Junior year was undoubtably the worst year of Sterling’s life.
With the repercussions of being kidnapped and revelations of discovering she’s adopted, and therefore not Blair’s sister let alone her twin, to breaking up with Luke and having a short fling with April, to breaking up with April, to April finding out that Blair and Sterling put John Stevens away in the first place and screaming at them in the middle of the Willingham carpark, to Debbie and Anderson absolutely forbidding bounty hunting, Sterling feels like ‘the worst’ is a more than fair way to label the year.
It took a lot of effort from all parties, but at least the Wesley family have and still love each other. They’re all still in therapy but they can civilly spend time together; Blair and Sterling confidently refer to one another as their sister and twin, and Sterling even looks Debbie in the eye when she speaks to her now.
They each had their own unique ways of mending their relationships;
Sterling and Blair decided they had no choice but to join at the hip to squash any doubt they had of their love and connection to each other.
Debbie and Anderson had their own time of going all or nothing to ensure their connection remained strong, especially for the girls.
Debbie gave her daughters their space but, upon their family therapists suggestion, also allotted time for the three to do simple activities together like cooking and grocery shopping that gradually created a bond coated with a sense of ease.
Anderson strengthened his own bond with the girls by taking Sterling to every one of Blair’s lacrosse games, sitting close to her and encouraging her to cheer with him. The three would then get ice cream or takeout of some variety and completely fawn over Blair’s athleticism.
The whole family fluctuated between giving each other space and attending events as an entire family, watching multiple local soccer games and taking trips to the cinema.
An odd side effect of watching all of Blair’s sporting endeavors, was Sterling noticing how much of this pent up angry energy that her sister was harboring was able to be unleashed into physical activity.
Sterling spent the entire summer privately contemplating this in her own time, usually while doing her daily therapist-recommended yoga, and ultimately decided that she needed an outlet too.
So, on the first day of senior year, Sterling walks with confidence as she sets her sights on joining the Willingham girl’s soccer team; The Willingham Martyrs.
Sterling feels the name is neither here nor there, she’s just looking forward to feeling a part of something that isn’t her getting-better-but-still-confusing family.
Blair gives her shoulders a rub, after Sterling has changed into her gear, and a rousing speech about how Sterling’s bound to make the team and kick ass while she does it.
As Sterling crosses the grassy field, approaching the group of girls who are already stretching and warming up, she takes a deep breath and plasters on her excitable smile, planning to fake it until she makes it. One of the girls, Adelaide Sterling thinks she remembers her name being, looks up and her face instantly brightens into a smile.
“Oh my gosh, hey! Are you trying out?” The girl asks, standing up from the grass.
Sterling nods a little nervously (apparently faking it isn’t kicking in just yet).
“Awesome! It’s going to be so great having two new people on the team this year.”
Sterling frowns. “Oh,” she starts, “no, Blair isn’t joining-“
“Hey,” April’s voice sounds from behind Sterling.
Her blood runs cold.
This has got to be a joke. April Stevens is not joining the soccer team – the one outlet Sterling has been fantasizing about all summer that was meant to be her escape from everything weird and wrong in her life.
“Hey, April! Sterling! This is so great!” Hannah G., who Sterling’s not sure she’s spoken to since middle school, approaches the two of them, dusting grass off of her legs. “Look at us! We haven’t been a team since like fifth grade,” she says excitedly, looking between Sterling and April.
April hums a quick response and Sterling tries her absolute hardest to push down the feeling of guilt rising in her, remembering April telling her of the very situation Hannah G. is probably referring to, wherein Sterling gave April away.
“Alright, well we better see what you two have got,” Adelaide claps excitedly.
Try outs are grueling and Sterling kind of loves it. She’s able to switch off the April-obsessed part of her brain for long enough to focus on each task; running laps of the field, weaving through cones, learning to head the ball, kicking goals – it all does exactly what Sterling had hoped. She doesn’t think of her last family therapy session or stew on the way Blair still crawls into her bed some nights in tears and vice versa, she just focuses on the burn in her thighs and her need to regulate her breathing as her heart rate rises. It’s perfect.
Well, almost perfect.
If only April didn’t seem to need an outlet too. Sterling was able to ignore her for the most part but she was caught off guard when she finally gave into to her urges during a drink break and snuck and long, hard look at the girl. And Sterling’s gotta say, April in shorts, long socks covering shin pads, and cleats, her hair up in a high ponytail and face slightly red as she leans her head back and squirts a water bottle into her open mouth... does something to her. So, of course, she had to then actively avoid looking at April for the rest of the training session.
By the end of the evening, the entire group have large, satisfied smiles on their faces, all seeming so relieved to be back together like this. Sterling smiles softly to herself; this is what she was looking for – these girls see each other as their second family. A home away from home.
Couch Gardener happily welcomes Sterling and April onto the team, and the rest of the girls cheer loudly as they wrap the two up in excited hugs.
So all in all, Sterling leaves her first soccer practice deeply satisfied. She made the team, she’s got her outlet, she has a strong feeling she’s finding her second home, and she has an image to add to the wank bank.
Wait, no. Strike that last one. She will not indulge in that fantasy.
‘We’ve been over this,’ Sterling thinks to herself, ‘no more April.’
It doesn’t help that when she gets into the car with Blair, who’s picking her up because, with as many hurdles as each family member has overcome, Sterling still struggles with cars – Debbie certainly isn’t allowed to drive if Sterling is in the car and Sterling rarely drives herself, especially not alone – Blair asks a million questions, including who else is on the team. Sterling’s not so stupid as to lie when Blair will see her play soon enough, so Sterling admits that April joined with her.
Well, that’s enough material for Blair to go on for the rest of the car ride, poking fun at her sister’s reddening cheeks when she suggests that she probably loves seeing April get all sweaty and out of breath. And of course she does! She knows better than anyone that she falls into, what Blair calls, the bisexual disaster trope.
That night, Sterling lays very still in bed and absolutely, under no circumstances, does she think about April Stevens’ sweaty form on the soccer field. Not once. No way. Not this good Christian girl. Never.
Well, she orgasms over it like twice, so pretty much never.
The Willingham Martyrs train twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but on that first Thursday, they’re already excitedly attempting to book more time to see each other.
“I was thinking,” Hannah G. starts after practice has wrapped up and the girls are all stretching together to cool down. “We should all, like, join a gym together. We don’t always have to go at the same time but we could at least always have someone to go with. And we could find one that has fun classes like that hilarious step thing old people do or spin!”
The team are all nodding, Sterling included. Another outlet, time to make closer friendships, and get away from her family for a moment? Absolutely, yes please.
“My gym does all that,” April says quietly.
“Really? Awesome! Well, let’s all join April’s gym then.” April seems to perk up at the mere act of being listened to so willingly by the group. Sterling feels a flutter of pride build in her chest that she has to look away from April’s smile to clear.
“Okay, then. That’s our assignment for the weekend,” Adelaide says, confidently standing with her hands on her hips. She’ll undoubtedly be the team captain, Sterling thinks. “Pop the gym in the group chat, April, and we’ll all join by Tuesday next week.”
The team all nod along eagerly.
Blair joins the gym too, and while Sterling does want to use it as a way to escape her family, she has to admit she’s grateful to have her sister there that first visit. The tour around proves that it’s a great gym, lots of space and different equipment for training of all kinds, but the meatball men grunting as they lift weights are a bit much.
The twins jog on treadmills side by side and discuss their own respective sports that first session and Sterling is just grateful that Blair never brings up April while she continuously glances over at the weights section, specifically remembering April mentioning she lifts.
