April closed her bedroom door firmly but kept standing in front of it. Her breathing was labored, her fists were clenching and unclenching for several minutes with pent-up energy. She had to remind herself to unlock her jaw before she started grinding her teeth.
How often would she have to go through an evening like this? How long until she would break under it all?
She heard the buzzing of her phone in her backpack and hurried to get it. She answered before she even got to sit down.
"Sterl?" she asked, not having checked if it was her and then panicking for the millisecond it took the caller to answer.
"Yeah, hey? Is this a bad time?"
"No, I'm sorry. My dad thought it was a good idea to have some father-daughter quality time tonight. I couldn't get to my phone earlier or I would have texted you."
"That's okay," Sterling said but she didn't sound okay. Her voice barely held any of her usual verve, her energy which was so much part of her personality seemed missing.
April looked at her bedside clock, it was already after nine. Sterling had probably spent the last hour trying to call her.
"It's not okay. I've been spending the last hour playing Battleship with my dad. Do you know how much I hate that game?"
There was a short chuckle at the other end.
"I finally feigned a headache just to get away."
"I take it things between you and your dad are still not okay?"
"How could they be? Even without what you and Blair told me, I'm not an idiot. I know who my dad is, I've known for a long time. But until now... he was also just my dad and we were close. I never..." She stopped herself, unsure of how to continue. Her feelings toward her dad were all contrary and confusing and she'd avoided thinking too much about them. She had tried to be happy that he was back but it was hard to overlook that his coming home had cost her a different kind of happiness.
"I'm sorry. You probably don't want to hear about it and to be honest, I don't want to talk about it. It's too..."
"Exhausting," Sterling offered the perfect word, then sighed.
"Yes. For you too?" April asked.
April finally crawled onto her bed, pulling her favorite stuffed animal into her lap, a frog named Leaper. He wore a bow-tie and her hand started playing with it automatically.
"You know you don't have to talk about it with me. We could just... talk about other stuff."
"No, I... I actually want to talk about this. I keep turning it inside my head, all of it, and I'm so tired. I can't wrap my head around it. If there's anyone to help me understand it's you. I mean you're the smartest person I know."
April couldn't help smiling at this. "Well, I'll try to help of course. I might not be enough, though. Have you thought about talking about it with a professional?"
"I have... thought about it, that is. I'm not sure about it. It seems so personal and so... confusing."
"I get that," April assured her. "I haven't told my psychiatrist about my dad either. I haven't yet found the right words to put it into a coherent narrative. And it got even wilder with your involvement in his arrest."
"Have you told him? Her?"
"It's a woman."
"Have you told her about us?" Sterling asked.
April had suspected that she was going to ask. "I've told her about you before, not in a nice way, I'm afraid. And then I told her that we were... maybe patching things up. But it hasn't really progressed beyond that. I had to stop seeing her with... well, my mom got into crisis mode after dad was arrested and I had to... step up, I guess."
"I am so sorry," Sterling said. She sounded close to tears.
"It's hardly your fault that my dad is a woman-beating philanderer."
"But me arresting him didn't make your life any easier and I didn't even stop to think about that."
April sat up straighter, she wanted to make the following as clear as possible. She steeled her voice. "Listen to me. My dad got himself into trouble and by extension his family. None of that is your fault, you did what you had to do, both you and Blair. I think you were brave to confront a man who already beat another woman. I have yet to find that kind of courage in myself. All right?"
"Yes, but I'm still sorry. You deserve better."
April took a deep breath, her lips were drawn into an ironic half-smile. "He's my dad. I can't imagine having another."
There was silence at the other end, it sounded almost eery and April thought for a moment that Sterling had hung up or that their call had somehow disconnected. But then she heard Sterling take a shuddery breath. She was crying.
"Did I say something wrong?" she asked.
"No," Sterl whispered but the crying didn't stop.
April's mind was racing. She was thinking about what she'd said that made Sterling react this way. What the hell had happened to Sterl that night?
"I wish you were here right now. I wish you could hold me," Sterl said, her voice still low.
April froze. What was she supposed to say to this? And how could she tell Sterl that she didn't want that too? Because she did.
"I know you don't wanna hear this. I'm sorry, I just... everything's been so hard since that night."
"Tell me," April said.
April could hear Sterling move on her bed, probably trying to get more comfortable. Then she blew her nose.
"Still there?" she asked when she picked up her phone again.
"I'm always here," April assured her.
"That's good to hear. You might not feel that way when you've heard it all, though."
"I doubt that very much. Just tell me."
"Yeah, well... I don't know if you know this, if Luke told you. He followed me outside that night after you went back inside. He basically asked my permission to date you."
"Luke told me that he asked you if you were all right with us dating. I'm not gonna lie, it hurt to hear that you were okay with it," April confessed. A sad, little laugh came over the phone to her ear.
"I was hardly okay. I wanted to tell him to keep his hands off my girl. But I knew you wouldn't appreciate me outing you so... I told him what I thought you both wanted to hear. It tore me up inside, believe me. And what I did next, I... I'm so ashamed. I kissed him. I don't know what I was trying to prove, April, I'm sorry."
She hadn't known that, Luke hadn't told her about it. Typical, in a way. Men were such omitters, not liars exactly, but they loved to leave important information out.
"Do you hate me?" Sterling asked in a small voice.
"Hardly. I can't say I'm thrilled to hear you kissed him but... I can't blame you for acting that way. I know I hurt you, the way I treated you, it was awful."
"You were afraid, I get it."
"Don't be so understanding. I was a real bitch, that whole thing with making you seek me out and then shooting you down in front of those seniors, it was wrong. And I'm sorry about it."
"Neither one of us was their best that night, were we?"
"I guess not but I started it. The last time we talked I told you I had your back but then I betrayed you. I'm a Judas."
Sterling sighed. "I didn't get it then, April, but I do now. Coming out isn't easy and I shouldn't have pressured you. You weren't ready and... I mean, I had only come out to Blair, and I'm still there weeks later. I haven't talked to anyone else about my feelings for you... well, I mean, things were kinda crazy and..." She stopped herself from rambling. "What I'm saying is, I get it. It was too soon."
"I could have handled it better, though."
"No doubt. We both could have. Hindsight, you know?"
April chuckled. "Yeah." She pulled Leaper to her chest like he was a substitute for the one she really would have liked to hold. She waited patiently for Sterling to continue.
"When I kissed Luke, my mom stopped right in front of us in dad's truck. At least, I thought it was my mom. Things get a little complicated from here and I'm probably not telling it right."
"I just gonna have to ask a lot of questions then. Unless you don't want me to, then I'll just listen and hold my questions to the end?"
"I don't know. If it's too confusing you gotta ask, I guess."
And Sterling started telling her story.