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Every remembered whisper, every sweet thing he’d done, the way he’d owned my body, made me crave him. I shuddered, and not from the fever chills wracking my body.

Braydon: Can I do anything? I don’t like this.

He didn’t like it? Shit, I was the one who’d lost five pounds in the last week alone. Actually, I counted that as the one and only benefit of this flu.

Me: Nothing you can do, but thanks. I think it just needs to run its course.

Braydon: Well I’m checking on you tomorrow, no matter what.

I appreciated his concern, I truly did, but it wasn’t making it any easier on my heart. The one organ that hadn’t been affected by the flu from hell. What I’d done to deserve this, I had no clue.

I went to bed that night with my head swimming from the combo of nighttime sleep meds and pain reliever and collapsed into a heavy sleep.

When Braydon texted in the morning, the threat of him coming over and actually discovering my raggedy state prompted me to lie.

Braydon: Hey kitten, feeling better yet?

Me: Yes, actually, quite a lot.

Braydon: That’s awesome. I need you to meet me somewhere today. It’s important.

An address off Fifth Street followed in a separate text. He wanted me to venture all the way to the West Village near NYU.

Keeping up my ruse of being healthy, I agreed. I had no idea how I’d ride the subway, which was likely to feel like a bad roller coaster to my ravaged stomach. Big-girl panties today. Suck it up, buttercup.

Just the act of getting showered and ready was exhausting, but I rallied. Leaving my apartment forty minutes later, I was presentable in dark-washed jeans, a bright pink cotton knit sweater, and my tennis shoes. Here goes nothing. I didn’t know where I was meeting him, but I figured casual dress would be fine. Braydon was never one for fancy outings.

Once I arrived in the neighborhood, I didn’t know what I was looking for since he’d given me an address and not the name of the establishment we were meeting at. It was a rather artsy area. I passed by Tompkins Square Park, where street performers sang and danced for tips, and a poetry club that was open to walk-ins. I approached a building bearing the address he’d given me. A rehabbed industrial building in soft gray brick with a big red front door.

I texted him, unsure of what to do next.

Me: I’m here. What is this place?

Braydon: My apartment. Come inside. Sixth floor. Apartment 601.

What? Whoa. I suddenly felt dizzy with the cars and people zooming past. He’d invited me over? Simple as that?

I headed inside and took the elevator up to the sixth floor. I arrived at unit 601 and gave a light knock on the door. The door swung open to reveal a smiling Braydon. He pulled me to his chest and gave me a squeeze. “Hi,” he murmured against my hair.

“Hello,” I returned, still a bit dazed.

When he released me, my eyes darted behind him to take in the light-filled loft. It had tall ceilings that were crisscrossed with wooden beams, an exposed brick wall running along the living space, and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the city street below. It was charming and cozy. Just like him. Simple furniture and a color scheme with dark gray, tan, and splashes of blue made it feel inviting.

“Come in.” He ushered me inside and shut the door. The scent that enveloped me was every bit Braydon. All male and warm and delicious. I wanted to just stand here and inhale, but Braydon’s hand on my lower back guided me into the living room.

“Would you like a tour?”

I nodded slowly. His eyes locked on mine and told me he knew that this was a big step in the right direction, which made me happy, though I wasn’t totally sure what to make of this gesture. Was he opening his life up for me?

I followed him forward, stepping onto a comfortable shaggy rug that warmed up the space. The wooden plank floors creaked lightly as we walked. I liked that I had somewhere to picture Braydon when we were apart.

He showed me the living room, which included a framed photograph of his mom and dad, his tiny but ultraneat kitchen that contained an impressive coffee and espresso maker that I was dying to try. I imagined waking up to the smell of roasting beans. Then we ventured down a narrow hallway that led to his bathroom, with a glass-enclosed shower, and his bedroom at the far end. It was open and bright with a large bed dressed in white and gray linens. He had a tall dresser and a small writing desk and a chair positioned against the far wall. It was here that I imagined him working on the finances for Ben and Emmy’s charity. Black-and-white photography prints were hung on the walls and a small throw rug was positioned at the foot of his bed. It was a lovely room, but I was hit with a pang of sadness that he was only just now sharing it.

“Kitten?”

My gaze lifted to him, pushing away the solemn thoughts. “It’s a beautiful place.”

His frown lines deepened. “You don’t look well.” His hand raised to smooth down an unruly lock of hair. “You’re pale. Are you sure you feel okay?”

“I’m fine,” I lied. My stomach was turning somersaults, but that feeling was nothing compared to the uncertainty and sadness in my heart. “Maybe we could just go sit down.”

He nodded. “Of course.”

We returned to the living room and I slumped onto the sofa. The throw pillows smelled like him, and even though I’d wanted nothing more than to be here at his place, it now felt too intimate, too personal and I was too weak to handle all the emotions it caused.

Braydon leaned over me and placed a palm against my cheek. “Hmm, you feel okay. Warm, but not overly so.”

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