Previously on Finding Anna: Anna defers her trip for a year, learns about Sophie’s past, and has a surprising conversation with Chase.
Does Anna say yes or no to Chase’s proposal?Click To Reveal Results
“Wow, Chase. I wasn’t . . . uh . . . I wasn’t expecting that.”
Chase is staring at me with his cool green eyes and a dash of vulnerability. His words ring through my head over and over again.
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?
A thousand thoughts are running through my head, but I can’t sort through them. He’s laid it all out on the table in ways I never would have dared.
Chase rubs a hand over his face. “I know,” he says with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I suppose I should have warned you or something, but . . . I just had to say something.”
I struggle to find the right response, but find myself wading through shock, like I’m reliving the paralyzing effect of my first kiss. He rocks back on his heels, his lower lip blanched white.
“If, ah, you know, you want to think about it or—”
He stops, brow furrowed. “Okay . . . uh . . . yes you want to think about it or yes you want to date?”
“Yes I want to date,” I cry. “Absolutely.”
His face lights up. “Really?”
He lets out a long exhale. The grin on his face is lopsided and sweet, reminding me of a little boy.
“That . . . that’s great,” he says, a little breathless. “I was a little worried for a moment. You didn’t really say anything and—whew!”
I’m not sure what to do next. None of the girlish movies that I’ve loved and watched for so long have prepared me adequately for this moment, and I want to curse Julia Roberts for not covering this situation. There’s no crescendo of music, no snow or rain falling in the background. I’m not even wearing a cute outfit. There’s just the heavy scent of cinnamon almonds and the occasional hiss of a car passing in the street.
So I do what feels best. I throw my arms around him. He smells like flour and chocolate. The solid feeling of his body against mine is like a security blanket. It’s new, but better than I’d imagined. When I pull away, he puts a hand on the side of my face. The tips of his fingers are resting just behind my ear, sending a little shiver down my spine.
“Can we seal this deal with a kiss?” he asks.
This time, the kiss is perfect the first time. His lips are soft, his touch is gentle, and I melt into it.
“This is going to be a good summer,” he says, pressing our foreheads together. I laugh and wrap my arms around his waist.
“I hope so,” I say. “I hope so.”
Ma’s lying on her side on the couch when I go home later that week to check on her. She’s wearing a variegated scarf over her head to hide her patchy hair, and her eyes look sunken in and bruised. With so much of her vitality gone, it’s hard to imagine she’ll ever be the same again.
“Chemo eyes,” she said to me the other day, pressing her fingertips into the skin there as if she could push the tiredness out. “The nurse says it’s really common to get what they call chemo eyes. I look like a punching bag.”
“No, Ma,” I had said at the time, but it had been strangled and weak, because even though I didn’t want to agree, she did have sad chemo eyes.
“Hey Ma,” I say, and the door slams shut behind me. A warm breeze filters into the room from an open window, heralding the advent of spring. Outside, the first buds are beginning to peek through the last of the winter snow lingering behind. A rerun of Full House plays in the background, and all the world feels like the home I’ve always loved and remembered.
Ma smiles. “Good morning, Anna.”
A pile of sewing is left in front of her, no doubt started and abandoned within ten minutes. She’s so weak that even she complained that the needle was too heavy.
“How are you feeling?” I ask, peeling my jacket off.
“Fine. Sophie came to visit this morning,” Ma says. “She’s a wonderful girl, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Ma. She definitely is.”
“She brought me those flowers,” she says, gesturing with a nod to a bouquet of daisies blooming on the coffee table. “She said that she’s going to go home with Garrett and meet his family this summer. Has she told you that?”
“She mentioned it,” I say, sliding out of my shoes and nudging them onto the tile entryway. “I think she’s pretty head over heels for this guy.”
Ma is staring at me, her wrinkly face furrowed into an expression of concern.
“What are your plans, Miss Anna?” she asks. “Do you have a big summer adventure all planned the way you’ve always dreamed?”
“My plans?” I say, sitting on the floor next to her and pulling my knees into my chest. “My plans are . . . they are pretty great as well, actually?”
Ma’s eyebrows lift, but I detect the slightest glimmer of surprise, maybe even a little fear. “Oh?” she said, hiding it admirably. “What is it? Is it your Africa trip? You’re leaving soon aren’t you?”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m not.”
Her eyes widen. “What?”
I smile softly. “I asked Mr. Darnell to defer it for a year. I’m going to teach in Africa next summer.”
Ma’s eyes fill with tears. “It’s because of me, isn’t it?” she asks with a little sniffle. “You’re staying because of me. You’re staying because I have cancer and you feel like you have to take care of me.”
“Yes,” I say, taking her hand. “But I’m staying because I love you very much, not because I feel an obligation. Besides,” I add, but the words nearly stick in my throat. “I’m just lucky to have a home and parents that love me. I have my whole life ahead of me when I can have adventures, but I only have one Ma.”
Ma smiles, but it trembles, just like mine. There’s so much neither of us will say. I’m worried you won’t survive, I want to say. I’m terrified that this is our last summer together, because I can see in your eyes that you won’t be able to fight forever.
But neither of us say what we’re thinking, because we don’t really need to.
“It’s going to be a wonderful summer together, Ma. We’re going to have the best time,” I say instead, smiling, forcing back the tears with strength I didn’t know I had.
Ma puts a hand on the side of my face. It’s warm and soft and makes me feel like a little girl sitting at her knees while she brushes my hair again. Tears make her sad eyes glisten and sparkle.
“I love you too, Anna,” she whispers. “I’m sorry all this happened. It hasn’t been easy for you this last year.”
I put my hand over hers and lean into her touch. “It hasn’t been easy for you either. Or for Pop. Or Sophie. Or Chase. I’m beginning to think that maybe that’s just what life is as an adult.”
Ma pinches my cheek. “I think you’re a very wise woman, Miss Anna. Very wise indeed.”
We fall into a casual conversation about the end of the semester, and the hour fades away with me at Ma’s side, which is right where I want to be.
“It’s so sad.”
Sophie and I stare at the empty kitchen, shoulder to shoulder. A few crumpled paper towels on the table are waiting for us to throw them away, and there’s dirty water sitting in the sink, but other than that it’s empty. The fridge is scrubbed, the floors shining, and the cupboards bare.
“It’s so . . . clean,” I say, and Sophie grins.
“First time for everything!”
I chuckle under my breath.
“These past two semester went so fast,” she says and sits on the edge of a chair with a sigh. She’s wearing a pair of overalls, a tank top, and a bandana tied around her hair. If she wasn’t smudged with dirt and smelling like 409, I would have thought she was on her way to a hoe down.
“When is Garrett coming?” I asked, sitting down across the table from her. Her eyes flicker to the clock.
“In thirty minutes.”
The silence sits still between us.
“What will I do all summer without you?” she says, just as I say at the same time, “I’m going to miss you.”
We pause, stare at each other, and then fall into giggles.
“You’ll be fine,” I say. “You’re going to have a great time meeting Garrett’s family and traveling to see your uncles on the East coast. You’ll have a great summer, and then come back when school starts again in the fall.”
Sophie lets out a punctuated, dramatic exhale. “It’s just so unexpected,” she says. “I’ve only known Garrett weeks, really, and I’m just so crazy about him. I can still call you at night, right? You’ll talk me to sleep?”
“Yes, Sophie,” I say, tilting my head back to look at the water stained ceiling tiles with a little laugh. “I’ll talk you to sleep.”
Although I have an upbeat tone, I feel the same sense of melancholy that I can see in Sophie’s eyes. Sophie is loud, boisterous, and annoying to a fault with her unending cheer and constant music playing. Her sweet naivete sometimes gets on my nerves, because it doesn’t seem right that anyone be so sheltered and so beautiful at the same time. But she’s loving, real, and intensely compassionate. Her love of life has pulled me out of my shell in many ways, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without her giggling in the background.
“What about you?” she asks, nudging me out of my thoughts with her toe. The hem of her pants are rolled up around her calves, leaving her slender white ankles bare. “What are you and Chase going to do all summer?”
Keep my mother alive, I think, but the room is already gloomy enough, so I don’t voice it out loud.
“I’m going to keep working at GoTeachGo and get Ma through her chemotherapy. Chase said the candy shop is looking for another employee, so I might apply there.”
“Sounds like a dream,” she said. “All that fudge at your fingertips!”
I laughed. “It probably won’t be a good thing!”
Our voices fade back out. When I meet Sophie’s eyes, tears are glittering and just about to fall.
“You’re wonderful, Anna,” she says. “I don’t know how you’re so strong, or how I got so lucky, but I’m grateful that we had these two semesters together. You were just what I needed and I didn’t even know it.”
Sophie’s words strike a deep barb in my heart. I don’t feel strong. I feel lost. I feel worried and anxious almost all of the time.
“I feel the same way, Sophie,” I say. She reaches over and squeezes my hand.
“No matter what happens over the summer, let’s promise to keep in touch, and meet back up next year.”
“Promise,” I agree with a return squeeze.
The sound of a heavy pair of boots treading down the stairs interrupts our moment, and Garrett’s tall, thick frame fills the doorway seconds later. Sophie squeaks and runs into his arms. I smile, wave, and head to the back bedroom.
Our twin beds are stripped, the only pieces of furniture left in the room. Sophie’s taken down the glow-in-the-dark stars that she pasted to the ceiling, and the picture of the castle in Germany that she wants to live in. Most of my things fit in two or three suitcases; I don’t have much, and I like it that way.
Garrett and Sophie move into the music room to start moving her out of there, so I quickly slip by with my bags. The idea of saying goodbye to Sophie makes my throat thick. I hurry out the basement apartment and drag my bags up the steps, hoping she doesn’t hear. Ducking away seems much easier.
We’ll see each other at the end of the summer, I tell her silently, and blow a kiss even though she can’t see me.
A familiar head of dark hair is waiting in a brand new, bright red SUV with flashing rims and gleaming windows. Taysom straightens up, two Starbucks cups in his hands.
“Hey girl,” he calls. “I’m here to pick you up.”
I smile. “Hey Tay.”
He pushes a button and the trunk slowly opens. His eyebrow lifts with a skeptical inspection of my bags.
“Is this it?” he asks. “That’s all you have?”
“This is it,” I say, shoving them into the back. “I pack light.”
“Didn’t you live here?”
“Yeah, but I don’t have a lot of clothes.”
He rolls his eyes. “We need to fix that.”
I shake my head. “No,” I say. “We don’t.”
He rears back and studies me, his eyes tapered. Then he smiles and waves a hand around. “You’re right, Anna. For some reason, it just fits you. So does this newfound confidence. I like it.”
I smile, feeling it all the way into my bones. He’s right. I do have a new confidence. “Thanks for the ride, Taysom. I really didn’t want to lug this luggage around the city while walking home.”
He shrugs and hands me the Starbucks cup. “No problem.”
I take the drink and turn to stare at the house with the stairs along the side. Sophie and I had only lived there for two semesters, barely eight months, but I feel like I’m leaving a chunk of my heart behind. I’m not the same Anna that walked into the apartment; I don’t rely on daydreams, movies, or the lives of other people to dictate my dreams. I’m stronger than I thought. And although I’m not teaching children in Africa this summer, I don’t need to—that part of my life is coming up next.
I reach down and feel a light bump in my pocket. The paper towels I wrote my bucket list on during Ma’s hospital stay are tucked safely against my leg, a reassuring reminder that all the best dreams lay ahead.
Taysom throws an arm around my shoulder. “Think you’ll miss it?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say, and let my hand drop to the side. “But not that much. This is just the beginning. The beginning of something great.”
For the final appisode, this is a Survey question and the author, Katie Cross, wants your input. Would you rather see Katie explore Anna's story in a second season, or focus on Sophie next time around?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.