Chapter 1: Prologue
Like most things that caused Miranda annoyance, it was entirely Penny’s fault.
One afternoon at the tennis club, she was sitting in the bar waiting for her weekly ‘friendly’ drink with Belinda when one of the newer members caught her attention. The 40-something woman was having a very animated discussion on her mobile phone.
“ What do you mean ‘He can’t make it’?” There was a pause while the other person explained. “Well I can’t exactly film a show called Twelve Best Chefs with only Eleven now can I? You have one hour to find a replacement or you’re sacked.”
“Excuse me?” Penny reached out and tapped the woman on the shoulder. “ I couldn’t help overhearing. You are in need of a chef for a television programme?”
“That’s right. Preferably a good looking one but hell I’d take the disgruntled trolls they hire here if needed.” Penny very quickly pulled out a pen and wrote down the address for Gary’s restaurant.
“ A dear friend of my daughter Miranda owns this place. I believe he will be what I call a perfect fit.” The woman looked skeptical but really had nothing to lose.
That was how Gary Preston became a reality TV star.
Chapter 2: Happy Birthday Miranda
“Has anyone heard from Gary?” Stevie asked as she brought over the next round of drinks.
“No, he’s been in isolation.” Clive replied
“Isolation?” She said in horror “What did he catch?”
“It means he’s not allowed out anywhere or to talk to anyone until they’ve picked the winner.” Clive explained. “That way no one can spoil the answer.”
“How absolutely mad making.” Tilly clutched her phone as if the mere thought of separation was enough for it to disappear. Miranda ran a swizzle stick through her cocktail as if it held the meaning of life. “And to have to miss Kong’s big shindig!”
“It isn’t a big shindig, it is a small gathering.” Miranda corrected.
“To celebrate a BIG number!” Stevie reminded. “Thirty five is halfway to 70!”
“Yes thank you Stevie, I hadn’t thought about it like that.” Miranda said taking a big swig of her drink. The trio looked at her concerned, so she sat up straight and managed a smile. “I’m fine, really. Yes, I wish Gary was here with us but this will be so good for him. Think of all the free advertising.” A murmur of agreement went around. “In the meantime, and the lady of the hour, I insist on theme selection for karaoke.” She grabbed the binder of song suggestions and searched for inspiration. “I choose- Songs that begin with W!”
Somewhere after Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go but before Whip it, Miranda and Stevie had enough alcohol in them to cross the line of sensible thinking.
“I miss Gary.” Miranda sighed. Stevie rested her head on her shoulder and Miranda leaned over to rest her head on top.
“ I know, but it won’t be much longer. How long is he gone?”
“And we’re on week…”
“I know!” Miranda whined. While stopped at an intersection the cab flooded with incredibly bright white light.
“Bloody hell, who’s trying to blind us?” Stevie complained.
“Oh sorry girls! I should have taken a different road. I forgot there was TV shooting tonight.” The cab driver moved his visors in an attempt to shield the tipsy ones from the spotlights. “One of those reality competition things.” Stevie and Miranda looked at each other and telepathically confirmed their plans. “Not my taste personally but-”
“ Yes thank you, we’ll actually get out here. I think we need some fresh air to clear our heads!” Stevie thrust fare plus a hefty tip at the driver while Miranda hurried to extract herself from the car. As he drove off they took a closer look at the trailers tents and bright lights pointed into the park. “Do you really think he’s in there?”
“No? Yes? I mean how many competition shows can be filming at once?” A kernel of doubt bloomed in Miranda’s brain. However, that kernel was soaking in a hefty dose of gin. “Right, so we’ll sneak around the trailers, take a quick peak to see if he’s there then pop back out.” Stevie nodded.
They ran across the street and flattened themselves against the side of the first building spy style. They silently debated where to move next before Miranda took Stevie’s hand and approached a trailer closer to the light source. A third move was thwarted when they turned a corner and ran straight into a frazzled PA.
“Oh?! There you are!” He said relieved
“Yep, that’s us!” Miranda lied. “Right here exactly where we are supposed to be!”
“ Well you better come with me. You won’t have time for touch ups but we’ll make sure to get you double before the next shot.” He pushed them along the pathway directly into the path of the lights. Between the equipment, crew and the brightness Miranda couldn’t tell whether Gary was there or not. The PA ushered them towards a dressed dinner table and sat the women down.
“Right. Remember the drill? No peeking and No cursing.”
“Absolutely, no need to worry about us!” Miranda confirmed as Stevie wordlessly communicated her panic. Once the assistant left she leaned in.
“We’ve got to get out of here!”
“ We’ll do one take, pop to the loo and not come back.” Miranda assured her. “The real extras should be here soon anyways!” Stevie sighed in resignation.
“At least we get fed.”
“Beats a packet of crisps and whichever fruit friend is the oldest.” Miranda agreed.
“Alright teams!” A voice over a bullhorn called out. “We are going to put Michael’s intro in as post so on the count of three you will all lift your cloches and dig in.”
“We must be rating the chefs’ dishes!” Miranda smiled.
“I wonder if we’ll be able to guess which one is Gary’s?”
“Please, I am the number one connoisseur of Gary Preston cooking. I will be able to tell before a single bite.” Miranda smugly put her napkin in her lap.
“Counting down! Three, two one, GO!”
They lifted the cloches, looked down and simultaneously screamed in disgust. Instead of fine dining on their plates there was a mishmash of intestines, bugs and slime. Stevie jumped up quickly while Miranda fell backwards and took the entire table down with her. Covered in goo Miranda stood up to see four other couples still trying their best to make their ways through their dishes.
“CUT! STOP! FORKS DOWN! Sorry folks we’ll have to reset. What the hell happened with Table 5?” The bullhorn voice shouted.
“Wait table 5? Russell this is week six we only have 4 couples left!” Someone else called out. Everyone looked over at the thoroughly busted duo.
“I- can’t believe you would spoil the results for us like this!” Miranda exclaimed in fake anger. “I’m going to take this straight to the network! Come on Stevie!” She stomped away- or more accurately squished.
It was a long walk back to the flat as no cab would dare take them after catching a whiff of Miranda. Stevie finally let her put her in a cab as soon as they were close enough that Miranda could confidently tell her that she wouldn’t get mugged and would call when she got inside. The phone ringing as she unlocked the door “Timing my steps are we?” She asked peevishly.
“Miranda?” a hushed male voice asked.
“Gary!” She answered shocked.
“I didn’t wake you did I?”
“No no! I’m just getting in actually. Was out with the gang for drinkie-poos.”
“Oh yeah? How was it?”
“Oh you know” She said in an overly nonchalant way ‘No fun without you’ Her brain begged her to say. “Wait! Aren’t you supposed to be icelandic? sorry, thats not it-“
“Isolation?” He prompted.
“Right?! Aren’t you going to get in trouble?” She worried.
“Well hopefully not. I bribed one of the drivers with pavlova to borrow his phone for five minutes. I-“ He paused in that way that always made her heart stop. “ I couldn’t not tell you Happy Birthday. I’m so sorry I can’t be there.” He said with a twinge of sadness.
“It’s alright, really.” She comforted. “This is an amazing surprise. Best of the day.”
“Yeah! How’s it going?”
“Well, can’t say anything otherwise I owe them twenty thousand quid but,” He paused. “It’s the best. I mean don’t get me wrong it’s hard work but I feel so, alive!” She smiled hearing the glow in his voice. “How are you?”
“ Ah no, I gotta run. I’m sorry. I’ll see you in a few weeks yeah?”
“Yeah sure! Go! Don’t get caught!”
“Happy Birthday Miranda.”
“ Good night Gary.” The phone hung up and she held it for a good two minutes after she knew he had left.
It was going to be a long four weeks.
Chapter 3: Isolation
Gary’s life had never been as controlled and regimented as it was filming this show, not even when he was a cadet. Every morning he was up at 5, barely choked down a tea and made his way to the studio van. They would then spend at least twelve hours in the studio before being shuttled back to the hotel and metaphorically locked into their rooms until the next 5am call. Some nights a producer would take pity on the twelve of them and order a film or invite them in for drinks. More often though he would take a shower to get the disgusting mix of makeup and cooking grease off his skin before studying the notes and cookbooks he had brought with him. When he was too tired to hold his head up any longer, he would get a few hours of sleep before the whole process began all over again.
A loud knocking on his door signalled the start of yet another day. Day 18. He had made it through 4 rounds of eliminations so far though he had no idea why. He was the least experienced, hadn’t auditioned and had only had one week to prepare whereas the rest of the cast had known for months.
When Sandra, the show runner, had first come into the restaurant he had thought she was a disgruntled customer. “ Excuse me,” She bellowed in the direction of his staff meeting on the couches “ I need the owner please.” Clive and the rest of the lads all pointed at Gary. No camaraderie eh? He thought. They all just throw me to the wolves. He passed his notes to the sous chef and asked him to continue before walking to her place at the bar.
“Gary Preston” He extended his hand. “How can I help Ms-“
“Newman, Sandra Newman.” She shook his hand and then quickly took a picture of him on her phone. He blinked confused.
“Sorry, why did you just take my picture?”
“I was given your name from a blond woman at the Surrey Tennis Club.” Gary internally cursed, Penny Hart strikes again. “I’m under a deadline, you see I’m casting a cooking show and we’ve had a drop out. You would be competing against eleven chefs from around the United Kingdom for the title of best chef and a cash prize.”
“I’m not sure I’m what you’re looking for-“
“Are you a chef?”
“Are you good?”
“I guess but-”
“Have you been in prison or committed any un-pardoned crimes”
“Then you are what I am looking for.” She said confidently. “Of course on top of the prize there will be press and an online social media presence.” She looked around the restaurant. “National publicity is not something most people turn down.” She took out her card and handed it to him. “I’ll need your answer tomorrow and we start shooting next week.”
A second round of loud knocking brought him back to the present. “Preston! Lobby in fifteen minutes!”
“Yeah I’m coming!” He called back. He quickly got into a T-shirt, sweater and jeans since his whites were at the studio. He quickly grabbed his notebook for downtime and let his gaze fall to the small pile of best wishes bobbles he had brought with him. He picked up one card in particular, a hand drawn picture of a dinner table set for 11 people with a bird in the middle. The caption read “Their goose is cooked!” He flipped it open. Dear Gary, I’ll miss you. Only stay away long enough to win. Your best friend, Miranda
He smiled and closed the card standing it up on the desk. As doors began to open and close in the hallway he realized he was about to miss his ride and rushed out the door. “There’s our underdog!” Brant, one of the other contestants, called as Gary approached the van.
“Very funny.” Gary climbed into the back of the van between Claire and Tom, two other chefs he was actually becoming friends with. As opposed to Brant whose main goal every morning seemed to be to remind Gary he was a desperation pick. “I spent more time talking about you on film yesterday than the bloody food!” Brant continued “What are you cooking Brant? Did you see what Gary was cooking? What do you think Gary’s biggest threat is? Are you surprised Gary beat you on the drinks challenge?”
“ Leave him alone Brant, its not his fault the editors picked up on the fact you’re a snob.” Claire shot back.
“ Yeah mate, if you don’t want the attention stop being such an arse.” Tom added. “They are goading you because they know they’ll get an answer.” Brant picked the farthest row away from the trio to pout for the 20 minute drive to the studio. Claire offered a sympathetic smile before opening the book she read during downtimes.
“She was a little sad you didn’t stay for a nightcap last night.” Tom told him when they were in the men’s locker room getting ready
“Who, Claire?” Gary asked.
“No, the front desk clerk, yes Claire!” Tom rolled his eyes. “You’re a thick one aren’t ya Gary? She’s been watching you since day one and it isn’t for your knife skills.”
“We get along is all.” Gary buttoned his chef coat and closed his locker. “ I mean we’re all kind of stuck with each other right now so it’s nice to have someone to chat with.” “Ah huh. And is the issue that you have someone back home you” Tom made air quotes “Chat With in Surrey?”
“ No…” Gary drawled uncertainly. He and Miranda had given up after the whole Tamara incident and dated other people for awhile. But they were both single again and maybe…
“So what’s the problem then?” The interrogation was interrupted by the call to set.
Gary didn’t just make it through the next challenge. He won it. He placed top 3 in the two after that. Without any comprehension as to how he got there, Gary suddenly found himself in the top 5. As a reward, and a way to get some variety in the non-kitchen shots, the show set up a fancy dinner on the roof of the hotel to congratulate the group on their progress.
“Gary, Hi!” One of the producers and a cameraman knocked on his door shortly before they were expected on the roof. “Sorry I was hoping we could shoot some confessional while you get ready? Just ask you like 5 questions while you pretend to like brush your hair and stuff?”
“Yeah of course! come on in!” He held the door open while the lugged the equipment in. The producer mic’d Gary up as they decided where the camera would be least obtrusive.
“So it will mainly be about being top 5, might ask you about who else made it or didn’t, when you are looking forward to tonight etc. Just redo your cuffs, check your shoes, small things right?” Gary nodded and was directed to sit on the bed. He lost track of who he was talking to for a moment once the camera lights turned on and missed the first question.
“I said are you looking forward to dinner?”
“Oh! Yeah of course!” He said with a giddy tone. “It’s nice to get a treat once in awhile, get out and stop being cooped up.”
“Are you happy with who is in the top five with you? Is it who you expected?”
“Well I , um, would have to say no because I didn’t expect myself to be there. I mean I wanted to but it’s tough to break in ya know? Everyone who’s made it has worked really hard.”
“You, Claire and Tom hit it off right away. Are you nervous about competing against your friends?”
“Well that’s what we’ve been doing the whole time isn’t it?” He smirked a bit. “They’ve been my mates while we’re here and if you can find that kind of a connection then you should be cheering each other on as much as you challenge each other.
“And what about Brant?” Gary held back an eye roll.
“He’s very- determined.”
“But does he intimidate you?”
“He tries, but it’s the farthest thing from my mind to be honest.”
“And why’s that?”
“I suppose because I’ve got to focus on me first.” He shrugged “The rest is secondary.” The producer tapped the camera man on the arm and suddenly the bright light was replaced with floating blue blobs while he readjusted to the dimmer hotel lights.
“Perfect! thanks Gary! See you upstairs in 10 yeah?” He nodded and opened the door again. “Oh! one more thing,” She pulled a paper off her clip board “We’ll need your finale guest contact information tomorrow. You know, just in case.” The producer winked and passed him the paper. “Have a think of who you want coming in and we’ll make the calls once we know who the top 3 are.” Gary used the paper to give a half wave to the departing staffers before placing it on the desk with everything else.
He was much better pretending the cameras weren’t there when the group was together. Thankfully the food was nothing they had cooked that week which meant fewer arguments over proper technique or plating. Fewer as opposed to none because Brant still insisted on doing his terrible impressions of the judges as each course came out.
“This is so nice, I mean how often to we get catering and be the ones served first?” Claire smiled.
Gary remembered exactly when the last time that was, it was the night before he left and the gang had insisted they pull together a pot luck dinner at Miranda’s. The rule was that he wasn’t allowed to help unless something was on fire. He had been the first there and Miranda had still been assembling the appetizers.
“Hi, doing ok?” He asked with a bottle of wine in his hands.
“Yep, perfect, right on schedule.” She placed something in the oven before crossing her fingers and standing up. She smiled at him warmly before noticing the bottle. “Oh hello there.”
“ I know that I wasn’t supposed to bring anything but I also know that cooking usually makes you, thirsty.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before heading to the counter to find the corkscrew. As he worked on the bottle he stepped back and surveyed the kitchen. “ No M&S bags,” He looked at the ceiling “No floating crepes,” He poured two glasses and passed her one “Maybe you’re finally catching on!”
“Cheeky!” She smacked him on the shoulder and he let out a small whine. “Now go sit. The guest of honour is not supposed to help.”
“You didn’t have to go through all this trouble you know, it’s not like i’m leaving again. You know exactly when I’ll be back. “
“I won’t get to see you or even write you for six weeks. I’m being selfish and wanting a last fix.”
“Way to make me sound like a narcotic.”
“Well you are my carb dealer.”
“Fair point.” He watched from the sofa as she clanged and banged her way through the cupboards “Are you sure I can’t-“
“You are not allowed in this kitchen for any reason other then to pass through it to use the loo.” She stated. “ If you really need to busy yourself you can find some music?” He nodded and made his way over to the stereo. He found a 90’s compilation cd and started with the opening upbeat track. As often happened when the two of them were goofing off, an air guitar and tv remote microphone concert eventually broke out. He spun her around and she bumped into the counter causing the CD to skip to the next track. The next, significantly slower track. Still holding hands, a moment flashed in both their minds. The night before Gary left for Hong Kong.
“Miranda, there have been so many times you’ve run off when I wanted to dance with you! You’ve got to stop thinking that people don’t find you attractive.”
Gary brushed his thumb against the top of her hand. He stepped forward to pull her in when Stevie and Clive burst through the door. Miranda threw herself over the stereo as if it were a bomb about to go off and changed the song a second time while Gary whipped around to face the duo as if they hadn’t just completely botched it all.
After six courses of the best food he’d had in weeks, Gary was completely knackered. “Well lads, and Claire.” He said pointing out the lone woman left in the competition. “I think I’m going to call it a night.” He stopped by the camera station, took off his mic pack and waved goodnight to the silent crew as they kept working.
He was halfway back to his room when he saw Claire emerge from the opposite stairwell. “Day catching up with you too?” He walked past his room and met her halfway down the hall.
“Yeah little bit. Also wasn’t really interested in sticking around if you weren’t there.” There it was again. After Tom had brought it up two weeks prior, Gary had noticed Claire’s hints were losing their subtlety.
“Ah Claire, look, I think you are great but I’m not.” He tried to find the words “I don’t think we.”
“Got it. say no more.” She said blushing with embarrassment. She opened her arms. “Friends?”
“Of course!” Gary beamed at her and gave her a long hug. “Now,” He said pulling back. “ Off to bed, can’t have you going easy on me eh?” She giggled and nodded.
“Night Gary,” She said quietly.
“Night.” He walked back to his room and began to get ready for bed. His eyes fell on the paper he had been given earlier.
The name and phone number of the one person he wanted cheering for him in the finale, if he made it. He grabbed a pen and wrote quickly.
Name: Miranda Hart
Relation: Best Friend
Phone Number: 01483 5555877
Chapter 4: The Brink of Success
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.
Chapter 5: Ramping Up
Miranda’s brain short circuited the second they connected. All she could focus on was the fact that Gary’s mouth was on hers. His soft, warm lips that were a million times better than she ever imagined. He pulled back just far enough to look at her. “Good?” He asked.
“Amazing.” She answered in a cracking voice. As usual any attempt at playing it cool went out the window the minute he spoke. “More please and thanks.” His eyes twinkled as he chuckled low in his throat before leaning in again for a deeper, hungrier kiss. He rolled onto his side and let one hand slide down her back to keep her close. He didn’t need to worry too much however as it would be very hard for her to leave with her hands cradling his head and fingers running along his scalp.
A drunken laugh and a door slam in the hallway jolted them back to the reality that oxygen was necessary. Gary sat up quickly and turned to the door in case any misguided revellers attempted to enter.
“Well if I didn’t already feel like I was back in 6th form that definitely completed the picture.” Miranda said from her recumbent position.
“I think you would have had to be able to speak to boys in 6th form for that to happen.” Gary teased.
“I spoke to you.” She made a half hearted attempt to tidy her tousled hair. “Not my fault you were too busy nipping at Bella’s heels to notice. Actually it’s probably a good thing you didn’t notice I was a tad bit pathetic back then.”
“Hey, that’s my girl you’re talking about.” He said snaking an arm around her waist and pressing a small kiss to her lips. “And I won’t stand for it.”
“Your girl?” He nodded. “So what does that mean?” She searched his face as uncertainty began to tingle in her mind.
“It means,” He trailed off, watching disappointment creep into her eyes as the seconds passed. He screamed at his brain to come up with something, anything to say that would make things better. Grabbing her hands he took a deep breath “Look, I’ve said before that If it came, I never wanted to miss our chance. But there is so much happening right now that I think we need to take it slow yeah?”
“You did just become the Next Best Chef.” She conceded. “Though I kind of feel like they need to think about that branding. Sounds a bit like you came in second, like there’s a better chef they just couldn’t get. Maybe it’s the one you replaced.” As with most moments a cloud of awkward defended the longer she kept talking.
“Are you ok? With all of this?” He asked.
“Kind of late to ask isn’t it? Isn’t like you can un-win.” He shrugged. “Anyways I agree, I think. I mean we want to make sure that we don’t break the good bits.”
“So, you want things like now but with the kissing?”
“Seems like a good place to start.” He agreed. “Then we just see where it goes?”
“Alright.” Miranda had waited this long, what was a few more months, especially when those few months still included those delicious, amazing, lips that curled her toes and made her head swim.
“Good.” They sat quietly for a few moments before the realization dawned that they were still in a hotel room, alone, with no one to bother them for several hours.
“Back to it then?”
“Thought you’d never ask!” Miranda exclaimed relieved. They crashed into each other with a newfound confidence of knowing exactly where they stood, at least for one night.
As episodes of the show began to air the crowds at Gary’s slowly picked up.
“It’s getting worse every night!” Stevie commented as they pushed their way through the packed dining area towards the bar. “One of these weeks we’re not going to get in.”
“Never to worry, I have some pull with the management” Miranda said while trying her hardest to think thin thoughts to squeeze past the throng.
“Exactly how much pull?” Stevie asked.
“More than before.” They managed to get the last two stools and surveyed the organized chaos. “There is a lot going on.” She said repeating the line they stood by whenever anyone asked them about the burgeoning relationship.
Her first glimpse of Gary for the evening came when he popped out from the kitchen with a fresh case of beverage bottles for the bar. She was completely convinced he hadn’t seen her through the rush until she felt a pair of growingly familiar arms sneak around her waist.
“Hello you.” He kissed her cheek and moved around to give Stevie a quick hello.
“Busy tonight eh?” Miranda said grabbing a couple crisps from the bowl on the bar
“Yeah I know, might actually be able to pay myself on time this month” Gary said proudly.
“Well just don’t go getting a big head and forget us little people” Stevie teased.
“She does truly mean ‘little’ in her case.” Miranda added.
“I do not have to sit here and take that!” Stevie scoffed. “Maybe I’ll leave you to wait out the dinner rush on your own shall I?” She tipped her head in the direction where Gary had wordlessly run off to.
“Oh come on, stay a little bit. We can play ‘guess the starter’ and judge the people who choose incorrectly because obviously we know better.” The argument was convincing enough to entice her companion to stay until Gary was able to take his break.
“I swear one of these days I will take you on a date where I’m not working.” He smiled placing two plates in front of them
“It’s fine. Don’t forget I own my own business too.”
“ Yeah but it’s not really the same is it?” Miranda looked at him suspiciously, trying to catch his argument. “ I mean I’m doing all the planning, the books, running the kitchen. You have Stevie doing all the hard stuff.”
“I do not! I’m the owner, Stevie is my employee. That would be like saying that because you have Clive running the bar you aren’t a real chef.”
“Excuse me?” They looked over to see a trio of twenty-something girls standing at their table. “You’re Gary from Twelve Best Chefs aren’t you?” He nodded and was promptly pulled off the bar stool while they gushed compliments at him.
“You look even better in person!”
“I’m really hoping you win.”
“Did you really revive that pastry with only 10 seconds to spare?”
Miranda sipped her wine and watched. I mean she had figured this might happen at some point but actually watching it in action was more annoying than she anticipated. One of the three turned back to her.
“Oh! nope, nope I’m not anyone famous though I’m flattered-“ Miranda interrupted. The fan looked confused.
“I was going to ask if you were able to take our picture.” Miranda flushed with embarrassment and grabbed the offered cell phone. The girls scrunched in as Gary threw his arms around them. She took the photo, maybe purposefully a little crooked but no one could prove it. The fan took the phone and stood in front of Miranda closing the circle and separating her from the conversation entirely.
Gary couldn’t be sure exactly how long he entertained the girls questions, all he knew is when he looked up, Miranda was gone.
Chapter 6: Alone Time
Gary and Miranda try to get some quality time together.
Oh my! I am so sorry for how long I've been gone. I hope the length here and content will make up for it. I'm hoping to finish all my unfinished projects by the end of 2020 so here's to not taking another season to update. Let me know what you think!
It took awhile for Miranda to get to sleep that night. Her phone kept pinging for texts from Gary which she ignored by making a fruit friend and veggie pals tableau. Melon-anda and Guava-Gary were rudely interrupted by some Carrot and Celery spears. The whole lot was then very therapeutically chopped to bits.
The next morning she was in the shop trying to keep herself busy when the door chimed. Gary looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep either. He had a take out coffee and a bag in his hand
“Hi” He said. “You missed breakfast so I thought I would bring you some.”
“Oh did I?” Miranda tried to sound nonchalant but her stomach chose that moment to growl audibly. “Guess I did. Hard to find time for such things when I’m running a business, which is thing I do.” Gary cringed as she stayed behind the counter.
“Miranda, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, or stayed talking to those girls for so long.” He put her breakfast down and moved to the side to be near her. “I’m not the best with words.”
“And I am? I still managed to get through dinner without accidentally insulting someone.” He challenger her silently. “Yesterday.”
“What about Stevie?”
“Oh that was entirely on purpose. Such fun!” She giggled. He rolled his eyes and smiled nervously. Miranda decided enough was enough.
“Apology accepted. I guess we’ll have to get used to it. TV and all that.” She added. “The fans, not the insulting my shop.”
“Won’t happen again.” He eyed the bag. “Are you going to open your breakfast?” Miranda smiled and grabbed the bag. She pulled out a blueberry muffin with M + G spelled out on top in icing. Any remaining hurt feelings immediately melted away
“The way to my heart is through my stomach.” She joked before taking a bite and sighing. He finally relaxed and smiled.
“Let me make it up to you. Why don’t I take you out properly tomorrow night eh?” Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “Not to the restaurant, not out with the gang, Just you and me.”
“Sounds great!” She said mouth still full. She swallowed quickly. “Are you sure you’ve got time?” She asked nervously. Gary noticed a crumb on the corner of her mouth and stepped closer. He gently brushed it away with his thumb.
“I’ll make time.” He leaned in and kissed her.
“Miranda when you have unattached yourself from that boy I need your assistance.” Penny barged into the shop startling the couple so badly that Gary fell into a stock box behind them. Miranda helped him up.
“Tomorrow night, the two of us yeah?” She reminded him. He nodded and gave her a quick peck before heading out. They both loved their little squad of friends and family but sometimes it was a bit much.
Miranda put on her favourite flowered dress and met him out in front of the shop promptly the next evening. As she watched him approach she was hit with that confusing feeling. Being with Gary was so right but she didn’t understand why he felt the same way. He was perfect and she was decisively not. His face lit up as soon as they made eye contact and she shoved down all the insecurities. “You look great.” He said giving her a big hug and a small kiss.
“You too. I mean, you always look good but tonight you look good and… fresh.” She cringed a bit at the word. It was a good word but it felt like she messed up. He smiled and reached out his hand.
“Come on, lets go”
They walked for a little bit before finding a small cafe they hadn’t visited before. They were happily chatting and about to order when not one but two familiar voices called out behind them.
“Hello!” Miranda and Gary spun in unison to find Chris and Allison standing directly behind them.
“Hello” They replied less enthusiastically.
“Are you two having a date night too?” Allison asked.
“Very important to keep the bonds strong!” Chris added. He patted Allison’s stomach. “Especially with another one on the way.”
“Oh congrats!” Gary said. “Um, yeah we were just-“
“You must join us! We’ll make it a double date. Won’t that be fun?”
“No!” Miranda said scared. “No, I mean we can’t. We have tickets.”
“Tickets?” Chris and Alison asked in unison.
“Right! Tickets, to the thing.” Gary said trying to back her up. “The thing down the road.” He pointed in a vague direction.
“The only thing down the road is the police station.” Chris said confused.
“They are parking tickets.” Miranda fibbed. “And there is a special that if you turn up on the third Thursday at 7:30pm they forgive them automatically.”
“And oh gosh will you look at that.” Gary said looking at the clock on the wall. “We’ll be late if we don’t leave right now. Gotta run!” He grabbed Miranda’s hand and they rushed out before they could be asked anything else. Once they had cleared the shop they relaxed a bit and sighed.
“That was close.” Gary said.
“Our mistake was staying still. We have to keep moving if we don’t want them to find us.” Miranda looked up and down the road as if more people would pop out at any moment.
“Right, yes. Um, Walk in the park then?” She nodded and they moved hand in hand towards plan B.
Things started out fine. They walked the paths and talked and simply enjoyed each others company. A breeze made Miranda shiver at one point and Gary put an arm around her shoulder with an excuse that it would keep her warm. He knew he wasn’t fooling anyone but if he was being given a shot to be closer to her he was taking it. In fact, he decided now was a perfect time for a little public closeness. Gary stopped walking and turned her towards him. She looked confused at first but once she caught him biting his bottom lip for a second to wet it she knew exactly what was on his mind. She blushed a little before shuffling closer and leaning in.
Before they could get more than the briefest contact a cacophony of feet hitting pavement and assertive coaching voices pulls them back to reality. They were suddenly surrounded by a running club. They wrapped themselves around each other to try to become as small as two 6 foot people could be in an attempt to avoid being run over.
“Not exactly the rush I was looking for there.” Miranda sighed. Gary smiled sympathetically. Surrey was starting to seem like the most crowded city on the planet.
They left the park and started looking for somewhere else to get a bite to eat. Off in the distance they spotted Stevie and Tilly walking towards them. “Nope, not again.” Miranda said determined. She was not having her date interrupted a third time. She pulled Gary into the next business they passed, an art galley.
They stood in the entryway and watched as their friends passed. “Should be safe now.” Gary said. Miranda nodded.
“Oh Hello! Welcome!” The couple turned and saw a very enthusiastic artist approaching them with champagne. “you are here for the opening?”
“Well actually we were just-“ She thrust the glasses into their hands.
“I was seriously starting to think no one was going to come. Could you imagine? My first solo show and not a soul to see it?” Miranda and Gary looked at each other with resignation. They couldn’t break the poor woman’s heart. “Would you like me to take you around?”
“Sure.” Gary shrugged and linked his non-drinking arm with Miranda’s. After all, how long could a walk around really take? He wondered.
Two hours later they were back at Miranda’s flat. The artist had given them a very detailed talk about all of her pieces and plied them with all the champagne and nibbles they could handle.
“I think that went quite well.” Miranda said. “We didn’t even have to pay for dinner!” She put her bag down on the table and began puttering in the kitchen for something to drink.
“Yeah her stuff wasn’t half bad. I might offer to let her hang a few at the restaurant for sale.”
“Never did get much time to ourselves though.” She said with a hint of disappointment. Gary walked over and put his arms around her waste stilling her hands.
“What about now?” He murmured as he kissed her neck. “I don’t have anywhere I need to be.” Miranda melted and sighed at his touch.
“Me neither, until tomorrow.” She turned around her heart racing. “Shall we, I mean would you like to, Only if you.” Gary stopped her with a very thorough kiss.
“Come on.” He started pulling her towards her bedroom door before he paused. Miranda looked at him confused. He altered course and suddenly went to the front door instead raising his hand and smiling as he locked it.