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long take

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then

They migrate from the game reserve to a neat little craft store a short drive away. Hope spends the most of their time there being quietly regaled by their collection of pottery kitchenware and textured, fibrous basketry, the exact kind of kitsch Amy had expected her to be quietly regaled by. She feels proud for choosing a place Hope would like.

There’s a quiet, comfortable lull between them as Amy watches Hope peer with poorly masked delight at a handmade clay tea-light holder modelled to look like a rondavel, raising it to eyeline to look through the door-shaped hole where you slide in the tea light. She grins, unabashedly. Amy feels her heart flutter, though she pretends to continue rifling through elephant print oven mitts.

Her earlier revelation that Hope may have had a crush on her in high school connects very many dots, but… presumptuous dots. She’s scared, a little, about what it means, too: about Hope being here with her. It elevates things bigger than the hot girl, bored and interested, taking a detour in her trip around the world to entertain a girl who is surely tiers below her league. There’s more meaning to everything. More promise.

Amy can’t decide if the promise scares her or not—if it’s true. How do you deal with something with that? How do you? Amy has no idea.

She gets out of her head long enough to settle on buying a hand carved wooden letter opener for Molly. Even though their primary mode of communication is through email, they’ve gotten into the habit of mailing each other a gift every month—something little, small enough to slip into an envelope so they don’t have to pay exorbitant packaging fees. Amy picks out a postcard to go along with it.

Hope skirts around her shoulder as she’s by the register, sniffing curiously after what Amy decided to buy. A tiny little laugh slips out of her as she notices what Amy’s purchasing.

“A letter opener? A little pompous, don’t you think?”

“It’s for Molly,” Amy explains, ignoring Hope to try a confident thank you in Setswana to the cashier. Delight splits through her as the cashier says tlhôla sentle in return—the clean thrill of learning a new language are the tiny exchanges like those. Amy hopes to settle into conversational fluency sometime soon.

“She likes the ceremony that comes with opening mail with a letter opener,” Amy continues, turning back to Hope.

“God,” Hope says, shaking her head, holding the front door open for Amy as they both exit the store, making their way over to the restaurant across the street. “Adding that to list of Molly-isms that make her so thoroughly… Molly.”

Amy bristles slightly at the sardonic weight Hope inflects on Molly, feeling the protective urge to defend her best friend’s honour. “She wouldn’t be Molly without them.”

“I didn’t mean it like a bad thing,” Hope backpedals, sensing Amy’s defensive tone. At Amy’s unconvinced look: “Well, okay, maybe a little. But she has her things, I get it. I have mine.”

Amy nods, hearing the apology, even though it isn’t necessarily there. She glances around for another conversation topic, before realising Hope is empty handed. “You didn’t buy anything?”

Hope runs an embarrassed hand through her hair. “Uh, no. Kind of broke.”

“Oh, no,” Amy says, eyes widening. “How do you… I mean, are you okay?”

“I’m fine if anything goes sideways, if that’s what you’re asking,” Hope says. “I have an emergency fund. More than it needs to be, really, but I’m not touching it unless I have to.”

“But what about… getting around and stuff?”

Hope shoves her hands into her jacket pockets, looking like she’s about to start laughing at the worried expression on Amy’s face. “Amy, I’m fine. All my flights were pre-booked. I’m not rich enough to be spontaneous with my money.”

Oh, god, is what Amy comes up with in response.

She surreptitiously reaches over to pinch the skin on the inside of her elbow, feeling embarrassed for finding Hope’s frugality hopelessly attractive. All she can fixate on is the way Hope’s mouth pinches at the side, unapologetic.

A blooming ache in her chest tells Amy all she needs to know.

The restaurant is good. Homey. The tables are pushed close together, tight in a way that suggests they were trying to utilize as much of the restaurant’s floor space as possible. It’s the kind of place where privacy feels like a fever dream, the kind where you rely on other customers’ goodwill not to eavesdrop on your conversation.

Miraculously enough, though, there’s a corner table hidden away from everything else by a strategically placed pot plant. Amy feels like a goddamn FBI agent hustling them over to the table before anybody else gets to it.

“Trying to get me alone?” Hope says, eyes alight with mirth, not missing anything.

Their table is small and cramped, an unfortunate consequence to the privacy, and Amy hunches slightly when she realises their calves brush each other underneath the table.

“I, uh,” Amy falters. What even to say to that? Yes? “It’s quiet?”

“Hm,” Hope hums, sliding her jacket off her shoulders, doing that thing where she surveys the room before getting truly comfortable.

The menus are creased, lamination peeling at the corners, but it’s genuine and authentic, the music piping overhead in a language neither of them speaks. Eventually a solemn-looking waiter comes over and takes their orders—Hope; a summery Botswana salad, Amy; a veggie burger. They demurely order water for the beginning of the night and engage in light, honest conversation.

Hope digs out her phone and swipes through her camera roll, showing pictures of her travels. Her anecdotes are funny in a way that surprises Amy—not dry, clean wit but the punchline, precise, loaded by a vivid and clever retelling. She leans over the table, and Amy does the same, until the already small space between them closes indefinitely, their elbows pressing together, knees almost touching—feet already scuffed together.

She coaxes Amy to bring out her own phone, cycling through embarrassing selfies the other girls at the organization had needled her into taking with them, some amateurish nature landscapes, and quiet, soft screencaps of Molly over FaceTime. Tries not to feel too self-conscious when Hope continues swiping and finds a screenshot Amy had taken of one of Hope’s Instagram posts, cropped and saved just because.

They part when the food comes—Hope eats methodically, and never talks while chewing. She reaches over and steals one of Amy’s fries; Amy leans over to puncture a wad of spinach on her fork and pop into her mouth in retaliation.

The salad ends up being really good: they swap dishes when Amy has about three quarters of her burger done, Hope a few stray green stragglers. Hope pretends to be Amy, eating the burger, demure mockery—Amy pretends to be Hope, eating the salad, motioning for her jacket, asserting that she needs it to truly be in character. She shoves her arms through the sleeves and basks in how warm it is. Their impressions aren’t nearly as offensive or insulting as they probably could’ve been. Hope doesn’t ask for the jacket back. Amy doesn’t offer.

Conversation settles eventually, Amy feeling comfortable enough to childishly swing her arm back and forth, watching the arm tassels on Hope’s jacket pendulate. Hope watches her, chin propped on her hand, smiling. Not too much, but enough.

“Can I see the letter opener?” she asks, words coming off the trail of nothing.

Amy looks up at her, eyeing the peculiarity of her question, before conceding and reaching into her backpack to hand her the letter opener.

Hope smooths the tip of her finger over the flat spine, not risking swiping over the belly, lest she accidentally cut herself.

“Still pompous?” Amy asks.

“Uh, yeah,” scoffs Hope, now waving the opener around. “Kind of looks like a Harry Potter wand.”

“That’s why I bought it,” Amy clarifies. “Molly loves Harry Potter.”

“Of course she does,” Hope deadpans—Amy can see her mentally adding it to her list of Molly-isms. “What is she? A Slytherin?”

“Half-Ravenclaw, half-Slytherin, but uh, yeah, basically.”

Hope barks out a laugh. “Things can’t ever be simple with Davidson, huh?”

“Hey, you’re probably half-Ravenclaw and half-Slytherin too.”

“No way, Amy. I don’t like doing things in halves. I’m a Ravenclaw, period.”

Amy laughs, grinning like an idiot. “Okay, what am I?”

“Hufflepuff,” Hope says, almost immediately. She does a smooth once over of Amy, before shrugging slightly. “Gryffindor tendencies.”

Amy raises a brow at her. “Tendencies? I thought you didn’t like doing things in halves?”

Tendencies is more like a fifth, not a half. I can settle with fifths.” She hands Amy back the letter opener. “Take care of that. Not every day do best friends get gifts from Botswana.”

Amy knows Hope’s mostly joking, but the words cut deep into Amy’s chest, burrowing. She schools her holy shit I think I just figured something out expression back into neutrality and tucks the letter opener into the open zipper of her backpack. Another idea hits her at full force. She stands up, abrupt.

“I’m,” she begins, remembers she can’t lie very well, and deigns to go for something simple: “going to the bathroom. To pee.”

“Um… okay?” Hope replies, off-put but pushing through it. “Have fun?”

“I will,” Amy nods, automatic, before realising Hope’s sarcasm. “I mean, I can. I should. Uh.” She pivots on her heel, shouldering her backpack as she does.

The signs point to the toilet being in a separate building outside the restaurant, but Amy was never planning to go to the bathroom, so she doesn’t care. It helps her cover, anyway. Instead, she skips and hops across the street back into the crafts store, making a beeline for the rondavel tea-light holder Hope was looking at earlier.

The tea-light is firm—small—and smells kind of earthy, texture rough against her thumb as Amy drags her touch along the modelled roof. Amy doesn’t quite know why the tea-light was the thing Hope fixated on with everything going on in the store—there’s a mug a ways off sculpted to look like an elephant, gauche in a cool way, Hope’s aesthetic, seemingly—but the tea-light fits her, somehow.

Just to be sure, she does one full lap of the store to see if there’s anything else Hope could possibility want instead. But the tea-light speaks to her, so she keeps it, paying for her items and hurrying back to the restaurant before Hope wonders why she’s been gone for so long.

She just barely manages to remember to stuff her purchases into her backpack before re-entering, sliding into the seat across from Hope and hoping she doesn’t look harried. Or suspicious.

But Hope doesn’t react—why would she, if she believed Amy truly went to the bathroom—attention drawn towards the drinks list on the back of the restaurant menu, reading, piqued.

“Welcome back,” she says, briefly glancing up from the menu.

“You know,” Amy says, tucking her hair behind her ears, “the legal drinking age in Botswana is eighteen.”

Hope grins at this. “Oh, is it?”

now

“It’s fuckin’ cold,” Annabelle says, holding open one of the gymnasium doors as Amy slips past her.

“I’ll be okay,” Amy reassures, though her body language says otherwise, hesitantly loitering by the doorway to gather as many vestiges of warmth as she can before she treks out to find Hope in the presumably non-heated art rooms.

“You sure you don’t want me to come along?” Annabelle asks, crooking an eyebrow. She points to the unlit pathways of Crockett’s courtyard. “It’s dark as shit, too.”

Amy rubs her eyebrow, genuinely considering Annabelle’s offer, before there’s a dramatic shout behind them. Annabelle turns her head as Amy looks over her shoulder to see Molly in heated conversation with the dancefloor DJ, arms akimbo. Even from so far away, Amy can tell she’s probably scowling.

“You should probably back up Molly on that,” Amy says, sighing. “I’ll text you if anything weird happens.”

Annabelle knocks Amy on the shoulder, grinning. “Good luck out there, Ames.”

Amy throws her a sardonic thumbs up, making her grin wider, before Annabelle pulls back into the gymnasium, leaving Amy out in the cold.

Shivering, tugging the sleeves of her denim jacket further down, Amy fishes her phone out of her pocket and thumbs a message.

Amy: Alive? Please say yes

No response.

“Okay, fuck me I guess,” Amy says to the cold night air, shoving her phone away and tucking her hands into her pockets.

It’s dark, but peaceful, and there are some still-on overhead lights dotting the side of the buildings, so she doesn’t feel completely like she’s going to get murdered. Or something close. The football field is also still lit, though the middle is completely pitch black, like a void. Amy shivers again and moves on.

She eventually rounds a corner to make it to the entrance of the school, though she freezes momentarily when she realises someone’s sitting on the front steps, backlit so shadows mask their face. The silhouette doesn’t match Hope’s, so Amy reaches for the can of pocket pepper spray she keeps in her tiny sling bag.

“Hello?” she says, then immediately feels like an idiot. Horror movie 101, Amy. Jesus Christ.

A tiny orange glow rises and meets the figure’s lips, the person clearly taking a drag of a cigarette, at the same time lighting their face. Amy relaxes immediately once she just realises it’s George.

“Hey, Amy,” he says, voice rasping slightly. He clears his throat. “Are you looking for Hope?”

“Did you see her?” Amy asks, walking over to him. He looks tired, but he also looks the practically same. His glasses look slightly pricier.

“Saw Gigi drag her into the building like ten minutes ago,” he explains, taking another long puff from his cig. “What’s happening there?”

“I honestly have no clue,” Amy asks, which is mostly the truth.

Amy smiles at him and wonders over to the front doors, peering into the hallway, noting that the lights are off. Looking to the right, slightly, she can see light spilling out into the end of the hallway, where the stairs leading the second floor are. Okay. They’re on the second floor. Amy pushes a little on the front doors, sighing with relief as they give. At the least the doors aren’t locked.

“It’s dark as shit in there,” Amy says, loud enough that George can hear, taking Annabelle’s words from before.

She hears George chuckle appreciatively.

“How did Gigi even—” Amy starts, then realises she’s never going to get a concrete answer and drops it.

“You want a smoke?” George says, holding up a half-empty pack of Pall Malls.

“I’m good, thanks,” Amy says, jogging back over to him to take a seat next to him on the steps. She pulls out her phone again.

Amy: On a scale of one to ten, how badly do you need me to wander through our darkened empty high school like some b-list horror movie protagonist to come find you?

No response again. She sighs.

“Are you going in?”

“I just want to make sure I’m not going to get murdered first,” Amy says, code for I’m psyching myself up to go inside a dark and empty hallway. She notices the way George hugs himself tighter, shivering. “Are you cold?”

“Just a little,” he admits, nodding. “I’ve been out here for a while.”

“Why not go back inside? It’s warm.”

“Oh, I’m,” George starts, seems to hesitate, before his expression goes: fuck it. “I’m avoiding Alan. And smoking. But mostly smoking to avoid Alan.”

“I see,” Amy says, deciding on a neutral response. Amy’s managed to keep up with George in a peripheral sense—they both have each other on Facebook, and she’s gone to a few of his off-Broadway and on-Broadway shows—but she doesn’t really know him well enough to know what goes on in his personal life.

Her phone buzzes in her pocket. She quickly fishes it out, fumbling with it in the process.

Hope: Amy! No need to come looking for us.

Amy frowns.

Amy: Gigi?

Hope: In name only, yes.

Amy: Did you take Hope’s phone??

Hope: She was using it while I was talking to her. :(

Amy: Can you please give it back?

Hope: Maybe in an hour or so. We’re kind of busy right now.

Hope: I’ll talk to you later!

Amy: Gigi PLEASE give the phone back to Hope

Amy: Gigi????

Amy: GIGI

“Jesus Christ,” George says, from where he’s bent over to get a better look at Amy’s chatlog. “I think Hope’s going to die up there.”

Amy makes a noise between a groan and a strangled laugh. “I guess I’m going in. Oh my god. It’s so dark in there.”

George smiles at her. “Come on, Amy. Channel the energy of your suffragette foremothers.”

Amy starts to laugh, shaking her head. Just to be sure, she says: “If you’re making fun of me—”

“No, no! I’m being totally sincere! Here, look,” he snubs his cigarette out against the steps, standing up to toss it into a garbage can nearby. He turns to hold out a hand. “I’ll come with you. Let’s go.”

Amy allows him to pull her to her feet.

“I have lots of experience with big, dark empty buildings.”

Amy raises an eyebrow.

“Soundstages,” he clarifies. “Jesus Christ, you looked just like Hope doing that.”

“Why, thank you,” Amy says. “Well, if you’re sure about coming.”

“This is not suffrage, Amy. I’m coming with you,” he says. “And, besides, it’s not like I was going to do anything but stay outside. I’m definitely not going back inside the gym.”

They both begin to walk towards the front doors. Amy turns on the flashlight to her phone, George following suit, and tries not to feel like she’s doing something very seriously wrong by walking into an empty high school at night.

“Do you remember where the art rooms are?” she asks, voice oddly quiet, like she’s trying to match the dead silence of the hallways.

George, on the other hand, seems to have no such reservations. His naturally loud voice echoes. “Yeah, they’re like, second floor I think. You don’t remember?”

“Only vaguely. I never had any classes there.”

“Ah, yes. I remember. You and Molly were too good for us art kids.”

“A devout philistine here. Lock your windows,” Amy jokes, drawing a snort out of George. Amy feels good, joking around like this. Any sincere animosity about how they may have felt to each other in high school is long gone. Molly may have liked to joke about how academia contributes more to society than the arts, but she was never really serious about it. She likes to make that part clear now.

“You’re all good, Amy. By the way, I don’t think I ever thanked you for coming to my first Broadway show, like, god, how long has it been? Four years ago? I kind of let the fame get to my head.”

“You’re still kind of famous, George,” Amy says, but she’s smiling.

“Ugh. I never thought I’d say this, but don’t remind me,” he groans, shaking his head. “You’re good people, Amy, I'm being deadly serious. Hey, I’m doing another show in June. Off-off-Broadway, but still good. Invite Hope, and maybe Molly and Annabelle if they’re around.”

Amy brightens at this. “Thanks, George. That’s really nice of you.”

He smiles, seemingly properly pleased at the flattery. “That’s the first time I’ve been called nice in ages.”

They both round the hallway and start to make the ascent upstairs.

“Hope’s going to have this exhibition in a few months. I’ll try and ask her to save you and whoever you want to bring along a ticket.”

“I’m probably just going to need the one ticket, but thank you anyway,” he says, sighing dramatically. “Chronically single, I regret to admit. Some of us can’t be as lucky as you, Amy.”

The words hit Amy as he says it: she is lucky. Luckier than most. It makes her feel comfortably warm. “Come on, George,” she says, trying to share her sudden shift into a good mood. “You’re a catch.”

George laughs at this. “Am I, now?”

Amy nods encouragingly. “Sure. You’re handsome. Smart. Aggressively sought after in the up-and-coming Broadway community. What more could a guy ask for?”

“I’m afraid my problems with romance go far beyond myself,” he says, also perhaps a little too dramatically. “Remember how I said I was smoking outside to avoid Alan?”

“Well,” George starts, breathing it out like a sigh.

The silence speaks volumes. “I think I understand,” Amy says.

“You know what they say: sandbox love never dies.”

“Did you just reference Jennifer’s Body?”

“Absolutely.”

“I love that movie!”

George laughs delightedly. “Oh, Amy, you understand me.”

Amy smiles, sharing in George’s delight, before she remembers to check her phone for more messages. Her smile fades a fraction when she realises there’s nothing there.

George notices her descent into worry. He makes a dismissive noise. “I think if anyone can wrangle Gigi, it’s Hope. I mean, she’s scary as fuck.” He pauses to think on this. “No offense.”

Amy laughs. “No offense taken. I’m just concerned she’s going to go insane.”

“Nothing that can’t be fixed, I’m sure,” George says. He pauses from their conversation to look around them.

Amy realises around the same time he does that they’ve finally made it to the wing of the school where the art rooms are. She hadn’t even noticed. She silently thanks George for his company—the silence and darkness would’ve made her go crazy otherwise.

“Where’s your wife?” he asks, swinging the flashlight on his phone around.

Amy side eyes him. She can’t tell if he’s joking or not. She decides to leave it alone. “Not sure. She just said in one of the art rooms on the second floor.”

“The room she’s in is probably the one with the light on. This won’t be too hard.”

Just as expected, they turn another corner to find a room with the light on spilling out into the hallway.

“Thank fuck,” Amy breathes, walking a little faster than George to make it to the door first. She looks through the window to see Gigi by one of the lightboxes pushed against the side of the wall, drawing something on a piece of paper as she implores Hope to watch. Hope watches on, looking slightly bemused, but her arms are crossed and stance points outwards. Amy can tell she wants out.

Amy tries the door handle—it moves, but the door doesn’t swing open. Hope hears the jiggling, though, face shifting into relief as she realises Amy’s finally here.

Push, hold, and shove, she mouths, miming pushing the door handle down and shoving the door forward. It’s stuck.

Amy frowns, pushes the door handle all the way down, holds it, and throws a little bit of her weight forward to shove the door open. It gives with only a second of resistance, and Amy just about stumbles in.

Gigi finally hears the commotion, turning around, pen poised in hand.

“Amy?” she says, sounding cautiously excited. “What are you doing here? I told you we’re all fine.”

“I just needed to check on Hope, yep,” she says, watching as Hope straightens, nodding. Amy stumbles to come up with a lie on the fly, which is, of course, a disaster. “Uh, Hope, darling—your mother called. Something about our dog being infected with… heartworm. Yes! Heartworm. He’s been making hacking noises like a dying seal all day, dramatically rolling around in her hydrangeas…”

“Oh, no. That’s awful,” Hope deadpans, uncrossing her arms and striding over to Amy. She places a hand on Amy’s back and frowns, feigning sympathy. “Sorry to leave so early, Gigi, but I have to go talk to my mom.”

Gigi nods solemnly, understanding, then: “Let me come with you. I’ve been trained in spiritual healing for animals in about thirty-five different states.”

Amy looks at Hope. Hope shakes her head.

“Uh, well—” Amy fumbles, trying to come up with another excuse.

Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the art rooms,” George cuts in, stepping past Hope and Amy to peer at whatever Gigi’s been doing by the lightbox. “What’re you working on, Gege?”

Gigi sighs impatiently. “George, I need to go help Hope and Amy fix their dog’s heartworm.”

“But your artwork!” he points, pouting, pantomiming spectacle. His acting chops aren’t half bad.

“George,” Gigi sighs, looking conflicted.

“I need you to explain to me your artistic process! From artist to artist, Gigi! I’m starving!”

“It’s fine, really,” Amy says, somewhat rushed. Hope’s starting to get that affected look to her, like she just might start laughing. “Gigi, you can stay here. We can—we’ll figure the heartworm thing out.”

“Amy’s right, Gigi. We’ll call you if we need your help,” Hope supplements.

Her eyes flicker from Amy to Hope, pointing her pen warningly at them both. “I will know if something’s wrong, okay? I will be expecting your call.”

“No doubt, Gege,” Hope says, clapping her hands together. Amy grins gratefully when George shoots her a knowing wink.

Hope and Amy both share a mutual sigh of relief once they’re out of the classroom. Hope’s hand immediately finds Amy’s, squeezing it, running her thumb over hers. Her other hand reaches up to rub her forehead.

“Thank you. That was a nightmare.”

“What was she drawing on the lightbox?” Amy asks.

They both begin to make their way down to the first floor, Amy making the executive decision to start swinging their hands between them. It’s childish and completely cheesy, but Hope makes a quiet amused noise and Amy just enjoys the way she doesn’t let go.

“She drew up the seating plans for our wedding and she was copying them onto another piece of paper for me to take home.”

“Um?” Amy begins. Where to start with that. “How many people?”

“A few hundred.”

“Great.” Amy pauses. “Do we even know that many people?”

“I don’t think so,” Hope says, worriedly chewing over this.

“Was she planning to hire actors to fill seats or something?”

“No idea. I didn’t ask.”

“You didn’t ask any details?”

“And prolong my suffering?” defends Hope, mouth set in a grim line, like she’s just been through war. “No. No thank you.”

Amy snorts, squeezing her hand tighter.

“Hey, where’s Molly and Annabelle?” Hope asks, after a stretch of comfortable silence. “Too busy for your impromptu rescue mission?”

“Arguing with the DJ, last I saw,” Amy says. “I think he got mad because nobody was moshing on the dance floor. It’s a high school reunion. I don’t know what he was expecting.”

“How close was Molly to fistfighting him?” Hope asks, sounding dangerously excited about the prospect of Molly exchanging fisticuffs with some hapless pimple-faced event DJ. Not that Molly was particularly known for her physical violence, but anyone unlucky enough to fall victim to her vicious way with words might as well be in the hospital, anyway.

“Oh, so close,” Amy says, humouring her.

Hope makes a thrilled noise at this, tugging at Amy’s hand and increasing her pace. “Come on. We’re definitely not missing this.”

then

“…drink critics often consider the drink mediocre, but it has been noted for its historical significance,” Amy reads from her phone, lounging by the dining table, watching Hope—with her back turned to her—mixing drinks on the kitchen counter. She furrows her brow. “There are drink critics?”

Hope rolls her eyes at her as she approaches, sliding her a highball with rum and coke. “Drink criticism is fake,” she declares, knocking their glasses together and taking a small sip. “It’s like wine criticism. Everyone’s just faking it.”

Amy also takes a sip. “Hey, not bad.”

“I’d be very worried if I managed to fuck up rum and coke,” Hope deadpans, but seems pleased by the praise anyway. “Okay, what you got for me?”

Amy grins, motioning for Hope to follow her into her bedroom. She tried to set up the room in a way that would make both of them comfortable—utilized every single spare blanket her host parents had given her, padding Hope’s floor futon, swiped some pillows from the spare room, making a mental note to put them back afterwards—then becoming unsure halfway through and throwing the pillows everywhere.

Ratatouille?” Hope guffaws, disbelieving, staring at Amy’s laptop screen, “we’re watching Ratatouille?”

“Cinema classic,” Amy says, smoothing out a crease in the blanket and sitting down.

“This is so dumb,” Hope says, but she’s sitting down next to Amy, crossing her legs.

They keep an odd puritan distance from each other, Hope with her legs crossed, balancing her glass on her knee, keeping it upright with her hand, Amy with her knees pulled to her chest, watching with split attention between the screen and Hope.

Hope gets up every now and then to refill their drinks—Amy hasn’t done a lot of drinking before, but it’s strange how the buzz flattens everything, makes her all wobbly and inarticulate. She looks at Hope and she thinks about crawling over and tucking herself in her arms, pressing her face into the crook of Hope’s neck. She doesn’t know what she’d do after that.

“You know I read this theory online, that was like,” Amy begins, rustling the ice cubes in her glass, “you know how Linguini sucks at cooking, even though he’s supposedly Gusteau’s son?”

“Yeah?”

“So, the theory goes that Gusteau apparently wasn’t a great chef at all, but also had a tiny rat in his chef’s hat, controlling him.”

Hope thinks about this for a second. “That’s ridiculous.”

Amy looks at her; breaks out into a fit of giggles. “I know, I just thought it was funny.”

A world-weary expression on Hope’s face, like she doesn’t know if she should laugh or fly back to LA.

“Also,” Amy continues, giggly and good, “what’s so stupid is—there’s no genetic predisposition to make someone better at cooking. There’s no cooking gene. I guess there’s an affinity, maybe? But nothing that implies your mom being good at cooking automatically means you’re going to be good at cooking.”

“If you’re in the kitchen with your mom a lot, maybe,” Hope says.

Amy frowns, thinking about the fact that Linguini’s mom in the movie is dead. “Poor Linguini,” she says, and holds out her glass for a refill.

They’re wobbly and close together by the time the rats have taken over the kitchen. Amy’s slouched down to lean her head on Hope’s shoulder—which is kind of boney, so she moves to rest her head on Hope’s chest, who accommodates wordlessly by holding her arm out so Amy can burrow deeper—the thump thump thump of Hope’s heart making her sleepy, but content.

“How was Paris, for you?” she asks, when the movie is almost finished, Remy and Linguini and their café called Ratatouille, but also their tiny little rat restaurant above it. “But, like, how was it really? Any rats?”

Hope snorts. “Big time. It’s kinda dirty, honestly. There’s like the part where all the tourists go and it’s clean and romanticized and everything you expect Paris to be, and then there’s the real stuff, where actual people live.”

“What about the food? Served by rats?”

Cooked by rats, you mean,” Hope squints at her. “How drunk are you?”

She’s got her self-control on the tightest leash possible, or she might just be telling herself that. “How drunk are you?” Amy says, defensive, before her resolve cracks. “Only a little. Come on, tell me about Paris.”

So Hope tells her about Paris, for a while, and the drinks keep on coming, pouring and mixing and serving.

“It was great. I’d love to maybe study abroad there one day. Or maybe not, maybe I’ll do something less white.”

Amy snorts. “Did you go to any Asian countries?”

Hope drags her hands down her face. “No, I couldn’t afford it,” almost-whining, shaking her head, “I know I’m white but I’m not that white. I know Europe’s not the only continent besides America.”

Amy leans closer. “Where did you want to go?”

“Japan,” Hope says, not missing a beat. “My dad used to work there, for an engineering project. Always went on about how beautiful it is.”

There’s such a palpable yearning—longing, desire—on Hope’s face that Amy’s heart lurches in her chest, that all she wants to do is ease a hand over Hope’s heart and take the longing from her. Maybe that’s why she throws away all notions of saving money and says: “What if you just flew over there? Now?”

Hope looks at her like she’s grown a second head. “With what money?”

“Your emergency fund,” Amy says, ideas coming to her all at once. “Didn’t you say it had more in it than you needed? It’s—this is once-in-a-lifetime. You could see so much more. Are you going anywhere else after this—here? Botswana?”

“No, it’s right back to LA. Then I’m heading to New York a week early with my parents.” Hope furrows her brow. “It’s not like I haven’t been spontaneous—but flights—they’re expensive. I can’t just go to Japan on a whim.”

She’s being utterly reasonable, which makes Amy like her even more, but she doesn’t want to let go of the idea. “Okay, not Japan then. Somewhere closer. Africa’s not Europe. What about Johannesburg? Or Cape Town?” Amy pauses, even in her tipsy haze remembering to ponder over an offer so monumental. Eventually it just slips out of her: “I could come with you. I have another week left of leave.”

Hope looks at her, before shaking her head. “Maybe we’ll have this conversation when we’re both not drunk.”

They talk for a little bit more, until eventually Amy decides she feels like listening to music, getting up to open Spotify. It takes her a few drunken fumbles to type Ratatouille in the search bar for her own saved music.

Hope bursts into laughter in the midst of taking another drink, the drink bubbling over her lips. “No, no, Amy, no,” she says, wiping her upper lip, crawling over to Amy’s ancient Mac and backspacing to scroll through Amy’s song library. “We are not listening to the Ratatouille soundtrack.”

“Aw, why not?” Amy asks, petulant, pouting slightly.

Because,” Hope says, laughing low. Then, looking through Amy's music, unrepentant: “Florence and the Machine? You are gay.”

Amy blushes. “Florence Welch has a lovely voice.”

Hope snorts, transferring to a lying position on her stomach. Amy lies down next to her. “You’re like the opposite of those indie Kanye West skater guys who only listen to male artists because they’re convinced it’s the only thing that’ll give them credibility. Your music library is literally just women.”

“Thank you?” Amy says, not quite grasping the specificity of Hope’s allusion, or maybe just too drunk to think about it hard enough. “I mean, I have few George Michael—”

“George Michael absolutely does not count,” she interrupts, firm, before settling on a Cocteau Twins song and rolling on her back. “Wait, hold on, I have another story about Paris. This one’s funny.”

“Tell me it,” Amy says, laughing at the way Hope prefaces her own story by calling it funny. She would never do that sober.

“So, it’s my first night there, and I was kind of? on a date,” Hope says, then pauses to rub the inside of her eye with one of her knuckles.

Amy rolls onto her back—ignoring the irrational spike of jealousy that hits her, knowing she has no claim to whoever Hope does—folding her hands onto her stomach, lying next to each other.

Words come out looser, it seems, with Hope, when she’s drunk. “I had just met the girl on one of those double decker tourist buses—it wasn’t really anything, I just didn’t want to be alone—and it’s raining that evening, and we’re trying to find a way to get out of the rain, so we stumble upon this restaurant with big neon lights on the outside. It’s raining so hard it’s hard to see—see anything else, so we head right for it, with—like—moths—drawn to a flame, you know—”

She’s saying so much, Amy thinks she’s never really said this much all at once before, even when she was telling her stories in the restaurant. She’s smiling, too, like she’s amused by her own story, and Amy can’t stop staring at her lips.

“And, it’s dinner time anyway so it doesn’t even matter if we just stumble into some random restaurant,” she says, and her smile gets even wider—“and, Amy, we sit down to order some food—and the first thing I read on the menu is fettucine alfredo. We’re in an Italian restaurant! In Paris!”

She breaks out into peals of delighted laughter, and Amy can only lie there, staring at her, staring at her really, thinking about how much she likes her.

Hope catches her staring, and her smile fades slightly. She winces. “Was that too much?” she looks up to the ceiling, before closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m always like this when I drink too much. I tried—try not to, mostly. Guess I just lost track.”

Amy rolls over again, this time not to lie on her stomach but to hang over Hope, leaning down to kiss her, earnest and gentle. Hope’s surprised only for the briefest of moments, before her hand slides to the back of Amy’s neck, tugging her closer, deepening the kiss.

She tastes sharp and sweet, like the rum and coke, but also like Hope, which is a flavour Amy can’t really define yet, except that it’s her. Hope slides her hand against Amy’s ribs, over her shirt, fisting there to urge her closer. Amy does her one better, breaking the kiss briefly to roll completely on top of her, sitting low on the belly of Hope’s stomach.

“Why do you always end up on top?” Hope says, but she doesn’t sound like she’s complaining, reaching out to press her palms Amy’s thighs.

“Why do you always end up on the bottom?” Amy retorts, snorting lightly. She leans down to kiss her again, moving her own hair to drape over one shoulder so it doesn’t get in the way, moaning when Hope swipes her tongue against her bottom lip, urging her mouth open.

They’re both a little on the drunk side of tipsy—persistently so—but the alcohol makes Amy feel hotter, greedier. There’s a haze on her, a good haze, the forgiving kind, smoothing her world down enough that she doesn’t second guess herself when she presses her lips to the corner of Hope’s mouth, then her jaw, then her neck, Hope shivering, then laughing a little, tickled.

Amy kisses up her jaw again, trying to find that sensitive spot near her ear that she pointed out last night, the spot that made Hope full-body shiver, that made Amy feel good too, just on the account that she was making other people feel good.

Eventually Hope seems to become unhappy with just lying there, trying to push herself back into a sitting position. It’s not until Amy takes the hint and shuffles backwards slightly, easing off some of her weight, does Hope right herself, pulling Amy onto her lap, wrapping her arms around her waist.

They hit a rhythm—a stride—and Amy doesn’t dare pull away, trying to breathe through her nose, even though she’s getting kind of dizzy, her fingers and toes are tingling, there’s a pulling feeling near the bottom of the stomach, her skin gooseflesh.

Hope breaks away first, shoulders heaving as she pants, leaning her head on Amy’s shoulder. “I’m so,” she mumbles, “I’m so fucking dizzy.”

Amy commiserates. She leans her cheek on the side of Hope’s head—partly to anchor herself, partly to hopefully anchor Hope. Their position feels nonsexual, but very intimate. Hope seems to relax further into her touch as Amy threads a hand through Hope’s hair, finding in comfort in the soft silk.

They sit like that for a while, until Hope asks, “Are you drunk?”

She doesn’t say it unkindly—like an accusation—but more an honest question, gauging how far they should go.

“Just tipsy, I think,” Amy says.

Hope presses a kiss to her shoulder—still clothed, still wearing Hope’s jacket—and lays her forehead back down.

“Hope, are you drunk?” Amy asks, after a few long beats of Hope not moving.

“No,” she says, stubborn.

Amy hides a smile, turning her face away from Hope’s head, cheek sliding against Hope’s hair. “Do you want me to get you some water?”

“Just give me a second.”

Amy actually laughs, then. “Okay, I’m getting you water. Stay here.”

“If I hurl on you, we can call it even.”

Amy’s mouth drops open. “Really? Now?”

“What better time than the present?”

“Do you want me to get you water?”

A feeble pause. Then: “…yes.”

Amy rolls her eyes, moving to slide off Hope’s lap. There’s one weird second where Amy thinks Hope might try to keep her there, even despite her better judgement—tighten her arms around Amy’s waist, grip the jacket, pull her closer—before her own common sense seems to win out and she lets Amy stand, to make her way to the kitchen.

Amy has to stop and take an actual honest to god breather by the tiny dining table as she exits the room, pressing a hand to her forehead. All of her feelings bubble up in her throat and she feels like laughing—laughing—just because of how ridiculously happy she feels.

A good night. A good date. A date—her first date. Getting kind-of drunk for the third time ever—first as an experiment with Molly, second at prom—watching Ratatouille, of all things, and talking. Sitting around and talking.

A tiny laugh escapes her lips, at that. A fun person to sit around and have sleepovers with. Hope.

Amy fumbles for the water bottle in she left in her backpack—coordination still a touch off-balance—and heads over to the sink to refill it, thoughts running a mile a minute. She likes Hope. She likes Hope. Of course she does—she knew she would—but it feels real, not some friendly reciprocation, some curiosity, some desire to know why—but something tangible. Honest.

“I like you,” she mouths, then blushes, pressing a hand to her face. She feels so silly. She feels like laughing again.

The water in the bottle overflows, hitting her fingers, icy water jolting her back into reality. She quickly shuts off the tap and wipes her hand on her jean shorts, slowly breathing in.

She makes her way back to the bedroom.

now

“Oh, shit,” Amy says, dropping Hope’s hand to step forward, good mood ruffled by the tense atmosphere inside the gym.

She sucks in air between her teeth at the realisation that there’s damage to the gym’s décor. An overturned snacks table—food littered on the gym’s shiny maple hardwood—appears to be the only outstanding casualty, but all the lights are on and the energy seems to have been subdued greatly.

When Molly sees her and Hope, she hustles over to them with barely contained fury on her face. “You would not fucking believe what that event DJ just did.”

“Uh, that?” Hope says, pointing to the snacks table.

“I do not have enough fucks to pretend your scathing wit is funny instead of obnoxious right now, Hope,” Molly grits through her teeth.

Hope raises her eyebrows, taken aback. She looks at Amy and makes a yikes face, prompting Amy to shake her head. Hope tilts her head, eyebrows climbing higher: are you sure? Amy nods, firm. Hope sighs and lets it be.

