Miranda was first to wake again. She discovered she was being spooned for a third morning, but this time she felt no awkwardness at all. She’d quickly grown accustomed to his nightly embrace and the feeling of security and belonging it brought her. She wondered if she’d miss it when they returned to their separate homes, whenever that might be.
She tentatively put her hand over his and lightly rested it there. Only while he was asleep did she feel brave enough to do this. After a few peaceful minutes like this, Max stirred and she slipped out of his hold, turning over to face him.
“Morning” he greeted her, screwing up his eyes as he stretched.
“Morning,” she responded cheerfully, wondering what he had in mind for today. She’d genuinely enjoyed their unscheduled holiday so far.
“It’s Friday today, isn’t it? Valentine’s Day,” he pointed out. “Had you got plans back in Palma?”
“No.” She wasn’t particularly keen to talk about her nonexistent love life with him, a man who was practically engaged. A man who would never be hers.
“You can’t be short of offers. That archaeologist would definitely kill to swap places with me right now, for a start. So would Rico - shame he got transferred,” he grinned.
“I suppose I’m picky, waiting for the right person,” she said cagily. “Never saw the point in Valentine’s Day though: too commercialised and I’ve never actually been with anyone at the time for it to matter.”
“That’s a shame,” he sympathised. “Anyway, you know it’s meant to be for single people to ask someone to be their valentine. Couples have just taken it over.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely more a coupley thing now. I’m sure you had something nice arranged with Carmen. She’ll be missing you.” Miranda felt a sinking jealousy in her stomach at the thought of Max planning a romantic time with someone else.
There was a brief, tense silence. He’d better explain now. Can’t avoid it forever, he thought.
“Umm, I didn’t tell you at the time, but... we split up,” he said quietly, avoiding her gaze during this confession.
“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. When did it happen?” Not that sorry though, a little voice at the back of her mind piped up.
“Few weeks ago now. Things had been fizzling out for a while so we both knew it was coming, we’d just been putting it off,” he explained a little reluctantly.
“Are you ok?” she touched his shoulder for a fleeting moment. “Why didn’t you say anything?” She was a little upset he hadn’t felt able to share what was going on with him. It was good news for her though, wasn’t it, Max finally being single for the first time since they’d met?
“I’m fine, really. Surprisingly fine. I have moments where I feel a bit down, but it was the right decision for both of us,” he reassured her, with only a slight tinge of sadness to his voice. “And I don’t know why I kept it to myself: I suppose I just didn’t really want to talk about it, and we have been so busy with work lately anyway that we haven’t been to Joan’s bar together, so it never came up.”
But really it was because I needed time to figure things out, he realised. I had to understand how I truly felt and to see if it was at all reciprocated before I risked changing things between us. I’m not normally cautious, he reflected, but this would be a huge gamble: whatever her response, things between us would never be the same if I told her. There have been some hints that it’s not all one-way this week though, haven’t there? Enough to take a chance?
Miranda meanwhile was wondering whether he’d meant he didn’t want to talk about the break-up with anyone, or just her. “You should have told me; I could have tried to cheer you up,” she berated him, her eyes giving away how much she cared.
“Just carrying on like normal helped though... You know, I think I am going to plan us an extra nice day together today to stop us moping about all sad and lonely. Well, me anyway. You’re stoic.” Max had quickly rallied after his brief spell of introspection and was back to his usual enthusiastic self.
“If it helps you distract yourself, go ahead. First Valentine’s being single for a few years must be hard,” she said sympathetically.
Maybe not as hard as I thought it would be, he told himself. Thanks to you.
“Great, we’ll have a singles’ day together,” he agreed. He suddenly sat up and burst into song, waving his arms about theatrically: “I like that you’re lonely, lonely like meeee, I could be lonely with youuuu.”
Miranda laughed at his musical antics as he got up and grabbed some clothes, before heading for the bathroom.
