“What about you?” he asked. “Any siblings?”
She shook her head. “Only child.”
He took another bite. “I guess we’d have both lost a bet, then. I would have said oldest, with at least one sibling.”
“You seem responsible, smart, conscientious. Bossy. I imagine you emulating your parents and—”
Jess snort-laughed and reached up to cover her mouth with her napkin. The very idea of emulating Jamie was absurd. “Sorry, that was just—” She smoothed her napkin over her lap again. “No, I’m an only child.”
He nodded in understanding and, to his credit, changed the subject.
“So, we’ve talked about how I got here,” he said. “But how’d you end up a statistician? I’ll admit it suits you.”
She lifted a brow.
“You seem very competent,” he added. “It’s reassuring. Attractive.”
Jess watched him pointedly avoid her eyes. He had no way of knowing, but calling her “competent” was easily the best compliment he could have paid her.
He set the glass down again. “But to my question …”
Jess hummed, thinking. “I find it soothing that numbers don’t lie.”
“But they can be misleading.”
“Only if you don’t know what to look for.” She took a sip of soup. “I’ve always been a numbers geek. When I was a kid, I’d count my steps everywhere I went. I would count how many floors were in a building, how many windows per floor. I’d try to estimate how tall a building was, and then look it up when I got home. And when I took my first stats class, I was done for. I love working with numbers that are meaningful more broadly. Predicting earthquakes or natural disasters, political campaigns, customer service survey results or—”
“Genetics,” he said quietly.
Ahh. The elephant in the room. She felt the tops of her cheeks warm and looked down, surprised again that her boobs were so much closer to her face in this bra than they usually were. Freaking Fizzy. Jess cleared her throat. “Exactly. As long as you have enough data, you can figure out anything.”
“I get it,” he said in that same quiet voice. “There’s something satisfying about solving little puzzles every day.” They ate in silence for a moment, and Jess wondered if she was imagining the way his gaze seemed to linger on her neck, and lower, down her arms …
“Are those …” he asked, narrowing his eyes and motioning to her right forearm, where she’d pushed her sleeve up a bit, “Fleetwood Mac lyrics?”
“Oh.” Her left hand moved to cover the ink. “Yes.” She turned her arm over, but he leaned in, wrapping his thumb and forefinger around her wrist, turning it so he could see the soft skin of her inner arm.
“‘Thunner only happens,’” he read, eyes moving away from the misspelled word and up to her face. “‘Thunner’?”
Jess rolled her eyes. “Felicity.” Hopefully he’d gathered that simply saying her name should explain everything.
He must’ve, because he laughed and lightly swept his thumb across the letters. Nothing like the clinical way he’d touched her last night, this was leisurely, exploring. And she was melting. “And another piece of the puzzle falls into place.”
“She—Fizzy—has the other half of the line. ‘When it’s raining’ except there’s no h in when.” With him looking at her and touching her like that, it took great concentration to form thoughts and make those thoughts into words. “On my twenty-fifth birthday, she took me out to celebrate. It was a really perfect night and I emailed her when I got home to say thank you. I was absolutely hammered, and Pops thought it was so funny he wouldn’t let me use the backspace key to correct my typos.” She shrugged. “Apparently I emailed her the full lyrics to the song we’d sung at karaoke to prove how sober I was.”
His eyes shone when he glanced up at her face. With a look that might be regret, he released her arm. “That’s a good story.”
Jess laughed down at the last couple bites of her soup. “Pops is basically a monster.”
“A monster with a sense of humor.”
“I’m surrounded by jokers,” she admitted.
There was something in his tone that caught her, hooked her eyes back up to his. It wasn’t that he sounded lonely, exactly, but there was a vulnerability there that threw her a little off balance. “I feel lucky.” She scratched around inside her head for something to say. “Tell me about everyone at GeneticAlly. Have you known all of them very long?”
“Most of them since we started. David, of course. And Brandon was Dave’s friend from college.” He stirred his soup and moved out of the way when Rama returned with their main courses. “It’s a really tight-knit team.”
“Have any of them been matched?” Jess asked, digging into the platters.
“Brandon, yeah,” he said. “He met his wife in the …” River looked up, thinking, and Jess marveled over his dark-lashed whiskey eyes all over again. “I guess it would be the third phase of beta testing. Maybe four years ago now. They were a Gold Match.”
He nodded, dishing some food onto his own plate. “I know. He was the first, and it was a really big deal.” Nothing like this, though hung unsaid between them. “Then Tiffany—you met her at the Results Reveal Disaster,” he said with a wink, and Jess burst out laughing. “She’s our head data analyst—she met her wife, Yuna, when they matched. I believe they were an eighty-four, and Yuna moved here from Singapore to be with Tiff.”
“How many countries have you pulled samples from?”
He didn’t even have to think. “Fifty-seven.”
“Yeah.” Wiping his mouth with his napkin, River was a portrait of manners and class across the table from her. Did it make her a terrible person that she was surprised this date wasn’t awful? The conversation flowed, the silences were easy. She hadn’t spilled anything down her shirt, and he’d called her competent. It was the best date she’d had in seven years. “And everyone else has dated pretty broadly, if they’re single and interested.”
“Do you think it’s a bummer for any of them who haven’t had a Gold or higher match? Like, do you worry within the company it will become a competitive or—I guess, like, a status thing?”
He stared at her, and then blinked. “You ask really probing questions.”
Immediately, Jess was mortified. “I’m sorry. I’m just—” Ugh. “Sorry.”
“No, no, it’s okay, it’s very … thoughtful.”
Warmth spread in a prickly rush along her skin. “I want to know about it,” she admitted. “I want to know about you, and this, and what you think about all of it. I mean, we’re here right now. I said I would enter into this agreement genuinely.”
“I know,” he said, and seemed to be quietly appraising her with new eyes. “I appreciate it.”
“Will you?” she asked, feeling her heart hit her from the inside like a gloved fist.