The Soulmate Equation

Page 2

“We both know that’s not something I would say.”

“Why am I your friend?”

“Because I immortalized you as the villain in Crimson Lace, and you became a fan favorite, so I can’t kill you off.”

“Sometimes I wonder if you’re answering my questions,” Jess grumbled, “or continuing an ongoing conversation in your head.”

Fizzy began peeling the paper off her muffin. “What I was going to say is that you can’t throw in the towel because of one bad date.”

“It’s not just the one bad date,” Jess said. “It’s the exhausting and alien process of trying to be appealing to men. I’m a freelance statitician and consider my sexiest outfit to be my old Buffy shirt and a pair of cutoffs. My favorite pajamas are one of Pops’s old undershirts and some maternity yoga pants.”

Fizzy whimpered out a plaintive “No.”

“Yes,” Jess said emphatically. “On top of that, I had a kid when most people our age were still lying about enjoying Jägermeister. It’s hard to make myself seem polished in a dating profile.”

Fizzy laughed.

“I hate taking time away from Juno for some guy I’m probably never going to see again.”

Fizzy let that sink in for a beat, dark eyes fixed in disbelief. “So, you’re … done? Jessica, you went on three dates with three hot, if dull, men.”

“I’m done until Juno is older, yeah.”

She regarded Jess with suspicion. “How much older?”

“I don’t know.” Jess picked up her coffee, but her attention was snagged when the man they referred to as “Americano” stepped into Twiggs, striding to the front precisely on cue—8:24 in the morning—all long legs and dark hair and surly, glowering vibes, not making eye contact with a single person. “Maybe when she’s in college?”

When Jess’s eyes left Americano, horror was rippling across Fizzy’s expression. “College? When she’s eighteen?” She lowered her voice when every head in the coffee shop swiveled. “You’re telling me that if I sat down to write the novel of your future love life, I’d be writing a heroine who is happily showing her body to a dude for the first time in eighteen years? Honey, no. Not even your perfectly preserved vagina can pull that off.”


“Like an Egyptian tomb in there. Practically mummified,” Fizzy mumbled into a sip.

Up front, Americano paid for his drink and then stepped to the side, absorbed in typing something on his phone. “What is his deal?” Jess asked quietly.

“You have such a crush on Americano,” Fizzy said. “Do you realize you watch him whenever he comes in here?”

“Maybe I find his demeanor fascinating.”

Fizzy let her eyes drop to his ass, currently hidden by a navy coat. “We’re calling it his ‘demeanor’ now?” She bent, writing something in the Idea Notebook she kept near her laptop.

“He comes in here and emits the vibe that if anyone tried to talk to him, he would do a murder,” Jess quipped.

“Maybe he’s a professional hit man.”

Jess, too, inspected him top to bottom. “More like a socially constipated medieval art professor.” She tried to remember when he’d started coming in here. Maybe two years ago? Almost every day, same time every morning, same drink, same sullen silence. This was a quirky neighborhood, and Twiggs was its heart. People came in to linger, to sip, to chat; Americano stood out not for being different or eccentric but for being almost entirely silent in a space full of boisterous, lovable weirdos. “Nice clothes, but inside them he’s all grouchy,” Jess mumbled.

“Well, maybe he needs to get laid, kind of like someone else I know.”

“Fizz. I’ve had sex since birthing Juno,” Jess said in exasperation. “I’m just saying I don’t have a lot left over for commitment, and I’m not willing to endure boring or outright terrible dates just for orgasms. They make battery-operated appliances for that.”

“I’m not talking just about sex,” Fizzy said. “I’m talking about not always putting yourself last.” Fizzy paused to wave to Daniel, who was wiping down a table nearby. “Daniel, did you catch all of that?”

He straightened and gave her the smile that had made Fizzy write the hero of Destiny’s Devil with Daniel in mind, and do all manner of dirty things to him in the book that she hadn’t dared do in real life.

And would never do: Daniel and Fizzy went out once last year but quickly ended things when they ran into each other at a family reunion. Their family reunion. “When can’t we hear you?” he asked.

“Good, then please tell Jess that I’m right.”

“You want me to have an opinion about whether Jess should be on Tinder just to get laid?” he asked.

“Okay, yup.” Jess groaned. “This is what rock bottom feels like.”

“Or whichever dating site she likes!” Fizzy cried, ignoring her. “This woman is sexy and young. She shouldn’t waste her remaining hot years in mom jeans and old sweatshirts.”

Jess looked down at her outfit, ready to protest, but the words shriveled in her throat.

“Maybe not,” Daniel said, “but if she’s happy, does it matter whether or not she’s frumpy?”

She beamed at Fizzy in triumph. “See? Daniel is sort of on Team Jess.”

“You know,” Daniel said to her now, balling the washrag in his hands, smug with insider knowledge, “Americano is a romantic, too.”

“Let me guess,” Jess said, grinning. “He’s the host of a Dothraki-themed sex dungeon?”

Only Fizzy laughed. Daniel gave a coy shrug. “He’s about to launch a cutting-edge matchmaking company.”

Both women went silent. A what now?

“Matchmaking?” Jess asked. “The same Americano who is a regular here in this coffee shop and yet never smiles at anyone?” She pointed behind her to the door he’d exited through only a minute ago. “That guy? With his intense hotness marred by the moody, antisocial filter?”

“That’s the one,” Daniel said, nodding. “You could be right that he needs to get laid, but I’m guessing he does just fine for himself.”

AT LEAST THIS particular Fizzy tangent happened on a Monday—Pops picked up Juno from school on Mondays and took her to the library. Jess was able to get a proposal together for Genentech, set up a meeting with Whole Foods for next week, and bash through a few spreadsheets before she had to walk home and start attacking dinner.

Her car, ten years old with barely thirty thousand miles logged on it, was so rarely used that Jess couldn’t remember the last time she’d had to fill the tank. Everything in her world, she thought contentedly on her walk home, was within arm’s reach. University Heights was the perfect blend of apartments and mismatched houses nestled between tiny restaurants and independent businesses. Frankly, the sole benefit of last night’s date was that Travis had agreed to meet at El Zarape just two doors down; the only thing worse than having the world’s most boring dinner conversation would have been driving to the Gaslamp to do it.

With about an hour until sunset, the sky had gone a heavily bruised gray-blue, threatening rain that’d send any Southern Californian driver into a confused turmoil. A sparse crowd was getting Monday levels of rowdy on the deck of the new Kiwi-run brewery down the street, and the ubiquitous line at Bahn Thai was quickly turning into a tangle of hungry bodies; three butts were attached to humans currently ignoring the sign for customers not to sit on the private stoop next door to the restaurant. Nana and Pops’s tenant, Mr. Brooks, had installed a doorbell camera for the front units, and almost every morning he gave Jess a detailed accounting of how many college kids vaped on his front step while waiting for a table.

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