Author’s Dramatic Content Note: I write romantic love stories for adults, aged 18 and older. So most of the chapters will be PG-13 due to mature themes (M), or dramatic moments (D). And some of the chapters have romantic and sensual, but not explicit, love scenes that I will label as (L). So if you are unable or unwilling to attend a movie with the ratings that I provide, then please do not read that chapter. This is my disclaimer.
Additional Disclaimer: The Wiki and other reference links that I cite contain general information merely to allude to a place, person, concept/theory/belief, history, or artifact, etc. This story is a work of fiction, and people and their thoughts and actions are figments of my imagination and should not be taken as real or as fact. And though the general backgrounds of the characters and the story’s contextual setting involve mentions of the Christian religion—with an Anglican/Episcopal focus—this story is a romance, not a religious tract.
[And from time to time, I will illustrate my story with my dream cast of: Richard Armitage as Prof. Benedict Somerset, Jennifer Ehle as Laura Leicester, Loretta Devine as Connie Velasquez, and others as noted.]
Author’s recap from the previous chapter: Benedict and Laura’s Scrabbling playing at her place while waiting for her car to be repaired, then turned into a personal chat delving into his reasons for becoming a minister—and the constraints placed upon his conduct for the last fifteen years, since his ordination—and her own lack of dating or kissing in the last five years. Then Benedict broached the topic of his desire to kiss Laura. And after he and Laura had an amusingly dispassionate and rational discussion about kissing relative to each of them, they conversed without too many words through the language of kisses. Both of them seem to desire each other. But, the phone call about her car being ready to be picked up squelched any further explorations of their feelings for each other.
“Somerset: A Time to Love”, Chapter 09: Benedict Introducing Laura
After picking up Laura’s now working car at the repair shop, Benedict and Laura elect to have dinner at a local restaurant bar between their two campuses and their two apartments—near Laura’s university and Benedict’s seminary, respectively. Their thought is that both of them will have about the same distance to travel to their respective homes after dinner.
And since Laura freshened up and changed her blouse before they left her apartment to get her car—their couch embracing had put obvious wrinkles into it—Benedict ditched his grey sweater and tie, and put on his suit coat that he had in his back seat, over his oxford shirt.
However, being near the campuses means that they inevitably run into some of their students. Hey, it is Saturday night (April 13). And Saturdays are date nights–though neither Benedict nor Laura make that connection in their minds initially.
Settling into a booth at the busy local micro brewery restaurant named The Ale House, Benedict and Laura place their orders and then sip their drinks–a pint of beer for Benedict and a white wine for Laura.
Benedict: “Well Laura, this is about as close to an English pub as I get these days.” He smiles amusingly while lifting his beer in the air.
Laura: “Do you miss England a lot, Benedict?” She caringly touches his hand across the table and he gently clasps her hand in his hand.
Benedict: Benedict firms his mouth a bit cutely [(2) below] —with him realizing how attuned Laura seems to be about him. “Oh, not so much anymore since I’ve been here in the States over twenty years. I try to get back to England about every other year for Christmas or Summers and see family and old friends—and to recharge a bit on my English accent.” He grins sheepishly.
Laura: “Ah ha! You don’t get back home to England much. So that’s why your English accent seemed rather faint to me when I first met you.”
Benedict: “Ha ha ha! Well, that and I purposely tone down my English accent when I meet new people.” He laughs. “I learned in college years ago, that having an English accent in the States can get you picked on.”
Laura: Laughing, she says. “But with your height, Benedict,” And his muscles, she thinks. “I would imagine that you seem a bit imposing and people might not try to take you on.”
Benedict: “Let’s hope so.” He smiles and squeezes her hand.
Just then, Benedict’s day job intrudes as a few of his seminary students and their girlfriends drift by Benedict’s and Laura’s table.
Mark: “Professor Somerset! I never expected to see you here.” The young man states breezily due to his slightly inebriated condition, that is also evident by his slightly flushed face.
Bradley: “And drinking beer and with a date!” Another student says smiling at Laura.
Benedict: Benedict raises his eyebrow at his students less than their usually polite demeanors. So feeling a bit embarrassed for them, he ignores their rudeness. “Laura, these are some of my seminary students, Mark and Bradley.” Benedict also says somewhat shyly in a clipped voice as he unclasps Laura’s hand that he had been holding, and he returns his hand to his side of their dining table. While focusing upon his students, Benedict fails to see the hurt in Laura’s eyes when he did that.
Laura: “Hello.” Laura smiles benignly and reservedly at the students and then she looks questioningly at Benedict since he hasn’t introduced her to his students yet.
