This is a love story between David Mason and Philippa Surino. She was seventeen years his senior and his literature professor in college. They met when he was a college freshman at an exclusive Ivy League University. David auditions for a part in a campus play and is cast. One day after a performance, professor Surino entertains the cast at her campus house. While she is dancing with David that evening, she invites him over for a lunch the following Sunday.
When David arrives at the professor’s house that first Sunday, she confesses to him that he has an uncanny resemblance to a young man she had been engaged to during graduate school. Thereafter, David spends every Sunday afternoon at the professor’s house. He is entertained intellectually and physically. They become lovers.
About this same time, David meets two female students, (Greta & Ilka) who he also begins sexual relations with as well. As far as he is concerned these women are just a diversion. His real love and soul mate has become professor Surino. The campus theater group under the professor’s direction has decided to do the play, “Tea & Sympathy” for the spring production. The professor has decided that she will play the part of Laura Reynolds and she will cast David as Tom Lee. David gives the name of “Laura” to the professor that will only be shared between the two of them. Afterward the professor is referred to as “Laura” throughout the rest of the novel.
With the coming of the Christmas break, David questions the professor’s plans. She tells him that she has not been keeping in touch with her family. She has determined to stay on campus for the holiday break. David invites her to come to West Palm Beach with him and stay at his house. David’s mother had passed away the month before. He feels an obligation to be with his father. She agrees to accompany him.
David’s father is an attorney, but he was an English major in college. David’s father and the professor have a lot in common. David had told his father that the professor and he were drawn to each other over their interest in literature. David’s father sees through this. When David is not around, he confronts the professor. “Is there anything more to your relationship with my son than just your mutual interest in literature?”
She doesn’t want to lie, but she is reluctant to admit the truth. At the same time, David’s father is developing an interest in “Laura.” A young woman, Emily, who was David’s girl friend in high school, appears on the scene with her mother. While David and Laura are in Florida, Emily and her mother, Mrs. Madison socializes with David, Laura and his father.
Laura realizes that a relationship with David is dangerous. She could lose her job and her reputation if the liaison is discovered. When they arrive home, Laura informs David that from that time on their relationship will be limited to one of professor and student. David is emotionally destroyed. In an effort to forget Laura, he embarks on a sexual spree with the two female students previously mentioned.
Auditions for the play “Tea & Sympathy” are announced for a Sunday and Monday. David decides to boycott the audition. When he arrives in class on Monday, he finds an angry professor. She requests that he remain after class. She informs in so many words that she expects him at the audition tonight, or he will notice a deficit in his grade at the end of the semester. David is a straight “A” student with ambitions of going to dental school. It’s important for him to maintain top of the class grades. He goes to the audition. Laura cast him to play opposite of her.
It’s a long four weeks of playing “Tom.” Near the end of each performance, the character Laura says to Tom, “Years from now when you talk about this, and you will, be kind.” She takes his hand and moves it toward her open blouse. The final curtain comes down. Every night, David must relive his real past relations with Laura. It’s very painful.
David continues through college. He learns one day that his father has been courting Laura. His father and Laura have decided to get married. His father imposes on him to be best man in their wedding. Laura applies for a teaching position in Florida. She moves there with David’s father. Anytime David goes to Florida after the marriage, he stays at Emily’s house. On several occasions, Mrs. Madison who has been widowed for several years’ slips into his bed? Thereafter, when he travels to Florida, he has sexual relations with both Emily and Mrs. Madison at different times. Mrs. Madison is in her late forties, but could pass for Emily’s sister.
David is eventually admitted to dental school. He has his own apartment. He doesn’t have a lot of time for women. Emily is working toward a Ph.D and she is busy as well. When he finally finishes dental school, his father uses his influence to get him a position in a high end dental practice. After a while, he is making in the six figures. David’s father meets with him one day. He suggests that he think about settling down and getting married. He considers marriage with three women. He selects Ilka, who he knew from undergraduate school. She is now a dentist working in Philadelphia. They get married.
After a few years they have a daughter, Ava. Ava is a bright child and excels in school. After Ava finishes HS, she applies and is accepted in the same university that her parents attended. When she graduates, she moves to England to study English literature. After a few years, David gets a call at his office that his father has had a heart attack. He is in the ICU. He rushes there and consoles Laura. Not long after, David’s father dies. Laura is left alone in the house where David grew up.
After Ava finished her graduate work she returns home. She began looking for a position teaching. One day, she brings to the house a young woman she knew from undergraduate school. The young woman has obtained a position at the local animal hospital. She is a veterinarian. After a few months, one night she calls David’s house. She tells him that she broke a tooth eating popcorn. In addition, her car is in the shop being repaired. Could he come to her apartment and drive her to his office. When David arrives at Olivia’s house, he learns it was a guise to get him there. She confesses that for the past several weeks, she has lusted after him. She also tells him that she knows that he feels the same way. They have an indiscretion. Weeks go by.
In the meantime, Laura had called him one Saturday with a leaking faucet. She requested that he fix it for her. When he arrived, Laura had just returned from jogging. After he fixed the faucet, the two of them wind up in the shower. Another sexual liaison begins.
David receives a call at his office from Olivia. She wants to meet him for dinner. When he arrives, and after they make small talk, she informs him that she is pregnant. They agree to tell Ilka together. When they finally meet with Ilka there is a bad scene. He divorces Ilka and marries Olivia. Olivia has the baby. They hire an Au Pair to watch the child while they work. She is a young woman from France by the name of Damia.
Although David has had lustful thoughts about Damia, he doesn’t make any moves. Ten years pass. One Saturday, Olivia was called to the hospital for an emergency; David goes to the room off the pool area to change into his bathing suit. When he opens the door, Damia was changing into her bathing suit as well. She was completely naked. David had on a bathrobe with nothing under it. They have spontaneous sex in that room. After a few weeks, Damia announces that she too is pregnant. They agree not to tell Olivia that David is the father. After Damia’s child is born, Olivia, without telling David or Damia has a DNA test performed. It confirms that David is the Father. The Marriage between David and Olivia ends. He marries Damia to legitimize the child.
A year later, David receives a call from an attorney in Pennsylvania. He informs David that Laura has died. She has named him the sole heir to her estate. He will be required to come there and sign some papers. When he arrives in Pennsylvania, the attorney takes him to Laura’s grave site. From there they go to her house. On the wall in the house is a collage of photographs of plays Laura had appeared in or directed over the years. In the center of the collage is a photograph of the two of them. There is an inscription at the bottom of the photo that reads, “My leading man in “Tea & Sympathy,” David Mason, and the love of my life.”
David takes the picture from the wall and leaves. He goes to the cemetery and purchased a burial plot next to Laura’s. Then he had a tombstone made with the inscription:
“David Mason, Dentist 1949 to
My soul mate lies next to me for all eternity.”