Sterling had never in her life felt so strange coming down the stairs of her childhood home. She had hardly left the house during the last three weeks, even sitting in the yard gave her anxiety. But she wasn't going to leave the house now, she was just coming down to talk to her parents - or, ideally, talk at them. She wasn't really keen to have them answer her and she knew that thought made her a total brat.
She stood in the doorway, listening to a low conversation between them. From the kitchen came the appetizing smell of her mo... Debbie's lasagna. Comfort food.
She stepped into the room. Anderson looked up right away, he had his arm around his wife and was turned that way. Debbie was looking at the tv but turned when she noticed Anderson's focus.
"Sterling," she said. She grabbed the remote and turned the tv off immediately.
"Hi," Sterling said.
"Hi, honey. Are you okay?"
Sterling shook her head. "No, I'm not. I need help."
"Of course, what can we do?" Anderson asked eagerly. He was ready to jump up and build a survivalist's bunker in his backyard if she asked for it, she was sure.
"I need to talk to someone. A professional, a psychologist." She'd googled the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist now and had decided what she needed. "I'm not sure how it works, though. If we have insurance for something like that or not."
"Not at the moment, no. But sure, if you need to talk to someone like that, your mom can make you an appointment. Right, honey?"
"Sure, I'll do that."
Sterling nodded. "It's probably expensive but we could take some of the money Bowser gave us, right?" Bowser had split the reward for Dana's capture with the Wesleys. Sterling didn't think that she'd ever touch it but it was probably poetic justice if she used it for her recovery.
"That's not necessary, Sterl. That money's yours and Blair's. We can pay for it," Anderson said but Sterling didn't miss the look Debbie cast over her shoulder at his words.
"If it's mine then I'd rather pay for the therapy myself," she said, making her voice hard.
"Whatever you want, Sterl," Debbie said. "Would you prefer to talk to a man or a woman?"
Sterling hadn't thought about that. She raised her shoulders. "I don't think that matters."
"I'll look into it first thing tomorrow."
"Thank you. Is dinner almost ready?"
Sterling saw her mom's eyes glaze over with tears at the question. She almost felt bad for her, in fact, she fought hard not to feel bad. A lump formed in her throat while Debbie couldn't help smiling.
"Another ten minutes. Do you want to set the table?"
"Tell Blair to help you," Anderson added hopefully.
Sterling just nodded and turned toward the stairs. When she was half-way up she took a deep breath and sat down. She was shaking inside.
"Hey," she heard from behind her. It was Blair. "You okay?"
She shook her head and heard Blair come quickly down the stairs. She sat down beside her and lay her arms around her. Sterling held onto her.
"I'm here," Blair said. "We're all right."
Sterling wasn't sure how true that last statement was but she hoped that they were. She wanted them to be.
During dinner, Blair tried to direct the conversation - mostly away from Sterling because she had asked her to.
"How's the job hunting going, dad?"
"Ehhh, I'm not sure. I've got some good prospects but the recession, you know. Hardly anyone's hiring. I might have to go back to your grandpa's."
"That sucks," Blair said.
"Language," Debbie admonished.
"Well, it does for dad. He should be able to do what he wants not what he has to do."
"Oh, like you did with that bounty hunting?" Debbie said, her voice sharp but then she became aware of Sterling's presence and she pressed her lips together.
"Exactly like that," Blair answered. "I loved doing that." She turned to Sterling. "We both did, and we were good at it. Better than at serving yogurt anyway."
"You always put too many toppings on, it drove Bowser nuts."
"I also basically ate my paycheck in yogurt. God, I miss that place," Blair said with a wistful sigh.
"Don't take the Lord's name in vain, Blair."
"I don't. When I use His name, I'm always addressing Him."
"He doesn't need to know about your love for yogurt, honey," Debbie argued.
Sterling looked at her. Had she always been this nitpicking toward Blair? "I think it's nice. I mean, usually, all He gets are requests. It must be a change to have someone just tell Him random things." She smiled at Blair.
Blair smiled back. "God, I love rainbows. They rock," she said.
They giggled. Under the table, Blair took Sterling's hand and squeezed it. They both knew that Debbie would usually admonish them but she seemed tongue-tied now that Sterling was starting to talk to them again. Sterling wondered if she should exploit this power but decided against it - mostly.
"The lasagna is very good," she said.
"I know it's your favorite. Well, I guess it's all our favorite."
"I love your Thanksgiving turkey, oh, and those mini-quiches. And your gravy is to die for," Blair chimed up. She loved food, period, none of them was surprised.
"Well, we can't really have Thanksgiving turkey when it's not Thanksgiving, right?" Debbie teased Blair.
"Yeah, but why not?" Blair got back. "The turkey would be much cheaper outside of the season and you can get all the other stuff without problem... hmmm." She seemed to seriously plan on having Thanksgiving turkey outside of Thanksgiving. Possibly sometime the coming weekend.
"It's still a little bit too warm for a whole turkey dinner, Blair," Anderson said.
"Yeah, maybe. November really is the perfect time for it."
A phone chimed with a text. The whole family stopped and looked around, phones were forbidden at the dinner table.
"Oh, that's mine," Sterling said, remembering that she'd put her phone in her hoodie's front pocket after she'd answered April's last message. She pulled it out now and read the new message.
How did it go with your parents? Have you talked to them yet?
She typed an answer, oblivious to Anderson awkwardly clearing his throat and Debbie just staring at her. It's kind of still going on. We're having dinner. I'll tell you later.
"Who're you texting?" Blair asked to relieve the awkwardness.
"April," Sterling simply said. She was done lying about little things, or maybe she was done lying period.
"The Stevens girl?" Anderson asked.
"Yes, we're friends again."
"Really?" Debbie asked, she sounded judgmental and wasn't trying to hide it.
"Yes. She's going through a lot with her family too."
"Well, John Stevens is a... felon." She seemed to want to make a distinction between him and them.
"Technically, he was cleared of all charges, not that that's in any way fair to the woman he beat up but also not surprising considering he's a white, straight male in a Southern state."
"Uhhh..." Anderson made but he seemed to feel that he didn't have a leg to stand on with his family on this.
"I'm not sure his daughter would be the best of influences right now. And isn't she dating Luke?"
"Not anymore, they broke up. And how can you blame April for what her father did? If anything, she's one of his victims, after all, she has to live in the same house with him, have him make rules she has to obey while he can go out having intercourse with sex workers at any time. How's that fair?" She'd raised her voice, her breathing was labored. It was suddenly hard to get air into her lungs.
"Hey, Sterl, breathe. It's all right." Blair was rubbing her back.
Sterl nodded, trying to focus on her breathing. She had to close her eyes because the stunned faces of Debbie and Anderson weren't helping her relax. When her breathing was back to normal, she opened her eyes again.
"I didn't think of it that way. I apologize," Debbie said.
"April..." But that was all Sterling could get out. She felt exhausted and shaky again. She stood from the table and left the kitchen to go up to her room.