If you know the story of Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last, and possibly, most elegant and romantic novel, you know that Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth have a bittersweet history. Did you ever wonder what happened between them before the story even started?
Well, I did. That history makes up the first third of my modern take on Persuasion, called Find Wonder in All Things.
In celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Kindle version (March 1) , here’s an excerpt from Find Wonder in All Things that takes place during the time period when Laurel Elliot and James Marshall first found each other. He’s young, optimistic and impulsive. She’s careful, a bit naïve—and has fallen head over heels in love…
Hours later, James lay still in the darkness, listening to the soft sounds of Laurel breathing while she slept. She snuggled up against him, one arm and leg draped across his body. He trailed his fingers down her arm and stared up at the ceiling, just barely making out the contours of the room.
It was so dark here at night. He’d forgotten, or maybe he’d never known true dark. At home and at school, there were always streetlights, headlights, porch lights. Even at the marina, bulbs strung from overhead wires were on all night, and the other boats glowed from within. This dark, true dark, was observed not only with the eyes, but with the ears as well. It was so different from what he was used to, where there was always a noise, an ambulance, the hum of a furnace. True dark wasn’t menacing the way he had imagined it might be. Instead, it was rather . . . peaceful, isolating — not scary exactly but awe-inspiring in the sense that it gave him an unmistakable reminder of his insignificance in the greater scheme of things. It led James’s thoughts to travel inward — or perhaps the quiet dark had just allowed them to float upward and outward so he could examine them. The absence of distractions turned his mind back to the decisions looming in the not-so-distant future.
Laurel stirred and lifted her head. “Are you still awake?”
“Just thinking,” he replied. “Go back to sleep.”
“What are you thinking?”
“It’s nothing, sweetheart.”
“Tell me,” she murmured, stifling a yawn.
He sighed and waited a long minute, to see if she would drift back off. When she didn’t, he spoke. “I’m just wondering what I’m going to do next month. I spent half the drive down here railing against my parents. The usual angry stuff: How could they be so selfish? Didn’t they at least owe me a college education? After all, they had promised me that from the time I could understand what college was. It’s what parents do — what all my friends’ parents do. And then I started to think, and being here with you has kept me thinking.”
“Well, you’re doing college on your own. Your parents give you very little financial help.”
“Well, they can’t help much. They’ve got Virginia in school too, and then the boys and Spring to take care of.”
“That’s it, in a nutshell. You make your own way. So you make your own decisions.”
“Well . . . ”
“No, I admire you for it. You study what you want to study, chart your own path. When I think about it, it’s the only way to be happy.”
“So, like I said, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been wondering what the hell I’m doing at the University of Dayton anyway. Why do I care so much about going back there? I hate business classes. I don’t want to be an accountant or an insurance salesman or a banker. So, why am I busting my ass to do something I hate?”
“You can study other things there.”
“I know. I just think maybe I need to start over. I mean, why did I go there to begin with? To please Mom and Dad? Why should I worry about pleasing them when they’re too wound up in their own problems to give a damn about me anyway.”
“I’m sure they love you, James.” She hugged him tightly. “You’re very lovable.”
He smiled in the dark and could feel the air around him grow warm, but the warmth faded as his smile did.
“Maybe it’s not in the cards for me to go back at all.”
Laurel leaned up on one elbow. “Quit school? You want to quit school? In the middle of your junior year?”
“What will you do instead?”
He shrugged. “Anything I want. For the first time in my life, I feel free — like my life is in my own hands. Maybe I’ll backpack through Europe. Maybe I’ll go to Nashville and write songs. I don’t know. I can go anywhere — do anything. You know, the more I think about it, the more I
think this may be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
She bit her lip, deep in thought. “Perhaps.”
He stopped to gauge her reaction. Even in the darkness, he could feel the wary look, the stiff posture of her body. A sudden realization dawned on him.
“I won’t leave you behind, Laurel — not in a million years. I want you to come with me.”
“But I’m in the middle of my first year in college. I can’t just pick up and go.” Distress colored her voice.
“Well, you can finish your first year. I’ll go ahead to wherever, get settled — and then you could transfer. People do it all the time.”
“But Benton College has what I want to study.”
“Lots of places have art programs, sweetheart.”
“But I can’t do work-study lots of places.”
“We can work something out. Don’t worry. I’ll find a way for us to be together.”
She lay down on her back, beside him, facing the ceiling. His side felt cold without her against him, and he rolled closer to her, resting a hand on her tummy and sliding it to her hip. He tugged her toward him.
“Let’s not talk about it anymore right now. We have lots of time to work out details and talk about things. Right now I just want to be with you.”
“Okay.” She seemed relieved to be changing the subject and he couldn’t blame her. Why wallow in consternation when there was so much else to do?
“Come back Mountain Laurel.” He kissed her shoulder. She wiggled around, until she was nestled with her back against his chest and brought his arm around her. She cradled it in her own two arms and kissed his hand. “I’m here.”
Thank you for reading, and celebrating this month with me! In case you missed any of the fun, you can search back through the blog posts from February, or use the Twitter hashtag #FindWonders5th for links to interviews, outtakes, playlists, etc. I’ve enjoyed preparing the posts so much.
But now I guess it’s time to stop looking back and start looking forward!
Find Wonder in All Things is available in print and Kindle formats, and is part of the Kindle Unlimited program.