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

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It’s stupid. Far stupider than a crush.

And completely off the table.

But after sitting with the thought all throughout the school day, it’s true. April does love Sterling.

She gets a rush whenever they pass in the hallway and Sterling’s eyes light up as she smiles. She gets hit with a wave of warmth whenever she makes Sterling laugh, long and loud and unburdened from the weight of this past year just for a moment. She gets a tingly feeling in the bass of her stomach whenever Sterling comes to her with a problem or the need to escape, selfishly feeling important and needed, but then the butterflies settle and all that’s left is April’s desire to be there for her friend. None of which was supposed to happen.

When April shook Sterling’s hand in Ellen’s office that afternoon months ago, she anticipated a truce, a cease fire, a simple acquaintanceship. She expected that they would do homework together in the library, give a nod of hello in the halls, and maybe partner up on a project from time to time (they do make a good team after all). But this — the butterflies, the day dreams, the feelings — was supposed to be over.

Technically, it was all supposed to be over back in the fall when April walked away from Sterling in Ellen’s office, but then she locked the door and went back. It was then supposed to be over when she broke up with Sterling on a bench, but then she foolishly thought that, with this latest agreement, the third time would actually be a charm.

The strange part is that April isn’t even mad about her foiled plan. She’s the happiest she’s ever been and that is largely due to the girl she’s in love with.

Love.

She’s still trying to wrap her head around it.

None of that makes studying for finals any easier. Even in the quiet of the Willingham library, on the first day of a rigorous finals week, it’s hard to focus on AP Chemistry when April is so easily distracted by all things Sterling.

Sterling’s lips. Sterling’s hair. Sterling’s smell. Sterling’s eyes. Sterling’s smile.

It’s a bit much.

Sterling looks up. “What?” she asks softly. A pink blush spreads over her cheeks and a shy smile tugs at her lips.

April has to blink to refocus.

“What?” she echoes, quite stupidly.

Sterling seems unfazed. “You were looking at me weird. Is everything okay? You seem distracted.”

Christ, how long has April been staring? How long has Sterling known that she was staring? How can April explain to her platonic pal why she’s so distracted?

“I’m going to Delaware,” she blurts.

Smooth.

Sterling sputters. “What?” she repeats.

It’s a terrible excuse and an even worse transition, but April doubles down. “My mom and I are going. We’re visiting my grandparents. I was just itemizing a list of things to pack and zoned out.”

“Oh.” Sterling’s eyebrows furrow. April happens to think that confusion is a cute look on her. She gets this crinkle in her forehead. Sometimes she even scrunches her nose. But she also gets a little pout to her lips, one that she has right now, which, as April comes to realize, means that she is now staring at Sterling’s lips. God damnit. “Fun. When are you leaving?”

“End of the week.”

Sterling shifts in her seat. April hopes it has nothing to do with the squeak in her voice and the fact that she very obviously needs to get a grip. Her heart races as Sterling looks down at the table and that cute little pout changes into something more serious.

“Are you, like, spending the whole summer there?” she asks in a small voice.

April exhales a breath of relief.

“Just two weeks.”

Sterling perks up again, spine arrow straight and eyes bright. “Nice,” she says with her usual peppy smile. “Bring me back something cool.”

April scoffs. “It’s just Delaware. It’s not like it’s Paris.”

“I don’t care. I’ll still take it.”

Sterling shrugs her shoulders, still grinning at April, and April feels her face warm. She can already tell that this girl and her unwavering enthusiasm and the way that it now is constantly directed at April are all going to be massive distractions throughout the week.

And it’s only Monday, April thinks to herself.

Her stomach twists. If this is the condition April is going to be in all week, she wonders how she could possibly navigate these long study sessions with Sterling well enough to ace her finals.

 

Any other time April would think that Señora O’Reilly was encouraging laziness by giving their class such a detailed review sheet, but right now April thinks she is a gem of a woman.

The packet is filled with important vocabulary, verb conjugations, and writing exercises that when done right, will basically ace the test for them. So April has nothing Sterling related to worry about on Tuesday.

Or so she thinks.

After both April and Sterling finish their packets, they trade them to grade each other’s work. It’s done at Sterling’s request. April has the highest grades in the class and therefore doesn’t tend to get much out of a peer review, but that isn’t the case this time.

When Sterling passes April back her packet there is a 95 written in red ink on the top of her page.

“What?”

A librarian, April doesn’t bother to look up to see which one, shushes her.

She lowers her voice just a little.

“That can’t be right. Sterl, are you sure?”

To her horror Sterling nods. “You were missing an accent mark on question fourteen and you used a wrong conjugation on question twelve. That’s like five points, right?”

“No, I didn’t!”

April frantically flips through the pages of her packet until she lands on the third page where both question twelve and fourteen are. Sure enough, Sterling is right. She got it wrong. God, what is wrong with her?

“God, what is wrong with me?”

“Hey.” Sterling reaches across the table, resting her warm, soft hand on top of April’s. “It’s alright. They’re the only mistakes you have, they’re super small, and I’m sure you’ll be on the lookout for it now. You won’t let it happen again on the test tomorrow.”

Sterling gives her hand a squeeze and flashes April a reassuring smile. It’s then that April remembers something, a distraction that pulled her off course.

By the third page of the packet, Sterling had gotten so tired of having her hair hanging in her face that she pulled it back into a ponytail, and April just had to watch.

 

The Willingham hallway is nearly empty. Sterling and April were among the first group of students to finish their excruciatingly long Spanish final. April had never been more thankful for assigned seats than she was at that moment, because Sterling sitting directly behind her meant an actually focused April and likely a perfect test score.

“Can we not study in the library?” Sterling says with a whine as she drags her feet across the linoleum floor. “I know we’re only halfway through the week, but my brain is fried. I need to get a snack and regroup before I dive into math.”

Which is how they end up at April’s house that afternoon.

“Hi, Sterling!”

“Hi, Mrs. Stevens.”

Mary Beth peers over the back of the couch, eyeing them from across the living room. “No library today, girls?”

“We needed a change of scenery,” April says.

“And reinforcements,” Sterling adds, holding up her iced coffee and a brown paper bag that April knows is filled with cake pops.

“Lord knows you both deserve it. You’ve been working so hard.”

Her words, the sincerity behind them, and the smile that Mary Beth supplies all make April pause for a second. Ever since John left this kind of praise and understanding have become more frequent, but it still manages to take her by surprise sometimes.

Before she can think too much about it Sterling says, “Ugh, I know. I was practically a zombie all through dinner with my family last night.”

That snaps April back into the conversation. She perks up at the sound of family, shifting her gaze from her mother to Sterling, and finding that Sterling hadn’t even grimaced over the word. April feels herself smile.

At the table in her backyard, she finds that there’s a little more wiggle room for their study session. They can quiz each other and get competitive while they do it. They can take breaks and laugh without disturbing anyone at the next table or drawing too much attention to themselves. They can run inside whenever their energy is getting low and grab another snack. They can relax a little more, because there is not a crowd of competitive students around them, expecting them to be at the top of their game at all times.

“This is nice,” Sterling says, glancing around the yard, basking in sunlight and fresh air.

“Yeah, it is,” April agrees.

She quickly learns that studying in the backyard while the sun shifts to the west also means that she gets to experience Sterling’s lips, Sterling’s hair, Sterling’s smell, Sterling’s eyes, Sterling’s smile in a different lighting than usual.

As it turns out, the natural golden hue creates a far more distracting sight than the library fluorescents.

 

It’s late when they pack up their books on Thursday. April’s backpack feels like it's filled with cinder blocks instead of textbooks when she finally slings it over her shoulder. The air around them is stiffly quiet.

They’re the last pair in the library, the last car in the parking lot, and their last test is tomorrow.

“One more day,” Sterling says when she pulls up in front of April’s house, breaking the silence that sat between them for the entire car ride. She looks up, eyes tired, but gaze still soft and tender. A small smile tugs at the corner of her mouth.

“One more day,” April echoes, staring at that smile, too tired to care about averting her gaze.

“Then you leave?”

April nods. “Saturday morning.”

“I’ll be waiting for my gift.”

