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Full Control

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____________________

Contrary to popular belief, April has wide-ranging interests. Her classmates might think she’s a stuck-up goody two-shoes who only thinks about school and the Bible, but that’s a highly unfair characterization. She likes a lot of things.

For example: She likes cooking (though she prefers baking). She likes music (Kacey Musgraves is her favorite singer, though she’d never admit it out loud because while country music is the only type of music she’s allowed to play in her house, Kacey has unfortunately visible ties to the West Coast liberal gay community). She likes performing well in school, she likes woodworking, she likes debate, she likes excelling at physical projects (like puzzles, and woodworking). She likes the color pink (but not as much as she likes green and, recently, light blue). She likes Bible study (okay, so she does like school and she does like the Bible, but she’s more complicated than that reductive synopsis). And she likes girls.

(She really, really likes girls.)

She likes all of those things, and she’s not even very private about it — except the overtly lesbian interests, for obvious reasons. It’s not that she’s private. It’s that no one’s ever bothered to ask her. She’s pretty sure that the heathens masquerading as students at Willingham Academy think that her interests begin and end with getting her head as far up Ellen’s ass as is physically possible. And while April might be a proud brown-noser (she also likes authority, and she likes pleasing authority figures), that’s not a hobby, nor is it an interest. More of a survival skill.

But the thing April really likes, the thing that she keeps closest to her chest, the shining character flaw that’s patently obvious to her (she is excellently self-critical and self-aware) but which she will need veritable hours of therapy in order to properly interrogate and compartmentalize?

April likes control. Being in control, being in charge. She likes giving orders and she likes when they’re followed. She likes saying something and having others fall in line behind her leadership. She likes security, and the only time she knows, knows for certain, that she is safe and secure is when she’s in charge of the situation, completely and totally. There are no errors when she leaves no room for error, and she’s the only person in her life who is meticulous enough to always ensure perfection. She likes schedules, she likes discipline, she likes everything to be just-so. She likes getting straight A’s and won’t settle for anyone or anything risking her GPA, and she’s willing to burn as many bridges as necessary in order to maintain the carefully-constructed order in her life, the order she’s worked for seventeen years to cultivate, nurture, and perfect.

April likes control.

Sterling Wesley is a complication April doesn’t think she can control. That’s a horrifying reality, something that makes her heart pound and her cheeks flush and her throat go dry. April likes control, needs it, craves it in a way she can’t begin to explain. But Sterling Wesley barrels into her carefully-constructed world with her big, blinking eyes and her soft lips and her soft hair and her laugh that bubbles up from the tips of her toes and April feels her resolve crumbling through her fingertips.

____________________

April has hated Sterling with the ease of settled fact since they were ten years old, and for seven long years she has been comforted by that fact, blanketed in its security, has enjoyed the simplicity of a hateful rivalry with a worthy adversary.

At least, until recently. Until everything in April’s life started to fall apart, and Sterling Wesley started to sneak her way back into the picture, unwanted and unwelcome, like a particularly annoying mosquito humming by her ear that just won’t leave her alone, always threatening to leave her itchy and uncomfortable and riddled with a debilitating malady.

It would be so much easier, April thinks, if Sterling weren’t so agreeable. It would be so much easier to hate her, to ignore her, to ignore the way Sterling makes her feel, if she weren’t so present. So obliging. So… passive.

She stares at April with wide eyes and slack expression whenever April speaks (snaps, really). When April tugs, Sterling follows. When April pushes, she stumbles away. The whole time they’re working on their Solomon’s Temple project, Sterling is the perfect assistant. She lets April run the miter saw. She uses the color scheme April picks out without fighting her about which shade of blue to use, the one that’s more aesthetic or the one most historically accurate, like Ezekiel might have done. She passes over wood and tools almost without being asked and April notices the way she blushes sometimes, the way she ducks her head and tucks her hair behind her ear, the way she stutters when April snaps at her to do something, and stumbles to get it done as quickly as possible. Sterling tells her, “I aim to please,” with a delighted smile and April’s stomach clenches and she has to swallow thickly to avoid saying something untoward.

