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.
i started this with the intent of just writing a one shot but then it ended up way too long and now i’m dividing all of it into chapters (so please excuse my info dump at the beginning and bear with me a second.)
April has started regularly seeing Sterling outside of school.
On the days where Blair has lacrosse or the one time where she had detention, April gives Sterling a ride home. Sometimes that’s all it is, a simple trip from Willingham to the Wesley house, point A to point B, and other times they just drive aimlessly for a while until Sterling gets hungry. Then they stop at the nearest coffee shop so she can get a snack and something obnoxiously sweet to drink and Sterling usually ends up explaining that she just didn’t want to go home.
“This might be the best one yet. Want a sip?”
April takes one look at the multicolored, whipped cream topped drink that Sterling is holding out for her and politely declines.
“I think I’ll stick with the coffee.”
It fits into April’s routine as easily as joining another club and not at all like adding in a friendship that, based on their history, should really be more complicated than it is. But for the most part, and potentially the first time ever, April finds that everything in her life is a little less complicated.
Between her and Sterling there’s no lingering tension from years of fighting, days of kissing, and weeks of secrets and lies. Between April and her mother, their relationship is already improving just from John staying at the lake house. Mary Beth is living like a massive weight has been lifted off of her shoulders, blossoming into a woman that April never knew her to be, so much so that April doesn't even dread being at home during the week anymore. The only day she has to dread is Saturday because that is when she has to see her father.
“Have you started any of those books I got you?” John asks over lunch at a steakhouse that is unnecessarily expensive.
April shakes her head. No, she has not started An American Life, the autobiography of Ronald Reagan, or Cancel Culture: The Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process. She has no desire to read either of them.
“Been busy at school?”
She hesitates. Recently her most interesting extracurricular has involved the girl that arrested him.
“Something like that,” April mutters.
She has hated these Saturdays ever since their first one when John sat her down to share the earth shattering story of his arrest and a dramatized version of his short time in prison. It was a hollow tale where he turned himself into the victim in a last-stitch effort to gain April’s sympathy after her mom brought out the divorce papers. It didn’t work, of course. It just made her more angry with the world, with Sterling, with her father, with the justice system for letting out a man who was very much so guilty and had no remorse for his crime, and with the fact that she now has to sit with him for a weekly afternoon and pretend that they’re few common interests outweigh all of the things he’s done.
What doesn’t help is that Hannah B. and Ezekiel keep asking April to hang out on weekends.
“You know I can’t,” she snaps from their usual table in the school cafeteria. “I have to see my father on Saturday.”
“Oh, right,” Hannah B. says as if she’s just being reminded of it for the first time. April rolls her eyes. “What are your plans?”
“I don’t know. Probably another lame attempt at buying my affection.”
Every week it’s something new. It’s never just lunch. It’s always lunch and a diamond necklace, lunch and a stack of books, lunch and an ice cream sundae the size of her head. And every week April resents it more, wishing she had a father that cared enough to just be sorry, to actually change, to never have been so terrible in the first place.
“Listen, babe,” Ezekiel starts, taking a second to chew his ham sandwich, “I know we all agree he sucks, but if my dad is offering me free stuff, I’m taking it every time.”
April’s forehead creases as she eyes her friends. “This is the same man who went to jail back in the fall,” she reminds them.
“Also the same man who bought you a brand new car for your last birthday,” Ezekiel counters. “I know he’s trash, but I would suffer through a hundred lunches for those perks.”
She opens her mouth to argue, then she thinks better of it. Sure, her friends agree that John is an awful human being, but they don’t know why her hatred runs so deep that sitting down for a meal with him ruins her whole weekend, or why she always just picks at her lunch on Friday’s, already queasy and bracing for their shared time the next day, or why sleeping under the same roof as him kept her up half the night until her exhaustion outweighed her fear.
Sterling knows, though, April thinks distantly, pulling out her phone.
April: are you busy after school today?
Sterling: nope. i’m all yours
“Why are you blushing?”
April looks up from her phone to find Hannah B. staring at her with a dumb little smile.
“Your face is all red,” she points out.
“No, it‘s not.”
It definitely is.
Hannah B. swallows under April’s harsh glare. “Must just be the lighting then. My mistake.”
On the following Saturday, April makes a mistake of her own. One that she can’t believe she made. One that leaves her pacing around her old bedroom at the lake house trying to figure out how she could be so damn stupid. One that has her pulling out her phone and texting someone she should really be avoiding while her father is right downstairs.
She types quickly.
April: not gonna be at church tomorrow. my dad talked me into staying overnight with him.
Sterling: wowwww how did he manage that??
April: it’s not that difficult when im afraid to tell him no.
Sterling: i could always throw him in jail again
Sterling: sorry. too soon?
April smiles. She sits down on the edge of her bed and glances over at the locked door. If she listens closely she can hear the distant chatter of the news coming from the living room. Her father is definitely distracted enough for a few minutes of texting.
April swings her legs up onto the mattress, settling against the pillows with her phone in hand, feeling comfortable and at ease for the first time all day.
April: you’re an idiot.
April: but so is he. that man seriously thinks he can fix everything by buying me an ice cream cone
Sterling: maybe my mom should try that
April: it doesn’t work.
Sterling: i don’t know. i’m a pretty big fan of ice cream
The next time Sterling approaches April in the hallway to say that she wants to get out of the house, April suggests that they get ice cream.
“She’s struggling to give me space,” Sterling says. She sits across from April in a red pleather booth, mixing her sundae until it looks more like soup. “Which, after talking to my therapist, I do understand. Having your child, or whatever I am, get kidnapped is scary for a parent too.”
April nods, picking the cherry off the top of her sundae and setting it aside. Sterling had been quiet about her parents for a few weeks after she initially broke down and told April about that God awful trailer park, but recently that’s changed. Whether it’s due to the growing comfort between them or just the burden of keeping it all in, family secrets and lies have become a bit of a bonding point.
“You’re good at that.”
Sterling reaches across the table for April’s cherry. “Good at what?”
“Understanding the other side of things.”
April thinks about what she said, refining it a little. “To an extent,” she decides. Sterling frowns. “I know we weren’t exactly on the same page at the lock-in, but you’ve been trying to understand why I did what I did and not many people in your situation would do that. I know once I’ve been wronged I’m more likely to write a person off than to see it from their perspective.”
“Well, I wronged you and we’re still here,” Sterling points out, gesturing between them with her spoon while wet and melted ice cream drips over the edge. “So hooray for growth.”
April almost leaves it alone, tempted to let the conversation die right there so they can switch into something lighter, something easier, something that requires less vulnerability. Then she doesn’t.
“I’ve forgiven you, you know.”
“I know,” Sterling says, “and I do understand why you called things off at the lock-in.”
They had this conversation a few times at the beginning of their arrangement. Longer, more in depth versions where April apologized for blind siding Sterling with Luke instead of just talking to her and Sterling admitted that she never should’ve pushed so hard for them to come out. All the while, April held it together with ease. But for some reason, right now, she feels something catch in the back of her throat.
Maybe it’s the finality of forgiveness that has her suddenly emotional, or the sincerity of this understanding, or the fact that issues aside, they’ve still landed themselves here, as Sterling had said. They’re here in this nice little friendship that April has come to rely on more than anything else these days.
“Thank you.” April clears her throat and sits up straighter, swallowing whatever was building inside of her. She decides to let the conversation die this time. “That sundae looks disgusting by the way.”
“Oh, come on,” Sterling exclaims with a goofy smile. “It’s good!”
Sterling holds out her spoon, dripping ice cream all the way across the table as April tries to dodge it.
“You’re literally making a mess because of how melted it is.”
“Should I get you a straw instead?”
April laughs too loudly for a public space, but her father isn’t here to tell her to keep it down or to mind her manners, so she doesn’t care. For once in her life the other patrons don’t register to her. She doesn’t care how it looks or how it sounds to be giggling through Sterling’s attempt at force feeding her melted ice cream with what is probably a stale gummy bear on top. April just cares about what it feels like, and that feeling is lighter and more unburdened than she’s felt all year.
“Sterling,” she gasps breathlessly between laughs, stopping Sterling’s hand just before she can ooze chocolate all over April’s uniform.
Sterling, just as breathless, flicks her wide gaze between April’s eyes and the hand that is still wrapped tightly around her wrist.
“Put the spoon down.”
“Okay,” Sterling concedes, her smile shy and her cheeks flushed.
Once Sterling leans back towards her side of the table, chest heaving slightly as she lowers the spoon into her dish, April lets her wrist go.
i know this one was a little short. next chapter should be up real soon
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
told ya it wouldn't be a long wait :)
(don't get used to this pace though lmao)
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?”
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.”
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.”
“Something about Taylor Swift.”
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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
okay, so we’re officially at the halfway point now that i've set the length, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had.
Sterling: gooooood morning
Sterling: best of luck with brunch today
Sterling: if my boy johnny steps out of line just remind him that you’ve got a pal with a gun
April doesn’t see the messages until she pulls up to the restaurant. With no sign of her father’s car in the parking lot, she grabs her phone and grins at the screen.
April: did you just suggest murdering a man for potentially hurting my feelings?
Sterling: not murder. just good old fashioned intimidation
April: still seems a little drastic but thank you.
Sterling: anything for you
April reads that last message a second time and then a third, getting an inkling of something, but before she can unpack it or even type a response there’s a tap at her passenger side window.
April startles, nearly dropping her phone.
“Come on. Our table is waiting”
Of course it’s her fucking father.
“Coming,” she says, unbuckling her seatbelt and following him into the restaurant.
April knew brunch was going to be rough when she left the house this morning, because lately time with John always is, but that is confirmed as soon as the waiter walks away after taking their drink order and John says, “He seems like a nice boy.”
He has a look on his face that April has seen at least a hundred times. His eyebrows are raised, he’s smiling, nodding in the boy’s direction as if they’re five second interaction was anything more than eye contact while April said, “I’ll have a water, please.” It’s John’s rare look of encouragement and it turns her stomach in two ways. One being that she has no interest in boys and no interest in sharing that with her father, and the other being that of all the things she’s done, accomplished, and dreamed of, this is the bullshit that he wants to smile about.
“A pretty girl like you should be hanging out with some nice boys.”
April squeezes her hand in a fist under the table, trying not to visibly react.
“I hang out with Ezekiel all the time.”
John scoffs. “That hardly counts.”
If she were braver, April would ask him why it doesn’t count, daring him to spell it out. Although she doubts he would have any problem doing exactly that. So maybe the issue isn’t her lack of bravery, maybe she just can’t handle his answer. Maybe that’s okay.
It doesn’t get any better when they’re food is brought to them by a young woman with a nose ring, a short haircut that’s dyed pink, and a half sleeve of tattoos spreading across both of her forearms.
John nearly loses his appetite. Or so he says. The clean plate he sends back after an hour and a half of bitching about the importance of “the right appearance” says otherwise.
“Should we come back here next week?” he wonders on their walk through the parking lot. April can see her car just up ahead. She’s almost made it. “Maybe Adam will be working again.”
Adam was the waiter. John had asked him for his name in between Bloody Mary’s.
“Maybe,” April says through gritted teeth that she’s hoping to play off as a smile.
“I might speak to the manager about that other girl. He and I play poker on Thursdays. He’ll understand.”
April doesn’t say anything. She just moves towards her car, trying to tune out John’s chatter.
“People are trying too hard to be different these days — altering their appearance, living strange lifestyles. I don’t want to look at it while I’m trying to eat with my kid, you know?”
Just keep walking, she thinks to herself. April pulls her keys from her purse and unlocks her door, prepping for a quick escape.
“It’s God’s way or the wrong way, right, sweetheart?”
She has the driver's side handle in her hand. April could just nod and get in. She could bat her eyes and say, “sure, daddy,” like she’s done for sixteen years. But she doesn’t.
She stops and she turns around and she lies about something entirely different.
“I can’t do next weekend. I have plans.”
April has nothing on her schedule but she would gladly fill it with literally anything else.
“With Hannah and that boy?”
He says it with such a grimace that April’s stomach turns and her jaw clenches. There’s no way she can just politely smile through this conversation.
An idea comes to mind, one that gives her a little thrill, and April shakes her head, finding some of the bravery she thought she was missing before. “No,” she says, standing up straighter and willing her voice to steady, “with Sterling.”
She nods again and John no longer looks baffled. His wide, shocked eyes narrow into what she recognizes as fury.
“Since when do you hang out with Sterling Wesley?” he sneers.
This time April doesn’t hesitate to say, “Sterling and I are friends.”
April: we have to hang out next weekend.
Sterling: totally down but why the urgency?
April: i wanted to get out of seeing my dad so i told him that we have plans.
Sterling: omg april
Sterling: call me asap!!
“Hi, Sterl,” April greets, grinning as she spins in her desk chair, twirling her ponytail around her finger. She eagerly texted Sterling as soon as she got home from brunch.
“Hi. Sorry.” Sterling is breathless for some reason. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”
“I’m fine,” April laughs. God, it’s not like she came out or anything. “It was actually kind of fun.”
“Yeah,” she breathes, heart still pounding, mind still racing, and body buzzing on this sweet little rush. “It felt like an underhanded way of standing up to him, you know? Like, yes, you threw my father in jail, but I really couldn’t care less.”
April doesn’t think she’s ever felt this powerful, this in control, in her entire life. And she’s literally the leader of every club she’s in.
April rolls her eyes. Why isn’t Sterling equally as excited about this? She’s the only other person who knows why April hates John, why John hates Sterling, and therefore, why their friendship was ever kept from him to begin with.
“I haven’t seen him that mad since my mom’s second cousin said she voted for Hilary — and that ruined Christmas. He was fuming, Sterl.”
The reaction that April craves still doesn’t come. This giddy, electrifying energy coursing through her veins falls flat, landing in silence on Sterling’s end of the call.
“He didn’t, like, do anything, right?”
April tilts her head, partially at the question and partially at Sterling’s tone change. She’s nervous.
“What do you mean?”
Sterling sighs. “April, he has a history of violence.”
Well, that explains the out of breath greeting.
April’s finger stills in her hair, chair slowly spinning to a stop, and smile falling from her lips.
She didn’t even think of that.
Of all the things going through her head in that parking lot her father’s violence never crossed her mind. She was just so annoyed and angry. For once she wanted to make him feel as bad as he had spent years making her feel. And she did.
His face twisted in a way that she had never caused before, not even when she embarrassingly lost the fifth grade regional spelling bee, or foolishly said that Michelle Obama’s dress was nice on TV, or when she was supposed to be watching Sergeant Bilko and he knocked over John’s scotch after a “long day.”
His cheeks turned a burning red and the veins in his neck looked ready to pop while he ranted at April about the importance of family and how she is going against him by forming this friendship — this alliance — with Sterling Wesley.
And she just stood there. With her arms crossed and practically smiling, April watched him realize that his once coveted Team Stevens had fallen apart and that he had finally lost.
“No, he didn’t do anything,” April mutters as her last bit of adrenaline runs its way out.
“Okay, good,” Sterling says, her tone soft and gentle and relieved.
April wants to roll her eyes and insist that Sterling is being wildly overdramatic, that yes, her father is a horrible person but no, he’s not that bad. But part of her hates the way her skin crawls when she looks at their confrontation in hindsight, wondering if maybe she was too reckless, if she had gotten too comfortable with him out of the house, and if it’ll ever come back to haunt her.
April swallows the uneasy feeling rising in her gut. “So, uh, next weekend?”
“Yeah,” Sterling says, “definitely.”
After their blunder of a phone call, Sterling plans their whole hang out rather excitedly and to April’s dismay, secretly. She spends the whole week without any idea as to what’s going on. All April knows is that she doesn’t have to see her father and for the most part that’s enough.
