“Standring’s Christmas Wish”, Prologue – Ch.1, December 25, 2018 Gratiana Lovelace (Post #1200a)
[As is my custom, I will illustrate my story with my ideal cast consisting of (and in order of appearance/mention in these chapters) of: Richard Armitage as Ralph John Standring, Hayley Atwell as Clara Saunders, and others as noted.
Authors story content and serializing scheduling note: My fan fiction short story here is based on the character of Ralph John Standring from the 2002 British mini-series “Sparkhouse”—with a new story arc. The tone of the chapters will be primarily PG to PG-13—for dramatic moments and/or romantic feelings. If you cannot or will not attend a movie with those ratings, then please do not read that chapter. This is my disclaimer.
And I will serialize this short story starting Christmas Day, December 25, 2018 with several initial chapter posts, and for a few days following after the Christmas Holiday this year. Please note that Chs. 2 – End will appear solely on my Wattpad site for ease of posting. I will strive to write and serialize my story with daily chapters posts—a little challenge that I set for myself for fun—such as with my 2014 story, “A Magnificent Love”, “A Christmas Carol Reimagined” in 2016, and others. And I hope that you enjoy Ralph Standring’s holiday story this year.
“Standring’s Christmas Wish”, Prologue
Ralph John Standring is trying to make a new home and a new life for himself after being jilted at the altar. He has lost the ability to trust, since his trust was broken. Yet what does anyone want but to belong–to someone or somewhere? And to have them belong to you–be they lover, family, or friend. Will Ralph have his own Christmas wish fulfilled this year of belonging to someone special, and having she belonging to him? Ralph had vowed never to trust and never to love again. Yet this Christmas, Ralph will learn to trust and to love again when a kind and loving lady welcomes him into her heart—if he is to establish a loving future for himself and others.
Ralph’s tale continues the Christmas seven months after his fateful non-wedding between himself and Carol Bolton the previous Spring. Ralph, then using his middle name of John, was set to marry Carol and invest in her farm, and they would make a life together with her daughter, Lisa.
But the very married Andrew Lawton had unexpectedly arrived before John and Carol’s wedding, proclaimed his love for Carol, and whisked away she and their daughter Lisa.
John was devastated. He had put his heart and his financial future into the hands of the fickle Carol Bolton. And then he was left with no wife and no money since he had already sunk his 80,000 pound inheritance from selling his grandda’s house into Carol’s farm and home called Sparkhouse, and he had no place to live.
John’s hurting heart and humiliation was crushed his spirit. He wanted to crawl into a hole and to never come out. But he couldn’t do that. Somewhere deep inside him, John still had the stoicism of generations overcoming worse obstacles than a broken heart, flowing through his veins. So he did the next best thing and he left in the middle of the night, driving to wherever the road lead him in his beat up truck. He only stopped when he realized that his truck was nearly out of gas.
That was seven months ago and John has long since moved on in his life now in a neighboring county and goes by his given name of Ralph–that he pronounces with the uncharacteristic L sound–after his grandda, to avoid questions or comment should anyone remember a John Standring.
And though Ralph has emotionally retreated from the world–and he retreated from wishing for love and happiness–this Christmas, he will have his wishes fulfilled, if he will only learn to trust and to love again..
“Standring’s Christmas Wish”, Ch. 1–Keeping to Himself
Dog tired and chilled through to his bones at the end of his long work day at Camden Farms where he works as a farm laborer tending to the animals, Ralph Standring stares at the cold bologna sandwich, crisps (potato chips), and cold soda that are to be his evening meal this early December Friday night. But he just can’t take not getting something warm into his belly today. So Ralph dons his serviceable overcoat [(2) below] and he walks out of his spare barn loft lodgings and he heads into the village.
Ralph has tidied himself up from his work day labors–showering and putting on clean thermal underwear and outer clothes. But the clothes Ralph has are warm and worn–by no means stylish, and they tend to cover his large frame in layers of shirt and jumper (sweater) and overcoat and hat, making him seem bulkier than he really is. Tall and imposing anyway–towering over most men at 6 ft 3 inches tall–Ralph’s hard farm work has toned the muscles of his chest, arms, and shoulders, and legs into a powerful and imposing torso and overall physique. Yet the shy and unassuming Ralph hides his body from prying eyes under many layers of clothing–just as he hides his heart and emotions from further betrayal.
It is the start of December and everyone in town is beginning to decorate for Christmas. The shops are very festive, such as they always are at this time of year in their quaint small village of Chipping, England in the middle of Lancashire [(3a)]–quaint with its garden stone edging retaining walls [(3b) below right]and its hundred year old stone cottages. The village of Chipping is the embodiment of a small village from another era–with the copious amount of stone lending a sense of permanence, or at least, of hardiness. So the hardy Ralph Standring feels akin to his surroundings.
Though Chipping does not have a pub–for warmth via spirits or food–it does have a small café. For Chipping’s small village of under 1500 souls, Clara’s Cafe is the only restaurant dining establishment for miles around. And Clara purchases many of her restaurant’s food stuffs from the local farmers–thus maintaining a local economy focus–and keeping her costs down. So her meal prices are reasonable.
Ralph has been to Clara’s Café a time or two each month over the seven months since he came to Chipping–him always quietly slipping in so no one would notice him. That is if anyone can fail to notice Ralph’s 6 foot 3 inch tall hulking presence–in his farm overalls or even in his nicer church clothes.
Ralph remembers the first time he visited Clara’s Café. He had been wary of this new village that he had moved to. He felt that at 200 miles distant from Sparkhouse, it was far enough away so that no one would know him. And the villagers of Chipping didn’t know him. In truth, no one really knows Ralph–not even the Camdens who employ him and they respect his strong work ethic on their farm as an animal tender laborer.
That late Spring Saturday morning when he was new to the village of Chipping, England, Ralph had been picking up some necessary supplies for his barn loft lodgings at the grocer’s–toilet paper, soap, bologna and bread–then he pokes his head into Clara’s Café for a peek, then he ducks out again. Clara’s Café is a lively and cheerful place, Ralph hasn’t decided if he will try to eat at the Cafe as he stands there in the doorway.
However, Ralph is jolted out of his reverie of indecision on the doorstep of the restaurant when he realizes that he is being hailed by a woman at the entrance way [(4) below)].
Clara: “Love! Please come in and leave the flies outside.” Clara Saunders beckons to the tall stranger standing in the open doorway of her café.
Her wearing a blue patterned blouse over a navy skirt covered with an apron tied over it, the tallish womanly curvy café owner Clara Saunders ushers Ralph into her restaurant with a flourish and closes the door. Ralph notices her wearing a gold band wedding ring—but on her right hand. So he is uncertain if she is married, divorced, or other—of which, he cannot speculate. She seats him in what turns out to be a much too small chair for his height and breadth—which is not unusual for him, chairs rarely seem to be made for a person of his size—then she places a menu in his hand, and a glass of water on the table before he can object.
It is not that Ralph would object to a glass of water being given to him—he would not be so impolite. Despite his rough edged slightly disheveled looking state, Ralph learned his good manners from the grandparents who raised him. It is just that he dislikes making someone do extra work, by bringing him a glass of water.
Ralph: “I don’t…” Ralph stares at the attractive woman, whom he will come later to know as Clara Saunders, the proprietress.
With her hair swept away from her face in a tamed flip with a pencil stuck behind her ear, at first he thought that Clara looks like many a matron lady he has seen at church now and again–older than his thirty eight years. But then, she smiles up at him warmly and he takes a good look—him finding no lines nor blotches on her face, which he believes makes her a bit younger than he is. Yes, she is womanly curvy in her hips and especially so in her … chest area. He blushes even thinking about her having a curvy chest. And the way that she deftly moves between tables–squeezing through openings that Ralph does not think he could navigate, make him realize that she is quite energetic and youthful.
Clara: “You don’t what, Love?”
Clara asks caringly and lightly places her hand upon his shoulders as he sits before her. Ralph flinches involuntarily–him being unused to being touched, unless it is an animal that he is tending to nudging him to hurry with its feed or water. Oh his late Grandma was a kindly who would pat him on his cheek when he was a boy, but hugs were never given in his grandparents home. And Clara notices his discomfort and she removes her hand.
Clara wonders why the rural districts of England seem to have more loners such as this man? She doesn’t know his name, just that he is new to these parts–a farm laborer like so many, if she is to judge by his clothing. Though Clara is not one to judge a person. And she wonders if he will be transient and move on after the Summer season, or if he will become a permanent fixture in their village? Clara is not nosey, merely curious as she walks away from the tall man to place his order with her cook.
Ralph watches Clara as he waits for his order of the day’s special of beef stew. He sees that she smiles at every customer as they arrive and she seats them, making them feel welcome with her friendliness–as he feels welcome. He observes that she seems to be friendly to everyone–sometimes touching their shoulders–as she touched his shoulders–sometimes giving who he thinks must be a regular patron a hug.
So Ralph realizes that her friendliness to him is just part of her general behavior—nothing special nor marked in her attention of him. So he focuses his attention on the small dessert card menu placed before him with the dessert choices on it. Every meal comes with a complimentary pie, brownie, or ice cream sundae. Distracting himself with dessert names–ample apple pie, double chocolate brownie, cherry cheesecake, or pudding–and he notices that there seem to be more apple dessert variations–pies, crisps, cobblers, streusels, etc. He guesses that it is due to the large apple orchard adjacent to the back of the property.
Then that late last Spring, that first time that he ate at Clara’s Café, as now in early December of the same year, Ralph enjoys the food here whenever he wants a warm meal–that isn’t merely a tv dinner warmed in his small microwave in the barn loft where he sleeps. Looking around Clara’s Café after the midday lunch rush, Ralph sees there are only a smattering of people present–much to his liking. He takes a seat by the out of the way fireplace near the kitchen door. It is perhaps a busy spot with the servers coming back and forth. But few people choose to eat there because of the table’s location being so close to rushing serving staff. So Ralph has a quiet space to sit, and think, and eat his meal.
Ralph works with animals because he likes them. They don’t talk back, they have simple needs, and they can easily be herded into a pen or to an open paddock area as needed for vaccinations or grazing. Except Ralph is a human, not an animal. And try as he might, Ralph cannot suppress his need for human contact, for friendship, and yes, for love. So, he occasionally visits Clara’s Café as a non stressful way to be among—if not interact much with—people.
Once again, Ralph watches Clara move about her Café greeting and tending to customers as her able serving staff do their part. Then inevitably, Clara works her way back to the restaurant area in front of the kitchen access. And she spots him–that tall brownish auburn haired quiet fellow, as she thinks of him.
Clara: “Ralph love? Have we tended to your order for you yet?” She asks in passing by him, her thinking that her staff has probably already tended to him.
Ralph: “No, not yet.” He admits sheepishly to her retreating form. He blushes slightly, because in the intervening seven months since he started regularly patronizing Clara’s Café, she has come to know and use his name when addressing him. Though she still calls him Love, now and again, in a charmingly friendly way.
Clara: “No?” She turns around to face him. “Why that’s awful! How long have you been waiting, Love?” Ralph shrugs noncommittally. So Clara tends to him herself. Taking her pen out of her neatly hair netted shoulder length flip, she asks. “What would you like today, Ralph? Your favorite of the beef stew, or beef patty with vegetables on the side? Or might I interest you in the healthy stir fry?” She amusingly waggles her eyebrows at him.
Ralph: “Stir fry? Does it have meat in it?” He asks warily. Ralph is uncertain about food cooked unconventionally—and with so many vegetables in it.
Clara: “Yes, your choice of beef, chicken, or pork. Or we can give you all three–along with the vegetables in the stir fry.” Clara tries to help her patrons choose nutritiously balanced meals—along with the delicious desserts she serves her customers.
Ralph: “I don’t eat vegetables much—I like meat and potatoes.” He is a simple man with simple tastes.
Clara: “But you need your vegetables for proper nutrition and to maintain your health. Since your job is so physical in tending to the animals at Camden Farms, you must need a lot of vitamins, that vegetables can provide.” Then she gets a twinkle in her eye. “And besides, Love? Potatoes are a vegetable.” She smiles in small triumph. “So you might as well take the plunge and order the green beans, too. Or would you prefer some carrots or turnips?”
Ralph always blushes when she calls him Love, rather than his name Ralph. He knows that she is just being friendly to him as her customer—as she is with everyone else. It is just that, her small degree of familiarity toward Ralph in calling him Love, is the only familiarity that he experiences.
Ralph: “Green beans will be fine—with the beef patty and sliced potatoes.” Ralph nods—he usually agrees with Clara’s food suggestions. Except, Ralph will wait to try the stir fry on another day, maybe.
Later, as Ralph tucks into the beef and potatoes–with green beans on the side—a meal that Clara had set before him with a friendly smile–he ponders the apple cobbler dessert also awaiting him. And, he also ponders about the lady, Clara, who waited on him today. He has seen Clara and eaten at her café about 21 times since he arrived in chipping to start fresh about seven months ago. He finds her nice and friendly to everybody. And he marvels that she is even friendly to him.
Ralph is still wary, though—him wondering why she is friendly toward him. It is still hard for Ralph to trust anyone, let alone a woman—whom he sees occasionally. But a small niggling thought in the back of Ralph’s mind wonders if Clara is different? And even if Clara were different, and trustworthy? Would he allow himself to trust her? Let alone, he wonders, might she even want him to?
As Clara watches Ralph eat his apple cobbler with gusto and a smile, she wonders if he is a nice man? She thinks that he might be. He is courteous enough. But he is so shy and closed off around her, or anybody, that Clara still doesn’t know much about him—even after him coming into her café for the last seven months. She knows that he has steady employment at Camden Farms—which speaks well about Ralph Standring’s reliability.
Yet Clara views Ralph’s intractable wariness and seeming inability to converse—or perhaps his seeming disdain for conversing with her—as a bit unsettling to her, but not necessarily in a bad way. Clara feels that Ralph Standring is unusual—gruff at times, but also polite, a loner who still comes into her café nearly weekly for a meal. Or is it for more? Human contact? Might he be lonely, too? So if and until she gets to know him better, Clara will wait and watch Ralph Standring—in case he becomes less unusual, and perhaps, more interesting. Or at least, if he seems to express an interest in her. Afterall, at thirty five years old, Clara is not a young thing anymore. And being alone and essentially by herself, with no other adult to depend upon—nor to share what happened each day at the café with—Clara’s interest in Ralph has ever so slowly and ever so gradually increased.
What will happen between Ralph and Clara is anyone’s guess. And it is the December Holiday season—when some people make wishes for happiness and love as their holiday gift.
To be continued with Chapter 2 (to be posted on my Wattpad site later Christmas morning)
“Standring’s Christmas Wish”, Prologue to Ch. 1 images for December 25, 2018 by Gratiana Lovelace (Post #1200a)
- “Standring’s Christmas Wish” story cover art created by Gratiana Lovelace includes the following elements:
a) Image of actor Richard Armitage portraying Ralph John Standring in the 2002 mini series “Sparkhouse”; original image via Kitty;
b) Vintage oval holiday frame was found at https://www.clipartmax.com/middle/m2i8G6H7i8m2K9i8_vintage-antique-frame-christmas-xmas-holidays-christmas-border-ideas/
c) cover text is Graphite Std Bold, via Photoshop Elements
- The image of Ralph John Standring standing in a doorway is actor Richard Armitage in the 2002 mini series “Sparkhouse”; image via Kitty.
- a) Chipping Village is in the heart of Lancashire, in NW England; more info is found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chipping,_Lancashire ;b) A Chipping Village Lane image 1 by Sue Bristo found at http://www.picturesofengland.com/England/Lancashire/Chipping/pictures/1085989
4) The image (flipped) of Clara’s Café owner Clara is represented by actress Hayley Atwell in the 2018 “Christopher Robin” film found at https://ewedit.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/christopherrobin5b48ec6dd24e3.jpg ; for more information, visit https://ew.com/movies/2018/07/31/christopher-robin-hayley-atwell-interview/
Wattpad, “Standring’s Christmas Wish”, Prologue to Ch. 1 story link is: