Persuasion is everywhere lately! (And by everywhere, I mean esoteric circles and niche corners of the internet.) It has inspired me to share an excerpt from a modern, YA Persuasion that I’ve been working on.
This is the scene when Anne first meets Mr. Elliot. Oh, Mr. Willoughby, Mr. Elliot, and Mr. Crawford, why am I so captivated by you? Do I have a thing for Regency bad boys? And am I all alone in the world, or is there a Has a Thing for Regency Bad Boys Club that is just waiting to welcome me into its fold?
I changed some names for my modern adaptation, so here’s my cast of characters:
Isa & Sofia = the Musgrove sisters
Rajesh (or Raj) = Captain Wentworth
Annaliese (or Liese) = Anne
And Eli = Mr. Elliot
And here’s the excerpt!
Sofia’s brown eyes are twinkling. “That guy is totally staring at you.”
“Me?” I don’t even bother looking where she’s looking. “No. What guy?”
Isa giggles and leans toward me. “Oh my gosh! Sofia’s right! Don’t look. He’s in line right now, getting a total neck cramp from the way he’s craning around to check you out. Raj! I said don’t look.”
Raj gets that little crease between his eyebrows. “I think he’s just ordering a drink and wondering why we’re all staring at him.”
Of course it would kill Rajesh to admit a guy might like me. Too bad he’s probably right in this case. “How would you even know he’s looking at me?” I gesture around the table. “There are four of us here.”
Sofia snorts. “Look how hot he is. If that guy was checking me out, I wouldn’t pass him off to you.”
I stand. “I’m getting a drink.” We can’t hog this table without buying something forever. But then I hesitate. “Is he gone?”
Isa giggles. “Do you want him to be?”
Sofia rests her chin on her hand, eyes trained on me. “What happened to super fun Annaliese who would do anything? Remember when Gabriella dared you to kiss the next guy who walked into Jumbo Freeze, and you did?”
Rajesh’s voice drops a level. “Did you really do that?”
I went a little out of control after Mom died. Gabriella got into her “I dare you” phase, and I did everything she dared me to do. And I mean everything. But slowly those visits with Dr. Patel started to work, and I dug my way out of my depression until I was standing on something solid, and I stopped needing to be dared into rebellion just to feel alive.
I could explain all this, I guess, but I hear the judgment in Raj’s question. So instead I say what I always say when the girls bring up my daredevil days. “You only live once.” I glance at the register, which is now free of hot, ogling guys. “Anyone want anything?”
Raj stands. “I’ll go with you.”
“No!” Sofia grabs a chunk of his fleece sweatshirt and pulls him back into his chair. “He’ll think you’re together, and you’ll ruin everything for her!”
Raj blinks. “But I wanted a drink.”
“Oh my gosh!” Sofia throws up her hands. “Boys! I’ll get you a drink.”
Raj’s stiff posture shows there’s something he doesn’t like about this, but all he says is, “Peppermint tea,” as he hands her a twenty.
Sofia slides out and immediately clings to my arm as we walk to the register. “OK, he’s at a table by himself. Do you think he’s looking?” She tugs harder at my arm. “Oh my gosh! He is. He’s sitting at Starbucks by himself just so he can stare at you. He’s super into you. He wants to have your babies.”
This pulls a smile out of me and almost makes me look, but I resist. “I can’t tell how much of this you’re making up, but I’m pretty sure it’s the whole thing. Is he thirty? He’s totally thirty, isn’t he, and married, with a super long beard that drags along the floor and gets all the Starbucks floor scum in it, and that’s who you want to be my boyfriend?”
The register is manned by Ben Cho. Ben’s shy and smart and cute and nice. Why don’t any of us ever notice him? I’m noticing him, starting now. “Hi Ben.”
“Hey.” When he smiles, there’s a gap between his teeth. It’s endearing. “What can I get you guys?”
Sofia shrugs. “Raj wanted a peppermint tea.”
“That is the most embarrassing Starbucks order I’ve ever heard. Don’t fill it, Ben. Someone has to save him from himself.”
Ben chuckles and enters our drink order. His eyes keep drawing toward Sofia, almost like he can’t help himself. Hm. Maybe she should start noticing him instead of me. Too bad the only person she notices these days is Raj.
I start to fish my wallet out of my purse, but Sofia waves a hand. “Raj gave me a twenty, and I have a gift card with some money on it that’ll cover the rest.”
“Actually, that guy already paid.” Ben nods to a table in the back, where a guy with blond hair sits staring out the window, his hands wrapped around his cup. He’s cute, I guess, in a clean cut, looks-like-he-follows-all-the-rules kind of way. His hair looks perfectly gelled, like even his hairs aren’t allowed to step out of line, and his black V-neck and khakis just look so, I don’t know. Business casual. He’s not my type, but if I say that, Sofia will get mad and say no one’s my type.
Sofia’s grabbing my arm again. “Oh my gosh! That’s him!”
Ben’s giving me a crooked smile. “He gave me two twenties and told me to use it for whatever you and your friends order. You didn’t know?”
“No.” Heat crawls up my neck. “Am I supposed to bring him the change?” Because that feels like a cheap trick to get me to go talk to him.
Ben shrugs one shoulder. “He said I could keep it.”
Oh. That’s a little better, then. “You must be super excited about that cheap peppermint tea order,” I say, and Ben gives a lighthearted laugh.
I glance back at preppy guy again. “Are you saying that guy wanted to buy Sofia’s drink?”
Ben shows us his gap again. “Pretty sure it was yours.”
“OK.” I let the word roll out slowly. “Thanks.”
Anyone else would push for more details, but Ben’s not one for gossip. He just cashes us out, while Sofia whispers to me about how “See! She was right! And am I totally going to brush this guy off like I do every guy?” (Not true, but I’ve denied it enough times that I don’t even bother now.)
“He bought her drink!” Sofia says as soon as we’re back at our table, and I swear the whole café hears.
Rajesh’s eyes flick to me. “Really?”
“Really.” I slide into a chair across from him. “Turns out he bought yours too, so we’re going to have to fight for him. How are we settling this? Flipping a coin? Or mud wrestling.”
Raj does that thing where he stifles his laugh because it would kill him to be amused by anything I say. But then he’s out of his chair before Sofia’s even sat down. “Let’s go. Let’s take our drinks and hang out at the park. This guy sounds like a creeper.”
“To the park?” A sly smile crawls onto Sofia’s face. “Like, you and your tea want to go down the slide together? Or play duck duck goose?”
Rajesh catches my eye, and I feel the memory pass between us, but then his gaze is back on Sofia. “I mean, let’s just go anywhere. Let’s just leave.”
Sofia puts a hand on one hip. “Didn’t your mother raise you better than that? Liese has to thank him.”
Raj shakes head. “Didn’t your mother teach you anything? Annaliese does not owe him anything.”
I’m standing too now. Maybe I went a little crazy before and took too many risks, but now—now I don’t take enough. And it’s not like Rajesh is going to tell me I can’t talk to a guy when he’s been flirting with both twins at the same time for days.
“You know what?” I point to Sofia. “You’re right. I’ll go thank him.”
“We’ll all go with you then,” Rajesh says, and his voice is rougher, sharper.
“Thanks,” I say. “But I don’t need a wingman.” I lift my drink as a farewell and then take a sip that burns my throat all the way down.
“YES!” I hear Isa saying as I walk away. “Go Annaliese!”
As soon as I’m heading toward Blond Guy, I know I don’t want to be doing this, that I somehow accepted a silent dare and thrust myself into a situation I don’t want. So maybe I haven’t come as far as I thought I had. Should I turn around? I should turn around. But then he raises his eyes to me, and I’m caught. My steps falter for just a moment before I close the gap between us.
“Hey.” I lower myself into the chair across from him. “Crazy story. I went to buy myself a drink, and Ben told me some guy already bought it for me.”
“Yeah?” A dimple pops out on his left cheek when he smiles. “Sounds like a nice guy.”
“Maybe he’s nice.” I slowly spin my drink on the table. “Or maybe he wants something.”
“Maybe it’s both. Maybe he’s nice and he wants something. I’m Eli.” He hesitates, then adds, “Eli Ryan.”
“Oh, it’s real.” His words take on a flirty edge. “Do I get to know yours?”
“Complicated name. For a complicated woman?”
“Don’t know. Is yours a simple name for a simple boy?”
He laughs, a light sound that floats towards me. “Man, Annaliese. A simple man.”
I’m laughing too now. “Why did you buy my drink, Eli Ryan?”
His blue eyes gain intensity. “Because you’re beautiful, Annaliese Novikoff, and I wanted you to come over and talk to me.”
For a moment I lose my words. It’s not like I hear myself called beautiful very often. Or my name pronounced correctly. But then I flip back to wondering what Eli wants. He’s hot enough—plenty of girls would have talked to him without the bonus of a free drink. “You could have come to me,” I say.
“You were surrounded by friends.” He flicks his eyes towards my table. “One of them’s a guy.”
I smile and sip my drink.
“Boyfriend?” he asks.
“No. A friend.” In a flash, the memory envelops me, and I feel all the power of the word, all the weight of what I should have said that day when I took a wrecking ball to whatever Rajesh and I had. But then it passes, and I’m back at Starbucks, sitting across from Eli, who’s real and actually wants to talk to me.
“You bought his drink too, actually,” I say. “Are you dying to tell him he’s beautiful?”
“Ah.” Eli raises his drink to his lips.
“Ah, what? What’s that mean?”
Eli’s lips curl at the edges. “You don’t believe me.”
For a moment, the flirty words and artifice leave me, and all I’m left with is the truth. “I don’t know if I do.”
He nods, something serious falling over his face. “Give me some time, then. I’ll convince you.”
I glance back at my friends, where Rajesh is leaning too close to Sofia, looking at something on her phone, Isa pressed against his other side. And the thing is that I do say no a lot, so maybe, just this once, I should say yes. “OK,” I say.
He smiles, and his dimple peeks out, and, well, maybe he is my type after all.