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i knew it when you walked my way

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Sterling wakes up to her alarm clock blaring at the crack of dawn. She groans, slapping aimlessly around her dresser trying to find her phone to snooze it before it wakes her roommate up.

Why is Sterling waking up with the sun, one might ask? 

She mistakenly crashed her father’s car while on the phone with Blair and holding a cup of frozen yogurt. Sterling promised her extremely angry parents that she would pay them back with interest and because she’s only a freshman in college with no discernible skills other than sharpshooting and some form of graphic design, she gets a job as a barista at a small, local coffee shop. 

It’s her third week and she actually kind of likes her job but god, does she hate waking up so early. 

She quickly gets dressed, throwing on the purple apron, and hurries out the door. Her boss, Bowser, gave her a pointed look the last time she came in late and if there’s anything that could ruin Sterling’s morning, it’s palpable disappointment.

Three hours into her eight-hour shift, Sterling realizes she spoke too soon. A boy in her Philosophy class, she wants to say his name is Paul or maybe Brian, has been attempting to flirt with her for two minutes during morning rush hour and behind him is a growing line of visibly irritated people. 

“The professor said the Albert Camus was gonna be a tough read but I actually found it pretty easy to go through, don’t you think?” He leans against the counter, flashing her a grin.

Sterling, covered in sweat, grime, and espresso grounds, could not find this to be any less sexy. Behind him, she sees Bowser squinting from across the room at her so she puts on her best smile and nods. 

“Yeah, I liked it a lot. Um, I’m sorry but there’s a line-” PaulBrian cuts her off and Sterling can hear Blair cursing loudly in her head. 

“It’s a good read but it wasn’t intellectual enough for me. Existentialism is just so elementary.” 

Sterling is about to kindly insist again that he move when they both hear a throat clearing behind him.

A pretty girl, a little shorter than her, is standing behind him. She’s clutching two textbooks in one arm and holding Mere Christianity in her other hand.

The girl looks up at the boy, shooting him a sickly sweet smile that even strikes a little fear (and something else?) in Sterling. 

“I’m sorry to break up your clearly important conversation but some of us don’t have all day to watch you make a fool of yourself.” 

Sterling has to catch her laugh before it leaves her mouth. 

PaulBrian’s mouth drops and he starts to sputter when the girl steps forward, lightly moving him aside and says, “And if I had the intellect of a fourth-grader, I wouldn’t fully be able to grasp Albert Camus either. No reason to lie,” her mouth quirks to the side.

PaulBrian goes red and is about to retort when other people in line start booing him. He shuffles off defeated, hands in pocket and head down. 

She turns to Sterling with a triumphant beam, “I’d like a medium black coffee with an extra shot of espresso and extra sugar.”

Sterling is still in awe though, who is this girl? 

“Thank you so much,” She can hear herself gushing. “It’s my third week and I’m just trying not to get fired and telling him he’s a dick is not the ‘customer is always right’ attitude my boss likes to see.”

The girl waves the gratitude away, “Watching men badly flirt is not my idea of a pastime but I’m glad I could help.” 

Sterling laughs (why does her laugh sound so weird), “Oh, you just made my morning so much better.” 

She notices a pink hue settle on the girl’s cheeks at the compliment. 

“What’s the name for the order?”

“April.”

“Well, thank you again, April. And Mere Christianity, a good read from what I remember.”

April looks at her, a note of curiosity in her eyes. “God will not love you any less if you happen to be born with a second-rate brain. Very apt for that idiot,” She gives Sterling a small smile before walking away to go pick up her drink.

Sterling makes sure to put a little thank you heart on her cup and she can’t tell for sure but she thinks she sees April grin when she picks it up.

 

--

 

Sterling sees April a few days later. She’s furiously texting and occasionally muttering under her breath and when she gets to the register, her neck is red and she’s saying “Why is everyone so incompetent?”

Sterling recognizes her immediately and despite her clearly angry body language and the fact that April has not looked up from her phone yet, she grins at her and says “Black coffee with sugar and a shot of espresso, right?” 

April stills and looks up. Sterling sees her words register in April’s eyes and April stares for a second, slipping her phone into your pocket.

“How’d you remember my order?”

Sterling shrugs, picking a cup up to write her order on. “It’s not every day a pretty girl rescues you.” 

April furrows her brows for a second, a smile rising to her lips before she composes herself. A familiar pink hue rises to her cheeks. 

“Thank you.” Her voice catches for a second. She flashes her a quick smile before, what can only be described as scurrying, she scurries off to pick up her drink. 

 

--

 

The next time April comes in, she leaves Mere Christainity at the counter. When Sterling calls after her, April turns around and smiles in her direction, “Borrow it. It’s a really good read.” 

 “C.S. Lewis has never let me down. I was obsessed with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid,” Sterling eagerly says. 

April nods, her eyes drifting. “My dad used to read me those books.”

“Mine too!” But her words seem to fall on deaf ears. April just tightly smiles at her before walking off, drink in hand. Sterling worries that she said the wrong thing for a second but doesn’t have time to put much thought into it as another customer steps up. 

Sterling devours the book that night, delighted to find notes in the margins. April’s handwriting is scrawled all over the book and Sterling finds herself more eager to read the comments than the content itself. 

(She interestedly notes the angry writing around the passage about a proper Christian marriage.) 

She finds this quote highlighted, “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”

Sterling doesn’t say anything about it when she hands the book back. 

 

--

 

After a few weeks of working, Sterling starts to get into a rhythm and she even gets on a first-name basis with a couple of the regulars. 

PaulBrian doesn’t try to talk to her anymore in class (Sterling still doesn't know what his actual name is) and she occasionally sees April at the cafe, a win-win situation but nothing more than that as April seems to be constantly rushing off to the next thing, glued to her phone. Sterling is surprised at the disappointment that lingers every time. 

Nonetheless, Sterling is on top of her schoolwork, her social life, and her regularly scheduled parental loan so she’s feeling pretty good about herself. 

Her co-worker, Penny, texts her one afternoon and asks if she could please, please cover her closing shift next week. Her plans for that night were facetiming Blair and watching Iron Chef together but Penny promises her a round of drinks and free pizza in exchange and Sterling can’t say no to that. 

So she’s at the cafe alone on a Wednesday night, bored out of her mind. The cafe is closing in an hour but it’s pouring rain outside so several students sought refuge in the cafe and are chatting aimlessly or neck deep into their homework. Sterling is dreading the work she’s going to have to do, looking at the various puddles and dirt marks on the ground. 

She’s leaning on the counter, scrolling through her phone when April walks in, sopping wet. She doesn’t look happy though whether that’s due to her current state or another thing, Sterling doesn’t know. She shakes off at the mat (Sterling amusingly thinks about a little dog shaking water off of itself) and goes up to the register, wringing her hair out on the way. 

“Hi,” April tiredly says. 

Now that Sterling can really look at her, she notices April’s eyes are rimmed red and her hands are slightly shaking. The chill outside seems to have found a home in her bones and it's visible.

“Hey,” Sterling says, giving her a soft smile. “Can I get you a tea or something? It’s on the house.”

April sighs and her body seems to sag with the motion, “Are you sure? Won’t your boss get mad?”

She leans in, whispering to April. “Bowser’s not here so I’m making up my own rules.” Sterling walks over to the Lavender and Lemongrass tea tin and pulls one out, going for the Chamomile too. 

“My mom used to make me this when I was feeling down about life. Plus I owe you one, right?”

April, for the first time since she’s walked in, smiles and resigns herself to the free tea. “Thank you…” her eyes travel up to the nametag, “Blair?”

Sterling, forgetting that she had Blair’s name on there, snorts. “Sorry, I just put that there so creeps don’t know my name when they hit on me. It’s Sterling.” 

She sticks her hand out and April stares at it for a second. 

Oh god, Sterling thinks. A shake? Who the hell shakes? And just as Sterling is about to pull her hand back and apologize for being awkward, April reaches out and grips her hand back. 

She feels a jolt run through her body as April’s eyes lock with hers and their hands stay clasped for a few seconds, neither of them taking the initiative to withdraw. 

Sterling realizes a second too late that the tea is overflowing and she pulls her hand back quickly as she runs over to the machine, rubbing the hand that April had just shaken. 

“Sorry, let me get you a new cup. I’m kind of a klutz.” 

