It happens for the first time on a crisp January morning in gym class. They have to run the mile, which Sterling thinks is particularly cruel, given that she spent most of Christmas break lying in bed watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and eating those Reese’s cups that are shaped like Christmas trees, and now she is being forced to run around in a circle seemingly endlessly.
“Why did you get all the athletic genes?” she pants to Blair, who isn’t even breaking a sweat. They’ve only recently been starting to joke about this stuff again. That shadow that had been crossing Blair’s face when words like genetics come up is nowhere to be seen. She just grins at Sterling, throws up a peace sign.
“Probably because I’m amazing at everything,” she says before whizzing past Sterling.
Sterling gives her the finger.
By the time she makes it around the track the third time, Sterling pauses to lean over, hands on her knees, heart beating in her ears. A couple of students zoom by her, but Sterling is too busy focusing on trying to breathe again to notice.
Then, someone ploughs into her and she falls clumsily into the dirt, feeling a body weigh on top of her. She turns her head to see a flushed face, a swing of a ponytail, and April Stevens scurrying off of her.
“Ow,” Sterling says weakly, still feeling the imprint of a knee in her back.
April stands, looks down at Sterling, considers a moment, and then holds out her hand. Sterling tries not to look too stunned. April hasn’t talked to her outside of absolute necessity in three months, and when she did, it wasn’t exactly pleasant.
“Are you going to take my hand, Wesley, or are you planning on taking a nap in the track?”
Sterling smiles at the familiar hostility, not the real biting kind of last fall, after one too many secrets had been revealed, but a practiced hostility that makes Sterling, against her better judgment, oddly charmed.
“Oh boy, is taking a nap an option?” She asks, faux innocence, “cause if so, why is anyone running?”
For a second it looks like April is fighting a smile, but then she gets it under control and rolls her eyes. Sterling just grins up at her and takes her hand. April grips Sterling’s wrist, firm and purposeful, and pulls her to her feet like it’s nothing, which is crazy because April is so tiny. Sterling can see the way the tendons all the way up to her bicep work through the fabric of her t-shirt until Sterling is upright. It makes her breath catch in a way that has nothing to do with gym class.
“Thanks,” she breathes once she’s up. April’s hand immediately drops from her wrist.
“Well, don’t make it a habit of standing in the way.”
“Hey, no promises, I still might take that nap.”
This time the smile peeks through just for a second.
“You’re impossible,” April says, just a hair softer than before, but enough for Sterling to notice.
Then she’s turning around and jogging away, and Sterling notices the way her t-shirt rides up her lower back, the winter sunlight striking the inch of exposed skin rebelliously peeking through. Sterling swallows, watching the way the muscles in April's thighs tense and release with each purposeful step, and almost falls over again.
“Blair,” she hisses, once they’re finally released from gym class, “something crazy just happened, for the first time in months, since everything, I was… horny again.”
If Sterling’s not mistaken, something like a tear forms in Blair’s eye, before she’s crushing Sterling in a hug.
“I’ve never been more proud of you.”
It keeps happening after that. The girl at the grocery store has a tattoo of a tooth on her neck and Sterling wonders what it would be like to taste it. They have a substitute teacher in Trig while Mrs. O’Neal is sick, and his polo shirt is just a little too tight on his biceps. Sterling pictures what it would be like to roll his sleeves up and feel his arms beneath the palms of her hands.
They get dinner that Friday night with Bowser and Yolanda and Sterling can’t stop looking at the way Yolanda’s hands expertly handle the chopsticks to eat her Pad Thai.
“Do you want a bite or something?” Yolanda asks gruffly, after she notices Sterling’s staring.
Sterling shakes her head quickly, then blurts out, “you just have really beautiful hands.”
The other three at the table just stare at her for a few long seconds, before Blair starts giggling. Bowser’s eyes almost bug out of his head, causing Yolanda to elbow him lightly in the ribs.
“Why don’t you ever say I have beautiful hands, huh?” She teases.
Bowser looks a combination of irritated and contrite. “I just thought, you know,” he turns his gaze to Sterling, “it’s kind of a weird thing to tell something out of the blue.”
“Hey!” Blair says, pointing her chopsticks at Bowser, “it’s never weird to tell a woman that she's beautiful. Actually, wait, yeah it is, like tons of guys are super creepy about it, I just meant that it’s not weird for you to call Yolanda beautiful or for Sterling to, for that matter.”
“It was a little weird,” Yolanda pipes up, “not that I don’t appreciate it.”
Sterling feels herself blushing a little, poking at her fried rice. Thankfully, the conversation moves on to Blair pressing Bowser about work, and Sterling sighs in relief that her comment seems to have slid by.
When they get into the car to go home, though, Blair immediately turns to her.
“Beautiful hands?” She asks, grinning.
“I don’t get why this is such a big deal! Yolanda does have beautiful hands.”
Blair shakes her head, grinning a little. “You absolute horn dog.”
“No, I love it, I think it’s great, I just didn’t realize how far your horniness reached. Yolanda?”
“She’s a very attractive woman!”
Blair laughs, putting the car in gear.
“I think this is a breakthrough. You should talk to Molly about it.”
She sees Molly every Tuesday, in a nice office downtown, with succulents and soft lighting and muted throw pillows. Sterling likes Molly, likes the way she mostly just talks to Sterling like she’s an old friend. She wears thick rimmed glasses that sometimes fall down her nose when she talks, and today Sterling can’t help but notice them, can’t help but notice the way her legs cross at the knees.
Which, okay, God, she’s been having a week of these thoughts, but thinking them about her therapist feels a little too gross.
“I’ve been really, uh, horny lately,” she says with no pretenses.
Molly, to her credit, looks barely surprised.
“And this is a new thing?” She asks gently.
Sterling nods. “Yeah, just last week, there was an… incident in gym class and then I just - I’ve just been noticing things. People. Things about people that have always been there I guess, but now they’re just new and bright and I can’t stop.”
Molly smiles gently. “I don’t think you have to stop, Sterling, you’re sixteen, it’s pretty much par for the course.”
“I guess the weird thing is that it hasn’t happened for a while… not since…”
Molly nods, and Sterling relaxes a little, grateful she doesn’t have to go into it, even though she supposes the whole point of therapy is to go into it, but she feels like her and Molly have gone through it more than enough in the past few months.
“Blair said it was a breakthrough, which I feel like is a little over the top, but I wanted to check in with you anyway.”
Molly chuckles. “Well, we both know your sister has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, but I think it may be a sign of things returning to the status quo.”
Sterling smiles at this. Sometimes, it’s still a little crazy that this person, who Sterling had told absolutely everything, can easily say sister like it’s a fact. And it is a fact.
“Cool,” Sterling says, lamely, “so I don’t have to read into it too much.”
“I think you’re good,” Molly says with a gentle smile.
And Sterling believes her.
Hot Sub isn’t taking over Trig anymore, and Sterling almost audibly whines in disappointment when she sees that Mrs. O’Neal is back. It turns out to be okay, though, because Sterling is finally getting the hang of tangents, and also sits at an angle where she can see the way April holds her pencil when she concentrates on her graphs.
It’s kind of crazy how tight April’s grip is, so much so that Sterling notices the way her fingers turn whiter with the force of it. The sleeves of her button down are crisply rolled to just above her elbows, and Sterling can see her whole arm moving with each stroke of her pencil. Suddenly Sterling doesn’t miss Hot Sub at all, not when April undoubtedly has the best arms in school. Sterling flashes momentarily to April effortlessly pulling her to her feet last week; remembers April offhandedly mentioning that she lifts; wonders if April could use those biceps to fully lift her off the ground, press her back against the wall-
“What are you staring at?”
Somehow, in all of Sterling’s focus, she hadn’t noticed April turning around in her seat to glare at her.
“Huh?” Sterling manages, like an idiot.
“Why,” April hisses dangerously, “are you staring at me?”
Sterling swallows, not just because she’s imagining what else April could say in that tone of voice, breath hot against her ear, but also because in this world of fantasizing that she’s found herself in, she had temporarily forgotten that April probably still hates her.
“I - um - was just - I wanted to get a look at your… tangents.”
“Yeah. You’re very good at, uh, math, so I just wanted to check what you had.”
April narrows her eyes, unconvinced, but goes back to her graph, which is impeccable, so at least that part of her story holds up. When she turns back around, all Sterling can do is bite on her pencil, wishing it were something else.
Her and Blair have whizzed through the first seven seasons of Drag Race since fall, both finding themselves with an abundance of free time since they haven’t been allowed to bounty hunt and also kind of realized they don’t have that many friends outside of each other.
“This is your culture,” Blair had said when they started the show, “we have to be educated about it.”
Sterling doesn’t quite think that it’s exactly her culture, but she does love it, the queens, the gowns, the drama, the way everyone is just so gay with no pretenses.
They start season eight that afternoon and Sterling’s mouth falls open when she sees Naomi Smalls walk into the workroom.
“Oh my god, she’s so beautiful,” she whispers almost reverently, eyes transfixed on the endless supply of legs shown on the screen.
Blair cackles next to her. “Should I leave the room?”
Sterling considers for a moment, and Blair elbows her.
