Gary stood in the green room with Claire and Brant. He paced back and forth glancing at the clock every so often. The longer the damn van took to get their guests here the less time he was going to have to talk to her before filming began again.
“Worried she’s not going to show mate?” Brant teased. Gary rolled his eyes and plopped down on one of the sofas.
“Oh bugger off” Claire said walking over and sitting next to Gary. “You alright?”
“Yeah! Yeah.” He swallowed his nerves and tried to put on his showman face. “Big day is all.” She smiled sympathetically and took his hand.
“Well no matter what happens out there, still friends ok?”
“Yeah of course!” He gave her hand a squeeze “No doubt.”
Miranda rarely minded her height, It came in quite handy for stocking the shop or wining at games. Other times she wondered if maybe it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Like when she could see into the green room before anyone else and saw Gary on the couch holding hands with a teeny blond chef.
"Calvary’s here!” The producer opened the curtain and allowed the guests to pass. Gary and Claire both stood quickly looking for their people. Miranda found herself pushed into the corner just inside the doorway, the insecure pit in her stomach having anchored her in place when everyone else shoved in. Gary weaved his way around the other groups with the biggest genuine smile on his face. “Hi!”
“Hi!” Miranda kicked her enthusiasm back into high gear and hugged him. Gary buried his head in the nook between her shoulder and neck, a piece of their unspoken language that meant he was feeling off kilter himself.
“So glad you’re here.” He straightened up and moved back enough to get a good look at her. “Looking smart I must say.”
“Why thank you” Miranda dipped in a small curtsey. “I mean it isn’t everyday you get on television. Well, it is for some people. And I’ve been on television before but not for, the best reasons” she grimaced and he nodded in understanding. She looked down at the navy blue shirt dress and leggings. “Stevie helped me pick it, She and Tilly wanted to do my make up too but I drew the line there after I saw them come in with a suitcase. Slightly terrifying. You are looking pretty good yourself. Are you ok? nervous?”
“Significantly less now that you’re here.”
“Yeah, makes it a little less strange.”
“Funny, usually I’m the one making things strange.” He laughed.
“I’m just not used to doing big things without you anymore.” Gary admitted. “And not seeing you was just..”
“Incredibly.” Miranda noticed that look on his face, the one that always got them into trouble. The brink face. She cleared her throat and tried to bring things back to casual.
“Well you didn’t miss much.” Miranda admitted. “Usual business. Tilly on the phone, Stevie keeping me from going bankrupt, Mum trying to marry me off.”
“And Clive and the restaurant?”
“Managing but very glad you are on the way home.”
“Oh, well I-“ Before he could hear her answer Gary felt a tap on the shoulder. Claire and an older woman were standing behind them.
“Mum, this is Gary, he’s been keeping me sane while we’ve been here.” They shook hands and that pit in Miranda’s stomach bubbled again. Just how had he been keeping her sane exactly?
“And Claire, this is Miranda.” He slid closer to her and put a hand on her back. Brinky flashed through both their heads but neither made a move to go back to a more platonic spacing.
“ Miranda! Gosh I feel like I already know you, Gary’s told me so much.”
“Really?” That was a surprising comfort. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad she thought. The group conversed easily for a time before the producer returned to tell them all it was time to head to the studio.
“Right, Wish me luck!” He gave her a small peck on the cheek.
“Good luck! Save me leftovers!” She joked. He flashed her one more smile before being ushered out the door.
Miranda was lead to a front row seat in audience. To her right was a long table she assumed would be for the judges and to her left three identical kitchen set ups. The host came out, introduced the judges who were all apparently very big deals in cooking but she had no idea who they were, and finally, the three contestants. Gary stood tall and proud between his competitors. He legitimately never thought he would make it here and now that he was, he would need everything within him to win. It would be a time crunch as well as a challenge to get the menu out on time. He glanced around looking for Miranda. She gave him a tiny wave and a thumbs up. That helped.
The buzzer sounded and the stage descended into organized chaos. Chopping, sizzling and banging sounds echoed throughout the studio. Miranda realized she had never seen Gary in full chef mode. She had watched him cook before of course but usually in her flat with many breaks for drinks, laughs and to fix whatever simple task she unintentionally mucked up. Watching him like this felt voyueristic. He obviously knew she was there but determination made her invisible. She found herself in awe of the precision and passion he was putting into every step. Once the meals were done and plated for judging there was time to kill before the results would be announced.
"So what happens after today?” Miranda asked Gary when he came over to chat.
“We go home and pretend like we don’t know what happened until the show is done airing.” He took a swig from a bottle of water. “Apparently I also have to go into London and do a bunch of interviews in about a month when they reveal who made it to the end.”
“Such Fun! Gary the celebrity.”
“Yeah right” He scoffed.
“Make sure you don’t forget us little people when you get famous or start dating one of those tall leggy toothpick models.” She teased.
“Not my type.”
“Well,” He paused thinking. “Maybe the tall piece.”
“Tall but not a leggy toothpick?” Miranda tried to read his face to see if he was still kidding.
“Sounds about right.” He said slightly lower than before.
“Well it’s , um, too bad you don’t know anyone matching that description.” A blush crawled up her face and she fanned herself a bit “I thought television studios were supposed to be notoriously cold?”
“Well we did just have three ovens and 6 cooktops running for two hours in your defense.” He took the towel still on his shoulder and dabbed a bit at her forehead.
"Yes, that must be it.” They locked eyes.
“Miranda I-“ Gary was interrupted by a call from the producers that he was needed for confessional filming. Miranda exhaled once he jogged away to join the camera crew. She really wished she had her phone right now but they were being held by the studio security staff.
Another half hour passed before they were told to take their places for the decision.
“This was never going to be an easy decision.” The lead judge said. “You all do what you do very well and have handled every challenge thrown your way. However, one of you has fulfilled the goal of this competition in spirit as well as skill.” He paused.
“And that person is Gary Preston.” He covered his mouth in a gasp and looked into the crowd to see Miranda in almost the mirror pose. He shook hands with Brant, the judges and host, and gave Claire a quick hug. They posed for what seemed like ten years worth of photos before he could jog back over to the stands.
“I won!” He said shocked.
“You Won! Gary, you won!” She repeated excitedly hugging him. “This is fantastic! We have to celebrate.”
“Well we can’t really do much. Top secret and all.” He thought for a moment. “But there is a wrap party happening if you want to stick around? and then maybe we could crash at my room for pizza and movies?”
“Great, I’m just going to pop back there to get changed and tell them you’re coming. I’ll be right back.” He squeezed her hand and made his way back to the other end of the studio where the locker rooms were.
It had been a long time since Miranda felt properly shown off. Any time her mum brought her somewhere as a plus one it was with a degree of displeasure or with a set of ulterior motives. This time was very different. Gary was introducing her to everyone and making sure she was well looked after. Somewhere around their third round of drinks he had grabbed her hand to stop her tripping and hadn’t let go until she wandered off needing the loo.
“It all makes sense now” Tom said as he finished a pint.
“Hmm?” Gary asked mid sip.
“Why you and Claire didn’t hook up. It’s her isn’t it?”
"Who, Miranda? She's my best friend."
“Just a best friend?” Tom asked. Gary shrugged. “Didn’t think so.”
“I didn’t say-“
“Didn’t have to.”
“Tom if you spent as much time focusing on your cooking as you did my love life you would have won.” Tom punched Gary in the arm “OW!”
“You’re weak Preston.”
“Sadly I’m siding with Tom on this one.” Miranda said sliding back up to the pair. “Not exactly action hero material are we?”
“Oi, don’t ‘Are we’ me, I’m not Stevie.” Gary pouted in jest. He looked around “Seems like the party’s breaking up. Fancy that movie?” Miranda agreed. They said their goodbyes and were given a ride back to the hotel by one of the PA’s.
Gary stretched out on the bed groaning loudly as his muscles relaxed. “This is the part I missed.” He rested his head on the headboard.
“What, your bed?” Miranda looked back from lying on her stomach with a bowl of crisps next to her.
"No. Us, hanging out.” He clarified. “It’s been so boring whenever we weren’t filming. I’m really looking forward to going home.”
“Good.” Miranda said. “Would hate to be a let down after the great adventure.” He leaned over and kissed her temple as he grabbed a handful.
“Never. You are a great adventure all on your own. No Adrenaline rush quite like a night out with Miranda Hart” He sat back. “Plus it’s nice to not be the only person holding on to this. I mean if I couldn’t tell you that I’d won I think I’d burst.”
“Well now you have a release valve- you can let it out in little bits so you don’t burst. Like gas.” He tossed a pillow at her. “Ow!”
“Not exactly action hero material Are We?” He repeated mockingly.
“Attempting the Are We to gain the upper hand Are We?” She threw it back. Before they knew it pillows, socks and crisps were flying everywhere in a battle of wills that ended with Gary straddling her waist holding a throw pillow to squish in her face while they both giggled at each other. Their breathing slowed as they stayed frozen for what seemed like forever.
“Brink?” He asked.
“Definitely brink” She agreed. Neither of them moved until he dropped the pillow and lowered his face to hers. He brushed a wayward strand of hair out of the way and met her lips in a soft, testing kiss.