(“Somerset: A Time to Love” is an original contemporary romance copyrighted by Gratiana Lovelace, 2017; All rights reserved) [(1) story cover, left]
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, John Lithgow as Seminary President Maynard Casten, and Jane Alexander as his wife Portia Casten, and others as noted.]
Author’s recap from the previous chapter: After sharing their joyous engagement news with Benedict’s clergy colleagues on Palm Sunday April 21st, they are stunned to discover that Laura’s divorced status might prevent them from marrying in the Chicago Seminary College’s Chapel, but it might also prevent Benedict from marrying Laura and remaining a clergy faculty member. Benedict is livid. And Laura is devastated.
“Somerset: A Time to Love”, Chapter 17 (PG, D): Leave it to the Ladies
After Henry the Chapel Director informs Benedict about the extra canonical implications of their regional Bishop trying to prevent he and Laura from marrying in the Chicago Seminary College’s Chapel, Benedict is livid and channels his anger by trying to come up with some solutions.
Meanwhile, Laura has quickly dashed into the ladies room–dodging a few more well wishers in the hallway–after hearing that her being a divorced woman might prevent she and Benedict from marrying in the church—or even, at all because he is a minister. Though the ladies lounge area’s dusty rose russet tones and soft lighting looks lovely and soothing [(2) below], Laura goes to the privacy of the last stall in the adjacent restroom–the spacious handicap stall–her hoping that she doesn’t inconvenience anyone by her using it. Laura enters it, locks the door, pulls out some tissues from her purse and begins to weep as she leans against the wall.
Laura had to get away from the conversation she and Benedict were having with his colleague Henry, before her carefully constructed façade of composure crumbled. Five years. It has been five years since her divorce and the humiliation she felt with her former husband’s betrayal. Well four years, really, since she decided to put the past behind her and not dwell upon it. She could not change it, she could only move on.
Yet Laura’s moving on exacted a price upon her psyche, in her unwillingness to have herself be vulnerable again to another person’s whims of faithfulness. So she had steeled herself from her emotions and any relationship with others beyond friendship—her telling herself that she didn’t need anyone to love or be loved by, that she needed no man in her life. Yet when Benedict came into her life—with his own similar walls erected to keep people from getting personal with him—she was inexorably drawn to him, as if he gave essential air to her lungs. Their initial fitful interactions having given way to a tenderness and a deepening love for each other.
And now, Laura feels like she has indeed fallen over that cliff she had worried about when talking to Connie after having first met Benedict–and Connie tried to play matchmaker. Laura wonders if God is playing a cruel joke on her–to let her find love again–but true love this time, her love of a lifetime–only to prevent her from keeping this happiness.
As Laura’s weeping continues for several minutes, it is noticed by Portia Casten who happens to walk into the ladies room. Not knowing initially who is in distress, Portia says sincerely to Laura’s closed stall door.
PortiaC: “My dear, I don’t know what your problems are, but I’m sure we can find a solution. Will you let me help you?”
Laura: “Nothing can help!” She wails.
PortiaC: “Oh you’d be surprised what two ladies’ brains can come up with?” Portia gently jests, but also offers her support.
Laura: “Women can’t overrule a bishop.” Laura’s voice cracks with her anguish. And she wonders, how can I be without Benedict now?
PortiaC: “That old codger of a Bishop? Most of us can’t wait until he retires. Come now, my dear. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Laura: Still in her stall and still not revealing her name–but her circumstances will–Laura knowing that Portia is the lady on the other side of the stall, Laura forces herself to explain, but her hoping not to reveal herself. “My fiancé and I want to marry in the church, but there’s some rule that says divorced people can’t have a church ceremony or blessing. … And I was divorced.” She sobs and relents by letting Portia know who she is. “And if they tell Benedict that he can’t marry me at all because he is a minister and I am a divorced woman, I can’t make him choose between his church and me.” Laura wails woefully.
PortiaC: “Laura Dear, it won’t come to that.” Of course, Portia had figured out who was crying. “… if that nonsense about divorced persons were a real rule, do you think that my husband Maynard and I would have been able to marry 40 years ago? I was divorced, too.”
Laura: “Hhh!” Stunned, Laura gasps.
PortiaC: “Now won’t you come out of the stall and we’ll talk? A metal door is not conducive to us chatting.” Because Portia cannot put her arms around Laura to comfort her, as she knows Laura needs comforting.
Astonished that not only Mrs. Casten sympathizes with her plight, but that she had also been divorced—and years ago, at a time when divorce was much more of a social stigma than it is today, except for Bishops, it would seem–Laura slowly opens the stall door. And she lets herself be lead to the sitting room area of the ladies lounge—sinking into the soft couch cushions.
Laura: “Mrs. Casten, do you really think Benedict and I can be married in the church—and he won’t have to give up being a minister?” Laura asks despairingly.
PortiaC: “There, there, Laura Dear.” Portia enfolds Laura in a warm and motherly hug as she comforts her, soothing rubbing Laura’s back. “Of course I do, we just have to put our minds to it.” Thinking for a moment, a growing smile infuses Portia’s face as she comes up with a plan. “We’ll simply use a strategy that has worked effectively with some men in power in the wider church organization who try to diminish others.”
Laura: “What’s that?” Laura asks sniffling over Mrs. Casten’s shoulder.
PortiaC: “We’ll just tell this Bishop,” Portia’s voice drips with disdain for him having such an important leadership position and him making judgements about others. “… if he can’t recognize that divorce is sometimes necessary for women—or men for that matter–then we won’t give the diocese the $100,000 that the women of the diocese have fundraised this year, unless he gives in and lets you be married in the church. We women will not let anyone try to diminish us through artificially created man made rules.”
Laura: Pulling back to look at Mrs. Casten in disbelief, Laura’s face shows a glimmer of hope in her widened eyes. “Can you do that? I mean, I don’t want to get anyone else in trouble with the bishop.”
PortiaC: “Laura dear, you’re not in trouble with the bishop.” Portia caresses Laura’s tear stained face. “And though prayer is the business we’re in …” Portia says cheekily. “… and it works, I also believe in using all of the tools at our disposal–and money talks!” Portia eyes twinkle with devious delight, and Laura gives her a wan smile. “That’s better. Now, let’s dry your eyes and fix your makeup, Laura Dear. You want to be composed again for your fiancé, Benedict, when we walk back out there.”
Laura: Laura slowly nods her head and says. “Yes, I do. Thank you for your kindness, Mrs. Casten.”
PortiaC: Giving Laura another warm hug, Portia warmly says. “Please call me Portia, Laura dear. Considering that we’re in league with each other now, we should really be on a first name basis.” Portia smiles mischievously and they both laugh.
Laura dries her eyes and repairs her makeup somewhat. When Laura feels fully in control of herself and her emotions, she and Portia walk out of the ladies room and back to the coffee hour reception.
It is now about 11:30am on Sunday as Laura and Portia return to the coffee hour reception. They walk directly over to Benedict who stands up to greet them. Seeing Laura’s still sad expression on her face and her tear reddened eyes, Benedict opens his arms and Laura gratefully embraces him as he embraces her and he kisses her forehead. Benedict looks quizzically at Portia.
PortiaC: Seeing Benedict’s querying look, Portia caringly squeezes Laura’s shoulder. “Everything will be alright, my dears.” Laura gives Portia a small smile of thanks. “Benedict, Laura and I were just strategizing how to pull the rug out from under the bishop.”
Benedict: “Oh?” Benedict’s deep voice rumbles through his chest as Laura nestles in closer to him and Benedict gently rocks her back and forth soothingly as he strokes her back and he kisses her forehead.
PortiaC: “Yes Benedict. You see, I was also divorced long ago. It’s not something Maynard and I broadcast–not because I’m ashamed of it, but because it happened so long ago and it was painful for me.” Benedict’s eyebrows rise in hearing this news for the first time, but he says nothing. “But then, I met my wonderful husband Maynard and my life has been a complete joy–as your lives will be, my dears.” Portia encourages them comfortingly.
Laura: Finally finding her voice, she says “Thank you Mrs… Portia.” Laura says smiling more hopefully at Portia and then up at Benedict.
Benedict: “What’s the strategy?” He asks quizzically looking at Laura–whom he sweetly kisses on her lips–and then he looks at Portia.
PortiaC: “Oh, we’ll just withhold the $100,000 from the diocese in women’s fundraising efforts this year until the bishop blinks.” She states cheekily. “Doing so tweny years ago at the national church level got women the right to vote on church matters just like their male counterparts. So our plan can certainly do a little thing like have your marriage blessed in a church–or the chapel, in this case.” She states gleefully.
Benedict: “You’re formidable!” Benedict says looking nonplussed at Portia.
PresMaynardC: “Yes, she is.” Pres. Casten smiles walking up to his wife Portia and putting his arm around her waist, then looking to Benedict and Laura. “What are we talking about?”
Portia: “Oh, we’ll discuss it more over lunch, Maynard Dear. It is such a lovely day outside. Shall we all walk over to the residence?” Portia gestures to Benedict and Laura as she takes her husband’s arm. Then, they all walk over to the Seminary’s official residence for the seminary president–the Casten’s home.
It is now 11:45am on a beautiful Sunday morning as Benedict and Laura, and Maynard and Portia, walk into the spacious and warm Chicago Seminary College’s presidential residence. Benedict has been in here only one other time–when the seminary hosted a welcome reception for new faculty, like himself, who came in mid year. However today, the Castens guide Benedict and Laura to a back patio for luncheon–since the Spring weather is so lovely and the crocuses are blooming.
PresMaynardC: “Now, isn’t this nice?” Maynard smiles encouragingly to Benedict and Laura as he gestures to them to sit down and they do–while Portia goes to tell their cook that there will be four for luncheon today. “Let me say again how thrilled Portia and I are for you two, Benedict and Laura. We hope that you’ll be very happy together.”
Benedict: “Thank you, President Casten. I’m sure that we will be.” Laura nods with a small smile.
PresMaynardC: “Please call me Maynard, Benedict. We’re just informal around the house.” He says gesturing to what is arguably a large manor type house. “Portia doesn’t let me get away with being president unless we’re at a formal function.” He laughs.
Benedict: “Thank you Maynard.” Benedict nods formally as he smiles warmly at him.
Laura: Laughing softly, she says. “Portia is very warm and down to earth.”
PresMaynardC: “Yes, very. Now what were you two ladies talking about strategy? Hmm?” His mind is rife with curiosity.
Portia: Walking up to them with their iced teas on a tray, Portia sets it down. Then after placing their iced teas in front of each of them as they wait for their served meals to be ready, Portia then sits down. “Laura Dear, do you want to tell him or shall I?”
Laura: Looking a bit shy, since she now must reveal to President Casten that she is divorced, Laura begins. “President Casten, …”
PresMaynardC: “It’s just Maynard for you, too, Laura Dear, we’re sitting around chatting as friends.” He says warmly and Benedict beams.
Laura: “Maynard, …” She smiles. “… it’s just that the Chapel Director told Benedict and that we might not be able to marry in the chapel–or any diocesan church–because of the bishop’s policy against divorced people being remarried on church grounds or with the church’s blessing. And he said that as a minister, Benedict might not be allowed to marry me at all. I felt … well, I took that policy very personally this morning.” She says tearing up a bit again. “You see, I was divorced many years ago from my first husband who left me for a younger woman.”
Benedict: “Oh my darling, …” Benedict says putting his arm around Laura and bringing her hand up to his lips. “I’m so sorry. The Chapel Director’s statement about church policy also confounded me. But we’ll find a way to surmount it.”
Portia: “Maynard Dear, …” She says laying her hand on her husband’s arm. “… when Laura and I chatted in the ladies room, I told Laura that I had been divorced years ago before you and I were married.” Portia smiles warmly at her husband, then comfortingly at Laura who smiles back at her. “I told Laura that if the bishop caused them any problems, we’ll just hit him in his diocesan pocketbook and withhold the $100,000 in fundraising dollars the diocesan women have raised this year.”
Pres. MaynardC: “Portia Dear, you are positively Machiavellian!” He laughs gleefully. “See Benedict and Laura, that’s why I love her so.” Maynard’s voice is tinged with love and passion for his wife, even these 40 years later. Then Maynard gives his wife of forty years a loving peck on her cheek and she smiles.
Benedict: “Well, it’s nice to have you on our side.” Benedict states aloud, a bit nonplussed because he still has to seek permission from another quarter in order to marry Laura.
Laura: “Yes, thank you.” She says a bit meekly.
Portia: “Laura Dear, you’ll have consternations enough becoming a minister’s wife–most of them quite amusing. Oh the stories I could tell!” Portia laughs bemusedly. “And I will when we’re in private, Laura Dear.” Portia says conspiratorially. “But, you shouldn’t have to face difficulties from the church. Dedicating ourselves to a life of faith, doesn’t require us to squelch who we are as persons–because it is the very act of bringing ourselves and our unique contributions to this life of faith that makes it a richer and more rewarding experience for everyone with whom we come into contact.”
Laura: “That’s good to hear, Portia.” Laura says warmly to her, for it is Portia’s own understanding of and experience with divorce that has helped Laura see that the church has compassionate people in it. “So Portia, do you lead classes on comportment for minister’s wives, or future minister’s wives?” Laura asks cheekily, starting to get her spirits back. And Benedict almost does a spit take with his iced tea, since as Laura knows he teaches ministerial comportment.
PortiaC: “Oh, it’s not as formal as all that. But we ladies–ministers’ wives and lay ladies–do get together regularly for our service work and our mutual support.”
Pres. MaynardC: “And they’re a force to be reckoned with–as you can tell!” He says nodding his head animatedly with his eyes wide.
Benedict: “See Laura Darling, not to worry. All will be well.” Benedict smiles gazing lovingly down at Laura as he tenderly caresses her cheek with his finger and she smiles also.
The Castens and the soon to be Somersets go on to have a lovely and friendly Palm Sunday lunch.
To be continued with Chapter 18
References for “Somerset: A Time to Love”, Ch. 17, October 22, 2017 Gratiana Lovelace (Post #1109)
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) The warm and lovely ladies lounge image representing the CSC Chapel Ladies Lounge is from the First United Methodist Church was found at http://www.bellapbd.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/First-United-Methodist-Commercial-Section.jpg
Wattpad Ch. 17 story link:
Previous Ch. 16 blog link, with embedded illustrations: