Sterling taps her fingers against the desk incessantly. To her side, sitting on the couch, Blair is throwing peanuts up in the air and trying to catch them in her mouth. Judging by the mess on the floor, she hasn’t had any success.
Sterling sighs, taps her fingers quicker.
“Oh my God, can you stop that?”
Sterling’s fingers immediately cease their movements. She looks at her sister, apologetic.
“Sorry,” she says, “it’s just that Bowser should’ve been here 10 minutes ago.”
Blair shrugs, going back to her previous task. When the peanut falls on the floor, though, she groans and sets the bag of nuts on the couch.
“Sterl, he’s always late.”
“I know,” Sterling agrees, “but he told us he had a very important job for us. He sounded really serious.”
“It’s probably just a skip that’s worth, like, a lot of money,” Blair reasons. “I wouldn’t worry too much.” Then she’s smirking, and adds, “besides, I’m kinda excited for a new challenge.”
Sterling doesn’t have time to answer back because the door suddenly bursts open and Bowser comes in, sweaty and breathless, clearly having run to get to his office. Blair raises her eyebrows questioningly and Sterling simply stares at him.
“Sorry girls,” Bowser says as a greeting, closing the door behind him, “Yolanda wanted me.”
“Ew,” Sterling says at the same time that Blair fake gags behind her.
Bowser rolls his eyes. “Not like that, for fuck’s sake.”
Sterling and Blair both let out a laugh at Bowser’s exasperated look and he simply shakes his head. There’s a fond smile on his face when he sits down on his desk, though.
“So what is it that you wanted to talk to us about?” Sterling asks immediately, eager to know.
Bowser looks at Blair, still sitting down lazily on the couch. He points to the chair in front of him. Blair rolls her eyes and mutters something under her breath but she still gets up to sit down next to her sister.
“Right,” Bowser begins, “first of all, this job doesn’t involve a skip. Well, technically, it does, but you won’t have to catch him.”
The twins look at him, identical confused looks on their faces.
“This is, uh, more of a bodyguard job.”
Bowser closes his eyes, expecting the siblings to bombard him with questions. And they immediately do. They speak over each other, and at the same time, and he knows he just has to let them have it. At least for a few minutes.
“Bodyguards?” Sterling asks.
“What the fuck, man?” This, of course, is Blair.
“We’ve never done something like that, Bowser.”
“They better pay good.”
“You better explain right now.”
“But, like, as if we’re going to follow around some dumbass-”
“This isn’t just any dumbass.”
All three of them whip their heads around to the doorway, where Yolanda stands. None of them realized she’d opened the door. She enters the room fully, positioning herself in between the siblings’ chairs.
“Why do we still do this at this stupid and old yogurt shop?”
“Hey,” Bowser complains, offended, but his cries go unheard.
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Blair agrees. Sterling nods.
Bowser sighs. “Anyway,” he says, “back to the matter at hand.”
Sterling and Blair both cross their arms, staring at Bowser as if they were challenging him. He’s already used to it, so it doesn’t have much effect. Blair turns to look up at Yolanda.
“Who do we have to protect then?”
Yolanda turns her gaze to Bowser, who’s already taking a folder out of his drawer. He drops it down in front of the twins, gesturing for them to open it. Sterling does. It’s not too thick, maybe 10 pages long, and the first one shows the picture of a young woman, probably around Sterling and Blair’s ages. She has her hair carefully tucked into a ponytail and she’s wearing a black suit that looks like it costs more than the clothes they all are wearing combined. She seems rich, snobby and all the things they are not.
Blair looks up in disgust. “Who the fuck is this rich kid?”
Sterling keeps reading, though, and her gasp stops Bowser from answering.
“April Stevens?” The blonde asks.
“Yes,” Bowser answers.
“THE April Stevens?”
“Yes,” responds Yolanda this time. “April Stevens, whose mom is paying a fortune for you two to protect her daughter.”
Blair finally seems to catch on, because her face goes from disgust, to confusion, to annoyance.
“Absolutely not,” she says.
Bowser sighs, exasperated, like he was expecting that kind of answer. “Kid, it’s really good money.”
“We’re not gonna waste any of our time protecting a white rich woman that can hire whoever she wants.” She turns to Sterling, who’s biting her lip in distress. “Right, Sterl?”
Sterling doesn’t answer and Blair frowns. They zoom in on each other and suddenly the rest of the world doesn’t exist and it’s only the two of them.
“Dude,” Blair starts, “we don’t need to do this.”
“Don’t we, though? It’s probably a lot of money, Blair. We can leave this life behind and do something else.”
“I don’t wanna leave this behind.”
“You know I’d love to go to college,” Sterling begs her, blue eyes wide with desperation. “Afterwards, you can keep doing this, if you want. But let me have this. It probably won’t be that bad.”
“I hate rich and condescending people and she seems exactly the type.”
“I know,” Sterling pouts before adding, “please do it for me.”
The rest of the world becomes clear again and Blair huffs. Sterling smiles at Bowser.
Bowser sighs in apparent relief. “Good,” he says, before turning to look at Blair. “I promise it won’t be for long,” he adds, softer this time.
“You’re lucky I love you,” Blair states.
“So who exactly does April Stevens even need protection from?” Sterling asks.
Bowser and Yolanda exchange a look, one that tells Sterling the siblings certainly haven’t heard the whole story. It worries her but she shrugs the concern away for the time being.
Sterling doesn’t know if that was Bowser or Yolanda, because her brain short circuits the moment she hears it.
The same John Stevens that was arrested ten years ago for domestic abuse, corruption, trafficking and a long list of other crimes Sterling doesn’t have time to remember.
“We’re supposed to protect April from the criminal mastermind that is John fucking Stevens?” Blair asks before Sterling can.
“Not from him per se,” Yolanda answers. She walks around the desk to stand next to Bowser and looks the twins in the eyes. “There’s a restraining order and he won’t dare break it so soon after being released. His goons, however…”
Blair stands up from the chair quickly. She starts pacing the room back and forth, hands in her hair. “This is fucking crazy, you guys.”
“It is a bit crazy,” Sterling agrees.
“Look,” Bowser starts, “you know I wouldn’t ask this of you if I thought it would put you in danger. It’ll be as dangerous as any other skip, just… a bit harder.”
