They find a vacant table in Washington Square Park, where Hope all but flings open the top of the pizza box in her hands as they sit down. “Just because it’s overrated doesn’t mean that it’s not the best in the city,” she insists for what might be the fourth time.
After leaving Ella’s apartment, they had made their way down to Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village to pick up a whole pie, which Hope had sworn up and down would ruin all other pizzas, past and future, for Amy. “You know, if anyone’s going to overhype this stuff so much that I’m disappointed when I finally try it, it’s you,” Amy teases.
It’s new and strange, this feeling that she can joke with Hope -- really, say anything to Hope if she wanted. She’s still processing the fact that their traded confessions from earlier had upended any kind of dynamic that they might have had, allowing them to build a new one together. But the freshness of it emboldens Amy where she had expected it to frighten her, and the fact that Hope seems to be returning her openness in kind only encourages her more.
Hope rolls her eyes, grabs a piece and folds it, leaning over the box eagerly. She looks down at the pizza then up at Amy pointedly. Two can play at that game -- Amy rolls her eyes right back at Hope and carefully tears at the crust to take a piece for herself. She picks it up and taps it against Hope’s in a sarcastic ‘cheers’ before lifting it to her mouth and taking a bite.
She can feel Hope’s expectant gaze on her as she chews, and even though it is the best pizza she’s ever tasted, she decides to let Hope keep guessing for a few more seconds. She swallows. “Well, it’s okay…”
The split second Hope’s expression drops, the corners of Amy’s lips turn up into a mocking smile.
“You fucking jerk,” Hope admonishes through a laugh and food in her mouth. She tosses her piece back into the box and dusts her hands against each other before reaching for her can of San Pellegrino.
Amy giggles and follows suit. “It’s really good,” she admits. “You were right, best I’ve ever had.”
Hope shakes her head as she leans back in her seat. “If you’d have said anything different, I would’ve had to call this whole thing off. Send you right back to JFK.”
They take their time finishing their meal. Amy, who hadn’t had anything to eat that day other than the complimentary sandwich and bag of pretzels on her flight from LA, could have finished the entire box by herself in no time at all, but she consciously takes her time for a few reasons. One: as newly comfortable as she was feeling with Hope, there was no way in hell Amy was going to let her see her at her messiest; two: there might have been storms over the Atlantic but it was a lovely day in the city, perfect for sitting around in a park with a pretty girl; three: this feels acutely like a first date, and Amy doesn’t want to rush it.
“Alright, your turn,” Hope says later, as they’re both picking at the remnants of their food, her eyes scanning the park thoughtfully. They had taken to people watching, which quickly evolved into making up backstories for anyone who managed to catch their eye. “That guy, there--” she points toward an older man who is sitting alone on a bench, looking thoughtfully toward the large fountain at the center of the park. “What’s his deal?”
Amy has to lift herself up from her chair and crane her neck a little to get the view of him that Hope has. Her eyes narrow a bit and she hums as she studies the man and considers. “Okay,” she says decisively, settling back in. “So that guy -- we’re gonna call him Marcus -- used to be this Wall Street guy in the 80s, lived and worked downtown, was every kind of American Psycho yuppie stereotype you can think of. But one day, he decided that his job was just sucking the life out of him because capitalism--”
“--and so he quit. He had no idea what he was gonna do next, he just knew that he had to get out of there. He resigned quietly on a Tuesday afternoon, and he came up here to try to clear his head and figure things out. He sat down on that bench and looked over at the fountain, like he is now, and he saw the love of his life -- we’re gonna call him...”
“Him?” Hope interjects, eyebrows raising with pleasant surprise.
“Yes, him, I’m rejecting heteronormativity, Hope. Don’t interrupt.” Hope chuckles and holds up her hands in surrender before gesturing for Amy to continue. “We’re calling him Isaiah. So Isaiah was an artist, and he was hanging out here trying to sell some of his prints, make some money just like any of them--” she points toward the many characters circled around the fountain, some of whom they’d passed on their way into the park earlier -- a man at a tiny table with a fountain pen and stack of papers, wearing a sign around his neck that says 'Ask me for a poem;' a group of dancers huddled together; a lone violinist; a woman spreading original works across a tarp on the ground, entertaining passerby who stop to look. “Marcus looked over there and saw Isaiah, and he didn’t know what came over him, but he got up off the bench and walked over to him to ask him about his art.
