It had been a fabulous night, even though they hadn't won the TV choice award, the drinks had flowed they had met and caught up with old friends and show business acquaintances but now they just wanted to get their respective homes , kick off their shoes and relax.
Xander and Richard already had their jackets on and Richard was finishing up the dregs of his beer (you don't leave beer , especially if it's free) Ben was still sat down pushing his aching feet back in to his new shoes......(he had kicked them off under the table, as his feet were sore) .
Ben looked up and saw his two friends were ready to leave, but this left him with a bit of a dilemma, he had managed to get his shoes on but he couldn't tie his laces. This wasn't due to over indulging at the free bar it was the simple fact he had never learned. Xander knew he had always struggled with this easy task and whenever the need arose, Xander being the bloke he was, would always come to his rescue and tie them for him. He caught Xander;s eye and beckoned him across .
“Could you just do these mate ….quickly though before anyone sees” he peeked around Xander to see if anyone was looking, especially Richard. He wasn't embarrassed about his oldest friend knowing but Rich was another matter. He had always felt the need to impress Richard or even compete with him on a certain level for Xander's attentions. The last thing he wanted was to be ridiculed for something like this, a basic skill which nearly everyone of the age of 5 could do !
Xander got down on one knee and set about doing his friends laces “ I have shown you loads of times Ben ….it's not hard you know “ he laughed but with no menace in his demeanour. At that exact moment across the room Richard turned round to look for his friends …..setting eyes on the scene before him …..his jaw dropped and he felt his heart plummet to his stomach.
Richard felt like someone had slapped him across the face, what was happening ? Surely Xander wasn't doing what it looked like ? ...not here....not in front of him , he couldn't bare it. He needed to get outside fast , he turned towards the door and made his exit has quickly as he could.
Once Xander had finished sorting out his friends shoelaces he looked around for Richard
“Did you see where Rich went ? “ he looked around the room for his friend, being one of the tallest people he knew he was never hard to spot. However, there was no sign of him ?
“ Probably gone to the men's room ....sure he will be back shortly” said Ben standing up and pulling on his jacket. The two friends made there way outside, Xander guiding Ben by his arm through the throng of people in the foyer. Once outside there was still no sign of Richard.
Richard was leant against a near by wall, trying to stop himself hyperventilating. He tried to process the image he had just seen, even after a few beers he was still convinced that there was only one reason Xander was down on one knee in front of Ben ! Xander's divorce had only recently come through and although fairly amicable, it was Richard who had been there for him, offering advice, making sure he was getting plenty to eat and drink, checking he was managing to get some sleep also the shoulder to cry on ! But after all that, who was he declaring his love to, none other then is rival bloody Ben Miller !!
Once outside Xander and Ben continued their search for their friend. Xander was getting quiet concerned , it wasn't in Richard's nature just to dash off without so much as a goodbye or even a friendly hug (He was getting a fair amount of those lately ).
Ben spoke up “It's getting rather chilly and if we are not careful we are going to miss out on the taxis home ? “
Xander nodded “look Ben, if you would rather get off it's pointless us both stood out here in the cold, I will take one last walk around and look for Richard, just wish he would answer his phone !”
Ben didn't need telling twice, he wanted to get back to the comfort of his own home with his wife and family and also he knew Xander would want to probably spend some time with Richard alone. He had seen how close they had both gotten over the last few month's . It was only a matter of time before they would get “together” has a proper couple now Xander was a free man so to speak.
Ben said his goodbye's and dashed off to the taxi rank leaving Xander stood on the pavement trying to get hold of Richard again on his mobile. It went straight to voicemail, something was definitely not right.
The crowds were thinning out now and he decided to take one last walk around the building then he would have to call it a night. He was in no rush to get to back to his hotel room, Although it was a cosy room at the luxury Four Seasons Hotel it just served as a stark reminder that he was now alone . There had been some talk earlier in the night from Richard about them all going back to his place for a night-cap but seeing as the man himself was nowhere to be seen that wasn't looking likely to be on the agenda.
Richard's breathing had slowed down and the initial shock was wearing off. He stood up straight and decided to make a move and head back to his flat, at least there he could have some privacy before he completely broke-down, He loved Xander, that was no secret but he had always kept it
his true feelings slightly under-wraps out of respect for his friends wife and family. Now things were different and he was able to let these feelings out and run wild, he wanted so much to tell Xander how he felt but part of him was scared he these feelings wouldn't be reciprocated. He stood with his hands firmly in his pockets trying to numb out the cold, he was deciding whether to walk home , it wasn't that far. It would possibly take him twenty maybe 30 minutes ….he set off, eyes downcast.....
“Richard …..Richard wait !! “ he heard that all too familiar voice behind him. He could pretend he hadn't heard it but he was only going to be putting off the inevitable, best get it over with .
Xander jogged slightly to catch up to Richard “Hey, where did you go ? One minute you was there with us then you disappeared ?......are you alright ? “ he placed his hand on Richard's arm as he bombarded his friend with questions.
The taller man stood, still with his hands in his pockets and looking across to the middle distance as he spoke “I'm fine “ he replied,then mumbled in a sarcastic tone “Surprised you even noticed I had gone ?”
“Sorry, what was that? I didn't hear you ?”
“Look Xander, I'm okay.....I just want to get off back home, it's been a long night....I'm pretty sure you and Ben will want to some to to celebrate on your own?” he tried to keep his voice level but he was struggling and it was beginning to crack.
Xander stood shaking his head “I know I have had a few drinks Rich, but what are you talking about? We didn't win anything did we ?......and Ben has already gone home ?”
Richard looked up and suddenly realised that Ben wasn't anywhere to be seen, this was strange.....do people usually do that after they had been proposed too ? Or maybe he hadn't said yes? He looked across at his friend who looked to be genuinely concerned about him “ So, he didn't accept then ?.....your proposal ? “
A look of complete shock appeared on Xander's face as he repeated Richard's words “proposal ? “ …....he thought back to what had happened inside, the last time he had seen Rich was when Ben had asked him to inconspicuously tie his shoe laces. He had got down on one knee and......the penny suddenly dropped !
“Oh God, no ….no, you have it all wrong Rich......I can see how it might of looked, but why would you think that ? Ben is married for goodness sake and I'm not you know, well not completely, that's not to say I would rule it out in the future ….” the very articulate Mr Armstrong was stumbling across his words.
Richard was more confused that ever, “Well why was you down on one knee? It doesn't make any sense ?”
Xander sighed, “There's a perfectly simple explanation but I don't want to embarrass Ben, so if I tell you please don't let on to him you know ? “
Richard scratched his chin and looked intrigued “Try me then, what was happening ?”
Xander moved closer to Richard and beckoned him to bend down so he could whisper in his ear, not that there was anyone around but it still made him feel a bit better as he had sworn to Ben he wouldn't tell a soul.
“I was tying Ben's shoelaces “
Richard let out a laugh “Seriously ? No tell me honestly, I want to know the truth ?”
“That is the truth, I swear “ he went on to explain to his friend how Ben had struggled all his life to
grasp the art of tying his shoelaces and that he was often called to help him out in said situation.
As ridiculous as it sounded Richard now began to realise this is what he had seen. Although massively relieved he suddenly realised that Xander was going to put two and two together before long and figure out the reason he had run off was because he was jealous of Ben.
“Any chance of the night cap at yours Rich ? “ asked Xander hopefully.
This broke Richard out of his reverie and he smiled. There was no way he was going to refuse Xander . “of course ….here ...” he held out his arm for Xander to take as they set off towards Richards flat.
“All's well that ends well” thought Richard as they walked together in a happy silence.
“I'm looking forward to that coffee you promised me Richard “ said Xander rubbing his hands together he looked across at his friend with a wicked smile ,then added “Then you can tell me why you stormed off in a jealous rage ?”
End of Part One