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'tis the damn season

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Sterling loves Christmas. She’s always loved Christmas. Blair says it makes sense, because Sterling is like if Christmas was a person, and she assumes it’s a compliment because almost everything Blair says to her is a compliment.

She loves Christmas. But it’s the beginning of December, and college is so much harder in your second year than your first, apparently, and she’s exhausted and not feeling Christmassy at all. She’s been watching Christmas movies with Blair over FaceTime, listening to Christmas music and she even convinced her roommates to go and get a real tree (on the condition that yes, she would be responsible for disposal of said tree after the festive season.) But nothing is clicking, and Sterling is kind of mad about it.

So mad that by the time she gets home on the 21st, she’s completely over it. The whole thing. She has gifts for everyone, she’ll go to church, she’ll go through the motions, but this year, Sterling Wesley has decided that she will not enjoy Christmas. The world has seen fit to remove her festive spirit, apparently, and she doesn’t have the energy to fight it anymore.

Even the tree in the living room, her mom’s sugar cookies and the Santa hat that Blair has put on Chloe make no difference. Blair is outraged, shocked, “flabbergasted” is the word she uses (slowly, like she’s checking each syllable on her tongue before she lets it out. She’s probably never used that word before, but it seems to fit her emotions today.)

Blair insists they go to the mall the day after Sterling gets home, and the official reason is that it will “bring back the Christmas Sterling she knows and loves”, but she actually just hasn’t finished buying gifts yet, and Sterling can’t imagine that Lenox Square on the 22nd of December is going to make her feel anything other than frustrated and anxious, but Blair gives her sad eyes and promises to buy her an eggnog latte, so she gives in. She misses Blair, truthfully, because they see each other every two weeks, and also video chat at least three times a week, but it’s no substitute for the eighteen years they spent living in each other’s pockets.

She was right, of course, because the place is packed and they wait twenty-five minutes just at Starbucks, and Sterling is about to try and convince Blair to either leave or buy her a pretzel, when she sees Hannah B leaving Sephora. Ezequiel is right behind her, and Sterling can’t actually see who he’s talking to, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.

Whatever, because it’s not like Sterling cares about April or what April is doing or how April is. She barely even thinks about April. Yes, she looks at her Instagram from time to time, but when the stupid app recommends your ex-something, what are you supposed to do? Not look? And yes, she could block her, like Blair suggested. She could do that. She will do that. She’s totally going to do that. Probably. Soon. Except, April never really did anything to warrant being blocked, did she? (And if she blocked her, how would Sterling know when a girl starts appearing on the grid just a little too often to be just a friend, and how would she know when that girl disappears?)

Outside of Instagram, though, Sterling hasn’t seen April in a year. Even then, they didn’t speak. She waved at April, actually, last year outside church on Christmas Eve. April just sort of furrowed her brow and turned away. Not maliciously, just… in that April way she does. The same way she did when Sterling rambled about Naomi and Ruth, all those years ago.

April looks good. She’s not even wearing anything special, really, just dark blue jeans and a sweater. But she’s also wearing a leather jacker and this grey beanie, and last year April’s hair was shorter, but it’s grown out again now and Sterling is, honestly, overwhelmed.

She obviously stares a little too long, because Blair realizes that Sterling isn’t listening to a word she says, and mumbles a small “you have got to be fucking joking” when she follows her sister’s line of vision.

Sterling has never liked Hannah B more than she does in that moment, because she suddenly hears someone squealing her name, immediately followed by Blair’s and she looks up to see Hannah waving at them excitedly (she also sees Ezequiel rolling his eyes at Hannah, April’s jaw setting in frustration.) If she was smart, if she knew what was good for her, she’d wave back, and absolutely not go over there.

She’s never been good at staying away from fire.

She walks straight over, dragging Blair with her, and makes small talk with Hannah B and tries not to let her heart hurt when April doesn’t even acknowledge her. She’s thankful that Hannah has always had trouble reading a situation, because she knows (she hopes) that if she stays there long enough, April will eventually look her way. If she cares at all, if she thinks about Sterling ever, she will eventually have to look at her. Sterling can’t imagine being able to keep her eyes off April for long, if she was right in front of her.

Sterling is just about to give up, just about to accept that this is completely one-sided and April is (quite reasonably) totally over their incredibly brief fling and everything that came with it, when she feels it. April is looking at her. Like, really looking at her.

Her roommate watches wildlife documentaries a lot, and Sterling likes the background noise while she studies. So she knows that you’re not supposed to make sudden movements, not supposed to alarm or disturb a wild animal. That’s how she feels right now. She knows that if she turns to look at April, that little beanie will snap around in the other direction and it’ll ruin everything. So she just smiles, and April will definitely see it because April is definitely staring at her.

Mission accomplished.

Blair is bored of this whole situation, Sterling can tell, so she’s about to try and exit this conversation (and maybe she feels bad for using Hannah B like this, but it’s not Sterling’s fault that this opportunity presented itself) when Ezequiel speaks up.

“I’m having a thing tomorrow. A party, kind of. The two of you should come, if you’re not doing anything.”

April looks somewhat shocked by Ezequiel’s decision to invite them, but maybe not upset.

“Oh. Uh, yeah, maybe?”

Sterling wants April’s approval. She really, really wants April’s approval and she needs for April to know that. Thankfully, her almost-maybe-ex comes through.

“I’ll text you the details, in case you decide you want to. I assume you still have the same number?”

“She does.”

Blair’s voice is a warning, has that tone to it that Blair thinks sounds dangerous but Sterling thinks is adorable. She doesn’t know what April thinks of it, but she doesn’t flinch.

“That’s settled then.”

They all separate. But Sterling is starting to feel marginally more festive. Like maybe there’s something to look forward to. Because if April looked that good for a trip to the mall, Sterling is weirdly excited to see what other looks she’ll pull out for the season.

——————

The text comes that evening. At first, it’s just Ezequiel’s address and a vague start time. Sterling doesn’t reply, somehow feeling like that gives her the upper hand even though she’s been bouncing around anxiously ever since April even admitted to still having Sterling’s number saved. Her plan, not that she’s thought about it of course, is to wait a few hours and then reply tonight. But ten minutes later, after the original message, come two more. The first one simply says “Ezequiel says it’s BYOB.” The second one, though, the second one says “it would be really great if you came” and it’s still twenty-four hours until the party but it’s enough for Sterling to immediately panic about what she’s going to wear.

It’s two hours before she settles on an outfit, and Blair absolutely cannot believe it’s taken a whole two hours to decide on “the perfect jeans and tank top combination”, but Sterling agrees to pay for any alcohol they take, if Blair can find a way for them to buy it, and the idea that she gets to both plot something sneaky and not spend any money is enough to satisfy her.

She texts back (hoping, obviously, that April has been staring at her phone for the last two hours), simply saying she’ll see her tomorrow.

She doesn’t get a response, but she doesn’t need one.

——————

They’re not expected at Ezequiel’s house until around 9pm, but Sterling spends the whole day cycling through terrified and excited.

She tries to avoid touching her phone for most of the day, and when she finally does open Instagram, she absolutely does not let herself type April’s username into the search box. She doesn’t need to, anyway, because she follows Ezequiel and Hannah B, and they’re doing a very good job of providing Sterling with April content today.

She’s at Ezequiel’s house, helping him decorate and helping Hannah B put together a playlist and she she’s wearing ripped jeans, a black camisole and a green oversized flannel. Not that it matters what she’s wearing, but that’s what she’s wearing. At least, that’s what she’s wearing until 7pm. Because after that, when a very cute selfie captioned “Holy Trinity” finds its way to Hannah’s story, April is wearing something burgundy and low cut and Sterling can’t see enough of her to tell exactly what it is, but she makes Blair look at it with her for five minutes until Blair finally declares that she loves Sterling til her dying breath, but she could not possibly care less what April Stevens is wearing and that frankly, April could be wearing literally anything and Sterling would still be “full horndog.”

Sterling doesn’t try to deny it.

The burgundy thing, which is even lower cut than Sterling expected, is cropped and there’s two inches of skin on display at most, but it’s making Sterling lose her mind.

