept her eyes firmly focused on her mom’s back to avoid meeting the gaze of any of the others in the congregation. She was unsure if it would be judgement or pity that would be held within their eyes but one thing April was sure of was that she didn’t want to find out.

“Well hello there Stevens family.” Pastor Booth’s upbeat voice drew April’s attention. “It is so good to see you all back together after such a trying time. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. I know it may be hard to process everything that has happened recently but together you will find the strength.”

“Thank you, Pastor.” John said as he shook the pastor’s hand. “We are given challenges in life but together we can overcome them.”

Pastor Booth smiled and nodded. “So very true John.”

April followed her parents into the church, still taken aback by the welcome they had been given. While Pastor Booth was a man of God who teaches forgiveness for your sins, it seemed a little too friendly a greeting for someone who was arrested so recently for the assault of a sex worker. Someone who had sinned so blatantly and broken so many of the teachings of the bible. Yet here they were being welcomed in like her dad had just been away for an illness. She took her seat and steadfastly kept her eyes forward, resisting the temptation to glance to the left to the Wesley’s pew. As much as the chance to just see Sterling from a distance would give her that tiny bit of pleasure from knowing the other girl was nearby, it would be overshadowed by the painful recollection of her actions and words two nights ago.

“John, so good to see you back and to hear that terrible business has been put behind y’all. It shocks me that anyone would be so vindictive as to make up such a terrible lie about you.”

“Thank you, David. Some people are so desperate that they will do anything for money. Even lie. I’m only glad she saw the error of her ways before it was too late.” April spared a glance towards her dad and caught his expression. There was something unsettling in the way he smiled and spoke. It just didn’t seem right that the police would have arrested him if it was purely her word. Her father was an upstanding businessman and member of the community and she was a sex worker. As much as people like to claim equality and fairness, the chance of her word being taken over that of her father was low unless there had been some corroborating evidence but then how could he have got out. Before April could dwell further, the sermon started.

“Beloved. Do you ever wonder why you do what you do? Do you ever have one of those moments where you’re shopping and you’re looking at sweaters or something like that. And you’re checking out the sweaters and then all of a sudden you are like, what am I doing here? I have like fifteen sweaters crammed into my closet and I wear two of them. What am I doing here? What am I trying to fill in my life by buying something I so don’t need? Am I the only one? Do you ever catch yourself walking away from a conversation and in that conversation, you have found it necessary to critique someone else’s performance, their decisions? You just kind of knock them down a couple of notches. And you’re walking away going what was that about? What in me could possibly need to lower them to boost myself a bit? Anyone here just walk away and in a moment of self-reflection ask themselves why do I do what I do?”

The words of Pastor Booth echoed around in April’s head. Her mind kindly filling in flashes of all the instances where she had done exactly that to others. The person most often on the receiving end of her snark was none other than the person who pervaded so many of her thoughts for as long as she could remember. As she continued to listen to the sermon being delivered, she finally succumbed to her deeper desire to see Sterling. Just to make sure the other girl was OK was the justification in her own mind. When she turned her head to look beyond her father, she was greeted by the sight of an empty pew.