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Our Darkest Moments

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2 months ago

The sound of her alarm roused April from her sleep. Reaching out to her nightstand she felt around until her hand fell onto her phone. She grabbed it and pressed the off button. As she squinted at the screen to check the time, her eyes caught the message notification at the top.

Sterling
I can’t wait to see you later. I’ve missed your smile.

April smiled at the message. Since her relationship with Sterling had been rekindled, it was a regular occurrence to wake up to a message from the blonde and every night, their last moments before sleep consisted of text messages to one another. It was surprising how much such a simple action could settle April’s mind before she slept leading to a more restful sleep, pushing away any thoughts that would have normally plagued her dreams. She typed out a quick reply to the message before getting herself ready for church.

April
Good morning x You can’t have missed it too much…we FaceTimed last night

As April made her way downstairs to the kitchen, her phone pinged to alert her to a new message.

Sterling
Yes but that was on a screen. It doesn’t compare to seeing it in the flesh.

“What’s making you so happy this early?”

April clicked the lock button on her phone and slipped it into her pocket while doing her best to temper her smile to something more befitting friendly texts. “Morning daddy. It’s just a text.” Trying not to focus on the way her dad kept his attention completely on her, she set about making herself a drink.

“Come on little Padawan. Just a text doesn’t make your face light up like that. Is there someone in particular that might have been texting you?”

April felt her hand clench tighter around the mug in her hand before making the conscious effort to relax as she turned to face her dad. “It was just Hannah B and Ezekiel discussing ideas for what we could do for my birthday this year.”

“I hope you haven’t made a decision yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“Excellent. I was going to suggest that you have your friends up to the lake house for the weekend. I know you loved the time up there in the summer.” Meeting her dad’s gaze she could read the hope in his face. It was times like this that April would catch a snippet of what her dad used to be like and for that short moment in time, she could almost forget his indiscretions and the impact it had on her. Almost. It didn’t stop that longing feeling taking root in her heart that these moments could be a permanent reality, that her dad was just her dad and he loved her no matter what. Pushing away those feelings, April considered the offer. The lake house was one of her favourite places to spend time. It was her sanctuary away from school and was a place she had always been able to relax. “Before you say no because you are worried about having your old dad hanging around when you are with your friends, I’ve got a business deal up there and so I’d be out at meetings for the day and fully expect them to run late into the evening. So I wouldn’t be there to cramp your style.”

The idea of having the lake house without her dad being there for the best part of the weekend was appealing. Over the past few months, Sterling had spent more time with her at school under the pretence of various projects initially and then easing into a public friendship. It wouldn’t be strange to invite the blonde to her birthday get together with her other friends. Since her dad would be busy all weekend, then Sterling shouldn’t be worried about being in the same space as him either. Plus the lake house was big enough that once everyone was asleep, they could get some time alone together too. April could feel her excitement at the prospect of an extended period of time with the girl who occupied so many of her thoughts. “That sounds like a great idea.”

Her dad smiled and rose from his seat to envelop her in a hug. “Perfect. Just let me know what you’d like stocked up.” April felt her body respond automatically to the physical affection that had been lacking for a long time. Even before his arrest, her dad had been distant. When she thought about it, the last time her dad hugged her had been back when she was still in elementary school. Her eyes drifted closed as she just let herself soak in the affection that she had craved for so long. At the back of her mind was the knowledge that this was the man who thought it acceptable to beat women and tear families apart due to them falling short of his perceived view of normality but right then, in that moment with his arms wrapped around her, all she could focus on was that moment and the way it transported her back to simpler times. Times when she thought her dad’s love for her was unconditional. She felt him pull back. “Hey now what’s wrong?” She felt the back of his hand brush across her cheek and it was only then she realised she must be crying.

April reached her hand up to brush the remaining tears away, stepping back as she did so. “Nothing daddy. I’m just happy.” She watched her dad regard her for a moment longer before he looked down to his watch.

“Shoot. We’d best get a move on if we don’t want to be late. I’ll go get your mom if you’re ready to go?” April nodded as she watched her dad turn and leave the room. Once he was out of sight she leant back against the counter, her hands gripping the edge as she closed her eyes tight, drawing in a shaky breath as she bit her lip trying to keep her emotions in check. That one moment just served as a reminder of all the years she had longed for his affection, trying to do everything in her power to make him proud enough to want to acknowledge her in the way he used to. Despite the desire to just allow herself to slide back into the fantasy of a happy family, the truth about what her father had done, what he was capable of wouldn’t just fade from memory. Taking one more deep breath, she pushed away from the counter and slipped her mask back on.

