“If we must.” She heard Fizzy fold up the paper and set it down on the table. “Was it fun?”
“No,” Jess said immediately, reflexively. She sat up, and the lie hung filmy between them. “Yes?” She took a too-hot sip of coffee and coughed. “I mean, no. It wasn’t fun in the sense you mean. It was weird and awkward … but good?” She squeezed her eyes closed. “Stop it, Fizzy.”
“Stop looking at me like that.”
Fizzy laughed at her. “Your mainframe is actually melting.”
“He’s a good-looking man, okay?” Jess conceded. “So, yes, there’s a proximity effect there.”
Pointing to Jess’s giggling smile in the picture, Fizzy said, “You look like you want him to eat you for dinner.”
“Okay, nope.” Jess sat up straighter, dragging her hair into a bun. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“Melting.” Fizzy stared at her in wonder before shaking herself into action and unpacking her laptop. They got to work; Fizzy wrote, Jess crunched data. But she could feel Fizzy look up at her every once in a while, studying her like a sample in a dish. And she felt the weight of her scrutiny so physically that Fizzy might as well have been standing behind her, hands on her shoulders, pressing down. Lucky for Fizzy’s head and the external hard drive on the table between them, she looked away just before Jess reached for something to throw at her.
Jess knew Fizzy probably had a thousand questions about all of this. She did, too. What in the fresh hell were she and River actually doing? How did she feel about being so physically attracted to someone she wasn’t sure she actually liked? What should she do with all of this interest in her loins? And in all this silent questioning, it never occurred to Jess that 8:24 was coming soon.
The door opened with a jubilant ding, and her heart skipped away, double tempo.
Stride, stride, stride.
River passed through the room with the sweeping confidence of a king through a court, and Jess felt the air shift all around them, an honest-to-God change in atmospheric pressure.
Fizzy leaned to the side, spotting River, her eyes going wide. “Holy shit.”
Jess didn’t have to turn to know that everyone was watching him. And then, even with her back to the room, Jess felt them all turn to look at her.
Ignoring the feeling, she turned around. River was smiling … at people? A healthy flush to his cheeks, a tiny yet unmistakable upturn to his mouth.
Fizzy’s voice glimmered with wonder: “What did you do to him?”
“We did not—”
“I know,” Jess snapped. “It’s weird. Shut up.”
She did not shut up: “When you two actually—”
Leaning in, Jess hissed: “Shhh!”
She pretended to be very, very engrossed in her work, but it was useless. And she knew without having to watch him that once he’d picked up his drink, he was headed their way.
He set down two cups on their table. “Hey.”
Jess and Fizzy stared dumbly up at him. He was so gorgeous and commanding that all Jess could manage in response was a flat “What.”
He nodded to the drinks he set down. A flat white. A vanilla latte. “I thought you might want a fresh one soon,” he said.
“Thank you,” Fizzy and Jess said in monotonal sexbot unison.
The left corner of his mouth tucked in. “You’re welcome.” He held Jess’s gaze, and the dark weight of it lit the fuse leading to the bomb in her libido. “Did you see the Trib?”
Her neck and cheeks flushed as she remembered how it felt to have him behind her. “Uh, I did, yeah.”
River smiled knowingly, waiting for more, but she was unable to mentally undress him and make words at the same time. Finally, he offered, “I thought Michelle did a good piece.”
Why was she out of breath? “It was really good. She was … nice. Even though she mentioned my clammy hands.”
He laughed, shaking his head. “You were great.”
“Thanks.” Imaginary River was naked and beneath her on the floor, which explained why it took her a few seconds to add, “So were you.”
He looked to his watch. “All right, well … catch you later.” With a final amused pursed-lips smile, he turned to leave Twiggs with his Americano in hand. Stride, stride, stride. The bell over the door cried when he left.
Fizzy stared after him. “What just happened?”
“He bought us coffee.” Jess was extremely casual. Not at all unsettled. “Calm down, Fizz.”
Meanwhile, her brain was shouting in all caps.
“My vagina just unfurled like a flower,” Fizzy said, still staring at the door.
“A fucking flower, Jess.”
Jess cupped her forehead in her hands. It was going to be a long day.
HOURS LATER, FIZZY’S attention was back on the newspaper. “Look at this goddamn chemistry.” They’d left for lunch but, both being on deadline, had returned to crank out a bit more work before calling it a day. “It drips from these goddamn pages. Tell me you don’t believe this shit.”
“You’re going to set the town on fire. Everyone’s humping tonight.”
“Oh my God, would you—” Jess stopped abruptly, realization falling like an anvil. “Oh shit.”
“Can you just bang him and then describe—”
“Fizz. Seriously, wait.” Jess looked up at her. The effect of River’s thoughtfulness this morning had worn off, and the chill of dread washed over her, head to toe. “Today is Monday.”
“Juno and Pops go to the library on Monday.”
Jess jabbed her index finger down at her copy of the paper. “Fizzy, there are about seventy copies of this picture in the library! My kid is going to see me on the cover of the U-T wrapped like a horny cat in River’s coat! Do you know how many questions she has about giraffe vertebrae? Do you know how many she’ll have about this?”
Fizzy bolted upright, turning left, turning right, before hastily shoving her laptop into her bag. Jess followed suit, packing up like Twiggs was on fire.
IT WAS NORMALLY a ten-minute walk from Twiggs to the University Heights library. They made it in six.
Fizzy stopped on the sidewalk just outside, hands on her knees. “Holy shit. Why did I pick such a sedentary job? When the zombies come, I am screwed.”
Jess leaned against the bus stop and panted, “Same.”
“If the point was to get here fast, we could have, I don’t know, taken a car?”
Jess straightened, glaring at her. “I panicked, okay? It feels a lot easier when I walk it.”
She took a deep breath, marveling over how deeply winded she was. Add to the to-do list: More cardio. She checked her watch. “Juno’s school got out four minutes ago. They’ll be here in about ten. We need to bust ass.”
Fizzy brushed the blunt ends of her dark hair behind her shoulder. “What could possibly go wrong?”
They headed up the ramp that led to the main entrance, smiling nonchalantly at an older woman as they passed. Nothing to see here. Just your average trip to the library to hide every copy of your daily newspaper. Emily, Juno’s favorite librarian, was on the computer at the main desk, and Jess slowed to a stop.