Previously on Finding Anna: College freshmen Anna Buchanan spills paint on her boy crush during art class; she visits her parents at home; and, she finds herself face-to-face with an unexpected roommate who wants to share a bedroom.
Who is standing in the doorway? Is it Anna's friend Taysom, or her gorgeous crush Tony?Click To Reveal Results
“You know Tony?” Sophie exclaims, her eyes popping open as fast as a kernel of corn under heat. She grabs his arm, pulls him close—as if we were in some kind of Audrey Hepburn movie—and wraps her slender arms around his lean torso. I’m instantly jealous, and it heats my face with a hot-as-the-sun blush. To my mortification, Tony smiles.
“You’re in my art class,” he says. “We met today.”
Don’t say it, I silently plead. Don’t say it.
He turns to Sophie, putting a hand on the small of her back. “She’s the girl that spilled paint on me earlier.”
All the nerve endings underneath my skin are firing, giving me the sensation of burning alive. Horror, embarrassment, and chagrin have cemented me to the floor yet again. Sophie just smiles.
“Then you have an artist's eye,” she says, winking. “I thought the arrangement of paint was lovely. Tony, be a darling. Grab that box, will you? It’s the most important. It has all my records in it. We’ll start there. If we set the music room up first, everything else will fall into place.”
She glides past me, chattering, while Tony grabs the box she pointed out and follows her into the back. I stand in the doorway with mute shock. New roommate. Tony Ortega in my apartment.
“What just happened?” I whisper, running a hand through my boring, straight strawberry blonde hair. Tony spoke right to me and I didn’t even have the presence of mind to speak back. I just stood there like a fish, my mouth bobbing open and closed in shock.
Questions ran through my mind in a rapid sequence, ending on the greatest of all:
Why did Sophie think we were going to share bedrooms?
Determined to salvage something of the night, I hurry into the back to find them already unpacking her records on the floor of the empty room. Their voices echo off the empty white walls.
“My father gave me that one,” Sophie murmurs, pointing to a tattered record cover so worn I couldn’t make out the letters. “It’s my favorite so be careful and don’t step on it. I don’t think you can buy it anymore.”
Tony lounges with one shoulder against the wall, his hands in his pockets while he studies the ceiling, as if he knows something about architecture.
“You can’t sleep in my room,” I blurt out. Tony glances at me over his shoulder, no doubt surprised that I can speak. I ball my hands into fists. At least I can’t dump paint on him here.
“There’s another cardboard box like this, Tony,” Sophie says quietly, and I’m not sure she’s heard me. “Would you mind finding it and bringing it in? Thank you.”
Once Tony slides past me with a little smile, trailing the heady scent of Aqua Di Gio cologne, I feel some of my courage return. Sophie is still in the middle of her haphazard mess of records, speaking under her breath and pushing them around. I step into the room.
“Sophie? I’m serious. We aren’t sharing a room.”
She glances up in surprise. “Why not?”
“I paid for a private room, and I intend to keep it that way.”
“I won’t be spending much time in the bedroom,” she concludes with an innocent little smile. “Mostly the music room anyway. You can keep your travel posters on the wall.”
“No! I . . . I’m an only child. I don’t—”
Sophie stands up, her perfect forehead furrowing into deep ridges. There’s true concern in her gaze. “But what about the music room?” she asks, her voice tinged with terror, like a little girl that has to venture into a darkened room by herself.
“It’s your room. You can do whatever you want with it.”
She shakes her head vehemently. “No. No, that won’t do. It . . . it can’t happen like that. I can’t sleep in the music room. It ruins everything.”
“But there’s no room for you in my room.”
Sophie bites her bottom lip. There’s a note of hysteria in her expression and I wonder why. “But we must have a music room!” she cries.
I open my mouth to ask her way, but Tony enters the room again, taking my breath away. He sets a box down, the muscles on the back of his arms rippling, and for a moment I forget why I’m standing in the doorway. Sophie’s horrified expression reminds me.
“Why do you have to have a music room?” I ask. “It’s . . . I mean it’s not that big of a deal, is it?”
“I’ll give you a thousand dollars.”
The words come out of her mouth like a bullet. I stare at her in shock. Tony lifts an eyebrow. Sophie keeps a steady eye on me, and I can tell by the determination in her face that she doesn’t regret what she’s said.
