“Hey.” Jess cleared her throat, meeting Fizzy’s knuckles. “I bet an ending like that never made it into a romance novel.”
Fizzy laughed. “Are you kidding? That would be the start of an amazing love story.”
“Not my story.”
Jess felt her best friend studying her while she pretended to be very engrossed in rearranging the pastry case. Fizzy had been uncharacteristically mum on the subject of River. After hearing of their DNADuo result, the rundown on the disastrous GeneticAlly meeting, and Jess’s theory that the statistics were completely bogus and most likely invalidated their entire business plan, Fizzy had stared at her in silence for a few beats before saying only “I get it.”
“You okay?” she asked now.
Daniel decided this moment was a good one to join the conversation, setting two sealed bags of beans down at the espresso bar. He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Jess mumbled just as Fizzy practically shouted, “Did you not see that awkward run-in with Americano?”
“Why was it awkward?” Daniel took a beat to recollect, then said, “Oh, about the drink? Eh, don’t worry about that. It’s your first day.”
“No, Dan,” Fizzy said, exasperated with him for no good reason. “Because they matched.”
It felt like the entire coffee shop went silent in response.
Jess groaned. “Fizzy, I swear to God, I will barehand—”
“What level?” Daniel asked.
“What do you mean ‘what level’?” Jess gaped at him.
He ripped open a bag of espresso beans and poured it into the machine. “If we’re talking about DNADuo, I was one of the original samples,” he said proudly. “Back in my days at SDSU. When they were still taking … samples.”
It took a second for that to sink in, and when it did, all a blushing Jess could manage was a quiet “Gross, Dan.”
“I meant blood.”
“Didn’t sound like you meant blood.”
“Anyway, I did it again about a year and a half ago when they put out the call for people to help validate their spit kit.” He pulled his phone from his back pocket and showed them the screen like they might see a thread of matches lined up there. “But I’ve never gotten anything above a thirty-seven.”
Fizzy’s interest was piqued. “Did you go out with her?”
“I did,” he said. “It was good, but I think we both had this weird expectation that it was nice but statistically unlikely to go anywhere?”
“I did wonder about that aspect,” Fizzy said. “I went out with a Silver the other day but, like, if you get anything lower than a Gold, do you just assume it’s most likely not going to work?”
“Even though,” Jess cut in quietly, “if you believe their data, the odds are significantly better of finding a lasting relationship with a Silver than with regular dating …”
Fizzy gaped at her. “Says the woman who won’t believe her own score.”
“What was it?” Daniel asked again.
Jess laughed. “It doesn’t matter. Fizzy’s right. I don’t believe it.” She wiped her hands on her apron and looked at Daniel. “What’s next, boss? Dishes? Restocking?”
He lifted his chin, undeterred. “Was it a Base Match?”
Fizzy looked at her, one eyebrow pointed sharply skyward. “Yeah, Jess. Was it a Base Match?”
Jess slid a patient look to her friend. “Are you being a pot-stirrer?”
Daniel turned to Fizzy, who in turn gave Jess a look that either sought permission or delivered a warning.
Warning, apparently, because a few seconds later, Fizzy said, “It was a Diamond.”
Jess expected him to explode: How can you ignore that? and If I had a Diamond Match, I’d quit my job and get laid all day long! But just as Fizzy had when Jess told her, Daniel studied Jess very quietly and very intently.
“You’re not curious?” he asked, at length.
Daniel seemed to be trying to wrap his head around this. “Is River?”
Jess shrugged. “Who knows? We haven’t really talked since we found out a few days ago.”
“So, you’re going to, what? Do nothing?”
She nodded at Daniel. “That’s the plan.”
Fizzy rolled her eyes and repeated with an exasperated edge: “That’s the plan. The boring, safe plan.”
Jess gave her friend a look of warning. It wasn’t that Fizzy was wrong, per se, but Jess had more to think about than just herself. She couldn’t throw caution to the wind. That was a luxury childless people had, people with free time and fewer responsibilities. Boring, safe plans hadn’t steered her wrong yet.
BUT THE PLAN, as it were, went up in smoke three days later at about 5:17 in the evening, when a silver Tesla pulled up beside Jess on her walk home and rolled down a heavily tinted passenger-side window. It was in her nature to ignore all cars rolling up at a curb, but this one wasn’t catcalling. This driver knew her name.
She turned to find Brandon “the Teeth” Butkis in the driver’s seat. His left arm was wrapped around the steering wheel as he leaned toward her, smiling like he had an entire pack of Chiclets he wanted to show off. He was dressed casually in a blue button-down shirt open at the collar. “Do you have a second?”
“Not really.” She pointed down two blocks, toward her apartment building. “I need to get dinner started.”
“Actually, I was wondering if there was someone who could watch your daughter tonight,” he said, and his smile turned tentative. Despite the intimidating size of his teeth, his eyes were warm and brown, with crinkles at the edges. He did not look like a man who wanted to pull Jess off the street, plug wires into her skin, and turn her into a human battery. Jess registered vaguely that she needed to take it down a notch, imagination-wise.
Approaching the car, she leaned down, resting her forearms on the windowsill. “I’m sure this is frustrating for you, but I’m really not interested in pursuing this.”
“And we won’t force you to,” he said quickly. “Our intention isn’t to be intrusive. I know this has been an … odd situation. David and I just wanted to make sure to follow up.”
Jess had to admit they’d been surprisingly silent given the urgency of the first meeting, the enormity of the finding, and the rushed manner in which she’d fled their headquarters. So far it had been crickets. “You aren’t suggesting another meeting, are you?”
She must have looked like she’d relish another meeting as much as she would a root canal because Brandon laughed. “No. That meeting was a mistake. Our mistake. And probably the worst way to tell you both. We got overly excited, as scientists—we wanted you to experience that moment of discovery with us, but we should have exhibited more EQ.” He shifted in his seat. “We were hoping to take you to dinner.”
He nodded. “Can you get free?”
She turned and looked down the street again, considering it. Jess wasn’t blind—River was objectively gorgeous—but she couldn’t even say she liked him as a person. Plus, she still couldn’t wrap her logical mind around the number. Her priorities, in order, were her kid, her grandparents, and her bills. She wasn’t going to pursue this no matter what they said tonight.