“You okay?” he asks immediately.
“I’m going to stay here, okay?” he says. “If you need anything, just tell me.”
After only a couple minutes, I’ve had enough. I turn off the water and Alex passes me a towel. I’m colder than ever now that I’m all wet, and I step out with teeth chattering.
“Here.” He wraps another towel around my shoulders like a cape, tries to rub heat into them. “Come sit in the room while I change your bedding, okay?”
I nod, and he leads me to the antique rattan peacock chair in the corner of my bedroom. “Spare bedding?” he asks.
I point to the closet. “Top shelf.”
He gets it out, and hands me a folded pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt. Since I don’t have a habit of folding my clothes, he must’ve instinctively folded them when he got them out of the dresser. When I take them from him, he turns pointedly away from me to work on making the bed and I drop the towels onto the floor and dress.
When he’s finished making the bed, Alex pulls back a corner of the bedding and I slide in, letting him tuck me in. In the kitchen, the kettle starts whistling. He turns to go for it, but I grab on to his arm, half-drunk on the feeling of being warm and clean. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I’ll be right back, Poppy,” he says. “I need to get you some medicine.”
I nod, release him. When he comes back, he’s carrying a glass of water and his laptop bag. He sits on the edge of the bed and pulls out pill bottles and boxes of Mucinex, lining them up on the side table. “I wasn’t sure what your symptoms were,” he says.
I touch my chest, trying to explain how tight and awful it feels. “Got it,” he says, and he chooses a box, peels two pills out, and hands them to me with the glass of water.
“Have you eaten?” he asks when I’ve taken them.
“I don’t think so.”
He gives a faint smile. “I grabbed some stuff on the way here so I wouldn’t have to go back out. Does soup sound okay?”
“Why are you so nice?” I whisper.
He studies me for a moment, then bends and presses a kiss to my forehead. “Think the tea will be ready by now.”
Alex brings me chicken noodle soup and water and tea. He sets timers for when I’m able to take more medicine, checks my temperature every couple hours throughout the night.
When I sleep, it’s dreamless, and every time I stir awake, he’s there, half snoozing on the bed beside me. He yawns himself awake, looks over at me. “How you doing?”
“Better,” I answer, and I’m not sure if it’s true in a physical sense, but at least mentally, emotionally, I do feel better having him here, and I can only manage a word or two at a time, so there’s no use explaining that.
In the morning, he helps me down the stairs to a cab and we go to the doctor.
Pneumonia. I have pneumonia. Not the kind, though, that’s so bad I need to be in the hospital.
“As long as you keep an eye on her and she sticks to the antibiotics, she should be fine,” the doctor tells Alex, more than me, I guess because I don’t really look like the kind of person who can make sense of words right now.
When Alex gets me home afterward, he tells me he has to go back out, and I want so badly to beg him to stay, but I’m just too tired. Besides, I’m sure he needs a break from my apartment and me after a whole night of playing nurse.
He comes back half an hour later with Jell-O and ice cream and eggs and more soup, and all kinds of vitamins and spices I’ve never even considered keeping in my apartment before now.
“Betty swears by zinc,” he tells me when he brings me a handful of vitamins with a cup of red Jell-O and another glass of water. “She also told me to put cinnamon in your soup, so if it tasted bad, blame her.”
“How are you here?” I struggle to get out.
“The first leg of my flight to Norway was through New York,” he says.
“So, what,” I say. “You panicked and left the airport instead of boarding the next plane?”
“No, Poppy,” he says. “I came here to be with you.”
Immediately, tears spring into my eyes. “I was going to take you to a hotel made of ice.”
A quick smile flits across his mouth. “I honestly don’t know if that’s the fever talking.”
“No.” I scrunch my eyes shut, feeling the tears cutting trails down my cheeks. “It’s real. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey.” He brushes the hair out of my face. “You know I don’t care about that, right? I only care about getting to spend time with you.” His thumb lightly traces the wet streak making its way down the side of my nose, heading it off just before it reaches my top lip. “I’m sorry you don’t feel well, and that you’re missing the ice hotel, but I’m okay right here.”
Every ounce of dignity obliterated by having had this man change my pee-drenched bedding, I reach up for his neck and pull him toward me, and he shifts onto the bed beside me, maneuvering close at the beckoning of my hands. He wraps an arm around my back and draws me into his chest and I slip an arm around his waist too, and we lie there tangled together.
“I can feel your heartbeat,” I tell him.
“I can feel yours,” he says.
“I’m sorry I peed the bed.”
He laughs, squeezes me to him, and right then, my chest aches with how much I love him. I guess I must say something like this aloud, because he murmurs, “That’s probably the fever talking.”
I shake my head, nestle closer, until there are no spaces left between us. His hand moves lightly up into my hair, and a shiver runs down my spine from where his fingers trail along my neck. It feels so good, in a sea of bad feelings, that it makes me arch a little, my hand tightening on his back, and I feel the way his heartbeat speeds, which only makes mine skyrocket to match it. His hand moves to my thigh, wrapping it around his hip, and my fingers twist against him as I bury my mouth against the side of his neck where I feel his pulse thudding urgently beneath it.