Sighing, Miranda closed her notebook and went to open the door for her colleague. Otherwise he might just keep banging on it.
“Max, what are you doing here? It’s almost midnight! I was just about to turn in for the night.”
He didn’t even wait for her to invite him in. In his typical Max Winter fashion, he moved around her and made himself at home in her flat.
“Miranda!” he replied, trying but failing to imitate her tone.
“Max, I’m tired.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“You were working on your computer just moments ago.”
She said nothing. She’d love to know how he knew that but since there was a chance he was just guessing she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. There was no way she’d admit he was right.
“Max, why are you here?”
He looked up, opened his mouth, closed it again, then looked away. It was so uncharacteristic for him, Miranda worried something bad must have happened.
“Is everything alright? Did something happen to you? Or Carmen?”
That seemed to jolt him out of his indecision.
“Carmen broke up with me.”
“That’s…” Miranda trailed off. There were a lot of words that came to her mind, but she couldn’t let herself say them out loud.
I’m sorry, she wanted to tell him. And she was. Carmen was her friend as well. Carmen was great, and Max must be devastated to have lost her. But…
I’m glad, she longed to inform him. Perhaps she’d finally get a chance with him now. She definitely couldn’t tell him that.
“It is,” Max replied, but this time Miranda couldn’t feel their usual understanding. Under normal circumstances, she could tell what he meant. They didn’t need words to communicate. And if they bothered to say the words out loud, these words meant something.
A phrase echoed in her head. You’re supposed to know me! Miranda had said to him at the time, but the same was true the other way round. Right now, however, their connection seemed broken. She had no idea what he meant, or if he was even trying to tell her something.
He certainly couldn’t know what she wanted to say. He couldn’t, not if her brain and heart were warring against each other and not even she knew which of her unhelpful organs would win that battle.
“Are you okay?” she finally asked.
What a stupid question, she scolded herself immediately. No one was fine after a break-up. Not even Max Winter who seemed to be doing a fairly decent job of being nonchalant about it.
They sat in silence.
Only it wasn’t just silence. It was an uncomfortable, unnerving silence. They were both on edge, wanting but not quite daring to put their thoughts into words.
Max was the first to cave in.
He was as stubborn as her, Miranda thought, but unlike her he was not an introvert who preferred to ignore his feelings.
“She broke up with me because of you.”
Staring at him, Miranda tried to make sense out of the words that had come out of his mouth.
The accusation in his words hurt. Carmen knew her better than this, and they were friends. She knew her friend wouldn’t think her capable of starting an affair with someone who was in a relationship. Even if that person was Max.
“How dare you blame this on me, Max? I have no idea what you did to mess it up, but don’t you dare put the blame for it on me!” Her heart was beating hard against her rib cage, she could feel the anger and hurt pump through her veins with every beat.
She saw him move on the couch. If he had been standing in this moment, he would have taken a step back. He even held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“I didn’t say it’s your fault.” He looked at her with his puppy dog eyes, silently pleading with her.
“Well then. Please explain how I’m the cause of your break-up but apparently not to blame.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest.
He threw her another of those puppy looks, as though he was begging her not to shoot the messenger. The problem was that the messenger was probably a lot more involved than his silent plea implied.
“Carmen said she could tell I’m in love with you and that she wants more for herself. More for all of us.” He took a breath, eyeing her carefully to decide whether it was safe to continue. “And that I should tell you.”
Instead of its initial angry beating, Miranda’s heart was now skipping several beats at once, she was sure. There was a distinct lack of oxygen in her brain because Max couldn’t have said the words she just heard. Or maybe it was her brain that was malfunctioning and had her imagining things.
“Tell me what?” she asked, trying to ignore the hope that was threatening to blossom inside her. Her voice was unnaturally soft, quite unlike her, and she didn’t like it.
“Tell me what, Max?” she repeated, pushing the anger at the loss of control over this entire situation into her voice.
“That she’s right.”
The puppy look was back but there was also defiance in his eyes. Daring her to contradict. Determined to make her believe.
“Carmen knows you wouldn’t cheat on her,” she insisted, her voice now softer than before.
He moved closer to her side of the couch, putting his hand next to hers but not quite touching it. She could feel his warmth radiate and she wanted nothing more than to take his hand in hers.
“Yes, she does. And she’s not blaming you.” His hand edged closer, still waiting for her to rebuff him.
Miranda looked down to where their hands almost met. It was time to be honest.
“Perhaps she should. You two were fine before I came along.”
Her hand moved of its own accord. She took his hand in hers, intertwining their fingers. And finally dared to look up.
He was staring at her in a mixture of hope, and cautious joy.
“Admit it,” he grinned. “You love me, too.”
She had to marvel at the overly-confident, smug words, which stood in such stark contrast to the tone of his voice that let her know he was just as much in awe as she herself.
“Of course, I do.” She allowed herself a fond smile. “You know I do, Max.”
With these words she pulled him closer.