She asks her first question on Saturday night when Sterling pulls up to April’s house in the pickup that Mr. Wesley uses for hunting.
“I did not believe my mom when she said there was a truck outside. Why do you have this?”
“I borrowed it,” Sterling says with a shrug of her shoulders and a grin on her face that fills the large pickup with her energy just as easily as it would in the compact Volt.
“Does he know?”
“Sterling,” April warns.
Sterling sighs, rolling her eyes halfheartedly. “Yes, he knows.”
She shifts the truck into drive, pulling away from the curb, and April waits all of thirty seconds before asking her next question.
“Where are we going?”
“Well, what if I don’t like it?” she counters, thinking she has some leverage.
“Then I’ll drop you at the lake house.”
April gasps, turning to Sterling just in time to catch a mischievous little smirk on her face. “You wouldn’t dare.”
She quirks an eyebrow. “Try me.”
This is already far better than lunch with her father.
About ten minutes and five unanswered questions later they pull into an empty parking lot and April is just as confused as she was before. Only now as Sterling throws the truck in park, her heart also starts to race.
The last time they spent a night parked in a deserted area things got a little more than friendly with the Volt windows fogging up and April just barely holding back on her desire to have somewhere to go.
She looks around the area, desperate to find a reason, to solve it herself, and to know why they’re here, but not a single store in this strip mall is open.
They made a deal to just be friends. April never thought about Sterling potentially making a move or what she would do if said move was made. Does she push Sterling away? Does she lean into it? April has no idea because she hasn’t thought about her romantic feelings for Sterling since they shook hands in Ellen’s office.
“Why are we just in an empty parking lot?”
“Because there’s no trees,” Sterling says as if April is supposed to understand and make sense of that.
Sterling unbuckles her seatbelt and —
“Wait,” April blurts.
Sterling looks up slowly, a puzzled expression on her face. “What?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m getting out,” she says, eyebrows furrowed as she stares quizzically at April. She laughs a little. “Did you think we were just going to sit in here all night? Come on.”
Sterling climbs out of the truck, leaving a baffled April to unbuckle and follow suit. She hops down to the ground, feet feeling unsteady beneath her as a slight quiver lingers in her knees. April watches Sterling casually walk to the back of the truck. It must be easy to be so calm when you know exactly what’s going on.
“I overheard Franklin saying that some big star is supposed to be visible tonight. Thought we could check it out.”
Well, now that she’s in the loop April feels a little foolish. She exhales and the tension leaves her body. She even starts to smile. “I didn’t know you were into stars,” April says, meeting Sterling by the back of the pickup.
Sterling folds down the tailgate. “Aesthetically, yes. Scientifically, no. I can point out the Little Dipper but that’s about it.”
“So we’re here because they look pretty?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” she says, climbing into the bed. Sterling turns around and holds out her hand for April. “Is that a problem?”
“No.” April shakes her head, laughing a little. She was almost impressed to find that Sterling had an academic interest, but this makes way more sense. “Just wanted to be clear.”
She takes Sterling’s hand.
The whole thing should be terrible. Laying in the back of a pickup truck and looking up at stars should feel exactly like a scene from a cheesy movie that April would despise. But with Sterling next to her, trying to make something out of the scattered dots in the sky, it shockingly isn’t so bad.
“Oh, is that it?”
Sterling points up at the sky for a third time. April does her best to follow the line of her finger.
“That’s a plane.”
“Damn it. Again?”
It’s easy. And fun. April mostly thinks that it’s because she and Sterling are not as dramatic as the dumb, oblivious characters in a romantic comedy. They have an agreement to just be friends, they actually communicate rather maturely, and they spend the night laughing way too much to be overly serious about anything.
“Okay, I’ve got one,” April says, noticing how Sterling’s eyes shine a bit as she eagerly leans closer. They’ve forgotten the stars, too lost in stories and secrets, and are now facing each other instead of the sky. “Ezekiel and I were supposed to watch Hannah B.’s fish over Thanksgiving break.”
“That’s him.” April pauses partially for dramatic effect and partially out of shame. “He’s now Bubbles 2.0 though.”
Sterling puts a hand over her mouth. “No way.”
“I don’t know what happened. She left us a very specific feeding schedule, but one day he was belly up.”
“What did you do?”
“We got her a new one, obviously. It took six different stores, but eventually we found a fish that was just the right color and size. Now it’s been four months and she still doesn’t know.”
Sterling’s laugh seems to take over her whole body. It rumbles through her torso, unable to be contained, spreading across her face in the form of a wide grin, and crinkling by her eyes as they glint in the moonlight. It’s amazing how so much happiness can spill out of one hurt person.
“I like this,” Sterling says once she can breathe again, a shy and yet unfairly dazzling smile gracing her lips. April has to tune back in to catch it.
“This. Hanging out,” she clarifies, gesturing in the small space between them. “I only ever really had Blair or Luke. I haven’t had a real friend since, well, you.”
“Hey!” Sterling shoves at April’s shoulder, grinning all the while. “I’m trying to be nice.”
April knows that. She knows it the same way that Sterling knows April wasn’t actually calling her pathetic. Her declaration was just so unnecessarily soft and genuine for what has been a night of dumb anecdotes and bellyaching giggles that April couldn’t help but tease a little.
