Sterling is on her way to April’s house.
Her eyes were wide when April invited her over. “You want me to go to your house?” she asked, bewildered.
“Yeah, why not?” April had said, mostly because she didn’t want to go to the Wesley’s again and have to deal with Blair.
“Because I arrested your father.”
“He doesn’t live there anymore, Sterling,” she dismissed easily, as if that were her only possible concern. “It’ll be fine.”
But the truth of the matter is that April has bigger problems than just inviting the girl who arrested her father over to her house.
April has feelings.
After making a firm agreement with Sterling Wesley to just be friends, April has fucking feelings.
They made a deal. They even shook on it. The whole thing was April’s idea. Neither of them could handle the weight of enemies or something more and this year has been heavy enough on its own. So why is this happening?
Why is April looking at Sterling and getting a fluttery feeling in her stomach? Why do her cheeks get hot whenever Sterling compliments her? Why does her heart race when they innocently touch? Why does she recognize what’s building inside of her as the one thing that she swore off?
Why does she have fucking feelings?
At first April blamed the stars, well aware of the irony here. She started that night concerned that Sterling was going to make a move, no such thing happened, and then she ended the night with desires of her own. But it wasn’t her fault. The whole thing seemed straight out of a shitty movie, clouding the air around them. April had an arm wrapped around her kind of ex, smelling Sterling’s shampoo and feeling Sterling’s breath hit her skin all under fairly romantic circumstances. Obviously it makes sense that something would arise within her.
But then it didn’t go away. Which is how April has landed herself with a problem.
“What time is Sterling coming?” her mother asks from across the kitchen island. Mary Beth is whisking a bowl of batter. April isn’t sure exactly what.
April drums her fingers against the granite top. She’s been nervously jittering since she woke up this morning. She braces to address one of the reasons why.
“Do you know about…”
“The arrest?” Mary Beth supplies. April nods. “Yes, I do.”
“And you’re not mad at her?”
“Mad at her? No, sweetie, I’m mad at him.”
“Really?” April wonders, because she can’t quite believe it. Their family has never been one to hold each other accountable, always misdirecting their anger elsewhere.
Mary Beth nods. She takes out a tray for cupcakes or maybe muffins? April still isn't sure.
“He deserved everything he got.”
Well, now at least April feels at ease about one thing.
Sterling arrives shortly after, eyes wide and scanning the inside of the house as soon as April opens the front door. “Was that your mom’s car in the driveway?” she asks in a hushed voice.
“The grey one? Yeah.”
“Did she know I was coming?”
“And she’s okay with that? Even after everything with the bounty hunting and your dad and—”
“Sterling.” April rests her hand on top of Sterling’s, bringing her gesticulation to a stop. “I talked to her about it. You’re fine.”
“Yes, you’re fine.”
Sterling breathes a sigh of relief. April can feel most of the tension leave her body from where their hands still touch. She also thinks she feels Sterling’s thumb brush over her knuckles, but April doesn’t get a chance to see if it happens a second time.
Sterling drops her hand out from under April’s. “Hi, Mrs. Stevens. Thank you for having me.”
“Your home is lovely.”
“Thank you,” Mary Beth says, an easy smile on her face, “but please don’t spend the entire afternoon in our foyer. Come in.”
Sterling awkwardly apologizes, because of course she does, and April has to remind herself to be less endeared.
They follow Mary Beth back into the kitchen. All the while Sterling apparently finds her footing, complimenting decor and being the clumsy kind of charming that April used to find infuriating.
At the start of the school year she wouldn’t have been caught dead with Sterling Wesley in her house. Hell, a few months ago April wouldn’t have even gone for it. Now, oddly enough, it feels comfortable, good even.
“Something smells great in here.”
“I’m just throwing together some muffins.”
Well, that answers April’s other question. Her mother has been making muffins all morning.
“You’ve had them before,” April says, catching Sterling’s attention. “She made them for the bake sale last year.”
“I thought you said that you made them last year.” Sterling nudges April’s side, eyeing her with a playful little smirk, and April feels her skin warm.
“Unfortunately, I was too busy running the bake sale to actually bake.”
She smiles up at Sterling, who is grinning right back at her, numb to the world around them until a cabinet closes and April remembers that her mom is also here. She inhales sharply, half expecting a rush of panic to flood through her chest and an accusation from Mary Beth to follow, but neither thing happens.
Mary Beth doesn’t question why Sterling continuously stares at April, or why April can’t seem to make it through an interaction without blushing, or why when April is mid sentence complaining about a project they were given, Sterling reaches out to tuck a strand of loose hair behind April’s ear like a reflex. April doesn’t even startle when Sterling does it, because it is actually on par for them and her mother doesn’t bat an eye.
With no effort she successfully keeps all of her nerves at bay for the five minutes that they’re in the kitchen. April wonders if it’s because Sterling is actually just her friend and not secretly something more or if maybe John was the only reason her whole body used to clench in fear over anything involving girls.
“This book is stupid,” Sterling huffs, slamming it shut after only ten minutes of reading.
April looks up from the homework she just started. “So pick a different one. I’ve got tons of options on my shelf.”
Sterling looks across the bedroom to April’s book shelf, a collection that April is somewhat proud of, and frowns.
“I just don’t like how he wrote the sister dynamic.”
“First of all, not every pair of sisters are you and Blair, and second, you’re only a few pages in.”
“And yet they’re already fighting over a boy.”
April takes a second glance at the cover of the book, not recalling the story. It looks familiar, but that could just be because it sat on her shelf for a long time and not necessarily because she actually read it.
She shrugs it off. “You seriously have never fought with Blair over a boy?”
“Not over them but sometimes we got a little competitive about them.”
April just stares with furrowed eyebrows, confused.
“It’s never been about the boy. We never fought over the same one,” Sterling clarifies, her foot lightly brushing down April’s leg as she stretches out across her bed. “It was more like, she had her first kiss before I did, then I got a boyfriend before she did, then I had sex first, and then she had an orgasm first. That sort of thing.”
“Oh, so you were keeping up with each other?”
“Yeah, kind of. But even that wasn’t really bad. We were always supportive of each other. It was just kind of in the back of your mind like peer pressure, worrying that you’ll fall behind.”
Sterling leans back against the headboard, coming eye to eye with April and lifting her arms above her head to stretch. April doesn’t pay attention to the way her shirt rides up and reveals what she can only imagine is the soft skin of Sterling’s abdomen. She certainly doesn’t wish she could touch it.
“What about you?”
April looks up. “Huh?”
Christ. How long was she staring for?
“What’s young April’s romantic history?”
Sterling can't be serious.
April shakes her head. “We’re not doing that.”
Apparently she is serious.
“My door is open,” April hisses. She may have survived her mother watching them interact, but April doesn’t plan on coming out to Mary Beth via overheard story.
Sterling smiles mischievously, leaning closer as she drops her voice to a low tone, “So answer quietly.”
She’s holding April’s eye contact like a challenge and normally April wouldn’t dream of backing down, but right now with Sterling mere inches away, eyes shining as she stares daringly back at April, it’s all a little overwhelming.
She breaks away and Sterling takes it as a win.
“Alright,” Sterling says, a playful arrogance to her tone. “First crush?”
“Celebrity or real?”
Sterling thinks for a moment. “Let’s go for both.”
“Adele Meisner, which you knew, and,” April pauses to remember, “I think Victoria Justice.”
April nods. “There was a lot of Victorious in this house.”
“Not to shade your younger self but Liz Gillies was right there. As was Ariana Grande.”
April arches an eyebrow. “Do you, of all people, really want to suggest that I have bad taste?”
Sterling’s gaze widens. “Nope. Fair choice,” she decides.
It’s a good decision.
April hesitates, face growing hot. She foolishly thought she had more time before they got to this point, but obviously the boyfriend and sex related questions are off the table.
“Me?” Sterling exclaims.
So much for answering these questions quietly.
“You knew that.”
Sterling throws her hands up. “Does this look like a girl who knew?” she asks, pointing to her own face.
“I told you I never acted on…” April glances over her shoulder toward the open door and drops her voice to a whisper, “anything with girls.”
“Yeah, but I kinda assumed you kissed a boy in, like, middle school or something.”
“Have you ever heard a rumor about me and a boy?
Sterling opens her mouth to attest.
“Aside from Luke after the lock-in,” April adds and Sterling’s mouth closes with no argument. She shakes her head. “Exactly. I had no desire to try.”
“Well, was I at least good?”
April rolls her eyes. “You’re being ridiculous. I literally have nothing to compare it to.”
“I don’t expect you to grade me on my technique. I’m asking if it was a good first experience.”
April thinks back to Ellen’s office, to the surprise of being kissed, to the few seconds where she was walking towards that door and didn’t know what to do next, to turning that lock and rushing back to Sterling, and to embracing all the things she spent years trying to bury.
“The only thing I regret is telling you about it now,” April quips, but her teasing doesn’t impact Sterling at all. It still comes out relatively soft and she smiles back at April way too brightly. April has to look away again. “Moving on.”
“Not moving on to more questions. I’ve already embarrassed myself enough.”
Sterling laughs. “Believe me, I can really embarrass myself here. You did not.”
April raises an eyebrow, intrigued. “What does that mean?”
Her response is way too quick for it to be true. Sterling’s face is getting pinker by the second.
Oh, this has to be something good.
“Come on. Out with it.”
“Your door is open,” Sterling reminds her.
“Answer quietly, then,” April counters with a smirk. It’s way more fun to be on this end of it.
Sterling sighs. “Fine. Ask away.”
“Well, first I have to figure out what to ask.”
April might be taking this assignment a little too seriously, but she likes watching Sterling blush and squirm under her stare, under her control. Okay, that might be something to unpack later.
“I know about your first kiss and your first boyfriend. I’m very familiar with your first time.”
April combs through Sterling’s examples from before about boyfriends and sex and —
“Was your first orgasm not with Luke?”
Sterling swallows and April knows that the answer is no even before Sterling shakes her head and says, “Just me.”
She slowly looks up at April with wide, nervous eyes, and April almost laughs. Sterling is being so dramatic over something as common as masturbation. But for some reason, likely one they haven’t gotten to yet, it seems like too vulnerable a moment for teasing.
“Sterl, that’s not embarrassing.” April rests her hand on top of Sterling's knee. She’s trying to be comforting but just finds that it sparks something under her own skin. “That’s the case for a lot of people. Myself included.”
“We already talked about me,” she dismisses. They’ve moved on from her boring romantic history and April is not going back. Not since some former flames have recently resurfaced and she actually managed to escape talking about them. “There is no shame in figuring yourself out.”
“I know that. That’s not what’s embarrassing.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s who I was thinking about when it happened.”
April rolls her eyes. “Which former member of One Direction was it?”
If April thought her face was red before, it’s nothing compared to the heat that rushes to the surface now, burning across her cheeks and flaring deep down her body. And yet, clouded by surprise, with her mouth as dry as a bone, she somehow makes it worse by muttering, “but I’m not in One Direction.”
“I know, I—”
There’s a creak at the bottom of the stairs, followed by footsteps climbing up and progressively getting louder once they hit the hall.
Without so much as a knock against the open door, April’s mother is in the room, smiling and oblivious.
“Thought you girls might want a snack.”
Her eyes dart down to the bed. She definitely clocks that April’s hand is still on Sterling’s knee and probably notes that April looks like a ripe tomato, but Mary Beth doesn’t say a word about either of those things.
“Get 'em while they’re hot,” she says, holding out a plate with a few freshly baked muffins on it. April certainly doesn’t need to get any warmer than she is right now, but she takes one to avoid suspicion.
Sterling doesn’t miss a beat. “Thank you, Mrs. Stevens.”
“My pleasure. There’s more downstairs if you want.”
April almost wishes her mother would stay or try to make conversation or even not so subtly suggest that they hang out downstairs, because now it’s just the two of them, plus snacks, and the same weight hanging over their heads as before.
Once they can no longer hear Mary Beth’s footsteps trailing away, Sterling only waits about ten seconds to bring it up.
“I’m sorry if that was weird.” Her voice is low and slow. She’s not rushing to explain in her usual rambled frenzy, which makes it almost worse. “It wasn’t like recent or anything. It was right when I was — back when we, um…”
“It’s fine. It’s not weird.”
God, this girl and her questions are going to be the death of April.
April takes a deep breath. “No,” she decides, speaking just as slowly as Sterling. “We were, um...involved at the time and — and attracted. Logically, it makes sense.”
“Okay, good,” Sterling says, though she still seems a little tense. “I really wasn’t trying to mess this up a third time.”
“Please, after what we’ve been through, I think it’s going to take a lot more than just past masturbation to mess this up.”
Sterling leaves a little before dinner, thanking April’s mother again and hugging April by the front door. It’s a new thing for them, the hugging. Something that friends do, April supposes. But her bodily reaction isn’t just one that friends have. The urge that she has to ease into it, to tuck herself into Sterling, well, that’s a little more than friendly. That is something that April holds back.
“Why haven’t you gone to see your dad recently?” her mother asks when they’re cleaning up from dinner. Mary Beth washes the dishes while April dries and puts them away. It kind of became their thing post-divorce.
“I thought you didn’t want to get involved.”
“I don’t want to put you in the middle or make you choose sides, but you can tell me if something happened.”
April thinks about lying. Unfortunately, it’s still a bit of a reflex in this house even with hours of these nightly talks under her belt.
“He doesn’t really want to see me right now,” she says, keeping it general and simple.
“Do you want to see him?”
April shakes her head right away. She has no desire to sit through another afternoon where he tries to buy her affection and makes an ass of himself. She doesn’t want to spend her weekends afraid that he might snap and do something worse. She’s done with it.
“That’s alright. You don’t have to see him if you don’t want to. The divorce isn’t finalized so his time with you isn’t legally binding. He isn’t owed visitation.”
April knew that already but it still feels good to hear.
“And if this is something you want long term, I can speak to the lawyer about it. You don’t have to decide right now, of course, but—”
“No, that would be fine,” April says eagerly. “I don’t — I’m okay with not seeing him. I would prefer it, actually.”
Mary Beth keeps her mouth in a practiced tight lipped line, like she always does when they discuss John, and nods. “I’ll make a call in the morning.”
“No thanks necessary.” Mary Beth looks up from the sink, eyes intently on April as she passes her a cup to dry and says, “Thank you for telling me.”
That nearly knocks the air right out of April’s lungs. She has never been anything but shamed for opening up and asking for something in this house, her father made sure of that.
April quickly turns away, taking the cup across the room to the cabinets and her mind races with a hundred different ways to respond.
Maybe it’s the full day of holding back (weeks, months, years, if she really thinks about it), or that the part in April’s chest that normally is full of tension is now starting to feel lighter, or the fact that her mother was actually really great today and consistently has been recently, making April feel safer than she ever has, but when April turns back towards the sink she decides to let go in at least one more area.
Mary Beth pauses her scrubbing and April swears her heart stops, waiting, bracing for something. But then her mother just nods and all she utters is a simple, “Sterling?”
April blinks. “What?”
She resumes washing and looks up at April as if they’re just talking about homework and not April’s hidden sexuality that goes against everything her father ever preached.
“Is she your girlfriend?”
April shakes her head. Her mouth is just too dry for words and the lump in her throat is threatening tears if she so much as tries to acknowledge it.
Mary Beth frowns. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed. You’ve just been spending a lot of time together lately.”
“It’s okay,” April mutters, voice trembling.
“So are you.”
She says it so simply, offering a small smile, and it knocks into April’s chest like the thud of an ocean wave, washing her in relief. Mary Beth holds out another freshly cleaned plate for April to dry and April forces herself to walk across the room for it.
She takes a deep breath. “I, um.” April stops, choosing to focus on the towel in her right hand and the porcelain in her left, while gearing up for one more push of honesty. “I do like her — Sterling, I mean. We’re just not together.”
Mary Beth smiles again and nods in a way that April imagines she would if she were straight and they were talking about boys.
“She’s a nice girl. Pretty too.”
“Yeah,” April agrees distantly, still trying to wrap her head around the fact that this is going...well?
Since John moved to the lake house it’s not like April hadn’t thought about what it could mean for her coming out. Every night she would stand in this kitchen with her mother, sometimes in comfortable silence and sometimes lost in conversations they never got to enjoy while he was around. There were nights where it sat on the tip of her tongue, begging to be spit out, and nights where she worried that her secret would destroy this new dynamic that she had grown to love so much.
“Does your dad know? Is that why he doesn’t want to see you?”
“No, I don’t want him to know.”
April braces for some kind of push back or follow up question from her mother, but Mary Beth just shrugs. “Okay,” she says, passing April another dish, “we won’t tell him then.”
And that’s it. The moment April has dreaded for years is that shockingly simple.