Something about April has always broken Sterling’s brain. It shouldn’t be surprising, given the history. If the catalyst of a relationship is having your first orgasm just thinking about them, it’s probably written in the stars that just their name will drive you wild for the rest of your days. But now, older and yes, admittedly, with a little more experience and a lot more desire, even being across the room from April and that exposed skin is devastating and Sterling hasn’t listened to a word that anyone has said to her in the thirty minutes that they’ve been here.

Because April hasn’t spoken to her yet. Hasn’t said a word. Hasn’t even been within five feet of Sterling. She’s just been there, on the other side of the room, looking like that, and occasionally glancing over and trying to be a little bit too casual about it.

“Sterling for the love of God, please just talk to her.”

“She should talk to me.”

She’s whining, and she knows she is, but she can’t help but think that this whole thing is a game, and she doesn’t want April to win.

Then again, if she doesn’t get to touch that skin before the night is over, she’s not sure that anybody’s a winner.

But someone, somewhere must be looking out for her, because April looks over while Sterling is, quite frankly, thirsting over her, and she smirks.

So maybe Sterling is willing to make the first move (again) after all, and after a few seconds of unbroken eye contact, she leaves the room and heads out to the garden. It’s cold, and Sterling just really hopes that April understood, and doesn’t take too long to follow her out. She remembers leaving her water bottle in Fellowship, remembers hearing April walk into the room behind her. She’s confident that April knows to come after her, and it’s probably been less than a minute, but she’s worried she’s going to be left standing out here alone.

That is, until she feels a hand slide down her arm, feels hot breath on her ear, swears she can hear April’s smile as she says “it’s pretty cold out, we should probably warm you up.”

April was always a great flirt, Sterling remembers that. Maybe their fling or whatever was only a few days, but she has vivid memories of April’s low tone when she asked if her patellas quivered, when she spoke to her in Spanish, (when she said she wanted to ravage her.) It’s different now, though, it’s somehow more intense, even hotter, and Sterling knows what’s different about her without even thinking: April knows what she’s doing now. The April from before flirted with an unearned confidence, but this April? She’s earned it. Sterling can tell, and even though she’s envious of whoever this girl is (these girls are? She’s not sure), she’s thrilled by it.

Did Sterling come here tonight with a plan to recreate their previous horny make-out session in the backseat? Not necessarily. But maybe April did. Because when Sterling just nods, April grabs her hand and walks toward the Volt. Like she’d previously taken note of where the twins parked. Sterling is more than happy to let April take the lead, and she doesn’t even object when April takes the keys from Sterling’s back pocket and guides them both to the back seat.

No, maybe the plan wasn’t to end up in the back of her car with April in her lap, but she’s definitely not complaining. The deja vu doesn’t end there, though, and she has no idea how long they’ve been back here, but her phone starts buzzing. She should know better by now, but Sterling thinks she’d be content to ignore it forever if it meant she could keep her hand under April’s shirt, but April pulls away and reminds her that it’s probably Blair, and she should check it.

“It is. Uh, from Blair.”

April is kissing her neck, hand on her hip, everything kind of lazy and slow and Sterling feels like she’s going to explode.

“She says that if we’re fucking in the back of the car, we need to stop because she wants to go home.”

She’s pretty certain she wouldn’t, on a normal day, have read that aloud word for word, but her brain isn’t working at its full capacity right now, and she doesn’t even have the sense of mind to be embarrassed about it.

“If only.”

It was quiet, but low, and definitely meant to be heard.

“I guess if Blair wants to leave, I should let you go.”

“I guess so.”

April kisses her again, deep and hard and she’s certain that it feels like a promise. Tonight might be over, but this isn’t the end of whatever this is. Neither of them say it, though, and Sterling is already anticipating the way she’ll spend the next few days wondering whether or not she should text April first, or what she should say.

It’s maybe ten minutes after April leaves, when Blair gets in the car and just says “gross.”

“We didn’t. I mean, we just made out. A lot.”

“Seriously? You’ve been out here for like, an hour.”

“We have?”

Blair just mumbles “gross” again, and points out that Sterling is “the colour of Rudolph’s fucking nose, dude” before they drive away.

