Timonthy felt that hint of irritation again. Gerard was surely playing stupid, avoiding answering any pertinent questions and diverting the conversation where he wanted. Timonthy felt manipulated – a puppet in the hands of his master. It was not completely unpleasant but always he had that internal voice telling him to be careful: not to give too much control away.
“What is this garden like, anyway?” Lizzie said loudly enough to be heard across the table. The two men looked at each other as if deciding who should answer then Will spoke.
“It’s on the edge of a Loch, in a valley with hills all around. It has the lake in front, a river down one side and a gorge down the other side. Those are the furthest limits of the estate and the way geography defines it. The garden proper is mainly in the area surrounded by walls. I suppose you would say it’s like a Victorian kitchen garden, but in a round shape. There are orchards, wide open lawns and an overflowing courtyard. The newest change is a shallow moat spanning across the valley.”
“You’d probably need to see it to understand properly,” Gerard said to fill the silence that answered Will’s statement.
“Your friend, Stolid, has done a brilliant job,” Will continued. “It’s like he has a picture in his head of how it ought to be. When I first arrived at the place, there was nothing but the walls and the geography. Now every day I wake up and there’s another beautiful thing to look at.”
“How did you end up there?” Paris asked. “Did you live locally?”
“Yes, well my family and I were homeless,” Will said sadly and then he smiled as if remembering something pleasant.
“Peter needed a hand with a cow that was struggling to give birth. I knew what to do. He gave us somewhere to live and me employment.”
“How did you learn that?”
“I was born on a smallholding. I had one myself before we lost it,” Will said simply.
“And how about you, Gerard, how did you end up there?” Lizzie asked. Her eyes were bright as if she anticipated an interesting answer.
“Peter works with a charity that rescued me from a difficult situation,” he said carefully. “He offered to find me a job afterwards but I wanted to stay in that safe place for a while first.”
“This man sounds like a positive saint,” Lizzie said but Timonthy could tell she wasn’t impressed. She suspected Peter of darker motives for his actions than the two men had indicated.
Paris changed the subject to that of Will’s children, Timonthy thought with the intention of letting him interrogate Gerard. Will was happy to talk about them. The alcohol had definitely loosened his tongue slightly though he was still careful with his answers to questions.
“What did happen with you and Stolid, then?” Timonthy asked quietly. He justified his tactless curiosity by convincing himself he needed to find out what had happened to Stolid.
Gerard looked at him steadily and slightly reproachfully. After a pause he said with a sigh,
“He was the good friend who advised me to come on this journey. In fact he arranged it. He wanted me to meet you.”
Timonthy was intrigued but this was suddenly overcome with a sense of indignation. Stolid didn’t want him or this man. He was trying to throw his offcasts together to ease his own guilt, was the thought that rattled uncomfortably around his head. Nice!
Then the thought settled on him with the weight of a landslide that Stolid didn’t want him. He had never allowed himself to believe this before. He had always thought it was too early, that when Stolid had got over Johnathon’s death, he would slowly learn to appreciate him instead, until the day he realised that he no longer needed to mourn and then he would have been happy in his arms. A romantic thought, he mocked himself! Not until this stranger had destroyed his dream had he even realised he was harbouring it
It was too much. He couldn’t sit here with this thought shattering through every fibre of him, leaving him a collection of torn bundles. He escaped to the toilets and hid himself in the cubicle without touching anything around him. He covered his face and tried to take control of his errant mind again.
Hope and disappointment. Something he should have been able to cope with at his age. How many hopes, how many disappointments had he lived through? He knew you couldn’t live without hope but what a bastard emotion it was.
He suddenly realised completely clearly why Paris had asked him the question about Paris before. She thought that she had been conceived in Paris and she wanted to know if he was her father. She’d never asked him before. He had assumed that she’d had that conversation with her mother in which everything would have been explained. Perhaps she’d never asked her mother either.
He thought ruefully that line of questioning wouldn’t help her. She wasn’t named after the city at all. He had chosen the name. Well, he had suggested it and Lizzie had liked it. Paris, his first ever childhood crush: half-naked and coated in gold – was how he remembered him. It had been a school play about Troy that had taught him the first stirrings of physical attraction. Paris who had angered the gods for his own mortal love: he wondered where that boy was now. He was nearly seventy if he was still alive. Timonthy had only ever admired him from afar but with feelings warm enough to want to name something precious after him. He needed to tell Lizzie about this, he thought, with a sense of trepidation.
This other thought had helped to calm his own disappointment he thought. So Stolid didn’t want him. He could shrug that off, he thought. In fact, fuck Stolid! And he had, eventually, anyway. There were other men and even if there weren’t, he was still alive and capable of enjoying life. It had just been a temporary moment of weakness.