Work Header

i've been changed (yes really changed)

Chapter Text

“I still don’t know why we all have to be here,” Blair complains, shifting awkwardly in a leather armchair, eventually lying in it completely sideways. “Unlike somebody, I’ve actually been going to school.”

“We’re all here because we’re being supportive of your sister and because this whole ordeal has affected all of us,” Anderson says firmly from his place beside Debbie on the couch.

Sterling can’t help but notice that, despite her sitting in the chair on the other side of the couch, her whole family is acting like she’s not even in the room. Maybe that has to do with the fact that she’s barely spoken a word to any of them since her kidnapping and the Big Reveal, maybe it has to do with the fact that her leaving the lock-in early has led to all of their lives imploding.

The office door opens then and in walks Dr. Roberta Gale, who up to now Sterling has only seen in her Linked-In pictures. A woman who seems like she means business but also has a certain air of tenderness, Dr. Gale smiles warmly at them and approaches to shake the hands of Anderson and Debbie. “Mr. and Mrs. Wesley, it’s so nice to meet you in person,” she says, then looks at Blair, whose head is fully hanging over the side of the chair and who must be getting an upside-down view of the good doctor. “And you must be Blair,” she says, rather astutely.

“Hello,” Blair says, giving her a wave.

That leaves Sterling, who shifts awkwardly when the doctor zeroes in on her. She’s spent the last week and a half avoiding having too much attention on her for a reason.

“And that means you’re Sterling,” Dr. Gale says, her voice taking on an extra warm tone as she cocks her head to the side and smiles at her.

Sterling clasps her hands in her lap. “You got me,” she says, wondering now if maybe she should have just powered through her existential angst and gone to school if this is how things are to be dealt with. AKA, talking about the one topic of conversation she could go through her whole life without delving into.

“Well,” Dr. Gale says, taking her seat in the chair across from them and grabbing a notepad from the desk behind her. “You said on the phone that the family recently went through a traumatic ordeal involving familial kidnapping. How about we start with the story there.”

Sterling zones out as her parents and Blair recount the tale of how she was stupid enough to get in the car with who she thought was her mother but was actually her Aunt Dana the arsonist. Except, it turns out, that Aunt Dana is her mother, and that her parents have been lying to her and Blair their entire lives. They aren’t twins. They aren’t even sisters. 

“—and why she left the lock-in, we do not know because she’s been pretty cagey for the last ten days,” Anderson says when Sterling’s attention briefly fades in, and she really wishes it hadn’t. 

She’s now been reminded that her impossible whirlwind romance with April Stevens crashed and burned before it ever got to soar, all because she’d been stupid enough to pursue a girl whose dad she literally threw in prison.

“Sterling,” Dr. Gale says, grabbing Sterling’s attention away from the memory of crying on that bench outside the school.

“Yeah?” she says.

“I understand that the ordeal you went through is probably still a sore subject for you, so you only have to share as much as you’re comfortable with, but why were you outside the school that night?” Dr. Gale asks, pen at the ready.

Sterling shrugs. “Personal reasons. I didn’t want to be there anymore and then Aunt Mommy picked me up pretending to be Debbie Mom. They’re identical twins, by the way. In case they didn’t tell you that on the phone—they sure as heck didn’t tell either of us.” She crosses her arms and sinks down in the chair. The thought of her entire life being a lie still makes her feel sick to her stomach.

“I’m sorry...Aunt Mommy?” Dr. Gale asks, intrigued.

Sterling looks pointedly at Debbie, making it clear that this one is all hers.

Debbie pats her hands on her thighs. “She’s started calling my sister—her birth mother—that name,” she says.

“And why exactly did you two choose to keep that information from Sterling and Blair? That you adopted Sterling?” Dr. Gale asks, getting right to the money question.

“It...was a lot more complicated than that,” Anderson says, glancing over at Sterling. “Considering the circumstances of her birth and what followed, we thought it best to tell her when she was older.”

“Yeah, well, I’m older and I’m pissed,” Sterling growls. It’s the same excuse she’s gotten over and over again. They were going to tell her when she was older. Except she knows that isn’t true.

“Sterling!” Debbie scolds her.

The doctor makes a simmer down motion with her hands. “It seems like a lot of the tension here is coming from your lack of communication with Sterling regarding her origins. And she’s right, she is older now. So I think maybe a good starting point for the healing process would be for you two to share with her how she came to be part of your family,” 

Anderson and Debbie share a look between them, silently debating whose shoulders this truth bomb will fall upon. They must decide Debbie.

“In true twin fashion, my sister and I gave birth to daughters on the same day,” she starts, and this is honestly news to Sterling, who’d previously assumed they’d just been lying about one of their birthdays. “It was a leap day and all kinds of crazy things were happening. But just after I had Blair and they took her off to the nursery, Anderson and I got a call from a hospital on the East Side saying that my sister had gone into labor a month early with crack cocaine in her system.”

“Holy shit, Sterling’s a crack baby?” Blair says, sitting up straight now.

Sterling, on the other hand, hopes the floor will just swallow her up. She didn’t actually think this could get any worse, and yet it has. “So you adopted your sister’s drug-addicted preemie? Do you even know who my father is?” Sterling asks, disgusted.

“I am,” Anderson says, then follows up with, “Biologically, not just in the Raised You way, though I definitely have done that.” This seems difficult for him to admit, and Sterling can certainly understand why, but Blair beats her to it.

“You had sex with Mom’s sister?!”

“I...I didn’t know it was Dana,” he says and looks bothered enough to get Debbie to take the reins of the story again.

“My sister and I loved to pretend to be each other when we were young, and Dana took it way too far to get money out of Anderson,” she explains. “So Anderson went to the hospital and was there for Sterling’s birth and to take emergency custody of her.”

“And it’s a good thing I did, too! She was going to name her Nevaeh Genesis Culpepper, for Pete’s sake!” Anderson says, crossing his arms. “But while Sterling was detoxing, Debbie and I filed to have Dana’s parental rights terminated, which, with my Daddy’s help, we did and Debbie formally adopted Sterling.”

“And then Dana lost her ever-loving mind and set fire to an abortion clinic,” Debbie says, seeming to conclude the story, at least for now. “All of that before Sterling was even a year old. And the girls had already bonded so much that it just seemed like it would be better to save them from the truth.”

“Yeah, but it’s my truth,” Sterling says, even though she very much wishes it wasn’t. “It wasn’t your right to keep that from me!”

“Or me!” Blair chimes in, never one to let things be about someone other than her for too long. “Did your parents even die in a plane crash or are they just lurking around Nandina somewhere?”

Debbie bites her lip. “No, they are definitely dead, and they did die in a plane crash...of sorts. Deedaw had a heart attack while flying our farm’s crop duster and flew it into the house while Meemaw was inside.”

“Oh my god, a hillbilly private plane,” Blair whispers under her breath.

“Regardless,” Debbie says, clearly not wanting to linger on that memory for too long. “After my parents died, I needed a fresh start and my scholarship to UGA gave me that, but my sister resented me for leaving her behind. So when she found out I had married the man of my dreams and was having a baby, she decided to ruin it for me the only way she knew how, and figured she’d make a quick buck out of it too.”

Sterling scoffs. “Nice to know I ruined your perfect life, Auntie.”

“Don’t you dare call me that,” Debbie snaps. “I have raised you since the day you came home from the hospital. I fed you, I changed at least 75% of your diapers, and I loved you just as much as I loved Blair. You are my daughter and I am your mother and I don’t care if my crackhead sister gave birth to you, you are mine. That’s what I told her then and what I am telling you now.”

Sterling knows she should be moved by her words. She knows she’s supposed to break down into tears and hug her mommy and tell her that nothing’s changed. But everything has changed. “How much longer do we have?” she asks Dr. Gale, who’s been observing quietly this whole time with a great poker face.

“Another 45 minutes,” she says, pointing to her silver watch. “Plenty of time for some more truth-telling.”

Sterling sighs, resting her head on the back of the chair and looking up at the ceiling. This is sure to be the longest hour of her life.

The awkward silence that fills the car on the way home is deafening. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that their family as they knew it before is gone now. In its place are four relative strangers who truly don’t actually know each other. But according to Dr. Gale, only Sterling should come back to see her on a more regular basis. 

Against her better judgment, Sterling turns to Blair, hoping maybe they can have some kind of light conversation in Twinspeak, but it curiously doesn’t happen and they’re left just staring at each other. After a few seconds, she turns away.

“You know,” Anderson says, finally breaking the silence. “I think, all things considered, that went pretty good!”

Debbie turns and scoffs at him. “$300 to be told that we’re bad parents who’ve personally messed up our child? Yeah, that was so positive, Anderson.”

“She did not say that, she said that moving forward, we need to be more honest with the girls and I agree wholeheartedly.” Anderson meets Sterling’s eyes in the rearview mirror and smiles, but she looks away. “Hey, I know,” he says, obviously trying to cheer everyone up. “Who wants a milkshake from Chick-Fil-A?”

“Not meee,” Sterling says in a tone mocking his overly chipper one, really just wanting to go home while also thinking that going to an establishment likely owned by one John Stevens is just rubbing salt in a wound they don’t even know she has. But this earns a smack to her arm from Blair.

“Hey! Don’t be frickin’ rude!” she scolds her. “I would love a milkshake, Daddy.”

“That’s my girl!” Anderson turns the car sharply at the intersection to make their detour. “Now, Sterling, I think this goes without saying, but you’re goin’ to school tomorrow.”

“Actually, I don’t think I am,” Sterling argues. The thought of going back to school and seeing April’s smug face while also dealing with this is perhaps the least appealing thing in the universe to her right now.

“You are going to school if I have to drive you there and drag you into your first-period class myself,” Debbie snaps. “I know you’ve been through a lot and I know this has been hard on you, but sometimes in life, we just have to look to the future and move on.”

“What, like you ‘moved on’ from your sister banging your husband?” Sterling replies, and deep down, she knows she’s gone too far, but there’s no taking it back now that it’s been said.

Anderson slams on the brakes. “Damn it, Sterling Pearl! You do not talk to your mother like that!” he snaps, finally letting go of that chipper demeanor, which Sterling is honestly thankful for. “Now, I will only ever say this one time, but the way you came into this world doesn’t reflect a God dang thing about who your parents are. As far as your mother and I are concerned, what I did with wasn’t…” He struggles to find the words that Sterling and Blair both know is the case.

“It wasn’t consensual. She basically raped you,” Blair says, and Sterling notices Anderson recoil.

“...Either way, I don’t want to hear another word of it. Understood?” he says, his voice low.

Sterling nods, but now has another reason to be disgusted with herself and the truth of her existence. She knows she should apologize, if only for being such a brat, but she can’t bring herself to do it. The anger still runs deep, even if she knows her parents had good reason to keep all of this from her. Aunt Mommy currently in jail awaiting trial for kidnapping her should say as much.

“I don’t want to go back to therapy,” Sterling says finally when Anderson starts driving to Chick-Fil-A again.

“We’ll talk about that once you’re back to going to school,” Debbie says.

“...And I want a chocolate milkshake,” Sterling says finally, crossing her arms.

“Are you going to mind your manners?” Debbie asks as if she’s talking to a three-year-old.

Sterling sighs and looks up at the ceiling. “Fine.”

Once they get home, milkshakes in hand, Sterling makes a beeline for the stairs to go to her room. It’s where she’s spent at least 90% of her time since being returned home from Dana’s trailer park from Hell, and her family at least seem to have the good sense to not bother her too much.

All of this has managed to send her over the limit. She doesn’t even feel like the same person as she was when she went to the lock-in. Probably because really, she’s not. She’s her mother’s crack baby niece, which is the thought that’s lingering in her head as she boots up her laptop, initially to watch something on Netflix, but then thinking better of it and going to Google.

Prenatal exposure to crack

She knows this is something to Google if she wants to practically guarantee a spiral, but maybe that’s what she’s going for as she searches it and starts reading Wikipedia pages on the subject. Though truly, it’s crazy to think that her parents have been drilling into her her entire life that drugs are bad and she should never use them when in truth, she already has.

She’s reading an article about how she’s likely to have social problems--which explains a lot, if she’s being honest--when Blair comes in from the bathroom.

“Okay, seriously, you gotta stop this,” she says, coming around to sit on the edge of Sterling’s bed. “I know that we’ve all kind of experienced a real clusterfuck, but it doesn’t really change anything, right? I mean, this is technically who you’ve always been, we just didn’t know it.”

“That’s easy for you to say, Blair,” Sterling says, dismissive. “You aren’t the one who resulted from the worst thing that has ever happened to Mom and Dad.”

“Sterl, that isn’t true…” Blair says, getting up and putting a comforting hand on Sterling’s shoulder, which she shrugs away from.

“Yes, it is! I wouldn’t exist if Dana wasn’t an absolute psycho who thought she could blackmail Dad by having a baby with him, and if Mom and Dad hadn’t gotten custody of me, she wouldn’t have lost her marbles and threw a molotov cocktail into an abortion clinic! All of the stuff they’ve gone through over the years is because of me,” Sterling can feel the tears in the corner of her eyes, and she wipes them away with the sleeve of her shirt. “So please just...leave me alone.”

She thinks for a minute that Blair might argue, but instead, she silently gets up from the bed and goes to the door, where she stops. “Hey, there’s one bright side to all this craziness if you squint.”

Sterling sighs, knowing this is about to be something very dumb. “And what is that?”

“Now we know you were just a preemie and that I didn’t actually try to eat you in the womb like Mom and Dad said.”

Sterling reaches for a pencil on her desk, which she attempts to throw at Blair, but her sister manages to shut the bathroom door behind her just in time. She crosses her arms and leans back in her desk chair. To think that two weeks ago, the biggest problem in her life was her sudden crush on her childhood nemesis.

Thinking of April right now was a mistake because now that’s what she’s fixating on. How, on top of the absolute mess that is her identity crisis, she’s also still coping with the fact that she lost the best thing that has happened to her in a very long time. She knows April is far from perfect, but the connection they shared in only a few days together meant something and April was willing to just throw it all away at the drop of a hat.

Maybe she’s just being a masochist now, but for the heck of it, Sterling opens up Instagram on her phone. She goes to April’s page, which she is somewhat surprised to find she is no longer blocked from seeing. There’s a new story, and Sterling can’t help but click on it.

“Good morning, everyone! So you might have noticed that I’m a little extra dolled up for school today,” April says, standing in front of the full-length mirror in her room with her phone pointed at it to show off her freshly pressed school uniform (the black blazer one) and carefully curled hair. “Well, that’s because something exciting is happening today, but I can’t give you too many details yet. I’d hate to jinx it, but I would appreciate it if everyone could send good vibes and prayers my way, and I will keep you updated,” April finishes the story by pointing the phone back at herself and blowing a kiss at the camera, which is enough to give Sterling war flashbacks to their last good conversation, and she closes out of the app.

Sterling wishes she could go back to how she thought of April before the forensics tournament. She was just a spoiled brat busybody who liked causing drama whenever it benefitted her. An honestly deplorable person who said outstandingly ignorant things for someone as intelligent as she is. But now she’s just April, and Sterling knows that most of her abrasiveness is to hide the fact that she’s scared and lonely.

Against her better judgment, Sterling opens the app and clicks into the story to watch it again.


The fact that April has managed to make it all the way to seventh period without being completely overcome by nerves is nothing short of a miracle. From a logical standpoint, she knows there isn’t really a reason to be nervous about school musical tryouts—she’s gotten the lead before, just last year as Maria in The Sound of Music—but still, she can’t stand the thought of being relegated to a side character or worse, ensemble. She knows she would have one hell of a time explaining that kind of epic failure to her father, who doesn’t have any appreciation for the arts as it is.

All of this anxiety has her a bit distracted from Ellen’s...frankly bizarre lesson for Bible class.

“Okay y’all, so as you can see, I have my friend Lazarus here,” Ellen says, holding up a doll of some sort wrapped head to toe in gauze like a mummy. “He’s still in his grave-clothes, as you can see, but we as a class are gonna work through that. I want y’all to give me a verse from John Chapter 11, and for each one you get correct, ol’ Lazarus here will lose a bandage.”

No hands go up immediately, so April rolls her eyes and raises hers, to Ellen’s delight when she calls on her. “‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.’” It’s perhaps the most badass quote in all of the book of John, and April hears a few people voice their frustration at the idea that she stole their own favorite quote.

“Very good, April!” Ellen praises her, writing that onto the dry erase board before going to where she placed Lazarus in an office chair. She pulls off the piece of gauze covering one of Lazarus’ arms and casts it aside. “Okay, who’s next?”

Luke excitedly raises his hand, and Ellen calls on him. “‘Jesus wept,’” he says proudly, and April rolls her eyes.

Ellen smiles and nods. “Yep! Shortest verse in the Bible, but yep!” she says, then takes the gauze off of Lazarus Doll’s foot.

Ellen goes around the room getting verses from people until all that’s left is the gauze covering the doll’s head—and judging from the fact that it’s oversized on a soft body, April is going to go ahead and assume it’s a Cabbage Patch Kid. “Alright, last one. Someone give me a good one,” Ellen says, looking around the room and eventually calling on April again, who is practically standing up at her desk at this point.

“‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has to come into the world,’” she recites perfectly, knowing it’s the most important verse that hasn’t been said yet.

“Excellent job, April!” Ellen says, opening her drawer and grabbing a Tootsie Roll to toss at April’s desk before making the dramatic reveal of Lazarus’ head. Which is indeed the terrifying visage of a wild-haired blonde Cabbage Patch Kid—which is also naked. The only thing worse than this is when her dad bought her (without prompting) John McCain and Sarah Palin ones during the 2008 election.

“I get that he was wrapped up but why is he naked?” Luke whispers the money question to Franklin next to him.

“Lazarus has risen!” Ellen says dramatically, gesturing at the thing like she’s Will Smith. Then she laughs at her own weird sense of humor while the rest of the class stays silent. “I’m just kiddin’, that’s just my old friend Benny. But y’all did a fantastic job in helping me recount the last miracle performed by Jesus before the crucifixion, and it brings me to an exciting announcement! As those of you in drama class already know, this year our school musical is…” she does a drum roll with her hands on her desk. “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar!”

This isn’t a surprise to April, but it still renews her excitement. She had to campaign hard against Godspell .

“And unless you’ve missed the flyers posted around the school since last Monday, auditions are this afternoon at 4:00, so if you can sing or just wanna have some fun, or maybe would like a few extra credit points for this class, I encourage you to join us,” Ellen says, concluding her PSA just before the school bell rings signaling the end of the regular school day. “Alright y’all, I want you to read John 12 tonight and we can have a class discussion tomorrow. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.”

Nobody hesitates to file out of the room once Ellen’s dismissed them—especially not April, who now has 30 minutes to kill before auditions start, but she plans to make the most of them.

“So, do you have your audition song perfected yet or do we need to have an emergency mutual coaching sesh?” Ezekiel asks as they leave the classroom and head in the direction of April’s locker.

“I’d like to think I have it down, yeah,” April says, at least having the knowledge that this is a song she’s been singing since she was 10. She unlocks her locker and primps her hair in the mirror she added to the door.

“Me too. I’m doing “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen,” Ezekiel says, seeming quite proud of himself and his impressive tenor range. “I was thinking about doing "You Will Be Found" but that seemed like a guaranteed way to get cast as Jesus.”

April frowns, confused. “Why wouldn’t you want to be cast as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar?”

“Because Judas is objectively the best role and because I don’t think these white folk here are ready for a Black Jesus whose legs could literally fall off during the crucifixion,” Ezekiel explains, never one to pass up on playing the ‘no legs’ card.

“Well, then we can only pray for some kind of miracle because I don’t think any of the other guys in drama are capable of doing it either.”

Ezekiel purses his lips and nods in agreement. “But wouldn’t it be ridiculous to watch Franklin attempt “Gethsemane" and make the audience cry?”

April doesn’t know if the ensuing tears would be funny or sad. The drama department lost most of the heavy-hitting male vocalists in last year’s graduating class; including Jackson Sutcliffe, the Captain von Trapp to April’s Maria.

He had his obnoxious tendencies (like most boys), but April supposes that if any boy had to be her first kiss, she’s glad it was him. Though now that she’s kissed someone in a non-musical context, she guesses he doesn’t count anymore, Sterling does.

Sterling, who hasn’t been to school in over a week, and now even Blair’s gone today. The school’s rumor mill has been having an absolute field day with this whole thing. It’s gone from ‘I heard she had a nervous breakdown at the lock-in’ to ‘No, I heard she was smoking outside the lock-in and got Al-Qaeda!’ to ‘No I thought it was she wigged out at the lock-in and then flew to Syria to join ISIS’ to ‘Guys, guys. Have a little respect. Sterling’s dead.’

April would like to think that none of those things have even a modicum of truth to them, but she hasn’t actually built up the courage to text her and ask. And it didn’t help matters that before she too disappeared, Blair was making it a point to confirm every single variation of the Sterling rumors to anyone with the balls to ask her. Well...except for the Sterling being dead one. That cropped up only today in Blair’s absence.

“Either way, I’m pretty sure you’re a guarantee for the female lead. Nobody’s about to downgrade Maria von Trapp to ensemble,” Ezekiel says, bringing April back to the conversation at hand.

“I’d like to think so,” April says, nodding. “But I always have to keep in mind that I have been relegated to playing the little brother in Peter Pan before.”

Ezekiel rolls his eyes. “Because we were freshmen. And you were lucky you weren’t kicked out of the production altogether after you got bitchslapped by Linda Chatterjee for saying she wasn’t the ‘right kind of Indian’ to be playing Tigerlily.”

April sucks in air through her teeth at the mention of that. “Not one of my finest moments, I’ll admit,” she says quietly. “Regardless, I absolutely deserved Wendy but class politics dictated that I had to be given a smaller role in favor of a junior or senior, so Ellen cast Brianna Wilkes.”

“Yeah, and that’s how you ended up playing her step-mother in The Sound of Music after you had your dad write something to the school about age discrimination,” Ezekiel says, rolling his eyes. “You know, you’re an absolutely crazy bitch, but I love you for it.”

April smiles, touched. “Aww, thanks, Z.” She looks around the hallway for the other member of their trio, as it’s rare when she and Ezekiel are apart for too long. “Where’s Hannah B.? I thought she’s gonna try to at least go for the ensemble?”

“She’s doing vocal warmups in the choir room,” Ezekiel says, dismissive, and both he and April laugh. Sure, they might be absolute jerks for making fun of their friend’s singing abilities—or lack thereof—but that’s just what true friendship is all about. “Actually, I should probably go look for her or she’ll be doing May Me My Mo Moo until the janitor goes home for the night.”

April nods. “Good idea. I’ll save you guys seats in the auditorium?”

“You better,” Ezekiel says, and then he’s off, wading through the stream of students trying to leave the school while he goes deeper into it.

Once he’s gone, April retrieves her messenger bag from its hook and loads it with all the books she’ll be needing for homework tonight. She wants to make a clean getaway and go home for her post-audition rituals as soon as they’re done. Bubble bath, a Star Wars novel, maybe some of her mom’s low-fat ice cream if she’s feeling indulgent…

She’s daydreaming about the concept of reaching the closest she is capable of getting to zen when she feels someone’s presence behind her.

“Uh, hey April,” Luke’s voice says, and she turns around to face him, somewhat confused. She thought they had really been hitting it off the day of the lock-in, but he has barely said two words to her since—probably for the same reason she’s been feeling out of sorts since then. The lack of Sterling at school really does make all the difference.

“Hi?” April says. “What’s up?”

“Uh, so I thought at the lock-in it seemed like you and Sterl were maybe friends again, and-”

“Well, we’re not,” April snaps, and it is not even a lie.

“Yeah I get that, I’m just getting kind of worried about her and was wondering if you’d heard from her at all? She’s had me on read for like, ten days,” he says, looking like a kicked puppy, and April almost feels sorry for him. Almost.

“Well, if she’s reading your texts, then we can only assume she’s not dead or in the custody of any terrorist organizations…” April trails off, trying to be funny, but Luke isn’t laughing. “Anyway, I’m sure she’ll turn up soon. She might just be sick and gave it to Blair.”

Luke nods at this perfectly reasonable explanation. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ve come to terms with our break-up but I still care about her, you know?”

April nods. She knows that feeling all too well. “Yeah. That’s really sweet of you,” she says, somewhat disingenuously, as she puts her hand on his arm and smiles encouragingly at him in an attempt to end this conversation and get to her audition. “Anyway, I’d love to stay and chat, but I have to get to the auditorium,” she says, gesturing over her shoulder with her thumb and turning around. She thinks she’s in the clear, but she hears his Sasquatch footsteps follow her and he eventually is walking beside her.

“Uh, you mind if I walk you there?” he asks.

April side-eyes him...diagonal-eyes him? Either way, he’s too damn tall. “I guess not…?”

“Cool cool,” Luke says, nodding. “So, let me guess. You’re auditioning for the musical.”

April hums. “How did you guess?”

“Well I know you’re like, an awesome singer and stuff…” he says awkwardly. “You always got the solos in music class.”

“That was elementary school,” April reminds him. “But thank you. I’d like to think I’ve only improved since the Shirley Temple concert.”

Luke giggles. “I still know the words to Good Ship Lollipop.”

“Me too,” April says, walking up to the door of the auditorium.

“Hey, April?” Luke asks before she can go in.

April thinks that this conversation might be going somewhere dangerous and she feels the need to get out of it as quickly as humanly possible. “Luke, I’m really sorry, but I have to get to my audition,” she says curtly and goes in, leaving the oversized toddler in the hall.

“Oh April, thank goodness you’re here,” Ellen says as April walks down the aisle and takes a seat next to her. “I’m worried our turnout this year won’t be quite what it usually is. I was only able to round up two dedicated boys from woodshop for our sets, and I barely have enough other techies to print some dang flyers.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, Ms. Johnson, but the graduating class of 2022 is mostly made up of uncultured swine, and the TikTok generations below us are no better,” April says, knowing Ellen is the only teacher she can talk like this about her fellow students with.

Ellen giggles. “Yeah, you’re tellin’ me. But I was hoping you could maybe get your daddy’s help with some promotional funds.”

April nods. If there’s one thing she can get her dad to do with little prompting, it’s give her money. “I can do that.”

“Now, I know you like going last, but try not to upstage everyone else too much, okay?” Ellen asks, nudging April playfully with her elbow.

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” April says, rolling her eyes. “Thank you for taking my show suggestion into account, by the way. I know this show can be somewhat controversial.”

Her teacher smiles mischievously at this. “Yeah, I know, but what’s life without a little risk? Plus, this is a Christian school and it is a musical about Christ. And, thanks to John Legend, I think we’ll get some butts in seats for it.”

“We can only pray,” April agrees. She looks around at the other students starting to gather in the auditorium. Mostly drama kids, but also a few choir people and some dance team girls. It’s not the worst group she’s ever seen, at least as far as the girls go, but there is really only one female role, and the boys leave...something to be desired when the most talented among them (aside from Ezekiel) is Darren Boggs, followed by Franklin and Jennings.

April’s assumptions about all of these things prove correct as she watches the auditions themselves unfold. Mediocrity at best from the girls, absolute tone-deafness from most of the boys, and the three that don’t totally suck (turns out Franklin’s shrieky voice makes him a fair countertenor) aren’t enough to fill all of the roles that need to be. This is honestly worrisome to her when it’s finally April’s turn and she goes up on stage to give the pianist (a senior named Asa) her sheet music from her bag. She only gets a limited time to prove herself worthy of Ellen’s high expectations, so she tells him to start at the middle of Sondheim’s “Moments in the Woods” and goes from there.

The song is admittedly not the hardest thing April could sing, though doing the end guarantees her an opportunity to show the high end of her range. She chose it weeks ago because she didn’t want to be a cliche, and she didn’t want to sing something from the great big ingénue ‘do not sing’ list, which eliminates most anything by Jason Robert Brown, among others. So Sondheim seemed safe.

But as she sings through the lyrical epiphany of the Baker’s wife, she can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. Theatre is her happy place, but she finds the Baker’s Wife’s quandary over what to think about her affair with the Prince hitting...a bit too close to home. Though perhaps that only serves to enhance her performance.

“First a witch, then a child, then a prince, then a moment. Who can live in the woods? And to get what you wish, only just for a moment, these are dangerous woods! Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment, though…” April had her chance at being who she always wanted to be with Sterling, but it was over after only a few days. And now here she is, right back to where she was at the beginning of the year. Alone, lying to the world and herself about who she is and who she wants.

“Now I understand! And it’s time to leave the woods!” She finishes the song, drawing out the long high notes, and earning a standing ovation from Ellen when Asa hits the last note on the piano (and dirty looks from every other girl in there except for Hannah B.).

As she leaves the stage, April notices for the first time that Luke slipped into the theater at some point and took a seat in the back, meaning he’s waited for her for well over a half-hour. It’s as flattering as it is creepy, and she’s about to go back there and confront him when Ellen notices his presence as well.

“Oh, Luke! You came to audition as well?” she says excitedly. One thing April’s learned over her years in the drama department is that a popular kid is almost as valuable in a cast as a talented one, and the tall, handsome captain of the golf team is certainly one of those things.

“No, I just…” he starts, but then looks to April and suddenly changes his tune. “Yeah! Yeah, I came to audition,” he says, grabbing his guitar from the seat next to him and taking it up onto the stage.

“Ellen, I thought auditions were over,” April tries to protest, not particularly liking the idea of having her coveted last audition spot taken from her.

“Oh, don’t be silly, April. They ain’t over 'til the tall boy sings,” Ellen says, settling back into her seat and forcing April to join her in a huff. “Go ahead, Luke,” Ellen says, and he nods, then clears his throat as he checks his guitar’s tuning.

“I haven’t gotten the strumming pattern quite right yet, but-“

“Just sing the dang song, Creswell!” Franklin yells at him.

“Okay, jeez!” Luke shouts back, then starts to play a few chords on his guitar. “I’ve heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord, but you don’t really care for music, do ya?”

It may just be because the lower notes at the beginning of this particular song compliment Luke’s voice better than that shrieky ‘Sterling’ song he sang at the memorial for Mr. Koontz, but even April has to admit that he sounds...decent. Which, based on the overjoyed look on Ellen’s face, is about as good as if he were John Legend.

Luke plays through two verses before he stops, allowing the last note of the guitar to fade.

“That was very good, Luke!” Ellen praises him as he comes down off of the stage and she pats him on the back. “Alright, y’all. I’ll be posting the cast list at the end of seventh period on Friday. Be gracious if you get a lead, and don’t be disappointed if you don’t. Every single person on that stage will make the show great. So with that said, have a good night everyone and I’ll see you tomorrow!”

April notices Ezekiel practically drag Hannah B. out the door before Ellen could even finish her closing speech, which is a little odd, but she doesn’t think too much of it as she gathers her things to leave. She, unfortunately, doesn’t do this fast enough to avoid Luke, however, as he manages to get away from Franklin and Jennings and comes to hand her the messenger bag she was just about to reach for.

“Thank you, Luke,” she says politely and puts it on over her shoulder. “You did great, by the way. I didn’t know you were interested in drama,” she says pointedly, knowing she’s the only reason he’s here right now and not at home playing Xbox or whatever it is boys do after mandatory school hours.

“Oh, I’m totally into drama,” he lies to her face. “My parents took me to see that Lion King musical when I was a kid. The puppets were awesome.”

April’s honestly surprised he has even that much experience with live theater, so she has to give him kudos for it, and for the fact that he’s actually trying to impress her with it. “Yeah, you have to love Julie Taymor,” she says and leads him out of the auditorium into the hall, which is now empty except for them and the other musical kids. “I’m sorry, but what exactly is it that you wanted to talk to me about so badly that you inadvertently joined the cast of the school musical?” She can’t help but be amused as they head out to the parking lot.

“I just thought we were having a good time at the lock-in, and the whole Sterl being missing thing sort of threw me off. I didn’t even get my hair cut, see?” he says, pointing to his still shaggy hair that seems to fall more and more into his eyes every day.

“Well, if Ellen casts you as Jesus, you might have to keep that up for a while,” she notes as they go out to the parking lot. Her eyes scan for where Hannah B. parked this morning in Ellen’s spot, but the car is gone, and she suddenly realizes what they’ve done. “Those bitches…” she says under her breath.

“What happened?” Luke asks, looking around, confused.

“My friends ditched me so now I have no ride home,” April says, knowing this is exactly their evil little plan to get her alone with Luke. Well, actually, it has Ezekiel written all over it.

“I can drive you home if you want?” Luke offers, jingling his keys for emphasis.

A part of April wants to be stubborn and get an Uber, but she knows that would hurt Luke’s feelings, and like Sterling, he has a way of making her not want to do that. She sighs. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble for you.”

Luke’s face lights up. “Not at all!” He practically jogs to his Jeep, where he opens the passenger door for April. “Do you still live over in-”

“Buckhead, yeah. On Paces Ferry,” April says, getting in and buckling herself in. The one time she let Sterling drive her home has left her a bit traumatized and she isn’t going to chance anything.

“I remember going to your birthday party when we were 12, I think?” Luke says as he starts up the Jeep. “You definitely made a point of not inviting Sterl.”

April scoffs. “Well yeah, she was my arch enemy,” she says sarcastically.

“I just really remember your house being a lot bigger than mine,” Luke says, turning on the radio to a country station currently playing an old Taylor Swift song. “Do you want me to change it?”

“God no,” April says perhaps too quickly, but it doesn’t seem to bother Luke.

“Good, because I love this song,” he says, turning it up and starting to quietly sing along, and after much struggle, April joins him.

“Our song is the way you laugh, the first date man and I didn’t kiss her and I should have. And when I got home, ‘fore I said ‘Amen,’ askin God if he could play it again,” April notices her volume steadily increasing until she’s singing over Taylor for the last part of the chorus, but so is Luke.

They finish that and a Carrie Underwood murder song before Luke is driving up April’s long gravel driveway and stopping in front of the house.

“Thank you for the ride,” April says, genuinely having not had a horrible time. Even while singing slightly off-key to girl power country songs, Luke is a surprisingly safe driver.

“I’m honestly kinda glad your friends ditched you,” Luke admits, then awkwardly asks, “Uh, April, would you maybe...want to go out with me sometime?” 

The question doesn’t come as necessarily a shock to April, given Luke’s behavior since the end of seventh period, but it does surprise her that she doesn’t immediately want to say no. In fact, she realizes that if she’s to be trapped in a lie for her father’s sake, there could certainly be worse people to do it with. At the very least, Luke has great taste in music and was willing to audition for the school musical on the spot just to impress her.

“Yeah, okay,” she agrees. “Could be fun.”

Chapter Text

Sterling smells...Nair. It’s suffocating her. She can’t move her arms. The walls are closing in around her. She’s waiting for Blair to save her, but it feels like she’s been trapped here for hours, days maybe. In her head, all she can think of is that if these are to be her last hours on Earth, she’ll die knowing that the girl she maybe possibly loves can never love her back, that the boy who deserves better was given false hope of her ever loving him the way she used to, and that even in their supposed moment of truth, her parents chose to continue lying to her.

“ are my daughter.” 

The world-shattering revelation rings over and over in her ears. All she’s known. All she’s ever thought she was is gone with one simple sentence. The Sterling that was Blair’s twin, her ‘mother’s’ favorite daughter, the girl Luke was in love with, the girl April broke the heart of...she’s gone now. In her place is someone Sterling hasn’t met yet. And she doesn’t know if she wants to.

And then Sterling is surrounded by darkness. Sterling is falling. Sterling is...

Being shaken awake by Debbie.

 “Wake up, sleepyhead. You have school in an hour,” she says sweetly, but her shaking Sterling’s shoulder is getting more and more violent by the second.

“I’m awake, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving this bed just because you say so,” Sterling grumbles, not bothering to open her eyes. With the kind of dreams she was having all through the night, it’s no wonder she feels like absolute death. But then, that’s nothing new.

“Is that so?” Debbie asks and Sterling just knows she has her hands on her hips with her eyebrow raised. Then without warning, she’s pulling the covers off of Sterling and grabbing her by the ankles, sliding her to the end of her bed until her feet are dangling just over the floor. “There, I did most of the work for you. Now get moving. I already let you sleep in a little, so Blair’s at lacrosse practice and I’ll be driving you.”

Sterling is sure this was entirely intentional on Debbie’s part to ensure that she personally got her to school. “Joy,” she says, knowing there’s no use fighting it—or anything, for that matter—and getting out of bed.

She goes into her bathroom for her morning routine and gets a load of herself in the mirror. Her hair is absolutely wild, going in all directions (including up), a clear indicator that she had yet another fitful night of sleep, though she would be more surprised if she hadn’t.

She strips off her pajamas and steps into the shower, the water so hot as to just barely be tolerable. It’s the only temperature she’s been bathing in as of late, but nothing seems to get the smell of cigarettes and the suffocating scent of Nair off of her. Of course, she knows this is just her being irrational, as the clothes she was wearing that night have gone through the wash at least 3 times, and she’s showered every day. But still, remnants of lock-in Friday still linger on and in her, and she can’t scrub them away.

After about fifteen minutes, she gets out of the shower, her skin red and splotchy from the temperature, and the comparatively cool temperature of the steamy bathroom providing her some relief as she dries herself with her stupid monogrammed towel. Sterling briefly considered taking a seam-ripper to it more than once over the past few days, but she is going to completely reject the notion that her name could have ever been Neveah Genesis Culpepper. That’s the name of a crack baby who later goes on to have more crack babies—probably before she can legally drive—and that is not her.

She can’t be bothered to do anything with her hair, so she puts it up into a ponytail before it’s really dry, brushes her teeth, and goes out to decide on a school uniform. The polo shirt is the comfiest and easiest option, so that’s a no-brainer, along with some khakis—the first ones her hand touches in the closet.

“Sterling, hurry up!” Debbie calls from downstairs.

Sterling groans and looks at herself in the mirror. She tries to fake a smile, and for a second actually looks like her old self again, but it just feels like a lie. She goes back into her bathroom and finds that her deodorant stick has been used up by someone and looks around for a substitute, settling on the can of linen-scented Febreze sitting on the back of the toilet. She sprays her armpits and heads downstairs, where Debbie is already standing near the door with her backpack and an insulated lunch bag.

“I made you your favorite. Ham and cheese, a pitted peach, a Capri Sun, and a brownie cut right out of the dead center of the pan,” Debbie says as she hands off the bags, trying way too hard.

Sterling can see the effort her mom is putting into getting their relationship back to where it was before. She knows she’s trying. But Sterling isn’t ready to forgive her. “Thanks, I guess,” she says, and they head out to the car.

“Did you keep up with the homework Blair was bringing home for you?” Debbie asks once they’ve hit the road.

“Yeah, but she’s not in robotics or AP bio, so I’m probably gonna fail both of those,” Sterling says, surprised at how much she doesn’t really care about this fact.

“You better be asking those teachers for makeup work and extra credit,” Debbie says, and it sounds like a very direct order. There will be no Sterling failing classes, as far as she’s concerned. “Your junior year is the most important when it comes to applying for colleges. I need you and your sister to really shine.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve recently been through a slightly traumatic event,” Sterling says snidely.

“And that doesn’t mean you should let it ruin the rest of your life. You know, Dana never went to college…” Debbie says in the most blatant manipulation attempt Sterling has ever witnessed...and yet it kind of works. Her mom might actually be a ninja.

“...Okay, fine, I’ll see what I can do about robotics and biology,” she agrees begrudgingly.

“That’s my girl,” Debbie says approvingly as she pulls up in front of the school. “Now, be good today and I’ll order pizza for dinner tonight.”

“With wings?” Sterling asks hopefully.

“That entirely depends on if I get a call from any school faculty,” Debbie says, and honestly, it’s fair.

Sterling gets out of the car and puts on her backpack over one shoulder. As she walks towards the door into the school, she can’t help but feel like every eye is on her, with people occasionally whispering to each other. Blair didn’t say anything to her about people at school knowing what’s happened to her, but she can’t shake the feeling that they do.

“Oh my God,” some girl she barely knows from PE says, coming up to hug her. “I’m so glad you didn’t get sent to rehab for snorting bath salts,” she says, and Sterling raises an eyebrow, confused.

“Me too?” she says, just standing there awkwardly until the girl lets her go and she suddenly makes direct eye contact with April across the quad. She makes to head into the school without saying anything, but April excuses herself from a conversation with a few kids Sterling knows to be fellow members of the Straight-Straight Alliance and half-jogs up to her.

“Hey,” she says, her voice cheery. “Glad to see you back here.”

Sterling doesn’t know what kind of game April is playing at here, but she doesn’t want to find out. They didn’t exactly leave things off on a friendly note, after all.

“I’m sorry, April. Did you want something?” she asks, just tired.

April’s expression sobers as if she’s realizing she just made a grave error in judgment. And then a face Sterling knows all too well emerges. “No, just checking up on a fellow student,” April says, her voice taking on that cheerful yet patronizing tone. “After all, there’s been some very troubling rumors going around. You know that, as Fellowship Leader, I’ve received eighteen inquiries about when we’re going to have a memorial and slash or candlelight vigil for you?”

“Yeah, I apparently started doing face-eating drugs, right?” Sterling asks, connecting the dots. This school is too weird.

“Among other things...I actually hadn’t heard that one,” April says, sounding surprised. “But you seem perfectly alive and not radicalized to me, so I guess that means everyone can move on now.”

“Guess so,” Sterling says, wanting desperately to leave this conversation, especially when April looks around to make sure nobody’s paying too close attention to them.

“You weren’t gone because of what happened between us at the lock-in, right?” she asks quietly, and Sterling cannot believe the absolute gall of this girl. She’s not 100% wrong, at least tangentially because if not for them being out on that bench, she would have not been in a position to be kidnapped by her birth mother, but still. The nerve.

“Don’t flatter yourself, April,” Sterling says, then runs into her shoulder as she pushes past her into the school. She knows she’s having a bad-A self-empowered moment right now, but she has to pat herself on the back for coming up on the fly with the kind of comeback that can render a debate champion speechless.

English class drags on, as the class has a conversation about Nathaniel Hawthorne that Sterling has no desire nor intention to be a part of. Thankfully, Blair shared her notes so she isn’t completely lost, but she doesn’t have the energy to talk about the misogynist who once called Louisa May Alcott a ‘damn scribbling woman with three names’ just because people liked reading Little Women a lot more than his boring man garbage.

She’s the first one out of her seat when the bell rings before their teacher can dismiss them, but she ignores his sounds of protest as she makes her way down the hallway, past more people talking about her miraculous rise from the grave like she’s freaking Lazarus or something. And it probably doesn’t help that that’s what Ellen’s been teaching in Bible class. But because of them, she’s given all the more reason to hurry as fast as she can to her robotics class, where she hopefully can just spend some time working on her not-so-intimidating battle bot without having to say if she joined a vegan commune.

She puts her stuff over on one of the tables in the back and goes to get her unfinished robot from its locker. The whole thing is the result of some kits that Mr. Baxter ordered in bulk, but she’s proud of it, even if it seems to be behind everyone else’s now.

“There’s Sterling Wesley!” Mr. Baxter says once he returns to the classroom, fresh cup of coffee in hand. “I’m really glad you’re back, kiddo,” he says, sounding exactly like the kind of person who knows what actually happened to her. Which he probably does, considering she overheard her mother screaming at the principal over the phone the day after The Incident.

“Hey, Mr. B,” she says politely. “Did I miss anything major? Because my mom wanted me to ask if there was anything I could do for extra credit or-” she doesn’t finish her sentence as he waves her off.

“That won’t be necessary, Sweetie,” he leans in closer to say more quietly, “I know what happened at the lock-in and I want to say that you’re a very brave girl and I’m proud to have you as my student.”

Sterling knows he means well, but she would prefer if he didn’t bring up the traumatizing event to her. “Thanks…” she says.

Mr. Baxter seems to switch gears very quickly after that. “Anyway, it must be fate that you came back today of all days, because we’re getting a new student--Army brat, I think--and I figured you guys should just team up on this little thing here,” he says, flicking the side of the pink robot, which feels patronizing. “Say, do you think you could make it so it could hold up the round cards for our next battle day?”

Sterling stares daggers at him, which makes him take a few steps back. “Yeah, I’ll see what I can do about that,” she says, and he seems to get the message to leave her alone now, but that’s when a tall stranger walks into the room.

“Oh, speak of the Devil!” Mr. Baxter says, crossing the room to the new girl, whose dirty blonde bangs fall over eyebrows almost thick enough to give Luke a run for his money. Almost. But most importantly, she looks like she’s about as happy to be here as Sterling, and that makes her pretty okay. “You must be our new student.”

“And you must be my new robotics teacher,” the new girl says, snark dripping from every word.

“That I am. So how’s about you take a seat at that table there. Sterling will show you the ropes,” he says, pointing to Sterling’s table.

The new girl sits down across from Sterling and gives her something close to a smile. “Uh, hi. I’m Reese,” she says, and it seems like more of a formality than anything as she takes a notebook and pencil out of her backpack and starts to doodle. She’s the first person Sterling’s encountered today who has treated her like she’s completely unremarkable. And therefore, she is intriguing.

“Like the candy or the Witherspoon?” Sterling asks, smiling to herself without looking up from where she’s opening her robot’s back panel.

Reese snorts. “The Witherspoon. My mom was a big fan of that movie Pleasantville,” she says, shaking her head. “And you’re Sterling. Is that like the silver or the town in Massachusetts?” she asks, raising her eyebrow and looking at Sterling in a teasing sort of way that makes her feel... something for the first time in over a week.

“The silver, I think,” Sterling says, not really knowing for sure, but she doesn’t think her parents have ever been to Massachusetts. “So what brings you to this part of Atlanta?” she asks, opening the instruction manual that came with the robot kit.

“Uh, my dad’s in the Army CID out of Fort Gillem, so he’s basically a military detective. We’re here on assignment probably until the end of the semester,” Reese explains, and this comes as a bit of a shock to Sterling. Almost everyone she goes to school with is someone she’s known for years, and now, here is this girl who is only planning on being here for a few months at most.

“Wow, and he sent you to Willingham?” she asks.

Reese shrugs. “Yeah, well, I told him that if he tried to send me to another military academy, then I would go back to self-harming, sooo...that shut that shit down real quick.” She shrugs nonchalantly as if that is a perfectly normal thing to tell someone she just met not two minutes ago. Sterling’s face must betray how horrified she is because suddenly Reese laughs. “Oh, come on, dude. I’m kidding,” she says, shaking her head. “But seriously, no offense, as nutty as you Christian kids can be, you’re way better than being sexually harassed by boys with square haircuts.”

Sterling feels a sense of relief. She doesn’t really know this girl, but she already doesn’t like the idea of her hurting herself. Or being sexually harassed. “Yeah, then I suggest avoiding the JROTC kids. Very handsy for people in uniform,” she says, and both she and Reese laugh. She honestly can’t remember the last time she did that.

Sterling’s next class is Spanish, but she spends the whole thing avoiding the gaze of Luke while April seems to ignore the fact that she’s even there, at one point turning around fully in her seat to say something to Luke in fluent Spanish, which he responds to in garbled nonsense.

She’d normally be relieved to be getting out of there and going to her next class, except April is also in AP Bio, and upon arriving there, she is faced with Lorna sitting in her seat next to her lab partner, Darren Boggs.

“Uh, excuse you,” Sterling says, not having time for this kind of nonsense.

“Oooh, sorry Sterling, but while you were getting arrested by the FBI, Mr. Tamura reassigned me to Darren,” Lorna says, putting her hand on his bicep. “Sorry,” she says, but she is clearly not.

Sterling sighs and goes to take a seat at the one lab countertop she knows isn’t assigned to anybody...and it’s unfortunately right next to April and Ezekiel.

“—I swear to God, Z. I don’t know if my nerves can handle waiting until Friday to find out,” she overhears April say, and Sterling doesn’t know what exactly she’s talking about, but she’s not sure if she cares.

Sterling takes out her lab book and starts to take notes from what’s written on the whiteboard, but is distracted when none other than Reese enters the classroom.

She spots Sterling and heads on over, taking the spot next to her. “We meet again, Ms. Silver,” Reese says teasingly.

“Indeed we do, Ms. Spoon.”

Sterling notices April looking over at them with a ‘who the eff is this’ expression on her face. “We have assigned seats, you know,” she says pointedly, but Reese pays her no mind.

“You see what I mean? Nutty Christian kids,” she says, turning her body towards Sterling and pointing her thumb over her shoulder at April.

Sterling chuckles and is just cooling down when their teacher Mr. Tamura comes into the class and spots Reese instantly.

“Oh, you must be our new student, uh,” he looks down at his attendance sheet. “Reese Ryan. And you found your seat, too! Sterling, it’s good to have you back. I trust you’ll walk Reese through all our proper lab procedures?”

“Yes, Sir,” Sterling agrees, nodding. She guesses that if Mr. Baxter knows about her school grounds kidnapping, all of her teachers do, so she isn’t going to bother with asking for makeup work.

“Well good, because today we’re going to be dissecting a squid!” he says excitedly as he goes up to the front of the room.

April raises her hand. “Uh, Mr. Tamura, I believe my mom sent an email excusing me from any dissecting.”

“Oh, I know. But you’re in luck because we’re doing this in groups of four, so you can be the recorder,” he says, knowing full well that the standard procedure would be to send April (and the other squeamish kids) to the library. But Sterling isn’t in the mood to say anything about that.

“Well,” Reese says, turning to April and Ezekiel. “Looks like you guys will be our surgical assistants today.”

Ezekiel gags. “Just for the love of God keep any and all body parts away from me,” he says as he drags his chair over to their table, and April reluctantly follows.

Sterling is about as excited as either of them to do this dissection, if only because it means she is now sitting directly across a lab table from the girl who broke her heart into a million pieces not ten days ago.

Mr. Tamura calls up each table one by one to the front of the classroom to get their dissecting supplies and a squid in a ziplock baggie.

“Alright, so I’ve done this about five times at all my different schools,” Reese says, arranging everything on the table in an orderly manner. “Basically, we’re just gonna be cutting out its organs and eventually we’ll find the ink sac, which we can use to write our initials...yep, right there,” she says, pointing to a line at the bottom of the worksheet before getting to work on cutting the thing open.

April looks a pale shade of green as she turns her head to not witness this part. “Ugh, I’m going to smell like formaldehyde for the rest of the day,” she says, disgusted, as she reaches for the worksheet blindly and accidentally brushes hands with Sterling.

Sterling instinctively yanks her hand back toward herself. She knows that as long as John Stevens is a free man, she can’t even entertain any non-platonic thoughts about April--not that she’d even want to since April seems to have fully returned to her usual prissy self.

“Hey Silver, you wanna cut its eye in half?” Reese asks, holding out a scalpel.

April jumps down from her seat and runs to the door, hand clasped firmly over her mouth as Reese laughs evilly.

“You know, you didn’t have to torture April like that,” Sterling says as she and Reese find a place to sit down for lunch.

“Oh, but I did. It’s about asserting dominance and all that junk,” Reese says, squirting ketchup all over her french fries like a barbarian...or a Canadian.

“Yeah, well, I’d be careful. April’s been known to be a bit of a grudge-holder,” Sterling says, emphasizing her point by looking across the lunch area to where April is glaring at the both of them. She knows this is an understatement, but she can’t exactly get into her and April’s sordid past with a relative stranger...even if she is cool and really good at biology.

“I’ve dealt with girls like that before. They just act tough due to some kind of deep-rooted insecurity.” Reese shoves a few fries into her mouth, not knowing how true that is when it comes to April. “What’s her deal? Mommy issues? She looks like she’s got mommy issues.”

“Daddy issues, actually,” Sterling says without thinking, and when Reese raises an eyebrow at her, she knows she’s made a mistake. “Or like...I’d assume so. She and her dad did a whole engagement photoshoot for that purity ring she’s got on.”

“Oh, that is gold,” Reese says, snickering. “This is why I came here. You Christians are entertaining as fuck.”

“I’m glad you think so,” Sterling says, pouring out her lunch bag on the table, and her eyes immediately go to the perfectly-cut center brownie in plastic wrap. “Hey, do you want this?” she asks, taking the ‘I love you. -Mom’ note off and offering it out to Reese, who looks at it skeptically.

“Why? It’s not one of those weird sweet potato gluten-free things, right?” she asks as she cautiously takes it.

Sterling shakes her head. “No, it’s just a brownie of betrayal,” she says, stabbing her Capri Sun and sipping it in the most mature way possible.

“You’re so weird,” Reese says, chuckling as she unwraps the brownie. “But I like weird.”

Sterling’s not sure why a statement that would probably be taken as an insult by any reasonable person is making her feel the slightest twinge of butterflies in her stomach, but she isn’t going to question it.



April is seething. She doesn’t know who the frick this Reese Ryan girl thinks she is, but she does not like her, or her stupid choppy highlights. And all of this of course has everything to do with her insensitivity towards April and her squeamishness when it comes to dead things and nothing to do with the fact that she and Sterling are currently sharing lunches and making goo-goo eyes at each other. Because April does not care about Sterling and whom she chooses to associate with.

Unless the person in question is an absolute hellion who should have never even been allowed into their school considering her apparently low view of Christians.

But also, how dare Sterling come back here after a week and a half without a good explanation for why she was gone, and then have the absolute nerve to treat her like this. April would like to think that the way they left things off at the lock-in was better than utter contempt for each other, but that apparently is not how Sterling sees it.

She’s so caught up in this that she doesn’t notice anyone approaching her table until a large shadow looms over her, and she looks up to see Luke’s smiling face. Joy.

“Uh, hey April. Is this seat taken?” he asks, gesturing to the spot across from April at her otherwise empty lunch table.

“All yours,” she says, and he happily sits down with his brown paper bag lunch.

“So not to put any pressure on you or anything, but we didn’t set a date for our...well, our date and I was wondering if you were free like...tonight?” Luke asks awkwardly.

April knows that spite is hardly the thing that should be fueling one’s decision-making when it comes to dating, but fuck it. Sterling’s pissed her off. “Sure,” she agrees, and his face lights up. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I don’t know how you feel about mini golf, but The Fun Zone has an awesome course…” Luke suggests, and April wants to die.

“Not a huge fan of that place,” she says, shaking her head.

“Oh, really?” Luke says, seeming to be bewildered by the idea of anyone disliking that place for any reasonable reason...and he’s not necessarily wrong. “Okay, well, option B, we can go to that one 50s diner up in Peachtree and get the best onion rings.”

April is surprised by how much the prospect of a stack of deep-fried nothing appeals to her, if only for the setting. She nods. “Yeah, okay, that sounds fun.”

“Awesome!” Luke says, looking like a golden retriever. “Should I pick you up at your house at like...six?”

“Better aim for 5:45 if you want to avoid any interrogation by my dad,” April says, not wanting to put anyone through that before at least the third date, even if this is a sham of a relationship. As far as her father is concerned, she’s never dated anyone, but she has a good idea of how he’d take her being picked up by a sasquatch boy without his prior approval.

“Okay, sounds good,” Luke says, nodding. “Uh, he won’t like...hurt me if he does find out, right?”

April shrugs. “Probably not?” It’s not like she has much experience with being in a relationship that’s known to anyone.

Luke shrugs. “Good enough for me.”

As April struggles to pick out an outfit for her date with Luke, the thought occurs to her that this could very well be the perfect arrangement. Even if it doesn’t last more than a date or two, she can make everyone believe that she’s straight by letting it be known that she’s gone out with—thanks to Franklin’s indiscretion with Lorna at the lock-in—the captain of the golf team. And if it makes Sterling uncomfortable or maybe even jealous...well that’s just a bonus.

“And now I’m fallin’ for ya, fallin’ for ya. I know I shouldn’t but I, I just can’t stop myself from fallin’ for ya, fallin’ for ya. Can’t hold on any longer and now I’m falling for you,” April sings along under her breath to her laptop playing the Teen Beach Movie soundtrack on Spotify as she picks out a white dress with a red floral pattern. It’s something she knows will exude romance but also innocence. That last part is of utmost importance. This is innocent, what she and Luke are doing.

She just keeps telling herself that as she changes out of her school uniform and thinks about the fact that she felt Sterling’s gaze on her more than once during Bible class. And that the new girl—this Reese Ryan person—was surprisingly quiet in Sterling’s absence in the World History class she shares with April. Which could mean one of two things. Either she’s mostly exaggerating her disaffected bad girl act for Sterling’s benefit, or she’s just an infuriatingly inconsistent bitch.

“April, do you have any dinner requests tonight?” she hears her mom call from the hallway before she opens the door without knocking.

April turns from where she’s standing in front of her mirror, rollers in her hair and dress still unzipped in the back. “Uh, you and Daddy will have to have dinner without me tonight,” she says, having hoped she could have slipped out unnoticed and sent a vague text about hanging out with friends in a while.

Her mom looks her over from head to toe. “Oh? And where are you going?” she asks.

April’s surprised she doesn’t actually have to lie to her mother about this. The whole truth will suffice. “I’m going on a date. With Luke Creswell, the captain of the golf team.”

Her mother stands there, looking...confused by this revelation before she shakes off whatever thought was going through her head, and then she’s practically giddy. “Oh, Sweetie! Your first date!” she says, sounding overjoyed, and comes up to hug April from behind. “This is so exciting!”

April smiles and is surprised to realize that the feeling of happiness she has in this moment is genuine. For once, she’s able to make her mom happy about her personal life, and it's both new and exciting. April didn’t realize how badly she always wanted this. “It is, isn’t it?” she agrees, feeling her heart flutter at the idea that maybe she could do this if it means finally achieving a feeling of normalcy for the first time since she was a kid and realized how not normal she is.

Mary starts to fuss over her, helping her zip up her dress and take out her rollers. “You’ve always had the prettiest hair,” she muses, running her hands through the newly-formed volume. “Be grateful you got that from my family. Your father’s mother—your Grandma April—wore an honest to God wig.”

April makes a look of horror into the mirror, which quickly turns into a smile to match her mother’s and they both burst into laughter. 

April wasn’t old enough when her namesake died to remember her—a side-effect of having not super young parents who themselves were both late-in-life babies for their parents—but she’s heard enough horror stories about the sMother/Monster-in-law from Hell to form her own opinion of the woman. Why her parents named their child after her, she’ll never know. Especially because she herself was born in November.

“So,” Mary says, a mischievous look on her face now. “Is this the same tall and handsome child of Lynn and Vernon Creswell that I’m thinking of?”

April nods. “Yeah, I guess you and Daddy may have crossed paths with him a time or two.”

“You know Daddy won’t like a boy taking you out without his blessing,” Mary warns.

April rolls her eyes. “I’m not his property,” she argues, but her mom keeps looking at her and she sighs. “Can you please just cover for me tonight and I promise if things go forward that I’ll have that conversation with him?”

Mary holds up a finger. “I will do that for you once. But then you have to tell him.”

April turns around to hug her mom. She’s unsure if it’ll even have to come to that, but she knows how much Mary hates lying to John about things—especially things he can eventually find out on his own. They’ve both been on the receiving end of a legendary John Stevens outburst more times than they can count and it’s really something they try to avoid.

“Anyway,” Mary says, going back to the task at hand of making April look perfectly perfect for her heterosexual date. “Where’s this boy taking you? Because that will influence how you should do your makeup. Though there is a fine line between looking right for the occasion and looking like a tramp.”

“McFly’s. The 50s-themed place in Peachtree,” April says, still in disbelief that Luke somehow managed to pick what could quite possibly be the perfect place to take her on a first date—it even has skeeball, now that she thinks of it…

“Oh, your father’s going to like this one,” Mary says, following her into the bathroom.

“Wow, you look really pretty,” Luke comments once they’ve been seated at a table.

“Thank you. Those school uniforms do nothing for me,” April says modestly, but she knows she looks good.

“I mean, you look pretty good in the khaki skirts, I think…” Luke says quietly, and April actually blushes because that means he’s been looking and that is an ego boost if anything.

“Now, I believe you said something about onion rings?” she says as she opens the folding menu.

“Yeah, they have the best ones here. Have you ever been?” Luke asks, gesturing around.

“Oooh, yes,” April says, chuckling at the number of times she’s made her dad bring her here after a daddy-daughter tennis game at the club. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of an aficionado of sci-fi, and this place’s name is a reference to Back to the Future.”

“No, really?” Luke says sarcastically. “Okay, aside from Star Wars, what’s your favorite movie?”

“Back to the Future,” April says without even having to think about it. “So you can imagine I like this place a lot.”

Luke nods. “Yeah, I guess you would. Okay, so now it’s your turn to AMA...that’s ask me anything, in case you--”

“Yeah, I got that,” April says, nodding and trying to think of something she actually wants to know about Luke since she’s never given him a lot of thought. “Gun to your head: original trilogy, prequels, or sequels?”

“Original trilogy if you’ve got a gun to my head, but hot take: my favorite movie is Rogue One,” Luke says, and it’s perhaps the most profound thing he’s ever said to April. 

“Wow, that is...a very respectable answer,” April says, surprised. “I’m controversial and am partial to the prequels.”

“Aw man, I love Jar-Jar Binks…” Luke says, reminding April who she’s on a date with. “But also, the Anakin and Padme love story is super sad.”

“Yeah, but that’s why it’s great,” April argues. “I mean, if you watch in the proper order, then you know from the beginning that their love is doomed but you still hope they’ll get their happy ending with their babies anyway, and that is good cinema.”

Luke is looking at her with what can only be described as heart eyes. “Wow, you’re really smart.”

“Well yeah, I’m in AP classes,” April says nonchalantly, smiling slyly at him.

The waitress comes around and gets their order after a few minutes, but by that point, they’ve switched topics to The Mandalorian.

“Okay, Baby Yoda. Cute or overhyped?” April asks.

“Oh my gosh, he’s so cute,” Luke says, practically squeeing. “His ears are too big for his head and his head’s too big for his body.”

“I knooow,” April agrees wholeheartedly and comes to the rather perplexing realization that this may be the most fun she’s had on a date...well, outside of the laser tag course. She and Luke have a surprising amount of things in common when you take their intellectual inequality out of the equation. But then, she doesn’t mind being the smartest person in the room. In fact, she thrives on it.

“You’re a really fun girl, April,” Luke says, looking at her with his head cocked to the side.

April has been called many things in her life, but fun isn’t one of them. “You think so?”

“Totally,” Luke says, nodding. “Oh! What are your thoughts on Mario Kart?”

“Give me Princess Daisy and the Rainbow Road and I will annihilate you,” April says with a smile on her face, which seems to make Luke look slightly...aroused. Which is as flattering as it is disturbing. “Why do you ask?”

Luke shrugs. “I just thought maybe we could play together at some point, but if you don’t want to, that’s totally cool too.”

April can hardly believe that she is on a date with Luke Creswell at all, let alone toying with the idea of a second one already. The thought occurs to her that perhaps she wasn’t trying hard enough to like boys before. This isn’t so bad. “Let’s see what kind of time we have for Mario Kart once rehearsals start.”

Luke seems a little disappointed by this answer as the waitress comes around with their food and an oversized strawberry milkshake with two straws, but then he changes his tune. “Do you really think I’ll get a part? I mean, you obviously will but I’m not an actor or anything…”

April nods. “Well, for one, we don’t have a drama department big enough to not give everyone who auditions at least a part in the ensemble.”

“Is that like the backup singers?” Luke asks.

“Uh, yeah,” April says, having forgotten how much of a musical theatre virgin he is. “Anyway, you’ll for sure get a part because you auditioned but also you are a fair singer and you have the whole handsome and popular thing going for you, so-”

Luke grins. “You think I’m handsome?”

“Well yes, I’m not blind,” April says objectively, but now it’s Luke’s turn to blush as he takes a sip of the milkshake, and then his foot is brushing against April’s under the table. 

“You’re different outside of school.”

“That’s a good thing, I hope?” April asks, biting into an onion ring.

Luke nods. “It is. You’re a lot more chill.”

“You should know that I’m never chill,” she corrects him as she gets out her phone and opens up Instagram. “Okay, smile!” She says, leaning in and putting her lips on one of the milkshake straws while angling her phone up.

Luke takes another drink of the milkshake and smiles, but only at her, and that honestly makes for the better picture anyway.

It’s past eight by the time Luke drives April home, after way too many fried goodies and games of Happy Days pinball. But no skeeball—she insisted to Luke that she isn’t any good at it.

“So..did you talk to Sterling at all today?” April asks a few minutes into the drive home. She knows it’s an absolutely awful move to bring up her and her date’s shared ex, but it’s the one thing that’s been eating at her. She does actually enjoy his company, and she’d hate the idea of being used as a rebound or a distraction or worst of all—a second choice.

“She didn’t seem too interested in talking to me and I’ve learned to give her space,” Luke says, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “It’s killing me not knowing what happened to her, though. The last time I saw her, she was getting picked up by Mrs. Wesley from the lock-in.”

April frowns. She’d thought until now that she was the last person to have seen Sterling that night. “You saw her mom pick her up?”

Luke nods. “Yeah, in Mr. Wesley’s hunting truck. I was kind of...getting her blessing to ask you out before...before she left.”

April lets out a long exhale. Luke doesn’t even understand how much he was rubbing salt in a very fresh wound by doing that. “And she gave it to you?” 

“Yeah. Which was a little surprising since I know you guys have kind of a complicated relationship, but I was glad because I am really into you, April.”

April can tell Luke is underplaying what was said between him and Sterling, but the big takeaway of the whole thing is that he’s apparently chosen her, and that is a bigger plot twist than Franklin actually being man enough to have sex with Lorna in a supply closet. She went into this thinking tonight would be a one-and-done thing. Something she can call back to if anyone ever wonders how a beautiful, relatively popular girl like her is never with a boy. But this could be something she could tolerate on a larger scale, so long as she never tries to talk to Luke about anything more intellectual than his opinion on the controversial science of Midi-chlorians.

After all, she’s short on friends that hang around her for reasons other than her father’s money or the fact that they’ve been friends since preschool, and a boyfriend she can talk to about Star Wars is still a friend. And one that can make high and mighty Sterling Wesley jealous, at that.

They pull up to the gate to the driveway, and April has to lean over Luke to punch the unlock code—Sergeant Bilko’s birthday—into the box, practically getting in his lap before jumping back into her seat and sitting innocently as Luke drives her up to the house.

He parks the car and kills the engine.

“I had a great time tonight, Luke,” April says, being completely genuine, much to her own surprise.

“I’m glad,” Luke says, smiling proudly and getting out of the Jeep to go around and open April’s door for her. “Easy there,” he says, taking her hand and helping her get down—not usually an easy feat in heels, but it is when she’s got a very large boy to pick her up by the waist and set her on the ground.

“I should probably get inside before my dad comes out here with a gun,” she says, gesturing to the house and only half-joking. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow?”

“I uh, I’d better walk you to the door,” he says, taking her hand as she notices them walking at a pace much slower than she normally would go to get to the porch.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the chivalry—I do very much—but you don’t have to do all of this,” April says, but a twinge of nerves tells her there’s something else behind this.

“I just wanted it to be special.” Luke shrugs. “Besides, you only ever get one first date with a person, so you gotta try to make it perfect, right?”

Despite herself, April can’t help but think of her very first date, and how perfect it was, even if it was at a children’s entertainment venue. “Yeah, I get that.”

She walks up a few of the concrete steps to the porch but realizes Luke isn’t following any longer when she’s suddenly pulling on his arm. 

When April turns around to ask what gives, Luke (now at her level) leans in and plants a kiss on April’s lips that should make her see fireworks, but all she has is the deep-rooted feeling of how wrong this is. Luke is clean-shaven and yet whatever five o’clock shadow he has makes it feel like he’s scraping her face with a razor blade. Every kiss with Sterling was magical but this...feels exactly like kissing Jackson Sutcliffe in The Sound of Music. It’s equally as performative, but only for an audience of two.

She’s relieved when it ends, but to her horror, Luke comes away from it looking like he’s been shot with Cupid’s arrow.

“See you tomorrow,” he says, giving her a small wave and returning to his car as April heads inside. She breathes a sigh of relief as she shuts the door behind her, not knowing how in the world she is going to keep this up, but also knowing that she has to. She hears the TV in the other room, but she doesn’t want to chance encountering either of her parents at the moment, so she hurries up to her room.

She changes out of her dress and ankle-breaking heels into her pajamas and goes to lounge on her bed, texting Ezekiel possibly the most disingenuous text of her life.

April 😽: Just got home from my date with Luke. No words. Just 😍😍😍🥰🥰🥰😘😘😘

She’s still waiting for his response when she gets a text from a more unexpected source: the boy she said goodbye to not five minutes ago.

Luke: Missing u already. ❤️

Chapter Text

“Thank you so much for coming back to see me, Sterling,” Dr. Gale says, smiling warmly at her patient.

Sterling shrugs. It’s not like her parents gave her much of a choice. “I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to talk about.”

“We can talk about whatever is on your mind,” Dr. Gale says, knowing dang well that the root of Sterling’s problems is always on her mind. “But how about we start with your sister, Blair. How are things between the two of you since the incident?”

Sterling can’t very well explain to a psychiatrist that she and her sister have been unable to read each other’s minds—literally—since the big reveal. It’s as if the whole twin connection they had always shared was severed the second the truth came out. In fact, Sterling remembers the moment the truth came out, and all she wanted was her sister’s reassurance, but all she got was...a look that was equally as scared and confused as her own. Which leaves her no choice but to lie. “They’re fine.”

Dr. Gale doesn’t believe that for a second. “Oh really?” she probes. “Because your mother says that the two of you haven’t really been speaking. You were best friends before.”

“Yeah, well, we thought we were twins before,” Sterling snaps and immediately regrets it. “I’m sorry, I just...when you’re told something your whole life, to the point that you never once have reason to question it, it just kind of messes with your head, if that makes sense?”

Dr. Gale nods knowingly. “It does make sense. Your ability to trust has been compromised, as has your perception of the world itself because something you thought to be a fundamental truth about yourself—that you were a twin—turned out to be a fabrication. That’s enough to mess with the head of anyone, but being as young as you are, it’s bound to be quite traumatic.”

“And here I thought I already had trauma,” Sterling mumbles, but Dr. Gale definitely hears her.

“Do you mind delving into that?” she asks.

Sterling does mind, but she sighs and starts to open up anyway. “I’ve been having...dreams lately. About that night. When uh, when I was in Dana and her boyfriend’s trailer and they had me tied up and gagged.”

“Yes, that does sound traumatic. So in these dreams, are you reliving what you went through, are they exaggerated, or are they a part of something bigger?”

“All of those things, I think,” Sterling says, wondering if that answer is cheating. “I don't know if that makes sense…”

“It does,” Dr. Gale says, nodding. “You’re reliving what happened to you in the distorted way that nightmares tend to be, but they’re also feeding off of the anxieties that are living, as you kids would say, rent-free in the back of your mind. So what you’re experiencing at that point is a version of your traumatic experience that is amplified and it only retraumatizes you. Does that sound about right?”

Sterling is somewhat taken aback by how well Dr. Gale seems to understand based on the little information she’s been given. But then, that’s why she’s the shrink here. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Dr. Gale hums, seeming to consider if now’s the right time to bring something up. “Sterling, I want to ask you again, now that we’re alone. Why were you outside of the school that night? By definition, a school lock-in means you’re supposed to be locked in. I know you said it was for personal reasons, but would you be comfortable sharing them with me now?”

Sterling bites her lip. She hasn’t even gone into this with Blair, so she and April are the only two people in the world to know why April unlocked that door for her. Why she was in a compromised state and willing to get in the truck with her ‘mom’ who usually hates driving said truck. “Everything we say here is confidential, right? You aren’t going to tell my parents?”

“I am legally bound to secrecy. Promise,” Dr. Gale says and puts down her notepad for good measure. “This is just between us.”

Sterling takes a deep breath. “Well, there’s this girl. This infuriating, awful girl who I was dumb enough to completely fall for. At the lock-in, she changed her mind about being with me, so she let me out of the building...probably to avoid the awkwardness of dumping me and then making me watch her flirt with my ex-boyfriend who I know for a fact she doesn’t even like.”

“And does your family know about your relationship with this girl? Or about your sexuality at all?” Dr. Gale asks without skipping a beat.

“Blair does, but my parents don’t,” Sterling says, missing the time when she was so excited to share this part of herself with the world. Now there just doesn’t seem to be a point. “The girl I like— liked— never wants anyone to know about her. And I would have been willing to keep it all a secret for her but she’d rather put on an act with a boy for the sake of her stupid dad.”

“So would you say that the feeling of otherness and rejection from your breakup with this girl is feeding into the perception of you being an outsider in your own family?” Dr. Gale asks, hitting that nail right on the head again.

“Yeah,” Sterling nods. “I just...I think the worst part of the nightmares is that I dream these things, and they seem ridiculous, and a part of my brain knows that I’m dreaming. So when I wake up and remember that all of that really did happen…” she trails off, not knowing how to find the words.

“You feel insecure in what you know to be true,” Dr. Gale says, nodding. “Sterling, I have a little assignment for you. I want you to reestablish some truths in your life. You don’t have to start with big things—even a little thing like what your favorite after-school activity is would be a good start—but I think it would be a good first step in trusting your world again.”

Sterling’s not sure if reminding herself how much she loves bounty hunting will do her much good right now, considering Bowser’s off in Florida, and Blair’s just been actually working for Ms. Cathy at the yogurt shop. But she supposes she owes Dr. Gale at least an attempt. “I think I can work on that.”

“Good,” Dr. Gale says, smiling. “I don’t know about you, Sterling, but I think you’re a very bright young woman and I think that, with a little effort, we can get you back to feeling more like yourself again.”

Sterling very much doubts that. “Here’s hoping.”

It’s Sterling’s third day back at school, and she’s somewhat relieved that the school has finally moved on to talking about things besides her. Turns out that her coming back completely unaffected by whatever they thought happened to her did enough to convince most people that she might have actually just been sick or something. Which she of course wasn’t, but she feels like she might be now, especially since the main shift in the school’s rumor mill has gone to the school’s new It couple.

April and Luke have only been going out for two days (or so the rumors say), but that’s apparently enough time for them to feel comfortable sharing their relationship status with the whole school.

“I hear they’re officially a couple,” a girl named Tala—the same one who said she was praying for Sterling after the condom incident forever ago—says, gossiping with Lorna in Bible class as they both watch every little interaction between April and Luke, who are sitting next to each other in the front row of the class, holding hands under the desk.

“Oh my God, have you seen on Insta? They have a couple hashtag and everything. It’s #Lukeril,” Lorna says, holding up her phone to show Tala a picture.

Sterling’s had enough. “Will you two shut up? Some of us are trying to pay attention,” she whispers harshly at both of them while Ellen continues reading aloud from the Bible about the crucifixion. The very last thing in the world she wants to hear about is her two exes and their stupid couple hashtag. 

It’s a fake relationship that a part of her had hoped would never happen after she told Luke she missed him, and she wasn’t lying. To a certain extent. She does miss the certainty that came with being with Luke, but apparently, he’s a lot more interested in April than he’d ever let on to her.

Tala scoffs. “Sounds like somebody’s jelly much.” She has no idea. “Why do you even care? The whole school knows you broke up with him.”

“No, I get it,” Lorna says, looking genuinely sympathetic for all of a few seconds. “I’d be insecure AF too if my ex went out with the girl whose dad got Ciara to perform at her Sweet 16 last year.”

“Oh, like Franklin could ever get with April,” Sterling snaps at her, which takes Lorna off-guard for a moment before she looks rather impressed and makes a cat claw gesture with her hand.

“Rawr, someone came back to school with an edge to her,” she says, amused, and turns back around to continue whispering and giggling with Tala.

Sterling is fuming in her seat, wishing she could just shout to the world about how she’s not upset about Luke dating someone else, she’s upset about April being the least authentic girl in the universe and Luke being too dumb to even notice.

Thursdays are when Fellowship meets after school and, as a former Fellowship leader, Sterling knows that April is allowed to be released from Bible class 15 minutes early on these days to go prepare for whatever activity they’ll be doing or talk they’ll be having that day. So five minutes before the school bell rings, Sterling asks Ellen if she can be excused, and because of the teacher-wrath immunity that being kidnapped from school grounds has given her, Ellen actually says yes.

Sterling makes a beeline for the Fellowship room, where April is setting up a projector cart to play them a video of some kind. “Do you mind telling me what the heck your problem is?” she asks, startling April, who looks up innocently at her.

“I’m sorry?” she asks, playing dumb.

“I get that you’re scared about people finding out about you, but why do you always have to take things so far? Why can’t you leave Luke out of it?” Sterling blows up, and April seems pretty concerned about the volume at which she’s speaking, but otherwise doesn’t look guilty in the slightest.

“For the record, he asked me out,” she says, putting down the DVD player remote next to the projector and walking closer to Sterling. “And not that it is any of your business, but Luke and I actually really hit it off on our first date and it was him who suggested we put a label on things, not me.”

“But you didn’t have to say yes. To any of it!” Sterling says, exasperated. She can’t fathom the idea of drowning in as many lies as April does daily. “It’s not fair to him for you to just let him think that you like him when you literally can’t.”

“This is high school, Sterling. It’s not like I’m accepting a marriage proposal or anything,” April says, cherry-picking. “And it’s not like you’re exactly shouting about your sapphic persuasion from the rooftops, either.”

“Because I don’t really have a reason to anymore, do I?” Sterling says coldly.

April looks at her with an expression that Sterling can’t quite make out, but it might be a mixture of many things. “I guess you don’t.” With that said, April goes back to setting up the projector. “If you’re staying for Fellowship, we’re discussing examples of love and courtship in the Bible.”

Sterling wants to blow up at her, but she doesn’t have the energy. “Screw you, April,” she says, then turns around to leave just as the school bell rings and the hall starts to crowd with kids.

She hates this. She hates feeling like absolutely nothing is right in the world. And she really hates that she’s going to have to walk home because she doesn’t want to ride with Blair.

In a moment of true masochism, Sterling gets out her phone and opens Instagram as she walks, searching for the gag-inducing hashtag ‘Lukeril.’ She knows she’s made a mistake the second she sees a picture of her two exes sharing a milkshake and looking deceptively loved-up like some stupid old sitcom. ‘Good shakes but even better company. XOXO’ Sterling cringes upon reading the caption but that doesn’t stop her from scrolling through the other five pictures that all look like they were taken only today and yesterday, with at least two of them having to have been taken by another person--probably Ezekiel or Hannah. The worst one is probably the one in black and white of April on her tippy toes with Luke leaning down so that they’re almost kissing with the caption, ‘Grrr height difference.’

She’s seething and considering leaving a troll comment when she runs smack into someone.

“Hey, watch it, Silver,” Reese says, having apparently been walking the other way. “Do you know how many Gen Z kids die a year walking into traffic while on their phones?”

“How many?” Sterling asks.

“I don’t know, that’s why I asked you,” Reese says, giving her a cheeky grin.

Sterling rolls her eyes and keeps walking, with Reese now following behind. “So what’s eating you? You seemed awfully quiet in class.”

“I’m just going through a lot of stuff in my personal life right now, Reese,” Sterling says, reaching the student parking lot and starting to walk around it.

“Well hey, I could always give you a ride home and you can vent, if you want?” Reese says, holding up a carabiner keyring with more novelty keychains on it than keys, jingling it for emphasis. “Promise I’m not trying to human traffic you.”

“That sounds like something a human trafficker would say…” Sterling says, fighting a smile. But, in truth, having almost been human trafficked, she doesn’t think Reese is the type. “Where’s your car?”

“Atta girl!” Reese says, leading the way to a green Subaru Outback that looks to be in worse shape than basically every other car in the lot. “She may look rough, but she’ll get ya home safe,” Reese says, patting the roof of the car and getting in, reaching over the center console to manually unlock the passenger side.

Sterling gets in and buckles her seatbelt and then they are off.

“Put your address in here, please,” Reese says, handing over her phone with the maps app already open.

Sterling does just that and hands it back to her. “I don’t know why you’re doing this. You barely know me.”

“Okay, so don’t take this the wrong way, but broken knows broken and I just...I don’t know, you’re just the most intriguing person I’ve encountered since we moved here,” Reese explains, shrugging.

Sterling knows she should be more than a little offended by the fact that Reese just called her broken, but honestly, she just feels seen. It might have something to do with her never having met the old Sterling, but Reese isn’t in denial about who Sterling is now. She is reading her for exactly what she is—a broken little girl. And Sterling likes that. “Thank you,” she says genuinely, and Reese looks confused.

“You’re welcome?” she says, sounding slightly amused. “Okay, so how about you tell me what’s eating you and I can promise you I will listen without judgment. Like a priest, or a stripper.”

Sterling knows she would be doing a spit-take right now if she was drinking something. Those are just two professions you don’t hear put into the same category every day. But she also knows Reese’s offer is genuine, and after everything, she would love to share with someone who actually gets it. “I have so much family drama that my sister can barely look at me, and my ex-boyfriend is dating...the worst girl in the world. And on top of all that, I recently went through some trauma and everyone wants me to just snap out of it and go back to normal but I don’t think I can.”

Reese flinches, apparently finding all of this worse than she’d thought. “Man, that’s heavy. But look, dude, I think you just need a new outlook on life, you know? You’re clearly going through some shit but maybe the solution isn’t to try to make yourself exactly like you were before. Maybe you need to change to move forward?”

