A/N: I don't own Persuasion. I'm just trying out a crazy idea I had. This has been done before but I'm still trying it. I'm modernizing Persuasion and swapping the gender roles. Then, the story is told from the Frederick character's perspective rather than Anne's. I thought it would be interesting to see how it would work.
Title: Hooded Sweatshirts, Candle Wax, and Burnt Coffee
Rating: T for language and content
Summary: Ben met Gianna when they were eighteen years old. He asked her to marry him when they were twenty-two. Three weeks later, he took it back and they haven't seen each other since. But one summer is about to change everything.
"Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly any body to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail. They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest; she, in receiving his declarations and proposals or he in having them accepted."
-Persuasion by Jane Austen; Volume I, Chapter IV
I met Ben Christianson when we were freshman in college. He sat next to me in Psych 101. We started talking the first day of class when the professor suggested that we exchange contact information with a few people sitting near us in case we missed a class and needed to get homework or notes. By the end of the semester, we were close friends and we were dating by the end of the year. Ben was from a very wealthy family. His dad, James Russell Christianson, owned a large publishing conglomerate. His mom, Adelaide Eliot-Christianson, wrote the national best-seller Late Bloomer as well as several other books. You've probably read Late Bloomer; everyone has read it. Oprah recommended it and now they're making a movie out of it starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. Ben's older sister, Eliot, is an actress-albeit not a very good one-and she's playing a small role in the film version of Late Bloomer. His younger sister, Carissa, is married and has one child; although being that she's five years younger than Ben, she was simply a high school student when we were dating. Beyond her husband and little boy, Carissa is a socialite and a hypochondriac; her doctor could buy a home in Boca off what he makes from her in one year. She drives both of her parents crazy; it's one of the few things that they actually agree upon.
I did not grow up with corporate VPs and great writers. My mom teaches first grade and my dad works as a financial planner. We did well enough. My parents owned their own house-after paying off a thirty-year mortgage. They managed to put all four of their children through college. But we also went without many of the luxuries that the Christianson family takes for granted-like vacations in the Caribbean or Europe or other exotic locales. We don't have a vacation home unless you count a tent or an RV. But we were also a much closer family than the Christiansons. Ben was stunned the first time I brought him home to meet my family and we were all home for dinner. Sophia wasn't there; she was studying abroad in Sweden at the time. But Stella and Isabella were both there. I'm the second of four girls and my dad loves it when we bring guys home to he can watch sport and talk about cars with them.
"My parents avoid eating dinner together unless it will get them good publicity," Ben told me that night. "They do not like family togetherness. Kids are for social status. Eliot, Carissa, and I were raised by nannies. You'll hate my parents. They'll drive you nuts. James and Adelaide are nothing like your family, Gia. They don't like family."
"But they're your parents. How did you end up such a good guy?"
"I had good nannies. And I'm not kidding about that. I had this amazing nanny growing up; her name was Natalia. She was born to be a mother; she has three kids now. But she took such good care of me. I seriously thought she was my mother until I was like seven or eight. And then I hated my real mom. I wanted Natalia to be my real mom and I wanted to go live with her and her husband, Boris. But they said I had to stay with my real parents."
I smiled and laughed. I told him something about being sure that his parents couldn't be that bad. But he was right. I hadn't met them yet. I'm not really sure if I hated them. But I know that they hated me. They did drive me nuts. James and Adelaide were nothing like my family. It was painfully obvious that neither one of them had ever played the alphabet game on a road trip. In fact, I doubt that either one of them has ever been on a road trip. I told them that I wanted to be a doctor. Apparently that was respectable but definitely not worthy of their only son. Ben was going to inherit Kellynch Publishing International, marry a woman of an equally prestigious pedigree, and not spend the rest of his life with a girl whose family owned an RV. Adelaide made it very clear to me that she did not want me in her son's life. Yeah, it's the twenty-first century. We don't do that crap anymore; people marry because of love, not because of social alliances. I've read Late Bloomer and social alliances or social rank never comes into play in that book. I guess her books could never happen in the world in which she exists. They're just fictional stories to her. And that's sad because they're really beautiful stories of love. But I guess that to fall in love with her son, you're supposed to be loaded to the gills with money, pedigree, and vacation homes in St. Tropez. My family is not wealthy; my parents make enough money to afford their house, two cars, the RV, and college tuition for us kids. When I admitted that my sisters and I had all gone to public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Adelaide audibly gasped and a look of horror passed over her face.
At the end of senior year of college, Ben asked me to marry him. We'd been dating for three years, we were in love, and it was time to get married. Sure, I was starting medical school at the University of Michigan but we could make marriage and medical school work. Ben was going to start working for his dad. We'd be able to survive. The only condition that I insisted upon was this: Ben would not pay for my medical schooling. I was not going to take one penny from the Christianson family. Ben agreed to this and we told our families. We were planning on getting married the summer after my first year of medical school. My parents, who loved Ben, were more than willing to pay for our wedding.
