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now

Crockett’s gymnasium hasn’t changed, not even a little bit, so when Amy steps through the gym doors into the class of 2019’s ten year reunion, nostalgia crashes over her like a wave. She knows Molly ran herself practically ragged trying to replicate the decorations used for their prom senior year; some garishly decorated carpeting more home in a bowling alley, accentuated by bright neons and inexplicable graffiti plastered on the wall. There was a night where she phoned Amy in a low frenzy, the way she usually is when she’s upset, babbling something incoherent about the chairs not being right. They had resolved it eventually, but there were some real sleepless nights involved.

At least she can say all the hard work paid off.

Amy almost didn’t go to prom. Neither had Molly, but they did, in the end. Here, ten years later, the scene is so vivid Amy can almost feel the pink taffeta of her dress—really gunning hard for that nineties cliché—and her adolescent desperation, wondering if Ryan was going to ask her to dance. She never did, and now Amy knows she was never going to, but it still ended up being a fun night. She danced with Molly and they got tipsy on punch they didn’t realise was spiked.

“Molly and Nick did a really good job,” Hope says, cutting through her thoughts. She squeezes Amy’s hand, and raises an eyebrow. Are you okay? her face says.

Amy squeezes back. “I’m okay, just thinking about prom. Everything here looks so close to what it looked like, it’s freaky. Do you remember—oh, wait. You didn’t go to prom.”

“Well, technically I went.”

“You know, I don’t think coming two hours late, staying in a corner for five minutes, then leaving to get high in the front parking lot really counts as you going to prom.”

Hope snorts. “I mean, I was there. Five minutes counts. And I was there long enough to see you in that terrible pink taffeta dress. Didn’t it have like a little bow—”

“And that’s where this conversation ends!” Amy interrupts, not wanting to rehash her terrible fashion choices in high school, of which there were plenty. She tugs Hope forward. “Come on, we need to find Molly.”

They find Molly by the makeshift stage on the other side of the gymnasium, engaged in serious-looking conversation with Nick, who holds a clipboard. They watch as Nick uncaps a pen, writes something on the clipboard, and grins when Molly nods approvingly. 

Amy wasn’t really part of the organisation process—her and Hope were in Kenya for a stabilisation mission for the better part of the year, and therefore indisposed—so Molly was forced to find greener pastures for her reunion committee delegation. Nick was an odd choice, and an unlikely one at that, but he had organised prom, after all. 

The story, as Amy has been told, goes like this: apparently Nick had messaged Molly on Facebook out of the blue, asking about the reunion planning process and inquiring if he could help in any way. Turns out Annabelle had let it slip during their bi-monthly Skype calls with Tanner and Theo that Molly was looking for event planners for the reunion, but was dubious about expending money from the budget for something she could simply do herself.

They had talked, and Molly quickly found out that Nick had relocated to Los Angeles again, living there full-time, seemingly done with the east coast. It made him the perfect middleman to start the ball rolling while Molly tied up all her loose ends in Washington before shipping back out to LA.

“It’s so weird,” Amy remembers Molly telling her over the phone, “he’s like, fully organised and whatever. His competency is kind of sexy. High school me is living right now.”

“Amy! Hope!” Nick says, flipping the blue-tinted sunglasses that rest on the top of his head down onto his nose, looking like every inch the devil-may-care jock he was in high school. “Good to see you guys!”

“Nice to see you too, Nick,” Amy says, finding Nick’s grin infectious. She gestures to his Baja hoodie, and can't help but be a little bit tongue-in-cheek. “Love the outfit.”

Amy can see his eyes roll behind his sunglasses. He draws back, mock-stung, holding a hand over his heart. “I can’t believe anybody let me wear this in high school,” he says, tugging on one of the drawstrings. “It’s so ugly it’s sacrilegious. Can’t say it’s not comfortable, though.”

“Oh, speaking of sacrilegious outfits,” Molly says, sounding delighted. She points at Hope, eyes glinting with the absolute pleasure of someone revelling in another’s misery. “Hope! Your cowboy jacket! I thought you locked that godforsaken thing away, dumped it in the ocean, and melted the key down into a little blob.”

Hope, predictably, rises to Molly’s teasing without hesitation. “Oh fuck off, ass president. You know exactly what you did, making the clothing theme ‘the last day of high school’. You forced me into this box.”

Nick barks out a laugh, tucking the clipboard under his arm. “Well, if you ladies don’t mind, I’m going to go check out the snack bar. Holler if you need me, Mol,” he says, before walking off.

“We found the jacket folded in a box in her closet at her mom’s house,” Amy grins, grinning wider when Hope slices a gaze at her, looking utterly betrayed. “There’s some sentimentality for it in there somewhere.”

“How sweet!” Molly coos.

“I hate the both of you. And you know what?” Hope lifts her arms up, letting the dozens of tassels swing dramatically in the air. “This jacket is not as ugly as you guys make it out to be!”

“It looks good on you, babe,” Amy says placatingly, rising upwards to sketch a brief kiss against Hope’s cheek. “Just as a seperate entity, it’s kinda… eh.”

Molly howls, delighted. Hope looks like she’s just aged five years.

“Where’s Annabelle?” Hope asks, trying to pivot the conversation elsewhere. 

“Talking with Tanner and Theo,” Molly says, knowing exactly that Hope’s trying to deflect but letting her teasing lie. There’s always tomorrow, after all. She turns and points towards the other end of the gym, where the tables are set up. 

Amy follows her arm to catch Annabelle sitting at a table by the dance floor, plate of food tucked between her elbows. She talks to a round table of familiar faces: Nick, Theo, Tanner—and Ryan.

“Ah,” Hope says, almost involuntarily. Her voice takes on a teasing lilt, and she presses her shoulder into Amy’s side. “You should say hi.”

“Screw you,” Amy laughs, crossing her arms. She reaches up to absentmindedly smooth one of the patches on her shoulder, thinking suddenly, again, about who she was. “Nostalgia is one hell of a thing, huh?”

“Agreed,” Hope says, curling an arm around Amy’s waist, smiling when Amy responds to her touch in kind, comfortable. Neither of them are really that big on PDA, but nobody watches them here except Molly.

“Aaaand I’m going to head over there,” Molly says, pointing to where Annabelle is. “You’re free to follow when you’re finished doing… whatever you’re doing.”

As she leaves, Hope says, “Bet you she’ll make it under ten seconds,” referencing the long walk between where they are and the banquet tables. It’s the entire length of the gymnasium.

Amy turns to her, eyebrows raising. “You have something in mind?” she says. They only ever make bets for the consequences.

“Yeah, I have a good one.”

“Okay,” Amy says, drawing out the o, chewing on her bottom lip in thought. “If I win… you have to keep on complimenting Molly for the rest of the night.”

Hope purses her lips. “She’s gonna figure out it’s a bet. And then she’s going to exploit it.”

“Yeah, I know,” Amy grins, “that’s why.”

“Wow, okay.” A laugh. “If I win, you have to tell Ryan you had a crush on her in high school.”

“Oh, shit. Oh my god, that is a good one.”

“Thank you.”

They watch as Molly strides across the gym to reach Annabelle in record time, who greets her with a kiss on the cheek. The intensity with which Molly walks has always been a point of fascination for the both of them: Amy likes to call it her lawyer stride, which is a pretty apt description.

“Fuck,” Amy mumbles, as Hope whoops and ducks down to press a victorious kiss to Amy’s cheek. “The walk looks so much longer than ten seconds.”

“It’s your little legs,” Hope smirks, laughing when Amy elbows her. “So, are you going to do it?”

Amy smiles, tilting her head towards Hope. She likes how she always asks if Amy’s okay with the bet when she wins, even after all these years. A reminder that she’d never force her to do anything she didn’t want to do.

Pausing, Amy searches within her for any kind of fear, any kind of embarrassment. Anything screaming at her to do absolutely anything else. There’s trepidation circling somewhere in her gut, but that’s to be expected. She feels nothing terrible. It relaxes her.

“Yeah,” she says, looking right at Hope, smiling, almost smug. “I’ll do it.”

then

Hope arrives in Botswana jetlagged and sweaty, dead on her feet, trashed to hell by her thirteen hour flight straight from Munich. She’s practically nonverbal, though she seems to brighten up as she sees Amy waiting for her in the international arrivals bay. They don’t do much on the first day she arrives except sleep, Hope on a futon next to Amy’s bed. Amy doesn’t mind this, though Hope seems pretty apologetic about not being good company.

“Asleep people aren’t really good conversationalists,” Hope says, but she slurs her way through conversationalists and her eyes look like they’re trying their best to weld themselves shut.

“Go to sleep, Hope,” Amy laughs. She throws Hope a spare blanket and a pillow from her own bed. “I’m going to be at work, so it’s cool. Get some rest.”

Amy had fully intended to request the day off, but Hope looks like she desperately needs the sleep and Amy’s not selfish enough to take that away from her. She watches, just for a moment, as Hope settles into the futon, sighing lightly, hair fanned out against the pillow.

Swallowing, looking away, Amy laces up her converse and moves to leave the room, thinking about what to say her supervisor when she calls and tells her that she’s not going to take the day off, after all. Before she does, though, Hope manages to grab her hand as she passes by.

“You’re gonna come back?” Hope asks. Amy furrows at the question—some real mixed messages leaving Hope in the bedroom of her host family’s house all the way in Botswana, after all—but then she squints and she realises Hope’s barely conscious.

“Yeah, of course,” Amy says, squeezing Hope’s hand.

“You gotta come back.”