Sterling bites her lip. Blair has stopped pacing the room, but she knows she probably looks as torn as herself. But Sterling trusts Bowser. She knows he wouldn’t offer the job to them if he thought they couldn’t do it.
“This is the big break you’ve been waiting for,” the man adds for good measure.
Yolanda nods. “It’s a lot of money.”
Sterling turns to glance at Blair, who finally sits back down. She sighs, resigned, and Sterling knows that they’ve already agreed.
“Honestly, I’m more worried about not killing her in her sleep myself,” Blair says, pointing to the page that shows April’s picture, still laid down on the desk.
Sterling laughs. Yolanda and Bowser do, too, and the room already feels lighter.
“Are you insane ?”
April stares at her mother as if she’s grown three heads. The fact that she’s come to visit is a once in a lifetime event all on its own, but April should have known that her mom always brings trouble.
Her mother looks back at her from her position on the couch with an apologetic smile, but April knows she doesn’t regret anything she ever does.
“Sweetie, this is for the best.”
April pinches the bridge of her nose and lets out a growl of frustration.
“Let’s summarize: my criminal father is out of jail and you’ve hired two bounty hunters to be my bodyguards. And as if that wasn’t crazy enough, you decided to do it without letting me know.”
Her mother sighs and pats the space next to her on the couch. April pauses for a brief second, but decides to humor her and sit down.
“Look,” her mom starts, “I’m doing this for you, April. Your father...”
April frowns. “He’s got a restraining order.”
“That might stop him, but not his allies. You know that.”
The younger woman shivers, old memories coming back to her. She stores them in the back of her mind, like she always does.
“You could have called the police or something, mom.”
“John has contacts everywhere, April,” her mother reasons, and April knows she’s right.
“But seriously? Bounty hunters?” April complains again, but she looks smaller, showing less conviction.
“They’ve earned a good reputation and they’re around your age,” her mother explains, “so they won’t raise much suspicion. You could even become friends.”
April scoffs at that and her mother inches closer to her on the couch, putting an arm around her shoulders.
“I can’t lose you. Please.”
April looks at her mother then and her expression softens. They don’t have the best of relationships - they’re still working on it - but she is still her mom, and deep down, April knows she only wants to protect her.
“Fine,” she says, “but don’t expect me to like it.”
“I know better than that.”
April finally cracks a smile.
Her mom stays for lunch and they catch up. It’s nice, even though April cannot escape her mother’s comments about the tiny flat she lives in. April’s been living there since her third year of college, and she’s in her second year of law school already, so one would think her mother would be used to it by now. However, she still seems to think it’s some sort of failure that her daughter doesn’t live in a mansion full of lifeless rooms and empty halls.
April loves her mom, but it’s tiring to be with her. They’re in clear different places and they have been for a while. So when she finally leaves, April flops down on her couch, mentally exhausted. She doesn’t know how much time passes before she hears the doorbell ring.
“Remember that time you got a bible thrown at you?”
Sterling looks away from the window of the taxi to focus her attention on Blair. She chuckles.
“One of the first times Bowser let us go out with him on the field.”
Blair grins. “Those were the days.”
Sterling remembers them fondly. Bowser has always felt like family, but the moment he trusted them enough to let them go out with him was a turning point for them. They used to do their homework in the morning and catch bad guys in the evening.
They stopped doing the homework part long ago, though.
“I don’t think this job is going to be as exciting,” Blair adds.
She lets out a dramatic sigh and leans her head against the car window. Sterling takes pity on her and reaches out across her seat to squeeze her arm in support.
“But hey, come on, exploring Cambridge will be fun!”
“And we don’t know April. Maybe she surprises us with how cool she is.”
Blair scoffs. “As if.”
“You need to see this as the challenge you were looking for,” Sterling insists, determined to make Blair feel better. “We’ll have to always be on alert. Careful of the dangers lurking in the shadows…”
“Oh my God, maybe we even have to go undercover at some point,” Blair says, and Sterling is glad to see that exciting glint come back into her eyes.
“Yeah, you’re right, Sterl. This could be fun.”
Sterling smiles, satisfied. She knows Blair itches for those adrenaline filled moments out on the field, for the pure satisfaction of finding the location of one of their targets after hours or even days of endless research. She lives for the thrilling gratification of being faster than most skips, hardly ever allowing them to escape.
Sterling has always been more comfortable with a book in her hands and the possibility of learning new things at her fingertips. She’s a good shot and she loves those moments she gets on the field with Bowser and Blair, but most of the time she prefers the quiet.
Despite finding it scary at first, Sterling sees this mission as a new shiny book full of mysteries to discover. She’s excited, and she hopes it’ll rub off on Blair soon enough.
She cannot wait to find out what this new place has to offer.
When April opens her door, she’s surprised to see two very average looking women staring back at her. Surely these aren’t the people her mother had hired.
“Hello,” the blonde one says, with a smile on her face. She kind of looks like she’s about to sell something incredibly useless to April. “I’m Sterling and this here is Blair. We’re,” she pauses, “your bodyguards?”
April stares at her blankly. So these are in fact the famous bounty hunters. April can’t say she’s impressed. The blonde - Sterling - panics at her lack of reaction and offers her hand to her. April looks at it, looks back at her face, raises a defiant eyebrow. Sterling squirms under her gaze and moves her hand away.
The brunette one - Blair - frowns. “Rude,” she says, and then enters the flat, almost shoving April on the way.
April lets out an affronted gasp. “And I’m rude,” she mutters.
She looks back at Sterling, who’s still wearing a smile on her face, this time smaller and sort of apologetic, despite April’s less than ideal manners.
“Close the door,” April tells her, joining Blair in the living room. Sterling obliges and follows after her.
“Huh,” Blair says, looking around. “I didn’t expect this.”
“This,” Blair answers April, vaguely gesturing to the whole flat.
April is somewhat offended at that, because she’s fond of her small home. The living room is just big enough to have two couches and a TV stand, but what drew April to it was the big glass window that looks into the city of Cambridge. The open kitchen is not that big either, but it’s enough for one person.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” April says, “were you expecting a huge mansion and a butler to open the door?”
“Well, yes,” Blair deadpans.
April frowns. She really doesn’t like that attitude. Before she can retort back, however, Sterling is speaking up again.
“Anyway! It’s nice to meet you, April.”
“Is it?” Blair mutters.
