“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb."
- Mary Oliver, "Don't Hesitate"
April realizes they made a mistake before she even opens her eyes.
Well, mistake certainly feels like the wrong word, because she’d have to be a colossal idiot to regret anything that’s transpired between her and Sterling in the last eighteen hours.
Truly, after exchanging “I love you’s” with Sterling and then having sex (incredible, magnificent, transformative sex), April couldn’t wipe the smile off her face if she tried. And she really wasn’t particularly motivated to try, not when Sterling was smiling right back at her and finding dozens of little ways to touch her throughout the evening. Even Blair’s suggestive comments and Debbie’s knowing looks once the Wesleys returned weren’t enough to sour April’s mood.
So when Sterling rapped on her door after everyone else in the household had retired to bed, April knew that she should send her away.
But she also knew that she wouldn’t. How could she? When Sterling Wesley was leaning on her doorway with an eager grin, asking if April had any plans for the rest of the night, how was April possibly expected to do anything but roll her eyes and pull Sterling inside?
And yes, April definitely should have sent Sterling back to her own room after they had more incredible, magnificent, transformative sex, but the whole “sleeping side-by-side” thing had been a fantasy ever since the possibility was first dangled in front of April at the lock-in, and probably a lot further back than that, if she’s being honest.
Which is how April finds herself waking up with her cheek pressed to Sterling’s bare chest, her brain quickly kicking into panic mode while her body remains a few steps behind, still preoccupied by just how nice Sterling's warm skin feels.
“Shit,” April mutters, her body catching up as she lifts her head.
Sterling’s eyes snap open, taking a second to adjust before warming with affection.
“Hi?” April repeats, sitting up all the way. “We fell asleep! This is bad, Sterl. We didn’t even make it through the weekend before—” She drops her face into her hands. “Oh God.”
Sterling sits up herself, reaching a hand out to stroke April’s tangled mess of hair. “Hey, it’s gonna be okay. I really don’t think us sleeping together is going to be any great surprise to my parents.”
April glances over at the clock on her bedside table, sighing heavily when she notes that it’s after 8:00 AM.
“We have to get ready for church. Your parents are gonna kill me.”
“They will not,” Sterling insists.
April flings the covers off herself, ignoring the way Sterling’s gaze immediately drops to her breasts before tugging on her tank top from yesterday.
“I come into their home and immediately have sex with their daughter! Under their roof!”
“They love you. Honestly, I feel like they’ve been rooting for this to happen.”
“This coming from the girl who had to sleep in a tent after a single night of underage drinking.”
“My parents have changed a lot since then.” Sterling smiles softly. “I think we all have.”
“You don’t say.”
“Come ’ere,” Sterling murmurs, and April holds out for just a few seconds before relenting, leaning forward until her lips brush over Sterling’s.
“I love you,” Sterling whispers against her mouth, and the words seem to take root somewhere deep in April’s abdomen, branches stretching along her ribs and blooming up near her heart.
“I love you, too,” April replies, half-considering kissing Sterling with a little more intention before a loud knock on the door startles her backwards.
“Girls!” Debbie calls, just this side of sharp, and April winces. “Please collect yourselves and come downstairs!”
Sterling’s eyes widen in a way that would be comical if April wasn’t actively freaking out. “We could just jump out the window? Start a new life?”
“I’m not moving again.” April grabs Sterling’s t-shirt off the floor and tosses it to her. “C’mon, we don’t need to make things worse by dawdling.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard someone use that word in real life.”
“Well, the majority of people could stand to expand their vocabulary.”
Blair immediately starts cackling when April and Sterling arrive downstairs, which does nothing to quell April’s anxiety.
Debbie sets the coffee pot down slowly, shooting a weary glance over at Anderson, who’s midway through a bowl of cereal.
“Blair, honey,” Anderson says with forced lightness, “maybe now would be a good time to take Chloe for a walk?”
“Oh no, I’m good here,” Blair says with a grin, propping her elbows on the kitchen counter and setting her face on her hands.
“Blair,” Debbie says tersely, and Blair lets out a noisy exhale before dramatically retreating out of the room, though not before throwing a devilish eyebrow raise in Sterling and April’s direction.
The room falls silent in Blair’s absence. April is fiddling with something soft and pliable, and it takes her a minute to realize that the things she’s fiddling with are Sterling’s fingers; that they have, in fact, been holding hands since leaving her room.
As if what’s going on between them wasn’t obvious enough already.
Debbie leans her hips against the counter, arms folded. She doesn’t look angry, exactly, though April’s spent enough time around Debbie at this point to know that she isn’t always the easiest to read.
If April had to guess, she'd say that Debbie looks more…overwhelmed? Uncertain? Perhaps, way deep down, a bit amused?
Anderson, much like his daughters, is more of an open book, his face painted in clear bewilderment as he carries his empty bowl to the sink and stands beside his wife.
“Debbie and Anderson,” April starts, unable to bear the awkwardness, “We really didn’t—”
But Sterling cuts April off by squeezing her hand, voice firm as she declares, “April and I are in love with each other.”
Debbie smiles just a little at that. “We know that, sweetheart.”
“And we’re happy for you both,” Anderson adds. “Really, truly, I think y’all being together is pretty dang fantastic.”
April takes a second to let the ease of the comment settle; a statement that couldn’t be further from how she knows her own father would react to news of her relationship with Sterling.
Debbie shifts on her feet. “We also know that despite the way we might feel about the situation, expecting you two to remain…celibate at your age is probably pretty unrealistic.”
“And at least you can’t get each other pregnant,” Anderson offers.
“Right,” Debbie continues. “So with that being said, we just ask that y’all respect that you share this house with other people, and that there is a time and a place for certain…activities. It’s your business, and we don’t need to know about it.”
She shakes her head and holds up a finger. “Which, I want to be clear, has nothing to do with the fact that you’re both girls. This isn’t some homophobic ‘it’s okay as long as I don’t have to look at it’ bullshit. Pardon my French.”
April blinks, realizing quite suddenly that her eyes are filled with tears. She didn’t know it was possible to feel such a profound combination of being touched and being mortified all at the same time.
Debbie steps forward, her own expression softening as she takes April and Sterling’s free hands in her own.
“Ultimately,” Debbie says gently, “I want you girls to know how happy we are for you. I know that it hasn’t been the easiest road for the two of you, and we just—we support you, okay? If you need anything, you come to us. No matter what.”
“Yes, ma’am,” April and Sterling agree in unison.
Debbie nods. “Alright, then. Well, let’s get ready for church.” She lets out a small chuckle. “I think we could all use a healthy dose of Jesus this morning.”
“You okay?” Sterling whispers as they settle into the pew.
April nods, though she isn’t looking at Sterling. “Yeah, it’s—our old pew looks different from here.”
It sounds silly when she says it out loud, but it’s the truth.
In all the weeks that April has been coming over to the Wesleys, she still insisted on sitting in the Stevens’ pew at church, despite Debbie and Anderson’s invitations for her to sit with them. Not sitting in the regular pew felt like too much of a declaration, as though April was renouncing one family and officially choosing another. Even if that was what she wanted to do most days, she never felt brave enough to make the official switch.
Now, though, it seems utterly natural for her to file into the pew with the rest of the Wesleys, leaving her old pew to sit vacant. April wonders if other members of the congregation will eventually start sitting there, or if it will remain untouched, an unspoken shrine to a couple who April doubts anyone will actually miss.
“I had a pretty great view of your ass from back here,” Sterling whispers against her ear, and April coughs out a surprised laugh.
“Seriously?” she hisses.
Sterling nods, grinning and utterly shameless. “The sight of you in a church dress was the highlight of my weekends for a while there.”
“Dark times,” Blair snickers from Sterling’s other side.
“Or I just look really phenomenal in my church dresses,” April counters.
“Not mutually exclusive,” Sterling murmurs. “Though I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing you in that green one more often.”
April bites her lip, cheeks warming. “Really? I always think that one's a little too tight.”
“Yeah, that definitely isn’t a bad thing,” Sterling replies, breath hot on April’s neck.
“Y’all are disgusting,” Blair mutters. “I can’t believe I actually—”
“Girls!” Debbie whispers fiercely. “Please, for the love of the Lord, be quiet.”
April makes brief eye contact with both Sterling and Blair, and she can tell that all three of them are fighting back giggles.
It makes her think of church services when they were younger, before Luke, before April realized that being too close to Sterling was dangerous for them both. Back when Sundays would frequently end with playdates at the Wesley house, the three of them happy and laughing as they ran through the sprinklers in the backyard or watched music videos on Sterling’s bed.
Back before April trained herself to stand in her family’s pew and stare straight ahead, ignoring the way her whole body ached with the effort of not turning around to look at Sterling.
Now, it still aches a little as April glances over at her family’s empty pew, but the ache is accompanied by the clear, warm joy of knowing that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be, that she doesn’t have to pretend to be anyone she is not. That she will go home today with a family who loves her and a girl who’s in love with her.
After church Debbie and April change clothes and head out to the garden. Most of the vegetables that they planted at the beginning of the summer are ready to harvest, and Debbie wants to make a big salad for dinner tonight.
“Y’know, April,” Debbie starts as they load up the last of the vegetables, “if you ever want to have anyone over, you’re more than welcome to. Blair and Sterling pretty much just have each other, but I know you’re friends with Ezequiel and Hannah. Invite them over, any time.”
April can’t remember either of her parents ever actually suggesting that Ezequiel or Hannah could come over, more just begrudgingly accepting it and then being passive aggressive towards them the entire time.
April swallows the sudden lump in her throat. “Thank you, Debbie. That’s so nice.”
“Well, it’s important to have people around who care about you.”
Sterling is waiting inside when they come in with their bounty, her face lighting up as though April’s been gone for thirty days rather than thirty minutes.
“This stuff looks great,” Sterling remarks, plucking a bell pepper out of the basket April’s holding. “I can’t believe you grew all of this yourselves.”
Debbie smiles over at April. “Pretty impressive, huh? April, want to get a dressing started for us?”
Sterling glances between the two of them before asking in a small voice, “Actually, Mom, could I make the dressing? Maybe you could show me how?”
Debbie’s mouth drops open into a surprised O before she quickly nods. “Of course, sweetheart. I’d love to.”
April grins as she sets the basket of vegetables down and goes to wash her hands, watching out of the corner of her eye as Sterling dutifully follows Debbie to the fridge.
April considers the first few times she and Debbie cooked together, interactions made that much more meaningful by what April now understands about this family.
Debbie yearned for this, April knows; yearned to mother, to have someone to teach and nurture. And April needed that, too; needed a place where she felt safe and respected, needed to feel like she belonged somewhere.
April thought back then that what she had with the Wesleys was temporary, a time-limited solution to Blair and Sterling’s absence. But Blair and Sterling being here just makes it better, just makes them even more of a family. April can see now how these seemingly broken pieces have bonded back together, reconnecting even stronger than before.
“Hey,” Blair calls from the stool where she’s sitting with Bilko in her lap. The cat has taken an immediate liking to her, a development that April is secretly quite grateful for. “SVU tonight?”
From beside her, Anderson sets his book down. “You pulling my leg?”
Blair rolls her eyes. “Gross, Dad. But no, I thought it could be fun. To mock, obviously.”
“I’m in,” April agrees, stepping next to Sterling, who snakes an arm out to wrap around her waist.
“Me too,” Sterling says. “The hot blonde lawyer and the cop with the gay haircut totally hooked up, right?”
April looks over at Debbie and can’t help but let out a loud, unburdened laugh. Debbie and Anderson quickly join her, doubling over with their own easy laughter.
“What is it?” Sterling asks with both confusion and amusement.
April twists so that she can press a kiss to her girlfriend's cheek.
“Nothing,” she replies. “I’m just really happy to be home.”