“And how would you suggest I do that?” Sterling asks, thinking that she barely knows her old self, let alone has any idea of what her new, post-scandal self would be like.

Reese shrugs. “Man, I don’t know. Just...try to do things for you more and not for other people. Switch things up. Change something that’s just for you. Anything to make you feel like you have some control over what’s happening to you.” It’s solid advice, and if Sterling’s being honest, it seems more helpful to her than her own therapist’s advice. Dr. Gale is concerned with preserving sweet, innocent old Sterling, but maybe she isn’t worth trying to bring her back from the grave like some kind of good Christian girl Frankenstein’s monster. 

“Who gave you the right to get inside my head?” Sterling asks, a slight smile forming.

“Let’s just say I know about feeling powerless in my own life. Did you know Willingham is my sixth high school? Sixth. In three years. Which means I can basically forget about making any lasting connections, but I figure that I can have as much fun as I can in each place I go, and in the process, I can learn a little more about myself,” Reese’s facial expression as she explains this about herself betrays the deep sadness it actually brings her, and Sterling understands why. She was sort of born with a best friend, so she can’t fathom an existence where she can be uprooted from her life every few months.

“You know, for someone who doesn’t make connections, you’re pretty good at reading people. Or at least, you’re good at reading me…” Sterling says, wondering if she might be crossing some kind of invisible line when it comes to showing a hint of affection for a girl she barely knows who just admitted to her that she doesn’t really make friends. But maybe that’s all the more reason for her to need one.

For her part, Reese doesn’t seem bothered. “I spend a lot of time observing the American Teen in the wild,” she says as her navigation app has her turn onto Sterling’s street. She stops in front of the house and puts the car into park but doesn’t kill the engine. “Just promise me that in your journey of rediscovery, you won’t forget to do your robotics homework. I will not fail my bird course because my partner is having an existential crisis,” she says with a completely straight face.

“You have my word,” Sterling replies, equally serious, and then they both burst into laughter. “But uh, I’ll see you tomorrow?” she says, reaching for the door handle.

“Yeah. See you tomorrow, Silver,” Reese says as Sterling gets out of the car.

Sterling rolls her eyes but secretly loves the stupid new nickname. “Bye, Spoon,” she says, closing the car door and turning to walk into the house as a plan starts to form in her mind. Ignoring her mom welcoming her home from school, she heads upstairs and goes to raid her parents’ bathroom for something in particular.

And that is how she ends up standing in front of her own bathroom mirror with a pair of haircutting scissors Debbie has had since she had bangs to maintain between salon appointments. Sterling’s not quite sure what the plan is here, but somehow, her brain has turned Reese telling her to change her outlook on life into changing her look. And as any woman could tell you, those two things tend to be intrinsically linked. She’s playing around with what she would look like with slightly shorter hair, holding a large lock between her fingers, when the door from Blair’s room swings open. 

Blair’s eyes go wide upon seeing the scissors, and shouts, “What are you doing?!” 

Startled, Sterling’s hand holding the scissors slips, cutting her hair much higher than she ever would have intended, and leaving her holding the blonde chunk in her hand. She shrieks.


April gets ready for school on Friday with an extra pep in her step. The cast list goes live this afternoon for Jesus Christ Superstar, and with the looks Ellen’s been giving her lately, she’s pretty confident that she’ll be cast as the female lead. She also can’t help but enjoy the attention she’s been getting from her peers at school due to the fact that she and Luke are apparently the school’s new Jay-Z and Beyonce...though she knows they’re really more of a Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn.

Though neither of those divas would be caught dead in the orange polo shirt she’s currently sporting for school as she heads down the stairs to the kitchen, where her mom is just setting out an egg white omelet for her on the table.

“Morning, Mom,” April says, sitting down at the table and noting that her mother looks...bothered by something as she sits down at the other end in her bathrobe with a cup of coffee. Usually, she’s fully dressed with her face on by 7 am. “You okay?”

“Your father’s going to be spending the weekend at the lake house for some peace and quiet,” Mary says, not answering April’s question but also definitely answering it. “But good morning, Sweetheart. Did you sleep well?”

“I did,” April says, poking around at her breakfast and trying not to think about just how many mysterious charges are going to be on her parents’ next credit card statement after her father’s little weekend ‘alone.’ It really ought to bother her how her mother seems to have switched from yelling at the wedding album (though never actually at her philandering husband) to just being quietly resigned to the fact that there’s nothing she can--or rather, will --do about it. “Daddy really went to the lake house? After going on a business trip to Jacksonville?”

“He wanted to decompress after the Vice Presidential debate,” Mary says, and really, that’s the only explanation she has to give April. Women of color in positions of power tend to make John uncomfortable.

“They’re announcing the cast of the school musical today,” April says, changing the subject from the one that is obviously upsetting her mother.

Mary’s face perks up at that. “Oh, really? What show are you doing this year?” She is of course where April gets her love of musical theater from, what with her box set of Rodgers and Hammerstein VHS tapes.

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” April says, bracing herself.

“The Jesus Christ Superstar in which the only female lead is Mary Magdalene the prostitute, that Jesus Christ Superstar?” Mary asks, eyebrow shooting up towards her hairline.

“Is there another one?” April asks, unphased, but she knows if it was her dad she was speaking to like that, she’d be going back upstairs to cover a red handprint. “Mary Magdalene is as important of a biblical figure as anyone. And some would argue that she wasn’t a prostitute at all.”

“Catholics would argue that, but April Elizabeth, we are not having this conversation over breakfast,” Mary says firmly, and April can’t help but think that there’s hardly ever a good time to talk about prostitutes in this house.

There’s the sound of a car horn from the driveway, and April realizes this breakfast has taken far longer than anticipated as she shovels the rest of her omelet into her mouth as washes it down with the small glass of orange juice next to her plate. “Okay, bye Mom, it was nice chatting with you,” she says somewhat sarcastically as she gets up from her chair and slings her messenger bag over her shoulder.

“Multivitamin,” Mary says, pointing to the horse pill-sized tablet next to April’s now-empty juice cup.

April groans and dry swallows it before heading out to the driveway, where Ezekiel and Hannah B. are waiting for her.

“I hope we didn’t disturb your beauty rest, Your Grace but we’re gonna be late for school,” Ezekiel says from the backseat once she’s in the car.

“We won’t if Hannah B. doesn’t drive like a grandmother for once,” April says, buckling herself in and pulling the sun visor down to primp in the mirror.

“I told you, my parents track my driving with one of those safe driver apps!” Hannah B. whines.

“So don’t brake hard and don’t take it over 80. Really, it’s not rocket science, Hannah B.!” Ezekiel says as she pulls out of the driveway, accelerating slowly.

By some miracle, they make it to school with a few minutes to spare, with Hannah B. and Ezekiel going off to change for gym while April gets her gym shorts and shirt from her locker.

“I’ll catch up with you guys in a few,” she calls after them and opens her locker to grab her gym bag full of freshly cleaned clothes.

The first bell rings and she’s hurriedly getting her stuff together when the school door opens and in walks Sterling Wesley in what feels like slow motion.

Her khaki skirt is rolled so as to be far shorter than the school’s dress code would allow. Her white button-down’s sleeves are rolled up tight, she’s wearing more makeup than April has ever seen her in, and she’s wearing a tie in an intentionally loose knot. But none of those things are nearly as shocking as her new layered, side-swept bob haircut, which she only accentuates when she runs her hand through it as she passes by April. 

Their eyes meet, and Sterling has the audacity to wink at her before she keeps on walking while April fantasizes about what she would love to do to this new grungy Sterling if she were to grab her by the tie and drag her into the supply closet. April’s always been one to love things being neat and clean and orderly, but in this moment, her thoughts are absolutely filthy. Though she’s snapped out of them somewhat when the new girl wolf whistles at Sterling.

“Hey, Sexy. Love the new look,” Reese says without shame, and it seems like it opens a floodgate with every gross boy looking at Sterling too.

Forget aroused, April is irritated. Who is this Reese Ryan to come here and be one of those annoying girls who show their support for their fellow women by acting like a dumb frat boy? And how dare she make Sterling blush doing it.

April growls and slams her locker shut, and about jumps out of her skin when she’s suddenly facing to face with Luke.

“Hey, Babe,” he says innocently. “You look really nice today.”

It takes everything in April to not practically bite this boy’s head off in her blind rage. “Thanks. You look nice, too,” she says, but actually thinks he looks a bit like an oversized toddler in his long sleeve shirt and shorts combo. She braces herself as he comes in for a kiss, which thankfully is only a quick peck since they’re in school.

“I’ll uh, see you in Spanish class?” Luke says, walking backward a few steps toward whatever class he has for first period.

April nods, trying to get herself back into the headspace she was in when she woke up this morning. She was the soon-to-be lead in the school musical who is dating the most popular boy in school and who every other girl in school wishes she was. She was not falling all over herself because Sterling Wesley got a haircut. “Yeah, I’ll see you there. And hey, fingers crossed you’re my leading man by the end of the day,” April says, blowing a kiss in his direction and heading off to the gym, her face falling the second she turns away from him.

April is in full Beast Mode as she fires off dodgeballs across the line in the gym, hitting Jennings in the face, and picking up another to throw at Hannah B.‘s chest, knocking her back onto her butt.

“Ow, April! You hit me in the boobs!” she yells at her as she gets to her feet and goes off to the side with the other eliminated players. 

This leaves a one-on-one matchup between April and the other team’s only remaining player, Franklin, whose general squirreliness has benefitted him in this game when it comes to avoiding the red bouncy balls, but April has one key advantage: pure blind rage. She envisions that bitch Reese Ryan in Franklin’s place, her smug face taunting her as April picks up a dodgeball from the line and lets out a proper warrior call as she hurls it at Franklin as hard as she can.

Franklin feebly attempts to catch the ball, but it hits him square in the stomach and knocks the wind out of him as he falls to the floor.

Coach Esposito blows his whistle, signaling the game’s end, and then starts clapping. “Great hustle out there, Stevens! Bring that intensity to our next forensics tournament and you’ll eat em’ all for breakfast,” he says, coming up to April and patting her hard on the back. 

“Snothinmushcoash,” April says somewhat incomprehensibly with her mouth guard in. At Coach Esposito’s look of confusion, she spits it out into her hand and repeats, “It’s nothing much, Coach.”

“Don’t be modest. You were a killer out there, and I respect that,” Coach says, and April smiles. “Alright everyone, that about wraps it up for the day. You’re excused.”

Everyone heads back to the locker room, April’s teammates thanking her as they go. She’s proud of herself for wiping the floor with half her class, and also happy to have gotten a bit of an outlet for her anger. Between how things are at home and the absolute trainwreck that is her love life, she just needed to hit someone. And in an American high school, there is truly no better way to do that than a school-mandated gym activity.

April goes to what she’s designated as her corner of the locker room, where she faces the wall and changes back into her regular school uniform from her t-shirt, sports bra, and shorts. She reapplies some deodorant under her arms and does everything in her power to not look away from the wall until enough time has passed that she can feel confident nobody will be naked when she does. This is her least favorite part of gym class, but at least she only has it three days a week (in place of her drama elective). Logically, she knows she never leers at anybody, and also nobody knows she’s gay, but it’s still a deep fear of hers for anyone to ever think she was being in here, and that’s why she takes the precautions she does before heading out to her next class.

April walks to her English class, arriving a minute or so before the bell actually rings, so she waits outside the classroom and checks her phone. The latest subject of her Instagram seems to have made it more popular than ever because forget half-assed philanthropy, apparently, there’s nothing people eat up more than faux happy couples. 

She opens her camera roll and finds a photo she hasn’t shared yet. One she had Hannah B. take of her and Luke from yesterday afternoon’s Fellowship meeting, where she was sitting on one of the couches, playing with Luke’s hair as he sat on the floor eating one of the Lofthouse cookies Ellen brought. She adds a flattering filter and captions it, ‘Get you a man who looks at you like this one looks at cookies,” and she thinks she can maybe objectively see why people would take an extra level of enjoyment out of content like this. It’s a more attainable kind of happiness than that derived from helicopter flying lessons or her personalized jetski. But she is acutely aware of the fact that the happiness she portrays with Luke is exaggerated at best and nonexistent at worst.

And on another level, her posts are supposed to be serving the purpose of informing her father of her new relationship status without having to have some kind of awkward talk about how his daughter/property is being loaned out to another man. Except he’s yet to mention anything to her since he’s been gone.

The bell rings and kids start to leave the first period English class after a few seconds, including Blair and Sterling. 

“Hey April, I heard someone talking today about seeing Bigfoot eating a toddler in the hall, but that was just you and Luke sucking face, right?” Blair says snidely, but two can play that game.

“Hey Blair, I hear Miles the Valet dumped you,” she shoots back.

Sterling gives her a look like she’s crossed a line, shaking her head and walking off.

April makes to go into the classroom now that it seems to have emptied out, but Blair stops her, speaking quickly and quietly so nobody else can hear. “I don’t know what Sterling ever saw in you, but words can’t even begin to describe how glad I am that she’s seen the error of her ways,” she says, then heads off in the opposite direction of Sterling.

When the final school bell rings and Ellen excuses everyone from Bible class, April doesn’t leave immediately. Instead, she follows Ellen (and the printed sheet that has to be the cast list)  down the hall to the bulletin board outside the auditorium. She puts it up with a push-pin and takes a step back as April is on it instantly, her eyes scanning over the lines almost too fast to actually read it, her heart racing. But then she sees it.

Mary Magdalene - April Stevens

“Oh thank God,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief as other drama kids crowd around her to see where they ended up.

“Son of a-” Franklin says in frustration upon seeing his name next to the countertenor priest Annas, right under Jesus Christ - Luke Creswell.

“Careful Frankie, Ellen hasn’t even left yet,” Ezekiel says, patting Franklin patronizingly on the shoulder, in a way only someone immune to ass-kickings can. “Oh look, I’m Judas,” he says nonchalantly as if he didn’t expect anything else.

April looks around the hallway for Luke, who wasn’t quite as invested in the cast announcement as everyone else, apparently, since he’s nowhere to be found until he rounds a corner with his backpack slung over one shoulder. “Babe!” she yells loud enough for the entire hallway to hear her, wanting their attention for this. “We got Jesus and Mary!” she says triumphantly, running into his arms and pulling him down by the front of his shirt to kiss him harder than the setting would call for.

When they pull apart for air, Luke seems stunned. “Whoa,” he says, hand going to the back of his head. “We’re like, the main characters?”

“We are the main characters,” April says with certainty. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Sterling staring at them, so she pulls Luke in for another kiss, continuing to look at her as she does.

“Nobody likes PDA,” Sterling says, disgusted as she passes by them to leave the school via the side door.

For Luke’s part, he looks like he feels pretty bad about upsetting their (not that he knows that) ex as he pulls away from April and gives her a look that seems to say she’s crossed a bit of a line.

“Alright y’all,” Ellen says, coming up to them with Ezekiel. “I know you’re celebratin’ but I need my three leads to meet me in the drama room pronto.”

April takes Luke’s hand and leads him to the place where he has likely never been in his life. “Ellen, I just want to thank you again for this amazing opportunity you’ve given me. Playing Mary Magdalene has always been a dream role for me, and-”

Ellen apparently doesn’t have time for April’s asskissery today. “Aw April, really it was a no-brainer for me, but we’re really running short on time today--I’m babysitting my sister’s little ones while she and her hubby have a date night…” Ellen trails off, seeming sad and jealous about this, but she shakes it off. “Anyway, I just wanted to get you three together because you’ll have the most to memorize, so here are your scripts,” she says, handing them each a script book. “And our two set guys can’t work miracles, unlike Luke--or should I say, Jesus?” Her joke doesn’t land. “So we’re going minimalist and I’m gonna need you all to study the John Legend version like the gospel so you won’t be going into blocking blind on Monday.”

“What’s blocking?” Luke whispers to April, and she wonders if they’ve all made a terrible mistake in dragging him into this.

“So with all that said, April, I’m entrusting you with making sure our Jesus gets off-book before dress rehearsals since I know y’all are probably spending some extra time together now,” Ellen says in perhaps the most awkward way of acknowledging the fact that she just witnessed them making out not five minutes ago.

April sighs, knowing all too well that dating a manchild comes with fun perks like this. “Awesome.”

Chapter Text

“God, I still can’t believe how you massacred your hair…” Debbie laments at the breakfast table Monday morning, echoing the same sanctimonious thing she’s been saying all weekend as she reaches over to touch Sterling’s hair, but she leans away from her hand.

“I’m pretty sure you paid our hairdresser $100 to make it not massacred anymore, but thanks for the confidence booster, Deb,” Sterling says, cutting into her Eggo waffles.

“You are not allowed to call your mother that,” Anderson scolds her, looking over his newspaper at her.

“I think your hair looks rad, Sterl,” Blair says, smiling at her in sister solidarity. They aren’t at all back to how they were before, but somehow the experience of mutually freaking out over accidentally cutting Sterling’s hair and having Debbie rush her to a salon like it was an emergency room has made things just a little better between them.

However, Debbie ignores her attempt at steering the conversation away from Sterling’s disrespect. “Sterling, I have just about had it with your attitude. We have tried to be patient with you after everything but there comes a time where you have to start having consequences for your actions again.”

“Speaking of consequences,” Sterling says, feeling bold. “How’s Aunt Mommy doing in jail?”

Debbie sighs. “The DA is working on a plea agreement so that you won’t have to testify.” It clearly hurts her deeply to see how far her twin has fallen, but Sterling can’t feel bad for her—for either of them. It turns out the statute of limitations ran out a few years back for the abortion clinic incident, but kidnapping, child endangerment, and false imprisonment are sure to send Dana away for a long time on their own.

Sterling shoves the rest of her Eggo into her mouth and gets up from the table, her mouth still full as she says to Blair, “C’mon, we need to get going.”

Blair grabs her stuff and follows Sterling to the car.

“Wow, we’re actually riding together today?” she says, sounding surprised as she gets into the passenger side and buckles in before Sterling is tearing out of the driveway.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sterling asks.

“Just that you seem to be avoiding me lately is all.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed Blair, but I’m kinda going through some stuff.”

“I’ve noticed you getting awfully cozy with that tall dark and mysterious new girl,” Blair says, ribbing her. “What’s going on there?”

“Absolutely nothing. Reese and I are just friends. Barely,” Sterling insists. “Plus, I don’t even know if she’s gay.”

“With the way she was looking at your ass in that short skirt on Friday, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say she is,” Blair says, and while Sterling hadn’t actually noticed Reese do that, it doesn’t change how she thinks.

“You can admire the female form too but it doesn’t mean you’d ever date a girl,” Sterling points out.

“Hey, never say never. I have some prime experimentation years ahead of me. Either way, I know who was definitely looking at you in the gay way,” Blair says, smirking.

“If you say April, I’m going to have to hit you,” Sterling warns. That girl has been so infuriatingly awful lately that she’s starting to wonder what she ever saw in her, which makes it all the more confusing that she still wants to kiss her stupid face. It should be against the law for awful girls to still be so pretty.

“You two are ridiculous, you know that? One minute you’re in love with her and googling how two girls have sex with each other and the next you hate her and she’s dating Luke? I know the Aunt Dana thing messed you up, but what happened?” Blair asks, putting her feet up on the dashboard.

“John Stevens got out of jail, that’s what happened,” Sterling replies bluntly. “April doesn’t want to risk him finding out she’s gay and honestly, I don’t want to risk him telling her and everyone else that we’re bounty hunters, either,” she explains.

“We were bounty hunters. Now I’m just a froyo shop cashier who takes lip from customers daily because we are like always running out of double chocolate and that’s apparently my fault? You really need to come back to work, by the way,” Blair rants.

“So I can get berated by customers for minimum wage instead?” Sterling asks, but in truth, losing the one thing that made her feel like a badass is just another thing on top of all the bad things that have happened to her.

“They won’t yell at you like they yell at me. You just have a very kind face,” Blair says, then adds, “Well, you know, when you’re not being a jerk and ignoring your adoring sister.”

“Shut up, I haven’t been ignoring you,” Sterling denies it, though she knows this to be entirely true. She rode home from school with a relative stranger on Thursday just to avoid a conversation like this with Blair.

“You have, too. And I have to say, I’m really offended. Just because we weren’t wombmates-”

“-Oh my god, we weren’t wombmates,” Sterling interrupts, not able to help herself with that setup.

Blair rolls her eyes. “Just because we weren’t birthed by the same woman doesn’t mean we aren’t twins. For one, did you know that because Mom and Dana are identical twins and because Dad fathered both of us, we are still biologically full siblings? Wild, right? And we were born on the same day, so like actually, nothing has changed except for what oven you came out of.”

“Yeah, and I came from a dirty oven in a bakery on crazy street. I think that’s kind of an important distinction to make.” Sterling says, pulling into the school parking lot and taking the spot reserved for the junior class vice president because Lord knows April doesn’t have a car.

“That doesn’t matter at all,” Blair insists as Sterling parks the car. “Hey, can I have the keys? I’m not feeling super hot this morning so I want to be able to have a clean getaway if I need it.”

Sterling sighs and hands over the keys to Blair from the ignition.

They get out of the car and walk into the school for their shared first period class, where today they’ll be discussing Emily Dickinson’s poems. Having watched every episode of the show on Apple+, Sterling is actually quite excited for this, if only because there is something amusing about them being taught about a very gay woman in their very Christian English class. They weren’t even allowed to read Frankenstein for fear of it going against God, for Pete’s sake!

The class discussion picks up from where they left off on Friday, talking about “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.” Sterling can’t deny that it’s a beautiful poem, that much is true. The concept of hope being like a singing bird in your soul, never asking anything of you, but able to be brought down by only the harshest of’s a great metaphor. But in reading her borrowed copy of the complete poems of Emily Dickinson for homework over the weekend, Sterling kept coming back to one in particular over and over again.


I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you — Nobody — Too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! They’d banish us — you know!


How dreary — to be — Somebody!

How public — like a Frog —

To tell one’s name — the livelong June —

To an admiring Bog!


There’s something so beautiful in the concept of being yourself while cast out from the rest of society, only to find a like-minded individual, all while everyone else in the world is obsessed with appearances and being known. It’s an ever-relevant observation of the society they live in, that’s for sure, but Sterling can’t help but relate to the whole being Nobody and yet kind of liking it aspect. If there was ever a benefit of the absolute mess her life has become, it’s that people have stopped expecting so much from her and have just left her alone. Well, everyone except a single person, who lately is the only one who seems to understand her.

Reese Ryan is an enigma, that’s for sure. She claims to not want or need attachments, and yet every time Sterling has spent any period of time with her, she can’t help but feel like she’s with a kindred spirit reaching out for a connection. She’s who Sterling is thinking about when the bell rings for the end of first period and they all file out into the hallway.

Out there, Sterling is greeted by April and Luke kissing. It’s the first time she’s witnessed such a sight without it being an obvious ploy for jealousy on April’s part. No, this is just her two exes sucking face for God knows what reason, but Sterling would put real money on it being something to do with April trying to make a lasting heterosexual impression on their peers for popularity. Or as a cover for the objectively gay things she tends to say and do that Sterling didn’t notice before she knew, but then, she never suspected herself of being into girls either.

She keeps walking, hoping they won’t notice her, but obviously, she’s not that lucky.

“Oh, hey, Sterl,” Luke calls after her, and she groans as she turns around and the two of them approach her, walking hand-in-hand. “You said you had fun making those flyers for Mr. Koontz’s memorial thing, right?” he asks like someone wanting a favor.

“Yeah, I guess so. Why?” Sterling asks cautiously, avoiding eye contact with April--in fact, she’s just gonna go ahead and try to ignore she’s part of this conversation at all, let alone holding hands with Luke. But of course, April isn’t about to let that happen.

“As I’m sure you’re aware, Luke and I have been cast as the leads in our winter production of Jesus Christ Superstar,” she says with a smug look on her face. “Now, due to arts budget cuts, we can no longer afford any kind of publicity, which is bad for us since our stage rights for the show are to be paid off with ticket sales. However, since you’re no longer Fellowship Leader, I thought you might like the opportunity to pad your college apps by making the show’s flyers and programs and in return, we’ll give you full credit as the show’s publicity director. What do you say?”

Sterling wants to tell April to take her publicity director credit and shove it where the sun don’t shine, but in a truly diabolical move, April has managed to word her offer in a way as to make it sound like it’s her doing Sterling a favor, rather than Sterling providing free labor for their stupid musical. “Let me get back to you on that,” she says through her teeth, and can see the silent fury behind April’s eyes before she turns to walk away to her gym class, meeting Reese at the door to the locker room before either of them can go in.

“Hey, Sterling Silver. What’s got your panties in a twist?” she asks, noticing that Sterling looks bothered.

“Do you wanna skip school with me?” Sterling asks impulsively, realizing that what she wants right now more than anything is to not be here.

Reese looks around for any teachers before stepping forward and speaking in a more hushed tone. “I like the way you think. How do you wanna play it?”

“Can we just bail?” Sterling asks, pointing to the door.

“Are you concerned about the school calling home to your parents?” Reese asks.

“Not really,” Sterling admits, knowing that there’s no way they can really punish her that would suck any more than going to three classes with April today.

Reese shrugs. “Well okay, then. Wanna go to the mall?” she gets out her ridiculous keyring and shakes it for emphasis.

“Heck yeah, I wanna go to the mall,” Sterling says, practically skipping after Reese out to the parking lot, already envisioning an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and an ungodly amount of time browsing Barnes & Noble without buying anything.

There’s something so exhilarating about being truant in a mostly empty mall on a Monday morning. The only other people around are retirees and fellow juvenile delinquents, but Sterling feels so alive as she walks with Reese, gnawing on the last few bites of her pretzel, which somehow tastes better during school hours. It’s totally worth being absolutely reamed by her parents when she gets home later. If she ever goes home--if she can survive being kidnapped by her psycho Aunt Mommy, she’s pretty sure she could handle living on her own. Bowser does it.

“So what do you wanna do? We can catch a flick at the theater, or we can go to the weird Christian gift shop and find the weirdest decorative wall sign, or, amazing idea, we could go to the trampoline park and just destroy all those little homeschooled kids at jump basketball,” Reese asks, and she may as well have a halo of light surrounding her.

“All of it,” Sterling says, sounding like a kid in a toy store. “I want to do all of it.” For the first time since she had her world shattered, she feels a sense of wonder again. This is truly going to be one of the best days of her life. She grabs Reese by the hand and practically drags her to the escalator and up to the movie theater. “Can we get two tickets to…” she says to the girl working at the ticket booth, looking up at the red-on-black showtimes for movies.

“Spontaneous at 10:00,” Reese answers for her, and Sterling nods and hands over her ‘for emergencies’ credit card. They get their tickets and after handing them to the person working the front, go up to the snack stand. “You’re gonna like this one. It’s a high school rom-com and the kids like, explode,” Reese explains, and Sterling isn’t sure what about that Reese thinks she’ll love more, but she’s certainly intrigued.

“One large popcorn with so much butter,” Sterling orders for them. “And two medium drinks. One regular Coke, and…”

“Two regular Cokes,” Reese says, holding up two fingers. This time it’s her who reaches into her pocket and gets a $20 out of her wallet.

Sterling supposes it’s smart to use untraceable currency when they’re doing something that’s technically illegal, but she’s not seasoned in truancy. She follows Reese to their theater, which is one of the smaller ones reserved for the obscure non-blockbusters. “So they really blow up?” she asks, a little horrified as Reese smiles and nods when they take their seats. “Okay…” Sterling says, making herself comfortable. As the trailers start, she reaches for a handful of popcorn just as Reese does the same, their buttery hands brushing.

“Sorry,” they say in unison, and Sterling thinks that maybe she can see Reese blush in the light of the movie screen.

“Silver, I’m open!” Reese yells from below the basket, holding off her defender--a kid who looks to be about 9--by placing her hand on his forehead. Sterling chucks the basketball at the hoop and Reese jumps on the trampoline, getting high enough to dunk the ball into the hoop. “Whooo!” she says, hanging from the basket a moment before dropping down and almost landing on Sterling. “That’s game, kiddos,” she tells the kids who all joined their 3-on-3 game, and they all skedaddle off to the other parts of the trampoline park.

“Nice job, Spoon. My sister could never make the alley-oop shot,” Sterling says in admiration, panting to catch her breath. Those homeschooled kids actually put up a bit of a fight.

“It’s all in the timing,” Reese says, shrugging modestly as they leave the trampoline area, removing their special jumping socks and putting their shoes back on while using each other to balance instead of just sitting down on a bench. They return the socks to the counter and head back out to the mall. “You okay? You’re lookin’ a little red there.”

Sterling laughs. “Yeah, Blair’s just the more athletic one of the two of us,” she says, running her hand through her sweaty hair.

“Oh hey, I’ve been meaning to mention,” Reese says, pointing at her. “Love that bisexual bob you’ve been sporting.”

Sterling feels her blood run cold at the B word. “W-what? Who...did Blair tell you that? Because I-” she stammers, horrified at the idea of people somehow knowing about her without her say so.

“What?” Reese says, surprised, then lowers her voice. “Oh shit, wait, are you actually bi? Because I was just talking about your new ‘do.”

Sterling makes a very poor attempt at shrugging her freakout off as she scoffs. “Oh yeah, my hair, duh.”

Reese comes in closer. “Dude seriously, if you’re bi, I’m not gonna judge you. I mean, in theory, I’m bi myself...but then can I really see myself with a dude forever? Fuck no. So like, maybe my bare minimum attraction to men is just comp het...I don’t really know. But my point is, if you’re a member of the alphabet club, I am the last person who’s gonna judge you.” She may as well have just been speaking in a foreign tongue.

“Uh, what?” Sterling asks, now too confused to be afraid.

Reese rolls her eyes and points to herself in the chest. “Me. Me, Reese, gay,” she says like she’s Jane communicating with Tarzan, then points to Sterling. “You. You, Sterling…”

Sterling supposes there’s no harm in telling her now. She sighs and says more quietly, “Me, Sterling, like boys and girls.”

“Was that so hard?” Reese asks, then continues walking in the direction of the Christian gift shop where Sterling always gets something for Mother for Christmas. “Okay, so you’re bi. That actually explains a lot.”

“Whoa, I never said that,” Sterling corrects her. “I mean, I like boys and girls, sure, but I don’t feel comfortable putting a hard label on it or anything yet. I mean, bisexual is so…”

“Accurate? Silver, just because it has the word ‘sex’ in it doesn’t mean it’s a dirty word,” Reese says as she strolls into the Christian store, perking up the eyebrows of the old woman working the cash register.

“I know that,” Sterling whispers, following Reese to the back of the store where the decorative signs are. “I’m just nervous about putting a label on myself, especially if I don’t really have to.”

“That’s fair,” Reese says, seeming to accept this, then holds up a sign that reads, ‘Fear ends where faith begins. ’ “What the fuck does that even mean?” she asks, putting it back on the shelf.

“It means you have nothing to fear with God on your side,” Sterling explains, the Fellowship Leader really jumping out. At Reese’s raised eyebrow, she redirects her attention. “Oh man, look at this one,” she says, holding up a sign that reads, ‘Skip Rope, Not Church.’

Reese laughs. “Oh, my mom would’ve loved that,” she says, pulling it off the shelf and taking it up to the cash register to be rung up. She pays in cash for the sign that is apparently $40 and Sterling wonders just how much pocket money this girl is given to buy something she thinks is stupid like it’s nothing. Thankfully, Reese seems to notice Sterling’s confusion as they leave the store. “My uh, my mom really liked to make fun of weird Baptist things,” she admits, gesturing with the sign in its plastic bag (that also has a bible verse printed on it).

“Liked?” Sterling asks, thinking she knows where this is going. “Also, we literally go to a Baptist school.”

“Yeah, she died of cancer a few years back,” Reese admits, her cool demeanor breaking for just a second or two. “And my dad sent me to a Baptist school because Catholic school options are a little limited in the south and because nuns freak me out.”

“Why would nuns freak you out?” Sterling asks, honestly not having much experience at all with them, aside from the one played by Julie Andrews...or April Stevens one time.

“Have you met a nun?” Reese asks with what seems like no intention to elaborate. “Anyway, I like to get something like this from every place we move. In a way, it feels like my mom’s still along for the ride, you know?”

“That’s really sweet, actually,” Sterling says, honestly not minding that it involves Reese’s late mother making fun of her faith. In fact, Reese’s moment of opening up to her is making her feel more inclined to share, too. “My mom lied about adopting me until like two weeks ago.”

“Yeesh,” Reese says, sucking air in through gritted teeth. “No wonder you’re so messed up. My dad’s kind of a sumbitch but at least I’m pretty sure he’s never lied about something like that. Or about anything, really.”

“What’s it like moving around with him all the time?” Sterling asks, thinking about the fact that she’s barely left Georgia, let alone lived outside of it.

“It kinda blows, if I’m being honest,” Reese says bluntly. “I can’t really like anything too much or I’ll be sad when I leave, and I can basically forget about actually graduating high school, what with the different curriculums everywhere I go. That’s why I plan on just getting my GED at the end of the year.”

“That would explain why you were so willing to skip school with me today,” Sterling notes.

“Yeah, I guess it would. Honestly, at this point, I only go to school at all for the experience, I guess? It’s the last chance I have to feel like a normal kid, and boy do I love to witness some of that top shelf drama.” Reese rubs her hands together diabolically and Sterling can’t help but laugh. Everything Reese has told her about her life has ranged from troubling to downright sad, but she’s still managing to live her life how she wants to, and Sterling only wishes she could be that carefree.

“So what’s the plan after you get your GED?” Sterling asks.

Reese shrugs. “I don’t really know yet. I think I might travel around a bit, this time on my own accord. After that...I dunno. Maybe I’ll open a food truck or something?”

Sterling chuckles. “You don’t seem like the master chef type,” she observes.

“Well, that’s why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, Silver. Both of my parents were military and I’m not a fan of creamed chipped beef so I either had to figure out how to cook, or I would have probably starved. Let me just say, I make the best grilled cheese you’ve never had,” Reese explains as they start to walk past Bath & Body Works. She stops to breathe in deeply before they move on.

“You’ll have to make me one sometime,” Sterling says, feeling her heart rate increase.

“I think that can be arranged,” Reese says, smirking. “C’mon, I wanna stop at one more store, and then we should head to my place.” She takes Sterling by the hand and leads her off to a store that isn’t completely unexpected.

Reese lives in a house on the army base. There’s not much about it that distinguishes it from the others that surround it, but Sterling can imagine that they aren’t all full of half-unpacked moving boxes.

“So, how come your dad sent you to Willingham of all places?” Sterling asks. “I mean, you live kinda far from there.” She looks at one of the few wall-hangings in the whole house—a family picture of Reese when she must have been about 10, standing in front of her parents who look like two perfect halves of her. Her mother was a beautiful blonde woman who had a few inches of height on her husband, and the smirk she was giving the camera is one Sterling has seen more than once on Reese’s only slightly different face.

Reese shrugs. “You guys get good reviews online. And it’s in a nice area.”

That makes perfect sense to Sterling. One of the deciding factors for where her family lives now was the fact that the house they lived in until Sterling and Blair were 7 was too far from Willingham and its feeder schools. “So your dad’s a military detective. Was there like a murder here or something?” Sterling asks, following Reese into the kitchen.

Reese scoffs. “Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” She opens the fridge and pulls out two bottles of SoBe orange carrot—the rarest of all SoBe flavors—and Sterling can’t help but wonder who is this girl as Reese tosses her one across the kitchen island. “So do you consider yourself more of an Xbox or a PlayStation girl?” Reese asks, leading the way upstairs now.

“Uhhh...we have a Switch?” Sterling says, never having been into hardcore video games enough to mind her parents only ever buying them Nintendo. Which is fine considering she would be fine with only playing Animal Crossing for the rest of her life.

Reese nods. “Makes sense. How’s your Smash game?”

Sterling shrugs modestly. “I’m alright.”

Reese smiles and they head into the first bedroom at the top of the stairs, which, like the downstairs, is full of boxes, but based solely on the gaming setup and the twin bed with a Stranger Things comforter, Sterling can only assume this is Reese’s room. That or her dad is just really cool.

“So now that we’re alone, I gotta ask,” Reese says, going to boot up her Switch but stopping and turning around. “How come you don’t want to label yourself?”

Sterling shrugs, having not expected this to come up again, but she really should have. “I don’t know. I just worry about labeling myself the wrong thing, I guess. I mean, I’ve only ever been attracted to one girl and I guess I sometimes wonder if that was more of an exception than the rule.”

Reese groans as she sits on the edge of her bed. “Oh god, please tell me it wasn’t the little Trump Youth from our bio class.”

“That’s the one,” Sterling admits. “In my defense, she isn’t always so-”

“Fuckin’ awful?” Reese says, eyebrow raised. “Look man, I won’t judge you but as far as straight girl crushes go, that level.”

Sterling nods, because as much as she kind of hates April right now, she isn’t in the business of outing her to someone who isn’t Blair. “Yeah, I know, right?” she says in a way that she’s sure is very unconvincing, but Reese doesn’t make note of it. “Anyway, I guess I just haven’t given it much thought beyond my very brief feelings for her.”

“Okay I’ll make it easy for you,” Reese says. “Miss Honey from Matilda, swipe left or right?”

Sterling chuckles. “Right.”

Reese crosses her arms. “Okay, well, see, only a member of the LGBTQ would say that. Even Mara Wilson.”

Sterling guesses that makes sense. “Okay, so yeah, maybe I’m just into girls in general.”

“I kinda thought so, but even so, I’m glad you admitted that, or stealing this for you from Hot Topic would have been really awkward,” Reese says, then pulls something out of her jeans pocket. She holds it out in her hand and Sterling sees that it’s a button with a pink, purple, and blue flag on it.

Sterling knows theft should be a no-no for her, a former enforcer of the law, but she can’t help but find it endearing as she takes it and puts it in her backpack. “Thank you. That was actually really thoughtful.”

“You’re welcome,” Reese says, then a silence falls over them as something seems to shift in the air. “Okay, so like, I mean this with absolutely zero strings attached, but do you wanna make out?”

The question takes Sterling by surprise almost as much as her response as she shrugs. “Yeah, okay.”


Word’s fully gotten around the school that Sterling has skipped with that Reese Ryan person by the time seventh period Bible class rolls around and April is fuming. Her parents pay upwards of $20,000 a year tuition to go to this school, and yet delinquents like that can just shirk their responsibilities without even caring about consequences or the fact that truancy is illegal for the parents in the state of Georgia. And absolutely nothing is helped by the fact that Luke can’t for the life of him seem to stop touching her. She gets that he’s her boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a personal bubble.

“Hey, are you okay?” Luke asks, whispering very close to her ear, his hand going to her leg in a way that she thinks is supposed to be comforting, but it’s anything but. It’s...weirdly heavy and warm and very close to places she would rather never have him go near.

“Mhm,” she lies, nodding, and tries to ignore the fact that the position of his Shrek hand is actually giving her goosebumps--and not the fun kind. She not so subtly takes it in her own just to get them into a slightly less intimate position, and it thankfully doesn’t have to last very long, as the school bell rings a few minutes later.

“Okay, y’all, I’ll see you tomorrow. Make sure you get your reading done,” Ellen dismisses them, but her eyes then find all the kids in the musical, which make up about half of the class. “Oh, except all my little thespians. I’ll see y’all in rehearsal in about...oh, five minutes,” she says, excited, and April supposes she has reason to be. This is, after all, their first official rehearsal.

“You ready to perform miracles?” April asks Luke, waggling her eyebrows and hoping desperately he gets her joke, which he thankfully does as he laughs.

“Oh, I get it, because I’m Jesus,” he says, stating the obvious and smiling that dumb smile that April’s sure everyone but her goes crazy for.

“Yep, that was the joke,” April says, gathering her stuff and heading out to the hallway, where Luke insists on holding her hand again. “So did you study your songs over the weekend?”

“Yeah, my mom actually yelled at me to turn it off last night. I’m John Legend, right?” Luke asks, a smile indicating he is, thankfully, the one joking this time.

“Yes, and I am Sara Bareilles,” April says, nodding once. “So are your parents excited about you getting the lead?”

Luke shrugs. “They’re a little confused, to be honest, but they say they like this more than the band, so that’s...something, I guess. I think it helps that I’m Jesus. My mom is a little worried about the crucifixion, though.”

“Well, tell her not to worry. I’ll make sure they’re gentle with those nails,” April says, holding a completely straight face, but at Luke’s look of abject horror, she adds, “I need you to understand that I am joking and that we aren’t actually going to crucify you. It’s an insurance issue and a logistical nightmare.”

Luke laughs with her now, looking relieved. “Oh yeah, I totally got that.” He did not. But April isn’t dating him for his intelligence, or lack thereof...actually, one could argue she is dating him precisely because of that. “It’s too bad we can’t get Sterl to help us promote the show, though.”

April tries not to be bothered by Luke so very obviously missing Sterling, as that would be highly hypocritical of her, but she can’t help it. “You seem to miss her an awful lot for someone you’re supposedly over,” she says pointedly, perhaps projecting a bit.

Luke shrugs. “Well yeah, she’s my friend and she seems to be going through a lot.”

April stops and turns to face him, reaching to put her hand on his shoulder. “Babe, I admire the fact that you want to help the downtrodden. It’s actually very Christ-like of you, J.C.,” she smirks at her own reference. “But there reaches a point where you have to let a person sink or swim, and if Sterling is more inclined to skip school with the new girl instead of helping us with this wholesome production of the tale of our lord and savior’s last days...well, that’s on her.”

Luke nods in agreement, though he doesn’t seem happy about it. “You’re right.”

“I know I’m right,” April says, then gets on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. “I’ll meet you at rehearsal. I just have to make a couple stops first.”

Luke seems confused by this but continues on to the auditorium anyway as April takes off her backpack to get the two typed out letters of resignation.

Thankfully, nobody is present at the meeting place for the Straight-Straight Alliance, since those meetings are on Tuesday mornings, so she’s able to slip that one into their inbox without incident, but the same unfortunately can’t be said for the Young Republicans, who meet on Monday afternoons in the Fellowship room.

“Thank Christ you’re here,” her co-chair, a boy big enough to give Luke a run for his money named Joey says, jogging up to her in a MAGA hat. “Word is Stacey Abrams has been out canvassing hard and we need to get a phone bank together pronto or we might have a blue Georgia on our hands thanks to low-information voters.”

April rolls her eyes. “Joey, are you even listening to yourself? This is Georgia. The day we turn blue is the day my dad dresses in drag and does the hula,” April says to assuage his fears, though any one of those things would truly be a sight to behold. “Anyway, this is kind of a hard decision, and I recognize that the timing is bad, but…” April hands him her letter.

Joey’s eyes quickly skim over the first few sentences of the letter as his face starts to turn crimson. “No. No, I don’t accept this,” he says, trying to hand it back to her, but April crosses her arms.

“I’m sorry, Joe but with the school musical, being Fellowship Leader and Junior Class VP, and the fact that I’m now in a committed relationship with Luke Creswell, I just don’t think I have the time this group deserves of me anymore,” April says, quoting her own letter.

“But we’re a month out from the election! You can’t abandon us now! Not with all the work you do when it comes to female voters!” Joey says, all but stamping his feet with the tantrum he’s now throwing. 

April puts her hands up in front of herself. “I’m sorry, but my hands are tied. If you guys need any donations, I’m sure my dad would be more than happy to help, but I have to do what’s best for my mental health right now.”

Joey glowers at her. “You’ve had a change of heart. The snowflakes got to you, didn’t they?”

April can’t deny that a very large part of her resignation indeed has to do with her fundamental disagreements with some major parts of the party’s platform, but she’s not about to give this manbaby that satisfaction. “I have to get to musical rehearsal now,” she says calmly. “I hope to see you all attend.” She turns to make her leave as Joey scoffs.

“Typical female. Willing to throw all your morals out the window for some dick.”

April sees red and the fact that she doesn’t turn back around with the sole intent to rip this boy’s head off is a testament to her truly miraculous level of self-control. “For future reference, women don’t like to be referred to like that. Just something you might wanna jot down for when you’re phone banking.” As she leaves the Fellowship room and heads back down the hall to the auditorium, April has trouble feeling proud of herself. Such a degrading comment shouldn’t get to her when she knows damn well it isn’t true, but her conscience is telling her that not only was she just served something that she had no problem dishing out to Sterling a month ago, but that the truth of what she is doing with Luke is actually far worse.

By the time Hannah B. drops April off at her house, it’s starting to get dark, and the busy day is finally hitting her as she walks through the door. “Mama, Daddy, I’m home,” she yells to announce her arrival. She expects her usual greeting from her mom but is instead met with the sound of hard and heavy footsteps on the hardwood as her dad bounds into the room.

“There she is!” John says excitedly, holding out his arms for a hug, which April has no choice but to give him. “Now why in the world did nobody tell me?” he asks, holding her just a little too tight.

“Tell you what?” April asks, wondering if he found out about her being cast in the musical.

“Oh, I dunno,” John says, releasing her from the hug but leaving his hands on her arms. “That you’re dating the captain of the golf team, maybe?” he seems surprisingly happy about something that April knows he would have liked to have been preemptively informed about. But then, she supposes nabbing someone he deems as high pedigree would be cause for celebration. “I saw your pictures.”

April nods, remembering that this was indeed the plan. “Right, yeah, my pictures,” she says, walking with him to the kitchen, where her mom is busy preparing dinner.

“Do all kids do those weird mishmash names now? Luke-er-il. How on Earth did you come up with that?” he asks, scoffing amusedly and getting two styrofoam Chick-Fil-A cups from the kitchen island, handing her one. “But what the heck? I think we gotta toast to you having your very first boyfriend.” He taps his cup to April’s and they both suck on their straws while April hums excitedly when she tastes the strawberry goodness.

“John, you know those things aren’t good for her,” Mary chastises them both as she gets a casserole dish into the oven. “Straight to the thighs,” she says pointedly, and suddenly the milkshake doesn’t taste quite as good with that sprinkle of body shaming added into it.

April puts her cup down on the counter. “Oh, Daddy,” she says, realizing she still hasn’t bragged to him about the thing she’s most excited about. “Did Mama tell you I got the lead in the school musical?”

“Oh, you’re doing another one of those?” John asks, less than enthused. He sucks on the straw of his peach milkshake, walking off in the direction of the den where an episode of Yellowstone is paused. He sits down on the couch and pats the spot next to him for April to sit.

She sighs and does what’s asked of her, resting her head on her dad’s shoulder when he puts his arm around her to pull her in closer. “I thought you would be excited about me getting the lead,” April says, doing nothing to hide her disappointment at his reaction.

“I know, Babygirl. I’m just worried about you spreading yourself too thin with the stuff that really matters, like Fellowship and the Young Republicans,” John says, and definitely feels when April goes stiff in his arms. “What?”

“About that,” April says nervously. “I kinda had to downsize my extracurriculars roster to make room for the musical, so I kinda had to...resign from the Young Republicans. And the Straight-Straight Alliance.”

“You mean you quit? You quit two perfectly good clubs for some musical? How the Hell is that going to look on your college applications, April?” John says, pulling away from her and looking absolutely appalled. “I swear, if this is all that boy’s doing, imma have to get out my twelve-gauge the next time I see him.”

“No, Daddy, this isn’t Luke’s fault. I just have been feeling a little overwhelmed lately, and performing is kind of my happy place, and-”

“And you’re putting singing and dancing before actually important things,” John says coldly, then scoffs. “This is all your mother’s fault. “

April knows there’s no more reason for her to be in here. Her dad has made his utter disappointment at her objectively huge achievement known, and now he has returned to watching Kevin Costner terrorize ranch hands. She gets up from the couch and heads up to her room to change out of her school uniform for dinner, lounging on her bed and messing around on her phone until her mom calls her down.

April 👸🏻💃🏻: Hey Z, betcha can’t guess how many lines I’ve already memorized.

Ezekiel 🙌: I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess the entirety of the first act? You’re crazy like that.

April 👸🏻💃🏻: Haha close but I still think I’m gonna be on track to being off-book before Sadie Hawkins.

Ezekiel 🙌: Showoff. I bet you Luke hasn’t even cracked open his script.

April 👸🏻💃🏻: Yeah, probably not. But I’m not dating him for his brains if you get my meaning. 😜

Ezekiel 🙌: I get it but that does not mean I understand it.

Ezekiel 🙌: Homeboy almost fell off the stage at rehearsal today.

April 👸🏻💃🏻: 🤷🏻‍♀️ What can I say? The heart wants what it wants.

Ezekiel 🙌: I never took you for a morosexual, but it all makes sense.

After some furious googling, April actually laughs at that text.

April 👸🏻💃🏻: That’s me. Morons are my Kryptonite.

Ezekiel 🙌: God your babies are gonna be so dumb.

April chuckles but figures it’s best to just leave their conversation at that. She moves over to Instagram and after much contemplation, goes to Sterling’s page. There isn’t anything new, so against her better judgment, she searches Blair’s page...and finds out she’s blocked. She’s just about to log out and log in to her gay Finsta for access, but she gets a text from her mom.

Mom 👩‍👧: Come downstairs and help me set the table please

April sighs and gets up from her bed, passing by Sgt. Bilko, who meows at her on his way into her room. “Bilky, you better not get hair all over my pillow again,” she gives him a stern warning, pointing at him, but he pays her no mind and jumps up onto her bed, making himself comfortable on her pillow. “You’re lucky you’re so dang cute, you little fluffball,” she says, unable to stay mad at him, and heads downstairs.

One of the few downsides to being an only child, as well as a daughter, means that almost any chores that don’t fall on her mother or the landscaping guy fall on her, and menial tasks like setting the table and taking out the garbage are hers--because god forbid her dad lift a finger to help with anything around the house.

“So what are we having?” April asks as she gets three plates and three sets of silverware from the cabinets and drawers.

“I’m trying out a new Magnolia recipe,” Mary says, pointing to the opened Joanna Gaines cookbook.

“How exciting,” April says, somewhat sarcastically, though she knows it’ll probably be good. She gets to work setting the table and returns to the kitchen to help her mom with the salad.

“April, what did I tell you about telling your father about your relationship?” Mary asks after a few moments of silence, save for April using the wooden salad hands to get the dressing evenly distributed.

“To do it?” April says sheepishly. “Mom, it’s so weird that I would even have to tell him. Nobody else my age shares everything about their relationships with their parents.”

“Yes, April, but you aren’t a little tramp like Blair Wesley or the Sharp girl,” Mary says just as the oven goes off and she gets her oven mitts that match her apron on. “Daddy just wants to look out for you and make sure you’re associating with the right people.”

“Daddy golfs with Vernon Creswell like...all the time,” April says, needing nothing else to make her point. “Plus, after everything he put the two of us through only a few weeks ago, I hardly think I owe him every detail about my life.”

“You do because he’s your father and he pays for the roof over your head, and the private school you go to, and that cable sweater you’re wearing...adorable, by the way,” Mary says, distracted from her scolding.

“You think so?” April asks, pulling at the shoulder. “Ralph Lauren. Ezekiel said it makes me look like Chris Evans in Knives Out.” Talking about the $150 sweater she got at Nordstrom is a lot easier than talking about being treated like chattel.

“You look great in it, but as I said, your father deserves some respect from us for all he does, so can you just...humor him when it comes to your whole boyfriend situation? Please?” Mary all but begs.

April sighs. “Fine.” She takes the salad into the dining room and puts it in the middle of the table with her mom following behind with the casserole. “Daddy, dinner!” she shouts, knowing her parents would prefer if she actually went and fetched him, but she’s still upset about his reaction to her getting the fricking lead in the school musical.

She and Mary sit down at the table, Mary assembling a plate for John before she makes one of her own. “So Sweetie, aside from the musical and Luke, how was school today?”

April shrugs, loading up on salad. “There was a pop quiz in Spanish that I’m pretty sure I nailed.”

“Ooh, buen trabajo, Abril!” Mary congratulates her.

“Gracias, Madre. Tu hija es muy inteligente en español,” April says proudly as her dad comes into the dining room with a scowl on his face.

“Dear Lord, can we please speak English at the dinner table? This is America,” he says, sitting at the head of the table and taking a look at his plate. “What is this?”

“Chicken florentine. I got the recipe from the woman from Fixer Upper,” Mary says, trying not to be offended by John’s lack of enthusiasm.

“Great,” he says flatly, picking up his knife and cutting into it anyway. “So Padawan, what exactly is the musical you were willing to quit two good conservative clubs over?”

“You quit two of your clubs?” Mary asks, surprised.

“Damn skippy she did. Young Republicans and the Straight-Straight Alliance!” John says, still outraged. “What did Allen’s boy say about you quitting?”

“Joey wasn’t too happy about it, that’s for sure…” April says quietly. “But we’re doing Jesus Christ Superstar. I’m Mary Magdalene.”

John drops his knife down onto his plate with a clink. “You’re who now?”

“Mary Magdalene,” April repeats a little louder, but she knows he heard her just fine the first time.

“Well that’s just fuckin’ great, isn’t it?” John says, scoffing. “You quit the Young Republicans to play a biblical whore. What the Hell were you thinking? Do you not see how that would look to the people we know?”

“She’s just the main female character in the musical, John,” Mary says, defending April somewhat.

“And here I thought you loved sex workers,” April mumbles, but it’s apparently just loud enough for John to have heard.

He scrapes his chair loudly across the hardwood as he gets up from his seat, throwing his cloth napkin down on the table. “What did you just say?” 

“Nothing,” April says, looking down at her plate, but John’s not having it as he stomps up to her.

“Look at me,” he says in a low, dangerous voice, but April’s still brave enough to look up at him with defiance in her eyes, which he quickly slaps away and then grabs her by the chin to keep her looking in his eyes. “You don’t fucking speak to me like that, you little bitch. You hear?” His voice is threatening.

April knows very well the answer he’s expecting. “Yes, Sir,” she says, and breathes a sigh of relief when he releases her and goes back to his chair like nothing happened...or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

“So how come nobody told me about April getting a boyfriend? I had to find out from Instagram,” he says, directing his tangential rage to something else as he looks to Mary for answers.

“I figured it was her place to tell you, not mine,” Mary defends herself.

“Yeah, well, she didn’t tell me, did she?” John scoffs.

“I would have told you, but you were gone all weekend,” Mary says, barely containing her own obvious anger to a simmer.

“What the Hell is that supposed to mean, Mary?” John asks.

“You know what it means,” Mary replies, and April really wishes she would just yell at him for once for what an absolute pig he is.

“No, I’m a big dummy and don’t know what it means. Please enlighten me,” John says, gesturing wildly with his hand.

“It’s not appropriate to bring up in front of our daughter.”

“Oh, she’s plenty grown up now; she’s got a boyfriend and everything. I think she can hear exactly what you’re accusing me of!”

“I know where you were , John, but I have no idea who you were with. I just know you weren’t alone, and you sure as Hell weren’t with me.”

“May I please be excused?” April asks quietly, wanting desperately to get out of this situation before it blows up into an inevitable screaming match.

“Yes, Sweetie,” Mary says quietly, and April quickly gets up from the table, leaving her barely-touched dinner behind as she hurries up the stairs and tries not to listen to the ever-increasing volume of their voices and the sound of a plate shattering.

April’s struggling to hold back tears by the time she gets into her room, closing her door and locking it, before taking the additional measure of putting her desk chair under the doorknob. Their muffled arguing doesn’t cease, and before she knows it, she’s turning on her stereo and playing the Jesus Christ Superstar cast recording.

Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to

Problems that upset you, oh.

Don't you know

She’s singing along through her tears now as she gets on her bed and draws her knees up to her chest. “Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.”

Chapter Text

“Hey Mom, are you coming to church this morning?” April asks, standing in the doorway of her parents’ bedroom, already dressed.

The fact that Mary is still in bed with all of the curtains drawn should be answer enough, but John sent her up to try one last time anyway. It looks bad for them to show up to church just the two of them during one of Mary’s periodic episodes, though this one lasting almost an entire week has to be a new record.

“Not feeling up to it today, Sweetheart,” Mary says, sounding despondent, and turns over onto her side.

April sighs and goes into the room, sitting on the edge of the bed and putting her hand on her mom’s back. “Do you want me to bring you home a box from the club? I know you like their cheesy shrimp and grits,” she says enticingly.

“No. That stuff just makes me fat anyway,” Mary grumbles.

“But you haven’t eaten in a few days, so I think you can get a pass there,” April argues, hating seeing her mother like this and hating her dad even more for doing this to her.

Mary sighs. “Just go with your father, April. I’ll be fine.”

There’s no use trying anything else. April knows from experience that these things tend to just play out over time, but she’s still a little nervous returning to her father downstairs alone. “No luck,” she says at his questioning face, which falls into a frown.

“Thank God you didn’t turn out like that. It’s a wonder anything ever gets done around here with her female hysteria,” John says, rolling his eyes and getting the keys for his Cadillac from the hook near the door. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah, I’m ready,” April says, nodding and following him out to the car while struggling to not make any comments about him sounding like a Victorian doctor. Especially when his own actions do nothing but exacerbate her mother’s depressive episodes. She hopes they can keep the conversation to a minimum on the drive to church, but of course, she could never be that lucky. 

“You know, I’ve been giving some thought to the whole musical thing, and...if it really makes you happy, then I give you my blessing,” John says, glancing over at her, seeming to expect some kind of ecstatic response.

“Thanks, I guess,” April says quietly, never having been waiting for his approval in the first place.

“And I also want you to know that I approve of you dating Vernon’s boy, but that I expect him and me to have a talk man-to-man before he takes you out again,” John adds.

“I’m sure that can be arranged.” April is looking out the window, not really all that interested in this topic of conversation.

“Them Wesley girls giving you a hard time at school?” John then asks out of nowhere, and April raises an eyebrow as she looks over at him.

“Not any more than usual…” she says, eyebrow raised. “Why?” Any time her dad weirdly brings up Blair or Sterling (but especially Sterling), the hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention.

John shrugs. “Just wondering.” He turns on the radio to an oldies country station and gives April a look when it’s one of the songs she grew up on singing with him. “It’s our song! You remember when I’d sing this to you? Your mama was pretty useless when it came to takin’ care of you back then.”

No, April doesn’t really remember that time clearly since she was a newborn and her mom had postpartum depression, but her dad has never let her forget all the diapers he changed those first few months of her life. “It’s only Monday, Mr. Mom,” she sings along anyway, to her father’s delight.

The song ends around the same time they get to the church, and never has April been more excited to hear Pastor Booth pontificate. But throughout the hour or so, she finds herself zoning in and out when it comes to actually listening to Pastor Booth’s sermon of the week, especially as it starts to wind down. It doesn’t help matters that Luke keeps completely turning around in his pew to look at her and mouth things like, ‘This is so boring,’ and ‘I think your dad hates me.’ Neither of which April can necessarily disagree with, as she’s sure she saw her dad glare daggers at the boy once when he turned around. Though she should be grateful for Luke since he manages to keep her from trying to sneak a glance past her father at Sterling, who is present in her family’s pew for the first time since the lock-in.

“-For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you,” Pastor Booth finishes quoting what April knows is the pro-life quote of choice, but his sermon veers off into a different direction.

“I’m sure most of us in here have heard that particular psalm a time or two over the years. It’s a quintessential piece of the gospel when it comes to children and the mothers who birth them. But as we are now in the month of October, and with several members of our congregation due to pop in a month or so--that’s nine months after St. Valentine’s Day, right?” Pastor Booth pauses for the laughter that manages to garner from the congregation, but as a Scorpio herself, April can’t help but shudder--especially when her dad nudges her shoulder as if to confirm that was indeed the case with her, and that’s something she doesn’t need to think about. “--I feel it’s necessary to bring up the subject of baptism.”

April sighs and sinks down into her seat, realizing this is going to go on longer than she would like. Against her better judgment, she finally looks over at Sterling, who is staring right back at her. It’s a rare moment when they can be in the same room without the young criminal-in-the-making with the Catholic name being around--a fact that seems to only become more true with each day that has passed since Sterling’s little skip day with her. And, though she knows she shouldn’t really be noticing these things, April can’t help but make note of the fact that Sterling looks particularly good today.

“--And that’s why if you’re expecting a baby within the next few months, be sure to sign up for the Christmas service baptism early because those slots fill up fast.” Pastor Booth finishes, making April think of the home video of her screaming bloody murder when she was dipped in the holy water, only settling down when she was handed off to her godmother, Aunt Franny. Her mom was still pretty despondent then. “Alright, y’all, that’s all I got for you today. So go forth and have an extra mimosa at brunch for me.”

Everyone flows out of the church faster than a Willingham class, but John (and therefore April) stays behind to chat with the Creswells. “So Luke, I hear you and my little April are a thing these days,” he says, and the possessiveness is real.

“Uh, yeah-yes. Yes, sir,” Luke says, his voice a bit lower than usual as he straightens his posture.

Lynn Creswell smiles like the Cheshire cat, looking between the two of them excitedly as she gasps, “Honey, why didn’t you tell us?” she asks, grabbing Luke by the shoulder and shaking him as he blushes.

April can’t help but feel a little slighted that her supposed boyfriend didn’t feel the need to share his relationship status with his parents after almost two whole weeks of being together--that’s about four times as long as she was ever with Sterling. She is a catch and if Luke isn’t going to flaunt being with her, then she will. “To be fair to Luke, Mrs. Creswell, I think your son was a little worried about jinxing it, but I think we can say after two weeks on Tuesday that what Luke and I have is already very special.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet!” Lynn gushes and unexpectedly pulls April in for a crushingly tight hug where she whispers threateningly, “Defile my little boy, and I will end you.”

April is not easily frightened, but this southern housewife has her slightly petrified, even if she has absolutely no intention to ‘defile’ Luke--which begs the question of if one even can be defiled more than once. Food for thought for Fellowship, which she makes a mental note of. “So, Mr. and Mrs. Creswell, will you be going to the club for brunch? Daddy and I have a tennis court reserved for noon but y’all would be more than welcome to join us beforehand.”

“Oh, that’s real sweet of you to offer, April, but we gotta go up to Athens to visit Luke’s big brother today,” Vernon declines politely. “But we should definitely all get together soon. John, where is Mary this morning?”

“Oh, you know women and their migraine headaches,” John says, rolling his eyes. “But we look forward to catching up with y’all. And Luke, if you ever wanna join me for a round of golf, you just let me know. April says you’re the captain of your school’s team, after all.”

“Yes, Sir I am,” Luke says, nodding. “That sounds great, Sir.”

April wonders when Luke became a grunt in the Army with that vocabulary. “Well, it was so nice seeing you all. Mrs. Creswell, I feel like it was only yesterday that you were one of the classroom mothers at Bailey Hills Baptist School.”

“Oh, same, but you sure have grown up,” Lynn says, patting April on the shoulder as she and Vernon lead the way out of the church.

“Bye, Babe. I’ll text you,” Luke says and runs after them.

John turns to April with a raised eyebrow. “‘Babe,’ huh?” 

“And that’s match,” April says, throwing down her tennis racket on the court and taking a victory lap around her dad like she’s Serena Williams. Is it overkill? Maybe. But destroying the man is so satisfying.

John seems less than amused. “I really ought to stop letting you win,” he says, going over to pick up April’s racket.

April rolls her eyes. She is certain he stopped ‘letting’ her win at anything a few years ago. “Nobody likes a sore loser, Daddy,” she says, walking with him to the locker rooms. “So uh, what did you think of Luke before?” The question sounds like a pathetic reach for validation, even to April herself, but thankfully her father is willing to indulge her.

“Doesn’t seem like he’s necessarily the brightest bulb in the box, but he seems nice enough. I get along with his daddy well enough,” John says, giving a completely fair assessment. “But I think I need to remind you that the ring on your finger is more important now than ever.”

April instinctively twists the purity ring around her finger at that. “I wouldn’t think of doing anything with Luke before we’re married,” she says the complete truth, save for giving the impression that she would even consider marrying Luke.

“You’re a good girl, Padawan. You need to work on that attitude of yours, but you’re going to make a lucky guy very happy someday.” John wraps his arm around April’s shoulders and pulls her in to kiss her head. “I know I’m hard on you sometimes, but just know it’s because I love you and I know you can do great things.”

Despite herself, April believes him. She believes that everything he does for her is with good intentions, whether it turns out that way or not. And she believes that her Daddy loves her—or at least the version of herself she’s allowed him to see. “I love you, too,” she says, resting her head on his shoulder. “So you’ll come to one of my shows?”

John chuckles. “I will come to one of your shows. You name the date and I will be there.”

“Thanks, Daddy.” With that, they go into their respective locker rooms to change, meeting up again out at the front of the club where John has the valets get their car.

“Here you are, Mr. Stevens,” Miles says as he gets out of the driver’s side and gives John his keys back.

April can’t help but stare a bit. This is her first encounter with Miles the Valet since finding out that not only is he an expert parker of cars, but that he’s not too shabby when it comes to breaking the heart of Blair Wesley, too. Which, she’ll admit, doesn’t seem like it would be too hard since girls like Blair tend to put all their feelings out there like they’re just asking to be devastated by some careless boy. In essence, Blair and girls like her are total sluts when it comes to their feelings. April, thankfully, learned her lesson when it comes to that.

“Miss Stevens,” Miles says, opening her door for her.

“Thank you, Miles,” she says, climbing into the car.

Her dad slips a bill into Miles’ hand and comes around to get in. “I swear to Christ, if that boy scratched my car, there will be Hell to pay,” John says, buckling in and heading home. “Well, I dunno about you, but I had fun today. You got any plans for the rest of it?”

April shrugs. “I have some homework to get done and I was going to practice my lines for the musical.” She doesn’t add that she’ll probably have to add ‘make Sunday dinner’ to her list if her mom still hasn’t snapped out of it by 5, which she’s sure she won’t have. “How about you?”

“Think I might go to the shooting range for a while. All this pressure your Mama’s got me under is really getting to me. You know none of those things she’s accusing me of are true, right?”

April highly doubts that. “Yeah, I know.”

John parks the car just out of the garage and gets out to circle it as he scrutinizes every inch of it, looking for the tiniest knick or scratch in the black paint. “Right there! I fuckin’ knew it!” he says, pointing to a mark that could literally just be a streak of dirt, but April isn’t about to stick around and find out as she goes into the house and is met with screaming.

“You were so stupid!” Mary yells at her wedding album, sitting on the floor of the living room with a glass of red wine. “Everyone told you you shouldn’t do it but you just had to go and marry him anyway because you were so sure you could fix him!” she tilts her head back and finishes her glass of wine, making sure to get every last drop, then goes to pour herself another from the bottle sitting on the coffee table.

“No, Mama, no,” April says, hurrying over and taking the bottle before her mom can get to it. “I think you’ve had enough.”

“You’re damn right I’ve had enough! I’ve had enough of your bastard father and his lies,” Mary slurs, getting to her feet. “I’ve wasted the best years of my life on him! Look how thin I was!” she says, pointing to the wedding album still on the floor.

“I know, Mama. I know,” April says, trying to calm her while also continuing to hold the wine bottle out of her reach. “But you really need to settle down before Daddy comes in here and sees you like this.”

Mary sits down on the couch and buries her head in her hands, curling her fingers into her scalp. “Please never marry someone like him.”

“I won’t,” April promises, setting the wine bottle down and going to all but drag her mom up from the couch. “C’mon. Let’s get you back upstairs,” she says, wanting desperately to prevent any instance of her father screaming at her mother, as that’ll surely set her back another few days.


Sterling is surprised by the fact that she’s actually jumping at the chance to get to Fellowship early Monday morning. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that being grounded for the past week for playing hooky with Reese has led to her only being allowed at home, school, and church. And it turns out that 66.66% of those places are not at all safe when it comes to avoiding her exes. Not that Fellowship is any better in that regard, but at least she won’t be nagged by Debbie for the umpteenth time about how skipping school with ‘that girl’ was bad. Because obviously it was, or she wouldn’t have had so much fun doing it--both their mall activities and the more PG-13 fun they got up to thanks to Reese’s lack of parental supervision.

Kissing her was...not as weird as Sterling had initially thought it would be. Different, that’s for sure--Reese somehow manages to have lips that are more chapped than Luke’s--but while she doesn’t necessarily think she has strong romantic feelings for Reese, it was also not like making out with the debate nerds. She feels like she really knows Reese, and there isn’t anything dishonest about what they’re doing. They’re just two broken people looking for a bit of physical connection with nothing else expected of it.

“Well, look who decided to show up today,” April greets Sterling and Blair as they walk into the Fellowship room. “I’m glad you two are here, as I’m sure you could provide some valuable insight into what we’re going to talk about today.”

Sterling has half a mind to turn right back around and walk out, but Blair grabs her wrist and holds on tight as she leads her to one of the couches.

“You aren’t allowed to leave me here,” Blair says through her teeth, and Sterling supposes she has no choice.

“And now that we’re all here, I think I can get started,” April says, her voice excited, as she looks around with great pride in being the one in charge. “What I want to talk to you all today about is...repentance.” Her expression goes solemn as Sterling rolls her eyes. “Now, I don’t know if all of you are aware, but I was recently cast as Mary Magdalene in our drama department’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar—”

“Literally the whole school knows,” Blair interrupts her. “You bring it up all the time.”

April rolls her eyes. “Anyway, in playing Mary Magdalene, I have come to truly appreciate the way that God can truly forgive and undo any sin, so long as you repent for it. For example, Mary Magdalene was a prostitute who, through her line of work, defiled herself over and over again, but, she was also the closest confidant of our Lord and Savior,” April makes a show of seeming quite moved by this, putting her hand over her heart and sanctimoniously looking up at the room’s high ceilings (with Luke following her gaze as if looking for what she’s seeing). 

“Oh, brother,” Sterling grumbles, and April smiles at her.

“Or, take our dear Luke,” she says, acid dripping from her voice. “Luke, you’ve repented for not saving yourself for marriage, have you not?”

Luke nods. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, I have,” he says awkwardly.

“And so, for that reason, in God’s eyes, you’re essentially as you were before you ever made such a poor decision,” April says pointedly at Sterling, who has officially had enough of this garbage as she feels if she rolls her eyes any harder, they might pop out of her skull.

“So, correct me if I’m wrong here, April,” she says, leaning forward and putting her hands on her knees. “You’re saying that if I tell God that I feel really bad about having sex outside the confines of marriage, as you all are aware that I have done, then I can have my virginity effectively restored?” Sterling scoffs at the notion that anyone is ever really fundamentally changed based on whether they’re been inside someone or had someone else inside of them, but she’s working with the logic April’s thrown into this.

April doesn’t skip a beat at this. “Spiritually? Absolutely. Though, unfortunately, even God can’t unbreak a hymen.”

Sterling clenches her fist at her side like that stupid Arthur meme. “That’s not really how it works anyway,” she says.

“You would know,” April fires back.

“So does your boyfriend!” Sterling says, practically yelling now as the rest of the group watches this whole exchange go down while Luke looks like he would prefer to be invisible.

So naturally, that’s when Ellen arrives, unstrapping a bicycle helmet from under her chin. “Good morning, everyone! Wow, looks like y’all have already gotten into quite a discussion. Don’t feel like you have to stop on my account,” Ellen says, passing all of them to put her helmet in her office before she returns.

“Actually, Ellen, I think we’ve pretty much covered everything,” April says, clearing her throat. “But, as Junior Class Vice President, I do have an announcement about something really fun and exciting before we get into what you have planned for us today if you don’t mind?”

“By all means,” Ellen says, gesturing as if to give April the floor that she already commands.

“Awesome,” April says, then stands up and looks around at all of them before going into what can only be a speech she prepared and memorized beforehand. “If the pumpkin spice lattes weren’t an indication, we are officially in the Halloween season, and I think you all know what that means: the annual Halloween Sadie Hawkins dance is upon us,” April says dramatically. “And this year, I have had the honor of choosing what may very well be the best theme student council has ever come up with. The theme is…” she turns around to her two lackeys to whisper, “Z, give me a drumroll.”

Ezekiel uses two pencils to do a basic drumroll on the top of his binder.

“80s movie characters!”

A few girls who only count as tertiary members of April’s little squad clap excitedly and obediently. 

“Oh my goodness, I already know what I’m going to be,” Tala Jordan says, the gears visibly turning in her head.

“But,” April says loud enough to silence the rumblings from everyone. “Let’s not forget the single most important aspect of every Sadie Hawkins dance. Contrary to the traditional rules of every other kind of dance, ladies, it’s on us to ask the boys to the dance. So allow me to break the ice by saying,” April turns to Luke. “Luke Aaron Creswell, will you go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with me?”

“Uh, yeah?” Luke says as if he’s confused that there was ever a question of this being the case because of course there wasn’t.

Sterling feels nauseous.

“And that is how it’s done. So for those of you without boyfriends, you better get on it because, fun fact, our student body is 55% female. Do the math,” April says almost threateningly, and Sterling can see the genuine panic on a few single freshmen girls’ faces.

“Well, what if someone wanted to help even those odds?” Sterling asks impulsively.

April doesn’t seem to understand what she was implying and frowns. “How do you mean?” she asks, amused.

Sterling is almost taken aback when Blair grabs her by the arm and looks her in the eye, their magical connection seeming to come back all at once for her to say,

“Oh my god, Sterl, you can’t honestly be thinking about doing what I think you’re doing.”

“Coming out? Yeah, I think I am…” Sterling proceeds to sing the first few words of the Diana Ross song, and Blair rolls her eyes.

“Dude, no, you can’t come out in Fellowship! It’s simply not done!”

“I can and I will. But can I just say, I have really missed you?”

“I’ve missed you too! I feel like I’m going insane just having my own thoughts in my head all the time.”

“Saaame. But okay. I’m comin’ out now,”

“I mean,” Sterling says, straightening up her posture and feeling her heart face. “What if a girl asked another girl to Sadie Hawkins?”

Most of the kids gasp as April looks like someone has sucker-punched her in the stomach. “What, like as friends?” she asks nervously.

Sterling smiles and cocks her head to the side as if challenging April to be as brave and badass as she’s being right now. “Nope,” she says, popping the ‘P’ for emphasis, and everyone gasps again just as the school bell rings.

“Darn, and here I was gonna show y’all one of those Veggietales Silly Songs,” Ellen says regretfully as if completely ignoring what just happened. “But have a good day, y’all! I’ll see you in Bible class!”

Sterling puts her backpack on and heads out to the hallway, making a beeline for Reese, who is standing at her locker at the end of it. More than a few Fellowship kids—April included—seem to be following her just to see what she’s about to do, and that’s just as well. She wants this to be seen.

“Hey, Silver. What’s crackalackin?” Reese asks, amusedly taking in Sterling’s whole demeanor which must seem a

Sterling puts her hands on either side of Reese’s face and leans in close enough to whisper. “Please just go with this, okay?”

Reese nods but still squeals in surprise when Sterling kisses her hard on the lips, making it last a good, long while. She wants everyone in the school rumor mill talking about this so she doesn’t have to do it more than once. But when they break apart for air finally and Sterling sees all the cellphones that have been taken out of pockets, she knows that won’t be a problem. But unfortunately for her, the person whose reaction she wanted to see most of all is not willing to give her that satisfaction as April has already turned away and started walking back down the hall.

By the time the lunch bell rings at the end of AP Bio, Sterling is sure word has gotten around to the whole school about her, based solely on the number of people just unabashedly staring at her as she walks down the hall to the cafeteria. But her mind is honestly pretty caught up in deciding if she wants pizza or a burger today when she’s suddenly being pulled aside by April.

“What do you want?” Sterling asks, honestly not having time for this.

“What the Hell was that?” April asks, her voice sounding...the most like herself that it has since Sterling returned to school.

Sterling lowers her voice so nobody else can eavesdrop. “Unlike you, I’m living my truth. And I have to say, it feels so frickin good.”

“Yeah, well, good for you,” April says sarcastically. “But what I mean is, what are you doing with her? Why were you kissing her?”

“I think you are the last person who gets to question who I’m hooking up with,” Sterling says defiantly. “So if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go get some pizza before they run out of Hawaiian. Man, I love pineapple.”

“You’re a monster,” April says, disgusted, but Sterling couldn’t care less.

While Sterling had been so excited to be living her truth, by the end of the day, she’s starting to get uneasy with everyone constantly staring at her. She’s definitely statistically not the first not-straight person at Willingham, but she very well might be the first one to come out by having a gay kiss in front of most of the student body and apparently conversation-worthy.

“Hey, Sterling Wesley,” some senior from the basketball team that she’s never spoken to before in her life says, approaching her from where he’d just been speaking to a pack of his buddies, “You know, if you and the new girl ever feel like experimenting, I’d love to be the meat in that hottie sandwich,” he says, slipping Sterling a slip of folded notebook paper that undoubtedly has his phone number on it, but Sterling doesn’t check before she’s tossing it in the garbage.

“That is disgusting. Does your mother know you talk to women like that?” Sterling asks, and the boy goes beet red as he returns to his wolf pack, who snicker at him. She wishes she could say that’s the end of the catcalling for the day, but she’s still getting comments as she finally makes it out to the quad. It’s like reverse psychology in action: every boy in school knows she likes girls, so that makes them all want her, and it makes her feel dirty. So dirty that she’s not sure she could really bear to look Reese in the eye right now, after the things she’s heard.

Sterling just wants to get home, but Blair is nowhere to be found, so she’s left to wait on the quad until her sister shows her face. But unfortunately, that leaves her like chum in the water for one particular clique of circling sharks, led by a certain queen bee whose face has regained its infuriating smirk...which she supposes makes April a Bee-Shark? A Sharkbee? Honestly, with the look on her face, she just screams, ‘Great White Murder Hornet.’

“Hey, Sterl...” April greets her, drawing out her name, and only that is enough to make the likes of Hannah B., Lorna, and Tala giggle. “I must say, that little display in the hall earlier was...not something I would have expected from you.”

Sterling raises an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

April seems to be thrown off her rhythm for a moment before she collects herself. “Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’m so happy you found a solution for your little problem.”

Sterling knows she’ll regret this. “And what exactly was my problem?”

April chuckles. “Oh, that every boy in school wasn’t enough for you?” 

Sterling bites her lip to stop herself from lashing out and saying something she can never take back. Without saying a word, she turns around and starts walking toward the parking lot. Waiting next to the car for Blair would be better than this.

“Oh, Sterling?” Tala calls after her, and Sterling curses her parents raising her to be cordial.

“Yes?” she asks, turning back around against her better judgment.

“I just want you to know that we’re all praying for you.”

Sterling swallows hard. “Please don’t waste a good prayer on me, ladies. Believe me, I don’t need to be saved from who I am.” She’s proud of herself for being able to come up with such a good and empowering line right on the spot, but then, April is their school debate champion for a reason.

“So I should definitely get you a plaid shirt and some Birkenstocks for your birthday, then?” she asks sassily.

Tala scoffs. “What is that? The dyke starter pack?”

Sterling sees red as she crosses the distance between them and her fist is flying at Tala’s face, connecting right with her nose in a sickening crunch. Her heart is pounding so hard in her ears that she can’t hear the reactions of April and her goons. She just looks down at her still-clenched fist that has blood that is not hers on it. It’s like everything is underwater until suddenly she’s snapped out of her rage by a sharp,

“Sterling Wesley!” Sterling follows the voice and sees that it belongs to Ellen, who looks as furious as she is frightened by the scene she’s happened upon. “Principal’s office, right now,” she says, grabbing Sterling by the arm and dragging her back into the school.

“What in God’s name did you do?” Debbie asks when she’s barely entered Principal Strickland’s office, while Sterling cowers in the chair across from him.

“How the heck does a kid get sent to the principal’s office after school?” Anderson chimes in, walking in after her.

“Mr. and Mrs. Wesley, it’s so good you could get here so quickly,” Strickland says, gesturing for them to take a seat near Sterling. “Now, as I said on the phone, Sterling got into a physical altercation with another student on school grounds, which is against the rules even if the school day has ended. We actually have a zero-tolerance policy.”

“Yeah, well, you also have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, but I don’t see Tala Jordan sitting here,” Sterling says, her arms crossed.

“Tala Jordan isn’t sitting here because you possibly broke her nose,” Principal Strickland says, raising his voice slightly. “And unless you can get any witnesses of said bullying to come forward, then my hands are tied.”

“Yeeeah, something tells me April’s not gonna do that,” Sterling sneers, and the principal glares at her.

“So as it stands,” he continues, “Ms. Johnson here,” he gestures at Ellen, sitting in a chair off to the side of his desk, “Can say definitively that she saw you strike Tala Jordan unprovoked.”

“Excuse me, but I don’t know how well you know our daughter since she’s never been in trouble before, but I can assure you that Sterling would never just attack someone unprovoked. If she says the girl was bullying her, then the girl was bullying her,” Anderson says, raising his voice, and Sterling could honestly hug him right now. Lawyer Daddy to the rescue.

“And I say again, Mr. Wesley, we have no proof of that. But even if Tala Jordan did provoke her, that doesn’t change the fact that we have a zero-tolerance policy for violence, so starting tomorrow, Sterling will be suspended from school grounds for two weeks, and she’ll have to write an apology letter to Tala. My hands are tied.” Strickland doesn’t seem like he really cares all that much about making sure justice is done in this case. In fact, he probably just really wants to go home now that it’s past 4.

“Well that is just the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard,” Debbie pipes up. “I’m not sure if you recall, Jerry, but our daughter already missed over a week of school after she was kidnapped from school property on your watch.”

“It was my watch and I am still so, so sorry about what happened,” Ellen says, her voice breaking a bit. “They’re all supposed to be locked in at the lock-in!”

“Yeah, well, Sterling sure as heck wasn’t, and because of the school’s incompetence, she got snatched by a dangerous criminal,” Anderson says, putting his arm around Sterling and pulling her in close. “And I’ll remind you, Mr. Strickland, that you do not want a lawsuit on your hands because I will take you all through the cleaners.”

The word ‘lawsuit’ seems to have Strickland changing his tune as he puts up his hands. “Whoa, I don’t think we have to take it to such extremes.”

“Then Sterling will not be suspended from school,” Debbie says, pointing her finger threateningly. “I don’t know if you know how much I’ve done for this school’s damn PTA, but you can rest assured the rest of them will have to organize a lot of bake sales to financially recover if you can’t listen to reason here.”

Sterling is in absolute awe of her parents right now. She’s never seen them lay into someone like this before--and on her behalf, no less. She figures it’s best to just let everything play out while saying as little as possible.

“Principal Strickland, I think I may have a compromise since Sterling was taken on my watch?” Ellen says and looks over at Sterling apologetically.

“And what would that be, Ms. Johnson?” Strickland asks.

“Well, we’re arranging the school musical, you see, and I am amazingly short-handed in the backstage department, so what if, under my strict supervision, Sterling acts as my assistant director of the show? Tala Jordan is in the ensemble and Sterling will have plenty of time during rehearsals to make amends with her and April Stevens and anyone else giving her a hard time. The arts are used to reform prisoners all the time, you know,” Ellen says, and everyone in the room, save for Sterling seems quite satisfied with this idea. But everyone else fails to see how being forced into the school auditorium for hours on end, multiple times a week with April is potentially worse than any other punishment Sterling could be given.

“Can I please be suspended?” she asks.

“No!” Debbie and Anderson say in unison.

“Well, I think that would be a great compromise, Ms. Johnson,” Strickland says, ignoring Sterling’s objection entirely.

“Excellent. Then you’ll see Sterling at your first rehearsal,” Debbie says, getting up from her chair and taking Anderson by the arm.

“C’mon, Princess,” Anderson says to Sterling, and the three of them walk out, with Sterling feeling...loved as they all walk to the car. Someone must have already sent word to Blair because the Volt is gone from the mostly empty parking lot.

“You guys didn’t have to do that, you know,” Sterling says, getting into the backseat.

“Of course we did, we’re your parents and like Hell, some bald bastard is about to suspend my baby for defending herself,” Debbie says, buckling herself in. “Just please tell me you were actually being bullied by the little snot.”

“Uh, yeah, you could definitely say that,” Sterling says, and is quiet for the drive home, where Blair has already arrived and gone up to her room. Sterling is about to do the same when her parents stop her.

“May we please ask what the girl said to you to get you so fired up?” Anderson asks--or pleads, more like it. “We know you’ve been going through a lot but the skippin’ school and now a just isn’t like you.”

Sterling’s not sure if she should tell them. Sure, the whole school already knows, but look where that’s gotten her.

“Sterling, please. We just want to understand you again,” Debbie says, reaching out and running a comforting hand through her daughter’s hair. “Tell us what she said.”

Sterling sighs. She supposes she doesn’t exactly have much to lose at this point. Except maybe her parents’ love, right when she is quite enjoying it again. “She called me a very bad word for...a woman who likes women.”

Debbie scoffs. “Well, that’s just ridiculous. Obviously, you’re not-” she stops upon seeing Sterling’s blank face. “Oh.”

Anderson goes to sit on the stairs. “How come you never told us?” he asks, looking up at Sterling, more confused than anything.

“I honestly didn’t know myself until very recently,” Sterling admits. “I still like boys, I just...really like girls too. I’m bisexual.” It’s the first time she’s self-identified as such, but it feels right.

“Does Blair know?” Debbie asks, and Sterling nods. “Well, then I guess what I’m about to say probably won’t be too terribly original, but Sterling, you are half of our whole world, and who you love will never change that.”

Sterling can feel tears start to well up in her eyes as her dad gets back up from the stairs to join Debbie in hugging her tight. “This explains why you always loved that Mummy movie so much,” he says, and Sterling can’t help but giggle.

“Yes, it definitely does,” she agrees.


Chapter Text

All eyes are still on Sterling when Tuesday morning rolls around. It’s to be expected, really, since she is not only the first out LGBT student in her graduating class--though she often wonders if Ezekiel is actually trying to hide anything--but she is now also known as the girl who flipped out and punched a homophobe in the face and somehow got off scot-free. Or at least, that’s how it would appear to most people, but her little after-school plans would beg to differ. So in a way, being feared is a big step up from the leering looks from boys, and a few select members of Blair’s lacrosse team. It’s like the time she posted that regrettable drunk Insta story, but with fewer people praying for her.

She spends most of first period English just reading her copy of Pride and Prejudice, which is nice and gets her mind off of most of her personal issues but is sorely lacking in zombies. So when it’s time for robotics class, she’s got violence on the brain, and she is determined to make her little pink warrior-bot more than Mr. Baxter’s stupid ring girl. But first, she has to face her partner, who seems to be anxiously anticipating her arrival to second period.

“Gotta say, I would’ve loved some warning before you dragged me into your coming out party yesterday, but I’m still proud of you,” Reese says, already having opened up the robot’s back panel and is in the process of rewiring something.

“I’m so sorry,” Sterling apologizes, scooting her stool closer to Reese’s. “I definitely should have run it by you first, and-”

Reese puts her hand up to stop her. “Silver, it’s totally cool. I haven’t closeted myself since I was twelve. I just would’ve liked some warning so I could have put on a bit of a show. Kaitlin Bennett would’ve blown a gasket.”

Sterling frowns, confused. “The gun girl who pooped her pants?”

Reese rolls her eyes. “The bigoted crush of yours, who I hear is a friend of the girl you laid out after school yesterday...word travels fast around here.”

“Ah,” Sterling says, getting it now. “Yeah, she seemed pretty surprised anyway.”

“That she did,” Reese agrees. “So I’m thinking that for the robot’s special ‘Finish him’ move, we get into some pyrotechnics.”

“They are just supposed to fight over a flag…” Sterling says, wondering how Reese would even go about bringing fire into the equation.

“Yes, but if we burn the opponent to a crisp first by building in a hairspray flamethrower into her arm, then she will be unstoppable when it comes to grabbing that flag,” Reese says as if that’s the most rational idea in the world.

“I find you both frightening and intriguing, Miss Spoon,” Sterling says, shaking her head and getting to work while she tries not to think about how much she would not object to making out again after class is over. Just because it’s casual doesn’t mean they can’t do it more than once or twice, right? In fact, one could argue that means that she and Reese can make out all they want without the likes of April or anyone else questioning it. “So, in theory, how would we go about building in the flamethrower?”

Reese’s face lights up. “That’s my girl!” Without warning, she takes Sterling’s face in her hands and kisses her briefly, seeming to realize what she’s done only after she pulls away. “That was my bad. I shouldn’t have-”

Sterling shakes her head. “No, it’s okay. You can do that whenever you want to.”

Sterling almost forgets about her new assistant director gig by the time the last bell rings, until Ellen approaches her desk after dismissing the rest of the Bible class.

“Alright, my little protégé, you ready to help me direct the best musical this school has ever done?” she asks, hyped up like she’s had three cups of afternoon coffee.

Sterling would never admit it to her face, but the very concept alone of being a little Ellen-in-training is just terrifying. First, it’s directing a musical, sure, but then before she knows it, Sterling will be living alone in a condo with like three purse dogs. “Yes, I am so ready.” This sounds unconvincing even to her, but Ellen doesn’t seem to notice at all as they walk together to the auditorium.

“So I know you didn’t exactly choose to do this with me, but I think you’ll find that it’s fulfilling work to bring something beautiful to life onstage,” Ellen says. “Like, just the rush of opening night and seeing everything come together and knowing that you are the one who brought it all together? It’s such a rush.”

Sterling wonders if the two of them saw the same production of The Sound of Music where April and Mother Superior Linda Chatterjee were the only members of the cast who didn’t sound tone-deaf. “Yeah, that sounds really cool,” she says, just going along with it anyway. Theater’s never really been her thing--she fell asleep when her family all went and saw the touring production of Phantom of the Opera a few years back--but she will try to just put on a good face as she does her time, and hopefully avoid interacting with April as much as humanly possible. Assistant directors don’t really interact with the cast all that much, right?

“Alright, well, just be yourself and I’ll give you things to do. But let’s introduce you to the gang,” Ellen says, opening the door into the auditorium and having Sterling walk in first. “Cast and crew, I have some exciting news,” she says, walking down the aisle towards the stage, where some kids—including April, Ezekiel, and Luke—are congregated, while the rest are in seats in the first few rows. “I want you all to give a warm welcome to our new assistant director, Miss Sterling Wesley!”

There are rumblings among the other kids until April—of course—is willing to say what Sterling is sure they’re all thinking. “Ms. Johnson, not to question your decision-making or anything, but I don’t think Sterling is really qualified for such a multifaceted role in our crew.”

“None of us are necessarily qualified to be here…” Ezekiel says, veering off from April and earning an outraged gasp from his friend. Judas indeed. “Oh, you know I don’t mean you, Darling,” he adds, patting April’s shoulder.

“Before she decided to step down as Fellowship Leader, Sterling showed amazing leadership skills, so I have full confidence she will do an excellent job helping me keep you all in line,” Ellen says, pulling Sterling in for a kind of side hug and doing what Sterling can only assume is a kindness by not bringing up the involuntary nature of this arrangement. “Now, I know this might sound ambitious, but I would like to do a read-through of the whole first act today, so I’m gonna need you all to get your scripts and get up on stage. But since we haven’t had any time with our choir teacher/music director, you all can just do your best when it comes to staying on tune since there aren’t actually any spoken lines.”

“Ms. Johnson, what if some of us have already memorized the entire cast recording?” April asks, being completely insufferable and surprising nobody.

“I would say, ‘Good job, April. You’re the only student I’ve ever had who’s been musically off-book so early with every show you’ve been in.’ But that we’re still just reading through the show and I want you to have your script in case you forget anything,” Ellen says, shutting April up pretty effectively.

Sterling can’t help but smirk at April as she sits down in the first row of the audience next to Ellen. Despite being given her very own copy of the script to follow, Sterling doesn’t know what she is supposed to do with it. Once, while Ellen is looking down at her own script and highlighting the stage directions, April shoots Sterling a mocking look right back.

The cast proceeds to read through the first act of the show, with varying degrees of success in the singing department. Sterling can’t help but notice that Luke looks completely uncomfortable being here doing this, and she honestly doesn’t know what possessed him to be willing to do this show. Or rather, she does know why, but she doesn’t exactly want to think about him having those kinds of feelings for April. This is not to say that Sterling is jealous. Of either of them. Obviously.

They make it through the first act in a little over an hour, and that seems to satisfy Ellen for the day. “Alright y’all, same time tomorrow, we’ll do act two. If you can, please go home and study your parts a bit more. Learn their motivation and really try to get inside their heads.”

“Ms. Johnson, what’s my character’s motivation?” Jennings asks, getting up from where he was sitting.

“You’re Pontius Pilate. Your motivation is you don’t believe Jesus is the son of God,” Sterling says, shocked that boy has even made it to eleventh grade with his lack of intelligence.

“AKA the motivation of literally every villain in the show,” April adds, gathering her things. “It’s kinda the whole plot.”

This is maybe the first time in weeks that Sterling and April have been on the same page with anything, so obviously somebody has to throw a wrench in it. And this comes in the form of the tech crew coming in with actual wrenches and other tools to begin the work of transforming the stage.

Ezekiel gets onto his feet, stretching his arms after having been leaning back on them for the last few songs of the show. “Man, I was sitting so long my legs fell asleep,” he says, using his arms to shake one of his prosthetics.

April rolls her eyes. “You know that bit went stale around the twentieth time you used it, Z.”

“Wait, Ezekiel’s legs can fall asleep?” Luke asks Sterling in a confused whisper, having already left the stage.

Sterling shrugs and this seems to unsettle him as he shuffles off to talk to Ellen about something on the other side of the auditorium. But this unfortunately gives April a window of opportunity to stomp up to the edge of the stage, hands on her hips in a posturing stance.

“What do you think you’re doing? Drama is my thing,” April says, outraged.

“Listen, if it were up to me, I would not be here right now. But because it isn’t up to me, we’re both just going to have to deal with my presence,” Sterling says, too tired after a long day of school to have the energy to deal with April right now.

“Well, I’m not taking orders from you. You’re an amateur,” April says defiantly, crossing her arms.

“Hey, Ellen?” Sterling calls over to their teacher, drawing her attention away from Luke. “As assistant director, do I have authority to give orders to any cast members?”

“Indeed you do!” Ellen supplies happily, and Sterling can hear April practically growl as she narrows her eyes and crouches down to get closer to Sterling’s level.

“I’m just going to go ahead and assume that this is your punishment for your little outburst on the quad yesterday, but because I am a good person, I won’t share that information with everyone else. Though when Tala Jordan comes back to school, I can’t promise the same can be said for her. What I will say is that I am not going to let whatever happened between the two of us get in the way of putting on the performance of a lifetime, and I won’t have you wrecking this show. So stay out of my way.” April’s intensity is unrivaled, and Sterling is frankly disgusted with herself for finding it oddly attractive.

“I’ll do my best,” Sterling says, giving her a smile challenging her to say anything else.

April makes an exasperated noise, standing up and going to return to Ezekiel, but in what has to be a moment of true divine intervention, her ankle must have gotten caught in a mic cord when she came to the edge of the stage, and suddenly she goes windmilling backward off the stage.

Without thinking, Sterling is acting and catching April in her arms as best as she can considering that April is somehow a lot heavier than she looks--must be all that lifting. Sterling falls back into one of the front row seats, holding April in her arms. They stay like that, eyes locked on each other for what’s probably only a few seconds until April is scrambling to her feet and brushing herself off.

“Get your hands off of me,” she says, avoiding eye contact. It’s not exactly the reaction one would usually get when being the knight in shining armor for a swooning maiden, but then again, April is another kind of princess.

“I would also accept, ‘thank you, Sterl for making sure I didn’t fall and break my neck,’” Sterling says, mocking April’s Atlanta Valley Girl way of speaking.

“I do not sound like that,” April says, putting up a finger in warning.

Sterling shrugs and winces. “You kinda do, though.”

April breathes heavily for a few seconds as if trying to keep her temper in check in front of Ellen. Then she turns on her heel and stomps over to Luke, grabbing him by the arm. “Babe, you were going to come over to my house this afternoon, right?” Sterling hears her say, and Luke smiles and nods in reply.

“Are you okay, though? It’s a good thing Sterl was there to break your fall,” Luke says, walking out of the theater.

“I’m fine. Do I not look fine?” April asks, and the rest of their conversation is lost to Sterling once they’ve exited out the back doors.

Ellen walks up to Sterling again, none the wiser of the drama that’s just gone down--though April’s own personal Gretchen Wieners has been watching the whole time like he wishes he had popcorn. “Well, all things considered, I think this went really well,” she says innocently.


If April is being technical, it is against house rules for her to have a guest over when she knows her parents won’t be home, without their express consent first. It’s also against the rules for her to be alone with a boy unsupervised for any extended length of time. So having Luke over to her house while her mom is at her book club meeting and her dad is still at work is...probably inadvisable, but she can justify it with the fact that if his lackluster performance today at the readthrough was any indication, Luke needs a rehearsal buddy. But then she remembers that this is also her boyfriend she is talking about, and he probably has certain expectations for their first real extended period of alone time. Which is a terrifying concept and one she needs to distract him from via something other than practicing being onstage unrequited lovers.

“So do you wanna watch a movie or something? My dad’s got a pretty sweet set up in the home theater,” April says, leading Luke into the kitchen first, as she’s been told that boys (an alien species to her) generally are always hungry.

“Yeah, that sounds awesome,” Luke says, lingering near the kitchen island while April opens cupboards to find some snacks that aren’t baked chickpeas or banana chips.

April understands her mom wanting to eat healthily, but she has no idea what her vendetta is against hydrated foods. “Jackpot,” she says, finding where her dad hid an unopened bag of Kettle BBQ Lay’s behind a box of butterless microwave popcorn. She goes to climb up on the counter to reach them on the higher shelf, but Luke comes around and grabs them easily, handing them to her.

“Tall boyfriend to the rescue,” he says in a way that April knows she would find endearing if she didn’t also feel humiliated.

“I could have gotten them,” April argues, and Luke shrugs.

“I saved you some effort.”

April knows this isn’t worth being upset over, it’s just that she hates the idea of needing a man’s help-- her man’s help. She tries not to think about that too much as she goes to the fridge for two glass bottles of root beer. “So what do you wanna watch?” she asks, handing one to Luke and watching him try to twist the top off for a few seconds without success before she hands him the bottle opener.

“Uh, knowing you, it’s gotta be Star Wars,” Luke says, earning just a few brownie points in his favor.

April sees an opportunity that doesn’t arise too often when her movie partner is her dad, the despiser of all things Prequel Trilogy. “You wanna watch Phantom Menace?” she asks, a mischievous grin spreading across her face.

“Yes,” Luke says without hesitation, failing to hide his excitement.

“Awesome!” April says, getting her snacks and leading him out of the kitchen. “Yousa follow me now, okie-day?" she says in her best Jar Jar Binks voice, and Luke’s face lights up.

He lets out a little involuntary fanboy squeal and follows close behind her. “You’re so cool,” he says, surprising her when he stops her by wrapping his arms around her midsection. “I knew I liked you the second you quoted Shmi,” he says, leaning around her to kiss her cheek.

April needs to remind herself next time to keep the quotes to a minimum if they apparently have an aphrodisiac effect on her boyfriend. Though that is very hard when his name is actually Luke. A girl can only possess so much willpower. “Okay, Young Skywalker,” she says, disentangling herself from him. “Let’s just watch the movie and see where the afternoon takes us.”

Luke doesn’t try to hide his disappointment, but nods and follows her the rest of the way and takes a seat on the couch while April gets the movie going. While leaning down to put the disk in the blu-ray player, April can’t be sure, but she feels like he’s staring at her ass. A fact she confirms when she rights herself and turns around quick enough to catch the sort-of-dazed grin on his face. April wonders if he was like this with Sterling too or if she’s just that lucky to be someone to fulfill this boy’s nerd fetish.

“Eyes up here,” April says, pointing to her own eyes with her middle and index fingers as she returns to the couch, sitting a cushion apart from Luke until he scoots right up next to her when the movie starts, not even bothering to be a cliche and yawn when he wraps his arm around her. Though him being so overtly loved up on her does beg a certain question. “Luke, why didn’t you tell your parents about us?”

He looks like a deer caught in the headlights for a moment as he sputters. “Well, uh, it’s like you said, I didn’t want to jinx it while it’s still so early,” he scrambles to explain. “Plus, uh, I think my mom is a little weird about me dating anyone after she found out about me and know…”

“Having sex?” April supplies. “Yeah, I guess that would explain why she threatened my life. In a church, no less,” she says, laughing, though Luke looks horrified.

“Oh my god, she did that? I’m so sorry, babe. You don’t deserve to get dragged into my past drama,” he says, holding her tighter and kissing her on the forehead. “This is a new day, a new beginning.”

April can’t help but find the Star Wars Rebels quote in this context just a bit charming. “Okay, Ahsoka…” She tries to go back to watching the movie now, but her boyfriend is making that difficult.

“Have I told you today that you’re really pretty?” Luke asks, whispering way too close to April’s ear for comfort. She knows seduction techniques. She kind of employed them herself once.

“No, but thank you,” April says, squirming in her seat but hoping she gives the impression that it’s because she’s nervous and not that the very thought of Luke seducing her makes her just a little bit nauseous. She just wants to watch an objectively terrible but endlessly entertaining film; is that so much to ask?

Yes, apparently it is because Luke is practically pulling her into his lap before Obi-Wan can even show up.

“Luke…” April says, trying to pretend like this is too much for her, but Luke doesn’t get that signal and pulls her in for a kiss that somehow feels a lot more weighty than any of the others they’ve shared, based sheerly on the fact that they are both alone and have kissed at least ten times before. But April tries to just go with it. This is what straight girls with boyfriends do, and she’s at least trying to be an authentic recreation of one of those. But the feeling of being vulnerable in his King Kong arms isn’t exactly helping her feel relaxed, so she does the daring thing and takes the initiative to push Luke onto his back on the couch, climbing on top of him and continuing to kiss him. 

“Your face is softer than usual,” she notes, and Luke blushes beneath her.

“I noticed you didn’t like the stubble, so I started shaving every morning and using, like, a lot of my mom’s moisturizer,” he says, avoiding eye contact, but it’s quite possibly the sweetest thing April’s heard him say, and she rewards as much by kissing him again.

This, she can do. This position is one she’s been in before...with Sterling. Though she must admit that being in Sterling’s arms isn’t such a bad thing either. It’s curious how hard it is to hate someone when they look so darn good rescuing you like some pretty, blonde Princess Charming. That new haircut of hers certainly lends itself to the comparison.

And her skin. God, Sterling’s skin is so soft. Her hands and their feather-light touches on April in their more intimate moments were possibly one of the best things about them. Aside from the connection the two of them shared. It was like they didn’t even need words to communicate what the other wanted and needed in the moment. In the back of Sterling’s car, no actual ravaging took place, but God did almost every fiber in April’s being want there to be.

April’s not sure when exactly she began grinding her hips into her makeout partner, but she’s sure it’s around the time she started to imagine that it’s Sterling beneath her now, daring to be here unsupervised, pushing the boundaries. But the illusion is quickly shattered because, as far as April is aware, Sterling isn’t exactly capable of having a raging erection that is now throbbing against her thigh. And once her brain makes that connection, April is practically jumping off of Luke, who for his part looks mortified as he reaches for a throw pillow to block her view of it, but unfortunately not before she can see a slight wet spot on his pants.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he says, sounding more than embarrassed.

April closes her eyes and shakes her head, trying to rationalize this in her brain because it’s what teenage boys do and it’s not something she should be absolutely horrified by, but she is. She really is. In fact, it’s taking everything in her not to outright scream. “It’s okay,” she says when it is absolutely not okay. “These things happen.” These things happen to girls who aren’t her.

“Uh, I’ll be right back,” Luke says, getting up from the couch, leaving the pillow behind as he hightails it for the hall bathroom, leaving April to just stew in her feelings.

She’s not sure how all of her life’s decisions have led up to this point, but Jesus H. Christ, this is it. This is her absolute limit as far as the bullshit she has gotten herself into goes. This is why she always swore off dating boys before she ever dated a girl.

“Holy fuck,” she swears under her breath, now left to deal with the fact that this all happened because in the moment, she got carried away enough thinking about Sterling that she somehow made Luke...yeah, no, she can’t even think about it. And if things couldn’t possibly get any worse…

“Padawan, you home?” Her father calls from the foyer, probably having seen Luke’s car in the driveway.

April. Is. Fucked.

“Yeah, Daddy, I’m in here,” she calls, fighting the urge to just run out the back door. But she brought this upon herself, and now she must face the music. Really, it’s a shame she won’t see the end result of all the planning that’s gone into the Sadie Hawkins dance, but she hopes the memorial they have for her will be lovely.

"Who’s here with you?” He asks, poking his head in the doorway, and upon only seeing April, steps all the way in.

“Uhhh...well, I know you said you wanted to have a man-to-man talk with Luke, and-” she doesn’t finish her sentence before there’s a sound of the toilet flushing and Luke reemerges from the bathroom, thankfully having wiped furiously enough to make his pants look normal again.

“Oh, hey Mr. Stevens,” he says, petrified, but April sees her opportunity to survive the rest of the afternoon, and she will take it.

“Luke, didn’t you want to come here after our rehearsal so you could talk to my dad?” she asks, thoroughly throwing him under the bus. She gets up from the couch and heads for the door. “So I’ll just leave you boys to talk.”

Luke shoots her a pleading look not to leave him there alone, but April can’t even feel too bad for him. She needs to change out of this skirt.

April is still thoroughly freaked out by her close encounter with an all-too-terrestrial being long after he’s gone home and she’s had a very awkward dinner with her parents. During which her dad expressed his approval of Luke ‘Skywalker’ Creswell, but then proceeded to yell at her mother for leaving April unsupervised for God knows how long, with a BOY. But they settled down eventually and when she’s sure her parents are preoccupied with their shows on Investigation Discovery, she gets out her phone and Facetimes the only possible person in the world she can share her boyfriend boner distress with.

“Hey, kiddo. Long time no speak! What’s up?” Jamie Arden, the absolute lesbian angel that she is, answers after a moment.

“I think I’m a bad person,” April admits, cutting right to the chase.

Jamie frowns. “How so? Did something happen with that girl who kissed you in the principal’s office?”

April realizes that she hasn’t exactly kept Jamie up to speed. “Yes and no. We were together, but I ended things when my Dad got out of jail, but now things are so weird between us and I think she kinda hates me. But she totally should hate me because I’m sort of dating her boyfriend…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down here. Why are you dating your ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend?” Jamie asks, looking like she’s having trouble computing all of this information.

“Well, technically, he’s my ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend but that’s only if you count what Sterling and I had as a full-blown relationship and that’s debatable since it only lasted 3 days,” April explains. “And I’m dating Luke because he needed a rebound girl, and I needed to take some heat off myself because I don’t know how, but I feel like my dad might know something about what was going on with Sterling.”

“Wow, a genuine love triangle...usually those are just Vs…” Jamie says, astounded. “So I’m gonna assume Sterling isn’t a fan of you dating her ex?”

“No, and it probably doesn’t help matters that I’ve been rubbing it in her face a bit…” April admits.

“April, c’mon, you’re better than that,” Jamie says, sounding like a disappointed parent. “It’s one thing to play with the dude’s emotions just because you need a beard, but it’s another to just be a bitch about it.”

“I know that. Hence why I think I’m a bad person,” April says, flopping down onto her back on the bed. “But in a way, I think this arrangement is good for Luke and me. He gets a beautiful girlfriend who supports him and watches Star Wars and I get straight points with my dad for the rest of forever.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like you actually have feelings for him and that’s why it’s unfair to both of you,” Jamie says. “Believe me, I know I don’t look it now, but I had like...three boyfriends in middle school.”

“Yeah? Did any of them have a Lonely Island moment while you were thinking about girls?” April asks skeptically.

“Well, let’s see…” Jamie says, pretending to think of something. “Well, I’m gay as hell and it was middle school, so yeah, I’m gonna go with all of them jizzed in their pants at some point while I was thinking about girls...that was the Lonely Island reference you were making, yes?”

“Unfortunately,” April says, still grossed out. “Penises are disgusting and I didn’t even have to look at it, but ugh,” she says, shuddering at the thought.

“They aren’t so bad once you get used to them. Though this is coming from a girl who has been in close proximity to them on multiple occasions for a ménage à trois. Or deux... or trois.” Jamie giggles and if April were within at least the same state as her, she would find a way to smack her friend for that stupid joke.

“Well, Jamie, some of us are not as brave as you. Also, why would you willingly have sex with a guy if you know you’re gay?” April asks, not understanding this girl at all sometimes.

“Because I’m a ‘try everything’ kind of girl, but if it makes you feel any better, the ones I was in threesomes with were more a side effect that I had to deal with in order to sleep with their very attractive girlfriends.” Jamie waggles her eyebrows and April wonders how in the world she ever called this devil an angel.

“Okay, so can we just get back to the topic at hand? Namely, the fact that I am a huge bitch who is using a dumb boy to get back at my sort-of ex?” April asks, needing to not talk about sexual activities with boys anymore. She’s already tempted to burn her favorite school skirt over it.

“I don’t really know what you want me to say? You kind of hit the nail on the head that using people for revenge does kinda seem bitchy to me, but I ultimately don’t think you’re a bad person,” Jamie says, surprising April. “I mean, yes, how you are going about it is fifty shades of wrong, but also, being closeted isn’t inherently evil either, and sometimes to maintain that, you have to do morally dubious things to keep yourself safe. And believe me, as someone who’s spent some time working with homeless LGBT youths in New York, I can tell you that staying closeted until it’s well and truly safe is a survival tactic, not dishonesty.”

April’s not sure when or why she’s started to cry. Maybe it’s because deep down she’s always hoped that maybe her parents would take her eventual coming out...not exactly well, but maybe with time, they could grow to accept it? Lord knows they’re obsessed with appearances enough to put on a good face despite a lot of other cracks in the Team Stevens facade. And even they would have to admit that kicking out your beloved only child for being gay in the year 2020 doesn’t play as well with the public as it once did. Conversion therapy, on the other hand… she sighs, defeated. “You’re right. I just need to get through two more years of school and then maybe when I’m in college, I can start dropping hints to ease them into the idea.” It’s a solid plan, and one she intends to stick to. It’s been her plan since before Sterling and her stupid, huge, puppy dog eyes came around talking about being brave.

“That’s what I’m here for. To keep my favorite baby gay from making decisions that could possibly ruin her life. So I need to add the obligatory, ‘don’t do drugs’, and if you’re going to experiment sexually with a boy, be safe about it. Teenage boys have the sperm counts of Vikings and while I got that statistic from absolutely nowhere, I am not wrong.” Jamie finishes her PSA by yawning. “Now, I gotta get to bed. I have a presentation tomorrow morning.”

“Okay,” April says, but she really wishes Jamie could stay just a bit longer. This conversation is the first time in weeks that she’s truly felt like herself again. Though she could have really done without the insinuation that she would ever have sex with Luke and his scarily big penis for science, or whatever.

“Stay gold, Ponygirl, and remember what I said. You aren’t a bad person for taking precautionary measures, but please stop being a dick about it.”

“I will. Night, J Star.”

“G’night,” Jamie says, and April ends their call.

It was what she needed to hear, but it still has her feeling…weird. Or maybe she’s just tired.

“Bilky, you wanna go to bed early?” April calls to Sgt. Bilko curled up in her computer chair.

Hearing his nickname gets his attention as he lifts his head and chirps at her before standing up on the chair, stretching, and coming over to jump up on April’s bed. He rubs his head up against her, purring when she gives him pets in return. Truly, he is the only man April wants in her life, but she recognizes that for her own safety, she needs to keep up the charade with Luke. And if it hurts Sterling in the process...well, April already hates herself.

The next day at school, April perceives something...odd in the air. Teachers whispering to each other when they think nobody will notice, then observing everyone skeptically. Something is definitely up, but somehow April doubts she’ll find out what it is. Even Coach seems a bit out of sorts during gym, and it’s Pacer Day, his favorite pain-inflicting event.

April’s lungs are still burning from over-exertion when she gets to the locker room and changes out of her absolutely drenched gym shirt and shorts. She’s reapplying deodorant and doing her ‘avoiding looking at anyone’ thing again when she’s being approached by Tala Jordan, who got out of dressing for gym altogether today, let alone doing the Pacer, based solely on her broken nose, reflected in the white strip across the bridge of it, and two black eyes. 

“Hey April, I know you kind of tend to know things about the goings-on at the school, so I need you to clue me in on something," she starts, and April makes quick work to get her pants and shirt on.

“And what would that be?” she asks, buttoning up her blue shirt.

“How the frick did I see Sterling Wesley in school this morning after she did this to my face?” Tala asks, pointing at herself.

April knows she should have sympathy for the girl, and that violence is rarely the answer, but she honestly can’t say she wouldn’t have done the same as Sterling if someone would have dared say that word to her. “Let’s get something straight here, Tala. What you said to her crossed a line, and it’s things like that that make the school more amenable to alternative forms of punishment,” April says, using the mirror in her locker to assist in straightening out her ponytail.

“Oh please, like what you were saying was any better,” Tala scoffs.

April slams her gym locker shut and looks into Tala’s eyes. “Let’s make this perfectly clear. What I was saying to Sterling Wesley were clever insinuations based on her newfound sexual orientation. You, on the other hand, threw out a slur. That, my dear friend, is like the difference between the GOP and the KKK.” April picks up her gym bag and leans in to whisper in Tala’s ear. “And, just so you know, you’re the KKK in this analogy.”

On that dramatic note, April leaves the locker room and stops off at the one in the main hall to drop off her gym bag before heading to English and then Spanish class, where she avoids meeting Sterling’s eyes before she can take her seat in front of her. A side effect of this is she also avoids Luke, and she can tell this disappoints him, but she knows he will recover. Tala’s reminder of what she said to Sterling—things that could have reduced herself to tears if the roles were reversed—has April feeling pretty disgusted with herself and the girl she’s pretending to be all over again.

“Buenos Dias, clase,” Señora O’Reilly greets them all once the late bell rings and everyone is already in their seats.

“Buenos Dìas, Señora O’Reilly,” everyone replies in unison like robots.

“Todas lo hicieron bien en su prueba la semana pasada,” Señora O’Reilly notes, and this isn’t exactly news to April, since she knows she did well on her quiz last week, but it still brings a smile to her face...though the fact that Luke isn’t failing this class is nothing short of a miracle. “Estoy seguro de que todos están listos para su próximo proyecto. Pero para hacerlo, debemos viajar a un lugar donde muchos hablan español, pero es aquí mismo en los Estados Unidos. Hollywood!”

“I’m so lost…” Luke whispers to Blair.

“She says our next project has to do with Hollywood,” Sterling says, sounding annoyed, as she should because it was a pretty straightforward thing. Hollywood is right there in English.

“Para la próxima tarea, quiero que todos, en parejas, encuentren una escena de una película de Hollywood para rehacer en español. Te filmarás a ti mismo y lo presentarás a la clase la próxima semana. Y recuerde, películas tratas sobre el drama. Quiero disfraces. Quiero cinematografía. ¿OK? ¿Eso suena posible?” Señora O’Reilly explains their next assignment, and it’s one April is quite excited for, if she’s being honest. Though finding a partner may prove problematic. Except she doesn’t have to look far.

“April, will you be my partner?” Luke calls to April.

“Carlos! En Español!” Señora O’Reilly corrects him.

“Sorry- uh lo...lo siento, Señora O’Reilly. Uh, Abril, ¿serás mi ... otra persona?” Luke asks in a truly butchered translation.

April rolls her eyes and sighs, knowing he is going to bring down their grade by at least a full letter. “Si, Carlos.”

Señora O’Reilly seems somewhat taken aback by this series of events. “Carlos y Abril?” she asks, intrigued.

April nods. Señora O’Reilly is the only teacher to get invested in the personal lives of her students. “Si, Carlos es mi novio,” she says, confirming their relationship status.

Señora O’Reilly gasps. Without another word, their teacher is rushing to her desk, getting out her telenovela notebook. “Después de perder su amor Carolina cuando fue secuestrada por el gemelo malvado de su madre, el hijo del minero de zafiro comienza una relación con la hija del líder del cartel,” she says to herself, and April doesn’t know how she feels about being turned into the daughter of a drug lord, but she can’t say the plot isn’t fascinating...though the weirdness about Carolina being kidnapped by her mother’s evil twin seems particularly soap opera-y.

“Hey, Carolina, we’re obviously gonna do a scene from The Parent Trap, right?” Blair whispers to Sterling to avoid saying it in Spanish.

“Are we thinking the big ‘sister reveal’ during the rainstorm, or the one when they’re in bed and decide to switch places?” Sterling asks. “Because I have had both memorized since we were like five.”

The two of them start brainstorming while April considers her options with Luke. Like with the Wesley twins, he’ll need something he already knows well in English. Something like… “Carlos, ¿quieres recrear una escena de Padmé y Anakin conmigo?” she asks, turning around to look at him. The answer es muy facìl, and Luke must agree as he starts smiling like a jack-O'-lantern, but they can’t get into specifics because Señora O’Reilly’s desk phone starts ringing.

She answers it and looks right at April. “Abril, Señor Strickland quiere hablar contigo en la oficina del director,” she says, holding the bottom of the receiver away from her mouth.

“Ooooh,” everyone in class says, taunting and low. Usually, teachers only get those kinds of calls when a student is in trouble, and April has never been in trouble. Though a part of her is worried if the school has suddenly started to care about bullying. In which case she might have to answer for the honestly despicable things she said to Sterling on Monday.

There’s only one way to find out, and April gets up from her seat, leaving her stuff behind as she goes out to the hall and walks to the principal’s office, where she is told to go right in by the office receptionist.

“Ah, there’s our Fellowship Leader,” Strickland says as she enters his office, his tone pretty much confirming that April isn’t in trouble just as she also notices Ellen, and oddly, Mr. Tamura are already there.

“What’s this about?” April asks, sitting in a chair across from Strickland. “Because I swear to you, whatever Sterling Wesley has been telling you I said is a lie,” she adds, just to be on the safe side.

“This isn’t about the incident with Miss Wesley on Monday,” Strickland confirms. “Miss Stevens, as Fellowship Leader, we would like for you to prepare an about...oh, forty-minute presentation for tomorrow. Do you think you can do that?”

April swallows hard. “That’s pretty short notice for such a long presentation,” she says, the understatement of the century considering she doesn’t even know the topic. “I’m going to need some more details before I can give you a definitive answer.”

“April, we’ve already sent out an email to the parents, but there’s going to be a big assembly tomorrow morning for the first half of school...about sex education,” Ellen says, and April can’t help but gasp at the drama of it.

“As Fellowship leader, we think that you would be the perfect person to connect with the rest of the student body when it comes to the subject of abstinence,” Strickland adds.

“Principal Strickland, I will remind you that sex education is purposefully not in our school’s curriculum. It’s inappropriate and frankly gross to have anyone but parents teach these things,” April says, paraphrasing the school’s handbook. “I mean, what are we, a Yankee school?”

“Clearly we can’t trust that to work, considering what’s been found,” Mr. Tamura scoffs.

“What are you talking about? What’s been found?” April asks, confused.

The faculty members exchange glances.

“Before we can tell you, we have to get your word that you’ll give the abstinence talk tomorrow,” Strickland says.

April guesses that if the assembly is going to eat up all her morning classes tomorrow, then she can at least defer that homework somewhat. “Yes, I will do it,” she agrees with a dutiful nod. “So, what is this all about?”

“A pregnancy test? Here?!” Ezekiel asks in disbelief.

He, April, and Hannah B. are at their usual lunch table, and April couldn’t help herself but to share this hot gossip.

“A positive pregnancy test,” April confirms, still in shock herself. It was one thing for the school’s rumor mill to explode over an instance of safe sex, but now there’s a confirmed case of unsafe sex too. This is about 100x worse, considering that some girl is going to end up with a baby at the end of it.

“Well, maybe it was a teacher’s?” Hannah B. suggests, obviously hoping for this to be the more palatable truth, but April knows better.

She shakes her head. “Can’t be. It was found in the girls' locker room bathroom garbage,” April says, actually reveling in being someone trusted with this information.

“And the school thinks the obvious course of action here is to teach everyone else the basics of how it happened?” Ezekiel asks, amused.

April shrugs and stabs at her salad. “I guess they think that’s the only way to potentially stop it from happening again? Either way, I have to go home and make a 40-minute long presentation about the beauty of abstinence so...yay, me.”

“Well, that should be easy for you, right?” Hannah B. asks, indicating April’s purity ring. “I mean, you probably know about this stuff better than anyone.”

April can’t deny that fact, but then, she also knows more than most people about most things. Though considering what went down with Luke yesterday, thinking too long about desire and suppressing urges feels just a touch too timely. “I don’t doubt my ability to make it, I just hate having to prepare something last minute. It will just serve to make me look bad if I come across scattered.”

“It’s impossible to make you look bad. Especially if you wear the blazer uniform tomorrow. With a skirt,” Ezekiel says, flattering her as he gets out his phone and texts someone.

April goes back to eating her lunch but is soon joined by her dear boyfriend, who puts down his food on the table next to hers and takes a seat, putting an arm around her.

“Hey, Babe,” he says, kissing her cheek before wasting no time digging into an almost comically large sandwich. “Whatchu guys talking about?” he asks with his mouth full.

“April has to do a talk on abstinence at a Sex Ed assembly tomorrow because someone at our school is pregnant,” Hannah B. replies before April can.

“Whaaat?” Luke draws out, surprised. “Who?”

“We don’t know,” April says, shrugging. “But while I think it’s the obvious answer, my money’s on Lorna.”

“Mm,” Ezekiel hums, shaking his head. “If there were Vegas betting odds, I’d say that’s at least 2:1.”

“What about the new girl? I mean, it’s not like any of us know her that well or anything. She could be sexually active,” Hannah B. says, looking around and whispering the forbidden words.

“Unless Sterling Wesley has the bits for that, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s not her,” Ezekiel says, chuckling. “Though I guess Luke here could clear that up.”

Luke clears his throat uncomfortably. “Yeah, um, she definitely does not,” he says quietly, opening up his sandwich and picking out some of the lettuce from it. April’s not sure if his mood shift has to do with Sterling’s new openly gay relationship, or...something else.

“Okay, longshot odds,” April says, shifting the conversation firmly away from it and smiling mischievously. “Hattie Wilkes.”

The very idea of the timid girl, whose über-religious family (even by this school’s standards) has 8+ children and make her wear full-length skirts to school, being so much as touched by a boy is enough to make all four of the table’s occupants burst into laughter.

“Mama, I’m home!” April calls as she steps through the front door of her house, waving to Luke in the driveway before he takes off in his Jeep. She closes the door and kicks off her shoes before she starts heading up the stairs. “I’m working on a project tonight so I’ll be taking my dinner in my room if that’s okay…” she says when she gets no immediate response to announcing herself. “And I’m also converting to Judaism like cousin Sarah and moving to New York.”

“What?!” Mary replies finally, practically sprinting out of her craft room.

“I was kidding,” April says, concerned about the shade her mother’s face was turning for a second there. “I don’t know if you heard me the first time, but I have a huge project that I need to get done tonight, so can I please eat dinner in my room while I do that?”

Mary seems to be suffering from some whiplash as a result of April’s earlier declaration regarding her fake change of faith. “What?, you can’t have dinner in your room. You know how much your dad loves family dinners.”

“I know, but I have to make a pretty enormous PowerPoint and do the research to back it up, and I know you insist on me going to bed at a reasonable hour,” April argues like the future lawyer she is.

“It’s not like you to put something off until last minute…” Mary says suspiciously.

“That’s because I didn’t know I had to do it until earlier today. For further details, I suggest you check your email.” With that, April goes the rest of the way upstairs to her room, booting up her computer and switching out her contacts for her glasses. This is going to be one long evening of work.

Before she starts work on the PowerPoint, she jots down a few thoughts in her notebook, all things that warrant further Googling. She also gets a clever idea for her opening slide, which she sketches and can’t help but giggle at. It’s while she’s doing that that her door flies open and there stands her mother looking somewhat...frantic.

“April, I promise you, I will try to remain as calm as possible, but I need you to tell me the truth. Are you and Luke having sex?” Mary asks, and April would laugh if the implication here wasn’t so horrifying, given the fact that her mother is holding her iPad with her email app open.

“What?! No!” April denies without hesitation, though with perhaps a bit too much outrage, because one could potentially find it defensive.

“April, I know your father found you and Luke here alone yesterday afternoon, and I didn’t want to mention it to him, but I know that boy has had sex. Lynn Creswell was in hysterics about him and one of the Wesley girls barely a month ago!” Mary says, and April can’t help but curse that PTA rumor mill.

“Mom, just because Sterling Wesley doesn’t respect herself doesn’t mean he and I have done anything,” April says plainly, not really liking having to bring slut-shaming Sterling into this, but finding it necessary.

“Sweetheart, you are very young, but you will soon learn that teenage boys who have had sex are like dogs who have tasted human flesh, and I am just trying to look out for you.”

“Oh my God,” April says, horrified. “Mom, I assure you, my boyfriend’s past relationship has no bearing on his relationship with me. Not that it’s really you or Daddy’s business, but I am a virgin, and I have no intention to change that any time soon.”

Mary sighs. “I believe you, I just...I worry about you. Things are so different from how they were when I was a kid and I just don’t want something life-altering to happen to you. So if you want to go on the Pill-”

“Mother!” April snaps.

“If you want to go on the Pill, I will help you, no questions asked. I just don’t want you making any life-ruining mistakes,” Mary reiterates, and honestly, April might find it somewhat sweet if she weren’t so dead wrong about the situation.

So April feels it necessary to end this conversation as quickly as possible by taking a page out of her father’s book. “Birth control is for sluts, Mom.”

Without even missing a beat, Mary replies plainly, “I would rather you were a slut on birth control than pregnant like one of the girls at your school.”


Chapter Text

April has seen the film Grease 2 enough times to no longer be shocked by its...lack of quality (aside from young Michelle Pfieffer in leather). But there was no way that she could be fully prepared to watch the horrified reaction of the entire student body to a clip featuring the song ‘Reproduction,’ courtesy of Ellen’s portion of the assembly. She is struggling not to laugh from her seat on the stage set up in the gym, as she has gone to great lengths to look professional. She didn’t even just take Ezekiel’s advice as far as the skirt and blazer combo, but she also decided to forego her contacts this morning, as her Warby Parkers give her a certain distinguished look.

This morning has gone...about exactly like one would think a three-hour-long sex education crash course taught by a biology teacher and a Bible teacher would go. It’s been simultaneously horrifying and yet almost too scientific to even be comprehensible by horny teenagers.

Sure, April understands what it means when a sperm cell meets an ovum to form a zygote, which divides into an ever increasing amount of cells to create an embryo, and then a fetus, and eventually a viable baby (though the words ‘viable’ and ‘fetus’ were on her list of words not to use under any circumstances), but somehow she doubts that information will prevent it from occurring again at this school. Human reproduction has a lot more to do with it than the biological process, which generally occurs only after sex. And yet, you wouldn’t know it from the information they’ve been given thus far. But April supposes that’s where she comes in. Which feels like God punishing her for dry humping Luke to a John Williams score.

When the song ends, everyone in the room seems to breathe a sigh of relief, especially Mr. Tamura, who seems a bit unsure of how to proceed from here as he steps up to the mic and podium. “Thank you, Ms. Johnson, for finding that...informative yet entertaining clip for us. I think it did a great job of augmenting what I was telling you all about the science behind the great miracle of life, but those Greasers and Pink Ladies sure did a great job of bringing us to our next subject of conversation.”

April recognizes her cue and stands with her prepared notes.

“Because I think you’ll all get a lot more out of hearing it from one of your peers, I want you to give a warm welcome to the school’s Student Fellowship Leader, April Stevens,” Mr. Tamura gestures to April and goes back to his seat as she gets a response that is...mixed.

“Yas, queen!” Ezekiel shouts, cupping his hands around his mouth for extra volume, as the rest of April’s extended squad hoot and holler...though Luke is curiously quiet, only clapping from the front row. This is accompanied by a few boos, more polite clapping, and someone who she thinks is the new girl, Reese Ryan, shouting,

“She doesn’t even go here!”

April puts down her notes on the podium and adjusts the mic down a bit to accommodate her height as she clears her throat. “Good morning, everyone. As Mr. Tamura said, and as I’m sure almost all of you already knew, I am April Stevens, your Fellowship Leader, Junior Class Vice President, co-President of the drama club, and Captain of the Forensics Team. And yes, I do go here.” That last improvisation earns her more giggles than she would have anticipated. “But most importantly of all, even though I have a wonderful boyfriend, Luke Creswell, I have made a commitment to my Daddy and to God to remain celibate until the blessed day should arise that I am married in the eyes of God and our great state of Georgia.”

“Celibacy? That sounds lame!” Ezekiel yells just as they rehearsed early this morning, his voice changed to sound a bit like Kermit the Frog.

April smiles, thinking this is already going swimmingly. “Well, stranger, I assure you, celibacy is the furthest thing from lame. And do you know why? It’s because I have made a vow to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that just as a wedding ring would prevent me from straying from a spouse, my purity ring prevents me from straying from Him. There is nothing lame about commitment, and in having such a commitment, I can ensure that my relationship with my dear Luke is not forged in lust and temptation, but in common ground and communication and understanding. But, like all of you, I am a teenager, and because God likes to test our will, I have those same crazy hormones raging through my system that all of you have. But when God tests us, we must show our own strength, lest we face the consequences for our actions.”

With that, April picks up the remote control for the projector and begins her PowerPoint with her very clever opener: a large upside-down Nike Swoosh with the caption, ‘Just DON’T Do It.’ She lets everyone have a good laugh at that before she clicks to the next slide, which features some facts and figures.

“Now, Mr. Tamura and Ms. Johnson did a fantastic job of describing a potential consequence of having sex, and that’s pregnancy. And make no mistake ladies, while eventually having a baby with our future husbands is certainly God’s plan for us, it is not without risk. For example, I bet most of you in this room don’t know that the maternal mortality rate in this country is 19 for every 100,000 births. And while you may think that number is small, it is not. We are the worst-ranked country in the developed world when it comes to maternal mortality, which puts us on par with Latvia and Ukraine.” April clicks to the next slide. “Having sex also opens you up to contracting an STD, such as HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis or HIV/AIDS, just to name a few. And yes, things like condoms can prevent these things, but condoms fail all the time. Almost every kind of birth control short of sterilization can—though a cousin of mine who was conceived post-vasectomy might have something to say about that.”

April’s not sure why she feels like a comedian bombing their set when people don’t laugh at what she finds to be a very funny anecdote, but she thinks it probably has to do with all the STD talk. Or her fact-based ‘don’t have sex or you will get pregnant and die.’

“So, if no method of birth control/STD prevention is foolproof, then what do we have left? Well, none other than our good friend abstinence.” April clicks to the next side and already feels herself start to lose some of her steam. While there is certainly something to be said about waiting to have sex with the right person, preferably on one’s wedding night, it doesn’t mean that sex is inherently bad or dirty. In fact, it sounds pretty great, if it’s anything like in movies or TV shows, and she can’t help but feel just a little guilty to be painting it in such a bad light just because the school doesn’t want the teen pregnancy statistic affecting their student body. Not to mention that one could argue the only reason she’s having such an easy time remaining celibate with her (as her mother so eloquently put it) human-flesh craving dog of a boyfriend is because she would rather watch Solo: A Star Wars Story on repeat than to have sex with him, married or not.

“Abstinence doesn’t take from our relationships. I’d even argue that it greatly contributes to them, especially in this time of our lives.” April explains. “Now, I’m sure the video I’m going to show y’all isn’t nearly as catchy as the one Ms. Johnson showed you, but I hope you get just as much out of it, regardless.” With that said, April goes to the next slide and hits play on the embedded from YouTube Tedx Talk titled, ‘The Wait Is Sexy’ from Yvonne Orji. And sure, its main purpose in this presentation is to eat up sixteen and a half minutes that April no longer has to speak during, but it also is something she found herself resonating with. 

The idea that waiting isn’t just about keeping yourself pure for God’s approval, but the fact that it weeds out the people who won’t want to stick around if they know they won’t be getting anything physical out of it for a while. It leaves behind only those who really care. But what April likes the most is the idea that one type of person who would stay is the kind of person who can see someone for exactly who they are, and love them anyway. 

Because heaven knows April is going to have a hard time finding someone who fits that criteria. She’ll be the first to admit that she is beautiful, but she is ugly on the inside—hideous, even—and it will be a miracle for anyone who isn’t equally as awful to really love her for her. Sterling has certainly already seen the light, if the way she’s cozied up to Reese Ryan in the bleachers, whispering in her ear, is any indication.

Even Luke, who only two days ago seemed like he would hang the moon for April now is avoiding eye-contact with her. Though that’s probably her bad for making him talk to her father. Though he seemed pretty normal yesterday…

And then a truly horrible thought occurs to April. All of this is a result of a pregnancy test being found in the school bathroom. The school whose student body is fairly limited in the way of confirmed cases of sexual activity, but she can easily name one, and it would certainly explain Luke’s odd behavior. Maybe April hadn’t considered it could be Sterling until now because the very real possibility of it being the case is almost too much. April knows she shouldn’t care beyond the fact that she and Luke would certainly have to break up if that were the case. But what really breaks her heart is the thought that such an event would surely spell the end of whatever hope of a someday that remains for her and Sterling.

That’s the thought that stays with April when the video ends and she returns to her notes to finish up her lecture. Talking about abstinence is easy. Resisting temptation in one great Kacey Musgraves soundtracked moment was hard. But the idea of losing forever the one person who made her excited to be the person she was made to be...that’s unbearable. 

“So, as she said, being celibate isn’t just about depriving oneself of the pleasures of the flesh, but rather holding out for the right person, the right situation, and ultimately, avoiding getting your heart broken,” April says, getting back to her notes.


“Okay, so I think it goes without saying, but this school is honestly batshit insane and I think that Grease 2 clip dealt me some psychic damage that I deserve financial compensation for,” Reese says, silently trading her carton of chocolate milk for Sterling’s Capri-Sun. 

“Have you met my sister Blair? Because I think the two of you would really get along,” Sterling says, retaliating for the unauthorized switch by replacing Reese’s Rice Krispy Treat with the GoGurt her mom packed for her.

“If she’s anything like you, then I’m sure we would,” Reese says, opening the GoGurt with her teeth while knocking her feet into Sterling’s under the table. The gesture, like their lack-of-personal-space position for the duration of the sex ed assembly, is perhaps a bit too intimate for two people who claim to just be having some fun with each other, but Sterling doesn’t mind. 

Actually, thinking about Blair now has her wondering at the whereabouts of her twin, who’s been pretty elusive these last few days. She looks around the lunch area and out onto the quad, eventually spotting Blair amongst the other lacrosse girls, who’ve been causing a bit of a stir. It seems like a new one is coming out of the closet every day—apparently Sterling opened a floodgate since nobody at school wanted to be first.

“Will you excuse me for a second?” Sterling asks, shoving the whole Rice Krispy Treat into her mouth.

“Yeah, no problem,” Reese says, sucking on the GoGurt and getting out her phone to preoccupy herself.

Sterling gets up from the table and heads down onto the quad. She’s not exactly sure what the plan is here, but she’s not exactly good with being away from Blair for too long, so she needs to talk to her.

Blair sees her coming and seems to excuse herself from her group of teammates before walking up to Sterling with her hands in her pants pockets. “Hey, what’s up?” she asks, squinting a bit from the bright sun overhead.

Sterling shrugs. “I don’t know, I just wanted to check on you.”

“Why would you want to do that?” Blair asks, snapping a bit. “You seemed to want nothing to do with me not too long ago.”

That hits Sterling where it hurts. She knows she never should have taken out her parental lineage angst on Blair, but she honestly thought they were working past that. “I’m sorry. I just...I’ve been going through some stuff, and-“

“Well, you aren’t the only one going through stuff, Sterl!” Blair practically growls, trying to keep her voice down.

This isn’t like her sister, and Sterling is concerned. “What’s going on? I want to respect your boundaries but I will Twinspeak it out of you if I have to.”

Blair looks around, and without warning grabs Sterling by the wrist and leads her around to the side of the school building, well away from any eavesdroppers. “If I tell you, you have to Twin Swear that you won’t tell anyone else.”

That’s not even a question. “Yeah, I Twin Swear. Obviously,” Sterling says without hesitation. “Now, will you please tell me what’s going on?”

Blair takes a deep breath, and Sterling can’t tell if she seems to be on the verge of laughing or crying. Or maybe is toeing the line in between. “It was mine,” she says, and Sterling doesn’t immediately understand what she means.

“What was yours?” Sterling asks.

Blair bites her lip and looks around one more time to make sure nobody is close enough to hear her, which they aren’t, but she still leans in closer and lowers her voice. “It was my pregnancy test.”

The realization of the gravity of the situation hits Sterling like a freight train, and she feels slightly dizzy as she sits down in the grass, with Blair kneeling down in front of her. “Oh my god,” Sterling whispers.

“Yeah, that was basically my a few words you wouldn’t use,” Blair says, seeming amazingly calm for the situation they’ve found themselves in. If Blair is pregnant, then Sterling may as well be too in the grand scheme of things.

“Miles?” Sterling asks weakly, already knowing the answer before Blair nods.

“Yeah, turns out coconut oil breaks down latex,” she says, scoffing at what can only be the true irony of her carefully planned first time leading to this.

“So much for nature’s lube, huh?” Sterling says to bring some levity, but it doesn’t do much good.

“Really not the time to throw that back in my face,” Blair says plainly.

“So when are you going to tell people? Like Mom and Dad?” Sterling asks, knowing the time is limited before people will likely start figuring it out on their own.

Blair shakes her head. “I’m not telling anybody anything.”

The thought of that is almost laughable to Sterling. “Well, you sort of have to tell them eventually. I mean, if you’re going to have a baby, you’re going to at least have to tell Miles. I mean, he’s the-” Sterling doesn’t get the chance to say the word ‘father’ before Blair is quickly shutting her down.

“No, no, no,” Blair says, shaking her head. “He lost the right to know when he didn’t even have the decency to tell his family about us. So this fetus is not a we-tus, and I am not telling anyone else, because it isn’t even going to matter in a few days,” she says firmly, and at first Sterling doesn’t understand her reasoning, until it dawns on her. Blair has no intention of keeping this pregnancy.

“Oh,” Sterling says, not knowing what else to say. It’s not a decision she thinks she herself could ever make, but it’s entirely up to Blair, and if Blair thinks that this is the best option, then she will support her 100%. “So what’s the plan? Have you done some due diligence on where to go?”

“Yeah, there’s a Planned Parenthood on the East Side I can make an appointment with. There’s one closer to here, but I know that’s where the Young Republicans sometimes protest and I don’t want to chance running into them and having word get back to Queen Abstinence. If she could blackmail you over a condom wrapper, imagine what she could do with this.” Blair has obviously put a lot of thought into this. “But there is a slight red state hiccup. Well, several, but only one could prove potentially problematic.”

Sterling frowns. “And what’s that?”

“Well, unless I want to tell Mom about this, which I absolutely do not, then I’m going to need a fake ID to get the procedure done. Fucking Republican politicians and their obsession with throwing hurdles in the way of women,” Blair explains, fuming, and Sterling can’t blame her. She’s mad for her.

“Well, how are we supposed to get a fake ID?” Sterling asks because despite her whole bad girl act these last few weeks, she still has zero connections to Atlanta’s criminal underground.

“I was thinking maybe Yolanda might know someone who could help, so I might skip the rest of the day to go see her. You wanna come with?” Blair asks, producing the Volt’s keyfob from her pants pocket.

Sterling knows she shouldn’t. She’s really on thin ice with both her parents and the school after the punching incident. But she can’t let her sister go through this alone. “Yeah, let’s do it,” she says, getting on her feet and brushing off any grass from her pants. She jogs over to her and Reese’s lunch table, gathering her bag and packing her lunch garbage into her brown bag. “Hey, so I kind of have to dip out for the rest of the day. If anyone happens to ask where I am, you don’t know.”

Reese frowns. “I won’t know where you are since you haven’t told me where exactly it is you’re going. But are you okay? You’re looking a little pastier than usual.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Sterling says, sounding unconvincing even to herself. But the truth of the matter is that she isn’t sure she’s really allowed to be not okay right now. This isn’t happening to her, it’s happening to her sister, and while they often share a brain when it comes to most things, it’s Blair who needs a rock right now.

“Okay, well, you better get out of here before lunch is over,” Reese says, standing and coming around the table to briefly kiss Sterling on the lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Silver,” she says, winking at her and going back to finish her lunch while Sterling joins back up with Blair.

They start walking toward the student parking lot, looking around to make sure no teachers notice, as leaving school grounds, even during lunch, is a big no-no, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

“So, when did you and New Girl Reese make things official? I feel really left out of the loop,” Blair says, unlocking the car and getting into the driver’s seat.

Sterling frowns. There isn’t anything ‘official’ about her and Reese. “We haven’t. Reese and I are just casual,” Sterling insists.

Blair gives her an incredulous look. “I think you might have to reevaluate your definition of ‘casual’ because I’ve had friends with benefits, and let me tell you, we weren’t making out in front of the whole school.”

Sterling knows Blair is absolutely correct, but if Reese doesn’t want to put a label on what they have, then she doesn’t either. She enjoys her company too much to put what they do have in jeopardy. But that isn’t the most pressing of matters at the moment. “So um...when did you conclude that you wanted to…” Sterling realizes that until now, neither of them have actually said it.

“Have an abortion?” Blair guesses correctly. “I mean, I don’t really want to, I don’t think anybody does unless they have something really twisted going on, but I just...don’t want the alternative.”

Sterling nods. It’s a perfectly valid thing for Blair to choose. In fact, she wonders if her own family could have been spared a heap of drama if Dana hadn’t taken out her own baby woes on a clinic that was just there to provide a sometimes life-saving service to women. “But you do know that if you did want to keep it, I would support you 100% of the way.”

“I know. It’s just not the right time...I’m not sure if there ever will be a right time,” Blair says, sighing as she starts up the car and pulls out of the school parking lot.

“I’m really proud of you, you know?” Sterling offers, knowing that Blair needs to hear it without even having to go digging through her thoughts.

“Stop. You’re gonna make my hormonal ass start to cry,” Blair says, elbowing her across the center console.

The circumstance of how they’ve managed to find their way back to each other on this deep level of respect and understanding is honestly a little horrific, if you ask Sterling. But she’s very glad to have her sister back, and to let her know that she is going to be there for her through this, and through anything else that ever comes her way.

Thankfully, despite Bowser’s absence, Yolanda has continued to use Yogurtopia as a sort of home base for her operation, as Blair has revealed to Sterling on the ride over. But returning here after what feels like forever rather than a few weeks feels wrong to Sterling...especially without a certain grumpy man in the back room.

“Hey, Miss Cathy,” Blair greet’s the store’s manager, standing diligently behind the counter and looking far more inviting than Bowser ever did.

“Do I got you on the schedule today?” Miss Cathy asks, confused.

“No, Sterl and I actually just came by to talk to Yolanda,” Blair says.

“Oh, well, she’s in the back. Y’all go right ahead. It’s nice to see you, Sterling. I’m glad they got you before those 48 hours,” Miss Cathy says, stepping out of the way to let them into the back room.

“You and me both,” Sterling says, actually managing to chuckle a bit before they go into the back room, where Yolanda is doing something on the computer, though she looks up when she hears the door open.

“I told you already, Blair. I can’t in good conscience let you two work with any of the other skeevy dudes I got in my book. Compared to Jorge, Rogelio, and Perry D., Bowser’s just a big teddy bear,” Yolanda says, then goes back to doing something on her computer.

“How is Bowser, anyway? Have you talked to him at all?” Sterling prys, coming around the desk to see what Yolanda is doing. The urge to bring justice to Atlanta again is very strong indeed, even if that’s not why they’re here. Sterling also just enjoys seeing the way Yolanda blushes a little when Bowser is brought up.

“As a matter of fact, he called me up yesterday. I guess all those Florida Man crimes are pretty lucrative for him down in Jacksonville,” Yolanda says, seeming disappointed, which Sterling and Blair both know is because she loves him and misses him...not that she’ll ever admit it. “But y’all didn’t come here to make small talk, and I am a busy woman, so what’s going on?”

“If someone were to theoretically be looking for a person who could theoretically hook them up with a fake ID, would you theoretically be able to point that someone in the direction of that person?” Sterling asks, then bites her bottom lip and shifts on her feet nervously.

Yolanda frowns. “So you’re theoretically asking me, a Bailbondswoman, if I know a criminal who will help you two commit a crime. Theoretically,” Yolanda says, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, theoretically, only one of us needs a fake ID and it’s for a theoretically really good reason,” Blair says, the T word starting to not even sound real to Sterling, and Yolanda seems pretty done with it as well.

“Alright, cut the theoretics. Why do you need a fake ID?” Yolanda asks point-blank.

Blair sighs and looks at Sterling. “Do I have to tell her?”

“Uh, yeah, I think you might. I mean, we want her help, don’t we? And it’s not like Yolanda’s gonna go tattling to our parents.”

“Yeah but this is kinda throwing a wrench in my whole ‘nobody but us needs to know’ thing.”

“Do you want a fake ID or not? Or we can always ask mom if she’ll sign a consent form for Planned Parenthood. I’m sure she’ll take that really well.”

Blair practically growls.

“I need a fake ID so I can get an abortion without my mom signing a permission slip,” Blair admits, and Yolanda looks momentarily surprised, but doesn’t skip a beat.

“Damn those scare tactic laws, amiright?” she says, finishing typing something on her computer and getting up. “Look, I may know a guy who could help you out with that, but I’m sure it would be a lot easier and quicker if I just took you there myself,” Yolanda says, going to the stacks of file boxes and getting a paper from one, which she quickly fills in a few blanks on. She briefly looks up at Blair, as if studying her, and then writes something else in.

“I mean, that’s really nice of you to offer, Yolanda, but I’m pretty sure you have to have a parent, not just like...your boss lady,” Blair says, starting to decline, but Yolanda pushes the form at her.

“Congratulations, you’re my daughter Bianca Carrion,” she says, and Sterling leans in to see that the form is a fake birth certificate listing Yolanda as the mother and, yes, Bianca as her child. “I like to keep a few of those on-hand for undercover purposes.”

“You basically named her White Girl…” Sterling points out.

“Well, what else would I name her if I had a baby come out looking like a little gringa?” Yolanda asks, gesturing to Blair, who shrugs.

“She has a point. So are we going now?” she asks as Yolanda gathers her purse.

“Not with you two looking like that we’re not,” she says, gesturing to their school uniforms. “Come on.” She leads them out to her RV, where she goes to her closet and grabs a couple outfits that Sterling and Blair probably would never choose for themselves and hands them over. “Y’all can change back in the bedroom, and...oh! I almost forgot,” Yolanda returns to the back, where she opens some kind of jewelry box and returns with two huge pairs of hoop earrings that make Sterling’s earlobes want to tear just looking at them. “If you’re gonna act Latina, you gotta look Latina.”

Sterling frowns and picks up one of the hoops. “This feels really racist…” she says, but takes out her stud earrings and puts them in her pants pocket anyway.

“Yeah, who wears giant earrings to an abortion clinic?” Blair chimes in.

“Hoops are for every occasion, and if you were really Latina, you would know that. And it’s not racist so long as I say it’s not...and so long as y’all don’t go painting yourselves brown like Ariana Grande.” Yolanda says, going up to the front and starting up the Bailbondsmobile’s engine...if anything, rolling up to the East Side Planned Parenthood in this only serves to sell the story.

Sterling and Blair exchange a look and shrug before going back to the RV’s bedroom to change into their proper “Latina” garb.

Sterling’s not sure what exactly she expected to happen once they got to the clinic, but somehow she never thought it would involve her sister marching up to the front desk and saying,

“One abortion, please.”

In true motherly fashion, Yolanda smacks her upside the head. “Please excuse my daughter. She’s not the brightest,” she says, then shoots a glare at Blair.

“Let me try that again,” Blair says in the sweet voice she uses around old people and teachers. “I would like to schedule an appointment to end my pregnancy, please. Is there a chance I can get in for my arbitrary consultation today?”

The nurse manning the desk looks very tired. “You’re her mother?” she asks Yolanda, seeming a tad suspicious.

“Yes, ma’am, I am. Can you believe I didn’t even know I was pregnant and then bam, twins,” Yolanda says, sounding way too excited to be telling this outlandish story. But technically it’s not a lie as she only acquired twins today. But she backs it up with the fake birth certificate, which she gets from her purse and hands over for the nurse to look at, along with her actual driver’s license.

The nurse doesn’t seem to find anything amiss as she hands them back. “Insurance card?”

“Uh, no, I’ll be paying in cash,” Blair says, and Sterling can only imagine how much this is going to eat out of the bounty hunting money they spent so long saving up for.

The nurse inputs this information into her computer. “Alright, Ms. Carrion, we’ll call you back in a few minutes if y’all want to go have a seat and fill these out,” the nurse says, handing Blair some paperwork on a clipboard and pointing to the waiting room.

“Carolina Carrion, how the heck are ya?” Sterling says, offering the confused nurse a half-wave before she leads the way to the waiting room, and is delighted to see that they’re playing Princess Diaries 2 on the TV.

“Thank you again for doing this, Yolanda,” Blair says once they’ve all taken a seat in view of the TV.

“Hey, it’s really no problem. I know my own Màmi and Pàpi would’ve killed me if I’d had to ask them permission to do this at your age. And I know you aren’t my real daughter, but I care about you and I think you’re making a really brave decision,” Yolanda says, then picks up an old copy of Vogue from the table to flip through.

It’s quiet for a while after that, save for Anne Hathaway’s onscreen antics, which Sterling honestly prefers as Blair fills out the paperwork, cluing the doctors in to any possible allergies or medications that Bianca Carrion might be dealing with.

“Did you know they make you get an ultrasound first?” Blair asks rhetorically, reading a release form. “Big yikes.”

“They’re trying to get you to change your mind. Not the Planned Parenthood people, these guys are cool, but the old white guys who put these laws into place,” Yolanda says, not looking up from her magazine.

It disgusts Sterling that a state she loves from the bottom of her heart also has such a great capacity to be so anti-woman. Things are changing all the time, that’s for sure, but sometimes it seems like it’s always going to be a few steps behind where it should. Still, she hopes that someday things might be different.

“So after this, do you wanna grab food or something? I didn’t exactly eat lunch,” Blair asks, seeming pretty blase.

“I can’t,” Sterling declines, remembering her other responsibilities. “I have to go back to school for musical rehearsal.”

Blair frowns. “Forgive me, but I believe the point of skipping halfway through the school day means you don’t go back.”

Sterling sighs. “Yeah, but if I don’t go to my glorified after-school detention, then they’ll probably suspend me, and I really can’t have that on my record.”

“Lame. Oh hey, did I tell you that I think I might be able to get a lacrosse scholarship when I start applying for schools? Coach says any college team would be glad to have me,” Blair says, smiling proudly.

“Aw, I’m so happy for you!” Sterling says, never having doubted her sister’s athletic ability and channeled rage for a single second. And honestly, it’s a bit of a relief that there won’t be anything getting in the way of all she knows her sister can accomplish.

“Bianca Carrion?” a nurse calls from the door to the examination rooms.

“That’s me,” Blair says, getting up from her chair and taking Sterling’s hand, pulling her right along with her.

“Ugh, there you are. I was worried you playing hooky again would stop you from doing your job,” April says, always one to give a warm welcome as she hands Sterling a binder. “Here are some rough mockups of some flyer ideas I came up with. Lucky for you, we never filled that publicity director spot, so I guess it falls back onto you.”

Sterling sighs, not having the energy after what she’s been through this afternoon to deal with April’s antics. “Thank you for putting this together for me,” she says through her teeth.

April smiles and cocks her head to the side. “You are most welcome, Sterl. So, what did you think of the assembly?” April looks like she’s suspicious of something, but she’s trying her best to hide it. Though the fact that she is standing here having a (mostly) civil conversation with Sterling is a pretty big tell as far as her having ulterior motives.

“It was...informative, I guess?” Sterling says, thinking she got more clear information from the Youtube videos she watched before going all the way with Luke.

“Though I suppose a lot of that doesn’t apply to you and Reese Ryan,” April notes, doing a terrible job of hiding her blatant jealousy, but Sterling couldn’t care less.

“I guess it didn’t,” she says.

“Well, I better go. Ezekiel and I are going to be practicing our songs together. Let us know when Ellen needs us,” April says, and without another word, heads up to the stage and goes off to a corner of it with Ezekiel, walking right past her dear boyfriend Luke, who seems incapable of not staring at Sterling before he’s making his way over to her.

“Hey, Luke. What’s up?” Sterling asks, taking a seat in one of the auditorium chairs and opening the binder April gave her to see what exactly it is she’s come up with.

“Uh, do you mind if I…” Luke says, and Sterling looks up to see him indicating the seat beside her.

“Sure, go ahead,” Sterling says, too preoccupied with everything going on with her life to really read too much into the first private conversation she’s managed to have with Luke since she told him she missed him after giving him permission to date another girl.

Luke sits down next to her and fidgets a bit before he spits out what’s been eating him. “Uh, so you know how they found a pregnancy test a few days ago?” he asks.

“Yeah, it would be pretty impossible not to know that at this point,” Sterling says, not really meaning to snap at him, but this has become quite a sore subject.

“Was it yours? Are you--are we going to have a... baby,” Luke whispers the last word dramatically, and Sterling would honestly be tempted to laugh if she didn’t see...a sick little look of hope in Luke’s eyes.

“Oh heck no,” Sterling denies, shaking her head, and watches Luke’s shoulders slump.

“Oh, okay…” he says.

Sterling frowns, not able to let this go. She knows Luke probably isn’t getting a ton of fulfillment out of his relationship with April, and that he’d probably dump her for Sterling in a heartbeat, but the idea that he’d settle for a teenage pregnancy to get back into her life is just downright horrifying. “This should come as a huge relief to you and your girlfriend, but you seem oddly disappointed,” she says, calling him out.

Luke seems startled, as Sterling tended to let him get away with a lot of questionable things when they were together, with a smile on her face. “No, it is. It is a relief. I mean, can you imagine how the two of us would handle that?”

“I’d honestly rather not,” Sterling says, thinking that is a suitable way to effectively shut down this conversation. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a show to assist in directing.” She gets up from her seat and heads up to the stage, where April steps away from Ezekiel to confront her.

“What were you and Luke talking about?” April asks, and Sterling wonders if perhaps she came to the same conclusion as Luke.

“Why don’t you ask him?” With that, Sterling goes to talk to Ellen about what kind of publicity budget she has to work with.

Chapter Text

It may not necessarily be the most exciting thing in the world, but April must admit that she really loves Sunday mornings. Going to church and then having a delicious meal at the club tends to consistently be a contender for the highlight of her week, and that probably means she leads a very dull life, but she doesn’t really mind. The only excitement she constantly craves is the kind she can no longer indulge in.

But there is a bit more riding on this Sunday than usual because, in a completely unprecedented move, John invited Luke and his parents not only to sit in the Stevens family pew but to brunch at the club. And while April knows this isn’t even a real relationship in the grand scheme of things, she’s oddly concerned about impressing Luke’s parents, if only because she’s a big fan of praise. That’s the thought that’s on her mind when her dad pulls up in front of the club, behind several other cars waiting to be parked by the valets.

They all get out of the car and walk up to the valet booth to hand off the keys, and as fate would have it, so do the Wesleys. Because, as April has determined, God genuinely hates her.

“Debbie, Anderson, how are you today? Wasn’t that such a lovely sermon?” Mary asks cordially, though April knows her mother isn’t necessarily a fan of Debbie Wesley and vice versa. Something about PTA cliques.

“Yes, it was. I love that bracelet, Mary,” Debbie says, indicating the diamond tennis bracelet that John got Mary after returning home from jail.

“Aw, thank you. Tiffany’s,” Mary brags.

“Of course it is,” Debbie practically says through her teeth. She and Mary then continue on talking about Pastor Booth’s sermon while April is practically forced to make nice with Sterling and Blair as their fathers have begun to discuss the Cadillac.

“Sterling. Blair,” April says, acknowledging their presence while she watches out for the Creswells’ car. She notes how curiously quiet the two of them are being, and thinks it might possibly have something to do with the way John sneaks a glance over at them periodically. April could gag at what a shameless pervert he can be sometimes

“Can we please not do this today?” Sterling asks, keeping her voice low.

April’s somewhat taken aback by the way Sterling seems to be absolutely exhausted by the thought of one of their infamous back and forths because if April’s being honest, she kind of gets a thrill out of them—positive or not—after everything they’ve been through. “Okay…”

“Oh, please, like she’s even capable of keeping her mouth shut for five minutes,” Blair mutters to Sterling in a volume that was probably intended for April to not be able to hear, but little do they know she has ears like a bat.

April could pretend to have not heard that remark, but where is the fun in that? “So Blair, is it awkward coming back here after canoodling with the help?”

Blair looks like she could punch her. “I don’t know. Is it awkward going to church as the Antichrist?”

April’s in the middle of coming up with a comeback for Blair’s (admittedly pretty good if not unoriginal) comeback when Sterling gives her a look of warning and whispers harshly. “Do not.”

It’s then that Luke shows up with his parents like the true Savior that he is, getting April out of this oddly tense situation. “Hey, babe,” he says, leaning down to quickly peck April on the lips when he thinks John isn’t looking. Then he wraps his arm around her. “And Blair and Sterling. What are you guys doing here?” he asks awkwardly.

“Our parents pay an exorbitant amount of money per month to be members of the club, so we figure we better get a good meal out of it every once in a while, as you well know,” Blair says, apparently in as cheery of a mood as her sister this fine morning.

April’s not sure this conversation could get any more awkward, but just as that thought occurs to her, Miles jogs up to get the keys to Mr. Wesley’s car from him. Before he even has a chance to say anything to Blair, she’s covering her mouth with her hand.

“Uh, please excuse me,” she says, bolting into the club like she’s going to throw up.

“Dramatic much,” April mumbles under her breath while Miles, for what it’s worth, seems to feel bad about his very presence seeming to make Blair nauseated.

April’s actually quite glad to finally go in and be seated at the table with her parents and Luke’s family, even if her boyfriend’s hand finds its way to her knee within five seconds of them sitting down. April recognizes that to him, she is a stand-in for Sterling, but just because the two of them had six years to get to a point where this kind of constant touching was okay does not mean April is. Or ever will be. “Luke, we’re in public,” she hisses at him in a whisper, and he withdraws his hand, looking sheepish to have been called out.

“So April,” Lynn Creswell says from across the table, none the wiser to what just transpired between her handsy son and his gay girlfriend. “From what I’ve been told, you’re quite the little renaissance woman.”

“Well, you know, I’m kind of like a shark. If I stop moving, I die,” April jokes, but when Lynn and Vernon seem more freaked out than anything, she adds, “Meaning I like to keep busy.”

“April’s pulling excellent grades from her AP biology class, as you can probably tell,” Mary says, swooping in to rescue her from the awkward moment brewing. “Actually, she’s pulling excellent grades from all of her classes. She’s really very studious. She’s on track to be the valedictorian of her class.”

“Very impressive,” Vernon notes. “It’s a wonder you even have time for a social life.”

April smiles and hums, not wanting to say that a good deal of it comes from her own natural intellect and also a lot of coffee. “I like to keep my life balanced. Though I will admit that it helps to have Luke in the cast of the school musical with me, or I don’t know when we’d have the time to see each other.”

Vernon chuckles. “Something tells me that may have something to do with him trying out in the first place,” he says, patting Luke hard on the back while April resists the urge to correct him on his usage of ‘try-out’ as opposed to ‘audition.’

God, she hates sports people. “Well, either way, we’re glad to have him. His unique take on Jesus is something you’ll all want to see,” April says, carefully wording everything so that she isn’t blatantly lying about Luke’s level of talent and is quite relieved to not have to say anything else before their waitress comes around to take their orders (with her dad making it explicitly clear that he’ll be paying for the whole table). 

But once the waitress is gone again, that leaves the conversation open for John to take over. “You know, I’ll be the first to say that I wasn’t about to let just anyone date my daughter, but you’ve got a fine boy there, you two,” he says, and Lynn and Vernon smile proudly.

“Well, truth be told, John, we’re just as glad that Luke’s found a nice girl like April. Nowadays, I swear girls just don’t always respect themselves,” Lynn says, sipping her mimosa, and April sees her momentarily glance over at the Wesleys’ table.

April and Sterling’s eyes meet from across the room, and April feels butterflies in her stomach at possibly the most inopportune moment. Namely, because Sterling gives her a look of utter contempt and goes back to whatever conversation she and her family were having. And also because April is currently in the middle of a conversation herself that feels like the beginnings of an arranged marriage. Which, knowing her father, it very well might be.

“April, show the Creswells the ring your father got you,” Mary instructs her, getting her back to the topic at hand.

April sighs and shows off the ring that in this context is basically a receipt stating that she is not used opposed to Luke, but nobody seems to be holding him all that accountable for that fact. “It’s to signify my commitment to our Lord and Savior until marriage,” April says, just regurgitating the basic gist of the creepy vow her dad had her recite before he put it on her at a weird take on a debutante ball with a few other overbearing religious fathers and their long-suffering daughters. And if there weren’t enough weird ‘marrying her father’ connotations there, she also wore a white dress.

“So Luke, junior year. Have you given any thought to where you’re gonna go for college?” John asks.

Vernon doesn’t let his son answer for himself. “Oh, he’s going to play golf for UGA.”

John raises his champagne glass to that. “That’s what I like to hear. April’s going there for her MRS degree,” he says, chuckling, and April has to utilize anger management tactics to not murder her father in cold blood in front of fifty or so witnesses. “I’m just kidding. You’re gonna study law; right, Babygirl?”

April nods politely and pushes her chair out from the table. “If y’all will excuse me for a moment, I’ll be right back,” she says, standing and making to head for the ladies' room just to have a moment away from...all of this.

“Do you need me to come with you, Sweetheart?” Mary asks, as is contractually obligated by every woman in the history of the universe.

“No, thank you,” April declines politely and doesn’t stick around any longer, allowing her cheery facade to drop the moment she is in the bathroom. It’s the kind with two sides to it, and she immediately goes around to the one made up of counter space and mirrors.

She knows today should be like any other day she’s endured since she first started dating Luke, but it’s just all starting to feel so permanent, and the thought of that is truly terrifying. April can practically see her future of having a law degree that goes unused while she stays home to care for a few outrageously large children because Luke’s future nepotism job will more than pay the bills. 

April can’t pinpoint where exactly it was in that spiral that she started to cry, but if she had to guess, it was when she considered the logistics of a small woman like her pushing a ten-pound baby out of her body. This is a horrifying thought, on par with the idea that she could spend the rest of her life being completely miserable with someone she isn’t even attracted to, just to make her father proud of her...something that honestly feels like her white whale most days. She doesn’t even recognize the girl she sees in the mirror anymore. She just looks so sad.

April sighs and does her best to wipe away the few shed tears without messing up her makeup, but she’s startled when a toilet flushes, followed by a sink running. She’d honestly thought she was alone in here. Though apparently, she hadn’t been keeping track of the Wesley table at a certain point because who else should round the corner but Sterling, who is actually a welcome sight to April for the first time in a while.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were in here,” Sterling says, then turns to leave.

April’s not sure what compels her to say what she does next. Possibly she craves the ability to talk to someone who understands her. Possibly she just really misses Sterling and the way she can make April feel like a better person than she knows she is. But more than likely, it is both at once. “No, stay,” she says, her voice a bit more croaky than intended, so she clears her throat. “Please.”

Sterling’s eyes cut to the door, probably knowing that letting April get too close is bound to burn her again, and truly, April can’t say she is wrong in that assumption. But then she surprises April by turning back and coming to stand a few feet away. “What’s going on?” she asks, her voice tender like she’s dealing with someone delicate...and as much as April hates to admit it, she really is.

“Oh, you know...just boyfriend troubles,” she says, trying to keep things light as Sterling rolls her eyes.

“You know your boyfriend actually hoped that pregnancy test was mine, right?” she asks.

April wishes this honestly appalling revelation even had the ability to faze her, but it just doesn’t as she scoffs. “I’m not even surprised.”

Sterling shrugs. “Yeah, honestly, I’m not either.”

April can’t help but see that their respective reactions to this are both extremely underwhelmed from how they probably should be. But then, she probably shouldn’t be dating a boy who’s still madly in love with the girl standing before her...or any boy at all, really. Though his lingering feelings don’t appear to be particularly mutual. “All catty remarks aside, I’m so glad you and the new girl have gotten so close. I know how much you wanted someone willing to show off for the sake of everyone else.” Even April can recognize that this statement is very catty, but a part of her wonders if maybe Sterling hadn’t been so God damn pushy about PDA, maybe they could still be together right now.

Sterling bites her lip as if to keep herself from lashing out, and actually laughs. “You know, you could try a little harder to hide your jealousy.”

April feels personally attacked but scoffs nevertheless. “Please. I’m not jealous of her.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. “Okay, whatever. But it seems like Daddy’s a big fan of Luke, so good for you, I guess. Does it make up for it at all that you don’t even like him?”

April feels the anger continue to boil up inside her as the blatant truth bombs Sterling is dropping make it hard to lash out with logic. “This may be difficult for you to comprehend, but he and I connect in other ways besides physical.”

“Right. And I’m sure that’s so... satisfying for you,” Sterling says sarcastically as if challenging April to just tell her she’s wrong when she knows damn well she isn’t.

“What do you think would satisfy me, Sterling?” April asks, and there’s an abrupt shift in the mood of this conversation when Sterling’s eyes briefly drift down to April’s lips.

Then they’re practically lunging at each other, lips crashing together as April feels like she’s gasping at the surface of the ocean after not even realizing she was drowning. So much of her life has just felt wrong these past few weeks, and while doing this right here and now is most certainly wrong in the moral sense, it feels so damn right in every other way.

Sterling practically shoves her into the countertop, and April knows she’ll probably have bruises on the back of her legs, but the thought of that is actually quite exciting...almost as exciting as the thought that literally anyone could walk in right now and see what they’re doing. It’s dangerous and terrifying, and so sexy.

April’s hands tangle in Sterling’s hair, her nails digging into Sterling’s scalp, holding her close so she won’t dare to stop. April needs this. April needs her. But just as that thought occurs to her, Sterling is pulling away.

“This is wrong,” Sterling says, shaking her head, and April feels her heart shatter just a bit, but she isn’t about to let Sterling see that.

“You’re right,” she lies, nodding. “This was a mistake.” April takes Sterling’s hands off of her waist and takes a few deep breaths to calm herself.

Sterling steps back from her and runs a hand through that stupid gorgeous bob haircut. “This isn’t good for either of us. You’re with Luke and I...I am complicated. What just happened was-”

“It was a reaction to a heated discussion. Nothing else,” April says shortly, and with that, she quickly adjusts her dress and smoothes down her hair in the mirror before she’s leaving the bathroom again, telling herself over and over in her head not to cry about leaving behind the one person who’s ever made her feel right. But apparently, Sterling’s motivating factor for being attracted to her is just how wrong they are together.

April would have thought that being someone’s guilty pleasure might be kind of fun, but it turns out it just really sucks.


Sterling hopes that her longer-than-anticipated absence from the brunch table won’t be commented on (and the same goes for her lips that upon close inspection would probably look a bit kiss-swollen), but of course, that is wishful thinking with Blair here.

“Dang, Sterl. Did you blow up the toilet in there?” she asks, amused, before sipping her water, ignoring her smiley pancake entirely.

“Blair Wesley, where are your manners?” Anderson asks, appalled, and while he’s distracted, Sterling steals a large bite of Blair’s breakfast before digging into her own.

“Sorry, I was just concerned. I’d hate for Sterl to have an upset stomach the day she goes back to work—we have to clean that bathroom,” Blair fibs flawlessly to cover for their location after brunch.

They would have skipped this altogether since Blair can’t even eat before her procedure, but their parents had insisted they come, so there can only be an announcement of some kind. Which leaves Sterling to eat both of their meals as discreetly as possible to give the impression that nothing is amiss.

But then, absolutely everything is amiss, seeing as she just made out with April in the bathroom, and April is now across the dining room schmoozing her boyfriend’s parents with some story that is undoubtedly about one of her many achievements. It’s ridiculous how someone can manage to be the worst person in the room, and yet be the only person Sterling would gladly run away with.

And that’s without getting into the fact that she has to drive Blair to her covert Planned Parenthood appointment.

“Speaking of going back to work,” Debbie says with a smile on her face as she wipes at the corners of her mouth with her cloth napkin. “Girls, I believe your father has an announcement.”

“That I do!” Anderson says as if he forgot. “Elliot and I have finally found the right office to lease, so you are looking at the new senior partner of Wesley & Jones, PLLC,” Anderson says proudly, and this comes as a bit of a shock to Sterling, who’d always figured he’d go crawling back to Big Daddy and Deacon. But she should have realized that bridge was well and truly burned when he poached their rising superstar to be his potential partner, which now seems to be a reality, and Sterling couldn’t be happier for her father.

“Daddy, that’s amazing!” She and Blair get up to give him their signature double trouble bear hug.

“We’re so proud of you!” Blair chimes in.

“As am I,” Debbie adds from her seat at the table, as this isn’t a new revelation to her. “It was either this, or I was threatening to go back to work myself.”

The concept of her mother once having a job has always been an odd one for Sterling. Of course, the fact that her mother was once (for all of two years) a nurse at a doctor’s office before she and Blair were a thing has always been a fun tidbit of information. One that saved her and Blair from a few hospital visits during their rowdier years, at the very least. But the thought of the Debbie Wesley she knows now, who spends her days being the perfect June Cleaver type, going back to work seems...inconceivable. 

“And as I told you, Deborah, you can do that only if it’s what you really want to do,” Anderson says as he and the twins sit back down.

Debbie shrugs. “Maybe once the girls are in college. Lord knows how bored I’ll get without having to clean up their messes all the time,” she says teasingly.

“Oh please, you know you’ll miss us terribly,” Blair says, smiling sweetly. “And who knows? Sterl could always just stay home and commute to UGA.”

Sterling frowns, as that statement would imply Blair doesn’t plan on going to their parents’ alma mater. “You mean we both could…”

“About that,” Blair says, cutting her pancake into little pieces to disturb the plate a bit. “If Coach thinks I can get a lacrosse scholarship, then that means I need to go to a school that actually has a division one NCAA women’s lacrosse team. So I mean, I’ll apply, but I’m gonna be taking into consideration any offers I get from teams that’ll have me.”

Anderson and Debbie nod approvingly and Sterling wants to know if everyone besides her has started to take crazy pills. “But that’s not what we planned…” she says, horrified at the thought of transitioning to college without her best and, aside from Reese, only friend . Who just so happens to be her sister.

“Sterling, you have to understand that lacrosse means a lot to Blair, and if she can get a free education out of it, then I’m all for it,” Anderson says, not at all sympathetic to the existential crisis Sterling is having. 

She knows she and Blair aren’t actually twins, but the thought of spending an extended period of time away from her is just dreadful. She shoves a few bites of ketchup-dunked home fries into her mouth to stop herself from lashing out in public, then turns to Blair.

“What are you doing? How can you even think of just going to school somewhere else without me?”

“Sterl, I promise that is my number one reason not to do it, but I have to think about myself a little bit. Let’s be real, I don’t get as good of grades as you and I’m not that into extracurriculars, so lacrosse is kind of all I have.”

“But you have me! I mean, where would you even go?”

“Well, the two best teams as far as championship titles go are Maryland and Northwestern…”

“But then you’d be a whole plane ride away from me! You know what? I forbid it. I forbid you from going anywhere that isn’t reasonable driving distance.”

“That’s not really how it works, Sterl…”

“I don’t care! I can’t even think about losing you when things just started to be good between us again!”

“Yeah, I get that, but can we maybe do this on a day when I’m not about to commit a Supersin on a Sunday? Please?”

Sterling is quick to shut down that nonsense, no matter how upset she is. “It’s not a Supersin.”

“Well, either way, I have to go get my ‘not a Supersin’ done in like an hour, so can you please just eat our breakfasts and I promise we can talk about this later?”

“Yeah, whatever,” Sterling sighs and returns to the universe at large.

Her parents have gotten into a conversation of their own, as they are quite used to when Twinspeak happens, and she takes the opportunity to eat more of Blair’s breakfast. She is going to have major carb overload after this, but Blair can’t say she doesn’t love her. 

“So Sterling, how has the musical been going?” Debbie asks, focusing her attention back on the girls.

Sterling shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m not really a musical person but April Stevens is the star, so there’s that.”

“That little girl has always loved bein’ the center of attention,” Anderson notes. “But either way, we’ll be sure to come see the show one night. All of us.”

“Ugh, barf, do I have to?” Blair whines.

“Yes, you have to,” Debbie says, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. “And Sterling, there haven’t been any more...altercations with your classmates?”

Sterling supposes she means at school, because if anywhere is fair game, then she technically just had one with April. “No, no altercations. No homophobic slurs either, though Dustin Michaelson did offer his services to help make me straight again, so there’s that,” Sterling says, trying to not still be bothered by that particular incident on Friday.

Anderson drops his fork. “What boy told you what, now?” he asks, appalled.

“It’s fine, Daddy. He’s just another stupid boy,” Sterling says, not having mentioned it before because she didn’t want people to make a big deal out of it.

“Yeah, and God knows our school is in no short supply of those. But if he says any more gross shit to you, please tell me so I can kick him in the nuts,” Blair says, drinking more water. “Actually, I might still kick him in the nuts tomorrow morning as a preemptive measure.”

“That’s my girl,” Anderson says, satisfied with this. “Just don’t do it with any witnesses. I can only pull the lawsuit card on that principal of yours so many times before the threat loses its edge.”

“Which means no more skipping school either, Sterling,” Debbie adds. “Though it does beg the question. That Reese Ryan girl you’ve been hanging around with doesn’t have something to do with your newfound embrace of your...not straight side, does she?” She sounds worried that this is the case, and Sterling supposes that’s a little fair. 

Reese just kind of screams ‘bad news.’

“Well, I mean, she came out to the whole school by making out with her outside of Fellowship, so you guys can draw your own conclusions there,” Blair says, scoffing.

“Blair, this is my coming out process, not yours, and I would appreciate it very much if you let me live my truth at my own pace.” Sterling tries to sound mature as she says this, tilting up her chin and looking admittedly a little smug about it.

“If ‘living your truth’ involves you being... involved with that hooligan, then we very much deserve to know these things.” Debbie shakes her head and tips back the remainder of her mimosa.

“Y’all see what you’re doing?” Anderson asks the twins, pointing to Debbie. “You’re driving your mother to drink.”

Debbie smacks him in the arm. “As if your insistence on talking to John Stevens outside earlier isn’t a contributing factor. You know how much I despise his wife. And Lynn Creswell can eff right off, too.”

“Mom!” Blair says, sounding both appalled and thrilled by this, and Sterling is right there with her. 

She knew things between her mom and April’s have never been the best, but she’d thought Debbie had buried the hatchet with Lynn after the whole book club slut-shaming incident. 

Of course, that was before Lynn’s son started dating Mary Stevens’ daughter, and Sterling is sure it’s a well-known fact that one cannot simply be friends with Debbie Wesley and Mary Stevens at the same time. High school drama can be vicious, but it has nothing on mom drama, which is war, and that makes Lynn Benedict Arnold. But worse.

“Sterling, you’ve barely touched your food,” Anderson notes, pointing at her plate.

Sterling feels herself getting full already, but she decides that it’s just mind over matter as she shoves a piece of bacon into her mouth and washes it down with chocolate milk. “But to answer your earlier concerns, no. Reese is not the sole contributing factor to my desire to let my blue-pink-purple flag fly. Even if she’s a really good kisser.”

“Good Lord. Mark that down on my list of things I didn’t need to know,” Anderson says, looking down at his plate and stabbing with his fork.

“Just promise us that if things get serious between y’all, you’ll at least let us properly meet this girl and her parents,” Debbie says, pouring herself another drink. “According to the book I’ve been reading about parenting bisexual teens, we’re supposed to treat any and all relationships of yours equally, regardless of the gender of your partner. But that doesn’t stop me from disapproving of someone who’s a bad influence in other ways.”

Sterling finds it very sweet that Debbie is actually putting in the effort to understand. That both of her parents are, in their own ways. But her girlish teenage angst isn’t about to let them have any peace just yet. “Well, Reese’s mom is dead, but I’m sure she and her dad would gladly put a seance together with enough notice?”

“Metal,” Blair says under her breath.

“Sterling Pearl, I have just about had it up to here with the attitude,” Anderson says, and Sterling knows he would be speaking at a much higher volume if they weren’t in public. “You aren’t like this, we know you’re not, so can you please stop trying to be an edgy kid and show some respect to your mother?”

Sterling feels like a scolded child. “Sorry, Mom,” she grumbles.

Debbie looks way too satisfied. “Apology accepted,” she says smugly. “Now, if you’re going to be involved with Reese, let her and her father know that we’d very much like to meet them.”

“It highly depends on your definition of ‘involved,’ because Reese and I are not dating,” Sterling says firmly, and it’s the only justification she can give even herself for what just happened with April.

“Yeah, it’s definitely more of a FWB or ‘friends with benefits’ situation,” Blair says, amused.

Anderson glares daggers at Sterling. “What kind of benefits? Health insurance?” His ability to throw a dad joke in there while maintaining a straight face is something to be admired.

Sterling shrugs and shoves another piece of bacon into her mouth.

“So, do you wanna try to work on our Spanish project when we get home?” Sterling asks as she takes in the sights of East Atlanta, which she’s ventured into only a handful of times in her life. She can’t help but hum a few notes of the song, ‘Havana,’ in any case.

“Are you seriously asking me if I want to do homework after my abortion? Is that what you are asking me right now, Sterling?” Blair asks, appalled.

Sterling shrugs. “I mean, it’s due on Wednesday, and we still need to watch the movie to refresh our brains.”

“Ugh, fine, you nerd. But you have to get me something to eat after the big show’s over. I’m frickin’ starving,” Blair says, leaning her head back against the headrest. “Why we didn’t schedule this for earlier, I do not know.”

“Because this is when there was a timeslot,” Sterling reminds her needlessly. “And because Mom and Dad would have definitely suspected something’s up if we missed church.”

“Thus forcing me to actually make eye contact with the fetus daddy himself,” Blair groans. “Why didn’t you tell me it was a bad idea to lose my virginity to someone we now have to see all the time?”

Sterling shrugs. “I mean, if I had, would you have listened?”

“No, probably not.” Blair shakes her head. “And I guess you have to see the dude you lost your virginity to all the time, too.”

Sterling nods. “Yep.”

“And he’s dating the she-devil you wanted to lose your girl virginity to,” Blair adds, being entirely unhelpful.

Sterling frowns, too distracted by one detail in particular to be mad about Blair bringing up April. “My girl virginity, as opposed to my regular ol’ virginity? Is that a thing you are claiming as fact right now?” she asks, amused.

Blair nods. “That is exactly what I’m saying. You’re bi, and bi means two, so you get two first times. One with a guy, which, unfortunately for you, is the sole property of one Luke Creswell now and forever, and one that you get to give to some special lady who hopefully is not April Stevens.”

“Yeah, you definitely don’t have to worry about that,” Sterling scoffs. “But thank you, o wise hetero sister for your insight into the duality of my lady parts.” Sometimes it even astounds Sterling how ridiculous the two of them can be, but she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“You are most welcome, dear queer sister,” Blair says, reaching across the center console to pat Sterling on the leg. After a few moments of silence, the mood shifts a bit. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to thank you for being so cool through all this. I know that it freaks you out.”

Sterling shrugs, not wanting to let her own feelings get in the way of taking care of Blair through all of this. “It doesn’t freak me out. I just want to make sure you’re okay because this is kind of a big deal.”

“Is it, though? I mean, it’s a bundle of cells that’s like, the size of a blueberry. I’m sixteen years old, the other DNA contributor in this equation wants nothing to do with me, and there’s the small matter of me not wanting...all of this,” Blair says, gesturing around her flat stomach. “I just don’t.” She sounds so sure of her decision, and Sterling can’t find a single flaw in her reasoning.

“So what do you wanna eat after?” Sterling asks, even if the thought of eating another bite of food makes her want to gag.

Blair shrugs.

“You want Chick-Fil-A?” Sterling asks enticingly, knowing it’s Blair’s favorite that she could never turn down. Not to mention the fact that they would be getting food from there of all places after committing, as Blair put it, a Supersin. Which sounds weirdly satisfying.

“You’re sick-minded. I love it,” Blair says, smiling devilishly. “Tendies and waffle fries with a frosted lemonade. Maybe just have them ready because I’m gonna have to be in recovery for a bit.”

Sterling nods, trying not to find it funny that she’ll be buying her sister a post-abortion meal from Known Christian chicken joint, Chick-Fil-A.

“Also, I’m gonna need like, diaper-sized pads and ibuprofen if you want to stop at a drug store first,” Blair adds, and Sterling is beginning to wonder if she’s being given a list of chores so Blair can take her mind off of what’s to come, but she’s more than happy to oblige, in any case.

“Anything else?” Sterling asks, just wanting to make sure her sister feels as comfortable as possible.

Blair thinks about that a moment. “And a cookie...or six.”

This is the first time in recent memory that Sterling can recall her and Blair watching The Parent Trap together without saying the lines to each other, but that’s probably because Blair has had very little in the way of things to say since Sterling picked her up. She’s just silently dipping her waffle fries in signature sauce, watching the movie (with Spanish subtitles) on Sterling’s laptop attentively. Or at least giving the impression that she is.

“Did you know Lindsay Lohan’s body double is a Broadway actress now?” Sterling asks, hoping to break the silence with an interesting tidbit of information she learned from IMDB.

Blair sighs, obviously seeing right through this attempt. “I did not know that.”

“Did you know the actresses who played Chessy and Meredith Blake are best friends IRL?” Sterling asks, knowing she’s being obnoxious with these fun facts that nobody asked for, let alone Blair, but she’d prefer if her sister was annoyed with her over dwelling on the thing that happened this afternoon.

“Sterl, I am trying to watch the movie,” Blair snaps, taking Sterling aback for a moment.

She knows Blair probably isn’t physically feeling too great right now, but going into things, she’d seemed so nonchalant and not that. “You know you can talk to me about it,” she offers. 

Blair shakes her head fervently. “Nothing to talk about. Ever. To anyone.”

“Not even to me?” Sterling asks, a little hurt.

“You just don’t get it, okay?” Blair crosses her arms. “Besides, it’s not like you’ve exactly been an open book lately either.”

Sterling sighs and pauses the movie. “What do you want me to open up about, Blair? Do you want me to tell you that I’ve been terrified these last few weeks that whatever cosmic connection we have had since we were infants is going to just slowly fade away now that we know we aren’t actually birth twins? Do you want me to tell you that you now deciding that you’re going to be going to college in a totally different state from me doesn’t exactly assuage those fears?” Actually voicing these things is proving to hit Sterling a bit harder than she’d anticipated, but if Blair wants trust and honesty, then that is what she will get. “Oh! I know! How about the fact that I kissed April today at the club. That’s a fun one.”

Blair’s eyes go wide. “Uh, holy shit, is that why you were in the bathroom so long?” she asks, dumbfounded, and Sterling nods, ashamed.

“We got into a heated discussion, and-”

“And your tongues ended up in each other’s mouths?” Blair asks, seeming appalled. “Isn’t this the same girl who dumped you for Luke because her awful dad got out of jail? And I thought you had a thing going with Reese.”

Sterling sighs and shrugs, not really having a good excuse for her regrettable actions and knowing it won’t do her any good to say that April was a more than willing collaborator. “I effed up, and I admit it. She’s just so infuriating and it’s not fair that she’s also gorgeous.”

“Yeah, it’s like how the most colorful animals in the wild tend to be poisonous,” Blair says, scoffing, but Sterling can’t help but be taken back to a certain perfect arcade date with the girl who actually compared herself to a blue poison frog. “Either way, you need to move on from her because I guarantee you, nothing good will come from pining for the ice queen. You’re either gonna waste too much time waiting for her to grow a pair, or you’re just going to outright get your heart broken.” She’s right. Sterling knows that Blair is right. But it doesn’t make the thought of giving up on something Sterling once thought could be really good any easier.

“Since when did you become the relationship expert here?” Sterling asks, smirking at her sister.

Blair shrugs. “I guess I’m wizened from my own experiences. BT-dubs, unplanned pregnancy and abortion? Zero out of ten, would not recommend.”

Sterling chuckles. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she says, but notices that her sister is looking a lot less okay than her joking demeanor would suggest. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

Blair shakes her head, and Sterling watches a tear stream down her cheek. “No, it’s hormones are all out of whack and will be for a while,” she says, sounding unconvincing. “Besides, I don’t have a reason to be sad, right? I made the right choice.”

Sterling sighs and pulls her sister in for a side hug. “Sometimes what is the right choice for us isn’t the easiest. You’re allowed to be sad if you want to be.”

That seems to break the dam, and Blair is burying her face into Sterling’s shoulder, silently sobbing. “None of it was supposed to be like this,” she cries, slightly muffled.

Sterling changes the side hug into a full on hug, holding her sister tight. “I know. But you know I’ll always be here for you, right? Even if you’re far away at some stupid lacrosse school.”

Blair actually chuckles at that, pulling away and wiping her tears with her sweater sleeve, sniffling. “And I’ll always be here for you, even if your taste in romantic partners can be downright disturbing. Actually, I’ll be here for you especially because of your taste in romantic partners. No offense, Sterl, but you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of crazy if April is your type.”

“I don’t have a type,” Sterling insists, and honestly, it has to be the truth. April and Luke couldn’t be any more different if they tried. Well, unless she counts Star Wars nerds, apparently

“Still. I’ll protect you from whatever crazy ex situation you inevitably end up in,” Blair says as she settles back down on the bed, returning to watching the movie, which is really starting to hit its stride now that Annie and Hallie have been sent to the Isolation Cabin.

“If your mom is my mom, and my dad is your dad, and we were both born on October 11th, then you and I are sisters!” Sterling says along with the movie.

Blair chuckles but follows suit in a very poor British accent. “Sisters? Hallie, we’re like twins!”

They hug tight like the two Lindsay Lohans onscreen...well, one Lindsay Lohan and one back of Erin Mackey’s head.

“Ugh, I cannot believe we still have to do the actual project,” Blair says, still holding Sterling.

“I know,” Sterling says soothingly, patting Blair on the back. “I know.”

"Seriously though, can you please Twin Swear never to speak of this day to anyone ever again?" Blair asks, pulling away and putting up her pinky, which Sterling grasps with her own without hesitation.

"Twin Swear."

Chapter Text

“No me gusta la...arena. Es duro, áspero y irritante y va a todas partes. No como here—aqui. Aquí todo es...suave y terso,” Luke says in his attempt at sounding romantic in the recorded video for his and April’s presentation. He’s standing in front of the pool in April’s backyard, which acted as an okay substitute for the Varykino retreat on Naboo. The camera work leaves something to be desired, but then, April was left with a choice of either using a tripod or having one of her friends do it, and they used her dad’s camcorder from when she was a baby to bring a sort of cinematic element to the table, but its visual quality is lacking. Neither of those was bound to lend themselves to good cinematography. And that’s not even mentioning Luke’s line delivery, which was from the best take, though nobody would know it from watching this travesty.

“Dude, are they talking about sand?” She hears Blair whisper to Sterling, who giggles uncontrollably, much like she had when April first came on screen in full costume as Padmé Amidala.

April whips around in her seat, which startles Sterling. “Will you shut up?” she whispers harshly.

Sterling, wide-eyed, makes a point to do a zipper motion over her lips, then leans back in her seat, arms crossed, to finish watching the video.

April as Padmé looks intensely at Anakin Luke, who fidgets with the Jedi braid April clipped into his hair behind his ear before touching her arm and then her back inappropriately. They kiss, which somehow doesn’t have as great of an impact as in the actual movie...probably because there is no soundtrack.

“What the frick? Is this allowed?” Franklin asks from his desk, getting a few laughs from their classmates, and April could hit him.

“No debí haber hecho eso,” Padmé April says, pulling away, and April feels acutely aware of the fact that a very similar situation happened between her and the giggling nuisance sitting behind her only a few days ago.

“Lo siento.”

The scene shifts to Padmé April and Anakin Luke sitting at the Stevens family’s dining room table.

Y cuando estuve allí, comenzamos negociaciones agresivas, ” Anakin Luke says, stumbling over the lines and really only getting the ‘aggressive negotiations’ part of the quote correct, despite April’s repeated attempts to correct him.

¿Negociaciones agresivas? ¿Qué es eso? ” Padmé April replies, with far better pronunciation than her counterpart. 

“Negociaciones con un lightsaber.” Luke had dug his feet in and insisted that he get to say lightsaber, instead of translating the word into Spanish and April had let it be in order to get the project finished. However, this is now something she regrets as she watches the pear floating across the table in the video. Her dad had cleverly rigged fishing wire to be able to achieve this special effect after he’d walked in to find Luke mid-throw with a cut-up piece of pear. Unfortunately, not before a pear had hit April square in the face.

“Witchcraft!” Blair shrieks as the pear ‘floats’ back towards Padmé April. The rest of the class breaks into laughter, cutting over Luke’s less than stunning dialogue.

“Silencio classe,” Señora O’Reilly says warningly to the giggling students.

Then comes the final scene, one that April regrets immensely. Giving Luke a monologue had been a choice. 

“En el momento en que me encontré contigo, hace muchos años, no ha pasado un día en el que no haya pensado en ti.”  

Hearing him stumble through Anakin’s melodramatic speech about how tortured he is by his feelings for Padmé reminds April of filming multiple takes of this and eventually realizing that maybe it would have been a smarter choice all around for her to have been Anakin. She’s sure they would have gotten some kind of extra credit for dressing up Luke like Natalie Portman.  

“Si sufres tanto como yo, POR FAVOR, dímelo.” Luke Anakin looks at her with the intensity of Taylor Lautner in the third Twilight movie.

“No puedo ... No podemos ... No es posible.” Now it’s April’s time to shine, and their only hope for a passing grade. “¡No, escucha! Vivimos en un mundo real, vuelve a él. Estás estudiando para convertirte en Jedi, yo soy ... soy un senador. Si sigue sus pensamientos hasta la conclusión, nos llevará a un lugar al que no podemos ir, independientemente de lo que sentimos el uno por el otro.”

April tunes out the rest of the scene because, once again, Blair and Sterling are exchanging commentary behind her.

“I’m just so distracted by that God awful rat tail glued to Luke’s head,” Blair whispers, if whispering is even the right word for the volume she’s using. Again the class breaks out in giggles and this time Señora O’Reilly doesn’t bother shushing them.

When the video ends, April claps for her own film to encourage the rest of the class, who applaud politely as the lights come on, but who is she kidding? She’ll be lucky not to get a failing grade thanks to Luke’s dead weight.

“Muy bueno, Abril y Carlos,” Señora O’Reilly says unconvincingly, basically confirming April’s fears that they won’t be getting anything better than a B. “¿Quién quiere ir después? Carolina y Camila?” she says to Sterling and Blair, who happily go up to the projector with a flash drive.

While they get their video set up, Luke leans forward to whisper loudly to April, “I think that was good, right Babe?”

April grimaces rather than smiles. “Yeah, totally,” she lies and makes a note to herself that even though she has every intention of making this thing between them last a realistic six months or so, she can never again let it put her perfect GPA in jeopardy.

Sterling and Blair get their video going and return to their seats as Señora O’Reilly kills the lights again.

April isn’t expecting much, but instead, she’s presented with a shockingly faithful depiction of the cabin scene from The Parent Trap that looks like Sterling and Blair filmed it in Blair’s room. The two of them are even wearing black-trimmed white t-shirts with the Camp Walden logo from the movie, and Blair’s hair is in a ponytail with a headband in a very late 90s way.

They go through the whole scene of the big revelation that the two of them are in fact, sisters and twins, though April would argue it loses some of its oomph when they aren’t actually identical. The video is endlessly charming in its authenticity, nevertheless. It looks like they even got one of their parents—Mr. Wesley, more than likely—to spray the window with a garden hose to mimic rain. They even added in the right part of the movie score, and when the big reveal of the torn picture comes out, April rolls her eyes at the fact that they took a picture of their actual parents in front of a life preserver with ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ written on it in Sharpie. The attention to detail is almost as impeccable as Blair’s ability to somehow speak Spanish in a British accent.

“Si tu mamá es mi mamá, y mi papá es tu papá, y ambos nacimos el 11 de octubre, entonces tú y yo somos como ... ¡como hermanas!” Sterling as Hallie Parker concludes happily.

Blair as Annie James rolls her eyes. “Hermanas? Hallie, ¡somos como gemelos!” 

They hug and eventually finish the scene. When the lights come on, they require no prompting to get a round of applause from the whole class. Even April has to reluctantly clap it out for a job well done, even if she’s sure having such a stellar video to compare it to will well and truly tank the grade on her own video.

This suspicion is confirmed a few minutes before the bell is due to ring when Señora O’Reilly passes out grade sheets to each of them.

80%. No es tu mejor esfuerzo.

“Woo! A hundred percent!” Sterling says excitedly, and she and Blair share a high five.

“A hundred percent,” April says to herself in a high-pitched mocking tone as she shoves the abysmal grade sheet into her Spanish folder in her binder. The absolute nerve of that woman to suggest the grade is for her lack of effort and not Luke being completely hopeless. 

The bell rings, and April wastes no time getting out of her seat and slinging her bag over her shoulder. Thankfully, in biology, she has a lab partner who generally knows what he’s doing. She’s on her way there when her oversized Hayden Christensen jogs up to her. 

“Hey Babe, 80% is a B, right?” Luke asks, looking at his grade sheet.

April sighs. “No, Luke. It’s a B-.”

He frowns, noticing she is less than enthused. “Is that not good? Because it’s still a B and I’m getting like a 75% in the whole class.” The fact that he’s able to freely admit this at all, let alone with pride, is slightly horrifying to April.

“No, it’s not good, Luke!” she snaps at him. “I am trying to maintain a 4.1 GPA here! If I don’t get a perfect grade in Spanish this semester, then I might not get valedictorian when we graduate next year, and if I don’t get valedictorian, then my dad…” April trails off, not even really able to fathom the consequences of such an epic failure.

Luke stops her, putting his hands on her shoulders and looking her in the eye. “Babe, just calm down, okay? You’re like, the smartest girl at this school-”

“-Smartest person,” April interjects. If he can name one boy at their school that even comes close to her, or even Sterling’s level of intelligence, then she will admit she is wrong.

Luke chuckles. “Yeah, the smartest person. I’m sorry I brought your grade down. Maybe we shouldn’t partner up anymore if you’re worried about that.”

April hates how nice this boy can be because it makes it hard to stay angry with him. She sighs, defeated. “It wasn’t your fault. I should have run over lines with you a few more times. And maybe invested in a new camera.”

“I think our costumes were pretty cool though,” Luke offers. “But I think our costumes for the dance are gonna be even better. Especially if I don’t have to have that Jedi braid…”

April smiles and nods. “Yes, I think you and I are definitely gonna kill it. I’m sorry for snapping at you.”

“You are forgiven,” Luke says, leaning down a bit. “If I can kiss you right now.”

April hums. Of course, it always comes to that. “Why not?” she says, getting on her tiptoes, but is saved when Luke’s lips are a centimeter from hers by Principal Strickland.

“Luke, April. You know better. Leave room for Jesus at least during school hours,” he scolds them, and Luke blushes at being caught.

He lets go of April and gives her some space. “Uh, okay, well, I guess you’re forgiven anyway. Raincheck on that kiss, though?”

“Absolutely,” April says, shifting awkwardly on her feet. “I have to get to biology now, though,” she says, gesturing over her shoulder with her thumb.

“Yeah, me too,” Luke says, then shakes his head, realizing his mistake. “Or like, not actually me too because I have English. But still, I’ll see you at lunch?”

April shakes her head regretfully. “Unfortunately, I have to help get decorations ready for the dance.” She actually isn’t too sad about it, as this is a chance for her to tell people what to do and have a lunch period that doesn’t involve Luke stealing her food or otherwise being all over her.

Luke shrugs. “I mean, I could always bring you lunch and help out? Are you gonna be in the Fellowship room?”

April sighs, realizing she could never be so lucky to not have him around for an extended period of time. “Yeah, I am.”

“Cool! So what do you want me to get you? You know, for lunch?” Luke asks, looking like a puppy trying to please his master.

She’s tempted to just tell him to surprise her, but knowing Luke and his taste, she realizes that would be a horrible idea. “Can you get me one of those buffalo chicken wraps they do in the salad line?” April realizes after she’s said it and Luke looks momentarily confused that he’s probably never gone through the salad line at lunch. “That’s the one on the far left,” she adds.

“Right, right. Okay, one buffalo chicken wrap. You got it,” Luke says, nodding dutifully and looking like he’s storing that information away in whatever brain filing system he has. “Okay, I’ll see you in the Fellowship room then.”

“It’s a date,” April says, and immediately regrets her phrasing when Luke’s face lights up.

“What do you got for your Punnett square?” Ezekiel asks, leaning over to get a closer look at April’s worksheet.

April pushes it closer to him, having already finished the whole thing.  She loves Punnett squares. They’re neat and organized like everything she loves in the world. “Basically, the ginger gene can sneak up on anyone,” she says, having taken considerable delight in this exercise if she’s being honest.

“Like the Spanish Inquisition,” Ezekiel jokes, and the two of them giggle at the Monty Python reference. “So real talk,” he says, starting to just actively copy April’s work, “We must discuss character dynamics for Jesus Christ Superstar. Because I was binging bootlegs and pro-shots over the weekend and we have options for how we play this thing.”

April nods knowingly, having done the same. “For Judas and Mary, it seems like you can play it one of two ways. Either you hate my guts for, in essence, stealing your man, or we’re indifferent towards each other.”

“Right, like the creepy Swedish version vs the Tim Minchin and Mel C. one,” Ezekiel says, always knowing exactly what April means when she says things like that. “Though I think the PTA would take offense to the Swedish take on the whole kiss of betrayal thing.”

April chuckles. She’s sure a lot of parents—her father especially—would lose their shit if Jesus and Judas made out on the Willingham stage. “Still though, I think the resentment angle is the more interesting one. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sara Bareilles, but her dynamics with anyone on the stage aside from Jesus left something to be desired. And if you saw the Spanish project Luke and I just presented, you would understand me when I say that we must be prepared to carry this entire production on our backs.”

Ezekiel sighs. “Just like Tim Minchin…” he says knowingly. “But it’s not like it’s anything we didn’t already know. So you and I are gonna absolutely blow everyone’s minds, and so what if our Jesus sucks ass? At least he’ll look good up on that cross, which I think is about half the reason why Ellen cast him at all. Just as long as I don’t have to kiss him, we can make this work.” This is why April loves Ezekiel. Like her, he’s not afraid to tell it exactly how it is, regardless of trivial things like people’s feelings.

“Yo, Thelma and Louise,” Reese the new girl calls to them from across the aisle, tossing a crumpled up piece of paper at April’s head and causing Sterling to giggle uncontrollably. “When you’re done being chatty beyotches, can you please tell me what you got for question five?”

April rolls her eyes. “To quote Herman Melville, ‘I would prefer not to,’’' she says and uncrumples the wad of paper, finding that it contains an (admittedly not half bad) cartoonish drawing of her as a witch. “Creative,” she says dryly, tossing it back to Reese. “It’s nice to see you getting into that festive Halloween spirit.”

Reese grins at her. “Well, of course I am! Halloween is cool and being normal is vastly overrated,” she says, bastardizing the immortal words of Debbie Reynolds.

“I’m sure you’ll be going to the Sadie Hawkins dance on Saturday, then,” April says, not too thrilled about possibly having a chance encounter with the Catholic menace, but a ticket sale is a ticket sale.

Reese shrugs. “Eh. Never really been one for school dances. Especially not when I could be out causing property damage or trick or treating without a costume or whatever it is juvenile delinquents do on Halloween.”

April knows Reese is intentionally being performative with the assumptions April has made about her, so she isn’t about to let her get under her skin any more than she already has. “Well, if you change your mind, tickets will also be available at the door.”

“And when you say 80s movie theme, do you mean like actual 80s movies, or can I just show up as Nancy from Stranger Things?” Reese asks.

“Actual 80s movies,” April says, annoyed, hoping she doesn’t see anyone dressed as a character from GLOW at the dance either.

“Awesome. Thank you so much for clearing that up for me, August,” Reese says, smiling and going back to her worksheet while April is left to steam over being called the wrong month. She’s still a bit chuffed by the time class ends and she and Ezekiel head to the Fellowship room, where Hannah B. is working diligently on the poster April assigned her.

“Alright everyone, listen up,” April says, having the ten or so volunteers drop what they’re doing for a second to gather around her. “So we are now about three days out from the dance, which means we’ve got a lot to get done before everything goes up in the gym Friday afternoon. I know it’s a Halloween gym dance, so hokey decorations are kind of the name of the game, but I won’t tolerate shoddy workmanship. Also, when you guys get the time, I’d like you to come up here and write down an 80s song you’d like to hear played at the dance, as I’m finalizing our requests for the DJ. Also also, if you guys can think of a drink situation we can work with without a bartender and without an easily contaminated punch bowl, let me know. Okay, now back to work.”

Once dismissed, everyone gets back to their work, and April puts down a clipboard containing the song request sheet on the coffee table by the leather couches. She’s just about to get to work on checking in with their caterer when she’s startled by arms being wrapped around her. Her gut instinct is to attack, but she is without the use of her arms.

“You’re so pretty when you’re in charge,” Luke says, kissing her cheek as she calms down upon realizing it’s (unfortunately) only her boyfriend.

“Don’t scare me like that! Do you know how much freaky stuff happens to women around Halloween?” April asks, hand over her heart as she catches her breath.

“In school?” Luke sounds confused but proceeds to hand her a cardboard lunch box. “Anyway, here’s your salad wrap thing.”

“Thank you,” April says begrudgingly, opening it up and taking a bite. She suppresses the urge to moan at the sinful yet delicious flavor combo of spicy Buffalo sauce and cool blue cheese thanks to the company she’s with—rumor has it a strong gust of wind can give a teenage boy a boner, and she doesn’t want to witness that again.

“So how do you even plan a dance?” Luke asks, sitting down on the couch and opening his own lunch box which contains a cheeseburger. Because apparently Luke preferred going through two separate lines over just getting something healthy.

“Well, you start with the location and work from there. As far as school dance hierarchy goes, Sadie Hawkins gets the lowest budget, so it being in the gym is a given. Then we’re limited to a Willingham alumni DJ, I’m having my dad get one of his franchises to supply the food, and we’re renting a photo booth for pictures,” April has to pat herself on the back because even when working with next to nothing, she is going to make this dance fun for all.

“So it’s basically a big Halloween party. Is there gonna be, like, bobbing for apples and guess the jellybean jar?” Luke asks, and it really toes that line between boyish charm and just straight immaturity. “Like at these dances, all you can ever do is dance or sit at a table. But what if we had games?”

April wants to hate the idea. Really, she does. But she can’t deny that even a broken clock is right twice a day, and a Sadie Hawkins dance, let alone one on Halloween, should be quirky. “Like maybe on the side of the gym near the entrance and the photo booth, we have a carnival row with games and the food and drinks. Oh, it’s genius. Even Kyler Page couldn’t pull off a cool Sadie Hawkins dance.” The fact that this idea is worth invoking the name of the legend of the class of 2019 should tell Luke he really has something here.

Luke smiles proudly. “I’m happy to help.”

April continues to eat her lunch while she thinks about the logistics of a miniature carnival midway inside of a school dance, and eventually starts to Amazon shop for carnival game essentials. She still has time for Prime shipping, after all.

Luke finishes his lunch twice as fast as her and eventually goes to help Hannah B. with her poster.

When April finishes eating and thinks she’s ordered necessary materials, she gets up to walk around and observe the effort. And most of it is very suitably campy Halloween, but it’s the poster Luke and Hannah B. are working on that is the best.

“Hey Babe, if the dance’s theme is 80s movies, then how come this poster is about an Enchantment Under the Sea dance?” Luke asks and April doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“It’’s a Back to the Future reference,” April says, shaking her head in disbelief. “You know that, Luke. Please tell me you know that.”

Luke shrugs sheepishly. “I only ever watched the second movie all the way through.”

April has about ten good reasons to break up with Luke at any given time, but the fact that he just said that to her face has gotten her the closest she’s ever come to doing it. That cursed fact is a day-ruiner. Especially because it means she’ll now have to watch the whole trilogy with him at some point. “We are gonna put a pin in that, but you guys are doing great here. I’m gonna go get a drink from the vending machine,” April says, turning to go out to the hallway, but immediately remembers that she is supposed to be a good girlfriend. “Luke, do you want anything?”

“A Fanta Orange,” Luke says, grinning like a child. “Thank you for asking, Babe.”

“I love Fanta Orange too,” Hannah B. says, looking up from her work.

April frowns, seeing her friend’s obvious attempt at flirting with her boyfriend, but because Luke is far too obtuse to detect anything so subtle, she will let it slide. For now.

She goes out to the hallway, getting her wallet from her bag and digging through it for some small bills as she walks. It’s lunchtime, so the hallways are mostly empty, but as she rounds the corner to where the vending machines are, she realizes she was never prepared to happen upon Sterling and Reese looking like they’re trying to gag each other with their tongues.

They’re too preoccupied with what they’re doing to even notice April is there--and she is wearing her clackiest shoes. They don’t even break for air until Luke’s stupid bottle of Orange Fanta clatters into the bottom of the vending machine next to April’s Diet Coke.

“Oh, sorry Alyson, I didn’t even realize you were there,” Reese says, arms still wrapped around Sterling, who at least has the decency to look embarrassed. As she very well should.

“By all means, don’t stop on my account,” April says, leaning down to get the bottles of soda before passing by them just a little too close. “Sterling, I have to say, I really loved your video in Spanish class.”

Sterling seems confused by the genuine compliment, frowning as she says, “Oh, uh, thanks…” 

“It probably helps with just how much practice you get rolling those Rs,” April says, unable to help herself. She knows she has no right to be jealous or upset about Sterling continuing on with whatever she has going on with Reese just days after she was kissing April, but may any teenage girl who hasn’t overreacted a bit cast the first stone. And besides, it’s easier to be jealous and mad than to be pathetic and wish it was her who Sterling could shamelessly make out with in the school hallway.


“So I’m just gonna go out on a limb and assume the mystery person you said you kissed over the weekend was Ivanka Trump over there,” Reese says once April is gone, and Sterling feels her blood run cold. 

Even if April doesn’t exactly deserve her respect at this point, Sterling has been trying her best not to out her to anyone. Not even Reese, who she is sure is the last person who would use that information for evil, despite the obvious animosity between the two of them. “What makes you think that?” she asks nervously.

“My eyes, ears, and general gaydar make me think that,” Reese says without hesitation. “I didn’t realize it until just now but that girl gives off closeted conservative politician vibes, doesn’t she?” She is not wrong.

“Please don’t say anything to anyone else,” Sterling says, confirming it by refusing to answer Reese’s question.

“Duh. Who do I look like? Perez Hilton? If she secretly bleeds rainbow, that’s her business. But as your friend and occasional makeout partner, I have to remind you that closeted girls are just bad news,” Reese says, seeming to speak a little faster than usual, and Sterling, who prides herself on reading people, senses an invisible wall going up. “Plus, I mean, she sucks.”

Sterling nods, not able to argue with her there. “Yeah, she kinda does sometimes.”

With that said, they leave their spot in front of Reese’s locker and go in the direction of the cafeteria, which is also in the direction of the Fellowship room, from which a few freshmen bearing posters emerge. Sterling and Reese stop to watch the kids get to work putting up the posters around the hallway, all announcing the Halloween dance, which Sterling has pretty much concluded she won’t be attending. If only because going alone--or worse, with her sister--would just be tragic, as the one person she would even think to ask to the dance has already expressed her dislike of them today.

“Ugh, how lame, am I right?” Sterling asks, trying to put on her best cool and disaffected demeanor as she points out one of the posters to Reese. “I mean, school dances are just so overrated and who really wants April controlling the theme of their Halloween costume?”

Reese chuckles. “Yeah, you are absolutely right,” she says, agreeing with Sterling. “So I’ll just slash through what I was going to say to you next.”

Sterling frowns, confused. “What were you going to say next?”

“Oh, I was going to ask if you wanted to go to the stupid, lame, overrated, April-controlled Sadie Hawkins dance with me, but since you’ve made your totally valid feelings known, I just won’t bother,” Reese says, giving her a small, teasing smile.

Sterling is momentarily stunned. “Wait, you want to go to the dance with me?”

Reese shrugs. “If you wouldn’t think it would cramp your style.” 

Sterling takes back everything negative she ever said about the Sadie Hawkins dance. “I’d love to go with you,” she says, surprised at just how true it is. She really wants to go with Reese. “As like, friends, or…?” She knows Reese isn’t interested in a relationship, but honestly, this lack of defining what they are is starting to mess with Sterling’s head.

“Well, I have every intention of picking you up from your house, and dancing with you, and maybe...perhaps kissing you. So I guess one could say that I’m asking you to be my date,” Reese says, trying to seem all casual about it, but she is avoiding eye contact and Sterling can see she is blushing. That’s never happened before.

“Well, then yes. I’d love to go to Sadie Hawkins with you. As your date,” Sterling says, then giggles as a thought occurs to her. “Does this make me the guy?”

“The laws of heteronormative school dances say yes, it does,” Reese says teasingly, and the two of them finally head the rest of the way to the outside lunch area. 

Neither of them is particularly hungry--hence why they’d somewhat chosen to just snack on each other sometime after fourth period ended--but Sterling enjoys the fresh air, and her face lights up upon seeing Blair confidently chatting up the Timothee Chalamet wannabe Owen Caruthers. Sterling and Reese find a table not far from the two of them, and Blair eventually joins them once she’s done saying whatever she was to Owen.

“So I think I deserve a round of applause,” Blair says right off the bat.

“And why is that?” Reese asks, intrigued.

“Yours truly finally got the courage to ask Owen out and he is officially going to Sadie Hawkins with me,” she announces proudly.

“Blair, that’s awesome!” Sterling says, genuinely excited for her sister finally getting a chance to go out with her biggest crush...even if Blair tends to have a lot of biggest crushes, and even if Sterling personally thinks Owen looks too much like Edward Scissorhands…

“You really gotta love those artsy sensitive types,” Reese says without a hint of judgment. “Even if my date is so not artistic that she couldn’t even put stickers on our battlebot that weren’t crooked,” she adds teasingly, and now it’s Blair’s turn to slowly have a look of pure delight form on her face.

“You guys are going to the dance together?!” she practically squeals, and Sterling is realizing just how supportive Blair would have been during her initial coming out if she had been involved with literally anyone who wasn’t April. And honestly, that is fair.

“Indeed we are,” Reese confirms. “So hey, if you guys haven’t gotten your costumes yet, maybe we should all hit up a Spirit Halloween after school before everything gets too picked over?”

Right. A costume. Sterling hadn’t even thought of that. “That sounds great. I think there’s one of those where the old K-Mart used to be.”

Blair taps her chest twice with her fist and then puts up a peace sign to the sky. “RIP K-Mart,” she says soulfully, then gets back to the topic at hand. “But yeah, that sounds perfect. Owen says I can just pick whatever costume I want to pick for him--he’s sexy and doesn’t give a fuck like that--but you two need something epic.”

“Yeah, like...ET and the kid with the bike!” Sterling throws out there without thinking.

Blair and Reese just stare at her for a moment.

“Or maybe something that doesn’t involve one of you dressed up like a little wrinkly alien. How ‘bout that, Sterl?” Blair says, exasperated.

Sterling grumbles, her dream of riding around wrapped in a sheet in a bike basket foiled again.

There’s just something so intoxicating about the vibe surrounding a Spirit Halloween store. The smell of artificial fog and rubber masks, the over-the-top in-store decoration displays that could rival some haunted houses. The Monster Mash playing over the store’s speakers. 

As someone who loves Halloween, Sterling finds it all simply divine.

“Dear God, I love Halloween,” Blair says, echoing Sterling’s sentiments exactly. She walks deeper into the store, activating the sensors of a few of the large robot decorations and giggling with childish delight at the nightmare fuel. Sterling realizes just how much she needed something fun like this after everything that’s happened these past few weeks. “Mark my words, when I’m old like Mom and Dad, I will make my own haunted house out of stuff like this,” she vows.

“Remind me to steer clear of wherever you’re living, then,” Sterling says, only half-joking as she eyes a large bloody clown and passes by it slowly.

“You aren’t actually scared of that thing, are you, Silver?” Reese asks teasingly, coming up and stomping on the button for it on the floor.

The clown comes to life, shrieking and reaching out in Sterling’s direction as she yelps and jumps backward. Reese and Blair of course cackle at this reaction, and Sterling very much regrets ever introducing the two of them. “You guys are jerks,” she says, thinking it best to get out of the decorations area in general and going off toward the adult costumes.

“So we’re limited to 80s movie characters because April is a tyrant,” Blair reminds them both as they look through costumes that range from stupid gags to punny couples costumes.

“Well aware,” Sterling sighs exasperatedly.

“So how about we just go around and find whatever 80s movie costumes we can, and have ourselves a costume montage?” Reese suggests, starting by grabbing an Indiana Jones costume off the rack and tossing it at Sterling.

Blair grabs a Jessica Rabbit costume. “Oh yeah, I can work with this idea,” she says, also grabbing a Ghostbusters suit, but then she stops. “So are we gonna try on the sexy versions of these costumes?”

Sterling frowns, not sure how one could make a sexier version of Jessica Rabbit if they tried. “This is for a school function, so I’m gonna go with no,” she says, to Blair’s obvious disappointment, but her attention is quickly drawn to another costume on the shelf. “Ooh! Blair, you and Owen could do Dirty Dancing!” she says, holding out a Baby Houseman costume for Blair to see.

Blair shakes her head, to Sterling’s surprise, as they both adore that movie. “I totally would, but this is for a school dance and Owen definitely can’t lift me.”

“Fair,” Sterling says, needing no further explanation to put the costume back. “How about Footloose?”

“Hmm,” Blair says, seeming to consider this. “Owen could maybe pull off Kevin Bacon.”

Sterling is too polite to say that she isn’t sure if Owen Caruthers could pull off being any leading man from the 80s...the waifish male lead didn’t become The Thing until the 90s, after all. 

But if that were the theme of the dance, Sterling would be calling dibs on being Jack Dawson in a heartbeat. If she’s got her hair this short, then she is fully intending on using it to her benefit when it comes to coordinating a costume with Reese.

And then it’s as if a lightbulb goes off above her head, and she knows exactly what she wants to do.

“Mom, Dad, we’re home!” Blair calls as they go through the front door, Reese in tow as Sterling carries their shopping bags. A part of Sterling had hoped that maybe they would be out so that she could avoid them ambushing her Sadie Hawkins date, but obviously, this is not the case. 

“We have company!” Sterling adds for good measure.

Anderson pokes his head out from the dining room, smiling upon seeing Reese. “Well hello, there!” he says, folding his newspaper and joining them in the foyer. “I’m Sterling and Blair’s dad,” he says, offering his hand for Reese to shake, which she does, even if Sterling can tell she’s actually a bit shy.

“I’m Reese. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Wesley,” she says, and Anderson’s eyes go a bit wide.

“Oh! You’re the Reese. Sterling’…” he doesn’t seem to know what to call Reese, as ‘friend with benefits’ is practically banned from the vocabulary of fathers.

“Her friend and date to the Halloween dance,” Reese says, helping him out as Debbie emerges from upstairs.

“Mom, this is Reese, Sterl’s very special gal pal,” Blair introduces the two of them, saving Reese from a repeat of the awkwardness with Anderson. “We’re gonna be upstairs hanging out, but is it cool if she stays for dinner?”

Debbie seems to be pretty blindsided by this, but Sterling figures she’s used to it after raising the two of them for going on 17 years. “Oh, well of course she can. Hello, Reese. We’ve heard so much about you,” she says, her eyes cutting to Sterling, who blushes as Reese chuckles quietly.

“Glad to know my reputation precedes me,” Reese says, collecting herself and shaking Debbie’s hand. “And I really don’t have to stay for dinner if it’s too much trouble, Mrs. Wesley. My Dad probably picked up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or pizza or something.”

Debbie shakes her head, having none of that, but seems at least a little charmed by Reese’s manners. “Sweetie, this is the South. If I can’t cook for at least three extra people at any given mealtime, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

Reese shrugs. “Fair enough.”

Sterling thinks that this is going suspiciously well considering how her parents were talking about Reese a few days ago, but then, they’d never met her before. “Well, as Blair said, we’re just gonna be in my room, but please call us down when dinner’s ready?” she asks, walking past her mom up the stairs, followed by Reese and Blair. It was either this or Reese going home to an empty house, and the idea of that just doesn’t sit well with Sterling.

“Will do. It’ll probably be about an hour but I’m making fried chicken,” Debbie says enticingly, and Sterling can feel her mouth water.

“Ugh, yes!” Blair says, sounding like she’s getting another kind of pleasure entirely, but Sterling can’t blame her. They are Georgia girls through and through and their mom’s fried chicken is like crack...which Sterling realizes she was actually addicted to for a short time, but still. The fried chicken is great.

Once they’re all in Sterling’s room, she puts the Spirit bags down on her bed and Blair goes through the bathroom to her own room, coming back with her laptop.

“Your house is like, stupid nice,” Reese says, going to the window and looking out into the yard. “My parents and I spent some time living in Connecticut and even that had nothing on this place.”

Sterling isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. The thing about running in the circles she does and going to Willingham is that—with the exception of her bounty hunting connections—she very rarely interacts with anyone who hasn’t grown up similarly to herself. But it really puts into perspective just how privileged she is. 

“So how many places have you lived exactly?” Blair asks, sitting on the bed and booting up her laptop.

Reese has to think about that for a moment, counting on her fingers. “Fifteen if you count the bases I lived on as a baby,” she answers eventually.

Blair lets out a long, low whistle. “Damn, girl. That’s like, barely a year average.”

Reese shrugs, but Sterling knows this is indeed something that bothers her. “These last few years are what kicked it up considerably since my dad’s job makes us have to move more frequently now. But uh, before—you know, when my mom was alive—we stayed in the same place for a while. The most notable was the three years I spent in Germany, but don’t tell Mrs. Knudsen that.”

Sterling frowns, knowing what subject Mrs. Knudsen teaches, even if she hasn’t taken the class. “Wait, you’re taking German at school, but you used to live in Germany?” she asks for clarification. 

“Mhm,” Reese says, nodding. “I purposefully get one question wrong on every quiz so she won’t suspect anything, but uh, you could say that I can fluently spreche das Deutsche.”

Blair seems to be in absolute awe of her new friend, but really, she just needs to get with the program and get on Sterling’s level. “Dude, you are too cool.”

Reese shrugs and shakes her head. “Nah, I’m nothing special. Just try to work smart instead of hard. Might as well save my efforts if I’m not really going to be graduating high school anyway, right?”

Blair turns to Sterling.

“Oh my God, can you please keep her forever?”

Sterling rolls her eyes. “I don’t have her, Blair.”

“You’re going to the dance with her and I have eyes so I can see that she’s super into you.”

“I will admit that she is a very good kisser, and her eyebrows are flawless, and she’s really great to talk to, but that doesn’t change the fact that she is going to be leaving in a few months.” Sterling has to remind herself as much as Blair of this very important detail. Whatever she may or may not feel for Reese is rendered irrelevant by it.

“I also get this horrible feeling deep in my gut that you’re still pining for your forbidden love.”

“I’m not pining for anyone. And I don’t love April, she’s just...she and I just have very strong personalities, okay?!”

“Pft. Yeah, okay. But seriously, you need to make a legit move on Reese, or I will.”

“Blair, you don’t even like girls.”

“You don’t know that! I could if I tried it and found out I was into it.”

“With all those gay girls on your lacrosse team? I think you would know by now.”

“...yeah, you’re right. But still. Reese is amazing.”

“She is. But she’s kinda looking at us like we’re crazy so we should probably get back to her.”

“Good idea.”

Reese is indeed staring at them staring at each other back in reality. She’s staring so intently that Sterling wonders if she was trying to make out what was being said. But Sterling knows that isn’t even remotely a possibility. Not even the Pentagon could crack Twinspeak. “No offense, but you guys are the weirdest kids I’ve ever met...and I grew up exclusively around army brats.” Reese makes a show of sounding appalled but then bursts into laughter with Sterling and Blair joining in.

“So what do you guys wanna watch?” Blair asks, getting back to the task at hand on her laptop.

Sterling shrugs. “Maybe we should let Reese decide since she’s our guest.”

“That’s not necessary, Silver. But may I request nothing from Netflix?” Reese asks.

Blair scoffs. “You may.”

Dinner is surprisingly quiet for the first few minutes that they’re eating, but Sterling can only assume that it’s because her parents mentally preparing for the grilling they’re about to give to Reese. This suspicion is only confirmed when Anderson breaks the silence at the table.

“So Reese, Sterling says your Daddy’s in the armed forces?” he asks innocently enough and takes a cronchy bite of chicken. “That must be an interesting life you lead.”

Reese nods. “Yeah, the Army. Before she died, my mom was too, so it’s really all I know. Honestly, it’s more fascinating to me how anyone can live in the same place for too long. ‘The mortifying ordeal of being known,’ and all that jazz,” she explains, and Sterling thinks her parents have absolutely no idea how to react to a girl like this, but their faces wouldn’t show it.

“That’s a perspective that I hadn’t thought of before,” Debbie says, taking a sip of wine. That is basically code for ‘this child is an odd one,’ but Sterling also knows that if Debbie genuinely didn’t like Reese, it would be more obvious. “So it’s just you and your father, then? No brothers or sisters?”

Reese shakes her head. “Not for a lack of begging on my part, but no, I was always destined to be an only child,” she says regretfully, taking a bite of a little of everything on her plate. “This is really good by the way, Mrs. Wesley.”

Debbie smiles proudly. “Well thank you. That’s very sweet of you to say,” she says, looking pointedly at Anderson, who hasn’t said a word about the food.

“So where would you say is the most interesting place you’ve ever lived?” Anderson asks Reese, ignoring Debbie’s obvious fishing for a compliment.

“Oh, that’s easy. South Korea,” Reese says, and Blair’s face lights up like a Christmas tree.

“Have you met BTS?” she asks, and Sterling kicks her in the shin under the table. “Uh ow?”

“Well don’t ask stupid questions!” Sterling says, embarrassed on her KPop-loving sister’s behalf.

For her part, Reese at least seems amused. “To answer your question, no, I have not met BTS, if only because they became a band a year after I was living there. But that means I was living there at the height of Gangnam Style, and my dad has plenty of mortifying pictures of me in a yellow suit to prove it.”

Sterling chuckles, if only because this version of Reese who is charming her parents with stories of her doing a dorky KPop dance is not at all the disaffected bad girl Sterling thought she knew. This Reese is...sweet, and despite knowing she shouldn’t, Sterling can’t help but feel something a little less than casual for this version of her. But then, if she was still trying to maintain any crossable lines, she probably wouldn’t have chosen the couples costume that she did for them.

A part of her feels guilty for even being able to feel this way because it goes directly against that annoying heart of hers that still beats for April Stevens, but maybe Reese was right. Maybe it’s just bad for her to make herself unavailable because she’s holding out for someone who might never be in a place where they can be together. And even if that ever happens, who’s to say that they would even still want each other by then?

“So you girls are going to Sadie Hawkins together? What are your costumes?” Debbie asks, taking Sterling away from thinking about April.

“It’s a surprise,” Sterling says before Reese can answer.

“Yes, but think...fantasy,” Blair says, giving them the one and only hint that Sterling will allow.

Anderson gasps. “Labyrinth?” he guesses excitedly, and this unlocks a deep memory involving Anderson swinging her and Blair around the living room singing Magic Dance. But it doesn’t mean he’s correct.

“Sorry, Dad. Maybe next 80s party,” she says, to his disappointment.

“Hey Silver, can you pass the green beans?” Reese asks, pointing to a dish closest to Sterling.

Sterling smirks. “As you wish.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, y’all get close now. Pretend to like each other,” John says, and the flash of his phone’s camera goes off a few times as April tries not to blink while Luke holds her close. “Luke, don’t ya think you lucked out getting asked to this dance by a girl who wouldn’t dress you up like that kid from Xanadu?” He laughs at the ridiculous notion of it, but April knows for a fact that Xanadu made Ezekiel’s costume shortlist but he ultimately shot it down due to the troubling combination of rollerskates and prosthetic legs.

Luke chuckles, though April’s pretty sure he doesn’t know what Xanadu even is. “Well I’m just glad two of the Star Wars movies came out in the 80s, or I don’t know what April would have had us be,” Luke says, running his hand through the feathered Han Solo hair that Lynn spent a lot of time working on, but honestly looks pretty great. Luke’s long hair is like the gift that keeps on giving.

“Daddy, we really have to get going. I have to be there early to make sure things are in order before the doors officially open,” April says impatiently, having already taken more pictures than she would have cared to, but then she supposes it’s not every day that her dad gets to see his little girl and her boyfriend dressed up as one of the most iconic couples in film history. Though she’s starting to second guess which Leia costume she chose to wear, if only because when not on Hoth, these many layers of clothing are getting a little hot.

“Just a couple more. Your Mama didn’t spend all that time on that braid of yours for me to not document it,” John says, snapping a few pictures of April’s annoyed face. “Luke, you give her a quick kiss for the camera?”

April’s disgusted that her dad would even suggest as much. Aren’t gross misogynistic dads supposed to treat their girls like untouchable delicate flowers? “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookie,” she says, never having felt more connected with Leia in her entire life.

John laughs, thinking she’s joking. “Nah seriously, just one quick one for the ‘Gram.” He gestures for the two of them to get a bit closer, and while April is still busy rolling her eyes at her dad’s attempt at using young person internet slang, Luke sneaks in for the kiss.

Before she can react and push him away, John’s gotten his stupid picture. “Atta boy!” he says, patting Luke on the back while April silently fumes. “Now, you know the drill. April, I want you at Hannah’s house by midnight, and no funny business, alright? I’ll be sure to have your mother check in with Charlotte. Luke, you make sure she gets there safe and that is it, bucko.”

“Yes, Mr. Stevens, Sir,” Luke says nervously.

April’s honestly just glad that by going to Hannah B.’s house for her trio’s annual Halloween sleepover, she can guarantee that at least the end of her night won’t be ruined by her boyfriend being a fourth wheel. “You and Mama have fun at the club’s costume contest. I’m sure you’ll be a hit.”

John shrugs. “She’s dressing me up like Gatsby or something, so not much to write home about, but it’ll do.”

April’s sure Mary would be quite disappointed to hear her jerk of a husband say that about the costumes she’s spent the past week putting together, but John was bound to be disappointed by being anything but The Mandalorian--something Mary insisted she couldn’t get together in time without going to a Halloween store. And God forbid John Stevens wears a costume off the rack.

Though April suspects it actually has more to do with her mom not wanting to dress up like Gina Carano.

“Well, if you aren’t going to kiss me again, we need to go,” April says to Luke, who nods dutifully. “Happy Halloween, Daddy.”

“Happy Halloween, Padawan. And may the Force be with you always,” John says, kissing April’s forehead and lightly pushing her towards the door. “Y’all don’t have too much fun tonight.”

April is fairly certain that is a given. “We won’t.”

“See ya, Mr. Stevens,” Luke says, following April out the door and closing it behind him. He jogs past April on the walkway to his car so that he can open the passenger door for her. “Your Worship,” he says in a pseudo-Han Solo voice, and April rolls her eyes before she crawls up into the seat, thankful that her costume at least allows for a wide range of movement, which couldn’t be said for every version of Princess Leia.

Luke comes around and gets in the driver's seat. Once he starts up the Jeep, he turns to April. “So uh, now that your dad’s not watching…” he says, leaning in and kissing April, and she just has to remind herself that kissing Han Solo was a fantasy of hers when she was about five. She just has to channel that tiny amount of heterosexuality to get through what has become a bit of an extended makeout session.

“Luke, I wasn’t kidding about needing to get there early,” April protests when Luke breaks for air.

He actually has the nerve to pout at her. “You’re always so serious,” he says, sounding disappointed, but thankfully puts the Jeep in gear and pulls out of the driveway anyway.

April has to wonder why he even bothered to ask her out at all if one of her most obvious character traits—that she has a clinical inability to lighten up—is something he doesn’t actually like. Or maybe she’s just been spoiled by being given a taste of being with someone who actually likes her intensity. But that girl doesn’t even like her anymore, so that probably isn’t the standard she should be holding her beard boyfriend to.

“So uh, are you and Hannah B. having a sleepover or something?” Luke asks, looking amused and...something else, which makes April wonder if his brain is conjuring up images of sexy pillow fights.

April rolls her eyes. “Yeah, with Ezekiel. It’s kind of our thing. We watch Hocus Pocus and eat whatever’s left of the candy meant for trick-or-treaters,” April explains, though she doesn’t know why. It’s a pretty standard Halloween evening they have planned.

“So if it’s a boy-girl sleepover, can I come?” Luke asks.

April scoffs. “Obviously not. Ezekiel’s only allowed because he’s...our very good friend and we just don’t see him like that.” April’s glad she made that quick save. While she’s sure everyone knows about Ezekiel’s preferences, he hasn’t even had the courage to come right out and say it to his best friends, so it’s probably best to not be spreading around that kind of information to loose-lipped boys like Luke Creswell. “Meanwhile, Mrs. Burton knows you’re my boyfriend. Basically, everyone does.”

Luke nods, but April can tell he’s disappointed. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Then I guess we better make the most of the time we do have together tonight.”

April nods, trying to look enthused about this. “Yep. Absolutely.”

“And I’m totally gonna win you a prize from the balloon darts game. It’s kind of a skill of mine,” Luke brags, and April can’t stop herself from making a movie reference.

“Do you have a very particular set of skills, Liam Neeson? Skills that you have acquired over a very long career and that make you a nightmare to balloons?” she asks, giggling to herself while Luke just looks confused.


April sighs, having forgotten that she is dating an uncultured idiot. “Nevermind.”

They’re quiet for the rest of the drive, and as intended, April and Luke show up to the dance before almost anyone else, save for a few of the other volunteers, who are busy getting the final touches on everything. And truly, the gym is a sight to behold. Half cheesy Halloween party, half carnival, all memorable as heck. Best of all, April gets to take full credit for what a roaring success it will be, even if she has to (begrudgingly) admit that it probably wouldn’t have turned out as cool if not for Luke and his mind of a child.

“Oh, April, thank goodness you’re here,” Ellen says, coming up to them in a rather disturbing Pippy Longstocking costume. “Where were you thinking we should put the Coke Freestyle machine?”

“Over next to the concession stand. And the photo booth has to go just inside the entrance,” April says, indicating the two pieces of equipment still on hand trucks.

“You hear that, boys?” Ellen says, turning to two seniors dressed up as Ghostbusters. “Drinks there, photos there,” she says, pointing to where April was talking about.

They nod dutifully and roll the machines where they need to be.

“Oh, and I also need your last-minute input on the DJ’s final setlist,” Ellen says, handing off a clipboard containing a list of the songs the DJ intends on playing tonight.

April is glad that Ellen also gave her a pen because she is immediately crossing out such annoying 80s blights as ‘We Built This City’ and ‘Lady in Red’ before handing it back. “Everything really does look great in here, Ellen. You are the best faculty advisor any student council vice president could ask for,” April says, knowing that a little flattery can get a person a long way in life. Especially if she wants Ellen to take over damage control for the evening so she can at least try to enjoy the dance.

“Aw, April, you are too sweet. Now, y’all have fun tonight, okay? You’re always working, but you’re young. This is the time to enjoy life and get a little crazy. I know if I was in your position, I’d be having more than one caffeinated beverage tonight,” Ellen says, patting April on the shoulder and leaning in to say the next part a little more quietly. “And between you and me, I think you and Luke make a very cute couple.”

April smiles politely. “Thanks, Ellen. So do I,” she says, then turns to Luke. “C’mon, Nerf Herder. I’m gonna need your help hanging prizes.”

April knows that the dance is in full swing when she is finally able to relax and dance to ‘The Power of Love’ without worrying about absolutely everything going off without a hitch. Once a dance actually becomes fun, nobody cares about every last detail being perfect anymore...though truly, it is perfect. Even if she’s pretty sure more than a few people have snuck in their own little mini bar-sized bottles of alcohol to spike their drinks with. In the absence of a communal punch bowl, she is no longer liable to care.

“I still can’t believe you guys did Beetlejuice without me,” April says, commenting on the one thing that’s distressing her this evening--her friends’ costumes.

Ezekiel rolls his eyes behind all that face makeup. “Unless you and your boytoy wanted to be Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin, we kinda already got the best costumes. But you guys look...cute. In a nerdy, Girl Meets Godzilla kind of way,” he says, looking over at Luke, who is excitedly dancing with someone who came dressed as Chewbacca.

“Obviously, I would have been Catherine O’Hara, and I think you know that,” April says, and Hannah B. nods knowingly.

“I guess it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve been my step-mom,” Hannah B. says, referencing last year’s production of The Sound of Music, in which she was cast as Louisa. “Either way, I think you look great, April. Which Star Trek character are you?”

April sighs, realizing she doesn’t have the energy for this conversation right now. “Star Wars, Hannah B.. You’ve only been to five of my birthdays themed around it.”

“Sorry. I just get the two of them mixed up sometimes,” Hannah B. says, sounding far too timid to be a decent choice for Lydia Deetz.

Not wanting to have her vibe be killed anymore than it already has been, April crosses the dance floor to the entrance/carnival side, grabbing herself a Cherry Diet Coke while seeing Luke join her out of the corner of her eye.

“You don’t have to stop dancing, you know,” she reminds him.

“I know. I just wanted a drink,” he says, obviously lying as he mixes together a monstrosity of Mellow Yellow and Mr. Pibb. “This whole thing turned out awesome, Babe. I’m so proud of you,” he says, wrapping his free arm around her waist.

“Thank you,” April says politely, sipping her drink...and then almost choking on it when she sees the latest arrivals enter the gym. “Excuse me,” she says, handing her drink cup to Luke and going to greet them. Though maybe ‘greet’ isn’t the right word for it.

“Sterling, Reese, don’t you look nice this evening,” she says, feeling like she has been transformed into nothing but a blob of jealous rage at seeing the two of them dressed as one of the most romantic couples in the history of cinema.

“Hey, Agnes. Nice parka vest. What are you going for, some kind of Better Off Dead ski babe look?” Reese says, wrapping her arm around Sterling’s waist possessively.

April refuses to let this girl get under her skin. Not tonight. “I’m actually Hoth Leia,” she says, pointing at her hair in its elaborate braid. “Duh.”

Sterling frowns, confused. “Uh...God bless you?” she says as if April sneezed.

Forget not letting them get under her skin. They are well and truly under there, and April has had it. “Well what are you two even supposed to be?” she asks even if she already knows.

Sterling smirks, having obviously been waiting for this exact moment to pull her plastic fencing sword from its place on her black belt, brandishing it in front of her. “I’m Sterling Westley, otherwise known as the Dread Pirate Roberts, and this,” she says, wrapping her arm around Reese’s shoulders. “Is the beautiful Princess Buttercup.”

April feels like she might be sick. “How...classic,” she says, feeling an overwhelming urge to boo Reese. “Well, you two have fun,” she says, returning to Luke, who was watching the whole exchange go down.

“So uh,” he says, still watching Sterling’s every move. “Is it gay that I think Sterling looks good dressed like that?” he asks, apparently forgetting who he is speaking to.

“Luke, did you seriously just tell your girlfriend that you think your ex-girlfriend looks good? Really?” April asks in disbelief, but she can’t bring herself to care all that much. It’s no secret to her that he’s settling for her...and also she can’t help but agree with him about Sterling in that all-black ensemble with that infuriating, swoopy blonde hair. Which, yes, is gay when she thinks it.

“Uh, yeah, that was dumb,” Luke stumbles. “Do you wanna dance?” he asks when the DJ switches the song to ‘Take My Breath Away.’

“Why not?” April says, taking his hand and going to the dancefloor to awkwardly sway together, both of them avoiding making direct eye contact with each other for more than a few seconds at a time—it just feels too intimate.

In the meantime, she gets a chance to check out all the other costumes in the room, which range from 80s staples like Dirty Dancing and Top Gun to Ferris Bueller and about five different Molly Ringwalds. At one point, she thinks she sees Blair and anemic-looking Owen Caruthers dressed as Veronica and JD from Heathers as they come out of the photo booth. Truly, this dance is a thing of beauty, and April shouldn’t let Sterling Westley and Princess Sluttercup ruin her evening.

But that is easier said than done when they make it a point to come right up and dance next to them.

“Hey, Luke. Love the hair,” Sterling says, sounding like she’s giving a genuine compliment rather than making an attempt at flirting, but you wouldn’t know it from Luke’s reaction.

“Uh, thanks. Love the...sword,” he says awkwardly.

April has to be a little amused at the fact that there are no less than three people who have made out with Sterling within a five-foot radius right now. “Reese, I must say, I’m surprised to see you here since you said you would prefer to...what did you say? Trick or treat without a costume?” April asks.

Reese clears her throat and pushes a strand of her (less stringy than usual) hair behind her ear. “Well, maybe I just needed the right date,” she says, pulling Sterling in a little bit closer to her. “You guys are really cute, though. You’re nailing that crazy Han/Leia chemistry,” she says, sounding sarcastic.

“Thank you,” Luke says, taking it as a genuine compliment. “Hey, isn’t the Princess Bride also Wonder Woman’s aunt?” he asks.

Reese nods and shoots an almost sympathetic look April’s way. “Yes. Yes, she is.” Then she turns back to look at Sterling. “Hey Silver, do you think you could get me a root beer from the pop machine?”

Sterling giggles at Reese’s Yankee phrasing. “As you wish,” she says, going off to find the machine, and April wants to die.

It was one thing when it was blatantly obvious that Sterling was using the poor girl to make April jealous. It’s another now that this poor man’s Robin Wright keeps making eyes at her that Sterling is not not returning.

“Well, you guys have a good night,” Reese says, obviously not wanting to be left alone with the two of them, and she heads off to cut into Blair’s dance with Owen.

Because of course, even Blair would like her.

As that thought occurs to her, one of Luke’s monster feet comes stomping down on April’s.


Sterling is honestly very glad that Reese gave her an out from the awkward situation that was whatever was happening out on the dance floor with April and Luke. When she was young, she thought it would be fun and flattering to have multiple people wanting to be with you—like Bella from Twilight, or Katniss Everdeen—but in practice, it’s really uncomfortable. Especially because like Bella and Katniss, who she once yelled at through the pages of their books for not just making the obvious choice, she now has absolutely no idea what to do with all of this. And to top it all off, she isn’t even in a love triangle. Oh no. She has three past and present suitors, and not one of them is a sexy vampire, or a werewolf, or even a baker.  

This not counting April’s penchant for biting during makeout sessions, or Luke having to shave his back. And Reese is definitely not the baking type...or at least Sterling doesn’t think she is.

She goes up to the fancy Coke dispenser that she’s sure April called in a favor from her daddy to procure, and gets Reese her root beer. She decides to get herself a regular Coke while she’s at it. She’ll never understand why there’s even a need for these things to make 100 different sodas. Sure, you can make things like Peach Sprite, but she thinks that whoever came up with this spent too much time asking if they could and not if they should. But she guesses that is a Jurassic Park rant for another day.

Drinks in hand, she goes to find Reese again, eventually spotting her dancing with Blair and making poor Owen Caruthers look like a third wheel.

“Aw Silver, you’re the best,” Reese says upon seeing her, happily taking the drink handed to her.

“You really are,” Blair agrees, taking Sterling’s drink.

“That one was actually...oh, nevermind,” Sterling says, really there’s no point in arguing over a free drink when she can always go get another. Though Blair is lucky that Sterling’s still inclined to baby her after The Incident that happened barely a week ago. “You guys having fun?” she asks, looking mostly at Owen, who shrugs, and she thinks that means yes in Brood-ese.

“Say what you will about April, but she’s one heck of an event planner,” Blair says, looking around at their surroundings. “I guess it does a little bit make up for her personality.”

Reese and Owen chuckle with Blair at this remark, but Sterling can’t bring herself to. Knowing the real April is like being Cassandra from Greek mythology. She knows that April is deep down a good person, and the less than stellar things she does are a result of too much being expected of her by parents who are...less than understanding. But nobody else could ever know that.

“Hey Sterling, do you want to go play some of those games over there? I bet I can knock down more milk bottles than you,” Reese says as if noticing that Sterling is made uncomfortable by talking about April. Though the most notable thing about her offer is the fact that she called Sterling by her name, which almost sounds foreign in her ears.

Sterling nods and the two of them make their way over to the carnival games being manned by Ellen and a few dateless freshmen

“Sterling, Reese!” Ellen says, setting a couple of little baskets with three softballs in them in front of them both on the counter in front of the milk bottle toss. “Now, I’m sure I don’t need to explain this to you, but whoever knocks all the bottles clean off the table--not just over--wins a prize.”

“Oooh, real fine print carnival rules. I love it,” Reese says, picking up a ball and hurling it at the bottles, knocking all but one clean off the table. With another, she underhanded throws it at the remaining fallen bottle, and knocks it off the table. Sterling must look surprised at her athletic prowess because Reese shrugs. “City league softball many summers of my childhood. Just, you know, a few different cities.”

“Of course you played softball,” Sterling says, rolling her eyes at the cliche of it all and tossing her first ball, managing to knock the top bottle off the stack, and that is it. Though it’s better than the next ball that sails over the top of the stack completely, and the last, which grazes one bottle and only manages to make it wobble a little. “And that is why I leave the sports to Blair,” she says, unsurprised by her rather poor showing, even if it’s quite unbecoming of the Dread Pirate Roberts.

“Alrighty, Reese. You either get the lion or the lamb,” Ellen says, holding up two stuffed animals.

Reese smiles, amused. “Did you get some kind of Bible pack?”

“How did you know?” Ellen asks without a hint of irony.

Reese turns to Sterling. “You pick.”

Sterling blushes, thinking this is very much like something out of her cheesiest fantasies. “The lamb,” she says, pointing at the toy that she is delighted to find is even softer than it looks when Ellen hands it to Reese, who immediately gives it to her.

“For you, my dear farmgirl,” she says with a bad British accent.

“Awww,” Ellen says, watching the whole exchange despite there being other kids waiting to play the game. “I’m just so happy y’all managed to find each other,” she says, looking a touch wistful, which Sterling just chalks up to her being hung up on not finding someone when even two LGBTeens at a conservative Christian school can.

“Thanks, Ellen,” Sterling says, gesturing with lamb as Reese takes her free hand and leads her down the line of activities until they get to the photo booth, which has a bit of a line outside of it. “You know, you didn’t have to give me this. You won it,” Sterling says, pushing the lamb at Reese, who shakes her head and pushes it right back.

“I won it for you,” she insists, then shrugs when she seems to realize the weight of such a small statement. “Plus, you know, the last thing I need the next time we move is more clutter.”

Sterling nods, having almost forgotten how limited Reese’s time here will be. “Well, then, in that case, I will gladly take care of her,” Sterling says, holding the lamb close to her chest. “You know, I don’t think you realize how sweet you really are underneath your whole...disaffected bad girl thing you’ve got going on.”

Reese laughs out loud at that. “I have been called many things, but sweet is not one of them.”

Eventually, it’s their turn to have the photo booth, which they pile into, and Sterling starts thinking of faces while Reese goes through the startup screen. She’s not sure if they’re going for goofy, or in-character, or whatever, but darn it if she’s not going to be prepared.

As the photo booth starts counting down to the first picture, Sterling still doesn’t know what they’re going to do until she’s blindsided by Reese turning her head and kissing her just before the first flash. She expects it to end before the next picture is taken, but Reese doesn’t pull away. Instead, Sterling peeks with one eye to see Reese hold up her hand to partially obstruct the camera.

“Whoa,” Sterling says, looking into Reese’s eyes when they part just before the third picture is taken. It’s not that they haven’t kissed many times before, but that one was different. That one was more than just a physical connection between two people in desperate need of one. That kiss left all those others behind.

“Now smile nice for the camera,” Reese says in a volume just above a whisper and turns toward the camera.

Sterling does the same, smiling nicely for the last picture, and then the screen announces that their photos are printing. Not wanting to risk any pervy boys getting ahold of them, Sterling jumps out of the photobooth to be there to catch the two matching strips as they fall into the slot.

“Not bad,” Reese says, taking one of the copies. “Just don’t let your parents see that.”

Sterling snorts, knowing how they would react awkwardly while trying to pretend to be totally cool with it. They’re trying, she knows this, but it’s still painfully obvious that Sterling’s bisexuality freaks them out a bit, especially when Reese (even with her charm dialed up to 11) is very different from the kind of person they’ve likely always envisioned for Sterling.

“You want to dance?” Sterling asks, realizing they’ve been here a while now and still haven’t really had the chance to do that without having an awkward encounter with April and Luke...who, upon a quick scan, seem to be safely on the far side of the gym dancing with Ezekiel and Hannah B. (or at least, Sterling thinks that’s who Beetlejuice and Lydia are) to ‘It’s Tricky.’

“I don’t know how to react to a gym full of white kids dancing to Run DMC,” Reese says, looking around in mock horror. “But sure,” she says, following Sterling to the dance floor, and as if by magic (or by the DJ getting sick of seeing a bunch of Gen Z kids doing the running man), the song makes a drastic shift to a slow jam.

“Oh, I love this song!” Sterling says, not really thinking when she pulls Reese in by the waist and starts swaying with her to ‘Crazy For You’ by Madonna, which she knows very well from the soundtrack of 13 Going On 30 .

“Cheeseball,” Reese says, smiling and shaking her head, but something tells Sterling she’s having the time of her life with this cheeseball.

And truly, Sterling is too, which is why she does her best for as long as possible to not look over in the direction where she last saw April and Luke. Tonight isn’t about either of them and what Sterling had with them. Tonight is about Halloween fun with a great date who doesn’t cling too hard to her, and who isn’t afraid to slow dance with her at the Sadie Hawkins dance.

Except, Sterling’s resolve is only so strong, and eventually she must look. Though she really wishes she had done so even a few seconds before or after when she does because she manages to make direct eye contact with Hoth Leia herself, who’s giving her a look of what might be regret or jealousy. Maybe a little (or a lot) of both. Either way, the intensity at which she is watching Sterling dance with Reese, while she also pretends to be having the time of her life with Luke, is too much for Sterling to handle at the moment.

When the song ends, Reese must notice the shift in Sterling’s mood. “Hey, you okay?” she asks, pushing a strand of Sterling’s hair out of her eyes.

“Can we go outside for a while?” Sterling asks, basically answering her question.

Without question, Reese is nodding and taking Sterling’s hand, walking her out the gym’s side door into the cool night air, where Sterling takes a deep breath in. She hadn’t realized how hot it was in the gym until now, but being out here is like jumping into a lake in the summertime.

“What happened in there?” Reese asks after a moment, putting a comforting hand on Sterling’s shoulder.

Sterling can’t exactly explain how she was always going to be breaking the heart of someone she cares deeply about, no matter who she went to this dance with. Or that she doesn’t think she made the wrong choice in who she did go with. Not by a long shot. But somehow she doubts that last thing is exactly helping her predicament, considering she’s falling for someone she can never keep. “Nothing. Can we go sit in the car?” Sterling asks, and Reese is nodding without question, getting her car keys from between her cleavage.

“Don’t look at me like that. It’s not like Princess Buttercup has pockets,” Reese says, leading the way to the Subaru and unlocking one of the back doors. “After you,” she says, gesturing in, and Sterling is fairly sure that’s supposed to be Westley’s line, but she isn’t going to argue as she climbs in. 

The fact that they are even sitting in the backseat at all speaks volumes about what they intend to do out here because it surely isn’t just sitting in awkward silence (which they do for the first minute or so). 

Sterling takes it upon herself to rectify the situation, leaning in and kissing Reese lightly on the lips at first, and only when she has it returned enthusiastically does she think to deepen it, breathing hard through her nose as Reese holds her close, their tongues not so much ‘battling for dominance’ as some might put it, but rather intricate interpretive dance together. One that is saying in big bold letters, ‘THIS IS A BAD IDEA, BUT WE’RE GONNA DO IT ANYWAY.’

Sterling only emphasizes that when she pushes Reese onto her back on the bench seat, climbing on top of her and continuing to kiss her.

“Whoa, Silver. Slow your roll,” Reese says, gasping for air between kisses before Sterling is going in for more.

Everything in Sterling’s life is complicated, but this...letting her body take over and get some satisfaction from a girl she’s in mutual attraction with...this is easy. Being with Reese is easy. So it’s really no surprise that Sterling’s cavewoman brain makes an easy transition to having Sterling’s hands go wandering near the hem of Reese’s red dress, which has ridden up to her knees.

Well, they’re wandering until she receives a hard shove to the chest and Reese scoots away from her, sitting up. 

“Dude, I told you to slow down,” Reese says firmly, adjusting her dress.

“I...I’m sorry…” Sterling says, not having expected this kind of reaction. She knows from casual conversation that Reese is even less of a virgin than she is, so she hadn’t thought making this leap from making out was that big of a deal for her. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, listen when someone says they aren’t into something.” Reese draws her knees up to her chest and looks like she has more to say.

“Reese, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you to do something you don’t want to do. I just thought-”

“You just thought what? That I would be down for anything? God, you’re as bad as a boy,” Reese says, scoffing, and it’s easily the most insulting thing she could say to Sterling. “Because contrary to whatever you might think, I’m not here to be your rebound,” she continues, and before Sterling can attempt to argue with this accusation, she’s adding, “Don’t think I don’t see how you look at April. Or how she looks at you.”

Sterling feels like someone has punched her in the stomach, which she guesses she deserves after acting like such an ass. But she knows Reese isn’t wrong. At least not about the way she looks at April. “I’m sorry,” she says with no modifiers attached. “I shouldn’t have pushed you.”

Reese sighs. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it. I just...I guess this is what I get.”

Sterling frowns. “What do you mean?”

Reese looks like she is on the verge of crying, which is a sight Sterling’s not sure she was ever expecting to see. She’s just usually so strong. “I like you, Sterling. Like...a lot more than I usually let myself like anyone. And of course, it would be my luck that you’re still hung up on the least available girl on the planet.”

Sterling was not expecting such a candid admission from Reese. But in hindsight, maybe she should have been. “I like you too,” she says, but knows that isn’t what Reese needs to hear right now. “But I think you’re right. That I have...a lot to work through with myself before I can think of getting into anything serious. But if you want to go back to being just, you know, casual. That’s okay too.”

Reese scoffs. “I think the two of us are kind of bad at the whole casual thing, but sure,” she says, seeming unconvinced that this won’t go exactly the way it went the last time they agreed to keep things casual, but Sterling would rather have Reese be a weird ‘something’ to her than nothing at all. “So uh, do you wanna go back into the dance?”

Sterling is about to agree when she looks out the car window and sees Blair making a break from the dance right to the car, jumping into the passenger’s seat.

“‘Kay, I don’t care if you guys were going at it back there Titanic-style, or whatever, but we need to go,” she says, buckling in, as Reese gets out and then gets into the driver’s seat.

“What’s going on?” Sterling asks, concerned as she leans forward across the center console.

“I told Owen I was going to the bathroom, but actually, I need to get the eff out of here,” Blair says, and when Reese laughs, she snaps. “It’s not funny! The boy is like...clinically boring and I do not need that kind of energy on Halloween. So if you two lovebirds don’t mind, can we please bail and go get food at a shady Denny’s?”

“Why does it have to be a shady Denny’s?” Sterling asks, confused.

“Because there is no other kind of Denny’s,” Reese says knowingly. “Amazing call, though. It’s almost when the first showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show will get out, and there is a Denny’s right by the old movie theater downtown showing it.”

Sterling frowns. “How is it that we’ve lived here our whole lives and you somehow know more about Atlanta than us?”

“I read,” Reese says, shrugging and putting the car in gear.

Reese was not wrong about a Denny’s downtown being the place to be at 10 PM on Halloween night. It’s like those supernatural places Sterling’s read about that don’t feel like they’re really a solid part of reality—liminal spaces, that’s what they’re called. Because a shady chain restaurant diner in the middle of Atlanta, full to capacity with people in costumes—many of which incorporate fishnets and high heels—definitely feels like it doesn’t belong in Sterling’s usual reality.

“So, I don’t get it,” Sterling says once they’ve all ordered and she’s taken a sip of chocolate milk. “You’ve been pining for Owen for like...ever, and you just bailed when you finally got to go to a dance with him?”

“Yeah, I mean, he was the extra pale Christian Slater to your Winona Ryder,” Reese chimes in from her place in the booth next to Sterling.

Bair shrugs. “I don’t know, we just didn’t click,” she says but is very obviously lying.

Knowing Reese’s presence probably isn’t helping her to open up, Sterling looks into Blair’s eyes.

“Okay seriously, what happened?”

“I just said, Owen is boring.”

“Yeah but you like boring when it’s the broody emo kind.”

“...How dare you say something correct but irritating to me.”

“I’m your sister. Kinda my job. So tell me what happened with Owen.”

“I guess I just overestimated how...ready I am to go back to normal. After, you know…”

“Blair, it hasn’t even been a week. And I know as far as relationships go, that’s a while for you, but I’m not surprised in the slightest. What I am is super proud of you for recognizing it.”

“I don’t know if I should be offended by that little remark of yours. But I have to ask: in baseball terms, how far did you and the Princess get tonight?”

“Well, we were solidly rounding first, I guess I tried to diagonally cross right to stealing third, so then the ump was like, ‘yeah no, you aren’t over your ex and also that is cheating’ and now Reese and I are back to being on separate teams, kind of.”

“...I’m sorry I asked.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Sterling looks back at Reese, who’s texting someone.

“Ugh, looks like I’m gonna be sleeping in the Subaru tonight,” she says once she’s done, putting her phone on the table.

Sterling frowns. “What does that mean? Why would you do that?”

Reese sighs. “It means my dad is having his fuck buddy over after the base Halloween party tonight, and nobody wants to hear that. Definitely not me.”

“Yikes,” Blair says, shaking her head. “It’s bad enough knowing that our parents have sex with each other, but to think of them as normal sexual beings…”

“Yeah, believe me, I know. But at least him sticking to these arrangements keeps me from getting a step-mom.” Reese shrugs.

Sterling is never one to throw the Daddy Issues accusation around lightly, but something tells her that Reese’s aversion to serious relationships might possibly be a result of her role model. Not that she’ll say that to Reese’s face. “Well, we can’t in good conscience let you sleep in your car. There are like...weirdos out and about on Halloween. So I guess you’re staying over at our house tonight,” Sterling says, not giving Reese a say in the matter.

“Oh my God, yes!” Blair says, sounding way too excited about this. “We can get sleeping bags and camp out in the TV room and everything!”

“Thanks, guys but you really don’t have to do that,” Reese tries to decline, but Sterling and Blair’s minds are already made up.

“Nope. You’re staying over and that’s that. So you best be texting your dad,” Sterling says firmly. She knows staying the night with her after what went down between them tonight is probably the last thing Reese wants to do, but it’s against every fiber of Sterling’s being to let a girl she cares about put herself in needless danger.

“God, is this a southern thing? You guys all being so pushy?” Reese asks, seeming resigned to her fate as she gets on her phone.

“Yes,” Sterling and Blair say in unison, then turn to each other to plan out their impromptu sleepover.

“Okay, so I’m thinking we need to stop at a store on the way home and get junk food essentials, and then we just pig out and watch something...Wes Craven,” Blair says, seeming to consider the options she has with that, but Sterling isn’t having it.

“Blaaair,” Sterling whines. “You know I hate scary movies!”

“They have never once given you a nightmare. Mom just put that in your head so you wouldn’t watch things with blood and gore,” Blair argues, and while she isn’t incorrect, it is only because she is cherry-picking.

“Because watching people get ax-murdered would give me nightmares, I just choose not to watch that kind of stuff,” Sterling fires back. Honestly, it’s as if her sister has never met her at all. Just because she is the one with the plastic sword right now doesn’t mean she isn’t a straight-up coward, and having to admit as much in front of Reese is nothing short of humiliating, though their friend sure seems to be getting a kick out of it.

“Aww, don’t worry, Silver. If Freddy Krueger tries to haunt your dreams, I’ll wake you up,” Reese teases Sterling, nudging her shoulder.

“Sure you will,” Sterling grumbles and sips her chocolate milk.

Sterling is not sure why Blair thought that watching some 80s puppet slasher flick would be better than their usual tradition of watching both Twitches movies, but she is not having a good time. Which cannot be said for her movie-watching companions, who are actually laughing and cheering at the slaughter happening on-screen at the hands of a band of deranged murder puppets who Blair and Reese insist are the good guys.

“Oh c’mon, Sterl. They’re cute!” Blair insists, like an absolute psychopath.

“They aren’t cute, they just killed a person!” Sterling insists, looking away from the TV and instead trying to focus on picking out a few red and yellow Skittles. She figures that this movie can’t have that much time left, so she just has to hold out since she was outvoted.

But then, her savior appears in the form of Anderson in the doorway of the TV room. “What in God’s name are you girls watching?!” he asks just as a puppet with a drill on its head goes after a woman.

“Blair made me!” Sterling says, receiving a smack to her chest from her sister.

“Don’t be a narc!” Blair shoots back.

Anderson shakes his head, looking very tired. “I honestly don’t care who picked it, or what it is, all I know is that it is 1:30 in the morning and we have church in a few hours,” he says, crossing the room to steal the remote from Blair and turn off the TV. “Reese, you’re always free to join us or not, whichever you pick, but it’s lights out for all of you.” He’s got the stern dad voice that Sterling and Blair don’t hear too often, and it’s probably just posturing for Reese’s sake, but either way, they know he means business when he puts the Amazon remote into the pocket of his pajama pants.

“Daaad! It’s Halloween!” Blair tries to argue.

“It’s November first. Go to sleep,” he says firmly, returning to the hallway. “Oh but Reese, we’re very glad you could stay over tonight.”

“Me too, Mr. Wesley,” Reese says, climbing into her sleeping bag while she was before just lounging on top of it.

Anderson returns to bed, leaving the three girls in the dark in relative silence.

“Oh my God, is this what having rules is like? I’d almost forgotten...” Reese says after a moment or two.

“Consider yourself lucky,” Blair says, then adds after a beat. “Obviously not lucky that your mom’s dead, but-”

“Yeah, I got it, Blair,” Reese says, not letting her flounder.

It’s quiet again, and Sterling actually feels herself drifting off to sleep around the time she hears Blair’s breathing even out from the other side of Reese on the floor. That is until she hears Reese partially unzip her sleeping bag, which evidently frees one of her hands so that she can reach over to Sterling.

“What’s up?” Sterling asks, groggy, wondering if maybe Reese needs a glass of water or forgot where the bathroom is...granted, it has been many moons since she last had a sleepover with someone who wasn’t her sister or her ex-boyfriend.

“I’m sorry for overreacting in the car earlier,” Reese whispers, taking Sterling off-guard.

“You didn’t overreact at all. I overstepped,” she replies and then comes the harder admission. “Plus, you aren’t wrong about me still having some small feelings for April.”

Reese scoffs. “Knew it. You guys are like the opposite of subtle, I hope you know. If that Luke kid wasn’t a few popsicles shy of an ice cream truck, I’m sure he would be able to see it too.”

Having dated the understocked ice cream truck for six years, Sterling wants to tell Reese that she is wrong in her assessment, but she, unfortunately, cannot. “I only hope she doesn’t drag things out with him too long. He’s a nice boy.”

Reese scoffs. “For argument’s sake, let’s assume that I believe in these so-called ‘nice boys.’ I think your real concern is you don’t like seeing the two of them together because it means Jesus Freak is unavailable physically as well as emotionally and spiritually and every other way she possibly can be to you. And do you know why that is, Silver? Because April is so far into the closet that she’s met Mr. Tumnus.”

Sterling sighs wistfully. “April loves The Chronicles of Narnia…”

In the dark, she doesn’t see it coming when Blair quickly sits up and reaches across Reese to smack Sterling in the chest for the second time tonight.

Chapter Text

Sterling has officially decided that if she’s really going to have to assistant direct the stupid school musical, then gosh darn it, she is going to be the best assistant director Ellen has ever had. Even if Blair made fun of her for making flashcards with theater terms on them on their Monday off from school yesterday—whoever invented the concept of teacher workdays should receive a medal or something. Because if there’s something that would annoy April more than having her be a bad assistant director, then it would be her being a good one.

“So do you wanna come over to my place and hang out after school? My dad gave me money for pizza so we could get our Dominos on while I absolutely crush you at Smash,” Reese says to Sterling during lunch, while she’s busy studying the basics of blocking.

Sterling is honestly sad to have to turn her down, but she can’t deny that she’s looking forward to the opportunity to show off her new knowledge. “Sorry, I can’t. I have one of my mandatory musical rehearsals.”

“Ugh, my condolences,” Reese says and sucks a juice box dry. “They need to make bigger ones of these.” She chucks it at the garbage cans, paying no mind to which one it falls into, though Sterling is fairly sure the straw was supposed to be separated, at the very least.

“Will you at least come to see the show, though?” Sterling asks, knowing it isn’t really Reese’s thing, but she wants some moral support on opening night, at the very least.

“Oooh, a musical prequel to The Passion of the Christ starring April. Sounds horrific,” she says in a happy voice. 

“C’mon, please?” Sterling is not above begging. “I promise I’ll let you control Bad Betty at the robot showdown and everything.”

“Aw, Silver, I couldn’t do that. You’ve been working on her longer than you’ve known me,” Reese says, reaching across the table and rubbing the top of Sterling’s hand. “But if you will at least let me deal the final finishing blow, then you have a deal.”

“I like you so much,” Sterling says, not bothering to stop holding Reese’s hand. Their relationship is in a weird limbo and that isn’t likely to change, so she’s decided to just accept it.

“You better,” Reese grumbles, but she gives Sterling a little smirking smile...which quickly turns upside down as she looks over Sterling’s shoulder. And she has good reason for her mood shift when Sterling turns to see April approaching their table.

“Hey, Sterl,” she says, an illegally cute lopsided grin plastered on her obnoxiously perfect face. “I just wanted to stop by and make sure you remembered we have musical rehearsal this afternoon.”

“Yeah, I remember,” Sterling says, not really sure how she’s supposed to react to this situation anymore. But considering April is still dating Luke and still doesn’t know the truth about Sterling arresting her father, nothing has meaningfully changed.

“Reese,” April then says, acknowledging Reese’s presence in the most hostile way possible.

“Anastasia,” Reese somehow replies with a completely straight face.

April apparently decides to go back to ignoring her existence after that. “Well, I just had to make sure you remembered. I also was wondering if you could maybe talk to Ellen about me leaving rehearsal a little early. I have a thing this evening.”

“Would that thing possibly be the presidential election?” Reese asks, raising an eyebrow.

April shifts uncomfortably on her feet--Sterling has an inkling that, like everyone else, she’s a bit worried about tonight going at all like it did four years ago. “Yes, yes it is.”

“I’m sure we’ll be done before our state’s polls close, for what it’s worth,” Sterling says, not that that detail particularly matters when she’s talking to a soon-to-be 17-year-old.

April nods. “So, you guys disappeared during the dance. I hope my decorators didn’t do that bad of a job,” she says, looking at Sterling like she knows exactly what happened--or at least what she thinks happened, which is probably incorrect.

Sterling shakes her head. “The decorations were fine, April. We just had other things to do that night,” she says shortly, probably not helping the way April feels, but this whole jealous posturing act has gotten old fast.

“Right,” April says, nodding. “Well, I’ll just leave the two of you to finish your lunch. See ya later, Sterl,” she says, shooting one last glance Reese’s way before she makes her leave.

Sterling can’t help but glance back over her shoulder as April goes, and watches her walk right up to the table Luke is at to sit in his lap. It makes Sterling wonder just how far April is willing to go with this if she just digs herself deeper into that hole every time she lets her guard down a bit.

“You sure know how to pick ‘em, Silver,” Reese says, scoffing to herself, and Sterling can’t help but agree with the sentiment.

It turns out that Sterling was right to have gotten up to speed with her assistant director duties, because just as she’s heading to rehearsal after the final bell, Ellen stops her in the hall, looking rather...frantic about something.

“Oh Sterling, I’m going to be a bit late to rehearsal today. I have a situation that I need to address, so do you think you could do me a favor and just try your best to have everyone do a rough run-through of act one?” she asks.

Sterling nods, actually a bit excited to have this chance to show off her leadership abilities that have had to lie dormant ever since April’s Fellowship coup. “You can count on me,” she assures her teacher, who looks relieved.

“Oh, thank you. Now, I can’t reveal too much just yet, but I have to do some contact tracing. No judgment if you have, but you haven’t by any chance kissed Darren Boggs within the last few days, have you?” Ellen’s rather perplexing question has Sterling a lot more worried about the incident Ellen’s dealing with.

“Uh, no?” Sterling says, to Ellen’s utter relief.

“Oh good. Well, in case you see him around, maybe don’t,” Ellen says, then heads off down the hall.

Sterling’s left to ponder that stranger than usual conversation all the way to the auditorium, where most of the cast has already assembled. Hannah B. is seated at the piano on the stage, playing some basic scales to help Ezekiel, April, Jennings, and Franklin warm up their vocals, but their leading man is nowhere in sight.

“Alright, everyone, Ellen’s going to be a little late to rehearsal, so I’m gonna be taking over director duties as we run through the first act today,” Sterling says, sitting in a seat in the front row and opening her binder, which contains her script to look over during said run-through. “Anyone know where Luke is?” she asks April in particular, who shrugs as everyone else shakes their heads.

“Hey, Sterling?” Jennings asks, raising his hand like they’re in a classroom.

“Yes, Jennings?” Sterling replies.

“If Luke doesn’t show up, does a member of the en-sem-ball get to take his place?” he asks, running a hand through his Jesus-y long hair for emphasis, but Sterling is honestly stuck on how badly he just butchered the world ‘ensemble.’

April beats her to it. “It’s ‘ensemble,’ Jennings. And no, because you are Pilate,” she replies.

“Excuse me for not knowing Italian or whatever,” he replies, sounding almost as annoyed as Sterling, who knows it’s French.

Just then, the back doors of the theater burst open and Luke jogs in with a paper drink carrier full of Starbucks. “Sorry I’m late, there was a line,” he says, putting the carrier down on the edge of the stage and then hoisting himself up instead of just using the side stairs. Boys.

“That’s fine, we just have to…” Sterling’s sentence tapers off when she realizes that literally nobody is paying attention to her.

Luke grabs one of the drinks from the carrier and presents it to April. “For you. I hope I got the order right,” he says, and April takes a sip and moans.

“Mmm. Perfect, babe,” she says, sounding more interested in the coffee than the boy who bought it for her, but Luke obviously doesn’t pick up on that and instead leans down to give April a wet kiss that makes Sterling feel nauseated.

The only other person who looks as done with this development as Sterling is Ezekiel, who pushes past them while they’re still making out to get one of the other three drinks left in the carrier. “Mmm, thanks Fourth Wheel,” he says, patting Luke on the back once he’s taken a drink.

“Can we please start running through the show?” Sterling asks, losing her patience when Hannah B. gets a drink too.

“Oh, of course, Sterl,” Luke says, looking apologetic, and gets down on his knees to get the last Starbucks drink, holding it out towards her. “Here, I got you a hot chocolate,” he says, and as much as Sterling is trying to be the ‘no-nonsense’ director here, she can’t deny the sweet gesture.

“Thank you,” she says, accepting the drink, and her eyes cut to April, who’s watching the exchange without blinking.

“Excuse me, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable starting without Ellen,” April says, challenging Sterling’s authority like she was always bound to do. “I mean, no offense, Sterl, but you aren’t exactly experienced when it comes to musical theatre and I think full directing duties should be left up to the professionals.”

Sterling can’t help but shake her head and laugh at the predictable behavior, though she’s now determined to prove April wrong. “I assure you, I am plenty qualified to fill in for Ellen. She trusted me with Fellowship and she trusts me with this,” she says pointedly, and a few ensemble members react like she just dished a burn of some kind while April is stunned into silence by Sterling being uncharacteristically ballsy. “Okay, from the top, everyone.” She sits back down and sips her cocoa while everyone goes into the first number. 

She follows along on the script, making sure there aren’t any lyrical slipups from Ezekiel--however unlikely that may be. From there, it’s ‘What’s the Buzz’ which is so repetitive that she doesn’t think anyone could possibly forget the lyrics to that either, and they don’t. But a part of Sterling is feeling like a little revenge is in order for April trying to undermine her.

“Let me try to cool down your face a bit,” April sings at a perfectly acceptable volume for a rehearsal.

“April, you need to project,” Sterling says, not even giving her the courtesy of looking up from her binder when she does.

“Let me try to cool down your face a bit!” April sings just a hair louder, sounding a bit annoyed.

“Still need you to project more,” Sterling says, looking up and giving a red-faced April a little smirk.

April visibly takes in a deep breath. “LET ME TRY TO COOL DOWN YOUR FACE A BIT,” she practically shrieks while still managing to stay on key, though a few startled ensemble members have to cover their ears.

“Perfect!” Sterling says, grinning at her, and April looks like she is dangerously close to leaping off the stage and attacking her.

After that song is done, it’s time for ‘Everything’s Alright,’ which is one of Sterling’s favorites, and she listens along to the John Legend/Sara Bareilles version with a headphone in one ear as the cast before her gets into it.

April’s voice is stupidly good, and even Sterling has to begrudgingly admit this even as she has to watch as April sings the song to Luke while massaging his scalp and shoulders. She knows it’s just the blocking that Ellen gave them, but she is having trouble watching. Luke just looks so comfortable and content with April, who is a good actress, but Sterling can tell she is hating every moment of this. Neither of them deserves this situation they’re in--not even April, who, yes, chose to be in a relationship with Luke, but only because she felt like she had to.

Sterling realizes she’s coming across as a big-time April Stevens Apologist right now, and maybe that’s not an inaccurate term for what she is, but it’s hard not to be one when she knows why she’s like this.

Still, she has to be making power moves today to assert her dominance as assistant director or she will continue to get no respect. “April, you’re sharp!” she yells, and April stops singing altogether.

“How would you even know that?!” she snaps.

“Because I have ears and you’re singing the wrong note on the end of ‘worried,’” Sterling insists.

“You’re a wrong note, Sterling Wesley!” April yells, then throws her script down onto the stage and storms off, with Luke running after her.

“Babe, babe calm down,” Sterling can hear him say as he follows her backstage. He sounds like a hostage negotiator.

“I have perfect pitch and I will not be talked down to by an amateur!” April yells, then storms back onstage with sheet music that she practically tosses at Sterling. “Look at that and tell me again that I’m off-pitch.”

Sterling stares plainly at her. “I can’t read that,” she says, shrugging as April’s face turns a shade of red bordering on purple as she clenches her fists at her sides.

April seethes, looking like she’s having to count to ten in her head or else risk strangling Sterling. “I can’t work like this,” she says finally, stomping off the stage and heading toward the back doors of the auditorium just as Ellen finally arrives.

“April, Sweetie, you okay? You’re lookin’ a little flushed,” Ellen says, sounding worried.

“She’s fine, we’re just having some creative differences.” Sterling jumps in before April can say anything otherwise.

Ellen breathes a sigh of relief, her hand over her heart. “Oh, thank goodness. Thanks to some news I received today, I was fearing the worst.” This statement reminds Sterling of the reason why Ellen was gone, and why Darren Boggs never showed up for rehearsal.

“What are you talking about?” April asks, frowning as she follows Ellen back up onto the stage.

“Y’all, I have some rather...troubling news,” Ellen says, piquing the interest of everyone else. “Unfortunately, Darren will have to be dropping out of the musical due to his recent diagnosis of mononucleosis.”

Everyone gasps and a few girls from the ensemble turn a few shades paler.

“I know, I know,” Ellen says. “Now, out of an abundance of caution, I need to know, for the sake of public health. Who here has kissed or otherwise had very close contact with Darren within the last week?”

The freaked-out ensemble girls, including Horny Lorna (obviously) and (to Sterling’s amusement) Tala Jordan, all raise their hands.

Ellen looks nothing short of distraught. “Oh, cheese and rice, this is gonna be the Spring 2016 Zika outbreak all over again. We only had three barricade boys in Les Mis! Three!” She says, and Sterling has no idea what that means, but she’s gonna assume it’s bad.

April puts a comforting hand on Ellen’s shoulder. “Obviously your experience with these things is not the greatest, Ms. Johnson, but I think if we take proper action to minimize the impact of Darren’s--excuse my language--man whoring, then this production can come out of this relatively unscathed. If need be, we can always convince a few choir girls to fill in, and that just leaves us to find another King Herod, which shouldn’t be too hard since the character is in one scene.”

Ellen nods, knowing April is right, and honestly, even Sterling is impressed with how optimistic she is managing to be, given the fact that she almost rage-quit the show not five minutes ago. Which Ellen doesn’t need to know about.

And to add to this bright outlook, Sterling thinks she may have a solution to their Herod situation. She checks her phone, seeing it’s 4:25, which means she has five minutes. “Ellen, I think I may know who could be our Herod if you’ll just excuse me for a few minutes,” she says, pointing toward the door.

“Oh, of course, Sterling. Just hurry back. I’m going to need you to supervise things again so I can try to get in touch with the choir teacher,” Ellen excuses her.

Not needing any further permission, Sterling dashes out of the auditorium, sprinting toward the student parking lot, where Blair, just finished with lacrosse practice, is loading her stuff into the back of the Volt.

“Oh my God, did you just pull a straight-up jailbreak out of musical rehearsal?” Blair asks, sounding amused.

“No,” Sterling says, panting for breath. Why she thought running was a good idea, she’ll never know. “Blair, I need to cash in my Lindsay Lohan.”

Blair gasps. “What happened? Do you need me to help you hide April’s body?” she asks, seeming more amused than horrified.

Sterling shakes her head. “No, I just need to call in my irrefusable favor.”

Blair frowns, recognizing the seriousness of such a request. “You know you only get one of those a year, right?” she asks.

“I know,” Sterling says. “I need to call in my Lindsay Lohan because I need you to be in the musical.”

Blair shakes her head fervently. “Nope, nope, nope. Not gonna happen. I don’t care if I get struck by lightning for refusing a Lindsay Lohan favor. I would prefer that over being in a dumb school musical.”

“Blair, please?” Sterling practically begs. “Seriously, you have one of the best singing voices and I know you would be amazing. Plus, you can’t refuse a Lindsay Lohan favor, especially not when you already called in yours this year when you had me break up with Lucas Proctor for you!” She’s still haunted by the look of absolute devastation on that boy’s face, and she is not about to let Blair flake out on her now.

“Why are you even asking me? Isn’t the show already cast?” Blair asks, sounding like she’s not giving Sterling an outright no anymore, which means the sister guilt-tripping at least worked a little.

“Because Darren Boggs got mono, so now we need a new King Herod. He’s only in one scene and that would be all you would have to memorize of the whole show,” Sterling explains, and Blair nods, considering this.

“King Herod’s the part Alice Cooper played that one time, right?” she seeks to clarify, sounding intrigued.

“Yes,” Sterling says, and notices a smile cross her sister’s face.

Blair sighs. “Okay fine, because you called in your Lohan, I will do it.”

Sterling feels like she’s making a triumphant return when she shows up to the auditorium with Blair, though April seeks to shut it down before anyone even says a word.

“No, no, Ellen, we can’t have a girl play Herod, especially not Blair!” she argues as Sterling walks a reluctant Blair onto the stage.

“I agree,” Blair says, only to be elbowed by Sterling.

“Blair, I didn’t know you could sing, but I think it would actually be a very fun creative choice to have a Queen Herod!” Ellen says, not in a position to turn down this opportunity. Any boy at this school who would audition for the show already has done so.

“She sings like a rocker angel,” Sterling gushes, proud to show off Blair’s musical side.

Blair shrugs modestly. “I kinda do. But I wouldn’t want to be called Queen Herod or anything. King is just fine.”

“God, I love genderfluid casting,” Ezekiel gushes, leaving April all alone with her sexist stance.

She groans. “Ugh, fine. At least she’s only in one scene,” she says, definitely intending for this to be a jab, but Blair just smirks at her.

“Amazing, right?” she says, and April rolls her eyes.

“If you really think this is a wise choice, then I will support it, Ms. Johnson,” April says in a tone that seems to add an asterisk saying, ‘*I reserve the right to gloat when this goes horribly wrong,’ then goes off to speak to her little squad.

“Well,” Ellen says, clasping her hands together. “Now that we got that part settled, I need to call Mrs. Jones about choir girls. I think we've had enough excitement here today, but I’d like some of our newbies to get a feel for the quality we’re looking for with this production, so I’m gonna have y’all watch the DVD of last year’s production of The Sound of Music.” She points to the projector setup. “You think you can handle that?”

Sterling nods. “Easy peasy.”

“Great. Well, the DVD’s already in the player, so just corral everyone to watch,” Ellen says, getting out her phone and going out to the hallway.

“So…” Blair says once she’s gone. “If I’m not legally mandated to be here, and am only gonna be in one scene, can I like...go? And not watch April ruin a classic for me?”

Sterling sighs, going to the projector to get the recording ready to play. “If I have to watch, then so do you,” she says, remembering how the two of them specifically didn’t go to last year’s production because of April’s starring role, which stirred up enough controversy that even Debbie was convinced Mary Stevens bribed someone to get April the part in favor of a senior who ended up quitting drama. “Alright y’all, come take a seat. We’re watching last year’s Sound of Music,” she calls to everyone on the stage, who mostly make groans of disapproval.

“Oh please, you all are in for a treat,” April says, taking Luke’s hand and leading him to a couple of seats in the front row.

Sterling starts up the DVD, which begins with an opening credits scene Ellen probably put together herself.

April Stevens as Maria Rainer

Jackson Sutcliffe as Captain Georg von Trapp

Linda Chatterjee as The Mother Abbess

Alicia Williams as Baroness Elsa Schräder

“Alicia’s the one April stole the lead from, right?” Blair whispers to Sterling, snickering as the credits also name Ezekiel as Max Detweiler and Franklin as Rolf before listing off the seven children in quick succession. Most of them were played by middle school and elementary kids Ellen brought up from the feeder schools if Sterling can recall, but Hannah B’s name stands out to her as Louisa, as well as a senior girl (then a junior) named Madison playing Liesl. In terms of experience, both she and Alicia should have been considered for Maria before April, which is probably why Madison is only on the school dance team now.

But Sterling isn’t given too long to dwell on that before there are ensemble nuns vocalizing, which leads into April’s first big moment with the titular song. Unsurprisingly, she sounds amazing, but when Sterling glances over at present-day April, she doesn’t exactly look thrilled to be watching herself, which seems odd.

Sterling tries not to think anything of it, and instead actually manages to get into the production. Jackson Sutcliffe really was a dreamboat, and all things considered, he and April had great chemistry. Though you could see Madison’s jealousy practically radiate off of her during Do-Re-Mi, and her mood didn’t seem to improve when she had to pretend to be interested in Franklin and his squeaky voice telling her he’s older and wiser than her.

This brings them to the next scene, in which April Maria comforts the children during the thunderstorm.

“Oh Lord, she’s yodeling,” Blair groans, but Sterling’s paying her no mind.

She’s far too transfixed on the way April so naturally seems to be having a blast dancing around the bedroom with the kids while still sounding amazing. In this scene, Sterling thinks she understands why April was cast in the role, and she’s starting to think that the rumor of her getting said part due to nepotism might be just that, a rumor.

Sterling tries to stay focused on the show, but she finds herself periodically glancing at April again.


If there’s one thing April hates more than being told how to do something by someone who knows far less than her, it’s being forced to watch herself perform, and she’s beginning to wonder if she really should have just skipped rehearsal today. It’s not like she’s necessarily excited to be joining her father for their election night ritual of Fox News results coverage at Hooters, but even that definitely wins out overhearing Blair Wesley’s little jabs that correspond all too well with the voice in her head nitpicking every last thing she can remember doing wrong that night.

She modeled her performance after the inspired take on Maria that Kara Tointon came up with for the British version of The Sound of Music Live, but she now knows that she could never hold a candle to Kara in either looks or likeability. And Jackson Sutcliffe, charming as he may be, is no Julian Ovenden.

That’s why, when Ellen reappears around the halfway mark of the show to turn it off and allow them to go home, April is not at all disappointed. Especially because Luke seems to be getting oddly jealous of her and Jackson’s longing glances, and she would hate for him to see...everything following Something Good.

“So babe, do you maybe wanna go do something? Like mini-golf,” Luke asks as he slings his backpack over his shoulder. “Oooh, or you could come over to my house for dinner and we could watch Solo since you haven’t seen it!” 

Absolutely none of that sounds even remotely appealing to April. “Oh, Luke, I’m sorry but my Daddy and I sort of have this election night tradition thing,” she says, trying to sound upset about this.

“Oh, that’s tonight?” Luke asks like the privileged white boy that he is as they walk out of the auditorium and school. “Okay, well, how about tomorrow? I really want to get a chance to do something just the two of us for your birthday--how come your name’s April if your birthday is in November, anyway?”

April does her best to not roll her eyes at the question she’s been getting all her life. “Because I’m named after my grandmother who was born in April,” she explains, then adds, much to her chagrin, “And yes, we can do something tomorrow. Mini golf could be fun.”

Luke grins, as he damn well should, considering she’s agreeing to something he wants to do for an activity that’s supposed to be for her birthday. “Awesome!”

They walk towards the student parking lot together as Luke digs in his pockets for his keys, and like something out of a nightmare, April almost bumps into Reese Ryan, who just so happened to be lurking outside the school.

“Oh hey, April,” Reese says, greeting her by her real name due only to Luke’s presence, like the absolute psychopath that she has to be. “And Luke. Have you guys seen Sterling? I was supposed to give her a ride home.” As if to drive April’s point home, she says this like she’s twisting a knife in a wound.

“She should be right behind us,” Luke says awkwardly, seeming to want to be around Sterling’s new fling as much as April does, if not less so, seeing as he then says, “Babe, I’m gonna go start the car.”

Before April can tell him not to, he’s jogging off to the parking lot, leaving April and Reese alone together for the first time since her nemesis first arrived at their school. But maybe that’s for the best.

“So,” April says, not wanting to mince words here. “You’re waiting for your girlfriend, then?”

Reese scoffs. “If you’re referring to Sterling, then yes, though it’s hardly any of your business what she is to me. Not anymore, at least.”

April feels her breath catch in the back of her throat at such a harsh reminder that she’s not nearly as subtle with her feelings as she should be. That, or Sterling told Reese about them, but something tells her that Sterling would never. No, this is all on her. “Well, you know,” she says, collecting herself. “Considering how you were all over her at the dance, one can only assume you’re dating. Though, I guess that’s what they say about Navy Brats. One in every port?”

Reese rolls her eyes. “You are aware that Atlanta is a landlocked city, yes? And I think you’re aware that my dad is in the Army, but all of that is irrelevant to whatever relationship I do or don’t have with the girl that you’re still so obviously obsessed with.” She then has the absolute nerve to smirk at April, who feels inches away from hauling off and wailing on her.

But knowing she could hardly put her perfect reputation in jeopardy by coming across as a violent psycho bitch, she reins herself in. For now. “I hope that whatever you and Sterling are, that you’ll be very happy together. Because honestly, you deserve each other.”

With that, she turns on her heel to go get into Luke’s Jeep, hoping to God she can keep herself together.

April doesn’t have much time at home to get her emotions together before she hears her dad’s feet on the stairs. She quickly rinses her face in some cold water in her bathroom sink before he enters her room without knocking and pokes his head through the open bathroom door.

“Padawan, you gonna be ready to go in a few minutes?” he asks, having changed out of his work clothes into something more casual--a Trump 2020 t-shirt and MAGA hat.

“Yeah, Daddy. Just freshening up,” April says, drying her face with her hand towel and turning to face him in her purposefully more neutral attire. She’s not sure what exactly is going to happen tonight, but she figures that it’s best to take Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Aaron Burr’s approach to this and less and smile more. Because God knows she can’t let her dad know what she’s against or for.

John frowns. “Aren’t you gonna wear the hat that I got you?” he asks, reaching over to her dresser and holding up the pink monstrosity that reads, ‘Girls For Trump.’

Not that April would prefer the MAGA hat, but there is definitely something there about how her dad must view her if he’d rather get her that than one to match his own. “Daddy, you know I’m not much of a hat person, and that would mess up my hair,” she argues, but he’s not having it, putting it on her head himself.

“Now, don’t you look cute,” he says, smiling and pulling her in for a hug. “I got a good feeling about tonight, April. It feels just like 2016, don’t ya think?”

That’s what April’s afraid of. “Yeah, it sure does,” she agrees.

“Then I guess you and I are gonna have some fun tonight. Say, if they call it before we go home, how’s about you and I share a big piece of caramel fudge cheesecake?” John suggests, rubbing his stomach as he leads April downstairs. 

“Daddy, I’m really trying to stay in shape for the musical,” April objects, though she will probably gladly scarf that cheesecake down if things go how her father hopes.

John rolls his eyes as he gets his jacket from the hall closet. “All you care about is that damn musical. But what’s that gonna do when it comes to getting into college? Because I swear on my Mama’s life, no daughter of mine is gonna go to no damn liberal arts college.”

“‘No daughter of mine is gonna go to a damn liberal arts college,’” April corrects his double negative, unable to help herself as they walk out to the car.

John frowns, confused. “Huh?”

Sometimes it just smacks April right in the face that her father is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. “Well, the way you said that was a double negative,” she explains. “If you had said, ‘No daughter of mine is going to a damn liberal arts college’, then that means I wouldn’t. But when you put a ‘No’ before ‘no damn liberal arts college’ then they cancel each other out, and you, Daddy, just gave me explicit instruction to go to a liberal arts college.” April finishes this explanation as they get to the car, and she rests her hands on the roof of the Caddy while smiling sweetly at him.

John laughs, which is much better than the alternative of him slapping her for being a smart alec. “And that is exactly why you’re gonna be a lawyer, Padawan,” he says, shaking his head as they get into the car. “You know, you’re too dang smart for your own good. How’re you ever gonna find a boy that doesn’t feel threatened by you?”

April has to think that that is why she was put on God’s Green Earth exactly the way she is. “Well, assuming things don’t work out with Luke, I guess I’ll just have to pray for a miracle,” she says, buckling in. Though if things do work out with Luke, she’ll be spending the rest of her life praying for a whole bunch of other things.

“I just don’t know where you get it from. If you hadn’t been my little clone when you were a baby, I might have some questions for your Mama and the Milkman,” John jokes, but the Gen Z in April has to ask,

“Is there even such a thing as a milkman anymore?” She giggles.

John shrugs. “Hell if I know. Probably in those little uh...hipster communities.”

April chuckles. “Yeah, glass-bottled milk would go right along with all the unshaven women and their dudes with twirly mustaches.”

The two of them break into a fit of laughter at that, and April is reminded why she was so devastated to learn of her father’s transgressions in the first place. No, she doesn’t agree with him in a political or often moral sense, and she could honestly do without the constant threat of getting beaten into submission, but...he’s her dad.

Hooters has always been a sort of safe haven for April ever since she was young, when her father would bring her with him to guarantee extra attention from the waitresses. It’s just so expected of everyone to be ogling these gorgeous, generously-tipped waitresses that it became the one place where she could shamelessly admire the female form without her father or anyone else thinking anything of it. Because obviously, when a little girl and later an adolescent looks at a Hooters waitress’s boobs, it’s because she’s curious or jealous, and not because she is, in fact, a raging lesbian.

April is of course thinking about this because it’s a better thing to focus on than the election results on the TV that are trickling slower than Reaganomics. Nowadays, it’s hard to take as much enjoyment out of this place when she knows about the customer service policies that basically set these poor, stacked waitresses up for endless sexual harassment.

“So Padawan, all that musical stuff aside, how’s school going? How’d that video with Luke turn out?” John asks, looking over his food menu while sipping his beer, but April knows he’s just going to order the two of them a buffalo platter with curly fries and onion rings. Because the great John Stevens fears nothing—especially not heart disease.

“The video got a B,” April says quietly, but not enough for her dad to have not heard her.

He slams his fist down on the table, causing April to jump a bit. “Are you shittin’ me? What the Hell happened there, April?”

“It was hardly my fault. Luke’s just not very good at Spanish. If anything, I’m the reason why our grade wasn’t worse,” April argues because like hell she is going to suffer her father’s wrath for something that isn’t even her fault.

John snorts, reminding April of the horses she used to ride as a kid. “That kid could use some of your smarts.”

“I agree,” April says, then takes a long drink of her sweet tea.

“But that don’t mean I think you should be sacrificing your grades for him. Actually, I think that if this whole boyfriend thing is gonna be messing with your GPA, I’m not sure if I approve of it,” John says just before their waitress named Alexis (naturally), comes around.

“Y’all ready to order?” she asks, pen and pad at the ready.

“We sure are, Darlin’,” John says sweetly to her face, then allows his eyes to drift downward. “We’ll have the buffalo platter with onion rings. Oh, and curly fries for my little girl,” he says, looking over at April.

“Awesome choice,” Alexis says as she jots that all down, then puts her hand on John’s back. “You gonna need a refill there, Hon?” she asks, indicating John’s beer.

“Oh yeah. Gotta let the little one use that driver's license of hers somehow, right?” he says before tipping back and finishing his beer, handing the glass to the waitress. “Are you sure you’re old enough to be doin’ this kind of work?'' he asks, a small smile on his face indicating that this is his idea of flirting, which would be disgusting all on its own if he wasn’t so shamelessly doing it right in front of a horrified April.

Alexis giggles. “I’m 21, so I think we’re in the clear there,” she explains, and April can imagine she gets this kind of unwanted attention from creepy older men all the time, but she’s actually...blushing. 

April supposes some girls just have daddy issues like that. “You can actually serve alcohol when you’re 18 in Georgia, you just can’t drink it,” she says, handing Alexis her menu.

“Ain’t you smart?” Alexis sounds just a tad annoyed. “I’ll be right back with that refill,” she says, leaving them.

April honestly feels kind of bad for her. Unlike most of the other girls here, Alexis manages to be naturally beautiful with about 25% of the makeup. April wouldn’t be surprised if this was just her job until that Instagram Influencer career takes off—she seems the type. Still, April’s father is hardly the kind of person she should be flirting with, lowkey or otherwise.

“Where does Mama think we’re at tonight?” April asks, having known for years that these little daddy-daughter dinners at Hooters are to be kept a secret.

“Outback Steakhouse,” John replies, shrugging.

April kind of wishes she was at an Outback Steakhouse right now.

In 2016, April was twelve years old (almost thirteen), but even then, she could tell that that election did not go the way anyone was anticipating it would. This one is starting to feel a lot like that, no matter how much the people on her clandestine MSNBC live stream in her bedroom talk about ‘red mirages’ or how much math Steve Kornacki is doing on his little Smartboard. 

And that is why, at almost midnight, when her parents think she is in bed while they continue to watch the coverage downstairs, April is sneaking into the master bathroom to raid the Mary Stevens Pharmacy. She hasn’t resorted to this since her dad got out of jail, but she knows this is the only shot she has at sleeping tonight.

She goes to the medicine cabinet, which should almost definitely have some kind of lock on it, but she’s glad there isn’t right now. Looking over the orange pill bottles, she reads the labels. Wellbutrin,! Valium.

As she unscrews the childproof cap and dry swallows one of the pills, April can’t help but question if she’s making a good decision right now. Obviously, stealing controlled substances from one’s mentally ill mother is morally reprehensible any way you look at it, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

As she leaves her parents’ bedroom, she’s about scared out of her fuzzy pink slippers by her father shouting from downstairs, “What the fuck?! How can they call Arizona?!”

April darts across the hall to her own room to get on her computer and see what happened, but she’s distracted by her phone lying on the bed, buzzing with a few text notifications.

Thinking it’s probably Ezekiel in regards to the latest unexpected development with the election, April unlocks her phone, only to be rather surprised to see texts from a certain contact.

DO NOT TEXT 🤬🤬🤬: U up?

April knows she should listen to the version of herself that changed Sterling’s contact name to that, especially with a text that sounds suspiciously like a booty call, but she really cannot help herself. Blame it on the tranquilizer?

April: Barely. What’s up?

DO NOT TEXT 🤬🤬🤬: Did you call Reese a Navy ho?

April laughs way harder at that than she should. Yep, the drugs are definitely kicking in.

April: If you want to get into semantics, no.

DO NOT TEXT 🤬🤬🤬: …

DO NOT TEXT 🤬🤬🤬: Are watching the election?

April smirks, feeling a sense of pride at knowing that even now, Sterling can’t stay mad at her.

April: Yes, but I’m probably going to bed soon. I took a sleeping pill.

Not technically a lie. It is a pill that will make her sleep.

April: But if you’re gonna be up for a while, please do me and yourself a favor and look up a YouTube tutorial on how to read music.

Yes, she is still upset about that.

DO NOT TEXT 🤬🤬🤬: Don’t think I’m gonna do that. I’m not a singer.

April growls as she types out one final reply.

April: Once your sentence for your violent crime is up, please do us both a favor and never get involved with the drama department ever again.

DO NOT TEXT 🤬🤬🤬: Oh, you don’t have to worry about that.

April tosses her phone down hard on her bed—hard enough for it to bounce off the mattress and onto the floor, but she’s in no position to go get it. In fact, she kind of feels like she’s sinking into her mattress right now.

Chapter Text

Because it is a Saturday, April hasn’t set an alarm for herself, but really, she should have always known she would get woken up at 8:37 on the dot by her mother. Though the singing is a choice.

“You are sixteen going on seventeen, baby it’s time to think. Better beware, be canny and careful, baby you’re on the brink!” Mary sings at an ever-increasing volume like a dang iPhone alarm. Someone’s in a good mood this morning, though April knows that her birthday is also a momentous occasion for her mother, who also sees it as the anniversary of doing the hardest thing she’s ever done.

“Mooom, can I please sleep in?” April whines, having stayed up until midnight for her own birthday ritual of reading a letter from herself last year and then writing one for the next. It’s the closest thing to journaling that she has the patience for.

Mary sits on the edge of her bed and pushes the hair out of April’s eyes, letting the light in and forcing April to squint. “You could, but then your french toast would get cold, or your father would eat it, and I know neither one of those things is acceptable to you, seeing as your dear mother made your birthday breakfast with love,” she says, then leans down to kiss April’s forehead.

April can’t help but react like a cat getting tinfoil put on her head as her mom leaves a lipstick smudge that she can feel when Mary pulls away and leaves the room.

Sighing, April gets up from her bed and puts on her bathrobe over her pajamas before heading downstairs and being greeted by a big balloon bouquet with ‘17’ as its focal point in the middle of the foyer. She knows this isn’t necessarily a milestone birthday (save for officially being the Dancing Queen), but she can’t help but feel her excitement bubble up as she goes to the kitchen, where her father is already seated at the breakfast nook, enjoying a few pieces of crispy bacon with his phone in his other hand, playing Fox News--his default state for the past five days.

“Good morning, Daddy,” April says, having to announce herself.

John looks up from his phone. “Oh! Good morning, not-so-young Padawan!” he says, taking April back ten years ago, when on her 7th birthday, she insisted upon him not calling her ‘Youngling’ anymore (because she was a big girl).

April sits down at the table, eating the bacon mouth off of her smiley french toast first and foremost. It doesn’t matter how old she gets, she’ll never grow out of enjoying these little traditions. “So, what’s on the agenda today, Jedi Master Daddy?” she asks.

“Well, obviously, after you’re done eating, it’s present time,” John says, reaching over and playfully jostling April’s shoulder. They had to establish that tradition early on when she couldn’t stand waiting to open presents until her actual party. “Although I feel like I should warn you, you might not get as many as you have in recent years…” he says ominously, and April’s chewing slows as she contemplates what that could mean.

“Yeah, if we had to put a number on it, it would Does that sound right, John?” Mary asks nonchalantly, joining them at the table with a cup of coffee.

“One sounds about right, yep,” John says, then seems to reconsider his words. “Well, one big one, plus a few little things.”

“Obviously,” Mary agrees, seeming to conclude their rehearsed little back and forth.

April looks at them both suspiciously, as ‘one big present plus a few ‘little’ things’ is an accurate description of basically every birthday she’s ever had. Though something tells her this big present might be a bit bigger than a Barbie Jeep, given how weird her parents are acting.

She powers through her breakfast, trying to savor it as best as she can, but also wanting to see what it is that she got—though she does have a strong inkling, based on what she did not get last year.

“Easy there, Padawan. Your present ain’t leaving the driveway,” John says, and April’s eyes go wide at his probably intentional slip-up.

“Driveway?!” she asks excitedly, deciding that she can eat cold French toast as she pushes her chair away from the table and darts out of the kitchen and to the front door.

“Wait, wait, I need my camera!” Mary yells after her, but April is not stopping.

She throws open the door and gasps upon seeing the beautiful, brand new, wine red SUV with a big white bow on its hood. “Oh my god!” she shrieks, running down the porch steps towards it. “Oh my god!” she repeats as she opens the driver’s side and looks inside at the leather interior and state-of-the-art navigation and stereo system.

“I think you broke her, John,” Mary says, coming up behind April as she climbs into the driver’s seat and starts to adjust it to her liking.

“I take it you like it?” John asks, sounding pretty proud of himself, which for once he has the right to be.

“Daddy, I love it!” April squeals, running her hands over the steering wheel and taking in a deep breath of new car smell. “It’s so perfect.”

“Yeah, I wanted to get you something you could drive your friends around in, and it’s actually a hybrid, so you can tell that to the treehuggers,” John says, slapping the hood.

“It’s really all mine?” April asks in shock and disbelief.

John scrunches his face. “Well, technically it’s in my name, but we’ll see about changing that after you graduate high school,” he says, but April is paying very little attention.

She has a car that she can drive and therefore will no longer be completely reliant on her friends and boyfriend. It’s such a freeing, exhilarating feeling. Heck, she could just drive to Savannah or Disney World if she wanted to!

“John, are you sure we shouldn’t have gotten her something a little I mean, it is her first car,” Mary says, a bit apprehensive, but John waves her off.

“What my kid drives is reflective on me,” he says, and seems like he has more to add, but his phone, still in his hand playing Fox News, seems to have other things in mind.

“We did it! We did it, Joe! You’re gonna be the next President of the United States!” Kamala Harris’s elated voice says, and John’s face turns white.

“What?!” He says, frantically looking at his screen while April uses her new car’s touchscreen computer system to Google what just happened.

Pennsylvania Called. Joe Biden is the Next President of the United States.

April has to contain her excitement upon reading this headline just as her dad throws his phone down onto the driveway and stomps on it.

“John, John, it’s gonna be okay,” Mary says, trying to placate him as he has his grown man tantrum.

“We won fucking Florida! And Ohio! That’s supposed to mean something!” he shouts and April slowly rolls up her car’s window.

“I’m so sorry for leaving you like this, Sweetheart but I think your father really needs some time to center himself,” Mary says as she rolls her and John’s weekend-sized suitcases toward the door.

April nods, having to pretend like her parents abandoning her on her birthday is something that’s totally normal and okay for them to do. “It’s fine, Mama. Really. We can just have dinner at the Club when you get back or something,” she says, shrugging. This impromptu trip her parents are taking to the lake house couldn’t have possibly waited until after her birthday or anything like that.

“Thank you so much for understanding,” Mary says, hugging her and pulling away to kiss her forehead. “And hey, if you want to have Hannah B. and Ezekiel over for a sleepover or something, you have our blessing. I just want you to still have a good time.”

April has to admit that a sleepover with her friends is definitely bound to be a better time than going out to dinner when her father keeps shifting from pure rage to despondent. Why anyone would put all of their eggs into that orange-skinned basket, she’ll never know, but boy is she glad to not have to go to any Young Republican meetings after this.

“Mary, let’s go, I don’t want to hit traffic,” John says, barely looking at April as he passes her to get to the front door, his sunglasses already on.

“We love you,” Mary says, giving April one more hug. “And I think this goes without saying, but please don’t get into any trouble.”

“I won’t,” April agrees. “You can trust me.”

“Call us before you go to bed and when you wake up, okay? Emergency numbers are on the fridge, along with your allergies, and-” Mary could probably go on like that forever, but April doesn’t let her.

“Mom, I got it. And they’re my allergies. I think I’m aware of them and will avoid cheap fish sticks and sulfa drugs,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“Hey. Don’t talk to your mother like that,” John says, coming back to reality to point a threatening finger at April. “I know it’s your birthday but don’t do anything stupid while we’re gone. And no Luke when we aren’t here, understood?”

That, April can certainly agree with after what happened last time. “Yes, Sir,” she says, nodding. “Okay, well, you guys better go, so I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night?”

“Yep. Godspeed, Padawan. And pray for this damn country of ours,” John says, then heads out the door, followed by Mary.

April’s not sure she’s ever been alone on her birthday, but she knows she doesn’t like the feeling as she goes to the kitchen to rinse her syrupy french toast plate before she gets on her phone to call her friends. But then she gets a better idea, and she’s grabbing the keys to her shiny new Lincoln Aviator.

Hannah B’s house is not that far from her own—April has walked the distance between more than a few times—but the thought that she can now just go over to see her friends is nothing short of exhilarating. And that feeling only persists, especially when she pulls up in front of Hannah B.’s house and honks the horn twice.

As expected, Hannah B. and Ezekiel both emerge from the side gate to the backyard--the two of them being apart for any extended period of time is a sign of the apocalypse, but also April knows that the two of them have a long-standing tradition of doing early yoga and having a late morning picnic every Saturday. April has joined them a few times, but it’s hard to focus on her sunrise salutation when her companions won’t shut up about the Kardashians.

“Get in, losers!” April yells, poking her head out her rolled-down window.

“Oh my good God,” Ezekiel says, coming up to the side of the car and looking it up and down. “You spoiled little princess.”

“I know, right?” April says, smiling wide at him as he rolls his eyes and gets into the passenger seat while Hannah B. gets into the second row.

“Wait, this is your car?” Hannah B. asks, running her hand back and forth on the leather seat.

April rolls her eyes. “No, Hannah B., my dad rented me a hybrid Lincoln SUV just to drive around for my birthday,” she says sarcastically, but when Hannah B. just nods, April adds, “Yes, obviously it’s mine.”

“It’s so spacious!” Hannah B. says, sprawling across the seat.

“We are so riding with you on our class trip to Six Flags in June,” Ezekiel agrees as he reclines his seat.

“Hannah B., shoes off the leather!” April scolds her friend via the rearview mirror.

“Sorry,” Hannah B. says quietly, righting herself. “So what are you doing here, anyway? Don’t you and your parents have plans for your birthday?”

April shakes her head. “Unfortunately, President-Elect Joe Biden put a damper on that, so now my parents are at the lake house so my dad can cool off.”

Ezekiel makes a sound of disgust. “Girl. I know some parts of you come from him, but that man…”

April sighs. “Yeah, I know.”

“But hey,” Hannah B. says, leaning up over the center console. “At least you know who your dad is.”

Ezekiel rolls his eyes. “Oh, please, Hannah B. We’re all jealous of your own personal Mamma Mia situation.”

“I don’t know what that means. My dad doesn’t let me watch anything above a PG rating and you guys are aware of that,” Hannah B. says grumpily, crossing her arms.

April can’t help herself. “Which dad?” she asks and she and Ezekiel giggle while Hannah B. rolls her eyes.

“You guys might think that you’re being funny by teasing me, but I get a hundred and fifty percent of the love by having three parents,” she says, her nose pointed up as if to say that she is above their petty remarks. And maybe she is, though she’s obviously just regurgitating the moral of one of the weird children’s books her parents read to her when she was young.

Paying Hannah B. no mind, Ezekiel turns to April. “Well, if your parents are gone, what’s the plan, Birthday Girl?”

April shrugs. “Would you guys be interested in having a sleepover at my house? We could watch Mamma Mia--both movies, obviously--and order in?”

Ezekiel scoffs and even Hannah B. makes a face at this.

“April, it’s your birthday. Don’t you want to do something a little fun?” she asks.

Ezekiel nods in agreement. “Yeah, I think that with your parents gone, it would be an actual crime to not throw you the last-minute birthday party of the year.”

“Oooh, I can use my mom’s Costco card and get a big cake!” Hannah B. offers, but April still isn’t sold on the idea.

Her parents said she could have Hannah B. and Ezekiel over, but she worries that having a full-on birthday party could escalate very fast. Her source for this information is every teen movie ever made. “No, guys, I don’t want it to get out of hand. Maybe just a few members of the squad.”

“And Luuuke,” Hannah B. adds teasingly.

“My dad explicitly said I’m not supposed to have Luke over,” April says, mostly as an excuse to just...not have him over, but she realizes this may come across as pretty bitchy considering he’s her boyfriend.

Hannah B. frowns. “If we’re throwing a party against your parents’ rules anyway, then I think we can invite Luke.”

“Yeah, April. Don’t be tryna act so innocent now,” Ezekiel says, getting out his phone to no doubt send out a mass text.

“Ezekiel, I mean it, do not let it get too crazy. Hannah B., if you want to go to Costco for snacks, you have my blessing because I guess I have to go get my house ready for a party…” April knows she’s going to regret this, but hey, maybe she can prove herself wrong.

Why April felt the need to vacuum before a party with a bunch of teenagers is puzzling even to her, but damn that deeply-ingrained need to impress people with the immaculate state of her home. She also almost made a few appetizers, but Hannah B. assured her from Costco that she had all the refreshments covered...and she wasn't kidding. That much is clear when she and Ezekiel show up with chips, a few trays of sandwiches and wraps, a giant chocolate sheet cake with a rocket ship on it reading, “Happy 7th Birthday April!” and soda that she and Ezekiel have yet to bring in from the car.

“I got non-diet because we’re gonna get a little carazay tonight,” Hannah B. says, with extra As that April can hear from the kitchen before she and Ezekiel walk in lugging 36-packs of Mountain Dew and Pepsi.

“Why in God’s name would we need that much soda for what? 12 people?” April asks, thinking there’s enough sugar in those two boxes to get twice as many people wired.

“This isn’t all of it. The rest is in the car,” Hannah B. says, setting her box down on the floor next to the kitchen island.

April crosses her arms and looks at Ezekiel. “Z, how many people did you invite?” she asks, looking around at the amount of food and realizing she’s been played.

“Our anyone they felt they wanted to invite along. Like a plus one but like...a plus more,” Ezekiel says, shrugging and not looking the least bit sorry. “C’mon, you know who we go to school with. None of us ever get to have an unsupervised birthday party, so this is gonna be fire.”

“And people are gonna think you’re so cool,” Hannah B. agrees, nodding.

Damn April’s natural teenage girl instinct to do anything in her power to be popular. It will win out over common sense every time. “You think so?”

“We know so,” Ezekiel says with certainty.

“I guess I could always have Darla come over tomorrow and pay her extra not to tell my parents about it,” April says, knowing their cleaning lady will gladly work on her day off...for time and a half. “Okay, fine. But under no circumstances can people bring alcohol. I’m not about to have the cops showing up.”

“Uh, obviously. We aren’t Sterling Wesley,” Ezekiel says, snickering.

The mention of Sterling makes the hairs on the back of April’s neck stand on end after their never-ending bickering at rehearsals this past week that somewhere along the way felt like an excuse to talk to each other at all. There haven’t been any more late-night texts between them, though. And Reese Ryan continues to be at Sterling’s side whenever is possible...and sometimes not, since she’s now started coming to rehearsals just to linger. And Ellen, being the pushover that she is, just lets that happen.

That train of thought is interrupted by the doorbell ringing, which is odd because nobody’s due to show up for another hour or so. Frowning, April goes to the front door and opens it, changing her facial expression to a smile, no matter how much she wants to keep that frown.

“Hey, Birthday Babe!” Luke says, holding a big box wrapped in Star Wars paper.

True to their word, April’s friends just had to go and invite her boyfriend. “Thank you,” she says politely, stepping aside so Luke can come in. “You can just set that down over by the fireplace.” April points to the spot they’ve already designated for presents. Of course, she isn’t expecting anyone they invited last minute to bring something, but she isn’t about to say no to it, either.

“Uh, actually, I was thinking maybe you could open it now before you get too busy talking to everyone else tonight?” Luke says, his hand awkwardly rubbing at the back of his head.

April sighs, not able to deny that she is actually pretty excited to see what could be in the box. “Okay, gimme,” she says, motioning for the box.

Luke grins and follows her to the couch, where she sits down and considers if she should try to save the admittedly very cool wrapping paper. “Oh, come on, April! Tear into it!” he goads her, sitting down next to her and rubbing her back encouragingly.

April’s excitement gets the best of her and she does as she’s told, ripping into the wrapping paper to reveal...a plain Amazon box that’s been retaped. “Can I borrow your keys?” she asks Luke, who hands her his car keys without question, and she uses them to cut the tape. Now, she finally opens the box.

“I really hope you like it all,” Luke says, fidgeting next to her as she pulls out a Baby Yoda keychain, a mug shaped like the Death Star, A Padme Amidala action figure still in its box with a thrift store price tag of $10 still stuck to the top, and a tank top with Baby Yoda lifting a barbell with the caption ‘Smol But Strong.’ The last one is possibly the best gift she’s ever gotten from anyone.

“I love it all,” she says, surprising herself with the genuineness of her words. She spends a lot of her time being annoyed by and resenting Luke’s presence, she’s touched that he actually took the time to find things that aren’t just run-of-the-mill Star Wars swag, but that are reflective of her purest, nerdiest self. “Thank you, Luke.” She hugs him and finds that she’s actually able to not be completely put off by this particular intimate gesture. Even if he makes her feel smaller than usual...or ‘smoller.’

“I uh,” Luke says awkwardly as they pull apart. “I actually got you one more thing.” He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans and pulls out a jewelry store necklace box, opening it and allowing April to see the white gold cross and heart interlocking pendant, with her birthstone--yellow topaz--in the middle. It was probably picked out by Lynn Creswell, but still, the weight of such a gift hits April like a ton of bricks.

This is the kind of gift that a real-life boyfriend gets his real-life girlfriend, who he really, genuinely has feelings for. Feelings that April can never return, no matter how hard she tries.

April struggles to find the words for a situation like this. “Wow, I--it’s so beautiful,” she says, and it isn’t a lie, it just doesn’t also convey her feelings that this is a gift Luke absolutely should not be getting her. But she’s playing the part of the good girlfriend, so she just keeps her mouth shut and instead turns and pulls her hair to one side so Luke can put the necklace on her.

He fumbles with the clasp a bit--giant man hands and all that--but eventually, it’s on her, and it feels far heavier than the lightweight necklace would normally be. “It looks even better on you,” Luke says when April turns back around to face him again, a small, proud grin on his face. “It’s just kinda hard to buy stuff for you,” he says, eyes looking around at their McMansion setting.

April can’t argue there. Ezekiel hadn’t been off the mark when he called her a spoiled princess. “Even if I didn’t love everything you got me, it’s the thought that counts,” she says, evoking the biggest cliche in the book. “But I do love everything.”

Luke leans in to kiss her, but like a true hero, Ezekiel chooses now to stomp into the living room from the kitchen.

“April, we’ve got a situation. Lots of cans of soda, very little ice for the coolers,” he says, barely acknowledging Luke’s presence, but that’s counteracted by Hannah B., who comes in behind him and whose face lights up upon seeing April’s boyfriend.

“Can’t you use the ice maker in the freezer?” April asks.

Hannah B. shakes her head. “Won’t work fast enough.”

April actually sees an opportunity to be found in this while she is feeling particularly brave, though she supposes she still has ample time to chicken out from the urge she is feeling. “Luke, would you mind running to the store for us please?” she asks, pouting for extra cute points as she plays idly with the necklace.

“Uh, sure, Babe. How many bags do you guys need?” he asks, looking between Ezekiel and Hannah B.

“I could always come with you to help,” Hannah B. offers without prompting, and honestly, April doesn’t care if she is gay, Hannah B. doesn’t know that and is very clearly in violation of Girl Code with her overt overtures towards April’s boyfriend.

Ezekiel, proving that he is the alpha friend here, steps in. “Five bags should be fine, Luke. Hannah B., you are needed here for decorations,” he says, turning to Hannah B. with a look that says she’s going to get chewed out for thirsting after the wrong person.

“Okay. Well, I’ll be back in a few,” Luke says, brandishing his car keys and twirling them around his thumb before accidentally dropping them. “Uh, bye,” he says awkwardly once he’s picked them up, his cool exit ruined as he retreats out the door.

As soon as it shuts behind him, Ezekiel looks to April. “Okay, while he’s gone, I’m gonna need you to dish on this,” he says, coming closer to get a look at April’s necklace. “That boy has got it so bad for you,” he says, giggling, but quickly stops when he turns to Hannah B. “And your bad attempt at being a homewrecker isn’t appreciated, Little Miss.”

“I’m not sure it’s called ‘homewrecking’ if there isn’t a shared home to wreck..or a serious relationship, for that matter,” April says, earning a frown from Ezekiel before she’s silently leading them both into the kitchen.

“What’s going on? I thought you really liked Luke?” Hannah B. asks as April gets herself a glass of water--her mouth feels like she just stuffed about six saltines in there, which only serves to accompany her pounding heart.

She doesn’t know if she can do this. She never would have with Sterling even, had she not kissed her first. “I need to tell you guys something,” April says once she’s taken a long drink of water.

“Oh my God, you had sex with Luke, didn’t you?” Ezekiel says, sounding more impressed than anything while Hannah B. stares in openmouthed shock. “Are you okay? Was it massive?”

April rolls her eyes. Of course, Ezekiel’s brain would go there. “No, I didn’t have sex with Luke, and since I’ve never actually seen... it, I wouldn’t know,” she says firmly, though (unfortunately) the incident on the couch did give her some idea. Not that she’d ever tell Ezekiel. Though thinking about this is just egging her on to tell them what’s really on her mind.

"Guys, I’m gay.”

The pressure she constantly feels, like being under a few hundred feet of water, is eased just a bit when those words manage to leave her mouth, but her blood runs cold with fear when her friends just stare at her in complete shock and confusion.

“Wait, what?” Ezekiel asks in disbelief, shaking his head. “No, you’re not.” He manages to tap into April’s contrarian nature.

“Yes, I am,” she says more confidently. “I’m gay. I only like girls. I’ve known since we were seven.”

“But that doesn’t...but that doesn’t even make sense. You are so into Zac Efron…” Hannah B. says, seeming to wrack her brain for any previous sign of this.

“Yeah, I’m the gay friend here,” Ezekiel says with such confidence that April would think he’d said it to either of them before, but he definitely hasn’t. Though when she and Hannah B. both put on a similar Shocked Pikachu face, he shakes his head. “Oh, don’t pretend like you didn’t already know. Your moms let me sleep over at your houses.”

April can’t deny that she’s been about 99.99% sure about Ezekiel’s sexuality since she really got a firm grasp on what the idea of a gay is. She’s really just shocked that he would choose now of all times to come out. “You really had to steal my thunder, huh?” she asks, though she gives Ezekiel a look that says she’s actually quite grateful to have not had to do this alone.

“Wait, so you’re both gay?” Hannah B. asks.

“Seems like it,” April says, nodding her head. “I’m...I’m sorry for not telling you guys sooner. I just-”

Ezekiel doesn’t let her finish. “Girl. We’ve met your dad. We understand completely why you wouldn’t feel comfortable letting everyone know this about you just yet.”

“Does Luke know?” Hannah B. asks, still looking like she’s just trying to piece everything together.

“Of course not,” April says, scoffing. “He’s sweet and everything, but I just really needed some cover with my dad getting out of jail, and everything with... never mind.” She’s not sure if she’s ready to tell them about her and Sterling’s whirlwind affair just yet...or ever…

Ezekiel side-eyes her. “Okay, don’t tell us what that’s about…” he says sarcastically. “Either way, I get why you’re using Luke as your beard, but please don’t do anything too long term or you’ll end up like Taylor Swift.”

“Plus, he’s so sweet,” Hannah B. adds.

April chuckles, remembering why these two are her best friends. “I know. I just really need you guys to trust that I know what I’m doing with this. And to not tell anyone, especially not Luke.” She looks pointedly at Hannah B. for the last part.

Hannah B. looks offended at the insinuation that she would ever put her crush on Luke over her friendship with April. “Obviously I won’t tell him.”

“Well, now that that’s agreed on,” Ezekiel says, slowly stepping closer to April before suddenly pulling her into a tight hug. “Thank you for trusting us enough to finally tell us. And I’m sorry I didn’t believe you at first. You just...act so straight sometimes.”

April rolls her eyes. “I take offense to that.”

April just knew that this party would be a bad idea. Not even an hour into it, and there are already about ten times the number of people she expected to have over, and they’re all acting like escaped zoo animals. Who brought Red Bull, anyway?!

“Guys, please for the love of God use a coaster. That’s mahogany!” she says, running over to put a coaster under a can of Mountain Dew with visible condensation before it can be put down onto the coffee table. Babysitting a whole bunch of sugar high Jesus Freaks is not her idea of a good birthday, and she ought to kill Ezekiel and Hannah B. for putting her in this position.

“God, April. Don’t be such a drama queen,” Franklin says dismissively, shaking his head as he takes another drink of his Mountain Dew and then pointedly sets it down right next to the coaster.

April narrows her eyes at him. “I know where you live, Franklin Benjamin Rhodes,” she says threateningly, and manages to be intimidating enough for him to move his drink. “Awful name, by the way.”

Franklin rolls his eyes. “You just keep on pretending you don’t want this, Sweetheart.”

April thinks she actually throws up in her mouth a little at that insinuation, but she swallows it back down in the spirit of showing no fear. Especially not toward someone she has so much dirt on. “Careful, your undescended testicle energy is showing,” she says quietly, but leans in so he can hear...and so she can see the clear terror in his eyes.

“How would you even know about that, you absolute witch?” he asks, horrified.

April shrugs. “Your mom should be more careful who she shares things with at PTA meetings,” she says, patting him on the shoulder. “You have a good time tonight.”

With that said, she heads off into the direction of the kitchen to grab a piece of the take-n-bake pizza, which has gone cold and coagulated a bit, but is still sinfully delicious, especially when served with a can of full-sugar Pepsi. She tries to get enough out of this rare moment of peace before she’ll inevitably have to go deal with some kind of disaster.

“Sweet party. I didn’t know you had it in you,” Chase Colton says, passing by her to grab a drink from the cooler.

April wonders if literally everyone at her school thinks she’s a buzzkill...and they wouldn’t be wrong. “Thank you,” she says, not really sure how else to respond to such a comment as they’re joined in the kitchen by Tala Jordan, whose nose is starting to look somewhat human again.

“April! The girl of the evening!” she says, sounding like the fake bitch that she is as she comes up to kiss April on both cheeks. “It’s so cool your parents are letting you have a party and you look so pretty tonight.”

April’s known for years that Tala would love to be the fourth member of the Holy Trinity (thus rendering the name completely meaningless), but that could never happen in a million years for the simple reason that Tala Jordan is an absolute ho bag to the highest degree. “Aww, thank you so much for saying so,” April says, unable to help herself when it comes to mocking the inflection of Tala’s voice.

Just as Tala opens her mouth to say something probably both vapid and condescending, a senior on the baseball team (which is something April is going to have to talk to Ezekiel about) comes into the kitchen saying, “Hey, I think someone brought booze.”

That sets April storming off towards the foyer to eject whatever miscreant brought alcohol to her party. But, of course, the person standing in the front hall, flask in hand, is none other than Reese Ryan. Holding her other hand is none other than Sterling Wesley, who’s busy talking animatedly with her sister.

April doesn’t have it in her to deal with this on the best of days, but on her birthday? Not going to happen. She turns on her heel and walks briskly up the stairs before any of them can see her.

Sterling - Two Hours Earlier

Aside from the whole ‘Joe Biden winning the election’ thing, Saturday, November 7 is proving to be rather boring for Sterling. Cartoons and cereal, followed by helping her dad with the yard work, followed by a prolonged Sims session on her laptop...which is still ongoing.

She’s on the fifth generation of a family that she’s played with on and off for a while now. This current household is headed by a strong, independent woman currently juggling three love interests--Don Lothario, a girl who is secretly an alien, and her Sim’s old high school boyfriend whom she broke up with before veterinarian college. All of this, of course, has no bearing on Sterling’s own life.
“Hey, nerd. What are you playing?” Blair asks as the day creeps into the late afternoon, poking her head into Sterling’s room from their bathroom.

“Sims 4 with an emphasis on the Pets and Strangerville Expansion Packs,” Sterling replies, recognizing just how nerdy that sounds, indeed. “I’m trying to get rich without cheats.”

Blair makes a face. “Ew. You can’t catch me playing for five minutes without the motherlode cheat,” she says, coming in to sit on the edge of the bed. “If you aren’t too consumed with your game, would you maybe want to go do something in the real world with me?”

“Like what?” Sterling asks. Without bounty hunting, she’s come to realize that she and Blair really don’t have that much going on in their lives. Being a regular teenager is shockingly dull in comparison to fighting crime--no wonder there was no going back for Spider-Man.

Blair shrugs. “I don’t know. We could go see a movie, or see if Dad will take us to the gun range--oh! I know!” she says, getting out her phone, and this was obviously her plan all along. “We could crash April’s 17th birthday party!” she says, holding up her phone to show Sterling a Facebook event made by Ezekiel.

Sterling can’t believe she actually forgot that was today, but then, it’s been years since she went to one of April’s legendary birthday parties featuring everything from bouncy castles to costumed characters. “Yes Blair, I think it would be a great idea to show up to John Stevens’ house uninvited. Do you know our state has a Stand Your Ground law? He could literally shoot us.”

“But that’s the best part,” Blair says, scrolling down the invite and showing Sterling again. “Her parents are gone.”

Come celebrate April’s 17th birthday with us in a no-adults get-together! Food and beverages will be supplied. Gifts are optional, but appreciated!

Sterling frowns and wonders how April is even getting away with this. “How did you hear about this? Because I kinda doubt April would go out of her way to let either of us know about her party.”

“You know that girl Jenna on my lacrosse team?” Blair asks, and Sterling has to think about that a moment.

“The girl who started speaking in tongues for like a week in 7th grade but it actually turned out her mom had been teaching her Welsh?” she asks after a moment. The kids they go to school with are so weird.

“Yes! That one! God, that was priceless…” Blair says, chuckling as she remembers that incident. “Well, she passed it along to me because she’s friends with Becky... with the good hair…” Blair’s momentarily distracted by her Beyoncé moment, but gets back on track. “Becky, who is friends with April and her minions on like a tertiary level, but I guess it was enough for an invite.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. That took way too long for her sister to explain. “Blair, we are like three degrees of separation from actually getting an invite. And why do you even want to go, anyway? You hate April.”

“I do not hate April, I just strongly dislike her and everything she stands for. But I love a good party, and I love free food and beverages more. So how’s about we call up your girl, and the three of us can go have a good time and pretend it’s not because we’re celebrating the existence of a certain She-Devil?” Blair suggests, and the way she makes it out, you would think they were going to the event of the year, rather than a last-minute birthday party cobbled together by a few high schoolers. 

It is curious that this is happening on April’s actual birthday when Sterling knows full well that April’s parents have no good reason not to be celebrating with their kid. But maybe this was her request? They certainly gave her an enormous gift already, if the red SUV on her Instagram is any indication, and Sterling knows that an opportunity to be the center of attention with their peers is the best gift of all in April’s eyes. But still, something feels off about this, and Sterling isn’t sure if she feels right showing up on April’s day when she clearly isn’t wanted.

“I don’t know, Blair. I really don’t want to ruin April’s night…” she says, uncertain.

“Oh my God, you being in love with that girl is the worst thing that could have ever happened to me,” Blair groans, and Sterling is quick to deny this accusation.