“They ended up talking for a while, and eventually Isaiah closed shop and they went back to that bench to keep talking. They sat for hours and hours and it got later and later, and they’d barely even touched but Marcus knew they were in love--”
“Very gay of you.”
“Shut up. Anyway, Marcus had just derailed his entire future and he should have been freaking out about it, but he wasn’t. He felt completely fine because he knew that this person would change the rest of his life for the better. So it got past midnight, the park was about to close and they didn’t want to get in trouble with the cops, so they agreed to meet back there on that bench a week from that day.”
“So, did they?”
“Well, okay, so Marcus came back a week later, and he sat down, but he ended up waiting for hours. Isaiah never made it. The thing is, though...Marcus never thought he’d been stood up. He was so sure that they were in love that he would’ve believed any other explanation. Maybe something happened to Isaiah, or he tried to get back all the time but something always got in the way -- but Marcus still believes completely that he’s coming. So on the same day of every month, he comes back and he just sits, and he waits.”
It’s only when Amy finishes that she looks back at Hope properly. She’s leaning forward, her chin resting on her palm, head slightly tilted, and she’s looking at Amy like she’s just figured something out about her. Her gaze, usually so intense, has softened around the edges. “I think that might’ve been your best one yet,” she says gently. “So do you think Marcus is right? Is Isaiah still coming?”
“Of course he is,” Amy all but scoffs. “What, you don’t think so?”
Hope shrugs. “All that time and he never came back? I don’t have enough faith in people to think that it wasn’t intentional. And, like, who’s to say that the feelings weren’t one-sided? Maybe Isaiah just said yes to coming back because he wanted to be nice.”
It’s then that Amy thinks she’s figured something out about Hope too. “I don’t know if you really believe that, though,” she says slowly.
The look on Hope’s face is one of genuine surprise, but there’s none of the defensiveness that Amy had expected. “Oh, yeah?”
“I mean...you gave me your number at my house, right? But you didn’t ask me for mine. There was no guarantee that I’d use it, but you trusted me to.”
Hope nods thoughtfully, letting her hand drop from supporting her chin and looking at her shoes as they scuff against the ground. “Fair enough. If it weren’t for all of this, though...was I right? Would you have used it?”
Amy’s been asking herself the same thing. She bites down on her bottom lip a little. “I don’t know. I can’t know, really. But even if this hadn’t have happened...maybe you’d just have to have a little faith in me. Even if it took me a little while to get back to you.”
Hope studies her again, and Amy comes to the happy realization that she feels the impulse to shrink away from it less and less. “I didn’t know you were so poetic,” she says, and it makes Amy laugh. “You thought up that whole story off the top of your head? Maybe that’s your true calling -- poetry, creative writing. I don’t think you’d be half bad at it.”
Amy raises a hand to wave off the sentiment modestly. “I’m just...gay and well-read.”
That gets a laugh from Hope, maybe the biggest that Amy has heard so far. It’s more full-chested and uninhibited and it’s contagious. When they finally come back down to earth, Hope gives Amy a meaningful look and starts to gather up the now-empty pizza box and cans. “I think I know what our next stop should be.”
When they get to the Strand, Amy stops and stands in the doorway, her mouth agape. “Shit.”
She’d heard of the Strand, of course, seen pictures, but it’s even more than she could’ve imagined. She tries to take everything in quickly. The high ceilings, the white columns supporting them, the fluorescent lighting, the hardwood everywhere -- it’s all very ordinary, it could be anywhere, but thousands and thousands of books she can see from her single vantage point alone set it apart from anything else.
“Ames,” Hope says somewhat awkwardly, pulling at her arm to get her to move out of the entrance, smiling apologetically at the people who were evidently behind Amy and waiting for her to move out of the doorway.
