The image of the young boy made her heart skip, but she willed it to the back of her mind – God knows that with all she'd been through in the past year, she'd learned to repress a little. She quickened her pace. All she wanted was to crawl into bed, fall asleep, and find the safety of dreams.
Not even stepping through the door after she opened it, her hand found the light switches and clicked them on. Miranda had become a very cautious woman. Her eyes did a quick survey of the foyer and the doorways beyond. Nothing seemed out of place. Confident, she entered her home, closed and locked the door, disabled the alarm, then re-set it for the night.
She headed for the kitchen, dropping her coat, purse, keys, on the table; reached over and pressed the button on the answering machine, watching it as if expecting it to move.
"Hey, it's Pete. Just checking in to see how it went with Chloe today, making sure you're alright." His voice faltered, and Miranda smiled affectionately. "I was wondering if you'd like to come for dinner tomorrow? Maybe a drink? Just blow off some steam. Call me when you get in. Take care."
The machine beeped, signaling the end of the message. There were no others – no one else wanted to leave their voice on her machine.
She smiled again, picked up the phone, dialed a familiar number, and sat down in one of her kitchen chairs, crossing one leg over the other.
"H'lo?" A sleepy voice answered. A TV was on in the background.
"Oh, sorry, Pete. Did I wake you?"
"Don't worry about it, I was still awake." He stifled a yawn. "How'd it go?"
"Oh, Chloe's fine. I think she'll do great. Thanks for calling, by the way."
"Sure, sure. Not a problem," he paused, and the television went silent. "What do you think about tomorrow?"
"I'd never miss an opportunity for some of your fabulous cooking."
Pete let out deep chuckle that ended up sounding sexy. "You flatter me, doll."
Miranda laughed gently. She uncrossed her legs, kicked off her shoes. She couldn't help herself – a picture popped into her head, one that sent a tingle running through her. Not just of Pete cooking, but cooking while shirtless, frying something in a pan in the morning, while she wore one of his shirts and had her arms in an octopus hug around him. "I'll – I'll see you tomorrow night."
Suddenly, she didn't feel so tired. She was wound-up; she'd liked Pete for years. No, it was more than a fondness. She'd been ready to cheat on her husband with him. A part of her had wondered if it was just the lure of the forbidden that made her want him. But it was more – his boyish charm, his over-sweetness, how he went out of his way to look after her – and not to mention the hard muscles that she'd felt under his clothes more than once as she'd "bumped" into him in the hallway.
Sighing, she made sure her night-light was plugged in (just in case of monsters), clicked off her bedroom light, and tumbled out of her clothes and into her bed.
She lay awake staring around her room for what felt like hours.
Miranda woke late the next morning. Not that she needed to wake up early, it was just something she was used to. One glance out the window told her that it would rain all day. Dark, soggy clouds loomed as far as she could see. Already, it was pouring down, filling potholes, and making the gutters run like rivers.
This wouldn't deter her from her daily four-mile jog, however. She'd given up swimming – the local pool was too far, and she liked to spend as little time as possible inside the walls of work – and felt jogging was a happy substitute. It got her moving for the day. She brushed her teeth, pulled her hair into a ponytail, threw on some shorts and a sweatshirt, and headed into the kitchen. She chugged a glass of orange juice. She loved it. Orange was her favourite colour, so maybe she was a bit biased.
Her new home that she'd moved into a few months ago was happily decorated with a splash of orange. The drapes and bed set in the bedroom were a medium brown, with orange around the edges. It sounded more horrible than it looked, and she has long since given up trying to explain the pattern to people, and just let them view it for themselves. Mostly, she was informed that her taste was "interesting" or "eccentric". She didn't mind.
Her living room couch and loveseat were white, with a couple bold orange pillows sitting on them. The drapes were the same loud shade.
The closer that she and Pete became, the more he felt comfortable teasing her. He'd recently given her a speech about her decorating tastes. Mind you, it was a charming and witty speech, mostly concerning how Miranda needed to have orange-haired children to truly be happy.
She'd whacked him with a pillow then, and giggled, which had made him blush. Which, in turn, had made her throw her head back and laugh. His charms came out at all the best moments. He'd caught her arms with his hands, which she felt before she saw, and upon opening her eyes, realized just how close he'd come to sit beside her.
He'd been staring straight into her eyes, his face so full of caring that he almost looked worried. Her stomach had felt as if she were on a rollercoaster, waiting to go down. She'd met his gaze.
He had brushed her cheek with one hand, let it linger there; she had thought his hands would be cold because he was seemingly nervous, but he felt surprisingly warm. Miranda had wanted his hands all over her body. She still did. "'Randa… You know I'll always be here for you."
"I know you will, Pete." She'd thought she wouldn't be able to reply, but it happened without her thinking. She was surprised by his sudden insecurity.
Suddenly, he was smiling, but she thought she detected embarrassment as he pulled his hand off her face. "Sorry."
"Pete," she smiled; a sign to let him know everything was all right. He relaxed, and she caught his hand in her own. "I know… You'll be here to take care of me when I need it. And I'll be here for you, too. We'll always have each other."