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can we always be this close (forever and ever)?

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The night has been planned out meticulously for what feels like forever. As far as the school and April’s parents are concerned, April will be going to prom with Ezekiel and Hannah B, and Sterling will be going with Blair. All of this is technically true, as is the plan of Hannah B and Ezekiel picking up April from her house and taking her to Benihana before the dance. Sure, she conveniently forgot to mention the fact that they’ll be making a quick stop at the Wesley House for pictures with her actual date. Nor has she mentioned anything that she intends to do once they get to the Club for the grand festivities. But if April’s parents have taught her anything in her eighteen years on this planet, it’s that lies of omission are perfectly acceptable so long as they don’t get back out into the community.

Well, that and tipping 10% is perfectly acceptable on a bill over $100. But that’s not exactly applicable here--at least not until they get to Benihana.

Still, no amount of planning in the world could have prepared her for the nervous feeling that’s settled in the pit of her stomach as she sits at her bathroom vanity and puts the finishing touches on her makeup while her mother fusses over the fine details of her hair.

“How a girl as gorgeous as you doesn’t have a date is beyond me,” her mother muses, punctuating her sentence by spraying another noxious cloud of hairspray around April’s head.

Having not had time to prepare for the aerosol attack, April coughs a couple of times before rasping, “You’ve seen the boys at my school-” she takes in a deep breath once the air around her has cleared, “-Their parents will be making some hefty donations for them to get into any school worth its salt. So it’s no great loss to me.”

“That may be true, but you gotta have some fun while you’re young, sweetheart.” Mary playfully jostles April’s shoulder. “ know… not too much fun.”

April rolls her eyes. “Mama, I promise you, I’m going to have the time of my life tonight; I definitely don’t need a boy for that.”

And that is the gospel truth.

April looks into the mirror and sees her mother frown a moment before shaking her head and smiling again. It’s a smile April knows well; perfect on the outside and covering over something that can’t be voiced. “Well, we better get finished up here. We wouldn’t want you to keep Ezekiel and Hannah waiting.”

April nods, picking up her strawberry lip gloss that she knows is Sterling’s favorite and applying it liberally just as she hears the doorbell ring downstairs. “Speak of the devils,” she sighs, getting up from her bench seat and smoothing the rose gold fabric of her dress. She had actually managed to go dress shopping with Sterling, not wanting to chance them getting any clashing colors. While the princess design was an easy sell, the small train was not.

“You’re gonna trip so bad on the dancefloor and I’ll have to be there to catch you,”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

April smiles at the memory. She and Sterling have been together for almost a year and a half and yet she still has to savor every moment they can get to themselves. That’s why tonight has to be perfect. 

“How do I look?” she asks, offering her mother a slightly nervous smile. It’s embarrassing to think that Sterling Wesley can have this sort of effect on her; if anyone had told her two years ago that she’d be in this position, she would have laughed in their face. Not just because the Sterling of two years ago was spending most of her time making out with Luke Creswell and his lone brain cell, but because two years ago April was still of the belief that the girl she’d (begrudgingly) been in love with since third grade would never in a million years feel the same.

And yet here they are, on what’s sure to be a night to remember for the both of them if everything goes according to plan. 

“You look so… grown up,” Mary says finally, voice cracking as her eyes well up.

“Mama, please don’t cry. It’s really just a dance. I have plenty more milestones for you to look forward to,” April says reassuringly, placing a hand on her mother’s shoulder. Then she pauses because a horrible thought occurs to her. Sure, she has her whole life to look forward to, but April has every intention of living it as her true self as soon as she’s out of this house. She’s not so certain that her mother will want to be around after that. So, maybe in a way, this is one of the last moments like these that they’ll spend together.

With that thought, she hugs her mother tight, much like she did after she was teased on the first day of school, after Adele Meisner, after her father was arrested, and after she let Sterling go (if only for a short time). Letting moments like these go is perhaps a large part of why it’s taken her a year and a half to even have the courage to dance with her girlfriend in front of their peers.

Mary pulls away, wiping the tears from her eyes with her thumbs so as to not mess up her makeup any more than she already has. “You better get down there. I’m sure your Daddy will want pictures before you go.”

April nods and dutifully makes her way downstairs, taking care to not fall victim to the deadly combo of the dress’s train and her killer five-inch heels. If tonight is going to be the night of her dreams, then she is not going to spend it feeling like an Ewok compared to her date.

“There’s my little padawan,” John says from the foyer, bringing up his camera to snap a few shots of her coming down the curved staircase. The moment before her shoes touch the white Carrara marble, he sweeps her into a crushing hug against his chest.

April allows it for a moment before drawing back. “Daddy, you’ll muss up my hair,” she says but it is merely a formality; the sheer amount of hairspray her mother used might just keep her hair curled until graduation.

“Well, far be it from me to ruin your mother’s hard work,” he agrees, moving across the foyer to open the front door. April can sense the moment her father sees Ezekiel on the other side of the door. While April loves the bold, emerald green velvet suit jacket Ezekiel picked, she’s sure her father feels differently.

“Good evening, Mr. Stevens!” Hannah B chimes as John seems to direct all his attention to her, almost pretending Ezekiel isn’t even there. “Is April ready?”

“Yes, she is,” April announces, descending the rest of the way down the stairs as her friends step inside. She strikes a pose, reveling in their reactions to her dress.

“Wow! You look so good, girl!” Ezekiel gushes, approaching to get a closer look as Hannah B seems to buzz with excitement.

“Ster— I mean, the boys are totes gonna freak out when they see you.” When she’s sure John isn’t looking her way, Hannah B gives April an exaggerated wink. “You’re so gonna win prom queen tonight.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that…” April says in the worst attempt to sound humble she’s ever heard.

“Please, you’re practically a shoo-in after you gave out all those CFA gift cards. Thanks again for those, Mr. S.”

“Aw really, it was no trouble, Ezekiel. Anything to help April’s chances. Not that she needs it.” John puts a hand on April’s shoulder that she’s sure is supposed to be encouraging, but she also knows it’s his silent way of saying that a win tonight is a win for Team Stevens, so she had better win.

April puts a hand over her heart. “Daddy, you flatter me,” she says. “But we really have to get going now.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to be late for our reservation,” Ezekiel adds and offers April his left arm to escort her to the door, while Hannah B takes the right.

“Y’all don’t stay out too late now, ya hear?” John calls after them, but April doesn’t have time to reply before she’s being pulled out the door, Hannah and Ezekiel moving double-time to the rented limousine they all went in on.

The driver opens the back door for them and they all pile in. Only once he shuts the door behind Hannah B does April finally exhale. “I really thought we were blown for a second there.”

“Sorry,” Hannah B says quietly.

“Hey, it was a nice pivot though,” Ezekiel says, reassuringly patting her arm.

“Still. I can’t risk anything going wrong. Not when Sterling and I are going to finally…” April trails off, smiling coyly.

Ezekiel gasps. “Tonight?! You little walking clichè, I love you so much.”

“What? What is she doing?” Hannah B asks, confused until Ezekiel leans in to whisper in her ear and her eyes go wide with realization. “April! You’re going to have-” she leans in and whisper-shouts the rest, “-intercourse?!”

“Fingers crossed,” April says, nodding. She figures the Big Man will give her a pass for a transgression like this considering she’s at least had the willpower to wait this long.

“Girl, don’t even. You got her wrapped around your perfectly manicured fingers. And tonight, you’re gonna be wrapped around her fingers,” Ezekiel chuckles bawdily.

“Ezekiel!” April shrieks, feeling a blush suffuse her cheeks. “You don’t have to be so… crass about it.”

“Yeah, Z. April and Sterling have a plan to make love. It’s actually really romantic,” Hannah B sighs without a hint of irony—not that April’s sure she’s even capable of irony.

Ezekiel gags. “Sweetie, please never use that terminology again.”

“But wait. Aren’t you worried about breaking your pact?” Hannah B asks, ignoring Ezekiel and indicating the heart-shaped ring on April’s left hand.

Sure, it’s crossed her mind more than a couple of times in the process of April coming to the conclusion that she’s finally ready to ‘go there.’ But when weighing the pros and cons, she can’t help but think that putting a pact—a heteronormative pact, at that—that she made with her bigoted father over the love that she feels for Sterling is just… wrong. 

She knows she doesn’t speak for God, but she thinks He’d be with her on this one, too.

“The Big Man also isn’t a fan of shellfish but lord knows I’m getting down to some hibachi shrimp tonight. I think you’re good, April.” Ezekiel assures her just as the driver pulls the car up in front of the Wesleys’. “Now, you go get your girl… and her sister.”

Hannah B moves out of the way for April to get out of the car, smoothing her dress again as she makes her way up to the door. She has no reason to be nervous—at least not since she and Sterling came clean to Mr. and Mrs. Wesley over winter break—and yet her heart feels like it may pound out of her chest.

Sheer force of will keeps her hand from shaking when it comes time to ring the doorbell. April doesn’t have much time to be proud of her composure before the door swings open to reveal Debbie Wesley’s smiling face. “Oh, April! Don’t you look beautiful?” she croons, ushering April into the house. “Sterling will be right down. Can I get you anything?”

“Oh, that’s alright, Mrs. Wesley,” April declines politely, as Debbie heads in the direction of the kitchen. She hopes Sterling comes downstairs before she has a chance to be completely consumed by her nerves—a feeling that’s only amplified when Sterling and Blair’s father enters from the living room. “Hey, Mr. Wesley. How are you this fine evening?”

Anderson puts his hands in his front pockets, rocking back and forth on his feet a moment while he seems to choose his words carefully. “I’m good, April. I’m real good.” At first, April thinks he’s going to leave it at that, but then he looks up and smiles at her.

Oh no.

“So, what are y’all’s plans for tonight?” he asks, sounding like a crime drama cop in an interrogation scene.

“Well, we have a dinner reservation and then we’re going to prom, I think?” April answers, playing dumb to the question she knows he was really asking. “Do you and Mrs. Wesley have any plans for your night alone?”

“You’re deflecting,” Anderson says simply, catching April off guard.

“Excuse me?” April asks, her voice a touch higher than it was a moment ago.

“You’re deflecting. I asked you what you and Sterling were planning on doing tonight and you turned it around to question me. Why is that?” Anderson asks, giving her a smile she’s sure is meant to be threatening.

It’s not easy to throw April off her rhythm. She can count on one hand all the people who have, but this is something else entirely.

No wonder Mr. Wesley has been so successful in starting his own law firm.

“As far as I’m aware, that’s all we have planned,” she lies—hopefully without any of her tells—as she thinks of her plans for Sterling at the lake house, long after prom is over.

Things were so much easier when Debbie and Anderson thought she and Sterling were just friends.

“Daddy!” Sterling’s admonishing tone is like music to April’s ears right now. She and Anderson both look to the top of the stairs to see Sterling glaring down at her father before she comes down to April’s rescue. “Leave her alone. It’s not like she’s planning on taking me to some sleazy motel or something--not that she’s planning on taking me anywhere...”

“I literally can’t. We’re all sharing a limo,” April jumps in, knowing that things are bound to get muddled if she leaves the stretching of the truth to the hater of lies.

Even though she had seen Sterling’s dress in the store, the sight of Sterling in blush-pink chiffon takes April’s breath away. Her hair is swept up in a gravity-defying style, a few loose tendrils framing her face--which is currently glowing with a smile aimed directly at April.

“You look beautiful,” April breathes, stepping in to press a lingering but chaste kiss to Sterling’s lips.

Anderson loudly clears his throat. Sterling steps back with a dopey smile just as Debbie comes back down the hall. “Oh, baby! You look so gorgeous!” she exclaims, hugging Sterling and April in turn.

“It’s okay, I’m not feeling left out, like the third Hemsworth brother or anything,” Blair snarks from the stair landing, drawing everyone’s attention to her for a moment. But, while she wears her asymmetrical, inky blue dress well, April only has eyes for Sterling.

“You know he’s on Westworld, so you really can’t say that anymore,” Sterling argues back to her sister with an air of having had this conversation before.

Debbie interrupts before they can pick up steam. “Blair, you look wonderful but will you please come down so I can take the dang pictures? You girls don’t want to be late for your reservation.”

If April enjoys taking these pictures more than she did the ones at her own house, it is only because her girlfriend’'s arms are around her waist and the corsage Sterling bought for her is adorning one wrist.

“Y’all look so cute!” Debbie squeals, snapping a few more pictures from various angles.

From the corner of her eye, April can see Blair look at an imaginary watch on her wrist. “Can we please go now, Mom?” she whines.

Debbie responds by turning her camera on Blair, taking two pictures before she has time to react. “This is a special night and you need to savor every moment. Before you know it, you’ll be my age and you’ll wish you had taken the time to appreciate things like this,” she admonishes Blair, who only rolls her eyes, so Debbie turns back to Sterling and April for one last round of pictures before letting the three of them leave.

“Now, I want you girls home by 1 AM, is that clear?” Anderson says on their way out the door, trying to sound intimidating.

“Roger that, Daddy,” Sterling replies.

“And hey, at least you can count on none of us getting knocked up tonight!” Blair adds. “Unless I meet someone, I guess.”

“That is not even funny,” Debbie says bluntly. “Now get going.”

The girls are ushered out the door and the second Debbie closes it, Blair breathes a loud sigh of relief. “Alright, Scissormates, let’s go teppanyaki crazy.” She leads the way to the limo, not waiting for the driver to come around to open the door for her before climbing in.

April turns to Sterling, trying to stop herself from laughing which would only encourage Blair. “Well, after you,” she says, gesturing to the car.

“Thank you, my lady,” Sterling replies with an air of fake snootiness as she joins the rest of them in the limo, followed closely by April.

The sound system shrieks as Ellen taps the mic up on the stage but it doesn’t seem to faze her at all as she excitedly waves two envelopes in the air. “Everybody, it’s time for the moment y’all have been waiting for. In these envelopes, I have the winners of this year’s prom king and queen!” she yells excitedly, like the living embodiment of a Kate McKinnon SNL character that she is.

April had known this moment was coming, and she’s glad she had directed Sterling to dance with her just a little closer to the stage for this exact reason. Sure, she supposes that there are slim odds that she won’t win, but in that case, it’ll go to Sterling--God knows they wouldn’t be able to show their faces at school again if they lose to Horny Lorna .

“You got this,” Sterling says into April’s ear, smiling encouragingly.

She hasn’t left April’s side all night; neither of them has been blind to the fact that more than a few heads have turned in their direction while they danced together, but April’s having too good of a time to care. In fact, it’s somewhat… refreshing to let loose for once in her life. And having the most gorgeous girl in school on her arm for all to see is definitely a bonus.

“So, without further ado, the nominees for prom king are…” Ellen proceeds to name Luke Cresswell, Franklin Rhodes, and Jimmy Pearson--a boy with cerebral palsy, who balances on one crutch to wave to everyone with the other--like she’s presenting at the Oscars. “And the winner is,” Ellen does a one-handed drum roll against her thigh before opening the first envelope. “La La Land!” she announces, bursting into laughter at her own joke while the attendees don’t give her so much as a chuckle. “I’m just kiddin’. Your Prom King is Luke Creswell!”

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to April, who claps politely with Sterling as Luke disentangles himself from his date--Lorna--to go on stage and get the plastic crown put on his head.

Luke stammers his way through an awkward acceptance speech but April’s only focus is on the second envelope still in Ellen’s hand. Every word from Luke is just another moment that April doesn’t get to know that she won prom queen. As much as she loves Sterling and as much as she would muster up a happy smile if Sterling wins, April needs her name in that envelope. She needs this one thing for her.

Thankfully, Sterling understands that urge and gives her hand a quick squeeze as Ellen moves back to the podium.

“The nominees for Prom Queen are Lorna Sharp-”

“Yeeeah!” Franklin yells, along with a chorus of hoots and hollers from some of the rowdier boys—a rather disgusting display that would mortify April, but Lorna seems to revel in it.

Ellen continues as if nothing happened, “Sterling Wesley,”

April and Sterling share a glance. April knows her stomach feels like a lepidopterarium (she hasn’t used that word since the sixth-grade spelling bee!), but Sterling seems cool as a cucumber. Maybe she is unbothered by the outcome of this silly tradition. 

But, more likely, it’s all a facade. Because, despite what Cady Heron said, the crown is not just plastic. It’s symbolic of making an impression upon your peers enough for them to think you stand out above the rest. It means you’re pretty enough and likable enough. Popular. 

Not even (mostly) saint-like Sterling Wesley is above wanting that kind of validation.

“And April Stevens!” Ellen seemingly finishes before squinting at the card she’s reading off of and leaning into the mic. “And write-in candidate Taylor Swift, but I think y’all know she doesn’t go to this school,” Ellen says in a scolding tone. “And your Queen is…”

As Ellen does her drumroll, April closes her eyes, not daring to open them until the name is read off.

“I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but she’s one of my favorites. April Stevens!”

April releases her breath in a shaky but victorious laugh. She did it. She just won Prom Queen. Sterling’s warm hand on her back propels April forward but she walks the rest of the way to the stage under her own power.

It isn’t until Ellen hugs her and whispers “You did it, I’m so proud!” that April shakes off her shock and replaces it with joy. And right on time. She has an acceptance speech to give.

“I guess I can officially say I’ve beaten Taylor Swift out for an award,” she says with a smile once Ellen has given her her tiara and she gets to the mic. To her relief, everyone does at least smile or laugh at that. “Wow. I am just so humbled that you would choose me as your class of 2022 prom queen. I’d like to thank my fellow nominees, who were equally as deserving of this award as I am.” She shoots a glance at Sterling, who’s grinning ear to ear. “But I won. So thank you all for taking part in our little democracy and voting. No matter what I do in this life, I’ll always cherish this moment.” With that, she gives the mic back to Ellen.

“And now your king and queen will share a dance!” Ellen announces and takes the hands of Luke and April, forcing them together much like she once did to April and Sterling.

April and Luke share a mortified look. Clearly, neither of them had considered this part of winning.

“Go on now.” Ellen ushers them off the stage back to the dance floor, which has pretty much cleared for them. “Remember, when in doubt, stay one Bible length apart,” she adds before queuing up the music.

April looks for Sterling, but she can’t find her, leaving her no choice but to turn back to Luke, forcing a smile as he puts his hands on her waist and begins to sway to the music—“You and Me” by Lifehouse.

“So,” Luke says after a moment. “I uh...I couldn’t help but notice that you and Sterling looked kind of...together tonight?” He looks as if he’s struggling to word everything as sensitively as possible, but April feels terrified, nevertheless.

She went into this night knowing that people would finally be able to come to their own conclusions regarding her and Sterling, but if even Luke can tell? That means that everyone must know.

She finally locates Sterling, who’s with Blair off to one side of the ballroom. And while Sterling is watching Luke and April’s every move, Blair is attempting to serenade Sterling and encouraging her twin to dance with her. 

There’s no use denying it to Luke now. By the time anything inevitably gets back to her parents, she’ll probably be long gone, off to UGA. “Yes. Sterling and I are… involved with each other.” It’s not exactly the most romantic way to put it, steps.

Luke nods, seeming to process his suspicions becoming a reality. “I just want you to know that I’m happy for you. Both of you,” he says, though his voice sounds anything but happy. In fact, he sounds like he’s about to cry.

April knows she should probably feel a certain way about her girlfriend’s first love still pining for her after all this time. Jealous. Angry, even considering that in a roundabout sort of way, Luke is her own ex too. But all she can feel is sorry for him.

Maybe because she can’t imagine the devastation of truly loving and losing Sterling Wesley. She came so close to it once, and that was nearer than she’d like to ever come again.

“I really appreciate you saying that, Luke. And hey, as much as you aren’t really my type—sorry for...all that stuff that happened during Jesus Christ Superstar, by the way.”

“It’s okay,” Luke says, nodding reassuringly.

“—You are the type of most of the girls in here. Lorna seems to be into you?”

“Yeah but...Lorna’s into everyone.”

“True,” April admits just in time to see the Horny One lead Franklin out of the ballroom behind Luke’s back. The poor guy can’t catch a break tonight. “Look, it’s so rare for us to find our soulmates in high school. Yours is out there somewhere.”

In that moment, as if by divine intervention, April sees Hannah B dancing with Ezekiel, leaving more room for Jesus than even she and Luke have between them. And then she remembers just how many times she’s caught her best friend mooning over this giant teddy bear, and it’s as if a lightbulb appears over her head.

“I’m having a party tonight at my daddy’s lake house. Why don’t you come with us?” This suggestion seems to come as a shock to Luke.

“Really? But like...wouldn’t that be awkward for you?” he asks.

As much as it pains her to admit it, April realizes that she can see what Sterling once saw in him. He’s sweet and entirely too innocent for his own good. Much like someone else she knows. “Yes, really. But first, I need you to do me a favor.”

As the song ends, April leads Luke by the arm to her friends. “Z, would you mind if Luke cuts in here?” she asks Ezekiel while Hannah B eyes Luke like a bashful little girl.

“Not. At. All,” Ezekiel says, amused as he pushes Hannah B in Luke’s direction.

“Uh...hi,” Luke says to her awkwardly.

“Oh for Pete’s sake!” Ezekiel takes Hannah B’s hands and puts them on Luke’s shoulders. “Now dance, children. I’m gonna go get a drink.” He turns on his heel and does just that, leaving April to admire her matchmaking abilities as Luke and Hannah B awkwardly and stiffly dance together.

April turns away from Luke and Hannah B, looking for Sterling as the opening words of “Mirrorball” start floating out of the speakers. But she doesn’t have to look very far. Sterling is right behind her, hand outstretched. “I think it’s my turn to dance with the Prom Queen,” she says softly.

April smiles and accepts her hand, the other settling on Sterling’s shoulder. Ordinarily, she’d insist on leading—even with all the awkwardness that that entails when you’re the shorter party—but this moment isn’t about power moves or asserting dominance. The evening is quickly winding down and soon they’ll be off to the lake house, where April hopes to be irrevocably changed by the perfect ending to this already perfect night. Even Sterling’s clumsiness can’t spoil that for her.

“I’m sorry you didn’t win,” April says after their feet find the rhythm.

Sterling rolls her eyes. “No, you’re not. But thanks for saying that.” She seems less annoyed and more amused by April’s ambition—which is good because April doesn’t know who she’d be without it.

April is still sometimes surprised that Sterling sees her for exactly who she is, the good and the bad, and still loves her all the same. Lord knows she’s not the most empathetic girl around, though her father would say that’s a positive trait.

“I wouldn’t have wanted anyone but you to win,” Sterling says eventually. “I could have done without you dancing with Luke, though.” She gives a look of playful disgust.

“You and me both,” April agrees, chuckling. “I would have much preferred you to be my co-queen up there.”

“Maybe that’ll happen here someday.” Sterling, always the optimistic one.

“It will,” April says, surprising herself with her own level of certainty. The world is changing, and even Willingham isn’t immune to it. Even two years ago, April wouldn’t have been caught dead within ten feet of Sterling at a dance, let alone formally slow dancing with her to a song from Taylor Swift’s Gayest Hits. “So, do you think you want to head to the lake house after this song?” April notices that the evening is definitely winding down now that the main events are finished. The plastic crowns have been distributed so now it’s time for everyone to clear out to do whatever debauchery that can’t take place during a school function.

“Yeah, I’ll just have to grab Blair. I think I saw her making out with one of the guys from the baseball team…” Sterling’s eyes scan the room over April’s shoulder. “Ah. Yep. There she is.” She does a dance maneuver to turn April to get a look at Blair’s tongue down the throat of some rando she couldn’t name if you paid her.

April scoffs. “Well, that’s how you get mononucleosis.”

Sterling rolls. “Not like you have any right to be judgy considering that's what you and Luke looked like for a good two and a half months.”

April narrows her eyes, having long since told Sterling to please never bring up that time of her life again, but regardless, she’s in a good enough mood to let this one slide. “Yeah, well, it led me to where I'm supposed to be.” With that, she looks around, making sure nobody is directly watching them before realizing she’s beyond the point of caring. She leans up to kiss Sterling softly, smiling into it when she realizes that there’s no real fear in what she’s feeling. Just excitement and pride in the fact that this gorgeous girl is hers and she doesn’t care who knows it.

“Who are you and what have you done with April?” Sterling asks with a goofy smile as the song begins to fade.

Did April plan on having a 50+ person party with underage drinking at her parents’ lake house? Honestly, no, she did not. But does she mind one bit? Surprisingly, no.

She would have minded much more if it weren’t for the fact that she is hyper-aware of every move Sterling is making. Every time their hands brush or Sterling leans back against her while speaking to Blair, it short circuits April’s brain.

She’s not partaking in any alcohol because, ignoring the fact that alcohol can stunt a still-developing brain, she doesn’t want to forget a single moment of this evening.

And, it seems as though Sterling is on the same wavelength. April hasn’t seen Sterling quite so jumpy since she floated the idea of having sex after prom. That was the first and only time Sterling Wesley had failed to turn in a worksheet for AP Chemistry.

“...It looks different on the inside.” April catches the tail end of Blair’s comment to Sterling and furrows her brow. Are they really talking about the interior decorating? And of course, it looks different, the last time Sterling and Blair had been up to the lake house would have been the summer before 5th grade.

Blair notices April looking at them, and then she’s turning to Sterling, not saying anything but maintaining eye contact. It’s something April has witnessed a handful of times, but it never stops being weird for her.

“Girl, you got gas or something?” Ezekiel asks when he notices Sterling’s face, and that seems to snap her out of it.

“What? No!” Sterling says, defensive as Blair motions to Ezekiel.

“Hey, Zeke? You wanna come be my partner out in the strip horseshoes tournament outside?” she asks, though said tournament’s existence is news to April. 

How does one even play strip horseshoes? Why are they playing strip horseshoes?

“Uh...sure?” Ezekiel agrees, seeming equally confused as he follows Blair outside, leaving Sterling and April actually alone in the living room, Hannah B having long since dragged Luke off to God knows where.

“So… this is your lake house, huh?” Sterling asks, seeming on edge, but April can hardly blame her.

April herself feels like her skin is on fire, and she’s never felt this kind of excitement in her life. It feels like a combination of the fear she gets in the pit of her stomach as she ascends a hill on a Dollywood rollercoaster, the nervous moments immediately leading up to a big debate, and the unabashed joy of Sterling kissing her for the first time, all rolled into one. She steps closer to Sterling, but she looks down, considering her words carefully. She’s afraid of coming on too strong.

“Want me to show you my room? It’s changed a bit since you were last here.” Okay, maybe not too afraid.

Sterling nods eagerly. “Uh, yeah, yeah that would be awesome.”

April doesn’t have to be told twice, taking Sterling’s hand and all but dragging her up the stairs, pausing halfway up on the landing to kiss her in a way that would have surely gotten them kicked out of the prom.

“Get a room, you two!” Someone shouts from the living room and laughs hysterically before continuing on their way, but it’s enough to make Sterling and April hastily continue the rest of the way up the stairs to do just that.

Or at least, that’s April’s intention until they’re halfway down the hall and she’s being pushed up against the wall, gasping into another kiss, hand going up to blindly bring Sterling’s hair out of its elaborate and probably expensive updo. Fuck it. She hears bobby pins clatter to the wood floor, creating a melody with Sterling’s moaning into April’s mouth.

God, they really have waited too long for this moment.

“We should really be doing this in private,” April reminds Sterling, rather begrudgingly.

“Just give me a minute,” Sterling says--or more like gasps. She kisses April like she’ll never get the chance again, desperate and messy and so so good.

When they finally pull apart again, April can see, even in the dark of the unlit hallway, that Sterling’s pupils are blown from arousal, with a look of pure and utter devotion on her face. How did April ever get so lucky? “I love you,” she whispers, caressing Sterling’s cheek.

Sterling closes her eyes, smiling contentedly and turning her head to kiss April’s palm. “I love you more.”

April shakes her head. “That’s completely impossible,” she says with all the certainty in the world, because in this moment, she’s not sure anyone in the history of human existence (absurd as it may sound/most definitely is) has ever loved anyone as truly as she loves Sterling... as much as that sounds like a quote from The Princess Bride . “Come on,” she says, taking Sterling’s hand far more gently than before and leading her the rest of the way to the bedroom.

It’s brighter than the hallway, but not by much and the air smells a little stale from being unlived in for a few months before tonight. The faint sounds of the party in the backyard leak in through the windows, but it’s otherwise almost uncomfortably quiet, especially with neither Sterling nor April daring to say a word. April can hardly stand it, so she figures now is as good of a time as any to retrieve her phone from the hidden pocket in her dress and turn on the playlist she’s been curating on and off for the past year and a half.

Sterling chuckles quietly as the first few notes of a cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You” begins to play and April turns to her, quirking an eyebrow up.

“Sterling, you wouldn’t happen to be making fun of my music choices, right?” she asks teasingly, setting the phone down on her bedside table and crossing her arms.

Sterling puts her hands up in mock surrender, smiling and walking closer. “I wouldn’t dare do something like that,” she says, sarcasm dripping from her words.

“You think you’re so cute,” April says challengingly, biting her lip and silently daring Sterling to make the next move.

“I know I am,” Sterling states plainly.

April rolls her eyes. “You know, cockiness is only attractive to an exten-” April doesn’t get a chance to finish her sentence, instead letting out a high-pitched squeal as Sterling tackles her to the bed, landing on top of her and kissing her fiercely. “Sterling!” she chastises a little louder than intended when they break apart, both struggling to catch their breath. Though, April doesn’t think she ever will when the feeling of Sterling’s weight on top of her has her heart and other parts of her feeling a certain way.

“You’re really cute when you’re flustered,” Sterling muses aloud, that dopey smile of hers spreading from ear to ear as she balances herself up on her hands.

In most circumstances, ‘cute’ is good. April likes it that Sterling thinks she’s cute. But in this moment, she does not want to be cute.

“Oh yeah?” she asks innocently, but before Sterling can reply, April’s performing one of her better Jiu-Jitsu counter-attacks by grabbing Sterling’s arm with both hands and flipping them both over so that she is now straddling Sterling’s waist.

Sterling’s breath wooshes out of her and she looks slightly dazed at the sight of April perched above her. The daze doesn’t last long before Sterling reaches up to thread her fingers through April’s hair and pulls her in for another kiss.

To quote the great Andrew Lloyd Webber, they are long past the point of no return, but April isn’t nervous. She doesn’t have a single reservation. All she knows is that she wants Sterling—every part of her.

Never breaking eye-contact with Sterling, April slowly removes her father’s purity ring from her finger and puts it in her dress pocket. Then she reaches behind her back to tug down her zipper, but only gets it down about halfway before she’s being blinded by a sudden light filling the room. Squinting in the direction of the door, her eyes adjust enough to make out her father, and she’s jumping away from Sterling, but it’s too late. She knows it’s too late.

“Daddy-” she starts, voice trembling. Any feelings of arousal she’d had only seconds before have been replaced by nothing but pure, unadulterated fear. She turns to Sterling, who seems to be frozen in place.

In the time it took her to look away, John must have been able to clear the distance between them because suddenly April’s feeling a hard slap across her face, knocking her off her equilibrium.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he says finally, voice booming and far angrier than April’s ever heard him. “Do you think your mother and I made the sacrifices we did to raise some dyke? And with her? ” he gestures at Sterling, and for a second April fears he’s going to go after her next, so pushing through her brain fog, April moves to position herself between them.

“Daddy, please, I’m sorry, I-- I tried to tell you and mama so many times but I knew you never wanted to hear it. Please don’t-” her panicked attempt at an explanation for something that really needs none is cut off by her father.

“You’re damn right I never wanted to hear it. It’s disgusting. You’re disgusting.”

Her father’s words hit April far harder than his hands ever could. It’s everything she ever feared would happen if the truth came out. If anything, it’s worse because Sterling, ever the optimistic one with regards to the so-called unconditional love of parents (and why wouldn’t she be?) has to bear witness to it. She’s struggling to find the words to even begin to respond, but this is the one thing she’d never really prepared a rebuttal for.

“Hey! You don’t talk to her like that!” Sterling, valiant to a fault, finally jumps into action, shoving John away. It’s shocking for April, as she doesn’t think she’s ever seen Sterling get violent with anyone—aside from that one time, but Tala Jordan deserved it—but here she is, fearlessly confronting a man twice her size. “You think you have any right to call her disgusting, you… you woman-beating philanderer!”

“I knew you were a little cunt!” John starts lumbering toward Sterling, but she’s quicker, dodging him and looking around frantically until she grabs a squash racket, smiling grimly as she smacks April’s father in the face with it as hard as she can.

“April, get downstairs, now,” she says, still holding the racket as if challenging John to come at her again.

Confused as she is by the turn this whole confrontation has taken, April does not need to be told twice, she grabs her phone from the nightstand and makes her way to the door, urging Sterling to hold the racket with one hand so that she can lead the both of them out. The plan from there is...murky at best. They don’t have a way out, considering they were planning on taking an Uber back to Sterling’s later, and as far as she’s aware, there’s still a party going on outside. Why is he even here?

They make it to the top of the stairs before April hears John come after them, and she curses these god-forsaken heels she’s wearing because they’re making this grand escape a lot slower than it needs to be. But as they make it to the landing, she realizes that any immediate danger they may have been in before probably won’t be a problem anymore as she sees… Sterling’s boss from the yogurt shop being let in the front door by Blair, who looks up past April to share a glance with Sterling.

April will definitely have some questions later, but for now, she’s grateful nonetheless. Her father is far too obsessed with appearances to lay a hand on either of them with witnesses present. And unfortunately, there are a lot of them that have gathered in the house following the commotion upstairs. Great.

“Are you girls okay?” Mr. Bowser asks them, and April silently nods just as her father comes down the stairs, but stops in his tracks as he sees they aren’t alone.

“What the fuck are you doing in my house?” April’s father asks Mr. Bowser, almost as if they’ve met before.

“Mr. Stevens, I was informed that there would potentially be some trouble tonight and I just wanted to make sure that the girls are safe,” Bowser says, sounding a bit like a cop. “And from the looks of things, it’s a good thing I’m here.”

“Thanks, Bowser but I could have handled it myself,” Sterling says, sounding more annoyed at the idea of needing help out of a violent situation than anything.

This whole thing has April doing all kinds of mental gymnastics to explain the weirdness of this night.

John puts his hands up, trying to silence everyone else so that he can point to April and say his piece. “Look, I don’t care why y’all are here. I don’t care what y’all think of me. But April, you listen to me and you listen to me good,” He takes a deep breath, a move April has seen many times when he was in an argument with her mother and wanted to be able to get all his words out clearly without exploding. “You are never to come ‘round here or the other house again, you understand me? No daughter of mine is gonna be a God damned rug muncher with a little slut like that.” He glares at Sterling. “So I guess I don’t have a daughter anymore.”

It’s something April should have seen coming, but hearing it is another thing entirely. Her father is a cruel, hateful man but there was always a part of her that thought surely that wouldn’t be enough to disown her, his self-proclaimed prized possession. She was wrong.

Every fiber of her being is telling April to cry. Telling her that there’s no way her Daddy can’t love her anymore. But all she feels is...numb as she says cooly, “If that’s how you feel, then fine. Let’s go, Sterl.” 

Sterling drops the squash racket with a clatter as they walk out of the house, arms wrapping around April as they walk toward the Jeep pulled up almost to the front door.

Bowser’s voice follows them out the door, “No, Blair, you will not kick that man in the balls.” His tone is softer than the words would imply, almost like he’s proud of her, and then he’s carrying Blair out of the house over his shoulder while she struggles to get down.

“He’s a bad man and I want to punch his face in!” she whines like a kid who is being denied a treat. And, for Blair, it probably would be.

Sterling opens the door and helps April climb up into the back seat of the Jeep before joining her. She wraps her arm around April and pulls her in close. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Silence reigned the whole drive back, save for Blair’s sporadic attempts at conversation that were ignored by the Jeep’s other passengers. April barely remembers the trip but eventually Mr. Bowser pulls up to the Wesleys’ house.

“Alright, last stop for Bowser’s taxi service,” he says, parking the car and meeting April’s eyes in the rearview mirror before glancing away. “You girls want me to come in? Explain things to your folks?”

“No, Bowser, thanks for coming to get us,” Sterling murmurs, reaching from the backseat to hug him around the shoulders. They seem to be closer than a manager of a froyo shop would be with his employees, but April’s grateful for it tonight.

She also says thank you to Mr. Bowser as Sterling helps her back out of the car. He waves her off like it’s no small thing, what he did tonight, but April has to be grateful for any kindness she can get from a stranger when her own father apparently hates her now.

The lights are all on inside the house, and Blair makes it to the front door first, seeming to steel herself for the kind of fallout they’re about to face for being so late. “Now, whatever happens in there, we got a damn good excuse for being late, but nobody mention underage drinking, alright? I can’t sleep in a tent.”

April looks to Sterling for some sort of an explanation for that, confused, but she merely gets a look that says, ‘it’s a long story’ in response.

Sterling pushes past Blair and opens the door, beginning to announce their arrival home before it becomes abundantly clear that that won’t be necessary, seeing as both Mr. and Mrs. Wesley are standing in the foyer in matching stern poses.

“Do y’all know what time it is? Your mother and I were worried sick. We almost called the-” Whatever prepared speech Mr. Wesley had is instantly forgotten the moment he sees April and the ever-worsening bruise on her face.

“Good Lord, what happened?” Mrs. Wesley asks, going to April immediately and examining the mark on her face like any mother would.

“My dad,” April says plainly. “Cat’s out of the bag.”

Anderson tenses up at that, the vein in his neck bulging as he tries to remain calm. “He found out about the two of you and he hurt you?” he asks, seeking clarification.

“And kicked me out. Double whammy.” April lets out a dry laugh. Honestly, this outcome is so predictable.

“I’m gonna get you some ice, Sweetie,” Debbie says, briefly placing a hand on April’s shoulder reassuringly before heading off to the kitchen.

“You know, I have half a mind to call the police about this. It ain’t right!” Anderson says, his anger bubbling over, but his demeanor quickly softens when he notices April flinch at his raised voice. “Oh jeez, I’m sorry.”

Debbie comes back from the kitchen with an ice pack wrapped in one of the kitchen towels. “Here, Sweetie put this on it and I’ll bring some Tylenol up to Sterling’s room for you. And tomorrow morning we’ll set up the guest room.”

The offer buoys April’s mood and the tears she has been fighting start pricking the corners of her eyes. “You don’t have to do that, tomorrow I can find somewhere else to stay. I’m sure Hannah--”

“I’ll get the guest room set up in the morning,” Debbie repeats, ushering all three girls towards the stairs. “Straight to bed; we have things to discuss in the morning. Don’t forget to wash your faces.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Blair grumbles, leading the way up the stairs.

April and Sterling hesitate a bit before following her, April glancing back at Mr. and Mrs. Wesley and earning herself a look of sympathy. She continues up the stairs and follows Sterling to her bedroom.

“Okay, pick your pajammy poison. I have fuzzy warm ones, silky shorts with a t-shirt, or super worn out but comfy ones,” Sterling says, opening one of her dresser drawers and gesturing to it like Vanna White.

April smiles and rolls her eyes. This is an obvious attempt on Sterling’s part to cheer her up, and despite herself, it’s working just the tiniest bit. She steps closer and peruses through the drawer, selecting some shorts and an old Fellowship t-shirt dated their Freshman year of high school that says, “Having s’more fun with Jesus,” featuring a rather confusing cartoon image of Jesus as the marshmallow part of a s’more. She has one herself, somewhere, so the familiarity is comforting.

April turns her back to Sterling and says, “Will you unzip me?” The mood is a far cry from earlier this evening but April will take the comfort of Sterling’s touch in this moment.

Sterling is beyond gentle as she unzips the dress, but April is anything but gentle when it comes to pulling the dress down. As she steps out of the rose gold fabric there’s a plinking sound of metal rolling across the wood floors. April knows it is the purity ring but she ignores it in favor of pulling the faded t-shirt over her head. Right now, all she wants is to wash her face and get into Sterling’s bed before the inevitable tears come.

Sterling moves to grab the ring from where it’s rolled near the dresser, but April stops her, putting her hand on her arm. “Leave it,” she says and goes to Sterling’s bathroom to wash her face in the sink.

The warm water would usually be a comfort to her as she splashes it on her face, washing away her makeup and any dried tears she dared to let slip downstairs, but it’s as if the dam breaks, and suddenly, as she looks at herself in the mirror, April breaks down. 

This night started out so perfect, and still, it somehow ended in sheer rejection and revulsion from her own father, a man who is supposed to be biologically inclined to love her. If he can’t love her for who she is, then how is she supposed to trust that one day she won’t do something to change Sterling’s mind, too?

April allows herself to let out a broken sob to match the broken girl she sees in front of her, and the tears start flowing freely. But as much as she wants to tell herself to suffer in silence, she can’t bear the thought of it, so she heads back into Sterling’s room.

Sterling sits on the edge of her bed, having changed into her own set of pajamas, wiping at her face with a Neutrogena moist towelette, but the second she takes in the sight of April, she’s discarding it in her wastebasket and silently gesturing for April to get into bed with her.

Crawling into the warmth of the bed and Sterling’s tight embrace is the most comforting feeling April’s been able to experience all evening, finally feeling like she doesn’t need to hold anything in. Feeling safe, feeling loved, even when feeling crushed by previously unfathomable sadness. Her tears stain the front of Sterling’s shirt, but she doesn’t pay it any mind as she just holds April tighter, her hand lovingly stroking April’s hair that’s all but deflated into its default state over the course of the night.

“You’ve always got me. You know that, right? I’ve got you, and you’ve got me,” she whispers reassuringly as April can feel the exhaustion of the evening finally overcome her.