“It was a rhetorical question!”
Sterling just grins and goes back to the show, transfixed by the way the girls transform in and out of drag, so gorgeous in each iteration.
“I think I’m into April again,” Sterling says, while Ru introduces the main challenge, “or still? So that’s happening.”
She doesn’t look over at Blair, just watches each queen get assigned what kind of outfit they have to make. It’s unusual for Blair to be silent this long, but Sterling has learned to just let it happen. Molly always talks about different people operating at different speeds, and how sometimes you just have to wait it out no matter how much you want to rush it.
“How did you get to April from thirsting over Naomi Smalls?” Blair finally asks, “April is a short white girl, and Naomi is a crazy tall Black guy.”
Sterling laughs, relief at the lightness in Blair’s tone washing over her. She turns to look at Blair and smiles.
“Sexuality is a beautiful and complex animal,” she says, “and I think Naomi defies gender.”
“God, being straight is lame,” Blair says, flopping dramatically onto the bed. She eyes Sterling. “So April, huh? How are you feeling about it?”
Sterling rolls her eyes. “Okay, Molly.”
Blair shrugs a shoulder, trying so hard to look casual, as if Sterling hasn’t been able to read her like a book since they were toddlers.
“I’m trying very hard not to be a dick,” she says finally, “because I love you and I’m happy you told me but, like, didn’t she super break your heart and then also high key tell us both she never wanted to talk to us again ‘cause of the shit with her dad? So, like, what changed?”
Sterling sighs, lying back on the bed. The answers to that question range from I saw her thighs in running shorts and I can’t think of anything else to I don’t think that she is a person who lets herself be vulnerable and maybe I hurt her more than I thought I did.
On screen, Kim Chi is talking about how her mother doesn't know she does drag. All the other queens react with shock, like they can barely believe that Kim could hide such a huge part of herself from the people who raised her. Kim just shrugs, clearly so secure in the knowledge that she knows how her family will react more than anyone else.
“I don’t know if anything changed,” Sterling finally says, “but I think I want it to.”
Sterling still isn’t a fan of gym class, but there’s an extra thrill in it now. Well, there’s an extra thrill in seeing April’s legs. Maybe Sterling is a leg girl now? Either way, she’s bouncing on her toes a little when they’re asked to partner up to do warm up stretches.
Her and Blair stand behind April and Hannah B. and Sterling keeps getting distracted by the way April shifts her weight from one foot to the other and how it makes her shorts bunch up higher on her legs. She stretches her arms over her head and Sterling imagines how it would feel to taste the skin above her hip.
“Hey!” Blair says suddenly, making Sterling blink and come back to reality, “Hannah, you want to help me out?”
Hannah B. and April turn around at the same time with the same shocked look on their faces and Sterling bites back a startled laugh. Her stupid, perfect, well-meaning, idiot sister.
“What?” Hannah B. asks, face scrunched up.
Blair does that thing again where she exudes practiced casualness.
“Wanna partner up?”
Hannah B. looks from Blair to April, then back to Blair again before finally managing, “um… sure?”
Blair grins. “Great! Catcha nerds later.” And then she’s off, a confused Hannah B. trailing behind her.
April turns to Sterling then, arms crossed over her chest, eyebrows raised. “What was that?”
“Looks like Blair wanted to partner with Hannah B.,” Sterling says, like she isn’t currently losing her mind over the idea of watching April do a bunch of sit-ups, “I guess that leaves you and me, then.”
“I suppose, if we must.”
“You sure know how to flatter a girl,” Sterling says with a half-smile, which makes April clear her throat and look down at the gym floor.
It starts off simple enough, Sterling holding April’s feet and counting each time April does a sit-up. One. It’s not as if she is caught off guard by how close their faces are when April comes up. Two. It’s not as if April’s slightly labored breathing makes her body instantly recall the way her breath had hitched all those months ago when Sterling had kissed down the side of her neck. Three. It’s not as if-
“Were you staring at my ass earlier?”
Sterling’s eyes widen as she registers the question, but April’s back down already. Four, a small part of her brain tells her while the rest of it stalls.
“What?” she manages to say on five and sees April roll her eyes all the way through her next sit-up.
“I said,” April whispers. Six. “Were you staring at my ass earlier?”
In the four seconds where she’s back down, Sterling considers lying, but she’s really had enough of lying for her whole life.
“Yes, I was,” she says when April comes up. Seven. April’s eyes widen a little.
“Why?” she hisses.
Sterling’s heart starts beating faster. She breathes in time with April’s movements.
“Well, you have a really great ass, April.”
April sputters wordlessly on her way down and it’s so stupidly adorable that Sterling is grinning by the time she comes back up.
April stays sitting up and some illogical, hopeful, stupid, part of Sterling’s brain thinks it’s because she’s going to lean over and kiss her, but April just clears her throat.
“We’re supposed to switch after ten.”
She knows she’s blushing, and April’s face is redder than usual too, but that can probably be blamed on the sit-ups, where Sterling has absolutely no excuse.
She lies back on the gym floor, which, gross, but it feels centering for a second. Then April’s wrists are around her ankles and she feels anything but centered. Aprils’ grip is firm, as it always is, and her hands are so warm. Sterling closes her eyes briefly, imagines a world in which April is gripping her ankles so she can spread her legs open, can stroke softly up her calves, can kiss the inside of her thighs.
She opens her eyes again, tries to remember she’s in gym class of all places. She does her first sit up, and feels her mouth go dry at the way April looks down at her while she’s holding her down, and it does absolutely nothing to quell the images burning into her brain.
“What are you playing at?” April whispers when she comes up (one) and it makes Sterling remember that they were mid-conversation, but that only makes her think of April’s ass, and wow, she really needs to get herself under control.
“I’m not playing at anything,” she manages to get out on the two, but she can tell April isn’t buying it.
“I just-” she starts on the next one, but the hardened edge of April’s jaw and the growing soreness in her abdomen make her unable to finish her sentence.
“-have had a pretty terrible few months-”
“-and I totally get it-”
“-that things haven’t changed-”
“-but life is short-”
“-so excuse me for wanting to stare-”
“-at your ass.”
Sterling can’t breathe, maybe it’s because of talking when she’s supposed to be catching her breath, or more likely, the way she could feel April’s gaze on her each time she sat up, or the sheer embarrassment just now hitting her of how many times she’s now brought up April’s ass. She forces herself to sit up one final time, only to be fully caught short by the way April is looking at her. Her mouth is hitched up at one side, a slight tease in her almost smile that Sterling has the inexplicable urge to bite.
Sterling stays up, panting slightly, not bothering to hide the way she’s staring at April’s mouth.
“I suppose I can’t argue with that logic,” April says quietly, and Sterling just looks at her in shock. She was expecting some sort of pushback, or to be outright ignored, but this is a thousand times better.
Maybe something about the whiplash of heartbreak and life-changing trauma back to back has made Sterling bolder, or maybe she’s always been bold, or maybe just because she’s overcome by the softness on April’s face, but she decides to push her luck a little further.
“The logic of you having a truly phenomenal ass?”
April’s almost-smile turns into a full toothed grin at that, and God, Sterling hasn’t seen that smile in months. She smiles dopily back.
“You’re incorrigible,” April says, and Sterling beams like April just gave her the best compliment in the world.
Then April’s standing up and offering her a hand again, with no hesitation, and Sterling grabs it like a lifeline.
“You’re, like, really strong,” she says out loud this time.
“I’m aware,” April says, still grinning and then she’s off to join Hannah B. and Sterling is left with her heart beating faster than it has any right to be.
“I need a cold shower,” she tells Blair once she finds her again.
“You’re welcome,” Blair says, nudging her in the ribs.
Sterling smiles at her, feeling a tightness in her throat.
“Seriously, thank you.”
Blair takes both her hands and puts them on Sterling’s shoulders.
“Hey, listen, even if I don’t fully get it, I will always support your horniness.”
Sterling laughs into her sister’s arms, feeling lighter than she’s felt in months.
Things still get heavy sometimes. They’re almost done with season eight of Drag Race, and Sterling feels a lump form in her throat when one of the ball challenges is to design a look based on their mothers.
“Do you wanna keep watching or should we switch to a Love Island?” Blair asks, immediately clocking the way Sterling shifts uncomfortably in the bed.
Sterling shakes her head, steadies her breathing, and keeps watching the episode with a practiced calm, but then Naomi is showing Ru a picture of her mom and tearing up with how much she loves her, and how proud she is of her mom for adopting her, for choosing her.
Sterling’s head is suddenly in Blair’s chest, and she’s crying like she hasn’t cried in weeks. Blair doesn’t ask, doesn’t have to, just strokes Sterling’s back until Sterling’s breathing finally steadies enough for her to utter a teary “thank God,” when Derrick Barry goes home.
That night when they go down to dinner, Sterling puts her arms around her mom’s waist, and rests her chin on her shoulder. Debbie stiffens under her for a second, and then relaxes.
“Hi, hun,” she whispers.
“Hey,” Sterling says back, and then, for the first time outside of therapy since that night, “love you.”
“Oh,” Debbie says shakily, “I love you too, sweetheart.”
“Sterl had a breaththough during Drag Race,” Blair explains, stuffing a piece of garlic bread into her mouth.
“Blair overuses the word breakthrough,” Sterling says, sticking her tongue out at her sister.
“Is that that show where the fellas put on dresses?” Their Dad asks as he settles down at the table.
Blair huffs. “Gender is a spectrum, Dad.”
“Okay, honey. Ooh, garlic bread!”
Ever since she gently told him a painful and awkward second time she didn’t want to get back together, she and Luke have become an odd type of friends. They get coffee on weekends at a place downtown where Luke occasionally plays their open mics. It’s nice, making Sterling feel grown up, someone who can just get coffee casually with an ex turned friend.
Their barista has a streak of red in her dark hair, and is wearing a crop top under her apron. When she deceivers their lattes, Sterling notices the way her bare side moves when she walks. When she looks back at Luke, he notices too.
“She’s hot, right?” Sterling says, swiping some whipped cream off her drink.
Luke rubs the back of his neck awkwardly, blushing a little.
“What? Uh, I barely noticed,” he fumbles.
Sterling swallows, looks down at the table, and focuses on her breathing.
“I mean, like, I found her hot.”
“Oh, okay,” Luke says, concentrating hard on Sterling’s face, “wait, like in a gay way?”
“Yeah,” she says gently, “in a gay way. Well, kind of. I’m, like, pretty sure I’m bisexual.”
Luke has always been easy to read; it’s one of the reasons he was so easy to date; every thought and emotion playing out on his face. Right now, he looks the same way he looked when she used to help him with his math homework, moments away from getting the equation.
“Okay,” he says slowly, “so if a hot guy brought us our coffee, you’d be into him too?”
“Yeah, I guess I would.”
Luke nods, equation solved. “That makes sense.”
Sterling beams, laughs a little. “Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?”
“Girls are the best,” he says simply.
Suddenly, she’s thinking of the way it had felt to kiss April those months ago, the soft breathy noises she’d made, the smoothness of her face in Sterling’s hand, the easy give of her mouth.
“Yeah, they really are.”
“So is there anyone you’re into?” Luke asks casually, sipping at his drink, like no massive revelations have just occurred.
Sterling blushes a little. She looks up at Luke, gazing at her genuinely, and is overcome with a surge of affection for him, none of the jealousy or prejudice she’d feared, just a simple boy accepting this new information with the ease he had when she told him she wasn’t really into superhero movies a couple years ago.
"Yeah, there’s someone,” she says, unable to stop the smile forming on her face. She knows she can’t tell him who right now, but there’s something a little freeing about mentioning it so casually, at the way he nods his approval before looking back around the coffee shop.
“It’s not the barista is it? Cause I was maybe gonna ask for her number.”
The next week in Bible class, a familiar prickling comes in the back of her throat when they talk about Joseph. Which is weird, because Joseph’s always been kind of boring, but then Sterling keeps thinking about how Joseph could have hightailed it out of there when his wife was giving birth to a kid that wasn’t his, and he always knew he wasn’t his but still raised him with so much love and tenderness and suddenly it’s too much, and Sterling finds herself fighting back tears in the middle of class.
“Can I go to the bathroom?” she manages to get out and practically leaps out of her chair at Ellen’s nod, doesn’t stop moving until she’s in the bathroom, leaning over the sink and letting her tears fall.
After a few moments, her breathing evens out and she splashes some cold water on her face. She looks at herself in the mirror then, face still dripping water, eyes red-rimmed from tears, hair unkempt from running through the halls. She looks like someone who has been through something harrowing today, not someone who has been through something harrowing months ago, and the echoes keep finding her. She laughs at the absurdity of it, then at the image of herself laughing in the mirror, and suddenly she can’t stop laughing.
Once she's calmed down enough to maybe be around people again, she grabs some paper towels, trying to make her face look less blotchy, when the door swings open.
Sterling is prepared to keep her head down and leave, not wanting anyone to see evidence of her low-key breakdown. But her gaze immediately settles on khaki-clad legs that Sterling would recognize everywhere. Wow, she really is a leg girl now.
“‘Sup,” Sterling manages, looking up to meet April’s gaze.
April has her arms crossed over her chest like she’s appraising Sterling. It makes Sterling warm, literally hot under her collar, wondering what it would be like for April to look at her like this somewhere that’s not a school bathroom, somewhere where they wouldn’t be wearing their uniforms or even anything, how it would feel to have April’s eyes hot and piercing on her body.
“Are you okay?” April asks.
Sterling laughs, only slightly hysterically.
“Not really,” she answers honestly.
“Oh,” April says, before looking down at her feet. She uncrosses her arms, using one hand to pull at the fingers of her other hand. A nervous tic, Sterling absently thinks, as the rest of her brain sticks on the dexterity of those fingers. “Can I… do anything?”
It’s enough to pull Sterling out of it for a second. She feels her eyebrows raise.
“Oh don’t look so shocked,” April continues, tone harder, but still concerned, “You ran out of class so quickly, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t have an aneurysm or something.”
Sterling feels a huge smile that she’s powerless to stop come over her face. “Wow, you were concerned about me.”
“Oh, don’t make it a thing.”
“You’re the one who came looking for me,” Sterling says gleefully, hopping up onto the sinks, “I think that made it a thing.”
April rolls her eyes dramatically and Sterling laughs at the familiarity of it.
“Sorry for wanting to make sure you were alright,” April says, clearly going for sarcasm, but ending up somewhere much softer that makes Sterling bite her lip to keep from smiling too hard. “Are you?”
“I think so,” Sterling says, “I, um, got a bit triggered I guess in class. But in a good way, almost? I don’t actually know you can be triggered in a good way, I’ll have to ask my therapist, but either way I was just sitting there and then all of sudden it was like whoosh feelings so I came here, cried a bit and now I’m good.”
She wasn’t really expecting all of that to come out, but she likes the way her chest feels now that it’s out there. She swings her legs a little, waits for April’s response.
“You’re in therapy?” April asks quietly, looking down at her hands again.
Sterling’s suddenly struck with how easy it was for her parents to ask them what they needed, to spend that one week on the phone with any therapist in the greater Atlanta area who had openings, running them by Sterling, with concerned looks and we’ll find you someone, huns and she almost wants to cry again. For what she has, for what she knows April doesn't.
“Yeah,” she says, clearing her throat, “it’s, um, great, actually. There’s been a lot of family stuff going on recently and talking about it really helps.”
“Yeah, been going on for a few months now. A little earth shattering. But - oh God - not in, like, the same way as your family stuff. Obviously. It’s just, there was kind of this, well -”
April stepped closer to her while Sterling was figuring out how to form a sentence, and now she’s standing in front of where Sterling sits on the sink. Almost tentatively, April lays a hand gently Sterling’s thigh over her skirt. It’s hot through the fabric, the press of April’s thumb enough to make Sterling’s breath catch.
“You don’t have to tell me,” April says softly, so soft in a way she hasn’t heard since before, “but I’m here if you ever want to.”
“Oh,” Sterling says dumbly, the hand on her leg and the gentleness in April’s eyes fully overwhelming her, “that’s - thank you. And vice versa obviously. If - well I know your family stuff is bad obviously and I’m sorry for any - I know I made it worse by not telling you - and like, I totally get it if you’re still mad about it, but I do want to be there for you too.”
“I am still mad about it,” April says, and Sterling tenses, “not - not at you though. That may have been… slightly misplaced.”
“Oh.” Sterling swallows, “Cool.”
She unconsciously looks down again to where April’s hand rests on her leg. April follows her gaze, then slowly moves her hand down to where the hem of Sterling’s skirt has ridden up onto her thigh. Sterling’s heart beats faster for each second that it takes for April’s hand to reach her bare leg and when it finally does, Sterling bites back a gasp. It’s simple, the lightest press of a palm just above her knee, the soft stroking of April's thumb over her skin, but it feels like more than that. It spreads from her leg up to her abdomen, causing a flush up her whole body just from one point of contact.
“April,” she breathes.
April looks at her, the direct eye contact making Sterling blush even more.
“Do I really affect you that much?” April whispers, almost reverently.
“You have no idea.”
An almost shy smile blooms on April’s face and Sterling’s body aches to kiss her. But then April’s smile fades and she looks down again.
“Sterling,” she says, “I’m sorry, I want to, but I still-”
Part of Sterling wishes she was still as stubborn as she was four months ago, someone who would fight April on this, and part of her still itches for that fight, but instead she just breathes a long breath out.
“I know,” Sterling whispers. She slowly reaches up to put her hand on April’s chin, tilting her head up so she’s looking her in the eyes, “I get it. I - I still want to be in your life even if we can’t...”
“Me too,” April whispers, and months ago, it wouldn’t have been enough, but right now, the sentiment sends a wash of relief through Sterling.
“And hey,” she says, a little lighter, hand moving to adjust April’s collar, “I’m still stupid attracted to you, so if circumstances ever change…”
At this, April blushes, a tentative smile spreading on her face.
“You never know,” she says cryptically, and gives Sterling’s thigh one last squeeze before stepping away. She straightens her shirt in the mirror, becoming all business again, which of course, Sterling finds incredibly hot. “Do you want to leave first or shall I?”
“You go ahead,” Sterling says, and then, refusing to be the only one flustered in this situation, “I’m probably gonna just masturbate real quick before Bible class.”
April coughs loudly, her face a beautiful combination of shocked and immensely flattered.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” Sterling says simply, eyes not leaving April’s. She watches April visibly swallow, eyes flicking down to Sterling’s hands quickly before she hurriedly leaves the bathroom.
When she comes back to class, April’s face turns red immediately, but she looks at Sterling with a sly sort of smile that makes Sterling’s heart thump in her chest.
It feels kind of like a breakthrough.
They start season nine of Drag Race that weekend, choosing to use the big TV in the living room this time, because, as Blair aptly puts it, “the girls deserve 4K.”
Sterling is immediately enthralled by the perfect curve of Valentina’s jaw, both in and out of drag, and is a little too focused on wondering how it would feel to run her tongue along that curve to notice their dad coming up from behind the couch, grabbing a few pretzels from Blair and watching the screen.
He gives a low whistle at Valentina when she walks the runway and both Blair and Sterling turn to look at him. He grins a little, holding up his hands.
“Hey now, you both know your momma is the only girl for me, but I do still have eyes.”
Blair points at the screen, where Valentina does a talking head out of drag.
“You realize that’s the same person, right?”
Anderson’s eyebrows raise as he takes in both versions of Valentina, then he tilts his head to the side.
“Well, who would have thunk,” he says with a casual shrug, “mind if I watch with you girls?”
Sterling shakes her head, unable to speak. For the rest of the episode, her attention is split between the show and her father’s face, waiting for a hint of familiar disgust she’s noticed on boys’ faces at school, or the men at church when the mention of anything tangentially queer comes up. It never comes on her dad, though, he just watches with the same focus he has when he watches Duck Dynasty, full concentration.
Blair’s hand finds hers on the couch and squeezes, and Sterling squeezes back, gives Blair a watery smile.
“So, who's winning this season?” Blair asks, the way she does after every season premiere. Sterling thinks she does it because she’s uncannily good at guessing who wins.
(Even in season six, when the first episode didn’t even have the winner, Blair had frowned in concentration, and confidently said, “it’s none of these,” then after the second episode, had proudly proclaimed, “Bianca,” like it was nothing. Sterling is still a little in awe.)
“Valentina,” Sterling and Anderson say at the same, causing Blair to roll her eyes.
“Y’all are blinded by looks!” she says, “It’s clearly Sasha Velour, she has what the other girls don't. A confidence, a creativity, a passion.”
Sterling smiles as her sister continues monologuing about a drag queen while her father watches very seriously, and almost starts crying again.
One of the lip syncs this season has compelled Sterling deep into a Dolly Parton phase. Dolly blasts through her headphones as she sits in the library, waiting for Blair to finish lacrosse practice. She’s so involved in the music that she doesn’t notice someone next to her until there’s a light tapping on her arm.
“Jesus Christ!” She yelps, so startled that her headphones fall out as she whips her head up to see April standing over the table, one perfect eyebrow raised.
Your smile is like a breath of spring, your voice is soft like summer rain, comes from her headphones, tinny but audible in the empty library.
“Not now, Dolly,” Sterling mutters, pausing the music, wishing she could do the same to her heartbeat. She realizes it’s the first time they’ve been alone together since she basically admitted to April that she thinks about her when she masturbates, so that’s a fun thing to deal with.
“Hey, um, what’s up?” She says, trying to school her features into anything adjacent to chill.
“That song is incredibly homoerotic,” April says matter-of-factly, throwing any hope Sterling has of being chill out the window. Someone should have prepared her for the way April’s lips curve around each syllable in the word homoerotic.
“Yeah, totally,” Sterling says with a nervous laugh. “Your beauty is beyond compare, like we get it, Jolene’s a babe.”
“Exactly,” April says, with a private smile that makes something in Sterling’s stomach fall out. She looks at the chair opposite Sterling and asks, “may I?”
Sterling nods, watching as April carefully sets her bag down, folds her hands together, and looks directly at Sterling. Sterling is struck with a memory of one time when April was feeling particularly feisty during debate practice and declared, “you can bring a man to his knees with well-deployed eye contact.”
Looking into April’s eyes, Sterling is one hundred percent certain April could bring Sterling quite literally to her knees with well-deployed eye contact. Just when Sterling’s mind is gearing up for an incredibly elaborate daydream involving oral sex underneath this very table in the library, April clears her throat.
“Can I ask a favor of you?” April asks, like Sterling hasn’t had several fantasies that start with April saying this same exact thing.
“Mm-hm,” Sterling manages, coming out higher pitched than usual.
April, thankfully, doesn’t seem to notice. “So you’re probably the second best public speaker in this school-“
“Wow, that’s, like, a huge compliment coming from you.”
“Second by quite a large margin,” April says, straightening one of her sleeves, but still smiling.
“Oh, of course.”
“But, anyway, I need a second opinion from someone who is halfway decent at public speaking.”
“Then I’m your girl,” Sterling says, maybe a tad too eagerly.
April leans in closer, and Sterling’s breath stutters. She looks at April’s mouth then back up at her eyes.
“Can you keep a secret?” April asks.
Even in her lust-addled brain, Sterling has the self respect to roll her eyes.
April looks a little ashamed. “Right. Of course. Sorry.” She clears her throat, looks cautiously around the library before turning back to Sterling. She takes a deep, uneven breath, then releases in a steady rush of words, “the court date for my parents’ divorce is happening next week, and although I have rather mixed feelings on the woman, if my mother doesn't get sole custody, I’d rather throw myself into a pit of snakes than be forced to live with that man any longer.”
Sterling notices April’s hand start shaking, and quickly covers it with her own. April gives her a small, grateful smile.
“Anyway,” she continues, voice almost steady, “I need to be perfect in there. I need to fully assassinate my father’s character, while also being a sweet likable young woman, and I’m - I’m terrified that I will somehow mess it up and I will be forced to stay under the same roof as him for another two years.”
“Hey.” Sterling gently squeezes April’s hand in her own. “You won’t mess up. You said it yourself, you are the best public speaker at this school by a very wide margin.”
April chuckles a little. “That is true.”
“Tell me what you need from me.”
It’s not the context in which Sterling pictured saying those words to April, but the smile that graces her face is more than worth it.
“So did y’all bone?” Blair asks on the drive home, “Wait, do you say bone when it's two girls? I know there is no technical boning involved, but I think the spirit of the word bone transcends gender.”
“Oh my god, we didn’t bone,” Sterling groans, leaning back in her seat, “I was legitimately helping her with a project.”
“But you want to bone.”
“Stop saying bone!”
“Stop denying you want to bone!”
“I’m not denying I want to bone!”
Blair grins, points a finger at Sterling, causing the car to swerve a little.
“So you do want to bone.”
Sterling throws up her hands.
“Of course I want to bone! God. I want - everytime I’m in the same room with her it’s like everything zeros in and things that were a thousand percent not sexy before are now the hottest things imaginable. I didn’t know I was into legs before her. Or upper arms. Or, you know, women. And I thought that with everything that happened, it would just go away, but it’s getting so much more intense these past few weeks. All I want to do is like push her up against a wall but also, I don’t know, tell her everything’s gonna be okay and help her prep for her parents’ divorce and maybe talk about our days and also have a lot of sex and-”
Sterling takes a breath. In the last 30 seconds, Blair has pulled the car into their driveway and is now turning to face Sterling with her serious face fully on.
“So you were actually helping her just now, not fooling around or anything.”
Sterling crosses her arms. “That’s what you got from that? But yeah, we just, she can’t do anything further right now because of her parents and society and the heteronormative culture that exists our white upper class-”
“I thought you were just low key horny all the time but holy shit, Sterling...”
“You’re in love with her.”
“Blair told me I’m in love with April.”
Molly only gives a soft “hmm.” Sterling wonders if they teach that in therapy school; how to not react to wild information thrown at you. Even though Sterling supposes she did start off her relationship with Molly with a saga about being kidnapped by the woman who birthed her without knowing for sixteen years she was the woman who birthed her, so being in love with April is pretty chill comparatively.
“Do you think Blair is right?” Molly asks.
Sterling bites her lip. “Yes? I think so. Yes. I - how do you know? How do you know when it goes from just crushing on someone and being attracted to them to love?”
“Love isn’t binary, Sterling.”
“Well I know that. Duh.”
Molly chuckles. “I wasn’t talking about in terms of gender, though you’re much more enlightened about that than several people many years your senior.”
Sterling beams at the praise even though she knows it’s not the point.
“But what I’m saying,” Molly continues, “it’s not as if you flip a switch one day and a crush turns into love. Some could even say that all crushes are a form of love. People fall in love on the bus all the time and never see that person again; people fall in love all over again with their spouses after years of waking up in the same bed next to them; people fall in love with someone they’ve known for years only to look at them in a different light. None of those loves are invalid.”
“So you’re saying?”
“I find that questioning whether or not you’re in love is a lot less enjoyable or fruitful than just focusing on how it makes you feel. So how does it make you feel?”
Sterling looks back at Molly, purses her lips. The first time around it felt like this desperate thing that needed to sated. If she didn’t kiss April, her world would have collapsed. But now it’s different; all captured in small moments. It’s the way April had beamed when Sterling had praised her inflection, it’s the way April sometimes touches Sterling’s hand so softly, like touching Sterling is the most precious thing in the world; it’s the way she sometimes laughs at something dumb Sterling has said, then looks so surprised at her own laughter.
“It feels really good,” she says quietly.
Molly smiles at her. “Then just focus on that.”
“Okay,” Sterling says, breathes a long breath out. “Anyway, both our parents watch Drag Race with us now, so that’s new.”
As is par for the course in English class, Mr. Wilkins’ call for discussion is met with a few moments of silence.
Sterling is convinced that maybe three people actually read the book. She’s pretty sure if they did, way more people would be talking about it, because it was kind of crazy, all dark and spooky and sometimes weirdly sexy at points. Definitely not the vibe for most Willingham books; Sterling has no idea how Mr. Wilkins managed to get this one on the syllabus.
“It’s basically incest.”
Every head in the room turns to look at April, who is wearing her patented tell me I’m wrong face.
“Well,” Mr. Wilkins starts, “Heathcliff and Catherine aren’t related by blood-”
April rolls her eyes.
“I know, I did actually read the book unlike most people here. I just don’t think that takes away from the validity of them being family, it’s about the fact that they were raised together, not blood. Anyway, Heathcliff deserves what he got.”
Sterling takes a deep, unsteady breath. She’s vaguely aware of Mr. Wilkins attempting to convince April of the nuance that she’s skipping over, but she can barely concentrate on anything outside of the pounding of her own heart.
Blair’s hand reaches across the space between their desks to find Sterling’s. She squeezes it, grounding Sterling. Sterling looks up at her sister, feels herself start to cry a little, which is super embarrassing in the middle of English class, but luckily everyone else is mostly distracted by the ongoing argument that April and Mr. Wilkins are having.
Blair’s eyes flick to April then back to Sterling.
Did you tell her? You know, about… us?
Sterling shakes her head.
I think I want to though.
Blair just nods, squeezes Sterling’s hand again. Sterling lets out a breath.
And I think you’re right. I’m in love with her.
Blair’s eyes widen when she realizes she said that part out loud.
“Miss Wesley,” Mr. Wilkins scolds, “Is there something you’d like to contribute to the class?”
“Uh,” Blair says glancing helplessly at Sterling, “that Heathcliff guy sure did suck, right?”
Sterling can’t help the giggle that comes out of her and the next one, and suddenly she’s laughing so hard, she has to grab her desk for support.
“Yes?” Her and Blair say at the same time and then they’re both laughing, Sterling using her sleeve to wipe her eyes.
Poor Mr. Wilkins pinches the bridge of his nose, and Sterling would maybe feel bad for him if she didn’t have a strange sense of euphoria coursing through her. She turns around in her seat to look at April, who is eyeing her quizzically. Sterling grins, because she can’t help herself, and feels a thrill when April smiles back.
They have the final practice before April’s parents’ divorce that afternoon, and April is all focus, sharp and purposeful in her words, but then soft and vulnerable when she needs to be, playing the anguished daughter perfectly.
All Sterling can do is stare, watch how every muscle in April’s face can be used as a weapon, a whole arsenal to support her.
“So?” April finally asks, shifting a little.
“You’re perfect,” Sterling breathes out. She blinks then, blushes a little. “I mean you were - your speech was perfect. You’re going to kill it tomorrow, I know it.”
“I better,” April mutters. She sits back in the desk she’d been using as a fake witness stand in the classroom and rolls a crick out of her neck.
Sterling tries not to stare, bites her tongue on the offer to help April out with her neck. She’s not sure she could handle April’s warm skin under her thumb, or the way it would feel to be the person who made historically tense April Stevens relax with only her hands.
Instead she takes a few steps to April’s desk, and plants her hands on it, leaning over and looking April directly in the eye.
“You’ve got this,” she says with conviction, “if anyone can do this, it's you.”
April doesn’t respond, just stares directly at Sterling. Sterling feels her heart quicken at how close their faces are, and she almost falls over when she sees April’s eyes look at her lips for a second. She can feel April’s breath on her face and she longs to lean over and kiss her; to show her what she’s been thinking about for weeks. Her fingers curve around the edge of the desk, trying to keep steady, knowing she can’t give in.
Finally, April breathes a long breath out and stands. Sterling tries to maintain a look of calm and cool, but ends up biting her lip and running a hand through her hair, accidentally making it messier than before. She catches April watching her, then quickly look away and clear her throat. Sterling grins. At least she’s not alone in this.
“So why were you acting so weird in English today?” April asks quickly.
Sterling blinks at the abrupt change of subject.
“Oh, um, well, I liked what you said.”
“About Heathcliff causing destruction because of his base desires for his sister?”
Sterling laughs. “Not exactly. More about family being about who raises you, rather than who your biological parents are.”
“Oh.” April tilts her head, looks at her like she’s a particularly difficult problem in Trig. Finally, she says with a dawning sense of conviction, “Joseph.”
“That other time you freaked out in class, we were talking about Joseph,” she murmurs, stepping closer. She lowers her voice. “Sterling, are you and Blair adopted?”
Sterling wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t April going all detective on her. But it’s not what April got partially right that causes the involuntary prick of tears in her eyes; it’s that she naturally grouped her and Blair together.
“Kind of,” she says slowly, “it’s like, super complicated.” She takes a deep breath in, “but not, um, Blair though. Just me.”
“But you’re twins,” April says, like she’s the authority on it.
Sterling just shakes her head once and sees April’s eyes widen in shock. It’s enough for the tears to start falling. She hurriedly wipes them away, annoyed for not even being able to talk about it without becoming a sobbing mess. April’s hands softly pull at her shoulders and Sterling finds her head in the crook of April’s neck as she stops resisting and starts crying in earnest.
It should be embarrassing, getting snot on the shirt of the girl she’s maybe probably definitely in love with; or it should at least be awkward because of how much shorter April is than her, but somehow all Sterling feels is a deep sense of relief. One of April’s hands gently combs through her hair, while the other is steady on her back, thumb softly stroking the back of Sterling’s shirt.
Sterling finally starts breathing like a person again after a few minutes, sniffing away the last of her tears, and she knows this is when she should probably move, but there is such a comfort in being held that she doesn’t want to let it go just yet. Also, April smells, like, really good, like clean laundry and books, and Sterling isn’t sure of the next time she’s going to be able to be this close to her.
And God, she is being such a creep right now, but she can’t help but be aware of April’s fingernails on her scalp, April’s hand so warm on her back, the way she can feel every breath April takes with her whole body. Sterling could so easily move her lips and kiss April’s neck right now, and she remembers almost viscerally how much April liked that.
She has got to put this on the list of things to talk to Molly about, because there should be a law against disclosing something so personal and traumatic and then immediately feeling like this. She takes a deep breath into April’s neck just to take it in, and then gently pulls away.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking that makes her see a tiny bit of disappointment on April’s face at the lack of contact. Sterling wipes her eyes and lets out an approximation of a laugh.
“Sorry. I can’t really talk about it without -” she gestures vaguely at herself, sure she looks a mess.
“Don’t apologize,” April says quickly, “I’m - thank you for telling me. I had - I had no idea.”
“You don’t even know the half of it,” Sterling says with a laugh that surprises her, “it’s - it’s been a rough couple of months.”
April nods solemnly, and Sterling supposes if anyone else knows about a rough couple of months, it would be her. Sterling watches as April looks down at the floor, does that nervous thing with her hands again, the left one tugging on the fingers of the right one.
“Sterling,” she says says quietly, “if I… if I made these last few months worse in any way, I’m so-”
Without thinking, Sterling reaches her hand up to April’s cheek, running her thumb over it.
“You don’t apologize either,” Sterling whispers.
April’s eyes look up at her, so soft and pleading and it makes something catch in her throat. Her thumb moves down April’s cheek, down to the edge of her lips. She feels the way April’s breath catches at the contact. Barely breathing, Sterling grows a little bolder, gently moving her thumb over the curve of April’s lower lip.
She’s expecting April to turn away or not react, but instead, she opens her mouth slightly, just enough for the inside of her lip to press up against Sterling’s thumb. Sterling lets out a small gasp at that, unable to help herself. April’s looking directly at her, eyes shining and smiling, and it should be a warning to what’s coming, but Sterling is still shocked beyond belief when the tip of April’s tongue presses against the pad of her thumb.
A soft, “oh,” escapes Sterling at the contact, at the way the nerve endings at the end of her thumb are somehow tied to the rest of her body. April’s eyes twinkle at the sound and her mouth closes around Sterling’s thumb, teeth gently pressing into it. Sterling feels it deep in her gut, feels her body tingling from direct contact in a way it hasn’t in months, a familiar tug under her skirt.
“April,” she whispers, like it’s a prayer.
April’s tongue continues to slowly work around her thumb and Sterling’s mind flashes to what else April’s tongue could do. It’s enough of a thought to make her breathing unsteady, to make her hips cant forward, to make her-
“Gentlemen, start your engines!” Blair yells dramatically, swinging the door to the classroom open with her foot, causing Sterling and April to jump apart, Sterling pulling her hand back from April’s mouth, “Oh shit, did I interrupt something?”
She shoots Sterling an absolutely filthy grin. Sterling could strangle her.
“What on earth would you be interrupting?” April asks, looking calm and put together, like she wasn’t driving Sterling absolutely wild ten seconds ago. Sterling could strangle her. Or, honestly, could definitely be convinced to be on the receiving end of that.
“Yeah, Sterl, what on earth would I be interrupting?” Blair asks, still grinning, and Sterling knows she probably looks disheveled and red-faced and that Blair can one hundred percent tell she’s going through it.
“Nothing,” Sterling huffs, “nothing at all.”
Blair completely unsubtly mouths the word bone before saying, “can’t imagine what something would look like,” aloud.
“Oh just can it, let’s go home.”
“‘Can it?’ Who says ‘can it?’”
“Maybe I say ‘can it’ now, just because of how much you need to can it!”
Blair holds up her hands, “I’ll can, I’ll can, sue me for having a little fun.”
“You both are ridiculous,” April says, gathering her bag.
“Thank you,” Blair says proudly.
April looks at Sterling in that focused way she has before adding softly, “and definitely twins.”
Sterling jumps every time her phone buzzes the next day, hoping for any word from April about her parents, but nothing comes. The most recent text is only from their mom in the family group chat telling them not to dare watch the Drag Race season finale without her.
She checks her phone again as soon as they get home from school, still nothing.
Blair pokes her in the ribs. “She’s gonna be fine, okay?”
Sterling smiles, tries to relax onto the couch, tries not to think about the way April’s shoulders tense up whenever the mention of her father comes up, on how today decides if that tension has any chance of leaving.
Anderson settles on the other side of Sterling on the couch and Sterling leans into him, relaxing a little at the familiarity of his sweater against her face, his aftershave. Their mom comes in with a massive bowl of popcorn, and permission to start the episode.
Blair watches Drag Race like she watches sports, leaning forward on the couch with her elbows on her knees, studying the screen. Sterling shares a glance with Debbie after they both smile fondly at Blair.
Finales are always a waiting game, and Blair lets out a frustrated “finally” when the lip syncs are announced. The first few notes of Whitney Houston's “So Emotional” start up and the whole family echoes Blair’s posture as Sasha and Shea start their performances.
Then the doorbell rings.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Blair groans.
“Language!” Both their parents say at the same time
“I’ll get it,” Sterling says, not wanting to be in the middle of a light scolding, “y’all better pause it though.”
She breathes a little sigh of relief when she hears the TV stop, as she makes her way into the foyer. She can vaguely hear the sound of Blair bickering with their mom in the background, and it makes her smile as she comes to the door. When she opens it though, the smile turns into something more resembling a gape.
April Stevens showing up at her door on a Thursday afternoon when Sterling had been desperate for communication would be one thing, but April standing on Sterling’s porch in this specific outfit sends Sterling’s brain into overdrive.
It’s not like Sterling knew that the combination of heels, pearls and a blazer is what finally would do her in, but here she is, standing in her foyer, mouth open, mind somehow stuck on the image of April only in heels, pearls and a blazer. She’s suddenly aware that she’s only wearing sweatpants and an old church camp t-shirt, while April looks like a stupid hot CEO.
Sterling blinks, swallows. Right.
“Uh, hi! Hello! Come in! How was - oh my gosh, right, how was court?”
April eyes Sterling with a hint of amusement, before delicately stepping into the house. She politely removes her shoes and Sterling can’t stop staring at her calves.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, um, yes. You just look really really good. But, absolutely not the point. How'd it go?”
April raises an eyebrow, fights back a grin. “Are you sure that’s not the point?”
Her eyes linger on Sterling for just a second longer than they normally would, and Sterling instantly knows. April only would only tease her about this kind of thing, would only look at Sterling in that specific, almost hungry way, if it was good news today. Even the set of her shoulders is pure confidence, like someone who is fully in charge of her own fate.
“You did it, didn’t you?” Sterling whispers, unable to control the huge grin spreading across her face.
April’s lips curve into an echoing smile and she simply nods once, like if she actually spoke words, it would be untrue.
Sterling has no such qualms. She lets out a little shriek and pulls April into a hug before she can overthink it. April laughs, a free joyous sound Sterling doesn’t remember ever hearing before. It’s intoxicating, almost as much as the feeling of April in her arms, body pressing into Sterling’s so easily. She reluctantly lets go after a couple seconds, but somehow can’t stop touching her.
“April I - that’s amazing.” She puts a hand on April’s shoulder, runs it down her arm.
April is simply beaming. “I - thank you. I officially have no legal ties to that man, except for a hefty child support check. It’s - I’m- ”
Her eyes are shining, and there is something more at ease in her face that Sterling isn’t sure if she’s seen in the decade she’s known her. Sterling grasps her hand.
“You’re free,” Sterling says reverently. She brings her other hand up to cup April’s face.
April lets out a long breath, leans her forehead against Sterling’s.
“Yeah, I guess I am,” she says, and Sterling feels the breath of each word on her face. She closes her eyes, takes a moment to absorb the closeness, the thrill that rushes through her at April being right in front of her, at April choosing to come here to tell her in person, needing this the same way that Sterling does.
They stay there for a few moments, heads together, Sterling's right hand squeezing April’s left, while her other rests on the smooth slope of April’s cheek. It’s a new kind of intimacy, one she never had with Luke, never even had with April the first time around, a sense of anticipation building, while at the same time a contentment settles in her bones, a knowledge that she could stay here for as long as April needed.
The world, however, has other plans.
“Sterling, honey,” her mom’s voice breaks through Sterling’s haze. She blinks and reluctantly pulls back from April, still keeping a hold of her hand, “you sister is fixing to kill us all if we don’t finish the episode soon - oh hi there, April, I didn’t know you were stopping by.”
“Hi, Mrs. Wesley,” April says, perfectly polite, not as if her mouth was inches from this woman’s daughter ten seconds ago, “so lovely to see you. Your home, as always, is beautiful.”
Debbie smiles. “Why, thank you, April. So lovely to have you here. It’s been far too long.”
She glances down at where Sterling and April’s hands are still in each other’s. Sterling swallows. She hadn’t really thought this one through, mainly just knew that she didn’t want to end her physical contact with April. But April apparently doesn’t either, and Sterling feels a warmth pool in her at the way April’s hand tightens around hers.
“Much too long,” April says, “I do apologize for interrupting, I just wanted to, um, talk to Sterling, about a project.”
“Yeah,” Sterling pipes up, “sorry, I forgot to mention she was coming over.”
Debbie eyes her, and Sterling wonders if she knows. Something heavy and anxious settles in her chest at the thought of it, even though she knows it shouldn’t. They’re watching the season finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race for Christ’s sake, and besides, being bi is like, a thousand times more chill than 90% of the things the Wesleys have been through. But still, she holds onto April’s hand like a lifeline, trying to keep her breathing in check.
“Y’all, what is the hold up?” Blair asks, appearing from around the corner, and Sterling breathes a small sigh of relief. “I need to watch my girl Sasha get the crown! Oh, hey April, you look nice. How’d the thing go?”
April grins. “The thing went excellently.”
“Language,” Debbie sighs.
“Can we hurry up and watch?” Anderson calls from the living room.
Which is how, in a move that Sterling could never have predicted, she finds herself squashed on the couch between her father and the girl who she has about 4.5 sexual fantasies about daily, watching the season nine finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“What am I getting myself into?” April whispers into Sterling’s ear.
It’s not quiet enough, because Blair pipes up from the chair she had quite conveniently moved to when April arrived.
“This is art. Just sit back and watch.”
Then she presses play.
I’ve been hearing your heartbeat inside of me, Whitney sings and Sterling maybe should have remembered how intense the lyrics of this song were, because she can feel April’s knee pressing up against hers and she has to concentrate really hard on the screen.
Livin’ in a world of fantasy, I can’t get you out of my head.
Sterling almost laughs, but restrains herself. Then she feels April's hand move slowly to the side of her thigh, pressing just barely against it.
Oh, I remember the way that we touched, I wish I didn’t like it so much.
At this, her eyes can’t help but flick to April and her mouth goes dry at the way April looks back at her before giving her a small smile and going back to the screen, hand still touching Sterling’s leg. They watch as Sasha pulls the gloves off of her hands to ain’t it shocking what love can do, and rose petals fall from it.
April lets out a barely audible “wow.”
“We got a convert,” Blair says, grinning, and April smiles shyly in a way that tugs at something inside Sterling.
Sterling is torn between watching what has got to be one of the most intense lip syncs in the show up to this point, and watching the way April focuses on the screen, like she’s going to be tested tomorrow. April’s mouth falls open when Sasha falls to the ground by sheer force of passion alone, and Sterling wonders if April has seen anything like this before, such broad queerness and raw emotion met with nothing but cheers. It makes her reach out and put her hand in April’s again. April immediately holds onto it.
