The Soulmate Equation

Page 14

He cleared his throat and turned to Tiffany. “Tiff, did you look through the raw data?”

She nodded, but she was staring at David, who was exchanging another heavy look with Brandon. The room felt deeply, meaningfully silent, and Jess realized she was missing an important context for the gravity here.

Awareness sank as quickly as a weight in water. Jess glanced down again at the client information.

Client 144326.

Client 000001.

Oh, God.

“Um … who is client number one?”

River cleared his throat; he’d gone sheet white and gripped the paper in two hands. “Me.”

Oh. Well, Jesus Christ, no wonder he wanted to confirm the analysis. A Diamond Match for the original scientist on the project was huge news, especially this close to launch.

“Okay, I get it.” Jess took a deep breath, leaning back, ready to get to work. “How can I help?”

River looked at Lisa then, his eyes heavy with the obvious question. Literally everyone else in the room was staring at him, waiting for him to say it: Have we confirmed the assay? Have we replicated the finding with a backup sample?

But that wasn’t what he asked. In a low, shaky voice, River murmured, “Who is 1-4-4-3-2-6?”

Every head swung Jess’s way and—

When she realized what was going on, why they were all there, why they had sent a car, why they hadn’t made her sign an NDA for data purposes, why River hadn’t known she would be there, and why everyone else was looking at Jess with that fevered, vibrating force in their expressions, it felt a little like falling off a curb, except she was sitting.

It was genuinely so absurd she started laughing.


“Oh.” Jess was still laughing as she stood on shaky legs. Her heartbeat was a pulsating cacophony in her ears. “I’m not here to advise on your statistics.”

Ninety-eight. P values with at least ten zeroes after the decimal. Her brain scratched around, looking for a way out of this.

“Jess—” Lisa began.

“This isn’t right,” Jess cut her off, fumbling for her purse.

“We ran the data through all of our standard analysis programs,” Tiffany added quietly.

“No, I mean I’m sure your stats are—” Jess started, but realized she couldn’t finish the sentence because it would be a lie. Clearly their statistics were garbage and they were all delusional. And unfortunately, Jess hadn’t driven herself here. “I can call someone to come pick me up.”

Jess glanced at River—who was already watching her with wild, dark eyes—and then at surfer-chic Lisa, and Toothy Brandon, and Jeff Goldblum’s Benedict Cumberbatch, and every other person in the room who’d also never dealt with this particular situation. “It was so nice meeting everyone. Thanks so much for having me. Sorry for the ramble about N-type analyses.”

She turned, opening the door with a hand she wasn’t all that sure was going to cooperate, and practically sprinted back the way she came.


JESS’S HANDS WERE shaking so uncontrollably that, as she walked, she could barely type out a text plea to Pops to come pick her up with the address of the building. Somehow the hall had stretched; it took her a century to get to the elevator, and when she pushed the button, she heard its slow grind up from the bottom floor.

Feet jogged down the hall. They didn’t sound like Lisa’s heels, and yeah—when Jess looked up, she saw River making his way toward her.

“Jessica,” he said, holding up a hand. “Hold on a second.”

Was he serious? Jess turned and continued toward the door labeled EXIT, pushing into the stairwell. Ten hurried steps down before the door clanged shut behind her; the sound was so jarring it actually made her duck. Half a flight above, the door flew open again. Footsteps tap-tap-tapped down toward her, and Jess accelerated, jogging down to the first level and emerging into the lobby.

River managed to get out only a patient, echoing “Jessica, wait” before the lobby stairwell door sealed shut.

It didn’t matter; he would invariably catch her outside. Because although Pops had replied that he was out getting the cake and could get there quickly, it wasn’t like he could drive to La Jolla in three minutes. At least outside she could breathe a precious handful of seconds of fresh air, could think without the pressure of everyone’s stunned attention on her. What were they thinking, dropping something so personal in a room full of strangers?

Wrapping her arms around her midsection, Jess paced the sidewalk in front of the building, waiting. When she heard River emerge, she expected him to start talking right away, but he didn’t. He approached her slowly, cautiously, and came to a stop about ten feet away.

For maybe three seconds, Jess liked him for giving her space. But then she remembered that he wasn’t usually so considerate … and he was supposedly her soulmate.

The absurdity of that meeting finally hit her like a slap, and she coughed out an overwhelmed laugh. “Oh my God. What just happened?”

He spoke through the chilly quiet. “It was a surprise to me, too.”

His words felt like an echo between them. They surprised him? “How? You—you know everyone in that room. Why would they tell you like that?” she asked. “Why would they have everyone there, like some kind of a reality show?”

“I can only assume they wanted us all to have a conversation about how to handle it.”

“‘Handle it’?” she repeated. “You really are dead inside, aren’t you?”

“I meant handle for the company. I’m sure it’s occurred to you that the optics of one of the founders having the highest recorded compatibility score is both fantastic and fraught, from a marketing perspective.”

“Any woman would be lucky to hear these words from her”—Jess used finger quotes—“‘biological soulmate.’”

He exhaled slowly. “I also assume they were worried that if they told you remotely, you wouldn’t come in.” River shrugged, sliding one hand into his trouser pocket. “Sanjeev—the head of assay development—is a close friend. I’d mentioned our run-in downtown to him, and your blowing up at me—”

“My ‘blowing up’ at you?”

“—and word probably spread when the result came in and your name was associated.”

“‘Associated’?” Unproductive, but the only thing she could focus on was the way he spoke like he was reading aloud from a textbook. God, Siri carried on a more familiar conversation.

“I’m sorry that we have to consider the business implications of all of this,” River said, “but I assume you understand this is a really big deal, on several levels.”

Jess stared at him, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he was allowing for at least one of these levels being human emotion. “Uh, yeah, I get that. But we don’t have to consider anything. I mean—there’s no way, River. We both know it’s an error, right? Or if not an error, that the compatibility paradigm doesn’t apply to us.”

“Why is it your first assumption that the technology is wrong?”

“Why isn’t it yours?”

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