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Appisode 4: Seriously?

Previously on Finding Anna: Anna meets her new boss; Sophie goes on a date with Tony while Anna and Chase stay in for a study session; Anna finds that all might not be well with Sophie and Tony.

Does Tony break things off with Sophie?

Click To Reveal Results
YES
69%
NO
31%

           Sophie’s face had paled dramatically after the ting of her phone announced a text message. The tension in her taut face told me all I needed to know: something bad had happened.

           “Sophie?”

           A tinge of red brightens the top of her cheeks. “It’s nothing,” she said, her voice strained.

           “You’re lying.”

           “Tony just . . . he just wants to see other people.”

           “He’s insane,” I hiss, livid. Who would give up a girl like Sophie? She is feminine and delicate and sweet in a way that I can’t even hate her for. What is Tony thinking?

           “Sophie . . . I’m so sorry.”

           She tucks her phone back in her pocket and sucks in a deep breath through her nose. “I’ll explain later. Tony isn’t really what I thought he was, so maybe this is a good thing. A blessing in disguise.”

           I sit back in my seat, flummoxed. The idea of Tony Ortega being less than perfect in any regard throws me for a real loop, as if I’d just hopped on a rollercoaster. He seemed so wonderful, but clearly isn’t. My heart plummets, shattering all the girlish fantasies of Tony as a knight in shining armor. A rush of compassion for Sophie follows. Her feelings on breaking things off with Tony must extend deeper than my own superficial crush.

            “That’s disappointing and horrible,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say in a situation like this.

           She smiles. “Thanks, Anna. That means a lot. It’s kind of fun having a girlfriend.”

           The surprise in her voice makes me think that having a girlfriend is a new thing in her life, and I want to ask more but Ma is placing plates full of potato chips and fresh Reubens in front of us. My mouth waters, craving the tart mixture of corned beef and cabbage. Pop lumbers into the room, grumbles under his breath about a score, takes his plate, and leaves for the front room again.

           “You’re welcome!” Ma calls. He mumbles something back, but it seems to satisfy Ma, because she settles into her chair. Sophie’s eyes are wide, darting between Ma and the doorway.

           “They aren’t fighting,” I say to Sophie. “That’s just how my parents relationship works. They’re . . . friends.”

           Ma smiles. “Mr. Buchanan and I are not deep love kind of people,” she says, patting Anna on the hand. “We’re much too sensible to flirt or get affectionate.”

           “Really?” Sophie asks, and if possible, her eyes have grown wider.

           “Neither of us wanted a lovey dovey spouse. We love each other,” Ma quickly adds when Sophie’s mouth drops open. “We just don’t feel the need to spend a lot of time together, that’s all. It works for us. He’s happy on the couch, I’m happy in the kitchen, and we find some sort of in between every now and then.”

           “Mostly at Christmas,” I say, though Ma seems to miss the note of acerbic sting in my tone. What Ma said was true: my parents did love each other. But it was more of a functional relationship than traditional. Their commitment to the marriage, and to me, was solid as gold. But it didn’t shine as much.

           In fact, it didn’t shine at all.

           “Anna is sensible just like her parents too,” Ma said, plucking at a potato chip. “She just doesn’t know it yet. All these romantic ideas and daydreams will fade eventually, and one day she’ll be the best seamstress that Buchanan’s Tuck and Tailor has ever seen.”

           Ma pats my hand this time, but I pull away and scrape the potato chips onto my napkin. I can’t meet her gaze because I’m afraid to tell her that I don’t want to be like them.

           I don’t want to be sensible Anna.

           Sophie sends me a discreet, quiet glance, and I can read in between the hidden layers of meaning. Yeah, right, she seems to be saying, you aren’t going to be a seamstress.

           My heart swells almost twice its size. I’ve never had anyone witness Ma’s direct attempts to control my future. Having Sophie standing on my side gives me a bit of courage, but still not enough to confront Ma. 

           “So,” Ma says, cutting her sandwich in half. “Tell me about school.”

           “It’s fine,” I say quickly, shooting Sophie a warning glance. The last thing I wanted was Ma knowing I’d quit a sensible job to chase a dream. “Nothing new on my end.”

           Sophie smiles, and despite all she’s likely learned about my life and my family that I wouldn’t really care to get out in the world, I can tell it doesn’t bother her at all.

