Last week on Finding Anna: Anna’s mom comes out of surgery, Anna makes a list of life goals, and asks to defer her trip to Africa.
Will the scholarship committee allow Anna to defer her trip?Click To Reveal Results
“Great news!” Mr. Darnell cries. He stands in front of my desk with a triumphant grin, readjusting his baseball cap with one hand and smacking the wall with the other.
“The committee just emailed me. They’ve decided to let you defer your trip to Africa on behalf of your ailing mother.”
I smile. “Really?”
His face drops. “Well, there’s a little catch.”
“There’s always a catch,” I say, and my eyebrows weigh heavy over my eyes. “What is it?”
“You can’t go for another year.”
I pause. “That’s all?”
He shrugs. “Well, yeah. And you don’t get to do the promotional stuff. I guess if you were excited about that then this would kind of be a disappointment.”
“But the trip is still guaranteed under scholarship in a year?”
“Yeah. I mean, I could have tried to book you on a trip in August or something but the way things are slotted out and planned ahead its . . . it just doesn’t work that way.”
Delaying my trip a year wouldn’t be the worst thing; it would give me time to help Ma recover, get a few more semesters under my belt, but I still feel sad. So much of my life is just out of reach, out of my grasp. It seems like the more I work for my future, the more it slips away from me, like a disappearing sidewalk in a cartoon. Relief that I won’t have to part from Ma while she’s battling cancer soon outweighs my sadness.
“Oh, no. That’s fine. This might work out the best after all,” I say.
“I thought so. So . . . you’ll defer then?”
“That sounds great,” I say with a smile. “Thanks for going to bat for me. I appreciate all the help and flexibility.”
He studies me, leaning forward. “You know, Anna, my grandpa gave me the best advice I’d ever had just before he died.”
“Oh? What advice is that?”
His lips twist. “Well, it’s not really advice. It’s more a statement of fact. He told me this just before my oldest brother was diagnosed with cancer, and it’s helped me my whole life. You ready? Here it is: Life never asks us what’s convenient. It just gives and takes and eventually we see that it works out in the end.”
He blushes a little. I’m more struck by his words than I want to admit. “Thanks,” I say in surprise, and although it’s not much, I know he sees my gratitude in my gaze.
“It helped when everything felt like it was out of my control.”
“Thanks, Mr. Darnell. I’ll keep that in mind.”
He smiles, makes a clicking sound with his teeth, and heads back to his office, leaving me in the silence with my thoughts.
My backpack lands on the carpet with a resounding thud when I return home from work. The song Mountain Sound from Of Monsters and Men, Sophie’s new favorite group, is blasting through the apartment. I sigh. We’re going to get another notice about noise. One more and Sophie will probably be kicked out. I grab a bottle of water from the fridge and work my way to the bedroom. The door to the music room is closed. Even so, music is blasting through the cracks. I pause, wondering if I should bother her, then decide to leave her to her music and head into the bedroom.
My phone dings with a text message from Chase.
Ever since we’d shared the news about his culinary school, communication between us had retreated from we just kissed and it was awesome to I’m not sure where this is going. Everything I wanted to say to him felt awkward, so I ended up saying nothing.
I pause. Was this going to be a date? A conversation? A hang out? My heart pounds suddenly. He doesn’t think I just want to make out with him now that I’ve kissed him once?
“What are you thinking?” I mutter to myself, smacking my forehead. “Of course that’s not what he wants! Chase isn’t that guy.”
He replies with a dancing emoticon the same moment all music goes silent. I pause, listening, but hear nothing. Sophie not making noise is far more alarming than her overly loud music. I pad over to the music room door and tap softly with my knuckle.
A sniffle. “Yeah?”
A pause. “No,” she finally says. “It’s been a bad day.”
I reach for the doorknob but stop. When I’m emotional, the last thing I want is someone watching me sniveling. Sophie’s protective about her music room. She’s had the door closed and locked for the last two weeks.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask.
Another pause stretches between us, and the door suddenly feels as thick as a hundred miles. The soft strains of her tuning her violin hum through the door.
“No,” she says. Her voice softens. “But thanks.”
I hesitate, poised with my hand hovering an inch above the doorknob. Sophie’s ghosts have been stashed away in her mental closet ever since we first met, and living with her has brought us no closer to bringing them to light.
“Sophie, I’m here if you need me,” I say, and it sounds awkward. I clear my throat. “It’s just that . . . I know something is bothering you, and I just . . . I just want you to know that I’m here. And I love you. And whatever happened today . . . everything is going to be okay.”
Great, I think, stepping back. If that’s how awkward I feel just talking to one of my best friends, my date with Chase is going to be phenomenally awkward.
The door bursts open, taking me by surprise. Sophie launches herself into my arms with a sob. Her unexpected entrance into the hallway isn’t the most surprising part, however. I look past her to see the walls of the music room pasted with pictures. Every inch of white wall is gone in snapshots from the past. Her violin lays on the ground, cast aside.
