September 30, 2001
When I was fourteen, I definitively decided that I would never, ever set foot in Central Park. Even if there came a day when I would have to travel to New York, the heart of the city would always be a no-go. Even if my life depended on it, I would never find myself in the iconic park, no matter what.
Then again, there were a lot of things I thought I’d never do. Though I’d never given the specific scenario much thought, I assumed that traveling the US with an amnesiac was one of them.
Despite my promise to myself, I found myself walking the park alongside Grant, eight years later. If my fourteen year old self was here to see me, she would surely die. Then again, I was trying my hardest not to think of her too much nowadays.
With Grant there, this was almost easy. As much disdain as I held for the place, his enthusiasm was genuine enough to be contagious.
We hadn’t spoken much since arriving at the park. I suspected that this was mostly due to Grant’s silent marveling at the sheer grandiosity of the tourist trap we had found ourselves in. As usual, being the less jaded of the two of us, he ate it up. “It’s just so big,” he gushed upon arriving, looking away from me in favor of one of the many skyscrapers peeking over the trees. “Makes you feel like you could live here your whole life and not see it all.”
Though I was tempted to ask him how long of a life he was talking, I simply nodded, offering a less concerning response. “Maybe,” I said. “Though I doubt anyone would want to stay in one city their entire life.”
Apparently, Grant was surprised by this answer. “Really?” he asked. “Even New York?”
“Even New York,” I confirmed. Much to my dismay, the vision of Amy and I living a happy life together in the city crept back into my mind. I tried my hardest to chase it away. I shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t, anyway.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” Grant replied.
I turned to him, surprised by how quickly he responded to my statement. “What do you mean?” I ask.
He smiled. “Well, duh, April. You’re the restless type. If you stayed in one place for too long, you’d probably go insane.” He paused, the faintly vacant look in his eyes making it obvious that he was lost somewhere deep in his mind. He came back quickly, continuing to speak. “I think we’re different that way,” he said. “Once we’re done with this whole thing, I think I’d like to root myself somewhere, start a new life. I’ll figure out who I am and go from there, get a job, a house, maybe a car. You…” He gave me a pointed look, the grin on his face betraying the seriousness in his eyes. “Let’s just say I’d be surprised if you went back to Stoneview at all.”
Thinking of my now foreclosed apartment, I was tempted to tell him that he hit the nail right on the head. Figuring that the specifics weren’t all that necessary, I smiled and told him the half-truth. “I would be, too.”
He smiled, obviously satisfied with himself for having gotten to know me well enough to predict where I might end up. Considering my record of opening up to people, he had the right to a bit of pride. If Clarisse the Therapist could see us now, she would surely be rewarding him with a gold star.
As we continued to walk the famous park, I thought to myself. It hadn’t really dawned on me until then that our journey would ideally come to an end, and, if things went the way we had intended them to, we would reach that point sometime soon. It seemed as if everything was moving all too quickly. As selfish as it may have seemed, I wished that Grant’s journey would slow down just a little bit, just so I could savor whatever feeling the freedom of escape was giving me.
It wasn’t until we hailed a taxi back to the hotel that I realized why this was.
Suddenly, this trip wasn’t just about Grant finding who he was anymore. I just might have been finding myself as well, little by little, leaving who I thought I was behind, shedding the old April’s skin to become someone completely new.
To my surprise, that thought didn’t seem all so scary at all. In fact, I welcomed the idea.
One of the many luxuries of the new hotel was the fact that they had an actual laundromat within the building. Being as large as it was, there was always a washer open, giving me the opportunity to wash the bountiful amount of dirty clothes that had accumulated between Grant and I thus far.
Following our Central Park visit, I gathered our laundry pile from the floor, carrying it to the laundry room. Unfortunately, the height of the pile hindered my vision a great deal, keeping me from seeing any obstacles that might have stood in my path. It was for this reason that I ran headfirst into another person on my way down the hall. With a shriek, I stumbled backwards, my laundry flying everywhere in the process.
Also startled, the person I ran into quickly launched into an apology. “Oh my God, I am so sorry!” she exclaimed. “Here, let me help you.”
Bending down on her knees, my obstacle was quick to gather as many of my dropped clothes as she could. It wasn’t until she handed them to me that I realized that I had bumped into the One More Chance girl. Thankfully, she was dressed in normal clothes this time, preventing me from slipping into my habit of awkwardly staring.
She smiled at me as we stood up, pushing the pile of rumpled clothes into my arms. “There you go,” she said. Her grin faded when she looked back down at our feet. To my embarassment, her own garments were now strewn every which way across the floor as well. “I’m sorry,” I said. Sitting my own laundry down, I returned to my knees to collect hers. As I picked up each article of clothing, I soon realized that many of them were far less normal than her current jeans and T-shirt. Much more along the lines of the Halloween-colored overalls were a tank top decorated with tiny lawn gnomes, a pair of snakeskin printed athletic pants, and a long plaid skirt which, under closer inspection, I discovered was actually a kilt. Honestly, I can’t make this stuff up.
As I continued to collect her clothes, I soon realized that she had much more than I did. Whether this was due to the duration of her stay being longer than mine or the amount of oddity gems to be found within the thrift store, I wasn’t sure. The more clothes I picked up, the more I wondered. Why would she be staying at a hotel next to her workplace, anyway?
I stood up, handing her the clothes. She smiled. “Thank you. Sorry about that.” She sighed, rolling her eyes. “I wouldn’t have been coming that way if James hadn’t made **** sure I knew it was my day to do the laundry.”
My mind returned to him at the front desk, cheerfully greeting everyone who walked through the doors. What did James have to do with anything?
Noticing my confusion, the girl grinned, a look of satisfaction on her face.
“The concierge,” she confirmed. “My boyfriend. I was just on my way to our room.”
Though I now knew that she and James were apparently dating, it still wasn’t clear why they were staying at the hotel. Unless… “You live here?”
She nodded. “Happily so,” she said. “I work down the street, and, since James actually works in the building, it’s easy.” She grinned. “We’re the resident freaks. Literally.”
Judging by their exuberance when talking to strangers, she and James were perfect for each other. Though I was still trying to get past her so I could do my laundry, she still wasn’t getting the memo, not seeming bothered by the fact that she was still holding most of her godawful wardrobe. “I work at a thrift store. One More Chance,” she continued. She stopped talking for a moment, only to glare at me with curious brown eyes. “I might have seen you in there before, actually. Weren’t you with a guy yesterday? You know, black hair, bought a whole bunch of books…”
“Yeah,” I replied. “That’s my friend, Grant. We’re, um, traveling.”
“Oh, cool! I don’t know if you caught my name, but I’m Cherry, by the way. Cherry Fitzpatrick.” She held a hand out to me, only to finally notice that I was still carrying my clothes. “Oh, sorry. I should probably let you go…” She paused, glaring at me expectantly. I assumed that she was looking for a name.
“April,” I said. “April Fielding.”
Apparently, this was all Cherry needed, the secret password that caused her to step aside. She nodded before moving out of my way. “Great.”
I nodded back, unsure of what else to do at this point. It had just not occured to me that I hadn’t had a full conversation with anyone other than Grant in about two weeks now. Though I didn’t really have much in the way of social skills before, they might have actually been shot by then.
Just when I was almost to the laundry room, Cherry spoke again. “April?”
Not wanting to be rude, despite my impatience, I turned around. “Yeah?”
“You and Grant feel free to come back to One More Chance any time,” she said. “Not a whole lot of people walk the whole store.”
I chuckled to myself. Okay. It seemed Cherry was one for shameless self-advertisement. “Will do.”
“Great! Catch you later.” With that, she waved goodbye.
As I watched Cherry walk away with her armful of ugly clothes, I smiled.
Maybe Grant was right about having friends wherever you go. He just didn’t mention that the stranger people tended to be the most accommodating.
After dinner, Grant and I returned to our room. As soon as I turned on the lights, the snowglobe caught my eye. Though my recollection of the night before was fuzzy, I vaguely remembered standing it upright on the nightstand upon returning inside from the balcony.
Remembering the view of the skyline, an idea struck me. I tugged on Grant’s sleeve. “Can I show you something?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
I grabbed his hand, leading him towards the sliding-glass doors.
We stepped onto the balcony together. I closed the door behind me before seating myself in one of the chairs on the balcony. I stared out at the sky again, attempting to take note of anything I might have missed the last time. This time, it was earlier, cobalt blue peeking out from behind the nearly-black skies. The city lights were just now beginning to truly shine, the bright colors bleeding into one another, illuminating just how grand the city was supposed to be. Even when I was in a better mood, it still inspired an ache within me, a blinding spotlight shining on a blank space.
I tore my eyes away from the skyline to focus on Grant. The lights shone on him, too, as he leaned against the railing, facing them. Though I couldn’t see much of him from my seat, I got the same feeling I had on the ferris wheel a few nights prior, appreciating how beautifully he seemed to blend in with the world around him. Although he couldn’t fill the gap I couldn’t help but take notice of, he made the picture seem just a little bit more complete. For a while, I sat and admired him, wishing that I had the Polaroid with me so I could capture the moment within a snapshot. Unable to do that, I sat still for just a little while longer, trying my best to paint the picture in my brain and keep it there.
Of course, it had to end eventually. I stood up, joining him at the edge of the balcony. Mirroring his stance, I rested my arms against the railing. “So,” I began, keeping my voice soft as not to interrupt the tranquility of the moment. “What do you think?”
He glanced over to me. Somewhat to my dissappointment, his eyes didn’t seem to harbor the solemnity of someone who knew what was missing. As usual, they sparkled, unbothered and unaware. Perhaps that was why he had frustrated me for so long. He wasn’t like me in the sense that he couldn’t remember the times the world had beaten him down, ripped the things he loved apart before his very eyes. To my surprise, I didn’t envy him for that one bit. I pitied him instead.
My heart sunk when he quietly gave me his response. “I think that it’s beautiful.”
I remained frozen, a terrible sadness settling within me. The ache of knowing.
There were so many things I could have told him right then and there, all of them horrible. I could have told him about Amy, smiling so brightly one day, dead and gone the next. I could have pulled up the sleeves of my shirt or the legs of my pants, shown him every scar I had, from days both recent and long, long ago. I could have told him what really happened right here in New York not even a month ago, making holes in the sky and so many hearts that could never be filled.
I could have told him the truth about so many things, but I didn’t. Instead, he told me. “Can I tell you something, April?”
Somewhere below us, a car horn sounded, snapping me out of my trance and prompting me to give him a reply. “Anything.”
He smiled, shining so bright beneath those useless lights. “I think we’re close. I really do.” He spoke in a hushed tone, as if anyone other than the two of us could hear over the noise of the city. “Whatever it is we’re looking for, I just know that we’re almost there. It’s here, in New York, just waiting on us. And we’re gonna find it. We’re going to find me.”
For just a moment, my heart leapt. The feeling soon faded away, however, replaced by something else. Though I couldn’t put my finger on just what it was, I knew I had felt it before.
I wrapped my arms around Grant, pulling him into a hug. I tried my best to guard myself from the light, hoping to keep my tears concealed. If Grant noticed them, he didn’t let on, holding me tight without a word.
Once I was halfway composed, I broke the silence between us, not pulling away from him.
“That’s great, Grant,” I whispered into his shoulder. “It really is.”