“Would you like River and me to leave the room?” David asked.
River began to stand, which irked her. At least let her decide.
Obstinately, she said, “No. Stay, if you don’t mind.”
Slowly, River settled back into his seat.
Honestly, this situation was a first. She and River sat beside each other on one side, facing David and Omar, and she’d just asked them to stay and essentially watch her read five dense pages of legalese. As carefully as she could under the press of their conspicuous attention, she read through the contract.
WHEREAS Individual A (JESSICA DAVIS) has indicated to GENETICALLY LLC and Individual B (RIVER PEÑA) a willingness to engage …
… Individual A further agrees to limit disclosure of Confidential Information …
… at least three (3) interactions per calendar week including but not limited to outings, phone calls …
… publicity appearances and/or interviews not to exceed two (2) per calendar week …
… explicitly state that no physical contact is contractually obligated on the part of Individual A or Individual B throughout the …
… will be compensated in the amount of ten thousand dollars ($10,000 USD) per month for the duration of the contract, beginning on the 10th day of February …
… IN WITNESS WHEREOF, Individual A and Individual B have executed this agreement himself or herself or have caused this Agreement to be executed by his or her appointed representative as of the signature date below.
Jess leaned back, exhaling slowly. This was … a lot to take in.
“Take your time,” Omar said with a smile that filled his eyes. “It’s a strange situation, we get it.”
She looked at River. “Have you read it?”
“Did you have any objections?”
He stared at her, blinked. Finally, “My concerns were addressed before you arrived.”
“And they were?”
“I requested item fifteen.”
Jess looked down, flipping to the second page. … no physical contact is obligated on the part of Individual A or Individual B throughout the duration of the Agreement, and any such contact is at the sole discretion of the parties listed herein. GeneticAlly LLC, and its agents, assigns, officers, and Board of Directors, are hereby indemnified against any claim of action or resulting damages arising from any such contact.
Her feminist brain was giving River a standing ovation for ensuring that she didn’t feel pressured into anything physical. But the insecure beast inside was louder. River wanted it in black and white that they didn’t have to touch each other? Ladies and gentlemen: her soulmate.
Humor came to her defense. “Got it: I’m not being paid to pet the beast.”
Omar nodded, stifling a smile. “Correct.”
“Additionally, if I find myself unable to keep my libido in check,” she said, “and River surprises us all and realizes that blood and not silt runs through those veins, and I get knocked up, it’s not on you guys.”
River coughed sharply, and Omar smothered this smile with a fist. “Correct.”
She saccharine-smiled at River. “Not to worry. Great addition, Americano.”
“It felt like a necessary clarification,” he said stiffly.
Looking back to Omar, Jess said, “One thing I don’t see here—and it’s good, I guess—but I’d like it explicitly stated that I don’t want my daughter involved contractually in any way. I don’t want her to be photographed or included in any of these outings or interviews.”
“I agree,” River said immediately. “No kids.”
It was the tone, like nails on a chalkboard, that got her back up. “Are you just not a fan of humans of any size, or … ?”
He gave her a bemused smile. “Do you want me to back you up here or not?”
She turned back to Omar. “Can you add it?”
He made a note on his copy of the printout. “I can make that change on our part,” he said with careful precision, “but we’ll have no control over what the press writes if a reporter finds out that you have a daughter. All we can assure is that GeneticAlly will not discuss her existence with the press or any of our investors or affiliates.”
“I’ll handle my side, keeping her out of the spotlight, I just don’t want you to assume that you can use her as a prop, too.”
Omar looked briefly across the table at the man seated beside her. Jess saw Omar’s expression falter for just a moment as the two men shared some silent communication. It was long enough for Jess to register that she’d said something sort of shitty. They were close to the finish line of something they’d believed in for years.
Jess wanted to rephrase what she’d said, but the moment moved on; Omar rolled forward. “I’ll get this change made and the contract couriered over to you ASAP.”
“Great, thanks for—”
“Actually,” River cut in, and then hesitated, waiting for her to look at him. When their eyes met, her rib cage constricted, her blood felt too thick in her veins. “I’d like to confirm,” he said haltingly, adding after a long beat of her confusion: “The test results.”
Was he serious? He wanted to confirm now? When they had a contract in front of them and Jess was about to sign on to be his fake girlfriend for the next three months? “Are we—I mean, I assumed you would have done that already.”
“We did confirm with your saliva sample,” he rushed to clarify. “But I’d like to take a quick blood sample and run the lysate through the screen. Alongside mine.”
Her cheeks decided to go all warm at the suggestion that their blood rest in side-by-side tubes in a centrifuge. “Sure. Whatever.”
His eyes refocused on hers, and Jess realized River had just clocked her blush. “Sure,” he said with a small smile. “Whatever. Follow me.”
HE’D ALREADY GATHERED everything they’d need on a tray near two chairs. A rack with sterile vials. A tourniquet, needle, alcohol pads, cotton gauze, and tape. While they waited for the phlebotomist to arrive, River washed his hands extensively at the sink, dried them on a stack of fresh lab towels … and then pulled on a pair of blue nitrile gloves.
“You’re going to do it?” Jess asked, awareness dropping like a hammer.
He froze just after the second glove snapped into place. “There’s no one left in the building tonight who can take blood. Is that okay?”
“Um … what?”
He let out a short laugh. “Sorry, I didn’t say that right. I’m certified to do it. I’m not just filling in because no one else is here.”
Jess wanted to keep emotional distance, wanted to keep this professional. But she couldn’t help her playful tone: “You’re telling me you’re a geneticist, a CSO, and a phlebotomist?”
A small smile appeared and disappeared. “In the early days,” he said, “when we were testing whole blood lysate, we recruited a huge cohort of subjects from local universities. It was all hands on deck.” He blinked up to her face, then back down to her arm. “I got certified.”
“Handy. Can you garden and cook, too?”
Was that a blush? He ignored her question, probably assuming it was rhetorical, and safely returned them to science. “I’m not in the lab much anymore. I used to go through every data file that would come out of there,” he said, pointing to one of two boxy pieces of high-tech equipment on the far side of the lab. “Now everything is so streamlined, I’m never needed here.”