Previously on Finding Anna: Anna has a heart-to-heart with her dad about her mother’s cancer, has an emotional breakdown with her best friend, and goes on a date with Chase.
Does Anna let Chase kiss her?Click To Reveal Results
“Wait,” I whisper, and the top of my lip brushes over Chase’s. I freeze in fear. Alarm bells ring in my ears, competing with the sound of rushing blood and my pounding heart. I’ve never been kissed before. What am I supposed to do with my hands? Is my hair ok? I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life and now I’m in a blind panic. I’ve planned out my first kiss with detailed perfection every night of high school, and it was nothing like this. My palms are sweaty and my racing heart was supposed to be romantic, not confusing and annoying.
Chase is standing stock still and I’m not even sure if he’s breathing. The white lights continue twinkling overhead, and the smell of fresh fudge and candied almonds is almost overwhelming.
“Is something wrong?” he asks.
“Are you going to kiss me?”
He swallows. “I . . . uh . . . was thinking about it.”
“Okay,” I say, licking my lips. “You can . . . uh . . . you can kiss me.”
Chase slowly exhales. We’re so close I can see thin slivers of gold in his eyes. He’s hesitating, and it’s all my fault. I’ve mucked up my first kiss. Surely this is the most awkward moment in the history of the world.
“Uh . . . right. Thanks,” he finally says, but it sounds uncertain and stilted. He backs up a little and runs his hand through his hair. “I . . . uh—”
In a state of pure panic, I react on instinct. I reach up, grab his face and press it to mine. At first his teeth hurt against my lips, and he makes a weird noise in the back of his throat. My fingers press into his skin because I’m too frightened to let go of his face. It’s unlike any first kiss I’ve ever seen in any movie. It’s awkward, a bit frantic, and positionally all wrong.
Chase breaks it apart with a gentle little pull. “I’m . . . I’m so sorry,” I whisper, my cheeks flaring with heat. I take a step back, mortified. “I . . . I’m so sorry. I just ruined all that, didn’t I? I’m . . . I don’t know what to say.”
Chase chuckles under his breath, nearly drowning me in a wave of delicious spearmint. Chewing gum will never be the same experience again.
“It’s your first kiss, isn’t it?” he asks.
“Yes.” I wince. “That obvious?”
“Just a little.”
“It’s just that I’ve pictured this my whole life and I’ve never been the girl that gets to kiss guys and I don’t know what to do with my hands, and I really like how you smell so it scares me a little and—”
“Anna, relax. This isn’t an interrogation, okay? It’s just a kiss.”
It’s never just a kiss, I want to say, but I blow out a quick breath instead.
“Yeah, okay. Just a kiss.”
“Let me try again?”
“Yeah. I won’t . . . I’ll just—”
“Don’t think too much.”
When he smiles and moves closer instead of shoving me away, the horrific grip of fear starts to fade. He leans in again, putting his soft palm against my neck and pulling me closer at the same time. This time I trust him and move under his touch like melting butter on a hot plate. Suddenly his lips are exactly on top of mine, and they taste like spearmint, and before I know it, the tips of my fingers are in his hair and his arms are around my shoulders.
The kiss is perfect. Soft, quiet, and calm. My heart slows. I feel the warmth of his breath on my skin, the tingle of his fingertips lingering behind my ear. When he pulls away, I try to go with him, because I don’t want it to stop.
“That’s more like it,” he says, with that boyish grin. He presses our foreheads together like we’ve known each other for years.
“Much better,” I say, and tilt my head back and laugh.
“Is this the right place, Anna?”
“I don’t know,” I say to Taysom, peering over the milling crowd by standing on my tip toes. “Sophie said that she had a concert tonight. I’m assuming this is it.”
A plethora of college students are moving around the recital hall, and I frown when a guy with a bright pink mohawk sits right in from of me. Taysom eyes him, but finding him not exactly his style, eventually looks away.
“I’ve never been a big orchestra fan,” Taysom says, chewing on the straw sticking out of his frappucino. “But I guess it’s not going to hurt me to try it out once.”
I snort. “It’ll refine you even more.”
He rolls his eyes. “Hip hop is more my style. By the way, why didn’t you tell me that Chase kissed you?”
My head flips around to face him so fast my hair lands in my eye and I have to bat it out of my eyelashes. “What?” I ask in astonishment, still battling with my hair. “How did you know?”
He grinned. “I didn’t, but now I do! I can’t believe he kissed you! Was it just like the movies? Did you pop your foot? Are you feeling like Meg Ryan?”
I growl at him. “That’s not fair.”
He raises a judgmental eyebrow in a gaze he’s been giving me our whole lives. “Spill, girl. I want to hear all the juicy details.”
I capitulate with a sigh. “Fine. I’ll tell you everything.”
The recital hall continues to buzz as students move to their seats while Taysom grills me about every detail of my first kiss. By the time I finish my recounting of Chase’s perfect date, and the amazing second kiss, the director walks to the middle of the stage wearing a penguin suit. He’s so crisp that I wonder if he’s dumped a bottle of starch over his entire body, including hair gelled to shiny perfection.
Taysom let’s out a sigh, and his eyes drift over the crowd, no doubt honing in on someone he knows. Taysom knows everyone, so I leave him to it.
Halfway through the performance, Sophie takes the stage alone. She’s wearing a simple white dress, and even though I’m sitting toward the back, I can see how soft her curls look, and the bright way her eyes sparkle. Considering she had been wearing nothing but a sports bra and a grass skirt when I left in the morning, she looked normal, lovely, and at ease. People like Sophie were born for a stage, and I loved seeing her on it.
“Has she played violin her whole life?” Taysom asks, leaning in. “Seems like a big deal to have a solo part, right?”
“I don’t know. She doesn’t ever talk about it. Every time I try to ask, she changes the subject.”
His eyes narrow. “I don’t know her all that well, but she’s hiding something, isn’t she?”
My mouth opens to respond, but nothing comes out. Although I don’t like the idea of putting something like that on Sophie without concrete proof, I can’t help but agree with him. Sophie, despite her open, bubbling, charming personality, hid more secrets than a haunted house. Sometimes I felt like I was just looking at a polished, happy exterior, but had no idea what ghosts really lurked inside.
“I don’t know,” I say, and the lights on the stage dim until Sophie’s the only one standing in the middle, underneath a circular spotlight. The intense light gives her an ethereal appearance, and I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful.
The first strains of her violin ring through the crowd with a haunting melody. Sophie plays all the time at the apartment—sometimes literally—but I’d still never heard this piece. The long notes, the deep tones, and mournful expression on her face make my heart heavy. I long to reach out and wrap her in a hug.
“Wow,” Taysom whispers. “I had no idea the violin could sound like that. What is this song?”
“It’s sadness,” I say.
“Sadness.” A tear tracks out of the corner of Sophie’s left eye and drops down her perfect cheek. “She’s playing her sadness.”
“Why is she sad?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then how do you know?”
“Because I know that look on her face.”
I see it in the mirror every day now, I think of adding, but I don’t. Taysom is my best friend. He listens to me when I cry, shakes his fist at the universe when it’s mortally unfair, but he still doesn’t really know my heart. Taysom’s forehead wrinkles as he studies Sophie. She’s moving and swaying slightly with the rhythm of her song. He’s sober and quiet. “You’re right,” he says. “She is playing her sadness.”
I watch Sophie until the edges of my vision blur and all I can see is the halo that the ring of light has created around her dark hair. The music carries. It waxes and wans. It pulls all the mourning for Ma out of me and puts it back inside a wrinkled, tangled mess. The truth tastes metallic, like I’ve bitten the inside of my cheek. Despite living with her, I don’t really know Sophie at all.
When she finishes, the entire audience stands with applause.
“Ma, just take my arm.”
“You’re going to fall on the ice. Do you want to add a broken hip or arm to your list of medical issues right now? I’m not sure Pop can work more double overtime without going cross-eyed. Then he’d really look funny.”
She hesitates, just as I knew she would, and finally takes my arm. Together we shuffle up the walk, waddling across the ice like two ducks on an icy pond. A scarf wraps around her head, hiding her thinning, sparse hair that’s been falling out in bunches for the past week. Ma never complains, and I don’t have the heart to ask if she wants to just shave her head, so I continue braiding what’s left and both of us act like nothing is different.
“You doing ok, Ma? They increased the dose today. The nurse said you may feel sicker than normal.”
