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Our Darkest Moments

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April reached out and shut her alarm off as soon as it started playing. It wasn’t like she had slept much that night. Her whole night had been spent tossing and turning, trying to find some semblance of comfort to allow her mind to settle and to get some sleep. Every time she had started to drift off, another question or scenario about why the entire Wesley family had been absent from church would pop up. The continued flashes of what might have happened had become a constant companion since the moment she spied the empty pew during the sermon. She had tried to subtly listen to any conversations about the Wesley’s after the service but it didn’t sound like anyone knew where they were. She had even gone so far as to approach Luke to ask him in what was potentially one of the most awkward conversations of her life as she couldn’t stop picturing Sterling’s face asking her why she was flirting with Luke. She regretted her actions at the lock-in and that conversation made her realise that she had the additional problem of Luke looking like he was going to ask her out. The way he fiddled with his tie and the puppy dog eyes he sported were enough of a warning for her to make a quick exit once she ascertained he knew nothing. In the absence of any real information, her mind had gone to work on filling in the blanks with multiple scenarios ranging from the completely conceivable, everyone had come down with a bout of food poisoning, to the utterly insane, they were all being held hostage by some crazy person. Sighing deeply, April just hoped that she would see the twins at school to set her mind at rest.

She dragged herself out of bed and went through her morning routine, albeit much slower than usual. Her attention was drawn by the ping of her phone.

Hannah B
Hey April. Did u still want a lift 2 school today?

April
Yes please

Hannah B
Ok, cu in 20

April set her phone down and finished packing her bag for the day ahead. She knew she should venture downstairs to get some breakfast before school but she was still unsure how to feel about her dad being back. If she was being honest, she wasn’t ready to slip into the perfect daughter persona after the past few days and certainly didn’t want to have that conversation with him yet. She had spent all afternoon and evening hidden away in her room with the excuse of preparing for the Spanish test they had coming up. The rumbling of her stomach reminded her that in her efforts to avoid her father the previous day, she had barely eaten and it was going to be a long day. She glanced at the clock on her nightstand and saw that she only had ten minutes until Hannah B would pick her up. A perfect excuse for a quick getaway should she need one.

“Morning sweetheart.” Her dad greeted her the moment she entered the kitchen.

April internally sighed at the fact that she hadn’t even managed one minute before running into her dad. “Morning daddy. Where’s mom?” She tried to make it sound casual as she continued on her path to grab something to take with her for food.

“She wasn’t feeling too good this morning so is staying in bed a bit longer.” April wondered if the shouting that had gone on between her parents had anything to do with her mom not feeling well that morning. “So how’s school? Keeping your grades up I hope.”

“Yes sir. In our recent Bible Studies project, we got an A+, highest in the class.” April couldn’t stop the smile that graced her lips with the memory of that day. The way Ellen had congratulated them on such an impressive creation. She felt that pride wash through her again.

“That’s my girl. Was it a group project? You said we.”

April stuttered in her motion for a moment. “Oh, yeah it was.” She could feel her heart rate pick up as her anxiety about where this line of questioning may lead set in. She checked her watch. Five more minutes till Hannah B would arrive.
“Who did you work with? I know you usually hate these kind of assignments. Having to rely on others to maintain your grades. As lovely as Hannah is, she isn’t the brightest penny in the pot.”

April felt her shoulders tense. It was a natural instinct when someone insulted her friends. As much as she may say some rather cutting things about her own friends, it is something different when someone else does it. Deeper than that was the knowledge that this could lead down a rabbit hole she didn’t want to venture into. Her dad had already showed too much interest in Sterling on the Friday before the lock-in. Mentioning that it was Sterling she had worked with would give rise to questions about the two of them again and the last thing she wanted was her dad thinking of her and Sterling together in any way.

“April? This project wasn’t with a boy was it? Your mom mentioned that you had spent a whole weekend working on a project for school.” Her dad’s tone had lost its levity.

“No daddy.” She knew her father’s views on her socialising with any boys that he hadn’t personally vetted.

“So who was it?”

“Sterling Wesley.” There it was, the name she didn’t want to utter near her father. She watched as her dad’s face morphed into an unreadable expression.

“Well now, that is surprising. Are you two friends again?”

April’s phone pinged in her hand.
Hannah B
I’m outside

“Sorry daddy, Hannah B is here to give me a lift to school. I have to meet Miss Johnson to discuss the devotional reading for the next week before first period.” She rushed out, slowly edging her way to the door.

“Have a good day honey.”

“Thanks dad. You too.” As she opened the door to leave the house, her dad’s voice reached her.

“And say hello to Sterling from me.” April froze, her hand still on the door handle with it half-way closed. All the anxiety she had about her dad knowing something about her and Sterling came back tenfold. Knowing that Hannah B was waiting for her in the car, she shook herself out of her stupor and slid into the passenger seat of the car.

“Are you OK? You look the same colour as Hannah G when she found out that Netflix hadn’t renewed her favourite show.”

April looked over to her friend seeing the concern on her face. She mustered up a smile for her. “I’m fine Hannah. Just didn’t sleep too well.”

Hannah smiled and nodded before pulling away from the house. “Was it because you were worried about how some people got a little bit too close during the game of twister?”

“Just some personal things.”

“Well if you ever want to talk about it…” Hannah B trailed off after making the offer.

April felt a genuine smile tug at her lips for the first time in days. No matter what had been said between them over the years, Hannah was a steadfast friend and someone who April had come to rely on having in her life. April was happy to listen as Hannah spoke about her latest ideas for songs for Fellowship.

As they pulled up to school, the first thing they both saw was a police car parked out front. There were pockets of students standing around outside the main entrance whispering to each other, while casting glances towards the police car and building. As soon as the two girls exited the car and approached the building, they caught snippets of the hushed conversations.

“I heard it was at the lock-in.”

“Took Miss Johnson into the principals office as soon as she scooted up.”

“Just gone.”

With every comment they overheard, April could feel a greater sense of unease settle in her. “Where have you two been? The one day of our entire school lives where something interesting actually happens and you are not early!” Ezekiel said as he approached them.

“What’s going on?”

“How have you not heard? It is literally all over the school. Well, Hannah G told me that Hannah M had been talking to Horny Lorna, who had spent part of the lock-in AWOL with Franklin – but that’s a story for later, who told her that she had been told by Jessica from the lacrosse team that she overheard her mom talking to their cleaner whose husband is on the police force that on Friday night…”

“April. Thank the high beautiful heavens you are here. I know y’all just got to school but I need you to come to the principals office with me. There are some people who need to talk to you.” Ellen didn’t wait for an answer as she steered April into the school building. With every step they took, April could feel the eyes of the student body focus on her and was sure the whispers were now involving her somehow.

When they entered the office, April was greeted by the sight of two police officers and the principal. “Officers, this is April Stevens. I’ll leave you with Miss Johnson while I see if the CCTV covers that area.” The principal excused himself from the room.

“Hi April. We need to ask you some questions about Friday night if that’s OK? We can either do this with Miss Johnson here or we can call one of your parents to come down.”

“No, that won’t be necessary. Ellen is fine.” The last thing she wanted was the police to call her parents, especially if there were questions around the lock-in.

“Ok, could you take us through what happened from about 10.30pm on the Friday night?”

“I’d really like to help you officers but I can’t say I kept track of the time that night.”

“Well, tell us what happened after the pizzas were served.”

“I was talking to Luke in the Fellowship room.”

“Is that Luke…” The officer looked into his notebook, “Creswell?”

“Yes sir.” She watched as he noted something in his pad.

“Continue.”

“I…I saw Sterling leave the room from where I was sitting. She seemed upset as she left and I wanted to make sure she was OK as Fellowship leader.”

“Was this when you asked Miss Johnson for her keys?”

“Erm, yes.” April didn’t look over to where she knew Ellen was sitting. Knowing that she had asked for the keys to get into the janitor’s closet for some supplies for a fictitious spillage that needed cleaning up. “I opened the door as when I found Sterling, she wanted to leave.”

“After you let Sterling out did you see her get into a car or meet anyone?”

“No sir.”

“So you unlocked the door, Sterling left and you locked the door before returning to the rest of the students?”

“No sir. After Sterling left, I followed her outside to talk to her.” April paused in her answer. She knew they were checking for CCTV footage and didn’t know if there was a camera that faced that area. She didn’t want to lie and then be questioned about why later. “We sat on the bench and spoke for a bit before I came back in. Sterling was still sitting on the bench when I left.”

The officer made a few notes in his notebook. “And how would you describe her state of mind after your conversation?”

April had a sinking feeling in her chest. “She was upset.”

“Did she tell you why?”

I’m asking you to hold my hand at the lock-in. The words echoed in her mind. “No sir.” The lie tasted bitter on her tongue but there was nothing to be gained from the truth of why Sterling had been upset being shared.

“And you didn’t see any vehicles nearby?”

“No sir.”

“Thank you April.”

April stood to leave but before she could take a step she asked the question that had been plaguing her mind since the day before. “Did something happen to Sterling?”

The officers looked at her with sympathy. “I’m afraid we can’t discuss that with you.”

April felt a hand on her arm leading her out of the room. All her senses had dulled as her mind raced. She was vaguely aware of Ellen talking to her as she led her through the outer office but instead of hearing any of the words being said, all she could hear was the blood racing through her ears. As they got to the outer office doors, she noticed Luke sitting on the bench. Ellen said something to her which she nodded to without really knowing what she agreed to. She watched as Ellen led Luke towards the principal’s office.

April fumbled her phone out of her bag as she started to regain some of her focus. She pulled it out and found Sterling’s contact, hitting the call button as she put the phone to her ear. Straight to voice mail. She ended the call before the message had even finished playing. She opened the text screen before her thumb froze. What do you say to the girl you last saw when you told them you wouldn’t even hold their hand? Someone you had ignored for most of the night and not provided a real explanation as to why until it was too late.

Sterl…I know you probably don’t want to hear from me or talk to me but can you please just tell me you are OK?

She re-read the message and hit send, watching the screen to see the ‘delivered’ message pop up. It didn’t. April heard the bell for class ring and knew she couldn’t be caught skipping. With one last look at the undelivered message she tucked her phone away and headed to class.

6 months later

The phone buzzed with another message, vibrating on the table. The message popped up on the lock screen.

Twice in one year? I think we need to talk about your truanting before it becomes a habit! Can’t have your GPA slipping if we want to get into the same school Sterl. And I really want you close…very close. Miss u

Sterling’s head shot up as she heard the sound of breaking glass from somewhere behind her. It was faint but she heard it. If there was breaking glass, that meant someone was here. Part of her was desperate to call out, to seek help, but when she heard something else break that hope that whoever it was would help her faded. Her hope instead transitioned to hoping they wouldn’t come near her.