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i've been changed (yes really changed)

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On certain days, April can come home from school and know that she has a few hours to wind down with one of her tried and true relaxation rituals before getting some homework done, having a dinner with her parents in which she plays mediator to whatever it is they’re arguing about that week, and snuggling with Bilko before bed. Today is not one of those days.

“Mama, where are my keys?!” April asks, looking right at the side table where she left them less than an hour ago. That’s all the time it took for her to come home and take a shower before she needs to head back to school to get ready for opening night.

“Where did you last leave them, April?” Mary calls from upstairs.

April growls, not having time for any of this nonsense. She wouldn’t have even come home at all if she didn’t need to put together a post-show cast party outfit together that doesn’t involve a khaki skirt or a polo shirt with the Willingham crest on it. “I left them on the table in the foyer, which I’m looking directly at, and they aren’t here.”

“Then I’ll rephrase. Where were you supposed to leave your keys, April Elizabeth?” Mary says in that infuriating tone of voice that is only acceptable when it’s coming out of April’s mouth.

April grumbles and goes to the key hooks next to the door, reading the labels of each one until she comes to April - Lincoln. “Thank you so much for moving them, Mother,” April says in a sarcastically sweet voice as she grabs her keys off their hook. She knows she’s given a lot of flack from, well, everyone for being such a control freak, but it’s only a result of being raised by the Organization Queen.

“Don’t take that tone with me, Young Lady or I’ll just have to show up early to your performance and regale your classmates with stories of the time you used to do whole concerts for our family set to those High School Musical songs,” Mary says, emerging with a basket of John’s dirty laundry, which she carries down the stairs. “And you know I have no poker face, so I am telling God's honest truth.”

It’s really a cruel trick of the universe that parents--the people most likely to want to humiliate their children at some point--are given such ample fodder for it. “Please don’t do that.”

“Then be respectful,” Mary fires back. She sets down the laundry basket and comes over to kiss April on the forehead. “Break a leg tonight. Your father and I will be there in the front row.”

“Actually, if you can, the first row of the balcony should have the best view of everything,” April corrects her, though she appreciates the sentiment.

“I can only hope that one day you have a daughter who feels the need to contradict you even half as often as you do me,” Mary says, chuckling and shaking her head.

The Mom Curse. How original. “Then for my sake, let’s just hope I only have sons.” With that, April heads out the front door, crossing the driveway to where she parked her car outside of the garage--and where her father already is, inspecting its engine.

“How often do you check this thing’s oil?” John asks, wiping the dipstick with a paper towel.

April frowns. “Well, I didn’t exactly think it was necessary since you bought it for me brand new about five weeks ago,” she says, clearly forgetting that that kind of sassy banter might be all fun and games with her mom, but her dad is another thing entirely.

He makes a face as he puts the dipstick back in and screws it in. “Ya know, I wouldn’t have gotten you the damn car at all if I knew you weren’t going to be appreciative of it,” he says, slamming the hood down.

“I do appreciate it, Daddy. I just think that when I’m as busy as I have been lately, I should be able to trust my American-built car to not be leaking oil with under 1000 miles on it,” April says, going to open the driver’s side door.

“If you don’t got time for it, then maybe Luke could help you. Boys are good for this sort of thing,” John says, clearly having never really gotten to know the boy all that well, considering he forgot which side of his car the gas cap was on all three of the times April was at a gas station with him.

“I would, but he sort of broke up with me last week, so I doubt he’d be of much help even if he wasn’t completely inept,” April says, to her father’s clear surprise. She guesses gossip doesn’t always travel that fast around here after all.

John crosses his arms. “And why would he do a damn thing like that?” he asks, looking like he’s really wanting to take part in tonight’s crucifixion of dollar store Jesus, but also seems like he’s blaming April for losing out on the closest thing he’ll probably ever get to a son.

“Because he’s still in love with Sterling Wesley,” April says plainly but serves herself a gut punch in the process. It might be true, but boy does she not like saying it. Still, it’s better than admitting that she maybe is the worst girlfriend in the history of high school dating.

John laughs dryly, the angry vein in his neck bulging in the way that it tends to do before a mighty outburst, but it doesn’t come. Instead, what April gets is a sort of scary calm. “Well, good luck to him with that one,” he says, holding something back, but April can’t pinpoint what it could possibly be.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asks, once again left to wonder what her dad’s weird fixation on Sterling is all about, if not him suspecting she and April once had a thing.

John shrugs. “Them Wesley girls just got a certain...way about them that I think you’d be better off avoiding.” With the way he worded that, April can only guess he’s talking about Sterling’s supposed promiscuity--which even she can admit she really blew out of proportion.

“Anyway Daddy, I have to get back to school. You remembered the first show is tonight, right?” April says, climbing into the car but not yet shutting the door.

“Oh, right,” John says, seeming like he did actually forget. “I’ll see what I can do, but I might have a business meeting tonight. But no matter what, you know I’ll see it at least once.”

April’s not sure why she’s even disappointed, seeing as she’s sure her dad would just fall asleep in the first act anyway. Really, it just serves her right for thinking that the thing she’s excited about is something that her dad would prioritize. “Well, if you can work it out, there’s a seat saved for you tonight.”

“Knock ‘em dead. I know you’ll do great,” John says, then assists her in closing the car door.

April has to pat herself on the back for waiting until she’s driven all the way out onto the street before she screams at the top of her lungs. She often wonders why she had to be born the person she is. She can imagine she’d be much happier if she was one of those poor little Brazillian kids who never have to worry about things like their wealthy father caring more about material things and his not-so-clandestine affairs with his so-called business partners. Hell, she would gladly switch places with Sterling if she could--she can’t imagine being an adopted crack baby is all that bad when you at least have attentive parents and a sister who loves you to a fault.

Really, when it comes down to it, everyone loves Sterling, and why wouldn’t they? She’s pretty and smart without feeling the need to be so damn arrogant about it, she’s not afraid to be herself no matter the consequences, and she just always seems to be so... happy. And even in the moments when she’s not necessarily happy--the events that have transpired these past months sure have tried their hardest to take that smile right off her dumb, beautiful face--she just has so much in her corner that she’s always bound to bounce back spectacularly. She’s a goddamn Disney Princess and April overdone soap opera villain who doesn’t deserve any of the privilege life has thrown at her.

The short drive to school is a bit inconvenient when one needs time to properly have a breakdown in their car; but maybe it’s a good thing that April isn’t given the chance to fully spiral, as she has far too much shit to do tonight, and she isn’t even given a second to catch her breath when Ezekiel is already waiting for her on the sidewalk next to the student parking lot.

“Thank God you’re here. I finally got to see the finished product for Blair’s King Herod costume and it is...such a beautiful tragedy,” Ezekiel unloads the second April gets out of her car, a bag containing her change of outfit for after the show in hand.

“You’re going to have to elaborate on what exactly that means, seeing as the camp that that song tends to inspire opens it up to any number of options,” April says, pulling herself together and compartmentalizing all she was previously thinking about. She really just needs to focus on the show.

“Well, there’s a wig...” Ezekiel says ominously.

April frowns, sensing he’s holding back on what exactly that wig is, simply for dramatic effect. “Yes, Z, but what kind of wig?”

“Jareth,” Ezekiel says, giggling.

“The David Bowie Goblin King?” April asks, now knowing the kind of bleach blonde 80s monstrosity they’re dealing with.

“That’s the one. If you ask me, Ellen’s lost her damn mind if she thinks letting that girl make any creative decisions at all is a good idea. But this is the same lady who thought casting Luke as Jesus, and making Sterling Wesley assistant director were also good ideas,” Ezekiel says cattily, opening the side door for April before following her in.

April frowns, not liking how his tone of voice when speaking about Sterling seems to come into direct contrast with that pedestal she was busy building her up on in the car. “Hey, like it or not, Sterling as assistant director is probably one of the only things that’s kept this whole production from falling apart,” she says, to Ezekiel’s clear and apparent shock.

“Um, okay, that doesn’t sound like you at all. I thought we were in agreement that Sterling doesn’t know what she’s doing and that her whole fake good girl persona is annoying AF,” Ezekiel says, looking like he’s been outright Caesar betrayed by April’s about-face.

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing, and yet, things always tend to run just a little smoother when she’s around, in case you haven’t noticed. Obviously, I don’t like that any more than you do, but I’m all about giving credit where credit is due,” she says, trying to seem impartial about this, but Ezekiel seems less than convinced.

“Okay…” he says, looking like his brain is doing some calculations. “I gotta go get my makeup done. When you’re done kissing the almighty assistant director’s ass, come find me and I can give the girls some tips on what to do with that hair of yours tonight.”

April can feel his suspicion on her, but she guesses that Ezekiel is probably the safest person to be having those suspicions--and they aren’t even wrong suspicions. Sure, in no way does April think that she’s the kind of person Sterling Wesley should be with, but that isn’t stopping her from wanting to just go for it anyway. It’s dangerous and completely stupid, but if Sterling is willing to keep things on the down-low for just, oh, a year and a half or so, then why not take that leap of faith? Or, well, maybe just a cautious toe in the water. Assuming that Sterling even still has any desire to try again, which she very well might not, after everything they’ve been through.

She hadn’t exactly thought that their mystical ‘someday’ would come so soon, but after all that’s happened these last few months, it’s become clear to April that trying to deny her feelings is futile. Especially now that neither of them has any attachments, and now that April realizes that there isn’t any use in making herself miserable for her father’s sake when her father doesn’t actually give a damn about her outside of how she makes him look.

“Hey April,” Sterling greets her the minute she enters the drama room, looking beautiful as ever in a nice outfit her mom probably picked out for her for opening night. She appears to be in the middle of folding a large stack of coupon inserts for their show programs, having been saddled with the publicity gig that April now feels bad for ever trying to offer her in the first place--it really is total bitch work.

“Hey,” April says, sitting down next to her. “You seem like you could use some help,” she says, playfully mocking the slightly crooked programs that Sterling has already finished.

“Shouldn’t you be getting into character or something?” Sterling asks, not looking up as she slowly and carefully folds another insert.

“Shouldn’t you be off assistant directing instead of doing a job practically made for some freshman?” April fires back, raising an eyebrow. In all actuality, yes, she should be getting into character, but really, it won’t take her all that much time. Mary Magdalene isn’t the most complex character.

“What does that even mean?” Sterling asks, giggling at April’s usage of her job title as a verb.

April shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s your job, not mine,” she says, expertly folding an insert while looking into Sterling’s crazily blue eyes.

Sterling shakes her head and gets back to work, seeming to want to avoid any moments of quiet tension, which April supposes she understands, but it still sucks. “So are you nervous about tonight?” she asks, reorganizing her materials to have April work an assembly line with her, folding the papers for Sterling to put into the programs. It’s such a simple and practical action in the name of productivity, and yet April can’t help but find it oddly sexy.

April holds in all of those emotions for now and shrugs. “Not really. It’s not really me up there, it’s Mary Magdalene. Now, giving a talk about abstinence to the entire student body? That was hard.”

“Pfft,” Sterling chortles, apparently not having expected that instance to be brought up. “I can only imagine. Especially coming from Miss Ravage herself.”

April gasps exaggeratedly at the affront to her honor. “Why, Sterling Wesley, I have no idea what you seem to be implying,” she says in her good-girl Southern drawl, but realizes that this might be just a touch too playful and flirty for the setting, especially when she sees the way it makes Sterling tense up for a moment or two. She clears her throat and returns to her normal voice. “Anyway, no, that compartmentalization thing works wonders for stage fright.”

April notices when she folds the next insert that her hands are shaking like she just drank three cups of coffee--since when does Sterling Wesley make her nervous? Probably since April realized that Sterling Wesley really is as good as she seems--and because, unlike in most facets of her life, April is just playing the part of herself right now.

“You’ll have to thank your dad for these,” Sterling says, gesturing with a folded coupon, which is good for a free small milkshake from Chick-Fil-A.

The mention of her father is enough to throw a metaphorical bucket of cold water on April, and she wonders if it’s on purpose on Sterling’s part. “Yeah, he hates the theatre, but mathematically speaking, people with a coupon are going to spend more money,” April says, quoting her father directly. Obviously, he’s doing this as a marketing ploy for his own business, not just because he actually wants to show love and support for his daughter--he might not even be coming tonight!

“Still, it’s better than that time he offered to drive our Youth Group to Dollywood, but only if it was in that CFA-branded church van,” Sterling says, smiling broadly at the memory, even if it does involve April’s father. Probably because that trip contained such gems as a rollercoaster camera catching the exact moment that Blair threw up a strawberry funnel cake all over Hannah S., or when one of Ezekiel’s legs flew off on the Waltzing Swinger and hit Hannah B.--it was not a good trip for the Hannahs.

“I made you all watch all three Back to the Future movies on those built-in TVs on the rides there and back,” April says, getting lost in the reminiscing. It’s weird to think that this all took place after the infamous Giving Away, seeing as Sterling still managed to be present for one of her favorite summer memories. Sterling was always there, and April has come to find that she doesn’t ever want there to be a time when she’s not. “Sterl, I think there’s something we need to discuss,” April starts to say, realizing that now might be as good of a time as ever to just get everything out in the open, while there’s nobody else in the drama room with them. Except that’s obviously too much to ask for, because not a second later, fucking Tala Jordan pokes her head in the door.

“April, they’re waiting for you in hair and makeup,” she says, then shoots a glare at Sterling, who she still hasn’t forgiven for that broken nose of hers. It’s honestly not very Christ-like of her.

“You go ahead. I’ll finish these up and we can talk later, okay?” Sterling says, sending a look to Tala that tells her to leave the room, and when she’s gone, she adds, “Unless it’s something that can’t wait?”

April shakes her head, knowing that this is something that is going to require a lot more time and guaranteed privacy than this current situation can offer. “Later,” she says, to which Sterling nods, and April follows Tala out.

“So what was the deal with you and Luke? I heard he just dumped you out of nowhere?” One of the (tactless) sophomore girls assigned to hair and makeup asks as she matches April’s skin tone with her palate of stage concealer. “Oooh, rice paper,” she says, going with one of the lightest colors there is.

April sighs, not wanting to be upset anymore about something outside of her control--really, she’s actually quite enjoyed all the free time she’s had ever since she stopped having to constantly answer Luke’s texts and explain to him how to do his Spanish homework. “Luke and I made the mutual decision to amicably separate, and I wish him all the best,” she says, sounding like a Hollywood press release for a celebrity divorce.

“Really? Because I heard you totally freaked out on him and stole his sandwich,” the girl busy doing Ezekiel’s hair pipes up from a few chairs down.

April is really sick of this school’s twisted telephone game that they call a rumor mill. “It was a wrap , and it was mine to begin with,” she says to save her good name. “And yes, I will admit that I was taken by surprise by the timing of it all. I mean, he couldn’t have waited until after Christmas?”

“Men are pigs,” a freshman girl assigned to cleanup duty says as she tosses a few used makeup sponges into a small trash bag.

“You’re damn right they are,” Ezekiel agrees, and upon April raising an eyebrow at this statement coming from him, he adds, “Obviously, I don’t count.”

April smiles and shakes her head before she closes her eyes to let the sophomore--she thinks her name might be something unfortunate like Tayleigh--apply the concealer to her face. According to tradition, once she’s in full hair, makeup, and costume, she’s going to try her best to stay in character until curtain call, so this is her last chance to really get any April Stevens words in. “Really, I wish Luke all the happiness in the world, and I absolutely do not hope he falls off the stage tonight.” Pettiness isn’t exactly in Mary Magdalene’s character.

“Didn’t you already do that?” Ezekiel’s helper--Caitlin says, and before April can reply, her friend has her back.

“Girl, why you gotta come for her life like that,” Ezekiel says, though he’s obviously amused as he stands from his chair just as April opens her eyes, his hair finished. “So, what do you think?” He asks, doing a 360 turn to also show off the costume that is somewhat of a halfway point between biblical and bohemian.

“10/10, would definitely give you pieces of silver,” April says, giving him a tiny round of applause.

“Okay, but why would Judas seriously sell out Jesus for only fifty pieces of silver? That’s not even that much, right?” Tayleigh asks, moving on to April’s hair, which really won’t require a lot, since, in keeping with the bohemian theme, it’s going to be down and straightened.

“No, it’s really not. They could have sold Mary Magdalene’s oils for three hundred silver pieces or more,” April says, adoring the mental image of her hippy Mary Magdalene working in a pyramid scheme hawking essential oils.

“Because Judas. Need. New. Legs!” Ezekiel says, clapping with each word, and the whole room erupts into laughter. “Anyway, I’m gonna run vocal warmups in the choir room if anyone needs me before the 15-minute warning.”

“Want me to make you a mug of throat coat after I’m done here?” April asks, knowing Ezekiel’s vocal cords are definitely going to need some honey lemon soothing between scenes tonight.

“You really are a gem,” Ezekiel says, then blows her a kiss before heading out the door.

April sighs and settles back into her seat as Tayleigh gets the hair straightener from where it was sitting to heat up. “So, have you guys heard any other hot gossip?” she asks, knowing she might be here a while if her hair is even slightly as hard to make straight as the girl it belongs to.

When she does indeed look like the kind of woman who doesn’t shave her legs and sells essential oils, April knows she’s ready to get into character. Sure, Mary Magdalene has few character traits outside of her romantic love for the Lord, but that alone should be a mighty challenge for April tonight, considering who’s playing Him.

So April finds herself trying to tap into that part of herself that didn’t totally hate Luke’s company as she makes herself and Ezekiel mugs full of warm water flavored with honey and lemon. Vocal strain isn’t really too big of a threat to April tonight, seeing as she’s a full-on soprano singing a mezzo part, but even so, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

She’s just putting the honey away in the cabinet above the green room’s sink when she hears voices coming from the adjoining drama room, at first thinking nothing of it until she realizes that the voices belong to Sterling and Luke. April knows better than to eavesdrop, seeing as she’s unlikely to hear anything said between the two former lovers that would make her happy, but she can’t help herself.

“—I can’t apologize enough for kissing you at the lock-in. I was just in a very confusing place and I know it’s only made everything harder for you,” Sterling says, instantly taking the wind out of April’s sails with the admission to something April never even knew happened.

“You said you missed me, and I miss you too, Sterl. I miss you more now than ever,” Luke says in a sort of pleading, desperate tone of voice that April can imagine he used in Sterling when she broke up with him, too.

“I know,” Sterling sighs, and then there’s a long pause. “But it’s not like you exactly waited for me after I told you that.”

“It was a mistake,” Luke says as yet another slap in the face to April that would have her wanting to go smash this damn mug of throat coat over his head were she not frozen in place, doomed to hear words practically engineered to break her heart. “You’re the only girl I ever want to be with, Sterl. I love you. I love you so much and I need you.”

“Luke…” Sterling says tenderly, and April can practically see in her head the way she’s probably touching Luke’s cheek.

“I know you still love me,” Luke says more forcefully as if willing Sterling to believe it. And from Sterling’s response, it seems to work.

“I’ll always love you, Luke,” Sterling says, and April feels her heart sink to an unfathomable depth from which she’s not sure it’ll ever emerge again.

She can’t hear any more of this, letting out a single choking sob before storming out of the green room into the hallway behind the theater. She was so stupid to think that she could ever be the person Sterling would devote herself to. That first kiss in Ellen’s office really was exactly what April always knew it was--a fleeting tease of something that’s never been meant for her. She wanted to run away after Sterling kissed her because she always knew the day would come when the disappointment would break her heart...she just didn’t realize it would happen more than once.

She would cry if she wasn’t in her stage makeup, which leaves her in the desperate position of trying to blink rapidly to keep any errant tears from falling, all while feeling like her head might explode if she doesn’t just scream, or hit something, or make herself just stop caring. 

“Fifteen minutes to curtain, everyone!” Ellen yells, breaking April out of her thoughts as the director comes Heely-ing down the hallway.

April wishes she could celebrate the fact that almost halfway through the show, there have yet to be any major mistakes. Mostly mediocre casting aside, everyone seems to be at least giving off the impression that they know what they’re doing, which is more than April could have ever expected. But she’s been too busy focusing on being Mary and not April, because all impending crucifixions aside, Mary’s life is far less complicated than her own. And it’s working, if the level of applause she received for ‘Everything’s Alright’ was any indicator--even if she was perhaps having a little fun by yanking on his stupid long hair while giving JC a scalp massage.

By the time the reprise to that song rolls around, she finds that she’s in a sort of weird limbo between pretending she’s Mary and knowing that she is just sad, lonely April every time she has to leave the stage and walk past Sterling and her dumb clipboard. Every last detail of this entire situation feels like a cruel trick of the universe. As if the entire series of events that have taken place over these last few months have all led to this, where April is stuck with the two people she could go the rest of her life without seeing ever again--and she wouldn’t even be sad about it.

No, that’s a lie. The invasive thoughts in her head remind her of the way she would probably be devastated for all eternity if she were never able to look into those huge eyes or see that adorable grin. But right now, those same things are just twisting the knife that’s lodged itself in her heart.

“And I think I shall sleep well tonight. Let the world turn without me tonight,” Luke sings, just slightly off-key, holding April’s hand and rubbing it with his thumb in the kind of tender gesture that makes April want to dig her freshly-done nails into his skin in a not-fun way.

“If we try, we’ll get by. So forget about us tonight,” April sings back at him, mustering up a look of adoration as Jesus Luke takes her by the hand and kisses her knuckles before exiting stage left.

This is her big moment, the one April has been looking forward to since auditions began. There’s just really nothing like a big show-stopping solo from a show’s female lead, and this particular one might be among the greatest of all time. The band kids they recruited as their orchestra play the first few notes of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him, and April lets the lyrics take over her body.

“I don’t know how to love him. What to do, how to move him. I’ve been changed, yes really changed, in these past few days when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else…”

April has perhaps sung this song a hundred and one times since the show was announced as their winter musical, and yet she’s really feeling these lyrics on a deeply personal level for the first time--perhaps because she can finally understand what it means to want someone so badly, and yet know that she’ll never be good enough. She’s too cowardly, too obsessed with what everyone else thinks of her that she alone has driven away the one person she’s ever really… no. No, she needs to focus on her song.

“Should I scream and shout, should I speak of love, let my feelings out. I never thought I’d come to this. What’s it all about?” The blocking for this part of the song dictates that she has to look to stage left as if looking toward where Jesus Luke went, but in doing so, April manages to lock eyes with the assistant director herself, who seems to be watching the performance itself a lot more than she’s trying to coordinate things backstage.

April keeps singing the song and tries not to look over at Sterling again. It’s far easier to go back to the mindset she was in when she’d thoroughly convinced herself that Sterling was the enemy. Sterling was the reason for her losing out on Fellowship Leader, and most popular girl in the fifth grade. Sterling is so infuriatingly nice to everyone, even when they don’t deserve it--especially not April--and has the audacity to actually be genuine about it. “Don't you think it's rather funny, I should be in this position? I'm the one who's always been, so calm, so cool, no lover's fool. Running every show…”

But worst of all, Sterling committed the most egregious sin of all by getting April to fall head over heels for her and is now about to renege on all of it by going back to Luke like nothing she and April had meant a thing to her. Really, April should hate her guts. “Yet if he said he loved me, I’d be lost, I’d be frightened,” April sings this part of the song and just can’t help but look over to stage left again, feeling very real tears start to well up in her eyes when she looks at Sterling and knows she believes every last word she’s now singing to her directly. “I couldn’t cope, just couldn’t cope. I’d turn my head, I’d back away, I wouldn’t want to know. He scares me so. I want him so.” God, does every fiber of her being want Sterling. “I love him so...”

April doesn’t even hear the applause as she exits the stage when it’s time, feeling completely overcome by her emotions. She’s spent months denying her real feelings, convinced that her whole life would be less complicated if she just put a pause on everything that was happening with Sterling while her father was in jail. She’d thought they could have a someday and everything would work out. But she got so lost along the way, so caught up in her own bullshit that she lost sight of the fact that life doesn’t actually have a pause button, and by breaking Sterling’s heart at the lock-in, she has now lost her forever.

April ignores Sterling’s whispered words of encouragement as she exits the stage and continues out the back door to the hallway and into the green room, knowing she won’t be on stage again until act two, and knowing that she can’t bear to be out there again until it’s absolutely necessary.

She collapses on the worn sofa up against a wall adorned with posters from school productions over the years as one of the makeup girls comes out from the dressing room.

“Oh hey,” Caitlin says, carrying a large bouquet of white roses to April. “Some guy dropped these off for you,” she says, setting them down on the coffee table in front of April.

“Thank you,” April says politely and picks up the bouquet to read the notecard, though, given the fact that she was given a very similar arrangement with her purity ring, she’s pretty sure she already knows who they’re from.

Knock ‘em dead, Padawan.


“You’re doing great out there,” Caitlin says, forcing April to not destroy the notecard and instead have to look at her. “I could hear from the hallway. You get so into it. Do you think you can do that for every show?”

April smiles grimly and bites her lip. “Here’s hoping,” she says, then hands the flowers back to Caitlin. “Can you put these with my stuff in the dressing room?”

“Yeah, sure thing,” Caitlin agrees and leaves April alone with her depressed thoughts for the next few minutes until act one is complete and everyone else floods the greenroom.

“Alright everyone, you got ten minutes, I suggest you use them wisely!” Sterling says, following the actors in. “If more of you have to pee than we have toilets in the dressing rooms, then you can use the other bathrooms out in the school, just don’t let anyone see you. It’ll break the illusion!” For a girl who didn’t know a thing about theater before, she seems to be fully in her element now.

“Sterl, I’m gonna need help with my Jareth wig,” Blair says, poking her head out from the dressing room, already wearing a lot of dark eyeliner and a bald cap.

“Be there in a second,” Sterling promises her, and Blair seems to accept this as she retreats back through the door. This leaves Sterling to walk over to the girl who wants absolutely nothing to do with her right now. “You’re tonight, I hope you know,” she says to April, who turns her head away from the small smile Sterling offers her.

“Thanks,” April says dismissively and gets up to go to one of the bathrooms in the school that shouldn’t be anywhere near their audience.

“Did I do something wrong?” Sterling asks, following her.

April scoffs. “Of course not. You never do anything wrong,” she says sarcastically.

“April, what was that about out there?” Sterling asks, clearly referring to the impromptu sad serenading.

“Acting,” April says coldly. “Why do you care?”

Sterling sighs, defeated. “Because I’m your assistant director. It’s my job.” Her words cut April like a knife, as if confirming that going forward, all they’ll ever be to each other is whatever roles this school puts them in.

“Then do your job and don’t bother me until it’s time for me to go back on stage,” April says, fighting back tears at least until she can get into a bathroom stall.


“I don’t know what it is about tonight, but I think I’ve somehow managed to break Luke’s heart and tick April off at the same time,” Sterling says as she tucks an errant hair of Blair’s into her wig cap. This would ordinarily be a job for hair and makeup, but they’re plenty busy transforming a good handful of the female ensemble into King Herod’s groupies while the beginning of act 2 is already underway.

Blair frowns. “And how did you manage that? I’d think those things are somewhat diametrically opposed to each other, for obvious reasons,” she says, looking around to make sure nobody is paying close attention to their conversation, but lowering her voice anyway. 

Sterling sighs, still feeling bad about what went down with Luke before the show started. “Well, Luke admitted he’s still in love with me and I had to let him down easy, yet again,” she says, still gutted when she thinks of the way his whole body seemed to deflate when she told him that she’ll always love him because he’s her first love, but that she knows she’s not in love with him. The reasoning for that has only become clearer to her over this past week--over these past few months if she’s being honest. Because her problem with him dating April was never exactly about being jealous of someone else being with him. 

“Well, then I don’t know why April’s so pissy. Unless she maybe overheard you doing that annoying thing you do where you’re way too afraid of hurting people’s feelings, so you take forever to get to your point,” Blair offers, and Sterling admits it is indeed possible, even if she went out of her way to ensure she and Luke were alone when they had that discussion. 

But then, it’s also possible that all of this is a result of April feeling the same thing she has, in that they’re falling back into their old ways. And maybe it’s occurred to April that absolutely every reason she had for leaving Sterling high and dry at the lock-in still exists--heck, now that she knows about the whole Dana thing, Sterling can imagine April’s even added ‘crack baby’ and ‘comes from total dysfunction’ to Sterling’s ‘cons’ column. Still though, Sterling can’t shake the feeling that April wasn’t just following her blocking when she was singing that heckin’ romantic song earlier.

“Everything’s just so confusing, Blair. And I don’t need to remind you that we’re sort of bounty hunters and we sort of arrested April’s dad--the same one who sent her those flowers right there,” Sterling says, pointing to the large bouquet of roses and causing Blair to make a face.

“Ew, white roses. Funeral flower, much?” she says, then shakes her head. “And yeah, if you ask me, you two both got way too much shit going on to even entertain the idea of going back to scissoring in the closet.”

“We don’t scissor,” Sterling says reflexively. “I mean, we didn’t scissor...nobody scissors! There has been no scissoring!” She plops the wig onto Blair's head and starts working on making it look like a human scalp actually grew this monstrosity.

“Defensive...because you still want to scissor her,” Blair says, narrowing her eyes at Sterling in the mirror.

“You’re disgusting,” Sterling says, rolling her eyes, even if Blair isn’t necessarily incorrect--well, except for the semantics of the whole ‘scissoring’ thing. And if she hears or even thinks about the word ‘scissor’ again, it’s definitely going to lose all meaning for her. “I just...I haven’t felt like this about anyone before. Not even Luke. It’s just like...when I’m with her, everything feels right, and I know from an objective perspective that she’s kinda mean and abrasive, but she doesn’t have to be and I like that side of her so freaking much.”

“One does not simply use the word ‘kinda’ when talking about April Stevens being mean and abrasive. She is both of those things, straight up,” Blair says firmly, but then her expression softens and she sighs. “Man, you really do care about her, don’t you?”

Sterling nods, not even able to muster up the ability to be ashamed of it. She likes April. Well, actually, she more than likes April, but she doesn’t think Blair is quite ready to hear that just yet. “I just wish I could go back in time and stop my past self from pushing her so hard on the whole coming out thing. I think everything would be different if I hadn’t done that.”

Blair shrugs. “Maybe? But you also have to remember that there are a lot of outside forces in all of this. Is a high school relationship really worth putting so much of her life on the line?” Sterling thinks that this is the first time Blair has shown any amount of caring about April’s wellbeing, and she hates that she’s right.

“I, probably not,” Sterling admits, though doing so breaks her heart. She knows she’s not really the kind of person you blow up your whole life for. Though she does wonder if maybe she and April could have the potential to be more than just some high school relationship--a thought that used to terrify her when it was in the context of her and Luke.

“Then there you go. But I won’t tell you what to do with your heart. Just know that I care about it very much, so please don’t do anything that’s going to break it,” Blair says, pointing at Sterling’s chest.

“King Herod, you’re on deck!” Ellen calls from the green room.

“It me,” Blair says, pointing to herself and getting up from her chair as Sterling continues to adjust the wig as she walks out of the dressing room, tight leather pants squeaking under her red cape as she goes. With the addition of the fingerless gloves and leather jacket, she really truly looks like an 80s glam rockstar, which Sterling knows is exactly what Ellen’s vision was going for.

Sterling gets her walkie-talkie—the thing that excites her most about being assistant director—from its place at her side, “Jimmy, we’re walking,” she says upon pushing the button to contact the stage manager. A lot of set and lighting work go into Blair’s big entrance, after all.

“Roger that. She’s due to enter from stage right,” Jimmy Carter ( not the former President, as he feels the need to remind everyone, even if the man is a Georgia legend) the senior tech extraordinaire, responds, followed by the trill of the walkie talkie.

“You ready for this?” Sterling asks her sister, who is carrying herself with the particular air of confidence that she only gets when she’s scared out of her mind.

“Totally,” Blair says with a nervous smile as she stops outside the door to go backstage, but she hesitates when it comes time to actually going in, and eventually turns back to Sterling. “I am so not ready for this,” she finally admits, petrified. “What if I’m awful?”

Sterling rolls her eyes at such a ridiculous concept. There’s a reason why, when they’d play together as kids, Blair is the one who would be Hannah Montana, and Sterling would be Lily. Hair color aside, Blair has a gorgeous voice, and while few people have heard it, Sterling knows that April would’ve had some real competition for Mary Magdalene if Blair had actually auditioned. “You’re gonna totally freakin’ kill it out there. I know it,” Sterling assures her sister just as the leadup to Blair’s musical cue starts to play.

“Here goes nothing,” Blair says, taking a deep breath and entering the wings of the stage through the door.

Sterling follows her and makes sure the four ensemble boys responsible for carrying King Herod onstage get a good and not-awkward grip on Blair before they carry her on after their cue.

“Jesus, I am overjoyed to meet you face to face. You’ve been getting quite a name all around the place. Healing cripples, raising from the dead. And now I understand you’re... God. At least that’s what you saaaaid,” Blair sings to a kneeling and disheveled Luke, who’s doing a pretty good job of playing quiet and despondent after his big solo in Gethsemane, which managed to not be too bad thanks in large part to his bold choice to not go for that high note--she thinks they probably have his music coach April to thank for that one.

April, who is watching Blair’s number intently from the other side of the wings, thanks in large part to her last big song taking place immediately after this one. Sterling can’t help but wonder where the change in her demeanor has come from, as they seemed to be getting to someplace...not quite friendly anymore before the show, and then something shifted, and now April is refusing to make eye contact with her--well, at least not since I Don’t Know How To Love Him.

“I only ask things I’d ask any Superstar. What is it that you’ve got that puts you where you are? I’m waiting, yes I’m a captive fan. I’m dying to be shown that you’re not just any man,” Blair sings before she gleefully Charlestons around Luke with her dancers.

Sterling looks back at April, who finally meets her gaze for all of a few seconds before turning away with a look of disgust. At what or whom, Sterling just doesn’t know. She really thought--and is starting to think that it was all wishful thinking--that April might be feeling the same things she is. That maybe what they had, or have, or will have is all worth some...complications. Sure, the whole ‘I arrested your dad’ thing might have to come up at some point, but she figures that’s something that Future Sterling can figure out how to word delicately so that April might understand. But all of it might be moot anyway, seeing as April has done yet another 180, it would seem.

The crescendo of the song starts as Blair’s whole demeanor of campy fangirl shifts into a (still campy) rage. She grabs Luke’s hair to make him look at her as she sing-yells in his face, “Hey, aren’t you scared of me, Christ? Mr. Wonderful Christ!” She shoves Luke backward onto the stage dismissively. “You’re a joke, you’re not the Lord! You are nothing but a fraud!” She rips off her leather jacket and tosses it at one of her groupies, really accentuating the black tank top with ‘HEROD!’ bedazzled on the boobs, which their mother had been gracious enough to make for the show. “Take him away! He’s got nothing to say. Get out you king of the, get out you king of the, get out you king of the Jews! Get. Out. Of. My Life!” Blair gestures dramatically with her cape before exiting the stage and deflates out of character as she breathes a sigh of relief.

“You did amazing!” Sterling congratulates her, putting aside any negative feelings brought on by her mess of a love life in favor of focusing on something good. Which is hard, considering she only has a short scene change before April’s angelic voice is gracing the theater as she goes into ‘Could We Start Again Please.’

“Like, scale of one to ten, where would you rank me?” Blair asks in a whisper, moving to exit the wings, but Sterling is hesitant to do so.

“Uh, nine?” Sterling says without thinking. 

“I can work with nine. Something to build on,” Blair says, nodding, but Sterling is not even looking at her and instead is focusing on April singing with the disciples.

“I've been very hopeful, so far. Now, for the first time, I think we're going wrong. Hurry up and tell me this is just a dream. Or could we start again, please?”

Sterling has never been a particularly artistically-inclined (or athletically, for that matter) kid, so she’s never been to a cast party before tonight, and she is…confused. Having worked with this group for the better part of three months, she knows by now that the drama kids are a little kooky, but there’s just something extra surreal about all of them wreaking havoc in an otherwise mostly empty Waffle House at eleven at night.

“If you don’t get your hashbrowns all-the-way, you are not a real man, Creswell,” Franklin yells across the table at Luke, who’s sitting next to Sterling as they all finally look over menus. They’ve been here for an hour drinking several pots of coffee, after all.

Sterling and Ellen have already agreed that they’ll be tipping the waitstaff more than generously for putting up with this.

“I don’t think you have much room to talk about that,” Lorna chuckles and Franklin’s face turns a little red. It’s become a well-known fact around school that the two of them hooked up at the lock-in, thanks entirely to Lorna gossiping with anyone who wants to hear about Franklin’s penis. Not that anyone wants to hear about that.

“Jezebel,” Franklin sneers at her.

“One-Ball,” Lorna fires back.

The whole table erupts into raucous laughter that can only be fueled by the excessive amounts of coffee they’ve all consumed--well, everyone except April, who had some excuse about not partaking in any caffeinated beverages after dark, which prompted some of the boys to start calling her the Caffeine Gremlin. Ordinarily, such an offense would lead to a verbal beatdown, but despite the show’s wildly successful first show, April hasn’t seemed to be in the mood for any kind of display of strong emotion.

“Hey Sterl, do you wanna do that thing where you get the chicken biscuit and I get the waffles and we give each other half?” Luke asks in a true throwback to a lot of middle school breakfast dates.

“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” Sterling replies as politely as possible, seeing as she is really trying to drive home to Luke that while yes, they can be friends, there do have to be boundaries in place, and not sharing food is probably one of them. Besides, she doesn’t even want waffles.

Luke makes a face at her like a kicked puppy before gathering himself and nodding. “Right, right,” he says, looking back down at his menu, and Sterling starts to do the same, but feels a pair of eyes on her.

Sterling glances up to see April watching her intently--a recurring theme of the night, apparently--but she looks down the second she realizes she’s been caught. Sterling knows that she’s going to have to discuss that and all the other stuff that’s led up to tonight with April eventually. Especially in light of the fact that Luke thought that trying to ask her out a week after breaking up with April was even close to a good idea--though, granted, he’s also the same boy who asked out April not even a week after kissing Sterling.

The long-suffering waitress comes around and gets everyone’s orders then, and Sterling orders herself a single piece of triple chocolate pie as a reward to herself for a job well done. Really, she had gone into assistant directing this thing not knowing a thing about musicals or plays or any of that, and now she feels pretty confident in her abilities. And none of that would have happened if she hadn’t punched Tala Jordan in the face.

“Hey, everyone?” Ellen says politely, standing with her glass of orange juice, but either nobody but Sterling hears her, or nobody cares as they keep chatting amongst themselves. “HEY!” Ellen yells uncharacteristically, getting the (slightly terrified) attention of the cast and crew. “That’s better. I really wanted to congratulate all of y’all on making it through rehearsals and putting on one heck of a first show!”

Everyone hoots and hollers for themselves--even April.

“I also wanted to give one heck of a big shout out to our amazing assistant director, who has worked tirelessly on making this show the best it can be,” Ellen says, clapping for Sterling and prompting everyone else, except for Tala, to do the same. Especially Luke. “Sterling, we really couldn’t have done this without you. Your leadership and dedication are why everyone was out there busting their butts tonight, and boy was it worth it.”

“Look at this teacher’s pet over here,” Blair says teasingly, and Sterling shoves her shoulder in return. 

“Sterling, would you like to say a few words?” Ellen asks, but it’s not really a request so much as a demand.

Sterling awkwardly gets up from her seat, not having had to talk to this many people all at once since she was Fellowship Leader. “Um, I just wanna say that I know a lot of you know I didn’t actually plan on doing this job, but you know what Shakespeare says about having stuff thrust upon you--that sounds bad. Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that you all are the reason why this show did so well, I was just kinda there, but if you think I did a good job, then thanks.” She sits back down without another word.

“Wow, way to take zero credit,” Blair says, amused, before standing up herself. “Okay, well, I don’t know about any of you, but I fully recognize that I did a kickass job tonight.” She sits back down as Sterling chuckles at her sister’s prideful display. “Hey, don’t laugh. You know I’m right.”

Sterling nods, not able to argue there.

Everyone chatters amongst themselves for the next few minutes until food starts coming out, with Ellen urging everyone to wait to eat until she can lead them in prayer--always the Fellowship advisor. “Dear Lord, we thank you for this food, and for guiding us in putting on what we hope was a respectful performance of Mr. Lloyd Webber’s show. I know certain members of the PTA took issue with some of the perceived themes and subject matter, but I think you know that we had only good intentions. So please continue to guide us in our next four shows. Amen.”

“Path to Hell paved with good intentions,” Blair coughs before digging into her food along with everyone else.

“Anyway, like I was saying, Mary Magdalene is basically just the Pink Power Ranger of the disciples, amiright?” Jimmy says, to which April rolls her eyes.

Sterling knows for a fact that April knows that there are in fact two female Power Rangers and that Mary Magdalene being the only female character in JCS is just the first of many reasons why the show fails the Bechdel Test.

“Bitch, she’s Smurfette,” Ezekiel corrects him, to which the whole table roars with laughter while April glares at all of them, proving that this statement is incorrect if only because she’s clearly not blue when she’s a shade of red.

“Z, do you need a ride home after this?” Sterling hears April ask Ezekiel over the sounds of knives and forks on plates.

“Nah, Hannah B.’s got me covered. We’re actually gonna be having a slumber party at her house if you wanna join up? Sunrise yoga just isn’t the same without you,” he says, sounding entirely disingenuous, which April seems to pick up on.

“As tempting as that offer sounds, I really ought to go home tonight. I need to do my rejuvenating beauty routine after having all of that grease paint on my face. Plus we have a double show day tomorrow,” April says, and Sterling notices that she’s not exactly eating her omelet, just pushing it around her plate in pieces.

“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to have fun sometimes, April. I’m just sayin’,” Blair says across the table, earning herself a dirty look.

“Some of us, Blair, are actually interested in putting on a good performance that doesn’t rely on being completely extra for one song,” April says snottily at her.

“Hey, would you maybe wanna get breakfast tomorrow before the first show?” Luke whispers to Sterling, his eyes cutting to April to make sure she can’t hear, though Sterling knows she’s watching them out of the corner of her eye. “You know, as friends,” he adds.

Sterling bites her lip awkwardly, knowing that she probably let Luke down a little too easily earlier this evening. “Luke, I meant what I said earlier that I do love you and I always will, but I just don’t think it’s healthy for either of us to try to go back to how we were before. I’m not in love with you and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

Luke sighs, having already heard the milder version of this same speech tonight, but this one seems to actually drive Sterling’s point home. “Yeah, I get it,” he agrees, nodding sadly, and Sterling supposes that’s the best she can hope for.

She looks back in April’s direction but finds her seat empty, and Ezekiel shoots her a dirty look before pointing to the restaurant’s front door, which April is swiftly making her way out of while still putting on her coat.

In any other scenario that’s taken place in the last three months, Sterling would let her just keep on walking. April has enough going on in her own life that Sterling is in no position to assume to know why she might be bothered at any given moment. Except she thinks that after everything that’s happened between them, and after this sudden shift in demeanor, that she might have some idea. Especially with Luke openly trying to get her chicken biscuit.

“I’ll be right back,” Sterling says to Blair, and is out of her seat and heading for the door without even bothering to grab her coat or hear Blair’s response. “April, wait,” she calls across the parking lot when she spots April’s small frame heading for her shiny new Lincoln. She notes that it’s just barely raining outside, with the cold night air misted with water droplets.

April walks faster. “Leave me alone, Sterling,” she says without turning around.

“Come on, I need to know what’s wrong,” Sterling pleads, though she knows the answer to that already.

April stops and turns around to face her, allowing Sterling to see the tears already streaming down her cheeks. “Just go back inside and be with Luke. I don’t need you or your fake fucking apologies.”

Sterling shakes her head, not even comprehending how April got to this conclusion. “I don’t want to be with Luke,” she says, taking a step closer to April. It’s as true now as it was when she broke up with him over three months ago, and her one lapse in judgment at the lock-in doesn’t change that--in fact, kissing Luke had as much to do with keeping him from asking out April as it did to try and convince herself that the gaping hole April left in her heart that night could be so easily filled. But that was always an impossible task because as she said to April last week, there really is nobody on this Earth quite like her--man, she really should have just kissed her then like she wanted to.

“I heard you and him talking in the drama room before the show,” April says, her whole body deflating from its usual put-together posture. “I know you still love him and he still loves you, so just go and be with him and you and I can finally move on and pretend like nothing ever happened between us, okay?”

Just the concept of such a thing is about enough to make Sterling want to cry right along with her. It’s a ridiculous notion to even think that that’s possible. Not when she’s finally come to one very definitive conclusion. “Why would I want to be with him when I’m in love with you?”

April swallows hard and seems to be trying her best to not look right at Sterling. “What?” she asks in disbelief.

“I said,” Sterling says, closing the distance between them so that she can reach out and gently raise April’s chin to look into her eyes and know that every word she’s saying is coming from deep within her heart. “I’m in love with you.” Sterling is surprised that saying such a thing not once, but twice within the last thirty seconds or so seems to come so naturally to her, but then, it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise at all, considering she really means it.

April turns and shakes her head, seeming to just try and process Sterling’s big declaration, but a part of Sterling fears that this reaction is because she made a huge miscalculation in where April’s feelings are, relative to hers.

“And I don’t know if you feel the same, and you definitely shouldn’t feel pressured to say it back. I get if you’re scared of your dad’s or anyone else’s opinions about us, but I am saying right here and now that I will wait for you as long as you need. Forever, if I have to.”

April squeezes her eyes shut tight for a few seconds while seeming to have some kind of internal conflict with herself--she seems to have a lot of those--but then she’s opening her eyes again, and with little warning, she’s pulling Sterling down by the back of her head to kiss her hard and desperately, if only for a few seconds. “How could you even think that I don’t feel the same?” she says when they’ve parted.

Sterling’s not sure if anyone would have a good answer to that question, seeing as that understanding April is about as impossible of a task as...well, as Luke hitting the high note in “Gethsemane”...but Sterling will always try.

“Sterl, I have been hopelessly in love with you since I was nine years old. And I’ve...I’ve never stopped. I never stopped loving you, even when I was pretending like I hated you. Because even when you were my mortal enemy, at least you were something to me. It was easier for me to pretend to hate you than to have you be nothing to me at all because that is perhaps the one thing I can’t do. I’ve always loved you.” 

Just as April finishes her big speech, Sterling notices what can only be a snowflake fall into April’s hair, which is otherwise filled with little rain droplets. They both look up to see that all around them, the rain has indeed turned into a flurry of snowflakes. Snow in Georgia.

April laughs, and it’s the most beautiful thing Sterling has ever heard. “Well that figures,” she says, indicating what has turned into quite the romantic scene in this Waffle House parking lot.

Sterling laughs with her as she pulls April in for another kiss, this one not nearly as rushed or as desperate. It’s slow and tender and filled with all of the love and happiness that is completely overflowing out of Sterling’s heart right now. She doesn’t know why she waited so long for this moment. Deep down, she’s always known she’d end up in this position...someday.