           “Nothing new for me either,” she says, as if the dream beau of the entire college hasn’t just broken up with her, and bites into her Reuben.

 

~~~

 

           Taysom regards me with extreme apprehension the next evening over his cappuccino. It’s a look I’ve become accustomed to over the years, but it still stings a little to see it tonight.

           “What?” I ask, self consciously as I drape my messenger bag over the back of a chair. While I normally preferred backpacks, all the world travelers and adventurous people I idolized from afar seemed to wear worn out messenger bags. Since I wanted to be one, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to start, and bought one at the Salvation Army with some of my graduation money.

           Taysom waves a hand through the air, indicating all of me. “What is this?” he asks. “This . . . outfit.”

           I sigh and plop onto the chair. He’s already ordered me an iced tea—no sugar—so I take a grateful sip. Only a few people are in Starbucks tonight; the calm, evening crowd intent on textbooks, laptops, and quiet conversation. Because it’s so close to campus, most of the patrons are college students hiding behind ear buds and textbooks.

           “This,” I say, pointing to the hideous gray uniform covering my torso, “is my newest work uniform.”

           His lips turn down in an expression of pleading. “Seriously, Anna? You’re going to be a student janitor?”

           “What?” I cry. “I need money! I took the risk and accepted the internship, which means I had to quit the deli counter. I have to do something, and it’s the only place I can find suitable hours and is within walking distance.”

           “When will you sleep?”

           I try to shrug the question off, but he has a valid point. “I’ll sleep . . . sometime.”

           “What’s your schedule?”

           I avert my eyes, hoping if I mumble then he won’t be quite so angry when he hears it. “Two a.m. to five a.m.”

           His eyes nearly pop out of his head. “What? I’ve never . . . that’s . . . I mean, really, Anna. Unless you’re drunk at a party, no one should be awake during those hours.”

           “Well, I will be. And it’ll give me at least fifteen hours a week of work, maybe more if I can pick up odd shifts. I need cash flow, Taysom.”

           He glares at me, something he rarely does lest it create early wrinkles. “You’re wearing the most drab button up shirt I’ve ever seen so you can go mop floors in the gym after hours? It just seems so wrong!”

           I bristle and straighten. I may not have money, but I do have my pride. “Yes,” I say, tilting my chin back and taking another slurp of tea, trying my best to imagine myself as confident as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The illusion shatters when I see myself in a wrought iron mirror. No. Not even close. But closer than I had been before I lost ten pounds.

           “Why won’t you just let me pay for your college?” he asks, and I roll my eyes.

           “Because that wouldn’t be very adventurous of me. The whole point is to be adventurous, right?”

           “No, it wouldn’t be adventurous, but it would be incredibly smart.”

           I smile. “Thanks, Taysom. Really. I’m lucky to have a friend like you. But I need to do this to prove to myself that I can. Once I’m traveling the world, it won’t matter how I got there.”

           He lifts a skeptical eyebrow, but I can see his annoyance begin to fade. “Even if it means you’re scrubbing toilets from 2-5 in the morning?”

           “Even then.”

           He props his chin on his palm and gives me a little smile. “You’re wonderful, Anna.”

           “Thanks,” I say and lean forward. “Now tell me about this guy you texted me about. He asked you on a date?”

 

~~~

 

           “Hey! Anna!”

           I look up later that week to see Chase heading for me from across the student pavilion. A dozen statues of previous founding fathers for the college form a circle. A chilly fall wind breezes past their lifeless bodies as they stare into an eternal void. I pull my jacket farther around me, surprised with how far it will stretch because it almost didn’t zip up before, and head toward Chase.

           “Hey,” I say, breathless from speed walking halfway across campus. “I have a class at the Jones building so I can’t really talk.”

           He turns that direction and matches my fast stride. “I’ll walk you there. I’m off for the day. Are you doing okay? You look exhausted.”

           I flip some hair out of my eyes and sigh. Every time I blink it feels like I’m rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. My limbs feel heavy after waking up at one thirty in the morning so I could be to work at two. I’d vacuumed half the classrooms in the Mason building and cleaned at least forty sinks before my shift ended at six. That left me just half an hour to run home, shower, change, grab something to eat, and make it to my Geometry class on time.

           “Exhausted,” I say. “It was my first day at the new job.”

           He winces. “Student janitor?”

           “Yeah.”

           “Those are brutal hours.”

           Not as brutal as staying in Montrose in a tailoring shop for the rest of my life, I want to say, but hold it back. Explaining myself has little appeal.

           “At least I’ll get some income though,” I say optimistically. “Although I’ll lose money on buying more groceries now that I don’t get free meals through the deli anymore. I never realized how much all those scraps and three day old muffins added up.”

           “Bobby hired a new guy, by the way,” Chase says. “He’s a total weirdo and never stops singing show tunes. So thanks a lot.”

           I grin. “I’m sure you’ll make the best of it.”

           His once annoyed expression softens. “Yeah, I will. I always do.”

           “Why is that?” I ask as he pulls a door open so we can short cut through a building. “Why are you so optimistic?”

           He looks surprised by the question. “What do you mean?”

           I shrug. “You always look on the bright side of things. It’s not a normal trait for a college student, is it? I thought we were supposed to be irresponsible and annoyed with adults all the time.”

           “Well, maybe not normal, but being an optimist isn’t that big of a deal, is it?”

           I nudge him playfully in the arm. “C’mon! Tell me, Mr. Glass-Half-Full. Why are you the nice guy?”

           His expression sobers and I’m more curious than ever. He clears his throat.

           “Probably because I’ve learned to look on the bright side,” he says. “I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was fourteen years old. I went through four years of treatment before it was finally taken care of. When you get news like that, and when you’re living through such . . . difficult experiences, it kind of forces you to make a choice.”

           I stop walking, so shocked that I don’t know what to say. He slows, then turns around with a little smile on his face.

           “I know,” he says, wincing slightly. “Sorry. I hate dropping that bomb. It makes people so awkward, which is why I don’t usually bring it up in casual conversation.”

           “Wow,” I say. “Chase, I would never have—”

           “Exactly,” he says, interrupting me before I can finish. “So let’s not make it a thing, okay? I’m alive. I’m in remission, and I’m excited to live my life. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship through a charity that helps kids who survived leukemia, so I’m here.” His face lights up with a smile. “I’m a fighter. Like you.”

           “Like me?”

           “Anna, you’re scrubbing college toilets so you can earn money to live. I’d call that fighting for what you want.”

           My throat is tight. His outside observation validates the small part of me that says I made a huge mistake accepting the internship. But it all seems so small compared to what he’s experienced. A thousand questions flood my mind, but I don’t even know where to start, or what to say. Sophie would know the exact right thing to say, but she’s not here to lead me the right way, so I do the only thing that feels natural. I give him a hug. When I pull away, the tops of his cheek have turned red and he’s smiling in a goofy little way that makes him look like a kid.

           “Well, if that story gets me a hug, I have a lot of others . . .”

           I laugh and we start walking again. “Well, I understand you not wanting to discuss it all the time,” I say, looking askance at him. “But one day I’d love to hear all about it. Whenever you want, of course. And if you want.”

           He smiles. “I’d like that. This is your building, isn’t it?”

           My watch says I only have two minutes to get to the top floor before my professor locks the door. “Yeah, this is it. Hey, where are you from again?”

           “Arizona.”

           “Are you going home for Thanksgiving next weekend?”

           “No. I’m saving the money for Christmas airfare. My mom is a Christmas nut, and I’m not crazy about turkey anyway.”

           His response sends a little zip of excitement through me. “Well . . . want to come spend it with my family? I have to warn you about Pop, and Ma will probably try to stuff you so full of food you’ll feel like the turkey, but it would be better than just being alone in your apartment cooking for yourself. Sophie will be there too, and she just broke up with Tony, so she could use a few friends.”

           “Are you sure?”

           “Of course!”

           “Will your parents mind?”

           The enormity of what I’ve just asked him to do dawns on me. What am I thinking? My parents at Thanksgiving took crazy to a whole new level. Last year, Papa threw stuffing at the TV and refused to wear pants.

           “N-no,” I say. “But you’ll need to just ignore ninety nine percent of what my father says.”

           His expression softens. “That would be great, Anna. Thanks.”

           I smile. “Sure. Thanks for walking me to class. And thanks for . . . well, you know. Trusting me.”

           He winks and I run inside, slipping just inside the classroom before my Professor runs the lock home.

 

~~~

 

           “I don’t understand Thanksgiving,” Sophie says from the kitchen when I walk in the door, bringing a cold blast of air with me. The cold press of fall on the world is taking over outside, turning leaves to gold and sending them scuttling in the streets.

           She’s pressing her thumb and forefinger together, testing the tackiness of a bottle of craft glue. An odd assortment of ribbons and flowers are scattered around her. I suspect a few pieces of hay are there in the chaos.

           “What are you doing?” I ask, dropping my bag by the door and shucking off my shoes. The old carpet splays beneath my feet as I cross the room, peering at her odd mess. Music—the soundtrack to Braveheart, if I’m not mistaken—is playing from the music room where Sophie stores a variety of musical instruments, sheets of music, and an old CD player.

           “I thought I’d spruce the place up,” she says, lifting a wreath made from gnarled branches woven together. Red, orange, and yellow leaves splatter it in odd intervals. A picture of a beautifully decorated wreath is on the table, but it looks nothing like Sophie’s odd arrangement.

           “Looks great,” I say, and head for the fridge. We’ve split it up from top to bottom. Sophie takes the top three levels while I get the bottom and the door. Unfortunately, my side is sadly empty. I grab an old loaf of bread, pull a can of tuna out of the cupboard, and squirt a little ranch on one slice. Meager, but I won’t have money for grocery shopping until I sell my blood plasma the next day.

           Sophie sighs. “Who am I kidding?” she mutters. “I’m just . . . I’m just . . .”

           I hear the emotion in her voice but before I can stop the tide, a river of tears starts dripping down her face. She buries her pretty head in her hands and gives into giant, shuddering sobs. My hands are covered with tuna juice, so I hesitated with my instinct to pat her on the shoulder.

           “You okay, Sophie?”

           “No!” she wails. “I . . . I miss Tony, even though he’s a super jerk. I just . . . I wish things ended differently, that’s all.”

           I grab a towel, wipe my hands off, and plop onto the chair next to her. Before learning the truth about Tony Ortega, I would have done or said anything to encourage her moving on so I could have a shot. But now I wanted to break a few plates over his head. What kind of person hurt Sophie?

           “Me too, Sophie. I’m sorry he’s a jerk.”

           Two of her fingers move to the side, forming a v for her to peer out of. “Didn’t you have a crush on him?” she asks in a small voice. I chuckle under my breath.

           “Yeah, kind of. How did you know?”

           “I’m a girl. I know these things.”

           “Well, I don’t anymore. Not now that I know the truth about him. He’s the ugliest man I’ve ever met.”

           “Yeah.” Her nose wrinkles in mutual defiance. “He’s a . . . a . . . chauvinistic jerk, too.”

           “Definitely.”

           Sophie launches herself off the chair and throws herself into my arms. I barely keep both of us from toppling backwards onto the cheap linoleum.

           “I hate him!” she cries on my shoulder. “I hate him!”

           Not sure of how to comfort her, I pat her on the shoulder. “As you should,” I say, attempting to move my leg before the circulation stops. She doesn’t seem to notice and continues to cry on my neck. Uncertain of what to do next, I simply leave her there, and the tears soon dry up. She straightens up, wipes off her face, fixes her hair, and returns to her chair, sniffling with a head held high.

           “Thank you,” she says primly. “I just . . . I just need to let that out. Touch is my love language, so if my lack of barriers bothers you, just let me know.”

           “Er . . . no. That’s fine. I don’t mind giving a hug every now and then.”

           Her façade seems to crumble yet again. “Good,” she says, picking up a leaf and twirling it by the stem between her thumb and forefinger. “That’s . . . that’s very good to hear.”

           My eyes linger on the far cupboard. “You know what this calls for?” I ask Sophie. She perks up.

           “The tone of your voice tells me it’s going to involve chocolate, which means I’m in!”

           “I don’t have any chocolate, but I do have a package of kettle korn. Let’s pop it and watch a chick flick.”

           She bounces off the seat.

           “I have a better idea. Let’s go buy some frosted brownies. My treat!”

           “Done!” I grab my coat and sling it back on. “Let’s make the movie something with Gerard Butler. Tony Ortega is nothing compared to Gerard Butler.”

           “PS I Love You,” she asks, holding up a movie from our pile near the TV. “Or Phantom of the Opera?”

           I press my lips together and grab my messenger bag.

           “That’s easy. The best Gerard Butler chick flick is—”

Should Sophie and Anna watch Phantom of the Opera or PS I Love You?

You Decided

Click To Reveal Results

P.S. I LOVE YOU

63%

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

37%

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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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