April rolls her eyes halfheartedly. She does it partially in teasing and partially because she needs to get her eyes off of Sterling’s damn mouth.

“I’ll be sure to grab you a basic airport souvenir.”

“Basic?” Sterling frowns. Her head tilts to the side. “You’re not going to see a single thing and think of me?”

That couldn’t be further from the truth, but April is not about to disclose that right now, even if her first thought is that she’ll probably think of Sterling in everything she sees. However, she also isn’t focused enough to come up with something witty.

“Well, if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise,” April finds herself saying.

It works, seeming to satisfy Sterling. That frown turns into a small smile, which spreads into a grin, one that makes her eyes glimmer under the dull glow of the streetlights, one that makes April’s heart beat just a little bit faster.

Her exhaustion must really be clouding her brain because for a second April thinks Sterling’s eyes shift lower to where her mouth would be, which couldn’t possibly be true, and if she were to let herself believe it, April would probably do something stupid, like lean forward.

So instead she quickly says, “I should head inside. Get some rest.”

It might be the smartest thing she’s said all night.

Sterling looks away, her glance now going all the way down to where her hands sit in her lap. “Yeah, that’s probably, um...probably smart,” she mutters in agreement. Her throat bobs and the car is so quiet that April can hear Sterling swallow before she resets and looks up again. “Goodnight, April.”

“Goodnight.”

When April gets inside the house all she wants to do is get out of her uniform, into something more comfortable, and climb under her warm, soft covers for the night, ready to be haunted with a dream of a cramped backseat and the body weight of another person on top of her. But the sight of Mary Beth in the kitchen, with her eyes a bit red and wet, whisks that idea right out of April’s brain.

She stops in the entryway, too frozen to take another step. “What is it? What happened?”

“Oh, April, it’s nothing to panic about.”

Mary Beth walks around the kitchen island to meet April on the other side. She takes April by both of her hands, which does nothing but amplify her nerves. There have been so many things to panic about this year: the loss of fellowship leader, the arrest, the condom wrapper, the thought of coming out, the—

“The divorce has been finalized.”

All the air leaves April’s lungs in a rush.

“Really?”

Mary Beth nods.

It’s over. Everything is settled. April wants to be relieved, but she has about a million questions swirling in her head and she won’t get her hopes up without answers.

“What does that mean? Where does that leave us?”

“Well, to sum it up, we’ve got the house, he got the lake house, he’s sending child support, and there is nothing about joint custody or visitation. You don’t owe him any of your time. It’s only if you want to.”

April blinks back tears, her throat feeling a bit raw, in the same way that she imagines her mother’s does. “So we’re done?” she asks, voice shaking.

“We’re done.”

With that confirmation April lets herself cry. It starts as just a couple of tears streaming down her cheeks, then April remembers the nights where she hardly slept because he was right down the hall, the weekends she dreaded because it meant spending time with him, the years where she pretended to be somebody she wasn’t because she wanted to be someone that he could be proud of, and suddenly those few tears are sobs rattling through her body.

Mary Beth is quick to wrap her up in a tight hug, one that April sinks right into, one that seemed impossible back in the fall when John was newly out of jail and under this very roof, one that she feels completely safe in now.

April doesn’t know how long they stand there together with just the sound of her sniffles and cries filling the room, but once that subsides and she calms down, Mary Beth breaks the silence.

“Are you okay, sweetie?” she asks, running a gentle hand through April’s hair. “I know it’s a lot. It’s okay to be upset about—”

“No,” April interrupts, wiping her eyes. She leans back in her mother’s arms just enough to look up at her and April finds streaks of tears on her cheeks as well. “I’m relieved.”

Mary Beth smiles all the way up to her wet rimmed eyes. “I know the feeling.”

 

After a week spent hunched over a textbook and a rather exhausting cry last night, April thought that she would be bone-tired come Friday morning.

But her alarm sounds, the sun shines, and April is ready to take on her day with a rejuvenated energy.

She walks down the hallway with her shoulders back and her head high, but this time it isn’t for the sake of her appearance or the fact that she’s been trained to have proper posture at all times. It’s because the weight that she’s been carrying genuinely feels lighter.

A large part of that has to do with a blonde haired girl, leaving the bathroom right up ahead.

“Sterling!” April calls with a sudden rush of urgency. She just has to tell her.

But Sterling doesn’t hear and keeps heading for their classroom. April knows that once Sterling slips inside there will be no chance of telling her anything before they take this test and she knows that there will be know chance of staying focused during the test if she doesn’t tell Sterling the good news, so April lightly runs down the hallway, you know, like any normal person would to grab a friend’s attention.

“Sterling, Sterling,” April repeats breathlessly. When she reaches Sterling, April grabs a hold of her wrist. “Come with me?”

“Sure, although, I don’t think I really have much of a choice,” Sterling says, laughing a little as April has already started pulling her aside. She waits until they stop a few feet away from their classroom to ask, “What’s up?”

“My parents got divorced.”

“Yeah, I know. Blurting that out is oddly kind of your thing.”

April shakes her head. She knows her hand is still around Sterling’s wrist, knows she’s grinning far too widely for an innocent in school conversation, but she can’t stop.

“No, like, it’s finalized. It’s done.”

Sterling’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, seriously?”

“I don’t have to see him again if I don’t want to.”

Getting that off her chest and saying it out loud feels almost as good as Sterling’s reaction does. The way her whole face lights up, the way she squeals April’s name, the way her arms wrap tightly around April’s waist are all far too invigorating for April to care that they’re in the middle of the hallway, directly across from their classroom where the door is open and finals are about to be passed out.

Before April knows what’s happening her feet are being lifted off the ground. She doesn’t protest, she just holds Sterling tighter around the neck, letting her eyes squeeze shut, her face press into Sterling’s soft hair, and her nose breathe in the smell of Sterling’s vanilla scented shampoo. April very quickly decides that she could live in this moment forever.

But the universe, as always, has other ideas.

“What are we celebrating?” a voice asks.

Sterling immediately puts April down. With the ground beneath her feet, April’s brain also comes back to earth and she takes a step back, already missing the warmth of Sterling’s body pressed up against her. The two of them, red faced and caught, like they were doing something far worse than hug, turn to see Blair watching them with a sly smirk.

“It was — we were just, um,” Sterling struggles to come up with an answer.

April has to take her out of her misery. “We’re celebrating my parents divorce,” she says easily, as if their reasoning had to do with a simple test score.

The smirk drops right off of Blair’s face, her mouth hanging open. April takes a bit of pride in that.

“Oh, shit, Stevens. That’s big.”

“Indeed it is.”

Blair looks to Sterling, then back to April, who gets to wear the smirk this time. “Congrats?” she offers awkwardly.

April takes it. “Thanks, Blair.”

She walks into their classroom with extra pep in her step and a swing in her ponytail, not bothered by any of the other eyes in the room but Sterling’s and the way they shine when she smiles at April from her assigned seat three rows over.

April is so ready to ace this test.

 

Sergeant Bilko brushes up against her legs as soon as she walks into her house. April is also greeted by a suitcase adjacent to the door.

Shit. In the chaos of finals, April still hasn’t packed for Delaware. Maybe she should have actually itemized a list instead of staring at the way Sterling pursed her lips over a chemistry question.

“Hi, honey,” Mary Beth walks out of the kitchen, stepping into view. “How was the test?”

“Really good,” April answers confidently. She expects a perfect score. “We spent a lot of time studying, so there was really nothing to worry about.”

Mary Beth nods, lips tugging up just slightly at the word we. April knows why that is even before her mother asks, “Did you say bye to Sterling?”

She rolls her eyes. “You’re more invested in this friendship than I am.”

“You spend every day with that girl. Let’s not pretend that’s true.”

April’s jaw drops, thrown by her mother’s words, the direct way she said them, and the way she sits down on the couch, legs crossed and smiling a bit smug, like she just beat April in a game.

Since it’s obvious that they both knew she was lying, April decides to revert back to the original question.

“No, I did not say goodbye to her,” she says, watching Mary Beth’s smile turn into a small frown. “I finished my test before her and I still have to pack, so I just came straight home.”

“Well, you could always go see her later. Packing shouldn’t take long.”

