"Hey, you two. Did you have a good weekend?" April stopped in front of Hannah B and Ezekiel's table.
"My cousin's quinceanera was amazing. I wish I could have another one."
"A time machine would be required for that," April commented.
Hannah B looked at her questioningly but then it dawned on her. "Right, because I'm sixteen but then that wouldn't really change if I went into the past, right?"
"That's true." April smiled at Hannah B.
"Anyway," Ezekiel said with a measuring glance that went from April to Hannah B and back. "I've been busy all weekend with homework. I did, however, put in some time to perfect my new dance routine."
April clapped her hands. "When are we going to see it?"
"One of these weekends... when my dad isn't around. I'm going to put on a special show just for you guys. If you want."
"Oh, we want," Hannah B said with an emphasis on 'want.'
April thought that she should probably have a word with Hannah B at some point about the fact that Ezekiel wasn't into her. On the other hand, he should probably tell her himself - it was his crush anyway, not really her problem.
My psychiatrist would be so proud of me, right now, giving up control, April thought to herself. But then she called herself back to the conversation.
"I can't wait," she said to Ezekiel. "I missed you both at the Club this weekend. We had lunch with your parents, did they mention that?"
"My mom told me. She said you seemed... out of sorts."
"Your mom is very perceptive. I wouldn't have chosen to go to the Club this weekend but my dad insisted," April said with a grimace. "It's was... not good. Did your mom tell you anything else? About what they were talking about at lunch?"
"Not that I recall, no." Ezekiel gave her a probing look but she just smiled at him.
"I only came back yesterday evening. My parents didn't even mention they'd been at the Club," Hannah said, seemingly disappointed that she'd missed whatever had been going on despite the fun she'd had at her cousin's birthday party.
"It wasn't really anything to write home about. I was just wondering, parents are sometimes such gossips," April said with a dismissive gesture.
"Look, who's back!" Ezekiel suddenly said and April turned.
There, in the doorframe stood Sterling Wesley, with Blair. They were talking, then Blair patted Sterling on the butt in good baseball fashion and sent her into the room. Sterling's eyes seemed wide and frightened for a moment but then they found April among her staring classmates and she seemed to settle down. She came over.
April could barely contain her excitement. Sure, they'd just seen each other the day before under not entirely pleasant circumstances but having her back at school was different. And having Sterling come up to her like it was the most natural thing in the world was positively electrifying.
"Hey," Sterling said shyly when she joined them, standing next to April, letting her hair fall into her face.
April got the feeling that Sterling held back a little. She could have gone to talk with some of her other friends but she came over here and she seemed unsure whether her decision would be rewarded or punished.
"You're back," Hannah said.
"Yeah, I'm back."
"Are you doing all right?" April asked, noticing that her voice was a lot softer than she'd intended it to be. She put her hand on Sterling's arm, rubbing it, but then got self-conscious about it and pulled it back.
"Yes, I'm all right. We came early, sat in the car for a while for me to get acclimated."
"It's good to have you back," Ezekiel said.
April turned her head to him and he gave her a little smile. She raised an eyebrow but he just smiled pleasantly back.
"Yes, it is," April confirmed. "I wanted to... well, I just wanted to say that Sterling and I are friends again. I hope you're all right with that, not that it would change anything if you weren't." She felt, she'd made too much of this moment but she had planned to address this point today and wasn't able to pull back now.
"That's so great," Hannah immediately enthused. She lay her hand over Sterling's which had not been April's intention and she just barely kept from slapping at the offending appendix and snap a sharp 'not for you.' Instead, she gave Hannah B a stiff smile.
"I think that's... wonderful," Ezekiel said still with that knowing look in his eyes, watching April. She had to keep an eye on that. Or maybe she didn't, she wasn't sure. Maybe she could just try and trust a little?
"All right, everyone. Sorry, I'm late. Can everyone sit down please?" Ellen called them to attention.
Sterling and April sat down at the last free table, both delighted that they would be sitting together.
"First order of business, welcome back, Sterling. We missed you so much, it just wasn't the same without you here."
"So where were you?" Franklin asked a moment later.
"Now, Franklin, that's not a way to ask this. If you want to know something like that you might ask after class and Sterling can decide to tell you or not. It's not nice to put people in a spotlight like that. You might want to apologize."
Franklin took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Sterling."
"That's all right. There's been an unfortunate incident on a hunting trip I went on with my family and... I needed some time to recuperate," Sterling recited the official version.
April breathed easier knowing that Hannah B and Ezekiel didn't know about her father's rumor and that they wouldn't spread it around, unknowingly rather than maliciously.
"Were you shot?" somebody asked and April squinted her eyes across the room, finding Lorna looking a little too interested.
"No, I wasn't shot but I also... I don't really wanna talk about what happened, like in detail."
"Well, that's perfectly fine. We should get back to our studies anyway. Finals are only weeks away and I think we should..." Ellen went on with class in her accustomed fashion.
April just couldn't concentrate on what she was saying. Sterling was back and she was sitting right next to her. She looked over at her, let her eyes take her in, felt a smile tug at her lips. And then, under the table, she reached out her hand to Sterling, grabbed her hand that was rubbing nervously at her thighs.
"It's okay," she said softly. "I'm so glad you're back." She let her hand hold Sterling's for a while, it was a little indulgent but nobody was paying any attention to them, not that April had looked around to ensure this.
Sterling was looking at her. "Thank you. This is almost--"
"Excuse me, Sterling," Ellen interrupted.
Under the table, April pulled her hand away.
"I know you've been gone a while but you'll need to wait to catch up until the break. I need you all to concentrate now."
"I'm sorry," Sterling said. "It won't happen again."
Ellen nodded and smiled at them. "I'm so excited for you to be back, too. But work before pleasure. Now..." She resumed the lesson.
April felt questioning fingers at her hand a moment later, still not entirely focused on Bible Studies. The fingers pulled at her until they were holding her hand, fingers entwined. April shut her eyes, took a deep breath before she looked over at Sterling. They exchanged a glance, acknowledged, settled down in their friendship before their hands unclasped and they went back to being attentive students.