James and Adelaide were less than thrilled with our plans. James told Ben that the job at Kellynch publishing was gone if he was going to insist on marrying me. Ben told his father that he could get a job on his own. James told him he could go to hell. And then Ben and I left the Christianson mansion. But when we were back at my apartment, James called his son and told him they needed to talk-immediately. I don't know what James said to Ben or anything that happened. What I do know is that the next day, Ben showed up at my door and asked me for his ring back. He said that we couldn't get married. There was just too much stacked against us; it wasn't a good idea.
That was six years ago. I'm twenty-eight and in the third year of my residency in pediatrics at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I'm not rich by any means but I'm financially independent. I scrimped my way through medical school and somehow managed to make it out without any loans. That might have had something to do with my grandmother Napolitano; she had wanted to be a nurse when she was younger but she had to go to work right out of high school to earn money to support her family. So when she found out I was going to medical school, she decided to help me out financially as much as she could. And when she died my third year of medical school, she left the bulk of her money to me. Mom said I was Nana's favorite; she's probably right. But now I'm doing all right financially. I also have had barely any social life in the past several years because of work and school. I've dated a couple of guys casually. But dating other medical students while you're in medical school rarely does you any favors. It's pretty much a guaranteed sure-fire way to kill a relationship. You're both just too busy to go on dates. I dated this guy named Reuben for like five months but then we realized that we never went on dates; we just studied for exams together. And so we broke up; we didn't have time for a relationship. Last I heard, he was dating some nurse in neurology but that was two years ago.
I know a few things about Ben's life these days. Some of them come from Kyle Harville, my best friend's husband who also happens to (somewhat awkwardly) be friends with Ben; they're not close but they still get together for drinks every so often. Others come from reading newspapers and magazines or occasionally overhearing something on CNBC when I'm at my parents' house. (My dad always watches CNBC for like five or ten minutes; it's part of being a financial planner but he hates the channel.) I know that Kellynch Publishing has a lot of money problems due to bad investments on James Christianson's part; my dad emailed me this link to a story on CNBC's website about this one day. I also know that Ben no longer works for his father; he has a master's degree in English and is currently teaching high school-at a public school, no less. His mom must love that one. And he's working on his PhD in English; he wants to teach at the collegiate level. Admittedly, the movie version of Late Bloomeris under production. But with Kellynch going under, Adelaide needs to find a new publisher. And no one wants to hire James Christianson's wife; that's just not ethically copacetic as long as Kellynch is still operating. The only money she's making is from the sales of her already-published books. Adelaide has never been very good at handling her finances; she basically spends money when she gets it. And Eliot is still pretty much entirely dependent on her parents. She lives with them and the only money she gets is from the occasional movie job she gets. So, Ben's family is falling to pieces over all of this. And Ben is trying to keep the peace in the family, negotiate his parents' possible divorce, and try to get his family to learn how to economize and save money. I'd bet he's not doing too well with that. Kyle has more than confirmed my suspicions. He's pretty honest with me about what Ben's family is going through.
I don't care that much about that asshole. He broke up with me because of his family. He's a wimp who can't stand up to his family. It's nice to know what's going on with him. And I do hear it from CNBC and Kyle. CNBC is a fabulous way to find out what's up with your ex-boyfriend. I can't really call him my ex-fiancé. We were engaged for three weeks before I gave him back the ring. Three weeks isn't that long; I guess some people get married after three weeks. Didn't Mandy Moore do that? But honestly, I dated Ben for three years, we were engaged for three weeks, and now, we haven't spoken in ages. Kyle thinks that it's better that way. He's afraid I'd just blow up at Ben if I ever had to talk to him again. I'd rather just freeze him out forever. I know what's going on his life. I express concern about his family when I'm talking to Kyle. I was nice to him when we were both at Kyle and Jenna's wedding. I was the maid of honor; he was just another guest. We were both civil; I never spoke to him. I had a date; he didn't. It was all lovely.
I have two weeks off from work this summer and I'm going to visit my sister, Sophia, and her husband, Karl, at their new summer home. They're renting it from some wealthy family that's having major money problems right now. It'll be nice to just have two weeks with Sophia and Karl. I can spend time at the beach and not think about kids throwing up all over me. I can just relax, not worry about anyone's problems, and just sleep. I don't sleep enough when I'm working twenty hour shifts; and I do that too often.
