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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.

Chapter Text

Even though Sterling didn’t think it possible, after two weeks of having April living in her house, things have started to feel surprisingly...normal. Sure, objectively everything has been anything but normal, what with the whole school knowing about April being gay, in a relationship with Sterling, and disowned by her father all thanks to their not so little audience at the party. But actually having April living under the same roof as her feels natural. Of course, it would feel a lot more natural if they weren’t under strict instruction to stay in their separate bedrooms at night, but Sterling supposes she can live without nighttime cuddle sessions (anything beyond that has been thoroughly kiboshed by the Prom Night from Hell) if it means April can develop some semblance of a sense of security again.

Still, it’s a strange feeling for Sterling to get used to, walking downstairs on a Saturday morning in her PJs to find her father and her girlfriend both seated at the breakfast table, reading different sections of the same newspaper.

Sterling is pretty sure this is not what most people have in mind when they call their partner ‘Daddy.’

“Morning, Punkin,” her father says, peering over his paper momentarily before going right back to reading.

April, on the other hand, puts hers down on the table next to her half-eaten bowl of maple brown sugar Cream of Wheat, moving her reading glasses to the top of her head. “Buenos días, Carolina. ¿Soñaste dulces sueños conmigo en la noche?”

“Sí, pero sabes que solo sueño contigo, mi amor,” Sterling replies, giggling as April blushes.

“English, please. I’d like to know if y’all are conspiring or anything like that,” Anderson says, taking a sip of his coffee.

“You’ve got that final in the bag,” April says with a proud smile before adding, “Será tan fácil como Lorna.”

“I doubt it will be that easy, but thank you for the confidence,” Sterling says, grabbing a box of Pop Tarts from the cupboard. “So, do you have any plans for today?”

“Hannah B. and Ezekiel wanted to go shopping for graduation outfits, so I figured I’d tag along with them. Do you want to go?” April asks, her voice hopeful, and Sterling hates that she’s about to disappoint her.

“Can’t, sorry. Bowser’s got Blair and I scheduled at noon today.” Sterling bites into her raw frosted strawberry Pop Tart to punctuate her sentence.

“That’s too bad; I could use your input. Plus, we have to color coordinate for our party,” April says that last part so matter-of-factly that Sterling is starting to wonder if she’s overcompensating for not being at home by seamlessly integrating herself into Sterling’s. “Oh, and I’ve been meaning to ask. Debbie and I were discussing the cake ordering and how do you and Blair feel about red velvet? I know it’s a little basic but it’s still delicious.”

Sterling shrugs. “Honestly, I’m good with anything that doesn’t have fondant. But I’ll run it by Blair.” Which she fully intends on doing, she just knows better than to say it’s April’s idea, or Blair will shut it down no matter what her true feelings are. Her sister’s temporary positive attitude towards April, on account of her recent circumstances, is starting to wear off and Sterling figures that the less she knows how much influence April is having on their shared grad party, the better.

“Yeah, I’ll just make a mental note of that. No sugar Play-Doh,” April scoffs at the insinuation that either of them would want a fondant cake. “So how late will you be home?”

That’s a question that Sterling doesn’t have a clear answer for, because it really all depends on how quickly they can catch whatever skip Yolanda has for them, but of course she’s not about to tell April that. “Hopefully around dinner time but you never know. It’s getting hotter out and people go Froyo crazy at night.” The lie doesn’t even convince her, and she’s the one who told it. Sterling shoves the rest of her Pop Tart into her mouth.

“‘Kay…”  April frowns, clearly not knowing how to take any of that.

Sterling swallows hard. “Anyways, I should probably go get dressed.” Sterling turns on her heel and heads back upstairs. But before she can dart into her own room, a hand closes on her bicep.

“Sterling…” If the hand on her arm hadn’t derailed all of her thoughts, the plaintive note in April’s voice certainly does. “Come here, just for a second,” April asks, already leading Sterling into the former guest room.

Sterling finds herself pushed down onto the end of the (already made) bed, looking up at her girlfriend. “You know, I’m not really supposed to be in here,” Sterling says with a small smile. Not that she hasn’t tried to sneak into April’s new room a time or two before. But her mom’s bat-like hearing had put a stop to that very quickly.

“No, you’re not allowed to be in here at night or with the door closed; and currently neither of those conditions apply,” April tells her with a quick shake of her head. Sterling should really know better than to argue semantics with April. “It feels like I see even less of you and we’re living in the same house.”

That might just be the crux of the issue. As much as Sterling loves having April so much closer and being able to spend much more time together, it also makes covering for her and Blair’s bounty hunting that much harder. Now all three people who most often want to know where she is are living in the same house and it is much harder to be gone for long stakeouts. She keeps telling herself that she only has to keep this up until they’re off to UGA, but it’s getting exhausting already and it’s not even June. “That’s not true, we get to drive to school together every morning,” Sterling argues, twining her fingers around April’s and pulling her closer.

“If you call what you and your sister do driving,” April snarks as she allows herself to step into Sterling’s space.

“And I get to think about you being so close to me every night before I go to sleep.”

That confession brings a smile to April’s face as she steps that much closer. “Is that right? And you said you dreamed of me last night. What did it entail?”

“I think you can guess.”

“No. I want you to tell me,” April says before leaning in to press their lips together, effectively preventing Sterling from telling her anything.

But they barely have time enough for a brief touch of the lips before a voice interrupts them. “Girls, I’m doing a load of whites, anything to go in the laundry?”

Sterling jumps at the sound of her mother’s voice, standing up from the bed and nearly knocking over a stack of boxes in her hurry to stand up. “Moooom,” Sterling whines, slouching against the stack containing all of April’s worldly possessions that her mother had so graciously dropped off the morning after prom without saying a word. A dozen boxes, suitcases, and duffle bags isn’t a lot to show for a life, but Sterling is glad April has her things, especially the ridiculously cute narwhal stuffie that had sat on top of the pile.

“Sterling, go get your whites if you want socks to wear to school on Monday,” her mom instructs with a look between Sterling and April before heading back out into the hall.

“Since when do you do whites on Saturday?” Sterling calls petulantly after her mother as April moves towards her hamper to dutifully sort her clothes.

Sterling isn’t expecting a response and jumps again when her mother pokes her head back in the bedroom. “Since I have three girls now, Sterling. My laundry schedule needed some adjusting. Now, get your things or I’ll start the cycle without them.”

“We really can’t get any privacy around here, can we?” Sterling complains once she hears her mom on the stairs. 

“Almost makes you miss when we were ‘gal pals’, huh?” April scoffs.

“Never.” Sterling shakes her head fervently because even if there were perks to being closeted (especially to her parents), they could never beat the feeling of finally, finally getting to walk proudly with April by her side and have the whole world know she’s hers.

“Still. It would be pretty nice to sleep in the same bed again. I miss the way you mumble in your sleep,” April giggles and tosses a couple white button-ups into her whites basket.

Ordinarily, Sterling would argue that she does not mumble in her sleep, but instead, she just watches April a moment longer. She’s already so comfortable in Sterling’s home, surrounded by Sterling’s family—even Chloe, the traitor that she is, has taken to sleeping at the foot of April’s bed at night. No matter what extra challenges that may come from her living here, Sterling knows that it feels... right just existing together.

“You know, you could always sneak into my room sometime. Wherefore art thou rebellious spirit, fair Juliet?”

“Wherefore means why Romeo . But my rebellious spirit is slightly hampered by the fact that your parents are nice enough to let me stay here at all. I’m not about to break their trust. So unless we pull an Act 2 Scene 6, I think we’re stuck in separate bedrooms,” April laughs but Sterling is confused by the joke she apparently made.

“Okay, you know I got my tonsils out the week we read Romeo and Juliet in class Freshman year,” she reminds her.

“Probably not unless we got married,” April clarifies, coming closer and pecking Sterling on the lips before giving her a light shove down the hall. “You heard your mom, go get your clothes.”

Sterling rolls her eyes but heads towards her own room, knowing that her mom doesn’t make idle threats. 

She picks up a few socks and white Willingham uniform shirts that are scattered about the room, tossing them unceremoniously into a basket. One sock near the dresser almost misses getting picked up, but Sterling stoops to grab it and her fingers brush something cool and metallic.

Picking it up, Sterling sees that it’s April’s purity ring that had rolled away and been promptly forgotten about. She rolls it around in the palm of her hand contemplatively for a few seconds before her mom calls out again from downstairs. Thinking quickly, Sterling slips the ring into the pocket of her pajama pants and hurries to get her laundry in the washing machine.

“Okay, so the skip is named Amber Yonkers. She’s 31 and has a few priors. Our girl’s got chronically sticky fingers but this time she took it a step beyond her usual shoplifting and stole a Tesla from a charging station at the community college. I’m out 50 Gs on this one, and after what happened a couple weeks ago, I need her brought in as quick as possible,” Yolanda says pointedly, tapping one long nail on the picture of a woman Sterling would have thought was in jail for amphetamine possession (because she knows what those are now!).

“Aren’t those things like...built to not be able to be stolen?” Blair asks from her seat next to Sterling on the couch.

“Why do you think she got arrested?” Yolanda asks rhetorically. “It’s the future and our cars can snitch to the cops.”

“Yeah, I’ll stick with my manual roll-down windows, thank you,” Bowser grumbles and takes the file from Yolanda to examine more thoroughly.

Yolanda rolls her eyes at Bowser’s old-fashioned approach, but Sterling can tell that she also finds it endearing. Why the two of them haven’t gotten together in all this time, she’ll never know. “Girls, you’ll like this part. She has a real thing for malls. Been banned from every one of them in the state but she has more disguises than Carmen Sandiego so you can probably still find her in one.”

“Yolanda, teenagers being into malls is so 90s,”  Blair says patronizingly. “Besides, how would we even know what mall she’s gonna be at? I know they’re dying because of Amazon and all, but there’s still a shit ton of them.”

“Yeah, and they’re big and mostly empty!” Sterling adds, thinking about the fact that they’d passed two malls just getting to Yogurtopia. And that was just in a ten-minute drive!

“I really don’t care how you find her. But if you don’t, I don’t get paid. And when I don’t get paid, you don’t get paid. I swear, I’m this close to getting out of the bonds business and just opening a pawnshop with all the damn jewelry these skips have given me as collateral.” Yolanda holds her hand out and presses her thumb and finger tightly together to emphasize her point.

“Well, don’t be leasing any spaces in the sleazy part of town just yet. We’ll find her,” Bowser says assuringly, as the girls nod in agreement.

It’s an unspoken acknowledgment that all of this is coming to an end. Once Sterling and Blair are off to college--Sterling to UGA and Blair all the way over at the University of North Carolina on a lacrosse scholarship-- it’s not like they can keep bounty hunting. And, for all the effort Bowser puts into seeming like such a tough guy, they can tell he’ll miss them.

But then, as much as Sterling knows she should be savoring these last few months, she can’t help but feel that she should be spending more time with April. Sterling is, after all, the closest thing to family that her girlfriend has right now, and living a double life doesn’t exactly feel like a good expression of how much she loves April.

And just as that thought occurs to her, Ms. Cathy opens the door, poking her head in and saying, “Girls. Customers up front,” before retreating and closing it again.

Sterling shoots a look at Blair, who shrugs back before they get to their feet. Blair nods for Sterling to go first, and despite groaning her displeasure, she walks out front, putting a fake smile on her face while monotonously saying, “Welcome to Yogurtopia: this is a no-judgment zone. How can I- April?” She stops in place as she realizes who Ms. Cathy’s customers are.

Wow. That is some coincidence.

“What is she doing here?” Blair asks.

“I don’t know! She’s literally never been here the whole time we’ve dated! She says froyo is the bastard stepchild of ice cream,” Sterling replies.

“Can you blame her? The girl grew up on FREE Chick-Fil-A milkshakes. Speaking of which, can we still eat there?”

“Not the ones April’s dad owns. But focus!”

“Hey, Sterl,” April draws out the nickname, seeming amused by all of this. 

Sterling can only guess April’s here because of her own poor attempt at fibbing this morning, but even so, she’s glad to see her.

“Hey, y’all,” Sterling says, waving at Hannah B. and Ezekiel, always acting as the perfect entourage and standing two feet behind April. “Are you here for… Froyo?” she asks what should be a painfully obvious question in a place called Yogurtopia, but this is, after all, April Stevens she’s dealing with.

April smiles mischievously, then leans over the counter slightly to pull Sterling in by the apron straps. "I'd actually rather have something sweeter.” She whispers and kisses Sterling’s cheek before all too quickly letting her go and righting herself upon seeing something over Sterling’s shoulder. “I came to finally thank Mr. Bowser for his gallant rescue and the ride home after prom.”

Sterling turns her head to see Bowser standing sheepishly in front of the door to the backroom. “Really, it wasn’t any trouble, uh…”

“April,” April supplies helpfully.

“It wasn’t any trouble, April.” Bowser looks like he’d rather be anywhere but here. “But uh, you should know you’re in good hands with this one.” He awkwardly indicates Sterling.

“I’ve come to realize that myself,” April agrees, a proud smile on her face.

“So can we actually get frozen yogurt, though?” Hannah B. asks, interrupting whatever touching moment they were all having.

“Fine,” April sighs with a roll of her eyes.

Hannah B. and Ezekiel proceed to give Blair their orders.

“What are you doing here?” Sterling asks, glancing over her shoulder quickly to see Bowser return to his office before turning back to April with a slow smile.

Being around April always makes Sterling's heart beat faster, but April's answering smile makes her feel like it might explode from her chest. “I just came here to see you,” she says, all but confirming Sterling’s earlier suspicion. “Plus, I just looked at the cutest coral dress at a little boutique down the street but for pictures’ sake, I need to know what colors you and Blair are planning on wearing before I buy it.”

“Black. Like my soul,” Blair says sarcastically--or at least, Sterling hopes she’s being sarcastic. 

“Oh...uh I don’t have a dress yet. What do you think? Maybe blue?” Sterling says, sounding more like a question to her own ears. Honestly, Sterling’s mind has been on other things today and not even bounty hunting has kept her focus.

April does that little self-satisfied clap she does when she gets exactly what she wants without having to say it. “Oh, that would look so nice. I actually looked at one in the store that I think would really bring out the color of your eyes.”

As April takes out her phone and steps in closer, Sterling gets a noseful of April’s perfume and she suddenly feels hypnotized. It’s the same perfume that April has worn for years but now that Sterling has caught whiffs of it in her own home it stirs something different in her. The floral base and underlying note of something crisp and fresh make Sterling’s head nod of its own volition. “Yeah, that’s perfect,” she replies, not sure if she’s agreed to a dress or to let Blair shave off both of her eyebrows.

“Perfect,” April says with a delighted smile, slipping her phone into her purse. “Then I’ll go get both of our dresses.” April leans in and pecks Sterling on the lips. Her next words are so harsh in comparison that they make Sterling flinch. “Come on, let’s go,” April barks at Ezekiel and Hannah B. as she sweeps out Yogurtopia’s door with her friends (and their yogurt) following close behind.

“But I wanted to get froyo for Luke!” Hannah B’s voice floats back into the shop through the closing door.

Blair shoots Sterling a look but she can only shrug in response, shaking her head to clear out the cobwebs April’s perfume left behind. Looking up Sterling sees Yolanda watching her speculatively from the office doorway. “What?”

It took a bit of digging, but Sterling is fairly confident that they have found the mall their skip is most likely to hit since her pattern indicated a preference for bougie stores on the weekends, and there is no bougie-r mall in all of Atlanta than Lenox Square. The tricky part is figuring out where exactly their skip, the master of disguise, would hit out of the nearly 200 stores.

“Well, I think we can rule out the Tesla store?” Blair suggests as Bowser holds up a map of the mall that he printed off of the internet, like an old person.

“Do you think she’d go super expensive like Cartier, or somewhat pricey, like Bloomingdales?” Sterling asks, trying to get into the mind of Amber Yonkers. Where would she steal from if she were a kleptomaniac on the run from the law?

“I’d lean Bloomies. You’ve seen what she looks like, and you’ve also seen the movie Pretty Woman ,” Blair makes a hand gesture as if to say, ‘connect the dots.’ “You know, they’d kick her out.”

“Yeah, I got that,” Sterling nods. “But just in case, maybe we should split up to cover more ground?”

“No, the best place we should be is right here,” Bowser insists, pointing to their view of the main entrance to the mall. “Knowing the way our skip works, once she’s got whatever haul she plans on lifting, she’ll come runnin’ right out that door.”

“But there are other ways in-” Sterling tries to argue.

“Just trust me. This is the door,” Bowser says firmly, leaving no room for argument as the car falls silent. For all of ten seconds.

“I gotta pee. Sterl, you want anything from Cinnabon while I’m in there?” Blair asks, moving to get out of the car.

“Oooh! Center of the Roll. And a raspberry lemonade!” Sterling says excitedly. Perhaps she and Blair had been too hasty in their criticism of malls earlier.

“What have I told y’all about liquids? Every time. Every time we go on a stakeout, one of you’s like, ‘Bowser I gotta go to the bathroom!’ And I’m sick of it. All you need is to self-hydrate and then you can drink all the liquids you want when we catch the skip,” It’s perhaps the longest and most passionate string of words Sterling and April have ever heard leave the lips of their mentor.

“So a large lemonade?” Blair asks, to which Sterling excitedly nods. “Awesome.” Blair turns to Bowser, a look of concern on her face. “Your blood is probably like...scary thick.” With that, she closes the Jeep door and heads into the mall.

Sterling and Bowser sit in awkward silence for a few minutes, which is more than enough time for an invasive thought to completely consume Sterling until she’s about to burst. “Hey Bowser, how did you know you wanted to marry Michelle?” she asks, seemingly out of nowhere, but it’s something that’s been eating at her all day. She knows April was joking this morning about them getting married for some privacy, but the more she thinks of it, the more she feels like it wouldn’t be the worst thing to call April hers in a more official and permanent capacity. Far from it, in fact.

But the doubtful part of her mind hardly thinks she’s ready for that kind of commitment. After all, she was with Luke more than three times as long as she’s been with April, and the minute he made mention of plans for the future, she started reconsidering the whole relationship.

But then another part of her mind says that the doubtful part is stupid and that while she loved Luke it was due to circumstance, while April is the real deal. So naturally, she needs a second opinion on the subject.

“What?” Bowser asks, quickly craning his neck to look at Sterling in the back seat. “Why would you even ask me - did Yolanda put you up to this?”

Sterling opens her mouth, not sure if she should respond or ask why Bowser thought Yolanda wanted her to dig into his relationship. Maybe she shouldn’t have asked; the Michelle-Bowser-Yolanda-Terrence love quadrangle was a mess. A mess that really had no resemblance to her relationship with April.

“I mean, I know I had a thing with Yolanda first, but she is the one who introduced me to Michelle,” Bowser grumbles, seeming to be talking more to himself than Sterling. “We had a good thing going but she wasn’t picking up what I was putting down. And then Michelle…”

Sterling regrets asking because Bowser has never really liked talking to her and Blair about anything more than bounty hunting, let alone about his relationships. When Bowser lapses into silence, Sterling sinks back into the bench seat, glad that it is over.

Or not.

“Michelle...she made me feel special. She made me feel wanted and that’s not something a guy like me finds all the time,” he muses to himself, looking out the windshield with a slight smile on his face.

“Yolanda is more about busting my balls. Michelle was more about stroking ‘em.” Sterling gasps at that and claps her hands over her ears. That was way more than she ever wants to hear about Bowser and any of his man parts. She looks ahead at the mall entrance, and as if the Lord above has decided to do her a solid and get her out of this conversation, she sees a “little old lady”--blue wig, walker, and all--absolutely book it out of the mall doors.

“Whoa, phony old lady, 12 o’clock!” Sterling yells, hopping out of the Jeep and running at the doors just as a mall cop follows Amber Yonkers out, only to get the walker thrown at him.

While Amber is temporarily distracted by this, she quickly notices that Sterling is all but sprinting at her and books it.

“Aw, crud,” Sterling mutters to herself, cursing the fact that of course, Blair would be MIA when they have a runner in broad daylight, so any gunfire is a no-go. She takes in a large inhale and pushes on, knowing she’ll be feeling this tomorrow--she really is in bad shape for a skinny girl--but finally, when she gains enough on Amber, she tackles her like any girl raised on Falcons games would. “Gotcha!” she says triumphantly upon landing hard on Amber’s back which is...oddly lumpy.

Sterling produces her handcuffs from her back pocket and subdues Amber, trying to think of some kind of witty one-liner but coming up empty as she hauls her to her feet. “You really had to make me work for that, huh? she asks, winded.

“Go to Hell! Nothin’ worse than a chick cop…” Amber grumbles.

“Excuse you, I am not a cop,” Sterling says defensively. “But I am takin’ ya back to jail, Ms. Yonkers.” She leads Amber back to the front entrance where a small army of mall cops have assembled alongside Bowser and Blair, who has returned with the promised Cinnabon.

“What did I miss?” Blair asks and sips from Sterling’s lemonade, clearly amused at her sister’s exerted state.

Sterling replies simply by sticking her tongue out at her, then marches Amber up to the mall cops. “We can take it from here, boys. This lady is a wanted criminal,” she says, trying to sound as professional as possible.

“That’s all well and good but can she please empty her pockets first? Loss prevention at Macy’s thinks she’s stolen upwards of $1000 of clothes and accessories,” the security guard who must be the leader says in a thick, drawling accent that would give Big Daddy a run for his money.

“I can’t. I’m cuffed,” Amber says plainly, glancing up at her own brow.

The mall cops share looks among themselves until the one woman out of all of them steps forward to pat Amber down and Sterling leaves her to it as she goes to join Blair, taking her lemonade while the straw is still in Blair’s mouth.

“Rude,” Blair mutters and the two of them watch as a seemingly endless string of stolen items begin to be removed from Amber’s person.

“I’d check her back. Either she’s got scoliosis or she’s hiding something,” Sterling says, sipping her lemonade and watching as the mall cop pulls out a shirt, still on its hanger, from the bottom of Amber’s shirt. “Knew it!” she says, feeling her phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulls it out to see April’s smiling face on the caller ID, and while this might be a slightly inconvenient time, she still smiles and answers. “Hey, Baby.”

“Hey. So I just wanted to let you know that I got our dresses and I don’t mean to toot my own horn or anything-”

“Yes, you do,” Sterling says, rolling her eyes but still finding this girl completely endearing, nevertheless.

“...Yes I do. We’re gonna look so good together on that stage. Speaking of which, have you put any thought into your Salutatorian speech? Because I don’t want our messages to clash too strongly.” There’s some rustling on April’s end, and Sterling can only assume it’s garment bags.

“Where the Hell did that come from?” one of the mall cops says a little too loudly as a brand new Wilson basketball falls to the ground.

“Where are you?” April asks, sounding confused.

“I’m at the mall. Blair wanted Cinnabon and they just caught this crazy shoplifter,” Sterling says, grinning at the opportunity to actually tell the complete truth.

“You’re getting something for me, right?” April asks, her voice perking up.

“Uh, yeah, there’s half of a Middle of the Roll with your name on it.” Sterling finishes off most of her lemonade and hands it back to Blair as she hears a small round of applause come from the other end of the phone.

“Gross, backwash,” Blair says, giving a look of disgust.

“Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I’ve really loved just...existing with you these last few weeks. I feel like we make such a great team when given the space to do so, and--and I love the idea of making a home with you,” April says, then lets out a big sigh, as if she rehearsed that confession a few times before calling Sterling.

Sterling is positively taken back. She feels her heart soar at April’s words, which are weighty but exactly what she’s wanted to hear from her. The more she learns of April’s life growing up under her father’s thumb, the more she’s had a desperate desire to give her the love and security of being home. Sterling wants nothing more than to be April’s home.

“Oh God, that was too much, wasn’t it? I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have-” Panic bubbles up in April’s voice as Sterling kicks herself for not saying something sooner.

“No! God, no, it wasn’t too much at all!” she assures her. “April... you have no idea how much I want to make a home with you, too.”

“Barf,” Blair says, giving Sterling a look of disgust as Bowser is finally able to lead their klepto skip back to the Jeep.

She’s much skinnier than Sterling thought.

Sterling speaks a little quieter into her phone as she says the next part of the absolute SapFest she’s laying on April. “I want to be able to kiss you good morning every day and every night for as long as you’ll have me.”

“Well, well, Sterling Wesley. You sure know how to make a girl blush,” April says, the slightest hint of a teasing drawl in her voice. “How does forever sound to you?”

“It sounds perfect.” Sterling smiles like a lovestruck schoolgirl--which she supposes she kind of still is, at least until graduation--biting her lip and rocking on her feet.

“Good. Then I’ll see you when you get home.” April concludes her sentence with a series of kissing noises into the phone.

Sterling glances back at Blair, wondering if this is worth the absolute dragging she’ll get all the way back to Yogurtopia. But eff it. She loves this girl.

She makes a series of kissy faces that are enough to make Blair gag and snatch the phone out of her hand.

“You guys are disgusting, April. Byyye,” Blair says into the mic and unceremoniously hits the end call button before handing the phone back to Sterling.

“Jealous, much?” Sterling says, annoyed, but really nothing can bring her down from this high she’s feeling in her head and her heart and every part of her that matters (because who really needs an appendix, right?).

What she feels for April is more than infatuation, or lust, or whatever puppy love it was that she felt for Luke. This is the true, genuine article, the kind of love that modern Taylor Swift sings about, and in this exact moment, she knows what she has to do to bring herself any kind of peace.

She needs to make April hers in a more permanent way.

“Well, I gotta say, I’m pretty impressed. I expected this one to take you at least a week, so good job,” Yolanda says with a proud smile as she hands the girls their cash cut of the bounty on Amber.

“Whoa, is it Opposite Day? Because I swear you just complimented us,” Bowser snarks from near the door of the RV.

“You start bringing skips in the same day I give them to you more often, and you’ll see how much I can show my appreciation,” Yolanda says, sending a flirty look Bowser’s way.

“Stop. You’ll only encourage them.” Bowser points to Sterling and Blair, who have almost matching smirks on their faces. He and Yolanda really have been playing this game far too long for the girls’ liking and soon they won’t be around to guide them in the right direction.

“I mean, with Terrence off doing that reality show in Tampa, it’s only the natural progression of events for you guys to get together.” Blair gestures between the two of them.

“It’s only the natural progression of things for you to mind your own business and go home,” Bowser says, opening the RV door and stepping out, indicating for the girls to follow, which Blair does, but Sterling hangs back.

“You guys go ahead. I have to ask Yolanda about something,” she says, waving them off even as Blair gives her a confused frown, but Sterling just closes the RV door on her and turns to Yolanda, not quite knowing how to go about asking what she intends to.

“Don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but I don’t think you and I have ever had a conversation alone. What is it exactly that you want?” Yolanda asks, putting her hands on her hips in a stance that reminds Sterling all too much of her own mother’s signature pose.

“You mentioned earlier that you have a bunch of jewelry from skips, right?” Sterling starts, knowing that beating around the bush won’t do her any good here. She just needs one thing.

“Right. Why do you ask?”

“Well, what kinds of stuff do people give you?” Sterling probes, knowing Yolanda will absolutely judge her when she finally spits it out.

“All kinds of stuff, but only if it’s worth anything. No plated metals or lab gems. If this all falls through, I have a bright future as a jeweler ‘cause I can spot that fake shit from a mile away.” Yolanda gives a self-satisfied smile. “So I figure you’re asking because you’re looking for something. Probably for that little prissy girl that was in the shop earlier?” She raises a knowing eyebrow at Sterling, who blushes.

“Uh, yeah. My girlfriend, April.” Sterling nods, still taking so much pride in finally being able to say that to other people.

“Well, what do you want? I can give you a good price on some earrings, maybe a necklace or a bracelet?” Yolanda walks to the back of the RV, opening a closet to reveal a safe, which she begins to open.

Now or never.

“What do you have in the way of… engagement rings?” Sterling asks, her voice slightly trembling on the word engagement. She’s more entertained the abstract idea in her head before this, but saying it aloud makes it real.

Yolanda’s hand keeps spinning the dial on the safe but quirks one eyebrow at Sterling. “She seems a bit bossy, but I could see why you’d like that.” Yolanda opens the safe and pulls out a shallow tray with black velvet grooves holding a large assortment of rings. There must be an organization to the collection that Sterling doesn’t understand but Yolanda’s fingers run across a dazzling array of gold and silver. “Do you know her size?”

“Uhhh…” Sterling thinks a moment as she rifles through her jeans pocket and pulls out April’s promise ring. “Can you tell from this?” She hands it to Yolanda, who looks at it and compares it to one in her box before nodding.

“Yep, size six. Little hands,” she says, handing the promise ring back to Sterling. “I’m assuming you want a diamond for a girl like that but any thought on the setting material?” At Sterling’s blank gaze, she rolls her eyes and adds, “Silver, yellow gold, white gold, rose gold…you have no idea what you want, do you?”

Sterling shakes her head sheepishly but then has a thought. “Rose gold could be nice?” It was the color of April’s prom dress on the night from Hell, sure, but she knows it’s one of April’s favorite colors, and it’s different while still being gorgeous (and expensive). Just like April.

Yolanda nods and peruses through the rings, picking out a few and bringing them over for Sterling to look at more carefully on the table. “Now, I know how much I pay you, so none of these should be too far outside your price range. Have a look and let me know if you want any more info on them. Skip backstory, or whatnot.”

Sterling gestures over the rings with her hand. “None of them are like...cursed, right?” She knows it’s a stupid question, but she has to ask before she falls in love with any of them--even if one, in particular, has already caught her eye.

“Not any more cursed than a ring from a bail-jumper already is, no,” Yolanda says with a shrug. “Oh, but that one--” She gestures to one on the far right, “--That one killed her husband. No shit.”

“Probably not that one, then…” Sterling says, gently pushing it to the side of the table, and Yolanda takes it back to the safe as Sterling zeroes back in on the one she was looking at before. “How about this one?” she asks, picking it up and holding it out to Yolanda, who smiles as she returns.

“That one belonged to this puta and her husband, who caught up a whole bunch of people in a pyramid scheme and then tried to flee to Mexico when they were let out on bail. No violence or curses.” She takes the ring from Sterling and examines it, seeming to consider something carefully. “I’d be taking a bit of a loss, but I can sell it to you for… twelve hundred.”

Sterling deflates at the price. She knows that there’s no way she can take that kind of money out of her bank account without her parents seeing, which would mean she’d have no choice but to go through Blair to get cash. And she knows Blair would not take this news well. “I don’t-”

Yolanda sighs, a look of pity on her face. “I know I’m probably gonna regret this, but I’ll tell you what. You can just give me back what I gave you today, and you can get me the rest by the end of the week. Is that do-able?”

Is it? Not really. But Sterling isn’t so sure she’ll find another ring worthy of being given to April for any less. “Yeah, I can do that,” she says, nodding as she reaches into her pocket and gives Yolanda back the $500 cut she was given of the bounty. “I’ll get you the rest as soon as I can. I promise.”

“You better, or I’ll have to send Bowser after you,” Yolanda says, smiling slightly as she starts to hand Sterling the ring, but stops herself. “Wait? You want a box? Because I got a Tiffany’s box your girl will go crazy for.”

“Do you have anything a little more...normal? I feel like April knows I can’t afford stuff from there.”

Yolanda groans and grabs a black velvet box to put the ring in. “You’re no fun, but there.” She puts the box in Sterling’s hand. “You went to Jared.”

True to her word, Sterling gets home with Blair just before dinner time, half-eaten Cinnabon treat in-hand, and a ring box in her pocket that feels like it weighs a thousand pounds.

“So what were you talking to Yolanda about?” Blair asks before they get out of the car, stopping Sterling as she reaches for her door.

“Uh, not much.” Sterling shrugs. “I just needed to ask her about what our work schedule is gonna look like over the summer because I know with you leaving in the middle of August, I can’t exactly do this without you.”

“Awww, you softy,” Blair says, lightly punching Sterling’s shoulder. “But if today was any indication, you totally have enough badass skills for the both of us.”

“My aching muscles would say otherwise,” Sterling mumbles in reply, opening her door and stepping out. “No word of any of it to April, remember?”

“Yes, Sterl. I’m a complete idiot who’s gonna go blabbling to mom and dad and their new favorite child about taking down a crystal meth tweaker at the mall,” Blair scoffs and shakes her head, walking up to the house with Sterling in tow.

They step through the front door into the foyer, a welcoming scent of dinner cooking in the kitchen bringing a smile to Sterling’s face, which only grows wider as April steps out, wearing one of Debbie’s aprons.

“Oh good, you’re home!” She smiles wide, and yes, Sterling is home. April gets on her tippy toes to kiss Sterling on the lips, lingering a bit longer than she had in the shop. “I know you were working hard today, so your mom and I made your favorite,” she says when they break apart, taking Sterling’s hand in her own.

From the corner of her eye, Sterling can see Blair wave in April’s direction. “Yeah, hi, I’m here too.”

April turns to Blair, her signature fake smile on her face now. “And hello to you, Blair. Are you expecting a kiss, too?”

Blair gags exaggeratedly. “Uh, yeah, nope. You can save all those for this one.” She points her thumb in Sterling’s direction as she walks past the both of them, sniffing the air. “Smells like casserole. Did mom get more hot sauce from the store?” she asks nobody in particular as she continues on into the kitchen.

April breathes a sigh of relief. “I know she’s your sister, but-”

“She’s a pain,” Sterling finishes for her. “I know spending so much time with her can take some getting used to, but trust me, underneath the surface… and maybe a few extra feet of topsoil, she’s pretty great.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” April says with a curl of her lip. “Come on, dinner’s almost ready.” She takes Sterling by the hand, leading her through the house to the kitchen.

Sterling, for her part, is feeling a bit...dazed. The decision to propose to April was probably made a little hastier than it should have been, but she isn’t having second thoughts. Far from it, in fact. She doesn’t fear asking April to marry her, she fears April saying no. So no matter how she goes about proposing, be it two days from now or two months from now, it needs to be the right time.

“Hey, Mom.” She greets Debbie, who is in the middle of using two heavy-duty oven mitts to get the casserole out of the oven.

“Hey, Baby,” Debbie replies, putting down the pan on a cooling rack and taking off the mitts. “Has April shown you the dress she got?” she asks as April begins to gather silverware to set the table.

“Uh, yeah, she showed me a picture.” Which is true, but Sterling couldn’t describe what the thing looks like if you paid her.

“This one,” Debbie gives April a look of sheer approval, “Has impeccable taste. And I think it’ll fit you so well that you eating junk like that every day until graduation won’t matter.” She indicates the Cinnabon bag in Sterling’s hand.

Sterling rolls her eyes as April tries to stop herself from chuckling. “I’ll have you know that this is yours,” Sterling says, holding out the bag to April in a guilt-tripping sort of way.

“Blair, go get your Daddy from the shed,” Debbie says, laying the plates on the placemats before making a shooing motion and Blair follows the directive with ill grace, stomping her way out to the back yard. “Sit down girls, we’ll eat in just a bit.”

For all that Sterling knows, they could be eating sawdust instead of a delicious casserole because she doesn’t taste a bite. Between the weight of the ring box in her pocket and April’s presence at her side, she feels justified in being a little distracted. Beyond April’s presence is the fact that her girlfriend’s left hand keeps finding its way under the table to rest on Sterling’s knee. Which would be the opposite of a problem, were it not for the fact that her hand is dangerously close to the ring.

Cutting her eyes over to April, Sterling manages to meet her gaze and April gives her a small smile as her hand creeps just a bit higher up Sterling’s leg.

The table shakes with a thud as Sterling’s knee connects with it, and April quickly withdraws her hand as all eyes at the table land on Sterling.

“Sorry. Muscle spasm,” she says quietly and takes a large drink of water as Blair shoots her an especially suspicious look from her other side. Realizing that she is not going to make it through an entire meal like this, Sterling looks back up at her parents. “May I be excused?”

“Are you feeling okay?” her father asks, now looking more concerned.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just really need to study for my AP History final. So can I go, please?” She doesn’t want to seem ungrateful for dinner, especially with April having gone out of her way to make her favorite, but if she doesn’t get up from this table right now, either April is going to find the ring, or she is going to spontaneously combust under the pressure.

“Yes, you’re excused,” Debbie says finally, and the words have barely left her mouth before Sterling is pushing her chair out and power walking out of the room and up the stairs.

Her first stop is her room, where she looks around, panicked, for somewhere to hide the ring where nobody would ever think to look. Her eyes drift to her bookshelf, instantly landing on Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, Midnight Sun, and even The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. They haven’t moved an inch in about two years, which makes them the perfect spot to slip the ring behind.

The next part is more simple. Sterling just has to make a not-so-small withdrawal out of her and Blair’s Bear Fund. Wesleys, not unlike Lannisters, always repay their debts, and she is not about to betray Yolanda’s trust by taking too long to pay her for the ring. She cuts through the bathroom into Blair’s room, finding the bear easily enough. 

She’s in the process of counting out $700 cash, her back to the door when she’s suddenly being put into a chokehold.

“What do you need the money for, Scumbag?” Blair asks as Sterling tries to struggle out of her grip.

“Blair!” Sterling yells, managing to break free for all of five seconds before Blair pushes her to the bed, twisting her arms behind her back.

“Are you on the dope? You on the smack?” Blair asks in such a way that Sterling can’t tell if she’s being serious or not.

“No! Get off me, you psycho!” Sterling continues to struggle, resorting to literal buttkicking at one point, but Blair doesn’t let up.

“Tell me why you were trying to steal our money, and I’ll let you go.” Blair’s voice is surprisingly even.

“I was taking some of my half of the money,” Sterling takes a deep breath, considering the pros and cons of telling Blair the truth, but ultimately deciding there’s no use hiding it since she’ll find out eventually. “I was taking it because I’m buying an engagement ring from Yolanda. I’m gonna ask April to marry me.”

At those words, not only does Blair let her go, she herself goes tumbling to the floor. “What?! Are you insane?”

Honestly, yes, probably. But Sterling would never admit as much to Blair. “No, I am dead serious. I just… I know it feels right, and I don’t think there’s any point in waiting. We don’t even have to get married right away or anything, I just want her to know that I’m in this for the long haul, and I hope she is too.”

Blair makes a whip-crack sound with her mouth while she does the motion with her hand, her facial expression completely unimpressed. “You know you’re completely giving up the opportunity to have any fun at college, right? And I thought the whole point of you breaking up with Luke was you wanted a chance to have a life by yourself before settling down. Now you’re 18 years old and you want to get married? To April?”

Blair’s argument shakes Sterling’s already faltering conviction. Because what if this isn’t a good idea? What if they’re too young to know what they want? What if April says no?

Sterling groans, burying her face into Blair's bedspread, but only until something small and hard presses into her forehead. Sterling knows Blair well enough to be unsurprised that her sister was probably snacking in bed last night and brings her head up quickly.

However, Sterling doesn't find crumbs on the bedspread. Instead, it is April's purity ring that must have slipped out of her pocket. And all at once, she knows that she’s making the right decision. She heard the still small voice the way that Elijah had heard God. And she will follow it the same way that Elijah did.

“That’s what I thought. You aren’t thinking clearly, Sterl. I know from experience that while you may think you love April now-” Blair can’t finish that absurd sentence without Sterling firmly interrupting her.

“No. This is not like that. I love April, I’m going to always love April, and that’s why I’m going to ask her to marry me. Now, you can either support me in this or don’t. I don’t care. But I need you to know that I’m doing this, and more than anything, I would like for you to back me up on this instead of standing in my way.”

Blair stares at her, slightly slack-jawed, and Sterling feels a surge of pride for leaving her sister speechless. Head held high, Sterling walks through their bathroom back to her own bedroom. At least until she remembers why she was in Blairs room, to begin with.

“Oh, and I’m taking $700 for the ring,” she says, for the sake of Blair’s bookkeeping, coming back into the bedroom to grab the bear money and returning to her room. 

Sterling feels like she might jump out of her skin when she finds April standing there, arms crossed in a power stance. “Everything okay up here? We heard a commotion.”

Sterling’s eyes drift to Twilight on her bookshelf, then back to April. Without saying anything, she closes the distance between them, pulling April in for a tight hug, much to her apparent surprise as she instinctively tenses up at first, but then she relaxes into it, resting her head against Sterling.

“Everything’s fine,” Sterling assures her because it is. In her heart, she knows it is.

Chapter Text

“Girls, we gotta get going or we’ll hit traffic!” Debbie calls up the stairs from the foyer, the sound carrying into the guest bathroom, where April is currently trying to position her graduation cap on her head without ruining all the hard work she put into curling her hair.

From the hallway, she hears either Sterling or Blair stomp out of their room to yell back, “Just five more minutes! Blair’s hair is tangled up with her tassel!”

Definitely Sterling.

April sighs before laughing to herself. Both of them are absolutely ridiculous, but their constant antics have become a staple in her everyday life. It wasn’t until moving in with the Wesleys that she realized just how painfully quiet her life at home was. This is not to say she didn’t ever enjoy the quiet, but there is a certain charm to chaos becoming what’s most familiar to her.

Satisfied with herself in the mirror, April shoots a set of finger guns at her reflection and heads out to the hallway, where Sterling is just pulling the tassel out of Blair’s hair.

“I told you you were spraying too much. You practically glued the thing to my hair!” Blair says, taking the tassel (with several hairs stuck to it) from Sterling.

“It’s not my fault you went to bed with wet hair last night when you know it causes frizzing!” Sterling shoots back before turning to April with a smile. “Babe, you look so good!”

April smiles not-so-humbly. “Thanks, Sterl. You don’t look so bad yourself.” She indicates the baby blue dress, which somehow manages to look good even under the open gaudy orange graduation gown. April has to give herself a pat on the back for that one. “So, did you get your speech done last night? I thought I saw a light under your door pretty late.” April doesn’t want to seem too nosey, but the last thing she wants is her girlfriend too exhausted on one of the most important days of their lives.

“Uh, yeah,” Sterling admits, blushing. “Reading through yours last night made me feel like mine needed a little work.”

Now it’s April’s turn to blush as she grabs Sterling by the front of her robe and pulls her in for a kiss, ignoring Blair booing them as she pushes past them to go downstairs. “You’re gonna do great. I know it,” she says encouragingly, a hand coming up to gently touch Sterling’s maxilla. “No numbness, right?”

“Just when you’re around.” Sterling leans in to kiss April again. “No promises regarding stable patellas, though.” She giggles and takes April’s hand, leading her down the stairs where Debbie is pacing impatiently around the foyer while Anderson fiddles with a large old camcorder.

“Okay, we’re ready Mr. and Mrs. Wesley,” April announces, leading the way out the front door to the car as Anderson calls after her,

“April, sweetie, how many times do we have to tell you ya don’t have to call us that?” He hits the unlock button on the keyfob and the girls pile in the back, struggling to maneuver seatbelts through dresses and grad gowns. “Now, y’all know the ground rules. No political speeches, no streaking, and no involvement with any senior pranks, right?” Anderson asks, catching their gaze in the rearview mirror.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Promise, Mr. Wesl- Anderson.”

The girls reply in unison, to which Anderson gives them all a thumbs up before starting the car and pulling out of the driveway.

It’s a strange feeling, driving to Willingham for the final time as a student. So much of April’s life has changed--mostly for the better--in her time there, and the idea of opening a new chapter is scary, but exciting all the same. And she can’t wait to do it by Sterling’s side.

Squeezed in between her and Blair, Sterling turns to April and gives her a nervous smile, taking her hand again and squeezing it. “We got this,” she whispers, probably as much for her own benefit as April’s.

Anderson, unlike either of his daughters, is a cautious driver and April feels safe in a way that driving with Sterling or Blair has never felt. Clearly, neither Wesley twin took their father’s example when it came to driving.

It doesn’t feel nearly long enough before the car pulls up to the curb near Willingham’s auditorium. “Alright girls, go on in and get lined up. We’ll be sitting stage right, so when you get your diplomas, smile that way,” Debbie instructs as the three of them make a less than graceful exit from the back seat.

Once they get inside, Ellen is waiting at the top of the stairs to direct students to specific classrooms to wait before the ceremony begins. When she sees the three of them, Ellen abandons her post and sweeps all three girls up into a surprisingly tight hug. April idly wonders if Ellen has been offering hugs (and subsequently having them be rejected) since the doors opened. 

“Oh girls, I am so proud of y’all!” Ellen exclaims with all of her usual exuberance, but then she turns to Sterling and April, looking as serious as April has ever seen her. “Now, you girls have a big responsibility with your speeches opening and closing the ceremony. Don’t be nervous, have fun with it, and for the love of all that is good, try not to throw up on stage. That happened last year and you can guess who had to clean it up.”

Blair grimaces. “Well, that’s a fun anecdote. Where do us normies line up?”

Ellen directs Blair over to the alphabetical lines, walking her a ways down to get to W, so that gives April plenty of time to give Sterling a better pep talk than ‘don’t vomit.’

“Alright, just use your notes and try not to use too many interjections. You’re gonna kill it,” April says, patting Sterling’s arm supportively. She gasps as Sterling grabs her by the shoulders and pulls her in for a kiss.

“Sorry, I just...needed that,” Sterling says nonchalantly, fixing her smudged lip gloss with her thumb while April stares at her in awe, chuckling.

“You’ve really been waiting for a long time for all this, huh?” April asks, gesturing between the two of them.

“I’ve been waiting since the first time you kissed me back.” Sterling smiles and squeezes April’s hand as Ellen returns to them, her eyes instantly going to the girls’ hands as she grins, but she doesn’t remark on it.

“Well, are y’all ready? We’re about to head in.”

April straightens her posture, putting her chin up in the air. “Let’s do this.”

April has spent weeks preparing herself for the inevitable sinking feeling of knowing that her parents will not be attending her graduation ceremony, and yet, she still feels a pit in her stomach as she approaches the podium to give her valedictorian speech. The only cheers to come from the crowd of parents were those of the Wesleys when the school principal announced her name, and while she appreciates them more than words can say, it doesn’t stop her from feeling bad. She’s spent all morning trying not to think about it, but that’s sort of impossible to do now.

If her own parents can’t get over their own shit enough to attend their only child’s high school graduation, then what does that say about society as a whole? She clears her throat as she gets up to the podium, angling the mic downward slightly to suit her height.

“Well,” April starts, glancing down to her speech for reference just in case, but she’s memorized it. “I know that in my time here at Willingham, I’ve probably managed to upset every person in this room a time or two.” She smiles as that earns the laughter she’d hoped to get. “Like all of my fellow students, this time in my life has been one of change, and discovery, and self-reflection. And like I’m sure all of you parents can attest to, we’ve all tended to act in ways nobody would in polite society as a means to, I suppose, cope with the fear we feel every day with so many changes happening all at once. We fear becoming versions of ourselves we don’t recognize. And we fear becoming versions of ourselves that could be anything but something for you all to be proud of. But as William Shakespeare wrote, “to thine own self be true,” and it is with those words that we become who we’re supposed to be, or perhaps who we’ve always been.”

April takes a deep breath, her own words hitting her a little harder in this setting under these circumstances than they had when she’d written them at her kitchen table, her own mother making dinner as she gave April feedback. “I haven’t always been the most agreeable person while on my own path to self-discovery, and I haven’t always had people there for me to provide endless approval or understanding, but it’s been here at Willingham that I’ve gained the courage to go out into the world being true to myself for the first time. Our friends,” She turns to smile at Hannah B. and Ezekiel, “Who have our backs even at our worst. Our teachers,” She turns to Ellen, who gives her a big thumbs up, “Who have given us all the knowledge and advice we need to get us to the next stage of our lives, whatever it may look like.”

April bites her lip as she struggles to read the next part of her speech, her voice cracking ever so slightly. “Our parents,” she looks out into the crowd to meet the Wesleys’ gaze, “Who have helped us along, every step of the way from that first scary day of kindergarten to our last time walking through those doors as high school students.” She clears her throat again, not allowing herself to cry or shed a single tear. “We couldn’t have done it without all three. As is written in the book of Isaiah, ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you’ because as long as we have that support system throughout our lives, nothing can touch us. And with God by our sides, we shall always know that we’re always striving toward being who He always intended for us to be in His plan.”

Finally, April looks to Sterling sitting in the front with their principal, her slightly crumpled salutatorian speech still in her hand. “All we need is a little love and acceptance and forgiveness along the way. So, to those who I managed to upset on my own journey, I apologize, and I wish for you all the love and acceptance in the world, just as I wish you’ll lend that forgiveness to me. Because as we leave today as high school graduates, we leave behind childish feuds and petty thoughts towards our fellow seniors. Because that’s what we all are at the end of the day. We’re all just the Willingham Class of 2022, and you all can take a deep breath now because we did it.”

The applause that fills the small auditorium feels like another jewel in her crown to cap off a wonderful senior year. Not only was she valedictorian and Prom queen, but she had finally crushed Craig Wu beneath her heel. But the heady feeling of accomplishment fades when she steps down from the stage to find Sterling beaming at her. April’s feet don’t falter but she walks more quickly and slides into her place beside Sterling.

“You did great!” Sterling whispers, squeezing April’s hand as the principal steps up to the podium. All of the other achievements pale in comparison to just being able to sit hand in hand with Sterling.

April’s in a bit of a daze as they line up and the principal starts reading off their names to come up for their diplomas. She’s riding the high of giving a speech that brought down the house, for sure, but there were several chunks of her speech that no longer apply to her and that has her feeling like it was ultimately a mixed bag as the principal calls her name and the Wesleys cheer even louder than they had before her speech.

She returns to her seat and waits for almost all of the other names to be read before they get to the W names, with Blair and Sterling going up in quick succession as their parents go wild and April herself employs her basketball game finger whistle (mostly for Sterling). 

This is ultimately a good day, and April needs to remind herself of that. This is supposed to be the start of being seen as a grown woman, which is something she’s been waiting for since she was in preschool, and she gets to experience it with the woman who she is sure is the love of her life. Sterling blows a kiss in April’s direction as she leaves the stage with her diploma, and April knows it to be true.

This is a good day.

This is not a good day. 

April has tried to enjoy herself at the grad party, truly she has. Debbie has gone to far too much trouble to include her in the festivities, including ordering a new custom banner, but the sinking feeling she first felt upon seeing Sterling and Blair’s large photo boards has only become all-consuming as the day’s dragged on. She’s smiled politely at Sterling and Blair’s extended relatives and explained her relation to the girls (namely, Sterling) and why she was hastily tacked on last minute (or at least, a watered-down version of why), and she’s put on a good face through it all, but even after having so much fun helping Debbie plan this whole shindig, she knows it’s not, and never was intended to be, for her. The party for her was canceled along with any other milestone events her parents ordinarily would have wanted to be present for, were their only child not a sinful lesbian.

April notices the way Sterling and her parents never seem to drift too far from her at the party, always staying in her orbit to bring her into conversations, all in an attempt to make her feel less lonely and pathetic. It’s having the opposite effect. 

Truly, the only thing that is making April feel even a little better is the satisfaction of eating what is her second piece of the (frankly, immaculate) red velvet cake within an hour of the first. Her mother would have sooner smacked her hand away from the snack table than to let that happen at home, but she’s immensely grateful for its sugary cream cheesy goodness as she listens to a conversation taking place far too close to her.

“Honestly, it’s one thing for you and Anderson to support Sterling’s lifestyle, but to rub it in everyone’s face like this is a bit much, even for you,” Sterling’s grandmother (simply called Mother, which is about half as disturbing as her grandfather being called Big Daddy) says to Debbie in what is, perhaps, the loudest whisper April has ever heard. She shovels a large bite of cake into her mouth, trying not to get upset. She reminds herself that she’s dealt with ignorant old people her whole life.

“And what, pray tell, would you suggest we do instead, Mother? April’s like a daughter to us and those parents of hers just threw her out on the street without a second thought,” Debbie says in a more even tone, and while her words make April want to get up from her seat and hug her, they also are yet another gut punch reminder of the thing that has managed to ruin this whole day. 

“Big Daddy and I know the Stevenses from the club and they’re good people. It’s not fair to drag their names through the mud just because they have their Christian beliefs,” Mother says, and all of Debbie’s body language is saying how desperately she wants to commit elder abuse, but she takes a deep breath before saying firmly.

“Any beliefs that involve kicking out your own child based on who they are or who they love doesn’t sound very Christian to me. And if you or Big Daddy have a problem with that, then you have a problem with me.” With that, Debbie turns away from her mother-in-law and puts on a smile as she approaches April. She places a comforting hand on her shoulder and asks, “You doin’ okay, Sweetie?”

In truth, April is doing far better after hearing what she just did. “Yeah, I’m good, Debbie. Thank you,” she says politely as she catches Mother shoot a dirty look Debbie’s way. April smiles animatedly at her in response, earning herself a scowl from the old bat. Mission accomplished.

April looks around the party, trying to spot Sterling. She turns around in her chair and spots her and Blair having what looks like an argument in the kitchen, based on Blair’s animated hand gestures and Sterling’s completely unamused facial expression. April wonders if she ought to step in, but if a year and a half of dating one half of that dynamic duo has taught her anything, it’s that there’s no use trying to break up their quarrels. Even the biggest of blowup fights turn out okay eventually.

So April turns back to her cake, taking an obscenely large bite just as a Wesley-looking girl around her age with bottle-blonde hair and the beginnings of ginger roots sits down in the chair next to her.

“Hey, you’re Sterly’s lesbian girlfriend, right?” she asks with about as much tact as Hannah B. on a bad day. It’s enough to throw off April, if only momentarily.

She doesn’t know which part of that question she dislikes the most as she swallows hard. “Uh, yes, I guess I am. And you are…?” April has never met this girl in her life but she already is pretty sure she doesn’t like her.

“I’m Kristina. I’m Sterling and Blair’s cousin.” Kristina offers her hand for April to shake, which she does, albeit reluctantly. “So is it true your dad caught you guys doing it and kicked you out?”

Her bluntness has April at a loss for words. “No, not exactly-” she stammers, but Kristina doesn’t seem to care.

“Either way, I wanted to thank you personally for stirring up some family drama. I really needed a distraction from my parents freaking out on me for failing my English final.”

Those anger management classes April’s mother made her take in third grade are really coming in handy as she breathes through the urge to slap this girl. “You’re welcome?”

“I mean, who even needs English anyway? I’m a Communications major!” Kristina says, still lingering for some ungodly reason, even as April involuntarily gives her a ‘dafuq’ face.

“Hey, Kritter. How’re things at ‘Bama?” April has never been more relieved to hear Blair’s voice as she looks up to find both her and Sterling coming to her rescue like a couple of knights in chiffon dresses.

Kristina tenses up but smiles. “They’re great, bless your heart.”

“Are you still with that one guy? Aiden...Kayden…” Sterling asks, clearly feigning ignorance to rile Kristina up.

“Brayden. And yes, I am. He’s gonna propose soon; I can sense it,” Kristina smiles smugly. “Just wait until you kiddos go off to college. It’s a whole nother ball game, dating college boys,” she looks between Sterling and April. “Not that that matters to you little trailblazers.”

“But it matters to me,” Blair interjects before April can explode. “Kristina, I’ve been wanting to ask you about the whole pledging system for sororities, actually. I figured you’d be an expert.”

April frowns, knowing full well Blair has zero desire to join a sorority based on the choice words she’s used when discussing them. She looks to Sterling, who only shrugs.

Kristina smiles smugly. “Well yes, as you know I’m the vice president of my school’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta.” 

“Awesome! Why don’t you and I go get a drink from the coolers and you can tell me all about it,” Blair sounds less than genuine in her enthusiasm, but Kristina doesn’t seem to pick up on it at all as she gets up from the table and walks with Blair across the yard.

April breathes a sigh of relief as Sterling takes Kristina’s former seat next to her. “Pardon my French but what the Hell is her problem?” April asks.

Sterling chuckles. “ guess is too much time spent with Mother Grandma when she was the only grandchild for a few years. But don’t let her bother you. She’s just one of those vapid girls whose only excitement in life is to make others upset.”

“Oh. So she’s a bitch,” April says nonchalantly, giggling at Sterling’s genuinely scandalized face.

“But seriously, how are you holding up? I know this is all a bit much,” Sterling scoots to the edge of her chair and puts her hand on the small of April’s back, leaning into her.

“How do you think I’m holding up, Sterl?” April says quietly, dropping any facade of happiness for the first time today, which she almost instantly regrets as she sees Sterling’s shoulders slump and her face fall. The last thing she wants is to ruin Sterling’s day just because her own life is pathetic.

Sterling’s face shifts from a frown to a sly smile. “I’ve got an idea, come with me?” she asks, standing up and holding her hand out to April.

Without hesitation, April puts her hand in Sterling’s, enjoying the warmth as Sterling pulls her up from the chair and into the house. “Where are we going?” April asks as they move through the kitchen and into the foyer.

“Go get your purse, then I’ll tell you,” Sterling says with a wide smile, putting her phone into the pocket of her dress and grabbing the Volt’s keyfob from the bowl by the front door. “Go.”

Sterling’s smile is contagious and April finds herself smiling as she climbs the stairs.

If there’s one thing she sorely lacked as a person before getting with Sterling, it was spontaneity--something Sterling has in spades--and while she knows she should probably discourage her from ditching her own graduation party, April selfishly can’t help but think that anywhere, literally anywhere, would be better than here.

She grabs her purse from the dresser in her room, running her fingers through her hair in the mirror a few times before she returns to Sterling. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“Do you trust me?” Sterling asks, opening the door and April is beyond tempted. She follows Sterling out to the Volt without complaint, getting in and buckling up as Sterling looks around at the party guests’ cars blocking them in. She gets in the car and looks April in the eye, asking yet again, “Seriously, do you trust me?”

April’s a little nervous now, but she nods hesitantly.

“Then let’s go.” Sterling pushes the start button on the car and it comes to life. She buckles her seatbelt and without much warning at all, she’s putting it in drive and gunning the accelerator, driving them up over the front lawn and out onto the street.

“Sterling!” April screams, out of both fear and maybe a touch of excitement.

“Sterl, what are we doing here?” April asks as Sterling pulls the Volt into the Fun Zone parking lot. She can’t say she’s disappointed by this development, just a little surprised.

“I don’t know, I guess I figured the satisfying sound of wooden balls clacking would cheer you up,” Sterling says, smirking at her as she kills the engine and moves to get out of the car, but April stops her first, putting her hand on Sterling’s arm.

“Hey, Sterl? Please never quote the cringey things I say back to me,” she says in as serious of a tone as she can muster before she breaks and giggles. It really is a sweet gesture, harkening back to their first date. 

They get out of the car, Sterling locking it behind them and wrapping her arm across April’s shoulders as they walk inside together--a far cry from their initial clandestine meeting. As always, the place is bustling with kids and exhausted-looking parents, the sounds of arcade machines and gleeful screams, and yes, clacking wooden balls, surrounding them. But it may as well be the most romantic destination in the world for April.

“So what do you wanna do first? I could kick your butt at mini-golf, or we could go ride around the go-cart course--oh! Laser tag.” Sterling waggles her eyebrows suggestively at April, who can’t believe how endearing she finds all this.

She considers carefully. “Pass on the mini-golf, as well as the go-carts--I think my letting you drive us here was enough excitement in a vehicle for one night. How about we start with skeeball and see where the night takes us?”

“Well,” Sterling starts slowly, a grin spreading across her face, “I was hoping we could get Slushees. You get cherry, I’ll get blue raspberry, and we both go home with purple tongues.”

A laugh bursts out of April at that. “Smooth. Did you think of that on the ride over?”

“Maybe,” Sterling says, hands clasped together and shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She’s sometimes too adorable for April to bear.

“ would you expect us to combine colors?” April asks, already knowing the answer, but loving the way Sterling blushes when she raises an eyebrow at her.

“Well, that’s sort of where the laser tag comes in…” Sterling bites her lip, which she knows damn well does things to April.

But so does Star Wars

“Oooh, is that a Battle Pod?” April squeals in delight, her attention completely drawn to an arcade game that was definitely not here the last time she and Sterling were. She’d know. “Can we play? I wanna take down the Death Star!” April dashes off to the nearest prepay machine to get some credits before Sterling even has time to answer. 

She breathes a sigh of relief as her debit card is accepted by the machine, as she has after every successful transaction these last few weeks. She knows it’s probably unfounded paranoia to think that one day all her savings will be gone—she took her parents off her account the second she turned 18 for a reason, after all—but she knows better than to underestimate her father when it comes to money he probably still sees as his.

As April returns to Sterling and the Pod with her game card in hand, just itching to get in there and give an X-Wing a spin, it occurs to her that she hadn’t given a second thought to acting like a complete dork in front of the one person in the world she wants to (eventually) sleep with, but she doesn’t feel mortified, or anything of the sort. She’s spent so much time and effort putting up so many walls that the thought of letting them all fall down for Sterling and the complete trust she has in her is...freeing.

April returns to Sterling and settles into the Pod’s seat, swiping her card a few times for credits while Sterling leans up against it.

“Okay, I’m gonna go get us Slushees. Try not to get too caught up in this, okay?” The request is more endeared than annoyed.

Always loving to have a flair for the dramatic, April replies, “Cut the chatter, Red 2. Accelerate to attack speed!” just as she hits the start button on the Death Star Run mission, and soon she’s obliterating TIE Fighters left and right. The immersive nature of the screen all around her lets her feel like she is in orbit around Yavin IV. And, if she imagines Sterling’s cousin’s and grandmother’s faces as the enemy ships...well no one needs to know about that.

April’s traversing the Death Star’s trench, dodging proton torpedoes when Sterling returns.

“How goes the shooting stuff?” She asks, chewing on the straw of her own Slushee.

“I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” April says with a smile, firing her lasers and triggering a cutscene of the explosion of the Death Star. She looks up at Sterling finally, satisfied. “And that’s how it’s done.”

“Nice going, young Skywalker. Now can we please move on before you get too sucked into that thing? I promise we can come back soon and you can try to set a high score or whatever,” Sterling says, offering the second Slushee to April.

April sighs exasperatedly. “Fiiine,” she says, getting out of the pod and taking the Slushee from Sterling and following her as she leads the way to the outside area, the two of them beginning to walk the paved pathway alongside the mini-golf course and go-cart track side-by-side.

They’re silent for a while, just enjoying their drinks and each other’s company. April imagines they look like quite the pair, still dressed in their graduation dresses and all, but she doesn’t care. Just being here with Sterling is exactly what she needed tonight.

“I never told you before, but thank you,” April says finally, breaking the silence between them as Sterling looks over at her innocently.

“For what?” she asks, taking a sip from the Slushee that has already dyed her lips a slight shade of blue.

“For getting me out of there,” April says, and considers her next words carefully. “It’s not that I don’t like your family--”

“I mean, it’s okay if you don’t like Kristina,” Sterling interjects and gives April a knowing look, prompting the both of them to chuckle.

“Yeah, you’re right. She’s the worst,” April admits and takes a larger than advisable drink of Slushee, prompting a brain freeze that she tries to wince through as she jams her tongue up against the roof of her mouth.

“Breathe through your nose really slow,” Sterling advises her, taking April’s slushie from her hand and setting it on a bench along with her own. She places her hands gently on April’s head and massages her temples with her thumbs, which is something April lets happen a bit after the brain freeze has resolved itself. “Better?” Sterling asks, moving her hands to April’s shoulders and looking her in the eye hopefully.

“Yes, it’s better,” April says, nodding and offering her an endeared smile. If she were with anyone else, she’d be embarrassed to be babied like that, but being taken care of by Sterling feels...right. “But as I was saying, I don’t dislike your family. I actually really like most of them. But they aren’t mine.”

Sterling nods. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry you weren’t able to be with them.”

“It’s not your fault. It’s my backward-thinking family’s fault,” April says plainly, never wanting Sterling to blame herself for something that was truly inevitable, with or without her involvement in the catalyst for the blowup. “I guess the idealistic kid in me always wished that everything would just work itself out eventually, but it didn’t and now I’m just a girl without parents, without a home, without anyone, and it sucks. It really fucking sucks.” April clenches her jaw, fighting the urge to just scream in frustration at the trying circumstance God just had to put her in while girls like Kristina Wesley can see blatant hatred as little more than a novelty for family drama.

“You have me,” Sterling offers quietly. “I’m anyone, right?”

April deflates, losing all the fight in her as she sees the pained look on Sterling’s face. “You’re so much more than just anyone.” She takes both of Sterling’s hands in her own and looks in her eyes to say with all the certainty in the world, “I love you, Sterling Wesley. You’re worth more to me than anything or anyone in the world, and nothing is ever going to change that.” She gets on her tiptoes and kisses Sterling purposefully, and maybe a touch too passionately given the setting, but she doesn’t care.

“Told you we’d both have purple tongues,” Sterling says into the kiss, earning herself a smack to the arm as April pulls away.

It’s past 10 when they pull up to the house, but April can still hear a party in full swing in the backyard, which she’s somewhat grateful for, as it means Anderson and Debbie won’t be able to lay into them tonight for ditching the party. Though tomorrow morning might be another story.

April gets out of the car and opens the back door, taking her oversized stuffed sloth from the backseat. All that skeeball finally paid off.

“Almost makes you wonder if that one kid ever got his poop emoji, huh?” Sterling asks, looking amused as April begins to haul the thing up to the house.

“Well, that lane actually was pretty lucky, so probably.” April shrugs and looks into the sloth’s beady eyes. “I’m gonna call you Barry Allen.”

“He actually does look like a Barry,” Sterling says as she opens the front door and checks that the coast is clear. “Okay, let’s go.” Without hesitation, Sterling darts toward the stairs, not waiting for April as she steps up them and, from the sound of it, runs to her room.

April frowns, puzzled by the odd action, but goes upstairs herself and looks around her room for a place to put Barry Allen. He really is comically large, and while she’s grateful for the guest room, it already is a smaller space to have all her things crammed into than her room at home.

“Looks like you’re bunking with us tonight, pal,” April says, gently setting him down next to her much smaller stuffed narwhal on the bed.

She sighs, contented with this arrangement, as she’s been needing a more substantial cuddle buddy with Sterling currently off-limits. And speaking of Sterling, with the matter of Barry Allen’s sleeping arrangement settled, April is now back to being confused by her girlfriend’s mad dash to her bedroom. She turns around and returns to the hallway, looking down the hall at Sterling’s bedroom door and seeing a flickering dim light under the door just before she hears a very familiar country crooning.

Born in a hurry, always late. Haven’t been early since ‘88…

“Sterl?” April calls through the door as she slowly approaches. When she doesn’t receive an answer, she reaches out to turn the knob and steps through into the room, which she quickly notices is completely dark, save for the sporadically scattered candles lit around the room.

Sterling looks a bit like a deer in the headlights, but she doesn’t have much time to remain frozen. The flame of one candle comes dangerously close to burning Sterling’s rumpled bedspread before being settled on the nightstand. The bedspread is not entirely unscathed and Sterling rubs at the glob of wax with one hand. “Shoot!”

“Sterl? What are you doing?” April asks, moving into the room to take the lighter from Sterling’s hands.

“No, you’re not supposed to see it yet, can you please go back to the hall?” Sterling begs and April can’t help but smile.

“What is all this?” April asks, not sure why Sterling has pulled out half the floor stock of a Yankee Candle store. Some kind of graduation thing, or something? Her confusion isn’t at all alleviated when Sterling grabs her debate stopwatch from her nightstand.

“I have two minutes, then you get your rebuttal, okay?” She says, clicking it and handing it to April, who is far more puzzled now than she was before.

Her confusion quickly shifts to abject shock when Sterling turns to face her bookcase and turns back around with a little black velvet box. “Sterling, I-” April is at a loss for words as Sterling gets down on one knee. She doesn’t even know all she’s feeling now. Fear, for one, but also panic, and a little bit of excitement, despite herself.

“I have two minutes, remember?” Sterling reminds her as she opens the box to reveal what, even in the mostly dark room, is the most dazzling ring April has ever seen. 

It’s not some big rock, but the center oval-cut diamond, surrounded by smaller ones that also wrap about halfway around the rose gold band on either side, is undeniably classically gorgeous, even if it strikes the fear of God in her.

“I know this seems crazy, but I have loved you like crazy for the last year and a half, and probably a long time before that, and I don’t ever see that changing for me. You’re it for me, April. I don’t want to envision any future without you in it, and I hope you feel the same about me. And I know you’re scared of taking this step because so am I, but growing up is about facing your fears, right? And we’ve already faced so much together, I know we can do this.”

April clicks the stopwatch, and Sterling stops before she can say anything else. April looks at her, wondering why she’s even entertaining this nonsense notion as she clicks the stopwatch again.

“I do love you, more than words can say. But what my opponent fails to mention is that we are only 18 years old, and aside from the public shaming we’ll receive from...everyone for getting married this young, we’ll also have to deal with your parents. They’ll kill us. And that’s not even touching on the frankly horrifying statistics surrounding teenage marriage. You realize we’d have a far better chance of getting divorced than not, right? And what, you won’t think it’s weird to be the only girl pledging a sorority to have a wife?” April takes a deep breath, but somehow her strong argument didn’t bring her the joyous feeling it typically would. She hands the watch back to Sterling.

Click. “What my opponent fails to mention is that most of those divorce statistics come from the fact that most people our age only get married because a girl got pregnant or someone joined the military, or maybe both. Since neither of those things apply to us, then we can only assume that the teen marriage divorce statistic is not applicable to us. Especially when you take into account the fact that as an LGBT couple, we have a lower than average chance of getting divorced. And as far as school goes, we don’t have to get married right away. I just want you to say yes to ‘someday’.”

Click. “We may be an LGBT couple, but we’re also two women, which makes us statistically more inclined to get divorced than other members of said community.”

Click. “Well we aren’t exactly U-Hauling, are we? I’ve known you since Taylor Swift was still a country singer.”

Click. “No, but I’m scared that rushing into things might ruin what we have and I don’t want to lose you.” April feels herself deflate at the admission. While her head is full of every rebuttal in the world for why she should say no, her heart is screaming at her to say yes, because at the end of the day, forever with Sterling can’t actually come fast enough.

“You’ll never lose me, April,” Sterling says, taking the stopwatch and tossing it over her shoulder. “I want to marry you because I want to wake up every morning next to you, hold you through the hard times as well as the easy. And I know things will be good and mostly easy. I want to spend Christmases with you and my family, because you are my family, and I want God and everyone else in the universe to know it and recognize it. My heart’s already yours; let me give you everything else.” Sterling is out of breath and red in the face by the time she finishes, but April knows she could go on forever, because Sterling truly believes everything she said, and there’s no doubt in April’s mind about that.

It’s not something she has a rebuttal for as she sighs, looking back at the ring still in its box, then at Sterling. “You make a great point.”

Sterling’s head comes up at that and a smile breaks onto her face like a sunrise. “Are you saying ‘yes?’” Sterling asks softly, face and voice suffused with joy.

April says a silent prayer to the lord above that she’ll never regret this. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Sterling wakes up with a smile on her face the morning after graduation. The morning after her engagement

Just the thought of the fact that April actually said yes, that April is officially her fiancée has Sterling feeling completely untouchable. Nothing at all could ruin the absolutely giddy mood she finds herself in, and she just wants to shout it from the rooftops that April said yes. That they’re getting married (someday). But considering nobody in the house (aside from them) knows it, she has to settle for silently screaming her joy into the pillow she puts over her face. 

Part of her is almost happy that April is still being forced to sleep in her own room because she knows her darling bride-to-be would tease her mercilessly for being such a sap. But how can she not be a sap? April said yes!

She knows she can’t stay in bed too long. A Sunday morning means church, and a Sunday morning after a big event like graduation means brunch at the club, so no unwashed dresses for her--not that April would allow her out of the house like that anyway. So, as much as she doesn’t want to, Sterling crawls out of the warm confines of her bed and walks to her closet to pick out a dress.

Opening the door and seeing all the school uniforms she’ll never have to wear again on their hangers brings a sort of melancholy to her. Sure, Sterling is glad to put khaki skirts permanently behind her, but even so, it’s not like her time at Willingham was the worst four years of her life. 

In fact, they were some of the best, if only because everything that happened led up to this moment, with her being a happily engaged woman to the love of her life, April Stevens.

Pushing the uniform hangers to the side, Sterling turns her attention to her mom-approved church dresses. She ultimately settles on one, navy with a white and blue floral print, and takes it on its hanger into the bathroom with her to hang on her door while she takes a shower.

In the time it takes to wash and shampoo her hair and (ugh) shave her legs, she gets to listen to the white noise of the running water and think about the implications of what happened last night. Until last night, Sterling hadn’t been able to see much further past April saying yes; because she didn’t want to get her hopes up for anything if she won her side of the debate and said no. But now she has to think about what happens next. Even if they don’t plan on getting married for a while, she’s going to have to tell her parents sooner rather than later. And she’ll have to let Blair know April said yes, probably much to her disappointment.

And then of course there’s the small matter of Sterling’s now-fiancée not knowing that her future wife personally threw her dad in jail. But Sterling’s hoping that if they can just make it through these next few months, maybe it won’t matter if she never tells April. 

Or the guilt will simply consume her. That works too.

Sterling finishes her shower, wrapping a towel around herself as she realizes she left her hairbrush in her room. Still dripping water onto the floor, she opens the door and walks into her room, feeling like she might jump out of her skin as she finds her mother sitting on the loveseat.

This is never good.

“Mornin’, Mom,” Sterling says as casually as possible as she cuts her eyes to her mother as she continues across the room to get her brush off her dresser.

“Don’t ‘mornin’ me. Where did you and April go last night and why are there car tracks going through the lawn?” Debbie says, her voice low, quiet, and completely intimidating.

“April was getting kinda overwhelmed at the party so we sort of...ditched and I took her to The Fun Zone,” Sterling says truthfully, shrugging because that was a part of the evening she doesn’t mind her mom knowing at the moment. Though she’s puzzled when Debbie closes her eyes, sighing exasperatedly as she pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Sterling Pearl, please tell me ‘fun zone’ isn’t code for something.”

Sterling frowns. “What? No, she just needed to blow off steam, so-”

“Sterling. I am not stupid. I know you’ve been...activated for a good long while now, but I will not put up with you and April doing those things under my roof. I don’t care if you’re both girls but y’all aren’t married, and-”

Suddenly it clicks for Sterling what her mother must think this conversation is about, and she’s mortified. “Mom, no! The Fun Zone is that mini-golf arcade place near the mall where DJ had his birthday last year, remember? I wouldn’t… April and I haven’t…” Sterling considers her words carefully before quietly saying through her teeth. “ I may be ‘activated’ but April is not, alright? I swear to you that nothing impure happened last night. And even if it did, do you really think I’d tell you about it that easily?”

Debbie rolls her eyes. “No, I don’t. But I just want to make myself clear now. Your father and I are happy to have April stay with us but we would like you both to please accept our ground rules, and once you’re off to college… well, I still won’t exactly approve, but I can’t stop you.”

“Mom, can we please stop having this conversation?” Sterling all but begs. It was one thing talking to her mom about sex when she was actually having it, but defending herself when she’s not is something on a whole new level. Especially when she’s already got so much on her plate with the whole engagement announcement looming over her.

“What’s goin’ on?” a voice asks from the door.

Both Sterling and her mother turn towards the door but only Sterling feels her heartbeat double then triple at the sight of April. The lacy white dress only makes Sterling that much more aware of her ring on April’s finger. But, somehow, with her hair in rollers and her toothbrush sticking out of her mouth, Sterling has never found April more beautiful.

All three of them stand wordless for a moment before Debbie gathers herself and smiles at April. “Just making sure these two are ready for church. Fifteen minutes, Sterling, and make sure Blair is ready to go,” Debbie says, looking speculatively between Sterling and April before leaving the bedroom.

“What was that about?” April asks, watching Debbie walk down the hall before turning back to Sterling.

“Go spit so that I can kiss you good morning.” Sterling dodges the question neatly, but April doesn’t seem to mind as she winks, continuing through to Sterling and Blair’s bathroom. 

She spits in the sink and rinses off her toothbrush as she calls through the other door, “Blair, you better be up or we will leave you behind.”

“Yeah, I’m up, just can’t find my-“ Blair barges through the bathroom, walking behind April without so much as acknowledging her while in nothing but her bra and underwear. “Sterl, where’s that one dress I loaned you? The short burgundy one with the flutter sleeves?”

April stares wide-eyed at the exchange while Sterling gets the loaned dress from her closet, having sworn that this one was hers, but she’s not going to argue because the sooner Blair puts it on, the better.

“Thank you,” Blair says, her voice lilting at the end as she takes the dress and returns to her own room, slamming the bathroom door behind her.

“Has she no decency?” Sterling says to no one in particular as April chuckles and returns to her from the bathroom.

“Well, she’s not the only one decidedly lacking in clothes right now,” April says, voice sultry as she reaches out to teasingly play with where Sterling tucked her towel into itself to keep it around her.

“Oh, uh, this is pretty much exactly what my mom was concerned about,” Sterling says, gripping her towel more securely. “She thought we snuck out to have sex and that the Fun Zone was code for….well, you know.”

April’s eyebrows go up at Sterling’s reluctance to say the word. “What, ‘orgasm,’” April asks with a grin that makes Sterling very aware of the fact that she’s still wearing only a towel.

Sterling feels herself blush what is probably a very deep shade of crimson. “Um...y-yeah. Exactly. And my mom made herself abundantly clear that she doesn’t want us having sex under her roof.”

April nods, seemingly understandingly before developing a sort of devilish smirk. She leans in to whisper in Sterling’s ear. “I guess we’ll have to get creative then.” With that, April flits off out of the room, taking one of the rollers out of her hair as she goes. “Better hurry up, Sterling Pearl,” April says with a wink at the door, all but confirming just how much of Sterling’s conversation with her mother she’d actually heard.

Sterling sighs, leaning up against her dresser and wondering if she’s fully prepared for the kind of emotional rollercoaster ride being married to April will be, but knowing the life together will be worth it. With that, she returns to her bathroom to quickly finish getting ready.

After the thoughts April managed to put in her mind this morning, Sterling is surprised she hasn’t burst into flame yet, standing there in her family’s pew with April on one side and Blair on the other while seemingly everyone around her sings along to a hymn that she’s only mumbling through. Between April’s hand firmly laced in hers and Blair’s incessant whispering in her ear, it would be a minor miracle for her to be paying attention. Except maybe to listen to April’s gorgeous singing voice.

Once the song ends the congregation sinks into the pews but Sterling isn’t allowed any respite. April pinches the outside of her forearm, making Sterling swallow a squeal of surprise. Her phoned in participation clearly hasn’t escaped April’s notice.

Pastor Booth steps up to the pulpit and smiles at his congregation. “Wasn’t that just a wonderful song? Let’s give our musicians a round of applause, huh?” he says as he claps vigorously. The clapping peters out and he starts speaking again. “I’d like to read to you all a verse from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.”

Sterling barely suppresses her groan at the same moment that April elbows her. Somehow that simple gesture is chock full of schadenfreude. Sterling truly cannot say that her opinion on St. Paul is going to change any time soon.

“‘To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.’ And this point made by Paul is exactly what I want to talk to you about this beautiful Sunday morning.”

Now that she’s paying attention, maybe Paul isn’t the absolute worst. Sterling knows a thing or two about burning, especially as April’s fingers are threaded together with hers. And the passion of her love is why she feels the ring on April’s finger. Never did Sterling think she’d be doing something the, objectively, worst apostle would condone, but here she is.

Pastor Booth continues his sermon, gesturing with his hands as he does. “Now, I’m sure a lot of you in this day and age know a little something about temptation. It’s all around us, in our music, in our movies, in the Netflix shows we watch,” He pauses for the polite laughter of the congregation that always coincides with him having his moments of being the cool, relatable pastor instead of your stereotypical fire and brimstone preacher everyone always associates with Southern Baptists. “Heck, I know that show Outlander makes my dear wife feel all sorts of temptation.” That gets more genuine laughter, mostly from the adult women in the room--including Debbie.

“What’s Outlander?” Sterling whispers to Blair.

Blair shrugs. “Some show for old people?”

Sterling nods. Their parents and the Booths are both old, so that would make sense.

“But even as we find ourselves surrounded by all this temptation in our everyday lives,” Pastor Booth continues, “We mustn’t lose ourselves to it. The world we live in may be changing, and certain values we once held dear in our scripture may seem outdated, but there are others that we should always try to uphold. Now I know for some of our younger parishioners, things like Riverdale and such may have taught you that saving yourself for your future spouse is a silly old concept much like wives being subservient to their husbands and fathers, but hear me out.”

Sterling and April share a look. It’s been somewhat easy to start to believe that none of what the bible has to say about relationships and marriage really applies to them since it’s all written under the premise of it being in reference to one man and one woman. And Sterling didn’t exactly subscribe to this particular belief of saving one’s self for marriage long before she ever got with April. But she can see a look of...conflict on April’s face.

“Giving in to temptation happens. It’s what makes all of us human, and those who don’t reserve their love and passion for their husband or wife before their wedding are not bad people who should be shunned. We’re sinners all and it happens. But at the end of the day, the sanctity of a union between two people married in the eyes of God is among the most precious and Holy things we should hold sacred. As is written in the book of Mark, ‘and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ Which means to say that the joining of two people in marriage and in the...consummation of such is something more powerful than ourselves,” Pastor Booth finishes and looks out among everyone and smiles, far more lightheartedly than the words that proceeded. “All of this to say that we have arrived at the beginning of summer, which I’m sure a lot of you know is the beginning of a season-long boom in weddings. As some of you may be setting dates or anxiously awaiting a day you’ve had planned for months or even years, I want you to take these words to heart; marriage means giving all of yourself to your spouse, body and soul.”

April squeezes Sterling’s hand harder at that.

“But that brings me to my final point of the day, and then you can all go stuff your faces at brunch, alright? Because I know I will,” Pastor Booth smiles at his own words. “In the book of Ephesians, it says, ‘Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ Now I know some of you may be thinking, ‘Harland, that is one long quote for us to ruminate on over a stack of waffles’ but I swear to you it has a point.”

“Better be a short point,” Blair mutters and April looks across Sterling to glare at her.

“Effective immediately, I’ll be requiring pre-marriage counseling sessions with yours truly for any couple looking to get married in this church. I believe that going into a marriage with the right tools to effectively talk through the inevitable challenges that all married couples will face can be nothing but a good thing. Now, y’all go and enjoy the rest of this beautiful Sunday.”

While the pews at the back of the church empty quickly, the Wesley family always stays seated a little longer. Their parents say it is to allow the message to sink in better. Blair always says it is to avoid the traffic jam in the aisle and the parking lot.

But, for once, Sterling actually contemplates the message instead of pulling out her phone. It feels like God is giving her a bit of a shout out; because, really, He’s the only one (besides her and April) that knows about their engagement. And this sermon felt like it was tailored to them, on this day of all days.