April glares at her, deciding to focus on Blair’s apparent hatred. She can do mean, what she can’t do, however, is deal with Sterling’s wide blue eyes and blinding smile. Blair’s attitude is easier to imitate.
“This is how this is going to work,” April starts, crossing her arms over her chest. Blair raises a questioning eyebrow at her, while Sterling tilts her head to the side, listening carefully. “We don’t interact. We’re not friends, we’re not even acquaintances. You’re only here because my father is a bastard and my mother is a coward whom I still love. Understood?”
“Works well for me, princess,” Blair responds.
April rolls her eyes at the nickname but nods once, trying to ignore Sterling’s frown, mouth forming a slight pout. She looks genuinely disappointed and her sad eyes pull at April’s heartstrings, but she pushes the feeling away.
Blair’s revulsion is easier, familiar, and something she’s used to. Sterling’s open stare scares her.
“If that’s what you want, okay,” Sterling finally says, and the gentle tone to her voice makes everything worse.
Blair gives her sister a look that April doesn't know the meaning to. It's as if they were having a conversation April cannot hear.
"Well, lovely meeting you," Blair says without an ounce of sincerity, after a few more seconds pass.
"We'll be next door if you need anything," Sterling adds, more genuine.
April avoids looking at her eyes and walks back to the door, opening it. "See you tomorrow, I suppose."
The twins leave and April flops back down on her couch for the second time that day. She takes out her phone for the first time in the day, texting Ezequiel and Hannah B.
[Ezequiel] she lives!
[Hannah B.] April!! You had us worried
I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.
[Ezequiel] u okay?
[Hannah B.] Movie night?
Sounds nice. Want to come over?
[Ezequiel] i’ll bring the wine
They end up not watching anything, instead opting to catch up on a summer where they’ve been mostly separated. Hannah tells them of the road trip she went on with her sisters, and April finds comfort in her easy going smile and clear happiness. Ezequiel tells them of his summer flings back home, and April teases him about the last boy he talks about, where his smile appears more genuine. The back and forth banter is natural, and there’s a feeling appearing at the back of April’s mind that is shaped suspiciously like the word home.
April finally opens up about her own summer, which isn’t as light as her friends’. She tells them of her father’s trial, of him getting out, and her mother’s dramatic solution.
“Bounty hunters?” Ezequiel exclaims, eyes wide in surprise.
“That’s crazy,” Hannah says from the kitchen.
April sighs. “I know. I’m trying not to think about it.”
“Are they cool?” asks Hannah, always trying to find the positive in everything.
“That’s not the word I would use,” scoffs April.
Ezequiel is about to add to the conversation when the sound of shattering glass startles him. Both him and April look back at the kitchen, where Hannah is sheepishly looking down at the broken bottle of wine laying on the floor.
April sighs, already used to Hannah’s clumsiness. She moves to stand up and go over to help, but a sudden kick to her door startles her. The three of them look back at it, taken aback, and then the door is actually kicked open a second later and Hannah’s shriek deafens April’s ears.
Blair Wesley is the one to blame for all the ruckus, and April stares blankly at her figure standing at the door. Blair looks around, and upon not seeing any imminent threat, slowly lowers her leg.
“Oh,” she says.
A heavy silence fills the room and Hannah is the one to break it.
“I don’t know what you were talking about earlier, April, because that was pretty cool.”
April counts to 10 before deciding to speak out, but she doesn’t have the opportunity to do it before the other Wesley comes rushing in.
“Blair, what the fuck?”
April seconds that sentiment.
“What? I heard a noise and thought someone was breaking in or whatever,” Blair explains herself. “We’re protectors here, you know? Just trying to do my job.”
“Just fix my door and leave,” April finally says.
All of them look at the door, which, true enough, has got loose, some of the screws spread all over the floor.
“Do you have a screwdriver?” Sterling asks April. “I can fix it.”
April is surprised, but doesn’t show it. She goes to get one, not without glaring in Ezequiel’s direction, whose grinning face tells April he’s enjoying the show a little bit too much.
It’s safe to say that she just wants this day to end.
One month into the semester, April believes the Wesley twins are going to be the death of her. Each of them for very different reasons, but still. Her mother thought she was protecting her, but what she actually did was construct April’s own personal hell.
April and her bodyguards have actually developed a nice enough dynamic, despite her tendency to over exaggerate. Sterling is the one who accompanies her to the Harvard campus for classes. Blair comes along some days but most of the time it’s only Sterling. She likes learning and stuff, Blair had explained to April, and she won’t bother you when you want to spend your days with your nose under a book she’d added, and then April was sold. When April goes out and about, be it to buy groceries or hang out with friends, both Blair and Sterling come with her “to cover more ground” as Sterling had put it. Her father nor his goons have shown any sign of life, which makes April a bit uneasy, but she tries not to let it get to her.
Blair is still all bite and snark, but their banter is more similar to that of April and Ezequiel’s with each passing day, and her presence doesn’t make April want to tear her head off anymore. Blair is also incredibly protective of her sister and April sort of admires the way she seems to love so aggressively. It’s progress, April guesses.
Sterling is a whole different story. She’s smart and nice and funny. She’s bold in a way that April has never been and she’s caring in a way that April has never known. She looks after Blair, of course she does, but she also looks over April in a manner that’s different than just being her bodyguard. It’s in the quirk of her mouth after April unwillingly makes her laugh and it’s in her eyes, understanding and bright, whenever April’s family is mentioned.
Sterling is probably the kindest person April has ever known and it scares her to the core.
She sighs, checking out the book she’d chosen at the library, and leaves the building to meet the very person she was just thinking about.
Sterling is waiting for her outside, bright smile in place. They walk to April’s car in silence until the blonde notices the book April is holding.
“Oh, I love him!” April raises a questioning eyebrow. “It’s true. I’ve read Ulysses like a hundred times. Did you know that there are things that can only be truly understood by reading his own notes?”
April did know that, and she’s not sure if she’s more surprised by the fact that Sterling knows it too or by the fact that Sterling has read a book like Ulysses more than once.
“How do you know that?”
“I like to read, April,” she says, confidently, “and I like to know things.”
“What? Am I not supposed to be smart since I’m not like you?”
April has the decency to blush at that. She looks down. “That’s not what I meant,” she sputters, but she thinks that is exactly where her mind went to, and she finds herself embarrassed by the fact.
“It totally is, but I forgive you,” Sterling teases her. “You should never judge a book by its cover and all that.”
