She swallowed back a relieved gasp. It confirmed that it might not immediately jump out to him that the data had been manipulated. “How do you generate these?”
“This actually is the raw data. Everything in a table is shown here. Tiffany just worked with the Caltech guys to have the neural network create this plot for us as a team because it’s way easier to look at. But we can generate one of these for any couple who matches.”
“So Fizzy would have a million of these,” she said.
He laughed again. “I mean, in theory. We don’t upload these to the apps or even routinely generate them anymore unless requested because the files are huge, but sure, you could theoretically create scatter plots like this comparing you to every other individual in the world. That just wouldn’t be very useful.” He met her eyes, almost shyly. “But of course we did one for our assay. I wanted to look at it really closely. At first because I was skeptical, and then because it was sort of amazing.”
Tears filled her eyes, and she bent to rest her head on the table. Relief washed over her like an analgesic, a paralytic. Jess’s head felt so heavy, and before she could stop it, a sob ripped from her throat.
“Holy— Jess.” River leaned over, pulling her into his arms. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
He’d never called her “sweetheart” before, and it only made her cry harder. She was relieved that he hadn’t been lying to her this whole time. But now she had to tell him that they weren’t a ninety-eight. She was in love with him—and Jess hated how much this was going to hurt him. His trust in David was going to be irreparably damaged. Until she’d come along, GeneticAlly had been River’s entire life.
“I hate what I’m about to tell you.”
He went still around her. “What is it? Just say it.”
She moved away from him, standing and going to the kitchen to retrieve the photos she’d printed earlier. Her hands shook as she handed them over.
River seemed familiar enough with the tables to immediately know what he was holding. “Where did you get these?”
“David’s office,” Jess admitted. “Be mad at me after you look at them. They were on his desk when Lisa put me in there to wait for my part of the interview. It wasn’t my intention to snoop, but when I saw our client numbers, I got really excited. Like you said, it’s sort of amazing to look at it and know it’s how we started.” She bit her lip. “And then there were some things about it that were strange to me.”
He frowned, looking down, not seeing it yet. “Like what?”
Jess reached up, wiping her eyes. “Just look at them for a few minutes.”
She left him to study, walking into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Ice-cold, it burned a frigid path from her lips to her stomach.
About thirty seconds later, a quiet “What the fuck?” came from the dining room.
Jess closed her eyes. Papers rustled with renewed urgency, and the sound of them spreading out on the table was rushed.
“Jess.” She could tell from the strain in his voice that his jaw was clenched. “Can you come back here, please?”
Taking a deep breath, she set her glass in the sink and joined him in the dining room. He was standing, arms braced on the table as he bent and stared down.
“Who circled these values?”
“I don’t know.” She put her arms around his waist from behind and rested her forehead between his shoulder blades. Relieved that he knew, Jess thought they could start to figure this out together. “You okay?”
A dry laugh, and then, “No. What am I seeing? Is this for real?”
“Did you know?” she asked quietly.
His voice came out tight, as if through clenched teeth. “Of course not.”
Closing her eyes, Jess squeezed him tighter. But he didn’t turn around; in fact, Jess realized he remained completely stiff in her embrace. And for the first time it occurred to her—how was it only occurring to her now—that although Jess trusted the magic in statistical anomaly, River might look at their doctored score and see that they were never meant to be.
AFTER A STUNNED beat, Jess stepped away and let her arms fall to her sides. River didn’t seem to notice; his attention was still shifting over the rows of numbers as he went from page to page and back again. Her heart had lodged somewhere in her windpipe.
River let out a low groan and hung his head. “I should have seen it.”
“How?” Jess asked, incredulous. “There are thirty-five hundred numbers there. At this point, you send this information into the black box and it’s simplified so extensively you’d never know if something was off.”
“You don’t understand,” he said, turning around and ducking past her, out into the living room. “The amount of time I spent poring over the Fuchses’ data. I should have seen.”
“Not even a brain like yours can memorize thirty-five hundred numbers from almost a decade ago.” Jess moved to put a hand on his arm, but he shrugged away, turning to face the window.
His hands ripped into his hair and he let out a quiet growl. “This is a catastrophe.”
Jess stared at his back. He was right. It was a terrible thing to uncover, and David was going to have hell to pay, but wasn’t there a touch of serendipity in it, too? It had still brought them together. “I know you have a lot on your mind,” she started quietly, “but I want you to know that I love you. This doesn’t change that.”
He went still, like he was thinking about how to react to this, but then abruptly looked down at his watch. “Shit. David’s probably still at the office. I need to head over there right now.”
Jess pivoted as quickly as her heart and brain would let her. “Okay. Yes. Good.” A plan. She reached for her phone, swiping to Favorites and pressing Pops’s photo. It was already ringing when she brought it to her ear. “Let me just get Pops to sit with Juno—”
“Jess.” He reached for the phone, gently pulling it from her grip. With his eyes on the screen, he ended the call before Pops answered.
“What are you doing? I can’t leave without—”
River was still staring at her screen, at the photo of four-year-old Juno dressed as an octopus for Halloween. His eyes were glued to the image. Had he looked at Jess once since he saw the data? “I need to talk to him alone.”
Jess exhaled a shocked laugh. “You’re not serious.”
“This is my company, Jess.”
“But this situation involves me, too. I have a right to know why he did this.”
His shoulders stiffened. “If he did this. We don’t know that this wasn’t an oversight or mistake or, or—some kind of computer glitch. I’ve known the man forever. I have to give him a chance to explain it, and I need to do it myself.”
Jess felt her jaw clench. “You seriously expect me to just cool my heels here, alone?”
He nodded tightly.
“Will you come over later?”
“I’m not sure.” River took a deep breath and finally met her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’ve really got to go, now.” He reached for his bag on the table and shoved everything inside before heading for the door. Jess trailed after him, but he couldn’t leave fast enough. Mentally, River was already gone.