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

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“I’m gonna effing kill her,” April seethes, sending off her fifth angry text in as many minutes. How could Sterling do this? And not tell her until the day of?

“Calm down, April. Maybe she’s just running late?” Hannah B. suggests from one side of her as they half pay attention to the wedding DJ’s audition set.

“I mean, I don’t know about y’all, but I wouldn’t miss this unless I was cheating, or dead on the side of the road somewhere,” Ezekiel says, and at the look of outrage April gives him for even suggesting either of those things, he shrugs. “I’m just being honest.”

“Don’t listen to him, April,” Jamie says from the iPad she’s FaceTiming from. “I’ve honestly never seen someone as smitten as Sterling is for you. No way in hell she’s cheating.”

Like clockwork, Sterling finally texts back.

Sterling 💋😍👰: Baby omg I am so sorry. I’m held up at work w/ Blair. There’s a customer who’s giving us a lot of trouble.

“What the Hell does that even mean?!” April asks nobody in particular as she furiously types out a reply.

April 👰🦖: Sterling Pearl Wesley, get down here as soon as humanly possible or istg I am going to tell the DJ our first dance song is My Heart Will Go On. 😡😤🤬

Sterling 💋😍👰: That would torture you more than me. I’m sorry but I can’t get away from work. I know you and your squad are going to pick out someone great. I’ll meet you at couples counseling later.

April 👰🦖: whatever.

April is livid. She has no idea what kind of work emergency at a yogurt shop is more important than picking out one of the most integral parts of their entire wedding reception. Especially when Sterling won’t even be working at said yogurt shop in a few weeks. Why can’t Blair cover for her, since God knows she did not want to come to the auditions today. Or even that kind of scary-looking yet lovable manager guy?

For once, she cannot wait to absolutely tear into her fiancée in front of their pastor.

“All drama aside, this guy is really good,” Jamie says, somehow from hundreds of miles away being the only bridesmaid capable of recentering April’s focus on the task at hand.

“Yeah, way better than that Adam Sandler wannabe before,” Ezekiel concurs.

April rolls her eyes. “Even auditioning him was Sterl’s idea, so I guess her not being here gives me creative control, at least?” she supposes that is a bright side, though she’d much rather have Sterling here.

“Girl, everyone knows you always have creative control,” Ezekiel says, eying her as he picks up his complimentary mocktail and sips on the straw.

“He does have a point. This whole place is very you,” Hannah B. says, looking around at the venue.

“Well if it were up to Sterling, we wouldn’t be having a wedding at all, so it’s good at least one of us cares,” April says, crossing her arms and pouting at the situation she’s found herself in. It does nothing for her feeling that she’s forcing Sterling into all of this against her will when she won’t even show up for one of the fun parts.

“You know she cares,” Jamie assures her, the tone of her voice as stern as it is comforting. “But have you considered she might be feeling a little...left out? I mean honestly, A. What have you compromised on for her throughout this entire process?”

“I compromised on the damn cupcake tower she just had to have instead of a real cake,” April says instantly. “But I couldn’t exactly fault her since the baker is a coward and insisted she couldn’t do a tiered cake for 200 people without using fondant.”

“Ick. Sugar Playdoh,” Hannah B. says, making a face like she smelled something bad.

“Exactly. And I let Sterl pick three of the five flavors of cupcakes in said tower, including the big one we’re going to cut into together. And I let Sterl pick out our first dance song.” For emphasis, April shakes the list of must-have songs she made for the DJ.

“Yeah, that’s two things . From what I recall, you picked the venue, you picked the honeymoon destination, you picked the bridal party outfits, you picked the date…” Jamie counts off everything on her fingers, but April stops her before she can go on.

“Okay, I get it. I haven’t been letting her do enough. But that doesn’t mean she gets to just bail on me,” April says indignantly, and Hannah B. wraps an arm around her and rests her head on her shoulder.

“No, she doesn’t. But she does love you, so maybe just cut her a break this once?” she suggests gently.

Ezekiel scoffs. “If I were you, I’d be breaking into her phone faster than you can say ‘adultery.’”

Logically, April knows that what her friend is suggesting is ludicrous. Even if Sterling wasn’t perhaps the worst liar in the world, she doesn’t have an unfaithful bone in her body. So the idea of her cheating feels impossible. And yet, with that seed planted in her head, April can’t stop her brain from taking the idea and running with it.

Maybe all the wedding planning has been too much for Sterling? Maybe the whole bridezilla schtick is scaring her off into the arms of another woman (or man). Or maybe April has made a grave error in judgment in thinking that Sterling wouldn’t mind waiting to take the next step in their physical relationship.

She’s gone into full panic mode now. This comes into great contrast with the fact that Love Shack is playing in the background.

Sterling is late. Sterling is late to counseling the one time it’s not just them and Pastor Booth. April can practically feel the judging pity from the other couples who would probably be judging her anyway because of her age. Now, she’s being judged for being the only individual person at couples counseling. Or at least, she is until the back doors of the church swing open and Sterling comes power-walking in, looking less-than-her-best and frazzled.

“Sorry, sorry. There was...traffic,” she says, taking her seat next to April and reaching for her hand, but April pulls away.

“You don’t get to touch me,” she says coldly, and almost regrets it when she sees the look of apologetic devastation on Sterling’s face, but she holds firm.

“I’m sorry, okay? I really tried to make it but Blair practically held me hostage,” Sterling whispers, looking around at all the looks they’re getting from everyone else.

“Part of marrying me is admitting you’re an adult woman who has control over her own life. If this marriage is going to have three parties, then I might have to reconsider my answer,” April seethes through gritted teeth, which she morphs into a full smile when Pastor Booth stands up in front of everyone.

“Well, now that we’re all here, how’s everyone doin’ today?” Harland asks, clearly waiting for more of an answer than the half-hearted murmurs he gets. “Now, I said, ‘how’s everyone doin’ today?’” he asks again, even louder.

April sits up taller in the Wesley family’s regular pew and gives the level of enthusiasm she knows Harland is looking for. “We’re wonderful!”

If nothing else, Sterling can follow directions and joins in half a beat later when April subtly elbows her. “We’re sooo good.”

“That’s the energy I’m lookin’ for! Well done ladies.”

April supposes, if the other couples are going to be judging them, it should at least be for clearly being the best couple in the group. Even if she’s mad at her fiancée.

Harland clasps his hands together. “Now, you may be wonderin’ why I wanted to get y’all together at once today. Well, we’re officially a week out from the first of your weddings, so basically this is the last chance we can do it. But also, I think it will be good for all y’all to see the different roads you’re traveling on to marriage. You may face different challenges, but at the end of the day, you all have the same goal. So with that said, I want each couple to come up front one at a time and introduce themselves. Then I want you to tell us all a little about yourselves and your relationship. Sound easy enough?”

Everyone makes sounds of agreement.

“Alright then, how ‘bout y’all eager beavers up front start us off,” he says, looking at the couple who chose the front right pew which on Sundays is reserved for the family whose son is in prison for arson—lots to repent for. But this couple wouldn’t know that, seeing as April’s never seen them in church before; she’d remember an exceedingly good-looking black power couple.

The man goes up front and smiles confidently as he adjusts his blazer and gestures to the woman as if presenting her. “This is my fiancée, Dr. Janelle Ames,”

“And this is my fiancé, Michael Watkins, esquire,” the woman adds before the man continues.

“We’ve been together for six-”

“Seven,” she corrects him, her smile unwavering, but April can tell she’s annoyed.

“Seven years. Engaged for the last two. We met in grad school at Berkeley, but we’re both from the Atlanta area originally. We moved back here last year to be closer to family after Janelle finished her residency.” Michael says, seeming to be incapable of not bragging about his future wife, the doctor, though April can hardly blame him. She’d do the same.

“Yes, so if any of you ladies are in the need for an ob/gyn, I work at Peachtree Women’s Specialists,” Janelle says this almost directly to a couple sitting across the aisle from Sterling and April, the woman being very obviously pregnant.

“Michael, Janelle, what brings you to our church for your wedding?” Harland asks the question April and Sterling are undoubtedly both thinking, and even Michael’s unwavering confidence seems to falter.

“Well, our families are devout Baptists, and we’re still Christians, so we thought it would make everyone happy if we had a good, old-fashioned church wedding,” Janelle says, then looks down at her Louboutin heels.

“Very good, you two. I like your honesty,” Harland says, and gestures for them to step down, much to their relief. “Who wants to go next?”

“Uh, we can go?” A voice from behind them says, and April turns to see the hand raised of a girl she recognizes as someone she and Sterling went to Willingham with. She and her fiancé, who go up to the front, and suddenly April remembers them more clearly. The All-American perfect couple who, April heard, once got caught going at it under the bleachers like a couple of horny cliches.

“We’re Kyler and Sam,” the girl—Kyler, who was a senior at Willingham during April and Sterling’s freshman year, and was even Fellowship Leader—introduces the both of them. “We’ve been together for four years but we’ve known each other basically since we were born. We’re both 21 and about to start our final year at Georgia Tech, so we figured, hey, why not get married?” she giggles at her own joke.

Sam clears his throat. “No, but uh, seriously, I love her very much and I think God brought the two of us together for a reason,” he awkwardly pulls Kyler in close by the waist and they smile like Christian influencers before heading back down to their seats.

That makes it the expecting couple’s turn.

April notes the way the man walks just a step or two behind his fiancée, his posture the polar opposite of Michael as he seems unsure. Even the hand he places on the small of his fiancée’s back seems to be there out of obligation as he removes it the second they stand in front of everyone.

“Hello everyone,” the woman says, everything from her overly chipper demeanor to her small-town accent reminding April of Jessica Chastain in The Help. “I’m Daisy, and this,” she puts a hand on her fiancé’s bicep, much to his obvious discomfort, “is my near-future hubby Rob.”

“Daisy, for those unaware, you aren’t smuggling a pillow in your shirt, are you?” Harland asks and Daisy rolls her eyes at his teasing while her hand gently rests on her stomach.

“I’m sure not, Harland. In three months, Rob and I will be the proud parents of our beautiful little boy,” Daisy says proudly while Rob winces.

“How long have y’all been together?” April asks sweetly, unable to restrain herself.

“‘Bout six months,” Rob answers quickly, confirming April’s suspicion as Sterling silently giggles beside her.

Daisy and Rob retreat to their seats, and April stands, taking Sterling by the arm and going in front of everyone.

“Hey, y’all,” Sterling says with a friendly wave. “I’m Sterling Wesley and this is my fiancée April Stevens. And yes, we are two women.”

April resists the urge to roll her eyes at the last part. “We’ve been together for almost two years, but have known each other for ten.”

“How old are you?” Janelle asks from the front row, looking slightly concerned.

“We’re both 18, but I’ll be 19 in November,” April answers, unshaken.

“And you’re choosing to get married?” Rob asks in disbelief, smirking behind his stupid hipster beard. “What for? Tax evasion?”

“We’re in love,” Sterling says insistently, pulling April in close to her almost possessively, and for a moment, April stops being angry with her. “There’s no point in waiting when you already know, right?”

“That’s right, girls,” Pastor Booth says, defusing the situation between them and Asshole Rob. “I’m sure God finds it very admirable of you choosing to seize the day and join together in the holiest of ways. He brought you together, and you shouldn’t doubt his plan.” With that, he subtly gestures for them to step down, and April couldn’t be more relieved.

She watches the next (and last) couple make their way up front--somewhat slowly as the couple is quite old. They walk, arms linked, while the dapperly-dressed dark-skinned man uses a cane with his free hand, while his fiancée (a woman who April can place as a member of the church’s congregation, based only on her Sunday hat alone) offers a kind smile to everyone they pass by before they stand before everyone.

“We’re Gladys and Earl,” the lady introduces the both of them.

Earl removes his fedora hat and holds it at his side. “We’ve been with each other a year, but all together we have almost a century of experience with marriage,” he brags, and honestly, April thinks he has every right to do so. “Gladys and I are both each other’s second act, and I’m sure my late wife would be steamed to know I’m marryin’ a PYT,” he chuckles as Gladys rolls her eyes.

“I’m three years younger’n him, but he and Roberta were born on the same day, so talk about having a lot to live up to in the destiny department,” she says, though she doesn’t actually seem too threatened by the dead woman. “Meanwhile, my Ambrose left God’s Green Earth goin’ on fifteen years ago. Truth be told, I never saw myself as a bride again, let alone at my age, but this one here wore me down.” she pats Earl’s shoulder playfully, but April can tell from the look they give each other that there’s real love there.

Harland appears to see a real opportunity with them. “Earl, Gladys, while I know y’all are learning all the same things about each other that the rest of these couples are in the final weeks leading up to your wedding, you also have more experience with being married than any of us in here--even Annabelle and I,” he smiles toward the back of the church at this, where Annabelle Booth has managed to sneak in undetected and take a seat in a back pew. “I suppose what I’m getting at is: as the survivors of two longstanding marriages, what is one piece of advice you can give the rest of us?”

Earl doesn’t even need to think about it. “Happy wife, happy life,” he says, and Gladys laughs.

“He ain’t wrong, but I think what Pastor Harland is looking for is something a little more specific. So I’d say that…” she pauses a moment as if trying to decide how to word it. “The most important thing in a marriage is to not sweat the little things so much. You’re both gonna mess up, but it usually ain’t worth a fight.”

Gladys’s words hit April close to home. She knows that Sterling’s job is important to her, and she’s otherwise been very reliable when it comes to planning and showing up on time to counseling, so maybe, just maybe it isn’t worth being mad at her over. She looks over to Sterling, who is already looking at her, in much the same way Earl had looked at Gladys before. April offers her a look of forgiveness, and reaches for her hand, knowing that today probably isn’t worth the fight.

“I love you,” Sterling mouths to her, barely audible.

No matter how many times April hears that it’ll never stop giving her butterflies. “I love you, too.”

Earl and Gladys are finally given the go-ahead to step down, and Harland goes back up to address them all. “Well then, now that we have all our proper introductions out of the way, I guess it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. So I’d like you all to follow me,” he leads the way out the side door to the hallway as everyone gets up to follow, all seeming a little confused when he goes into the Sunday School classroom.

The desk chairs have been arranged into a circle, with just enough seats for everyone, including Annabelle, who joins Harland in the seat next to where the teacher would usually sit if April recalls correctly. She and Sterling quickly take the two seats directly opposite of them, leaving the rest to decide among themselves who has the misfortune of being seated on either side of Harland and Annabelle--the answer of course being the two slowest couples, so Daisy sits on Annabelle’s left and Earl sits on Harland’s right.

Once everyone is situated, Harland slaps his hands down on his knees and jumps right into it. “Now, I want y’all to employ total honesty in this circle, alright? And nothing said in here leaves this room. So, with that said, a show of hands, who here has fought with their partner within the last week?”

Sterling and April share a glance as if questioning if what just happened counts as a full-fledged fight, but they ultimately decide it does, as they raise their hands simultaneously. April would feel embarrassed, except as she looks around the circle, she sees everyone raising their hands--including Harland and Annabelle.

Harland nods knowingly. “That’s what I thought. Now, Gladys and Earl, you were 100% correct that many petty things in a relationship are not worth picking fights over, but even so, fights happen, and the most important thing to remember when they do is that at the end of the day, you aren’t arguing with your enemy, you’re arguing with your love. So, what we all have to do in these moments is to stand up for ourselves, sure, but we should all bear in mind that our words don’t stay within the fight, and therefore, we shouldn’t say anything we’ll regret. So I wanna go around the room and I want each of you to tell your partner about the most recent time they made you truly mad.”

It sounds easy enough, though April knows keeping it respectful will be hard since she only just forgave Sterling a few minutes ago. Her confidence is shaken when Harland gestures for her to go first. “Me?” she asks for unnecessary clarification.

“Yes you, April. I couldn’t help but notice you and Sterling had a bit of tension brewing at the start of today’s session. Care to share?” He asks, tilting his head to the side and giving April a look telling her she has no choice.

“Well,” she says, clasping her hands in her lap and looking up at the fluorescent lights. “Today was the day we picked out our DJ—or rather, I did because Sterling missed the appointment after she promised me she’d be able to leave work,” April says, and suddenly feels her irritation bubble up to the surface again. So much for not stressing the little things.

“And why couldn’t you get away from work, Sterling?” Harland asks, and Sterling’s mouth opens and shuts like a fish for a few moments before she finally speaks.

“I uh…” her struggling to come up with a reason is making April nervous now. “I kinda screwed up at work and made something take longer than it was supposed to, so I had to stay and fix the mess or else it would have really put my manager and his kind-of girlfriend in a tricky situation.”

“You serve frozen yogurt. What could you have possibly done?” April asks, not meaning to sound so patronizing—well, maybe a little—but is genuinely curious. Mostly because she’s 99% sure Sterling is lying in the way she knows best. In a house of God, no less.

“I lost track of something and I had to find it,” she replies, being intentionally vague.

“Right.” April sighs, and catches a few sympathetic looks from the other women in the room. “Can it be someone else’s turn now, please?” she asks, and to her relief, Asshole Rob raises his hand.

When prompted by Harland, he points at Daisy and says, “She wants to name our son Cary.”

“It’s a good name! Like Cary Grant,” she looks around and smiles sheepishly, “I really love old movies.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know how they did things like a hundred years ago, but Cary is a girl’s name,” Rob says and crosses his arms, frowning as he looks around at the other men. “I’m right, right?”

“Mm, mm, mm,” Earl hums and tuts, shaking his head.

“I’m personally all for babies just being given real names,” Michael says, shrugging.

Sam looks around and shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m just gonna stay out of this.”

April tries to keep her mouth shut, and the subtle look Sterling gives her all but begs her to do as much, but Rob has already made the grave error of irritating her. “I for one love Arsenic and Old Lace, so I think it’s a good name.”

“Thank you, April!” Daisy says, crossing her arms and giving Rob a look daring him to say anything else.

He huffs and sits back in his seat. “Next?” he says, gesturing broadly.

Everyone seems just a tad more hesitant to air their dirty laundry after seeing the results of the last two, but one by one, everyone explains their most recent fights. From Earl and Gladys arguing over the cutoff age for flower girls, to Kyler and Sam arguing over whether or not Kyler’s drunk uncle should be banned from their reception even if the bar won’t be open, to Michael and Janelle disagreeing over where they’ll go when they finally have the time to go on their honeymoon, the issues are all very unique to the people having them.

Finally, it’s Harland’s turn, and he doesn’t pull any punches. “Annabelle and I had an argument over whether or not the time has come for me to get a vasectomy,” he says plainly, and April watches all of the men in the room recoil. “Now, don’t be like that. It’s a real simple procedure and it’s only fair to Annabelle now that we have certainly completed our family and she’s had the birth control ball in her court all this time.”

Annabelle smiles and nods. “But I do also understand that a surgical procedure, especially in that area, is scary, and it was only in Harland’s nature to initially react in the way that he did,” she places a gentle hand on her husband’s leg. “The most important thing in a marriage is to always understand your partner’s point of view so that when your inevitable disagreements happen, you understand where they’re coming from.” Annabelle is as insightful as her husband, which April has to admit she never expected, seeing as Annabelle is usually playing the part of the dutiful preacher’s wife every time April sees her. 

“I just want those of you who’re still steamed over those recent arguments to keep that in mind moving forward,” Harland says, and everyone, even April, reluctantly nods. “I only bring this up because I’ve been seeing all of you individually for weeks now, and I know that you all have your differences, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think each and every one of you have a shot at a long and happy marriage so long as you keep communication open, and maintain respect for each other. So the goal for today is to learn how to accomplish that from me, and Annabelle, and everyone else here.”

Annabelle sits up straighter in her chair and smiles at everyone. “So now that we’ve gotten all the stuff about communication out of the way, I think it’s time we talk about somethin’ a little more...sensitive,” she says, and April has a bad feeling about this. “Now, it’s not always an essential part of every relationship, but it cannot be denied that sex is a very important thing that, when it comes to it, we should always be on the same page with our partners. So I’ll remind y’all that we want honesty ,” she pauses, looking around at everyone sternly. “And with a show of hands, who in this room has had sex with their partner?”

To April’s horror, everyone in the room raises their hand with the exception of her and Sterling—though Daisy and Rob would have surprised her more if they didn’t raise their hands. The judgmental part of her wants to make some kind of remark about how they’re all supposed to be waiting, according to the Bible (especially when they get some amused looks), but she holds her tongue, even as she notices Sterling sink lower in her chair. This is the opposite of how she felt getting a high five from Pastor Booth for staying a virgin.

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about, girls,” Annabelle says softly to them and gives a look of warning to everyone else. “The choice to wait takes a certain level of discipline that not all of us are capable of, and I for one admire the heck out of you two.”

April smiles awkwardly while Sterling continues to look like she’s praying for the man upstairs to have the floor swallow her.

“As for the rest of you, I’m not about to walk ya through the streets with a bell saying ‘shame,’ because I do know that it’s a natural inclination we have as human beings. So let’s narrow it down, shall we? How many of you have had sex with your partner within the last month?”

April isn’t surprised this time when every hand but hers and Sterling’s goes up.

Annabelle smiles around the circle at that before continuing with her next question. “What about in the past week?”

Now, April is surprised, because three hands stay down--those of Michael, Janelle, and Daisy-- and she’s not the only one, judging by the look on Harland’s face.

“Well, now, that’s something we should probably unpack,” Harland says slowly, turning to look at Rob. “I’m gonna err on the side of optimism and hope you haven’t strayed from your lovely fiancée, Rob. So, I’m just gonna remind you that masturbation doesn’t count.”

“Oh, I know,” Rob says, a cocky smirk on his face.

“Then does that mean she...provided a... service to you. One that you did not reciprocate?” Harland says, after searching for church-appropriate language.

“Oh yeah, she blew me,” Rob sniggers, looking to Michael for a high-five, but he is clearly having none of that from the completely unimpressed frown he shoots Rob’s way.

April finds herself agreeing with Michael, sending her own glare in Rob’s direction. Men like him are why she hates men.

Annabelle takes control of the group by looking at Daisy and bluntly asks, “Does it bother you when Rob doesn’t reciprocate?”

But, before Daisy can answer, Rob interjects again, “I don’t do that, that’s gay!”

“What part of a man pleasuring a woman is gay ?” April asks scathingly, beyond fed up with that attitude.

“Yeah, what are you? DJ Khaled?” Sterling adds, sounding appalled in a way that gives April great hope for their future sex life.

“Hey now, let’s calm down a bit,” Harland says, making a ‘simmer down’ motion with his hands. “But this is a perfect moment to ask: who here has performed oral sex on their woman?” he asks to the surprise of absolutely everyone as he tries to bring the group back on-topic.

The hands of himself, Sam, Michael, and Earl go up.

For good measure, Sam adds his two cents. “Peanut butter lumberjack!” he hollers to the tune of Peanut Butter Jelly Time before throwing out a W-shaped gang sign. “Willingham Golf Team represent!”

To April’s shock, Sterling absolutely loses it and nearly collapses in gales of laughter.

Sam’s face lights up when he turns to Sterling and points. “You dated a Golf Guy!”

In that moment, it clicks for April what’s so funny, and if she was mad at Sterling for picking Luke as a bridesman, she’s absolutely fuming now. If ‘peanut butter lumberjack’ is some kind of Golf Team code for going down on a woman, then there’s only one way Sterl would know about it.

Harland can clearly tell that he’s lost control of the group, speaking louder to be heard. “It’s time we break for lunch. Annabelle and I will meet y’all at the Applebee’s by the mall,” with that, he and Annabelle get up from their seats and head for the door while everyone hesitates to follow.

“That’s not optional,” Annabelle adds ominously, and April finally stands, all but hauling Sterling up out of her chair and making sure they’re the first couple to follow.

The silent treatment does no good for anyone. It’s a childish and even manipulative way to make the other person apologize with you not having to do anything at all in return. April knows this as she sits in the passenger side of the Volt, arms crossed, silently staring out the window.

“I told you I was sorry,” Sterling says as they approach the Applebee’s, but April doesn’t respond. “April, if this is about that stupid peanut butter lumberjack thing-”

But April Stevens was not built for the silent treatment. “It’s surprisingly not about you all-but-confirming to everyone that Luke went down on you, it’s about the fact that I am very irritated by you and your actions in general today,” she says as Sterling parks the car.

“I get that. I really do. But can we please just get through this counseling session? I swear I will make it up to you after,” Sterling all but begs.

April rolls her eyes and unbuckles her seatbelt. “Fine,” she agrees and gets out of the car, walking up to the front door of the restaurant with Sterling trailing a few feet behind her. 

Sterling’s maniac driving ensured that they arrived earlier than everyone else, but soon everyone is gathered, and Harland leads the way inside, telling the hostess about his reservation, and she takes everyone to a large table, already set for twelve.

“Sit anywhere you like, but here’s the kicker,” he says before anyone can sit down. “You can’t sit next to your partner.”

Sterling and April share a look at that because even when they aren’t getting along, they’d much prefer being together than separate in an environment full of strangers. But if they really get no say in the matter, then April supposes she’s going to have to deal with it and takes a seat beside the only other person she kind of knows, Kyler. 

Though whether or not that is a good idea is up for debate the minute Kyler starts a conversation by asking, “Okay, Fellowship Girl to Fellowship Girl, that was all BS back there, right?” 

“What do you mean?” April asks, frowning and taking a sip of her water when the waitress brings around a tray.

“She means you and your fiancee have had sex, right?” Janelle asks from her other side without even looking up from her menu.

April frowns, still not really sure why they’re asking. “Uh, no, we haven’t.”

“Really?” Kyler asks, voice high in disbelief. “I figured with her knowing about peanut butter lumberjack, you guys would’ve…” at April’s look, she shrugs. “Nevermind.”

“Okay, but what does that even mean?” Janelle asks, closing her menu. “I was a public school kid so I’m not up to speed on your wackadoo private school lingo.”

Kyler giggles. “I mean, I’m not really supposed to say, but it’s a Willingham Golf Team...tradition for boys to spell out ‘peanut butter lumberjack’ uh…” she pauses, looking to make sure Pastor Booth and Annabelle aren’t in earshot. “They spell it out with their tongue. Down there.” She points down to her lap.

“That is ridiculous,” April says, shaking her head and trying to focus on what to order and not on her fiancée partaking in some bizarre oral sex tradition with Luke.

“The words, yes, but it’s still better than Michael using his law school vocab words on me. The man was studying while going down on me!” Janelle and Kyler both lose it at that, and April feels pretty awkward to be in the middle of them when she’s never so much as seen Sterling fully naked. 

She knows in her heart that waiting is what’s right and what’s best for her. Losing her virginity has never been a subject that April’s taken lightly, and she’s always known she wanted it to be special. Prom night was special. Her wedding night will be even more special, because it’s a night she’ll never forget for as long as she’ll live, and she’ll be having sex with her wife. The Good Christian clout that comes from remaining celibate until marriage is really only the cherry on top. But even so, when being seated between two women who seem to be perfectly happy in their relationships and sexually experienced, it makes April feel more than a little inadequate.

The waitress thankfully comes around then to get everyone’s orders, and by the time she leaves, the topic of conversation has shifted to something else entirely.

“So Daisy, have you come up with a birth plan yet?” Janelle asks to her other side.

“Well, I was thinkin’ about maybe doing a home birth with a midwife,” she starts, and April can see Janelle clench her hand into a fist at her side.

“That can be a valid choice. But make sure you go with a midwife who’s also at least an RN,” she says sweetly, Dr. Ames rather than glamorous Janelle rearing her head. This is only accentuated by her giving Daisy a business card. “I’m still establishing my practice, so I have a lot of time for individual patients at the moment if you change your mind on the home birth,” she says, and after a beat, hands another to April. “If you aren’t already seeing a women’s health specialist, you’re right at the age when you should start. Especially if you’re about to be sexually active.”

April blushes at that. While it may be true that her virginity officially has an expiration date, the idea of everyone knowing she won’t be a virgin once she and Sterling are married feels weird. “Thank you,” she says, taking the card anyway because Janelle is not wrong about her age necessitating services she’s fairly certain her pediatrician does not provide.

“Honestly, I’m kinda jealous. Being with a girl, you’re gonna get like all of the good parts of sex and none of the bad. You don’t even have to worry about getting pregnant!” Kyler chuckles to herself. “Plus, I mean, you pretty much never have to worry about getting left hanging because Sterling got too excited…” she says pointedly, looking down the table at Sam, who doesn’t know what they’re talking about but seems uncomfortable with Kyler talking about him.

April knows it should probably make her feel at least a little guilty, but after so long of being made to feel like the love she experiences is inferior to that of straight people, she deserves some bragging rights. “Being gay has to come with some perks, right?” she says, waggling her eyebrows and smiling to herself as she sips at her water. By the time they’ve all returned to the church, April has entered in the contact info of all her fellow brides into her phone, and Sterling seems less than enthused about her having made so many new friends. But April knows that’s probably because, outside of her twin, Sterling doesn’t know how to make mean as that may sound.

“April, if you and Sterling are free next Friday night, you should totally come to our wedding. It’s open bar and buffet-style so it’s practically made for crashers,” Kyler says, walking up to April and handing her an invitation that she just happened to have in her it’s something normal to be carrying on her person.

April accepts it gratefully. “Thank you. I’ll have to run it by Sterl since it’s the night before our bridal shower, but I know she’s always down for an opportunity to do the Cupid Shuffle,” she says and pats Sterling’s arm.

“Yep. Line dancing. Totally my thing,” Sterling says with a forced smile.

“Awesome!” Kyler gives off the same overly enthusiastic and kind vibes she did as Fellowship leader. “Y’all hang in there for the rest of this session, alright?”

“We will. Thank you, Kyler,” Sterling says politely, then leads April down the hall to the Sunday school classroom out of earshot of everyone else. “So what all were you guys talking about at lunch? Seems like you bonded.”

“Yeah, we were bonding over our love for our future spouses and our similar paths to getting here,” April says, being intentionally vague. Sterling doesn’t need to know exact details.

They take their seats in the circle again, and everyone else joins them in due time. Harland and Annabelle retake their place at the front of the room, looking quite satisfied with whatever twisted experiment they were conducting at Applebee’s.

“I trust y’all had a good lunch?” Harland asks, and everyone gives him varying sounds of agreement. “That’s good, that’s good. You really can’t go wrong with those bourbon steaks,” he says, patting his stomach. “Somethin’ for y’all non-cooks out there to keep in mind if ya ever burn your attempt at dinner.”

“He’d know,” Annabelle says, earning a few giggles from the ladies. And Michael. “Though that does bring up a good topic of conversation. Household chores can be a great point of contention, especially if one person feels like their partner isn’t doing their fair share. So have y’all talked with each other about that at all?”

Sam cautiously raises his hand and speaks only when called on. “Uh, Kyler and I have discussed the possibility of her staying home for a few years after we have kids. I kinda feel like in that situation, it would be pretty fair for me to expect her to do the chores if I’m the one going to work, right?”

“Child…” Gladys says, echoing what April’s sure every woman in the room is thinking. Especially Kyler, who seems particularly taken aback that this came from her fiancé and not Rob.

“Well, I guess it depends,” Annabelle says with remarkable composure. “You said that a scenario involving Kyler not working would involve her being a stay-at-home mother. So in that scenario, she’d be taking on the full-time job of diapers, feedings, potty training, play dates, cognitive development activities, and worst of all: inane children’s programming on the TV that she’ll inevitably plop the kid in front of no matter how much she says she won’t before she has kids…” she trails off, sounding a little guilty and clearly not talking about a hypothetical situation involving Kyler anymore. “Anyway, my point is that motherhood on its own can be a full-time job, so on top of all that, you think it’s fair to put all of the household chores onto her too because you’re going to a job that you get to leave behind every day? Is that right, Sam?”

His face falls. “No,” he says, defeated, and turns to Kyler. “I’m sorry. When the time comes, I promise we’ll split everything 50/50 when I’m home. Deal?”

Kyler smiles and nods. “Yeah, deal.”

“Well I for one know I’m not gonna be up for being Mr. Mom when I get home from a shift,” Rob says, finally jumping in with a predictably dumb comment as April rolls her eyes.

“I know it may seem hard to juggle but to call yourself a father takes more than just making a child, Rob. You have to be there and be present for the hard stuff as well as the fun stuff,” Harland says, sounding perhaps the most stern April has heard him.

Rob seems unmoved by his words. “This is how it’s been done for hundreds of years. The men work, the women take care of the house and kids. There’s nothing wrong with modern dynamics,” he glances at Sterling and April as he says this, “but there isn’t anything wrong with tradition, either. I make the money, so she does the rest. Daisy’s with me on that.”

The look on Daisy’s face would beg to differ, but she doesn’t speak up, and it finally occurs to April why everything about this man gets under her skin. 

He’s exactly like her father.

“So if it were Daisy working and you were home, you’d be in charge of the house?” Janelle asks.

Rob scoffs. “Fat chance that’ll ever happen, but sure.”

April sees Harland clench his jaw, and Annabelle’s hand goes to his leg in a calming gesture before he speaks again. “Let’s switch gears. What I’m gathering from this is that financial contribution to the marriage plays a large role in how we think dynamics should be. So, Janelle and Michael, I’m gonna put y’all on the spot for a second and ask if you’ve discussed how you’ll be handling your finances once you’re married?”

“Of course we have,” Michael says. “Janelle and I will be combining our assets into joint accounts with separate savings accounts for ourselves to do with as we please that we’ll deposit equal amounts of money into every paycheck.”

Harland smiles. “Very well thought out. Earl and Gladys?”

“We’ll be maintaining our own separate accounts,” Gladys says easily enough.

Harland nods. “Kyler and Sam?”

“Joint account,” they say almost in unison.

As Rob explains giving Daisy limited access to his bank account, April can feel herself start to panic. She’s never felt more like a child bride than in this moment when she realizes she and her fiancée have made it this far into their engagement without discussing something as important as finances even once. Though she figures if she’s lucky, Harland will skip over them since he surely knows they don’t have much money that is actually their own anyway.

But she’s never been that lucky. “Sterling, April, have you discussed what you’ll be doing?” Harland asks, and needs no other answer than the blank looks they both give him. “Girls, I know you’re young right now, but eventually you’ll have careers and you’ll hopefully be buying a house, so it’s better to be prepared beforehand.”

“In my defense, I didn’t even know separate accounts were an option,” Sterling says before April can come up with an excuse. “My parents have always been of the ‘what’s mine is yours’ mentality and it’s worked for them, so I thought that was a given for us too?”

That was...not a bad answer at all, April has to admit. Sterling really does have a certain charm that can make innocent ignorance endearing.

“Yes, I think that’s how I want to do things as well,” she says, glad that they could come to an agreement quickly enough to avert any real embarrassment. Fighting in pre-marriage counseling is one thing, but doing that in front of four other couples is another. And besides, she likes control enough to want Sterling to have to go through her before making any major purchases.

“Well, it’s good to know that for the most part, all of us are on the same page,” Annabelle says. “Money problems can wreak havoc on a marriage, so we always want to go in prepared.”

Harland nods. “That’s right. But this is yet another thing that comes down to communication being key,” he clasps his hands in his lap. “But I’m afraid I’ve begun to beat a dead horse with all this communication talk, so I’ve got one more question I want each and every one of you to answer, and then we can all go home. Sound good?”

Everyone nods or makes an affirmative sound. April, for one, cannot wait to finally be able to speak to Sterling in private.

“Alright, so I’m gonna get real with y’all on this one. Aside from love, why are you getting married? Let’s start with...Gladys,” he says, turning and smiling at her.

She seems surprised to have been called on first, but Gladys comes up with an answer faster than April thought she would. “I’ve been alone for fifteen years. I’ll be lucky if I have fifteen more left in me, but I do know that I don’t want to spend them alone, and I can think of worse company than E.” It’s an honest and somewhat melancholy answer, and yet everyone in the room seems to understand it completely.

“And what about you, Earl?” Annabelle asks.

He clears his throat. “I uh...I spent so long being a husband that I don’t know how to be anythin’ else anymore. I miss the feeling of it, even the fights. And I know in another life if I’d met Roberta and Gladys at the same time, it would’ve been a real love triangle thing so it’s only right I marry her.” He smiles at his fiancée and takes her hand in his, bringing it to his lips to kiss her knuckles. “Now who’s next?” he asks, turning back to the rest of the group.

“Sam and Kyler, why don’t you go?” Annabelle prompts.

Sam blushes. “Um, well obviously the idea of spending my life with my best friend sounds pretty good to me-” he starts.

“But also his grandpa died a year ago and left him this trust fund that he’s not allowed to access unless he’s married—something about ‘the family legacy’—so even though we did plan on getting married eventually, that did play a role in why we’re doing it now,” Kyler adds. “Which is not to say that I’m not happy to be marrying him. I’m beyond excited, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared silly about the idea of being married in college.”

April shifts uncomfortably in her seat. While she knows Kyler didn’t mean her any harm, and that those feelings about getting married young were only supposed to be applied to her and Sam, April can’t help but feel self-conscious.

And of course, this is when Harland calls on her and Sterling next. They sit in silence for a few seconds.

“Well, I know I proposed to April because I have to protect her, and I feel like being tied legally and biblically forever is the best way for me to do that. I want to be her family,” Sterling seems so sure of herself as she says this, and April could not love her any more if she tried, especially when she looks into those big blue eyes and speaks her truth, really only to her.

“And while I’m not sure I need to be protected , necessarily, I do feel safe and loved when I’m with her, and I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life than how much I want to marry her. Sterling can attest to the fact that I’m never not intense when my heart’s in something, and my heart is set on making this marriage work and spending the rest of my life with her.” When she finishes speaking, April knows that whatever anger, or jealousy, or frustration she had is long gone. What she and Sterling have is stronger than any petty disputes.

On the way home, they stop at a park where April remembers playing together as kids. It’s mostly empty, save for a few toddlers and their parents on the large play structure. Without having to say a word, they make their way to the swing set, sitting beside each other. Sterling sways slightly from side to side while April moves her legs back and forth to get a small amount of momentum going. “I’m sorry for snapping at you earlier. If you really had to work, then you had to work. And in the grand scheme of things, it is just a DJ.” Admitting she was wrong is not something that comes easily to April, especially when she still doesn’t 100% think she was wrong for being mad. But if lunch and counseling taught her anything, it’s that at the end of the day, it really is her and Sterling against this crazy, heterosexual world.

“I’m sorry for missing it and then being late getting there. But luckily, I’m only going to be working there a few more weeks, and then I’m all yours forever and ever,” Sterling says, smiling like a dopey golden retriever.

“Still, though,” April starts, “I guess talking with all of them and hearing about all the... supreme assholery they put up with in the name of love—though I’m not even convinced that that’s an accurate description of what Rob and Daisy have--it opened my eyes to the fact that there’s probably very little you could ever do that would change my feelings for you.”

Sterling’s quiet after that, leaving only the sounds of the kids playing and the creak of the metal chains of the swings until finally, she asks softly, “So what would make you change your mind?”

April doesn’t have to even think about that. Not after what she’s seen with her own parents. “If you ever cheat on me, I will divorce you and destroy everything you love, and take the rest,” she deadpans, reveling in watching Sterling’s horrified face as she correctly determines April isn’t joking in the slightest.

“Okay, Carrie Underwood…it’s a good thing I’d never do that,” she says finally, and April smiles, satisfied.

“Good.” April smiles wickedly. “So what would be your dealbreaker?”

“Hmmm…” Sterling thinks, seeming to come up with various things in her head that she ultimately discards before landing on one. “Scientology.”

“You can excuse cheating, but Scientology is where you draw the line?” April asks incredulously.

Sterling nods. “You join the Tom Cruise cult, and you are outta here.”

“Well I thankfully am quite secure in my faith, so you have nothing to fear there,” April says, shaking her head in disbelief but still smiling at this ridiculous woman.

Sterling leans over and grabs the closest chain of April’s swing, pulling her in close. “Then I guess you’re stuck with me.”

April rolls her eyes. “Oh, the horror,” she says, leaning in to kiss her.