Sally: Clinging to Mark, she smiles and says. “It’s nice to know that when Mark and I are an old married clergy couple, we can still have a date night.”
Debbie: Clinging to Bradley, she says. “Now Sally, I doubt you’ll want to be referred to as old, when you’re merely middle aged.”
Laura winces and Benedict blanches. Although Debbie had thought that she was improving her friend’s ageist gaffe, she merely contributed to it.
Mark: “Uh girls, Professor Somerset isn’t married.” Mark shakes his head looking back and forth between his professor and Laura.
And Laura thinks that no woman, lady—in this day and age—wants to be referred to as merely a girl. So she pities the young men’s dates.
Benedict: “That is correct. Miss Leicester and I are just friends.” He smiles warmly at Laura and then his students. His and Laura’s nascent relationship might be at the cusp of something more, but that is private for Benedict. “We volunteer together at the local Chicago Children’s Group Home.”
Laura: “Hello. It’s lovely to meet some of Benedict’s students.” Though she smiles warmly at them, Laura can’t help but notice that Benedict has back peddled in his familiarity with her around his students–from when they were kissing and embracing each other earlier in her apartment.
Bradley: “Well, we’ll leave you to enjoy your meal.” He says as the server brings Benedict and Laura’s meals. “Professor Somerset, how early do you want us to show up for services tomorrow?”
Benedict: “Thirty minutes ahead of the start of the worship service should suffice for enrobing. So I’ll see you around 8:30am.”
Benedict nods his head and smiles at his students as they walk away. Benedict and Laura begin to eat their meals.
Laura: “So Benedict, you’re not serving as a minister but you’re participating in a worship service tomorrow?” She asks him quizzically.
Benedict: “Yes, Laura. The seminary has the faculty who are clergy rotate in at the chapel and lead the worship service once every few months. That’s so we don’t get too rusty.”
Laura: “So, will this be your first time–leading the worship service, I mean?” Laura asks him about the service, but Benedict senses a double entendre in her meaning.
Benedict: “Not at all. I had barely been settled a week when I arrived 1.5 years ago and they drafted me to lead worship services the following Sunday. And of course, I had lead worship services before–when I was a junior minister in training as part of a clergy internship years ago.”
Laura: “Do you have to present a sermon, Benedict?”
Benedict: “Yes, but I try to keep it short and sweet. I like to make one theological point, with a few literary and contemporary living examples.”
Laura: “And what’s your sermon topic tomorrow?” She asks interestedly. Though if Laura were to be truthful to herself, her questions are partly a ruse to distract herself from the hurt she feels for how Benedict introduced her to his students—as if she were a mere acquaintance. And Laura does not kiss—nor embrace entanglingly her acquaintances.
Pleasantly surprised that Laura seems interested in his ministerial role, Benedict warms to her question—relationally obtuse fellow that he can be at times, such as now.
Benedict: “My sermon is about the vocation of the apostles. The gospel it is the Matthew 17: 1-9 passage including “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” phrase.”
Laura: “And what is your sermon’s hook?” She smiles at him warmly, if a bit forced to maintain her composure.
Benedict: “That we are all apostles. And we each find our own way to witness our faith in God to the world.”
Laura: “That is deep, Benedict.” She says looking nonplussed.
Benedict: “Hopefully not too deep, Laura.” He laughs. “My goal is to add some levity to make faith interesting and accessible for our lives today.”
Laura: “Well, good luck with that.” Laura says not thinking that he’ll invite her to worship services tomorrow–since he hasn’t said anything about it yet.
Benedict: “Do you attend church, Laura?” He asks her hesitantly.
Laura: Laughing, she asks him “Ha ha ha! Benedict, are you asking me as a minister or as a friend?”
Benedict: “As your friend, of course, Laura. I’m uncomfortable in the ministerial role for anything longer than a worship service. I don’t like the implication that as a minister I’m supposed to be above things or people.”
Laura: “Such as being above me in kissing me earlier?” Laura whispers as she smiles at him a bit saucily. The two of them are sitting in a back corner booth, with Laura facing a wall. So only Benedict’s facial reaction is viewable by other restaurant patrons—that is, if other patrons were watching them.
Benedict: “Kkkk.” Coughing, as he sips his beer, Benedict says “Ha ha h ha!” Benedict laughs nervously self consciously. “That’s one example, Laura. I haven’t quite learned how to blend the two together–man and minister.”