**************************************

April took her seat on the pew and smoothed down her skirt. She cast a quick glance over to the Wesley’s pew but it was still empty. Her dad’s insistence on never being late usually meant they were one of the earlier members of the congregation to take a seat.

“Hey April.”

Hearing her name she turned in her seat to look behind her. “Hi Luke.”

“I was wondering if…maybe if you have time…if well, could you maybe help me with the Spanish assignment?” He had leant forward to speak to her quietly, clearly not wanting others to overhear his request for help. “Sterling helped me last time but I’ll be honest…Blair kinda scares me and since the lock-in, she has been more…Blair. I wouldn’t ask but Senora O’Reilly told me that if in my next oral exam I don’t sound better than Jon Voight in Anaconda then she’d have no choice but to fail me. I didn’t know who Jon Voight was or what Anaconda was but I looked it up and even I knew he sounded better than me and it was terrible! I’m not sure I can trust my luck to get me through this one.”

April reached her arm out and placed her hand on his arm to stop his explanation. “In my experience, there is no such thing as luck. Of course I’ll help you.” Whatever Luke said next faded into the white noise of the background as April’s eyes caught on the individual who had just entered the church. She noted the moment Sterling spotted her and watched as a wide smile spread across her face. April felt her own half smile appear in return as her eyes lingered on the blonde making her way down the aisle to their pew, their eyes remaining locked. April brought her hand up to cover her mouth and stifled a laugh when she saw Blair roll her eyes and grab her sisters arm to drag her into their seats just as Sterling was about to walk straight past.

“So study hall tomorrow?”

April brought her attention back to the hopeful look on Luke’s face. “I’ll meet you there.” He nodded and gave her a genuine smile before sliding back in his seat and turning his attention back to the front of the church. April followed suit and turned back round in her seat.

“Beloved. I wanted to start today’s sermon by sharing a quote I read recently. Love is that thing which, if a church has it, it doesn’t really need much else, and if it doesn’t have it, whatever else it has doesn’t really matter very much. When I look around our congregation, I see love. Husbands and wives that love each other; mothers and fathers who love their children and the love you share for your neighbours and friends. And that makes me feel so good. When I read this quote, I couldn’t help but think that this was what Paul was trying to say. Now before we dive into things, I think we need to remind ourselves of two things. Firstly, the meaning of the word love. These days love is used in many different ways to mean different things but primarily it is used to describe an emotion in the English language. We need to remember that when Paul was writing his letters, he didn’t write in English but in Greek. Now let me tell you, when it comes to love, the Greek language is much richer than English. They haven’t just got a single word for love that they use in different contexts. They have different words for different kinds of love. They have Eros which is the romantic love. They have phileo which would be best described as the love of friendship. Then there’s storge which is closest to the love of the familiar so our familial love or love for those we have known all our lives. Despite having all these words at his disposal, Paul uses none of them. Instead he uses the word agape. And this word is no longer tied to emotion. It isn’t based on affection or approval. It is totally unconditional, given as a free gift, not because the beloved deserves it but because the lover chooses to give it. It is a decision of the will to act in the other person’s best interests, whether we feel like it or not. It’s getting down at the supper table and washing your disciple’s feet. It is being willing to lay down your life for people who do not even care about you. Now we all have love in our lives but can we say that it is unconditional? Can we say that we have agape love in our lives? That the love we give is not based on affection or approval but a gift we choose to give to someone freely.”

April listened to the sermon that Pastor Booth gave. The words he spoke struck a nerve deep inside after her interaction with her dad that morning. She wished that she could confidently say that the love her parents had for her was agape love. That there were no strings, no conditions on it but she knew that was a false hope. For as long as she could remember she had to strive to be the best to earn that love. This was not a freely given gift but something you had to earn. It was also based solidly in the expectation that she conformed to their belief system, that she would love the right person. April’s mind then shifted to thinking about her relationship with Sterling. They had been together for a few months now but was what she felt for the blonde love? The flutter in her chest when she thought of Sterling and the word love in the same sentence certainly suggested it may be but that was something they hadn’t mentioned to one another. Deep down, April feared that there would come a day when she wouldn’t be enough for Sterling with their relationship kept out of the public eye. That she would have to make a choice about whose love she wanted to keep. That she would find herself sitting back on that bench once more faced with that same choice again, only this time she wasn’t certain who she would choose.

**************************************

Lunch at the club had passed slowly with April mainly lost in her thoughts. She had engaged in conversation when asked but mostly she had focused on her own food and let the sounds of the dining room wash over her. Following the meal, her father had excused himself to the men’s parlour and her mother had slipped away to the bar. April found herself leaning against the railing on the veranda while she waited for her parents to finish socialising. Despite the cool weather, the need to escape the confines of the club and the feeling of everyone’s eyes watching had won out. She became aware of a presence beside her just before she felt her jacket get slipped over her shoulders. A small smile played on her lips as the person came to stand beside her, she knew who it was without looking. She slipped her arms into the sleeves being grateful for the warmth it provided before resuming her original position. Despite the jackets they both wore, April could swear she could feel the heat radiating off the taller girl’s arm resting beside hers.

“I hate Paul.”

April’s smile grew as she cast a quick glance to the girl beside her. Her eyes catching the smirk on the blonde’s face. “I remember. Not everything he said was bad though.”

“April Stevens…tell me you are not one to follow his teachings on…” Sterling cast a surreptitious look around them before whispering “sexual activities.” The shorter girl suppressed the smile that threatened to emerge. “Because I’m pretty sure we have already exceeded his views on what is acceptable…in more ways than one.”

April playfully nudged Sterling as she felt her ears start to burn with the flashes of memory on exactly what they had already been up to together. “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” She feels Sterling’s pinky slide over hers where it lies on the railing, hidden from view from inside by the top rail.

“You make a great point.”

The two girls stood beside each other in silence for a moment, just enjoying the proximity to one another and that small point of contact between their bodies. “Hey Sterl, what are you doing next weekend?”

“Whatever you want, it is your birthday.”

April looked over at the blonde. “You remembered?”

“Of course I did. I remember a lot about you.” As she turned her head, she was met by such a sincere look from the blonde. A look that held such depth that it actually took her breath away. Her own gaze slipped to flash over her blonde counterpart’s lips before she drew her focus over to the wall of windows behind them. Taking the moment to suppress the urge to follow her heart instead of her head in that moment.

“I’m having a small gathering, just those closest to me, and I was wondering if you would come?”

“Nowhere else I’d rather be.” A bright smile spread across Sterling’s face as she responded, while simultaneously interlocking their pinky fingers. “Where are we going?”

“The lake house.” The moment the words had passed her lips, April felt Sterling pull away. She turned to face the taller girl fully.

“April…I…”

“I know what you’re going to say and it’s OK Sterl. John won’t be there. He said he has business meetings all weekend so he won’t be around. It’ll just be a few of us from school. He hasn’t mentioned you in weeks.”

“He hates me. He threatened us when we took him in.” April felt Sterling grasp one of her hands between her own. “What if he does see me there? Do you really think he has just forgotten everything?”

“It’s not like you’d be alone.” April ran her thumb across the edge of the hand that wrapped around hers. Her eyes following the motion, reluctant to look up to meet the face of the girl before her. “I wouldn’t let him hurt you.” Her voice was quiet with the admission.

April watched as one of the hands dropped hers before feeling it lift her chin so their eyes met once more. The soft brush of fingertips against her jaw as the hand fell away left a trail of warmth in its path. “I don’t want you to ever be in that position. I’m sorry April but I can’t.”

She held eye contact with the blonde for a moment longer, searching for any sign that she may change her answer but all she saw was remorse for having to say no. April gently pulled her hand away from Sterling’s grasp, taking a step back as she let her head drop. The feeling of disappointment weighing heavily upon her. “I should get back. I’m sure mom has realised I’m not there by now.”

“April, wait.” April stepped back as Sterling reached for her hand once more, her eyes darting to the bank of windows behind them.

“It’s fine. I guess Pastor Booth was right when he suggested our relationships are not unconditional. I’ll see you at school.” With her head dropped low, April turned and walked back into the club. The warmth she had previously felt from her interaction with the blonde had dissipated and been replaced by a chill deep within stemming from the belief that once more, she wasn’t enough for someone to put before their own fears.