She pours it into a clean cup and hands it over to April who takes a sip and immediately spits it out. 

“Hot! Fuck, that’s hot.” 

Sterling grabs the nearest towel and starts wiping down the counter. She can’t help but snort under her breath.

April quirks her eyebrow, “I’m sorry, are you laughing at me?”

“No…” Sterling trails off, keeping her head ducked as her smile threatens to grow wider.  

“It’s not nice to kick a person when she’s down, you know?” April teases. 

“It’s just, you’re normally not dribbling water down your front when I see you. You’re more composed.”

April lets out a soft laugh, “Well I’m glad it seems that way because I don’t feel composed at all.” 

Sterling can sense that sadness again. Though they’ve only met a handful of times, she has the overwhelming urge to wrap her in a blanket and kiss her on the forehead like Blair would do to her when she got sad. 

“You seem pretty perfect to me,” Sterling says offhandedly. When she actually registers it, she starts mentally kicking herself. What was that?

April looks up, her eyes soft and that’s the moment a customer decides to come up and order a blueberry muffin. Sterling quietly groans, turning around to get the muffin out of the case. She’s almost dreading turning back around cause again what the hell was that, Wesley? 

When she goes to hand the muffin to the customer, she spots April at one of the corner tables curled up with her tea and sketching in her notebook. 

Sterling is relieved; she doesn’t have to explain her way out of her weird comment that definitely makes it seem like she perceives April way more than normal. Even if it’s true, it’s still a weird thing to say to a person she talks to in passing about twice a week. 

She looks around and whips her phone out, immediately hitting Blair’s name to text.

 

S: Blair, I just fucked up.

B: woah, language. it must be bad. what did u do?

S: Remember that customer I told you about that totally saved me from that awful flirty guy and then we bonded and then she lent me her book? 

B: yeah… 

S: She just came in and she was looking sad and wet and sad and then I tried to cheer her up but accidentally told her she was perfect.

S: Ugh, what a stupid thing to do. I made it so weird, now she’s never gonna come back to get coffee. 

S: Blair, answer!!!

B: ….

S: Just tell me the truth.

B: it sounds like u’ve got a crush, sis

S: ???

B: remember in the seventh grade when i told jordan tanner he had great calves after i beat him in swim practice when i really just had a big, fat crush on him.

S: Omg, you’re right. 

S: What do I do about it??

B: ur hot, ur cool. be urself!

S: That’s terrible advice.

B: well i love u

S: You’re my sister, you have to love me. 

 

Blair only responds with the two girls emoji, followed by the lips emoji and the eyes emoji. She is so deeply unhelpful.

Sterling groans, rubbing her face with her hands. Okay, so what if she has a crush on one of her regulars? It’s fine. It’s chill, it’s totally cool. Before Sterling can even step another foot into her mental spiral, the clocktower in town chimes and Sterling silently cheers. It’s 10 o'clock and that means everyone, including April, has to go. Sterling thanks God; she does not need to be thinking about a relationship (woah, who even brought a relationship into this?) right now. 

She makes the announcement and people slowly get ready, preparing to shuffle back out into the rain. April is still curled up, looking outside but her phone is in her lap and her notebook is closed. She doesn’t seem to have heard Sterling or the background music, Closing Time by Semisonic, that Sterling likes to put on as a joke.  

Sterling takes a deep breath and walks over, tapping April on the shoulder. April whirls around, putting her hand defensively on Sterling’s and Sterling, surprised, tries to pull her hand away but April squeezes it.

April looks up and quickly lets go. “Sorry, it’s a reflex” she murmurs. It’s clear that she’s been crying, her throat scratchy and her nose stuffed. “It’s closing time, right?” She shakes her head, snapping out of it, and goes to collect her things from the table. 

“Thank you for the tea,” April attempts a smile and Sterling’s heart breaks

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sterling says, “You can stay for a little bit if you want. I have to clean up and it’s really gonna take a while with all the dirt and muck.”

April keeps packing but starts slowing her movements, “Are you sure? I really don’t want to get in your way.”

“No, no. It’s fine,” Sterling insists. “It’ll be nice to have some company while I’m cleaning anyways. It gets kind of spooky when I’m by myself.” 

April thoughtlessly lifts her sleeve to wipe at her nose and, for a second, looks mortified, diving into her bag to get a tissue. 

Sterling reaches into her back pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, extending it to her.

“Here.”

April looks incredulously at it, “Who carries a handkerchief in 2020?” 

Sterling scoffs, “First of all, it’s environmentally friendly and second of all, my mom embroidered one for me and another for my sister so I think it's cute but if you don’t want it-”

April reaches forward and takes it, their fingers brushing for a second. “I’m sorry, I’m misdirecting my feelings. I think it’s cute that you have one.” 

Sterling curls her toes at the compliment. 

April blows her nose into it before realizing the dilemma, “Oh, sorry. I’ll bring it back to you clean, I promise.” 

Sterling shrugs, walking over to lock the door and grab the mop and broom in the closet nearby. “It’s okay, you need it more than I do.” 

She starts on the lower left part of the cafe as April kind of lingers near her chair. She’s been sweeping for about five minutes, racking her brain for conversation topics because Sterling does not want to make a fool of herself but also they don’t really know each other when luckily April speaks up first, knocking Sterling out of her train of thought. 

“Can I help you with something? I’m really productive when I put my mind to it and it’s the least I can do.” 

Sterling opens her mouth to say no, no she’s good but she sees April already pushing her sleeves up and pulling her hair back into a ponytail and damn she looks cute, how can she say no to that? Sterling goes back to the closet and grabs the other broom, handing it to April.

“You can do the other side if you want but if you get tired or anything, you can totally stop.” Sterling didn’t ask April to stay because she wanted free labor, she wants to make that clear. 

April slightly scrunches her face up in concentration as she starts to push the dust and dirt into a pile. She moves in a weirdly meticulous way, eventually finishing her side before Sterling is even halfway through hers. 

Sterling just gapes at her when April announces she’s finished, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know Ms. Clean was here with me tonight.”

April smirks proudly, “I’m good with a tool, what can I say?” 

Sterling audibly swallows, why does she find efficient cleaning so hot

“We make a good team,” Sterling says. 

April beams, “Yes, we do.”

April, without further direction, starts sweeping in another part of the cafe and is actually starting to cheer up when her phone buzzes again. She glances at the screen and her face falls, her knuckles turning white from grasping the broom tightly. 

Sterling learned some valuable lessons in her small high school about avoiding drama and keeping your nose out of other people’s businesses but April is visibly not okay and Sterling finds that talking helps her when she’s going through a lot and maybe it could help April too?

So at the risk of getting her head bitten off, Sterling quietly clears her throat and April looks up at her, her eyes glazed over. 

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

April squeezes her eyes shut for a second, letting out a long breath. It’s been quiet for so long that Sterling thinks April might not want to when her voice cuts through the silence. 

“Why can’t people just tell the truth? Is that so hard?” 

Sterling thinks for a second. She thinks about her mom who lied to her for years to keep her safe. She thinks about her dad who lied to make sure she never felt like an outsider. She wonders how different her life would be if she had actually known.  

April interrupts her thoughts and continues full-steam ahead though, gripping the broom even tighter.

“My father decided that our family wasn’t good enough for him anymore, oh and also? He hits women, breaks the law, and makes my mom mortgage the lake house for stupid fucking legal fees.”

Sterling is genuinely worried the broom handle might snap off but she knows better than to interrupt April right now.

“And on top of that, one of my best friends decided that I’m too intense and clingy for her and stopped talking to me out of the blue.”

Sterling slowly starts walking towards April, her hand unconsciously reaching out to try to wipe the sadness off her face. 

“The worst part of it is I thought I was close with them. But they both lied to me.”

Sterling touches April gently on the shoulder, “I’m sorry. No one deserves that.” 

April briefly leans into her touch before she snaps herself out of it and sighs, “And I’m just freaking out the barista at my favorite coffee shop by going on a self-absorbed tangent.” 

Sterling is about to open her mouth to correct her, no it is not self-absorbed to be sad about losing a friend and a father and no, she is not freaked out because she actually had a very similar familial experience but April keeps going.

“I do this to myself. I keep trusting people and I keep thinking God is showing me the best path but I just keep messing it up.” 

April pulls away and Sterling can feel the loss of warmth where she just was. April whispers, so softly that Sterling has to lean closer to hear, “Why do I keep letting this happen? I’m such an idiot.” 

Sterling has to put an end to this. She recognizes the downhill turn April is taking, Sterling completed her own lap when she found out the News, and wouldn’t wish the dark place she was in on her enemies. So she acts without thinking.

She walks forward, grabbing April by the shoulders just to give her something else to focus on. Their faces are inches apart and April licks her lips (in anticipation or nervousness, Sterling doesn’t stop to think) and Sterling acts without thinking, leaning in and kissing her.  

April freezes, her hands hovering close to but not touching Sterling’s body and Sterling’s brain alarms start going off. She starts to pull away, her hands coming up to cover her face because she’s so, so embarrassed. 

“I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”

April’s hands silence her as one grips her arm and the other slides up to her face and April leans forward, closing the gap and pressing her lips to hers. 

Sterling’s first thought is how soft April’s lips are. She’d only recently figured out that she liked girls at a college party when they played Suck and Blow (Blair gasped at this part of the story, “I thought they only did that in movies!”) and a girl in her Anthropology class smirked at her as the card fell, igniting feelings she’d never had for Luke but for the most part, the only lips she’d ever kissed were men’s and is this what she’d been missing out on?

Sterling eagerly kisses her back, her hands going to April’s waist to anchor them but April surges forward, licking into her mouth and she backs them towards the wall. 

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sterling is aware that there are cameras in the cafe and that Bowser could very well be watching her not do her job and instead choose to make out with a customer, a fireable offense, but April’s hand skims the hem of her shirt and her mind goes blank.

April is demanding and aggressive, hand going up the back of Sterling’s shirt and scratching at the skin she finds. She bites Sterling’s lower lip but a little too vigorously because Sterling yelps and April apologizes with a swipe of her tongue, trying to soothe it. Sterling’s other hand goes up to cup April’s head, steadying them and she gently scrapes her scalp. This elicits a moan from April and Sterling files that information away for later. 

Sterling is getting impossibly turned on and April is grinding her pelvis against hers and her hand is snaking up Sterling’s front now and Sterling’s senses are overloading but she knows they’re going way too quickly and as much as she wants to crawl into the nearest booth with April on top of her, she is not having sex in the cafe cause that really would be crossing a line and she’s not even halfway to paying her parents off. 

She reluctantly pulls away, panting and April looks at her, her hair a mess and her lips red and Sterling almost leans back in right there so she just blurts out, “My mom’s not my mom; she’s actually my aunt.”

April’s hand, lazily drawing circles on Sterling’s rib, stills. “I’m sorry, what?”

“My family’s pretty fucked up too. I just wanted you to know you’re not alone.” 

April looks at her with such tenderness that it makes Sterling want to look away but then she turns her hand around, pulling Sterling’s shirt towards her. “Come here.” 

She presses her lips to Sterling’s again but it’s more gentle this time, more kind. Sterling’s resolve is basically about to crumble because whatever she can just get another job when she feels liquid hitting her face and tastes salt.

She pulls back slowly and April is crying. She quickly wraps her arms around her, resting her cheek on April's head and April’s body only shakes more as she leans into Sterling. They stand like that for a few minutes until April’s sniffling subsides and she steps back, looking embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” April says. “I’m just having a bad day.” 

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” Sterling tries to catch her eye but April is laser-focused on a spot on the ground. “I was a very willing participant,” Sterling tries to joke but it’s different now. The air between them is different and Sterling doesn’t really know what changed.

April won’t stop staring at the spot on the ground so Sterling clears her throat and they lock eyes.

“I’m gonna finish cleaning up and since it’s still raining, I could drive you back to your dorm?” Sterling internally winces when she finishes the sentence. “Not for sex or anything. I mean not that I wouldn't be into it but I think-”

April cuts her off, “No, I think I’m just gonna go now.” She moves away, grabbing her backpack from the ground nearby and heading towards the door. “Sorry again,” April says. 

Sterling steps forward, reaching out to stop her but April slips away and she’s only holding on to air.  



--



Sterling doesn’t see April for a while.  

She tries to look her up on social media but she’s private on most accounts. She discreetly asks around, has anyone seen April coming in? and all her coworkers shake their heads, no she hasn’t been coming in. 

She spends the next week kicking herself. Why did she have to ruin it by kissing her? She should’ve just hugged her and called it a day and they wouldn’t be in this mess. She’s called Blair thirty-two times at least, just this week, asking her if she’d crossed a line or if maybe April just wasn’t into her like that and Sterling was making it up but then why would she kiss her back and like that

She beats herself up for having feelings again when she's recently gotten out of a six-year relationship and Blair gently reminds her that it’s different. Luke was comfortable and Sterling loved him but she wasn’t in love with him. 

“You kissed April, Sterl. You never initiate the kiss; the boys always have to come to you. That means something!” 

Blair’s right but what can she do about it? 

After a few more pitying late-night phone calls, Blair shows up, a duffel bag in one hand and an entire box of doughnuts in the other.

They watch 10 Things I Hate About You and A Walk To Remember and Sterling tears up as Blair hugs her from behind. 

She wants to call out of work, Blair wholeheartedly supports the idea, but she knows it’d be unfair to her co-workers and it would help take her mind off of the whole Situation anyways so she goes in. Blair insists on tagging along for moral support. 

She busies herself with cleaning the area, stocking up the baked goods and generally staying away from talking to customers. She’s in the middle of making a really cute foam bear in someone’s latte when Blair sprints over, leaning against the glass partition. 

“Psst.”

“Blair, not now. I’m working.”

Blair becomes more aggressive, “Psssssst.”

“Blair, no, you cannot pretend to be me and come behind the counter. You don’t even look that much like me.”

“Sterl, shut up. There’s a girl who’s been walking back and forth in front of the store for the last twenty minutes. She’s been muttering to herself and staring aggressively at you the whole time. You didn’t tell me that you had a stalker, I’m jealous!”

Sterling rolls her eyes, “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence and I think you really need to lay off the Pretty Little Liars cause-”

Blair reaches over and grabs Sterling’s arm. “Look, she’s passing by again!”

Sterling looks up in time to catch the end tail of April who hurries away when she realizes she’s been spotted.

Sterling must’ve paled because Blair lets out a low whistle.

“Oh. That’s her, huh?”

Sterling doesn’t say anything. She just looks back down, finishes the now deflated bear and puts the drink on the counter, calling out the person’s name. 

“You know, she’s shorter than I thought and you’re definitely way hotter than she is.”

Sterling hisses, “Blair, stop.”

Blair raises her hands defensively, “What? I’m just stating the truth. You’re too good for her!”

Sterling wants to believe she’s over it, above it all but seeing April again only made it worse. She knows that she doesn’t really know her, that April hasn’t really been in her life at all but she can’t get that evening out of her head. It’s shaken her in a way that doesn’t feel familiar and comfortable and she’s still feeling the tremors. 

 

-- 

 

It’s been three weeks since their almost tryst and Sterling starts to feel more like herself again. She’d talked it out with Blair (“It’s her problem, not yours”) and ranted to Penny, over the promised pizza and alcohol, who high fived her for joining the elite circle of workers who have hooked up in the coffee shop. Even Bowser’s been nicer to her, greeting her with a gruff ‘hello’ and an attempt at a smile at the beginning of her shifts. She doesn’t dare ask if he’d seen anything.

Blair set up a dating profile for her when she was last here and her phone occasionally buzzes with the notification of a new match. Sure, April could’ve been something but there’s no point dwelling on a could, right?

Sterling’s at the coffee shop, looking down at her phone because a girl just messaged her a weird Minion gif so she doesn’t see April when she walks in.

April stands there awkwardly for a second before clearing her throat to get Sterling’s attention.

Sterling looks up too quickly, rushing to put her phone away, and is hit with slight nausea from the transition. It doesn’t help when she realizes it’s April standing in front of her. 

April’s back to looking put together, her hair tied back in its immaculate ponytail. Sterling can sense that April is waiting for something but she’s not going to give her any relief. She can’t be an asshole and expect Sterling to come crawling back. 

“Would you like to order something? There’s another customer in line,” Sterling’s focused on keeping her voice level. 

A flash of hurt jumps across April’s face but she quickly composes herself.

“I wanted to apologize. I messed up.” 

Sterling looks at her, raising her eyebrows. 

“I’m used to compartmentalizing and not dealing with my feelings. I took them out on you that night and I shouldn’t have because you’re good, Sterling,” April nervously bites her lip. “You’re a good person and it was shitty of me.” 

Sterling is digesting the words when the person behind April cuts in, “I’m sorry to break this love fest but I’m just trying to get a coffee here.”

April purses her lips, waiting for Sterling to respond. When she doesn’t immediately, April turns away quickly, cheeks burning. 

Her co-worker sees Sterling frozen in place, unsure of where to go and what to do, and chimes in, “I can take you over here!” She turns to Sterling, winking at her. “You can take your fifteen if you want. I can cover you.” 

Sterling shoots her a grateful smile, running out of the shop and after April. 

“April!” Sterling yells, trying to get the girl to stop. Sterling knows she doesn’t owe her anything but she at least deserves an explanation.

April turns around, surprise written all over her face. 

“I- I didn’t think you wanted to talk to me.”

“It’s all I’ve wanted to do, April. I don’t hate you; I just want to know what happened.” 

April looks around them, a fairly busy street, and grabs Sterling’s arm, pulling her into a nearby alley. Her grip on Sterling’s arm flashes her back to that night and Sterling’s mind drifts to soft lips for a second before snapping back to reality.

April sighs, gearing herself up to talk. “I’m not out to my family.” 

Oh.

“I’m not ashamed of who I am; I just don’t want my family to kick me out.”

“No, I get it. My family’s really religious so I thought they would hate me when I told them but they were actually really understanding.”

Sterling is grateful for her parents, for her family. She knows it hasn't been an easy road but they've stood by her side all this time. 

“My parents are hateful bigots,” April spits out, bitterness lining her words. “And they raised me in an environment where vulnerability was something that could be used against us so I never let myself be caught off guard. I plan everything to the T and don't ever go off track until... that night. You saw me at my lowest and it scared me.”

April looks down at her feet, “So I did what Team Stevens does best, I shut down and ran and pretended like it never happened.” 

Sterling nods, trying to think of how to respond but she knows she can’t help April with this. This is something she needs to work out on her own. 

April gives her a small smile, “The problem was I couldn’t stop thinking about you, can’t stop thinking about you. I don’t expect any kind of absolution but you deserve to know what happened.”

April reaches into her pocket and pulls out Sterling’s handkerchief, neatly folded up into a square.

“Here,” April passes it to Sterling and Sterling takes it, finger brushing over the familiar fabric. She doesn’t know what she wants. She likes April, she does, but there’s no denying that she genuinely hurt Sterling and April clearly has a lot to work on. 

“Bye, Sterling.” April starts walking but stops halfway, turning around. “I hope we can be friends. Maybe, someday?”

Sterling can only nod, lump in her throat, and with that, April leaves the alley and Sterling is alone. Left with nothing but her feelings and a strong smell of garbage, she feels the tears welling up and her nose start to run. Fortunate timing, Sterling thinks, unfurling the handkerchief and a little note falls out of it.

Sterling bends down, picking it up and opening it. 

Inside, it’s a small, stupidly gorgeous portrait of Sterling. 

April must’ve done it that night. Sterling stares at it, running her fingers softly over it. Light is illuminating her in the picture, her lips slightly pouted and eyes soft with a bored look behind them. Even though she looks a little worse for wear in the drawing, Sterling can’t get over how beautiful the girl, supposedly she, is. Sterling’s heart skips a beat when she realizes that this is how April sees her. Not like something to protect or a blind lifelong commitment but someone who is real and present and beautiful.

I really am sorry , it says below the portrait and a scrawl that Sterling works out to be April’s phone number. 

 

--

 

April is doing homework and depression listening to Sleater Kinney when she gets the text.

It’s a picture of April’s drawing tacked up on Sterling’s board.

Unknown: You owe me a stupid amount of baked goods and alcohol for the stress you’ve put me through.

Unknown: This is Sterling btw

Unknown: The barista 

April laughs, for the first time since all the news came crashing down. A feeling starts rising in her chest and she quietly recognizes it as hope.