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August (meet me behind the mall)

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You see her again for the first time at the end of July.

That summer’s scorching hot. Blair is leaving in a few days, and she just wants a little goodbye get-together before she sets off.

Bowser organizes a small party at Yogurtopia. Nothing fancy – just some balloons, drinks, chips and a –for once allowed- unlimited supply of Blair’s favorite frozen yoghurt flavors. It’s you two, him and Cathy in the background. Yolanda promises to stop by later, to say her goodbyes.

The place’s not your most visited place anymore. After that crazy year cooled down, so did the thrill for locking skips in. Blair found her passion there and followed it by getting into Criminology, but not you. For you, being a bounty hunter remains as a –kinda very tragic, actually- cool anecdote to tell your friends at Covenant’s over beer.

You’ve got a spoonful of peach frozen yoghurt in your mouth and are smiling at something your sister said when you spot her. Just as a flash of a familiar green top at first, and when you squint your eyes, you see her in all her glory.

April Stevens, outside the gas station right across the street.

Her hair’s shorter, you notice. Not much, but it just reaches past her shoulders now. A summer cut. Her clothes are familiar, but the way she carries herself is not.

She has her phone and her wallet in one hand and opens her car door with the other, you observe, as she’s probably just paid for her gas. And then she looks in your direction, probably checking her mirrors, and even if you haven’t been spotted, you still feel creepy for watching her.

You turn to smile at Blair’s particularly loud laugh and, in the second it takes for you to look out the window again, she’s faded away.

 

-----

 

Blair leaves on the 1st of august. She’s starting her internship –at Scotland Yard, nonetheless! - in half a month and she wants to get settled in what’s going to be her home for three months before she’s busy as hell.

 It’s a Saturday, way too early for you to be awake. Your parents –Debbie and Anderson, not the ones you keep as a topic for your biweekly therapy session- drive you to the airport and you promised you wouldn’t cry as much as Blair, but you’re both teary and boogery messes by the time she has to go through security.

You laugh through your tears as the alarm beeps loudly and she’s forced to hand her heavy duty combat knife to the agents. And just like that, you know you’ll spend the rest of the day missing her.

Your head is too full to have space for April, but she still passes by sometimes.

 

-----

 

Mass is still a thing. And mass without Blair is weird. There’s an empty space next to you on the bench and you guiltily pray that no one has the nerve to sit down next to you.

You know they wouldn’t. Your family’s not as rich, not as respected anymore. Your house is slightly smaller, and you didn’t travel this year so Blair could afford her stay in London.

The lecture has already started when she walks in. Everything goes silent for the five seconds that it takes her to reach her bench, and through the space where Blair should be you see her perfectly. Your heart skips a few beats, to the rhythm of her shoes on the linoleum floor.

She’s in a summer dress, shoulders covered by a light cardigan. High and short ponytail. There’s that permanent light scowl on her face that she used to have. You had your suspicions the other day, but it’s clear as day now. She looks gorgeous.

Before you get caught staring, you turn to face the priest and hold your head high, pretending you’re very interested in what the Galatians had to say.

Staring like a horny teen is not everything you did, though. You did notice she was only accompanied by her mom and her little brother, who’s not so little anymore and surpasses them both by a few inches.

You hide your smirk at the thought and force yourself not to think that she’s barely two benches behind you during the rest of the lecture.

 

-----

 

When you get home, you decide to make a quick google search for John Stevens. The last thing you heard about him was that he tried to avoid justice again. But that was outside the State, so there wasn’t anything you could really do anymore.

That whole bizz didn’t end up well for you, anyway.

Don’t get it wrong – You don’t regret locking John Steven’s up. You would do it a million times, if that meant getting him off the streets and away from every woman of this planet. Sometimes, though, you just wish April’s heart hadn’t been on the line along with his freedom.

She was furious when she found out. And rightfully so. You’ve never been yelled at with so much passion, so much literacy before. She said things that will haunt you to your grave. In front of the whole school, without a care in any type of decorum.

She despised you.

In a way, you understood. You lied to her, all that time. Through her pleas for honesty in her life, you kept that immense secret from her. If April hating you was penitence for such a sin, you took it all gracefully.

You still sobbed into your pillow at night, with Blair holding you, but you came out pretty well out if it.

And now here you are, finding out through a tabloid that her father has gotten into several messes through the years and now even the FBI is looking for him. He seems to be long gone from April’s life, though, so that’s something.

It lets you breathe a little bit easier. Even if it doesn’t change things between you two. You’d have to be on talking terms with her for that.

The chance, though, comes sooner than you expected it to.

 

-----

 

With your sister gone, you have no excuse to get into trouble during those long summer days. Everything’s closed for holidays on the first week of august, and finding plans is hard.

Driving around town, you find out a new smoothie place has opened up where your favorite nail salon used to be. Out of spite, you decide to park and try it out.

The queue’s unusually long for a place like that, but the balloons outside let you guess that they must have some opening day offer. You text Blair about it as you wait, and smile when she asks you to grab an orange and ginger smoothie in her honor.

You grimace and send out a “You’ll have to come back and force me first”, when the cashier in front of you coughs, letting you know that you’re next. Flustered, you choose the first of all the weird-named smoothies you see on the board, give the cashier your name and pay.

You’re taking your receipt back from him when you hear it coming from the end of the bar, over the noise.

“April!”, pause, “An avocolada for April?”

Your head turns ninety degrees in a fraction of a second towards the waiter and, soon enough, she emerges through the crowd. In your head, she parts it like Moses parts the Red sea. She reaches out and grabs the cup that is being handed out to her, muttering a “Thanks” and then she turns.

In your direction.

You’re aware of where every one of your fingers ends and the air that separates you two begins. The air that has left your lungs completely because April is there and is looking at you, not through you, like when she told you she hated you and never spoke to you again.

She looks at you for another second, until another name is called, a guy gets in between you two and she’s turning around to exit the shop.

You’re suddenly very sure about your faith, cause there’s no way God isn’t real if he’s putting this opportunity in your way.

So you take it.

Before she’s had a chance to step outside, you rush through the crowd, probably stepping on one or two feet in the way, to get to her.

You reach out and touch her arm, quickly, like it could burn you.

“April!”

She stops. It seems to take her a second to decide to finally turn to face you, and when she does, her jaw is tense and her vast blue eyes are piercing your face.

“Sterling, hello.”

You’ve seen that smile too many times before to know it’s anything but amicable. It’s not for you, but for the people around you. They’re probably the ones saving you from a slap in the face right now.

Still, you’ve never been known as someone cautious.

“Hey!”, your smile is weak, but big. Like you’re trying to show her how very, very happy it makes you to see her, “So, huh, grabbing a smoothie?”

Her eyebrow twitches and she looks almost amused at the stupidity you said. She waves her smoothie a little bit and glances around, making it evident.

“Why else would I be at a smoothie store?”

You let out a weak laughter and burrow your bottom lip between your teeth.

“Yeah, of course, uh…”, you babble, silently praying for something remotely smart or useful to say, like the many things that you’ve been dying to tell her since you last saw her, more than a year ago. Instead, all that comes out is “Avocado is a favorite of mine, too.”

She frowns and tilts her head, staring at you. She seems to consider something, and then discard it.

“Right”, she nods, glancing around you quickly, “Well, it was nice to see you, Sterling.”

Before you can answer, she starts making a beeline for the door. You want to stop her, but then your name is being called out and you find yourself having to run to the counter to pick up your drink.

The look you give the poor waiter before you yank your smoothie out of his hand could annihilate him. You grasp it tightly and almost run out of the store, into the august sun.

You locate her reaching her car, and make a huge effort not to drop your drink as you run, trying to reach her before she can get inside.

“April, wait!”, you call out. She seems to give up as she turns around, once again, “Are you… Do you maybe- have a moment, you know, to talk?”