April cracks a lop-sided smile at that and Sterling gasps. April frowns confusedly.
“That might have been the first time you’ve ever smiled at me.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is,” Sterling insists. “The first genuine smile, at least.”
April feels her cheeks start to burn. “Whatever.”
“Do I have to talk James Joyce to you to make you smile? Is that what it takes?”
The shorter girl tries to stop the laugh bubbling out of her chest unsuccessfully. Sterling smiles impossibly wider at that.
“You should smile more often,” Sterling adds, softer, and April doesn’t answer.
They spend the ride home talking about literature and April discovers a new side of Sterling that challenges her, and she ignores the giddy feeling settling itself at the pit of her stomach.
Two weeks later, Sterling is finishing putting on lipstick in front of the bathroom mirror when Blair peaks her head in on the door.
“Damn, you look hot.”
"Thanks sis," Sterling beams.
“You sure you can run in that in case things go sour, though?” She adds, pointing to the blue dress Sterling is currently wearing.
“Please,” Sterling huffs. “I am a professional, Blair.”
Her twin sister laughs. “Hell yes you are.”
“Are you sure you don't want to come?"
Blair scoffs. "To a ball full of stuck up people and wanna be lawyers? I'll pass. Also, you know Miles is coming to visit."
Sterling pouts. She saves the lipstick in her purse.
"Okay," she says, but her voice sounds so sad that Blair frowns.
"Unless you think I should go? You don't think it's going to be more dangerous than usual, right?"
"No, no," Sterling shakes her head quickly. “You go have fun with Miles. It’s a ball for like, the most important people in town.”
“Which means it’s going to be heavily guarded,” Blair finishes for her. “Yeah, you’re right, it’ll probably be super boring.”
Sterling nods, despite the flutter in her stomach at the prospect of spending the night with April.
Focus, she chastises herself, you’re supposed to be working .
“Well, this is fancy,” Sterling says, standing before the building with April at her side.
April looks her up and down.
“You look perfectly dressed for the occasion.”
April is satisfied to see Sterling’s cheeks turn red. She tucks a loose blonde stray of hair behind her ear.
“So do you,” Sterling responds, gazing at April the same way she had done to her.
April looks down on her outfit. She’s wearing a black, simple suit with a white blouse under.
“Yes, well,” she starts, ignoring how nervous Sterling’s stare makes her feel, “I’ve been to these kind of events before.”
Sterling arches an eyebrow. “You don’t like them?”
April thinks on it. She smirks, before whispering to Sterling as if she were telling a secret, “I’m better than all of them and they know it. They’re all suck ups.”
Sterling laughs disbelievingly. April’s confident grin grows in size.
“You’re unbelievable,” Sterling says, shaking her head fondly.
“You love it,” April states.
Sterling simply smiles. April feels like she is going to drown in the blue of her soft look, so she avoids her eyes, links their arms together, and says, “let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Sterling looks at their linked arms and April ignores the way the blonde’s smile turns impossibly wider.
One hour into the ball, April drags Sterling to the bar, her throat dry due to all the talking. She was kidding when she’d said to Sterling that all the people there were stuck ups, but it is true that most of them tended to seek her out. It leaves April exhausted.
She slumps against one of the stools. Sterling takes pity on her and orders two glasses of water. April offers her a grateful smile.
“You okay?” Sterling asks, sitting on the stool next to hers.
“Yes,” April says, although she sighs. “I like the attention, don’t get me wrong,” April continues, ignoring Sterling’s curious raise of her brow, “but after a while I need a break.”
“I’m sure having a hundred people come over to you to tell you how wonderful you are must be exhausting,” Sterling jokes.
Sterling hums. “So I’ve been told.”
April relishes in the comfortable silence that takes over them. She scans the room, seeing the familiar faces of many of her peers. She has actually come to love these events, mostly because she doesn’t need to be April Stevens, daughter of a criminal, having earned enough respect to be known simply as April Stevens, future lawyer.
Her gaze stays longer on the dance floor. She sees some of her favorite professors move awkwardly to the slow song that is playing. She chuckles to herself at the sight, but mirth quickly turns into panic when she sees someone approaching.
Sterling, of course, notices.
“Hey,” Sterling says, touching her arm softly, “what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Worse,” April mutters, turning to face her. “My ex.”
The shorter girl points towards the woman currently walking towards them. She’s got short, black hair and she’s tall, carries herself with a confidence not even April gives off.
Sterling takes April’s hand. “Come on,” she answers the other girl’s confused look, “let’s dance.”
The blonde drags her away to the dance floor, successfully avoiding the ex. April lets out a relieved sigh once she’s out of sight.
“So there is one person in this room who doesn’t adore April Stevens?”
April looks up at Sterling, hating the way Sterling’s teasing smirk blinds her, makes her brain dizzy. She’s about to bite back when she realizes just how close they are. Sterling’s hands are resting on her waist, the touch burning to April’s skin under the suit. She takes a sharp intake of breath, Sterling's distinguished smell filling her nose.
Sterling’s smile is softer now as she stares down at April, her eyes still affecting April the same way they did the day they met for the very first time. It’s still too much, so April looks down and inches closer to Sterling, their height difference allowing her to lay her head on her chest.
“I broke her heart,” April finally explains, while they sway slightly to the music.
April rolls her eyes even though Sterling can’t see her. “It’s true. I was… cruelly honest with her, I think.”
April feels Sterling’s laugh rumble through her chest. “I can totally see that happening.”
“It was during my first year of college,” April excuses herself. “I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted.” Sterling hums in acknowledgement. “She didn’t take it well, though, which is why I’ve been avoiding her since.”
“You haven’t talked to her since first year?” Sterling asks in surprise.
“We’ve talked,” corrects April, “it just never ends well.”
Sterling shuts up suddenly. April frowns when she feels the other girl's entire body tense up. She pulls away to look up at her face and is surprised to see Sterling scanning around the room frantically.
“Okay,” Sterling mutters, “do not panic, but I’m getting very bad vibes from some of the men here. We should go.”
Before April can even process what Sterling just said, the blonde grabs her hand and drags her away to the exit. Despite Sterling’s words, April starts to panic. She looks around the room herself and sees the men Sterling had mentioned. She can feel too many eyes on them. Are they going to follow them? Are they her father’s men?
She focuses on Sterling’s hand on her, the touch bringing her back to reality. When they exit the building, Sterling starts walking in the opposite direction of her car.
“What are you doing?”
Sterling stops, turns around to face April. “Trust me,” she begs, “we need to lose them. They’ll easily know where your car is.”
April stares at Sterling’s eyes, wide with desperation. It’s a side to Sterling April has, fortunately, not seen before. It makes her uneasy.
“Okay, I trust you,” she finally says, despite the turmoil happening inside her. Sterling sighs in relief.
Sterling walks them into the city, far away from the ball, and April lets herself be dragged, in sort of a daze. Sterling guides her through different streets, turning corners, and April wonders briefly since when did she know the city of Cambridge so well. They walk for a while more until Sterling forcefully pushes her into an alley. She’s about to complain, when Sterling pins her to the wall with her own body and covers April’s mouth with her hand.
April thinks this is the day she dies. Not because of the creepy man that has been chasing after them all night, but because of Sterling Wesley pinning her to a wall . The blonde is not looking at her, instead hearing something that April cannot hear. Sterling holds her breath for a few seconds until April feels her body relax against her. She turns to the shorter girl.
“Okay,” Sterling says, a bit breathless, “I think we lost him.”
Sterling’s hand is still on April’s mouth. April arches an eyebrow and Sterling quickly pulls her hand away, as if it was burning.
“Um,” Sterling stammers, “sorry.”
April clears her throat, thankful for the darkness of the alley hiding the rising blush to her cheeks. She straightens her suit.
“Do you think we’re safe?” She asks.
“For now,” Sterling answers, voice soft. “I’ll text Blair.”
Blair picks them up, a concerned look on her face. When they get to the apartment complex, April sheepishly asks the twins to stay with her for the night. They immediately accept, and to her surprise, Blair is the one to offer a Star Wars marathon, probably because April still seems shaken.
When the next morning April wakes up snuggled up against Sterling on the couch, none of them mention it.
"Labels put people in a box, you know?"
"Some people want to be put in a box," April argues. "That box is like a safe place."
Sterling tilts her head to the side. "That makes sense."
April grins victoriously.
"But," Sterling continues and April's smile falters, "do you know about Judith Butler's gender theory?"
"Of course I do,” April says, almost offended at the question.
“Gender is performative. So too can be sexuality. Or maybe be like, more fluid than what other people label us as. Does that make sense?”
“I understand what you’re getting at,” April nods. “But I just think it’s important for us to label ourselves right now, not only because it makes people be comfortable with who they are, but also it allows the community to fight for something more tangible.”
Sterling stares at her with a soft smile on her face. “Well, true. I think you should read Jeannete Winterson’s Written on Body , by the way.”
The book and the author sound familiar to April. She’s about to agree when the door to her bedroom bursts open.
Blair stands there, eyebrows perfectly raised, looking at them like they were doing something dirty instead of debating about queer theory. A second later, a man April has never seen before appears beside her.
“Bowser!” Sterling squeals, immediately standing up from where she was sitting on April’s bed.
April knows that name.
Bowser grunts from the force of the hug, but hugs the girl back. “Hello, kid.”
“You’re welcome for rescuing you from whatever boring thing you nerds were doing,” Blair says.
April rolls her eyes, standing up from the bed herself. “We were having a very interesting discussion, thank you very much.”
“Sure you were, princess,” Blair quips.
April resists the urge to roll her eyes again. She didn't like the nickname at first, but the way Blair says it has changed. It doesn't sound like she's spitting acid at her anymore, the brunette instead putting on a teasing smirk whenever she calls April that.
“Hello,” April introduces herself to Bowser. “I’m April.”
“I know who you are,” Bowser says, but shakes the hand offered to him anyway.
“What are you doing here?” Sterling asks. “I thought you were coming later.”
“Surprise,” Blair answers before Bowser can.
“Yes,” Bowser grunts out. “Your sister decided it would be nice to surprise you and pick me up herself.”
Blair nods, smirking. “Also, she was pretty busy as you can see.”
Sterling’s cheeks turn red and April is about to respond when her phone rings. She frowns, confused. Ezequiel and Hannah always text, never call, and her mother calls her every Sunday at noon. She hasn’t broken that tradition in over 3 years and April doesn’t think she would start now. She picks her phone up, and her confusion increases when she reads the words private number on the screen. She picks up, just in case.
“ Hello, little padawan. ”
April freezes. It’s been years since she’s heard her father’s voice and it shakes her to the core.
“Hello, father,” she manages to get out.
She can practically feel Blair and Sterling’s concerned looks dig a hole through her skull. She ignores it and inhales deeply through her nose, readying herself for the conversation.
“ How are you?”
“What the fuck do you want?”
Her father chuckles on the other side of the line. “ I can’t just call my little girl to see how she’s doing? ”
“I’m not your little girl,” she immediately bites back.
“ Yes you are. You’re my daughter, whether you like it or not. ”
“If I could pull your blood from my veins and give it back, I would. I want no part of you,” she says, and even she’s surprised at the hatred her voice carries.
“ There is no need to get so heated, padawan, ” her father replies, calm as ever.
“I’ll ask again: what the fuck do you want?”
“ To warn you to watch your back. ”
April hangs up. Her hands are shaking and she jumps when she feels a hand on her shoulder. She turns around to see Sterling looking back at her, concerned.
“What did he want? Are you okay?”
April suddenly feels like her room is too small, her chest tightening. She can barely breathe. Sterling panics, tries to get closer to her, but when her hand touches her arm, April pushes her away as if it was on fire. She can’t focus on Sterling’s look of hurt.
“Hey,” Blair says from the door. “She’s just trying to help.”
“I don’t need your help,” April snaps. “Just leave me alone.”
“April, come on, that call sounded like a big deal,” Sterling insists. “Let’s just-”
“I said no!” April yells. “Of course it was a fucking big deal. My criminal father who wants me dead just called me. It is a big deal, Sterling, not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving family!”
The room falls silent. April sees something break in Sterling’s face but can’t focus on anything than her father’s voice and her own feelings of anger and abandonment.
“Okay,” Sterling finally says, her voice sounding small.
She leaves the room quietly and Blair follows after her, making sure to glare in April’s direction first. Once the twins leave, April slumps down against her bed, exhausted. She closes her eyes and takes a sharp intake of breath, already regretting her outburst. She feels the weight of the bed shift and opens her eyes to see Bowser staring back at her.
“You okay, kid?”
April shallows through the lump in her throat and nods once.
“For your sake we’ll say that I don’t believe you,” Bowser says and April chuckles sadly. “You know, I think the twins understand your situation more than you think.”
April looks at Bowser curiously. “How so? Do they have a dad who’s just gotten out of jail? A mother who hires bounty hunters to protect her?”
“No,” responds Bowser, letting out a small laugh. “Nothing quite as exciting, I suppose. But they do know what it’s like to not have a loving family, as you so kindly put it.”
April groans and hides her face in her hands. “I was a bitch, wasn’t I? She was just trying to help and I was a total bitch.”
Bowser pats her on the back. “I wouldn’t go as far. But Sterling will understand.”
“Of course she will,” sighs April. “She always does.”
“Ain’t that right.”
“Those twins have turned my life upside down,” April mutters.
Bowser laughs knowingly. “Tell me about it.”
A few hours later, when she’s gotten herself together, April stands at the twins’ door. She takes a deep breath and rings the bell. It’s Blair who opens the door. She crosses her arms over her chest when she sees April, raising a defiant eyebrow.
April sighs. “I’m sorry,” she starts, not beating around the bush. “I snapped at Sterling and she didn’t deserve it. Can I talk to her?”
Blair pretends like she’s thinking about it. April rolls her eyes.
“Fine,” Blair accepts a few seconds later, stepping aside to let her in. “I get what’s it like to let anger control your actions.” April offers her a grateful smile. “Be careful with Sterl, though, she’s fragile,” Blair adds.
April snorts. “We both know that’s not true.”
“Okay, sure,” Blair concedes, “she’s like the strongest and most badass woman I’ve ever known. But still.”
“I know what you mean, Blair,” says April.
Blair tilts her head to the side, as if she was studying her, looking for something. A few minutes later, she seems to have found it, because she nods once and motions for April to knock on Sterling’s door.
And she does. She opens the door after Sterling’s soft come in . The blonde is laying on her bed, phone in hand, and looks up when the door creaks open. Her eyes widen at seeing April, and she immediately stands up.
“Hey,” April says, closing the door behind her.
“Hi,” Sterling responds, equally as soft.
April sighs. “I’m sorry,” she blurts out.
“It’s okay,” Sterling rushes to say. She walks closer to April. “I understand.”
“Stop that!” April groans in frustration.
Sterling frowns, confused. “What?”
“Being so… understanding! I was kind of a bitch. It’s not okay.”
“Okay,” Sterling says, sounding amused. “I accept your apology, then.”
Sterling goes back to her bed, sitting down on the edge of it. She pats the space next to her and raises an eyebrow at April. The shorter girl obliges after a few seconds.
“April,” Sterling starts, once the other girl is sitting next to her, “have you ever wondered why Blair despises rich people so much?”
April shakes her head. “Not really, no. I guess there are plenty of reasons to hate the rich.”
“You’re right,” Sterling chuckles. “But it’s more personal than that. Blair and I grew up in an orphanage, you know?”
“What? I had no idea, Sterl,” says April, eyes wide. “I never asked…”
And it’s true. She’s gotten closer to the twins, but she’s never asked about their personal life, nor have they mentioned it. They always talk about Bowser, identical fond smiles on their faces, but never about what came before him.
“We don’t like to talk about it,” Sterling explains. “But yeah. We… got out when we were about 13.”
“What do you mean, got out?”
“We sneaked out.”
April gasps. “What?!”
“Yes,” Sterling nods, trying not to laugh at April’s surprised face, “we were rebels from early on, I suppose. But,” she adds, when she sees April is about to speak, “that’s not the important part of the story. When we left, we did it to find our parents. We found out they were still alive and we naively thought they were forced to abandon us or something like that." Sterling smiles sadly. "Turns out they just didn't want us."
"Sterl, that's awful," April says, her heart aching for the twins.
Sterling shrugs. "It is what it is. They even offered us some money, but we didn't accept it. We spent a few months living in the streets until Bowser took us in and the rest, as they say, is history."
"Jesus," April says, trying to process it all. "That's insane, Sterling. I'm sorry you had to go through that."
"It's okay, we found our own family in the end," responds Sterling, a small smile on her face. "I guess we both have our family issues, huh?" She adds, chuckling.
"Yeah," April agrees. "I guess so."
They fall into a comfortable silence. April fiddles with her hands nervously.
“Have you ever wondered why my dad is after me?” April asks after a few seconds.
“Because he’s a psychopath?”
April laughs. “That’s one of the reasons,” she says, “but there’s more. I was the one to turn him in all those years ago.”
"Really?" Sterling asks in surprise. "I thought he just got caught."
"My mom covered it," explains April, "but I went to the police, worked with them for a few months, and that's how they caught him. So now, obviously, he's looking for revenge."
"Aren't you scared?"
"A little," April admits, her voice barely a whisper now. Sterling squeezes her thigh in support and April offers her a grateful smile. "If he comes near me, he'll be breaking the law, he'll probably be arrested again. It's just… if he's so confident about getting to me…"
"What did he say to you on the call?" Sterling asks, eyes understanding and bright.
"To watch my back."
"Fuck," Sterling blurts out.
April chuckles. "Language."
"Okay," Sterling says, standing up. She begins to pace the room back and forth. "We need to talk to Blair and Bowser and call Yolanda. This isn't a bodyguard job anymore, we need to catch this man and make sure he can't hurt you."
“And how are we going to do that?” April asks, arching an eyebrow.
“Well, I haven’t figured that out yet.”
April shakes her head fondly, touched by Sterling’s determination. The call with her father still has her shaken, but she would trust Sterling with her life. She supposes she’s been literally doing that for the past few months.
She stares at Sterling, eyebrows furrowed in concentration. She feels an overwhelming warmth in her heart at Sterling’s clear concern for her. She ignores it, buries the feeling deep inside, being there more serious matters at hand.
She does want to revisit it later, though.
“This is useless!” Blair groans.
April can’t help but mentally agree. They’re at her flat’s living room, the twins, Bowser and herself researching for anything that might get John Stevens back to jail. They’ve been at it for hours, having even facetimed a woman that April would soon learn her name was Yolanda, but have come empty.
“There must be something ,” Sterling insists.
Bowser grunts in agreement, but April sighs.