“A thousand dollars. I can give it to you right now. In a check, of course.”
“Are you serious?”
Her face mirrors her voice. “Dead serious.”
“You’ll give me a thousand dollars just so you can have a music room?”
Her chin lifts up slightly. “Yes.”
A thousand dollars could buy me groceries and rent next year when my parents stop paying. A thousand dollars would buy textbooks and clothes and . . .
Help take me to Russia on an ESL teaching trip.
Sensible Anna, echoes my mother’s voice in my head.
“Deal,” I say, straightening, my heart pounding in my chest. I’ve never done anything so rash in my life. Sophie bursts into a smile and pirouettes in the middle of the room, her face infused with joy. Tony shakes his head, as if he can’t believe it, and I can’t blame him. I back away, unable to believe it myself, and duck into my small room to make space for my new roommate Sophie.
My best friend Taysom stares at me over the top of a Starbucks cappuccino, his beautiful brown eyes bugging out of his head. The smell of coffee and vanilla bean permeate the air of the dimly lit coffee shop; it's our favorite meet up place.
“She gave me a thousand dollars!”
“But Anna, you don’t know anything about having siblings or a roommate. You’re an only child, remember? You’ll be a terrible roommate, and that room of yours is no bigger than a postage stamp. She’s going to be living in your lap.”
With a considerable amount of very expensive hair gel, Taysom had achieved a perfect sweep of his mocha brown hair to the left. It looks accidental, but I knew it had likely taken him twenty minutes to get just right. Combined with a casual messenger bag and a faded jacket, he’s the very picture of attractive.
“So what if I’m an only child? I can suck it up for a semester for a thousand dollars. That will help me so much, Taysom, and then it’s not charity. I’ll be working for it every day.”
I sip at my unsweetened herbal tea, cursing the gods of dieting. What I wouldn’t give to dive into the turkey and Havarti sandwich calling me from the display case! Then again, what did it matter? Tony was dating my roommate and he was the reason I started the diet in the first place. I dispel the thought. Too much money.
Taysom leans back in his seat with a sigh. “And Tony is Sophie’s boyfriend? Geez, girl. You had a bad day yesterday.”
A scowl darkens my face. He would focus on that detail, the one thing I didn’t want to talk about. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that his empathy validated my angst.
“What are you going to do now?”
“What do you mean?”
He leans forward, eyebrows rising. “Your loverboy is dating your roommate, who is literally your roommate. You’ve been on a diet—that’s thinned your face out, by the way—and you only have a few more months to prove to your parents that you can support yourself in college before your mom withdraws her support and tries to force you into taking over the family business. Not to mention you have no traveling prospects so far, and no money either.”
“Gee, thanks for cheering me up.”
He grins, and I can’t help it. My anger fades. He’s right. I sigh and it tossed my bangs into the air. “What am I going to do, Tay?”
He straightens in such a way that instantly convinces me he has the answers to the universe. A one-man-illuminati.
“You’re going to go to work, slice deli meat, make sandwiches, wipe down tables, and then go home, study, and get straight A’s so you can earn scholarships to pay for next year. You’ll figure it out, Anna. You’ve always been a bit stubborn. I think it’s the only child thing.”
My brow furrows. “So I’m going to keep doing the same thing?”
It felt so lame. So boring. So anticlimactic.
The urge to do something crazy and outlandish overcomes me in such a rush that I nearly leap out of my chair. I want to buy a plane ticket to Paris. I want to go snorkeling in the Bahamas. I want to quit college so I can climb in the Himalayas. I want it all.
He pats my hand in a gesture of sympathy that grounds me again. His parents are both successful real estate agents that run their own company. Taysom has never had to worry about where his tuition was going to come from. He had his own car at fifteen.
“Yes, you’re going to keep working.” He sips at his drink in an almost delicate way. “Because that’s the only way you’re ever going to get out of here. Unless you let me pay for your college.”
“No,” I say, and force my vehemence to calm. “I’m not a charity case.”
“It’s not charity. It’s a loan.”
“I can do this, Taysom. I have my pride.”
He lifts an eyebrow. “Not working in that ridiculous deli uniform with a hair net, you don’t. That color is not right with your skin tone.”