Laura: “Now that would be a deep topic for a sermon.” She says nonplussed. And Laura realizes that Benedict’s slight fumbling of introducing her to his students might be part of his struggle to reconcile himself as man and minister.
Benedict: “Yes, we spend quite a lot of class time on this topic in the ministerial comportment unit I mentioned. Though in these modern times of both women and men clergy, we are more gender neutral—person and minister. And I certainly don’t claim to have any answers, but I facilitate the discussion about it.”
Laura: “Benedict? … Now don’t take this the wrong way.”
Benedict: “Oh no!” He laughs ruefully. “You’re not going to label me again, are you?” Though she has not stereotyped him as a minister or being British lately, he wonders if she will label him due to their topic of discussion.
Laura: “Label you?” She asks quizzically. “No, I was just going to ask how you can advise your students about being a man and being a minister, if you aren’t living as a man?” Laura realizes that her question might be construed one way as insightful or be misconstrued as her judging him.
Benedict: Benedict looks at Laura for a long time, squinting his eyes, and not saying anything. Then he slowly asks her. “And yourself, Laura? What about you, and living as a woman?”
Laura: “Touche’, Benedict.” She smiles. “I guess, that I had given up on finding love and romance.” Benedict picks up on Laura using the past tense, in her saying that she had given up. “You see, my ex-husband and I parted because we couldn’t make our marriage work. We couldn’t get pregnant and we had grown apart in frustration—mostly because of our different responses to our infertility and we developed different interests.” She states cryptically. “Then, he found someone younger than I was at the time, that he preferred to me.” She says a bit sadly. “So we divorced and moved on. He actually married her—his mistress–and they have three kids now.” Laura thinking that the fertility problem was obviously all her fault. And she becomes quiet as she holds her emotions in check.
Benedict: Seeing Laura’s sadness on her face as she looks wan and troubled, Benedict asks her with some trepidation. “So, do you still love him?”
Laura: “Oh no!” Laura says quickly. “I mean, I’m not in love with him anymore. Someone who isn’t happy to be with you and doesn’t want to spend time with you–let alone someone who falls in love with someone else–doesn’t inspire love.” She sighs sadly.
Benedict: “I’m so sorry, Laura. I don’t mean to pry.” He touches her hand again and she flinches slightly.
Laura: “Oh, so now that we’re not in front of your students, you’re willing to touch me again?” She asks him a bit petulantly.
Benedict: “That sounds a tad accusatory, Laura.” He blanches and removes his hand from hers again.
Laura: “I don’t mean it to be, Benedict. It’s just that I’ve just been down this road before.” Laura says, wanting to have a clear understanding as to whether Benedict likes her that way or not. “If you like me, Benedict, then you have to be willing to admit that I’m a part of your life to your other friends. And I will do the same for you with my friends.”
Benedict: “That almost sounds like a challenge? Or an ultimatum.” He says looking at her a bit questioningly.
Laura: “No, just … ground rules for developing a mutually nurturing and satisfying relationship–whether it’s romantic, or just a friendship.” She smiles wanly at him. Laura likes Benedict, but she’s not going to be his bit of stuff on the side as the Brits would say. “I … I like you, Benedict.” Laura says a big quietly as she looks at him uncertainly–wondering what Benedict’s response will be.
Benedict: “Fair enough. I like you, too, Laura.” He says clasping her hand in his again. “So, would you like to join me for the worship service tomorrow, Laura?” He asks her hopefully.
Laura: Laura looks up at him in surprise. But then she smiles sweetly at Benedict. “Yes Benedict, I would.”
Benedict: Benedict returns Laura’s smile. “The worship service starts at 9:00am at the seminary chapel. Do you know where that is?”
Laura: “I do, yes.” She nods.
Benedict and Laura go on to have a less strained meal now that Laura doesn’t feel that Benedict is keeping her under wraps. In the restaurant parking lot at the end of their evening at a respectful 8:00pm, Benedict and Laura embrace, give each other a sweet good night kiss full of a growing tenderness between them. Then they get into their separate cars and head to their separate homes for the night. There is a growing connection between them that will have its first real test on Sunday–with Benedict having invited Laura to attend the Seminary Chapel early morning worship service that he will be leading.
Benedict and Laura have known each other for two weeks–and they are still getting to know each other. But, Benedict inviting Laura into his seminary world as his friend–or even his lady friend–is a big step for Benedict. It is a big step for Laura, too. And she takes extra care getting ready for church this morning. She wants to look pretty for Benedict, but she also wants to look clergy worthy –if that is a concept. So, Laura wears a black linen dress with a round neckline and a matching jacket with long sleeves. She looks pretty [(3) below], but not overtly sexy–everything is modestly covered in terms of her full round breasts, no breast crevice showing. And Laura’s effervescent smile is her most beautiful feature.