She sighs and looks at you, then behind you, and takes a few seconds to consider.

“Not here”, she answers, finally, and looks around the parking lot, “Is your car here?”

You nod and look in the direction where you parked, so you can point at it with your free hand.

She nods and turns to you again, “Okay, take it and follow me, then.”

 

-----

 

Yeah, tailing April’s car around town with yours while you try not to drive too fast as to not spill the full smoothie that’s in your cup holder is a weird way to spend the evening. But there you are, driving into the almost empty parking lot at Buckhead Crossing, towards the back of the building.

You’re not quite sure what you’re doing there but April pulls up into an empty space and you do the same. You figure out she doesn’t want your car too close to hers, like you’re in some weird Midwestern version of Strangers in a Train.

You wait, trying to glance into her car, but the tinted windows make it impossible. It’s not until a hand emerges through the open window that you realize that she wants you to come over.

Equally thrilled and terrified, you don’t waste time to get into April’s car.

You close the passenger seat door behind you and look at her. Her hands are tight around the steering wheel and she’s looking forward, intently.

The silence around you becomes too much.

“So…”

“I’ve rehearsed this moment many times in my head”, she interrupts you, firm and calm, “and in each one of them, you figured out the way to surprise me. So”, she pauses to take a deep breath, finally looking at you, “before you say anything, I’m going to put it out there, okay?”

And what can you do but nod and stay quiet, waiting for her to continue?

 “What you did really hurt me, Sterling”, she starts, her voice quivering just a tiny bit, and you understand that it’s taking a lot from her to say what she’s planned to say, “It was messed up. Everything I said to you when I found out was true. I really did hate you.”

She waits, for the blow to get to you. It does. And you hold back the tears because you’re not the one that deserves to cry there.

“-for a while. Then I thought deeply about it and understood that what I felt was betrayal. And not like my father betraying us, cause… I had always been expecting that one, to be fair. I know he’s not a good man. He never was.”

You look up from where your eyes fell. She’s biting the skin off her bottom lip and her hands are clasped tightly on her lap, like she’s trying to keep them there. She breathes in and your eyes meet, hers with unshed tears.

“But you, Sterling. You were supposed to be on my side. Even if things didn’t work out, we- I’ve never been as honest as I was with you.”

You can’t stop it when you blink and two huge tears fall from your eyes, soaking straight through your jeans.

“April, I-”

“Let me finish”, she stops you, once again, through her own tears, “I need you to know that I’m not okay with what you did, and I still don’t understand what the hell all of that bounty hunting craziness was. Why you, out of everyone,” she stops herself there, breathing in deeply, “But a long time has passed and… I don’t think I have it in me anymore. To hate you.”

You blink a few times, tilting your head. The tears keep falling silently, and you search her face for a further explanation. What…?

“My father’s gone. For good”, she informs and you nod.

“I know”, you can’t stop yourself, and you think you screwed up but she just stares at you, absorbing it, “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want that mess to affect my life more than it already has. Things are still… complicated, but I want to bury everything I can in the past.”

You nod firmly, clasping your hands tightly and looking down at your lap. If this is when April Stevens kicks you out of her life for good, there’s not much you can do. It’s fair.

“So,” she resumes, with a newfound strength in her voice, “how long are you staying in town?”

Turns out you’re not the one surprising her this time around.

 

-----

 

You end up drinking your smoothies in her car, with the AC on. It’s too hot outside to sit down anywhere else, and you appreciate the weird intimacy that sets between you as she sips on her straw and you tell her about college and Blair and everything that’s going on with your life.

“Oh, so that’s why your siamese is not attached to you anymore”, she comments, as you mention that she’s abroad, and you know she’s teasing you because she doesn’t hide her crooked smile.

“Yeah, the surgery went well and now each of us has a stomach”.

She laughs -like, legitimately laughs. And you think that right now you could open the roof of that car and yell that information to the next passer-by. It needs to be known that April Stevens is having fun with you again.

It doesn’t last long, though. As much as you’d like to stay, both of you have a life and a house to get back to.

To your relief, it’s her the one who brings up what you’d been waiting to ask.

“Hey”, she calls out of the window, once you’re out of the car and locating where you parked yours. You look at her, and her eyes are soft, “Hanna B and Ezekiel are on a vacation in Bali and I have pretty much zero plans for the month so, if you ever want to get together or…”

If the full-on smile that covers your face is because she said ‘get together’, you don’t mention it. You just nod, like it’s no big deal.

“Sounds cool.”

 

-----

 

It takes you one sleepless night to gather the courage to send her a simple: “You busy?”

Maybe your heart melts a little bit when she shows up at your house with her bike. Nineteen-year-old April, with the bike that she took to school when you were eleven and still best friends.

It takes you a total of two minutes to go back inside, run to the garage and drive your own bike out of it. Luckily, your father insists on doing maintenance of it every once in a while. It’s clean and the tires are fine. Even the little basket is still there, so you put your handbag in it before pedaling away.

April’s car is in the shop, she tells you. Basic maintenance that needed to be done. It’s alright, because you both drive your bikes around town and you feel like a kid again and you’re having so much fun, that you might explode. But in a good way.

There’s a huge park that you used to go to, and you drive so far inside it that you stop seeing the paths and the buildings and there’s just a little forest around you. That, and the sun hitting your face. But there’s a nice breeze today, one that makes you want to stop there and just listen to the leaves move.

So you leave your bike to the side, plop down onto your back on the grass and do just that.

You hear her yell “Sterling, your clothes!” behind you, but after a few seconds she’s sitting down next to you. When you open your eyes, you have to squint at the light but you swear you catch her looking at you.

It would be easier to think if your insides weren’t doing somersaults at every inch of attention she gives you.

You decide to close your eyes again and let the sun wash your face. Relaxing in the silence, you focus on how your breathings meet.

After a while, though, you have to live up to your talkative fame.

“I’m really glad to be here, y’know”, you say nonchalantly, turning your head to look at her. She covers the sun for you, so you can see her profile and the smile she hides.

“Like, back home?”, she asks, but something in her face is expecting you to say otherwise. Maybe it’s the way she bites the inside of her cheek.

You shrug, “Kind of, yeah.” You look directly at her for the next part, feeling bold, “But also here, in this place right now. It’s nice.”

“It has got… a charm to it, yes.”

She looks at you, finally, but her smile doesn’t reach her eyes. You realize, then, that maybe coming back to Atlanta is not as nice for her as it is for you.

“How’s Duke, by the way?” you ask, wanting to take her mind off of it. “You part of many clubs yet?”, you joke.

She smiles, but shrugs.

“A few, yes. You know, forensics and politics”, she seems coy about it, which just makes you even more curious.

“Oh, so you must be a star in them by now”, you press, teasing a little, “You’re either the new queen bee or the mysteriously good newcomer.”

She frowns her nose and shakes her head a little. Your heart drops to your feet at thinking that you could’ve made her sad, and the guilt must show on your face because she tries to hide it.

“Duke is just too clique-y”, she justifies, looking away. “And in a very liberal way, which doesn’t sit well with the daughter of a well-known republican from good-old Atlanta.”

She hides in herself, hugging her legs, and you can see her moving away from you. You don’t want that, so you reach out to touch her arm, but refrain from it at the last second. Instead, you sit up, so you can be at her level.

“But you’re not like him, April”, it has to be said, so you do it. With the softest voice you can muster.

She keeps her gaze away from you, towards the grass. You can tell there’s a sea of thoughts behind her eyes.

“Am I not, though? I was in the Republican Youth Club at Willingham.”

“No, you’re not”, you reply, almost instantly. You need to make it clear, and you lean closer to her so she has no option but to see you in her field of view. “You’re not like him. Not by far. You’re thoughtful, good and committed. You care for what you love and the world would be lucky to see you as I see you.”

