It starts like this:
They sit next to each other when they are waiting to cook in the Top 50. They hit off right away. Conversation is light and easy, and they’ll wish each other the best of luck in the challenge. Of course they don’t get too attached to each other then, because no one should take that chance as many people still have to leave.
By the time they are down to 24 contestants, they know more about each other. Ben knows that Andy lives with his parents, that he hates his job and loves basketball and hasn’t had a girlfriend in years but doesn’t really care about that because he has a lot of friends and gets along with his family very well. Andy knows that Ben lives on his own, formerly with his girlfriend but they broke up two weeks ago because of whichever reason and also that Ben loves AFL and tattoos and teaching, but cooking most of all. Then they swap favourite dishes, recipes, but also what kind of television they prefer, and find that they have surprisingly much in common.
It could have stopped at that, and maybe it should have. They both were comfortable with their lives as they were. But it doesn't. Instead they make it through the following rounds and get to know each other properly. Andy gives up on his personal space and lets Ben hug him. Ben tells Andy more about his tattoos, the stories behind them that no one else knows. They grow closer and they are aware of that. Andy sometimes finds it disconcerting how much he is starting to care for Ben and refuses to hug him, stand next to him, talk to him before they go to sleep. Ben ignores the way his heart thrashes in his chest when Andy is up for elimination, and to say that to make it to the top 10 without Andy in it wouldn’t be the same is a gross understatement.
They both make it to the finals. Then Andy blows his shot at winning (the Mexican restaurant, he thinks, and swallows away the tight soreness in his throat) because of a slightly burnt sauce. Strangely, he isn’t very sad. He’d thought he would be. Ben is still in the race though and he stays to watch him cook orderly, perfectly, his fingers quick and able at what they must do. Audra messes up a salad by throwing it to the floor right before the clock runs out and Andy, much to his shame, doesn’t feel bad about that.
As it turns out, Audra and Ben would’ve come out at a tie if she hadn’t fucked up the dish. As it is, however, Ben wins. The smell of Mexican food fills the kitchen area as he is hugged by his mum, his dad, his brother. Andy looks from a distance, arms itching to embrace his friend. He doesn’t, he is too afraid he will mess something up. A different dream.
He doesn’t assume Ben will ask him to help him start the restaurant. He doesn’t want to feel the hope. Maybe Ben will want to stay in Tassie, he thinks, and then Andy can’t come over to help him because his financial situation would not permit him to. Maybe he wants to run it on his own, or with his best mate who also sampled the food from Ben’s Tassie recipe book.
But of course, the finals aren’t where Andy’s Masterchef adventure ends. He soon discovers he should have put a little more faith into things.
Ben comes toward him the day after the grand party. He looks a little hungover and smells like he hasn’t had a shower yet, but Andy doesn’t mind. He never minds anything Ben does. As long as he’s happy. And no, Andy wouldn’t say he’s in love with Ben, nor admit to it in a thousand years, but yes--maybe he feels more for Ben than he has for anyone in quite a while, if not ever.
Nerves surge through his body like a fucking freight train when Ben opens his mouth, because these are the words that are going to determine his future. Andy just about manages to keep his face straight, to keep a cool composure. It’s still goddamn difficult to do.
“So, what’cha say, mate?” Ben says. “You going to help me start that restaurant? I could use some help.”
“Yeah,” Andy blurts out before Ben even manages to finish his sentence. “Of course. But-”
He doesn’t finish his own sentence either because his face gets awkwardly pushed into Ben’s chest. Andy inhales the scent, savours the feeling, allows himself to do all of this in two seconds before gently pushing Ben away.
“I don’t have a place to live,” he states. “I don’t even have the money for it.”
“Yeah,” Ben says, “I know.” Andy expects Ben’s expression to turn sad, to say that it can’t happen after all. “It's okay, mate. I mean, I’ve given it some thought and I think you should move in with me. I’ve some spare space now that I’m single anyway. Just think about it!” The excitement in Ben’s voice makes Andy smile as well. “We're going to have a hell of a lot of fun!”
The Masterchef adventure of Andy stops when he moves to Tasmania, with his entire life stuffed into three big boxes full of stuff and a bunch of postcards from old friends that say they understand but Andy doubts they do. He doesn't just move because of the money and the restaurant. Scratch that. He doesn't move because of those two things at all. It's just Ben.
Tassie’s also where their story starts, he thinks, looking back at it. The premonition of what they would become was present during Masterchef, it’s obvious when they watch back the episodes on Ben’s ratty couch that smells of aftershave and the sea.
One week into living together, they’re looking for a suitable and affordable place to start at and try to come up with a signature dish for the restaurant. Two weeks into living together, Andy has been introduced to almost all of Ben’s friends and family. Three weeks into living together, they’re sitting on the back porch at night, staring at the stars and sipping at ridiculously expensive wine because they found a place. It’s a Saturday evening, the rustle of trees is the only sound in the otherwise quiet night air and their thighs are pressing together hotly.
Andy finds himself leaning heavily into Ben’s body after some time. They aren’t talking anymore, just staring at Ben’s backyard and the starry sky above. His breathing has grown a little heavier than usual because he is so close to Ben, his stomach flutters excitedly, his cock gives a little stir every now and then when Ben moves against him. Then there’s an arm around his waist, long fingers settling on his hip.
“Ben?” he says, because this isn’t normal, this isn’t part of the routine they have settled into. It’s beyond.
When Ben stays quiet, Andy forces his upper body away from Ben so he can look at him. Ben’s eyes are downcast and he is licking his lips. More so, he seems to be nervous.
Fuck. Andy doesn’t know if Ben knows about his feelings but something is going on and the next move is his. He supposes he can always go back to his parents when this goes awry, then swallows, then puts a hand on Ben’s thigh.
“Andy,” Ben rasps, his eyes half lid, and Andy’s heart is pounding so loudly he can hear it.
This is it, he knows. Then Ben’s hand is touching his cheek and they are looking at each other, and he wants to laugh hysterically at how clichéd it actually is when they finally lean in for a kiss.
That’s where the rest of their life begins.
“Now let’s live happily after fucking ever,” Andy mumbles before moving back in for another kiss.