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you wanna find love (then you know where the city is)

Chapter Text

Amy knows that she signed up for four years in the city as soon as her parents put down the deposit on her enrollment at Columbia, but John F. Kennedy International Airport is not endearing her to New York.

A collective groan passes through the crowd that’s gathered around the departure board as flight statuses slowly start to change, moving down in alphabetical order. Amy doesn’t have to wait long until the words ‘Cape Town’ flash a few times and the accompanying ‘ON TIME,’ in reassuring green, changes to a damning red ‘DELAYED.’ On another nearby screen, a weather woman on the BBC is pointing to what looks like a massive storm brewing over the Atlantic Ocean.

She fights the urge to throw her head back and groan in frustration, instead expelling a harsh breath through her nose and tightening her grip on the straps of her backpack. More and more people are starting to congregate around her, bumping into each other and squinting up at the boards as all of the flights heading east inevitably change their statuses. Thankfully, she’s toward the outer fringes of the crowd, and it only takes sidestepping and apologizing to a few people before she’s broken out.

Amy doesn’t necessarily believe in bad omens, but if she did, this would surely be one.

People around her are starting to pull out their phones, no doubt trying to get in touch with whoever is waiting for them wherever they’re going. Amy’s first instinct is to call Molly. Part of her really believes that the sheer force of her best friend’s will could dispel the storm and magically make everything okay.

She sighs before taking her phone out and sending a quick email to her program’s coordinator in case he hasn’t already heard. When she’s done, she blows out a heavy sigh before squaring her shoulders and heading to the ticketing counter, where she hopes she’ll be able to straighten a few things out.

She ends up standing in the line for 20 minutes, eyes on her phone the entire time as she alternates between texting Molly and emailing back and forth with the coordinator, who assures her that her host family has been notified that she’ll be arriving late, and to get back to him with the new flight information as soon as she has it. Molly does end up cursing the storm, personally offended about the delay on Amy’s behalf, but otherwise fills their thread with memes and cat videos to try to put a smile on Amy’s face.

When she finally steps up to the counter, she pastes on a polite smile and uses her best ‘adult’ voice. “Yeah, hi, my flight was delayed, so I’m just here to see what the next steps are?”

The woman behind the desk nods. “Of course, ma’am. Could I see your passport and the documentation for your original flight?”

Amy slides the documents across the counter dutifully, then a hand moves to rest against her forehead as the employee starts typing away furiously on her computer. Amy resists the urge to let out the frustrated sigh she’s holding in. The woman in front of her looks just as exhausted as Amy feels, and giving her a hard time for a situation that’s out of her control would be both uncalled for and unhelpful. It’s not like the weather is anyone’s fault. Her eyes fall closed for a second, though, as her fingers rub at her temple.

“You too, huh?”

Amy’s eyes remain closed, unsure if the question was for her, but her eyebrows and lips pull together in confusion at a vague sense of recognition of the voice. It takes her another few seconds, but she eventually opens her eyes and peaks to her right, in the direction of the sound.

There’s a familiar smirk being directed at her from a couple feet away. “Hope?” is standing at the next kiosk over, her arms crossed over her chest as she gazes at Amy, something of a mix between confusion and wonder on her face.

In response, Hope untucks a hand and raises it in a half-greeting, and she’s opening her mouth to say something when her attention is pulled away by the employee helping her. Amy watches Hope’s posture and expression shift. Her arms uncross and she steps forward to let them rest on the top of the counter which, because Hope is preternaturally tall, makes it so that she’s bent over a bit, hip cocked out. Her expression opens, becoming deliberately kind in a way that Amy hasn’t seen before. Hope nods along with what the clerk is telling her, moving her attention from the employee to a piece of paper between them.


The question is somewhat forceful, as if it’s been asked multiple times already, and Amy’s head whips back around. “Yes. Hi. Sorry.”

“It’s not a problem,” the woman reassures, but her tone is too saccharine for the words to be convincing. “So, I’m afraid that your flight has been delayed until tomorrow evening on account of the storms over the Atlantic. I have your new itinerary and tickets here. Just making sure we’ve got this right...Gaborone is your final destination, correct?”

Amy nods.

“Unfortunately, all of the hotels on-site here are already booked, but there are other options...”

The clerk keeps talking and Amy keeps nodding along but is only vaguely listening. She’s too focused on resisting the urge to look over at Hope again, so much so that she grips the straps of her bag hard to ground herself. It all seems relatively simple, though. Unprecedented weather, massive delays, a cursory meal voucher for a burger restaurant in the terminal, and so on. Eventually, the employee asks if there’s anything else she can do for Amy, who gives a reassuring smile and says, “No, thank you.”

She chances a look to her right again as she collects her documents off of the desk and her heart drops a little when someone unfamiliar is standing where Hope had been. She glances around the immediately surrounding area a bit, but the other girl is nowhere in sight. It was like Amy had hallucinated her.

With another smile, she grabs the handle on her suitcase and moves away from the desk, navigating through the maze of ropes to find her way out. She’s looking down at the meal voucher and wondering where the restaurant is when she feels her bent head bump lightly into a body. “Oh, Jesus, I’m so--” Her head snaps up, and she finds herself looking at a familiar smirk. So she hadn’t dreamed Hope, then. “Sorry,” Amy finishes softly, looking up at the taller girl, eyes wide. Had Hope been waiting for her by the exit?

“You’re fine,” Hope brushes off with a small chuckle. She takes a bit of a step back from Amy, hands moving to rest on the straps of her backpack, which is so big that Amy’s surprised it isn’t toppling her over.

She looks different, but Amy can’t attribute it to just one thing. She’s not wearing that dumb fringe jacket, for one -- it’s been replaced by a practical windbreaker over a Crockett sweatshirt -- her hair is up, her face is makeup-free. But there’s something else too. If Amy had to guess at it, she would say that Hope seems more relaxed than Amy has ever seen her, like she’s just realizing that there had always been tension in Hope’s shoulders because of the lack of it now. She looks...happier.

“I just wanted to say hey,” Hope says, cutting through Amy’s loud thoughts. “This is, uh, pretty weird, huh? I didn’t think I’d be seeing you so soon.”

“Yeah, this storm’s a bitch, right?” Amy asks, louder than she intended, and immediately winces both internally and externally.

Hope just chuckles again, good-naturedly, and nods. “Yeah, I was supposed to be on a flight to Dublin in an hour, but...”

“Dublin?” Amy’s eyebrows raise. “That’s awesome.”

“For a few days, yeah. And then Edinburgh, and London, and Berlin…a couple of other places, I don’t want to bore you with the list.” It seems like a brag, but Hope seems so genuinely self-effacing that Amy doesn’t think that bragging was her intention at all.

In just the couple of weeks since that night in the bathroom, Amy’s perception of Hope has shifted a million times over. For years, she was just this scornful, intimidating mean girl, and then for a whirlwind of a moment in the bathroom, she was none of those things. Since then, the Hope that exists in Amy’s head has morphed and shifted based on her many fantasies, which were in turn the product of her having dissected every word, every look that the two of them had ever directed at each other. Amy had thought she’d imagined every version of Hope there could be, but the real one was already surprising her.

“That’s awesome,” she says again, hoping that the repetition doesn’t make her seem insincere. “I’m kinda jealous.”

“Well, it’s no Botswana,” Hope replies easily.

Amy chuckles and shrugs. She feels the lull in conversation coming on almost before it even starts, so she scrambles to think of something else to say before it she lets it get awkward. “So, uh, when is your flight delayed until?”

“Tomorrow around 6.”

“Oh, cool, mine too. What are you...what do you think you’ll do until then?”

“My cousin lives in the city, she said that I could stay the night at her place. What about you?”

Amy reaches up to run a hand over her cheek awkwardly. “Oh, um...I was probably just going to camp out here. They said that they’re going to set up cots around the terminal when it gets a little later. I don’t really wanna start spending money before I get to Botswana, so I figure...what’s a day in an airport, you know?”

Hope’s expression morphs into confusion. “What? Amy, that sounds awful. And it’s more than a day, it’s like...30 hours.” She frowns for a few beats, as if considering something, then asks, “Would you want to come into the city with me? I’m sure my cousin wouldn’t mind someone else crashing. And it’s free.”

“Wha--? No, Hope-- I mean, it’s really great of you to offer, but I couldn’t impose like that.”

“You wouldn’t be. Honestly. Ella said something about staying over at her boyfriend’s tonight anyway. Seriously, Amy -- it’s selfish, but I can’t have leaving you here in this disgusting airport sitting on my conscience.” That gets a laugh out of Amy. “So, what do you say? Yeah?”

A voice that sounds like Molly’s is in her head then, saying, “Just say yes, bitch!

Amy wants to take a moment to process how absurd it all is -- she and Hope just happened to end up in the same airport on their way overseas, both of their flights delayed because of a freak storm, and now Hope’s inviting her to come into the city with her -- but she’s afraid that if she’ll spiral if she does. So instead of overthinking it, she nods, acquiescing to Imaginary Molly’s insistence. “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

A genuine smile reaches all the way up to Hope’s eyes. Inexplicably, Amy experiences the strange sensation of wanting to freeze it there. “Cool. Let’s go.”

Hope leads the way, weaving and pushing through slowly thinning crowds. There’s no hesitation to her movements, Amy notes -- not once does she stop to look up at a sign or information board pointing to the way out. Her strides, long thanks to her height, are sure, and Amy ends up scurrying to keep up.

They make small talk on the way down stairs and escalators -- how their flights were, how it was weird that they weren’t on the same flight, what they’d been doing in the few weeks since graduation.

“Mostly hanging out with Molly. And Gigi and Jared,” Amy says as they’re waiting under the airport for the next train into the city.

“Oh yeah, that happened.” Hope’s eyes are wide but distant, and Amy laughs, knowing she’s recalling Molly and Jared’s on-stage kiss at graduation. “I mean, everyone knew that Jared had a thing for Molly, but I don’t think anyone ever thought it was actually gonna happen. So, what? They’re in love now?”

“I don’t know about ‘in love.’” Amy laughs a bit. “He’s, you know...Jared. He’s still driving her a little crazy, I think. But they’re good together in a way you wouldn’t expect. They kind of...balance each other out in different ways.”

Hope hums. “Yeah, I can see that. And what’s Gigi like to hang out with?”

“Um, still a lot?” That makes Hope laugh, so Amy does too. “She definitely...livens things up. It’s kinda awkward because she’s always telling me that she’s, like, in love with me or whatever. Which is a long story.”

She can’t look at Hope when she says it, but she’s not sure why. The sound of the subway approaching, metallic and grating, almost drowns out what Hope says next, but Amy just barely manages to catch it. “Well, sure,” Hope says, her gaze unwavering. “Why wouldn’t she be?”

Amy’s wide eyes snap back up to Hope’s, but the other girl is already looking at the train as it whooses past them, sending up a gust of hot air and rocking the both of them a bit on the platform.

After the train slows to a halt, the doors slide open and Hope heads in first, making a beeline toward two open seats. She shrugs her backpack off of her shoulders and places it in her lap as she sits down before looking up at Amy expectantly. She’s completely at ease, as if she’s done this a thousand times before.

It takes a moment for Amy to follow suit, still trying to process what Hope had just said and what it might mean, but as soon as she snaps out of it she clears her throat and briskly makes her way over to Hope to sit next to her. She looks over at the sound of Hope unzipping her backpack, her long, ringed fingers reaching inside to pull out a book. “We’ll be here for a while, so make yourself comfortable,” she says.

Amy nods and moves to take out a book herself, but pauses when something occurs to her. “Do you come here often? I mean, it seems like you knew the airport pretty well, and now the trains.”

Hope’s hands zip up her backpack again before she places it on the ground between her feet. Her hands toy with a worn copy of a Patti Smith memoir. “I lived here until I was twelve,” she says with a slight shrug, as if it isn’t a total revelation. “And my dad still lives here, so I come back for holidays sometimes.”

“Oh, shit. That’s right.” She knew that Hope hadn’t been in LA since elementary school, like most of their graduating class, but she hadn’t remembered the specifics. Suddenly, she’s struck with a long-abandoned memory of a younger, gangly Hope standing in front of the classroom with her hands clasped in front of her, keeping her eyes down as the teacher introduced her as Hope from New York. “I’m sorry, I totally forgot.”

Dark eyebrows furrow as Hope frowns vaguely at Amy. “Why are you sorry?”

“I don’t know, it just kinda seems like a pretty basic thing that I should know about you.”

Hope shrugs again. “It’s okay, I didn’t mention it much. It’s not like I really ever had too many nice things, let alone...normal say to you in high school.”

Amy can’t really argue that. Though hurtful, it wasn’t that anything Hope had said to her through middle and high school was particularly scarring; in the grand scheme of things, they were annoyances at most. But she knows that if she hadn’t stumbled into the bathroom at Nick’s aunt’s house, she would’ve left high school thinking lowly but also little of Hope. Just a basic hot girl who would peak in high school.

A basic hot girl who is sitting right next to Amy on a subway car in New York City, who is thumbing the edges of the memoir’s pages like a flip book, whose lips are just barely parted. Amy wonders if she’s going to offer an apology. She wonders why she never felt like she was entitled to one before.

When Amy can’t think of a reply and Hope doesn’t continue, the two of them lapse into silence. Amy’s grateful for the sounds around them that fill the space -- the roar and clang of the train, people conversing, the automated conductor’s voice every time they come to a stop. She tries to focus on the book in her hands, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, but she can’t seem to digest the words, not while she’s so acutely aware of Hope’s presence.

On one hand, the girl next to her is almost a stranger, but on the other, Amy knows what she looks like almost completely naked. The thought sends a blush to her cheeks.

She had found herself thinking of the improbability of Hope being in the bathroom -- one of six in Nick’s aunt’s house -- that Amy had stumbled into, the improbability of the situation playing out exactly as it had. Their near-hookup that night shouldn’t have happened, but it did. By all accounts, they shouldn’t have been stranded at JFK International Airport at the same time, but they were.

The piece of paper with Hope’s number on it is sitting securely in a folder in Amy’s backpack. She wasn’t even able to bring herself to put it in her phone, figuring that the decision of whether or not to text her would have been even more painful with greater access to the number. She had tried to add some element of choice into whatever it was that was between her and Hope, but now she’s wondering if the universe has other plans.

She doesn’t know how long it’s been since she turned a page, but she hasn’t noticed Hope’s hands move at all either.

“This is 8th Avenue, 14th Street,” the polite, automated voice eventually says over the speakers.

“Oh, this is us.” Hope looks up, tucks her book away, and stands in what seems like the blink of an eye. Amy follows suit as quickly as she can, throwing her bag over her shoulder as the doors open.

Hope takes the lead in the same way she did in the airport, and Amy finds herself taking mental notes; after all, this will be her home in a year. She watches the way that Hope walks quickly and without any hesitation, her eyes fixed on the exit. She’s moving with the current, which feels more like a riptide to Amy.

When they make it up the stairs and onto street level, the first thing that greets them is an assault of sound, different from the subway but no less overwhelming. Amy can’t believe how much she’s forgotten since her college tour the previous summer, when she’d toured Columbia and Barnard. She and her parents had only been in the city for a couple days, but she wonders how she managed to forget how much New York City is in every way.

“This way,” Hope says, pointing down the avenue. “Ella only lives a block away.”

The walk there is quick but relatively quiet; both of them are lugging bags and generally exhausted from the whole ordeal at the airport. Hope eventually stops, her body sagging a little as she takes a breath before she raises a hand to press a few buttons on a call box.

“Hello?” asks a voice, garbled and barely understandable through the speaker.

“Ella, it’s me,” Hope says to the box. “We’re downstairs, let us in.”

“Who? I don’t know any ‘me’s.’

Hope rolls her eyes. “Come on, you ass, just let us up.”

There’s a giggle on the other end of the line, then a loud buzzing. Hope straightens her bag on her shoulders then opens the door for Amy. “She should’ve sent the elevator down for us. It’s the fourth floor,” she says, pointing down the narrow hallway.

The elevator doors open before Amy even reaches them. “I should warn you,” Hope says as she gets in after Amy. “Ella is...a lot. She’ll probably hug you, maybe tell you some embarrassing stories about me from when I was a kid. It’s all lies.”

Amy scoffs, amused. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The elevator doors open, revealing a woman who looks like she could be Hope’s sister. Similarly tall and gorgeous, a brunette with the same pouty lips, high cheekbones, perfect eyebrows. She looks absolutely delighted at the sight of Hope. “God, you get taller every time I see you,” she says by way of greeting before moving forward quickly to pull Hope into a bear hug. “I thought I’d have to wait until September for this.”

Confusion quickly clouds Amy’s expression — September? Hope would be starting her freshman year by then — but it’s quickly replaced by a smile when Ella’s attention is redirected toward her. “And you must be Amy. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“You have?”

She looks over at Hope, who is surreptitiously examining the wall behind Ella’s head.

“Of course I have, and it’s so nice to finally meet you. Come in, come in. Before the doors close on you.”

Once they’re inside, Ella frets around them for a bit, explaining where everything is, assuring them that they’re free to use anything in the apartment, running around grabbing her own things to throw into an overnight bag. Amy pays close attention, mostly noting the locations of everything so that she knows exactly where to put them back before they leave, while Hope talks back, contradicts, and prods Ella all the while.

They’re so comfortable with each other, and normally it might make Amy feel out of place, like she’s waiting for a way into a conversation moving a mile a minute. In this case, though, she only finds a warmth in it, in watching Hope interact with someone she is clearly so fond of.

Amy had known that Hope was witty (though that probably wasn’t the word she would’ve used to describe her in high school), but it was usually reserved for moments when something was so outlandish that it couldn’t help but be commented on. This is different; it’s a constant back and forth -- someone giving as good as Hope can give.

“I also got you guys a couple of MetroCards if you feel like you want to explore. There should be enough money on them to get you wherever you wanna go for the next day,” Ella explains when they’re back in the kitchen, pointing to the counter. “Normally, I’d feel bad about leaving you two alone, but this one knows the city well enough already and she’s already driving me fucking crazy.”

Hope raises a lazy hand to flip Ella off, but the smile on her face is fond. The older woman laughs but steps forward to wrap Hope in a hug again, squeezing her tightly. “Thanks, Ell,” Hope says, her voice turning sincere.

“Of course, squeak, anytime. I’ll see you soon, yeah? And Amy,” she pulls away from Hope to wrap her arms around Amy, whose eyes widen in surprise even as her arms raise to reciprocate the hug. “It was so nice to meet you. Make sure you keep Hope out of trouble.”

Amy chuckles nervously. “I will.”

After a quick, gentle caress of Hope’s chin, Ella presses her fingers to her lips before wiggling them at Hope and Amy in a goodbye as she collects her jacket from the chair and makes her way out. They wave after her and listen as the elevator doors open and close.

Silence fills the apartment for a moment, and Amy quickly becomes aware of how alone they are. It’s the first time they’ve really been alone since...well.

Hope cuts through the quiet by clearing her throat gently and moving toward the counter to scoop up a MetroCard. “Sorry about her. I did warn you,” she says, bending the card between her fingers.

“No, no, she was great,” Amy replies honestly. “You guys seem really close. It’s nice.”

“Yeah, she’s kinda like...the closest thing I have to a big sister. She always likes to talk about how she held me the day I was born.”

Amy smiles. “That’s sweet.”

Hope shrugs, but it’s half-hearted. “She hasn’t left me alone ever since.”

“I couldn’t help but notice...she said something about you being here in September…?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m going to NYU in the fall. Tisch,” Hope explains, though it comes out sounding like a question. She has, Amy’s noticed, an extraordinary ability of being able to say revelatory things without making them sound like revelations.

“Wow, that’s...that’s amazing.” Their senior class policy of not telling anyone else where they were going to college hadn’t been Amy’s idea, but this isn’t the first time she regrets having supported it. Though not quite as guilty of it as Molly, they both spent all of high school underestimating their classmates.

“You’ll be at Columbia, right?”

Amy’s surprised that Hope knows and it must show on her face, because Hope explains, “I know we had that whole policy, but when you said ‘New York’ I kinda figured it’d be Columbia. Couldn’t imagine you settling for anything less.”

It’s another sort of off-handed compliment, similar to the one from the platform at the airport. Amy is almost jealous of how easy it seems for Hope to give them. There are plenty of complimentary things that Amy has thought about Hope, but she can’t imagine being able to let them just roll off her tongue.

“Alright, so,” Hope says, snapping the MetroCard smartly against her free hand, “where to first?”

Amy blinks a few times, processing the question. “Um...I meant what I said back at the airport -- I’d really rather not spend any money before Botswana. If you want to go out, that’s fine. I’m totally cool with staying here.”

A mixture of emotions cross over Hope’s face in a second, the dominant one being confusion. “Wait, you were serious.” It’s not a question, but it is disbelieving. She pauses for a second, considering. “Okay, how about this. Today and tomorrow, they’re on me. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

Amy’s protest is immediate -- there’s no way in hell she’d think about taking Hope’s money in that way -- but Hope holds up a hand to stop it. “We’ll keep it cheap so that you don’t have anything to feel bad about. No more than...75 bucks for both of us. It’ll be a challenge.”

Amy is sure that the incredulity she feels is showing on her face. She opens and closes her mouth once, twice. Her fingers fiddle with each other, trying to take everything in. The offer, Hope’s demeanor, the situation as a whole. She hadn’t let herself dwell on it yet, and now it’s all catching up to her.

The question escapes her lips before she can stop it, “Why are you being so nice to me?” and she winces as soon as she hears herself say it. “It’s not that I-- that I don’t want you to be!” she hurries to clarify, “I really, really appreciate all of this. I just...we barely know each other. I mean, we’ve known each other for six years but also we kind of haven’t? I’m sorry, fuck, I-I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I just...I don’t know. I’m just confused, everything’s happened really fast, and I--”

“Amy. Amy!”

She stops, and her mouth opens and closes again. Hope looks sobered, the excitement from before gone from her expression. Amy is again struck with another odd feeling -- like the one from the airport, the one that made her want to keep Hope’s smile on her face for as long as possible -- of missing that giddiness, of wanting to ask for it back. “I’m sorry,” she says again.

“No, no,” Hope says gently. She puts the MetroCard back down on the counter and leans against it, her arms folding over her chest protectively. “You don’t have to be sorry. I can see how this is...a lot. I didn’t mean to overwhelm you.”

Amy takes a couple of steps toward Hope, hesitant. “I just… We haven’t really talked about that night. Honestly, I thought I’d have more time to think about it before I saw you again, but… I don’t know what any of it means, you know?”

Hope’s eyes are fixed on the kitchen tile. “I get that. I definitely didn’t think that I’d see you for a while either, but then I did and I just…” Her teeth wear on her bottom lip. “You make me...really fucking nervous, you know that?”

“Wha-- me?”

“Yeah, you. I--” She tilts her head up, eyes closing harshly as she breathes out a sigh. “Fuck, alright. Guess I’m gonna say it.

“I have...liked you...pretty much since the first day of seventh grade.” Hope says slowly, like she’s struggling through every word. “All of the shitty things that I’ve said to you are what my therapist would probably call ‘defense mechanisms.’” She chuckles self-deprecatingly at that, and she still hasn’t met Amy’s eyes. “I’ve kind of been dealing with a lot of stuff with my, like, sexuality, for a long time. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings. Obviously, I still don’t. But when I saw you at the airport, I just thought…I can’t keep being chickenshit when it comes to you. If I didn’t do something, I’d end up regretting it. It’d be another missed opportunity.”

At this point, Amy is barely clinging to her sanity. Everything coming out of Hope’s mouth is nothing that Amy could’ve even dreamt, much less seriously consider happening. There’s a lot to unpack -- Hope harboring feelings, Hope having a therapist, Hope dealing with her sexuality -- and all of Amy’s questions rush to her mouth all at once, wanting to be asked. “So, the bathroom…?”

“There was a reason I didn’t run screaming when you kissed me. Had it been anyone else, I definitely would’ve. It wasn’t just that I wanted to...see what happened after you kissed me, though of course that was part of it. I’d...only ever imagined something like that ever happening. I never thought it actually would, because I sure as hell wouldn’t have made the first move, but you surprised me. All of that shit about you being meek? I’m a fucking hypocrite, obviously.”

Amy doesn’t think that anyone besides Molly has ever been so honest with her, and the realization leaves her feeling weak, like the force of the truth has knocked something out of her. She takes another step toward Hope, less hesitant now. “You could’ve said something,” she says gently.

Hope laughs, but it sounds sort of broken. “There are so many reasons I couldn’t. Some of them are real, some of them I just made up in my head, but there was always at least one. I wanted to say something, all the time, but I...I just couldn’t.”

She’s sounding more and more insecure by the second, so Amy closes more space between them and tugs at Hope’s wrist, urging her to uncross her arms. She acquiesces easily, and Amy twines their fingers together before she can start second guessing herself. She doesn’t know why exactly it was her first instinct; maybe it’s the fact that whenever she’s upset she just wants someone to hug her or hold her hand, maybe it’s the fact that she just really wanted to hold Hope’s hand.

“Thank you for telling me all of that,” she says, meaning it. The look on Hope’s face is the same as the one when they met eyes at the airport -- confusion and wonder in equal parts. “You definitely had me fooled in high school,” she teases, hoping to lighten the mood.

It gets a chuckle out of Hope, so Amy counts it as a win. “Yeah, I’m a really good actor, right?” She looks down at their linked hands, squeezing them lightly. “I’m sorry about all of that, though. Everything I said...there’s no excuse.”

“I won’t tell you it’s okay, but...thank you for apologizing. It sounds like you were going through a lot, and I can understand that.”

Hope nods. “I do wanna say too, though, that...I don’t want you to feel obligated to feel any kind of way toward me because of this, or because of that night. It doesn’t have to mean something if you don’t want it too. I you want it to?”

It’s a good question, one that Amy’s been asking herself since the party. Surely there was something between her and Hope on her end, tension on multiple levels that had finally exploded that night. Truthfully, Amy had thought it was purely physical up until she was undressing, Hope on her back on the bathroom floor, hands locked behind her head, looking up at Amy as if she’d been thinking about that very scenario for years. It wasn’t that she’d had feelings for Hope before that she just hadn’t realized, but it was that look that made Amy realize that there was so much more to this girl than she’d ever thought. She hadn’t known why then, but she was starting to know now.

“I…it means more now,” she says slowly, deliberately, trying to match Hope’s honesty. “Part of why I kissed you that night was because you thought I couldn’t. My best friend had just called me a coward, and then you called me meek, and I...I wanted to prove to both of you, and myself, that neither of those things were true.

“But you surprised me too. At first, I thought that maybe it was just the heat of the moment, or the adrenaline, but then you came to my house, and then you invited me here, and then you told me things I never even imagined you’d think, let alone say. And you were so cool about the fact that I, um...that I missed,” Hope laughs, more full-chested now, when Amy can’t bring herself to say what had actually happened. Amy can feel her cheeks turning red, but she powers through. “It’s like... the more I know you, the more I think that it couldn’t have just been me wanting to prove a point. Not entirely, anyway.

“So, yeah. I do want it to. Mean something, that is. I really do.”

Hope smiles a small, adorable smile that pulls her lips just over her two front teeth, and Amy wants to bottle it up and carry it around with her everywhere. Hope doesn’t seem to know what to say, and she’s looking away from Amy bashfully. “Cool. Awesome. Me too.”

Amy thinks about kissing her then, but she doesn’t. It’s not the right moment, but Amy will keep looking for it.

She takes a deep breath and makes a decision. “So, you were saying something about seeing the city with 75 bucks?”

The taller girl’s eyes widen a bit, that excitement that Amy had irrationally missed coming back quickly. “Yeah?”

“Let’s do it. I should get to know the city, right? I’ll be living here for four years. But you don’t have to pay for me.” Amy lifts her free hand to point a finger at Hope, looking at her seriously. “I will fight you if you try, I swear to God, Hope.”

Hope laughs and holds up her own free hand in surrender. It seems that neither of them want to let go of the other’s hand. “Okay, okay.” She lets it fall, then looks at Amy with eyes sparkling. “So. Are you hungry?”

Chapter Text

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 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 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.

“You okay?”

“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 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 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.”

Amy grins.

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?”