That Saturday, Sterling goes to the gym again, this time with Hannah G. and Hannah S. and the three spend the whole time alternating between reminiscing over the fact that they used to play soccer together at lunch in fifth grade, cheering each other on to push for just one more rep every set, and messing around, whipping each other with the resistance bands until they’re told off by the gym staff.
Sterling can’t wipe the smile from her face the entire time.
The post-training cool down stretching the girls do together has to be one of Sterling’s favorite parts of practice. It’s nice to feel a part of a team, sitting, stretching, and just chatting. Sterling loves Blair with all her heart but she knows they bring out the... hyperactive side of each other, most of the time. It’s calming to just talk about nothing with other people.
“Ugh, my hip flexors are so freaking tight!” Adelaide groans.
“Same,” April mumbles.
“You should do butterfly stretches,” Sterling says casually, to which the others give her a strange look. “Oh, it’s a yoga thing, I guess. Here, I’ll show you.” Sterling adjusts her positions to sit with the bottoms of her feet together. “You hold your feet as close to your hips as you can and then lay forward. You want to try to press your knees towards the ground at the same time. It’s easier if you have a partner.” At that, as if by magic, all the girls scoot closer to one another, effectively pairing themselves up.
April is left.
“Show us,” Adelaide prompts.
Sterling chews her lip for a moment, daring to look at April, who looks too casual for the circumstances. Sterling holds in a groan as she catches herself playing the deer in headlights again. She thought she was well past this stage with April.
She steels herself. If April can act like nothing is amiss then so can she.
Sterling walks over and kneels behind her.
“So, you want to put your hands on your partner’s knees,” she tentatively does, her palms resting on the inside of April’s knees, almost her inner thighs. She continues, “and you lean your chest onto their back and slowly push forward while you push their knees down.”
April places her hands on the ground and slides them forward as Sterling presses into her back, her knees bracketing April’s hips. Sterling has to hold in a much too visceral reaction to the fact that April actually has flexible enough hips for her to almost touch her face to the ground.
The others have all shifted their partners into the same position but Sterling doesn’t notice, too busy listening to April’s short breath and watching her face scrunch up seemingly against her will.
“Breathe,” Sterling says too softly, her own breath hitting the back of April’s ear gently. She hears April’s breath catch in her throat for a moment but she quickly regains it, putting it into an easy and deep pattern. Sterling presses her chest down slightly more on each outward breath.
It would be so easy, Sterling thinks, to just lean forward and press her lips just under April’s ear, behind her jaw where she knows elicits a breathy moan from the girl. She could just do it. She could scrape her teeth gently along the skin, suck on it until a dark mark appears between her lips and April is making that whiney noise like she’s too proud to let out a full blown moan.
“Ugh, Sterling. How long do we have to hold this?” Hannah G. groans, promptly reminding her that they are not alone.
“Sorry, that’s probably enough.” She eases April back up into a sitting position. “Then you can swap, I guess-”
“Do you have any partnered stuff that hits hamstrings and hip flexors?” Adelaide interrupts.
“Uhh,” Sterling slowly nods. “Yeah, sure.” She moves to sit across from April, her legs straight in front of her. The others copy. Sterling then spreads her legs as wide as she can, immediately seeing April avert her gaze, a soft red rising in her cheeks. Sterling bites back a smile as the others, including April, copy.
“You want to tuck your feet into your partner’s ankles and get like a monkey grip,” Sterling explains, moving to place her heels on the inside of April’s ankles and reaching her hands forward. April almost reluctantly reaches forward too and lets Sterling set the grip, the blonde wrapping her hands around each wrist.
“Then I’ll lean back and push April’s legs apart while pulling her to lean forward,” Sterling explains, looking at the others. She turns her focus to April. “You want to flex or point your feet and use your core to pull yourself closer to the ground.”
April sets her jaw and gives a tense nod before Sterling leans back. They don’t move far and Sterling fails to hold in a small laugh, musing, “you’re so tight.”
April’s entire face goes red at the innuendo and Sterling really has to fight now to hold in a laugh as April holds her breath and turns her face down to the ground.
Blair is brought to tears laughing about the situation upon picking Sterling up that night.
On Saturday, Sterling and Blair agree to attend a spin class with April and Adelaide. Sterling’s already regretting the decision when her and Blair arrive and see that April has already been in the weights section for some time and is clad in small and remarkably tight shorts, her arms exposed. For once Sterling’s glad she let Blair butt in on one of these events as her twin pinching the back of her arm reminds her not to stare.
Sterling makes a point of taking the bike between Adelaide and Blair to avoid any unwanted distractions, April straddling the one on Adelaide’s other side. As it turns out, it really doesn’t matter though because the class is so fast paced and high energy that none of the girls even get a chance the share a laugh let alone a glance.
On Sunday, as Sterling and Blair waddle into church on account of their ridiculously sore legs that seemingly don’t work anymore, Sterling accidentally catches April’s eye as everyone sits into their pews. All three girls wince and promptly have to cover their mouths to hold in a laugh at the ridiculous sight of each other.
Sterling revels in seeing April smile, especially at her, for the first time in too long.
Blair bumps her knee into Sterling’s, taking a breath in to speak but the two both groan in pain instead, their faces screwing up into grimaces.
“I was going to make a joke about you and April giving each other sore legs but I think this is God’s way of telling me not to,” Blair says through gritted teeth.
By Tuesday, Coach Gardener has decided on and gives the girls their positions. Adelaide is officially named team captain, though all the girls already happily referred to her as such, and is given the role of central midfielder, arguably the hardest working role, because of her endurance and versatility. April is named striker because, as Coach says, she’s precise and aggressive. Sterling happily takes the role of centre back (defense) as she’s always been able to steal a soccer ball out from under Blair’s feet, and she is simply unafraid to throw herself at anything, so an offensive player flying at her doesn’t scare her one bit. Sterling had considered wanting to be the goalkeeper but ultimately decided that would be a little too much pressure, and besides Hannah G. cheers so loudly when the role is given to her, screaming that the G stands for Goalie.
Suddenly, they’re all really pushing themselves in practice, their position titles providing a sense of purpose. Coach Gardener states that she intends on the girls dominating the season this year; she wants to see a trophy. It’s genuinely hard work and Sterling is constantly pushing herself, sometimes questioning if it’s possibly too hard, but the way the girls all smile and laugh when the serious moments of focus pass, the way they cheer over each other’s triumphs and wrap each other up in celebratory hugs, so quickly including Sterling and April into their close knit bond, it makes it all worth it.
Before she knows it, Sterling finds herself standing in defense at their first real game against another school. It’s kind of cold tonight but the way Sterling can see Hannah G. literally jumping up and down in the net in anticipation keeps a smile on Sterling’s otherwise nervous features.
Each time the ball comes near Sterling’s end of the field, Blair’s voice can be heard so clearly cutting through the rest of the crowd’s cheers. As the game goes on, Sterling even hears her sister begin to cheer just as loudly when April has the ball up the other end of the field and is heading straight for the goals. Sterling chances a glance and her suspicions are confirmed when she sees her entire family on their feet and holding hands, faces animated with large reactions to every move of the ball. She smiles proudly at her ability to have brought them together for something good.
The Martyr’s win by two points and upon the final whistle blow, Hannah G. is suddenly sprinting down the field. Her and Adelaide meet in the middle, wrapping their arms around each other and tumbling to the ground. Sterling laughs at the sight, the two reminding her of herself and Blair. Soon the whole team is huddling in the middle of the field, laughing and hugging so Sterling hurries to make her way there too, joining the giant group hug.
