Specs: Miranda, Miranda/Gary, 3400 words
Etc: Continues where On the Hunt left off.
We don’t really know each other that well. I should catch you up. Not that there’s much catching to be done – name’s Miranda. I like to think of myself as “statuesque” or “Amazonian” as opposed to the less-flattering “gargantuan” or “simply immense.” (These are all words for “very tall, but not in a lithe, supermodel kind of way.”) I have a mum and a dad – my dad’s a good sort, though a bit odd. The less said about my mum the better. (Don’t worry – she has an annoying way of popping up when you least expect her, so you will undoubtedly meet her.)
Then there’s my best friend, Stevie. We’ve been best friends for so long that there’s not really any reason that we’re best friends aside from the fact that we’re best friends. We get on, of course, but we’re opposites in a lot of ways. She’s uptight whereas I am a free spirit. She worries whereas I accept whatever the world throws at me. She’s also very small.
Previously in my life, Stevie became annoyingly obsessed with a song. I actually prefer not to speak its name, because then she will sing the chorus over and over. I refuse to encourage her. When she arrived at my flat this evening, only minutes away from asking me to join her at a club – not knowing what a life-changing offer she was about to extend! – she inquired as to what accomplishments I had achieved that day that filled me with a sense of pride.
“I joined the gym!” And it was true, I had joined the gym. I neglected to tell Stevie that, upon securing my membership, I walked about for a bit, towel slung beguilingly over my shoulder, then left before I got too sweaty.
“Oh! What’s your favorite piece of equipment, then?”
Hmm. While walking around the gym I hadn’t actually looked at any of the, you know, gym thingies. “That one machine. Yeah. A proper workout, that was.”
“Which machine was that?”
“The…sporting machine. Yes. How nice to be able to safely practice your…archery. Indoors. Quite nice.”
“The archery machine.” I don’t like the way one of Stevie’s tiny blonde eyebrows is raised.
“Oh, yes.” Then I demonstrate a few archery moves – imaginary bow held out in front of me, pulling back the string, scouting about for enemies. I’m getting into it! Who needs a real bow and arrow when you can just pretend? I’m starting to feel a bit like a Pict princess. I let another arrow fly free when Stevie smacks me – probably aiming for my head, only able to reach my shoulder.
“Oi! Quit having it on and go change your clothes. You’re coming out with me tonight. You definitely need some company that isn’t your own. You haven't spoken to a man in weeks! Gay men don't count.”
“Stevie, that's awful. I speak to plenty of men who aren't gay, anyway,” I say. “Besides, I’m intensely social.” I sidle over to block the rows of fruit I’ve made up to look like the characters of Harry Potter.
“Social, mental, so close,” Stevie says. "Name one straight man you've spoken to in the last week." I can't think of a name, because I haven't spoken to a straight man in the last week. Or have I?
"Tad. He signed me up for my gym membership."
"And he was straight?" I flash back - Tad, stretching with one long, mostly bared leg up on the counter. Bright purple lycra. That very particular not-even-remotely-heterosexual smile.
"Oh. No," I say. Think of a name! Any name; Stevie won't know the difference. "Um, Mort...em...ly." Damn. Was thinking of Mortimer, shifted at the last second to Dudley, accidentally smooshed them both together. Damn, damn, damn.
"Yes. Mortemly Pellington-Downes. Brilliant chap. Met him at the park, just walking his dog - stunning toy poodle and Tibetan wolfhound mix. Did you know that dear old Pellington-Downes is the youngest MP Britain has ever seen? I know he's not gay because he complimented me on the particular shade of my eyes. That Mortemly, such a flirt."
Stevie stares at me for a long second, then points. "Bedroom. Now." And before I know it I’m being prodded in the direction of the bedroom, and my lovely comfy clothes are being replaced by actual grown-up going-out clothes, and Stevie’s waving her hands over my head and moaning “oh Miranda your hair whatever will we do with it?” and we’re spritzing perfume into the air and sashaying through it, and despite myself I’m getting rather excited about going out. I actually do quite like going out, but often find myself too lazy and bored to get around to doing something that would make me not lazy and bored. A pickle, really.
A few hours later, and I’m no longer at the club with Stevie but instead running about the streets of London with Gary. Delightful Gary. Decadent, delicious Gary. Upon leaving the club we took off in search of a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in hardcover. My fruit play was prescient!
“We’ll never find a bookshop open this late,” I fret. Gary isn’t fretting. He is cool and calm and confident. Handsome. Intensely sexual. No, Miranda! You must find the book – don’t allow yourself to be distracted! A scavenger hunt promising unknown but likely extravagant and wonderful treasures is on the line!
“Then we’ll open one up ourselves,” Gary says, flashing me a cheeky grin.
“You mean break in? Wouldn’t that be illegal?” I have visions of being carted off, in cuffs. Gary would also be in cuffs. Perhaps we would be cuffed together…
“We’ll leave the money for the book next to the till.” Gary’s leading us down a narrow alley, to what I assume is a bookshop. I savor the mental image of Gary nestled down in a snuggly chair, glasses perched on the end of his nose, a mug of something hot wafting curls of steam around his face, reading a book. I’m savoring the image so much I don’t hear him the first time.
“I’m sorry, what?” I ask, afraid he’ll think I wasn’t paying attention to him, even though technically I wasn’t, at least not to what he was actually saying at that particular moment, although I was really paying so much attention to him that I had literally nothing else happening in my brain. Frontal lobe, cerebral cortex, brain stem? How about Gary lobe, Gary cortex, Gary stem.
“I said,” Gary says, “it’s too bad you don’t already have a copy of Harry Potter. We could just run to your flat and pick it up.”
“Of course I have a copy of Harry Potter!” Fireworks explode behind my eyes. I see a vision of myself, the edges all frothy and soft – I’m walking down the aisle in an enormous white confection of a dress, and Gary is waiting for me. We’ve written our own vows. “I fell in love with her,” he says, “because she already had a copy of Harry Potter.”
It takes us about fifteen minutes to get back to my flat. My hands are sweaty and shaky. I drop the keys then pick them up. Then I drop the keys and pick them up again. Then I drop the keys.
“Let me do that,” Gary says, and he’s leaning down right beside me, resting a hand on my back to steady himself. Just as when he took my hand in the club, suddenly all the butterflies and glimmering rainbows and soaring hawks and flailing giant squid all jostling about in my tummy quiet down – peace. Ease. Familiarity. Gary’s hand gently resting on my back as he leans down to snag my keys feels like the most natural thing in the world. We’re still standing outside my flat but I already feel like I’m at home. (Oh, Lord, how horribly precious.)
Now we’re inside, and I’m doing the panicked-unexpected-guest-in-flat sweep. Have I left any knickers lying about? Old take-out containers? Fruit friends? But no, the flat is clean. Almost…too clean. I brush the thought away and lead Gary over to my bookcase (which is perhaps too fancy a name for a shelf that holds books in addition to CDs, old cassettes, a tin of biscuits, a hat box filled with anything I think I might use some day in glorious arts and crafts, like ribbons and pretty buttons, none of said materials ever having been used in anything other than fruit friends, a tiny replica of a Greek statue I bought because you can see its willie (naughty!), tangled necklaces with knotted chains, and so on). And the first three Harry Potter books. The fourth book is coming out next week; very exciting. Once again I will be able to pretend that I went to a magical boarding school, and not an ordinary boarding school. My wizarding name is Violetta Whitson-Jennings, by the way. I’m simply brilliant at hexes.
“Here they are!” I wave my hands over them with a flourish. Gary reaches out for Philosopher’s Stone, and it seems the book is there, but suddenly there’s nothing in his grasp. There was the dust jacket between his fingers (mmm, between Gary’s fingers), and I can see the title of the book, but there doesn’t seem to be any actual book.
“Miranda,” Gary says, “there doesn’t seem to be any actual book.”
I check the other two books – same situation. The dust jacket, sitting neatly in its place, but the book itself is missing. And then I see it. A tiny, perfect little scrap of paper. A doodle of a tiny, perfect little flower on top. A lengthy note in tiny, perfect little script. A set of initials inside a tiny, perfect little heart.
