Finding Swoons in Books is slowly coming to a close, but we're not there yet. Today's post is by Claire LaZebnik, author of last year's The Trouble with Flirting and the upcoming The Last Best Kiss. Mel recently read and really enjoyed The Last Best Kiss, and thought the romance was really cute; so, today, Claire is sharing how her main characters in The Last Best Kiss would spend their Valentine's Day together, and, mostly, what they would give each other to celebrate! If you're just tuning in right now, all the Finding Swoons posts are right here.
When you work long enough on a novel, the characters start to feel real to you—sometimes more real than the people you’re living with. You can imagine them doing things you never wrote about in your novel; you sort of “drop in on them” in your mind, the way you might drop in on a friend. There are many people in the real world whose lives brush yours for a moment or two and then you don’t see them again; you know that they continue to exist even if you’re not standing by watching them. Characters feel a lot like that. They continue to lead lives without your steering them.
So it’s not hard for me to imagine checking in on Finn and Anna, the two main characters of my novel The Last Best Kiss, which is very loosely based (more inspired by) Jane Austen’s Persuasion and due out at the end of April from HarperTeen. And since it’s almost Valentine’s Day, I like the idea of picturing them exchanging gifts. What would these two high school students give each other?
Without giving too much away (but it’s so hard not to give too much away!), I’ll just say that Anna and Finn meet in ninth grade, when they’re part of the same carpool. Stuck together day after day, they come to share more than just a backseat. Finn is enthusiastic about science and nature and likes to entertain Anna with beautiful, exotic photos of the natural world. Anna’s first instinct is to write him off as a likable nerd and to focus on her own friends and more popular slice of high school, but the more time she spends with Finn, the more she enjoys the time they spend together. She starts to do her own research, to find photos to show him, to look up bits of information he might not already know. Carpool becomes the best part of her day. And yet . . . she can’t bring herself to tell her friends about this guy she likes so much. He’s just so overtly nerdy and uncool. So with them, he’s only ever “The guy I carpool with.” He’s never “The guy who makes me happy.” The closer she and Finn get, the more she has to conceal until she hurts him deeply.
This is only the beginning of the novel. A lot happens and time skips ahead. But since I don’t want to spoil anything, I’m going to freeze Finn and Anna during that first happy year, when they’re still discovering each other.
I see them at their favorite frozen yogurt place. They agree to share a cup and Finn makes Anna sit down at a table while he gets it. It takes him a while, but when he puts the cup in front of her, the pure white frozen yogurt is covered with red and pink candies: he’s handpicked them all from the toppings bar—red M&Ms and pink gummy worms and strawberries and raspberries and pink-flavored (because that’s how Anna thinks of them) little pillows of mochi. And right in the center is a big heart made out of solid chocolate, which Finn had the foresight to bring with him to the frozen yogurt shop.
And, of course, two spoons.
While they eat their sugary treat, they keep glancing at the wrapped gifts each has brought, which they’ve put on the table but agreed not to open right away. Finally, Anna says she’s too excited to eat: she wants Finn to open his present. He quickly shoves aside the cup of froyo. He’s ready too. He tears open the wrapping and grins: it’s a macro lens for his iPhone. “So you can take your own photos of everything you love,” Anna says. “Like disgusting bugs and beautiful flowers.”
“This is perfect,” he says and she knows he means it, not just because he loves the gift but because he loves that she knows him well enough to know what he’d want.
Then it’s her turn. She opens the small box he clearly wrapped himself—the tape is a little rumpled, but he put a bow on the top. He wanted it to look nice. She pushes aside a piece of tissue paper to reveal . . . a necklace. It’s a locket.
“It’s very pretty,” she says, and it is. It’s silver and oval—very simple and modern.
“I looked at a lot until I saw one I liked,” he said. Then: “You can put a photo in it, you know. I mean, if you want to.”
She looks up and sees his eyes, soft and hopeful behind his glasses. And she knows he wants her to say she’ll put a photo of him in there and that she’ll wear it proudly and show it to anyone who asks her what’s inside.
And her heart sinks because she’s not ready to do that. She hasn’t told her friends about Finn—how close they’ve become, how much they like each, how they’re at the stage when they exchange Valentine’s Day gifts. If she goes to school wearing a locket and they ask what the picture is . . .
No, she can’t do that.
All she says is, “It’s so pretty. I love it.” She doesn’t say anything about what picture should go inside, just closes up the box and says, “Thank you” politely, the way you’d thank your uncle for a present.
And somehow their Valentine’s Day is a little happy than it was just a minute earlier.