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Appisode 9: No Guarantee

Previously on Finding Anna: Anna has her first kiss, chats with Ma, attends Sophie’s violin solo, and Sophie goes on a date. 

Will Sophie’s date with Garrett be a success, or an epic failure?

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           By the time I get home from my extra shift cleaning the gymnasium, slip into a pair of oversized sweats, and turn on an episode of Bones, Sophie comes home. My eyes wander to the clock. It’s past one.

            “Hey,” I say, hitting mute and straightening up. “How did it go?”

            Sophie pulls off her heels, looking dazed.  “It was . . . wonderful.”

            She drifts over to the couch and sinks down, her eyes fixated on a dirty towel in the kitchen. I turn the TV off and swing my legs off the couch.


            She blinks and looks at me, as if she just realized I was there. “Have you ever had the feeling like your world has shifted in just the course of a few hours? Like you know you’ll never be the same.”

            I think of Ma’s news over Thanksgiving dinner. “Yeah,” I say. “I know a little about that.”

            Sophie swallows and pulls in a deep breath, shaking her head as if to dispel the fog that’s come over her. “I’ve had it before, but not in such a positive way. Garrett is . . . he’s wonderful.”

            “Are you okay, Sophie?”

            “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

            “I’m not sure.”

            “Well I’ve always wanted to believe in love at first sight, although I’m not sure I really do, but I am beginning to believe in love at first date.”

            My eyebrows lift. “That good?”

            “Yeah.” She nods. “That good.”

            I smile at her, and she slowly returns it. It’s wispy and girlish and reminds me of a Disney princess. Somehow, it fits Sophie and her naivete perfectly. The idea of falling so hard for someone so fast seems absurd. But it fits well into Sophie’s less-than-usual life.

            “When do you see him next?”

            “Tomorrow. He’s taking me to breakfast.”


            “He works late running his restaurant.” Her shoulders drop low in a heavy sigh, and she’s staring into space again. “Well,” she says, gathering herself back together and picking her heels up by the back straps. “I’m going to go to bed. No doubt I’ll dream about him and his broad shoulders.”

            She floats away, humming a song from Cinderella under her breath. I turn the television back on, seeking the brainless release of a show I don’t really need to pay attention to. Two minutes later, her favorite song by Puccini, Che Gilda Manina, billows through our basement apartment with operatic perfection. Our landlady bangs on the floor with a broomstick, but the music continues, eventually lulling me to sleep on the couch with the TV flickering in the background.




            “We need to talk about your internship, Miss Buchanan,” Mr. Darnell says a week later, while I’m sorting through a pile of permission packets obtained for GoTeachGo’s next trip to Chile. He’s staring hard at his shiny new pair of cowboy boots. They look funny on a guy like him, but I don’t mention it. “I don’t believe we ever specified a time frame for how long your internship would last, did we?”

            Something in my spine freezes, making my back stiff. While I’d known that we’d left it open ended, I’d banked on Mr. Darnell’s occasional forgetfulness and hoped that I could continue working at GoTeachGo, even unpaid, for as long as possible. Any exposure to the system would be beneficial, and I’d become fond of talking to Mr. Darnell. He had more wealth than he knew what to do with, but he still dressed like a construction worker most days.

            “Er, no,” I say, tapping the packets into a neat pile, wrapping it in a rubber band, and setting it aside for him to double check later. “I don’t believe we did.”

            We didn’t even sign an official contract, but I didn’t want to remind him of that, either.

            Mr. Darnell pressed his lips together with a sigh. “I need to start interviewing for an official, paid secretary position, but I don’t want it to interfere with your internship. There’s not room enough for two butts in that office space. Nor work enough, really.”

            “That’s easy,” I say in a breezy tone. “Just hire me and we’ll call the internship officially complete.”

            He leans forward and throws a pen on his desk. “Done. You’re hired starting tomorrow.”

            My hand pauses halfway to a stack of unopened mail. I glance at him over my shoulder. “Seriously?”

            “The only issue I foresee is your scholarship trip to Africa,” he says, eyebrows low in thought. “They’re looking at running it in April, and I think you’re only slated for two months. But I suppose my wife could fill in if we can’t find a temporary replacement.”

            Despite him sorting through the details out loud, I’m still stuck on my own disbelief. “You want to pay me to work here?”

            “I already know you’re good, you work hard and I really don’t want to interview anyone. It just takes so much time. And there are really awkward candidates for a job like this.”

            He leans back in his chair to stare at the ceiling, and it emits a low groan.  I take a careful breath. “I’d love to work at GoTeachGo,” I say. “Would the hours be the same?”

            “Oh yeah. Same exact job.”

            Something is off. It seems too good to be true. Mr. Darnell hired me as an intern to save the company money. I swivel around in my chair to face him. The last thing I want is a pity job. Or pity anything. “You’re doing this because of my mom, aren’t you? Did Taysom put you up to this?”

            “No.” He glares at me. “Don’t offend me. I’m serious, Anna. I don’t want to go through interviews, and you could use the money. Besides, what if I was doing it because your family needs a little extra income? Your mother has cancer! Forget pride. You gotta survive.”

            Living in a poor family that only shopped thrift stores for “brand new” back to school clothes and shopped with food stamps until I was fifteen had taken away any pride long ago, but I still understood what he meant. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.”

            He stacks his feet on his desk, as if he’d just run a long distance and needed to stretch. The idea of him running anywhere almost made me giggle.

            “Let’s start you on the payroll tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll get all the paperwork going. Shouldn’t be too much since you already filled out most of it for your internship.”

            “Thanks, Mr. Darnell,” I say. “I appreciate the offer.”

            When I turn back around to sort through the mail, I’m not as excited as I expected to be. Working at GoTeachGo was a dream come true; hadn’t I been ecstatic about an unpaid internship? So why didn’t I feel that way now? Pushing it away as a weird funk because of my short sleep life, I dive into the mail and forced my thoughts to happier places.

            At least I’ll be paid to sort the mail next time.




            “Well, Mrs. Buchanan, things are progressing the way I like them too. The chemotherapy seems to be having the desired effect, as well as the radiation.”

            Dr. Nields is a kind old man with wispy white hair over his ears that makes it look like has wings. His wrinkled face is tan despite it being winter, and he smells like a department store. Even for an old man, he’s quite attractive. Even his nails look manicured.

            Ma looks relieved. “I’m glad to hear that. Does that mean you want to go ahead with surgery?”

            “Yes.” He set down a metallic clipboard and leaned back against the cupboard. “I think that will be the best course at this time. We’ve caused a little bit of shrinkage on the tumor, not much of course. Radiation can only do so much in this time frame. Delaying the surgery a few weeks while doing chemo sometimes helps kill the cancer faster because we don’t have to wait so long after your recovery from surgery to start the chemo. There’s no guarantee, of course.”

            I’m sitting next to Ma on the crinkly white paper in Dr. Nields’s office. My arm is around her shoulder, and she’s so tired that sometimes I’m the only thing holding her up. Her skin has become saggy and sallow. She’s lost weight, and it doesn’t look good, like she’s just bones draped in too much skin.

            “Of course,” Ma says, drawing in a breath. She winces. Any amount of talking causes her mouth sores pain. Her joints often hurt as well, which meant just coming to the office had sapped almost all her energy for the day. “When do you want to do the surgery?”

            “Next week.”

            My eyes nearly bug out of my head. “Next week?” I ask. “So soon?”

            He nods. “Sooner is better.”

            Next week feels like too soon. I haven’t had time to mentally prepare, but I can tell in his eyes that it doesn’t matter. There’s no way to prepare for the curveballs of cancer anyway.

            “Let’s do it,” Ma says, and although she doesn’t sound afraid, I can see it in her eyes. Everything is happening so fast, and yet, I feel like we live in slow motion. Every moment with Ma is magnified so I can see her pain and discomfort in exquisite detail.

            Dr. Nields nods, taps his hand on the counter, and straightens. “I’ll let the nurse know to call and schedule the OR. Give me just a few minutes and I’ll be back with more details.”




            “I have some great news,” Chase says the next day, grinning.

            I’m following him through the busy cafeteria, both of us carrying our own trays. We stop first at the salad bar. He follows behind as I grab a tongful of lettuce. We haven’t mentioned the sweet kiss in the candy shop since it happened a few weeks before, but seemed to have continued on with our friendship the way it always had been; comfortable and easy. I didn’t mind. In fact, it seemed more natural to just keep going instead of shift tracks and try to force something romantic I wasn’t ready for. With Ma’s surgery looming over my head, the last thing I wanted was the confusing distraction of a romance that wasn’t actually as romantic as I’d expected.

            “Oh yeah?” I say. After getting a phone call from Pop that Ma had been up all night sick as a dog and worshipping the toilet gods after her late dose of chemo at Dr. Nield’s office, I could use a little good news. “What’s up?”

            “Well, I’m not sure if I told you or not, but I’ve been applying to culinary schools across the country. Most of the programs I applied to are extremely competitive, so I didn’t hold much hope of getting in.”

            I stop in front of the beets. “You got in, didn’t you?”

            His smile lights up his whole face. “I got in!”

            He spreads his arms, so I give him a congratulatory hug. When I pull away, other students are spilling around us to get through the salad bar and casting us annoyed glances.

            “Chase, that’s wonderful,” I say, ignoring the others, for once not caring what they think. Life, I’ve realized, is too short. “What culinary school?”

            “It’s a small school out of Napa, California, but they offer everything I could want like food business school, baking and pastry certificates, and graduate education. The campus is beautiful, too. They built on an old vineyard.” He closes his eyes and draws in a deep breath. “It’s wonderful.”

            I smile, truly happy for him. “It sounds fantastic. When you come back to visit, will you make me a cake.”

            He scoffs. “A cake? I’ll make you a pastry and name it after you!” His expression changes, becoming more serious, almost sober. “Listen, I didn’t want to make things awkward by telling you this. Because of, well . . .”

            “Oh, yeah,” I say quickly, hoping to dispel the awkward tension. “Don’t worry.”

            He puts a hand on my shoulder, and oddly enough, it is comforting. “I just didn’t want you to think I don’t care for you. I wouldn’t have kissed you unless I did.”


            “It’s just that—”

            I put a hand on his arm. “Chase, don’t worry about it. Neither of us owes the other one anything. And I don’t feel rejected. I’m proud of you and excited for you. Moving to California will be closer to your family, and it will be a great adventure.”

            His relief is visible. “You’re a wonderful girl, Anna.”

            We focus on gathering food again, falling into an easy discussion about his classes, what he expects, and when he leaves. To my surprise, I don’t feel sad, which is confusing. Shouldn’t I feel at least a little devastated that the cute boy I like is leaving? Shouldn’t there be depression? An urge to eat ice cream?

            Most of all, I just want to know what I’m feeling. All I can picture is dark cloud of charcoal hovering above my head. By the time I leave the cafeteria and head for my last class of the day, I feel like my brain is twisted into a knot.

            “All those stupid chick flick movies are liars,” I growl into my scarf, earning a strange glance from a girl I pass. “Nothing ever happens in real life the way it does in the movies.”




            “What’s up with you?” Sophie asks the moment I walk into the apartment. She’s wearing a pair of cowboy boots, her black hair in two braided pigtails, and a red handkerchief tied around her neck. I set my backpack aside.

            “Are you going to a hoedown?”

            Her forehead ruffles. “No. Why?”

            When I gesture to her outfit, she continues to look perplexed. “This is what I’m wearing,” she says.

            “Are you going on a date with Garrett?”

            She smiles. “Yes.”

            “Ah. That makes more sense then.”

            She follows me back into the bedroom, trailing me like a little puppy. “Tell me what’s wrong,” she says. “I can see something is off in your eyes.”

            It’s so much more than that, I think.

            Frustrated, I do a back flop onto my bed and stare at the poster of Bermuda I’ve tacked to the ceiling. One day, when I’m not tied down to classes, I’m going to go to Bermuda over a long weekend just for fun.  I dream of piña colada’s and the warm sun on my back until Sophie snaps her fingers in front of my face, startling me from my reverie.

            “Hey! Snap out of it. You’ve been living in la la land too much lately. What are you running from?”

            “Running from? I seem pretty stuck here to me,” I retort, and pick up my pillow to hug. She sits on the edge of her bed and grabs a nearby nail file.

            “You can run away and never really leave, you know. It’s my theory that you hid from your childhood by escaping to all your daydreams. It was the only way for you get away. So when your mom was diagnosed with cancer, you’ve been doing the same.”

            What she says is true. I do escape from reality through my dreams. But doesn’t everyone? And why is she calling me out on it like I’m shirking responsibilities in my life? I don’t appreciate the sense of judgment coming from her. The only thing I want is the bedroom to myself so I can lay my thoughts out and think. Or sleep. I desperately need sleep.

