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

Chapter Text

“I came out to my mom.”

“What?”

Sterling slams on the break of her car, luckily just before a stop light, and looks over at April, who nods.

“Oh my god. What did she say?”

She asked me about you. She assumed we were together and I kind of told her that I wish we were.

“She said it was okay.”

“It’s more than okay.” Sterling reaches for April’s hand and squeezes it tight. “I’m really proud of you.”

It’s not something that April is used to hearing and Sterling says it so tenderly, like she knows it. Her hand is still holding onto April’s and her eyes are so intently fixed on her that April feels tempted to do something stupid.

She wants to lean forward, over the center console, and meet Sterling in the middle. She wants it so much that her eyes reflexively shift from Sterling’s to her lips on their own accord. She wants it so much that her judgement must get clouded, because when the car behind them honks over a light change that neither of them notice, April thinks for a moment that Sterling looks disappointed. She wants it so much that she feels disappointed.

But April does what she does best, she tucks it away and she forgets. Or at least she tries to. That proves to be easier said than done.

They start to spend even more time together, both in school and out, as tension at the Wesley house reaches an all time high. April thinks it has something to do with Sterling and Blair’s upcoming birthday that is suddenly now just Blair’s.

“They don’t even know when mine is,” Sterling says one night, lying on her back and staring up at April’s bedroom ceiling. “I’ll just have to celebrate a stupid fake birthday for the rest of my life.”

“We can do something if you want.”

Sterling turns onto her side, facing April. “Yeah?”

“Sure, why not?”

Sterling considers for a moment, then decides, “I don’t want to make a big fuss. I think I just want to be distracted from it, honestly.”

“Consider it done.”

Which is how Sterling ends up playing mini golf with April instead of at dinner with her family on what used to be her birthday.

“Oh, come on!” she groans after April sinks a hole in one on their first course. “Are you going to be annoyingly good at this too?”

April glances back over her shoulder with a cocky shrug and self-satisfied smirk. “I’m annoyingly good at everything.”

“But how? Before this moment I literally couldn’t picture you on a mini golf course.”

“That is true. This is my first time.”

Sterling rolls her eyes and gets in position to putt, setting her feet and lining up her club. “So, you’re bragging about beginner's luck?”

“Not entirely. I have my own set of actual clubs.”

“Seriously?”

April nods. “My dad used to take me.”

Sterling taps the ball just right and it goes directly into the hole, just like April’s. She smiles a little to herself before retrieving her ball and returning to the conversation.

“Did you like golfing with him?”

“No, but I sure as hell wasn't going to lose.”

“Well, today you might.”

“Might?” April scoffs. “Even your trash talk is weak.”

As it turns out, April’s hole in one does prove to be a bit of beginner's luck. Much to her dismay, the first course was the only one with a straight away putt. All the others have bumps, and moving parts, and trick holes that seem to randomly drop your ball out elsewhere even though they look just like the real hole. April had no idea mini golf would be so ridiculous.

“This is nothing like real golf,” April mutters with a huff as she lines up in front of a mechanical grizzly bear, whose mouth opens and closes, for her third try.

“You’re only down two strokes! Plus, this one is really hard.”

Sterling beams from the other end of this stupid course, giving April an enthusiastic thumbs up.

“Encouragement doesn’t work with me. I need the fear of failure. You should know that by now.”

“I do,” Sterling says, a smirk curling across her lips, “which is why I’m doing this.”

“Doing what?”

“Encouraging you.”

April rolls her eyes, both at Sterling and at how the clown’s mouth closes right before her ball can go through. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Doesn’t it, though?” she challenges and April tries not to find it so...hot. She tries not to focus on how the sun reflects off of Sterling’s hair and how her confident stance seems powerful enough to shove April against a wall. It’s easier said than done. “Trash talk motivates you, encouragement doesn’t. I want to win, so I’m going full cheerleader. It makes perfect sense if you ask me.”

It does make perfect sense. It is a well thought out, competitive plan and yet all April retorts with is, “You’re finally weaponizing that smile.”

“Weaponizing?” Sterling says, innocently tilting her head to the side and grinning brighter than this evening’s golden hour. “Why? Do you find it distracting?”

April ignores the question to take her next shot, hoping that the sun glare makes her flushed cheeks harder to spot. She misses. Again. Much to Sterling’s delight. Allowing that damn smile to stick around for at least the next hole.

By the time they finish the last course, April ends up losing by five strokes and she blames it all on Sterling’s vibrant energy and perky grin. She’s still irked about it when they settle on a bench with ice cream cones after.

“You’re being a sore loser.”

“You were messing with me!”

“Says the girl who brings dossiers to a high school debate tournament.”

“Fine,” April relents, because that’s actually a fair argument, “but experience makes a big difference and you seem very familiar with this place.”

Sterling smiles reminiscently, ignoring both April’s argument and the chocolate sticking to the edge of her lips. “We used to come here all the time when I was little. Blair was always so much better than me. She would really kick your butt.”

“Adding ‘mini golf course’ to my list of places to avoid your sister.”

Sterling’s smile falters. Before April can think better of it, the corners of her mouth are turning down at April’s use of the word “sister.”

“We went to breakfast this morning,” she says with less joy in this memory than in the one from her childhood. “It was just the two of us. I told her that I wasn’t going to dinner.”

“Was she mad?”

“No, she gets it. She knows how I feel about today and plus, Blair has been getting along better with them anyway. So, she should at least go.” Sterling wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. She only lets her statement sit for a second or two before she shakes it off. “I came back here in the fall after Mr. Koontz died and I was just as bad as you were.”

“Right,” April recalls, rolling her eyes at Sterling’s playful dig. “Back when you were an advocate for alone time. How’s that working out for you?”

“It worked for a couple weeks.”

“Fell off that wagon pretty quick.”

“Shut up.” Sterling nudges April in the side with her elbow. “You know I only gave it up because I was like, stupid obsessed with you for a week and then traumatized from being held at gunpoint by my birth mother, right?”

April could tease about the obsession part the same way that Sterling teased April about her distracting smile. A playful quip of “just a week?” sits on the tip of her tongue and although it would be so easy, she doesn’t use it. April focuses on the second half of Sterling’s sentence instead.

“I don’t know if I’m supposed to mention this, given that you asked for a distraction, but are you okay? Did you have a good, um — a good birthday?”

Sterling nods all the way through a big lick of her ice cream cone. “I really did,” she says, soft and genuine. “Thank you. This was fun.”

“Anytime.”

Sterling perks up. “Really?”

“Not anytime for mini golf, but for, well...you.”

Sterling’s smile isn’t any less distracting now than it was before. April pays no attention to the instinctual urge of embarrassment creeping through her chest at how she stumbled through that sentence and she hardly even reacts when Sterling says, “Ditto.”

 

Sometimes their time together starts with a text and sometimes Sterling just grabs April in the Willingham hallway, asking if they can go somewhere after school. And regardless of when or where, April just goes, craving it almost as badly. But after telling her dad about Sterling and then telling her mom a very different thing about Sterling, April doesn’t really crave it for the same reasons anymore.

She isn’t desperate to get out of the house, searching for a distraction from the divorce and itching to forget about time spent with her father. April just wants to see her friend and enjoy their time together. If she stays up half the night trying to figure out if Sterling was staring at her lips because she wanted to kiss them or because it was loud wherever they were, that is nobody’s business but her own.

On Friday night it starts with a text.

Sterling: any chance you’re hungry?
April: sure. i can be to you in fifteen.

“Can we get fast food? Sterling asks in lieu of a greeting as she climbs into April’s car. She sets her phone and her keys down on the center console. “I could kill for some fries right now.”

“Sure.”

April pulls away from the curb, headlights shining down the street and the route to their local Chick-fil-A already coming to mind as second nature.

Sterling is chatty, which is pretty much the norm, but tonight she’s even chattier than usual. Before they even pull up to the drive through she’s on her third long winded story, going a mile a minute, and April can hardly keep up. Sterling only pauses for a second to breathe or when her phone buzzes, but she always carries on without bothering to check the notification.

“I want a strawberry shake too,” she tells April, eyes shifting when her phone lights up the dark car yet again. “Please.”

So April gets two orders of fries, a strawberry shake for Sterling, and a vanilla shake for herself.

“Vanilla?” Sterling grimaces as they pull up to the next window. “That’s basically just thick milk.”

“You’re so weird.”

“Hey!” She whacks April on the arm. “You love it.”

April swallows. Does she have a crush? Absolutely. But she has never thought about calling it love.

Thankfully, she doesn’t have to dwell on it. The night sky conceals the blush of her cheeks and the incessant buzzing of Sterling’s phone provides an easy topic change.

“What’s happening with your phone?”

Sterling quickly flips it so the screen is face down, no longer glowing off of their faces. “Nothing.”

April narrows her eyes. It’s strange. Sterling isn’t normally so secretive and her smile is never quite this forced. But before April can follow up, a teenager in a red visor is passing a paper bag of food and two shakes through her car window.

Then they’re parked in the almost empty lot, sipping on half melted shakes and licking salt off their fingertips as Sterling barrels into what is either her fifth or sixth story of the night and April has forgotten all about her faltered smile.

“I can’t believe you went to a strip club.”

“Honestly, same. I probably should’ve connected some dots when I enjoyed it as much as I did. It was just so cool to see these women so confident and comfortable and empowered that the sexuality thing didn’t even register for me.”

“I think that makes sense,” April decides. She puts her empty fry container back in the bag and discards it on the floor of her car for now. “It was a new experience. We’re not used to seeing women like that and not getting shamed. You went through hell just for having sex with your boyfriend of six years.”

“Yeah, thanks for that,” Sterling quips, but there’s no real bite to it. They both laugh.

Another buzz cuts through the sound of their laughter. This time it comes from April’s phone. At first she thinks about turning it over and reciprocating Sterling’s apparent desire for undivided attention, but as April reaches for her phone she sees the message on screen and knows she can’t ignore it.

Blair: hey do you know where Sterling is?

Her eyebrows furrow. “Why is Blair asking me where you are?”

“What?”

April holds up her phone to show Sterling the text. Her easy smile turns into a tight lipped frown and something passes over her face. Something nervous and regretful.

“Sterl,” she presses.

Sterling sighs. “I had a fight with Debbie before you picked me up. Kinda just walked out.”

“You didn’t tell them you were leaving?”

Sterling shakes her head.

“You have to go home.”

April reaches for the shifter in a rush, ready to throw the car in reverse, but Sterling stops her hand.

“Later,” she dismisses, like a child pleading to stay up past their bedtime. “I want to hang out with you.”

Sterling interlocks their fingers and stares directly into April’s eyes, making her stomach swoop in the same way it did when they were stopped at that traffic light. But there is something equally as pleading in Sterling’s gaze now as there just was in her voice and April has to remind herself that there are bigger things at stake than the butterflies of a simple touch.

“Is this why your phone was going off so much?”

“Yeah, but I don’t really want to talk about it right now,” Sterling dismisses.

Normally, April is happy to provide a distraction whenever Sterling needs one, but this time it’s different. This time Sterling’s family is panicked and looking for her. This time Sterling’s desire is rash and spiteful. This time April just can’t do it.

“You should answer them.”

“Why?” Sterling wonders, voice thick with emotion that she’s trying to keep down.

April gently presses on. “They’re worried about you.”

“I’m fine, though.”

“Didn’t your therapist say that they’re going to be a little scared now too?”

Sterling doesn’t answer.

April presses again. “Sterling—”

“What?” Sterling's voice finally cracks and she is quick to turn away, dropping April’s hand as she goes.

April knows not to take it personally, especially when Sterling uses her newly freed hand to wipe at her eyes. The butterflies in her stomach might be gone, replaced with an ache of empathy, and her hand might be cold, but April still reaches out to clasp Sterling’s shoulder.

“You were kidnapped a few months ago,” she says, low and steady over the sound of a quiet sniffle. “Answer your phone and let me take you home before they freak out and call the police.”

Sterling nods. “Okay.”

She’s quiet for most of the drive, eyes focused out the window while April mostly watches the road. She also spares Sterling a glance every chance she gets.

When they stop at their first traffic light Sterling reaches over for April’s hand again, but this time April’s stomach doesn’t get filled with that fluttery feeling from before.

Sterling isn’t holding her hand because she’s sweet, touchy, and borderline flirty. She’s doing it because she wants comfort from a friend. April can feel it in the tight grip of her fingers and the wet, warmth of her palms. The last thing that Sterling needs right now is an analysis of what this might mean. So April holds her hand the whole way back, only letting go to shift her car into park in front of the Wesley’s house.

Sterling just sits there for a second, then she lets out a long sigh. “Time to face the consequences of my actions,” she mumbles to herself.

April unbuckles her seatbelt.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ll walk you up,” she decides in that very moment.

Once they’re out of the car Sterling latches onto April’s hand again. April tries not to smile about it. She tries not to give into the selfish thought that it’s nice to be needed this way, a way in which Sterling has only ever needed Blair or Luke. And she tries not to wonder what it would be like to walk Sterling to her door, hand in hand, on a night that didn’t end in near disaster.

They each take slow steps up the walkway, letting their feet drag in hopes of never reaching the stoop.

“You know,” April starts, “you never told me what the fight was about.”

“She noticed my laundry basket was practically overflowing and did it for me.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“I keep my journal in my sock drawer now, remember?”

“Oh, right,” April says, connecting the dots. “You thought she went through your stuff again.”

“Still kinda do,” Sterling admits with a sad, watery smile. “This trust thing isn’t always so easy to rebuild.”

“Definitely not.”

“We got lucky, I guess.”

Now they’ve made their way up the stoop and neither of them can really prolong this anymore. Their night has come to an end and Sterling has to go inside.

April wants to send her off with something comforting, something meaningful, but all she gets out is “Sterl—” before the front door is yanked open from the other side.

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Blair barrels into Sterling before either of them can even process it, wrapping her up in a tight hug.

April drops Sterling’s hand so she can reciprocate.

“I love you, but that was some dumb shit,” Blair says, teasing and rough like she usually is, but April can see that her eyes are shut tight and that she’s clinging to Sterling.

“Yeah, I know,” she mutters into Blair’s hair. Sterling gives her body one last squeeze before taking a small step back. They seem to enter their own little world of only looking at each other and April starts to feel like she’s intruding on something. Then Sterling breaks the silence. “How bad is it?”

“I had to talk them down from calling Bowser.”

She winces. “They’re gonna kill me.”

“No, but they’ll probably smother you with hugs and never let you out of their sight again,” Blair says with a lighthearted shrug.

“Same thing.”

It takes Sterling and Blair turning towards her for April to realize she said that out loud. Her eyes go wide and she opens her mouth to apologize, but then Blair is halfheartedly rolling her eyes at a smiling Sterling and shoving her in the house with a “Get in there, doofus.”

April takes that as her cue to go.

She only gets about halfway back to her car when she hears the front door open again.

“Hey, Stevens.”

April turns around. It’s Blair.

“Thank you,” she says, still standing in the open doorway.

April nods. “Of course.”