The way my residency works is that I work in a regular pediatrician's office three days a week and then I'm at the hospital the other two. And I work at the hospital every other Saturday. I work a lot. But that's part of being a resident. Someday I'll be free of all of this. Sophia is always telling me I need to free myself from the oppression of the man; she's a bit of a New Age freak. Okay, she's not a freak. But she's always freaking out about some new mineral or herbal cure that will save us all from Al Gore and the Internet. She loves organic food. It's good stuff but it's expensive and I can't afford it. Yes, I can afford to have an apartment with only one roommate. There are a lot of things I can afford. But I have to be careful with my money. I don't make much and I have bills to pay. I need to eat and put clothes on my back. I didn't get lucky and marry some gorgeous and totally loaded German artist. My sister met this amazing German artist named Karl Zimmer while she was in Sweden. His dad owns some major corporation and Karl never wants for anything. So he and my sister got married a few years ago and they travel around the world being artistic. He is a painter; she writes for Newsweek. They get to see the world. I doubt that I'll have any nieces or nephews from them anytime soon. But they're happy, very happy. I think that counts for something. Sometimes, I wonder if Ben and I would have been happy together. But then I brush him from my mind and go back to trying to analyze two-year-olds who are vomiting and have a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
"When are you coming?" Sophia whined into the phone. "I miss you. It's so dreadfully boring up here. There's so much scope for the imagination but all Karl wants to do is paint. He doesn't want to go sit on the dock and talk. He tells me to shut up and leave him alone."
"Don't you have neighbors to bother?" I asked her as I set my keys down on the kitchen counter and then put my two blue reusable Meijer shopping bags next to them. Then I had my hands free and I could pay more attention to my chattering older sister-while unloading my groceries.
"There's a large family vacationing up here and they're great, absolutely wonderful. There's Mike and Karen; they have five children. Their oldest, Nolan, is married and has a son of his own. And then they have twins, Chris and Logan, who are in their late twenties and very friendly. And then they have two younger children; I think they're in high school. Oh, and Nolan's wife's brother is with them. He's very busy working on his doctoral thesis. We haven't even met him yet."
"I'll be there on Saturday. I still have to work the next few days. And on Friday, I'm going with Kyle to his parents' house. They're having a small get-together."
"Oh, it's been a year since Allyson died, hasn't it?"
"Yeah, they wanted to do something small. I think it's just going to be Kyle, Jenna, their kids, Connor, his girlfriend, and Katelyn. And I'll be there. It's just a family thing."
"Will Josh be there?"
"It's a family thing, Sofe. Of course Josh will be there; he's there for Christmas. I forgot; I just always include him with family members."
"Well, you listed off Connor, Kyle, and Katelyn."
"And I forgot Josh. I'm sorry." Josh Cole had been dating Kyle's younger sister, Allyson, for years. They'd gotten engaged about a year and a half earlier; then three months later, Allyson died in a car accident leaving her family and Josh shaken. Josh had never had much of a family and had really bonded with the Harville family while dating Ally. After she died, his heart had been broken and he'd moved in with his dead fiancée's family. Now, a year later, he was living with Kyle. He was still struggling to deal with life on a daily basis and at times, he drove both Jenna and Kyle nuts.
I got to Uppercross, Michigan around noon on Saturday. I'd left Ann Arbor around eight in the morning. Friday night had been good. Josh was sad, but the rest of the Harvilles were much more hopeful. As Kyle told me, "Ally is in a better place. It sucks for us that she's gone but I know she's happier where she is."
Connor said, "At some point, you just have to move on with your life. Ally wouldn't want us to sit around moping for the rest of our lives."
But Josh wanted his lost Ally back. I know he needed to move on but I didn't know how to help him. I'm a pediatrician, not a psychologist; my office has someone else on staff for that one. Josh needed a pediatrician and not the one from my office; he only works with kids. But Kyle's dad is a psychologist. Okay, Josh probably shouldn't see his dead fiancée's dad; they're too closely related. But he should see someone.
Anyway, I got to my sister's house in time for lunch. I recognized her summer cottage the minute I saw it. This house-I'd been there before. Karl and Sophia were renting Ben's family's summer house. Oh how the mighty have fallen! Ben brought me here the summer before our senior year of college; his parents were in Paris all summer with his sisters so we got it to ourselves for most of the summer. I'd love that summer. It had been the best summer of my life-until the asshole gave in to his precious family and dumped me because of my family. Oh Sophia, you have no clue where you've brought me.
"Gia!" my sister squealed running out her front door before I was even out of the car. "You're here! You're finally here."
"Hey, Sofe," I said, climbing out of my car and hugging her. "How goes it?"
"Fabulous, now that you're here," she replied, kissing both of my cheeks. "We need to get you some lunch-have you eaten? Karl and I are making a Greek salad with fresh bread for lunch. And we have fresh-squeezed lemonade. But after lunch, you need to get changed and then we'll hit the beach. And you've got to meet the Crosses; you'll love them. I've told them all about you. But we still haven't met Carissa's brother yet. He must be really busy. He was the thing for Ally last night? How is Josh holding up?"
