It all starts because of this asshole named Larry.
In her twenty-nine years on this planet, Sterling Wesley has been raised to not call people names, but sometimes there are guys like Larry who basically demand to be labeled an asshole. And honestly, who is even named Larry anymore, who isn’t, like, a sixty-year-old grandfather?
The Larry in question, decidedly not a grandfather, does God knows what related to finance at the clinic where Sterling just started working last week. Whatever he does, specifics still unclear, it allows him to look over the shoulders of very nice and well-meaning counselors who just started and really do not have the time for this behavior.
Larry, with his clearly expensive watch and gelled hair, happens to follow Sterling out of work on Friday evening all the way to this specific coffee shop a few blocks down from the clinic, and has the audacity to pretend that the whole thing isn’t bordering on pathetic.
“Hey, since we’re both here, can I buy you something?” he asks, as he stands behind her in line, hovering in a way that makes Sterling’s skin crawl.
“I’m actually meeting someone,” Sterling says, which isn’t even a lie. She is meeting someone, someone she’s been looking forward to meeting for a very long time at this point, since long before she found out they were in the same city for the first time in years.
“Who’s the lucky guy?” Larry presses.
“Lucky guy or girl,” Sterling gently corrects. Not that Larry deserves the gentleness, but Sterling is a polite young woman, god damn it.
“What do you mean?” Larry asks.
Sterling stares at him. It’s the 21st century, they live in freaking California, they are currently standing in line at a Los Feliz coffee shop that has one of those cheesy all are welcome here signs that Sterling secretly loves, bisexuality should not be a foreign concept to this dude.
Sometimes Sterling wishes she was her sister, who would just fully ignore this guy as opposed to attempting to explain her sexuality to some loser who does not deserve to know the first thing about her. But Sterling is not her sister, and she’s had a pretty good day so far, excitement for her new job and today’s meetup powering her forward, so she takes pity on poor Larry.
“I mean, this hypothetical lucky person I’m hypothetically dating could hypothetically be of any gender.”
“Okay okay.” Larry holds both his hands up, defensively, like Sterling is the one who is being weirdly aggressive. “But they’re hypothetical, right? Like if some good-looking guy was standing right next to you, he would still have a chance, right?”
One of his hands hovers over her lower back. Gross. Gross gross gross. She steps to the side, about to let him down more easily than he deserves, when she hears a crisp voice from behind her that she would recognize anywhere.
“Not to be terribly cliché,” the familiar melodic tone of April Stevens’ voice says, “but is this guy bothering you?”
Sterling turns to face her, an acute combination of relief and anticipation and finally rising in her chest. She feels a huge grin break out over her face and she’s powerless to stop it as she takes in April for the first time in years.
The thing is, she looks fucking great. Of course she does. She’s clearly just come from work which means she’s clad in a full blown suit, which she wears with a distinct confidence that Sterling still recognizes from when they were young. She’s smiling a smug little grin that Sterling definitely recognizes from when they were young.
“Hey,” Sterling breathes, brain not quite at the full sentences phase yet, mostly stuck on the few buttons that are undone on April’s collar, on how over ten years has made her jawline more pronounced, on the way her neck and cheeks are slightly pink from the warmth of the spring late afternoon.
“I’m not bothering her,” Larry interjects. Sterling had fully forgotten he was here. “Just gauging whether she’s available.”
April turns to Sterling, lifting her eyebrows slightly. Sterling knows the look; she recognizes it as a side effect of existing as a woman for a couple decades, having to deal with the Larrys of the world. She tries to telegraph an equally familiar look, a sort of, please God get this creep away from me.
April turns back to Larry, a glare painting her features that Sterling innately knows from being at the receiving end of it many times in her adolescence.
“Hate to break it to you, buster,” she says, and then, to Sterling’s utter surprise, her hand snakes around Sterling’s waist, “but she’s unavailable.”
Sterling, who is having a bit of a moment with abrupt physical contact from the girl who was fully her sexual awakening over a decade ago, manages to give Larry a tight lipped smile and wave.
“Aw, no way,” Larry says, and Sterling can’t tell if he’s doubting the validity of this entirely non-existent relationship, or lamenting his own bad luck. She also fully doesn't care, not with April’s arm still firmly around her.
“Come on, sweetheart,” April says smugly, “let’s order.”
Sterling, because she’s pretty sure God has handed her the most surreal way to see her ex (Ex? Former friend? Former enemy?) for the first time in eleven years, decides to lean in. So she literally leans in, and presses a quick kiss to April’s cheek.
“Sure thing, babe,” she says cheerily, smiling at the way Larry recedes, but mostly at the way April’s slight flush darkens at the contact.
Once they are settled with their coffees (April has gone with an efficient simple black cold brew, while Sterling holds a honey lavender latte because she thought it looked fun), and Larry has thankfully vacated the premises, April levels a stare at Sterling across the table, half of her mouth rising in a grin.
Sterling laughs loudly.
“Hey, you started it!”
“It seemed like a dire situation.”
“Oh it was, trust me. Thank you, by the way.”
“Please, it was my pleasure. Nothing like the satisfaction of putting a substandard male in his place.”
“Amen,” Sterling says. She’s aware she is smiling stupidly large, and hasn’t stopped since she first saw April.
“I suppose it’s a dynamic way to see someone for the first time, in what, ten years?”
“Eleven,” Sterling corrects before she can help herself, “but, you know, who's counting?”
It’s not like Sterling is doing anything so absurd as counting the years. She’s just noticed things. Like, even though they weren’t talking at the time, she couldn’t not be aware of how April went immediately AWOL after graduation. And social media basically makes it impossible not to see what former classmates that you used to make out with for a few glorious days and helped you figure out your own sexuality before abruptly giving you the silent treatment are up to. So she had just happened to notice April all the way through Yale undergrad, then Columbia law, observing how she never came home for school breaks, just lived out her Ivy League dreams, noticed how right before her first year of law school, April had posted pictures from New York Pride, and it had made a different kind of pride rise in Sterling’s chest, even if she hadn’t seen April in years. But there she was in her feed, degrees and accolades and at one point a girlfriend, before a post-grad stint in DC, and then, a couple years ago, landing in sunny Los Angeles of all places.
So when Sterling started this job, it almost would have been weird not to hit up the only other person she knew in this city and ask her for coffee.
And here they are, eleven years, one sweetheart, one babe, and two comically different beverages in between them, like a lifetime has passed, but also with an innate sense of ease of people between who have known each other since before their brains were fully formed.
“So,” April says, still grinning, “are you actually dating anyone? Did I accidentally piss off some significant other with that stunt?”
Sterling shakes her head a little too quickly. “Nope, not at all. No one except Lare bear over there.”
April wrinkles her nose. “Do you actually know that guy?”
“He works with me, doing God knows what, so unfortunately, I have to interact with him.”
“The things we have to suffer through for a paycheck.”
It’s easy after that, almost shockingly so, Sterling detailing her new job to April, maybe taking the opportunity to brag just a little bit. It is April Stevens, after all. And she is actually really proud of this new job, the way she fell in love with working with kids back in college, the years of schooling and licensing and training before she finally got to be where she is now, finally able to be the person who looks these kids in the eye and lets them know that here is a person who will listen to them, who will be on their side.
“It’s so gratifying, you know,” she says, “to be able to use all the shit with my family as a way to connect to these kids.”
April’s brow furrows. “The shit with your family?”
“Oh man, we really didn’t talk senior year, did we?”
April looks down at her hands. It’s the first time this whole conversation started where she hasn’t exuded a thick layer of confidence. She fiddles with the wrapper of her straw, an action that Sterling doesn't need six years of formal education on behaviors to know is a sure sign of nerves.
“I made absolute sure of that,” April says slowly, “I was - I used to very much excel at cutting people off, Sterling, and I’m sorry for -”
“Please don’t be sorry,” Sterling interrupts, “I mean, thank you, but I’m pretty sure I need to apologize, like, a thousand percent more than you. I basically tried to force you out of the closet for a second there, which one gender studies class and, like, three seconds of existing as queer person in the world made me realize was extremely not chill, not to mention everything with your dad, so I’m the one-”
“Sterling,” April interjects, a hint of her smile coming back. “You know I didn’t meet you here just to make you grovel for something I forgave you for years ago.”
Sterling starts, kind of in shock at how easy the word forgave rolled off April’s tongue, how years of anxiety and regret can be so easily shaken off with one sentence and an easy smile. From April Stevens of all people.
“Why did you meet me here, then?” Sterling asks, trying to be casual, but very aware of a quiver of hope in her voice.
“Well,” April says, leaning forward, as if she’s about to share a secret. Sterling feels herself leaning forward to meet her, still someone drawn to this girl like a magnet after all these years. “Someone had to scare off dear old Larry, didn’t they?”
Sterling laughs at that, still very much in awe at the painlessness of this conversation. April grins back and it’s radiant, just how it was on the rare occasions April would gift Sterling with an unabashed look at her joy so many years ago.
April clears her throat and Sterling realizes she has one hundred percent been staring. Old habits.
“So, all that aside, if you don’t mind me asking,” April asks, “what was the shit with your family?”
“Oh yeah, of course. So my mom was my aunt and my aunt was my mom I was never technically a twin and it took a few years of therapy and one very tense family road trip for me to come to terms with it, but now I try to work with kids, mostly teenagers, who have been in similarly weird situations to sort of push this idea that family is what you make of it and we can’t internalize all these societal constructs about who gets to be the perfect American family, you know?”
She sucks in a deep breath after it all kind of came out of her. She looks to see April staring at her with an expression that Sterling would optimistically call one of admiration.
“Wow,” April says after a few moments. “I’m impressed. Also kind of confused about the specifics. But mostly impressed.”
Sterling laughs. It’s gotten easier to tell over the years; she’s told this story so many times at school, work, therapy, but still, telling someone who grew up knowing her family feels different. Especially when that someone is April Stevens, whose approval apparently still does something visceral to Sterling even after all these years. Who knew?
They stay at the coffee shop until it closes. Apparently three hours doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of eleven years. It’s intoxicating, talking to this new April, who has all the fire and drive of the April Sterling knew, but none of the doubt, no parts of her kept hidden. This April works in immigration law mostly to make a difference but also to heavily piss off her parents, and very casually cites specific legislation that Sterling has never heard of and also equally casually mentions an ex-girlfriend, easily refers to herself as queer in public, such a stark difference from their last real conversations that Sterling almost gets whiplash. But, like, the best kind of whiplash.
The sun has basically set by the time they step outside but it’s still warm, the spring air soft on Sterling’s cheeks.
“Where did you park?” April asks.
“Oh, I don’t have a car,” Sterling says, “I live like, a fifteen minute walk from where I work, so, I’m all good.”
“You live in Los Angeles and you don’t have a car?”
“Oh my God, why is that everyone’s reaction? It’s good for the environment.”
April crosses her arms, a spark forming in her eyes. It’s so familiar that Sterling has to actively stop a goofy grin from forming on her face at the idea that even post-law school, April Stevens is going to put all her effort into a debate about something mundane.
“Theoretically, you’re correct, of course. But if three years of living in the city has taught me anything, it’s that theoretics do not apply to this situation. The infrastructure of Los Angeles is meant to be a driving city. In fact, some could say, the institutions of this city have no intent to make it walkable, and the lack of accessible transit upholds the economic disparity that benefits the city council donors, thus there is no real force making LA accessible except by car.”
April stops, takes a breath, before turning to Sterling, who has fully stopped trying to control said goofy grin and lets it break out on her face.
“Why are you smiling? I’m detailing systemic faults with the city you just moved to.”
“I’ve really missed you, April.”
This causes April to shift a little, and it’s hard to tell in the fading light, but Sterling is pretty sure some color rises on her cheeks.
“I missed you, too,” she says softly, and Sterling has to actively stop herself from letting out a cheer.
“Let’s wait a little less than eleven years before hanging out next?”
April laughs. “If you insist.”
So if Sterling has a spring in her step all the way back to her apartment, who can blame her?
Over the next few days, Sterling is so caught up in the exquisite combination April presents of newness and familiarity, that she barely thinks back to how their whole conversation even started until she walks into work on Monday.
Carol, the very nice but also very loud middle-aged woman who works reception, gives Sterling an up and down when she comes in. Sterling wonders if she has something on her face.
“Sooo,” Carol drawls in her rich southern accent that makes Sterling just a touch homesick, “I’ve heard you have a special someone you’ve been holding out on us?”
“Huh?” Sterling says, eloquently.
“Oh, don’t play dumb, doll, Larry told me all about your cute little girlfriend.”
Of course he did. This is absolutely not what Sterling needs to start her second week of a new job. She laughs, trying to appear breezy and professional.
“Funny story, it was actually a huge misunder-”
“You should bring her to the fundraiser next month!” Carol barrels on, “Oh, it would be so lovely.”
“Carol, she’s not -”
“Sterling, we have group in 20 minutes,” her boss’ voice calls from down the hallway and Sterling is definitely not trying to be caught gossiping about a relationship that does not exist by her direct superior, so she quickly makes her exit, noting to herself to clear all of this up with Carol later.
Later, apparently, is far too hopeful of a concept.
“Heard you got a sweet little side piece,” Caleb, one of the interns says with a grin at lunch.
“Ew, Caleb, do not use that language,” Rosa, another intern, who Sterling has kind of chosen as her favorite due to her endless enthusiasm, says, before turning to Sterling, “but tell me all about her, oh my god!”
Sterling rethinks her choice of favorite intern.
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” she insists. “It was all because of-”
Then, because Sterling's luck is apparently laughing at her today, Larry himself walks into the breakroom and heads right over to their table.
“Kidding!” Sterling says, remarkably high pitched, and before she knows what’s happening, Larry is within earshot and Sterling is not going to let that asshole know anything. “So, uh, her name is April, she’s so great, she’s actually a lawyer and we, um, recently reconnected after high school.”
None of that is actually a lie, she tells herself, but still, a little bubble of anxiety settles in her gut.
“Stop, you were childhood sweethearts!?” Rosa coos.
Sterling almost laughs.
“That’s one way of putting it.”
By the end of the day, Sterling is exhausted. Not the normal working-with-teenagers-who-have-experienced-trauma exhausted, but a new weird kind that involves telling a bunch of mostly nice people and also Larry that she is fully dating someone who she had her first conversation with in eleven years three days ago.
She texts April as soon as she gets off, okay so a wild thing happened at work today.
She gets a little thrill when April almost immediately texts back. With the teens? Do tell.
Not the teens it was actually - it’s honestly gonna be a lot for over text.
She’s about to bite the bullet and hit the call button when a new text comes through.
Do you want to come over? I need a break from this case I’m working anyway.
Yes!!!! Sterling immediately replies, cringing at the number of exclamation points for a second but then shrugging it off. This girl has known her since she used a sparkly gel pen on homework assignments, what’s a few exclamation points between friends?
(Friends? Does one very good conversation after over a decade of not talking after making out three times after being academic rivals after being close childhood friends fall into that definition?)
Sterling doesn't have too much time to overthink it, because an address is coming through and Sterling is hopping on the metro to the nice part of DTLA where April lives.
Can you manage it in your car-less state? April texts, and Sterling can almost hear the tease in April’s words.
Very funny. I think I’ll survive.
In her excitement, she almost forgets the whole reason she even needs to talk to April in the first place, until it hits her outside of April's Apartment. Right.
“All of my coworkers totally think we’re dating now, I’m so sorry,” she blurts out before April can even fully open the door.
April just blinks at her for a second. She’s got her hair piled up in a bun on her head, clad in Yale sweatpants and a Columbia sweatshirt. Because of course, even dressed down, April is the most accomplished person Sterling has ever met.
“Are you, like, dropping hints you went to an Ivy League school?” Sterling says with a laugh.
“Why do all of your coworkers totally think we’re dating?” April counters. She looks like she’s biting back a grin. “Also, feel free to come in.”
Sterling steps over the threshold, which feels significant somehow. April’s apartment is nice, all hardwood floors and new appliances, but it also feels lived-in, golden hour sunlight highlighting a very comfortable looking couch, a spread of what Sterling assumes are legal papers on her coffee table, tasteful but not too pretentious art on the wall.
“Nice place,” she says.
“Thanks. So why do your coworkers think we’re dating?”
“Right. So you remember our pal Larry?”
“How could I forget?”
“So apparently he opened his stupid Larry mouth to like, the biggest gossip in the whole place and now everyone thinks we’re dating and I tried not to stoke the fires or whatever, but I also super don’t want that guy to start hitting on me again or for it to come out that we lied the other day so I kind of just panicked and confirmed and I’m so sorry, I do not need to drag you into this after like, our first time talking in over ten years but -”
“Take a breath.”
Sterling does, which helps.
“Do you want to sit?”
“Yeah, that would be nice.”
So Sterling sits on the couch, which is just as comfortable as it looks, as April goes to get her a glass of water. Which is honestly so nice, probably nicer than Sterling deserves for lying about this whole thing.
“Can I be honest?” April asks when she comes back with the water, still looking like she’s trying to not smile too big.
“This is all quite hilarious.”
Sterling breathes out a sigh of relief. “You think so?”
April lets part of the laugh come through.
“I mean, before this week, the last real conversation we had was when we were sixteen and you wanted to stop lying that we weren’t together, and now here you are, lying that we are together.”
Sterling blinks for a second. It shouldn’t be funny, is the thing. Said last conversation had broken her young heart in a way that felt irreparable at the time, an aching wound that had to get worse before it got better, especially with the hindsight of realizing the impossibility of what she was asking April to do. But somehow, a decade in the rearview mirror, current circumstances being what they are, Sterling starts laughing.
Then April’s laughing too, and it’s as warm as the sunlight hitting the couch, and something about being here, in this space, with this person, makes all of Sterling’s anxiety about the situation just disappear.
“So you don’t mind?” she asks when she gets her breath back.
“Tell them we’re married with five kids for all I care, if it keeps cretins like that off your back.”
“Five kids!” Sterling mock gasps, “I draw the line at two. Maybe twins.”
“Oh, you do not get to let your weird twin bias affect our fake children.”
“I just want our fake children to have a built-in best friend!”
“Well, I don’t want our fake children to just be God awfully annoying all throughout school.”
“Hey, we weren’t that bad!”
April levels her with a look.
“Okay, okay, I can see how we were maybe kind of annoying.”
“I’ll take that as a concession, thank you very much.”
“Hey,” she says on a whim, riding the high of their familiar back and forth, “there’s this big fundraiser for work next month that everyone now assumes I will be taking you to, and I don’t really have that many friends in LA yet, so do you want to maybe come with? You don’t have to, obviously, and if it’s too weird that people will think we’re together, that’s totally fine, but you know, it would be fun. To have you there.”
“Sure,” April says easily, like it’s such a small thing, “though I find it societally flawed that there have to be fundraisers to provide mental health services to teenagers, I’d be happy to go. We have to keep this ruse up somehow.”
“Cool,” Sterling breathes, and she knows she didn’t actually ask April out, it was more just a hang as friends who other people think are dating, but her saying yes feels like something big. Until she’s struck by - “wait there isn’t - I mean if you - if someone actually asks you out, I don’t want you to have to say no just because of this situation with my coworkers.”
April scoffs. “Please. Women aren’t exactly lining up for this.” She gestures to her clothes, the disarray of her apartment. “Look at me.”
“I am,” Sterling says seriously, unable to help herself.
She sees a bit of a blush rise on April’s neck, and is maybe a bit too satisfied that she can still affect her a little bit.
“Anyway,” April says, clearing her throat. “You really don’t have to worry about that. Married to the job, or whatever the cliché is.”
“But can you have adorable fake twins with your job? I don’t think so.”
“We never agreed on twins.”
Sterling ends up staying longer than she thought she would, their conversation turning into getting take out, April of course having an itemized spreadsheet of restaurants organized by type of food, distance and price point.
“This is deranged,” Sterling tells her.
“It’s sensible!” April says.
“Nice to know that some things don’t change in ten years.”
“Eleven years,” April corrects.
“I knew you remembered,” Sterling says, nudging April’s shoulder with her own.
“It’s not my fault I have a perfect memory.”
It turns out April doesn't fully live alone; she has a beautiful black cat with white paws who comes out as soon as their food arrives.
“Look who decided to show her face because she’s hungry,” April honest-to-God coos at it and Sterling has to actively stop herself from melting a little.
April picks up the cat, and Sterling is struck by a memory of when they couldn’t have been more than ten, April’s tiny child body lifting the giant mass of Sergeant Bilko like he was weightless.
“You always were a cat person,” Sterling says now, “hey, whatever happened to Sergeant…” Then the math catches up to her. “Oh, no he’s gotta be -"
“Just a couple months after I went to college,” April says, a tinge of sadness in her voice.
“Oh man, April, I’m so sorry.”
April laughs a little, hand stroking under her cat’s chin.
“It was years ago, he was very old, but still… I always thought it was funny in a way. That cat survived almost 20 years, but two months living alone with my mother and he couldn’t do it.”
Sterling raises her eyebrows.
“Maybe not ha-ha funny,” April clarifies.
Sterling hasn’t brought up anything about April’s family yet, and the dark bite of her tone suggests that her relationship with her mother is... not great. Sterling doesn’t to press for more, though. It’s kind of like at work, when one of the kids says something about their home life, if Sterling jumps in too soon, they’ll immediately close up. So she doesn’t say anything, just reaches out for the cat to sniff her hand.
“Anyway,” April says quickly, “I have Faith now.”
“Oh, no,” April laughs, gestures at the cat. “This is Faith.”
Sterling tries not to let it show on her face, and she knows they were both deeply religious growing up, but a cat named Faith is just a bit much. Something about if must be visible though because April hastily clarifies.
“Oh god, not in like, a Jesus-y way, I’m not that basic.”
Sterling laughs. “Thank god.”
“It’s actually - she's named after - it's kind of a long story."
Sterling shrugs. "I have nowhere to be."
April smiles a small little smile at that, before launching into it.
"So my roommate freshman year at Yale was this girl named Clara from The Bay Area, and all she would do during those first couple months of college was FaceTime her girlfriend and watch old TV shows. God, I hated her at first. I think at the time, I was just so mad about how lazy she seemed, how easy it was for her to be so gay, so open about it. But then, one day, I got caught up in watching this episode of Buffy over her shoulder and she kind of laughed at me and was like, ‘I’ve never seen a straight person be so into this show,’ and so then, mostly just to prove her wrong, I looked her dead in the eyes and said, ‘I’m not straight.’
“She was the first person I told at college. The first person I told at all besides you and Ezekiel, and I thought she would be weird about it, smug or something, this girl who had been out since she was thirteen and had this perfect, accepting family, but she just… listened. And then forced me to watch an absurd amount of TV with her, that apparently my upbringing caused me to miss out on. Anyway, most of it was garbage, but I did have a soft spot for Buffy . My favorite character was named Faith, she had this rage to her that was troublingly relatable when I was 18, also she was just… extremely hot.”
“So you named your cat after her,” Sterling says with a little laugh.
“Exactly,” April says, kissing Faith on the head before and taking her to the kitchen, “let’s get you your dinner, okay, sweetheart?”
And Sterling has to try really hard to not be jealous of a cat. She thinks about April, that first year of college, letting herself confide in this girl, and the Sterling has to try really hard to not be jealous of some stranger, for getting young April to open up like that.
“Are you still friends?” Sterling asks.
“Me and Faith?” April grins. “When she’s not yelling at me to feed her, absolutely.”
“You and Clara.”
“Right. Very much so. She ended up inviting me to her house that first Christmas break. I was so freaked out about going home, about having to deal with my parents. My dad was back out again at that point, and I had this kind of a panic attack. So Clara invited me to her parents’ place in Oakland, and it was just so easy. I mean, her girlfriend, well, wife now, was just there at Christmas, she had her own stocking and everything. It all felt so monumental to me at that age. And that, compared with what was waiting for me back in Atlanta… it made me realize there was this whole world out there that wasn’t with my parents. And there was no need to force myself to be with them.”
April sits back down on the couch, looking down at her hands.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to unload all that-”
“No, no,” Sterling says, too quickly, “feel free to unload. I want you know that - I mean, I’m sorry - I should have - I knew your firsthand how much your parents sucked, but I wasn’t - I should have been there for you, even if we weren’t-”
“Sterling.” April’s hand covers Sterling’s own, soft and warm. “You really don’t have to keep apologizing. Besides, I wouldn’t have - I wasn’t at the point back then to accept help from anyone, least of all you.”
“I know - I’m just - I’m still sorry.”
“Of course you are,” April says fondly, thumb stroking over the back of Sterling’s hand, a faint smile covering her features, the fading sunlight through the windows coloring her cheeks.
Sterling is suddenly struck by the unreasonable urge to kiss her. It’s a less feral urge than when she was sixteen, but it makes her heart beat just a little bit faster, imagining leaning forward, pressing her lips to April’s, showing this girl who has been through so much, but come out on the other side, brighter and softer and so full of life, that she deserves nothing but love.
Okay, so maybe Sterling is just as feral as she was when she was sixteen, but just in a different way. At least now, she has the wherewithal to not give into said urge. Also to maybe investigate why this specific person talking about her shitty family still makes Sterling want to kiss her, over a decade later.
“Are you okay?” April asks. “You got like, a faraway look in your eye.”
“Uhh,” Sterling says, at a loss for something to say that’s not, I was thinking about kissing you, or, how can you still do this to me ten years later, and settles on, “you know, I’ve never actually seen Buffy.”
Luckily, that sends April off, detailing how that show apparently stands the test of time, despite some plots not aging well, the guy who created it being bad news, and someone named Xander. Sterling just watches her, the same passion for this TV show from the ‘90s that she used to have about the PSATs or Sunday school.
Sterling is so busy staring that she almost doesn’t notice when April says, “you should come over again and watch it.”
Sterling blinks at her, stunned by the invitation, wondering if she somehow willed it into being.
April must misinterpret Sterling’s silence, because she rushes, “I mean, only if you want to.”
“I want to!” Sterling says, probably far too loudly, “definitely! Yes! Let’s for sure do that.”
“Great.” April says, seeming relieved, and Sterling wants to kiss her again, but she gets it under control.
Later, when it’s fully dark out and April has to finish up her work, Sterling finds herself unable to stop smiling on the train ride home. As soon as she gets above ground again, the spring LA breeze light on her face, she pulls out her phone, desperate to talk to someone about this, about this warm bubbling excitement in her, so she calls who she always calls.
“'Sup,” Blair answers on the first ring, “how’s Hollywood treating you?”
“Okay, you’ll never guess who I just spent all evening with.”
“Okay, so you can guess. How did you guess?”
“Dude, you literally spent four hours on the phone with me last week comparing the perfect causal ‘want to hang’ DM.”
“So I take it the hang went well.”
“Second hang, actually. And it went really well. Like, really really well.”
“So you want her.”
“Blair!” Sterling looks around the street, before lowering her voice. “I mean, full disclosure, yes, duh, but it’s more than that. It’s just she’s - she’s like a super progressive lawyer who has a cat and a takeout spreadsheet and smiles more than she used to and her couch is really comfy-”
“You know that you’re just, like, naming things that people have, not things that make someone attractive.”
“But they make her attractive.”
Blair laughs. “Some things really never change, huh? So when are you making your move?”
“I don’t know,” Sterling says honestly, “I don’t - I don’t want to rush her or scare her away or anything. We’ve literally seen each other twice, I’m not trying to be too aggressive-”
“I think April Stevens invented the concept of being aggressive, but sure.”
“You know what I mean, though. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”
“I know,” Blair says, a little gentler, “but just so you know, and I’m contractually obligated to say this as your sister, she would be the luckiest person in the world to get to be with you, you know that, right?”
And, even though Blair is contractually obligated to say it, it makes Sterling feel a little better about it, hope blooming in her chest that maybe, maybe it’s not just her.
Ok honestly the first few paragraphs of this are just me LUSTING after communal experiences but then we get into the story, oop
Sterling settles into a routine, dare she say a groove, over the next few weeks. There’s something exciting about finding her way around a new city (which she absolutely does not need a car for, thank you very much). She finds a little comedy theater walking distance from her apartment, and takes in an improv show there, oddly endeared by twenty-three year olds in sneakers trying to make each other laugh to varying degrees of success. She tries to look up specific LA things to do and stumbles upon an apparent institution where people watch old movies in a cemetery, which sounds equally kitschy and delightful. She keeps a list of the museums she wants to check out on the weekends too, consulting April on which she should prioritize.
It just so happens that she finds herself inviting April on these little adventures, partially because she doesn't know many people here yet, but mostly because every time she thinks about doing something, she just feels like the experience would be that much better with April along.
April categorically refuses to attend an improv show, (“Scripts exist for a reason, Sterling, and that reason is so that I don’t have to sit in a sweaty room with warm beer and watch some guy name Ryan make dick jokes.”), but does accompany Sterling to see Thelma and Louise in the cemetery ("It's a very good film, Sterling, because it has a script.")
The best, though, is having April as her personal tour guide for the museums. They spend all day at the Getty one Saturday, April taking her meticulously through each room, and out into the garden as the sun starts to set over the city, April's smile against the backdrop of the flowers and the skyline and the sunset causing something in Sterling's chest to seize up. It's the best day she remembers having in a long time.
She settles into her new job, finally getting a group to lead that’s fully hers and loves them all, but has a particular soft spot for a pair of siblings who walk in holding hands, one of whom barely talks and the other who just glares at everyone who so much as utters a word to her brother, a protectiveness that intrinsically reminds Sterling of Blair.
Her coworkers, despite their tendency to need to know specific things about her personal life, are honestly really sweet. Carol brings in cookies every Friday, just as “a little treat for the weekend” and it makes Sterling think of her mom.
“Oatmeal raisin?” Rosa scoffs upon seeing the cookies one Friday.
“Hey!” Sterling says, because it’s awfully rude to complain about free cookies, “oatmeal raisin gets a bad rap.”
“Come on, whose favorite is oatmeal raisin, really?”
“It’s April’s,” Sterling says automatically, just because it has been ever since they were kids; Sterling has a distinct memory of Blair making fun of April for it at a church bake sale once.
“Oooh is it April’s?” Rosa teases.
Sterling rolls her eyes. She’s been trying to not bring up April too much around her coworkers, not wanting to say anything even lie-adjacent, but it’s not her fault that April has kind of become the person she hangs out with the most and also thinks about the most and also just happens to like oatmeal raisin cookies.
“Shut up,” Sterling says, feeling like a teenager again in more ways than one.
“You’re straight up blushing,” Rosa says gleefully.
Sterling throws a bit of her cookie at her. Still, when she leaves for the night, she grabs a Ziploc bag of them to bring to April. They are her favorite, after all.
For the last couple of weeks, Sterling has ended up at April's apartment a majority of her nights. Sterling has two Craigslist roommates, who are nice and all, but there is something about being in a living room with a person you feel fully at ease with that Sterling can’t get enough of. Especially when that person is April.
April brings her work home most nights, and when Sterling comes over, she’s normally perched on the kitchen counter or the coffee table perusing some documents, a pair of glasses sliding down her nose.
The first time Sterling had come over when April wore the glasses, Sterling thought she might pass out just from the sight of them, somehow making April look authoritative in a way that made Sterling's whole body viscerally react.
“What?” April had said, head tilting, which did not help.
“I didn’t know you wore glasses,” Sterling had managed.
“A side effect of getting older I suppose,” April had said with a shrug, “normally I have contacts in, but, you know -”
“They look good,” Sterling blurted, “I mean, if you ever don’t want to wear contacts, the glasses definitely, uh flatter your - anyway are you hungry? I’m hungry.”
April had grinned at her then, like she knew exactly what was going through Sterling’s head and Sterling had almost broached the topic, but something held her back. It had only been a few weeks after all.
“I brought you cookies,” Sterling says tonight when April opens the door.
The glasses are on and Sterling is chill about it, even when a grin takes over April’s face.
“My favorite,” she says, “you remembered.”
“I couldn’t not remember,” Sterling says, trying to be casual, “not after the bake sale fiasco of 2018.”
April laughs at that, ushering Sterling into her apartment. She’s already chosen the food for this evening, queued up their episode of Buffy.
“Eager?” Sterling teases.
“Season two is when it gets good!”
“Hey! I liked season one.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
April eyes her up and down in a way that makes Sterling flush a little.
“You’re just so… perky and quippy.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“It’s not a bad thing,” April drawls, “just an acquired taste is all.”
“Well, you clearly acquired it,” Sterling says before her words register, “I mean, because you love Buffy so much.”
“Sure,” April says, grinning, “Buffy.”
“Anyway,” Sterling hurries, trying to distract from how warm she is all of sudden, “do you have an outfit for the fundraiser next week? It’s apparently very bougie.”
She’s not sure why she thought it was a good idea to change the subject to the event they are going to as a couple despite not being a couple, but it somehow works.
“Actually, I would love your second opinion on this,” April says, all business, “I have a some options with different pros and cons.”
“Of course you do.”
April leads her back to her bedroom and Sterling realizes that in the few weeks she’s been coming over here, she hasn’t yet seen the bedroom. It feels… intimate somehow. Not just in, like, a sexual way, but in a way that this is where April sleeps, where she gets ready every morning, probably where she masturbates.
Okay, so maybe it is in a sexual way. Sue her.
Sterling is too busy trying not to think about April masturbating (at least not until she gets home), that she almost misses what April is saying.
“So I bought this dress for Hannah’s wedding next month, but I honestly kind of want to wear a suit to that just to, you know, fuck with my mother's dated sensibilities.”
“Wow, so things with your mom really aren’t… wait did you say Hannah? Like Hannah B.?”
April laughs a little.
“The one and only.”
“Wow, good for her. Tying the knot! Even though it’s a little rude that I didn’t get an invite.”
April opens the bedroom door, laughing.
“When was the last time you and Hannah had a conversation?”
“I don’t know, maybe summer break after… sophomore year of college?”
“And yet, you’re peeved you’re left off the guest list.”
“Okay, fine. That’s fair. Ugh, I just love weddings, though.”
April smiles fondly.
“Of course you do.” She looks at Sterling for a second as if debating something in her head, but then shakes it. “Anyway, the real kicker is that her fiancé is named - get this - Chester.”
“Chester? People are still named Chester?”
“This guy is. Chester Bennett, he sounds like a man in a regency novel.”
“Wait,” Sterling says, starting to laugh, “so even after she’s married, she’s still going to be-”
“Hannah B., yes. Unless they hyphenate.”
“Which would make her Hannah B-B.”
“It has its own kind of terrible ring to it, doesn’t?” April says with a laugh, before opening up her closet.
For a second, Sterling debates making some kind of joke about closets but decides not to, not with the sting so recently in April’s voice at the mention of her mom. Instead, she looks around at the perfectly made bed, the art on the walls, a the perfect organization of said closet. It's all so April that Sterling is somehow charmed. By the appearance of a room. She has to get it together.
“Anyway,” April is saying, “I figured this dress could work for your event.”
April pulls it out, a deep blue thing that is somehow very classy but also has absolutely no back.
“Oh yeah,” Sterling says immediately, already picturing the exposed skin that will be on display, “that should work. Yes ma’am, that’ll be good.”
“Great,” April says, grinning up at her, “your face is a little red by the way.”
“Oh you know,” Sterling says, “this LA heat.”
“Just you wait,” April says with a private smile and then she’s leaving Sterling alone in her bedroom, utterly flustered.
The fundraiser is downtown, thus much closer to April’s apartment then Sterling’s. A conversation about carpooling turns into April berating Sterling for still not having a car, which turns into Sterling defending herself once again, which all turns into Sterling proudly insisting on taking the metro hours before she needs to, showing up mid-afternoon at April’s with some sandwiches from the takeout spreadsheet and nowhere else she’d rather spend her afternoon.
“I can’t believe Cordelia and Xander are getting together,” Sterling says a few hours later, sprawled across April’s couch with Faith on her chest, a recent development that feels like a huge accomplishment.
“I know, right?” April says, from where she’s folding her laundry, which Sterling had offered to help with, only to be shot down. It’s something Sterling has noticed, that even when April doesn’t have work to do, she has to be active somehow. It’s a trait that should not read as cute but someone how it absolutely does. “She is just worlds better than him.”
“It’s also a weird disconnect, because like… she’s you.”
April looks up, brow furrowed.
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, April, you can’t tell me you don’t see the resemblance. You were like the hot mean girl in high school. In a very similar devastating way as Cordelia.”
“Cordelia has a lot more depth, you know.”
“Yeah, so do you.”
April looks a combination of flustered and like she’s about to fight back, before half of her mouth rises in a grin.
Sterling rolls her eyes.
“Both of you are obnoxiously aware of it, too.”
“Well, I would never get it on with Xander, even if I was straight, I like to think I have standards.”
“That’s why it threw me for a loop,” Sterling says, “I was like, April would never.”
“My reputation precedes me,” April says smugly. “I’d clearly go for Buffy.”
“Wow, the titular role. Aim high.”
“What can I say? I have a type.”
Sterling feels herself blush a little. Not that she thinks so highly of herself to compare herself to Buffy Summers, but it’s not like they have nothing in common. The blonde thing at least.
“What’s that type,” she ventures, recalling their conversation from earlier, “perky and quippy?”
April shoots her a sly grin.
“Something like that. Too noble for their own good sometimes.”
Sterling feels her breath catch in her throat.
“Watch the show, Sterl,” April says gently, “there’s a game changer coming up.”
The fundraiser is held at this old hotel, and even though Sterling grew up with money, she can’t stop staring at it all, the chandeliers and intricate carvings and C-list celebrities.
“It’s just so fancy,” she whispers to April.
April shrugs, a movement that also requires Sterling to focus really hard on not staring, because April’s goddamn dress has no back, so even something as simple as a shrug causes a ripple effect down all of her exposed skin. Sterling swallows. She is at a work event. She can do this.
“You get used to them,” April is saying, “these kind of events that make rich people feel good and satisfied so they can pat themselves on the back before they go back to their model girlfriends 20 years their junior.”
Sterling raises her eyebrows.
“Sorry,” April says, “living in this city for a few years makes you a bit cynical.”
“April, I hate to break it to you, but you were this cynical at twelve years old.”
April grins. “Perhaps.”
Despite how freaking cool and fancy everyone seems, there is a startling ease to the event; Sterling doesn’t have to do much except talk about how much she loves working with teenagers, something she could probably do in her sleep. Also trays keep coming with tiny delicious things on them.
“You know,” she says to April, mid-bruschetta, “this thing really puts the-”
“Sterling, I swear, if you say ‘fun’ in ‘fundraiser,’ I’m fake breaking up with you.”
She’s smiling though, red in her cheeks from the glass of wine she’s been nursing. Sterling wants to kiss them, wants to make April flush from far more than just a pinot grigio.
“Is this the famous April?” someone asks, and Sterling swallows, tries to control her thoughts. Still, she seizes on the opportunity to press her palm to April’s lower back. They have to sell it, after all.
April looks at her out of the corner of her eye like she knows exactly what Sterling is playing at and it sends a little thrill up Sterling’s spine.
“Yes,” Sterling says, remembering she has to be professional, “April, this is Dr. Barnes, one of our psychiatrists, Dr. Barnes, this is April Stevens, my - my girlfriend.”
She hopes she didn’t stammer too much over the wording, but it’s the best she can do, something deep inside her remembering being young, on the cusp of love and wanting nothing more than to call April Stevens her girlfriend. And now, it’s not even true, but it’s like her muscle memory hasn’t got the memo, her hand on April’s back and the smile on April’s face not believing that those words are a lie.
“I come across it all the time,” April is saying to Dr. Barnes, a conversation that Sterling sure hopes she isn’t asked to recap later, “how the city still refuses to actually put money into programs that prioritize mental health.”
“Exactly!” He enthuses, before turning to Sterling. “You’ve found yourself a good one there, Wesley.”
“Sure have,” Sterling manages.
“So, you went to high school together right?”
“That’s right,” April says, easy as pie, “and then when Sterling moved here, there was just that instant connection, that feeling when you’ve known someone for most of your life, and even if you haven’t seen them in a while, it’s as if not a day has passed, you just want to spend all your time with them.”
Sterling can’t breathe for a second, hope simmering in her veins that April is saying this from the heart, not just as a way to make people believe they are together.
April catches her eye and smiles, soft and private, just for a second, and that hope jumps up to her heart, into where her fingertips rest on the smooth dip of April’s spine. She finds herself breathlessly smiling back, eyes catching April’s.
“Wow, y’all are so cute,” Sterling hears, and sees Rosa, phone out, snapping a photo of them.
Sterling lets out a shaky breath, reminding herself that she is in public, before shooting a friendly glare at Rosa. Rosa ignores her, sticking her hand out to April.
“April, hi, I cannot emphasize how much I’ve heard about you.”
Sterling feels herself blush.
“Is that so?” April asks.
“Yeah and she always gets that look on her face.”
Rosa nods her head towards Sterling’s face which is perfectly normal, thank you very much.
April smirks a little, because of course she is enjoying this.
“It’s a good face,” she tells Rosa, which makes Sterling blush even more. Christ.
“So can we see the photo, Annie Leibowitz?” April asks, thankfully deflecting the conversation off of Sterling’s face.
Rosa shows April the phone. Sterling is expecting April’s easy smirk to come through, more teasing, but only a soft, “oh,” escapes April.
“Can you send that to me?” she asks Rosa.
“I’ll do you one better,” Rosa says, “what’s your Instagram?”
April puts her info in Rosa’s phone, and Sterling takes the opportunity to glance at said photo.
“Oh,” Sterling echoes. Because somehow Rosa managed to capture the exact moment where April was smiling at her and Sterling was looking directly into her eyes with care painted all over her face. Sterling can’t stop looking at it, the way April looks at her like she’s someone precious, more than just a friend for whom she’s doing a favor.
It’s just all too easy, is the problem, little touches throughout the night, absently bragging about April and April, thrillingly, bragging about her right back. She doesn’t feel that little bit of nausea she normally feels when she lies, because she realizes besides the sacred utterance of the word girlfriend, she’s been telling the truth all night.
They get dropped off outside April’s apartment building at the end of the night, giggling a little as they step out of the car.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to such an enjoyable work event,” April says.
“That’s because you work with lawyers, April.”
“You don’t have to say it like it’s a slur.”
Sterling laughs as she follows April up the stairs and into her apartment. Sterling grabs her bag from earlier, realizing that that was maybe the only reason she came up here, even though, honestly, the route feels more natural than that to her own apartment at this point.
“So I guess I’d better…” she trails off, lingering in the doorway. There’s no reason for her to stay really, it’s almost midnight, the event is over, they don’t have to be… whatever they were being any more.
April steps a little closer to her. There’s only one light on in her apartment and it shines off April’s face, the smooth expanse of her neck.
“You don’t have to,” she whispers, so soft that Sterling almost can’t hear it.
But boy, she hears it, and it sends a shiver of anticipation up Sterling’s spine.
“Yeah?” Sterling breathes, not wanting to to break whatever has fallen over them.
“I mean, you know, it would be cruel to send you out on the metro so late,” April teases, eyes flicking down to Sterling’s mouth.
“The metro isn’t that bad,” Sterling manages, though all her focus is on slowly reaching a hand out to settle on April’s lower back again, but this time it’s not for anyone else, just her, now, to feel the warmth of April’s skin and pull her in.
Their faces are so close together at this point that Sterling can see the little flecks of gold in April’s eyes, the way they take in Sterling’s face, like she’s trying to figure her out.
A loud buzzing from her chest causes Sterling to startle, as her phone, where she had stored it in her cleavage, goes absolutely haywire. April steps back a bit from it, which is understandable, but still makes something in Sterling deflate.
“God damn it,” Sterling says, gracelessly fumbling her phone out of that weird sticky place between her boobs, effectively ruining anything adjacent to a mood. It’s Blair, of course, an incoming FaceTime.
“I really don’t have to answer,” she tells April.
“No, no, you should,” April says quickly, looking down at her hands.
Sterling wants to throw her phone across the room, shove April against a wall, and never talk to anyone outside this apartment for the rest of her life. But that might be a bit of an overreaction to an interrupted almost kiss. So instead, she answers.
“What the fuck?" Blair’s voice comes through at such an alarming volume that Sterling jumps back a little.
April’s eyebrows raise.
“Excuse me?” Sterling says staring at Blair through the screen, who has her angry face on.
“How old are you?” Blair presses.
“I said, how old are you?”
“Uh, twenty-nine,” Sterling answers, unsure of where the hell this is going, and honestly regretting the whole not throwing her phone across the room thing.
“Okay, just making sure we aren’t sixteen again, because when I saw that you, once again, didn’t tell me you were dating April Stevens, I had a major fucking flashback.”
April, a few feet away from her, starts to laugh, covering a hand over her mouth. Which does not help the situation.
“Blair, that’s not-” Sterling hurries, “we aren’t dating, there was this whole thing with my coworkers and we - wait, how do you even-?”
“Oh, I saw the picture, Sterl.”
“What - how-”
“I check your tagged posts on Saturday nights to make sure you’re having fun out there.”
“Okay, we clearly need to have the boundaries conversation again-”
“And lo and behold, what should I see but you and April looking like the sun shines out of each other’s assholes, with the caption cutest couple ever.”
“Fucking Rosa,” Sterling groans.
April still looks like this is the funniest thing ever to happen.
“Look, I know you told me that y’all were hanging out a lot and that you want to ride her into the sunset-”
“Blair,” Sterling hisses, eyes on April’s face, which has gone from amused to downright gleeful, “please, I beg of you, shut up.”
Shockingly, that works, and Sterling barrels on before Blair has a chance to embarrass her even further.
“We said that we were dating to get a coworker off my back who was being gross, and then it kind of escalated and we went to an event and now that photo is online so I would really appreciate it if you stopped talking about things you don’t know about, especially when April is right here.”
Blair blinks at her from her screen, processing.
“Oh,” she says simply, after a few seconds, “this one is my bad.”
Sterling could kill her.
“Ooh, can I say hi to April?”
Sterling rolls her eyes, but flips the camera. April, who still has an absolutely treacherous knowing grin on her face, waves to Blair.
“Fancy meeting you here,” she says.
“I know, small world, right?” Blair says, and then, sealing the nail in her coffin, “You know, my sister’s right, you look hot, Stevens.”
Sterling’s about to commit to her honestly great idea in retrospect of throwing her phone somewhere she will never find it, when she sees April look down at her own phone and all the color immediately drain from her face. She swallows tightly.
“Hey, are you okay?” Sterling asks, her sister’s antics forgotten.
“Oh,” April says, “I…”
She lets out a long breath before holding up her phone. Sterling looks at it, and feels something in her gut clench. Its a text from April’s mom, brightly reading out:
I saw that picture on your instagram. If you bring Sterling home for the wedding, maybe it would be better if y’all stayed in a hotel, not in my house. xx.
“Blair, I gotta go,” she says quickly, hanging up her phone, “April, I’m so sorry.”
April shakes her head.
“It’s not like this is anything new,” she says tightly, “I just guess if I have the audacity to actually be dating someone, that means - well, that means she can’t ignore it anymore.”
April’s jaw is clenched, her knuckles white around her phone. It’s the most tense Sterling’s seen her since they were kids, and she knows it’s for the same reason. April lets out a bitter laugh.
“The funny part is, I’m not even dating anyone.”
At that, something dark and heavy forms in Sterling’s gut, a harsh guilt that makes her almost want to start crying.
“Oh God, April, I’m sorry, this is all my fault.”
April snorts. “It’s not your fault that my mother’s a bigot.”
“But this whole situation - I - this never would have happened if I didn’t tell a stupid lie to people at work. Now half the world thinks were dating, including your bigoted mother. It’s like somehow, even ten years after the fact, I can’t not fuck up your coming out process.”
“Sterl, believe it or not, this is not about you.”
Sterling swallows, trying not to let April’s words sting.
April pinches the bridge of her nose, leaning against the back of the couch.
“Fuck, that wasn’t what I - that came out harsher than I intended. All I mean is, picture or no picture, my mom has proven again and again that she isn’t going to accept this part of me. It was either this, or I go home next month and she tries to set me up with any available man in the Atlanta area because ‘I just haven’t met the right guy yet.’ Honestly, this option might be better.”
Sterling tentatively leans next to April, places a hand on her shoulder.
“Is it really?”
April lets out a huff of almost-laughter.
“Well, neither are great.”
“I’m sorry,” Sterling says again, “I wish - if there’s anything I can do-”
April’s eyes turn to her, sharp and calculating, a look that Sterling knows all too well from their youth.
“Come to Hannah’s wedding with me.”
“Next month. Do what we did tonight, but back in Atlanta, back surrounded by people who think… We can prove to them, prove to all of them that we’re happy and thriving and doing better than they could ever be in their loveless heterosexual sham of a marriage to a man who has been in and out of prison for the past dozen years.”
Sterling raises her eyebrows. There are at least a hundred reasons why this isn’t the best idea; it means telling a lot more people than just her coworkers who she met a month ago that she’s dating April; it means lying to people she grew up with, it means going to more events with April in formalwear and needing to control herself; it means this incessant wanting only growing further, acting out a fantasy that she unreasonably wants to be the truth.
But the way April’s looking at her right now, conviction poorly covering up hurt, offering a proposal that might ease that hurt, coupling with the fact that Sterling, after a decade of wanting to, might actually be able to help April in this way, to make her life easier.
“Okay,” she says after what can’t be more than two seconds, “let’s do it.”
A combination of relief and surprise crosses April’s face.
“Yes, really. They won’t know what hit ‘em.”
April lets out a little laugh.
She holds out a hand to Sterling, which is just so remarkably April, after all these years to go for a handshake of all things that Sterling can’t help but melt a little at the gesture. She takes April’s hand, warm and solid and gives it a firm shake.
“Should we sign a contract too, Miss Columbia Law?”
April laughs, a real one this time.
“Ooh, you use that one in court?”
April bumps her shoulder with Sterling’s, and Sterling feels relief at the ease of it all. She turns to April, talking her in.
“Go get changed,” she says suddenly.
April shoots her a quizzical look.
“I just mean - that dress can’t be comfortable. Go put on your prestigious college sweatpants, and I’ll put on some tea and then let’s watch a teenage girl kill some vampires, okay?”
“Sterling - you don’t have to - it’s very late and I am an adult who can take care of herself.”
“Trust me, I know you can take care of yourself. I just - it’s been a long night, and if you want to unwind with some company, well, it’s either this or the LA Metro. But also if you don’t want company that’s totally fine, I can skedaddle on out of here. Risk my life on public transport.”
April lets out a little laugh, looking down.
“Company would be nice,” she says softly.
Sterling stands up, claps her hands. “Alright, let’s go then, you’ve got your marching orders.”
April rolls her eyes a little, but makes her way back to the bedroom to change. Sterling heads to the kitchen, realizing she knows where everything lives in here, knows what kind of tea April likes (Earl Grey, but it’s after midnight, so Sterling is going to insist on herbal); what her favorite comfort snack is (brie, which is so utterly pretentious that it makes Sterling stupidly charmed); she even knows April’s favorite mug is at this point (a deep green handmade one from a shop in Boyle Heights that one her clients runs).
She also realizes that she wants to do this all the time, to gather little items from April’s kitchen that will make her feel just a touch better. She wants to be the person who April leans on, who is on her arm, but also comes home to every single day. Who can personally have a hand in April’s happiness.
“Oh,” she says aloud as the kettle boils, “I am so fucked.”
absolutely wild thing to say in the year 2021, but this contains massive spoilers for season two of buffy the vampire slayer (but, just to generalize for a second, we're all here because we're queer people who like a tv show with a silly title about quippy teen girls with unorthodox extracurricular activities, we've all seen buffy)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Sterl, I love you, but this is incredibly stupid.”
Sterling lets out a huff into the phone.
“You’re overreacting,” she tells Blair, “I’m just doing a favor for a friend.”
“Doing a favor for a friend is picking them up from the airport or helping them workshop a text, not pretending to be their committed girlfriend in front of everyone we grew up with, despite the fact that you aren’t her girlfriend, despite the fact that you really fucking want to be her girlfriend.”
“You know,” Sterling pivots, because she really has no counterargument, “if you didn’t have extremely awful timing the other night, maybe we would have made progress on the whole her not actually being my girlfriend thing, but someone had to call me with baseless accusations.”
“Baseless accusations? You really have been hanging with April a lot with that vocabulary.”
Sterling laughs, in spite of herself.
“Yeah, the language kind of rubs off on you.”
“You know what else could rub off on you…”
“Shut up. I’m not making a move until - it’s all just so - I can’t mess up any of this stuff with her family. Not again. So I’m waiting till this whole wedding thing is over with.”
“Honestly,” Blair says, “I’m kind of pissed we didn’t get an invite to that.”
“Right? Like I know it’s been like… several years, but I feel like we’d liven up any party.”
“Exactly. When is it again?”
“Okay,” Blair says, “I’m coming home to Atlanta that weekend.”
“Look, I know that you are just doing this to be there for April or whatever. But I know you, Sterl. I know that you are going to be probably freaking out that whole weekend, and I’m just here for emotional support.”
“That's… honestly really sweet, but I don’t need emotional support. I’m - I’m weirdly doing pretty fine.”
And she actually is. Sterling maybe was expecting some seismic shift in her and April’s friendship after last weekend, with both their moment in the doorway, and this new agreement forming between them, but things are remarkably the same.
It’s not as if they avoid the topic; Hannah’s wedding comes up often, especially given that April is such a meticulous planner about the whole thing.
“So I called the airline, played the gay card and now we’re sitting together,” she tells Sterling a few days later, at a new Vietnamese place that April had wanted to try. To add to the spreadsheet.
“Aw, no road trip?”
“It’s over 24 hours, Sterling.”
“That means more than a full day of fun. Slap on a good audiobook, see the Grand Canyon, sounds like a blast and a half!”
April narrows her eyes at Sterling until Sterling gives it up.
“Fine, but it’s your loss.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“So how much do I owe you?”
“For the plane ticket.”
April waves a hand, like Sterling had offered to pay for the food, not for a cross country plane ticket.
“April. You are not paying for my plane ticket.”
“You’re going as a favor to me, it wouldn’t feel fair to make you pay for it.”
“Please, I love weddings. And Atlanta. This is more like you offering me an excuse to stay at my parents’ house and eat my mom’s unmatched sorry-I-lied-to-you-for-the-first-sixteen-years-of-your-life cooking.”
April laughs a little at that, before she shifts a little in her chair.
“Are we - are we staying at your parents’ house then? I didn’t want to assume.”
“Are you kidding me, my mom would physically drag me away if I even tried to stay anywhere that’s not…” She trails off, thinking of the reason she was invited to Atlanta in the first place. “Sorry.”
“You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me about this, Sterl. My mother and I have had this relationship, for lack of a better word, for years now. You can bring it up without me going into a catatonic state.”
“I know, I just…” Sterling wants to express so much more, about how much good and love April deserves, but instead settles for, “my parents’ house it is.”
Which means, of course, she has to tell her parents about it. Or at least some version of it. She settles on an abbreviated version of the truth when she calls her parents that night.
She’s lying in her bed, which still doesn’t feel like hers, in an apartment that still doesn’t quite feel like hers, in a city that is starting to feel like hers, but isn’t there yet, when her dad picks up the phone.
“Hiya kiddo, how’s Holly-weird?”
It’s so dorky and familiar that Sterling almost cries.
“Good,” she answers, throat a little scratchy, “I - uh - I miss you guys, though.”
“We miss you too, Sterl,” her dad says, a hint of relief in his voice, “we gotta come out and visit soon, maybe take in a Dodgers game, see some of those famous people houses.”
“I’d like that,” Sterling says, smiling at the idea of taking her parents all over LA, putting bits of her old home in her new home. “Actually, I called because I’m going to be in Atlanta next month.”
“Oh, well isn’t that just great!” Anderson enthuses, before shouting away from the phone, “Debbie, honey, Sterling is going to be in Atlanta next month - well, I haven’t asked her yet. Yes, I’m planning on asking her. Well, I’m talking to you right now, aren’t I?”
Sterling laughs a little, warmth in her chest at the way their back and forth is still the same after all these years.
“So when are you gracing us with your presence?” Anderson asks.
“The weekend of the 21st. And, um, is it okay if I bring someone?”
“Got a new special someone out there already?”
“No, no, no,” Sterling quickly says, “it’s actually just an old friend. You remember April Stevens, right?”
“Oh sure, lovely girl. Shame about her all the business with her family.”
“Yeah that’s kind of the… would it be okay if she stayed with us instead of her mom that weekend?”
“Of course, you know what they say, mi casa es su casa and also es the casa for friends of our daughters. Just friends, though? Nothing more to report?”
“Just friends, Dad!” Sterling says, both relieved to not be lying to at least somebody, and disappointed that just friends is the truth.
Sterling has a certified Good Day at work a couple weeks before the wedding, Rosa sitting in on Sterling’s one-on-one with Owen, the sweet boy with the overprotective sister, who is just starting to open up, mumbling down at his hands about how he wishes people would just stop fighting about him. It gives Sterling a pang for when she felt the same way, when all the yelling supposedly on her behalf that just made her feel small and voiceless. It’s a pang that she can use though, with this shy kid surrounded by confrontational people who do love him, just don’t know what he needs right now. By the end of the session, she finally has him talking at a normal volume, even a laughing a few times, which is a new development for the month and change he's been coming here.
“Damn, you were really good in there,” Rosa says after. She’s a few years younger than Sterling, which normally Sterling doesn’t notice, but she feels it today, feels a little swell of pride at being able to impress this person in her field who looks up to her.
“I specialize in sibling shit,” Sterling says, with a self-deprecating shrug.
“I must have missed that in the course catalogue.” Rosa says with a laugh as they step out of the clinic into the bright June evening.
“Wow, it’s nice here,” Sterling says, blinking, “like I know it’s such a cliché, but, wow, that California sun, huh?”
“You’re a big old cheeseball, aren’t you, Wesley?” Rosa asks.
Sterling laughs. “I guess I am.”
“Hey, what are you doing this weekend?”
Sterling’s weekend plans at this point involve more of the second season of Buffy and trying not to stare too much at how said California sun hits April’s hair in her apartment.
“You should come to this party my uncle is throwing after Pride on Saturday. He has this incredibly bougie house in WeHo and he does this every year after the parade - it’s mostly just a bunch of old gay dudes drinking mojitos, but it’s honestly a blast.”
“Oh, um -”
“Also like, you and your hot lawyer girlfriend would definitely make my uncle’s judgy friends think I’m cooler than I am, so…”
Sterling laughs, equally unnerved and pleased by the phrase hot lawyer girlfriend.
“I mean, I’ll have to see if April’s free, but, you know, tentative yes.”
Sterling knows it’s probably not wise to add another event to the list of things that the two of them are attending as a couple, but honestly a bunch of old gay dudes drinking mojitos in West Hollywood sounds like a great weekend. Also there’s something about the idea of going to Pride with April Stevens that makes her unreasonably emotional.
“So do you remember Rosa?” she broaches that night, when they are settled in to watch Buffy.
“Your little photographer friend, how could I not?”
“She invited us to a party this weekend. Like, as a couple. You don’t have to, obviously, but apparently she has a rich gay uncle who has a fancy house in WeHo, so sounds kind of fun.”
April narrows her eyes.
“WeHo? This weekend?”
“You know that it’s Pride, right?”
Sterling pretends to consider.
“I have seen a lot more rainbows on the billboards this month, yes.”
“Sterl, I know you’re new here, but LA Pride is… a lot.”
“I like a lot. And I like LA. And I’m, like, proud. Duh.” Sterling takes in a breath. “I just think - no pressure, but I would really like to go, um, with you. I mean, after everything…”
“Sterling... “ April’s face is soft now, almost achingly so. “You know that I’m not… all the baggage with my mother aside, I am very happy with who I am. With being open about it.”
“And that means I don’t need to be surrounded by loud sweaty drunk men on the street just to prove that I love this part of myself.”
“That’s fair. Invite still stands though.”
“Thank you. Now, watch the show, this episode is important.”
Sterling rolls her eyes. April has this habit of being completely not subtle right before a big plot twist happens, which is both annoying and endearing. It happens again tonight, April’s eyes boring into hers when the explanation comes about how Angel lost his soul.
“Stop doing that,” she says, lightly swatting April’s arm
“Doing what?” April asks innocently.
“Staring at me when something big is going down.”
“I’m not staring, I’m just trying to gauge your reaction as a newcomer.”
Sterling rolls her eyes, pauses the TV.
“Okay, you wanna know my reaction? I’m supposed to believe that this guy has been around for over 200 years, but it took him until now to have a good enough orgasm to lose his soul?”
April laughs a little. “In short, yes.”
“With a teenage girl.”
“Well, when you put it like that, it’s definitely questionable. But apparently, it qualified as a moment of perfect happiness, so here we are. Evil again.”
“I don’t know,” Sterling says, “it just seems like there should be more to this big moment where you lose your soul then just like… coming.”
“Well, he is in love with her.”
April eyes her, a little dangerously, in a way that makes Sterling feel as if she needs to prepare herself for whatever road they’re about to go down.
“So you’re telling me,” April says, “that you’ve never had sex so good that, if you were hypothetically a 200-year-old vampire with an ancient curse on your head, you would forget all the horrible atrocities you committed, and just let yourself give in to one perfect moment of pure euphoria?”
It’s June in LA, but Sterling knows that excuse cannot account for how warm she suddenly gets. It’s the way April’s eyes are smiling, the way her mouth moves around the word euphoria.
Sterling has to bite her tongue to keep from saying, well, April, come with me to your bedroom, mere feet away, and I bet you if I was a 200-year-old vampire with an ancient curse on my head, my soul would just fly right on out the window.
Instead she says, voice a couple octaves higher than it normally is, “I’ve had good sex!”
“Okay,” April says simply, raising her eyebrows.
“What, you don’t think I’ve had good sex?” Sterling presses, absently wondering why the hell she is continuing this conversation.
“I didn’t say that. You just sound awfully defensive.”
“Well it’s just a big question is all - what draws the line between good sex and like, curse-breaking sex?”
“When you know, you know.”
April looks so unabashedly smug that Sterling kind of wants to shake her. Or, like, kiss her. Or, you know, break a few dozen curses. She settles on trying to at least to defend herself.
“Okay, there was this one guy I dated in college, Brian Zhang, and he was on the wrestling team, so he could actively lift me up during it, and that was pretty cool.”
“Pretty cool, ah yes, the perfect descriptor of earth-shattering sex.”
“Oh my gosh, fine, okay, ooh Jamie Masterson! We had, um, a thing in grad school. They were an anatomy student, and when I say anatomy student, I mean like they knew what the heck they were doing down there. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many consecutive- ”
“Okay, I get it!”
Sterling looks over at April, whose teasing has all but disappeared, replaced with a clenched jaw, her eyes not meeting Sterling’s. A little flutter of hope stirs in Sterling’s stomach that maybe, just maybe, April is jealous.
Of Jamie Masterson, of all people, which is objectively hilarious, given that Sterling remembers one of the first times she hung out with Jamie was out at a dive bar, a few too many cheap beers between them not to get nostalgic and honest.
“Is there anyone from your past,” Jamie had asked, “that you just feel like you have a big ol’ missed connection with?”
“April Stevens,” Sterling had answered, embarrassingly quickly, “she was the person who made me realize that I wasn’t straight and God, we had this glorious little fling. It felt all-encompassing at the time, but we were both just vulnerable teens with a lot going on and it kind of crescendoed and then immediately fell apart, but - sometimes I still think about what could have happened with her. Probably more than I should.”
Jamie had raised their glass then and Sterling had clinked it and listened as Jamie detailed their own what-could-have-been from their youth, some girl named Lila. They had taken turns commiserating until they were both laughing and pretty drunk, which turned into sloppily making out at the bar until Jamie ended up fingering Sterling in the bathroom.
And Sterling, despite her very best efforts, couldn’t shake April from her head, couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have April press her against that dirty wall and make her scream.
“Were you thinking about her?” Jamie had asked after, and Sterling must have looked so guilty that Jamie immediately laughed. “It’s okay, I’m not mad or anything. Some people just stick with you.”
“I haven’t seen her in over five years,” Sterling had said, “it’s a little pathetic. And also just really freaking rude of me.”
“No worries,” Jamie had said with a grin, “I can’t say I wasn’t thinking about Lila too.”
“What a pair we are,” Sterling had said and they had smiled at each other, sharing this odd queer experience of being caught up in someone that could have been if only circumstance and adolescence and timing weren’t what they were.
They had hooked up a few more times after, and it was all good fun. Jamie really was an incredibly proficient anatomy student, but there had been no pretenses as to what they were to each other. There had been something freeing in telling another person about this odd fixation Sterling had on someone from her past, someone who could still affect her, despite the fact that Sterling hadn’t seen her for half a decade at that point.
But now, April is real and solid in front of her, visibly showing her own jealousy, and it makes a ridiculous hope rise in Sterling’s chest.
“So what about you,” Sterling asks, now wanting to keep this conversation going, wanting to gauge if April’s reaction was any indicator of actual feelings, “any soul-losing sex?”
April’s smug smirk is back and Sterling wants to absolutely ruin it.
“Not to brag, but I think I’ve broken quite a few curses over the years.”
Sterling rolls her eyes, while trying really hard not to think of the implications of April’s… skills.
“Okay, calm down, Casanova. But have you ever, um, had your own curse broken?”
April looks like she’s actually considering it.
“I’m not sure,” she says, more honest than Sterling was expecting, especially with her attitude this whole conversation, “I mean, say we are using the Angel model, it’s not just a good orgasm, it’s that combined with an innate love for another person, and such overpowering feelings that you forget all of the dark stuff. So I don’t - maybe I haven’t had anything like that.”
“Oh,” Sterling says, shocked by April’s candor, “that’s - I mean, you obviously deserve that.”
April huffs out a little laugh, eyes meeting Sterling’s.
“To have soul-losing sex?”
“Yeah, of course you do.”
April is looking at her so intently and Sterling feels it hot on her face, her body temperature already spiking just from these minutes of talking about sex with April, like she’s sixteen again and even the thought of pairing the concepts sex and April sends her into a spiral.
“You know what, now that I think about it,” April says, clearing her throat, “maybe I have had that with someone I love.”
Sterling feels her gut clench with anticipation that somehow April will say her, even though they never really went beyond light over the shirt stuff that one time. And, God, Sterling knows it’s unreasonable, a decade has passed, but if April says anyone who is not her, Sterling might have to track down that person and kill them.
But April doesn’t say anything, a slow, devastating smile spreading across her face. Then she simply raises her right hand, and lightly waves the fingers on it.
It takes Sterling a second to understand what April is implying, but when she gets it, it hits her like a goddamn truck. She feels herself flush, eyes glued to April’s hand, the evening sunlight glinting off of it like it’s one of those cheesy pictures of Jesus where a sunbeam perfectly frames him. But instead of The Son, it’s April Stevens’ right hand that she touches herself with.
“Oh, shut up,” Sterling manages to say, pretending she is not actively losing her mind.
“Hey, I’m serious,” April says, grinning, “I’ve had enough therapy to not take the concept of self-love for granted. Besides, I feel like it was definitely monumental when I figured out what I can do to myself. You know, once I got past the whole, it’s a sin deal.”
Sterling feels like she is on a thin wire here, this curiosity in her needing to know about April’s young sexual journey, but also an awareness that she is seconds away from revealing a little too much about her own young sexual journey.
The curiosity, unsurprisingly, wins out.
“And when was that?” she asks.
“I must have been about 14. It was when I was finally coming to terms with the fact that, yes I was gay, no I wasn’t going to hell, no I wasn’t going to ever tell anyone. Which, well, you were around first hand for how that last one panned out.
“Anyway, I used to do this thing, this very closeted teen move where I would wait till my parents were asleep and watch YouTube videos of girls kissing from movies. Not even sex scenes at this point, just kissing, which still felt wildly erotic and taboo to me at the time. But I would do it almost every night, and I found my whole body just… reacting.”
Sterling, whose body is doing some of its own reacting, manages to nod.
“And you knew me back then, I didn’t half-ass anything. I started - this is a little funny in retrospect - looking up all these articles on, like, how to do it, where to touch, et cetera. And then one night, Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried were making out in the background, it just - clicked. So, you know, never underestimate the power of research. Or cinema.”
Sterling let’s out a nervous laugh, wildly endeared by young April, but at the same time, a dread building in her that April will turn the the tables on her and ask -
“So what about you?”
“What about me?” Sterling squeaks.
“Did you have that… self-discovery?”
“Uh, yep. Yes. Sure did. It was great. Anyway, should we keep watching the episode? Oh boy, Angel’s evil now, so crazy, so sad.”
“Interesting,” April says, tilting her head.
“What do you mean, interesting?”
“I just think that it’s societally flawed that we can feel so open to talk about sexual experiences we’ve had with others, but don’t feel as open to talk about sexual experiences we’ve had with ourselves. Honestly, Sterling, as someone who works in the field you work in, you should really be destigmatizing-”
“Oh my god,” Sterling says, giving up, “it’s not because I’m upholding stigmas or whatever, it’s because it’s you.”
April looks genuinely confused, even with her double Ivy League education.
“My first - the first -” Then it comes out of her in a rush, “Fuck it, I was sixteen and thought I was straight and then you yelled at me in a specific way and grabbed my arm in a specific way and I lost my god damn mind and had to go masturbate about it, and then I had my first orgasm. Thinking about you.”
Sterling purposefully does not look at April, focuses instead on the seam of the couch cushion. Maybe she could make it through the next hour or so not looking at April, eye contact is so overrated anyway.
“Wow,” April says, and Sterling can fucking hear the smile in her voice. “That’s not exactly what I expected.”
Sterling surprises herself by laughing.
“Not exactly what you expected? Imagine, for a second, being me in the 11th grade, just out of a six year relationship with a guy, just off of losing my freaking virginity, thinking I was well on the way to figuring out this whole sex thing, and then you come along, this girl who absolutely hates me, and awakens something in me that I had no idea was even in there in the first place. It was - it changed everything.”
Sterling takes a breath, looks down at her hands. She was not expecting all of that to come out of her. She had always figured that after things had gone South with April over ten years ago, she just never would tell her all this, but here she is, a full grown adult, somehow spilling her guts to the girl who was her sexual awakening about said sexual awakening.
She closes her eyes for a second, then wills herself to finally look up into April’s eyes. She’s expecting the familiar smugness to be on full display on April’s face, but it’s something else, something softer.
“I didn’t know -” April starts, voice low, “I mean - I knew that I was the first girl you liked, I didn’t know it was that… significant.”
“Yeah, you kind of, um, changed my whole world a little bit. Like if we had - if we actually - ”
“If we actually what?”
Sterling smiles a little. She’s already in this deep, why not bury herself all the way?
“Well, if we had actually had sex, I’m pretty sure that, you know, if I was a 200-year-old vampire…”
April laughs, a tension easing.
“Not for a second.”
They just stare at each other for a second after that. Sterling wants - God, Sterling wants so many things at this point and almost all of them involve April leaning in close to her and never pulling away. But she’ll settle for anything at this point, really.
“You know what,” April says suddenly, “let’s go.”
“Let’s go where?”
“To Pride this weekend. Maybe we owe it to our younger selves.”
Sterling feels a huge grin break out on her face.
“Yeah,” she breathes, “I think we do.”
Sterling thinks if she had moved here five years ago, she would have lost her mind at LA Pride. West Hollywood is decked out, the bright sun reflecting off of body glitter, shouts and cheers and Britney Spears permeating the air, barely any room on the sidewalk due to bodies pressed up against barricades, cheering when something colorful and spectacular passes by.
There is still something in the air that she intrinsically loves, the unbridled joy of it all, how it’s impossible to avoid any queerness, but also, April’s wasn’t wrong; it’s a lot of loud, sweaty, drunk men. And Sterling didn’t even know there were that many dating apps until they all apparently got their own float at Pride.
“Do you want to get some food?” Sterling asks April about an hour into watching, when her feet start to get sore.
April smirks at her.
“Don’t tell me the ever present Sterling Wesley energy is depleting just from an hour of West Hollywood?”
“Not depleting! Just needs a bit of refuel.”
“Late-twenties hitting you hard? Should I get you an AARP membership?”
“Hey, we’re the same age!”
April just grins at her before leading her down a side street.
“Where are we going?”
“You said you wanted food. Everything on Santa Monica is going to be overpriced and crowded, if we can find a lone woman selling a hot dog, that’s ideal.”
“A hot dog? Really?”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t had an LA hot dog yet.”
“It wasn’t on your spreadsheet,” Sterling whines, “besides is LA known for their hot dogs? I thought that was like a New York or Chicago thing.”
“Just wait,” April says.
“Holy shit,” Sterling breathes, five minutes later, perched on a ledge near a dog park, having eaten her certified LA hot dog - bacon, onions, jalapeños and all - in 30 seconds.
“Exactly,” April says smugly.
“I could take on the world now. I could take on a thousand prides.”
“Maybe we just sit for a little longer.”
“Yeah, okay, let’s do that.”
So they sit, watching stragglers from the parade find places to sit around the park, play with their dogs, buy a hot dog.
Sterling finds her eyes falling on a pair of girls who can’t be over fourteen, giggling over one of their phones together, hands clasped on the bench where they’ve collapsed.
Sterling looks out of her corner of her eye and sees April watching them too. She doesn’t have to ask to know that April shares the same feeling in her own chest, a harsh longing for a childhood they could have had if they lived in a different place, in a different time, surrounded by different people. But still, there’s an aching joy to it, of seeing kids so young and free, so unafraid to be here.
“I went to Atlanta Pride senior year,” Sterling says suddenly.
April turns to her sharply.
“Yeah. It was Blair’s idea actually. It had been a really shitty year and she was like, very into me exploring different parts of being queer, and also Alyssa Edwards was gonna be there, so we couldn’t not.”
“I don’t know who that is,” April says with a soft laugh, before swallowing thickly. “But how was it?”
“It was… God, it was amazing. Like I knew on an intellectual level that there was so much more to Atlanta than just our tiny white conservative little area, but it felt so different to actually see it. To feel it. To be surrounded by people being loud and joyous and gay on every side of me. I think I started crying, like five minutes in. I wanted - god, I wanted so badly…”
“What did you want?” April asks, a catch in her voice.
“I wanted you to be there with me,” Sterling says, meeting her eyes, “I wanted you to see that this was happening, right where we grew up. I wanted to show you how amazing it could be, how we could be in this bright exciting new world together.”
April’s hand finds hers on the ledge and squeezes it. Sterling almost feels like crying.
“I was pretty naïve back then, huh?”
“Yes,” April says frankly, with a little laugh. “But there was also a strength to that. A conviction you had that others would share your inherent kindness. God, I was so jealous of that.”
“You were?” Sterling asks, still a bit struck by the compliment.
“Of course I was. It may have manifested a little… harshly, but well, I didn’t have that kindness of others to fall back upon.”
April rolls her eyes.
“Sterling Wesley, if you say you’re sorry one more time, I’m pushing you down to the dogs.”
Sterling laughs at that. She looks down at where April’s hand still rests on hers, suddenly struck by it.
“There’s something you said to me once,” April says, as if reading Sterling’s mind. “You said, ‘I’m not asking you to headline a gay pride parade-’”
“I remember,” Sterling says quickly, “pretty naïve, once again.”
“Well.” April looks down at their hands, looks at the people all around them, decked out and queer and exuberant. “Look at us now.”
Sterling swallows, feels her throat close up. The teen girls on the bench are still laughing, one of them leaning her head on the other’s shoulder. The other looks down at her with such awe and care that Sterling feels her eyes well up.
“Yeah,” she manages, “look at us now.”
Rosa’s uncle Hector lives in a gorgeous mid-century house in the hills of WeHo. It’s kind of like what Sterling pictured when she first thought about moving to LA, all lush plants and a bright blue swimming pool and beautiful people nursing cocktails.
Even April seems impressed, eyes wide as they step in the house.
“Is that an original Keith Haring?” She asks, looking at a painting in the foyer.
“Good eye,” an older man says, holding out his hand. “Hector Ramirez. I assume you are the lovely couple my niece won’t shut up about.”
“She is a talker,” Sterling says, shaking his hand.
“You have a lovely home,” April says, “is this what, early-60s?”
“Nailed it!” Hector enthuses, and suddenly he and April are off on a conversation about architecture that Sterling couldn’t follow if she tried. She didn’t even know April knew anything about architecture, but, now that she thinks about it, of course April knows a stupid amount about architecture.
