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Professional partners, end of story...?

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Miranda opened her front door to see Max standing on the terrace, looking happy and relaxed on this warm, late-spring evening. He was delighted to have been invited over to catch up with his compañera and had been looking forward to it all day.

“¡Hola, Miranda!” he greeted her with a wide smile. “I brought this”. He held up a bottle of Schnapps.

“Hi, Max,” she replied genially, taking the Schnapps from him, “come in”. She opened the door wider to let him enter. “Bit early for Schnapps maybe - start with a glass of wine? We can go up to the balcony. Seems nice out,” she suggested with a small shrug.

Ja, sounds good!” he beamed, glad to be in her company again.

They headed to her kitchen and she reached down two glasses from a cupboard. While she got things prepared, he made himself comfortable, removing his sunglasses and leaning against the counter. A bottle of red wine and a corkscrew stood ready in front of him.

She turned back to him, placing the glasses next to the wine. “So, how was your fortnight in Munich? Nice to see your family?” She uncorked the wine and left it to breathe for a while as they chatted.

“Yes,” he smiled. “I had a great time seeing everyone. My dad managed to get us tickets to a Dortmund game, and I got my fill of the excellent Bavarian cuisine, of course.”

He made a chef’s kiss motion as Miranda rolled her eyes: German food had never tempted her. More repulsed her. Too much heavy meat and cabbage, she thought, remembering the smell of the bierocks he liked so much. Gross: cheese sandwich and a bag of salt and vinegar every time over that, thanks!

He continued, ignoring the trace of revulsion crossing her face, “I brought back some delicious local sausages for Christian, but I remembered that you think they’re the wurst... Miranda, wurst/worst... get it...?”

There was no reaction from Miranda, who preferred not to encourage his puns, although she had found herself trying to amuse him by making some of her own lately.

“Anyway, so I got you some artisan chocolates instead.” He pulled a small, golden confectionery box tied up with a red ribbon from his pocket and presented it to her with a flourish.

“Thank you, Max! You definitely made the right decision there,” Miranda replied, taking the box from him. Their fingertips touched momentarily as she did so and she blushed slightly, praying he wouldn’t notice. She set the box down next to the wine, ready to be carried up to the balcony later.

“So, did your date with Alex go well?” He grinned, teasingly, “that must be your third or fourth by now - getting pretty serious, huh?” He always enjoyed joking with her, but this time was tinged with an emotion he couldn’t quite define. Was he... was he jealous?

Miranda looked down and awkwardly answered, “well... erm, I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other again, or at least not as anything other than friends.” Her face had flushed again at revealing this to him. She hated discussing feelings and emotions; facts were where safety lay.

“Oh no, that’s a shame!” Max replied, his blue eyes full of concern. He regretted trying to wind her up now. “What happened?” he enquired softly.

Miranda struggled to look directly at him. Hesitantly she explained, “well, he... he said that he really liked me, but that it was obvious there was someone else for me...” She nervously studied her fingers, before forcing herself to glance up at him again.

They gazed at each other, the tension palpable. Everyone else in their lives had long seen what existed between them; it was blindingly obvious to anyone who knew them, but they had both been ignoring their deep connection, afraid of what acknowledging it would change in their lives.

Miranda was the first to look away, uncomfortable with the extended eye contact and what significance might lie behind it. She fiddled intently with removing the cork from the corkscrew to avoid meeting Max’s scrutiny again, and broke the silence “... anyway, how’s Carmen? I haven’t had time to catch up with her while you’ve been away. She’ll be glad to have you back, I bet.” She cautiously peered back up at him, relieved to have been able to change the topic.

Now it was Max’s turn to look away awkwardly. “Ah, actually... we split up just before I left for Germany...” he frowned.

“Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know,” Miranda replied, feeling clumsy for having put her foot in it. Should she do something reassuring - give him a pat on the arm or something? A squeeze of the hand, perhaps? She hesitated: not being demonstrative by nature she wasn’t sure what to do.

“It’s fine, really,” Max told her quietly. “We grew apart; ever since she turned down my proposal we both knew it was only a matter of time. It was a pretty amicable split.” He shrugged, letting her see that he wasn’t too upset by what he had known for some time was inevitable. He had surprised himself by how well he had picked himself up and begun to move on already.

“Oh, well, I’m glad it wasn’t acrimonious or anything like that,” Miranda responded quickly, relieved that he didn’t seem too downhearted. “What finally made you both decide to part ways then?” she ventured. She looked into his eyes and felt a small flip in her stomach as she did so.

“It was Carmen’s choice in the end. She said it was clear that there was someone else for me, and that she thought we should both move on and take the chance to be with the right people,” Max informed her, staring glumly down at the kitchen counter now, wondering if he had just revealed too much.

He made himself face her again and their eyes met for a few seconds, searching for the full meaning behind what they had both said tonight. These “right people” for them that Alex and Carmen had been talking about weren’t just abstract concepts, were they? Could they could be right for each other? Were they finally going to open up about how they truly felt after more than a year of pent-up emotions, longing glances, brief touches? Neither of them really knew how to continue along this line of discourse, or indeed if they should. Both still doubted that their feelings were reciprocated and finding out would mean such a risk, personally and professionally.

Max decided to take the focus off himself for a while by steering the discussion back to her recent dating. “So, you sure you can’t make things work with Alex then? Good-looking doctor like that, he’s a catch!” Max asked her brightly, trying to move past the charged moment.

“Yes, but he’s not...” Miranda trailed off as she realised what she had been about to give away. She couldn’t complete this sentence and she cursed herself for having uncharacteristically let her guard down and started it.

“Not what? Handsome enough? Intelligent, kind, rich... enough?” Max pushed. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Just leave it, Max!” she exclaimed, shoulders stiffening and forehead furrowing with irritation.

“How am I supposed to be on the lookout for your next date if you won’t tell me what was wrong with this one, huh?” he persisted, flashing her a cheeky grin.

“I said, drop it!” Miranda ordered, folding her arms defensively.

“You know I’m not going to, so we might as well skip to the part where you tell me just so I’ll shut up,” he told her with a wink.

Miranda sighed in frustration and looked across to her living room - anywhere but directly at Max. This exchange was getting too intense. Could she really finish the sentence and tell him how she felt? Yet equally, could she really go on like this, not sure where she stood with him? He had only just broken up with Carmen, though he didn’t appear to be too cut up about it. Maybe she should just finish the sentence and get it over with? You do want to be with him, she reasoned with herself, and that’s not going to happen if he doesn’t know you like him like that... Come on, Miranda, she resolved, time to be brave and let him in. No guts, no glory.

She took a sharp breath, screwing up her courage. “He’s not... not... you.” She glanced at him nervously. Her skin had gone cold and she could hear the blood rushing in her ears. Her mouth suddenly felt arid and her stomach fluttered with anxiety. The clock on the wall seemed to be ticking far more loudly than it ever had before.

Max was caught off guard by her revelation; he had expected her to be annoyed with him, tell him off and change the subject: standard Blake procedure. His mouth opened slightly, but he didn’t know what to say. The silence was deafening. After a few agonising seconds his mouth formed a tentative smile.

“Miranda, I... I need a moment by myself to think, ok?” he said gently, reaching out to lightly rest his hand on her shoulder.

She jumped slightly at his touch. “Ok,” she mumbled quietly. This was excruciating.

He took his hand back and thought for a moment. “Right... now I’m going to need you to go out for a walk for, umm... thirty minutes? Ok?” he asked more confidently, an idea having struck him.

“What the hell, Max?!” she stormed, eyes blazing. “YOU go for a walk! This is MY apartment!”

“I know, I know, but just... humour me, ok? Go for a nice little paseo along the seafront and come back in thirty minutes... please?” he pleaded, nodding at her. “Please?” He really needed her to agree before he lost his bottle and abandoned the newly-formed plan. He was pretty sure it was one of his better schemes and he desperately hoped she would go along with it.

“Ughhh... ok, FINE!” she huffed at him, and headed towards the door, grabbing her phone and a light jacket as she went. It didn’t look cold out currently, but the breeze off the Mediterranean could whip up suddenly on a spring evening and she preferred a cosy existence.

She turned back as she was leaving, throwing him a suspicious glare. Questions whirled in her mind. Just what the hell was he up to, ordering her out of her apartment as soon as she had hinted at having feelings for him? Had he fully grasped what she’d meant? Was he trying to think of how best to let her down? Or was it possible there was some reciprocation on his part? No, that would be too much to hope.

She was already regretting saying anything and now she supposed her best prospect was that she wouldn’t be completely humiliated when she returned in half an hour. She didn’t even want to think yet about what this meant for them as compañeros. Inés would be livid when she found out.