You don’t know how, but your face has ended up inches away from hers. That’s why, when she visibly gasps and turns to face you, you can see exactly how her eyes fall to your lips for a fraction of a second before they look into your pupils.

There’s only one thought going through your mind, so you follow it. You close your eyes and lean in.

Your closed lips touch hers, barely moving. They’re soft, and full, and warm, and when every fiber of your being is asking you to move closer, she pulls back and separates from you.

Opening your eyes, you find a look in hers that mirrors that one a few years ago. Suddenly, you get flashbacks of an office in Fellowship, of a locked door and that desk that you leant on, as you tried to hold yourself up.

You wonder if she thinks about it too. If that’s what she’s seeing when she looks into your eyes and wonders if she should do it again.

But it’s different this time, isn’t it? You’re out in the open. Even if when you glance around there’s no one around you, you can see the same thing is going through her mind.

Just then, her phone buzzes in her pocket and startles you both. She quickly takes it out, and whatever is it that she reads on the screen has her standing up.

“I have to go”, she mutters, and there’s conflict in her face when she looks at you and shoots a “Later”.

You watch her as she hurries to her bike, gets on it and quickly drives away. And you’re left sitting on the grass, suddenly cold and with the ghost of a kiss still on your lips.

 

-----

 

Three days. Three days it took Jesus to resurrect and three days it took your phone to buzz with the message you’ve been waiting to get.

You’ve tried anything and everything to distract you – you picked up new shows on Netflix, tried to read the books you had pending and facetimed Blair to no end. She can tell something’s up with you, but she’s busy and full of anecdotes about her new life in London so she tells you about her days instead of insisting on the matter.

You’re in the middle of one of those calls when your phone buzzes. Blair sees you hurriedly pick up your phone through your webcam and wiggles her eyebrows.

“So who the hell has got your panties in a twist for the week that I’ve been away?”, her voice sounds suggestive through the speakers.

You shake your head, “It’s not that”, you glance at the time and bite your lip, your mind running to find an excuse, “But I do have to go. Mom wants to take me shopping.”

Blair gasps, “You’re spending the Wesley cash without me! Traitor”, she claims, and you laugh.

“Shouldn’t have left your nation for the british”, you quip, and blow her a kiss as you stand up, “Catch you later!”

You barely hear her goodbye before you disconnect the call and close the laptop. You’re in a hurry to get changed and leave the house. Obviously, not to go shopping with your mom.

 

-----

 

As you drive your bike into the parking lot of the mall where you had that talk a few days ago, you suddenly realize you don’t quite know what April wanted when she texted you to meet her there.

You got dressed all nicely and fixed your hair, but maybe she just wants to make it clear that she doesn’t want to have anything going on between you two. Is a sundress an adequate outfit for a break-up? Are you even breaking up?

If that’s the case, you don’t really want to know. You don’t know if you’re ready to hear all the reasons why April doesn’t want you. If things were easy and you didn’t live in the shitty ultra-catholic community that you live in, it wouldn’t even be a question on the table.

To you, the idea of April and you together just makes sense. In a beautifully twisted way, there’s no better fit than this one. And you wish she saw that, too.

You want to know what she sees when she looks at you, and you consider asking when you finally spot her leaning against the wall in the shadow, behind the mall.

“Hey”, you breathe out, realizing you have been rushing there and you’re out of breath, “Sorry it took so long.”

She shakes her head and offers you a small smile, pushing herself off the wall, “It’s alright.”

You reach her and there’s a second of you just staring into each other eyes, trying to figure out what’s going on and who’s to speak first.

“I just-”

“I want to-”

You pause after the mutual interruption and share a smile. You look around, and then realize there’s no way someone’s going to spot you back there without intentionally looking for you. Even then, half of the building covers you.

So you do what you do best. You take a chance. You leave your bike to the side and hold out your hands to take hers.

