Blair was lying on her bed after dinner. She felt too full and sluggish and she'd pushed her shirt up to her boobs to rub her belly.
"I need to cut back on those gummy bears," she berated herself. "Which reminds me." She pushed her shirt back down and grabbed her phone from her nightstand.
Two quick taps and she put the phone to her ear.
"What do you want?" a grumpy voice greeted her without actually greeting her.
"Somebody's skipped dinner again. Still on that diet?"
"I have never been nor will I ever be on a diet. Just 'cause I'm trying to cut back on the calories a little doesn't mean I'm dieting."
"Okay, Mr. Grumpy Carbs. But just for the record, I think you're the perfect weight and girth. You're like a moody black Santa Clause."
Bowser was grumbling something under his breath, as he was wont to do while talking to her. Blair was smiling to herself.
"Was there something particular you wanted, Blair, or are you just trying to drive me insane?"
"Something particular, a favor."
"Never heard of it. Night, Blair," Bowser said.
"Don't hang up, please. This is important. It's about my family and I figure since Sterl and I were the ones catching him for you, it's basically your fault he's after us now."
"After you? What're you talking about? Who's after you?"
"John Stevens," Blair answered and let Bowser stew in the question on exactly how he was after them for a moment. "April told Sterling that her father is spreading nasty rumors about our family."
"He is, is he? Huh, that little bitch-- uh, I mean--"
"Don't worry, I've heard that word before. You haven't corrupted me."
"Right, so what's the favor. And just for the record, assassin isn't among my job descriptions."
"I would never, not even where Stevens is concerned. I was wondering if you could check him out. Like, not sexually but financially. Whether he's doing shady stuff?"
"I'm a bounty hunter, Blair, not a P.I." Bowser sighed. Blair imagined him rubbing his beard while thinking.
"I know but you do background checks and I'm just asking you to be a little more thorough with Stevens."
"And what would your friend April say to that?"
"Well, she's more Sterling's friend than mine but she's not too thrilled at the moment that her dad almost destroyed her family over his anger issues."
Bowser was grumbling but Blair sensed that he would say yes. He had a hard time saying no to her at all and this was bounty hunter-related, something he was good at.
"All right, I'll do what I can. Anything particular you want me to look into?"
"There was something about a colleague of his, Thomas, that's his last name. His son Ben went to school with us until 6th grade then there were rumors going around about his dad and the nanny and his parents almost divorced. They moved and next thing Stevens got a promotion. From what I understand April thought that the promotion might have been for Thomas if that thing hadn't happened."
"Urgh, what a piece of work," Bowser said.
"I know, he's the worst. I mean... he's not really the worst, is he?"
"'Fraid not. But he's still not getting away with messing with you. I'll look into him."
"Thank you, Bows, you're the best. Right after Ster, that is."
Bowser grumbled again, he seemed embarrassed.
"It's awfully quiet on your end, where are you?"
"Stakeout," he gave back.
"Damn, I wish I could stakeout. I mean it's boring as shit but I still wish I could do it again. A big fish?"
"Medium-sized, I'd say. And it doesn't look like he'll show. They'll be closing soon."
"Well, I hope you get your medium-sized fish for Yolanda. Ooh, that sounds kinda naughty. Hey Yolanda, how do you like this medium-sized fish I caught you?" Blair made her voice deep for that last part. "Ooh, it's just the size I like, big boy," she imitated Yolanda just as badly.
"Good night, Blair."
"Night, Bowser," Blair said smiling. She put her phone down. "He's so into her."
April was sitting on the couch, her chin rested on her knee and she was looking over at her dad who was having a ball watching some old show. She herself had drowned out the tv with her thoughts. They were always the same these days: how could he? why wasn't he feeling remorse? was her dad a bad person?
She barely kept from sighing, it didn't do to sigh in a household that tried to bury so many open secrets.
Her phone buzzing beside her on the table pulled her from her gloomy thoughts. She bit her lip so as not to smile too brightly over who was texting.
Can I call you? Math problem.
Since Sterling knew that April had her under Hannah B she tried to make her first texts reflect that.
"Hannah B. She needs some help with math. May I go?"
"What would that girl do without you?" her dad asked.
"Find someone who's almost as good as me at explaining things to her, I presume." She smiled at her dad when he gave her permission to go upstairs with a wave of his hand. Her smile faded as soon as she was out of his sight. She ran up the stairs, meeting her mother halfway up.
"You're going to bed?"
April was clutching her phone. "Hannah B texted. Math again."
"That girl," her mom sighed. "Not too long, though, it's a school night."
"Of course," April agreed. She kissed her mom on the cheek. "Night, mom."
April raced up the remaining stairs and into her bedroom. She closed the door quietly but deliberately behind her and remained standing there to listen for a few moments, just to make sure. Then she flung herself on her bed and dialed Sterling.
"Hey," she said, rolling her eyes when she noticed how breathless she sounded.
"Hi. Is it a bad time?"
"Not anymore. I was dying of boredom keeping my dad company while he watched something that we last watched when I was little."
"Well, that doesn't say much, you're still pretty small."
April's mouth fell open while she heard Sterling chuckle.
"Cheeky," she said. "You seem in a good mood, though."
"Hm, I don't know. When I came home, I was so exhausted I actually took a nap. But I feel better now."
"Well, it makes sense that all these people would exhaust you after three weeks with only your family as company."
"Yeah, that's what mo...m says. It's still weird, though. But the day was okay. I was wondering."
"Yes?" April asked.
"About that debutante thing?"
"Are you really doing that? No offense, but you don't really seem the type. Not to mention, that you didn't seem too enthusiastic during lunch."
April sighed. She sat herself up against her headboard and pulled Leaper into her lap. Her fingers fussed with his bow-tie. "My parents want me to do it," she simply said.
"And you don't?"
"I guess it's fine," April said but her voice revealed that it was anything but. "Honestly, I agree with Blair on this. Girls shouldn't be paraded in front of guys like that for any reason. And, of course, they'll expect me to date and..."
"You don't wanna date."
"I don't want to date guys," April corrected. "Not that I could date girls... or a girl. Not yet." She knew she sounded disheartened but she couldn't put any kind of hope in this since she was talking to the girl she'd actually want to date. And it wasn't possible.
Sterling didn't say anything.
"Anyway, I know Ezekiel would be my escort if I asked him. I'm not sure my parents would approve of him, though."
"Because he's black?" Sterling asked and she sounded shocked.
"Because everyone knows he's gay. I mean, they don't KNOW know but everyone suspects. And what would that say about me?"
"That you're serious about your studies and an independent woman who needs no man?"
This made April smile. "Well, that's not the kind of message you send at a debutante ball but nice try."
Sterling chuckled. "Stupid traditions, huh?"
"Okay, what would have to happen for you to enjoy that ball? Like, what if you got to plan it, what would you change?"
April thought for just a moment. "Uh, I'd start with the dress code. It would still be formal wear but everybody would be allowed to wear what they wanted, no matter what kind of style or color."
"What would you wear?" Sterling interjected.
"I think... I think I would like to wear a tux, in baby pink. Even the shoes, no socks, though." She couldn't help laughing.
"You'd look amazing," Sterling said.
"How about you? What would you wear? If you were to go that is?"
"Hm, I think maybe something in hot pink to compliment your suit. A dress. Something a little sexy but still... decent, y'know?"
"I can just see it," April said dreamily. She noticed it too late and felt heat crawl up her neck. She cleared her throat. "I mean, I bet you'd look wonderful."
"We would look wonderful," Sterling corrected.
"You'd want to go with me?"
April swallowed hard at this. Why did they have to do this? Dream about something that could never be?
"Would you want to go with me?" Sterling asked.
"So badly," April confessed.
They fell silent for a while. April was picturing them in her mind, Sterling at her arm, they would walk along that catwalk with everyone staring. But it would be okay, it was her fantasy and she could picture them smiling. The Wesleys, the Burtons, and the Holmeses... no, not her parents. Even in her fantasy, her parents wouldn't smile at such a sight.
"Are you planning on going? To the real thing, I mean?" she asked.
"I haven't really thought about it. I mean, I do agree with Blair on the whole thing. And I'm not even sure we'll be members still when that happens."
"I get it."
"Yeah. I mean, Debbie and Anderson haven't said anything to us yet but money is tight." Sterling sighed.
"You could come as my guest," April said without thinking then remembered that her dad would never allow that. "I mean, sorry, I wasn't thinking. You couldn't. But maybe as Ezekiel's date? His dad would love that."
"Ha, yeah. But he's probably going with Hannah B, isn't he? If not with you?"
"I'm not sure. Hannah B seems to have a crush on him so--"
"Oh, poor Hannah."
"Yeah, he needs to do something about it or I might."
"Always taking care of everyone," Sterling said, she sounded proud.
"Just the people I lo... like."
"And the people you not-so-secretly despise but are on your team, like me at the Forensic competition."
April smiled. "I didn't... well, I didn't exactly like you."
"You're being too modest. By the end of that day, I bet you wanted to drive me over."
April took a deep breath. "I... actually I... I wasn't sure what I was feeling for you that evening. I mean, I was furious but not just with you."
"Does that have anything to do with you touching me, grabbing my arm?"
Heat shot into April's head. How the hell had Sterling caught up on that?
"Because that was when things changed for me," Sterling answered the unasked question.
April didn't know what to say to that. She felt like they had already said way too much this evening and yet... she wanted to know how it had felt. Why Sterling had kissed her that day in Ellen's office? What had possessed her? And had it been worth it?
"I still want you," Sterling whispered. "I can't stop that. Every time I see you, every time I just hear your voice, I feel this electricity under my skin and I just--"
A loud noise came over the line.
"What the... Blair get out!" Sterling shouted. "I'm on the phone," she then said, quieter, a little contrite. "Give me ten minutes, okay?"
It took all this time for April to get her heartbeat back under control because it had been ready to jump out of her chest with what Sterling had said.
"Sorry, April. That was Blair. She just burst in here."
"Uh, right. I mean, it's late anyway. We should probably..."
"What do you want me to say, Sterl?"
Silence on the other end. April knew what she wanted to tell Sterling, that she felt the same way, that she wanted her more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life.
"You know, it's fine. You're right, it's late. We see each other tomorrow at school. Goodnight, April."
A beat. "' Night, Sterl."
And then she hung up.