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Permission To Be Happy

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This is the first day of the rest of my life.

That was the thought which came into Miranda’s head when she finally emerged from a deep, dreamless sleep. The Saturday morning sunlight, reflecting off the water in the harbour and slanting in through the gaps in her window shutters and onto her face, had woken her. It had taken her a moment to remember that she was in her own bed but she was not alone. Her cheek was pillowed on Max’s warm chest, and she could feel his regular breathing and his steady heartbeat through his shirt. The weight of his arm lay across her body. He was still fast asleep. Not surprising, considering how exhausted he had been last night.

The old Miranda would have started awake in alarm at finding herself in this situation. She would have leapt from the bed, sent Max home and tried to pretend that last night’s conversation had never happened and that everything could go back to normal now, thank you very much.

The new Miranda lay very still. She was cosy, and comfortable, and she was not going to move an inch. She was not going to be the one to break the spell. She was just going to lie here for a warm, sleepy while and think some more about her waking realisation:

This is the first day of the rest of my life.

The week Max had been released from hospital Inés had asked Miranda, “Why don’t you just give yourself permission to be happy?”

I do give myself permission to be happy, Miranda thought. I must, or nothing will ever change. I will always be on the outside, afraid to let anyone get close to me, watching other people moving forward with their lives. I don’t want that any more. What do I want?

She felt the moment when Max started to wake, because his regular breathing changed slightly, and the arm that was lying across her twitched. Miranda moved at last, lifting her head off his chest and pushing herself up on her elbow so that she could see his face.

When his eyes opened, there was a moment when she could see him mentally orientating himself, replaying the events of last night, just as she had when she awoke. After that, his gaze met hers with a flicker of uncertainty, a flicker of fear. She knew why he was afraid. He was afraid that she was going to pull away from him, pretend that last night’s conversation had never happened and that she had never told him that she loved him.

“Why do you make life so difficult for yourself, Miranda?” Inés’s voice in her head again. “Why don’t you just give yourself permission to be happy?”

Before he could say anything, she raised her eyebrows and smiled at him. “Not a dream,” she said.

She thought she knew what happiness was, then. It was the warmth that swelled in her chest when she saw the look that lit up his face at her smile and her words. It was an amazing feeling to make someone else happy, she realised.

“Not a dream?” he said quizzically, and his smile was a little teasing. He rolled over so that he was no longer lying on his back, but facing her. She raised her hand and touched his face tentatively, thinking about how difficult she usually found it to let anyone be close to her, but how natural it somehow felt when it was the two of them like this. She looked at the scar on his forehead where his head had hit the rocks, the day he was shot. Not for the first time, Miranda said a silent thank you to whatever powers had ensured that he was still here, scarred perhaps but miraculously warm and alive - and hers.  

She cupped his face with her hand and edged a little closer until she could reach his lips with hers and kiss him as gently as he had kissed her the night before. As the kiss ended, he pulled her a little tighter against him as if to make sure she was going nowhere. “I thought you might have run away in the night,” he murmured.

“It’s my apartment, Max,” she pointed out, playing with one of the curly strands of hair which fell over his forehead and which she had secretly always rather wanted to touch.

“You’re right, as usual.”

They lay quietly together for a little longer, not speaking. There did not seem to be any need to say anything. Miranda reflected that she had never felt so contented or so safe, although she did wonder which of them was going to make the next move.  

It was Max who moved at last, pulling himself up to a sitting position against the pillows, pushing the duvet down to his waist and rubbing his eyes. He looked down at her. “Do you want me to make some coffee?” he asked. “Or –“ clearly remembering her strange British preferences and the family-sized box of PG Tips in her kitchen – “tea, maybe?”

Miranda raised her head and looked up at him. “No,” she said deliberately. “I want you to stay right here.

He smiled, but did not reach for her, as she had half-expected. He stayed where he was, looking down at her with questions in his eyes, and she realised that he was being so, so careful not to spook her into retreating, not to frighten her away. He was going to let her set the pace. Very well then, she would set the pace for both of them. “You’re the bravest person I know,” he had said last night. She would take the risk.

Keeping her eyes locked on his, she pulled herself up, leaned towards him and began to unbutton his shirt. The smile faded from his face as he mirrored her more serious expression, and his eyes were suddenly very blue and very intense. The air seemed to change and become charged with electricity, just as the air had changed and crackled between them once months ago, during that never-forgotten paso doble.

She finished unbuttoning his shirt, pushed it back from his shoulders and moved her hand to his belt buckle. As soon as she did so he abandoned gentleness and caution, swooping suddenly to grab her and roll her on to her back beneath him, robbing her of breath. “Max!” she protested laughingly, even as she put her arms around his neck to pull him closer.

“I love you, Miranda Blake,” he said earnestly, and began to kiss her – not gently this time, but with a desperate fierce heat which she returned eagerly. That heat ignited long-smouldering embers in both of them and the fire roared hotter and higher until at last the beautiful flames consumed her.

***

The last thirty-six hours since she had arrived home on Friday evening seemed to have whizzed past like a lovely but surprising dream, Miranda reflected.

It was now eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. Max was padding around her kitchen with his curly hair still damp from her shower, wearing shorts and a T-shirt he must have retrieved during a quick trip back to his apartment on Saturday afternoon to get clothes and toiletries. He had also visited the little grocery store round the corner and come back with fresh bread, eggs, and a bag of other ingredients not to be found in Miranda’s kitchen cupboards. He was now preparing something called Bauernfrühstück for brunch, which he assured her would be a taste sensation. Miranda had been firmly told to relax, sit on her balcony, enjoy the Sunday morning views of the sunlit harbour, drink her cup of tea and wait to be astonished by the upcoming feast. It was as if he was trying to show her how indispensable he was (and it might be working).

Miranda stood up and went to lean on the balcony railing. Seagulls were swooping above the marina, and a fresh breeze was rippling the water. One or two rich yacht-owners were visible sunning themselves on their decks. Below Miranda’s apartment, the smell of cooking wafted up from the harbourside cafés which were preparing to receive their lunch customers.

“Food is nearly ready,” Max said in her ear behind her, making her jump slightly. “You’re going to love it.” He put his arms around her and pulled her back into his chest, tucking her head under his chin. She resisted for only a second before giving in and leaning back against him. They had already been as intimate as any two people could possibly be; there was no point trying to maintain personal space now. She did not intend to allow him to call all the shots in their relationship but there was no denying that she was enjoying feeling…cherished. It was something quite new to her.

“Well, it smells delicious,” she said.

“I’m just trying to impress you with my culinary skills.”

“You’re succeeding, so far - although, as you know, I don’t cook, so it’s easy to impress me.”

“I live to impress you, Miranda,” he said into her ear. “But I was hoping I had impressed you with more than my culinary skills this weekend.” Even though she couldn’t see his face, she knew he was waggling his eyebrows at her suggestively.

“Surely you don’t need me to boost your ego, Max?” She could feel him laughing against her back. “I’m sure plenty of women have told you what a Casanova you are.”

Ja, of course. Hundreds,” he said airily. “But I’m only interested in your opinion.”

Miranda turned towards him, into his embrace. “Well,” she said, pulling his head down so that she could murmur into his ear, “my opinion is…that I can smell something burning in the kitchen.”

Das Bauernfrühstück!” He pulled back from her with a squawk of dismay and fled into the kitchen, followed by the sound of her laughter.

***

After some protest, Max reluctantly agreed that their new relationship should remain a secret for now; Miranda insisted on keeping it completely separate from their work life. He had a strong suspicion that they would not be able to keep it a secret for long – not in the notoriously gossipy community they lived and worked in, not with friends like Christian or Federico who had the instincts of news journalists for scandal, and not with a gimlet-eyed boss like Inés, who missed nothing. But if private was the way Miranda wanted it, he would do his very best to keep it so. Even if it meant having to discipline himself to remember that, when they were in the office, he could not touch her or talk to her about anything that was not work-related.

“I don’t really know why we can’t just tell everyone,” he said in bed that night, kissing the side of her neck in a very distracting way. “I wouldn’t mind.”

“I’m not ready. Besides, you know what they’ll be like.”

“Who?”

“Everyone. Half the people we know have been convinced for months that there’s something going on between us or we ought to be a couple. Inés. Carmen. Christian. Federico. Even your parents. They’ll all be so horribly smug and I told you so!”

“Maybe for a few days. Then they’ll get over it.”

Miranda rolled towards him and fixed him with a reproachful look. “Max. I thought we agreed. We’re not telling them yet.”

He sighed. “Okay, okay. I’ll do my best.” He reached to pull her closer. “Whatever makes you happy.”

Her look softened and she smiled at him. “You make me happy.”

“Good,” he said. “Because I intend to go on doing that for a long time.”

***

Max thought that Miranda was much better than he was at acting as if nothing had changed. No one in the office seemed to notice anything different. He could see a small change in her though, because he knew her so well. Since the day he had first met her, there had been that slightly defensive look at the back of her eyes, that constant need to guard her emotions, and now that look was gone. Max was going to do everything in his power to make sure it never returned. He was not sure who else might be perceptive enough to notice its disappearance. Inés, probably. Nothing much got past her. Max had once thought that, had she lived in Germany in the Middle Ages, Inés would almost certainly have been burned as a witch.   