“Some sermon, huh?” April says, turning to Sterling and absently playing with her ring.

“Yeah, it was very, uh,” Sterling thinks of something to say now that her parents are very obviously watching her. “Enlightening.”

“I’d say so,” Blair scoffs. “Who knew Pastor Booth even knows what Riverdale is, let alone that it has teenagers boning.”

“Blair Aspen, this is a house of God,” Debbie scolds her as Sterling and April snicker.

Most weeks, brunch at the Club after church would be the highlight of Sterling’s Sunday. She loves the bougie food with poached eggs on top of everything, just waiting to be popped like a yolk balloon, and drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass has been making her feel grown-up for years now. But today is not like most Sundays, because today of all days is one when Mother and Big Daddy have decided the family should eat together. The whole family.

“Krissy, do you know what classes you’ll be taking in the fall?” Big Daddy asks as Kristina smiles smugly, always satisfied to have things revolve around her--Sterling knows a whole party about herself and Blair and April must have been torture for her dear older cousin yesterday.

“Why yes, I do. I’m taking an advanced communications course, a digital journalism class, a religious studies class, and to keep myself centered, I’ve taken it upon myself to take one extra class: expert yoga.” Kristina sounds quite satisfied with herself and this answer, but Sterling hears April make a sort of patronizing sigh next to her, which she only does when she’s about to make someone--usually a debate opponent but sometimes Hannah B.--feel incredibly stupid.

“Really? Because my Daddy always said that yoga is for heathen Buddhists,” April says casually, and Sterling has no idea if she’s kidding or not as April proceeds to take a bite of her eggs florentine while looking Kristina dead in the eye.

For his part, Big Daddy laughs a full-bellied laugh. “Ain’t that the truth, little lady. I don’t know how much tuition you and Cordelia are paying for that, Deacon but you best be seeing about getting your money back if she becomes one of them college socialists.”

Deacon chortles. “Here’s hopin’. The way these tuition rates keep going up, this guy’ll have to go to community college,” He reaches over next to him to rumple the hair of his son, 12-year-old DJ, who Sterling doesn’t think has looked up from his Nintendo Switch once this whole meal.

“Oh, that’s just nonsense,” Mother waves Deacon’s statement off. “As if we haven’t been saving for Deacon Jr. since before he was born.”

“Yeah, it’s a good thing I got that lacrosse scholarship or who knows where I’d get my MRS degree. Right, Mother?” Blair smiles sweetly at their grandmother while her words say something else entirely.

“Ya know, I still remember when Deacon and I met at that UGA football game. He was handsome enough back then that I didn’t even care that he spilled beer all over me,” Aunt Cordelia cuts in to change the subject, never one to deal well with any kind of tension lingering over a conversation for more than a few seconds as she laughs nervously. She’s always reminded Sterling of a more passive Hilly Holbrook, perfectly-styled red hair and all.

“That’s almost exactly how Brayden and I met and that’s how I knew it was fate,” Kristina says, swinging the conversation right back around to her like it’s a superpower. “Gosh I’m gonna miss him like crazy this summer, but he’s helping the less fortunate.”

Sterling rolls her eyes and looks to Blair. “Ugh, why is she always trying to seem like she’s such a good person when everyone knows she’s not. I once caught her doing coke in our bathroom over the holidays.”

“Yeah, that was one White Christmas. So hey, what’s the deal with you and April?”

“Huh? What are you talking about? April and I are just like we ever were.”

“Oh my God, you did it, didn’t you? You freaking asked her! Ugh, that’s why she’s been acting so high and mighty today--like more than usual.”

“Hey! Don’t talk about my fiancée like that!” Any anger Sterling would have had at Blair’s prying is overshadowed by getting to call April her fiancée.

“Oh, disgusting.”

“Did you guys know that April and I are the first Valedictorian and Salutatorian from the same graduating class at Willingham to be a couple? I think that’s super cool,” Sterling says, turning away from Blair to speak to the rest of the table.

After a short silence, Mother smiles patronizingly. “Sterly, whatever happened to that nice boy you used to date? The tall, handsome one.”

“Luke and I are just friends now,” Sterling says, trying to stop herself from exploding on behalf of April, who she can tell is seething in her seat, fingers tightly grasping at the table cloth. “April and I are very happy together.” Sterling reaches over to take April’s right hand and hold it on top of the table.

At this, Aunt Cordelia puts her hands over DJ’s ears as if he were a small child and not a preteen playing Fortnight. “I’m not sure he’s quite old enough to learn about these things just yet.”

Without looking up from his game, DJ says in a monotone voice, “I know what lesbians are.” Sterling thinks she can see him smile just a bit as his mother gasps.

“Thank you, DJ, but I’m actually bisexual,” Sterling happily corrects him.

“Oh, my bad,” he says in that same monotone.

“Is this really an appropriate conversation to be having over brunch?” Big Daddy asks, effectively ending any talk on the nuanced spectrum of sexuality--or any conversation, period. The silence is actually a little refreshing for all of ten seconds before April reaches for her orange juice with her free hand that’s not holding Sterling’s and Kristina gasps like a soap star.

“What is that?” she asks, pointing quite rudely at April’s hand.

April tries to play it off, feigning confusion as she puts down the glass and quickly puts her left hand back under the table, out of sight. “Uh, it’s orange juice?”

“There’s a ring on your hand on a very important finger. Why do you have a ring?” Kristina sounds unhinged, bordering on hysterical.

All eyes at the table land on April and then Sterling, but Debbie closes her eyes and shakes her head, laughing it off. “Kristina, sweetie, April always wears a purity ring from her father.”

“She wasn’t yesterday at the party; I know she wasn’t. And what she has on is no purity ring. I’d know,” she says firmly, and the rest of the table (even DJ) looks back at Sterling and April, waiting for either of them to laugh it off like Debbie had.

Sterling and April share a look and for once, Sterling wishes desperately that they could read each other like she and Blair can, but what they manage to get across with their eyes is enough as April sighs, turning away from Sterling and bringing her hand up from under the table, wiggling her fingers to show off the ring. “Surprise!” she says, sounding less than enthused that this is how the announcement is to be made. “We’re engaged.”

There is a long moment of silence that has Sterling looking around at her family. 

A slight smile has curled onto Blair’s face like she can’t wait to see what happens next. Her grandmother, on the other hand, looks like she has bitten into a lemon and found the taste too much. And as for Kristina, her face is getting redder and redder, like a toddler about to throw a tantrum.

The air is tense around them like an explosion is about to happen, though whether it will come from her cousin or her grandmother is anyone’s guess.

But Debbie must sense the impending blow-up and averts it with a show of (only slightly forced) enthusiasm. Squealing loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear, Sterling watches her mom stand up and scoop April into a tight hug. “I’m so happy for y’all! This is so exciting!” she says, squeezing April tight enough for her to shoot a concerned look Sterling’s way, but then it’s Sterling’s turn for a hug and when Debbie whispers into her ear,  “Sterling Pearl Wesley, we will discuss this when we get home,” in what is perhaps the most threatening tone Sterling has ever heard, she’s less than surprised.

“W-when did this happen?” Anderson asks, and Sterling can feel her heart break at the look of sheer devastation on her father’s face.

“Just last night. We were gonna wait until things settled down a bit to tell everyone,” Sterling says, subtly shooting Kristina a dirty look.

“Congratulations, Sterling,” DJ says, sounding perhaps the most genuine of everyone at the table.

Kristina leans in closer to April to get a better look at the ring. “Oh my god, is that a real diamond?” she asks in disbelief.

“Of course it is,” April says, sounding affronted at the insinuation that she would accept anything less.

“How did you afford such a thing, Sterling? Did the two of you help?” Aunt Cordelia asks, then directs her question to Debbie and Anderson.

Debbie shakes her head while Anderson shrugs exaggeratedly, and she elbows him gently. “We offered but Sterling wanted to pay all by herself from her yogurt shop money, right sweetie?”

Sterling wishes she hadn’t taken this opportunity to take a large bite out of her Belgian waffle, leaving her to only nod.

“I’m sorry, is nobody gonna address the elephant in the room here?” Uncle Deacon speaks up, looking around at the family in disbelief. “They’re eighteen. We literally went to their high school graduation party yesterday. And there’s not even a chance one of ‘em’s knocked up.”

“We can hope,” Kristina mutters.

“Neither of us is pregnant,” Sterling clarifies firmly as Kristina rolls her eyes. “I just love her, Uncle Deacon. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what makes a family lately and I want April to be a part of ours.”

“Forgive me, but this is all to most of us with traditional sensibilities,” Big Daddy says finally, after having spent the last few minutes seemingly fixated on his bisque.

“Yes, and it goes without saying that you girls are awfully young to be jumping into something so permanent as marriage,” Mother adds, abusing that sweet voice all grandmothers are capable of putting on. “I think a nice, long engagement would suit you two well in case you change your minds.”

“Actually,” April says, speaking up before Mother can say anymore backhanded comments. “I’ve been thinking and I’ve come to the conclusion that, taking housing at UGA into account, as well as the fact that I don’t think it’s necessary for us to wait to start our lives together... it might be better for the both of us if we got married this summer.”

There’s a clang as Sterling realizes she’s dropped her own fork down onto her plate. That is certainly not what they’ve discussed--granted, they’ve had less than 24 hours to discuss much of anything related to their engagement, but it seems like everything is already imploding. She’s struggling to say anything to that as April lightly kicks her in the shin. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, that could be good,” she blurts out and sees even her mother’s facade of joy falter for just a moment as her father buries his face in his hands.

“Well I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m freaking stoked for the two of them. You guys aren’t always around to see how disgustingly in love these two are,” Blair finally speaks up and gives Sterling a look of assurance that quickly morphs into a clear message. “You are so stupid and you owe me big time for this.”

“I know, but I love you so much.”

“You better, bitch.”

“So what, are y’all gonna go down to the courthouse or Vegas or somethin’? There’s no way you’ll have enough time for a wedding,” Aunt Cordelia says, sounding quite condescending.

“As long as I get to be married to April, I don’t care either way,” Sterling says, hoping that’ll get her a good response from her fiancée but it...does not.

“I want a wedding,” April says to her sweetly, but Sterling knows she’s in trouble.

“I planned ours in three months; I’m sure with April’s help, we can give them their dream wedding in two,” Debbie shoots at Cordelia, almost as if she’s throwing down the gauntlet. 

If there’s one thing you don’t do, it’s tell Debbie Wesley what she can and can’t do.

“What in God’s name are the two of you thinking?!” Debbie shouts the moment the front door of the house is shut after one awkward car ride home.

“We’re getting married, Mom.” Sterling squeezes April’s hand tighter and gives her a reassuring look. Everything seems bad now, but it’ll be okay.

“You-you are not getting married. I forbid it, you hear me? I forbid it!” Anderson adds, more than a little frantic as he crosses the room to unlock the liquor cabinet and pull out a bottle of scotch, which he takes into the kitchen.

“Do you see what you’re doing to your poor father? To me? Sterling, I love you, and you know I love you too, April, but marriage is an enormous step that both of you are not prepared to take any time soon, let alone within the next two months.” Then she turns on Blair, who looks like a deer caught in the headlights of their dad’s hunting truck. “Did you know about this?”

Blair puts up her hands defensively in front of her. “Nope. No, I swear I did not. You know I would have talked her out of this!” She lies to Debbie’s face and Sterling smacks her upside the head.

“She knew,” Sterling says, essentially throwing her sister under the bus. “To be fair, she did try to talk me out of it, but she definitely knew when I was gonna buy the ring because she was there when I took the money out of our secret stash!”

“Oh great, just go ahead and mention the secret stash in front of outsiders,” Blair says sarcastically while directing her comment directly at April, who looks affronted for all of a second before waving her ring hand tauntingly at Blair.

“I’m not an outsider anymore, future sister-in-law.” April cocks her head to the side and smiles as if daring Blair to try her.

“Girls, please,” Debbie all but begs as she puts her hand to the side of her head like she does every time she gets a migraine.

Anderson returns from the kitchen, scotch on the rocks in hand. “And another thing!” He pauses to sip his drink, wincing at the taste, but Sterling is sure he’s not drinking to enjoy himself right now, “ Why would you even think to do something like this without talking to your mother and I first? I don’t care if you’re 18 years old, you still live in our house, damn it.”

“April, do your parents know about any of this?” Debbie asks, segwaying from what Anderson said because everyone in this room knows that Sterling was never going to ask their permission to marry April, so there’s no use beating that dead horse. Granted, there’s also really no use in asking April about any interaction with her parents, a mistake Debbie quickly realizes she’s made with the look both Sterling and April send her. “Right. Of course, they wouldn’t know.”

“If it helps at all, we can push back the wedding,” April says, though she clearly doesn’t want to say it. “I know getting married so soon is a bit much, even for you, Sterl. And if it’s a money issue, I do have a trust fund from my grandparents’ estate that I should have access to in a couple years or so.”

At this Anderson sets his glass down forcefully, the scotch nearly sloshing over the rim. “I don’t want you to have to touch a dime of that money, not for this and not for school,” Anderson says firmly. “You save that money for the two of you’s first house.” That brings Anderson up short and he looks quickly at his wife. The implication that Sterling and April will be together long enough to purchase a house together is the first time today that anyone’s expressed any sort of faith in their future marriage, and that’s not lost on him or Debbie. He sighs and closes his eyes tight for a moment as if wrestling with himself over what he’s about to say next before opening them and softening his facial expression. “Look, girls, I know dang well that you’re smart enough to know that this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. If you really want to get married, then I’ll support you fully. If-” He looks to Debbie again, “-that’s alright with your mother.”

Debbie’s whole demeanor seems to soften as she crosses the room to pull both Sterling and April in a tight hug. “Of course if it’s alright.” She lets them go and pats April on the shoulder. “I can’t say I wouldn’t like for you two to wait a bit, but if you really want to aim for this summer--maybe a nice August wedding--then we better get a move on with everything because we needed Save the Dates out...yesterday.”

Sterling jumps, startled as April lets out an excited little high-pitched scream, and pulls Debbie in for another hug. “It’s gonna be so perfect,” she says, but then pulls away, realization dawning on her face. “Oh my God, there’s so much to do!” With that, April darts up the stairs to do who knows what, leaving the Wesley family alone, just the four of them.

Sterling, for her part, is trying not to panic at the idea of getting married in a matter of weeks. When they got engaged last night, she was under the strong impression that they’d be waiting at least a couple years to actually tie the knot. Plenty of time to plan and work out logistics and such. But this summer? It already is this summer!

Debbie watches April go with a small smile before shaking her head to clear it. “Well, I had better call Pastor Booth. We’ll have to schedule that marriage counseling fast to get it done by August. Maybe I can check his availability for Saturdays in August too,” Debbie says, mostly to herself, walking into the kitchen with her phone.

After the chaos that was the morning, Sterling is surprised that the afternoon is relatively quiet. Sure, the sound of April calling venues for their schedules and rough estimates of cost in her room puts the fear of God in Sterling, but if a wedding at the end of the summer is what she really wants...well, then Sterling can put aside any fears before then. She has to remind herself that she asked April to marry her because she would marry her today if she wanted. All that matters is spending their lives together, and if the ceremony to make it official happens a little sooner than she expected, then so be it.

Though she is curious at what could possibly be driving April’s sudden change of heart, as she was hesitant to even get engaged not long ago at all.

“Hey, Sterl?” April calls from down the hall, and Sterling suddenly realizes that she’d been paying zero attention to the Binging With Babish video playing on her laptop, which she’d turned on to get out of her own head. That apparently failed.

Sterling hits pause on the Avengers Ice Cream video. “Whaaat?” she calls back lazily.

“Are we thinking something traditional and elegant, or do you wanna go more trendy?” April asks as if Sterling would have any idea how to answer that question. She hadn’t even been thinking about a wedding so much as the abstract idea of one day being married to April.

“Uhhh...I don’t know…I don’t really care either way?” Sterling replies, completely confused as to what the question is even about because it could be any number of things. But that’s obviously the wrong answer as she hears footsteps stomp down the hall and her door swings open.

“You don’t care?” Sterling’s not sure she’s ever seen April look more affronted than she does now, standing in the doorway with her phone in one hand. “Sterling, this is our wedding venue. I’d kind of like for you to care.”

“Well, I’d kind of like to be consulted when it comes to setting a date for our wedding,” Sterling shoots back, raising her eyebrows at April pointedly.

April sighs as she sits on the edge of the bed, a rare display of clearly knowing she’s done wrong. “I know. I’m sorry,” she says quietly. “I was thinking about it all through church this morning, and then your grandma and cousin and aunt--who are all awful, by the way--just really ticked me off and I spoke on impulse. Your grandma clearly was holding out hope you’d eventually settle down with a man, which’s whatever. But I really don’t like people being so smug about thinking they know us better than we know us.

“Neither do I,” Sterling agrees and gestures for April to come snuggle up to her, to which she happily complies. “I’ll marry you on whatever day you choose, I’d just like you to consult with me before making any more rash decisions in the future, okay?”

“Okay,” April agrees and tilts her head up to put her lips inches from Sterling’s.

Sterling happily leans down to kiss her, not even minding the optics of making out with April on her bed if one of her family members were to walk in right now. She is, after all, a soon to be married woman, and even the puritans considered an engagement to be as good as a wedding from a physical standpoint. “Now, how about you show me the venues you were looking at and we can choose one together, okay?” Sterling says once they’ve broken apart, and pushes her laptop in April’s direction.

“Yay!” April says, not needing to be told twice as she proceeds to pull up a slideshow from Southern Living of the most beautiful wedding venues in Atlanta. “Most of these are booked up through August, but we can always put our name in if there’s a cancellation,” April notes as she clicks through the slides of the beautiful and very expensive-looking venues that range from old southern estate houses to rooftops, to fancy ballrooms. All of them are places where Sterling would gladly have her wedding because all that matters to her is the other bride in this equation; and that bride seems to get rather giddy upon pulling up a picture of some old stone mansion called The Wimbish House if her fidgeting is any indicator.

“I like this one,” Sterling says, pointing at the screen.

“Really?” April asks, turning to her while positively beaming.

“Yeah, and I get the impression that you like it too.” Sterling chuckles at the girlish delight April seems to be taking in this, though it shouldn’t surprise her; she recalls the elaborate weddings they would arrange for their Barbies as kids.

“I love it,” April admits, but suddenly seems a bit downtrodden. “It’s just, unfortunately, one that doesn’t have any openings, so we’ll have to pray for a miracle within the next week, I guess. After that, we won’t have any more time to wait on this and we’ll have to pick somewhere else. Though this close to the day of is going to be slim pickings.”

“Seriously, why the rush? Why can’t we just wait until next summer or something? It’ll still be sticking it to my family if we get married then, and we won’t have to plan this thing at breakneck speed.” A part of Sterling wishes that April will agree with her and push it back, but she mostly just wants an explanation, no matter what they end up doing.

“Because I’m eager to start our life together as a married couple,” April starts, clearly wanting to say something else, but stops there, probably figuring that should be enough of a reason.

“Yeah, I guess it wouldn’t be too horrible to have you as my wife…” Sterling actually finds herself smiling at the idea. April Stevens is going to be her wife. Why would she want to wait for that?

“And I wasn’t kidding about housing at school,” April adds. “Why get stuck in claustrophobic dorm rooms with randos, or pledge sororities that are not exactly the most welcoming to girls like us, when instead we could get one of the apartments they reserve for students with spouses. It would be our first home together.”

“I like the sound of that…” Sterling agrees, her mind drifting to a place of domestic bliss just from the very idea of coming home from classes and having April to study with. Among other things.

“And,” April adds, biting her lip as she seems to consider what she’ll say next, “I wouldn’t mind all the alone time we’d get.” Her mind seems to have gone to the same place Sterling’s has as she sneaks a glance at the open bedroom door. Do open door policies really apply to engaged women? Probably. But deciding she doesn’t care, Sterling gets up to close the door, April eyeing her questioningly all the while, but not objecting. At all. “You rebel,” she says, smiling suggestively.

With the door closed and locked (as well as the one to the bathroom--you can never be too safe when it comes to Blair), Sterling returns to her, feeling her mouth go dry as April lies back on the bed and crooks her fingers in a come hither motion.

Sterling bites her lip and pushes a few errant strands of hair behind her ear. With little warning, she’s pouncing on the bed, landing (mostly) on top of April, and kissing her fiercely. It’s been almost a month since prom and Sterling has been practically aching to finally finish what they started. And April seems to be on the same page if her hand sneaking up under the back of Sterling’s t-shirt and expertly unhooking her bra is any indication.

Sterling sits up on her knees, straddling April as she slips off her bra straps via the armholes of her t-shirt, finally able to take it off and toss it across the room. For her part, April seems to be enjoying the view immensely, even with the shirt still on. Though Sterling is forced to stop herself from removing it when there’s a pounding on her door.

Her blood runs cold. It’s probably her mother, and if she catches them like this, they’re both dead.

“Just letting you horny bitches know that I’m going out with Chase Colton tonight. If I don’t get back before mom and dad get home from their dinner with Uncle Deacon and Aunt Cordelia, please cover for me. K thanks,” Blair says through the door, followed by the sound of her stomping down the stairs.

Sterling and April breathe a sigh of relief as Sterling settles down to lean her head on April’s collarbone. “Oh my god, that was so scary,” she laughs and breathes in April’s intoxicating scent that is quickly getting her back to the headspace she was in before they were so rudely interrupted.

As she leans back in to kiss her fiancée (she will never get tired of thinking that), Sterling captures April’s lips with hers. The dual feelings of warm breath on her face and an even warmer body beneath her are almost enough to drive Sterling crazy.

Sterling leans further against April, deepening their kiss as her hand traces a path lower down. Her fingers start to undo April’s belt when another hand joins hers.

But April’s hand isn’t there to help, and instead pushes Sterling’s hand away before refastening the buckle. 

“Sterl, wait,” April says softly, moving back until she is sitting up against the headboard and bringing herself eye to eye with Sterling.

“You don’t want to.” It isn’t a question. Sterling doesn’t need to ask, she feels the change in the mood acutely.

“I do, I really want to, but....not...not yet,” April says, not seeming the least bit happy about it. “I didn’t want to mention this earlier, because I know it’s stupid, but you know that bible verse Pastor Booth quoted today about how people who can’t control themselves should get married instead of...burning in passion?”

It all clicks in Sterling’s brain at once. “April, did you want to move the wedding up so we could-”

April doesn’t let her finish. “-Not entirely. I meant what I said about loving you and wanting to marry you as soon as possible for a litany of reasons, but I’d be lying if I said that it isn’t also because I think I would like to wait until our wedding night to...consummate.” Sterling begins to say something again, but April isn’t done talking. “I know I said I was ready, but I’ve done a lot of thinking and yes, the purity oath I made with my dad and that stupid ring is barbaric and disgusting, but it wasn’t just between him and me, it was also between me and God. And I know God would forgive me for not following through on it, but I just figure...we’ve come this far, right?”

Sterling takes a deep breath in an effort to calm the lingering arousal coursing through her. “You’re right, you’re right,” Sterling says after a moment before she leans in and gently kisses April on the lips like she is sealing a bargain. “Can we still cuddle? I miss the feeling of you in my arms.”

April wastes no time in entwining her body with Sterling’s, shifting so that they can both lay down on the bed. “I miss your arms around me.” She nuzzles into Sterling, sighing contentedly.

“You know I would wait forever for you, right?” Sterling asks, not ever wanting April to feel like she’s upset by her confession--a little disappointed, sure but it’ll only make their wedding night that much more special.

“I know.”

Chapter Text

“Girl, you better have a good explanation for why we had to learn you’re engaged from Facebook. My dang Nana shared the post!” Ezekiel says, affronted, before April can even sit down at their Starbucks table—where there is, thankfully, an iced cinnamon dulce latte waiting for her. After the morning April has had, she needs it desperately.

“I’ve been engaged for all of three days, Z. We weren’t planning on telling anyone yet, but then Sterling’s Sorority Ho cousin ruined everything, and then her aunt shared it on Facebook for everyone in Atlanta to see, apparently.” April takes her infernal paper straw out of its wrapper and stabs it through the mountain of whipped cream—which she knows she probably shouldn’t be eating if she wants to look good in her wedding dress. “But I was going to tell you guys before anyone else. Honest.” For emphasis, she holds up the small paper gift bag from David’s Bridal she picked up on her way here.

Ezekiel stares her down before saying, “You’re forgiven,” while his demeanor doesn’t change a bit. “Now, do ya mind telling me what you’re thinking, getting married this young? Last I checked, you weren’t white trash.”

“I most certainly am not. Besides, white trash girls don’t get to have the event of the century that is going to pass for my wedding. Now, you can keep knocking the idea, or you can be the supportive friends I know you’re capable of being and I can go ahead and ask you to be in my wedding party. Sound good?” April raises an eyebrow at her friends, waiting for their response as they share a look with each other.

“Can we see the ring?!” Hannah B. asks, the excitement she’s apparently kept bottled up coming out all at once as she practically vibrates in her seat.

“What, this ring? You’ve seen it before,” April says teasingly, holding up the promise ring that she has started wearing on a chain around her neck.

“Girl, don’t even,” Ezekiel scoffs, grabbing her left hand and nearly dragging it (and her) across the table. “Daaamn. When Slutty Stacy got engaged last month, all she got was a class ring.”

“Yes, well, Slutty Stacy isn’t marrying a gem like Sterling. She saved up for it,” April says, not able to contain her smugness as she lets Hannah B. get a good look at the ring too.

“But aren’t you worried about like…married people stuff? Like...taxes?” Hannah B. asks once April’s withdrawn her hand and gone back to sipping at her latte.

“Married people aren’t the only ones who pay taxes, Hannah B.,” April says, a little concerned that her friend has gone this long thinking otherwise. “But no, I’m not worried because really nothing much is going to change. I already live with Sterling and we’re in love. When we’re married, all that will be different is... we’ll actually be able to share a bed without her parents—who I love, by the way—being able to say shit about it.”

“I don’t think it’s that easy,” Hannah B. says quietly.

“Of course it’s not easy,” April concedes begrudgingly.

“Look, we’re happy for you, we just think you need to go into this with realistic expectations,” Ezekiel says, then clasps his hands together as he changed the subject. “So, if you’re getting married in August, I imagine y’all are hard at work on the planning front. Care to share some deets?”

Now that is something April could talk about for hours. “Well, I found us the perfect venue, but it’s unfortunately booked up through August. However,” April smiles deviously. “You two know very well that I can find dirt on anyone. So I was able to scour Facebook and found the couple who are scheduled to get married there on the 20th. Lovely couple, except …” April pulls out her phone to show them a few screenshots.

“Girl, you did not bust out your Finsta to honeytrap this man…” Ezekiel says in disbelief as he takes the phone from her and his eyes widen as he reads the messages. “Oh my god, this is just nasty.”

“Uh-huh. And I emailed those to his beautiful fiancée this morning. Honestly, it was way too easy. My profile pic is one of Daisy Ridley,” April laughs to herself, not feeling the least bit guilty over the possibility of saving an innocent woman from marriage to a cheater. If a man will send dick pics to Daisy Ridley, who knows what else he’s been doing? “So anyway, fingers crossed that we’ll be getting word of a cancellation any day now.”

“Does Sterling know you did this?” Hannah B. asks, side-eyeing April and her dirty tactics.

April would be lying if she said she didn’t feel just a little guilty doing this behind Sterling’s back, but she can justify it to herself by knowing that she’s ultimately doing all of this for her. “Every marriage has its little secrets. All that matters is we’re going to have the most perfect day to kick off our lives as married women. Now, speaking of the day, as I said before, I’d like both of you to be in my bridal party.” She reaches into the gift bag and pulls out two individually-wrapped bridal party proposal bath bombs. One for a bridesmaid, and one for a bridesman. The one saying Maid of Honor gets left in the bag.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Hannah B. exclaims, turning the bath bomb over in her hands.

“So which of us is gonna be your MOH?” Ezekiel asks, setting his down on the table. “Because I’m good with sharing the pre-wedding duties, but I totally call dibs on the reception speech.”

That leads April to the hardest part of this meeting. She knows neither of her friends will take it well. “Actually...I think I’m going to ask Jamie. My friend from church camp.”

“Who?” Hannah B. asks, looking more confused than usual while Ezekiel looks absolutely horrified.

“She’s one of April’s Adeles,” Ezekiel clarifies for Hannah B. before looking back at April, judgy as all hell. Which she supposes she probably deserves to a certain extent, but it’s really not what he so obviously thinks. “So, looking past your crazy, drama-loving ass creating some kind of My Best Friend’s Wedding situation, I have to ask. Why does this girl take precedence over us? The friends who have always been here for you and who have never judged you for your Taylor Swift conspiracy theories.”

“Taylor Swift is a lesbian,” April says plainly, putting up a finger to stop any further slander on the subject. “And I swear to y’all that it has nothing to do with me liking her any more than you. I just think that Jamie’s better equipped to deal with the stresses of the position and I just want you guys to be able to enjoy yourselves. And as to my previous feelings for her...they’re as irrelevant now as they ever were. There was certainly not a chance of her returning my feelings back then, I know that now, and we’ve since kept in touch as friends; that is it. I’m marrying Sterling. I love Sterling.”

“Okay, drama queen…” Ezekiel says, still judging.

“I will take that bath bomb back,” April threatens, making a show of reaching for it as Ezekiel holds it out of her reach.

“Don’t you dare,” Ezekiel says, then rolls his eyes as he begrudgingly mumbles an apology.

“That’s what I thought.” April sips at her latte again. “So what are y’all’s thoughts on colors? Because Sterling and I are kind of stuck on a few.”

“I’m not really sure about me, but I know Luke looks great in green,” Hannah B. sighs as April frowns.

“Uh, good to know? I’m sure he can coordinate with you either way,” April says, confused. It’s weird enough that her friend is dating the (sort of) shared ex of both her and Sterling.

“No, I’m just saying so because he texted me about Sterling asking him to be a bridesman like right before you got here,” Hannah B. says, not seeming to understand Ezekiel’s obvious negative reaction to this while April feels her own jaw twitch involuntarily.

“She what?” April asks, her voice a lot higher than normal. She takes another drink of coffee when she feels herself on the brink of a meltdown. There must be some kind of a misunderstanding because there’s no way her fiancée would ask her ex-boyfriend of six years to be in their wedding party, right?

“Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?” Ezekiel hums at the predicament April’s found herself in.

April clears her throat and hastily gets up from her seat, putting on a fake smile. “You know, I just realized that I was supposed to pick up Chloe from the groomer for Debbie, so I’d better do that. I’ll be in touch with you guys about a date for dress and tux fittings, okay?” she says sweetly and grabs her latte before making a quick retreat back to the parking lot and to the hunting truck Anderson’s lent to her for the time being.

This is all a misunderstanding and she’s sure Sterling will make that very clear to her once she gets home.

“Sterling Wesley, you had better start explaining yourself right now!” April shouts throughout the house the moment she steps through the front door. She crosses her arms, waiting as she hears footsteps from upstairs.

Sterling appears at the top of the stairs, looking like a child being scolded. “Hey, baby,” She greets April nervously.

“Don’t ‘hey, baby’ me. You know what you did!” April can feel the outrage coming off of her in waves.

After a few seconds of standing there frozen, Sterling comes bounding down the stairs and pulls April in for a tight hug. “April, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I never told you. It’s just that things got so out of hand and the longer it went on, it just got harder and harder to come clean.”

April frowns, confused as she’s still stiff in Sterling’s arms. “Wait, how long ago did you ask Luke to be in our wedding party?” she asks, as Sterling lets her go and pulls back, looking equally confused.

“Wait, you’re mad about me asking Luke to be a bridesman?” Sterling asks, her posture visibly releasing a great deal of tension as she does.

“Yes? What did you think I was mad about?” April asks, a little worried now.

“Oh, that um…” Sterling pauses for a moment. “That my dad is making me ask Kristina to be a bridesmaid, too. I knew you would hate it,” she laughs nervously.

“I mean, yeah, I’m not a fan of her or her extreme need for attention and I don’t look forward to having to spend any extended periods of time with her over the next few months, but I’m kind of more furious over the fact that you would ask Luke to be involved with our wedding without even telling me first,” April says, feeling her anger bubble up again just saying that out loud.

“But he’s been one of my best friends since fifth grade,” Sterling argues.

“No, he was your boyfriend from fifth grade, and I’m sure your grandmother would be positively giddy to see the two of you up at that altar together.” April takes a deep breath to try to calm herself, then looks around and lowers her voice for the next part, in case anyone not privy to the next thing she’s about to say is eavesdropping--namely, Anderson. “I mean, Jesus, Sterl. You thought I wouldn’t care about you asking the first person you had sex with to be in our wedding party?”

“When you put it that way…” Sterling says, realization dawning on her as she suddenly looks very remorseful. “I’m sorry, April. I really am. I should have asked you.”

“Yes, you should have.” April agrees, feeling somewhat mollified.

“I just...between spending so much of my time with Luke, and then you, and of course Blair, I’ve never really had time to make many friends. Despite our past, Luke is a friend and I guess I just wanted someone I actually like up there with me, aside from Blair,” Sterling shrugs, dejected as she looks down at her feet. “But if it really bothers you, I can call him and let him know.”

April sighs, losing the rest of whatever fight she previously had in her as she sees Sterling so sad—she’s usually so good about hiding her loneliness. Better than April, at least. “No, you don’t have to do that,” April says, albeit very reluctantly. “Just, in the future, please ask me about these things first?”

“Okay; I promise I will,” Sterling says, smiling sweetly and leaning down to kiss April’s cheek. “You know I love you, right?”

April grumbles begrudgingly, not ever able to stay mad at this infuriatingly cute girl for too long. “You’d better.”

“So how’d it go with Ezekiel and Hannah B?” Sterling asks, clearly hoping to steer this in a more light-hearted direction.

“Good, I think. They’re a bit peeved about neither of them being Maid of Honor, but you and I both know we don’t want either of them in charge of planning events.” April walks through the house to the kitchen to throw away her empty latte cup.

“I don’t know, I doubt Blair will do any better, but she’s my sister and I love her,” Sterling says cautiously, following her.

“And I know you’re going to love Jamie. Not only is she very competent, but she was really there for me back in the day. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have been the epitome of self-acceptance you started dating a year and a half ago, if not for her friendship and guidance,” April smiles to herself, just thinking of how much she owes Jamie for that. Giving her such a big role in her wedding is the least she can do.

“Well then I know I’ll love her.” Sterling smiles, but she’s clearly still curious about something. “So how come I’ve never met this girl if she’s so important you want her to be your maid of honor in our wedding? What’s she like?”

“Well, she’s been living out of state the last few years, but we’ve kept in touch. And as far as what she’s like…” April thinks a moment, giggling as she recalls a time involving her and Jamie at the lake. “She’s got a very magnetic personality, and she’s more caring than anyone I know...except maybe Ellen.”

Sterling frowns as she correctly infers, “Sounds kinda like you had a crush on her.”

April nods, not wanting to lie to Sterling about something like this after tearing into her over Luke. “Yeah, a bit. But ‘twas not meant to be.” April scoffs at the truth in that statement.

“You seem a little upset about that,” Sterling says, failing to hide the hint of jealousy in her tone.

Despite herself, April can feel the corners of her mouth quirk up into a smile at this. “You aren’t jealous, are you?” she asks teasingly.

Sterling cocks her head to the side. “Obviously I’m jealous,” she says, taking a few slow steps toward April, backing her up against the kitchen counters. “Being your first everything is a source of great pride for me.”

April bites her lip and avoids eye contact, feeling the palpable tension between them. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t find it extremely sexy. Finally looking back into Sterling’s eyes, she pointedly wets her lips with her tongue and uses her arms to push herself up to sit on the countertop. Not breaking eye contact, she slowly spreads her legs and has to keep herself from giggling when Sterling noticeably gulps.

“Come here,” April whispers, beckoning Sterling forward.

Sterling steps forward and leans her face against April’s neck with something that sounds like a whimper.

April threads her fingers into Sterling’s hair, pulling back just enough to look Sterling in the eye. “You’re the one I’m marrying.” It was meant to reassure Sterling, but instead, April feels a possessive thrill at the words.

Sterling must like the sound of that because this time when she leans into April’s neck it is with a searching, hungry mouth. The open-mouthed kisses are one thing, but the moment Sterling starts to suck and nip, April has to put an end to it. “Sterl!” she gasps out, pushing at Sterling’s shoulders.

Sterling steps back, eyes slightly glazed, and a smile on her face. And that smile on her face is the only warning April gets before Sterling is moving in again, kissing and sucking on the same spot, laughing deviously to herself.

“Sterling, stop! You’re going to give me a hickey!” April shrieks, which devolves into a giggle as Sterling’s mouth brushes over a particularly sensitive and ticklish spot.

“Ahem.” The sound of a throat clearing stops them both in their tracks.

Standing in the garage doorway is Debbie Wesley, reusable grocery bags in hand and a frown on her face. “Girls, we agreed, no funny business,” she says coldly, and April realizes just how bad of a look it is to have Sterling between her legs, going at her like this.

April pushes Sterling back as she hops down from the counter, smoothing her slightly wrinkled shirt and running a hand through her mussed hair. “Hey, Debbie. You need us to help you carry in anything?” she asks, trying to brazen it out and walks towards the door to the garage.

“No, April, I need you to keep your butt off my countertops. I make food there, and being engaged doesn’t give y’all a free pass to do...that,” Debbie says as she sets her bags down next to the refrigerator, clearly avoiding the spot April had been sitting.

“I…” April, usually an unbeatable debater, finds herself speechless. The mom guilt is strong with Debbie Wesley.

“And Sterling. Is this any mindset for you to be in before your first counseling session with Pastor Booth this afternoon?” Debbie asks as Sterling seems to recoil into herself.

“No,” she says quietly, seeming very much like a little girl in trouble with her mother.

April would find her fiancée’s behavior almost cute, under different circumstances, but the reminder of their appointment at the church is sobering, to say the least. “She’s right, Sterl. We should really be getting ready for that. The last thing I want is for us to have to resort to some civil ceremony.”

“Oh, yeah, we couldn’t have that,” Sterling says with heavy irony.

April and Debbie exchange a look, clearly on the same page, at least in this matter, as April turns back to Sterling and crosses her arms. “No, we couldn’t have that, because a good deal of being married is being married in the eyes of God.”

“That’s absolutely right, April,” Debbie says, smiling at April in agreement before frowning at Sterling. “You should know better than to talk to your future wife like that,” she says, pointing her finger at her daughter in a scolding way.

“Jeez, gang up on me, why don’t ya…” Sterling grumbles, making her way back to the foyer.

April watches her go before diligently beginning to take groceries out of the bags for Debbie, separating the refrigerated groceries from frozen from shelf safe as she feels Debbie’s eyes on her. “I’m sorry,” April says, not turning away from her task. “I know you don’t ask much of us and I have a real funny way of showing my appreciation for you and Anderson letting me stay here.”

Debbie moves to join her, taking the frozen foods April’s already sorted out to the freezer. “Believe it or not, I do remember what it’s like to be young and in love and engaged,” she says, giving April a knowing look as she comes back for two pints of Ben & Jerry’s. “Anderson and I were fresh out of college and Mother? She hated me. More so than she does now if you can believe that.”

April scoffs. “Yeah, I think I might hold the Most Hated title now.”

Debbie shakes her head. “She doesn’t really hate you, sweetie. She and Big Daddy have certain unrealistic expectations for Sterling and Blair just like they had for Anderson. But me? Oh, she despised me.”

“Why? You’re pretty much what I always picture as the conservative ideal,” April says, recalling all the times as a kid she thought that Sterling’s mom seemed more like a TV mom than a real one. She’s younger than April’s own mother, and beautiful, and so much more understanding than April ever thought a mother could be, while still managing to be rather intimidating when she wants to be.

Debbie laughs, “You’re sweet, but let’s just say that,” she puts on a Deep South drawl, “A girl from Nandina ain’t what they had in mind.”

April chuckles, but the mention of the little town makes her think of something that’s hardly a laughing matter. “Do they know? About Sterling?”

Debbie doesn’t seem surprised to be getting this question. She shakes her head. “No, it was easier to say there was an undetected twin than to explain that my psychotic twin seduced my husband while pretending to be me.”

April nods. It still baffles her that someone like Sterling, who most of the time seems to be made of pure light, can have come from such darkness. It took Sterling almost a year to tell April after she found out herself.

Debbie closes the freezer and approaches April again, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I just don’t want the two of us to be like Mother and me; I don’t want you to think you aren’t good enough. You’re more than I could have ever asked for in a daughter-in-law.” She looks into April’s eyes, full of sincerity. “Granted, I never thought I would have a daughter-in-law, but you’re better than any son-in-law too because you’re good and you’re smart and you love my Sterling. Everyone can see that.”

April feels herself blush. She’s not used to this kind of unconditional praise from anyone but Sterling. “I’m so happy to be marrying her,” she admits, smiling at just the thought of it. 

“I can tell,” Debbie’s smile quickly morphs into a more stern look. “But, please, will ya try to cool off for a while? You’re getting married in a matter of weeks and after that, you can have all the—well, you know—all you want. I promise you, it’ll mean so much more then.”

April nods, already knowing and agreeing with the sentiment. “You have my word that I have every intention of waiting, Debbie. I’ve been waiting all my life.”

“You’re a good girl, April,” Debbie says, pushing a strand of April’s still unkempt hair out of her face and leaving her hand on April’s cheek. It’s exactly the kind of small but completely motherly gesture that has been so desperately missed in this time away from April’s own mother, who likely doesn’t even know her only child is soon to be a married woman. “I know people are gonna say a lot of things about y’all’s relationship, but don’t you listen to them, okay?”

April scoffs. “People have been saying all kinds of things about me my whole life. At least when they say those things about me and Sterling, I know they’re wrong.”

“That’s my girl,” Debbie says, a look of pride on her face. “Now, you better get ready for your counseling session. You have to make a good impression for the Pastor.”

“I’m not capable of anything less,” April says, perhaps a little cocky, but it’s not something she believes to be untrue.

“Sterl, this is a school zone. Will you please stop driving like a maniac?” April says as calmly as she can manage while gripping the handle of the passenger side door hard enough to see the whites of her knuckles.

Sterling has the audacity to take her eyes off the road as she looks over at April to say, “Babe, what do you want from me? We’re already running late,” she says, pointing to the clock on the Volt’s dash with one hand while taking a sharp turn with the other.

“What I want is to get to the church without you killing us both, thanks.” April reaches over to take the steering wheel with one hand when Sterling turns to argue with her again.

“You have so little faith in me. I do know how to drive, you know.” Sterling pushes April’s hand off the steering wheel as she whips into the church parking lot that is (thankfully) empty and parks diagonally across two parking spaces.

“Well, you could’ve fooled me!” April sneers, getting out of the car and slamming the door. She smooths down her babydoll dress on the way up to the church steps, walking faster than normal as she hears the car’s lock beep, and Sterling comes running up behind her.

“Next time, how about you drive, okay?” Sterling says, clearly intending for this to be a jab, but April laughs.

“Fine by me!” She says, then takes a few deep breaths, knowing they can’t meet the soon-to-be officiant of their wedding while in the middle of an argument. “Let’s just calm down. We can’t let Pastor Booth think we’re always like this or he probably won’t marry us.”

“I am calm!” Sterling punctuates that falsehood by pulling the church door open and walking inside.

Thankfully, April refrains from her snide comment she was thinking of because there is Pastor Booth, standing right inside the doors, waiting for them both.

“Sterling and April, right on time!” He enthuses, leaning in and hugging first Sterling and then April. “How about we go get comfortable and talk in my office.” He leads the way through the church while keeping up a light chatter. “Sterling, I’m so glad your mother gave me a call yesterday. I had no idea y’all were getting married, though I admit I’m not the best at keeping up with Facebook or Instagram. And, believe it or not, y’all are my first same-sex couple to get married here. Well, here we are,” he says, stopping to open a plain wooden door. “After you, ladies.”

April doesn’t know what she was expecting, but it wasn’t to step into a room that feels more like a dad’s den than a pastor’s office.

“This is where I do my spiritual thinking and, occasionally, catch a Falcons game. Now, because I want us all to be comfortable, I’d like you both to call me Harland—but it’s back to Pastor Booth on Sunday, so don’t you worry.” Pastor Booth— Harland , grabs a clipboard from the desk and sinks into an armchair across from a small loveseat, clearly the spot for the future married couples to sit.

Sterling gestures for April to go ahead, taking a seat after her and resting her hand on April’s thigh.

“So I take it neither of y’all has been to couples counseling before,” Harland starts, and the girls both shake their heads. “Well, I promise it’s not as scary as it sounds. All we’re here to do is to make sure y’all know each other’s needs and are on the same page when the big day arrives.” Harland smiles at the two of them, rubbing his hands together. “Every couple can benefit from counseling, not just those heading into marriage. Why, even my favorite tv couple, Claire and Jamie, could have benefited from some counseling from time to time,” he says, seeming to invite April and Sterling to laugh along with him, but the joke falls flat. 

Clearing his throat Harland looks down at the clipboard. “So I’m gonna start with some basic questions that aren’t gonna be very easy to answer, but you have to answer truthfully, okay?” He looks down at his clipboard and sucks in air through his teeth. “Oh, except that one,” He begins crossing it off with a pencil, but April stops him.

“Excuse me, Harland, but Sterling and I want to make it clear that you can ask us any question you would the other couples. It doesn’t matter how old we are or if we’re two women,” she speaks up, and the pastor just looks at her a moment.

“Well, alright…” he says, sounding unsure as he reads off the question, “Is the bride expecting, and is that playing into your desire to get married?” He gives them both a sort of I-Told-Ya-So look as they both stammer through individual denials. “That’s what I thought. But it does bring me to my next question, which is, ‘How long have the two of you been together, and have you managed to stay faithful to each other and to yourselves in that time?’”

“We’ve been together for a year and a half, and I’m pretty sure we’ve been faithful to each other,” Sterling starts, “But what exactly do you mean by being faithful to ourselves?” she asks cautiously.

April rolls her eyes at Sterling’s refusal to answer the question of them being faithful without absolute certainty. “We have been faithful to each other the whole time. And I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that what he means by us being faithful to ourselves is he’s asking if we’ve had sex instead of waiting, right?”

Harland nods. “That’s absolutely right, April. Saving our bodies for the confines of marriage is a sacred duty to ourselves as well as God. So, have the two of you ever…”

“No, we haven’t,” April says plainly. “Sterling was my first kiss, and will be my first everything else once we’re married.” She smiles proudly at being able to say this with total honesty.

Harland smiles wide. “That’s very good, April!” he says, leaning forward to hold out his hand for a high five like he’s congratulating her on winning a spelling bee. But practicing this level of self-restraint for 18 months was much harder than when April won one of those, so she gladly accepts that high five, though the mood in the room quickly shifts as Harland turns to Sterling. “And what about you?”

“I, uh…” Sterling clearly doesn’t want to have to say it. “I think April already knows the answer to that.”

Rather than pressing her on that further, Harland turns back to April. “And does it bother you that Sterling hasn’t saved herself for you?” he asks, and April looks at Sterling, not wanting to hurt her feelings, but knowing that she’s supposed to be speaking honestly here.

She turns back to Harland. “Yeah, it does a little.” It’s not an easy answer to give, especially when she can feel Sterling take her hand off of her leg and lean slightly away from her on the couch.

“You’ve never said it bothers you before,” Sterling says, definitely hurt.

April rushes to make this right. “Because it doesn’t, mostly. I just sometimes wish that we could be experiencing all the same things together for the first time, but we can’t do that.”

“But, April, it’s important to remember that in choosing to spend her life with you, Sterling is going to share many more firsts with you. Even something like sex is a different beast entirely when it’s with your wife,” Harland cuts in, and maybe it’s something about the air of wisdom pastors seem to have, but somehow this is far more reassuring to her than it normally would be. “And Sterling, just because you have been with someone other than April doesn’t mean you’re any less than your bride-to-be. Your body and soul is as pure as it’s ever been so long as you pledge it to one person from here on out, that person being April.” 

Sterling looks into April’s eyes and smiles slightly, taking April’s hand in her own. “I do.”

Those two little words coming from Sterling’s lips have April’s heart all aflutter. “And I look forward to seeing all the firsts we’re going to experience together,” April says, rubbing the back of Sterling’s hand with her thumb in comforting circles.

“Now, I have a little assignment for the two of you,” Pastor Booth says, getting up from his seat and walking to his desk, returning with two notepads and two pens, handing one of each to Sterling and April. “I want the two of you to jot down where you think the two of you will be in one year, ten years, and twenty years. It can be milestones you want to hit or just a general idea of the kind of marriage you think you’ll have. Either way, it should give you both a good idea of what kind of expectations your partner is going into this marriage with.”

As he leaves them to it, April smiles, her pen already flying furiously across the page. She’s a planner at heart, and she’s been planning her life since she was a little girl, so writing a few paragraphs about those plans is a no-brainer. But when she sneaks a glance over at Sterling, she seems to be struggling to come up with as much. They go on like that for a good twenty minutes, enough time for Harland to excuse himself from the room for a moment and come back with a bottle of Coke from the vending machine, smelling vaguely like cigarette smoke.

“Alright, y’all ready to share?” he asks, opening his Coke and taking a sip.

“I am.” April happily volunteers, writing one more thing before reading it out. “In one year, I hope that Sterling and I will still be basking in the honeymoon stage of our marriage. We’ll be living together at UGA, maybe in a little student housing apartment, and we’ll come home for every holiday, even the little ones. Sterl and I both want to major in pre-law, so we’ll have lots of classes together and we can study and do homework together, and I can teach her to cook without burning our place down.”

“That’s very good April,” Harland says with a smile as he turns to look at Sterling, indicating it’s her turn.

“Okay, I just wrote down a few things that April didn’t already say. I was thinking it might be fun to join a sorority, obviously not living in the house, but my mom was Delta Zeta at UGA,” Sterling says with a small shrug as she runs her finger down a bulleted list. “Oh, and I was hoping we might go on Spring Break with Blair? And maybe get a dog.”

“That also sounds like a real solid plan, Sterling. April, do you have any major objections to any of it?” Harland asks.

“No. I mean, I don’t think we’re going to encounter anything that’s not at least negotiable,” April says, then gestures to her notepad. “Can I read my ten-year plan?”

“By all means,” Harland says, sitting back in his chair and continuing to sip his Coke as if he’s waiting for some kind of inevitable argument to happen.

April clears her throat. “In ten years, I’d like to be settled into a law firm here in Atlanta, probably doing something stable like corporate or real estate law. I think by that point, we’ll have enough money saved up for a down payment on a house, hopefully somewhere close to Debbie and Anderson, but not too close. We’ll probably be friends with other married couples who we can have dinner parties with, and we can save up to travel when we have the time. And I want a cat.”

Sterling bites her lip before reading off her list. “Well, my dad has basically said there are guaranteed spots at his firm for us, so I really like the idea of working together. But I want to get a minor in Criminal Justice and work in criminal law.” Her eyes dart over to April but Sterling doesn’t stop her resuscitation. “I wrote down that I wanted to have a house by the time we’re 30. And I want to be pregnant or trying to get pregnant by 28,” Sterling says, eyes darting to look at April before looking back at her notebook.

“Interesting…” Harland says while April can feel her mouth go dry. “April, I couldn’t help but notice you didn’t mention children in your ten-year plan. Would you care to talk about that?”

She wouldn’t, not really, but something tells her she doesn’t have much of a choice. “I have it in my 20-year plan that I could see us maybe having a kid by then.”

“You could maybe see us having a kid by the time we’re 38?” Sterling asks in what sounds like disbelief, and a little outrage.

“Sterling, I take it you see yourself having more than one child?” Harland asks, scribbling something on his clipboard.

“Uh, yeah. I think sibling relationships are really important and I can’t picture life without my sister, so why would I want to put a child through something like that?” Sterling says as if what she’s saying is so obvious, but April begs to differ.

“I’m an only child, Sterl. I actually never wanted siblings because I liked being able to have my parents’ full attention and that’s what I want to be able to give our child,” she says, crossing her arms. “Unless you have a problem with only children.”

“You know I don’t have a problem with only children, considering I’m marrying one. I just don’t think raising one is really for me,” Sterling says, refusing to fall into the trap April laid out for her.

“Well, I’m not even sure if raising kids, in general, is really for me. You know how I was raised. You really think I trust myself to not screw up one kid, let alone multiple kids?” It’s somewhat freeing to say this aloud. It’s something April’s thought for years.

“You’re not your dad, April. And you wouldn’t be doing it alone,” Sterling assures her, urging April to look into her eyes. “I want a family with you because of the person you are, not who your parents are.”

April can feel tears start to well up in her eyes, but she refuses to cry during their first therapy session, and she especially refuses to be the first of the two of them to cry. “I know that,” she says, nodding and turning to Harland. “I swear we don’t usually argue about stuff like this.”

“Many couples argue over children. If they’ll have them, how many, how they’ll come to get them, how they’ll raise them. But you just have to keep an open mind with each other while holding firm to what you know you can handle. You’re both still young. Just wait to see what God has in store for you both. Now, do you want to read us the rest of your twenty-year plan, April?” Harland asks, shifting away from this subject for now, but April knows they’ll have to inevitably come back to it.

“Well, as I said, I can maybe see us having a child. Hopefully a little girl we can name something like Naomi Ruth-” April smiles when she actually hears Sterling chuckle at that. “-And I can see myself as a partner at whatever law firm I end up at, while Sterl can take over for her dad when he goes into semi-retirement. We’ll hopefully still be as in love then as we are now, and Sterling won’t be sick of me yet. That’s all I got.”

“Sterling, it’s your turn,” Harland prods after a long moment of silence.

Sterling takes a deep breath before flipping her notebook over. It’s empty, save for three bullet points drawn as stars. “I don’t have anything written down. Not because I don’t want a future with you,” she hurries to reassure April, “but because I can’t see further into the future than I’ve lived. I just know that I want to be with you and our one or two, or maybe even three kids. Or none. Being with you is the only part that’s a given.”

April moves in closer, thinking it’s impossible not to kiss Sterling after something like that, but when Harland makes himself known by loudly shuffling papers, she settles for whispering, “I love you.”

“I love you, too-” Sterling replies with one of those smiles that can make April’s patellas quiver. “-Future Mrs. Wesley.”

April can practically hear brakes screech in her head upon hearing that. “Excuse me, what?” she asks, pretty certain that they’ve never discussed her taking Sterling’s name, so she has no idea why she would even think that.

For her part, Sterling at least realizes immediately that she’s stepped in it. “I just...I mean, I figured with how things are with your dad, and how close you are with my family, and how you want to spend every holiday with them, that maybe that meant you...wanted to be a Wesley?” Sterling explains and winces in preparation for the blowup that April can feel building inside her.

“It’s not just my dad’s name, it’s my name,” April says firmly. This is her identity she’s talking about. She doesn’t know how to be anyone but April Stevens.

“Sterling, this is a good example of why ‘when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me,’” Harland laughs at the ridiculously old adage, and is the only one in the room that does. He clears his throat. “Anyway, I think this is a good thing for y’all to be discussing. Have you considered hyphenating? I read that that’s most common for LGBT couples. And that way, you could both be honoring your future wife by adding her name to yours.”

“That could be good?” Sterling says cautiously as April finds herself nodding in agreement.

“Yeah, I could maybe see myself as April Stevens-Wesley,” she says, smiling as she realizes how much she loves the sound of it.

“But Sterling Stevens-Wesley sounds like a tongue twister. What’s wrong with Wesley-Stevens?” Sterling asks.

“Wesley-Stevens offends my alphabetical sensibilities,” April says without even thinking about it. She knows that Stevens-Wesley is the only compromise on her name she’s ever willing to concede to.

Sterling sighs. “I mean, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad for future little Naomi Ruth Stevens-Wesley to always be in the back of the line in elementary school…” she seemingly concedes. “But we can talk about it later.”

April knows there isn’t really much of a point in talking later since her mind is made up, and Sterling knows better than anyone that that isn’t likely to change, 

“Well, on that note, I think I can let the two of you go for today, but I’d like to talk again. Same time next week and every week until the wedding, alright? I have faith in y’all and faith in your future marriage because you can talk through things, and there’s clearly a lot of love here, but like most young couples, you don’t know yourselves or each other as well as you should. We’re gonna get ya there, but it’ll take hard work and dedication. Do you think you can commit?”

Sterling and April share a determined look and April nods. “We can do that.”

“Do you really have to have the binder at the table?” Sterling asks, rubbing her tired eyes once they’ve placed their dinner orders at the Mexican restaurant, but April can’t be bothered by her obvious judgment because they’re going to have to send out 200 invitations the second they book their venue (whichever it may end up being) and she needs to know what they’ll look like.

Ignoring Sterling’s previous question, April asks, “Do you have any strong feelings about fonts?” without looking up from the mockup samples.

“I’m not a fan of Comic Sans or Papyrus, if that’s what you mean,” Sterling says, sipping on her virgin margarita.

“Really? Darn, I was so hoping to have our invitations look exactly like the James Cameron Avatar logo,” April says, the sentence absolutely dripping with sarcasm. She just wants Sterling to actually act like all of this matters because while she knows full well that in the grand scheme of things, invitation fonts mean absolutely nothing, it’s a detail of an event that April will (hopefully) only ever get to plan once. And she is nothing if not one to pay attention to detail. But on the other hand, she knows being like this with Sterling is doing nobody any favors. “I’m sorry for being so snippy today,” she says solemnly, dipping a still-warm tortilla chip in salsa and crunching on it.

“No, I’m sorry. I know you’re just trying to do everything in what little time we have so our wedding is as amazing as it can be,” Sterling says, reaching across the table to put her hand on April’s. “I just don’t want you to burn yourself out. This is supposed to be a time when we can enjoy ourselves as a couple.”

April sighs, contemplating a moment before shutting the binder and putting it in the seat beside her. “You’re right,” she says, squeezing Sterling’s hand. “We’re only going to have so much time as an engaged couple, and before you know it, we’ll be settled in like an old married couple.”

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though,” Sterling says with an optimistic little smile. “I mean, having you to come home to for the rest of my life is more than I could have ever asked for.”

April blushes. She hopes Sterling never loses her ability to make her feel like she’s the only woman in the world. “I’ll remember you said that sometime down the road when I’m nagging you to pick up the house.”

“I look forward to it,” Sterling says, smiling as if happily accepting a challenge. April feels Sterling’s foot find her own under the table, rubbing up April’s ankle. “That and chicken biscuits. I really look forward to you making those.”

“Ha. I think you’re just hungry,” April says, pushing the chip basket across the table towards Sterling, who doesn’t need to be asked twice to eat one.

“No but seriously, don’t ever tell my mom I said this, but you’re maybe my favorite cook in the whole world. Those stuffed mushrooms you made for the grad party rocked my world,” Sterling says with a far-off, almost lusty look on her face.

April has to cover her mouth to stop from laughing out loud. “Well then hopefully that means our life together is off to a good start. I’m already the wicked woman stealing you away from your mother,” she says teasingly, slipping her shoe off under the table to more easily join Sterling in her game of footsie just as their waitress comes around with their food, which effectively puts an end to meaningful conversation for the time being. April was right, Sterling was hungry.

“What are your thoughts on the song A Thousand Years for our first dance?” Sterling asks between bites of her smothered green burrito.

April’s caught slightly off guard, but she’s pleasantly surprised to have the conversation go in this direction. The wedding has quickly become her favorite subject. She smiles as she dabs the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “It’s pretty, though a bit overused, I think. Also a little dramatic, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from a song written for the Twilight soundtrack,” she answers Sterling’s question honestly, taking a bite of a shrimp taco. “But, I would be open to it if it’s something you really want.”

“No, that’s okay. I want it to be something we both love.” Sterling goes back to eating. “I mean, I’d dance to Gangnam Style if that’s what you wanted.”

“That’s not even funny,” April says, dead serious.

Always a smart girl, Sterling knows it’s time to shift the conversation. “So, have you given any thought to your dress? My mom told you she’s gonna pull some strings to get us appointments at Bridals by Lori, right?”

“Yeah, she did tell me that, and yes, I have been giving some thought to my dress, but I can’t exactly share with you. It’s bad luck,” April reaches across the table to steal Sterling’s margarita, taking a sip as she smiles at Sterling in a way that dares her to say anything about it. The concept of a mocktail is at its core ridiculous, but even April can’t deny there’s a certain appeal to what is essentially a lime slushie with a salted rim.

“Seriously? You can’t even tell me what kind of dress you’re thinking about? What if we get the same one?” Sterling asks, throwing out the most preposterous hypothetical April’s ever heard.

“Well, aside from the fact that your mom will be assisting in the decision process for both of us, we don’t have even close to the same taste in dresses. And no, I can’t tell you because then you’ll be able to visualize it and I want it to be a surprise” April returns the drink to its place on Sterling’s side of the table before she can give herself a brain freeze.

“You’re ridiculous, you know that, right?” Sterling asks, amused, and obviously endeared.

“Yes, and yet you love me anyway. So what does that say about you?” April teases and goes back to eating her dinner.

Now that the seed has been planted, it is all that April can think about. April isn’t too proud to admit that she’s envisioned many wedding dresses over the years. And to actually get to go to Bridals by Lori is like getting to live her own episode of Say Yes to the Dress.

Her vision of lace and veils is interrupted when their server brings the check, which Sterling immediately pays. “Are you ready to go?” Sterling asks with a look at her phone.

Reflexively April looks at her own phone, happy to note that they aren’t expected back for almost another hour.

“Uh, yeah…” April says, deciding she doesn’t have enough food left to warrant a to-go box and getting up from her seat. “Let’s go,” she says, holding out her hand for Sterling to take and leading her out of the restaurant and to the car, suddenly feeling hungry for something other than dessert. 

Sterling doesn’t even manage to get her door open before April has her up against the car, kissing her furiously. It says something about how little time they have to be alone when this kind of thing was a much more frequent occurrence when they were closeted.

“I’m not complaining, but maybe we should take this inside?” Sterling says, gesturing to the car when April is forced to stop kissing her for a moment to catch her breath.

April nods, her thoughts just clear enough to know that even a dark restaurant parking lot is probably a bit too out in the open to be practically fornicating with her betrothed.

Sterling hits the unlock button on her keyfob and opens the door to the backseat for April, allowing her to get in first and slide across the seat before joining her. “Hi,” she says with a smile after closing the door and locking it.

April giggles. “Hi.”

Sterling leans in to kiss April quickly before she climbs halfway over the center console to turn on the car’s stereo and plug her phone in with the aux cord.

April can’t help but enjoy the view of Sterling’s tight, jean-clad ass as she selects a playlist. “Are these new?” April asks, trying to sound as innocent as possible.

“Are what new?” Sterling asks, sounding confused.

“These,” April says, playfully smacking Sterling’s butt just as Lana Del Rey starts playing.

Sterling yelps, hitting her head on the ceiling of the car, and practically falling back into the seat with April. “What are you doing?” she asks, looking far more excited than scandalized.

“Just...admiring my future wife’s assets,” April says, cheekily, leaning in to whisper in Sterling’s ear, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is,” she sneaks her hand under Sterling, giving her ass a more purposeful squeeze, “mine.”

Sterling lets out a shuddering breath. “You’re going to make these next couple months really difficult for me,” she says, but in a matter of seconds is lying down on the seat and April takes that as an invitation to climb on top of her.

“You know, just because we can’t have sex doesn’t mean we can’t do other stuff,” she says, leaning in to kiss the sensitive spot under Sterling’s ear.

Sterling moans, biting her lip. “No fair,” she says, turning her head to capture April’s lips with hers, hands coming up to thread through April’s hair.

April smiles into the kiss, deepening it as she shifts her position on top of Sterling slightly to put her knee between Sterling’s legs, and as expected, Sterling grinds up into her, whimpering at the friction and continuing the motion until they’re interrupted by April’s phone buzzing in her pocket.

“Leave it, it’s probably a robocall!” Sterling whines when April sits up and takes it out of her pocket. 

It’s a number she doesn’t recognize but she answers it anyway.

“Hello, is this April Stevens?” A proper southern belle asks.

“This is she,” April responds, having practiced all her life to sound like an adult on the phone while Sterling makes a sort of exasperated huff from where she still lies on the car seat beneath her.

“Hi, Miss. Stevens. I’m sorry to call so late but I’m Wendy Sweeney, the wedding coordinator at Wimbish House, and I see we have you on standby for if any Saturdays opened up this August. Is now a bad time?” Wendy asks, along with the shuffling of papers on her end.

April sits up straighter, a grin spreading across her face as she realizes exactly what this call is about. “No, it’s not a bad time at all, Wendy. What’s going on?”

“It is a bad time, Wendy!” Sterling hisses in a whisper as April shoots her a warning look.

“Well, we had a last-minute cancellation for the 20th, if that would work out for you? I know this is short notice,” Wendy says, and it takes everything in April to contain herself when she answers.

“The 20th is perfect!” she says with glee, but reins herself in. “But may I ask what happened?” She doesn’t really need to ask, but with Sterling sitting up on her elbows, having surmised what this conversation is about, she needs to play dumb. She hits the speakerphone icon so Sterling can hear.

“Oh, the saddest thing. The cutest couple I ever saw and the cad gets caught talking to other girls two months before the wedding. Can you believe that?” the wedding coordinator says in outrage as Sterling shakes her head.

“I can. It’s why I’m marrying a woman,” April jokes, glad to hear Wendy laugh, and to see Sterling seem less upset about having been interrupted this time.

“Well, that’s certainly an idea! Anyway, I hope to meet you and your lovely fiancée soon and we can start working out details for your wedding! Have y’all got vendors lined up yet?” Wendy seems to have gotten over the loss of her previous couple quickly.

“We haven’t, so if you have some recommendations you could get together before our meeting, that would be lovely,” April says politely. “How does this Friday work for you?”

“Friday sounds great, Miss. Stevens. See you then!” Wendy says, and the two say their goodbyes before hanging up the phone.

“Okay, so it wasn’t a robocall,” Sterling says, not seeming upset to admit she was wrong. “We’re getting married on August 20th.”

“We’re getting married on August 20th,” April repeats for emphasis, squealing with excitement as she leans down to kiss Sterling again.


Chapter Text

“So you still haven’t told me that much about this Jamie girl,” Sterling says as she and April wait for the maid of honor herself to show up in the baggage claim area for Delta Airlines. Jamie’s plane from Raleigh supposedly landed twenty minutes ago, so it’s only a matter of time that she’ll show up, and from all that April has told Sterling, she doesn’t exactly know what to expect.

“I told you, she’s an old friend from camp,” April says and intertwines her fingers with Sterling’s at her side. “But I like her, so can you please just take my word for it that she’s great?”

Sterling nods, though she’s still unsure about this. Everyone else in their wedding party is someone she’s known for years, but this Jamie is a mystery. A mystery whom April used to have a crush on, no less. 

Just as she thinks that April gasps. “JStar!” she says, letting go of Sterling’s hands and running toward who can only be Jamie. And she is...not at all what Sterling expected.

Sterling was expecting a prim and proper church girl. But the woman whose arms are wrapped tightly around her fiancée is anything but prim and proper. In fact, she looks more like Ruby Rose’s even hotter cousin with her short hair, halfway tucked in t-shirt, and a sleeve tattoo. 

When she manages to pull herself away from April—or rather, shifts so that one arm remains wrapped around April’s waist, holding her close to her side, Jamie seems to finally notice Sterling’s presence. “And you must be her famous fiancée,” she offers Sterling her free hand. “Jamie Arden,” she introduces herself.

Sterling grips Jamie’s hand a little overly-hard as she shakes it. “Sterling Wesley. How the heck are ya?”

Jamie smiles, completely unfazed, and even Sterling feels herself go a little weak in the knees. “I’m great. Our girl’s had nothing but good things to say about you, so I gotta say I’m pretty stoked to see you crazy kids get hitched this summer. And I’m beyond honored to be included.”

Sterling tries not to get jealous at the usage of ‘our girl’ in reference to her fiancée, but April must sense her tension and takes over the conversation.

“I’m just glad you said yes. You’re the only friend I can trust to not give a speech about the time I fell off stage during rehearsals for Jesus Christ Superstar,” April says, rolling her eyes and picking up Jamie’s bag from next to her, leading the way out to the Volt.

“‘Kay, but someone definitely needs to tell that one to me,” Jamie says, following the two of them out to the car.

“The important takeaway from it was I caught her,” Sterling brags as she pops the trunk.

April scoffs and puts the bag in, slamming the trunk shut. “I’d say, ‘broke my fall’ would be a more accurate depiction of events. Keys please,” she says, holding out her hand expectantly. When Sterling hesitates, she adds, “I’m not letting you drive when we have a guest.”

Sterling sighs and hands over the keys, knowing it isn’t worth the argument as she climbs into the backseat.

“So, you guys know each other from church camp?” Sterling asks incredulously once they’ve joined her in the car.

“I was her counselor,” Jamie says, then adds, “I totally saved her life once, and then she tried to Sandlot me.”

“I did not!” April argues as she pulls out of their parking spot, meeting Sterling’s eyes in the rearview mirror as she adds, “I had a little accident at the pool and Jamie saved me from drowning. No ulterior motives behind me needing CPR.”

“Whatever you say, Kid,” Jamie says with an air of smug confidence that Sterling does not like one bit--especially because she can see April blush. Knowing that April once had feelings for other girls was easy to deal with when they existed in the past and were unattainable straight girls. Neither of those things applies to Jamie. “So Sterling, I gotta know. What made you want to ask little April to marry you?”

“Uh…” Sterling’s a little taken off guard by the question, seeing as it came out of nowhere. “Well, I love her…”

“That’s good to know, but what else?” Jamie asks, amused. “You know, what was ne sais quoi?”

“My theory is she’s afraid of having to take care of herself at UGA,” April jokes dryly.

Sterling is about to argue with that, but realizes immediately that it’s not entirely untrue, she just hadn’t thought about it before. But it certainly isn’t the reason why she and April are getting married--no matter how much she loves chicken biscuits. “Actually, it’s more like, I knew that if I don’t put a ring on it now, then I’m the biggest idiot in the world.”

April gives her a look in the mirror that says she’s getting the biggest kiss later. “Sterl knows quality wife material when she sees it.”

Jamie shakes her head. “You two are disgusting. No wonder my agreement with April’s been voided.”

Sterling frowns as April tries to change the subject by commenting on the level of traffic on the freeway. “What agreement?”

There’s a silence in the car before April quietly and quickly says, “If I hadn’t been kissed by the time I was 18, Jamie said she would do it.”

Sterling is taken aback by this, her mouth agape as she struggles to find the words to respond to that knowledge. “Oh, um, wow-”

“But don’t worry, she texted me I was off the hook the night you guys got together,” Jamie adds reassuringly, but Sterling feels anything but assured.

“April, you didn’t let me tell my sister we were together but you were texting Jamie the night of our first kiss?” she asks as she hears Jamie loudly suck air in through her teeth.

“To be fair, I didn’t want Blair to know because I didn’t want it getting out that I was gay. Jamie already knew.” April shrugs her shoulders. “Anyway J, which hotel are you staying at again? We have our dress appointments but you should have some time to get settled before.”

“The Waldorf in Buckhead,” Jamie offers helpfully, the cheery tone of her voice ignoring the awkwardness in the car.

Sterling sits back in her seat, watching the interplay between April and Jamie as the Volt speeds down the highway. Sterling has never seen April this at ease with anyone, besides her. And, truth be told, she doesn’t love how it makes her feel. On top of what feels uncomfortably like jealousy, Sterling is left out of the conversation about April’s favorite show. One Sterling has never even heard of before.

“Don’t tell me you still haven’t watched the series finale?” Jamie says, clearly wanting to talk about it before April cuts her off.

“I’ve been busy! Don’t you dare tell me,” April says firmly as she smoothly changes lanes.

“What show?” Sterling pipes up from the back seat, tired of being left out of the conversation.

“One you said you didn’t want to watch with me,” April says, then briefly looks at Jamie to say, “She hasn’t even seen Imagine Me and You.”

Jamie physically turns around in her seat to give Sterling a look of wide-eyed outrage. “What? You’re marrying a woman and you haven’t even been indoctrinated into the most basic of lesbian cinema?”

“To be fair, she’s not a lesbian,” April pipes up, “But yes, her ignorance is a real struggle in our relationship.”

“Hey, that’s not fair. I watched that spy one with the girl from Fast and Furious with you,” Sterling argues, though it sounds weak even to her as it leaves her lips. Especially since she can’t for the life of her remember what the movie is even called.

April and Jamie go back to talking about whatever it was they were talking about before, and Sterling sighs, crossing her arms as she sulks. Of course, she’s aware that she’s acting like a bratty kid not getting the attention she thinks she deserves, but she’s also not at all used to having to share April with anybody. And sure, it’s a selfish way of looking at April having a good friend she can be herself with--God knows April puts up with a lot when it comes to her and Blair--but Sterling can’t help herself.

She just has to keep reminding herself that at the end of all this madness, she’ll be married to April, and that’ll make it all worth it.

The rest of the wedding party is already there when they pull up in front of Bridals By Lori. Much to Sterling’s chagrin, her mom had insisted they had to invite Kristina to the fitting since she is a bridesmaid (whether Sterling wanted her to be one or not), and she seems to be keeping her distance from everyone else.

Her sister, on the other hand, nearly rips the Volt’s door off its hinges in her eagerness to pull Sterling aside. “I can’t believe you left me alone with mom for three hours, while she’s in wedding planner mode. You owe me, big time,” Blair whines, loudly enough that everyone in the reception area can hear her.

“Blair not now! Look at her!”

“Umm rather not, I still can’t believe you’re actually marrying her.”

“Not April. Look at Jamie!”

“Oh. Oh! She’s hot. And like not even objectively, just straight up hot. She looks like Ruby Rose!”

“I know! And April had a crush on her!”

“Dude, I might have a crush on her. But how old is she?”

“Old enough that she was April’s camp counselor, not just a friend from camp!”

“Yeah, that’s not suspicious at all.”


Sterling and Blair turn their attention back to the rest of the bridal party, who finish making introductions with Jamie just in time for one of the shop’s cheery employees to ask, “Are y’all for the Stevens-Wesley wedding?” Everyone nods or makes a sound of confirmation, and she smiles. “Great. Well, I’m Chantel, I’ll be one of the people helping today. Why don’t we go upstairs to a private room and get started?” She leads the way to a staircase as she continues making conversation. “Now, Lori says y’all have two brides and a mixed-gender wedding party, yes?”

“Yes, that’s right,” April says, walking faster to stay mostly at Chantel’s side. “Now, I already found a few dresses online that I would like to try on to get a feel for what I’m looking for, so are you who I go to for that?”

“I will be, yeah. But first, we’re going to try to figure out the wedding party outfits since y’all will probably want to be coordinating that together,” Chantel says helpfully.

“Where’s Lori and Monte?” Kristina whispers to Sterling, having managed to sneak up on her without making herself known until now.

“This isn’t an episode of the show, Kritter,” Blair reminds her, and their cousin rolls her eyes.

“Whatever. I just better be able to wear something nice to this wedding; don’t try to pull a fast one and put us in something ugly just to make the two brides look better,” Kristina laughs to herself.

“Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Blair fires back as they’re led into a room with a bunch of couches to sit on, and mannequins set up all around to show off various bridesmaid dress options, as well as a few suits. All in light colors or pastels.

Sterling moves up to take April’s hand, squeezing it tight and sharing an excited look with her. Not everything about planning their wedding has been exactly fun, but this could be a blast if they manage to stay on the same page.

“I called ahead and had them bring out some options. Since the two of you will be having a summer wedding that starts in the daytime, you’ll probably want to steer clear of any dark colors,” Debbie says, gesturing to one of the mannequins in a powder pink dress standing next to one in a light blue tux.

“Mooom, you know I’m allergic to pastels,” Blair whines.

“Normally I’m not one to agree with Blair, but I think I might have to with those,” April says, grimacing at both ensembles.

“Aww, come on,” Jamie says, stepping up and standing next to the tux. “I think I could pull this off in a 1980s prom kind of way,”

“And you would be the only one,” Ezekiel quips as he and Hannah B. begin perusing, with Luke following like a lost puppy.

“You’re planning on wearing a suit to the wedding?” Kristina asks snidely, clearly amused by a certain stereotype being reinforced.

Jamie doesn’t take the bait, smiling at her. “Thinkin’ about it, yeah. I know you wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I’m typically not much of a dress girl,” she says sarcastically.

“And you’ll be the most dapper Maid of Honor in all of Georgia,” April says, leaving Sterling’s side to interlock her arm with Jamie’s and smile threateningly at Kristina. Clearly, she was prepared for this. “But let’s find something a little more...low key,” she says and leads Jamie to where Ezekiel and Hannah B. are considering a sand-colored slim-cut suit.

Blair takes this opportunity to complain, sighing loudly. “This is seriously the worst, I hope you know,” she says to Sterling, who figures she may as well join in the fun, making the rounds around the room. 

Everything is nice, but nothing immediately pops out to her as something she wouldn’t mind seeing in a picture on her wall every day for the rest of her life. “It’s just a dress for one day, Blair. I think you’ll live,” Sterling says, not having the energy to fully placate her sister when she feels like she’s been sidelined in her own wedding planning by her fiancée, who seems to be having a jolly good time with her studly maid of honor.

“I’m not talking about the dresses—even though, and I cannot stress this enough, they’re awful—I’m talking about all of this,” she gestures around them to the goings-on in the room. “All of this fake bullshit for you to marry April.”

“You can hate the dress shopping and even the wedding all you want, but please don’t bring my fiancée into this,” Sterling says firmly. She may not be particularly happy with April at the moment, but she still isn’t about to let Blair put her down.

“Fine, fine,” Blair sighs, smartly knowing this is a battle she will not win, but then she clicks her tongue and asks, “But I have to know. What’s it like to be marrying a carbon copy of Mom?”

Sterling sputters at that. “What?!”

“You heard me,” Blair says and cuts her eyes in the direction of April and Debbie speaking to Chantel. Both are in a similar stance with their hands on their hips as Chantel walks them through how much a rush order on alterations will be.

Sterling frowns. “I mean, they’ve got similar tendencies but trust me, April’s nothing like mom when you get down to it. She’s a big nerd, but she’s so much fun when she lets loose,” she smiles to herself, being reminded all over again why she’s going to marry that girl when she thinks of April, just last night, passionately explaining to her the great tragedy of Padmé Amidala.

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Remember when we were kids and we had to stop inviting her to sleepovers because she kept making us all go to bed at like 9?” Blair says as she saunters up to a dress that Sterling doesn’t quite know what to think of. A sort of 50s-cut short dress in a sandy color, not unlike the suit April was looking at before. Except it also featured a large, multicolored floral design. “Now this one is just-”

“Perfect!” April says, coming up behind them and not allowing Blair to give it whatever insult she had in mind. “J, come look at this one,” she calls over to Jamie.

“I was gonna say tacky,” Blair says under her breath to Sterling, who finds herself feeling extremely stuck between a rock and a hard place. She doesn’t want to say the wrong thing to either of them.

When Jamie approaches, April has already gone into full visionary mode. “Okay, so picture it. This dress with the Havana tux. Maybe we could do different colored ties to go with the colors of the flowers?” April suggests, much to Sterling’s annoyance, mostly to Jamie.

“Oh, that would look so dope. But, ya know, I’m partial to anything that involves the rainbow,” Jamie says as Sterling rolls her eyes. 

She’s met teenage boys with less douchebag energy than this girl. “I mean yeah, that would be cute, but shouldn’t we ask the opinion of the people who have to wear it?” Sterling asks in an attempt to split the baby between appeasing April and making Blair know she’s still on her side. But that works about as well as when King Solomon tried it the second Kristina jumps in.

“Oh, that’s so cute! Don’t you think so, Blair Bear?” she says in her signature goading fashion as Blair goes red in the face.

“If we’re doing colored ties, then Luke gets green!” Hannah B. calls from across the room where she’s comparing ties with Luke’s face.

Sensing disaster, Sterling turns to make eye-contact with Blair in a last-ditch effort to salvage all of this.

“Look, I know you hate the dress, but if you agree to wear it, I promise I’ll help you pack up your whole room before you leave for UNC.”

“That dress is hideous; you’ll have to do a lot better than that.”

“I can help do your homework remotely next year?”

“Close, but no cigar.”

“Dollywood. Spring Break.”

“But your new bride will be with us, no doubt. I want the Volt.”


“You heard me. I want to take the Volt with me to UNC.”

“What am I supposed to drive, then?”

“Not my problem, Mrs. Stevens.”

“Don’t call me that. We’re hyphenating. But alright, fine. Deal.”

“You know what? I actually really love this dress,” Blair says with an exaggerated smile, turning to April. “So if Sterl here likes it, then I think we have a winner.” She pats Sterling a little too hard on the back.

“Yeah, I like it,” Sterling says, nodding, but thinking she’s going to be in deep trouble when April learns she just gave their only means of transportation to Blair without a fight. But she is willing to give anything to not drag out this circus.

April beams. “Well, then I think we have our wedding party figured out,” she says excitedly. “And now the real fun begins.”

Sterling feels an overwhelming sensation of dread fall over her when she realizes this only means she’ll have to put on a dramatic white fashion show now.

Sterling is on dress...five? Or was it six? She’s honestly started to lose count in this seemingly endless cycle of returning to the dressing room to strip down and put on yet another dress that makes her feel somewhere between a cloud and a cupcake. It’s started to drive her to wanting to wear a suit for the big day--maybe Jamie had the right idea all along.There’s a small knock on the dressing room door that breaks her out of her self-examination of herself in the 360 mirrors.

“You ready, sweetheart?” her mom asks gently.

Sterling sighs. “Yeah, hold on a second,” she says, hiking the strapless monstrosity up near her armpits and adjusting her boobs accordingly. She already knows this one is a big fat no for her--she knows now that ball gowns are not her style, especially not ones with beading and lace for days without even some shoulder straps to hold it up--but in true Say Yes to the Dress tradition, she has to let her mom, sister, ex-boyfriend, and least favorite cousin judge her in it anyway. Taking a deep breath, she sighs and opens the door, walking down the small hallway to her designated room.

There are a couple of seconds before anyone notices she’s returned when Sterling can take stock of her bridal party. Poor Luke looks bored out of his mind while Debbie and Kristina talk animated about the pros and cons of mermaid dresses, and Blair just looks...amused. No doubt at least partially at Sterling’s expense. Her designated Bridals by Lori employee after Chantel went with April--Veronica-- clears her throat to bring everyone’s attention to Sterling, and they all look up.

“Baby, that one looks so gorgeous!” Debbie says, to the surprise of nobody, considering it’s a dress she picked out personally as Sterling does her obligatory twirl.

“It’s an Eve of Milady. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser,” Veronica says like a proper saleswoman.

“Yeah, it’s...pretty…” Kristina says, trailing off as she looks in another direction. “Don’t know how I feel about the sheer midsection…”

“You can forget about wearing any sexy lingerie under that,” Blair chimes in as Luke seems to choke on his own spit.

“I just don’t think this one is really me,” Sterling says finally, looking down at herself and then back at Veronica. “Do you think we can maybe try something a little less...poofy? With straps. But no train.” The bright side to having already tried on so many dresses is Sterling is starting to get a clearer idea of what she’s wanting. She just doesn’t know if it exactly aligns with what everyone else is envisioning for her.

It really is like her own episode of SYTTD.

Sterling retreats back to her changing room, taking extra care not to snag any of the lace, especially around the midriff. The assistant takes the Eve of Milady dress and leaves another in its place before Sterling even gets a good look at it. Though once she does, she’s pleasantly surprised.

The dress is very cute, and basically the polar opposite of everything she’s been made to try on so far. It only just brushes her knees and the entire bodice has lacy overlay, giving the illusion of three quarter length sleeves. Once she’s in it and has it zipped, Sterling looks at herself in the mirror, and she loves it even more. The ivory color goes well with her skin tone, and she can’t help but appreciate the airiness of the dress for an August wedding in Georgia.

With one last look in the mirror Sterling pads back down the hallway to show off. As she approaches she can hear another voice from down the hall. “April wants to know how things are going in here.” It’s Hannah B. and that can only mean one thing; that April found her dress.

That knowledge is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking, but Sterling feels somewhat confident that if everyone else agrees, this dress she’s wearing could be the one.

“I think we’re making progress,” she hears her mom reply. “Did April decide on that third dress?” Debbie had been back and forth between dressing rooms up until now, so her sticking around should have been yet another clue that April was wrapping things up.

“Mhm. I’d say she’s gonna knock Sterling’s socks off when she sees, but I know Sterling won’t be wearing socks. Hopefully,” Hannah B. confirms, and Sterling smiles. She’s always known how gorgeous April will look when she walks down the aisle, but to have it solidified with a real dress makes everything all the more real. And not even frickgirl Jamie can ruin it for her.

With that, Sterling decides to make her big entry, making more noise than necessary when she walks back into the showing room so everyone will already be prepared. “Tadaa!” She says excitedly, giggling as she does her twirl, but the joy drains from her face when she stops and sees the less than impressed looks on everyone’s faces—except Blair.

“What do you think?” Sterling ventures. “I really like this one,”

“Don’t you think you want something a little more...formal?” Debbie suggests tactfully, and Sterling knows immediately that she hates the dress.

“I...tend to agree,” Luke speaks up for the first time since they’ve been here. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, you look beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s right for a church wedding.”

“Yeah, and definitely not for your reception venue,” Kristina adds. “And like, with two brides, you don’t want one majorly upstaging the other, ya know?” She makes a good point, as Sterling is sure whatever dress April’s picked out is probably beyond glamorous and dramatic—much like the bride herself—but that doesn’t stop her from being upset at Kristina’s bluntness actually having a sliver of truth behind it for maybe the first time.

Sterling sighs. “Well fine, I guess this one’s out,” she says, defeated. “Anyone else want to pick one out for me to try on?” 

Much to her surprise, Blair raises her hand. “Yeah, I’ll go,” she says and follows Veronica to where the dresses are stored, beginning to describe what she’s looking for.

Sterling takes that as her cue to return to the dressing room, stripping out of the short dress without allowing herself to glance at it in the mirror again. There was no use in being attached to a dress that she wouldn’t be wearing.

When she’s stripped down to her bra and underwear, Blair and Veronica still haven’t presented her with anything to change into, so she retrieves her phone from the pocket of her jeans, pooled on the floor from when she took them off. She smiles when she sees a text from April, sent just five minutes ago.

April: You find anything yet?

Sterling sighs. That doesn’t exactly help her feeling of anxiety that she’s taking forever and probably won’t even find the right dress. Like the worst kind of bride from the show.

Sterling: Not yet.☹️ why do wedding dresses come with so many rules? She replies and smiles when she gets a response less than a minute later.

April: ‘Cause they’re one of the last ceremonial dresses women have left after they stopped sacrificing us to volcanoes.

April: Sooo...what’re you wearing rn? 😉

Sterling laughs to herself, genuinely laughs, for the first time all day. April just has a gift for making her feel better when she needs it most. But then April’s second text has her deep in contemplation.

Sterling sneaks a glance at the changing room door, knowing Blair or Veronica could come in at any moment with her next candidate, but feeling a little daring. Sure, Jamie is April’s good friend and has opinions on things like nerdy fandoms and formalwear, but there is certainly one thing she doesn’t have. Her mind made up, Sterling opens the camera app on her phone and snaps a few quick selfies, her favorite upon looking through them being one in which she bit her lip and brought her non-phone hand up to her shoulder to hook her thumb through her bra strap. Before she can think better of it, she selects the picture and sends it to April, deleting the others.

For a couple of grueling minutes, there’s no response, and Sterling wonders if she’s made a mistake in sending it. For as long as she and April have been together, sending sexy pics was never something they’ve really done before. Especially with them only recently being of legal age.

There’s a knock on the door, and Sterling jumps, putting her phone into sleep mode.

“Your sister thinks you and your mom might like this one. It’s an Allure Couture,” Veronica says, cracking the door open enough to hand Sterling a dress on its hanger.

Sterling rolls her eyes. Knowing Blair, it’s probably the most hideous dress she could find. But she takes it anyway.

Putting it on, she notices two things right off the bat. One, this dress is ever so slightly off-white, more of a champagne color with only the lacy outer layer being white, which she’s sure her mom will love . Two, it has small cap sleeves, but it’s pretty low-cut on her chest, warranting her to take off her bra as she had with the strapless dresses. When she has it on, she doesn’t get much of a chance to look herself over in the mirror because her phone buzzes, and she snatches it up immediately to see April’s reply.

April: Give a girl a little warning next time

April: but also 🤤🤪😍

Sterling smiles to herself, perfectly satisfied with such a response. Despite what most people think when they look at her, April is the furthest from a prude when the moment calls for it, and Sterling loves that about her. Sure, the waiting ‘til marriage thing is a less-than-fun curveball she’s been thrown, but the teasing and the toeing of the line between what they should and shouldn’t be doing in the time leading up to the wedding is also a little exciting. 

Of course, Sterling has also never masturbated more in her life than in the last few weeks, but at least it’s kept her sane.

With that thought, she returns her phone to rest with her things and gets to examining herself in the mirrors. 

She feels her heart leap in her chest when she realizes that Blair did not choose something hideous for her. Far from it, in fact, as she unexpectedly feels tears prick in her eyes because this is possibly the most beautiful dress she’s ever seen. Not too flashy or dramatic, just simple elegance that makes Sterling feel radiant. When she notes the small train on the back, she can’t help but chuckle to herself, because of course, Blair would give her one thing she could do without, but it’s not nearly enough to make her stop loving the dress.

As she opens the door of the changing room and makes her way back down the hall, the only fear Sterling has is that nobody else will like it, but even that is abated the second she opens the door and the only sound to come from her bridal party is a collective gasp.

“Wow,” Kristina says, sounding genuine for perhaps the first time in as long as Sterling has known her, “Blair, you picked that?” she asks in disbelief.

Blair nods, a look of smug satisfaction on her face. “I know my sister. Maid of Honor, for the win.”

Debbie gets up from her seat to circle Sterling to get a good look from all angles. “The back’s perfect for a veil,” she notes, then turns to Veronica. “Any chance y’all carry this in pure ivory? I’m not sure how I feel about the champagne color.”

“We do,” Veronica says helpfully. “Should I go get one…?” she ventures.

Sterling shakes her head firmly. “No, I like the color.” She loves her dress and she wouldn’t change a thing about it.

“C’mon, Mom. Let Sterl wear whatever color feels right for her. I’m sure April’s wearing something perfectly lily-white,” Blair argues, and Sterling’s surprised she’s really going to bat for her over this. Sure, it’s the dress she picked out, but it’s not like she’s exactly happy about this wedding even happening anyway.

“I just think it would look more bridal if it was white,” Debbie says in a more hushed tone, revealing exactly what her concerns are about.

“It’s bridal if a bride is wearing it,” Blair says plainly. “I can assure you that Sterl’s innocence, or lack thereof, won’t be called into question over the color of her dress in the year 2022.”

Kristina snickers as Luke pinches the bridge of his nose.

Debbie sighs, seemingly looking up to the Heavens for guidance before putting on a good face and smiling, clearly knowing that Sterling being satisfied with her own dress is more important than it not being white enough to avoid scrutiny. “Well, Sterling, is this really the dress you want?” she asks finally.

“It is,” Sterling says with all the certainty in the world.

Blair gets up from her seat and whispers in Sterling’s ear, “You have to say it.”

Sterling rolls her eyes and begrudgingly says, “I’m saying yes to the dress.”

If the process of buying formalwear was tense, then the lunch that immediately follows is anything but. With everyone chatting animatedly, genuinely excited for the wedding that feels all the more real now that they all have outfits for it--even Debbie, who managed to find the most glamorous mother of the bride dress Sterling has ever seen--Sterling feels for the first time that maybe, just maybe, it might just go off without a hitch. Something she’s even more certain of when she turns to April sitting at her side and smiles as she squeezes her hand under the table.

“So girls, have you given any thought to where you’re gonna go for the honeymoon?” Jamie asks as she beats Kristina to the last remaining piece of fried calamari on the appetizer plate in front of them.

“That’s a tricky one because unfortunately, there’s only a week between our wedding and the first day of classes at UGA,” April says, sipping on her peach lemonade. “But, I was thinking maybe we could plan something small and relatively close by for now, and then later we can do a real one, maybe to Europe or an island.”

“Or a European island,” Sterling suggests, earning herself her favorite kind of endeared smile from April.

“Or that,” April agrees. “So maybe we could go to an all-inclusive resort for about five days if we do a lot of our school packing beforehand. Maaaybe to the happiest place on Earth that just so happens to not be so far far away…” she smiles deviously at her not-so-subtle references.

“April, are you making this poor girl take you to Star Wars Land for your honeymoon?” Jamie asks as it clicks in her head.

“Technically it’s called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and she’s promised that we can actually spend some time in the other parks too,” Sterling says, coming to April’s defense. Sure, it’s not her first choice for her honeymoon, but when working on a time crunch, she can think of worse places than Disney World.

April smiles, satisfied with having Sterling sticking up for her on this. “And I’ve done my research and we can get an amazingly romantic suite at the Grand Floridian resort for the time we want to spend together outside of the parks.”

“So like...90% of the time?” Jamie says cheekily as Debbie drops her salad fork.

Sterling feels herself blush crimson. Obviously, she and April are expected to have sex once they’re married, but the idea of her parents knowing they will is more than a little horrifying.

“Isn’t the Grand Floridian where that kid got eaten by an alligator?” Blair asks, clearly wanting to change the subject as much as, if not more than, Sterling.

“Oh yeah, I hear that Disney lake is like super gator-infested,” Luke chimes in.

“It’s Florida. The whole state is gator-infested,” Debbie says, rolling her eyes. “Take it from someone who honeymooned there herself, make sure you girls bring about triple the deodorant you thought you’d need.”

“Good to know…” April trails off, suddenly seeming unsure about their destination for the first time since she brought it up to Sterling. She shakes it off quickly though. “Anyway, at the end of the day, the honeymoon is irrelevant so long as I get to spend those first few days after the wedding with my new wife,” she says, punctuating her sentence by bringing Sterling’s hand up to her lips to gently kiss her knuckles.

Blair loudly gags as Sterling feels overwhelmed by the love she has for April. There’s no doubt in her mind that they’re doing the right thing.

“And, in case any of you were wondering how we’ll be wanting our Mrs. and Mrs. towels monogrammed, Sterl and I have decided on our name,” April adds, taking Sterling off guard, as she didn’t realize this announcement would be coming so soon. “You all are staring at the future Mrs. April Elizabeth Stevens-Wesley, and yes, that is my bridal hashtag from here on out,” April says with a self-satisfied smirk since she’d actually managed to get Sterling to agree to let her name go first.

“That’s...a mouthful…” Blair says, sneaking a glance at Sterling as if she can’t believe her sister would agree to this, but Sterling just shrugs. It wasn’t worth the fight.

“That’s what she said,” Ezekiel mumbles under his breath, and he and Luke snicker.

Sterling wonders why they thought it was a good idea to include boys in their wedding party.

“So is that something y’all decided in your counseling sessions with Pastor Booth?” Kristina asks, which is innocent enough until she adds, “One of my friends from high school is getting married in a couple of weeks and she says those sessions have basically made her hate her fiance.”

“Well thankfully, that isn’t the case for us,” April says, unwavering. “Harland thinks Sterl and I show great promise for the future. In fact, we have a session with him tonight and we’re really looking forward to it. Right, Honey?” April says in a vaguely threatening tone, knowing how Sterling has grown to loathe their counseling sessions.

Sterling nods, shoving a couple fries in her mouth to avoid having to do much more than that. She’s not exactly looking forward to airing her grievances regarding feeling somewhat left out in planning her own wedding.

“You know, a lot of relationship experts say therapy is good for couples even when they don’t have problems because it keeps you level,” Jamie says, backing April up. “And I mean, I know it’s not the same thing, but I feel like even my Youth Group kids do really well with having a constant source of spiritual guidance as they go through a transitionary period in their lives. I can’t imagine it hurts having your pastor guide you into married life.”

Sterling rolls her eyes at the way Jamie was just able to humble-brag herself into a comparison with Pastor Booth.

“Exactly, J,” April agrees, clearly not seeing or choosing to not see what a self-absorbed douchecanoe her maid of honor is.  “I didn’t know you lead a Youth Group,” she says, sounding genuinely impressed, which would be bad enough if she didn’t proceed to twirl a strand of her hair around her finger like an infatuated schoolgirl.

“Yeah, it’s actually a group specifically geared toward Christian LGBT youth, but anyone can join if they want to. I just think those kids are the most in need of someone in their corner who can just talk to and relate to them, you know?” Jamie says, then laughs to herself. “I mean, obviously, you know.”

“That I do,” April says, smiling.

Sterling grabs her chocolate milk glass from the table, sucking it down fast enough that she doesn’t realize she’s finished it off until her straw makes a loud sucking noise, and April lightly elbows her side to get her to put it down. “If you all will excuse me, I have to use the ladies' room,” she says, getting up from the table and putting her cloth napkin that was on her lap next to her plate.

Without needing to be told, verbally or otherwise, Blair follows suit. “I’ll go with you,” she says, then follows Sterling as they all but run to the restaurant’s women’s bathroom. The second the door closes behind her, Blair is going off. “What the Hell was that? Who does this bitch think she is?”

“She thinks she’s a saint, apparently, and so does April,” Sterling says, feeling herself getting more worked up by the second. She knows it’s not fair to make such a harsh judgement of someone she’s only just met, but this all has been one terrible first impression.

“I’m sure Bowser or Yolanda know a guy if you want her to be conveniently unavailable for the rest of the wedding planning?” Blair suggests, and Sterling laughs, not necessarily thinking it’s a bad idea but knowing she couldn’t do that to April. “Or I can teach her a lesson myself. Mano a mano. MOH vs MOH,” Blair says, getting into a boxer’s stance and jumping around like Muhammad Ali.

Sterling shakes her head. God does she love her sister. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that would go over well with future Mrs. Stevens-Wesley,” she says, genuinely disappointed to have to shut down the idea.

“Okay but seriously, what the eff? You’re seriously going to look me in the eye and tell me you’re fine with becoming Sterling Stevens-Wesley?” Blair shakes her head in disgust. “God, saying it out loud is so much worse than thinking it.”

“Yes, I am fine with that. I love April and she loves her name, so compromises have to be made,” she says resolutely.

“Yeah, but I figured it would be Wesley-Stevens. You’re seriously gonna give first billing to the dude we,” Blair lowers her voice for the last part of her sentence, “threw in the damn slammer only like two years ago?”

Sterling sighs. “Yes, but speaking of. Do you think it’s wrong that I still haven’t told April about...any of that?”

Blair scoffs. “No. The jerk threw her out of his house right before her high school graduation and the likelihood of her ever finding out on her own is pretty low. I mean, don’t you think John would have told her by now if he was going to? Might as well save April any of the hassle of knowing,” she says with certainty, and Sterling can hardly argue with her logic. April’s been through so much already, so telling her something she doesn’t necessarily ever have to know would just bring her unnecessary pain, and that’s the last thing Sterling ever wants to do.

“Okay, but seriously, what do I do about the whole Jamie thing?” she asks, steering everything back to why they are in this bathroom in the first place.

Blair shrugs. “I mean, not to get all mature adult on you or whatever, but have you considered...talking to April about it?”

It’s the simplest piece of advice she could get, but Sterling knows it’s the right one. “Yeah, we do have that therapy session tonight…” she trails off.

“Well, there you go. You guys can duke it out over Christian Ruby Rose with Pastor Booth as referee,” Blair says and Sterling frowns.

“Do you really think she looks that much like Ruby Rose?” she asks.

Blair nods fervently. “Yeah. But like...this one doesn’t have the distinction of being a bad Batwoman. So even I would do her after a few drinks.”

“Blair!” Sterling chastises, smacking her sister’s arm. 

“I’m just being honest,” she says, putting her hands up in surrender. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I actually do have to pee,” she pushes past Sterling to a stall.

Sterling groans, rubbing at the side of her face as she feels a migraine coming on. None of this is getting any easier.

“Well, welcome back, you two,” Pastor Booth says, taking a seat across from Sterling and April in his office. “I trust y’all have been having a good weekend?”

“Such a good weekend,” April enthuses as they both move to what have become ‘their’ seats. “We both found our dresses today! And right on time. We have just enough time for the alterations; Bridals by Lori is extremely busy.”

Sterling barely manages not to roll her eyes at April’s obvious name drop, but she is surprised by Harland’s reaction.

“Are y'all going to be on Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta ? My wife and I just love that show! It’s so glamorous.” Harland smiles at both of them and segues right from small talk to counselling. “Does it feel like things are really starting to come together? It’s alright if you’ve encountered some...strife during wedding planning, you’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last to feel that way.”

“No, we haven’t had anything insurmountable,” April replies smoothly and Sterling has to bite her tongue (hard) to keep from bringing up the Ruby elephant that had been in the car less than an hour ago.

“Well, in that case,” Harland says, leading into the next part of their session, “Last time I asked the two of you-”

Sterling can’t let him finish his sentence. She can’t hold it in anymore. “April’s maid of honor makes me uncomfortable and I feel like she values her opinions over mine when it comes to planning the wedding.”

“What?!” April says in outrage, turning her whole body to face Sterling. “You just met her today. How did you come to that conclusion?”

Sterling clears her throat and puts on a high-pitched, mocking version of her take on April, “Oh, J, this dress is so cute, don’t you think it’s so cute? J, you’re such a good person leading your gay Youth Group!” Sterling giggles and twirls her hair around her finger before going stony-faced.

“I did not do that,” April says in a firm denial, but Sterling isn’t having it.

“Oh, you totally did. Even Blair noticed,” she insists and April scoffs.

“Oh, well if Blair noticed, then I must have done it because she’s a completely unbiased party.” The sarcasm drips off of every word that leaves April’s lips.

“What does that even mean?” Sterling asks.

“Your sister hates me and she hates that we’re getting married. You don’t think she’ll take any opportunity she can to sabotage?” April says as if it’s so obvious, and objectively, Sterling can’t exactly argue with her there, so she pivots.

“Yeah, well, you gave her the opportunity,” she says accusingly.

“I am allowed to have friends that are gay without wanting to have sex with them, Sterling,” April says plainly, sounding more than a little hurt that Sterling could even think she would do such a thing.

“Considering you don’t even want to have sex with me, I’d certainly hope not,” Sterling mutters just loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, and immediately regrets it when Pastor Booth’s eyes go wide.

April gasps. “Harland, Sterling is being ridiculous and jealous and invalidating my vow with the Lord to stay pure until marriage!” she says, sounding an awful lot like a kid tattling, which would be laughable, given the subject matter, if Sterling weren’t so upset with her right now.

Harland puts up a hand to silence them both, not letting this go on any further. “Ladies, there is… a lot to dive into here. So how about we just start from the root of the issue and go from there. Sterling, without any mockery--which is not very constructive when dealing with our partners in life, I might add--why do you not care for April’s maid of honor?”

Sterling sits back on the couch, “Well, I feel like she’s one of those not-so-humble people who do good things for people but like...knows she’s doing good things and thinks she deserves a pat on the back for it. Also, April admitted that she used to have a crush on her when she was younger and I guess that made me a little jealous from the get-go and when we were at the bridal shop and April seemed to be more interested in Jamie’s opinions than mine, that didn’t help.”

Before April can argue with anything Sterling said, Harland stops her. “And April, why is it that you weren’t willing to hear Sterling’s opinion of this girl until just now?”

“Because I know it’s not true,” April says stubbornly. “Jamie is a good person who got me through a difficult time in my life and made me the woman who is here today, willing to stand before all my friends and family and declare my love for another woman. I feel like that can’t be understated. But on top of that, I mean it when I say that I don’t have romantic feelings for her anymore. I haven’t since Sterling kissed me after our Solomon’s Temple presentation.”

Despite herself, Sterling can feel some of her resolve to be angry with April dissipate with the sincere admission. “But still, you guys can just talk about...stuff and just leave me out. I didn’t like feeling like I was playing second fiddle.”

“Sterl, I promise you, you aren’t second fiddle to anyone. It’s just...refreshing to have someone else to talk to about these things. I love you, but we don’t have all of the same interests, and that’s okay, but that’s why I need friends like Jamie,” April says and takes Sterling’s hand. “I’m sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have made you feel left out. This is your day as well as mine that we’re planning.” With that said, her face falls. “Does it really bother you that much that I want to wait until we’re married to have sex?”

Sterling sighs. “I mean, I can’t say it’s exactly easy for me, but no, it doesn’t bother me. I was just being petty.”

“That was very good, ladies,” Harland says, reentering the conversation. “That was one heck of an argument, but you worked through it constructively, and I couldn’t be happier. However, I think there’s one thing we need to touch on a little deeper. April, why do you think Blair hates you?”

“Because she does,” April says, crossing her arms and leaning back. “She has ever since we were kids.”

“And that hasn’t changed at all since you became involved with her sister?” Harland asks, mostly directing his question towards Sterling this time.

“I mean, I’d say it’s gotten a bit better,” Sterling says weakly. “I mean, April probably isn’t her favorite person in the world, but she wouldn’t be my maid of honor if she was that against this wedding happening.”

April shrugs. “Yeah, I guess so. I don’t have siblings so I guess I just don’t really get their dynamic sometimes...but they’re really weird so I doubt I would even if I did have siblings.”

Harland nods and makes a note of something in his notebook. “Alright, so for your homework before next session, I think I would like you, Sterling, to figure out something you think will help Blair and April reach some common ground. They’re likely the two most important women in your life aside from your mama, and it would be good for y’all’s marriage if you go into it with the least amount of strife between the two of them as possible. Sound good?”

Sterling nods. “Yeah, I can try to think of something,” she says, looking at April, who seems less than optimistic or enthusiastic about bonding time with Blair.

Harland turns to April. “And April, I know we talked last time about your hesitation when it comes to compromising, so for your homework assignment, I asked that you think of one thing in your life plan that you think you can compromise on to better align with Sterling. Think of anything?”

April seems taken off-guard that he should bring this up now, but straightens herself up in her seat and clears her throat. “Well, I gave it some thought and I think I could amend my stance on us maybe having a kid to us for sure having at least one, and any others would be up for discussion no less than five years after the first.”

“Sounds like you already got that lawyer-speak down pat, but yes, I think that’s a good compromise, April. Sterling, does that give you any comfort, knowing that April agrees to children in at least some capacity.”

“It does,” Sterling offers April a small smile. She knows this compromise, no matter how many caveats it has, is a big step for April. And she knows that even when they have their issues, like today, they can get through everything. So she finds herself feeling a lot better than she had coming into this counseling session.

But now she’s left with a seemingly impossible task: how to get Blair and April onto some common ground. It won’t be easy. Nay, it will be nearly impossible. But she is going to get them there. She has to.

Chapter Text

“Okay, so I’m thinking if we put the Creswells with the Coltons, we’ll minimize any chance of drama occurring if we also put Hannah B’s parents there,” April muses, mostly to herself as she looks over her seating chart, moving sticky tabs around accordingly. It’s been a fairly cut-and-dry task so far, which is surprising considering they’re having to coordinate 200 guests--turns out the lavish gay wedding is the can’t-miss event of the summer--but she has been saving a few of the more questionable people for last.

“Are all three really coming to the wedding?” Sterling asks in surprise, looking again at their list of people who have RSVPed yes.

“Yep. Dan, Dave, and Charlotte,” April says, far too familiar with the situation to be surprised by any of it anymore.

“Okay, so I don’t think anyone’s ever told me. What’s the deal there?” Sterling asks, sipping a cup of coffee that’s more milk and sugar than coffee.

April finishes putting the tabs to the table and looks up, trying to think of the simplest way to explain. “Well, Hannah B’s mom was dating Dave, they broke up, and within two weeks she started dating Dan. Got pregnant, married Dan, and he and Dave became such good friends throughout everything that they never had the heart to get a paternity test.”

Sterling frowns but is clearly amused. “So...the plot of the third Bridget Jones movie?”

“I always thought Mamma Mia, but yes, exactly. And to top it off, Hannah B. has never seen either of those movies,” April chuckles to herself and goes back to her seating chart. “Okay, so where exactly am I supposed to put your manager from the yogurt shop and his date?” she frowns, still a little confused that Sterling had been so insistent on inviting them. 

“Is there any space at table 10?” Sterling asks, craning her neck to get a better view of the map.

April scoots her kitchen table chair closer to Sterling’s to better accommodate her. “Yes, there is. But the question is, do you think Ellen will drive them insane?” she points to Ellen’s name tab alongside seven other miscellaneous people she and Sterling know from school and Junior League.

“I mean, if Bowser and Yolanda can put up with me and Blair all the time, I think they can handle Ellen for a few hours,” Sterling says, shrugging. “If anything, it’ll be an excuse for Bowser to get up from the table and dance, which I would pay big money to see.”

April laughs, having only really met the man once but knowing she strongly agrees as she puts the two tabs down on table 10. “Okay, so that just leaves the family tables. So at table 1, we’ve got your parents, your grandparents, and your uncle’s family. That leaves three empty places since Kristina will--unfortunately--be at the head table with us.”

“Apparently Kristina whined to my mom about leaving a place at the family table for her boyfriend. I doubt he’ll come, but it’s not worth the fight,” Sterling says and April rolls her eyes, but grabs a blank tab and writes in, ‘Kritter’s BF’ on it in Sharpie before putting it down next to Kristina’s parents.

The two of them are already very tired of dealing with Kristina, and it’s still only June. “Is Blair still seeing Chase Colton or do I need to leave a space for some other guy at the family table?” April asks.

“Still with Chase, I think. She’s had a crush on him since 7th grade and I guess it’s a closure thing that she bangs him before she leaves for UNC.”

“Lovely,” April says, humming and considering those two remaining places. Against her better judgment, she sent an invitation to her parents but hadn’t received a response of any kind.

“We can leave those last ones vacant just in case,” Sterling says gently as if reading her mind, moving even closer to wrap her arm around April’s shoulders and pull her in close.

“Thanks,” April says quietly, leaning her head into Sterling for a few minutes before she forces herself to go back to work, shaking the feelings away. “Okay, so that leaves table 2. My Uncle Bill and his wife don’t have kids but my Aunt Francine and her husband Tom have four kids, and the oldest two both have spouses, so that’s a full ten right there.”

Sterling seems surprised by this. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I know, right? Who has four kids?”

“No, I mean, you actually have a whole table of family coming?” Sterling asks, eyes wide in disbelief, and April’s knee-jerk reaction is to feel offended.

“Yes, Sterling. Surprisingly enough, not everyone who’s related to me hates the gays. Bill and Francine are my mom’s older siblings and they always hated my dad so they weren’t around a lot, but he hated them right back for being liberals, so I figured I’d go out on a limb and invite everyone and they said yes. So table 2 is full if that’s alright with you?” April’s not really asking for permission. The prospect of having any family of hers at all at this wedding had her pretty much on cloud nine when she read the RSVPs.

“I mean, I think it’s kinda unexpected that the Stevens family table is gonna be the one full of liberals-” Sterling says, amused.

“Emerson,” April interjects, not wanting to give her dad’s bigoted family any more credit than they deserve.


“My mom’s maiden name is Emerson. And my aunt’s married name is Hadley. Things you should probably know since I’m not just marrying into your family, you’re marrying into mine,” April informs her. It’s something that’s been dwelling in the back of her mind since her and Sterling’s argument about their shared last name. 

“And words can’t even express how excited I am to marry you and learn absolutely every part of you I don’t already know,” Sterling gives April one of those infuriatingly charming grins.

“Then you better take notes,” April says, smiling and leaning in to kiss Sterling but cuts it short of going fully into makeout territory. They have places to be. “And on that note, the seating chart is done.”

“It’s done?” Sterling asks in happy disbelief, taking the map to look it over herself.

“Yep. Just in time for our appointment with the caterer, too. And thank God for that because I’m fucking starving. Whoever thought making wedding dresses require dieting on top of the stress of planning a wedding should be shot,” April grumbles, taking the seating chart from Sterling and putting it into her wedding planning binder.

“Oh yeah, dieting. The worst…” Sterling says, trailing off because she’s obviously not been doing that if her demeanor is any indication.

“Sterl…” April says, shaking her head because she’s not about to fat shame her fiancee, but if she doesn’t fit in her wedding dress, that’ll definitely put a damper on pictures. Though her train of thought is interrupted by Anderson making his way into the kitchen, dressed in a pair of freshly-pressed khakis and a polo shirt. April wonders if he’s got a tee time to get to.

“You girls ready to go taste some food?” he asks excitedly, Blair walking in behind him.

“I thought Mom was taking us,” Sterling says, voicing exactly what April herself was thinking. She can’t think of a single thing they’ve planned in this wedding that Debbie hasn’t had a big say in.

“She was, but she passed the torch to me because I guess tryin’ all kinds of yummy food doesn’t fit with her fasting thing. So I said sign me up,” Anderson says, clearly actually excited about this.

“And you know I can’t turn down free samples,” Blair adds.

“Well,” April says, sharing a look with Sterling, “I guess we better get going then.”

As they head out to Anderson’s car, April can’t help but feel like she’s leaving the house without pants on, being without Debbie. Her future mother-in-law has been a rock in planning this thing and to not have her when choosing something as important as their crowd-pleaser dinner scares her. But, she supposes that if Anderson’s going to help, she can at least count on his unwavering honesty.

“It’s sour. Is goat cheese supposed to be sour?” Anderson makes a face after biting into a bruschetta, half of which he passes to Blair, who pops it into her mouth.

“I think so,” she says. “Doesn’t mean I like it, though.”

“What the heck is a canape?” Sterling asks, eying the plate of little appetizers in front of her and April, reading the labels each one has been given.

April doesn’t have the chance to answer her before Blair jumps in. “Oh, that’s like those curtains that are on some beds.”

“Right, we had those as kids on our princess beds,” Sterling replies, perfectly satisfied with Blair’s answer, to April’s absolute horror.

“That’s a canopy. A canape is a type of hors d'oeuvre,” she says evenly, fighting the urge to not call her future wife and sister-in-law dumbasses and instead picking up one of the other ones off their plate and taking a bite without looking at what it is first. But she’s pleasantly surprised when her tastebuds begin to have a party in her mouth. “What is this?” she asks the caterer as soon as she’s swallowed, marveling at the half of a little fried ball in her hand and the mustachioed gentleman smiles with pride.

“That, little miss, is what I call a Georgia hushpuppy,” he drawls, and April is still too in heaven to be mad about being addressed in such a way.

She’s gotten far too used to be treated like an actual adult since getting engaged. “It tastes like fancy fishy heaven,” she says, always having associated hushpuppies with being a ball of fried carbs. “Sterl, try this,” she says and laughs as Sterling opens her mouth and allows April to feed it to her. Perfect practice for their wedding cake.

“Wow, that is good,” Sterling says. “Can we just put those down on our list now?” she asks the caterer, who nods and checks it off on their order sheet.

“So how many of these appetizers would you say is standard for a wedding?” Anderson asks, and the caterer considers for a moment.

“Well, I guess it all depends. These are for the pre-reception cocktail hour before the brides join the party, right?” he asks for clarification, and April nods.

“Yes, we’re doing our pictures post-ceremony,” she says.

“And signing the marriage license,” Sterling adds excitedly, and April can’t help but feel her heart skip a beat. Sure, she knows how in love she and Sterling are, but it really puts into perspective how much Sterling is in love with her when she’s so excited to sign a piece of government paperwork saying so.

“Alright, so that means there’s going to be an hour, probably closer to two hours between the guests and the brides arriving, which combined with not serving dinner until a little bit into the actual wedding means your guests are gonna be wanting snacks. So my suggestion is at least three but probably five,”

“And the hushpuppies are how much per head?” Anderson asks, perhaps the first time anyone has ever asked about the price of anything throughout planning this wedding.

“Uh, $3 a head, sir,” the caterer replies quickly.

“So at three bucks a head, that’s $600 for hushpuppies?!” Anderson looks like he’s seen a ghost.

“Yes, sir. Though I can assure you our prices are quite competitive for the market,” the caterer says, smiling unwaveringly as Anderson sits back in his chair, perhaps realizing why Debbie had left him out of the planning up to now. “I’ll leave y’all to it to decide and I’ll be back soon with soups and salads.” He walks off to the kitchen as Anderson turns to Blair.

“Please don’t get married for at least five years, okay?” he asks, sounding like he’s only half-joking.

Blair scoffs. “Like I’m getting married ever,” she says, and Anderson actually looks relieved.

“Anderson, how about you pick the next one?” April offers, feeling for the man. It’s not like paying for Sterling’s wedding isn’t an expense he’d always known would come, but April doubts he ever anticipated it happening this soon and with the added expenses associated with two brides.

“I liked them mini fried green tomatoes. The ones with the pimento cheese on ‘em,” he says, smiling slightly. “I love pimento cheese.”

“God, me too,” April agrees wholeheartedly, finding the throwback to the first gay book she ever read to be especially appropriate.

“And I liked the chicken and waffle canopy,” Sterling says, and again April agrees, so she doesn’t even have the heart to correct her, bless her dumb heart.

“Sounds like we’ve got a sort of ‘refined take on Southern classics’ theme going here, so can I just say that I loved the pulled pork sliders?” Blair adds.

It all clicks together in April’s head, and the idea of a cohesive menu starts to form. “Yeah, that’s perfect. Foods we know our guests will eat, but...elegant.” She smiles to herself and then to Blair. “It’s a really good idea.”

Sterling gasps. “Oh my god, are you guys getting along? Has Hell frozen over?” she asks sarcastically. “Or are you guys just trying to get out of whatever bonding activity I come up with for you on Pastor Booth’s orders?”

“Definitely that second one,” Blair says, and April couldn’t agree more.

“Whatever. We have to pick out one more hors d'oeuvre,” Sterling says and stares intently at her and April’s tasting plate.

“I liked the shrimp and grits cup, personally,” April offers, sticking to the established theme.

“I liked the mac and cheese fritters,” Blair counters, and they both look to Sterling, who seems very stuck between a rock and a hard place, but just as she opens her mouth to answer, Anderson cuts in.

“Blair, I ain’t payin’ $600 for fried mac and cheese,” he says, and April figures it’s just the principle of saying no to something that drove him to do so, but she can’t help but smile smugly at winning this round.

Eventually, the caterer brings around soups, then salads, then entrees, and by the time they’ve fully established a menu, April feels like she couldn’t eat another bite if you paid her.

“Okay, so we’re going with the sweet potato bisque for the soup and the wedge salad,” reads off her notes as the caterer happily fills in the sheet, likely seeing all kinds of dollar signs.

“Excellent choices,” he says obligatorily.

“And for entrees, we’re going to do a choice of the rack of lamb, the pecan-crusted chicken, and the grouper Orleans with green beans, blood orange and honey glazed carrots, and smashed potatoes,” Sterling adds.

“We can give you returnable postcards to send your guests that have them let us know which entree they want,” the caterer says, writing in the finishing touches on the sheet. “But other than that, I think it about does it aside from the bar, now, we can have limited services or have your guests pay for any hard stuff, or-”

“Full-service open bar,” Anderson says, to the surprise of everyone, including the caterer. It’s by far the least conservative option, price-wise. “Like I’m about to let my brother call me a cheapskate for making him pay for his own damn Jack and Cokes,” he grumbles an explanation, and the girls and caterer nod in understanding. As the little brother, Anderson can never give his brother any extra bullying ammo than he already has.

“Alright, if I can just get a credit card for the cancellation deposit, and I’ll bill you after everything is said and done,” the caterer says and happily takes Anderson’s limitless Black Card.

“You girls better know how much I love you,” he says sternly, pointing at Sterling and April, but then his face softens. “Thank you so much for including me today. It was a lot of fun, and I never got to choose anything for my wedding. Debbie and Mother made sure of that…”

“Well, you’re always free to join us when we do our cake tasting next week?” April offers, wanting Anderson to feel included, but more than anything, selfishly missing what it feels like to have a dad around.

“I just might have to take you up on that,” Anderson agrees, maybe seeing in April that he’s been needed more than he realized.

Since wedding planning began, April feels like she hasn’t been able to just have a quiet night without her mind working a mile a minute, trying to figure out logistics and vendors and their out of this world honeymoon, so she finds herself breathing a huge sigh of relief when she flops down on the couch in front of the TV, having changed into one of her pairs of Star Wars pajamas and her Baby Yoda slippers. She’s really excited to finally attempt to get caught up on The Mandalorian, opening Disney+ and starting it up where she left off. She manages to get about five minutes in before Sterling comes in and cozies up to her.

“Whatcha watching?” she asks.

“The Mandalorian. It’s that Star Wars show,” April says.

“Is this the one with Baby Yoda?” Sterling asks, extending her leg to rub her foot up against one of April’s slippers and giggling.

“Yep,” April says, trying to pay attention to what’s happening on screen but becoming increasingly aware that that’s probably not gonna work out.

“Is that the guy from Kingsman 2?” Sterling asks, and that’s the final straw as April hits pause and turns to her.

“Sterl, what do you want?” April asks, feeling very tired and hating herself immediately when she sees Sterling’s face fall.

“Just wanted to hang out, but if you wanna watch your show, I can stop bothering you…” Sterling says, clearly trying to make herself sound more torn up over this than she really is as she slowly moves to get up from the couch, but April takes the bait anyway, leaning forward to put her hands on Sterling’s hips and pull her down into her lap as Sterling lets out a surprised yelp.

“You’re lucky I find your manipulation tactics so adorable,” April murmurs, still completely struck by how much she loves this girl.

“I could say the same about your alien slippers,” Sterling replies, smiling, and kisses April gingerly. “My parents are just in the other room,” she almost whispers.

April considers the position they’re in and knows it’s probably definitely against the house rule of no funny business, but she can’t bring herself to care more than to help Sterling adjust into a slightly more comfortable, but not any less compromising, position. Then she reaches for the remote and does the unspeakable, turning off The Mandalorian and instead exiting to Amazon Video, where she pulls up Imagine Me and You. “You said you haven’t seen it, right?” she says at Sterling’s quizzical look. “I’m trying to let you in on the things I like.” With that, she hits play, and Sterling settles in.

April’s seen this movie at least a dozen times, so she allows herself to mostly watch Sterling’s reactions. Thankfully, Sterling’s earlier chattiness melts away as the movie starts playing. But, with Sterling in her arms, it is definitely April’s favorite experience with the movie.

“Does your dress look like that?” Sterling asks after a few minutes, as they watch Piper Perabo walk down the aisle.

“It’s the same color,” April says dryly, not about to give Sterling any hint as to what her dress looks like. But, if she was being honest, no, it does not look like Piper Perabo’s. In April’s opinion, hers is much prettier.

“You won’t fall for our florist, will you?” Sterling asks immediately after the look of love at first sight.

April scoffs. “Considering he’s a guy...I doubt it,” she says, then hugs Sterling tight. “You’re stuck with me forever.”

“You promise?” Sterling asks.


April can’t help but watch the reception with a critical eye but she thinks that their reception at Wimbish House will turn out better than the one in the movie. Not in the least because it won’t end with an affair with a florist. “I’m really glad we aren’t having a punchbowl,” she remarks with a small smile at the interplay on the screen.

Sterling hums in agreement as Lena Headey sticks her whole arm into the punch.

April has learned recently that where Sterling goes, Blair soon follows. And, like clockwork, ten minutes into the movie, Blair clambers onto the couch with them and a truly gravity-defying plate of nachos. “Move your feet Sterl,” Blair commands as she settles in, clearly ignoring April’s glare. “What are we watching? Is this the one where the Coyote Ugly chick bangs Cersei Lannister? I love this movie!”

“You’ve seen Imagine Me and You?” April asks incredulously over Sterling’s head.

“You think that upon finding out my sister is of a somewhat sapphic persuasion that I didn’t do my research?” Blair asks right back. “And also, this movie’s a classic. Actually famous actors with the same director as Mamma Mia 2? Sign me up.” She crunches on a nacho and April turns her attention back to the movie, trying to ignore her, but there’s pretty much no use.

Between Blair’s constant chattering and her being perhaps the loudest eater April has ever encountered, the moment of actually enjoying movie night with her fiancée has passed. “Blair, can you please be quiet? Sterl’s never seen this,” April asks sternly.

“Babe, it’s fine. I haven’t watched a movie without Blair’s commentary since like...ever,” Sterling says to appease her, but truth be told, April wasn’t really asking on Sterling’s behalf, and Blair knows this, as she proceeds to be somehow even louder while she finishes off her nachos.

Shooting a glare her way, April leans forward to kiss at Sterling’s neck, half expecting to get pushed away, but instead Sterling tilts her head to the side to give her better access. She probably thinks that the entertainment room is currently too dark for Blair to really see exactly what they’re doing, but in the light of the TV, April can tell she does, and she’s fuming.

“April, can you please stop macking on my sister in front of me?” Blair asks finally, and Sterling’s knee-jerk reaction is to try to pretend like they weren’t doing anything. 

Unfortunately, that involves snapping her head back, connecting with April’s face.

“Ow!” she exclaims as the brunt of it hits her in the nose, but April is instantly far more concerned about the level of damage her face has just sustained than how much it hurts.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Sterling says frantically, jumping up and crossing the room to turn on the light as April can hear Blair quietly snicker.

“This isn’t funny!” April chastises as she feels a stream of liquid drip down her face, her hand instantly going to her nose and coming away bloody. “Shit!” she practically runs to the nearest bathroom, Sterling on her heels.

Making a beeline for the sink and turning on the water, April looks up into the mirror, the bloody mess obscuring just how bad this could be. She wets a wad of tissues and begins to wipe away any excess blood before she can even attempt to stop the bleeding, which has thankfully already started to slow. After she shoves two little rolled up balls of tissue up her nose, she leans in close to the mirror, relieved to see that her nose isn’t bent into any angles it shouldn’t be, though she tilts her head around in every angle just to make sure.

“It’s not broken is it?” Sterling asks, sounding petrified.

April sighs and turns to her, any anger she might have leaving her the second she sees Sterling’s wide-eyed expression. “No, it’s not broken,” April says, the nasally sound of her voice from her plugged nose managing to make them both laugh a little, despite everything.

“Dear God, what happened?” Debbie asks from the hallway, probably having heard all the commotion and come to investigate. She pushes past Sterling to get a good look at April’s face, taking it gently in her hands and turning her head ever so slowly to do the same examination April already has. Apparently coming to the same conclusion April had about it not being broken, she breathes a sigh of relief as her hands fall to her sides. But then she looks at Sterling. “What did you do?”

“It wasn’t her fault. I was doing something I shouldn’t have and Sterl accidentally headbutted me,” April explains, hoping Debbie doesn’t ask for details, but Sterling saves her from that.

“If anything it was Blair’s fault. She startled me!” Sterling shouts accusingly down the hallway, where Blair is out of sight but yells back,

“Hey, what the Hell? Don’t drag me into this, I’m not the one who hurt her,” she replies, rubbing salt into the wound.

Debbie takes a calming, deep breath, and says in the evenest tone she can muster, “All three of you. Kitchen. Now.” It’s not a request but a demand and April can see Sterling shrink into herself as she follows her mother to the kitchen. April stays close behind, followed by Blair.

“Here,” Sterling says, pulling out a stool for April from the kitchen island table before taking the seat next to her. Blair hangs back in the far end of the kitchen as if trying to avoid some kind of emotional blast zone.

Debbie returns from the freezer with a bag of peas, which she hands to April. “I know it’s old school but trust me, it works. You gotta try to minimize that shiner you’re gonna have tomorrow,” she says, and April immediately holds the bag to her face, the prospect of looking like a battered woman on her wedding day putting the fear of God in her—irrational as it may be with it being just under two months out.

“Now, do y’all wanna tell me how this happened?” Debbie asks the twins, who stay silent. She then turns to April, who isn’t about to let it slip either. “Alright, you know what? You girls work this out yourselves. It’s about time y’all take some responsibility for your actions without me having to tell you to,” she says, and April knows where Sterling gets her manipulation tactics from. With that, Debbie returns to the foyer, presumably to go upstairs to her room.

The silence in the room remains until suddenly Sterling loudly scrapes her chair on the floor as she pushes away from the table and stands up, going to a drawer where April knows they keep their takeout menus. She opens it and retrieves an envelope before returning to the table, gesturing for Blair to finally join them.

Blair however reluctantly complies, coming over to take what was Sterling’s seat as Sterling pulls out three tickets of some kind.

“After putting thought into it, I thought that the best way for the two of you to get along would be us doing a fun bonding activity just the three of us. But…” Sterling singles out one of the tickets and proceeds to rip it to shreds before handing the other two to Blair and April. “I think it would be better for all of us if you guys spend some serious quality time together,” she puts her elbows down on the table, resting her chin in her hands as she waits for their reaction.

April reads the ticket in her hand, but before she can even say it, Blair beats her to the punch.

“You got us Braves tickets?” Blair asks, confused, and frankly, so is April. Sports have never really been her ‘thing’ and Sterling is well aware of this.

“Just a day of harmless fun tomorrow, cheering on the Braves as they no doubt beat the poor Seattle Mariners. Think you can handle that?” Sterling asks, seeming so hopeful that this will work that April is not about to ruin it for her.

“I guess...watching local boys pummel a crappy team from the West Coast could be kind of fun,” she says, knowing that if she refuses to take part at all, she’ll have to answer to Harland at their next session.

“Yeah, I’ve been wanting to go to a game this season,” Blair admits, though seems less than enthused about going with April.

Sterling smiles and gently kisses April on the cheek before going around the table to hug Blair. “I love you both so much and I just really would like it if you could at least kind of love each other too.”

It’s a testament to April’s love for Sterling that she’s even saying yes to this at all, and when she locks eyes with Blair, she knows they’re both in total agreement on at least that much.

Looking at herself in the mirror and seeing a slightly swollen nose and a black eye on her left side is hardly the best case scenario April had gone to bed praying for. The only solace she can take in it is that it occurred as a result of a little too much fun with Sterling, though that doesn’t make it hurt any less to apply concealer. She tries to tough it out and just wince through it, but she can’t manage to fully cover the black eye, so she opts for her pair of black wayfarer Ray-Bans.

April catches a glance at herself in the full-length mirror on her way out of her room, actually liking how she looks, especially while wearing the jersey and hat she borrowed from Sterling. She’d always been so afraid of being found out that she hadn’t ever allowed herself to wear anything particularly androgynous beyond her button-downs and blazers for her school uniforms, so this is new territory. She’s not about to stop wearing skirts or chop off her hair, but she wonders if this is how Jamie feels all the time… free to look unabashedly like a capital L lesbian and not stress over it. It feels incredible.

She gives a smile to her reflection and makes her way downstairs, where Blair already waits for her, keys resting in a well-worn softball mitt she holds in her hand.

“‘Bout time. You ready?” Blair asks impatiently.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” April says, though she’s hesitant to leave without saying goodbye to Sterling—perhaps with the ulterior motive of convincing her that she looks so damn good in this outfit that Sterl would be a fool not to reprint her ticket and come with them—but she is nowhere to be found.

“If you’re looking for my sister, she left early to go hog hunting with my dad, Deacon, and Big Daddy,” Blair says, opening the front door. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that was her plan all along.”

“Hog hunting?” April asks in disbelief, following Blair to the Volt.

“Yeah, wild boars are in season year-round because they’re what Fish and Wildlife consider a nuisance animal,” Blair explains plainly as she gets into the car, but it doesn’t do anything to reassure April.

“Aren’t they really big and dangerous? What if she gets hurt? Or killed?” April can sense a high blood pressure diagnosis in her future if this is the kind of stress that comes with the territory of marrying Sterling. She buckles her seatbelt and tries to calm herself down, but her brain’s gone into full Robert Baratheon territory.

“Dude, seriously, calm down. Sterl’s got a big ass gun and isn’t hunting alone. She’s with Big Daddy, who I’m pretty sure has shot like twenty hogs over the years,” Blair explains, but it doesn’t bring April much solace. “Let’s just try to get through today, okay?”

April nods. “I’ll do my best, for Sterling.”

“Yeah, for Sterl,” Blair agrees, backing out of the driveway as April begins to fiddle with the radio. 

She’s found that if she simply must be driven around by either Wesley twin—Sterling especially—music can provide a great distraction. Either she knows a song and she can quietly mouth along to it, or she can listen closely and try to memorize it for next time.

“What do you even listen to anyway?” Blair asks, taking April a little off-guard because she’d half expected this would be an outing with little conversation.

April shrugs, not really having a short answer to give her. “Almost everything. My dad’s a clichè and loves classic rock, but my mom’s a Trisha Yearwood country girl, so those both play an influence,” April says, then smiles. “But also, as you’ll remember, I’m a bit of a thespian,” she says the last word in an exaggerated, stuffy English accent, “so, you know, showtunes are my jam.”

“Of course they are,” Blair mutters, but April isn’t about to let her get under her skin—at least not this early in the day.

“So what about you? Are you still into KPop?” April asks, not fully intending for it to sound like she’s making fun of Blair, but it comes out that way.

“Not as much as I was, but Blackpink is cool. You still wanna bang Taylor Swift?” Blair says back.

“If she’s offering, sure,” April replies, not taking the bait.

The car is silent after that, save for the musical stylings of Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa, and April watches Atlanta pass by as they make their way to Truist Park.

“So exactly did Sterl propose to you?” Blair asks after a bit, taking April more than a little off guard.

“I assumed she told you,” April says, straightening up in her seat and rubbing her hands on her thighs. “But uh, she took me to the Fun Zone, where we had our first real date-”

“-My sister proposed to you at that small human madhouse and you actually said yes?” Blair interrupts.

No, if you’ll let me finish. She took me there, we had a really fun night together, and then when we got back to the house, she went into her room and lit enough scented candles to cause a major fire hazard, turned on our song, and then she pulled out a freaking stopwatch and debated me until I conceded and agreed to marry her,” April explains and finds herself blushing and smiling uncontrollably when she realizes just how perfect it all was. It wasn’t the grand kind of gesture she’d grown up dreaming of (with Natalie Portman proposing to her), but it was so much better because it was just so authentically them.

“Wooow. You guys are serious nerds,” Blair says, shaking her head. “But that’s so Sterl. It’s just still kinda...weird that she’s with you.”

“In what way? Because I’m a woman?” April asks, bristling slightly.

“No, because hating on you was one of our favorite pastimes for like five years,” Blair replies bluntly. “I’m sorry, it’s just the truth. Sterl going from hating everything about you to being over the moon for you basically gave me whiplash.”

“Well, I guess she didn’t hate everything about me, seeing as she made the first move,” April replies, far too secure in her relationship with Sterling to be upset by their past petty rivalry getting brought up. It’s actually kind of funny to her now.

“Yeah, I guess that’s kinda her thing…” Blair trails off, giving no indication of elaborating.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” April asks.

“Oh, well, you know. Not like Luke was exactly the leader in that relationship,” Blair explains, then laughs to herself upon remembering something. “God, I guess she pretty much had to yank Luke’s pants off while quoting the Bible at him to get him to-” for once, Blair shows a single iota of decency by stopping there. “Sorry, you probably don’t want to hear about that.”

“Yeah no, I really don’t,” April hisses, because knowing her fiancée has had sex with someone who is not her is one thing, but knowing the details is another. “At least I know they used protection,” she mutters, mostly to herself. Silver linings and all that.

“Duh. My sister has her moments, but she’s not stupid,” Blair says as she turns off into the large parking lot for the stadium.

“Something we can agree on.” April pulls out some cash from her wallet, handing it to Blair before they get up to the toll booth.

“Thanks,” Blair says quietly and hands it to the guy manning the booth as they pull up to it before continuing on into the parking lot.

April points at an empty space, far closer to the field itself than April had anticipated finding. “There’s one!” she says, and Blair whips into it before another car coming from the other direction can. April isn’t about to judge, since she knows she would have done the same.

Blair kills the car’s engine and gets out, followed by April, and the two of them ignore the road rage swears from the driver of the car whose spot they stole, though they turn to each other and snicker.

They make it to their seats just before the first pitch, and April quickly notices they’re outside the range of the foul ball nets, just above third base. Considering she’s still nursing a bruised face from her encounter with Sterling’s hard-as-a-rock head last night, the prospect of getting hit doesn’t exactly appeal to her. “You have your glove, right?” she asks, and Blair holds it up, already on her left hand.

“Right here. Best way to hold a hot dog,” Blair says, and April rolls her eyes.

“No, I mean if a ball comes our way, you’re gonna catch it, right?” April asks.

Blair sighs. “Yes, your majesty, I am going to catch it. You think I’d give up the opportunity of getting a game ball?” she’s quiet for a bit, but once the game’s begun she turns to April and says, “Remember when we were all on that city league softball team when we were like 9?”

“You mean the only time I’ve ever played any team sport in my life? Yes, I remember. Quite vividly, actually, because I remember the time Sterl got so sunburned she couldn’t swing a bat for a week.” April knows that she shouldn’t laugh at that anymore since the victim in that story is her soon-to-be wife, but she can’t help it. Just the thought of the little blonde girl, red as a lobster, saying, “Ow” with every step across the field, has April giggling.

“Mom tried to put sunscreen on her but she was not having it that day, so she just let her get burned as a lesson. Let me tell you, Sterl avidly uses SPF 50 to this day.” With that, Blair stands up and gets the attention of the guy walking around selling cotton candy and other sweet treats April’s banned for herself until at least after the wedding. Sitting back down with an assortment, she holds a box in April’s direction. “Red Vine?” she asks.

“No thank you,” April says primly, even if the smell of sugary goodness is very tempting.

“Oh yeah, you’ve got a wedding dress to fit into,” Blair says, taking a truly massive bite out of her cotton candy, coming away with sugar all over her face. “You’re both buzzkills. Sterl told me not to let her have free froyo at work, but that just means more for me.”

“It’s just two more months of this. I have enough discipline for that much,” April says but continues eying the Red Vines until Blair holds them out to her again and she begrudgingly takes one, taking a savage bite off of it as she checks her phone.

She has two texts from Ezekiel and one from Hannah B. in their group chat.

Ezekiel 💃🏻: OMG did you guys hear about Lorna???

Hannah 🐝: No?? What happened?

Ezekiel 💃🏻: She’s knocked up! 🤣

April 👰🦖: How’s that shocking? Lol

Hannah 🐝: Who’s the dad? 😦

Ezekiel 💃🏻: It’s shocking ‘cause it’s Franklin’s. I didn’t think he had it in him. 🤨

April 👰🦖: Gotta love a clichè

April 👰🦖: You know, because prom night.

April 👰🦖: And Lorna is stupid.

Ezekiel 💃🏻: That may be but I guess they’re doing the 😇 thing and getting married before the end of the summer.

April gasps and covers her mouth.

April 👰🦖: WHAT???

April 👰🦖: THAT BITCH

Ezekiel 💃🏻: TBF I don’t think she did it on purpose. Her country ass dad is making them.

Hannah 🐝: Thank goodness Luke’s been pure since Sterling.

Hannah 🐝: ...Sorry April. 😬

April 👰🦖: ISTG if that harlot tries to upstage mine and Sterl’s wedding, I’m gonna riot.

Ezekiel 💃🏻: oof. You know she done pissed you off when you start talking like our old pastor

April’s about to send a reply about how damn right she’s pissed off, but she doesn’t get a chance before a flash of white comes right at her face and she flinches just as Blair’s glove comes in just in the nick of time to catch the foul ball. Her heart races as she breathes a sigh of relief and looks over at Blair. “Thank you,” she says, feeling stupid for getting so engrossed in her phone when it was well established that they’re in the Danger Zone.

Blair shrugs and looks down at her prize. “It was nothing. I saw it coming,” she says nonchalantly. “Besides, if I return you to my sister with your face any more busted up than it already is, she’d definitely kill me.”

April smiles, perfectly satisfied with that, and frankly, completely in love with the idea of Sterling throwing down with her sister for her. “I know.”

Blair rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve established that she’s a total simp for you. What’s going on in cyberland that has you so distracted?” she asks, gesturing to April’s phone.

“Oh, Horny Lorna’s pregnant with Franklin’s baby and they’re having a shotgun wedding this summer,” April explains, each word progressively increasing the utter delight on Blair’s face.

“That is...incredible,” Blair says, laughing dryly. “I don’t even think Franklin has fully gone through puberty yet.”

“That’s basically what Ezekiel said,” April scoffs to herself. “It’s just so typical that a straight shotgun wedding is probably gonna steal the thunder from mine.”

Blair frowns and shakes her head. “Are you kidding me? Like, I’m no fan of all the commercialism and the old fashioned traditions, but your fancy-ass wedding is gonna blow theirs out of the water,” April’s endeared by the sentiment until Blair visibly shifts gears. “But, you know, could be an excuse to postpone if you’re that concerned about it.”

And there it is. 

April cocks her head to the side, annoyed. “Why the Hell would I want to postpone my wedding?”

Blair shrugs her shoulders exaggeratedly. “I don’t know, April. Why the hell do you want to get married at 18 with like no time to be engaged?”

April crosses her arms. “Maybe because I’d rather get married quickly than to suffer through your family, especially you, holding out hope that we never make it to the altar?” April says as a suggestion. “Yeah, maybe that’s it.”

A Mariner, in a real-life metaphor of all metaphors, hits a home run in that exact moment.

Blair bites her lip, clearly having something to say, but holds back. “You wanna go get something to eat at one of the restaurants?” she asks, packing up her sweets into her now-empty cotton candy bag.

“Sure,” April says, not finding the game to be very engaging, and she wouldn’t mind some not empty calories right about now.

“Let’s go get wings,” Blair suggests, not waiting for April to agree before heading off, leading the way to the Terrapin Taproom. “Take off your shades, you look like Johnny Cash.”

April begrudgingly puts her sunglasses on top of her head, fighting the urge to duck her head whenever they pass other people.

Blair sucks a breath in through her teeth when she gets a good look at April’s black eye. “Sterl clocked you good.”

“You make it sound like she beat me,” April hisses at Blair. 

“Oh, of course she didn’t. She just forgot where your face was. Don’t know how though since you were literally devouring her in front of me. Which is weird, by the way. We’re close but not that close,” Blair drawls.

“Maybe if you had just left us to our movie, you wouldn’t have seen anything you didn’t want to. This may surprise you, but there are times when Sterling actually doesn’t want you around,” April says, and it comes out far harsher than she intended, but it’s not like it isn’t true.

Blair doesn’t have a response for that before their waitress comes over, taking their drink orders, as well as Blair ordering enough wings for three or four people easily. But the second she’s gone, Blair licks her lips and looks like she’s trying her hardest to not jump across the table and start pulling hair. “I’ve known Sterl a lot longer than you have, babe, and let me tell you something. The last thing my sister ever wants in a relationship is to feel like she’s backed into a corner, and that’s exactly what you’re doing to her with this quickie wedding. And why? Do you think it’ll make you guys stay together forever?” Blair’s voice takes on a sort of Valley Girl quality as she says those last two words.

The waitress drops off their drinks, and April takes a long drink of iced tea while she comes up with a rebuttal. “Here’s the thing, Blair. Part of growing up is knowing how to establish boundaries, which is something Sterl probably should have done with you long ago, but let me just clue you in. In 8 weeks, I am going to be marrying your sister, and once that happens, it won’t just be the world revolving around the two of you anymore. And if you think you can bully or scare me away, you have another thing coming because I’m not going anywhere, as much as you may want that.”

Blair scoffs, completely unfazed. “Okay, Meredith Blake. You gonna tell me you’re gonna ship me off to boarding school in Switzerland, too?”

“That is not-” April cuts herself off as their waitress drops off the monster plate of wings and Blair picks one up, practically inhaling the meat off the bones. “That is not what I meant,” April says firmly. “I just mean that Sterling isn’t a kid anymore. She’s allowed to make her own decisions, and shockingly enough, you don’t always know what she’s thinking.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Blair scoffs and picks up a bottle of habanero hot sauce from the side of the table. Looking April in the eye, she opens it and proceeds to dump it all over the entire plate of wings.

Sensing a challenge, April raises an eyebrow at Blair and smirks as she picks up one of the wings, feeling the tingle of the hot sauce on her fingertips before she even has a chance to taste it. Without hesitation, she brings it to her mouth and takes a bite, savoring the taste for the few seconds it takes for the spice to hit her, and then she’s putting on her best poker face, chewing slowly through the pain and not giving Blair the satisfaction of so much as a wince.

“Those a little hot for you?” Blair asks, amused.

“Not at all,” April says, finishing off the wing and putting the bones down on her own little appetizer plate. “Now, where was I…” as if she could forget. “Oh right, boundaries. Sterl’s your sister and I get that you guys are close, but when I get married, it’s going to be to one person.”

Blair picks up another wing, biting into it and seeming to be taken a little off-guard by how hot it actually is, based on a brief widening of her eyes, but she quickly reins herself in. “Have you maybe considered that it’s you who doesn’t know Sterl nearly as well as you think you do?” she asks, dropping the bones down on her own plate with a clank.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” April asks, the residual heat from the first wing still burning her mouth, but she’s not about to admit defeat by drinking anything so she figures it can’t do any extra harm to eat another.

“It means that no matter what, Sterl shares everything with me, whether I want her to or not. Can you say she does the same for you? Or you for her?” Blair asks, eyes drifting to her glass of root beer.

“No, but I think it’s perfectly healthy for people in a relationship to have some degree of privacy,” April answers easily enough. She wants to marry Sterling, but she still wants them to be able to live their own lives. What’s important is she trusts Sterling enough to believe she does know all the truly important things. She hopes.

The wings are so hot. Forget clear sinuses, April feels like there’s smoke coming out her nose like a dragon. It only gets worse when Blair stops their waitress when she comes around and asks if they have anything hotter.

“Okay, April, I have a proposition for you,” Blair says once they’re handed a bottle appropriately named Hellfire. She singles out a wing on the plate and puts a few drops of the new sauce on it. “We each ask each other a question about Sterl, and whoever gets it wrong has to consume the Hellfire. Deal?”

April thinks she might develop an ulcer, but she’s not about to step down from this challenge. “You’re on. You wanna start?” she asks.

Blair thinks a moment, then smiles. “What’s Sterl’s favorite gun?”

All of April’s confidence leaves her because she has no idea, and her facial expression must tell Blair as much. “Uh...her pistol?” she says, not knowing gun models to save her life.

“Care to be more specific?” Blair asks, turning the plate so the Hellfire wing is now on April’s side.

April gulps, struggling to think of any brands of guns, let alone the one Sterling wears on her person far too often. “Uh...her...Glock?” She thinks that sounds right.

“Mmmm,” Blair hums, smiling as she pushes the plate towards April. “She has one, but the Ruger Super Redhawk dad got her for Christmas 2020 is her favorite. Eat up.” 

April takes a deep breath, thinking that maybe if she just does this quickly, it won’t hurt so bad. But that optimism goes right out the window the second she bites into the wing and feels like her mouth might burst into flame. She wants to scream but holds it in, though she can feel herself sweating.

By some miracle, she manages to finish the whole thing, and then she looks at Blair, not showing any mercy when she dumps far more of the stuff on the next wing. “Sterl beat me in the 7th-grade Spelling Bee with what word?”

“Jesus, you really have been obsessed with her the whole time,” Blair says, looking slightly concerned. “But was...shit, I don’t know,” she admits.

“Sarsaparilla,” April says, for once taking great satisfaction in having made a mistake. But it’s hard to really enjoy the moment when her mouth feels like it’s been touched by lava. She actually wonders if she’ll ever be able to taste again. “I gave it an extra P but Sterl got it. Bon appetit.” 

Blair picks up the wing and tries to not so subtly shake off some of the excess sauce onto her own plate before bringing it to her mouth. “Mind over matter,” she says and bites into it, eyes looking a little frantic. While still chewing, she says, “What was Sterl gonna be named if Aunt Dana kept her?”

“Nevaeh Genesis Culpepper. Her therapist had a field day with that one,” April says, trying not to laugh because she knows how torn up over that Sterling was. But to think her fiancée came so close to be named that is so horrifying that she has to find it funny. “Why did Sterl and I stop being friends in 5th grade?”

“Because she pawned you off on another friend group because I said you were a dork and I didn’t want to hang out with you anymore.” Blair’s words are like a gut punch to April because that is a lot more detail than she ever had before.

“You did that?” she asks coldly.

“I mean, I didn’t tell her to straight-up hand you over to another group but I was kinda sick of you always being such a buzzkill. I guess some things never change, though,” Blair finally finishes the last wing, her face red.

“Where did Sterl and I have our first kiss?” April asks, needing to remind both Blair and herself that wherever she and Sterling stood back then has no bearing on now.

“Ellen’s office, because you guys are weirdos. How many boys did Sterl make out with at that forensics tournament before she got the hots for you?” Blair asks.

April hears a record scratch in her brain. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Yeah, that forensics tournament where your angry ass somehow turned her on. How many boys did she make out with first?” Blair asks, smirking.

April knew none of this up to now, so she’s hoping for the best, but the fact that Blair is asking for a number tells her there was more than one. “Two?”

“Five. Ha!” Blair laughs and pushes the plate of wings in April’s direction.

April picks one up, but before she takes a bite, she smiles. “What’s Sterl’s favorite Kacey Musgraves song and why?”

“Isn’t everyone’s favorite Kacey Musgraves song Rainbow?” Blair asks as if it’s a trick question, so April knows she’s got her.

“Not Sterl. Hers is Slow Burn because it’s our song,” she says and doesn’t have to ask as Blair picks up her own wing. “How about the two of us come to a sort of armistice? I don’t particularly like you, and I know you don’t like me, but we have the next two months until my wedding, and after that, you’ll be off to UNC, and Sterl and I will be starting our lives together. So can we agree to try to at least put on a good face for her?”

Blair rolls her eyes. “Yeah, whatever. But when you drive her crazy with your control-freak ways, I know who she’s gonna come crying to.”

“I guess we’ll see about that,” April says, and with that, she bites into her wing and Blair follows suit. She’d hoped that eventually, her mouth would just go numb, but it seems to be getting worse by the second, so without finishing the wing, she puts it down on her plate, gritting her teeth. “Yeah, I’m too white for this,” she says, admitting defeat.

Blair sighs in relief, putting hers down too. “Oh, thank God,” she says, panting. She flags down their waitress. “Can we get some milk? Stat?” she asks, and as the waitress runs off to do just that, probably thinking Blair and April are a couple of idiots--though April supposes they are, with the pissing contest that just took place.

She doubts this is what Sterling had in mind for their day together.

In a surprise to absolutely everyone, the Mariners managed to pull out a win, but April could hardly care because it just meant she and Blair could go home.

At home, it’s far easier for April to avoid Blair and spend time with Sterling and remind herself that in time, she’ll have her fiancée all to herself. But until that day arrives, it’ll be a bit of a struggle.

When they pull up to the house, April sees Anderson’s hunting truck in the driveway and smiles, knowing they’ve returned from their hunt. But she supposes she doesn’t think all the implications of that through until she looks into the open garage, where a boar carcass hangs to dry over a bucket. Sterling steps out from behind it, wearing a bloody apron and holding a huge knife.

She looks like a horror film murderer, which gives her no reason to sound so peppy as she greets them. “Hi, you two! Did you have fun?” Sterling asks, giving them both a big, adorable grin. “I’d hug you, but uh…” she looks down at herself, “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“Yeah, we had a blast. I take it this was your kill?” Blair asks, gesturing to the carcass.

Sterling nods. “You know Dad’s rule. You shoot it, you clean it,” she says. “I’ve gotta get this thing in the freezer if one of you wants to give me a hand?”

April just looks at her, horrified.

Sterling smiles deviously. “I’m just kidding. Dad’s gonna help me in a few minutes. So how was it?”

April shrugs. “It was fun. The Braves lost but Blair caught a foul ball,” she says.

“Awesome! I was hoping with those seats, you might get one or two,” Sterling says, apparently completely oblivious to the dangers of putting April in the direct flight path of baseballs. “Oh my god, April, your eye. Did I do that?” she asks, apparently just now noticing. She takes off her apron and gloves to come closer and take April’s face in her hands gently. “I’m so sorry,” she says, gently kissing April’s nose and pulling her in for a tight hug. April can feel Sterling breathe in her smell from her neck.

“It wasn’t your fault, Sterl,” April assures her as she steps back, taking Sterling’s hands in her own. “But I want you to know that today was very...productive for both of us and our relationship, so thank you for making us go.”

“Yeah, saving a girl from getting her face smashed in a second time and then plowing through a whole bunch of wings was a real bonding experience,” Blair concurs.

Sterling smiles. “I knew you guys could find some common ground. Now we can all just look toward the wedding. Oh, and Uncle Deacon’s big Fourth of July bash that Dad will probably tell you about once you get inside.”

“Lake cabin?” Blair asks, and Sterling nods excitedly. “Yes!” she says, then turns to April. “It might be a bit less fancy than the lake house you’re used to, but I promise you it does still have wifi.”

“No cell service, though,” Sterling says happily as if that’s somehow a good thing.

April puts on a good face. “Sounds...rustic,” she says. “I can’t wait.”

“You should see this heartthrob on a wakeboard,” Blair says, patting Sterling on the back.

“And,” Sterling says, leaning in close to April, “I know lots of places we can go for some privacy,” upon mentioning privacy, she shoots an exaggerated glare at her sister and April giggles. 

“I guess I can do without phone service. I think a little break from wedding stuff will be just what I need,” April says, initially because she wanted to give the appearance of going with the flow, but she realizes that a long weekend away from planning might actually be just what the doctor ordered. Even if it means spending an extended period of time with Deacon’s family.

“Hey Sterl, did you hear Lorna’s preggers?” Blair asks.

“And getting married to Franklin in Nashville in like two weeks? Yeah, I heard,” Sterling says.

“Nashville?” April asks, confused.

“Yeah, that’s the latest update. I guess they’re eloping,” Sterling says, shrugging. “So no need to worry about their wedding even holding a candle to ours.”

April scoffs, but feels unbelievably relieved. “Like I’d even worry about that.”

Blair gives her a look and shakes her head when Sterling can’t see.

Chapter Text

Uncle Deacon’s lake cabin has been a sort of haven for Sterling ever since she was a kid. Unlike April’s dad’s lake house, which is located on Lake Lanier, not even an hour outside of Atlanta, the 90-minute drive up to Blue Ridge Lake is just enough time for Sterling to truly feel like she’s left home.

As a kid, the drive had felt like it took forever, but now, as she sits between Blair and April in the back of her dad’s hunting truck, the back loaded with food and supplies, she finds herself kind of enjoying the time while it lasts. Especially when April offers her one of her earbuds and they listen to the completely appropriate folklore album as the trees of the national forests pass by. 

Sterling rests her head on April’s shoulder, listening to the dreamy lyrics of “seven” and thinking that if the rest of her life can have moments like this, then she can handle whatever else gets thrown at her. She looks up and smiles when April gazes down at her, the sunbeams breaking through the trees framing her fiancée’s face in such a way that she looks almost angelic—not that she doesn’t always.

“Dad, can we stop at that one gas station and get bubble gum cigars?” Blair asks, effectively putting the moment to an end.

“You don’t need bubble gum cigars,” Debbie says, shutting her down like any mother in her position would.

“It’s tradition!” Sterling whines, looking ahead to see the old gas station on the side of the highway fast approaching.

“You two are both too old for this,” Anderson says, looking back at them in the rearview mirror before sighing and turning into the gas station’s parking lot.

“Anderson, I don’t care how old they get, I don’t like you undermining me,” Debbie says in a warning tone once he’s killed the engine.

“I’m sorry, I just really gotta pee,” Anderson says sincerely before unbuckling his seatbelt and getting out of the truck, jogging around the back side of the gas station’s store.

Sterling shares a look with Blair, and then they’re climbing out of the car via her side’s door while April stays put, not seeming to know what she should do. “Babe, come on, this store is so cool! They got those plastic bubbles with straws and everything!” Sterling says, practically jumping in place, though April seems to find it endearing as she gets out of the car.

“You know those bubbles have inhalable noxious fumes, right?” she says as she follows Sterling and Blair into the store, which is unchanged from how it’s been since they were kids, giving off an old-timey general store kind of vibe.

“I wonder if they still got pickle-flavored soda!” Blair says, making a beeline for the drink cooler in the back.

“If you want to be kissing me anytime soon, you won’t be drinking any of that,” April says as a warning, but Sterling laughs and leads the way to the candy aisle, looking up and down for the box of bubble gum cigars.

“Yeah, it’s not really my thing,” she lies, secretly devastated to be missing out on one of her favorite traditions, but finds the box of bubble gum cigars and picks out a blue and a pink one. She holds them out to April. “Pick a color.”

April rolls her eyes, “Don’t know if I really need a bubble gum cigar, Sterl,” she says, but Sterling’s unfazed, continuing to push them in her direction until she rolls her eyes and takes the pink one.

“That’s what I thought,” Sterling says, smiling and picking up another pink one and blue one for Blair and her dad. “Now, let’s talk chips. Are you a classic girl, or do you like something weird like pizza Pringles?” she asks, turning around to the other side of the junk food aisle.

“Kettle Cooked Mesquite BBQ Lays,” April mumbles, barely audible. “But I’m more interested in the flavor of fitting into my wedding dress.”

Sterling shakes her head, having to do everything in this relationship. “Okay, well, I’m gonna get a bag of those and if they just so happen to go missing, I won’t point any fingers,” she says, grabbing a bag of April’s chips of choice while also grabbing herself a can of sour cream and onion Pringles. But then she remembers what April said about not kissing her if she got pickle soda and thinks better of the Pringles, swapping them out for chipotle ranch.

April grumbles and takes the bag of barbecue chips from Sterling before heading over to the drink cooler. Sterling debates whether she really needs anything else, but decides at the last minute to also grab a bag of Cheetos Puffs.

Hands mostly full now, she heads over to the drinks where Blair has grabbed three bottles of pickle soda while April’s grabbed a bottle of peach Snapple. Thinking that actually sounds good to her, Sterling grabs a bottle of Snapple, too.

“What the hell dude! I got you a Grandpa Joe’s! Put that Snapple shit back!”

“But April said-”

“Don’t be such a ballsack!”

“I’m not a ballsack! I just want to kiss my girlfriend!”



“You didn’t even get me any snacks! You’re the jerk!”

“Alright, now let’s get out of here before your mom yells at all three of us for buying the whole store,” April says, interrupting them and leading the way up to the counter with Sterling following close behind while Blair stomps back down the snack aisle.

The bell above the door jingles and Anderson comes into the store just as Sterling and April have set their goodies on the counter, and Blair follows with Reese’s and an oversized Rice Krispy Treat.

“One of those pickle drinks had better be for me,” Anderson says to Blair, and it’s the only comment he makes on the number of snacks the girls have picked out as he takes out his credit card. This is one of the many reasons why Sterling loves her dad, and she makes that fact known when she hands him his bubblegum cigar on the way back out to the car. “Aww, thanks, darlin’,” he says, accepting it and pulling her into a side hug. “We’re gonna have fun this weekend, right?”

“Of course!” Sterling says, genuinely so excited to experience one of her favorite times of the year with her future wife. As they all pile back into the truck, Debbie gives them all a look of disapproval that even her big sunglasses can’t hide, but even Anderson can’t be bothered when Blair hands him one of the bottles of pickle soda.

“Anderson, that is vile,” Debbie says as he takes a long swig.

“Ahhh,” he says, putting the bottle in the cup holder next to him. “I remember you drinkin’ a whole jar a pickle juice when you were pregnant so I don’t think you should be judging,” he says as he starts the truck up and pulls out.

From here, Deacon’s cabin is only about twenty minutes away, if Sterling remembers correctly. The rest of the drive is on a winding road around the lake, passing by old houses that have been here for decades scattered among expensive new houses. Deacon’s lake cabin falls somewhere in the middle of these.

He’s had it for as long as Sterling can remember, and the house itself existed long before that, but the bigger size of it, along with the fact that it’s on the lakefront property makes it prestigious enough, even if it doesn’t even exist on the same plane as April’s dad’s lakeside mansion. But that’s just as well because nothing is daunting about Deacon’s cabin, it’s just the kind of picturesque, and--as April said--rustic place that evokes feelings of sheer nostalgia and joy in Sterling.

“You really weren’t kidding about the cell service, huh?” April asks when they first get out of the truck, checking her phone as she shields it from the sun with her hand.

“Sorry,” Sterling says, shrugging, but she’s the furthest from sorry. April needs a break from wedding planning, even if she’ll never admit it herself. She goes around the back of the truck to help her dad unload their stuff, a little perplexed when she sees the tent in its bag. “Is someone camping out?”

“Yeah, you,” Debbie says, handing the bag by its handle to Sterling and evoking extreme deja vu. “This house has only got 4 bedrooms and the pullout couch. Your daddy and I, Mother and Big Daddy, and Deacon and Cordelia all get rooms. Kristina and DJ get the kids room. So that leaves the pullout, and I figured it would probably be more appropriate to put April and Blair together on there, so that leaves-”

She doesn’t have to say it. 

“-Me in the tent,” Sterling says, dejected. She knows logically that the sleeping arrangement really couldn’t have gone any other way unless someone didn’t show up, or Debbie developed an extreme level of trust, but that doesn’t make it suck any less.

“That’s my smart girl. Now, you go set that up somewhere level and the rest of us will unload the truck,” she says, shoo-ing Sterling off.

Knowing she has no other choice, Sterling begins to walk around the house, looking for the spot where she remembers her and Blair sleeping in this very tent years ago when friends of Aunt Cordelia had shown up for the Fourth.

“Hey, Sterling!” she hears from the porch and turns to see DJ bounding down the steps and running at her to give her a crushing hug that almost knocks her over.

“Whoa, keep that up and you’re gonna be a Falcons lineman when you’re grown up,” Sterling says, patting her cousin on the back with her free arm. It may be a slight exaggeration considering DJ is currently just a scrawnier version of her uncle, but she doesn’t know. He could fill out.

“Whatcha doing?” DJ asks, looking at the tent.

“Oh, well I’m gonna set up this tent to sleep in since all the beds inside are full,” Sterling explains, continuing to where she thinks the spot is and setting the bag down. “You wanna give me a hand setting up?” she asks, partially because she thinks she could actually use an extra pair of hands and also because she knows from her times babysitting DJ that the poor kid is dying to have a conversation with someone who knows how to meet him at his level--Lord knows his parents and sister don’t since they all think he’s a quiet kid.

“Sure,” DJ accepts helpfully and kneels to unzip the tent bag and pull out the tent poles. “Oh, this is easy, it’s just like the ones we had in Cub Scouts,” he says nonchalantly as Sterling helps him pull out the tent itself and starts to unfold it.

“Well good, then I’m glad I’m working with an expert,” Sterling says, and DJ beams.

“So did you bring your girlfriend with you?” DJ asks, connecting one frame piece to another.

“April? Yeah, but remember, she’s my fiancée, and she doesn’t like it when anyone forgets it,” Sterling says, mostly just teasing him.

“My dad said you were marrying a ballbuster, but that doesn’t make sense since you don’t even have balls,” DJ says like this is a perfectly normal thing to say, but Sterling is glad she wasn’t drinking anything or she thinks she might have actually done a spit-take.

“Yeah no, I don’t have balls. But even if I did, April’s not that. She just likes things to be a certain way and I can’t fault her for that,” Sterling really doesn’t like the idea of her aunt and uncle badmouthing April behind her back, but she’s grateful that DJ has always had next to no filter ever since he could talk.

“Hey, you don’t have to tell me. I swear, yesterday my mom messed up how I had my Switch games arranged and I almost freaked out.” DJ begins to expertly push the pole through the loops of one of the tent’s corners. “I just hope she’s as cool as the last guy. She’s definitely prettier.”

Sterling chuckles, remembering the few times Luke secretly ‘helped’ her babysit. “Yeah, you and Luke always got along pretty well.” She’s almost sure this is because Luke’s maturity level better matched the child who is six years younger than them.

“He was kinda dumb but he had good taste in games and movies. Oh, and remember that time the three of us made those chocolate banana milkshakes? Mmmm,” DJ finishes with the poles, and Sterling marvels at how quickly this thing has started to resemble a shelter.

She hopes her cousin got a badge of some kind for this. “Yeah, those were good, but I promise you April is equally cool, if not cooler than Luke.” Sterling isn’t quite sure of herself when she makes that statement, at least from a twelve-year-old boy’s perspective, but April is definitely cooler to her.

“How so? I need details, woman,” DJ says, eliciting a laugh from Sterling as she goes to get the stakes from the bag.

“Well, she’s basically the biggest Star Wars nerd I know,” Sterling says, and DJ’s face lights up.

“I approve. But what are her thoughts on the animated shows? That says a lot about a person,” DJ says in total seriousness.

Sterling shrugs. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you, but you can definitely ask her. We’re gonna be around for the next few days so you’ll have plenty of time to form an opinion. But I gotta tell you that I really hope you like her because I was gonna ask you if you wanted to be an usher at our wedding.”

“Oh, thank goodness you didn’t ask me to be a ring bearer,” DJ says, hand to his heart. “But I’d be honored.” He starts to make like he’s going to hammer the stakes into the ground with the heavy mallet himself, but Sterling catches him and takes the tool from him.

“Sorry, but I think I better do this myself,” she says, going around and securing the tent into the ground before taking a step back to admire their work.

“Not bad for a speedrun,” DJ says, standing next to her with his arms crossed. “I’m kinda jealous. You don’t have to share a room with my stupid sister.”

By sheer coincidence, that’s the exact moment Kristina emerges from the path to the beach in a bikini, a see-through coverup, and an overly large sunhat, a Mike’s Hard in hand. “Hey, Sterly. The booger helped you get set up for your little campout, I see!” she says, approaching to admire their handiwork patronizingly, though Sterling knows better than to take anything she says right now to heart, based on her apparent inability to walk a straight line. Not that she’s really let Kristina get to her in years, anyway.

“I’ll tell Mom you called me that,” DJ warns, but Kristina only rolls her eyes.

“Oh no, the big bad sister called you names. Whatever will you do?” Kristina says mockingly and finishes off her drink. “You know, you really gotta toughen up and stop being such a little snowflake, kiddo. Mom and Dad already have their suspicions about you.”

Sterling clenches her fist at her side. The jab is as much directed at her as it is DJ, given its subject matter. “Lay off him, Krit. I think the sun’s got you feeling a little out of sorts and it might be better if you go inside,” she says evenly.

Kristina scoffs. “Thank God my baby brother has you here to coddle him. Where’s the future wifey, by the way?”

“She’s right here,” April’s voice may as well be accompanied by an angel chorus as Sterling turns to find her standing on the porch, arms crossed on the railing. “Sterl, your mom wants you to come inside and help get lunch ready if you’re done out here.” She gives a close-mouthed smile to Kristina. “Everything going okay?”

“Yeah, I think these two outdoors...people have Sterly’s sleeping arrangements all set up. What’s for lunch?” Kristina asks, going up the porch steps.

“Um, well, I think we’re going for a sort of charcuterie board thing since we brought summer sausage made from the wild boar Sterl shot…” April says, swallowing and clearly trying to not look disgusted. “Which is so delicious.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. “I told you it’s just wild pork. It doesn’t really taste any different.”

“Yeah, well, I guess seeing it hanging in your garage before it was sausage kinda killed its appeal for me,” April looks a little green when she says this, and Sterling really wishes she’d come home from the baseball game just ten minutes later to be saved from the gory details.

“Aww, you better get used to it, girly, if you’re gonna be a part of this family,” Kristina says as she passes by April. “Where’s your inner country girl?” She doesn’t wait for an answer before she goes into the house, sliding the door closed behind her.

“Don’t worry about my sister, April. She’s just got bitchface disease,” DJ says, and April bursts into laughter.

“That she does, Buddy,” Sterling says, patting her cousin on the shoulder and going up the porch to join April, pulling her in close by the hips. “I’ll have you know that I love my city girl.”

April smirks. “You better.”

“Not to sound homophobic, but blech. You two need to get a room,” DJ teases, making his way back around the house and leaving Sterling and April to share a—however brief—kiss before they head inside.

The rest of Saturday passes mostly without incident. The process of getting settled in and catching up with the family over lunch is far more enjoyable once Kristina goes back to her and DJ’s room to pass out—apparently that had been far from her first drink Sterling had seen, though it doesn’t surprise her.

After lunch, Uncle Deacon shows off the newest acquisitions in his gun safe. He spends the entire time insisting that next time he will be the one to shoot the boar. 

After the gun show comes filling in Aunt Cordelia and Mother on wedding details. The focus on minute details bores Sterling, but April seems to be in her element. 

It’s when the sun goes down that the fun is really about to start. That’s when Sterling’s dad and uncle go to start a campfire in the pit near the water, bickering about the pros and cons of using lighter fluid while Big Daddy stands back and observes his sons’ antics.

April is inside, changing into appropriate nighttime attire, so Sterling figures she may as well try to strike up a conversation with her grandfather. Things were somewhat...restrained on their hog hunt, but then she could attribute it to him trying to keep her focused on the hunt. But here, he can’t exactly avoid her.

“Hey Big Daddy, you were a volunteer fireman, right?” Sterling asks as an icebreaker but also just in case something goes horribly wrong.

“Sure was. That’s why I gotta make sure Frick and Frack over there don’t burn down the forest,” he says just as Deacon squirts a stream of lighter fluid at the barely-there flame forming where Anderson lit some newspaper on fire and the whole stack of wood bursts into flame.

“I am Prometheus!” Deacon says, flexing his muscles—or whatever he may have under his pudge—at Anderson, who rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, you keep saying that when this burns out in about twenty seconds,” he grumbles, tearing up more strips of newspaper.

Big Daddy makes a noise of disapproval, shaking his head at the both of them but otherwise not saying anything.

“April and I got yours and Mother’s RSVP for the wedding,” Sterling says, trying again to attempt conversation.

“Well, we couldn’t very well miss it,” he says, sounding less than enthused. “With your Daddy paying so much, it better be one hell of a party.”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be,” Sterling says, nodding, waiting for him to say anything else, but when that doesn’t happen, she adds, “You know, because I’m marrying the love of my life.”

Big Daddy scoffs. “I think you’re awful young to be making those kinds of assessments,” he says, and with that walks off in the direction of the garage containing the drink fridge.

Sterling sighs and goes to sit at one of the camp chairs circling the fire pit. She realizes that she’s probably never going to stop being harassed by her family in one way or another over how she and April are choosing to do things, not even after they’ve already gone through with the wedding, but she’s truly stopped caring. In fact, she’s stopped caring about much of anything the second April re-emerges from the house in jeans and a white tank top, a red flannel shirt tied around her waist, with her hair in a messy ponytail and—most notably—wearing her hipster-y glasses. It’s a look that’s a big departure from her usual put-together self in the best way possible, but then, Sterling supposes she’s never really experienced April outside of Atlanta before.

Unless she were to count their class trip to Dollywood at the end of 8th grade.

“I come bearing the gift of s’mores stuff,” April says to Sterling’s delight before setting the paper grocery bag in her hand down on the ground next to Sterling’s chair and leaning down to give her what was probably intended to be a rather chaste kiss. But with April looking like that, Sterling can’t keep herself from going a little...feral.

“Sterl,” April whispers, scolding but doesn’t exactly seem mad as she pulls away and grabs the nearest camping chair, dragging it over to put it as close to Sterling’s as possible. She sits down and rests her head on Sterling’s shoulder, joining Sterling in watching Anderson and Deacon make building a campfire look like rocket science. “How long have they been at this now?” There’s real concern in April’s voice when she asks this after the fire burns out completely and Anderson merely gives Deacon a look of ‘I told ya so.’

“‘Bout twenty minutes,” Sterling says, shrugging as Deacon throws down the barbecue lighter to the ground like a gamer rage quitting.

“Damn it, Anderson! If you had just got us some dry wood from the pile like I told you to, we wouldn’t be having this problem!” He yells and pushes past his brother to storm back into the house.

Sterling feels like she should be mortified that her family is behaving like this in front of April, but her fiancée, for her part, has taken the bag of marshmallows out of the grocery bag and pops one into her mouth like popcorn.

“Anderson, you want me to take over?” April asks once she’s chewed and swallowed.

“By all means,” he replies shortly, then follows after his brother into the house just as Blair emerges in her own nightwear.

Calm and collected as can be, April gets up from her seat to crouch down next to the firepit and rearrange the haphazard pile of wood into a teepee shape, shoving a few wads of newspaper into the middle. She retrieves the barbecue lighter from where Deacon threw it and uses it to ignite the paper in three places before calmly returning to Sterling and the two watch as the paper becomes fully engulfed in flame, which effectively catches the wood itself on fire.

“It’s all in the airflow,” April says, shrugging and looking more than a little smug as she gets one of the telescoping roasting sticks from the bag and puts a marshmallow on the end.

“To be fair, I think Big Daddy never wanted them to know how to effectively set fires,” Blair giggles and cracks open the bottle of pickle soda she brought out with her.

“God damn it!” they hear from one of the house’s open windows and turn to see Deacon looking out from the kitchen, embarrassed and a little mad.

April stands to hold her marshmallow over the fire, and Sterling quickly follows suit, assembling her own roasting stick with two marshmallows and holding them out over the flame.

“I must say, there’s something incredibly satisfying about making grown men throw a fit,” April says after a moment, and Sterling looks over to see her smiling mischievously.

“My god you’re messy,” Sterling says teasingly, and April rolls her eyes as Big Daddy returns with a glass of scotch on the rocks.

“Did those nimrods finally figure it out?” he asks, apparently surprised to have come back to a fire.

“No, April did,” Blair says, taking a handful of marshmallows from the bag and returning to her camping chair.

Big Daddy rolls his eyes. “Yep, that figures,” he says and looks over at April, “Thank you kindly, Darlin’.”

“It was no trouble, Mr. Wesley,” April replies sweetly. “Would you like to sit with us? We have s’mores.”

Big Daddy shakes his head. “Nah, I think I best leave you ladies to it. All that sugar’s no good for my diabeetus,” he says and takes a long swig of his drink. “Y’all don’t stay up too late now. Sterling, we’re goin’ fishin’ at 7 AM sharp.”

“Yessir,” Sterling says dutifully, nodding. Ordinarily, getting up before 7 AM during the summer would be nightmare material for her, but she knows as well as anyone that the fish really stop biting after 9. She turns to her sister, “Blair, are you coming?”

“Fishing? No, I’m good,” she declines. “Kinda lost its appeal when we were kids and Uncle Deacon gutted that walleye and threw the egg sac at me while I was swimming.”

Sterling fails to not laugh, thinking of ten-year-old Blair’s shrieks as she was swarmed by the bottom-feeders that live under the dock. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes at Blair’s unamused expression, but both of them know she doesn’t mean it. “Babe, how about you?” she asks April, who seems surprised to be brought into this.

“Oh no, that’s okay,” she declines swiftly. At Sterling’s disappointed expression, she adds, “Trust me, you wouldn’t want me there. Fishing tends to make me a little...antsy.”

“Least you probably don’t chit chat as much as Kristina,” Big Daddy grumbles. “Well anyway, I should be going to bed soon. Don’t any of you three leave that fire unattended, alright?”

“Alright,” the girls answer in almost perfect unison, and with that, Big Daddy takes his leave, and Blair breathes a sigh of relief.

“Oh thank Jesus he didn’t stick around. I could sense a Desert Storm story coming,” she says and shoves two marshmallows into her mouth in a most unladylike fashion as she takes out her phone and starts typing a message to someone.

“I thought we don’t have service out here?” April asks, confused.

“I’m using Facebook Messenger with the WiFi like an old person,” Blair says with her mouth full. “In your guys’ expert opinion, what do individuals interested in the female form most want to see in a sexy pic? Full boob or a tasteful, full-body undies shot?”

“What, like just a picture of your naked boobs?” April asks, making a face as she slowly turns her marshmallow and Sterling follows suit.

“Well yeah, I need a decent follow-up since Chase sent me this,” Blair says, holding up her phone for Sterl and April to see the hi-res dick pic.

April recoils and turns away, “You did not have to show me that,” she says, and Sterling couldn’t agree more. “Besides, didn’t we agree collectively as women...forever ago that dick pics are the worst? Why are you gonna encourage that with a boob pic?”

“We agreed that unsolicited dick pics are the worst. I asked and received, and let me tell you, I am not disappointed,” Blair smiles slyly. “Okay, be right back, I’m gonna do this from the dock,” she says, getting up and leaving Sterling and April both to look baffled at each other.

In the time it takes her to do that and distract Sterling, both of her marshmallows catch fire.

“Oh no!” she says, blowing at the combined fire furiously until it’s out and she’s left with two swollen and completely charred balls of goodness. “Oh it’s okay, they’re perfect,” she says when April gives her a quizzical look, and Sterling sits down in her camp chair, holding the roasting stick between her legs as she gets out two whole graham crackers and a whole Hershey bar, assembling what her dad has dubbed the Super S’more.

“I think your granddad might have had a point about the diabeetus,” April says, chuckling as she returns with her perfectly golden brown marshmallow and makes herself a reasonably sized, normal s’more.

Sterling pointedly takes a large bite of the Super S’more, succeeding in getting marshmallow and chocolate on the corners of her mouth and her fingers, but she knows in the absence of napkins or a paper towel, she has no choice but to power through the whole thing before she can attempt to rid herself of the sticky mess.

“You’re a child,” April says, amused once she’s finished her own s’more and proceeds to lick her own fingers clean in a way that probably wasn’t intended to be so suggestive, but Sterling can feel her breath hitch in her throat at the sight, regardless. 

April must sense the shift in her, because she waits patiently for Sterling to finish the last big bite of her s’more, and then she’s leaning in for a kiss, her tongue darting out at the corners of Sterling’s mouth, which would be erotic enough even if she didn’t proceed to pull away and bring Sterling’s hand up to her lips, sucking her fingers clean before releasing them with an audible pop, one by one.

Sterling thinks she might have a heart attack, watching and feeling April’s tongue in action, but the moment is ruined by Blair, who returns from the dock, buttoning up her flannel shirt.

“You two are disgusting,” she says and reaches down to grab the bag of marshmallows from next to April. “I’m going to bed, and I’d tell you to be safe, but I know you guys are lame so just...don’t do anything too weird, okay? This property is sacred family ground.”

“Says the girl who just took a boob pic for Chase Colton out on the dock where we learned to swim without life jackets,” Sterling replies, rolling her eyes. What she and April have done isn’t any worse than what Blair saw when Sterling was with Luke.

“Whatever. Have fun not having sex, dorks,” Blair says, going up the porch and slamming the slider door shut behind her.

April sighs and turns to Sterling. “Have I told you how excited I am to be sharing a bed with her?” she asks sarcastically.

“Well, if it gets really bad, you’re always welcome in my sleeping bag,” Sterling says and suggestively waggles her eyebrows.

“I will keep that in mind, though I’m sure your mom would kill us both,” April looks down at her hands in her lap. “Still, I can’t wait until we’re married and I’ll never have to spend another night without you next to me,” she says as she smiles to herself.

Sterling doesn’t know what she ever did to deserve April’s pure, intense love that she can never get enough of. She knows the road to getting where they are has been fraught, and their journey to the fabled Happily Ever After is far from over, but looking into April’s eyes and knowing her feelings of adoration are completely mutual gives Sterling the warm fuzzies.

“It’s so weird because I thought we were being crazy getting married after a ten-week engagement, and now it feels like it’s not nearly short enough,” she says, smiling as the little battery radio sitting on the picnic table between the firepit and the house starts to play one of her favorite songs—Love Is A Wild Thing by Kacey Musgraves.

“Hey, beyond the song, have we discussed first dance details yet?” April asks.

“Not that I can remember, no. Why?” Sterling asks, but April doesn’t answer, just gets up from her seat and holds her hand out for Sterling to take.

“Dance with me?” she asks.

“Right...right now?” Sterling looks around to make sure they’re totally alone.

“Mhm,” April hums, nodding. “I gotta see what kinda sweet moves you have so I can let our choreographer know your skill level,” she says, swinging her hips a little, much as she had at the fateful forensics tournament when she says ‘sweet moves.’

Sterling can’t help but smile at this amazingly adorable and ridiculous woman. “Seriously, a choreographer?”

“Yeah? None of our guests are gonna want to just watch us sway around for three and a half minutes.” April frowns as if this is the most obvious thing in the world. “Besides, I’m putting a great deal of trust in you by letting your tall self lead.” With that said, she takes one of Sterling’s hands and positions it on her waist.

Sterling isn’t sure she ever imagined a love like this when she was a kid. She always just imagined having what was always expected of her, with a husband and a few kids and getting a degree from UGA that she would hardly use. And she supposes she would have been perfectly okay with a life like that, but for all the trouble April can be with her neurotic, control-freak tendencies, Sterling can’t imagine any life without her in it now.

“Hey April, can you promise me something?” Sterling asks once they’ve gotten fully into position and begin to casually dance in circles.

“No promises until I know the context,” April says, but then her expression softens, “but sure.”

“Promise we’re going to always be like this?” Sterling asks quietly.

April looks up into her eyes, smiling slightly. She doesn’t offer Sterling any answer to her question other than to get up onto her tiptoes and kiss her gently on the lips.

It’s past 10 by the time Sterling gets her first bite. When her fishing rod bends and jumps in its holder on the side of the boat, she doesn’t even notice immediately, too caught up in thinking about going back to her tent to take a much-needed nap when they get back.

“You got a bite there, Sterly!” Deacon shouts to get her attention, and she finally notices.

“Make sure you don’t drop the pole or Dad’ll get mad,” DJ says, leaning over from his seat as Sterling retrieves the pole from its holder, gripping tight as she feels a strong tugging indicative of a big fish.

“I got it, Buddy. But thank you,” Sterling says, struggling a bit with the pole until she grips the end between her legs and starts steadily reeling it in, watching the leaded line change colors from red to blue to green every 25 feet. When it turns yellow, Deacon sets down his breakfast beer into a cupholder and gets the net ready so that by the time the line turns clear and the hooked fish splashes above the water, he’s able to bring it into the boat without much trouble.

“Nice lookin’ walleye,” Big Daddy comments, though he doesn’t bother to get up from the boat’s captain’s chair even when Anderson pulls out his camera.

“Nice job, Sterl!” he says and snaps a few pictures.

Sterling, always the helpful one, picks up the fish by the line, and holds it out to her side, smiling extra wide like an excited little kid as her dad takes the final picture.

“That’s one for the Christmas card!” Anderson beams with pride as he looks at the result on his camera’s screen.

A part of Sterling wants to remind him that her representative picture in the family collage this year will most likely be a wedding picture, but thinks better of it, as any talk of her actually getting married tends to make her dad go a little white in the face. “Big Daddy, should I put four colors back into the water?” she asks instead as she pulls the hook out of her fish’s mouth so she can toss it into the cooler with the others.

Her grandfather shakes his head. “Nah, best if everyone reels in. Fish ain’t gonna be bitin’ anymore and those damn hillbillies with the innertubes will be out on the water soon.”

Everyone does as they are told, reeling up their respective lines as Sterling hooks her lure to the reel of her pole and tightens the line for storage.

“I’d say this was a pretty good day of fishing,” Anderson says as he takes Sterling’s pole and puts it with his in the front of the boat.

“That guppy you called a fish should’ve probably been thrown back,” Deacon teases as he loses his patience with how slowly DJ is reeling in his line and takes the pole from him.

“At least it was a bass. All you caught was a suckerfish,” Anderson shoots back just as Big Daddy pushes down the boat's accelerator, the engine drowning out most of his words and forcing him to sit back in his seat and sulk.

DJ reaches over to poke Sterling to get her attention, and once he has it, he shouts over the engine, “And we’re supposed to be the kids.”

Sterling laughs and holds out her fist for him to bump before sitting back and enjoying the rest of the ride back to Deacon’s cabin.

The sun’s already high in the sky and beating down, so the breeze as they speed over the water is a more than welcome feeling, and Sterling takes off her baseball hat to feel the full blast of it.

Ever since she was little, Sterling’s found that she’s never had a clearer thought than when out on the water, the sound of an outboard engine drowning out the rest of the world. And right now, all she can think of is that she’s...content. Sure, her life is moving at breakneck speed, and she’s hitting certain milestones much earlier than she (or even Blair) ever planned, but she’s happy. 

She’s happy because she’s six weeks away from marrying the woman who she is absolutely certain is the love of her life. She’s happy because, despite some expected homophobic resistance, her fiancée has managed to almost seamlessly integrate herself into the Wesley family. And most of all, she’s happy because, for the first time since her entire life was blown up one night almost two years ago, she’s finally feeling like she’s back to a place where she feels she truly knows herself. She knows who she is and she knows what she wants.

And what she wants could not be more perfectly exemplified than April emerging from the beach in just a bikini as they dock the boat.

“You guys need a hand? I do know my way around a rope knot,” she says, coming out on the dock to set down her beach bag and kneeling down to help tie the boat to the cleats.

“Hey, that’s pretty good. Your Daddy teach you to do that?” Big Daddy asks as Deacon gives him a hand in climbing out of the boat.

April bites her lip, clearly wanting to lash out at either his patronizing tone, or the mention of her father (probably both), but she smiles as she looks up at him. “Yes, as a matter of fact. He also taught me to always buy American engines, especially on a fine vessel like a Boston Whaler,” she says, indicating the fishing boat. 

Sterling looks back at the engine and for the first time notices the brand (Honda) as Anderson chuckles and Big Daddy’s face goes a little red. She climbs out of the boat and leans down to whisper in April’s ear, “Easy, Sailor.”

April smirks and finishes her knot as the adult men make their way either to the beach or the house. “Did you catch anything?” she asks as she stands back up, a flirty hand resting on Sterling’s shoulder.

“She caught a really big walleye!” DJ says, holding out his hands to show a rough estimate.

“Impressive,” April says with a smile and a raised eyebrow, not nearly as used to being interrupted by obnoxious family members as Sterling. Not yet, at least. “And what about you, DJ?” she asks, turning to him.

He shrugs. “I caught a bass.”

Sterling gently shakes him by the shoulders. “The biggest one,” she says, bragging on her little cousin’s behalf if he’s going to be so modest.

“Very impressive.” April peers over her sunglasses and smiles at him, and when Sterling looks at her cousin, she can see he’s blushing crimson.

She can hardly blame the kid.

“Uh, I’ve my dad gut the fish,” DJ says nervously, gesturing to where Deacon is sharpening a knife on the beach, and then he bolts off.

April giggles. “You Wesleys sure do have a type. Though that one has a few years to develop the charm.” 

“So, are you going for a swim?” Sterling asks, gesturing at what April is wearing—or more appropriately, all that she is not wearing.

“Maybe in a little bit, but I thought I might try to get some sun first,” April says, then bends over to get something from her bag. “Speaking of, would you mind?” she asks, handing over the bottle of (inexplicably) reef-friendly sunscreen and turning around.

“Uh, yeah,” Sterling says, feeling about as eloquent as her tween cousin when presented with a scenario straight out of a fantasy. “Do you maybe wanna…” she gestures to the rolled-up towel in April’s bag, and then the dock.

April grabs the towel and lays it out on the dock. “You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to get me into a vulnerable position,” she says, lying prone.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Sterling says while getting down on her knees and staring at April’s half-covered ass. But without delay, she squirts some of the sunscreen into her hands and begins to massage it into April’s back.

“If I’d known this was part of the deal in marrying you, I’d have asked you two years ago,” April sighs, then lets out an absolutely pornographic moan when Sterling’s hands find a knot.

Sterling bites her lip and continues to work it out. “You know, you’re carrying a lot of tension. Could there be something you’re stressing over?” she asks sarcastically. The idea of April Stevens ever not stressing over something is laughable, but an April less than two months out from her wedding is another beast entirely.

“Less talky, more handsy,” April says, sounding unamused.

Doing as she’s told, Sterling gets more sunscreen and keeps rubbing it in, going lower and lower until…

“Sterling!” April squeaks when Sterling’s hand slips just under the waistband of her swimsuit bottoms. She pushes herself up on her hands and knees and scrambles a few feet away, but Sterling’s on her in a second, flipping her over and pinning her down on her back.

“Say uncle,” Sterling says, hands up in claw positions.

“Don’t you dare-” April starts, but her sentence devolves into uncontrollable laughter as Sterling starts to tickle her. Her usual composed demeanor is shattered into a million pieces while she swats futilely at Sterling’s hands and gasps for air. “Sterl, stop!”

“Surrender!” Sterling says, not letting up.

“N-never!” April forces out between giggles, tears starting to form in her eyes, and Sterling can’t help but roll her eyes at this wonderful woman’s steely resolve.

“April Elizabeth Stevens, you better surrender or I’ll-” now it’s Sterling’s turn to not be able to finish her sentence because April’s somehow managed to free her hands enough to take Sterling’s face in them and bring her down for a kiss. That effectively ends the tickling as Sterling feels herself melt into April.

After too short of a time, April breaks the kiss, out of breath from undeniably a combination of the laughter and the kissing. “You’ll do what now?”

“Sterling, you get off that girl! Don’t make me get the hose!” Deacon yells from the shore and laughs.

Sterling sighs, grateful that they at least weren’t caught by her mother. “To be continued,” she says, then rolls off of April and gets back on her feet, smoothing down her clothes as April joins her. “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?”

April shrugs. “Don’t know. Might catch up on a book I’ve been meaning to read. I think your aunt mentioned maybe going into town on the other end of the lake and checking out some boutique, which I guess could be fun.”

Sterling doesn’t get a chance to respond to that as she hears a Tarzan yell and looks up to see Blair in her bathing suit barrelling full speed down the dock at them, giving Sterling and April no time to move out of the way as she spreads her arms and clothesline kamikazes all three of them into the water. Which is objectively not very cold, but it’s certainly a shock to Sterling’s system when she wasn’t expecting to be in it--especially not fully-clothed.

“Blair, I’m gonna kill you!” April shrieks when she emerges from the water, blowing hard out of her nose to try to dispel some of the water that probably went up it as she swims after Blair, who evades her with possibly the fastest doggy paddle Sterling’s ever seen.

“You looked like you were getting a little hot. Excuse me for cooling you down,” Blair replies stubbornly, making her way to the dock’s ladder and climbing out of the water as April tries to grab at her foot.

“You’re lucky I didn’t have my phone on me.” Sterling points her finger at her sister, who looks completely unbothered.

“I knew you didn’t have your phone,” Blair teases once she’s up on the dock. “Everyone you text is here.”

“That’s not true!” Sterling says, swimming for the ladder, “I text Bowser more than you.” She regrets saying this the second it leaves her mouth.

Blair scoffs. “Those must be some very stimulating conversations. Has he finally explained to you what exactly is best cooked in a pant?”

“You guys are so weird,” April grumbles as she forgoes the ladder and hoists herself up onto the dock using only her upper body strength.

Sterling swears she sees this happen in Baywatch slow-mo, the water glistening as it rolls off her toned body, and she’s suddenly glad to be in the water.

By the time dinner is done and night has fallen, Sterling feels completely drained. It’s that particular brand of exhaustion that only comes from high levels of activity in the sun. But even so, she can’t help but feel a little bold after her and April’s little moment out on the dock.

She finds April in the kitchen, helping her Aunt Cordelia clean up after everyone’s finished their dessert. It will never cease to amaze Sterling how seamlessly April can integrate herself into practically anywhere.

“You going to bed soon?” she asks as she fills up her Contigo water bottle.

“Thinking about it,” April says, waiting for the sink so she can wash her hands.

Sterling steps out of the way for her and looks over her head to see Cordelia giving them both the stink eye. “How’d it go last night with Blair?”

April scoffs and drys off her hands with the dishtowel. “She plays lacrosse in her sleep.”

“Well, uh,” Sterling leans in close, whispering in April’s ear so Cordelia won’t hear. “If she gives you too much trouble, you’re always welcome out in the tent with me.”

“Mmm,” April hums, smiling. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

With that said, Sterling yawns loudly. “I sure am tired. Aunt Cordy, thank you for dinner. You know I can’t get enough of that Brunswick stew.”

“Aww, well I’m glad you liked it, Sweetpea,” Cordelia says in that saccharine tone of voice that’s always reminded Sterling of Mother. “Who knows? In a few years, it might be the two of you hosting the Fourth of July for all of us. I’m sure Krissy will have a few little ones to keep us on our toes by then.” There’s something about the comment that makes it so even though it’s in reference to Kristina, Sterling can’t help but think it might be a jab at her and April.

Sterling holds in whatever defensive comment she might be prone to blurting out, and instead turns to April to give her a quick peck on the lips, then back at her aunt, offering her a wave and taking great satisfaction in how unhappy she looks to have just witnessed gay activity in her own kitchen. “Goodnight, you two.”

With that, Sterling heads out of the house, listening to the nighttime summer sounds as she walks through the dark to her tent. From there, she makes quick work of changing into what are undoubtedly the least suitable pajamas for sleeping outside, but are exactly what she wants April to see if (but more likely, when) she comes to join her. Then she has no choice but to wait, pulling out her phone and scrolling through r/relationship_advice and taking great pride in not having anywhere near the problems of some 23F and her cheating husband (40m).

She jumps, startled when she suddenly hears the tent door’s zipper, but then she calms down because April’s actually managed to make it out sooner than she’d thought. Or at least, that’s what she thinks.

“Good, you’re still up!” DJ says, poking his head in, and for once, Sterling isn’t exactly thrilled to see his freckled face. Especially not when he opens the door wider and tosses a sleeping bag and pillow in. “Can you scootch over?” he asks, stepping over her and getting his sleeping bag situated up against the tent wall.

“What are you doing here?” Sterling asks. “I thought you have your own bed.”

“In the same room as my bitchface sister, yeah. But she gets night terrors and is more annoying when she’s asleep than when she’s awake,” DJ says, climbing into the sleeping bag. “So whatcha doing on your phone?” he points to the light streaming out the sides from where Sterling has her phone resting face down on her chest.

“Oh, just reading stories on Reddit.” She shrugs.

“That’s cool.” DJ nods, and stays silent for a good ten seconds or so. “So did you know you were, uh, interested in girls?”

Sterling lets out a large puff of air, not having expected that question. “Uh, well, I kinda just realized it when I had feelings for April.”


Sterling’s head whips around to stare at her cousin. “Hey, that’s my fiancée,” she says, mostly jokingly. Mostly.

“I know that!” he says defensively. “Besides, I’m totally taken. Kinda.”

At that moment, the tent’s door is unzipped again, and April pokes her head in, looking like a deer in the headlights the minute she spots DJ. “Uh...hey, guys. I was just...making sure Sterl was doing okay out here and not too cold. Because I have blankets, and-” April’s weak excuse is eyeroll-inducing and Sterling knows that even DJ can tell it’s a blatant lie.

“Babe, get in here already,” Sterling says, unzipping her sleeping bag and beckoning her fiancée to join her.

April looks unsure, but eventually reluctantly does as she’s told and gets in the tent, zipping it behind her before climbing in next to Sterling. “Not a word of this to any of the adults, got it?” she says in warning to DJ, who nods with a look of fear and...something else on his face.

“Anyway, how are you kinda taken?” Sterling asks, turning to face DJ and allowing April to spoon her. If she’s gonna be having a sleepover with her fiancée and her tweenybopper cousin, she’s gonna get that middle school hot gossip.

“Well, there’s this girl Lexie-”

“Oooh!” Sterling interrupts teasingly.

“Shut up. Anyway, like I said, there’s Lexie, and she’s so cool. She’s totally pretty and she plays COD better than like anyone I know but she’s really nice. She kinda said she’d be my girlfriend, but we have to wait until she gets back from Space Camp,” DJ explains, sounding completely smitten for this girl, but for the first time, Sterling’s realizing just how young she was when she started going out with Luke. She’d thought she was so grown up at the time.

“Gotta love a girl in STEM,” April comments, and Sterling couldn’t agree more, knowing all too well the appeal of a nerd.

“But that’s where things get kinda… confusing. And complicated,”  DJ says, furrowing his brow. 

“Confusing how?” April asks.

“Well,” he pauses, looking unsure of if he should be telling them this at all. “Lexie’s transgender.”

Sterling’s about to say something, but April beats her to it. “You know she’s still just a girl, right?”

DJ nods fervently. “Oh, I know! It’s just...some of the kids we go to school with are jerks, and even my parents know her from before and I guess I’m just worried about what people will say and if that means I’m some kind of… not straight person?”

“Well, as an LGBTQ...person, I think it’s completely your call as to what makes you fall under that umbrella, but if you’re wondering if you are just because you like a trans girl, I’m not sure that’s the case,” Sterling says, treading carefully as this isn’t something she has too much first-hand experience with, but knowing she and April are probably the only people DJ will talk to about this kind of stuff. “And I don’t know much about not caring what people think, to be perfectly honest, but I’m sure Blair could teach you a thing or two.”

DJ sighs. “Yeah, I guess so. I just wish I could be as brave as you guys when it comes to them,” his eyes drift in the direction of the house.

“Well, we never had much of a say in the matter, seeing as your sister outed our engagement to your whole family. But that just means we can never let them see how much they can hurt us. Without that, they have no power. Never give them power over you,” April says in that same kind of scary-hot voice she tends to use during a Forensics Club pre-tournament pep talk.

“Yes, ma’am,” DJ says, sounding an awful lot like his Uncle Anderson...though far more sleepy. He yawns, and the contagious action spreads to Sterling and April alike. “I think we should sleep now, you guys,” he says, and Sterling and April make sounds of agreement.

Sterling closes her eyes, just trying to get herself as comfortable as possible in the, admittedly, cramped sleeping bag that was not made for two. As if sensing her dilemma, April pulls Sterling in tight against her, and she feels her breathing start to even out, the busy day finally catching up with her all at once while she enjoys the feeling of pure contentment in being in her fiancée’s arms. They’ve been so deprived of this level of physical intimacy for as long as they’ve been engaged, and Sterling feels like an addict finally getting her fix.

“Hey, Sterl?” April whispers, once the soft sounds of DJ snoring come from his sleeping bag.

“Hmm?” she asks, feeling like she’s beginning to let her own sleepiness take over, but turning in the sleeping bag to face April, regardless.

“You’re a really good person,” April says with a small smile just barely visible in the dark as she pushes a few strands of hair out of Sterling’s face. And then she’s leaning in, kissing Sterling gently at first, but it becomes progressively more intense. She tangles her fingers in Sterling’s hair, holding her in close and breathing heavily through her nose so as not to break the kiss. 

For her part, Sterling knows they shouldn’t be doing this—it’s pushing their carefully-placed boundaries, even without taking into account that they’re making out next to her sleeping cousin. But she isn’t about to stop when lately, all the physical stuff with April has been a part of the deliciously, agonizingly slow build-up to the grand finale that will be their wedding night. She isn’t about to give up an opportunity like this for the world.

Sterling can’t help herself when her hand drifts down April’s chest, fingertips dragging lightly along until she settles it on April’s left breast (over her pajamas, of course ). She half expects her hand to get slapped away, so when that doesn’t happen, and April instead grabs Sterling’s other hand and deliberately places it on her other breast, she feels like she must have fallen asleep at some point during DJ’s sexuality stuff. There’s no way she’d be getting to double second base if she wasn’t in Dreamland. 

Except… she is hyper-aware of how awake she is, especially as April hooks her leg around Sterling’s, slowly grinding her hips.

“Sterl,” April whispers during a momentary break from kissing. She continues grinding into her, letting out a soft whimper when the position of Sterling’s knee must provide her some friction.

“You’re going to get me in trouble,” Sterling whispers teasingly, but in all actuality feels as if she might have a heart attack if this keeps up. She kisses April again, but she still doesn’t even know what she’s supposed to do with her hands during all of this—though she isn’t about to complain about them resting on April’s boobs. And at the same time, she’s having second thoughts about what’s going on--especially with her cousin not even three feet away from them. She breaks the kiss again, and April looks more than a little disappointed.

“What? What’s wrong?” she asks, concerned.

Sterling feels like she deserves some kind of medal for having this kind of resolve in this situation. “I think we need to stop,” she says and feels her heart sink into her stomach when April’s facial expression quickly shifts from aroused to one of embarrassment and disappointment.

“You’re right,” she says, nodding, and to Sterling’s surprise, proceeds to unzip the sleeping bag and climb out.

“Where are you going?” Sterling asks when April heads for the door.

“If you aren’t sure you can keep your hands to yourself, then I should probably go back into the house. It’s probably not worth suffering the wrath of your mother anyway,” April hisses, clearly far too disappointed that Sterling didn’t let what was happening continue, and then she unzips the tent, steps out, and zips it behind her.

Sterling turns on her back and slaps her hand over her face, groaning and wondering why she has to always be so damn honorable.

Fourth of July has always been one of Sterling’s top 3 favorite holidays, but this one is already proving to be potentially disastrous, and they haven’t even started lighting explosives yet. 

April’s spent most of the day being curt with her or avoiding her entirely. Which, she supposes, was to be expected since April’s far too proud to admit that everything that happened last night--from the premarital heavy petting to the subsequent lady blue balls--was entirely her fault. Even so, Sterling does not like it one bit, especially when it drags out until dinner when the first full sentence April speaks to her is while they’re dishing up their plates from the spread on the kitchen island.

“You’re looking a little red; remind me to get you my aloe lotion after dinner,” she says, not looking up from her task of dishing herself up with small amounts of everything—well, everything except the potato salad someone heinously put raisins in.

Sterling smiles, knowing April wasn’t really mad at her, but still glad that their ‘fight’ is seemingly over. “Yeah, I think I forgot to reapply after we went wakeboarding earlier.”

“Well, you should be more careful. I don’t want to become a melanoma widow like some Californian,” April scolds, and if that isn’t borderline motherly enough, she puts some green salad on Sterling’s place upon noticing she skipped it.

“You know she’s not your kid, right April?” Blair asks from the other end of the counter.

Sterling shoots a glare in her sister’s direction, knowing from their many long talks that April has certain habits as a result of observing her own parents’ relationship over the years. And while Sterling is certainly not John Stevens and is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, she can’t help but feel a little flattered that April’s already subconsciously started treating her like a full-blown spouse.

Ignoring Blair, April smiles up at Sterling. “I’ll save you a seat outside?” she says, nodding in the direction of the door out to the patio dining area.

Sterling nods and April continues on her way.

The second she’s gone, Blair moves around the counter. “Okay so seriously, what was going on with you guys today? Even I was a little shocked she wasn’t drooling all over your badass self out wakeboarding.”

Sterling shrugs as she piles up a few baby back ribs (which she would never tell April came from the hog she shot) on her plate. “Just engaged couple stuff,” she says, purposefully avoiding eye contact.

“Fine, go ahead and lie to me. But when she’s driving you crazy at school making you do your homework and shit, don’t come crying to me.” Blair stops midway through scooping some potato salad onto her plate. “Who the fuck put raisins in the potato salad?”

“Kristina,” Sterling says, and does not have to elaborate further. She finishes making her own plate and finally joins everyone else out at the oversized picnic table, taking the seat on April’s left as DJ has already taken her right. Blair’s not far behind.

When everyone’s seated, Mother gets everyone’s attention from the other end of the table. “It’s so nice to have everyone get together to celebrate the birth of this great nation. Cordy dear, before we start eating, why don’t you lead us all in prayer?”

Sterling sees Blair swallow the half-chewed bite of buttered roll she’d already taken as Aunt Cordelia smiles smugly and bows her head, the rest of the table following suit.

“Dear Lord, we thank you for the gifts you’ve bestowed upon us, even in these challenging times we live in. We hope you’ll bless our daughter Kristina in her final year of school, and our son Deacon Jr. as he begins his journey of becoming a man. And we pray you continue to bless us all with good health, so our family may remain whole for many years to come.” Cordelia looks up and smiles at everyone, but before she can say ‘amen,’ Debbie jumps in.

“I think we should also add that we thank you God for bringing April into our family, and we ask that you bless her and Sterling’s wedding and marriage,” she says pointedly, not allowing Cordelia to leave out something so important.

Then it’s Sterling’s turn. “And also, thank you God for getting my sister Blair that lacrosse scholarship to UNC. She’s worked so hard for it and she deserves it.”

“Aww, thank you,” Blair says, genuinely touched.

“And thank you Jesus for this food, which is now getting cold. Amen,” Deacon says quickly and immediately digs into his dinner with everyone following his lead.

“Anderson, how is that little firm of yours doing?” Big Daddy asks.

“Growin’ every day. Our clients seem very happy with the work we do for them,” Anderson says, looking up from his plate and smiling broadly at his father, foiling his obvious plan of embarrassing his youngest son.

“Well, that’s just wonderful. And here I thought you were always too much of a pussy to handle those bigger cases,” Big Daddy says happily as Anderson’s face falls.

Sterling clenches her fists at her sides and turns to Blair, who’s clearly thinking the same as her.

“Blair, I know that was really bad but please don’t say what I think you’re going to. Big Daddy is like...super old.”

“He’s not too old to drink some respect women juice!”

“Blair, don’t do it!”

“Actually, it’s a scientifically proven fact that the vagina is far stronger than the male genitalia,” Blair says, taking a bite of salad and smiling as Sterling sees their grandpa’s face go white as a sheet at the mention of vaginas. The table goes silent, not even with the sound of forks clanking since everyone seems to have stopped eating.

“Anderson actually recently settled a case for Hooters,” Debbie says proudly, smiling wide and changing the subject, putting her hand on Anderson’s arm.

“That place has not been the same since the #MeToo movement…” April mumbles just loud enough for the whole table to hear, and after a short silence, Deacon bursts into laughter.

“You’re damn right about that! Girly, who’s been takin’ you to Hooters?” he asks, and April bites her lip.

“My dad’s a really bad parent,” she says, speaking nothing but the truth, but to lighten the mood, she adds, “But hey, that might explain why I’m a lesbian.” April laughs nervously, with only Sterling joining her.

“April, will your parents be attending the wedding?” Mother asks and Sterling sees Debbie shoot April a look of sympathy.

“Uh, I’m not exactly sure, but I’m leaning towards probably not. We aren’t on the best terms,” April grimaces and gets to eating her meal, probably to avoid any more uncomfortable questions about her jerk parents.

“I actually got word from Brayden that he will be able to make it as my plus one to the wedding,” Kristina says, her need for attention coming in handy for once.

“Aw, that’s great, Krissy. Here’s hoping your time will come sooner rather than later,” Mother says, her resentment for Sterling getting married before her favorite being quite evident.

“Just don’t do something as unclassy as getting engaged at Sterl’s wedding,” Blair says, with it sounding an awful lot like a stern warning.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it,” Kristina says sweetly. “Besides, I have it on good authority that Brayden wants to propose to me with his sick Grandmama’s ring, and she’s still holdin’ on.” If Sterling didn’t know better, she’d think her cousin is openly wishing for the death of an old lady.

“Well, let’s pray it happens soon. I fear we’re running out of options for great-grandchildren,” Big Daddy drawls, looking right down the table at Sterling.

The rest of the dinner is sufficiently awkward, but Sterling manages to eat half of her plate before she loses her appetite around the time Kristina starts talking about her ideal engagement/wedding. But by that point, dusk has properly taken over the sky, and not looking for any repeats of the first night here, Big Daddy goes with Anderson and Deacon to start the campfire.

This of course leaves all the cleanup work to the women (and DJ), with Sterling and April forming a washing and drying station at the sink.

“Is it bad that after your grandpa said that thing about great-grandchildren, it made me want a whole brood out of spite?” April asks, taking a plate from Sterling and drying it.

Sterling shrugs. “Whatever will get you on the eventual baby train is alright by me,” she glances up from her task of scrubbing a pan to look out the window, where a campfire is blazing and Uncle Deacon is unwrapping an over-sized pack of roman candles while her dad looks like he’s having war flashbacks.

“You know I’ve never experienced a homemade fireworks show before?” April says when Sterling’s handed her the pan.

Sterling frowns, finding that hard to believe considering they live in Georgia. “Really?”

April nods. “We’d always go out to our lake house for Fourth of July and Daddy would hire this pyrotechnics company that would do a whole show from this barge out on the water.” She laughs at a memory. “This one time when I was I think 10, the two of us rode out there on one of the jet skis during the show and my mom was so mad. Though I can’t really blame her since we were swerving out of the way of falling embers in the dark.”

Sterling should have known it was something excessive and bougie like that, but it still sometimes catches her off-guard just how much money the Stevens family really has. She also finds it a little disturbing that April can still speak so fondly about the man, but it certainly reinforces in her that it’s for the best that April doesn’t know about the whole bounty hunting thing. If she still loves and misses her dad, then the likelihood of her being very forgiving to the people responsible for putting him in jail doesn’t seem good.

“Well, I don’t know if the one my dad and Uncle Deacon are gonna put on is gonna exactly compare to something done by a licensed professional, but...we have sparklers!” Sterling says excitedly, trying to get April jazzed up for their own new traditions instead of dwelling on the odd, not-toxic memories of her dad.

“Well, when you put it that way, of course, this is better,” April says, finishing putting away the dried dishes and offering her hand out to Sterling. “Care to escort me to the viewing area?” she drawls sweetly, and Sterling could hardly ever say no.

She takes her fiancée’s hand and leads her outside, going past the antics of her dad and uncle arguing over which big box firework to light off first, and heading to a quiet part of the beach. She gestures for April to take a seat in the sand and joins her just as the first shots go up into the air, exploding in a cascade of green and purple, then she lies back in the sand to avoid craning her neck too much.

April does the same, snuggling into Sterling’s side and watching the fireworks go until it’s time for Deacon and Anderson to light off another. “Hey Sterl?” she asks after a moment.

“Yeah?” Sterling replies over a big boom that immediately follows a large explosion of gold.

“Not to be dramatic or anything-”

“You’re always dramatic,” Sterling interrupts, and can practically hear April roll her eyes without having to look at her.

“I don’t think I can remember a time in my life when I was as happy as I am with you,” April admits in an uncharacteristically candid look into her feelings. “Not with my parents, or my friends. Just you.”

Sterling looks over to see that April isn’t watching the fireworks at all, appearing to be far too captivated by her fiancée. “Careful, or people will think you’ve gone soft,” she teases, but April is unbothered.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks,” April says, shrugging her shoulders as realization dawns on her. “Wow, that is a first.”

Sterling smiles, knowing there could never be a truer statement in the world than, ‘God works in mysterious ways’ when He made her love this brilliant, gorgeous, ridiculous girl. She leans in to kiss her, feeling all of her own cares melt away because nothing could ever ruin this moment.

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

Sterling is not sure how she let April convince her to go to a nighttime wedding on the eve of their bridal shower, but when she’s forced out of bed to help her mom get the backyard ready, she’s regretting it. She also wonders if April has a cocaine problem they haven’t discussed in counseling because her own lack of sleep doesn’t seem to be affecting her in the slightest.

“Hey Sterl, can you taste one of these for me?” April asks when Sterling retreats into the house for some lemonade once the sun has risen over the yard.

She looks at the tray of appetizers that April’s assembled, cocking her head. “What are they?”

“Smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel chip with a little bit of dill,” April says, picking one up, and holding it in front of Sterling’s mouth, leaving her no choice but to open up and let her fiancée feed it to her.

And it is...delicious. “Mmm. Really good,” she says, reaching for another, but April slaps her hand away. “I’m flattered, but save them for the party,” she says, and for the first time, Sterling is perhaps seeing what Blair said about April being just like their mother.

She shakes her head and finally goes to the fridge, pulling out the pitcher of lemonade and pouring herself a glass. “Ahhh,” she sighs, finally feeling just a bit cooled down after helping her mom hang string lights. “So what else you got cookin’, Good Lookin’?” she asks, and almost immediately follows up with, “I don’t know why I said that.”

Thankfully, April laughs. “Well, we have spinach artichoke dip, and I’m about to start on some chicken salad finger sandwiches if you want to help by chopping some celery?” she points to the bag of celery already sitting on the counter.

“I can do that,” Sterling says, then goes looking for a cutting board and a knife, making quick work of discarding the bottom of the stalks and the leaves once she does. “So isn’t it supposed to be the job of the maid of honor—or I guess in our case, maids of honor—to do all of this stuff for the bridal shower?”

“Traditionally, yes, but with my maid of honor only able to find a flight for this afternoon, and with yours being Blair, I think it’s probably safer for us to handle it,” April says, shrugging. “So how’s it looking outside?”

“Good. I like the rustic chic thing you came up with,” Sterling says, chopping carefully so as to not lose any fingers. “So did your aunt and cousins get in from Virginia yet?”

“Yeah, last night, I think?” April says just as she starts breaking down a rotisserie chicken. “It’s really cool that they’re going to be here until the wedding. I honestly didn’t think Aunt Franny could stand being around my dad for that long.”

Sterling frowns and stops chopping, putting down her knife. Obviously, they wouldn’t be… “They aren’t staying with your parents, are they?”

“Well, the guest house, and my dad does tend to spend most of the summer at the lake place, but yes, they are.” April tries to sound like this doesn’t bother her immensely, her father’s hated sister-in-law being welcome in the home where she is not, but the increasingly violent way she’s tearing the chicken apart betrays that. “And, you know, they can have fun with that because my dad has the gardener mow the lawn like really early in the morning, and my cousin Sarah just had a baby that she’s bringing along, and…” she deflates, dropping her own knife on the cutting board and losing her composure. Sterling can see her start to break down and pulls her in for a hug.

“Hey, it’s okay,” she says soothingly, rubbing circles into April’s back. “Today’s a good day, right?”

April pulls away and nods, forcing a smile as she wipes whatever tears that managed to escape away. “Okay, we really need to finish up in here though because I still have to get dressed before my family gets here.”

“April, you do know what they say about speaking of the Devil, right?” A voice says from the kitchen doorway, and they both turn to find a woman who can only be April’s aunt if only based on appearance alone.

April squeals, leaving Sterling’s side to be pulled into a crushing hug by her aunt. “What are you doing here? I thought you guys wouldn’t be here until the party started.”

“And let you set up your own bridal shower? Heck no. The girls and I are here to be put to work, and the nice man in camo let us in,” Franny says, putting her hands on either side of April’s face in a very maternal fashion before leaning down to kiss her head.

“Uh, I think that was probably my dad in the camo. Hi, I’m Sterling, the fiancée. You must be the famous Aunt Francine,” Sterling introduces herself politely, putting out her hand to shake, but April’s aunt bypasses that and goes straight in for the hug and a kiss instead.

“None of that Francine stuff, okay? Family calls me Franny, and you’re family now that you’re marrying my little April,” she says sternly, and Sterling understands where April gets her intimidating demeanor from. “Now where are those girls of mine?” she says, turning around just as three young women bearing a strong resemblance to Franny join them in the kitchen, the oldest-looking one carrying a bundle of pink.

“Sorry, Leah decided she was going to crap herself just as we were parking the car,” the young mother says, smiling down at the bundle. “Yes you did,” she coos at her in a baby voice, then looks up at Franny. “Mom, can you take her for a sec? I have to respond to a call from a client.” She hands the baby over to her grandmother before getting an answer and heads into the other room, putting her cell phone to her ear. “Hi, yes, this is Sarah Goldberg returning your call about the order of-” her voice fades as she gains some distance.

The tallest girl of the three rolls her eyes. “Because I actually have manners, hi, I’m Rachel. Workin’ Mom in there is Sarah, and this one is our baby sister, Becca,” as she finishes her introductions, she puts her hand patronizingly on the shoulder of her sister, who looks like she could perhaps do with a touch less eyeliner and a bit more color in her wardrobe.

“I’m literally older than the brides at this wedding, but sure, I’m a baby,” Becca says, rolling her eyes.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Sterling says, but she stops paying any attention to the adults in the room once she gets a good look at Baby Leah, who may possibly be the cutest thing she’s ever laid eyes on. “Hello, baby,” she coos to her.

Franny adjusts Leah in her arms. “This one loves being the center of attention,” she says. 

“Sounds familiar,” Sterling says, shooting a teasing grin at April.

“Do you want to hold her?” Franny asks, and Sterling is nodding immediately, almost holding her breath as she gingerly accepts the baby, making sure to not drop her as she holds her securely to her body. “Her name is Leah Francine,” she says proudly.

“Hi, Leah. You’re very beautiful,” Sterling says, looking awestruck into the same shade of blue eyes as April. “How old is she?” she asks without looking up, completely captivated.

“Six months,” Rachel says.

“Whoa, a whole semester,” Sterling says to the baby, eyes wide, and earns herself a slow-forming smile, which becomes a full-on infectious giggle.

“Careful, April or she’ll catch the baby rabies,” Rachel mutters.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to call it that?” Franny scolds her daughter. “Just don’t be getting any ideas yet, Sterling. April here’s gotta conquer the world first.”

“Oh, of course,” Sterling says, finally looking up at her fiancée, who has been uncharacteristically quiet this whole time, and who is staring at her with what can only be described as heart eyes. “Hey, Leah? Do you want to go to your Auntie April?” she asks the baby while still looking at April.

April looks slightly panicked and puts her hands in front of herself. “Oh, no, that’s okay, I--” she pauses as Sterling puts the baby in her arms. “--I’m good,” she says, her whole body stiff as she holds Leah just slightly out from herself.

“She’s not a bomb, April,” Franny says, taking the baby back when she starts to fuss but calms down the minute she’s back in her grandmother’s arms.

“Hey, I can’t blame you. That kid is a puke machine,” Rachel says, lightly elbowing April in the ribs. “But seriously, no offense to you...Sterling, right?” Sterling nods before she continues, “No offense to you, Sterling, but seriously, you guys are so young. I remember when she was one of those nudist babies who wouldn’t keep her clothes on,” Rachel says and pulls April in for a side hug as she turns beet red.

“She doesn’t need to hear about that,” April says, embarrassed.

“She’s bound to see your bare-assed baby book eventually.” Becca chuckles as a thought seems to occur to her. “Oh, Mom, should we get those extra secret things from the car?”

“Yes, please. And on your way, can you give your sister her child back? I can tell she’s getting peckish and none of us can be of any help there,” she says and hands Leah off to Becca, who somehow manages to still look more comfortable holding a baby than April, while simultaneously looking like the type who wants to separate Church and State in the name of Satan.

“Bye, Leah!” Sterling says, waving as the baby smiles back at her on her way out with her aunts.

Once the girls are gone, Franny takes on a more somber demeanor, which makes sense once she starts to speak. “April, I just want you to know that I had no idea what your father had done to you until speaking with your mother about the wedding, and I just want to say for the record that I think it’s deplorable.”

April nods. “Thank you, Aunt Franny.”

“And I also want to say that I really laid into your mother last night about her not being here today. So just know I tried, and she does want to be here, she’s just scared of...well, you know. But she’ll come around—if I have to make her, she will come around,” Franny says, reminding Sterling a lot of Blair when she pulls the Big Sister card. But most importantly, her optimism actually manages to bring a smile to April’s face. “Now, based on the chicken dismembering and the celery, I can only assume you’re doing my chicken salad recipe?”

April nods. “That is the one. I got red grapes and brioche and everything.

“Good girl,” Franny says, playfully patting April on the head like a small child. “Then I can take it from here, and you can go get dolled up. I know you and your Mama are stubborn as mules when it comes to delegating, but I’m not taking no for an answer.”

Sterling now knows exactly where April gets so many of her quirks from.

“Well, I guess I have no choice,” April says, reaching behind herself and untying her apron. She takes it off over her head and hands it to her aunt. “Sterling, you should probably go check on your mom. Her decoration ideas are a little ambitious even for me, and I don’t want her to get heatstroke.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Sterling says, giving April a mock salute and humming the Spongebob theme song to herself as she heads back outside.

She hears Franny say, “Keep that one forever,” as she closes the door behind her.

Sterling smiles to herself as she gets back to work, yelling a heads up to her mom about the arrival of April’s relatives, and getting started on blowing up balloons. It’s busywork, but she doesn’t mind it so much. She quickly loses track of time, and it’s almost noon by the time Blair emerges from her room to actually come help— but of course, by this point, Sterling and Debbie have almost finished setting up outside.

“Okay, so either I’m having the worst nightmare right now, or there are like five Aprils in the house,” she says, pointing her thumb back over her shoulder once she’s stepped out onto the patio.

Sterling rolls her eyes as she ties a balloon to the back of a chair. “Those are April’s aunt and cousins. They’re here to help since someone said bridal showers weren’t her thing,” she says.

“And we’re very grateful for them,” Debbie adds. “It’s easy to see where April gets her work ethic.” She gestures through the glass door, where Franny and her girls are still working up a storm in the kitchen. Then she points her hammer, which she’d just been using to stake the much-needed party tent into the ground, at Blair. “You could learn a few things from them.”

“I’ll have you know, Mother, that Sterl and I have been working our butts off on top of dealing with this-” Blair pauses as she looks at the tent and giggles. “-circus.”

Sterling stares at her, unamused. “Are you gonna help set up or what?”

“Hey, I’m in charge of the games, remember? And let me tell you, you guys are gonna love them. Or hate them. Probably nothing in between,” Blair says sweetly but smiles evilly.

“Blair Aspen, you better not have anything more obscene planned than the one you ran by me. Your grandmother is coming to this party,” Debbie warns.

“What do you mean by obscene?” Sterling asks, worried now.

“Oh, it’s just this little guessing game where-” Debbie starts explaining but Blair shushes her.

“Mom! She can’t know until we play. But Sterl, trust me on this, you’re gonna love it and you get extra presents out of it,” Blair says, seeming genuinely excited about something to do with the wedding for the first time, so in combination with the concept of the extra gifts, Sterling can hardly complain.

“Well, when you put it that way, okay,” she says, still making a point of looking put out by this. “But if April hates it, you are taking the blame. Not me.”

Blair rolls her eyes. “Obviously. Even if she wasn’t totally crazy about you, you have one of those faces that is impossible to be mad at.” She punctuates her sentence by gently patting Sterling’s cheek until Sterling shoves her hand away. “If Mom doesn’t need you out here anymore, we need to get you upstairs and looking a little more…” Blair looks her up and down, from her messy ponytail to her overall shorts. “Bridal.” With that said, she grabs Sterling by the wrist and leads her around the back of the house, clearly avoiding going in through the kitchen. 

Sterling expects her to keep going, but she stops as soon as they are out of sight and earshot of their mom. “What’s going on?” she asks, perhaps too loudly.

“Shhh!” Blair says, looking around for anyone to potentially catch them, leaning in close. “I just got a call from Bowser that he’s got something that could potentially be really big cooking.”

Sterling hates how easily she can be drawn into this kind of stuff. “Like how big?” she asks, intrigued.

“Like we’d be taking a cut of $5000 each, big,” Blair says, a grin spreading across her face as she sees the cogs turn in Sterling’s head.

“That’s a lot of money,” she says aloud because really, it is. It’s enough to give April the Disney World honeymoon of a lifetime and then some. “But I can’t. I have to be here.”

Blair nods. “Yeah, I get that. I have to be here too. That’s why I’m having Bowser do the hard part and locate the dude, so by the time we can step in for the arrest, this party will be long over, and you and I can go off to college with some spending money.”

Sterling fails to see any flaw in this logic, nodding. “That actually sounds pretty good to me.”

Blair grins. “Great. Then let’s get you looking the part to play the perfect little future wife, and you can get through this whole shindig with the knowledge that you’re about to get a nice fat paycheck.”

Maybe Sterling is being naive in thinking that if she plays her cards right, today can go off without a hitch. Maybe it’s actually going to be a disaster that will lead to April deciding that she’s making a monumental mistake in marrying an objective numbskull when she’s not even old enough to drink yet. Or maybe, and definitely most likely, Sterling will muddle through this day somehow, and then she will hopefully not have any issues in apprehending the skip. Hopefully.

For as big as their wedding is going to be, Sterling is glad that their bridal shower can be comparatively subdued. Though she’s sure that’s only because April wasn’t able to personally send out invitations to everyone they know—Blair, somewhat suspiciously—had insisted she do that. Still, everyone important is here, including Jamie, who gets a rare moment away from April when the bride-to-be’s attention is drawn to her extended family as her aunt starts telling embarrassing childhood stories.

“—and then, my hand to God, little April comes running out in the middle of Christmas dinner buck naked, and my sister had to chase her all around the house while we all just laughed and laughed,” Franny says, and laughs along with everyone while April turns bright red.

Sterling shakes her head and gets herself another glass of non-alcoholic punch as she’s joined at the refreshments table by Jamie.

“Sounds like you’ll potentially have your hands full with her. Though she seems better about keeping her clothes on now,” she says, amused, and Sterling scoffs.

“You have no idea.” She grabs a handful of chips and starts snacking on them. “So what’s your deal? Do you have a girlfriend or a life partner or something?” Sterling asks, trying to make nice with Jamie for April’s sake if they’re going to be seeing each other a lot over the years.

“Not at the moment, no. I just got out of a long-term relationship like three months ago and I’m just enjoying the single life. Tinder is amazing,” Jamie says, and Sterling can’t quite tell if she’s being ironic or not. Based on everything she knows about Jamie, Sterling is going to assume she is not.

“Well that’…” Sterling says, realizing she’s backed herself into a corner conversation-wise. “I once did something like that when I was single. Except not through an app.”

Jamie frowns. “You’ll have to explain that one to me.”

“Well, it’s sort of a long story, but-” Sterling is interrupted as she’s pulled into a surprise side hug.

“Sterling! Congrats on the wedding!” Ellen says, practically giddy. “I can’t believe you and April are tyin’ the knot, and I’m so grateful y’all thought to invite little old me.”

“Well, you know, in a roundabout sort of way, April and I might not be together right now because of you, so how could we not?” Sterling says and smiles when she sees the huge grin on Ellen’s face.

“Really?” she asks, voice almost high enough to only be audible to dogs.

Sterling nods. “Yep. Both times, actually.” She looks over at Jamie, who seems to be waiting for an introduction. “Oh, I’m sorry. Jamie, this is Ellen; she was our Bible teacher at Willingham. And Ellen, this is Jamie, April’s Maid of Honor.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Jamie says, reaching her hand in front of Sterling to shake Ellen’s, and Sterling takes that as her opportunity to escape. Just in time, it would seem, as Blair starts hitting the side of her plastic punch cup with a fork.

“Everyone find a seat because it’s time for the real fun to start,” she says, and Sterling does as she’s told, going over to April and taking the seat next to her.

“Do you have any idea what is about to happen?” April asks through her teeth as she smiles.

“Not a clue,” Sterling says, reaching down to take April’s hand in hers. If something embarrassing is about to happen, at least they have each other.

“Now I hope everyone here old enough to imbibe has gotten themselves a drink because the first game we’re gonna play might get a little crazy,” Debbie announces as she brings out the wicker basket Sterling had noticed she’d put next to the present table before guests arrived. She glances into the basket and then back at the brides. “Girls, if you want to get one glass of champagne each, I will allow it.” 

Sterling is more than a little frightened now because her mom allowing that means this is going to be bad, and April clearly knows this as she’s up out of her chair and getting them each a glass of champagne off the refreshment table before Debbie can even finish her sentence.

Once April returns and Sterling takes a sip of her drink, Debbie hands the reins to Blair.

“In the invitations I sent you all, I said that alongside a gift, you also had to bring...” she takes the basket from Debbie and reaches in, pulling out a pair of lacy black underwear, “A new pair of panties.”

Sterling sinks lower in her chair, not liking where any of this is going.

“So the object of the game is for our lovely brides to guess who brought which pair, and who they were intended for,” Debbie finishes, clearly wanting Blair to get on with the show.

“Exactly,” Blair says, nodding and bringing the basket over to Sterling and April, setting it down in the grass in front of them. “So without further ado, you ladies may proceed.”

Sterling and April look at each other, mortified. This is not what either of them signed up for. They wanted to separate their bridal shower from bachelorette party antics for the exact reason that Sterling is now being stared down by her grandmother while she and her lesbian fiancée wave lingerie around.

April takes a deep breath, then a long drink of her champagne, finishing off the glass. “Okay, let’s do this,” she says, putting the empty flute on the table behind her and reaching into the basket, retrieving the pair Blair had just been holding. She ponders them a second, holding them up and observing them at all angles, even looking at the tag, then looking out at the party guests, before simply saying, “Sarah bought these, and they are mine.” She puts them on the table next to the champagne glass.

“She’s right,” Sarah says, flabbergasted. “How?”

Sterling expects some kind of Sherlockian explanation, but April simply shrugs. “You have a terrible poker face.” She turns to Sterling. “Your turn, Honey.”

Sterling’s mouth has gone a bit dry, both from the embarrassment of this situation she’s found herself in, along with the invasive mental image of April in the lacy black panties, but she has to make her one glass of champagne last as long as she can. She reaches down and picks up a random pair off the top. 

To her relief, they’re nothing scandalous. In fact, they’re totally cute. Light blue boyshorts with a floral pattern up the sides. She looks them over good, then looks out, and notices Debbie avoiding eye contact.

“Mom, you got these for me, didn’t you?” Sterling says, smirking.

“Guilty,” Debbie says, sipping her wine. “Okay, April. You’re up.”

April, who seems to have loosened up a bit, reaches in without hesitation and comes up with a red pair of briefs with a UGA G on the crotch and ‘#GoDogs’ on the ass. “These are Sterling’s,” April says, handing them over before knowing if she is correct or not. “And they’re from… Mrs. Creswell,” she says, pointing at Lynn, who smiles and nods. “Oooh, I’m good at this,” April says, rubbing her hands together. “Debbie, can we keep score of who gets the most correct answers? The prize being bragging rights?” Debbie nods and April claps, loving a challenge perhaps as much as Sterling loves her.

That makes it her turn again, and Sterling picks up a pair that look unbelievably easy to guess, seeing as they’re Star Wars-themed small men’s boxer briefs. “These are April’s and Jamie got them for her.” She says simply, but Jamie shakes her head, and Sterling is officially stumped.

“Those were Luke’s contribution since he wouldn’t come to the party,” Lynn pipes up. “I did tell him there would be at least another boy here, though.” she indicates Ezekiel.

“To be fair to him, Sterling is more butch than I am,” he says and is not exactly wrong.

“Okay,” Sterling says, “So these are yours, from Luke.” She adds them to April’s pile and tries to deal with the fact that her ex-boyfriend—who is also April’s ex-boyfriend (no matter how much she tries to deny it, those three whole months count)—bought April a pair of oddly-sexy underwear.

April quickly snatches a red satin and black lace pair out of the basket without Sterling being able to get a good look at them. “These are from Jamie, and I think they’re yours,” she says, slipping them into Sterling’s hands and Sterling really wishes they had telepathy because she thinks April is acting strange until she actually looks at them.

Sterling has tried to mostly block the memory of Blair’s lesbian sex PowerPoint from her subconscious, but she distinctly remembers the slide about strap-ons referencing harnesses that can be disguised as regular panties. And that is undoubtedly what these are, based on the O-ring on the front.

It had been a good call on April’s part to not show these off, and she blushes fiercely as she puts them into her pile.

“I didn’t get to see those,” Blair says antagonistically, but Sterling pays her no mind.

“We have to move on. So who’s next?” she says, reaching down into the basket, praying to the lord above she won’t find any more legitimate sexual aides.

Thankfully, she does not, and the rest of the game goes mostly smoothly, save for Sterling and April passively arguing over who got to not keep the ugly pair of granny panties Mother brought until she finally told them they were intended for Sterling, of course. They finally make it to the last pair left in the basket and considering there’s only one person left that they haven’t attached a pair of underwear to, there’s only one answer.

“Hannah B.,” April says, laughing as she holds up the pair of bee-themed panties. “For me.”

When Hannah B. confirms this, April turns to Debbie.

“Okay, so who won?” she asks.

“You tied,” Debbie says, shrugging. “I guess we’ll have to settle this with the next game.”

On cue, Blair hands them each a small dry erase board and a marker. “The game is the Almost Newlywed Game. I’m gonna ask you guys a question about each other, and you both have to write the answer.”

“Got it,” Sterling says, actually feeling pretty fired up because she knows she knows everything there is to know about April.

“Okay, so the first question is, who was technically April’s first kiss?”

Sterling frowns, thinking this is way too easy as she writes, ‘Me’ in large capital letters. When prompted to do so, she turns it around, and April looks, her face falling before she turns her board around to reveal, ‘Jackson Sutcliffe.’ A boy who Sterling remembers as an extremely charismatic senior when she and April were sophomores.

“It doesn’t really count because it was on stage and in-character as The Captain and Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music,” April explains, and it does make sense for her to not count it, so Sterling supposes she can let it go.

“Okay, next question,” Blair says, getting their attention. “What’s Sterl’s favorite movie?”

Sterling immediately jots down what is unquestionably her favorite and is happy to see April has answered correctly when they turn their boards around.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because she’s a romantic, a lover of the classics, and chaotic as all hell,” April says as she erases her board.

“Congratulations. You just broke Sterl down to her bare essentials,” Blair deadpans. “Question three. Who did April push in the pool at her 9th birthday party?”

They both jot down and show the answer, ‘Bob the Tomato.’ 

“Though in my defense, he was on fire,” April says. “All thanks to my dad’s brilliant idea to use relighting trick candles,” she explains further for some of Sterling’s more horrified family members.

“Anyway, next question,” Blair says, smartly sidestepping April’s daddy issues. “If Sterl could marry any celebrity, who would it be?”

Sterling smiles and writes down her answer, though she doubts April will guess correctly now, seeing as this is a specific topic she’s only spoken about with Blair. 

That assumption is proven correct when April manages to only come up with, ‘Harry Styles?’

Sterling flips hers over to reveal ‘Jeremy Allen White.’ At the look April gives her, she adds, “He’s approachable and kinda weird looking and I like that.”

“Whatever floats your bisexual boat,” April says, shaking her head as they erase their boards.

“Okay, you guys are tied, so the first to get a wrong answer loses,” Blair says with the inflection of a game show host. “Sterling, who is April’s favorite Taylor Swift collaborator?”

That is easy for her. ‘Jack Antonoff,’ which is what April writes down too.

“April, what is Sterling’s favorite non-dessert food?”

‘Chick-Fil-A nuggets’

“Sterling, who did April play in the school production of Peter Pan freshman year?”


“April, where was Sterling’s first-ever date?”

That seems to have April stumped as she frowns and jots something down, but Sterling can’t blame her for not knowing since this question is in reference to her first date with Luke.

Sterling turns her board to reveal, ‘Double Date At B-Dubs’

To her utter bewilderment, April’s reads, ‘Buffalo Wild Wings with Luke, Blair, and Connor’

“How would you even know that?” Blair asks what Sterling is thinking.

“Doesn’t matter. Next question, please.” April is being cagey, but Sterling’s learned in the years of knowing her that sometimes it’s best to leave questions like that unanswered.

“Sterling, what was the name of the camp where April met her Maid of Honor?”

“Oooh, I know this one!” Jamie pipes up and proceeds to giggle into her wine glass, which is definitely not her first of the afternoon.

Sterling knows she should know this. April talked about the stupid camp non-stop when they returned to school the year after, but considering they were on the outs then, she hadn’t exactly cared about the details. So when she reveals her answer, she’s not surprised when April says,

“Seriously, Sterl? ‘Something Racist’? It was a Bible camp. ” April says, minorly outraged, and turns over the correct answer, ‘Camp of Life’.

“That’s just dumb!” Sterling argues, but she knows what this means. April’s won. Except…

“Uh, actually, wasn’t,” Jamie says. “Camp of Life is what it was called starting in 2018, but before that, including in the year we met, it was called Camp Right Directions, which was so named because the founder in the 80s was appalled by kids getting into hip hop and thought Christianity could draw them away from that. So in all actuality...”

“It was something racist!” Sterling says a little too happily.

“So I guess that means Sterling wins,” Jamie says to April, who looks to be on the verge of blowing a gasket, but she reins it in.

“Guess so,” she says through gritted teeth.

“Hey,” Sterling says, leaning in close to April and putting her head on her shoulder, looking up, “It just means I love you enough to know you better than you know yourself.” 

April looks down at her. “You’re so lucky you’re cute.”

“Okay so our final game is for all of you guys to play,” Blair says, going up in front of them again. “When you arrived, you were given a blank Bingo card to fill out with items you think they could have been gifted. You’re going to fill those out, with our free middle space being ‘panties.’ First to get a Bingo and a blackout both get swag bags.”

Sterling sits back and relaxes, letting April for the most part take over for the gift unwrapping. This bridal stuff is really more her thing, and she seems to have no problem being the one to open the boxes and bags and show off the various monogrammed hers and hers household objects and the like. 

Upon her opening a large box from Ellen, which turns out to be a personalized mailbox reading, ‘The Stevens-Wesleys,’ Aunt Cordelia shouts bingo, which she apparently achieved via writing into a square, ‘Something With The Whole Hyphenated Nightmare.’ Sterling’s not sure if she’s more irritated with her aunt, or with Blair for actually accepting that, but she smiles through it for the rest of the presents, until there is only one left once they’ve opened up garters from Becca, and a cake-serving set from Rachel. 

“Alright, this one is from Sarah,” April says, tearing into the wrapping paper off of a flat box, which is revealed to be a velvet jewelry box that April seems to recognize immediately as she gasps and looks at her cousin wide-eyed. “Is this the-?” she asks, and Sarah shrugs.

“I guess you’re going to have to open it and find out,” she says coyly, and without being able to wait another moment, April opens the box and gasps again, this time putting a hand over her mouth. And Sterling can hardly blame her because it’s far beyond the household items they’ve received today. It’s a very old-looking necklace decked out in pearls and diamonds, with a sapphire pendant.

“The Scarlett O’Hara Titanic Necklace,” April whispers to herself in a way that’s almost reminiscent of Sméagol.

“I probably don’t need to tell you that this gift is kind of more of a loan, but in case you’re in need of something old until Rachel or Becca, or—God forbid—Leah gets married, it’s yours,” Sarah explains, probably more for every non-Emerson woman’s benefit.

“I know,” April says, still admiring the necklace. “Thank you so much for this. I honestly was a little afraid I wouldn’t be included in this tradition anymore since my mom and I are...not on the best of terms.”

“Are you kidding? No matter what, you’ll always be family.” Sarah leans down to hug her and motions for her mom and sisters to join in as well in a group hug.

“Alright, well, if everyone’s had their fill of nauseatingly sweet family moments, we have enough booze to drown an elephant, so feel free to stick around.” With that, Blair officially takes out her phone and hands hostess duties back over to Debbie, and Sterling and April get a small reprieve of having so much attention on them.

“We got a lot of cool stuff. I never even thought about towels with our initials on them,” Sterling says as April begins arranging their gifts.

“I’ll admit, even I’m impressed, and you know how hard that can be,” April says, smiling to herself. “It’s probably super cheesy of me to say so, but I have to say I love how everything is so specifically for us ,” she says, holding up a hand towel with S&A embroidered into it. 

“It is a little cheesy, but I love you for it.” Sterling smiles to herself. “You’re really going to be my wife, huh?”

“Well, I mean, we have the towels now, so you’ve got me backed into a corner,” April says, smiling and then laughing. “God, it’s really happening, isn’t it?”

“With a smile like that, I’d be crazy to not lock you down as soon as possible,” Sterling says, leaning in and kissing April on the cheek, giggling when she sees she left a lip gloss smudge behind.

“You think you’re really cute,” April says, wiping at her face with a napkin.

“No, but you do,” Sterling says, and yelps as April grabs her by the front of her shirt and pulls her into a kiss just bordering on not-so-chaste until she clearly thinks better of it and pushes her away. Sterling puts her hands back on the table to brace herself, and one lands on the pile of panties she accumulated during the first game. She feels satin, and a smirk crosses her face.

“So, uh, where did Jamie get the idea that we wanted these from?” she asks, twirling the harness panties around her finger by the O-ring.

“Give me those!” April half-shrieks, snatching the panties out of Sterling’s hand and folding them up into a monogrammed towel. “It’s none of your business,” she says primly once the panties are tucked away.

“Well, actually, it kinda is, since Jamie got them for me ,” Sterling says teasingly. “You care to share with the class?”

April bites her lip. “I may have made a comment to her at some point that she construed to mean...well, that you may need those.”

Sterling feels herself blush to her ears as she gets a vague idea of what that comment could have been. “Oh.” She sneaks her hand over and retrieves the panties from the towel behind April’s back and puts her hand in to stick her fingers out the O-Ring from the inside. “So I guess we’ll probably need to get the other part for this…”

“Will you stop playing with those?” April snaps, snatching them back again. “Your mother is right over there,” she says, pointing at where Debbie is conversing with Franny and cooing over Baby Leah. “But if you must know, the likelihood of us being gifted the other part at our bachelorette party next weekend is probably astronomically high.”

Sterling nods. “You’re probably right. Blair once got me a vibrator for Christmas.”

“Of course she did,” April says, finding an empty gift bag to put all of the panties into. “Sterl, do you mind having this conversation later, when your grandmother isn’t giving us the stink eye?”

Sterling looks around to find Mother is indeed staring them down as if God’s about to strike them with lightning. She guesses that her presence at the party is enough, and that actually expecting support would be too big of an ask. “So what are we doing for our bachelorette party next weekend? Blair’s been pretty tight-lipped.”

“As has Jamie, so I really couldn’t tell you. My best guess is something oddly sexual and possibly illegal,” April actually smiles at this. “At least I can assume with you there that there won’t be any strippers.”

“I wouldn’t put it past Blair,” Sterling scoffs.

“Wouldn’t put it past me to do what, exactly?” Blair asks, walking up to them with a cup of punch. “Sorry-not-sorry for interrupting, but I need to borrow my sister for a few,” she says, reaching down and pulling Sterling up onto her feet by the arm.

“What for?” April asks, cocking her head to the side.

“Uhhh…” Blair falters and looks to Sterling. “I just got the call from Bowser. He’s got the skip cornered in a motel and we need to go right now.”

“Right now? But I can’t just leave my bridal shower! April will kill me.”

“Yeah, well, Yolanda will kill both of us if we let this skip slip through our fingers after what happened last week.”

“I told you, that wasn’t my fault!”

“You let her sneak right by you!”

“How was I supposed to know she was going to ship herself in a big box?”

“Her boyfriend was the UPS man! Which you would have known if you spent more time doing recon and less time planning your dumb wedding!”

“My wedding is not dumb!”

“Will you two please stop doing that?” April says, snapping them out of their conversation. “I swear, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you could actually have whole conversations like that. Now, will someone tell me what’s going on?”

“Blair and I got called in on a work emergency earlier,” Sterling says, sticking with her philosophy of never technically lying to her fiancée.

“Can someone else handle it? Today is kind of important,” April says more to Blair than Sterling.

“Ordinarily, sure, but Sterl and I are the only people who know how to unclog the machines properly,” Blair says, shrugging. “I promise I’ll have her back in an hour, tops.”

“Fine, but...ew. Remind me to never eat that stuff again,” April says with a look of disgust and turns to Sterling. “One hour,” she says for emphasis and gets up to go mingle with their guests, giving Sterling and Blair an opening to sneak out of the party.

Sterling automatically slides into the back of Bowser’s Jeep after they’ve walked half a block from where they parked the Volt.

“Took you long enough, what did you do, stop for Starbucks on the way?” Bowser grumbles, not taking his eyes off the dingy motel they are parked in front of.

“It was my bridal shower, I couldn’t just leave.” Sterling can hear the whiney note in her voice but doesn’t have it in her to be embarrassed.

“And this is the biggest bounty I’m going to see all year, so eyes on the prize girls.” Bowser hands Blair the folder and Sterling leans forward to read over her sister’s shoulder. “I followed him from that expensive coffee shop on Lafeyette and he hasn’t left his room since then.”

“So this guy’s what? A computer hacker?” Sterling asks, taking the folder from Blair to read the details more carefully because the crime does not seem to match the bounty.

“I think ‘cyber bank robber’ would be a more accurate description,” Bowser says. “Our boy has been hacking into the systems of smaller credit unions around the city and skimming off the tops of accounts.”

“So he’s been stealing directly from people? Why not just hack into the bank itself?” Blair asks as Sterling hands the folder back to her.

“Because a big bank would have a firewall and a security system that would alert them if a big amount of money was taken at once,” Sterling explains. She might not know everything, but she does know as much about the internet as any other Gen Z kid.

“Exactly. This guy had been gettin’ away with this for a few months because he’s smart. He only takes a few bucks from each account so nobody notices right away. He got caught when he tried to hit the same place twice and they were ready for him with some kind of trap. Why Yolie agreed to put up bail for him, I don’t know, but I’d bet anything he was up to his old tricks today for some money to flee the country. So this is our one shot at the guy and we can’t, under any circumstances, let him escape,” he says the last part right to Sterling.

“Jeez, I mess up one time,” she grumbles and crosses her arms. “So what’s the plan?”

“Blair and I bust into his room and apprehend him. You wait outside as backup in case anything goes south,” Bowser explains in no uncertain terms.

“What?! But that’s not fair!” Sterling is outraged now. “I’ve gotten way more collars than Blair!”

“Oh, nuh-uh. I’ve always been the runner and you’re the gunner. So you can wait outside in case this incel-looking dude tries to bolt, but until then, he is mine.” Blair unbuckles her seatbelt.

“Ugh fiiine,” Sterling says, rolling her eyes as she takes out her gun from its holster and checks its clip. She never knows when she’ll have to shoot out some tires, or lights, or the occasional gas can.

“I’m sure your little Mrs will appreciate me keeping you out of the danger zone,” Bowser says, getting out of the car, followed by Blair, and then, reluctantly, Sterling. He and Blair lead the way to a room off to one side, the Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the door handle and the curtains drawn. Sterling hangs back out of sight, watching as Blair kicks in the door and Bowser barrels in.

“Alec Vogel, you jumped your bail and we’re here to take you in!” he shouts in his big scary man voice, which Sterling can’t help but mock to herself. She’s still irritated by the idea that one mistake has relegated her to the role of back-up when she left her own bridal shower for this.

“Sir, put your hands where I can see-” Blair shouts, but is cut short.

“I’m not going anywhere with either of you. So unless you want me to blow Prep School’s brains out, you’re gonna let me go, you hear me?” A shaky, eerie-sounding voice says, and Sterling is pretty sure this is what counts as trouble in need of back-up. 

She inches closer to the open door, still staying close to the wall.

“Let’s take it easy, now. Murder’s a big step up from cybercrimes,” Bowser says in an attempt to calm the man, but Sterling can hear the real fear in his voice.

She inches closer again, poking her head in enough to see Alec Vogel’s back turned to the door as he holds Blair in a chokehold, a revolver to the side of her head. Bowser stands on the other side of his room, slowly putting his own gun down on the floor.

“I am not going to prison, okay? I am too fucking smart to be thrown in with those... degenerates ,” Alec says, overly enunciating every word, as he takes a few steps back with Blair, closer to Sterling.

Bowser nods slowly. “Yeah, you’re real smart. I ain’t doubting that. Not everyone could just hack into bank accounts like that,” he says, putting his hands up. “I’m gonna let you go, but put the girl down, okay? She didn’t do nothin’.”

“The little slut broke my laptop when she kicked down the door,” Alec says, pushing the gun barrel harder into Blair’s head.

“Who are you calling a slut, you basement-dweller?” Blair says, never losing her skill for insults, but Sterling notes the way her hands are shaking, and she can hardly blame her. But while Blair may be scared, Sterling is terrified and filled with rage all at once. Nobody points a gun at her sister and gets away with it.

This is when Bowser locks eyes with her, but Alec seems to notice, his gun leaving Blair’s head to point up at the ceiling as he whips around. Sterling is ready for him though, and she pulls the trigger. The bullet rips through his hand, spraying Blair and himself with blood and forcing him to drop the gun as he shrieks in pain and drops to his knees.

“You shot me, you bitch!” he screams, trying to stop the bleeding with his other hand as Sterling finds herself running on pure adrenaline, not thinking too deeply about the fact that she’s never actually shot a person before this.

Before he can say anything else, Sterling rears back and kicks him in the face, knocking him out cold on the floor as she hears her own heartbeat pounding in her ears.

“Good job,” Bowser says, out of breath and a bit in shock himself as he steps over Alec’s unconscious body and pats Sterling on the shoulder.

Blair turns around. “See? I told you we might need backup,” she says, sounding way too normal for someone who was just a hostage held at gunpoint. She kneels down and touches Alec’s mangled hand, covering her own in blood before dropping it again.

“I shot him,” Sterling says, feeling dazed as she looks down at the gun in her hand and quickly flips the safety on.

“And it’s a damn good thing you did. If I’d have known this nerd would be armed, I never would’ve brought you girls into this.” Bowser looks down at Alec and seems to consider his next move, but then they all turn toward the door when they hear police sirens getting closer. “Damn. You girls are gonna need to get out of here.”

“Why? It’s a good arrest, right?” Blair asks.

“It is, but y’all don’t have no business being bounty hunters at your age and without training, meaning you’re just a girl who shot this man as a vigilante,” Bowser explains, pointing at the gun in Sterling’s hands as she feels her blood run cold. “So you girls need to run. Now.”

“We can’t just run from the police!” Blair tries to argue, but Sterling holsters the gun and grabs her sister roughly by the arm.

“We need to go,” she says, pulling her towards the door. She knows they pride themselves on being on the side of the law and working for justice, but right now, the law poses the greatest threat to them.

Without further argument, Blair gives Sterling a look, and the two of them book it out the door, running as fast as they can away from the motel, rounding the street corner to where they parked the Volt before catching any sight of a police car. Blair goes to the driver’s side door, leaving a perfect bloody handprint on the side as she unlocks it. Sterling goes around to the passenger side, buckling herself in and breathing to the point of hyperventilating. She grabs a paper bag from the glove compartment and breathes into it.

“Holy fuck,” Blair says, watching as a police car speeds by to the motel. “That was way too close,” she says, starting the car and putting it in gear, effectively covering the gear shift and the steering wheel in Alec Vogel’s blood.

Sterling puts down her bag. “We aren’t out of the woods yet. This car is basically a crime scene on wheels. We need to get it clean,” she says, thinking of every true-crime show she’s ever watched against her will with Blair, and having to breathe into the bag again.

Because it’s not wise to drive too far with a bloody car, they stop at the first self-service car wash they can find.

“You have quarters, right?” Sterling asks, patting her own pockets.

“I barely carry cash,” Blair says, digging through the center console for something, but coming up empty.

Sterling sighs. “Okay, fine, I’m gonna go to that store across the street and get change,” she says, opening her door and getting out, but Blair stops her before she can close the door.

“Can you get us some Bugles?” she asks, clearly not understanding the magnitude of the situation they’ve found themselves in.

“Yeah, fine, whatever,” Sterling says, slamming the door and looking both ways before jaywalking across the street to the slightly shady-looking corner store. She doesn’t linger too long, grabbing a bag of Bugles and proceeding to the drinks in the back, where she gets a bottle of chocolate milk for herself and returns to the counter. “Just these, and can I get change in quarters?” she asks the cashier, putting down a $10 bill.

He grunts in reply, opening the register and counting out just over $5 in change and sliding it across the counter. “Have a nice day,” he says without a hint of emotion.

“Thank you,” Sterling says, lilting her voice up at the end as she gathers the handful of quarters and the snacks. She returns to Blair and hands over half the quarters as well as the Bugles as she proceeds to take a long swig of chocolate milk. This is not the time or place for chocolate milk, but it’s oddly comforting nevertheless.

Blair gets out of the car and loads a few quarters into the machine, grabbing the pressure washer and rinsing her bloody hand before anything else.

“Get your door. That handprint is a forensic scientist’s dream,” Sterling says, grabbing a roll of paper towels from the trunk and spraying a wad of them with Windex.

“You know, I think us going all Dexter on the car is probably more suspicious than anything,” Blair says as Sterling starts to wipe down the gearshift and steering wheel.

“Right, because there’s nothing suspicious about a bloody car, Blair, ” Sterling says sarcastically, taking another drink of chocolate milk.

“I’m just saying that this all seems like overkill. I mean, the guy’s a criminal and you only shot him in the hand, so he’s probably not even dead!” Blair says, punctuating her sentence by proceeding to spray down the car.

Just thinking about the bloody mess that was Alec Vogel’s hand, and the pool of blood that was forming around him when they left, has Sterling’s stomach-turning. She quickly backs out of the car and empties her stomach out on the ground next to the back tire.

“Probably?” she asks, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Aw, gross, dude!” Blair says, coming around the car and spraying the puddle of vomit with the hose. “And yes, probably. As we’re well aware, emergency services got to him like, super fast.”

Sterling nods, supposing that’s as much as she can hope for. “You know, you have blood on you, too,” she says, pointing at the blood spatter on Blair’s shirt and face.

“Not to mention you having gunshot residue on your hands,” Blair says, and without warning, sprays Sterling with the hose, not caring enough to actually zero in on her hands and instead opting for soaking her from head to toe.

“Dang it, Blair!” Sterling shrieks, taking the hose from her sister and spraying her.

“Shit! Shit! Mascara!” Blair says, tilting her head back as black streaks start rolling down her cheeks.

“Here, let me help you with that,” Sterling says and sprays her in the face. As messed up as this day has been, she can’t help but giggle as Blair stops struggling and eventually just stands there and takes it until Sterling finally turns the hose off.

Blair spits out a mouthful of water. “You know… it’s so weird but I never really considered before today that what we’ve been doing is like...highly illegal.”

“Right?” Sterling says, listening to the way her tennis shoes squelch as she walks the hose back over to the holder. “We aren’t vigilantes. We aren’t Batman. We’re just two girls looking to make our community safer by getting criminals off the street.”

“Yeah, like your future father-in-law,” Blair says, going around the car and laying down a bunch of paper towels on the seat before she gets in.

“Shut up,” Sterling grumbles, but the mention of April in any capacity has her wondering how exactly they’re going to explain this away.

To Sterling’s relief, they get back to the house only a half-hour later than they said they would, which would usually mean escaping the full wrath of her beloved Bridezilla, except…

“Why are you wet?” Are the first words to leave April’s mouth when she meets Sterling and Blair at the door.

“It’s...a long story,” Sterling says, having never been more glad to see April’s face. “I’m sorry we’re late.”

“It’s fine. People started going home not long after you left,” April says, still looking the both of them up and down. “Seriously, why are you wet?”

“Occupational hazard,” Blair says, pushing past her into the house. “Are there any snacks left?” she asks nobody in particular on her way to the kitchen. For someone who just had a gun to her head an hour before, she seems particularly cavalier.

“You know,” April says, playing with the hem of Sterling’s soggy shirt, “I have half a mind to go down to Yogurtopia and give that manager guy a piece of my mind for calling you in on important days.”

Sterling shakes her head. “Nah, you don’t have to do that. I’m only gonna be working for him for a few more weeks anyway.” Not to mention the fact that Bowser isn’t even at Yogurtopia right now.

“Good. Then I’ll have you all to myself,” April says, biting her lip. “Now go upstairs and get changed, Aunt Franny has a surprise she wanted to reveal once you got back.”

Sterling frowns. “Should I be afraid?”

April shrugs. “I’m not.”

Sterling nods at this and proceeds upstairs to her room, working at getting her shirt unstuck from her skin and over her head before she’s even in her bedroom, definitely giving April a bit of an eyeful. Once in her room, she locks the door and dials Bowser’s phone, waiting anxiously as it rings once, twice, three times…

“Yeah?” he answers finally, and Sterling breathes a sigh of relief.

“Oh thank God. I thought they might have hauled you off to jail,” she says and hears Bowser grumble.

“Now why in the Hell would you think that?” he sounds more outraged by the insinuation than anything.

“Because...because I shot that guy?” Sterling mumble-whispers.

“Non-fatally in the middle of an arrest, sure. But I told them I did it, so they don’t care, and they’re gonna book him as soon as he’s released from the hospital. I think they got his good hand cuffed to the bed and everything,” Bowser laughs, clearly trying to make Sterling feel better. “You did good, Kid. That was a high-pressure situation and you acted exactly how you were supposed to. If I didn’t think you were too good for it, I’d say you’d make a good cop one day.”

“Hey, Bowser? Anyone ever tell you you’re kind of a softie?” Sterling says, smirking as she rids herself of her wet jeans and kicks them across the room.

“No. And you ain’t about to start. So like your sexuality, bi,” he doesn’t give Sterling a chance to respond before he hangs up the phone.

Sterling wants to be mad about being hung up on, but that line was too dang smooth for her to be mad. But with a weight lifted off her chest, she gets dressed in a dry babydoll dress and returns downstairs. “Okay, so what’s the surprise?” she asks, seeing Franny and her daughters have joined April in the foyer as she comes back down the stairs.

“Well, I know y’all being as young as you are probably are a bit limited to what you can do for your bachelorette party, so I thought I might help you out with that and I booked y’all a big four-bedroom suite at a resort in Savannah next weekend. Can you say, ‘mani-pedis’?” Franny hands a very thrilled April a brochure for the resort as Debbie joins them.

“Not unsupervised, I hope?” she says, giving both Sterling and Blair untrusting looks.

“Oh, of course not. Rachel, Becca, and I will be in the room right across the hall. Sarah will be home with the baby. It’ll be a girls' weekend not to be forgotten and you’re free to come along, Deb.” Franny seems to have ramped her southern belle-ness up to 11.

Debbie shakes her head. “Oh, no, that’s okay. I just wanted to make sure the girls don’t get into too much trouble.”

“But I had a whole night planned for us here next weekend! We were gonna go to, uh,” Blair sneaks a glance at her mother and then looks back at Sterling and says non-verbally, “The sex toy superstore!”

“Go where, exactly?” April asks.

“The uh, 18 and up club downtown. You know, with the handstamps so none of us can partake in any underaged drinking?” Blair says, thinking far quicker than Sterling could have.

“Well I’m sure y’all can find one of those in Savannah,” Franny says, patting Blair on the shoulder. “Anyway, we better be gettin’ back to Mary’s place. Blair, you and Jamie best be putting your heads together to plan some activities while we’re down there.”

“I’m thinking something involving an ice luge…” Rachel muses aloud. “Remember that sculpture one we got for Sarah?”

“With the Bailey’s? Yes!” Becca cackles as they make their way out the door. “Though that wouldn’t have the same implications with two brides, would it?” she adds as the door closes, and Sterling thinks she should probably be very afraid of whatever those two think up in the next week.

“Well,” Debbie says, looking between the three girls once they’re alone. “I think, all things considered, today was very successful and only minorly scarring. Who wants leftover croquembouche?” she leads the way into the kitchen with Blair hot at her heels while Sterling hangs back with April.

“Sooo,” Sterling says, leaning in close. “Any idea if Savannah has any sex toy superstores?”

April looks scandalized for all of a few seconds before she smiles to herself. “I guess I’ll have to Google that.” With that said, she flits off into the kitchen as Sterling sighs and leans back against the banister. Today has been beyond exhausting, but she’s finally starting to see the light at the end of this balancing act tunnel.

Chapter Text

The drive from Atlanta takes just over three and a half hours, which is far longer than April would trust either Sterling or Blair behind the wheel, especially going highway speeds. So she has no problem driving, even if it means having Blair constantly lean forward from the backseat to ask how much longer it’ll be.

“A while,” April always says, getting progressively more annoyed each time. Her only saving grace is Sterling riding shotgun and playing an endless string of Taylor Swift songs from her phone with the aux cord.

“Can we please listen to something else?” Blair asks after the first hour.

“No, because April’s driving, and I’m the DJ. You could have ridden with Ezekiel, Luke, and Hannah B.,” Sterling says plainly.

“I kinda wish I had because riding with Sassy, Dumb, and Dumber sounds pretty good right now!” Blair slams back into her seat and crosses her arms in a huff.

There’s silence, save for Taylor and Bon Iver’s voices, until April hears Sterling start singing along to the man part to herself quietly. “So step right out, there is no amount of cryin’ I can do for you. All this time, we always walked a very thin line, you didn’t even hear me out.”

April smirks to herself and joins in, louder. “You didn’t even hear me out!”

Sterling giggles and scream-sings, “You never gave a warning sign!”

“I gave so many signs!”

“All this tiii-” Sterling’s cut off by Blair interrupting.

“If you two don’t stop, I swear to God, I will Lady Bird myself out of this car,” she threatens, and April glances over at Sterling out of the corner of her eye, seeing her shoulders shake as she laughs silently.

“I cannot believe this is going to be my life from now on,” Blair grumbles but suddenly points out the window at an exit sign. “Hey, Nandina! Who wants to stop at Hobo’s Ham?”

“Domestic pork isn’t supposed to carry trichinosis anymore, and yet I feel like that place would definitely give you muchos gusanos,”  Sterling says, and both twins laugh hysterically, leaving April feeling very left out of the joke.

“I don’t get it,” she admits.

“You know, the place from the picture of my mom as a teenager?” Sterling says in an attempt to jog her memory. “It’s just really gross.” Her face falls, as apparently having to explain the joke has made it less funny. She looks down into the cup holders, where April’s water bottle occupies one side while the phone and aux cord have the other. “Hey Blair, drink me,” she says, and without needing clarification, Blair opens Sterling’s bottle of soda and hands it to her from the back cup holder.

April shakes her head, being reminded, yet again, that she’ll always be sharing her future wife with another woman. She wonders if all spouses of twins feel this way, but then, Sterling and Blair aren’t even really twins. “Blair, have you finished writing your Maid of Honor speech yet?” she asks, trying to make nice, if only for Sterling’s sake.

“Nah. I’m thinking about just winging it the day of,” Blair says nonchalantly, smirking when April meets her eyes in the rearview mirror.

“Blair, please at least jot down the general idea so you don’t get lost. You kind of got sidetracked during your speech at Mother and Big Daddy’s 50th Anniversary party,” Sterling says, then gives April a look as if to say, ‘I got your back.’

April smiles and takes one hand off the steering wheel to hold Sterling’s while she continues to drive with the other. “Did I tell you my aunt booked us for the Simply In Love couples package?”

“You did not tell me that,” Sterling says with a far off look as her brain apparently conjures up a few fantasy scenarios for that piece of information. With them not being able to have sex, they have to take whatever intimate moments they can, so April can hardly blame her. Especially when those intimate moments are to include a couple’s massage and relaxation bath.

“Seriously, I will tuck and roll out of this car, probably to my death,” Blair threatens, and April withdraws her hand, putting it back on the steering wheel. “So what else is on the agenda while the sun’s still up?” She and Jamie have already claimed the evening for their own activities, and April has been trying hard to not be frightened by this concept.

“Aunt Franny has booked us all for three hours of treatments. How does a hydrafacial and a mani-pedi sound?” April already feels more relaxed just talking about it.

“...Actually pretty darn good. But damn, how much is she dropping on this trip?” Blair asks.

“Way too much,” Sterling says, shooting a look at April. She was almost too proud to accept when she first saw how much this is likely to cost Franny, but April’s been trying to assure her that it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to how much her uncle Tom made in Bitcoin last year.

“...How much longer til we get there?” Blair asks, and April sighs.

“A while.”

The golf resort and spa is everything it was promised to be and then some. Enough so that even Kristina is impressed when she arrives by herself not long after everyone else.

“So what exactly is the sleeping situation going to be? Because there are four beds and eight of us staying in here,” she says finally after spending a shockingly long time without something to complain about.

“The boys get one room, Sterl and Blair get another, Jamie and I get one, and that leaves you with Hannah B.,” April says, having already figured this out on the way over. She’d offer to share with Hannah herself, but something tells her that Kristina wouldn’t exactly be comfortable sharing a bed with a known lesbian. And on top of that… Hannah B. tends to kick in her sleep.

“So do boys—men—usually take part in bachelorette parties?” Luke asks, shifting his gym bag from one hand to the other.

“Usually not, unless they’re the stripper,” Blair says to the poor boy’s absolute horror.

“Oh, well, uh…” he stammers, but Blair only laughs and pats him on the arm.

“Relax, stud. It would be nothing either of the brides hasn’t seen before, so you’re off the hook,” she says and Franny frowns.

“I’m just gonna pretend I never heard that and say that we’re very happy to have you here, boys,” she says, looking from Luke to Ezekiel. “And the spa downstairs does have plenty of men’s treatments because pampering has no gender.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t ignore that,” Rachel says, shaking her head and putting down her glass of champagne. “I remember meeting Luke as April’s boyfriend like two years ago but you’re telling me he went out with both of you?”

“Not at the same time,” Sterling says, the tone of her voice betraying that even she thinks it’s a weak defense of something fairly indefensible. They both avoid talking about the time that April dated Luke for a reason—because it’s weird and upsetting.

“Wow. A genuine love triangle. Fascinating,” Becca says mostly to herself, like the psychology major she is. “Anyway, we better get down to the spa because we have appointments to uphold and I am not missing out on that hot stone massage.”

“Y’all finished getting settled in here and hurry down to The Heavenly Spa, alright?” Franny says, patting April’s shoulder.

“Thank you again for doing this for us, Aunt Franny,” April says, still not believing she’s getting such a generous gift after thinking she might have to write off her whole family forever. But she really should have known better.

“It’s the least I can do for you, Sweetpea,” Franny says, kissing her forehead. “And I have one more present to give you later tonight.” With that, she beckons for her girls to follow and leaves the bridal party alone in the suite, and Kristina breathes a sigh of relief.

“Whew. Now that the adult supervision is gone, you two have fake IDs, right? Because it’s not a proper bridal shower if we can’t hit a club or two. One of my sorority big sisters got engaged last year, and she got so drunk-”

“As the only true adults here, I’m not sure it’s good to encourage underage drinking,” Jamie says, giving Kristina a look as if to say she can’t believe her. “I have plenty of straight-edge friends who know how to party. Though, granted, a lot of them still smoke weed…”

April clears her throat, not wanting this to escalate and delay her couple’s massage bliss.  “Anyway, my aunt is paying a lot of money for us to be downstairs so we should probably do that,” she says, locking arms with Sterling and double-checking that she has a room key on her person before having them lead the way out to the hallway, then the elevators.

“Seriously though, can you get us fake IDs?” Ezekiel asks Kristina quietly, but still loud enough for April to hear.

“Not on this short notice, unfortunately. However, I could probably go to a liquor store and get my weight in Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey…” Kristina says, and April swears she can hear the rusty cogs and gears in her head start to turn. “April, not that I don’t think your aunt is completely fabulous, in a liberal wine mom sort of way, but do you think she’s one of those old people who go to bed early? Because your cousins at least seem like they know how to party.”

“My aunt is 55, she’s not geriatric,” April says, turning to give Kristina a look just as the elevator dings and the doors open.

“If you go to a liquor store, you’re taking me with you. Getting belligerent, blackout drunk on Fireball is not the kind of drunk a first-timer wants,” Jamie mutters to Kristina, again loud enough for April to hear.

She’s not sure where either of them got the idea that given the opportunity, she would be willing to get trashed and act exactly like the kind of girls who get married just out of high school. Sure, she gets them doing this for Sterling, especially after her little Instagram incident two years ago, but April does not foresee acting like that herself. Not now as a minor, and perhaps not ever. Heck, she wouldn’t be getting married at 18 years old if she ever had any plans to go wild.

They make it to the spa and after giving the receptionist their names, April and Sterling are led off in one direction while everyone else is led in another.

“So, how long until the big day?” The spa employee asks as she hands them each a bathrobe and towel.

“Just about a month now,” April says with an extra pep in her step. The closer it gets, the more sure she is that Sterling isn’t going to wake up and realize she’s making a terrible mistake in marrying her.

“Oh, that must be so exciting!” spa girl says with a level of enthusiasm that makes April think is probably at least somewhat exaggerated. It must be impossible to be excited for every engaged or newlywed couple who comes through here. “Well, dressing rooms are through there,” she says, pointing at a pair of doors, “And your massage will happen across the hall in there.” She points at the door across the hall.

“Thank you...Gemma,” Sterling says, reading her name tag, and the girl leaves them to it. “So, we take off everything?” she asks April, messing with the hem of her shirt.

“Yes, but we’ll be traversing the place in the robes, and the towels are mostly for our modesty for the massages,” April says, thinking herself a bit of an expert with this after her mom treated her to a mother-daughter spa day when she turned 18, but something tells her that today’s couple treatments might be a bit more...involved.

“Got it,” Sterling says, taking a deep breath as if to steel herself. “Okay, I’ll be right back,” she says, then heads into her changing room.

April can’t help but find her naïveté endearing in instances such as this and giggles as she goes into her own dressing room. She strips out of her clothes and admires her naked form in the mirror before putting on the robe. It occurs to her that the likelihood of her and Sterling seeing each other naked today is quite good, so she’s glad to feel at least mostly confident in what she sees. And with that thought, she leaves the dressing room and proceeds across the hall.

Sterling is already face-down on her massage table, her towel covering her bare butt, and it takes all of April’s willpower to not smack it. Instead, she rids herself of her robe and gets on the table, covering herself with the towel in much the same way as Sterling.

“Is it weird that when you said ‘couples massage,’ I somehow interpreted that to mean we would be massaging each other?” Sterling asks after a beat, and April can’t help but giggle.

“This isn’t a hippy spa and my aunt is paying good money so I’d certainly hope not. We could always do that on our own, though,” April says, actually quite liking the idea of that.

“We have massages at home!” Sterling says teasingly, evoking a mental image of Debbie, and April’s whole body shakes as she bursts into laughter.

After a few minutes, their respective masseuses come into the room and ask where their tension spots are before getting to work.

“So uh, how do you feel about the garter ceremony?” Sterling asks after a while, breaking the silence between them with a rather baffling question.

“What?” April asks, wondering if she may have misheard as she’s currently being worked over like clay by a woman named Phoebe and her very skilled hands.

“You mean like the rubber band thing that’s like a bouquet for the guys at a wedding?” Sterling’s masseuse, Raphael, asks.

April feels comfortable rolling her eyes while face down. Men are so dumb.

“Yeah, exactly. Like, are we going to do two of those, or…?” Sterling asks. “Because I know we were gifted some at the bridal shower.”

April scoffs, having considered this. “I don’t know, Sterl. Do you want to have your grandmother witness you getting up under my dress and removing one of those from my thigh with your teeth? And vice versa?” she asks sarcastically.

“Oh god, really? With your teeth?” Phoebe asks, horrified.

“Yeah, you haven’t seen it done at a wedding before?” Raphael says incredulously.

“I’m Jewish, so no,” Phoebe says just as she works out a knot between April’s shoulder blades. “My god you have a lot of tension for someone your age,” she remarks as April is in too much of a state of bliss to respond.

“That’s what I always tell he- oh my god,” Sterling’s sentence devolves into a series of moans until she can compose herself again. “So that’s a big no on the garter ceremony. But we’re each throwing a bouquet?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s where the real perk of attending a lesbian wedding as a single woman lies,” Phoebe remarks and April smiles to herself. 

After having spent so long hiding herself from everyone around her in the fear that the kind of love she feels in her heart would disgust them, now it gets to just be something celebrated—and rightfully so. And sure, being shunned by her own father has been less than great, but if that’s the cost of finding true happiness as her authentic self...well, April doesn’t need him anyway.

April doesn’t think much of ridding herself of her robe to get into the relaxation bathtub. It’s the size of a small hot tub and her every breath is heavy with the scent of essential oils. Settling back into the warm water and bubbles, April closes her eyes and allows any remaining stress to melt away. She really does have to thank her aunt for this about a thousand times over because she’s sure if it were left up to Blair, she’d be neck-deep in penis-shaped novelty items right about now. And that stuff doesn’t even apply to them!

She hears the creak of the door opening and Sterling steps in slowly, hands playing with the belt of her own robe. “Uh, could you maybe...turn around or close your eyes or something?” she asks, gesturing with her hand.

April raises an eyebrow but tries to not look too amused. “You do realize we’re getting married in a month and I will see you naked at some point, right? In fact, we used to change in the same room when you would come over to swim in my pool.”

Sterling nods. “I-I know that. It’s just...I haven’t ever-” she mumbles the rest of whatever she’s trying to say and April can’t hear her.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” she asks, smiling just a bit as she turns her ear towards Sterling.

“I’veneverbeennakedinfrontofmypersonbefore,” Sterling says quickly with her eyes closed, and April tries not to laugh, but fails miserably.

“What? But you’ve had sex before,” she says, and Sterling shifts her weight awkwardly from foot to foot.

“Yeah, it just never involved taking off everything,” Sterling admits, a flush filling her cheeks that is clearly not from the heat of the room.

Endeared as all Hell, April sighs and turns around, listening to the sound of the robe being discarded on the floor, followed by Sterling joining her in the water.

“Okay, you can look now,” Sterling says quietly after a beat.

April turns back around to find Sterling down far enough into the water and bubbles so as not to reveal anything unless April were to look really hard. But she has no intentions of doing that, even if the concept alone of being naked in a tub with her fiancée is exhilarating, to say the least. 

In an attempt to make Sterling feel more comfortable, April leans back and closes her eyes. “So, I’ve been thinking about something,” she says after a minute, not able to handle the silence.

“Hm?” Sterling hums in reply, apparently having managed to get into relaxation mode despite her anxieties about nudity.

“The housing people at UGA are giving me a hard time when it comes to securing a spot for us because we aren’t officially married. So what if we just nix the idea of an apartment altogether?” April’s sure this isn’t the kind of topic Sterling expected to discuss, but it’s important and they’re running out of time.

“What, like we get married but live in separate dorms still?” Sterling obviously does not care for this idea at all and neither does April, for obvious reasons.

“Ugh, God no. I was thinking more along the lines of us renting a house somewhere near campus,” April says, having already looked into rental houses and factored certain ones into their budget.

“Really? A house? Like with a lawn to mow and everything?” Sterling sounds less convinced.

“With no close nosy neighbors to hear anything they shouldn’t…” April trails off suggestively.

“What, are you planning on murdering me-  oh , I get it,” Sterling’s mid-sentence pivot into realization makes April giggle. “I mean, yeah, I guess having privacy would be nice. But the upkeep.”

“What if I agreed to do all the heavy lifting?” April offers, and for emphasis, takes her arm out of the water and flexes like Rosie the Riveter...but Rosie’s got nothing on her deadlifting capabilities.

“That’s unfair,” Sterling says and playfully tries to push April’s arm back down into the water.

“Sterl, it’s okay, I have an open carry permit for these guns,” April says, just to be obnoxious, as she adds the other arm into the mix and flexes harder while Sterling comes in closer to her and tries again to put her arms down. Seeing an opportunity, April leans in and kisses her, smiling into it as Sterling drops her own arms back down into the water. After a few seconds, she does the same. They don’t get nearly enough moments like these anymore, where they can just be stupid kids in love instead of pretending like they’re real adults who aren’t in way over their heads.

“I love you,” Sterling says as she pulls away, and it sounds like an admission of defeat. “We can look at rental houses, but I still think we’ll have better luck getting an apartment.”

April grins. “Yay! Okay, so I’ve already made a Zillow account and I’ve saved a few to my watchlist that you can look over later if you want, and-” she’s cut off as Sterling kisses her again, and this time she tries to fight it for all of a second or two because nobody shuts up April Stevens...but Sterling Wesley’s lips are impossible to not melt into. Especially when the rest of her is completely naked.

April’s been trying to hold firm to her convictions when it comes to the whole chastity thing, but she’s been finding it increasingly difficult as the weeks pass. That night in the tent on the Fourth of July was like a taste of what’s to come—pun fully intended—and she sometimes feels like she might die if she doesn’t get relief soon. But then there’s the stupid angel on her shoulder telling her that she made a promise to God, and even though He would forgive her if she gave into temptation, it doesn’t give her a free pass to do it. She isn’t about to lose control of herself like that.

Even if she’s starting to feel a bit like Frollo from Hunchback.

“You don’t think we could find a rental with a bathtub big enough for two, right?” Sterling asks when they finally break for air.

April chuckles. “We could definitely try.” Sterling naked in a tub with her is interesting enough as it is without the idea of doing this again once they’re married and free to do whatever the hell they want. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you.” She smiles, leaning in to kiss Sterling’s forehead, then her cheeks, then her nose, and finally her lips. She loves every part of this woman with every fiber of her being.

Sterling blushes and looks away. “I promise you, I’m not that special.”

April smiles and tilts her head to the side, taking in the woman who’s going to be her wife. The angle of her jaw, her impossibly big eyes, her ultra-kissable lips. But more importantly, her unshakable optimism and kindness, and the way that she makes April want to be a better person. “You are…everything to me, Sterl. And in a way, you always have been since the day we met.”

Sterling smiles, but it quickly fades again. “I hope that never changes for you.”

April shakes her head dismissively. “Of course it won’t.”

When their couples treatments are finished, Sterling is whisked off by Blair for a mani-pedi while April joins Jamie for something she didn’t exactly want to sign up for, but Jamie insisted. Though April is starting to strongly regret her decision to not fight this harder the moment she’s naked from the waist down, with a stranger between her legs applying wax.

“Why exactly is this necessary, again?” she asks, bracing herself by screwing her eyes shut and clenching her teeth as the first strip is torn away, letting out a muffled whimper. She’s no stranger to spa treatments, but she’s barely even looked at herself down there, let alone trusted another woman to do some drastic hair removal.

“Because you’re getting married in a month and the last thing you want is to go into that with a completely untamed bush,” Jamie says nonchalantly from the seat beside her, not even flinching as the same is being done to her.

“Do you want a full Brazilian or just a clean-up?” the technician asks as she prepares another strip.

“Don’t take off everything. I’m not pre-pubescent and I don’t intend to look like it on my wedding night,” April says, and the tech nods in understanding and rips another strip of hair away without any other warning. “Motherfu-” April bites her own fist, feeling tears well up in her eyes. “Won’t all of this be mostly grown back by the wedding anyway?” she asks through gritted teeth.

“Yeah but that’s why you have to get it done a couple days out from the wedding. That one shouldn’t be so bad,” Jamie says, not seeming to have any sympathy for April’s extreme discomfort. “You know, I haven’t been to a spa since my ex and I did that retreat thing…” she trails off wistfully.

“Was that the married one?” April asks, in too much pain to worry about if that sounded judgy or not.

“She was going through a divorce, thank you very much. I do have  some  respect for the sanctity of marriage,” Jamie says, reaching over to sip her glass of complimentary champagne.

“Oh, right, right, because you work one floor above a divorce lawyer.” April remembers this one a little better now.

“Yep. I swear, that elevator has gotten me more action than Scissr,” Jamie says, waggling her eyebrows like the true lesbian fuckboi that she is. “But alas, that one was not meant to be.”

“What happened there, exactly? You never really told me-fuck!” April yelps as a strip is torn from her butt.

“I didn’t?” Jamie asks, then shrugs. “Well, her kids weren’t big fans of mine and I wasn’t a big fan of them, so that was always going to cause some issues in the long run. Besides, I’m not really down for being a step-mommy, so that relationship always had an expiration date. But that’s okay though, because I got a lot of experience out of it, and I got to fulfill a few lifetime fantasies in the process.” Jamie is able to speak of her past relationship so logically and in such a detached way; without the kind of emotion that April knows would be consuming her if something were to happen to her and Sterling. 

She doesn’t get not giving something 110%.

“You know, if you ever dated women your own age, you probably wouldn’t have to deal with marriage or kids getting in the way…” April says pointedly, doing a perfect imitation of her mother’s gossip voice.

“I’m all for hooking up with women my own age. With the apps, they come to me—or I guess come for me—like UberEats. But if I dated women my own age, I would have to deal with things like financial instability and no timeshare vacations,” Jamie says bluntly. “You’re just salty because I wasn’t a pedo for your little brace-face self back in the day.”

April sputters at that. Her friend certainly does not mince words. “That is disgusting and not true. I just wonder if you might have better luck in the long term with someone you have more in common with, someone who’s in a similar place in life.”

“I appreciate your concern, Kiddo, but even my parents can attest to the fact that I’ve basically been 35 years old forever,” Jamie says, effectively ending any debate on the matter, and April supposes she can’t blame her. 

She’s always found herself falling for her peers, and Jamie’s always fallen for her peers’ mothers.

“Anyway, how’s Sterling been handling all this wedding stuff? It feels like it’s not exactly her thing,” Jamie asks, getting them into a more appropriate, if not difficult subject.

“It’s  not  really her thing, but she’s been great through it all. She’s just so easy-going and her opinions when she has them are great. It’s just…” April’s having trouble putting it into words. “Something feels, I don’t know, distant? It just always feels like she might be hiding something from me, and she keeps being called into work at these odd hours.”

“I mean, you know what I think when I hear stuff like that,” Jamie says.

“Yes, exactly. Me too. But Sterling is just not a cheater, and she always always has Blair with her, in any case.” That’s always been April’s biggest source of comfort. As much as Blair seems to dislike her, she doubts she’d enable Sterling to commit the ultimate betrayal.

Jamie clears her throat and shifts uncomfortably. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” she asks.

April frowns, confused at where this is going. “No…”

“You don’t think Sterling and Blair might be-” Jamie does a lewd scissoring hand gesture, “-twincesting?”

April feels like she might throw up at even the mere suggestion of that. “Ew, no! Never!” Sterling and Blair may be upsettingly close, but not like  that.

Jamie cackles.

They get dinner from the rooftop bar and restaurant once everyone’s treatments are done, and April in particular feels like her bones are made of jelly by the time they’re seated at their table.

“So girls, are you feeling more relaxed and rejuvenated?” Aunt Franny asks over a martini. She gives April a look that says she thinks she knows what two engaged girls might get up to while naked in a hot tub.

Truth be told, April’s crotch is feeling rather tender, but for a very unsexy reason. “Oh, most definitely. How did y’all’s go?”

“Hey, you rub me down with salt and stick me in a mud bath, and I’m as happy as can be,” Rachel says, shrugging. “How were the manly men treatments, boys?” she asks Luke and Ezekiel, who seem to have bonded a bit in the three or so hours in the spa, as they’re now sitting together.

“Uh, I got a really good sports massage, so that was awesome. Plus, it turns out facials can be for guys too, and now my face is really smooth,” Luke says, rubbing his face in wonder.

“Self-care is for everyone and I’m glad I had the opportunity to teach him today.” Ezekiel reaches over to pat Luke on the back. “Also, I got a mani-pedi,” he says, wiggling his fingers and April catches Kristina making a disgusted face out of the corner of her eye. 

Why a bigot like that all but demanded to be in the bridal party for a gay wedding is beyond April.

Kristina speaks up above everyone. “You have impeccable taste, Francine. I’ll have to pick up a brochure for their wedding packages before we leave. My boyfriend Brayden is this close-”  she holds her thumb and forefinger together, “-to popping the question.”

Oh yes. Attention. That’s why she wanted to be part of the wedding party.

“Careful, Kritter or you might just jinx it,” Blair says over her water glass and April can’t help but think that that might potentially be the perfect wedding present from the universe itself.

“Franny, are you gonna stick around for the games later? We got pretty creative in lieu of male genitalia gags,” Jamie says and reaches across the table to fistbump Blair, which is frightening for a litany of reasons. The two of them should not even be allowed in the same room with their combined level of chaotic horny energy, let alone orchestrating the same shared bachelorette party.

“Aw, and here I am a frickin expert at Pin the Junk on the Hunk,” Rachel says and snaps her fingers. “Drat.”

“My sorority sisters and I got this custom piñata that looked just like our own bachelorette and we busted it open with the biggest dildo,” Kristina says, cracking up, and April takes note of the fact that she’s already on her second tequila sunrise and they haven’t even gotten their entrees yet.

“That is just...crude…” Sterling mumbles and drinks her Sprite. Now knowing just how inexperienced she is in her actual experiences, April can’t help but find Sterling all the more endearing in her innocence.

“So like, do guys do weird games with lady parts at bachelor parties? I wouldn’t exactly know since I’ve never been to one…” Luke says, minorly horrified at the information he’s taking in.

“No, Sweetie, I think they just go to strip clubs,” Ezekiel says, shaking his head.

“When my second dad almost got married, he had his bachelor party at a strip club…” Hannah B. says ominously. “My other dad never told me what happened after that.”

“I have about four guesses.” Ezekiel side-eyes her and drinks his Perrier with his pinky out.

“BT-Dubs Hannah B., did you finally get around to doing that DNA test I got you for Christmas?” April asks, wanting to steer the conversation away from strippers because truth be told, Blair hiring one for the evening is at the top of her list of fears.

“Uh yes, actually. It said I’m half Mexican and like a quarter Irish and the rest was all over the place,” she says proudly, smiling.

“So that means…” April leads, wanting to know once and for all who her friend’s biological father is...and if Ezekiel owes her $50 from their 7th-grade bet.

“I don’t know. My dads both said they don’t trust sending their DNA in to the government,” Hannah B. says quietly, looking down at the table. “But that’s okay though because I don’t want either of them to get their feelings hurt.”

“I actually think it’s really cool you have two dads. You get all the benefits of two houses without the divorce,” Luke says encouragingly, and April can see Hannah B. blush. As far as she knows, the two of them aren’t officially an ‘item’ yet, as much as Hannah B. wants them to be, though she’s too shy to come out and say it. And Luke… well, April can only guess that he may be wary of getting with another woman in this same circle after the past two times crashed and burned.

Suddenly, Becca leans over to whisper in April’s ear, “You have the weirdest friends. I love it.” And April smiles because it’s very true.

They get their main course and most of the conversation at the table simmers down until the check comes, and Aunt Franny doesn’t let April so much as lay a finger on the leather check holder.

“Child, you are not paying a cent for anything this weekend, you hear?” she says sternly, and April nods, withdrawing her hand. “Alright then.” Franny puts her Black Card into the envelope without even looking at the amount.

“Is it true you have to be invited to get one of those?” Jamie asks.

“Yes, ma’am. I believe Tom and I got ours sometime around when I was able to tap into my Emerson family trust,” Fanny says, never one to pretend like she doesn’t have money to spare and then some.

The waitress comes around to process the card and, after Franny leaves a large cash tip, they head out.

“Mom, are you gonna hang with us tonight?” Becca asks once they’ve all made it back to their floor and Franny has begun to rummage through her purse for her room key.

“You know, I’m feeling pretty tired and I think it might be best to leave some of those raunchier games to you girls. But,”  she produces the room key, along with a few hundred dollar bills that she hands off to Rachel, “If you gals promise me you won’t leave the room and won’t tell Sterling and Blair’s mama, then you have my blessing to have my girls get the provisions needed to make this a real party.”

“Oh my god...I wanna be you when I grow up,” Blair says in awe, but April isn’t exactly surprised. Aunt Franny’s always been the fun aunt—in fact, ‘don’t tell your mama’ is practically a catchphrase of hers. Though her condoning—and even encouraging—underaged drinking is on another level.

Franny throws her head back and laughs at Blair’s comment. “Oh honey, you’re too kind,” she shakes her head and continues giggling as she crosses the hall to unlock her door. “I mean it, girls. No leaving the room...and no cheap shit.”

“You got it, Mommy,” Rachel says dutifully, and watches her mother go into her room and close the door behind her. Then she turns to everyone else. “Okay, you guys, so I’m gonna run to the liquor store. Kristina, you are free to tag along if you want, but I have full veto power over what we buy,” she turns on her heel and heads back down the hall toward the elevators and after a moment’s hesitation, Kristina follows.

Sterling uses her key to unlock their suite and Jamie instructs everyone to make themselves comfortable in the living room, which for some reason already has April feeling worried. This night could go downhill so fast, especially once they add alcohol into the mix, and definitely more than one glass of champagne a piece, at that.

“Alright, so first order of business, Sterling and April,” Blair starts, joining Jamie in standing in front of everyone on the large sectional, “J and I have decided that we don’t want to share a room with either one of you, so you get the big bedroom together tonight,” she says and April can feel her pulse increase at the mere suggestion of actually sharing a bed with her fiancée for the first time since they’ve been engaged.

“If that’s agreeable to the both of you, then go move your shit and we can reconvene when Rachel and Kristina return with the booze.” With that said, Jamie practically shoos them off to move their suitcases accordingly, leaving Sterling and April alone in the master bedroom, if only for a few minutes.

“Sooo…” Sterling says, standing awkwardly far apart from April once they’re settled. “Big bed,” she says, pointing to the California king bed and stating the most obvious characteristic of it.

April chuckles. “Yep. Here’s hoping nobody—and by that I mean Kristina—rats us out to your mom,” she says, almost amused by how awkward this is. It’s just a bed, and it wouldn’t even be the first time they’ve shared one since they’ve been together. Aside from the night of the disaster prom, they spent many a sleepover in Sterling’s bed in the months it took for Debbie and Anderson to confront them about their relationship status. Though never her bed, April realizes. Even in the few times she offered, figuring her dad always liked Sterling well enough, Sterling always seemed so paranoid about getting caught. And after prom, April thinks that was most definitely a good call on her part.

“So dinner was good, huh?” Sterling is making small talk, and somehow, impossibly, April finds it charming.

She smiles and nods. “Yeah, it was really tasty. I got a salad,” April says, feeling a sort of palpable tension building between them until it bursts in an instant as Sterling closes the distance between them and takes April’s face in her hands, kissing her hard.

Unlike earlier, where their nakedness almost guaranteed there would be a certain degree of holding back so as not to cross any uncrossable lines, this is different. There’s heat in Sterling’s kiss, along with a feeling of urgency. Like if she didn’t kiss April right then and there, the world might actually end.

“We should probably-” April says, out of breath between kisses, “-get back out there before they come looking for us,” she says, but is thankful that Sterling doesn’t listen to her at all.

“They‘ll come and get us when they need us,” Sterling mumbles, continuing on down April’s jawline to her neck.

“Babe, no hickies,” April warns sternly, having been down this road too many times.

“No promises,” Sterling teases in a sing-song voice before kissing and sucking on April’s neck.

“Sterling, no, I’m serious,” April laughs as Sterling hits a ticklish spot and she smacks at Sterling to get her away. “Sterling, I had expensive skin treatments today!” she says as she feels her body relax, giving in to the amazing feeling of Sterling’s mouth on her. A part of her wonders what  else  that mouth is capable of…

The realization of what she just entertained is enough to snap her out of the fog that’s settled over her brain, and she pushes Sterling away firmly. “Just another month, okay?” she says at Sterling’s obviously disappointed face.

Sterling nods. “Just a month,” she repeats, probably more for her own benefit than April’s.

Before they can say anything else there’s a hammering on the bedroom door. Blair’s voice is only barely muffled by the door. “Let’s go lesbians! Oh my God, lesbians!” 

April rolls her eyes, looking over at Sterling who shrugs.

“We’d better hurry, Blair has that whole video memorized,” Sterling says with a laugh before heading towards the door. “Let’s go before she starts drinking and it gets even worse.”

Chapter Text

As Sterling returns to the living room of the suite with April, she can’t help but get a feeling of impending doom. She always thought that by the time she had a bachelorette party, she’d be old enough and experienced enough to not blush at the mention of her or her fiancée’s genitals during party games. She also thought she’d be old enough to drink alcohol without it being bought by cousins. But clearly, neither of those things are the case as she finds herself an 18-year-old bride to be who turns bright red to the tips of her ears the moment she sees the place has been decorated at warp speed to feature balloons shaped like boobs and a banner so eloquently proclaiming, ‘Same 😺 Forever!’

“Keeping it classy, I see,” April scoffs.

“Obviously,” Blair says in an impossibly high-pitched voice, having sucked some of the helium out of a boob balloon. “Though Jamie demanded majority creative control when it came to the games because I ‘don’t get the sapphic experience,’” she says with air quotes, all while still sounding like a Chipmunk.

“But you do understand chaos, which certainly came in handy,” Jamie supplies from where she is scattering confetti, undoubtedly shaped like something lewd, onto the coffee table.

Luke is making himself useful by setting up an old karaoke machine that Blair must have dug out of the attic. He’s been such a good sport throughout all of this and Sterling honestly doesn’t know how anyone can be so nice when put in such an awkward position. She knows it was selfish of her to even ask him to do this—she’s not blind to his lingering feelings for her, even after all this time—but truth be told, she’s glad he said yes. She really doesn’t have many friends.

“April, I was thinking you and Luke could recreate your famous duet from late-night rehearsals,” Blair says, clearly intending to get a rise out of all three of them at the mention of this particular incident from their past.

“I’m not sure that would be appropriate…” Luke says quietly while Sterling sees April roll her eyes. That’s one memory the three of them would be glad to forget.

Sterling sighs in frustration and turns to her sister.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring up the time Luke and April were together. It makes her uncomfortable.”

“Witnessing it happen in real-time made ME uncomfortable, and it made you have to go to therapy.”

“No, I went to therapy because I had just found out Mom adopted me because her psycho sister tricked Dad into having intercourse with her for the sole purpose of making me. That is why I was in therapy, Blair.”

“You know, you don’t always have to pull the Aunt Mommy trump card.”

“I do when you’re being obnoxious.”

“Just admit that the traumatic event that was Lukeril still bothers YOU, and I will let it go.”

“...okay, fine, it still bothers me.”

“All I needed to hear.”

“Earth to disaster twins?” April says, suddenly snapping her fingers near Sterling and Blair’s faces. “I can appreciate that you guys have some kind of weird facial expression zone out language, but can you please save it for when you aren’t in front of people who aren’t a part of it?”

“That would literally defeat the whole purpose.”


“That! Stop doing that!” April says, gesturing between them both, but seems to realize that she’s fighting a losing battle and makes a sound of exasperation as she heads off in the direction of the suite’s kitchen.

When she’s gone, Luke makes a weak excuse for himself to go find Hannah B., leaving Sterling and Blair alone.

“Okay, I’m just gonna say it,” Blair starts, speaking as if she’s about to confess something major. “I am a feminist, so I don’t usually believe in this kind of thing, but you need to get control of your woman.”

Sterling feels like that statement just knocked her off her equilibrium. “What?!”

“You heard me. If you don’t take a stand now, April is just gonna spend the rest of our lives walking all over you; and more importantly, me. And I would like to think that would bother you,” Blair says, crossing her arms.

“Yeah, of course it would bother me. But I’m getting married, and Pastor Booth says a big part of a successful marriage is knowing when to make concessions, and-” Sterling can’t even finish reciting the lessons she’s learned before Blair scoffs.

“Oh please. Pastor Booth is a simp and so are you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. No judgment. But you are also my soul twin, if not my birth twin, which means we have an unbreakable bond that can’t be messed with by anyone. Sisters before misters still applies to you getting lesbian married.” Blair crosses the room as she speaks, opening another party store package and pulling out a pair of rainbow sashes that both say ‘bride.’

Sterling will never understand why her sister seems to be doing absolutely everything in her power to sabotage the wedding festivities while still insisting on being included. “Blair, just...please lay off April. What you and I have is so vastly different from what she and I have but that doesn’t make either of you any less important to me.” That’s all Sterling will say on the matter, and she heads off to find April, only to be stopped by Rachel and Kristina as they return to the suite with probably more than enough alcohol to get everyone in the room wasted three times over.

“I hope you’re ready for this, Sterling because this party is about to get lit,” Rachel says as Kristina follows.

“I have some cocktail recipes that’ll have you toddlers drinkin’ em ‘til you are crawling on the floor.” Kristina already has an open bottle of whipped cream-flavored vodka, which she sips straight from the bottle.

Sterling must admit that, aside from the projectile vomiting, her only real experience with alcohol before this wasn’t a completely unpleasant one. In fact, it tasted great and it made everything seem so much more fun. So maybe it’s exactly what she needs to get through the night.

“Okay, barkeep. What do you have?” she asks her cousin as Kristina starts taking bottles of alcohol and mixers out of the large paper bags and places them all on the large dining room table. 

Kristina scoffs. “God, you were always such a dweeb. I cannot believe you’re getting married before me,” she says as she opens a pack of rainbow solo cups, making a face at one before putting it down and proceeding to make a cocktail consisting of a few ice cubes, orange juice, and a long pour of the whipped cream vodka. In the absence of any stirring utensils, she just swishes the contents of the cup around a bit before handing it over to Sterling.

She takes a sip and wants to hate it. Honestly, she does. But it tastes exactly like an orange creamsicle, and Sterling can’t help but make a happy noise of approval as she continues to drink it down, still not understanding the concept of alcohol tasting like poison. Though she does know from chemistry that alcohol is indeed a low-grade poison.

Kristina smiles and shakes her head, satisfied with her handiwork and she leaves Sterling to her little delicious orangy delight.

“What do you have there?” April asks, coming up behind her and wrapping her arms around her waist.

“Boozy orange creamsicle,” Sterling says, turning around and holding the cup out toward her fiancée. “Wanna try?”

April considers it for a moment before shrugging and taking the cup, taking a larger drink than Sterling would recommend. In fact, she finishes off the rest of it. “Wow, that was good,” April says, putting the cup down on the table and considering the ingredients laid out on the table. “How did Kristina do it?”

“Uh, orange juice and that one,” Sterling says, pointing to the blue vodka bottle.

April grabs a second cup and proceeds to mix up two more of the drinks, handing off Sterling’s original cup to her and picking up her own. “Salud,” she says, tapping her cup to Sterling’s and taking a sip.

“I’d pace yourselves, ladies, because we got a lot of ground to cover tonight. Starting with,” Jamie says, gesturing to the door leading to what is now her and Blair’s room, and right on cue, out comes Blair with a luggage cart she must have stolen from the lobby, piled up with wrapped presents and gift bags of every size. “And I’d also brace yourselves because we’re about to make your bridal shower seem like a fuckin’ youth group meeting.”

Sterling and April share a nervous glance before heading over to the couch, taking a seat as everyone but the maids of honor surround them on the couch.

“Okay, so first thing’s first,” Blair says, grabbing the sashes along with a pair of plastic tiaras and putting them on Sterling and April. “There! Now that you both look suitably ridiculous, we can get started.” With that said, she hits a button on a remote for a stereo someone must have brought from home, and it starts playing a Blair Original Playlist, starting with (of course) S&M by Rihanna.

Reading the room, most of the others leave the couch to get a drink of their own. 

“What presents should they open first?” Jamie asks when they all return.

“Oooh, open Mom’s first!” Becca says, slapping her knees excitedly. “They’re the ones with the gold wrapping paper.”

“She really didn’t have to do that. She got us all this already,” Sterling says, already feeling guilty for accepting such a huge gift.

“There’s no use fighting it. Just accept the presents,” Rachel says in a cult leader-like voice.

April chuckles as she accepts a gold-wrapped box from Jamie and Sterling gets a matching one from Blair. She glances over, a childish gleam in her eye, and Sterling smiles at her before they come to the unspoken agreement to absolutely tear into the presents.

Sterling opens the plain brown box and finds a bottle of red liquid and a note. She reads the note aloud for everyone. “To Sterling, the first one was on me, now it’s your turn to do the pampering. Love, Franny.” She pulls out the bottle and reads the label, “Satira Rose Massage Oil.” 

Everyone oohs and ahs, especially April, who also smirks and has no business looking so attractive doing it.

“You will have to use that on me,” she says, then opens her box, again reading the note first. “To my darling niece April, may marriage always bring you joy, but if you ever need a stiff drink, have one on me, XOXO Aunt Franny.” April pulls out a bottle of alcohol that they surely will not be touching tonight. “Patron 7 Anos Tequila Extra Anejo,” she reads, effortlessly busting out that Spanish pronunciation that makes Sterling blush to this day.

“Of course that woman would buy a $250 bottle of booze for a couple of minors,” Rachel says, shaking her head. 

“Either way, those two combined are the exact ingredients for one awesome evening, and in that spirit, I think you guys should open the one from the other party absentee, our dear big sister with the ruined vagina,” Becca says into her drink, trying not to laugh, which makes Sterling nervous as Blair finds a rectangular box wrapped in pink and powder blue paper with a card taped to the top.

Considering Sarah is April’s cousin, Sterling lets April take the lead on this one, and leans in close, leaning her head on April’s shoulder as she opens the card. “To April and Sterling, just be clear, this is a gag gift. You’re too young.” April frowns as she returns the card to its envelope. “Well that seems ominous…” she says, tearing into the paper to reveal...a home insemination kit.

Sterling stares wide-eyed at it for a moment, hardly believing this is a thing that she and April now officially own, and then April breaks into hysterical laughter.

“It’s an expensive turkey baster!” April laughs hard enough to snort. “I cannot wait to let that collect dust in a closet,” she says, composing herself and setting the gift aside.

“Makes sense. My sorority sister got prenatal vitamins and a pregnancy test,” Kristina slurs, resting her head back on the couch.

Sterling shakes her head, getting the feeling that a reference to their future form of babymaking is only the tip of the embarrassment iceberg that is most of these gifts. And that turns out to be a completely fair and accurate assessment as she and April proceed to unwrap a Sexy Truth Or Dare game from Becca, a copy of the Lesbian Kama Sutra from Ezekiel, sexy lingerie from Rachel, a pair of Victoria’s Secret gift cards from Luke, a grab bag of basically every edible item sold at Adam and Eve from Hannah B., and the big one: a 20-piece Bondage in a Box Set from who else? Kristina.

“April, I get a little bit of a super freak vibe off of you but word is you’re still a virgin, so I figured y’all can just have at everything,” she explains, and it’s a wonder she’s still conscious at the pace she’s been downing straight alcohol. But, on the bright side, there hasn’t been a mention of her sorority sister for the past twenty minutes.

“That was…very thoughtful, Kristina,” Sterling says, swallowing hard when she sees nipple clamps on the list of things the set contains.

April finishes off her drink. “Well I know I am intrigued by it,” she says, then gets up to mix herself another, far outpacing Sterling, who’s only halfway through her drink (which is apparently called an orange dreamsicle, according to Rachel).

“So is that it for gifts?” Sterling asks hopefully.

“Nope. You guys still gotta open the MOH gifts,” Jamie says, grabbing the last two presents, both of which are wrapped in boxes of a similar size and shape. “Wait,” she pauses, then whispers in Blair’s ear, to which Blair nods and suddenly they’re laughing and pointing at each other like the Spider-Man meme.

“Open Jamie’s first,” Blair says, and Sterling and April zero in on the mystery box in question.

“It’s kind of the part two to go with what I gave Sterling at the bridal shower,” Jamie says just before they open the box to reveal a rainbow dildo. She supposes this gift was inevitable, and thankfully it isn’t purple, so she doesn’t have to relive any trauma today.

“Outstanding,” Ezekiel says, snickering as April takes the toy out of its box to show it off to everyone else.

“Now I simply cannot imagine what we would ever do with this,” she says cheekily in her southern belle accent; all the while Sterling wants to sink into the floor Jumanji-style, especially when April runs a finger down the shaft of the thing and asks if it’s medical-grade silicone.

“Obviously,” Jamie assures her, nodding. “The last thing you need is something porous giving you Toxic Shock Syndrome.”

“True dat. Safety first, ya little sinners,” Kristina slurs, barely coherent.

Hannah B. points a thumb in her direction. “Is she okay and should we c-u-t-h-e-r-o-f-f?” she spells out the words like Kristina is an illiterate child, but with how much she’s had to drink, she may as well be.

“I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough, ya fuckin’ toddler,” Kristina says, pointing at Hannah B. threateningly.

“Kristina, calm down,” Rachel warns her, looking like she’s fully prepared to throw hands.

“Thank fuck there is no Fireball…” Becca mumbles.

At this point, Sterling figures it would probably be best to let her tucker herself out than try to force anything. Kristina was belligerent enough over the Fourth of July when Uncle Deacon actually had to make her go to bed, but Sterling doesn’t think any of them have the ability to do that. It’s probably better to let Kristina be. “Okey dokey then. Blair? You want us to open yours now?” she asks, shaking the box for emphasis.

“Oh Hell yes,” Blair says excitedly, coming over to sit on Sterling’s other side as she tears off the wrapping paper.

“Dear Lord,” Sterling mumbles to herself, sounding scarily similar to her father when she sees it is, according to the box, something known as a strapless strap-on.

“Basically the idea is the wearer gets to feel something too, but you gotta have pelvic floor muscles of steel to use it without a harness, so Jamie’s present’s still in play,” Blair explains as April takes the box from Sterling and opens it to take the pink toy out.

“Good thing I always do my Kegels, so we should be good there,” April says nonchalantly as Blair’s eyes go wide and Luke jumps up from the couch.

“Is there whiskey? I think I need whiskey,” he says on his way over to the drink table.

April laughs to herself like Muttley the dog and sets the toy aside. “If that’s it for presents, then I am so excited to find out what you guys figured out for games,” she says, continuing to sip at her drink at a pace greatly exceeding Sterling’s.

“Funny story, actually.” Blair gets up from the couch and goes to their room again, returning with some ring toss rings, a more traditional strap-on harness, and a dildo far too big for human use.

Sterling puts it all together and can’t help but laugh. “Okay, that’s great. What are we playing for?” she asks, watching Jamie struggle to fit the dildo through the harness’s o-ring before she hands it over to Sterling.

“Basically, the brides gotta take turns in putting that on over your jeans, while the other tries to toss rings on it from an increasing distance. Whoever can get a ring from the furthest distance wins...uh...the choice of our next activity,” Jamie explains while Sterling starts to adjust the harness for herself, but April snatches it out of her hands.

“Sterling goes first,” she says with a smug grin as she steps into the harness and pulls it up over her hips, tightening the sides when it’s up.

Suddenly, Sterling’s mouth has gotten very dry, and while it may be counterproductive to decent hand-eye coordination, she downs the rest of her drink. Though it does little good because April just seems way too confident wearing that thing.

Sterling accepts three rings from Blair and makes to toss the first one underhanded in the direction of April’s crotch, but her fiancée puts her hands up to stop her and turns to Jamie and Blair.

“Rule clarification. If we make any, do we retrieve them with our hands?” she asks, then bites her lip while giving Sterling a look she’s never seen before.

“Nope.” Blair greatly emphasizes the P in that word.

April hums a sound of amusement. “Good to know.” With that, she turns toward Sterling, who takes a few steps back.

The target is kind of huge and she doesn’t have to worry about bounce trajectory, so this should at least be easier than skeeball. She brings a ring back, then tosses it forward...and watches it sail over April’s head and hit Kristina in the face.

“Does that count for something?” Sterling asks hopefully, trying not to laugh.

“It fuckin’ better not!” Kristina says angrily, throwing the ring back at them.

Blair gestures to everyone that it’s worth a point when Kristina isn’t looking, but it doesn’t really matter since Sterling misses the next two in not quite as spectacular fashion.

April shakes her head and tuts, taking off the harness. “Sucks to suck, Honey,” she says as she hands it off to Sterling and kisses her cheek.

Sterling takes a deep breath, steeling herself for this because Blair will surely never let it go for as long as they live. On the exhale, she pulls up the harness and doesn’t bother adjusting it even if it’s a little loose. It doesn’t need to be a perfect fit for this, and when she’s ready, she makes the ‘come at me, bro’ beckoning gesture at April. “Lay it on me, Baby.”

“Sweet baby Jesus, we should not be watching this,” Ezekiel says quietly, but never looks away. Rather, he picks up his drink and makes himself comfortable.

April starts from about five feet away and easily makes the first ring. “Who’s got game?” She takes a few steps back and makes the second ring. “I’ve got game.” A few more steps back, and she makes the third ring. “And I’ve also got the high score on lane three at the Fun Zone.”

“That was...inhuman…” Becca says, sounding shocked, but not as shocked as Sterling feels.

“I win,” April says sweetly, slowly approaching Sterling before dropping to her knees and looking up with pure lust in her eyes as she removes the rings from the strap with her teeth.

“Is this porn?” Hannah B. asks, horrified.

“With terrible production value, yeah,” Jamie chortles as she goes to get another drink.

“Dear God, look away, look away!” Rachel says to nobody in particular as she turns her head and shields her eyes like she’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Sterling is doing the opposite of looking away. She’s only human and her super hot fiancee is giving her blowjob eyes--or at least, that’s what she thinks she’s seeing, based on Blair’s definition.

When April finally puts the rings in her hand and gets back on her feet, Sterling is sure the whole room has been traumatized. “Well that was fun,” she says, smiling. “And I won, so I say we do karaoke now. I go first!” She practically runs over to the karaoke machine to turn it on. “Sterl, will you sing a duet with me, pretty please?” she asks as she pulls up a song.

“Hard pass,” Sterling says while taking off the harness, because while April Stevens, the starlet of the Willingham Drama Department, has the range (darling), Sterling does not .

“Fine,” April says, pressing play on the song anyway and grabbing the mic. “I guess I’ll just have to be Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.” She proceeds to start singing the first verse of Come What May from Moulin Rouge, and when it becomes clear that Sterling is sticking to her guns, Jamie sighs and gets up to join her for the second verse, showing off a surprisingly high voice.

“Brave of you to let your woman sing a love song with another woman of the lesbian persuasion,” Kristina says when Sterling takes a seat just a bit too close to her by mistake, but Sterling can’t even be bothered by it because April is singing with, but not to Jamie , and just like in the movie, she knows it’s only for her.

And sure, this party is a mess, and April seems to be getting more intoxicated by the minute, but Sterling can’t help but feel happy. All of this is a (admittedly twisted) celebration of their marriage that is happening very soon. And while she’d been naive when she first proposed and hadn’t considered any of this, she likes it. She likes the feeling of being a bride.

“You know something, Sterling-” Rachel takes a seat next to her on the couch, her relaxed body language almost funny-looking on someone who looks so much like April. “-I’ve known my little cousin her whole life, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this happy before. Not once.”

Sterling watches April sing, letting go and just allowing herself to have fun. She sees Sterling looking and winks as she sings the line, ‘Storm clouds may gather and stars may collide, but I love you until the end of time,’ and Sterling feels her heart flutter. Never in all these years of knowing her did she think she’d fall for April, and yet here she is, the very best thing in Sterling’s life. Hopefully until the end of time, but she would settle for 80 years or so.

“She used to be the sweetest little kid, always smiling with both rows of teeth,” Rachel continues, and Sterling chuckles because that big grin is her favorite. “Somewhere along the line, my aunt’s shithead husband got in April’s head with a lot of hateful stuff, which I’m sure you know.”

“Unfortunately,” Sterling grumbles. Sometimes she’d just love to pistol-whip John Stevens again. Or do worse.

“Just look at her now. She’s so content with you. And yes, she’s drunk at the moment, but I mean it; you bring out what’s good and kind in April, which we all worried was destroyed a very long time ago,” Rachel says just as they finish the song and Hannah B. and Luke go up next.

“What’re you guys talking about?” April asks, but she does not ask before taking a seat on Sterling’s lap and wrapping her arms around Sterling’s neck.

“How beautiful of a voice you have,” Sterling lies, but it isn’t actually a lie either.

April smiles and blushes. “Rach, can you believe this girl?” she asks, leaning her head on Sterling’s shoulder.

“I can, actually,” Rachel says, smiling to herself and shaking her head.

Up at the karaoke machine, Luke does his own (unnecessary) soundcheck into the mic. “Uh, check, check.” He clears his throat and Hannah B. leans in to speak into it.

“This is the song from Ella Enchanted!” she says as an introduction just as ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ by Elton John starts to play. Together, she and Luke break into possibly one of the worst karaoke duets Sterling has ever heard (even worse than Endless Love), but they seem to be having a blast doing it.

“They’re kinda cute,” April comments quietly. “They’ll make the dumbest babies ever, but they’re cute.”

“All babies are kinda dumb,” Sterling says, giggling at a memory of her cousin DJ, having just learned to walk, proceeding to run into a wall with a sandbox bucket on his head.

“True story. Becca once ate like six crayons and later, Mom found a rainbow in her diaper,” Rachel laughs. 

“That’s nothing compared to the time I got into my dad’s duck paints and made a mural on the kitchen floor,” Sterling says, recalling something she only remembers via the story being told time and time again by her parents.

“Oh God,” April says, exaggerated realization dawning on her face. “We’re going to have dumb babies, aren’t we?”

“One can only hope.” Sterling chuckles as an inebriated April tries to cope with this news. Though, in all seriousness, Sterling’s sure any kids of April’s will be little geniuses; by osmosis if not genetics. But it’s hard to see this April as even potentially anyone’s mother as she finishes off another drink—the number of which Sterling has lost track of.

Hannah B. and Luke are getting to the end of their song, and Sterling notes the way they’re mostly just singing (very badly) to each other now. Their physical closeness is a necessity of sharing a mic, but their eventual handholding is not, and Sterling is the opposite of surprised that when after the song ends, they share a brief kiss—their first, she’s pretty sure.

Such a sight only two years ago would have shattered Sterling’s heart into a million pieces—a very similar one did during another karaoke session, in fact—but it’s a weird feeling to realize that her feelings have changed so drastically over the years that Sterling can only be happy for the two of them. Them and their future very dumb babies.

“The game, ladies and gentlemen, is Never Have I Ever. Everyone should know this one, but the idea is to say something you’ve never done, and anyone who has done that thing has to drink. If nobody else has either, then you have to drink, so think hard. Sound good?” Becca explains as they all sit in a circle on the floor with a fresh drink. “Who wants to go first? And remember to keep it suitably dirty.”

Sterling—who managed to clandestinely pour herself a cup of plain Coca-Cola—raises her hand, figuring it’s easier to say something she hasn’t done than to have to drink for something she has. When prompted, she says, “Never have I ever...given a blowjob,” knowing for certain that at least Blair and Kristina will have to drink.

Some people around the circle seem more surprised by this admission than others, though certainly not Luke, who just avoids eye contact while Blair, Kristina, Rachel, Becca, and, surprisingly, Jamie, all drink.

“J, really?” April asks, this apparently being as much news to her as it is to Sterling.

Jamie shrugs. “I had a high school boyfriend. I never said I was a gold star, and you know, don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”

April scoffs. “No thank you, but fair enough,” she says and seems to think hard on what she’s going to say before clearly realizing she was just given something perfect. “Never have I ever had sex.”

That gets everyone in the circle with the exceptions of April, Hannah B., and Ezekiel, who laughs. “Let’s go, Virgin Squad.”

That makes it Rachel’s turn. “Never have I ever had sex with a woman,” she says, forcing Luke, Jamie, and, surprisingly, Becca, to drink.

At the look her sister gives her, she shrugs. “It was Rush Week.” Becca then stops to consider hers. “Never have I ever fucked someone twenty years older than me,” she says, looking pointedly at her sister, who groans.

“Oh come on, that was one time,” Rachel says, but drinks nevertheless, along with Jamie and Kristina.

The fact that her cousin has isn’t even surprising to Sterling, but Jamie's drinking is a little intriguing. “Really?” she asks.

Jamie frowns. “Uh, yeah? I’m super into MILFs. I’m surprised April never mentioned that. BTdubs, who was the cute blonde at y’all’s bridal shower, and can I please get her number?”

“If you’re talking about our mom, then I might have to hit you,” Blair says threateningly before Jamie laughs.

“Oh God no, I have flawless gaydar, and that woman’s straight as an arrow. I’m talking about the little quirky one with the gay name who showed up on a moped. She’s hot as fuck,” Jamie explains.

“It’s a scooter,” Sterling corrects her just as she realizes exactly who Jamie is referring to. “ ELLEN? Our teacher Ellen?”

“Yes! That was her name. So fine,” Jamie says with a far off look that makes Sterling feel...dirty.

“I think your gaydar might be broken there, J because there’s a better chance of Ellen marrying an animated Moses than eating pussy,” Blair says bluntly.

Jamie shrugs. “I don’t know, man. I got all the vibes and she was totally checking me out and asked about my tattoos—namely, this one,” she turns over her forearm to point to a watercolor rainbow heart. “Das gay. Real gay.”

Sterling can hardly argue with that logic, she just has trouble seeing Ellen as a sexual being, period, let alone gay for someone like Jamie. “She’s like 36. Don’t you think you might be too young for her?”

Jamie shrugs. “I am a grown-ass woman who knows what she likes. And to be honest, she’s on the young side for me. Just ask April.”

Sterling turns to her fiancée who does indeed seem completely unsurprised by this turn of events as she sighs. “I mean, yeah, her last girlfriend was like 45,” April says. “Doesn’t mean I think she should try to fuck our teacher, but she has a type.”

“If we’re done with this gay shitshow, it’s my turn,” Kristina says rudely, getting everyone’s attention. “Never have I ever…” she pauses a moment and smiles mischievously before pointing at Luke. “Kissed that boy.”

Sterling and April share a look before both regrettably taking a drink, along with Hannah B., who seems ecstatic to be a part of this club now, and it’s also her turn.

“Never have I ever...hmm…” Hannah B., who likely hasn’t had a dirty thought in her life, struggles with this one. “Never have I ever seen either of my dads naked?”

A collective groan sounds out from most of the circle, with everyone but Sterling, Blair, and Jamie drinking larger gulps than necessary.

“Why? Why do so many dads sleep naked?” Kristina laments, but Sterling cannot relate as her dad is the king of satin pajamas.

“You don’t even know the half of it until you’ve seen a naked 50-year-old British man in an open bathrobe,” Becca says with a blank, traumatized stare.

“Your dad’s British?” Luke asks, surprised.

“Yessir. Mom was a little obsessed with the royal family in the late 80s, and--you know what, that doesn’t even matter. It’s your turn, anyway,” Rachel says, shaking her head for some kind of clarity that will never come so long as she keeps sipping on a vodka cran.

“Uh, okay.” Luke clears his throat. “Never have I ever, uh, done it, in a real bed,” he says, prompting every other sexually active person in the room besides Sterling to drink, and they both earn a few looks, though thankfully nobody wants to delve deeper into it, which makes it Ezekiel’s turn.

“Never have I ever had my first sex dream at church camp,” he says smugly, looking right at April and smirking as she is the only one to drink.

“I told you that in confidence!” April complains, and Sterling can’t help but notice that if there is some kind of line between tipsy and full-on wasted, April has crossed it.

Jamie’s turn. “Never have I ever dated someone younger than me.”

April grumbles as she’s the only person who has to drink again, even if she’s only a few months older than Sterling.

Finally, it’s Blair’s turn, and apparently sensing a pattern, she looks across Sterling right at April. “Never have I ever put a promise ring before my relationship.”

April’s expression goes cold and Sterling is about to tell her sister she crossed a line when she feels a hand on her leg. “It’s fine, Sterl,” she assures her, then uses Sterling’s shoulder to hoist herself up onto her feet again. “We finished the circle so I think we’re done here,” April says, wobbling a bit as she grabs a deck of cards from Jamie and Blair’s basket of tricks. “Who wants to play suck and blow?”

It’s past midnight now, and Kristina has officially passed out on the couch surrounded by playing cards while everyone else seems to be running out of energy as well after the long day, even with WAP playing. Well, everyone except April, who seems to have as much energy as ever as she pulls Sterling in close to dance with her, not-so-subtly grinding into her.

And as much as Sterling loves the action itself, she’s become acutely aware that she is the soberest person at the party, especially in comparison to her fiancée, who should have probably gone to bed an hour ago. “Careful, that could lead to trouble,” she says, laughing nervously and looking around to make sure nobody’s watching.

“What if I want it to?” April bites her lip and looks into Sterling’s eyes, regarding her in a way that is somehow innocent and the furthest thing from it, all rolled into one. She rolls her hips into Sterling’s again with more purpose.

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” Sterling says nervously. She’s certain Sober April would have a few choice words for Drunk April trying to mess up her purity pact, and Sterling isn’t about to get in between that Jekyll and Hyde.

April sighs, seemingly accepting this answer as she stops dancing. “Can we go to bed now?” she asks, the sleepiness apparently finally hitting her.

Sterling looks to her sister, who’s still dancing with Jamie, Ezekiel, and April’s cousins, while Hannah B. and Luke disappeared into one of the bedrooms to make out a few minutes ago. Now is the perfect time to duck out. “Yeah, let’s go,” she says, leading the way into the darkened master bedroom and crossing to turn on one of the bedside lamps so she can sit on the edge of the bed and take off her shoes. Sterling hears the door creak and click closed, but doesn’t think much of it until she also hears April lock it.

She doesn’t have time to question it because April emerges out of the darkness into the soft glow of the lamplight, wasting no time in stepping between Sterling’s legs and kissing her fiercely. Though Sterling has no time to protest because just as quickly as it began, April pulls away and pushes her firmly back on the bed with one hand on her chest.

“What are you-” Sterling starts, but April isn’t having any of it.

“Shut up,” she says, taking a few steps back. “Just sit there, okay?” she says, smiling coyly as she kicks off her shoes haphazardly and begins to unbutton her shirt, doing so at such a tantalizingly slow pace that Sterling thinks she’s putting on a bit of a show.

“April, what are you doing?” Sterling says, finally finishing her sentence from before as April’s shirt comes off and she tosses it at her.

“I’ll give you a wild guess,” April says, moving a bit closer now, and Sterling is finding it hard to breathe because April in nothing but a bra has been fantasy material for the past two years. “Though I don’t think you need one.” April’s hands go to her jeans, undoing her belt and pretty much ripping it through the loops.

“Whoa,” is all Sterling’s monkey brain will allow her to say to that, her mouth dry.

“Mmm,” April hums, definitely satisfied with the reaction she’s eliciting as she begins to take off her jeans. “I need you to do me a favor, okay Baby?”

Sterling’s just about to protest how far this has gone when April pounces, forcing her back onto the bed as she’s straddled.

April pushes an errant strand of hair behind her ear before leaning down and whispering into Sterling’s ear. “I need you to fuck me.”

If there’s such a thing as a Blue Screen of Death for the human brain, then that’s definitely what Sterling is experiencing after hearing those words leave her fiancé’s lips. “Uh...right now?”

“Uh-huh,” April says, moving to rid Sterling of her shirt as well.

“But what about your vows?” Sterling says weakly, swatting April’s hands away before she can try to pull her shirt over her head.

“Fuck my vows...preferably with your tongue,” April giggles at her own play on words while Sterling feels like she might be experiencing a brain aneurysm. The very specific request has her down for the count long enough for April to get her shirt off. “And, once you’ve done that, you can do whatever else you want to me. I got a bikini wax for you and everything.”

Sterling gulps. If this was one of Blair’s anime shows, she’d have a nose bleed. But she also knows that she needs to put a stop to this now, as she finds herself careening towards the point of no return. “I do want to,” she says, voice clear, “But I can’t.”

April scoffs at that. “Why? Do you have alcohol-based erectile dysfunction? Oh wait!” she rolls her eyes and moves in to start kissing and sucking on Sterling’s neck, breaking her usual firm stance against hickies. But even that isn’t enough to get Sterling past the way she overly pronounced the word ‘erectile.’ Or the fact that she is clearly unable to give consent to this—even if she seems quite enthusiastic right now.

“No, April,” Sterling says, pushing her back. “I biologically could, but I do not want to,” she says firmly as she looks into her fiancée’s eyes...and watches as they well up with tears.

April’s whole body deflates as she gets off of Sterling and fully starts to bawl. “You don’t want to have sex with me because you don’t love me,” she sobs. “I just wanted you to ravage me and you don’t want to, even though you’ve been saying you do all the time, which means you’ve been lying to me!”

Sterling sits up and tries to put a comforting hand on April’s back. “April, sweetheart, that isn’t true at all.”

April smacks her hand away. “No, you don’t love me, and you probably don’t even want to marry me anymore because I wanted a big wedding too soon. And sure, I admit that the croquembouche at the bridal shower was a bit much, but-”

Sterling shakes her head, not even knowing how all of these things are supposed to be connected. “-No, April, I do love you and I want to have sex with you more than anything in the world, but I’d like for us both to be sober when we do it,” Sterling says, trying to make herself totally clear, because truly if this exact scenario were taking place in the spa earlier, she would have been more than willing to accommodate April’s needs. Especially the tongue one.

April scoffs. “That’s ridiculous. I am totally sober. I’m so sober, that-” she can’t finish her sentence before she’s clapping a hand over her mouth and gagging, getting up from the bed to run to the bathroom, with Sterling hot on her heels to hold her hair as she drops down onto her knees and vomits into the toilet.

“Yep, let it all out,” Sterling says knowingly, rubbing comforting circles into April’s back with her free hand. She still vividly remembers what lime Jell-O shot pizza tastes like coming back up, and she can only imagine orange dreamsicles and rum sodas mixed with salad being a lot worse.

When she’s down to only dry heaves, April motions for Sterling to help her stand again and walk her to the sink, where she rinses her mouth out with a few handfuls of water. “Ew,” she says finally, and Sterling can’t help but chuckle.

“Yeah, you could say that,” she says, leaning over to flush the toilet but keeping one hand on April’s back.

“I’m disgusting. No wonder you don’t want to have sex with me,” April says, looking at herself too close in the mirror as Sterling gets her toothbrush and toothpaste from her meticulously organized toiletries bag.

“You aren’t disgusting, you’re perfect and so sexy,” Sterling assures her as she prepares the toothbrush. “And while I won’t have sex with you tonight, I will let you kiss me all you want after you brush your teeth,” she says, holding out the toothbrush, which April hesitates to take. “Either you can do it or I will,” Sterling threatens, holding it up close to April’s mouth.

April snatches it out of her hand, “I don’t need you to do it; I’m not Chloe,” she says, then makes a show of brushing with her mouth wide open, causing foam to dribble down her chin.

Sterling chuckles, finding it very hard to think of this as anything but endearing. Drunk April may be a handful and a half, but she’s also adorable. “Hey, babe? Have you felt the Lord’s warm and calloused hand in yours yet?” she asks, referencing the aftermath of her own first real experience with alcohol.

In response, April flips her off, which is totally fair. She finishes brushing her teeth and wipes her face with a hand towel. “Better?” she asks, baring her pearly whites.

“Beautiful,” Sterling says, leaning in to peck April on the lips. “Now let’s get you to bed,” she heads back into their room and goes to April’s suitcase to find her pajamas, though she’s not quite sure how she’s going to get her changed into them. This turns out to be a moot point as April collapses on the bed, seemingly unbothered by the prospect of sleeping in her (mismatched) bra and panties, with her legs still hanging off the end.

“Sterl, I need snuggles,” she mumbles into the mattress as Sterling has begun to change into her own pajamas, doing it quickly before April can see, though she doubts she’ll be getting up for the rest of the night.

Sterling climbs into the bed and pulls April up by the arms to get her under the covers with her, bringing her in close to give her the requested snuggles. “We only have to wait a month, remember?” she murmurs, as surprised as anyone that she has to be the one to drive home the idea of waiting until marriage.

“Yeah, whatever,” April grumbles, burying her face in Sterling’s neck. “I’m mad at you.”

“Why are you mad at me?” Sterling asks, more amused than concerned, seeing as April’s still in her arms right now.

“Because you’re too rational. That’s my job,” April says, perhaps the most self-aware sentence she’s made of the entire evening. “And your feet are cold.”

Sterling sighs and moves her feet from where they were touching April’s legs under the covers. “Better?”

“Mhm,” April nods. “Thank you for taking care of me, Sterly Bear.”

Sterling can’t help but laugh at that. “New nickname?”

“Yep. Because you’re cuddly and comforting and your name is Sterling,” she explains. “Plus I know Blair would hate it.”

“That she would,” Sterling agrees, knowing that her sister can never know about that nickname if she ever wants any peace ever again. But she can’t dwell on it too long as she feels herself getting less conscious by the second. Consciousness floods back when April touches her butt and giggles. “Hey! Hands to yourself or I’m sleeping on the couch with Kristina,” Sterling says, trying to sound firm. But she doesn’t really mean it, which even Drunk April knows, and she leaves her hand right where it is.

Sterling knows she should feel horrible about her fiancée lying in the backseat of the Volt, dark sunglasses on, with an empty Big Gulp cup on standby should the need to vomit arise...again. But April being down for the count for the next three and a half hours (if not longer) means being able to cut the drive back home down to three hours, all while riding shotgun with her favorite driver.

“Drink me,” Blair requests, leaning over from the steering wheel, and Sterling holds the Slurpee straw up to her lips. “Mmm. Muchas gracias, Señorita Carolina,” she says with a smile before focusing her attention back on the road.

“De nada, mi hermana,” Sterling replies, looking out the car window to watch the changing landscape pass by. This trip may have been wild, verging on out of hand, but it was a good one, and she can’t help but smile. Especially when she hears April snore from the backseat.

“Dear God, you’re really going to spend the rest of your life with that every night?” Blair asks, laughing as she looks in the rearview mirror.

“Of course I am, Blair. And besides, she doesn’t usually snore.” Sterling has spent the past month and a half dismissing any notion of not going through with the wedding, always floated by her sister. She’s beginning to get very tired of it.

“Not even after last night?” Blair asks, glancing over with a knowing, cheeky smile. “I saw you guys go from grinding to Cardi to sneaking off to your room. Please tell me she’s a freak in the sheets because that would be disturbing but also like, the funniest thing ever.”

“April was drunk, Blair. Of course, we didn’t do anything. Though not for a lack of trying on her part, I must say.” Sterling pulls down her shirt collar to show off the angry purple hickey she woke up to this morning. She already foresees a serious freakout from their mom if she were to notice it when they get home, but Sterling’s going to wear it like a badge of honor for now.

“Oh my,” Blair says, imitating George Takei when suddenly her eyes go wide and she slams her fist into Sterling’s shoulder as hard as she can. “PUNCH BUGGY!” she says, pointing at a yellow VW Beetle as it passes going the other direction on the highway. “No punch backs!” she adds quickly when Sterling raises her fist.

“Why is there yelling?” April grumbles from the backseat.

“Shhh, go back to sleep,” Sterling says, turning around to see April flip over onto her stomach, sunglasses smooshed up against her face.

“Everything sucks,” she says, slightly muffled, into the seat.

“I know, Baby,” Sterling coos sympathetically as she reaches behind the seat to rub April’s back soothingly.

Blair gags. “April, I might need to borrow your cup if my sister keeps doing this to me.”

Sterling rolls her eyes, caring a lot more about making sure April feels okay than if her sister thinks she’s being gross. “April, Sweetie, do you want us to stop for coffee before we get into Atlanta?” she asks, mostly because she does not want to bring April home looking like this, or Debbie will know for sure what they got up to last night.

“Yeah,” April whines, and Sterling could swear she’s actually enjoying being fussed over. “Starbucks, not Dunkin.”

Blair’s rolling her eyes so hard that Sterling is surprised she hasn’t given herself a migraine. “Of course, Your Majesty. Whatever you say, Your Majesty.”

“And slow down!”

“Oh, is there a pea under your mattress too, Princess?”

April awkwardly makes an attempt at kicking the back of Blair’s seat. “And Your Majesty means Queen, thank you very much.”

“I will crash this car with all of us in it,” Blair warns, and Sterling is sure she’s about 80% serious with that threat.

“You will not,” she says firmly. “When I said I want us to die together one day, I didn’t mean now.”

“What the fuck…” April says quietly, finally slowly sitting up in her seat, if only to lean forward to wrap her arms around Sterling’s seat. “And if you’re going to be dying with anyone, you’re dying with me, your wife,” she says, finishing her sentence with a wet kiss to Sterling’s cheek and what can only be a smug look at Blair.

“She’s not your wife yet,” Blair says angrily under her breath as she pulls into a Starbucks parking lot.

Chapter Text

The gym is April’s happy place. It’s where she can go to forget about weddings, or her terrible future sister-in-law, or the fact that her go-to action while drunk was to try to have her way with Sterling. All she has to do is lift some weights, dominate a stair stepper, and drink her weight in strawberry protein shakes and she comes out feeling the most satisfying kind of exhausted she can imagine.

Well, the most satisfying kind of exhaustion one can experience as a virgin, anyway.

It’s also the one place where she can wear her tank top featuring Baby Yoda deadlifting a barbell and the words ‘Smol But Strong’. Perhaps the single best thing to have come from her short-lived sham relationship with Luke.

But, best of all, it’s where she gets to hang out with the people in a group chat of hers affectionately dubbed ‘The Gym Bros,’ consisting of herself, three big, ripped guys in their 20s who love nothing more than to gossip, and a buff lady firefighter who pretends to be allergic to drama.

“Heeey, Short Stuff! How you been, girl?” She’s greeted by one of the guys; a large, muscular, dark-skinned man with a smile that could warm even the frostiest of hearts. Even hers.

“Malik!” April puts out her arm for him for a fist bump, and he’s more than happy to oblige. “I’ve been good. Busy, obviously, but good.” It’s been a few weeks since she’s been able to make time for anything more than squats and pushups in the morning.

“Hey, I respect that. You gotta take care of your girl and give her that dream wedding,” he says, smiling and bending his knees slightly so he can knock his shoulder into hers teasingly. “Little girly Romeo.”

April scoffs. “She proposed to me, so I think I’m the Juliet in this equation,” she says as she starts loading weights onto a deadlift bar.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. I’ve seen pictures of your girl and she’s definitely your skinny-ass Leo DiCaprio,” Malik says, nodding his head.

“The fact that you just made that reference is why I love you,” April says, voice straining at the end of her sentence as she squats and lifts the bar with only a little resistance—though she made this one intentionally light as a warm-up, especially when she hasn’t properly lifted in a while.

“You better. Especially with the kind of coin I dropped on your wedding present.” Malik comes closer both to be a proper spotter and to help April load more weights on, bringing it up to 150.

April doesn’t know what she did to earn the sweet friends she has. Especially with how much of a terror she’s been her whole life. But then again, Sterling, one of the most harmless people she knows, has almost no friends at all. So if that’s not proof of the world being unfair, April doesn’t know what is. “You really didn’t have to spend so much, but I’m glad you and Deja are coming to the wedding.”

“Oh yeah, she loves weddings—she’s getting her hair done before and everything,” Malik says as April deadlifts the new weight with still relative ease.

“You sure she isn’t hinting at something there?” April asks, amused, as she stretches and prepares herself for 200.

“Of course she is!” Another familiar voice rings out from a few feet away as two more members of their squad approach. “Our boy’s just in serious denial,” Pascal says as he approaches. Pascal is a real frat boy type; one that April would probably have never been friends with in a million years if it weren’t for him saving her from her own hubris on more than one occasion when she first started coming to the gym. His face is red and his blonde undercut is slicked back with sweat.

“As if you have any room to talk.” Willa, a dark-haired woman so muscular she could snap April (who would thank her for it) in half, shakes her head in disbelief at Pascal. “Mr. Long Engagement.”

“Tori and I are saving up so we can have a great honeymoon, okay?” Pascal says defensively. “And speaking of honeymoons, April, are you up to the challenge of carrying your woman over that threshold?”

April smiles. She has never had siblings, nor has she ever wanted them, but she imagines this must be what being a little sister feels like. “Well, I just deadlifted more than she weighs in my warmup, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes.”

“Atta girl,” Willa says, patting her hard on the back. “Also, this is a little unrelated but since you are a child, it’s my obligation as a firefighter to teach you the valuable lesson of not screwing with a metric fuckton of candles burning. You never know when one of those things will get tipped over.” She’s obviously speaking from experience, be it from work or her own personal hookups—though the fact she is apparently straight while looking like that will always be weird to April.

“Seriously April, if you need some kind of escape route on the day of, you just hit us up in the group chat and we’ll get you out of there,” Malik says, not seeming like he’s entirely joking.

April shakes her head. “You guys won’t have to worry about that. The only potential source of any major drama would be in the unlikely event that my dad shows up. But even if that happens, the venue has security and we’ve got him on the No Entry list.” The fact that she has to ensure that her father is barred from her wedding, rather than having him walk her down the aisle, is a far cry from what April always envisioned her wedding would be like. But, this is what came from her dad kicking her out of her old life, so she’s happy to kick him out in return.

“I doubt you have to worry about that...” Pascal says knowingly and that confuses April. She knows the gym rumor mill is intense, but how could they know something about her father if she doesn’t even know it?

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Malik, Willa, and Pascal share a look, seemingly wondering if this is really their place to say, but apparently coming to the conclusion that they should.

“You really don’t know?” Pascal asks.

“Obviously not, if I’m asking you guys.” April knows she sounds a bit snappish, but things concerning her father bring out that side of her.

“Well, uh, you know how Logan works for the Atlanta PD?” Willa starts, and April already really doesn’t like where this is going if their absent cop friend is getting brought into the explanation. “According to him, the feds arrested your dad a few days ago.”

April really shouldn’t be surprised. Her father has proven himself to be a violent scoundrel more than once in the last few years, and anyone with half a brain knows he wasn’t cleared of all charges for his last crime because he was innocent. Though the feds being involved is a new spin on things. “He didn’t take a hooker across state lines or something, did he?” she asks, not sure if that’s even a federal crime or not.

“Uh, no. Insider trading, I guess.” Pascal looks down at the floor. He and the rest of them are probably just as confused about how to react to this news as April is.

On the one hand, she can’t help the feeling of schadenfreude that fills her at the thought of her dad being locked up for a white-collar crime that he probably can’t lie or threaten his way out of. 

On the other...he’s her father. He’s the one who always held her when she cried because her friends moved away or gave her away. He took her to every Star Wars sequel midnight showing He read her every Chronicles of Narnia book, doing voices and everything.

John really is the Darth Vader to April’s Leia... but even Vader was redeemed, right? He blew up Leia’s home planet, and John blew up April’s home life...and yet she has to wonder if there are some people who really are irredeemable, and they aren’t just corrupted by the Dark Side.

April straightens her posture, not wanting to seem bothered in such a public space. “Well, that’s what he gets. I have to say, I’m surprised my mom didn’t even think to text me, but she’s probably busy getting his legal team together. Again.” She doesn’t believe this. 

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Malik says, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “You want me to buy you a drink from the juice bar?”

April nods, not too proud to turn down a free conciliatory green juice right now. She walks with the three of them towards the juice bar, noting the way they seem to walk on all sides of her like a Secret Service escort. She can’t say she hates the feeling of protection, as she’s consistently felt some degree of vulnerability for the past two years.

The second April gets home—or rather, the Wesley house—she’s a woman on a mission. There’s only one person she would feel comfortable talking about her father’s arrest with, and right now, all she really needs is that.

“Sterl, where are you?” she calls when she enters the foyer, the house suspiciously quiet. She hadn’t seen the Volt in the driveway, but she’d hoped that meant Blair would be out with Chase Colton, or whoever it is she’s been dating lately. It’s hard to keep track.

April heads upstairs, making a beeline for Sterling’s room. “Sterl?” she calls, thinking maybe she might be in there, but she’s left disappointed when she opens the door to find the room empty. Even so, she’s been unable to spend much time in this room as of late, so she can’t help but look around a bit.

There are empty Amazon boxes piled in a corner that are supposed to contain whatever Sterling plans on bringing with her to UGA, but of course, she hasn’t started packing yet, being the last-minute disaster girl that she is. After all, her bed is unmade from this morning, with the fitted sheet coming off of one corner of the mattress, and her laundry basket is practically overflowing with dirty clothes. If April’s parents had caught her room looking like this, she would have been on the wrong end of a thorough tongue-lashing.

Without thinking, April goes to the bed and starts to make it, fixing the fitted sheet. She knows she in no way has to do this—in fact, she’s setting a very bad precedent that she’ll be taking on a sort of mothering role to Sterling when they’re living together, and if she wanted that, she would marry a man—but bringing order to Sterling’s room is at least productive, which she needs right now. 

Once the sheets are straight and tight enough to bounce a quarter on, April searches around the room for the decorative throw pillows that have been tossed into various corners and arranges them in an aesthetically pleasing way on the bed. That leaves the basket of laundry, and after a bit of pondering whether or not that would be taking things a step too far, she sighs and picks it up, carrying it downstairs to the laundry room.

Sterling doesn’t bother sorting her laundry, of course, but Debbie uses a decent enough detergent, so April figures it wouldn’t be the biggest sin in the world to just wash everything together in cold water as her fiancée tends to do. This makes turning her shirts right side out and pants inside out the most time-consuming part of loading the machine. But it’s as she’s inverting the pair of dark jeans Sterling wore to work the day after their bridal shower—her butt had looked so incredible in them that they made a memorable enough impression—that she makes a curious discovery.

“What the Hell?” April whispers to herself as she pulls a large wad of $100 bills out of Sterling’s pocket. 

Being the daughter of a hardened criminal, April thinks she knows what criminal activity looks like, and a giant wad of cash belonging to an 18-year-old girl who works part-time serving frozen yogurt seems shady as all Hell. She counts it out and then counts it again to make sure the number is right. $5000. Where would Sterling get $5000?

“April, are you home? I saw the truck outside,” Anderson calls from the hallway, sounding closer with each word.

Thinking quickly, April pockets the money and throws the jeans into the washer, along with the rest of the clothes. She’s pouring detergent when Anderson finds her.

“Oh, there you are. Are you the only one home?” Anderson asks from the doorway. “I know Debs had a hair appointment.”

April hits a few settings and starts the washer. “I think so. Which is weird since they weren’t scheduled to work this afternoon,” she says, trying to play it off as casually as she can, but now she can’t help but wonder if this large sum of cash has anything to do with the frequent disappearances of her loving fiancée.

“Yeah, she and Blair always seem to be off doing something or other,” he says, shrugging. “Anyway, I was about to make myself some lunch and head out to work on my side hustle. You care to join me?” he asks carefully, almost as if he can tell something’s amiss.

April wants to politely decline, as she feels like she should probably freak out about what she just discovered in private, and maybe try to get to the bottom of it, but her growling stomach answers for her.

“Come on,” Anderson says, motioning for her to follow him to the kitchen, where she’s already laid out a pitcher of sweet tea and the makings for a pimento cheese sandwich—April’s favorite lunch.

Anderson seems to note the way she perks up, and he smiles to himself, reminding her so much of Sterling. “My style of choice is pimento cheese with a little mortadella and some mustard. How ‘bout you?” he asks, taking two pieces of white bread out of the bag and setting them on one of the two plates he set out.

“Uh, your way sounds really good, actually,” April says, not wanting to be too picky right now, and honestly, she’d eat anything if it had pimento cheese on it—a Georgia girl through and through.

“Two sandwiches a la Anderson, comin’ right up,” he says dutifully as he gets to work and April pours herself a glass of sweet tea. “You okay, April? You seem like you got somethin’ on your mind,” Anderson says astutely.

That is an understatement. “Uh, yeah, I do. I guess my dad was picked up by the FBI for insider trading a few days ago,” April figures giving him half of the reason for why she’s out of sorts is good enough.

Anderson loudly exhales, taking a moment to process that and think of something to say, ultimately coming up with, “Well, that’s not good.” 

He is not wrong. “No, it’s not, and what’s worse is I had to find out from my gym friends. I get she doesn’t approve of the whole gay thing, but my mom couldn’t even muster up the courage to just, I don’t know, shoot me a text? Nothing too complicated, just a simple, ‘hey April, just letting you know your dad’s in prison again’ would have sufficed!” Having the chance to rant about this to someone is proving to be more cathartic than she realized it would, and April climbs up to sit in one of the island chairs. “But nooo, I had to find out about this from a freaking millennial cop.” She crosses her arms in a huff.

“Well, speaking as a lawyer, I can say that with those kinds of charges, they were probably looking to keep it from spreading out into our community--you know the folks at the club would have a field day with this,” Anderson says as he finishes the first sandwich and cuts it diagonally before sliding it across the counter to April and getting to work on his own. “but as a Dad...that was a really sucky thing for them to do to you.”

April scoffs. “Just another thing to discuss in my future therapy, I guess,” she says and takes a bite of the sandwich. She’s glad she’s sitting because this thing is good enough it could have knocked her off her feet. Simple, yet so satisfying.

“Good?” Anderson asks with an expectant smile.

“Exquisite,” April says once she’s swallowed, giving him a smile of her own that she didn’t think herself capable of with the day she’s been having. But something she’s noticed since living under the same roof with them both is that Sterling and her father are more alike than she previously thought, so it’s no wonder Anderson would have the same kind-hearted charm. 

And if she’s being perfectly honest with herself, April could use a dad of some sort today.

“Say, how about you come join me in the shop after lunch? Sterling says you know your way around power tools,” he offers, seeming to have a sixth sense for when he’s needed as he finishes making his sandwich and sits in the seat next to April.

April nods, appreciative of an opportunity to get her mind off things until Sterling gets home.

“Anything else on your mind?” Anderson asks. “You aren’t having second thoughts about the wedding, are you?”

April shakes her head, surprising even herself. Unless Sterling has been operating a secret OnlyFans account for extra cash, she doesn’t think the money discovery will change their plans. “Well, I’m still having trouble with student housing,” she says, using Sterling’s technique of saying something that’s not technically a lie. “So Sterl and I have been exploring the option of just renting a place, but I’m having a hard time finding anything within a similar budget to what we’d pay for student housing that’s not too far away from campus.”

“Damn bureaucrats,” Anderson curses under his breath. “Well, if it's the budget that’s holding y’all back, then feel free to expand a bit. I’m going to be paying $1000 a month for Blair’s dorm at UNC and I’d be willing to spend $1500 for you and Sterling. But I won’t go up to two because y’all will be sharing a bed, and-” Anderson seems physically pained to be having to make any sort of reference to his daughter and her future wife’s marital bed. “Anyway, $1500 a month. But you gotta run the places by me first. I won’t be overpaying any slumlord.”

“That is perfectly agreeable with me,” April says and takes another bite off of her sandwich.

It occurs to April that she hasn’t actually been out in Anderson’s workshop since she and Sterling built Solomon’s temple, and despite today, the memory brings a smile to her face. But as she steps in and is overwhelmed by the smell of sawdust and varnish, it triggers another memory entirely. This one involves her and her father working for weeks in the garage of the summer house, building a rowboat from nothing. Her dad, always the pontificator, had said that being able to build something from nothing with enough effort was a perfect metaphor for life and success. Though now she’s not sure that someone who inherited a few Chick-Fil-A franchises from his own father has any right to make claims about building up from nothing.

Still, April has worse memories of growing up with the man—a good few involving being on the wrong end of his belt—and she has better ones (in hindsight) involving this very place. Though it’s gained a lot more wooden ducks since she was last here. And a drill press.

“Can I get you a drink?” Anderson asks, crossing to a mini-fridge—another new addition—and pulls out two bottles of craft beer.

April shakes her head. “Oh, no thank you,” she declines, the thought of drinking any alcohol is still quite revolting to her after Savannah, let alone beer.

Anderson isn’t having it and rids both bottles of their caps on the side of his workbench and hands off one to April, who realizes she does not have much of a choice but to drink the fermented hipster wheat water and takes a tiny, cautious sip.

“You getting the peachy undertones?” Anderson asks, but all April is getting is a gross, strong beer taste.

“Mhm,” she lies as she takes another drink and tries not to breathe through her nose to get it down without tasting it. “I have to ask,” she says, gesturing with the bottle at the shelf of ducks. “Why ducks?”

Anderson smiles and goes over to his display, picking one up and admiring his own handiwork. “I just like ‘em,” he admits. “Plus, they’re a big hit when I have my booth at the gun shows.”

“Oh, they’re a hunting thing?” April asks, trying to sound interested in the answer.

“Yeah, they’re decoys for duck hunting. The idea is if there’s one ‘duck’, then others will think it’s safe and land nearby.”

That actually makes perfect sense to April, which she wasn’t expecting. “Huh. So you sell them?”

Anderson nods. “Debbie thinks it’s unnecessary, seeing as we don’t really need the money, but I like to keep myself busy.”

“I can respect that,” April says, smiling sheepishly as she knows she would go insane if she didn’t have something to keep her occupied. School and extracurriculars have just been replaced with wedding planning this summer, after all. God only knows what kind of strange hobbies she might pick up as an adult--well, as a real adult. “So do Sterling or Blair ever help you out here?” she asks, picking up a piece of sandpaper from next to an unfinished duck on the workbench and beginning to smooth some of its edges.

Anderson scoffs. “Oh, heck no! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the two of them are accident-prone, and they always have been.” He stops; a look of realization dawning on his face. “Dear Lord, I sounded like Big Daddy just then,” he says aghast.

April can’t deny it. “Maybe a bit, but the sentiment behind it wasn’t unwarranted.”

“No, it was not. Do you know how many times those girls have come home from work looking like they got their little butts kicked at a dang yogurt shop?” he says in disbelief, shaking his head and drinking his beer.

Considering the discovery she made today, April can’t help but wonder if that didn’t happen to them at the yogurt shop at all...could it be a Fight Club thing? But she can’t picture Sterling knowing how to throw a punch, let alone being able to fight well enough to win five grand, so that can’t be it. Which leaves her with drug dealing and street racing, and Sterling claims to abhor drugs.

“Knowing them, they probably did it to each other, now that I think of it,” Anderson says, frowning. The man clearly gets his daughters.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” April agrees, and an awkward silence falls over them as Anderson goes to get a few small cans of paint and some brushes. April looks up a picture of a mallard duck to make sure she gets the colors right before diving in, doing the easy part of painting the duck’s head green while Anderson works on its tail end.

“Can I ask you something that might be a little awkward?” Anderson asks finally, breaking the silence.

“Of course.” April nods because not a lot can be more awkward than painting a wooden duck with your future father-in-law.

“You and Sterling have never...uh...done stuff, right?” he asks, tapping his brush against the side of the brown paint can to get rid of the excess. “I know I gave you a hard time before y’all went to prom, but I also know your daddy caught y’all doing something, and-”

Letting this go on is physically paining April. “Anderson, I promise you, we haven’t done anything more than kiss,” she says quickly, whether that is entirely true or not—they haven’t had full-on sex, but she’s not sure of the Bible’s stance on premarital (clothed) grinding or boob-touching.

Anderson nods, seeming relieved by this. “Good, good,” he says, still refusing to meet April’s eyes. “So with the wedding coming up, does it make you nervous?”

“A little, yeah,” April admits, though she now has confirmation that she shouldn’t have any trouble on her wedding night if she manages to drink a bit of alcohol at the reception. “But I trust Sterling, and at least we don’t have to worry about birth control, right?” This mortifying conversation could definitely use some levity.

Anderson chuckles. “Yes, there is that. When Deb and I went on our honeymoon, my brother got me a box of condoms from Sam’s Club, and by the time we got back a week later, they were gone.”

April is so glad she’s having this conversation with Sterling’s dad and not her own because this could indeed be a lot worse, but the idea of her future in-laws boning is disturbing enough, protected or otherwise. She supposes Anderson has cast her in the son-in-law role, which should probably upset her a bit, but she knows he’s handling this in the way he knows how, and she guesses she appreciates the concern. Though she doesn’t know what to say in response to any of this.

Good thing Anderson doesn’t seem to mind. “It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to you to know that I was in the same position as you before I married Debbie. I’d never, you least not with another person.”

“Anderson Wesley, I will remind you that I am a lady,” April says, looking affronted, but she’s not actually too bothered. If anything, this is easier than the sex talk she got from her own dad—if she can even call it that. “I know my mom was a virgin before she married my dad, too,” she reaches to her neck to pull the promise ring on its chain out from under her shirt. “When my Dad gave me this, I got a whole speech about not ruining myself in the eyes of God or my future husband. Which is ironic, considering it was coming from a man who solicits prostitutes.”

“I think it’s very hard for anyone to irreparably ruin themselves, in the eyes of God or otherwise.” Anderson puts down his brush and looks April in the eye. “But take it from someone who also grew up with that same kind of shame getting thrown at them. Getting married isn’t a magic off switch for the guilt, but when the time comes, there isn’t anything to be afraid or ashamed of. I can’t pretend to know what all it entails between two women, so I don’t have much advice for you there, but I do know that doing it with someone you love is one of the most special and beautiful things anyone can experience, no matter what anyone else thinks.” Anderson shrugs as if he didn’t just say something wise enough to rival Pastor Booth.

April crosses to hug Anderson tight. She keeps everything so bottled up that she doesn’t realize how much she sometimes needs to just be held and told that the love in her heart is as divine as anyone else’s. “Thank you, really,” she says quietly, closing her eyes and smelling Old Spice and pretending for just a moment that it isn’t Sterling’s father who is holding her.

April doesn’t realize she started crying until she finally pulls away and notices two wet splotches on the shoulder of Anderson’s shirt, but he pays them no mind, instead swiping away a few of her tears with his thumb. “Now, let’s not have any of this,” he says, smiling gently. “I can’t pretend to know what all is going to happen with your parents. I want to believe in my heart that with time, they’ll see the error of their ways. But until then, just know that you’ll always have Debbie and me. Heck, we’ve known you since you were a little girl who got homesick during sleepovers, after all.” He winks in reference to something April had almost forgotten about. The time Sterling and Blair had had a sleepover for their ninth birthday, and April had been upset enough to ask Anderson to call her parents to come get her, but he managed to talk her down from it and swore he would never tell a soul that she’d been afraid.

April wonders if he’d still be there for her if she were to murder Sterling for committing crimes behind her back. She supposes it would depend on the crime.

It’s almost midnight when April really starts to worry. It’s been an hour since Anderson and Debbie went to bed after April assured them that she’d be up to greet the twins, and they still aren’t home. But most concerning of all is that Google says that Yogurtopia is open until 11, which means that the likelihood of the two of them getting up to something unsavory has gone up exponentially in the last...oh, 45 minutes or so. And the fact that Sterling hasn’t responded to her last three texts doesn’t bode well either.

But it’s fine, right? She’s with Blair and God knows what they’re getting up to, but nothing horrible has happened yet, as far as she knows. Though that just has April’s mind moving a mile a minute due to the fact that Sterling has potentially been doing shady things behind her back for God knows how long, and she’s probably the biggest idiot in the universe for not realizing it until now. But in her own defense, they weren’t living together until very recently, and she hadn’t really noticed anything off about Sterling until their engagement.

Oh, God.

What if it’s their engagement that’s triggered all this weird behavior from Sterling? What if she’s off with Blair living out an accelerated version of her wild and crazy young adult years before they get married? Because if it’s spontaneity or excitement that Sterling is looking for, then April can assure her that none of that will have to end when they get married. In fact, she fully intends on them using the bottle of expensive massage oil and sharing some seven-year-old tequila on their one month anniversary. How’s that for spontaneous?

But another part of her brain is telling her that in no universe should she be blaming herself for Sterling acting like an idiot in the lead-up to their wedding. Sterling is an adult (albeit barely) woman in charge of her own life, and if she’s so immature as to think that they can’t have fun once they’re married, then maybe she isn’t mature enough to get married at all. So by extension, Sterling had been right to insist on a longer engagement, and April had been the fool for moving things up in the name of sticking it to old bigots and getting laid within the confines of marriage.

And finally, it occurs to April that Sterling possibly isn’t lying at all and that something’s held her up at the yogurt shop. She’s read enough horror stories from retail workers on the internet to know that sometimes they get kept long past their shift, forced to do The Man’s dirty work without even getting paid for it.

But then she remembers that she found five grand in cash in Sterling’s pants pocket like an old gum wrapper, and knows that she isn’t overreacting in the slightest.

April’s had enough. She’ll sooner lose her mind thinking about all the possibilities of where Sterling is or what she’s up to than she will get to the bottom of things if she just stays here spiraling. “Fuck it,” she says to herself and grabs the truck keys from the hook by the door. She needs concrete proof for when she confronts Sterling about her whereabouts tonight, and this is the best she’s got after being told by Jamie at the bridal shower that it would be crossing a major line to stealthily turn on Find My Friends on Sterling’s phone. And it would have been so easy to do it, too, seeing as Sterling’s password is 123456. But no, she just had to be the bigger person and have faith in her fucking fiancee, and now here she is, driving to a shady little yogurt shop in the middle of the damn night in her pajamas--though at least they’re Eberjey and she looks fabulous.

April would like to think she’s matured since the post-breakup time where she would find every excuse to ‘pass through’ Sterling’s neighborhood, always having to check to see if that bitch Reese Ryan dared show her face around Debbie and Anderson. She’d like to think of herself as more in control of her emotions, less driven by jealousy and paranoia, and more confident in her relationship than to think Sterling could be capable of betraying her.

But then again, she’d also like to have the unconditional love and understanding of a father who’s not a woman-beating, whore-fucking criminal.

When she pulls up in front of Yogurtopia, it is abundantly clear that the place is closed, without even an odd employee sticking around to clean up the place. April puts the truck in park and pulls out her phone, skipping the texting altogether and calling Sterling. It rings a few times before Sterling answers, voice sounding strained.

“Yeah, what?”

April’s temporarily taken aback by her tone and the lack of Sterling sweetness in her words but shakes it off quickly. “Where are you?” she asks sweetly.

“I’m at work. Bowser had us stay late to get rid of the stale candy,” the blatant lie has April’s world spinning, seeing as Sterling almost always speaks in at least half-truths...or so she thought. But clearly, it is a full-on lie because she is not at work.

April hums at the fatal mistake. “That’s funny, because I’m sitting outside of Yogurtopia right now, and I must say, it’s looking pretty deserted.”

“You’re what?” The fear is evident in Sterling’s voice...but it also sounds like she’s running, which is confusing.

“You heard me,” April says coldly. “Now, I’m going to give you twenty minutes to get home, or so help me God, I will cancel our wedding faster than you can say-” she doesn’t get to finish her threat before the call is ended, and she’s left in shock and outrage over the fact that Sterling just hung up on her. “Oh, she is so dead,” April grumbles, putting the truck in gear and proceeding to drive back to the Wesley house. She has no idea what is going on, but she doesn’t like it one bit, and deep down, she knows it has to be Blair’s fault.

Blair, who has done nothing but try to sabotage April’s relationship ever since she and Sterling announced their engagement. This reeks of something she dragged Sterling along for. But then again, it was Sterling who lied to her just now, and that fact can’t be ignored.

In a surprise to nobody, April beats the two of them home, leaving her to get a treat for Chloe to get her to stop barking the second she walks in the door. “Shhh! You’re going to wake up Anderson and Debbie!” she scolds the dog in a whisper and feeds her the biscuit, quieting her noises down to soft crunching sounds. “Do you know what they’ve been up to?” April asks, scratching her ears. “I bet you do.”

The non-reaction April receives just makes her miss Sergeant Bilko and how he would talk back to her. Anyone who says dogs are better than cats clearly hasn’t had the honor of being a cat’s Person, and she’ll definitely have to bring Sterling over to the dark side once they’re married...assuming she doesn’t follow through with her threat on the phone.

Suddenly feeling exhausted from the day she’s had, April goes to the couch, sitting down with Chloe jumping up to lie down beside her, resting her head on April’s thigh and sighing.

“I feel you, girl,” April whispers, struggling to keep her eyes open, and eventually vowing to just rest them a moment. Who knows when Sterling will even be home anyway?

The answer, it seems, is 2 AM, as that’s what the clock on April’s phone reads when she’s startled awake by headlights shining through the windows overlooking the driveway.

April wipes the sleep from her eyes and looks at it again, thinking she must be mistaken. But no. It is two in the damn morning, two hours after she told Sterling to come home, and the more she regains consciousness, the more pissed off she is. She gets up from the couch and stomps out the front door to confront the two idiots, knowing that she can’t risk waking Anderson and Debbie with the thorough tongue-lashing she’s about to unleash. 

Though, if Debbie is anything like April’s own mother, she’s probably been awake this whole time and trusts that April will lay into the girls worse than she ever could. Which is a fair assessment.

“Where the fuck have you two been? Do you have any idea what time it is?” she hisses as she crosses the driveway to where Blair is getting out of the driver’s seat of the Volt, while Sterling has yet to even open her door.

“No April, please enlighten me, as I suddenly have lost the ability to read the clock in the car,” Blair says sarcastically, seeming to dismiss April entirely as she crosses right in front of her to go around the car and open Sterling’s door for her.

April frowns, confused. Blair isn’t one known for chivalry...especially when it comes to her own sister. “What’s going on and where were you two?”

“Piedmont,” Blair replies simply, offering Sterling her hand, and Sterling takes it with one while grabbing her wrist with the other, allowing her sister to hoist her out of the car.

“The hospital?!” April replies, a good deal of her anger shifting into shock and worry as Sterling carefully puts her feet on the ground—or rather, one foot, and one heavy-duty medical walking boot.

“Yes, the hospital,” Sterling confirms and reaches into her pocket, pulling out the shattered remains of what was her cellphone. “I promise I didn’t hang up on you.”

April thinks she would have a hard time comprehending this even if she wasn’t so tired. She shakes her head to try to clear her thoughts. “How did this—what happened? How did you get hurt?” Her mind is going back to that fight club scenario.

“Um, well,” Sterling starts, but Blair quickly interrupts her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Sterl and I were helping Bowser transport some inventory when the uh… hand cart got away from us and Sterl fell and the inventory smashed her phone,” Blair explains quickly. “Bowser’s FWB went with us to the ER if you need to corroborate the story.”

April raises an eyebrow, finding all of this incredibly fishy. “Is that really what happened?” she asks, turning to Sterling and practically looking into her soul as if daring her to lie right now.

After a second, Sterling nods. “Yeah, that’s pretty much the gist of it,” she confirms, and April’s judgment might be a bit impaired at this hour, but she swears that Sterling is telling the truth. “I’m so sorry, April,” she says, eyes welling up with tears before full-on blubbering. “Please don’t cancel our wedding.”

April frowns at this very uncharacteristic breakdown, especially if what happened is what she says happened. “Is she okay?” she asks Blair, who scoffs.

“Well, she’s got a bad sprain and she’s got to wear that boot for the next two to three weeks, but other than that? She’s more than fine. The doctor gave her a few Vicodin before he sent her home,” Blair says, to April’s horror—both over the drugs and the fact that her fiancée might be in a damn walking boot at their wedding.

“Opioids? You let them load her up on opioids?!” she goes to Sterling, taking her face in her hands. “Sterl, look at me,” she says, and Sterling’s eyes meet hers, pupils constricted. Her brain goes to a place where she has to consider how hard it’ll be in the future to be married to a heroin addict.

“No need to get your panties in a twist, Nurse Jackie. They only gave her two pills. Not even a prescription or anything,” Blair says, looking around as if not sure how exactly they’re going to get Sterling—who, despite wearing the walking boot, seems pretty incapable of walking—into the house.

April sighs and without warning scoops Sterling up into her arms bridal style. She’d been correct earlier—Sterling is easier to deadlift than what she does at the gym.

“Okaaay…” Blair says, high-pitched and actually impressed, for once, as April carries Sterling up to the house. She goes ahead of them to open the door and puts her hand behind Sterling’s head to prevent any door jamb smacking, which doesn’t stop the boot from loudly smacking against the door. April is taking exactly none of the blame if the boot scuffs the paint.

“Well I do declare, Miss Stevens, you have thoroughly swooped me off my feet,” Sterling drawls like a character out of Gone With the Wind and giggles.

April rolls her eyes, and she’s almost certain that Blair is with her on this. “You are ridiculous.”

“I know, but I’m hurt and you love me, so whatcha gonna do about it?” 

“I’m going to take you to bed,” April says and knows she’s made a mistake when Sterling gasps.

“Oh, Heavens!” she says as she’s carried up the stairs. “I’ll have you know that I am a good Christian woman and you ma’am are a rake.”

Blair groans. “Oh no, she’s in Southern Bridgerton mode.”

Sterling cackles maniacally, and there’s no way in Hell Anderson and Debbie aren’t awake now. “Daphne wishes she looked as good as me,” Sterling says in a moment of supreme confidence as she’s carried into her room and placed gently on the bed. “But ya gotta hand it to that girl because she got laid and she didn’t even know what a penis was!”

“Sterl, please stop saying penis,” April requests sweetly as she begins to untie Sterling’s one shoe. “Where’s her other shoe?”

“It’s still in the car, but uh...I’m gonna leave you to deal with her,” Blair says, yawning. “God I’m suddenly feeling so tired.” She’s closing the door before April can object, though it may be just as well, because even a half-lucid Sterling owes her an explanation.

Sterling, who has unzipped and unbuttoned her jeans, and has them halfway down her thighs before she realizes she has to take the boot off first. “Whoops.”

April sighs, exasperated. “Come on, lie back,” she instructs, and Sterling gives her a suggestive smile as she does. April unstraps the boot from Sterling’s foot, seeing for the first time the angry purple color of her swollen ankle, and gently pulls down Sterling’s jeans, though she still whimpers as they’re pulled over her ankle.

“Love you,” Sterling says as April tosses them into her now-empty laundry basket.

“You better.” April helps Sterling get under the covers, and for a minute thinks she might just let everything that happened today go, but knows that if she doesn’t confront this now, it’ll just eat at her. “Hey, Sterl? Can you explain why I found this in your pants pocket when I was doing laundry earlier?” She pulls out the wad of cash from the pocket of her pajamas, having always intended for a dramatic reveal for the confrontation—but she didn’t think it would happen while Sterling is injured and incapable of running away.

Sterling’s eyes go wide. “Uh oh,” she whispers to herself.

“Yeah, ‘uh oh’ is correct,” April says in a tone she would use if speaking to a child in trouble. “Care to tell me where you got it? Because a part of me wants to say street racing.”

Even drugged Sterling finds that concept ridiculous. “I drive a hybrid,” she reminds April. “They aren’t known for speed.” She makes a good point. “But I got that from work. I can’t take it to a bank because technically Bowser is committing tax fraud by paying me and Blair under the table.”

Ah. So just another white-collar criminal. Since when has April surrounded herself with those? “Oh. Well, why was it all in your pants pocket? Don’t you have a piggy bank or something?”

“I set it aside from the rest of my money because I wanted to save it for our honeymoon. But I might have to dip into it a little to replace my phone again. Sorry.” Sterling is not a good liar, and April can imagine painkillers would only make her worse, so, despite everything, she knows Sterling is telling her the truth. Which is a huge relief.

April sighs. “You don’t have anything to apologize for. It’s very sweet and generous of you to save that much for our honeymoon. We’ll have to definitely eat in the overpriced castle restaurant now.”

Sterling smiles at that. “And I was gonna get you a lightsaber.”

April lights up at that. “A custom one from the workshop?”

Sterling nods and is clearly taken by surprise as April gives her a crushing hug, but quickly relaxes into it.

“I love you,” April says, truly feeling those words in this moment when even an injured and drugged Sterling can make her feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

“I love you most,” Sterling says in a sickening display of affection that April loves with all her heart. “But uh, are you okay? You seemed like you were really going through it in those texts you sent me.”

April wants to chastise her for reading the texts but not thinking of responding but figures she’s played the nagging fiancée enough for tonight, and Sterling is hurt, so she’ll just have to let it slide. “Depends on your definition of okay. My dad’s in jail again.”

Sterling lets out a whoosh of air. “Oh boy. Did he beat up another prostitute?”

April supposes that is one piece of good news. “No, he did not, fortunately. Just tried to game the system and got caught.”

“Your dad’s a butthole.”

Despite herself, April laughs loud enough that she has to clap a hand over her mouth after a second. Sterling’s refusal to use foul language is oftentimes funnier than if she had the mouth of a sailor, but more than that, she likes the reminder that she isn’t alone in thinking these things about her dad.

Sterling pats the bed next to her. “You wanna stay here with me tonight?”

April wants that more than anything in the world. “I can’t. Your mom would kill us, and she’s already going to freak out when she sees your ankle,” she refuses, but at Sterling’s disappointed face, she adds. “I can, however, stay with you until you fall asleep.”

“I guess that’s okay,” Sterling grumbles, scooching over for April to get under the covers with her and act as her big (but little) spoon.

April just lies there a moment, enjoying the feeling of having Sterling fall asleep in her arms while also making certain the evening out of Sterling’s breathing doesn’t put her to sleep too. But that doesn’t stop her from breathing in Sterling’s smell--and is swiftly disappointed by the fact that she smells less like herself and more like a hospital. “Hey Sterl?” she asks, putting a hand on Sterling’s shoulder to get her to turn her head.

“Hmm?” Sterling replies, half-asleep.

“You’re only going to be there for a few more weeks anyway, but I think it would be a good idea if you quit your job,” April says, finally having a good reason to bring up what she’s been thinking for weeks now. This yogurt job is not worth the trouble.

“Blair’s gonna be mad if I do,” Sterling says in a feeble attempt to argue, but it sounds like she’s going to give in no matter what.

“I know,” April says, pulling her in tighter and kissing the spot under her ear, “But I need you to do this for me.”

Sterling is quiet for a moment as if contemplating which would be worse; upsetting her sister, or disappointing her future wife. For a moment, April wonders if it’s neither and she’s just fallen asleep, given the fact that she’s on some pretty heavy drugs, but finally, she speaks. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Sterling’s dreams are surprisingly unremarkable, given the fact that she went to bed high on painkillers. Almost all of them involve doing something pleasant with April, which she suspects has something to do with the fact that she’s been wrapped in her arms all night.

Oh no.

In any other scenario than the one in which she is being shaken awake by her irate mother, Sterling might be happy to have April contentedly jetpacking her.

“Sterling Pearl Wesley, April Elizabeth Stevens, you get up right now,” Debbie says angrily.

“Nooo, five more minutes,” April says, half asleep, and holds Sterling tighter, nuzzling into her neck.

Sterling’s eyes shoot open, fully comprehending how much trouble she’s in when she sees her mom in that hands-on-hips stance. “This is not what it looks like,” she says, voice still deep from sleep, but even she knows this is a weak excuse with April currently clinging onto her like a koala. “Baby,” she says, gently pulling April’s arms off of her so she can get out of the bed, forgetting two important details in the process. One, she is not wearing pants. And two, she has a grade 2 sprained ankle. “Mary Mother of God!” she curses, feeling every bit of the pain of putting all of her weight on her foot without the boot, and it’s a miracle she doesn’t fall over and instead just sits back down on the bed.

This does, however, finally bring April back into the world of the living.

“Oh God, Sterl,” she says, seeing what’s happened and immediately jumping into action, grabbing the boot from the foot of the bed and going around to help Sterling put it back on.

“You girls have about ten seconds to tell me what in God’s name happened last night,” Debbie says threateningly, though her tone has lost some of its edge upon seeing Sterling’s injury.

“Sterling had an accident at work,” April explains, kneeling down and fastening the boot tightly. “I was just in here to make sure she got to bed okay and I guess I fell asleep,” she’s playing this off as a harmless mistake, and amazingly, Debbie seems to be buying it. Though even she must recognize that the two of them doing anything last night seems unlikely with Sterling’s sprain looking just as painful as it feels.

Debbie sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. She’s been dealing with these kinds of antics for going on nineteen years, after all. “Did you at least use your insurance card at the hospital?”

“Of course.” Sterling nods.

“And you’re okay? Nothing’s broken? Hopefully, that won’t have to be incorporated into the wedding?” Debbie’s last question is laced with a lot of hope as she points to the boot.

“We can only pray,” April answers for her, getting back up on her feet and kissing Sterling’s cheek. “Now, I have to meet up with our wedding coordinator today to finalize the last few details regarding our rehearsal dinner. Debbie, you’re free to join me but I think Sterl had better take it easy today.”

“I would love that, April. And on the drive over, you can explain to me why you were taking off in the truck in the middle of the night,” Debbie says sweetly, and at April’s stunned face, she adds, “Mom ears. You’ll understand when you have kids someday.” She pats April on the shoulder and begins to lead her out of the room. “Sterling, if you can’t stand in the shower, you’re welcome to use the tub in mine and your dad’s bathroom, but either way, clean yourself up.”

“Yes, Mommy,” Sterling says in an age-regressed voice, a direct result of being scolded by her mom like a small child, and feeling like her ankle is hurting more and more by the second.

With that, Debbie and April are gone, leaving Sterling to hobble to her bathroom for a Tylenol or four. She’s surprised by Blair, who’s already brushing her hair. 

“Ah. Mom woke you guys up too, I see,” she says, yanking at a tangle. “Like, I get she couldn’t wait to yell about breaking curfew and premarital bed-sharing, but couldn’t it wait until...I don’t know, 10?” Blair sets down her brush and turns to look Sterling in the eye. “What did you tell April last night after she took you upstairs?”

“Honestly, it’s all kinda fuzzy, but I know I stuck with our story,” Sterling says, opening the medicine cabinet and retrieving the sacred Tylenol. She knows she also promised April she would quit bounty hunting—even if April doesn’t know what job she was referring to—but that’s a conversation she’ll have to ease into with Blair.

“Well, good. You know she’d tell mom, being her mini-me and all that.” Blair grabs Sterling’s stick of deodorant and applies it liberally to her armpits.

“Ew! You’re gonna cover it in your gross sweat!” Sterling says, snatching it away.

“Oh please, we used to intentionally infect each other when one of us got sick so that we both could stay home from school together,” Blair reminds her, and the memory of how they achieved this is enough to make Sterling want to gag in hindsight.

“Irregardless, I don’t want your germs anymore, especially not since you’ve pretty much made out with every gross boy in our high school,” Sterling says, sniffing her own armpits to determine if she can get away with not taking a bath. Hard nope. “Okay, well, I’m gonna go take a bath, I guess,” she says, reaching into her shower to grab her shampoo and conditioner.

“Use some of mom’s expensive products for me,” Blair calls after her as she heads down the hall as if she hadn’t already intended on it.

By noon, Sterling is ready for a nap, both due to her whopping five hours of sleep she was allowed by her mother, the early riser, and the fact that Blair has a soccer game on the TV--and it’s not even the US team!

“Why do you even care about a game between Puerto Rico and Honduras? Can’t we just binge something on Netflix?” she whines from where she has laid out a pillow and a blanket on the floor. 

“Because there is a non-zero chance that one of these teams could play the US next week,” Blair replies as if the answer is so obvious. “But if you can get up and take the remote from me, then we can watch whatever you want to watch. Besides, I’m being nice enough to let you borrow my phone.”

Sterling grumbles as she’s not in a position to walk right now, let alone take something from Blair. She knows that if April were here, she’d wrestle that remote away for her. And speaking of her lovely knight in shining armor, 

Blair 🤡: Hi, it’s Sterling. Blair’s letting me use her phone until I can get a new one.

She-Devil 👹: Hey there, cutie. How’re you holding up?

Sterling smiles to herself, knowing she’s basically the only person in the world April is capable of being nice to.

Blair 🤡: Hanging in there. Blair’s making me watch sports.

She-Devil 👹: That bitch!

She-Devil 👹: But seriously, do you want me to get you anything on our way home in a bit?

She-Devil 👹: Food, ice packs, maybe some kind of blunt object to hit Blair with?

As she said, Sterling is the only person April is capable of being nice to. Hence her contact name in Blair’s phone.

Blair 🤡: All of the above?

She-Devil 👹: You got it. Chipotle sound good?

Blair 🤡: Yes pwease

She-Devil 👹: 😘😘😘

Sterling puts down the phone on her chest and actually has a smile on her face. April being sweet is a rare but amazing thing. Though, granted, Sterling can imagine she’ll be less inclined to remain sweet if Sterling doesn’t go through with quitting her job as quickly as possible.

“Hey Blair?” she asks, curious now.


“Bowser will be okay without us once we’re gone, right?”

“I mean, yeah. He was doing just fine without us before we teamed up. Granted, he might have to set up a few more skip traps without his runner or his gunner by his side, but he’ll be alright. And if nothing else, Yolanda will totally take care of him,” Blair replies thoughtfully. “Why?”

Sterling shrugs her shoulders. “I dunno,” she lies, “Just wondering about the future.”

“Well, I know that if whatever degree I get doesn’t translate to money, but above all, satisfaction, then I always have a fallback. And so do you.” She punctuates her sentence by shoving a handful of bottom-of-the-bag Doritos crumbles into her mouth like a horse feedbag.

“That’s real ladylike,” Sterling says sarcastically.

“Oh, I know,” Blair says, finishing off the bag and crumpling it into a ball. “But anyway, I’m sure Bowser will be fine without us financially, but emotionally? He’ll be crushed. Not outwardly, of course, but like...I can tell he’s sad about us leaving in a few weeks. It’s a good thing we can help him with a few more skips while we can, right?”

“Yeah, good thing…” Sterling says quietly. “I’m not sure how I’m going to be of much help with my leg all busted up, though.”

“As I said, I’m the runner and you’re the gunner. All you gotta do is hang back and shoot stuff when we tell you to.” Blair shrugs. “I mean, that skip tackling you last night was a total fluke.” 

“Yeah, I guess…” Sterling says, thinking that in the past two weeks as being nothing but the gunner, she’s been attacked by a skip and been forced to shoot another. If April knew about even half of that, she’d be marching down to Yogurtopia to put in Sterling’s notice herself. “Hey, can we maybe go get me a new phone from Best Buy at some point today? I’d rather not continue having a conversation with She-Devil.”

Blair chuckles. “Glad you’re finally seeing the light,” she says as Sterling rolls her eyes. “But yeah, sure. I was gonna stop by Yogurtopia anyway to see if Bowser and Yolanda have anything for us.”

“Great,” Sterling says to herself and begins the painstaking process of getting on her feet from this position without putting much weight on her bad foot--lying on the floor was a bad idea. “You wanna go then?”

“Now?” Blair asks, raising an eyebrow. “But the game’s not over yet!”

“Well, that’s too dang bad. You shouldn’t have stomped on my phone last night,” Sterling says pointedly.

“Oh my God, it’s not like I did it on purpose! It was dark and iPhones have gotten way too thin,” Blair complains but turns off the TV anyway. She leads the way out to the foyer, but they both stop when they come across their dad digging through the hall closet that definitely only contains jackets and boardgames.

“Uh, hi Dad. What are you doing?” Blair asks, cocking her head to the side.

“I’m lookin’ for that Thomas Kinkade Peter Pan puzzle y’all got for Christmas a few years back,” he replies, sounding a little loopy.

Sterling turns to Blair.

“You think he’s high on duck fumes again?”

“Oh, definitely. But that’s good because Mom definitely told him to not let us leave the house today.”

“So what, are we grounded? That’s ridiculous!”

“I know dude but the key takeaway here is that our only supervision is this version of Dad.”

“You’re so right.” Sterling smiles at him helpfully and grabs the puzzle in question from the top of the stack, handing it over. “There ya go, Daddy.”

“Aw, thank you, Princess!” he says, looking at the picture on the front while walking off to the dining room table.

“See what I mean?” Blair says, amused, and they make it out the front door without incident.

Sterling’s phone has just finished gathering her information from the cloud from when they arrive at Yogurtopia. “Thank God for technology. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d lost my pictures,” she says, scrolling through and smiling at all of the couple's selfies of her and April dating back to Christmas 2020. And the one of her and Blair as Christmas elves with Santa’s sidepiece (Yolanda), a fun reminder of what was hands down the most fun bounty they ever collected. Seeing it now, when Sterling knows what has to happen, is enough to make her feel almost conflicted.

“You got any pictures of Little Luke on there?” Blair asks, waggling her eyebrows, and Sterling quickly realizes what she means.

“Oh God no! And even if I ever did, I would have deleted them a long time ago. Keeping your ex’s nudes feels like cheating when you’re about to get married,” Sterling firmly denies doing anything of the sort. Because even if she did ever request that sort of thing, it’s not like Luke would have even felt comfortable with it. The boy wears a swim shirt at the pool, for Pete’s sake.

“Really? Because I have a whole folder in my phone,” Blair says, pulling hers out. “You would not believe the birthmark Owen’s got. It looks like a little dick on a surprisingly big dick,” she starts to scroll for it, but as intrigued as Sterling is to see such a curiosity, she has to pass.

“Yeah, no thank you. I’ll just take your word for it,” she says, opening her door to get out of the car.

“Your loss. Now I’ll never tell you who has the biggest penis in our graduating class. I’ll give you a hint: Chess team.” Blair gets out and shuts her car door.

“Tyler Sorensen,” Sterling says nonchalantly, naming the only boy on the chess team she knows her sister at the very least made out with a few times. Though having this knowledge of his more intimate parts is more disconcerting than she’d thought. “Oh man, I didn’t need to know that.” She hobbles after Blair, who holds the shop door open for her.

“Seriously. Absolutely enormous,” Blair says as Sterling passes by her, laughing as Sterling shudders. “Hey there, Bowser. What’s crackalackin’?” she greets him, practically skipping up to the counter where their partner stands unamused at the register.

“Not much. Busy cleaning up the mess y’all made for me last night by breaking that skip’s glasses,” Bowser says pointedly at Blair.

“He broke Sterling’s phone! And Sterling! That means he doesn’t deserve to see 20/20 in a holding cell,” Blair says stubbornly.

“Blair...please promise me you’ll never be a cop, alright?” Bowser says, dead serious. “Anyway, I got y’all’s cut from Yolie right here,” he says, pulling out two wads of cash and handing them over. It’s nothing on the level of the $5000 they got from the armed computer hacker, but it’ll buy April her lightsaber.

“Great! You got anything else brewing?” Blair asks, pushing past Bowser to go into the backroom, and Sterling has no choice but to follow, actually quite glad she can sit on the couch in there.

“Well, now that you mention it,” Bowser says, following them in and closing the door behind him, “Do you remember Kendra St. John?”

Sterling and Blair rack their brains, the name sounding so familiar, but so much has happened in the last two years.

“Is that the con artist sales lady? The one with the lackey in the pink Caddy?” Sterling says finally, giggling at her own rhyme.

“Oh yeah! The one who got away and you, Bowser, wouldn’t let us go after her!” Blair says accusingly. “What about her?”

“Well, she seems to be back in Atlanta. I’ve got confirmed sightings, so I know it’s not her little assistant this time around. Since our last time going after her, she’s had three more phony businesses. The latest one is boxes of frozen meat that she claims are high-quality steaks, when in all actuality, you’re probably getting goat or guinea pig or whatever else that’s cheap and technically edible,” Bowser explains, showing the updated file on Kendra to the twins.

“That’s so dumb. All she’d have to do to that stuff is take it to the southern end of the state and tell the swamp people exactly what’s in the box. I guarantee she’d even make more money that way,” Sterling says.

“What do you need us to do?” Blair asks eagerly, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees.

“Slow your roll, there’s no ‘us’ happening except right in this room,” Bowser says, and Blair’s face falls while Sterling feels a twinge of relief. “Now, y’all are goin’ off to school in a few weeks anyway, and I think in light of Sterling’s injury, it might be best if the two of you take early retirement.”

“What?!” Blair shrieks. “You can’t do that to us! After all we’ve done for you, you’re just gonna get rid of us like one of Taylor Swift’s beards?”

Bowser shakes his head. “I have no goddamn idea what that means, but I’m not getting rid of y’all. You should know by now how much I care about you and it’s because of that that I have to end this. But we’ve had a couple of close calls recently and I could never forgive myself if something serious were to happen to either of you,” he explains, letting down his guard more than Sterling thinks she’s witnessed in a while.

“Aw, Bowser,” she says, feeling loved (and so relieved to not have to quit on her own accord).

However, Blair isn’t having it, because of course she isn’t. “This is bullshit. It’s not like the job hasn’t been dangerous this whole time.”

“Yeah, well, one of you wasn’t in a foot cast until recently,” he says, looking over at Sterling. “It’s a liability.”

Sterling nods. “Yeah, I know it is.” This is probably as good a time as any to come clean, as when she turns to Blair, she notices her sister is clearly on the verge of arguing with this and sighs. “Blair, I know it sucks to cut all of this short. I’ve had...the absolute best time of my life doing this with you. But all good things have to come to an end. I mean, I’m getting married in three weeks, and—”

“—And God forbid you do anything to upset Little Miss Susie Homemaker,” Blair says, rolling her eyes. “Don’t try to pretend this is anything other than what it is, Sterl. You’ve been gearing up to ditch me for your little wifey from the day you bought that damn ring.” Blair shakes her head and laughs in disgust.

Sterling clenches her fists, Blair’s smug attitude toward her impending marriage, but more importantly, April herself, hitting a nerve. “I can barely walk and my fiancée is concerned about me continuing to do the job that got me hurt in the first place. And you know what? I can’t blame her. She seems a lot more concerned about me than you.”

Bowser awkwardly backs toward the door. “Maybe I should just leave you girls to talk this out,” he says, leaving them to it.

Blair bites her lip and seems to be trying to contain herself from a bigger outburst. “I’m your sister. I have shared everything with you since the day we were born, and you know what? I never worried about losing you when you were with Luke. But April...she’s got you in her clutches and you seem too stupid to realize it. Don’t you get that she wants to drive a wedge between us?”

Sterling crosses her arms, knowing in her heart that that isn’t true; Blair just hasn’t witnessed April’s understanding side in the last few months. But now, Sterling is suddenly feeling an urge to say something she’s been holding in for a long time in the fear of hurting her sister’s feelings. “You’re a bad feminist!” she says, pointing her finger accusingly at Blair (who gasps). “You always talk about how women should be able to do what they want to do and love who they love, but when it comes to April, all you ever try to do is put her down.”

“Because before you started trying to stick your tongue down her throat at every opportunity, she used to do that to us. You may have selective memory, but I sure as shit don’t. Not when it’s blatantly obvious that April hasn’t changed at all. She’s the worst and she always has been, you’re just too...well, I’d call you pussy-whipped, but I know you aren’t getting any.”

Sterling sees red and launches herself at Blair, frenzied hands flying. “You don’t fucking talk about her like that!” The swear leaves her lips easier than she ever thought possible as she smacks at Blair. “You’re just jealous because you don’t have anyone!” It’s something Sterling would never say in any other circumstance, but she’s not exactly thinking about sparing Blair’s feelings right now.

“Yeah, well, if I were with a guy who acts even a little like April, I sure as fuck wouldn’t marry him ,” Blair says defiantly, shoving at Sterling to keep her from landing any fade shots, “And what the hell would you know about feminism? You’ve spent your whole life under the command of Dad, and instead of going out and doing something great, you’re settling down at eighteen with someone else who is going to do nothing but tell you what to do for the rest of your life!”

Sterling breathes through her teeth. “You are such a hypocrite. How many times did I get ignored by you for one of your stupid boyfriends, and they weren’t even the love of your life; April is mine. You don’t even know how to be in love.” This has been something she’s despised since they were preteens. Blair has never had a problem with casting her aside, but God forbid she has to share any of Sterling’s time or attention.

“I cannot believe I agreed to be a part of this ridiculous spectacle that you call a wedding,” Blair says dejectedly, tears actually beginning to fall from her eyes. “All I’m doing is watching how, little by little, you care less about me and more about her. She’s consuming you, Sterling. She wants to change the parts of you that I love the most and you’re just letting her!”

“I’m growing up, Blair!” Sterling snaps. “We’re not the same person! We can’t just pretend like we’ll always be the same little twins who would sleep in each other’s beds during thunderstorms. We need our own lives and I thought you accepted that when you decided to go to UNC.” Sterling still vividly remembers her heart shattering when Blair broke the news to her that she couldn’t turn down a scholarship there when UGA doesn’t even have a competitive lacrosse team. She understood why it had to happen, but she never thought she’d see the day that having a few hundred miles between them could be a good thing. Until now, that is.

“I wanted one last summer where we could just be us, and you couldn’t even give me that because you’ve been too caught up in April’s web. And one day, you are going to finally see her for what she is: a cruel, selfish person who only likes you because you’re the first girl dumb enough to get with the most homophobic lesbian in the history of the world.” Blair is breathing heavily, having managed to say all of that in one breath. 

Sterling loses it again, ignoring the pain it causes her ankle to tackle Blair to the floor, punching away—though certainly not as hard as she could—and earning a few slugs of her own in return. “I hate you!”

“I hate you more!” Blair shouts, pulling Sterling’s hair.

Through the pain and the blind rage, Sterling hears Bowser and Yolanda talking from the doorway.

“Uh, should we stop this?” Bowser asks, sounding unsettled, and Sterling supposes he has every right to be once she bites Blair’s arm to get her to stop pulling her hair.

Yolanda can only scoff at this suggestion. “Dios mío, no! You do not wanna get in the middle of a girl fight unless you want your eyes gouged out.”

“Fair enough...this reminds me of you and Michelle, just with less Spanish,” Bowser says, still seeming uncomfortable with the idea of letting Sterling and Blair duke it out any longer, but he doesn’t have to worry about that once Sterling gets tired of the nonsense and breaks away to get on her feet, smoothing her hair.

“You know what, Blair? I’m done! I’m done with your terrible attitude, I’m done with the fact that you aren’t even trying to like April. I’m done with all of it!” Sterling’s chest is heaving as she stares at Blair belligerently.

Blair chuckles, standing as well. “You know what, fine. I’m done too. I’m done with your stupid wedding circus. I’m done as your maid of honor, I quit.”

“You can’t quit because I’m firing you! You’re the last person I’d want up there with me anyway since you can’t even support me as my twin,” Sterling says, scrabbling for an insult to make Blair hurt the way she’s hurting right now.

“Well, I’m not even your twin, so that works out just fine by me,” Blair says coldly, bumping into Sterling’s shoulder as she passes her and walks out of the stock room and—Sterling can only assume—the yogurt shop in general.

What just transpired was worse than any scenario Sterling could have ever anticipated. If she had been throwing barbs at Blair, then Blair had caught the last one and thrown it right back into Sterling’s heart.

For a moment, Sterling can’t even focus on her own pain because Bowser’s froyo machine sounds wheezy and on its last legs. 

“Hey, why don’t you sit down, Bowser will get you some water.” Yolanda is talking in a low voice and steering Sterling towards the couch but weirdly, the wheezing doesn’t get quieter. If anything, it’s getting louder.

Then it hits her, Sterling is the one making that sound. It feels like she’s trying to breathe around an axe lodged in her chest.

“I-I have to go,” she stammers finally, standing up despite Bowser and Yolanda’s silent protests. She has to get out of this room. She has to get out of here.

Sterling’s all the way to the parking lot when she realizes that Blair has left her stranded without a ride home. Her hands are shaking as she pulls out her phone to call April, who thankfully answers on the first ring.

“Sterl, you better have a good explanation for why you aren’t at home resting,” she says without so much as a hello, but her helicopter fiancee act is actually somewhat comforting right now.

“I’m at Yogurtopia. Can you come get me?” Sterling asks in a small voice.

To her relief, April seems to sense that this is not the time to ask questions. “I’m on my way.”

“Thank you,” Sterling says and hangs up the phone, putting it in her pocket. She knows it’ll be a few minutes until April gets here, even if she speeds, but she can’t bring herself to go back inside and be pitied. So she limps over to the mural wall and slides down it into an almost fetal position, hugging her knees to her chest and trying to not cry in public.

It’s only when Sterling gets into the truck and April asks her what happened that she finally fully allows herself to break down into nothing but tears and sobs. All her life, she and Blair have been a package deal--they were even born on the same leap day, after all--and thinking that that time has come to an end has left Sterling feeling as if she’s had half of her heart torn away.

“You don’t have to tell me what happened,” April says reassuringly, pulling her into a hug and rubbing her back. “But if you did, I think I’d probably be in a better position to help?”

Sterling sniffles and pulls away to wipe at her eyes. “I don’t think this can be helped,” she says and breaks down crying again.

April sighs and puts the truck in gear, pulling out onto the road. “Well, at the very least, I could try to make you feel better?” She sneaks a glance over at Sterling and offers her a cautious smile.

All Sterling can think is this is not the succubus demon her sister seems to think she is. She’s seen April at her worst, but she’s also seen how capable she is of showing a level of compassion nobody would expect from her. 

“Well...I think our wedding parties might be a little uneven now,” Sterling says finally, really not wanting to have to elaborate further.

“Blair? Because you quit your job?” April asks, and Sterling nods. “Well, as I’ve told you before, you guys will work it out. You’re too close not to.”

“This time was different,” Sterling says, looking for the package of kleenex she knows her dad keeps in the glove compartment. “We both said some things that I don’t think can be taken back.” She blows her nose into a tissue, making a sound like a baby elephant. “She said things about you that can’t be taken back,” she adds and watches April’s facade of being the loving and supportive future spouse drop for just a millisecond.

April straightens her posture in her seat. “Well, it’s no secret that she and I don’t exactly see eye to eye. But I’m a big girl and at the end of the day, I don’t want Blair’s distaste for me to come between the two of you. I don’t know if my conscience could handle it.” She drives past the turnoff into Sterling’s family’s gated community, so wherever they’re going is officially a mystery now. “Plus, I know that one Wesley Twin without the other is like...Diet Coke without Mentos.” At Sterling’s look of bewilderment, April elaborates, “Which is to say that on your own, you’re safer and certainly more palatable, but the chemical reaction that comes from the two of you is chaotic and classic. The world would be a little less fun without it.”

Sterling thinks this weird analogy is perhaps the first time April has spoken positively about her and her sister’s relationship, but it’s too late to make any difference, and the mention of being a twin when they both know she is not has her feeling gutted all over again, but she doesn’t want to let that be known to April. “Can I be the Diet Coke in this equation?” she asks in an attempt to lighten the mood as April pulls into the parking lot of a playground, currently devoid of children.

“You can be whichever you want, Sterl,” April says, parking and killing the engine.

“What are we doing here?” Sterling asks but gets no answer as April gets out of the truck and makes a beeline for the large swing set. Seeing as she apparently has no choice, Sterling gets out and follows her, taking a seat in the swing beside her fiancée as she starts swinging her legs back and forth to build momentum.

“Remember when you’d have to push me because my legs were too short for me to swing high?” April reminds her of a time so very far-removed from now.

“Not like they’re much longer now…” Sterling grumbles, planting her good foot in the wood chips beneath her and slowly rocking back and forth.

April laughs one unamused, “Ha,” but smiles to herself, and then, absolutely bewildering to Sterling, starts to list off names every time she swings forward. “Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes…”

“April, why are you naming presidents?” Sterling asks, smiling, despite herself, for the first time since the yogurt shop.

“Republican presidents,” April corrects her, and it clicks in Sterling’s head what she’s doing. “James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt…” April continues, smirking down at her as she’s now begun swinging as high as possible without assistance.

“Why are you doing this?” Sterling asks again, undeniably impressed that April apparently did manage to memorize them all in fifth grade—she even remembered Chester Arthur, and nobody remembers Chester Arthur.

“It’s distracting you, isn’t it?” April asks, stilling her legs and allowing herself to slowly come to a halt—Sterling supposes she’s not about to use the brake method when she’s wearing good shoes, as opposed to the light-up Skechers she used to rock.

“A little, I guess,” Sterling admits, nodding. “But it also reminds me that I was such a jerk to you as a kid, all because Blair told me to.” In her 20/20 hindsight, she knows now that Blair would have never been okay with her relationship with April, no matter what the circumstances were.

“Well it’s a good thing I’m a very forgiving person,” April says without a hint of irony, and Sterling scoffs. “What?”

“You are the least forgiving person!” Sterling says, in disbelief that she even has to.

April rolls her eyes. “Okay, fine, I’m forgiving when it comes to you,” she specifies, begrudgingly. “Why did you have to go do that today, by the way? The last thing we need is you potentially hurting yourself worse.”

“Because it needed to be done.” Sterling shrugs. “Plus I really needed to get a new phone and Blair took the opportunity to stop by and talk to Bowser. How did the stuff with the wedding coordinator go?” She needs another distraction and for once, mundane wedding details sound like the most enticing topic of conversation ever.

“It went well. I just had to finalize the catering situation since your mom and dad said we had to find something cheaper for the rehearsal. You liked that one Italian place we tried way back when, right?” April asks, seeming pleasantly surprised to have not had to bring this up herself.

“It was great, yeah,” Sterling says, barely remembering their preliminary candidates at all, save for that place’s tiramisu. “Hey, April?”

“Yeah?” she asks, finally coming to a complete stop.

“You think we’re going to be good at being married, right?” Sterling is beginning to doubt her own ability to be a good wife when she can’t even be a good sister and she’s been trying at that for eighteen years.

“Oh, of course not,” April answers a little too quickly. “But, I think we’re awesome at loving each other,” she says like a bigger cheesehead than a Green Bay Packers fan. “That has to count for something, right?”

“You’re such a dork,” Sterling says, swinging to the side to bump into April’s hip. As much as Sterling loves her sister and is completely devastated by the turn of events that transpired today, she knows in her heart that nothing in the world, not even appeasing Blair, could make her give this up. “Have you written your vows yet?”

“Obviously.” April narrows her eyes at Sterling. “Why? You’ve done yours, right?”

“No reason,” Sterling lies, thinking of the notebook she has hidden in her bedside drawer that contains more half-written, crossed-out sentences than completed ones. So far nothing has sounded right in her many attempts to put all her promises for April into words. And obviously, a simple, ‘I promise to not cheat on you and to not burn our future house down while cooking eggs’ could never suffice. “I’m just worried about sounding dumb, is all.”

“As long as you show up and proclaim your undying love for me in front of all of our friends and family, I won’t think you sound dumb,” April says reassuringly. “But also, if you need someone to peer review what you have…”

“I can’t let you proofread my vows! They’re for you!” Sterling states the obvious, causing April to giggle.

“Was worth a shot,” she says, standing up from the swing and coming to stand in front of Sterling, putting her hands on the chains of the swing just above Sterling’s. “But I’m serious, Sterl. Marrying you is the most important part of all of this.”

“Glad we can agree on that,” Sterling says, smiling as April leans down to kiss her gently. “So, how badly did my mom chew you out for sleeping in my room last night?”

April groans. “Well, I got a firm talking to about obeying house rules and also for not going to get them when you came home injured.”

“That’s it?” Sterling asks, thinking April’s reaction to it doesn’t line up with her explanation.

“And I was told to guard my virginity and wait to be ‘activated’ on my wedding night.” April does not need to say anything more.

“Ew!” Sterling shudders. “Why she thinks that’s an acceptable word to use concerning vaginas, unused or not, is beyond me.”

“It’s probably because speaking in terms that make it sound like a new cell phone is easier for her mind to compute than you or me, let alone the two of us, having sex,” April explains logically. “And with that said, it still makes me veeery uncomfy.” She looks off into the distance for comedic effect, and it works to a certain extent, as Sterling starts to laugh, leaning into April’s chest, shoulders shaking, until she realizes she isn’t laughing anymore.

“Hey, it’s okay,” April whispers in an attempt to comfort her, holding her tight. “Everything is going to be alright.”

Sterling doesn’t see how that’s possible considering she’s being forced to choose between her two favorite people in the world, and this is only exacerbated by April being so uncharacteristically nice. “My sister doesn’t even want to be my maid of honor,” she sobs, slightly muffled, into April’s chest.

“Baby,” April coos, stroking Sterling’s hair lovingly. “You guys will work it out. I know you will because I’m not nearly lucky enough to have you all to myself without Blair’s meddling,” she says, probably only about three-quarters joking.

The momentary return to true April-ness is enough to make Sterling feel just a bit better, because she knows that this isn’t just April putting on an act to spare her feelings. She really does believe that Blair will come around. And if April believes it, then Sterling has to believe just as much.

April puts her hands on Sterling’s shoulders, urging her to look up, and when she finally does, Sterling sees only love in those blue eyes as she sniffles. “There you are,” April says, wiping her tears away with her thumbs.

Sterling leans forward slightly and is grateful for April being such a good body language reader as she gives her exactly what she wants and needs in the form of a lingering kiss that is perhaps a bit soggier than usual.

“Things are going to be alright,” April says as she pulls away, taking Sterling’s face gently in her hands. “I say that with the utmost confidence.”

Sterling’s never been one to argue too much with her fiancée’s level of knowledge, especially when it comes to her own heart. April’s far too smart. “I believe you,” she says, nodding. “I just don’t know how long it’ll take.”

“Neither do I. But until then, you’ve obviously got me, and I’ve. Got. You.” With each of the last three words, she plants a kiss on Sterling’s forehead and both cheeks. “Because I love you more than I love stability in my life.”

“That much?” Sterling asks, honestly surprised as April nods. “Okay, well, I love you more than I love...cake batter froyo,” she says, as it’s truly the only thing she can think of at the moment. Cake batter froyo is incorruptible goodness, though April seems to disagree as she chuckles.

“Nice comeback, Slick,” she says sarcastically, but she’s still smiling as if she finds it endearing anyway, which was all Sterling was aiming for. “Do you want to go home now?” she asks, holding out her hand for Sterling to take.

Sterling nods silently and gets up from the swing, enjoying the feeling of April’s impossibly soft hand in hers as they return to the truck just as a minivan full of kids and their tired-looking mother show up to unleash havoc upon the playground.

“Looks like we’re getting out of here just in time,” April whispers. “Though I’m sure that might be us in a few years if you have anything to say about it.”

Sterling giggles, as even someone such as herself, who loves children, has their limits for what they can handle in emotionally fraught times like these. “I dunno. Maybe we should just skip the sibling drama and have one we can spoil rotten,” she says, knowing this is exactly what April wants, but only somewhat meaning it herself. Even when they’re fighting, she loves her sister.

“In ten to fifteen years, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” Sterling nods, going to the passenger side and climbing up into the truck, wincing as she has to put all of her weight onto the boot for a second or two. “Okay, maybe you were right about not leaving the house today.”

“Of course I was. But it’s too late to do anything about it now,” April says, reaching across to rub Sterling’s leg. “So, poor baby.”

“Did you get me a burrito bowl?” Sterling asks in a whiny voice, only now remembering her lunch request from over an hour ago.

April rolls her eyes. “Yes, but it’s definitely cold by now.” She removes her hand from Sterling’s leg and starts up the truck.

“That’s okay,” Sterling says, knowing that a cold burrito bowl is only a slight downgrade from a warm one. It’s not like the flavors change.

“And I definitely stress-ate the chips and guac I got you when I came home to find you gone,” April admits sheepishly.

“Well, it’s the thought that counts,” Sterling says, unable to be mad about April finally indulging in something unhealthy for the first time since they bought their wedding dresses. She can’t wait to finally be married so they can eat their weight in weird Star Wars food on their honeymoon...and if there was ever any doubt about how much she loves her soon-to-be wife, her own genuine desire to try a Ronto Wrap should clear that up.

“Also, I was already scolded today, so you’re on your own when it comes to facing your mother,” April adds, to which Sterling nods.


“Awesome,” April says, smiling as she puts the truck into gear. “So, uh, how come your dad was just kinda staring at a pile of puzzle pieces when we came home?”

Sterling scoffs. “You don’t wanna know.”

Chapter Text

April’s up early the morning after Sterling and Blair’s big blowup. As sad as it is to see the Wonder Twins fighting, it’s not going to change the fact that she is getting married in less than three weeks and there is still so much to do.

“Sterl, you up?” she asks after knocking a few times on Sterling’s bedroom door.

“Yeah,” Sterling replies, sounding less than enthused by this fact, though April supposes she can’t blame her after what happened yesterday.

April opens the bedroom door to absolute darkness, save for the small amount of light managing to stream through the cracks in the closed curtains. “Honey, you’re just feeding into the bad thoughts by wallowing in darkness,” she says, crossing the room while treading carefully to avoid stepping on any clutter that may be on the floor. “And you know how your mom feels about letting in natural light during the day,” she reminds her just before throwing open the curtains and letting the light of the beautiful summer day stream in.

Sterling hisses like a vampire and throws the covers over her head. “The light! It burns!” she yells dramatically, muffled.

“Oh, stop that,” April says, rolling her eyes and going to sit on the edge of Sterling’s bed. “You need to get out of this room and do something, anything productive to get your mind off things.”

Sterling sighs and gets out from under the covers to sit up in bed, squinting her eyes. “Okay, well, can I just tag along with you today? You’re already dressed nice so that probably means you’re going somewhere,” she says, making a keen observation of the fact that April has put on one of her dresses usually reserved for church. 

“You think I look nice?” April asks, blushing just a bit.

“Absolutely ravishing,” Sterling assures her. “So can I come with you?”

As much as April would like her to, especially if it means pulling her out of this funk, she has one very expensive reason why she can’t have Sterling present for at least one of this morning’s errands. “I’m having brunch with my aunt but unfortunately before that, I’m picking up our wedding bands from the jeweler and then I’m purchasing a few things I’d prefer you didn’t see just yet,” she explains, to Sterling’s clear disappointment. The girl does love her brunch. 

“Well, I can just wait in the car while you’re in the mall?” she suggests, looking much like a puppy, which is fitting considering she’s asking April to treat her like a dog with a neglectful owner on a day that is supposed to get up to 100 degrees.

“But you and I can try to aim for a date night tonight? No going out with your ankle after yesterday, but I could always stop by the store and get the things necessary for a romantic night in with dinner and a movie?” she suggests.

Sterling nods. “That actually does sound really nice.”

April smiles and claps. “Great. Then I will see you-” she leans in and gives Sterling a quick peck on the lips “-Tonight. Don’t get into any more trouble while I’m gone,” she says, getting up from the bed, despite Sterling’s protests.

“No promises,” she says and turns over on her side as if she intends to go back to sleep for a little while.

April supposes that will have to do, and she leaves the room, making sure to leave the door cracked. If Debbie wants to make her child get up at a decent hour upon seeing her still sleeping, that is her prerogative. As for the other one...well, April thinks she heard her come home late, and now her bedroom door is closed and looks to be even worse lit than Sterling’s before April’s intervention. But Blair isn’t her fiancée, so April simply continues downstairs.

“Good morning, Anderson,” she greets her future father-in-law, who’s on his way out in hunting gear.

“Good morning, April. How’s Sterling holding up?” he asks as he puts on his orange hat.

“As good as to be expected. How long do you think she and Blair will go without speaking?” April replies, grabbing her purse and keys from the table near the door and going outside with her future father-in-law.

“Hard to say. The last time they fought like this, I think they were ten and had a crush on the same boy,” he says, shrugging. “But if I know my girls, you just gotta have faith that they love each other more than they love being petty.”

“I hope you’re right,” April says, thinking Hell must have well and truly frozen over if she’s actually rooting for the return of having to share her fiancée with her sister. With that, she continues along to the driveway where she last parked the truck and gets lost in her own thoughts as she begins the drive to the mall.

There’s more than enough time between now and the wedding for Sterling and Blair to reconcile, but, on the off chance that that doesn’t happen, she supposes Luke will be bumped up to Man of Honor—or Best Man, or whatever label they decide on—which would be suitably awkward for all involved. But if it turns out to be the case, he’ll need to be informed with enough notice to write what will undeniably be the least inspired reception speech of all time. April makes a mental note to text him the bare bones gist of this if Sterling and Blair don’t reconcile within the next few days.

She reaches down to turn on the radio, smiling when the 80s station she last left it on is playing Heaven is a Place On Earth and she sings along (loudly) until she parks the truck outside of the Lenox Square Neiman Marcus. The jeweler is deeper into the mall, but aside from this being the closest entry to it, she also knows it’s the best place to stop on her way out for a little post-wedding present for Sterling.

It’s still early, so the mall isn’t buzzing with people yet as she makes her way to the jeweler. In fact, they’re just opening their security gate for the morning when she spots it there across from J.Crew. She walks a little slower so as to not make herself seem too eager when she enters the store and goes up to the counter.

The well-dressed older gentleman smiles at her. “What can I help you with today, Miss?” He asks.

“I’m picking up an order for April Stevens,” she says, and he nods, going into the back room and returning a moment later with three boxes that he lays down on the counter, opening the first to reveal Sterling’s wedding band.

“Diamond Wave vintage style wedding band, yellow gold, size seven,” he says for clarification, and April nods. He opens the second box, containing April’s band, which manages to take her breath away even more in person than it did online. Truly the perfect compliment for her engagement ring. “Adrianna Papell Diamond Marquise in rose gold, size six,” the jeweler says, and she nods again, which just leaves the third box, which even he seems excited to open. “Vera Wang Love Collection oval diamond three-stone engagement ring, size seven,” he says, actually picking up the box and holding it out for April to take it in.

“Wow,” she says, turning it over to see it from every angle.

“You’ll note the collection’s signature blue sapphires set into the bezel. They signify faithfulness and everlasting love,” the jeweler explains as if they weren’t a major selling factor in why April picked this ring in particular. He points to her own engagement ring in its permanent place on her left ring finger. “I can only assume you bought this for the lucky bride who got you that?”

April smiles and nods. “You assume correctly.”

The jeweler clasps his hands together, gushing. “Ugh, I love a pair of brides with excellent taste,” he says and goes to ring her up.

April hands over her debit card, knowing this will wipe out a good chunk of her account’s remaining balance, but getting Sterling a ring she can be proud of is well worth it, especially after she’s gone almost the whole engagement without one.

The jeweler places all three boxes into a bag along with her receipt. “You have a marvelous day, young lady,” he says, handing it over.

“I most certainly will, thank you,” April says, taking the bag and heading back in the direction of Neiman Marcus with a pep in her step. Obviously, she and Sterling have been engaged since the moment she let Sterling put a ring on her finger, but everything feels so much more real now that she’s holding the rings they will say their vows with. And as far as Sterling’s engagement ring goes, tonight during their dinner and movie date seems as good a time as any to present it to her. She’ll have to be sure to cook something extra special.

April’s still running over recipes in her head as she follows the overhead signs in Neiman Marcus to the lingerie section. While she and Sterling both received plenty of this stuff at their bridal shower, she always intended on taking it upon herself to pick out exactly what she would be wearing for the wedding night. 

She doesn’t have much time, but thankfully she already has a vision for what she’s going for, so by the time she’s checking out and putting another hefty charge on her card, she’s still got ten minutes to get to the brunch place only five minutes away. Though for April, that means she’s practically running late, which she feels to her core when she arrives at the restaurant and is taken out to the patio where Franny, dressed like a proper southern woman, big sun hat and all, is already seated...with April’s mother.

April has half a mind to turn around and walk right back out, but unfortunately, Franny spots her before she can bolt—and she knows her aunt would chase her down. So April forces a smile and goes up to the table.

“Hello, Aunt Franny,” she greets only her aunt, but her mother is quickly getting on her feet.

“Oh, April, sweetheart, look at you!” Mary coos as she pulls April in for a crushing and completely non-consensual hug, which she must sense when April goes stiff as a board and Mary lets her go. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you,” she says, awkwardly sitting back down as April does.

“No, I don’t, because you haven’t so much as texted me since you dropped off my stuff at the Wesleys’ house,” April says passive-aggressively, and Franny pours out a champagne flute of mimosa from a carafe in the middle of their table.

“Here, Sweetie. I think we all will want a drink for this,” she says, handing it to April, which is the least she can do considering she lured her into this trap.

“Francine, she is a child,” Mary says almost instinctively, reaching for the glass, but April holds it out of her reach.

“I think I would like the mimosa, actually,” April says sweetly and takes a sip as her mother’s face falls. They both know that after the past almost four months, Mary has no business telling April what she can and cannot do anymore.

This is going to be a very long meal.

Mary and April manage to make it until the waiter brings around their entreès without saying another word to each other, but by this point, Franny has clearly had enough.

“God damn it, will the two of you stop acting like petulant children and say the things you so obviously want to say?” she asks as she cuts into her steak and eggs.

April shakes her head. “I have nothing I want to say to her,” she says, and it’s only a lie in that she has nothing she wants to say to her mother that can be considered brunch-appropriate. She takes a bite of her fancy avocado toast and raises an eyebrow at her mother as if daring her to have the audacity to pretend like she’s owed a damn thing.

Mary sighs as she pokes around at her shrimp and grits. “I am sorry, alright? Do you honestly think I wanted to let your father do that to you?”

April shakes her head. “I don’t, actually, which only makes it that much worse that you let him,” she says and sips at her mimosa—the original one that Franny poured her, which she’s only been slowly nursing. 

Mary lowers her voice into a whisper and leans in closer to April in order to be heard. “You know as well as anyone that it’s not that simple with him. I...I tried talking to him, but he was just so angry.” Spoken exactly like a woman who’s spent the last 25 years or so being cut down by a tyrant, and April is finding it hard to maintain the same level of anger she had going into this. 

It’s hard when all she can feel is pity for the one other person in the world who has even the faintest idea of what it’s like to go through life as April has. “Does he know about my wedding?”

Mary nods. “We got your invitation in the mail and he hadn’t decided before...well, you know your father was arrested again, right?”

April scoffs. “Yes, thanks to my gym friends. You think these charges will stick?”

“I do, unfortunately.” Now it’s Mary’s turn to take a long drink of her mimosa. “They say they might give him a deal if he reveals his co-conspirators, but even then, he’ll be in a federal prison for at least six months.”

“And thank God for that,” Franny scoffs.

“John is my husband and April’s father, Francine,” Mary chastises her, but Franny is entirely unbothered.

“The man is scum and I’ve told you that since the day you brought him home,” Franny says matter-of-factly. “If he hadn’t played a small part in creating our April, I would say I wished you never married him.”

April can’t help but chuckle at that but her mother seems to be electing to ignore her sister moving forward. “Mama, is there a reason why you wanted to meet up today?” April asks, wanting to get to the point already.

“Well, I think if there’s any sort of silver lining to come of this most recent arrest, it’s that it has given John some time for self-reflection,” Mary begins. “And because of that, he would like it if you went to see him.”

This is as confusing for April as it is almost funny. Her father made it pretty darn clear how he feels about her, and the idea of him doing a complete 180 after being in prison for all of a few days is laughable at best and infuriating at worst.  Apparently, four months of not speaking to his daughter has got nothing on four days locked in a cage. She scoffs but otherwise has nothing to say to this.

“My sentiments exactly,” Franny says, shaking her head. “You don’t owe him anything, April so by no means should you feel obligated to go see him.”

“But,” Mary interjects, “I know it would mean the world to him if you two could bury the hatchet, so I’ve put you on his visitor list at the federal penitentiary for whenever you’re ready.”

April’s not sure if she’ll ever be ready to face that man again after everything he’s put her through, but a part of her wonders if she’d be a fool to turn down a chance at making peace with her father. All she’s ever wanted was to be accepted by him for who she is—heck, she’d accept in spite of at this point—so isn’t this her chance to do that?

But maybe it’s just her serious daddy issues talking.

“Just think about it,” Mary says, and April nods. “So with that said, I believe the mother of the bride has yet to see her daughter’s engagement ring…” Mary smiles mischievously and April rolls her eyes, but holds out her hand for her mom to see.

“Oooh, rose gold. I think Sterling might be a keeper,” Mary says, leaning in to get a better look. “Much prettier than the first ring your father got me.” She gestures with her own ring hand, which has been adorned with a large Tiffany princess cut diamond since a few years before April was born, having replaced a silver and cubic zirconia ring that—as legend has told—John bought on a complete whim before he had any money.

April, however, could never picture replacing her ring. No matter what she and Sterling do in life, it’ll always represent how far they’ve come, and truly, she doesn’t think even a crown jewel could replace the memory of Sterling’s only semi-disastrous, yet totally endearing, proposal.

“You’d have seen the ring a lot sooner if you’d just come to the bridal shower with me…” Franny mutters under her breath.

Mary takes April’s hand in her own. “I won’t pretend like I haven’t made huge mistakes, and I’ll understand if you can never forgive all of them, but I’m here today because I want to be there for you. For the wedding, for whatever you or...or Sterling ever need from me. Believe me when I say that I hate myself enough as it is for missing all of the things I already have. Please tell me one of the Wesleys recorded your valedictorian speech.”

April nods. “They recorded the whole ceremony. And Debbie helped me plan the whole wedding,” she can see how much both of these admissions pain her mother to hear, but by her own admission, it’s her fault that she missed them.

“April, I promise you that there isn’t another moment that I’ll miss because of who you are. Who you’ve always been,” the way Mary says this seems to confirm a suspicion April’s had for a long time—she’s always known. “You’re my sweet baby girl and you always will be.”

April can’t help herself. She’s getting up from her seat and hugging her mother tightly before she can think better of it. “I missed you, Mama,” she says into Mary’s shoulder as she tries her best (and fails) not to cry.

“I know, April. I missed you too,” Mary says, rubbing her back in the same comforting motion she has used since April was a baby, only stopping when April realizes she’s making a scene in public and pulls away to sit down and wipe her eyes with an unused napkin. “And, despite everything he’s done, your father wanted me to pass along a message to you from him.”

“And what would that be?” April asks, feeling like she’s pretty tapped out on forgiveness for the day, especially when she so vividly recalls the night of prom.

Mary sighs. “He said, ‘I love you, Padawan,’ and something about the know I never cared for those movies.” Mary shrugs, but April supposes she got the most important part of the message across.

John is apparently playing dirty because if there is one thing in the universe that could make April miss her dad, it’s the nickname that makes her feel like his shining star again.

“So, with that settled,” Franny says, clearly wanting to get the topic of conversation away from John, “April, we need to talk about that truck you’ve been driving around.”

“It’s Anderson’s hunting truck that he was kind enough to lend me, seeing as I don’t have a car anymore,” April says, though she agrees it isn’t exactly her style.

“I’ve spoken with your father about that too, actually,” Mary says. “Your father and I agree that you should get the Lincoln back, seeing as it was always a present for you.”

The thought of returning to the comfort of her Lincoln Aviator hybrid after months of having to climb up into the too-tall truck is enough to almost make April cry again. “But who’s to say Daddy won’t just take it back when he gets out?” She must cover her bases before she gets her hopes up. Though she has to admit it would solve the big problem of her and Sterling being without a car at UGA after Sterling promised the Volt to Blair.

“Your dad and I are going to transfer everything over so that it’ll be entirely in your name,” Mary says as if this isn’t already too good to be true. “So you can come to get it from the house whenever suits you. You could even move back in, if only until the wedding?”

Going home was all April wanted months ago, but now she can’t picture not living under the same roof as her fiancée, even if only for a few weeks. “I don’t know if I’m there yet, Mama,” she admits and her mother’s face falls. “But I will get the car in a few days.” Mary seems to accept this as she nods, but April can tell something is still eating at her. “What? What is it?” she asks.

Mary sighs. “April, why are you getting married so young?” April groans, having now heard this from about a hundred different people, but Mary goes on. “You have so much time to get married later when you’re ready. I was quite a bit older than you and I don’t think I was ready then, either.”

“Ha! You’re damn skippy you weren’t,” Franny says, steak knife scraping against her plate as she cuts her food furiously.

“You’d be surprised by how quickly one grows up when they’re kicked out of their home,” April says pointedly. “But also, I love Sterling, and I’m going to marry her in three weeks, and I’m tired of people questioning that.”

“Well, it sure sounds like your mind's made up,” Mary says, clearly still processing her child being an engaged woman.

“It is.” April nods. “So if you could get me your RSVP back ASAP, that would be great because we have to get our final orders in to the caterer by Friday.” Of course, her mother could always tell her which of the three dinner options she wants right here and now, but with all the things April has on her mind about the wedding right now, she needs clear documentation for everything. Plus...a part of her needs the official confirmation that her mom is indeed coming to her wedding.

“I’ll have it in the mail by day’s end,” Mary agrees, sounding very much like her daughter’s mother.

“And what about a dress? Do you need me to go shopping with you? Because actually, Bridals By Lori--where we got our dresses--”

“Oh my goodness, did y’all get on an episode of Say Yes to the Dress?!” Mary interrupts April.

“Unfortunately, no, but as I was saying, they have a very good selection of mother of the bride dresses. The one Debbie got is this fabulous gold one, and--”

April is interrupted for the second time, this time by Franny. “--Sweetie, ya need to talk a little slower or smoke’s gonna start comin’ out your ears,” she says, making a simmer down motion with her hands.

April takes a deep breath, really hoping she can finish a damn sentence finally. “--And I’m sure we could find something equally great for you, but we’ll need to get a move on in case any alterations need to happen.”

Franny rolls her eyes. “April, I know your colors and I’d be more than happy to take my little sister to get her dress. You have enough on your plate as it is with the big day so soon.”

“So, so soon…” Mary says, sounding more than a little distressed, into her mimosa glass.

April grins, practically giddy as she squeaks, “I know!”

By all accounts, April should be at Trader Joe’s getting the necessary ingredients for seared scallops, risotto, and maybe a chocolate soufflé if the mood strikes her. She is all but proposing to her fiancée tonight, after all. But is she doing that right now? No.

No, she is currently sitting in Anderson’s truck outside of the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta, actually entertaining the idea of going in to say hi to the man who disowned her. She should just start the truck back up and go to the store and put aside any notion of being the bigger person. But God does she miss her Daddy.

“This is so fucking stupid,” April mutters to herself as she gets out of the truck and locks it with the keyfob. She steels herself, taking a deep breath, and walks up to the door, continuing on through the visitor security checkpoints until she’s finally brought to a room with glass dividers and phones like something out of the Shawshank Redemption.

“Have a seat here and they should bring him to you in a few minutes,” the prison guard says, gesturing to one of the seats.

April takes one look at the phone and turns back to him. “Can I maybe get a sanitizing wipe?” she asks, now upset about having to leave her purse and her precious Purell behind.

The guard looks at her and rolls his eyes before walking off. Which April supposes is a no.

She sighs and takes a seat, making a mental note to not put the phone too close to her face and catch some kind of herpes. Though she must admit that focusing on the kind of bacteria that must live on a prison visiting room phone is easier to think about than the fact that she’s about to meet face to face with her father for the first time since he called her a rug muncher.

And just as she thinks of that fun little detail, there he is, cliche orange jumpsuit and all. April can’t help but notice that he has more facial hair than she’s ever seen on him and that he looks exhausted.

John sits in his chair on the other side of the glass and picks up his phone, so April takes a deep breath and does the same.

“Hi, Daddy,” she says, somewhat mad at herself for speaking first. She feels like it might make her seem too eager to mend things, and it’s not her who has anything to apologize for.

“Hey there, Little Padawan,” he says gently, a smile forming on his face. “I didn’t know if you would come.”

April sighs. “Yeah, well, Ephesians 4:32 and all that,” she says, though she doubts she has the capacity to be as forgiving as Christ, even if she did come here today.

John nods, seeming to accept this, though a part of April wonders if he even knows which verse she’s referring to. “Either way, I’m glad you did. The way we left things...I’m a big enough person to admit that I could have handled that better.”

April raises an eyebrow. “You admit you could have handled finding out I’m a lesbian better than slapping me and kicking me out of your family?” She notes the way he still flinches when she says the word ‘lesbian.’ This tells her that his days of self-reflection haven’t resulted in any legitimate miracles.

“Yes. It was just...shocking to see you like that, and I let my temper get the better of me. But I know excuses aren’t gonna do me any good at this point, so I’ll just get to the point and say that when it comes right down to it, I know you and your heart, and you matter more to me than your proclivities.” It’s perhaps the barest minimum show of acceptance any good father could muster up for their child, and yet April feels the tears prickling at her eyes anyway.

“I never wanted to hurt you, Daddy,” she says, crying a bit. “That’s why I never told you or Mama. But it’s not anything I could change...believe me, I tried.” April’s spent so many months living unabashedly as her authentic self that going back to the mental place of being sorry for who she is is like trying to put herself back into a box she’s outgrown.

“Please don’t cry, April. You don’t have to explain yourself to me anymore. People like you and I are fortunate to know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and if He can love sinners, then I can love my daughter...and it’s not like I’m much of a saint myself,” he looks around at his surroundings and sighs. “Though believe me when I say I’m paying dearly this time around.”

“Oh, Daddy,” April instinctively puts her hand up to the glass and feels oddly comforted when her father does the same, almost like holding her hand. “What have they been doing to you in here?” she asks, wondering now if John’s rough appearance is a result of more than just the usual stresses of being locked up.

“Well,” John says, leaning back in his chair a bit to share his plight, “We’ve got movie nights here every other night, but these peons always shut me down when I suggest A New Hope,” he says, disgusted, and April sees herself mirror his exact facial expression in the reflection of the glass.

“Philistines,” she curses.

John chuckles. “Yep, exactly. So uh, you see any good movies this summer? I know you always love a good and air-conditioned theater.”

April shakes her head. “I ordinarily would have, but I’ve been so busy with wedding stuff that I haven’t even managed to stay caught up on The Mandalorian.”

John looks down, making a face at the mention of the wedding. “So that invitation wasn’t just a prank to get a rise out of me?” he asks, already knowing the answer.

“Not even a little bit,” she says, holding up her hand to show off the ring, though this is the first time doing this particular action that she’s felt somewhat fearful of the reaction—not even announcing her engagement at the post-grad brunch.

John stares at it for a few moments before looking back up into April’s eyes. “Whatever happened to the ring I got you?” he asks finally, not even commenting on Sterling’s excellent taste.

April looks him in the eye as she pulls her necklace out from under her shirt to hold the purity ring up for John to see. “Right here,” she says.

John hums a sound of approval, but his face turns melancholy. “You know, it was always something I was looking forward to—walking you down the aisle on your wedding day.”

“To a man,” April says, thinking it necessary to make such a distinction.

John nods and openly admits, “Yes, to a man. When you were old enough.”

April rolls her eyes. “I already got the ‘too young to get married’ spiel from mom, so you can save your breath there,” she says point-blank.

“Alright, I will,” John agrees, but he clearly has more to say. “You’re right to say that age doesn’t matter, but...I think even you would agree that it should come down to how well you know someone.”

April frowns, unsure of where exactly he’s going with this. “Yes, of course, but I do know Sterling. Better than myself, more often than not.”

John seems distressed by something and seems to ponder whether he should even say what he’s thinking of. “April, before I tell you this, just know that I’m only telling you because I love you and I think you deserve to know who you’re marrying.”

April doesn’t know what he could possibly have over Sterling, but she simply cannot just walk away without hearing him out. “What are you talking about?”

John sighs and looks down at his hands in his lap. “Weeell, you remember when I was arrested on those false charges a couple years back?”

April feels almost numb as she walks through the front door of the Wesley house. She didn’t see Anderson and Debbie’s car in the driveway, meaning they probably aren’t home, and that’s just as well right now. She doesn’t announce her arrival to Sterling (or Blair, if she’s still here), she just continues up the stairs to her room, where she pulls out her suitcase from the closet and puts it on the bed.

She can hear the bath running in Anderson and Debbie’s bathroom and knows she at least has some time to do this as she begins to pack the essentials. Bras, underwear, pajamas, jeans, a few shirts, toiletries, contact solution, contacts, glasses, and feminine hygiene products because she thought she was being so smart scheduling the wedding for the week after her period. She guesses that probably doesn’t matter anymore.

The water is draining by the time she gets everything together and zips her bag shut. Figuring she wants there to be as little of a scene as possible, she takes it downstairs and puts it by the door. Though a part of her is hoping she won’t have to follow through with any of this; because what her father told her is absurd and was likely only something he came up with to get her to not go through with the wedding, right?

“April, is that you?” Sterling calls from upstairs.

“Y-yeah, it’s me,” April replies, trying to sound as normal as possible as she returns upstairs and catches Sterling in the hall, a long white bathrobe and walking boot on, with her hair hanging in wet, uncombed strands.

“Hey, what’s up?” Sterling asks, frowning as she clearly picks up on there being something amiss.

April doesn’t even know how to go about saying this. “Sterl, I want you to be perfectly honest with me, okay?” she says, and knows she just has to rip off the bandaid and hope that Sterling laughs in her face at coming up with such a ridiculous notion. 

Sterling nods her head earnestly. “Uh, yeah, of course.”

April takes a deep, steadying breath and asks the question that she knows could very well shatter her whole world. “Are you a bounty hunter and did you arrest my father two years ago?”

She sees Sterling’s whole body freeze up, and it’s enough of an answer for her.

“And did you or did you not try to comfort me back then like you had nothing to do with why I was hurting?” she asks, fury and pure devastation bubbling up to the surface in the form of confused tears. It’s the third time she’s cried today, but the only time she’s felt like it’s the direct result of something breaking inside of her.

“April,” Sterling starts to argue weakly, but April isn’t having it anymore.

“And did you seriously let me think that I was going crazy when I could tell that something was up with you?” Sterling’s lack of a defense is only letting April hit her stride. “You lied to me for two fucking years, and had the audacity to ask me to marry you and spend the rest of my life with you when I don’t even know who you are!”

“April, you know who I am. I’m the same person I’ve always been,” Sterling says, reaching out towards her, but April pulls away.

“No, do you know what you are, Sterling Wesley? You’re a liar. I should have never gone against my better judgment with you because you are just as fake and disingenuous as I always knew you were,” April reaches down to yank the engagement ring off of her finger, getting it off and taking in a deep, calming breath as she smiles, because of course, everything would end like this. She hands the ring to Sterling. “You can have this back. I don’t want to know how you got the money for it, but I agreed to wear it under false pretenses.” With that, she heads down the stairs with Sterling hot on her heels.

“April, April wait,” she says, panicked, especially when she spots the suitcase near the front door.

April removes the ring box from her back pocket, finding it almost funny now that, just this morning, she was so excited to see Sterling’s face when she gave it to her tonight. She sets the box down on the table beside the door. “You can keep this as well. I don’t want to see it or you ever again,” she says coldly, and walks out the door, pulling out her phone to order an Uber.

Chapter Text

The last time Sterling lost April did not hurt nearly this much. Granted, the last time, she didn’t have very long to dwell on it before she was kidnapped by her birth mother. But still, that time felt like her heart had taken a beating, and this...this feels like there’s a gaping hole in her chest where her heart used to be. Like the whole life she envisioned for herself and April now exists only in some alternate timeline where she wasn’t an idiot who thought keeping this secret could end any other way.

From the porch, she watches as April gets into the back of a rideshare, going God knows where, leaving Sterling with two questions. Where will April stay if not here, which she’d thought had been somewhat established to be her home over these last few months? And how did April find out?

A feeling of dread washes over Sterling as she realizes just who would have told April, and then that dread turns to rage as she goes back into the house, stomping up the stairs to Blair’s room and throwing open the door.

“Are you happy now? You got what you wanted,” she says, practically spitting the words as Blair stares at her from the bed, confused. “But even then, how could you tell her?!” Sterling had always thought that Blair wasn’t capable of this kind of genuine sabotage, at least not when it comes to her and her happiness, but after their big fight yesterday, anything is possible.

Blair rolls her eyes. “If this is about April finding out about us being bounty hunters, I swear to you, it wasn’t matter how I might feel about you and her,” she says, then grabs a remote from her bedside table

“If it wasn’t you, then how would you know about it?” Sterling asks, thinking it’s a real gotcha question, but Blair only raises an eyebrow.

“Because you guys just broke up like...right outside my door? I don’t live in a soundproof vault.”

Sterling can’t exactly argue with the logic behind that excuse, though it doesn’t change the fact that there are only about four people aside from them who know about their side hustle, and she somehow doubts that Bowser, Yolanda, or Terrence would have told April. Though that does leave…

“John fuckin’ Stevens…” Blair says, either reading Sterling’s mind or coming to the same conclusion at the same time.

“But how? Why? He’s in jail again, I thought…” Sterling says, thinking out loud. “Seriously, it would make a lot more sense if you told her because you never wanted us to get married in the first place and, as today certainly proved, me being revealed to be a lying scuzzball is a dealbreaker for her.”

“Gotta admit, I thought if anything, she was gonna leave you for the dapper lesbian friend. That would make the most sense,” Blair says, being completely unhelpful. “But I’m telling you, ‘twas not I who set fire to your relationship. I’m pretty sure you and whoever actually told her did a good enough job of doing that on your own.” With that, Blair hits play on the remote, and her stereo starts to blast heavy metal music, which would normally be enough to repel Sterling on its own, but just hearing her sister’s words is enough for Sterling’s heart to break again. 

She’d managed to stop the bleeding while allowing herself to be angry with Blair, but she knows at the end of the day, she has nobody but herself to blame for losing April. It really doesn’t matter how she found out the truth.

Without saying another word, Sterling turns around and walks down the hall to her room, shutting the door behind her and collapsing on the bed. 

She doesn’t know how she’s going to explain this to her parents. To them, April was happy as can be this morning, and now she’s gone and they are no longer engaged. And as much as Sterling would like to think that she’s learned her lesson regarding keeping secrets from those closest to her, she also knows that her parents would kill her if they knew the truth about the bounty hunting.

So, as if she hasn’t done more than enough of lying lately, she knows she’ll have to come up with another one. Unless she plans on telling them nothing at all. Though Debbie would sooner coerce the whole truth out of her, if that were the case, so she supposes a lie will have to do. Something to suitably paint her as the villain in this that she knows she is.

Doubting it’ll do her any good, she gets her cell phone from where she left it on its charger, and notices there’s an unread text from April from a few hours ago.

April 👰🦖: Gonna probably be a little late getting home, have to run to the store. If you have any requests from Trader Joe’s, let me know soon. Love you. XOXO 😘🤗

Sterling doesn’t know what could have possibly happened since then, but she never thought a day would come when an innocuous text from her fiancée—if she can even call her that anymore, but she cannot bear to put an Ex in front of it—would make her lowkey want to crawl into a hole and die.

Sterling weeps, wanting nothing more than for this day to have been a painkiller nap-induced nightmare.

Sterling 💋😍👰: I’m sorry. I don’t know if you can ever forgive me, but just know that I love you too, and I always will.

She tries to send the text, but it fails to bring up the notification that it’s been delivered, which, given April’s track record, probably means she’s blocked Sterling’s number, which feels a lot more final than what Sterling’s optimistic side had been telling her to believe.

It’s been over a week since April left. There’s been no contact, and her friends refuse to tell Sterling where she is. 

As Ezekiel put it in no uncertain terms when she tried to call him, “She’s our friend and you never were, so obviously I ain’t tellin’ you shit. Bye, Felicia.” So Sterling doesn’t feel inclined to necessarily file a missing person’s report, but she is still worried out of her mind, and she has nothing on her mother.

Debbie has been almost as much of a wreck as Sterling, alternating between being in denial of the fact that the wedding is likely not happening, and raging at her daughter. At this point, it’s likely she’s considering violating articles of the Geneva Convention (specifically the ones regarding torture) in retaliation for driving away her favorite child. Though Sterling supposes that’s preferable to whatever’s been going on with her father, who has been completely ignoring her aside from a few words here and there, mostly preferring to stay in his woodshop.

And then, of course, there’s Blair. She seems to be getting an unsettling amount of schadenfreude watching Sterling’s life completely fall apart before her very eyes.

If there’s one bit of good news, it’s that Sterling can feel her ankle getting better, but the physical pain has only been replaced with emotional and spiritual pain in its place. She hadn’t realized how much having April constantly around changed her; from the way she always plans on sharing any given package of Pop-Tarts, to using one particular scent of body wash because April would always linger around to smell it.

Without April, Sterling feels lost. She’s without purpose, without motivation, and most importantly, she’s without any kind of happiness whatsoever. April was the shining light in her life, and now she’s gone, and it’s entirely Sterling’s fault.

Sterling does take great pride in herself when she manages to get herself out of bed and bathed and fully clothed for the first time since April left, but that glimmer of positivity is taken from her the second she goes downstairs and hears the voice of her Aunt Cordelia in the kitchen. She hangs back, just listening to their conversation.

“So Debs, any big plans for you and Anderson’s first few days as empty nesters? I know Blair leaves for school a few days after the wedding, so it’s comin’ up quick,” Cordelia asks, and Sterling realizes her aunt must still be in the dark regarding their whole Runaway Bride situation.

Sterling hears a cupboard close, followed by the sound of a wine glass being put down on the counter before Debbie replies, “No, no big plans. I think we’re just looking forward to the peace and quiet,” she lies through her teeth.

“Well, you two should definitely come along with Deacon and me the next time we go down to Panama City,” Cordelia says, then immediately pivots to, “So where are Sterling and April going on the honeymoon again?” It’s almost like she realizes something is amiss and is trying to coax it out of Debbie.

“Disney World,” Debbie replies quickly, not biting. “April loves Star Wars.”

Cordelia chuckles. “It’s a good thing she’s too old and doesn’t swing that way or my DJ would be on her like white on rice, and I’m sure Sterling would hate the competition.”

“I don’t think she has to worry about losing any girls to your 12-year-old, Cordy,” Debbie says, but Sterling can tell she wants to add, “Because she already lost April anyway.”

“You’re probably right, though I must say, I do enjoy having him around. I don’t know what I’d do with myself if we just had Kristina. Did you and Anderson ever consider having more after the girls?” It’s this type of nosy stuff that is the reason why Cordelia is Mother’s favorite daughter-in-law.

Debbie laughs out loud. “Oh dear God, no. We only ever planned on the one, but we got the BOGO deal,” she says. It’s a tired old joke that Sterling’s heard too many times in her life, though Blair used to say it only before she knew how much of a true statement it is.

Sterling supposes she can’t put this off anymore and goes into the kitchen, where she’s greeted by Cordelia sitting at the counter and her mother drinking red wine when it’s not even eleven yet. “Hi there, Aunt Cordelia,” she says, trying to put on her best face as she goes to give her aunt the obligatory hug she demands every time they see each other. “What brings you here today?”

Cordelia shrugs. “Just wanted to stop by to check in on my favorite nieces and see how the wedding stuff’s coming along. It’s what? Two weeks away now?” Cordelia asks as Debbie makes a zipper lips gesture behind her back.

“Uh, about a week and a half, actually,” Sterling replies, though she’s not as good as her mother when it comes to suppressing her emotions, and she is trying very hard not to cry.

“Gosh, you must be so excited! I know I was practically buzzing in the lead-up to my wedding with Deacon. Though of course, I was a virgin,” she says backhandedly, looking off to the side. Sterling has to wonder just how connected the well-to-do ladies of the Atlanta area are if the truth about her and Luke even got to her aunt.

“Liar!” Debbie coughs. “Oh, excuse me. The summer pollen’s really got my allergies this year.”

Cordelia hums, not seeming to let this bother her. “So where is April? I thought she was living with y’all after that unfortunate mess with her parents--and it’s a good thing too, after what happened with her daddy.” Cordelia seems to sense that something is amiss, and she’s apparently hell-bent on sniffing out what it is like a bloodhound.

“She’s, uh…” Debbie says, trying to think of an excuse, but she’s (literally) saved by the bell--the doorbell, that is. “I wonder who that could be,” she says, leaving the kitchen to answer it and Sterling is not about to be left alone with her aunt, so she follows. Naturally, Cordelia comes too, at that point.

Debbie opens the door and, to Sterling’s horror, April’s mother and aunt are standing on the porch. “Hello, you two, this is a surprise,” she says cheerfully, but sounds nervous as she lets them in. “Mary, I haven’t seen you since...oh, the morning after April got here?”

April’s mother makes a face Sterling has seen countless times, on April. “Yes, it has been that long, Deborah,” she admits, nodding. “But I haven’t spoken to April since last week, and she never filled me in on how the visit with John went,” Mary says, and several things click into place in Sterling’s head. Mary must have been at the brunch with Franny and must have talked April into visiting her father...who spilled the beans about the bounty hunting. It all makes sense.

“Seems like something that could have been a phone call,” Debbie mutters under her breath, clearly still not a fan of the woman who was at least complicit in April being shunned from her home.

“Well, we also brought her car,” Franny says, holding up a Baby Yoda keychain with a Lincoln fob attached to it. Definitely April’s keys. “Where is she?”

“I just asked the same thing,” Cordelia supplies from where she has opted to hang back and witness the drama.

“She’s...out,” Debbie says, and Sterling understands where she got at least some of her being a bad liar from. “She’s dealing with some final details concerning the rehearsal dinner.”

Mary frowns. “Really? Because that overly large truck she’s been driving is parked outside.” Sterling knows how April came to be so observant, and freezes in place when Mary turns to her. “Sterling, I’ll ask again. Where is my daughter?”

Feeling like three people are staring absolute daggers at her, Sterling cracks. “I don’t know!” she wails, throwing up her hands. “I haven’t seen her since she dumped me last week!”

Cordelia whistles low and tries not to laugh, clearly sensing that Debbie would smack the bejeezus out of her if she did.

“She what?” Franny says, coming closer to Sterling, with her sister following. “What could you have possibly done for that to happen?”

“I kinda...betrayed her…” Sterling admits, unable to think of another word.

Debbie pinches the bridge of her nose as Mary’s face turns red. “Sterling, did you cheat on my daughter?” she asks, more intimidating than Sterling has ever seen her in as long as she’s known her—and that includes her yelling at them for staying up too late during sleepovers.

Sterling puts up her hands defensively. “No, no, Mrs. Stevens, I swear I would never do that kind of thing.”

To her (momentary) relief, Debbie seems to come to her defense. “If April left the same day she visited your husband, then maybe he said something to her to make her break things off?” she suggests, redirecting the blame.

Mary scoffs. “Nice deflection, Deb, but your child already admitted to betraying mine.”

“I did,” Sterling agrees, nodding furiously. “...Though I wouldn’t necessarily rule out any involvement from Mr. Stevens.” She doesn’t deny that she betrayed April, but if not for John Stevens, she might have been able to break the news to April in a better way. Eventually.

“So I gather the wedding is not happening, then?” Cordelia asks, smug.

“Not unless a miracle happens and April comes back in time,” Sterling says, defeated. “And I doubt that’s going to happen.”

“But it could happen,” Debbie insists. “Unless you committed some kind of deadly sin, I trust that April will come back.”

Franny sighs. “I wouldn’t be so sure. If I know my niece, she isn’t always the most forgiving person. She’s like her father in that way,” she says, looking pointedly at Mary, who rolls her eyes. 

“None of this changes the fact that not a single one of you has seen April, nor has any idea of where she’s gone. It’s been over a week! I watch Dateline, I know the odds of a missing person coming back alive after 48 hours!” Mary says dramatically, going to sit on the couch. “Dear God, her father is going to lose his mind when he finds out.”

Sterling scoffs. “Okay, first of all, I know she’s not actually missing because I called Ezekiel and he, like, totally knows where she is, but he won’t tell me. And second, since when are you and your husband suddenly cool with April being gay?”

“I always have been. She’s my daughter and she used to make her Barbies marry each other, no matter how many Kens we bought her,” Mary deadpans. “But my husband is...old-fashioned. He loves April, he just has always had certain expectations for who she would eventually marry. Namely, a Republican man with a future in politics. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but that’s how he is.”

“By all means, Mary. Make more excuses for the man and his abhorrent behavior,” Franny groans and goes to join her sister on the couch.

Mary bites her lip in frustration. “All of this to say that I love April more than anything. She’s my only child, and she is exactly that: a child. I knew she was safe living here with y’all, but now that she’s possibly out in the world, alone, I just… ugh, I can’t even imagine what she’s going through,” Mary puts her face in her hands.

Sterling can’t help but feel sorry for her; April was just getting her mother back when Sterling’s lies threw a wrench in that as well. “Mrs. Stevens, I promise you, I’m going to find her. I can’t guarantee she’ll want anything to do with me—actually, I’d be surprised if she did—but I will find her. It’s actually a little bit of a skill of mine,” she vows, maybe revealing a bit too much about her second job in the process, but it doesn’t really matter now. Her mom won’t ask questions.

“Well, you heard it here first. Sterling’s got it all covered,” Debbie says, smiling and putting a hand on Sterling’s shoulder.

Mary nods and gets up from the couch. “Well, we better be off. If April comes back, remind her that I still have her car,” she says, and gestures for Franny to follow her to the door, which she does.

When they’re gone, Sterling, Debbie, and Cordelia all stand in awkward silence until Cordelia grows tired of it. “I think I’d better go, too. I’d hate to hit rush hour on the freeway,” she says, getting her purse. “Oh, and Debbie? Please let me know if we’ll be having to return wedding outfits,” she snarks on her way out.

When the door shuts, Debbie loudly exhales. “Dear God, if that woman weren’t married to your uncle, I’d have strangled her years ago,” she says, then turns to Sterling with a look of urgency. “Your father and I have put too much into this for the wedding to not happen, and I know you love April too much to lose her without a fight. So you find her, and you win her back.” It comes across as less of a pep talk than a direct order. Especially when she looks Sterling dead in the eye and leans in close. “Make. This. Right.”

Sterling has absolutely no idea how she’s going to do that, but she nods nervously anyway. “Yes, Mommy.”

Sterling quickly comes to the realization that most of the recon on skips is done by Bowser, and she gains a newfound respect for him based on the simple fact that she can’t scrape together a single bit of information as to April’s whereabouts, seeing as she’s taken the initiative to block Sterling on every form of social media—even Tumblr. A clear downside to breaking the heart of a very smart girl is that she knows how to properly disappear if she doesn’t want to be found.

Sterling resorts to calling Bowser after true frustration sets in.

“Yeah?” He answers gruffly, and Sterling knows in her soul that he’s missed her constant presence.

“Hey, Bowser. You know a lot about finding people in hiding, right?” she asks, realizing how stupid of a question it is to its core only after she says it.

“I’d like to think so, yes,” he says cautiously. “What’s this about? I thought you quit the game.”

“I did. But I can’t find April and she’s been gone for like a week and her friends won’t tell me where she is,” she explains, thinking Bowser is quite possibly the only person in the world who won’t question that explanation, and she turns out to be correct.

“Have you tried checking her social media accounts for clues?” he asks.

“Yep. She set everything to private and blocked me.” Sterling tries to remain calm when she hears Bowser laugh loudly on the other end.

“Damn, what did you do to that girl? Marry her crazy sister?” he asks with a chuckle.

“This isn’t funny, Bowser,” Sterling snaps at him. “Her mom is really worried about her and my mom might disown me if I let her go.”

“Jeez,” Bowser grumbles. “Alright, well, your first course of action would be trying to get her friends to leak where she is, I guess. Use intimidation tactics if you have to.”

Sterling shakes her head. “I don’t think that would work. They’re April’s best friends, which lends to them not being intimidated by anyone.”

“Yeah, well, you’re a bounty hunter. Go bounty hunt,” Bowser says, being oh so specific. “Do some recon, bring a gun, I don’t know!”

“How ironic that the reason why she broke up with me is how I’m gonna find her again,” Sterling muses.

“Here’s a crazy idea. Have you considered asking Blair for help? She’s usually good at interrogation...sometimes.” Bowser’s suggestion cuts Sterling to the bone. She hasn’t spoken to Blair since the day April left.

“Yeah, something tells me she isn’t too interested in helping me get April back,” Sterling says, pessimistic, and for good reason.

“Yeah, y’all had a proper WWE Divas brawl in here. But if Yolanda can still talk to Michelle after some of the shit they’ve said to each other, I think you and Blair can too,” Bowser says, and Sterling knows he’s well-meaning, but he also knows nothing about teenage girls, even after working with them for two years.

“Hey, Bowser? Never tell girls that they should make up...we’re contrarian creatures.”

“Yeah, whatever. Do it or don’t. I don’t care, but just know that y’all are fuckin’ weird,” he says and hangs up the phone.

Sterling doesn’t know why that managed to make her smile a bit, but it’s what she needed to hear to get her out of the house for the first time in a week as she grabs the keys to the truck--more intimidating than a hybrid--and heads off to Hannah B.’s house.

The drive there gives her time to devise a plan--or something resembling a plan. She’ll ask nicely, she will cry if she has to, and if neither of those gets through to Hannah B., if not Ezekiel’s icy heart, then she’ll have to go to more extreme measures. Whatever those may be. Really, she just hopes it doesn’t have to come to that.

Sterling is still thinking about her limits when it comes to coercive tactics when she turns off into Hannah B’s neighborhood. It’s not entirely unlike the one her own family lives in, but this one has the houses closer to the road, which is beneficial for stakeout purposes. 

She parks across the street from Hannah B’s house and takes note of the fact that she’d been correct in her assumption that Ezekiel would be here, as she spots his car in the driveway. Next to it is a big black Jeep, which she guesses belongs to Hannah B’s dad...well, one of them.

Sterling gets out of the car and leans up against the driver’s side, trying to pose herself like a tough girl, but she thinks she probably just looks like the skinny teenager she is. Still, she holds it for a few minutes, until she sees movement in the house, followed by the front door opening and out steps one of the dads...whose name is escaping Sterling, aside from the fact that it starts with a D.

“Excuse me? Can I help you?” he calls from the driveway, and Sterling can at least take comfort in the fact that she is at least more intimidating than this man who is legitimately wearing khaki cargo shorts and socks with sandals.

“Um, yeah, are Hannah and Ezekiel available?” she asks, now feeling very stupid for being this far away.

He frowns, seeming uncertain about this, but returns to the house, calling for the two of them, and they soon emerge a moment later.

“Girl, I already told you before,” Ezekiel says as they cross the street. “I am not telling you a Goddamn thing so you might as well get your triflin’ ass back in your Hillbilly Mobile.” He crosses his arms while Hannah B mirrors him.

“Yeah, you hurt our friend and we aren’t going to tell you where she is no matter what you say to us,” she says, obviously trying her hardest to sound firm, but this is still Hannah B.

“As her friends, shouldn’t you guys want what’s ultimately best for her, though?” Sterling asks, and Ezekiel rolls his eyes.

“Girl, I’m about 82% sure you cheated on her, so what universe do you live in where tracking her down against her will is what’s best for her?” he asks, making a very good point, even if he is wrong about the cheating.

“I guess, when you put it that way, it sounds bad, but I just think April deserves an explanation and she didn’t let me give her one before she left,” Sterling explains weakly, blinking hard to stop herself from crying.

“It sounds bad because it is bad. She didn’t let you give an explanation because she doesn’t need one. Her mind is made up and as soon as you realize that for yourself, the better,” Ezekiel says, dismissive, and dramatically turns on his heel to return to the house, but Hannah B. stops him.

“I think we should hear her out,” she says, and Sterling feels an immense urge to hug her defender. “April is a conclusion jumper and I know that she’s never been as nice as when the two of them are together,” she explains to Ezekiel, who begrudgingly motions for Sterling to speak again.

“I just...I think she needs to know that I didn’t do what I did because I disrespect her or wanted to hide anything from her. I did it because I knew if she learned the truth, she would do...exactly what she did.”

“Yeah, which is her right,” Hannah B. says. “If she went into a marriage with you only because you were lying to her, then that’s not good. It’s actually basing your entire relationship on the lie.”

“That was...surprisingly insightful…” Ezekiel remarks, and Hannah B. shrugs.

“My mom and dads have been taking me to family counseling since like, kindergarten,” she explains, and Ezekiel nods knowingly. “Anyway, she’s like totally within her rights to not want to hear you out, but I also don’t think there’s any harm in telling you what we know since we technically don’t know where she is, either.”

“Hannah B.! That was our only leverage to finding out the truth!” Ezekiel snaps at her, then sighs, exasperated. “Okay, fine. She’s in Raleigh.”

Sterling frowns, both surprised at how easy it actually was to get this information out of them and at how broad of an answer that is. “She’s in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina?” she asks for confirmation, raising an eyebrow. She knows this is where Jamie lives, and is honestly surprised she hadn’t considered the possibility before, but it’s also a rather large city to not have anything to go off of except for that.

“Yep. Staying with the lesbian stud muffin who would probably have sex with a cactus in a dress. You concerned yet?” Ezekiel asks tauntingly, but Sterling is unfazed.

“Do you know where the cactus-banger lives, by any chance?” Sterling asks, thinking herself so clever.

“Nope,” Ezekiel says, loudly popping the ‘P’ at the end of the word. “But you can always go to Raleigh and see if there’s a trail of broken hearts leading to Jamie’s door?” he suggests, very unhelpfully.

“Well this has been productive,” Sterling says sarcastically. She came here not knowing where April was in Atlanta, and now she doesn’t know where April is in North Carolina. “Anyway, I guess I’d better be off if I’m going to have to go asking around Raleigh about a butch lesbian named Jamie.”

“Surprisingly enough, it probably wouldn’t take that long,” Ezekiel says, and Sterling has officially had it with the sass and gets back in the truck. There’s only one way she’s going to find April, and she knows exactly who she needs help from, loathe as she is to admit it.

“Blair? Blair, can you please open the door?” Sterling calls to her sister over the sound of some girl rock band, knocking furiously on her knocked door.

“Yeah, give me a second,” Blair replies, sounding slightly...panicked? Either way, after a minute or so, the door remains locked.

Sterling sighs. “Blair, I promise Mom and Dad are out golfing right now so for whatever reason you aren’t opening the door-” she doesn’t get a chance to finish her sentence before the door swings open and there stands Blair in a baseball shirt much too big for her and nothing else, and a shirtless Chase Colton with his luscious curly hair going in all directions standing behind her. “Well, then…” Sterling says, a little shocked that Blair would be so bold to do this during the day, but also a little impressed by the abs on that boy. “Hey there, Chase,” she says, wiggling her fingers at him, and he blushes.

Blair turns to Sterling, Twin Vision kicking in. “I want no judgment.”

“Why would I judge you? He’s even more gorgeous with his shirt off…”

“Because I always told you I thought he was boring and he’s...definitely not that.”

“Wait, so you actually like him?”

“I mean, kind of? It doesn’t really matter since he’s going to Texas Tech in a couple of weeks, but he’s not the worst company.”

“Yeah, I’d definitely say he’s more than that to you. Please tell me you’re being safe.”

“Of course I am, Sterl. In any case, it’s not like you’ve really cared about my personal life this summer.”

Sterling feels a sharp pang of guilt at that. There’s nothing like losing her fiancée to also clearly illuminate for her how bad of a sister she’s been lately, too. She loves April, but she should never have made her sister feel like she didn’t care about her life.

“Seriously, if you tell Mom and Dad about this, I will tell them about Luke in the tent,” Blair warns, speaking out now, and Sterling puts up her hands defensively.

“Hey, don’t worry about that. I approve of this so much,” she says and watches as Chase gathers his things, particularly when he bends over to tie his shoes. She tries not to be too sad when he rights himself and places his hands on his own bare chest, looking at Blair.

“Uh…” he says, indicating Blair’s sole article of clothing, and the two of them giggle. “I guess you can keep that for now,” he says, smiling at her and running a hand through his hair.

Blair bites her lip, and Sterling thinks she is definitely witnessing something she shouldn’t. “RIP all of our neighbors,” Blair says, reaching out to run a finger down Chase’s sternum.

“Uh, I can give you guys a minute, if you need me to?” Sterling suggests as she takes a step back from the doorway.

“No, that’s alright. I really gotta get going. My mom’s taking me back to school shopping for college clothes,” Chase says without a hint of shame. “I’m guessing I don’t have to go back out through the window, so uh...text you later, Wesley?” He gives Blair a dreamy smile that Sterling would be jealous of in any universe where she wasn’t with April—she may be in love, but she does still have eyes.

“Okay,” Blair says, trying to sound casual, but Sterling sees her knees wobble a bit when Chase winks at her and takes his leave.

They watch him go and once the front door closes behind him, Sterling breathes a sigh of relief. “Okay, seriously, we need to devise some kind of code for when I have a gentleman caller. He was totally gonna go down on me before you so rudely interrupted us,” Blair rants as she heads toward their bathroom, and Sterling follows. There is no privacy between her and Blair, and that is greatly emphasized by the fact that she has no qualms about sitting on the toilet and peeing with Sterling present. “What? You want me to get a UTI?” she asks when Sterling gives her a look.

“Peeing stops you from getting UTIs?” Sterling asks this being news to her.

“After sex, yeah. God, it’s actually a miracle all that bad sex with Luke didn’t literally kill you,” Blair scoffs, finishing her business going to the sink to wash her hands. “So what exactly did you interrupt us for again? I thought you were still blaming me for letting April in on our not-so-little secret?” Blair dries her hands and goes into her room to put on a pair of sweatshorts, fixing the Winnie the Pooh fashion statement she was making.

“Well, it turns out April went to visit her dad in jail and he told her,” Sterling admits, feeling like a real jerk.

“Why the fuck would she do that?” Blair asks.

“That’s what I thought!” Sterling had always assumed she would be safe from such a scenario, considering John Stevens beat April and disowned her the last time he saw her. But she supposes if word got to him about their engagement, he might have told her simply to stop the wedding.

“Either way, it was super dumb to not tell her way back when you guys got back together,” Blair says, stating the obvious, to which Sterling rolls her eyes.

“Yes, obviously I get that. But it’s too late now and I need to get her back. She’s my whole...well, she’s a really big part of my world.” Sterling sniffles, not wanting to cry again. “I need your help finding her.”

“And why would I help you with that? I don’t know if you really noticed, but having April constantly in my life was greatly affecting my mental health.” Blair goes to her mirror, running her fingers through a few knots in her hair.

“Because even if you aren’t technically my twin, you are my sister, and I know you don’t want me to lose the love of my life over something that we did together,” Sterling says, but when Blair remains unconvinced, she pivots. “Okay, you’re mad about me not spending our last summer before college with you. I get it. But I don’t regret saying that eventually, we’re going to have to learn to deal with being separate people with separate lives.” She is not going to simply cave this time. She should have been more attentive to her sister this summer, but she isn’t going to bend to Blair’s will and most likely lose April permanently as a result.

Blair actually seems to consider her words. “Sterl, you get that you are the most important person to me, right?” she asks, and after a moment, Sterling nods.

“And you’re mine. Always have been,” she says.

“Okay, see, I haven’t felt like that because you’ve been spending every waking moment with April. The only times you weren’t were when we were bounty hunting and then she made you quit that too, and...I felt like I was losing my sister. My best friend,” Blair admits, avoiding eye contact as she looks down at her feet. “Sterl, I’m sorry if I made it seem like I don’t want you to be happy. If anything, being concerned about your happiness is why I had so many doubts about this whole wedding thing. But the truth is, I would rather share you with April—truly insufferable as she may be—than see you as heartbroken as you’ve been since she left.”

Sterling feels a weight lifted off her back that has been bringing her down for weeks now when Blair says this, even if it doesn’t exactly help the situation with April at the moment. “I’m sorry I made you think I don’t care. Of course I care; you’ve been my best friend since we were brought home, and honestly probably long before that. Our souls were just chilling out waiting for the perfect people they knew would never be far from each other.”

Blair smiles and rolls her eyes, but Sterling can see she’s crying. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You complete me, or whatever.”

Sterling pulls her sister into a crushing hug. “I’ve missed you so much. I never want you to be mad at me ever again,” she says, holding firm as Blair struggles.

“I missed you too but I also can’t breathe,” Blair forces out, but Sterling doesn’t let her go for a few more seconds. “So I get you’re looking for April, but what exactly are you planning on saying to her to change her mind? Because just making an argument for why she shouldn’t be mad is never going to work.”

Sterling knows she’s right, but aside from that, she really hasn’t managed to think of a better argument. Lying, even if technically only by omission, for two years to the woman she loves was morally reprehensible, and thinking she could and should keep that truth from April forever was just stupid. “I honestly don’t know,” she admits, sitting down on Blair’s bed.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t sit there if I were you,” Blair says, and Sterling jumps back onto her feet.

“Ew! Ew ew ew ew!” Sterling wipes at the back of her pants, which is probably inadvisable, but she sees Blair crack up and knows she was probably just messing with her, to begin with.

“C’mon, you really think I’d let you sit in a jizz puddle?” Blair asks, rolling her eyes at her sister’s gullible behavior. “Anyway, have you considered maybe, I don’t know, opening up to her? The cat’s out of the bag already, so just let her in on all the stuff she needs to be in on and perhaps don’t tell her about any of the embarrassing shit involving me.”

“I don’t know. That seems too easy, right?” Sterling asks, unsure if April is going to want to listen to the truth from someone she no longer trusts. In all actuality, Sterling wouldn’t blame her if she never trusted her again.

Blair shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not. Either way, you have to try, right? Unless you want it to just be you and me and unhealthy amount of dogs who wear clothes for the rest of our lives,” she says, and the mental image is enough to make Sterling want to beg for April’s forgiveness on her hands and knees. “So what do we know about where she is?”

“Well, I know she’s not in Atlanta, that’s for dang sure. She’s in Raleigh,” Sterling says, and a look of realization crosses Blair’s face. 

“Like, with MOH Jamie?” she asks, and Sterling nods. “Okay, so that leaves you two options. Either we can have Bowser go through the public records and find where Jamie Arden lives, or…” she pauses for dramatic effect, motioning for Sterling to try to guess.

“Or what? We go to Raleigh and shine a lesbian Batman symbol into the sky?” Sterling asks, throwing out something as absurd as this stupid guessing game as Blair gets her phone from the nightstand.

“Or I call Jamie and ask her where she lives,” Blair says, holding up the phone to reveal Jamie’s contact information.

Sterling points at the phone. “How did you get that?”

“I texted her about bachelorette party details? What, you think we thought up strap-on ring toss via ESP?” Blair says as if it’s so obvious, and Sterling supposes it is.

“If you’ve had that this whole time, why didn’t you tell me sooner?” she asks.

“How was I supposed to know if you didn’t even know that’s where April was until today?” Blair asks, making an excellent point, and Sterling nods.

“Fair. Okay, so what? We call April’s best friend and ask for her home address so I can come to intrude on April when she clearly doesn’t want to be found?” she asks, and Blair nods.

“I mean, yeah? What other option do we have? No matter what, you’re going to be violating April’s wishes by going there, noble as the cause may be.”

“She did say in no uncertain terms that she never wanted to see me again…” Sterling muses, now questioning whether she should even be doing this at all. It does show a certain lack of respect for April’s autonomy, and-

“Holy fuck, she’s calling me,” Blair says, staring stunned at her phone.

“What?” Sterling asks, looking at the screen to see Blair getting an incoming call from the lesbian Casanova herself.

“Fuckin’ ESP!” Blair says, letting it ring.

“What are you doing? Answer it!” Sterling says, shoving at her shoulder and Blair hits the accept button.

“1-900-mmm-hmmm, what’s your fantasy?” she answers, making herself sound like one of the girls on the late-night phone sex infomercials, and hits the speakerphone button.

“My fantasy is to have my bed to myself, so I need your sister to please come get her woman,” Jamie replies, jumping right to the point of her call. “I haven’t had sex in five days!”

Sterling frowns. “...She’s been there for nine days…” she says just loud enough for Jamie to hear.

“Oh good, you’re there too. Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea in thinking I at all condone your actions that led to April’s heart being broken. However, her camping out and watching Outlander, between bouts of crying, is causing some major cliterference with my gentlewomen callers, and it must cease,” Jamie explains, sidestepping Sterling’s earlier concern, though she’s now more worried about the fact that April hasn’t stopped crying in over a week.

“Is she okay?” Sterling asks, knowing it’s a stupid question.

“No, she’s not fucking okay, you goddamn vigilante,” Jamie snaps, confirming how much she knows (everything) in a single breath. “But as stupid as it is, I know she misses your lying ass, and I need you to come grovel and take her home now.”

“Yeah and what if she doesn’t want to come home with me?” Sterling asks. “If I’m as bad as you say.”

“She probably will because she wouldn’t be crying if she didn’t love you. And I need that wedding to happen because I fully intend on wooing your bible teacher at the reception,” Jamie explains.

“God, I respect the hell out of her,” Blair mouths to Sterling, who rolls her eyes.

Her mind made up, Sterling sighs. “Okay, Blair can send you my number. Text me your address. I’ll be there tonight.”

“Wait, you’re seriously gonna come here tonight? Are you gonna catch a plane or something?” Jamie asks, stunned.

“No, I’m going to drive because I am the smart girl who insisted we get a hybrid for a reason,” Sterling says, surprised at her own stupidity at this point. “So I guess I’ll see you in…” she maps out Atlanta to Raleigh on her phone. “Six hours.”

“Damn, girl. You’re a real lesbian Odysseus,” Jamie remarks, maybe half impressed, half snarky.

“Bisexual,” Sterling corrects her and hangs up the phone.

Blair grins at her. “Oh my god, you’re being such a badass right now,” she says, and Sterling rolls her eyes as she heads to her room to gather a few road trip essentials. “Okay, so we probably should stop at a store on the way out of town for some snacks. Definitely Red Bull if we’re pulling a 12 hour round trip.”

“We?” Sterling asks, raising an eyebrow. “Since when are you coming? I thought you hated April.”

“Hate is a strong word. But my own dislike for the girl doesn’t change my own jaded heart’s desire to witness true love prevailing over all obstacles--namely, John fucking Stevens,” Blair says, always the dramatic one. “And when I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong, and I was wrong about you guys. If anyone is gonna beat the odds and actually find their soulmate in high school, it’s someone who already knows what having a soulmate is like.”

Sterling is surprisingly touched by this sentiment. “Aw, Blair…” she says, and they hug. “You’ll always be my OG soulmate.”

“Damn straight. Now let’s go get your girl,” Blair says, excitedly going downstairs with Sterling following her and feeling a little sad that she’s going to have to disappoint her.

“Uh, Blair, as much as I totally want you riding shotgun on this quest for love, I think I’ll probably have an easier time convincing April to get in the car if you aren’t already in it,” she says as Blair’s halfway out the door.

She stops and nods, accepting. “That’s so valid,” she says and closes the door again. “Well, in that case, call me when you get to Raleigh so I know you’re safe. I’ll cover for you here with Anderson and Debbie.”

Sterling frowns as she grabs the Volt keyfob. “Ew. Don’t call Mom and Dad by their first names. That’s so weird,” she says on her way out the door.

“We’re growing up, Sterl. It’s beautiful and terrifying,” Blair calls after Sterling, who rolls her eyes and gets into the Volt, turning it on and getting blasted with heavy metal music that Blair didn’t turn off the last time she was in the car. She changes the station to April’s favorite oldies station and smiles as an oddly applicable song reaches its chorus.

But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.

“Da da da!” Sterling sings along as she pulls out of the driveway.

Chapter Text

“When has it ever been easy? But I apologized for it. I've done all I can to make it right. Ye belong wi' me. We're mated for life, Sassenach.”

April sniffles and shovels a spoonful of half-melted Ben and Jerry’s into her mouth. Is the combination of sappy romance and ice cream an absolute heartbreak cliche? Perhaps. But it’s the only thing that’s made her feel even a modicum better since leaving Sterling.

Though she supposes that isn’t saying much, seeing as she hasn’t stopped crying long enough to chance switching out her glasses for her contacts in a week. But really, it’s only appropriate that she bears a strong resemblance to her 13-year-old self in a time like this. Because just like then, she has had her heart thoroughly broken by none other than Sterling fucking Wesley, and she is pretty darn certain that she will never love again. 

If the risk is ever feeling this way again, then she doesn’t want it...and that’s even assuming she ever gets over this; which she does not think she will. Hell, if James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser can hold on to his everlasting love for Claire after 20 years apart, she’s pretty sure she can hold onto this feeling of all-consuming despair at the thought that the one person she entrusted her heart to could so easily lie to her for their entire relationship.

“Hey, April?” Jamie calls from the hallway and opens the bedroom door, poking her head in. “Is that pint of ice cream the only thing you’ve eaten today?” she asks.

April shakes her head, unashamed as she also holds up a bag of kettle BBQ chips that she got from her morning walk to the corner store. It’s only been a week and a half and she and the clerk have gotten on a first-name basis.

“April, please understand that I mean this in the nicest way possible, but I am so worried about you. I think completely cutting yourself off from the world is not any way to heal.”

April shrugs. “Maybe.” She crunches on a chip. “But if it’s the only way to stop me from seeing or thinking about You Know Who, then it’s alright by me.” This is stupid reasoning as she very much is still thinking about her former fiancée. She thinks about her every second of every day. That look of sheer devastation on her face when April revealed that she was leaving her has taken up permanent residence in the back of her mind. It’s the one thing that has had her constantly on the brink of picking up her phone and calling Sterling and telling her that she forgives her for all she’s done because she loves her and she can’t bear the thought of a life without her. 

Which, if you ask her, is some real Simpish shit.

“Okay, well, if you’ve got your evening all planned out, I’m just gonna leave you to it,” Jamie says, putting up her hands in surrender and walking back down the hall to the living area.

When she’s gone, April settles back in to finish the episode of Outlander, only to be rudely interrupted again a few minutes later, this time by her phone ringing.

“Fucking robocalls,” she mutters to herself, turning it over from where it was face down on the bed next to her and reading the caller ID. She expects some unknown number, but it says ‘United States Penitentiary, Atlanta.’ April sighs and hits accept.

A pre-recorded voice asks her if she accepts the call from Stevens, John, which she (begrudgingly) does.

“Hey there, Padawan. How’s my best girl doing today?” Her father says once their call is connected, and April immediately regrets answering.

“I’ve had better days,” she says truthfully. “Though I suppose you could say the same.”

John laughs. “Yeah, you got that right. But on the bright side, I’ve started spending my yard time getting into shape. Maybe once this is all over, you and I can go to the gym together,” he says, being overly friendly.

“Daddy, is there a reason why you’re calling me?” she asks, knowing there has to be or he wouldn’t have waited over a week to use his daily phone time on her.

“Boy, you really are a straight-shooter,” John remarks, then scoffs, which April presumes is him finding it funny to call her a straight anything. “I’m calling because I wanted to check in on you. Your mother’s in hysterics about you being missing.”

In hindsight, April perhaps shouldn’t have also blocked her mother and aunt’s numbers, but she knows they would be a liability right now. “Not missing, just taking a break,” she says around another bite of ice cream.

“Can I ask where you are?” John asks.

“Yep. Doesn’t mean I’ll tell you,” April replies, giving zero fucks. What’s he gonna do? Smack her from behind bars?

“April, I don’t care how old you are, you know I don’t tolerate insolence,” John says, using the voice that is far scarier in person.

April holds the phone out away from herself and flips it off, knowing he can’t see her but taking satisfaction in it anyway. “My apologies, Daddy,” she says when she puts her phone back up to her ear. “But I still won’t tell you where I am, as I’m recovering from the fact that my engagement fell through due in at least a small part to your whore-mongering!” With that, she hits the end call button and throws her phone down on the bed in a huff. Sure, she’s going to pay for that eventually, somehow, but God was it satisfying to say in the moment.

The very last thing she needs in her life right now is her father being smug over the fact that he actually managed to break her and Sterling up.

Her phone rings again, and she does not answer it. She refuses to answer it and be yelled at. But her resolve cracks when he calls again, and she answers if only to tell him to fuck off. “What?” she answers coldly.

John sighs. “I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel like I take any kind of pleasure in wrecking your fantasy. Truly, I wouldn’t have so much held what Sterling did to me against her if I knew she wasn’t still in the game. But then she had y’all get picked up by the same bounty hunter who took me in, and I knew she was still at it. You’re a good girl and I knew you wouldn’t willingly be with a bottom-feeder like that.”

“Don’t you dare call her that,” April says in a knee-jerk reaction because, despite everything, she feels the need to defend Sterling’s a certain degree. “She and Blair arrested you because you picked up a prostitute that you then proceeded to assault, and said prostitute was smart enough to press charges. You then jumped bail and tried to pin it on Gerald, whose wife was dying of cancer. Did I get everything?”

There’s a long silence from John’s end as April catches her breath, having managed to get that all out in one go. “It pains me that you can think so little of me after all I’ve done for you. Just know that despite your flaws, I still love you. I only wish you would offer me the same courtesy.” With that, John hangs up the phone, leaving April to seethe.

She hates how easily he can get into her head and make her question if she’s justified in her rage at him. Feeling the rage build inside her, she pounds a fist down on the mattress in frustration. And then she feels a sudden craving for something fizzy and caffeinated, which she supposes is an excuse to stretch her legs as she gets up from the bed, hiking up the overly-long pair of Sterling’s sweatpants (that she brought with her by mistake) so that she doesn’t trip. She grabs the remnants of her snacks, thinking her ice cream needs a refreeze, at the very least, and heads off to the kitchen, but stops in her tracks the moment the apartment’s front door opens to reveal...Sterling.

April has been picturing how it would be to see Sterling again because she has realized that it will happen. But this is not how she wanted it to happen. Not in baggy sweatpants. Not in her BB-8 hoodie. Not wearing her glasses. And certainly not with her hair in Jamie’s half-hearted attempt at an Elsa braid. But she guesses none of that really matters when she has apparently had her location compromised by her supposed best friend.

Without giving it another thought, April puts down her snacks on the dining room table and hightails it to the bathroom, slamming the door shut and locking it before Sterling can stop her.

“April? April, seriously, open the door,” Sterling says, pounding on it a few times, but April holds firm.

“No! Go away!” she says like a petulant child and takes a seat on the edge of the bathtub...which is also the shower.

“April, will you please hear me out? I drove here all the way from Atlanta,” Sterling pleads, sounding exhausted.

“How is that my problem? I didn’t want you here in the first place!” April replies, wondering why in God’s name Sterling didn’t just buy a $100 plane ticket like she did in the Uber to the airport.

“It’s not your problem, it’s mine because I drove you away. I can admit that, and I’m sorry,” Sterling says, and the shadow under the door moves in such a way that April thinks she’s slid down to sit on the floor.

“How did you even get in here?” April asks.

“Jamie called me earlier to come and get you, so I drove up from Atlanta and she let me in on her way out,” Sterling explains, confirming April’s friend’s betrayal, but despite herself, April laughs.

“You really think I’m going to come back to you after you spent the entirety of our relationship lying to me? Fat chance. I can’t trust you, Sterl. Trust is the most important thing that every good relationship must have, and ours doesn’t have it anymore.” Saying this cuts April deeper than it should. Probably because what is objectively good for her and what her heart is screaming out for are on opposite sides of this battle.

Sterling’s quiet for a moment. “You know, I almost told you the truth back before...well, after the first time we were together but before the most recent time,” she says, stumbling over her words.

“What changed your mind?” April asks, thinking that maybe things would be different right now if they hadn’t built their relationship around this enormous lie.

“It just didn’t seem like the right time. You were focusing on the school musical, and I was dealing with all of my mommy issues. But then it just never seemed like a good time until it suddenly felt like I waited too long to ever tell you. I knew you would react exactly like this and I didn’t want to lose you, because I love you. I love you so much that the thought of spending my life without you in it is the most horrible thing I can think of,” Sterling’s confession comes easy as if it’s what she thinks of every day of her life. “l want to wake up with you and share everything with you. If you want one really spoiled kid, we can do that. Heck, if you want no kids and just a bunch of cats, I could...well, I could negotiate that. But as long as it means being with you, I don’t care about the details of what my life will look like. All that matters to me is having you in it. And if I have to spend the next sixty years regaining your trust, I will do it.”

April’s not sure when exactly during Sterling’s speech that the dam broke and tears started streaming down her face. The sentiment behind Sterling’s words is overwhelming, and it breaks April’s heart to think that in the spirit of protecting herself, she might have to give up on the amazing life being offered to her if she can’t trust that it isn’t all smoke and mirrors. “How am I-” April starts, her voice weak, and she clears her throat before continuing. “How am I supposed to believe anything you tell me anymore?”

“I know it wouldn’t even begin to make up for everything, but how about you ask me anything, and I have to tell you the truth, no matter how tough the answer might be?” Sterling suggests, and despite her better judgment, April nods.

And then she remembers Sterling can’t see her and says, “Okay, fine,” she thinks for a moment, realizing just how many absolutely puzzling things that have occurred throughout their relationship that she was never given a clear explanation for. “Why were you wet when you came back to the bridal shower? You and Blair left due to a ‘work emergency’ and considering the fact that I’m pretty sure the froyo shop was little more than a front, I have to assume that was a bounty hunting thing.”

“I mean, it wasn’t a complete front. We got customers sometimes and Blair knows how to use the cash register, so I think that counts,” Sterling says, but gets herself back on topic just as April is getting annoyed. “But uh, yeah, we left for a bounty hunting thing. There was a cybercriminal skip who turned out to be more dangerous than we thought and I kind of...shot him…”

“You shot someone?!” April asks, voice going up an octave when she realizes this shit runs a lot deeper than just arresting her woman-beating father, who honestly probably deserved it.

“In the hand! I need to make it perfectly clear that I shot him in the hand because he had a gun to Blair’s head, and he did not die,” Sterling explains, and April feels only a tiny bit better, because now she’s thinking about how many times Sterling has been in a life or death situation during their relationship, and she didn’t even know. “But he did get his blood all over us, and technically it’s illegal for us to be bounty hunters, so we had to leave the arrest to Bowser and hosed ourselves down in a carwash, and that is why we were wet.”

“ God…” April says, still processing this. “You shot someone on the day of our bridal shower, and then you came back and planned a trip to Savannah like nothing happened…” It’s a little horrifying to think that Sterling was capable of compartmentalization on that level—and this is coming from the queen of compartmentalization.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was and am still shaken to my core by that. I threw up and everything. But it was also stuff like that that made me think it was better if you didn’t know,” Sterling says, and honestly, April can somewhat see her point.

“Okay, what about your ankle? How did the sprain really happen?” she asks, needing to move on to what is likely to be a lighter subject.

“Oh, um, well, we were going after this skip who had a bunch of DUIs, and they never are too thrilled to see us, but he really wasn’t and came at me when I was on the phone with you. He knocked me down instead of having to go through Blair or Bowser, and I landed wrong.” It’s a surprisingly boring answer, but April believes her.

“Uhhh…” April pauses to think of something especially confusing. “Well, how about you tell me about the thing that made you skip picking our DJ?”

“Hmm…” Sterling says, thinking a moment. “Oh yeah, that was the skip-in-a-box!”

“What?” April asks, more confused than when she started.

“Our skip managed to get right past me in a big refrigerator box on a hand truck and Blair and Bowser wouldn’t let me go until I fixed the situation,” Sterling explains. “But I really did want to be there to pick the DJ. Promise.” Sterling’s silent after that, until she asks, “Will you please open the door?”

April recognizes that continuing to hold a conversation through a door is immature of her, but she also knows that if she looks into those dumb blue puppy eyes, she’s going to fall into Sterling’s arms and forgive her. But maybe that’s exactly why she gets up and opens the door.

Sterling falls onto her back, apparently having been leaning up against it on the floor, and gives April the dopiest look imaginable. “Hi.”

April crosses her arms as Sterling gets onto her feet. “Hi.”

Sterling runs a hand through her hair nervously. “So, uh, I don’t really know what else I can tell you to make you forgive me, aside from the fact that I won’t ever keep anything from you again.”

“Well,” April says, trying to keep a complete poker face. “You could always apologize.”

Sterling’s eyes go wide as she realizes she hasn’t actually done that yet. “Oh my god. Yes, I am so sorry,” she says, and drops down on her knees, reaching for April’s hands, which she reluctantly gives her while trying to avoid eye contact. “I’m so, so, sorry, and I still want to marry you more than anything in the world. But if I have to settle for just having you back in my life, I can tolerate that.”

April is still pissed, and rightfully so, but she is also intensely in love with Sterling, and a not small part of her brain is more than a little thrilled to have a woman willing to literally grovel on her hands and knees for her. Some would say that that is the makings of a perfect spouse when combined with a wife who knows how to take control of a household, and April’s been being taught how to do that since she was playing with dolls. “Well, I can’t tolerate that,” she says finally, and Sterling’s face falls.

“Oh…” Sterling says quietly, looking like she’s trying not to cry.

April sighs. “I can’t tolerate that because having you in my life without having you is not something I’ve dealt with very well in the past, and I don’t foresee that changing,” she elaborates. “So how about we go back to Atlanta and see what happens from there.” This is a huge concession on her part, though she knows it isn’t exactly what Sterling came here for. “I imagine there are some people there that are worried about me.”

“Ya think? Your mom and aunt are terrifying, so thanks a heap for throwing me to the wolves there,” Sterling says, laughing to herself and following April to Jamie’s room, where April starts to pack up her stuff.

“Yeah, well, you deserved it,” she says, not even the least bit apologetic. She’s been on the receiving end of her mother’s wrath, and it’s nothing compared to her father, so Sterling can handle that much.

“That’s fair,” Sterling says, nodding, and helps April fold her clothes.

If Sterling thought for one second that April was going to let her drive them back to Atlanta, let alone on an only half-healed ankle, she would have been sorely mistaken. Despite them not being entirely clear on their current relationship status, Sterling clearly knows April well enough and handed over the keyfob without being asked. And that is how they have ended up here, on a mostly deserted highway in the wee hours of the morning, listening to Sunflower and not speaking. In fact, April thinks for a moment that Sterling’s dozed off until she hears Sterling faintly singing along to the song.

Just existing within the same space as her is making it very hard for April to remember why she has to stay mad at her. She has to if only for the sake of her own integrity as a woman. She deserves to not be lied to, and she should be angry that she was.

“Hey, are you hungry at all?” Sterling asks after they pass a highway marker showing a few food places on it. “I uh...didn’t have dinner. Just some Skittles and chocolate milk.”

“Seriously, what is it with you and chocolate milk?” April snaps. “You’re a grown woman!”

“...It tastes good?” Sterling says as if she’s confused at why April would even ask such a thing.

“Yes but you aren’t a five-year-old!” It’s a dumb thing to fixate on, April knows this, but it’s better than focusing on the hard choice she has to make regarding a certain event set to happen in a week or so. She pulls the car off onto the next exit, not wanting to make Sterling go hungry, regardless.

“It makes my bones strong…” Sterling says quietly.

“Yeah, well, you still sprained your ankle, didn’t you?” April’s just being contrarian at this point. Though in her defense, it is 3 AM.

“Sprains are in the ligaments, not the bone…” Sterling says, clearly not realizing that keeping her mouth shut would be best.

“Sterling, I swear to God, I will get back on the highway and you will not get Waffle House,” April threatens, though even she is feeling a hankering for an omelet right about now.

“Be angry all you want, I’m not wrong,” Sterling says, looking up and crossing her arms. April can only assume that being sleep deprived has made her particularly bold.

April grumbles to herself and pulls into the Waffle House parking lot. “You’re buying,” she says as they get out of the car, the only other sound in the mostly-darkened liminal space of a parking lot being the buzzing of the neon sign.

They seat themselves at a booth near a window overlooking the parking lot, at least in small part due to April having her concerns of the car being broken into in the middle of the night being parked outside a shady Waffle House in North Shitsville, Georgia. It’s only while looking at the menu brought around by a tired waitress that April realizes she hasn’t eaten real food in about four days, when Jamie forced her to eat a salad from Trader Joe’s so that she didn’t develop scurvy. And it is because of that that she feels justified in ordering some All-The-Way hashbrowns with her omelet.

Clearly, her appetite is under no impression that a wedding—and fitting into a wedding dress—will be happening anytime soon.

Sterling orders waffles and all April can think of is the rather disastrous announcement of their engagement. It feels like a lifetime ago that she was so sure of her relationship status with Sterling that she threw caution to the wind and unilaterally decided that they should move their wedding up so that nothing could stand in the way of their ever after. My, how things change.

They don’t speak to each other, at least not until their waitresses brings around their drinks: coffee for April, and, of course, chocolate milk for Sterling.

“So, do you have some kind of list of Greatest Hits bounties that really stick out to you?” April asks, dumping two little cups of half and half into her coffee, along with three packets of Splenda. It isn’t Starbucks, but it’ll have to do.

Sterling scoffs as if there are too many of them to count. “Well, this one time, we had to arrest this stripper from her place of work, and oh my goodness, she had the cutest baby,” she recounts, smiling.

“When was that?” April asks, now thinking her many trips to Hooters with her dad weren’t that bad after all.

“Like...the day before the memorial for Mr. Koontz,” Sterling replies, and April can’t help but laugh, even if it makes her a horrible person.

“Oh, Robert,” she says, re-enacting the inflection she used as the grieving student... which, in truth, was a preliminary audition for the school musical.

“So extra…” Sterling says, smiling and then looking down at the table. “April, I can’t say it enough how sorry I am for what I did. I wish I had been smart enough to confide in you.”

“Well, to be perfectly fair, I’m not sure how smart it would have been, depending on the time you told me,” April admits, knowing her past self and her own pettiness better than anyone else. “Like, for example, if you had told me when Reese Ryan was still in the picture, I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t have sent an anonymous letter to your parents telling them what you and Blair were getting up to.” She’s being completely serious, but at Sterling’s shocked face, she can’t help but laugh.

“You think it’s funny, but my parents would like, actually kill us if they found out,” Sterling says, eyes wide.

April rolls her eyes. “Then I’m a little worried to know what exactly you told them to explain my leaving you.”

“Well…” Sterling says, her voice high, “Funny you should mention Reese…”

April gasps, horrified. “Oh, Sterling, please tell me you didn’t cheat on me with that harlot.” Even if it didn’t happen, she doesn’t know if she can tolerate people thinking it did.

Sterling puts up a finger. “Not full-on cheating, but you did supposedly catch us having a nasty text exchange.”

“Like that’s any better!” April knows it’s ridiculous to be upset by this, but she doesn’t want to go into her wedding with people taking pity on her for being the kind of woman who goes back to a cheater... if she goes through with the wedding, that is.

“I just figured you wouldn’t be all that bothered by it, considering how you secured our wedding venue,” Sterling says, raising an eyebrow, and April’s blood runs cold.

“How did you find out about that?” she asks, fidgeting in her seat now because this is the first time this evening that she has not had the upper hand on the conversation and she does not like it.

“My mom told me, as an example of all you put into our wedding, only for me to screw it up by being a scoundrel..her words, not mine.” Sterling crosses her arms. “I mean, I kinda figured you must have done something underhanded for the spot but I never thought you would stoop to sexting a stranger.”

April needs to defend herself on this one. “Okay, but I didn’t even use my own pictures, let alone my own identity, and if a guy like that will fall for one catfish, he’d fall for any other in a heartbeat. That poor bride deserved to know who she was marrying.”

“I mean, okay, fine,” Sterling concedes, but something is obviously still bothering her. “I think it speaks to this feeling I’ve been having since we announced the engagement.”

April’s confused now. “Which is?”

Sterling takes a long sip of her chocolate milk, giving herself a mustache. “It just kinda feels like this whole wedding...for you it’s more about the event and what everyone else thinks of it than it is about marrying me.” 

This admission is a gut punch to April, who isn’t stupid and knows she could be a better fiancee sometimes, but she’d also foolishly thought that Sterling was so overwhelmingly understanding of her and how she tends to be, that it didn’t bother her, as self-centered and presumptuous as that had been. But now, knowing she’s made Sterling feel like she doesn’t matter…

“I-I’m so sorry I made you feel like that…” April says, not having any good excuses. She reaches out to wipe Sterling’s mouth with her napkin, only realizing once she’s doing it that this move might be a touch too intimate for where they are in their relationship at the moment, but Sterling doesn’t stop her either. “Sterl, you were... are the most important thing in the world to me.” She’s done fighting with her own heart over this. She refuses to throw away the one great love of her life for the sake of her own pride. She puts down the napkin and takes Sterling’s hand in her own. “I love you, and I would have married you on the mini-golf course at the Fun Zone with a witness and Luke officiating if you really, really insisted on it.” She braces herself for Sterling’s inevitable look of devastation at what she has to say next. “I don’t...I don’t know if our wedding next Saturday is going to happen anymore. It could. In fact, I would venture to say that it very well might, but I do know that with time and perhaps a lot of weekly couples sessions with Pastor Booth, I think I can forgive you for lying to me, and I do want to marry you. But I am perfectly willing to give up our big, beautiful wedding if it means letting things happen when we’re in a good place.”

Sterling’s lip quivers as she tries not to cry, turning her head towards the window when the waitress brings their food around.

“Thank you,” April says, smiling up at her and telling her with her eyes to please not check on them for a while. 

As if understanding, the waitress smiles, says, “You’re very welcome,” and silently puts down a small stack of extra paper napkins on the table before she leaves.

April picks up one and offers it to Sterling, who takes it and wipes her eyes and sniffles before speaking. “I guess I don’t really have the right to be upset when all of this is happening because of me.”

April can’t exactly say she’s wrong, but she’s not in the mood to rub it in right now. Sterling knows what she’s done, but she can’t pretend like she’s been a complete saint either. “Do you remember that time in fourth grade when we did that really elaborate play wedding in my backyard and Sergeant Bilko was the ring bearer?”

Sterling lets out a watery chuckle. “Yeah. You wore that white dress you got from being your uncle’s flower girl and you made me be the groom in one of your dad’s ties.”

April smiles, actually a little surprised that Sterling remembers that day almost as well as she does. “And you looked very handsome, too,” she says, and Sterling rolls her eyes. “Anyway, it was that day that I knew I wanted to marry you for real. Of course, it wouldn’t even be legalized in Georgia for another year or so, but I just knew. And I know now that I still want to marry you.”

Sterling reaches under the table to get something out of her pocket and comes up with April’s engagement ring pinched between her thumb and index finger. “So are you saying you would like this back?” she asks, smiling cautiously.

“Oh my, a proposal in a Waffle House. We really are that teenage couple,” April says sarcastically, but holds out her left hand. “Yes, I would like it back,” she says, and Sterling slides it back into its rightful place on April’s finger, which has felt awfully lonely without it. Though it does make her think of something. “So, if that total honesty thing is still in play, how exactly did you get this and like, ballpark, how many weeks’ salary would you say it cost you?”

“Well, I uh, I bought it,” Sterling shares this obvious bit of information nervously, and it has April worried for what’s to come. “Granted, not brand new, but from a very reputable source.”

April’s not sure if she really wants to know this, but, “That source being…?”

“My bail bondswoman Yolanda. But uh, considering I was in a bit of a dry spell before I bought the ring—not every bounty yields $5k for each of us—it took me probably a month?” Sterling clenches her jaw as if preparing for April to snap at her, but April is honestly impressed that she still spent that much on a ring. 

Especially since she didn’t exactly work for the money that bought Sterling’s, even if she may have spent a bit more. “So what did you think of the ring I got you?” April asks, saddened to have missed Sterling’s reaction.

“I didn’t look at it,” Sterling admits after swallowing a too-big bite of waffle. She goes digging in her pocket again and pulls out the ring box. “But how about I give it back to you, and you can give it to me whenever you’re ready,” she says, putting it down and sliding it across the table to April, who nods.

“I will do that,” she says, pocketing it herself and finally digging into her food.

The sky is just starting to lighten when they’ve finished their food and are leaving the Waffle House. April’s reached the level of tiredness where she’s been given a second wind, and she knows she’ll have no trouble getting them back to Atlanta before anyone wakes up. Though that does leave her with another difficult conversation she needs to have with Sterling as they reach the Volt.

“Sterl?” April says, causing Sterling to stop before getting into the passenger seat. 

Instead, she closes the door and comes around to stand in front of April near the hood of the car. “Yeah?” she asks, leaning up against the Volt and looking like she regrets not ordering a drink with more caffeine in the diner.

April in no way wants to break Sterling’s heart again this morning, but she has to. “When we get back to Atlanta...I think I’m going to move back in with my mom.”

Sterling’s lip quivers until she bites it, putting on a poor attempt at a good face. “Yeah, that...if you think so, I think that would be a good idea.”

April holds her hand, rubbing circles with her thumb into Sterling’s palm. “I love you, and I still want to marry you, but I think it would be good for the both of us to have some space...if only for the next week. After that...well, we might be married, and then good luck getting rid of me.”

Sterling frowns. “Wait, I’m confused. Are we or are we not postponing the wedding?”

April sighs, having gone over that same question in her head over and over again while indulging in greasy goodness. The nutrition provided her with some clarity. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am furious with you for lying to me and while I can say I would trust you with my life, I can’t exactly trust you with my heart at the moment. But I know I still want to marry you. And, not gonna lie, I want our big beautiful wedding, and I know we won’t get a second chance at it if we make your mom and dad cancel this one—they haven’t canceled it yet, right?”

Sterling shakes her head. “No, they haven’t canceled it yet. They honestly have been holding out hope that you’d come back.”

April nods. “Good. Well, like I was saying, if we canceled, our eventual wedding would probably be a much more scaled-down affair, but aside from that, I know I want to marry you, and I also know my bastard father’s entire plan was to tell me about your indiscretions in the hopes that I would cancel the wedding. Well, fuck that. I want to marry you eventually, so why not next week?” Spite is an admittedly horrible reason to go through with a wedding while one’s relationship is in disarray, but April has been driven by it her whole life, so why stop now?

“I mean, as long as I get to have you as my wife in the end, I’m willing to do whatever you’re comfortable with. But I would like to not be murdered by my dad for canceling a non-refundable wedding if I can help it,” Sterling says, shrugging but clearly restraining herself from jumping for joy at the idea of the wedding being back on. “So, in that case, do you have something you want to ask me?” she holds out her left hand and waggles her fingers.

April rolls her eyes and considers getting down on one knee, but there is surely drugs, or oil, or god knows what on the ground of a Waffle House parking lot, so she instead decides to flex those leg day muscles and does a low lunge as she pulls out Sterling’s engagement ring, avoiding touching the ground. “Sterling Pearl Wesley, you are perhaps the second most infuriating person I have met in my life, behind only your sister. You have dishonest tendencies, your personal hygiene is often lacking, and you’re coddled by your mother like a five-year-old. I must have something completely defective going on in my brain, or my heart, or wherever it is that makes me love you as much as I do, all the time, every day.”

“-Is this a proposal or a breakup?” Sterling interrupts, looking confused.

April doesn’t acknowledge her as she goes on. “But you’re also the sweetest, most understanding, and generous person I know, and the fact that you love me despite me being absolutely none of those things is equally as baffling. Neither of us is perfect, but I’d like to think that we make each other better people, and as far as I’ve gathered from years of observation, that’s really all you can hope for in a lasting relationship. So this might be a completely awful idea, and I hope you don’t make me live to regret it, but I think we should just take a leap of faith and--if you still want to after this god-awful proposal--declare our love and commitment to each other in front of our friends and family in a wildly expensive ceremony next week that has already been paid for.”

Sterling looks away and is clearly trying not to laugh. “April, I hope you are aware that that was quite possibly the worst proposal in the history of marriage,” she says, failing to keep her straight face.

“That may be, but I’m kind of on my knees asking you to marry me,” April says, feeling her quads start to burn--forget leg day, she’s skipped a week’s worth of gym days.

“You aren’t on your knees, you’re lunging,” Sterling points out.

“Yes, because these are $200 Nordstrom jeans,” April says through her teeth. “And I wouldn’t be caught dead kneeling in them. But will you marry me, or what?” She opens the ring box and sees Sterling’s face light up momentarily before she reigns it in.

“Well jeez, when you put it like that, how can a girl resist?” Sterling says sarcastically. “Yes, I will marry you. Obviously.” Sterling offers out her hand for April to slide the ring onto her finger, and she is finally allowed to get back up onto her feet to kiss her, though it doesn’t last very long before April’s reaching down to clutch her cramping thigh.

“Oh, sweet baby Jesus ow!” she yells as Sterling laughs at her.

"We really do have a thing for Waffle House parking lots, don't we?" she asks, and April smacks her in the arm.

“I’ll text you once I get a few hours of sleep, okay?” April says as she unbuckles her seatbelt in front of her parents’ house.

Sterling wipes sleep from her eyes, having napped the last half-hour here. “Okay,” she says, getting out of the car to help April get her stuff from the trunk. “So uh, I’ll let you know how much trouble I’m in for not telling my parents before I left the state.”

“Hopefully not too much. You did manage to bring me back,” April offers that one bright side.

“Kind of,” Sterling says, looking past April at the house, which now seems tackily huge since she was last here. “I can still take you back home if you want.”

April sighs, wanting that more than anything, but knowing having some space for the next week is what they need. “I wish, but I think it’ll be good for us to have some time before the wedding. And hey, your mom can let her guard down a bit when it comes to protecting my virtue.”

Sterling scoffs. “You would think,” she says, pulling April’s suitcase out and setting it on the ground.

“Well,” April says, pulling up the handle, “I guess I’ll see you around then?” It feels so weird parting like this. They truly haven’t spent much time apart since the engagement, save for the past nine days when they technically weren’t engaged anymore.

Sterling nods. “I think that’s a decent assumption, yeah.”

April hands off the Volt keyfob to Sterling and turns to go up to the house, but Sterling grabs her hand and pulls her back for a lingering kiss.

“I’ll miss you,” Sterling says, not wanting to say goodbye, and April can hardly blame her; she doesn’t want to, either.

“Hey, just because we aren’t living together doesn’t mean we can’t still see each other,” April reminds Sterling, who seems like she needs further convincing. “ could consider this our chance to finally ‘date’ like a normal couple with everyone knowing about it.”

“For the next week,” Sterling adds that important caveat. “Then we’re going to be married teens.”

April makes a sound of disgust. “Please don’t phrase it like that,” she says, thinking it makes them sound like they’re entering some kind of arranged marriage situation. “But yes, we’ll be married. So enjoy your last week of freedom.” April punctuates her sentence by pulling Sterling in by the front of her shirt for one more quick, rough kiss, and then she’s going up the walkway to her house, though she thinks of something and turns around halfway up. “I don’t mean that seriously because obviously, we aren’t straight people who think marriage is some kind of life sentence.”

Sterling smiles, shaking her head at April’s compulsive need to be pedantic. “Obviously.” With that said, she gets in the car and drives off, and April is left with nothing to do but to go back into her old life, even for a short while.

She reaches the front porch and is just grabbing the hide-a-key from under the angel baby statue when the door swings open, and out steps her Aunt Franny’s husband in a blue bathrobe and slippers, his usually carefully combed over hair in a state of disarray. He’s holding a cup of tea in one hand and reaches down for the newspaper with the other. April remembers what her cousin said about him not wearing anything under said robe, so she’s prepared to avert her eyes, should the belt come untied.

“Good morning, Uncle Tom,” April greets him, and he about jumps out of his skin, startled.

“Blimey,” he says, panting. “Where the devil have you been? My wife and your mum have been worried sick about you!” he says, chastising, but also pulls her in for a one-armed hug and a kiss on the cheek.

April realizes now that she’d been incredibly selfish and irrational to think she could simply drop off the face of the earth and expect there to be no consequences for it, but she’s fully prepared to own up to it. “I know, I’m sorry. I just needed a break from everything and I went about it the wrong way.”

“I’d say so! You really gave us all a fright. But you’re back now, so there’s really not much any of us can do about it.” He holds the front door open for April to get her suitcase through. “Is it true the wedding’s off?”

April is surprised by his bluntness but shakes her head. “Not anymore.”

Tom breathes a sigh of relief. “Well that’s just great, isn’t it? You know, your Aunt Franny never likes me sharing this, but I have it on good authority that she got cold feet the day before our wedding and—pardon the expression—fucked off to shag some bloke from university.”

April has certainly never heard that story before—in the foreign language that is her uncle’s English dialect, or otherwise. “Oh my God…” she says, hardly believing it. “And you still married her?”

“Yes, of course. A boffin like me can only ever hope to marry a woman as amazing as your aunt,” Tom says with a completely straight face. “I’m kidding, obviously, but she did try, she just didn’t succeed in finding him before coming to her senses, thank Christ.”

April breathes a sigh of relief, not sure she can take another long-standing truth bombshell this morning. She picks up her suitcase by the handle to take it upstairs.

“Say, would you care for a cuppa?” he asks, gesturing with the coffee mug of tea he’s holding.

“No thank you, Uncle Tom,” April declines, really wanting to go upstairs before either her mom or aunt is woken up, because she’s never getting to sleep then.

“You sure? I must say, it works wonders at calming nerves,” he takes a sip of his tea. “I have been married to your aunt for 32 years, after all.”

April can’t help but laugh at that. Her aunt and uncle’s relationship has always been so unlike her parents’ to her. For one, Tom has a deep respect and fear for his wife, as he very well should. “No, that’s okay. I really should be getting some sleep. I had to drive back from North Carolina last night.”

“Bloody Hell, girl. You really are just like Franny,” he says, then points to the stairs. “Well, go on, then. I promise to not compromise your location for a few hours.”

Not having to be told twice, April lugs her suitcase up the stairs and down the hall, not wanting to risk the wheels on the hardwood floors waking her mother and her bat ears.

Being back here after being gone for so long has made it feel almost foreign to her. The meticulously symmetrical decor and everything being so absolutely spotless are less of a comfort to her now than it was back then. Now it makes the place feel cold and less inviting. The pictures of her milestones that adorn the walls are a shrine to the person she’s stopped pretending to be, and the lingering smell of her father’s cologne as she passes her parents’ bedroom brings back memories of him that even seeing him through glass could not.

Feeling overwhelmed, she’s glad to make it to her room at the end of the hall and breathes a sigh of relief when she closes the door behind her.

After everything that’s happened since then, it’s strange to think she last stepped foot in here on prom night. It was once her sanctuary, and now, with the curtains drawn and the air stale, it feels like a tomb. Her mom brought most of her current wardrobe to the Wesley’s after she was kicked out, but everything else seems to still be in place, including her framed decorative picture of a log and a stick that says ‘That Log Had A Child,’ which she can’t wait to confuse Sterling with when they move into whatever housing they eventually end up in.

Though with an entire week of their precious time to find something now gone due to their drama, it’s starting to look like she and Sterling will be commuting the hour to school for who knows how long.

More to April’s annoyance than surprise, her whole drawer full of her warm-weather pajamas is emptied, and she’s forced to resort to the tote of winter ones she keeps in the closet, smiling when she finds her unicorn onesie. Who knows when she’ll next be able to wear it, considering she does actually want to maintain the illusion of being sexy for Sterling for at least the first year of marriage. She goes into her bathroom to change, not wanting to risk anyone currently staying in her house barging into her room while she’s mostly naked. Her dad’s insistence on her having a bedroom door that doesn’t really lock is still a pain in her ass when she’s a week away from being a married woman. 

A married woman. Going from being broken up to that in the span of a week is enough to give a girl whiplash. And it isn’t lost on April that she could be making the biggest mistake of her life by going through with this while knowing full well what a liar Sterling is capable of being. But at the end of the day, she’s willing to take that chance over choosing to make herself miserable for the rest of her life by casting out her one ray of light. Sterling may be very flawed, but April loves her anyway, and that says a lot, coming from a perfectionist such as her.

When she returns to her room, she puts the hood of the onesie on, letting it hang over her eyes as she crawls into bed, feeling like it might take her t-minus 10 seconds to fall asleep, and she’s just drifting off when she hears shrieking from downstairs, followed by a stampede of footsteps and her uncle’s ignored pleas to not wake her.

She really is back home.

Chapter Text

“Think skinny thoughts and suck it in, we don’t have time to go buy you extra small Spanx!” Blair says voice strained as she stands behind Sterling, dress zipper in hand.

“What if it doesn’t fit? Oh my god, what if it doesn’t zip?” Sterling says, panic bubbling up to the surface as she stands in front of the mirror in her wedding dress.

“I have safety pins if it doesn’t,” Blair says, and Sterling can only whimper in horror at the idea.

“Blair, don’t be like that. We still have time for very last-minute alterations, but I wouldn’t rule out the Spanx either…” Debbie muses, putting a hand on Sterling’s shoulder for ‘moral support.’

“Alright, on the count of three, I’m gonna zip it, okay?” Blair says, her other hand coming around Sterling’s front to press on her stomach.

Sterling nods, praying to the Lord above that her love of Chick-Fil-A won’t come back to haunt her now. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“One, two,” Blair doesn’t wait until three, and the second Sterling takes a deep breath in, she’s zipping up the dress--with remarkable ease.

“Oh, thank God,” Debbie says, breathing a sigh of relief as she sits on the edge of Sterling’s bed. “We have so much to do before tomorrow and the last thing I needed was to pay an exuberant amount of money to a tailor because you refused to diet at all over the last three months.” April may have agreed to the wedding being back on, but that does not mean that Debbie is even remotely close to forgiving Sterling for the Hell she put her through, and honestly, that’s fair.

“I told you, I have a fast metabolism,” Sterling says, swishing in front of the mirror, finally able to enjoy the sight of herself in the dress now that she knows it fits.

“Yeah, well, enjoy it while it lasts,” Debbie says, getting up from the bed and looking at herself and Sterling in the mirror. “God, I can’t believe you’re getting married. I’m not old enough for this.”

“Obviously you are,” Blair snarks, and ducks out of the path of their mother’s hand looking to smack her upside the head.

There’s a knock on the door, getting all of their attention as it’s immediately followed by the door starting to open. “Hey Sterl, are you and Blair read-”

Before Sterling can turn away from the mirror, Debbie launches herself across the room to slam the door shut on April before she can see the dress. “Don’t come in here! It’s bad luck!”

April gasps. “Oh my god, is she in the dress?!” she asks, excited.

“No shit, that’s why Mom almost decapitated you just now!” Blair yells and Sterling can practically hear April flip her off through the door.

“Well then, I’ll be downstairs with Anderson when you guys are ready. We have our pre-rehearsal rehearsal lunch with Jamie for us to give your reception speeches any last vetos,” April says.

“Bold of you to assume I have written anything,” Blair shoots back, unzipping the dress and helping Sterling step out of it.

“I’m so glad you’re back on as Sterl’s maid of honor,” April says sarcastically, and a few seconds later they hear her footsteps going down the stairs.

“Blair, you need to learn to be nice to April. She’s going to be your sister starting tomorrow,” Debbie scolds and Blair scoffs.

“So my sister is going to be having sex with my other sister? Gross,” Blair chortles, and Debbie finally lands a shot upside her head. “Uh, ow?”

“Stop being a smart-aleck. Tomorrow is going to be one of the biggest days of your sister’s life and I will not have you screwing it up,” Debbie says this as a first and final warning because Sterling and Blair know she means business.

The fact that the wedding is just over 24 hours away now still hasn’t finished sinking in for Sterling. She’s sure it will by the time they do their wedding rehearsal tonight, but for now, on her last day of being an unmarried woman, all she can do is go with the flow and keep the peace where she needs to. Does she think the pre-rehearsal rehearsal lunch is something that is even remotely necessary? Of course not, but April does, and the fact that she’s still willing to go through with the wedding at all means that Sterling is willing to jump through whatever hoops she wants her to.

“So Mom, what happens when I have to pee while wearing the dress?” Sterling asks as she returns the mass of white to its garment bag until tomorrow.

“You ask a trusted bridesmaid to help...preferably not Luke,” Debbie replies.

“And I don’t trust Kristina, so Blair, that means you’re my designated peeing assistant,” Sterling says and Blair rolls her eyes.

“Jeez, what an honor,” she deadpans as she hands Sterling her clothes from where she tossed them on the couch. “Hurry up and get dressed. We wouldn’t want to keep the Mrs. waiting.”

Sterling knows Blair intends this as a barb but the fact that April is a day away from being her wife is pretty much the greatest feeling ever, so she quickly puts her shirt and jeans from earlier that morning back on and leads the way downstairs.

April’s texting someone on her phone as Sterling and Blair come down the stairs, only looking up when Sterling goes over to give her a quick peck on the lips. “You ready to go, Hon?” she asks, fingers grasping at the front of Sterling’s shirt even after she and Sterling stop kissing.

Sterling holds out her hand for April to lead the way. “After you, milady,” she says, opening the door for her.

April bats her eyes at her exaggeratedly. “Thank you, my dear,” she says, going out the door.

Blair gags as she follows the two of them to April’s wine red Lincoln SUV parked in the driveway. “You two are especially heinous, I hope you know,” she says, climbing into the backseat, but Sterling can’t even be bothered by her because she’s come to realize that she and April being disgusting is a privilege that she never wants to take for granted again.

“You know you’re gonna miss it when you’re hundreds of miles away,” Sterling says, teasing but making herself a little sad in the process. She’s never spent any extended period of time away from Blair and she isn’t particularly looking forward to it. Especially since UNC’s term starts before UGA’s, meaning Blair will be gone by the time she and April get back from the honeymoon, which leaves them about 24 hours left of Twin Time. Not even that, if you count time spent sleeping, though it’ll be a miracle if Sterling can fall asleep easily tonight, knowing what lies ahead.

“I will miss many things but you two being desgustang ain’t one,” Blair scoffs. “But hey, sweet wheels, April. I can see why you went groveling back to Daddy.” She buckles herself in and April adjusts her rear-view mirror to glare at her.

“I did not grovel, I merely offered him an olive branch at the insistence of my mother.” She starts up the car and begins backing out of the driveway. “And besides, we should all be thankful I went because now Sterl and I have total honesty in our relationship, and it will stay that way until death do we part,” April says, smiling to herself and putting one hand on Sterling’s thigh while the other stays on the steering wheel.

“Yeah, it sounds like a horror show to me, but you crazy kids have fun with that,” Blair grumbles.

Sterling is entirely on April’s side on this one. Now that they’ve agreed to work on mending fences and have no more secrets, she feels like an elephant’s been lifted off her shoulders. She’s not stupid and realizes that a good deal of the over-the-top affection these last few days has been a result of April overcompensating for feeling like she’s about to marry someone she doesn’t trust, and that breaks her heart, but she’s happy to have April back at all.

She stares at their hands with their fingers intertwined. Sterling’s engagement ring dazzles in the sunlight and is so beautiful that she thinks it puts the one she got for April to shame, though the one time she dared express this to April was quickly shut down--there will apparently be no disparaging remarks made about April’s ‘perfect’ ring.

“Hey Sterl, can you believe that in 48 hours, you and I will be on our honeymoon? Just you, me, Mickey Mouse, and all the Star Wars merch I can carry,” April muses.

Blair chuckles. “Drinking the Capitalism Kool-Aid, much? I mean damn, April I know you’re a pure little virgin and all but surely you have plans for your honeymoon that don’t involve a Yoda backpack.”

April hums and takes in a deep breath, a tell of hers when she’s genuinely bothered, and Sterling can tell she’s about to go off when Sterling’s phone start’s ringing. She pulls it out of her pocket and sees the caller ID.

“Bowser?” she answers.

“Sterl, I thought you said you were done doing that stuff?” April asks sweetly and Sterling puts up a finger to shush her so she can hear what the man has to say.

“Uh, hey,” Bowser says awkwardly.

“Hey?” Sterling says, frowning, confused as to why he’s calling.

“Speakerphone. Now.” April directs her in a whisper, and when Sterling hesitates, she adds, “Total honesty, right?”

Sterling sighs and hits the speakerphone button. “Bowser, just letting you know you’re on speaker.”

“Oh, uh, okay. Is Blair with you?” He asks.

“Yes, she is,” Blair pipes up from the backseat.

“Uh, and also-” Sterling starts.

“Hi, Mr. Bowser. This is April, Sterling’s fiancée speaking,” April says in that overly cheery voice that sounds just like Mrs. Stevens.

“Well I was just calling to see if the girls could come in for an emergency shift because... the cake batter yogurt machine’s actin’ up, and-” Bowser starts to lie, but Sterling doesn’t let him finish.

“She knows about the bounty hunting thing.”

“Unfortunately,” April says through her teeth.

“In that case,” Bowser says, sounding almost relieved to not have to come up with anything else, “I was wondering if I could maybe get you girls to help with just one last skip if you aren’t busy. I have a very promising lead about Kendra St. John supposedly being at some restaurant convention at a hotel downtown tonight to try to sell her roadkill boxes. I think if we work as a team, we can finally get her,” Bowser explains.

“Unfortunately, Sterling has her rehearsal dinner tonight, and for the sake of our relationship, she’s agreed to put bounty hunting behind her,” April answers for Sterling, who feels like a kid who’s been grounded.

“Sterl, obviously we have to help. Kendra could get people seriously sick with this stuff. People die from eating bad meat. For the sake of the public’s health, we have to arrest her,” Blair argues, putting Sterling in a very tough position.

“Look. Ordinarily, I would take a ‘no’ from y’all and be done with it, but I’m man enough to admit when I need help and this...requires a team. Either y’all help me, or Yolanda’s gonna call up Terrence and that damn TV crew of his from Florida, and that’s the last thing I need.” Bowser explains, and Sterling feels all the more conflicted. But at the end of the day, she simply cannot do anything that will further jeopardize her relationship.

“April, this was our one big skip that got away,” Sterling argues weakly.

“We have our wedding rehearsal at 5 and our rehearsal dinner at 6:00,” April emphasizes. “No.”

Sterling sighs, knowing she isn’t going to get a more straightforward answer than that. “I’m sorry, Bowser.”

Blair groans. “Bowser, don’t have Yolanda call Terrence just yet. Give us like ten minutes and we’ll call you back, okay?” she says, and Bowser agrees, so Sterling hangs up the phone.

April withdraws her hand from Sterling’s and grips the steering wheel tight, clenching her jaw. “Blair, there isn’t a thing you can say to change my mind.”

“Look, I get for obvious reasons you are biased against us being bounty hunters-” Blair starts.

“You pistol-whipped and arrested my father!” April shouts, losing her cool. “Yes, I am biased against it!”

Blair is unfazed. “But, this has been a major part of Sterling’s life for the past two years, and she wasn’t able to give it proper closure with how things ended. This is her opportunity for one last hurrah and then you will never have to worry about it again.”

Sterling can’t lie, catching their one uncatchable skip would be the perfect bookend for this chapter of her life. “April, those conventions downtown sometimes don’t get out until like 9 or 10 at night on the weekends. What if I stuck around at the rehearsal for the important stuff, and then-”

“And then leave me with your family as well as mine so that I can come up with some bullshit excuse for why the other bride and her maid of honor ducked out early? Oh my God, Sterl. You cannot honestly be suggesting this after all we’ve been through recently. The day before our wedding!” April says in disbelief.

“Then why don’t you come with us?” Blair suggests, and April makes a face that Sterling is sure mirrors her own.

“What?” they say at the same time.

“You heard me. You, April Stevens, should come with us tonight. You were pissed about not really knowing what we were doing the last two years and you don’t want us to leave you at the rehearsal dinner. Well, this is an answer to both of those things,” Blair explains, making a shocking amount of sense considering the absolutely far-fetched notion she’s proposing.

Sterling can’t even picture April bounty hunting—those are her two worlds that were destined to never come together. “April, I don’t have to go. I promised you I was done with bounty hunting and I meant it,” she vows, but April’s face is pensive.

“If I were to go with you...would it be dangerous?” April asks.

Sterling shrugs. “I mean, yeah, there’s always a certain degree of danger doing this, but Kendra St. John is a con artist. I think we can handle that without too much trouble. She’s only gone this long without being caught because she’s good at hiding in plain sight and taking off when she smells trouble.” Sterling has an only barely-healed, still slightly atrophic ankle as proof that this isn’t the safest line of work no matter who they’re going after.

“And, if we catch this woman, we’ll be taking a criminal off the streets?” The fact that April is asking this for clarification is making Sterling feel cautiously optimistic, even though she isn’t exactly sure how she feels about April coming with them.

“That’s right, Ms. Safety Freak,” Blair confirms and April seems to have a moment of fighting with herself before she can give her answer.

“Okay, yes,” she says finally, and Sterling raises an eyebrow, needing to clarify that April is saying what Sterling is pretty sure she’s saying.

“Yes, you will dip out of our own rehearsal dinner early to help us catch a criminal?” she asks.

“Never say I don’t love you, Sterling,” April says, seeming a little unsure, but confirming this is indeed the case.

Blair whoops and gets her phone out to call Bowser and give him the news.

Sterling has no idea why April put up so much of a fuss about having lunch with Jamie at a Red Robin when she’s outright refusing to consume anything but water until the wedding.

“April, that is so unhealthy. Just please eat something,” Sterling all but begs, feeling like she’s bargaining with a toddler, which Jamie and Blair seem to be finding endlessly amusing.

“I told you, I’m on a 48 hour cleanse and I will eat at the reception,” April says, refusing to meet her eye.

Jamie groans. “Dude, you’re 18. One meal before the wedding isn’t going to make you not fit in your dress. Considering what all you were eating at my place last week, I really doubt a few French fries will put you over the edge.”

“Yeah, and they’re bottomless,” Sterling says, just being a jerk now as she dangles a fry in front of April’s face.

“Get it out of my face,” April says coldly with a completely straight face.

“You better listen to her, Sterl. You wouldn’t like Bridezilla when she’s hangry,” Blair snorts into her lemonade.

Sterling rolls her eyes and eats the fry herself. Sure, she was stressing over fitting into her wedding dress this morning too, but one fry never hurt anyone. Not eating for two days, however, absolutely does hurt people, and she would hate for Hangry April to pass out at their wedding.

April takes a sip of ice water. “Anyway, can we get to the speeches please?”

“As I said earlier, I haven’t written anything yet,” Blair says, to April’s obvious annoyance. “But I got a general idea with themes like soulmates and childhood sweethearts and stuff.”

April groans but is too smart not to know that arguing with Blair over this would be a losing battle. “Just please don’t mention either of us dating Luke, or arresting my father, or the time freshman year when me and my squad spread the rumor around that you and Sterl slept in the same bed,” she instructs

“Wait, that was you?” Sterling asks, remembering the entire month when people exclusively called them the Incest Twins because of that.

“Wait, who arrested your father?” Jamie asks, eyebrow raised.

April chuckles. “Oh right, I guess I didn’t tell you that. Sterl and Blair are bounty hunters ,” she says, whispering the last part.

Blair groans. “And this is why we never told you. Announce it at the reception in front of everyone, why don’t you?”

The table is in a state of awkward silence for a moment before Jamie finally speaks. “Well dang, Sterling. I didn’t realize you were such a badass. Makes sense, though.”

Sterling can’t help but smile proudly at the compliment, while April seems taken aback.

“She still lied to me about it,” she reiterates and reaches for Jamie’s spiral notebook that she’s written her speech in. April’s eyes scan the lines, but they only make it a few words in before she stops. “Oh J, no, you can’t mention camp.”

“It’s where you and I met,” Jamie states the fact plainly. “And if not for that summer, who knows if you and Sterling would have gotten together.”

“You have a great sense of self-importance,” April grumbles and continues to read. “Seriously, are you trying to embarrass me? You can’t mention the canoe thing.”

“Of course I’m trying to embarrass you, Babygirl. That’s the maid of honor tax you have to pay for all the work we put in to plan that awesome bachelorette party,” Jamie says and reaches over to snatch the book back from April. “So just trust the process and know that I love you dearly and I won’t say anything that will ruin your day.”

Sterling knows as well as anyone that April’s day will be very easily ruined if anyone says the wrong thing at their wedding, but honestly, she is more concerned with what Blair might say, especially since her speech is still just one big question mark. 

“So Jamie, are you bringing a plus one, or are you still planning on seducing our straight teacher?” Blair says around a mouthful of burger.

“Bringing a plus one to a wedding is like bringing a sack lunch to a restaurant,” Jamie says, always the philosophical scumbag. “So even if your teacher is indeed straight as you claim she is—though I doubt it—I should have no trouble finding someone looking for a good time. Weddings are great for that with all the love in the air and the killer dance tracks and the copious amounts of alcohol.”

Blair nods in agreement. “I mean yeah, why do you think the movie Wedding Crashers exists?”

April scoffs. “Well I for one hope you find your Rachel McAdams at our wedding, Jamie,” she says, sounding just a little sarcastic. “If only so I can stop worrying about you picking up a psycho at one of those gay bars you frequent.”

“That’ fair,” Jamie admits but seems desperate to change the conversation. “So you guys seem to have worked out your drama for the most part, huh?” She gestures between Sterling and April, who nod.

“Yep. Totally worked out,” April says, and subtly kicks Sterling’s shin under the table when Sterling gives a less sure face.

“Absolutely,” she says, to April’s satisfaction.

“But bounty hunting, huh? Like legit catching criminals who jumped bail?” Jamie asks, fascinated.

Blair nods happily. “Uh-huh. We’re basically superheroes.”

“I wouldn’t go that far…” Sterling says, shaking her head. Sure, she and Blair started this to bring justice to Atlanta by getting dangerous people like April’s dad off the streets, and with his money, he is basically a supervillain, but that doesn’t make them super. Especially not when it made her spend so much time lying to her fiancée about her ‘secret identity.’

“Are you kidding? I have mad respect for you guys. I mean, miss me with the lying shit but I think everyone at this table knows April’s dad is a trash person,” Jamie says bluntly, and Sterling sees April tense up.

“That may be, but he’s still my father,” she says quietly and silently reaches for one of Sterling’s fries, munching on it.

Sterling sighs and puts a comforting hand on April’s leg. Whatever confusing place she and her father are in in their relationship, April has privately admitted to her that she’s a bit upset that he’ll be missing her wedding. She supposes that him being a terrible person doesn’t erase all the good moments April had with him, even if that would make her life so much easier going forward.

“Well here’s hoping he can actually be reformed by the justice system this time. Oh! Sterl, I forgot to mention this but you will never guess who I ran into at the sex toy store when I was buying your bachelorette present,” Blair says this far too loud. “Cherry! Stripper Cherry!”

“Okay, I am dying to hear this,” Jamie says, chuckling and shaking her head as Sterling’s face lights up.

“Oh, how is she? I bet her son’s gotten so big!” Sterling coos, remembering the chubby little cheeks on that boy and feeling her heart melting.

“She’s good! Working at the store and getting her cosmetology degree. Really seems like she’s turned her life around. Though I doubt Yolanda will bail her out anymore anyway, so I guess we wouldn’t know otherwise.”

Sterling shrugs. “Still, I like to see the best in people and she is way too smart to have to keep getting picked up by people like Bowser.”

“True story,” Blair agrees.

April turns to Jamie. “Are you seeing this? This is my life,” she says, pointing to Sterling and Blair.

Jamie reaches over to pat her on the hand. “And you should consider yourself very lucky indeed.”

The wedding rehearsal goes off without a hitch, to the surprise of everyone involved, though Sterling thinks that it can be at least partially attributed to the fact that their personally-written vows won’t be read until the actual wedding (at April’s insistence).

Standing before Pastor Booth and practicing declaring herself to April in an only semi-formal dress really takes her back to their backyard wedding as children--Ring Pops and all.

“And so that’s when I pronounce y’all married, and you may kiss,” Harland says, and neither of them is about to argue with that as Sterling pops the wild berry Ring Pop out of her mouth and leans in to give April a quick kiss on the lips--anything more in front of their families feels awkward. Sure, there will be 200 people here tomorrow, but at least then she won’t feel Mother’s pure concentrated homophobia burning a hole through the back of her H&M dress.

April subtly licks her lips when they’ve pulled apart and whispers, “Your tongue is blue.”

Sterling blushes, though she supposes it’s only appropriate, considering their engagement began with her having a blue tongue, too. “So are your lips.”

April wipes at her mouth with the back of her hand but giggles. “Thanks for that.”

“Alright now,” Pastor Booth says, “That concludes the ceremony, and then we all go to the reception while the girls get the legal stuff finished and get their pictures taken and the like. So it’s only appropriate that we now all go to the very same venue and enjoy a lovely dinner so generously put on by the Wesleys.”

Sterling breathes a sigh of relief and offers April her hand as they walk down the steps to meet up with her parents. If she didn’t know any better, she’d swear her dad looks like he’s been crying. “Daddy, you don’t have to worry. I’m sure April and I will be spending plenty of weekends at home once school starts,” she says, rubbing his arm.

Anderson sniffs hard to clear his nose and straightens his posture. “Uh, actually, about that. I’ve been meaning to talk to y’all about that. About your housing situation, I mean.” He pulls the two of them aside, leaving Debbie to deal with both her in-laws and April’s family alone, which she shoots the three of them a dirty look for.

“Is this about the fact that Sterl and I are about to face an onslaught of wedding presents that we have no room for in her childhood bedroom? Because I think I can swing renting a storage unit--I might be able to guilt trip my dad into paying for it, actually--and then once we figure out an apartment-” April starts, and Sterling raises an eyebrow, confused.

“Wait, we still don’t have an apartment lined up?” she asks, this being news to her. She thought April would have it taken care of by now.

“Not exactly,” April admits. “I’ve been a little preoccupied with everything recently and the rental market in Athens is absolute insanity.”

“That is why I wanted to talk to y’all, actually,” Anderson says, getting them back on track. “I wasn’t sure when exactly would be the best time to do this, but I know y’all are gonna be busy with other things the day of the wedding, so…” He reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out some folded up paperwork, which he hands to April.

“What is this?” April asks, eyes scanning over them, and Sterling looks over her shoulder to get a look. “Anderson, you didn’t…” she sounds shocked, to say the least, but Sterling still can’t tell what she’s reading. Something about legal title and metes and bounds--whatever that is.

“After looking at the cost of rent in the area around the school, I got curious and decided to see if mortgage payments might be cheaper, and, well, it led me to this,” Anderson says, pulling out his phone and showing Sterling and April pictures of a small white house on a street corner. “I got it for a good price and I closed on it two weeks ago.”

The gears finally turn in Sterling’s head and she realizes that her dad has legitimately bought her and April a house. “Oh my god, that’s why you wanted to kill me last week!” she says, loud enough to earn a few confused looks, mostly from April’s relatives who she hasn’t been introduced to yet.

“Anderson, we can’t accept this. It’s too much,” April says, but takes the phone so she can zoom in on the pictures of the house anyway.

“Look, it’s a fixer-upper and I know you’re a handy girl, so I figured that if y’all happen to do some improvements on the place while you’re there, then we can sell it when you’re through with school and I can get my money back. It’s honestly a smarter investment than renting, and-” April almost knocks him over as she hugs him tight, and Sterling follows suit.

“Don’t be breakin’ any of my ribs now,” Anderson says, but when Sterling looks up, he smiles down at her. “And I also want to remind y’all that when you have kids, Anderson is a strong name for a boy.”

April finally lets him go, and now it’s her turn to be wiping tears from her eyes, smiling. “As if we would consider anything else.”

Sterling has never been exactly clear on what the purpose of the rehearsal dinner is. The rehearsing of the wedding itself makes sense to her because nobody wants any kind of ‘I Ross take thee Rachel’ scenarios to occur on the day of. But even if she doesn’t know the purpose of the dinner, she isn’t about to turn down a pasta feast and grape juice in a wine glass--that last detail alone is enough to make her glad April resorted to nefarious tactics to land them this fancy venue they’re now in.

She does, however, know the meaning of a dinner utensil being clanked against the side of a glass, and she’s more than a little concerned when Luke stands up, glass and spoon in hand.

“Oh sweet Jesus,” April says under her breath, putting Sterling’s thoughts into words, as there is at least one function of a rehearsal dinner aside from families mingling. It’s the one place where those who don’t traditionally give speeches at the wedding are allowed to say whatever unvetted string of words that they want.

“Uh, hi everyone. Sterl’s family, April’s family...what’s up?” Luke starts and April pinches the bridge of her nose, while Sterling feels like she’s watching a car crash in slow motion. “Uh, for those who don’t know me, my name is Luke Creswell and I’m Sterling’s bridesman. I’m also the only person in this room who can say that they’ve dated both of the brides— not at the same time.”

This was clearly intended for laughs, but there are a few looks and sounds of shock from the family members that weren’t privy to this information before, and Sterling notes the fact that April has stolen Jamie’s glass of wine.

“So some might say that if anyone knows if this couple will work out, it’s me. I know that what Sterl looks for in a boyfriend—girlfriend— partner is someone to be her friend, who wants to just hang out sometimes and who needs her but not like, too much. And I know April wants someone who’s smart but doesn’t mind letting her take the lead on things. But also, she wants someone who can nerd out on the Star Wars prequels with her even if they like, really aren’t good movies.”

“A subjective statement,” April says loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, and finally gets Luke that laughter he’s been waiting for, for which he shoots her and Sterling a grateful smile.

“Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know Sterl and April can be that for each other because April is super intense but such a cool friend. And she loves to talk and that seems to fit Sterling. And Sterling...Sterling is just the coolest and I’m not even a little surprised that April fell for her--well maybe I was a little surprised, but not because I don’t think they aren’t right for each other…” Luke trails off, his point lost somewhere in there and he pauses to get himself back on track. “Basically, Sterl and April are both great girls and they’re great together and I’m just really happy for them.” Luke awkwardly raises his glass, and Sterling hears April exhale finally.

“Please tell me it’s over,” Sterling whispers to her, and April giggles.

“God I hope so.”

To their (slight) relief, the next person to stand is Debbie, daintily clinking her knife to her glass like she’s supposed to.

“Well, I figured that seeing as the mother of the bride gets to enjoy the day of the wedding as more of an esteemed guest than anything, this might be my only opportunity to say a few words about our two lovely brides,” she starts, glancing down at what have to be a few prepared words on her phone’s Notes app. “When Sterling and Blair were babies, people always told me to appreciate the time when they were little because not only does it go by horrifyingly fast, but it’s by far the easiest part of raising girls. By the time they’re grown and have opinions and breakable hearts, that’s when the hard stuff starts. Except people don’t tell you about all the great things that come with having grown daughters.” 

Debbie’s looking a little misty-eyed, but she powers through. “I’m sure my girls would be the first to tell you that we don’t always see eye-to-eye on most things, but one thing Sterling and I at least agree on is that April is such a perfect addition to our family. I always thought that I was perfectly content with only having two daughters, but it turns out that gaining April as our daughter-in-law is exactly what Anderson and I needed in our lives. So while I can’t necessarily speak for my husband--he may have some scathing words for her in his speech tomorrow--I know that if we must give our Sterling away so soon, at least we know she’ll be in good hands.” Debbie says, sounding like her speech is coming to a close before adding, “I can at least trust that April will make sure Sterling stays fed and clothed at college because God knows my daughter won’t.” Debbie laughs at her own joke along with everyone else and raises her glass. “To the brides.”

Sterling and April comply along with everyone else, and when Sterling looks back over at her soon-to-be wife, she can see her wiping away a few tears with her napkin. “Babe, are you crying?” Sterling asks, endeared as all hell.

April shakes her head. “No, just...had something in my eye,” she lies horribly and Sterling pulls her in for a side hug, which she doesn’t resist, resting her head on Sterling’s shoulder.

“I don’t deserve your family,” she murmurs, and Sterling thinks this is perhaps the most ridiculous thing April has ever said--killing pigeons for their blood and all.

“You are my family,” she says firmly, and she and April shift so that they can share a kiss that is perhaps a hair too passionate for the setting, but who cares? These people are here to celebrate their love. They can deal with some PDA.

Unfortunately, this is when Blair chooses to interrupt them.

“I just got the text from Bowser. Kendra is at the convention center right now but she’s gonna be leaving in like an hour so we need to go now.”

“It’s only going to take like 20 minutes to drive there. Can’t we have a few more minutes at our rehearsal dinner?”

“No can do. If she leaves early, we’ll be screwed so it’s gotta be now.”

“Fine. Then you have to grab me a few to-go crab cakes while April and I make up an excuse to Mom and Dad.”

“Ew no you can’t eat crab in the car that I’m going to be sitting in with you for god knows how long!”

“Fine. Garlic bread.”

“Slightly better. Slightly.” With that, Blair gets up from the table and heads to the spread of food, that in truth Sterling has already eaten her fill of, but she can’t say no to more appetizers.

“What’s going on?” April whispers, apparently having witnessed their silent exchange.

“It’s time to go,” Sterling says, and April surprisingly doesn’t seem disappointed.

“Oh good, then we won’t have to sit through an unprompted speech from Kristina,” she giggles, and Sterling briefly wonders if that glass of wine she stole from Jamie was even the first one. “I have to go change. Tell your mom I’m not feeling well and that you’re taking me home early. I’ll meet you by the car.”

April stands and leaves Sterling there alone, surrounded by their family. After a minute or two, Sterling gets up to approach her mom, who’s having a conversation with April’s Aunt Franny and her British husband whose name she can’t remember for the life of her.

“When Franny and I married, her father Byron barely wanted to pay for a ceremony. I had to call up my mum and dad to chip in,” British Uncle...Tim? Tom? Tom sounds right to Sterling. British Uncle Tom recounts, much to his wife’s embarrassment, though Debbie laughs.

“I told you, you don’t have the kind of money they did without being an absolute cheapskate your entire life,” Franny says, rolling her eyes.

“Oh, don’t feel too bad,” Debbie says. “Even if my parents hadn’t tragically passed before my wedding to Anderson, I think I would have been lucky to get a wedding in a barn.”

Franny and Tom laugh at that, but having seen the place where her mother grew up, Sterling knows Debbie isn’t joking. In any case, it seems like a good time to cut into the conversation.

“Uh, hi Mom,” Sterling says, and Debbie smiles.

“Oh, Sterling, there you are. I was just telling April’s aunt and uncle about your plan to go to law school like your dad so that when you have kids, you can pay for a wedding like this one,” Debbie says, and Sterling laughs half-heartedly.

“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves there…” she says, trailing off.

“Where’s April?” Franny asks, looking around for her niece. “I was going to have her tell the story about when she was my brother’s flower girl and was so invested you could have sworn it was her own wedding.”

Sterling clears her throat. “She uh, isn’t feeling well and asked if I could take her home, actually,” she says and winces at the looks of abject horror all three of them give her.

“Gosh, I do hope she’s alright,” Tom says, far calmer than his wife, who adds her two cents.

“What kind of not feeling well? Because if she’s sick then that could be problematic for the wedding tomorrow, and if she’s lying like I did the day before my wedding to this guy-” Franny points her thumb in her husband’s direction, “-then we really have a problem.”

Sterling shakes her hands out in front of her defensively. “Oh no, it’s nothing like that. I just think all the stress is giving her a migraine and it would be better if she could just go lie down in the dark for a few hours. Blair’s concerned too, so she’s coming with us.” She isn’t usually that good at lying, but this one must be half-decent, as everyone seems to accept it. Or so she thinks.

“Sterling,” Debbie says, coming closer so she can whisper in her daughter’s ear, “I know you three are up to something. But contrary to popular belief, I was young once and I will let it slide. But I swear on all that is good, you better be awake and in one piece tomorrow morning, understood?”

Sterling nods furiously.

Debbie returns to her normal volume. “Alright, now you better get April home. Your father and I are actually quite capable of hosting a party if I do say so myself.” 

Sterling smiles and makes a beeline for the door, only to be blocked by Jamie.

“May I ask where you three delinquents are sneaking off to?” she asks knowingly, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow.

“Nope,” Sterling says, trying to go around her, but Jamie is acting like she’s playing defense on a basketball court. “Okay, seriously, I need to get through,” she says, annoyed.

“Tell me where you’re going and I will. Don’t make me regret helping you get April back,” Jamie says, holding firm.

Sterling sighs. “We’re going bounty hunting, okay?” she whispers, and Jamie’s face lights up.

“Wow, and here I thought you were taking Baby A to her first strip club but that is much cooler. Have fun and don’t die. I’m gonna go back to talking to the unicorn hunter couple over there,” she says, pointing to April’s Uncle Bill and his wife, who are both eyeing her in a certain way.

“...You really are sick, you know that?” Sterling says, shaking her head and finally walking past Jamie, who calls after her,

“Don’t hate me cuz you ain’t me.”

“Okay, seriously, if Wifey isn’t out here in two minutes, we’re leaving her behind,” Blair says, shifting her weight from foot to foot impatiently, and honestly, even Sterling is wondering what’s keeping April. She was held up from leaving the party and she still had time to change into jeans and a t-shirt in the backseat of the Volt without April showing up yet.

“We can’t leave her or she’ll leave me at the altar tomorrow,” Sterling says firmly, and it’s a good thing too, as April finally walks into view.

And what a view it is.

It shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise to Sterling that her fiancée, who is extra as all heck and who has an outfit for everything, is going bounty hunting in a leather jacket, a bold red lip, and her hair curled and freshly touched up.

“Okay, Olivia Newton-John…” Blair says, sounding like even she is aware of how drop-dead sexy April looks right now.

“I was going for more of a Michelle Pfieffer in Grease 2 thing, actually,” April corrects her as she goes to get in the car, but notices Sterling staring at her and walks up into her personal space, biting her lip and giving Sterling a look that should be illegal. “Careful. You still have to make it another 24 hours,” she says, but exacerbates the problem by pulling Sterling in for one hard and fast kiss.

“I love you,” is all Sterling can manage to say as they get into the car, her mouth dry.

“You better,” April replies, going around to the driver’s side and making Blair move to the back so she can drive. “Okay, so the convention center downtown,” she confirms with them before pulling out of the parking lot and driving to the nearest highway on-ramp.

“You know, a big part of bounty hunting is looking inconspicuous,” Blair says, leaning her head over the center console. “Kinda hard to do that when we’ve got her looking like that.” She speaks to Sterling as if April isn’t sitting right there.

“Something tells me Sterl has no complaints about how I look,” April says smugly, and she is not wrong.

“I mean, she’s definitely got the intimidation thing down pat and that’s something we’ve always sorely lacked,” Sterling says, shrugging, and Blair scoffs, disgusted.

“Simp,” she says under her breath.

“You’re damn right she is,” April says as if it’s the opposite of a problem for her. “Blair, I truly do hope that you meet someone great so you understand what it’s like to be in love like us.”

“Yeah, no thanks. This whole puppy dog owner thing you have going on is fuckin’ weird and if that’s what ‘twuu wuv’ is like, then I don’t want it. You should simp for each other,” Blair says as if she’s some kind of relationship expert.

“Oh please, I simp so hard for Sterling,” April argues, and Sterling feels something break inside her.

“Enough!” she snaps at the both of them, earning stunned silence, which comes as a great relief. “Thank you,” she says, her voice calmer. “Now I know that the likelihood of you two ever getting along, even for my sake, is basically zero, zilch, nada, but I am so sick of constantly being your Solomon’s Baby.” Sterling would pat herself on the back for that off the cuff, top-notch Bible reference in any other setting. “You both are half of my heart, and you can’t split me in half. I need both of you to just be able to exist together. You don’t even have to pretend to like each other, but I would love to not feel like I’m constantly being caught in the middle of your petty arguments.”

Blair’s the first to break the silence that’s fallen over the car. “Did you just tell us to STFU because you love us?”

“You’re dang right I did! Because you two are both awesome in your own ways and I love you to an unhealthy degree, but right now I am irritated AF by the both of you,” Sterling says, and April seems to be at a loss for words for the first time in her life as she begrudgingly comes up with something.

“I guess...if you aren’t expecting us to be friends, tolerating Blair wouldn’t be the most impossible thing,” she says, then looks expectantly in the rearview mirror. “Well?”

Blair groans. “Fine, fine, I guess as long as we won’t be living in the same house for any extended periods of time, I can deal with you being married to my sister.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, seeing as your dad bought us a house,” April brags.

“What?! All I got for going off to college was a Barnes & Noble gift card! To buy school books with!” Blair complains, but can’t go any further into it as April parks in the large loading alley behind the convention center, where Bowser is already waiting in his Jeep.

They all get out of their cars to rendezvous, with April seeming surprisingly pumped. “Okay, so what’s the gameplan, Mr. Bowser?” she asks.

Bowser looks very tired. “Well, Girl Whose Name I Do Not Remember, those of us who have experience with this kind of thing are going to cover all entrances so there’s no way Kendra can get out of the building without running into one of us,” he explains.

April hums, annoyed. “It’s April,” she corrects him. “And would you happen to be intending on doing that when the convention lets out and every door is flooded with people? Because I’d have to think that, having actually been to this very convention center with my dad before--he owns most of the Chick-Fil-As in the Peachtree area--you will have a little trouble picking your criminal out of the crowd. And that’s assuming she doesn’t know to be deliberately avoiding you three,” she explains matter-of-factly, to Bowser’s obvious annoyance and Sterling’s arousal.

“Babe, you’re so smart,” she says, rubbing April’s shoulder. At Blair and Bowser’s respective disgust and annoyance, she adds, “She’s right. How are we supposed to find Kendra in a sea of people?”

“Well...” Bowser says, clearly not having thought this through as well as he thought he did. “I don’t know.”

“May I share the plan I came up with?” April asks, and waits for Bowser to nod begrudgingly before continuing. “Well, like I said, I’ve been to this convention before and I happen to know the door guy who checks badges. He would let Sterl and I in, and then we could arrest Kendra inside,” she details the plan, and Sterling does think it’s a solid one, but Blair’s shaking her head before she can even finish.

“Except, the only legal bounty hunter here is Bowser, so none of us three can exactly arrest her in front of witnesses,” Blair explains, and Sterling realizes she is also correct.

“Crap,” she swears under her breath. “So what are we gonna do? Send April and Bowser in there?” Sterling asks.

April sucks air in through her teeth loudly. “Yeah, see, the door guy is an old high school friend of my dad, so I’m not sure that’s gonna work…”

“Damn, you girls run with a lot of racists,” Bowser says, side-eying April in particular.

“Yeah, well, we’re white and in Georgia. What do you expect?” April asks, to which Bowser gestures as if to say, ‘I give you that’. “Anyway, if we can’t arrest her inside, then I guess Sterl and I would have to find a way to lure her out.”

“And then y’all could still cover the doors in case she bolts,” Sterling says, knowing it’s always best to have a backup plan.

Bowser shrugs. “Works for me. Blair, you cover this back door. I’ll go around the front.”

“Uh, leaving me, an 18-year-old girl, alone in this dark creepy alley? No thank you, I’ll take the front,” Blair argues.

Bowser nods. “Fair point. Alright, so if you girls think you can handle it, we’ll be waiting.”

April smiles, definitely satisfied that it’s her plan they’re going with. “Let’s go, Honey,” she says, taking Sterling’s hand and leading her around to the front door with Blair following a short distance behind them. 

Once they’re in the lobby, they walk up to the door leading into convention hall A, where a middle-aged man with a mustache is checking people’s badges on lanyards before letting them in. His face lights up when he sees April. “Do my eyes deceive me, or is that John Stevens’ little girl?” he says.

“Guilty as charged,” April replies, quickly letting go of Sterling’s hand. “How’ve you been, Richard?”

“Oh, same old, same old,” he says, nodding his head. “Say, I haven’t seen your old man come through here this year.”

Richard is perhaps the only person in the area who apparently doesn’t know about John’s arrest, and Sterling knows they can use that to their advantage. “Yeah, he’s just been so busy lately that he sent April and me here to test out new products,” she lies (flawlessly, she might add). “Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’m Sterling--er, Westley and I’m April’ associate.”

April nods, rolling with it. “Right, exactly. But the problem is that my dad’s left the country and accidentally took our badges and order confirmation with him. So Miss Westley and I are going to go buy a couple of replacements, but we just wanted to say hi first.”

Richard shakes his head. “Oh, nonsense. Y’all can go right in. I know you’re on the up-and-up.”

April smiles completely disingenuously. “Oh gosh, really? That would be so nice, Richard.”

He shrugs. “It’s really no big deal. But tell your daddy that he better be bringing me some chicken sandwich coupons next year.” He steps out of the way for them to go through the door, and Sterling breathes a sigh of relief once they’re inside.

“Wow, you are like scary good at that,” she says, picking up a bag of freebies off the welcome table.

“And you are shockingly bad at it. I’m honestly disappointed in myself for believing your lies for two years,” April says, then points to the drawstring backpack of stuff that Sterling is putting on. “Seriously? Do you really need a swag bag?”

“They’re free,” Sterling says, thinking this is the most obvious thing in the world, and April rolls her eyes.

“Fine,” she says, then leads them deeper into the convention hall, which is lined wall to wall with booths. “You said she deals in roadkill, yes?” April asks, glancing up at a sign pointing the directions of things like produce suppliers, appliances, and the like. She leads them in the direction of the booths peddling meat.

“So, uh,” Sterling says as they pass by booths (hopefully) not selling roadkill, “Can I just say that you being a total badass like this is super sexy?”

April stops and looks to smirk up at Sterling. “You may,” she says and continues walking until they come across a booth advertising a company called Scoiattolo’s Fine Imported Meats, being manned by a big-haired blonde woman. “Do you by any chance know Italian?” she asks Sterling, who knows this is leading somewhere.

“No…?” she says, confused. “Do you?”

“Enough to know ‘Squirrel’s’ is an odd name for a company,” April says, and before Sterling can stop her so they can work out a more cohesive plan, April is walking up to the booth. “Well hi there,” she says, her voice high and her Georgia accent kicked up to 11. “My friend and I are lookin’ to start our own cupcake business and we’re thinking about dippin’ into the realm of savory cakes. What kind of meats do y’all got and that you think would work?”

Kendra smiles politely, though seems mildly horrified by the mention of savory cupcakes. “Well, we at Scoiattolo’s are known for having a wide variety of meats, all prime cut, grass-fed, free-range...really all the things that make it taste as fresh as can be,” she says, pulling out a catalog and a business card. “I can just leave this with you and if you find anything you think you could incorporate into your recipes, give me a call. I can give you a convention special for the next two weeks.”

“That would be so lovely, thank you,” Sterling says, but April is clearly about to strike.

“So as far as the variety of meat, do you have anything a bit more on the...exotic side?” April asks, and a flash of surprise crosses Kendra’s face before she plasters the smile back on.

“I’m not quite sure what you mean by that…” she says, her eyes briefly cutting in the direction of the door.

“Oh, you know,” Sterling says, preparing to run if she has to, “Squirrel, perhaps?”

Kendra drops the nice facade. “Who sent you? The health department? USDA? Because you can’t prove a damn thing.”

Sterling leans in closer, “Actually, we’re bail enforcement. You really have an impressive history of scams. Now, either we can do this the easy way and you leave quietly with us without making a scene, or-“ she can’t finish her sentence before Kendra is vaulting over her booth’s table like an ex-gymnast and taking off for the back alley door.

“Yep. Saw that coming,” Sterling says, and she and April take off after her, having a few cartoonish obstacles thrown in their way to slow them down, including a gumball machine and a guy handing out brochures for some kind of frozen Jamaican appetizer.

“So this is really what you’ve been doing all this time?” April asks, sounding like she’s having far too much fun with this as she leaps over the overturned gumball machine and deftly steps around the spilled candy. She pulls out ahead of Sterling, gaining on Kendra, but not reaching her before she gets to the back door, pushing it open and setting off the security alarm throughout the convention hall. Though Sterling knows she’s just going to run right into Bowser, so she allows herself to slow down and catch her breath for the last few steps out the door.

But while she expects to find Bowser with Kendra in cuffs, instead he’s clutching at his neck, with Kendra (or April) nowhere in sight. “Heifer punched me in the throat,” Bowser forces out, voice hoarse.

April runs down the alley in the direction Kendra went, but Sterling thinks this is as good a time as any to call in Blair for backup, writing out a text and hitting send just as she hears an engine rev.

She turns her head towards where April and Kendra went and is almost blinded by headlights as a car tears down the alley, forcing April to dive into a loading bay to avoid being run down. A familiar pink Cadillac whizzes past Sterling, whose determination to catch this woman has only been intensified by her almost killing her fiancée just now. Sterling pulls out her gun from its holster, flipping off the safety and quickly firing off a few shots that take out the Cadillac’s back tires.

The car’s bare wheels shoot sparks as the car tries to continue on, but it veers off into the side of the convention center and is finally forced to a stop as Blair runs around the corner of the building.

“What did I miss?” Blair asks, putting out her hands in confusion while Bowser jogs up to the car and pulls Kendra out.

“Oh, you know, just your usual run-of-the-mill attempted vehicular brideslaughter,” Sterling says, smiling at her own joke as she holsters her gun and goes to help April. “You okay?” she asks, offering April her hand, who seems a little dazed as she stares wide-eyed up at her a moment before realizing Sterling asked her a question, and she nods.

“Uh-huh. Yeah, yeah, I’m totally fine,” April says, taking her hand and allowing Sterling to pull her up onto her feet--or rather, into Sterling’s arms. She’s looking at her fiancée in a way Sterling doesn’t think she’s witnessed before. Is it awe? In any case, it looks like she’s got Spandau Ballet’s “True” playing as the soundtrack in her head. “You rescued me,” she says, practically swooning.

“Well, I mean, you sort of rescued yourself. I just shot some-” Sterling says, looking off, and is caught off-guard by April taking her by the back of her head and pulling her in for a hard kiss. “-tires,” she finishes, out of breath, noticing the string of saliva from her mouth to April’s. The two of them wipe their mouths with the back of their hands simultaneously, and Sterling finally notices Blair staring at them, horrified.

“Is this really going to be my life?” she asks nobody in particular and walks off to help Bowser load Kendra into the Jeep.

“What’s it gonna take for you to forget you saw me? Is it money? Because I have some socked away with your name on it,” Kendra says in a weak attempt at a bribe, but Bowser’s not having it.

“Yeah, I’d save that for your commissary. Get a bag of Doritos for me,” Bowser says, pushing her head down so it doesn’t smack against the car, which is more than Sterling can say she would do for the woman who almost ran over her fiancée. “I got this handled here. Don’t y’all have a wedding tomorrow?”

“You can remember that but not my name?” April asks, walking back to the Volt.

“Okay, September,” Bowser says, giving April one of his very rare smiles.

“So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?” Sterling says, lingering on the pathway to April’s parents’ house, not wanting to leave just yet.

“I should certainly hope so,” April says, turning Sterling’s hand over in hers and tracing her finger over the lines on Sterling’s palm, specifically the ones in the shape of an M. “Can you believe that this time tomorrow, we’ll be married?” she asks and thankfully does not seem worried about it, which comes as quite a relief considering where they were only a week ago.

“Not just married, but on a plane. To our honeymoon,” Sterling emphasizes, the adrenaline from this evening perhaps making her brain focus a bit too much on one element of married life in particular.

April thankfully doesn’t seem to mind. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she says, clearly playing coy.

Sterling leans down to kiss her, needing to be close to her right now. And April seems to agree, letting it go on perhaps longer than necessary until Blair honks the horn and rolls down the passenger side window.

“Save it for tomorrow, you horny simpletons!” she shouts, and April’s eyes dart to the darkened house as a light comes on from one of the bedrooms, and then another.

“Well, now that I know my whole family’s awake, I should probably head inside,” April says, sighing. “Text me when you get home?”

Sterling nods. “You got it.”

April gets up on her tippy toes and kisses Sterling on the cheek. “Enjoy your last night as Sterling Wesley,” she says.

Sterling nods. “And you, April Stevens.”

With that, April goes to walk up to the house, stopping midway to turn around and blow Sterling a kiss before continuing on.

Sterling gets back in the car’s driver’s side, attempting to ignore Blair’s exaggerated disgust.

“Seriously, there should be laws against people like you two,” she says, buckling her seatbelt.

“Well, you know, there were but thankfully the country’s moving in the right direction,” Sterling says with a straight face as realization dawns on Blairs.

“Oh, yikes, my bad,” she apologizes. “But accidental homophobia aside, you two are gross and I demand to be the godmother of your future children as compensation for having to endure witnessing how disgustingly in love you are.”

“Okay so you call dibs on being the godmother, and Dad’s called dibs on the name of our firstborn son. Got it,” Sterling says, amused as she starts up the car and starts driving home.

“Hey, you can’t say we aren’t at least curious to see what kind of freaky smart kids the two of you make one day.” Blair shrugs.

“You do realize we can’t actually have biological children together, correct?” Sterling asks.

“Duh. Obviously. But nurture over nature and all that jazz. Be prepared for a brood of little Aprils,” Blair says, then clearly regrets it immediately. “Oh god, that would be horrifying.”

“I should be so lucky to get one little April.” Sterling shakes her head. “You know Blair, I hope you know that when you find the right guy, I am going to support you every step of the way. I’ll return the favor and be your pee assistant at your wedding and everything.”

Blair scoffs. “Oh please, after witnessing this circus with your bridezilla on the rampage, I am never getting married. And kids? Nooo thank you.”

“But you want to be the godmother to mine and April’s future children?” Sterling feels like that’s a bit of a contradiction.

“I can return the little shits once I’ve properly sugared them up for you and April to deal with. A true win-win scenario,” Blair says, smirking, and Sterling rolls her eyes. “Hey, the night is still young, you know. Wanna hit up a strip club?”

“Um, no, I really don’t,” Sterling declines, shaking her head.

“Aw, come on. The only time you’ve ever been to one was when we were working. I’ll buy you a lapdance and everything!” Blair whines and Sterling thinks this is about more than her sowing her wild oats.

“Yeah, no. April would kill me and I also don’t want to,” she declines again, turning onto their street, so she knows this conversation is about to be a moot point anyway.

“It’s not like she’d even have to know!” Blair whines as Sterling parks the car.

“She’d know,” she says with absolute certainty as she unbuckles her seatbelt and gets out of the car. The house is dark, as she’s sure her parents are prepared for any last-minute things to be thrown at them early tomorrow, and she knows she should probably get to sleep as soon as possible for that same reason. 

Therefore, Sterling doesn’t dawdle when it comes to going up to her room and changing into her pajamas before crawling into bed and texting April.

Sterling 🥰👰: Made it home safe.

April 👰🦖: Oh good. I just got into bed myself. Blair woke up Leah. 😒

Sterling 🥰👰: Yeesh, I’m sorry.

April 👰🦖: It’s okay. I’m still in a good mood after seeing you be such a sexy badass tonight. 🤪

April 👰🦖: And I even hate guns.

Sterling 🥰👰: I know you do. But I’m glad you thought it was sexy. 😎

April 👰🦖: Extremely. Something tells me I’m going to have a little trouble sleeping tonight…

Sterling looks at her bedroom and bathroom doors to make sure she closed them both before she switches her phone to her left hand and sneaks her right under the waistband of her pajama bottoms. It’s been a while since’s she’s been able to do this.

Sterling 🥰👰: And why is that?

April 👰🦖: Let’s just say the anticipation for tomorrow night is killing me.

Sterling lets out a whooshing breath as April’s words in combination with the slow ministrations of her own fingers are making it a bit hard to type with her free hand.

April 👰🦖: And yes. I do mean it ‘like that’ 😏

Sterling feels like she might actually die when at that exact moment, the bathroom door swings open, and in barges Blair. She accidentally sends her phone flying to the foot of the bed as she yanks her other hand out of her pants in an attempt to pretend like she wasn’t doing what she was just doing.

“Uh,” Blair says, looking from the phone to Sterling and her face that feels incredibly hot. “I was just going to come in and say I was sorry for being a brat in the car but...were you just touching yourself?” she asks, smirking.

“What? No!” Sterling lies terribly and tries to stop Blair from picking up her unlocked phone from the bed, but fails, and Blair reads the texts. “Oh my god, you were!” she says, voice high and definitely loud enough to wake their parents.

“Would you keep it down?” Sterling asks, snatching the phone back. “That is a private matter between me and my fiancée and it’s none of your dang business.”

“You’re right. It’s not. But I am going to ask that you don’t continue masturbating because imma need you to move over,” Blair says, pushing into the bed, beside Sterling, forcing her over to one side.

“What are you doing?” Sterling asks but surprisingly doesn’t mind considering she was just robbed of what was sure to be a great orgasm.

“This is probably going to be our last night of ever living together and definitely the last night of us just being able to be close like this without your wife also in the bed, so can I please have this without your judgment?” Blair asks, surprising Sterling, who nods.

“You know my getting married won’t change the fact that I’m nothing without you, right?” Sterling asks, and Blair nods knowingly.

“Oh, I know. So...getting worked up for tomorrow night, huh?”


Chapter Text

“Should we let her sleep a little longer, Fran? She was out late last night.”

“God no. She has to have as much time as humanly possible to get ready—mentally if not entirely physically.”

“Having raised her for 18 years, I can tell you that an April running on not enough sleep is not someone we want sitting in a salon chair for three hours.”

April groans, having heard enough of this and realizing that whether she pretends to be asleep or not, she will not be left alone by her mother and aunt. “I’m awake. You can stop debating,” she says without opening her eyes, though the light is streaming through her eyelids the second someone pulls back the curtains on the window directly across from her bed.

“Oh good!” her mother says, coming over to sit on the edge of her bed and pushing April’s hair out of her eyes with a gentle hand. “Today’s the big day, sweetheart.”

April smiles, feeling her heart soar at the thought that in a few short hours, she will be Mrs. April Stevens-Wesley. That’s enough to get her to open her eyes, blinking rapidly as they adjust to the light.

She notices her mother is holding her pair of glasses for her and accepts them gratefully, the thought of putting her contacts in right now sounding like torture for her tired eyes. Though it is funny that her mom thinks she didn’t get enough sleep because she got home late.

April has always prided herself on being someone who generally is not driven by lust, but seeing Sterling out there acting like a big-screen action hero and being so calm and collected doing it was enough to keep her up half the night. Stirring, aching for a carnal thing that she has never even experienced before, in any capacity, April is sure that she experienced the biblical definition of burning in passion. So it’s a good thing she won’t have to spend one more night of her life as a horny virgin who for guilt reasons has never so much as touched herself.

“Now, I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but we’ve got a lot to do over the next ten hours. When Sarah married Ari, she insisted she could sleep in and her hair almost wasn’t done in time,” Franny says, going to April’s dresser and putting together an outfit with her comfiest loungewear, which she puts down on the bed next to her, then puts her hand on April’s cheek and gets a good look at her face. “My God. Mary, are you seeing the bags under this girl’s eyes?”

April feels her anxiety skyrocket, and it isn’t helped by her mother’s rather horrified gasp, though Mary reins it in with a deep breath.

“It’s okay. I have spoons in the freezer for this,” Mary says, then smooths April’s messy hair out of her face. “How’s about we start our morning with an aromatherapy bath, hm?” she suggests in a way quite reminiscent of how she would act as if a much younger April ever had a say in anything she did.

April nods. “Yeah, okay,” she says, following her mom into her bathroom and getting some essential things from her repacked toiletries bag that she intends to put with her honeymoon suitcase once they’re done here.

Mary runs the bathwater, checking its temperature before getting a bath bomb from April’s collection, which she admits she missed dearly in her time with the Wesleys. “Eucalyptus Rosemary or Lavender Vanilla?”

“Lavender Vanilla, please,” April says quietly, not needing her mom to prepare her bath like she’s a small child but also not hating it. She’s spent these last months acting so grown up but when it all comes down to it, she’s just a girl who’s really needed her mom.

Mary puts the bath bomb into the water and walks over to kiss April on the forehead. “God, I can’t believe you’re getting married today,” she muses, a little sad, but she’s trying her best to hide it. With that said, she leaves April to it, closing the door behind her.

April finally rids herself of her pajamas and steps into the water, marveling at how it must be some kind of superpower moms have to always get the temperature of a bath just right. She settles down into it, submerging herself up to her chest, and turns the running water off with her foot. She takes in a deep breath of the steam rising up from the purple-tinted water, trying to allow herself to just enjoy this moment of peace while she can.

This lasts for all of five minutes.

“You know, April,” Mary starts from outside the door. “Last year when you were off doing that camp counselor job, your father and I went to Gerald’s daughter Gwen’s wedding and she had a band that played the nicest rendition of that one John Legend song.”

“Sterl and I got a DJ,” April says, trying to not get irritated by her mom being in a chatty mood when it’s supposed to be her relaxation time.

“Well, it’s not as glamorous but I guess it’s functional,” Mary says, judgy, and this is exactly why April is actually a little glad her mother wasn’t involved in the wedding planning. 

“Yes, and it also means we’ll be getting the actual songs and not second-rate covers by a band who have to perform at weddings,” April says, no fucks given.

“Well, what about catering? Remember how your cousin had that kosher caterer and John got food poisoning?” April’s mother is really on a roll this morning.

“Daddy did not get food poisoning, he drank too much at the reception,” April reminds her. “Now, can I please soak in peace?”

“Oh, of course,” Mary says, though sounding surprised that she’s even bothering her daughter.

April breathes a sigh of relief and slides down until the water is just below her ears and nose in a position she thinks is somewhat reminiscent of a hippopotamus. That is where she stays for a good five minutes before she holds her nose and dunks her head under the water, enjoying a good 25 seconds of sensory deprivation before she returns to the surface.

“April! April, are you okay?” Mary calls from outside the door.

April wipes water from her eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“I was calling for you and you didn’t answer,” Mary says, and April rolls her eyes. “Anyway, your dad’s on the phone and wants to talk to him.”

“Mary Elizabeth, I already told you to not bother that girl on her special day. You know as well as I do that the man will only try to get into her head again!” Franny scolds Mary, and then April hears some kind of scuffle that ends with, “Goodbye, John,” from Franny, followed by Mary basically growling.

“You can’t just hang up on my husband! It’s his daughter’s wedding day and he deserves to talk to her!”

“The man doesn’t deserve diddly and he hasn’t since he kicked April out of her home and almost made you miss the most important day of her life up to now,” Franny says, unapologetic, and April’s love for her aunt is only reaffirmed.

It isn’t that she doesn’t want to talk to her dad on her wedding day—in fact, all she’s ever wanted is his approval of her living her life how she’s supposed to live it—but she, like Franny, knows that it won’t be the kind of conversation she wants it to be. No, it would undoubtedly be a last-ditch effort to get her to call the whole thing off, not him giving his blessing or telling her that her wife will be his daughter too after today. She doubts he’ll ever get there.

“Hey, Mama?” April calls out to them. “If Daddy calls back, please don’t try to make me talk to him.” With that said, she goes back under the water.

Sitting in a bathrobe and a towel turban getting a mani-pedi in her kitchen is proving to be more relaxing for April than the bath, if only because Mary and Franny have gone off to check on things at the Wesley house. 

A tiny, tiny part of April is concerned about the possibility of Sterling changing her mind last minute, that is for sure, but the chances of that seem slim after all they’ve been through recently to get to this day. And truly, April knows that if there were betting odds for who is most likely to chicken out, she would be the favorite by a lot. Though it would have less to do with a lack of desire to marry Sterling and plenty to do with her potentially losing her mind from the winning combo of a lack of sleep and the fact that she’s been starving herself for going on two days just so she can fit into her dress.

“How do you want your nails? Are we thinking a French manicure, gels…?” The manicurist asks.

“Uh, let’s go with classic white and very short. I have to go on my honeymoon,” April says, smirking to herself and thinking about the text conversation she had with Sterling last night, though her lack of replies after a certain point was a little concerning. She’s just thinking of asking the manicurist to let her use her phone for a second when a commotion comes from the front door and in stampedes her bridal party, who must have carpooled over here. “About time you guys showed up,” she says, and Hannah B. comes over to give her a tight hug from behind.

“I can’t believe you’re getting married today!” she squeals

“Neither can I,” Ezekiel says, sounding less enthused as he comes in with Starbucks.

“I can’t believe I’ve never going to be able to hear out of my right ear again,” April says, still left with a ringing sound from Hannah B.’s shrieking, but Hannah B. doesn’t let her go.

“You don’t get to be grumpy today! It’s your wedding day,” Hannah B. admonishes her and kisses her cheek before finally letting her go.

“I think I at least have something to help you with that,” Ezekiel says, holding up April’s favorite order from the tray of drinks and bringing it over so she can sip it from the straw without the use of her hands.

It kills April to have to turn her head away. “I can’t. My dress was a little tight when I tried it on a few days ago after my junk food binge at Jamie’s place and so I’m on a cleanse,” she says, nodding her head toward a nearby glass of celery juice mixed with lemon juice and Tabasco.

“Dude, that is nasty,” Jamie says, picking up the glass and sipping it to confirm this fact. “Yep. Disgusting,” she says, coughing.

“Yeah, I know. But, according to my mom, I have ‘the Emerson child-bearing hips,’” April says in her perfect impression of her mother that makes Ezekiel recoil in horror.

“Ew. That makes you sound like a broodmare!” Ezekiel says as he begins to drink April’s coffee, which she continues to stare longingly at.

“I know,” April says, still disgusted by any part of her body being described in such terms. “Anyway, the hair and makeup people will be here in a little while. Have you guys put any thought into what you want?”

“I was thinking about going for a kind of Lenny Kravitz in The Hunger Games vibe,” Ezekiel says without hesitation. “I think the gold eyeliner will really go with the gold tie y’all decided to put me in.”

“Dude, with friends like us, how did anyone ever think April was straight?” Jamie asks and Ezekiel shrugs.

“I think about half of the Straight-Straight Alliance was some letter of the alphabet,” April says, looking back on it.

Ezekiel laughs and sighs, sitting in one of the kitchen table chairs. “Do you ever look back on our time at Willingham and just think, ‘wow... that was bullshit’?”

“Yeah, all the time,” April agrees. “But I’m gonna miss you guys so much at UGA. Riverdale just won’t be the same without our hate-watch parties.”

“It’s a good show! You guys are just mean,” Hannah B. argues, sitting next to Ezekiel.

“Hannah B., you know I love you, but please for the love of God, broaden your media horizons.” April is astounded that anyone can come away from that show and its epic highs and lows of high school football and think it’s quality television--but then again, this is Hannah B. she’s talking about.

“So where did you and Sterling disappear off to last night? Getting in some last-minute premarital action maybe?” Jamie asks, waggling her eyebrows suggestively like she knows a secret, and April thinks there’s a good chance she may know the truth, but there’s no way she would try to confirm as much in front of Ezekiel and Hannah B..

April rolls her eyes. “Sure, something like that,” she says sarcastically. “Nevermind the fact that Blair was with us and I have done my best to earn that white dress, thank you very much.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t want your virgin ass calling me from your honeymoon asking for pointers, got it? It’s sink or swim,” Jamie says without a hint of irony as the manicurist briefly looks up at her, appalled.

“How are you even going to know what to do, though?” Hannah B. asks.

April has considered that. “I’ve done the research. And read like...a ton of Once Upon A Time fanfiction.”

“Ugh,” Jamie says, making a face. “Talk about awful tv shows. Great lesbian fandom, though.”

“The best,” April agrees while Hannah B. and Ezekiel look at them like they’ve grown extra heads. “Don’t judge us. You wouldn’t understand.”

“I understand you’re a couple of lesbian dorks,” Ezekiel says, chuckling. “Does Sterling know she’s marrying such a nerd?”

April scoffs. “Obviously. Though whether she truly understands the extent of it is yet to be seen. You know she’s only seen Back to the Future once?”

“Yes, good. Wait ‘til your relationship is on paper before she realizes what she’s gotten herself into,” Jamie says like a comic book supervillain, rubbing her hands together and everything.

“April, I hope you know that you and Sterling give me hope for finding the right person in the future,” Ezekiel says in a show of uncharacteristic kindness—or so April thinks. “If you two can find someone who can put up with you then I think I have a pretty good shot at finding a guy for me.”

April scoffs. “You know, you guys are the best friends a girl could ask for,” she says sarcastically but Hannah B. gets up from her seat to pull her into yet another crushing hug anyway.

“We love you so much and you deserve all the good things that’ll happen today,” she says, stroking April’s hair, and despite herself, April starts to bawl.

Time has been dwindling down rapidly and April is finally starting to understand why she was woken up so obscenely early now that it’s an hour and a half from the start of the wedding and time to put on her dress.

She stands in her bathroom in her underwear, admiring her perfect half-up, half-down hair with a flowery silver vine tied into it. Ordinarily, she would think such an accessory is silly, but considering she is currently standing in a Disney Fairytale Wedding Collection dress (Belle, to be specific), she figured she ought to go with something whimsical.

“April, we got your dress all set up out here when you’re-” Ezekiel says, barging in without knocking and stopping mid-sentence when he sees how very undressed April really is. “-wearing thigh highs. Wow,” he says, noting the white and lacy stockings April is wearing to match her bra and panties.

She turns around to face him, crossing her arms over her chest. “There is such a thing as privacy, you know,” she scolds him but is seeing for the first time the remarkable job the stylist did with Ezekiel’s hair and makeup, which softens her irritation.

“Not when you’ve got a ticking clock to when we’re supposed to be at the church.” Ezekiel shrugs but then laughs out loud when he notices a small detail about April’s panties. “Oh my god girl, please tell me those do not have ‘I Do’ embroidered into them.”

April hooks her thumbs in the waistbands to show the light blue letters better. “Indeed they do. Aren’t they cute?”

“Adorbs. Now hurry up,” Ezekiel says, monotone, and returns to join everyone else in the bedroom while April makes some last-minute adjustments to her appearance and, after much debating, grabs the garter gifted to her by her cousin and slowly brings it up her right leg to rest just above her stocking. 

She and Sterling have already firmly nixed the idea of any creepy garter-removal ceremonies at the reception, but it’s traditional, and who knows? It might be more fun to take off later, in private.

With that settled, she goes out into the room, shielding herself futilely with her arms crossed over her chest because not only did her entire bridal party insist on being in here for this, so did her cousins—and her cousin’s baby. Everyone, including Leah in her little yellow dress, is also fully dressed for the wedding, which makes April feel all the more naked. But that’s about to change because there in the middle of the room, carefully arranged on the floor for her to step into, is the dress that she fell in love with at first sight what feels like forever ago, rather than a few weeks. 

Her mother offers her her hand as April carefully steps into the center of the dress and lets Jamie and Hannah B. pull it up so she can slip her arms through the off-shoulder lace straps. Her aunt gets behind her to get a hold of the zipper. “Deep breath in,” she says, and when April complies, she pulls it up, and to April’s relief, it fits her like a glove again. Franny takes a step back along with Hannah B. and Jamie, and everyone gasps as they take in the sight.

“Wow, April. You look so beautiful,” her cousin Sarah says, and Leah in her arms makes a squealing sound that can only be a sound of agreement.

April smiles, taking in another deep breath before turning to face her full-length mirror, minding the dress’s train.

She almost doesn’t recognize the bride before her. Just this morning, she was a kid with bedhead who hadn’t gotten enough sleep last night, but the woman in the mirror is not a child. She’s the one who Sterling Wesley is choosing to spend the rest of her life with, and this time it isn’t pretend.

Mary steps up behind April, placing a hand on her back and admiring their side-by-side reflections in the mirror--a sight that April has spent most of these past months thinking she would never see. “I can’t say I’m happy about losing you so soon, but you really do make the most beautiful bride,” Mary says and kisses the side of April’s head as April can see her shed a tear in the mirror.

“Please don’t cry, Mama,” April pleads with her, knowing she’s on the verge of full-on waterworks herself right now, and she’d hate to show up to the church a blubbering mess.

Mary nods, understanding, and pulls it in, taking a few deep breaths and standing back, smoothing her light blue Madeline Gardner mother-of-the-bride dress that April truly could have picked out herself.

At this moment, someone knocks on the door, followed by a polite and English-accented voice asking, “Before I come in, is everyone decent?”

“Yes, Tom, we are,” Franny says, and her husband still opens the door slowly, just to be cautious.

“Franny, Darling, I really hate to be a bother, but I know you said that April should aim for getting to the church an hour early and it’s already a quarter ‘til,” April’s uncle, looking quite debonair in his light grey tuxedo and bowtie, says once he’s entered the room, waving a silver pocket watch clipped to his tweed waistcoat.

“Yes, yes, we’re late for a very important date,” Franny says, teasing. “We know. If the drivers are here, you and Seth can tell them we’ll be down in just a minute,” she says, going to the shoebox on April’s bed and getting her white rose Valentino kitten heels.

“Of course,” Tom says, nodding, and turns to April. “Wow, April sweetheart, you look...smashing.”

April smiles to return his own crooked one. “Thank you, Uncle Tom. You’re looking pretty smashing yourself,” she says and he tips his non-existent hat to her and takes his leave.

Franny points her thumb in the direction of the door once her husband has closed it behind him. “Can you believe that geek I married?”

April laughs. “I can only hope Sterl and I will be as happy as you two in thirty years.”

Becca groans. “Ugh, you say that, but you haven’t had to sleep down the hall from them.”

“Rebecca,” Franny says as a warning. “Be glad your father and I have never lost our spark or we wouldn’t have conceived you after his vasectomy.”

Sarah, Rachel, and Becca shudder simultaneously at this information about their parents being so casually dropped on the room.

“God, no matter how many times I hear that, it never gets any less traumatizing,” Rachel says quietly as she goes to help April step into her shoes under the dress.

April wouldn’t say so in this setting, but she honestly thinks her parents being sickeningly in love would have been preferable to growing up with all the things she’s seen and heard. But that’s hardly the kind of thing she wants to dwell on when she’s going to sign a marriage certificate in about two hours.

“Okay,” she says once she’s gotten into her shoes and straightened her posture, “I think I’m ready.”

“Not yet, you’re not,” Mary says, getting the white necklace box from April’s desk, and she can’t believe she almost forgot such an important detail. “This is something, old, blue, and borrowed, so it must be a pretty good thing to have with you on your wedding day,” Mary says, getting out the Scarlett O’Hara Titanic necklace and going around April’s back to put it on her, and it is, unsurprisingly, about as heavy as the source of its nickname. “When your grandmother Elizabeth put this on Franny and then me on our wedding days, she imparted these words of wisdom that her mother-in-law gave to her, and so on. She said, ‘the Emerson family may gleam and glisten like this necklace, but it is the true love we have for each other that makes any of it be worth a damn. Also, never pawn the necklace.’”

April giggles at that last part but it’s a heady feeling to know she’s the current bearer of something symbolizing over 150 years of love in her family. She’s surely the first to wear it while marrying a woman, that is for sure. “Okay,” she says, taking a deep breath and exhaling. “I’m ready.”

Her family and bridal party help her downstairs, her cousins carrying her train while her mother guides her down the stairs without falling ass over teakettle, and her uncle opens the front door for them. The two white limousines--one for the bridal party and one for the rest of the family--wait with their back doors open and April is ushered into hers, followed by Ezekiel, Hannah B., Jamie, and her mother.

The driver rolls down his partition window. “I promise to get you to the church in one piece, Miss. Stevens,” he says, then rolls the partition back up, and it occurs to April that that is perhaps the last time anyone will call her that. And then she’s suddenly starting to feel a little lightheaded.

“April, you okay?” Jamie says, noticing the look on her face, and she basically gets her answer when April’s stomach growls loudly as the driver pulls out of the driveway. “Yeah, I’m gonna take that as a no.”

“God, I’m hungry,” April says as it dawns on her that she no longer has to worry about fitting into the dress she already fits in. “Mom, is there time to stop for nuggets?”

“What?!” Mary asks, looking like she thinks April must be joking.

“Unless we want a fainting bride on our hands, I think we should probably get her nuggets, Mrs. Stevens,” Jamie says and, for the first time since she was 13, April could kiss her.

Mary sighs and picks up the phone connecting to the front cab. “Yes, driver? Our bride is going to need you to take a quick detour to the nearest Chick-Fil-A drive-thru.”

April can hear the driver’s laughter over the phone, but she notices he changes lanes from the one the other limo is in and takes a left.

She tries not to be too upset by her mother wanting to avoid any and all possibilities of staining and forcing her to get sauceless nuggets and a vanilla milkshake, but it’s still quite possibly the most delicious meal she’s ever had at the moment. Though perhaps at least a little of that comes from the sheer irony of getting food from a notoriously homophobic fast-food chain--this particular store being one owned by her bigoted father and everything--on the way to her incredibly gay wedding.

In some kind of personal record, April finishes all of her food before they’re even parking in front of the church, where a black limo is already waiting, and April feels her stomach do a summersault. This is really happening in 45 minutes.

April feels her face get hot as her heart begins to pound hard in her chest, and by the time the driver comes around to open the door, she feels like she’s struggling to breathe in the stuffy car as she waits for everyone else to get out before they can help her. But even once she’s gotten out into the fresh air, it doesn’t do anything to calm her nerves, and though she doesn’t know why, she feels like she’s on the verge of crying as she’s taken to the room where her bridal party is to wait until it’s time to walk the processional.

When they’re alone, she breaks down, going to collapse into a chair and bursting into full-on sobs as Jamie and her mother rush to her side.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” Mary asks, but April is in no position to give her a clear answer; in fact, she feels like she might just die.

“I think she’s having a panic attack,” Jamie says, rubbing soothing circles into April’s back. “It’s going to be okay, Babygirl. You’re marrying the absolute love of your life today, and if I do say so myself, she’s an absolute dreamboat.”

April scoffs. “As if I don’t know that.”

“Well, what’s wrong? Aren’t you excited to marry her?” Mary asks as Jamie turns to mouth something to Hannah B., who nods and leaves the room.

“Yes, but...but it’s not like I even deserve her,” April admits aloud for the first time the one thing that has been eating away at her since she and Sterling got engaged...perhaps even before that. “I’m not exactly a good person but she is and she cares about people and I think once she’s married to me, she’s going to see me exactly for what I am...which is an absolute asshole.” April breaks into sobs again. The truth of the matter is that somewhere along the line, she must have tricked Sterling into thinking she’s something she’s not, just as Blair suggested because deep down, April knows that nobody in their mind would love her for her. Especially not someone as truly good as Sterling.

“Thank God that makeup artist went waterproof,” Ezekiel comments and April thinks to start fanning her hands in front of her face in an attempt to dry the tears, but it doesn’t do much as they just keep on coming.

The door opens and closes but April can’t look up to see what’s going on. She literally can’t, as the tears have made her contact lenses shift positions, and she’s in the process of trying to rapidly blink them back into place when someone kneels on the floor in front of her, and at first, she assumes it’s Jamie, but as she opens her eyes, she first notices the bridesmaid dress instead of the tan suit Jamie’s wearing along with the bridesmen, and then she realizes through her brain fog that it’s Blair.

“It’s oddly comforting to me that you’re an ugly crier,” she says, and April can’t help but chuckle. Of course, Blair would take cheap shots now.

April sniffles. “And why is that?”

Blair shrugs. “I guess it proves you’re human after all. I must say, I’ve had my doubts,” she smiles at her own jab, but when April doesn’t react, she frowns. “So what’s the deal?

April bites her lip, trying to compose herself enough to not seem completely pathetic in the eyes of the one person who would take pleasure from it. “I’m starting to think that this might not be such a good idea,” she admits quietly.

“I mean, of course. It’s an awful idea and I could punch my sister in the tit for ever thinking it was a good idea to get married at 18, guys really love each other, right?” Blair says, peppering just a little bit of tenderness into her otherwise brutal honesty.

“Despite a lot of things, yes.” April, in her spiral, has never once doubted that fact. “I just think that once all the dust clears from this craziness over the summer, Sterling is going to wake up one day and think that she’s made a horrible mistake in marrying me. And I’m not sure my heart could handle that.” April realizes that revealing this kind of weakness to the enemy isn’t the wisest decision, but she also knows that the one person who knows Sterling better than her is the only one she can confide in with these fears.

Blair groans. “Ugh, will you stop? If my sister was ever going to think that about you, don’t you think I would have been able to change her mind about this whole thing by now?” Blair asks, making an excellent point.

“...Probably, yeah,” April admits quietly, nodding.

“Exactly. Look. I will be the first to admit that you are probably the last person on the planet that I ever wanted my sister to marry. You’re stuck-up and prissy and you annoy the Hell out of me. But there isn’t a doubt in my mind that my sister loves you with all her heart. And yes, she is good. She is better than any of us. But she also has a superpower when it comes to seeing and bringing out the best in people, and I know she wouldn’t love you if she wasn’t sure of the good in you.” Blair finishes her speech and seems to have an internal battle with herself before she unexpectedly pulls April into the most awkward hug she’s ever experienced. “If Sterl trusts you with her heart, then I guess I do too,” she says quietly enough for only April to hear, and the hug softens a bit, if only for a moment or two.

“Okay,” April says, making a show of wriggling out of Blair’s arms, but she knows both of them acknowledge that they just had a real moment. “I think I’m ready to get married now,” she says, nodding and pulling herself together.

“Good,” Blair says, patting April too hard on the back a few times. “And, you know, obligatory ‘if you break my sister’s heart I will hunt you down and cut out your liver like an orca with a great white shark’ for good luck.” With that, she gets back up on her feet and brushes off her dress.

April laughs. “I will keep that in mind.”

Blair walks to the d