And, it has been getting warmer this Spring, so Laura doesn’t want to be too warm in the chapel, so she wears an outfit of cool lightweight fabric. However, she doesn’t have to worry about being over warm because with the clergy wearing layers of robes that are hot–and being under spotlights that are also hot–they tend to keep the chapel chillier. If Laura had known this, she would have worn a warmer outfit. As it is, she keeps her arms crossed in front of her chest and she rubs her arms to keep them warm before the service begins. And she notices that a several of the other worship service attendees are dressed more warmly—probably regulars, she thinks chagrinly.
Benedict peeks out of the sacristy to see how full the pews are—the Seminary Chapel is about half full with older congregants and several of the seminary students, and of course, Benedict’s faculty colleagues. Benedict sees Laura sitting about half way back in the pews on the center aisle and he smiles at her and she smiles back at him. The worship service goes along well–with scripture readings, responsive readings, and such. Benedict’s ten minutes sermon about apostleship is indeed short, sweet, and to the point.
However, there is a particularly interesting part of the worship service for Laura–the passing of the peace, where parishioners hug or shake hands to those in the pews around them. Benedict also walks down the center aisle and shakes hands with several people. When Benedict reaches Laura, he embraces her in a warm and friendly hug–in full view of everyone there.
Laura is pleased that Benedict is willing to reveal that they are friends–and perhaps more than friends–to his colleagues, since they are still navigating that relationship terrain together. The after worship coffee hour will be agog with even that little bit of intimacy, no doubt, thinks Laura. Then they all share communion and such. With no music, it’s a relatively short worship service of about 45 minutes.
As Laura suspected when Benedict greets Laura in the after worship coffee hour reception room, Benedict’s students and colleagues take an interest in them as a couple. That is, after everyone has some refreshments first. Laura enters the reception room and she doesn’t see Benedict—her correctly surmising that he is disrobing and tending to after worship service duties, whatever those might be. So Laura stands in the back of the line for coffee and coffeecake when Benedict walks up to her–now back in his street clothes of an open oxford shirt and a sport coat over dress trousers after removing his clergy vestments. By not wearing a tie, Benedict is trying to convey himself as being more easy going to Laura—from when they first met.
Benedict: “Good morning, Laura. Thanks for coming to today’s worship service.” He says leaning down and kisses her cheek as he takes her hand in his.
Laura: Laura smilingly blushes by Benedict not only holding her hand, but kissing her cheek—in public. “Thanks for inviting me, Benedict. Nice job on the sermon in particular and the worship service in general.”
Benedict: “Thank you, Laura.” He beams. “The worship service is kind of like live theatre. Anything can happen, and often does–from crying babies, to snoring congregants, to ministers who set the altar runner on fire. So the worship service doesn’t need to be perfect, just heartfelt.” He says shrugging his shoulders and she smiles at him.
Laura: “Have you set anything on fire, Benedict?” She asks humorously. But Benedict answers cryptically.
Benedict: “Not lately. … But I’m trying.” Benedict raises his left eyebrow and smirks slightly, but only for Laura’s viewing. And Laura has to stifle her urge to burst out laughing at his double meaning.
After getting their coffee cakes on plates, Laura and Benedict walk over to the coffee and beverage table. Then, several people walk up to chat with them.
Mark: “Professor Somerset, how did we do?” Mark asks animatedly as one of the Lay Eucharistic Minister alternates for today’s worship service.
Benedict: “You did a fine job of chalice bearing today, Mark. It’s always a good day when we don’t spill the wine or drop the communion wafers.” Benedict smiles mirthfully.
Laura: “A little clergy humor there, Benedict?” She smiles warmly up at Benedict, and he smiles warmly down at her.
Benedict: “It keeps me humble.” Benedict smiles as he puts his left arm around Laura’s shoulders and back and then he rests his left hand on her waist. Laura blushes at Benedict’s familiarity in front of his colleagues–but she does not pull away from him, feeling quite comfortable with it.
Bradley: “Hi Professor, Hi Miss Leicester.” Bradley looks at Benedict expectantly and Benedict and Laura nod their hellos to him.
Benedict: “You did just fine as a chalice bearer, too, Bradley.” Bradly walks away with a relieved look on his face.
Pres. Casten: Then the austere but warm and much respected seventy year old president of the seminary joins the discussion. “Well done on the sermon, Benedict.” He shakes Benedict’s hand. “Your sermon will give our students something to strive for.”