“We have to celebrate,” Adelaide declares, everyone else adamantly agreeing.
“Oh, let’s go to this great yoghurt shop I know!” Sterling suggests, a sense of pride bubbling in her chest at the team’s immediate agreement.
After the Wesley’s have thoroughly congratulated Sterling on her first win, Blair happily agrees to drive Sterling to Bowser’s and join the team on their first celebration.
“Bowsie!”/“Bow-wow!” The twins say in unison as they fling open the door of Yogurtopia. They’re greeted by a shockingly genuine smile from Bowser, though he tries to hide it. It actually does disappear though when the rest of the soccer team file in.
“What’s this?” He asks.
“Sterling’s soccer team just won their first match,” Blair proudly states as she sits up on the counter.
“Off,” Bowser gestures, though he’s clearly fighting back a smile at the familiarity of it all. “Sterling,” he turns to her, “you didn’t tell me you were playing soccer. I would have come to watch.”
The twins hold hands and fawn over the sweetness of it. Bowser groans but Sterling quickly promises to invite him to the next game.
Bowser makes Sterling and Blair serve everyone and, probably for the first time, they happily oblige, giggling childishly as they overfill Sterling’s friends cups with yogurt and candies. Bowser chuckles to himself, leaning back against the counter behind the twins as he allows them their fun. His demeanor quickly becomes uncomfortable though and he excuses himself to the backroom. The twins shrug it off and turn to serve April, who is staring strangely at the door Bowser just exited through.
As the night wraps up, Sterling promises to invite Bowser to her next game and Blair insists on the three having dinner together soon.
Sterling would probably be overwhelmed, possibly to the point of tears, with feelings of love and joy at her current circumstances if it wasn’t all happening so fast.
Soccer practice has undoubtably become her favorite time of week and she practically squeals with delight whenever the Martyr’s groupchat lights up her phone screen, inviting her to train at the gym. The group, inspired by Sterling and April’s academic prowess, even begin studying together whenever they can. Sterling’s surprised they actually manage to get a fair amount of work done, with the amount of laughing they do whenever they’re together.
Debbie and Anderson slowly get introduced to the entire team, even hosting a weekend barbecue after another win from the team. Anderson even takes Sterling to pick out new cleats when he sees his daughter in their backyard attempting to master a rainbow kick for hours on end, realizing how serious she’s becoming about the sport. Debbie insists they invest in better shin pads and a mouth guard while they’re out.
Blair, maybe a little reluctantly, gives Sterling her space to grow as an individual but the two still spend most nights sitting in the other’s room, talking schoolwork, crushes, and life. Sterling gushes to Blair about how hot April looks working out at the squat rack, putting Blair into an uncontrollable fit of laughter when she explains that the reason her legs are currently covered in friction burns is because she tripped and fell on the treadmill while staring at April’s ass.
April and Sterling still don’t interact separate from the group but they happily attend yoga and cardio classes with other Martyrs, even daring to take on another spin class with Adelaide.
Hannah G. joins them too and once again, the next day the girls can barely walk due to the aching in their legs so they decide to spend the day together, relaxing and studying. The four sit together on Hannah G.’s living room floor, textbooks and notepads sprawled across the carpet between them.
April sighs and struggles to a standing position. “I’m going to get a glass of water.”
“Can I have one?” The other three ask in unison, triggering a small fit of laughter.
“I don’t have that many hands and I am not making two trips on these legs.”
“Dibs not!” Hannah G. and Adelaide shout at the same time, their pointer fingers coming to the tips of their noses. Sterling’s head whips to them before she groans in defeat.
“I’ll help,” she grumbles.
April’s already disappeared into the kitchen by the time Sterling gets up from the floor. She waddles her way in, remarking, “I’m never going to a spin class again.”
April chuckles from her position at the counter where she fills four glasses. “I think we can both agree on that. I don’t know what it is about those bikes.”
“I know, right? They have to be cursed or something,” Sterling’s tone is playful as she moves to lean back against the counter April’s facing.
“It doesn’t make sense. I do powerlifting – my quads aren’t weak-“
April freezes for a split second at that, her cheeks turning pink. She dares to look at Sterling, a sly smile threatening her lips.
Sterling gives her own surprised smirk now, shifting to lean the side of her hip against the counter in order to stand a little closer to April.
“It’s... apparent,” Sterling settles on.
“And how does that make you feel?”
Sterling gasps a little. She has no idea what on earth is going on – well, that’s not true. April is flirting with her. So yes, she does know what’s going on but she has no idea how or why. She decides to just go with it though, as if her brain could even remotely process any other choice.
Sterling drops her voice to almost a husk, “how detailed do you want me to get?”
April’s whole face lights up with a sort of dirty excitement at that as she takes a breath in.
“Did you two die?” Adelaide calls loudly from the other room. “Do I need to take that spin instructor to court?”
Their little bubble of whatever this was is broken as April rolls her eyes, responding, “patience is a virtue.”
Sterling and April carry their drinks back into the living room and Sterling spends the rest of their study session completely distracted, mulling over how that just happened and how she can make it happen again.
Their first away game that they actually have to travel for offers itself as Sterling’s opportunity. Stepping onto the bus, she immediately notices that the only free seat is next to April and her face lights up like a firework. Sterling does try to play it cool but she all but runs down the aisle, rushing to slide into the open seat. April jumps a little in surprise and turns her gaze from the window to meet Sterling’s.
Sterling takes a breath in, certain a witty and flirty comment will come out of her mouth only for Hannah G.’s head to pop over the seat in front, a wide grin on her face as Adelaide’s head appears too.
“Have you ever played ‘Did You Hear That’?”
Sterling’s cheeks fill with air as she holds in a sigh. April laughs softly at the sight then turns to the others.
“I haven’t. How do you play?”
Sterling can’t help but smile at the genuinely happy and playful tone in April’s voice. They play with Adelaide and Hannah G. for the entire bus ride, Adelaide construing the most magnificently believable works of complete fiction that have the other girls entirely amazed.
It’s nerve wracking, being on a new field, so Adelaide rallies the girls by making them jog laps of the field together while talking about their crushes, ‘to make it feel like home’. Sterling notes that April stays quiet, doing the same herself.
By the time they have to wrap up their warm up, the Martyrs’ are at ease, comfortably positioning themselves on the field, not only ready but actively excited for the match.
The game isn’t monumental; the teams are roughly equal in skill level but their opponents take the win. It’s the Martyrs first loss and no one’s exactly sure how to deal with it.
Well, Adelaide always has a plan. She insists on each player dramatically announcing something they believe they did wrong only for the rest of the team to proudly applaud them.
By the time they’re back on the bus, everyone is smiling again but admittedly exhausted.
Sterling collapses into the spot next to April, yawning as she rests back into her seat.
“Must’ve been exhausting, letting all those goals just fly right past you,” April teases, a smirk pulling up at the side of her mouth.
“Yeah, well, not as tiring as kicking three goals in a row right into the goalie’s hands. That takes some real focus,” Sterling retorts and April covers her mouth to hold in a laugh.
It’s incredible to Sterling how mere months ago these exact words would have felt like daggers being thrown. Now her and April just fall into easy conversation for a few minutes following them. Ultimately though, they both succumb to the exhaustion of the evening, April’s head slowly slipping from the back of the seat down onto Sterling’s shoulder. And if either girl wakes up and notices the position they’re in, neither acknowledge it, both pretending to still be asleep instead, relishing in the warmth and ease of it all.
Coach Gardener is exactly what the team needs, just strict enough to keep them in check when they get too excitable but still fun and encouraging of everyone. Sure, the Martyrs are a damn good team and they win most of their matches but that just makes the girls take the losses all the heavier the further the progress into the season. When Adelaide takes it hard, Coach is always there to pick them all back up and rouse them into winning the following match.
All too quickly, the season is approaching its crunch time. This next match will decide whether or not the team heads to the state finals. It’s kind of a big deal. Only adding to this stress is the fact that Willingham haven’t had this successful of a sports team in years.
Everything is suddenly all very serious.
Sterling feels all of this hit her as she’s standing on the field, the match in it’s final quarter. The Martyrs are one point up but it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep it that way. The other team seem to be taking on the strategy of working Willinghams defense into fatigue and it’s honestly working on Sterling.
The whistle blowing wakes Sterling from her thoughts and she’s quick to defend against the opposing striker, who’s swiftly appeared right in front of her. Sterling’s swooping her leg at the ball when out of nowhere her other leg is being kicked out from under her. She lands on her side with a thump and groans in pain as she rolls onto her back. A whistle blows but Sterling barely hears it over a somehow louder voice that is screaming something close to profanities and rapidly approaching. Sterling blinks her eyes open and suddenly April, who must have sprinted the entire field, is shoving a player from the other team away from her so hard that they stumble and fall backwards.
“April! April!” Adelaide is quick to pull the girl away, whispering something Sterling can only assume is related to her being at risk of getting red carded off the field.
The umpire is speaking to April in a warning tone when Coach Gardener appears beside Sterling, a medic with her.
“I’m fine,” Sterling insists, shaking her head as she sits upright. “Just knocked the wind out of me, that’s all.”
“You wanna stay on?” Coach asks, placing a hand on Sterling’s shoulder, a surprised expression on her face. She only receives a desperate nod in response. “Alright then,” she smiles proudly. “One more minute on the clock. You’ve got this, Wesley.”
“I won’t let you down,” Sterling states firmly and Coach Gardener helps her to her feet.
April gives Sterling a concerned look, to which Sterling sends a ‘don’t worry about it’ shake of her head. April nods and Sterling smiles softly, mouthing ‘thank you’ before April makes her way back up the field.
The last minute is enervating but Sterling and Hannah S. manage to tamper with the other team’s plans enough to make their final attempt at kicking a goal more than easy for Hannah G. to stop. The final whistle blows and the Martyrs are jumping and cheering in celebration again, Hannah G. and Adelaide performing their classic tumble to the ground hug in the middle of the field. Sterling let’s out an ecstatic laugh – it’s one of her favorite parts of winning, watching these two.
They’re going to the state finals!
The team huddle into one another and Sterling is surprised to feel April wedge herself under Sterling’s arm, her own arm wrapping around her waist tightly.
Adelaide holds everyone’s attention as she dramatically takes in a deep breath, deliberately building anticipation at what she might say.
“Celebratory sleepover and pizza at my place!” Adelaide announces, her hand shooting up to point at the sky. Everyone cheers loudly and they all hastily shuffle into the locker rooms. Sterling makes a quick pit stop to hug her family, including Bowser (who’s now sporting a blue t-shirt with ‘Willingham Martyrs’ written across the chest in Blair’s block lettering), and be absolutely fawned over by them all before she goes to get changed.
By the time Sterling walks into the locker room, everyone is discussing who is catching a lift with who.
She hadn’t thought that part through. Sterling came with her family, who are already leaving, so she couldn’t drive herself even if she wanted to.
The idea of getting into someone else’s car immediately causes her breath to quicken in pace, her palms becoming sweaty and fingertips starting to tingle. The smell of cigarette smoke dances at the back of her mind and an image of Debbie’s more deranged other half begins to build in Sterling’s minds eye.
“Hey,” April’s voice is gentle as it cuts through her panic. “Breathe.”
Sterling closes her eyes tightly and takes in a slow and deep breath, holding it for a moment before she releases it.
“Sterling, are you-“ Hannah S. suddenly stops speaking, and Sterling suspects it’s due to a sharp look April shoots her. The other girls voices fade as they migrate to the showers and April guides Sterling to sit on a bench with her.
The two sit and breathe for some time.
When Sterling opens her eyes, she’s greeted by a concerned expression plaster on April’s face.
“I’ll drive you to Adelaide’s,” April says softly.
“What? No, it’s fine. I can jump in anyone’s car. It doesn’t matter-“
“Sterling,” April interrupts, tone serious. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that Blair picks you up after every practice and she always drives the two of you into school.”
Sterling sucks in her lips for a moment. “Have you been watching me?” She attempts to joke.
April takes in a breath but doesn’t say anything, looking elsewhere.
“Look, do you want me to take you? I won’t let anyone else ride in my car, if that helps.”
Sterling bites her lip and nods, letting out a small, “thank you.”
Then April is up and heading for the showers. Sterling let’s out a breath she didn’t know she was holding when the girl is out of view and takes a few more deep breaths in before she herself grabs her bag and heads in the same direction.
Sterling’s glad the Willingham locker room showers are in closed off cubicles, unlike the open ones she’s seen on shows like Glee. She can’t imagine having to get naked alongside April would go down very well for her. Though, she can imagine a naked April in the cubicle beside her right now. She can actually imagine it quite vividly, Sterling thinks, as she leans her head back and let’s the warm water of the shower run down her chest, her hand placing itself on her lower abdomen.
No. Bad idea. Not here. Not now.
Sterling quickly washes away the sweat and grime from tonight’s game and dresses instead.
April’s car is quiet. Sterling kind of wishes she would put some music on but also knows it would probably overstimulate her brain. April drives slowly, spending most of the ride well under the speed limit. It ends up making them both arrive much later than the rest of the team, but when they walk into Adelaide’s basement and the girls start making jokes about how slow they were, April just brushes it off, saying she insisted on stopping to buy gum.
And it’s so sweet. So sweet and genuinely caring that Sterling considers that maybe pursuing whatever Adelaide and Hannah G. have would be a better option with April; something simple but strong and not filled with confusing and tense feelings and want.
She’s pulled from her thoughts when Adelaide appears in the basement doorway with two wine bottles.
“Okay, there are two rules,” she announces, walking further into the room. “One, no getting drunk enough to be hung over tomorrow. And two, absolutely no phones – not only will our parents kill us but Coach will probably kick you off the team if you get caught, so no selfies or videos or drunken texts. Do we all understand?” The team respond with eager head nods and Sterling chances a glance at April who seems nervous. She wants to approach her and let her know she doesn’t haven’t to drink if she doesn’t feel comfortable but before Sterling knows it, the group are all tipsy, drinking cheap wine (because that’s all Adelaide could steal from her parents stash without it going noticed) out of plastic cups, sitting in a large circle around pizza boxes and playing never have I ever.
“Okay, okay, my turn!” Hannah G. raises her cup. “Never have I ever given or been given a hickey.”
A surprising amount of the team drinks. April doesn’t, Sterling sees out of the corner of her eye as she takes a sip.
Hannah G. laughs. “I just don’t get it!”
“That’s because you’ve never done it, Han!” Adelaide bumps her shoulder into the other girl’s.
“But like, what is it about the neck? Like, humans are so weird. Why are we drawn to that?”
“It’s actually psychological,” April offers, surprised to see the whole team turn and look at her inquisitively. She smiles dopily at the attention, clearly just tipsy enough.
“What do you mean?” Hannah S. prompts from beside her.
“Well,” April starts, back straightening as she goes into lecturing mode, “there was actually a study done in 2012 that surveyed the magnitude of erotic sensations across the body. Across nationality, race, gender, and age, they found that the neck was one of the most powerful erogenous zones on the body. And on top of that, body language experts have noted people’s consistent tendencies to expose our necks in flirtatious situations, like how you might brush your hair to one side to expose your neck or tilt your head to show it. Well, it’s because it’s also one of the most vulnerable places on the human body. So by exposing it to someone, you communicate this position of trust to the other person.”
Sterling’s mouth is dry.
Of course April’s a fun fact drunk, and Sterling’s just an excitable and horny drunk, so listening to April talk so eloquently about the erogenous magnitude of necks threatens to send Sterling to an early grave. Not only that, she absolutely picks up the mention of trust as she reminds herself of kissing April’s neck a handful of times.
“Never have I ever masturbated,” Sterling blurts out and promptly puts her cup to her lips, eyes not leaving April.
“You’re supposed to say something you haven’t done,” Adelaide explains while laughing next to her before taking her own sip, but Sterling doesn’t notice. She’s too busy watching April purse her lips and roll her eyes before taking a sip too.
“I need to go to the bathroom. Where is it?” Sterling shifts suddenly, listening to the directions Adelaide gives her before smoothly rushing out of the room. She’s already sat on the floor, leaning back against the door with her hand in her pants, her heart beat rising, when she hears a knock. Sterling’s eyes snap open and she frowns for a moment before standing and cracking the door open.
“What’re you doing?” April stands outside, hands on hips.
Sterling laughs. “That’s a weird questions to ask someone-“
April pushes her way into the bathroom and past Sterling, turning to close the door, wedging Sterling dangerously close between herself and it. She steps back.
Sterling stares at her for a moment.
“So, why are you in here?”
“I...” April immediately loses steam, seemingly searching her slower than usual brain for an excuse. “I wanted to make sure you weren’t going to vomit and pass out.”
Sterling’s laughing again, shaking her head. “I’m not that drunk, April.”
“Well, then,” April’s clearly flustered as her hands flail with her words, “why did you blurt that out in never have I ever?”
“I was playing the game...”
“No, you weren’t! You were... you... you looked at me – why?” April’s tone shifts into demanding.
Sterling gives April an amused expression before she takes a breath in and rolls her eyes, relaxing her body back against the door and crossing her arms.
“You know why.”
April’s shoulder’s rise slightly as she sucks in a small gasp. Sterling smirks.
“Now, since you’ve thwarted my attempt at giving myself another reason to drink to my last ‘never have I ever’, I think we’d better head back to the team.” Sterling shrugs casually. April’s still clearly attempting to process everything, her mouth opening and closing as she attempts to retort in someway.
Yeah, this relationship could never be like Adelaide and Hannah G.
Adelaide was born to lead this group. She’s managed to round up enough blankets and pillows from around her house for everyone and the team rifles through boxes of the family’s old clothes to sleep in. Sterling has to actively not take a second look at April in an oversized t-shirt and her underwear while she ties up the drawstring of her own grey shorts, the tight, thin-strapped singlet Adelaide gave her riding up her stomach as she does so.
Did she choose this top just as an excuse to wear something tight without a bra on?
They settle in to watch ‘She’s The Man’, a classic as Adelaide insists.
When Viola, dressed as Sebastian, meets Olivia for the first time and the two instantly hit it of, one of the girls sitting on the floor pipes up, saying,
“This movie’s kind of gay.”
Sterling’s chest tightens as she sees April’s posture go rigid. She wants to reach across Hannah S.’s lap to hold April’s hand, wants to comfort her and protect her from whatever this is about to be. She doesn’t get much time to consider it though when Hannah G. gasps, kicking her legs excitedly.
“Oh my gosh, this would be such a great queer film!”
Sterling’s jaw could hit the floor if she wasn’t fighting to remain poised in this moment, her head turning to face Adelaide and Hannah G.’s couch.
“Yes!” Adelaide agrees. “Like, it doesn’t make any sense for the real Sebastian and Olivia to end up together. She doesn’t even know him! The climax should be Viola trying to figure out who she really wants.”
Looking around the room, Sterling sees the girls that have watched this movie a million times before nodding along with Adelaide’s proposed remake. She knew a few of the girls on the team didn’t attend church, but they still live in the South and attend Willingham, so this much of a difference in mindset isn’t exactly to be expected. Her gaze lands on April for a moment, who she sees is clenching her jaw as she attempts to stop the tears from appearing in her eyes.
After the film, the girls all start to wind down, finding their sleeping areas. Sterling wishes she could lay next to April but she knows that even suggesting that might drag up some memories that she’d rather leave pushed down. It’s easy to imagine her surprise then when April positions herself so that her head is directly above Sterling’s, their feet facing opposite directions.
The Martyr’s talk in the dark for some time, all suffering from the we-should-be-quiet-but-now-everything-is-hilarious bug. It’s so reminiscent of the sleepovers Sterling had when she was younger that, as she sobers, she forgets the sexual tension she had been teasing with April for most of the night.
When everyone does eventually go silent though, the sounds of deep breathing filling the room, Sterling stares at the ceiling. She never did get to relieve that urge. She bites her lip and glances over at the doorway. There’s no way she could subtly leave for the bathroom without waking anyone else, and it’s practically a given that they would all then need to use the bathroom. Sterling sighs quietly and tilts her head back, turning it slightly to look at April.
“Stop staring at me,” April whispers, much to Sterling’s shock. Her eyes aren’t even open!
Sterling’s gaze whips back up to the ceiling but she can hear April quietly giggling. Sterling cracks a smile.
“What do you want?” April whispers again and Sterling hears her blankets rustle quietly as she rolls onto her stomach, chin resting on her folded arms. Sterling mimicks the position, the two facing each other now, and purses her lips as she considers her response. She glances around the room and notes Hannah S.’s soft snoring that doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else, so they must all be asleep. She looks at April.
“I’m kind of on edge.”
April frowns. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, just... well, you kind of interrupted me earlier and I... didn’t get to finish something...”
April’s lips part and her eyebrows raise slightly. “Oh.”
The two look at each other for a beat too long before breaking eye contact.
“Just go to the bathroom,” April mumbles, quieter than before.
“As if I can walk through this labyrinth of bodies without waking anyone.”
April surveys the room then nods. She chews her lip for a moment, staring at Sterling in the glow of the moon peering through the high window before letting out a shaky breath.
“Lay on your back.”
Sterling frowns but when April gestures for her to hurry up, Sterling quietly rolls over, looking up at the ceiling. She hears April shuffle herself closer to her and suddenly the girls palm is covering her mouth. April presses her lips close to Sterling’s ear.
“Don’t make a sound,” she breathes and then her lips are pressing soft and slow kisses to Sterling’s neck.
Sterling sucks in a breath through her nose, shutting her eyes tightly. She quietly yet frantically pulls the drawstring of her shorts undone and slips a hand under the fabric. Then she freezes with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, her brain suggesting she has somehow misunderstood the situation.
“Touch yourself,” April husks insistently and moves her kisses to Sterling’s jaw, teeth dragging along the bone.
Okay. Yep. She understands this perfectly.
“Blair!” Sterling calls as soon as she gets home the next morning, Anderson mumbling something about a thank you for the lift being nice.
“Blair!” Her sister bolts into an upright position in her bed when Sterling bursts into her bedroom. She runs over, messily crawling under the covers and fixing Blair with an excited grin. Blair frowns, amused.
“April dirty talked me to an orgasm at the sleepover last night.”
“Like, no hands?”
“No, I used my hands.”
“Where were hers?”
“Covering my mouth.”
“Yeah... also, language.”
“Really? You’re worried God is concerned with my language right now? Nothing else?” Blair rolls her eyes, shaking her head.
Sterling chooses to omit the rest of the story, wherein she was getting just so, so close...
“What do you need?” April had whispered into her ear, lifting her hand off of Sterling’s mouth to allow her to respond with,
“Grab my arm.”
April’s brows had furrowed in confusion for a second but she quickly replaced her palm over Sterling’s mouth, her other hand reaching to squeeze Sterling’s bicep.
Sterling didn’t realize she was holding her breath until April husked slowly into her ear,
“Breathe,” drawing out the word, warming the wet area beneath Sterling’s ear.
And that was the end of her.
“So then what happened?” Blair interrupts Sterling’s trip down memory lane.
“She said we’d talk about it in the morning but... well, you know me, Blair. I’m not a morning person! So by the time I woke up everyone else was already awake so we couldn’t exactly chat about me masturbating to the sound of her voice.”
“Oh my god,” Blair groans.
“Again, not the biggest sin here, Sterl.”
Sterling sees April in church on Sunday and around school on Monday, but they don’t exactly have time to talk. Tuesday’s practice is the first time they spend more than two minutes together, but Coach Gardener is busy drawing their focus to their next game, which is fair, it’s pretty important but it still foils Sterling’s plans, which sucks.
Sterling’s all but given up hope on talking to April about whatever is going on between them by Wednesday, moping around home and school.
Well, Blair’s had enough of it.
“Hey, let’s go see Bowser tonight. We said we wanted to grab dinner with him,” she offers.
That seems to work. Sterling is at least smiling again and the two call him during their lunch break to organize everything.
“I gotta admit, girls,” Bowser starts as the twins enter his apartment to the smell of takeout food, “I wasn’t exactly prepared to host on such short notice.”
“That’s fine,” Blair waves a hand dismissively. “Sterling just needed some cheering up,” she says as she takes a seat at Bowser’s dining table (because he actually got himself a nice one, and multiple chairs!)
“Is that right? Do I dare to ask what’s got you feeling low, Sterling?” Bowser asks, placing plates in front of the girls, followed by takeout boxes and plastic cutlery.
“It’s April,” Blair answer for her sister and Sterling smacks her arm. “What? It’s Bowser! He’s cool. He won’t care.”
Sterling groans and leans back in her seat, covering her face with her hands. “The girl I’m into,” she mumbles.
“April Stevens.” Blair wiggles her eyebrows mischievously.
“Oh.” Bowser is suddenly very awkward. Blair assumes the worst and grips her fork a little tighter.
“There’s no problem with that, right Bowsie?” It’s a threatening enough tone to confuse him for a moment.
“What?” He frowns but quickly seems to understand why that might be an issue. “Oh, god no. No, I don’t care who Sterling’s dating as long as they’re-” Bowser seems to catch himself being too openly caring. “I don’t care about that. It’s just... Stevens, that’s a pretty common name, right?”
Blair loosens her grip, seemingly on the same page as Bowser now. Sterling just angrily shovels food into her mouth.
This is not the mood this dinner was supposed to put her in.
“It is, but I see what you’re thinking and yes, they’re totally related. John Stevens is April’s dad,” Blair too happily informs Bowser, who’s eyebrows shoot up. “I know, right? The drama of it all!” Sterling smacks her sister’s arm again. “What? It is dramatic! We freaking bounty hunted the shit out of her dad last year.”
“And I ‘freaking bounty hunted the shit out him’ a couple months back...”
“What?” The twins gasp in unison, grabbing each other’s leg.
“Yeah, I put that little shit away,” he thinks for a moment, “must’ve been at least before you girls started back at school.”
“Oh my god,” Sterling breathes out.
“Blair!” Sterling snaps her body to face her twin. “April’s dad isn’t in her life. Of course! This makes so much sense. There’s no way he would let her play a contact sport.”
“Ew, what a gross and controlling man. I really don’t see how our society sees men like him and continue to put them on pedestals-”
“That’s why she’s been flirting with me. It has to be, right?”
“Well, it could be because she likes you,” Bowser offers quietly, to which Blair smiles in adoration.
“I have to talk to her. This is so much more important than me masturbating with h-“
“Okay, I think that’s about enough of this conversation,” Bowser interrupts.
Sterling’s plans are thwarted by the fact that she’s still too anxious to just call or text April, on top of them both having no time to themselves until their first game of the finals on Friday, the pregame warmup being Sterling’s only shot.
“April,” she calls, approaching the girl as she heads for the door leading out of the locker room and onto the field. April turns to her and stops walking when she realizes Sterling isn’t following.
“We have to get ready, Sterling-“
“I know. It’s not about that...” Sterling waves her hands about as she tries to come up with the right words.
“Is everything okay?” April asks, taking a step towards her, and Sterling could just about melt at the concern in her tone.
“Yes, it’s just– Um– Well-”
“Hey, you two good?” Coach Gardener asks, peering her head through the door.
“Yes, sorry,” Sterling says quickly.
“Well, come on. I want to see you two warming up. You know the drill.” With that, she disappears.
“Come on, Sterling. What is it?” April asks impatiently.
“Is your dad away? Like, for good?”
April seems to choke on air for a second but she swiftly regains her composure, straightening.
“Yes. He is.” She clears her throat. “My mom and I are working some things out to make sure it stays that way... But I’d really rather not talk about it right now.”
“I know, and I’m sorry but-“
“We’ll talk about it after the game. I promise. Win or lose, let’s you and I sit in my car and we can actually talk.”
That soothes Sterling’s worries. An actual time and place locked in is more than April’s ever offered, so Sterling quickly nods in agreement and the two finally head onto the field.
There’s a lot of pressure riding on these next few games, so Sterling spends most of her warm up focusing on her breathing, like her therapist taught her, to bring her into the present moment.
The Martyrs have played this team before and lost, so they all bounce anxiously in their positions as they wait for the game to start.
Their anxieties are only validated when they reach half time and the score is tied at zero.
Coach Gardener starts a rousing speech that Adelaide quickly takes over, encouraging the girls to dig deeper than they ever have before for this next half. By the end of it, their hands are in and they’re chanting their team’s name confidently.
The next half is still H. E. Double Hockey Sticks but there seems to be a moment of hope for the Martyrs to get a one up on the other team when April manages to singlehandedly sprint the ball past their entire defense. She scores and the cheer of the crowd is overwhelmingly loud. April doesn’t seem to hear any of it though, her bright smile being sent directly to Sterling who herself in cheering down the other end of the field. Sterling catches her gaze and is suddenly breathless.
The score seems to be the confidence boost the Martyrs needed and the ego hit the other team couldn’t take because, soon enough, April’s scored them another point. The other team calls for a time out and Sterling takes the opportunity to join Adelaide and some of the other girls up that end of the field in wrapping April up in hug. The giant smile on April’s face would be enough to bring Sterling to tears if she wasn’t in front of everyone else. Only the umpire’s whistle can break their hug, but not before April presses a small kiss to Sterling’s sweaty cheek. Sterling stares at her for a moment before Adelaide grabs her wrist and starts dragging her back towards the other end of the field.
The Martyrs quickly have the ball in their favor again, and time seems to slow down as it flies through the air. April, ever competitive, preps herself and leaps into the air, surprisingly high for her size. Her eyes close and facial muscles brace as she goes to head the ball. Sterling sees it happen all too quickly yet all too slowly as a player from the other team does the same action and her and April meet head first in the middle of the air, their skulls sending a loud clap across the field. Time is back to it’s regular pace and the two girls spin in the air and fall to the ground.
Sterling’s never run so fast.
She shoves players out of the way with too much force and April has rolled onto her side, covering her ears and shutting her eyes tightly, by the time Sterling slides along the grass on her knees, coming to a stop beside her.
“April!” Sterling’s voice is desperate and April groans in response, attempting to sit herself upright. “Hey, hey, take it easy.”
“What just happened?” April mumbles. “What happened?”
“You’re okay. You’ve just hit your head. You’re okay,” Sterling soothes, scooting closer into April’s side, her hands coming up to rub her arms.
“My ears are ringing. What happened?”
Sterling sighs and rubs her back. “Just breathe,” she whispers and presses a secretive kiss to April’s shoulder.
Coach Gardener and the first aid team are quick to join them, taking April from Sterling’s grasp and cautiously escorting her and the other girl off of the field.
Sterling’s eyes well as she hears April continuously ask why her head hurts so much. She doesn’t even notice that the rest of her team are standing around her until Adelaide takes Sterling’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. Sterling turns to look at her.
“She’ll be okay. Happens all the time,” Adelaide says softly and Hannah G. is standing behind her, giving a weak nod.
Sterling attempts to play the rest of the game but Coach Gardener soon subs her out when she performs some of her worse defense against a striker, allowing the other team to score their first point.
Blair is waiting for Sterling in the locker room after the game ends. The Martyrs won, which is great and all, but the entire team is somber – Adelaide and Hannah G. didn’t even perform their signature hug upon the final whistle.
Blair wraps her twin in her arms.
“She’s okay,” Blair mumbles, her chin resting on Sterling’s shoulder. “Just a big headache and a little confused. Her mom took her. They might’ve gone to the hospital, I’m not sure. I thought about tailing them but mom said no.”
Sterling cracks the smallest of smiles. “You would tail April’s mom just to see where she took her for me?”
Blair pulls back to give her sister a serious look. “You are my sister and I love you. I would do anything for you.”
Sterling sighs, attempting to keep her tears from spilling onto her cheeks. Adelaide and Hannah G. each give her shoulder a squeeze as they walk past the twins, Adelaide softly saying,
“We’re gonna get in touch with April’s mom and see if we can visit her sometime over the weekend.”
Sterling nods but doesn’t look at her, not wanting to share this seemingly over the top reaction with anyone but her sister.
She doesn’t hear from April for the rest of the night, so Sterling is over the moon when the Martyrs groupchat lights up her screen the next morning, Adelaide sending a time for them to see April quickly followed by an address. Sterling frowns when she doesn’t recognize it but shrugs it off.
“Hey, do you want to go in alone first?” Adelaide asks after Sterling has waved Blair a goodbye, their car screeching as it pulls back onto the street.
Sterling frowns. She definitely does want to but it doesn’t make any sense for the team to so readily offer that option only to her.
“Why would I do that?”
Adelaide frowns too then, sharing a confused look with Hannah G. before turning back to Sterling.
“Aren’t you two dating?”
Sterling’s eyes go wide and her mouth drops open.
“What?” She sputters out. “Why would you think that?”
The whole team lets out an incredulous laugh then, Hannah G. shaking her head.
“You guys are like totally in love, aren’t you?” She asks, Adelaide nodding alongside her.
“We- No, we just- Well- I mean, I kind of- And April-“ Sterling flounders for her words.
“Have you seen the way she looks at you?” / “You can’t take your eyes off each other.” / “I have the cutest photo of you two on the bus from our first away game.” / “Whenever she kicks a goal she looks right at Sterling.” / “I know it’s so cute.”
The girls all speak at once.
“Wait!” Sterling finally gets her thoughts in order. “You guys think we’re dating and you don’t care?”
“Are you kidding? You two are adorable! Why do you think we always make you pair up?”
Sterling stares at Adelaide. She knows then that she has found what she was searching for; her second family. This team of young girls who just want to kick a ball around and cheer each other on.
Sterling has her home away from home.
“Thank you,” she manages. “I’ll be quick.”
“No rush,” Hannah G. says sweetly.
Sterling knocks gently on April’s bedroom door, poking her head in.
“Hey,” she starts softly, stepping fully into the room and closing the door behind her.
“Hey,” April replies, clearly tired. Sterling takes in her position, sitting upright in bed, propped up by a million silky pillows, a copy of ‘The Price of Salt’ placed to her side.
“So, what’s the verdict? Complete memory loss?” Sterling fails to hold back a cheeky grin.
April cracks a smile too and nods. “One hundred percent. Who are you?”
They both laugh and it puts Sterling’s anxious mind at ease as she crosses the bedroom, coming to sit on the edge of the bed.
“A mild concussion,” April corrects. Sterling nods, fingers already fidgeting with a lose thread on one of the pillows.
“How are you feeling?”
April nods her head side to side in thought, landing on, “odd. I’m having a lot of trouble focusing, which is perplexing.”
“I can only imagine. How very unlike April Stevens to not be able to concentrate down onto the most minute detail of everything.”
They’re both smiling at each other again, an air of comfort laying about the whole interaction.
Sterling only breaks eye contact to look around the room.
“You moved house?”
“Yeah,” April starts, her slightly more nervous tone causing Sterling to return her gaze to the girl. “Just my mum and I. It’s a way to get us out from under John’s thumb...”
Sterling nods, pursing her lips.
“I’m sorry,” April shuts her eyes and shakes her head, “my brain is foggy. I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to talk about all of this right now. The doctor said I need to let my brain rest-“
“For one to two weeks,” Sterling finishes for her. April looks surprised but Sterling just shrugs. “I kind of fell down a WebMD rabbit hole last night while looking up head injuries... I guess you could say I was a little stressed.”
April lets out a bashful chuckle, looking down.
“That’s okay. We don’t need to get into any big serious talk right now,” Sterling speaks softly, her tone and hand moving to rest over April’s forearm suggesting she has more to say.
“Go on,” April prompts, an amused quirk to her brow.
“Well, I was just thinking, maybe we don’t have to talk at all...”
April’s chest rises as she draws in a long breath before a devilish smile appears on her lips. “Maybe you’re right.”
Sterling bites her lip, her smile growing as she tentatively climbs onto April’s lap. April’s hands rest on her thighs as Sterling brings her own up to gently cup April’s face. They’re both leaning in to each other when Sterling suddenly pulls away.
“Oh my gosh!”
“I totally forgot. Everyone’s here to see you!”
Sterling clambers off of the bed.
“Wait, why were you the only one to come in?” April continues.
“Oh gosh, that’s a whole other conversation. I’ll have to explain later,” and then she’s out the door.
By the time Sterling reappears, the rest of the team filing into April’s bedroom, Sterling notes that she has tucked away her book from view.
April’s face lights up like Sterling has never seen it do so before when she realizes the genuine care behind every person standing in that room’s effort to see her. Sterling leans back against April’s desk, biting the inside of her cheek to stop herself from bursting into tears at the sight of April seemingly realizing how much she is truly loved.
Adelaide animatedly recounts the accident when April explains that she has no recollection of it, Hannah G. joining in to perform a dramatically slow-motioned replay that has the entire team, including April, in a fit of laughter.
By the time everyone files out of April’s room, at the request of her mother who’s concerned about her mental rest, April sits with a content smile, an expression Sterling’s not sure she’s ever seen the girl wear.
Walking down the Stevens’ new hallway, Sterling gasps and spins around.
“Sorry, I forgot something,” she explains quickly, rushing back into April’s room.
April frowns as she watches Sterling shut the door, her head cocking to the side as she raises an eyebrow, chuckling.
“What’d you forget-“
Her phrase is cut short by Sterling pressing a kiss to her lips. After a moment of shock, they both sigh into it, April’s hands raising to hold Sterling cheeks gently.
Sterling pulls back, an ecstatic smile on her face.
“I’ll come back around here tomorrow, after church.”
She presses another quick peck to April’s lips and then she’s gone again.
Sterling keeps her word, visiting again on Sunday. They don’t talk about what they are. They don’t talk about John Stevens. Sterling doesn’t explain that her and April are the Martyrs favorite not-a-couple-couple. In fact, they just don’t do much talking at all. All anyone knows is that April’s mother allows her a visitor or two a day for a maximum of twenty minutes, and each time Sterling leaves her cheeks are pink and she’s smiling like the sun shines only for her.
On Thursday, when Sterling cashes in her twenty minute visit after practice, the two are laying side by side atop April’s bed. For once their faces aren’t glued to each other as they stare at the ceiling, holding light conversation.
“We’re all really bummed that you can’t play with us tomorrow night,” she says with a pout.
April turns her head to look at Sterling.
“Some more than others?” She teases and Sterling frowns in thought.
“I want to take credit for caring about you the most but I’m honestly not sure if that’s true.”
They both laugh, each taking their time to commit the other’s smile to memory.
April sighs. “I know it’s not ideal but I need to take this rest time really seriously if I’m going to be able to play at the grand final.”
“You think we’ll make it to the grand final?” Sterling’s voice is low, as if the two were gossiping.
“I do.” April nods confidently. “I think you guys will dominate this next game and we’ll all be headed straight for the finals match by the time I’m back in action. That’s how it has to happen if everything is to go to plan for me.”
Sterling gives an amused frown. “What’s this plan?”
April looks at Sterling in thought for a moment, eyes flicking down to her lips and back to meet her gaze.
“Don’t worry about it.”
And then they’re back into their usual routine for the remainder of Sterling’s visit.
The umpire gives each team their five minute warning and Adelaide quickly brings the Martyrs together into a huddle.
“Okay guys, I know we’re all missing April but her and I have been texting all week and she wanted me to say to you all, quote, ‘good luck but if you lose this game I will force you all to take an extended spin class while I sit back and laugh at your pain’.” The entire team let out a chuckle at the pitch perfect impression. “But seriously,” Adelaide draws their focus back in, “it wouldn’t be fair for April not to get to play with us one more time; she put that big brain that’s helped a lot of us not fail tests on the line, so we owe it to her. Plus she’s got this whole plan for the grand final, so we have to make it there.”
Okay, what? Adelaide so casually knows what April’s plan is and Sterling doesn’t? What’s all that about?
Hannah G. bumping her hip against Sterling’s forces her back into focus. She nods firmly along with everyone else.
The other team are like fire crackers, full of energy and unpredictable. Sterling and Hannah S. are truly tested in their defensive abilities non-stop for the entire first half. Whenever they slip up though, Hannah G. is ready and waiting, only letting one goal slip past her.
At half time, Sterling gives Adelaide a desperate but firm speech about not wanting to see the ball come near their end of the field for the rest of the game. Adelaide chuckles, almost nervously, but agrees and sets up a new plan with her fellow centerfield players.
Maybe Sterling should be co-captain, because whatever she said seems to have switched on something in the Martyrs heads; the ball keeping in their attack almost indefinitely. The girls are quick to realize that the other team’s defense is definitely their weakness, the players there being not nearly as agile, and by the final whistle blow, the Martyrs have managed to bump their score one point above the other’s.
They’re going to the grand final.
Sterling straddles April’s hips and kisses her about it for twenty minutes the next day.
It’s another week with no April at school or practice, Sterling continuing to take her daily visits, Blair continuing to wait in the car and point out how flushed Sterling’s face looks every time she gets back in.
Sterling’s pretty antsy by this point. She knows April’s on ‘brain rest’ but surely she’s had enough time to think about what’s going on between her and Sterling to have a simple conversation about it. Blair at least wishes that was the case because her twin continuously groans and whines about the girl, saying things like,
“She’s so hot and her lips feel amazing but I also just want to scream and tell her to call me baby.”
It’s getting to the point where almost all of Sterling’s thoughts are consumed by one question. And yet, April seems as calm as ever. Even when she returns to the team, joining practice just one day before their grand final match, she has this cool vibe about her that makes Sterling want to grab her shoulders and shake her.
Ultimately, she just ends up pinning the girl against the lockers and kissing the smirk off her face when everyone else has left.
Friday’s school day goes by in a flash. Sterling’s reminded of when she was the talk of the school the year prior, everyone seeming to begin speaking about the Martyrs whenever they pass by, though this feels a lot less like public shaming and more like school pride.
Blair whispers into Sterling’s ear, “is this what it feels like to be famous?”
But Sterling really can’t focus on any of it. She’s too busy staring at April in every class they share and across the table at lunch. Blair attempts to tell her to play it cool but come on, it’s Sterling Wesley. There is no subtly to the girl.
By the time Sterling stands on the grassy field, bright lights beaming down on her and the rest of the team as they await the first whistle blow, her mind only seems to be able to repeat three words; what are we? She sees April smile at her from across the field. What are we? April cheers louder than anyone else, even Blair, when Sterling manages to steal the ball from the other team. What are we? She feels April’s hand resting on her lower back as the team huddle together at halftime for Adelaide’s rousing speech. What are we?
Only April sprinting towards the goals, ball dribbling tightly at her feet, with six seconds left to score is enough the get Sterling to think seven other words; ‘oh my god, we’re going to win’.
April kicks. She scores.
The whistle blows.
The Willingham Martyrs win the game by one point.
Hannah G. squeals and starts her sprint to Adelaide. Sterling finds her own feet carrying her directly to April, who is already surrounded by her team mates, receiving messy hugs and high fives.
When Sterling reaches her, she stops within a foot of the girl, breathless, her mouth hanging open slightly as she tries to find the right words to explain how sexy and amazing that was; how she wants her; how April shouldn’t be scared because the whole team already thinks they’re dating; how even Blair said it’s about time they figure this whole ‘thing’ out.
All she manages to say is,
“Everything go to plan?”
To which April smiles and says, “just about.” Then she closes the gap between them, her arm wrapping around Sterling’s waist, thumb and forefinger of her free hand gently holding Sterling’s chin. “How would you feel about kissing the game winning striker-“
Sterling’s lip are on April’s before she can even finish her sentence.
And they’re kissing.
They’re kissing in front of everyone.
The Martyrs wolf whistle and cheer, Sterling definitely hearing someone, most likely Adelaide, high five April’s hand as it leaves Sterling’s waist for a second.
Sterling pulls back only for a moment to take in April’s reaction. Her cheeks are bunched and pink, teeth showing in the biggest smile Sterling’s ever seen April omit. She looks the way the sun shines yet feels the way the stars shimmer, and the thought of April feeling this way, in front of so many people who love her so much for being exactly who she is, is so overwhelming that all Sterling can do is kiss her again and again.
So, yes. Junior year was undoubtably the worst year of Sterling’s life.
But, as she sits in the Wesley household’s living room, April pressed into her side as their tight knit group of new sisters all hold their breaths in anticipation of her and April opening their letters from Yale, Sterling’s certain senior year is the greatest year of her entire life, and there are only better ones to come.