“How is pointing out your lack of friends a nice thing to say? If anything it makes me rethink my choices here.”
Sterling gasps. “You’re not exactly rolling in options either.”
“More than you apparently.”
“You’re pretty confident for a girl who lost middle school most popular.”
“I’m starting to think Blair stuffed the ballot box,” she quips and Sterling’s eyes shine brighter than that stupid star they’re supposed to be looking for.
“I hate you.”
“I don’t,” Sterling agrees with no effort to attest. “I think you’re my best friend.”
April rolls her eyes at the earnestness of it all, which is just so perfectly Sterling that she doesn’t really mind, and also why she gives into it with a groaned realization of, “I think you’re mine too.”
But April doesn’t even get a second to sit with that confession because Sterling bursts out laughing again, bigger and louder than she’s been all night. So much so that it startles April.
“Why is that funny?”
“You just sounded so mad about it,” she says with a wheeze. Sterling just barely holds it together for an impression, “Like, ugh, you’re mine too.”
“I don’t sound like that!”
“I don’t,” April tries to argue, but now she’s laughing almost as hard and suddenly neither of them can stop.
Sterling tries to sit up, her foot stomping into the bed of the truck, but her stomach can't take it and she flops back down. Even when her vision starts to go a little blurry, April can still make out the way Sterling’s chest heaves, the way her head falls back, the way her whole body seems to set itself free, unburdened by the secrets and heartache that have recently been getting her down.
April wipes her eyes. She can’t remember the last time she laughed so hard that it turned to tears. It would probably have to be her and Ezekiel commentating on something Hannah B. did, but April even can’t pinpoint that.
As their laughter starts to slow and they both try to remember how to breathe, April rolls onto her back to look up at the stars again. She knows it’s not possible but they seem brighter now than they were before. Her eyes widen.
“Hey, that might be it,” April says, noticing a bigger, shinier looking star in the sky.
“What might be what?”
Sterling is still dazed and breathless.
“The star we came to see. Ring a bell?”
April points up at the midnight sky, into a sea of little bright white dots.
“Oh, yeah. That one does kinda stand out,” Sterling mutters, looking intently. “Wait. It just moved. I was looking at a plane again.”
“Maybe you’re into planes and not stars.”
From the corner of her eye April notices that Sterling shifts. She hears the ruffle of Sterling’s clothes as she scoots over and then April feels Sterling’s fingers wrapping around her wrist. She tugs on April’s arm, like it’s hers to move, and wraps it around her own shoulders, leaning closer and muttering a soft, “I’m cold,” as an explanation.
“I think I saw a blanket in the…” April swallows when Sterling’s head lands on her shoulder, “...truck.”
Sterling doesn’t budge or even address what April said about the blanket. She gets comfortable, tucking into April’s side as if this is just something that they do, something that friends do. April supposes that neither of them really know for sure. Sterling just said that she’s only ever been this close with Luke or Blair, two people she never had to think twice about cuddling up against; and April has been around Hannah B. and Ezekiel for a long time, but never quite like this.
April inhales shakier than she’d like and stares up at the stars, letting her fingers rest as comfortably as possible against Sterling’s skin and trying to breathe normally. She hopes that her heart isn’t beating too loud for a simple moment amongst friends, but something deep in April’s gut tells her that it is.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
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.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
“I came out to my mom.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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?”
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.”
“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.
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.
April turns around. It’s Blair.
“Thank you,” she says, still standing in the open doorway.
April nods. “Of course.”
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
April used to hate weekends. Even when she was little, bringing an empty backpack home from elementary school, she hated them.
There was too much down time, most of which was spent in her house with her parents and not out with the other kids because the other kids didn’t really like her. They thought she was too much, too serious, too intense, too much of a know-it-all. None of which made for a very good playmate or a halfway decent friend.
So a young April would pretend not to notice when the other kids made plans at the lunch table of whose house they would go to, if they would sleep over, and wondering which PG-13 movie to sneakily watch once their parents went to sleep. And if she ever got a pitiful look or an insincere “you can come if you want,” April would scoff and insist that she had better things to do.
Which wasn’t actually true, but they didn’t need to know that.
She would plow through her homework on Friday night, spend Saturday tucked in her room with a book, overwhelmed with a need to be busy whenever her father so much as looked in her direction, and then Sunday was spent in a pew at church. Her little prepubescent body would physically be buzzing with energy by the time she reached school again on Monday morning, only to be referred to as a “teacher's pet” or a “try hard.”
The “pet” one bothered her a little bit, because April wasn’t an animal and she certainly didn’t require extra care, but “try hard?” Come on. They’re basically just admitting that they’re lazy.
The routine of homework, books, and church carried April all the way to high school, through weekends where she hated being at home with her father, barely able to stand breathing the same air as him. Then of course the divorce happened and she hated weekends even more because that meant spending one on one time with him and biting her tongue.
But then Sterling came along and changed all of that. Sterling made weekends busy and fun with her silly ideas of miniature golf and stargazing, her concerning diet of fast food and ice cream, and her persistence in spending time together. She gave April something to busy herself with, something to spend her energy on, something to look forward to.
It was new and invigorating and perfect. April never wants to let it go. But she also has no idea how to keep it, how to not be too much and suffocate it, how to not be too serious and be a bore, how to not be too intense and scare her off, and how to not be a know-it-all when her friend just wants a listening ear and a hand to hold.