“Hey,” Amy says, reaching out to place a hand on Molly’s shoulder. “We’ll get this fixed, okay? What happened? I was gone for like half an hour.”

“Where the fuck did you find that guy, man?” They hear Annabelle shout from further back, by the DJ booth. A peek over Molly’s shoulder tells Amy she’s shouting at Tanner.

“I didn’t fuckin’ know he was crazy!” Tanner defends, shoving his hands in his jean pockets. “My cousin told me about him—said he was cool. Maybe he was just havin’ a bad day.”

“I don’t care if he was having a bad day!”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Molly swears, making a beeline for Annabelle and Tanner. Amy and Hope exchange one last look before they follow her.

“Hey, everyone chill out, alright?” Nick says, holding his hands out. “Obviously that guy was a massive douchebag, but we don’t have to blame each other.”

Both of them look properly chastised at Nick's reprimanding.

“I’m sorry about the DJ, really, Annie,” Tanner says, looking properly sorry. “I promise I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, okay. I’m sorry for yelling.” Annabelle sighs, shaking her head. She purses her lips as she sees Amy and Hope approaching. “Hey, you guys missed a party.”

Amy doesn’t think she’s seen Annabelle quite so angry in a while.

“Shitty party,” Hope says, toneless.

Annabelle quirks a hollow half-smile. “The fucking shittiest.”

“It was going fine right up until that stupid DJ said—” Molly says, then cuts herself off, seemingly too furious to finish her sentence. “Fuck that guy.”

“What’d he say?” Amy asks.

“Dumb shit,” Annabelle says. She sighs and looks up at the gymnasium’s ceiling beams. “He was arguing with Mol and Nick about, I don’t know, something.”

“The dance atmosphere,” Nick supplies, quietly.

“Yeah, that. And then when I entered the conversation and told him he was losing his shit over nothing, he called me a stupid whore who should know her place.”

Amy makes a face that says let me at him, I’ve got two fists and I’m not afraid to use them, anger hitting her in a way that makes her almost breathless.

Hope knits her eyebrows together, frowning hard. She reaches out to place a placating hand on Amy’s shoulder. “Where is he now?”

“Well, Molly tried to bite his head off. And then Nick strong-armed him into leaving. Not before he kicked over the snack table, though, and cursed like six other people on his way out.”

“I could kick over his snack table,” Molly murmurs, incensed.

“I know, babe,” Annabelle assures.

Nick scratches his eyebrow, surveying the rest of the gym. “Yeah, the party’s pretty much over now. Some people are thinking of heading home.”

“Oh, no, c’mon,” Tanner says, looking veritably distressed at the reunion ending because of a misjudgement about the DJ on his part. “People can go home if they want to, but we can keep this going—clean up the food, turn the lights back off. The night doesn’t have to end here.”

“Come on, man. Be real. The dude said he’s going to come back for his DJ equipment. There’s not gonna be any music for the rest of the night.”

Tanner frowns, looking very distraught.

“We’re not paying that guy, right?” Hope asks, a bit contemptuously.

“We paid half in advance,” Molly says. “We’re definitely not going to pay the other half.”

“If he fights it you can just lawyer his ass, Mol,” Nick says, smiling, though his grin quickly fades. “Okay, shit. I’m gonna ask around. See who wants to leave and who wants to stay.”

They all watch as Nick leaves to talk to the rest of the crowd.

“Aw, fuck,” Tanner says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “This sucks shit.”

Theo pats his shoulder. “It’s alright, man.”

“How are you?” Amy asks Annabelle, low, as not to draw attention to any eavesdroppers.

“Fine,” Annabelle says. “It was funny seeing Molly about to go American Psycho on his ass.”

Hope brightens, a little, at this news. “How close was she to punching him?”

So fucking close,” Annabelle says, a slow, small smile spreading on her face.

“Whatever he got from me, he would’ve deserved worse,” Molly says, face still dark. “Misogynist asshole.”

Annabelle shrugs. “Ten bucks says he was high on something.”

“So the reunion’s really over, then?” Amy frowns.

“Everyone’s here for Thanksgiving. I’m sure people can find a way to catch up other than this,” Annabelle says. “I don’t really want to be here anymore, either, to be honest. Shitty energy.”

Amy watches Tanner as he begins to piteously clean up the mess made by the upended snack table. Theo appears out of nowhere with two brooms and a pan, probably taken from the janitor’s closet nearby. She feels bad for him.

“I think Tanner’s right,” she says, turning back to Molly and Annabelle. “The night doesn’t have to end here. Do you think we could take the reunion anywhere else?”

“None of us live in LA,” Molly says, before pausing thoughtfully. “Except Nick and Ryan, I guess.”

“Do you think they’d be okay with moving the reunion back to their house?”

Molly thinks about this for a second. “I’ll go ask him.”

“Solving problems left and right,” Hope says, nudging Amy as Molly goes to find Nick.

“Well, problem solving is literally my full-time job,” Amy reasons, but she’s smiling too. “I’m going to go help Tanner and Theo clean up.”

Annabelle sighs slightly. “I’m just going to head outside for a second. I’m fine, really, just need some air.” She begins to make her way to the exit.

Hope frowns. “I should probably join her. I’ll go bring Molly with me.”

“Call me if you need anything,” Amy says, rising to press a brief kiss to Hope’s cheek. “Don’t get kidnapped.”

Hope smiles, faint but amused. “I’ll fight her off next time.”

The fool spill isn’t so great that it needs a whole team, but Amy grabs a plastic garbage bag and helps Theo clean the rest of it up anyway.

“Are you okay?” she asks Tanner, who’s sulkily running a hand through his hair, beanie tucked underneath his armpit.

“Huh?” he grunts, eyes unfocused, before realising that Amy’s talking to him. “Oh, yeah, Ames. I’m good. Just feelin’ bad.”

Amy neglects to point out you can’t be good and feel bad at the same time. Instead she says, “Don’t feel too bad about it. We’re working on keeping the party going.”

His gaze settles on Amy, senses returned. “Yeah? What’s happening?”

“Molly’s talking to Nick and Ryan about maybe moving the reunion to their house. If they don’t mind.”

“Oh shit, yeah,” Tanner says, back straightening. He tugs on beanie back on, mouth spreading into a grin.

“Yeah!” Amy says, encouraging his growing enthusiasm.

“I need to talk to them!” he continues, before flashing Amy a thumbs up, turning on his heel quite suddenly, and leaving.

“Wasn’t expecting that,” Amy intones, watching him practically hop and skip towards where Nick and Ryan are talking. He looks delighted.

Theo laughs lightly from the side. “You wanna help me go throw the trash out?”

“Oh, sure,” Amy says, hefting one of the trash bags over her shoulder.

Outside, Theo says: “You know Nick and Ryan live in Nick’s aunt’s house?”

“No way?” Amy replies, thanking Theo softly as he opens one of the large dumpsters for her. Her movements slow as she processes this. “Wait, the house we went to for our high school graduation party?”

Theo grins. “Yeah! That one.”

Amy almost laughs at how well it fits, with the reunion theme being the night before graduation. “That’s way too good. But also… why?”

“He inherited it,” Theo explains. He leans down closer towards Amy after he says this, as if to divulge a secret. “I think Tanner’s going to suggest something crazy once we go back inside. Just watch.”

“You have to help me steal the DJ equipment,” Tanner’s saying, as they enter back into the gymnasium, talking to Theo but also kind of to Amy, who feels like she’s almost there by hostage.

Theo looks at her and makes a face like, see?

Tanner looks insistent. “You have to help me,” and he takes a dramatic pause, “Steal. The. DJ. Equipment.”

“What for, man?”

Listen,” he says, putting a hand on Theo’s shoulder, and then, after a moment of thought, putting a hand on Amy’s shoulder too, “I feel partially responsible here. I didn’t background check him hard enough, whatever. We gotta make him sweat. Make him think about what he’s done.”

“I’m into it,” Theo says, looking like he’s starting to get sucked in.

Amy frowns a little. “This isn’t illegal, is it?”

“Nah,” Tanner says, then, off Amy’s dubious look: “Look, dude probably rented the equipment. He’ll probably just have to pay a late fee, who cares, you know? Guy deserves worse.”

Amy thinks about the way Annabelle sighed, not hurt but bothered, in a way that she hasn’t been bothered for a long time. Damn it, why the hell not. “What’s the game plan?”

Tanner beams. “Okay, so, we don’t have enough room to put everything in Nick’s sedan, so Amy, you gotta help me out here—can you take the speakers and the controller?”

“Got it,” Amy says, already puzzling through the Tetris-like logistics she’ll have to pan out with Hope to fit everything in the back of her mom’s tiny Toyota.

Tight. We’ll take the turntable and whatever else.” Tanner steps back, holding out his hand, closed fist. “One for the history books.”

Theo fistbumps him. After a second, Amy fistbumps him too.

His posture straightens, looking proud. “Always knew you were cool, Ames.”

then

Sometime in the early morning, Amy wakes up to a small chill. She sleepily fumbles for the blanket, pushed to the bottom of the bed, somehow strangling her ankles. She kicks around a bit until the blanket untangles itself, and then—

“Stop fucking moving,” Hope’s voice rumbles from behind her, mouth somewhere close to the top of Amy’s head. “It’s too goddamn early.”

“I’m cold,” Amy mumbles, cracking her eyes open slightly to find Hope’s arm around her waist, and the blanket still around her legs.

For a moment Hope doesn’t say anything, so Amy assumes she’s just gone and fallen back asleep, until there’s a tiny sigh of annoyance and the blanket’s being pulled up, up over Amy’s legs and torso, covering the both of them in a layer of warmth.

“Thanks,” she murmurs, sleep tugging at her periphery, feeling her eyes drift again.

“Go back to sleep,” Hope only says, and then the room’s silent again.

The second time Amy rises, they’ve somehow managed to swap positions. Hope’s facing the wall, the soft rise and fall of her shoulders stopping her from being almost entirely unmoving. Deep enough in sleep that she could just be a brick wall.

The bed shifts as Amy rises, but Hope doesn’t stir. There’s something soft and happy pulling at Amy’s shoulders, her chest, her stomach, easing some of her anxieties—like how Amy isn’t sure of what she’d say if Hope did wake up right then, maybe something embarrassing like are you comfortable? Do you need another blanket? Want me to get you more water?—because while she’s never woken up next to someone before, it feels… nice. It feels nice. Nice enough that she feels like she doesn’t quite have to start worrying about nothing yet.

She quietly presses a kiss to Hope’s shoulder—not quite sure if that’s something she can do, but feeling brave enough to do it anyway—and slipping away to go take a bath. She feels awful but not hungover—just dirty. Nothing a shower and breakfast won’t fix. She putters around for a second to grab everything she needs, setting out an aspirin and re-filling the water bottle just in case Hope needs it, and starting the bath.

As the massive bucket of water refills, Amy perches on the edge of the bathroom seat, scrolling through her text messages on her international flip phone.

She only really has two recipients from overseas: Molly and her parents. There’s Hope, too, of course, but Hope’s laying in her bed, so she doesn’t quite count at the moment. The rest are people she’s met through the program: her supervisor, a handful of the girls. Given that her social sphere beforehand was significantly smaller, she practically feels like a social butterfly.

Her thumb hovers over selecting Molly’s contact. It’s something like one am in California, but she’s probably still awake. Amy debates the pros and cons of giving up her saved minutes outside of their allotted calling times, but fuck it.

“Hi!” Molly says, as she picks up. Then, with more worry: “Are you okay? You usually don’t call at this time.”

“I’m fine,” Amy laughs, shoulders relaxing as she hears Molly’s voice. God, she misses her so much. “I’m just, I wanted to talk to you.”

“Sure, I’m just transcribing this legal brief. He’s like, mid-argument, so if you could just give me a second—”

Amy breathes a quiet laugh through her nose. “Take your time.”

There’s the distant clacking of a keyboard for another few seconds, before Molly’s voice comes back to the forefront. “Fuck it, we’re being charged by the minute. I can do this later. What’s up? What did you want to talk about?”

“I, uh, I think I have a crush on Hope,” she says, half-listening to the running water of the tap. “I really like her, Mol.”

“Oh, boy,” Molly breathes out, and Amy can hear the roll of her computer chair: she’s probably migrating to her bed. “It’s been two days since she got there.”

“But we’ve been talking for so much longer, and,” Amy bites her lip, “I slept with her again last night.”

Amy’s almost certain Molly can feel her embarrassed flush through the phone line. Molly just makes this delighted giggling sound. “Look at you! You can’t even keep it in your pants!”

“I’m, well,” Amy laughs with her, snorting lightly. “I mean, yeah. Have you seen her?”

“Not my type, unfortunately. But you certainly have.”

“Yeah,” Amy says, lowering her forehand onto her hand, smiling dopily. “I have.”

A contemplative silence on Molly’s end, then: “You should tell her.”

Amy didn’t even have to call Molly to know her response would be something along those lines: you should tell her, be open, talk to her. Molly doesn’t quite have the tendency to talk herself into circles about things like these, with Nick being a very odd exception. She understands the merciful thing to do is just fucking ask.

It’s comforting to hear it coming from her best friend’s own lips, anyway.

“I will,” a pause. “Maybe.”

“Come on, Amy,” urges Molly. Amy can see the soft crease of her eyebrow. “Don’t let things just play out. Take charge. Don’t let it become like a Ryan situation again.”

Amy breathes out. “I don’t know. I don’t want to scare her off.”

“Amy,” Molly starts again, taking on her lecture voice thing, before she seems to realise something and stops. “Listen, I’m not going force you to do something you’re uncomfortable with.”

Amy smiles, soft.

“But, this is just a li’l advice from me to you. Best friend to best friend.”

“Okay,” Amy says, pushing the phone closer to her ear.

“I don’t think this is something you should be afraid of. I mean, she flew over to Botswana for you. That’s like—” sentence breaking off to make some disbelieving strangling noise, “Jesus Christ!”

“That’s the thing, actually. I didn’t want to presumptuous, or anything, but I think…” okay, how to say this? Amy closes her eyes and tries not to cringe. “I think maybe she had a crush on me, too?”

“Oh boy,” Molly says, obviously trying to process this information. “Okay, where did this come from?”

“She keeps on making like, comments on how she paid attention to me in high school, it’s, I mean, who says that if you’re not trying to imply—” Amy makes a frustrated noise. “It’s so stupid.”

“No, it’s not, that’s not stupid.”

“I mean, I’m gay and inexperienced but I’m not blind, you know? I like to think I can pick up signals.”

Amy can tell they’re both thinking about Ryan.

“Ryan was different,” Molly immediately reassures, reading her mind. “Ryan was a fucking smokescreen.”

Amy gets up to turn off the running tap. She has a feeling her conversation with Molly won’t be done for a while, so she gets comfortable on the closed lid of the toilet seat. As comfortable as you can be on porcelain.

“Ryan was so,” starts Amy, then stops. She doesn’t know how to finish her sentence.

“We don’t have to talk about that,” Molly says, quickly. “So, Hope? She liked you?”

“I don’t know, I’m just guessing. I had, like, a eureka moment yesterday, and everything about our situation right now, how weird it is—her being here in Botswana, despite being a very mean person to me in high school—just made sense. It just clicked.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” Molly says, being strangely agreeable. “If you think all that stuff, why won’t you tell her that you like her?”

“Because I’m,” and the million-dollar question really deserves a million-dollar answer, “because I’m a little afraid?”

“Okay, sorry if this is a little insensitive, but—what?”

Amy laughs at her best friend’s incredulity. “It’s kind of complicated.”

“You’re telling me!” Molly guffaws. “Everything could be so simple! If you like her and you think she likes you back, what’s the issue? I’m asking seriously, what is the issue?”

“The issue is… I want her to be my girlfriend.”

Amy can practically see the affronted look on Molly’s face. “Isn’t that the end goal? Isn't that like, the whole point?”

“But I mean,” Amy says, but then, yeah, isn’t that like the whole point? “But then I’m not going to be back stateside for another eight months after that.”

Molly lapses into silence. Then, cautiously: “You’re afraid she’s going to find someone else while you’re gone.”

Amy closes her eyes.

“Amy,” Molly says.

“I want Hope to do whatever she wants,” Amy says, scratching her knee. “But I also want her to be my girlfriend.”

“And you think those two things are mutually exclusive.”

“As long as I’m in Botswana, and she’s in New York, yeah.” Amy sighs. “I know long distance is like some lesbian right of passage, but it doesn’t feel right. Not when everything between us is so new. She’s going to want things, and I’m going to want things, and we’re not going to be able to compromise. Maybe we could do the whole long-distance thing later on—if we even have a later on. But right now, it’s like…”

“I understand,” Molly says. “As much as I love you and I love hearing about everything in your life, maybe you should be having this conversation with Hope?”

“She’s sleeping right now. But, um, maybe in a while—she’s still going to be here until the day after tomorrow.”

“Just make sure not to put it off too long,” warns Molly.

“I won’t.” Amy scratches the side of her cheek. “Thank you. For listening. I love you.”

“I love you too. And literally always, okay? Call me any time.”

“I will.” A contented silence, Amy smiling softly. Then: “Enough about me. How are you? How’s Jared?”

Hope’s awake by the time Amy steps out of the bath. Her conversation with Molly ended up lasting a whole forty-five minutes, ending with rescheduled call schedules and a hearty exclamation of good luck, and she takes a bath long and slow to get rid of all the sleepy alcoholic grit off her body, so the whole thing ends up taking her a little over an hour.

The bed’s neatly made—Hope’s futon is rolled up into a spiral and pushed off to the side, like she knows she won’t be using it again—but the kitchen is empty and so is the living room, leaving Amy to deduce she’s probably outside.

And she is outside. Sitting on a step leading up to the front door. Smoking.

Hope notices her quickly, mid-drag. She casually pulls the cigarette away from her mouth and snubs it against the side of the house, waving the smoke away.

“Hey,” she says.

“Hey,” Amy says, casually, like she didn’t just spend the last half hour spilling her guts out about Hope to Molly. She takes a seat to the right of her. “They let you bring cigarettes on the plane?”

“As long as you don’t smoke them,” she shrugs. “You can bring a lighter too.”

She pulls her Zippo lighter out of her jacket pocket, handing it to Amy to take. It’s engraved: David, 06.12.2004.

“My dad’s,” she clarifies, flipping it over to the other side, where it says best man. “Given to him at my uncle’s wedding.”

“That’s cool,” Amy says, rubbing her thumb against the date, engraving rough against her skin. She looks at Hope’s packet of cigs, which she just left on the ground. There’s only one stick left. “What are you smoking?”

Hope rolls her eyes at this. “All-natural cigarettes,” she says, leaning in closer to take on a more conspiratorial tone, “indie cigarettes.”

Amy snorts. “What, they’re healthier or some other bullshit myth?”

Exactly. Complete bullshit.” Hope taps on the pack. “A friend back home gave me this. I’ve had one for every new place I’ve been to.”

Amy resists making a face. She doesn’t want to seem like a stick in the mud.

Hope’s looking directly at her, though. “I’m not a smoker, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“It’s just, the health ramifications…”

“Hear you loud and clear, Amy,” she says. “I only smoke recreationally.”

“Yeah?” Amy’s eyes glint with mirth. “You promise?”

Hope side eyes her, pulling a face, before: “I promise I only smoke recreationally.”

“No, no,” Amy says, taking Hope’s right wrist to place her hand over her heart. “You have to promise.”

Hope looks down at her hand, then back at Amy. Her mouth drops open, a little shocked. “You’re making fun of me.”

“Me? Making fun of you? I would never.”

“The sex has made you really bold, you know that?” Hope says, trying and failing to sound annoyed, eyes crinkling at the edges.

That makes Amy blush a little. Did she really have to put it so brazenly?

“I’m waiting, Hope.”

She sighs, exaggerated, before straightening her posture and saying: “Hand over heart, I promise I only smoke recreationally.”

“Very nice. Eight out of ten.”

“You’re such an asshole,” she snorts, turning her head to look out into the empty street, hand falling back to her side. “What’s on the agenda for today?”

“About that,” Amy starts, picking on a weed growing through the cracks in the steps. “I kind of have to stay here today and clean. A condition to my host parents letting me hang here alone with you was that I would help them clean the house, and they’re coming back tomorrow, so. I don’t mind if you want to head out and explore by yourself. We can head out together tomorrow, maybe even tonight.”

Hope frowns. “I can stay here, help you clean. I’m eating their food and using their bathroom too, you know.”

 “No, seriously. I’ll feel terrible making you stay here and clean with me. You’re just a guest; this is my home for the rest of the year.”

“Amy, stop being so self-righteous. I’m gonna stay here and help you clean.”

“Did you hear the part where I said I’d feel terrible about it?”

“And did you hear the part where I told you to stop being so self-righteous?”

Hope.”

Hope looks at her; sighs. “You’re really going to make me say it, huh?”

“Make you say what?” This slips out of her own volition; Amy knows exactly what Hope’s talking about.

“I’m here for you,” Hope says, looking away. “So stop making decisions for me.”

“Okay,” Amy says, slow, biting her lip. “If you’re sure you want to stay here with me.”

“I am,” she says. She looks down at her last cigarette. “I’m going to smoke this and then I’ll head inside. May as well finish the pack.”

Amy’s gaze flickers down to the cigarette too. “Can I try?”

Hope looks genuinely caught off guard. “You want to try smoking?”

“Just this once,” warns Amy, holding up a finger. “Just one drag. Just to try.”

Hope snorts. “Fuck, sure. If you want to.”

She hands Amy the last cigarette from the pack, which Amy rolls nervously between her thumb and forefinger. She quickly slips it past her lips once she notices Hope flicking the lighter on and off once, then twice, just to make sure it’s working properly.

“Don’t inhale while I’m lighting it, just suck on it slightly like a straw,” she says, cupping one hand around the cigarette and using the other to light it. “Okay, pull in, hold for a second, then breathe out.”

Amy does what she’s told. Her throat tickles, then burns, then she finds herself coughing.

“That tastes like shit,” she says, pulling the smoke from her mouth and resisting the urge to spit.

“It’s a wonder why anybody smokes,” Hope drawls, grinning slightly, taking the cigarette from Amy’s hand and taking her own drag. Amy might have formed a lifelong hatred for smoking right then and there, but there’s still something inexplicably intimate about sharing a cigarette with someone else. Hope’s lips being in a place where her own lips were.

“I feel such a strong urge to slap that thing out of your hands right now.”

Hope looks at her, rolls her eyes, then snubs the barely-smoked cigarette out next to her. “Okay, fine,” she says, standing up. “I’m going to get myself clean, and then we’ll clean the house. Sound good?”

Amy stands with her, taking the cigarette packet from the ground. She never wants to see it again. “Sounds perfect.”