An original contemporary romance copyrighted by Gratiana Lovelace; 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, and others as noted.]
Author’s recap from the previous chapter: Benedict Somerset and Laura Leicester continued to dysfunctionally relate to each other due to their miscommunication and stubbornness to perceive the other in a different light. So Benedict proposes that they go out to lunch that same Saturday, March 29th to clear the air, at get to know and understand each other better, he hopes. She accepts his invitation—though she wants them to each pay for their own meals. So, not a date. Just two colleague trying to understand each other.
“Somerset: A Time to Love”, Ch. 04: Trying to Understand Each Other
After Benedict and Laura drive in Benedict’s small sedan to Pritzker’s Deli restaurant for their Saturday, March 29th lunch–and placing then receiving their half sandwich and soup orders–Laura and Benedict are cozily ensconced in a table booth on the left side of a large stone fireplace hearth with a surround of antique tiles and wood mantel. And dining areas barn wood siding walls brightly painted in a faded rusty red color—coupled with sparing decorations hanging on the walls [(2) below]–embues the family dining room area with a warm and inviting atmosphere—unlike some places which garishly cover every square inch of wall space.
It seems that the restaurant had once solely been a local tavern restaurant—that is now companioned with a more family friendly dining area building addition where Benedict and Laura now sit. With the bar area catering to sports mad enthusiasts watching tv on the big screen, whilst playing pool on several pool tables. Laura and Benedict are seated in the non-bar side of the restaurant.
Yet, the family dining area is warm and welcoming. Only if Benedict and Laura were sitting at one of the small round tables in front of the fireplace could they have had a toastier seat and better view of the dancing firelight. But then, that would have also put them on display as they are chatting. And frankly, neither Benedict nor Laura wants to be on display, as it were—and ogled by others—especially when they are trying to get to know and understand each other better. So the relative obscurity of an out of the way side booth affords them some privacy.
Benedict: “Laura, this restaurant is very nice and the food is delicious!.” Benedict nods his head approvingly at the cozy décor. He is really trying not to scowl, by maintaining a blandly pleasant facial expression [(3) right]. Then he takes another large bite of his turkey sandwich.
Laura warms to this new, non-scowling Benedict sitting before her and sharing a meal with her. And in truth, Benedict is warming to Laura. Laura’s long silky rich auburn hair [(4) right] flowing over her shoulder framing her unblemished and healthily rosey complexion with only a sparing hint of makeup is quite alluring to Benedict—as evidenced by his mouth threatening to curl at their edges into what many might presume to be a smile.
Laura: “Yes, I like it, Benedict. This restaurant is less formulaic than a chain restaurant and has a bit more ambience. The booth cushions are particularly comfy.” Laura blanches slightly at mentioning such a mundane aspect of the restaurant—in that her tush is comfily cushioned. Then her face flushes pink with embarrassment.
Benedict: “Ha ha ha!” He smiles warmly at her. “I agree. If one is to sit and enjoy their meal, then the seating should be more comfortable than a monk’s spare cell.”
Laura: “Oh? And have you experienced such privations as a monk’s cell?” She asks teasingly. However, Benedict takes her question literally and responds to it.
Benedict: Rolling his eyes in recalling that particular memory, he explains. “I did, indeed. It was a weekend Diocesan retreat in Wisconsin one June, years ago. The Bishop at the Diocese that I served thought that it would be good for his parish priests—and diocesan priest administrators, such as myself at the time—to get back to basics, austerity. Which was rather ironic since the man wore the purple as if he were royalty—receiving every deference due to his rank.” Benedict smiles with a self-effacing chagrin.
Laura: “Ha ha ha! So he was quite full of himself?”
Benedict: “Yes. But, I don’t mean to imply that our Bishop then was arrogant. Quite the contrary. He was a good and kind hearted and faith filled man. He simply felt that his rank as Bishop was due certain small courtesies. So when we pulled up to what was essentially a small mansion on lushly verdant grounds leading down to the lake, we thought that our stay there wouldn’t be so bad.” Laura looks at him quizzically, wondering if he will get to the point of his tale. “You see, the brotherhood that leased the historic mansion were not allowed to alter its lovely architectural elements and décor, but for a separate education building set back from the mansion which was the monks domain to alter as they liked. And there is where they had one monk’s cells for visitors to experience overnight—complete with a stretched rope cot, a single candle for light when the night became dark, a ceramic basin and pitcher with water, and a bucket for … necessities.” He intones sheepishly at that last description.
Laura: Her eyes widen, and she asks in a hushed voice. “You didn’t have to stay in the monk’s cell, did you, Benedict?”
Benedict: “Oh yes.” I nod my head ruefully. “I drew the short straw—literally—and wound up in the monk’s cell the first night.”
Laura: “That sounds horrible.”
Benedict: “Oh, it was. Well! It was certainly not comfortable.”
Laura: “I would never wish to experience such privation on purpose.” Yet Laura being aware that society is filled with children and families less fortunate than she, is one reason why she volunteers at the Children’s Group Home of Chicago. “AndI have never enjoyed roughing it in the wild, like camping—despite my enjoying scenery with some light hiking in state and national parks. However, I’m more f an indoor girl—relishing all of the modern amenities for overnight and multi day stays anywhere.” Laura quirks up her eyebrow with bemused smile.
Benedict: “Ha ha ha!” Benedict chuckles and Laura smiles at his easy manner. “Yet I give credit to those who separate themselves from modern conveniences so as not to distract themselves from their devotion. But for myself, I live and work among everyday people, using everyday modern conveniences.”
Laura: “Such as electricity?”
Benedict: “Indeed!” Then shifting their topic of conversation slightly away from himself, Benedict asks. “Well Laura, maybe I should consult you about acclimating myself to town more? I have never been to this restaurant before. But it is a gem that I have missed in my solitary life here so far.” He laughs.
Laura: “Oh? How long have you been living here Benedict?” Laura takes a bite of her rare roast beef sandwich.
Benedict: “I came here mid year in January sixteen months ago, Laura. So, with the cold and snow early on, I never gave myself a proper tour of town, except to the nearby grocery store for a few food stuffs, or to the mall for my clothes. No actually, I tend to buy most of my clothes online—from England. Or when I go home there on holidays and some Christmases.” And Laura thinks wryly, of course—of him procuring his clothing from England. America has tailors, too. “And my teaching work keeps me quite busy, such that I have not, as of yet, attended in any cultural entertainments in the area.” Benedict admits sheepishly shrugging his shoulders.
Laura: “Not even our university’s local Shakespeare Festival theatre in repertory each Summer?” Benedict slowly shakes his head no. “But Will is your guy?” She teases him about the playwright William Shakespeare.
Benedict: Benedict tilts his head sheepishly. “I do appreciate Shakespeare’s plays. It’s just that I am not fond of large crowds, such as theatres or cinemas. For whatever the reason, …” He dissembles. “… I prefer smaller venues—something more intimate. I don’t know if it is the crowd noise or the jostling by people passing by me, but large spaces with large crowds does not appeal.”
Laura: “Sorry Benedict, but that sounds so …”
Benedict: “Pathetic?” He asks cheekily with a small smile.
Laura: “No. Ha ha ha!” She laughs. “Given your profession, I was going to say ascetic. Afterall, you did brave spending the night in a monk’s cell.”
Benedict: “Good one!” He laughs. “Although, do I come off that austere?” Or worse, he wonders–severe?
Laura: “Well …” She says slowly, trying to come up with a diplomatic response. “I’m sure you fit right in at the seminary.” She tries to say benignly.
Benedict: “Laura, is that a somewhat not so careful way of saying that I’m boring?” Benedict gives her a nonplussed look.
Laura: “Now Benedict, you’re not boring, just … reserved.” She smiles sweetly at him.
Benedict: “God! Caleb was right! I’ve got to get off campus more and be more fun!” Benedict says amusingly exasperated while shaking his head and laughing, and swearing.
Laura: “Ooh, Benedict! Are you allowed to swear like that?” Laura winces worriedly about Benedict taking god’s name in vain. She doesn’t mind, it is just that she wonders if she is a bad influence on him. Whereas Benedict would say that she is a very good influence on him.
Benedict: “Don’t worry, Laura. I’ll confess and say I’m sorry. I’ll smooth it over with the big guy.” He smiles cheekily pointing to heaven.
Laura: Laura blinks, then laughs right along with Benedict. “Okay Benedict, where did this guy come from?” She says gesturing to him and shaking her head incredulously with a broad smile. “I’m not complaining, mind you. But, it’s like I spent the morning with your curmudgeonly twin and now the nice, funny, and charming twin has come out to play.” She flutters her eyelashes quickly and quite comically to try to soften her frank expression of her initial perceptions of him from the morning.
Benedict: He laughs. again “Ha ha h! I guess it takes me a while to warm up to new people.” He shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes.
Laura: “Three hours?” She laughs bemusedly.
Benedict: “Ha! Well, as I said, I don’t get out much.” He says blanching amusingly while pouting his lips.
Laura: “I guess not!” She laughs, too. “But what about when you’re in front of a classroom of thirty or more students, or at a church service. Do those situations make you uncomfortable?”
Benedict: “No, hmmm.” I tilt my head upward and l look up at the ceiling. The answer to my private question isn’t written on the ceiling. But I do hazard a guess, since Laura has been watching me so patiently, allowing me time to think and respond. “I guess in those situations, there is a structure that is familiar and comfortable—and I suppose that I have a sense of control. That is especially true in church where I literally invite people to stand up, sit, or kneel. Ha ha ha ha ha!”
Laura: “Really? Well then you’re a regular Simon Says.” I smile at him minxishly.
Benedict: “Simon says?” I ask quizzically.
Laura: “You know, the old kid’s game?” Benedict shakes his head at me. “You really do need to get out more and live a little, Benedict.”
Benedict: “Well, my six year old nephew Caleb in London says that I need to …” Then Benedict scrunches his nose trying to give an impression of his nephew, and he also speaks in a higher whiny voice. “… try to be more fun, Uncle Benedict.”
Laura: “Ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, Benedict! Your impression of your nephew is hilarious! If you ever switch careers, I think you could …”
Benedict: He interrupts her. “Become a comedian?”
Laura: Patting his hand across the table from her, she sighs in mock pity. “Now now, Benedict, no need to overreach. You would starve trying to make a living as a comedian. No, I was thinking about your obvious affinity for young children—with your nephew Caleb and tutoring Jeffrey—and more along the lines of your becoming a kindergarten teacher.” I smile brightly at him.
Benedict: “Oh.” He mopes disappointedly.
Laura: “I’m kidding, Benedict.” The man is rather literal. But, he is also a bit endearing.
Benedict: “Well, what of you?”
Laura: “Well, I enjoy my work helping students navigate college as they prepare for their future lives and careers.”
Benedict: “Any hobbies or other interests outside of work?” Laura looks at me hesitantly. “Well, I shared with you, now it’s your turn to share with me.”
Laura: “Right. That whole give and take of the conversation thing -a majig.” I nod my head.
Benedict: “The what?” It sometimes feels like Laura speaks a foreign language that I never learned with all the slang phrases she uses.
Laura: “Hhhh! “The conversational interaction between two people—such as you and I.”
Benedict: “Hmmm.” I ponder her word choice. “Is that what we’re doing, Laura? Interacting?”
Laura: “Well, wouldn’t you call it that?” I am sure that I am blushing—and at my age.
Benedict: “I would. But now you’re misdirecting me from your answering my question. And I am truly curious to know more about you. What are your interests?”
Feeling awkward about revealing a bit about herself, Laura searches for something banal that she can tell him.
Laura: “I like and appreciate antiques—furniture and other artifacts.”
Benedict: “Ah! So does your home’s décor reflect your sensibilities?” He doesn’t quite envision her home as a Victorian explosion, but he believes that it would still be very feminine with touches of pastels and flowery details.
Laura: “Not currently. I would say that I am more electric with a mix of some antique pieces from my family or that I have acquired, within a more modern context of clean unornamented lines in warm wood furniture, as well as, metal and glass—like my computer work station desk.”
Benedict: “Hmmm. That sounds very intriguing. I am trying to picture what that might look like in my mind.”
Laura: “Well, Benedict, I have simply decided that as I have gotten older, that materials sets lining my book shelves. Once I got to five glass and marble paperweight—of millefiori [(5) right] and other glass paperweight design styles–I stopped cold turkey. And I haven’t bought another paperweight since.
But I do love the blown glass paperweights on display they have at the Art Institute of Chicago—very lovely. And don’t get me wrong, I have a few old family pieces that I treasure for the memories attached to them. But mostly … I don’t want to have to dust them.” I state with a dead pan expression and voice.
Benedict: “Indeed! I should not imagine that anyone enjoys dusting.”
Laura: “Nor vacuuming. So minimalist living is best for me. If some new objet comes in, then something else has to go out. I am ruthless that way.” I try to give Benedict my best stern facial expression, but it almost hurts to scowl like often does. Except, I realize that Benedict hasn’t scowled once while we’ve been here at the restaurant. Though I suppose it is hard to scowl and eat at the same time. But I definitely like this more easygoing Benedict.
Benedict: “Laura, perhaps you have a more monk like aesthetic. Just kidding.” Benedict raises his eyebrows up teasingly and they both chuckle.
Perhaps they are tempting fate, but after each of them paying for their own meals, Benedict and Laura each feel a tug to spend a little more time with each other today. So knowing that the restaurant has a companion bar tavern section with pool tables, Laura challenges him to a game of pool.
Laura: “I feel that I need to work off some of what we ate. Ha ha ha! Care for a game of pool?” I gesture to the bar/tavern section of the restaurant– with five pool tables, two of which are empty.
Benedict: “Ah!” I think about her offer. Obviously for too long, because she interjects before I respond with my answer.
Laura: “Oh, sorry! Are you not allowed to play pool as a minister? I had a friend who taught at a religiously affiliated school once and they were not allowed to play cards, or risk dismissal.” My eyes go wide at such an inane rule.
Benedict: “No, I mean, yes, we may play pool. As far as I know, the ten commandments have not stretched to an 11th—Thou shalt not play pool.” I lean down and raise my left eye brow in mock solemnity.
Laura: “Ha ha ha ha ha!” I try to cover my mouth, but that was really wittily irreverent of Benedict.
Benedict: “Ha ha ha! I can’t help but laugh with Laura. Her joy and enthusiasm for life is quite infectious.
Laura: “Benedict! You are being such a naughty man.”
Benedict: “I’m glad that you noticed, Laura.” I smile. And I feel good about smiling again—and about being irreverent.
After we rent our pool cues for $5 each—if we make this a habit, we will definitely have to bring our own pool cues—and $10 for an hour at the open pool table ensconced in the middle of the other pool tables, I set the balls in the rack and gesture to Laura to play as I stand off to the side.
Benedict: “Ladies first.” I smile warmly at her.
Laura: “Thank you. You may be surprised, but I am quite the avid pool player.”
Laura: I lean over the table and shoot the cue ball into the triangle of balls that Benedict had racked up at the other end. The balls disperse to every bumper on the table, my managing to drop two balls into corner pockets. “Yes!” I stand up and smile.
Benedict: “Oh! I sense that you have, indeed, played this game before.”
Laura: “And taken 3rd place in the women’s division one year of an annual pool tournament held on my alma mater’s campus when I was an undergrad twenty years ago.” I casually mention while I line up my next shot.
Benedict watches her carefully. Then the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and he looks behind him. It seems that some of the other pool table patrons have taken an interest in Laura—especially when she leans over the table to make her shot—her thus unintentionally displaying her jeans skirt covered bum to charming effect.
But gentlemen do not ogle a ladies backside—at least, not in England– no matter how tempting it is. And I feel that I must protect her somehow from their unvarnished and lustful stares. So I walk around the pool table and stand behind her, looking away from her and glaring at the three men who are the most blatant voyeurs since the other men already turned away and returned to their games.
Benedict: “May I help you, gentlemen?” I growl in a hushed whisper so that Laura cannot hear. I would not have her become self-conscious about her person. She has a right to have a beautiful figure without receiving uncouth attentions about it. I tarry glaring at the men until they turn and go—and even then, I stand my ground for a moment longer.
Laura: I was concentrating so much on which shot that I should make next, that I didn’t realize that Benedict had moved, until the back of my pool cue hits his chest when I try to shoot. “Benedict? What are you doing there? I’m trying to shoot, and you’re standing in the way.”
Benedict: “My apologies, Laura. I was crossing to the other side of the table and … I became transfixed with your technique.” I finish gamely. No need to alert her to a disdainful situation that I have already resolved.
Laura: “Well then step back and watch.” I smile at him. It wouldn’t do to injure my … I was going to think date, but I’m not sure that is what this is. He didn’t pay for my meal, I did, on purpose.
And I do step back, then Laura runs the table—as she calls it—as she sinks every remaining ball into a pocket. Her pool skills are simliar to my basketball skills—hidden talents, that others might not guess that we possess.
Benedict: “Well done!” I clap my hands in honor of her win. “Best two out of three games?” I suggest.
Laura nods and we go on to play and banter back and forth. She lets me open our second game of pool—which was the only way that I was able to get to shoot. But she handily beats me at all three games. Then bouncing and twirling in the air as she did earlier with our around the world basketball game with Jeffrey, Laura’s elation is palpable—and adorable.
Laura: “She shoots, she scores!” I cheer excitedly. Rarely have I exhibited my pool skills to a man, who smiles in amusement at being so thoroughly trounced by me.
Benedict: “I see that I will have to improve my play to bring it up to your level, Laura. Well done!” I grin broadly at her.
Laura: “Thank you! So you’re not upset at losing to me?” I ask shyly.
Benedict: “Not at all. Shall we play again sometime?” I lean toward her and whisper into her hear with my deep baritone voice. And she nods her head.
After we return our pool cues to the barman, I look over at the rude men from earlier. I raise my eyebrow to them again. They shrug their shoulders and nod once at me. I may be rusty at dating and courtship—and certainly in playing pool–but I feel justified in believing that my superiority of character, as a gentleman, won out today.
I let Laura precede me out of the restaurant as I lean into the door way and hold the door open for her—her lightly brushing past me with her hand briefly resting on my oxford shirt covered forearm holding the door open. Her brief touch is so warm, yet so welcome. She seems to notice our touch as feeling something more, when she looks up searchingly into my eyes, then smiles at me. I return her lovely smile.
And I realize that I am enjoying myself, with Laura—when I didn’t think that I would. I am out of practice chatting up a lady. Except, I feel comfortable with Laura.
I don’t know what my feelings mean yet. But I’m willing to see if we can develop a friendly relationship. And for each of Benedict and Laura, these statements are both true—surprisingly so, considering how awkwardly they started out.
So mission accomplished, as Laura would say—she and Benedict have begun to understand each other a little better. Benedict and Laura go on to enjoy the rest of their now friendly conversation as Benedict drives Laura back to her car parked at the Children’s Group Home of Chicago. Benedict feels less like an outsider and Laura feels that Benedict might actually be a male volunteer with some staying power—for the kids, and maybe, for her as well.
To be continued with Chapter 5
References for “Somerset: A Time to Love”, Ch. 04, July 16, 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) Image (cropped) representing Pritzker’s Deli’s charming family dining room section was found at http://www.caperesorts.com/wp-content/gallery/blue-pig-tavern-home/blue-pig-tavern-at-congress-hall-cape-may.jpg
4) Laura Leicester image is of Jennifer Ehle in a still from A Gifted Man found at http://img.poptower.com/pic-74447/jennifer-ehle.jpg?d=600
5) An example of a millefiori glass paperweight was found at http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/94444?search_no=9&index=4 ; and for more about Millefiori, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millefiori
Wattpad Ch. 04 story link:
Previous Ch. 03 blog link, with embedded illustrations: