“Morning,” Max said softly. He’d slept well and was delighted to have woken cuddling his usually somewhat standoffish partner.
“Morning,” Miranda replied, feeling more than a little awkward. She hadn’t woken up in bed with anyone for a long time and it was suddenly all a bit too much, too intimate. Max had spooned her once before, when they had slept outside at Rancho del Rey, but that was different: he’d joined her after she was already asleep and she’d managed to gently extract herself from his hold without waking him. She still wasn’t sure he’d even been aware of how he’d arranged himself then.
“Oof, still a bit cold even with the heaters on all night,” he said, stretching his legs out from their position curled up against hers.
“Warm enough that you can move your arm now though,” she hinted. She needed him to move away; better not to get a taste of something she couldn’t have. Carmen’s opinion on this intimacy still played on her mind too.
“Oh. Sorry,” Max said guiltily as he removed his arm and slid away a little. “I’ll go and shower, and then I’ll make us some breakfast.”
“Sounds like a good service,” she replied, subtly rearranging the covers to make a slight barrier between them.
“I told you, while we are here I’m going to look after you. I know how to show a lady a good time,” he winked playfully, standing up now and pulling a blanket around his shoulders. He shivered and hurried out of the room.
“You nearly done?” Max asked hopefully. It was late morning and he’d finished his outstanding work already... well, the urgent stuff anyway.
Miranda glanced up from her laptop. “Will be in about twenty minutes.”
“Great, then we are free to enjoy ourselves.” He clapped his hands together gleefully. “We should go and get more food in - I didn’t want to get too much yesterday. Clara might have an update on the roads. Not looking hopeful for today though.” It had been snowing again while they had eaten their breakfast, so they hadn’t tried to leave the village yet.
“Ok, we can go when I’ve finished this. I’ll cook tonight,” she volunteered.
“You sure? I’m happy to,” he offered. He enjoyed cooking and it was something of a hobby for him, but he knew the same couldn’t be said for Miranda. Still, he appreciated the gesture.
“Yes, must be my turn.” She began to run through meal ideas in her head. She realised she wanted to impress him, but her repertoire wasn’t exactly extensive.
“Nothing weird,” he joked. She stuck her tongue out at him before returning to her case file.
“Bon día, Clara,” Max greeted their magnanimous landlady as he and Miranda entered the mini-supermarket.
“Ahhh, Max, bon día! And you must be Miranda. Is the house ok for you?” Clara beamed.
“It’s great, thanks. Just getting it heated up still, but it’ll be nice and cosy soon. Any news on the roads?” Max responded.
“Yes, they’re concentrating on the main routes to the bigger towns at the moment. It’ll be a couple of days before they get here at least,” Clara informed them.
“Oh, so you have a little longer on Max’s mountain relaxation retreat, Miranda,” Max joked to his partner, earning a grimace in reply.
“Hopefully it won’t stay as long as the Big Snow back in 1956 though,” Clara said. “That was in February too. A few years before I was born, of course, but all the old people in the village used to talk about it. You couldn’t mention it was cold out without getting ‘oh, you should’ve felt what it was like in 1956, you youngsters, you’re all too soft these days...’” She wagged a finger mockingly.
“How to get young people to roll their eyes at you in one easy step,” Miranda sympathised.
“Exactly. It won’t be as bad as then anyway: there are not that many people in the village right now, and we had a big delivery a few hours before the snow started, so there should be more than enough food to go round if we are all sensible,” Clara reassured them. “So don’t worry, and just have a nice few days together, yes?”
That’s the plan, Max thought. Let’s see where that leads us...
“Hey, Miranda, think fast!” Max shouted as he launched a snowball at her back.
She spun around and it hit her in the stomach.
“What the hell, Max!” she cried, holding her arms up in annoyance.
He shrugged. “You’d better get me back then.”
“We’re too old for snowball fights,” she chided.
“Never! Come on, you’d better start your attack because I’ve got two ready here. Not that you can win; I’m the master,” he boasted, puffing his chest out.
“I think ‘the master’ might need to be a little less confident and a little more observant,” she told him as she aimed a snowball at his chest, catching him off guard.
“Oh ho, shots fired! I’m going to get you!” he declared, running towards her as she fled laughing, their shopping temporarily abandoned on the pavement.
Max unpacked their retrieved purchases in the kitchen and held up a paper bag. “I bought something for you to try for lunch as part of my quest to show you mallorquín food isn’t inedible, or from a horror film, as I believe you once put it.”
“Go on”, she said sceptically.
“I got us cocarrois. They’re traditionally an Easter thing, but you get them other times now and they adapt the ingredients if necessary,” he explained as he unwrapped them.
“Look like Cornish pasties,” she remarked, not sounding particularly enthusiastic.
“Yes, I thought I’d start with something that is at least a little bit familiar to you,” he ventured optimistically.
“Fine. What’s in them?” she asked, eyeing them warily.
“Vegetables. So they are healthy too!” he grinned.
“If you ignore all the pastry maybe,” she tutted.
“Give them a chance, ok? You are putting your trust in me while we are on our little holiday, yes?” he reminded her.
She raised an eyebrow at him and accepted the plate he held out to her. She had to give it to him, he was really trying to make the enforced isolation bearable.
“Admit it: you loved it,” Max demanded impishly.
“It was ok. I’d probably eat one again, I suppose,” she offered casually.
“Woah, save some enthusiasm for the next meal, will you?” he quipped sarcastically. “You’ll definitely like my plan for the afternoon though: quiet reading by the fire with some thick hot chocolate.”
“Actually, that does sound good. Usually I don’t read as much as I’d like because I feel guilty that I should be researching a case instead,” she admitted.
“Well, you have a whole afternoon to read whatever you want... umm, from that bookcase anyway. Have you read ‘One Day’?” he asked.
“No, but I’ve seen that orange cover everywhere. Seems popular.”
“It’s good, give it a try,” he recommended.
She smiled and went to retrieve the novel from its shelf. She crossed the floor back to the sofa on her tiptoes.
“Tiled floors make sense in the summer, but when it’s winter... brrrrr. I can hardly feel my toes,” she told him as she positioned herself next to him.
“Then put your feet up here,” he offered, patting his thighs.
“Err, no, it’s ok.” She wasn’t comfortable with that. She didn’t think Carmen would be thrilled either.
“I was going to offer you one of my famous foot rubs,” he said, pouting.
“No, thanks,” she declined, trying to make a start on her novel.
“Come on: all five star reviews so far. Please? I think you’ll really enjoy it.” He gave her a puppy dog look.
He looked so eager to please her she didn’t have the heart to keep refusing. He lifted her ankles as she gingerly swung her legs up on to his lap. He gently removed her socks and rubbed his hands together to warm them up.
“No touching between my toes though. Can’t stand it. Makes me kick whoever is responsible,” she warned.
“I prefer not to be booted in the face, so you’ve got it. Now sit back and relax,” he said as he began massaging her feet skilfully.
She grimaced. Easy for him to say. She usually found people touching her the opposite of relaxing. A spa day was her idea of torture. Even getting a haircut set her on edge. This so far though was... surprisingly not awful.
Max wandered into the kitchen, where Miranda was busy chopping onions and garlic.
“What’s my little chef cooking me tonight then?” he enquired.
“A British classic: spag bol,” she told him, trying to hold back the watering in her eyes that the onion had set off.
“Scab bowl? Now that’s horror film food,” he replied.
“No, spag bol,” she giggled. “Spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, an Italian person would say it’s not authentic, but it’s tasty, I think.” She found herself keenly seeking his approval.
“Ok, I trust you to show me only the very best of British food. Many wouldn’t, but Max Winter is fearless.” He stuck out his chest and put his hands on his hips, adopting an exaggerated heroic pose.
“Of course. You bravely tried and even liked cheese and crisp sandwiches, after all,” she teased.
“This is pretty good. Compliments to the chef. You don’t mix the sauce in with the pasta though?” Max queried as he raised a second forkful to his mouth.
“Nope, we plonk it all on top in the middle. Are you criticising my culture again?” she queried, pretending to be offended.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied, before returning happily to his spaghetti.
“Look what I found in the cupboard,” Max said, as he approached Miranda, holding a box aloft. “1,000 pieces - should occupy us for a while.”
He emptied the box onto the table and they began picking through the pieces. The picture on the box showed the image they were aiming for to be a landscape scene of the harbour and cathedral in Palma, a view they were both very familiar with.
“Max, what the hell? You have to start with the edges!” Miranda scolded as she realised what he was up to beside her.
“Pfft, doesn’t matter: these pieces fit, so what’s the problem?” he said, not stopping working on a section that was definitely going to end up being somewhere in the middle of the puzzle.
“You have to have a system!” she insisted, exasperated.
“Miranda, it’s just a jigsaw left in a cupboard in a holiday home. It’s probably not even got all the pieces,” he told her as he concentrated on a patch of sky.
“I thought you said you were going to make me less stressed!” she squealed, throwing up her hands.
“Ok, try this then: close your eyes. We’re lying on a beach. It’s very peaceful. All our cases are wrapped up. The jigsaw is finished. You’re wearing factor 50 sun cream. Everything is calm. All you can hear is the sea. Shhhhhh... shhhhh...” he whispered.
“Idiot,” she said giggling.
They carried on with the puzzle, Miranda starting with the edges, Max working on whatever part caught his interest. They’d agreed that since their differing approaches at work made them a good team, maybe it would do the same for their jigsaw assembly. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have plenty of time to get it finished anyway.
Miranda spotted a piece she needed and reached across for it at the same time as Max moved his hand on the table. She ended up with her hand on his. They both looked up and caught each other’s eyes for a second, then looked away, Miranda retracting her hand. Flustered, she tucked her hair behind her ears and tried to act like nothing had happened, but in her nervousness she knocked a few pieces off the table. They both bent to retrieve them from the floor. As they lifted their heads up having picked up the errant pieces, they found themselves face to face, only a few centimetres apart. Their eyes locked again. Miranda’s face flushed slightly and she quickly glanced down at Max’s lips, then flicked back to his eyes. Max pictured himself kissing her, but she pulled away before he could decide whether to act. She returned to her former position, looking intently at the corner she’d been working on.
Max smiled to himself. He hadn’t remembered fitting jigsaw puzzles together being this fraught. There had been other signs that she found him attractive over the many months they’d known each other though, hadn’t there? He’d just not thought about it while he was with Carmen. Now he’d finally allowed himself to realise how strong his feelings were for his compañera, he was desperate to know if they were fully reciprocated. If it seemed like they were, maybe he’d find the courage to act on them. He needed to be more certain before he’d take that risk though.
Max shivered as he slid into the bed next to Miranda. The warmth of the fire hadn’t yet managed to reach the bedroom and there was only so much the little electric heater could do.
“Still pretty chilly in here,” he said pointedly.
“Yes, you can come over.” The cold trumped any concerns she had about getting too close to him tonight. She tried to put how Carmen might view their sleeping arrangements to the back of her mind once more.
Max shuffled across and put his arm around her. He let out a contented sigh. “That’s better.”