Kiran

When it rains in New York, people lose their shit. They bump umbrellas in their rush to get to work. Taxis skid through flooded gutters, spraying everything and everyone. The streets are clogged with commuters who would have otherwise walked, and the demand for delivery is high.

When it rains, I always go out prepared: waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, and a heavily duct-taped pack to protect deliveries from the elements. But inevitably, some asshole will spray dirty gutter water in my face, or it will start raining sideways.

I’ve been called to some high-end sushi bar in Brooklyn to pick up a set of keys left by a customer and deliver them to one of those trendy startup accelerators six blocks away. The September chill is just cold enough to make me shiver — just cold enough to be miserable.

Soon the numbing drizzle morphs into a heavy downpour. Several food trucks have shut their windows to wait out the storm, and the unlucky few left out in the cold sprint for the shelter of the nearest building.

The window of the sushi restaurant is full of people taking a long lunch. Most of them are seated at the bar along the window, staring out at the stormy street. I lock up my bike as fast as I can and run for the overhang to get out of the cold.

A hostess is standing about twenty feet inside the doorway wearing a tight black dress with a high neckline. She gives me a scathing look as I track a trail of wet footprints into the restaurant. I must look like the creature from the Black Lagoon, dripping wet and staggering toward her with my hand outstretched.

“I’m here to pick up the keys.”

She gives me a blank stare, perfectly tweezed eyebrows scrunching in confusion. She clearly prefers the delivery bots that don’t drag half a lake into her dining room.

“Keys. For a . . .” I check my Optix. “Bromley Evans.”

“I don’t have anything here under that name.”

“What?”

“I don’t have anything —”

“Hang on.” I check my Optix again. “Isn’t this House of Sushi?”

The woman gives me a withering look. “It’s Sushi House.”

“Are you kidding me?”

The hostess gives me a lemon-pucker smile. “House of Sushi is ten blocks down.”

I swear and storm out of the restaurant, leaving a squelchy trail of water behind me. I jump on my bike and push through the downpour to another nice sushi restaurant with a chic black overhang. This one looks nearly identical to the first, except that there’s a tiny “of” sandwiched between the words on the sign.

This hostess at least is all ready with the keys. She holds them out away from her body so I don’t splash her, and I take off like a madman toward the stupid accelerator.

Lucky for me, it’s four flights up a narrow staircase in an old-ass building. I take the stairs two at a time, dreaming of hot tandoori chicken and naan.

That’s the one benefit of being a bike messenger: you get to eat all you want and never have to go to the gym. The world is my gym.

Halfway up, I realize I’ve been here before. It was three or four months ago, and one of the douchebags had thought it would be funny to see who could deliver his sandwich faster: me or a delivery bot. I got to the deli to find they’d given my customer’s sandwich away. They didn’t tell me it had been picked up by a bot. I had to wait while they made another one, and when I got there, the guy laughed in my face and told me I was late. He’d cancelled the delivery via Optix, which meant that I didn’t get paid.

By the time I reach the fourth-floor loft, I’m panting and sweating and completely furious. I don’t see the sandwich asshole, but I catch nine or ten weirded-out looks from people working on their desktops. Most of them are dudes in hoodies, but a few people milling around are dressed as though they have real jobs.

I pull down my hood and jangle the keys.

“Brom?” a guy calls, leaning back in his chair.

Across the room, a guy in gray slacks and a pink button-down turns. He raises his eyebrows as though he’s expecting me, and I make my way across the room.

The guy is in his late twenties — white, attractive, with light-brown hair. He’s wearing a pink-and-purple paisley tie that activates my gay-dar, and when he smiles, my suspicions are all but confirmed.

He’s checking me out. Dude just shamelessly checked me out.

“Sorry about that,” he says, reaching for the keys with one hand and fishing into his back pocket with the other. His pants are tight, but not too tight.

I don’t say anything.

“I would’ve run over there myself, but I had a meeting, and I have to run straight home after work.”

“No problem,” I say, turning to go.

“You probably think I’m such an asshole . . .”

“No more than the next guy.”

He cracks a grin. His left canine and the incisor next to it are just crooked enough to be cute, but I clear my throat and wait ’til I can go.

“You get this a lot? Some douchebag leaves his keys at a restaurant six blocks away and has you bring them?” His eyes are earnest, apologetic.

I shrug. “It happens. Have a good one.” I turn to go, but he takes a step after me.

“Wait!”

I turn, and he fishes a twenty out of his wallet. I take it, perplexed, and nod to thank him. Nobody ever gives a cash tip — let alone a twenty. They tip via Optix, and the messenger service takes a cut. But I’m not the kind to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I take the cash and cut through the room. I never see the douchebag who ordered the sandwich.

***

I all but forget about Bromley Evans and his crooked smile until I’m called back to the accelerator two weeks later. This time it’s for a long delivery, which pays a lot more than a six-block jaunt. It’s nice out, and it almost makes it worth schlepping all the way to Brooklyn to bring Brom a salad from a café across the bridge.

It’s unseasonably warm for October, and this time the accelerator is almost deserted. A few people are working quietly in the corner, but the other long tables are totally empty.

Brom is waiting for me this time. I can see him watching me from across the room. He doesn’t get up, but he grins as soon as he sees me.

“How’s it going?” he asks, standing up to take the salad.

“It’s going,” I say. What is with this guy?

“Nice day. Glad to see you’re in shorts.” His eyes pan down to my spandex-covered legs, and I raise one eyebrow as if to ask if he’s serious.

He hands me a twenty, and I swear his eyes look me up and down.

“What’s your name?”

“Kiran.”

He cracks a grin. There’s that crooked tooth again. It makes me think he’d be a good kisser. I don’t know why. “Nice to meet you, Kiran.”

“Nice to meet you . . .” I glance purposely at my Optix, even though I remember his name. “Bromley Evans.”

“Brom,” he says. “My friends call me Brom.”

“Nice to meet you, Brom.”

***

After that day, I get at least one delivery from Brom a week. He doesn’t call me to deliver his keys again. Instead, it’s a salad, a sandwich, and a packet of papers needing to be signed. I don’t get a lot of those sorts of deliveries. Almost everything is signed electronically these days.

Over the winter, I learn that Brom doesn’t just work for a startup at the accelerator. He founded a startup that suggests new nighttime hot spots to users based on their preferences and location. New patrons usually get a free drink on their first visit, and every time his service brings in a new patron, his company gets a referral fee.

Every time I visit, Brom seems really glad to see me, but I can’t figure him out until I’m called in March to deliver another set of papers.

It’s almost six, and I’m about ready to clock out. I’m sweaty and exhausted, and my legs are killing me. I logged at least seventy miles today, but my tips were depressingly light. A twenty from Brom will bring me close to my daily goal, but the money won’t quite make the day worthwhile. I’ve been on the clock for eleven hours.

I almost stop halfway up the steps. I’m beat and dehydrated, and my legs are on fire. I just want a long hot shower. But I force myself to keep going and finally reach the last flight of stairs.

I get to the loft and push the door open. The place is completely deserted. Empty water bottles and energy-drink cans are scattered over the desks, and I can just see the last glimmers of sunlight fading through the windows.

“Working late?” I ask, crossing the room to Brom, who’s sitting at his desktop immersed in work.

When he sees me, he freezes, and the cloud of information around him vanishes instantly. He stands up, unsmiling, and waits for me to approach. He’s wearing a pair of tight khaki pants and a denim-blue button-down with a canary-yellow tie.

“All right?” I ask, setting the papers on his desk.

Brom doesn’t say a word. He seems to be completely frozen, but there’s something going on behind his eyes that sets me instantly on edge. There’s a fire burning behind them, and it’s making my heart beat faster.

Through the window, I can see a line of cars creeping down on the street below. A man jumps in a cab, and I hear police sirens in the distance.

Then, just like that, everything stands still. Brom steps out from behind his desk and reaches out with both hands. My bag hits the floor, but I can’t move a muscle.

He grabs my face between his hands, and then his lips come crashing down on mine. They’re soft, insistent, but electric with fear. He kisses me as though I’m the last guy on Earth, and I am completely floored.

At first I just stand there, not sure what to do. My heart is thumping so hard I’m sure he can hear it, and every inch of my skin is burning with fire. I can taste the tang of Mountain Dew, and his intoxicating scent is all around me: musk and citrus from expensive cologne, mixed with the faintest hint of sweat. That does it for me.

Blood is pounding in my veins, and I can’t seem to think straight. But then Brom pauses for a moment, as though horrified that he’s made a mistake.

He pulls back to meet my gaze, and I see my lust reflected back in his eyes. I let out a moan and kiss him back, and Brom responds with a wave of enthusiasm.

I reach up to run my hands over his face, and the beginnings of stubble prick my hand. He staggers back against the desk, and I grab him roughly by the hair.

For a preppy tech guy, Brom kisses like a fireman on a fucking Harley. I tug on his stupid yellow tie, and he reaches up to loosen it as I trap him against the desk. I rip open his shirt, and buttons rain down all over the keyboard.

He doesn’t care. If anything, this just seems to stoke his desire. I can see his chest rising and falling and feel how much he wants me.

My hands have a mind of their own as I stroke a path up his smooth solid chest. His skin is soft but scorching to the touch. I feel my way down the front of his pants and catch a glimpse of that wicked grin.

I want to scream. I can’t stand it. I have to have him right now.

My hand fumbles for his belt buckle. It’s completely disconnected from my brain. All I can think about is that cocky crooked smile and the hard passion begging to be released.

“If you wanted to get me in bed, you could have just asked,” I breathe against his neck. “You didn’t have to make me ride all over town.”

He stops for a moment, panting hard. “Yeah, I did.” His hands find the front of my jacket and tug it down off my shoulders. That really gets me going. I dive in to kiss him just under the jaw and feel his pulse throbbing against my lips.

“It took me . . . this long . . . to work up the nerve.”

I can feel his chest heave with every word. I’m grinning from ear to ear. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

I kiss a trail from his neck to his abs, blood pumping hard in my veins. I want him so bad I can’t even stand it. I want to rip off his clothes right here.

“I’ve been ordering takeout five days a week . . . hoping it would be you.”

I stop what I’m doing and look him in the eyes. He’s nervous. I can tell. He’s watching me carefully with his shirt hanging open, and those big brown eyes tell it all.

He’s younger than I originally thought. Maybe twenty-four, twenty-five. He’s got an entire company riding on his shoulders. He must be wound pretty tight, but that only makes me want him more.

“It might be easier if you just had my number. Then you could call whenever you needed me.”

He doesn’t respond. He’s breathing too hard.

I finally figure out the buckle on his fancy belt. I give it a violent tug, and it whips free from his belt loops. The buckle hits the floor with a loud clatter, and I meet his gaze with a wicked grin.

“You’d do that?” he murmurs, his face flushed with desire.

“What? Make a special delivery?” I pant. “For you . . . You bet.”

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