Her face is pale and peaked. Ma has always been a bit swarthy, with child-bearing hips that only bore one child, but she’s starting to fade away. Skin is sagging a bit on her cheekbones, reminding me of a new smoothie recipe recommended by one of the nurses that would be easier to eat with Ma’s painful mouth sores. Her finicky stomach didn’t allow much food, which meant she’d lost a lot of weight.
“I’m fine,” she says, but she sounds a little out of breath, so I slow our pace. She shoots me an annoyed look, but there’s a bit of relief there, and I know she’s just mad at the circumstance. “I’m fine.”
She’s beginning to sound like a recording. “I’m fine, Anna,” she always says. “Don’t do the dishes. I’ll get them. I’m fine.” “Don’t worry about making dinner. I’m fine.” “Tell the ladies that I’m fine.”
The ladies are her sewing circle, and have already stopped by the house. A note lays on top of a small pile of clothing waiting the kitchen counter. I get Ma settled in bed, covered up, with a basin just in case she gets sick, and retreat to the kitchen to start dinner.
Here are a few small things your Ma can mend that will be very simple. When I visited last week, she was furious that we weren’t leaving her any work to do. I think she wants to still keep busy. If she doesn’t get to it then I’ll take care of them when I stop by on Saturday. We’re handling all the mending just fine, so don’t you worry about the store.
I smile and tear the note in five pieces before tossing it in the garbage, just to make sure Ma doesn’t snoop her way into information she didn’t need, and move to the fridge to start a list before I go to the grocery store. Pa has taken the same lunch to work for the past ten years, and he’s almost out of bologna and pepperjack cheese. “It saves money,” he always says with a little huff. “No one needs expensive fast food restaurants when you can have a perfectly good bologna sandwich from home.”
“Anna?” Ma calls. I quickly scratch a few more things on my list and slip back into her bedroom.
Her eyes are fluttering closed when I walk in. “Will you open the blinds?” she asks. “Let the sunlight come in.”
Despite the strength of the sun bearing down outside, the day is still cold. I’m about to protest, to insist she needs her sleep, but I open the blinds instead. A little smile comes onto her face.
“Thanks. It’s wonderful to have some sunshine every now and then. I feel like I’m holed up in here all the time.”
I sit on the edge of her bed and the mattress sinks a little under my weight. “Can I get you anything else?”
She smiles weakly and pats my knee, then leaves her hand there, and the weight feels heavy on my loose jeans.
“No. Just you. Do you have a minute?”
“Will you tell me what’s going on in your life?” she asks. “We haven’t sat down and had a good chat in awhile.”
Ma is so tired she can hardly keep her eyes open, but I can’t deny her anything. “Sure, Ma,” I say. “Where do I start? I’m still working nights cleaning buildings. Sophie did a wonderful violin performance that she wouldn’t speak about afterwards.” My cheeks heat up a little. “Oh, and Chase took me on a date.”
She keeps her eyes closed, but tracks the conversation, and soon we’re laughing together about how awkwardly I responded to my first kiss.
“Did you like it?” she asks, and her eyes open. “Was it just like you’d always dreamed?”
I smile. “I guess not.”
“Not bad. Maybe better. I liked it, but it was kind of nerve wracking at first. It’s just . . . it’s different than I thought.”
Ma tilts her head farther into the pillow with a little sigh. “Life is like that, Anna. It’s always so different from what you’re expecting or planning.”
I pull my leg onto the bed, tucking it underneath me. “How was your life different?” I ask, leaning onto my palm.
“Everything was different than I expected,” she said. I’m expecting her to look frustrated, but she’s calm. “Your father was going to make more money, for one. I was going to be a stay at home mom with seven children.”
My eyes nearly bug out of my head. “Seven?”
She giggles. “Yes. I thought that I wanted seven.”
“But you only had me.”
A bit of distance comes into her voice. “It turns out that you were all that we needed.”
I’m not sure how I’ve turned nineteen years old and still not talked to Ma about this before. “Ma, why didn’t you have more if you wanted them?”
A little sigh escapes her. “We couldn’t. You were a little unexpected, but after that, it never worked out. We could have dived farther into it, found out why through testing, but I didn’t want to place blame on either your father or I. By that time you were five, we were barely making ends meet with just the three of us, so we left it that way.”
“Do you regret it?”
“No. I’m lucky, Miss Anna. I don’t really have regrets.” Her voice starts to fade slightly and she yawns. “I’m glad I didn’t have to share my time with you. Just don’t give up your love story or your dreams, Anna. Your first kiss wasn’t like one of your movies. That’s fine. Just . . . . just make your own movie.”
I intertwine my fingers with Ma, and her skin is soft. “Thanks, Ma.”
“Now,” she says, squeezing my hand. “I’m going to sleep. Thank you for the chat. I’ve missed our nightly talks, the way we used to when you were in high school.”
“Me too, Ma,” I say with a little smile. “Me too.”
Later that week, Sophie runs from the bathroom and into our bedroom with a towel draped around her body and one around her head. “Stall!” she screeches. “Stall, stall, stall!”
Behind her rings the sound of someone knocking on our apartment door. I use the remote to turn off Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the song Sophie insists she listen to every time she’s in the shower.
“What’s going on?” I ask, sliding off my bed.
“It’s my date and I’m not ready. Stall!”
She shoves me out of the bedroom and slams the door. When I pull the front door open, a towering man with a full beard and a long sleeved flannel shirt stands outside. Paul Bunyan immediately comes to mind, and I resist the urge to ask him where his blue ox is waiting.
“Hi,” I say, opening the door further. “You must be Sophie’s date.”
He smiles, and his teeth are white and straight. Lyrics from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers start ringing through my head.
I shake his hand, not surprised to find a grip of steel. “I’m Anna, her roommate,” I say, pulling the door open wider and extending an arm to motion him in. “Have a seat. Sophie’s just about ready.”
He has to duck to walk into the apartment. When I offer him a bottle of water, he declines with a little wave.
“So, Garrett,” I ask, sitting on the edge of the couch. “How do you know Sophie?”
“She came into my restaurant for lunch yesterday.” He scrubs a hand over his full, prickling beard. “We ended up talking for awhile, and she agreed to come on this date.”
It’s Sophie’s first date since Tony’s unexpected break up with her, and I’m a little wounded that she never mentioned it to me. Then again, I spend so much time with Ma these days that we didn’t have as much interaction as we used to.
“Sounds great,” I say, and the sound of the blow dryer fills the background. “Are you from around here?”
While I amuse Garrett with small talk, Sophie is busting out different songs while she gets ready, and I can barely suppress a laugh when she dives into Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. Garrett’s lips are pressed in an amused smirk, and for some reason, I can’t help but like him.
“How long have you known Sophie?” he asks, and his eyes have narrowed slightly in question.
“Just a few months. Why?”
He shakes his head. “Just curious. She seems a little out of place in a small town like this, doesn’t she?”
I think about what he’s said, because he seems to have perfectly articulated what I’ve been trying to put my finger on for weeks now. Sophie has zest and zeal and talent—as she proves every time she picks up her violin—enough to put her in Juliard, or some expensive school that takes a mortgage to pay off. It’s not just her talent, though. It’s her unpredictable personality. Her cravings for pickles and bananas at midnight. Her ability to live without restriction.
“Yeah,” I say. “You’re right. She kind of does have a big personality to choose to live in such a small town.”
He mulls my agreement over, then looks away, effectively cutting the conversation off. But the idea continues in my head, and I wonder when I’m ever going to learn who Sophie really is.
Sophie spills out of the hallway, a pair of high heels dangling from one hand and two massive green earrings from her other. Her hair is fresh-blown perfection. Her makeup could have been done by an artist, and she’s wearing a beautiful green dress that’s both casual, and dressy. My eyes flicker to the clock, and I’m startled to see only ten minutes have passed.
Garrett stands up, and when he smiles at Sophie, I see real admiration and curiosity in his gaze.
“You met Garrett?” she asks, and her eyes light up as she hurries to his side with a charming grin. “He looks like he belongs chopping wood somewhere, doesn’t he?”
Garrett chuckles and it rumbles low in his chest.
“Have fun, you two,” I say when Sophie stands, as graceful as a swan, on impressively tall heels. Garrett offers her his arm, and they disappear with a little flounce of Sophie’s hair and a wink in my direction. I laugh, grab my car keys, and head into work for an extra shift cleaning the gymnasium.
Will Sophie’s date with Garrett be a success, or an epic failure?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.