If people called April Stevens high-strung it was because she was. But she felt that she'd never been as tightly wound than she was at this very moment.
It had all started so innocently: While she was texting in her room last night - with Sterling, who else? - her dad had surprised her with the announcement that they would go to the Country Club the next day. All of them, the whole family, there was no way out of it. He hadn't put it that way but that was the underlying message. He made it out as a fun time playing golf.
April was not opposed to the exercise - she hadn't been on the green since her dad's arrest - but the prospect of a family fun day at the Club made her nervous. It was the first time they were to show their faces there since the arrest.
Considering her own reticence and shame while driving over in the car, she was positively baffled at her parents' demeanor; they seemed almost boisterous. She'd never associated that word with either of her parents and she took it as a bad omen.
Another bad omen was that her dad got tired of golf fairly quickly and wanted to rejoin her mother at the club after having played only nine holes. They did and the scene was devastating - at least to April. It seemed, her mother had already warmed their group of friends up and when her dad appeared, with April in tow, there were a lot of good-natured handshakes and pats on the back - for him.
April felt like she'd taken a wrong turn into the Upside Down, but then this was Trump's America and she shouldn't have been all that surprised that this little group of mostly white, privileged people made a man who'd been freed of the charges of beating a prostitute their hero. She was just glad that the Wesleys weren't here to witness this, especially Sterling of course. She was low-key glad that her father had rules about the use of her phone when they spent time together or she might have been tempted to text her.
"You must be glad your father's back at home, April. It must have been so devastating having your poor, innocent father being taken away."
"It was very unpleasant," April answered the only acknowledgment of her presence. It wasn't even a lie, it just wasn't the answer to that exact question.
Meanwhile, her mother described in great detail her own suffering while her husband was innocently incarcerated. She didn't mention the shame at the accusation - because, after all, it was all nonsense and she knew that! - just the feeling of how wrong it all was, of bereavement, of lack of trust in the law. It made April positively sick.
But not as sick as her dad sitting like a little king among his friends, legs spread as if any of this had anything to do with his masculinity, telling everyone how faulty the legal system in this country was if an innocent man could just get arrested like that. And on such outrageous charges!
April breathed through it. She thought of Sterling, of everything she'd told her of the night at the lake house. Of the video of her dad's arrest after he'd beaten the woman he'd paid to have sex with. She felt deeply ashamed, not just of every circumstance of his arrest but of him lying about it now. This was no way to behave for a Christian, none of it honored his faith.
Most of their friends who'd joined them for the story of John Stevens' wrongful arrest dispersed after a time but the Burtons and the Holmeses sat down to have lunch with them. April sat between her parents barely listening to anything that was being said until a name mentioned made her look up, adrenaline pumping through her veins.
"Yes, I heard about that," her father was saying. "Does anyone know anything concrete about it? Was she badly hurt?"
"Not that I heard," Mr. Burton said.
"Hannah B?" April asked, already knowing that they weren't talking about her but kinda hoping that they weren't talking about the person she thought they were talking about. The one whose name always gave her a shock of adrenaline.
"No, dear, Hannah's all right. We were talking about Sterling Wesley," Mr. Burton assured her. "Everybody's saying she was hurt on a hunting trip."
"Oh, right. That's what I heard, too."
"You're not friends with her, are you?" Mr. Holmes asked.
"No, we're not."
"April kind of hates her. Girls and their feuds, you know?" her dad said condescendingly. He put an arm over the back of April's chair, smiling down at her.
April answered his smile like the good girl she was with her hands in her lap and her ankles crossed. Inside, she was shaking.
Mr. Burton and Mr. Holmes snickered.
"I just hope she's all right. It's been a while since she's been at school, right? How long now, honey?"
"Three weeks. Since the lock-in," April said as if that event was the only reason she remembered it so well.
"Right. It's funny, though, isn't it? That everybody knows that it was a hunting accident but nobody knows any particulars. Somebody besides the family has to have been there. Where's Anderson usually hunting?"
"Panola, probably. It's closest."
"None of you were there that weekend?" her dad asked but both men shook their heads.
"I think Creswell might have been there. He's out almost every weekend during season," Mr. Burton said.
"He's also Anderson's best friend. It's not like he would tell anything," her dad implied. "I just... I can't help thinking... I mean, Debbie doesn't hunt, right? I hear Blair is a decent shot but... not like Sterling herself or Anderson. And if they were really alone, I mean, who shot her?"
April looked at her dad. Was he saying what she thought he was saying? She quickly looked away before he could notice her staring at him and took a sip of her ice tea.
"Nobody said she was shot, John," Mr. Holmes said with a mild smile.
"Yes, but three weeks?"
"Could've been a twisted ankle. You know how girls always wear the wrong kind of shoes," Mr. Burton joked.
"Not the Wesley girls, they've been hunting since they were ye-high," her dad argued. "It's not like he did it on purpose. I mean there's not a more mildly-mannered man in all of Georgia than Anderson Wesley, we all know that. An accident."
Burton and Holmes looked thoughtful. April had a hard time not chiming in and telling them that it hadn't been a hunting accident at all but then she would have to explain how she knew, not to mention that the whole story of why Sterling wasn't at school was a secret. April had to think fast, she couldn't let this stand with these men thinking and possibly gossiping about Anderson Wesley shooting his own daughter.
"She was at home the whole time," April said. The men looked at her. "I heard Blair tell someone at school. She wasn't at the hospital at all which she would have been if she'd been shot, right?"
"That's a good point, honey. Maybe it was a near miss."
"But then she wouldn't be at home this long," Mr. Holmes said thoughtfully. April could have strangled Ezekiel's dad at that moment. Like his son, he was too damn observant sometimes.
"She must've had a shock," April's dad said. "If my dad nearly shot me, I would've had. But then my dad was... well, he wasn't a nice man like Anderson Wesley, let me tell you. If he'd taken a shot at me, he sure would've meant it." He was laughing good-naturedly at the expense of April's grandpa who, admittedly, was a racist bastard.
"I heard the Wesleys might have to discontinue their membership at the Club - money trouble since Anderson isn't working at the moment," Charlotte's voice could be heard around the table. It seemed the women had picked up the men's topic.
"I forgot about that. How long has Anderson been unemployed now?" April's dad asked.
"Couple of months. The old man vows he won't have him back unless he comes begging on his knees. I've talked to Deacon about business when I was last down at their end," Mr. Burton said.
"They say losing your job is just as stressful as losing a close relative these days," April's dad threw in.
The men were quiet for a while, thinking about this. April didn't like this at all.
"I'm sure, Sterling will be back soon, probably next week. She can't miss many more classes before she would have to redo this year and that's not something Sterling will stand for. She's almost as ambitious as I am," she informed them.
"Well, I'm hoping you're right, honey." Her dad patted her shoulder but his demeanor told her other things. He was proud of himself. He had no interest in diffusing any of the things he'd said about the Wesleys. This was his revenge on the girls who arrested him. And April couldn't do anything to stop the rumors that were about to make the rounds around the club.