Specs: Miranda, Miranda/Gary, 3000 words
Spoilers: Through 3x01 "It Was Panning"
The weather has changed from that of the typical London day – cool and foggy – to that of the typical London day – cold and blustery. My leg that is securely sheathed in a tube of very posh fabric belonging to a posh, professional pair of trousers is quite warm, sheltered as it is from the cold, blustery, and probably also cool and foggy wind. The other leg, unfortunately, is not similarly sheathed (that's a good word, sheeeeaaaathed). There had once been an equally posh tube of fabric encircling the leg, but a voracious lift ate it! Well, the lift didn't eat it, exactly, as lifts are inanimate objects and eat nothing. But if a lift weren't inanimate but instead some kind of creature one finds in a horror film, then that lift definitely ate the leg off my trousers.
It was odd, how no one at the office said anything about my bare leg all day, until I finally quit and left in a grand display of élan and joie de vivre and other suitable French words. At first I assumed the ridiculous children born in the 90s (the 90s!) were simply being polite. They didn't wish to cause me any embarrassment by drawing attention to the fact that clearly half of my trousers had been torn off at some point in a sort of freak accident.
Then I became convinced that they didn't think there had been a freak accident at all. When one of the tiny adorable babies glanced over at me, she clearly also glanced at my bare leg. (Which, let us all admit, is quite shapely. I myself have glanced at it several times today already!) But there was no moment where I saw sympathy on the girl's face, no moment where the thought oh that poor dear woman, having her trousers shredded most calamitously today passed through her little embryonic brain. No, the girl clearly thought that I had simply worn a pair of trousers with only one full leg. She thought I had done it on purpose. Perhaps she thought that was simply the fashion, for those of us old dinosaurs born while the world was still cooling from the Big Bang; or perhaps she believed that I thought it was the fashion for young infants born scarcely five years ago who are now successful businesswomen, that I was trying to look young and hip and in and with it and whatever else the kids say these days. In either case, she still said nothing, and neither did anyone else.
No one said anything on my journey home, either. Walking down the street, one leg completely exposed to the harsh elements – I glanced down at my shapely leg and saw the skin was quite bone-white in the cold, how ghastly – and yet no one said a word! Though I think that the stranger you look in public, the less likely anyone is to comment. A form of self-preservation.
Because no one has said anything, by the time I'm on the final leg (haha, that's a good one, Miranda; your wit is as razor sharp as ever!) I myself have quite forgotten about the lack of posh fabric encircling leg tube. My walk is now jaunty and self-assured, and I'm finding myself rather excited about my future possibilities. I will be successful! I will make a grand life for myself! I will not succumb to the melancholy despair of a life working as a temp!
“I am beautiful, no matter what they say!” I sing as I stride into Gary's café. Hands on hips, bare leg out á la Jolie, hair tossed, bosom out and shoulders back. I am woman incarnate!
A light smattering of applause, and everyone goes back to their coffees and cakes.
“Miranda!” It is Gary, looking at me with such concern and compassion and solicitude and worry and all sorts of wonderful chivalrous emotions. Then he disappears, vanishing down behind the counter. I remember my leg. While I scarcely thought about it all day – honestly, with as many scrapes as I get into, if I worried about them all I'd never be able to leave the flat – now that I am faced with Gary, a mischievous worm of embarrassment starts wriggling through my belly. I look quick to the coat rack – empty. I look quick to the nearest table – tablecloth, yes, but covered with plates and cups and a vase and candle and the meals of several people, really, who are eating at said table. Shall I rip the tablecloth away anyway? I think about it quite seriously, but then Gary is hurrying towards me, and I panic, and sort of....hunker down and splay my hands across my bare thigh.
“What happened? Are you all right?” he asks, and I have no idea why he would ask that. My brain feels as though it has been cooked into soup. It's simply not working anymore. Gary has something in his hands and he flips it out so that it unfurls; it is an apron, a big white apron, and he wraps it around my waist. In doing so, he puts his arms around my waist. And then he just stands there, arms around my waist, hands at the small of my back; his face is very close to mine, so close I could count his eyelashes if I wanted to. And before you say, why would you want to count anyone's eyelashes?, listen. It's Gary. If you met Gary, if you stood right before him with his arms about your waist and his warm hands pressed securely against your back, holding you against him, and if Gary were looking at you with that freshly-baked chocolate biscuit look, a look that if it were a biscuit would be gooey and melty and absolute perfection, if you were me right now? Then trust me. You would want to count Gary's eyelashes.
