Luke climbed up the bleachers toward her, he smiled when he noticed her watching him. April smiled back. This part was easy, the harder part was listening to him when he talked and kissing him. She was reaching up now and lay her hand on his shoulder, he leaned down but somehow they still botched even this small sign of affection, that they were dating.
"Hey, April," he said, awkwardly patting her on the shoulder and then sitting down next to her.
"You're a little late. Didn't golf practice end half an hour ago?"
"Yes, it did. I... um... I tried to talk to... uh... Blair again. Y'know, about Sterling. Why she's not at school."
She sat up a little straighter, suddenly eager to listen to what he had to say. She was trying to curb her curiosity, to not seem too eager but the simple truth was that she was. Most times, his ramblings went over her head without her adding much but every time he mentioned Sterling it felt like an infusion of adrenaline into her bloodstream. She had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from snapping at him to tell her what Blair had said.
"And what did Blair say?" she asked, trying hard to modulate her voice into something that sounded just a touch above boredom.
"Well, she called me a traitor to... uh... a once sacred bond, that's what she said. And she called you... something biblical but also not nice so I'm not gonna repeat it."
"I can imagine what it was," April said with a grimace. Calling her, of all people, a harlot. Really, Blair? Shouldn't sex be a requirement for a postulation like that?
"Yes, and she didn't really say why Sterling isn't in school, just something about family drama. So what everyone already suspects." There was a definite pout in his voice like he deserved to know more than anyone else. And maybe he did, he and Sterling had been together a long time. His family was friends with the Wesleys, and yet, his mother didn't know more than anyone else. And April had carefully probed there when Luke had brought her home last weekend to meet his folks.
She could tell, his parents didn't like her - not like they liked Sterling. The irony was that Sterling had had sex with Luke and they still liked her better than April who didn't even plan to have sex with Luke - ever. But, of course, she couldn't tell them that. She and Luke had talked about it and he seemed fine with her wanting to wait till marriage. She wondered, though. Would she have to give up more than kisses to maintain a heterosexual front everyone would believe?
Well, everyone but Sterling... and Blair.
April was roused from her thoughts by applause as the two Lacrosse teams ran onto the field. She tried to smile and show some school spirit but she was disappointed that she still didn't know about Sterling. She missed her. Not just... the soft, loving part she'd enjoyed far too little but even the verbal smackdowns. No one in their year could really spar with her like Sterling so often did. No one challenged April like Sterling - good and bad.
"You okay?" Luke asked, momentarily focusing on her. He was attuned that way which was really sweet in a way. And completely annoying in another.
"Yeah, sure. All fine."
"You know... I... I've been meaning to talk to you, like... I don't know." He looked away toward the field where the game had begun but he didn't really seem to care anymore. He seemed nervous, he clearly had something on his mind.
April lay her arm over his shoulder that was turned from her, pulling herself up a little so he could hear her as she asked: "What did you wanna talk about?"
He turned back to her. "Not here," he said and seemed to think that would appease her. It didn't. Something was clearly off.
"Then let's go somewhere else," she gave back.
"Now? The game's on."
She didn't say anything to that, just looked at him in that way that many people thought menacing. They were right; it was a stare she'd practiced in the mirror. If you were on the small side and still wanted people to pay attention you had to be able to intimidate with a look. Her daddy had taught her that, not by saying anything but by simply watching him.
"Let's walk," she told him and climbed from the bleachers. She didn't look back to see if he was following, she knew he would.
When she'd taken a few steps she did turn, though, remembering that people considered them a couple, that they would be watching them. Couples always caught someone's attention, especially when they went off for some presumed alone time. She took his hand, smiling up at him. He smiled, too, but for once, his smile like hers seemed just for whoever might be watching.
The applause and calls of encouragement faded behind them as they walked toward the school building. They were still holding hands, a meaningless gesture now that made April uncomfortable.
More so, because every time she became aware of his big, sweaty hands holding hers she wondered what it would have been like holding Sterling's. Her voice always came back to April in these moments: "I'm asking you to hold my hand at lock-in."
It seemed so simple now - with Luke it was simple. With Sterling it was not.
"Let's sit," she heard Luke's voice over her own melancholy thoughts. The tug on her hand told her he'd stopped. He sat down on a bench, thankfully not the same she'd shared with Sterling that night - now almost ten days ago. She sat beside him, trying to focus on him.
"What did you wanna discuss?" she asked. Upon noticing impatience in her voice she tried to soften the effect with another smile. She knew it didn't reach her eyes.
But he wasn't looking at her anyway. He was leaning on his knees, staring over the school grounds. "Uhhh..." he made.
April closed her eyes. Luke could be incredibly slow to broach a subject with her. Usually, she caught onto his mood pretty quickly and could at least guess at the general direction his thoughts were going - like when they started talking about sex - but today she had no idea what he wanted to discuss. It could be anything from him wanting to play golf on the weekend and not meet to telling her he had a genetic disease he may hand down to potential children they would never have.
"Are we okay?" he finally asked. It came out forcefully like he had to force himself to even ask as much.
"Yes, why wouldn't we be?"
"I... I don't know."
April just barely kept from groaning in frustration. She understood that he needed her to meet him halfway but it was so much easier to silence him on this subject and just pretend that everything was okay.
He rubbed his hands on his thighs now, that nervousness again.
"Just say it, Luke, whatever it is." She tried the adult approach, directness.
He nodded. He kept nodding. "Yes, right. Well... I feel... I mean it's just me feeling that, maybe I'm wrong. I've only had one relationship as you know and... well, it was different, you know."
"Of course, it was. Sterling and you had sex. You were way more intimate in the end than we would be now. We've only been going out for a week."
"That's true," he said but somehow she felt that this still wasn't it. He had more on his mind. "It's just..."
Another long pause that almost drove April insane.
"It's..." He took a deep breath and let it out noisily. "I don't feel like... no, it's... With Sterling it was... even in the beginning, you know... we couldn't keep from touching each other. We wanted to, we were drawn to each other. And kissing her was like... she just never wanted to stop. She'd do that thing where..."
"She'd nibble your lip gently," April said, momentarily caught in her own memory of how it was to kiss Sterling.
"I never told you that."
"What?" Something in her throat began to flutter in panic, the air seemed too cold but there was not enough air to fill her lungs. What had she said? How could she have been so dumb? Of course, he hadn't told her, he didn't have to. She knew exactly how it was to kiss Sterling.
Her jaw clamped shut as he looked back at her.
"You must have," she finally forced out between her teeth.
"No, I... I'm always getting self-conscious when I talk to you about Sterling because I know you're not supposed to talk about your ex. I even write down what I said to you about her so that I don't mention the same thing twice. I've never told you about kissing her."
That was finally a coherent stream of sentences, unfortunately, they weren't designed to make her feel better.
"How else would I know?" she asked, trying to make her voice strong, convincing. "Maybe you mentioned it before we started going out... while we were talking about Sterling?"
"Huh," he made. He seemed to think about it. "I guess."
"You know, kissing different people does feel different."
"Yeah, I know. I mean, you're only the third girl I kissed but I know that. The first girl was one of my cousins, we were very little then, I don't really remember it but there's pictures," he explained.
"We've all been there," April said with a little smile. "But you don't feel like... what? That I'm kissing you the right way?"
Was that it? He didn't like kissing her? She didn't do it right? Maybe because she really wasn't into it? Had he actually caught on? He showed more perception than she'd thought possible.
"You don't seem... into it," he said. "I mean... that's how it feels."
He looked at her, his face so open. He was a sensitive guy, even if he wasn't very intelligent. She underestimated his sensitivity.
"Is this about me not wanting to sleep with you, Luke?"
"No, no, not at all. I'm good with that, I told you. I wanna wait. Having sex... it complicates things. It destroys things. I... I wanted to wait with Sterling but... then we didn't and it destroyed us."
April couldn't look at him any longer. He was so sincere, so vulnerable. And she knew that using him was wrong.
Unseeingly, her gaze swept the school grounds while her mind searched for something to say. But the only thing that seemed imprinted on her mind right now was the fact that Luke had been with Sterling, had made love to her and she herself had to consent herself with the memory of kisses and light touches, their thighs rubbing against each other.
She felt tears brimming behind her eyes.
"There's..." Now she herself started to stammer as her voice felt raw und unused. She cleared her throat. "There's someone else. Someone I liked and... we didn't go as far as you and Sterling, we just had a few days... last summer."
"Oh," Luke made. "But you're still, like, into him?"
A beat then April nodded. It didn't matter that he used the wrong pronoun, it was still true. Except for the summer part.
"Well, that explains it. And, I mean, it's totally okay. I mean not that you have feelings for someone else while we're together. I mean..."
"You mean that we both seem to still have feelings for other people and that we probably shouldn't be together. Is that what you mean?" She looked back at him.
He hung his head as the truth of what she said hit him. When he looked up again his eyes were very sad.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm trying very hard not to think of her. But she's just in here." He tapped his head but then his hand lowered to his chest. "And in here."
His heart. Of course, she was in there. April could never doubt that as Sterling was in hers as well. And she knew that she'd been the one to screw this up and she shouldn't pine over her, shouldn't be worried for her. But she was. She missed her so much, it seemed like a physical pain. One that made her cry at night.
"I understand," she said. She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "Can we still be friends?"
He smiled. "Of course. There's nobody I'd rather talk about Star Wars with than you. A true friend you are," he said in his goofy Yoda-voice.
She couldn't help smiling at that. This was better. It felt so much more natural than having to pretend that she liked kissing him.
"So are you, friend," she said.
He leaned forward and engulfed her in his massive arms. She patted him on the back.
"You mind if I... like, go back to the game? I really wanted to..."
"Go!" she told him and he got up. "Luke?"
"If you hear anything... about Sterling, will you tell me? I'm worried about her too, you know?"
His eyes widened in surprise. "Yeah, sure. I'll tell you. Not that I think Blair will tell me, she's a tough nut to crack when she's angry."
"Maybe you could text Sterling herself?"
He looked sheepishly at his feet. "I don't know. I didn't behave... very gentleman-like. Not to her and not to you either."
"You did okay. I think she might want to hear from you."
She nodded and gave him an encouraging smile.
"Maybe. I've written another song. Maybe I'll make a video and send it to her. Thanks, April." He swooped down and gave her another hug. Then he moved away.
April saw him go with a sigh. She knew it was better this way. But she would still have to explain to people - mostly Hannah B. and Ezekiel - why she and Luke broke up. She shuddered. These things were never going to be easy, were they?
Maybe it would have been easier to hold Sterling's hand at the lock-in after all.