If you thought being the only recognizable gay kid at a Christian high school was easy, Ezekiel Aloisius Holmes could tell you another story. It wasn't like he had ever come out to anyone, he was merely the most stereotypical representation of a gay man and as such an easy target.
At least he had been an easy target up until the day April Stevens had stepped up to his table and asked if she could sit with him. Ever since then she put the fear of God in anyone who dared mock Ezekiel, call him a fag, or even just as much as look at him sideways.
She'd made him part of her entourage, as she felt she needed one. And he couldn't agree more because she was fabulous and everyone should see it. That was in the beginning before Ezekiel used his formidable powers of perception and started wondering if the fabulous front of April C. Stevens wasn't more glitter than actual diamonds.
If you got to know April better, you'd soon start to wonder if you knew her at all. Because April had secrets, and she kept them so close to her chest that even as one of her closest confidants (Ezekiel would never use the word 'friend' for his alliance with the school's Queen B), Ezekiel could merely catch glimpses of them.
Like that time she organized the school's first Straight-Straight Alliance. It had shocked Ezekiel at the time. While he never had come out, even to her, he was certain April knew he was gay. But then one day, she'd come up to him and announced her plans for this nonsense bigotted club where everyone was supposed to talk about their straight sex experiences (not that many had any or wanted to talk about them if they had). Ezekiel had been appalled, April had been determined to make it work, and Hannah B (freshly recruited into April's inner circle) had been eager to please.
In the end, it turned into a club where closeted teens talked about how normal they were and Ezekiel made his first experiences with a couple of boys who would otherwise have avoided him like the plague. And April had smiled like she'd somehow made all this happen for him. And sometimes Ezekiel wondered if she hadn't.
There was something behind that smile of April's. She could be at the top of her game, ruling her underlings to her heart's content, making snide remarks to cut down the weaklings, and uplift her favorites. And she would look upon the carnage with that smile - and to Ezekiel it would seem wistful, even sad.
Her preferred target was, of course, Sterling Wesley. And for good reason. Sterling Wesley was one of those girls who got everything and not just on the surface. She had brains, looks, and the natural charm of a world leader in the making. She was a twin but never in any danger to get outshined by Blair in brilliance or popularity. And at every turn, April felt challenged by Sterling's uncanny ability to achieve what April had fought hard for - without so much as wanting the achievement in the first place. Like Fellowship Leader.
April had almost frothed at the mouth when Sterling made Fellowship Leader without having as much as secretly campaigned for it. There was more behind the whole Sterling-rivalry, of course, but that was before Ezekiel's time. Right then, it had been about something April had wanted that had fallen into Sterling's lap. And she wouldn't let it go until Sterling was outed in front of the whole school as a slut and gave up Fellowship Leader.
Ezekiel had approved of the result, not so much of the method. But there was something else about that whole Fellowship Leader debacle - it didn't satisfy April. Afterward, she'd been testy for weeks and even rubbing it into Sterling's face and expelling her from Fellowship hadn't made her happy. That was the first time he's had noticed an undercurrent between April and Sterling.
He'd asked around and found that April and Sterling had once been friends; Ellen was a well of stories that reached way back into most of his classmates' lives. It was hard to believe but then maybe not really. The kind of... not hatred exactly but rivalry and friction April exhibited toward Sterling could only have been come from an emotional bond. Looking back and seeing them as friends made so much sense to Ezekiel.
He had been surprised, however, when this old friendship had reared its head later this year. He could pinpoint the very day this had started happening: the Forensics Tournament. He himself hadn't been there, April didn't need an amateur audience at her debates. But she sure let them know why she'd lost that day: Sterling Wesley, it had all been her fault. And yet, she was unusually tight-lipped about details. From the way, she guarded the specifics it almost felt like this tournament had somehow linked into the whole disaster with her dad (of which Ezekiel knew several versions, unsure of what had actually happened).
Ezekiel would never forget that day April walked into the class just before it started with Doritos in her hair, looking frail and disorganized (a very uncharacteristic look for April), and Sterling had - like a golden retriever puppy - begged for her attention and goodwill. Ezekiel had tried to warn her not to mess with April, he himself had risked - and received - a bad grade to steer clear of her but Sterling... she'd begged for April to kick her.
And April hadn't.
Even thinking about it now, weeks later, it baffled Ezekiel. He would probably have forgotten about it if April and Sterling's relationship hadn't changed after that. And it hadn't been apparent to anyone else, on the surface April and Sterling tried to appear as the enemies they once were. But to Ezekiel's attentive eye, something else had been going on. At first, he'd thought they were slowly becoming friends again, like it was happening against their wills. But that wasn't quite it.
And then he'd observed them one day in the hall. It was like a movie playing in slow-motion - Sterling was smiling, couldn't seem to help smiling, and she pushed her hair behind her ear; April leaned forward, her nervous energy completely focused on Sterling, like she wanted to reach out but held back. They were talking and yet they weren't because they were... flirting!
Ezekiel had almost swallowed his tongue at this revelation. Upon closer inspection, he'd affirmed that they were aware that they were flirting - with each other. It had left him breathless. When Hannah B had touched his arm, trying to get his focus back on their conversation, he'd almost bit her head off. But he hadn't told her why. He would never!
He'd thought about it all, April's interest in him, the way she defended him, the Straight-Straight Alliance, the way she surrounded herself with a gay guy and a girl she could never be attracted to because of her inferior intellect. And Sterling who was her match in everything. It made perfect sense: April was gay and she knew it! And she would never come out while in high school.
April had built herself a cocoon, a perfect pupa. At some point, she planned to emerge from it a beautiful gay butterfly but for now, she was content to have walls built around her, a shield that warded off any suspicion. Only, Sterling had somehow ducked under that shield and left April vulnerable.
Ezekiel hadn't been sure then if that was a good thing. He wondered if he should give April a hint - that her gay was showing. But he hadn't. She seemed too happy. And wasn't that the goal? To be happy with who you were? He'd felt that she needed her support then, not his protection.
Sure, it had somehow backfired (Ezekiel wasn't sure why or how) but for a time, the first time since he'd known April, she had been perfectly happy. It made him sigh just thinking about those few... days? It couldn't have been more than a week.
And then came the lock-in and April had arrived at it more guarded then he'd ever seen her. Her cocoon had turned into a cage. One that even Sterling hadn't been able to slip into. From the tears he'd seen on her face as she ran down a hall, he could say that she'd tried.
And then Sterling hadn't come back to school. April had been worried, beside herself but not showing it. Instead, she had tried dating Luke. Tried, because every time they had spent any amount of time together, April had gotten bored, or annoyed, or both. Watching April and Luke kiss had actually been disturbing and Ezekiel avoided seeing them cozy up as much as he could.
Ten days of this and Ezekiel had been ready to talk to April, thankfully, it hadn't come to this. She and Luke had broken up. That was a few days ago. Ever since, April had been glued to her phone, texting, though trying not to appear so. She was still guarded but she was also... dare he say happy? Ezekiel had no doubt that Sterling was at the other end of all those texts, even though he'd caught the name 'Hannah B' appear on the screen of April's phone while that same person was talking to them both at lunchtime.
He didn't know what had happened, though he's made sly inquiries. Usually, there wasn't anything you couldn't find out through the Willingham grapevine, well, anything HE couldn't find out through it. But nobody had caught on to April and Sterling yet. And maybe that was best, really.
Being gay at a Christian high school wasn't for the faint at heart, Ezekiel knew that better than anyone. And he envied anyone who could get away from the looks, the insults, the secrecy he had to endure.
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