Miranda knew that she did a good job of acting her normal self at work that week and she thought Max made a heroic effort, too. It helped that they spent very little time in the office during the next few days, having been assigned to help tidy up the loose ends of the Vega robbery case. There were still property searches to be completed, witnesses to be interviewed and evidence to be gathered before the huge case files would be ready for the prosecution service.

There was one awkward moment near the end of the day on Friday. Max was down the corridor getting a coffee refill and Miranda was at her desk, ostensibly reading the records of Archie Donnelly’s money transfers between Ireland and Spain under a false name. Her thoughts had strayed to the weekend ahead, and she did not even realise that she was gazing absently into space until she was startled by hearing Inés’s voice, sharp and very close to her ear. She had not heard Inés come out of her office.

“Sorry! Did you say something, Inés?”

“I did indeed, Detective Blake.” Inés perched on the corner of a nearby cupboard and smiled enigmatically at Miranda. “Your thoughts were far away. I wonder where they were?”

“Um…just going through these money transfers. I wanted to get them finished by the end of the day.”

“Excellent.” Inés was still giving Miranda a look which made her uncomfortable. “And I have a brand new case for you and Detective Winter next week. A gang of teenage girls. Pickpocketing tourists. If you can round them up, there will be a lot of petty crimes in the shopping areas we can close the book on. It should be nice and simple for you after the Vega case.” She put a case file down in front of Miranda. “But please. Don’t worry about it until Monday. I’m sure you have plans for your weekend.”

Miranda definitely did not trust the way Inés was smirking at her. Fortunately – or perhaps not – they were interrupted at that point by the return of Max carrying two mugs of coffee. “Inés.” He nodded to her as he put the mugs on the desk. “Did Miranda tell you we’ve nearly finished recording all those money transfers?”

“She did, Detective Winter. And I was just asking if she had any plans for the weekend. Do you have any plans?”

Max flung himself into his chair and smiled at her with his breeziest manner. “I do. I’m going to a party tonight. My friend Christian – you remember him? It’s his birthday.”  

Inés rose from her perch on the cupboard. “Well. Enjoy yourself, Detective.” She paused in the doorway of her office and gave them both a shark-like smile and a nod. “Detectives.”

As the door closed behind her, Max pulled an enquiring face at Miranda and she grimaced in return. But discussing Inés’s behaviour would get them nowhere, and they had work to finish, so they both returned to their computer screens and focused on wrapping up Donnelly’s money transfers before the end of the working day.

Christian was celebrating his birthday with a get-together at Joan’s Bar that evening. Miranda had bought him some aftershave. Christian had a tendency to favour pungent colognes which Miranda thought were more likely to send women fleeing than to attract them. It reminded her of being a teenager in Aberystwyth in the days when the boys at school had sprayed themselves liberally with Lynx and made the school bus reek of it. Therefore she was going to give Christian a bottle of a much classier aftershave in the hope that he would take the hint. Max had bought him a set of Bayern Munich shot glasses from the online club shop to add to the collection of Bayern memorabilia which adorned the place Max usually referred to as “Christian’s crappy flat.”

“I need to go home to get changed,” Miranda said, as they got into the BMW outside police headquarters. “I’ll see you at Joan’s Bar later?”

“You know it.” He dropped her off outside her building, and they shared a goodbye kiss in the BMW before she got out and he left to return to his own apartment to get ready for the evening.

***

“Did you and Max have a fight?” Carmen asked Miranda quietly, while the cheerful noise of Christian’s party filled the air around them. Miranda was sitting on a stool at the bar talking to Carmen, while Max was part of the slightly raucous, beer-drinking group around Christian.

Miranda looked genuinely surprised. “A fight? No. Why would you think so?”

“Oh – I don’t know. You’ve hardly spoken to each other this evening. And normally you get here together, but you came at different times. I just wondered if he’d done something stupid and you’d had a falling out.”

Miranda smiled into her glass. “No, don’t worry, Carmen. Everything’s fine. I’m probably not talking much because I’m tired. Work’s been ridiculous lately.”

“Well, that’s good. I have to say, usually when you have a fight, Max turns up here in a bad mood and drinks shots of schnapps until he makes it up with you, and he’s not doing that tonight, so I guess everything must be fine.”

Miranda laughed out loud at this. At that moment Christian appeared at her elbow, slightly drunk, very cheerful and loudly demanding birthday kisses. Miranda obliged him with a peck on the cheek, trying not to recoil from the smell of whatever macho body spray he had covered himself with that evening. Carmen leaned across the bar and obliged him with a quick, laughing smooch, which he tried to repeat until her boyfriend David grabbed his collar and encouraged him away, although in a friendly manner.

It was not long until Christian reached the stage of inebriation where he wanted to propose numerous toasts. “Here’s to my favourite bar! May it never close! And to Joan, the wonderful owner!”

“You’re still not getting free drinks,” Joan said dryly, from behind the bar.

“And to my favourite waitress Carmen, the most beautiful waitress in Mallorca!” Carmen waved at him. He slung his arm, the one he was not using to brandish his beer glass, around Max’s shoulders. “And here’s to my best friend Max! I made him what he is today!”

Max laughed and drank, along with most of the other guests in the bar. Christian swung round on his stool and waved his glass in Miranda’s direction. “And here’s to another of the most beautiful women in Mallorca! I’d just like to remind her I’m still available if she is!”

“In your dreams, my friend,” Max said, firmly taking Christian’s glass from his flailing hand and putting it back on the bar before it could spill everywhere. “She’s way out of your league.” But not out of mine, he thought rather smugly, darting a quick glance over to Miranda, who was still talking to Carmen at the other end of the bar. Miranda was facing away from him and did not see his expression but Carmen did, and her eyebrows lifted slightly.

“Why don’t you walk Miranda home, Max?” Carmen suggested an hour later, when the party was winding down and Christian had reached the maudlin stage of drunkenness, telling all his friends how much he loved them. “I think she’s probably had enough of all this for one night.”

“Okay, if she’s ready to go.”

“Honestly, I’ll be fine on my own,” Miranda said, for the benefit of their audience.

“It’s no trouble,” Max insisted, also for the benefit of their audience, but his eyes were laughing at her.

Once they were out of sight of the bar, he reached for her hand and laced his fingers through hers.

“Carmen thought we’d had a fight,” Miranda told him. “We must have been doing too good a job of ignoring each other.”

She heard him laugh as they strolled through the darkened, almost-deserted streets. “All right. Just to show that I’m not fighting with you, I’ll walk you home. Will you let me do that?”

She tucked her arm inside his, pulling him closer to her side. The evening had turned chilly, and he was warm. “Yes. But only if you stay.”

***

She was standing among the rocks of the cove by the sea. Max was ahead of her, running, pebbles flying out from under his feet. The evening sun was in her eyes. A dark figure stepped out in front of her, holding a gun. He pointed it at Max and fired. Max spun around and fell to the ground, blood spreading across the back of his shirt. She was filled with terrible fear and dread. She was frozen to the spot, screaming his name.

“Max!”

She opened her eyes to total middle-of-the-night blackness. Her heart was pounding, her breaths were coming quickly and she was in a cold sweat. The black night seemed to close in around her. This dream again -

“Miranda? Was ist los?

Max’s startled voice came out of the darkness, close to her ear. His hand, groping blindly, found her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“I – I –“

He leaned across with a long arm and fumbled for the switch of her bedside lamp. Suddenly the darkness was gone and they were bathed in a pool of yellow light. Miranda blinked, her eyes wide, still trying to orientate herself. She scrambled up into a sitting position. “I’m fine. Just a bad dream. Sorry I woke you.”

He sat up too, and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. “I don’t mind. What was the dream about?”

She was not sure whether to tell him or not. “The shooting.”

“Ah.” His thumb rubbed reassuring circles on her upper arm. “Maybe I should be glad I can’t remember it. Have you had that dream before?”

“A few times.” A lot, actually. But not since she had started sharing her nights with him.

She slid her hand around his back and ran her fingers across his warm skin until she found what she was feeling for – the raised puckered scar of the bullet wound. She stroked it, thinking of those long days in the intensive care unit – the days she usually tried to put out of her mind.

He let her stroke the scar for a few seconds, then reached for her hand and drew it gently up to hold her fingers against his steadily-beating heart. “I’m here, and I’m okay,” he said. “I know what could have happened, but it didn’t.”

“I know,” she said. “But I was just thinking – someone said to me – everything can change in a moment, and we should make the most of what we have while we have it.”

“Absolutely.” He dropped a kiss on her head. “Are you okay now?”

“Yes.” She was. She would be.      

“We should probably try to get back to sleep. We can leave the light on, if you like.”

Miranda was touched by this offer. He knew about her issues with dark places, all triggered by her experience of being locked in a dark wardrobe as a small child. But she would not be scared this time, because it was only a dream and he was there, and alive. They were both safe.

“No, it’s fine,” she said, reaching to switch off the lamp. This time the darkness seemed almost cosy as it wrapped itself around them and they wrapped themselves around each other.

***