“Sophie,” I say. “What’s going on?”
She sobs against my shoulder, holding me so tight it pinches my ribs. But I don’t try to loosen her grip, I just let her squeeze, sensing that she needs to feel something firm and concrete in her arms. It’s quickly apparent that the pictures in the room are the same two—no, three—people. Sophie as a young girl with the same vibrant blue eyes as now. Two people I can only imagine are her parents pushing her on a swing. A violin recital. A huge crowd. A symphony. Her parents in ball gowns. She must have hung thousands of pictures on the wall. From what I could tell, none of them repeated.
“Your parents?” I ask. Sophie nods. She feels fragile beneath my hands, like she’s about to break at any moment. Sophie and her mother looked more like twins than a mother and daughter pair, although her mother appears to have a sophisticated, quiet quality about her, where Sophie is all prisms and light and volume.
“You look like your mother,” I say, reaching out to touch the nearest picture by the doorframe. It’s Sophie on her ninth birthday, a cheesy grin on her face, her handsome father at her side.
A terrible question rises from a dark part of me.
“Did . . . did something happen?”
“Gone,” she says, shuddering. “They’re gone.”
I wrap my arms around her, wanting to keep her together, afraid she’ll shatter any moment. Tears rise in my eyes. Gone. That horrible word. That horrible, horrible word that happens to good people all the time. People like Sophie.
People like Ma.
“When?” I ask, my voice hoarse.
“A year ago,” she says, sniffling. “A year ago today. They both died in a car accident. They were violinists. We traveled all over the world for them to play. I was homeschooled the last three years of high school because we lived abroad so much.”
Pictures of far off places suddenly seemed brighter. Prague. London. Sophie standing outside the Berlin Wall.
“Mama was playing in New York City one night. I was at the hotel room, and it was raining and another car slid out of control . . . Papa was always with her. Always.”
Her words are so slurred they’re almost unintelligible, but I understand them deep in my heart.
“Sophie, I’m so sorry,” I say, because I don’t know what else can be said. “I’m . . . I’m so sorry.”
“I miss them, Anna!” she cries against my shoulder. “I miss them so much!”
I can’t hold her any tighter without breaking her bones, so I just keep her tight in my grip. We stand in the hallway for so long my ankles fall asleep. Her sobs slowly subside, turning to quiet, innocent little hiccups, reminding me of a frightened child expending the last of their fear.
“I came to school here because it’s small, and quiet, and the idea of college terrified me,” she says softly.
“You?” I ask. I can’t imagine Sophie being scared of anything. “Terrified?”
“Yes. But then I met you and it wasn’t so bad.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask.
“I couldn’t,” she whispers. The wetness of her tears has already soaked through my shirt and onto my skin. It feels warm and cold at the same time. “I could barely even admit it to myself, and I just didn’t want to face it. I just wanted to be a normal college student.”
“No wonder you wanted a music room,” I murmur.
She smiles crookedly. “Papa always had a music room. They taught me to play in our music room when I was a little girl and we only lived in a two bedroom apartment, so I slept in a little cot at the foot of their bed.” Her voice is distant and small, still full of unshed tears. “Papa always said, Make room for music, Sophie, and it will make room for you. I didn’t want to sleep alone in my own room when I moved in. That’s why I offered you the money.”
When she finally untangles herself and we pull away from each other, I feel as if she’s taken a part of my heart with her. I’m in a panic, but I try to hide it. Am I seeing a glimpse of my own future? Will Ma pull through her cancer treatments? Sophie’s face is blotchy and swollen so much I almost don’t recognize her. I use my sleeve to wipe the tears off her cheek.
“I’m glad you have a music room now, Sophie.”
She smiles, but it’s tenuous and teary. “Me too.”
“Thanks for telling me.”
“Thanks for listening.”
I fold her into a hug one more time. When she pulls away, there’s visible relief on her face.
“I’m going to go to clean up and then go to bed,” she says, and her eyes look heavy. “Will you sleep on the floor with me in the music room tonight? The pictures make me feel close to them.”
Both of us look at all the pictures on the wall. “Yeah,” I say, because it makes sense. It feels right. “Yeah, I will. I’ll get our blankets and pillows.”
Twenty minutes later, Sophie is curled on her side, holding my hand, her chest rising and falling softly in the safety of sleep. Sleep eludes me, so I stare at the shadows waving across the ceiling, my heart stricken with fear.
I finally drift to sleep with Mr. Darnell’s advice drifting through my mind.
Life never asks us what’s convenient. It just gives and takes and eventually we see that it works out in the end.
The smell of melted chocolate greets me when I walk into the candy shack on Thursday. Chase is standing behind a large pot of fudge, a goofy grin on his face, chocolate smeared on his white apron. His red hair is sticking up in a spiky mess. He looks like a sweet, oversized child caught in a candy story. I can’t help but grin.
“Hey,” I say, closing the door behind me with a flurry of snow. “How are you? Smells wonderful. Makes me want to dive face first into some fudge.”
“I’m immune to it,” he says, twitching his nose. “I smell it all the time.”
I lean over the counter and inhale deeply. He’s just poured a brand new sheet of fudge and the smooth layer ripples in sweet undulations. Even Chase smells like sugar, and I’m suddenly aware of how sad I’ll be without him around once he’s gone.
“It’s rocky road,” he says, motioning to a pile of chopped pecans and tiny marshmallows to stack on top. “Wasn’t that one of your favorites?”
“Definitely. It’s Ma’s favorite ice cream, too. She loves marshmallows.”
“Once it’s done we’ll cut her a big piece for you to take back.”
I smile. “Thanks. Let me wash my hands and I’ll help,” I say, and head toward the sink.
“How is your Ma, by the way?” he asks, peering into a large pot of his next bubbling brew. We spend the next few minutes dismissing idle chit chat. Ma’s health. College classes. The over abundance of homework. My new position at GoTeachGo. I dribble a few more chopped pecans on top of the rocky road fudge and press them in, enjoying the smooth way they sink under my hands. It feels like a metaphor for my life, but I don’t want to comprehend how, so I look away.
“I’m glad the committee let you defer,” he said, and I can tell he means it.
“Me too. It’ll be good to get Ma feeling better before I leave to go anywhere that far away. It’s definitely a weight off my shoulders.”
The air in the room shifts, and I look up to find him staring at me with an intent gaze. I pause.
“Everything ok?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Yeah, sorry. I wasn’t trying to be a creep. I’m just impressed with how well you’ve handled everything. It seems like ever since I met you, everything you’re trying to make happen keeps changing. Life really has a way of kicking you in the butt, doesn’t it?” Chase asks with a smile. My eyes widen.
“Right?” I cry, feeling vindicated. “I feel like I can’t do anything without something popping up.”
“Maybe you should stop making plans.”
I laugh. “Maybe I will.”
“Being an adult sucks.”
We stare at each other in a moment of connection. I’ll miss him when he leaves, and even though I don’t know what our future is going to be together, I’m grateful that he could be my first kiss. “Yeah,” I say. “It really does. But we can’t really stop it from happening, can we?”
“No, we can’t.” Chase bites the inside of his cheek. “Listen, Anna, the reason I asked you here is because I . . . I’m feeling more . . . uh . . . sad about culinary school than I thought.”
“Sad?” I ask, rearing back. “Why? Isn’t it like a dream come true for you?”
“So how can you be sad?”
He pulls in a deep breath. “Because I’m going to miss you.”
I stop pressing fluffy marshmallows in the fudge and blink. “Me?”
“Uh . . . yeah. I just . . . I don’t know. I thought before now that we could break it off before anything happened. Well, I mean, we kissed and it happened but, ah—”
His face reddens into a deep blush and he runs a hand through his spiky hair. I turn to the bowl of miniature marshmallows, grateful to have something to break up the sudden awkwardness. This time, I’m not the one bumbling around, but I still feel a little claustrophobic. I don’t even know how to help him through his tongue tie. Chase lets out a long, exasperated sigh that turns into a self-deprecating laugh.
“I’m totally messing this up,” he says, and leans onto his palms to meet my eyes in the most direct stare I’ve ever experienced. “Bottom line: I think you’re amazing. It’s almost impossible to find a girl like you these days. You’re hard working, down to earth, you push through all these hard things that are happening, and you’re beautiful without caking makeup on your face. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to have any regrets. I know I’ll regret it if I let you go without a fight.”
His words stun me into silence.
“What are you trying to say?” I finally manage to ask, tucking a few strands of hair behind my ears.
“Look, I don’t start the culinary school until next fall. I was going to move out to California a little early, but it’s expensive and I don’t have to be there until the end of the summer. I have a cheap apartment here and a job that I like. I could easily wait until August.”
My heart starts to pound, sending blood rushing through my ears and blurring his voice just slightly. Hadn’t I seen a movie with a declaration like this once? I brush that thought aside. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few months, it’s that Hollywood has nothing to do with reality. It’s with an almost physical shock that I realize I haven’t even been slipping into my usual daydreams. Is this what being an adult is?
My thoughts spin while I stare at him, a little lost in his green eyes, before I realize he’s stopped talking and is waiting for my response.
“Oh,” I say, and it sounds shaky. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
He smiles, but it looks more like a grimace. “Sorry. I guess, what I’m saying in way too many words, is do you think you’d give me a chance if I were to stay for a few more months? See what we could make of it?”
Does Anna say yes or no to Chase’s proposal?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.