The next I get so emotional, baby rolls around, and Sterling feels her eyes go wide as Sasha pulls her wig off, and a cascade of rose petals fall all around her all onto the stage. It’s one of the most gorgeous things Sterling has seen, and the audience agrees, all rising to their feet.
“Holy shit,” Blair whispers reverently, and her parents are too enraptured to even reprimand her for it.
“That was amazing,” April says, just as awed. Her mouth is open, her whole body leaned forward toward the screen. April watches Drag Race the same way Sterling watches April, not quite believing that something this special and gorgeous exists.
April stays for dinner. Somehow it should be weird, Debbie and Anderson hosting a guest like they have no huge family secrets on the backburner, completely unaware that April now knows at least part of that secret. Also unaware of April’s foot currently trailing Sterling’s calf under the table, in a way that makes Sterling feel like she might explode.
It’s not weird though, it’s oddly pleasant. Sterling finds herself smiling down at her chicken, and then looking up to see her mom catching that smile, with a look on her face that’s a little too knowing.
“I just think if you guys are going to call yourself fans, you have to start from the beginning,” Blair is saying to their parents, “you have to sit through the terrible season one filter.”
“You know we have things to do besides sit around and watch reality television all day, honey,” Debbie says, but she’s smiling.
“So what is it specifically about the show?” April asks, “that all of you love so much?”
Sterling knows what's underneath the question, certain values they were all raised with not seeming to line up with a show celebrating those who step outside their norms. Sterling wants to tell April that Shea Coulee’s mom is a pastor and she’s proud of her kid, but doesn’t want to give anything away.
Debbie eyes April, like she knows something is going on. Blair looks at April too, then clears her throat, clearly gearing up for her Drag Race monologue.
But it’s her Dad who answers first.
“There’s something that RuPaul always says that I think is nice. He says ‘as gay people, we-’”
“Something you want to tell us, Dad?” Blair asks with a grin.
“Blair,” Debbie scolds, “don’t antagonize your father.” She clears her throat a little. “Not that that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Sterling sucks in a breath. She feels April’s foot go still beneath the table.
“With antagonizing our father?” Sterling asks shakily.
Debbie gives her an exasperated look. “With being gay.”
No one says anything for a moment after that. Sterling feels her heart beating faster. She wants to look over at April, but her mom is looking at her in such a specific way that she can’t look away. Blair’s hand finds hers under the table on her left and squeezes. Sterling breathes out a little. She nudges April’s foot again, just a small touch, and when April nudges back, Sterling feels a little bit of relief course through her.
“As I was saying,” Anderson continues, giving a playful little glare at Blair, “he always says ‘as gay people, we get to choose our own family, and I just - well, I just really love that.”
“Oh,” Sterling says again, and God, if she could just get a second between having intense waves of emotion thrown at her tonight, that would be great. Blair’s hand is still holding Sterling’s and Sterling focuses on that. On her sister, solid and present, and sitting next to her. Her eyes glance up at her father who is smiling at her, soft and open in a way he’s been only recently.
“I think that’s really beautiful, Mr. Wesley,” April says, her voice a little scratchy. She turns to Sterling with a smile that Sterling’s never seen before, such clear affection unmasked by anything underneath.
“Thank you, April,” Anderson says with a smile, “I’m happy y’all two are friendly again.”
“Yeah, friendly,” Blair mutters. Sterling kicks her under the table. Blair kicks her back. “Hey, don’t you have that project to work on?”
Blair looks at her, eyes focusing.
I’m giving you an excuse to bone, dumbass.
Oh my god, I’m not gonna bone while y’all are downstairs.
Okay, but you definitely want to at least make out a little.
Well, yeah, duh.
And also bone.
Shut up! Hey, do you think mom knows?
I don’t know. You aren’t exactly subtle, Sterl. But I feel like that something to worry about after you-
Sterling clears her throat far too loudly.
“Right. Yes. Project. May we be excused?”
Her parents exchange a look that Sterling can’t quite decipher before her mom slowly nods. Sterling tries not to look too eager as she stands up and leads the way to her room, April following behind. Suddenly Sterling’s heart feels louder than her steps up the stairs at the thought of her and April being alone in her room.
“Your decorating style really hasn’t evolved since you were eleven,” April remarks, looking around Sterling’s bedroom, her smile taking the bite out of her words.
“Hey, you know, if it ain’t broke…”
Sterling trails off, looks around her room, the odd picture of April, barefoot in her tasteful court dress and stupidly hot blazer, two feet away from the bed where Sterling has spent countless nights imagining what would happen if April was in there with her. And here she is, looking vulnerable and beautiful and powerful and Sterling suddenly needs to sit down. She perches on her desk, trying to look casual.
“Sorry about my family,” she says, trying to signal that she is a person who can have a conversation without losing her mind, “they, um, have been really big on quality time recently.”
“They really love you,” April says, and there’s a hint of something so undeniably sad in her tone.
“Yeah,” Sterling says, and she wants to reach out and tell April that she can have them too. That she can have anything and Sterling would give it to her. But that feels like maybe way too much for the first time in five years she's been alone in her room with the girl she’s into.
Instead, she goes for a light, “I mean they kind of have to make up for the whole kidnapping thing.”
April coughs. “Kidnapping?”
“It’s a long story. Kind of don’t want to go into it right now.”
April steps a step closer. She must have put on some fancy perfume for the trial, but she still smells like April underneath. It’s the same way pearls-and-a-blazer April still has that same rare soft smile that Sterling feels lucky to witness.
“What do you want to do right now?” April asks slowly, eyes intent.
She’s standing close enough that Sterling’s knees brush up against her dress. Sterling feels like she could fall off her desk at any moment. They’re at eye level now, but Sterling’s eyes fall to those damn pearls, tight around her neck. Sterling wants to run her tongue along them until she reaches April's skin.
“I think you know exactly what I want to do right now,” she whispers, looking back in April’s eyes.
A wide grin spreads across April’s face and Sterling knows she is absolutely done for. April’s hands settle on her knees, warm and solid through Sterling’s sweatpants, and slowly move them apart. Sterling lets out a breath as April steps into the space between her legs and moves a hand to cup Sterling’s jaw. Her other hand is firm on Sterling’s thigh and Sterling might die with how turned on she is before April’s even kissed her.
“You’re killing me here,” she says, not caring how desperate she sounds.
“Am I, now?”
April sounds downright gleeful. She leans forward, so her lips are just a centimeter away from Sterling’s, before moving them to press a soft kiss to Sterling’s cheek. It wasn’t what Sterling expected, but she still lets out a sigh at the contact, then another one when April moves to kiss her jawline. April tilts Sterling’s chin up, so she can kiss the exposed skin of her neck and Sterling feels like she’s on fire, feels her heart beating against April’s mouth. April’s body is warm and solid, and Sterling needs it closer, so she pulls her in with her legs.
April gasps at that, and Sterling takes a moment to revel in the sound, but then April’s mouth is at the neckline of her t-shirt, fingers pulling it down, so she can kiss the skin of Sterling’s exposed collarbone and it’s enough to make her audibly whine.
“April, I swear to God-”
April laughs into Sterling’s neck, and the sound causes Sterling to clutch at April’s shoulders just for something to hold onto. She runs her thumbs along the smooth fabric of April’s blazer, before grabbing both lapels and pulling April’s face to hers. April is flushed, her breathing heavy, the first sign that maybe she’s as worked up as Sterling is. And God, her smile, so bright and earnest and filthy.
“You’re breathtaking,” Sterling murmurs.
And April kisses her.
And Sterling thinks she might die.
God, she can’t believe she went months without feeling this, without hearing the harsh way April breaths when she kisses, the way her hands pull Sterling closer, the way her mouth closes around Sterling’s lower lip. April still kisses the way she does everything; a hundred percent focused. It’s enough to make Sterling gasp info April’s mouth, to wrap her legs around April’s hips and her arms around April’s neck, making sure they are as close as they can possibly be.
She opens her mouth, feels the press of April’s tongue to hers deep in her gut, letting out a low sound she didn’t even know she had in her. April’s hand finds the patch of skin on Sterling’s lower back where her t-shirt has ridden up and pulls her even closer. It’s as if the months of distance all need to be made up for right now, with the press of April’s palm hot on Sterling’s back, with Sterling’s hand holding the back of April’s neck, with April’s teeth grazing the inside of Sterling’s mouth.
Sterling leans forward, still needing to be closer, closer, closer. She feels herself lift her hips off the desk, wanting April to feel her everywhere. She may have miscalculated, because one second she is pressing into April in all the right places and the next she is tumbling off the desk, dragging April down with her.
“Ow,” she lets out as she lands, her back on the carpet, the air immediately knocked out of her once, then twice when April lands on top of her. Then a third time when she fully takes in that April is on top of her, hands on either side of her head holding her up, knees framing Sterling’s right leg.
“Excellent coordination,” April teases, but she’s breathing heavily, her hair messed up as it falls in Sterling’s face.
“Oh, I’ll show you excellent coordination.”
April’s laugh is loud and unburdened, then immediately silenced as Sterling pulls her face toward her own, kissing any laughter away. There’s no slow build up this time as her teeth bite into April’s lower lip, as her body lifts off the floor in response to the needy sound April makes. There’s something intoxicating about April’s weight on top of her, about how their bodies are touching at a zillion different points right now.
Then, April moves her knee just slightly and Sterling can’t help but let out a loud, “Jesus fucking Christ!”
April leans up, looking down at Sterling quizzically. “Are you okay?”
“I’m - I’m - ” Sterling can barely speak at this point, but manages, “can you do that thing with your leg again?”
Her face flushes a little red at her own request, but April just grins delightedly at it. She tilts her head a little to the side.
“What thing with my leg?” She asks, all wide eyes and innocence.
Sterling lets out a frustrated groan. “Oh, you know exactly what I-”
April does the thing with her leg again.
And Sterling thinks she might die again.
She pushes her hips up against April’s leg, needing to chase the feeling. She can feel April smile as she slowly starts kissing along Sterling’s neck, running her tongue up to her ear and it’s enough to make Sterling let out an embarrassingly loud moan.
April covers her mouth with a palm, which Sterling knows is to shut her up, but it’s also so fucking hot in a way she can’t fully unpack right now, not with April still moving her leg right where Sterling needs it and her teeth grazing against her earlobe and Sterling doesn’t remember anything that has ever felt so good in her life.
“God, April, Jesus,” she pants against April’s hand.
“The holy trinity,” April whispers in her ear, and Sterling wants to laugh but also maybe cry, so instead she just holds on to April like a lifeline, nails digging into her shoulders, one leg wrapping around her to keep her close.
She knows what’s about to happen, but it’s still takes her by surprise when April’s knee hits her just the right way and April’s hand grips her hip to pull her closer, and April’s mouth is relentless on her ear and it’s all just so much that Sterling’s body seizes up and she lets out a cry into April’s palm, feeling like she’s being suspended in midair, with nothing in this world expect the two of them for a few seconds.
When she finally exhales, it’s with a laugh, unable to help herself.
“Did you just…” April asks, smiling open-mouthed, hovering above her.
Sterling just smiles back, then leans her head up to kiss her quickly on the lips.
“Don’t let it get to your head.”
April grins, sitting back on Sterling’s hips, looking far too smug for her own good.
“Well, it makes sense, this was a long time coming,” she says, smirking. “Well, technically a short time coming.”
“Oh, shut up,” Sterling says but she knows she’s grinning and still trying to catch her breath, unable to contain the joy bubbling inside of her.
“You’re just absolutely gorgeous,” April breathes, like she can’t help herself and oh, Sterling is so in love with her.
Not that she’s going to say that right now, that would be way too fast, even for lesbians. Instead, she sits up, and holds April’s face in her hands, kissing her softly on the lips.
“You’re perfect,” she tells her, once they part, and April looks down, awfully bashful for someone who just gave Sterling the best orgasm of her life. She tilts April’s face up, so they’re eye to eye and Sterling doesn’t know when she became the kind of person who just wants to spend all of her time looking into someone else’s eyes, but she would be happy if this was all she did for the rest of the night.
A loud buzzing suddenly comes from April’s pocket, breaking them apart. April takes out her phone and looks down at it, a little guiltily.
“My mom,” she says, “I should probably go home.”
“Right,” Sterling says, “right, wow. How’s um - I never really got a change to ask you about the whole -"
April sighs, finally stepping off of Sterling, who tries really hard not to pout at the loss. She extends her hand down to Sterling like she did those weeks ago on the track. Sterling can’t help but grin as she lets herself get pulled to her feet.
“It’s not ideal,” April finally says, “I - I got the result I needed, but it’s not - it still doesn’t feel like my life.”
“I’m sorry,” Sterling says, squeezing April’s hand with her own, “if there’s anything I can do-“
April gives her the softest smile, and Sterling feels something catch in her chest.
“You’ve already done quite a lot,” she says, and Sterling almost wants to cry, “I suppose I just have to figure out what my life does feel like now.”
Sterling chuckles a little. “Trust me, I get it.”
April smiles. “How did it work out for you? Readjusting?”
“Good, I think.” Then she thinks of her family just downstairs the way the word family doesn’t feel uncomfortable anymore, it just is. She looks at April, right in front of her, a gentleness about her that Sterling knows only she gets to see.
She leans forward, because she can now, and kisses April slowly on one cheek, then the other one, then her mouth.
“Really good, actually,” she says.
“Oh,” is all April manages, and Sterling is pretty proud of how she’s not the one speechless for once.
“Also, my therapist is really cool if you want her info.”
“I’m serious,” Sterling says, “Molly’s the best. Also kind of hot too.”
April looks fairly scandalized for someone who had Sterling pinned to the floor five minutes ago.
“Sterling, your therapist?”
Sterling grins. “I can’t be tamed, I guess.”
April looks at Sterling, eyes flicking down to her lips, her neck where a hickey is rapidly forming, to the disheveled state of her clothes.
“We’ll see about that,” she says with a less than innocent smile and Sterling just about dies for a third time in twenty minutes.
“Sooooo,” Blair drawls, leaning on Sterling’s doorway later that night, brushing her teeth.
“Oh, get it over with,” she says, but she knows she’s smiling stupidly, just like how she has been for the last hour.
“That, my friends, is the face of a girl who boned!” Blair declares.
Toothpaste falls out of her mouth. It’s pretty gross. Sterling laughs, leans back on her bed.
“What counts as boning anyway?”
“Dude, I told you, boning transcends gender!”
“Not that, it’s just, um, well - what even qualifies as sex when you think about it?”
Blair brandishes her toothbrush at Sterling like a weapon.
“Sterling Wesley, you tell me exactly what sexual activities went on in this bedroom tonight or I swear-”
Sterling stops playing coy, the eagerness to share everything with Blair overcoming anything else. She sits up, leans forward like she’s sharing a secret. Which, in a way, she is.
“I totally came just from like - her knee. Clothes on.”
Sterling tries and blissfully fails not to look too smug as she watches her sister choke on her toothpaste.
“Go spit,” she says, starting to laugh, “that’s disgusting.”
“Oh, I’m disgusting?” Blair yells on her way to the bathroom, “I’m not the one who just came from dry humping!”
“Ew, don’t say dry humping! It takes away from the emotional intimacy of - ”
Sterling’s cut short by Blair absolutely crushing her as she tackles her on her bed.
“I’m so fucking proud of you!”
Sterling laughs, “I mean, April did most of the work.”
“Yeah, she did.”
“Oh my god, wait.” Sterling sits up quickly, causing Blair to fall off of her. “Is it like, terrible lesbian etiquette if I come and she doesn't?”
“Oh shit, I didn’t even think about that. Ugh, stupid heterosexuality. Did she seem, like, mad or anything?”
“No, she seemed,” Sterling can’t help but grin at the thought of it, “like, really into it.”
“Should I text her though?”
“Text her what hope you got home safe, sorry about the lack of orgasm?”
“Well, we’ll need to workshop it.”
They workshop it.
It’s not what Sterling would have pictured, four weeks ago, or four months ago, definitely not four years ago, but there’s something about curling up in bed with Blair, laughing over what to say to April Stevens post sexual encounter, but it’s somehow perfect.
“I love you,” she tells Blair.
Blair looks up from her phone, grins at her in her very Blair way, all out in the open.
“Love you too, horndog.” She kisses the top of Sterling’s head. “Anyway, do we think April understands the context of the water drops emoji or nah?
Blair starts drifting off soon after that, and Sterling pulls up her comforter to cover the both of them, resting her head in the crook of Blair’s shoulder.
“Top five good things about today?” Blair smiles sleepily, as she leans her head on Sterling’s.
“Okay, Sasha winning Drag Race.”
“The sex, duh. Well, jury’s still out on if it’s sex, but you know the-”
Sterling shoves her sister a little, as much as one can shove someone when they’re both partially asleep and not wanting to leave their warm little cocoon.
“Three,” Sterling says softly, “would probably be mom and dad pretty much saying they, um, are cool with gay people. Which I kind of knew, but it’s still nice.”
“They love you,” Blair murmurs, “also I think dad has some serious bi energy.”
“I’m just saying,” Blair says with a huge yawn, “if he grew up not in Georgia in the '90s, he so would have gotten it on with a dude.”
“Okay, now you’re being homophobic.”
Sterling laughs a little, settling back down on Blair’s chest. She feels Blair’s slow breathing and smiles at it.
“Four,” Blair prompts, though her eyes are closed.
Sterling swallows. “That April doesn’t have to live with her dad anymore. I know - I know that’s not really about me, but the way she was today felt different and new and exciting like maybe without him, she doesn’t have anything blocking what she wants to do. I just - can't wait to see what she does without anything holding her back.”
Sterling expects Blair to say something like “you’re what she wants to do,” but when she looks up, Blair is fast asleep, snoring lightly, hand still protectively around Sterling’s shoulders. Sterling sighs fondly, leans further into her sister’s arms.
“This is five,” she whispers, before slowly drifting off.