“Miranda,” he says, voice soft. One of his hands rubs against my back a little, just his fingers sliding up and down, through apron and jacket and shirt, but it may as well be against my bare skin. Oh no. Oh dear. I do believe we are on the brink.
“The brink” keeps happening more and more often. It seems to happen more now that we've resolved to just be friends and nothing else; I imagine “the brink” to be a Puckish sort of creature, an imp, dancing and prancing about, pointing pointy fingers and laughing. Why are we always finding ourselves like this? Close, the rest of the world just melting away, until I am certain we are the only two people in existence.
I remember that Gary has asked me a question, and that he is looking at me in such a way that he must think I've been attacked or assaulted in some way. I smile, I shake my head, I scoff. I slide my hands back to take the apron strings, and tie the apron securely about my waist. “Yes, yes, quite all right,” I assure him. “It was just a rogue lift. One runs into these things in the wild, you see.”
“Ah,” he breathes, an elemental puff of Gary-voice. “Rogue lift. Sounds dangerous.”
“Indeed. Quite put me off my big game hunt.”
“And what were you stalking?” One of Gary's hands still rests at the small of my back. The other he brings up and slides down my arm. His face is a smile, just one big smile. Mouth? Smile. Eyes? Smiles. Nose? Smile. Scruffy little beardish-stubble? Nay, scruffy little beardish-smiles.
“Professional women, born in 1991.”
Gary's many smiles fade and dim, until they all turn into frowns. “Wait, what? 1991?” Gary asks.
“Professional women?” Gary clarifies.
“Who were working? At an office?” Gary questions.
“Who were born in 1991?!” Gary exclaims.
I pat his stubbly cheek. “We're getting old, dear,” I say, rolling my eyes, meaning the endearment just as the punchline, pretending to be the Gran to his Granddad. But I think Gary hears more than that, because he puts a hand over my hand, then turns his face and kisses my palm. I feel warm, as though the sun were shining directly down on me this very moment; I feel happy, if “happy” were a strong enough word to express complete and total satisfaction with every aspect of one's life; I feel blessed, in a way, as cheeky as that sounds.
And oddly enough, there's no sense that we're on “the brink.” There's nothing helter-skelter and wriggly-piggly about the moment at all. I'm not wanting Gary to kiss me proper whilst simultaneously wanting to run away from Gary as quickly as possible. It's a moment that makes me think that there is a grand plan. A Grand Plan, if you will. Maybe the Plan is run by God, singular, maybe by gods, plural, maybe by the great elephants who carry the Earth upon their backs through the cosmos; who knows. But there's a Plan, everything set out in advance, everything designed for a purpose. And we humans keep tossing a wrench in the works, which is why it doesn't seem like there's a Plan. But today, at this moment, this precise instant, the Plan is on track. The rogue lift? Part of the Plan. The humorless children pretending to be professional women? Part of the Plan. Even Sue Perb? Part of the Plan. And now, in some felicitous culmination of seemingly random events, as the result of a million cogs, wheels and gears lining up perfectly, standing here with Gary, his apron around my waist, his kiss still tingling on my palm, I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Where are the trumpets? Where are the singing angels? Where is the shining celestial light? Because there should definitely be all of those things right now.
“Go on, go home and get changed,” Gary says. “I'll make you up a hot toddy.” Ah, there's the singing of angels, right there.
I hurry up to the flat, shuck out of my half-trousers, and out of the professional jacket and shirt and supportive hose-sock-things and sensible flats whilst I'm at it. Then into lovely comfortable clothes. I brush out my hair and swish about some mouthwash. I sing a song about hot toddies that I have just written, right off the top of my head, entitled “Hot Toddy (Hot Hot Hot).” I bound back down the stairs, sashay through the maze of maracas boxes, and find myself back with Gary, who as promised, delivers a warm, fragrant drink into my awaiting hands.
We're sitting in the cozy little alcove, on the cushy sofa, and if we're sitting a little bit closer to each other than we would have been a year ago, well. We're just good friends, yeah? Very good friends. Good friends sit right snug against each other even when there's plenty of room, because friends...just...want to make sure each other's thighs are warm. Perfectly sensible. Everyone does it.
“So there I am, in this meeting, and the horrid man makes me stand up! I'm supposed to say my name and my 'top strength.' It's not that I forgot my name, per se.” Gary laughs, stealing a sip from my hot toddy. “But I don't say my name mostly because I absolutely cannot think of a strength.”
“Oh, Miranda,” he says, chiding me. “You've got loads of strengths.”
“But I couldn't think of anything! So I just said 'height,' which is probaby the truth. And then--”
But before I can move on to Sue Perb and my grand exit, Gary's face goes all serious. It is a veritable Mr Thornton face. (Mmm, Mr Thornton.) “Well, that's rubbish!” he throws out, interrupting. I've no idea what he's on about. “Gary, I've no idea what you're on about,” I say.
“Your height is not your top strength.” My, he sounds quite indignant. It's a good sound. Maybe later I'll tell him that I like to eat cheese cold so he can go all gruff and stern again. I stand and go behind the counter, to the bottles all lined up high on a shelf. Without even needing to stretch, I snatch one up and peer at the label. “Ah yes, 1976, very good year, yes yes.” I put the bottle on top of another bottle; that's just showing off, that. I saunter back to the couch, quite smug because actually, height can be a very top strength indeed. “I've watched you shuffle up on your tippy-toes to get a bottle down, you know,” I tell him, sitting back down beside him.
Most men don't like that I'm tall, especially if I'm taller than they are – which is often. Gary has never seemed to mind. In fact, I dare say I think he likes it. Normally, when I make some sort of demonstration of the raw and awesome power my height affords me, Gary just laughs. But he doesn't laugh now. He still glowers his Mr Thornton glower. “It's not your top strength; not even close.”
I slide down with a groan, till my back's flat on the cushion, and I can peer up at the bottom of Gary's chin. We're headed for one of my Mother's pep talks, it seems. Soon I'll hear about how if I just shaped up and made intelligent choices and pulled myself up by my bootstraps and killed some Nazis I could actually make something with my life. “Let's see,” I say, “what else could there be? Making things out of fruit – oh yes, grand life skill that is. Making a fool of myself on a daily basis, I've quite perfected that art. Making stupid decisions and losing the shop, what a strength!”
I don't often succumb to self-pity. In fact, I view it as a distinct weakness. And especially for someone like me, if I sat around feeling sorry for myself I'd never do anything else. But having Gary of all people chide me is a bit more than I can handle right at this moment; I've treated the loss of the shop as a joke (har har), as nothing more than a minor bump, but the truth is, I'm quite lost at the moment. It's all well and good to march triumphantly down the street with an imaginary movie soundtrack of feel-good power ballads playing in one's mind, but how long can that last? What am I really going to do now?
Gary gently brushes hair out of my eyes. “When I'm feeling low, when it's been a long day, when I've burnt the food and the customers have been rude and demanding, all I need to cheer up is see you walk through that door. You make me laugh so hard sometimes I can't even remember how to breathe. I know that if I ever needed anything, you'd be there for me, without me even needing to ask. Loads of strengths, like I said.”
I don't know what to say. He's going to make me go all weepy, the bastard. I whisper very very quietly, so quietly I'm not sure he can even hear it: “I'm also a first-rate tickler.”
There's no defense he can mount. (Mount...Gary mounting, oh dear.) I roll toward him, extend claw-like hands, and bury them in his side. First-rate tickling indeed. Gary lets out a most undignified yelp and tries to tickle back, but this is a case when I most definitely have the high ground. “I'll get you for this!” he threatens, batting my hands away in a rather girlish manner. Then he plants a quick yet still sloppy kiss upon my forehead, before he jumps up and heads back to work.
I remain sprawled on the sofa, hiding a smile in the cushions, for quite some time.
“Up with you,” Gary commands from the counter. “Have a slice of cake.”
“Cake!” I exclaim, and I hop up, then fall, then hop up, then trip, and then finally join him at the counter. “Oh, cake cake cake.” I take the slice but set the plate down on the counter. I look at Gary. Gary pauses in the middle of cutting another slice and looks at me. We look at each other. I find that I often do my best thinking when I'm just looking at Gary.
“I don't want to work in an office,” I say. “Or anywhere else, really. I want to work in a joke shop. My joke shop. Because if you're right, and all those things are my strengths, then where else do I belong?” It's a rhetorical question, but sometimes it's good to ask rhetorical questions out loud. To actually hear them. Because it makes the answer even more obvious. “Gary, I am not selling my shop.”
“You're taking the shop off the market? Brilliant! Oh, we should celebrate. As friends, obviously.”
“Movie and take-away?”
And together: “Avoid the brink.”
“Tonight, yeah?” I say, picking up my cake. “Definitely,” Gary says. And as I walk over to a table, even as I hear Stevie's chipper little voice come at me like one of those Japanese throwing stars, I'm lovely and warm inside. Which is the best kind of inside to have, especially as one is about to eat cake.
Avoid the brink. Well, we'll see.