“He’s the best at hiding all the shady stuff he’s done,” April says. “We won’t find anything. Last time, he only went to jail because I uncovered everything without him knowing.”
Bowser looks at her. “You cheated him.”
“Exactly,” April nods.
“Beat him at his own game,” Sterling chimes in.
“That’s great and all, but how do we do that now?” Blair asks.
Silence fills the room. April thinks she knows exactly what to do to draw her father out. As much as he would hate to admit it, she knows him best.
“I might know a way,” April breaks the silence.
The twins look at her, both of them tilting their head to the side curiously. Bowser, however, is looking at her with a knowing glint in his eyes, as if he was reading her mind. April supposes he’s been in the business long enough to guess her plan.
“All we have to do is bait him,” she starts, and judging by the way Sterling’s brow slowly creases, she can tell she’s beginning to understand what April means. “I’m the one he wants and I’m the one that’s always been able to take down his walls.”
Blair lets out a surprised oh when she finishes but Sterling’s reaction is a lot more prominent. The blonde stands up quickly, shaking her head repeatedly.
“Absolutely not,” she says.
Her glare almost makes April slump into her seat. Almost, because April has never backed down from a challenge, and she’s not going to start now just because it’s Sterling Wesley she’s up against.
April stands up as well, just to make herself feel less small.
“It’s the only way,” she tells Sterling, crossing her arms. She will not budge.
“It does look like the only way, sis,” Blair agrees with her. April offers her a grateful smile.
Sterling’s head whips around to look at her sister. “To put her in danger?” She asks, her voice an octave higher.
“She won’t be alone ,” Blair corrects her, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Sterling is about to respond when Bowser clears his throat. All three girls fall silent, turning to look at him.
“It’s the best option we have,” he says when he’s sure the attention is on him. “And it will not put her in danger,” he adds when he sees Sterling open her mouth. She closes it. “We’ll be there to catch him red handed.”
Blair nods. “Yeah, see?” She says, looking at her twin, “easy!”
Sterling huffs. “Sure as fuck sounds easy,” she mutters under her breath.
“Language,” April chastises her. Sterling rolls her eyes and April smirks, despite the seriousness of the situation, at her clear discontent. She steps closer to the blonde, their chests almost touching. Sterling looks down at her, blue eyes wide with surprise. “I do find your concern endearing. Thank you,” she whispers. Suddenly feeling bold, she stands up on her tiptoes to leave a lingering kiss on Sterling’s cheek.
When she pulls away, she ignores Blair’s annoyed groan, choosing to focus instead on the way Sterling turns beet red and avoids looking at her eyes.
“I still think this is a bad idea,” Sterling finally says when she’s composed herself, although there is clearly no fight in her left.
Sterling sits back down on the couch next to Blair, who pats her back comfortingly. April’s phone buzzes in her pocket, and when she sees a text from the group chat she has with Ezequiel and Hannah, she remembers she told her friends to come over for movie night.
“Well,” April says after sending out a reply, “it’s movie night, so you all are welcome to stay. I think that’s enough John Stevens for today.”
“And that’s my cue to leave,” Bowser immediately responds, standing up from his place on the couch.
The twins quickly resist his choice and he begrudgingly agrees to have dinner with them. They leave April’s flat and later, when they come back, they get along so well with Ezequiel and Hannah that April thinks her chest might combust. She sees Ezequiel and Blair bond over their sharp tongue, enjoying the challenge of outwitting each other, and chimes in whenever she feels like it, basking in their annoyed faces when she’s the one who clearly wins. Sterling listens attentively to whatever Hannah is ranting to her about, and the smiles she seldom sends April’s way are enough to make April’s ears burn. She feels that giddy feeling settling itself at the pit of the stomach again, and this time, she lets it fill her whole.
She enjoys her night, because her father already took her childhood and teenage years away, and she’s not about to let him take away the normalcy she’s fought so hard to earn.
The next morning, when April wakes up snuggled up against Sterling on the couch again, she tells the blonde that next time, they should just go lay down on her bed. Sterling’s subsequent sputtering and flushed face has her smiling like a fool throughout the whole day.
It's a normal day. April goes to class, has lunch with a few of her friends, and spends the afternoon studying at the library. It's a normal day, except it isn't, because none of the twins have accompanied her and when she leaves campus, she doesn’t walk to where her car is parked.
Today is not a normal day, because it is the day John Stevens goes back to jail. Hopefully.
April walks into town, heart beating ten times faster than usual. She trusts Sterling and Blair, and she’s grown to trust Bowser, too. She knows it’s a risky plan, but she also knows they won’t let her father take her. She’s not even sure her dad is going to show up today; she’s been showing up at class without her bodyguards for three days straight, to cheat John into thinking she’s alone. She knows he won’t risk it unless he’s completely sure he can take her without anyone knowing.
April just can’t shake the feeling that she will see her father again today. She realizes she’s been walking for 20 minutes already, approaching the alley they’d agree she would stop in. They couldn’t possibly know when her father would come out of hiding, but they were sure he wouldn’t do so too close to campus.
April turns the corner into the alley. The streets are deserted. If her father wanted to take her somewhere without being seen, here and now would be the moment. She leans her back on the dirty walls of the dark alley and takes out her phone. She’s pretending to text someone when she hears his voice.
“Hello, little padawan.”
She was expecting him to come, but she still freezes. She looks up from her phone into the face of the man who raised her and has to stop herself from spitting in his face.
“Get away from me,” she says, backing away from him further into the alley. Her father looks at something past her, and she turns around to see one of his goons staring at her. She gulps. She needs to stay calm, she thinks to herself. They expected this. “What do you want?”
Her father takes a step towards her. “You know better than to ask dumb questions.”
“You’re breaking the restraining order. Do you want to go back so soon?”
Her father takes another step forward. He laughs, and it sends a shiver down April’s spine. “I’m not going back. I’m leaving, and you’re leaving with me.”
April feels genuinely scared now, the feeling of safety the twins and Bowser had tried to instill in her while making the plan all but gone now. She feels her chest tighten, and her father notices, because he keeps walking towards her with a triumphant smile on his face.
The smile falls from his face, however, when April hears a loud thump behind her. She turns, and her father’s man is now laying conscious on the floor, Blair Wesley standing proudly next to him, the gun she just used to knock him out in her hand. She sends a comforting smile April’s way and then it turns into a smirk when she focuses her eyes on John.
“Sorry for interrupting this lovely family reunion,” Blair says, not sounding sorry at all.
April turns back to look at her father, and her eyes widen in surprise when she sees Sterling and Bowser behind him. John turns and sees them, too.
“What is this?” He asks, leaning on the wall, looking frantically to both sides of him.
Sterling moves to stand in front of him, shotgun pointing straight at him. April steps beside her. She crosses her arms and looks at her father, basking in his nervous demeanor. She’s the one in control now.
“You really thought I didn’t know you were coming?” She asks him. “I thought you were smarter than that, John. Have you lost your touch in jail?”
“You little bitch,” he growls.
He pulls away from the wall, attempting to walk towards her, but Sterling steps in front of her. She shield’s April’s body with her own.
“Take another step and I’ll shoot your stupid face off.”
April knows Sterling wouldn’t do that, but it still makes April catch her breath.
“You’re breaking the law here, Mr. Stevens, so I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to come with me,” Bowser speaks out, cuffs hanging from his hand.
April sees the exact moment her father deflates, accepting his fate, but she also knows he always has a trick up his sleeve, so when she sees his hand go into his trousers’ pocket, she steps in front of Sterling quickly, pushing her away.
The rest is sort of a blur. She sees her father’s face run towards her, sees the knife grasped tightly in his hand and feels a sting on her arm seconds later. She hears a shriek and then John Stevens is suddenly on the floor, Bowser on top of him, restraining him. With Blair’s help, they manage to handcuff him. Her father is muttering something under her breath but April’s too shaken to make out the words.
“Hey,” Sterling’s voice and soft touch brings her back to reality. “Are you okay?”
“What-” she begins, following Sterling’s gaze to her arm. She’s got a deep gash that probably looks worse than what it actually is. “Oh. Yeah. Fine.”
“April, you’re bleeding,” Sterling says.
April nods dumbly because Sterling’s right. The wound keeps on pouring blood, and April feels light-headed all of sudden, a similar sensation to when she was 8 and she fell down from her horse and scraped her knee. She had cried until she’d looked down at her legs, and seeing all the blood on them had made her dizzy.
She loses her balance and Sterling catches her. A concerned “April?” is what she last hears before everything turns to black.
April wakes up confused for a brief second, until she realizes she's laying down on her couch, in her living room, and that seeing her father hadn't been a dream.
She sits down, groaning when she feels her arm wince at the movement. She looks down to it, seeing the wound bandaged, thankfully not bleeding anymore. She rubs the tiredness from her eyes.
“Hello there,” she hears, and she turns her face to the kitchen, where Sterling is staring at her, a bright smile on her face. She walks towards April.
“Hey,” April says back, voice still husky from her nap.
Sterling sits down next to her on the couch. “You had us worried there.”
“I’m sorry,” April apologizes. “I usually get a bit dizzy whenever I see blood. I didn’t expect to faint, though.”
“You’re that kind of person?” Sterling asks, eyebrows raised.
April sighs dramatically. “God had to include at least a flaw when making me.”
Sterling laughs. “Oh my God, you’re incorrigible.”
April smiles. They fall silent, and April realizes that Sterling is so close that her thigh is brushing hers, and that same familiar giddy feeling is settling at the pit of her stomach again, so strong this time that April thinks she might combust.
“You don’t have to worry about your father anymore,” Sterling finally breaks the silence. “Bowser tells us he is going to be back in jail for a long time.”
April sighs in relief. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Of course we did.”
Sterling is staring at her, that smile that always blinds April plastered on her mouth, and April knows she means it more than in “our job is to protect you” way. An overwhelming rush of affection goes through her, thinking about how the girl in front of her - and her sister, too - came bursting into her life unexpectedly. April thought she would hate both of them, but that is so far from the truth.
“You also kinda saved me from getting stabbed by John,” Sterling adds. “So thanks for that.” April simply nods. “Also,” Sterling keeps talking, “we don’t need to protect you anymore. You’re free.”
Free . The word echoes in April’s mind, and she supposes Sterling’s right. She is free, and Sterling Wesley has always made her feel braver than she actually is, so she doesn’t say anything, instead opting to bring her hand up to cup Sterling’s face. She feels the blonde take a sharp intake of breath, surprised. She’s so close that April can see the different shades of blue of her eyes, and April thinks back on the last months to try to pinpoint the moment she started falling for this girl.
It doesn’t really matter, because Sterling’s looking at her, breathing heavy, mouth parted and eyes expectant. She glances down towards April’s lips and April does the same to hers and then they both lean forward at the same time, foreheads pressed together.
“Are you going to kiss me or what?” Sterling whispers.
It’s a challenge, and Sterling knows April never backs down from them. So April closes the remaining distance between them and finally kisses her. Sterling releases a whimper into her mouth and then she’s kissing her back and oh, April thinks that if heaven does exist, this is surely what it must feel like. She feels Sterling’s hand grip her waist, nails digging into her back and now she’s the one moaning, kissing Sterling harder, feeling like her skin is on fire and-
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
They quickly pull apart. Blair stares at them, apparently annoyed, but the faint smile on her lips tells a different story. She approaches the couch.
“It’s great that you finally got your shit together, Sterl-”
“Language,” April says, at the same time that Sterling groans.
“-but some of us are in a long distance relationship, so tone it down a notch.”
April can’t help but laugh and Sterling soon joins her.
“Just came to see how you were doing, princess,” Blair tells April. She raises her eyebrows. “But I can see that you’re taken care of,” she adds, looking pointedly at her sister.
“I was, before you so rudely interrupted us,” April responds, not missing a beat.
It’s Blair’s turn to laugh. “I’ll leave you to it, then,” she says, walking back towards her room. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” She yells before closing her door.
“Embarrassing,” Sterling mutters under her breath, and April chuckles at her flushed face. “What?” She says, turning to face April again.
“You’re adorable,” April replies, a dopey smile on her face.
Sterling blushes harder, but then her expression shifts, her eyes displaying a hunger April has never seen before. “I’ll show you adorable,” she almost growls before going back to kissing April.
April vaguely thinks that she really ought to be thanking her mom for bringing the Wesley twins into her life, but then Sterling’s lips are on her jaw, and on her neck, and her hands are everywhere, her touch setting April’s skin on fire, and everything else fades, the feeling of Sterling’s body on top of her own all that stays.