The end of yet another series, their seventieth. One might expect that the novelty of a post-series drink at the pub would have worn off by now, and at least one of the troupe might have made excuses to have an early night, but here they were, ambling along the waterfront from Venue Cymru where they had just finished taping, towards the nearest pub.
Tim and Barry were leading the charge. Autumn was quickly giving way to winter and they could see their breath fogging in the air. Everyone was keen to get indoors to the warmth as soon as possible.
They filed into the King’s Arms and looked around for a table.
To Tim’s utter delight, Graeme Garden was sitting in a corner booth, surrounded by untouched pints.
“What on earth are you doing here?” Tim asked.
“Can’t a man surprise his oldest friend?” Graeme smiled at him.
“Oi! Who are you calling old?” Barry said.
“His best friend?” Graeme tried.
“Better.” Tim and Barry said in unison.
An unmistakeable deadpan voice came from behind Tim and Barry, “If you three are going to be this soppy, I’m taking the next cab home.”
“Nice to see you too, Jack.” Graeme grinned.
Jack grumbled an acknowledgement and took the nearest seat with a pint in front of it. Despite his words, body language and actions, Graeme could tell he was genuinely pleased to see him.
“Aren’t you going to ask us about the taping?” Rob asked, taking a seat next to Jack.
Jack groaned internally. Could they not have one drink without talking shop?
“Can we not have one drink without talking shop?” Richard asked, groaning aloud, taking a seat the other side of Rob.
Jack threw him a grateful look. “Amen to that,” he said, downing half his pint.
“So, did you drive down yourself?” Tim sat next to Graeme in the corner of the booth, engaging him in conversation. “I didn’t see your Passat.” Tim was clearly thrilled and surprised that he’d made the effort.
“It was a nice day for it - parked it around the corner at the hotel. I actually got in a few hours ago and saw the end of the taping. You were very good.”
Graeme smiled as he saw the tips of Tim’s ears turning red. It seemed that no matter how long they’d known each other, any amount of genuine praise or acknowledgement would make Tim blush. It really was quite adorable.
On the other side of the table, Rob was trying out new impressions and Richard was begging him to stop. Barry and Jack were trading biting one-liners. Barry’s hearty chuckle could be heard haphazardly between their quiet murmuring.
Several pints in, and their motley crew was the only one left in the pub. The manager was keeping it open for them in appreciation of the extra revenue their show had brought to the establishment.
Rob, Richard, Jack and Barry made their child and train based excuses and one by one left the pub until only Graeme and Tim were left.
The hours just seemed to slip away when they talked. It was one of the reasons they could never be serious writing partners.
Somehow their conversation had wandered around everything from politics and religion to music and film. The only way they seemed capable of generating an argument was when one deliberately played devil’s advocate.
They had both shed their jackets, and the warmth provided by the central heating combined with the brown ales and their shared body heat had given both their cheeks a healthy flush.
Graeme raised his gaze from his sixth, or was it seventh pint. Tim was happily regaling him with a tale from the Clue days of Humphrey Lyttelton. Incidentally, a story he’d been present for, and had told Tim of in the first place.
Tim’s eyes were lit up with excitement, and Graeme was once again glad he’d made the effort of the four hour drive to be here for what served as their Christmas party.
There was something really lovely about being wanted. He knew Tim wanted him there. It wasn’t something he got from most people. His sharp tongue often pushed people away, and he wondered if that was something Jack Dee also had to deal with. Tim seemed to be able to garner love and affection just by walking into a room. It certainly had been the case the first time Graeme had seen him walk into a room.
Much too old to do anything about it now, but sometimes Graeme thought that if society had been a little different when they’d been starting out, he might have acted on these feelings.
Or he might well not have.
The point was moot. They now had separate lives and wives and kids and grandkids and those thoughts really should stay where they belong, a conditional perfect fantasy.
The hair framing Tim’s face was curling in the warmth of the pub. Graeme had long given up on having any length to his own hair, but Tim was persistent.
Graeme reached out to tuck the errant curl behind Tim’s ear. His hand lingered just a touch. Unable to stop himself, he caressed the back of Tim’s head. His hand came to rest on his shoulder.
Tim’s eyes closed of their own accord and Graeme could feel his eyes misting up beneath his glasses. Damned over-heated pub.
He saw Tim open his eyes again, and as if in slow motion, gently lean forward to press a chaste kiss to Graeme’s lips.
Graeme’s breath caught in his throat and he reached for Tim’s hand to cover with his own.
After a few perfect seconds, Graeme reluctantly broke the kiss. He brought the hand that had been on Tim’s shoulder to the back of his head, pulling their foreheads together to rest against one another.
“Merry Christmas, Graeme.”
“Merry Christmas, Tim.”