            “It’s none of your business what I do with my time,” I snap. “Leave me alone.”

            Sophie recoils, I can see it from the corner of my eye, but I don’t apologize. Living in such close quarters with her has started to feel suffocating. I haven’t even told her about Ma’s surgery. Probably because I’m so worried that it makes me sick to even think about it. Besides, as an only child living with a family just above the poverty line, having my space was the only thing I ever really had that couldn’t be taken, sold, or traded for something else.

            “Whoa,” she says. “Bad day?”

            I roll onto my side and stuff my face into the pillow. “Go on your date. Leave me alone.”

            Sophie’s bed creaks. Her hand comes onto my shoulder. It’s warm and soft and petite and calloused at the same time. Only Sophie could be feminine and still have fingertips that resemble sandpaper. “Whatever happened, or whatever it is, just know I’m here for you, Anna. I know how lost and confused you must be feeling.”

            Chase, my first kiss, is leaving but it doesn’t bother me. Mr. Darnell wants me to work at GoTeachGo and I’m not even excited. Ma’s chemotherapy has completely taken away all her hair and now she’s going into surgery and it scares me so much I can barely breathe. I’m so confused on what to feel, or what emotion to vent first, that I just stuff all of them away. It infuriates me that Sophie, the rich, beautiful, flouncy, lovable Sophie could imagine herself in my poor, frumpy shoes.

            “You don’t know,” I say, and my voice sounds choked. “You could never know, Sophie.”

            She sucks in a sharp breath, and I know she wants to say something else, but she squeezes my shoulder instead.

            “I’ll see you in the morning,” she says quietly, then pauses, no doubt waiting for me to reply. Tears rise, making my throat hot and stuffy. I don’t know what to say. What can I say? So I leave the silence. Sophie shuts the light off and closes the door to our room. Ten minutes later I hear Garrett knock and the two of them leave.

            I swallow back the tears and fall into sleep with a heavy breath.




            “Everything is going to be fine, Ma,” I say a week later. “Dr. Nields is the best in the state.”

            I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it doesn’t really matter. Ma doesn’t contradict me, just smiles weakly. She’s laying on a gurney in a thin hospital gown, surrounded by blankets. I want to lie next to her, snuggle in for warmth the way I used to when I was a little girl, but I don’t. Because I’m the adult now and Ma is the one that needs caring for. Pop hasn’t let go of her hand, and hasn’t said anything all morning, so it’s certainly not him that’s going to act strong.

            “Time to go, Mrs. Buchanan,” the nurse says, smiling at Pop and I in a reassuring way. She turns to me, as if she senses—or can see—that Pop is out of it today. He’s dazed, like he doesn’t understand what’s happening. “Dr. Nields will be out to speak with you once the surgery is done. He’ll send a nurse to give you an update halfway through.”

            I thank her, kiss Ma on the cheek, watch Pop do the same, and stand back as they wheel Ma out of sight.

            “Let’s go sit in the waiting room, Pop,” I say. “So they can find us whenever they need to.”

            He pulls in a deep breath, lets it out, and follows behind me without a word.




            The waiting room is small and close, with fake plants in every corner and a vending machine that doesn’t stop humming. A news report about a winter storm flashes across the scene with video of snow flying past the camera so fast it’s sideways. Pop grabs a newspaper and makes himself comfortable on a chair, but he’s up pacing within five minutes and doesn’t sit back down. Sophie text messages me several times, but I’m too sick and nervous to respond.

            By the time the nurse comes out to update us, Pop has worn a hole in the carpet, and my stomach is growling.

            “Everything is going well,” she says with a smile that seems a bit forced. “She struggled a bit with the anesthesia at first, but they tried a different medication and it seems to be going better. Dr. Nields is very optimistic.”

            “Thank you,” I say. Pop nods, and we return to our vigil alone in the waiting room.

            By the time lunch rolls around, I haven’t eaten in almost twenty four hours, so I go to the cafeteria, choke down some tomato soup, and send Pop when I get back. Minutes after he leaves, Dr. Nields steps into the waiting room and gestures for me.

            “Anna,” he says, pulling a pair of glasses off. “I need to talk to you.”

Does Anna’s mother survive the surgery?

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If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.
~Toni Morrison

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