“It’s just two weeks, mom. She wants me to get her something while we’re there anyway, so I’ll see her when we get back.”

April is down playing this a bit too much and she knows it, acting like this gift would be her only reason to see Sterling when they get back. God, when did she become such a bad liar?

Before she could think too much about Sterling coming into her life, positive and open, and John leaving her life with all of his rules and anger, Mary Beth starts to say, “April, don’t you think—”

“What?” she interrupts, daring her mother to just say it.

“That there’s something there?”

April hesitates. Much like the divorce, she hasn’t really let herself think about it without having all the answers. It’s one thing to wonder if Sterling said something in a flirty way or if the touch of April’s hand gave her butterflies too, but to actually think about feelings or the possibility of a relationship has seemed like too much, and April doesn’t want to get carried away.

“I don’t know,” she mutters, looking anywhere but at her mother.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to find out?”

April’s eyes land on Mary Beth’s suitcase. “I have to pack,” she says, avoiding this question and any potential next one by heading directly toward the stairs.

In the middle of April’s bed is an open suitcase, only filled with the bare essentials of socks and underwear, followed by one half folded shirt. She stands over it, staring into space, with her mind reeling over what her mother had said.

Wouldn’t it be nice to find out?

What kind of a question is that? In a perfect world, sure, it would be nice. They could ride off into the sunset together or do whatever the fuck else usually comes with a happily ever after. But April doesn’t live in a perfect world, never has, no matter how hard her family tried to pretend that they did. And in a non perfect world “finding out” could mean heartbreak, ended friendship, and losing her favorite person, a person in which she loves.

April huffs to herself, rolling her eyes as she finishes folding that shirt. What does her mother expect? Does she really think that April can just walk up to Sterling and tell her she loves her? Does she think that it would be easy?

There’s a risk in saying it out loud, in admitting that she has feelings even when she swore that she wouldn’t. April knows it. She’s certain, because she has experienced that risk before.

There was a risk in Sterling kissing her for the first time, in April locking Ellen’s door and going back for more, in admitting the next day that she didn’t think it was nothing, in coming out to Sterling over a game of skee ball, and in letting herself get involved, letting herself be convinced that they could be together.

There was always a risk.

But with something that she cherishes as much as their friendship on the line, it feels a hell of a lot harder to take the leap this time.

April walks over to her closet, where she mindlessly flips through hangers like they were pages of a magazine. She should be scanning for outfits to pack, but as April reaches the last hanger she realizes that she hadn’t actually looked at anything. She was too distracted, too busy thinking about this idea that her mother put in her head.

Don’t you think that there’s something there? Wouldn’t it be nice to find out?

April can’t stop hearing it and she won’t be able to focus with that playing on a loop in her mind. Unfortunately, she can only think of one way to turn it off.

“Jesus Christ,” she mutters, accepting defeat and closing her closet door.

April hurries down the stairs, a sudden urgency to her steps. “I’m heading out for a bit,” she calls to her mother. She grabs her car keys from the hook in the foyer.

“Where are you going?”

“Sterling’s.”

April looks up to find Mary Beth standing in the doorway with a smile on her face that’s a little too knowing. Her cheeks begin to flush. She ignores it.

“Don’t,” April warns, pointing a stern finger at her mother, a finger that trembles with whatever combination of adrenaline and nerves is running through her veins.

Mary Beth throws her hands up. “I haven’t said a word,” she says, but the tone of her voice and the look on her face say much more. April is sure that there’s an I told you so or even a good luck waiting to be said, but she doesn’t wait for it.

April rushes out the door.

When she pulls up in front of the Wesley house, stopping haphazardly by the curb, she doesn’t get a chance to rethink this over dramatic, most likely terrible plan and turn around, because Anderson is outside and he instantly recognizes her car, waving before April has even shut off the engine.

“I guess I’m really doing this,” she mumbles to herself, turning the key and unbuckling her seatbelt. “I’m really fucking doing this.”

April flings her car door open and plasters on a smile. “Hi Mr. Wesley,” she squeaks, voice too high pitched to pass as normal. He is luckily too delighted to notice.

“Good to see you, April. You here for Sterling?”