“I’m not in love with April, I just...I don’t necessarily like her, but I want her to have a good birthday,” Sterling says, struggling to make this just sound like her trying to be a decent person rather than someone who absolutely does not have lingering feelings for the girl who she went out with for all of three days--April’s been with Luke more than 10x that.

“And it’s not like we’re going to do anything to ruin her birthday. We’re just going to her house to have a good time. If anything, it shows that we care by going.”

Sterling sighs, knowing she should just firmly say no to this, but also knowing that Blair isn’t about to let her stay here and play Sims on a Saturday night when they could be going to a party. “Fine. I’ll text Reese that we’ll pick her up. But we have to stop at the drugstore to get April a card. I’m not showing up empty-handed.”

Blair makes a face of disgust. “Are we sure I’m not Dana’s kid? Because you just sounded so much like Mom.”

“You wanna trade?” Sterling asks, actually quite okay with that idea.

Blair seems to consider it but shakes her head. “Nah, I’ll take corner brownies over crack any day,” she says. “Now, get dressed. Wear something...slutty. You never know where the night will take you.”

Sterling scoffs. “I don’t own anything slutty, Blair. And who exactly would I even be dressing slutty for?”

“Reese, duh.” Blair seems confused that Sterling even had to ask. “C’mon, she is so into you and is the frickin’ coolest, and I would very much like for you to keep her forever. Now, come on over to the other side of the bathroom, because you may not own anything slutty, but I sure as Hell do.”

“Got anything that isn’t stretched out in the boob area?” Sterling asks, setting aside her laptop and getting up to follow Blair to her room.

“Don’t hate me ‘cause you ain’t me, Sterl.”

“What about this one?” Sterling asks, opening a card for Blair to read while it sings ‘Pocketful of Sunshine.’

Blair makes a face and takes it from Sterling, putting it back on the store shelf. “Yeah no, no singing cards. They’re like seven dollars,” she says dismissively. “How about one of the ones calling her an old lady?”

Sterling rolls her eyes. They’ve been at this for far too long. “She’s 17, not 40.”

Blair shrugs. “Could’ve fooled me with that middle-aged stick up her ass.”

“Please do me a favor and never talk about April’s butt...or anything being up it,” Sterling says, having spent far too much time trying not to think about one of April’s best...assets. She picks up and reads a few more cards, but they all are either too boring or too stupid. She honestly shouldn’t care so much about a card that she’s getting April as more of a courtesy than anything, but Sterling does care.

“Oh! Brilliant idea!” Blair says, moving down the aisle to the birthday cards for children. “We find one with 7 on it and we Sharpie in a 1. It’ll be hilarious!”

Sterling thinks this is a potentially awful idea, but she follows her sister, nevertheless. “You do remember who we’re buying this for, yes?” she asks, raising an eyebrow. She knows April isn’t actually as much of a stone-cold b-word as she pretends to be, but she’s still not sure if this lines up with her sense of humor.

She’s not able to think about it at length, though, because she’s suddenly having to answer a call on her phone. “Hey, Spoon. You gonna be ready for us to pick you up in a little bit?” Sterling answers after reading Reese’s name on the caller ID.

“Yeah, I was just calling to see if you wanted me to bring anything to liven the party,” Reese replies, confusing Sterling.

“What do you mean?” Sterling asks, frowning.

“I mean, I’m on a base surrounded by rebellious military brats. Do you want me to bring anything liquid or green? Because I have access to both,” Reese elaborates, but Sterling is no less confused.

“Okay, I get that liquid probably means alcohol, but what is green? Money?” she asks, and before Reese can answer (she’s too busy sighing exasperatedly), Blair mimes smoking what seems to be a marijuana cigarette. “Oh. Oh, I know what’s green. Don’t bring any of that.”

Reese laughs. “Roger that, Silver. So is this another one of Queen Bee’s themed parties, or can I just wear whatever?”

Sterling looks down at her own outfit--a black v-neck camisole that admittedly makes her boobs look great, worn under an unbuttoned red flannel shirt. The only theme her outfit has going for it is whatever Blair’s idea of gay eye candy is. “I mean, if there was a theme, Ezekiel probably would have let everyone know. I think the main theme is that there won’t be any parental supervision.”

“Alright, so that’s a yes on the liquid stuff,” Reese chuckles. “Don’t take too long getting here. I’m almost done getting ready and the longer you make me wait, the more I’ll regress as I add more makeup.”

That sounds oddly familiar to Sterling. “Did you steal that from a Netflix comedy special?”

She can practically hear Reese shrug. “Iliza Shlesinger.”

“Knew it,” Sterling says, snapping her fingers. “Okay, well, I gotta finish picking out a card, but we’ll be there to get you soon, okay? Don’t put on any body glitter.”

“Psh. Do I really seem like the body glitter type, Silver?” Reese asks, a flirty tone to her voice that Sterling still doesn’t hate.

“I guess I wouldn’t know,” she says, a smirk on her face while Blair lights up like the sloth from Zootopia.

“She wants to bang you!”

“She literally doesn’t, that’s why we’re all weird now!”

“Ugh, you gays and your drama.”

“Shut up!”

“Hiii, Reese!” Blair leans in to yell into Sterling’s phone obnoxiously. “My sister is so excited to see you at the party tonight, and she’s looking fine as Hell if I do say so myself. Someone with an amazing fashion sense must have dressed her.”

Sterling is mortified, but thankfully, Reese seems to find this funny.

“Well, I’m excited to see you guys, too. Even if we were in school together yesterday,” she says, sounding endeared. “But I better let you go so you can pick out the birthday girl’s card. See ya in a few, Sterling?”

Nobody else can make Sterling blush with her own dang name. “Yeah, see you. Bye,” she says, and Reese does the same before they both hang up.

“She called you Sterling,” Blair says in a teasing, sing-song voice.

“It’s my name,” Sterling says, remembering the last time she read too much into Reese calling her that. She looks at the cards while Blair’s eyes stay on her, and she can feel them. “What?”

Blair shrugs. “Nothing. I just… I worry that you could be missing out on something really good,” she says, and Sterling groans. They’ve been over this a million times. “Blair, I like Reese. You know I do. But the timing isn’t right, and she’s going to be moving away in a couple of months, and-”

Blair isn’t having that excuse. “Her limited time here is exactly why you should live in the moment.”

“I’m going to this party with you guys, am I not?” Sterling asks, holding up a card for emphasis...a card that is really not bad, actually. She shrugs and decides that this is the one, and goes over to the gift card wall.

“Oh, come on. A gift card, too?” Blair asks, exasperated, which just baffles Sterling’s southern sensibilities.

“What, we’re just supposed to show up to her birthday with an empty card?” she asks, knowing such a slight would infuriate April, and while that might be funny most days, Sterling just doesn’t think it would be right. Though April’s dislike of most chain restaurants leaves her with few options, so she gets one from her own favorite store and calls it good.

Sterling and Blair go to check out, and Sterling pays for the gift card with bounty hunting cash that she has tried to use sparingly over the last few weeks because once it’s gone, it’s well and truly gone.

“You know April doesn’t deserve any of this, right? She broke your heart and she’s dating Luke for...what, exactly? Clout?” Blair asks as they get into the car and Sterling goes digging in the center console for a Sharpie. “It’s certainly not for his enormous dick.”

“I shared Luke’s penis size with you in confidence, and I would prefer it if you didn’t bring it up again.” Finally finding a Sharpie, Sterling changes the 7 to a 17 and opens it up to sign her name before holding out the card and marker to Blair. “Do you want partial credit for the gift I bought her with my own money?” she asks, being gracious, and after a moment’s hesitation, Blair takes them from her and scribbles her name below Sterling’s on the card. “And no, we didn’t have to get her anything, but I wanted to, okay? You have no idea how bad it is for her to live with a dad like John Stevens and she deserves something nice on her birthday. Everyone does.”

“Yeah, well, her shitty home life doesn’t excuse her being a shitty person,” Blair grumbles as she starts the car and pulls out of the Walgreens parking lot.

Sterling holds her tongue, knowing that trying to defend April any further is just going to get her another accusation about her feelings.

“Have I mentioned before that you Willingham kids have a disgusting amount of money? Because you do. You have a disgusting amount of money,” Reese says as they pull up in front of April’s house, where the party is already in full swing.

“Hey, if your dad owned as many Chick-Fil-As as April’s dad does, you’d probably live in a place like this, too.” Blair parks the car and unbuckles her seatbelt. “Now, I want us all to meet back up here at the car by 11. If the cops show up, scatter, and if anyone gets tossed into the pool with their clothes on…” Blair reaches under the seat and pulls up a ziplock baggie full of rice. “Phone goes in here.”

“Wow. You guys must go to a lot of parties,” Reese says, amused.

Sterling rolls her eyes. “We don’t. Blair’s just seen too many teen movies.”

“Oh, like you haven’t watched 10 Things I Hate About You with me like a million times…” Blair grumbles as she gets out of the car. “But I mean it, we all meet right here at 11. Nerds are like gremlins after midnight. And oh! I almost forgot,” she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a bottle of...nail polish? “When in doubt, put your pinkies out so I can put this roofie stuff on.”

Reese shrugs and does as Blair requests, putting out her pinky for Blair to paint some of the bright pink nail polish on, but Sterling is befuddled.

“Wait, there are roofies in the nail polish?” she asks, concerned.

Reese cackles. “No, Silver. If you stick your finger with this stuff into your drink, the nail polish will turn black if it comes into contact with roofies,” she explains, then frowns as she turns to Blair. “Though, I’m not sure this crowd is necessarily the roofie type. Frat parties, however, you best be putting that stuff on every finger.”

“You can never be too careful,” Blair says as Sterling surrenders her finger for Blair to paint. “But may I just say that you are fascinating?”

“Blair, we’ve been to a college party before,” Sterling reminds her. “And you let me get totally wasted. I still can’t eat Jell-O!”

Reese puts her arm around Sterling’s waist. “Silver, the more I learn about you, the more I am absolutely fascinated.”

“Um...thank you?” Sterling says, feeling the tips of her ears get very warm as they start to head inside.

“And in any case, if either of you needs a quick roofie-less drink, I got you covered,” Reese adds, pulling a silver flask from the back pocket of her jeans.

“Whoa!” Blair says, impressed. “What’s in that?”

“Uhhh,” Reese says, opening it and taking a sip, wincing as she does so. “A mix of rum, vodka, tequila, and whiskey. Ted pays attention to the levels of the bottles in his liquor cabinet, so if I just take a little off the top of each, he won’t notice.”

Sterling is disgusted and a little impressed. “Wait, who’s Ted?” she asks, never having heard of this figure in Reese’s life before.

“My dad?” Reese says, chuckling and taking another sip as they walk through the open front door into a sea of kids drinking Red Bull and soda. Reese’s hand shifts from Sterling’s back to holding her hand. “Looks like I needed this more than I thought,” she says, looking at the flask.

“You are. So cool,” Blair reiterates to her for the hundredth time, and at this point, Sterling wishes her sister was just a little gay so she could hook up with Reese and get this lady crush out of her system.

Sterling looks around the party, not seeing any sign of April, though she eventually spots Hannah B. and Ezekiel chatting with people in the living room, and Luke out standing by the pool. “Will you guys excuse me for a sec?” she asks Blair and Reese, who both shrug as they head into the kitchen for food, and Sterling goes out the back door.

“Hey, Stranger,” she says, approaching Luke, who has his back to her.

He turns to face her, and a huge grin crosses his face. “Sterl! You made it!” he says, coming up and hugging her, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand, which he gestures with when they pull apart. “Do you need a drink? Because I can get you one if you want?”

Sterling shakes her head. “No, I’m good for now, thanks,” she declines, but she does appreciate him offering. “So, where’s your girlfriend?”

Luke shrugs. “I think the last time I saw her, she was yelling at Franklin about using a coaster?” He chuckles. “Man, she is nothing like you.”

Sterling’s not sure how to take that. “Is that a bad thing?” she asks, laughing nervously. She very much hopes April isn’t being negatively compared to her boyfriend’s ex on her own birthday.

Luke shakes his head quickly. “No, no, it’s just...different. I think you were kinda right when you said that we didn’t really know who we were outside of being together. Like, did you know that I actually really like wraps? They’re like if a sandwich and a burrito had a baby, and that baby was delicious…”

Sterling laughs, not sure if comparing something to a delicious baby is very appropriate, but she gets it. “Well, I’m glad April is broadening your culinary horizons.”

“She’s actually really cool once she settles down a little. I think you guys could get along if you gave it a try,” Luke says while having no idea how correct he is. “But uh...maybe wait until after the musical.”

Sterling nods, sucking in air through her teeth. “Yeeeah, I really am invading her element there, aren’t I?”

Luke pinches his thumb and forefinger together while scrunching his face. “Little bit,” he says, meaning a lot a bit. He shakes his soda can, which has apparently gone empty. “Well, I’m gonna get another one of these. You sure you’re good?”

Sterling nods. “Yeah, I’m good. I think I’m actually gonna go look for the birthday girl,” she says, gesturing with the envelope containing April’s card.

“I think Ezekiel’s got a basket inside for those,” Luke holds out his hand for Sterling to give it to him, but she shakes her head.

“I sort of want to give this to her personally?” she says, holding it out of his reach, then realizes this might seem weird considering that as far as everyone is aware, the two of them hate each other. “An olive branch, if you will.”

Sterling’s not sure if Luke gets that, but she doesn’t stick around to find out. If she knows April well enough, she knows she would retreat to the most obvious place if the party got to be too much for her, so she heads up the stairs and down the hall, glad that she still remembers the layout of the house from when they were kids.

She approaches April’s closed bedroom door, marked with a calligraphy A decal, and knocks. “April, you in there?” she calls over the sound of the music blaring from downstairs.

“Go. Away,” April says firmly, and never being one to follow all the rules, Sterling tries the door anyway, finding it locked.

“Come on, I have a present for you and everything,” Sterling pleads with her, leaning her shoulder against the door. When she gets no response, she looks around the hallway, finding the end table with the silk flower arrangement next to a framed picture of April’s cat as a kitten. She goes to it and reaches into the flower arrangement, coming out with a small Phillips head screwdriver that is the perfect size to fit into the lock of April’s door—some things really do never change. “April, I have your screwdriver key.”

She hears grumbling from behind the door, and she goes to unlock it, only to have the door swing open before she can, with a very unamused April crossing her arms behind it.

“What?” April asks.

“Present,” Sterling says simply, holding up the card, which April reaches out to snatch, but Sterling holds it up and away from her. “Nope,” she says, pushing past April into her room, and she hears her close the door again while Sterling looks around. It’s a lot less princess-y since their last sleepover, and the overhead light isn’t on, just the lamps on April’s desk and bedside table. “Oh, you redecorated,” she says, noting that the only things that have stayed the same are the bed and the letters spelling out April behind it.

“Sterling, what do you want?” April repeats herself, going over to her bed and pulling Sergeant Bilko into her lap, petting him like a Bond Villain.

“Aw, he looks just the same!” Sterling says, once again ignoring April’s question as she tries to pet Bilko, but he hisses at her before she can get too close. “Okaaay,” Sterling says, withdrawing her hand. “Guess he’s not so friendly anymore.”

“Not to you, no,” April says plainly. “Why are you here? I very much doubt Ezekiel and Hannah B. invited you, and if they did, we’re going to have to have words.”

Sterling shakes her head. “No, they didn’t invite me,” she says, then struggles to remember the accurate chain that led to this. “Becky told Jenna—the demonic half-Welsh girl—who told Blair.”

April scoffs. “Figures I couldn’t just have a quiet night tonight,” she says, looking down at Bilko as she continues to pet him, and he purrs loudly. “So, did you just come up here to harass me, or do I actually get whatever is in the mysterious pink envelope?”

“Oh! Right!” Sterling says, finally handing April the card. “It says it’s from Blair and me, but actually it’s mostly just from me.”

April sets Bilko aside and goes to her desk to get a letter opener that looks like a miniature lightsaber...which she actually clicks a button on to make it light up and make a noise as she slices the envelope open. The fact that she keeps an entirely straight face throughout this is just outstanding. But that quickly breaks into an uncontrollable smile after she pulls out the card.

“Did they run out of 17s?” she asks, chuckling as she holds up the unicorn card reading, ‘Happy 7th Birthday!’ with the extra 1 added to make it 17. "Would you believe this is the second time this has happened to me today? Check out the cake when you get a chance."

“It was Blair’s idea but I picked out the card we used,” Sterling says as April opens the card and momentarily sets aside the gift card envelope inside to read it aloud.

“‘Hope your day is unique and beautiful as you.’” April rolls her eyes and shakes her head, but Sterling can see her blush. “Well, thank you, Sterling, for the charming card and for,” she pauses to open the gift card. “$100 at Cabela’s? Isn’t that just guns and stuff?”

Sterling feels the need to justify herself. “Hey, it’s actually a really cool store. They have, like, clothes and fishing stuff...and gun stuff, yeah.”

April sighs and shakes her head. “Well, thank you, Sterling. In the off chance that I ever get the urge to buy a gun, I’ll be sure to use this.”

“Hey, it was either that or Cheesecake Factory, which I know you would use because it’s Luke’s favorite place, but I also know how you feel about chain restaurants with giant menus,” Sterling argues.

April raises an eyebrow. “I mentioned the ‘giant menus at chain restaurants’ thing to you like...once when we were driving home from The Fun Zone. You seriously remembered that?”

Sterling shrugs nonchalantly. She’s not about to admit that basically everything that went down in those three days they had together is written into her brain in permanent ink. “That’s why I’m a great gift buyer,” she jokes, knowing that is the furthest thing from the truth as she tucks her hair behind her ear. “And...things about you are hard to forget.” Now, that is the truth.

She sees April swallow hard. “They are?”

Sterling nods, knowing they’re probably crossing so many lines with this conversation, but also knowing that she doesn’t care enough to stop. “What are you doing up here?”

April shrugs. “You know me, people are probably having more fun with me not being down there. Plus, it stresses me out seeing my house get trashed. Really, I’m better off up here so I can’t even know about things like you bringing Reese Ryan and alcohol to my party,” she says the last part pointedly, and Sterling realizes that April wasn’t up here this whole time after all.

“I’m sorry if I made a bad situation worse by being here tonight,” Sterling says, not able to look at April as she does so.

“Maybe initially…” April says in that brutally honest manner of hers. “But I’m actually glad that you—well, I’m grateful for the card,” she says, her sentence changing course midway through. “And I’m sure I can find something at Cabela’s if I try hard enough.”

Sterling bites her lip, holding in all the things that will be left unsaid when she leaves this bedroom. “What did Luke get you?”

April plays with the cross and heart pendant of a necklace Sterling’s never seen her wear before. “This and some Star Wars stuff.”

“I guess he really knows you, huh?” Sterling says, her words having more of an edge to them than she originally intended, but really, Luke knows nothing about April. Nothing that matters, anyway.

“Yeah, well, he doesn’t know where I keep my key, now does he?” April says, taking the screwdriver from Sterling’s hand for emphasis. “Go enjoy the party, Sterling. My friends spent way too much on food from Costco.”

Sterling knows she’s being kicked out of the room, but she doesn’t want this moment between them to end as she slowly backs toward the door. “You’re coming downstairs, right? We still have to do cake and presents—the whole shebang.”

April nods. “In a bit, yes.”

“Well, in case I don’t see you, Happy Birthday, April,” Sterling says, turning up leave.

“You know,” April says, causing her to turn back around. “You’re actually the first person to tell me that today.”

That kind of thing would be unfathomable to Sterling if she didn’t know the people April surrounds herself with. “Well, then everyone but me really sucks.”

April tuts, smiling flirtily at Sterling in the dim light of the room. “Someone thinks highly of herself.”

Sterling shrugs. “If anyone can beat my unicorn card and Cabela’s shopping spree, then I will be proven wrong.”

April pushes Sterling toward the door playfully. “I bet Franklin’s gift will be better.”

“Oof,” Sterling says, her hand over her heart. “You wound me.” She opens the bedroom door. “So uh, why aren’t your parents here?”

April shrugs. “My dad’s too busy throwing a hissy fit over the election results.”

“Your dad’s an asshole,” Sterling says, trying to sound cool when she swears, but it comes out a lot quieter than the rest of her sentence.

April laughs. “Coming from you, that means a lot,” she says, looking back at Bilko on her bed before sighing and walking toward the door with Sterling.

“Wait, you’re actually coming downstairs?” Sterling asks, surprised as April pushes past her.

“Yes, because lesbian icon Lesley Gore may have given me permission to cry at my party,” she pauses to kiss her fingers and point them at the sky/ceiling in what seems to be a show of respect. “But I don’t want to.”

Chapter Text

The music is blaring from downstairs-- Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac, incredibly--and it sets the perfect mood for the situation April finds herself in, with Sterling kissing her roughly against her bedroom wall.

Hands wandering, hips grinding, this is so much more than anything they ever did in Sterling’s car or Ellen’s office. There's a purpose to this, and April isn’t opposed. In fact, if Sterling stops kissing her or stops touching her, she thinks she very well might die.

“Happy Birthday to me,” April giggles when Sterling briefly breaks away to breathe.

“Wow, you’re an even better kisser than before,” Sterling marvels, her fingertips coming up to touch her swollen lips. “And you’re so beautiful.”

April bites her lip and looks at the combination of Sterling’s sexy, sexy haircut with that damn plaid shirt and cami combo that shows off just the perfect amount of cleavage. She has to be wearing a pushup bra for that effect, and April has to assume that it’s because she always intended for this to go down between them.

“Bed, now,” April says, and Sterling listens without question, going to sit on the edge of the bed, and April comes to shove her into a lying-down position before she climbs on top of her. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” she says, leaning down to whisper in Sterling’s ear before she takes off her babydoll dress that really had been a dumb choice for a parentless party, but is perfect for this occasion.

“Beautiful,” Sterling says under her breath, marveling at April’s mostly naked body.

April leans down to kiss Sterling again while experimentally rolling her hips into hers, feeling a surprising amount of friction, which she realizes is because Sterling’s hand is between them, her fingers managing to rub right over where April needs them.

It’s euphoric, the feeling of getting to the brink of something she’s never experienced before, but that she desperately wants to feel. That she desperately wants Sterling to get her to. And she is so close. So very close…

April startles awake, realizing she is face down in her bed, her hips going to town on... oh no. She reaches under herself and pulls out Natalie the Narwhal, her longtime sleeping companion, who she was just violating. A fresh wave of horror washes over April when she realizes that the horn was what her dream interpreted to be Sterling’s fingers. And yet another washes over her when she realizes just how wet and frustrated she has been left now that she is awake with no release.

April has half a mind to just reach down into her pajamas and take care of things herself, but she’s never done that before, and she’s not about to start due to a completely inappropriate scenario that her subconscious thought would be a good idea for a sex dream. Which leaves her to just grumble and roll over onto her back while trying to calm down. She thinks about anything she can to stop this incessant throbbing. Russell Crowe’s singing voice, the Cats movie, Luke jizzing in his pants on her couch...yep, that last one does it like a bucket of ice water.

“April, are you up?” Her mother calls from the hallway.

April reaches over to her nightstand to check the time on her phone before she answers, not wanting to have to face today any earlier than she has to. “Yeah, I’m awake,” she replies when she sees it’s 8:30 Thanksgiving morning. Even if she could physically go back to sleep, there’s no way she would be allowed to with all she has to do today.

Needing no further invitation, Mary opens the door and barges right on in. “Good morning, Sweetheart! Happy Thanksgiving,” she says, going to the curtains and opening them to let the light in.

“Morning, Mama,” April replies, squinting until her eyes can adjust to the light. “What’s on the agenda this morning?”

“Plenty of prep work for dinner this afternoon. I’ll need my little sous-chef,” Mary replies, but April already knew this. 

She’s been helping her mom, aunt, and cousins cook Thanksgiving dinner every year since she was three and all she could do was snap green beans and put way too many marshmallows on the yams while sneaking a handful for herself. “When is Aunt Franny’s family getting here?” April asks, not having seen them since her cousin Sarah’s wedding in July.

“Your father just borrowed your car to go pick them up from the airport just a little while ago--it’s the only car with enough seats. We figured you wouldn’t mind.” Mary says, and April guesses she can’t exactly be too mad about it since they bought it for her. Still, she would like to at least maintain the illusion that the car is actually hers. “Anyway, I’m going to need your help with getting the casseroles oven-ready, and in the event that I forgot something, you are on emergency store run duty unless it involves buying alcohol, in which case I’ll send your cousin Rachel.

April nods dutifully, but she would kind of like for her mother to leave her be now. “Mom, do you mind so I can like...shower and stuff?”

Mary laughs. “Okay,” she says, heading towards the door. “But you know it’s not anything I haven’t seen before.”

April frowns. “Mom, no stories about me being a nudist baby at the dinner table. Ari’s going to be here,” she says, knowing everyone in her family is aware of the period of time in which she detested clothes, save for her new cousin-in-law.

“Fine, but I make no promises for your Aunt Franny or your cousins. They just adore you, you know and you were the cutest little girl. The perks of being the baby of the family,” Mary says, and then she’s out the door, shutting it behind her.

April groans. If she hadn’t succeeded in giving herself a mental cold shower, her Mom busting in here did the trick. She turns back over onto her stomach and groans loudly into her pillow. Today is going to be a very long day, she can tell, even with all the tryptophan she’s going to consume during their weirdly early afternoon dinner. And it was already bound to be a tough one to get through without having a naughty dream about the girl who she wasn’t even with long enough to consider a proper ex.

Sterling was a fling at most, and they’ve spent far more time antagonizing each other at rehearsals than they ever spent making out or sharing their hopes and dreams. And yet. And freaking yet, April’s stupid brain has been working overtime these last few weeks to remind her that she actually is really quite fond of that blonde dope who wouldn’t know Sondheim from Wildhorn.

The fact that she isn’t even considering re-gifting the Cabela’s gift card (that she is certain she has no real use for) this Christmas should speak volumes about the confusing mess that is her life as of late. Especially since she and Sterling have been in a weird sort of limbo since her birthday. They aren’t exactly friendly with each other at school, but they don’t go out of their way to antagonize each other outside of the occasional ribbing, which, as toxic as this way of thinking may be, is pretty infuriatingly dull for April. She is not a girl who has ever been good with neutrality, and especially not when all this unaddressed tension is now making her mind and body conspire against her.

Knowing that dwelling on all of this is doing nothing for her, she sighs and gets up from her bed, heading to the bathroom.

“You have to fold in the cheese, April,” Mary says, hovering despite her insistence that she trusts April with the holiday recipes passed down from mother to daughter in the Emerson family since...well, at least since French’s Fried Onions were a thing.

“I’m foldin’, Mama!” April replies, and in that one frustrated exclamation, she hears her heavier, less-refined accent picked up from her father over the years, which she often works hard to tamp down. But with how infuriating her mother is being, she isn’t in the mood to make herself sound like a classy little Atlantan.

“No, you’re stirring, and that’ll just blend everything together instead of making it more of a swirled mixture,” Mary argues, trying to take the wooden spoon from April to step in herself, but this has become a matter of principle.

“Mama, look, I’m folding. See, I’m folding?” April says, making it a point to do a wide stirring motion with the spoon upward from the bottom of the mixing bowl to the top.

Mary rolls her eyes and gets back to work on finely mincing up a few strips of crisp bacon. “You know, it was my mother who came up with the idea to put cheese and bacon into the green bean casserole. Your grandfather hated vegetables with a burning passion, but he loved cheese and bacon more, so it was a match made in heaven.”

“And we do it now, because…?” April asks, thinking this green bean casserole may very well be a contender for Least Healthy Dish every Thanksgiving.

“Because cheese and bacon are delicious,” Mary says, shrugging, and she and April giggle. Thanksgiving is perhaps the one day a year when Mary has little concern for what goes into her or April’s bodies, but they have a scheduled spin class tomorrow afternoon for a reason. “So, how’re things at school? I’m really excited to see your show.”

“School’s good,” April replies, shrugging. “The show will hopefully be okay, but between Luke’s lack of tonal awareness, and Sterling Wesley’s complete ineptitude at directing a musical, I’d lower your expectations.”

“My expectations are that you will do great. Nothing else really matters,” Mary says, coming over to kiss the side of April’s head. “But I’m sorry Debbie Wesley’s Participation Trophy parenting-style is interfering with the production.”

April scoffs, agreeing that Ellen somehow managed to punish her worse than Sterling, all in the name of a homophobe who April isn’t even friends with. “I’m sorry, too.”

Mary shrugs, knowing there isn’t anything either of them can do about it and turns to go digging through the cupboard for the last (and most important) ingredient for the green bean casserole--the aforementioned French’s fried onions. “Oh dear,” she says after a moment and goes for her kitchen step stool to check the higher shelves, which proves similarly fruitless. “April, Sweetie?” she calls, but April already thinks she knows.

“We’re out of fried onions?” she asks knowingly.

“We are out of fried onions,” Mary confirms, nodding. “Would you be a dear and--no, wait, never mind. Your father has your car, so I guess it’ll have to wait until he brings Franny’s clan in from the airport.”

“Here’s a concept,” April says, feeling emboldened by John’s absence from this conversation. “Why don’t you call Daddy and have him stop at the store for the one single can of fried onions? Because you know the only reason they’re missing is that he was snacking on them while watching The Mandalorian, right?”

Mary gives a look telling April that she should know better. “He’s got your aunt, uncle, and cousins with him, and really, you know how your father and grocery stores don’t mix. Knowing him, he’ll come home with Klondike bars and no onions.”

April groans, wishing her mother and millions of women just like her wouldn’t let their husbands get away with being completely useless. And is it even Mary who is having to deal with the consequences of that today? No, of course not. “Fine, but they better get here soon because I still have to get ready, and-” she’s looking down at her kitchen prep clothes that are just barely not pajamas when she hears the front door open. “Perfect timing,” April says, putting down her spoon and wiping her hands on a dish towel so she can go to the foyer, where John is helping her aunt and uncle with their suitcases.

“Aww, there’s my sweet baby niece!” Franny squeals when she spots her, abandoning her luggage so she can close the distance between them and pull April into a tight hug. "Who gave you the right to get more beautiful every time I see you, huh? Look at you, you’re gorgeous.”

April can’t help but blush at her aunt’s compliments. “Thank you, Aunt Franny,” she says as she is finally released from the hug, only to be pulled into another by her uncle.

“More gorgeous, but you don’t seem to have gotten any taller, have you?” Tom teases her and April rolls her eyes. 

“I am petite and proud, thank you very much, Uncle Tom,” she says as her cousins come in behind their parents.

“That’s right, April. You tell him,” Becca says, a duffle bag over her shoulder, wearing a blazer with a t-shirt under it. “Dad, don’t tease her. She’s just a child.”

“You’re three years older than said child,” Rachel reminds her, patting April on the shoulder before continuing through the house. “Ma, are we kids still in the guest house?” she calls.

“No, Ari and I are out there. You and Becca are sharing one of the guest rooms,” Sarah replies, waltzing into the house empty-handed while her new husband is left to play pack mule for her, but he doesn’t seem to mind, and in fact, smiles gratefully at his wife when she helpfully pushes his glasses into place after getting skewed on the way from the car.

“I mean, if your sisters would prefer the guest house-” he starts to say, but Sarah doesn’t let him finish.

“You and I are in the guest house, Mr. Goldberg, and I suggest you don’t argue,” she says sweetly and points him in the direction of the door leading out to the backyard.

Ari, the smart man that he is, does as he’s told and carries off the suitcases, with April noticing as he’s walking away that he has a yarmulke on, which is not something she thinks she has ever seen him wear outside of the formal setting of his and Sarah’s wedding.

“In case you were wondering, he’s wearing that to bug your dad,” Sarah whispers to April as she passes by to follow Ari, and April can’t help but giggle; it’s just so refreshing to be in the company of other people who understand how much of a shit her father can be. It’s also nice to have some positive examples of people who are in a relationship but have a modicum of respect for each other.

“Where’s Seth?” April asks, craning her neck to look out the still-open front door to see if her other cousin is out there. Seth, the one and only male cousin in the Emerson family, has never necessarily been her favorite, but she is eager to get details on his upcoming spring wedding.

“He and Daksha are spending the holiday with her family in Santa Barbara,” Tom supplies helpfully as John makes a face.

“Y’all’s family really is the future the liberals want. All ya need is a gay one next,” he says, seeming amused by this notion.

Franny’s positive demeanor falters for all of a millisecond and April could swear that her aunt’s eyes just might glance over in her direction, but then she’s positively beaming at John. “Aww, thanks for noticing, Johnny. We really tried to raise our kids to be open and loving people.”

April can see her father’s jaw move as he grinds his teeth. Franny is perhaps the only woman with this kind of ability to get under his skin, and he can do absolutely nothing about it.

April’s aunt is her hero.

“Well, y’all better get settled in,” Mary says, breaking the tension and looking to her sister apologetically, but April knows her mother is going to get a talking to about why she is still married to a man with so many ‘-ist’ words that can be used to describe him. “April, didn’t you have to run to the store?”

April nods, actually glad to leave this situation. Hopefully, by the time she returns, everyone will kind of be doing their own thing. “That I do. May I have my keys back, Daddy?” she asks, holding out her hand, and her father does as asked.

“Be careful. Them grocery store parking lots are sure to be a nightmare on holidays and I don’t want the car getting dinged,” he says as she gets her shoes on. “And would you get some ice cream while you’re there? Your mama just doesn’t understand the value of a good apple pie a la mode.”

April nods, but can tell her mom is annoyed by having her culinary decisions undermined. “Anything else?” she asks, looking at her aunt and uncle.

“I don’t suppose you’re able to buy cigarettes?” Tom asks and immediately earns an elbow jab from his wife. But as much as April is disgusted by this particular vice of her uncle’s, she can’t deny that she would be driven to smoke under these awkward and stressful circumstances too.

“Don’t listen to him, April. He’s supposed to be quitting,” Franny says, rolling her eyes like she’s heard that one a million times before.

“Don’t you Brits call ‘em fags?” John asks, chuckling. He really is on a roll today.

“On occasion,” Tom says, annoyed. “Anyway, how’s about I get these suitcases up to our room,” he says, looking at Franny before looking back at John. “And then John and I can watch the rugby knockoff that you Americans call football?”

John pats his brother-in-law hard on the back. “Y’know, this holiday is all about us Americans escaping you limey bastards, and yet here you are,” he says, and coming from someone who’s not a complete asshole, it might be seen as a joke, but April (as well as everyone else in the room) sees it for the barb that it is. “And no need for my kid getting you no menthol Virginia Slims, ‘cause I got a fresh box of Cubans for after dinner for me, you, and Screech out there.” He points in the direction of where Sarah and Ari went to make it abundantly clear that the Jewish addition to their family is who he is referring to as Screech, as if it weren’t already painfully obvious.

“Of course he’s got cigars,” Mary says through her teeth.

“Well, I better get going. Those lines are sure to be horrific,” April says, thinking now is the time to make her leave so that she can’t be used as a witness if her aunt finally snaps and kills her adversary/brother-in-law. She doesn’t wait for a reply before she is grabbing her bag and is out the door.

Family events tend to always be Like This and it can really put a damper on her holiday cheer. Because really, no amount of Broadway performances during the Macy’s parade can make up for her dad getting drunk and saying increasingly bigoted things as the day/night goes on. And it says a lot that April would much prefer being in a Kroger with all of the other people who have forgotten things.

She finds a parking spot all the way near the back of the lot—well, two parking spots, but a silver car tears into one of them, seemingly out of nowhere. April parks her car and gets out to give that asshole a piece of her mind, but decides she better wait to see if it’s a frightening dude or something first. Though she somehow doubts that considering she doesn’t know many scary dudes who drive...Chevy Volts.

“April?” Sterling freaking Wesley asks, getting out of her car and locking it with her fob.

April sighs exasperatedly. Really, she should have known something like this would happen to her today or all days. “What are you, stalking me or something?” she asks, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms.

Sterling frowns. “Uh, no, I came to get a few last-minute things that my mom forgot. You?” She holds up a list, which can’t have more than three things scrawled on it, but of course, Debbie wouldn’t trust Sterling to just remember.

“Same,” April says, feeling like God is messing with her at this point.

Sterling only confirms this by biting her lip as she seems to consider her next words carefully, and all April can think of is the dream she had last night. “Well, do you wanna be shopping buddies? It’s probably gonna be pretty dangerous in there and I’d hate for you to get trampled by a herd of Karens.”

April scoffs. “They’re not wildebeests.”

“You don’t know that,” Sterling says, shrugging, and April can’t help but chuckle. Sterling smiles wide and points at April’s face. “Ah, I got you. Now, c’mon, we’ll be a lot more efficient if we can both throw elbows.” She starts walking down the long lane of cars toward the store’s entrance, with April hanging back for a moment.

Truly, she just came here for some dang fried onions, she didn’t come here to deal with...all of this. But she also can’t deny that there’s something magnetic between her and Sterling, and there has been since her birthday party from Hell. It feels...well, it feels just like it did when they built Solomon’s Temple, and April doesn’t know what to do with that, considering she was so willing to pull the ripcord on all of what followed for reasons that still exist, no matter how cute Sterling manages to look with her hair pulled back into a messy, toddler-sized ponytail, and a worn-out Falcons sweatshirt.

“God damn it,” April swears to herself and follows Sterling, doing the white girl half-jog to catch up. “So what did your mom forget?” she asks to alert Sterling of her presence.

“Uh…” Sterling says, looking at her list. “Sage sausage, turkey stock, and ice cream. You?”

“French’s Fried Onions and ice cream,” April replies.

“It sounds like we’re making some messed up sundaes,” Sterling giggles as they walk through the store’s automatic doors into the crowded (but not insane, as Sterling seemed to think) store. “Nah, I’m getting the stuff for...well, stuffing. And dessert. But they’re like, totally separate things.” She goes and grabs them each a shopping basket.

April smiles, amused as she accepts her basket from Sterling. “You don’t say? And here I thought your mom was doing some kind of sweet and savory bread pudding kind of thing.” Obviously, she’s kidding, but Sterling makes a face as they continue on into the store. “So, how did you get saddled with the emergency store run?”

Sterling shrugs. “Blair and my dad are watching the football games and my mom has just about everything else covered. Usually, we go over to my aunt and uncle’s house for Thanksgiving, but they’re remodeling their kitchen.” She leads them down the aisle that contains the boxes of premade broth. She grabs one of the turkey ones and puts it in her basket.

“My mom always cooks,” April says as they continue down the aisle and round the corner to the next, where she knows the fried onions are kept...and suspects that they are to be found (if there are any left) in the big gap on the top shelf, which, without prompting, Sterling darts to before returning with a can.

“Last one they had, and I think that lady down there was eyeing them,” Sterling says, putting it into April’s basket while she subtly nods her head in the direction of a middle-aged woman giving them both the evil eye when she happens upon the empty shelf. “You’re welcome.”

April smiles to herself. “Well, Sterling Wesley, aren’t you chivalrous?” she says in her Southern Belle voice reserved for the country club, batting her eyelashes exaggeratedly.

“I have to be, don’t I? I’m the Dread Pirate Roberts, after all,” Sterling says, shrugging, but the mention of her Halloween costume makes April think of something that takes the smile right off her face.

“And how is your Princess Buttercup?” she asks, honestly hoping that maybe something unfortunate happened to Reese Ryan. Nothing major, just something like a nasty fall as a direct result of her underage drinking at April’s birthday party. Though April definitely doesn’t waste her time thinking about those kinds of scenarios at length--that would just be crazy.

“You know, you don’t have to be like that about Reese,” Sterling says, giving her an unamused look, to which April feigns innocence.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m actually so glad you brought your girlfriend to my birthday party,” she says sarcastically, but Sterling just looks at her. “What?”

“I told you, she isn’t my girlfriend. She is a friend who I occasionally make out with, and she has every intention of keeping it that way,” Sterling says as they go down to the meat area for sage sausage.

“But you wouldn’t keep it that way if it were up to you,” April says, the conclusion not hurting any less when she says it. “I mean, my God, Sterl. I’m dating your ex-boyfriend. I think I can handle you just coming right out and saying you have feelings for someone else.” This is a downright lie, and she hopes Sterling doesn’t take her up on it so she doesn’t end up crying in this Kroger, but Sterling is too damn good for that.

“What I feel for Reese is...she and I could maybe be good together. In fact, I know we would be. But when I’m with her, there isn’t that spark, you know? It just really feels like I’m making out with a very good friend. So that’s what it is,” Sterling says, shrugging, but it does little to make April feel any better about any of it.

“The so-called ‘spark’ is a dangerous myth perpetuated by Disney movies and the jewelry industry,” she says matter-of-factly, even if she knows damn well she’s lying through her teeth, and Sterling looks at her like she knows she is, but she doesn’t say anything. 

So Sterling grabs the roll of Jimmy Dean sausage and heads off to the frozen aisle with April following behind. “You know,” she says finally, breaking her silence when she stands in front of the ice cream selection. “Your lack of a feeling of a spark could have something to do with you dating Luke.”

April scoffs because it’s true, but only partially. It mostly has to do with the fact that she’s pretty sure she’s not the kind of girl who’s destined to get the big happy ending. If she was, she wouldn’t have been born the lesbian daughter of John Stevens. “Yes, that is certainly a reason for it. Though my...general aversion to men doesn’t exactly work for this scenario with you and Peanut Buttercup.”

“Wow,” Sterling says, looking taken aback after grabbing a container of Dreyer’s vanilla. “That has so many layers. Because she’s named Reese, like the candy. But she also dressed up like Princess Buttercup.”

April giggles and grabs one of the same containers. “Yeah, that was the joke,” she says, actually glad to have someone appreciate her—she’s clever, damn it. “Well, I better get going now that I have the ingredients for my Spongebob sundae.”

“Can I walk you out?” Sterling asks. “I mean, you know, we’re parked right next to each other, so if we say goodbye now, then it’ll just be awkward if we end up at our cars at the same time.” Sterling’s words come out quickly like she’s tripping over herself for an excuse to continue...whatever this is.

“Yeah, okay,” April agrees, leading the way to the self-checkout and eventually out the door.

“Okay, so to answer your question about Reese,” Sterling says, breaking their silence once they’re in the parking lot with their shopping bags, “No, I can’t exactly blame her being the wrong gender for me. But I can blame the fact that this is all really bad timing.”

April can’t argue there. It feels like Sterling was back from her mysterious disappearance at the Lock-In all of five seconds before Reese showed up. “Does it have something to do with why you were completely freaking out for a while there?” she asks, and when Sterling is quick to shake her head no, April rolls her eyes. “Oh, come on, Sterl. I mean...the hair, the blatant PDA, the punching Tala Jordan-”

“She had it coming and you know it,” Sterling interrupts.

“—she had it coming worse than one of the husbands in the musical Chicago,” April agrees but continues. “But none of that is you. I just want to know why, if it wasn’t because of what I said or did.” She doesn’t mean for this to sound a bit like begging, but truly, not knowing what happened to the carefree goofball who threw a debate tournament for the sake of decency is driving her insane.

“It wasn’t because of you,” Sterling says quickly. “But a lot of other stuff happened that night, and I guess I didn’t know how to deal with it. But then, along comes Reese, who really seems to understand what I’m going through, and she suggested I could just use a few changes in my life to shake things up.”

“Well, there’s your problem right there,” April says, hitting the unlock button for her car. “The very last thing you need in your life is someone who wants to change you. I mean, even Luke doesn’t try to stop me from being...well, you know how intense I am.”

“‘Intense’ somehow feels like too mild of a descriptor for all of you,” Sterling says, gesturing at her entire being.

April smiles at her, mouth agape and eyes wide. “Oh-ho,” she laughs. “I see how it is.”

“You know I mean that in the best way possible...mostly,” Sterling says, smirking.

April rolls her eyes. “Oh, I’m sure,” she says, looking off and wondering how it can still feel so easy with Sterling when everything else in her life is so complicated. Hell, even everything with Sterling is complicated, but this, just having banter with’s effortless. “But seriously, Sterl. You shouldn’t feel like you need to make yourself into a different person, no matter what mysterious reason it is that made you vulnerable to being told that kind of nonsense.” She puts the grocery bag into the back seat of her car.

“You know, you’re probably the last person I would expect to give me the whole ‘you’re perfect just the way you are’ talk,” Sterling says, sounding amused as she unlocks her Volt.

April shrugs, thinking that she couldn’t bear the thought of Sterling the Eternal Ray of Human Sunshine going away for good, but she’d never admit that. “Well, there’s always room for improvement, but you shouldn’t scrap it all and start over when what you have is...pretty good,” she says instead, which is perhaps just as effective as she notices Sterling’s cheeks redden a bit. “The hair, though...even I will admit is not bad.”

Sterling tucks a strand of it that couldn’t make it into her ponytail behind her ear. “I like yours too. It’s doing the Hermione floof thing.”

April rolls her eyes, knowing she’s definitely going to have to correct this before dinner and all of the family pictures tonight. “You have a good Thanksgiving, Sterl.”

“You too, April,” Sterling says, getting into her car, and April does the same, driving home and feeling just a bit better than she did when she left the house...or, well, maybe a lot better.

Why it is that her mother and aunt insist on having Thanksgiving dinner at the oh-so-late hour of three in the afternoon, April will never know. Their family notoriously doesn’t have any senior citizens anymore--unless you count her Uncle Tom, who would qualify for social security if he were actually a citizen, but he refuses on the grounds that everything else about him is basically American--so there’s no reason for it other than her very bad habit of making a second plate of reheated food once she’s hungry again at like 9.

“That was so good, Mary. Until today, I’d only heard legend of how great your southern Thanksgiving dinners are,” Ari says politely after he returns to the dining room table, having rinsed his plate and Sarah’s without needing to be prompted by his wife--only four months into their marriage, and he’s already been trained better than John has been in over 20 years.

“Aw, thank you, Ari. That’s very sweet of you to say,” Mary says, sipping at what has to be her third glass of champagne, but that’s got nothing on John and his third glass of scotch on the rocks.

“Do your people even celebrate Thanksgiving?” April’s father asks incredulously, gesturing to the back of his own head to indicate Ari’s yarmulke.

April can see her cousin tense up a bit at the microaggression, but Ari looks completely unfazed as he smiles patronizingly at John. “Well, Uncle John,” he says, pouring himself a glass of port, which Mary brought out as a prelude for dessert, “Considering that I’m a Jersey Jew, yes, we do celebrate Thanksgiving...just with a little less bacon and a lot more kvetching over why I’m a journalist instead of a doctor or a lawyer.”

Sarah looks at her husband like she’s going to eat him alive later tonight, and if April were into men, she could hardly blame her after that particular display of BDE. “And don’t forget all of the not-so-subtle digs about marrying a shiksa from your dear mother,” her cousin says, smiling to herself as she holds out her glass for Ari to pour her some port as well.

“Sarah, should you really be drinking that?” Franny asks from across the table, and Sarah rolls her eyes.

“Oh my god, Mom. I am not pregnant,” she says, annoyed in the way that only comes from having had to tell her mother this same thing God knows how many times since July. “Between you and my mother-in-law, I’ve barely had enough of a break from being pestered to have a baby to actually have time to make one. Which is not to say that we have any intentions of having one any time soon. Because we don’t.”

“I give her a year,” Rachel says plainly, and the whole table laughs, save for John, who has been in a sour mood ever since Becca took off her blazer to reveal a ‘Madame Vice President’ t-shirt.

The doorbell rings and all of the table’s occupants look around, as everyone expected to be here tonight is already here.

“I’ll get it,” John says, getting up from the table and walking somewhat unsteadily out of the dining room. Usually, he wouldn’t care to be so courteous when his wife is right there to do it for him, but April can tell that he would prefer to be away from Mary’s family as much as he can.

Once he’s gone, Franny must see an opportunity. “Oh, April, you’re old enough. You have to try some of this port,” she says, reaching over to get the bottle from Sarah and pouring April some into a clean champagne glass.

“She’s not old enough, she’s seventeen,” Mary says, reaching over to take the glass, but Franny holds it away from her.

“Mary, if I do recall, you got absolutely schnockered at our wedding, and you were no older than fourteen,” Tom reminds her as he takes the glass from his wife and hands it to April. “Go on, then,” he prompts her, and April, despite knowing she probably shouldn’t for her mother’s sake, takes a small sip of surprisingly sweet wine.

“Oooh, that is lovely,” she says to her cousins’ amusement.

“Uh oh, Mom and Dad. You’ve corrupted the child,” Becca says as she pours herself a glass, and everyone is almost distracted from why John left the table in the first place before he returns and dampens the jovial mood.

“Look who’s here!” he says happily and steps aside to reveal Luke.

April is quick to hand off her glass of port to her cousin Becca before her father can notice her with it. “Oh my God, Babe, what are you doing here?” she asks, trying to sound pleasantly surprised, but genuinely wanting to know why he is here...with a pie.

“My mom wanted me to bring this over. It’s chocolate,” he says, holding up the pie tin for emphasis before looking around the room. “Uh, hi, April’s Family.” He sets down the pie tin on the dining room table.

“I’ll go get the plates and forks for that,” Mary says, getting up from the table and heading off to the kitchen as John pats Luke on the shoulder.

“Y’all, this is Luke Creswell, April’s boyfriend,” he says proudly, though April catches a few of her family members looking rather shocked by this development.

“Well,” Franny says cordially. “It’s so very nice to meet you, Luke. You must be a special boy to have won the heart of our April,” she says, always the hospitable southern woman, no matter how much April suspects her aunt knows she is in fact a lesbian. “Why don’t you sit down and tell us about yourself?” she says, gesturing to the 10th place at the table next to April that has gone unoccupied in the absence of Seth.

“Okay!” Luke says, all too eager to sit down and begin to unwrap the pie, happily accepting a plate from Mary when she returns and serves him a slice of his mom’s pie--a very big slice, which Luke accepts gratefully.

“So, did you two meet at school?” Rachel asks as she too gets a piece of the pie.

April’s not exactly sure where else she would meet someone her age but nods anyway. “Yeah, we did. Luke and I have actually known each other since we were...six or seven?”

“Oh wow, childhood sweethearts, huh?” Ari asks the one person in Franny’s family who doesn’t seem suspicious about all of this.

Luke is quick to shake his head. “Oh, no, we just knew each other. I actually only recently got out of a long-term committed relationship before me and April got together,” he explains, to which Sarah makes a face before smiling again.

“Well, things sometimes work out like that. I had a boyfriend for like three years in college before Ari and I got together,” she says, rubbing her husband’s arm.

“Yeah, I just had a crush on you the entire time,” Ari admits quietly, and Sarah kisses his cheek.

Seeing an example of two people who actually do love each other just makes April all the more self-conscious to have to introduce her unwitting beard to her family, and really, she just doesn’t know what to say, but her mom tosses her a life preserver.

“April and Luke are the leads in the upcoming school musical. Isn’t that so sweet?” Mary asks just after Luke takes a large bite of pie, forcing him to smile and nod with chipmunk cheeks instead of giving a verbal answer.

“And when he’s not doing that artsy sh-stuff to impress our little girl, Luke is captain of the golf team. Ain’t that right, son?” John asks, and Luke swallows hard.

“Yes, Mr. Stevens, sir,” he says, and April gets the feeling that he could probably use something to drink, so she offers him her own recently-filled water glass--a pretty intimate gesture that doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone at the table, just as her father calling her boyfriend son did not go unnoticed by April.

“Luke, I guess we didn’t ask if you’ve already eaten dinner at y’all’s house,” Mary says when she notices that half of the giant piece of pie on Luke’s plate is already gone.

He shakes his head. “No, but don’t worry. My mom always says that I can eat in three waves, and she’s making ham special for me ‘cause I don’t like turkey.”

It’s amazing, how Luke has the uncanny ability to make April continuously surprised every time he reveals another part of himself that is actually him being an enormous child--something April realizes she only perpetuates when she wets her napkin to wipe some chocolate off of Luke’s face when he finishes the rest of his pie and looks slightly reminiscent of a handsome Bruce Bogtrotter.

“Aww, ain’t y’all sweet?” Franny says, and April truly cannot tell if she’s being sarcastic or not, but God does she hope she is, as April hopes to all that is good that nobody thinks her being forced to mother her manbaby of a boyfriend is anything but what it is--a reflection of the failings of Vernon and Lynn Creswell when it comes to their lack of raising their child.

And yet, she knows in her heart of hearts that if it were Sterling she was doing this for, she wouldn’t care at all.


Some people eat Thanksgiving dinner in the mid-afternoon like a bunch of weirdos, but the Wesley family has never been one of them, and Sterling is quite sad about that fact when her stomach starts growling around four in the afternoon as she watches her dad get the turkey fryer set up in the backyard with Big Daddy and Uncle Deacon.

“Mom, it’s honestly child abuse that we aren’t allowed to eat anything before dinner on Thanksgiving,” Blair moans from the kitchen island, echoing Sterling’s sentiments exactly. 

“Your waistlines will thank her,” Aunt Cordelia says from the sink where she’s peeling potatoes. “We’re all going to be consuming more carbs than anyone should eat in three days, let alone one meal.”

“Actually, Aunt Cordelia, I’m on the reverse keto diet, so I need all the carbs,” Blair says snarkily as she continues to snap green beans.

“There isn’t such a thing as a reverse keto diet. I’d know,” their cousin Kristina scoffs, not having done a dang thing to help all day except to provide running commentary between sending what are obviously flirty texts to someone.

“There is if you aren’t intending to lose weight while on it,” Blair says simply. “So Sterl, what was the store like when you were there?”

Sterling shrugs, having honestly been more preoccupied with the company she was with than with the crowds. “Not too bad. It’ll definitely be a lot worse for Black Friday.”

“Yeesh, I bet,” Blair says, making a terrified face. “But is it bad that I kinda want to go just to see if we can get a PS5?”

“Like Hell the two of you are stepping foot into any of those madhouses. People have gotten stabbed on Black Friday,” Debbie says firmly as she dumps the freshly mixed stuffing (which is actually more accurately dressing, since one cannot stuff a fried turkey) from a bowl into a large casserole dish.

“But what if we promise to-” Sterling starts to argue, feeling like out of any teenagers, the bounty hunters will be just fine Black Friday shopping.

“No,” Debbie says plainly.

Blair makes a whining sound of disappointment, but Sterling knows their mom has a point. And besides…

“Blair, you know our money’s been a little tight since we stopped-” Sterling quickly realizes that she just came close to getting them both murdered by admitting their previous profession to the three worst possible people. “-Working longer hours at the yogurt shop. So we can’t even afford a PS5.”

“Or, here’s a thought,” Debbie says, opening the oven and putting the casserole dish in. “How about the two of you do a little more to help out around the house, and maybe Santa Claus will consider getting you your game system?”

Blair and Sterling make a face at each other. That option does not sound very appealing at all—they’d much rather fight crime for that PS5. It’s really too bad that just being a straight-up vigilante doesn’t get paid because Sterling has her superhero name and costume picked out and everything.

“Santa Claus isn’t real, Aunt Debbie,” their 10-year-old cousin DJ says, looking up from his Nintendo Switch.

Sterling and Blair both gasp. Obviously, this revelation by their cousin isn’t exactly news to them at the ripe old age of sixteen--they’ve known for at least two years--but they were never blessed with little siblings to mess with, so their cousin will have to do. “Oh my God, what are you saying, DJ?!” Blair asks dramatically, running to his side. “Are you saying the big guy in the red suit doesn’t fly around giving all the good little boys and girls of the world presents?” She shakes him by the shoulders.

DJ laughs and nods as his sister scoffs.

“Y’all do realize he’s not a baby, right? Obviously, he figured it out,” Kristina says, looking too tired for her cousins’ antics, but they’re just getting started, and apparently so is DJ.

“It was pretty obvious,” he says, shrugging. “Because Santa’s only supposed to give presents to nice kids, but he always brought Krissy something.”

“Ooooh!” Sterling and Blair exclaim in unison at the sick burn. 

Blair makes a bullhorn sound with her hands near her mouth, and Sterling makes a machine gun ‘shots fired’ gesture and sound while Kristina rolls her eyes at them. “You two are going to be absolutely eaten alive by a sorority, I hope you know.”

“Ew, sororities,” Blair says, making a face while Sterling can’t help but giggle at the concept of an entire sorority ‘eating her.’ When Blair picks up on the reason for Sterling’s laughter, she elbows her in the ribs. “Don’t be like that.”

“What? It’s funny because I’m-” Sterling suddenly remembers the company they’re in, and that it’s probably best to not come out to her extended family members with a bad oral sex joke. “-I’m just thinking of the video with the ‘A D Pi’ sorority cult.”

Kristina makes a sound of disgust. “Ugh, Alpha Delta Pi are all a bunch of absolute freaks,” she says, shaking her head. “But if the two of you happen to join Kappa Alpha Theta, the Wesley name means something there, so don’t act like you normally do.”

Blair rolls her eyes hard enough that Sterling wonders if she gave herself a headache. “Yeah, you don’t have anything to worry about there, Kritter.”

“Honestly Blair, a sorority is very helpful when it comes to job offers,” Aunt Cordelia pipes up, and there’s something to be said to that statement coming from a woman who has never worked a day in her life, but again, Sterling holds her tongue. “And Sterling, if you and Luke Creswell haven’t patched things up by then, the gatherings are a great way to meet boys.”

Sterling smiles politely at this, but between April and Reese, she doesn’t think she’s able to even begin to think about meeting a boy at some college party.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up there, Mom,” Kristina says, looking at Sterling almost tauntingly. “I hear Luke is dating that April Stevens girl.”

Cordelia gasps. “Of the Chick-Fil-A franchise Stevenses?”

Sterling is on the verge of repeatedly banging her own head against the granite countertops.

“That’s the one. Seems pretty serious. He was at her house for Thanksgiving and everything,” she says, holding up her phone for Cordelia to see April’s Instagram. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to Sterling, that her cousin follows April--she’s actually quite popular in their circle and Atlanta in general, as everyone loves a pretty influencer with money--but having her exes’ relationship rubbed in her face in her own home just feels like a step too far.

“Please excuse me,” Sterling says, getting up from her chair and going out to the foyer, with Debbie following after a moment, always one to sense when something is amiss.

“Sweetie, what’s wrong? Are you upset about Luke?” she asks, putting a comforting hand on Sterling’s shoulder, which she shrugs away from.

“No, I’m not upset about Luke! Why does everyone always assume that I care about his relationship with April? I don’t. I broke up with him and I gave him my dang blessing to ask her out in the first place, so obviously, I don’t care. What I do care about is Kristina acting like she’s so much better than us,” Sterling says quietly so that they won’t be heard from the kitchen.  “Because even if I did care about Luke and April, she shouldn’t be making a joke of what I’m going through.”

“I know, baby,” Debbie says, rubbing her cheek comfortingly, clearly not believing a word she said about not caring about #Lukeril, and she very well shouldn’t, but not for the reason everyone thinks.

Sterling sighs, thinking about what fearless Reese would do. Reese doesn’t take this kind of crap from anyone, let alone a cousin who was only smart enough to get into Alabama. WWRRD (What Would Reese Ryan Do) leads her to the conclusion that Reese would be above this kind of pettiness and just ignore it, but Sterling isn’t sure she’s capable of that. The next best thing would be to prove to Kristina that she does not know everything about stupid little cousin Sterling, and therefore should not assume that she does. This isn’t exactly how she planned to do this (if she had planned it at all), but she knows what must be done.

“Mom, I just want to give you a heads up that I’m going to come out to the rest of the family tonight at dinner and I hope you and Dad will back me up if things turn south, as I’m sure they will,” Sterling says, and Debbie’s face quickly switches from neutral to horrified.

“Oh, Sterling, no, you absolutely can’t do that,” she says, whispering and looking around to make sure nobody is eavesdropping.

“Why not? You and Dad know and you’re cool with it, right? And my whole school knows, so I probably should do it before they find out from anyone else,” Sterling argues, but Debbie isn’t having it, shaking her head.

“Why can’t you just make a Facebook post tomorrow? That way Cordelia and Mother can react with angry face emojis and we can leave it at that,” Debbie says, then sighs deeply. “Sterling, you know your father and I support you a hundred percent, but you also are a smart girl and know how your father’s family can be. And this is the first year since you and Blair were toddlers that I get to be in charge of Thanksgiving. Just let this slide today, and tomorrow you can be as gay--” Debbie stops when Sterling raises an eyebrow at her, and she corrects herself, “--You can be as bisexual as you want.”

Sterling knows that it’s not right to lie to her mother, but she will make an exception in this case. “Yes, Mommy,” she agrees, avoiding eye contact.

Mother and Big Daddy arrive just before dinner is served, which, according to Debbie, is all part of Mother’s evil plan to not have to do any of the work in the kitchen—which she wouldn’t have to do if she simply said so, but Sterling’s sure that goes against something written in some 1950s book on how to be a perfect wife in Georgia society. Even so, arriving when they did still gave them both ample time to critique everything from Anderson’s fry oil of choice, to Debbie’s opting to use disposable turkey-themed napkins instead of cloth—something about frivolous novelties having no place at the dinner table.

But they’re just a couple of cranky old people, and Sterling isn’t about to let them ruin what is easily her favorite sit-down meal of the year—canned jellied cranberries and all. So once they’ve started to pass around dishes and fill their plates, she happily grabs anything she can get herself a scoop of until her plate has a little of everything, and when it’s sufficiently piled up and she digs in, she’s glad she stuck to her mom’s rule of not eating before this meal.

“Sterling, your mama and daddy tell us you’ve been working on the school musical,” Mother says once they’ve all started eating. “You know, I always told Deborah that she should get you girls involved in the arts. It’s much more becoming of a young lady than…” she trails off to look at Blair.

“Sports?” Blair asks, her mouth full of turkey.

Mother looks away, obviously disgusted. “Yes, exactly.”

Sterling clears her throat, not about to let her sister be spoken to like that. “Well, actually, what I do isn’t very artistic or ladylike either. I kinda just boss around the actors, but if you’re interested in seeing the show, I can hook any of you up with free tickets.”

Big Daddy shakes his head. “No, that won’t be necessary, Darlin’. I’ve never been much of a fan of the theater, but certain exceptions can be made if any of you girls are performing.”

Kristina smiles smugly. “Like when I was ChaCha in Grease my senior year at Abernathy.”

“Well, then you guys will be thrilled to learn that I actually am in the musical, thanks to a series of unlikely events,” Blair fires right back, giving Kristina a wide smile of her own.

“So I’ll get everyone tickets, then?” Sterling asks, looking around at her family, who all nod begrudgingly.

“Dad, do I have to go to a musical?” DJ asks, making a face.

Deacon snorts and reaches over to rumple his son’s mop of strawberry blonde hair. “Nah, I think you’re excused. Though I woulda been a little worried if you were excited to watch a bunch a—I’m not sure what the PC word is anymore, so I apologize, Blair—a bunch a gays sing and dance.”

Sterling’s grip on her fork tightens. “Not everyone who does theater is gay, Uncle Deacon,” she says through her teeth.

“No, of course not. Just much more than in the general population,” Kristina says, trying to sound smart in her blatant bigotry.

Sterling bites her tongue and doesn’t further contribute to this conversation as she just continues to eat her dinner, knowing what she must do. She just waits until DJ finishes eating and excuses himself from the table to go play his video game in the living room—the last thing she wants is anyone using the child as an excuse to interrupt her big announcement. But once he’s gone, she wastes no time in standing up, a glass of sparkling cider in hand, which she clinks her knife against.

“Blair, I’m gonna need your backup on this one, okay?”

“Uh, sure? What exactly are you doing?”

“You’ll see.”

Sterling clears her throat. “Uh, everyone, I have somewhat of an announcement to make,” she says, to the confused faces of most of her family—except for Debbie’s, which is horrified.

“Sterling, no!” she hisses at her.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I have to do this,” Sterling replies, shaking her head. “Uh, there’s no easy way to say this, so I guess I’ll just come right out and say it. I have recently come to the conclusion that I am bisexual.”

There are a few gasps from around the table, and Big Daddy’s fork falls hard onto his plate from his hand. “You’re what?” he asks, and Sterling can’t tell if it’s because he’s shocked or genuinely confused.

Sterling laughs nervously. “I’m bisexual. I like both boys and girls. romantically.”

The table is silent until Aunt Cordelia is laughing and shaking her head. “Oh, Sterling, it’s perfectly normal for some of us to feel that way a little bit about girls. Heck, I know I have, but all that matters is you still like boys.”

Blair is not having any of that. “Uh, Aunt Cordelia, we are just gonna put a pin in that because that is not something I ever expected from you and I definitely want to circle back, but I just have to say that I am so proud of you, Sterl. It takes real courage to come out and on this, the day of the Thanks.”

“Aww, thank you, Blair,” Sterling says, genuinely touched. “But yes, I am bisexual, and because I love all of you, I really wanted to be upfront with you about this.”

“Why? Are you in a lesbian relationship with a girl or something?” Kristina snorts.

“Sterling is actually going steady with a nice girl named Reese,” Anderson says, obviously trying to be helpful, but this blatant untruth is the exact opposite of such, in two ways.

“We are not going steady,” Sterling says at the same time that Mother turns to Anderson and Debbie wide-eyed.

“You two knew about this?” she asks, appalled.

“We’re her parents. Obviously, she told us first,” Debbie says, sticking up for Sterling despite her adamantly telling her not to do this for this exact reason. “And whether she is dating a girl or not, we support her a hundred and ten percent.”

“So long as she keeps her grades up,” Anderson adds.

Blair looks just as confused as Sterling by this apparent caveat to their parents’ support of her bisexuality. “Dad’s a little confused, but he’s got the spirit,” she says, chuckling.

“I think what your daddy means is he don’t care if Sterling dates a girl or a boy, so long as she don’t let her grades slip because of it,” Deacon supplies, being surprisingly helpful. “Though if she acts anything like a Wesley boy when she’s around girls, then y’all are in for a heap of trouble…” he adds with a laugh. So, so close.

“Well, Anderson, I suppose you can find a silver lining in this, after all,” Big Daddy says, clearly amused, which is a rarity and therefore terrifying. “Turns out you’re able to make boys after all. Well, partially.”

Sterling can feel the rage practically radiate off of Blair at this statement, but before her sister can yell at their grandfather for this ignorant statement, she’s putting a hand on her arm. “Who wants cobbler? Blair and I will go get it from the kitchen,” Sterling says pointedly, getting up from her seat and dragging Blair along with her to said kitchen.

Once they’re away from prying ears, Blair makes a sound of frustration. “Ugh! I know we’re supposed to respect our elders, but I just came very close to committing grandpatricide.”

Sterling sighs. “They’re old, Blair. They honestly took it better than I thought they were going to.” She unwraps the foil from the top of the pan of peach cobbler. “Granted, anything short of being called something weirdly biblical would have exceeded my expectations, too,” she concedes.

Blair rolls her eyes and goes to get a large knife and spatula to serve, as well as the paper dessert plates that match the turkey napkins. “You’re way too nice, you know that? Seriously, now that we’re both considered the slutty twin, I think that’s gotta be your new identifier. You are the too-nice twin...which makes me the bad bitch twin.” Blair seems all too pleased with this development.

“Okay, but like nobody knows you had sex with Miles except for me...and Miles...and I guess also Yolanda…” Sterling shakes her head, realizing she got distracted. “But in any case, I will happily not be called the slutty twin.”

“Though speaking of slut-adjacent activities, what’s going on with you and Reese?” Blair asks, waggling her eyebrows.

“Nothing has been happening with me and Reese, Blair. We’re better as friends and I think you need to reach the acceptance stage with that one,” Sterling is adamant in her denial, as she’s sure that if anything serious were to have happened with Reese, it really would have already happened.

“And that of course has nothing to do with you still being hung up on your ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend who is also your ex-girlfriend,” Blair says knowingly.

After their surprisingly civil talk in the grocery store today, Sterling can’t exactly deny this without feeling like a liar. “I wouldn’t say April is my ex-girlfriend. We didn’t put a label on it.”

“And yet that little overachiever still has crazy ex-girlfriend written all over her. You know, I swear I’ve seen her new car drive past here before,” Blair says, and Sterling rolls her eyes.

“Oh please, she’s not Olivia Rodrigo,” Sterling chuckles.

“Nope, she’s crazier,” Blair agrees as Sterling’s phone buzzes from her dress pocket.

Reese: Hey, how’re you surviving?

Sterling: Okay. Came out to my family. You?

Reese: Dad somehow managed to melt our Hungry Man trays, so I might go get KFC or something.

Sterling frowns, putting her phone away as she and Blair take the cobbler into the dining room. She hadn’t realized that her friend was relying on a TV dinner for the Thanksgiving experience, and that thought just makes her sad as she looks at all the uneaten food still sitting on the table.

“Hey, Mom, Reese just texted that her dad burned their dinner. Mind if I make a couple plates and take them over?” Sterling asks as she cuts pieces of cobbler and puts them onto plates that Blair passes around.

Debbie seems taken aback that Sterling even has to ask. “Oh, not at all, Sterling. I’d be disappointed in you if you didn’t,” she says, then looks smugly at her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. “Sterling really is such a good and thoughtful girl, isn’t she?” Her eyes cut over to Kristina, who (despite not being 21) has been drinking wine and texting some guy all day instead of really engaging much with the family.

“Well at least there’s that,” Cordelia says with a grimacing smile.

“Hey, Silver,” Reese says, looking surprised to see Sterling when she answers the door. “What’re you doing here?”

“I brought food!” Sterling says, gesturing with the two wrapped paper plates and pushing past Reese into the house. “Is your dad home?”

“Uh, yeah…” Reese says, taking one of the plates. “Ted, a Thanksgiving angel has come to save the holiday from your lack of cooking skills!” she calls deeper into the house and leads Sterling into the kitchen to unwrap the plates. “Oh, sweet carby goodness, yes,” she says, lustily eyeing the plate, which Sterling was sure to load up with everything that can be microwaved without tasting weird. 

There are footsteps from the living room. “I told you, I really thought the broiler would put a nice char on it, and I wasn’t wrong,” Reese’s father Ted says as he makes his grand entrance, looking exactly like Sterling had always pictured him in her head, only the real one has a mustache. “Well, hello, there. Thanksgiving Angel, is it?” he asks once he notices Sterling, and puts out his hand for her to shake.

“Yes, but I also go by Sterling Wesley,” she says, shaking his hand--and feeling him squeeze hard enough to pop a few of her knuckles. She can only imagine why.

“You’re the one who took Reese to Sadie Hawkins, yeah?” Ted asks, unwrapping his own plate and taking it to the microwave.

Sterling nods and then thinks better of it. “Well, technically Reese took me since she asked me and we took her car…” she says awkwardly. “But yes, I am that Sterling.”

Ted nods while Reese blushes and starts to eat, not bothering to reheat it. “Well, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. You know, you might not know it from her charming personality, but Reese doesn’t bring many friends--girl or otherwise--around me. You must be pretty special.”

“Daaad,” Reese says, embarrassed. “And I didn’t do it on purpose, she just brought food unprompted.”

Sterling shrugs. “Southern hospitality. What can I say?”

“Well, can I at least get you a drink? Beer, whiskey,” he lists as he walks to the refrigerator and opens it up, grabbing a soda and handing it to Sterling. “You seem like a pop girl.”

“Oh, I am. Thank you, Mr. Ryan,” Sterling says politely before cracking open the can as Reese’s father retrieves his plate from the microwave.

“Anyway, as much as I’m sure Reese would love for me to stay and chat, I’ll just take this to my recliner and leave you girls to it. But thank you for dinner, Sterling. And pass that along to your parents as well.”

“You are most welcome, but it was no trouble. You enjoy, Mr. Ryan,” Sterling says, and he waves over his shoulder with his fork as he disappears into the living room. Sterling turns back to Reese. “Your dad seems cool.”

Reese makes a face of disgust. “Dude, do not let him hear you say that. That beer and whiskey bit got old when I was in fifth grade.” She continues to eat, moving to sit in one of the chairs at the kitchen island, and motions for Sterling to sit next to her. “So you came out to the rest of your family, huh? How’d that go?”

Sterling laughs, not sure there’s an easy answer to that. Because objectively, it went swimmingly, mostly as a result of her already being out to all of the people there whose opinion she cares about. But as for everyone else… yeah, it wasn’t ideal. “I actually think my aunt inadvertently came out too when she was talking about how me being bisexual doesn’t matter if I still like boys.”

Reese smiles and shakes her head. “It’s enough to make a girl glad she’s pretty limited in the way of family. But I’m glad you seem pretty okay with how it went. And aside from that, how was your day besides consuming this fabulous food? Seriously, your mom could be a chef.”

“I will be sure to pass that along to her,” Sterling says, knowing Debbie would very much appreciate the compliment, especially after having to hear Mother complain about dry stuffing. “But uh, it was okay. I actually ran into April at the store.”

Reese raises an eyebrow at this. “Oh? And how did that go?” she asks.

Sterling sighs, thinking about her fingers brushing April’s after she almost got in a fight with a Karen for a casserole topping, and thinking about that absolutely infectious laugh that is far too rare of an occurrence. “Well, we actually managed to have a civil conversation.” She understates what all of it meant to her by putting it into these terms, but so long as April is with Luke, and so long as John Stevens is a free man who holds grudges, that’s all it can be. Civil.

“You know you’re in love with her, yeah?” Reese asks nonchalantly while Sterling is mid-drink of her soda, which threatens to come out her nose when she chokes a bit.

She shakes her head as she regains her ability to speak. “I am not in love. My life is too complicated to be in love with anyone, let alone with someone like April,” Sterling denies adamantly, but her excuse sounds hollow even to her.

Reese chuckles, shaking her head. “You know, Silver. The funny thing about love is it doesn’t exactly care what is convenient for us. Sometimes it’s the total inconvenience that contributes to more intense feelings in the first place. Either way, you can deny it all you want, but I know I wouldn’t get that little twinkle in my eye that you get when you’re talking about April if I wasn’t in love.”

“My eye does not twinkle,” Sterling argues. “Besides, even if I did feel that way about her, I still could never be with her again. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I actually love being open about who I am. I’ve had like five separate coming-outs in the past few months, and as much as it’s honestly gotten a little repetitive, it will always be better than hiding in literal closets...or laser tag courses.” This, in all actuality, is Sterling’s biggest reason for not going crawling back to April and begging her to break up with Luke and take her back. All feelings aside, pledging herself to April is volunteering to be shoved right back in the closet for who knows how long. Possibly forever, with how dedicated April can be.

Reese shrugs. “Hey man, that’s your prerogative. Dating a closet case when you’re not is kinda the suckiest thing there is. But if you do ultimately end up going against your better judgment there, protective of your heart. You’ve already experienced the whiplash from letting her in once before.”

Sterling finishes her soda and slams the can down on the countertop. “You have no right to be so wise, you know that?”

Reese shrugs. “I’ve just got way more experience than any 17-year-old should with this kind of stuff. The only solid conclusion I’ve come to is that dating in high school is, for the most part, sucky and pointless, and yet we still go for it anyway, like buying a lottery ticket and hoping that maybe, just maybe, we will be that tiny little statistic that actually finds exactly what we want and need.”

Sterling whistles long and low, realizing that she had completely underestimated just how wise Reese really is. “I gotta say, you really are something. You know that?”

Reese grins at her. “I know, huh?” she takes out her phone and unlocks it. “Now, let’s do what any good juvenile delinquent dealing with a crush would--let’s troll April in the comments on her Instagram.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. It seems that no amount of wisdom could ever hope to overcome that natural teenage girl instinct to be as much of a little bitch as humanly possible.

Chapter Text

Sterling really, truly hates having plans on a Saturday, because no matter how late in the day those plans may be--in this case, Saturday rehearsal for the musical starting at noon--she constantly feels like she’s in a time crunch, which might be why she takes down two Poptarts in four bites.

“Sterling Pearl, my goodness, you are not a dinosaur,” Debbie scolds her, reaching over to wipe the crumbs from the corner of Sterling’s mouth with her own napkin, making her feel very much like a toddler while Blair giggles, making fun of her. “Honestly, you two are the reason why I’m starting to go grey.”

“Now Deb, you can’t put that all on them,” Anderson says as Sterling and Blair do their best cute and innocent faces--a schtick they’ve been putting on with their dad for years now.

Debbie rolls her eyes. “Regardless of why I now have to spend more money at the salon than I used to, you two could both work on your table manners a bit.”

“Mom, it’s Saturday. Be grateful we’re even sitting at the table and not in the living room watching cartoons,” Blair says.

“Yeah, but that’s only because the line-up lately has really sucked,” Sterling supplies, wishing they would air a bit more Tom and Jerry and a bit less of the obnoxious new shows clearly meant for whatever generation follows Gen Z. “Also, we don’t even have time today. Ellen wants us all to get some last-minute weekend rehearsals in since the musical opens in a couple of weeks.”

“I seriously don’t get why I have to go. I’m in one scene and I sing one song, which I’ve already memorized,” Blair says, annoyed.

“You have to go because you’re part of the team and you of all people should know a little something about that, Blair,” Anderson says, sipping his coffee and getting up from the table. “Alright, I’m gonna go work on my ducks,” he says, turning to leave, but Debbie grabs his arm before he can.

“Anderson, don’t we have to talk to Sterling about something?” she asks pointedly, raising an eyebrow.

Realization dawns on his face. “Ohhh. Right, right, right,” he says, quickly sitting back down. He starts to say something, inhaling, before changing course and turning to Debbie. “Do you want to tell her, or should I?”

“You’re the lawyer here,” Debbie says as if she’s stating the obvious, but Sterling’s curiosity has made her impatient.

“Uh, I don’t really care who tells me what exactly it is you need to tell me, as long as someone tells me.” Sterling is surprised she didn’t get tongue-tied while saying that. Her parents trying to pass this hot potato onto each other has her genuinely nervous, though.

Anderson rubs the back of his head with one hand. “Uh, well,” he says, his voice higher than usual. “The ADA in charge of Dana’s case called yesterday asking if we would be alright with them offering her a plea deal.”

Sterling frowns, confused as to why this is even a question. “She kidnapped me. Obviously, they can’t just give her a deal, right?” The notion of accepting something like this is ridiculous to her, but the look her parents share tells her they don’t necessarily agree.

“Baby, the thing is-” Debbie starts, but now it’s Blair’s turn to object.

“Uh, Mom, I know you kinda have a bad track record when it comes to covering for your sister doing stuff that’s pretty unjustifiable, but please take into account that she and her skeevy boyfriend were fully intending on taking Sterling to Mexico.”

“Yeah, and shoved dirty pantyhose into my mouth,” Sterling adds, practically still able to taste Nair just thinking about it...though she really has tried not to think about her secondary contact with the vagina from whence she came. “So no. No deal.”

Debbie and Anderson seem to accept this.

“That’s really your decision, Sterling,” Debbie says, nodding, but looking like she wants to give Sterling a lecture on forgiveness right about now.

“It is,” Anderson agrees. “But the ADA wanted to offer the option of the plea because...well, because if this goes to trial, then they’ll want you to testify.”

Sterling’s heart sinks at this. It’s one thing for her to want Dana to be punished for what she’s done, but to have it on her conscience that she is the puzzle piece that will seal her birth mother’s fate...she’s not sure she could do it. “What exactly is the deal?”

“They would drop the kidnapping charges and she would plead guilty to felony unlawful imprisonment and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child,” Anderson explains, but it doesn’t really answer Sterling’s question, though Debbie seems to sense this.

“The plea deal would give Dana three years in prison as opposed to at least ten if they convicted her for kidnapping,” she adds.

Blair frowns and seems to be thinking the same thing Sterling is. “And what about the abortion clinic arson?”

Anderson shrugs. “Nothing they can do there. The statute of limitations ran out. Which of course means that us hiding her was pretty pointless for the past...twelve or so years.”

“Yikes on bikes…” Blair whispers to herself and shakes her head.

Sterling knows in her soul that for this matter in particular, it’s perfectly acceptable for her to take the low road. She’s completely within reason to want her birth mother who tried to take her from her—admittedly pretty amazing—life to be punished to the full extent of the law. But aside from not wanting to testify, Sterling also knows that she was raised to be a forgiving person. She knows Dana came from a bad place and only got tangled up with even worse people. She knows that if she tried, maybe Dana could learn to be a better person—and either way, Sterling won’t be a minor if they let her out in three years, which she thinks could be all the time that is necessary.

“I want her to take the deal,” she says finally, to the surprise of everyone else, and the Sterling of five minutes ago.

“You’re absolutely sure you’re okay with that?” Anderson asks. “Because if it’s about you being scared to testify, I can always practice with you.”

Sterling shakes her head, truly appreciating her father’s willingness to go with whatever she wants/is comfortable with, but she knows that this isn’t just what she wants, but what is right. “No, I’m sure. I want her to own up to at least some of what she did, and in exchange, they can go a little easy on her.”

Debbie gets up from her chair and comes over to kiss Sterling on the forehead. “You’re such a good girl, you know that? If it were up to me, I don’t think I could make the same decision. But knowing my sister, I worry that Dana would rather take her chances in court, so this could be a moot point anyway.”

Sterling turns to her dad. “Can she do that? Would she do that?”

Anderson nods. “I mean, yes, she can do that. She has the right to a fair trial and to plead not guilty if she so chooses. And if she really thinks she has a shot at getting off, which she would if you refuse to testify, then...yeah, she might.”

Sterling’s heart sinks at this. She wants the courts to go easy on dear old Aunt Mommy, sure, but she doesn’t want to risk her getting off scot-free either. Which would ultimately give her the choice of sending Dana to prison for God only knows how long, or letting her go completely unpunished, and neither of those options seem just. But there may just be a way to avoid that choice altogether, even if it’ll possibly be more emotionally difficult for her than testifying in a court of law ever could be.

“What if I go talk to her? I’m sure I could convince her to take the deal.” What is such an obvious--if not unpleasant--solution to Sterling seems to be out of the question to her parents and sister.

“Sterl, she kidnapped you,” Blair reminds her.

“Yes, I was there,” Sterling says, nodding. “But whether any of us likes it or not, she gave birth to me, and in her own twisted way, I think she might love me. So if anyone can get her to take this deal, I think it has to be me.”

“And me. There’s no way I’m letting you face her alone,” Blair says, reaching across the table to put her hand on Sterling’s, but she pulls it away.

“No, Blair. I think I need to do this alone,” she says firmly, and to Blair’s credit, she doesn’t argue any further, seeing as this is very much not about her.

Everyone is looking at Sterling in a way that’s making her uncomfortable. It’s as if they’re both impressed and confused by her ability to drop the Sweet Sterling persona long enough to stand up for herself and what she believes needs to happen.

“Well, if we’re to allow this, either I or the district attorney have to go with you,” Anderson says matter-of-factly. “We don’t want her to say or do anything to intimidate or traumatize you.”

Sterling shakes her head. She knows that the only possible way she has any hope of getting through to Dana is to meet face to face, just the two of them, preferably as soon as possible. “I need to do this alone, and I need your support,” she says firmly, then looks to Debbie, who has been quiet for a while. “Both of your support.”

Debbie sighs, looking like she’s not at all happy with this outcome, but turns to her husband anyway. “Anderson, do you think you could pull some strings?”

Sterling hadn’t exactly realized that her dad pulling strings would mean doing this today, but she knows that if it has to be today, then so be it. She just wasn’t prepared to be late to rehearsal because visiting hours at the county jail are what they are, and she also knows that if she put this off to next weekend, then not only could that be enough time for Dana to turn down the plea deal, but it would almost definitely make Sterling chicken out of doing this.

Heck, she’s still thinking about chickening out right until Dana is brought out to the visitor area by a female guard who looks pretty done with everything--but not nearly as done as Dana herself, until she sees Sterling.

Seeing her mom’s smile on her mom’s face, but now knowing that Dana both is and is not her mother, is enough to send Sterling’s heart racing as she’s taken back to that night, and the feeling of abject fear upon realizing she’d gotten into the truck with an imposter...and not the cool fun kind from Among Us .

“I gotta say, when they told me I had a visitor, I never expected it to be you,” Dana says as she sits down across the table from Sterling, reaching out as Sterling pulls her hand out of reach. “You cut your hair,” Dana says, righting herself in her chair as she seems to realize that this won’t exactly be the touching moment she was so obviously hoping for.

“Uh-huh,” Sterling says, still trying to figure out how to go about having this conversation without either blowing up at her kidnapper/birth-giver or breaking down...or more likely, both. “So have they told you about the deal the DA wants to offer you?” she asks, figuring that getting straight to the point of this little visit is probably best.

Dana scoffs. “Yeah, like I’m gonna give up and spend three years locked away for pickin’ up my own kid from school. No thanks, I think I’ll take my chances in court.”

Sterling clenches her fists, hating Dana referring to her as her kid almost as much as she hates the blatantly warped recount of events. “That isn’t at all what happened and you know it. And I am not your kid.”

Dana smirks at her. “I got a pretty gnarly-lookin’ c-section scar to prove you are. Just ask your daddy--he was there.”

Sterling had honestly thought that there could truly be no more revelations made to her about the circumstances of her birth, but here Dana goes, breaking that misconception, and somehow making all those times Debbie guilt-tripped her with the whole ‘I gave birth to you’ thing even worse. In truth, nobody gave birth to her. Wild.

“And in any case, I never once considered giving you up. I loved you from the first time I felt you move, and my sister took you from me without a second thought because I guess she thought that would be easier to explain to her perfect new family than her husband not being so perfect himself,” Dana says, looking like she’s just check-mated Sterling, but she has had far too long to think about all of this for any of that to work.

“My dad never wanted a baby with you, he wanted one with my mom, and you took advantage of that just like you took advantage of me trusting that my mom would be there when I needed her,” Sterling snaps, feeling absolutely everything she was feeling in that moment. Broken-hearted, and confused, and just wanting her mommy to hold her and tell her it’ll all be okay.

“I am your mom, Sterling. Whether you wanna admit it or not, it’s true. You came from me, not Debbie,” Dana says defensively, giving Sterling the impression that maybe Debbie overshadowed her a lot growing up, but a motive doesn’t excuse heinous behavior.

Sterling shakes her head adamantly. “No, my mom is the one who spoon-fed me ice cream when I got my tonsils out when I was 14, changed my diapers when I was a baby and made my dad go easy on me when I used a few of his wooden ducks for target practice.” Just saying this very short list of a few of the countless things Debbie has done for Sterling over the years just makes Sterling feel awful for how she treated her after the whole kidnapping thing. Should she have told Sterling the truth? Yes, but she was doing the best she could with the crappy hand she was dealt.

“Sterling, the only reason it was Debbie and not me who was there for all of that is that I wasn’t given a choice,” Dana says more softly, obviously trying to get some sympathy.

“You had the choice to just... not do crack while you were pregnant with me, Aunt Dana,” Sterling fires back, crossing her arms. “Or you could have just, I don’t know, not burned down an abortion clinic?”

Dana points a finger at her. “Don’t you make that judgmental face at me, Missy. Deborah does that, and-”

Sterling has to stop her right there, as she’s not sure if Dana’s…uncommon pronunciation of her sister’s name was supposed to be that way. “I’m sorry, what? ‘Da-Bore-Uh?’” she asks, making a face.

Dana chuckles. “Yeah, that is how your Meemaw and Deedaw said it, and if Debbie does it any differently now, then she’s even more of a got-damn liar than I thought. Can ya tell I was born first and got dibbles on the better name?” She chuckles to herself, but Sterling can’t even find this rather ridiculous revelation funny because it just reminds her of all the unknowns that still exist in her life.

“No matter how my mom’s name is pronounced, she never dosed me with drugs before I was born,” Sterling repeats, getting them back on track. 

Dana sighs. “Aren’t you kids in the woke generation supposed to be more open-minded? I was an addict. It’s a disease. I’m not proud of what I did, but you seem to have turned out okay, haven’t ya?” She seems to realize from Sterling’s continued silence and blank stare with crossed arms that her excuses don’t work. “Why are you here? Because it clearly isn’t for a mommy-daughter reunion.”

“I want you to take the deal,” Sterling says plainly. “I will testify against you if this goes to trial, but I would really prefer if you just plead guilty and save us all the trouble. Plus, you’d be going away for a lot longer if you didn’t.” She tries to say the last part with the least amount of emotional attachment possible, but Dana smiles anyway.

“I knew Debbie raised you to be too nice to turn your back on family,” she says, sounding fairly pleased. “But why should I trust that you’ll give such a good testimony that they’ll lock me up and throw away the key? You know, Debbie did give me the occasional update from time to time, and I know you tend to crack under pressure, little debater.”

Sterling so desperately wants to blow up on her, or at the very least tell her she actually came in second place in her last forensics tournament, but she knows she only has one more shot at this. “If you ever loved me at all, you wouldn’t put me in that position,” she says, her tone firm and cold. “I don’t really know you, Aunt Dana, though so far your first and second impressions haven’t been...stellar. Still, I’d like to think that there’s good in everyone, even you, and believe me when I say that I really wish things hadn’t been so hard for you. You aren’t my mom and I won’t ever think of you that way, but if you want even a chance of being in my life in the future, you’ll take this deal now.”

Dana actually seems to consider her words and looks a bit hurt upon Sterling’s reiteration that no, they will never be some mother-daughter duo who goes and gets their hair and nails done together and talk about boys--that is a role that is already filled for Sterling. But even so, Sterling senses a shift in her birth mother as she looks down at her clasped hands on the table. “If it’s really what you want, I’ll take the deal. But never say that I don’t love you.”

Sterling swallows hard, not wanting to cry or show any strong emotions at all, though a wave of relief washes over her. “Thank you,” she says, straightening up in her seat. “I’ll um...I’ll write to you sometimes?” She’s not exactly sure what those letters would even say, but she figures she ought to offer something.

Dana shakes her head. “You don’t gotta do that. Just go out there and live your life. Have fun, kiss that tall boy...but keep your grades up. Just don’t end up like me, or I’m gonna have to whoop your little ass when I get out of here.” Sterling thinks she might see tears start to well up in Dana’s eyes, but she turns her head away so Sterling can’t tell for certain. “Now get. Go do something funner than visiting a jail. It’s the weekend,” she says, waving Sterling off, hiding whatever emotions she might be feeling.

Sterling has half a mind to stay, but she knows this conversation has run its course, so she gets up from her chair and goes around to put a hand on Dana’s shoulder. “Take care of yourself,” she says, and then she goes up to the guard supervising the visiting area to let her out.

“Hey, Sterling?” Dana calls after her before she’s out the door, and Sterling turns around, expecting some kind of heartfelt words of farewell. “Tell Debbie that it was me who spilled Clorox all over her Spice Girls t-shirt.”

Sterling chuckles at those parting words and exits the waiting area. She picks up her checked contraband items from the front desk before she heads out to the parking lot, where Debbie is in the car waiting for her, and she hadn’t realized she could miss her mom so much after only being away from her no more than a half-hour.

“Hey, Baby. How’d it go?” Debbie asks when Sterling climbs into the car.

Without giving that question a straightforward answer, Sterling leans across the center console to pull Debbie into a tight hug. “I love you, Mommy,” she says, tears starting to flow and create a couple of wet spots on the shoulder of Debbie’s shirt. She feels like such a jerk for how she’s treated her these past weeks, but she knows now that she’ll never take her mom for granted again.

“I love you most,” Debbie replies, kissing the top of Sterling’s head and cradling it.


“Blair, where is your sister?” April asks, starting to lose her patience now that it is going on dinner time and all directorial duties have fallen exclusively on Ellen all day, which has slowed rehearsal down considerably. It’s just plain irresponsible of her to leave them high and dry like this--she knew they had a Saturday rehearsal and that they are two weeks away from opening night.

Blair, who was busy chatting with a few boys in the ensemble in the drama room, rolls her eyes as she turns to April. “How is that any of your business?” she asks.

April could strangle this girl. “It’s my business because your sister is the assistant director and I am dealing with a bunch of amateurs here--you included. This is not to say that Sterling isn’t also inexperienced, but she has at least exceeded my expectations...until today.” April’s poor attempt at not sounding too fond of the show’s missing link doesn’t go unnoticed by Blair.

“Wow, that actually sounded close to a compliment. Are you feeling okay?” Blair scoffs. “But seriously, she’s gonna be here soon, I just need you to calm your perky Apostle tits.”

Blair’s crude but somehow complimentary remark on April’s breasts reminds her that she’s still dressed in her costume for her final fitting, and she feels the need to cross her arms over her chest because the dress shows off perhaps more cleavage than she’s comfortable with. Ellen just had to have them lean in on the whole false narrative of Mary Magdalene being a prostitute. But then, she guesses she still has it better than Luke, who will finish the show wearing essentially a cloth diaper and nothing else, besides the crown of thorns and a whole bunch of corn syrup stage blood.

“Just...keep an eye out for Sterling, and when you see her, tell her that I need her to test Jennings and Luke because there’s no way either of them is off-book with their songs.” April knows that none of this is even her job to keep track of, but she doesn’t want this whole production to be a shitshow, and while nothing can be done about their singing abilities, they really ought to be getting the lyrics right. Plus, she’s fairly certain that it’s a condition of Sterling’s Ellen Parole to be here.

Blair rolls her eyes. “You know, you could try a little harder to not seem so obsessed with her,” she says, lowering her voice. “But I’ll tell her.”

April supposes that’s the best she’s going to get and heads back out into the hallway and in the direction of the auditorium, where Ellen has been trying to go through the show scene by scene to find out what needs work. And, judging by the off-key yell-singing leaking through the back doors of the auditorium, April knows that Pilate’s Dream definitely needs work even before she goes inside and sees Jennings up on stage, putting in what is obviously a good deal of effort. And that is sad.

“How’s it going?” she whispers to Ellen as she takes a seat next to her.

“...Jennings has a lot of heart and brings that to the character,” Ellen says, which is basically Nice Person Speak for ‘this show is going to give Illegal Heathers a run for its money.’

But as long as April can at least be recognized as the best part of the show, she knows the rest is mostly out of her hands. “Where’s Sterling?”

“She had a personal issue she had to deal with, but she should be here soon,” Ellen says, then gets back to paying attention to Jennings. 

“Then I saw thousands of millions, crying for this man! And then I heard them mentioning my name, and leaving me the blame…” Jennings concludes the song, fist-pumping when he gets the last lyrics right, and Ellen claps politely for him. Though he is certainly no Ben Daniels and any eventual audience member who even wants to stick around long enough to hear April’s big solo after that should be financially compensated for pain and suffering.

“That was better, Jennings! Make sure though that you’re paying attention to pitch. Remember when we went over that?” Ellen asks like she’s working with a toddler.

Jennings nods. “I will, Miss Johnson. It’s just kinda hard to hear myself when I listen to the songs with my headphones on.”

April rolls her eyes. “That’s why you’re supposed to only have one headphone on so you can hear yourself. If you can’t, then you’re going to sound like the world-famous singer-songwriter, Beethoven.”

“April!” Ellen scolds her, but April can tell she’s trying not to laugh. “She’s right though, Jennings. Maybe just try to sing through it without the recording?”

Jennings nods and collects his script.

It’s then that April gets a sense that there’s something different in the air, and she’s proven disturbingly correct when she looks towards the back of the auditorium a few seconds before Sterling enters through the back doors, looking a bit off. It’s for that reason alone that April chooses not to give her the total third degree when she sits down on the other side of Ellen.

“So where are we in the run-through?” she asks Ellen, not even so much as acknowledging April’s presence before getting out her script.

“We just went over Pilate’s Dream, but I think it might be a good idea to come back to that later tonight,” April answers for their teacher, and Sterling briefly glances up from her script at her.

“Thanks,” she says simply, and goes back to reading.

April doesn’t know what exactly is wrong with her, but this aloof girl is most certainly not the Sterling Wesley who has been the bane of her existence--in both good and bad ways--for the past six years. “And it probably wouldn’t hurt to make sure Luke is off-book before the end of the night,” she suggests, just trying to get Sterling to engage with her now.

“It would be a big help if you could do that since he’s your boyfriend,” Sterling says without looking up.

Ellen seems to agree with this idea. “Yeah, April, it would actually be great if you could do that.”

April senses she isn’t welcome here anymore, and gets up from her seat, trying to not look offended. “If that’s what you think would benefit him the most, then fine, I will,” she says, and heads out of the auditorium, wondering what exactly she’s done to earn this extra ire from, not ire. Worse-- indifference.

“Okay, let’s go over this one more time,” April says, sitting at the piano in the choir room, and she hits the note that Luke is supposed to.

“Whyyyyyy should IIIIII diiiiiie?!” Luke shrieks at the top of his lungs, and April wouldn’t be at all surprised if after her hands came away from her ears--where they instinctively went to protect her eardrums--were covered in blood. But then, maybe being permanently deafened wouldn’t be so bad if it meant that she would never have to hear that again.

“That was...better…” she says through her teeth. “Just keep working on that on your own--or better yet, go the John Legend route and just don’t go for the showy big note at all--and I think you’ll be as good as you can be by opening.” Her statement is carefully worded, as she knows damn well that the best Luke will ever hope to achieve will still be downright atrocious if he continues to try to go outside of his range, which doesn’t sound half bad when he just accepts his baritone limitations.

“You think I can pull off the John Legend thing? That guy’s like...super confident…” Luke says, seeming unsure.

“Believe me, the audience will have a lot more respect for your integrity as an actor if you just play it cool,” April says, nodding.

Luke smiles wide at her. “What would I do without you here to help me with this stuff?” he asks, coming around to sit next to April on the piano bench and wrap his Andre the Giant arm around her.

“To be perfectly fair, you probably wouldn’t have felt compelled to do the show at all if not for me,” April supplies, cursing her past self for sacrificing the integrity of the show’s casting just so she could get herself a boyfriend.

Luke shrugs. “Yeeah, probably not,” he admits and leans down to kiss April’s cheek and then her lips, which lasts far longer than what she can really tolerate without defaulting to fantasizing about someone else--impossible when that someone else is being a jerk--but they’re thankfully interrupted.

“April, your mom’s here,” Hannah B. says, poking her head into the choir room from the hallway.

“Aw, sweet, food!” Luke says, letting go of April like a hot potato and jumping up from the bench to practically run to the drama room, with April trailing behind.

It always falls on someone’s parents to provide dinner to the cast and crew for a late-night rehearsal, as per school policy, and Mary had been more than happy to oblige by making what appears to be enough fried chicken (amazingly NOT from one of her dad’s franchises), mac and cheese, and salad to feed a small army--a safe call when dealing with teenagers.

“You need any help in here Mrs. Stevens?” Luke asks, eyeing the food while Mary finishes setting out plastic silverware and paper plates.

“I’m all set here, but how about you set an example for your castmates?” Mary says, handing him a plate and allowing him to start piling it with food. She notices April standing by the door and goes to her. “Hey, Sweetheart. How’re you hanging in there?” she asks.

April shrugs. “It’s been a long day, but I think we’re all making progress,” she says as the people who had been in the auditorium--Ellen, Sterling, and Blair included--join them in the drama room, having been alerted to dinner time as well.

“Ms. Johnson, it’s so nice to see you again,” Mary says in that overly nice way of speaking that April knows has been passed down to her. “It’s been since...what, last year’s School End Barbecue?”

Ellen nods as Sterling and Blair walk past, both of them giving April’s mother an indecipherable look as they continue to get in line for food. “I know everyone here missed you at the open house. April and Sterling’s Temple of Solomon project from my class was a real hit.”

April and Mary both know that the reason Mary couldn’t attend the parent/teacher open house this year was that John had just gotten out of jail and Mary didn’t want to face any questions from nosey PTA moms, but lord knows that isn’t the story they told.

“Yes, well, it just, unfortunately, happened to fall on the anniversary of my husband’s mother’s death, and he really needed the two of us with him,” Mary lies flawlessly, earning a sympathetic look from Ellen and everything. “So, if y’all have everything covered here, I better make myself scarce before April gets too embarrassed--teenagers. But it was nice talking to you, Ms. Johnson,” Mary says, and after she is bid farewell by Ellen, she heads out to the hallway, with April walking her out.

“How come we can’t just tell everyone the truth? It’s not like they don’t know that Daddy was arrested, and it was false charges, right?” April asks, not sure she exactly believes that, but wishing it were the case.

“It’s unseemly to air our dirty laundry to the world, April,” Mary says, shaking her head at the ridiculous notion of being open and honest with the community they call their friends. “Besides, since it was false charges, there’s no use dwelling on it now, is there?”

“I guess not,” April says, unsure. She watches her feet as she walks her mother to the side door of the school nearest to the parking lot. “Thank you for bringing dinner though, Mama. If you hadn’t, we probably would’ve been stuck with Little Caesars, or worse--food made by Debbie Wesley.”

Mary giggles evilly, but quickly collects herself. “Now Sweetheart, you know it’s not polite to talk about your friends’ mother like that--insufferable though she may be.”

April scoffs. “Sterling and Blair Wesley have not been my friends for a long time.”

Mary nods. “See, that’s what I thought and what I told your father when he was asking me about why they never come ‘round the house anymore.” It’s a curious revelation that has April frowning in confusion.

It means that her dad had felt the need to ask both her and her mom about the Wesley twins almost immediately upon getting out of jail. It’s enough to make her wonder just how much did manage to get back to him in there, and if dating Luke is more necessary than she’d even thought. “That’s kinda weird…” she says, actually hoping it has something to do with her dad being a pervert and Sterling and Blair being a pair of attractive twins instead of the only other alternative--that he knows about her and Sterling.

Mary shrugs. “He’s just making sure you’re hanging around the right people. The things I’ve heard about those girls…you know the boys call Blair the ‘Everything But’ twin? And I hope to God that is But with one T because I can’t imagine the little girl who was the first in and last out of our pool doing…it doesn’t matter. The point is, we both love you and want you to avoid bad influences. It’s amazing how years of good parenting can be unraveled by peers in an instant.”

April thinks her future psychiatrist would beg to differ on the whole ‘good parenting’ thing, but she lets it slide as they get to her mom’s car. “Well thank you for making us all dinner. I know everyone will love Grandma Elizabeth’s fried chicken recipe.”

“You’re dang right they will. But no revealing our secrets, alright? That recipe is for Emerson women only, so the only person you’re ever allowed to share it with is your daughter someday, God willing.” 

With the family history of clinical depression and bad parenting, April thinks it would probably be best for all involved if she never has any child, female or otherwise. But in the unlikely event that she does, she’ll be sure to let her daughter know that the secret to good fried chicken is MSG and a bit of baking powder in the flour mixture. “I know, Mama.”

Mary kisses her forehead and unlocks the car. “Make good choices, and make sure Luke doesn’t eat too much of that mac and cheese too fast. You remember what happened to your father on his birthday last year.”

April chuckles at the memory of the man lying on their living room floor because of the mac’s almost supernatural ability to expand in one’s stomach. “Depends on if we want him to be able to dance later,” she says, chuckling. “Bye, Mom.”

“Bye, Sweetheart,” Mary says through the driver’s window, blowing a kiss at April for good measure before pulling out of the parking lot, and leaving April to return to her castmates.

When she makes it back to the drama room, almost everyone has already made it through the food line, so she makes sure to make herself a plate before any of the boys can go up for seconds. Or thirds, in her boyfriend’s case, as he is already loading his plate with more mac and cheese. “Careful, or this stuff will wipe you out,” she warns Luke gently as she gets herself a more reasonable portion before getting some salad—which she notices has been passed over by most of the kids.

“Yeah, I know,” Luke says, sounding somewhat annoyed.

“I’m just looking out for you,” April defends her actions. Sometimes she really does know what’s best for other people, and it would do them a lot of good to listen to her.

“I know,” Luke sighs and waits for April to finish filling her plate before leading her over to the table of Ezekiel and Hannah B.

She knows her friends have gotten pretty sick of Luke’s near-constant presence putting a damper on most intelligent discussion—or at least, she knows Ezekiel has—but they’ve also resigned themselves to the fact that this is the way things have to be as long as April is dating him. A period of time that might turn out longer than originally anticipated, what with her concerns about her father snooping around.

“So Luke, how’s Gethsemane turning out?” Ezekiel asks, knowing damn well that the correct answer to his question would be ‘horribly.’

Luke shrugs and pushes some food around on his plate. “It’s going good. April thinks I need to just sing in my lower voice.”

Ezekiel nods knowingly. “Yeah, well, I’d listen to your girl. She sometimes does actually know what she’s talking about.”

April rolls her eyes at her friend’s teasing. “I always know what I’m talking about. I speak not of what I know not,” she says, in keeping with the Biblical theme of this whole production, as her eyes catch Blair going up to the projector screen at the front of the room. “Blair, what’re you doing?” she asks as Blair begins to get the cart set up.

“We’re doin’ karaoke!” Ellen says excitedly as she goes around and forcibly serves salad to those who didn’t take any. “I figured y’all could use a fun little break before we get back to rehearsal, and who doesn’t love a little dinner and a show?”

April doesn’t hate the idea, seeing as it’ll be yet another opportunity to show off her objectively superior vocal skills. “That does sound fun,” she agrees with a nod, thinking this can either go very well or very badly. Only time will tell which it is.

“Test, one, two three. Hey there, how’s everyone doing tonight?” Blair says into the mic like they’re in a cabaret club and not the school’s drama room on a Saturday night. It took her some time to get everything ready, but that at least provided ample time for April to finish eating and to go through the list of available songs that came from Ellen’s early 90s karaoke setup. When Blair gets a few unenthusiastic whooping sounds, she continues. “Well, I am MC Herod and I will be your karaoke master for the evening. Now, to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible, I have already sent around a sheet where you can sign up with your name and what song you wanna sing. There will be no line-cutting, and you must sing if your name is on the list, whether it was you who wrote it or not.” April knows that this is going to go horribly wrong quickly, so she’s glad she took the initiative to be the first to sign up with an oldie but a goodie, ‘I’ve Got A Crush On You.’ Just an old standard that won’t lead to any drama from any girls who wanted to sing it too, but will effectively show off her voice.

“So, without further ado,” Blair says, picking up the list, glancing at it briefly, before inputting April’s song into the machine. “We’ve got April and Luke doing the always romantic Endless Love.”

“That’s…that’s not the song I wrote down,” April starts to argue.

“Yeah and I didn’t sign up to sing,” Luke adds as Blair shrugs and gestures with the list as the song’s intro starts to play.

“You guys know the rules,” she says, and April notices that her initial sign-in has been crossed out and replaced by someone—definitely Blair herself.

April sighs, knowing she can’t give the impression that she’s chickening out, and grabs Luke by the arm, taking him up to the mic just in time for him to stumble-sing through the first Lionel Richie part of the song. Surprisingly, he’s even familiar enough with it to sing somewhat on-key.

“My first love,” April joins in, unable to initially look her boyfriend in the eye as she sings the sickeningly loved-up lyrics. “You’re every breath that I take, you’re every step I make.”

That leads them into the first bit of real duetting in the song while April tries not to think about this song’s origins as the theme to the oversexed 80s melodrama of the same name that she once watched on Cinemax without parental supervision. She knows for damn sure that she is not the Brooke Shields to Luke’s…whatever that actor’s name is. If April’s being honest, young Brooke is the only reason she never changed the channel. In fact, in a real moment of invasive thinking, her brain can only go to the one person with whom she’s actually had a forbidden romance—brief as it may have been.

April’s eyes momentarily dart in the direction of Sterling, who looks wholly unimpressed by the performance, but who also manages to make direct eye contact with April as she sings the inappropriately appropriate line, “And your eyes, they tell me how much you care…” Sterling looks away before April can sing the song’s refrain, which is probably for the best as April turns back to her intended duet partner. “Oh yes, you will always be, my endless love.”

From then on, April knows it’s probably best to just remind herself that this is merely a forced performance intended to humiliate her and Luke alike. And more than that, it’s a song she’s definitely not supposed to be associating with her own life, and certainly not when her own unwitting beard is the person she’s supposed to be feeling the sentiment of the song for. So she spends the next verse and chorus singing to him, trying to feel something, anything, but she knows that her having a single straight thought for Luke Creswell would be a miracle on par with the resurrection of Christ.

She would almost feel guilty about her brain’s absolute refusal to play along with this heterosexual charade if she didn’t notice Luke also glancing in Sterling’s direction as they eventually sing, “And yes, you’ll be the only one.” 

This of course leads April to look back over there herself, and before she knows it, she realizes that this song is coming to a conclusion with both her and her boyfriend practically serenading their shared ex like some kind of vocal—pardon the crude expression—gangbang. “‘Cause no one can deny this love I have inside, and I’ll give it all to you. My love, my love, my love, my endless love…”

Though they make sure to turn back to each other before the karaoke machine is done playing the song, and April tries to give Luke the impression that she’d been too overwhelmed by the weight of the song lyrics in relation to their relationship, April knows the performance has come across as very strange. Their classmates give them a polite round of applause while April notices Tala and a few other ensemble girls whispering in each other’s ears and giggling as she and Luke return to their own seats. 

The only clear sentence she can make out from them is, “sucks to be a rebound,” and she’s glad they don’t seem to realize that this statement applies both ways. But even so, April can’t help but be offended by Luke’s behavior. She knows he’s still in love with Sterling, as does anyone with a brain between their ears, but to so brazenly flaunt it…

Perhaps April is too preoccupied with being jealous of…Lerling? Stuke? Weswell? No matter what, the lack of a decent hashtag would have wiped out that relationship eventually if the fundamental incompatibility hadn’t hit them first. But she knows she’s too preoccupied with this because she doesn’t even notice something’s amiss in the room until she hears Lorna complaining.

“Uh, Blair, didn’t you literally just say there’s no cutting in line? I’m next with Madonna,” Lorna says as Blair finishes communicating wordlessly with Sterling, who stomps up to the mic as Blair inputs something into the karaoke machine.

“I’m the MC and I’m letting her,” she says, shutting down any arguments as a deep piano melody that strikes the fear of God in April starts to play, and it goes to show that one should never mess with a person with music taste as eclectic as Sterling.

“You walked into the party like you were walkin’ onto a yacht,” Sterling sings—or speaks slightly on key, is more like it.

Blair smirks at April and gives her a thumbs-up as Sterling continues to sing, and April continues to sink lower into her chair…as does Luke.

You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte….” Now it’s Sterling’s turn to look right into April’s eyes, sneering a bit. “And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner, they’d be your partner. And you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you. You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you?”

April knows she is truly falling into the trapping of the song, but she knows for damn sure that this is about her…or at least, it is more about her than it’s about Luke. And she’ll admit it, the ‘Endless Love’ thing could have been handled better. She could have just outright not done it instead of exhibiting Marty McFly’s most bizarre character trait given to him in the sequels—the fear of being called a chicken.

“-You said that we made such a pretty pair and that you would never leave. But you GAVE AWAY the things you loved, and one of them was ME.”

Really, how could it not be about April? But still, she’d argue that she’s not done near enough (lately) to cause this kind of public meltdown. Even the low blow of playing Kacey at the lock-in was not this bad. But April suspects that it maybe isn’t entirely about her, especially when Sterling does a legitimate mic drop and storms out of the classroom when the song comes around to the chorus again.

Blair stops the music and makes a move to follow her sister, but April’s already up out of her seat and motions for Blair to hang back. She looks like she wants to argue, but after a second, Blair nods and April goes out into the hallway, hearing some mumblings from her castmates as the door closes behind her.

She looks down the hallway to see Sterling round a corner, and April jogs after her. “Sterling, Sterl, wait,” she calls after her, feeling intense deja vu. She sees the door into the Fellowship room slam shut, and figures that’s where Sterling’s gone to hide--it’s fitting, considering just how much time they’ve spent in there together, good and bad.

“Sterling, what’s wrong?” April asks, going into the Fellowship room and looking around for any sign of her, listening closely until she hears sniffling from behind the door of the office.

“April, please just leave me alone,” Sterling says, sounding defeated.

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” April says in her best impression of Hal 9000 to lighten the mood.

“What?” Sterling asks, confused as April fishes out her key to Ellen’s office. “Who’s Dave?”

April rolls her eyes. “It’s from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Duh,” she says, scoffing at Sterling’s lack of basic sci-fi knowledge as she opens the door, finding Sterling sitting on the floor in front of the desk with tears rolling down her cheeks.

“You seriously still have Ellen’s key?” Sterling asks, sniffling.

April shrugs. “Seemed like it would be something useful to keep handy. Turns out I was right,” she says simply, recognizing that the breaking of certain rules can be necessary. Especially when one is the Fellowship Leader and likes to have a quiet place to eat lunch sometimes.

“I’m really not in the mood for this-” Sterling gestures between the two of them, “-This whole thing right now. Can you please just go?”

April wants to be witty, but Sterling just looks so tired and sad and something that April can’t even place, and before she knows it, she’s standing in front of Sterling and then getting down onto her knees to be on Sterling’s level. “This isn’t just about karaoke, is it?” she asks gently.

Sterling scoffs. “Oh no, I loved being dragged into the goings-on of the weird thing you and Luke call a relationship.” She rolls her eyes and April can’t really blame her. The whole charade has run its course and then some, but she feels somewhat trapped in it now.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” April asks, crawling over to sit down next to Sterling.

Sterling shakes her head. “You’re just gonna tell the whole school if I do.”

April knows that if she were the same person that she was a few months ago, Sterling would be absolutely correct in this assessment, but despite the truly awful way April has been acting lately, Sterling should know by now that she means too much to her. “I won’t do that. Pinky promise,” she says, holding out her pinky and offering Sterling a small smile.

Sterling seems to regard April’s hand a moment, likely pondering the validity of such a promise from the same girl who once swore she ‘had her’ the same day she promptly cut her loose. To April’s surprise, Sterling sighs and grasps her pinky with her own.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” April implores her in a volume just above a whisper, looking right into those hypnotic blue eyes. In an instant, she’s taken back to swearing to throw caution to the wind in the name of a one-date relationship.

Sterling looks away, breaking whatever spell that had been cast over them for all of a second or two. “Ever since the night of the lock-in, my life has completely fallen apart, and I don’t know if I can ever get back what I had before because I don’t think anything I had before was really real, but I want it to have all been real, and I just-” Sterling makes a sound of defeated frustration, and April wishes she could contribute, but she’s not exactly sure what’s going on in this conversation.

“Sterl, why did you disappear after the lock-in? If not because of what happened between us?” April asks.

Sterling chuckles darkly. “Well, I guess I better start by telling you that my mom is an identical twin.”

April frowns, this being a surprise to her, but she doesn’t really know how that plays into the story. “‘Kaaay…”

Sterling sighs. “My mom is the identical twin of an absolute crazy person who pretended to be my mom, sexually assaulted my dad, and had me.”

That revelation just about knocks the wind out of April. “Whoa…” she says, and Sterling nods in agreement.

“Yeah, I know.”

April shakes her head, just trying to comprehend all of this. “So wait, you and Blair…?”

“Not twins,” Sterling says. “Though, interestingly enough, we are genetically full sisters.”

“Huh,” April says, finding that indeed pretty fascinating, but wanting to get back on track here, as Sterling has thoroughly captured her attention. “So wait, what all does this have to do with the lock-in?”

Sterling bites her lip and seems to consider her words carefully. “After you left me outside, my mom--or at least, who I thought was my mom, and in fact kind of is my mom--kidnapped me.”

April feels like she needs a visual aid to understand that sentence. “Debbie kidnapped you?”

“No, Dana, my crazy crackhead aunt-mom kidnapped me,” Sterling corrects her, and April supposes that’ll just have to make sense for now.

“And I’m assuming you weren’t aware of the existence of this aunt/birth mother?” April asks, operating under telenovela logic.

Sterling nods. “Yep, exactly. So now, basically, my whole life is an absolute trainwreck,” she laughs, but it quickly turns into outright sobbing. “I don’t know why nobody ever told me, but because they didn’t it just feels like I’m in this bad dream that I can’t wake up from, and...and…” Sterling breaks down, unable to go on as she buries her face in her hands, and without thinking, April is hugging her tight.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” she says soothingly. “I’ve got you, Sterl. I’ve got you.” This moment is far too intimate, and April knows it, but she’s not going to let go of Sterling for anything. Not when she knows she needs her.

“Dana’s gonna go to prison and I had to go visit her today, and I hit me that everything’s a lie,” Sterling says once she’s managed to calm down somewhat, but she continues to hold on tight to April, who doesn’t mind. “I mean, I’m not a twin, I’m Nevaeh Genesis Culpepper, for Pete's sake, and I’m a c-section baby. None of that is me!”

April can’t help but flinch at that rather unfortunate name that exists on the exact opposite of the spectrum from Sterling Wesley, which she’s always found to be pretty nice-sounding. “Well, look on the bright side...if you aren’t of woman born, then you can kill a certain Scottish king,” she says to make light of the situation, but Sterling pulls away from her and gives her a look of absolute confusion.

“What? Do you mean like Shakespeare? Like Mac-”

April claps her hand over Sterling’s mouth to stop her from saying the cursed name. “Shh! Sterling, are you really that unaware of the rules of the theatre that you would say that name during a rehearsal?”

Sterling looks at her like she’s more insane than usual. “Why can’t I say Macb-” she tries to say again, but April stops her.

“Sterling! It’s a curse! You can’t do that to our production! Did you learn nothing in Mrs. Byrne’s class?”

“I don’t need a freshman lit refresher,” Sterling says, her voice muffled behind April’s hand. Or at least, that’s what April thinks she makes out.

“Clearly you do, or you’d know about the biggest theatre superstition in the world. Now, when I take my hand off of your mouth, if the first word you say starts with an M, I will hit you,” April warns Sterling, who rolls her eyes but nods, and April takes her hand off of her mouth.

Sterling takes in a quick inhale and then blurts out, “Mnemonic.”

True to her word, April smacks her in the arm, though she is impressed by Sterling being able to come up with a silent M word on the spot like that. “Silent M is still an M, you jerk.”

“Heeey,” Sterling whines dramatically, rubbing her arm. “I thought Miss Kenney taught you that hitting isn’t very nice.” She pouts at April, but can’t hold it for long before she’s giggling.

April shakes her head and wonders why in the world she finds this idiot so damn charming. “Well, we aren’t in third grade anymore, are we?”

Sterling sighs, “No, we are not,” she says emphatically. “But hey, you and your weird rules have done a pretty good job of distracting me from my whole situation, so thanks.”

April would like to say that it had been her intention all along, but truthfully, she really does feel very strongly about not making this production any more cursed than a show featuring Luke in a diaper is already bound to be. But she’s not about to not take the credit if she actually managed to make Sterling feel better. “You’re welcome,” she says, giving her a small smile. “And, if it makes you feel any better, you’re at least not alone in the ‘has a messed up parent who is a criminal’ club.”

Sterling looks away, seeming like she’s struggling internally with something. “April, there’s something I need to tell you.”

April thinks she might know what it is. The easy rapport they’re clearly still capable of is a good reminder of what they both lost the night of the lock-in. Especially when they’re currently sitting in the same room where everything changed between them. There really was never a chance of going back to how things were between them at the beginning of the school year once that dam broke, no matter how hard April has been trying. Sterling has dealt her heart some irreparable damage. 

“Don’t,” April says in a volume just above a whisper before Sterling can say what she thinks she’s going to. As much as she wants to say that the reason they’ve been apart isn’t that big of a deal anymore, she knows it’s not true. She can’t allow Sterling to say anything that can’t be taken back in this moment of vulnerability. But God does April miss being able to be vulnerable in return, so maybe, if just in a moment of weakness, it wouldn’t be so bad if she were to move in just a little closer…

“April, we can’t,” Sterling whispers when their lips are within inches of each other, turning her head.

April wants to cry but knows Sterling is right as she nods. “I know,” she says, getting to her feet and dusting off her jeans. “We should really get back to rehearsal anyway.”

“Right, rehearsal,” Sterling says as if she’d actually forgotten, standing as well. “Well, um, thank you for listening and uh...sorry for the How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days moment.”

April shrugs. “I love Carly Simon.”

Sterling smiles and bites her lip, leading the way back out into the hallway. “Also, uh, before we get back to rehearsal, I just wanna say…” Sterling smiles mischievously, and just as April realizes what she’s about to do, and before she can stop her, Sterling leans in close. “Macbeth!” she says and takes off running.

April growls and starts chasing after her. “Sterling Wesley, if you don’t come back here right now and perform the cleansing ritual to get that evil out of here, I will fucking kill you!” she yells as she runs past the drama room, where several amused onlookers have poked their heads out the door to see what’s going on.

Chapter Text

Sterling is getting ready for church on Sunday, wondering if she can get away with wearing the same dress two weeks in a row if she washed it, seeing as nobody pays that much attention to what she wears except for maybe April. But April also almost exclusively sees Sterling in a rotating set of about 5 outfits at school, so…

She brushes her teeth and tries to smooth out a few wrinkles in her dress using only her hand and the lingering steam in the bathroom from her taking a hot shower, which is as good as anything on a cold December morning—well, as cold as Georgia ever gets. She’s still working on one particularly stubborn spot on her dress when Blair barges into the bathroom from her side, dress unzipped.

“Help a girl out?” she asks, turning around and holding her hair out of the way for Sterling to zip it, which she does, and then turns around for Blair to do the same for her. “So I’m thinking after church that the two of us can go do some sisterly bonding Christmas shopping for Mom and Dad.”

Sterling nods excitedly. “Yes, absolutely. I actually have been thinking about some options for mom because I know she really hates getting kitchen appliances even though she pretends she doesn’t.”

Blair rolls her eyes. “Oh, come on. She loved the Margaritaville Margarita Maker last year.”

“No Blair, she did not, she just loves us too much to say so,” Sterling says, running a brush through her hair. The events of yesterday really have solidified for her how much of a jerk she’s been towards her mom these past few weeks, and she thinks that the least she can do is find her a Christmas present that she actually loves...even if Debbie has busted out the $300 drink blender a few times in the past year.

“Well, it better be something within a budget because Miss Cathy’s minimum wage isn’t gonna buy mom anything too pricey,” Blair says, heading back into her room with Sterling following just as her phone starts to buzz from its place on the dresser.

Being closer to it while Blair puts on a pair of Converse, Sterling grabs the phone and checks the screen, taken aback slightly when she sees it’s Bowser calling. “Whoa, talk about freaky coincidences,” Sterling says, answering it and putting it on speaker as she mouths to Blair who it is.

Blair almost trips over her untied laces as she barrels across the room to say, “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the man who up and abandoned us,” she says.

“Yeah, almost three months and not even a phone call? For shame, Bowser,” Sterling adds.

Bowser grumbles. “Man, have I missed you two,” he says sarcastically. “I’m uh...I’m sorry I didn’t keep in touch, I just figured y’all were dealing with enough and I was tryna get settled down in Florida.”

“Was? As in past-tense?” Blair asks, raising an eyebrow and looking to Sterling, her expression cautiously hopeful that this call is about more than just catching up with their dear old friend and slight father figure.

“Yeah, uh, Florida didn’t work out for me like I’d hoped, so I actually moved back to Atlanta just a few days ago,” he says, and Sterling and Blair squeal excitedly at the news.

“Oh my gosh, Bowser, that’s amazing news! We have so much to catch you up on!” Sterling says, giddily shifting her weight from one foot to the other. 

“Yeah, like Sterl totally punched out this homophobic girl we go to school with, and I have been embracing life as a single, free woman. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t need a man to take up so much of my time in the day, and I went up like half a grade in three subjects because of it,” Blair says, actually patting herself on the back for this achievement, but Sterling has a feeling this change will last for a few months at most. She knows her sister, and the longest she’s gone without being obsessed with some boy was probably during the 2019 Women’s World Sterling ended up the not-straight twin, she will never know.

“Well, uh...I’m proud of you,” Bowser says, sounding uncertain and genuine at the same time. “But I didn’t really call y’all to talk about your grades.”

“Then please, enlighten us,” Blair says, taking the phone and going to sit on the edge of her bed with Sterling joining her as she takes the phone off speaker so they won’t chance their parents hearing.

“I know this is really last minute, but Yolanda and Terrence are dragging me into this big undercover sting operation that’s supposed to go down this afternoon. It could be kind of complicated, so we’re gonna need y’all’s help. That is, uh, if you are still interested.”

Sterling and Blair look wide-eyed at each other.

“Oh my goodness, a real sting operation!”

“Dude, that would like practically make us spies, right?”

“It’s all of our childhood dreams come true, Blair. We have to go, right?”

“Uh, obviously? We can’t let Bowser think we’re just gonna let him off the hook for totally ditching us in your hour of need, though.”

“He saved me from getting taken to Mexico. I think I’m open to forgiving his transgressions.”

“Don’t go all Jesus Christ Superstar on me now.”

“I can’t help it, that show is infectious.”

“Makes sense, ‘cause April’s a disease.”


“Okay, we’re in,” Blair says, coming out of twinspeak as Sterling sticks her tongue out at her, but they both know this isn’t the end of what is sure to be some kind of discussion regarding Sterling and April’s behavior at rehearsal yesterday. More so their disappearance following the karaoke fiasco than April (and eventually Ezekiel) forcing Sterling to do a vaguely satanic chant and chasing her around the theatre clockwise three times.

“Great, so I’ll meet y’all at the yogurt shop around noon,” Bowser says, seeming anxious to get off of this phone call now that he’s gotten the confirmation he was seeking, but Sterling and Blair aren’t about to let him go that easy.

“So Bowser, you and Yolanda teaming up again…” Sterling says teasingly into the phone.

“Ooooh,” Blair supplies.

“...Y’all need to mind your business. Just show up on time,” he says, unamused.

“Do we need some disguises? Because I still have my wigs,” Blair says hopefully, her eyes cutting to her closet. The only use they’ve been put to in the last few months has been the vaguely Joan Jett-looking one that Blair has convinced costuming to incorporate into her Herod costume.

“No, don’t bring the drag bag into this. I already got outfits for y’all when you get here,” Bowser says, thoroughly piquing their curiosity. “Now, I gotta go help get everything set up. Bye.” He doesn’t wait for a reply before he hangs up the phone.

Sterling and Blair stare at the phone in silence before Blair is throwing it down onto her bed like she’s spiking a football.

“Whoo! We’re back!” she yells excitedly, and she and Sterling high-five each other.

It’s an amazing feeling, the thought of finally finding purpose again in helping the city she loves be just a little bit safer. Sterling hadn’t realized how much of the void that was created in her after the mom revelation was actually a result of losing this, and maybe it really wasn’t much at all. But after all this time, the final puzzle piece is falling into place again, and Sterling knows that even the inevitable return to secrecy will be worth it.

Somehow, when Sterling pictured the idea of an undercover sting operation in her head, she hadn’t thought it would involve being dressed as a Christmas elf--and a scantily-clad one at that. “Bowser, this is ridiculous,” she complains as she steps out of the Yogurtopia bathroom in her mothball-smelling green velvet elf costume, complete with a skirt that ends far above her knees, and pointy ears. “Blair and I are teenage bounty hunters, not slutty teenage bounty hunters.”

“You’re just bitter because, with that haircut, you look like Link...slutty Link. Though one could argue that Link is already slutty…” Blair trails off, seeming far more comfortable in her matching costume.

“Who, Blair? Who would argue that Link from Legend of Zelda is slutty?” Sterling asks, bewildered.

“People,” Blair replies vaguely. “Though yes, I will concede that I’m not super thrilled about having to go outside in 40-degree weather wearing this.”

“It’s all Yolanda could scrounge up on such short notice,” Bowser says, emerging from his office in a full Santa suit, no fake beard necessary. “If either of you says a damn word, I’ll beat you with a stocking full of coal,” he threatens, pointing at them before they can say anything.

“Dude, dark…” Blair says, looking slightly horrified. “Anyway, we aren’t exactly in a position to make fun of anyone in pants, so you’re safe there, Bowser.”

“Good, ‘cause all I got is that chocolate coal from our seasonal toppings,” he says, glancing over at the yogurt counter, having apparently also stepped back into his position of running this place as his side hustle. “Anyway, follow me,” he says, leading them back into the office, where he’s already prepared the whiteboard. “Now, our skip is one I’ve been trailing since he was in Florida. Michael S. Jackson, aged 32-”

Sterling stops him right there. “ Michael Jackson?” she asks in disbelief.

“Isn’t he dead?” Blair supplies.

Bowser looks like he is greatly regretting his decision to come back to Atlanta. “Michael S. Jackson. No relation to the singer,” he says, sounding done with everything. “He skipped out on bail he borrowed from one of Yolanda’s boyfriends down in Tampa.”

“So what’s the crime?” Sterling asks, thinking it’s gotta be something big if he’s worth chasing out of state.

“Yeah, and why are we dressed like this, Bowser Claus?” Blair asks the other half of Sterling’s question.

Bowser sighs and points to the board. “Jackson was dealing opioids to the snowbirds and got caught. And before either one of you asks why he would give drugs to birds, a snowbird is an old person who moves south for the winter.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. “We know, Bowser. We’re not stupid,” she says, annoyed. “But why exactly are we going so far as to set up a whole Santa meet-and-greet with pictures and everything, just to catch the skip?”

Blair nods. “Yeah, can’t we just track his transactions and figure out his patterns so that we can know where he’ll be in an optimal position to get nabbed?”

Bowser seems quite impressed with Blair being so capable of breaking down exactly how to catch a skip. And nods at her in a hat-tipping sort of way. “That’s exactly what we would do in any normal situation, yes. But this ain’t a normal skip. Jackson’s got his four-year-old daughter Imani.” He points to a picture obviously stolen from Facebook of their skip and his daughter.

“Awww,” Sterling and Blair say in unison.

“That girl is so flippin’ cute, I can’t even,” Sterling coos, having always been a big fan of most kiddos, but this one is on another level with impossibly big brown eyes and a smile missing her two front teeth.

“Yeah, well, what’s not cute is her dad taking her on the run with him on his weekend,” Bowser says, and it’s like a gut punch to Sterling, who can very much relate to Imani’s position. “Anyway, get what she looks like in your head, because you’re gonna have to spot her in what’ll hopefully not be too big of a crowd of people. Jackson will be with her, and it’ll be up to y’all to try to apprehend him as discreetly as possible while I hand the kid off to Yolie, who’s in contact with Imani’s mother.”

Sterling is impressed with this surprisingly solid plan coming from the man who generally is not very discreet and hates going undercover. But there’s one glaring flaw in this plan. “But how are you so sure he will bring Imani here to meet Santa? There are like a hundred Santas around Atlanta.”

“That would make a killer Christmas rap. Lots a Santas ‘round Atlanta, more than girls named Hannah,” Blair starts to rap in a way that sounds similar to Baby Got Back, while Sterling plays hypewoman and gives her an attempt at a beatbox.

“Please…just stop,” Bowser says, looking very tired before they can get any further into their little freestyle. “To answer your question, I know they’re gonna come here because not only is Jackson staying with family nearby and I’m for sure going to be the only Black Santa in Buckhead, I also combined it with the old free yogurt coupon trick. Ain’t no way he’s not gonna show up. Now, we gotta get out there because we’re supposed to start at 1.”

Sterling and Blair nod dutifully and follow Bowser back out to the storefront where Miss Cathy, dressed as a classic Mrs. Claus is manning the counter.

“You got it handled in here, Miss Cathy?” Bowser asks after opening the front door.

“Aye-aye, Santa,” she says, giving the three of them a salute before they head out into what can only be described as a winter wonderland. Terrence is never one to do anything halfway and has managed to call in enough favors and use his own artistic expertise to construct a Santa meet-and-greet area that any parent would bring their kid to, complete with a “reindeer” petting zone. They’re just ponies with antlers attached to the headpiece of their bridles, but Sterling knows that even she would go crazy for them if she wasn’t working, so she can’t even imagine what it’ll be like once kids show up.

Additionally, there’s a food truck selling hot drinks, because to born and bred Georgians, any temperature even approaching freezing may as well be the arctic. 

“We are legit going to freeze to death out here if this guy doesn’t show up soon,” Blair complains, hugging herself as they head over toward the big red Santa chair, where Terrence’s cameraman is setting up a camera on a tripod, connected to very real-looking equipment to print the pictures.

“You can’t punish the other families for the actions of one big bitch,” Terrence says, walking up from behind them in an elf costume that’s the same as the twins’ in color and style, but he’s lucky enough to have pants…and appears to have ripped the sleeves off of the jacket to expose his arms. “So we’re gonna be selling real pictures. The proceeds are gonna go to the skip’s ex to help take care of the kid.”

“And to pay these two,” Yolanda adds, joining them after getting herself a cup of coffee from the drink truck. Like Miss Cathy, she appears to be dressed as Mrs. Claus, but this version is much less traditional in the ‘tiny dress’ sense.

“Who are you supposed to be?” Bowser asks, seeming to check her out from head to toe.

“I’m Mrs. Claus,” she says as if stating the obvious.

“No, Miss Cathy in there is Mrs. Claus,” Bowser says, gesturing back toward the shop.

Yolanda doesn’t even miss a beat before shrugging. “Well, then I guess I’m Santa’s sidepiece.” She gives a sly little smile to Bowser, and Sterling turns to Blair to silently confirm that yes, they are witnessing some high-key flirting. Though to their surprise, Terrence seems relatively unbothered by it.

“So, is everyone ready for the show?” he asks, adjusting his red bow tie. “Bowser, just remember to smile. Kids are scared enough of Santa already.”

Bowser smiles wide in a way that is far scarier than his sternest of looks. “Like this? Is this what you want me to look like, Terrence?” he asks as he sits down in the chair.

Terrence looks into his cameraman’s video camera, which he’s holding with one hand while he finishes the setup. “Let the record show that if any of this goes south, I tried my best with what I got,” he says in a tough-guy voice. “Also, Happy Holidays, everybody.”


“Luke, I need your opinion. If you were my dad, would you want a shaving kit?” April asks the boy who has to shave his peach fuzz once a week at most as they walk through Nordstrom together.

Luke shrugs. “Uh, I really don’t know. Does your dad really like shaving?” he asks, stopping to browse a rack of short-sleeved woven button-downs with quirky patterns. “My brother usually lets me sign the card for whatever he gets for our parents.”

April sighs deeply, wondering how in the world she forgot that she is dating an absolute manchild when she thought he would be a good Christmas shopping companion. Though to be fair, he was her fourth choice after Ezekiel and Hannah B. bailed on her to go ice skating downtown, and her mother had to go with John to some work brunch thing after church. “I wouldn’t say my dad really likes shaving so much as he enjoys being the kind of pretentious person who uses a straight edge razor.”

Luke winces. “Yikes. Hard pass on basically scraping my face with a knife.”

April nods. “Yeah, a razor kit does feel somewhat impersonal, doesn’t it?” she says, scrapping that idea, even if it does evoke memories of the time her dad bet her $100 that she couldn’t shave her legs with the straight edge razor without cutting herself. She won, of course. “Well, then I’m stumped. It’s pretty difficult to buy for the man who literally has his own helicopter.”

“Yeah, but that’s valid,” Luke says, putting his hand on April’s back as they continue walking through the store. “Hey, have you thought about maybe getting him one of those outside projector screens? It was super fun watching Moana in the park with Sterl-” Luke stops himself too late, and April knows he really did just suggest a gift for her dad based on a date he and Sterling went on. But in all actuality, April can’t bring herself to care that much, because it might actually be a good idea.

“That’s not bad. And I could do something cute like printing out a few tickets for a Star Wars movie night to go with it,” April says, taking Luke by the hand and practically dragging him to the outdoor living area to find a projector. “So, if you’re planning on going in on a gift for your parents with your brother, then I guess you’re all covered. Would you think it’s super weird if I got them something small, though?” The overly polite Southerner in her thinks this is an excellent idea, seeing as she thinks this relationship is likely to last at least until after Valentine’s Day.

“Uh, yeah no, you really don’t have to do that,” Luke says, his face telling her that he thinks it would be a terrible idea--probably because it would mean he would be somewhat obligated to get something for her parents. “I mean, you don’t even have to get anything for me if you don’t want to.”

April rolls her eyes. She may be a lesbian but obviously, she’s already bought her boyfriend a Christmas present--an X-Wing drone. “Well, I do want to,” she says, knowing that one’s love language isn’t like a Hogwarts house, in that people can be many things, but that she is definitely a gift giver and receiver.

“Any chance you’ll give me a hint for what you want for Christmas?” Luke asks as they arrive in the right department for April to find her dad’s gift.

“Not a chance. You’re just going to have to surprise me,” April says, having spent as long as she can remember hating the idea of being ‘surprised’ with the exact thing she asked for. She knows she drove her parents crazy with her childhood refusals to write Santa a letter because ‘he’s magic and he knows.’

“Well, did you at least like what I got you for your birthday?” Luke asks.

April nods enthusiastically. “Oh yes, which is why I have faith in your abilities.”

“You do, huh?” Luke asks suggestively before he’s grabbing April by the waist and leaning down to kiss her, catching her completely off-guard.

“Luke!” April squeals, pushing him away. “Come on, PDA is gross.”

Luke rolls his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says, sounding disingenuous. “After we’re done here, how do you feel about going and getting hot cocoa?”

Now that doesn’t sound terrible to April at all. “That sounds amazing. There’s actually this food truck that specializes in artisanal coffees and teas that according to Twitter have been doing this seasonal cinnamon-spiced hot chocolate and I’ve been dying to track them down.”

“I’m still not a hundred percent sure what makes something artisanal, but I’m in,” Luke agrees. “So do you think I should actually get my parents a present just from me this year?”

April takes a Storyteller portable projector off the shelf when she spots it. “I mean, I think your mom and dad would really appreciate it if you did. They don’t have to be big things, just something to show you care.”

Luke seems to contemplate these guidelines for a moment as April reads the specs on the back of the projector’s box to decide that this is indeed what she wants to get her dad. “How about a gift card to Olive Garden?” he says, looking like he’s come up with the best idea in the world.

April smiles and puts on her supportive girlfriend voice. “You’re just a big idea machine today, aren’t you?”

Luke smiles bashfully, clearly not picking up on the sarcasm that managed to bleed into April’s statement. “Thanks, Babe. So...what are your family’s plans for Christmas? ‘Cause my brother’s gonna be in town and it’s this whole thing.”

April smiles politely, glad that she actually has a good excuse to not take part in any of that. “My family has this long-standing tradition where we rent a ski chalet on a mountain in Vermont. I think it has to do with my mom missing having a white Christmas.” When April thinks back on some of the happiest memories of her childhood, a very big chunk of them happened on one Christmas Vermont trip or another. There’s just something so comforting about being away from everyone’s drama back in Atlanta and instead focusing on hurling herself down a mountain for fun.

Luke, however, pouts at this revelation. “Aw, that means you aren’t gonna be here for Christmas?” 

April shrugs, actually really glad she’ll have a bit of a break from all of this. “I’m sorry, Babe. My hands are tied. But hey, at least we have the show’s opening to look forward to, right?” she asks, trying to convince herself that she’s more excited than nervous about all their rehearsing finally coming to fruition in less than two weeks.

“Yeah,” Luke says, sounding significantly less thrilled. “It’s gonna be good, right?”

Unlike Sterling, April has no problem with being an absolute liar. “It’s gonna be fantastic.”

They don’t stay at the mall much longer, as April only had to pick up the Burberry scarf that she preordered for her mom after she got her dad’s present, and once they’re in April’s car--she insisted on taking the new wheels for a spin--she tracks the drink truck’s location through her Atlanta food truck app. “This says they’re currently in a parking lot of some frozen yogurt place near the shopping center.”

“Is it Yogurtopia?” Luke asks, surprising April, as he’s not generally the most observant fellow--clearly, if April is his girlfriend.

“Yeah, it is,” April says, having her phone route her there, even if it’s maybe five minutes away. She turns on her radio before she pulls out of the parking lot, hearing the beginning of ‘The Good Ones’ by Gabby Barrett and deciding to leave it, singing along under her breath to the song that she cannot relate to the feeling of in the slightest, but God would her life be so much easier if she could.

“I love this song,” Luke states from the passenger seat as he buckles in only after April’s car chimes angrily at him.

April manages to drive the rest of the way to the yogurt shop in relative silence, which she breaks the second she sees the absolute pandemonium that is this place’s parking lot. “What the Hell?” she says to herself, driving by slowly.

“Oh my god, Santa’s there!” Luke says excitedly. “Babe, we have to find a parking spot now.”

April sighs and continues around the block to an empty spot on a street that she knows her dad would not trust leaving a brand new car on, but she is left with no other choice if she wants to brave the crowd for her cup of cocoa. “If it’s too insane of a wait, we’re just going to have to go to Starbucks or something,” April says as they get out of the car, and she makes sure to hit her lock button multiple times for good measure before they walk to the Christmas fair of some kind.

“Oh come on, anything worth waiting for is worth waiting for,” Luke says, coming to hold her hand as they walk around the block.

April shakes her head at Luke’s simplistic philosophy. “Hence the definition of ‘worth waiting for,’” she sighs, though this whole thing has her rather curious. It’s not necessarily uncommon for these kinds of events to happen this time of year, but the location of this one is confusing, to say the least. And despite not wanting to make a racist observation, April can’t help but notice that a disproportionate amount of people in this crowd (even for Atlanta) are black. All of this makes more sense to her when she finally gets a clear glimpse at the Man in the Red Suit himself.

“Oh cool, a black Santa,” Luke says bluntly upon seeing the same thing. “You have to appreciate the ones who have real beards. The fake ones make it too obvious.”

April frowns and lowers her voice so no small children can have their fantasies crushed. “I mean, they’re all fake, Luke.”

“I know, they all just work for the real one.”

April hears a record scratch in her head at that. There is no way her 16-year-old boyfriend still believes in Santa Claus. Except this is Luke she’s talking about, so of course, he does. “Okaaay…” she says, deciding it’s probably best to just sidestep that landmine as they start to walk around the insane line of kids to get to the drink truck, which doesn’t have too terrible of a wait from the looks of it.

“Luke, April? What are you guys doing here?” The absolute last voice April wants to hear while on a ‘date’ with her boyfriend says from the direction of the Santa setup.

April turns to see Sterling dressed in a skimpy elf costume as she appears to be the one in charge of letting the kids through the velvet rope. “I could ask you the same thing,” April says, looking around and is not surprised to see Blair in a matching costume helping to situate a screaming toddler on Black Santa’s lap. The Wesley sisters are sort of a package deal in most scenarios.

“I work here,” Sterling says, flicking the jingle bell on the end of her green hat for emphasis. “I will repeat though, what are you guys doing here? Aren’t you a bit old for Santa?”

April notices the way Sterling’s eyes dart around as if she’s looking for something or someone. The anxious part of her brain wonders if Reese is due to show up, or something. Not that she’s really supposed to be worried about such things...and not that Reese is really a threat to her anyway. “Luke and I were out Christmas shopping together and wanted to stop for some cocoa,” April answers Sterling’s question, taking Luke’s hand in her own as she does.

Sterling rolls her eyes. “Well, it’s so nice the two of you can spend time together,” she says, sounding like she finds this to be the opposite of nice as Blair comes to join them.

“Hey Luke, hey April. How’s the long-distance relationship treating you? I hear those are really hard,” Blair says with an insane amount of sarcasm, but April isn’t willing to give her the satisfaction of getting under her skin today.

“Oh how funny, a short person joke,” she says monotonously. “But we’re fine, Blair. And yourself?”

“Freezing my elf tiddies off out here, if I’m being honest,” Blair says, crossing her arms over her chest for emphasis. “But spreading holiday cheer to all the good little kids is just so rewarding.”

“I’ll bet,” April says, smiling, though she still doesn’t understand why they would be working this kind of humiliating job. Sure, the Wesley’s are broke by Stevens Standards, but, as far as April is aware, they’re pretty well-off by everyone else’s standards.

“Because we like having purpose and we had to find a way to pay for repairs to our dad’s truck,” Sterling answers for Blair. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell her that, Luke.”

April looks at her dear boyfriend, who at least has the decency to look guilty upon realizing that April has caught him in a pretty bad lie-by-omission. It all certainly explains why he was so willing to try gourmet cocoa from a truck in a yogurt shop parking lot if he already knew Sterling worked in said yogurt shop. So it would seem the Endless Love situation was indeed not a one-off. Lovely. “Yeah, that would have been good information to share,” she says, unable to contain her feelings of real, genuine irritation at being so blatantly disrespected.

“I wasn’t sure Sterl and Blair would be here,” Luke says, kicking some fake snow, avoiding eye contact.

The awkward silence between the four of them that follows is palpable until a man in the front of the line with a little girl gets Santa’s Helpers’ attention. “Yo, elf girls, I think we’re up,” he says, pointing to where the toddler is being carried off by his mother, picture from the outrageously jacked cameraman in hand.

Sterling and Blair look at the man, then quickly at each other, then back at the man.

“Yes, you absolutely are!” Sterling says cheerfully, going to open the rope for the little girl. “What’s your name, Sweetie?” April hears Sterling ask as she takes her up to Santa, who straightens up in his chair.

“Imani,” the little girl replies, and Blair turns back to Luke and April with slightly wide eyes. “Well, it was really nice talking to y’all, but it kind of breaks the magic to have Santa’s elves be seen fraternizing with humans, so if you could just...skedaddle…”

April rolls her eyes. “Of course. Wouldn’t want the kiddies to think you’re just a couple of tramps in mini skirts,” she can’t help but allow her eyes to linger a bit longer than necessary on where Sterling’s skirt rides up nearly to her ass when she puts the little girl on Santa’s lap. Shaking off the inappropriate thoughts that that image inspires, she turns to her boyfriend for a mental bucket of cold water. “Come on, Luke,” she says, linking her arm with his and pulling him in the direction of the drink line.

She knows that in the spirit of the holidays, she shouldn’t be stoking the fire of what is sure to be a lifelong rivalry with Blair, but with everything that’s happening here, she doesn’t have the energy for fake niceties. Not when there is a far more pressing matter at hand. “Luke, why didn’t you tell me before we came here that Sterling works here?”

Luke shrugs. “I didn’t think it would bother you that much since it seems like you and Sterl have been getting along better lately.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” April says in a huff. “I’m talking about how humiliating it is for me to have you so blatantly pine for your ex for all the world to see.”

Luke is taken aback by this accusation, probably because he knows April is not wrong in the slightest. “I don’t--I’m not pining for Sterling. She broke up with me, remember? And she’s, you know, moving on with her life,” he says in a way that could convince nobody, let alone someone as astute as April thinks herself to be.

“Yeah, okay,” April scoffs as they get up to the truck’s ordering window and she orders them each a hot cocoa with cinnamon.

“Uh, no cinnamon on one, actually,” Luke corrects her, earning himself a dirty look from April. “What?”

“Nothing,” April sighs, paying for their drinks and going around the side to wait for their order number to be called.

“No, seriously, what’s wrong?” Luke asks, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Everything,” April replies harshly without thinking and regrets it just a bit when Luke looks at her like a kicked puppy. “I’m sorry, I just…I don’t like to be contradicted, okay?”

Luke doesn’t seem to buy that this is about cinnamon, so maybe he’s a bit smarter than April gives him credit for. “That’s not why you’re upset.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I also am not a huge fan of feeling like I’m so obviously your second choice,” April admits, because truly, even if her feelings for Luke aren’t necessarily what they should be, she also knows that she is far too smart and pretty to be someone’s backup option.

Luke shakes his head. “April, you aren’t my backup option. I like, really like you and you’re the only girl I know who knows that Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber was originally blue in Return of the Jedi.”

“Well yeah, it came down to what looked better in contrast to the sky…” April says, then realizes she’s been taken off-course but doesn’t have time to get back into it with Luke before they’re called up to get their drinks. “Oh, this is awesome,” she says, admiring the way the whipped cream is perfectly swirled on top with a cinnamon stick stuck into it.

“I agree. Hot though,” Luke says after spitting his first attempt at a sip right back into the cup.

April reigns in her disgust and straightens her posture as she gets out her phone. “Smile for the ‘Gram,” she instructs, raising her phone for a selfie while leaning into Luke, holding the cocoa in the frame just below where she kisses Luke on the cheek. “Perfect!” she says, satisfied after getting a few shots and posting the best one on her Instagram with a flattering filter and the caption, ‘You and I go together like hot cocoa and cinnamon.’ She makes sure to tag Luke’s handle, though she knows her followers are certainly aware of who he is by now. By the time she’s done, she looks up to see Luke silently watching her with a look of...annoyance.

“How come you always have to post what we’re doing?” he asks, sipping his cocoa.

April scoffs. “Because I’m Gen Z,” she says simply, but she can tell this isn’t the end of it. “What?”

“You literally just said that you think everything is wrong, and then you turn around and post a cute pic on Instagram?” Luke asks, disbelieving, and April can’t say that he’s necessarily wrong for bringing it up, but it’s not exactly something she’d care to explain.

It isn’t socially acceptable to tell her boyfriend that she feels the need to document their entire relationship online so that she’ll forever have something to point to if her heterosexuality ever comes into question. “I just like sharing the good things I have in my life,” she says, shrugging. It’s not not true, after all. Her brand is carefully curated to portray her in a certain way. That way being that she's the kind of girl who has lots of money that she’s not afraid to flaunt in her clothes and activities, and who doesn’t have bad things happen to her. Like having a woman-beater for a father, for example.

“Yeah but sometimes the good things should maybe just stay between us. Sterl used to say-” Luke realizes he fucked up majorly the second April cuts him off.

“Your ex-girlfriend used to say what, Luke?” she asks just as there’s some kind of commotion up near Santa.

“Just know, sometimes the best parts of a relationship are the ones only you know about,” Luke says, walking a few feet in the direction of Santa to see what’s happening, craning his neck a bit. “Oh dude, someone’s getting arrested!” he says, able to see over people far better than April and all of her five feet nothing of height. 

“Someone’s on the naughty list,” April chortles to herself but gets them back to the subject at hand. “But anyway, I’m not denying that there are parts of our relationship that I’d like to remain private--the incident during Phantom Menace at my house being one of them--but is it really so bad that I want to show you off?” April has spent years honing her skills in the art of manipulation, and she knows this question is bound to work on Luke even before she’s done saying it.

Luke looks at her wistfully and sighs, confirming this. “It’s not bad, no,” he admits. “Now that we have our drinks, do you wanna head out? We could always go back to your place and Attack of the Clones?” the corner of his mouth tips up into what April thinks is his attempt at a seductive smile, which is disturbing.

“Sure...why not,” April agrees, telling herself that if she can just keep this up until after Valentine’s Day, then she will hopefully never have to soil the prequels with being in close proximity to a boy’s genitals ever again. She takes Luke’s hand and the two of them start heading out, weaving through the crowd of people. April notices that the Santa meet and greet area looks half-destroyed now, but Blair and Sterling are still hard at work, with Sterling playing photographer in the absence of Big Jacked Dude.

April and Sterling make extended eye contact as April continues walking with Luke, until she remembers that just doing so is breaking one of the many unspoken rules that have been established between them, and she turns her attention back to her boyfriend.

“Christmas time is always so weird,” Luke comments as they start to walk down the street to the car, pointing to the way the fake snow ends where perfectly green Georgia grass begins.

April nods, having always found it a bit regionalist that the spirit of Christmas has to embody some Yankee ideal of the season.

Chapter Text

It’s always around the two-week mark before Winter Break that people start to go a little hog-wild at Willingham, and this Thursday is no exception. Between the big battle bot class tournament set to take place during second period, and opening night of Jesus Christ Superstar being a week and a day away, Sterling feels like the musical number in her head is one of those big epic group ones where everyone sings a different part at the end of act one. And that’s not even taking into account that she and Blair are now officially reinstated as bounty hunters since the apprehension of Michael S. Jackson went off without a hitch—though April and Luke being so close to the action DID force them to hand off the official arresting duties to Terrence, who has since become a bit of a viral sensation on the internet.

“That should’ve been us…” Blair grumbles as they watch the YouTube video on her phone for probably the hundredth time this week.

“It couldn’t have been us, Blair. We weren’t even supposed to be involved, remember?” Sterling reminds her as the Terrence in the video tackles Michael S. Jackson to the ground, taking out a portion of the candy cane fence on the way down. In the very background, Sterling is just barely visible as she takes Imani from Bowser’s lap and quickly hands her off to Yolanda.

“Merry Christmas, ya big bitch,” Terrence sneers at the skip as he handcuffs him. 

Blair sighs. “Classic.”

In all actuality, just her own small cameo in a video that now has over 500,000 views and counting has Sterling worried about anyone connecting any dots as to her and Blair’s involvement in the sting operation. She’s pretty sure being a sixteen-year-old bounty hunter is illegal, after all, and she also is sure that there are at least three people who would want to inflict bodily harm upon her if the truth were to come out. Those three people being, of course, her parents and April.

April, who lately has been giving off the vibe that she is positively walking on air, and maybe she has the right to be. By all accounts, her life is perfect. She’s rich, smart, is dating the most popular boy in school, is the lead in the school musical that opens in a week, and even with all that going for her, she also has the audacity to be sooo pretty.

“Sterl, stop it,” Blair says, but Sterling isn’t looking at her anymore as they stand together in the hallway outside of their first period English class. Oh no, Sterling is instead finding herself staring at the unattainable beautiful nightmare herself.

April laughs at something one of her friends says to her as they make their way down the hallway. Sterling swears she watches in slow motion as April flips her ponytail behind her from her shoulder. Everything about her is magnetic, not unlike how the most poisonous things in the wild are also the most colorful. April is a blue poison frog, and Sterling knows that allowing herself to get too close again might actually kill her.

“Sorry,” she says, turning back to Blair, who rolls her eyes as she puts her phone away.

“I’m supposed to be the thirsty twin, remember?” Blair reminds Sterling bluntly. “Besides, unless John Stevens gets caught committing another atrocity, do you really think it’s a good idea to be making the moves on his precious little girl?”

Sterling knows her sister is right, as she is more often than Sterling would ever care to admit. But that doesn’t mean she has to be happy about that fact. “I’m obviously not making any moves. Like you said, if John Stevens were to find out, who even knows what would happen. And not to mention, she’s dating Luke.”

“Luke, who is also still in love with you,” Blair adds, frowning. “Damn, what is it with you? Obviously, I know you’re amazing, but you’re just like catnip to the ladies and the gents. And speak of the devil,” she trails off, looking past Sterling’s shoulder.

Sterling turns around to find Reese, who is eschewing the school dress code even more than usual today by wearing an unzipped hoodie over her uniform, but it’s not like any of the teachers have the guts to confront her. One cannot punish someone who isn’t afraid of being punished, after all. “Hey, robo partner. You ready to kick some metal butt today?” she asks excitedly, and Reese nods, though not quite with the level of enthusiasm that Sterling was expecting.

“You know it, Silver,” she says, then turns to Blair. “Hey, so what’s this I hear about you guys working at the yogurt shop where Santa’s Helper beat the Hell out of that kidnapper from Florida?”

“Crazy coincidence, right?” Sterling says in an attempt to be nonchalant about it, but she is not a terribly good liar or truth-evader.

“Right…” Reese says, unconvinced. “Well, we better get to second period to make sure Bad Betty is battle-ready.”

Sterling nods, knowing they only have a minute or so before the late bell rings anyway. She starts to follow Reese to Mr. Baxter’s classroom when April passes by her to go into her second-period English class.

“Hell Week is upon us. I hope you’re prepared,” she says ominously but then smiles playfully.

“Yeah, yeah. You just focus on your job and I’ll focus on mine,” Sterling replies, turning around and walking backward so she can continue to look at her after she’s walked past the door into April's next class. 

April bites her lip. “You sure you even know how to do your job?” she teases as she heads into the classroom.

“Yes, I know!” Sterling shouts after her, then turns around to keep walking with Reese, who is looking at her in a very judgmental way. “I don’t want to hear it,” Sterling says before her friend can even open her mouth to criticize her. She’s allowed to have a playful rapport with April if she wants to. There’s no harm in it.

“You might not want to hear it, but you need to. Unless you’re suddenly cool with hiding your personal life from the world, that whole thing can never happen,” Reese reminds her, gesturing broadly with her hands as she speaks. It’s a quirk of hers that Sterling usually finds endlessly endearing, but right now, she resents being told what she already knows.

“I know all of that,” she grumbles as they make it into Mr. Baxter’s room just as the bell rings, finding all of their classmates hard at work to get their robots ready for the tournament.

“Ah, Sterling and Reese. Glad the two of you could join us,” Baxter says from his desk at the head of the classroom, where he’s got an open box of donuts. He points to them, indicating they’re free game, and Sterling and Reese rush over to decide from the mostly picked-over offerings.

“Fritter! Score!” Reese says excitedly as she grabs said fritter, and Sterling eventually decides on a blueberry cake donut. Boring, yes, but delicious. “Mr. B, do you have the tournament bracket?” Reese asks with her mouth full as Sterling goes to get Bad Betty from the project lockers.

“Putting it up right now,” Baxter says, getting up from his chair and drawing a tournament bracket on the whiteboard in the expert manner of someone who gets way into March Madness every year.

Sterling notices when he puts her and Reese up against a pair of boys named Ben and Jake, whose black-painted robot is easily twice the size of Bad Betty. It’s a blatant attempt at fixing the round, Sterling realizes quickly, and Baxter only confirms this when he briefly turns from his work to ask, “So y’all’s ring girl robot should be good to go by the second round, yeah?”

Sterling feels her number two pencil—which she’d been using to copy the bracket into her notebook—snap in half in her hands as Reese puts a calming hand on her shoulder. Sure, Bad Betty doesn’t necessarily look the most intimidating, but she shouldn’t be talked down to in such a way for being the only obvious ‘girl’ robot of the bunch. Sexism knows no species.

“Don’t let him get to you, Silver. She’ll show them all,” Reese says quietly to her, rubbing her back in a calming manner.

Sterling looks across the room to Ben and Jake, who use their robot’s remote control to make it perform a lewd gesture at her and Reese with the long protruding arm on its front. She sneers at them and reaches for Betty’s remote, which features a few surprises she’s sure nobody is expecting. But then, she recognizes that not all small packages come with as many benefits as Bad Betty’s body design.

“Save it for the ring. We know what she can do,” Reese says, glaring at the boys and pretending like she’s about to lunge at them, which intimidates them enough to put their remote control down on their table and look away.

“Alright, next in the ring, weighing in at 24 pounds, we have Sterling Wesley and Reese Ryan’s Bad Betty,” Mr. Baxter says like a boxing announcer as Sterling and Reese set Betty down into the ring, which is just a large white tape circle in the middle of the floor. “And weighing in at a whopping 55 pounds, we have Ben Holzhauer and Jake Mitchell’s Georgia Anaconda.

All of the boys in the room giggle at the name Ben and Jake have given their obvious symbol of overcompensation.

Mr. Baxter actually chuckles too before he continues introducing the match. “Y’all know the rules. This is robo sumo, so the object of the match isn’t to incapacitate, but to push out of the ring. This ain’t an episode of BattleBots. Now, on the count of three, begin. One, two, three—fight!”

Ben and Jake drop their robot’s arm and extend it outward before making it charge forward at Bad Betty.

“Wonder Woman!” Reese says in a sing-song voice as she presses a sequence of buttons on their remote that makes Bad Betty’s little arms cross in front of her in a stance reminiscent of the superhero while her track wheels lock into place.

Sterling squeezes her eyes shut just before impact, not able to look if the penis bot manages to effortlessly toss poor Betty out of the ring. But when the whole classroom gasps after a loud smack, she knows what that means. She smirks as she opens her eyes to see Betty standing her ground, due in part to design as well as Reese’s careful maneuvering. But ever so slightly, despite her best efforts, she’s being inched backward toward the ring’s edge.

“Uh oh. Looks like Bad Betty’s not able to hold on. She’s going out of the ring,” Mr. Baxter gives commentary to the situation.

Reese rolls her eyes and looks at Sterling. “Look, it’s up to you if we push the Oh Shit button or not. I know it’s supposed to be a last resort,” she says, eyes cutting back and forth from the fight, which is looking more and more dire for them by the second.

Sterling knows they shouldn’t. By all means, fitting the ‘Oh Crap’ option into Bad Betty’s design had been more of a joke than anything, considering the aim of this competition isn’t to destroy or even maim. But like heck is Sterling going to let Bad Betty go down without giving it everything she has. “Do it,” she says to Reese’s clear and utter glee.

“So long, Dick Machine,” Reese says under her breath and slams her hand down on the red button in the center of their controller.

There’s a ‘psssss’ sound as a little door on Betty’s front opens and lets out a stream of dollar store hairspray. Ben and Jake laugh but look at each other and Mr. Baxter nervously as there are a few clicking sounds as Reese repeatedly presses the yellow button next to the red, attempting to activate the Bic lighter behind another little open door.

Mr. Baxter’s eyes widen as he seems to realize what’s about to happen. “No-!” he yells, leaping toward Reese, but it’s too late, and the lighter finally works, igniting the stream of hairspray into flame, which shoots right at Georgia Anaconda, frying it quickly…but the heat also manages to damage some of Bad Betty’s internal components as well, as she suddenly lurches forward without prompting by Reese, blasting the charred GA backward out of the ring, and continuing on. She shoots flames at the robots sitting along the sideline, having already won their respective first matches, and they too are toast before Mr. Baxter finally jumps into action with the fire extinguisher, breathing heavily as the flames die down, and the classroom has otherwise gone completely silent.

“So…do we win?” Reese asks after a beat, just before the fire alarms go off.

Baxter looks at the two of them like he wishes paddling students was still an acceptable form of punishment by teachers. “Alright, everyone out,” he barks, not answering Reese’s question as he drops the fire extinguisher and ushers the class out the door to the hallway, where the entire rest of the school has also begun to evacuate.

“This is a drill, right?” Sterling swears she hears April ask over the rabble.

“You two stay with me,” Baxter demands, his face red as he puts his hands on Sterling and Reese’s shoulders and roughly leads them out the side door onto the lawn, where it appears that even the junior high students have had to evacuate. 

Sterling maybe, perhaps, had underestimated the consequences of breaking the rules of robo sumo with a literal flamethrower.

“Luke!” she hears April call and turns to see her two exes find each other in the crowd and hug tight, which only serves to make Sterling feel worse.

“Dude, this is bad,” Reese whispers to Sterling, who can’t help but laugh grimly. This is worse than bad, this is expulsion-worthy. Her parents are probably gonna ship her off to Cadet Kelly school, or worse…public school.

Across the lawn, Sterling spots Blair, her hair back and still in her apron from her ceramics class.

“Dude, I heard teachers saying this isn’t a drill. Do you know what happened?”

“Reese and I lit up a fleet of robots with a flamethrower.” Sterling’s truthful response has Blair, like April, break fire protocol and leave her evacuated classmates, rushing to Sterling.

