"How will you remember?"
"That I love you?"
"That's easy. I can't help it."
- Sarah Ruhl, from "Eurydice"
Sterling wakes up in a room that’s just right.
The air-conditioning is whirring quietly in the background, sunlight is just beginning to dapple the room in a warm orange glow, and the bed beneath her is the perfect level of soft.
But more importantly than any of that, April is here.
April’s hair is wild and tickling Sterling’s face, and her body is naked and pressed right up against Sterling’s, and her arm is holding Sterling’s in place; holding onto Sterling as Sterling holds on to her.
Sterling can’t recall ever enjoying waking up so much.
She presses a light kiss to the back of April’s shoulder, not enough pressure to wake her, but enough for Sterling to revel in this moment.
Ever since the coma, it feels like everything has been tinged by melancholy, that even the happy times that Sterling has experienced have been covered in an impenetrable film of loss, always aching, always tender.
But now, propping up on one elbow and gazing down at the sleeping form of April Stevens in her arms, in a hotel room that Debbie, of all people, gifted them with, Sterling only feels joy, unbridled and uncomplicated.
She can’t help a tiny, delighted giggle from bubbling out of her—she honestly feels a little giddy—and while she clamps her mouth shut over the sound April’s eyes quickly open, taking half a second to register her surroundings before her face splits into a grin.
“Good morning,” April greets, voice rough, and wow, just that sound sends a rush of heat through Sterling’s whole body, settling between her legs.
“Good morning,” Sterling replies. “This is a really nice way to wake up.”
April scrunches her face, stretching in such a way that she can still remain under Sterling’s arm. “I agree.”
And Sterling gets it, suddenly, Debbie’s certainty that they will get married, because she truly can’t imagine not always sharing a bed with April after last night.
“Do you feel okay?” April asks, a hint of concern behind the words.
“I feel great.” Sterling frowns. “Why?”
April arches an eyebrow. “Oh, I don’t know. You only came out to the whole school and had lesbian sex for the first time that you can remember all in the span of, oh, six hours?”
Sterling laughs again, letting the sound come fully through this time. “Just another day in the exciting life of Sterling Wesley.” She traces April’s cheek with her finger. “Seriously, though, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt better. What about you?”
April studies her for a moment, eyes narrowing.
“What?” Sterling prompts.
April shakes her head. “I’m trying to think of the words to sum up how I feel, but…they’re escaping me.”
“That’s two times I’ve made you speechless recently. I’ll consider those wins.”
“More than two, Sterl. There were certainly a few moments last night where I was struggling with the English language.”
“Right! Thanks for keeping track of my victories, babe.”
The nickname slips out easily, and when April’s eyes go wide with awe and affection Sterling decides to count that as another win, too.
She cranes her neck to check the clock. “We have a couple of hours until checkout. Have any ideas about how to spend the time?”
April’s smile starts to look a little less earnest. “I can think of several.”
Sterling gulps, a sudden nervousness settling over her, though she’s determined to push through.
“I, um. Didn’t get to go down on you last night,” she says in a rush.
“And are you hoping to remedy that situation?”
Sterling nods so frantically that she’s probably at risk for giving herself whiplash. Everything they did last night felt absolutely incredible—better than incredible; transcendent—but April was so focused on giving Sterling the best possible time that Sterling didn’t get to fully reciprocate, and while she’s a little concerned about whether she’ll be coordinated enough for this, she’s also desperate to taste April.
It turns out she has very little to be concerned about. Literally at the first press of Sterling’s tongue to her April is coming, spasming against Sterling’s mouth. Sterling’s head darts up so fast in surprise that April is still mid-orgasm, face and chest gorgeously flushed.
April looks down at her with a slightly chagrined expression once she’s recovered. “Sorry, I—did not expect that to happen. Your mouth—I’ve just really, really missed it.”
Sterling is sure that what April just experienced couldn’t have been fully satisfying—it certainly wasn’t for her—but the rapidness of April’s orgasm emboldens Sterling, filling her with a warm confidence that she can do this.
She loops her arms under April’s thighs, tugging her tighter against her, any timidness drained away as she puts her mouth back on April. April cries out, pulling Sterling’s hair, and Sterling hums against her, relishing in all of it; April’s taste and smell and the noises she’s making, but most of all her sheer enjoyment. April’s pleasure manages to be sharp and soft at the same time, much like April herself, and God, Sterling is so in love with it, so in love with her.
Sterling eats her out for two more orgasms, once again rendering April utterly speechless by the time she rises back from between April’s legs. Sterling’s jaw is a bit sore but she truly couldn’t care less.
All in all, it might be her best morning yet.
Despite her doctor’s warning that it’s unlikely to happen the longer time goes on, some part of Sterling still keeps believing that all of her memories will return. She isn’t sure whether she’s expecting a Big Bang where everything will suddenly click back into place, or a slow addition of pieces that will eventually complete the puzzle, but it still seems impossible to her that a year and a half of memories could disappear in an instant and never come back.
What actually happens is less dramatic than a Big Bang and less satisfying than a puzzle, but certainly more complicated than either. More memories do start to come back, but they’re rarely in an order that makes a lot of sense, and sometimes they make things worse.
For example, one afternoon when Blair is driving them back from Yogurtopia, she asks Sterling to feed her a Sour Patch Kid from the open pack sitting between them. When Sterling looks down at the sour-sugar residue left on her hands, she suddenly starts hyperventilating and they have to pull over. Both of them are crying by the time they make it home, and Debbie immediately calls Tami for an emergency session.
That’s the day that Sterling remembers the kidnapping. And it was one thing to hear about how it happened, but it’s quite another to remember how it felt to not know if she’d ever see her family again, to relive the terror of thinking she might die on a visceral level, to see the look on Dana’s face when she proclaimed that Sterling was her daughter.
It’s hard for a while after that, Sterling having to work through that trauma all over again. “I just feel like I’m back to square one,” she bemoans to Tami.
“I understand,” Tami replies, “but Sterling, you’re not. Look at how far you’ve come in such a short period of time. You’re getting back pieces of yourself, and that isn’t always going to be easy. Some of the pieces will be hard, but some will—and have been, already—wonderful.”
Debbie and Anderson are pillars of support through it all, giving Sterling all the space she needs while making it clear that they’re there for her. In one therapy session with just the three of them Sterling breaks down, sobbing, “I just think I need you guys to be my mom and dad again, okay?”
And they have been, they always have been, even when they weren’t, but something shifts after that. They’re Mom and Dad again, not like how it was before but in a new way; they are her parents.
Debbie asks Sterling if she wants to see Dana, and Sterling feels like her answer should be yes but every time she thinks about it she feels sick to her stomach.
“You get to navigate what your relationship with Dana looks like,” April tells her, stroking a hair through Sterling’s hair on the Wesley couch one evening. “Even if that means no relationship at all.”
Sterling knows that it’s a line April’s borrowed from her own therapist—a new addition to April’s routine that Sterling is so proud of her for embarking on.
So Sterling tells Debbie that she isn’t ready, that she doesn’t know if she ever will be, and Debbie promises that that’s okay.
Not every memory that returns is bad. Some, in fact, are very good, like the night when she and April go to the movies and halfway through Sterling remembers the time that she got bored twenty minutes into last year’s Star Wars and convinced April to let her finger her in the movie theater bathroom (an experience that April is quick to point out she only agreed to because she’d already seen the movie in question).
And naturally, it seems only right to recreate that particular memory this time around, which is how she and April end up permanently banned from that theater when an employee walks into the bathroom at an inopportune moment.
Totally worth it, in Sterling’s opinion.
Some memories seem to provide the opportunity to do things differently. Sterling recalls an extremely awkward dinner at the Stevens house that took place a month into the official start of her and April’s relationship—an event that, apparently, inspired April’s efforts to keep Sterling and Mrs. Stevens apart.
“I think I felt guilty, or something, which is why I didn’t try harder,” Sterling explains to Tami. “But that put April in such a tough spot, and I don’t want to do that to her again.”
So she doesn’t. She gets April to convince her mom to have another dinner, and yeah, it’s uncomfortable at first, and for the two dinners that follow. But by the third one Sterling can tell that she’s starting to win Mrs. Stevens over, and before she leaves after the fourth dinner Mrs. Stevens catches Sterling’s wrist as she’s leaving and murmurs, “You may have made some highly questionable choices in the past, but you clearly make April happy. And she deserves that.”
“She does,” Sterling replies simply, afraid that she’ll start weeping or impulsively hug Mrs. Stevens if she lets the moment linger, and she just manages to make it to the Volt before breaking into a happy dance-slash-cry.
Things get easier with Blair. Not that they were ever hard, exactly, but eventually the film of sadness dissolves into almost nothing. Sterling can easily refer to Blair as her twin again, and Blair stops seeming so angry at their parents all the time. She starts dating Bowser’s new Yogurtopia employee, a sweet, whip-smart boy named Eli who’s a total music nerd and makes Blair laugh with her whole body. Even April has to admit that he’s pretty great, and though she makes a production about it, she grants Sterling’s wish to attend several double dates with the two of them.
Now that things are good (great, tremendous) between her and April, it’s natural to start folding April back in to the family activities. Sterling’s parents adore her; that much has been clear ever since Sterling first woke up, but seeing it in action now that she and April are in such a wonderful place is really something.
Sometimes Debbie and April will disappear into the kitchen for an hour, talking about everything from literature to their respective families, and returning with a delicious meal and the look of two people who just shared a good cry. April seems genuinely interested in Anderson’s woodwork, something that neither of his daughters will even fake affection for, and he delights in showing off his “skills” to April (who, no surprise, quickly laps him in her own woodworking abilities, and suddenly hanging out in her dad’s shop holds a lot more appeal for Sterling).
Still, not every April memory is a positive one. Sterling is walking past a bench on the way into school one morning when another memory from the night of the lock-in hits her. She practically runs into Willingham, finding April and pulling her into the supply closet before her eyes spill over with tears.
“What is it?” April asks with concern.
“We broke each other’s hearts,” Sterling blubbers. “I didn’t understand, and you were hurting, and—”
April pulls her into a hug. “It’s okay, baby. We made it through.”
“I’m sorry,” Sterling sniffles into her shoulder.
“I know. I’m sorry, too.”
“I love you.” Sterling pulls back just enough to look into April’s eyes. “I was totally falling in love with you back then, too.”
“Sterling, I’ve been in love with you for so long that I barely remember what it felt like not to love you.”
Sterling kisses her then, and it’s messy and tearful and perfect.
Graduation arrives in a flash, the whole day feeling like a blur to Sterling, and soon the summer stretches ahead of them, with college lingering close on the horizon.
Sterling’s plans haven’t changed; she’ll still be attending Sarah Lawrence with April at Columbia, while Blair will be taking a gap year to travel. While the thought of leaving home seemed utterly absurd when she first woke up, she finds herself excited, now.
She knows enough about herself to feel ready. She doesn’t have every single piece of the puzzle but she has enough, and she’d like to think that she’s made some new pieces along the way.
Today, though, she doesn’t have to worry about college or moving or life changing once again before her very eyes. She, April, Ezequiel, Blair, Eli, Luke and Hannah B. are spending the weekend at the Stevens’ lake house. The place that was Sterling’s refuge after the truth about her family came out. The place where, she’s now remembered, she and April had sex for the first time. The place where she and Blair arrested April’s dad.
Life, Sterling has come to recognize, is full of surprises.
Now, though, April’s hand is in hers as they climb the front steps. Blair and Eli are playfully arguing over who should be in charge of music this weekend, while Ezequiel is showing Hannah B. pictures of the boy he’s been flirting with on Instagram and Luke is offering him a high-five in approval.
Sterling tugs April back a little, needing a moment just for them. April is smiling in the way that Sterling has learned is just for her, and the sun is setting behind her, glowing across her skin, and Sterling is overcome.
“I love you,” Sterling says, pressing a kiss to the back of April’s hand.
“I know. You just told me that, like, two minutes ago.”
“Maybe you need the reminder.”
April rolls her eyes fondly.
“I have an excellent memory.”
“Especially when it comes to me,” Sterling can’t help but quip.
April flushes just a little, leaning up until her lips are centimeters from Sterling’s own. “Well, as long as we’re reminding each other of things: I love you, too. More than I can fully understand, most days.”
“Don’t worry,” she promises, “I won’t forget.”