As much as Miranda tried to complete enough work to satisfy herself, she felt it wasn't enough to excuse her for an evening with Pete. She wanted to, badly, but wondered if maybe she was procrastinating. Was she nervous? She vaguely remembered getting ready for her first date at the tender age of sixteen – her best friend came over, helped her style her hair, pick out the perfect outfit, and hid up the stairs listening in as her date showed up and met her parents. She remembered the experience as quite horrific.

Mostly though, she was horny. It had been a long time, and Pete was very attractive.

She had concerns about feeling insecure, thinking she'd forget to shave her legs, would make the mistake of eating onions the day before, that her outfit wouldn't match or that the buttons wouldn't undo smoothly, and that the night would turn into one of those awful B-list movies with poor acting in the love scenes.

"Oh, you silly little girl," she chided herself aloud. It was Thursday night, and she was cooped up in her office again. That small mountain of paperwork had a mountain of cousins hidden in a drawer that she'd neglected to put on top of her desk, and had therefore forgotten all about. All the lights were on to fight off any surprise-attacking sleepiness. She threw her pen down, and picked up the phone.

Their date was set for the next night. She decided, twiddling the ends of her hair as she drove home, that if it went well – well, then they needn't be up early. She would have set it for Saturday night but – if it went poorly, then they wouldn't have to see each other for two days.

She stayed up late, fantasizing. Not just the dirty stuff – mind you, that was certainly nice to think about, and picturing it all happening smoothly calmed her nerves a little – but the nice, sweet, romantic gestures, too. The long-term stuff. Envisioning Pete making her breakfast the morning after, spending a day in bed watching TV and eating take-out, planning a vacation together.

However afraid that Friday would crawl by, her worries were eased when she looked at the clock and saw it was almost time to go home for the day. No excuses for staying late tonight. She could finish paperwork tomorrow.

Miranda was showered, changed, and itching to go long before she was due for dinner. She'd made sure her legs were shaved, that her long hair was neatly parted and combed, that she had on just a dab of her elixir of passion – lemongrass. She had never put much thought into the smell of it before.

Filling the kettle up with water, she turned on the stove. A cup of tea would soothe her nerves. Why be nervous? Making out with him went perfectly well. She hadn't been nervous then. Perhaps it was just the anticipation. All her fantasies of having sex with him showed him to be decent and respectful, and she was sure that would hold true.

When it was ready, she sipped her tea, hummed along to the radio. She pondered.

Pete. P-e-e-e-e-te. Pete Graham. A little bit nervous himself, but happy as a clam when he was in his element. Caring, sexy, with that firm body and blow-you-away eyes that twinkled when he smiled. A very honest man. A good dresser, but not gay. She wouldn't mind watching him work out.

Her eyes wandered over to the clock. Finally. She could leave without showing up too early and eager.

Dinner went well (no garlic was served). Drinks went well (Pete had extra coasters placed discreetly on the end table). Their conversation flowed smoothly (they could talk about anything, absolutely anything). Then, they were exactly where they were the other night. Neither noticed it happening. He smelled even better than before. His body felt harder, his tongue already knew exactly what she liked.

Work continued; the dates continued. Life continued. They would share wine and watch TV, then make out like teenagers. They broke the formal-dress tradition and started enjoying their evenings in jeans and T-shirts (and how good Pete's arms looked, muscular and tan, always in a black or white sleeve). Miranda started inviting him over to her p lace, learning to cook a few things, offering her own favourite drinks. It felt good to cuddle with him on her couch, in front of her television set, holding his hand underneath the blanket they shared in case they fell asleep. If he awoke before her, he would stroke her cheek gently until she woke, carry her to her bed and whisper sweet nothings, and let himself out. He always called the next day.

He never pushed her to do anything; he waited patiently. How he managed, she didn't know. It was months before she asked him to spend the night. He hid his excitement well and responded coolly.

When it happened, it was perfect.

Life kept going. The sun seemed brighter, the air cleaner. For all the drab and dreary aspects of work, Miranda found it easy to find the sunny spots. She grew easier with co-workers, grew closer to Esther. She learned the girl had left home young, to get away from abusive parents, had lied her way into a high-paying, respectable job to earn the money to go to school, to get where she was today. Miranda had a lot of respect for her. Esther had only heard rumours of Miranda's past tragic events in these walls, and never asked for clarification. They began chatting on the phone on weekends.

A sexy boyfriend and a new good friend.

Pete brought her a single flower, an orchid, on the one-month anniversary of their first kiss. "Well, make-out fest," he admitted, grinning. He tucked the flower behind her ear. She wore it there all day. She found she could easily tell him whatever was on her mind; good or bad, he was there to listen. Once a week, they would sleep at one another's home, cuddling tightly until they fell asleep. They talked about being young, about their feelings on getting older, about past aspirations, shared secrets and gossip and hoi polloi.

Past demons never defeated, but sitting quietly, content to leave her be, Miranda felt at ease; relaxed; jubilant.

The sun had never been so bright.