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A Girls First Bounty

Chapter Text

One

He tucks his hair behind his ear, and smiles flirtatiously, an act designed to make me weak at the knees, and fall into his arms. I can practically hear the cogs in his head turning; can imagine the thought process behind each and every action he perceives to be 'hot' or 'sexy'.

I know in my heart that this boy would be considered somewhat attractive, and heavily ogled by another girl in my position, one who wasn't so female-inclined in the romance department, should a department even exist in this head of mine. When it comes to romance, my brain is more of a store closet than a department. A small room tucked away for the right moment. Cobwebbed, dirty, and somewhat depressing. 

Realistically, I know that I could get it over with right here and now; my first kiss. There's less pressure attached to a peck when you aren't interested in the person giving it to you, and a lot less hurtful when that person disappears without a trace, or even a text goodbye.

The air between us both is shallow, and I'm taking smaller breaths than I'm used to lest I not let a gust of wind out onto his face. 

And then I get to thinking...would I even care if I did?

This kiss would be in vain, and dare I say on par with kissing a brick wall. Displeasing and...simply wrong. False. And probably just as pleasurable.

I picture fireworks, my hand around a head full of hair, grasping desperately between heavy pants and longing sighs. Soft skin and full cheeks.

A redness reaches my face, and suddenly I'm letting out the gust of wind I swore I would keep in. 

"You're blushing, " he says, grinning, under the impression that his gaze has caused such an effect. The gust of wind I just created clearly not a talking point of conversation in his eyes.

If only I could tell him it was because of the fact that I am barely present in this moment, thinking about someone else, a girl who could never feel the same way as I do about her.

A girl by the name of Sterling Wesley. 

"You're right....I am..." I manage to muster, short of breath with awkwardness or anxiety, or a common concoction of the two. A vicious cocktail of nerves.

I know that he's about to move in closer, empty the space between us with his muscular body that I cannot bring myself to find even remotely inviting. 

And so I consider my options. 

I could kiss this boy, here, now, and forget the name of Sterling Wesley. I could marry this man, have his stupid muscular children, and live in a quiet suburb with an apron and a baking pan in my hand at all times and pretend I'm attracted to something that I will never be attracted to. Or I could run, now, and leave my lips un-kissed for another, whether it be Sterling Wesley or otherwise.

My hand reaches over his muscular chest, and then, I push. 

He is somewhat taken aback, and who can blame him? This music room has most likely seen many a couples making out, among other more non-christian activities. However, I refuse to be another notch on the bed post of a boy that I will never care for. 

Now if Sterling were in this music room, legs crossed on top of a classroom chair, her body atop a table, her hair band keeping her somewhat messy ponytail intact begging to be pulled out, this might just be another scenario. Alas, it is merely me and a boy. A boy that dare I say, I have forgotten the name of.

Andrew, Chris, Samuel, Mike? It escapes me. 

A game of 'guess the guys name you were about to marry and have 2.5 kids with in your head' is redundant at this very moment, and a game of 'lets get the hell out of here now and not look back' seems much more appropriate, and so, I do just that.

Andrew-Chris-Samuel-Mike utters not a single word as I make my way out of the music room and into the hall. I hear a simple sigh, and know that in this instance, I have won this round.

'Won' being a loose term in this instance, as I am still the only person I know in my grade that has never been kissed.

When I slam the music room door behind me, I feel like a lost girl being chased by a serial killer, a serial killer with no form or body, only presence. An attacker that has no name other than shame, fear, embarrassment. Idle words that feel less than trivial.

I’m not ashamed for being gay, and I’m hardly embarrassed, but fear is at the forefront of everything I do, everything I say. I’m terrified.

If word gets out that I might possibly be in love with Sterling Wesley, and by possibly, I mean I would literally walk through fire for her, I’d be over. My life would be over.

And so the knife is constantly at my back, digging in, drawing blood.

I can feel it as I press my body against the door, as I picture the door as her.

Debate team, that’s my life, is that why I am debating with my own brain every minute of every day?

Tell Sterling, don’t tell Sterling. Kiss Sterling, don’t kiss Sterling.

Kiss. Sterling.

Kiss. Sterling.

Kiss. Sterling.

And there she is. Not a mirage, not a non-existent entity like the knife at my back begging me to keep a secret.

In the flesh.

Her steps are somewhat graceful, somewhat clumsy, a rarity. She is a rarity. Her hair is down today, straightened, beautifully kept, and her eyes reflect the ceiling lights above her. If I wasn't already breathless from my previous altercation, I would be now.

She's approaching, closer, closer still, and suddenly my breathing finds a way to escalate anyway despite the harshness of my lungs already filling, deflating, filling, deflating. The knife at my back silently begs me to slow it down. And so, I do. 

When we're face to face, she looks at me with no distinguishable features, nothing to tell me what she's thinking on the inside. I probably wouldn't want to know, anyway.

"I need to get into the music room, Luke left his guitar in there, " she says, her words as empty as the kiss I almost shared with a stranger I will never care for.

Now it's time I play my part, the part I'm so accustomed to playing now.

"Maybe it's time you actually learn some manners, Sterling. The bible does teach us not to be spoiled brats you know, " I practically spit her name like fire, despite feeling like a dragon with nothing but smoke.

I push her shoulder with my own as I take my leave, and pray to god that the feeling of her body against mine lingers for the rest of the day.

Despite this, I know that it won't.

Chapter Text

Two

 

My less than inviting pasta pot sits at the cafeteria table, a fork grazing the top of it over and over, like the most ridiculous interpretive dance one could muster.

The bottom line is that I'm not hungry, because just a few lines above that in my head, my mind is pacing at a thousand miles a minute at the thought of Sterling Wesley opening the door to the music room earlier today only to find a boy standing in the middle of it, confused, dazed, and probably downright disappointed. 

And then my mind is no longer pacing...but sprinting. What if they know each other? What if he told her what happened? What if she knows I'm gay? What if she doesn't?

I'm watching her from afar, at her own table, conversation-deep with her sister, Blair. They're laughing now, heads leaned back in agreement that whatever was just ushered between them was nothing short of hilarious. Of course my thoughts go to dark places once again.

They're laughing at you, April.

They think you're just a tight-fisted know it all.

You mean nothing to Sterling Wesley.

If I theatrically shake my head in a comic-fashion, will my thoughts fall out of my ears? If they did, would they simply crash to the cafeteria floor for others to see, and laugh at? Would she laugh?

I sigh into my hands, pushing them back into my hair in an attempt to calm myself down, elbows planted firmly on the table. 

When Luke approaches, lunch tray in hand, and sits next to Sterling, my stomach starts doing flips. When he puts his arm around her, she smiles, and I have to look away. 

Does he realize just how lucky he is to be able to carry out such an act? When a simple graze of Sterling's shoulder hits me just right, I'm breathless. Is he ever breathless with her?

It quickly comes to my attention that this pasta pot is not being consumed today, and therefore, I have no real reason to be sitting in this room, watching the girl I'm in love with be in love with someone else, and so, I raise myself from my chair and make my way over to the bin, where my pasta pot, and whatever's left of my heart falls into it.

I could be doing something productive with my lunch time. There's plenty of class president posters that are in dire need of putting up, though I feel more 'insignificant' than 'president' in this present moment. I naively tell myself that the thoughts will subside, and therefore make my way over to the art room so that I can put the last finishing touches onto my posters.

Print-outs were never my style, and handmade posters seem far more personal. Once they're completed, they're going to be something to be admired.

And even if they aren't, the idea of doing something worthwhile might ease my conscience and in turn move my focus away from the fact that once lunch is over I will have to return to the classroom and sit next to Sterling for English.

Sitting next to the girl of my dreams shouldn't be so difficult, in fact, it should be sunshine and rainbows. Literally rainbows. 

I don't want her to wave a gay pride flag with me; I just want to be loved by her. 

Not thinking straight, I practically tell myself out loud to stop thinking about Sterling. There's work that needs to be done. Work unrelated to my love life, or lack thereof, and this is exactly what's going to get me found out. 

When I reach the art room, I'm greeted with a pleasant hug from Hannah who is lingering in the doorway, almost expectant of my arrival. Am I that predictable? She's campaigning this year too, and whilst she is my competition, she's also my friend first and foremost, and so, I hug her back.

"Your posters look simply amazing, April! I love the whole arts and crafts vibe going on with them" she says, sporting a toothy grin, her eyes creasing to small wrinkles on her face, head planted against the door frame once the hug ceases.

"Thanks Hannah" I smile back. "Yours look great too, and hey, everybody loves you, so I'm sure you're going to do great" I continue. Despite my positive words, deep down I'm praying that I gain the upper hand and become class president, though I can't help but feel a pang of guilt knowing that I am coveting popularity when I shouldn't be.

"Well, sure, people like me I suppose, but did you hear that Sterling Wesley is campaigning this year? Everybody likes her for some unknown reason, so that's pretty much me out of the picture, You should knock her down a few pegs, that girl thinks she's got everything coming to her" Hannah smirks, arms now folded as she awaits my inevitable comment of bitchiness. 

My heart is a bird in a cage of a skeleton, desperate to escape. I had no idea that she was campaigning for class president, but have every idea why everybody likes her. 

Everybody likes Sterling Wesley because she is brave, and beautiful at the same time. Everybody likes her because she is strong willed yet delicate.

Everybody likes her because she's not a heartless bitch like me.

I like her because she isn't me.

Alas, the knife is at my back again, and I am forced to do the thing I hate the most, which is lie.

"Ugh, of course she is. She has to get involved with everything. When will she learn that the whole world doesn't revolve around her?" 

The words are like acid on my tongue. The harshest part of this is that my words are true, they just aren't about her.

When I have to act the part, I turn the thoughts I feel about myself onto Sterling. That way I don't feel like I'm truly lying. If I consider myself the 'her' in that sentence, it isn't really a lie. 

"You're so right April. Even her face annoys me right now. I think it's just because I want to beat her at her own game so bad" Hannah comments.

There was once a short period of time in which I considered Sterling my enemy, and once I realized she was the opposite, it was too late to go back. The bridges I had built that relied upon friendship had burned, and rebuilding them could be dangerous, especially when the premise of friendship has since changed to much more than that for me. 

And so the bridges remain burned.

Sterling was never playing any games. And the fact that Hannah thinks she is makes me want to hit her.

But Hannah B is my friend, and Sterling Wesley is supposedly nothing more than a burnt bridge.

And burnt bridges cannot be rebuilt.

"Well then lets do it...lets beat her at her own game" I grin.

My smile is wide, believable I hope, because inside, I want nothing more than to defend Sterling Wesley with every fiber of my being.

Except my final strings are snapping.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Three

 

The graceful movement of Sterling Wesley is somewhat distracting, if 'somewhat' can be described as completely and utterly intoxicating. I've never been drunk before, but something tells me that the feeling I get when I watch her concentrate deeply on her text book can be easily compared to a night of debauchery and shots. 

She looks confused at the content before her, and if I had any ounce of bravery, I'd lean over her desk, and ask her if she wanted my help. Despite this, my body stays firmly planted in my seat. Helping her would only shatter the image I've felt obligated to create for myself these past few years. The image namely being that she doesn't completely and utterly infatuate me.

Blair completes the scenario in my head by leaning over to mock Sterling's concentration face, mimicking her expression with her own features. Whilst I would never admit it to either of them in person, their sibling connection is that to be admired. 

English class has always come naturally to me, a collection of beautiful words stringed together is my idea of a good time. A collection of beautiful words stringed together about Sterling is my idea of Heaven.

The rain is beating down outside the windows, and I take the heaviness of each drop against the glass as a welcomed distraction. It's a distraction I can deal with, one that won't tear me away from my studies. 

Despite this, the conversation next to me is somewhat of a disturbance.

"You know what I'm talking about, Sterl. Bowser wants us to meet him at the fountain in the middle of town."

Blair is about as subtle as a tornado, leaving scattered loud mouthed whispers in her path. Whispers that are easy to decipher when you're a mere few feet away.

"I've got my campaign posters to think about, Blair! You go and deal with Bowser. I'm sure whatever he's got planned isn't a three man job!" Sterling whispers back, even more audacious than Blair's previous remarks.

"But you're a better shot than I am!" Blair practically screeches, and suddenly the entire classroom is alert.

A better shot? 

It's no secret that Sterling's family is very much pro-firearm, however their conversation does not seem very hunting-orientated, if the supposedly conspicuous whispering is any indication.

In my head, I'm telling myself that I want no part of whatever it is Sterling and Blair are up to, but then why do I keep on looking over, eager to hear each and every word that falls clumsily out of their mouths?

It appears the conversation has since died now that all eyes are on them, and so I attempt one last time to focus on my reading.

I say attempt, because when my peripherals catch Sterling's eyes fixed on the side of my head as I'm leaning down, the idea of focusing my attention on anything other than her is crazy to me. It may be because she noticed that my attention was on her moments earlier. It may be because she is silently requesting my help. It may be because she wants me too.

Who am I kidding? She's got Luke. Why would she ever want me?

I just need to get through this class. She's not in my Math group as she has always been placed in the highest set when it is completely not my strong suit. We are opposites in that regard. Where she struggles with English, numbers might as well be signs of elephants and monkeys to me, because they make just about as much sense.

Although I could never let her know such a thing.

Thinking back to words exchanged with Hannah B in the art room today makes my legs go numb, like I'm staring down at the world from the edge of a needle point. One slight move, and I'll fall off, or fall through. 

Sabotaging Sterling's campaign is the last thing I would ever want to do, but now I've got myself into this quicksand of lies, and I'm not sure if I can pull myself out this time.

I make a crude assumption from the overheard discussion moments earlier that Sterling was planning on staying behind today to finish her posters, but Blair has other ideas.

Should she not attend the art room later this afternoon after school, it wouldn't be particularly difficult to destroy all of the work she has completed thus far. If I really want to sell this hatred for Sterling so badly, this would be the perfect opportunity.

I turn to face her, and oh my goodness does she look beautiful right now. I have to practically gulp down my adoration.

"Well, let's just say I'll be in the art room until late this evening if that was your plan. So if you want to spend the night with me, go ahead! You can clean the paintbrushes for me" I hiss. 

Here comes the acid feeling again.

"...okay. Looks like the Wicked Witch of the West has spoken!" Blair bites back, leaning over Sterling as if to protect her dignity. I admire it, though she'll never know.

Truth be told, the idea of spending the night with the girl I'm in love with sounds like the most perfect way I could spend a Tuesday, but being alone in a room with Sterling is dangerous territory; especially when I've debated so many times in my head about how to say out loud that I have feelings for her.

I think that the world slows down ever so slightly when you look at me

I think you're the most beautiful person I've ever laid my eyes upon

Sterling, I think I love you

And so, the acid feeling will have to stick around.

Sterling simply sighs into her book, and the act makes my chest hurt. Telling the girl of my dreams that she can't have what she wants when I want to give her everything is incredibly conflicting, but it's all I have. I'd rather talk to her in small sputters of abuse than never at all. I just wish that it didn't have to be either of those daunting options.

It is highly apparent that I will not be continuing my silent reading for the remainder of this period. Whilst my eyes are seemingly focused on the ink, my mind is focused on the idea of completely ruining Sterling's passion to run for class president.

Tonight, I think I'm going to have to.

 

 

Chapter Text

Four

When class is over, I allow myself to get swept up in calming music to remedy my harsh breaths. An individual as high strung as myself should not be getting involved in affairs that may or may not include destruction of property. 

Breathe in, and out.

In and out.

In and...why isn't the 'out' part coming?

The hallway feels longer all of a sudden, expanding like the anxiety welling up inside my chest, and somewhat never ending. It's like the architecture of this building is somehow plotting against me; an indication that this is not just burning down a bridge to Sterling's heart, it is discarding the ashes simultaneously. 

When I finally reach the art room, after what feels like treacherous paths have been crossed and obstacles have been leapt over, I place my hand on the wood of the door, and pause. I allow myself to exhale once again, a task considered so easy to those who are not standing on the precipice of heavy weighted decisions and even heavier afterthoughts. 

A snapshot of Sterling's disappointed features from earlier comes so quickly into my mind that I wonder if thoughts truly can sprint, or just as easily get up and walk away. Except I don't want this particular snapshot to go anywhere. I want it to stay as firmly planted as I was to my seat in English class. Granted, I wish this image was different. I wish a smile was lacing the picture together, and suddenly I'm trying desperately to unthread and rethread my psyche, should an act even be possible.

Except, in this instance, she's not smiling for a reason, and she won't be, if I carry out the actions that I am about to.

I can't do it. I can't hurt her like this. I won't.

A gasp escapes my lungs as two firm hands press into the side of my torso, and when I turn I am greeted by Hannah B.

Instinctively, I pull out my headphones, though the safer option here would be to leave them in, because whatever the girl has got to say to me can't be good.

"You didn't think I was going to make you do this alone, did you? We do everything together!" she smiles, as if the idea of hurting someones feelings is such a beautiful feat, your garden-variety bonding activity.

I could have avoided this. I should have avoided this, and yet here I am, standing in front of the doorway, seemingly eager to destroy someones hard work.

I feel sick.

Hannah B almost pushes me through the doorway of the art room, as if her mind has already informed her that I was in fact struggling to even enter. How long had she seen me hovering, deep in thought?

When I turn around to face her, I'm faced with a spread of Sterling's posters at the same time, sprawled across one of the desks at the other end of the room. Similarly to my own, she has attempted to hand craft her posters as well, though dare I say it, a child may have in fact done better.

I can hear Sterling's voice in my head should I have mocked her. An event that would have been possible if I hadn't have discarded her wishes to come to the art room after class like used bubblegum.

"Well it's the information on them that counts anyway, besides, I put a lot of time and effort into finding the right glitter for the borders of text."

I smile to myself at the thought, until I rapidly realize that such an expression may seem sinister given the circumstances of what it about to occur. 

But what if she did spend ages trying to get those borders just right? What if she agonized over the colours of each type of paint she used? It is no secret that she has been in the art room a considerable amount lately, I had just never focused my attention on why. I had no idea she even cared about being class president.

What if this breaks her heart?

I told myself moments earlier that I simply could not let this happen, and nothing has changed. I'm still that same girl in the doorway minutes earlier.

"Hannah" I blurt, before I can even think of how to follow once I've said her name.

"Yes, April?" she says, taking one of Sterling's posters in her hands as she does so. 

I'm overthinking this again. What if Hannah knows I'm in love with Sterling? What if she's holding my heart in her hands on purpose? 

I can't focus on that right now. I just have to focus on putting an end to this.

"I don't think we should do this. As much as I hate her," I say, stomaching down the words, though deep down reflecting the words upon myself like always, "you know that she's only going to tell the principal, and I even told her that I'd be in the art room today. So I've got no alibi. Let's just...leave it, okay?" I ask, begging from the inside of my mind that she'll do the right thing.

She pauses for a moment, but only for a moment.

The first poster tears down the middle, and I hear myself let out a loud breath. A clear indication of hurt.

"Look, we'll just say that I found you at the art room and we left straight afterwards. We were only here for five minutes. After all, that's all this is going to take anyway" she winks.

The discarded pieces of paper lay flat against the floor, along with my stomach and desire to be able to stop her.

And then goes another, and another, until there's nothing but shreds of an unknowing girls effort among the tiles. 

This is my cue, the time in which I'm supposed to act my part; laugh, soaking in the misery of others, and yet I don't think I'm strong enough to swallow the acid this time.

"I..." I pause, as I feel my eyes begin to moisten under the stress of the events that have just taken place in front of me. I muster up my final shards of will power to keep the tears from falling, thus keeping my true feelings intact. 

"You look pale, are you okay, April?" she asks, a genuine act of care from such a devilish girl. 

"Yes, Hannah, of course I am. I'm just worried about getting caught that's all. We should get out of here before somebody see's us" I choke. The words are forced, faster than I'm inclined to speaking. I gulp back my sentence like an ill-tasting medicine, and let the well-deserved pain overcome my throat.

I don't allow the shell of what is meant to resemble a human to respond back, and merely take my leave before my body collapses in on itself like a house of cards. 

Whilst I may have never been truly kissed before; there is a weighted truth that can be stated with full conviction.

I can now, without a doubt, kiss goodbye to any morsel of a chance of being loved by Sterling Wesley.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Five

Today is going to be horrendous, and even the sky seems to know it. A haunting fog seeps over the fields parallel to the school grounds, like an eerie premonition of what’s to come. I'm not as naive as to believing that the world and its weather pattern really does revolve around my mental state, but currently, it appears that it certainly knows when to pick the dimmest of clouds to paint its self-portrait.

The situation as it currently stands can only be summarized in terms of Shrodingers cat. At this particular moment in time, the scattered remnants of what was once Sterling Wesley’s campaign posters have been discovered and yet undiscovered at the same time. The fact of the matter is that I cannot know for certain whether someone has found what remains of Sterling’s art until I enter the building, until I see her face for myself.

Will the life be sucked out of her cheeks, or will they be full and red with promise?

Regardless of her current mindset, happy or otherwise, she will find out sooner or later, and if her eagerness to get to the art room was any indication yesterday, it will be the former option.

The bell rings, and it is very unlike myself to be outside of the school building when this happens. In fact, I have often perched myself in my assigned seat many moments before. But today is going to be horrendous, and apparently the sky knows it, and therefore, it seems only appropriate to be hovering at the gates, desperate for some form of excuse to get out of here.

That is when I notice the two of them, Sterling and Blair, arms linked together, walking up towards the school premises. It is only when they get closer that I notice Sterling has been crying, her cheeks tinged with redness, stained tears and watery eyes.

And suddenly Shrodingers cat no longer applies.

She knows.

She already knows.

And I am standing right before her.

I tell myself that this is it. The moment when I tell her that I want nothing more than to be able to wipe her tears away, and kiss the cheek that has since been tainted with salt.

Blair will simply have to understand. The world will simply have to understand.

But then she walks past me. The both of them do. With not a single word exchanged between us.

It is like I am a spectator to Sterling’s life, and shall never be anything more than that. She may be crying because of last nights events in the art room. She may be crying for another reason entirely. A reason that I’m not destined to know, because I am nothing to Sterling but a passing glance. A simple retort waiting in the wings, ready to attack her when she’s down. When she leaves these grounds, I’m a non existent entity, and yet she encapsulates everything I desire, everything I could possibly imagine to be considered ‘good’ and ‘whole.’

She is on the backs of my eyelids every night before I go to sleep, and yet I will never know what is on the backs of hers.

I make my way into the building, though I do not get very far, as I am halted in my tracks when Luke practically pushes me over in order to get to Sterling, my point about being non-existent fermented by the action.

“Sterling please, I love you. Don’t do this. I need you” he pleads.

The April Stevens this school has come to know would not turn around to engage in this conversation. She would walk away, completely devoid of all emotion about the subject.

Except the real April Stevens cannot seem to do so. The real April Stevens cares very deeply about whether Sterling’s emotional state will remain intact, or not.

“Luke, she’s already told you that it’s over, so leave us alone, okay? Just give the girl her space now” Blair retorts, using the hand that isn’t linked to Sterling’s to simply wave him away.

She takes a moment to look over towards me, my face a still canvas, unpainted, with no indication of how I truly feel about the situation. It’s become an art form.

Sterling doesn’t even take a second to look up, the ground her only form of solace it seems as she clings onto her sister like her life depends on it.

Her world has just been shattered, and today she will find out that another piece of the puzzle is missing.

Suddenly I feel like an ornament, held in the balance of a careless child, a child whom of which would not care if he were to drop me. Today I will shatter.

If behaving like a total bitch was a physical mask that I forced myself to put on every day, the mask would currently be at home, too heavy to lift to put to my face and to wear.

Today, I am simply April Stevens. At least, I’m going to try to be.

I turn away to face the hallway once again and take my leave. I might not be able to comfort Sterling as I desire to, but I can leave her be without hurting her any further with my sour words to linger in the air among all of her other worries.

Especially when I know what is coming.

My first period is with Blair, and Blair alone, and so I observe discretely as the both of them hug each other goodbye like this is the last time they will see each other, before making my way into the classroom.

It appears that the lesson has not yet commenced, and I feel fortunate to have not tarnished my spotless record, though a larger part of me was hoping that something would come out of it. I deserve a spot on my record. I deserve a lot worse, in fact.

I take my usual seat beside Hannah B, not even daring to make eye contact with the girl that has ruined any chances of me ever being able to rebuild a relationship with Sterling.

Blair follows into the room shortly after, taking a seat beside a very broken looking Luke. I think I know partially how he feels.

We are mere minutes into the lesson before our art teacher enters the room.

“Can I borrow you for a moment, Blair? It’s in regards to your sister. She needs you.”

I always thought that your heart falling out of your chest was just an expression, and yet I hold my hand over my chest anyway, just to keep it inside.

If I truly am an ornament held in the balance by a careless child, I believe I have since been shattered.

Chapter Text

Six

The room is a crescendo of high pitched gossip and idle chit chat. Despite the incessant babbling my heartbeat somehow manages to remain louder than the noise that surrounds it, as if it is attempting to make an escape, to find another body to occupy with a life far less complicated than mine.

"I heard she broke up with Luke" one student comments.

"That's what I heard too. I never thought that they were in love anyway" says another.

I can feel Hannah B staring me down, as if she is attempting to send me telepathic signals, ones that inform me that we will not be turning ourselves in any time soon. 

Blair eyes up the room, a silent indication that the class can spread rumours all they like, but there will be consequences, before taking her leave in a hastily fashion.

I want to be the one that goes to Sterling. I want to be the one to hold her close, to tell her that everything will be fine, except I played a different role, and there's no room for playing multiple characters in this performance, especially when I'm the reason that she needs comforting in the first place.

We share next period together, and I am unsure as to what outcome would be worse, for her to be there, or for her to not be there at all.

Or for me to be there, or to not be there at all.

Desperate as I am to see her, to use all of my will power to be able to transfer some form of energy into her, I've got nothing in me to give. A lifeless person cannot grant life to another lifeless person, just as I can't turn back time and stop Hannah B doing what she did. 

We can only go forward, and heal.

"April, did you hear me? April?" 

Miss Headley calls my name from the front, and my head lifts so quickly upward that I hear my neck crack. 

"Yes, of course, I'm sorry, what was it that you required of me again?" I ask, completely unaware of what may have been directed my way moments earlier. 

And then it dawns on me.

She knows, they all know. I'm being sent to the principal. I'm going to expelled for what I did. 

"I asked you to hand out the assignments. Honestly, April, it really isn't like you to lose focus like this. Once you've completed the task, save one back for Blair; you can give it to her when you next see her" says Miss Headley.

The words almost evoke a laugh from deep inside me, a laugh I didn't know could possibly be stored there given the current situation. If this is Gods way of getting back at me for what I did to Sterling, then she has an excellent sense of humour. Not only was I literally on the edge of my seat moments earlier expecting expulsion, but I have also been forced to hand an assignment to the sister of the girl that I'm secretly in love with. A girl who hates me no less.

Making my way over to the front of the room, I allow myself to calm my breathing in a crude attempt to remain inconspicuous. I'm often so very good at pretending like I'm not hurting, so much in fact, that it scares me.

Once I've reached Miss Headley's desk, I take the assignments in my hand, and begin to distribute them among the class, presenting them with the perfect April Stevens smile that they've come to know and hate.

I do as instructed and save one back for Blair in order to give to her later, if she'll even let me get anywhere near her.

If she finds out what I did to Sterling, I won't have to track her down. She'll do all the tracking herself. 

Hannah B barely waits for me to be seated again before she taps me on the arm and shoots a 'psst' my way.

"What?" I ask, far more sternly than I intended, the resentment I now hold for her rising up inside of me like boiling water.