I sigh and turn my gaze out the window. It wasn’t the first time Taysom had offered to pay for something on my behalf; his parents were the only reason I was able to go white water rafting on the senior trip in high school. They’d graciously paid when we had no ability to do so. But I would take no charity. This was my life. I’d have to make it.
Faceless, nameless people continue to stroll by, their expressions blurred from where I’m sitting. For a moment I imagine I’m sitting in a Parisian cafe, waiting for an attractive, dark eyed man to join me. My determination to get out of Montrose doubles.
“You’re right,” I say, turning my thoughts off. “I’ll go back to work. And . . . I’ll figure something out, I guess.”
My backpack shifts, falling backwards after sliding down the chair leg I’d propped it on. Two books spill onto the floor. Taysom grabs them before I can, inspecting their well-loved, dirty covers. He tuts under his breath and shakes his head.
“You’ll never change, will you, silly girl?”
I snatch The Agony and the Ecstasy from his hands. “No,” I say defensively. “This will always be one of my favorites.”
He holds up the other book. “Les Miserables? It’s bigger than the Bible.”
I roll my eyes and take that book as well. “Give me that.”
He smiles, but he’s studying me. “Are you still planning to go see the Sistine Chapel?”
“Yes. Of course. Why would that change? I’ve wanted to go ever since reading Agony.”
“Just checking to make sure your mother hasn’t gotten the best of you yet,” Taysom sings, which softens the worry in his eyes. “And, since you’re still on the adventure train, I have a surprise for you.”
He pulls something out of his pocket and slides it across the table. A business card.
“Who is it for?” I ask, using the tips of my fingers to pull it closer.
GoTeachGo Rupert Darnell CEO
“He’s a new client of my mom’s. A ridiculously wealthy new client, for what it’s worth. Anyway, Rupert runs GoTeachGo, which is a company that sends ESL teachers abroad. I got his card at dinner the other night. Thought you might be interested.”
I look up at him in surprise, my heart catching in my throat. “But that’s my dream. That’s why I’m getting a degree in English. That’s how I plan on traveling the world.”
“Yeah, I know.”
As fast as my heart leapt, it slows again. I push the card back. “But I’m only a freshman. I’m still taking entry level English classes.”
Taysom rolls his eyes and flicks the card toward me again. It flutters in the air, landing on top of my iced tea.
“He needs an intern. His business is here in town, too. Still kind of small, so he can’t really pay you. Not sure if it’s within walking distance or not, but I could always lend you my bike since I already know you won’t take my car.”
“Really?” I ask, leaning forward. “Are you serious?”
It’s almost perfect because it would put me on the path of my future, but my hopes drop a little again.
“But what about my current job? Bobby really had to convince a few people to hire me. I can’t just leave. And I really need the money. Bobby is always letting me pick up extra shifts.”
“The deli counter on campus? Give me a break. They’ll find someone. GoTeachGo also offers scholarships, too. So keep that in mind. You could make money and travel abroad.”
“But I won’t make money right now.”
His face is deadpan. “No. Likely not.”
I grab his face and squish his cheeks. “Taysom, this is amazing. Risky, but amazing. Let me think about it.”
He shrugs me off. “I know. Since you’re too proud to take money from me, I need to help you out somehow. Anyway, I told him about you. I can’t guarantee you the internship, but it’s a foot in the door.”
I slip off my chair and throw my arms around him. A thrill runs through my spine. “Thank you, Taysom! It’s . . . it’s hope, that’s what it is.”
“Your mother won’t be too upset, will she? She’s always been tough on you.”
“Ma loves me,” I say, dismissing the conversation and taking another sip of tea. I smile, unable to help it. “She just has her own ideas.”
"I need someone to pick up a shift Friday night. Any takers?"
Although I loathe working at the deli counter, my hand is the first to shoot into the air.
"I'll take it!"
Bobby, my manager, nods and writes it on his clipboard as he walks away, the keys on his belt jangling.
For Russia, I remind myself. I need money to teach in Russia.
Especially if I wanted the ESL internship bad enough.
The last thing I want to do is work more, but my conversation with Taysom replays through my head. I picture myself standing in the airport, wearing one of those massive backpacks that all adventurous people wear while traveling. I'll look nonchalant, as if traveling so far away is usual—
"No hot date on Friday night?" my friend Chase asks, shattering my happy day dream. I land smack in the middle of reality, escorted by the smell of mustard and shaved ham.
Chase smiles and a dimple pops up on his right cheek. He has a round face and a smile as sweet as maple syrup. He's the total opposite to Tony, with red hair, freckles, and eyes as green as the inside of a lime. But we've become good friends working sliced meat together so often. He has a boyish kind of Prince Harry quality about him that makes him endearing, but not exotic like Tony. It occurs to me that getting the ESL internship would put an end to my evenings with Chase. The thought made me sad.
"Hot date?" I snort inelegantly. "No way. I have to work, like always. Tuition won’t pay itself, will it?”
I internally cringe. When did I start sounding so much like Ma?
Chase steps up to the cash register to help a customer. I readjust my hairnet, annoyed with the way it digs into my skin. I head to the back, returning with a full cheesecake to slice, plate, and set in the dessert fridge. My mouth waters, but I resist the temptation to set aside a small slice. Bobby lets us have one meal per shift, but I won't waste the free food on cheesecake when I can make a sandwich big enough to stretch two meals.
Perhaps I am too sensible.
“I’m working Friday, too," Chase says when I return, the customer retreating with a bottle of water and piece of fresh fruit. Chase hands me a stack of small plates while I pull on the plastic gloves that always make my hands sweaty.
“Good,” I say. “Then neither of us will be stuck working with just Bobby to lecture us on fridge temps and how to properly clean the ice dispenser."
Chase laughs and then chews on his bottom lip, blanching it white. He folds his arms and leans against the counter while I press the knife into the sweet white cake. It glides easily.
"Can I ask you a favor?” he asks.
"I'm struggling with my Algebra class and have a big test next week. If I bring it, could you help me out after work? I know you’re one of those crazy people that like math.”
"Sure. We can just do it here."
His eyebrows rise as he glances over the counter to the few tables and chairs scattered around, leading to the common eating area in the main area of the student hall. A Chinese wok, a seafood place, and a bakery ring us on both sides. The common area is mostly empty and smells like disinfectant, but it’s open until two in the morning when the student janitors clean it.
"Oh, uh, yeah," he says, stammering slightly. "That would work. Or I could give you a ride home and we could grab something for dinner on the way."
A piece of graham cracker crust crumbles when I move a triangle of cheesecake onto a small plate. There's an undercurrent of hesitation in his voice that I don't understand. Chase is working his own way through college just like me, so I don’t like the idea of him spending his precious money on a meal for me.
"I have a better idea."
He pauses, eyes wide. “Oh . . . okay,” he drawls. "Uh, what is . . . what's your idea?"
"Well, you know how much I love your cooking, so why don't you fix dinner at my place while I review your algebra homework? I’ll provide the food.”
His eyes light up. "Deal! You really like my cooking that much?"
I recalled the eclair he gave me my first week of work and the chicken pad Thai he shared with me last week. Chase was always giving me part of his lunch whenever we worked together and it always tasted amazing.
"A future cook needs to practice, right?"
He grins. "Definitely."
"Great. Let's plan on it."
"It's a date. I-I mean it's something I will plan on. Thanks."
He smiles sheepishly and rushes into the back when Bobby calls for him. I watch him go, wondering why his freckles and cheeks have reddened so much.
The golden Buddha that Sophie brought sits on the middle cushion of the couch when I return home that night. He seems to be passing judgment on me. I ignore it and head for my bedroom.
Well, our bedroom.
Sophie hasn’t done much unpacking. She’s insistent, as part of our bargain, that the music room remain strictly that: music. Although there’s a perfectly good closet in the music room, we’re splitting the half closet in mine. Boxes litter her side of the room—the side without the window—and already she’s scattered more clothes on her side of the floor than I even own. I sigh and wade through a collection of shirts. Once I ditch my backpack, I pull the business card Taysom gave me out of my pocket and grab my cell phone. A nervous glimmer gives me a moment's paralysis, but I shuck it off.
If I make the call and things work out, I wouldn’t come home smelling like relish, but I also wouldn’t see Chase or have the added security of extra shifts whenever Bobby offered.
But such an opportunity. . .
Sensible Anna wanted to see the world, but rarely took risks. I let out a long, slow breath. I made my decision.
Does Anna decide to stay at her deli job with Chase where she knows she can save money to explore the world, or risk working as an intern for the company of her dreams, with the possibility of a scholarship, at GoTeachGo?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.