Sterling and April are friends.
Or at least a hand-shaken-truce version of friends.
Of course there were weeks following the lock-in where April was trying to cover up her heartbreak and could tell from Sterling’s frequent pout and slouched shoulders that she was too. A month went by without either of them uttering a word to each other and there were times where Blair Wesley would shoot April such a harsh glare that all she could do was sink down into her seat and retreat, like the coward she never thought she was.
However, something was lacking. April would find herself exhausted after just a regular day. She would crawl into bed as soon as she finished any required work, not even attempting to get ahead on upcoming assignments. There was too much pressure, too much to do, and something had to go.
But it wasn’t like April could just drop an AP class or step down as captain of forensics without risking her future, compromising her ambition, and drawing so much attention to herself that it would defeat the purpose of shamefully quitting to save her energy. She would have to cut back elsewhere, far away from her academics and extracurriculars.
“I haven’t seen you outside of school since your dad came home,” Hannah B. said in the hallway one morning after April had voiced wanting to take some time to herself.
So her social life couldn’t be cut back either. Great.
“He won’t be there much longer.”
But April didn’t get a chance to explain. All personal conversation came to a stop when she saw Sterling Wesley turn the corner up ahead. She braced to pass Sterling by, keeping her shoulders back, head high, and eyes focused dead ahead. She took the ache in her chest and forcibly whisked it away, mangling her longing and regret into the familiar anger that April had held onto since fifth grade. All of which was a lot for just four seconds of passing a person in the hallway.
And that was when it hit her.
This fueled animosity was draining to an unnecessary extent. It could be her thing to go.
After cornering Sterling in the fellowship room later that day, April discovered that feeling wasn’t exactly one sided. Turns out what they both needed was a friend, and decidedly so, because anything more or less would just be too much on one plate.
It wasn’t easy. There were fights with screams of how could you once April found out the truth about her father’s arrest, which led to tearful confessions from Sterling about what really happened after the lock-in, but now they’re good. Well, sort of.
It’s weird. April knows she isn’t doing anything wrong or explicitly gay, but whenever anyone gives her and Sterling a second glance in the hallway, she can’t help but notice and wonder what the rumor mill is churning out this time. Do people think they just rekindled their old friendship? Do they think it’s something more? Do they think she’s so cold hearted that it’s just a case of keeping her enemies close?
April has no idea.
So when Ezekiel corners the two of them in the cafeteria to find out if hell finally froze over, she is slow to answer.
“Sterling and I are...friends,” April says reluctantly. But Sterling smiles like it’s the best thing she’s heard all year.
Considering the year they’ve had that might even be true.
“My parents are getting divorced.”
Sterling looks up from her chemistry homework with her eyes wide and April registers what she just blurted out in the middle of their study session.
“Forget I said that.”
“No,” Sterling says firmly. Her fingers flex on the other side of the wooden table like she had thought about moving them. “Are you, um, okay?”
She’s fine. Kind of.
Certainly not desperate enough to bear her true feelings on the matter to her new somewhat friend in the school library of all places.
“I know how things tend to trickle through the grapevine and I wasn’t sure if you heard.”
It’s not entirely true, but it’s a good enough excuse.
“I hadn’t,” Sterling replies, “but thank you for telling me.”
Sterling is staring at April with such soft, genuine concern that April doesn’t know if she wants to roll her eyes and forget this whole arranged friendship or if she wants to be a bit dangerous and actually let herself accept it.
She looks away, undecided. “You got question three wrong.”
“Oh.” Sterling glances down at her paper. She starts to laugh weakly. “Of course it’s another reaction question. I’m so bad at those.”
“I can help if you want,” April offers, because it feels safer, better, than where they were a moment ago.
April’s little blunder is forgotten about. Even as she leans towards Sterling to share a look at her paper, Sterling, who is normally a grade A pusher, miraculously lets it go without so much as a lingering stare or a follow up question.
They focus on their homework for the rest of the period, which has sort of become their thing. It’s nice, oddly enough. They meet a couple times a week in the library during lunch or after school to quietly sit at the same table and do their assignments, but neither of them stray into personal conversation. Not usually.
April finds that it’s far better than doing homework with Hannah B., who asks too many ridiculous questions, or Ezekiel, who just wants to whisper about the latest gossip. Sterling is different. She keeps up and keeps quiet unless they’re actually working on something as a pair.
But that changes again two weeks later when Sterling walks into the library late, looking hesitant and out of sorts.
“What’s up, Sterl?”
Sterling doesn’t sit down. She just hovers in front of their usual table.
“Are you busy after school today?”
Oh. So they’re this type of friend now. Not just the polite in passing, partner up in class, and help each other with their homework type. April supposes she can blame herself for that. The line between in-school-acquaintance and out-of-school-friend would be a lot less blurry if she didn’t foolishly blurt out her personal information that one misguided time.
April treads lightly.
“I kinda need a ride to therapy.” Her surprise must be evident because Sterling startles into an explanation, “Blair usually takes me or I take myself, but she needs the car today. My mom offered so if you can’t it’s fine. It’s like twenty minutes from here and that just seemed too long to comfortably be in the car alone with her. I thought maybe—”
“Sterling,” April cuts in, bringing her breathless ramble to an abrupt stop.
One side of April is still processing how casually the word therapy rolled off of Sterling’s tongue, as if that’s just a thing people do, but another side, the side that’s not teetering towards jealousy, gets stuck on the part where Sterling is uncomfortable with one of her parents. That’s a feeling April knows well.
“I’ll drive you.”
April nods and watches as the stunned expression on Sterling’s face turns into a gentle smile and a sigh of relief.
“Sure, whatever,” April dismisses awkwardly in an attempt to avoid getting too soft and appreciative. That is not their status quo. “We have a Spanish test next period. Are you gonna sit or not?”
Sterling takes her seat across from April and gets right to work without another word.
The car ride is quiet, which April thinks makes sense. They haven’t hung out in a private setting since they were making out in backseats.
That memory briefly flashes through her mind, warming her entire body, but April is quick to shake it off. She has been for months now. She doesn’t need to think about lips and hands and the way her name sounded when it got caught in the back of Sterling’s throat. Not when Sterling is so obviously tense and nervous in the passenger seat. Not when they’re friends for Christ’s sake.
That is something April will have to get used to. She hasn’t been friends with Sterling since they were small, innocent fifth graders pushing each other on swings and jumping rope during recess. The last six years have been filled with nothing but rage and a short, yet strong burst of desire. Friendship is more delicate than that, less intense, and April needs to be a little careful. She might even need to remember how to do it.
“I can text you when I’m done,” Sterling says as April puts her car in park.
“I’ll just wait here.”
“It’s an hour.”
“Perfect,” she shrugs. “I have homework to finish since somebody was late to study this afternoon.”
Sterling bites back a smile. She might even blush if April let herself stare long enough to find out.
“Yes, Sterling. Go.”
Sterling still hesitates, but then April waves a hand and shoos her out the door. She shakes her head, trying not to smile, when Sterling looks back over her shoulder before disappearing into the small brick building.
She comes out about an hour later just like she promised and April throws the car into gear.
Sterling’s quiet again, staring out the window with her hands tucked into her lap, while the radio hums subtly between them. Normally April is fine with their silences, because normally they're in a library and over a book. But now that they’re in her car after something as personal as therapy, this particular silence feels a little more tense and a lot less purposeful.
“So how was it?”
“Good, I guess.”
April keeps shifting her grip on the steering wheel. Her hands are too clammy to stay in one place. Why did she ever think this would lighten her load? Right now the SATs seem easier.
She clears her throat. “What do you, like, talk about?”
As soon as the clumsy question leaves her mouth, April hears how dense she sounds and rushes to take it back.
“Sorry, that's obviously private and extremely inappropriate. I don’t know why I asked.”
Which isn’t entirely true. April knows a little why she asked. She’s nervous, she doesn’t really know how to be Sterling’s friend but she knows she wants to be good at it, and she has some curiosity about therapy even though it’s a conversation that requires some vulnerability and is way out of her comfort zone.
“It’s fine,” Sterling says, her tone casual. She turns away from the window, pointing her shoulders towards April, and resting her arm on the center console. “It depends on the day. Sometimes we just talk about my week and what I’ve been up to, and sometimes we get into the whole kidnapping and birth mother thing.”
April doesn’t know what she was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t a gracefully honest answer after a very invasive question.
“You’ve never been to therapy, huh?”
She can hear the smile in Sterling’s voice without even taking her eyes off the road to see it.
“I think I’ve made that pretty obvious.”
Sterling laughs, more unburdened than she’s been all afternoon — all semester really. “Personally, I like it,” she says. “After everything that happened I needed a safe space to process and work through things. But life changing lies aside, it’s been good for the day-to-day stuff too.”
April swallows. “Cool.”
“Cool? You don’t have to be so stiff about it,” she teases, shoving April’s shoulder.
April has to bring a second hand to her steering wheel just to avoid crossing into the next lane.
“I’m not stiff!”
“What would you call it then? Awkward, uncomfortable, tense—”
“Supportive,” April says, cutting Sterling off before she can list any other stiff words, “and maybe a little uncertain, but curiosity is like the opposite of stiff.”
“Alright. That’s a good point,” Sterling concedes.
Damn right it is.
April sits taller in the driver’s seat, hands comfortably setting on the wheel. Something eases in her chest when she glances over to the passenger side and spots Sterling smiling even through a small defeat.
Maybe this friendship thing won’t be so bad after all.