April doesn’t know what that means. In all the years April’s known her, she’s known Sterling Wesley to be a lot of things, but passive is not one of them; agreeable certainly isn’t, either. She’s a sheep in ways April isn’t, of course, mostly having to do with constantly playing second fiddle to her sister and her clear acquiescent conformity to her mother’s prescribed expectations of her. And yes, she’s also an anxious ball of energy on the best days, but Sterling usually has a backbone when it comes to her academic autonomy (see: fighting April’s blackmail attempt with dirty subterfuge in order to maintain her position as Fellowship Leader — which April succeeded in taking eventually, obviously, but it was more an act of seppuku than any brilliant maneuvering on April’s part; a humiliating loss that she’ll never admit to).

So it’s weird that she’s treating April like this. With deference. With submission.

April watches her suspiciously, when she isn’t focused on her project (because getting an A is still, of course, her primary concern).

She just doesn’t get Sterling. What is her angle? What was her intention, offering to work on a project with April when they’ve barely spoken outside of Fellowship since the fifth grade?

And what the hell was that weird thing she said about Naomi and Ruth? Insinuating that they might have been lovers? April’s heart clenches in her chest when she thinks about Sterling stuttering that story, because what possible reason could Sterling have to talk about lesbians with her? Unless… God, unless she knows? But no, she can’t know. No one knows about her. No one’s ever even suspected. April’s never been romantically linked to anyone, boy or girl. For God’s sake, the only two people she consistently interacts with at school in a non-professional capacity are a boy who might give her a run for her money in the ‘Most Closeted Student at Willingham’ competition (a competition no one but April knows about; a competition she is surely winning) and a girl so ditzy and oblivious that she’s probably the only girl in the entire school April is guaranteed to never catch feelings for. She and Hannah B. are so unevenly matched mentally that even the world’s most perceptive bigot would dismiss the notion outright.

Unless… unless that’s how Sterling figured it out? Unless she started to suspect that gays of a feather might flock together, and Ezekiel is so obviously gay that he’s practically leading a one-man pride parade through fifth period lunch? Unless she started to think that perhaps April’s carefully-constructed façade of indifference to every member of the opposite sex she’s ever spoken to is more innate and less situational, less about intellectual inferiority and more about physical preference?

The idea is panic-inducing.

Because if someone as self-centered and in-her-own-world as Sterling Wesley is starting to suspect April might be a non-hetero, then maybe April needs to reconsider the people she spends time with. If Sterling Wesley, her sworn enemy, can figure out that she’s gay…

But no. Sterling doesn’t know. She can’t. That bit with Naomi and Ruth… that was just a coincidence. It must have been. A weird coincidence, but Sterling is a weird girl. That much is obvious. She has no filter between her mouth and her brain, and she’s always stumbling half-blind into confrontations. She’s clumsy and careless and blabs when she’s nervous. She leaves used condom wrappers where people might find them and stutters when she lies and is so easily-swayed by logic and her own twisted sense of morality that she’d rather concede a debate than fight tooth-and-nail for a victory.

Which is why April has never and can never trust her.

This is why April can’t stand Sterling. This is why she’s so dangerous. She’s unpredictable. Unreadable. She acts all innocent and oblivious but April knows the truth about her. She might be the only person in all of Atlanta who knows the real Sterling Wesley, but she does. She does know her. Sterling might have the rest of Georgia fooled, but she can’t fool April.

April might be the only student in all of Willingham who knows that Sterling Wesley is as fake as the breasts on the Real Housewives. But it’s so hard to prove that when she looks at April that way, with her expression nervous and excited, with her flushed cheeks and darting eyes, looking at April like she… like she’s attracted to—

No.

Except… except she can’t stop thinking about the way Sterling’s face paled and her eyes went wide when April grabbed her arm after the Forensics tournament. It’s an image that’s been unfortunately burned into the back of April’s eyelids, and she sees Sterling’s expression in that moment every time she closes her eyes. It’s especially distracting when she’s trying to sleep, and all she can see is Sterling’s face, anxious and dismayed. The tears in her eyes, the quivering of her lip, the way she inhaled sharply when April touched her.

April doesn’t know what that means, either.

(Or, she does, and she just can’t bring herself to confront it.)

____________________

April is confident about several things. (1) She will graduate as valedictorian of Willingham Academy. (2) She will attend a reputable four-year college, an Ivy League school preferably, but an elite institution for sure (in the Northeast, if she must, but never the West Coast). (3) She will major in a respectable field, like Business Management or Economics, something which will lead to an appropriately well-earning career so she can support herself financially and have a sizeable cushion for rainy days/emergencies. (4) She will stay deeply in the closet until such a time as she is no longer dependent on her family’s money to secure her education or her future, at which point she will remove herself from their lives and meet a respectable woman with a similar Christian background who shares her commitment to both fiscal/professional success and the Lord, and maybe they’ll get married and have a child or two, if that’s something they’re both interested in down the line, and they will keep to themselves and never vacation to Canada or any other country run by liberal socialists.

April is confident about the path her life is on. It’s not very glamorous right now, and her father being a criminal woman-beater has definitely complicated the near-term, but as far as she’s concerned, her future is solid, and her path forward is clear. She just needs to keep her head down and do what needs to be done for as long as it needs to be done for. At this point, she’s on a simple self-preservation track. Not glamorous, but necessary.

She’s only 17. Her life is still ahead of her; her future is very much still within her control. She just needs a few more things to go right so she can graduate and leave Georgia and never look back.

(5) She’s confident that everything is going to go according to plan.

That is, until Sterling kisses her in Ellen’s office. Until April locks the door and kisses her back. Until Sterling’s hands wind in her hair and Sterling’s moans fill her mouth and April grips her so tightly she’s sure Sterling will have bruises on her hips in the morning but it’s the only thing she can do to stop her hands from shaking.

____________________

For one blissful, wonderful, stupid, naïve moment, she even thinks it might be possible. That she and Sterling might be able to… be something, something real. Something secret, of course, but… something real.

April never thought she’d kiss a girl — multiple-times, exclusively — while she was still in high school. She thought for sure her blossoming female-female romantic experience would happen in late-college, even post-grad; never before that, never in Georgia, and never like this. Never with Sterling Wesley, the last girl to ever break her heart, the only girl to ever make April feel like the risks, the consequences of being a young lesbian in a wealthy white conservative Southern Christian community might be worth it.

Then her father knocks on her bedroom door, and all of that hope goes flying out the window.

____________________

With her father back April is trapped. The blossoming web of possibilities, the loosening of the tightness around her throat, the weight lifting off of her chest slowly, with ever-more speed since her father has been imprisoned — all of that vanishes in the blink of an eye. Sucked up like a black hole, or a powerful Hoover vacuum.

Suddenly she’s right back where she was a few months ago, right before everything changed. Before she found that stupid condom in Sterling’s backpack, before she blackmailed her, before her father was arrested and outed as a philanderer and a prostitute-beater, before her mom started losing it and losing herself in the bottom of a glass, before the trial, before Solomon’s Temple, before Sterling kissed her, before Sterling invited her into the back of her car, before Sterling let April press her into the upholstery and slip her hands under her top, under her bra, moaning and arching up into the contact and making April feel like the most powerful woman in the world.

Her father’s appearance saps her of any and all power, and she’s stuck once again.

Her father’s eyes follow her like a hawk, a perfectly oily smile always on his face. He asks her about Sterling and Blair, Those Wesley Girls, and April’s heart stops beating because if he knows… if he’s insinuating

She has no control over her home life, her privacy — not anymore. April can’t be without control for long. It’s an untenable position for her. April Stevens doesn’t allow the world to buffet her; she buffets the world, or else holds steadfast and unflinching, or else the world falls apart against her steely footing.

Her home isn’t stable, her family is crumbling apart even as her parents are trying to force it back together with Scotch tape and rubber bands, and her father wraps his hand around her shoulder while they watch Star Wars together and instead of bringing her comfort it only makes her skin crawl.

Not to mention her attention span in school has been slipping, even before her father returned home, and that’s unacceptable for myriad reasons (and for once not something for which she can blame him). If her academics aren’t strong, she’ll never be able to get out of Georgia. If she starts to lose her academic credibility, she’ll never be able to earn a scholarship worth a damn, and then she’ll be reliant on Daddy’s money for years and years to come (what bits of it are left, that is; the sums that haven’t been spent on legal fees and mortgaging the lake house).

It was that stupid condom. That was the inciting incident. That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Sterling had sex with Luke Creswell, and April saw the condom wrapper fall out of her bag and the tips of her fingers went numb and she snatched it up before she could even think twice about it. It didn’t take long to turn into the only thing she could think about. What that condom meant. What it insinuated. What it said about Sterling Wesley, and what she got up to in her free time, and who she got up to. It was like a fungus growing in April’s brain, spreading over every thought, mucking up her synapses until the only thing she could think about was the fact that Sterling chose to give herself for the first time to someone as… amorphous and pedantic as Luke Creswell. When Sterling was clever, vivacious, and obviously the second-smartest girl at their school.

Luke Creswell.

It boggled the mind. April obsessed over it in a way she’d never obsessed about anything non-academic in her life.

(That isn’t entirely true. She crushes hard on girls. She’s intense. Obsessive. She fixates on someone special and then it’s hard for her to let her go. Sterling’s been her ‘hard to let go’ for the past 7 years.)

It’s so clear to April, the more she thinks about it. Her life has fallen apart since Sterling stomped her way back into it, with her clumsy laziness and her inability to dispose of her sexual aides discretely, and that’s… unacceptable. Her life cannot fall apart. Not when she’s so close to finally being free. Sterling poses a danger to her escape route, the one thing she’s always been sure about, and that is not something she can continue to risk.

Not for a girl, not for any girl.

Not even Sterling.

Besides, she and Sterling would never work out, romantically. She’s been kidding herself by pretending their fling is anything more than experimental flirtation. Sterling isn’t interested in her. Not the way April is, not the way April needs. A week ago, they were enemies. April’s been nothing but horrible to her, outright hostile, manipulative, cruel and vindictive, needy and confusing, doubling back on her word again and again and again, running so hot and cold it makes even her dizzy, and she’s the one living inside her own head.

/

She can’t help it, in the end. She’s a coward, and that’s what cowards do: they protect themselves at all costs.

Maybe it’s cruel. Sterling certainly looks at her like she’s being cruel. She doesn’t mean to be. (She never really means to be.) All she knows is her heart is at risk, and she has to do whatever she can to protect it.

Sterling, with tears on her face and snot in her nose, lurches forward to kiss her on the bench outside school, and it takes every bit of strength left in April’s body to turn her head away. The broken sob Sterling lets out at her rejection has April closing her eyes. She can’t look at her.

She can break her own heart but she can’t look at Sterling while she does it.

____________________

Breaking up with Sterling (can she even call it that? were they even together? can you break up with someone you never even got to call your girlfriend?) was supposed to restore order. They were supposed to go back to hating each other and avoiding each other at all costs. April’s father was supposed to stop asking her pointed questions about “Those Wesley Girls” (it always makes April’s palms sweat, always make her voice tremble, and she thinks he notices, thinks he can smell the fear on her, because he hasn’t let the subject drop, no matter how much April denies and evades).

April was supposed to regain her focus in Spanish and Bible Study and Math and Physics again, and everything was supposed to go back to normal. The way it was before. Settled, and sure, and stable. April was very good at ‘the way things were’. She was a pro at living under those strict conditions.

But things do not go back to normal.

____________________

Sterling doesn’t come to school on Monday.

No one but April has any cause for suspicion, but April — who has cause and a half — obsesses over the mystery. What it might mean. What it might entail. What it says about Sterling that her first unexplainable absence all semester is happening only a few days after April broke off their… arrangement.

April knows Sterling left the lock-in early. She also knows that it’s her fault Sterling left in tears, but she didn’t think…

Missing school is such an extreme reaction. Overblown, honestly. After all, April’s the one whose heart was shattered on Friday. She’s the one who had to break up with her dream girl; she’s the one who had to deny herself the first real, true pleasure she’s ever experienced in her entire life. She knows she hurt Sterling by flirting with Luke and she hates herself for it, hates herself for her knee-jerk propensity for cruelty, but that doesn’t change the fact that the break up itself was necessary. Inevitable, even. Her logic is sound. It always is. The pain is real, yes, but it’s necessary, too. And, more importantly: temporary.

And Sterling… Sterling will come to understand that, too. Of course she will.

Eventually.

Clearly Sterling liked her enough to kiss her on multiple different occasions — plus she told her as much that day at the Fun Zone — but it’s not like Sterling was in love with her, or anything. They were only hooking up for like a week. And Sterling had never even been interested in girls before April. This is hardly a life-altering tragedy for her. Hardly something to miss school over.

She doesn’t mean to invalidate Sterling’s sexuality (even inside her own head), whatever brand of ‘fluid’ she might eventually decide upon. But April has known about her latent homosexuality since she was eleven years old, and she’s had years to panic about it, hate herself for it, deny it until she cried herself to sleep every night for six months straight when she was 13 before finally, reluctantly, accepting that her sexuality was something that she couldn’t change about herself. It took years of agonizing, years of praying, years of making herself right with the Lord for her to accept her sexuality as something fixed, as something okay and natural. Years.

