“You look like you’ve been carried here upside down,” Aneesha said, laughing. She was a gorgeous Black woman with glowing skin and the most perfect crab-apple cheekbones Jess had seen in her entire life. “Totally shell-shocked.”
Jess laughed as the makeup artist worked around her. “I am not—to put it mildly—accustomed to this treatment.”
Over the next twenty minutes, Jess learned that Aneesha Sampson had interviewed Brad Pitt last weekend, had an irrepressible laugh, called River “Keanu Banderas,” and embraced both plunging necklines and shoulder-grazing dangly earrings in her personal style. Jess didn’t know if she wanted to propose or propose a life swap.
“We’re going to start in the lab, if that works for you,” Aneesha said as they all stepped out into the hall. “Just River at first.”
Lisa looked a little harried. “Jess, are you okay just hanging out?”
Jess held up her laptop. “I have a ton of work to do. You can put me anywhere.”
As Aneesha headed toward the elevator and Lisa bent to reply to a text on her phone, River leaned in, kissing Jess. “Okay. I’ll see you in a bit. I love you.”
White noise roared in her ears and her eyes went wide. “What?”
River stared down at her, his expression slack with shock. But he didn’t take it back. He just … started laughing. He nodded sideways to Lisa, saying quietly, “Not the place I’d planned to say it, but hallways and audiences do seem to be our thing.”
Lisa turned to take a call, and Jess broke into a grin, throwing her arms around his neck. She planted a dozen tiny kisses all over his face. “I love you, too.”
The truth of it was so obvious; Jess didn’t know how they hadn’t been saying I love you from that very first day.
With his smile straightening and a bright heat flashing like lightning in his eyes, he moved his lips to her cheek, and over to her ear. “I’ll see you in a few.”
“River, they’re ready for you.” Lisa waved him down the hall.
With one final peck, he disappeared into the elevator and Lisa returned. “Jess, I’d put you in River’s office, but they’re setting up for some stills.” Hooking her thumb to the office directly behind her, Lisa said, “Let’s just put you in David’s for now. He won’t mind.”
Jess lifted her laptop. “I’m cool anywhere.”
Lisa tried the door, then pulled out her keys and unlocked it, immediately wincing as she turned back to Jess. “This okay? I forgot how messy he is. I never go in here.”
And … wow. David’s office was the upside-down version of River’s. Where River’s desk was bare but for his computer, David’s had the look of a desk found in the rubble post-hurricane. It was covered with printed-out data sheets, empty paper cups, wadded-up napkins, Post-its, and stacks of journal articles. His shelves were lined with a dusty and disorganized array of convention freebies: a Merck-branded stress ball, a Sanofi travel mug, a plastic DNA molecule from Genentech, a pile of branded pens.
But listen. River Nicolas Peña had just told her he loved her. Lisa could drop Jess off on Bourbon Street early on a Saturday morning and she’d be fine. “This is great.”
“We’ll come grab you when Aneesha is ready.” Lisa grinned before ducking out, closing the door behind her.
Staring at David’s desk, Jess wondered whether she should use her laptop on her actual lap, before figuring she could just carefully set it on top and not disturb the mayhem. While her computer booted up, Jess glanced around the sciencey detritus. Among the papers were sheets and sheets filled with hundreds of rows of data. An electrical current passed over her. Maybe that was a thread of why she and River were a Diamond Match—they were both deeply enthralled by numbers.
About halfway down a messy pile of papers, a corner of one stuck out. Jess’s eye caught on something written in the top left corner, and she carefully pulled free the thick binder-clipped cluster.
Her blood turned carbonated as she registered what she was seeing. That was her. Jess’s data. And beneath her number was another: Client 000001.
Below, in bold, was the information they’d heard a thousand times in the past month: Compatibility quotient: 98.
She’d never seen their raw scores before, but there was something oddly holy about holding the data in her hands.
Okay. I’ll see you in a bit. I love you. His words echoed in her mind.
Smiling, Jess scanned the rows and rows of numbers reverently. The client numbers and compatibility score were in the top left corner, and in the top right was the assay information: date, time, which DNADuo machine had run the assay, et cetera. Below that were about sixty rows of numbers, broken into three groups of columns, each three columns wide. Behind this sheet, there were pages and pages of solid numbers.
Jess got chills realizing she was currently holding the information on the roughly 3,500 genes for which she and River aligned. Was it really possible that their connection—their love—was encoded in their cells? Was she programmed from the day she was born to feel this happy—even when Jamie was leaving her over and over, when girls teased her on the soccer field for her drunk mother on the sidelines, when Alec stared mutely at the pregnancy test for a handful of minutes and finally said, “I’ve never wanted kids”? Of all the men Jess could connect with, was River her perfect fit all along?
The idea made her both queasy and high. She looked back down, leaning in to focus on each tiny row of information. The first two columns on each set showed what she assumed was the gene information—gene names and GenBank session number. The third columns held raw compatibility scores, with numbers that seemed to range from zero to four. Nearly all of their scores were higher than 2.5. So, somehow these scores came together in the neural network’s algorithm, and ninety-eight popped out at the end. Clearly, Jess could see now, the data was scientific, but it also felt deeply magical. She was a convert. Show her to the GeneticAltar.
She dragged a finger across the page, wanting to feel the information for herself.
Their most recent assay had been completed on January 30—River’d drawn her blood the night before with such careful formality. They’d been so awkward around each other, so wary. Jess bit back a laugh remembering. Holy shit, she’d had no idea: he’d wanted her even then.
Looking up to confirm David’s office door was closed, she quickly took a picture. She knew she shouldn’t; it might have even been illegal—besides, she could just ask River for a copy of it anyway. But Jess knew she’d want to look at it again and again. Flipping through, she began snapping photos of every page, rows upon rows upon rows of data. Each one had a few values circled, annotated, called out—she guessed—for being totally fucking awesome.
Maybe she’d frame this for him as a gift at some point.
Maybe they’d each pick their favorite gene and get that value tattooed.
Maybe she was starting to sound like one of Fizzy’s heroines right now and should probably shut the hell up.
Grinning like an idiot, Jess flipped to the next page, ready to snap a picture, but stopped. This next set of data was from their first DNADuo assay, the one from her spit kit. In this stack, some cells were circled in pencil and some notes were scribbled in the margins, barely legible. Jess marveled that their data had been pored over like this. Her soaring-soundtrack brain sang that their data might even unlock larger truths about love and emotional connection.