——————

She doesn’t really expect to hear from April until the 26th, at least. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Sterling is always so caught up in family and traditions that she barely even looks at her phone unless it’s to post pictures of Blair or her parents (or, most likely, Chloe). But she does know well enough that she’s definitely going to see April, at least from a distance.

Because it’s Christmas Eve, which means that the Wesley twins will drop off gifts at the local shelter, like they do every year, before they go to lunch at the club, and they’ll go to church tonight. Sterling knows that at minimum, she’ll see April’s family at church.

April is there, but alone. Her mother is nowhere to be seen. She’s there (and she’s wearing a blue dress with a neckline that lets Sterling see just enough of her collarbone to think that her mind should not be wandering this way in church) and she slides in the pew her family have sat in for as long as Sterling can remember, but she’s the only one there.

She wants to try and talk to her, after the service. Or she wants to text her, ask her if she’s okay, ask why she’s alone. But she knows that’s not where they’re at, knows it’s not the dynamic they’re building. It’s delicate, so if she tries to push April, she risks not seeing or speaking to her again over the break, and she doesn’t think she could handle that. She doesn’t get the chance, though, because April leaves the second the service is over, and her car isn’t even in the lot anymore by the time the Wesleys step outside.

She settles on a completely non-emotional message. Just a “cute dress!” text, which is actually totally honest, but also serves as a way to open conversation if that’s what April wants.

The reply doesn’t come until after midnight, and the first message is just a thank you (with an added “yours too”). Followed by a second message, a “Merry Christmas, Sterling” and a heart emoji that her mind keeps drifting to for the rest of the day.

She’s still not feeling festive, not really, not compared to previous years, but she feels warmer, slightly happier. Not because of April, not just because of April, but just because.

Because Blair on Christmas morning is something truly magical, and because yes, they have to spend the day with the whole family, but her mom’s mashed potatoes are somehow better than anybody else’s ever have been. Because they get back home that night from her grandparents’s house and her dad brings everyone peppermint hot chocolate while they settle in, in new pyjamas, to watch Elf. Because she’s thinking about that little heart emoji and the way that April waited until it was technically Christmas Day to send it.

The 26th is usually reserved for just the four of them, and nobody says it but it’s largely to decompress from the day spent with Uncle Deacon and Big Daddy and how stressful that can be for everyone.

She hasn’t heard from April since her Christmas text, but that’s okay. She wasn’t expecting to. She is, however, deliberating how to make the next move. It probably has to be her, but every time she sends the first message she worries that it means April doesn’t actually want whatever this is. Which is, really, in the grand scheme of things, not a lot. Sterling doesn’t want anything more than to maybe spend parts of her Christmas break making out with April. She’s not even asking for this to extend beyond the first week of January, which is maybe awful of her to think, but it’s just not practical. April lives in Boston now, and Sterling is in Chapel Hill, and she doesn’t know if she’d want to try that even if it was an option. She’s perfectly content, if it’s something April wants, to just spend the next week or two doing what they never got the chance to in high school.

But she doesn’t know exactly how to broach the subject, really. What’s the etiquette for texting a girl and asking if she wants to spend winter break hooking up with you, for old time’s sake? She drafts and redrafts and tries to ask Blair for help and considers texting her roommate, who thinks of herself as Sterling’s wingwoman, and she’s almost ready to just send April a very risky selfie when her phone buzzes in her hand.

Do you have plans tomorrow?

She waits fifteen minutes before replying “don’t think so?” (which is ridiculous, she absolutely doesn’t and even if she did, she’d be willing to cancel them, but April doesn’t need to know that.)

You should come over

Sterling wasn’t expecting that, but all rational parts of her brain seem to be on vacation, because all she can think of is that tomorrow, she could be in April’s house. In April’s bedroom, maybe, if that’s what April wants.

She doesn’t wait to reply this time, sends an immediate and overly enthusiastic “yes”, and gets just a time in return.

——————

Sterling hasn’t actually been to April’s house since she was eleven, and it’s just as intimidating now as it was then. More so, actually, because now she’s intimidated by April herself, too. Not to mention the reason she’s here today is a little more nerve-wracking than a simple sleepover ever was.