She would’ve given more thought to the fact that Hope had just used a nickname for her if it weren’t for the fact that she was in one of the biggest and most famous bookstores in the world. When they’re both standing over to the side and out of the way of foot traffic, Hope stills by Amy’s side and looks out in front of her as well. “It’s pretty awesome, huh?”
It’s an understatement, but Amy nods. Suddenly, she steps in front of Hope and turns on her, her expression incredulous. “You tell me we can see the city for 75 bucks and then you bring me here?”
Hope laughs, her chin dropping to her chest. When she looks up, she shrugs. “I told you it’d be a challenge, didn’t I?”
Amy shakes her head and turns around again, surveying the room. “Where do we even start?”
She feels fingers slipping through hers, and she looks down at them as Hope steps forward so that they’re side by side. She pauses for a second, as if waiting to see if Amy will reject the touch, but when she doesn’t, Hope smiles slightly and starts forward, tugging Amy along with her. “I know exactly where we start.”
Together, they walk through part of the first floor and up a flight of stairs, both frequently getting sidetracked by pretty covers and intriguing titles along the way. Amy watches a smirk spread on Hope’s face when she spots a sign marking the section she had in mind. She lets go of Amy’s hand to surge forward and grab a book from one of the stacks, holding it up in front of her face and just below her eyes for Amy to read the cover.
“‘I Am a Lesbian,’” Amy reads aloud, her tone unimpressed. Behind Hope she read the sign accompanying the books in the section: “Erotica.”
Hope snickers as Amy takes the book from her. It’s an old, yellowed pulp fiction novel with two women on the cover -- one seated, the other standing, gently caressing each other’s hands. “You know, I hate to be a buzzkill, but it’s slightly problematic that they’re conflating lesbianism with eroticism,” Amy says, turning the book over in her hands.
“I know,” Hope agrees. “But this is where I learned what the word ‘lesbian’ meant, and also I thought that you could learn a few things from one of these.”
Amy looks up at Hope with just her eyes, and watches her shoulders shake with silent, suppressed laughter. Without a word, Amy raises the book and hits Hope on the top of the head with it as her unamused expression turns into a joyful one. Hope gasps loudly with mock offense, reaching to grab the book out of Amy’s hand a split second too late, as Amy’s already yanked her arm back to keep it out of Hope’s reach.
An admonishing ‘shhhhhh’ cuts through the floor, and both Amy and Hope have enough humility to immediately close their mouths and stifle their giggles. Hope grabs the book from Amy without struggle, smoothly replacing it with her hand, their fingers lacing together again. She places the book back where it belongs. “Okay, okay, my joke’s played itself out. We can go wherever you want now.”
Amy rolls her eyes as she turns around, all but yanking Hope away from the erotica section. “You made me come up here just for that dumb bit?”
They traverse the stacks together, leaning over and under and across each other to reach for books that catch their eyes, only ever letting go of each other’s hands when the walkways are too narrow for them to walk alongside each other. In the politics section, Amy finds a book about Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s shared years on the Supreme Court and immediately thinks of Molly, which then sends her into a spiral.
It had been a few hours since she left the airport, meaning that this marked the longest period of time she’d gone without talking to Molly during daylight hours. Molly didn’t know that she’d left the airport with Hope, she didn’t know about Ella’s apartment, she didn’t know about this little adventure that she’d agreed to.
Panicked, Amy lets go of Hope’s hand to reach toward her back pocket for her phone.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s just, um-- it’s been, like, four hours since I texted Molly, and that kind of never happens, so is it cool if I just,” she gestures to her phone and then her ear, trying to hide that she’s bordering on frantic.
“Amy,” Hope says, in a certain way that she does when she’s cutting through Amy’s nervousness. “Of course it’s cool. I’m gonna-- I was gonna check something out a few rows over, so just come find me when you’re done, yeah?”
Amy breathes out a little huff of a sigh and nods. “Yeah, for sure.”
As soon as Hope walks to the end of the aisle and turns a corner, Amy opens her phone, ignoring the many missed message and call and voicemail notifications, and pulls up Molly’s contact. She paces as the phone beeps on the other end, but doesn’t have to wait for long before Molly’s voice comes in loudly through the line. “Amy! Jesus, there you are. What the fuck?”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” Amy frets, her free hand moving to her hip. “Okay, a lot’s happened, I need you to not freak--”
“--I checked your location earlier and saw you were in a park? And then I worried that you might have been robbed or kidnapped or whatever and you weren’t picking up--”
“Moll! Molly!” Amy interrupts forcefully, bringing Molly to a halt. She sighs. “I’m sorry for not texting you back. I just...you will not believe what’s happened in the last few hours.”
Molly stays quiet on the other end, but Amy can practically see her expression. Leaning forward, eyebrows raised -- an unspoken ‘go on, I’m listening.’
So Amy explains everything as quickly as she can, which really means that she doubles back and adds unnecessary detail whenever she feels like she’s not telling the story well enough. Molly, to her credit, remains relatively quiet throughout the whole thing, only interjecting with a question once or twice but otherwise only humming in response to what Amy is saying.
“So yeah, we’re at the Strand now,” Amy finishes unceremoniously.
There’s more quiet on Molly’s end for a few seconds, before she finally breathes out, “Wow. You’re right, that is a lot.”
“So what do you...what do you think?”
“I think...that you need to stop talking to me and go find Hope.”
“What? Moll, no, I want to talk to you--”
“Ames. Look, you like her, don’t you?” Amy nods, even though she knows that Molly can’t see her doing it. “So go spend time with her. All of this is...fucking insane, but don’t take yourself out of it for me. You and I have all the time in the world, okay? I promise that if I’m ever feeling neglected, I’ll tell you.”
Amy sighs, bringing her hand up to her forehead. “God, this is crazy.”
“Think about that later. Go find her, and make sure that you let her know that I will do unspeakable things to her if she hurts you.”
Amy would’ve laughed if she didn’t think it was true. “I love you, Moll.”
“Love you too. Now go.”
They hang up, and Amy takes a moment to collect herself as she pockets her phone. It all feels vaguely familiar; it’s like it’s the last day of high school again and Molly’s urging Amy toward the girl she has a crush on at lunch. But the biggest differences are also the most important ones: the girl is Hope, not Ryan, and there’s no question about how the girl feels about Amy.
Amy finds her a few rows over in the photography section, flipping through a photo book. Hope looks up as she approaches, returning Amy’s sheepish smile with a reassuring one. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, all good. Molly says hi, and she wanted me to tell you that she’ll do ‘unspeakable things’ to you if you hurt me.”
“Sounds about right,” Hope replies through a chuckle. She moves to put the book in her hands back on the shelf, but Amy intercepts it.
“What’s this?” she asks, opening it to the title page.
“Vivian Maier, my favorite photographer,” Hope says, narrating the name that Amy’s looking down at. “She’s sort of what inspired my whole backpacking thing -- she took a two year trip around the world in the 60s, just taking pictures everywhere. And she’s the best street photographer...like ever, but her work wasn’t really known until after she died, which is a fucking shame.”
Amy flips through the pages slowly, examining the black and white pictures. “I didn’t know you were into photography.”
“It’s what I’m gonna go to school for, so…”
Amy’s head snaps up to look at Hope curiously. “Really? That’s so cool.”
“I’m glad you think so, because my dad definitely doesn’t.” Hope plays it off like a laugh, but Amy can’t help but notice that the few things that Hope has mentioned about her dad haven’t been very positive. She decides not to mention it for now, though.
“And you’re going to Tisch, right? So you’re, like, an actual photographer. Do you do stuff like this?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far...” Hope says modestly, not making eye contact. For all of her comfort giving compliments, it seems like she’s just as bad about accepting them as Amy is. “Um, yeah, some street and a lot of portraits, plus a little bit of landscape.”
“Will you show me some of your photos sometime?”
Hope looks at her then, lips parted slightly in surprise. Had no one ever asked her that question before? “Yeah, I mean...if you really want to see them.”
“I do. I’d love to.”
“Then, yeah. Of course.”
Amy closes the book and tucks it under her arm. “I think I’ll get this. I needed a book for the plane anyway.” It’s a lie -- she’d probably brought too many books for her own good, but she’s a romantic. When books are recommended by other people, they become even more magical than they already are. To know a book someone loves is to know a part of that someone too.
“Okay, then. Show me yours,” Hope says, looking charmed. Amy gives her a puzzled look in return. “Your favorite book, what is it? Maybe I need one for the plane too.”
After a quick consultation with an employee, they find what they’re looking for on the basement level. Amy picks a copy of it off the shelf and hands it Hope carefully, like it’s precious -- which, to her, it is. Hope takes it from her and reads the words on the front cover aloud. “‘All These Wonders’?”
“Right, so there’s this thing called The Moth, it’s this organization that sets up live storytelling events all over the country where anyone can come and tell true stories about their lives,” Amy explains before Hope can ask. “These are some of the best ones transcribed. My favorite’s this one kinda near the middle…” she reaches for another copy and flips through it until she finds the page. “This guy was in that power plant in Japan during the big earthquake there, do you remember that? And there’s one from this woman who used to be David Bowie’s hairdresser. Oh, and there’s one from Hasan Minhaj too…”
She feels Hope move closer to her, choosing to look over Amy’s shoulder at the copy she’s holding instead of trying to find the right pages on her own. “I brought this with me during that week Model UN went to Amsterdam. My parents couldn’t chaperone, and it was the first time I was really going to be away from them. I mean, I’d been to sleepaway summer camp and stuff, but it was never far from LA, and this was just...I was going to a completely different continent without them. I had Molly and the rest of the team, but I still felt alone. But...I read half of this while I was on the plane, and then the other half while I was in the city, and it sort of just made everything feel okay. Like...God, it’s cheesy, but it’s like I had all of these people, all of these stories. I didn’t feel alone anymore. You know?”
She looks up to find Hope’s eyes already on her. Her mouth opens and then closes, opens again. “I...really want to kiss you right now.”
Amy blinks quickly, surprised. “Yeah, um. I would be okay with that--”
Hope leans down to press their lips together without another word.
In the time between Nick’s party and now, Amy had turned the memory of their encounter in the bathroom over and over again in her head, dissecting it down to each second, so many times that she’d forgotten the bigger picture. She’d spent so much energy on picking apart motivations -- Hope’s and her own -- and thinking about what it all meant or might mean that she’d forgotten how it actually felt.
She does know that this kiss is slower than any they’d shared in the bathroom; Hope is kissing her like they have all the time in the world rather than less than 24 hours. Amy blindly sets the book down on the nearest shelf so that she can turn and wrap her arms around Hope’s neck. She feels herself raising up on her toes instinctively -- anything to get closer to Hope’s lips.
She feels herself bump gently against the shelf, Hope’s free hand moving onto the small of Amy’s back as their mouths move against each other a little faster, a little greedier, pressing closer--
Someone clears their throat loudly, and the two of them jump apart. Amy looks over to find a blushing employee with a cart full of books standing at the end of the aisle, not looking at them directly. “Um, I’m really sorry you guys, but I kind of need to...get past you.”
Amy and Hope look at each other -- Hope’s lips are shining and kiss-swollen, her eyes are alight with adoration -- and the two of them dissolve into laughter. Amy takes Hope’s hand and leads them out of the aisle, just barely managing to stop laughing as they slide past the employee and offer half-hearted ‘sorry’s.
Once they’ve made it to a more open space, they stop to catch their breaths, and Amy takes a small step backwards just to get a better look at Hope, who has the book cradled to her chest as she takes in deep breaths between giggles.
Amy can’t help herself; she steps forward again to lean up and peck Hope’s lips, feeling like she needs to finish what they had started. “We should get out of here before we get kicked out,” she says quietly as she pulls away.
Hope nods, a lingering smile still on her face. “Did you have something in mind?”
Amy considers the question for a second. “How far is the Met?”