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of memories that go unremembered, and then

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April is the one to suggest that they all just go to prom as a group.

Sterling knows that it’s April’s way of lowering the pressure, of reducing any expectations on Sterling. The thought of skipping prom altogether was even floated before Sterling quickly decided that that was just too depressing. Sterling understands that in the grand scheme of things, having a fun night with her friends is all that prom needs to be, and Tami has assured her multiple times that she doesn’t need to punish herself for plans inevitably having to change.  

But Sterling still feels a weird twist of guilt low in her belly when she agrees to the idea. Prom was supposed to be her and April’s grand coming out; a romantic, joyous, triumphant evening for them to declare their love to the Willingham student body. Now she isn’t sure what significance the night holds, other than lost potential.

Sterling had apparently ordered a dress that had yet to arrive when the coma happened, but on Tami’s suggestion and with Debbie’s enthusiastic encouragement, Sterling decides to see if there’s another dress that feels more “her” right now. Blair declares that they should make a day of it, and April is of course concerned about matching colors, which is how Sterling, Blair, April, Ezequiel and Hannah B. end up commandeering a whole fleet of dressing rooms at the mall one Saturday afternoon.

“You guys all have to try stuff on, too,” Sterling insists, even though April and Ezequiel have had their outfits planned for the last month. Hannah B. is still trying to decide between a few choices, while Blair claims that she has yet to be inspired.

Though Sterling suspects her lack of a decision might have something to do with Sterling’s lack of availability to weight in, until now.

Everyone gamely goes along with the plan, though, loading up various options into the different dressing rooms and putting on a makeshift fashion show. The loud laughter and exuberance of her friends is almost enough to make the weird feeling in Sterling’s chest evaporate, especially when Blair and April convince Ezequiel to try on an A-line purple dress that honestly looks amazing on him.

“Oh, work, bitch, yes!” Blair exclaims when Ezequiel struts the length of the hallway, striking a dramatic pose in front of the floor-length mirror. 

He vogues briefly and April lets out a long, unburdened cackle that makes Sterling’s chest feel tight in a different way, suddenly overwhelmed by the wish that this level of freedom and unabashed queerness could exist outside these dressing rooms; that Ezequiel could wear a dress if he wanted to and Sterling and April could show up as a couple at prom without any of it feeling like a big deal.

Sterling tries to push the feeling away, snapping her fingers approvingly in Ezequiel’s direction as he makes his way back down the hallway. “Willingham couldn’t handle all of this,” he announces before shutting the door to his dressing room, and Sterling chooses to focus on the pride in his voice rather than the sadness underneath it.

At some point they started taking turns, deciding it was more fun for each person to get their moment than have to share the spotlight. April’s up next, so Sterling sits on the little bench outside her dressing room between Blair and Hannah B., absently petting the tulle skirt of the latest option she’s rejected.

Then April’s door swings open and Sterling is pretty sure all the air leaves the room.

April’s wearing a suit. Sort of. She’s wearing dress pants and a suit jacket, but underneath the jacket is this low-cut lacy top that leaves very little to the imagination. She leans on the doorway, hands in her pockets and a smirk on her face, looking so unbearably hot and confident and gay that Sterling can do nothing but stare at her, slack-jawed.

Blair is the one to break the silence, letting out a low whistle. “Damn, Stevens, that is a look.”

April lets out a satisfied little laugh, her neck arching, and Sterling’s mouth goes completely dry. “I think my mom would actually have a heart attack if I wore this,” April says, and Sterling nods dumbly, quite close to a heart attack herself, “but I do look pretty great in it, don’t I?”

“Totally great,” Sterling breathes, feeling Blair turn to look at her sharply.

“Keep it in your pants, Sterl,” Blair mutters.

“Sterling’s not wearing pants,” Hannah B. points out.

“Astute observation, Hannah B,” Ezequiel snickers.

Sterling blinks at April, whose smirk has somehow gotten wider the longer Sterling’s been looking at her.

“April’s wearing pants,” Hannah B. adds helpfully.

“Oh, yes she is,” Sterling exhales without intending to.

April bites her lip, which just makes everything so much worse, but then a shadow crosses her face, slight but still noticeable, and she’s stepping back into the dressing room with a quiet, “I should change.”

Sterling stares at the closed door for a moment, trying to clear the lust fog that’s descended over her brain and wants nothing more than for her to march into April’s dressing room and help her right on out of that suit.

Because yeah, okay, April is hot, big news. But as Blair heads off to try on a new outfit, Sterling finds herself more concerned than turned on. She makes her way over to Ezequiel, who's in front of his dressing room, back in his clothes from home.

“Hey, is she okay?” Sterling asks quietly.

Ezequiel glances up from his phone. “Hannah B? Define ‘okay.’”

“No, April.”

“Oh.” He pockets his phone, expression growing more somber. "She’s doing the best she can.”

“Does she talk to you about…”

“You?”

“Well, yeah,” Sterling replies, both surprised by and grateful for his directness. "And other stuff, too.”

“More than she used to. I’m not about to kiss and tell, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

She shakes her head firmly. “No, of course not. She needs to… she shouldn’t have to be strong for me, all the time.” Sterling lets out a shaky breath, that guilty feeling starting to rise in her again. “Sometimes I feel like I’m…like all I do is hurt her.”

Ezequiel studies her for a second, seeming to consider something. “Well, you’ve also made her happier in the last year than she’s been, like, ever.” He says it without much emotion, like it’s an indisputable fact. “Don’t go all nihilistic on us now. It’s not a good look. She just wants you. So if you can be there for her, then be there for her.”

Sterling nods a bit numbly, working her way up to a verbal response when Blair flings open her dressing room door. “Alright, scale of 1-10, how much does this look communicate that I’m DTF?"

Twenty minutes later and Sterling still hasn’t found a dress that feels quite right. Blair is starting to get cranky, a tell-tale sign that she needs a snack (sometimes Blair is very much a toddler, Sterling knows), and Hannah B. has finally made a decision about her dress so she wants to start looking at jewelry with Ezequiel.

April is insistent that she get to weigh in on Sterling’s choice, so Ezequiel suggests that they all meet up at the food court once Sterling’s made a selection.

The dressing rooms seem almost uncomfortably quiet once Blair, Ezequiel and Hannah B. have left. April says that she’s fine to wait on the little bench and tells Sterling to take her time, but Sterling is suddenly hyper-aware of her own presence as she tries on a couple more outfits. Her breathing feels too loud, her armpits start to get really sweaty, and it feels like everything is taking too long.

She decides to end on the dress that she likes the most, hoping for a positive grand finale. The only one left before it is this weird frilly thing that Hannah B. somehow talked her into trying on, and she hasn’t even fully pulled the zipper up before deciding that it isn’t right. 

She goes to tug the zipper down only to discover that it’s gotten stuck just out of reach. She tries to contort her arms behind her but somehow that dang zipper is in, like, the Bermuda Triangle of her back.

She should really start doing yoga.

“Shoot,” Sterling mutters. And this couldn’t even happen on a dress she likes, either. 

“Sterling? You okay?” April calls through the door.

Sterling looks at herself in the mirror. Her face is flushed and she’s scowling and this dress makes her look like a party clown. Plus, she’s stuck.

“Um,” Sterling calls back. “I might need your help.”

“Oh!” April sounds genuinely a little surprised.

“Sorry.”

God, and now Sterling’s blushing more. In all the time she’s spent thinking about April undressing her this past week (which has become kind of a nightly ritual, now that she’s figured out the whole masturbation thing), helping Sterling out of an ugly prom dress in a garishly lit dressing room was not high on the fantasy list.

“It’s okay,” April replies as Sterling unlatches the door and lets her in.

April’s eyes drop briefly to Sterling’s chest—Sterling realizes belatedly that her boobs are kind of exposed with this half-zipped situation—before she motions for Sterling to turn around.

“Sorry,” Sterling says again. “It’s, um, the zipper.”

As if April couldn’t figure that one out. Jesus. How did Sterling ever manage to secure herself a girlfriend in the first place?

“Don’t worry about it,” April says softly. “Were you going up or down?”

Sterling watches her eyes go wide in the mirror. “What?” she squeaks, mind suddenly swirling over the implications of going down.

“The zipper?”

“Oh, right! Down. I was going down. I mean—off. I was taking the dress off.”

Yeah, that’s not much better.

But April doesn’t say anything. Instead her fingers go to the zipper, easing it down Sterling’s back, a process that somehow feels both agonizingly short and agonizingly long. Sterling watches in the mirror, sees the way April’s eyebrows lift just a little when Sterling’s back is exposed, the way her hands linger for a second at the small of Sterling’s back.

Then April takes a small step back. 

“You're free,” she murmurs, voice deeper than normal.

Sterling turns to face her, squeezing her arms against her body to keep the dress from slipping to the floor.

Even though that idea is intriguing, to say the least.

“Thanks,” she whispers, and wow, April is extremely close to her. Close enough that Sterling can feel April’s breath on her face, can see every muscle in her throat move as she swallows.

God, Sterling wants her.

“It’s nothing.”

April’s fingers have linked together in front of her, the closeness making it so Sterling can feel the light brush of them through her dress. April twists her fingers together absently, and the sight feels familiar to Sterling, sending a strange jolt of anticipation up her spine.

Where earlier Sterling saw sadness in April’s eyes, now she sees something else. Nerves, maybe, but that’s not all. There’s an energy behind her expression, intense and jangly, and it makes Sterling feel off-kilter and long to lean closer, all at once.

“Well, I'll let you…” April whispers, turning toward the door.

Sterling’s belly suddenly floods with a sense of loss, with a need for this moment not to end.

“April,” she says, a distinct begging quality to her voice.

April’s back is still turned and her hand hovers over the doorknob. Sterling is sure she’s going to open it, maybe toss a, “We can’t,” over her shoulder and leave Sterling all alone to want and wonder.

But instead, April’s hand lowers to flip the lock, and she’s turning around.

“Sterling,” April sighs, the sound making Sterling feel like they’ve both been underwater for far too long and are finally coming up for air. Sterling takes a step forward, the goddamn dress still hanging precariously from her body, but it doesn’t matter, because April meets her in the middle and then they are kissing.

Sterling has dreamed about this moment, both awake and asleep, over the last couple weeks. She thought about it a lot before then—ever since she woke up, really—wondering what it would be like; wondering how it would feel to have April Stevens’ mouth against her own, her sharpness and passion focused on Sterling in this specific way; wondering whether her own body would know how to react, if muscle memory would take over or if it would feel like something entirely new.

But no amount of dreaming or wondering or half-formed memories could have prepared Sterling for the way it feels to be kissed by April Stevens.

April clutches the back of Sterling’s neck, tugging it down so that their mouths are at just the right angle, her body warm and solid as it presses into Sterling’s.

Sterling hears a moan—she thinks it’s from her—and when her mouth opens April’s tongue slips inside, tracing over her teeth, sending electricity shooting down Sterling’s whole body. It feels like April’s hands are everywhere even though they haven’t moved, because Sterling is hot all over, her blood pumping hard and fast, her skin surely close to bursting.

Sterling grips April’s hips, mostly just because if she doesn’t hold on to something she’s sure she’d fall over, but when she squeezes them April lets out a soft whine into her mouth and Sterling is instantly obsessed with the sound, needing to hear it again and again. She holds April tighter, emboldened enough to swipe her tongue across the roof of April’s mouth, and April actually shudders a little against her.

“April,” Sterling gasps against her lips.

April hums, one hand drifting to Sterling’s shoulder while the thumb of her other hand swipes over Sterling’s pulse point, moving in a steady rhythm that is absolutely going to make Sterling lose her mind. She sucks Sterling’s lower lip into her mouth, and Sterling honestly thought that the whole “weak in the knees” thing was just an expression but right now her knees buckle underneath her, her whole system threatening to fritz out at the way April is touching her, at the feel of her soft lips against Sterling’s own.

They’re both panting when April leans their foreheads together. Sterling feels like she could die. Or maybe she’s been dead, and April just brought her back to life.

“Oh my god,” she breathes. “That’s what it’s like?”

April lets out a breathless giggle. “Yes.”

“Every time?”

“Every time. Better than that, even, because—”

“Because I know what I’m doing,” Sterling realizes.

April nods, thumb brushing across Sterling’s lip like she needs to know that Sterling’s still here. Sterling’s eyes flutter closed at the sensation.

“Are you okay?” April whispers.

“I don’t know,” Sterling admits. Everything inside of her feels like it’s exploding. Okay seems completely arbitrary.

April squeezes her shoulder. “We should probably—”

“Go to prom with me.”

April startles back slightly but Sterling’s hands keep her from getting too far.

“I am going to prom with you.”

Sterling shakes her head, the words coming out before she’s fully processed them. “No, I mean, like…look, I know everything is still weird and complicated and hard for you—for both of us—around all of this. But I’m—I want you to be my date. My real date. And I’m completely sure about that. I want to—to kiss you and have everyone know…”

“What?”

Sterling swallows, looking into April’s eyes. “That you’re mine.”

April raises an eyebrow. “After one kiss?”

“It’s not just one kiss.”

“Sterling.” This time when April sighs her name, it sounds like a warning. Which is, honestly, still quite the turn on. “I would be going to prom with my girlfriend who I’m in love with. You would be going to prom with—with a girl who you’ve spent a lot of time with lately and just kissed for the first time. That’s not—I’m not sure how good that is for either of us.”

Sterling blinks, tears pricking behind her eyes, suddenly feeling exposed in a less pleasant way. “I’m not confused about how I feel about you.”

“I know.”

The sadness is back in April’s eyes, accompanied by something else that Sterling now identifies as uncertainty.

“But you’re confused about how you feel about me,” Sterling says with dawning, terrible clarity.

“Not confused,” April insists. “But it’s—it’s different, Sterling. We went through so much. If you never get your memories back—”

“You said that I was still me.”

“And you are, of course you are, but—”

Sterling gets it, then, what April sees when she looks at her: her almost-girlfriend. So close to the real thing but not quite right; a puzzle with the center pieces missing. It’s not unlike how Sterling feels when she looks at Blair these days; her sister, sort of. The same person she loves but with a new complication added that makes everything hurt just a little bit all the time.

But God, now Sterling understands more clearly than ever how good it was with her and April, how good it could be. By all accounts she pushed April before, and she lost her.

She won’t do that again.

“Will you think about it?” Sterling asks quietly.

April nods. “Of course. I just need to—” She rakes a hand though her hair, the gesture stupidly hot. 

Sterling nods. “It’s okay. Take all the time you need.”

That phrase has been said to Sterling over and over again ever since she woke up, but she really hears the meaning for the first time: I love you enough to wait for you. You’re worth it, to me.

All she can do is hope that April decides she’s worth it, too.