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I Want To Be With You Everywhere

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Sterling quickly realized that starting over in a new city was a little more difficult as a full no-holds-barred twenty-six-year-old adult than it was at eighteen. She went to her classes every day, and was very friendly to those around her, becoming a “joiner” of graduate student clubs to try to expand her social circle, or like, even have one at all. A girl in one of her classes that she chatted with twice a week was right on the cusp of becoming a friend, maybe someone to study with after class, but she knew better than to push for too much too soon.

She’d learned that lesson the hard way before.

Athens wasn’t like Atlanta, it wasn’t as developed, and the culture felt more like a city built around a college than the other way around. Sterling thought that maybe the best way to get to know the area was to go out and actually see it.

Never much of a runner (that was very much Blair’s turf), Sterling decided to try hiking. After all, it was just walking through the woods, wasn’t it?

Sterling could handle a walk.

Which is how she found herself at Lake Chapman, doing what was allegedly a ‘moderate’ hike that didn’t feel so moderate after about three miles.

It was nice though. She’d brought enough water to enjoy it as she sweat out all of her sins in the late summer heat. The sun shone down through the tree canopies in small splotches, leaving the ground looking mottled as the leaves shifted with every light breeze. Occasional views of the lake only kept her motivated as she looped to the end of the path and started to wend her way back the car.

By the time she reached the trailhead again, she was fully keyed up on endorphins and decided to go check out something that the adjacent park referred to as an amphitheater.

The space was empty that day, no events or Shakespeare to recite in the park, Sterling guessed. She perched herself in the center of the amphitheater and took in the view, digging into her backpack for her water bottle to take a few gulps. The area was wide and open, with the tiered seating built in such a way that it appeared to be a part of the forest itself.

Sterling lay back onto the stone ledge to look up at the treetops. There was always a sense of haunting about places like this for her; places that were supposed to hold crowds of people. There was an energy to them when they were empty, as though they somehow held the whispers of all the people that had ever been there prior.

“Are you alright?” a concerned voice asked from a distance.

“Oh! Fine! I’m fine!” Sterling shot up into a seated position, quickly realizing that laying down while sweaty in a public park probably wasn’t the best look.

“April?”

It was April. Again.

She wore a sleek ponytail, athletic apparel, and a thin sheen of sweat, clenching a water bottle with concern in her eyes. At least, there was concern in her eyes before the spark of recognition. She mumbled something to herself that Sterling couldn’t make out, before plastering a tight and polite smile on her face that would be the envy of any Atlanta housewife.

“Sterling, what a surprise,” her expression remained forced, leaving to Sterling to remember that not all surprises were pleasant.

“Likewise. What, uh, brings you to this fine amphitheater?” she gestured around them, before wiping the sweat off of her face with the hem of her shirt.

April’s disposable water bottle crinkled under her grip, “I’m just cooling down from my run.”

“Same, but I was hiking on the other side of the lake. Do you, like, do this here a lot?”

April rolled her eyes, letting the polite attention in her shoulders droop. “‘Come here often?’ Really?”

Sterling felt the embarrassment burn on her face before her mind could try to think around it. She averted her eyes. It stung again, having to field the barbs from April Stevens that she thought she’d left in the halls of Willingham.

“Look,” April offered, “We don’t have to do this whole thing. I thought someone had heatstroke, someone was you, and you clearly don’t.” Shrugging, she turned away, tossing, “See ya,” over her shoulder like someone would a pinch of salt.

Sterling sat frozen for all of two seconds before snatching up her bag and running after April’s retreating form.

“April, wait!”

The brunette’s head dropped forward in exasperation before she slowly turned around again. “For what?” she challenged.

“I just,” Sterling was still trying to catch her breath, “I’m so sorry - for everything, for back then. I know it’s, like, beyond late. You didn’t deserve to be lied to like that or pressured about anything.”

April’s expression softened the tiniest bit, but before she could open her mouth to respond, Sterling continued.

“This isn’t, like, to put you on the spot.” She raked her sweaty bangs back from her face, feeling too much of everything all at once. “You don’t have to feel obligated to pretend it’s okay. It’s not, and it wasn’t, and if - if I could do it all differently I would. I really would. I’m so sorry.”

There. She’d said it.

Never let anyone claim that she hadn’t owned her sins.

April sighed and crossed her arms, the little space between her eyebrows wrinkled in thought. After a few tense seconds she quietly answered, “Thank you,” before nodding slightly and turning away to leave again. There was a stiffness to her gait as she walked away, her refusal to uncross her arms inhibiting her speed.

Rather than push again, this time Sterling let her go.

She’d learned that lesson the hard way before.