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I'm Here to Cook

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You see her the first time on the ferry, but you're meeting a lot of people so you don't really think about it too much, except that her hair glows in the sunlight. But later that evening, after the really shitty quickfire, you've gone back inside to open another bottle of wine and you hear her say, "Chutney!"

You turn, not quite believing that she actually said that. "What?" you ask, feeling your eyebrows knit in a frown.

"The chutney," Jamie says. "On your dish. It was smart."

"Oh," you say, feeling annoyed with yourself. "Thanks." You finish opening the bottle. "Wine?"

"Please," she says, holding out her glass. "You're almost the only one who's actually cooked anything so far, so." She smiles, and you notice that she has very nice eyes.

"Well, that will change tomorrow," you say, and smile back.

You're not here to be on the prowl. You're here to cook.

You're not here to be on the prowl but you have to admit Radhika is pretty cute with her big eyes. You spend a little more time with her than you mean to that first night, but she's an interesting woman to talk to. Nothing wrong with that.

Winning the hot dog quickfire puts a little spring in her step which only makes her cuter. Her elimination dish is definitely weird, though at least it's not silly like that quiche. The corn soup doesn't take up a lot of your mental energy, once you've decided on it, so you have time to watch her as she moves around the kitchen. She looks up once, catches your eye, and smiles.


Of course it's always nice to be chosen, though you did win the last quickfire so there's reason for it. It's fun to cook alongside Melissa, Leah and Jamie, though not as much fun to cook with Stefan, who's really bossy. So you keep your head down and focus on your dish, and you're happy when you hear that it was one of the favorites.

But the best part of the night was the Foo Fighters concert. You and Jamie do a lot of dancing, standing side by side, and it's comfortable and just a little bit flirty. You wonder what she thinks you're thinking.

You wish again that your mother hadn't asked you not to be out on the show. You can't really blame her; when the extended family find out about you she's the one who will have to bear the brunt of it, not you, and your coming out has been difficult enough already. At first you'd thought it would be a way to keep something of yourself for yourself, but seeing Jamie so open, and you know for her it wasn't even a question, makes you second guess your decision.

This sucks. You're angry with yourself, and a little embarrassed, and you just want to be left alone. You're not up for the usual drunken conversation.

You've just finished brushing your teeth in the bathroom when Radhika wanders in. Your eyes meet in the mirror, and you can't decide if she's absolutely the last person you want to see right now, or the only one you want seeing you like this.

Her eyes are tender, not with pity or even sympathy but something warmer, something that gives you a tiny shred of hope. She rubs your shoulder and then leaves without a word.

It doesn't keep you from crying yourself to sleep, but it's something.

Your team is the best one possible, as long as you don't get distracted. Jamie is back on her game—no hint of the sad scared girl from the other night—and being a leader, which is really fine. Ariane is good at cooking proteins and you're good at sauces and marinades, so the division of labor makes a lot of sense, even if you don't really have a component of the dish to call your own.

It surprises everyone that Jamie doesn't get the win, and you wonder why she isn't as assertive at judges' table as she might be, or if you should be clearer that the dish is really her idea. It does feel like you all have a hand in it, but in retrospect maybe that's just Jamie's leadership style.

"I'm really happy for Ariane," Jamie says later that night, drinking wine on the balcony.

"I know," you reply.

"Is it wrong to think that win was mine?" she asks.

You shake your head and rub her on the shoulder again, something that comforted her the other night, only this time it's her far shoulder, so she leans into you. You sit there for a long time, your arm around her and her head laying on your chest, nothing more to really say.

You wonder if she can hear how fast your heart is beating.

The day started out so well. You've pretty much given up on quickfires at this point, and you like your hors d'oeuvre. Prep is long and hot but everyone is feeling good for the next day.

And then the next morning, you see Radhika looking at her duck in despair, and realize you'd do just about anything to keep that look off her face. You're standing next to her, trying to be helpful and positive about what to do next, when she turns on her heel and goes into the back room. You follow, and thank goodness for Ariane, because Radhika is crying and it stops you in your tracks. Ariane brings the mom, which snaps you out of it, and after rubbing Radhika's shoulders you go back to helping her figure out how to salvage her dish, and everyone helps after that.

Your dish doesn't go over as well, unfortunately, which blindsides you, but you're saved by the same event that hurt Radhika, and you're not sure what to think about that.

"I hope helping me didn't distract you," she says later.

"No, not at all," you say, and mean it, because it didn't, because even if it had it was the right thing to do, and because that look on her face was more distracting than chopping up a bunch of mirepoix anyway.

"Well, thanks," she says. "I'm glad you're still here."

"Me too," you say, nodding and looking away, out at the city below, to keep yourself from kissing her.

Jamie starts calling you "Quickfire Queen" which makes you laugh, though you wish she had her win already. You're relieved, watching the other chefs pick knives, that Stefan and Jamie are in two different groups, so you can avoid Stefan and cook with Jamie at the same time.

To be honest, you're a little envious of Stefan, who can be open about his crush on Jamie, even on national television. But then, his crush is just silly; yours is a little inappropriate. Jamie has said how annoying Hosea and Leah can be, and you're glad that you and Jamie aren't them. You're both here to cook.

And it's nice, cooking next to Jamie. You like the way she doesn't talk very much, that she's so laser focussed on her work. She's so little and yellow-haired and it's fun to watch her moving around the kitchen with such confidence.

Toby Young is pretty harsh about your dish, though he's harsher about others. But you have immunity, and you knew that the bisque came out weird, so you aren't surprised or worried about it really. Jamie says she doesn't think any of the dishes in the second group are better than hers, and you agree, and hope she doesn't get another almost-win.

But when she comes back into the room, and she's won, you can't help yourself; a high-five won't do. You hug her from behind, and for just a second she leans against you, nuzzling her cheek against your arm, and you can feel it, this thing between you, and you realize so can she. When you let go you're smiling kind of nervously, and you keep your distance for the rest of the night.

Unfortunately she does, too.

For the day at the farm you end up in two different groups, so you don't see a lot of Radhika, or Ariane for that matter. Even at the house, everyone is busy huddling with their teams, and Stefan is creating so much chaos for you and Carla that you don't have the emotional energy to seek her out.

To be honest, you're also still a little freaked out by that hug. Not the fact of it—there's a lot of hugging and chaste kissing in the stew room—but the way it makes you feel even now. It's been a while since you've felt that current run between you and someone else, and you can still feel running through your veins. You're rattled because before that moment you'd thought of your crush as one-sided and friendly, but now you aren't sure you have her pegged correctly. And if there's one thing you don't need, it's a crush on a closet case, because those always end badly, and you've been trying to get the drama out of your life. Frankly, you're too old for this shit.

That evening, though, you're pretty upset about Ariane, and your win doesn't help that. So you look around, and find her in the corner of the living room couch, sipping wine and staring out the window. "Hey," you say.

She looks up and nods, so you refill your glass from her bottle and sit down next to her. You're sitting a little closer than you really need to be, bodies touching from knee to shoulder, and you can feel her breathing, though it's all you can do not to watch her chest rise and fall. You sit there for a long while, and when you both finally decide to go to bed, you feel a lot better.

Of course you pick Jamie first. It wasn't even about whatever connection you have (unlike Leah and Hosea, who are starting to irritate everyone) but about what a good strong chef she is. But once you get going, you realize that you're not the leader that Jamie is. You figure out the menu okay, taking in people's suggestions, but it's much harder to order around your peers than the junior chefs at your restaurant.

There are two bathrooms in the girls' penthouse, and you've gotten into the habit of walking in on each other's showers in the morning rush, so you're not surprised to hear someone coming in. "Radhika, is that you?" Jamie asks.

"Yeah," you call out.

"I'm alone, no mike yet," she says.

"Okay," you reply, not sure where this is going.

"So, you're not out to your family yet?" she asks.

Oh. You rinse your hair, buying yourself a little time, then take a deep breath. "Extended family," you say. "I'm out to my parents and siblings."

"And at work?" she asks.

"Yeah," you say, "mostly. If it comes up, or people ask."

"Okay," she says.

You poke your head out of the shower. "Does it matter?" you ask.

"Yeah," she says with a little smile. "It matters a lot."

Later that night, remembering that moment is about all that makes you feel better as you're on your way to the eliminated cast house.

You've started leaving Radhika out of any statements you make to the producers. You don't list her as a friend to them; you avoid saying much about her elimination because you don't want to reveal how ambivalent you are about it, or how much you're looking forward to seeing her later. Now, you really are here to cook.

When Leah comes back and reports that the eliminated chefs are out front, your heart comes up in your throat. You're glad it's a dish you could pretty much do in your sleep. But when you go out, your eyes go right to her, sitting in the front, almost right in front of you, and you let yourself give her a little smile. You haven't let yourself think about how much you miss her—it's only been two days and you're not fourteen—but seeing her grinning at you gives you a little kick, and the dish goes by easy. It's gratifying to hear the guest chef talk about how clean you work—that's something you're very proud of—and it's a sweet win.

You're almost reluctant to leave; you want to talk to your friends, even if you don't really trust yourself to say anything to Radhika. But you let yourself give a little wave as you walk back into the kitchen.

Win or lose, the competition is only going for another week. You can hold on for another week.

You can't decide if you hope that it's Jamie coming through that door or not. Selfishly, you do; but for her sake, of course you don't. The eliminated house has you two to a bedroom, and you mostly just don't want to have to share a room with Leah. At least, that's what you're telling yourself.

When she comes in the door she's grinning, and after she tells her story you can see how proud she is of herself—and well she should be. She went out in style, and that's all anyone can really ask for. Well, except winning.

You give her a hug and it's that same spark, and you're not sure what to do about it. Later, over lunch, she says, "So, what's the camera situation here?"

"Just in the living room, when a new person comes in."

"Only one left now," she says.

"Not really," you point out. "They won't stay here, because everyone is going home then."

She nods. "So no more cameras at all?"

"Probably not," you say, shaking your head.

"Well," she says, "guess it's safe to share a room, then." She looks you straight in the eye and smiles.

You raise your eyebrows, then turn and walk to your bedroom, and she follows with her wheelie. Ariane is in the hall and she watches Jamie walk into your room; if she's surprised, she doesn't show it.

Jamie shuts the door behind her, and puts her wheelie in the corner. "So," she says, "three more days."

"Yep," you reply.

"We'd better get started, then," she says, and kisses you.

If hugging was electric, kissing takes your breath away, and you sigh into her mouth and hold her close.

"Damn," she says when you finally stop to catch your breath. "If you kiss other parts of my body like that I'm never going to want to leave this bed."

You laugh; you've never heard anyone say something like that about you before. "I'll make sure of it," you say, and kiss her again.