Adam sat in front of his laptop, listlessly viewing one site after another but not really settling to anything. He'd checked out that new story on the Female Desperation site which Barnaby had told him about and, whilst good, it had failed to engage his interest in quite the way it should have. It was a Saturday morning and normally they'd be doing something together but this week Barnaby and Anne had gone off to town and left him alone in the house. In the few weeks he'd been living with Barnaby and Anne, he'd grown close to them both.
Prior to meeting either of them Adam never imagined in his wildest dreams that one day he'd up sharing a house with an attractive middle-aged woman and her grown up nephew, both of whom shared his love of watersports and toilet desperation. It had happened though, and experience had given the lie to the old adage about two being company but three a crowd. During the relatively short time they'd spent together, a real closeness had developed and they'd begun to collectively refer to themselves as "us three." Within the few weeks he'd spent with them, Adam, a very 'private' individual, had overcome much of his natural shyness and come to a relaxed acceptance of Anne and Barnaby's 'open door' bathroom policy. However over breakfast that morning, Anne had dropped a bombshell which threatened the cherished intimacy of the little trio. Casting his mind back to events of two hours earlier, Adam recalled the conversation vividly.
"Adam, I think you'd better know but my husband's coming home sometime over the weekend. I don't know when it will be but I suspect if he comes today it will be sometime in the afternoon, if he spent as much time actually sleeping last night as I imagine he did."
Slightly crestfallen, Adam had been unsure as to how to handle this information but he'd tried to make the best of things.
"Does he know about me?"
Anne gave the sort of smile which Adam should have learnt to mistrust during the time he'd spent with her.
"No Adam. I thought it would be nice to leave at least one little surprise for him. I'm letting you know so you don't have any nasty shocks if I'm out when he arrives."
"What? Anne, that's not fair. You should have told him I was staying. What if I'm here alone and your husband turns up without warning? He might think I'm an intruder or something, for goodness sake."
Anne crossed her arms and momentarily looked stern.
"Adam, I'm mistress of this house and I get to decide what is and isn't fair. If I decide my husband's due for a surprise that's a matter for me. Understood?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"No need for sarcasm, young man! If you ever do that again I'll make certain you wish you hadn't."
There was a pause. When she spoke again, her voice had softened,
"Adam, I know the unexpected can be a little difficult for you sometimes. But actually, Brian's a nice guy and, anyway, he won't be around for long before he's off again. It will only be a matter of a few days or so. He'll no doubt take me out for dinner tonight -- as I'll expect him too -- and again for lunch tomorrow. You and Barnaby will have to do a little self catering but I'm sure you can cope with that. In Barnaby's case that generally just means the chip shop in town does a better than average trade."
"Very well. Say, does he know about our -- or rather your -- interest?"
"Of course Brian knows about my 'interest' as you call it, and Barnaby's too. It's hardly a secret. He's very tolerant -- well he has to be -- but he's not actually into it himself so I'd be grateful if you didn't rub his nose in it, not that I imagine you would for a second. Somehow I think you'll warm to him though."
That had been two hours earlier. It was now approaching eleven and Adam was growing uneasy. He'd have liked Anne to introduce him properly to Brian and he didn't much care for the way in which she'd decided he should be a 'surprise' for her husband either. It made him wonder exactly what, if anything, was going off in their marriage. Her remark about the amount of sleep she imagined her husband had got overnight had a bit of a sting to it. Barnaby's remark in the office canteen some weeks earlier, which sounded uncannily like a broken confidence, that his aunt thought her husband was "shagging his secretary" sprang to mind.
Pondering these things, he didn't hear a car pull up in the drive but he was startled to hear a key in the lock. Hoping that it might be Anne and Barnaby returning from their shopping expedition, he left his room and hurried along the landing. Reaching the top of the stairs he was a little taken aback to see a tallish, greying, middle aged man standing at the bottom, looking up at him with incredulity. Before Adam could say anything, the older man, obviously in a state of shock, spoke first.
"What the blazes! Who on earth...."
Before he could continue, Adam thought it best to intervene and reassure him.
"Hi I'm Adam Flaxwell, a friend of Barnaby's. His aunt's very kindly letting me stay here - for the time being at least. You must be Mr Timpson, Barnaby's uncle."
The older man looked Adam up and down, before replying.
"Yes, that's right. Nominally the owner of this house. Not that I get to have much say over what goes off in it though! By the way, I don't like being called Mr Timpson -it makes me feel ancient. You must call me Brian. My wife never said anything about having someone to stay when I rang her last night but I suppose it must have slipped her mind. Either that or she meant to surprise me."
"Maybe she did," Adam replied.
"Well she certainly managed it," the older man replied. "Look, instead of standing up there looking awkward, why don't you come down and we can chat properly."
Adam did as he was bidden and followed Brian into the lounge. Reaching for a couple of glasses and a decanter, Brian turned to Adam.
"Perhaps you'll join me for a whisky, boy."
"No thanks. I don't drink."
"Don't drink? Ye gods and little fishes! You'll excuse me if I indulge, won't you? I could do with a stiff drink."
"Yes of course, Mr Timpson -- I mean Brian."
"Well sit yourself down over there, Adam. There's no need to look so petrified either. I don't bite. So you're a friend of Barnaby's then?"
"Yes. I met Barnaby at work and he brought me back one day for tea. Mrs Timpson very kindly invited me to stay and I have to say it's a lot better than the crummy bedsit I was renting in Woodchester. I do pay her rent though and everything's proper and above board."
"I'm sure it is. So you're Annie's latest little project then?"
"I wouldn't put it quite like that. She just thought it would be good for Barnaby to have someone else the same age around the house and as we were already friends it seemed logical to have us both under the same roof. I'm in the spare room by the way."
Brian stroked his chin and took a sip of the neat whisky in his hand.
"It's not often that I agree with my wife, but for once I think she has a point. Barnaby's been through a lot in recent years and that's why he's living with us rather than his parents. My brother and his wife fight like cat and dog and it's not the happiest of marriages. The trouble is they can't live harmoniously with one another but can't live apart either. They're attracted to each other by some things and repelled by others. Barnaby got caught up in the cross fire whilst he was still at school so Anne and I decided when he went to university that he'd have to come and live with us - just to remove the poor boy from the situation and give him some sort of chance. To be honest I've not got much sympathy with my brother and his wife. Like me, Ralph's got the sort of job where he could put in plenty of overseas travel and regularly bugger off for a week or two. If he knew how to be a married man and did just that, they'd both be a lot happier but, oh no, he's always flapping round his missus. Needless to say they're always at each other's throats."
Adam looked slightly quizzically at Brian.
"I see. You and Anne are happy enough though, aren't you? I'm assuming you've been together a while."
Brian took a large gulp of his whisky.
"Happy is as happy goes. We met at Cambridge back in the early Eighties and, suffice to say we were both very young. She was nineteen and I was twenty. In some respects we were too young and I don't think either of us envisaged anything long term. We just did what students who fancied each other did -- shagged and got drunk together. Our fate -- or rather my fate -- was sealed one day when Anne was having a row with her mother and the silly mare mentioned my name. From that day onwards I was forcibly welcomed into the Glenning dynasty and it was made very clear to me who I'd be marrying. I went through the motions of proposing but it was only ever a formality."
"So you didn't have a choice in the matter?"
"Choice! You've obviously not met Anne's mother. The word doesn't feature in her vocabulary at all. If legend says St George slew the last of the dragons, all I can say is that he missed one -- Elizabeth Glenning."
"Your mother-in-law certainly sounds formidable."
"Formidable hardly touches it. I'm convinced she's a direct descendent of Attila the Hun. Anne's family are a damn queer lot anyway. They're minor aristocracy -- old money and not much of it -- but they're a cut above the middle class and they don't let people forget it either. Her father, the late Major Archibald Glenning, was an ex-army man who'd trained as a solicitor. He wanted Anne to read law and follow him into the profession but she's even more stubborn than he was and she trained for the teaching profession instead. Not that it did her any good. She lectured for a few years at the university in Woodchester -- or rather polytechnic as it then was -- before deciding it wasn't for her. Waste of a good degree too. She'd got a first and Cambridge don't exactly hand them out like toffees. Julie, her sister, is a bit of a nutter to be honest. A raging nymphomaniac, she shags any man who's up for it and she's never settled down. She still lives with her mother but as to whether or not the pair of them get on, that's anyone's guess. At least I picked the one that's normal -- or rather relatively 'normal' given what that family's like."
"So you're happy enough though?"
"Yes, I'd say so. We're not the best matched couple in the world but we're as happy, if not happier, than most. Anne was a real stunner when I first met her and, if she'd had the tits for it, she'd easily have been page three material. She still looks good twenty seven years on and that's more than a lot of women can say. What's more she's a damn good cook too - as I'm sure you've found out. Not that I ever get to taste much of it as when I'm at home she insists on being taken out most of the time. We've had our moments in private -- who doesn't -- but she's never let me down in public. A few years ago when I was mayor here she played the dutiful mayoress, even taking on engagements of her own. Of course she hated every minute of it and, when my year was up, she made damn sure I knew that it wasn't going to happen again. The point is she did it though and that was worth a lot to me."
Pausing briefly to take a sip of his whisky, Brian continued, "Anne's not perfect and I'm not under any illusions that she is. Early on I found she was in the habit of not going to the toilet when she should with the result that she often has accidents, some of which I don't think are as 'accidental' as she likes to make out. I think she gets off on it, although I can't understand and don't pretend too either. If she's happy I don't mind too much. She does the laundry -- I don't. If you've spent any amount if time in my wife's company, you're bound to have noticed. Also I know she's more than just friends with Wendy, the college friend who first introduced me to her, but I'm not the sort of guy to be much bothered about that either. I'm hardly ever at home these days and what the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve over. In fact I'd go so far as to say she wasn't an entirely wholesome influence over my nephew either but, on balance, I think he's better off with us than he would be at home. I could worry about him developing unmanly and undisciplined toilet habits but I think the time for that has passed. He spends too much time in my wife's company to not be tainted by her influence. I'm pleased there's another lad around the house now who can get him away from my wife and interest him in the sort of things a young man ought to be interested in."
Adam smiled. Now wasn't the time to startle Brian with any revelations but, the phrase "if only he knew" crossed his mind. Brian was an amiable enough guy and obviously a 'man of the world' who wasn't easily shocked and probably knew more than he cared to let on. There was however, a time and a place for everything. Although they probably hadn't got that much in common, he'd certainly warmed to Brian, just as Anne had predicted, and his earlier anxieties had been proved groundless.
"How long do you think you'll be around for?," Adam ventured.
Brian finished his whisky and sat back.
"Only until Wednesday. Then I'm flying off to Zurich for am important conference that should keep me busy for ten days."
"Pity. I was hoping you'd be around for longer and we could chat some more."
"Oh I'm sure we will, Adam. In the meantime I've got work to do. Besides I don't want to pander to my wife's insecurities too much."
"Yes. She thinks I'm fucking my secretary and she's out to try and catch me at it. Barnaby tipped me off about it earlier in the year. Pity though as she gets to do as she wants without me knowing or caring too much about what she's up to."
"And are you?"
"Adam, that's for me to know and her to worry about. Let's just say that when a man gets to my age and works as hard as I do, I think he's earned the right to a mistress. In the meantime, I must take it as read that I have the benefit of your discretion. I'd like to get out of this place alive on Wednesday morning if at all possible."
Just as Brian finished speaking, another key was heard in the front door and in walked Barnaby and Anne. They were both in sodden jeans and there was a distinct bulge in Barnaby's. Anne looked flustered and was clearly a little taken aback to see Brian home before the morning was out.
"Barnaby and I have just been having a little quality time in town and I'm afraid we both overdid it on the coffee. We weren't expecting you so soon."
Brian forced a wry smile.
"Obviously. Adam and I have been having quite a chat. Welcome to the mad house, Adam!"