“Yeah, I hope it’s not too much trouble.” April thinks back to the night where her unknown presence at the Wesley house created quite a bit of tension. “I didn’t tell her I was stopping by. I won’t be long.”

“No trouble at all. She’s around back.”

“Thank you.”

April ushers past him and towards the back gate. She takes a deep breath, heart racing with every short, quick step she takes.

If it all goes wrong, you get to flee to Delaware for two weeks and come up with a new plan, April thinks to herself.

She internally repeats that over and over like a mantra, but the walk around back is still far too short. Before she knows it, she’s turning a corner and her eyes fall on Sterling.

Everything seems to stop then.

Sterling sits on the top of their wooden picnic table, feet perched on the bench. Her elbows rest on her thighs as she stares at something on her phone. A breeze blows through the trees and the sunlight flickering through gets caught in her hair.

April exhales.

Her presence must be felt because suddenly Sterling looks up and her eyes land directly on April. Even from across the yard, April can see them shine with a mix of surprise, wonder, and excitement.

“Hey!” Sterling hops off the table, grinning at April as she walks up to her. “Did you come to say goodbye?” she asks, pulling April into a hug.

“Something like that.”

Pressed into a tight embrace, April can feel the rise in Sterling’s cheek as her lips must tug into a smile.

“That’s so sweet,” she murmurs into April’s ear, breath almost as warm as the sensation now running down April’s body.

Wow, April really needs to get a grip. And fast.

Sterling gives April another short squeeze before stepping back. “I told Blair that I was going to miss you and she was all, it’s only two weeks, you guys are more codependent than we are.”

Sterling wears a goofy grin after giving her best Blair impression, but April, unable to swallow her nerves, flashes a forced smile in return, one that Sterling, of course, notices.

“Hey,” she says, voice softer this time and expression more serious. Her eyes bore into April’s so intensely that April has to look away. “Are you okay?”

April swallows before she looks back up.

“I have to tell you something. Can we sit?”

Sterling just nods.

The two of them perch on the picnic table, April staring straight ahead with her hands clasped in her lap. She can feel her palms starting to stick together. April knows that Sterling is watching her closely. She can feel the burn of her gaze like fire on skin, but Sterling doesn’t push. She just waits for April to speak.

“I’ve known this for a little while now and kept it to myself,” she starts, voice surprisingly steady even though she feels like she’s teetering on the edge of a cliff. “I thought this would be a good time to tell you, because my leaving tomorrow would give us some space to process or whatever.”

“April, what’s going on? Is your family alright?” Sterling’s eyes suddenly get wide. “Are you moving to Delaware?”

“No, no. They’re fine, Sterl. I’m not moving.” April looks down into her lap, trying to gather her thoughts. She wipes her sweaty hands on her shorts. “Sorry, I — um.”

She stops. This has been a heavy weight on her chest for a couple months, ever since they laid together in the back of a pickup truck, and there’s still that big risk in saying it out loud, but as soon as April looks up, she finds Sterling staring at her, expression soft and caring and nervous, and April, having never been more certain in how she feels, finds the words.

“I love you. And I know we made a deal to just be friends, so I thought you should know,” she says as if this were all just a violation of an agreement, a simple breach of contract, and not some romantic grand confession. “I’m in love with you and your melted ice cream and your shallow interest in stars and just — everything.”

“Everything?”

April nods. “It’s honestly all I can think about.”

A wide smile spreads across Sterling’s blushing face. It’s adorably shy, even as she nudges April’s shoulder to tease, “That must be driving you crazy.”

April laughs in spite of herself. “It’s a little distracting. Finals were a disaster.”

Only Sterling could make a terrifying confession turn into laughter, make the pit in her stomach turn into butterflies, make the racing of her heart turn more fluttery rather than like the pounding of thunder. Even if this goes wrong, April realizes, she still only wants to have moments go wrong with Sterling by her side.

“April?”

Their lighthearted tone now shifts into something more serious, something less easy, but still just as gentle. She knows what it means. April knows that Sterling is asking her to look up, to make eye contact again, to actually address her admission. And she knows she can’t run away from it. There is no door that needs to be locked, no father returning from prison, no excuse for April to delay what is apparently inevitable.