Thankfully, Rosa comes over with a drink and a huge smile.
“You came!” she yells, before engulfing Sterling in a hug.
“Of course,” Sterling says, with a fond grin, “couldn’t miss, um, discussions about architecture.”
“Don’t worry,” Rosa says, “I am also out of my element here.”
Sterling laughs, looking back to where Hector and April have now shifted to talking about God knows what in rapid fire Spanish. Sterling has no idea when the language shift happened.
“What are they saying?” she asks Rosa quietly.
It’s apparently not quiet enough, because April’s eyes shoot to her, a teasing glint in them.
“Come on, Sterling,” she says, “we had three years of Spanish together and you can’t follow a simple conversation?”
“That was, like, 10 years ago,” Sterling says, knowing she sounds childish, especially given that is apparently the only one of the group who isn’t bilingual, which is pretty embarrassing. “I’m rusty. Lo siento.”
“At least you’re pretty,” April says with a grin, and Sterling knows that it’s kind of an insult but a part of her can’t stop freaking out that April Stevens called her pretty.
The party ends up being really fun actually, April is immediately a hit, because of course she does best with those 30 years her senior. She collects several business cards in her pocket of people to set up lunches with.
“Are you joining, like, the retired Latino gay mafia?” Sterling asks, a couple cocktails in, feeling warm and content as she dangles her feet into the pool.
April laughs beside her, foot brushing Sterling’s under the water. Which could be totally unintentional. But also might not be.
“Hey, these guys know how to party better than anyone our own age,” April says.
“Amen.” Sterling lifts up her mojito in a cheer.
“Also,” April looks down at her hands. “One of them - Hector’s friend Joaquin - worked as a campaign manager for that big city council race last year up in the valley, everyone thought Matthews would hold that seat still, but Joaquin helped get Padilla elected, and now her and Raman are basically the only city councilors who aren’t in the pocket of the new corporate developments popping up.”
“Wow,” Sterling says, “sounds pretty impressive.”
“He said - just in the hypothetical - when O’Farrell is up for re-election next November, District 13 is looking for someone young and motivated and versed in local legislation to run for his seat.”
“And honestly, every fucking day at work, I come up against roadblocks that the city has the power to actually remove, and to be able to get in on those meetings, to tangibly change things… it would be pretty amazing.”
“April!” Sterling basically shrieks, “that’s- you would be so good at it. City council, oh my god!”
“Lower your voice.” April lightly hits her leg, but she's grinning. “It’s just a thought right now.”
“You gotta do it, are you kidding me? Literally every time we hang out, you complain about structural problems with this city, and you’re smart enough and passionate enough to actually do something about it. You would make this place better for so many people.”
April looks down at her feet, almost shyly.
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
April smiles at her, wide and radiant, and it might be the mojitos talking, but Sterling is pretty sure she is the most beautiful person in the world.
Just as the alcohol in her blood and the warmth in her bones is about to make her do something very bold and a little stupid, she’s caught off guard a flash of movement in the corner of her eye.
“Rosa, are you taking another picture of us?” She asks, absolutely ready to throw her colleague into a pool.
“Sorry, you guys are just so sweet together.”
“Yeah, Sterl, we’re just so sweet together,” April says with a raise of her eyebrows. Sterling could also throw her in a pool.
Then April sits up suddenly, turning to Rosa.
“Actually,” she says, the same look in her eye she had when she asked Sterling to go to the wedding with her, “Rosa, could you do me a favor?”
“Happy to,” Rosa says gleefully.
Sterling swallows, not loving the team up of these two people.
“Take another picture of us. Post wherever you want.”
“Sure,” Rosa says easily, getting out her phone. “Do you want me to count to three?”
“You’ll know when,” April says confidently. Then she turns to Sterling, lowers her voice. “Sterling.”
“Yeah?” Sterling asks, both a little freaked out and a little turned on by the conviction in April’s voice.
“You said you would do whatever it takes to help me piss off my mom, right?”
“I don’t think those were my exact words, but yeah, of course. Anything you need.”
“Okay,” April says, before taking a deep breath, “just go with me on this one. I’ll owe you.”
Then her hand is on the back of Sterling’s neck, and Sterling knows exactly what is going on. And she is powerless to stop it. Not that she would want to. Not that there is any world where she would ever want to stop April’s thumb creeping up her jaw, April’s eyes intense on hers.
April leans forward towards her, before hesitating a little, and Sterling knows she’s giving her an out. One that Sterling would never take in a million years, but one that the small part of her that isn’t bursting with over a decade of anticipation does appreciate. But she’s not taking any outs. She leans forward and closes the distance between them, needing to feel what it’s like to kiss April Stevens for the first time in thirteen years.
April’s lips are soft under hers, minty from the drinks, and purposeful as they kiss her back. Sterling tries to remember it’s just for show, but it’s kind of hard, because April still kisses like she knows exactly what she wants and in this moment what she wants is Sterling. Sterling moves a hand to cup April’s face, to make this last longer, to feel the way April’s breathing speeds up, to feel a warmth pool deep inside of her, just like it did when she was young.
After a few long seconds, April pulls back. She’s out of breath, face flushed, and Sterling wants to kiss her again, longer, dirtier, wants to make her heart race, wants to make her gasp Sterling’s name. She’s aware her own breathing is heavy, she’s aware that she can’t do anything but look at April right now, but April seems to be in the same situation, just staring at Sterling in a way that makes her skin prick with anticipation.
“I, uh, got the photo,” Rosa says, and it all comes crashing down on Sterling.
April just kissed her to get back at her mom. God, April just kissed her to get back at her mom, but Sterling feels like she is a teenager all over again, like something big and unnamable has been opened inside of her just from one relatively innocent kiss.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she says suddenly, and she’s standing up and walking into the house.
“Sterl!” she hears April call after her, but she ignores it.
Once she’s in the bathroom, she splashes some cold water on her face, tries to get her breathing back to normal. She looks in the mirror, where her eyes still look pretty crazed.
“You can do this,” she tells herself, aware that it is very unhinged of her to talk aloud to herself in the mirror, but still doing it, “just wait until after the wedding, be a good friend, then you can make a move. Do not fuck this up for her.”
She lets out a deep breath and does the only thing that she knows will provide some sort of clarity. She calls her sister.
“What’s up, homeslice?” Blair thankfully answers on the first ring.
“I need you to come to Atlanta for Hannah’s wedding. I just - forget everything I said - you offered emotional support and I am cashing it the fuck in.”
Blair doesn't hesitate.
I'm always like, this time, I can branch out and make April not into politics and then my brain is like, no <3, so here we are yet again!!! Also the LA city council stuff is half real, half fiction, just to throw some chaos in, also fuck Mitch O'Farrell etc etc.
Also this is now the official halfway point of this bad boy, and this story is very much divided in two distinct parts, so hope y'all enjoy what's to come in act two!
a perspective shift??? at the halfway point??? in this climate??? paddington fan sixty nine you wildin' here
April never sleeps on planes.
When she was a kid, it was all about the anticipation, excitement for whatever new location her parents’ money could take them to forget the most recent outburst from her father. Then, as she grew older, there was either the deep rooted anxiety of returning to where she grew up, or the bubbling relief of getting the hell out of where she grew up.
And even when she’s flown between locations that don’t hold decades of emotional baggage, April has always thought four steps ahead in transit, perfecting an itinerary for a vacation, troubleshooting every worst case scenario for a work trip, trying to figure out the fastest way to get back into her routines upon returning to home.
When she was 24, she and her girlfriend at the time had gone to Hawaii to celebrate their one year anniversary, and April had spent all ten hours of the flight mapping out how they could maximize their whole week together. When they landed, her ex had snapped, “Jesus, can’t you just ever relax?” and April had harshly realized that this woman was probably someone she would not be compatible with in the long term.
That flight back was definitely one of the worst flights of her life, second only to the first flight back to Atlanta after she came out to her mom.
This time though, April vows not to let the anxiety get to her. And, surprisingly, she’s doing a pretty good job of it. April tells herself that it’s better because she’s older now, more mature, the fact that she’s not staying with her mother combined with the fact that she will be shoving her thriving (if not technically real) relationship in the woman’s face easing the stress that always lives in her shoulders on flights to ATL.
But, if she’s being honest with herself, the real reason she’s not anxious probably has a lot more to do with her traveling companion than any other factors.
April is pretty sure that Los Angeles International Airport is one of the closest places to hell on earth, but of course, Sterling Wesley still finds something to delight in. Because, if April’s realized anything over the course of these past few months, it’s that Sterling Wesley excels in making the otherwise mundane joyful. It’s something April is still adjusting to, but she has to admit that she is far from immune to the contagiousness of that joy, the way it makes April feel like she somehow got an invitation to an exclusive club of wonderment and glee that only Sterling's smile can open.
Sterling spends the hour and a half before their flight informing April that they have to each pick out a fun snack for the flight, flipping through magazines in Hudson News, before impulse purchasing a trashy romance novel, and laughing far to loudly when the frankly ridiculous intercom keeps playing voiceovers of B-list celebrities welcoming them to Los Angeles.
By the time they’re seated in the plane, April is in an alarmingly good mood. She sets up everything to work on a case she has to file on Monday, one that will either end in her clients getting their visas extended or her finding a way to do to certain city councilors what those women did to their boss in 9 to 5 until they agree to expand asylum protections.
(Sterling had shown her 9 to 5 a couple nights ago, as a palette cleanser between seasons of Buffy, because it apparently was a sin that April hadn’t seen that movie. April loved it of course, the movie itself almost as much as the way Sterling straight up guffawed at the physical comedy, or when she said, “I’m pretty sure I’m bi because of Dolly Parton in this movie.”
And April hadn’t been able to resist commenting, “I thought I held that distinct honor,” and had the pleasure of watching Sterling turn bright red.
All in all, it was a wonderful film.)
Sterling looks over at her now from the middle seat. April had offered the window, but Sterling had insisted, because of course she did.
“What?” April asks, looking at Sterling over her glasses.
“Nothing,” Sterling says quickly, before looking at her pile of work, “of course you’re still going to be ridiculously productive on this vacation.”
It’s not said with any derision that certain ex-girlfriends of April may have had, more of with a fond teasing familiarity of someone who has known April for twenty years.
“Maybe this is a vacation for you,” April says, trying not to grin, “but I still have a very long to do list for these next three days. Besides, no event where my mother will be present qualifies as a vacation.”
“I can’t believe your mom was invited to Hannah’s wedding, and I wasn’t,” Sterling grumbles.
“My mom and Mrs. B. have been friends since we were kids, it would have been a whole thing if she wasn’t invited. Hannah did offer though, in a very Hannah way.” April smiles a little at the memory. “She was all, ‘I know your mom is, like, totally not with it about gay people, so I can for sure leave her off the guest list, if you want.’”
“Yeah, well, when your two best friends from high school turn out to be gay, you start to get a little protective.”
Sterling gasps, puts hand to her chest.
“Ezekiel’s gay? Who ever would have thought?”
April laughs, louder than she intended, causing a couple other passengers on the plane to look over. Sterling grins a little self-satisfied grin.
“Anyway,” April says, “I told Hannah she didn’t have to bother. It would cause this whole stink if my mom wasn’t invited, and it seemed like more effort than it was worth to deal with the fallout. So I’ll tolerate her for one Saturday afternoon.”
April goes back to her laptop, trying to focus on her work, but she feels Sterling’s eyes on her. Sterling doesn't press though, just like she hasn’t been pressing for two months, something that April continues to be both surprised by and grateful for. It’s not as if she's purposefully hiding the gritty history of her mother continuously being the poster child for both covert and overt homophobia, but the idea of actually telling Sterling about it makes April’s throat go dry and her heart rate speed up. And not in the good way that Sterling presence has been doing for the past couple months.
But Sterling doesn’t ask, even though she’s currently thirty thousand feet in the air just to help April out when it comes to her mother. Instead, Sterling pulls out her own laptop, intense focus coming over her face.
“What are you doing?” April asks.
“You aren’t the only one who came prepared,” Sterling says with a grin, “I downloaded the first few episodes of season three of Buffy for the flight. You know, if you can find it in you to multitask.”
She offers April a headphone, which April takes before going back to her work. She figures she can have a TV show she’s seen several times in her ear while still focusing. Though she already knows it's not the show that will break her focus.
It’s Sterling. It’s always Sterling these days.
It’s Sterling’s soft concerned eyes over these fictional teens from the ‘90s. Five minutes into the episode she lets out a soft, “aw,” and then just a few minutes later, “oh, poor Buffy,” then an almost comical flinch during a particularly intense action scene.
The older woman sitting on Sterling’s other side lets out a little laugh, clearly endeared. As everyone always is by Sterling, something that April was furious about for a large portion of her adolescence, but now, over a decade later, she finds herself utterly charmed by.
About halfway through the episode, she realizes she hasn’t done any work in fifteen minutes. She sighs, but figures she has the whole weekend and the flight back to work. She turns to watch the show, which is a little harder than it should be in such a cramped space. The best way to see the screen is to essentially rest her head on Sterling’s shoulder.
Sterling doesn’t say anything at the contact, but a silly little smile comes over her face, the same one that April remembers from the third grade when she would get a question right in class, a quiet victory playing out through her smile.
It’s something that has always been both infuriating and admirable about Sterling - the way she wears her heart on her sleeve. It’s different now than when they were kids, there’s a level of self-awareness that wasn’t present a decade ago, but still, her earnestness shines through, so unabashedly genuine that April is still taken aback sometimes.
The fact that Sterling is even coming with her on this trip, pretending to be something she’s not in front of everyone they grew up with, still throws April for a loop if she thinks about it too much. Which would be fine if April was capable of thinking about literally anything else.
It’s gotten to a point where every time Sterling says something sweet, April starts making a list in her head of all the ways this could be purely a product of Sterling’s kindheartedness, or an indication of something stronger, something concrete.
Not that April doesn't know that Sterling’s attracted to her. She would have to have an IQ of about seven to be unaware of that particular development. Sterling may have changed in several ways over the past eleven years, but her inability to be subtle has remained. And April, infuriatingly, adores it. She’s found herself wearing contacts less and less just for the way Sterling looks at her when she wears her glasses. She’s found herself bringing up things that a wiser person would not, references to what she now knows about her own role in Sterling figuring out her sexuality, just to see Sterling stammer and blush. And last week, she found herself making up her own sort of logic just to feel what it would be like to kiss Sterling a decade after the fact, an act she should regret, but simply can’t bring herself to, not when Sterling had sighed under her mouth, not when Sterling smiled against her lips, had met her halfway.
So it’s not a question of attraction. It’s a bigger, harder, question. It’s a question of towing the line of a friendship between two people who are admittedly attracted to one another, and something bigger, dangerous, with potential to be glorious and earth shattering, but also the potential to crash and burn, just like it did when they were young.
April hates it. She hates how exciting the past couple months have been, hates how much she craves Sterling’s presence, hates that there is an ease between the two of them that hasn’t existed since they both had braces. Most of all, she hates this fear that sits between her ribs that, if she messes this up, if she assumes that Sterling wants all of her, even the ugly and messy parts, that she will lose this person who has somehow snuck her way into April’s life with a determination to make it brighter.
There had been a moment last month, right after Sterling’s work event, where April had almost gone for it, almost crossed that line, when she had noticed the way Sterling was looking at her, and thought, shouldn’t it be that simple? But, of course, her mother had chosen to contact her just then, and it was like the universe’s way of telling her that, no, it wasn’t that simple.
“You’re thinking too hard,” Sterling says, pulling April out of said thoughts. She looks over to where April’s laptop is still on her tray table. “You know you can stop saving the world for one weekend.”
April has to bite back a laugh. Of course Sterling thinks she’s thinking about work. Of course Sterling thinks that everyone is as good as she is.
“Look how well that turned out for Buffy,” April says, gesturing at the screen.
Sterling laughs a little.
“Well, you aren’t Buffy. We’ve discussed. You’re a Cordelia sun with a Giles rising. Duh.”
April rolls her eyes, but smiles a little. Sterling’s t-shirt is soft and warm on her cheek, and Buffy is going back to Sunnydale and April’s thoughts are still swirling a little but it’s somehow easier to ignore them right now, a feeling rising in her, that maybe, just in this small moment, everything is as it should be.
So she lets herself relax into Sterling’s arm, lets her eyes fall closed, because it’s bright on the plane and she’s seen the show so many times at this point that she can follow it with just audio, no other reason, definitely not because it just feels so nice.
“April? April, hey, we’ve landed.”
April feels something gently pressing her shoulder and blinks her eyes open to see Sterling smiling down on her.
“Up and at ‘em, champ,” she says when she sees April’s awake.
April clears her throat, tries to gather her bearings. The fluorescents are harsh on her eyes, and the sound of people trying to inefficiently exit the plane loud in her ears. Her mouth tastes honestly pretty disgusting, and she glances down at Sterling’s shoulder where, embarrassingly, there seems to be a small patch of drool.
“I’m sorry,” she croaks, sleep still in her throat, heat rising to her cheeks, “I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s not a big deal,” Sterling says, waving a hand, “gotta get those extra hours where ya can. Gum?”
April gratefully takes the gum, glad Sterling is already chattering on about her airport romance novel she read half of while April was asleep, how she’s pretty sure she’s only a chapter away from the big sex scene.
Sterling is unaware, of course, that it is a big deal, that this kind of relaxation has been something April has never fully been in possession of for her whole life, and just like that, with an easy smile and soft shoulder, Sterling Wesley brings it out of her.
She’s a bit shaken all the way through exiting the plane, through the terminal, and out to the sidewalk, where the Atlanta humidity hits her like a force field after years of a dry heat.
“It’s a bit suffocating, isn’t it?” April says.
Sterling raises her eyebrows. Before she can say anything probably far too knowing, a loud horn blares from an approaching car and April watches with wide eyes as an old Subaru with Blair Wesley at the wheel pulls up to the curb in a maneuver that April is pretty sure would get her killed at LAX.
The passenger’s side window rolls down and Blair grins at them, lowering her sunglasses.
“Oh my god,” she yells, “is this LA’s hottest lesbian couple, right here in humble ol’ Georgia?”
“Oh lord,” April mutters under her breath.
“Shut up,” Sterling says to her sister, but April can tell she’s practically bursting, a huge smile on her face as Blair jumps out of the car to engulf her in a massive hug.
Sterling laughs into it, and April knows it’s illogical, but she somehow feels like she’s a kid again, a jealously slipping into her towards these specific people for how easy and unconditional their connection is.
But then Blair is walking over to where she’s standing, eying April up and down like she is forming an intense evaluation.
“Long time, no see Stevens.”
April shifts a little.
“How have you been, Blair?”
God, she sounds like she’s at a business conference or something, not like she’s seeing someone she grew up with for the first time in over a decade when she’s pretending to date her sister. Though, in her defense, it’s a rather unique situation.
Blair laughs a little.
“Nah, man, none of that,” she says, before pulling April into a pretty aggressive hug, “you know what they say. Any fake girlfriend of my sister’s is a friend of mine.”
“I don’t think anyone says that,” April says, but hugs Blair back, grateful for her ease about all of this.
She also notices Sterling watching the two of them, a huge sappy smile on her face, and April finds herself warmed in a way that has nothing to do with the Atlanta heat, warm enough to make that hint of jealousy somehow evaporate.
“So here’s the plan,” Blair says, once they are all settled in the car. “Tomorrow is recon day.”
“Recon for what?” Sterling asks.
“I figure there has got to be someone in the city who was invited to that wedding with a spare plus one, and I will find them, and charm them into taking me. So, I’m trying to look at my options. April, you’re obviously out given that you’ve chosen the inferior sister as your plus one-”
“Hey!” Sterling interjects.
“I texted Hannah G. about it,” Blair barrels on, “but she apparently didn’t get an invite either, so that was pretty awkward. I thought Luke might be a good bet, because maybe Rachel would stay home with the kids, but of course they got a sitter, so there goes that.”
“Aw man, Luke got invited and we didn’t?” Sterling says.
“You have to stop taking the lack of invite so seriously,” April interjects with a laugh from the backseat, surprised by how much she’s enjoying watching the volleying between the twins. “Doesn’t Luke still live here? Meaning he’s probably seen Hannah more than once over the past decade?”
“Oh don’t use your law school logic on me,” Sterling snaps playfully.
“I don’t think this is law school logic.” April counters, “more like third grade logic.”
“Well, jokes on you, you were scary smart in the third grade.”
April grins at Sterling’s tendency to compliment even when arguing.
“I don’t think that makes the joke on me, Sterling, more like proves that I am more likely to be correct.”
“Huh,” Blair interjects, “so this is the vibe between you two now?”
April feels herself get a little red.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” Blair says with a coy grin. “Should I turn up the AC? You guys look warm.”
“So, wedding recon?” Sterling says quickly, clearing her throat.
“Right. So Luke and Rachel invited us to a cookout thing tomorrow ‘cause so many people are in town and I figure I can use that to scope out a date.”
“Ooh fun,” Sterling says, before leaning back to April, “does that work for us?”
April feels a ridiculous flutter in her chest at Sterling’s use of the word us, but tries to quell it.
“The only plans I have tomorrow are to get day drunk with Ezekiel and preemptively rate all of the groomsmen from alarmingly straight to a potential option. But I suppose that could be done at a cookout.”
“Hold up,” Blair says, “if Ezekiel is rating potential groomsmen, does that mean he doesn’t have a plus one to the wedding?”
“Oh,” April says, pretending to think, “did I not mention that?”
April has been texting Ezekiel for the last few days about the wedding, so she knows first hand that his original plus one had moved back to France to model a couple months ago, but she's been having a little too much fun seeing where Blair was going.
It’s honestly been a delightful trip down memory lane talking to Ezekiel this much, even just via text, hashing up old gossip, reveling in harshly judging those they went to school with, both being a little petty that they weren’t in the bridal party, even though they both agree that they have more taste than Hannah’s color scheme.
Hannah told me you are bringing Sterling Wide Eyes Wesley herself as your plus one, he had texted. Must have been heavy holding that torch all those years.
Fuck off, it’s a long story, she had responded, even though, it’s not like he was wrong.
Tell it to me over cocktails in Atlanta where we decide which groomsman I should seduce, he’d sent, and here they are.
“Your girlfriend has been withholding evidence,” Blair is telling Sterling, “Ezekiel’s the perfect wedding date.”
“Don’t think you're his type,” April says.
“I’m everyone’s type,” Blair says, “Besides, we can team up to tackle the groomsmen.”
“You’ll have to pitch him, you know. That man has high standards.”
“Well, lucky for him, I am genuinely the best available thing around these parts.”
“She’s not wrong,” Sterling supplies.
April laughs, in spite of herself. It’s oddly easy to fall into conversation with Blair in addition to Sterling. Now that she thinks about it, it would be ridiculous for old grudges to resurface so many years after the fact, but she wasn’t expecting to laugh so much, to be so oddly at ease with the two of them.
The ease falters for a second when they arrive at the Wesley house, and April watches as Sterling essentially leaps from the car into her parents’ arms. April remembers going over to this house when she was a kid, even then impressed by the unconditional affection these parents showed their kids. And it seems to have only gotten stronger over the course of the past years, with the messy history that Sterling has filled April in on.
She can see it when Debbie hugs Sterling tight, eyes squeezed shut, evidence painted on her face that she will never take her daughter for granted. It’s almost baffling to see this in out in the open; how a trauma can draw a family closer together instead of tearing them apart. April kind of feels like she’s watching Animal Planet, but a special episode about parents whose care for their children outweighs everything else.
April thinks that if she had been here ten years ago, or even five years ago, it would have made something dark and jealous slide into her, but now it’s odd. She feels half like an observer and half like someone who has spent so many of her days enamored by Sterling’s presence, that seeing her showered with such love and affection just feels… right.
“Well I’ll be,” she hears, and blinks her thoughts away, to look up into the face of Debbie Wesley, who has detached herself from her daughter and come over to April. “If this isn’t the little girl who would sit in my kitchen doing her homework, grown into such a nice young woman.”
“Mom, weird,” Blair says.
“How is that weird? It’s sweet,” Anderson says.
“Nice young woman is just a weird phrase,” Blair insists, “feels a little gross, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I don’t think it’s weird,” April says hastily to Debbie, “thank you, I appreciate it.”
“Still a kiss-ass after all these years, huh?” Blair says with a laugh.
“Blair!” Sterling snaps.
“Blair!” Anderson scolds.
“Welcome to the chaos,” Debbie says to April privately, with a fond smile.
And it is. Chaos, that is. But a good chaos, a warm one, one that sucks her in even though it’s been over ten years since she’s set foot in this house.
It’s Anderson asking her rapid fire questions at dinner about her job until Blair groans, “give it a rest, Dad.”
It’s Debbie covertly taking her aside in the kitchen to ask, “how is Sterling doing out there in Los Angeles? Is she adjusting?”
And Sterling yelling, “mom, I can hear you! I’m almost thirty, I’m doing fine.”
It’s the way that April is continually asked her opinion, on everything from what salad dressing she wants to what her favorite part of LA is to who is going to win this season of The Masked Singer. (She had no idea that show was still on, but apparently it’s an institution in this house.)
“Sorry, my family is...a lot,” Sterling says later in the evening as she helps take April’s stuff to the guest room.
“It’s a good lot,” April says, which makes Sterling beam at her.
“Well, I’m glad you like it, because you’re in it now. You know what they say, when you’re here, you’re family.”
April laughs. “Isn’t that Olive Garden’s thing?”
“They stole it from the Wesleys.”
April leans against the side of the door, watching Sterling’s little smile play out, feels her own do the same.
“Of course they did.”
“Hey,” Sterling says, “I know you might wanna get settled or whatever, but my parents have a really big TV and they’re about to go to bed and I’ve been told that a certain namesake for a certain cat is about to show up on a certain television program from thirty years ago.”
April grins. “Somehow, I’m not tired.”
There’s something about sitting on a couch and watching Buffy that takes all the stress of traveling and planning and being back in this city out of her shoulders. It’s familiar in more ways then one, the show reminding her of when she was in college and she leaned forward on her dorm bed at this very episode when Faith showed up and Clara had laughed at her and said, “Jesus, Stevens, if I didn’t know you were gay before…”
And now, with Sterling by her side as she’s been for so many weeks, it feels like this routine has been something they have been doing for years, and it doesn’t matter what city they’re in. It’s different here, of course; the Wesleys’ TV is way bigger than April’s; the couch is worn in different spots; and Sterling loudly bemoans the lack of Cat Faith (“I know it’s weird that I miss your cat, but she would always jump up on my lap during the opening credits.”), but it still holds the same comfort as back in LA. So much so that April can’t quite believe she’s feeling so relaxed back in her hometown.
Blair comes over to them a few minutes into the episode, leaning her elbows on the back of the couch, snacking on a bag of tortilla chips.
“Oh, is this the one where Faith shows up? Hell yeah.”
“You’ve seen Buffy?” April asks.
“I mean, yeah, I haven’t been living under a rock for the last thirty years.”
“Tell that to your sister.”
“Hey!” Sterling says, “I’ve been busy, okay?”
“April went to law school and still managed,” Blair points out, chewing on a chip.
“She got you there,” April says with a grin.
Sterling turns to glare at April, then back around to glare at Blair.
“Watch the show,” Blair and April say at the same time.
“I do not like you two teaming up against me,” Sterling grumbles, but her face tells a different story, smiling delightedly back at the TV.
“So that was your favorite character?” Sterling asks after the episode ends. “Fascinating.”
“What do you mean, fascinating?” April asks.
“I mean, I think if you had met that girl when we were teenagers, she would have probably beat you up.”
Blair laughs a little. April glares at her.
“I think you have to look a little deeper.”
Sterling leans toward her a little bit, elbows on her knees. April loves when she does this, gets all focused during a conversation, like talking with April is the most important thing to her. She has this teasing glint in her eye too, all which makes April’s stomach swoop a little bit, makes her fight back a smile.
“So you really think,” Sterling says, “that April premarital-sex-is-bad-and-if-you-don’t-get-straight-A’s-you’re-not-a-useful-member-of-society Stevens would have vibed with Faith slaying-makes-you-hungry-and-horny hot new vampire slayer?”
“I wouldn’t say vibed, I’m not asking her to go to the mall with me or anything - what I’m saying is, there was adolescent anger and desire to belong that resided in both of us.” April grins a little, preparing her closing shot. “Besides, even teenage April wasn’t immune to being hungry and horny, if you recall.”
It has the desired effect, Sterling turning a little red and swallowing.
Blair cackles loudly, drawing attention to the fact that she is also there, something April had temporarily forgotten.
“Point April,” Blair says to Sterling.
“Shut up,” Sterling responds eloquently.
“Also,” Blair says, “Faith definitely has major lesbian vibes.”
“Exactly,” April says, thrilled to have backup in this argument, “the way her jealously towards Buffy plays out over the course of the season, well, not to spoil it, but it’s very gay.”
“Yeah, it’s like, do you want to be Buffy, or do you want to be in Buffy?”
“Gross,” Sterling mutters.
“The point is,” Blair says, “I totally bet that teen April identified with having a thing for the pretty blonde girl she was always fighting with.”
“Blair!” Sterling snaps, blushing a little again.
April just shrugs. Blair is technically helping April win this argument, and well, it’s not like anyone at this couch is unaware of her teen self’s feelings for a particular pretty blonde girl.
“She’s not wrong,” April says casually.
“She’s not?” Sterling says, a huge grin forming on her face, eyes shining up at April, like April just paid her the biggest compliment in the world. April feels herself smiling back.
"Of course she's not."
“Anyway,” Blair says, “I know you guys are on West Coast time, but I’m gonna go get some shut eye. I have a gay man to proposition in the morning.”
Blair leaps up from the couch, before glancing back at Sterling. Something, God knows what, passes between them, before Blair gives a sharp little nod, a lilting, “good niiiight,” and then is off up the stairs.
Sterling turns to April, remote in hand.
“I’m insulted you even have to ask.”
Two episodes later, Sterling is sprawled across the couch, feet in April's lap, as she tries to stifle a huge yawn.
“Sterl,” April says gently, nudging Sterling’s foot, “you gotta go to bed.”
“God, it’s only ten California time, I’m getting old.”
“Ancient,” April comments.
Sterling kicks her a little.
“Hey, not all of us had the lush comfort of my shoulder to sleep on on the flight.”
Maybe it’s the hour, or the surprising comfort of this whole day, but April can’t find it in her to bring up her earlier embarrassment of falling asleep on Sterling.
“Your loss,” she says with a shrug.
Sterling grins at her before reluctantly standing up with an almost cartoonish stretch. April follows her to the base of the stairs.
“See you tomorrow, then?” Sterling asks.
“Goodnight, Sterling,” she says, which feels oddly formal for someone who just had this girl’s feet in her lap.
“Goodnight,” Sterling echoes, before hesitating, then leaning forward to press a brief kiss to April’s cheek.
April lets out a shaky breath at the contact, but Sterling either doesn’t notice or doesn’t feel the need to point it out, because she just pulls back, shoots April a grin, and then is off up the stairs.
April just watches her go, still feeling the warm imprint of Sterling’s mouth on her cheek. She’s struck by an unreasonable urge to follow Sterling up the stairs, to do her nighttime routine by Sterling’s side, before curling her whole body around Sterling’s, for their breathing to line up as they fall asleep in each other's arms.
“Oh,” she says aloud to the empty living room of a house that is not hers, but has felt more like hers in the last few hours than the place ten minutes away where she spent her first eighteen years, “I am so fucked.”
warning for some mention of homophobia in this chapter, but as a consolation prize this is maybe the horniest thing I've written and I wrote a whole story centered around horniness, so go figure. speaking of, if you want some ~vibes~ while reading, I recommend the spotify sessions version of carly rae jepsen's "want you in my room." she just gets it!!!
(also this bitch is gonna be seven chapters instead of six, I'm having slightly too much fun)
If someone had told April fifteen years ago that she would spend a Friday afternoon in Luke Creswell’s backyard with his wife and kids, one hand holding a very potent glass of sangria, the other comfortably resting on Sterling Wesley’s lower back, April would have told that person to get their head checked. She also would have, at that point, told them that Luke’s wife was Sterling, right? It would have had to be.
But, now, here she is, warmed from the sun and the alcohol, and how, for the whole afternoon, Sterling has been at her side, always finding a way to be next to April, to touch her, to whisper something in her ear, in a way that makes the hair on April’s arms stand up.
Sterling is wearing these shorts that April has to remind herself are perfectly normal shorts, but they cut off at mid-thigh and April has never fully qualified herself as a leg person, but fuck, the way the sunlight shines of Sterling’s thighs makes her think she might have to re-evaluate that.
“So when did this start?” Luke asks, stationed at the grill, wearing an apron that reads, Mr. Good Lookin’ is a-Cookin’ and gesturing between April and Sterling with a smile on his face.
Besides that specific fashion choice, age looks good on Luke, his body filling out a little to match his height, no longer in possession of that awkwardness of a kid who doesn’t quite understand how to work his limbs. He still has the same goofy smile he did when they were young, the one that April remembers sending a hot coil of jealousy down her spine when she saw it directed at Sterling. But now, Luke sends the smile to Rachel, the loud and warm woman who welcomed them into her home, and to the two small boys running around the yard.
“Well, I moved to LA back in April. No pun intended,” Sterling says with a little laugh. “And, you know, I knew she lived there. The internet, right? So we just got coffee and I don’t know… I wish it was a more exciting story, but it was really just - easy.”
She turns to April, grinning. The sunlight is striking her face, glinting on her hair, which is tied up in a ponytail exposing the dampness of the Atlanta summer on her neck. April swallows, tries to remember this is at least mostly a charade, before turning back to Luke.
“Easy,” she repeats, hand warm on Sterling’s back.
“That’s awesome,” Luke says with a huge grin, “it’s so cool that y’all found each other again. Like, so cool.”
It’s somehow comforting that Luke with a wife and children and a beautiful house still has about the same vocabulary he had when they were younger.
“It is cool, isn’t it,” Sterling says, pressing a kiss to April’s cheek. April hopes that the fact that it is late June in the American South and thus humid as all hell covers up the fact that she blushes like a teenager at the gesture.
She has to get it under control.
“You guys are really hamming up out there, huh?” Blair says, once they settle again at a table under a patch of shade they’ve chosen.
“Like you can talk,” April points out, desperate for deflection, “you’re essentially at Ezekiel’s beck and call.”
Blair leans forward.
“Listen, I am this close to spending my Saturday with a free three course meal and an open bar, I will do whatever that man tells me too.”
Sterling giggles at that, eyes meeting April’s like they are in on some joke together. Which April supposes they are, if joke was a way to define this tightrope they have found themselves on.
“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” Ezekiel says, pulling up the chair next to Blair.
“Speak of my future date and he shall appear,” Blair counters with a sweet smile.
“Sure, honey.” Ezekiel says with a smirk, “keep telling yourself that.”
“Oh, I will.”
It’s another thing that’s jarring, observing this easy back-and-forth between two people she never would have thought would see each other again. But they’re both clearly both enjoying this, amusement poorly concealed in their little quips.
“You know what I would adore, Blair,” Ezekiel drawls.
“Please, do tell me.”
“Just some fresh fruit to top off this drink.”
Blair immediately stands.
“On it. Sterl, come with me to the kitchen, okay? You’re the sweet one, you can get Rachel to surrender her fruit bowl.”
“This is ridiculous,” Sterling says, but she gets up to join her sister, hand squeezing April’s shoulder as she stands, a move that April isn’t sure is intentional or instinctual. She looks to her shoulder for a second after Sterling leaves, feeling the imprint of her hand even after it’s gone.
“So, when are you spilling the tea on all of that?” Ezekiel asks with a raise of an eyebrow, “and don’t give me that ‘we reconnected in LA and it was just so easy’ spiel.”
April shifts. Ezekiel knows her a little too well, knows that ease isn’t exactly in her vocabulary. Or at least, it didn’t used to be.
“Okay,” she says in a low voice, “the truth is that we did reconnect in LA and it was easy.” She takes a deep breath. “But we’re not dating.”
It feels almost like a conversation they had a dozen years ago, when the crushing weight of one too many secrets had become too much and April had driven herself and Ezekiel out of the city limits to a Waffle House off the highway late one night. She had crossed her hands in front of herself, next to her hashbrowns, looked him right in the eye, and said, “I’m a lesbian.”
And he had grinned at her, grabbed her hand across the table and said, “tell me everything.”
She had almost cried right there at midnight in a chain breakfast restaurant. But instead, she proceeded to finally, finally, tell another person about how she had spent a few days kissing Sterling Wesley six months prior, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it, how she got a spike of fear every time she stepped into her house, how she had a countdown on her phone until she turned 18, until she could leave for good.
And he had listened, like no one else really had before, eyes bright and curious and understanding, before telling her about his own countdown, about how he secretly had been hooking up with Chase Colton for months, about how he was this close to telling his mom.
It was freeing in a way that young April didn’t even fully process until years later.
And now Ezekiel sits across from her again, both of them open and unburdened in a way they never could have predicted back then.
Unlike last time, when he was supportive in the way that April so desperately needed, this time, Ezekiel just throws his head back and honest-to-god cackles.
“I’m serious,” April hisses, “we’re not together, it’s all just a charade.”
This just makes him laugh harder.
“First of all,” he says, once his breath is back, “who uses the word charade when they aren’t talking about a white people party game? Second of all, please don’t tell me y’all are just friends. You and I are just friends - which, even if we weren’t both massive homosexuals, we couldn’t begin to conjure that much chemistry. ”
“We are just friends though,” April insists in a harsh whisper. “It was - it was this whole thing that was actually pretty funny at first, but then I asked her to come here to piss off my mother, which in retrospect was incredibly stupid, because now she’s here and it all feels so real, and I feel like I’m fucking sixteen again, Ezekiel, like this specific person is absolutely driving me out of my mind and I’m powerless to anything about it.”
“April.” Ezekiel’s hand covers hers on the table. “You’re not sixteen. You’re almost thirty, you’re an adult, and there is another adult who traveled to Atlanta just to be with you, and has spent all afternoon staring at you like the sun shines out of your tits-”
“Ugh, please don’t say tits.”
“Hush, I’m monologuing here. Trust me, bitch, I get it. Being back here makes us want to either jump right back into the closet or be so fucking angry on behalf of ourselves from over ten years ago that we lose our minds. But we don’t have to. Maybe there aren’t those barriers anymore. Maybe the girl who was just absurdly into you over ten years ago is still absurdly into you, but this time, you can just go for it, nothing stopping you.”
He squeezes her hand, like they’re seventeen in a Waffle House again. And just like when she was seventeen in a Waffle House, April has to try very hard not to cry.
“Besides,” Ezekiel says, leaning back, “I need more entertainment this weekend. I’m running out of tasks to send the other Wesley on.”
April lets out a laugh, a weight lifting from her chest.
“You’re taking her to the wedding, right?”
“Oh, of course, but this is just too much fun.”
As if on cue, Blair comes back at that moment, with a variety of fruit on a paper plate, a huge grin on her face. Sterling follows behind her, before settling in the lawn chair next to April, leaning back and resting her legs in April’s lap. April’s hands intrinsically go to Sterling’s calves, lightly stroking the skin there.
Ezekiel raises his eyebrows pointedly. April feels her cheeks warm a little.
“As you requested,” Blair is saying, smugly placing the fruit in front of them.
“Maybe I’ll keep you around,” Ezekiel says.
Blair’s eyes light up.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Slow down, girl.” He glances back over to April, a smirk rising on his face, before turning back to Blair. “Hey do you want to go scope out all the tattoos on the piece of meat Lorna brought?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
And then they’re off, whispering together conspiratorially.
“What a duo,” Sterling says with a fond grin, “who would have thought?”
“Truly,” April says. Her hands are still absently stroking Sterling’s legs, and she can’t stop for the life of her. “This whole thing feels a little… surreal.”
“Right?” Sterling says with a laugh, “like I’m not sure I’d ever have pictured myself chilling in my ex-boyfriend’s backyard, thoroughly enjoying his wife’s sangria, but here we are.”
“Do you ever wish,” April asks before she can stop herself, “that you were the one here, you know, making sangria with Luke?”
Sterling lets out a long loud laugh. She puts a hand up to cover her mouth as her shoulders shake.
“Oh god, I’m sorry,” she says once she can speak again, “oh man, I just - whew, that was a good one. When we’re back in LA, you should start booking The Comedy Store.”
“Oh, shut up,” April says, but she’s grinning.
“Seriously, though it’s just - Luke was such a sweet kid, like I truly lucked out on finding one of the only good pre-teen boys to date. But all this -” she gestures to the backyard around them, to Luke holding one of his kids on his hip, Rachel playing on the lawn with another one. “This was never for me. I mean, I figured that out pretty much as soon as... I guess what I'm saying is that I truly love where my life is now.”
“Yeah?” April says, aware of a sharp vulnerability in her own voice, even as her fingers continue to trace patterns on Sterling’s leg.
“Yeah,” Sterling echoes, her smile radiant and soft at the same time. “These past few months have honestly been kind of amazing.”
“Amazing, huh?” April says, feeling a warmth spread in her chest, all the way down to where her thumb grazes the inside of Sterling’s knee.
“Uh-huh,” Sterling says, and April notes how her eyes flick down to April’s hand, how her breath catches the smallest amount, “I just really love, um, living in Los Angeles.”
“Yeah, you know, I’ve been told there are some infrastructural issues with LA, but I think that, with a hot new city councilor on the scene, it could be damn near perfect.”
April feels her own breath catch in her throat. Sterling is still smiling at her, so genuine and open that April is once again struck by it, as she has been over and over again.
She’s not quite sure what to say, but oddly, it doesn’t feel like there is any pressure for her to say anything. So she just grins back at Sterling, reveling in the warmth of Sterling’s gaze, in the warmth of Sterling’s leg under her palm. She grows a little bolder, moving her thumb up to the soft skin just above Sterling’s knee, the rest of her fingers following, slowly stroking up Sterling’s thigh.
“Jesus Christ,” Sterling breathes, like she just can’t help herself.
April knows they are in public, that there are children present for Christ’s sake, that they haven’t even had a conversation about what they really are to each other, but right now, April couldn’t even begin to care. Not when even the slightest touch of her fingertips to Sterling’s leg can make Sterling look at her like this, breathing heavy, lip caught between her teeth.
April gently squeezes her thigh, which causes Sterling’s eyes to close for a second, before she mutters something under her breath that April can’t fully make out.
“What was that?” she asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Nothing,” Sterling says hastily, face reddening a little.
“Come on, Sterl,” April says, an unruly confidence building in her at the way Sterling is reacting, “you can tell me anything. I am your girlfriend after all.”
Sterling glares at her. She leans forward a little.
“That’s just it, isn’t it?” She whispers, low and rough, in a way that shoots anticipation down April’s whole body.
“What’s just it?” April presses.
Sterling swallows, looking like she’s debating something, before taking a deep breath and meeting April’s eyes head on.
“April, if you were my girlfriend, really, and you were touching me like this, I would have no choice but to drag you inside this house and have my way with you.”
April sucks in a sharp breath, but doesn’t break eye contact, doesn’t move her hand from Sterling’s thigh. She feels her heart slam in her ribcage.
“Sterling,” she murmurs, aware of the scratch in her own voice, the desire she’d been so afraid to let through, now desperate to come out of her, “if I was your girlfriend, really, I would have had my way with you as soon as I saw you in these shorts.”
Sterling gasps a little at that, before a smile slowly takes over her face, practically bursting from her, so beautiful that April almost can’t look at it.
“Wow,” she says, “it really fucking sucks that you’re not my girlfriend.”
“Yeah,” April says, aware that she herself probably has her own silly smile, “it really fucking sucks.”
Unfortunately, the cookout is a bit too loud and expansive for April to actually have her way with Sterling in Luke Creswell’s guest bathroom (though the image sends a petty satisfaction toward April’s younger self), but there’s an energy between them that is intoxicating, that rises in April’s blood. If they had been reveling in the small touches and intimacies of an assumed couple before, it’s nothing compared to now.
When they stand up to get food, April rests her hand on the patch of Sterling's skin where her shirt has ridden up, but instead of pulling it down, she lightly trails her fingers up the dip of Sterling’s spine, causing Sterling to let out a breathy gasp.
Luke’s hot dogs aren’t quite at the LA level, but they’re pretty damn good, April eating hers embarrassingly quickly, only to see Sterling staring at her.
“What?” she asks.
“You got a little…” Sterling starts, before reaching her hand up to swipe the corner of April’s mouth, agonizingly slowly, thumb lingering longer than appropriate on the edge of April’s lips, giving April the unreasonable urge to suck it into her mouth.
“Guys, come on, we’re eating, ” Blair groans.
April just grins.
“Thank you, sweetheart, ” she tells Sterling.
“No problem, baby,” Sterling says with a sweet smile.
Blair mutters something about putting her face on the grill.
And so it goes for the rest of the afternoon, even when the sun begins to set, and they slowly make their exit. The warmth and the food in her stomach should make April lethargic, but there’s an anticipation building in her bones as she says her goodbyes.
Luke leans down to give her a hug, something that she’s sure must cause him back problems, but is nevertheless quite endearing.
“It was really great seeing you, April,” he says, before lowering his voice, “sorry if this is weird, but after high school, I always wanted, uh - I always wanted Sterl to find someone like how I found Rachel. She deserves it, you know? And I’m just really happy she’s found that with you.”
“Oh,” April manages, over the rapidly forming lump in her throat. She thinks that a few weeks ago, Christ, a few hours ago, that comment would fill her with a harsh guilt, with a longing for something so close, but just out of reach. But now it fills her with a warm hope, that she is only a few steps away from being that person for Sterling. And God, does she want to be.
“I - I’m really happy, too,” she tells Luke, squeezing his arm before turning back to where Sterling is waiting for her, hand outstretched and a smile on her face.
“All we did was eat for, like, six hours, Blair, how are you hungry?” Sterling asks as Blair immediately leads them to the kitchen once they return to the Wesley house.
Somehow, even though the car ride and the way home, Sterling’s hand has stayed in April’s. Not that April is complaining.
“My hunger knows no bounds,” Blair says with a grin.
Sterling laughs at that, and April watches the way her neck arches with the movement. Maybe April's hunger also knows no bounds.
Then they step into the kitchen, where Anderson and Debbie are stationed behind the counter, stern looks on their faces, as if these three adult women were just caught sneaking out.
“Getting major flashbacks here,” Blair mutters, shooting a look at Sterling. Sterling glances back at her, both of them seeming as confused as April feels.
“Mom, Dad, how’s it going?” Sterling asks, somehow cheery and cautious at the same time.
Anderson and Debbie exchange their own look, and it seems like they are less mad, and more just… concerned. Then, Anderson’s eyes flick between April and Sterling, down to where they are still holding hands. They quickly drop each other’s hands, like they are teenagers caught in the act, though that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I just wish y’all would have felt like you could tell us,” Anderson says softly.
Sterling shoots April a panicked glance.
“Tell you what?” Sterling speaks out.
“That y’all two are-” Anderson gestures between April and Sterling. “-together.”
“Here we go,” Blair mutters under her breath, unhelpfully.
And the truth is that, at this moment, whatever April and Sterling are is much more ambiguous than together or not together, but April sees in Sterling’s eyes how much she doesn't want to be anything but truthful to her parents, how she has never wanted to lie to them, and April can’t let her to that - not on her behalf.
“We’re not-” April starts, trying to quickly amend the situation.
“It’s actually a pretty funny story-” Sterling cuts in.
“At first it was Sterling’s coworkers-”
“Then April’s mom got involved-”
“And it’s gotten a bit out of hand-”
“But we aren’t-”
“Stop,” Debbie says firmly, something so definitive in her tone that both of them shut up.
Debbie looks down at her hands, flexes them, then walks around the counter, so she’s facing Sterling and April.
“My husband did not choose the best way to broach this conversation,” she says, and despite the conviction in her tone, there’s something so achingly gentle in the way she’s looking at them, something that April has never had in her own mother, that renders her speechless.
Debbie’s gaze settles on April, and suddenly April just knows in her bones what’s coming.
“We ran into your mother at the grocery store today.”
Of course. Of fucking course. April has often thought, over the years, that her mother must have some sort of Sith-like powers of sensing when things are going well in April’s life, and striking right then and there.
“I’m sure she was just full of pleasantries,” she says, trying to go for joking, but ending up somewhere much more bitter.
Debbie laughs with no humor to it.
“I wouldn't say that. She said… well, she said some not very nice things that I won’t repeat.”
“Repeat them,” April says, firm. “I’m - I’m an adult, I deserve to know what terrible things my mother says about me.”
“It was less of what she said and more of how she said it,” Anderson says. “It was very ‘it’s so interesting that you are letting your daughter and my daughter sleep under your roof, given their lifestyle choices.’”
“Which is absolute bullshit,” Debbie interjects ardently, before adding a, “pardon my French.”
“No, Mom, French away,” Blair says, the same anger in her tone as her mother, “it is bullshit.”
“It’s pretty much standard,” April says, trying to pass it off as casual, even as a hot spike of rage rises in her gut, at how this woman can somehow weasel her way into everything good that April has. “I’m just sorry you got dragged into this. Sterling and I aren’t even-”
“Now, you listen here,” Debbie interjects, pointing a finger at April, the conviction in her voice more than effective at silencing April. “Don’t you apologize. Don’t you dare apologize for the actions of someone in your family you can’t control. There are - sometimes there are people in this world and you try and you try to get them to see the light and they just can’t. And that, my darling, that is not your fault. Now, I don’t care if you’re dating my daughter. I don’t care who you’re dating. What I care about is that you know this house is a place you are always welcome, no matter what. You understand?”
April nods, breath coming a little shakily, the strength and kindness in Debbie’s voice, the way darling had seamlessly fallen from her lips, making April on the verge of tears.
“Yes, ma’am,” she manages to get out.
“Well, that’s what I like to hear,” Debbie says, then with a soft laugh, “would that my own kids could be so polite.”
April laughs a little as well, wiping her eyes. She feels a hand on her back and glances up to see Sterling looking down on her with such concern that April has to fight back even more tears. She exhales a long breath, and then gives up a little, letting her head fall into the crook of Sterling’s neck, letting Sterling stroke her hair, press a kiss to the top of her head.
“Why don’t y’all go up to Sterl’s room,” Debbie gently suggests. “I’m sure it’s been a long day.”
April wipes her eyes on Sterling’s shirt before looking up to meet Debbie’s eyes.
“Thank you,” she says simply, hoping it can convey a fraction of what she wants it to.
“Any time, love,” Debbie says softly.
“You know what they say,” Anderson steps in, “when you’re here, you’re family.”
“Dad, that’s Olive Garden,” Blair says, smiling fondly.
April feels herself smiling too.
“They stole it from the Wesleys.”
As soon as April and Sterling are up in Sterling’s room, April turns to Sterling, heart beating fast.
“I feel like I owe you an explanation,” she says, before her nerves can get the better of her.
Sterling’s brow scrunches, in a way that is incredibly cute. Focus, April tells herself.
“You don’t owe me anything,” Sterling says, perching on the bed.
April rolls her eyes, but joins Sterling on the bed.
“Stop being so nice and perceptive, God.”
“I do have a degree in social work, so.”
“You were like this long before any higher education,” April says softly, and Sterling blushes a little, her mouth lifting into a small but gorgeous smile.
“I came out to my mom the night I graduated Yale,” April blurts out. Sterling’s eyes widen. April barrels on. “It was - it wasn’t premeditated. Well, that’s not true, it was premeditated for about five years of me reading anecdotes from gay southern teens and scouring PFLAG’s website and looking up queer-adjacent interpretations of the bible. But - I wasn’t planning on doing it then. But things were in a good place, for us, at least. John was back in prison, for a longer sentence that he is thankfully still serving, and it made me feel hopeful that she could finally be separate from him, that the two of us could be our own… unit.
“It didn't exactly go like that. We were back in her hotel room after graduation, and she made some comment about one of my friends being just so handsome, and if I had ever thought about dating him, if I had thought about dating any nice boys at Yale. So I just… told her. That I would not be dating nice boys, in fact, I would be dating nice girls. And then-”
April swallows. This is the hard part.
“Then she just laughed.”
“April.” Sterling’s voice is achingly caring. Her hand takes April’s, squeezing it softly. April looks straight ahead, knowing if she looks into Sterling’s eyes, she will absolutely lose it.
“It wasn’t in a cruel way,” April says, before amending, “well, it was cruel. But unintentionally so, I think. She just thought the whole idea was so ridiculous, that it was some flight of fancy. And no matter how hard I tried - and trust me, I had the evidence to back it up, essentially a fucking annotated bibliography about my own sexuality - she just didn’t get it.
“It’s funny, I had thought it would go one of two ways, either her understanding me or us having a screaming match and never talking again. But it was this infuriating invalidating middle ground. And it just kept building in me, how something that was so important to me and that I was worried about for so long was just disregarded. I knew she checked my social media so I just started being as gay as I could be on all of them, letting her know that this wasn’t changing. It didn’t work, of course; every time I’d come home, which became rarer and rarer, she’d either avoid the topic or continue to act like it was a phase. God, it’s such a cliché, isn’t it? And still, still, so many years later, I keep expecting her to have some change of heart. I know it’s naïve and stupid of me, but I just…I’ve already cut off one parent, I really don’t want to cut off the other one.”
April takes a deep breath.
“But it’s really - being here has been eye opening, I suppose. It’s frankly depressing, but sometimes it’s still shocking to me to see parents, you know, parent. Perhaps it’s time to actually raise my standards in that regard.”
April finally turns to Sterling, expecting more of Sterling’s soft concern to be on display, but instead, her eyes are steely, her jaw set.
“God,” Sterling say emphatically, “fuck your mom.”
April lets out a surprised laugh.
“You heard me. Fuck your mom.” Sterling drops April’s hand to get up and pace around her room. “Like, are you kidding me? She has the gift of you as a kid. You were fucking valedictorian, you went to two Ivy League schools and took that education to actually help people. You fucking speak multiple languages! You know things about architecture! You’re funny and you’re sweet and you’re, like, the definition of someone who grew up well. Fuck, you are most likely going to be a legislator in the second biggest city in the country because, ever since you were nine and decided you needed to play the Virgin Mary in the nativity play, you have been freakishly good at getting what you want. And what you want is to use your insane intelligence and work ethic every day to make lives better. And this woman has the fucking gall to throw a stink about who you date? Because of a misinterpretation of some old book and her criminal husband's outdated prejudice? No. Fuck her.”
April just stares.
“Sterling, I-” she starts and then is abruptly confronted with the fact that she wants to finish that sentence with, love you.
Well, if she thinks about it, it's really not new at all.
“- don’t know if I’ve ever heard you say ‘fuck’ so many times,” she says to finish her sentence instead.
“Well, I think this fucking calls for it!” Sterling essentially yells, before resuming her pacing. “God, April, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it tomorrow - to go to the same event as that woman and not just punch her in the face. Or, like, shoot her. I’m still a very good shot, I’ll have you know...”
Oh God, April is so in love with her. April is so in love with this woman and she’s pretty sure she has been since she was ten years old.
She watches as Sterling continues to pace, hands gesticulating wildly, how, even in this show of anger, a bright kindness shines through, a care and passion that April feels so unbearably lucky to be at the receiving end of. She wonders, as something warm and joyous grows in her chest, how she ever could have thought that Sterling didn’t want all parts of her.
Sterling collapses on the bed next to her, apparently worn out from her ranting.
“Sorry,” she says, “I didn’t mean to - I kind of went off there, but how are you feeling, are you okay?”
April lets out a slightly unhinged laugh.
“Honestly, I’m great.”
Sterling raises her eyebrows.
“You just told me a pretty harrowing coming out story, and you’re great? Not to, like, police how you’re feeling or whatever, but, great? ”
Fuck, April loves her.
“I contain multitudes, Sterling,” she says with a grin that she can’t quite contain.
Sterling laughs a little.
“Ain’t that the truth. But seriously, you’re okay?”
“Yeah. It - it’s kind of freeing I think, not like I haven’t talked about this endlessly in therapy, but it’s good to have it out there. With you. Specifically.”
“Oh,” Sterling says, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. God, she’s beautiful. God, April loves her. “Thank you.”
“I figured, well, you flew all the way across the country to support my vendetta against her.”
“You know that’s not why I flew all the way across the country,” Sterling says softly.
“Was it your mom’s unmatched sorry-I-lied-to-you-for-the-first-sixteen-years-of-your-life cooking?”
Sterling laughs softly, rests her hand on April’s forearm, thumb stroking the skin there.
“April,” she says gently. “You know why I’m here.”
“Yeah,” April whispers, breath catching in her throat, “I think I have an inkling.”
Sterling smiles at her, and April wants to reach out and touch that smile, to feel it under her lips, all the way down her body.
Before April can act on any of that, there’s a sharp knock on the door.
“Blair,” Sterling groans, “it’s like she has a sixth sense for shitty timing.”
“Are y’all clothed?” Blair calls through the door.
“Unfortunately,” April mutters under her breath.
Sterling turns to her sharply.
“What did you say?”
April grins at her.
“Nothing. Your sister’s at the door.”
“Hey!” Blair pokes her head in. “Mom and Dad are trying really really hard to prove that they’re not homophobic, so they sent me up to say it is a-okay - Dad’s words - if April wants to stay in here tonight.”
“Oh,” April says, words failing her, thoughts suddenly going haywire at the thought of sleeping in this bed next to Sterling. Well, not sleeping. Definitely not sleeping.
“Oh,” Sterling echoes, and April can’t help but think - hope - that Sterling’s mind is going to the same places hers is.
“I know,” Blair says, “remember when I brought Jake Talbot home from college, and I had to sneak downstairs just to get head? Count yourself lucky. And I know you guys aren’t actually dating or whatever, but it would definitely be easier to just go with this - Mom is already planning her ally of the year acceptance speech and she would be bummed if you stayed in the guest room again.”
April blinks at the rapidfire words.
“Okay,” she says slowly, “I mean, I can stay here. If that’s okay with you, Sterl, obviously.”
“That’s okay with me,” Sterling says quickly. “Yup. Definitely okay. Can’t deprive Mom of that award, you know?”
Her face has gone a little red.
April is so in love with her.
It’s almost inconceivable that it was just last night that April stood at the bottom of these stairs and wished she could cross some invisible barrier to go up, to follow Sterling.
But now, it feels like nothing, seamless, like the most natural thing in the world to go up the stairs to Sterling’s room after gathering her things from the guest room, laughing at something Sterling has said; for her arm to graze Sterling’s while they brush their teeth, catching each other’s eyes in the mirror; for her to watch the way the water drips down Sterling chin when she washes her face; for her not to look away.
(For Blair to loudly clear her throat and pointedly say, “well, I’m going to bed, you two have fun.”)
The shorts that Sterling sleeps in make the shorts she wore to the cookout look like a god damn habit in comparison. In another world, April would try to avert her eyes, but not tonight. Instead, she lets her eyes linger on the smooth expanse of Sterling’s legs, the curve of Sterling’s ass, lets Sterling catch her watching.
“What?” Sterling says, a grin tugging up her mouth, “it’s June in Atlanta.”
“Your parents keep the AC up.”
“I get warm in my sleep.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“I’m sure you will.”
It’s invigorating, this kind of dance they’re doing, waiting for someone to cross the line they’ve both been testing the waters of all day. It makes April’s heart beat fast in her chest as she carefully gets into bed, purposefully resting on her side so she can face Sterling.
“I think the last time I slept in this bed was during one of our sleepovers in fifth grade,” April says with a laugh.
Sterling laughs too, eyes crinkling up as she does.
“We always did end up sharing somehow, didn’t we?”
April shoots her a disbelieving look.
“Sterling,” April says, once again in awe at how someone so smart can be so dumb. (God, she loves her.) “It wasn’t just coincidental. I very purposefully made sure I slept in here.”
“What do you mean?”
April laughs again, unable to help herself.
“You’re really going to make me spell it out for you.”
“Spell what out for you?”
April leans a little closer, watching as Sterling leans in too, their faces only a few inches apart.
“Oh,” she says, casual, “just my massive gay crush on you when we were ten.”
“Your what!?” Sterling exclaims so loudly that April has to put a hand over her mouth to silence her.
And then, God, then April can feel Sterling’s breath hot and wet on her hand, can feel the way her mouth curves into a smile under her palm, can see the shine in Sterling’s eyes as they stare directly into April’s.
April’s breath catches in her throat at the sight of it. She swallows, aware her heart is beating so loud that Sterling can probably hear, aware of every place she’s touching Sterling, their knees brushing under the covers, Sterling’s lips hot and soft under her hand.
“You idiot,” she breathes, moving her hand so that it’s no longer covering Sterling’s mouth, but still rests on the side of her cheek, unable to break contact. Sterling’s eyes flick to April’s hand, an unabashed hope shining in them that April can’t ignore. That April doesn't want to ignore anymore.
If someone had told 10-year-old April that she would be here, where she spent nights lying awake, looking at the form of Sterling sleeping, tired enough to let herself wonder what it would feel like for Sterling’s hand to be in hers, to imagine Sterling holding her close, what it would feel like to lean just a bit forward and kiss those lips - that she would be here years later, with Sterling looking at her like this, like she is someone to be wanted and cherished - she wouldn’t have believed it.
But it’s true. April can feel it, can feel every ounce of Sterling’s desire and longing and care. And, maybe, just maybe, April owes it to herself at ten years old and herself at sixteen years old and herself right fucking now to do something about it.
“You know,” she whispers, thumb coming up to brush the corner of Sterling’s mouth, “I would lie in this bed, late at night, the only time I used to let myself think these kind of things, and I would wish…”
“You would wish what?” Sterling breathes, and April can feel it.
April takes a deep breath.
“I would wish I could just lean forward and kiss you.”
She hears Sterling let out a sharp gasp, feels her gaze on April’s lips.
“Nothing’s stopping you now,” Sterling says, a plea in her voice, a desperation to it that shoots its way down April’s body.
April lets out a shaky breath, slowly moves her thumb to trace the edge of Sterling’s bottom lip. Sterling closes her eyes and opens her mouth at the contact, and April can feel the wetness of Sterling’s lip against her thumb, warm and soft.
“April,” Sterling says, her voice high and breathy and full of a need that April feels hot in her gut. “Please.”
Her eyes open to meet April’s and April has been resisting for so long now, but she simply can’t any more. So she leans forward, moving her thumb and replacing it with her lips, so she can kiss the girl she is in love with.
“April,” Sterling breathes at the contact, hands coming up to clutch April’s shirt to pull her closer. “April, god, I’ve been losing my fucking mind.”
April laughs against her mouth before using her hand on Sterling’s face to pull her in, to suck Sterling’s lip into her mouth, to try and taste all of it, all of her.
“April,” Sterling says again, relief and desire and joy echoed in just her name. It makes something hot and desperate alight in April’s belly. She presses her tongue to every corner of Sterling’s mouth she can, reveling in the way Sterling reacts to her, with soft sighs and shallow breaths. April shifts their bodies under the blankets so their legs are interlocked, her thigh settling in between Sterling’s legs.
“April,” Sterling repeats, a whine in her voice that’s addictive, that makes April press her closer, makes her hand find its way to the exposed skin of Sterling’s lower back before dipping lower, under those fucking shorts, until the smooth perfect curve Sterling’s ass is warm under her palm. Sterling lets out a deep sigh as April’s pushes Sterling firm against her thigh. April lets out her own harsh breath as she feels the evidence of Sterling’s want even though their clothes. She kisses down the side of Sterling’s neck, feels Sterling’s heart rate spike against her mouth.
“April,” Sterling gasps, pressing her hips further and faster into April’s thigh, an action that makes April grin against her skin, making her push into Sterling, guiding her body. Her other hand finds its way up Sterling’s shirt, gliding over the soft skin of her stomach, before slowly reaching up to cup Sterling’s breast.
“April,” Sterling whines at the contact, biting her lip as April’s thumb presses into Sterling’s nipple. April feels Sterling's hips start to move faster, more desperately against her, and April is fully addicted to it.
“Sterling,” she whispers back, in awe at all of it; at the way Sterling is so attune to every move she’s making, at the way how even with their clothes on, even in such a short amount of time, she has Sterling like this, desperate and undone and incapable of saying anything but her name.
“April, April, April,” Sterling lets out as her body presses hard against April, as her breathing goes sharp and erratic, before she sucks in a huge breath and her body tenses against April’s.
April just watches her face through it all, the pure Sterling Wesley joy so bright and open and obvious, that April almost can’t breathe, she’s so in love with her.
April gently reaches up to run her hand through Sterling’s hair, as Sterling’s breathing slowly steadies. It’s a moment that April knows is exceedingly intimate, even so, April simply can’t help herself.
“What was that, thirty seconds?” she teases, even as she feels her own want, harsh in her gut.
Sterling laughs, radiant in every way.
“Thirty seconds plus basically thirteen years, okay?”
“You make a great point,” April says, grinning widely.
She lets out a soft breath as Sterling’s fingers come up to trace the edge of April’s smile, so gently that April almost can’t breathe.
“Would it be longer for you?” Sterling asks softly.
“Would what be longer for me?”
“If you… if you had a crush on me when we were kids, then it would be…”
“Nineteen years,” April says, the weight of the full number hitting her as she says it. She lets out a small huff of laughter. “But why not round up to an even twenty?”
Twenty years. From being a scared kid, afraid of what it would mean to look at this girl and feel this fluttering that she couldn’t put into words yet - to now, looking her in the eyes, a soft yet solid intimacy over them that April never could have dreamed of.
“Lie back,” Sterling says suddenly.
“What?” April asks, shocked at how Sterling's voice has gone from gentle to almost commanding. Which April’s body immediately reacts to, as she does indeed lie back, heart beating fast and eager.
Sterling grins at her before shifting so she’s sitting on April’s hips, straddling them, looking down on April with a smile that’s equal parts soft and feral.
“April,” Sterling says, voice low and rough, leaning down so their lips are an inch apart, “if you waited twenty years for this, I’m going to do everything I can do make it worth the fucking wait.”
April feels a shock go down her body at that, the want deep in her growing stronger. Still, she manages to tease a little.
“I’m not sure this is exactly what I pictured when I was ten, I wasn’t that mature for my age.”
Sterling laughs, in a way that makes her whole face shine before she looks down on April, and whispers, “shut up for once.”
April is so fucking in love with her.
Then Sterling is kissing her, slow and long and dirty. April whines under her mouth, undone at the way Sterling’s tongue licks the roof of her mouth, the edge of her teeth. She pushes her hips up against Sterling but Sterling pushes them back down, and April can feel her grin against her mouth.
If April’s being honest, when she had thought about this happening, an embarrassing number of times over the last couple months, the last couple decades, she had pictured the reverse; her looking down on Sterling, teasing her, drawing it out.
But, now, Sterling’s hands slowly making their way up her body, her mouth hot and insistent on April’s, her thighs pressing April to the bed, it’s better and different and hotter than anything even April’s imagination could have conjured up.
Sterling’s hands find the bottom of April’s t-shirt, and she leans back just enough to pull it over April’s head. Then she looks down at April, eyes wide and mouth open. It makes even more heat rise in April's body, the way Sterling’s eyes rake her chest, taking in every inch of her.
“You know,” April teases, though her voice is raw with want, “you can do more than just look.”
Sterling’s eyes meet hers, filled with joy and desire and wonderment.
“I don’t think you understand,” she says, hand slowly making its way up April’s stomach, “how many times I lay in this very bed, thinking about this.”
Her hand creeps up further, thumb stroking the underside of April’s breast, causing April to let out a sharp gasp.
“Thinking about what?” She manages to ask, even though she knows the answer, knows it in the reverence of Sterling’s touch, in the glint in her eyes.
Sterling leans down over her again, presses a soft teasing kiss to her cheek, then to her jaw, then, her mouth hovering over April’s ear, she whispers, “I’d think about what it would feel like to touch you, every inch of you.”
Her words hit April at the same time her fingertips brush against April’s nipple and April lets out a harsh groan.
“I’d wonder what it would be like,” Sterling continues, breath hot on April’s ear, “to make someone as put together as you fall apart.”
“Fuck,” April let’s out succinctly, already so near to falling apart as Sterling’s hips press down firmer on hers, as Sterling pinches April’s nipple, as Sterling’s mouth moves to her neck, teeth scraping the skin there.
Sterling’s hand that’s not currently driving April out of her mind moves to the waistband of her pajamas, teasing at the edges of them.
“Sterling, please,” April whines, not caring how needy she sounds, just knowing that she might combust of Sterling doesn’t fuck her senseless within the next ten seconds.
“Patience,” Sterling murmurs against her skin.
April let’s out something that could maybe be called a growl.
“Twenty years, remember?”
Sterling looks up to meet April’s gaze, grinning a filthy grin.
“So what’s a few more minutes compared to that?”
And then her mouth is kissing down to April’s chest, leaving fire in its wake, until her lips close around April’s nipple, teeth gently biting into it and it’s enough for April to let out a strangled sort of scream.
Sterling leans up, immensely self-satisfied.
“Shh,” she scolds, “we’re not trying to wake everyone up here.”
April blushes a little, but can’t help herself.
“Well, stop being so fucking good at that,” she snaps.
Sterling beams at the praise, still so remarkably Sterling even when she’s midway through absolutely destroying April.
“You really want me to stop?” She teases.
April lets out a frustrated groan. “Of course not, please just-“
And then Sterling’s mouth is back on her breast, sucking a mark into the side of it, and her hands are pushing down April’s pajamas and April has to bite down on her hand to stop from screaming.
Sterling makes quick work of disrobing April, thank god, because then her hands are on April’s bare thighs, slowly spreading them apart, as she presses open mouth kisses down April’s stomach.
April is already shaking in anticipation as Sterling’s hands stroke the soft skin on the inside of April’s thighs, as her tongue licks the dip of April’s hipbone.
“Sterling,” she gasps, “I need-”
“I know, baby,” Sterling whispers against her skin, soft and rough and sexy at the same time, “I know.”
Then Sterling’s tongue is finally where April needs it to be, slowly opening April up and licking the length of her.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” April lets out, as the feeling consumes, overtakes her, as the whole world that isn’t Sterling Wesley’s mouth falls away from her.
For the two decades that April has known her, Sterling has been both a quick learner and eager to please. And apparently, those two qualities combine exquisitely when it comes to sex. It’s as if Sterling is intrinsically attuned to her, chasing every one of April’s reactions until April is gasping and sweating and overcome.
Her mind short-circuits when Sterling slips a finger inside of her, when her lips close around her clit, and it all compounds, until April feels like her whole body is lifting off the bed, until she is biting down on the edge of the blanket to stop from screaming, until she looks down to the glorious form of Sterling between her legs and can’t help herself anymore, and she comes undone, letting the exquisite sensation wash over her until she is breathless.
“Sterling,” she manages once she can speak again, “I’m - that was -“
Sterling lifts her head, grinning up at April.
“Hey now,” she says, voice teasing and filthy, “I don’t appreciate your use of past tense there.”
April gasps at that, at Sterling’s satisfied little smile, at her using grammatical rules of all things to heavily imply that this night is far from over.
“Sterling,” April breathes, her own sense of the English language apparently nonexistent except for Sterling’s name.
Then Sterling’s finger curls inside of her and April really doesn’t need a vocabulary anyway.
“April,” Sterling whispers in response, “don’t you dare think there is a world in which I will ever be done with you.”
And she proceeds to prove just that.
Buckle up for some sappy shit, fellas. Also the song that plays at the end is Orville Peck’s cover of “Unchained Melody,” which goes unreasonably hard, if y’all wanna throw it on!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hannah looks radiant.
Normally, April thinks it would be awfully cliché to describe a bride as radiant on her wedding day, but maybe she’s feeling awfully cliché today.
Sterling’s hand is warm and solid in hers, as it has been since they woke up together, elated and naked and content. April would have liked to stay there for a very long time - days, perhaps weeks - but unfortunately one of her oldest friends was due to get married.
Though, April supposes, she wouldn’t have found herself in this situation if one of her oldest friends wasn’t due to get married. So, in addition to looking radiant, Hannah is also indirectly responsible for April feeling pretty radiant herself.
“Oh, she’s gorgeous,” Ezekiel whispers from next to her in the pew as they all turn around to look at Hannah, his usual snark replaced with a tone of reverence.
“She really is,” Blair agrees from his other side.
April glances to Sterling, expecting her to also effuse at Hannah, only to see tears welling up in her eyes.
“Already?” April softly teases.
“I told you I love weddings,” Sterling sniffs, “and look at her, she’s radiant!”
“Yeah,” April says, watching the way Sterling’s eyes shine, how her smile seems to be bursting from her, “radiant.”
April turns back to look at Hannah, only to catch a glimpse of someone a few rows behind her, a profile she can’t help but intrinsically recognize. She swallows, taking in the sight of her mother watching Hannah’s father walk her down the aisle, probably lamenting the fact that she will never get to see her own daughter marry a man in a church on the arm of her criminal father.
“Hey,” Sterling whispers next to her. April looks down, realizing she’s been squeezing Sterling’s hand harder than one should. “You good?”
April isn’t quite sure how to answer that - an odd combination of, I still have this same clench in my stomach I’ve had for almost 20 years, and, somehow better than I’ve ever been.
Sterling’s other hand comes up to rest on April’s back. She leans a little closer so she can whisper in April's ear.
“If you need, I could run back to my house, get my dad’s hunting guns from the shed, and shoot your mom in the leg by the time they get to the vows.”
It’s so shockingly violent that April has to stifle a laugh. Sterling grins at her, remarkably similar to the way she grinned up at her last night, and suddenly said clench in April’s gut eases just a little.
“Anything you need,” Sterling murmurs, before pressing a kiss to her cheek.
April closes her eyes for a second. When she opens them, she sees her mother looking at her for a second, a sharp downturn to her mouth as she takes in the physical affection between April and Sterling, before she quickly looks away.
It stings a bit, the clear disapproval, even if it is ostensibly the reason she invited Sterling here in the first place, to incite this very thing. Though April has enough self awareness to know that the reason she really brought Sterling here probably has a lot more to do with two decades of longing more than anything with her mother.
April takes a deep breath, tears her eyes away from her mother, instead choosing to look back at Hannah, who is practically bursting as she approaches the man she loves. April then looks over at the fondness reflected in Ezekiel’s gaze, looks to Sterling’s eyes, concern and care painted in them as she focuses on April and only April.
“You know what,” April says, resting her head on Sterling’s shoulder, “I think I’m okay.”
The wedding is standard fare, but April finds herself caught up in it. She’s not sure if it’s her own afterglow projecting on Hannah and Chester, the fact that Hannah and Chester are just so earnest or about the whole thing, or some combination of the two.
Either way, by the time the vows come around, April finds herself getting a bit misty eyed. The vows aren’t even that extraordinary - Hannah has never claimed to be a wordsmith and has chosen a partner quite similar in that regard - but there is something so genuine about them that makes April’s chest seize up.
“Hannah,” Chester says, his voice shaky, “you’re the prettiest, nicest, most perfect person in the world and I still can’t believe I get to wake up next to you every day. Like, gosh, I’m just the luckiest.”
Sterling lets out something akin to a sob next to her. If April wasn’t blinking back tears herself, she would endlessly mock her for it.
“I love you so much,” Hannah is saying, “I used to - I don’t think I ever got what everyone was talking about until I met you. But you made me realize that love was is just knowing that everything I want to do, I want to do it with you. You make each day a zillion times better than it would be without you and you just make me so happy. And that’s the best. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“God, she’s going for the jugular,” April mutters, wiping her eyes.
“Striking a chord?” Ezekiel slyly whispers in her ear.
And April can’t even think of a comeback. Apparently being in love with Sterling Wesley has reduced her into a sappy teary inarticulate mess. But Sterling’s hand is still in hers, thumb stroking her knuckles, even as Sterling actively weeps. So April isn’t exactly complaining.
“Do you need to hydrate?” April asks Sterling after the ceremony, “you lost a lot of fluids there.”
“Hey, you were crying too!”
“Crying, not acting like an active fire hydrant.”
Sterling leans in closer, so her lips brush the edge of April’s ear, whispering, “no, that was you last night, if I recall.”
April lets out a surprised sort of cough, heat rising to her face.
“We’re in a church,” she hisses.
“Please, like that’s ever stopped me. What did you think I used to think about when I would stare over at your pew when I was seventeen?”
“Can you two stop - whatever is going on here - until we have at least drinks in front of us,” Ezekiel interjects from behind April.
“They’ve been like this all day,” Blair tells him, “when I tell you I would have perished if noise-cancelling headphones didn’t exist-“
“Oh Lord, how I don’t envy you.”
“So, reception?” Sterling quickly deflects.
“Lead the way,” April says, taking the opportunity to look at Sterling’s exposed shoulders in her dress, the smooth curve of her spine.
“This dress was Blair’s idea,” Sterling had said when they were getting dressed this morning, “she was all ‘show some skin, let April know what she’s missing.’”
“Well, not what I’m missing anymore,” April had said smugly, taking the opportunity to kiss the dimple in Sterling’s shoulder, to brush her hair aside to kiss up her neck, to run a hand up her skirt until they were almost late to the wedding.
Now, she presses her hand to Sterling’s back as they make their way out of the church. It’s honestly a little mind-boggling, if April thinks too hard about it. To be reveling in these touches, in this very institution surrounded by some of the very same people that made April think this kind of connection with this specific person was out of reach.
Maybe it’s the joy of the day, everyone basking in Hannah and Chester’s glow, but even as April sees people from her past - Hannah’s parents; various pastors; the over-present old women who seem to live in this church - she doesn’t feel the harsh judgement she had been expecting. Sure, there are some looks; she overhears Mr. B. whisper, “Sterling Wesley is a lesbian? I always thought it was the other one,” and Mrs B. respond with, “she’s apparently one of those bisexuals you read about,” which, well, isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly better than how members of her own family would react.
“Should I try to explain the Kinsey scale to Mrs. B?” Blair jokes as they make their way to the exit.
“I already tried that at a very weird Thanksgiving,” Ezekiel says with a grin. “It did not go well. I think you should tell her you and I are an item just to see her head spin around.”
“I knew there was a reason I chose you as my date.”
“Girl, you were desperate.”
“That was yesterday. Today I am so thrilled to have hand picked you.”
“They’re worse than us,” Sterling mutters to April.
“Not true,” Blair and Ezekiel say at the same time.
April just laughs.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” she says, squeezing Sterling’s arm, “I’ll meet you outside, okay?”
“Do you need company?” Sterling asks.
“In the bathroom, Sterl?” Blair asks with disdain.
“I meant like… emotional support.”
“I repeat - in the bathroom, Sterl?”
“I think I’ll survive,” April says with a grin, leaving the twins to their bickering.
After April washes her hands, she stares at herself in the mirror for a good while. It’s not just that she’s admiring how she looks - though she does look great - it’s that there’s something in her expression that she hasn’t seen in a long time, maybe ever. It’s this fascinating combination of relaxation and giddiness that’s been taking over ever since she saw Sterling in a coffee shop two months ago.
She’s torn away from a full Narcissus moment when the door behind her creaks open. April looks in the mirror at who just entered and almost laughs. Of course. Those fucking Sith powers, back at it again.
“Mother,” she says evenly, making eye contact through the mirror.
“April,” her mother says, equally even. It’s unfortunately where April got it from; Lord knows her father was never able to control his temper.
“It was a lovely wedding wasn’t it?” April says, going for the high road here.
“Indeed. Hannah looked beautiful.”
“Yes, she did.”
April could leave right now, could call it a day. But she didn’t go through all of this just for a 10 second terse conversation in the church bathroom. So she paints her face with the fake smile she learned from her mother in the first place.
“You know, it was even more lovely because I got to experience it with my girlfriend.”
April’s mom gives a tight-lipped smile.
“Well, it’s always nice to have a friend.”
Which is just classic. Her mother has never been the type to actually engage, to actually fight, this terse passive aggressiveness always taking over instead.
April lets a breath. Fuck the high road, she’s almost thirty. She’s tired.
“Denial looks stunning on you, mother,” she bites out.
“Not as good as it looks on you.”
April wishes it still didn’t sting. God, she’s fucking exhausted of letting this person make her feel this way. She lets out a long sigh, braces her hands on the sink, before turning around and actually facing her mother head on. She takes a deep breath in, thinks of Sterling’s anger yesterday, thinks of Debbie Wesley’s unyielding support for someone she hasn’t seen in over ten years, thinks of her own patience, slowly being chipped away and chipped away by this woman.
“Aren’t you tired?” She finally asks her mother, “doesn’t it just get exhausting, holding up this façade?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” her mom says stiffly.
“Pretending I’m not gay isn’t going bring him back from prison,” April says, making an effort to make her voice steady. “Or make him not a criminal. Or make us that perfect family we pretended we were fifteen years ago. That will never exist again. Either you accept that - accept me - or I’ll see you the next time someone we know gets married. And we’ll say hello, we will perfectly civil, but I will not think of you as my mother.”
April lets out a shaky breath. She suddenly remembers being in here when she was young, her mother lifting her up to use the sink, telling her how pretty she looked in her new church dress.
And now she stands here, clad in a dark suit with sharp edges, her own sharp edges having formed over the years, then slowly softened with time and love and getting the hell out of here, though she thinks parts of her will always have an edge to it, be a little jagged.
But her voice is soft when she tells her mother, “it’s your choice.”
Her mother just stares at her. She’s a very small woman, April thinks, for someone who has taken up such space in April’s mind.
The door creaks open again just then, and April turns to it, tense, before she sees who it is and breathes out a sigh of relief.
“Hey, I promise I don’t mean to rush you, but Blair is getting impatient for her free meal and…” Sterling trails off as she sees the scene in the bathroom, and she’s at April’s side in a flash, hand wrapping around her waist.
April’s suddenly struck by the image of them two months ago, of April making the split second decision to pull Sterling close to her after having not seen her in eleven years, still somehow in possession of the urge to be close to this woman, to protect her from some random creep.
Now, though, April is the one being protected, Sterling’s arm real and solid around her. April leans into her touch, lets out a breath.
“You okay, sweetheart?” Sterling murmurs.
April nods, a little warmth rising in her at the seamlessness of sweetheart slipping from Sterling’s lips. She spares a glance back at her mother, who is remarkably stoic.
“Let’s get out of here okay?” She says to Sterling with a smile, “get Blair her free meal.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They step toward the door together, April’s hand about to push it open when she hears her mother clear her throat.
“I’m not the one who made a choice that hurt this family.”
Of fucking course. Things can’t ever just be easy with this woman, with this family. It’s always been like this, this constant needling tension, of her parents trying to break her down.
Except now, it’s different. Except now, her mother seems less like a woman in her fifties and more like a petulant child. Except now, there is a warm body beside April, still holding her, even as she tenses at April’s mom’s words.
“We can just leave,” April whispers, “this is unfortunately, the usual.”
“Well it shouldn’t have to be,” Sterling mutters, speaking softly. but with an undercurrent of anger in her words. “Sorry in advance.”
“Sorry for what?”
“This.” Sterling turns around, a large incredibly fake smile painting her features. “Mrs. Stevens, it’s been too long.”
“Sterling,” April’s mom says tersely. “Hope you’re well.”
“Thank you so much for asking,” Sterling enthuses, a slightly unhinged quality to her voice, “I am well. In fact, I’m doing great. Marvelous. Wonderful. Mostly due to the fact that I am in love with your daughter.”
April’s breath catches in her throat. She knows a lot is happening right now, that maybe she should be more focused on her mother’s spite, on these familiar dynamics that have been plaguing her for years now, but somehow that fades into that background because, well, because Sterling Wesley is in love with her.
“I don’t think this is the time or place for this conversation,” April’s mom says tersely to Sterling.
“I gotta disagree with you there, Mrs. Stevens,” Sterling says, still fake cheerful, like she didn’t just upend April’s world. “I think this is the perfect time and place for this conversation. Sure, maybe not the bathroom, but I think right now, in the house of the Lord, is the best place to talk about love. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? That’s what today was all about. We got to sit out there, got to witness two people so in love that they wanted all of their friends, their family, the world, God, to know it and celebrate it. And I think that’s beautiful. And I think everyone who doesn’t think that any two people who love each other should be able to do that must live a very sad life.”
April raises her eyebrows, sees her mother do the same, finally a crack in the façade.
“And if I’m very lucky,” Sterling continues, “like, if I am the luckiest person in the world, maybe someday I can stand up in front of everyone I love, and do the same with your daughter. And maybe - if you realize what an absolutely wonderful person you have in her - you’ll get to see it too. But if things keep going how they’re going, if you keep shutting her down and letting prejudice outweigh family, then you’re not going anywhere near us. So, you’re the one who has to make a choice here. Either get it together, or - or, have a nice life.”
She turns to April, and April sees an acute panic in her eyes.
“We good?” Sterling squeaks out.
April looks at her mother, mouth open in shock, thoroughly astonished, in a way that April hasn’t managed to do to her in years.
April nods, somehow both calm and giddy at oneself. “Let's get out of here.”
She takes Sterling by the hand and leads her out of the bathroom, starting a countdown in her head. 3...2…
“Oh my god,” Sterling gasps, “oh my god, what did I just do?”
“Just keep walking, baby,” April says, trying and failing not to smile too big.
“Did I just say I wanted to marry you, like, less than 24 hours after we first slept together?”
“You did, yes.”
April leads her out of the church, which has thankfully mostly vacated.
“Oh god, and also that I’m in love with you?”
“That too,” April says, the same giddy joy rising in her chest at hearing it the second time.
“Oh my god, and I just like, totally took over your whole relationship conversation with your mom, making it about my terms instead of your terms, when I have no right at all to do that. Like, I am professionally trained on how to intervene in bad parental situations and I just did the complete opposite of that.”
“I should be de-licensed. I should - I get it if you don’t want to be my girlfriend anymore after that stunt.”
“Sterling, slow down,” April says, trying to reassure her with a hand on her back as she steers her over to where Blair and Ezekiel are waiting. “We haven’t actually had that conversation yet.”
“Oh my god, we haven’t had that conversation yet and I just said I want to marry you in front of your mother.”
“You did what?” Blair says in alarm as they approach, “Jesus, I leave you alone for five minutes.”
“It’s a long story,” April says quickly, before turning to Sterling. “Listen. I’m not mad, okay? I promise.”
April reaches a hand up, cups Sterling’s face.
“Do I look mad?”
“No,” Sterling says, breathing a sigh out. “You look… happy. And hot. Have I mentioned how much I like that suit?”
“Several times,” Blair says under her breath.
April ignores her.
“I am happy,” April tells her. “And hot. And I’m - you know I’m more than capable of standing up to my mother on my own.”
“I’m sorry -”
“Let me finish. But, it feels really really nice to have someone else do it for me. To have you do it for me.”
Sterling breathes out.
“So, we’re good? You’re good?”
“Sterling,” April strokes her thumb over Sterling’s cheek, “I’m more than good. Promise.”
Sterling still looks doubtful, so April leans up and kisses her, as soft as the afternoon sun hitting them as they stand outside the church where they used to go every Sunday.
“Jesus Christ, can we go to the reception already?” Blair groans. “At least we can eat free food while y’all... do this.”
It takes almost an hour into the reception for April to actually see the woman of the hour. But when she does, it’s all April could have wanted from the encounter, Hannah bounding over to their table while Sterling and Blair are up at the bar getting drinks, and dramatically plopping herself in Sterling’s empty seat, plucking a roll off of Ezekiel’s plate.
“I know it’s your day, hun, but this is my food,” he says with no malice.
“Let me have this,” Hannah says through the bread, “too many people keep congratulating me, I haven’t even had time to eat.”
“The woes of marriage, already upon you.”
“It’s the best.” Hannah grins, before turning directly to April. “So Sterling, huh?”
“Always masterful at transitions, Hannah,” April says, but she knows she’s grinning.
“She’s particularly insufferable today,” Ezekiel tells Hannah, “they finally sealed the deal last night.”
“Finally?” Hannah asks through a bite of Ezekiel’s chicken, “Haven’t they been dating for, like, months? I know in high school we all pretended to be into the abstinence thing, but months?”
“Oh, to catch you up,” Ezekiel says conspiratorially, “that was all fake, to prove some point or something? Very convoluted. But it’s real now, just look at them.”
“That sounds unnecessarily complicated.”
“It was, trust. But we’re thrilled they finally made it.”
“Aw, I’m so happy for them!”
“I’m right here,” April snaps.
“Sorry,” Ezekiel says with a smug little grin, “was I wrong in any regard?”
April just rolls her eyes at him.
“Well, I’m just happy it all worked out with the invitation screw up!” Hannah says cheerfully.
April raises her eyebrows
“Invitation screw up?”
“Oh yeah, I was totally gonna invite Sterling and Blair, but there was an error at the print shop and all the W-Z’s got lost. It was a whole thing and super expensive to replace them so we just, you know, cut our losses.”
April bites back a laugh.
“So you were actually going to invite them even after not talking for a decade?”
Hannah shrugs. “Yeah, I feel like they’d liven up any party.”
Ezekiel starts laughing.
“What an act three plot twist. But I think it all worked out for the best, this was a necessary humbling experience for them.”
“You just liked having Blair do whatever you told her to,” April says, but she’s holding back a laugh too.
“Please. Like you didn’t luck the hell out with this arrangement.”
April glances to the bar, where Sterling is carrying back multiple drinks for them, but still tries to wave to April.
“Yeah, I really did.”
“There was an invitation mix up?” Blair growls, half an hour later, when the vodka has loosened Ezekiel’s tongue, and he has decided to choose chaos.
Sterling just laughs, eyes shining. They’ve scooched their chairs closer, so their thighs are pressed together, and Sterling's hand rests on the back of April’s neck.
“I think it all worked out fine,” Sterling says, smiling at April.
“Ugh,” Blair says. April just grins at her.
The food is essentially gone at this point, and the DJ has slowly made the transition to playing music for a semi-active dance floor. He starts up a cover of an old standard as Hannah and Chester take the floor, and slowly others trickle on.
Oh, my love, my darling, comes over the speakers, I’ve hungered for your touch, a long lonely time.
April feels, deep in her chest, the significance of Sterling’s fingers brushing the nape of her neck, how a small touch can feel so monumental in its simplicity.
“Do you want to dance?” she asks.
Sterling nods eagerly, offering her hand to lead April to the dancefloor. April takes it, not breaking contact until her hands are softly around Sterling’s neck, until they are just two of many people, slowly moving to the music.
Time goes by so slowly, the deep voice croons, and April feels herself swallow, looking up into Sterling’s eyes. And time can do so much.
“Thank you,” she says, the words not fully capturing what she needs them to.
“For what?” Sterling says with a smile.
“For everything,” April says, aware of a catch in her voice. “This whole weekend, these last few months. You’ve been - you’ve been pretty much perfect.”
“Oh,” Sterling says, before grinning a bit, “glad your definition of perfect is me accosting your mother in a bathroom with my grand intentions for you, like mere hours after we had sex, despite not having technically defined our relationship and, wow, okay, now that I say it out loud, that is still very embarrassing, talk about u-hauling, sheesh.”
“Sterl,” April cuts her off, not sure where to even begin, but deciding to go with, “you know it wasn’t just sex, right?”
April feels Sterling’s shoulder relax a little under her arms.
“Yeah?” She whispers, as if there is any world where April isn’t fully and completely in love with her.
“Sterling,” April says, fondly exasperated, as she brings a hand up to brush a bit of Sterling’s hair out of her face. She grins up at Sterling, unable to help herself. “Let’s just say, if I was a 200-year-old vampire with a curse on my head, after last night…”
Sterling lets out a joyous laugh.
“No soul?” she asks, a glint in her eyes.
“Not for a second.”
Sterling just grins at her, wide and open.
“So are we, like, official now? Or whatever the kids say. I figure, you know, since I got that pesky soul outta you and yelled at your mom, the least I can do is call you my girlfriend.”
“Haven’t you been doing that for the past two months anyway?”
“You make a great point.”
“Also,” April says, enjoying drawing this out, maybe more than she should, as she leans in to whisper in Sterling’s ear, “I am just desperately in love with you, Sterling Wesley.”
She hears Sterling’s breath catch, feels her hands draw April closer, and then Sterling is kissing her, soft and eager at the same time.
“I love you too,” she whispers.
“I’m aware. You told my mom that, like, a couple hours ago.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Then they’re kissing again, pressed close together on the dance floor, surrounded by people from their past, but in this moment April doesn’t care if they are alone or in a crowd of a billion, all she cares about is Sterling’s smile under her mouth, the softness of her skin on April’s palm, and the way that April would be content to never leave this moment.
Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much, the song sounds again as it crests into the chorus, before the singer belts out, long and slow, are you still mine?
And April, finally, after all this time, knows the answer to that question.
This was supposed to be the end of this story, but a tiny little epilogue turned out to be not tiny at all, so she’s coming at you next week! Thanks for coming along on the ride pals!
Okay if you thought the last chapter was cheesy, buckle the hell up for this one!!! Once again, spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that finished airing before these characters were born, so time to sit alone in the dark and think about that one!! Also, the song playing partway through is "A Case of You" by Joni Mitchell.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It honestly shouldn’t surprise Sterling how long it takes two adult women to finish a television series. But it takes them a long time to finish Buffy.
At first, there’s this problem - well, definitely not a problem - a situation that arises as soon as they get back to April’s apartment from the airport and they realize that they are all alone in the same space for the first time since they’ve actually been together. So they aren’t exactly inclined to watch television.
And even when they are inclined to watch television, sometimes April strokes up Sterling’s leg, or presses a kiss to Sterling’s neck, or just fucking looks at her in that one specific way, and Sterling tries to keep watching the show, she really does, she’s invested, but then April’s breath will be hot and her smile will be too knowing and Sterling will have to reach for the remote to pause it.
By the time they finish season three (“Faith isn’t gonna die, is she? She’s coming back right?” “Just watch the show, Sterling. My lips are sealed.” “Your lips are a lot of things, but I wouldn’t say sealed.”), summer is almost over, and Sterling has to coax her teens through the anxiety of returning to school.
April is starting to take meetings with Joaquin to discuss a potential city council run, always coming back from them looking invigorated. One day, she draws a diagram for Sterling on one of her legal pads about the makeup of LA’s city council, who is essentially a lost cause to mega-donors, and who could still be swayed; the demographics of District 13, who voted in the last election, who hasn’t, how they can mobilize the latter.
It reminds Sterling of in fifth grade when they were learning all the capitals and April wrote each state and each capital and one fun fact about every one out in her precise little eleven-year-old handwriting, not even for an assignment, just so she would know them all by heart. And Sterling was so in awe of that, remembers talking to Blair about how cool it was that April knew so much and was so smart, and Blair had told her very seriously that her definition of cool was deeply wrong.
“Are you following?” April asks now. April who falls asleep next to her nine nights out of ten. April who leaves for work with a seamless I love you like it's nothing. April who is actively pursuing running for city council like it’s just another day of the week. “I know it’s a lot of information at once.”
“I’m following,” Sterling assures her, “this is actually super fascinating. I just, God, I just love you so much.”
April beams at her, puts aside the diagram for a minute just to kiss her.
When they are halfway through season four (“Oh my god, Willow is gay?” “How have you been a queer person on the internet this century and not know Willow was gay, Sterl?” “I mostly just watch videos of different animals becoming friends with each other, you know this. Wow, look at sweet Willow, I’m so proud of her.” “Are you crying?” “Shut up.”), Sterling has a Bad Day at work. She manages to keep it together all the way through the metro ride to April’s apartment, then she uses the key that she now has to slip in, sees April at the kitchen table, looking up from her work with a smile, one that quickly turns into a frown when she sees Sterling’s face.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” she asks, immediately at Sterling’s side.
And Sterling breaks a little, crying into April’s soft perfect shoulder, about how Owen and Julia’s mom pulled them out of the program right when Owen was really starting to make progress, and there’s nothing Sterling can do about it, and how these parents just don’t get that this is a process, that stopping the counseling abruptly will hurt these kids, and Sterling is still low enough in the hierarchy that parents don’t listen to her, and she sometimes feels just so so helpless.
April strokes her hair, wipes her tears away, before grabbing her car keys from the hook on the wall.
“What are you doing?” Sterling asks, still a little teary.
April holds up her keys.
“Well, these things are called car keys, and they power a vehicle that most people in this city use to get around.”
Sterling lets out a wet huff of laughter.
“Also,” April says, softer, “sometimes a person will use them to take their girlfriend on a drive out of the city when she’s had a shitty day. You know, if she wants to.”
Sterling sniffs a little, but nods.
April lets Sterling pick the music as she drives them God knows where, only stopping briefly to grab them some food.
“Eat, Sterl. I know you don’t feel hungry when you’re sad, but eat. It will help.”
So Sterling reluctantly munches on a burrito (which does help, April is infuriatingly always right), while she plays her her go-to Bummed Out playlist, one that has got her through various years of being homesick or heartbroken or that kind of melancholy where she’s not sure where it comes from, but sometimes just chooses to take up up residence in her chest.
April doesn’t say much, just hums along to the music, moves her hand to take Sterling’s as Los Angeles fades further away.
“Jesus, this playlist,” April says, as the fifth Joni Mitchell song in a row starts, “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sterling asks with a bit of a laugh, spirits buoyed by the food in her stomach and the hand warm and solid in her own.
“Sterl, we grew up together, we shared earbuds on field trips. It was like an explosion of bubblegum pop.”
“When I was, like, twelve!”
April shoots her a look.
“And still now! Whatever! But also I have grown to appreciate the melancholy in music over the years. God, I must have started making this playlist when I was sixteen or so. You know, with everything...”
“With your parents?”
“Also you, dummy.”
April gives a small little smile, before softly singing along with the music.
You’re in my blood like holy wine, tastes so bitter and so sweet. Oh, I could drink a case of you.
“This one was for you,” Sterling says quietly.
April squeezes her hand and glances over to her with an open tenderness that Sterling never could have imagined back when she made this playlist.
They finally stop driving a few hours outside of the city, April pulling into what can barely be described as a parking lot in what, quite frankly, seems to be the middle of the desert.
“Where are we?” Sterling asks, stretching as she gets out of the car.
“Joshua Tree,” April says, “this place mostly exists for actors to drop acid and feel self-important between projects, but it’s actually… I used to drive out here a lot when I first moved to LA. Look up.”
Sterling looks up. Stars litter the sky in a way Sterling hasn’t seen in years, not since Blair made them go camping a few birthdays ago.
“It’s very cliché,” April continues, “but there is something about seeing the stars that reminds me the world is big and I am small. When I first moved here, I was going through some adjustments. I had basically been in school for twenty years of my life and I was good at it, I could figure it out. But then school became work and there weren’t those easy answers anymore. We’ve both chosen fields where others depend on us and sometimes that weight can be incredibly overwhelming. So when it gets too bad, I just drive out here, look at the stars, and breathe. Perspective, you know?”
“Perspective,” Sterling echoes. She looks back up at the stars, the way they spread all the way to the jagged rocks on the horizon, to the gnarled trees dotting the landscape.
She leans back on the hood of the car and April joins her, arm naturally coming up around Sterling’s shoulders. Sterling sinks into her, smells her familiar smell, the soap that Sterling had started using too.
“Have you brought anyone else here?” Sterling murmurs against her chest.
And Sterling knew that, really, but it’s nice to hear it out loud, to be able to relax into this person, to sit with her, looking up at the stars like they are just any two people in the world.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
April kisses the top of her head.
“Of course, my love,” she whispers, “and whenever you’re ready, I will make a thorough list of all the ways we can upend the hierarchy at your work so you can keep those kids.”
Sterling lets out a soft laugh.
“Have I mentioned I’m stupid in love with you?”
“It’s been at least five minutes. So a new record for you.”
“I’ll make it to six someday.”
April chuckles, and they both look up at the stars again as she whispers, “we have all the time in the world.”
By the time they’re partway through the fifth season (“A sisters, but they aren’t really sisters, but they are sisters plot? Are you kidding me?”), Sterling's roommates that she barely ever sees ask her if she wants to renew her lease at the end of the year. Sterling knows the answer deep in her gut, but she also knows she’s probably got to at least have a conversation about it.
April has one of her city council prep meetings that evening, so Sterling lets herself in, feeds Faith, puts on one of April’s Columbia hoodies and some loud pop music (okay, yes, that is still mostly her taste), and slides around the kitchen in her socks. She scoops up Faith after she finishes eating, who reluctantly accepts her fate.
“Do you know who Carly Rae Jepsen is?” Sterling asks her, “I feel like your mommy did not properly educate you on the pop divas of our youth.”
“I won’t accept that kind of slander in my house,” Sterling hears from the doorway, as April walks in the apartment, looking amused and tired and gorgeous. “Faith is very well educated.”
Sterling grins, gently placing Faith on the floor so she can slide over to April, wrap her arms around her, and kiss her enthusiastically.
“You’re in a good mood today,” April remarks once they finally part, mostly just so April can put her stuff down.
“Any particular reason? Is it because Owen’s back at-”
“Do you want to move in together?”
April just blinks at her for a second. Sterling figures she maybe could have been more deliberate about bringing this up.
“I just - my lease is up on January 1st, and I spend all my time here anyway, and like, I know it’s only been a few months, but I mean - we’ve never been great at moving slow, so I just kind of figured-”
April presses a quick kiss to Sterling’s lips, effectively shutting her up.
“Okay,” April says.
“I mean, yes, let’s move in together.”
Sterling beams at her, letting out a joyous little laugh.
“That was easy.”
“I mean it’s only logical,” April says with a smile that tells Sterling its far far more than just logical, “Faith could use the extra company.”
“Sure. Faith. Uh-huh.”
“Yes, I’m sure Faith counts herself incredibly lucky that she’ll get to wake up next to you every morning.”
At first Sterling thinks she’ll just move into April’s place, but the more they talk about it, the more it makes sense to find something with more space, a bit closer to Sterling’s job. Also, an added benefit is that April is scarily thorough about house-hunting in a way that Sterling finds mind-bogglingly hot.
They tour a beautiful two-bedroom in Echo Park that is slightly out of their price range, until April reminds the landlord of specific rent control ordinances that went into effect last year, and that she knows people who could check the records of all the buildings he owns, and suddenly the apartment is no longer out of their price range.
“Can we have a minute to discuss?” Sterling asks the landlord, who has turned a deep red, and quickly leaves them alone in the master bedroom.
“What do you think?” April asks, “I think the building is a little old, but the location really is perfect.”
“I didn’t want a moment to actually discuss, you idiot,” Sterling says before pushing April against the wall of hopefully their future bedroom, and kissing her deeply. “God, it’s stupid hot when you negotiate.”
April laughs, flushed and out of breath.
“I’m extremely lucky that this does it for you,” she says.
“Damn right,” Sterling says, kissing her again, reveling in April’s mouth opening against hers, in April clutching at her, at the way this is all so familiar now, the way she knows April’s body like her favorite book, but still the same excitement rises in her bones when she was sixteen and in awe of what this girl’s touch could do to her.
By the time they finish season five (“Okay, there is no way in hell Buffy is actually dead, she’s the name of the show!” “I’m saying nothing.” “That means she’s totally not dead.” “That’s confidential information, Sterl.”), it’s late December and they fly back to Atlanta for Christmas, only making it twenty depressing minutes into the sixth season premiere before April passes the heck out on Sterling’s shoulder.
Sterling is pretty sure her parents prefer April to either of their children at this point, as Blair loudly declares, but neither of them are really mad about it. It’s easy to fold April into their traditions, to have her precise eye when it comes to decorating the tree, for her to whisper scathing commentary on cheesy Christmas movies into Sterling’s ear.
April stays in Sterling’s room again, and the memory of six months ago makes it impossible for either of them to keep their hands off each other for too long.
“These have been the best six months of my life,” Sterling whispers, when their bodies are in that blissful relaxed state between sex and sleep.
“Me too, baby,” April whispers into her chest, “me too.”
On Christmas, Sterling wakes up in the early hours of the morning, right before the sun has risen, to see the other side of her bed empty. April does this sometimes, gets restless and wakes up at ungodly hours, and Sterling will find her curled up on the couch with Faith and a book and her glasses and Sterling will need to take a moment to adjust to how lovely a sight she gets to witness.
Now, though, in her childhood home, Sterling’s curiosity gets the better of her and she pads down the stairs, sees a light on in the kitchen. She expects to see April there alone, but instead sees her mom, clad in her robe, sitting across from April at the kitchen island, laughing together over two mugs of coffee.
Neither of them notice Sterling, which is maybe for the best because Sterling is having a probably disproportionately emotional reaction to the sight of her mom and her girlfriend perfectly at ease like this.
“Oh, we disagreed on just about everything,” Debbie is saying, “I don’t think past the age of 15, I really had anything in common with them. Sometimes I think that - oh, this just is awful to say - but I think that if they were still alive, we wouldn’t even be close.”
Sterling swallows. Debbie is talking about her parents, something she barely ever does, even now. But she sounds so open, sitting in the early morning, chatting with April like they’re old friends.
“I don’t think that’s awful to say,” April says, “trust me, I understand.”
“I know you do, hun. Though I will say, my folks probably do have a couple points up on yours.”
Sterling raises her eyebrows as her mom’s candor.
April just laughs.
“Now that’s a low bar, Debbie.”
And then they’re both laughing again and the whole thing is weird but sweet in a way that makes Sterling kind of want to cry. Instead, she clears her throat and steps out into the kitchen.
“Look who’s up early,” Debbie says, as Sterling gives her a sideways hug.
“I know,” April says, “it’s before 10am, not on a work day, who are you?”
“Oh, be quiet, the both of you,” Sterling says, before going over to April, pressing a kiss to her cheek, and resting her chin on her shoulder. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” April whispers, and Sterling closes her eyes for a second. Not because it’s six in the morning, but because there just certain moments that deserve to be elongated.
Blair flies with them back to LA to help with the move and christen the new guest room. It ends up being ideal for Sterling, given that both Blair and April are way stronger than her and excel at carry boxes and building furniture, while Sterling can do the important work of picking out wallpaper and making sure Faith doesn’t freak out too much and also watching April carry boxes and build furniture until Blair smacks her on the arm and tells her to contribute.
Right before they go to bed, Blair takes Sterling aside and solemnly tells her, “don’t worry, I brought the noise-cancelling headphones.”
“Oh, shut up!”
But later, when April has Sterling pressed up in the bed she built hours prior, mouth kissing the dip of Sterling’s throat, hand spreading Sterling’s legs apart as she whispers, “you look so beautiful on our bed, baby,” Sterling figures that, yeah, okay, it’s probably smart Blair brought the headphones.
Sterling takes extra time off from work to be Blair’s tour guide, spending the whole first week of January eating at decadent restaurants from the spreadsheet and drinking fancy cocktails on rooftops and Sterling sucking it up and going on several hikes because she loves her sister more than she hates hills.
The day before Blair leaves, they spend the day at Universal Studios, eating overpriced junk food and riding The Mummy ride over and over like they are kids again, not a couple months shy of thirty. The exhaustion hits like they are thirty though, Sterling leaning her head on Blair’s shoulder on the metro home.
“I’ll miss you when you go back,” she says.
“Duh,” Blair says with a laugh, “you’ll be fine though, Sterl. This is… I mean, this is the happiest I’ve ever seen you.”
“Well, I really love theme parks.”
“Fuck off, you know what I mean.”
Sterling leans up to grin at her sister.
“Yeah,” she says, “I know exactly what you mean. I thought… I don’t know, Blair, it’s crazy, I spent so many years thinking about April, building her up, but all those years of fantasizing and daydreaming, it’s absolutely nothing compared to the real thing.”
“Sap,” Blair says affectionately.
“Oh, I’m just getting started. You know, more than anyone, how I’ve always loved love stories, the rom coms and romance novels and all that. But they don’t really capture how much - that it just keeps getting better. Like I know I sound incredibly cheesy, but each day I love her a little more and each day I don’t think that it’s possible but then I just do. And I’m not even afraid of anything going bad this time, because, because this is just it for both of us, I know it, I know it in my gut.”
Sterling realizes that she’s crying on the red line but she doesn’t really care. Blair’s arm comes up around her shoulders.
“First of all, incredibly cheesy doesn’t even begin to cover it. Second of all, no one deserves this more than you, Sterl.” Blair lets out a little laugh. “If you had told me when we were kids that April fucking Stevens is the one whose got you like this, I would have been deeply confused and probably a huge bitch about it. But I’ve been watching you guys this whole week and it just works, dude. Y’all are so gone for each other it’s crazy. And I’m really fucking happy for you.”
Sterling laughs into her shoulder, smiles the whole ride back, hugs April extra tight when she gets back to their home.
They’re midway through season six (“You really know every word to every song, huh?” “It’s an excellent musical within a perfect episode of television!” “I’m not fighting with you. It’s cute. Also thank god for a fun episode, this season has been a bummer so far.” “Oh honey. Brace yourself.”), when April officially announces she’s running for city council, with an LA Times piece and a video going up on social media, where April grins at the camera and says things about how it’s about time we make this city work for everyone. Sterling has seen about forty cuts of the video by now, but still, hearing, I’m April Stevens and I approve this message, like, unreasonably turns her on. It’s fine.
There’s a whirlwind of media chaos that first day, April constantly on the phone or doing filmed interviews or consulting with Joaquin on a new field strategy. While April talks to every journalist in the greater Los Angeles area, Sterling checks social media, even though she’s been warned to take everything with a grain of salt.
She sees a fair amount of shitty takes from guys with South Park avatars (Sterling didn’t even know that show was still on, but it’s apparently an institution in this weird corner of the internet), but she also sees this incredible enthusiasm for April, for her April, people saying things about how thought out her plans are already, how she could actually get through to people who only vote every four years, also some pretty relatable tweets about how good she looks in a suit.
Sterling screenshots the particularly thirsty ones and shows them to April that night in bed. April laughs, long and loud, an electric energy radiating off of her even after such an exhausting day.
“Not exactly the reaction I was expecting, but if that means they’ll vote for me, I’ll take it.”
“April.” Sterling sets the phone aside so she can climb onto April’s lap. “You cannot be surprised that people are into you. You’re the hottest thing this city has ever seen.”
“Actually,” April says, hands coming up to rest on Sterling’s thighs, “this city is literally known for its hot people, so while I’m flattered, that statement is not- ”
Sterling kisses her just to shut her up, and April responds eagerly, hands pulling Sterling closer.
“Don't fight me on this,” Sterling says, panting a little. “I will win.”
“Perhaps,” April says, playing with the bottom of Sterling’s shirt, and it's probably the closest thing Sterling will get to a concession.
“Oh my god,” Sterling says at the thought. “Oh my god, baby, I’m going to get to vote for you.”
April lets out a sharp gasp beneath her. Sterling grins.
“Oh you’re into that, huh?”
“Perhaps,” April repeats, but her eyes are blown and her breathing is heavier and, with no warning, she flips them so Sterling is on her back.
Sterling laughs breathlessly.
“Good to know,” she breathes and then April’s kissing her again and she spares a moment of sympathy for all those thirsty people on the internet who will never be as lucky as her.
By the time they near the end of season six (“Tara isn’t really dead is she?” “Sterl…” “No! Normally you say some cryptic thing and so I know they’re coming back but...” “Sweetheart, I’m sorry.” “Why did you make me watch this show?” “If it makes you feel better, if you died, I would probably also turn to dark magic and flay a man alive.” “Weirdly, it does kind of make me feeling better.”), it’s coming up on Sterling’s 30th birthday (her real one, followed closely by her fake one), with April’s about a month later.
They take a long weekend in mid-March to celebrate both, the last time that April will conceivably be able to take off before the primary. They drive to Joshua Tree for real this time, renting out one of those fancy trailer things that always make Sterling roll her eyes at the sheer California of it all.
“I assume we’re not going to drop acid like the celebrities,” Sterling jokes when they’re planning.
“Not during campaign season,” April says with a smirk, “though I could be convinced to bring some edibles.”
Sterling just blinks at her.
“What? It’s been legal for years, Sterl.”
“I know. I just - you never struck me as the type. In high school, I remember you calling weed ‘the Devil’s plant for lazy miscreants who have to resort to substances to feel pleasure.’”
“You have an uncannily good memory sometimes.”
“Only when it comes to you.”
April blushes a little at that, something she still does nine months in, which is just so fucking cute that Sterling can’t take it.
“Anyway,” April says, clearing her throat, “I occasionally partake in the Devil’s plant now. Call me a lazy miscreant. It helps me sleep sometimes.”
Sterling tilts her head.
“I haven’t noticed you having any trouble falling asleep.”
April rolls her eyes.
“Yes, stunning powers of observation, Sterl. What do you think has changed in the last nine months?”
“Oh,” Sterling says, her turn to blush.
So they end up taking some edibles down to Joshua Tree. Sterling knows she’s an adult, that she’s mere hours away from turning thirty, but still she sends a quick text to Blair on the drive down: I can’t believe I am about to do DRUGS with APRIL STEVENS.
Blair responds with, fucking dorks both of you.
Sterling wakes up on the morning of her 30th birthday (the real one) to bright sunlight streaming through the curtains of their bougie little trailer and the smell of something salty in the air and April softly pressing a kiss to her shoulder.
“Morning,” Sterling mumbles, eyes not quite ready to be open.
“Morning,” April echoes, kissing the dimple in Sterling’s shoulder, the top of her spine, the back of her neck. “Time to wake up, baby.”
Sterling sighs into it, the feel of April’s lips soft on her skin, the way her body always lights up when April calls her baby.
“That feels good,” she says eloquently.
April grins against her back.
“I’m sure it does. But, come on, I made breakfast.”
She kisses up Sterling’s neck, strokes her fingers softly down Sterling’s side, until her hand curls around Sterling’s hip.
“Fuck breakfast,” Sterling breaths.
“Well, that’s not fair. I made a frittata.”
“We’re in the middle of the desert and you made a frittata?”
“We have a stove in here. We have eggs. It’s really not that hard to make a decent frittata, Sterling.”
“Oh my god, I don’t care about the frittata, it’s my birthday, just fuck me already.”
“You’ll regret that once you’re eating cold frittata.”
“I really - oh my god, April - don’t think I’m going to regret any - holy shit, baby - of this.”
They wait until late afternoon to take the edibles, then go on what Sterling calls a hike and April calls a light stroll to watch the sun set.
“It’s really fucking beautiful,” Sterling says, at a loss for more descriptive words as the sky turns a brilliant orange, and she leans back into April on the sort of large boulder they’ve perched themselves on.
“You know,” April whispers in her ear, “if this was one of those cheesy movies you love so much, I would look at you while you look at the sunset and say ‘yeah... it is so beautiful.’”
“Hey, I wouldn’t complain.”
“You asked for it,” April says. Sterling can’t see her, but she knows that she is grinning that smug little grin she gets sometimes. “A few years ago, I went to Hawaii and hiked up this mountain to see the sun set over the ocean from a bird’s eyes view. You could see the whole island from up there - see how every inch of the water turned these brilliant colors as the sun went down. I think we overuse the word breathtaking in the English language, but the sight truly took my breath away.”
April leans closer so her lips are right on the edge of Sterling’s ear before whispering, ever so softly, “but that’s nothing compared to what it’s like when I look at you.”
Sterling thinks she’s going to cry. She turns her head so she can look at April, who is smiling sweetly down at her, simultaneously looking at her with such care and love, but also with a smug sort of satisfaction that she knows what she just said was good.
Sterling is so in love with her she could burst.
“Wow,” she says, at a temporary loss for words, before leaning forward to kiss her.
“What can I say,” April says, “I’m a wordsmith. Also, full disclosure, a little high right now.”
Sterling giggles longer than she should, perhaps a little high herself.
“You should get high more often, I could use the flattery.”
They stay out there until the stars start to dot the horizon, then they walk hand and hand back to their trailer. They pass a few others, mostly people in their 20s, which Sterling realizes abruptly isn’t how she would be described anymore. She’s three decades old, high in the desert, holding hands with her girlfriend. Her girlfriend who used to bully her in math class when she got anything under a 95. Who would have thought?
Right before they get back to their trailer, they pass a family, two young, frankly quite hot dads, one of them holding a fast asleep child in one arm while his other is firm in the other man’s. They smile at Sterling and April when they pass, a classic, “we’re all gay here,” acknowledgement.
Sterling watches them, the sweetness of it all, before blurting out, “do you want kids?”
April, if she’s surprised by the question, doesn't show it.
“Only if I adopt.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve always said too.”
“Do you ever feel like we keep having these big conversations in, like, two seconds?”
“Maybe we’re just better than everyone else.” April grins before looking at Sterling with her signature focus, like she’s actively thinking. “Or we spent so many years not being in the same place or being on the same page, so now that we are it’s just… right.”
“I like that answer.”
“I like the one where we’re better than everyone else.”
“Of course you do.”
By the time they start season seven (“Okay, so just any vampire can get a soul now?” “Well, it seems to be an arduous process.” “I’m just saying, the fact that Spike can just go off and get a soul is wild! They really made us think Angel was the only one.” “And yet their souls can’t stop them from being men.” “Aw, I love how this show makes you even more of a lesbian.”), it starts raining. Like real rain in LA, which apparently sends everyone who lives here into a weird state of shock and inhibits their ability to drive even more than usual.
April has a big canvass the weekend of the storm, and is determined to go through with it, literally rain or shine.
“I have to set an example,” she tells Sterling, all stern and serious future politician, which is also unreasonably cute, “if I am asking these people to go out there in the pouring rain and ask people to vote for me, I have to walk the walk as well. Quite literally.”
And Sterling gets it - she does, April is not one for half measures or performativity in this campaign, but when she comes home soaking wet and with a very warm forehead, Sterling can’t help but affectionately say, “you idiot.”
“Hey!” April says, voice a little hoarse. “I’m doing this for my future constituents.”
“I’m sure your future constituents will love you getting sick instead of having the common sense not to canvass in the rain.”
“I’m not sick!” April snaps, before coughing loudly.
Sterling raises her eyebrows.
“Come on, get out of those wet clothes, and get into bed.”
“Buy a girl dinner first,” April says with what tries to be a “come hither” nod but just turns into more coughing.
Sterling tries very hard not to laugh.
“April, sweetheart, I love you very much, you know this, you made me realize I was into a whole gender that one time, but right now, none of that. You need to sleep.”
April shakes her head.
“Can’t sleep. Campaign.”
Sterling takes April by the shoulders and leads her into the bedroom. She strips off her clothes, using a towel to dry her off. Her skin feels hot, too hot.
“Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” April asks hoarsely.
Sterling rolls her eyes, pulling April’s pajamas on over her head.
“Dear God, you’re frisky when you’re sick.”
“You know,” Sterling says, running to the bathroom for the thermometer, “this is what happens when you run yourself ragged and neglect your personal health. Open.”
“I’m doing this for the city of Los Angeles,” April mumbles around the thermometer.
“Shh,” Sterling scolds, despite how cute April looks. “The city of Los Angeles will be fine for a couple days while you rest.”
“She will not.”
“She? Mouth closed.”
April grumbles to herself but keeps her mouth closed until the thermometer beeps. Sterling takes it out.
“See, 102. You are not going to work. You need bed and fluids.”
“You need bed and fluids.”
“See, now I can’t even tell if you’re hitting on me again or just being childish.”
“I am not childish,” April says, crossing her arms across her chest. “And I’m not sick.”
Sterling resists the urge to shove the thermometer in April’s face and say “you’re the fucking lawyer, look at the evidence!”
Instead she gently scoots April into the bed, covers her with the blankets, puts a cold washcloth on her forehead.
By the time she comes back with some tea and ibuprofen, April’s eyes are closed, curled into a little blanket burrito on their bed. Sterling just stares at her from the doorway, utterly floored by how this larger than life presence is so tiny, so vulnerable. How Sterling is one of the only people who gets to see her like this.
“Are you just gonna watch me sleep?” April chimes up from the bed, amusement mixing in with sickness. “Creep.”
Sterling laughs, before setting the tea on the bedside table and schooching in beside April. She presses a kiss to April’s clammy perfect cheek.
“Watch out, you’ll get sick,” April mumbles.
“Ha! You admit it, you’re sick.”
Sterling shifts a little, so April can lean against her chest. Sterling pulls her closer, kisses the top of her head.
“And I don’t care about getting sick, I care about taking care of you.”
“Gay,” April murmurs against her chest, before her breathing goes steady and her body fully relaxes against Sterling.
Sterling kisses the top of her head, watching April drift off. She laughs a little, thinking about how April would hate this back when they were kids, the idea of being less than one hundred percent and letting Sterling of all people look after her.
But then Sterling wonders when the last time it was that someone really took care of April when she was sick, held her and cared for her and forced her to sleep. Sterling swallows, strokes her hand through April’s hair, smiling softly when April sighs in her sleep.
“Never again,” Sterling whispers, even though she knows April is out cold. “I’ve got you from now on.”
By the time they are almost done with season seven (“Oh my god, Faith!” “Mrew?” “Not you, the other one. Your mommy gave you that name because she was horny and gay for this girl right here.” “Hey!” “Am I wrong?” “You’re just jealous because I wasn’t horny and gay for you.” “Please, you’ve been horny and gay for me since puberty.”), Sterling is starting to feel a little sad about it.
Season seven, episode twenty-two, “Chosen,” stares at her from the bright light of the TV. Sterling stares back.
“Are…we gonna watch it?” April asks.
“Just give me a minute.”
Sterling takes in a deep breath. She can do this. This is an episode of television. She’s fine.
“Oh, sweetheart, are you crying?”
“No,” Sterling says petulantly, even though she knows she is. “Yes. It’s just. We started watching this show over a year ago, and we’ve been through so much, and now it’s just gonna be over!”
“There are comics. There’s Angel.”
“It’s not the same!”
“I know, baby.”
April’s smiling at her, a combination of soft and like she’s trying not to laugh.
“Don’t laugh at me!” Sterling says, for some reason all of twelve.
“I’m not laughing at you,” April says, laughing at her. She schools her features. “I’m sorry, it’s just - I just love how much you care about this show. It’s so… you.”
“It’s not just the show. It’s just - this was what - you asked me to hang out to watch it last year. And it just felt so huge. And now it’s ending. I hate endings.”
“Just because this show is ending, doesn't mean…” April trails off, looking as if she’s considering something. “Give me 10 seconds.”
And then she’s off to the bedroom, leaving Sterling a little stunned. She wipes her eyes, feeling a little silly for crying over the concept of a television series ending, even though she’s lost count of how many times she’s actually cried at Buffy at this point. She takes a deep breath. She can get it together.
Then April’s back, looking a little out of breath, hands behind her back.
“I had a plan,” she says cryptically.
“What?” Sterling asks, “for finishing Buffy?”
“No, you idiot. For doing this whole, um, well, okay - the thing is-”
Sterling just stares at her. April is flustered. April doesn’t get flustered.
“The thing is?” Sterling prompts, very much charmed and also confused by whatever’s going on.
April comes to sit on the couch next to Sterling, but she’s practically vibrating with energy.
“The thing is,” she repeats unsteadily, “the thing is, Sterling, that you hate endings.”
“And don’t get me wrong, I do love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the good things, the big things, the important earth-shattering things that we didn’t think were ever possible - none of that ever has to end.”
Something starts in Sterling’s chest, something that she can’t quite name, hope and anticipation and joy that maybe April is implying what Sterling thinks she’s implying.
“And I know we’ve been together for less than a year, even though we’ve been telling people we’re together for more than a year now, but honestly, Sterling, I’ve spent two thirds of my life in love with you, so - so who the fuck cares how long we’ve been together? I just know that I never want it to end.”
Then, like in slow motion, April is dropping from the couch down to a knee and there’s a box and a ring coming out from behind her back and fuck, if Sterling thought she was emotionally compromised by some TV show, it’s nothing compared to the sight in front of her. To April fucking Stevens kneeling in their apartment, wearing a god damn Columbia sweatshirt and glasses and looking up at Sterling like she is the most important person in the world.
“April,” she manages to get out, voice cracking on the world, tears already gathering in her eyes.
“Sterling,” April says gently, hand not holding the ring (the ring) reaching up to wipe away her tears. “Marry me?”
And the answer is, of course, of course, I’ve loved you for so many years, but so much is rising Sterling’s chest that all she manages is, “shut the fuck up.”
April just grins up at her.
“I was hoping for a ‘yes,’ but I’m willing to work with-”
“Oh my god, yes, April, of course, you asshole, I love you so much.”
Then April’s grin grows impossibly wider and she’s putting the ring on Sterling’s finger with soft and steady hands, before her hands move to cup Sterling’s face, to kiss her tears away, to hold her close.
Sterling lets herself sink into April’s embrace, tries to remember how to breathe with this much joy pounding in her chest, with the knowledge that this is real, that this is all real, that this is the same April who laughed with her late into the night at sleepovers, the same April who opened up something unheard of in her when she was sixteen, who has spent the last year making Sterling’s world the best version of it it can be, that April is holding her and whispering her love and telling Sterling she wants this to be forever.
“Where’d you get the ring?” Sterling asks, once she can form sentences again, staring down at her hand. “When did you get the ring?”
“Your mom, actually.”
“On Christmas morning, we were both up early and she just goes-” April puts on a stunningly accurate impression of Debbie “‘-oh, hun, let me grab you something real quick,’ so casual, that I thought it was going to be a book or something, but she comes back with this box and starts telling me about how she had such a complex relationship with her parents, but when they passed, she kept her mother’s engagement ring to pass it down to you or Blair and that she - that she saw the way we were together and thought I should probably hold onto it.” April swallows a little. “Six months, in and she knew, she - she - trusted me with this and so… well, here we are.”
Sterling is crying again, unsure if she ever stopped.
“Wow,” she manages. “That’s - wow.”
“She’s pretty great, your mom.”
“She’s yours too,” Sterling says with a smile. “If - well - when -” she gestures helplessly at the ring on her finger, still not great at talking. “My family is your family too now, even if we weren’t - even if you didn’t just propose, you know that, right?”
“I know that,” April says, crying freely too at this point. “Of course I know that, my love.”
And she proves it, a few minutes later, when they are both slightly more composed and April’s first thought is, “oh my god, you have to call Blair.”
And then Sterling starts crying again because April just knows her, knows that the first thing she wants to do is always call her sister.
“Okay, maybe we wait on calling Blair until you can speak again.”
Sterling just nods tearfully, leaning back into April’s arms. April kisses the top of her head, smooths her hair back, holds her as long as she needs. Because she’s April. Her April. Her fiance. The thought makes Sterling start crying again, laughing a bit this time too. April chuckles into her hair.
“We’re never going to finish Buffy, are we?”
“We will.” Sterling leans up to kiss the underside of April’s jaw. “We just have the rest of our lives to do it, now, don’t we?”
Thanks for following along with this one pals, its' been a blast hearing all your thoughts!!
Also, just using April's career path in this to hop right on my weird little fanfic soap box and say to all my buddies in the ol united states that there could very well be city council and mayoral and judicial races happening right near you and no one ever pays attention to them and then shitheads get elected to local office and godawful bills keep passing on local levels. So look into it where you are!! The canvassing in the rain bit was based on my personal experience of canvassing in the rain for the mayoral race in my city that is literally this tuesday and I'm anxious and vaccinated so am doing my part!!! And you can too!! Okay I'm done!!