It’s funny, the way April is still a perfect hostess, even now. Her eyes are raking over Sterling’s whole body, and there’s a tension in the air that Sterling knows she isn’t imagining, but April still takes her coat and asks if she’d like anything to drink. Sterling simply shakes her head no, and that’s all it takes for April to back her against the kitchen counter and kiss her in a way that Sterling has never been kissed. Sterling didn’t even know you could be kissed like that.

In fact, Sterling didn’t really know that you could feel any of the things that she feels over the next few hours. It’s undoubtedly because it’s April, although whether it’s because she’s really, really good at that, or it’s purely because Sterling has wanted this, with April, for so long, she’s not sure. It’s April, though.

She doesn’t know exactly what she expected after, but it probably wasn’t for April to kiss her softly, or stroke her hair. She didn’t anticipate that April would pull her close, or whisper how long she’d wanted to do that, or intertwine their fingers.

So naturally, Sterling accidentally ruins the whole thing.

When she asks, absent-mindedly, why April has the house to herself, she feels the girl next to her freeze and she immediately wishes she could take it back. She tries, even, to apologize and say it’s none of her business and she shouldn’t have asked. It’s not enough, though, because April has already pulled away and pulled on a t-shirt and is telling Sterling that it’s getting late and she should probably leave.

She does it all on autopilot, really, and she doesn’t cry, but when she pulls the car into her driveway, she slams her hands on the steering wheel and screams “fuck” aloud, tries not to think of the way she said the same word an hour ago.

She manages not to see anyone, just go straight upstairs and get into the shower and throw her clothes in the hamper and not think at all about how her sweater smells like April now, but she knows better than to think she can avoid Blair for long. She wasn’t expecting her to be already sitting on Sterling’s bed by the time she came out of the bathroom, but maybe she should’ve been.

“You don’t look as happy as I thought you would be. You were with April this whole time, right?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Tough.”

Still, now, after what just happened, she’s defensive of April. She’s mad at her, but if she knows April Stevens, and she thinks she does, there’s more to this than just April being an asshole. She was, an asshole, and Sterling isn’t going to make excuses for her, but she also knows that Blair will be quick to anger, and Sterling isn’t there.

“We, uh, we slept together.”

“Duh.”

“And then we had, I don’t know, kind of a fight. So I left and yeah.”

“I’m gonna kill her.”

“No. You’re not. It’s cool, really.”

“Was it good?”

“Was… what?”

“Y’know, the sex?”

“I’m not. I don’t. Are we actually going to talk about it?”

“If you want to.”

“I don’t think I do?”

“But just like, yes or no. Was it good?”

She doesn’t say anything, but Blair raises her hand for a high-five and Sterling obliges.

——————

She accepts that she’s probably not going to hear from April again. And she’s not happy about it, especially now that she knows exactly how great the rest of her break could be, but she’s accepting it.

She only spends the 28th grumbling, and maybe half of the 29th. But by the time the 30th comes around, she’s settled into enjoying her time with Blair, and with her parents.

Until she gets a text from April, that is.

Are you busy?

She desperately wants to ignore it, but April is making a big, important move, so she doesn’t. Maybe she should be embarrassed by how quickly she jumps every time April snaps her fingers, and she knows that the whole situation is impossible to explain to anybody else. But she knows first hand how closed off April can be, and she knows how important it is to let her lead the way. She learned that the hard way. So when April does decide to maybe open up, Sterling knows to be there.

No, she’s not busy. She’s free for a couple of hours, actually. April surprises her by just asking if she wants to go for a drive? She doesn’t have anywhere particular in mind, it seems, she just wants to go for a drive and, if Sterling is willing to listen, explain why she acted the way she did?

And it’s fun. It’s so much fun, in a way that Sterling had forgotten April could be, if she ever knew at all. They drive around, and April stops to buy them ice-cream. They talk, but Sterling also blasts a Christmas playlist that April pretends to hate and they laugh and they drive past places they went to on field trips, and it’s a genuinely good day. Eventually, a little while before Sterling has to be home, April pulls into a parking lot near Willingham. She completely understands why April doesn’t park up there, in the school itself, but she still finds herself overwhelmed by the memories.

“I wanted to apologize. For the other day.” April isn’t looking at her, she’s just staring ahead of her, out of the window, but Sterling turns her whole body in her seat to face her. “I’m aware that I ruined an otherwise very nice day.”

“A very nice day?”

“Did you. Um, did you not have a good day?” April’s whole face is pink, and Sterling really wants to kiss her.

“I did. I guess I just wouldn’t use that uh, weirdly prim and proper terminology?”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“No, it’s. It’s okay. I shouldn’t have interrupted.”

“Right. I’m sorry, for how I acted. The truth is that my mother has been away since the 19th, so I’ve been alone in the house most of the time. I didn’t particularly want to talk about it, so I snapped at you. Which was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

“Your mom is away?”

“She’s on a cruise. We haven’t really done much for Christmas since-” Since April’s father went back to prison.

“What did you on Christmas Day?”

“I went to my grandmother’s house. It was fine. I’m really mostly back in town because someone needs to take care of Sergeant Bilko. That and to see Ezequiel and Hannah.”

“Well, I’m glad you came back.”

“Me too.”

Sterling does kiss her then, but just on the cheek. April starts the car again, ready to drive Sterling home, and Sterling spends the rest of the journey with her hand on April’s thigh. She’s about to get out of the car when April stops her.

“What are you doing tomorrow? For New Year’s?”

“Probably just staying home? Why?”

“Well, Ezequiel is having another party. If you and Blair want to come.”

Blair is indifferent, truly, but claims that she enjoyed spending time with Ezequiel last week (which is weird but actually, it makes a strange sort of sense that they would get along when Sterling thinks about it) so agrees to come.

Sterling looked good at Ezequiel’s last party, but April looked incredible, so she wants to up her game. Which, when she finally accepts Blair’s help, apparently means dark green and lace and jeans that are tight enough that she can barely breathe in them (but not so tight that if, hypothetically, anyone wanted to remove them, they’d have trouble.)

It’s New Year, so Sterling is hopeful that she can expect to be kissed at midnight. And judging by the way April’s face lights up when the twins walk in, maybe even before then, if they can get away. Because absolutely everybody is here. Sterling isn’t sure how Ezequiel has managed to throw two pretty big parties so close together, but she doesn’t risk asking.

It’s not that she’s not happy to see everyone, that she’s not happy to see Luke or get to talk to some of her friends she hasn’t seen for a while, but she’s really only interested in April right now. They’ve spent the last few hours on opposite sides of the same circle, but it’s 11:30pm and Sterling needs them to be so much closer. She still has half a cup of whatever this is left, but she drinks it in one go and declares that she’s going to grab another.

She thinks she hears Blair distract Luke from following her, and makes a mental reminder to thank her later.

She needs to busy herself, so she does pour another drink, but steers clear of anything alcoholic. She’s only had two drinks but honestly, she still doesn’t love drinking. She does, sometimes. She goes to parties and she drinks and she doesn’t hate it or anything, but she’s seen the way her friends get wasted just for the sake of it, and she’s been the sober friend enough time that it’s lost any charm it once had. So she’s pouring nothing but orange juice into her cup when April steps up behind her. All she does is trace her finger down Sterling’s arm, but it’s all it takes for Sterling to turn around and (after a quick scan of the room, to make sure they’re alone) kiss her.

It’s brief, but April kisses back and Sterling melts when she feels the other girl smile against her lips.

“You look good. Like, you look really good.”

“You too. I’ve been wanting to kiss you since you got here.”

It’s such a relief, even though it was probably obvious. She checks her phone and it’s almost 12, but she doesn’t even get a chance to say anything before April just says “come with me” and Sterling does. She’s pretty sure she’d follow April anywhere right now, and maybe she should be concerned about that, but she just can’t bring herself to care.

And thank God April knows the house better than Sterling does, because she manages to pull them into an empty bathroom that Sterling would never even have thought to look for, and Sterling’s back collides with the door at the exact moment they hear people start cheering downstairs. The kiss that follows is soft, though, softer than the tension of the evening suggested it might be, softer than the way April has her pinned. It’s gentle, it doesn’t have any of the ferocity she expected, and it’s somehow so much hotter than any kiss they’ve ever shared before.

April whispers “Happy New Year” and Sterling doesn’t trust her voice yet, so she just kisses back and hopes it tells April how happy she is right now, in this moment, to be doing this. They kiss, again, and they talk, and keep talking and she’s not sure how long they’re there, but eventually they realize they’re going to have to make an appearance downstairs.

“Hey! Took you a while to pour that drink, huh?”

“What? Oh, yeah. Funny.”

“I thought so.”

“So, April asked me if I wanted to, uh, go back to her place? Stay there tonight?”

“And you’re asking my permission?”

“I’m asking you to cover for me if mom and dad notice I didn’t come home.”

“Gross. Okay.”

“I love you so much.”

“Of course you do.”

Sterling can see April hugging Ezequiel and Hannah across the room, clearly ready to leave.

“Happy new year! I’ll see you tomorrow and we can watch Love, Actually?”

“Annual New Year tradition, you know it.”

——————

April is definitely just really, really good at that. So good, in fact, that Sterling lets those exact words tumble out of her mouth before throwing her hands over her face when she realizes what she’s just said. And April is just smirking, smug in a way that should be annoying but is actually just very endearing, when Sterling peeks through her fingers.

She’s suddenly not sure if the invitation extended to the whole night, or if she was supposed to leave now.

“I can feel you thinking. What’s wrong?”

“Did you, uh, do you want me to leave?”

April’s eyes go wide and Sterling can’t believe she’s screwing this up again, until April just shrugs.

“It’s the middle of the night. And you don’t even have a car. Doesn’t really make any sense.”

Anyone else might have believed the casual tone of April’s voice, but Sterling knows her.

“You sure? I could always get an Uber.”

“Sterl. Just go to sleep.”

It’s not how she expected to start the new year, but eventually April uses the arm around her waist to pull her close and presses a kiss to the back of her neck, and she wishes she could bottle the feeling. She and April are not a couple, they probably never will be, but Sterling thinks she likes this version of herself, who can fall asleep exhausted and satisfied and not worry about what it means.

“Do you still not drink coffee?” is the first thing she hears the next day, not-quite-whispered in her ear, by a now half-dressed April. She thinks ordinarily she’d feel uncomfortable, exposed, if the person she spent the night with woke her up this way, but it’s April, and she’s weirdly okay with it.

“Morning.”

“Good morning.”

There’s a brief pause, like neither of them is sure whether they should kiss or not, like they don’t know exactly what the protocol is the morning after you sleep with a girl you spent one week enamoured with in high school. Sterling decides that if they’re already throwing caution to the wind this week, she has nothing to lose (hopefully) and kisses her. It seems like maybe she made the right choice.

“I do. Uh, drink coffee now.”

“Right. How do you take it?”

“Can I grab a shirt or something? And I’ll just come with you?”

A few hours later, Sterling leaves in her jeans and an oversized Harvard sweatshirt, with a promise to return it tomorrow when they see each other again. A promise she’s not totally sure she’s going to keep.

—————

“Do you think what we’re doing is weird?”

They’re walking around Tanyard Creek Park, and April is holding her hand, she kissed her hello when she picked her up a few hours ago, and Sterling doesn’t actually feel weird about it, but she wonders if this conversation needs to be had anyway.

“Weird how?”

“I mean, we’re just making out and spending time together and whatever, but we’re both leaving soon, right? And until like, 10 days ago we literally hadn’t spoken since graduation? I’m just wondering if it’s weird.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t?”

“Do you?”

“Maybe?”

“Do you want to… not be doing this?”

“No.”

“Okay?”

Sterling thinks maybe that’s the end of it, because they keep walking and they don’t say anything (except, yes, when Sterling excitedly points out every single dog they walk past.) But they get back to April’s car and April backs her against the passenger door and kisses her senseless.

“Maybe it’s weird. I get that. But I think it makes sense. I think that we needed this. I know I did, at least?”

“Yeah, me too.”

“I think that if this hadn’t happened, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering what it would be like to be with you.”

“But now you know?”

“Now I have an idea.”

“And?”

“And I know that it’s… nice.”