“I will, I promise.”

“You better not be lying.”

Amy bites her lip, trying to stifle a laugh. She kneels down next to her, avoiding placing her shoes on the futon. With a confidence only born out of Hope being practically gone to the world, she learns in closer than she would otherwise and says, “Hand over my heart, I will come back, Hope.”

“M’kay, good,” she slurs, and promptly passes out, which seems to be the end of it. Who knew sleep deprived Hope was so clingy.

Amy returns a little after dinner to find Hope propped against her bed, legs crossed, reading a really beat up looking copy of Into the Wild. She’s wearing glasses, tortoiseshell, kind of big, though they suit her wide eyes and angled face. They begin to slip down her nose—Amy watches as Hope pushes them back up by the bridge using her knuckles. She didn’t even know Hope wore glasses. 

They look good on her.

“Hey,” Hope says, as she catches Amy staring at her by the doorway. She wipes the corner of her mouth, a little self-consciously. “What? Do I have something on my face?”

“Uh, no, nothing,” Amy says, feeling her ears burn. She unlaces her converse and toes them off.  With a strange surge of confidence, she decides to sit down next to Hope on the futon, close enough that their shoulders are almost touching. 

Amy clears her throat. She has no idea what to do next.

“I think I kinda accosted you before you left,” Hope says, slotting her bookmark into the book and placing it next to her.

Amy smiles at the memory. She couldn’t stop thinking about it through work. Her supervisor commented on the distant look on her face at one point—it was embarrassing as it was a reality check. “Um, yeah. It’s okay though.”

“I didn’t embarrass you too bad, did I?”

Amy looks at her, offended. “Excuse you, I handled the situation very well. And why aren’t you more embarrassed?”

Hand over my heart, I will come back, Hope,” Hope recites, teasing. “Such sincerity.”

“You have absolutely no shame. I—fuck—” Amy can’t even work through her mortification fast enough to get words out.

Hope just laughs. “And now you’re choosing to feel awkward?”

Amy finds that the sound of Hope’s laughter eases her. “I don’t know!” Amy says, laughing. “You were barely lucid before! It was different.”

“And now?”

“And now… now you’re awake, I guess.” Amy pauses thoughtfully. “And here. In Botswana. With me.”

“Well, no take backs.”

Amy smiles at Hope’s childish tone of voice. “As long as I don’t get too awkward on you, I think we’ll be fine.”

“No promises for good company,” Hope says, sounding a little too serious to have any real levity to it. Amy frowns at this, and wonders what she means by it—if she’s talking about herself, or Amy. “But I think we’ve talked too much over the past month for this to be awkward.”

Amy relaxes, nodding. It’s true, though. Her days have felt incomplete without a message from Hope. It’s nice to see her, and not just through Snapchat. “Okay. It won’t be awkward then.”

“Sounds good to me.”

A beat. Silence.

They look at each other, and laugh.

“Okay, restart,” Hope says, holding up a hand. She leans back and gestures to a stack magwinya donuts on a plate on her other side, previously unnoticed by Amy. “Your host mom made me donuts. They’re fucking amazing, by the way.”

“Aren’t they?” Amy says, excited. She reaches over Hope to grab one off her plate, ignoring the thumping of her heart as her arm brushes the front of Hope’s shirt. “They’re so fucking good. Dunkin Donuts can eat dust.”

Hope grins. “Strong opinions.”

“Only for donuts,” Amy says, feeling proud when Hope laughs. “Hey, um… do you want to go somewhere? How long have you been awake for?”

“Just an hour or so. And, nah. I can stay in.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. You know this is the first time I’ve gotten a full eight hours of sleep since I left LA?”

“Oh, geez. That’s not good.”

Hope nods, then shrugs, like—yeah, I know. “I’ve just been travelling near constantly. I don’t mind, because I want to see as much as I can, but.”

“Well, you can relax, here,” Amy says. “You could stay in my bedroom the whole time you’re here, if you want to.”

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?”

It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Amy flushes almost immediately, reaching up to press a cool hand to her quickly reddening face. “I—ugh—I didn’t mean it like—”

Hope looks entirely too satisfied with herself. “Yeah, I know. I’m just fucking with you.”

“Ugh,” Amy groans. Then, “I am being serious, though. You don’t—we don’t—”

Hope’s smile is slow and languorous. She knows exactly what she’s doing. “We don’t…?”

Amy shushes her. “I can’t—stop doing that!”

“Doing what?”

“That!” Amy gestures to Hope. 

“You just gestured to all of me.”

“Exactly! Stop it!”

Real amusement from Hope, then, smile genuine and maybe even a little bit endeared. Hope turns her hands upwards towards the ceiling in surrender. “Alright, okay.”

Amy breathes in. “We don’t have to… to do anything. I didn’t invite you here as like a… booty call,” regretting her word choice, cringing, nose scrunched, “I mean I would like to—but that’s not all I—ugh. Okay. I’m done.”

Hope looks at her, then. Really looks at her. And Amy looks back, because she feels like she can’t look anywhere else. Hope’s eyeglasses are completely devoid of prints or smudges—Amy can imagine her meticulously wiping them clean after every use. She never thought that Hope really cared about the little things, like that. Maybe she has a lot more to learn.

She’s silent for a long moment, before she takes her glasses off and holds them in her hand. Amy looks on, confused, before Hope says: “You want to kiss me, Amy?”

Amy’s mouth goes completely dry. “I—”

“Amy. Yes or no.”

“I—yeah. Yeah.”

And so Hope kisses her, leading with her free hand on Amy’s cheek and moving forward, fingers curved faint around Amy’s jaw, thumb pressing lightly against her skin. It’s strangely soft—softer than Amy was expecting with Hope, anyway, and delicate. Different, good different, from their heated, rushed kisses in the bathroom of a house party, cold tiles and muffled music encouraging urgency and desperation.

When Amy imagined kissing Hope again, little daydreams tucked in between brushing her teeth and getting into bed, she never would’ve imagined this.

Hope deepens the kiss, and Amy feels her toes curl. It’s so good. Kissing is so good. Everybody talks about how fantastic kissing is, but it never really hits until you’re there, breathing another person in. 

Amy understands why Molly had wanted her to kiss somebody else so bad. You’d want to share a feeling like this, too.

As Hope gently urges Amy’s mouth open with her own, the hand on her cheek moves lower, dragging down the side of Amy’s neck before sliding around cup her nape. Amy shivers, half by the ticklish feeling it gives her and half by just the touch itself, and Amy thinks about how she could’ve waited forever for this, this contentment. 

Eventually Hope moves away. “You breathing?” Hope asks. She knocks her forehead into Amy’s in a strangely sweet gesture, before pulling away completely.

“I—wow. Um, yeah. I’m breathing.” Just barely, though.

“Good.” She pauses. “This is where I’m at. I don’t care if you called me over here for a booty call or not.”

“Well, I didn’t—”

Amy,” Hope interrupts, exasperated, “not the point.”

“Right,” Amy concedes. “Uh, well, the bedroom door doesn’t lock.”

Hope pauses, then barks out a disbelieving laugh, eyebrows shooting upwards. “Wow? Just like that?”

Amy wants to crawl inside a hole and perish there. She barely manages to stop herself from straight up just standing and leaving, so instead she forces herself to groan lightly and place her head in her hands. “That is not what I meant.”

Amy feels the simple pressure of Hope’s hand between her shoulder blades, which, again, surprises Amy. She braced for relentless teasing, but not this. It makes her feel inexplicably safe.

“I just meant, like, my host parents could literally walk in at any moment. They don’t really knock.”

Hope hums. “I can see how that may be a problem.”

She raises her head to look at the wall across from her, not quite brave enough to face Hope yet. Hope moves her hand away. The absent feeling on the back of her neck is a feeling that she does not have the time to unpack. “But, uh, you came at a good time. They’re leaving to visit family in Francistown tomorrow. So.”

“Wait, so when you told me to come on the fourteenth specifically, you were really just—”

“—I think!” Amy interrupts, not wanting to face the reality of her extreme embarrassment further. She looks at Hope, then, and ignores the burn of her ears. “I think the less we think about this, the better.”

“I don’t think you’ve said those words, ever, but sure.” Hope slides her glasses back onto her face. “What should we do, then?”

Amy considers this for a second, before she gives Hope a shy shrug. “What are you reading?”

now

The table’s enraptured in conversation, so Hope and Amy take a seat without much fanfare. They’re reminiscing, because of course they are—Annabelle’s in the middle of a vivid retelling of the time Tanner showed up to class hungover and utterly unprepared for his English oral final, so he improvised a speech with his hoodie drawstring as a prop, and ended up getting a 92.

“It’s my natural charm, bro,” Tanner smirks.

Annabelle just stares at him. “How did you get into Stanford, again?”

“I had two brain cells that I could just,” he presses his thumb into the pad of his forefinger, “rub together real well.”

“Aw, buddy, what do you mean had?” Nick says, reaching over to ruffle Tanner’s hair, laughing as he ducks away. “You still do.”

“Maybe Miss Ventura had the hots for you,” Theo says, sounding pretty serious.

The entire table erupts in groans, Annabelle knocking her shoulder into Theo’s, Tanner throwing his beanie that was in his hands at him, Nick muffling a laugh into his hand.

Amy watches Ryan. First of all, she has to try and figure out how she’s going to tell Ryan that she had a crush on her in high school without making it… weird. She can’t just go out and say it. She’ll figure it out somehow. For now, she just watches.

She looks pretty much the same. Her dyed blonde hair is gone and her hair is kind of longer, reaching the tops of her shoulders. She seems to have pierced her ears to hell and back, from helixes and industrials, to a painful looking captive bead ring piercing on the innermost cartilage fold of her left ear.

She, frankly, still looks like a lesbian.

Amy holds in a laugh.

As she does this, she catches Molly’s eye from across the table. Their nonverbal hand and eye semaphore goes like this: a raised eyebrow, accompanied by the very unsubtle darting of eyes towards Ryan. A grin and a shaken head. The pinching of eyebrows, then pursed lips. Another grin and shaken head; more insistent this time. An accepting nod, before turning back to the conversation.

Hope leans down to talk into Amy’s ear. “You know I still get freaked the fuck out when you and Molly do your weird ESP thing.”

Amy turns her head to talk back. “It’s a gift, what can I say—”

She moves to say more, but then Nick reclines in his seat and throws his arm around the back of Ryan’s chair. Okay. They’re still together. At least that tells Amy why she’s sitting here with Nick and not with her other skater friends. 

Nick seems to notice her looking, which he apparently takes as a cue to initiate conversation. “How have you been, Amy? Hey, you know I saw your feature about the water shortages in Nairobi in Nature Conservancy. Great stuff.”

Amy blinks, surprised. “Oh, yeah. Well, I’m not really a journalist, but I was in Kenya for a while to assist in UN’s environment programme, and a friend there suggested I write something about the crisis. Helped me pitch it to the magazine and everything. It was fun, I’m glad you liked it. How did you find the article?”

Nick crooks a smile. “Can’t a guy read Nature Conservancy for fun?”

Amy grins. “I mean, fair enough, but do you?”

“Nah,” he laughs, shaking his head. “You linked it on your Twitter. Besides, I’m more of a The Economist type of guy.”

“Ugh, classic Wall Street yuppie,” Annabelle groans, pausing in her conversation with Tanner and Theo to interject with her vehement distaste for capitalists. She goes back to talking after she says this.

“Hey, ex-Wall Street yuppie. You wound me!” Nick says, throwing a hand over his heart. “I have seen the error of my ways.”

There’s probably a whole story there that Amy doesn’t know about, and thus probably be wildly inappropriate to ask about here, as curious as she is. Everyone else on the table except for Hope seems to know what he’s talking about, though. Maybe she’ll ask about it later.

“You follow me on Twitter?” Amy asks instead, trying not to let that particular detail slip through the cracks. Suddenly, Hope scoots their chairs closer together, close enough so their shoulders are touching, and takes Amy’s hand. She doesn't say anything, so Amy doesn't, either.

“Yeah! Molly told me to follow you.”

Amy turns to give Molly a look.

“I was excited to share your achievements, Ames!” Molly says, sounding completely unapologetic. “Your first article and it’s in Nature Conservancy, no less! That is no small deal.”

“It’s true,” Nick shrugs. “But I was already following you before Molly told me to, anyway. I’m trying to, uh, become more politically conscious? You keep the folks updated. And I knew you from high school, so. Trusted source.”

Amy doesn’t quite know what to say. “Wow. Thanks.”

“No biggie, Amy. It’s wild how you’ve been doing this shit since high school and I had no idea.”

Ryan’s talking, now. “Nick made me read the article too, you know,” she says, leaning backwards into her chair so her back touches Nick’s arm. “I had no idea you did any super serious activism shit in high school! Well, I knew you did that stuff with the gender neutral toilets. Super dope, by the way.”

“Oh, there’s a lot of things you didn’t know about Amy in high school,” Hope interjects, grinning. She gives Amy a raised eyebrow. Jesus Christ. She makes it sound like she did weird sex things and enjoyed it.

Amy knows what she’s doing, though. Hook, line, and sinker, and all that. 

“Yeah,” Amy agrees, nodding. She makes sure she’s looking directly at Ryan as she says her next words. “You know I had a crush on you in high school?”

The whole table goes silent.

Okay. Wasn’t expecting that.

Molly looks at her with her eyebrows raised, before she sees Hope turn her head to the side, shoulders shaking, trying desperately to mask her laughter. She presses her fist to her mouth and makes a few fake coughing noises. Her grip on Amy’s hand is tight, but not enough to hurt. 

Molly mouths ah and rolls her eyes, probably knowing it’s one of their bets.

“Oh,” Ryan says, mouth pulling into a frown. “Oh, dude, I had no idea.”

Amy just smiles. “It was a long time ago. Little baby Amy really liked you, though.”

Ryan snorts, expression turning from perplexed into delighted. “This is so cool! I mean, I don’t swing that way, but if I did, I would totally date you, Amy.”

Amy’s gotten that from a few straight girls, before, but Ryan sounds totally sincere. It makes her feel a certain affection towards Ryan. Not romantic of any sort, but that kind of softness you feel for someone in the wake of honest kindness.

“Bro, that was kinda killer how you just said that,” Tanner says, laughing. “Just tellin’ her you had a crush on her like that. Bad ass, Amy. Bad. Ass.”

“Don’t go stealing my girl, now,” Nick jokes, slinging an arm around Ryan’s shoulders and pressing a kiss to Ryan’s cheek. Amy catches the flash of his wedding band on his hand as he does this. She forgot they got married, holy shit. Annabelle went to their wedding like five years ago.

Amy looks down at her and Hope’s linked hands, smoothing a thumb over the crook in Hope’s hand that never went away after she broke her thumb when she was eight, courtesy of the first and last taekwondo lesson she ever attended. She thinks about being in love.

then

Amy probably should’ve migrated to her own bed by now—the futon is right next to it, so it’s not like she’d be going particularly far from Hope. But she stays, firmly put, against her better judgement. She worries over it for a few frazzled moments, scared about encroaching on Hope’s personal space or being a general nuisance, but it’s not like Hope seemingly wants her to move, either, considering the way she’s laid down and thrown her legs over Amy’s lap, trapping her. 

Hope holds her copy of Into the Wild over her head, arms outstretched. They’ve been reading various passages from the book for who knows how long, just to give Amy an idea of what it’s about, and then stopping to talk between each passage. 

“On the other side of the page, which was blank, McCandless penned a brief adios: I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless us all. Then he crawled into the sleeping bag his mother had sewn for him and slipped into unconsciousness.”

Amy furrows her brow. “Those were Christopher McCandless’ last words?”

Hope shrugs. She puts down the book. “I guess so.”

“And then he just… starved to death?”

“Yup.”

Amy heaves out a sigh, raking a hand through her hair. “That’s… wow.”

“Depressing?”

“Kinda?” Amy scratches the back of her neck. “He did say he had a happy life, so maybe that makes up for it a little.”

Hope shakes her head. “He went out to prove to everybody that living off the land without material connections was the most honest way to live, and then he just starved to death. Everyone had all these opinions about what he should and shouldn’t do and he hated it. But he died anyway. It’s like everyone’s opinions about him were proven right.” 

Amy opens her mouth to make a comment on this, but Hope keeps on going.

“You know, every time I read it I hope he doesn’t die. And then he does. And then I get mad at him for dying like that, for wasting the chance to prove everybody wrong. I get angry. Like I’m reading it for the first time. It’s so stupid.”

Hope pauses, pursing her lips. Amy recognises the expression; it’s the one where you realise you’ve probably said more than you meant to.

Amy’s had her hands awkwardly by her sides this whole time, not quite sure what to do with them, but as she figures Hope’s trying to tell her something important, she moves them to rest on Hope’s calves, hoping her touch is comforting and not unwanted.

“It sounds like a really good book. I’ll try to see if they have it at any bookstores around here.” Amy says, trying to take on a smooth, unbothered lilt to show Hope she’s not going to be weird about her unintentional vulnerability.

Hope seems to relax. A thoughtful pause, then: “You can have this copy, if you want to. I’ve read it like a million times and I have another version of it at home.”

Before Amy can argue, Hope hands it to her. It’s pretty worn around the edges.

“Seen better days,” Amy jokes.

Hope rolls her eyes. “I usually take good care of my books, I promise, this has just been rattling around in my backpack.”

Amy opens to the front page. Written in faint pencil on inside of the front cover is an inscription, in Hope's deliberate cursive: property of Hope Carlin. if you have found this book, please get it back to me at this number, then her phone number underneath. Amy smiles at the little please, then turns the book around to show Hope her writing.

“Ah. I forgot about that,” Hope says, trying to sound nonchalant but failing to mask her embarrassment. “I just don’t want to lose that copy, that’s all.”

Amy grins, flicking through the book to find hundreds of annotations and highlighted passages. It’s like looking into Hope’s brain. No wonder she would want this book back. It looks like years of work, considering how many various different pen colours there are, all at different levels of opacity.

“How do you know I won’t lose it?”

Hope just shrugs. “I know you’ll take care of it.”

Amy blushes, not expecting the sincerity. “Um. Okay. Cool.” Is this flirting? Does this count as flirting? Does giving a girl a book you treasure count as flirting?

Shrugging again, Hope paws for her backpack next to the futon and reaches into the already open zip to take out her glasses case, which she pops open. Amy watches as she slides out the cleaning cloth and begins to methodically clean her glasses, rubbing circles around the lenses.

Amy thinks about flirting back. “I, um, didn’t know you wore glasses,” Amy starts. Okay. That's a good start. She has the next sentence on the precipice of her lips—they look really good on you—where they’ve been for the past… who knows how long. From the very little experience she has, she knows complimenting Hope technically counts a flirting, even if it is completely unsubtle. She would do it more often, but she’s just so unskilled handling whatever Hope throws back at her. Flirting, teasing, sincerity, whatever. It’s all the same interpersonal nightmare.

“Yeah, I don’t like wearing them at school,” Hope says, still cleaning her glasses. She’s not looking at Amy, and she doesn’t know if that makes it better or worse.

Oh, fuck it. “They… uh… ah… look really good on you.”

Hope snorts, but her smile is genuine. She looks at Amy, then. “Thanks, nerd. Although I’m surprised you don’t wear glasses. What kinda nerd are you?”

“Um… one with 20/20 vision?”

“Dude, I am just fucking with you,” Hope groans, though she sounds more amused than annoyed. “You have to learn when I’m fucking with you.”

Amy presses a hand to her forehead. That's kind of humiliating, to be honest. Amy knows that she's not good at this whole flirting thing. She just doesn't have any practice. She fights the urge to grunt in frustration. After a few beats of wrestling with herself, she finds that she's so embarrassed that everything just comes spilling out. “I just—it’s just that sometimes at school, I had no idea when you were just fucking with me or being serious. So I just took you for being serious, because I didn’t want to question why you wanted to fuck with me all the time.”

Hope frowns at this. Carefully, she lifts her legs off of Amy’s lap and crosses them, before sliding her glasses back on her face. “Are you… being serious?”

Amy hadn’t meant to say all that, but it is true. She thought Hope had hated her, honestly. Amy never really got any shit from any of the other students at Crockett, mostly because Molly usually made herself the bigger target simply by being herself. But with Hope—with Hope, it was always about Amy. Molly was always the afterthought. It was never bad enough to make her doubt herself, or to make her self-conscious, but it hurt. Of course it hurt.

Her confusion from the last four years lodges in her throat, and she finds herself really annoyed. “Jesus Christ, of course I’m being serious, Hope!” Amy bursts, feeling gratification when her words are cutting and direct, and don’t shake at all. “You, like, wouldn’t stop giving me shit! It all felt so fucking unnecessary and strange. Like, I wasn’t even doing anything! And I guess now that I think about it, it doesn’t matter if you were being serious about the things you said or you were just having a laugh. It was still fucking weird. And rude.”

Amy realises they’re basically rehashing that argument they had in the bathroom at Nick’s party, except they’re talking for real this time. And maybe Hope is actually listening. It feels like forever ago.

Hope, to her credit, looks thoughtful. She doesn’t look like she’s going to say anything mean, anyway. “Okay,” she says, then, “do you remember what I said Nick’s party?”

They’re on the same page, then. “Yeah,” Amy croaks out. “I just don’t like meek people.”

“It was true,” Hope shrugs, and ow, that stings. “You were always following Molly around everywhere and she was always the one speaking first, not you. Sometimes you seemed like a little mouse afraid of its own tail. But. But,” and Hope actually looks hesitant, now, eyebrows pinching together. She shakes her head. “You know I follow you on Twitter?”

Amy frowns at the non sequitur, wondering where Hope is going with this. “Uh. No?”

Hope pauses for a second to take out her phone and pull up Amy’s Twitter profile. Amy looks at it—it’s her, on the internet, literally: @amyontheinternet. When Amy just stares, Hope makes a frustrated noise.

She points to her phone. “You have like, fifteen thousand followers. What the fuck?”

Amy still doesn’t know where she’s going with this, but she follows along. “Um, yeah. I think it’s because I got into an argument with that Kent State gun girl and it kinda went viral. Buzzfeed posted an article about it. I, uh, also meet a lot of people at protests?”

How does nobody at school know about this?” She doesn’t look frustrated anymore, just intent. 

“I mean, Molly knows about it—”

“—Molly doesn’t count, you know this. Come on, Amy. You have this whole drive and passion to you and no one at school ever even saw it. Ever even knew about it. Why?”

“Because I—” Amy pauses, and really thinks about the question for a second. She honestly doesn’t know. So she says, “I don’t know. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”

Hope just throws her head back and laughs. “You’re a real mystery to me, Amy. Seriously.”

Amy swallows, unsure of how to respond to that. “How did you find my Twitter?”

“I just looked for it,” she shrugs. Her expression turns serious. “I didn’t like how you kept on letting everybody think you were meek and small when really, you’re this whole person. This whole person. It honestly pissed me off.”

“And so you took it out by being a bitch to me?”

Hope closes her eyes, pinches the bridge of her nose. “I know, I’m sorry,” she says. She sounds more annoyed at herself than she does at Amy. “I have… issues that I’m working through.”

Amy resists saying clearly, because that would be unnecessarily cruel. “Okay,” she says, wiping her palms, which have gotten sweaty, on her pants. “I’m sorry for kinda blowing up on you there.”

“No, I deserve it. It’s probably better we have this conversation now rather than later.”

They stare at each other for a second, before Amy says, “I guess I didn’t think it was a big deal because I didn’t think high school was a big deal. I honestly didn’t even know people saw me as meek.”

“Yeah, well, they did,” Hope says, sighing. She folds her legs to her chest, resting her arms on her knees. 

“So I guess you can forgive my obliviousness, then? I wasn’t letting them think anything.” Amy pauses. “I really hated high school.”

Hope smiles, then, resting her chin on her arms. “Oh, come on. You? Miss four-point-oh? Miss one million APs? Miss five million extra curriculars?”

“Oh, shut up,” Amy blushes. She clears her throat. “The learning, the studying, the late nights revising… that’s just one half of school, and usually the part that nobody cares about. No, high school is mostly about other people.”

“And parties.”

Amy laughs. “And parties. You know the only reason Molly and I were at Nick’s party that night was because Molly found out Annabelle got into Yale?” And also because Molly had a crush on Nick, but that detail isn’t really relevant to the point Amy’s trying to make.

“Shit, seriously?”

“She said it was our last night to have both studied and partied in high school. Said we got it wrong, or something. I didn’t really understand what she was saying at the time—really what she was saying—until after Nick’s party.”

“Yeah? What’d you realise?”

“That we did get it wrong. But back then, I didn’t really care that Annabelle got into Yale or that Tanner got into Stanford and that they bested us, or something, which was I thought Molly was saying. All I wanted to do that night was go back home, cozy up in bed, watch The Dust Bowl.”

“God, you nerd,” Hope says, full of affectionate disgust.

“I think why Molly was so betrayed after finding out Annabelle was going to Yale was because she put everything into school. Everything. For her, it was like, the thrill of being the only person to put their hand up in class, you know? Or being the only person who knew the answer to a complicated question. And I know that makes her sound a little insufferable—”

“It definitely doesn’t make her sound insufferable.”

Amy kicks Hope. Lightly. “But it was who she was. And it worked for her. She loved being that person, and I loved seeing her be that person, because it made her happy. But I never worked hard at school to ‘bust curves’, as one would say in Molly terms. I mean, I liked getting good grades. But mostly I just want to know everything.”

Amy pauses after she says this, looking down at her hands. She’s still holding Hope’s copy of Into the Wild, so she stares at it, trying to gather her thoughts. “I want to know everything because I don’t like being in situations where I can’t help in some way. Myself, or others.”

Hope is silent. Amy appreciates this—she still isn’t done trying to figure all this stuff out. This is the first time she’s said most of these things out loud. It’s almost cathartic. “So… I guess that’s why I didn’t really care about the kids at Crockett not really knowing who I was. I had nothing to prove to them. Just stuff to prove to myself.”

It hangs in the air between them. Breathing in the space. Suddenly, the four walls of her bedroom seem infinitely smaller. Just her, and Hope, trapped in this tiny box together.

“Fuck, I really was a bitch, huh?” Hope bursts out laughing. Amy follows, albeit with more nerves. “God, fuck. I didn’t mean to laugh there.” She sniffs. “I’m just—you kind of amaze me, you know that?”

Fuck—what to say to that? Amy wipes her sweaty hands on her jeans again. She’s perspiring like fucking crazy. “Thank you?”

Hope shrugs. Amy recognises it as her I’m trying hard not to care about this shrug. “I just feel like I have loads of shit to prove to people every day. And here you are, not caring at all.”

“I care, just not enough to let it rule me.”

Hope’s smile is crooked and self deprecating. “I can’t say the same, unfortunately.”

Amy suddenly remembers the anger in Hope’s voice as she talked about Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild, just a while ago—and then I get mad at him for dying like that, for wasting the chance to prove everybody wrong. Everything seems to click into place.

“Oh,” Amy says.

“You know, let’s just chill on the deep talks for now,” Hope says. She’s retreating back, but Amy doesn’t mind. She knows for certain that Hope will open up to her when she’s ready to.

Amy thinks about suggesting they listen to music together, but then Hope’s taking off her glasses and putting them in her case. And then she’s crawling forward, eyes startlingly intense. All words die in her throat.

“What time is it?” Hope says, voice low.

“Um—” Amy checks her wristwatch. Her eyes widen. “Fuck, it’s like one am. Have we really being talking for that long?”

“You think your host parents are likely to walk in on us now?”

“No, but I—ah—” Hope’s close, now, and she’s got a hand on Amy’s shoulder, pressing her back into the side of the bed. As she takes the book out of Amy’s hands and puts it on the bed behind them, she slowly, almost slyly, throws a leg over Amy’s waist, straddling her. Amy barely knows what to do with her hands, but she breathes out when Hope puts them on her waist for her. 

“You want to?”

“Yes! Yes,” Amy says, blushing lightly at the way Hope laughs at her eagerness. “I just—I don’t know how good I am at staying quiet.”

Hope grins. “We’ll figure it out.”