“Are you almost ready for finals?”
April blinks, tuning back into the conversation. She finds Mary Beth staring at her, hands sudsy with dish soap and concern painted on her face.
“You alright, honey? You’ve been drying that bowl for a while.”
April looks at the bowl in her hand and the pile of wet dishes on the counter awaiting her attention. She didn’t even realize she was that zoned out.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She puts the bowl in its proper cabinet and takes a new dish to dry. “I made a review sheet for chemistry and Spanish today. I’ll probably be at the library late every night this week.”
April hesitates, torn between telling the full truth or a version of it.
A few days ago she thought that they would definitely be studying together, had a review schedule planned and everything, but April hasn’t heard from Sterling since she forcibly dropped her back at her house last night. Now she’s not so sure.
“How’s that going by the way?”
“Mom,” April warns. Every once in a while Mary Beth tries to ask April about her “little crush” and April wants to crawl in a hole and die of embarrassment.
“What? I’m just asking.”
Mary Beth puts her hands up in surrender, sending soapy bubbles into the air and April tries not to smile. She only holds it back until she’s turned the other way, putting a pan in the drawer under the oven, and then April lets it go.
“You know, I was thinking,” her mom starts, causing that smile to fade as April braces for a theory about how she should make a move on Sterling, “maybe once school is out we can go visit your grandparents.”
Well, that’s different.
“Yeah, I thought it might be fun.”
April hasn’t seen her mother’s family in over two years, but she remembers hot summer nights spent at the ice cream parlor down the street and even hotter days spent at the beach from back when she was young, way before John decided it wasn’t worth the trip.
“I’d like that.”
Her phone buzzes against the granite countertop and April jumps at the sound, hoping the message is from a certain friend. She frowns when she sees the text is from a different friend, one April forgot she even asked to hang out tomorrow.
Ezekiel: i have to go to my nana’s in the afternoon but i can do brunch. you know i’m always down for some hash browns.
“Hey, mom?” April’s voice reflexively shifts into the same one she used to use whenever she wanted to get something from John — high in pitch, soft in tone and undeniably sweet. “Can I skip church tomorrow? Ezekiel invited me to brunch.”
Mary Beth turns off the water from the faucet and holds out one of her wet hands. April passes her the towel.
“His family doesn’t have a mass to attend?”
“They’re more of the Christmas and Easter type of Christian.”
She eyes April intently, clearly mulling it over. “Fine,” she relents, “but just this once. I don’t want you turning into a Christmas and Easter type of Christian.”
April grins. “Yes ma’am. Thank you.”
April: brunch works.
April has a plan. She spent the whole morning working it out.
When they’re seated at a booth in the back of the diner, away from the crowd of early morning church goers, the first step has already been cleared. While they peruse the menus (step two) April doesn’t have to worry about small talk because Ezekiel doesn’t like to be bothered until he’s on his second cup of coffee. She knows from experience that he drank one in preparation for just showing up, but this buys her a little extra time. Then once their food comes, he’ll order his next cup and she can dive into step three, bringing up the latest gossip. With that they should be set for at least half the meal before she gets into their reason for meeting: Sterling Wesley.
This approach gives her the opportunity to casually bring it up, so it doesn’t seem like she’s just seeking advice or validation or whatever desperate thing April thinks she needs from Ezekiel. It’ll be nonchalant, she’ll play it cool, and he’ll leave no wiser than he came.
But Ezekiel blows her plan right out of the water as soon as their food is placed on the table.
“Why are we here?”
So much for step three.
“For brunch? You wanted hash browns,” April reminds him, attempting to get back on track.
Ezekiel doesn’t take the bait. He rolls his eyes. “You haven’t asked me to hang out one on one since you somehow attached yourself to Sterling Wesley. What’s the deal?”
April figures that nonchalance has never really been her forte anyway. “Okay,” she says, sitting up straighter and giving into the potential chaos of a foiled plan, “I might have a Sterling related problem.”
“Of course you do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ezekiel puts his hands up. “No need to get all bitey. It means that she’s sensitive and you’re, well...you. It was bound to happen.”
“You don’t even know what happened. She could’ve hurt my feelings.”
“But did she?”
He looks at April like he already knows the answer.
She shakes her head and just barely mutters a tight-lipped, “No.”
Ezekiel doesn’t gloat. He never does. Which is probably why this friendship works so well. On the rare occasion that he calls her out and April actually puts her ego aside to admit to whatever accusation he’s thrown at her, he just lets it go.
“Tell me everything.”
She doesn’t tell him everything. She can’t. The kidnapping and adoption parts of the story are completely off limits even for context. But April does tell him enough.
Without getting into why, she tells him Sterling had a fight with her mom and left the house without saying anything, that she had been acting weird and her phone was blowing up all night, that Blair had texted April in search of answers and April didn’t even know she so much as had Blair’s phone number, that she had brought Sterling back home after learning the truth, and that she hasn’t heard from her since.
“She’s definitely mad at you,” Ezekiel says casually, once April is finished. He doesn’t even look up from buttering his toast.
“What makes you think that?” April asks in a calm tone, instead of yelling why would you say that when I’m clearly fragile like she really wants to.
“I know you’re the ultimate suck up when it comes to authority figures, but you’re her friend. Not her mom’s.”
April blinks for a moment, then she shakes her head. “I’m not following.”
From over his coffee mug, April can see Ezekiel roll his eyes again. He savors a long sip before he puts it back down.
“Okay,” he starts, clasping his hands at the edge of the table, readying for an explanation. “When things were bad with your dad how would you have felt if I didn’t let you stay for dinner or if Hannah B. didn’t let you sleepover?”
April makes a point to ponder for a few seconds even though the answer is already obvious. She sighs. “I probably wouldn’t have spoken to you either.”
She knows it’s true. She also knows that simply not speaking to him would’ve been the bare minimum.
April would’ve been furious. She would’ve hurled a sharp insult his way and then shunned him for at least a week, probably more, all because she felt rejected and alone. But April also knows that these two situations aren’t exactly comparable. She is way more reactive than Sterling. She misdirects her anger and goes for the kill, while Sterling is much softer and way more careful with her words.
She might have cut April off when they were in fifth grade, but Sterling wouldn’t do it now. They’re past that. They’re friends. They’ve talked about their problems, their past regrets, their —
“What’s going on with you two?” Ezekiel wonders before April can fully spiral down that rabbit hole. He’s eyeing her carefully, already brewing with some of his own ideas. She pretends not to notice.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you ever worry if I’m mad at you?”
April shrugs. “I’ve never had to.”
A laugh bubbles out of Ezekiel before he can stop it or maybe he isn’t even trying to stop it anymore. April can’t quite tell.
“Sure, sweetie,” he says, still chuckling to himself.
She glares at him from across the table, ready to declare that she has no idea what he might be insinuating and that he can always find other friends if he’s so often mad at her, but Ezekiel smirks like he sees right through it, right through her.
April sighs. “Just eat your fucking hash browns.”
On Monday morning April rides to school with a fully caffeinated Ezekiel and Hannah B. The difference between them is that caffeine makes Ezekiel a functioning human and it takes Hannah B. to another, unnecessary, level of pep.
“I can’t believe neither of you were at church this weekend,” Hannah B. pouts from the middle seat in the back.
“I only go a few times a year,” Ezekiel says. “You shouldn’t have even noticed.”
“I always notice.”
Ezekiel turns to April in the passenger seat with his eyebrows raised. “So extra,” he mouths.
She stifles a laugh.
As the three of them walk from the parking lot towards the school, April notices Sterling up ahead, sitting on a bench. Her brain somewhat distantly recognizes it as The Bench and her stomach churns in anticipation.
The closer they get, the more April tunes out Hannah B.’s story about how her weekend was “so crazy,” but once April meets Sterling’s gaze from across the street, Hannah’s voice doesn’t even register anymore.
Sterling stands, eyes still locked with April’s. Was she waiting for her? April thinks so.
Her heart races as she crosses the street, only breaking Sterling’s stare to check for oncoming traffic, and then April is on the other side with Sterling standing in front of her.
“Hey,” Sterling says, somewhat nervous and distanced. Yeah, she was definitely waiting for April.
“Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Of course.” April turns to Hannah B. and Ezekiel, who are waiting for her a few steps ahead. “I’ll meet you inside.”
She ignores the way Ezekiel raises his eyebrows before dragging Hannah B. into the school.
“Shall we.” April motions to the bench and Sterling takes a seat just like she did all those months ago. April follows suit, sitting stiffly about a foot away.
For a moment they’re quiet, just watching people pass, and April wonders if Sterling is thinking about the lock-in too.
She surprisingly gets her answer unprompted.
“Have you sat here since?”
April shakes her head. It hasn’t always been a conscious avoidance, lately she has just walked past the bench without even noticing, but April remembers the Monday after the lock-in when she and Hannah B. were waiting for Ezekiel to be ready to go. Hannah B. had taken a seat, motioning for April to join her and something had clenched in her chest so tightly that she almost cried. Instead April insisted that she wasn’t too lazy to be on her feet for a few extra minutes and rattled on about the health benefits of standing until Ezekiel came outside.
“After everything,” Sterling gestures with her hand for April to fill in that blank as if she couldn’t have guessed for herself, “Blair and I started sitting here in the morning before school.”
April knows that if this bench meant heartache and regret for her, it likely served as a mark for where all the good things went wrong for Sterling.
“I was nervous about coming back here and my parents were afraid of letting me go just about anywhere, so Blair finally dragged me over here one day and said that we needed to confront our fears — or to quote her, ‘take control of the narrative or whatever.’”
April snorts at Sterling’s shockingly accurate Blair impression.
“Did it work?”
Sterling looks off for a second to think, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips as she decides, “Yeah, it did.”
For another moment things get quiet between them. A silent tension sets in, one that April thought they had outgrown, one that they haven’t experienced since she drove Sterling to therapy months ago. She knows what they have to talk about. She can feel it settling thick and heavy in the air around them, but April can’t bring herself to start.
Sterling breaks the barrier.
“I’m sorry about Friday,” she says, scooting closer until her knee rests against April’s. “I shouldn’t have put you in the middle of all that. I just wanted to get out of the house and be distracted, you know?”
“But I didn’t really think it through. Obviously from their perspective they would freak out when I suddenly disappeared.”
“Wow,” April says, a little bit teasing but also impressed with Sterling’s clarity on the matter. “I thought therapy wasn't until Wednesday. You worked that out yourself?”
“It’s amazing what you can come up with when you don’t just blindly dive head first into something.”
They both laugh and any sign of a strain between them quickly gets whisked away. When the laughter stops the silence is comfortable like it usually is, even with one more roadblock hanging over April’s head.
“I hope you’re not mad at me for bringing you home.”
“Mad at you? I could never.”
“I wouldn’t say never.” April playfully reminds her, “You’ve been mad at me before.”
“Well, I could never stay mad at you,” Sterling amends. “How’s that?”
April smiles. “I guess that works.”
With the air cleared, she sits up a bit taller, feeling lighter and more at ease than she did all weekend.
“You did the right thing,” Sterling says, and objectively April knew that, but what she didn’t know until now was that Sterling agreed. “It might not have been what I wanted at the time, but it was still the right thing.”
“I’m just glad you see it that way.”
Something passes over Sterling’s face, a realization dawning on her. She smirks. “Wait a second.” Sterling nudges April’s shoulder with her own. “Were you worried?”
April scoffs. “Hardly.”
“Oh, you totally were.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You were worried about me — about us,” Sterling corrects. That smirk has now grown into a full blown smile. It almost makes April as soft and tingly as the use of the word us, which is ridiculous, really.
Nonetheless, April relents, “We don’t usually go a whole weekend without seeing each other, let alone without speaking.”
“Well, I got grounded and my phone was taken away,” she says with an easy shrug. “It had nothing to do with you.”
Sterling rests her hand on top of April’s, warm and solid as she holds April’s stare. Her eye contact is a little too intense, even for April. It’s too soft, too sweet, too public, and too tempting for something she’s not supposed to feel for her friend.
April looks away, bringing her gaze down to their hands, and that’s not much better. It’s one thing to feel Sterling’s hand on hers, but it’s an entirely different thing to see it, smooth and soft and perfect, like it were meant to be there.
April clears her throat. “So you spent a whole weekend stuck with your parents and had no contact with the outside world? How did you survive?”
“Surprisingly, it wasn’t terrible.”
April perks up. “Really?”
“I mean, it was definitely uncomfortable at first, but I had nowhere to run off to. I had to just sit with it and by Sunday dinner it didn’t feel so bad.”
Now April flips her hand over so she can hold and give little reassuring squeezes to Sterling’s. Her crush doesn’t even register after news like that. Instead her focus is on her friend and all April feels is pride.
“That’s great, Sterl.”
“I guess so. It wasn’t perfect. We still have a long way to go, but…”
“Small progress is still progress.”
Sterling grins, like that concept is just now sinking in. “Yeah, you’re right,” she says. Her eyes then flick down to their hands and before April can worry that she has held too long for a platonic moment, Sterling gently rubs her thumb over April’s skin. “I think I might have dinner with them more often.”
“You should. If you’re ready.”
Sterling looks up again. “That doesn’t mean — it doesn’t, um…”
“Nothing changes here. Just because I might stay home to eat with them sometimes instead of going out with you doesn’t mean that I don’t—”
“Sterling,” April says softly, letting her own thumb trace over Sterling’s. “It just means that you’ll drag me out for ice cream more than greasy burgers and fries. I’m thrilled, honestly.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant.” Sterling’s smile starts out small, but it quickly grows, wide and bright. “Glad you’re on board.”
As soon as she and Sterling set foot in the hallway, April notices Ezekiel waiting just up ahead by the water fountain. She completely forgot she promised to read over his paper before first period.
“Hey, are we still studying for chemistry after school?” Sterling wonders, directly at April’s side.
April nods. “I printed two copies of my review sheet last night.”
“God, I love you—”
April’s heart nearly stops, butterflies buzzing in a swarm around her stomach, and her whole body seems to light up like a goddamn Christmas tree.
She can only hope she’s not visibly as red and wide-eyed as she feels warm and stunned.
Sterling stammers into adding, “—you and your review sheets.” She smiles awkwardly, gaze shifting and cheeks flushing with pink. For a second April almost thinks —
No. She shakes it off. Sterling can be embarrassed about blurting “I love you” to someone she has a romantic past with and not necessarily have current feelings to cover up. It’s perfectly reasonable.
What isn’t perfectly reasonable is April’s reaction.
“Well, I’ll, uh...see you later,” she blurts.
“Wait.” Sterling grabs April by the arm and pulls her back before she can get away. Dear God. That does more for her than it probably should. April might just sink into the ground right here. “You never told me about your weekend.”
“I got brunch with Ezekiel. Nothing exciting.”
This time when April turns on her feet, she actually does get away, rushed and abrupt and clumsy as she charges down the hallway.
“Nothing exciting?” Ezekiel repeats, hurrying to keep up with her. He smiles like he’s trying not to laugh. “Is that what I am to you?”
April sighs. “I know.”
She doesn’t have the energy to argue or deny it. Her mind is too busy whirling over the moment, combing through every detail, to worry about blushing in front of Ezekiel over the word love.
Sterling might not have meant it in the way that April’s body had interpreted, but after repeatedly analyzing that reaction — the rush through her veins, the tingle from head to toe, and the hope that burst across her chest — April can only reach one conclusion.
She loves Sterling.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.”
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
thank you for reading and commenting along with me on this one. hope to be back with something new soon :)