“My business runs itself, pretty much these days,” Timonthy said in a relaxed way. “I’ve got Paris helping me out at the moment, too. She knows what she’s doing and when she doesn’t she knows to ring me for advice. There is no reason for me to rush back at all, unless you want me to leave.”
Stolid avoided looking at him, staring instead across the room as if looking for flaws in the paintwork. “I just feel that having you here is a suspension of real life. It is like an interlude, living in a bubble of denial. The longer it carries on, the less likely I believe that I will cope when it has ended,” Stolid struggled to explain.
“I don’t need to leave ever,” Timonthy was drawn in to say although he regretted it as soon as he had spoken. “If you wanted me to stay I would.” He looked at Stolid’s face to see what reaction he was getting but he didn’t see the corresponding lightness of heart he had hoped for.
“I am not ungrateful,” Stolid said, and covered his face briefly as if rubbing away tension, “but I think I need to be alone. I am the sort of man who needs to think about things for a long time before they start to make sense to me. When you are here I am not thinking. I am just delaying the beginning of thought, obscuring reality with the comfort of company. Does that make sense to you?”
“I think I understand,” Timonthy replied unhappily. “But I would miss being here. It has been some comfort to me, as well, for the loss of a good friend.”
“I know that we have both suffered. You are now my most valued and treasured friend and you know me better than any other human alive. I appreciate that. I don’t want to lose your friendship by any confusion between us.” Stolid paused and continued,
“But I am overwhelmed with grief. I have scarcely let myself acknowledge it yet. It is too much to take in all at once. I can’t just move on …”
Timonthy could feel Stolid’s grief and hear it in his voice as if it were a symphony. His stomach felt knotted because he was unable to help and he knew that he too had been living in a comfortable bubble of hopefulness which was on the verge of shattering.
He rested his hand on Stolid’s thigh as if grasping for something solid to hold onto, as reality shattered into a thousand dreams.
“Don’t!” Stolid said. He quickly moved as if to remove Timonthy’s hand but instead he rested his own hand on top for a second. Timonthy heard the pain in his voice and he triumphed because of it. Was he wrong to think there was only one reason for the pain in his voice? That he was tempted and desperate not to succumb. Was he wrong to think that succumbing would cause no harm?
Johnathon was in no position to object and in the circumstances he did not believe that he would, even if it had been possible. And he, he was like a poor child deprived for years of all the fantastic toys that his rich friends had, suddenly allowed into their playrooms to do anything he wanted. Of course that meant he saw Stolid as a possession, which was possibly accurate he ruefully acknowledged.
He felt the muscles in Stolid’s leg twitch under his palm.
“I will leave tomorrow, if you still want me to,” he said to relieve the uncomfortable silence, secretly hoping that his promise would not be relied on.
“This is not a good idea,” Stolid said suddenly, shaking off his hand and standing up. He walked over to the glass wall and looked over the blackness of the sea shaped by street, boat and harbour lights. There was a crescent moon but the stars were obscured from their eyes by the room light until Timonthy turned it off and stood close enough behind him to feel his warmth. Gradually the stars came into focus as their eyes adjusted. Timonthy put his hand on Stolid’s shoulder and ran it deliberately and slowly down his side: a hint of pressure vanishing to the delicacy of a spider’s footprints and back again. This could not be misinterpreted, Timonthy thought. Stolid would have to tell him how he should act. He might get angry and shout at him to leave him alone or he might respond in kind. Which would it be?
Silence filled the room: thick and pressing like heavy air before a storm and his hand rested motionless on a buttock. He moved closer still, pressing his body so that there was no space between them and waited for his sign, breathing in the precious moment.
“I would be thinking of someone else,” Stolid said. Timonthy dropped his head and thought that was probably inevitable. Did he care?
“And I would blame you for my weakness tomorrow….”
He wants me to leave anyway, Timonthy thought, so that I have nothing to lose. And perhaps, perhaps…. it was possible that Stolid would change his mind and ask him to stay. Not likely, knowing the man and the circumstances, but surely possible. He had nothing to lose.