“Quick! How do I fix lumpy gravy?”
April runs a tired hand over her face. It’s been a long day already, and it’s still technically only the afternoon. This was supposed to be her day off, but then her boss called with the unfortunate news that the story April’s been working on for the last month and a half was about to be scooped by the Times, so she’s spent this entire morning double and triple checking every last word so the story can go to print tomorrow.
Not exactly relaxing.
She isn’t entirely sure why she even answered when Sterling called, except for the fact that it’s Sterling, and answering her calls has become something of a reflex.
It’s fine; April has everything under control. She’s kept a lid on whatever…thing has been brewing inside her for the last year since she and Sterling reconnected.
Sure, there are some nights when Sterling will be sitting on her couch, wine nearly sloshing out of her glass as she animatedly tells April a truly bonkers tale from college, and April will find herself entranced, not so much by Sterling’s words but by the way she says them, her eyes so bright, her smile soft and begging to be kissed.
Sure, there are Saturday mornings when April should really be doing her laundry or catching up on work emails, but instead she reaches for her phone and types the first name under Favorites, promising Sterling that she’ll buy her breakfast if Sterling goes on a run with her. (This usually turns into a half-walk, half-jog hybrid that Sterling spends the whole time complaining about, though all is forgiven once she’s presented with a plate of waffles piled with whipped cream and strawberries.)
Sure, there’s the fact that April has turned down dinner invites from every women who’s asked her out since she moved here; smart, pretty, confident women who could probably hold their own with April, who would surely at least show her a good time for a night or two, but who don’t hold a candle to the fire that Sterling ignites within her.
Now, April hears herself telling Sterling to stay there and not touch anything, that April will be over in twenty minutes.
To fix Sterling’s goddamn gravy.
She doesn’t get the full story on the reason for said gravy until she arrives. Sterling looks halfway to a panic attack, the apron that April knows was a Christmas present from her grandmother streaked with flour, her hair in this haphazard little updo that April probably shouldn’t find so adorable.
Apparently, Sterling is hosting her mom’s birthday dinner at her apartment, a terrible but deeply sweet Sterling idea.
“After everything,” Sterling breathlessly tells April as April assesses the state of the kitchen, “I just really wanted to do something nice for her.”
April nods. She knows what everything means, that even years after Sterling learned the truth about her birth mother and her unconventional entry into the Wesley family, there are still a few scars that will never fully heal. She knows how hard Sterling has worked to get to a good place with her parents, to reestablish trust and boundaries with them. She knows that Sterling has spent countless hours in therapy over the last decade, and she also knows that Sterling has told her significantly more about the entire situation than any non-family member besides her therapists.
That last part fills April with a mixture of both gratitude and guilt, mostly guilt for the gratitude, if she’s being honest, because it means that she understands Sterling more deeply than just about anyone, and she sort of wants it to stay that way.
“Sterl,” April sighs, “biscuits and gravy? Really?”
“It seemed simple!”
“You can barely boil pasta.”
“That was one time! Besides, we’re from the South. Isn’t making this food, like, in our DNA?”
April shakes her head, more charmed than she should be. “Alright, hand me that apron. We’re starting over.”
Sterling’s forehead wrinkles. “We are?”
“I cannot in good faith let you serve your parents whatever monstrosity is in that oven of yours.”
Sterling lets out an exhale that’s just a little too reminiscent of the satisfied noise April can recall her making in the backseat of the Wesleys' Volt, years ago.
April clears her throat, wiping a layer of flour off the front of the apron before focusing on the task at hand.
“You don’t want to handle the dough too much,” she’s explaining to Sterling about an hour later. “That’s how you end up with tough biscuits.”
Sterling hasn’t left her post at the stove, taking April’s instruction to not stop stirring the gravy very seriously. “Have I mentioned how much you’re saving me, here?”
“You have. But you can say it again.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll hear it from my mom when she gets here.”
April nearly drops the dough on the floor. “What?”
“You have to join us. I mean, I’m not sending you home after you basically made this entire meal from scratch.”
April swallows. She hasn’t seen the Wesleys since the last time she returned home, a good five years ago. She knows that Sterling has been excited to have them visit, but she really wasn’t planning on being a part of said visit.
April’s first instinct is to refuse the offer, but instead she agrees, feeling herself grow quieter and a little more anxious as time ticks on, and blaming it on wanting the food to turn out well when Sterling asks if she’s okay.
It turns out, April really has nothing to worry about. Not only is the meal a success, but the Wesleys couldn’t make her feel more welcome. Anderson asks April all sorts of questions about her work, seeming genuinely interested, while Debbie keeps remarking on what a lovely hostess April is, even if they’re technically at Sterling’s apartment. Sterling seems delighted to have April there, bragging over April’s accomplishments and involving her in every story, even the “you had to be there” ones.
April observes the family ecosystem with quiet fascination, noticing the way Anderson laughs with his whole body, the way Debbie’s love for her daughter shines through her eyes. This type of warmth is utterly foreign to April, but it feels good to be close to, like settling up next to a fireplace on a cold winter evening.
After a couple of glasses of wine Debbie leans forward a little and fixes April with a gentle stare. “So how are your parents, April?”
Under the table, Sterling squeezes April’s knee.
“You would know better than I would,” April says quietly. She lets one of her hands settle over Sterling’s, and she thinks Debbie sees it. “I haven’t spoken to either of my parents since the last time I was home.”
“May I ask you a personal question?” Debbie inquires.
“Mom—” Sterling warns.
April shakes her head in Sterling’s direction. “It’s okay, Sterl.” She nods toward Debbie. “Go for it.”
“Did you cut off contact, or did they?”
April feels a bit more tension creep into her shoulders. “I wish I could say it was all my decision,” she replies honestly. “But it was fairly mutual. I’m not sure if they were more upset to learn that I was a lesbian or a liberal.”
Anderson snorts at that.
“I tried for a while to have a relationship with them,” April continues, hearing her voice start to shake. “Longer than I should have, probably. But it quickly became clear that I could either spend every minute with them arguing about my personhood, or I could pretend to be someone I’m not, or I could accept that…that I needed to leave them behind.”
“That’s a terrible choice to have to make,” Debbie says softly. She glances at Sterling. “I…I’m guessing that Sterling has told you that my past wasn’t… well, I didn’t have the parents I wish I’d had, either.”
Anderson’s hand slides into hers, fingers interlocking, like an old dance.
“At a certain point,” Debbie adds, quickly wiping a tear off her cheek, “you realize that you can make your own family. And then leaving behind the one you were born into starts to feel a little easier.”
“That’s right,” Anderson agrees. “And April, if you ask me, it’s your parents’ loss, not yours.”
“Oh,” April lets out, her chest feeling quite tight. “I… that’s very sweet. Thank you.”
And then Sterling’s arm is slipping around her shoulder, pulling April toward her and planting a kiss on her temple.
“It’s true,” Sterling whispers.
The heavy emotions don’t last too long, because soon Blair is calling on FaceTime from Hawaii, where she’s been living for the last month.
While the Wesleys pass the phone around April excuses herself to the bathroom. She tries to pull herself together, even though she can still hear the Wesleys’ kind words echoing in her head, can still feel the press of Sterling’s lips against her skin.
She wipes beneath each eye and takes a few deep breaths, and when she opens the bathroom door she can hear Blair’s voice calling her name.
“April Stevens!” Sterling’s phone bellows. “Where the hell are you, you tiny bitch?!”
“Blair!” Debbie scolds, though she’s had enough wine by this point to not sound very commanding.
“She wants to talk to you,” Sterling says with a wide grin.
April frowns, unsure of what exactly Blair wants to talk to her about but deciding to go with it. She sits down beside Sterling, noting the way that Sterling easily slides an arm around the back of her chair.
“Been a long time, Blair,” April remarks.
Blair smiles, her image slightly pixelated but still bursting with energy. “Why am I not surprised to see you crashing our family dinner?”
“I wasn’t—I was invited!”
“I’m fucking with you. I know you saved Sterl’s ass.”
“I would have managed!” Sterling insists.
“Managed to burn the kitchen down, maybe,” April mutters loud enough for Blair to hear.
Blair laughs, and the sound feels surprisingly good.
“I regret ever asking for your help,” Sterling announces, entirely unconvincingly.
“Oh yeah, I got your thirsty texts about watching April knead dough. I’m sure you’re just dripping with regret,” Blair quips.
April whips her head to face Sterling. “What’s that now?”
Sterling’s cheeks are flaming red. “Blair—”
“Just kidding!” Blair says too quickly. “Hanging up now!”
April’s heart is beating faster, and Sterling won’t meet her eyes as the screen goes black. Across the table, Debbie and Anderson exchange a look.
“I think we’d better head back to the hotel,” Anderson announces.
“Thank you for a truly lovely night,” Debbie says as she stands to hug Sterling. “Hon, call me tomorrow about getting mani/pedis, ’kay? April’s welcome to join us.”
“Happy birthday, Mrs. Wesley,” April murmurs as Anderson and Sterling say goodbye, more than a little embarrassed at the possibility that Blair’s commentary might have cut the evening short.
It doesn’t seem to bother Debbie, though, as she squeezes April’s shoulder. “Please, call me Debbie.” She pulls April in a little closer. “Thank you for taking such good care of Sterling.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say—”
“I know, I know, you’re going to tell me that she takes care of you, too. And I see that. It’s what makes you two so right for one another.”
April’s mouth goes dry. “Right for…?”
Debbie’s smile is warm and a little loose. “I’m just glad you both figured it out when you did. Knowing now…” She offers April a small shrug. “Certain things make a bit more sense to me, let’s just say.”
“Mrs. Wesley—Debbie, Sterling and I aren’t a couple.”
Debbie cocks her head to the side, appearing genuinely confused. “What? But—”
April straightens her posture, attempts to appear in control of this conversation despite how wildly out of control she feels right now. “We’re friends.”
“But the way Sterling talks—” Debbie clamps her mouth shut. “My mistake, I guess.”
April’s head is still reeling when Sterling closes the door. “Whew!” Sterling sighs, sagging against it. “Oh my god, we actually pulled it off.”
“Does everyone in your family think we’re a couple?” April asks before she can stop herself.
Sterling blanches. “What? No—I mean, I don't think so…”
April crosses her arms, fixing Sterling with a stare that’s probably more affectionate than authoritative. “Did you actually send thirsty texts about me to Blair?”
Sterling bites her lip and nods. “I kind of do, like, all the time.”
April could melt.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I rushed things before,” Sterling says quietly. “I didn’t want to do that to you again. Plus, I really like being your friend.”
“But?” April prompts, feeling like she’s somewhere between throwing up and singing.
“Well, obviously I’m in love with you.”
April chokes on nothing. “That’s your version of not rushing things?”
“I’m sorry,” Sterling replies, looking completely un-sorry as she takes a few small steps toward April.
April feels the steps like the ticking of a clock, each one counting down another minute of bad timing, another year of missed opportunities.
“It’s just how I feel, and I thought you should know,” Sterling is saying, her eyes never leaving April’s. “But how do you feel?”
It’s the question April’s been avoiding, in one way or another, for practically her entire life. The answer has always felt too dangerous, too vulnerable, too easy to get her hurt. In this last year of having Sterling back in her life she’s kept—or, tried to keep—her feelings tightly locked away, even as they’ve constantly threatened to spill right on out. The way she’s felt about Sterling has never been convenient, never been a good idea. There’s always been a reason—since the age of nine, for God’s sake—to deny them.
But maybe those reasons don’t exist anymore. Maybe the good idea is to simply let herself feel, to admit the truth that’s been trying to work it’s way out for nearly two decades. Maybe Sterling Wesley is standing in front of her, telling her that she wants her, and all April has to do is what she’s never fully let herself do: want Sterling back.
“I’m in love with you, too,” April whispers.
Sterling’s eyes flutter closed, and when she opens them they’re shining with tears. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” April confirms, her own eyes filling with tears. “I wouldn’t make homemade biscuits and gravy for just anyone, you know.”
And then Sterling is crossing the room the rest of the way, and April is meeting her in the middle. Sterling pulls April in by the waist and April loops her arms around Sterling’s neck and kisses her, like she’s wanted to kiss her every night on her couch over a glass of wine, and every morning after a run, and every time some other woman has offered April her number.
April kisses Sterling like she’s thought about for so many years, years when they were young friends and April knew the feeling in her chest was too reckless, years when they were rivals and April chose to let that feeling calcify into something hard, years when they were apart and all April had of Sterling was the memory of a magical few days followed by such utter devastation.
Now it’s easy, as Sterling’s tongue slips into her mouth and Sterling’s hands find purchase in her hair. Now it seems so obvious that April can’t believe she ever let herself doubt it. Now that feeling in her chest has a name—love—and it simply gets to exist and blossom, rather than being locked away or twisted into something ugly.
Now, standing in Sterling Wesley’s messy apartment, April has never felt so at home.