"Sophia, slow down and let your poor sister breath," Karl said emerging from the house in blue jeans and a tight black t-shirt; he never wears shoes unless he has to. "Gia will be here for two weeks. You don't need to tell her everything right away. She just spent four hours alone in a car."
"But I missed my sister!"
My brother-in-law rolled his eyes, gave me a hug, and quickly kissed my cheek. "Welcome, Gianna; we're glad you're here. Come in. I'll put your things in your room. Just relax and don't let Sophia talk your ear off."
I grinned; I really love him. "Thanks, Karl. Just let me pop my trunk for you."
"That sounds great."
Thirty minutes later, I was curled up in a deck chair wearing shorts and a tank-top. I had a glass of lemonade, some Greek salad, and the bread Karl had made. "The deck has a great view of the lake," Sophia told me as she sat down next to me. "Karl loves to just sit here and paint."
"You should see the sunsets over the lake," he told me. "You'll want to take pictures of them forever."
I smiled. That deck does have amazing views of sunset but I wasn't quite ready to admit that I'd been here before.
"We're going to the Crosses' for dinner tonight," Sophia announced. "It's a barbecue. They can't wait to meet you. So you have to look cute."
"She might as well start a fan club for you," Karl told me. "She's always talking about you. Gia, I think you're Sophia's favorite subject."
I laughed as my sister protested, "But I love my sister!"
"Do you talk about Stella and Isabella this much?" I asked her.
"No, but you're my favorite."
"I know. And Stella and Isa aren't visiting you this summer."
"Lame," she replied taking a bite of salad.
Karl and I both laughed. That was typical Sophia. I love my older sister to death but she is just a chatterbox and very open with her emotions. Isabella is like that too. Stella and I are more reserved. Ben often commented on it when he visited my family. But I was used to it. Sophia and I had shared a bedroom since I was born. Stella and Isa had shared the other bedroom. And we four girls all shared a bathroom. Mornings in our house were just a little hectic. Thankfully, Stella is three years younger than me and Isa is five years younger than me. So they weren't as interested in the bathroom when Sophia and I were in high school. Sophia was always in the bathroom for almost an hour in the morning; she probably still is but I haven't shared a bathroom with her since she graduated from college and married Karl.
Ben wasn't at dinner that night. His nephew wasn't feeling well, so he stayed home to take care of him. But I got to meet the rest of the Cross family. The twins really were attractive. They were identical; thank God. We've had some problems at the hospital with staff members confusing identical twins. Chris was tall and thin with light brown hair and blue eyes. Logan, meanwhile, was tall but broader-chested with brown eyes and very dark brown hair, almost as dark as my own very Italian hair. But they were both very good-looking. Chris was more reserved, quieter; he was a fourth-grade teacher. Logan was louder, much more outgoing, and definitely very flirtatious.
Chris was really friendly, easy-going, and fun to talk to. The whole family was really great. Carissa was whiny, mopey, and attention-seeking-the same girl she'd been years earlier. She doesn't remember me, but we'd barely met three or four times. Nolan was a great guy-really friendly. He and I spent a long time talking about the American health-care system; he's a physician's assistant and understood a lot about what I do. Logan teased me relentlessly about being a "money-grubbing sawbones." He still works at Starbucks because he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. And he's twenty-seven. He might need to grow up. But he's fun to be around. And I should start thinking about find The Guy. I'm twenty-eight years old; there is no reason other than the fact that I'm lame and pathetic that I'm still single. I've just been too busy to deal with a relationship. But I think I could handle one now. I'm over Ben. I'm not quite sure what the heck he's doing here of all places. I guess he must be visiting his sister or something. But I thought Kyle said he was living with his parents while he was working on his PhD. Maybe his plans changed. Maybe he realized just how annoying his parents are. Who knows? I stopped knowing what was going on Ben Christianson's life the day he came to my apartment and said, "I'm really sorry about this, Gianna. But after talking with my dad last night, I've realized that there's just too much against us. My parents aren't going to back down and that really scares me. So while I used to say I'd never be the asshole who did this, I'm going to have to ask you for your ring back. We can't be engaged anymore, Gia; we just can't. We can't be together. My parents are pushing against me and I can't handle it. It's never been this bad before. They told me-I can't do this, Gia. I can't. We can't get married; it's just not a good idea."
I can't remember exactly what I said to him but I know I threw the ring at him and told him to go to hell. But like I said, I can't remember exactly what I said. I was angry and it was six years ago. He broke my heart. You can't just forgive that.
A/N: Please review. I promise Ben will appear shortly. I want to know what you think.