Joseph glanced at his wristwatch. With only an hour left before “last orders”, there was just enough time, assuming he had read her right.
“Sorry I’m late,” Alice Sellars said as she placed her leather jacket over the back of the empty chair. “I had to sneak out of my manager’s leaving do.”
Robert shrugged. “No problem. We’ve not been here long ourselves.”
She turned to his friend.
“Hi, I’m Alice.”
He grinned at her. “And I’m Jim.”
They shook hands, almost apologetically.
“Robert’s useless at introductions, isn’t he?” she said.
Jim rolled his eyes. “You could say that!”
Robert held up his hands. “Okay, okay, I can take a hint! Jim Morris, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Alice Sellars, my friend and confessor these past fifteen years.”
Alice looked to the ceiling. “Robert, you’re too kind.”
The joshing continued until Jim slid his glass towards Robert. “Same again for me.”
Robert turned to Alice. “Your usual?”
She nodded unthinkingly; then chided herself for being so predictable. Since when had she become such a creature of habit? Perhaps it was a tendency Robert brought out in her. Grinning, she ordered a vodka and cranberry juice. Robert raised his eyebrows and then shrugged. While he made his way to the bar, Jim winked at her.
“Come here often with Robert, do you?”
“This pub or one like it,” she replied. “A couple of times I insisted we meet in a trendy bar, but Robert prefers tatty chairs, dark-oak bookshelves and framed prints of Victorian working men.”
Jim nodded. “I’ve generally found it suits his mood.”
Alice smiled. Evidently Jim knew Robert at least as well as she did. She was keen to learn more from him, but Robert returned before they could swap tales.
As she sipped her drink, Alice felt the week’s accumulation of tension gradually drain away. She leaned back and let the men talk, nodding agreement whenever it seemed appropriate while casting appraising glances at Jim. Having concluded he was good-looking in a rakish kind of way, she tried to join in. By now, Robert was expounding on one of his favourite themes.
“If you ask me, keeping books in a pub is a stupid idea.” He pointed at the nearest bookcase. “Who comes here to read?”