The Soulmate Equation

Page 36

“What are we waiting for?” Fizzy said over Jess’s shoulder as she collided with her back.

“Emily is up there,” she whispered. Emily was Juno’s favorite partly because she was a sweetheart and knew where everything was, and partly because her hair was pink and she rode a sparkly blue Vespa to work every day. “If she sees me come in, she’ll want to say hi. Juno will see us, and we’re toast.”

“A friendly librarian,” Fizzy said sarcastically, narrowing her eyes. “The worst kind.”

Jess glared at Fizzy over her shoulder. “Hush.”

“You hush. I feel like I’m committing a crime even being in here,” Fizzy whispered behind her. “I’m late renewing my library card!”

“It’s not like an alarm’s gonna go off,” Jess said. “They don’t scan them as you walk through the door.” A patron stepped up to the counter, and she watched as Emily listened, smiled, and then nodded, motioning for the person to follow her. Jess reached for Fizzy’s hand. “Come on.”

They slipped through the door and headed straight for the back near Adult Services, darting behind a bookcase when they saw an older man standing right in front of the giant rack of newspapers. Fizzy looked around nervously.

“Would you stop it?” Jess whisper-hissed. “You wrote an entire romantic suspense series about a female assassin. We’re hiding newspapers. Why does this look harder for you than the time you realized halfway through a game of pool that you’d bet a bunch of Hells Angels that we could kick their asses?”

“I’m not good with peer pressure, okay? Usually I’m the one talking you into doing something stupid. This is all backwards.”

Jess looked around the corner, groaning when she saw the man still standing there. “I can see six copies of the front page right there. We just need to grab them all.”

An older woman walked down the aisle, and they both tried to look casual. Fizzy leaned against the bookcase; Jess picked up an escargot cookbook off the shelf and attempted to appear engrossed. The woman eyed them warily as she passed.

Fizzy took the book from her and shoved it back into place. “Do we really have to do this?” She looked around. “This feels oddly naughty.”

Jess honestly never expected Fizzy to have a pearl-clutching side. “Do you remember when you were writing My Alter Ego and you asked me to hoist my leg behind my head to”—Jess made air quotes—“‘see if a normal person could do it’?”

Fizzy frowned, thinking. “Vaguely.”

“I pulled my hamstring and could barely walk for a week. For you and your book. But you still told Daniel I’d pulled a vaginal muscle in a sex accident. You owe me.”

“I’m going to kill you off in the next Crimson Lace book.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d threatened it, definitely wouldn’t be the last. “Sure.”

They both peered around the bookcase again, relieved when they saw that the coast was finally clear. Jess could already see herself seated across from the bad cop down at the police station, given sludgy coffee in a Styrofoam cup and shown surveillance footage of her skulking over to the Adult Media section, unspooling an armful of Union-Tribunes from the rack, and jogging away. She made a silent promise to Juno and San Diego County that she would volunteer and read at story time until her kid was eighteen if she could just keep Juno from seeing these papers … or her.

They walked through the library as if they had every right to be carrying two armloads of newspapers, and then arranged them carefully behind a long row of Mary Higgins Clark paperbacks.

“Is that all of them?” Fizzy asked, face flushed as she checked over her shoulder.

“Yeah. Let’s get out of here.”

They walked down the aisle and stopped short just as the entrance came into view. Jess pulled Fizzy back, ducking her head out just long enough to see Juno and Pops walk through the door.

“Oh my God,” Fizzy said. “That was close.”

“Yeah.” Jess looked again, heart racing as she watched them walk straight to the newspapers. “Let’s go. She’ll leave Pops at the papers and head straight for kids’ nonfiction. We have about thirty seconds.”

Fizzy nodded, and with Juno’s and Pops’s backs turned, they ran straight for the doors.

FIZZY STAYED LONG enough to finish a glass of Nana’s iced tea and jot down the details of their adventure before heading home to do some social media stuff and get ready for a night out with Rob. Jess had a few texts from River mentioning the possibility of a party, and that Brandon would be emailing them both … definitely nothing to warrant the flash of heat that moved up her neck. She was tempted to launch into a brilliant retelling of her and Fizzy’s little crime spree but stopped herself for fear of beginning a conversation she didn’t really want to have. Jess wasn’t upset that River had met Juno, but she wasn’t sure she wanted it to happen again, either. Future Jess would definitely have to deal with it, but after the day she’d had, this Jess just wanted to have a glass of wine and make spaghetti.

As she straightened the apartment and began dinner, she fell back on a new and still unfamiliar comfort: reminding herself that she didn’t have to worry about money, at least for a few months. She’d never had the luxury of a cushion before, and it was almost indulgent to imagine paying a year of insurance premiums in advance or splurging on real Tylenol instead of the generic. Wild times.

Pigeon wound around her feet and Jess was just adding pasta to the boiling water when the door burst open and Juno rushed inside.

“Mom! How to Build the World’s Best Roller Coaster in Ten Easy Steps! I got it!” She kicked off her shoes and opened her bag in the middle of the living room, spilling the contents across Jess’s freshly vacuumed floor.

Setting the wooden spoon on the trivet, Jess turned away from the stove and leaned against the island. Did she look guilty?

“I was number two on the waitlist, but somebody didn’t pick it up, and so when I was there, Emily said I could check it out.” Juno slapped the book on the counter and finally came up for air. “I gotta start my project.”

“Hello to you, too.” Jess stopped the whirling dervish with an arm around her shoulders and reeled her daughter in to press a kiss to the top of her head. “Where’s Pops?” She looked out into the courtyard but didn’t see him.

Juno disappeared into the living room, returning with a blue folder, at least a dozen pieces of paper trying to escape it. “He’s taking Nana for Ethiopian food.” She toppled a neat stack of mail as she spread the papers out on the counter in front of her. Jess picked them up again. “The instructions say to use a nine-by-twelve piece of cardboard but I can also use a thirty-six-by-forty-eight.” She paused. “Do we have that?”

“You’re asking if I have a four-foot piece of cardboard lying around? Sorry. Fresh out.” Jess stirred the pasta and turned off the stove. “Baby, let’s try and keep it manageable? Where would we even put something that big?”

Juno looked around the apartment and motioned to the dining room table.

“And where would we eat?”

“At Nana and Pops’s.”

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