"Jeez, chill out, April. I was going to ask if you wanted to come over tonight, watch a movie?" she asks, the act so effortless, as if Sterling was yesterdays agenda, and not worth today's time.

"That sounds lovely" I respond, practically coughing the words out like a germ, "except I have dinner with my parents tonight. We're ordering Chinese." 

Whilst family dinners are hardly eventful, I am grateful in this instance that I have an excuse to stay as far away from Hannah B as I can. Diving into a pit of snakes would be equally as enticing as a movie night with the enemy at present. 

"Suit yourself" she shrugs, applying lipstick as she speaks, pouting to ensure it has been applied to her standards.

I spend the rest of the time focusing on the words falling out of Miss Headley's mouth, taking notes where I can, and applying myself to my learning. I couldn't be the slightest bit interested in the content, especially considering the fact that Math is about as intriguing to me as the idea of sleeping with a boy, but any distraction right now is a welcome one; the easiest way possible it seems to make this hour fly by so that I can see how Sterling is doing afterwards. 

When the bell rings, I find myself hurtling out of my chair so quickly that it falls over. I don't turn around to pick it up.

The April Stevens this school has come to know would have done, but today, I can't be that girl. I just don't have the focus, nor the will-power to do it.

I feel the knife in my back again, pressing itself into my spine, so real that it stumbles my movement as I walk. 

You're not being discrete enough, April.

You're going to get us caught.

You need to let Sterling go.

I find myself reaching History class in a haze, as if I've staggered here, drunk, begging for a glass of water and a place to lie down. 

At present time, after I pull back the door to the room, I notice that I'm the only one here, and so I take my usual seat and attempt to exhale out the events of today, as if things could ever be that easy.

It is a mere sixty seconds I estimate before the wave of students begin flooding in, and I am desperately searching for that blonde head of hair I've come to adore. Except she never comes.

And when class commences, she still isn't here.

Ten minutes later, and her seat is still empty.

After twenty minutes, I have bitten my nails down to the very edge of my fingertips, and so I decide to move onto the skin around them.

Thirty minutes into History, the door opens, and Sterling gracefully enters the room with her gaze locked to the floor, her makeup smudged ever so slightly, and her delicate hands clenched into tight fists.

"Sorry I'm late" she practically whispers, and suddenly I can feel my heart beating loudly in my chest once again. I pray that no one, especially Sterling, can hear it.

She takes the seat beside me, her seat. 

If you were to tell me that the world would end just by looking at her, world be damned I would do it anyway. 

And so I do.

Her eyes are red around the edges, her face puffed around them. She takes her pencil in her hands and begins taking notes instantaneously, as if life is continuing on as normal, when normal is something she has never been accustomed to. I picture her mind as an abundance of threads, interwoven, or at least, they used to be. Each thread making up a piece of Sterling Wesley: who she is, what she likes for breakfast, what her favourite type of weather is. 

Snap, snap, snap.

I see the threads fall away inside her brain, as if every moment like this cuts away another part of her, until she is merely machine. A ritualistic robot wielding a pencil. Her eyes tell me nothing. 

Right now I can imagine she is thinking that someone hates her. Enough to destroy all of her efforts. Enough to wish her to feel worthless. Except I could never hate her. 

It's me, Sterling. I'm the girl. Nobody hates you.

The counterfeit April Stevens would sit here, idle and nonchalant. She might even look over at what she's created and smirk, just long enough for the girl to witness it.

Except the counterfeit April Stevens has not attended her classes today, and the real April has attended in her place.

"Sterling" I whisper, the hairs on my arms raising at the sound of my voice, and whom it is directed at.

She turns to look at me with those vacant eyes, and inside I'm crying for her.

"Would you like to go over my notes with me at lunch time? I can catch you up on what you missed" I offer.

The seconds between us fall away, as if I can literally feel myself aging with each passing moment that she doesn't say something.

"Sure" she manages to muster, before finding her way back to the page in front of her, her pencil in motion once again.

Whilst there may be no energy left inside of me, I will do literally anything to help her rethread that beautiful mind of hers again.

The knife in my back presses harder than ever.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Seven

One day of being me; less than a day, that’s all the time it took to start rebuilding my relationship with Sterling, brick by brick.

Such a task is bound to be slow at first, for a foundation is only as strong as the ones who make it. I’m not feeling strong right now, brave, perhaps, but not strong, and I can’t imagine that Sterling is, either.

But a small step is still a step nonetheless, and a lunchtime spent discussing history is better than discussing nothing at all. If it were up to me, we’d talk about everything and anything; the realm of possibility as large as we want it to be.

I’d ask her who her favourite author is, along with what makes her happy, what makes her sad. I’d ask her if she still has those glow in the dark stars I bought her when we were growing up. When things weren’t so complicated because I didn’t know what love was at the time.

Now that I do know, it’s at the forefront of my mind every time I look at her. We aren’t kids staring at the stars anymore. Sometimes, more often than not, I wish that we were.

When I enter the cafeteria, I see Sterling perched at one of the nearby tables, engaged in conversation with her sister. They’re not laughing like they usually are, but this is to be expected given the previous events that today has unfolded. Whilst it’s a perfect time to hand Blair her assignment from Math class, I can’t help but feel a pang of disappointment at her presence. The idea of time with Sterling, alone, despite the bustling traffic of people surrounding us, is still somewhat favourable. Especially when the prospect of spending time completely alone with Sterling is completely out of reach, however desired.

It is Blair that notices my arrival first, and when she stands, I expect her to take her leave at another table, and yet instead, she simply waits for me to remove the distance between us.

My body harnesses the pain before it can even register what has happened to it.

I feel the hand smack into the side of my face a few moments after the act has been committed. Only then do I understand what has just occurred. 

The movies don’t appreciate the sting of a hard slap, the victim of such always regaining their stance mere seconds after the deed has been committed. The real thing is nothing like that.

My face tingles, harsh pin pricks against the skin, heating up, and up, and up. I can practically feel the redness emerge, painting me an awful shade of distressed.  

I want to shout at her; ask her why she would do such a thing, except there’s no need. I may struggle with Math, but I can put two and two together. In this instance, it all adds up perfectly. And she doesn’t deserve the hit back, in word form or otherwise.

Sterling turns to face me in her seat, and I can see the water underneath her eyes like the sea about create a tide. I can also see that she is trying her best to stop the waves from breaking.

I know exactly what that feels like, except I also know that the sea is destined to create that movement of water, just as Sterling is destined to cry.

When she stands by her sister, her presence hovers above me, and I can do nothing but watch as the events unfold, similar to that of the entire cafeteria as they enjoy the show. I’m a spectator with them.

“Aren’t you going to say something?” Sterling asks, vicious, disappointed, begging me to take a leading role. Her head tilts to the side ever so slightly, a form she only tends to take when she’s either annoyed, or deep in thought. I wonder if she knows all of my mannerisms, and why my body takes certain shapes depending upon the situation.

Of course she doesn’t.

But I know hers.

I rub the side of my cheek to relieve the sting. Once the pain subsides, I play the part Sterling is begging me to play.

“I don’t understand, I-”

I do understand, I understand wholeheartedly as to why she requires an explanation. Despite this, I’m cut off before I can continue.

“Please don’t play dumb. I think I know you well enough to know how smart you unfortunately are. You ruined my posters! You ruined all of that work that I put into them! Do you even know how long it took me to do all that?” she asks, begging for answers. I see the first tear leave her cheek and my breath catches ever so slightly. I hope that she didn’t notice, and at the same time I hope that she did.

“I knew you were heartless, April” she continues, “...but I didn’t know you were capable of this."

Her words hurt a lot worse than the slap that preceded it. I feel everything with my heart, I just wish that she could know that. In another life, maybe she would.

Has she forgotten the stars? I haven’t.

When I stare into her eyes I can practically feel them burning. The redness encapsulates her pupils just like it did my cheek. They betray her, because her hopes to keep herself from crying was only that, a mere hope as she begins to sob inside the walls of the cafeteria.

“Sterling, please I let me explain” I beg. At this point I’ll do anything. I’d kiss her in front of all these people if it meant making things right. Despite the knife in my back, I’d let my conscience take me.

No further words are exchanged before she takes her leave, and yet Blair remains, her face a picture of hatred and disgust, and I certainly cannot fault her for it. In fact, I applaud her for being the person I so desperately want to be for the girl that I adore.

“Go on, then. I’m absolutely dying to know what you have to say about ruining Sterling and Hannah B’s work” Blair spits.

Hannah B? Why would Hannah B’s work be…?

“You’re telling me that Hannah B’s posters are trashed too?” I ask, genuinely curious, the entire charade now disorientating, even to the one who perpetrated it.

“Don’t act like you don’t know what you did, April! God! There are only three runners for class president this year, and your posters are the only ones that didn’t get destroyed! I’m pretty sure we don’t need to call a detective to get to the bottom of this one, do we?” she mocks, sarcastically. Her body moves in time to the words, leaning into me for emphasis. 

It is clear to me now that there are other forces are work here. Forces that witnessed me stumble as I fell out of my chair earlier today in desperate need to see a certain persons face. Forces that realize that I might not hate Sterling as much as unknowing eyes think I do.

Oh Hannah B, you’re not stupid, are you?

She knew she wasn’t going to win, that it would always be a battle between Sterling and I. When the school starts sniffing out suspects, what better way to throw them off your scent than to destroy your own project?

I could tell Blair, here and now, what really happened yesterday, and as I open my mouth to tell the truth, my truth, my mind has other plans.

“You’re right” I say, the phantom words falling out of my mouth before my body can even register them. “I did what I thought I had to do. Now run along, and go cuddle up to your sissy” I retort, waving a hand in her direction to indicate that this is the end of the conversation.

If sentences could bleed, my mouth would be full.

I take my cross to bear, and swallow down the iron taste.

Chapter Text

Eight

 

When I arrive back at home, I close my bedroom door firmly behind me, and allow my body to slowly sink into itself and onto the carpet beneath. Currently, I’m half-human, half-rag-doll, full of old scraps, and useless material.

I know that in just a few moments I will have to go downstairs and play the part of April Stevens again; the one with the hardened exterior. The one whose insides don’t feel like cotton wool and stuffing. To my family, I’m the prized church girl. I rise early on Sundays, and would never even dream of premarital sex. When the time is right, I will find a man who will love me, and I him, and we will raise children together. And those children will be prized church goers. And they will rise early on Sundays.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go.

A never ending cycle of ritualistic fantasies; except the fantasy is not mine.

My faith is important to me, a key reason for me to wake in the mornings and to live my life. I’m not ashamed to love God, nor am I ashamed to love women, but the two should not be mutually exclusive, and so I refuse to believe that they are.

And so I may be the prized church girl, and I may indeed rise early on Sundays. But when the time is right, I will find a woman who loves me, and I her, and when and if the situation presents itself, we will raise children together. And those children may or may not be prized church goers, and they may or may not rise early on Sundays. Such a decision is not mine to make.

I know that I love Sterling Wesley, and I know that the dream I have in my head of what I want my future to be could easily fit her in it. Except it appears that the pieces of her puzzle do not currently coincide with mine, her future parallel to my ideals, and it is something that I can never force, no matter how much I desire it to be so.

Despite this, now is not the time to play the role of lovesick teenager. Now is the time to go downstairs and greet my parents, and when they inevitably ask me how my day went; I will proclaim that it is a day like any other, uneventful and not worth discussing.

I just wish that it were true.

***

 

I’m pulled into a hug when I enter the dining room, my mother always a short embodiment of affection. I envy her effortlessness to be able to love so openly. I get my passion from her, and yet I am so reluctant to show it. It’s like I’m not only hiding my true myself; I’m hiding what she made me.

We’re sticking to the sub-par plates once again, the fine China a mere decoration to line the cabinets of the room. It is highly apparent that my family enjoy the idea of them, and not the actual act of using them. Sometimes I feel like that, a trinket that is fine in theory, and yet not in practice. My lesbianism is allowed to be nothing more than a decoration hidden behind a cabinet door, never to be touched.

I pull a seat out for my mother, a silent way of indicating that I’m still very much like her; dripping with sentiment and emotion, and should the time come when I’m able to be myself, she will know just how much. 

When we have all placed ourselves at the dinner table, my father begins the meal by saying grace. We link hands like always and the ritualistic dinner routine is somewhat comforting given the day that has preceded it.

We say ‘amen’ in unison once the prayer is over, and I pick my fork up with haste, desperate to have something line my stomach, considering the fact that I haven’t eaten anything in almost 24 hours, the idea of food so preposterous what with current events.

“How was your day, April?” my father asks, as if on cue.

My brain has made it rather clear that it would much rather be stuffing down the noodles in front of it than piece together a lie about how the day went, one that doesn’t include being slapped in the face and watching the girl I love hate me even more than she had once previously.

“It was fine” I mutter between bites. “Nothing exciting really happened.”

“I wish I could say the same” he responds, putting down his cutlery to grab a napkin to the side of him before continuing. “I passed your school today on the way to work. You’ll never guess what I saw” he says, waiting for me to ask him directly as if he can’t possibly finish the story without it; rich people and their etiquette never falters. 

“What did you see?” I ask, taking a sip of my water.

“Two boys at your school, approximately your age, holding hands with each other” he grimaces, as if the words are poison, a foreign taste so despicable on his pallet. I almost expect him to spit it out, as if the act of harsh remarks can be rejected by the mouth that declares them.

I don’t notice that I’ve dropped my glass of water until the liquid drips off the table and into my lap.

“Clean that up, April, quickly, you’re going to ruin the mahogany, go on” he pushes, waving a hand in my direction. “About what I said though, just make sure you avoid people like that. In fact, I’m tempted to call this so called bloody ‘Christian’ school and give them what for” he concludes, pointing his fork in my direction once has has picked it up again in order to continue eating his meal, as if the world hasn't just collapsed from the sound of his voice.

And yet it feels as if it has.

In many ways I am grateful that my water spilled, for it gives me an excuse to vacate myself from my chair and leave the room in order to obtain a towel to dry up my mess.

Closing the kitchen door behind me when I enter, I close my eyes and focus on my breathing once again, allowing large painful gulps to hit my oesophagus as they fall.

“Calm down, April, calm down” I say, praying that the wooden door will mask the whispers I am making to myself, the dining room only a few feet away.

The minute it takes to compose myself is a minute too long. If I can quell any ounce of suspicion, I should be doing so with everything I’ve got left, and so I quickly grab a towel and make my way back over to the dining room, the false mask of April Stevens at my disposal.

“Sorry” I mutter, “I couldn’t remember where we put the towels.”

I find myself being faced with a cruel decision. One that a teenager should never have to make. Either I tell my parents the truth about who I am, allowing the possibility of a ‘one day’ for Sterling and I, or I keep this part of me locked away, along with the thought of ever being able to freely love a woman. 

But when the feelings are beginning to spill over just like the water at the dining table, has the decision already been made for me?

Am I not destined to be a trinket behind the glass any longer, unused and untouched?

When will I know?

I take my seat at the dining table once again, and nod in my fathers direction as he continues his speech of hatred and disgust. 

Bide your time, April, and smile, politely. One day, your mask will shatter.

Chapter Text

Nine

 

There are many words one might use to describe Sterling Wesley, and today, subtlety is not one of them. Her face paints a thousand words without a single one ushered from her lips; her features tired and sullen.

This is the first time I can truly say that I’m grateful that our seats are not side by side, and yet it would most likely not make an ounce of difference regardless of whether she is as far away as she could be, or sitting in my lap, because she hasn’t looked at me all day.

Though the thought of her in my lap raises goosebumps to my skin, the fact of the matter is that she despises me.

We've shared classrooms together since we were kids, existed in this same space together for so long and yet we are nothing more than furniture to one another. We acknowledge that the other is there, but it is hardly a topic of conversation. Or rather, whilst she may notice my presence, she will simultaneously look through me towards the front of the room; a ghost sitting idly by in the same chair that I have sat in for the past ten years. And yet when I look at her, I see nothing but her.

I wonder if she can feel my eyes locked onto her throughout each class, through the time spent in the cafeteria not eating. I’m waiting; waiting for that trademark smile I have come to love so dearly, and yet it never comes.

If the opportunity to make her happy again would present itself to me in this current moment, I would welcome it with open arms, regardless of the price that I may or may not pay. If a curve of those lips were to be invited again only by my declaration of love for her, then I would declare it to the world.

Except, said declarations would probably only make her less happy.

Should a feat even be possible.

And I'd never wish to fuel such a thing.

And so for now, I can only gaze at her from across the room, and hope that someone else can complete the task for me, whether it be her sister, Luke, or someone else entirely. Someone that isn’t me.

When our final period is over, teams of students rush out into the corridors like their life depends on it, whilst I slowly pack away my things in no rush to be greeted by my family after last nights events. When I notice that Sterling and Blair are still present in the room, I start to pack away quicker lest I face another slap to the face.

I can take it when it's Blair; but if it were to be Sterling...

"You can't go by yourself, Sterl, and I already told you I have a date with Miles" Blair states with agitation, my ears attuned to the conversation behind me like a dog on high alert.

"Look, it's not as if I'm going to get myself shitfaced into oblivion. I just need to let off some steam, okay? You go on your date with Miles, and if I need you, I'll text you" Sterling reasons.

Blair sighs, a clear indication that Sterling has won this round. 

She may not have stated where she was going, but it's no secret that there's a party tonight at Noah's house, and if I were able to get her alone, maybe, just maybe, I could explain things to her in private. Explain why I feel like I have to pretend to hate her when the reality is far more complex.

Except, I've never been to a party before, and if my parents were to discover that I had...well, let's just say that I hope that Noah has a spare bedroom for me to stay in. 

I rush my way out of the room before Blair can cross my path, and make a beeline for the exit. 

The quicker I get home, the quicker I can talk my way out of going to this party. 

And I need to talk myself out of it, don't I?

 

***

It's 9:30PM, and if my brain is any indication of such, it's been 9:30PM for the last two hours. I'm watching the clock whir backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards. They say that time can be on your side, but can it also be at a standstill? The abstract concept of minutes unmasked for what it truly is? 

If I can will myself to fall asleep, then my conscious thoughts will be terminated. I can slip into an oblivious state of peace, or the closest thing to it, at least. The idea of seeing Sterling at a party a thing of the past. Morning will hit, the weekend will commence, and I'll have achieved the self control I so desire.

Except, I'm not so sure that it is self control that I do desire. 

When I truly think about what I want, it's to be able to walk into that party and have Sterling Wesley fall into my arms. For her to ask me if we can go somewhere more private so that we can feel each others lips upon the others skin. 

Although, even if alternate universes somehow could exist, I can't imagine there being space for such a vision. Even if possibilities were limitless. 

However, there is a possibility nonetheless that the girl might actually enjoy herself; and my presence would only ferment such an opportunity. 

The clock seems to understand my predicament, finally reaching 9:31PM. We have seemingly both come to the agreement that my attendance will not be required, nor desired at this party, and thus time can continue. The decision has been made. I can stop over analyzing every last forthcoming that may or may not occur tonight. 

Pulling my phone out of my pocket whilst I lie down on my bed, I bring up Sterling's number. The number that I can't bare to get rid of, despite the fact that she has probably erased mine. We shared details approximately a year ago when Mr Crenshaw made us work together for an assignment. Even the idea of her touching my phone to key in her digits sent me reeling. I still haven't replaced the cracked phone case as a result despite having more than enough money to do so.

On occasion, I toy with the idea that Sterling Wesley is my girlfriend, and type little texts to her in my phone that I'll never send. 

I bring up the speech bar and begin typing.

"Are you going to the party tonight? x

I press delete before I can even allow my psyche to tell me to press send.

I begin typing one last time.

"Are you drunk enough for me to tell you that I love you yet?"

I press delete once again.

Except, the message appears on my screen after the act has been committed.

Did I...?

No I couldn't possibly have...

I hit send.

I hit send.

It is a mere matter of seconds before I begin to hyperventilate, dropping my phone to the carpet beneath as I sink onto the bed, as if the act could swallow me whole. There have been a million and one ways in which I have envisioned my first 'I love you' to the girl that I adore in the past, fictional or not, and this has to be without a doubt at the very bottom of a list that I have not yet imagined, and it hasn't been imagined because it isn't even worth a second thought, the act so lazy, so lackluster. A line of text on a digitized screen.

I'm clutching at my sheets, praying for oxygen to enter my lungs so that I can rise from this mess that I've created like a lovesick phoenix from its ashes and make this right.

And there's only one way that I can do that, and the thought is so unnerving, so terrifying that my insides might just not be able to make it through this time. 

I must go to the party and approach Sterling Wesley.

 

Chapter Text

Ten

 

The room is a blur of harsh lighting and bodies pressed together, limbs flailing, others linked together. Whilst the view is somewhat disorientating, I can’t seem to look away, and yet a sickness rises to my throat at the thought of Sterling’s attendance at this party this evening and what she may or may not be getting up to.

I know that it is none of my business, but it doesn't mean that I have to witness it. It doesn't mean I have to hurt myself more so than I already have to on a daily basis.

I don’t drink, and yet if I somehow found her with her arms wrapped around another, a boy who doesn’t understand her worth, I might just have to.

My eyes have scoured the place at this point despite my lack of time in the vicinity like I'm seeking out a target, and thus far there has been no sign of Sterling Wesley.

Once again my anxious brain tips me over.

What if she isn’t here?

What if she’s in one of the bedrooms having sex with someone else?

I shift my wrist up towards the my face so that I can check the time. It’s 10:07pm, which means that it’s been over half an hour since that text found it’s way to Sterling’s phone, the possibility of her having not seen my message is diminishing by the second.

Glancing over to myself in a nearby mirror almost makes me wants to turn around and leave in the direction of the door from which I just came. I’m not dressed for a party in the slightest regard, my hair a haphazard of a pony-tail, my skirt screaming more ‘church’ than ‘wild night out’ but the idea of spending half an hour in an attempt to make myself look somewhat decent would be a disastrous use of my time when I could be spending it finding the girl that I accidentally declared my love to over text message and managing to delete it before she notices.

The downstairs bathroom door opens and a rather intoxicated Sterling stumbles out, falling into the room as if she has been pushed. She glances over in my direction and presents her middle finger towards me, an immature act that I’m sure she wouldn’t commit herself to when not inebriated.

Her childish act is followed by what can only be described as a futile walk to the open-planned kitchen in front of us in order to grab herself another drink. One of many I can imagine.

I feel a pang in my chest; a well known feeling of worry rising inside of me with every sip of alcohol she ingests. Sterling Wesley doesn’t drink, and therefore, I silently come to the conclusion she must be feeling pretty miserable in order to change such a characteristic.

Is it because she read my text?

She doesn’t have Blair to help her this time, and Luke hardly seems to be in the party mood these days, and therefore I’m going to make the assumption that his attendance will be most likely non-existent this evening.

I know that I’m going to regret this, but when I present myself with possible options in my head, it appears as if there is but one viable choice if I wish to make my first steps into becoming a somewhat decent human being and rectifying the mistakes that I’ve made.

Taking a deep breath, I let the situation unfold itself.

“Sterling” I call, as I walk over the kitchen island that she has taken upon herself to place herself on, despite there being many bar stools that she could have chosen.

She looks beautiful in her plaid skirt and black button up shirt; exposing part of her chest that I cannot help but flutter my eyes over if only for a second, and if I had it my way I’d place my hand upon the back of her neck and pull her closer to me, wrapping her legs around my side as I leaned in for a kiss. There are far worse things I could and wish to do that may or may not begin with unbuttoning that shirt, but such a thought seems inappropriate given the fact that this girl would love nothing more than to never have to see me again.

“Oh great, what do you want?” she growls, slurring her words as she takes another large gulp of God knows what.

“Look, let’s put our differences aside here for one moment so that I can get you sobered up before you go home to your Christian parents, okay?” I propose, presenting my hand in order to aid her from getting down from the kitchen island. I gulp down the nervousness into my stomach, willing the acid to dissolve it into nothingness.

If her family are anything like mine, I’d be confined to the walls of my bedroom until I’m eighty if I came home like this, and Sterling’s taken enough hits for one week. For one year even.

She sighs into her seemingly now empty cup, and eventually takes my hand.

Her skin is warm to the touch, a confirmation that the alcohol has taken its effect on her temperature. I can feel the bones inside, dancing underneath flesh. I’ve wanted to take her hand for so long that the moment seems somewhat overwhelming, and I gasp ever so slightly.

Even the veins that she possesses are beautiful, working together to make her human, to make the act occurring in present time be possible, namely, taking the hand of another as that person pulls her back down to earth and onto the tiles beneath.

Despite her feet being firmly on the ground I’m begging that she doesn’t let go; that I don’t let go. A brave April Stevens would caress the hand it holds with delicacy and longing. A brave April Stevens would connect the fingers between them and see if they are a perfect fit.

But a brave April Stevens I am not.

When our hands disconnect it’s like something in my brain does too. Something that was lit up moments earlier. Something that’s not been activated until now.

“You promise this isn’t just another trick, she asks?” extending her pinky finger, seemingly serious to the entire charade, as if a pinky swear will triumph over every lie and misdeed. It’s like we’re kids again gazing at glow in the dark stars on the ceiling.

I’d never miss another opportunity to touch her hand, and so I lift my pinky finger and connect it with hers.

“I swear” I say. I’ve never meant anything more.

I need to get her somewhere quiet, not only because I want to talk to her, but because this environment breeds chaos. Sterling Wesley isn’t my girlfriend, and yet I want to take care of her as if she was.

After all, it’s all I’ve wanted since I knew what love was.

Leading her out of the kitchen and through the living room feels like crossing the lions den. I’m begging silently that nobody stops us. Begging to let me take this girl and be able to do something nice for her, for once in my miserable life. My hand is pressed against her back as I guide her through the sweaty bodies of drunken teenagers, and even the supposed trivialness of such a touch is the farthest thing from it in my mind, the intimacy of such so close I could reach out and grab it.

When we manage to make it out into the back garden, it’s like God is watching over me, the space void of all people, with nothing but the stars as our witness of this moment. They don’t glow the same way as they did when we were children, but I’m not looking at them now either way.

I can’t look at anything else when Sterling is around, after all.

“Thank you” I whisper to myself, a genuine act of gratefulness for some alone time that I will not take in vain.

“What are you thanking me for?” she asks, looking into my eyes as we take a seat on the cold wooden bench outside.

“Oh nothing. That was my inner voice, ignore me” I respond, waving my hand in dismissal, wishing to smack myself as I do so. There’s a thousand things I want to be able to say to this girl, and instead, I tell her that I have an inner voice.

“That’s cute” she smiles, gazing at the floor in a daze. For a moment her teeth expose themselves, and I can physically feel myself fall in love with her even more than I thought imaginable. My heart literally aches for this girl, my chest tightening with every single movement she commits herself to. I’d give everything and anything to make her smile like that forever.

Except she wasn’t finished.

“You know, you’re pretty when you’re not being a bitch” she comments, and I find myself laughing so freely. I haven’t done so in forever. It’s truly relieving to finally be able to be myself, even for just a moment.

“So I’m ugly when I’m horrible to you?” I ask, genuinely intrigued, still laughing somewhat, leaning over to be able to meet her eyes with mine as much as possible.

“No, you’re still really pretty, you’re just…I don’t know. Different” she responds, tucking her hair behind her ear whilst she speaks, and smiling.

How I so desperately wish to be the one that does that for her.

“Look, Sterling, I also wanted to get you outside to ask you something, about a text that you might have received from me” I state boldly. At this point, bold is all I have, there’s no use denying the fact that I declared my love for her over a message.

“My phones been dead all night. That’s 0 points to Sterling for not charging her phone before she left!” she mocks herself, extending her hand in the air into the shape of a zero for emphasis.

So she hasn’t seen it; at least not yet, and so I weigh the scenarios in my head, deciding which situation is heavier.

I could tell her that I love her now, and the text later won’t be a shock to her at all, and at least the act would be in person, or I could avoid it altogether and wait for her to read the text.

When she head starts to fall, it is only then that I realize just how drunk she truly is. I move my body closer to hers on the bench ever so slightly, like one might approach a startled mouse, and hold her head in my hands to keep it upright.

Each time I touch her it’s like there’s electricity on my fingertips, dancing in unison with my pulse. I’ve always thought that being able to place my hands on her would feel like fireworks, and yet, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Fireworks couldn’t compare to this.

“Don’t fall asleep, Sterling. We need to get you sobered up so that you can go home, okay?” I reason with her, despite my thoughts being set to overdrive.

I want to discuss the text, I do, but taking care of her seems so much more important right now. 

Her eyes are open, and yet it’s like she’s not even here.

“I don’t wanna go home” she pouts.

When she leans forward, I presume it is because her body is failing her again, but instead, her lips graze mine ever so slightly in a haphazard of a kiss. The heaviness of her limbs press against me as her body falls into mine.

Her lips are even softer than I dared to imagine on nights alone whilst I lay in my bed. I can even taste the balm that she uses, a hint of coconut and vanilla as it makes its way onto my own.

I’ve waited so long for this moment, so long, and yet…this isn’t right.

This girl is drunk, barely conscious, and probably not thinking straight, and whilst I want nothing more than to be able to hold her in this moment and allow my lips to touch hers, I want it to be when she is sober, when the only thing intoxicating her senses is me. I want it to be when she truly wants it.

If she ever truly wants such a thing.

“Sterling, no” I manage to mutter, short of breath, freeing my lips from hers as I slowly place her head back into an upright position, one that isn’t using my head to do so.

“Oh god. Did I just...I…” she stutters, eyes closed and half asleep it seems.

“It’s okay. I wanted that to happen. You have no idea how badly I wanted that to happen. Just not here, and not now. I want to kiss you properly. The way you deserve to be kissed” I say, tucking her hair behind her ear as it falls out again, allowing myself that luxury this time knowing that I may never get another opportunity.

She laughs, and I wait for my world to crumble.

“You…you want to do that, again?” she gets out between sniggers, opening her eyes to face me. “But you hate me.”

I sigh into her shoulder, as we sit side by side in this moment.

“I…I really don’t, Sterl” I whisper, not ashamed but scared, making my way up to face her again, eyes locked together. “You’ll see when you charge your phone later. I've wanted to tell you for so long, you have no idea. I…I…lov-”

“That’s where you are! Dude, I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Why aren’t you answering your phone? We’ve got to go, like, right now! Duty calls.”

It’s Blair, standing beside the backdoor, elbow leaned against the door-frame. She wasn’t supposed to be here.

“Why are you hanging out with sour face over here?” she continues, and suddenly the moment is over. If she had been just seconds earlier she would have seen us kissing. She would have known my secret. A secret known by one that has since been shared with another.

“I was going to help her sober up, not that it’s any of your business” I snark.

Truth be told, I’m somewhat grateful that Sterling's sister is here to help. I don’t know the first thing about aiding someone in this situation. I just wish that she had waited five more seconds, hence the snark.

When Sterling sobers up, she will read the text that I sent to her; a confirmation of sorts that what happened tonight between the two of us was not just a drunken kiss, a fleeting moment.

At least, it wasn’t for me.

I’m not hiding anymore.

Chapter Text

Eleven

 

When the sky paints the sun across my skin, I allow myself to smile whilst I make my way to school thirty minutes earlier than usual. If the mind was like a computer chip, my circuits would currently be overloaded, expertly flowing electricity from my brain and into my lungs, filling the air that I breathe as I exhale a wild and uncharacteristic form of contentment. 

Just a mere few hours ago, the lips that I purse together underneath a clear blue sky were touching the lips of Sterling Wesley underneath a dark one filled with stars. I tell myself to bury the thought with all the others; the act a drunken, fleeting moment that had all of the elements of a kiss without truly being one. 

Except it didn't stop me from pondering the moment for the remainder of the night; did not stop me wishing that she was beside me whilst we lay in my bed pressing those lips up against me again. Pressing all of herself up against me. The phantom feeling of her body pressed against mine is rapidly fading, and I hate myself for it. If it were up to me the closeness of her body would remain indelible in my memory, a reminder that not every day has to be painful.

My legs begin an overpowered bounce when I see the school gates entering my vision, my knees bending and thriving at the thought of what today may bring. I must admit that I am just as excited as my body is, the scenarios floating around in my head like a person stretched out across a body of water feeling weightless and freed. 

When Sterling see's me today, she will see me as a completely different person. She'll truly see me for the girl that I have always been. The girl that is desperately in love with her. Even if I didn't get to say the words out loud last night, by now, she would have read my text, and therefore, she'll know everything. Or at least, she'll know that I love her, and we can finally stop fighting, and I can finally breathe.

When I approach the grounds, I notice that Sterling is already outside, legs sprawled across the grass whilst she sits, elbows keeping her upper body upright, a smile lighting up her features. Blair is beside her, cross-legged and back arched as she lets out her signature laugh. 

I'm suddenly debating whether the new and reformed protocol would dictate that I take a seat beside them on the grass, or whether I should approach with caution humbly, and ask Sterling if we can go somewhere more secluded to talk about our feelings without actually mentioning the feelings part out loud in Blair's presence.

I boldly decide that a mix of the two is the best way to go about things, making my way over to the two of them with a smile plastered on my face whilst sporting a polite wave, to which I receive an almost as equally polite wave back in exchange from Blair, though not from Sterling. I tell myself that the semantics of an un-returned wave is hardly something getting worked up over, and continue the plan as normal.

"Hey, April" Blair speaks first, shielding the sun from her eyes with her hand as she gazes up at me from the grass. 

"Hi Blair! How are you?" I ask, making idle chit chat with the girl for the first time in my life. I suppose I should, after all, if things really do begin to blossom between Sterling and I, it is only fitting that I engage with her sister more often, and at least try and become her friend.

"I'm kinda busted super hard as is Sterling but hey, you win some you lose some. Listen, uh, I'm not good with this stuff, but thanks for taking care of my sister last night?" she states, the words sounding more like a question than an actual thank you, as if they are rehearsed, the act seemingly painful to her. 

"Oh" is all I get out at first, realizing that I've been holding my breath the entire time in fear of what may happen. I exhale. "Us Christians have got to stick together!" I say, grinning that same old cliche smile the fake April Stevens would muster. I curse myself for the falseness of my actions, and remind myself that if I want to really make this work then I have to be me. The real me.

"Yeah...right..." Blair smirks, instantly lowering her head and diverting her gaze towards the grass, a silent indication that this awkward exchange between us has been terminated.

I set my sights on Sterling now, taking a snapshot in my head of how beautiful she remains despite the assumed hangover she must be dealing with currently. Her hair is in a messy bun, which is arguably one of my favourite looks of hers. There's that light in her eyes again that has been missing for the past few days since she broke up with Luke, and as much as I would love nothing more than to look at those eyes until the bell rings, I somewhat doubt that our relationship has reached such a point yet, and so I retrieve another fragment of courage from inside of my head and use it to muster up another conversation.

"Sterling!" I practically shout in her direction, unaware of just how powerful my voice can be when I'm nervous. I will myself to tone it down. Calm. "Can I talk to you, for like, five seconds?" I ask. Truth be told, what I want to say to her could hardly be condensed down to five hours, let alone five seconds, alas, beggars cannot be choosers and right now I'm willing to take just about anything if it means letting last night fall out into the open and into the air I'm breathing.

"Um...okay?" she responds, taking it upon herself to raise her body from the grass beneath.

"Let me give you a hand" I offer, replicating the actions of last night as I extend my palm.

"I'm fine" she comments back, gazing at me with confusion, and the blow hurts far worse than Blair's slap, leaving my hand lingering in the air with all of our secrets. I can feel the closeness of the two of us from last night shifting to another part of the memory, as if my brain is already shelving it away and admitting defeat. I won't allow it.

She brushes the grass from her skirt and follows me towards the copse of trees that grace the left side of the campus. The area can get pretty crowded at times, especially when the weather is particularly nice, such as today, which is why I chose to arrive thirty minutes earlier, praying that Sterling would be here too, eager to talk, just like I am before the wave of teenagers rush through the gates, destroying any ounce of privacy.

We barely make it to the designated spot I secretly assigned for us in my head before I start blurting out the truth. My truth.

"About last night" I say, turning my body back towards the girl that has been following me, allowing myself to get straight to the point before my head explodes and my heart along with it. 

Sterling lets out an unenthusiastic laugh before speaking, and it feels like a kick to my stomach.

"Are you expecting a thank you or something?" she asks, motioning her head in my direction as if to say 'it's your turn to speak now, April.'

"A thank you for what?" I ask, genuinely confused. The Sterling that kissed me last night wouldn't talk to me like this. At least, not anymore. 

"Blair told me that someone tried to sober me up last night, and trust me, I was as shocked as anything to find out that it was you. But we both know that there's got to be some sort of hidden agenda behind all of this, no?" 

"I...I don't understand" I whisper, pushing back the tears to the deepest part inside of me, begging them to stay there until this conversation is over. "You know why I did it" I manage to muster, despite the shortness of breath. 

"Because of the posters? Yeah right" she laughs again, "you're not sorry that you did it. You're only sorry that you got caught. Anyway, as much as I'm sure you're enjoying having your ego inflated because you came to my rescue last night, I've got some detective work to do. Honestly, April, I am truly grateful that you helped me last night. I am. But forgive me for thinking that there's darker forces at work here. You don't do anything for free" she acknowledges, before taking her leave as she heads back towards the main building and closer to her sister.

The most intimate moment of my life rapidly begins to feel like the saddest one, the darker forces that Sterling described scribbling over the pure energy felt between us last night, and replacing it with something far more sinister. 

My phone pings and sends me into high alert, unaware that I had not yet set it to silent in preparation for my classes, though I can't say that I'm not grateful for the distraction. When I retrieve the device from my bag I see an unread message from none other than Sterling Wesley.

"So...mystery lover, would you care to inform me of your identity?"

Maybe it's the pure adrenaline rushing through my veins begging me to run away that prompts me, or maybe it is the utter distress that I am currently feeling that tips me over. Whatever the reason may or may not be, I find myself hovering over the keypad of my phone, pondering a response to the message I have just received.

If the last few minutes have taught me anything, it's that my love for Sterling Wesley feels so one dimensional that it's falling apart at the seams. So unrequited it seems that the thought makes me queasy. The idea of us ever being more than enemies is diminishing by the second, along with any hope that I clung to for the two of us this morning.

I should know better than to pretend to text back with a simple "It's me, April" before hitting delete, especially after last nights charade, except I find myself doing it anyway, successfully removing the message out of sight, though not out of mind. I wish I had it in me to tell her, but I've got nothing left.

And then I begin to type again.

"Not just yet. I don't think either of us are ready for such an admittance on my part so soon. Although, maybe we could inform each other of alternative things. Things that make us who we are. I want to know all of you, Sterling Wesley. x" 

I hit send.

My phone lights up again almost instantly, and whilst it doesn't erase what has just happened between us, it does mean that I can finally talk to Sterling the way that I have wanted to since I fell in love with her.

Opening the message, an unexpected smile forms across my lips.

"What would you like to know? x"

I start typing.

Chapter Text

Twelve

 

Sterling Wesley likes two sugars in her tea; three when she is feeling particularly run down. 

Sterling Wesley enjoys autumn the most; watching the leaves depart from the trees is therapeutic to her, but she cannot deny that Christmas time makes her heart warm despite the vicious winter air.

Sterling Wesley loves bubble baths, and over-sized jumpers. Sterling Wesley loves the feeling of comfort and homeliness all wrapped up around her like a sealed birthday card.

I know this because we have exchanged messages with each other for the past four days.

I know this because I simply cannot and will not stop asking her questions about her life, about how she see's the world, about her.

I am beginning to know all of her, and yet my skin prickles underneath the temptation for something more, something tangible that I can hold between my fingertips. 

Sterling Wesley knows only but a stranger; a concept that I have presented to her on a silver platter. A concept that...isn't truly me.

The mysterious lover she is beginning to know likes her coffee black; likes the sun pressed against her skin. She likes painting and reading and she's surprisingly agile when it comes to arcade games. And whilst these facts may be true, there is no individual to link them to. I have presented the blueprints to this girl and yet we are not building any of the foundations. It's like discovering the treasure and leaving the box unopened. 

On day two, Sterling requested my identity once again. I respectfully declined.

"What could it hurt? I've poured my soul out here! Are you not willing to take this one leap of faith? x"

"There's taking a leap of faith, and there's vaulting into a pit that you know is endless. This qualifies as the latter. x"

On day three, Sterling discretely asked some of the boys at school if they had been messaging her in secret, hoping that their facial expressions would show all, and to no surprise, some of them admitted to privately texting her, but when she would ask them what the conversations entailed, that same blank expression would come to light again.

And who can blame them? The prospect of being loved by Sterling Wesley is worth taking a few risks for. Possibly even lying for. God knows that is what I have been doing all these years. And God knows how much it has pained me.

I hope that she didn't see me watching from afar, taking in every single moment that she tracked me down, and yet part of me hopes that she did. A silent indication that the girl she forgot on the bench underneath the stars is still waiting for her and will continue to do so.

"I'm slowly minimizing it down, ticking names off a list. A real, honest-to-God list that I've devised just to find you. x"

"If our conversations have meant anything to you, Sterling, you would stop searching. x"

It is not uncharacteristic for her in the slightest that she would devise a list of possible individuals whom of which may be interested in her romantically; interested enough to create another persona just to talk to her. I wish I could have told her in that moment that the hunt would be futile considering the fact that the name of 'April Stevens' would only ever populate on a list of people who hate her. Except, of course, I don't, and could never.

On day four, my heart decided it was a butterfly, and flew out of my chest.

"I'm sorry, I can't do this anymore. I can't spill my entire life out onto a screen to a complete and utter stranger."

"Please, don't do this, Sterl. I'm not a stranger, I promise. x"

It's day four, and the evening mist fogs up my bedroom window, and I wipe it away with my palm. It comes back almost instantly, desperate to be seen. I'm constantly coming back for more with Sterling Wesley, despite knowing that I will only be wiped away again. I'm desperate for her to see me, and could make such an occurrence a reality with but a few strokes of my keypad. Except, reality is not that easy, and so for now, I will have to remain as the fog across her window. 

But after what has been said between us, I am unsure as to whether I can even be that. 

Today was not the most simplistic of days in any regard, attempting to maintain enough self control to not punch Hannah B in the face at school was namely the most difficult part of today. The two of us have been civil since the events that led up to Sterling Wesley despising me even more than she had previously envisioned, or civil enough, at least. Attacking Hannah B would only make me look more guilty, and she knows this. It's like she thrives upon chaos and manipulation, and once upon a time, she thought I did too. 

Violent is not a word that I would paint myself with, and yet every time I lay my eyes upon her currently my hands automatically curl into tight fists, as if my body is attempting to overpower my mind and ruin her, and yet my mind realizes that my energy is completely depleted simultaneously. 

Hannah B will get her comedown, for that I am certain, but in the present moment I cannot focus on both love and hate at the same time. I love Sterling Wesley, and the thought takes precedence over everything that I do, even if she cannot love me back.

I shift my body into a horizontal position on my bed, and reluctantly place my phone upon my nightstand, as if holding it between my hands will somehow make it light up and Sterling will have miraculously changed her mind about our discussions. I'm not enough for her in person, and I'm not enough for her over text. Deep down, I know that I will wake to no new notifications. 

When my parents requested the identity of the person that I was texting at the dinner table yesterday evening, I knew it to be for but two reasons. 

1. They secretly had hoped that it would be a boy.

2. They are incredibly aware that no one ever texts me.

Such a fact is not a surprise to someone like myself. The April Stevens that I choose to be inside of school grounds is vicious and cold, and not worth texting. 

I would like to hope that the real April Stevens would wake to many messages, including one from Sterling. A 'good morning, beautiful' or an 'I miss you, April' would be worth shattering everything that I have ironically designed to shut people out. To shut her out. 

Instead, I politely shook my head, and told them that it was simply a message from Hannah B, their obliviousness in regards to recent events at school a blessing in this instance. 

Except what they did not know, was at the time of the meal, I was knee deep in conversation with Sterling, testing the limits of our new-founded relationship. 

"Now that you truly know me, could you ever see us actually being more than digitized words to one another? x" 

The words set my bones on fire as my fingers tapped away at the keypad underneath the dinner table, my teeth catching my bottom lip in concentration. 

"I think I've always known you, Sterling. I'm simply learning more. I think if you knew all of me, you'd run away. But to answer your question plainly, I wish nothing more than to be more to each other than this. It's what I've always wanted. x"

I cannot seem to regret my words now in this very moment, despite lying here knowing in my heart that it could be over, and if such a thing were to be confirmed tonight, I am more than happy to spend all of my rapidly depleting energy running my mind over every single interaction that we have shared in this past week. Happy to recollect, and yet not happy to stop there.

Now the door has been opened, I am unsure as to whether I can close it again. I let her in, and when she left, it's like I asked her to come back soon. 

I can feel my mind reacting to all of this new stimuli, silently begging for my body to react too. Begging me to do something stupid. And I just might.

This could be the week that I shatter everything, and yet it could be the week that shatters me.

I pray that it is the former.

Chapter Text

Thirteen

 

I'm awake before my alarm clock, and so I reach over towards my night stand in order to put an end to the unnecessary beeping. An alarm is hardly required when you are sleeping an average of three to four hours per night, the act almost a ritual at this point. I find that I can only truly sleep when my breathing is regulated; when my heart returns to the same dull rhythm as everyone else's. Except I lie there, and I ponder, and my heart rate always inevitably increases, and I'll be damned if I know how to slow it down.

Or rather, I do know how to slow it down, and the feat is simply not possible.  

My phone lies upon the bedside table next to me, and so I grab it now that my alarm has been terminated. I know that I am only checking it in vain, my mind not foolish enough to believe that Sterling has forgotten the events of Friday night already. At least not this time.

The screensaver lights up my features, a picture of my mother and I at the beach, and I smile, allowing the warmth of that moment to envelope me. Recollecting a time in which I wasn't so hung up on one individual, when I wasn't begging my mind to shut down, gives me hope. There was a time before in which I wanted nothing more than to build sandcastles, and there will be a time after, as well.

Friday blurred into Saturday, and I found myself more robot than human, completing remedial tasks with muscle memory and muscle memory alone, my mind a cacophony of noise far too loud to assist my body in gaining any sense of normality. It is rather idiotic of me to dedicate the space in my mind to wondering what Sterling's Saturday may or may not have consisted of, and yet I do so, anyway. Did she even think about me, about our messages?

Raising myself into an upright position, I make my way over towards my en-suite and slip my pyjamas off in order to get into the shower. When the water hits my flesh, I feel as if I am rinsing off the days leading up to now from my body, and starting anew, like building another sandcastle from the remains of the old one.

Once I feel clean enough to start fresh, I towel myself off and decide upon my nicest outfit to wear to church. The contents of my wardrobe is the pinnacle of housewife, a walking guide as to how to be the perfect Christian, and yet today, it feels inappropriate, considering the fact that my focus is elsewhere, and therefore I decide upon the least prudent dress that I own; a red tie back that exposes some of the less seen parts of my body. I apply light makeup to my cheeks and eyelids, before highlighting the curves of my mouth with some pink lipstick.

I don't often feel pretty, but today, I feel worth something. Maybe it is because for the first time in a while, I am looking good for myself, and myself alone.

My handbag hangs across the desk chair, and I place it around my shoulder before taking my leave.

As I approach the bottom of the stairs, I am greeted by my mother, she smiles, and we're at the beach again. It's like she can see that all of me is here today, present in the moment. The tide didn't take away our oblivious works of art.

I feel it in my heart, in that moment, that she will love me, as long as I am me. 

I've never felt more like me in my life.

***

A bustle of bodies make their way through the church doors, and for the first time I am not waiting for Sterling to enter. 

When she finally does, I allow myself to glance over at her just the once as she takes her seat on one of the pews opposite mine, giving myself one simplistic moment of ecstasy, in order to shift my focus on what truly matters on a Sunday morning. Except, when I look at her this time, her eyes are locked onto mine simultaneously, and then they shift, edging up and down my body, assessing all of me.

Could it be that Sterling is admiring me for once? 

It couldn't be.

Even when I turn away, I sense her looking at me in my peripherals, I can feel her presence so strongly it is as if she is a ghost at my back, breathing down my neck. And suddenly I am not breathing. 

Calm down, April. This means nothing. Her gaze means nothing.

A warm hand caresses my shoulder, my mother, and I take myself back to a simpler time, and eventually, my breathing regulates.

What I would give just to know a singular thought hovering in Sterling's mind when her eyes are focused on me, and only me. I'd do just about anything.

By now the minister has begun his service, but it does not stop my mother from making her presence known beside me.  

"I have noticed that you've been different, lately, April. You can tell me anything, you understand this, don't you?" she whispers, leaning closer towards my ear in order to remain as quiet as possible.

My eyes begin to formulate small droplets before I can even grasp that I am tearing up. 

Oh, how I wish that I could. How I desire to be able to tell someone, anyone, how I'm feeling, and how it is tearing away at me piece by piece.

"I know, mother. And I will. When I'm ready" I state, honestly. 

She squeezes my hand lightly, and despite the lingering secret between us, the weight feels that much lighter. I can almost carry it. Almost.

 

***

When the service ends, my parents make their rounds as always, greeting every individual with the same vigour as the one that came before them, shaking their hands, kissing their cheeks. I admire the friendliness radiating from themselves and towards the people of the church, and I have to hope that once my truth comes to light, that they will greet me the same way. 

Idle chit chat has never been my forte, and I rapidly decide that a moment outside to myself is far more beneficial than a conversation about what type of apple goes best in a pie.

Pulling back the church doors, I take a seat outside on the steps, placing my hands upon them, cool to the touch, my skin soaking up the fresh air, relishing the light gust of wind as it kisses my shoulders. I can breathe out here. 

The chattering of birds fills my ear drums, the trees sway from side to side, as if they are dancing. Always dancing. The tranquility of nothingness is so rewarding that it becomes something so quickly. I applaud nature for being able to make me feel this way. For being able to calm the most anxious part inside of me.

And then a shadow looms over me, menacingly, before a body takes up the space beside me; blonde hair, delicate frame.

Sterling.

The menacing shadow is merely that, a shadow. The person creating that darkness is not menacing at all, and when the light hits her, it is obvious. Sometimes things aren't what they seem. Sometimes the world feels darker than it truly is.

"Were you..okay in there?" she asks, turning to face me, her hands pressed into the slabs of concrete among the stairs, so close to mine that I could reach out and touch her if I wanted to. If I could. "I just, noticed that you were breathing kinda...off" she continues.

She has never asked me if I was okay before, never stopped to take a moment to sit beside me.

I pause for what feels like centuries, desperate to get this moment right, to repair the seemingly irreparable damage piece by piece. Word, after word.

"I'm doing better now, thank you...for asking, that was really thoughtful of you." I don't look directly at her, knowing in my heart that if I do, I will only distract myself. I'll lose track of my words again. I'll lose her again despite never having had her in the first place.

She smiles, and it meets half of her lips before the smiling half forces the other side of her to follow suit, until it makes a grin, and despite my previous intentions not to look at her, I can't help myself. I can't deny myself the beauty of her happiness. The act seemingly contagious as my mouth forms a smile to match hers.

"Well, like I said before, you can be pretty when you're not being a bitch. And you look really pretty today, April" she comments, somehow nonchalant in the fact, despite the words meaning more to me than she will ever know. I gather my thoughts before I deliberate a response, one that isn't so desperate to be heard. I silence the thoughts that would ruin this. The ones where I expose all of myself before truly explaining.

"Anyway" she continues, standing up, allowing the moment to die before the heavily deliberated, and hopefully perfect concoction of words can be formulated by my lips. "I have to go, my parents are already in the car and I'll never hear the end of it if I keep them waiting. I'll see you at school" she says, patting down the loose rocks from her skirt before making her way down the steps, and out of the moment we just shared, just like that. She's gone.

I savour every syllable that her beautiful mouth ushered in my direction, allowing the sun to energize me some more so that I can continue to savour it.

Just because she is gone, it does not mean that the moment has to die in any regard.

But then the words hit me in a different way.

And the truth comes flooding in.

"Well, like I said before, you can be pretty when you're not being a bitch."

Sterling Wesley did say something similar once upon a time. How could I forget? 

She said those words the night of the party.

The night she said that she couldn't remember.

When my breathing escalates once again, I find myself running home before my parents can see me fall apart like a sandcastle.

Chapter Text

Fourteen

 

"Well, like I said before, you can be pretty when you're not being a bitch."

If words were like tattoos, my skin would be completely covered, my entire body feeling as if it has been pricked by a thousand tiny needles. 

She remembers, and whats-more, she said nothing. Can she recall that I almost told her that I love her underneath the stars? Does she recollect the shape of my lips pressed against hers? When I touch the spaces she has occupied, when I place my fingers upon the plump curves of my mouth, the phantom feeling presents itself. It's like she’s there, and isn't there at the same time.

I'm presented with an ultimatum before Monday truly begins, deliberating as to whether it would be ludicrous to confront her, or hinder me if I do not.

A person in love with another would not shy away so readily, she would not hide behind a drunken mistake. And yet the situation has presented itself in such a way, and I am unsure as to whether there is anything left to fight for.

Once again, I am fulfilling my ritual by silencing my alarm clock before it raises any noise. I’m washing the day before from my body underneath the warm water of my shower. I’m picking out my uniform from my wardrobe. It appears that this endless cycle will not cease to exist until I manage to quell the feelings inside of me. Until I tame the fire.

But despite the overwhelming indications that these feelings have always, and will always be one sided, I just can’t stop pouring gasoline.

And so, I am left with nothing but a thousand tiny needles, covering my body in words that I cannot forget. Do not want to forget.

Grabbing my open bag from the floor, my gaze hovers over Blair's assignment within the fabric, and I laugh to myself, quietly, but surely. The assignment I have yet to give her.

It seems as if I am always destined to maintain some form of contact with the Wesley’s, whether I wish to distance myself or not. A daily dose of heartache, or an equally daily dose of malice. I think the medicine would taste sour either way.

I take my leave swiftly, not allowing the accumulating thoughts to gain any further stimuli from the surroundings of my bedroom. I may not be able to tame the fire, but I can certainly try and avoid it from becoming out of control. From burning further bridges.

I’m so tired of burning bridges.

***

 

It has been a mere few hours since my eyes had sight of Sterling Wesley at the church Sunday morning, and yet when I see her for the first time since as she walks into English class, the time we have spent apart seems like an eternity. I imagine it to be due to the fact that our words felt so weighted yesterday. So tangible. And yet I can literally feel them taking a step back from me, leaving me alone in the spotlight as if they weren’t enough.

She takes her seat, and commits to her own routine, her own ritual, just like I do. She tucks her hair behind her ear, places all of her stationary down despite knowing that she will never require anything other than a pen in such a class. She places her bag to the left hand side of her. Towards me.

And then she looks over.

“Hey April” she nods.

It has been many years in which she has said ‘hello’ to me in the confines of a classroom. In some ways, I wish that she wouldn’t. She’s only pouring the gasoline herself by doing so.

I cannot attempt to control how I’m feeling if she takes the reigns, effortlessly guiding me closer to loving her further.

“Sterling…hello” I manage to muster, using my pen as a means of distracting myself, twiddling it between my fingers as if it were an Olympic sport.

The act of talking to her seems foreign despite the many circumstances in which we have done so. The truth is out in the open now, which makes the situation feel fresh, unevolved.

How can she remember and yet stay so calm and level headed?

If I could make her look at me now in this very moment, really look at me, rather than through me, I would ask her why she is staying silent when all I want to do is scream. I would ask her why she is now talking to me all of a sudden when before she couldn’t stand the sight of me.

Does she feel sorry for me?

Despite my urge to do something more, to take control, I am simply left with my pen between my fingers, my courage in the pit of my stomach burning through acid. It is only when my phone vibrates in my pocket that my mind conjures up a plan.

Fortunately for myself, our teacher has not yet arrived, and so I hastily remove the phone from my pocket before placing it on silent.

And then I begin to type out a message to none other than Sterling, ignoring the text that came before it from Hannah B, who remains in the room with us.

I can imagine her looking at me now, staring me down, waiting for a response as I tap away on my keypad. Except, she will not be getting one. This act of bravery is not for her.

I silently pray that Sterling’s phone is on silent as always, exhaling slowly, and deeply, before I press send.

Can we meet? I’m willing to come clean about who I am. x”

She may know all of me, my intentions laid bare for her to witness, but the identity of the mysterious stranger lies intact. It's all I have. My final attempt.

The truth has to come out into the open one way or the other, and it appears that I must be the one to aid it into doing so.

When it is over, I will tell myself that I did everything I possibly could to build a relationship with Sterling Wesley. To love her, and in turn, have her love me.

Regardless of whether there will be someone there at the end of all of this to catch me, it is finally time for me to fall.

Chapter Text

Fifteen

 

I am scrolling through previous exchanges with Sterling like one may do a textbook, each and every word as important as the last, the weight of each syllable so encumbered as they drip with emotion and sentiment. My words, and hers, dancing together upon a screen.

The dance continues later in the day, when a new exchange pirouettes its way onto my phone, illuminating not only but my screen, but my senses too. A message from Sterling.

"I'm willing to meet with you, just...not at school. That is, if you even attend Willingham."

With my current track record, it would not be conceived as odd if I took it upon myself to agree to meet her on the precipice of a mountain, surrounded by icy winds and nothing to protect myself with. Regardless as to where our meeting will occur, my set of cards is already on the table, and I'm all in.

The decision of such a location should not give away my identity, not yet. I want the situation to unfold in front of me, whilst she is present. I want to see the muscles in her face move to form the perfect expression, whether it be confusion, relief, or disgust. I want to see her see me.

I imagine a mirror at a circus, the picture so disorientating, untrue, a mere mockery of the human behind it, gazing in. I have placed myself behind the mirror for years it seems, the correct image of me never vivid, never truly honest. And yet, when I see her next, the reflection will be sincere, genuine. I'll see her gazing in, and this time I will be able to step out of the glass completely.

"Would you be opposed to meeting at the oak tree in Piedmont Park? The one that protesters protected last year from being chopped down? x"

The tree had many admirers, and I was indeed, and still am, one of them. It is my thinking space, devoid of all the noises of bustling traffic, and busy days. There is never a loud moment underneath the oak tree, and I want her to know that; wish to share that sense of bliss with her.

I watch her from afar, the cafeteria table seated beside the entrance of the room, whilst hers is in a corner. I watch as she taps away on her phone discretely, as if we are two secret lovers exchanging notes, unknown to the rest of public gaze and scrutiny. At least, I hope it is me that she is texting.

"I know the one. I fought to protect it. Shall we say, 7PM tonight? x"

The small kiss that she trails her text with does not go unnoticed, the letter having been absent since our last discussion, and I smile into her words. It is not new knowledge to myself that she protested to save the tree. I observed her that very day, a handmade sign in her hand, poorly decorated, I might add, screaming from her lungs in objection, the lines in her face wrinkled with frustration and outcry. 

It was the place in which I had realized I was in love with her for the first time. 

Piece by piece, the puzzle began beside an oak tree, and has been begging for completion ever since. When a new piece finds its proper edges to hold onto, my heart swells, and that is when I know that with each moment that she exists so freely, and so honest, I fall in love with her further.

I find it almost funny, in fact, to romanticize a connection upon some bark, some branches, silently begging for a relationship to form as strong as the roots beneath, but had I not have attended, had I not put all of my internal pain about my identity at the time into maintaining the safety of a single tree, I might never have understood the complexities of the girl that I fell in love with that day. It is then, that I decided to myself that pain need not always be a throwaway feeling, but a means towards progress, to change. I accepted myself the day that I accepted all of her, and that was that.

I am relieved that it was never chopped down, as if the possibility of Sterling's affections rests upon its welfare.

When the bell rings, I am heavily forced back into reality, like an elastic band upon a wrist.

Suddenly realizing that I am rushed for time, I send back a simple message.

"7PM is perfect. x"

Five hours, and fifty nine minutes.

Five hours, and fifty eight minutes.

Five hours, and fifty seven minutes.

***

The air around the space I maintain is chill, a mere light jacket not appropriate attire for the evening. Alas, it is my favourite, and therefore, I will simply have to succumb to the cool winters kiss, and let it envelop me.

Rubbing my hands together for warmth, I take a seat among the dirt, propping my back against the tree, and wait.

The time is now 6:56PM, and admittedly I was half-expecting Sterling's presence to be noted prior to my arrival. A story book of sorts presented itself in my mind this afternoon, and gradually I unfolded the pages to discover a telling of the events to come, my own interpretation, if you will.

I'm walking towards the tree, and as my eager legs push me closer, I see her silhouette, standing, a bowed leg pressed upon the bark. Her hair almost illuminating her surroundings, her eyes glowing through the darkness of the evening.

When I approach, her face paints a picture. It is not confusion, nor is it resentment, it is something else. Something undetectable. 

I edge closer, in an attempt to read her expression like a magazine, wide open, but then her legs set her into motion as if fueled by intuition, and she becomes closer to me, closer still, until her delicate hands wrap around the back of my hair, taking comfort there, and the space between us is void, as if even the air cannot reach us now, where we are, the margin too small to find the slightest gap. Her lips find mine as if they are the light in her dark, and I can taste her very existence, the unexplained phenomenon of an unknown flavour as my hands wrap around her like two vines desperate to cling to nature, to find their place among something beautiful to make it even more so. 

And the way we breathe, it's like we're not, our panting a heavy unison of noise, a choir of but two voices. There is but no time to exhale.

The elastic band pings around my wrist again, sending me into high alert when a silhouette that doesn't exist only in my fantasies presents itself, closing in on me, undefined. 

When the figure is within hearing range, I clear my throat and wait for a thousand words to spill out of me.

"Sterling" I whisper, the first sentence of many.

"Not Sterling" the voice calls back, and it is like a spotlight illuminates upon the person in front when she steps into view, a theatrical reveal of the cruelest kind.

Blair.

Chapter Text

Sixteen

 

A throat, as clear as it may be, cannot vocalize a thousand words when the barrel is empty, when the well has been run dry. Suddenly my worst nightmare is that of a reality, the one in which I am screaming for help, and yet no one can hear me. I am currently begging for someone to save me from the top of my silent lungs, and yet, my pleas go unanswered.

I place a hand on the ground firmly, a feeble attempt to keep myself upright lest my dizziness get the better of me.

Exhaling, deeply, I place my head back against the familiar tree, and use it as a crutch. I compose myself as much as I can, before I let myself address the situation.

"It was you, the entire time? The messages...I was never truly texting Sterling?" 

Betrayal does not quite cover the complexity of the pain that I feel, my chest begging for some form of relief as it tightens until I am barely breathing, barely even conscious, as if the roots of the tree have found their way to my insides, and they are pulling, an unyielding grip wrapping itself around my heart, relentless and unstoppable.  

“I half expected a camera crew, or at the very least a front row seat for your minions so that you could idolize this moment for years to come” she says, ignoring my previous question before kicking the smallest of pebbles with her large black boot. I know how the pebble feels.

“I would never humiliate Sterling like that” I respond, my eyes welling up underneath the strain of holding it together, holding me together, except the act is similar to that of taping over a leaking pipe, a futile and impractical attempt at keeping the water in. It is only a matter of time.

“Hm, that’s interesting considering what you did to her posters. I wonder what you’d like to call that, if not humiliation?” she asks, passive aggressively, looking down at me as I sit against the unforgiving tree, the giant to my feeble mouse-like exterior as I crawl into myself, curling my limbs tightly to my body, as if the act will protect me.

“I never touched her posters, okay, so maybe I was going to. But it wasn’t me. I just…pretended that I did, because it was easier that way. No one had to know how I was really feeling” I state truthfully, laying down every last fiber of my being, as if honesty can be unraveled like old thread.

“And how is that?” she asks, sharply.

“How is what?”

“How are you really feeling?” she asks again, waving a hand in my direction as if to say ‘get on with it’, like she has somewhere else to be.

“Do I have to say it out loud to you?” I practically beg, knowing that something so beautiful inside of me, something so heartfelt, feels too vulnerable to expose to another. Especially to someone who hates me.

“Yes, actually you do” she forces, raising her force ever so slightly, the tension building between us so quickly that my nerves begin to dance around it.

“I love your sister, Blair. I’m in love with your sister. Are you happy now?” I say, the tears from my eyes expelling quicker by the second. I wipe away the vulnerability, despite knowing wholeheartedly that they will only make themselves known again once I do.

“I know” she states plainly, and unsurprised.

“What do you mean, you know?” My eyes are staring directly at her now, as if I can push the thoughts out of her mind and into the open. As if the seconds that pass are too long, and I need answers immediately.

“I know that you love her. I just wanted to hear you say it. I mean, I saw you two, at the party. I just…didn’t exactly make my presence known until I understood what was happening first” she admits, shifting her body weight from one foot to the other, awkwardly, and for a moment, I think she truly understands how horrified I am feeling, as if my pleas did not go unanswered, after all. The one I was running from saved me.

“Then why are you here? Why are you pretending to be Sterling over text when you clearly know that I have feelings for her?” I shout, louder than anticipated, the heavily known acid feeling rising to my mouth again.

“Look, the messages aren’t from me, okay? They were all from her. I promise. I just needed to know what your intentions were before I told you. You’ve hurt her…a lot. God knows you probably don’t even deserve her, but if she’s willing to give you a shot, then I am too, that’s if she is” she nods, folding her arms as if she needs to guard herself from her own actions, when in actuality, she was only trying to protect her sister. Despite my utter humiliation, I do not blame her for doing so.

“If it wasn’t you, then how do know that I was meeting her tonight?” I ask, desperate for every answer she is willing to give me, and longing for what she isn’t.

“I glanced at her phone earlier today, and I saw the text you sent when you arranged to meet. I knew something was going on, and I wasn’t about to let you upset the most important person in my life. Especially if this was all a sick little game set out only to embarrass her like I originally thought. I told her that a friend of ours, Bowser, needed her help tonight. That’s why she’s not here. She would have come, otherwise.” Her words sound honest, genuine, and the notion that they are provides me with the slightest part of relief before I truly assess the situation in my mind, and reality starts flooding in.

“It doesn’t matter anyway. Not really” I say, quietly, almost a whisper, as if the words might hurt me. “I recently discovered that she remembered what happened at the party and yet she just pretended that she didn’t. I think that’s enough closure as to how one sided all of this is. It’s why I…it’s why I kept messaging her behind an anonymous number, just so that I had something. I didn’t want to let go.” I offer her the same honesty that she has offered me, hoping that despite everything, if bridges cannot be rebuilt, that they can be climbed over.

She sighs, taking a seat next to me beside the tree, before placing a hand on my shoulder. The closest the two of us have ever been, and for the briefest of moments, I think that we could be friends one day.

“All I can think is that maybe she didn’t trust that it wasn’t just another one of your schemes that you cooked up with Hannah, B, and can you blame her? Look, I don’t know how she feels, I promise. She hasn’t told me anything, which is...completely out of character for her. Whether it was a drunken mistake or not, that’s for the both of you to work out together. I’ve never pegged her as a girl who was into other girls but hey, I could be wrong” she says, removing her hand from me to theatrically shrug her shoulders.

That’s just it, I haven’t either, and I can’t force someone to be who they’re not just to please me. I could never do that.

“Is that why you were nice to me that day I asked Sterling if we could speak privately? Because…you knew?” I ask, recollecting the morning on the grass when Blair had instantly waved back at me, even when Sterling had not.

“Ding ding ding!” she shouts theatrically, “we have a winner! I guess I hadn’t quite made my mind up about you yet. Hell, I’m still coming around now. You tortured her for years, dude” she acknowledges, and rightfully so. I have hurt the person I care for most more times than I can possibly count, simply to maintain this persona I have devised, only for it all to come crumbling down regardless, as if every act before it was redundant.

“I know. And it hurts me every day, believe me. It’s not easy having to hide away such a key part of my identity. You know I love Sterling, but I can’t just shout it from the rooftops, y’know? I have a Christian family to think about” I reason, picturing a situation in which Sterling and I can both fit into the frame where my parents are concerned, the feasibility of such a thing almost non-existent.

“Gotcha. I don’t think our parents would be painting a rainbow flag for the both of you anytime soon, either. But damn, man, you need to work on your flirting skills” she jokes, nudging my arm with her elbow, toning down the seriousness of this conversation with her own care-free manner. I can stop holding my breath.

“What, you mean complete and utter resentment doesn’t do the job? I thought that was your whole thing too” I mock, sarcastically.

She laughs, picking up a pebble between her fingers.

“That’s totally last years agenda. This year it’s all about actually being nice to the person you care about. It’s disgusting, I know" she jokes, placing a finger in her mouth, before pretending to gag, "but is that something you could do?” she winks, twisting the pebble between her fingers before throwing it to the mud.

“I suppose I could give it a try” I smile, winking back in her direction.

“That’s the spirit! Just be you, man. That’s all you can do” she offers, lifting her previously crossed legs to her chest now, before wrapping her arms around them.

“Yeah, I guess hiding behind an unknown number wasn’t my best move” I observe, understanding now that concealing myself behind another persona was never the right answer. I have never truly been myself throughout the entity of this charade, even when I was being honest with Sterling over text message, I never told her who I was. Maybe now it is time to tie it all together. My honesty, and my identity.

She sighs, staring at the ground, and for just a moment, it is like she is gulping back anxiety, and I once again I feel myself doing it too in anticipation.

Blair looks me dead in the eye, sorrowful, almost, as if she pities me.

“The texts were never anonymous, April.”

 

Chapter Text

Seventeen

 

If a picture can paint a thousand words, I have to wonder how many the expressions on my face can create, a framed embodiment of shock horror, followed by a trembling lip, followed by numbness. A void of emptiness.

Sterling Wesley has played me as if I were a violin, keeping me close to her chest in a symphony of dishonesty and bitterness, so much in fact that when I gulp, I can almost taste the copper.

She knew. With each exchange shared, she knew, and yet, she pushed, and pushed, as if my identity was a dark corner that needed a light shone upon it, only to have been visible the entire time.

I feel betrayed.

I could devise a list as to why she has committed herself to her own deceiving role just as I have done, but such a task would be fruitless. I cannot place a hand upon her head and delve into the psyche of the girl I am in love with. I cannot pull out thoughts like exposed wires and connect them to myself. I can only hazard spontaneous guesses that may only hurt me further.

And I am already hurt enough, as it is.

Sterling Wesley: my first and only choice in finding love, shall be the at the forefront of every new friendship I desire to make, committing myself to the idea that I cannot fall further than that. Cannot subject myself to longing this much.

I am at home, now, after this evenings events with Blair, curled up in the armchair that rests in the corner of my bedroom, silently wishing that the cushions would somehow swallow me whole, thus removing any evidence of how foolish I have been, chasing after goals that were too far away. Jumping over obstacles that were never truly there.

The thunder outside calms me, the idea that the sky can be angry enough to commence havoc, is somewhat relieving. Even nature has its bad days. As I gaze outside the window, I watch as the heavy rain pelts against the pavement, visible even more so underneath the streetlights below. The rain, eventually, will cease, and the sun shall dry the pavements, and everything will be normal again. I have to hope that I, in turn, can soak up the past, and bottle it, allowing myself a moment of sun, of peace.

It is almost ten o’clock, and I tell myself that it is late enough to finally rest, should the act be possible. It is not uncommon currently that I lie awake, tossing, turning, begging to be able to shut my brain off, at least for a few simple hours, but despite the torturous events of this evening, today, I believe that I am so tired, so defeated, that I will fall asleep almost instantly.

Raising myself from the armchair, I make my way over to the wardrobe, putting on a button up pyjama top, and some loose bottoms. A matching set, of course, the idea of putting two separate pieces together abhorrent to someone as precise as myself.

Brushing my teeth, I take a moment to look at myself in the mirror, taking in the haggard features of a person who has lost everything, it seems despite never having anything to begin with. I exhale, slowly, once I have washed my mouth out with water, reminding myself that a smile will form upon my face eventually. I will get over this. The sun will come.

My bed looks so inviting in this current moment from the doorway of my en-suite, safe from the outside world, safe from the mistakes that I have made. It will not judge me for who I have been, or what I have done, and I welcome its comfort.

Making my way over towards it, I pull back the duvet, and fluff my pillows for good measure, before climbing inside.

The comfort envelopes all of me for that of thirty seconds before a knock at the door startles my senses to the point of which I no longer feel safe as I did before, as if the warmth of a bed is no longer enough.

I am currently home alone, my parents at a business meeting in South Carolina, most likely sipping wine in their hotel room right about now, unknowing that their teenage daughter is on the verge of having a panic attack.

The knock persists, harder this time, and the rain outside adds to the scene, a melancholy theatre performance in which I am the victim, waiting in the darkness to be preyed upon.

I shift my body into an upright position, hovering at the corner of my bed, silently praying that whoever is at my door grows impatient, and leaves without a fuss.

But when the knock continues, I feel obligated to investigate.

And so, I do.

***

I tell myself that this is a bad idea, that her parents are bound to answer and scold me accordingly. I mean, it is hardly early in any regard, but if I explain that this is an emergency, maybe they will understand.

My clothes are completely and utterly drenched, and my hair hangs limp to either side of me. This is hardly how I imagined this exchange to go down; a drenched rat outside a doorstep, begging to be let inside, to be heard.

If I were to quickly run now, I might just be able to get away without being seen, but my brain seems so committed to the idea of self-sabotage at this point that I decide it is better just to stay.

And so, I do.

My knuckles are prepared for another knock as my left-hand curls into a tight fist, and when I raise it to strike the wood, it opens.

April.

“You look…dry” I say, for lack of a better phrase, the words that I actually wish to find escaping me in this very moment. 

I have feeli-

I want to be able t-

You mean s-

Alas, the sentences cannot formulate.

Her face is that of confusion, utter panic, a crumbling pastry left upon the side of a plate. I have allowed this to happen, chipping away piece by piece at her clay form, begging to see what is underneath the hardened exterior. I wish I could tell her that I did it for her. I wish I could say that I needed her to open herself up to me in order to truly let her in. I wish I could say that I was afraid of being hurt, humiliated, thrown away. I couldn't fall without a safety net.

She sighs, and then gulps, before placing a hand on the doorframe, territorially, as if to shut me out in more ways than one.  When she finally opened herself up, I shut her out. When my door is open, hers is shut. It is like we are constantly second guessing the others moves, stubbing each other out like used cigarettes.

“What do you want, Sterling? I’m tired. I don’t really have a lot to say. Or at least, I do, just…not right now. Or at all. I don’t know.”

Her words are quiet, mumbled even, and highly indicative in the regard that just a mere few days ago, she had pretended to hate me, and now, it is like she is not even trying to hide her feelings, as if she already knows that I am aware of them.

I could release a thousand words upon her anyway like a plague, but I can see it in her eyes, the way that they droop with sadness, and defeat, that an unplanned string of sentences is not what she needs in this very moment.

And so I ask her a simple question.

“Are your parents home?” I inquire sharply, still breathless from the journey here, sprinting faster with every step against the wet pavement.

I feel my hair dripping with each word, and can imagine just how pathetic I look, standing on April's doorstep, in a baggy hoody and drawstring pants.

“They aren’t, no, they are at a con-"

She had me at ‘they aren’t’, and I decide that enough has been said already. There may never be a right time to make this happen, and so, I am willing to take any opportunity to take a chance.

I silence her with my lips, frantically placing my soaking wet hands on either side of her face, pulling her closer to me, closer to the rain, and when she pulls back, I think that this is it, that I ruined everything, my legs turning to jelly, and I’m wishing I could leave my body, but then she grabs a hold of me instead this time, pushing me inside and out of the rain, and once the door has been closed, our lips connect once again.

Kissing Luke was like sparking a match and lighting the candle. But with April...with April I can feel the desperation in the act, as if the closeness of our bodies will never be enough, whether there be infinite space, or nothing at all.

I hear her whimper against my mouth, and it encourages me to place my hands around her back, wrapping them tightly to her body, so that I can truly feel her against me.

There is a split second between the frantic exchanges that our lips are making, and in that second I notice a tear escape April’s eye, and so I take one of the hands I had previously placed upon her back, using it to wipe the vulnerability away. Once I have done so, I gently place a hand underneath her chin, before kissing her once again.

She begins walking backwards, leading me to the stairs as our lips remain connected, but the act of getting all the way to her bedroom seems like the longest task known to man in this very moment, and so I force her body to turn towards the direction of the living room, and we divert our path instantly.

My wet clothes press against my skin as her hands travel up and down my back, across my hoody, which in turn releases a chill inside of me, giving into the cold as I shiver underneath her touch.

When she senses that the bitter air has pierced my bones, she grabs the hem of my hoody with the upmost delicacy before our lips part suddenly.

“Is this okay?” she whispers against my ear, kissing my neck, and then my collarbone.

I feel a jolt of electricity when her lips delicately graze my skin, and my body instinctively pushes itself closer to her mouth.

“Yes” I whisper back, keeping my words short, desperate to have her lips upon mine once again.

It is a dance between two teenagers, two individuals so entangled in one another, as if the act might save them.

We link our lips again as I feel her fingertips against my bare flesh for a fraction of a second as she pulls the hoody from the lower part of my torso, and expertly guides it over my head. I remain shivering, but for other reasons entirely now.

My hoody comes off, and with it, my shirt, and whether the act is accidental or not, I do not mind in the slightest.

“I’m sorry” she pants, disconnecting our lips once again. “I didn’t mean to-“

“Shh” I respond, connecting our lips for a quick second before pulling back. “It’s okay” I continue.

It seems that this is all she needed to hear, as her head moves in to find me again, and when her hands press against my bare skin, I begin to gasp against her mouth, which only entices her further, it seems, her fingers exploring more of me now, softly caressing my stomach, climbing higher, higher still, until she reaches the fabric of my bra, and pauses.

“That’s okay, April. It’s okay” I say, breathlessly, gazing at her for mere seconds before I find her lips again, as if my life depends on it.

I know that there must be a battle going on inside of her right now, her faith versus her desires, and I wish I could settle the debate for her, evaporate her worries like rainwater against glass.

But when her hands caress my covered breast with the most gentle and cautious of touches, it appears that the longing for this moment gains the better of her, and I moan against her lips, desperate for her fingers to never leave me. She strokes with the upmost of ease, allowing the tips of her fingers to skim the uncovered flesh above the fabric, circling them around my chest. We could remain this way forever, I think, pressed up against one another in a haze of skin and bones. 

Despite this, I cannot help but feel as if I need to ease her worries, and so, I attempt to cool the fire inside of me for one moment, releasing her grip against my flesh, and placing my hand in hers.

“We don’t have to do anything that you’re not comfortable with, April. We can take this at your pace. I would never force you to do something that you aren’t ready for” I state calmly, allowing for her to see that she is not the only one who feels vulnerable in this very moment.

“I just want to be able to kiss you, touch you, I’ve wanted this for so long, I-“ she pauses, gulping down what I can only assume is her worries attempting to get the better of her. The concern that this will not last forever. Her face says it all, as if she may cry in this very moment, the intensity of the situation too much.

“Well then kiss me, and touch me. We have time for everything else.” I do everything in my power to calm her.

She wastes no time in resuming our act of desperation, shockingly grabbing me by my legs, and picking me up in order to move me closer to the sofa. It is like she has done this so many times, when in actuality, I know that she has done no such thing.

Carefully, she places my body on the furniture, and I shift myself into a horizontal position. I lay my head against the armrest, waiting for her to climb on top of me. She pauses for a moment before doing so, and in that moment I think that it is over, that her mind has made the decision that this is too much.

But when she begins to close the distance between our bodies once again, it is like my brain switches off, each thought losing traction, until…nothing.

She positions herself so gently, so cautiously, as if she may hurt me, and it only makes me want her more. The feeling of her compassion is so foreign, and I was so unknowing, so oblivious to the idea that she could consider me in such a way, as if I might break.

I attempt to find her lips again, and yet she retracts, slowly, teasingly, leaning towards one side as she places her hands upon my exposed flesh once again, stroking my stomach with the upmost concentration. As if on cue, my breathing begins to escalate once again, and it seems as if this is all a game to her, as she leans in to kiss my shoulder, my arms, the top of my breast. If it is a game, a way of retrieving every ounce of breath I have left, then she is winning, and so am I.

Her hands find their way to the string of my sweatpants, and she takes the moment to look at me, as if to say ‘may I?’

I nod, slowly, allowing myself time to breathe before she inevitably unravels me once again.

I know that this will not go any further tonight, whether she undresses me, or not, but the fact that she is so desperate to touch all of me is enough. She is more than enough.

Lifting my legs up as not to get in her way, she undoes the knot, and slowly pulls the sweatpants from underneath me, until I am in nothing but my underwear.

“I’m not…I’m not ready for-“ April pauses.

“I know” I say, cutting her off once again, before kissing the top of her head.

Her lips curve into the slightest smile, before they reach mine, and the gap is closed between us. Our lips catch her hair between our mouths, and we laugh in unison at the mistake, the perfect imperfectness of it all. I extend a hand to move the hair away, and gaze upon the beauty of her skin, the glow of her teeth as she grins. She closes the gap between the curves of our lips slower than before, the anticipation rising, as if the seconds before our lips touch is a small eternity, the precision of her body almost rehearsed. I relish the taste, telling myself to remember this, remember her. 

I am almost naked, I realize, as her hands explore my legs, and my thighs for the first time, and for what I hope, is not the last. I make no move to expose her skin, knowing that she has delved so far out of her comfort zone already, and I do not wish to make her feel any more vulnerable than she needs to be. I don’t want to ruin this.

Her rapid breathing matches mine, as if merely touching my body is the most intimate thing a person can do. She strokes the side of my hip, placing two fingers underneath the hem of my underwear, and a thumb to accompany it. The desperation of her lips does not match the delicacy of her hands and how she places them. Her touch is tender, light, as if she is silently apologizing for everything that she has ever done in the form of a soothing brush of my skin. And I forgive her. I forgive all of it.

When our mouths disconnect, she lets out a heavy breath, and her eyes remain closed. She leans her head towards my shoulder, and leaves it there, and whilst we are no longer kissing, her hands never falter, never stop moving across my skin, as if she is tracing lines upon a map, and there is still so much to be discovered.

Lifting my leg, I wait for her hands to find new spaces, and like magic, they do. She strokes the skin just below the fabric of my underwear, the other side of my thighs, and the inner. She gently places soft kisses along my neck, sighing each time her lips have completed the small task, and I am completely and utterly content. 

I wonder if she already knows, can truly comprehend the complexity of my feelings for her without ever uttering a single word on the matter. Deep down, underneath the hatred that I thought she felt for me, they were always there, dormant like old volcanoes. Who would have known, could have known, that all this time, she had been erupting from the inside.

I place my arm around her, comforting the girl on top of me, the real one, not the one who hid behind wicked snarls and harsh tones, stroking her gently with my thumb.

I know that there is much to discuss, over a warm coffee, side by side, but tonight, I believe that our actions have said enough, if only for now.

And as we lie there, calm, and at peace, I allow her hands to outline every inch of flesh, for as long as she may need.

I am hers for the taking.

 

 

Chapter Text

Eighteen

 

I am standing at the door, willing the person behind it to leave me be, expecting nothing more than bad intentions beyond it.

Please go, I whisper quietly, as if they will hear me, and respect my wishes.

A problem doesn’t resolve itself unless you confront it head on, and I tell myself that this is no different. As such, I place my fingers upon the handle, and take a deep breath.

When I pull back the door, the hand of another is already poised, in preparation for another knock. The hand that I had longed to hold onto when I had touched it last.

Sterling.

Her clothes are sopping wet, dripping onto the steps below, and I am strangely feeling jealous of the rain, and how it can grace her skin without a second thought. I haven’t seen her look like this before, so unapologetically casual, and yet I am still completely and utterly mesmerized by her appearance, but I simply don’t have the strength to show it.

“You look…dry” she says, hovering over her words as if there is more to be said. I know how she feels. Sometimes words can escape us like passing trains.

She can’t be here right now, seeing me like this, it feels as if I am the one that is standing outside in the cold. I feel naked. Exposed.

“What do you want, Sterling? I’m tired. I don’t really have a lot to say. Or at least, I do, just…not right now. Or at all. I don’t know.” My words are quieter than anticipated, as if the slightest noise might break me, or startle me into isolation.

Truth be told, I have so much to say, but not the means in which to say it. My energy is completely depleted. I have wanted her to seek me out for so long, and now that she is here, my brain resorts to compartmentalizing my feelings, storing them away for a later date as a form of defense. Instinctively I find myself guarding the door, along with my heart.

“Are your parents home?” she asks, a not so conspicuous request to come in.

I’m not prepared to lie to this girl to deter her wishes.

“They aren’t, no, they are at a con-”

My words are cut short when I feel a forceful press of skin against my lips. A cold body pushed against me. It takes a few moments for me to truly realize just what is happening. Sterling Wesley is kissing me. Sterling. Wesley, she is kissing me.

Suddenly, I am wide awake, I can practically feel my pupils expanding. I close my eyes, succumbing to what is happening, letting it take over every sense I have.

Could this truly be happening? Did I fall asleep in the comfort of my bed? I am dreaming. I am dreaming. I am dreaming.

A manifesto of soft, tender skin, her intentions laid bare and exposed, like a deer in the headlights. Her hands upon my face, the silky-smooth touch of her palms against the redness of my cheeks. I absorb everything, let it become everything that I am. My life was waiting for this moment.

Quietly, my body makes gentle groans against her lips, and I beg that she doesn’t sense the desperation that has taken over the entirety of my thoughts, a distracted absentee to the world around her. Around everything that isn’t Sterling Wesley. She puts her arms around me, pressing me closer to her, and my body tells me that it cannot keep going. It will not make it through. It has been waiting for this moment almost as long as I have done, almost. The moment has arrived, mind and body, and we are not strong enough to hold it together.

The mind perseveres, longing to see where this night will take us, but the body, it quivers, and I can only observe as a tear leaves my right eye, and I curse the body for betraying me.

When her lips depart, she stares, my vulnerability so exposed, all of me exposed, and I tell myself that this is it. She will notice just how invested I am in this, all of this, and she will leave without another word. But…she doesn’t.

I cannot delve into the mind of Sterling Wesley, but I can gaze, and obtain some indication of warmth from her subtle features. She is looking at me as if the world might end, and we caused it. She is looking at me as if this is crazy, and yet incredible at the same time, as if we are skydiving, but with a greater high, a larger rush of adrenaline to our cores.

She places a hand that was once around my back to my cheek, wiping the tear away, and I gulp down the sentimentality of it all, praying that it was the last of my weakness. I notice something in her eyes that I have never seen before. She presses her palm against my chin, and we are connected again by our lips.

I tell myself I need more of her, need all of her. The Christian girl I have always been compels me to stop what I am doing, before it is too late. But the girl that has loved Sterling for half of her life cannot. That girl is leading the other towards her bedroom so that she can touch her in every way imaginable.  I wish to feel her body underneath me, bare, exposed. I wish to watch as she gives herself over to every individual stroke.

As we’re walking back, I am pushed in another direction, prompting us to head to the living room. I tell myself silently that this is for the best, my compulsion to be her undoing too much, too soon.

Her actions are not reflective of someone who truly hates me, someone who doesn’t even consider me. She holds onto me as if her fingers are keeping me here, as if I’ll disappear if she lets go. But I am here, in this moment, and I am willing to time to slow down, and speed up at the same time. I want to see where this goes, can hardly wait to see what will happen, but at the same time I wish that each individual second could be stretched to a small eternity.

I want her to sense what I am feeling, and desire to be able to make her feel like the most important person in the world like my life depends upon it. And so I press harder, harder still, gripping at the dripping wet fabric of her hoody, latching onto her with everything I have.  Her body trembles underneath my touch, an indication that she is cold, and so I discard every worried thought, taking action before my mind can talk myself out of it.

Sliding my hands down her body, I reach for the hem of her hoody, and reluctantly part from her lips for a second, silently hoping that we can continue once I ask her an important question.

“Is this okay?” I ask, quietly, timid, kissing her shoulder whilst moving the fabric at the top of her hoody with one hand, in order to press my lips to her collarbone, the other still attached to the hem. Her body pulses against me, a reaction I had never imagined I would find, would evoke from her. It only makes me want her more, in order to stir new and exciting responses.

I could never imagine the act of loving another to be so easy, so positively instinctual.

“Yes” she responds, whispering delicately, as she pushes her body closer to me, despite the space between us being so minimal. The idea that a girl such as Sterling could ever wish to be as pressed to my body as she currently does in this moment is unfathomable, but I shan’t overanalyze as to why this is the case. At least not now.

Desperate to feel her lips again, I press mine against her whilst using the hand still latched at the bottom of her hoody to pull it over her head. Her t-shirt rides up simultaneously, seemingly stuck to the wet fabric of her jumper. A pleasant accident, I silently admit to myself, though I cannot help but feel a sense of nervousness at the idea of removing all of her upper clothing, leaving her exposed. Does she want to be exposed? Her arms remain above her head in preparation for the hoody to come off, and she makes no indication that she wishes to stop now.

“I’m sorry” I breathe, heavily, feeling the slightest hint of skin against my fingers once I remove both layers. Instantly, I retract, our bodies no longer connected, and I can already feel the phantom loss that comes along with it. “I didn’t mean to-“

She cuts me off.

“Shh” she says, pressing a gentle kiss to my lips, so soft that I feel my insides melt. “It’s okay” she reassures me, and I feel as if I can breathe again.

Sterling Wesley is letting me into her world, allowing me to see all of her vulnerabilities, an unguarded secret for me to find, and I want to be present for every last minute. A sense of courage pushes me forward, figuratively and literally, and I link my lips with hers once again, whilst bravely sliding my hands against her bare skin. I have wanted to touch her for so long, and can hardly comprehend that I am finally doing so. I am too eager, I find, moving my fingers over every inch of flesh within seconds, desperate to be able to find every part. I have pictured the act countless times, and each time it has been slow, careful, poised. But now I am here, and I cannot slow down for the life of me, and when she moans against my mouth, I realize that I am willing to do just about anything to create that sound again.

I begin to push a hand upwards, towards her bra, my body shaking at the possibility of her allowing me to delve further. Except, she has not given me indication that I am able to do so, and I find myself parting lips once again to gain the confirmation that I desire, should she wish to provide it, of course. I cannot fault her for not wishing to, or being ready.

“That’s okay, April. It’s okay” she blurts quicker than I anticipated, kissing me once again before I can find the proper response.

I suppose that the best response is silent, in this instance, which leads me to edging my fingers further along her skin, and to her breast, gently stroking her with careful precision. She begins to pant against my lips, providing me the confidence that I need to keep going. But then her shallow breaths begin to change, and I sense that this is going to be over within seconds.

She pulls back, and my suspicions are confirmed. I have ruined it . I’ve done something I shouldn’t have. She will never even look at me again after this.

But then she takes my hand in hers, and stares at me as if the world has ended, and we are but two lonely survivors who cannot face the planets downfall alone. The downfall that we created with our first effortless kiss. It is as if I can feel my heart expand inside of me, longing for another place to keep the feelings close, despite the task in itself being impossible.

“We don’t have to do anything that you’re not comfortable with, April. We can take this at your pace. I would never force you to do something that you aren’t ready for” she says, gently, and it is like she knows exactly what I need to hear, and the way in which I need to hear it. I couldn’t ask for anything more. She is clinging to the threads of my psyche, and I let her in. I let her in.

“I just want to be able to kiss you, touch you, I’ve wanted this for so long, I-“ My words fail me, and I gulp down a wave of anxiety, because deep down I feel all of it so strongly, and yet I cannot portray what I want to say to the girl that I am in love with.

“Well then kiss me, and touch me. We have time for everything else” she responds, filling in the blanks for me. It is then that I feel my vulnerability getting the better of me again…or possibly, simply happiness, pure, untouched joy so strong that it is enough to evoke a physical response from my eyes. We have time for everything else. We. Have Time.

I have to hope that she means it. And if she doesn’t, we have now.

My longing gets the better of me in that very moment, and almost instinctually I am picking her up and placing her legs around me. Her body feels lighter than I anticipated, her height towering over mine somewhat, and I could carry her forever. Despite this, I lead her over towards the sofa so that I can lay her down and continue what we started.

Placing her as gently as I can, she takes but a few seconds to adjust herself so that she is horizontal, waiting for me to join her, and God, do I want to join her.

Except I cannot, not just yet, because I am looking down, taking all of her in, and I have never seen something so beautiful. Her body, her face that silently tells me she is waiting for me, waiting for me to kiss her, to touch her, worship her. And I will certainly do all of those things. But first, I must look, and just truly acknowledge how lucky I am to be standing here, above her, gazing at her. Her facial expression is not as easily read as it has previously been. She lies there simply, as a blinking, breathing, human being.

Once I have taken a mental picture, I carefully place my body on top of hers, leaning towards the left every so slightly as not to cause her any harm. She tries to kiss me within seconds of me taking my place on top of her, and I pull back, quickly, giving myself time to look at her whilst also dragging out the moment for as long as possible. I have never seen her look so desperate for me. Her eyes wander side to side, constantly, taking in all of my features, a vain attempt at trying to determine when I will close the gap again between us simply by looking at me.

If I kiss her, I cannot look at her, cannot watch as she gives her body over to me, and so as much as I would love to touch her lips again, right now I want to see her reactions more. I trail my hands down my bare flesh, against her stomach, and like magic, her breathing escalates, and her eyes remain on mine, and my flesh is burning alongside hers. I have to kiss her, I cannot help myself, but I tell myself that new territories have yet to be reached, and so I find myself kissing other parts of her skin. Shoulders, arms…and then I edge slightly over to the centre of her body, gently kissing the top of her left breast, the skin underneath softer than anything I have ever felt. I could listen to the sounds of her satisfaction, her longing, for the rest of my life, and I hope, god I hope, that I am able to.

Desperate to touch more of her, cursing myself for not taking my time, but also commending myself for being so brave, I trail my hands down to her sweatpants, and gently tug upon the knot that ties them together. I keep my eyes on hers, waiting to see if she desires to stop me from undressing her further.

She nods, before lifting her right leg up in order to assist me in my task, allowing herself to be discovered by me. Gently, I pull them off, and watch her reaction as she gasps, as if she is eager, waiting on all of the possibilities of what might happen.

As much as I would love nothing more than to remove her underwear as well, and treat her the way she deserves to be treated, I need more time. I know I need more time. I hope that she can understand that.

“I’m not…I’m not ready for-“ I pause, waiting for my mouth to say the word ‘sex’, my brain repelling it away, as if even mentioning what we could have possibility done had I not said anything would be a sin.

“I know” she responds, quietly, leaning forward to kiss my forehead with the upmost of delicacy.

I chose the right girl to fall in love with, I tell myself.

Needing to let her know this, I finally place my lips upon hers again, smiling into her mouth. The act was in vain, I realize, when I taste a piece of my hair as well as her mouth, but when she laughs against me, I find myself laughing too, easing us into another moment of passion again.

 She gently pulls the hair away, placing it behind my ear. The carefulness of this girl will be the death of me, and it only makes me want to be softer with her. I kiss her back, as slow as I can, savouring every second, but from the moment that I begin touching her bare thighs, the gradual pace is a thing of the past, and once again, we are animalistic in our motions.

Her breathing is heavier than it is has ever been, and I take it as a challenge to speed it up even further. The thought of her wanting me is, in turn, evoking heavy gasps from me too. I begin stroking her hip, questioning as to whether I should tease her further, as if to say, ‘there will be more to come’, but before I have truly decided my hands are already there, placing themselves partially underneath the fabric of her underwear towards the side of her hip, my fingers stroking her softly, whilst my thumb presses firmer strokes to her skin.

I wish I could tell her whilst we are lost in the moment, just how much that I love her. How much I want to worship every part of her. Please her in ways that she could never imagine. Move heaven and earth just to watch the corners of her lips curve into a smile. Now that we have destroyed the world, we may as well dance upon the ashes.

But I can’t, and if I can’t do it now, I might never be able to. And I’ll lose this. Late night kisses upon sofas, teasing hands upon tender skin. I’ll lose her.

I cannot silence the deafening words in my mind, and I retract instinctively, as if my body is not willing to commit to the moment if my head is not in it.

Seeking solace, I bury my head in the warmth of her shoulder, leaving it there for as long as she will allow me, but this nagging feeling inside of me, does not go away.

Maybe I do not deserve to kiss her.

Maybe she will hurt me.

Maybe I am no good for someone who is as wonderful as Sterling Wesley.

It’s like she hears it too, placing an arm around my shoulder supportively. It is only then that I notice that my hands are still exploring her skin, as if they are disconnected from my thoughts, willing me to keep going. To remain touching her for as long as she will let me.

I wish that I could nest here forever.

Chapter Text

Nineteen

 

When the sun streams in through the windows, I am reminded of where I am. The position that I slept in was not comfortable by any means, my body crushed against the back cushions of the sofa, with the slightest bit of room for me to place an arm around Sterling all night. Despite this, I could happily stay attached to this girl forever, like a forgotten padlock.

Sterling cannot pretend that she doesn’t remember that we kissed this time I think to myself, smiling into her hair as I take in the scent of her conditioner.

Her body is lying sideways in front of me, her clothes still sprawled across the floor in multiple locations of the living room. A messy act of passion She is sleeping.

When she eventually wakes up, the situation in which I find myself in can go multiple ways, our relationship much like the branches of a tree in this particular moment. I wonder if we are reaching out to the sky in the same way.

I cannot know without rousing Sterling from her slumber, but part of me does not want to. Part of me is perfectly content with watching her sleep, her body pressed against mine, keeping me trapped here against these cushions without truly feeling trapped like Stockholm Syndrome.

But there’s always that weight, pressing to the inside of my head, tearing down every mental foundation, urging me to wake her now because the idea of waiting, not knowing, is simply too much to handle. Are we two people in love, or are we opposite sides of the same coin?

Gently, I press kisses to her shoulder, stroking her bare thigh with my fingers as I do so. This time I can savor it, there is no burning desire to be her undoing. I can treasure each moment as if it will be the last. I simply have to hope that it isn’t.

A gentle murmur from her lips suggests that she is beginning to stir, but despite this, I find myself still pressing kisses to her soft skin anyway, a silent indication that I do not regret last night, even now that we aren’t wrapped up in a moment of desperation. I’m still here. I’m still taking mental pictures of everything that we do.

“What time is it?” she croaks, her voice more gravely than usual.  I realize that I am hearing how she sounds in the morning, when the day has started moving before she has. Another side to her that I have not seen. I plan to see every side to her if she will let me.

“I have no idea, considering the fact that I have a very attractive person blocking me in with her body right now” I joke, stroking her thigh, whilst laughing into her shoulder, kissing it lightly.

Without hesitation, Sterling retracts from me, and I have never felt more exposed in all of my life. Sitting into an upright position, she grabs her trousers from the floor, now bringing herself to stand as she hoists them up without another word.

“Hey, what’s the rush?” I ask, propping my elbow up against the sofa, attempting to get at least one more word out of her. Anything that will tell me what the hell is happening.

She walks over to where her shirt and hoody lay towards the entrance door, practically swooping them both up like an owl to a field mouse, before placing them over her head. It is then that I realize that she has yet to even look at me, let alone tell me what is going on. Am I not worth an explanation? Maybe not.

I’m not going to let myself get worked up, not yet, not when there are so many questions lingering in the air. There has to be a reason. There has to be.

I tell myself that if she is to leave, now, when I am at my most vulnerable, then this will be the end of it. There will be no more late night kisses on doorsteps, no more helping her out of her clothes that were once soaked by rain, no more escaping the inevitable reality that we are clearly not meant to be, our parallel lines never quite meeting one another.

“Sterling, please, wait” I beg, my thoughts getting the better of me all of a sudden, my words less forceful and weighted than I expected them to be. I am running on fumes, and cannot bring myself to raise my tone.

I replicate her actions, raising my body from the sofa that was once crushed behind the warmth of another person, desperately wishing that we were still meshed together, that I could still feel her bare skin upon my fingers. God, I wish I could rewind.

The mind only takes me so far, in this instance, I realize, as I stand idle on the spot, waiting for my next move, except, it never comes. Think, April, think. Fix this. Do something. Do…anything.

Except, you cannot fix something if you do not even know what is broken.

For the first time this morning she looks at me, really looks at me, but it doesn’t feel the same, not like it did last night. She’s looking through me, just like she used to, I’m just a ghost again. It feels appropriate, I suppose, and almost ironic, that I will always be haunted by this. Her eyes are vacant, and she is the girl in the classroom, a robot with a pencil, tapping away. We are what we have always been right now, which is to say, nothing.

I am grateful when my eyes well up underneath the stress of it all, because this time I want to be vulnerable. I want her to see what she does to me. That I can be strong, confident even, when we are connected, but I can also crumble like sandcastles when we are not.

When Sterling was lying next to me this morning, I had pictured coffee and biscuits, picking out a fresh, and more importantly, dry pair of clothes for her, my clothes. I’d pictured awkward kisses, and kisses that aren’t so awkward.

I pictured us.

Quickly, but noticeably, I take a moment to glance over at the grandfather clock towards the far right of the room. 9:07AM. School has already started, my attendance record spotless until now, and yet I cannot bring myself to care. Because if Sterling is to leave, now, without saying a single word, none of it will matter. And I’ll be putting up my walls again. 

Weighing the scenarios in my head, I realize that whilst there is most likely billions of different combinations of words that can be ushered in this very moment, I cannot foresee an infinite string of sentences being able to fix this. Being able to make her stay. And despite the complete and utter destruction of every mental string that connected itself back together last night, I cannot keep her somewhere she that she no longer wishes to be.

Naively, I think that she doesn’t really want to go.

But then the door slams, and without another word, she has left me.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Twenty

 

When potassium and water are combined, the metal ignites, and explodes. Similarly, it feels more and more likely these days that Sterling and I are a chemical reaction that was never meant to be.

I’m sitting on the sofa, stroking the fabric beneath, using my mental imagery to attach a faint picture of the girl that left me on the edge of it, as if she is still here, as if we didn’t ignite upon impact and fizzle out.

I wonder if she went to school, late, in the clothes she wore last night, the clothes that had my hands all over them. I wonder if anybody could fathom what happened between us if they knew.

Alas, Sterling and I are enemies, nothing more, and such a title would most likely indicate that what we shared together was a moment to dwell on the back of our tongues and our tongues alone, should she ever be willing to discuss what happened, of course.

Blair must have woken up this morning, confused, and possibly worried, when she acknowledged an empty bed where Sterling’s body usually lie. But maybe she didn’t. Maybe Sterling had told her that she wouldn’t be coming back for the night. Maybe she knew that we would react like water and potassium all along.

The semantics are redundant when I realize that I am sitting here alone, and I am doing so because the girl I love decided that it was appropriate to leave without saying goodbye, without telling me how she truly feels. I could tell her how I feel, now, if she came back, and all that it would require myself to usher would be the word ‘used.’

But she’s not coming back.

Desperately needing a distraction, I tell myself that the act of stroking the space in which she used to occupy is a fruitless task, destined only to make matters worse, and therefore I remove myself from the sofa, in order to make my way over to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I can't say that I am in the mood for a hot beverage, but I am certainly in the mood to maintain some form of normality, and coffee is a routine that has unentionally become so normal that the ritual may relax me.

Sterling and I could have shared coffee together.

I shake away my thoughts by turning my head frantically, as if they can be expelled by the mere act, before placing some sugar in the mug and pouring the hot water on top.

Usually, I like my coffee black, no sugar, and yet here I am, placing three spoonful’s of sugar, and an extra dollop of milk because I know that’s how Sterling likes it. I know how she likes her coffee and yet she does not know the foggiest thing about me.

Taking a sip almost instantly, I feel the harsh boiling liquid set my mouth on fire, and I welcome its sting, providing me with something else to focus on other than how I feel emotionally in this very moment.

Glancing over at the living room, and how unappealing it looks to occupy given the situation, I decide to go upstairs to my bedroom, avoiding any memories of last night as much as I can.

But there it is again, that niggling, pesky feeling in the pit of my stomach.

This is the space in which you tried to walk backwards in order to lead Sterling upstairs to do God knows what with her.

I’ve attempted to shake the thoughts aside so many times by now that I’m giving myself a headache.

“Please” I say out loud, begging for some form of solace. “Let me shut down for just five minutes.”

My wish is not met with fulfilment.

***

Cold. I can practically feel the brittleness of my bones underneath the sheer weight of this soaking wet hoody.

You could have changed into some of Aprils clothes had you not ran away.

I tell myself they’ll snap like strings if I don’t get warm soon enough. If I don’t get back home.

Home. Blair will notice that I was gone all night. She’ll ask questions. Questions I’m not sure that I’ll have the answers to. Or rather, questions that I simply do not wish to answer.

My brisk walk turns into a gentle jog, and I invite the slight warmness to my cheeks from the exercise as my heart rate increases.

Your heart rate increased more than this last night…when April Stevens’ hands were all over you.

“Oh my god, stop!” I think to myself, expelling the intrusive thoughts before realizing that the words were in fact, said out loud.

A construction worker across the street glances over and I can only imagine his observations. Soaking wet clothes, messy unkept hair, makeup in places it shouldn’t be. I feel as if I am a specimen under a microscope.

It is no surprise that I wish I could analyze myself, too. What sort of person walks out on someone they have feelings for? Leaving that other person alone, as if they did something wrong?

A heartless bitch, that’s who. An individual who is colder than the clothes she is forced to wear like a 'second place' ribbon.

My gentle jog becomes a run, and my run becomes a sprint, as if I can escape myself. Leave my body, and find a quiet space in another dimension. I glance downward, watching as my cool, smoky breath hits the pavement, panting in heavy intervals, expelling everything I have.

Do you wish that it was April making you breathless again?

Looking up, the door to my home has never seemed more inviting than it does now in this current moment.

I tell myself that I must text Blair, explain myself, but only once I have stepped inside the warmth of four walls and gained some miniscule sense of normalcy once again.

When I can hear the lock turn, and the jingling of keys, I know that I can finally just breathe. There is no need to act the part, no need to pretend to be Miss Perfect, which after last nights events, I most certainly am not.

Stepping inside, the warm air envelopes me, and without even thinking about whether I am alone or not, I pull the cold hoody and soaking wet shirt from my torso and throw it aside to the floor, attempting to ignore the feeling inside that is reminding me of how the same thing happened last night under April's roof, before retrieving my phone from my trouser pocket.

I’m sorry, B, I won’t be at school today. Not feeling so great. x

Not a lie, I remind myself. I do feel horrible. I did something horrible.

Within seconds, Blair has already responded, seemingly ignoring whatever class she is currently in, as always.

Where were you all night, asshole?  You had me worried, man.

I sigh into my phone, placing it against my forehead in thought, as if my mind can transfer words over to the screen.

I was with Luke. x

Chapter Text

Twenty One

 

They say that days can blur, mold into one entity, but with Sterling, I cannot agree with this logic. I recognize that a clock is in the room with us before my eyes have even located it. I can sense each ticking second as it falls into place on the dial. 

Sterling places a strand of hair between her ear.

Two seconds.

She takes a seat in the cafeteria next to her sister.

Four seconds.

She takes a bite of her sandwich and grimaces at the taste.

Six seconds.

The moments we have spent today, eyes locked together, tight.

Zero seconds.

Time may be an abstract concept, a man made design to capture our fleeting idylls about what a perfect life should be and pocket them, but right now, it feels as if it is the only thing that is real.

And so I count, and I do so because it is the one thing that I can rely on.

The conversation from across the room between Sterling and Blair is a light-hearted one, I can tell. There is no bitterness there, in fact you could almost believe that there is not a single secret between the two of them.

Almost.

But I am not naïve enough as to believe that Blair is aware of what happened between the two of us the other night despite our conversation at the tree, because I am not a conquest worth boasting about, and that has been made very clear by Sterling’s actions.

I am the book you never admit to reading, the drawing you couldn’t quite bring yourself to discard, and instead shelf away because the lines were not perfect. I’m the anomaly that she never expected. The one she doesn’t want.

When I first met Sterling Wesley, I did not ask to fall in love, it simply happened. Some say like magic, I say calamity. What else can I call it, when she is sitting right there, a smile plastered upon her features, when I am but a shell?

Ten minutes.

Eleven minutes.

Twelve minutes.

Thirty minutes of silence, alone.

I’m out of my seat before the bell rings, my mind still heavily focused on each passing second. You cannot control time, just as you cannot control the feelings of another. I am so tired of being constantly aware of what is out of my reach and yet so oblivious as to what I can achieve.

You’re smart, April.

Determined.

Powerful.

Why is this so difficult to believe?

There was once a time in which I did not doubt myself a fraction as much as I do currently, and yet somehow now I’m drowning in it. 

It was not so long ago that I radiated confidence. It followed me. Enveloped me.

And now look at me.

I’m standing in place, focusing on things I should not have to focus on like how to breathe, or how to swallow emotions like water.

A routine I have created has been destroyed, and I begin to fumble in my bag in order to retrieve my class schedule. Why can I not remember where I am supposed to be going? I simply do not forget these things. I’m April Stevens. I… I’m April.

When I finally find it, my timetable, we are one in the same. A seemingly old, discarded thing, with no real purpose anymore. Until now.

My eyes hover, and hover, scanning the document in hopes that it will indicate as to where my next class is, whilst simultaneously focusing on my breathing. People shouldn’t have to focus on such things.

But then I am tapped on the shoulder, and I divert my gaze from the timetable, and instead onto the person in front of me.

Sterling.

 

***

You didn’t think this through.

You didn’t think this through.

You didn’t…

April, hey.” I grin, half-heartedly, my hands placed awkwardly together like mismatched flowers in front of me.

Even tapping her on her shoulder sets me on fire, and I’m instantly thinking back to two nights ago, when her hands were all over me, exploring me, loving me.

How is it that we were once so intoxicated by one another, lips meshed together in desperation, and yet now, we cannot hold a simple conversation?

Time apart is a powerful thing. It can be the creation, or the undoing of everything.

Her eyes water, her fingers shake the paper she is holding, and the ground we stand on-top of comes to a grinding halt. The earth is no longer spinning.

And something in her changes.

“Why are you doing this to me?” she asks, the pooling water beneath her eyes falling like sunsets. “Have I been that horrible to you that I deserve this?” she continues, gesturing to all of herself, as if simply looking at her is enough for me to understand how broken she is.

And it is.

Despite her voice being barely a whisper, her words have never seemed louder.

I sigh, shifting my body weight, willing myself to just be honest with her for once in my miserable life.  

“Not here” I respond without answering her question, a silent request that she follow me, forget her classes, and just follow me.

Please, April, I internally beg.

I hear the gulp hit her throat as it shifts down her neck, her worry so visible with every gesture she makes. April is at her breaking point, and I’m the one that got her there.

When I realize that I am met with nothing but silence, I pivot myself towards the fire exit, and begin walking in the direction in which I wish to take her.

I make but a few steps before I turn again, in order to check that she is following.

She is.

It is an odd thing, I think to myself. The strong-willed, heavy minded April Stevens, is taking gentle, cautious steps in my direction like a lost puppy dog. Like she’s mine for the taking.

And she is.

She was.

And I threw it away.

And yet she is letting me lead her anyway, as if the destruction of her emotional foundation means nothing.

As if she is nothing.

I turn back towards the exit for two reasons.

1) So that she may continue to follow.

2) So that she cannot see my tears.

Discreetly, I wipe away the vulnerability, if only because one of us has to be strong. And I’ll be that, for her, even if it does feel as if I am crumbling.

A few more steps, Sterling, just a few more.

Taking my time as I expertly maneuver around the untucked chairs, I give myself an extra few seconds to compose myself before I inevitably break down again.

I’m utterly convinced that the human body wasn’t designed to fall apart this much.

But as the fire exit doors swing open to the quiet space behind the school building, away from wandering ears, I am also convinced that it will.

It’s now or never, Wesley. Let it be now.

I step outside.

 

Chapter Text

Twenty Two

 

I suck air into my lungs with rapid desperation, as if the oxygen in the surrounding area is destined to leave just like Sterling did when the left me.

The door of the fire escape closes behind me, and we are met with nothing but silence to fill, a task that seems almost impossible given the gravity of the situation - the weight of our past hanging heavy between us, so prominent that I can almost reach out and grab it.

But no, if I was to reach out, to truly reach, my hands would meet Sterling Wesley instead, and god, do they want to reach. Despite this, that is not my destiny, and I am left sucking air into my lungs until she decides to fill that empty silence with reason.

Honestly, I’ll take anything.

“April, I….”

She pauses almost instantly, the act making it seemingly obvious that she has yet to decide upon why she brought me out here in the first place, skipping classes when I am so accustomed to my ritual that it is more a tattoo rather than a daily schedule; a permanent scar I carry with me everywhere I go.

Or not so permanent, it seems, anymore.

“Look” I spit, my lip quivering underneath the shock of my voice, as if my body itself could not predict that I would be the one to spur things into motion. “You can’t mess with my life like I don't matter, okay? You can’t throw glances in my direction anymore if there’s nothing truly behind your eyes, you can’t drag me out of classes just to chisel away at something that is already so very broken, and you most certainly can’t kiss me anymore and-“

My forceful words are met with more forceful lips, and my pupils widen at the situation that has unfolded itself. A kiss in public. A public kiss.

What was once all I had ever dreamed under safe blankets, and glow in the dark stars suddenly seems poorly timed, and badly placed, like an ill-fitting coat. I surprise even myself when I pull away.

“I can’t. I can’t keep doing this. I’m not strong enough. Either you tell me how you really feel…or I’m done. I’m just done, Sterl. I mean it.” I feel the salt of my tears touch the side of my mouth, the same mouth that had once been so beautifully occupied mere moments before, before I even realize that I am crying.

There’s something behind her eyes that I cannot quite comprehend. An expression meets mine, unreadable, defeated, like she isn’t going to fight for me.

Not that I had ever expected her to, in the first place.

Her breath catches between heavy sighs, but her gaze never falters.

“You wanna know why that is something I just can’t wrap my head around? Something that I’m not prepared to do right now?” she asks, her body shaking underneath the stress of it all, as if that so very seemingly real weight has been pressed against her shoulders, looming in the background of our masquerade. It mocks us both. Laughs at our feeble attempt at a relationship.

“Tell me! I’m dying to know!”

At this point I am not holding back, cannot bring myself to calm down. Let them hear, let the world hear. I am too tired to care. My body is on autopilot, and I silently thank it for being able to hold itself up, for being able to do what I never could. To accept that I may have to let go. 

“Because I don’t trust you!” Sterling cries, her hands like traffic signals as she waves them in my direction, giving me the green light instead, but before I can hit go on our conversation and pick up where she has left off, she has taken it upon herself to keep driving. “You shit all over me every single day. You make me feel like I’m some lesser person. That I’m only destined to be this….this…pathetic boring person with a pathetic boring life. To everyone else, I’m your enemy. I’m the girl you don’t think twice about unless there is malice behind the thought. And you want me to spill my heart out to you? Tell you that I love you and that I’ve always loved you when I have no idea what you’re going to do with those words once I say them?”

And there it is.

That something. That beautiful sentiment I’ve been waiting for. And it was screamed in my face like acid. Like fire. Except I feel nothing if not doused out, if anything at all.

Sometimes the things we long for are laced with false intentions.

“Is that how you really feel?” I ask, as calm as I can possibly be, given the complexity of what has just happened, as if I have succumbed to the agony in my stomach, until it is nothing but a dull throb. I am so used to the feeling, as if it has been tailored just for me. I have worn it for so long that it is almost unnoticeable. Almost.

“Which part?”

Every part of her is defeated, and she stares at me as if I am the one that has destroyed her. I suppose we have both destroyed each other, after all.

“That you love me, Sterling. Do you love me?”

Such a question is often perceived to have such complicated connotations behind it. I cannot comprehend why. I love Sterling. I know that I love Sterling. And despite all of it, she could do just about anything to me, and I would continue to move heaven and earth for her. Love is blind, but it is also dangerous. So very dangerous, I have learned.

“I don’t know, I…” she hesitates once again, using the sleeve of her cardigan to wipe away some of her tears, despite not being able to remove the evidence that they were once there, her eyes puffy and red. The evidence never lies. “Sometimes I think that you’re the goddamn devil. Other times I want to kiss you. You always make me feel like I’m doing something wrong, and so I guess that also means feeling like it’s wrong of me to love you.”

“How could the way we felt the other night be so wrong? How could loving another person like that be so bad?”

I take her hand in mine instinctively, because even though she has hurt me, tore me apart these last few weeks, I understand. I wouldn’t trust me, either.

She doesn’t make any indication that she is going to step away, and my heart swells with hope for the future, for better or worse. 

“How do I know?” she whispers. “How do I know that this isn’t just another fiendish plot that you’ve cooked up to humiliate me?”

The tears she had wiped away with her cardigan may be drying against the fabric, but new ones form within seconds, and it takes every fiber of my being not to wipe them away, scared of what the reaction may be.

“The short answer is you don’t. The long answer is that you make me feel like I’m on fire and yet somehow I’m still safe at the same time. The other night didn’t solidify anything for me because it didn’t need to. I knew how I felt, and I still know and I’ll continue to know whether you cease to feel it or you simply let it happen. You were the one that left me then, I was all in, waiting for you to come back. I'm always waiting for you. I know that this is a leap of faith, but I’m falling too. Can’t you see that?”

I give her everything, give her all of me, and if it isn’t enough now, then it shall never be enough and I can finally try and move on. Finally try to mend.

“I’m scared, April. I’m so goddamn scared.”

Her admittance makes my knees weak, my very core tremble, and I squeeze onto her hand just a little bit tighter.

“Not a good enough reason to take the lords name in vain not once, but twice now, however…I shall let it slide this time” I smile, allowing the humour of my words to blend into the background and make the difficulty of everything we have just exchanged just a little bit easier.

I simply watch as she grins into the floor beneath, somehow ashamed almost of how beautiful her happiness can be. I will never tire of it. Never.

She takes a moment to compose herself before gazing at me once again, shifting her body weight from foot to foot. I await her response, hanging on the silence, never wanting another word exchanged from quiet lips more in my entire life.

“Then lets fall together.”

I lean in to kiss her lips with a quick, gentle kiss, my fingers remaining latched between hers, destined to rest there from the very beginning, it seems. An act, so surprisingly effortless, as if we have been committed to this dance for years. An act, I could get used to, if Sterling Wesley were to let me.

When I sigh into her mouth, it is only then that we part, and I notice that my gesture has painted her features a soft pink. I long to remain the artist on a canvas of her skin. 

April Stevens is back.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Twenty Three

 

I had envisioned explosions of the best kind. A world deafened by noise, and yet somehow still silent. Small tiny splutters of chaos, appealing to the eye that are destined to see scattered remnants of what once was. A broken relationship discarded, new fragments exposing themselves to form the latest scenarios and make them a reality. A new, and whole partner.

As we sit a meter apart at Sailor Joe’s Café I do picture explosions, only, it appears as if the wrong parts of what once was is being destroyed as we speak. Or as we don’t.

The world is deafening, and yet there is nothing to fill the loudness.

Sterling sits across from me, tapping the side of her mug with her index finger, other hand wrapped tightly around the handle as if it might somehow leave her if she doesn’t grip it hard enough. We share a similarity in the respect that we’re not always having hot drinks simply because we’re thirsty, but because the comfort of the warm beverage around your hands is sometimes all that you need to feel safe.

She hasn’t looked at me once since the waitress left. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, her mouth parted ever so slightly a few minutes ago, only to close again, her breath catching in her throat, telling her to keep it shut.

Alas, I am not the one that left her all alone. I am not the one that pretended I thought I was speaking to a stranger, when I had known the entire time who I was conversing with.

I am not perfect, but I would never do that.

Another waiter bustles over to us approximately five minutes after, and I feel the coffee between my hands grow cold with each passing moment as he places a smorgasbord of food onto the table. I can’t imagine either of us are hungry, and yet somehow we made the decision to order every side dish on the menu, simply because we were so distracted, I suppose.

“Thank you” I offer, a polite smile gracing my lips, but never meeting my eyes.

The longer I say nothing to Sterling, the colder my coffee gets. The safety blanket removed.

The girl I am still in love with nods in his direction, her eyes not meeting him at all.

“Would you like some fries?” she asks, passing them across the table awkwardly, as if simply staring at me for a singular second will set her on fire.

“I’d like you to talk to me, that’s what I would like” I push back, hands wrapped firmly around my mug as if the fleeting temperature will offer me solace.

“What do you want me to say, April? That I’m a bitch? I know what I am. I know what I did. How can I even look at you knowing what’s happened between us? It happened because of me.”

Finally, some honesty, my hands manage to stifle their grip for a moment.

“I don’t think you’re a bitch, Sterl” I say, sighing downwards at the table of food that makes me feel sick just looking at it. “What you did…I don’t understand it. I want to understand. But you’re not letting me to do that. You’re not telling me anything.”

I have been in an argumentative situation with Sterling Wesley so many times, far too many to count, and equally, I have pictured loving her, and having her love me. This feels nothing like either. It feels as if we have been married for fifty years and yet somehow still cannot grasp how to communicate with one another.

She matches my sigh with her own, and I watch and observe as the veins inside her hands dance alongside her bones, clasping onto her own mug so tightly that I fear it may break.

I fear I may break.

“I was scared, April. Like ninja with nunchucks at my door scared. That’s why I didn’t tell you that I knew who you were when you texted me that night. I needed to know that you were for real. That you weren’t just saying all those nice things to get me to say them back because you wanted to send them all to the class, to Blair for gods sake, to Luke even. For all I knew you could have been doing that just to get more dirt on me. The second I say “I know it’s you April” is the second that you can use that against me, and all of our conversations.”

“Then why didn’t you just say you knew it was me before we even shared all those messages together?” I ask.

She pauses for a moment, biting her lip.

“Because I wanted to have those conversations with you, April. I just didn’t know how. I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t tell you and yet continue to message you. I’m not used to all this. I’m not used to falling for a girl out of the blue. This is so far out of my comfort zone. I knew I wanted to kiss you the other night, and a whole lot more, trust me, but what happens after? Do we walk off into the sunset together? Do we tell everyone we’re in a lesbian relationship? What next?”

“We didn’t get to find out because you didn’t let us, Sterling. That’s exactly my point. You think it’s not scary for me? The Christian daughter of two even more hardcore Christians being gay? You think that’s easy? That I’m not completely going out of my comfort zone, too? I was, and I am. And yet I still stuck by you despite the fact that should anything have gone wrong that night, my parents could have come home and caught us at any moment. I’m risking things too here, Sterl.”

“Why?”

A one word question is not what I expected as a response.

“Why what?”

“Why are you risking everything?” she asks timidly.

“Because I think that you’re worth it. God I hope that you’re worth it.”

The grip she had formed so tightly on her mug lets loose, and I watch as her hand shifts across the table, reaching for mine.

I flinch, remembering that we are in a public place, and we don’t have the fortune of sharing even the tiniest intimate moment together without passing glances.

Remembering what I said to her moments earlier, I allow myself to free my clasp from my mug, meeting her halfway with my hand.

The warmth of her fingers reminds me of why I am doing this. Why I am willing to risk it all. Because how can I ignore such static electricity? How can I ignore that a simple touch of her skin makes me feel void of all conflict? It cannot be circumstantial, cannot be a stroke of luck, a flap of a butterfly wing. I am here with her, now, her index finger tracing small figure eights against my palm, and I feel so…so human.

I feel like me.

“I’m so tired of us hurting each other” she speaks, barely a whisper. A shy reminder that she is present in the moment.

“Me too” I whisper back.

“Can we stop? Hurting each other, I mean?”

I picture a school environment in which we are hand in hand, lips to cheek, in love, and I curse the world around me for the unfair advantage that I would have if Sterling were to be a boy. Except, it doesn’t feel like an advantage at all. It feels like a hindrance. I am in love with a girl, and I could not be happier about it.

Alas, the world has other ideas about what happy should be, and whilst that may be how we live one day, it is not how we shall live now. Whispers in a hallway, smirks upon the faces of those I thought were my friends.

I give her my answer, the only one I can provide. The honest one. Because life isn’t a movie, we can’t assure ourselves a happy ending. We can hope for one, but a guarantee is never truly there.

“I don’t know, Sterling. I really don’t.”

I grip her hand so tightly, my safety blanket, my warm cup of coffee.

Chapter Text

Twenty Four

 

When the truth is finally out in the open the days begin to slow. Time somehow feels heavier, more distinct. Real. You forget that a simple exchange of fingers touching on café tables is not the etiquette in this town, so long as two girls are attached to the act. The world is no different in the confines of a classroom, in the grounds outside, human intolerance prevails again. It always prevails.

And so I observe the sharp collarbones of what I hope will soon be my girlfriend. I watch her hair fall slightly out of place, and yet I make no move to rectify it. Because the etiquette dictates that I stare idly by whilst a much less deserving boy does the job for me.

Fortunately for myself, however, this doesn’t happen.

Fortunately for myself, I know that our conversation in the café, hands skimming lightly across the others skin, was not in vain.

Every eye on mine is a danger to me now, a threat so real, so palpable, because it can be my undoing. All it takes is one mistake. One look in her direction that lasts just a few seconds longer than it should. One pinky finger gently grazing over hers. One smile that doesn’t match the level of hatred I have artificially designed for the girl that I love.

But it is worth it, so long as she can see that I love her.

In this hostile environment, this enemies territory, we are nothing to one another but specks on the others shoe. We are opposite sides of the spectrum.

But outside? In the confines of dark rooms we are lovers. We are the entire spectrum.

And so I grin, and I bare it, because when we are side by side in classrooms, a universe of silence between us, I know that tonight will be different.

We can be different.

Because I know what makes Sterling Wesley tick. I know what makes her come undone.

And no one else gets to experience that but me.

***

The backseat of her car is cold, but my limbs are on fire.

Clumsy tongues, clacking teeth, becomes passionate, long strokes, becomes rampant gasoline.

Her hands are exploring all of me, and I let them. Despite the core principles inside of me silently requesting that I slow down, I bat them to the side like a discarded jumper.

Her fingers gradually make their home underneath my school shirt, tracing lines against my stomach like an artists brush and I melt in the invisible colours it leaves.

There is not but a single second in which the air around us is filled with shallow breaths, our panting out of time, mismatched. She breathes, and I follow. She breathes, and I follow.

The car park is quiet, nothing but streetlights our witness as I decide that I’m willing to take things further.

Sterling Wesley’s body is pressed against me, her knees bent underneath her perfect figure as she sits on top of me with my back against the seat of the vehicle, the weight a perfect distraction from all of my worries, fleeting moments that mean nothing when I have this, all of this.

We’re not the same two people we were in my living room already. This dance is rehearsed, more refined, it’s almost perfected.

I’m unbuttoning her school blouse before my mind can talk me out of it, before the worries come flooding back in like a tsunami of memories.

She heaves her chest forward toward me, a silent confirmation that this is what she wants, what we both want. The confirmation is enough for me to discard the item of clothing completely. It is long forgotten before it has even touched the carpet upon the vehicle floor.

“Sterl” I manage to whisper between heavy sighs, the word sounding more like a statement, rather than an actual name. Within seconds she is placing my hands on her bra, longing to be touched, to be felt underneath the dim light of the car.

I happily oblige.

The fabric is coarse against my fingers, and gently I latch onto her, cupping her chest in my palm, feeling the weight of her against my skin. I shudder.

Her body moves in rhythmic pace on-top of me, as if she is desperate to close a distance that does not exist. As if when it finally does, she will be longing for other moments such as this one.

Sterling’s breathing escalates within seconds, and it pleases me to know that despite my lack of experience, I appear to be doing the right thing to get her heart beating fast like I want it to.

It stirs me into new realms of confidence, and I find my other free hand sliding down her bare back and into her underwear as a result, squeezing gently at first, but only at first, our desperate kisses making sure of that.

As if by magic I hear the rain begin to pelt against the windows of the vehicle, a cliché I’m accustomed to enjoying given the circumstance. The peaceful and yet deafening thuds of heavy drops hitting concrete floors outside sets me at ease.

I notice soft, delicate fingers unbuttoning my shirt only when the last button is being undone, and with my hands still upon her I sit up ever so slightly with her body still pressed against mine in order to remove the offending piece of clothing.

Now that my body is upright, I take it as an opportunity to unhook her bra, removing my hand from breast to the clasp, my mouth tracing messy kisses along her neck simultaneously.

When her top half is exposed my mind explores new inhibitions, and so I push her body towards the other side of the car so that her body is now underneath me, and I am in control.

My hands caress her newly bared chest with soft precision, her skin like velvet underneath my fingers. The area, smooth as silk, is electrifying to the touch, and it takes everything I have not to find other areas just as soft, just as inviting.

But then she hears me, like she always somehow hears me, just like she knew I held up barriers around her, just like she knew when I had discarded them, she hears me now.

Her hand removes my own from her breast, and instead guides it closer to the hem of her pants. Instinctively, my breathing catches in my throat, and she removes her hand from mine in order to cup my chin with a tender smile to match. My eyes never leave hers. My hand stays where she left it.

“You don’t have to” she whispers, leaning forward only to place a singular kiss to the corner of my mouth.

My hands linger at the entrance of her pants, anticipation rising inside of me at the thought of being able to touch Sterling Wesley. To control the way she feels with a simple touch. I have longed for the girl beneath me for as long as I can remember. Have thought about every inch of her skin, and how each significant part would feel against my fingertips. I cannot miss the chance to finally make this longing a reality.

“I want to” I whisper back, matching the kiss she had given me seconds before, only to have it all fall apart when the act of kissing itself is in motion. I cannot help but to longingly beg for more, taking her lip between my teeth with slight force.

With her mouth distracted, I use the hand she placed accordingly to her wishes to fulfil the need she has requested from me, placing my body to the side of her ever so slightly with the little room we have between us as my fingers slide into the fabric of her underwear.

Her body reacts almost instantly, pushing herself against my hand with desperate demands I am willing to meet. The warmth of her folds against my fingertips sends me reeling as I begin to slide myself up and down the core of her wetness.

My mind cannot comprehend what is happening between us. Could it be, that I am here now, in the backseat of a car with the love of my life, touching her where she has asked to be touched? It is.

My mouth is still placed where it belongs, upon her lips, tugging gently on occasion when her breathing is heaviest. The sounds begin to build on top of one another, gentle breaths become weighted ones, weighted ones become gentle sighs, gentle sighs become weighted ones. Weighted sighs become substantial moans.

The sounds of her pleasure build my breaths alongside, a foundation of intensity that is destined to come apart only when she does. The rhythm of our movement builds the structure higher, my other hand against her bare stomach, a slight sheen of sweat decorating her skin, decorating me.

I wish to gain new reactions, assemble new constructs, and so I carefully insert a finger inside of her, and simply watch and admire the advanced noises that flood the car, that heighten the energy around us.

Her face looks beautiful when she is not in control of how it looks - when she is a slave to features she has not planned, could not possibly foresee.  

An almost unnoticeable whimper escapes my mouth as I place another finger inside the warmth of Sterling Wesley, thrusting in out of her with a determined, intricate tempo. The noises become more stifled as I place my mouth against hers once again, allowing them to overflow into me instead, causing my lips to vibrate slightly.

My pace begins to quicken when her body tightens, as if my hand has set up home here. I do not falter.

There is a shorter gap between her moans now, rapid sounds, heavy breaths, and so I increase the speed one final time. I know that it will be enough.

When she begins to writhe underneath me, and her body is trembling wildly, I know that it has been.

My pace slows gradually, allowing her to ride out the feeling that has just enveloped her. Her lips shake against mine. Her breathing never falters. When my eyes leave hers for the first time, I observe the newly formed fog against the windows. The physical evidence of what we have created.

Sterling Wesley. I made Sterling Wesley come undone.

I kiss her lips gently as I retract my fingers, the foundations of what we have built falling down directly around two passengers. There is nothing left but us.

 

Chapter Text

Twenty Five

 

Last night we were silhouettes. Just two unknown faces at the back of a busy room. And after? After, we were evolved. We became what others were spectating. We became whole.

An out of body experience I felt with all of my body envelopes all of me – an oxymoron of the purest kind, and this morning should be the comedown, the calm before the storm, and yet, the sun streaks through my window regardless and assures me that there will be no bitterness today.

I picture Sterling’s head upon the pillow next to mine, and a smile meets my lips, and I dwell in the moment for as long as I possibly can before I start my day. To a school girl, the day begins when her teeth are brushed, she is showered, and she is in her seat in class. Except, in this moment it feels as if my day has already begun, as I daydream among the sheets.

How I long for my day to begin with her head against the pillow.

Once I have told myself I can hold onto unrealistic fantasies no longer, I raise myself from my bed and decide that I must construct the usual routine, the ‘normal’ way to begin a day, and therefore, I brush my teeth, I shower, and I walk to class.

Normal seems so distant now, and despite each day being a ritual I know oh-so-well, it feels…different. I feel different.

My phone vibrates in my pocket; reminding me that I must silence it before I enter the school gates, but before I do so, I check the reasoning behind the noise.

Sterling: Last night was…

That’s all.

I discard my routine almost instantly, standing in place whilst I wait for those newly familiar dots to find their way onto my screen again.

Nothing.

If I can kiss Sterling Wesley, touch Sterling Wesley, then I decide that the least I can do is muster up enough courage to text her back.

April: …a mistake?

I leave my thumb to hover over the letters, and wait for the comedown I told myself would never happen when I was tucked away safely in bed.

Sterling: I was going to say amazing unless…you regret it?

My response is set into motion without a second thought.

April: I could never regret it. Let’s go with amazing.

When I have managed to regain control of my breathing, I begin walking once again, approaching the school grounds within minutes.

April Stevens left this place yesterday with no idea as to what last night would entail. She didn’t only remove the mask, she let her guard down completely. She loved freely.

The April Stevens walking through the gates needs to remember this today, needs to remember that whilst we are not in each other’s arms during classes, we will be, later. We will always have later. I await eagerly.

 ***

If I did not know better, I would testify on a stack of bibles that Mr Harper was not in fact saying words, but rather, a long drawl of noises disguised as words. Despite this, I do know better. In this instance, better is defined as a distracted mind, focused solely on matters that do not relate to the subject at hand.

Sterling sits in front, and slightly to the right. A perfect place for me to gaze at her. To simply stare. 

'To simply stare' in turn rapidly becomes a blurred definition, and the ‘simply’ is removed. Because I am no longer simply staring, but rather, recollecting last nights events as if they are playing out before me among the chalk board.

She is underneath me once again, fogged windows, the bright light from outside illuminating her features, creating an indelible memory in the back of my mind that I shall store there in permanence like indelible ink. Her breathing is mismatched to mine, out of time completely, heavy sighs, longing gasps. Even when she is spent, the heaviness remains, filling the air with perfection.

Surprise would be an understatement when she shifts her body to gain dominance. What was once a girl in no control of how she was feeling is now a girl taking all of it, reversing the roles as if we are switching colours upon a chess board.

"Is this okay?" she asks, her voice deeper than usual, as if lust has taken a front row seat in her brain, and set up home amongst a delicate girls affirmations. 

I nod, knowing wholeheartedly that I will not be able to formulate words should I attempt it. I know that she is not talking about simply kissing me. I know and yet I am willing. 

Her lips meet mine before I have even completed my confirmation, my head still shifted slightly in the wrong position, but I do not mind this.

She remains there for a short while, a sweet sensation on my tongue, our bodies interlinked. My hands are around her bare back, against her skin, touching gently, until I can no longer be gentle. Until I can tell that she no longer wants me to be. The requirements have changed. This is a different game now.

When the short while is over, her mouth begins trailing kisses along my collar bone, my chest, my stomach, and then, in turn, the buttons upon my school pants. 

Her eyes wander upwards, towards mine, and the once heavy breathing that flooded the vehicle is a thing of the past; it hitches, waiting. 

I provide her with what I know she needs, another nod in her direction. I make a note in my mind to remember her face as it gazes up at me, though I doubt I shall forget.

Once again, her actions speed up within seconds, and it is not long before my pants are across the carpet of the vehicle, similar to that of Sterling’s shirt.

She kisses gently upon the fabric of my underwear, and I silently beg that she does not comment upon the arousal that she herself created.

It should be no surprise that the fabric falls to the carpet of the vehicle shortly after, and yet, my breathing escalates regardless, as if the body is conducting its own ritual, similar to that of my trivial one this morning. And yet this is the farthest thing from trivial.

When her mouth gently grazes delicate skin, I shudder, and my entire body gravitates towards her, requesting more. Sterling Wesley obliges.

Her tongue circles the area in which I desire it most, an amateur in every aspect but practice itself, as she expertly caresses my entrance.

The pressure builds, and builds. Layer after layer after layer. I am stretched upon a horizon of our own making.

I find myself grappling the sides of the seat, can feel every vein inside of my hands, the gentle throb among my fingertips, my senses heightened, picturing it to be Sterling that I am grabbing onto. The idea is not foreign, and I have often spent countless nights with an image of her in my mind as I built the pressure alone and felt guilty each time afterward.

When I can hold myself no longer, I exhale breathy moans into the vehicle, allowing them to take up only the space that we have not occupied with our entangled bodies.

Mesmerising sensations overwhelm me, they become me, and suddenly, the pressure is at its highest point and I…I…

“April Stevens, what in Gods name has gotten into you?”

The classroom floods back in, the scenery changed.

My breathing could not be heavier as Mr Harper stares vehemently in my direction, along with Sterling Wesley.

Chapter Text

Twenty Six

 

I am nothing but a useless spectator among spectators, observing idly as April’s hands grip the desk in front of her with everything she has, her veins dancing upon a stage of skin and bone. When she joins us back in the room, my mind sends signals over to hers, willing her to receive them. Don’t freak out. No one knows why you’re acting strange. But I do.

I do, I do, I do. 

“April Stevens, what in Gods name has gotten into you?”

Mr Harper folds his arms, huffs out a breathy sigh of disappointment, and I sense the sheer anxiety pulsing through April as I watch it fall down her esophagus and into her stomach, burning amongst the acid.

The air is sucked out of my lungs, the room seemingly smaller than it was thirty seconds ago.

A human brain cannot read thoughts, cannot delve into the psyche of others and pull out fragments of daydreams, and I thank God every day that we can’t - because sitting here, watching April expel heavy breaths into the classroom, practically writhing in her seat, I know exactly what her daydreams involved this time.

The question hangs in the air, leaving students guessing, and me, longing. If I could hold her, I would. If I could tell her that everything will be fine, I would. But daydreams are all we have in the confines of school grounds. Alas, it might be all we ever have in public.

“May I pleased be excused?” April asks, forcibly so, as if it is more a command than a request. 

Mr Harper is given no time to cogitate an answer as April takes it upon herself to force her way out of her chair, her gaze downward as she exits the room without another word.

I am forced to debate myself, to weigh the scenarios in my head upon a psychological scale. I can stay in my seat, maintaining the premise that April and I are nothing to one another, or I can chase after her, potentially shattering the illusion we have built not for ourselves, but for those surrounding us. It is not considered the norm to comfort your enemies.

The scale weighs in favour of staying put, as I imagined it would, and yet there is a lingering sensation in each of my legs, as if they are willing me to start walking. To ignore the scale completely.

I recollect the time in which we almost kissed at Noah’s party, and the time in which we actually kissed outside the canteen. When we fogged up the windows of my car in the confines of a parking lot. We have taken so many risks, what’s one more?

I act upon the lingering sensation, raising myself from my seat in order to replicate the actions of the girl I have fallen for. I do not turn around on my own pillar of salt. Upon the confused faces that I will inevitably be met with.

The door closes abruptly behind me, and I curse myself for the sheer seemingly unapologetic noise I am making, darting out of the room without a single word, as if the same act committed quietly and politely will somehow be enough to deter the prying questions that will soon follow once this exchange is over. I know I will not escape unscathed. I do not expect it, and yet, I am willing to take the fall regardless. For April, I am willing.

And there she is, at the end of the hallway, a hand across her forehead. A posture that screams it has given up on holding her. Another hit like this, and she will simply fall in on herself. 

She notices me only when I make my way over to her, placing a hand upon her back, rubbing supportively as I ponder what I could possibly say about the fact she was most likely thinking about us in the classroom moments earlier. How can I fix this?

“Why did you follow me? Do you realize how this looks, Sterl?”

Her hand removes itself from her forehead, and she takes a moment to gaze upon me, as if looking at me will determine whether I am aware of the full situation. Her eyes are pools of water, desperate to be blinked away. She leaves the water there, as if weakness is not visible until it is running down your cheeks.

Her tears are visible, and yet I see no weakness.

“I know how it looks, and you know what? I don’t care! Let them look! I’m not ashamed to be with you April. Are you...ashamed of me?” I ask, regretting the words the second that I say them. 

The true sense of who we are, what we are to each other, lingers in the air, the idea of being with her merely a new establishment I have formed for myself only recently. We have not said what we are to one another out loud, and yet I am raising my voice at her in an empty hallway, the mention of being with her like vicious puffs of smoke.

She turns to face me now, her expression unreadable. I cannot decipher whether she is angry, upset, or a concoction of the two.

“You know I’m not ashamed of you. That isn’t what this is about. We...we can’t have people looking in on our private business. And that? What I did in there? That was most definitely private.”

I can tell that she regrets her words too just by looking at her. She was thinking about us. What we did. The hairs on my arms raise as if on cue, understanding the complexity of the situation at the same time that I do.

“Why not? Everyone else’s private life is on display, why not ours?” I argue.

Honestly, the idea of being able to be with April, freely, without worry, it is all I can ever think about, dream about, and yet, it seems like a concept I will never be able to reach. That we will never be able to reach. Behind one door is another. Beyond that is a million doors I will never open. A million locked doors.

She grabs me by the shoulder, an act with vicious connotations attached to it, yet laced with the most gentle touch.

“Because not everyone else is…”

“…is gay? Is that what you mean?”

She sighs, as if she expected the conversation to proceed exactly like this, as if the words were mere dominos and I knocked them over. They were inevitably going to fall.

“I’m not ashamed of…being a lesbian. I’m not ashamed of you. I’m scared, Sterl. Scared of what the world might think, scared of what my parents might think. I’m scared of everything.”

April and I have been playing the same game of chess for years now. Literally the same game. The pieces move, fall into place, others are retracted from the board. And yet every time one of us reaches check mate, we keep playing regardless, as if beginning a new game is simply impossible.

It is clear that the both of us are tired of rehearsed phrases, rehearsed moves, rehearsed everything at this point.

The hand once placed upon my shoulder falls gradually downward, across my arm, and then finally upon my wrist. A sense of confidence envelopes me, more so than before, because adrenaline this strong cannot be so bad, because when she touches me in public I feel infinite.

“I want this, more than I’ve ever wanted anything” I state, simply, allowing my eyes to meet hers in a way that means something. In a way that she’ll understand. There’s seeing someone, and then there’s seeing someone.

Her chest heaves battled breaths, and I know she feels it, feels exactly what I am telling her.

“The school dance next Friday” she says, gripping my wrist so tightly I can feel her fingertips throb against my skin.

“What about it?” I ask, savouring her hand upon me. I know what she is implying and yet I want her to say it. 

The seconds feel like hours between us, and for the slightest of moments I suspect that the words will never come out. But then she sighs, and it is then I know that she is ready.

“What if we went together?” she proposes, her eyes like a deer in the headlights as she awaits the falling dominos. 

We have reached check mate once again, and yet, this time, we are starting an entirely new game.

 

Chapter Text

Twenty Seven

 

A flutter of silk falls across my bare shoulder as I peruse the contents of my closet, taking in each individual garment as if I am shopping for the first time, the act devised if only so that I can pretend I shall be attending an extravagant ball, much like princesses in fairy-tales, desperate for their wishes to come true.

Alas, my wishes have come true, and whilst the school gym is less than extravagant, dancing with the girl of my dreams is something that cannot be summarized by simple words; idle phrases that cannot possibly comprehend my feelings about what this truly means for the both of us.

The idea feels organic, and yet man-made simultaneously. Falling in love with Sterling Wesley was accidental, a vast array of components, falling into place at the right moment, fitting perfectly together as if by magic. And yet the man-made concept is evident. I am attempting to alter the free-flowing creation of what this evening may entail with simple dresses, and text messages to Sterling about how we shall match our outfit colours to make it truly special. Sometimes we help pieces fall into place.

But then it occurs to me.

We could be both be wrapped up in plastic bags and paper hats, and yet nothing could stir me from this feeling of excitement deep in the pit of my stomach. Nothing could deter me from walking into that room, hand in hand with Sterling Wesley, and allowing the feeling of success to envelop me; to warm me in its embrace.

When I am called down for dinner, I take a moment to compose myself, pressing down my skirt as if the act will be enough to seem normal. As if my world has not changed after a discussion in a hallway. This is not a normal meal, and yet my mind is devising ways in which I can make it as trivial as possible. I am still the Christian woman that they raised me to be, but extraneous variables came to fruition, and it alters things tenfold.

I close the door to my bedroom behind me as if I am closing a portal to another life; a universe in which Sterling Wesley is my girlfriend, a universe made up of four walls and a king-sized bed. A universe made up of me.

Each evening remains the same, a ritual I have become accustomed to so well now that I instinctively head to the kitchen in order to retrieve the plates before I comprehend the thought. I am greeted by my mother, who stands beside the oven, apron tied around her neck, her signature smile warming the room alongside the steaming saucepan.

“Hey sweetheart, how was school?”

I came alive at school today, told myself I would tell the world today. I’m coming clean, one step at a time. Today was special.

Automatically, I begin to formulate words that do not leave my mouth, and I am thankful. Today was fine, nothing exciting happened.

By saying those words, allowing them space out in the open, I am lying. Not only do I consider the act wrong, but I am willingly providing ammunition to be used against me when my parents discover the truth. I am allowing them to be disappointed in not only my sexuality, but my dishonesty simultaneously.

“School was school”.

The statement is brief, leaving much to be desired, but it is truthful, nonetheless.

Before further questions can be raised, I make haste to the plates in the far-left corner of the kitchen, in order to make my way over towards the dining room so that I may fulfil my ritual of setting the table.

My father is a walking stereotype, despite the fact that he is sitting down. Perched upon a wooden chair tucked underneath the table, he hides his face behind the daily newspaper, awaiting his evening meal that his wife has prepared for him after a long day at work.

I curse myself for thinking little of him, for thinking little of my mother for fulfilling the cliché one dinner at a time. It is not my lifestyle, for my world is tucked away upstairs, inside drawers; underneath the bed. If I am to hope for a future for all of us; I must expel the thoughts away.

The clatter of the plates shakes my father out of his concentrated reading, and the newspaper reveals his face much like a theatrical performance. I am seeing the man behind the curtain. I hope the man behind the curtain can see me.

“I wasn’t expecting it for another ten minutes yet” he sighs, as if the idea of an early meal is somewhat of an inconvenience to him.

Imagine what an inconvenience it shall be when he discovers you are a lesbian.

“I didn’t even notice” I state, plainly, as I place the porcelain upon the wooden table, carefully, as if I am protecting them from being broken. Protecting myself from being broken.

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me, you have seemed rather distracted lately” he comments.

I feel his eyes prodding through my skull, looking at me, looking through me, as if he is plucking out a response from my brain; an answer that shall fit into one of the neat categories he has devised in his own.

“I’m fine, dad, nothing I can’t handle. School work just gets a bit heavy sometimes. I’m staying on top of things. I promise.”

It is the answer he wants, I know it, and it is also an answer with complete and utter truth behind it.

For what has felt like centuries now, I have been battling with myself, fighting my love for Sterling Wesley with every fiber of my being, tearing away the foundations I had built upon false pretenses. And yet, things feel different now. I feel different now. I’m rebuilding.

“I’d like for you to keep it that way. Don’t let your workload get on top of you. Your social life should always come second when it comes to your academia. You’ve been running off a lot lately going God knows where. Coming home late after school. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. I don’t want some boyfriend or silly crush to get in the way of your studies. In fact, if I don’t feel confident that you’re staying on track, I do have every right as your father to keep you from going to that dance on Friday.”

My hands release the final plate in my hands abruptly, and with a clatter, it drops to the table.

Within seconds, my mother has entered the dining room, a spatula in her hand, as if she has rushed to get herself here.

“Is everything alright?” she asks, her breathing slightly heavier than usual.

“Everything is fine” my father says, raising a hand in the air as if to silence her, despite the fact that she is no longer speaking. “April…did you drop that plate because you were upset about the dance? Because anger will get you nowhere.”

My mother’s disapproving look says it all.

“John, April would ne-“

“I dropped it on purpose.”

All eyes are on me after five words, and it is then that I realize I cannot escape this without further comment.

I am rebuilding. I am rebuilding. I am rebuilding.

“I’m…”

I know the words are there, on the tip of my tongue. I need to tell you something. I have to tell you something. Something about me. I know they are there and yet I swallow back anxiety, and with it, the words fall back too.

“I dropped it because I am angered at the fact that you would think I have been falling behind on my academia when you know that I am always the top of my class. I wish that you would recognize that.”

You are weak, April Stevens.

My father sighs, tapping his finger against the table, as if it will expel a thought. Too many times I have subconsciously sat at this table, tapping away, desperate for an easy way to tell them my truths. I am my fathers daughter. Despite this, the similarities we share, this situation is not similar at all. It is not easy to tell your parents something so weighted. But it is easy to take away sweet anticipation for something enjoyable if you are my father.

“Let her go to the dance, John. It’s nice that she’s found someone or something to look forward to. You know how we were at that age.”

Silently, I thank my mother, willing for her to receive the speechless words.

Would she say the same thing if she knew you shall be attending with a girl?

“Fine” my father huffs, defeated, and I watch and observe, expecting the furrow of his eyebrows to waver, alas, it does not. “But if I see your grades slipping even a fraction this year, you won’t be leaving this house for anything other than school, and church until you graduate, understand?”

“Yes, completely. I understand. Thank you.”

An obvious sigh of relief escapes my lungs, and I regret the act instantly. There will come a time when they understand why I am so grateful. This moment does not fit that right time. When the timing is right, I will know. I have to believe that I will know.

My mother chimes in, just when I thought the waves had settled.

“I have one small request April, if I may?”

She seems so small in that apron, spatula in her hand; expectant.

“Anything for you mother, you know that.”

And I mean it.

“I think both your father and I can agree, we’d like to meet the boy who will be escorting you.”

Within a fraction of a second, a seemingly insignificant statement strikes cracks into newly built foundations.

I long to be whole.

I cannot be.

Chapter Text

Twenty Eight

 

Could it be that bones feel more brittle once they let the words in? As they seep into the cracks of my foundations?

“We’d like to meet the boy who will be escorting you.”

The boy.

The boy.

The boy.

My hands find their home among the edge of my bed, setting up a nest there. I feel like a fragile bird upon the precipice of a mountain, broken rock, unknowing of the equally fragile perch I have placed myself upon.

I could text Sterling, inform her of the evenings events, until she is nothing but a bird upon a mountain top the same; waiting for the crumbling of rocks to fall around her.

I could, and yet, I cannot.

Her face is far more beautiful when there is a smile upon her features, when her skin is bright and vibrant. To destroy that would be to destroy the inner vessel of myself.

I would never.

Except, I did, and I have.

It was not too long ago now that I would torture her with my words, and watch as her lips curved into sadness, or frustration, or both. And yet now we are in a different universe. The words I had exchanged previously, with icicles attached, have thawed, melted, evolved into another matter entirely.

My hands fall to my sides now, as if my body is as equally as defeated as my mind is. Sometimes, I wish our brains were like ticking clocks. I wish we could fix the things that tortured us with newer, shinier parts. I wish it would result in solutions my otherwise incapacitated mind could not devise.

I allow my body to sink backwards into the warmth of my bed, head barely upon the pillow. I make no move to shift myself into a more comforting position. I cannot get comfortable. Not now. Not when there are so many things to think about. Not when there is this gnawing in the back of my mind, eating away at any conceivable idea as to how to fix this.

But then the world slips away regardless into comatose bliss, and when I awake, it is still dark outside, but there is but one word lingering in my head, begging to escape.

Luke.

***

The corridors are tsunamis of teenagers, some knowing exactly where they are going, others merely hovering like flies upon a carcass. It feels like that sometimes, as if the students here are nothing but vultures, gaining sustenance from whatever they can find in the form of humiliation and abuse.

I know that I will see her today, Sterling, and I know that my face will tell a thousand stories that are not yet ready to be published. We are all works in progress, I tell myself, and yet I feel more incomplete than ever.

If I could just find Luke, talk to him, reason with him, he might just be able to solve all of this. But this solution does not come without its burdens simultaneously.

The dream you have concocted, the one where you escort Sterling Wesley to the school dance, hand in hand, skin to skin; it will be crushed. Destroyed.

And then there is the more pressing burden, the one that comes with scars attached to it; indelible words you cannot take back.

If you ask Luke to escort you to the dance, you will have to explain why it is necessary.

Suddenly, it feels as if the tsunami of people surrounding me just might drown me, as if am suffocated among the mutterings and whispers of teenagers. I take a moment to pause, breathing in, and out, slowly, until my heart-rate returns to normal.

And yet when I see her, it rises again; as if the blood-flow to my fingers can rise over an invisible brim like boiling water.

I had intended to find Luke, and yet, this is not what I have found.

Sterling Wesley lingers at the opposite end of the corridor, a crashing wave of people between us, as if we are destined not to cross paths.

But then she moves closer, closer still, gliding across the floor until we are face to face, making her way through the invisible water, until I can feel her breath ever so slightly across my cheeks.

“April, hey” she says, almost surprised, as if she had not intended to greet me, despite walking over in my direction with purpose.

In the confines of school grounds, our conversations can only be described with but one word; awkward.

The dance was meant to change all that, was meant to give us a platform to truly be ourselves. As if we were setting up a stage, but ironically no longer acting.

“Hey Sterl, how are you?” I ask, uncomfortably, grateful for the books in my hands stopping me from grappling onto the ends of my jumper.

“Good, I’m good, how are you?” she responds, committing to the inevitable act of shyness just as I had prevented it, her hands patting down her trousers as if it will save this exchange we are having.

“I’m doing fine, listen, actually, I need to talk to you about something, just, not here, okay? Meet me at lunch, I’ll explain everything.”

The words come out before I even process them. It appears my mind has already decided that I will discuss the dance with her today despite my willingness to keep it under wraps until I can devise a clear solution. My head swims with confusion.

You will break her, April.

You will break her.

I tell myself it is simply a dance. I tell myself that we are still together, no matter what.

But I know that it is not just a dance. I know that to tell her that we cannot go together is to tell her that we cannot be seen together, as lovers, not now, maybe not ever. We will always be nothing but awkward conversations in hallways, destined to fall apart like crumbling mountains.

I cannot make a nest here.

“Sure, I’ll meet you in the cafeteria?” she requests, her mouth forming that smile I had engraved into my head last night. I watch it fall away in my mind when I tell her the truth about what I must do. 

“Maybe around the back of the cafeteria? It’s a little more quiet out there.”

And once again, I have chipped away at an already fragile partnership. I can’t even have a personal conversation with her in public. I can’t do anything but self sabotage.

She tries not to show her disappointment, and yet I watch and observe as the curves of her lips slowly fall away into a thin line.

“Fine, I’ll see you there” she practically whispers, as she takes a step back from me in the physical sense. I can cope with that, I can cope with the step back when we were once standing so close, but not when it is metaphorical simultaneously.

The mountain crumbles from beneath me.

 

Chapter Text

Twenty Nine

 

Tight fists. Clutching digits to smooth skin. With my hands underneath the table, I can no longer see the white knuckles beneath - my own private anxiety.

When the bell rings for lunch, I watch and observe as the pool of students flood out of the classroom doors like boiled over water, foaming at the mouth for incredibly mediocre cafeteria food.

I know something they don’t.

Luke packs his bag with expert concentration, making no sign to indicate that he, in turn, will be following the rush of people immediately, and shall instead, take his time.

If I’m going to do this, if I’m going to come out, and ask him for his help simultaneously, I have to do it now.

Tight fists. Tight fists. Tight fists. Pressing.

“Luke,” my voice wanders, filling the room with a noise that sounds like a name, but more desperate.

He turns around in his seat, placing his bag over his left shoulder - a silent indication that whatever I have to say, I must make it quick.

Good, I tell myself, because if I give myself longer than but a few seconds, I’ll lose my nerve.

I may not be telling the world that I’m gay, at least not yet, but I can make a start by telling Luke.

It is a strange thought; to feel like just the petals, and the entire flower simultaneously.  Days prior I was blooming – newly formed colour attached to long green stems, the idea of being who I truly am no longer an afterthought but a reality. And yet, since discussing who shall escort me to the dance with my mother, I am nothing but the petals, falling away, returning to the earth once more.

Smoothing down my trousers from beneath the desk, I raise myself from my seat and allow my fingers to fall freely amongst the discarded petals of my own fragile reasoning.

Clearing my throat, we meet eyes, and I know that this is the right moment to grow again.

“The dance…on Friday. I was wondering if you were going? And if you were…if you were going alone and-“

Luke cuts me off almost instantly. His cheeks form a subtle red, meets overbearing white teeth, as he gazes toward the ground, only to find me once again.

“April, are you asking me to...escort you?”

The shocked laughter is louder than his mumbled words as he toys with the hem of his shirt, awkwardly, lifting himself from his seat just as I had done moments before.

“I mean…I guess that’s what I’m trying to say...”

That’s not all, Luke. Tell him. Tell him why.

“April…I…I’d love to. pick you up at 8?”

I nod, not because I can no longer speak, but because I can, and that terrifies me.

His chest heaves forced breaths, as if the conversation tires him yet exhilarates him at the same time; a concoction of social exhaustion and adrenaline.

No, no, no.

This is not what I had planned, what I had envisioned. What happened to telling him the truth? Asking him to escort me because Sterling Wesley cannot?

He exists the conversation first, a nod in my direction. He exists the room second, and I extend a hand in the air as if to say stop, come back. I’m not finished.

Naively, I know that I could make him turn around with but one syllable, an incoherent noise, perhaps, but not a hand he cannot see. I know this to be true, which is why I only extend the hand.

Maybe I do not wish for him to turn around.

I sigh, because I don’t.

No longer blooming, I clench my hands into fists once again. Tight enough to discard petals.

***

Sterling Wesley is on time where I am late.  This is not our usual routine.

It seems fitting almost, in the sense that the tides have changed, and no longer is the prospect of an evening dance upon our table. Maybe our roles have switched with the tides.

She hovers below the large exit sign looming above the cafeteria door, before proceeding to leave the bustling sound of students behind when she notices my face from across the room. A silent indication that I follow her to behind the back of the school.

There was once I time in which I would scan the area first, alerting myself to potential obstacles in the form of prying eyes, watching as we take our leave together, albeit metres apart, into a more secluded area. These times feel so shiny and new, and somehow broken simultaneously. I can’t bring myself to watch onlookers watch me, in turn.

When I step outside, peeling back the exit door, the sun begins to hide behind the clouds, as if on cue, the predictability of the situation about to unfold obvious even to the weather.

“What’s this about, April? Is everything alright? Stupid question, really. You wouldn’t ask me to come out here if everything was alright.”

I know that Sterling is in front of me, gazing at my features with those beautiful eyes I have come to know and love. I know and yet all I see is Luke staring back at me, blushed red cheeks, white toothy grin.

I feel ill.

“Listen, Sterl, please just know that when I tell you this, it’s not what I want to happen, okay? It’s happening not because of me, but because of my parents.”

Her gaze drops from mine the second the words fall from my mouth. She knows exactly what I am about to say before I am ready to say it.

“You’re cancelling our plans, aren’t you?”

For the first time since leaving the cafeteria, I see her face instead of Luke’s. I watch as the anxiety pulses through her neck, as she gulps it down into the pit of her stomach, and lets it burn among the acid there. I've seen this before, and yet somehow it hurts worse now than it ever did. It feels...conclusive. Strangely, I wish I was still seeing Luke. Seeing anyone. Anything but watching her swallow back tears.

“I’m so sorry, Sterling, please, believe me when I tell you how sorry I am.”

I extend a hand towards her arm, and when she retracts, I find myself replicating the actions of the sad girl in my presence, gulping back the pain, as if we can extinguish hurt. We can’t.

 “First of all, this is all happening because of you, so please don’t assign blame to someone else. You knew what we were doing, and you can’t bring yourself to do it. That’s on you.” Her finger points in my direction, angrily. “Second, your parents have always been an issue. That’s been one of the only constant things in our lives, April. And now it’s a problem? Right when we’re supposed to make…something…together?”

Her words seem almost physical, dripping with emotion as they spill upon the pavement between us. Black like ink. Make something together. We could make something, together. Could, could, could. Cannot.

“There’s something else I need to tell you.”

It is not what I intended to say, and yet the sentence falls out uncontrollably like a sickness, like a plague.

I have already hurt her once today, it is better to get everything out now.

“Oh I’m all ears,” she states defiantly.

Sterling's hands wave almost manically, batting the air surrounding her sarcastically, as if my words are like wasps, stinging the backs of her eyes as the tears fall to her cheeks.

“I’m going to the dance with Luke, instead," I blurt, forcing the words out of me like rapid gunfire. A bullet would sting a little less.

Her eyes, vacant. Her hands, wrapped at her sides. Expressionless. A thread, snapped. I can feel it. I can feel it tearing.

When she sighs, I close my eyes, and await the inevitable. 

"I won't do this again, April. Whatever we thought we had going on...."

Snap, snap, snap.

I lick the salt from my lips, like an animal licks its wounds.

"Please...stop," I muster. It hurts. 

"That's just it, April. I am stopping."

My petals disintegrate, and for once, I wish that the unstable, broken ground I have placed myself upon may swallow me, so that I may never bloom again.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Thirty

 

Friday comes eventually, but only because it must.

If it were up to me, the days would be like water, drifting through them, slowly, taking split seconds to come up for air, before floating back under.

The last words between Sterling and I reverberate through my eardrums. If the days are water, gentle splashes, her words are like tsunamis, flooding through my senses, drowning me.

That’s just it, April. I am stopping.

I am stopping.

Stopping.

To stop, before we even truly began, seems unbefitting for two people like us.

Two people who were at each other’s throats constantly, two people who always followed through with taunting each other no matter what.

Two people who were so determined to hate each other that they fell in love.

And then they could no longer follow through anymore.

But Friday came, like I knew it would, and tonight, tonight I will be escorted to the dance with Luke.

I feel sick.

Heaving myself out of bed seems easier than building up to it these days, as if I am tricking my brain, providing it with no warning before I force my limbs to hit carpet, to swing through air, to take shape in human form when I am feeling less than human.

When my body is upright, I retrieve my clothes from the dresser, and make my way over towards the shower.

If I turn the water on high enough, maybe the words will get drowned out too like the days.

Stop.

I am stopping.

***

Feeling less than enthusiastic, I move my spoon around the bowl of cereal in front of me, dipping it in and out of the milk as if I am suffocating it.

You and me both, spoon.

Blair is hovering, a tactic she has adopted only recently, as if to protect me, shelter me, despite us being the only two people in the vicinity. I want to thank her, I do, except, I’m not feeling very thankful for anything right now.

“You’re going to the dance, Sterling. End of story. Now stop moping and eat your cereal, I swear to god that was the last of the Captain Crunch.”

Her words are forceful despite the context, and I adore her for it. A sad tone right now would only make things worse, make me feel more like the spoon I’m attempting to suffocate.

I don’t need a pity party; I just need her.

My elbow feels like part of the counter, almost, leaning upon the marble for so long, keeping my head upright with my hand, that we have become one. And I smile. I smile because the counter and I joined so quickly, so effortlessly, but at the expense of my hand becoming numb.

Maybe it’s the lack of breakfast talking, but the trivialities of nothing seem like everything these days. April’s the counter, forming creases on my elbows. She keeps me upright, and yet she numbs me simultaneously. The cost I pay to stay afloat.

Only I, Sterling Wesley, could find countertops romantic.

Only I, could wish to retract from said countertop, because of what it now reminds me of.

I lift my elbow; I shake my fingers back to feeling. I excuse myself from my seat.

I let the spoon suffocate in the milk.

***

The classroom is a claustrophobic nightmare, closing in the second Sterling Wesley steps into the room and takes her seat.

I don’t know what’s worse - her looking at me, or her not looking at me.

When her gaze does anything but meet mine, I realize it is the latter.

Her fingers tell a story of their own, latching onto whatever is in front of them – a pencil, a book, the edges of her desk. Small distractions, it won’t work, Sterling. I promise you that. Trust me, I know.

When Luke walks in shortly after, the walls become vices, the distance between them almost nonexistent as they clutch around my ribs.

Please don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me.

He walks with purpose in the direction of his seat at first, but only at first, and when he stops, my heart does too.

“Hey there, stranger,” he smiles, pearly white teeth, a sense of genuine warmth there that I wish I could freeze.

“Hi Luke,” I mutter, quietly, as if Sterling won’t be able to hear me when she is mere meters apart.

When he takes that as his cue to end the conversation, I almost mutter “thank god” under my breath without even realizing it. It is only when he is in his seat that my shoulders manage to relax ever so slightly, despite not even noticing how defensive my limbs had been prior to our exchange.

Mr Harper looks even less relaxed than I am when he enters the room, his body tense, upright, stiff as a board, as if his legs might snap when he walks if he isn’t careful. I wonder if he’s feeling what I’m feeling.

Probably not.

He clears his throat, theatrically as always, before beginning the lesson.

“Now, I know that you are all excited about the dance tonight, but I still expect the same level of concentration and enthusiasm as usual.”

The last time I was here, in this seat, in this class, I was reminiscent of the night before, my hands on Sterling’s skin, through her hair, my mouth on hers.

I cannot think about it vividly now even if I wanted to, it’s as if the memories have blurred alongside the days, when Friday felt so far away. I can see it, I can feel it, and yet the images are placed behind a smokescreen, taunting me with their clarity, if only I could push through the haze.

Memories might be all I have now, and yet they are blurring.

The concentration Mr Harper expects - the enthusiasm he desires, he will not find from me. Not today.

When I notice her eyes latch to the side of my face the walls disappear.

I wish to look at her, gaze right back, communicate with her through a simple expression, an expression that says everything. A silent story.

But to look at her would be to risk her looking away.

And I’d rather have her looking at me, know that she is looking, than to look at her and lose it.

And so, I don’t look.

I see it like a dance in itself, the dance before the dance.

My fingers clutch the desk like hers do, my chest rises and falls slightly faster than usual, my leg bobs up and down to invisible music.

And I know she does the same. This synched human condition.

Somehow, what I take from this is simple - if we can’t have tonight, we have now.

Chapter Text

Thirty One

 

A not-so-delicate aura radiates from the reflection of my mirror, and I gaze back at myself, menacingly, as if I am accepting some form of cruel punishment just by simply looking at the dress that hangs from my body, drooping, almost, the fabric feeling just defeated as defeated as I am, it seems.

The dark blues are often my first choice, a way in which I can compliment my complexion, but tonight, they do nothing for me, and they do nothing for me because, well, I do not deserve for them to do so. My skin, tinged with pale sickness and worry, cannot be rectified, no matter what I place upon it.

Luke’s arrival will be imminent, and the thought sends my mind into frenzy, each individual scenario like bee stings upon my brain, swelling at the idea of what is to come.

There will be a knock at the door, and my mother will most likely open it, desperate to create conversation with the boy whom of which has supposedly stolen my heart. She will pry, and pry, and pry. Like a nail being pulled away from a board, she will extract until there is nothing left to uproot.

Suddenly, I am highly aware of my own breathing, the way my chest heaves in the ill-fitting dress, the way my arms hang loosely at my sides like they are no longer truly a part of me.

For a moment, I allow myself to close my eyes, picturing an event in which I am standing in front of this mirror, content with how I am presented, excitement filling my lungs when I exit the room, rushing down the stairs, and towards the front door, eager to introduce the love of my life to the people who raised me.

When the inevitable knock sounds through the house, I shiver, allowing my once loose hands to meet my torso, wrapping them around myself in a futile attempt to stop the shaking. I’m not cold.

My expectations are met unsurprisingly when I hear a hearty welcome from my mother as she ushers Luke into the house. No longer does the safe space of my bedroom feel safe. No longer am I completely sure that I shall be able to formulate words when I walk down the stairs, towards the lie that I have created.

I unwrap my arms, smoothing down the fabric of the dress as if it shall be my saving grace, and I breathe, not steadily, but as steadily as I can muster.

My mother has yet to call my name, most likely feeling fortunate to get a few moments alone with the boy who shall be escorting me, and I should care, should I not? I should care. If it were Sterling Wesley downstairs, in my living room, engaging pleasantries with my mother, I would be there faster than lightning. I’d be there before she had even entered the building.

But it isn’t. And she’s not here. She hasn’t been here since that night upon the sofa.

Deciding that Luke deserves better than to be alone during an interrogation from my father, I step outside my bedroom door, closing it behind me.

The distant muttering makes me unsteady on my feet, but I tell myself that the quicker I make my way to the living room, the quicker this can all be over.

Holding myself up along the bannister, I take each step slowly at first, until my nerves get the better of me, and I find myself practically sprinting towards my destination.

When I reach the living room, I hover in the doorway like an intruder, as if waiting for an invitation. I feel separate from the situation despite being completely aware of the fact that it is I, and I alone, who designed it to be this way.

“April!” my mother croons, the light heartedness of her tone providing the warmth I so aptly require, but don’t deserve.

Deciding that the use of my name is an invitation in itself, I enter the room almost shyly, as if the space of my living room is an environment I am not accustomed to.

My father sits in his armchair, situated in the corner of the space, his presence heavy as rocks, like always, a glare sporting his features whilst he eyes Luke up and down, assessing as to whether he is worthy of my time.

He is worthy of much more than this, I think, a sense of guilt pulsing through me as a I gulp down the anxiety expanding inside of my throat, taking up so much space that it’s difficult to breathe.

Luke is sitting beside my mother, a warm smile lighting up the room, seemingly oblivious to the idle stares of my father, wrapped up in his own element. I admire how effortless he can make the situation feel, despite the fact that it couldn’t be harder.

I place myself upon the arm of the sofa parallel to theirs, a silent indication that getting comfortable shall not be necessary when we are on our way out, there is no need to sit down properly.

My mother doesn’t get the memo, however, or if she does, she doesn’t acknowledge it.

“So, how long have you both known each other?” she asks, unaware of my presence almost, directing the question towards Luke as she gazes in his direction almost lovingly. I admire the way that she can make everyone feel welcome, no matter who they are, when they visit. Everyone except me, in this particular instance.

“Quite a while, actually. It’s a funny story, see I was dating this other girl, Ster-“

I cut him off prematurely, the mere sound of her name in this household like a knife through my heart.

“We should get going soon. You know me, early is on time as they say.”

I smile, but it doesn’t meet my eyes, I know that, and yet I cannot change it.

“Now, now, hold on,” my mother interjects almost angrily. “Were you going to say Sterling Wesley? I haven’t seen her around in a while. Lovely girl. Do you still speak to her, April?”

The air is sucked out of my lungs and the cynic in me somehow manages to create a snigger out of the negative energy I’ve created. In all the situations devised in my mind, for once, none of them had involved Sterling Wesley coming up into conversation.

My scared reaction paints a story, it seems, the way my eyes widen, and my chest rises and falls, and Luke coughs almost awkwardly, as if to expel the strange feeling the topic has created.

“I do, yes. We’re…we’re close, actually.”

I realize the implications of my statement almost instantly, wishing that I could physically pick the words up from the floor and place them back inside my mouth.

It is Luke’s belief that Sterling and I are enemies because it is everyone’s belief. It is the way in which we designed it. The way in which we had to design it, because I was far too frightened for any other design.

His eyes hover on mine, and it is then that I notice something click inside of him. A blush reaches my cheeks, and when he gulps, a silent exchange travels through the room, alerting him of the situation. His face creates its own picture, as if to say “how did I not realize this before?”

A part of me begs that this isn't the case, but another part, a larger part, prays that things are as I expect them to be in this very moment.

“Yes, they’re good friends,” he offers, wiping the sweat from his palms upon his trousers. “Very good friends,” he adds, as if the extra words were required. “But hey, April and I are together now,” he improvises, “and we’re incredibly happy and-“

“STOP,” I shout, the sound bouncing off each wall so loudly I can practically see the vibrations.

Removing myself from the arm of the chair, I stand, making my way over towards the doorway in order to address the entire room.

“What’s wrong?” my mother asks, looking me up and down as if attempting to find a physical ailment that might explain my outburst. There is nothing physical about this pain, at least, not from an outsiders perspective. Inside I am burning.

“Luke, I’m so sorry I dragged you into this. I can see it in your eyes that you know. That you realize what this is all about. Am I right?”

My tone is gentle, and yet I am out of breath at the same time, as if exhausted by the sheer complexity of the situation. 

“I think I do.”

His tone is light, careful, and I hate myself all the more for it. He’s so calm. He doesn’t deserve this.

“Mom, dad, I need to tell you something. I’m just going to present it as a statement, and you will listen to what I have to say because I have been trying to get this off my chest for so long and…”

My bodacious actions surprise even me, and I stand my ground, firm, despite being fully aware of the tears that have welled up underneath both of my eyes. I'm doing this. I'm really doing this. Over and over the words play inside my mind, dancing around a fire excitedly, unaware of the dangerousness that the fire provides should they get too close.

“I never intended for Luke to be my date, tonight. I intended for it to be Sterling Wesley.”

The statement comes out matter-of-factly, cool and collected, and I thank myself internally for being able to commit to the act despite not being fully aware as to why this is all happening now so quickly, why my mind is forcing the truth out of me like cockroaches are eating away at my insides.

“Excuse me?” my father interjects, forcing his body forward in his seat, tilting his head slightly to the right, as if he didn’t hear properly the first time, and wishes to place an ear closer so that he may listen again.

“I wasn’t finished,” I state boldly. “I know that this can’t be easy to hear and I’m sorry for springing it on you like this. This wasn’t how I wanted it to go. I’ve pictured it countless times, thousands, perhaps, and never in my life did I expect to present it this way, so…quickly, and so…harshly. I guess we can’t always predict what might happen. But regardless, I can’t lead Luke on like this, and I certainly can’t live in the shadow of what I’ve created for the rest of my life. I’m gay. I’ve known this for a long time, now. I think deep down part of you knew it too. Both of you. All of you,” I claim, gesturing to Luke ever so slightly with my left hand. 

There’s a pause in the room which feels like hours, days, months even. My fingers tap against the side of my dress like Morse code, in which I am desperate for help.

It is my mother who breaks the silence.

“Something has been different lately. I sensed this…unsteadiness, imbalance,” she says, delicately, picking her words with precision, hovering over each syllable slowly. “I didn’t know what it was. But if this is it...if this is what has made you shut yourself away…then…I’m just glad it’s not something terrible. I’m relieved, in fact.”

Her smile is warm and genuine, and I almost collapse there and then, my legs shaking beneath my weight, as if one slight movement might just make me cave in like a deck of cards.

I smile back, because no matter how many times I open my mouth, the words cannot, will not, formulate. Because there are no words. Because they are saving themselves up for the right time in which to tell my mother how much I love her, over and over and over.

My mother and I react almost automatically, the same person in many ways, gazing over towards my father, both seemingly just as desperate for his response.

His face is emotionless, void of all expression. I cannot read him, and this terrifies me.

“I need some time to process,” he says, almost sympathetically. Almost. “I just need time.”

I know my father well enough not to pry further, to attempt to pull out pieces of an unfinished puzzle that aren't there. It isn’t what I had expected. Hands waving, plates smashing, teeth baring. It isn’t what I had expected, it isn’t the answer I desire most, warm hugs, gentle eyes, and yet I am grateful. I am grateful that it isn't the former. It is not a positive reaction, nor a negative reaction, it is simply a reaction, and for now, this is okay.

“I’m going to the dance now,” I practically whisper. “I think I still want to go to the dance.”

Every eye in this room is fixated on me, and I feel like a bug underneath a microscope, the inspection burning a hole through me.

“Go, go to the dance, sweetheart. Just one thing,” my mother stops, awaiting my response.

“Anything,” I respond, delicately, lovingly. 

“Enjoy yourself, okay?” she requests, a tear hanging in her right eye, waiting for the right time to release itself.

“I will.”

Now is that time, and I watch as it falls.

I grip the door handle, expelling one last breath, a relieved sigh, before stepping out into the cool blue sky. Walking down the pathway ever so slightly, I admire the way the grass looks, the way the trees sway. Everything seems more beautiful on the other side. The only thing to distract me from this beauty is the gentle thud of boots behind me - footsteps getting closer, closer still, until a hand presses itself upon my shoulder. Luke.

Turning to face him, I witness a corsage in his hand, a dimple in his left cheek.

“It was meant to be for you, but…now I’m thinking that there’s another purpose for it. Another someone it could be for.”

Luke hands me the corsage, placing it upon my palm almost delicately, as if he senses my hesitancy to take it, as if he senses the anxiety pooling in my chest, setting up home among the decay.

“I…I don’t know what to say,” I offer, truthfully, my words failing me, doubting the possibility that anything I could possibly usher would be as worthwhile as the act in which he has committed himself to.

His lips curve into a mischievous smile, making the air around us seem warmer, lighter. I feel lighter.

“Go get your girl,” he mutters, nodding in the direction in which I should inevitably walk, his teeth reflecting the moonlight as water pools at the bottom of my eyes, begging for release.

I don’t need to be told twice.

Chapter Text

 

Thirty Two

 

The night is alive. A swarming haze of streetlights and car fumes, even the smell of wet grass among the houses to the left feels like magic, destiny, as if the environment matches the electricity coursing through my legs, guiding me to the Wesley house, guiding me to her.

The canvas sneakers were a welcome idea, treading effortlessly as I sprint my way down the pavement, the faint raindrops finding the bare skin upon my arms. I would shudder if I wasn’t so adrenalized.

Step by step by step, my pace quickens alongside my racing thoughts.

What if she has already left?

What if she is no longer going to the dance?

What if she doesn’t forgive me?

The thumping in my chest wills me to slow down, and yet my anxiety begs for an opposing reality, a reality in which I am banging down her door within minutes, spilling my thoughts to the ground around us like gasoline, lighting the match with words that shall ignite something in the pair of us, setting us both alight.

That reality is everything, and so, I don’t slow down.

When I reach that familiar building, only then do I allow myself a single moment to breathe, exhaling deeply towards the wet cement beneath.

It is likely she is in there, behind concrete walls, unaware that there is a girl standing outside, damp hair, dirty shoes, a girl who loves her dearly. And I could walk away, and she would never know. Alas, that is not in our destiny tonight. 

Everyone gets a moment in their life, a moment in which their heart is thumping, their legs are shaking, a moment which defines them, will make or break them. I feel stronger now than I ever did, more myself than I ever have; a broken foundation rebuilt from the ground up, and yet I crave more, because what is winning without the trophy?

Sterling Wesley is not a trophy, but a beacon, a light so bright it burns through your eyelids, and yet you welcome it. You welcome the blurred vision that comes as a result of the exposure, you welcome the colors that dance among your pupils, you welcome all of it.

And so, without a second thought, I place my knuckles upon the door, and knock.

For a few moments, the air is silent, waiting alongside me, and its presence is almost overwhelming. The prospect of nothing and everything breathes down my neck simultaneously, disguised as wind and rain.

And then, I am met with that familiar blonde hair, those piercing eyes, that face of confusion I’ve come to know so well, as if it is engraved into my routine. I wish this wasn’t all so confusing, that her face would light up with that beacon grin when she saw me, that we weren’t just two magnets on the same pole repelling each other because we’re so damn similar. But it doesn’t always have to be like this, I tell myself, it doesn’t have to be.

Her outfit takes me by surprise, a plain gray hoodie and some navy blue sweatpants. Her hair is tied back in a simple bun, and despite the casual attire she is intoxicating. I think I love her more for it.  

My mouth opens ever so slightly, exhaling a short breath as my eyes hover in her direction, never once leaving her face, as if looking long enough will make her light up. I realize, however, that this cannot and will not be if I do not make things right. If I don’t expel the thoughts and start a fire, just as I had envisioned.

I take the leap.

“I’ve not always been honest with you, and that’s on me. I was scared, no, not just scared, terrified, I was terrified Sterl. But I look at you…I look at you and I tell myself how can this be wrong? How can this be wrong when I feel so strongly about you? How can this be wrong when I’m at my happiest when I’m with you? How can it be so wrong to be so happy? Being happy is good, right? It’s good, it’s what we all strive for and…”

“April…breathe.”

She places a hand upon my shoulder, and I’m reminded of why I ran all this way. Why I’m standing here in dirty sneakers and a dampened dress. I’m reminded of the life that we can have now that I am living for myself, mask off, curtains open.

“I’m sorry. I let you down. I’ve let you down before, I can’t promise I’ll never let you down again, but I promise to try. I promise that you can rely on me, depend on me, and I will do everything in my power to be there for you. I’m so sorry, I-”

I exhale deeply, her fingertips still grazing the bare skin upon my shoulder. I could die like this, and die happy.

Her hand falls to my arm slowly, offering a gentle squeeze, a silent indication that she hears me. That she can tell how apologetic I truly am. When her mouth opens to speak I wait to fall apart.

“Where’s Luke?”

The question is not what I had expected, and yet I’m relieved that the words coming out of her mouth don’t involve ‘leave’ or ‘go away.’

“He…he won’t be escorting me tonight.” 

A simple fact lingering between both parties. 

“Is that so?” she smirks, and I feel the fire in my lungs spread around my ribs. It’s igniting, we’re igniting. I can feel it, I can feel it, I can feel it.

“Well, I guess now that my parents know that I’m gay I have nothing to run from anymore...only something to run to.” I smile back at her, allowing the beacon of light to envelop me, warm me in its saturated glow. How can light be contagious? It cannot, and yet, it is.

“That’s the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard, but I’ll let it slide because…you came out to your parents?”

Her expression is a picture, her eyes wider, cheeks redder, fingers grasping tighter across my skin creating faint lines of red among my own personal canvas.

“And I’d do it a thousand times over for you, but I also did it for myself too. Only now do I realize how exhausted I have been since I knew I was gay. This rigidity in my body, god, Sterl, the rigidity. I thought it was a part of me, and that everyone felt it too...this state of constant anxiety and fear. Now that I’ve told my parents who I am that stiffness is gone. It’s gone. It wasn’t just a weight on my shoulders, it was so much more, it was…it was-“

“Completely and utterly debilitating?” she finishes.

“Completely and utterly debilitating,” I repeat, sighing into the accuracy of her words, because she understands. Of course she understands. 

That familiar silence creeps back in, and if I wasn't so grounded I'd swat it away with my hands, battle it with words. And yet, I feel there is but no need. The silence feels natural. As if we have reached the stage in which we are comfortable to simply be in each others presence.  

“What’s…uh…what’s that in your hand?” she asks, once the silence has left us, motioning her head towards the corsage. I commend her for the simplicity of each exchange, the direct questions that slow my mind down so that we may bask in each second without my breath catching in every moment.  

“Oh! I almost forgot” I laugh, awkwardly, gazing towards the pavement. “It’s for you, if you want it that is. Obviously you don’t have to be my date, I know I’ve been terrible to you and-“

Before my brain can trip over itself any longer, her lips have met mine and my body is exploding.

Wrapping my arms around her, I shudder into her touch, basking in the warm glow of Sterling Wesley’s luminescence. Clean laundry; she smells like clean laundry and her. She feels like cotton and safety. And in this moment I know, I know that I could live a thousand lives and yet never once come close to replicating this complete and utter satisfaction. I could die and be thinking of this, right here, right now. A girl kissing another girl upon a familiar doorstep. It is simple and yet the most incomprehensible act I could imagine.

When she pulls away, for the first time I feel no emptiness. And I realize suddenly that it is because for the first time, I am no longer in fear that this will be the last time. Our future may be unknown but it is bright and beautiful, vibrant. She is vibrant.

And I know that there are a thousand unsaid words willing themselves to be heard, and it shall be so, when the rain has stopped and the abruptness of the situation has slowed to a gentle thrum, I will tell her everything. I will set up home among the threads inside her mind, piecing back together all that I have cut away.

Her hand strokes the fingertips of my own, and I extend each limb attached to intertwine them with hers. I extend my other hand, before placing the corsage upon her arm.

When her eyes meet mine again, I sigh with content.

“I’d be honored to be your date, April Stevens.”

The night is alive.

 

 

Chapter Text

Thirty Three

 

The weight of Sterling Wesley’s fingers wrapped around my own is something inexplicable, but if I had to describe it, I would say that the feeling of our intertwined hands connected underneath the moonlit streets of Georgia could be compared to that of warm nest, ensuring the safety of the eggs inside, a comfortable place to reside.

The comfort should dwindle, should it not? When we’re out in the open not as friends but as lovers, blushes upon cheeks, smiles illuminated beside the streetlights above. We should be fearful of the comedown, lingering eyes and less than subtle remarks, and yet, I am not, and when I gaze at her, really gaze, I see the reflection of my own conclusions staring back at me through two blue pupils. She is not fearful either.

The air is cool outside the cafeteria, and I expect the comfort to subside when Sterling truly realizes the complexity of what we are about to do, awaiting the tight squeeze of her hand in mine, anxiety trickling down the corners of her mind and into her eyes, creating tears of worry.

It doesn’t arrive.

We are late to the dance by but a sheer thirty minutes having savoured the walk to this evening’s destination, as if we both understood that the moment would be engraved into our memories for the rest of our lives, and we wanted to ensure that it had enough time to paint the correct indelible picture. Whilst I believe that this has been achieved, it can just as easily be drawn over when we pull back the doors to the school, when it’s no longer just the two of us holding the brush.

Sterling Wesley turns to face me, an unreadable expression lining her features as her hand remains clasped in mine.

“We can do this,” she offers, the tight squeeze I had expected becoming a reality as she grasps my fingers firmly.

I gaze back without a single word, my thoughts speaking to me and only me.

The girl before you was nothing but an enemy once upon a time, a beautiful and yet dangerous creation that you could not touch despite an inexplicable desire to, as if drawn to the idea of getting burned, a hand lingering upon a fire basking in the warmth and being completely aware as to its instability.

But we are stable now.

With her eyes still fixated upon my own, I squeeze back, the corners of my mouth forming a delicate smile. We are stable.

The act is small but enough to inform her that I am ready, that we are ready to not only enter the dance, but to embrace this new chapter of our lives as lovers. When she is no longer facing me, and our bodies are anticipating the next move, I gulp back what resembles anxiety, and yet, somehow, I know in my heart that should I have undertaken the plan I had originally envisioned, in which I attended the dance with Luke, I know that this feeling would have been worse.

This is it. My final breaths in the dark. My final lie released.

We open the doors together, Sterling’s left hand and my right pushing towards it, our other hands still connected. A cacophony of noise greets us before the faces do, blaring music, voices near and far, shoes upon hard flooring. When the faces turn, the voices quieten, the shoes are no longer tapping away, and all that’s left is the music.

The eyes. The eyes hover towards the lower half of our bodies; two hands connected that somehow shouldn’t be. Or so it appears.

I await the inevitability of Sterling’s words. This was a bad idea. Let’s just forget this happened and leave.

The words don’t come, but rather, a pull of our bodies as she walks us directly into the middle of the dance floor, her heels against the tile overpowering the music, bursting through my ears as a wave of nausea hits me faster than any punch ever could.

When even heels against tile comes to a halt just as the noises that came before it, I freeze.

Sterling Wesley faces me once again, and in that moment, it is like we are but the only two souls here in the middle of the dancefloor, an empty room with but an unlikely pair to occupy it.

The hand that is not safely connected to my own wanders, removing a strand of hair in my face before pulling me closer to her. Our fingers separate as Sterling places her arms around my neck, and I, in turn, do the same around her waist. She sways me gently to the music, never once averting her gaze to see who may be watching, talking, laughing. She looks at me, only me. And I know that I could not look away even if I tried.

Nausea becomes ease, becomes content, becomes happy, and my smile finds itself almost irreversible upon my features, as if it will never leave me.

And then she moves in, and the smile becomes pressed against another, two pairs of lips finding their home just as our hands had done moments earlier. And even when she retracts, the smiles remain the same, irreversible. Almost.

“We faced the music,” I say, referring to the dance we had just shared as a song played blissfully in the background, “now what do you say we face the music?

For the first time, Sterling Wesley averts her gaze from my own and takes a look around the room in observation. I allow her eyes to wander before my own do, taking in her features, desperate for a response in her expression to indicate what she might be witnessing. I press my hands tighter around her waist.

Her eyes find mine again a few moments later, and the nausea hits me once more.

That is until she smiles warmly, and I realize that my own smile has still not left me, despite the fear of what’s to come.

“Maybe you should look around,” she offers.

And so, I do, scanning the area with utmost haste, taking in the surroundings before me and…

And…

There is nothing but normalcy. Couples tied together through limbs and lips. Stumbling bodies grasping one more cup of fruit punch. It is nothing, and yet it is everything all at once.

My eyes find Blair before my scan of the area is complete, dark blue dress, leather jacket worn proudly over slender shoulders on top, a black necklace with a silver charm falling perfectly over her figure. That same blue dress comes closer, closer still, until she surrounds our space, and I instinctively remove my hands from Sterling’s waist as if in subtle apology to Blair as to what she had just witnessed.

The girl smiles until her teeth expose themselves, pearly white indications of amusement.

“Unless those arms are retracting in order to get a drink, I suggest you put those right back where they were before Sterling has a tantrum.”

“Seconded,” Sterling comments, nodding to her sister in approval at her remark.

The arms in question, my arms, stay firmly planted for just a moment longer in deliberation as to the next plausible move. And then it hits me.

“How about you go get us all some drinks Miss I’m-So-Good-At-Art-And-Looking-Like-I-Belong-In-A-Music-Video and then I can commit to your request, hm?”

My face follows suit to my words in mock concentration, folding my arms in unison to my features, and for what I hope is the final time, I scowl at Blair before bursting into laughter alongside Sterling. There’s no need to act now. Not anymore. But it doesn’t hurt to say goodbye to the old April Stevens one last time.

“Someone’s bossy,” Blair mentions, her smile shining through the perceived rudeness of the remark in comic fashion. “Can’t wait to have the both of you shouting orders left right and center at home.”

My body warms at the idea of entering Sterling's home not just as a guest but as her girlfriend, the normality of it all no longer a distant wish but a reality. 

“You love it,” Sterling acknowledges, ruffling Blair’s hair whilst she attempts to bat her away as if she is batting away a mischievous wasp.

“I do, really. Just…take care of my sister, okay?”

Blair’s eyes fall upon me, and the mask I had once worn falls away simultaneously, smashing upon the tile beneath, discarded forever. 

“I will. Believe me, I will.”

With Sterling’s sister retrieving our drinks, we pick up where we left off, arms around my neck, hands upon her waist, and I sigh. Not because I’m frustrated at the idea of who I chose to follow this journey with. Not because I’m stuck on telling a girl about how I feel only to change my mind at the last moment. Not because I can’t be who I am. No, I sigh because I’m content. I sigh because I got everything I could ever want, and so much more.

Two pools of blue wonder electrify my senses, intoxicating my very being more than any alcohol ever could. When her lips form words, I almost don’t hear them.

“I love you, April Stevens.”

I am relieved that I heard them as we sway to the music, bodies pressed together firmly.

“I love you too, Sterling Wesley.”

The world is but an everchanging ball in space, shaped upon constructs and etiquette and shared beliefs. To some, the relationship that Sterling Wesley and I share is abhorrent, a flaw in nature, but, surprisingly, to a small religious school in Georgia, it is admissible, it is accepted. And whilst it is a small victory, it is a victory, nonetheless. A small school in Georgia is enough for now.

We are enough for one another.