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Tea For Three | Friday September 16th, early afternoon


Sophia de la Cerda
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The Toledo Residence

 

The tablecloth was crooked.

 

Sophia sighed and walked over to the table, carefully adjusting the circular lavender cloth hemmed with lace and accented with a pretty floral pattern that she had embroidered herself. She’d never had much time for embroidery before but now that she was pregnant, she had taken it up again. Her stitches had never been perfect, but they were improving and her skills would no doubt increase the further along she became. The petite blonde spent most of her resting time reading or drawing, but sometimes she felt the need to do something different. She had discovered she enjoyed the activity more now than when she had been forced to learn as a child and she didn’t prick her fingers nearly as often as she had then.

 

Stepping back, she surveyed the tablecloth again. Much better. The house they had rented was already furnished, mostly in neutral shades of white and cream, but she had added her own touches to the décor. There were pastel colored pillows printed with flowers on the two couches and chairs which sat close to the fireplace on a matching rug. She had brought the pillows and the rug from her London residence, as well as some of the paintings hanging on the wall, mostly lovely landscapes brimming with flowers. The tablecloth was her own as well as the cushions on the back of the chairs on opposite sides of it. Porcelain vases on the tables had been filled with late-blooming roses from the small garden.

 

There was a low fire flickering in the hearth and Sophia waddled over and sat down. Lady Kendishall should be arriving soon for tea. She was elated that Caroline was marrying Lord Chichester, who was a friend of both her husband and herself. Sophia planned on inviting the two of them to dinner after they were wed, and she hoped that someday their children could play with each other occasionally. Unless Juan was adamant that his children grow up in Spain. The thought of leaving England forever was not pleasant, though she did like Madrid and it was warmer.

 

Unwilling to dwell on that, she picked up the book she had left on the table and began to read as she waited for Caroline to arrive.

 

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Caroline's coach pulled up, driven by her Irish servant, he was more a bodyguard than anything else though.  She had hired the ex-continental soldier back when she had been worried about her safety given she was of French descent and probably thought a Catholic on top of it. Now publicly she attended, when she did actually go, the English church though in reality she still thought of herself as a Catholic though not a practicing one. Things had settled down since then but she kept the grizzled old soldier on even though he was hardly all that proficient a servant. He was loyal and Caroline valued loyalty in people. It was something she believed in practicing too.

She had been surprised, though it was a pleasant surprise, to get Sophia's letter of invitation. The two of them had not seen each other in a long time, Caroline figured they mayhaps were simply drifting apart for good. Sophia had her Spanish husband and was now with child too or so she had heard in court. But the letter proved Sophia was not yet prepared to let go of their friendship so Caroline took up the invitation without hesitation.

 

As she entered the place, her Irishman remaining outside by the carriage, Caroline looked about. The place was elegant, tasteful, like Sophia herself. Well, she could almost forgive the girl for marrying a Spaniard. A servant led her to into the room where Sophia sat. Oh yes, she was undoubtedly pregnant, that was instantly obvious.

"Well, my dear one, it has been a long time!" Caroline smiled as the servant quietly faded away behind her.

 

 

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Hearing two sets of footsteps in the hallway, Sophia sat her book on the table beside the couch she sat on. By the time the butler ushered Caroline in, she was on her feet, smiling warmly at her friend. Waddling forward, she took both her hands and kissed the air by each of her cheeks.

 

“Much too long,” the young blonde exclaimed. “I am so pleased you had time to see me today. You must be quite occupied with planning your wedding. I am so excited for you. Lord Chichester is a good man and I’m sure he will make you happy.

 

“When did … Ohh!” Sophia flinched as the baby punched her particularly hard. Dropping Caroline’s hands, gently pat her expanding belly, hoping to calm him down. “I think the baby just reminded me that I am talking too much.”

Edited by Sophia de la Cerda
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  • 2 weeks later...

Caroline looked alarmed, she was not used to being around pregnant women, having never had younger siblings.

"You alright? Please sit and hopefully the little one will settle down then too," Caroline would then sit when Sophia did the same.

"Thank you about George. It came on quite suddenly. He visited me one day to ask advice about another matter, wanting a female opinon - which let us face it, men seldom do," she smiled.

"I was frank, I even confronted him about his past where he walked over you when you fainted that time," Caroline paused just a second but then did not go into further detail, no need to, Sophia certainly knew what she was referring to.

"He surprised me. His answer seemed most sincere, at least I definitely believed it. And from then on, we hit it off. Things moved fast, very fast. And then he took a chance and I surprised him..........well and myself too. I said 'yes'.  Neither of us have hesitated since then. I will freely admit, Sophia, I never thought I would marry again. But now, I am very happy and excited."

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The baby was usually calmer when she was active, but Sophia didn’t want to worry Caroline.  Walking over to the table, she sat down in one of the chairs. She nodded to the servant standing nearby and she disappeared to fetch the tea and refreshments.

 

She listened intently to Caroline’s story. Considering what she knew of him, it didn’t seem odd at all for Lord Chichester to ask for a female opinion. She could not help flinching when her friend mentioned that incident at the gazebo last year. If asked, she would say it was the baby kicking again, though he was not moving much at the moment.

 

Sophia could not remember telling her about that. Had Lord Chichester told her? Or Master Cole? The composer had been acquainted with Caroline too. Did she know the reason he had walked away, or that he’d had a hallucination about killing his fiancee and asked his girlfriend to dig her up? Did she know that both gentlemen had fancied the same lady and that was what had started the entire fiasco? Had the elegant Earl confessed everything to Caroline that day?

 

“I confess I remember little about what happened,” Sophia lied. “I was unconscious on the gazebo floor most of the time.” That story was not hers to tell, and she assumed that Lord Chichester had answered truthfully. At least something good had come of that unfortunate incident. Two of her dear friends had realized they had feelings for each other and now they were going to be married. She wished she knew where Lucas was so that she could write him with the good news.

 

“You both deserve all the happiness in the world. Lord Chichester went through a bad time last year. I tried to help him as much as I could, but I sensed that he needed more than I was able to give him. I am glad that he found what he needed with you.”

 

She grinned. “Would you like somebody to sing at your wedding? I can probably perform only one song in this condition, but I would be happy to do so. I still practice singing every day.”

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Caroline smiled, "Well, people who have fainted probably do not know what transpired while they lie there unconscious. So quite understandable."

Sophia had a lot of sympathy for George, declaring he had had a rough past year. Caroline still did not know a lot of the details and for now was not going to pry into it. If George wished to someday share more, fair enough. If he wished to keep it in the past, also fair enough. She too had skeletons in her closet. Her deceased husband almost literally!

"Well, I hope I am what he needs and that it all turns out for the best. My first marriage was a disaster. I want this one to work," she opined.

Then it was on to the near future, Sophia offering to sing at their wedding. In truth Caroline had not even thought about such things as music for it. It's not like she had much experience with weddings. Her first marriage had been rushed and almost a private affair in a small rural church.

"Why yes, I would like that....I'd like that very much. One song, two songs, I will take whatever you can provide, I know you will sound heavenly. You always do."

"Oh and perhaps this season you and I should do some sort of duet again. I feel badly I did not play much at all last season," Caroline added.

 

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All Sophia knew about Caroline’s first husband was that he was dead. Though curious, she didn’t ask why her first marriage was so awful. If she wanted to volunteer the information, she would do so, but the petite blonde doubted she would. She had a second chance at happiness. Why dredge up bad memories of the past?

 

Sophia was too compassionate to wish for another’s death, but she often wondered if she would be better off if Esteban was no longer in her life. As a widow, she would no longer be watched all the time and have the freedom to do as she pleased. She had even dreamed of Esteban's demise a few times and had felt guilty because she had awakened with a smile on her face.

 

“It will work out. The two of you are perfect for each other.” Sophia grinned. “Just don’t mind me if I turn green with envy every now and then. My own marriage is … complicated.” Should I tell her that I suspect the baby is not Esteban’s? She might understand and even help me find a solution that will fool a Spaniard, since she hates them so much. Or she could hate her for betraying her future husband’s friend.

 

The sheer joy of being able to sing again eclipsed her fear of the future, at least temporarily. Her predicament was never far from her mind. Esteban had told her that she should wait to be asked to sing, but she saw nothing wrong with suggesting it herself. “Thank you. It is the least I can do to help you celebrate the beginning of your life with Lord Chichester.”

 

Caroline mentioned a duet and Sophia leaned over the table. “I’m one step ahead of you. At the reception shortly after you left us, I thought that it would be nice to present Her Majesty with a short concert. She likes music and she will most likely appreciate our thoughtfulness. We could even play and sing for the baby. What do you think?”

 

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Sophia was confident that she would have a successful marriage with George, that they were perfect for each other. Caroline was not so confident as that but she was optimistic. They did not even know each other all that well to be labeled a perfect match.

"Glad you think so," she smiled.

"Your marriage is complicated? Not certain what all that entails," Caroline left the other woman an opening to amplify without pressuring her to. Heaven knows they all had secrets did they not?

Sophia was then pleased when she got the go ahead to perform at the wedding. But then she mentioned another possible opportunity and this for a duet. They could perhaps entertain the Queen and the baby. Caroline highly doubted an infant would appreciate any such thing but it was more important the Queen would.

"If you wish to arrange it, hopefully I can accompany you then. Depending when of course," Caroline nodded.

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Sophia had always been an optimistic young lady, seeing the best in everything and everybody. It was only recently that her positivism had waned, for there seemed to be no way to get out of the hole she had dug herself into. Sometimes she was certain that everything would work out and at others, she felt that her life would soon change for the worst. She was more pessimistic during the night, which might be the cause of those horrible nightmares.

 

Caroline, though, would find her happily-ever-after with Lord Chichester. At least one of them would have a happy ending.

 

“I will make some inquiries and see if I can set something up.” Writing Lady Mountjoy would probably be the best way to go about it, as she was in charge of Her Majesty's household.

 

She had not answered Caroline’s question because she wasn’t certain whether or not to reveal the truth. “As for my marriage ...” Sophia paused and bit her lip pensively. “Just how much do you hate Spaniards, Caroline? Would you approve of tricking one, even though he is a friend of your future husband?”

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Excellent!  You do that then. And let me know. If at all possible I will do my best to be able to accompany you. Unless my husband to be forbids," Caroline nodded then grinned, "But not if he knows what's good for him."

Caroline did take note too that Sophia avoided answering that...perhaps very loaded question though she felt it a fair one given what the other woman had hinted at. Still she would not push it. But in a way Sophia circled back to it...or at least to the Spanish. Tricking one? Strange ....

"Well, my father is the one who truly despises them. He fought them on the continent you see and I too recall an incident..no that is too gentle a word for it. A massacre of prisoners done by some troops in service of Spain. Their commander was actually Spanish though most of the men were probably the usual mix of every sort. You know how these constant wars go. I would rather not go into the details...especially what with you in your delicate state now. But it left a mark on me, as still a child. This was of course before my parents came to England."

"But enough of old history, tell me more about this trick you are thinking about? I admit I am fascinated," she smiled.

ooc: Sorry lost track of this one !

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“I’m sure you will be able to keep him in line,” Sophia grinned, “but I doubt Lord Chichester will protest to your performing. He is artistic himself, after all. And I think I have a better idea. I will see if I can arrange for us to perform at the christening, if you agree.”

 

Caroline explained the origin of her hatred of Spaniards. The petite singer surmised that the Spaniards told similar stories about the French. Soldiers were tortured and massacred on both sides during a war. She wondered which one her friend was talking about but there had been so many wars in her lifetime that it was impossible to keep track of them all.

 

The more she thought about it, the more Sophia believed it was unfair to burden her friend with the uncertainty of her baby’s paternity less than a week away from her wedding to her husband’s good friend. Caroline would have to hide the fact that Esteban was being cuckolded by his own wife and that the child Sophia carried probably didn’t have a drop of Spanish blood in its veins. What if Lord Chichester could tell she was concealing something? Sophia’s secret could ruin their marriage before it even began.

 

But there was another secret she could tell. “My husband uses my bodyguard to spy on me. For some reason, he doesn’t trust me. I want to get rid of the bodyguard.  I mentioned the problem to Lord Chatham and he suggested that I ask some of my friends to say he leers at them and they feel uncomfortable in his presence. If my husband hears about it, maybe he will be tricked into dismissing him.  Do you think it will work?"

 

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Caroline hoped the other woman would share more about whatever this trick was going to be. Sofia decided to explain further.

And interesting, her husband was spying on her? Well, using one of his bodyguards to do so. Or.........there could be another explanation. Maybe the man was just trying to protect his pregnant wife? Sophia thought it was more than that though obviously and Caroline was not going to toss in her mayhaps controversial take on it.

Lord Chatham's mention brought a reflexive smile to Caroline, her raunchy and oft hilarious old friend. Her Minister of Evil.

"Well, he is a clever man, Chaham. And a man I trust. It could just work?" she pondered it more for a few seconds.

"Would you like me to be one of those going to your husband to complain about this leering devil?" she smiled.

 

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