April’s had the time to work through her own feelings and understand her situation. She knows that God loves her just the way she is — that’s no longer a question in her mind. But she also knows that no matter how much it might pain her now, she has to keep that part of herself hidden until it’s safe enough for her to live her truth.

Sterling, on the other hand, was ready to hold April’s hand in public, to sleep next to her, to tell her sister about them like it wasn’t the riskiest decision she’d ever made in her life. Like her life wouldn’t be over once everyone at school found out about who she really was, or how she really loved. Like her family wouldn’t disown her, disregard her, kick her out with hatred in their hearts because of her sins. After one. week. And that confidence, that belief in herself (that belief in April) had been… terrifying. It screamed fickle naiveté, flippant disregard for herself and her reputation. It stank of recklessness.

April can’t risk recklessness.

(Or maybe it was something else. Maybe it was courage.)

(Maybe April has to accept that Sterling has been grappling with these emotions for all of a couple weeks, and she’s already braver than April could ever hope to be, even after years of self-reflection and praying and slow, careful acceptance. Even after all of that, Sterling was the one to take the final step. Sterling was the one who kissed her in Ellen’s office that day after school.)

(That’s the only part of April’s hypothesis that doesn’t quite fit. Sterling kissed her. That just doesn’t make sense. The Sterling Wesleys of the world do not go around kissing the April Stevenses of the world. The April Stevenses of the world pine after the Sterling Wesleys silently, masking their obvious crushes with animosity and jealousy and dramatic augmentation, making sure to be as unlikeable and disagreeable as possible to maintain the utmost distance at all times. But Sterling kissed April. And maybe that makes her braver than April, but that doesn’t explain why she did it, only how she was able to do it. Sterling kissed April, and threw April’s world completely off-balance, and April doesn’t know quite what to make of that.)

It just… doesn’t make sense. April can’t understand her. If Sterling was serious about being less-than-straight (and God, she really did talk about April like she was serious about her Sapphic desires), then she would understand what it means to not conform in a community like theirs. She’d understand the danger she wanted to put them both in. She clearly didn’t understand that, because she was ready to go public after a week, so clearly, she wasn’t serious about her feelings for April. It was all just an exhilarating experiment for her, something new and exciting to try out. She’d already slept with one person, so now the proverbial floodgates were open, and she was just looking for the next taboo to transgress, the next rebellion she could carry out. And there was April Stevens, gay and weak and so helplessly devoted to her, so unable to control herself, so unable to hold back. Waiting to be transgressed.

April’s feelings were just the unfortunate collateral damage.

But… well, that reasoning made a lot more sense to April before Sterling misses school on Monday.

And then Tuesday. And then Wednesday.

/

 

April (Monday, 6:43 p.m.)
Just want to make sure you’re okay.
You weren’t in school today. There was
a pop quiz in Physics. Let me know if you
want a look at my notes.
 

April (Monday, 6:46 p.m.)
Feel free to ignore that message.
 

April (Monday, 6:46 p.m.)
And this one. 

April (Monday, 6:54 p.m.)
Get better soon. 

/

April (Tuesday, 8:25 a.m.)
You’re not in school again, are you okay? 

 

April (Tuesday, 4:02 p.m.)
I know you probably hate me right now
but the least you could do is respond to
my message letting me know you aren’t
dead. It’s only polite, Sterling. 

/ 

April (Wednesday, 8:34 a.m.)
Seriously, where tf r u??? 

 

April (Wednesday, 9:56 p.m.)
Okay. Message received.

 

/

Luke asks her out on Wednesday. She doesn’t even pause before telling him she thinks they’d be better off as friends.

(She can’t stop thinking about Sterling’s face when she saw them sitting next to each other, when she put on “Slow Burn” and April rejected her and it looked like her soul was pulling apart at the seams. She might be deeply in the closet, but she doesn’t need to be deeply in the closet with Sterling’s ex-boyfriend. Some things are a step too far.)

Blair has been at school, and besides her limp hair and the dark bags under her eyes to indicate she isn’t taking care of herself effectively, she’s been mostly normal. Not that Blair’s hair is ever particularly clean nor her makeup ever particularly even. Besides, April remembers Sterling mentioning something about a breakup on Friday (Blair’s boyfriend dumped her unexpectedly?), so the teenage angst visibly wafting off of her like Pigpen’s stink lines makes sense.

There’s certainly nothing visibly out-of-the-ordinary about Blair. Except that she walks through the halls of Willingham Academy alone. That part is unusual.

She glares at April whenever she sees her, too, but April can hardly blame her for that. She’d glare too, were their roles reversed.

Still, the longer Blair shows up to school by herself, the more anxious April gets.

/

By Thursday, April is actually starting to panic.

It’s the fourth day in a row Blair has come to school without Sterling, and no matter how much casual snooping and innocent questioning April does of the rest of the student body, no one can explain her absence. Someone suggests Mono, someone else the whooping cough, and Billy Dresden cracks a joke about an unplanned pregnancy that makes April blanche and her vision go red so she sabotages his double helix model out of revenge, and he cries when it shatters in his hands on the way to Advanced Chemistry, which makes April feel marginally better, but not much.

After nearly 4 days of Blair studiously avoiding any eye contact (much less verbal communication) with April, and with April’s sexuality still a secret amongst the student body (she’d have heard by now if rumors were spreading about her lesbianism), April is fairly confident she isn’t going to be blackmailed or outed in a vindictive adolescent hate crime, which is why she feels confident enough cornering Blair outside of the Fellowship room before Thursday’s morning meeting.

Blair glares at her when April grabs her jacket. She shakes her off and folds her arms over her chest. Up close, her hair is even greasier than April first imagined. Her eyes are bloodshot and she looks exhausted, like she hasn’t slept in days. “What do you want?” Blair grumbles, her face full of animosity.

April swallows down her insecurities and tries to gather herself. “Sterling hasn’t been at school,” she says finally, wincing at the lame way it falls from her lips.

“Wow,” Blair snorts, “great observation. They really picked the right valedictorian. Nothing gets by you, April.”

April rolls her eyes. “No need for the sarcasm, Blair. I just wanted to know if she’s feeling alright. I heard she might be sick, but she hasn’t been answering my texts, so I have no confirmation.”

“She broke her phone. Hasn’t gotten a new one yet.”

Something hard around April’s heart softens, unbidden. “Oh. I didn’t… know that.”

“Great,” Blair says with an eye roll, “happy to help.”

She moves as if to walk away but April puts up a hand, stopping her. “Not so fast. Back to Sterling’s illness. It’s vital that her immune system is given enough time to recover, and we’ve already missed the crucial early days of infection. She’s missed four days of school this week, so she’s of course unconscionably behind in all of her classes and that has to be rectified at once. Now, to accelerate her wellness process: I carry amoxicillin on my person at all times, and can Postmates some antihistamines to your house if necessary. But if it’s a more serious infection, like whooping cough, you’ll need—”

“She’s not sick,” Blair growls, cutting her off. “And if she were it would be none of your business. She doesn’t want anything to do with you. So just keep your weird medicine to yourself and leave me alone.” Blair tries to side-step her again, but April is ready for her. She moves her body quickly, blocking Blair from getting into the Fellowship room. Blair’s expression, if possible, grows even more sour. “Move,” she grunts.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I said move, April.”

“Not until you tell me what’s wrong with Sterling!”

“Why do you care?!” Blair finally yells. April stumbles back a step, until her back hits the glass behind her. April can feel eyes on them, but she can’t tell whose they are or where they’re coming from. Blair takes a step towards her, and drops her voice murderously. “After what you did to her?” she whispers. “After the way you treated her? Why do you care what happens to her?” April opens her mouth but no sound comes out. Blair’s face hardens. “My sister isn’t sick,” she spits, acid-tongued. “She’ll be back at school next week. Maybe by then you’ll learn how to leave both of us alone.”

“If this is about the lock-in, you should tell her I never meant for it to impact her studies—”

“Not everything is about you, you self-centered bitch.” A few people gasp. April’s face burns, all the way through her ears. “Sometimes people have problems that don’t have to do with your stupid face and your stupid cowardice.” Blair seems to notice the crowd they’re drawing. She looks just as unhappy to be the center of attention as April feels. She turns away in disgust. “Just leave us both alone.

She stomps away without looking back. April, blinking back tears, flees the school. She doesn’t come back until Monday.

____________________