“There’s that word again. Nice.” April looks shy, again. She looks shy and Sterling kisses the top of her head and earns a bright, unabashed smile.

“Sterling, I have loved this. I know now that being with you is fun, that it can make me happy. I know, with complete certainty, that we would never have been able to have this, or anything like it, in high school. And I also know that our lives are on different paths now, and that we probably missed the chance to have this for more than the length of a winter break.”

“But you are having fun?”

April laughs, loud, and kisses Sterling again, before whispering that she is having a lot of fun.

It’s the 2nd of January now, and April is leaving on the 6th. Sterling would be lying if she said she wasn’t sad about it, but she’s content to just enjoy whatever time she can with April.

Because April is right, she thinks. They couldn’t have had this in high school, and maybe it is too late for them to have it now. If there’s a part of Sterling’s mind that wanders to post-college, to that possibility of someday that she once dismissed, she tries not to dwell on it.

She doesn’t want to neglect Blair, and they spend the next two days together. They text regularly, but she has Blair and April has Ezequiel and Hannah. It’s fine, but Sterling does quick math in her head to work out how much time they still have left to spend together, and it’s not a lot.

In fact, she’s about to suggest to April that they should spend the next day together, but April gets there first.

The first text is short, sweet, maybe a little too to the point. It’s not quite a “u up?” but it’s close enough. Sterling forgives it because the second text is more show than tell, and the drive to April’s house is twenty-five minutes, but Sterling manages it in fifteen. (She does, however, stay parked outside for five more minutes, because she can tell from the picture that April wants her there now, but she would likely still not be happy to know that Sterling sped over here.)

“Do you think it’s weird-”

“Sterling.”

“Different question this time, I promise.”

They’re sitting in April’s kitchen, Sterling wearing borrowed pyjamas while April makes them hot chocolate and rolls her eyes fondly at the frankly obscene amount of marshmallows Sterling eats just while the mugs are being filled.

“Do you think it’s weird how we like, don’t know anything about each other’s lives anymore?”

“Bold assumption.”

April slides the drink over, letting her hand rest on Sterling’s for a moment.

“You’re saying you do know about my life?”

“Just that it wouldn’t be accurate to say I don’t know anything. I can admit to having looked at your Instagram from time to time. Is that bad?”

“No. I mean, maybe, but I do it too.”

“Would it be more reasonable for us to just follow each other?”

“Probably.”

Sterling leaves in the morning, but she’s back again that night. April isn’t leaving until late afternoon, but she has to see Ezequiel and Hannah again before her flight, and they silently agree that they want one last night together, even if it means they’ll have to drag themselves from the sheets the next morning.

They say they won’t get emotional over it, but Sterling helps April pack her bags with an anxious energy that betrays that promise. Each kiss is supposed to be the last, and it’s nearly an hour before they finally make it to goodbye.

“You’ll text me when you get home safely?”

“Yes, Sterling. The moment I step foot in my apartment.”

“And then what?”

“And then, I don’t know. And then we either talk constantly for the next few weeks before we both get too busy, or we agree now that this is our cutoff?”

“Next Christmas?”

“I could pencil you in for next Christmas, perhaps.”

This one really is the last kiss, and it’s obvious that they’re both pretty certain that next Christmas won’t happen. One (or both) of them won’t be single anymore, or won’t come home, or maybe just won’t want to. They’ll realize that just winter breaks isn’t sustainable, because one Christmas is a fun taste of what could’ve been, but maybe two is too close to what might be.

“Besides, you still need to return that sweater.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Bye, Sterl.”

“See you in December?”

April just smiles.

“Sure.”

She gets a text later that night, when she’s already in bed, letting her know that April has landed and is safely back in her apartment. A second one, saying she wants her sweater back.

Sterling sends her a selfie, still wearing the oversized sweatshirt and not even trying to hide that it’s the only thing she has on.

What sweater?

Sad you’re gone but glad you’re home safe.

There’s no reply. She didn’t think there would be.

She does open her instagram to a new follower, one she follows back.

It’s more reasonable, that’s all. That’s what they’d agreed. If the app is going to recommend her maybe ex-something, she might as well just take the hint, right?