“I’m sorry I kind of jumped on you the other day”, you say, because you want to get it out of the way before anything else, “I’m not sorry I kissed you. But I apologize if it made you uncomfortable.”

You realize that, from that close, she has to look up at you. When she does, her eyes are big and blue and deep. And you know she wants to say so, so much, but she’s holding herself back. You clasp her hands tightly.

“I’ve thought about it for so long”, she breathes out, almost in a whisper. You wouldn’t hear it if she wasn’t so close, “And when I saw you came back, I just- oh, Sterl.”

It’s stupid that you both get so sentimental when you talk about it but it just happens. And your heart fills with a deep affection for this girl when she says your name like that. You hold it close to you, careful as not to break it.

“But I can’t”, she cuts herself, looking earnestly into your eyes, “I know I told you I’d come out when I left home, but I still have to come back and I depend on my family for my studies, and everything’s so messy and I just- I can’t be who you want me to be, not yet.”

Your mouth falls slightly open, and that’s when it hits you. April does want you. That’s not the problem. The problem is that she’s holding onto a promise she made you back then, one that she hasn’t been able to fulfill yet.

This can’t be your someday. Not for a while.

But that’s alright.

“April”, you call her, when she looks away. You grab the side of her face with one hand and make her look at you again. When she does, you smile. It doesn’t quite reach your eyes, but it’s honest, “it’s alright. I’m not the girl I was in high school. I don’t need to prove to anyone that I- that this exists, for me to feel it. I want you, that doesn’t change.”

You’re not finished, but you let her absorb it and see something close to hope appears in her eyes. It gives you the strength to continue.

“I’ve missed you a lot and I’m tired of not letting myself feel what I feel”, you say it calmly, in a whisper that’s only for her. Your hand caresses her cheek and she leans into it. “All I’m asking from you is to be honest with me. And please, don’t push me away.”

The other hand, the one that’s holding hers, brings it to your lips to leave a kiss on it.

“Please, April. Have some faith in us?”

She stares into your eyes, debating in her mind. You wish you could push through, get into her thoughts and convince her. But it’s not your place anymore, is it? If you’re asking her to have faith in you, you must have faith in her.

There’s a point where you can just jump and hope she’s ready to catch you.

She does. She answers your question by meeting you halfway, closing the distance between your lips.

 

-----

 

The rest of august goes by awfully fast for your taste.

You hoped you could linger in there, in every lazy afternoon spent with April by her pool, stealing kisses behind the small shed where her mom keeps all her gardening tools.

Or in the day that she tells you she has to take you somewhere and you drive your bikes for half an hour, until you’re outside the city skirts and there’s just trees and grass and the smell of a river close by.

 She reveals the picnic blanket she had in her bag and lays it down for you in a clearing. And when she serves you some lemonade and you ask her if it’s a date, she sheepishly nods.

One night, your parents are out of town and you invite her over. You have the house for yourselves, and she teaches you how to cook some Italian dish that you just can’t pronounce right, but that’s okay because she’s kissing the words out of your mouth anyway.

You take her to your bed and you’re both nervous, but anything that happens that night is because you both want it to happen, not because it has to. You kiss the reassurance into her hair and she trembles under your touch, and you wish you could just never stop holding her.

April Stevens is tough, fierce and has built an armor for herself out of everything life has thrown at her. But then she takes it off and she’s a vulnerable human being, one that you want to know everything about.

You tip-toe around each other for so many things still, especially when you both wonder what’s going to happen after august. But that doesn’t stop you from stealing kisses at every chance you get, or telling her how beautiful she looks when she blinks sleepily in your late night video calls.

The time to part still arrives, though. You ride your car back to school, so after saying goodbye to your parents you meet her once more behind the mall, before you leave Atlanta.

You press your farewell into her lips, into her hair and all over her face. She giggles into your arms, and tells you to call once you get to your dorm so she knows you made it safely. You tell her you will, and throw in a few more promises too.

Even if you know august is coming to an end, it might just be the beginning of something else.