I barely have the energy to make my way past the threshold of my apartment. I’m drained. I was assigned a fifteen-page essay for my literature class, applesauce got spilled on my shirt by one of my students, and the food in my fridge rotted about three days ago.
Actually, food is the last thing I want right now. I’m so nauseous that I doubt I could eat anything.
My feet ache, the waistband of my jeans feels too tight around my stomach, I’m hot as hell, and I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open.
Like a zombie with treacle-slow movements, I discard my backpack and shuffle over to my kitchen, hoping that a glass of water might soothe my perpetually itchy throat. Even with autumn on the horizon, I seem to be the only one still living through heat waves—which have yet to be ameliorated given that my air-conditioning stopped working a week ago. Maintenance should be getting to me soon, but there are a lot of students with problems in my apartment complex. Problems of the rodent variety. At least I’m not that unlucky.
When I round the corner, I’m stunned into silence at the sight of a person in my kitchen. A giant person. A person that definitely isn’t the maintenance guy I was expecting.
Kit stands in front of me with a massive bouquet in one hand and a small box in the other, inducing fear and panic and every emotion in between to stutter the beat of my heart—to drench me in even more sweat.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” I croak out, my eyebrows up to my goddamn hairline.
“It’s nice to see you too,” he mutters, setting the flowers on the counter before closing the space between us with his tempting body. His bergamot cologne—the one I’d drink straight from the bottle—pollutes the air, triggering the reflex at the back of my throat.
Of course I’m happy to see him, but I don’t remember him confirming that he was coming down this weekend. Did I forget? No…I couldn’t possibly.
He gently folds my ear forward, brushing the pad of his finger over the healed crown behind it. A crown tattoo. Because I’m his princess.
“It looks good.”
Speaking of tattoos, Rhen’s been busy working on Kit’s cover-up, having added color to the drawing of my eyes on his forearm. It still feels surreal to see me on a part of Kit. A very visible part. A part that once gave him his NHL nickname and will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion once the season starts.
I pull back slightly, plowing my teeth into my lower lip. “What are you doing here?”
“I know I’m supposed to visit next weekend, but I had to see you. I didn’t want to leave this with a note,” he explains, showing me the navy-blue, velvet box in his palm.
Flowers? Box? Unexpected visit? Oh, God. This seems to be edging into proposal territory.
I hold my hands up to prohibit him from coming any closer. “Whoa, there. Hold your horses, buckaroo. I don’t want to see whatever million-dollar gem is in that box.”
An uptick of his eyebrows. “You think I’m proposing to you?”
“I mean, I will eventually, but not this soon,” he says, placing a dramatic hand over his heart. “And I’m offended at your reaction.”
There’s a headache mounting in my skull, like a bunch of miniature spearpoints stabbing at the backs of my eyes. “Sorry, no. I—that’s not what I meant. I just…”
I feel Kit’s hand caress the side of my face, the strokes of his touch interspersed with soft-sounding coos. “Hey, relax. It’s a good surprise, okay? Just open the box.”
I let out a sigh I didn’t realize I was holding, the tension in my shoulders falling away. With shaky fingers, I do as he says, flicking that lid open, and what I find staring back at me increases my confusion.
I hold up a rusty-looking key, fairly certain I’ll need a tetanus shot after touching it. “A key?” I ask, the smell of pennies intruding my nostrils and causing my stomach to heave.
“Not just any key, Princess. A key to a house I bought in Pennsylvania.”
A key to a house he bought—
Oh. Oh, wow. I don’t know what to say. A house is a lot of money. It’ll take years for me to afford a house, and Kit’s just spending money on it like it’s a regular Tuesday.
“I love staying at your apartment, but I wanted to get a place for the both of us. For when I stay for longer periods of time.” He’s cupping his heart in his hands, offering it to me as if I’m a deity.
His words are stitched together by sentiments of love, and as much as I want to swoon and kiss him until my lips are numb, the only thing I feel is sick.
Dark spots speckle my vision as vertigo spins my world, and for once, Kit’s arms don’t seem strong enough to stabilize me. The food I’ve been grazing on all day begins to churn in my belly, and I don’t have any time to slap my hand over my mouth before I’m racing to the kitchen sink to empty the contents of my gut.
Everything spews out of me exorcist-style, until tears blemish my skin and there’s nothing left for me to retch into the basin. I’d be embarrassed if I wasn’t in so much pain, and Kit’s dexterous hands hold my hair and rub my back simultaneously.
“Hey, hey. You’re okay. Get it all out,” he whispers.
As much as I don’t want him to see me like this, it’s kind of too late to do anything about it. Luck’s playing a seriously twisted game on me today. I could’ve been hurling in the privacy of my own apartment, but nooo.
I get it out. And I spend what feels like five continuous minutes getting it out.
“Shit. If you didn’t like the idea so much, you could’ve just told me.”
Internally, I laugh. Externally, I continue to dry heave. Saliva dribbles from my vomit-slick lips, my pulse operating at dangerously fast speeds.
Concern bleeds into his tone. “Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”
“I…didn’t…know,” I pant out between gags.
Kit turns the faucet on, washing away my utter humiliation, all while keeping the disgust—I’m assuming—off his face. While the water continues to run, he grabs a glass from my cupboard, filling it up to the brim.
When he hands it to me, I drain nearly half of it, feeling it settle in my stomach like a boulder.
“I’m sorry,” I blubber. “I love the key. But I do think you’re an idiot for spending that much money.”
Kit simpers, brushing a strand of fallen hair off my feverish forehead. “I’ve been called worse.”
As I reorient myself and gather my bearings, praying that I don’t puke again, Kit fishes his car keys from out of his pocket, twirling them around on his pointer finger.
“I’m going to head down to CVS to get you some medicine, and then I’m spending the rest of the day taking care of you. Do you think you’ll be okay while I’m gone?”
I nod, because opening my mouth is a disaster waiting to happen.
Smooshing a kiss to my cheek, Kit’s out of the door faster than I can blink. I smack my lips together, wanting to rid myself of the vile taste on my tongue. With as much strength as I can muster, I straggle my way to the bathroom, trying to shake the dizziness away.
I plant my butt on the closed toilet seat as anxiety ferments inside of me. There’s a flu going around campus. I probably caught it at one of my lectures. Being sick is the last thing I need right now considering I’m behind on my schoolwork.
I pull my phone out to text Kit that I might need a pack of Gatorade, tissues, canned chicken noodle soup, and a thermometer, but before I can even get to my messages, a notification pops up on my screen.
FIFTEEN DAYS LATE.
Fifteen days late? Was there an assignment that was due? Did I forget to schedule an appointment? I don’t remember putting anything in my calendar.
Worst-case scenarios begin to hijack my brain. If I don’t get good enough grades, I won’t make it into grad school. And if I don’t make it into grad school, it’ll be even harder for me to find a decent paying job. The last thing, however, that crosses my mind, is the subheader at the top of the gray circle that says PERIOD TRACKER.
The minute the puzzle pieces fall into place, it’s like a bucket of ice water has been thrown onto me, soaking me all the way to the bone. The penalty box.