As Mike turned away from the bar – without so much as saying thanks, though in this case I was prepared to let him off – James caught my eye from across the room, where he was holding court. I quickly mimed someone drinking, and then the bottom falling out of something. James moved quickly through the crowd to fill his role.
James isn’t as good an actor as me, but he can hold his own, and from the bar it looked like he bore no ill will towards Mike at all. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, the unavoidable hubbub of more than a hundred people completely drowning out any particular sound, including the light chamber music I’d chosen to set the appropriate tone, which was more or less shattered by James challenging Mike to a sculling contest.
James was drinking straight orange juice, wanting a clear head, but claiming it was a Harvey Wallbanger for the look of things. As the two tilted their heads back, Mike nearly falling as he overbalanced, James kept a careful eye on the level of the drinks, driving Mike to completely finish his with careful pacing. And now… yes. Maybe I was a little ungenerous to disparage his acting abilities, because James did a very credible act of challenging him to another contest, this time on the billiards table. Mike grabbed a cue from the rack, having to lean on it for a moment, and I began to worry for the felt. I was just about to go over there, deniability be damned, when, in front of basically everyone he knew, including his heartbroken ex-girlfriend (who was in the corner talking with a friend) and the girl he’d dumped her for, Mike’s eyes began to glaze, then dart about, searching for an exit, hope slowly leaving them as he realised that if he took a step it would only hasten…
As I remarked to James later, I was really glad the room had a varnished wooden floor, because that would have just ruined the carpet. We definitely never saw Mike wearing those pants again.