“It was an accident, right? Please tell me it was an accident. You aren’t an arsonist, Sterl.”

“I mean, it would be hard to argue it was an accident since we sort of built that function into our robot, but it wasn’t supposed to be that bad.”

“You idiot! You realize that when—not if—you get expelled, I’m going to be stuck here alone because Mom and Dad are literally going to ship you off to Kuwait or something, right?”

“Yes Blair, I know. I’m sorry, I just really wanted to make a point and…I’m sorry.”

The emergency response vehicles show up a few moments later, sirens blaring, and Sterling feels her shame take over every part of her being.

“Obviously, this kind of thing is unprecedented in the history of this school, and I am shocked and, frankly, horrified by the actions of you two young ladies, I want to know why,” Principal Strickland says grimly from his side of his desk in his office. It took over an hour for the firefighters to deem that there was no longer a threat to the students’ safety, and Sterling and Reese were marched in here by Mr. Baxter as soon as he was given the go-ahead.

“Don’t say a word. Just let me take the fall,” Reese had whispered to her on their way into the building. Sterling still is unsure if she feels comfortable doing that, as God knows it was her who gave the go-ahead to start the fire, but even now, Reese elbows her and gives her a look to remind her what she said.

“It was my idea to build the flamethrower into the robot and I pushed the buttons to make it happen, Mr. Strickland,” she says, straightening up in her seat.

“But why?” Mr. Baxter asks from where Ellen was seated the last time Sterling found herself in here.

Reese shrugs. “Maybe I wanted you to take our robot seriously instead of treating her like a ring girl in a bikini just because she was made by two girls?”

Baxter looks down in shame as Strickland turns to him with a look of utter disappointment. It’s the year 2020 and the school getting a reputation for being sexist doesn’t exactly make financial sense anymore.

Strickland sighs and picks up a pamphlet Baxter gave him, outlining the robo sumo rules. “This here says that the object of the tournament was to win via pushing your opponent out of the ring,” he reminds them, and then Baxter jumps in.

“But instead of making a stronger robot, you cheated and destroyed the competition—literally destroyed all of them!” he yells, losing his cool and slamming his fist down on Strickland’s desk.

“Rick, calm down!” Strickland shouts at him, forcing Baxter back into his seat to pout like a kid who’s also in trouble—which Sterling imagines he is, considering he didn’t catch two of his students making a deadly weapon in his class. “Now, I think it goes without saying that this is a very serious matter. You could have burned down the school!”

“Mr. Strickland, I do just want to make it abundantly clear that Sterling had nothing to do with any of this. She didn’t even know I built that function into the robot,” Reese reiterates this absolute lie, which Baxter doesn’t buy at all. Sterling isn’t exactly comfortable going along with it, but she may not have a choice if she doesn’t want to be in serious trouble with her parents. Again .

“Like we’re supposed to believe that. It was Ms. Wesley’s robot first, I’ll remind everyone. You’re telling me that you made such a drastic change to her design without her knowing?” Baxter scoffs.

Reese shrugs. “What can I say? The girl isn’t very observant.”

Strickland sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, looking like this job will surely drive him to an early grave at this rate. “Without any evidence to the contrary, if Ms. Ryan is saying that she acted alone, and if Ms. Wesley agrees that it’s the case, then that’s all I need to hear. So, Sterling, is it true?”

Sterling briefly glances over at Reese and gets a look basically telling her to pull the trigger. “Yes, Mr. Strickland. It is,” she says, and Strickland nods, while Baxter’s face turns red as he holds in an outburst of some kind.

“Well, then given the circumstances, Reese, please collect your things, leave campus, and don’t come back. Is that understood?” Strickland says in a far nicer way than Sterling would expect from someone who is literally expelling a student from school. “And Sterling, I think it would be most prudent if you were to switch electives at the end of the quarter.”

Sterling nods, thinking this is more than fair, as she’d hate to suffer any lingering wrath from Baxter and her classmates after winter break. 

“Understood, Sir,” Sterling says, giving her principal a sort of mock salute, 

“Yeah, understood,” Reese agrees. “So just to be clear, I don’t have to come in to school tomorrow?”

“You aren’t allowed on school grounds, but, in essence, that is correct,” Strickland confirms. “And, seeing as your last day was supposed to be tomorrow, and because I’m feeling generous, I won’t put an official expulsion on your record. Now, both of you, get out of my sight. And Sterling, I want a decision on your new elective as soon as possible.”

Sterling feels as if she’s on autopilot as she nods and she and Reese leave the office. The revelation about Reese’s departure, which is taking place a lot sooner than she’d thought, feels like a punch to the stomach.

“Well, that went better than I thought,” Reese says nonchalantly as they head to her locker, which she starts to clean out.

“W-what are you talking about? You just got expelled!” Sterling says, holding onto the one thing she does understand perfectly clearly.

Reese shakes her head. “No, no, I’ve been asked nicely to leave early, which is what’s going to keep my dad from completely losing his shit because it shouldn’t cause any problems with my enrollment next semester.”

“You’re moving?” Sterling asks finally, feeling truly devastated to be losing the one true non-Blair friend that she’s made in, well, about six years.

Reese nods. “My dad finished his case, so he’s been reassigned to Wheeler Army Airfield,” she says, seeming not too sad about this fact as her mouth quirks into a little smile at the end of that sentence.

“I’m assuming that’s a good place?” Sterling asks.

Reese nods excitedly. “Hawaii!” she confirms, which makes Sterling as happy for her as she is sad that Reese is going to be so far away, and her melancholy feelings must be apparent. “Aw, Silver, don’t be sad. I’ve basically been visualizing my dad getting transferred there since I was like eight, and with any luck, it’ll be my very last move before I get my GED. This is a good thing.”

“But you’re leaving,” Sterling says, tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. “How am I supposed to deal with stuff without you here?”

Reese shrugs. “I guess however you did before you knew me? But I’m not going away completely. I fully expect to be kept up to date on the soap opera that is your dating life, and I want a recording of the musical. I gotta see Blair’s part, at the very least.” She playfully shoves Sterling lightly on the shoulder. “Just don’t you dare start crying on me. You knew this was part of the deal--I’m sort of like a ‘hit it and quit it’ friend.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. “You never ‘hit it’ but yes, I did know that. That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to say goodbye.”

Reese bites her lip and looks down at her feet, looking like she’s trying her best to not get too emotional either. “Then let’s not look at this as a ‘goodbye,’ let’s look at this as an ‘I’ll see you later, Silver.’”

Unable to hold back anymore, Sterling pulls Reese into a tight hug, feeling her struggle a little until she gives in and relaxes into it. Lord knows this girl needs more hugs in her life, and Sterling can only hope that she’ll find someone in Hawaii to give them to her. When she finally lets go, Sterling sees that she’s not the only one crying anymore. “Well, look who’s-”

Sterling’s attempt at ribbing Reese for getting emotional is interrupted by Reese grabbing her by the front of her sweater and pulling her in for a rushed kiss. When Reese pulls away, Sterling is still slightly dazed by it. Reese touches Sterling’s cheek with aching tenderness and leans in for another soft, lingering kiss. “You hang in there, Silver.”

Sterling can’t help but wonder if everything would be different between them in another life if things were just a little less complicated. “You too, Spoon.”


Over halfway through fourth period AP bio, Sterling (and, by extension, Reese Ryan) has yet to show up to class. April is starting to wonder if the ridiculous rumors swirling around the school since the fire alarm went off might be true after all, but God does she hope not.

“I heard that the new girl literally tried to torch the school,” Ezekiel whispers, sounding way too amused by this horrifying bit of gossip. 

April sighs and shakes her head. “We’ve literally been here the past half hour. Where did you possibly hear that?”

Ezekiel shrugs. “Lorna and Tala are talking about it up there,” he says, pointing discreetly at their classmates all the way across the room, giggling about something that April couldn’t possibly make out from this far away.

“How could you hear that?” She asks, sometimes frightened by her friend’s almost supernatural ability to gain and distribute gossip.

Ezekiel shrugs and fills out something on his worksheet. “Skipped leg day and did ear day instead,” he says nonchalantly, lightly kicking her in the shin with one of his prosthetics.

April rolls her eyes. All of the legless jokes got old a long time ago. “You know, the more you bust out the whole ‘double amputee’ thing, the less of an impact it has.”

Ezekiel gasps and puts a hand over his heart. “How dare?”

“You heard what I said,” April says, getting back to work and trying not to laugh because that will only encourage him to keep doing this in the future. “And anyway, if that is indeed what happened with the fire alarm, then let’s pray Principal Strickland gave her a more adequate punishment than Sterling’s for punching Tala.”

Ezekiel puts his head down, eyes closed, and brings his hands up to pray. “Oh, Dear Lord, we ask that you lead New Girl Reese not into temptation, and deliver us from her horrible crooked bangs. Amen,” he says, then looks up at April with a straight face until she finally cracks.

“You’re such a bitch sometimes,” April giggles, elbowing him and finishing the last question on her worksheet.

Ezekiel rolls his eyes and mimes flipping a mane of non-existent long hair--the boy watches way too much RuPaul. “You know damn well I’m a bitch 25/8.”

April pats him on the shoulder and looks into his eyes with genuine sincerity. “And that’s why I love you.”

“Ah, Ms. Wesley, so glad you could join us,” Mr. Tamura says sarcastically, and April looks to the door to see Sterling--notably alone--walk in and take her seat at her and Reese’s lab table. When she’s close enough, April can tell that she’s been crying, and instinctively starts to ask her what’s going on, but her dear friend Ezekiel being, well, Ezekiel has other plans entirely.

“So is it true your girlfriend is an arsonist?” he asks Sterling bluntly, and she tenses up before turning to them.

“No, it’s not true and she is not my girlfriend,” she says coldly.

“Then where is she?” April asks, unable to help herself.

“She was asked politely to leave school early since she and her dad are moving away soon anyway,” Sterling says, and April wonders if that means the fire thing is true--at least partially. Either way, Sterling is quick to turn away from both of them so that she can attempt to rush through her worksheet, but April knows she won’t have time to finish.

“Ahem.” April clears her throat to subtly get Sterling’s attention before she’s pushing her own completed worksheet over onto Sterling’s lab table to copy. This is breaking all kinds of rules in her own code of ethics, but even without knowing the whole story of what happened, April can tell Sterling is hurting, and letting her copy down a few Latin names for ocean species is a small gesture that April can offer her. 

And then maybe later she can celebrate Reese Ryan being kicked out of Willingham.

Sterling gives her a little smile of gratitude before getting to work, and April is smiling back when Ezekiel elbows her right in the boob.

“What are you doing?” he hisses. “You never even let me copy your stuff.”

April sucks in air through her teeth to not make any exclamations of pain as she rubs her poor right boob gingerly. “I’m just being nice.”

“You and I both know you’re not nice,” Ezekiel says plainly, and April can hardly argue there, but it doesn’t make what she said any less true.

But with April’s help, Sterling manages to finish her worksheet before the end of class. She thanks her and hands her back her own paper when the bell is due to ring in a minute or so.

“I made sure to change a few answers so it won’t be too obvious,” Sterling says reassuringly, eyes cutting to Mr. Tamura’s desk, where he’s been paying more attention to his phone than anything. Students, it would seem, aren’t the only ones trying to keep up with the story of the expelled new girl.

“Thank you,” April says, taking her worksheet back and ignoring Ezekiel’s continued disapproving looks, but as soon as the bell rings, she knows she’ll probably have some explaining to do. After all, she’s sworn to him and Hannah B. many times over that Hell would sooner freeze over than she would return to being friends with Sterling Wesley. So maybe it’s her bad for speaking with such certainty.

The bell rings, and Tamura dismisses everyone after instructing them to leave their completed worksheets on his desk.

“What’s going on with you?” Ezekiel asks as soon as they’re out the door.

April frowns. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” she says, walking down the hallway to the cafeteria. She and Luke sort of have a lunch date planned, and as much as she enjoys being interrogated by the only person in the world who could maybe deduce something close to the truth about her and Sterling, she really needs to get her Buffalo chicken wrap fix.

“Fine, don’t tell me. I’ll just remember that the next time Hannah B. and I wanna do hot yoga without your ballerina ass,” Ezekiel says before veering off down another hallway to his locker, where April knows he keeps a home-packed lunch from his mom.

Rolling her eyes, she walks the rest of the way to the cafeteria and gets in the salad line. She looks around to see if she can spot Luke anywhere, knowing the pizza and burger lines are the most usual suspects, but he’s nowhere in sight, which is a little odd. She knows the incident this morning shook him up a bit, but usually, there is nothing that could keep that boy from eating, and he still hasn’t shown up once she makes it to the front of the line and pays for her lunch.

April takes her wrap outside and heads for the first open table she sees, but only makes it about halfway there when she feels a hand on her shoulder, and she turns her head to see it’s Luke. “There you are. I was looking for you,” she says, starting to lead him to the table. “This day’s been so crazy. The fire thing was obviously no bueno, but really, I just can hardly believe we’re only a week out from the show. Have you been practicing your songs every night like I told you?”

“Uh, yeah, I have,” Luke says awkwardly as he sits down across the table from April, notably without a lunch of any kind. “April, I need to talk to you about something.”

April nods. “I have something to talk to you about, too. What are your thoughts on going out to dinner with our parents after opening night?”

Luke grimaces. “Seriously, I need to say something,” he says, looking down at his feet.

April wonders if the fire is still bothering him. “Sounds serious,” she says, frowning slightly mockingly, and reaches across the table to hold his hand, but he pulls it away.

“It is serious,” Luke says, keeping his voice down.

Now April is just confused, seeing as Luke generally leads a pretty simple life--it’s pretty hard to bother someone who doesn’t even pick out his own clothes. “Okay, so, what’s up? Because if it has something to do with stage fright or something, I can give you all my tips and tricks. The audience in their underwear thing is a huge load of-”

“April, I want to break up,” Luke blurts out at a volume loud enough to draw attention from everyone surrounding them, which he at least has the decency to seem ashamed of after the fact--like that does April a heap of good.

She’s mortified. Never, in all the scenarios she went through in her head regarding how this whole thing would play out, did she think that something so humiliating could happen to her. Boys like Luke simply don’t break up with girls like April--except they apparently do. In a crowded place so that she can’t even make a scene, not that people aren’t already staring...which she could maybe make work in her favor.

“You are not seriously breaking up with me at the start of Hell Week!” she yells, slamming her hand down on the lunch table in anger, and regretting it immediately when she realizes she may have just channeled her father’s anger on too deep of a level when Luke jumps. She reins it in as best as she can, taking a few deep breaths. “I don’t think you understand the kind of pressure I’m under right now, and I do not need this.”

“I’m sorry, I just...I think I was too quick to date anyone else after, well, Sterling, and this has all been moving super fast, and-” Luke rushes to explain, but April isn’t hearing any of his excuses beyond the big S word of it all.

“Luke, that is some fucking bullshit and you know it,” April hisses through her teeth. “Considering that in three months, I haven’t even let you get to second base, I don’t know what you would define as ‘too fast,’ but you certainly didn’t seem to think that when you had your hands all over me in my father’s movie room.” She’s now speaking loud enough for everyone to hear again, and there are definitely some ‘ooohs’ from the peanut gallery upon hearing that salacious little detail.

Luke lowers his head a bit as if it will make it harder for anyone to see him. “Please don’t be like this. I really do care about you, and I think you’re awesome, I just...with the whole fire and everything happening today, I just realized that you maybe aren’t the girl I’m supposed to be with.”

April can’t lie, she didn’t exactly have a lot of skin in this game before, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less to receive a gut-punch like, ‘thinking I was going to die made me realize I’m wasting my time with the wrong girl.’ But really, that’s all that needed to be said, isn’t it? 

Laughing grimly at the situation, she gets up from the table. “You know, I bought you a Star Wars drone for Christmas, and you are not getting it now!” With that, she starts to storm off, but then she thinks that maybe that isn’t a good line to end things on--a bit anticlimactic, if you ask her. So she turns back around, only to see Luke actually having the nerve to be reaching for her abandoned and untouched—which, incidentally, are two words that could be best used to describe April herself right now—buffalo chicken wrap. “You aren’t getting my lunch either!” she yells, snatching the wrap from him, but ultimately sacrificing her can of Diet Coke in the name of a dramatic exit involving her flipping Luke off.

Screw the high ground.

April officially knows how Amanda Seyfried felt filming Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again with Dominic Cooper. Or Stevie Nicks having to be in a band with her ex Lindsay Buckingham for literal decades. And God, to think of Luke as her ex is even weirder for her than it even was to think of him as her boyfriend.

“April, could ya maybe try to seem a little more...uh...kind while you sing this song in particular?” Ellen asks after they’ve finished running through Everything’s Alright, with April very much struggling to play the nurturing friendzoned disciple tonight, and she feels that anyone privy to the event that took place at lunch today completely understands why that is. Especially Jesus Christ himself.

April rolls her eyes at Ellen’s request. “I’ll do my best, Ms. Johnson,” she says begrudgingly and gets in place to run the scene again. They’ve been at this for hours now, fine-tuning the details of the show that can actually be improved upon. Under ordinary circumstances, this is the kind of environment that April thrives in. What everyone else considers to be ‘Hell Week’ is for her perfectionist self the very best part of putting on a show. There’s something so fun and exciting about getting down to the wire before opening night and having to stay at school as late as they’re allowed to be (in this case, 9 PM) until everything is just right.

Though, granted, it also firmly establishes the things that are destined to stay the same, no matter how hard they try--like getting wrinkles out of rayon. For instance, Luke’s lack of singing abilities is a big, fat wrinkle that nobody can do anything about--or his entire existence, really.

“Alright, let’s run it again, and then I’ll have notes,” Sterling directs from her place beside Ellen. She sends April a look that April can’t quite decipher before they start the scene over again, and it takes back her attention for the next fifteen minutes or so.

“Ms. Johnson, I’m hungry!” Jennings whines into the auditorium from the back the second they’re done, having not even been in this scene.

“My mom is bringing pizza, if you can just be patient for like,” Sterling pauses to check her phone. “A half-hour or so?”

“Ugh!” Jennings says, then heads back out, leaving Ellen and Sterling to finally give their notes, which April has to admit is her least favorite part of all of this. She doesn’t mind dishing criticism or hearing it directed at others, but she will be the first to say that she isn’t the best at taking it...which might be a slight understatement.

“Alright, so overall, I think we’re really making progress and we’re probably ready to move on to the next scene, but there are just a couple things that can be worked on in the next few days,” Ellen says, taking Sterling’s notepad from her and skimming through what she wrote down before handing it back to her and allowing her to proceed.

“Luke, you gotta not turn your back to the audience or turn fully to the side. Practice those stage movements. Ensemble, please try to spread out a bit; you’re looking a little bunched up on stage and it makes it seem like there are less of you. And finally, April and Ezekiel.” Sterling pauses, probably knowing full well why April is acting the way she is. “Uh, you’re still looking a little aggressive up there.”

Ezekiel makes a noise of exasperation and looks up at the ceiling pompously as he speaks. “It’s a creative choice.”

Sterling nods, seeming unsure if she agrees if it’s necessarily a good one, but opting to let this one slide, apparently. “Okaaay. But April, as Mary Magdalene, I’m gonna really need you to play up the fact that you’re, you know, in love with Luke.”

April gags at that, grateful that she doesn’t even have to hide her feelings anymore. “Hard pass.”

Luke looks like he wishes he could just disappear right now, and he very well should.

“Yes, fine, but you’re supposed to be in love with Jesus, so can we put aside the personal stuff? Please?” Sterling all but begs.

“April, seriously, I’m so sorry-” Luke tries to apologize, but April thinks that maybe he shouldn’t have broken up with her before opening night if he didn’t want it to affect anything.

“I don’t think you are, though,” April says petulantly, looking down at her nails, which could really use a fresh manicure.

“Okay, guys, seriously, now is not the time for whatever is happening here, so cool it,” Sterling barks in an authoritative voice April doesn’t think she’s heard before. Though, she can’t imagine Sterling has fully recovered from the stress of today, either. “Now, as I was saying, as Mary Magdalene, you’re supposed to be in love with Jesus, so maybe be a little more gentle going forward.”

“Unless you’re going for a Mel C. sticky prostitute vibe, but you don’t have the white girl dreads for it,” Ezekiel adds.

Blair, who is sitting in the row behind the directors, her feet propped up on the back of Sterling’s chair, decides that now is the time to pipe up, “Basically, April, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Mary’s had so many men before in very many ways, and Jesus is just one more.”

Sterling knows Blair is quoting April’s big solo, but even so, she frowns and turns around to face her sister at that. “Wait, are you implying that Mary Magdalene actually has intercourse with Jesus Christ?”

“Oh, I’m not implying anything. At least as far as this show goes, it is a fact.”

“Oh my God, ew. Mary Magdalene would never have sex with Jesus,” Sterling argues, sounding like she’s actually referring to the actors playing said characters--either way, she’s not wrong.

“Yeah, she does. Read a Dan Brown novel, Miss Assistant Director. They don’t just have sex, they have a child. April is literally pregnant right now.”

“OKAY!” Ellen finally jumps in, having heard enough blasphemy for about ten lifetimes in this one cursed conversation that now has April feeling deeply unclean. About as unclean as Mel C’s MM looks. “Blair, that is not an appropriate thing to say about the Lord and Savior or your classmate. We literally just moved past that whole sex ed fiasco. Now, can you please be a dear and go wait for your mother at the side door to let her in? And remember, there’s a password she has to give you.”

“But she’s not gonna be here for like twenty minutes-” Blair argues, but April’s pretty curious about that whole password thing. Does the school really think a Debbie Wesley look-alike could pull the same shenanigans more than once?

“Blair, go wait for the pizza,” Ellen says firmly, and April’s honestly quite proud of her for showing a hint of a spine, but really, if anything could bring it out of their Bible teacher, it’s talk of Jesus fucking. But once Blair’s gone, she’s back to being the same smiley Ellen. “Alrighty then, next scene!”

Once Debbie Wesley does finally arrive with the pizza, April is feeling in desperate need of the break that dinner will provide, and she is in absolutely no mood to take part in karaoke, which thankfully seems to not even be an option tonight—probably because Ellen learned her lesson about the kind of drama that can stir. It’s better this way, really, because it allows everyone to take their slices on paper plates to sit wherever they want and enjoy the reprieve from repetition.

“Mrs. Wesley! So good to see you again!” April greets Sterling and Blair’s mother when she enters the drama room after exiting the stage, seeing Blair and Sterling set out paper plates and paper towels next to the sizeable stack of Blue Moon Pizza boxes.

Debbie turns from supervising her daughters to smile broadly at April. “Oh, hello April. Don’t you look beautiful in your costume,” she gushes, though she might also just be being polite. 

Though April must say that the dress is very flattering on her figure indeed. “Aw, you’re too kind,” she says to be humble. “And how is Mr. Wesley doing?” One does not simply develop the kind of pristine reputation she has without being overly sweet to their classmates’ parents.

“Well, I don’t know if my girls have told you, but he recently opened his own firm. He’s actually looking to reestablish his clientele base if your daddy’s company could ever use representation.” April has to admire the absolutely flawless execution of Debbie’s shameless plug of her husband’s business.

“I’ll be sure to pass that along to him,” April says, nodding, though knowing full well her father’s company already has in-house counsel--he and his wife have been getting her a spa gift basket every year for Christmas for as long as she can remember. Still, she respects Debbie’s hustle.

“Mom, did you get me a Hawaiian pizza without pineapple?” Sterling asks, having opened many of the boxes in the stack already.

“A Hawaiian pizza without pineapple is just Canadian bacon pizza, Baby,” Debbie says, slightly patronizing. “And I know you like pepperoni, which is something I’m sure more of your classmates like.”

“Man…” Sterling pouts and gets herself two pieces of pepperoni and one piece of cheese, all stacked on the same plate. She also grabs herself a can of full-sugared Coke, which, to April’s dismay, appears to be the only drink offering.

“Anyway, I better get going. Anderson and I are ‘Netflix and Chilling’ tonight,” Debbie says, to which her daughters look at her with matching looks of disgust at such an overshare while April tries to suppress a giggle as she gets herself a plate.

“Ew, Mom, please tell me you don’t actually know the meaning of that. Because if you do, I might have to vomit,” Blair says as she makes a plate identical to Sterling’s--thank goodness Debbie thought to get about ten pizzas.

“If it means anything but your father and I watching true crime documentaries and eating caprese salad and cheesy bread, then I’d be curious to know how you know that, Blair,” Debbie says without skipping a beat, leaving Blair and Sterling to laugh nervously and make moves to get their mother out of here.

“Well, no matter what you and Dad have planned for tonight, I’m sure you better get to it. Again, thank you for bringing dinner. We’re probably gonna be here as late as the janitor will let us,” Sterling says, putting down her plate and walking her mother to the door. 

“It was nice talking to you, April. We don’t see you nearly enough anymore,” Debbie says over her shoulder.

“Oh, don’t I know it.” April nods.

“Drive safely!” Sterling says and closes the drama room door the second Debbie is out of it before breathing a huge sigh of relief that her mother can’t say anything to cause her further embarrassment.

“You don’t have to be like that to your mom, you know,” April says to both of the Wesley twins as she grabs a Coke. She can’t exactly relate when it comes to having parents who are actually obviously in love with each other--though she guesses that just makes even the concept of her parents Netflix and Chilling all the more horrific, considering they don’t even sleep in the same bedroom a lot of the time--and Sterling and Blair should really be more grateful for what they do have. Even if they’re not exactly the nuclear family that April once thought the Wesleys were.

“Don’t tell us how to raise our parents, April,” Blair sneers at her, but can’t hold a straight face for more than a couple of seconds after, bursting into laughter.

Sterling rolls her eyes at her sister, who goes to sit with a few of the boys in the cast. “Ignore her.”

“I always do.” April fires back, and now it’s their turn to laugh. “Do you maybe wanna go eat in the Fellowship room? Those couches are way comfier than these plastic chairs, and Ezekiel and Hannah B. are probably gonna join up in a bit.” April’s not exactly sure what it is that compelled her to invite Sterling along to what was supposed to be a Holy Trinity Only event, following the incident that happened this afternoon with their fourth wheel, but then, she thinks that Sterling might like some company tonight too. But she doesn’t exactly expect Sterling to say yes.

“Yeah, okay,” Sterling agrees after thinking about it for all of a second or two. “I mean, it’s either that or playing Wingman for Blair, which is sort of the worst.” She cuts her eyes over to where Blair is doing the cliche hair behind the ear move while she bats her eyelashes at Brett McNease.

“Then let’s go,” April says, grabbing two slices of pepperoni pizza--if she’s already drinking full-sugar soda, then she might as well go all out on the bad choices--and leading the way out.

They walk most of the way to the Fellowship room in silence, but it’s killing April to not ask about Reese. Especially since there’s still a lingering smell of burnt electronics in the hallway. She wants to know what happened, she wants to know if this really means Reese is gone for good, but most of all, she wants to know if the loss of...whatever Reese was to Sterling is devastating to her because she felt something for her. Because it’s becoming increasingly apparent to April that the thought of Sterling actually falling for someone else hurts her. Even the thought of Luke still having feelings for Sterling, with all the history that’s there between them, makes April feel like everything could all just go back to how it was at the beginning of the year. And maybe that would be better.

“I think this is the longest you’ve been quiet since you had your concentration face on while making Solomon’s Temple,” Sterling says finally, breaking the silence just before they reach the door to the Fellowship room, which she’s courteous enough to open for April.

“Well, you know, with opening night and exams all happening next week, I sort of have a lot on my mind.” It’s a very valid and real excuse, but it doesn’t change that April is lying through her teeth as she steps into the Fellowship room and goes to take a seat, draping a paper towel over her lap before she lets down her pizza plate.

“And are you sure that what happened with Luke today has nothing to do with that?” Sterling asks, raising an eyebrow at her as she takes a large bite of a folded pepperoni slice.

April rolls her eyes, considering Sterling is one of the few people who knows that Luke was always completely incapable of breaking her heart. “Can you believe that he would have the absolute nerve to break up with me?”

Sterling chuckles. “With your sunny disposition? Never,” she says sarcastically.

“Shut up,” April says, pointing at her in warning, but Sterling is still way too visibly amused. “I will leave.”

Sterling sighs and puts up her hands, relenting. “Okay, I’m sorry it hurt your feelings to be the one broken up with. I’m honestly surprised he did it at all considering that people-pleasing is sort of Luke’s thing--well, in most areas…” she trails off but shakes her head to get back on track. “Anyway, it’s not like you guys were ever going to last very long as it was. But I did think you would probably get impatient with him first. Did he ever do the thing where he texts you like ten times thinking you’re dead in a ditch or something, but you’re actually in the shower?”

April chokes just a little bit on her piece of pizza at that. “Oh my God, yes. He did it once when I was out to dinner with my parents, and my dad almost took my phone for it.” She notices the way Sterling stiffens upon April mentioning her father, and April can hardly blame her. After all, she was eating pizza in this same room the night she blew up everything for...reasons that honestly seem pretty cowardly now. “This all feels familiar, doesn’t it?” April says, looking around.

Sterling nods, not seeming to find this a necessarily fun coincidence. “At least I don’t have to worry about having to watch Luke feed you pizza this time around.”

“And I don’t have to worry about you attacking me with Kacey Musgraves,” April fires back, perhaps a bit too harshly, and she regrets it immediately. “I’m sorry. If it...if it means anything to you at all, I didn’t like...go into that night planning on ‘seducing’ Luke in front of you, or anything like that.”

Sterling scoffs. “Then what did you plan on doing?”

April has spent months trying to come up with an answer to that question, but she still has none. So she shrugs and shakes her head. “I don’t even know, really. I dad got home literally right after I got off that Facetime call with you, and I was so freaked out that he knew, and I need you to understand that if my dad finds out about me before I’m out of that fucking house, he will ship me off to ‘therapy’ faster than you can say 'Mike Pence.'” Just thinking about the idea of that has April feeling like she’s on the verge of a panic attack, with her heart racing as she feels like each breath she takes just isn’t getting her enough oxygen to really be breathing.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Sterling says comfortingly, quickly taking her’s and April’s plates and moving them to the coffee table before she scoots in closer and starts to rub April’s back in soothing circles. “I promise you, he won’t find out. If he ever hears anything at all, you can just go ahead and say that I’m like, some predatory gay or something, and I’ll go along with it. I mean, I did kiss you first, and I know that’s not something you ever asked for.”

April nods, appreciative of the gesture, as she’s sure that Sterling isn’t bluffing in the slightest by offering such a thing, but she hopes it won’t ever have to come to that. Still, having the reassurance that even after all the shit she’s put Sterling through, she’s still willing to put herself on the line for her like that...speaks to how much of a better person Sterling really is. “Anyway, after he came home, I knew I couldn’t go through with the lock-in plans, but I also didn’t have it in my heart to tell you, and I knew that Luke probably interpreted something that happened between us earlier as a ‘moment’ so I just...put my shortest pajamas in my bag and came here. I knew that once the doors were locked, I couldn’t just change my mind...a fait accompli in my flamingo whore jammies.” Just hearing it all put into words makes April realize just how cruel to Sterling she’d been with that stupid plan.

But for her part, Sterling seems to take it...mostly in stride. “Your ‘flamingo whore jammies’? You really call them that?” she asks, letting everything else that April just said hang in the ether.

April rolls her eyes. “My aunt got them for me, and that’s what my dad calls them. You can understand why I didn’t wear them until the doors were locked.”

Sterling chuckles dryly. “Yeah, I guess.”

It kills April to know that she’s caused so much pain in a girl who was always too good for it. “Sterl, I’m really sorry. For everything. But most of all, I’m sorry for ever dragging you into my shit in the first place. You deserve to be with someone who isn’t afraid to hold your hand or kiss you in front of people. You deserve someone like fucking Reese Ryan, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I’m really sorry she’s gone.”

Sterling sighs. “No, you’re really not. And even if you were, it wouldn’t change the fact that what Reese and I had was like...well, it wasn’t like what I had with you. Reese is sort of like a Bath and Body Works candle. Really cool while it lasts, but boy do those three wicks burn everything down fast.”

April smiles and shakes her head at that stupid analogy. “You don’t have to downplay anything for my benefit. I could see from the way that you looked at her that you liked her. And the way she looked at you...Mary Magdalene in a Dan Brown novel thirsting after the Lord.”

Sterling laughs, but April can see the sadness in her eyes. “Maybe in another time, if things were different, that could have been a thing.”

“Kinda like us?” April asks, not even stopping to think about it.

Sterling shakes her head. “Nothing’s like you, April.”

April’s not sure if that’s always necessarily a good thing, true as it may be, but context clues in this conversation tell her that for Sterling, it is. But everything about this is just getting too heavy, and she is quick to get up from the couch. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have dumped all of this on you now. We’re supposed to be working.”

Sterling shakes her head. “No, we’re supposed to be eating,” she says, reaching to grab her plate again, just as the door to the Fellowship room opens again, and April instinctively takes a step back away from Sterling just as Ezekiel and Hannah B. walk through the door.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

December 25th, 2020 - April

A FaceTime call is just a FaceTime call. April tells herself this again and again when she gets out of bed at 6:00 on Christmas morning and changes into a set of silk pajamas that aren’t slutty per se, but are certainly a lot sexier than her red flannel onesie intended to match with the rest of her family for present-opening pictures. And she figures while she’s at it that it wouldn’t be the worst idea to brush her hair and teeth…and maybe put on just a little makeup.

She recognizes that all of this is, frankly, absurd , considering that Sterling’s bar for her appearance at 6:30–the planned time for their video chat—is probably on the floor. But things are just so new again, and she would really like for this to last more than three days this time—which she supposes is already a bar they’ve surpassed since opening night of the musical was a week ago. Though that’s assuming Sterling is one to care about appearance, and if the story she told April about crushing on her with a Dorito stuck in her hair is true, then she really isn’t. But April is.

She hums Mariah Carey quietly to herself as she finishes covering any dark circles under her eyes resulting from her whopping 6 hours of sleep. The song is oddly applicable when she is over a thousand miles away from the girl she loves on Christmas morning. And said girl apparently woke up early for this too, since April’s phone buzzes with a text from her at 6:07.

😍😘💋: U up yet?

April can’t help but chuckle at that. Of course Sterling would text her like this clandestine virtual meeting is some booty call.

April 👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩: I am now. You’re up early. 😏

😍😘💋: Chloe woke me up to go out.

😍😘💋: Also I’m super excited to see you.

April smiles and feels herself blush. She’d almost forgotten just how good it feels to be with Sterling. To be wanted by someone she actually wants in return. To be in love.

April 👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩: Well, if you’re ready to go, I guess we can talk now? Just be warned that I just woke up and look hideous. 🥱

😍😘💋: well that’s highly improbable…

April giggles like the lovestruck schoolgirl that she is and returns to her bed, getting under the covers and mussing her hair just a bit before she calls Sterling on FaceTime. “Hey you,” she greets Sterling, who is in a similar position to herself, though Sterling probably didn’t go to the same level as April to prepare for this if her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt is any indicator.

“Hey,” Sterling replies, looking like she can’t contain the grin on her face upon seeing April. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you as well,” April says, rolling over in her bed before changing the angle at which she holds her phone. “You know, I think this is the first year that I’ve been here and actually missed Atlanta,” April notes, though she also knows that it has much less to do with the city itself and more one girl in particular, who she’s missing like crazy even while on video chat with her.

Sterling bites her lip and laughs to herself at that. “Somehow I doubt that skiing isn’t so much better than Christmas Eve dinner with my family. Blair and I actually caught our cousin doing crack cocaine in our bathroom!”

April can’t help herself with a set-up like that. “It didn’t tempt you, did it?” If one finds themself dating a known crack baby, you simply must make light of it.

Sterling rolls her eyes. “No, I’ve had that addiction under control for going on seventeen years now, thank you very much.” She chuckles and shakes her head at April’s bad joke, but April knows she has to find it just a little funny.

“But to your earlier point, no, being with you would be much better than skiing,” April says, smiling more tenderly as she gets them back on track--even if that track is a one-way course to embarrassingly kissing Sterling through her phone. “I mean, for one, instead of freezing myself solid while hurling myself down a mountain, you and I could cozy up with a big blanket and some peppermint tea while we exchange presents…” April’s eyes glance over at her bag containing a hastily wrapped gift from Sterling—which she can imagine was even more hastily bought in order to give to her on their last day of school before winter break, seeing as she had to do the same for Sterling.

“So…you wanna open these?” Sterling asks and gestures with April’s gift to her in front of the camera.

April squeaks excitedly, amazed at the fact that they’re already so in-sync with each other. “Yes! You go first please,” she says while getting out of her bed and going to her bag, pulling out the slightly crumpled and obviously reused Christmas gift bag.

Not needing to be prompted further, Sterling savagely tears into the meticulously wrapped box, which April taped shut. “Ugh, you’re killing me, Smalls,” Sterling grumbles playfully as she struggles to peel off the tape, but when she does and finally gets the box open, April holds her breath for her reaction. “Oh my God, April! I love it,” she says without a hint of irony when she pulls out the picture frame shaped like a director’s clapboard, with “Sterling & April, Take Two” scrawled in the scene box at the bottom. 

“Do you really?” April asks modestly as Sterling stares at the picture in the frame itself--a candid of the two of them on closing night of Jesus Christ Superstar , which Ezekiel was such a dear to take. April knows that she absolutely adores it, and would make it her phone’s lock screen if she weren’t afraid of someone seeing it.

“It’s absolutely perfect and I’m gonna put it…” Sterling looks around her room and gets up from her bed, the screen shaking as she walks. She flips the camera to show April where she places it--on her desk, next to her computer. It’s a spot where Sterling is likely to look at it a lot, which makes April’s heart soar with pride. It’s nice to think that even in some small way, their love is on display. “Is that good?” Sterling asks as she angles it even more toward her computer chair.

“It’s perfect,” April says, not sure she ever thought that feeling this way was possible--at least not for her. “My turn now?” she asks, lifting up the gift bag as Sterling returns to sit up in her bed.

“Yes, yes, yes!” Sterling says excitedly, doing a one-handed drumroll on her thigh. Her giddiness is contagious, and April feels...well, like a kid on Christmas as she removes the tissue paper to find two gifts--one flat and wrapped in newspaper, and one that is a felt jewelry box. “The bigger one is actually from Blair,” Sterling adds, making April even more curious about the newspaper one, seeing as it came from the human trash panda herself.

“Shall I open this one first, then?” she asks, bringing it out of the bag. She can only assume that Sterling would like to reserve the grand finale for her gift. Sterling nods and April tears into the paper and reveals a well-worn copy of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. “Of course she got me this,” April chuckles, turning it and its sacrilegious, yellowed pages over in her hands.

“I’m pretty sure she actually went to like three thrift stores to find it,” Sterling supplies, which only amuses April more. Of course, Blair would go out of her way and end up spending a lot more time looking for such a copy of this book when Barnes & Noble is sure to have about five brand new copies at any given time.

“Your sister,” April sighs and shakes her head. They say that in every relationship, there is something about your partner that you can’t stand, but you tolerate it anyway because you just love your partner so much. For April’s relationship with Sterling, that ‘it’ is Blair.

“Hopefully my present makes up for it, though?” Sterling says hopefully as April puts the book back into the gift bag and trades it for the jewelry box.

April is a bit nervous to open it. The last time she was gifted jewelry, it was a big-time ‘too much’ gift from her now ex-boyfriend. And the time before that was a ring from her father symbolizing her commitment to not have sex. Not exactly a great track record there. Still, she knows that not acting excited about it, no matter how she truly feels about whatever is in the box, will break Sterling’s heart. So she vows to seem excited anyway, though that proves wholly unnecessary when she opens the box to reveal a complete bait and switch.

There isn’t any jewelry at all. What there are are two neatly-placed tickets for the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta. “You got me Cinderella tickets?” April says excitedly, almost forgetting she’s supposed to be not waking up the whole chalet.

Sterling smiles and nods. “It’s a show written by the dude who wrote JCS, so I figured you might want to see it?”

“Sterl, it’s the first national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella,” April says, not sure she can give that name any more emphasis if she tried. “Of course I want to see it!”

“Well, good, because I got you front row balcony seats. You said those are your favorite, right?” Sterling says, and if she weren’t a thousand miles away, April would be trying desperately to not break her oath to the stupid ring on her finger. Sterling listening to her and remembering such details is very sexy of her.

“I love you so much,” April says, figuring that’s as good of an answer to Sterling’s question as any, and she only feels it even more when she notices that behind the tickets is a printed reservation confirmation for a swanky, hard-to-get-into French restaurant on the west side. “So uh, there are two tickets and a reservation for two on March 24. Who exactly am I supposed to have accompany me to dinner and a show almost exactly three months from now?” April asks coyly as she fans herself with the tickets like a damn Regency heroine.

Sterling rolls her eyes. “Well, I was kinda hoping it would be me, but if you have someone else in mind, I guess I would understand. Just be warned that dinner is after the show and gonna be heckin’ romantic.” Sterling gives April that endlessly endearing smile that has managed to warm the heart of even Willingham’s Most Frigid Bitch™.

“Oh, shut up. You know I’m taking you,” April says, shaking her head and making a point to seem exasperated, but really, this is maybe the sweetest gift she’s ever been given. “Though, I must say, it shows great confidence in our budding relationship that you think we’ll still be together then.”

Sterling raises an eyebrow. “You don’t?” she asks, those two words positively exuding BDE, which isn’t exactly helping the whole ‘April wanting to sinfully jump her bones’ thing. There really is nothing hotter than embracing rather than fearing commitment.

“No,” April says, shaking her head. “If I can help it, I’d kind of like to stay with you until I’m old and have to get Botox like my mother.”

“You’re never gonna need Botox,” Sterling says dismissively. “But if you wanted to anyway, I’d support you completely.”

“You are...such a romantic motherf-” April starts to say, though she cuts herself off as her bedroom door swings open without warning, and she’s forced to shove the presents and her phone under the covers.

“Yo, Mom and Aunt Mary wanna know when you’re coming downstairs,” her cousin Seth says, apparently having missed her mad dash to hide the gay evidence--or at least, to hide the Dan Brown novel. He seems to only be about half awake himself, rubbing his eyes and yawning behind his hipster beard.

“Jesus, Seth, don’t you knock? What if I’d been changing?” April scolds him while he scratches his head under his beanie--which is completely unnecessary to wear inside. 

“Nothin’ I haven’t seen before, nudist,” he says, then heads right back out, yelling downstairs, “She’s awake, Ma!” before shutting her door behind him.

April grumbles and gets her phone back from under the covers, thankful to find that Sterling didn’t hang up so that they can at least get a proper goodbye. “Ugh, I have to go,” April says regretfully. “But I can always fake a minor injury on the slopes tomorrow if you wanna have another sesh?”

“It’s a date,” Sterling agrees, seeming very happy to get to say that. “Have fun.”

“I can’t wait to see you after New Year’s Day,” April says, then brings her phone to her lips to loudly kiss the camera, and Sterling does the same. It’s cheesy and actually quite unsanitary, but it’s the best they have at the moment. “Bye, Sterl.”

“Bye, April. And Merry Christmas.” Sterling hangs up the phone and leaves April to sit in her bed in silence.

April holds her phone to her heart and knows in her soul that she’s finally, truly happy.

March 24th, 2021  - Sterling

“So, what did you think?” April asks once she and Sterling have left the Fox Theatre and are walking arm-in-arm to April’s car, which she insisted on driving tonight. It’s nice, just getting to be out on the town as a couple—while dressed nicely, to boot, which Sterling knows matters to April.

“I liked it,” Sterling says, not exactly having seen many musicals to compare Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella to, but it’s a strong contender against The Lion King.

However, this simple answer doesn’t seem to be enough for April, who has been practically giddy all evening. “Yeah, but like, what did you think of the fresh take on the story? Or the fact that Cinderella has to belt out five solos?”

Sterling shrugs. “I think Blair would kinda like goth girl Cinderella. And the five solos were really good.”

April seems to accept this answer, or so Sterling thinks.

“So what would you say was your favorite song in the whole show?” April asks as she unlocks her car.

Sterling waits until she’s in and buckled to answer April’s question, but it also gives her the time to actually ponder the question. She knows she’s no great theater critic, but one did stand out to her, and it surprisingly wasn’t one of Cinderella’s five solos. “The song the prince sang in the first act,” she says, then flips through her program to the song list to find its name. “Only You, Lonely You,” she reads off, and April smiles.

“How did I know you were going to say that?” she says, amused as they pull out of the parking lot. “So when did you say our reservation is for at Marcel?”

“Uh, 9:45. But we should make good time getting there,” Sterling says, routing it on her phone and finding that they’ll make it to the restaurant with a few minutes to spare.

“Perfect. And just so you know, I will be paying when the check comes, okay?” April says, and it’s not a request.

“But I’m the one who asked you on this date,” Sterling argues, having saved up a good portion of her bounty hunting money for tonight. And maybe knowing full well that April has a lot more money than her makes Sterling want to take any opportunity she can to actually impress her.

But April shakes her head adamantly. “Sterl, I know that those tickets could not have been cheap, and you work in a yogurt shop. I can pay for dinner.”

She is not wrong about the tickets—Sterling was rather surprised when she bought them to find that the first row of the balcony cost almost as much as the front row seats down below. But they were for April, and if her reaction to them on Christmas and tonight has been any indication, then they were well worth it. “But what if I just really wanted to treat you to a romantic evening?” Sterling asks, reaching across the center console to touch April’s thigh.

April rolls her eyes. “You thankfully are not a dude, so we can avoid the idea that I’m not perfectly capable of paying for a date. And besides, what if I would really like to treat you as a thank you for being sweet enough to even come up with the idea for tonight, let alone buy tickets for...two hundred and thirty dollars apiece?”

Sometimes April’s power frightens Sterling. “How did you-?”

“I went on the theater’s website,” April says as if stating the obvious, which it is. Sterling really should have known her girlfriend well enough to know that she would of course be curious about such a thing. “So anyway, I think I’m more than justified in paying for dinner since you did that and all I got you for Christmas was that crappy picture frame.”

Sterling gasps. “Don’t say that! I love the picture frame.”

“Well, then just consider this part two of that present. God, I thought couples were supposed to fight over the check at least after they’ve eaten,” April says exasperatedly, and Sterling instantly feels bad. April doing nice things without a caveat is a rarity, and she shouldn’t be arguing.

But then, Sterling will take this kind of petty argument over any major ones any day.  “Hey,” Sterling says, reaching across the center console of the car to put a hand on April’s leg in what is supposed to be more of a gentle gesture, but considering that April’s dress has ridden up a bit, it comes across like a bit more.

April smirks but keeps her eyes firmly on the road. “Hey yourself,” she replies. “Is there a reason why you’re trying to distract the driver?”

“No,” Sterling says sheepishly, but April doesn’t seem all that upset by this. “Sorry.” Sterling starts to withdraw her hand, but April takes one hand off of the steering wheel instead to grab Sterling’s hand and lace their fingers together tightly over the center console.

July 17th, 2021

My Dearest, Sterling, (Did you see what I did there with that extra comma? Please tell me you get it.)

It has been a month since I saw you last, and I fear that our time apart with only letters as correspondence has left me no choice but to start writing as if I were the protagonist in a Jane Austen novel. I hope you find this as endlessly amusing as I do.

I’ve not the slightest idea why this cursed church camp thinks that it’s a sound decision to confiscate the cell phones of the counselors, though I strongly suspect that it may have to do with the rather unholy act of sending each other ‘nudes.’ Regardless, I do so look forward to your letters, as I long to be in your arms once again, and your words bring me the assurance that I shall.

Your loving paramour,



July 19th, 2021

Dear April, (and no, I didn’t get it, but Google says it’s from Hamilton?)

I want you to know that you are an absolute dork. I love you for that, but it’s true, and you need to hear it. Because I don’t want to have to refer back to my copy of P&P, I’m gonna be writing to you in plain old modern English, if that’s alright with you?

I’d say you’re probably right about the phones and the nudes. Makes me glad that I’m just a VBS counselor at the church since Pastor Booth couldn’t care less if we’re on our phones during. One of Blair’s kids almost hot glued his fingers to his face during arts and crafts when she was sending a selfie to Gabe Adams. Do you remember him? He was in our class in 4th grade but then his parents got divorced and he had to go to public school? Well, I guess Blair found him on Facebook and he’s pretty fine now...but you don’t want to hear about that. And you probably also don’t want to hear that Luke tried to ask me out. Again. Obviously, I turned him down, but I’m running out of nice excuses.

Anyway, how is camp going for you? Make any hot glue projects yourself while you’ve been away? And how are your fellow counselors enjoying you getting letters from your adoring boyfriend? For their sake, here’s something you can read off to them: “Baby, I miss you so much it’s killing me. There really is no other girl like you and I’m lost without you. I miss your lips, and your smell, and the way your nose crinkles up when you laugh at me. You’re far and away the most amazing girl I’ve ever dated and I want to be with you forever. I can’t wait to see you’s only a matter of time.” (You see what I did there?)

Your horny as heck boyfriend,



July 22nd, 2021

My Beloved ‘Boyfriend,’

Let’s cut the Jane Austen crap. I’m so f-ing jealous of you and Blair for getting to do VBS. Do you know what I would give to throw water balloons at God-fearing third graders and then actually get to go home in the afternoon? I don’t know why being here as a camper with my friend Jamie seemed like so much fun because I’m getting absolutely eaten alive by mosquitos in these Deliverance swamplands. Though maybe it didn’t seem so bad because I didn’t have to miss you every single day. But yes, I do remember Gabe Adams. He pushed me off the slide in first grade. Is he still a bastard? Though I’m less than amused to hear about Luke.

Aside from my sunny depiction, camp does have its upsides. For example, counselors are allowed to go swimming at night. I can only imagine how fun that would be, if only you were here with me. And perhaps...we both forgot our swimsuits? On that note, thank you for the readable portion in your last letter. All of these desperate bitches are so jealous, which is honestly all I’ve ever wanted. But hey, if you really wanted to help me rub our hot, heterosexual love in their faces, maybe you could send me a box of chocolate truffles from Kilwins? (Don’t judge me, I think I’m PMS-ing)

Thank God this is only for three more weeks. I don’t think I could handle being away from you any longer than that.



(P.S. I LOATHE salted caramel)


July 26th, 2021

Dear April,

I hope this letter is attached to a box of VERY expensive chocolate, or I’m going to have to have strong words for the US Postal Service. But thanks for letting me know about that place because they have really good ice cream!

If Gabe not texting Blair back since your last letter is any indicator, then yeah, he’s still a jerk. And thank you very much for that amazing visual you provided for me in your last letter. I am never going to look at lakes the same way again. But it sort of does make me think of something. How would you feel about possibly when you get home, we open up discussions about the place our relationship has yet to go? Because I know you said if we went there that we would have nowhere to go, but, I mean, there are a lot of other things we haven’t done as a couple, so I feel like ‘nowhere’ is a strong word. But like, no pressure, and I’m more than happy to help you make all the other girls jealous. But don’t be so mean to’s not their fault they don’t have boyfriends...or maybe it is. Or they could want girlfriends. You never know.

Anyway, Boyfriend Sterling Time. “April, I never noticed until you were gone how much I look forward to seeing you every day. I feel like nobody in this world knows me like you do, and I hope I’m the same for you. It’s so crazy to think of how much I would take for granted all those nights when you would stay over and I’d hold you in my arms. Though I’m starting to think my parents are catching on to us being a bit more than friends if you catch my drift. But that’s okay because that means that they’re just catching on to how crazy I am for you, and luckily, they already love you too. But don’t worry, they won’t tell your parents anything.”

With all my love,



August 1st, 2021

Hey Sterl, sorry for the late reply,

Yes, I got the truffles and you are an absolute saint for getting them for me. If I could kiss you right now, you know I would. One extra long one for every truffle.

As for that discussion...we can have it, but you should know ahead of time that honestly Sterl, I just don’t know if I’m ready to ‘go there’ just yet. I know I talk a big game, but it’s mostly because I really miss you. And I do want to do it with you. Someday. I’m just...scared? And more than anything, I think we should wait for the right moment. It should be special so that we can look back on it one day and not have any regrets. Not that I would regret having sex with you, know what I mean, right?

And as for my ‘boyfriend,’ I must say, he does sound an awful lot like you. One has to wonder if you really mean all those things you say for show. Because if you do, then I feel even more secure in knowing that my heart is safe with you. And against my better judgment, I trust our little secret with your parents. They’re too good for that, and I also suppose there are benefits to having our moms be long-standing PTA rivals. 

Impatiently waiting for you,



August 3rd, 2021


I hope you know that the second you’re home, the two of us need to have one of our best friend sleepovers. You bring popcorn, I’ll bring the Cookie Dough Bites, and we can mix them together into that delicious mess that I know you only pretend to hate. Because there is only one thing in the world better than kissing you, April. And that’s kissing you when you taste like butter and chocolate.

Though, to be clear, this hypothetical sleepover would only involve some…maybe intense making out, but that’s only because I haven’t seen you in so long. I do understand why you want to wait for the other stuff though. I think my thought process leading up to my first time was that sex is really just another thing you can do, and the concept of virginity being sacred is rooted in some not great stuff. But I also understand why you want it to be special for you, and maybe I did really miss out by not waiting. Still, though, I know that when you and I are ready, it’ll be magical. And hopefully not painful.

Anyway, Boyfriend Sterl has left the building, but he wants you to know that yeah, I mean every word I’ve ever written to you. Being with you is terrifying because of how completely unafraid I actually am of my feelings for you. I love you, April, and I miss you so much that I’ve watched the John Legend JCS like three times since you’ve been gone. Sara Bareilles doesn’t hold a candle to you.



(P.S. I think I’m starting to get why Lizzie Bennett fell so hard for Mr. Darcy via letter. Even if I’m personally more of a Bingley, according to Blair.)

August 24th, 2020 - April

“Are you sure this is okay? I mean, we can totally just have a sleepover at my house like usual,” Sterling says as she follows April into her house, sounding rather nervous, which April supposes makes sense considering the one other time she’s been here since the fifth grade was the time when her parents were safely out of town on her birthday. But really, she doesn’t think Sterling really has all that much to be worried about when it comes to her dad. He’s seemed pretty genuinely upset by the loss of Luke, which makes April wonder if she managed to sell the straight girl act. And if she did, then the most Sterling has to worry about is John being a creep, but that’s easily remedied by April not leaving the two of them alone together.

“Sterl, it’s fine. My parents are out for one of their monthly date nights, which means we’ll have plenty of time before they come home,” April assures her, though even she is also still a bit nervous, as she has yet to explain to her parents--not even her mother--that at the very least, Sterling isn’t her arch-nemesis anymore.

Sterling frowns. “What do your parents even do for date nights?”

“Dinner downtown, followed by a movie Daddy wants to see, generally,” April says with a shrug. “Though on occasion, they’ve taken the helicopter as far as Hilton Head.”

“And they just leave you here?” Sterling asks, sounding concerned, which is sweet of her but wholly unnecessary.

“I’m seventeen, Sterl,” April reminds her gently. “But yes, because they usually aren’t gone more than a few hours. And I had my chain of live-in au pairs until I was thirteen.”

“Oh yeah!” Sterling says, the mention of April’s nannies seeming to spark a memory. “I really liked the one who’d take us to the science museum and knew like all of the dinosaurs.”

April smiles, remembering that one well, even if none of them were ever around for longer than a year, or even less as she got older. “Josephine,” she says with a sigh. She remembers being inconsolable when Jo quit before her contract was up.

“Whatever happened to her?” Sterling asks as April starts to lead her to the kitchen, where she’s already gotten the popcorn maker out.

April grimaces, not knowing the exact reason why, but as she’s gotten older and wiser when it comes to her father, she has her suspicions. “No clue,” she says. “Anyway, popcorn. Do you want real butter or the stuff they actually put on it at the movie theaters? Because thanks to my daddy, we have both.”

“Whatever you want is fine. Butter’s butter to me,” Sterling says, going to the fridge and helping herself to a Diet Coke.

“Actually, one of them is very much not butter,” April corrects her as she pushes past her to get the real stuff from the fridge. Best to leave the Flavacol and Coconut oil to the man who’ll be lucky to not have a heart attack before he’s sixty. “Now, I know we said movie night, but how would you feel about me showing you my porn collection instead?”

Sterling snorts soda out of her nose. “Uh, what?” she asks, seeming horrified and intrigued all at once as she gets herself a paper towel to blow any remaining cola out of her sinuses.

April rolls her eyes at the child she’s dating. Though it’s a little on her for asking such a question while the poor girl was mid-drink. “Not actual pornography, Sterling,” she says, surprised her girlfriend of eight months would even think she’d actually partake in that. What is she, a guy? She’s never even touched herself. “I may or may not have a not-insignificant collection of semi-illegal, semi-professional recordings of Broadway and West End musicals.”

“Oh, so bootlegs?” Sterling says, quickly connecting the dots.

“Yes, exactly,” April says, getting a bowl for the popcorn. “You can take a look at what I have, but I’m personally feeling an evening with Carrie Hope Fletcher,” she says, sighing at even the name of the actress she’s a little obsessed with...more than a little.

“Is that the British girl with the curly hair and the gap that you love?” Sterling asks, once again showing off her sexy ability to pay attention when it matters.

“Indeed she is,” April says as she puts the popcorn in the bowl. “And just so you’re made aware, she is my Hall Pass if the opportunity ever pops up.”

Sterling rolls her eyes. “Pretty sure she’s straight, but in that case, my Hall Pass is Jeremy Allen White.” She produces a package of definitely melted Cookie Dough bites out of her bag.

April gags, and it isn’t even an exaggeration. Her girlfriend’s rather unfortunate taste in men is why it’s a good thing they found each other. “Okay, ew. Let’s get upstairs and watch Heathers the Musical so I can cleanse my brain of that image.”

Sterling laughs evilly as she follows April out of the kitchen and upstairs to her room, where Sgt. Bilko is snoozing on the bed, like usual. “God, I can’t believe you still have him,” Sterling says as she does the ill-advised thing of approaching Bilky during a nap.

His heterochromatic eyes shoot open before Sterling can pet him, and before April can warn her not to. He hisses at her and jumps off the bed, scurrying out of the room.

“Please excuse him. He’s not a very welcoming boy,” April says as she sets up her laptop and external bootleg hard drive.

“Wonder where he gets that from,” Sterling grumbles under her breath, but April hears her clear as day.

“Sterling Wesley, I am an excellent hostess. And you know why?” April says, turning in her computer chair and getting up to stand in front of Sterling, who’s sat herself down on the edge of the bed.

“Because you aren’t tall enough to be intimidating, even when I’m sitting?” Sterling says cheekily, looking up at her.

April is appalled as she gasps and lightly smacks at Sterling’s arm. “I am so intimidating,” she insists, surprised this is even coming into question. “It’s kind of my whole thing.”

“You have a lot of things, April,” Sterling reminds her, smiling flirtily and biting her lip.

“Incorrigible,” April sighs and returns to the computer to play the show, bringing the laptop to the bed so she and Sterling can lie down together while they watch it.

A few songs in, April is glad that she chose a bootleg that she has watched probably ten times. It's a lot more difficult to stay focused on the show when she’s dealing with a girl who only just confessed how horny she is for April a few weeks ago in a letter....and they’ve now found themselves alone together for the first time since April returned from church camp. But so far, any and all sins involving Sterling have been kept strictly inside April’s head, even while Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Veronica Sawyer decides to seduce JD.

“Remember when Blair and Owen Caruthers went as them for Halloween?” Sterling asks, seeming quite captivated as she takes a large handful of popcorn and shoves it into her mouth like a horse with a feeding bag.

April tries not to let that change her opinion of her beautiful girlfriend. “I do. But I was mostly just busy being jealous of you and Reese Ryan going as one of the best 80s couples of all time.”

Sterling rolls her eyes, having heard this before. “If we were together then, I would’ve totally gone to that dance with you. And we will hopefully have a LOT of Halloween couples costumes in our future if we can keep this up.”

“Is there any doubt we won’t?” April asks, a little concerned by Sterling speaking in such uncertainties when she already knows she wants to keep this going…well, forever, hopefully.

Sterling shakes her head at this notion, which calms some of April’s anxiety. “No, I totally think we will,” she assures her. “I mean, I’d go to Sadie Hawkins with you this year if you’ll let me.”

April sighs, wanting that more than anything in the world, but also knowing that word would definitely get back to her parents if she went to a ladies' choice dance with another lady. “You know I want to go with you, Sterl, but-”

“-But the timing isn’t right. I get it,” Sterling says, nodding and trying her hardest to not sound disappointed, but there’s a reason she’s the assistant director and April is the actor here.

April knows there isn’t really anything she can say that’ll make that disappointment go away--or at least, nothing she can say that wouldn’t be very dangerous for her while she lives at home--but where words fail, sometimes one just needs action. And with that thought, she swings one leg over Sterling and sits up to straddle her lap. “Tonight I’m yours, I’m your dead girl walking. Get on all fours, kiss this dead girl walking,” April sings along with Carrie Hope Fletcher, who is herself in a very similar position in the bootleg. “Let’s go, you know the drill. I’m hot and pissed and on the pill. Bow down to the will of a dead girl walking…”

“I didn’t know they had sex in musicals,” Sterling says, looking past April entirely to stare wide-eyed at CHF getting her shirt ripped off.

April rolls her eyes, surprising even herself that right now, she would prefer if Sterling was not watching the bootleg. “ And you know, you know, you know, it’s ‘cause you’re beautiful, you say you’re numb inside, but I can’t agree. So the world’s unfair, keep it locked out there. In here it’s beautiful. Let’s make this beautiful…” She leans down to kiss Sterling hard on the lips as Jamie Muscato’s JD gives his enthusiastic consent to what’s about to happen--which in the context of the musical is a lot more than April is willing to do just yet, but a little grinding never hurt anyone, right? Well, except for that one time with Luke, but that hurt was more psychological than anything.

“Whoa,” Sterling says quietly when April rolls her hips into hers experimentally. It feels much better doing this with her than with poor Natalie the Narwhal. 

April smiles at getting the seal of approval and leans down to kiss Sterling with her mouth slightly ajar, just wanting to melt into her. That is until she hears the telltale sound of the Mercedes’ tires crunching on the gravel driveway.

“What’s wrong? Is this too much?” Sterling asks, concerned when April suddenly pulls away.

April shakes her head, as even in her panicked state, she knows she was very much enjoying what she and Sterling were doing. “No, my parents are home,” April corrects her and is quick to scramble off of the bed and over to her bedroom window, where she watches as her parents bicker upon exiting the car.

“Oh, fudge frick,” Sterling says, turning white as a ghost. “What are we gonna do? Your parents can’t know I’m here.”

“Yes, thank you Captain Obvious, I do understand that,” April says sarcastically as she looks around the room for some kind of solution to this problem, but there really doesn’t seem to be one, and she can hear footsteps on the stairs.

“April, you decent in there?” John’s voice calls from down the hall.

Finally, April settles on a solution, as they don’t have the kind of time to think up something better. “Under the bed, now!” she whispers frantically to Sterling, who doesn’t even question it before she’s getting off the bed and dropping to an army crawl to get under the bed. “You can come in, Daddy,” April says in her cheery fake voice as she smooths her bedspread a bit.

“Hey,” John says upon opening the door, looking around like he suspects something. “What’re you up to?”

April shrugs. “Just watching a movie with Bilky,” she says, reaching for her cat, who has left his resting place on her computer chair to come poking his nose at the bed skirt--or, more accurately, at the girl behind it. “What are you and Mama doing home so early?” she asks, picking up Bilko as he is in the middle of tattling on Sterling with a series of kitty wails.

“Projector malfunction in the theater playing the new Clint Eastwood movie. Your mama thought we should just see that Tammy Faye one instead, but that woman’s always given me the heebie-jeebies,” John explains, and April nods, knowing that a biopic about a pro-gays televangelist would most definitely not be her dad’s thing.

“Well, that’s too bad,” she says, struggling with Bilko, who does not want to be held right now, but she can’t trust him to not rat out Sterling.

John nods. “Yeah, but to be perfectly honest, ol’ Eastwood ain’t exactly what he used to be.”

April scoffs at that understatement--the man’s basically 100 and still trying to be an action star. “True story. Well, Daddy, you actually caught me just as I was about to change into my pajamas, so if you don’t mind…” She glances pointedly at the door.

John chuckles. “Sure thing, Padawan. But once you’re changed, if you wanna come on downstairs, we can have our own movie night. I’m feelin’ generous if you wanna watch one of the prequels…” This is perhaps the only time he could make April such an offer and have her not be practically jumping for joy.

“Sounds good, Daddy. I’ll be down in a few minutes,” April agrees, and watches him go and close the door behind him before she can breathe a sigh of relief. “That was way too close,” she says quietly to Sterling, who crawls out from under the bed and glares at Bilko.

“He almost gave us up!” she says accusingly.

“He didn’t exactly mean to, he was just curious about why you were under there,” April says protectively, scratching behind Bilko’s ear and making him purr.

“April, that was not him being curious, that was your cat being a gosh darn narc,” Sterling argues, but April thinks she’s just being ridiculous--a typical dog person.

“Well, whether Bilko had ill intent or not, you need to get out of here. Like, now. Unless you want to explain to my Daddy why you’re over here without his knowledge,” April says, deciding that there is really only one way for Sterling to leave without either of her parents catching her. She goes to the window next to her desk and opens it.

“Oh, no. No, no, no. I am not jumping out a window,” Sterling says, shaking her head adamantly once she puts together what April wants her to do.

“C’mon, Sterl. It’s the only way. And in a way, it’s kind of romantic, right?” April says, trying to sugarcoat this awful situation as best as she can. “Then, window, let day in, and let life out,” she quotes Shakespeare, to which Sterling rolls her eyes. “Oh, come on, that’s such a good Romeo and Juliet quote! It’s so applicable!”

“It’s dangerous is what it is, Claire Danes,” Sterling says defiantly, crossing her arms.

“No, what’s dangerous is you possibly running into my dad on your way out through the front door. Your choice,” April says, and can see the internal conflict on Sterling’s face as she seems to weigh if such an encounter runs as high of a risk of bodily harm as climbing out the window. In all actuality, probably not, but there are worse costs than just physical.

Sterling sighs. “Fine. But just know if I die that I love you,” she says, then makes to head out the window.

“Please be careful, Sterl. Remember what those firefighters taught us in third grade about escaping from a second-story bedroom,” April says as Sterling climbs out onto the roof.

“Refresh my memory, please,” Sterling says, her voice shaking a bit as she looks out at the yard, which even April thinks seems awfully far down.

“Don’t just jump off the roof. Hang from your arms before you let go to minimize the distance between your feet and the ground so you don’t break your legs. Oh, and bend your knees to reduce impact before you land,” April recites the lesson taught to them before they all had to climb out the single-story window of one of those fire simulator trailers.

“Helpful,” Sterling says, and April can’t tell if that’s her being genuine, or sarcasm. Possibly both. “Can I at least get a kiss for good luck?” she asks, turning back and pointing at her lips.

April rolls her eyes and takes Sterling’s face in her hands, leaning out the window to give her one long kiss--as if Sterling even had to ask. All jokes aside, this whole thing really is very romantic--but maybe that’s just the daredevil in her, who finds it just as exhilarating as it is terrifying that they could be caught by her father at any moment. Those suicidal heterosexual Italians have nothing on her and Sterling.

“Now please don’t die,” April says once they’ve broken apart.

“I’ll try,” Sterling agrees, and with that, she steps carefully to the edge of the roof, where she grabs the gutter and tries to slowly lower herself into a hanging position, but she is only hanging by one hand when she loses her grip and falls.

April gasps and whispers frantically, “Sterl?! Sterling, are you okay?”

“All good,” Sterling replies, sounding like she’s talking through gritted teeth. “Your mom’s rose bushes broke my fall.”

“Are the bushes okay?” April asks, knowing her mom won’t react well to something destroying those.

“They’ll recover,” Sterling says, voice strained. “Only a few of their thorns are stuck in my butt.”

April covers her mouth so Sterling can’t hear her laugh. “Well, assuming you don’t have internal bleeding, I’ll see you at school tomorrow?”

“Yep. Sounds good,” Sterling agrees, and with that, April can hear her crawl out of the bushes before she’s darting across the lawn, activating the floodlights as she goes.

“What in the fuck?!” John yells from downstairs. “Mary, get my gun! I think there was a gotdamn raccoon on the roof!”

December 13, 2021 - Sterling

“Run it again, from the top!” Sterling says into a megaphone (that April was kind enough to give to her for their 10 month anniversary). Is it necessary, given the fact that the school’s theater isn’t that big and everyone can hear her just fine if she shouts? Absolutely not. But it’s cool and makes Sterling feel powerful in the presence of all these dorky theater kids.

“You know, I know I said that Jesus Christ Superstar was my magnum opus as a director, but I think this show is gonna be something really special. I can feel it, Sterling,” Ellen says, practically buzzing with excitement beside Sterling as the opening notes of the show’s opening number start to play for the tenth time tonight.

April enters from stage right in her blue dress, carrying a wicker basket. “Little town, it’s a quiet village. Every day like the one before. Little town full of little people. Waking up to say…”

“Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour, bonjour bonjour!” The ensemble jumps in as April follows her choreography to a tee as she makes her way through the facade of the French village.

Even from here, Sterling can see the pure joy practically radiating off of her girlfriend, who’s just glad to be playing this part. But really, who doesn’t want to be a Disney Princess?

“She really is something, isn’t she?” Ellen comments, looking from April to Sterling, who recognizes that she’s probably watching the stage with heart eyes right now. “She’s gonna break a lot of boys’ hearts in that UGA theater program.”

Sterling chuckles, not doubting that at all. “You’ve got that right,” she agrees, still not fully understanding why April isn’t just going to major in theater instead of law at UGA. Obviously, she’s smart enough to do whatever she sets her mind to, but if anyone could actually do something useful with a theater degree, it would be April Stevens. And if not...well, Sterling would gladly be her lawyer sugar mama. She’s starting to realize that she doesn’t really care what her and April’s future life together looks like, just that it is together.

“Right from the moment that I met her, saw her, I said, ‘she’s gorgeous’ and I fell. Here in town, there’s only she, who is beautiful as me. So I’m making plans to woo and marry Belle,” the actor playing Gaston--a very large sophomore--sings while Belle is supposed to not be noticing him at all, but Sterling can see April’s very real look of disgust from behind the pages of the book she’s pretending to read. It’s a good thing that Luke chose not to audition for the musical this year, or Sterling can imagine that it would have been far worse.

The rest of the scene goes off (mostly) without a hitch, with Sterling making a note to herself that Lorna and the other ‘silly girls’ (see: French prostitutes) need to work on their vocal harmonizing, but otherwise, that scene is ready for opening night. The rest of her notes are intended for the show’s leading lady, and she intends to give those personally as she leaves her place in the theater to go find April backstage.

“Uh oh, notes time,” Ezekiel says when Sterling enters the green room, and he flips a switch on his candle hat to light it up.

“April, I just have some for you this time,” Sterling says, gesturing with her notebook and trying to sound as professional as possible.

April crosses her arms and looks annoyed at Sterling, but Sterling can see her slight smirk as she says, “What could you possibly tell me? It’s not like you would even know art if it smacked you upside the head.”

Sterling rolls her eyes at the melodramatics that April insists on. She’s pretty sure at least Ezekiel has put two and two together when it comes to them. “Now, please.”

April stomps behind Sterling as she follows her out of the green room and back to the wings of the stage, which are and will remain empty until Ellen assembles the cast to run the next scene. When the door swings shut behind her, April’s demeanor shifts entirely. “So, Miss Assistant Director. What are these notes you have for me?” she asks coyly, stepping closer to Sterling to take her hand and rub the back of it with her thumb. It’s a game they’ve been playing since rehearsals began at the start of the year, and Sterling can tell that April gets a sick level of pleasure from it.

“You were...uh...a little flat?” Sterling says, knowing that it’s a straight-up lie.

April rolls her eyes. “I was not, and if you could actually read music, you would know that,” she says as she crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow. “You seem to be scraping the barrel for a reason to criticize me. May I ask why, Miss Wesley?”

“Because when someone is as perfect as you, you need to stay humble,” Sterling says with every word positively dripping with charm in their genuineness.

“Flattery will get you absolutely everywhere,” April says, and then the dam breaks and she’s pulling Sterling in for a hard and fast kiss. With all of their senior year extracurriculars, it’s been hard for them to find much time for each other outside of these Moulin Rouge-y backstage meetings, so they have to make the most of them. “Okay, but seriously, how was I?” April asks, out of breath when they part for air.

“You were amazing. But you could stand to project just a bit more during the spoken parts, and I would like a little more physical comedy from you when Gaston’s trying to make a move. You’re disgusted by him, so act like it,” Sterling says, and rather than seeming offended, April smirks.

“Have I told you that it’s very sexy when you’re so competent?” she says, biting her lip and practically daring Sterling to kiss her again.

Sterling rolls her eyes. “You’re such a weirdo,” she says, finding it completely endearing, nevertheless.

“Oh, I absolutely am. But I’m a weirdo who very much appreciates your honesty,” April admits. “But I saw you and Ellen having a chat. What was she saying?”

Sterling figures that with April’s ego already the size of Jupiter, there’s no harm in telling her exactly what Ellen said. “Ellen thinks you’re going to absolutely kill it doing productions of shows in college.”

April rolls her eyes. “As if I’ll have time for that when we’re taking our prerequisites. And besides, it just wouldn’t be the same without having an assistant director whose casting couch I would gladly grace for a lead role…” she says suggestively.

Sterling shakes her head. “You know that’s not why you got the lead role,” she says, not liking to even be jokingly put in the same category as such corrupt individuals.

“Oh, of course not. I got it because I’m a brilliant actress and I look amazing in a ballgown,” April says without a hint of irony. “Seriously, it really sucks that I couldn’t take you as my escort to the debutante ball last month.”

“I’m sure that would have caused quite a stir,” Sterling says, though, after almost a whole year of being together, she can’t say she dislikes the thought of it. Not being able to take April to the Sadie Hawkins dance was one thing. Not being able to be with April on her 18th birthday was another. More than anything in the world, she just wants people to know that this amazing girl is hers, but at this rate, they’ll be well off to college before that can happen, as Blair keeps reminding her.

“Sterl, you know I love you and that I do so desperately want people to know about us. I’m just...I’m scared,” April admits, seeming to be on the verge of crying at the mention of what they just can’t have as a couple. “You still want to be with me though, right?”

“No April, I’m just staying with you because it’s in bad taste to dump someone during Hell Week,” Sterling says sarcastically and rolls her eyes. “Of course I still want to be with you. I love you, and what I said to you before wasn’t a lie. I will wait for you forever.”

“Well, forever is a strong word, and I don’t think I want to make you wait that long. But soon, okay?” April promises and Sterling knows that, unlike last year, when April had so reluctantly agreed to sleep side-by-side at the lock-in, she means it.

April 8th, 2022 - April

Promposals are tacky. Or at least, that’s what April has generally always found to be the case, and that isn’t because she’s the kind of girl who, for practical reasons, has never really wanted to be on the receiving end of one. But Sterling Wesley, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of girl who wouldn’t outright say that she expects one (how could she, when her very closeted and cowardly girlfriend would surely never come up with one), but has definitely fantasized about it. This has left them at an impasse that has forced April to reconsider some things.

Yes, she is still technically living at home with her hateful and bigoted father, and the plan was always to just quietly come out to everyone else once she’s no longer living with him. But plans change and people have to adapt to the circumstances that they find themselves in. So for April, that means that she just might have to carefully adapt her plans to meet the moment. Because sure, in the grand scheme of things, prom is meaningless, but in the grand scheme of April’s life up to now, it is everything, and in her shiny new life plan, it is a keystone.

April has spent nearly a year and a half with Sterling, and in that time, they have gotten close to having sex precisely three times (or three and a half, by Sterling’s estimate). The first one was the Kacey Musgraves incident in Sterling’s car, the second was the time April let Sterling touch her boobs during a sleepover makeout session that inadvertently led to them having to come out to Debbie and Anderson a bit earlier than they’d planned, and the third was in the costume room under the stage on closing night of Beauty and the Beast. And the half was a time that Sterling got unbearably turned on last year while the two of them worked on their final project for Señora O’Reilly’s class--the girl really likes the implications of how well April can roll her Rs, apparently. Those three times, of which two have occurred within the last four months, have illuminated something for April, which is that she doesn’t fear the idea of having sex. In fact, she is quite excited by the idea of breaking her bullshit vow to her dad to ‘keep her virginity sacred until her wedding night’ (barf).

But the loss of one’s virginity is a milestone event, and April doesn’t want it to happen in a car, as a quickie in her girlfriend’s bed, during a spontaneous rendezvous on some boxes of character shoes, or as a result of her superior language skills filling her girlfriend with an overwhelming feeling of lust. She wants it to be special and memorable in every way, so why not prom night? It’s a cliche, sure, but so are promposals, and Sterling is sure to love this one.

“Can I count on your vote for Prom Queen 2022?” April asks, approaching Sterling at her locker after the last bell as she holds out a $10 Chick-Fil-A gift card.

Sterling chuckles and accepts the card. “You do know that I’m nominated too, right?” she asks incredulously.

“And you just plan on voting for yourself? How tacky,” April says jokingly, looking off, but sees Sterling shake her head out of the corner of her eye.

“As if you don’t plan on voting for yourself,” Sterling replies, and she does have a point there. “But sure, April. I’ll vote for you. It was either you or write-in candidate Taylor Swift.”

April rolls her eyes. She and Sterling have for the most part given up on pretending to hate each other at school, but it’s just so fun sometimes that it’s been a hard habit to break. “Oooh, I’m more important than TSwift herself? You really do love me.”

Sterling looks around to make sure nobody is watching them too closely. “Yes, I really do. But you already know that I think.”

April smiles and bites her lip. She’s known that for almost a year and a half now, actually. “I do know that. But I love hearing you say it.” She leans up against the lockers. “Sooo, any plans for this afternoon?”

Sterling shrugs. “Was thinking about getting takeout and going home to binge-watch that Sexy Beasts show.”

April is...horrified at the level of nonchalance that Sterling managed to maintain while speaking that absolutely cursed sentence. But no matter. “Sounds fun. Mind if I join you? And maybe we can watch Motherland: Fort Salem on Hulu instead? Please?” Give her a misandrist’s wet dream over a furry nightmare any day. 

Sterling rolls her eyes. “Sure. Does Georgia-Mex food work for you, or would you prefer something else?”

“Georgia-Mex is perfect,” April agrees, though she’s never been exactly clear on what distinguishes it from regular Mex...probably that weird peach salsa they put on fish tacos. “Want me to give you a ride?”

“Yeah, Blair’s staying late to study with her chemistry tutor, so sure,” Sterling agrees and grabs her bag from her locker.

April smiles at the fact that her plan is all coming together swimmingly. “Awesome. Then let’s...oh wait, I think I forgot my water bottle in the Fellowship room. Do you mind walking with me while I go get it?”

Sterling looks suspiciously at her, given the obvious throwback to their first almost relationship. “Sure…” she agrees and follows April down the slowly emptying hallway. “So uh, as you’re definitely aware, prom’s coming up, and I know you probably already know what you’re doing, but I was thinking that we could at the very least meet up there, and-” Sterling doesn’t get a chance to finish that sentence as she follows April into the Fellowship room and is met with a song from the very gay musical The Prom, as well as a very large and glittery banner that reads, ‘Sterling, Will You Go to Prom With Me?’

“But if you just want to meet up there, I guess that’s okay too,” April says finally in response to Sterling’s earlier suggestion, but she has a feeling that it’s no longer on the table after this.

“...You actually want to go to prom? Together? Like, together together? Where people can see?” Sterling asks in disbelief.

April nods, though being reminded of the giant decision that this is makes her feel the butterflies in her stomach. “This is my last chance to really show off to everyone how much I love you before we graduate, Sterl. So if you agree, I would really like for you to be my date to the prom. I’m not saying we need to go shouting it from the rooftops or anything like that, but maybe we can just go together and let people think what they want to think about us?”

“What about your dad?” Sterling asks. “Aren’t you worried about him finding out?”

April has definitely considered that. “He’s not nearly as tapped into the gossip pipeline as my mother is, and she wouldn’t dare tell him if she heard. At least not until you and I are safely off to UGA.” She is surprised at her own level of confidence, as she isn’t actually certain if her dad will find out or not, but at the very least, she’s too old to be forced to go to conversion therapy now that she’s a legal adult.

“April...this is such a big step,” Sterling says, as if trying to make April see the magnitude of the decision she’s making by just asking her girlfriend to one silly dance, but she already knows.

“It’s a step that I am choosing to take with you,” April says with absolute certainty.

“Wow, okay…” she whispers to herself in disbelief.

“So I’ll ask again. Sterling Wesley, will you go to prom with me?” April asks, and with an extra flair for the dramatic, gets down on one knee and produces two tickets to the event from her pocket, which she went to the trouble of purchasing this morning. Something told her that Sterling wouldn’t be likely to say any of what she is proposing.

Sterling grins like the Cheshire cat. “Yes, April Stevens. I will go to prom with you.”