Benedict: “Thank you President Casten.” Benedict smiles warmly at President Casten, while Laura beams at Benedict. “It’s kind of you to say so. May I introduce Laura Leicester to you? Laura, this is our seminary president, the Rev. Dr. Maynard Casten.”
Laura: Shaking his hand and smiling at him warmly, she says sincerely. “It’s lovely to meet you, President Casten.”
Pres. Casten: “It’s lovely to meet you, Miss Leicester.” He looks knowingly back and forth between Benedict and Laura. President Casten enjoys seeing his Seminary faculty modeling positive relationships—and being happy, as he and his own dear wife of forty years are.
Benedict: Interjecting before President Casten makes an assumption about his relationship with Laura, Benedict clarifies. “Laura and I are … friends.” Benedict says a bit shyly. And Laura notices Benedict’s diminishing but still lingering reticence to reveal the two of them as being romantic partners–if that is what they are at this early stage in their relationship. “We met volunteering at the Chicago Children’s Group Home on Saturdays. She’s a pro and I’m new at volunteering there.”
Laura: “True, Benedict. But you and little Jeffrey hit it off well. And Jeffrey is very discerning with regard to volunteers.”
Benedict: “Jeffrey would have to be discerning, because he likes you, Laura.” Benedict smiles complimenting Laura. And Benedict and Laura gaze at each other sweetly.
Pres. Casten: “Well, this is nice.” President Casten smiles cordially at Benedict and Laura. “Benedict, will you be bringing Miss Leicester to the Spring Fling next Friday, April 19th?”
Benedict: Feeling put on the spot, he says “Oh, I’d forgotten about that.” Benedict would like to ask Laura to go with him, but he’s not sure if she likes to dance. And his own dancing skills are rather rusty, he thinks.
Laura: “What’s a Spring Fling?”
Pres. Casten: “It’s a dinner dance, my dear. A last hurrah for our graduating students. But, it’s also a nice evening for our faculty and their wives and girlfriends or boyfriends.” President Casten looks pointedly at Benedict and then at Laura.
Laura: “Oh, well, Benedict and I are … just friends.” She says continuing the description that Benedict gave to his students at last night’s dinner–and what he just told President Casten–despite Benedict still having his arm around her shoulder and back and his hand resting on her waist.
Benedict: “Yes.” Benedict smiles warmly gazing down at Laura.
Pres. Casten: “Hmmm.” Pres. Casten murmurs with his eye brow raised amusingly. “Well, it’s up to you, Benedict. Lovely to meet you, my dear.” Pres. Casten says to Laura as he drifts away and both Benedict and Laura nod to him.
Laura: “He seems friendly, Benedict.”
Benedict: “Yes he is. And he’s very fatherly to us all–a real mentor.”
Laura: “That’s nice.” She says warmly, but really wondering if Benedict plans to invite her to the Spring Fling–given his reticence to tell his friends and colleagues that they are dating.
Laura and Benedict sit and chat for a bit, with Benedict introducing Laura to a few more of his seminary colleagues and students who walk over. However, Benedict doesn’t ask Laura to the Spring Fling dinner dance yet–not knowing if that’s something she might like or not. Naturally, this disappoints Laura–thinking that Benedict doesn’t want to take her to the Spring Fling. That he doesn’t think of her as his lady friend.
Then, Laura and Benedict decide to eat lunch together again today, but they will go to Benedict’s apartment for sandwiches–since he lives just nearby in the seminary faculty apartment complex and he wants to try out his new larger coffee maker, now that she will be his first guest in his home here.
To be continued with Chapter 10
References for “Somerset: A Time to Love”, Ch. 09, August 20, 2017 Gratiana Lovelace
1) The Somerset: A Time for Love” story cover is a composite of two main images:
a) Background–Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user AlicePopkorn2]
b) Prof. Benedict Somerset image is of Richard Armitage (2012 Promo by Roberta Ascroft, pix35) found at richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/Richard/Promos/2012Promo/album/RobertAscroft-35.jpg
c) a crucifix image is from MS Office Clip Art;
2) Benedict Somerset image is of Richard Armitage in 2012 in white-shirt-grey-coat-andRed-bkgrnd_Nov3016viaKitty_Jul1517Grati-sized-rusty-red-backdrop
3) Laura Leicester image is Jennifer Ehle at 2011 Luncheon for The Kings Speech Sep2813 at JEblogspot
Wattpad Ch. 09 story link:
Previous Ch. 08 blog link, with embedded illustrations: