Chapter 9 – The Winner Is…Two days later…
Monica gazed out of the window of her taxi as she arrived outside the venue. She swallowed hard as she saw the growing number of reporters and television crew gathered outside. "Oh…my…god." She muttered, closing her eyes.
"Don't worry Mon, you'll be fine." Ross tried to assure her, peering around her head to see the scene.
Monica looked at him with worry. "Are you up to this?" she asked, "You didn't have to come."
"There is no way I'm missing my little sister winning the competition!" Ross exclaimed. On the other side of him, Rachel laughed.
"She hasn't won yet." She told him.
"Aah, but she will." He insisted.
Monica didn't say anything. She felt sick, too nervous to talk. She only hoped the reporters were going to ignore her when she got out of the car. It was only wishful thinking because as soon as she got out, the press bombarded her with questions. "Are you going to win?" "How will you feel if Mr Bing wins?" She shoved past them and walked inside the building, feeling worst than she did before. She signed in at the entrance and immediately went to find her refreshments room, wanting to be alone.
"Monica! Monica!" a voice yelled behind her. She turned around to see Phoebe running up to her. "Hey…" she panted.
Monica gave a small smile. "Hey," she said back, "How are you?"
"Me? I'm fine…but what about you?"
"A little nervous," Monica admitted, "There's going to be a huge audience in the studios."
"You're calm compared to how Chandler is acting!" Phoebe exclaimed, rolling her eyes. "I swear, on the way over here we had to stop because he felt sick."
"Is he ok?" Monica asked worriedly.
"A little pale and he hasn't ate a thing all day." Phoebe replied, "I don't know what to do with him. Anyway, it should be you who's nervous! Your soup isn't your strongest, right?"
Monica groaned, "I wasn't even thinking about that until now!"
"Ok, well I had better find Joey and get some good seats," Phoebe said, shrugging, "I would tell you good luck but I want Chandler to win so…see you!" she grinned and waved.
Monica laughed and watched Phoebe go back down the hallway. She checked her watch. There was only half an hour to go until Round 2 started. She smiled when she saw Chandler walking up to her.
"Hey Mon," he said shakily.
"My god, you look terrible!" Monica observed worriedly. "You look so pale. Are you ok?"
"Not really." Chandler replied, running his hand through his hand. "Never felt so terrified in my life."
"You're not the only one." Monica tried to assure him. She frowned and shook her head, "You've really got to calm down, and you don't want to blow it!"
Chandler gave a small smile. "You know, you should be pleased I'm a wreak!" he said, laughing, "We're supposed to be rivals in this."
"Ok, no more advice!" Monica quipped, "Get out there and make the worst soup in history." She smiled. "You look better already."
Chandler smiled back. "It must be you," he said softly.
"Maybe." Monica said quietly, looking into his eyes.
"Ahem…um…I should go," Chandler stuttered, "I've left my…um…stuff in my room."
"Sure…and good luck." Monica told him, smiling at him. Chandler turned around and started walking down the hallway. He stopped, hesitated and turned back around. He walked back up and pulled Monica in for a long hug.
"Good luck to you too." He murmured into her head.
"Thank you." Monica whispered.
Chandler walked through the hallways, trying to find his way back to his room. For the first time all day, he felt relaxed. He smiled as he thought of Monica and how calm she appeared in such a situation as this one. He saw a side door leading to outside, and he went out to breathe in the fresh air. He froze, hearing voices just around the other side of the building.
"So who do you think will win this year?" Chandler recognised the voice to be the female judge in the other round.
"It's a tough one this year," the other voice replied. It was the male judge. "But I'm betting on Monica Geller, that young chef from New York."
"In my opinion, the final round is the most disappointing," the woman said, "Each year, the chef's make the same soups over and over. None of them really stand out. I doubt Monica Geller will surprise me."
Chandler snorted quietly, disgusted with the woman's assumption.
"What exactly are you looking for this year?" the man asked.
"Good flavour…maybe some spices. Nothing too bland." The woman replied after a moment's hesitation.
"Ok, so we shall see when Round 2 starts." The man added, "Actually, we should go inside right now. Time is getting on."
Chandler widened his eyes and ran back inside. If he were caught listening, he would be disqualified. He ran up the hallway, found his room and went in, slamming the door behind him. He leaned against it, breathing hard.
"Good flavour…" he murmured. He thought of the woman's pre-assumptions about Monica. "She doesn't know what she's talking about." he said loudly to himself. He looked back on the past few weeks with Monica, thinking how hard she had tried to get her soup right. He frowned. He hadn't told Monica but he still thought her soup wasn't good enough to win. To Chandler, it didn't seem right that she didn't win. She was a professional chef…he and the other contestants were just amateurs or inexperienced.
There was also another reason he wanted Monica to win. Her enthusiasm in taking part had been so endearing. She was the contestant who was taking it the most seriously. Winning would mean more to her than anybody.
"She deserves this prize," he muttered. He glanced at his ingredients. He rummaged through them and pulled out a bag of herbs and spices. A smile began to appear on his face and, putting the little bag in his pocket, he took the rest of his ingredients to the studios. On the way, he crashed into a young man around his age. He smiled when he recognised the man. "Greg?" he asked.
The man smiled, "Thought I'd find you here!" he joked, shaking his hand.
Chandler laughed. "How's it been going since I left you harsh critics?" he asked.
"Well, I'm a investigative reporter now." Greg said proudly.
"Wow that's great!" Chandler exclaimed, "Just like what you've always wanted."
"Yes, and just between you and me, I've found out a lot of stuff about certain people." Greg whispered, looking up and down the corridor.
"Like who?" Chandler asked, interested.
"Well, ever heard of a guy called Rick Morrison?" Greg asked, grinning.
Chandler widened his eyes. "What about him?"
"This may just interest you…got a minute?"
Monica laid out her ingredients on her table, trying not to look at the growing number of people in the audience. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ross, Rachel, Joey and Phoebe in the front row in deep discussion. She looked up and her brow furrowed when she saw Chandler walk away from his table to hers.
She watched as he pulled out a small bag from his jacket and placed it in front of her. "Put these ingredients in your soup." He told her, smiling, "Trust me, with these ingredients you'll win. It's what the judges are looking for."
Monica widened her eyes and saw the sincerity in his face, "I don't understand." She whispered to him, "Why are you helping me? Don't you want to win?"
"Not as much as you do." Chandler said softly, smiling gently at her, "You deserve this. Just do as I say and you'll win the $40,000."
"But…but what about you?" she asked in disbelief. "You make the best soup out of any of us. You could win this!"
Chandler shrugged. "What am I going to do with $40,000?" he asked, "It means nothing to me. I never entered this for the money. I just wanted to show those snobs what I could do, and I've done that."
"Oh my god…" Monica muttered, smiling. "I…I can't believe you're doing this for me."
"Start believing it." Chandler told her, smiling. He walked back to his table.
"Contestants have 45 minutes to make the soup!" the male judge called out to everybody, "Starting…now!"
45 minutes later….
Chandler looked worriedly at the judges as they announced his score. "8 points!" they announced. Added on to the points from the previous round, Chandler now had 16 points. He was now in the lead and Monica was the last contestant to be judged.
Chandler remembered the number of points Monica had from her previous round. She'd had seven. The one way she was going to beat him was if she got a straight 10 out of 10. If it was a draw, Chandler still won because he had the highest points in the previous round.
"God…" he mumbled under his breath, "I hope she added enough spices to that soup!"
He watched with growing nervousness, as the judges tasted Monica's soup. The tension in the room was growing and the audience murmured under their breaths.
"8 points!" the judges announced. Monica had finished second.
Chandler widened his eyes in disbelief. He had won. He turned to Monica in complete shock and did a double take when he saw her smiling widely at him, clapping hard. The thunderous applause from the audience seemed far away as the contestants gathered around congratulating him.
His eyes met with Monica's and she smiled. "Congratulations." She whispered in his ear.
"God Monica, I'm so sorry!" he burst out, "I thought you would win…"
"I didn't add the ingredients." She interrupted, whispering in his ear.
Chandler widened his eyes, looking at her with confusion. "What?" he whispered.
"I didn't add them." She repeated.
The judges walked up to Chandler and pulled him up on stage. "Well done Mr. Bing!" the woman judge said enthusiastically, "A very worthy winner." She handed him the cheque and he took it wordlessly. Seeing Monica nodding encouragingly at him, he broke into a grin. "Thank you!" he yelled, holding up the cheque for everybody to see.