She swallows. “Yeah?”

Slowly, April glances up. To her surprise she’s not greeted with an awkward speech of I love you, but not like that or even a confession of Sterling’s own. Instead she looks up to find Sterling leaning in, her hand coming to rest on April’s cheek, and then they’re kissing like it’s that easy, that certain, and that obvious.

Her heart lurches in her chest at the contact and April’s whole body goes with it, pressing closer to Sterling, craving more of the high that she’s been without, but yearned for, for months now.

However, that wonderful rush, that feeling of finally, doesn’t compare to the rise she gets when they part, breathless with their foreheads still pressed together, and Sterling says, “I love you too.”

That hits her square in the chest and washes a relief over her body that she hasn’t felt potentially ever, but especially since she realized her feelings and what they could mean for her future companionship with Sterling. And yet all April can do is kiss her again.

She can’t get enough of the soft press of Sterling’s lips against hers, the tender stroke of Sterling’s thumb on her cheek, the smooth feel of Sterling’s hair between her fingers, and the way that after all this time it finally feels like the rest of the world doesn’t matter, like they can just be together.

“Hey,” April thinks she hears a voice say, but it’s too distant to register and it hardly seems important when Sterling’s breath is catching right under April’s lips. The voice repeats much louder, “Hey!”

They pull apart, eyes wide and cheeks flushed for the second time today, to find Blair standing on the back steps with her arms crossed and seemingly fighting another smirk.

“Please put your tongues back in your own mouths. Mom said dinner is ready,” she announces, before muttering, “Although, I think I lost my appetite.”

Blair disappears back into the house as quickly as she came, leaving them both blushing and flustered on the picnic table.

April stares down at her lap until the heat leaves her face and her chest stops heaving. She knows that they should probably talk about what just happened, the declarations of love, the kiss, the fact that the Wesley family very well might have witnessed parts of it, but instead she finds herself looking up and saying, “Another family meal?”

Sterling nods. “They’ve been going really well.”

“That’s great, Sterl,” she says with pride in her chest and so much love in her heart. It’s amazing how much that feeling has grown in the last few minutes. A half hour ago April had plans of burying it deep, but now it feels too big to be pushed down, and when April feels it rising in her chest, threatening to overflow, she just has to lean over and kiss the girl she loves, because she can actually do that now.

It’s all a bit much, but in the best way.

April pulls back, dropping her hand from Sterling’s cheek and exhaling a long breath. She could stay here kissing and talking to Sterling all night, but unfortunately, the Wesley’s are waiting for Sterling to eat dinner and April’s suitcase is still more than half empty.

“So I guess I’ll see you in two weeks,” she says, climbing down from the table.

“Wait a second,” Sterling objects, jumping into the air and landing clumsily on her feet. “Your flight isn’t until tomorrow, right? Stay for a little bit. At least have dinner.”

April pauses, eyeing Sterling’s outstretched hand. It’s held out almost the same way it was all those months ago when they made their deal to just be friends, but this time Sterling isn’t asking her to shake it. She is asking April to take it and if she had asked April this back then it would’ve been too much. April would’ve walked away out of fear, unable to put her heart on the line again, unwilling to put herself through more disappointment and pain, but now the thought doesn’t seem so scary. It feels safe.

“Okay,” April decides, reaching her hand out and letting their fingers entwine, so Sterling can lead her into the house for dinner.

It’s not at all what April anticipated at the start of junior year when all of her concerns were about fellowship leader, grades, and her father’s approval. It’s not at all what she anticipated on the night of the lock-in after John had promised to be better and she had to break her own heart. It’s not at all what she anticipated when life was overwhelming and retiring their rivalry seemed like the only way to lighten the load.

But all of that is okay, because now April feels lighter than she ever has, happier than she’s ever been, and that’s largely due to the girl whose hand she’s holding under the Wesley’s dinner table, the girl whose shoulder she never thought she would lean on.

This wild and, at times, brutal year, where nothing went according to plan, now seems like it was all building up to this moment. Because when arrests, birth mothers, kidnappings, and dark secrets are the norm, nobody really seems phased by Sterling casually referring to April as her girlfriend. It just fits right in.