Max turned on the shower, waited a few seconds for the water to get warm, and then stepped in. As the hot streams ran through his dark curls and down his face he closed his eyes and thought about what the day might have in store. He had a few ideas for things they could do together, dishes he could cook her. Being Valentine’s Day it seemed like the perfect day to make his move and finally tell her how he felt: if not today, then when? He decided not to say anything until after dinner though. He’d wine and dine her, get her in a good mood and then if she rejected him, at least it would be nearly the end of the day and they could just go to sleep. Possibly not cuddled up again though...
While Miranda waited for her turn in the bathroom she stayed in their bed and went over the conversation they’d just had. So, he’s single, she thought. Interesting. Puts a new light on the last few days, all the things he’s done for me, all the glances and touches: have we been on one long first date? And now he wants to plan a special Valentine’s Day for us. Is that how he thinks of me - someone he wants to date? He’s so warm and open anyway, I can’t be sure how he feels about me. Should I say something? No, too risky. I can’t. I promised myself I wouldn’t leave myself open to humiliation again. But I do want him; maybe I could just try being a bit more warm and open myself, bring down the barriers. Then it’s up to him to make the first move, if that’s what he wants. And if he’s not over Carmen yet, or worse, he doesn’t see me like that, I’ve not embarrassed myself, I’ve just got closer to my friend and colleague.
“Honey, I’m home!” Max called out loudly as he stepped through the front door carrying two bags of shopping.
“Very funny. Did you get everything you needed at Clara’s?” she enquired from her position on the sofa, looking up at him over a copy of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ she’d been making rapid progress with.
“Ja. Tonight we feast!” he confirmed. “I thought we could go for a walk in a while. Clara lent me her son’s walking boots and a pair of hers she’s only worn once for you.”
“Her son’s a size 14 too?” Clompy boots would be a bit of a change from the usual expensive designer loafers hand-stitched in Madrid, she thought.
“I know, what are the chances? Must be my lucky week. So, are you up for a little excursion?” he asked.
“Sure, be good to get some fresh air,” she agreed. “But let me finish this chapter first. It’s getting good.”
Max and Miranda wandered through the quiet village, exploring the winding lanes and talking about coming back once the weather had improved and everywhere had opened for the season. At a mirador looking out over the terraces towards the coast they sat down on a section of low wall, conveniently already brushed free of snow by some earlier walker.
“Stunning!” Max said in wonder as they gazed out across the snowy rooftops of the village and the white-blanketed hills, the forbidding peaks and crags of the Serra de Tramuntana behind them.
Max shuffled along the wall until his side was almost touching Miranda’s. He lifted his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her close to him. She stiffened slightly, unsure of what was happening.
“What are you doing?” she questioned warily.
“Keeping you warm. And you’re welcome.” He showed no sign of letting her go.
Miranda had to admit to herself that she was quite cold and that his gesture was sweet. They were both dressed for winter of course, but a Spanish winter, not this Northern European interloper that had caught the island unprepared, meaning his tactile behaviour was welcome this time, on reflection. No barriers, she reminded herself: open up to him and don’t be so uptight. She surrendered and laid her head against his chest, hearing his heart beat loudly in her ear. It sounded quite fast to her. That seems like a good sign, she thought.
Above her, Max’s face betrayed his pure joy. Miranda cuddling up to him - and out in public - was a huge step forward. He wasn’t certain, but he didn’t think she’d make such a gesture if all she wanted from him was friendship. He felt a little more optimistic about his plan.
As they read by the fire again after their walk, Miranda found it hard to keep her eyes on the page she was meant to be looking at, a chapter appropriately entitled ‘A problem with eyes’. Unable to concentrate, she kept stealing furtive glances at Max. She couldn’t focus on the text at all, reading over the same sentence again and again, it never going in. Her mind drifted off to thinking about the events of the past few days. She’d really been having a good time on their imposed mini-break. They’d settled into living together quickly and she was surprised by just how easy and comfortable it all was. They’d only been trapped in domesticity for a few days, yet it was normal now. Going back to her apartment and living alone once more would take some adjustment. She realised it was a change she was not looking forward to.
Her reflection was interrupted by Max asking her a question. He’d had to repeat it to get through to her.
“I said, shall we stream a film?” he tried again, attempting to catch her eye to break through her reverie.
“Oh, sorry. Ok, yes. What did you have in mind? No horror,” she ordered.
“No way - we see enough of the dark side of humanity at work. Since it is Valentine’s Day, I thought something that gives us some hope. Plus it’s got good songs. ‘Dirty Dancing‘?” he suggested.
“What’s that? Sounds a bit... rude.” Her nose wrinkled in distaste.
“You’re not telling me you’ve never seen ‘Dirty Dancing’?! It’s a classic!” Max was always taken aback by the gaping holes in her knowledge of popular culture.
“Sorry, no. No tv at my parents’, remember?” she shrugged.
“Then this afternoon your cultural education continues,” he informed her. “I think you’re going to appreciate this one. They dance almost as well as us.”
There was a pause as they both cast their minds back to the paso doble in the street in Cazador, when they’d nearly kissed.
“Errr, ok, stick it on then,” she agreed, wondering if he’d noticed her skin flush. “But I can’t promise to like it.”
“If you don’t then I’m going to doubt your taste in just about everything,” he teased, getting the stream ready to play.
As the film began, Max shuffled closer to Miranda, making sure it seemed like he was just trying to get comfortable. She didn’t move away, like she once would have. Ok, it was a small sofa so she couldn’t have gone far, but still... that was promising, wasn’t it? Should he put his arm round her? No, too much.
Next to him, Miranda was also considering their position. He’s sitting very close now... and I didn’t edge away, she congratulated herself. Should I snuggle in a bit maybe? No, too much.
Just relax and watch the film, they both told themselves.
“Ah-ha! I knew it!” Max exclaimed as Miranda entered the kitchen-diner.
“Knew what?” she asked, puzzled.
“That you loved the film. You were just humming ‘(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life’.” He grinned, thrilled that she’d enjoyed the film he’d chosen.
“Yeah, it was alright,” she replied casually.
“Alright?” He raised an expectant eyebrow at her.
“Ok, I enjoyed it,” she admitted. “Good choice.”
“That’s better. I’ll take that. Now, gin-tonic aperitif? I just made them. I got us some olives and nuts to nibble on too, while the main course is cooking.” He gestured at the glasses and bowls he’d set out on the small dining table.
“Great, thanks.” She perched on a chair and picked up her drink. “So what are we having?”
“Tonight, the menu is arroz brut followed by greixonera de brossat.”
“What and what now?” she asked, trying to hide her suspicion.
“Nothing scary, don’t worry. I wouldn’t do that to you. It’s rice with things in: pork, sausages - not sobrasada, some mushrooms, that kind of thing. Then a sort of cheesecake. I got the recipes from the mallorquín cookbooks,” he explained.
“Sounds like a lot of work. Thank you,” she told him appreciatively.
“Nothing’s too much for my favourite lady. Call it my Valentine’s Day gift to you,” he said.
“Oh, that reminds me: I got you something when I was at the shop the other day,” she told him as she got up from the table.
She opened a kitchen cupboard, pulled out a bottle and presented him with it, smiling shyly.
“Bodega Negra! You remembered!” He was delighted.
“Sorry it’s only one of their cheaper ones...” she said regretfully.
“Never apologise for buying me something from Bodega Negra. Thank you, my sweet,” he leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek. She gasped quietly.
An awkward pause hung in the air as they thought about what he had just said and done. They both decided to act like nothing had happened.
“Right, well, I’ll get this opened to breathe while you carry on with the dinner, yeah?” Miranda suggested, keen to busy herself with something that meant she didn’t have to look at him right now.
“Yes, boss” he replied, now intently studying a recipe book.
“Miranda?” Max called out.
“Yes?”, she answered, appearing in the kitchen doorway.
“Can you just watch nothing burns or anything while I go to the toilet please?” he begged.
“Sure,” she agreed, crossing the kitchen to stand near the stove top as he left the room rapidly.
He’d put some music on since she’d last been in the kitchen. She quite liked the song that was playing, but couldn’t remember the title so she went over to his phone to check what it was. She noticed the playlist was called ‘M’. M for Max?
She looked at the first few tracks: Michael Patrick Kelly - Beautiful Madness, lovelytheband - Broken, Labrinth - Beneath Your Beautiful, Wolf Alice - Don’t Delete the Kisses, Fever Fever - Hypnotised, Eric Carmen - Hungry Eyes. One of them was the song he’d sung her that morning about being lonely together and she was pretty sure another was from the film they’d just watched. She recognised the rest as songs he’d played her recently. She tried to remember some of their lyrics. There was quite a lot about wanting to get together with someone, being caught in their spell or wanting them to let you in. When he’d put these songs on before she hadn’t thought anything of it, but given his revelation this morning...
She heard the toilet flush so she quickly replaced his phone and moved away from it as he returned to the kitchen to relieve her of her responsibility.
She glanced at him as he re-entered the room. He’d changed into a smart French navy shirt while he was gone, she realised. He looked good in it. Really handsome. She caught a new scent from him as he approached: he must have put some sort of aftershave or perfume on. He smelled fresh and citrusy. Quite a lot of effort for a night in with a friend, she mused.
”You keep a lot of clothes in your car,” she remarked.
“Oh, the shirt? Umm, I bought it from the place next to Clara’s this morning,” he admitted, aiming for nonchalance and not quite achieving it.
”Oh. Well, you look... it’s... it’s a nice shirt,” she told him self-consciously, before turning her back to him and going to help herself to some of the olives he’d put on the table.
Max smiled indulgently: that was almost a compliment.
He sang along to the chorus playing as Miranda faced him again. “Would you let meee / see beneath your beautiful, would you let meee / see beneath your perfect.” He caught her eye as he finished the lyric, then after a charged second swiftly returned to checking on the food. Miranda’s stomach flipped at the look he had given her and the meaning of the lines he had just sung.
That seemed... significant, she thought. Maybe M stands for Miranda? A playlist about wanting to be with me?
Miranda picked up the bag of clothes she’d bought on Tuesday and sat on the bed. She pulled a red bundle out and contemplated it. Would it be too much, she wondered. She hadn’t bought it with this week in mind; it was just something she’d liked so she’d treated herself, thinking that there might be a special occasion it would be suitable for at some point. Be brave and put it on, she pushed herself. He’d already dressed up, so it wouldn’t be so strange for her to join him.
“It’s ready!” Max announced from the dining area.
Miranda entered the room to find he’d lit dozens of tealights and arranged them on the table and all along the worktops and shelves. The whole room was bathed in their flickering glow.
Max felt his pulse quicken as he took her in: she was wearing a figure-hugging red dress that showed off every curve of her toned body. He gulped. “You look... amazing,” he breathed.
“Thanks,” she said quietly, looking down at the floor. She was never comfortable with accepting praise, though she was pleased he liked the way she looked tonight.
“Umm, I’d have got flowers, but, you know, winter, plus no deliveries, obviously,” he apologised, unusually nervous.
Miranda looked up sharply. “Max, you’ve spent the whole time we’ve been here doing nice things for me. You don’t need to apologise! I just feel bad I haven’t done the same for you.”
“Well, if I shouldn’t be sorry, you shouldn’t feel guilty: I’ve loved this week with you.”
They smiled at each other and sat down at the table, knees almost touching in the small space. Max poured the wine she’d given him earlier.
“To snowstorms and the surprises they bring,” he toasted, glass raised.
“Snowstorms and surprises,” she joined in, looking wistfully at him as he drank.
They chatted about nothing much whilst they ate their arroz brut, just happy to be in the other’s company. Miranda was really enjoying this ‘rice with things’ and she told herself to try more mallorquín food. Maybe Max would help guide her.
Max put his fork down as he finished the last of his portion. He looked across at Miranda, who was intent on her plate, still dealing with the remaining few bites. She’s so lovely, he thought, and she’s really tried these last few days.
“I can’t believe you’ve never had a date for Valentine’s Day before,” he blurted out, shaking his head.
She looked up, not sure where this was going. He said ‘before’, she pondered, was that a mistake or are we on a date tonight?
“There’s only been one other person I’ve wanted to have a Valentine’s date with,” she told him cautiously as she toyed with her fork.
One other person, he thought. That’s... revealing. She does want this to be a date then.
“It didn’t work out?” he probed gently.
She paused to consider whether she wanted to tell him. She hadn’t spoken about this with anyone. Come on, let him in if you want him, she urged herself.
“It never really happened. We worked together and he was in a relationship,” she sighed. “We did kiss once at a Christmas party, but he told me it was a drunken mistake. He got transferred not long after. With a bit of distance between us, I realised how embarrassing and pathetic I’d been around him. All our colleagues must have been laughing at me. I cringe thinking about it now.”
“And this is why you can be a bit... ‘closed’ now?” he asked softly, his blue eyes full of sympathy.
“Well, I was always a private person, never one to wear my heart on my sleeve. It was only for him I put myself out there and I just humiliated myself,” she frowned. “I decided then that I needed to protect myself. If I ever liked someone again and he wasn’t single, I wouldn’t let my feelings be obvious like that. And if he ever became single, he’d have to make the first move.”
Their eyes locked again. Max felt the blood pound in his ears. He swallowed hard. Should he say something now? He went to open his mouth, but she broke the eye contact and quickly stood up.
“I’ll wash up if you get the dessert ready?” she proposed. Her hands were a little unsteady as she began to clear the table.
“Deal,” he agreed, wondering if he’d missed his chance.
They carried their wine and slices of cheesecake into the living room and settled themselves on the cosy sofa, the fire roaring and crackling in front of them, casting a warm light over their contented faces.
They tucked into their desserts eagerly, the only sounds their appreciative noises, the chink of cutlery on plates, and the occasional pop from the flames.
Max took their empty dishes to the kitchen, then came back and sat next to Miranda with a satisfied sigh, pleased overall with how the evening was going.
“Well, thanks for a lovely Valentine’s Day and well done again on the delicious meal,” Miranda said, raising her wine glass and chinking it against his. “Sorry you had to spend it with me though,” she continued self-deprecatingly, staring into her glass.
“You’re welcome, but why are you sorry?” he asked, puzzled at her very British apology.
“There must be other people you’d rather have spent Valentine’s Day with,” she explained awkwardly.
“No, actually,” he replied firmly.
“Oh. Really?” Her heart was beating faster now.
“There is no one I’d rather have been with today. No one,” he confirmed, looking sincere.
“Oh. Oh, right.” She felt her face began to colour as she realised what he might be trying to say: he could just mean that he enjoyed her company platonically, but she suspected that he was saying he wanted to be more than friends.
“It’s been a perfect Valentine’s Day so far. I hope that you have had a good day?” He seemed genuinely concerned about her happiness.
“Yes! Yes, it’s been lovely. Thank you.” She smiled shyly.
“It’s not over yet,” he replied, his heart racing.
“Oh?” What else is he planning, she wondered as she sipped the last of her tinto.
There was a long pause while he considered how to carry on, or if he even should. She said she wouldn’t make the first move, he thought, so maybe I’ll just go for it now. What was it she said sometimes, ‘no guts, no glory’?
“I want to talk about us”. He caught her eye and then looked away quickly to the flickering fire. He wasn’t sure he should’ve said that.
“Us?” Her chest tightened and she felt her stomach lurch. She couldn’t look at him either.
Max took their drained glasses and carefully put them on the table. He turned back to Miranda, his blue eyes deeply serious. He put his hand gently on her knee and took a deep breath.
“Miranda, I have enjoyed this time alone with you so much, and I think... maybe you have too? And you’re my best friend... And... well, I think you’re wonderful and beautiful and-“
Miranda suddenly leaned forward and kissed him with an eagerness that surprised them both. She pulled her head back and bit her lip, wondering if she’d done something she shouldn’t have.
“Wow...” Max whispered, his eyes wide. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”
“Sorry, I-“ she began.
“Did I say I didn’t want it to carry on happening?” he interrupted with a tender smile.
He touched a hand to her cheek before softly placing his lips on hers. She responded passionately, putting her arms around his neck as he moved his hands to her waist and then round to her back, pulling her closer.
After a few minutes she pushed him back against the sofa and confidently straddled his lap, feeling more exhilarated than she had been in a long time. From the swelling pressing against her it was clear Max was excited too.