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i hate accidents (except when we went from friends to this)

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The Wesley house looks immaculate. It’s neat, organized, and clean. The floors practically shine in the golden evening sun and there’s not a single dirty dish in the sink. If April didn’t know any better, she would think that this was a perfect household and envy it like she used to.

But she does know better.

April knows that Mrs. Wesley has been cleaning on such a regular basis just to give herself something to do, something that makes her feel useful. She knows they all had a big fight about it a few weeks ago when Blair walked in from school and immediately slid on the freshly mopped floor, totally busting her ass. Sterling laughed when she told that part of the story, but then things got messy fast, and in the heat of the moment, Blair’s foot on the tile wasn’t the only thing that slipped out. April also knows that when Mrs. Wesley’s cleaning spread to the upstairs, she found the journal that Sterling’s therapist recommended she start and now Sterling keeps it hidden in her sock drawer instead of leaving it on her nightstand.

So the jealousy that April used to feel isn’t quite there, leaving her with an emptiness that she doesn’t know what to do with, having never experienced the Wesley’s as anything but a perfectly ideal family.

“Do you want popcorn or chips?”

“Popcorn, obviously.”

Sterling laughs, peeking out from behind a kitchen cabinet. “Why obviously?”

“Because we’re watching a movie. Do you go to a theatre and buy a bag of chips or a bucket of popcorn?”

“Alright, good point.”

Obviously, April thinks to herself, but she doesn’t get to say it because Blair’s shoes squeak to an abrupt stop in the entryway.

“What are you guys doing here? I thought you were going out.”

“We were,” Sterling says over the sound of kernels popping in the microwave, “but then I remembered that the new Taylor Swift documentary was out and your parents had plans tonight so now we’re here.”

Blair shifts her focus from Sterling over to April, who isn’t sure if this look is because Blair is wanting some kind of confirmation or if she’s just surprised that Sterling used “your parents” right in front of her. Either way April nods.

“Are we ruining your plans?” she asks when Blair’s stare has lingered a little too long. It’s pretty clear she still hates April’s guts.

“Nope. Didn’t have any.” Blair crosses her arms and leans back against the counter. Something passes over her face like she has an idea. Judging from the mischievous glint in her eyes, April doubts she’ll like it. “Maybe I’ll join you guys.”

April doesn’t like it.

Sterling, on the other hand, perks right up. “I thought you didn’t like Taylor Swift,” she says, blissfully unaware of the stare down that’s playing out behind her.

“I want to see what all the hype is about,” Blair replies without ever taking her eyes off of April.

April does her best to stay by Sterling, to keep her in conversation, to encourage her jokes, all because she wants to avoid being left alone with her sister. Not that she’s afraid of Blair by any means. April knows she can hold her own, she just doesn’t want to have to. Not with everything else going on in this house.

For the most part it works, but then Sterling, who put herself in charge of the snacks, asks them to start bringing stuff from the kitchen into the TV room while she finishes up and April can’t exactly say no to that.

She waits until Sterling is out of earshot and the snacks are safely being placed on the coffee table to figure out what Blair has up her sleeve.

“What are you doing?”

“What?” Blair does her best to feign innocence but there’s a smirk curling across her lips. “Were you hoping for alone time with my sister?”

“I — I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

Blair has the audacity to quirk an eyebrow and April hates that her face instantly feels warm. She shakes it off.

“You still haven’t answered my question. What are you doing?”

“I don’t trust you.”

April scoffs. “Why not?”

“Well let’s see,” she starts, voice low as she takes a daring step in closer, “you hated Sterling for years, blackmailed her, then hooked up with her, and then dumped her, leaving her to be kidnapped. So excuse me for wanting to keep an eye on things.”

“I don’t need a chaperone.”

“I’ll decide that.”

“Okay, I’ve got like six soda cans,” Sterling announces, rushing in the room as she struggles to carry exactly six cans of soda. “One of them definitely dropped but now I can’t tell which one it was so be careful.”

“Oh, that just makes it fun,” Blair says cheerfully, throwing on a smile as if she weren’t just about to go toe to toe with April a few seconds ago. “Good game, Sterl.”

“Um, thanks.”

April isn’t quite sure how it happens, because it really doesn’t make any sense, but she ends up stuck in the middle of Sterling and Blair on the couch for the entirety of the movie.

She hardly pays attention.

 

“It was good, right?” Sterling asks once it’s just the two of them in the kitchen. She’s elbow deep in the sink, washing their snack dishes and getting suds all over the counter.

April isn’t sure if she managed to pass whatever test Blair was giving or if Blair just wanted to avoid cleaning up, but she went back upstairs as soon as the movie ended.

“Yeah, I liked it.”

At least April thinks she did. She’ll probably watch it again at home one night when she can actually focus and not be distracted by the lingering glares of an overprotective sister.

“Do you remember when tickets for her 1989 tour went on sale?”

April nods. “You cried during recess because you didn’t get them.”

“I wanted to go so badly.”

“I think every girl in our grade did. Except for Blair.”

“True.” Sterling turns off the water and dries her hands, a reminiscent smile on her face. “You let me braid your hair under the playground that day. Because it was so hot.”

April thinks back to a young, tearful Sterling with shaky hands braiding her hair beneath the jungle gym on a fall day that turned unexpectedly hot in the afternoon. She remembers a conversation they overheard where Jessica bragged about how good her seats were and Sterling pouted because Jessica “only knew Shake it Off” and therefore wasn’t even a “real fan” like they were. She remembers how her heart skipped because Sterling had so casually grouped them together in the way that she often grouped herself with Blair and eventually would with Luke. She remembers how she used to hate seeing Sterling cry.

“That wasn’t why.”

Sterling’s head snaps up so fast that she might’ve given herself whiplash. Her eyes are wide with a silent question, one that can either go the route of potentially old feelings (something April hasn’t even let herself fully unpack) or the route of just wanting to distract a sad friend. But the front door swings open before anything can actually be asked and April breathes a sigh of relief when Sterling tears her gaze away. She follows suit, landing on the kitchen doorway as Mr. and Mrs. Wesley come walking through.

“April?” Debbie stops short, placing a hand over her chest. “Well, I’ll be. What are you doing over here? Are you two partners on a project again?”

April shakes her head. “No project. We just finished watching a movie.”

“Anything good?”

“Something about Taylor Swift.”

“Oh, fun.”

Debbie exchanges a look with Anderson, another silent question being asked, and when Debbie shakes her head he has his answer.

“I didn’t know y’all were hanging out,” he says, voice less cheerful than his wife’s.

April gives a polite smile. “It was kind of a last minute thing. We originally had other plans.”

“He didn’t just mean tonight.”

Debbie's tired explanation heaves the room into such an uneasy silence that the sound of the slow dripping faucet is enough to echo through the space.

April shifts her glance over to Sterling for the first time since Mr. and Mrs. Wesley walked in, just now noticing that Sterling looks like she would rather be anywhere else. Her body is tense, her eyes are downcast, and her fingers are fidgeting with the dish towel still in her hands.

It’s puzzling to see firsthand how much things have changed. At the start of the school year Sterling had been so desperate to tell people about them, wanting to shout from the rooftops that they were together, needing people to see that she was the one who got to hold April’s hand, and they had only been secretly kissing for a few days. Now they’ve been friends for months, publicly even, and Sterling’s parents have been entirely in the dark.

“It’s, um, recent,” April lies, not wanting to be the one to reveal the true length of this secret.

“That’s great,” Debbie says to April before she turns to Sterling. The energy in the room seems to shift when they lock eyes. Everybody watching, waiting, and bracing for something that April can’t quite put her finger on. “Sterl, sweetheart, we talked about this. We need to know where you are and who you’re with.”

“Okay,” Sterling mutters. It’s not angry and biting or overly sad. It’s just the bare minimum and stark in contrast to the eager to please Sterling that April has known for a decade; the same Sterling who used to cry whenever she got in trouble even though, consequences aside, she would still be so loved when she came home.

April has to bite back her instincts. Her polite nature has been so ingrained over the last sixteen years that she wants to jump in with a sweet smile, change the subject, and ask the Wesley’s how their night was, but April doesn’t do any of that. Instead she looks at her friend, drowning in a sea of tension, and April remembers, she’s struggling to give me space.

Sterling needs her space.

“Hey.” April reaches out to lay a hand on Sterling’s arm, grabbing her attention. When Sterling turns, her whole face softens, eyebrows lifting and jaw unclenching. It tugs at something in April’s chest. Sympathy probably. “I promised my mom I wouldn’t be out too late. Can you drive me home?”

“Yeah, of course.”

April says goodnight to the Wesley’s, because she’s not a heathen, and follows Sterling out the door.

“Are you okay?” she asks after a few minutes of silence since Sterling oddly didn’t even put on the car radio.

“What?” Sterling glances over at April for a second before the question registers. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Her eyes go back to the road.

April doesn’t buy it. Sterling is not “fine.” Everything April just witnessed screams otherwise.

She gently pushes. “Things seemed a little tense back there. Did you guys fight before?”

Sterling shakes her head. “That’s just kind of the norm now.”

“Oh.”

April doesn’t know what she was expecting, but that wasn’t it. She knew that things had changed at the Wesley house but she didn’t think it would be so openly jarring. She expected easy small talk between them that would take away any hint of a problem. She expected a performative happiness, curated to fuel the illusion of a perfect family, much like April had been used to growing up in her own house. Even in the way they handle their struggles, the Wesley’s are just so —

“Different, right?” Sterling takes the words right out of her mouth. April nods. “I want to get past it eventually, but it’s easier said than done.”

“You’ll find your way.”

Sterling hums in response. She probably hears some version of that statement all the time from her therapist, from Blair, and maybe even from her parents too. It hardly seems satisfying.

The air goes quiet for another moment, just the noise of the engine sits in between them, then Sterling shifts in the driver’s seat, hands clenching the wheel a bit tighter.

“What if I don’t?” she asks quickly as if it’s been on her mind for a while and if she so much as hesitates it’ll never come out. “Like what if this is it?”

“It’s not.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I think the fact that you’re wondering about it proves it’s not.”

April watches Sterling carefully for a reaction and doesn’t get much, just a sigh that doesn't seem to ease any of her tension.

This isn’t as simple as when April answered a FaceTime call and talked Sterling through a fight with Blair. This is deeper and more complex. It requires more than just general words of encouragement. Sterling needs a real friend, not an arranged one.

April tries again.

“Before you arrested my dad, did you think my family had big problems?”

“No,” Sterling says. In the flicker of passing street lights, April sees the tight crease in her forehead smooth over. “You weren’t my favorite group of people, but you all seemed pretty happy with each other.”

“Well, he was kinda always like that. Not with me, but with my mom. They would fight a lot — or he would yell and she would apologize — but it was always behind closed doors so that nobody would suspect anything. I hardly even suspected anything because as soon as I walked in the room he would stop.”

They pull up to a red light and Sterling takes her eyes off the road to look at April. All of her features have smoothed over, but there’s a softness to her eyes, an almost pleading look, begging April to keep going. To convince her.

“Your family is visibly struggling. I know it sucks and I know you’ve been through hell, but there’s an honesty to it that I’ve never witnessed in my house. It was always fake smiles and pretending and you don’t have any of that. You have tension and you’re in therapy and you want it to get better.” April pauses. There’s now a light feeling in her chest, filling the place where her jealous ache used to lie. “And I think you’ll get there.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, I do,” April says, and that alone eases something in Sterling. “Give yourself some credit. It’s only been a few months.”

Sterling shoots across the center console, arms wrapping around April’s neck, taking her completely by surprise and hugging her tight.

“Thank you,” she mutters softly into April’s ear. Instead of a flicker of pride, April feels a wave of warmth radiating down her spine. Which makes sense because of body heat and their close proximity.

Though it’s new, April leans into it, wrapping her arms around Sterling’s torso, rubbing her hand against Sterling’s back, and perching her chin on Sterling’s shoulder just in time to see the light change.

“Green.”

“What?”

Sterling leans back just a little so that their eyes meet through the dark.

“The, uh, light is green.”

“Oh, shit,” Sterling gasps, apparently forgetting that she had been operating a motor vehicle. Her hands return to the wheel and she hits the gas abruptly, lurching them forward. “Sorry.”

“For talking about your feelings or for giving me whiplash?”

Sterling laughs. Now April gets that little flicker of pride. “For giving you whiplash. We’ve talked about our feelings before.”

“True.”

They’ve shared so much at this point that April doesn’t even get that nervous pit in her stomach anymore, filling with regret and wishing to take it back, to undo her moment of vulnerability. She just lets it be, feeling oddly safe.

Sterling reaches for the radio dial, but hesitates to turn it on. “Did you actually have to go home or were you just looking to get out of there?”

“I was fine. I thought you wanted to get out of there.”

A smile spreads across Sterling’s face, daring with an idea. “Do you want to drive around for a while?”

April feels her lips curl into that same smile. “Go wherever you want.”

This time Sterling doesn’t hesitate. She pushes the dial and music blares immediately through her speakers, but April doesn’t flinch and Sterling doesn’t apologetically turn it down. They just drive out of town to the tune of a loud pulsing beat and with their burdens all but forgotten as the empty road seems to be endlessly lined with street lights off into the night.