“Miranda, I borrowed your Henry Porter books for Alan Hynes’ son, you remember Alan, wonderful young man, would have been a perfect catch for you. I left the covers to provide the illusion that you still own books, though of course they are only children’s books. I also tidied up a bit. A horrible, what I call, mess. You shouldn’t leave fruit laying about, dear.”
I stare at Gary, knowing the horror I see in his eyes is reflected in my own. How much time have we lost? How far behind have we fallen? If I’ve ended up losing this hunt for him, he’ll hate me forever! He’ll curse the day he ever beheld my form – my lovely, Rubenesque form!
“So you…don’t actually have the book?” he asks, his voice wan and forlorn. I want to wrap him up in blankets and pour cocoa down his throat and rub his poor widdle footums. Of course, I wanted to do that before he sounded like such a sad pathetic little puppy of a man.
“I do. It’s just…not here.” Gary looks down at his list, and I find myself battling a feeling that I unfortunately feel all too often – the feeling of mucking everything up. That’s the worst of it, too – I think I’m doing brilliant, and instead I’m doing the exact opposite. “What else is on your list?” I ask him. “We can try to come up with a strategy before we go back out.”
“We should just chuck it. Too late to win now. Ah well, first prize was just a gift certificate to Top Shop. The girl who organized the hunt is an old school mate of mine. She works at Top Shop. I guess she didn't think about what might happen if a bloke should win.”
“Gary, listen to me,” I say to him, pointing to my eyes, then his, then mine, then his, then mine. “We are going to win that Top Shop certificate. We are going to win it hard. And then you are going to buy a sparkly pink waistcoat and you will look fabulous in it.” The truth is, he probably would look fabulous in a sparkly pink waistcoat.
“What is on the list?”
He reads it off. “A mannequin body part, an origami crane, a piece of Australian currency, something stamped as made in Russia, water from the Thames, red braces, a pair of left-handed scissors, and – I’m not sure how this works – Westminster Abbey.”
I think. Sometimes when I think I close my eyes and my mouth falls open a bit, and once in a restaurant I had a man throw a glass of water in my face because he thought I was having a stroke. I concentrate hard on not looking as though I might be having a stroke whilst also thinking about the list. “Five minutes, Gary,” I tell him. My eyes, his eyes, my eyes. “Five minutes.”
Five minutes later, I set my laundry basket down on the kitchen counter and pull everything out, setting it in a neat row. Gary’s eyes grow wider and wider until finally I’m afraid they’re going to pop right out. “Mannequin hand I use to keep my rings on; origami crane folded from an Indian restaurant menu; an Australian coin I found on the pavement once but when I bent over to snag it I tripped over what must have been something quite large and obstructive I didn’t actually see it you understand and when I fell my head was over a grate and what did I see but a whole pound! Brilliant, eh? So that’s the Australian coin. This is a pair of lederhosen but they were, in fact, made in Russia – funny story, that—”
“Miranda, the hunt. Top Shop. Sparkly pink waistcoat.”
“Right. Left-handed scissors.”
“I didn’t notice that you were left-handed.”
“I’m not. Coincidentally, my dad’s birthday is next week, and I had already bought him a pair of red braces. And, for the pièce de résistance, observe.” I set the final object in front of him. Gary picks it up, rotates it all around and back and forth. Then he looks at me with such joy on his face – simple, easy joy – that I feel my stomach slowly roll over in the most delightful, electric way.
“It’s Westminster Abbey. In a snowglobe. You have a snowglove with Westminster Abbey inside!”
“Look at the sticker on the bottom.”
Gary does, then the look he turns my way isn’t joyous or pleased or happy – it is the look of a man who has just seen the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast. “The water inside the snowglobe comes from the Thames. I could kiss you right now.”
(Oh. Oh, please do.)
Ninety seconds later, we’re running down the street, the satchel containing our treasure thumping up and down on Gary’s back. (Thumping. Up and down. Gary. My, my.) Before I know it, we’re in front of a bookshop. A cozy little place, tucked in next to what looks like a joke shop of some sort – I sort of want to peek in the window, but there’s no time. A quick glance around reveals no street cameras, and the street isn’t very well-lit. No bystanders that either of us can see.
“How are we going to get in, Gary?” A brief grin (oh, he has such a lovely face, I just want to touch it), and he’s kneeling in front of the door. It’s too dark to see exactly what he’s doing, but he seems to be fiddling with the knob. (Oh God, fiddling with the knob! Miranda, get a hold of yourself.) Before I know it, the door is swinging open with a creak that seems monstrously loud in the quiet street, and Gary is grabbing my hand and dragging me inside. “How did you do that?” I ask him.
“I have many mysterious talents,” he answers, and I have to literally fan myself. He doesn’t notice, though, because he’s scanning the inside of the shop. Darker than the street. A center island, a sofa over there, a desk in the back. Small, cozy, with that lovely old musty book smell. With the fourth book soon to come out, there should be a display somewhere about, and we carefully stalk around the room looking for it.
We find it towards the back, tucked away in a corner like an afterthought. One single copy of each book, a handwritten sign that reads Harry Potter and the Something or Other comes out sometime soon crookedly tacked to the wall behind the shelf. A dusty scarf and broom, a stuffed owl with a missing eye and bald patches, and a crumpled wizard’s hat complete the display.
“This doesn’t really make me want to read these books,” Gary says, cocking his head. (Always sounds naughty, doesn’t it, “cocking?”)
“You mean you don’t find old rubbish intellectually stimulating?”
Gary checks the book – and there is an actual book this time! – and then stares at me. “Miranda. Do you know how much they’re asking for this book?”
“Sixty pounds!” Gary exclaims. I repeat the number back to him, and he nods. What is this place? How did we manage to enter the one bookshop in all of London obviously managed by a crazy person?
“How much is the gift certificate worth?”
“But, Miranda,” he says, slipping the book into his satchel, “I’ve decided at this point, it’s a matter of principle. I want to win.” I smile at him, and we both go digging for sixty pounds.
That’s when we see the lights outside, and hear the voices. “I sawr ‘em go right in! They acted like they owned the place!” Gary and I stare at each other, panicked. The shop isn’t that big. It seems there’s an entrance to a storage room or a flat behind the desk, but before we even have the chance to head that way the door’s opening. We’ve got five seconds, if that.
And it’s at this point that I realize that while I may not have many skills, I do have some talents. Mysterious ones, just like Gary said. Maybe I can’t pick locks, or decode encrypted messages, or speak any foreign languages, or make it through a full day without falling down – but I’ve made a lot of friends over the years. I don’t mean that I’ve gotten to know people with whom I share common interests – I mean I’ve made friends.
Two police officers step inside. They swing torches about, looking. Gary isn't breathing beside me, and he breathes even less as the torch light slowly pans across our faces. The officers look a few moments more, then leave, pulling the door securely shut behind them.
Gary and I stand a few seconds longer before he finally whispers: "Did that work? Did that actually work?" With shaking fingers, he reaches up and takes the wizard hat off his head, then sets the owl back down. I pull off the scarf, rest the broom back against the display.
"Not my first time," I tell him. "Where do you think I got the mannequin hand?"
The next day, in the afternoon - late in the afternoon - Gary and I meet at Top Shop. We do, indeed, find a sparkly pink waistcoat. He's in the dressing room trying it on when I hear a familiar voice. A very high voice - somewhere, a dog is dropping dead. Maybe Mortemly's poodle/wolfhound.
"Miranda! In a Top Shop?!" Stevie looks positively thrilled. She's always trying to get me to shop in more fashionable places. Whenever I indulge her, we end up scouring the store for the single pair of trousers that come down lower than my knees. Then the joyous look on Stevie's face melts away, replaced by a suspicious frown. "Are you here with someone else? Do you have another friend? She's not a better friend than I am, Miranda! I'll make you a list of the reasons why I am the best friend to have."
"I am here with someone else, but don't you worry, Stevie. He's a man."
"A gay man."
"No! I talk to men who aren't gay! And this one is definitely not gay. His name is..."
Before I can continue, Gary comes out of the dressing room. The waistcoat was a little snug, and it looks like to be able to get it on, he had to remove his shirt. There he stands, wearing trainers, jeans, and a very, very tight pink sparkly waistcoat. He puts his hands on his hips and tilts his head. "Oh, Miranda, don't I just look fabulous?"
Stevie opens her mouth, but before she can draw a breath I shove her to the floor.