They fitted snugly into the car on the way to dinner. Lizzie was in the front with him and Paris sat next to the two men. Timonthy had decided to take them into the country a little way for a traditional pub experience. Somehow it seemed to suit them better than a smart restaurant. There was also the question of their unusual clothes. Surely the country would be a more forgiving place for two men who looked like traditional country bumpkins.
The pub smelt richly of burning wood and cooking meat. There were low beams, wooden tables, dim lights and cosy corners to sit in.
They all sat around an oval table in the bow window overlooking the empty garden. Without asking, Timonthy had ordered three pints of the local homebrew as well as the bottle of wine he knew Paris and Lizzie would appreciate. The invitation had been accepted although with a degree of hesitation. Will had been the most reluctant and Gerard keen. Somehow Timonthy was hopeful it was because Gerard wanted to talk to him, perhaps to reassure him that he was not ignorant. He suspected that Will was unwilling because he knew that it would be very hard for them not to share more information about their lives, information they were at obvious pains not to share.
He could see that he had been right about his choice of venue. Both Gerard and Will seemed to relax as soon as they entered the pub as if the atmosphere was something they recognised and appreciated. They had no trouble with the beer either, also something they seemed familiar with and took delight in. Obviously Gerard’s information about mainly drinking water hadn’t been completely accurate.
All three men chose the carvery for their main course: Lizzie ordered fish and Paris chicken. Timonthy had arranged the seating carefully. He was at the end of the oval table on a chair with an empty chair on one side and Gerard in the window seat next to him. Lizzie was sat next to Gerard also on the window seat. Will was sat between Lizzie and Paris. That way, Timonthy thought, Gerard could talk occasionally without being overheard or corrected by Will. He was pretending to himself that his mind was still on the search for Stolid. He would have paid to have been allowed to sit on his own with Gerard in a corner of that pub without any definite aim, in the same way a child cuddles a blanket because it feels comforting and good.
They got up together to order the carvery. Timonthy went first and the other two followed in a subdued way, paying close attention to the choices he made. They seemed to be copying him but looked happier when they went back to the table with their full plates. The other meals had turned up while they been away and they all began to eat.
“What is your job title, Will?” Lizzie asked when the first hunger had been satisfied. “You seem to have a lot of roles.”
“I suppose I am like a steward for the estate,” he said happily. “I haven’t got an actual job title though. We’re not so formal.”
“I’m surprised that Peter can spare you so often?” Paris said. “Has it been once or twice a week you’ve been at Uncle Stolid’s house?”
“It’s not always me,” Will said. “Peter sends different people each time so that the journey doesn’t get too arduous. We are so remote he doesn’t lack for volunteers, looking for a bit of excitement or a change.”
“Did you volunteer?” Timonthy asked Gerard who was sitting quietly listening.
“I wanted to come. A good friend advised me to,” Gerard said nodding his head at the end as if approving of his own words.
“Paris said you know Stolid?” Timonthy asked taking advantage of some loud conversation at the other end. “That sounds like he is not always as remote as Will suggested?”
Gerard looked at him and didn’t speak. Timonthy could almost see possible answers running through his mind and each being discarded. He was intrigued to know why he couldn’t share the answers with him.
He settled for, “No, he was not always remote: perhaps to Will but not to me.”
Then Timonthy knew from the tone of his voice that Stolid had slept with him but that they were not together still.
“What happened?” he asked before thinking about it. There was a quiet lull in the general conversation and an awkward pause.
“Shall I get more drinks?” Timonthy said seeing that both Will and Gerard were almost finished. They were willing and Paris and Lizzie only half through their bottle of wine so he got three more pints.
He sat down again and Gerard inspected the drinks gravely.
“Why is yours different?”
“I’m driving,” Timonthy said. “I had a shandy this time.”
Gerard looked completely blank.
“It’s half beer and half lemonade. Less likely to encourage me to crash,” he explained helpfully but with a frown.
“Is this quite strong then?” Gerard sipped at his own drink doubtfully.
“No, it’s just a normal strength,” Timonthy shrugged. “But it’s the law, isn’t it?”