"Wow, that was unexpected," Joey commented, clapping hard with audience.
"Yes!" Rachel exclaimed. "Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for Chandler but I just didn't expect him to win."
"I think there's something going on," Phoebe murmured. She pointed across the room and the others followed her gaze. Chandler was pulling Monica out of the room.
"What the hell…" Ross muttered in confusion. "What are they doing?"
"Its just business!" Rachel, Joey and Phoebe chorused together. They exchanged knowing glances, ignoring Ross' confused ramblings.
"What the hell are you three talking about?" Ross demanded.
"We'll tell you later." Rachel assured him.
Outside, Chandler looked at Monica with confusion. "I still don't understand why you didn't put in those ingredients." He told her. "I didn't want to win…"
Monica sighed. "All my life I've wanted to win everything," she explained, "And that's what I did. I used to win everything. But, when I did, I always won because I was the best… I didn't need any help." She paused and looked at him with passion, "Chandler, what you did for me was so sweet but I didn't deserve to win. I realised that when you said 'I never entered this for the money.' When I entered, I wanted that money so much that I forgot about what I needed to do to win. The money distracted me from concentrating wholeheartedly on the cooking. You entered this with an open mind, willing to do the best you can so you could show people what you could do. That's what the judges were looking for…they were looking for the passion in the cooking. I noticed that the idea of actually winning went completely out of your head when you started to make that cheesecake during the many hours we spent together. You enjoyed yourself; you weren't worrying what might happen next. In the end, you made the best food and you deserved to win…not me."
"My god…Mon…I don't know what to say." Chandler whispered, "You are just…amazing."
Monica blushed, "Well, that's me!" she joked, embarrassed.
"I mean it. You are the most generous, kind hearted, passionate woman I have ever met." He paused and looked into her eyes. They smiled at each other.
"So if you didn't want to win, what did you want?" Monica asked, never taking her eyes off his.
"There was one thing…" Chandler said gently. He lifted his hand, stroked her cheek and then ran it through her hair. He leaned in and kissed her softly on the lips. He pulled away and smiled at her. "I want you."
"Haven't you had enough for one day?" Monica joked, wrapping her arms around him.
"Is that my fault?" Chandler demanded, smiling mischievously at her, his face millimetres from hers.
"Men…they always want more." Monica muttered, rolling her eyes.
"Technically, this is all I wanted so you can just stop all that garbage right…" he was cut off as Monica kissed him passionately on the lips. "…now." He finished breathlessly as they parted.
"Why should I?" Monica asked in mock anger.
"Because then I won't do this…" Chandler muttered at her as he kissed her on the lips again, slowly running his hands up her back and through her hair. They kissed long and passionately until they finally pulled away from each in reluctance.
"We should go and find the others," Chandler said, sighing.
"We should," Monica agreed, kissing him once last time.
"Now, we must act like adults here." Chandler told her, trying to sound firm, "We're in a public place." He grinned, and pulled Monica in for another kiss.
"Well, well." A voice behind them said, "This is interesting."
Monica and Chandler turned around to face the entrance of the building and saw Rick Morrison staring at them with amusement.
"What do you want Rick?" Chandler asked wearily.
"Nothing, I have all that I want right here." Rick replied smugly, taking a camera out of his pocket. "Got some nice pictures here of you two."
"Yes, and I've got some nice information on you." Chandler shot back. Monica glanced at him, confused.
The smile faded from Rick's face. "I don't know what you're talking about." he muttered.
"Oh really? Then I suppose I should remind you, hmm?" Chandler said, folding his arms. "Something about you never graduating from college and not being fully qualified?"
Monica gasped, "Oh my god!" she exclaimed, "You're one of the most respected psychologists in America. How could you lie about something like that?"
Rick scowled and shrugged his shoulders, "Easy money." He replied.
"I'm sure the media won't see it that way," Chandler said meaningfully.
Rick widened his eyes, horror spread all over his face. "You can't tell anyone about this!" he exclaimed, "My career will be ruined."
Chandler smiled and nodded. "Ok, if you promise to never write a single word for that tabloid again I won't ruin your career, how's that sound?"
"You have no proof of this anyway!" Rick said triumphantly, "You can't make me quit!"
"Oh yes I can!" Chandler retorted, "I have a very good source that proves you're not a fully qualified psychologist. My source found out from records that you were thrown out in your last semester for cheating on your exams."
"Alright fine!" Rick yelled. He pulled out the roll of film from his camera and tore it up. "The pictures are gone! Happy now?"
"Not quite." Monica told him, "You have to hold a press conference apologising for your behaviour which borders along the lines of invasion of privacy and stalking."
Chandler snorted with laughter and nodded in agreement. "Yes, until you resign from the cheap tabloid you work for we can't fully guarantee we'll keep your little secret."
"This is crap!" Rick yelled.
"No, this is revenge," Chandler corrected, "Over the last couple of months you have made both our lives hell. However, my source says you have many satisfied clients… it's why we are reluctant to expose you straight away. All we want for you to do is never write a single word about our friends or us again. It's not too much to ask."
"Fine," Rick muttered grudgingly, "I'll hold a press conference as soon as I can."
"Good!" Chandler said approvingly, "Now, can you go because you kind of interrupted us." He squeezed Monica's hand.
Rick stormed away from the couple. As soon as he was gone, they burst into helpless laughter. "My god that made my day!" Chandler gasped out, calming down.
"Who was your source?" Monica asked curiously.
"An ex-food critic turned investigative reporter," Chandler explained, "His name is Greg and we used to work together." He brushed his lips against Monica's lips and smiled gently at her, "I don't think we'll be bothered by that man again." He whispered.
"What do we do now?" Monica asked, smiling.
"Well, there's somewhere I want to take you." Chandler told her mysteriously. He grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the building.
"Where?" Monica asked impatiently.
A few minutes later, they were back in the village. They walked through the neighbourhood coming to a stop outside the jewellery shop the pair had been to days before.
"What are we doing out here?" Monica asked in confusion.
"I've decided what I want to do with my prize money," Chandler told her, "Or at least half of it anyway." He nodded to the display where the bracelet was still on display.
Monica put a hand to her mouth in shock. "Please don't tell me what I think you're about to do." She whispered, looking at him.
"At least try it on." Chandler told her, smiling.
"It's too much money, it's…" Monica stopped when Chandler brushed his finger against her lips.
"Monica, you helped me with that cheesecake," he told her, "I want to buy you this." He paused and his finger travelled from her lips to her cheek. "I also want to buy you this because I love you," he added, smiling softly.
Monica broke into a smile and kissed him lovingly on the lips. "I love you too." She told him.
"Well that's good because I don't think I want to buy a $20,000 bracelet for the woman I love who doesn't love me back!" Chandler quipped, kissing her on the cheek.
"So the only way I'm going to stop you from wasting half your prize money on me is if I tell you I don't love you?" Monica asked, smiling. "Ok, I don't love you." she said, trying to sound serious.
"You're a terrible liar." Chandler muttered, pulling her into the shop.
"I am not!" Monica retorted, glaring at him.
"Yes you are." Chandler teased, standing in front of the desk where the sales assistant looked at them with amusement.
"Rivals at first sight," the assistant murmured.
"Excuse me?" Monica and Chandler asked together.
"You're the business rivals on the front page of today's paper, yes?" the assistant asked, "That's the headline." He smiled wryly. "Maybe I should say ex-rivals now."
"Rivals at first sight." Chandler repeated thoughtfully, "And then love at second sight." He added, smiling fondly at Monica.
"I am too a good liar!" Monica insisted, smiling.
Chandler rolled his eyes and smiled at the assistant. "Can I have the bracelet for this 'good liar' to try on please?" he asked politely.
The assistant brought out the bracelet from the display and handed it carefully to Monica. She slipped it on and tears formed in her eyes. "This is beautiful." She whispered. She smiled at Chandler and touched his cheek. "Maybe I am a bad liar." She told him, "I do love you. I always have."
"Nice to hear you admit you're wrong for a change." Chandler quipped.
"Do you want me to let you buy me this bracelet or not?" Monica asked playfully.
"Just having a bit of fun Mon," Chandler murmured, smiling mischievously. "Although we know where that will lead." He added, bringing back the memory of the food fight.
"You wish." Monica snorted, handing the bracelet to the assistant for it to be placed in a gift box.
The assistant smiled and put the bracelet in a box, leaving the couple to continue to flirt with one another in the only way they knew best.THE END
:I hope you enjoyed this story! Please review.: