“Today I’m affectionately referring to him as the douchebaguette.”
“Well, I didn’t want you to get an alert, so I deactivated your matching for now, and banned the douchebaguette from the platform. The system may have accidentally sent a duplicate receipt to his billing address, but I obviously wouldn’t know anything about that. With any luck his wife is the one getting the mail.”
Fizzy smiled warmly at him and reached for his hand. “I knew you were my favorite of Jess’s many lovers.”
Jess just sat there, watching the two of them interact like everything was normal. But it wasn’t. He hadn’t looked at her again. A rough fissure was forming in the center of her heart.
River gave an awkward laugh. “Well, this is yours if you want it.” He handed Fizzy an envelope with the colorful DNADuo logo embossed on one side.
Wary, she took it from him, turning it over in her hands. “Is this what I think it is?”
“It’s your compatibility score with Rob.”
She dropped it like it was on fire. “Ugh. I don’t think I can open it.”
True to type, River didn’t say anything. He only stared at her with gentle empathy. “Your call.”
“What if it says we’re a match?” Fizzy said, heartbreakingly vulnerable. “I’m never going to be with someone who cheated on his wife, no matter how perfect biology says we are for each other.” She slid it back across the table. “Just shred it.”
“You’re sure?” he asked. He didn’t reach to pick it up.
“If you thought you and Jess might not be soulmates, would you want to know?”
Leave it to Felicity Chen to hit the proverbial nail on the head without even knowing it.
River’s gaze flew to Jess’s and then away, visibly pained. He reached for the envelope, tucking it into his blazer. “Maybe. I don’t know.” When he dragged in a stuttering breath, it felt to Jess like she was witnessing him fraying at the edges. Did River need a particular score to be sure about her?
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Jess asked.
He met her eyes and nodded once.
With a little wince to Fizzy—who was no doubt picking up on every weird vibe they were throwing off—Jess followed him out the door, turning on him as soon as they were outside. “Dude.”
“I know I didn’t call last night and I’m sorry,” he said immediately, sending an agitated hand into his hair. “It was a lot to process.”
“Would you like to share any of your process with me?”
“He admitted everything … all of it. He and Brandon both.”
Jess felt unsteady where she stood. “Both of them?” She needed to sit down.
“They knew I would take it seriously. That I’d …” He paused, blowing out a breath. “That for a score like that, I would do my best to try.”
“They changed the values from the Fuchses’ assay. They weren’t wrong that it would be a huge boost for the company. I don’t even know what we’re facing, honestly.”
“What were our actual scores?”
He shrugged. “David never let any of our assays finish. He didn’t want a data trail.”
Jess stared at him, stunned. They didn’t even have a score? Ever? “Was this the first time or were there others? Is the whole thing fake?”
River shook his head vehemently. “I’ve had my hands in all of the data until about six months ago, when things got much busier,” he said, words all smashed together. Jess had never seen him like this: eyes wild and bloodshot, energy tumultuous. Whatever power had kept him composed in Twiggs was crumbling out here on the sidewalk. “I mean, until I was out meeting with investors constantly. Dave and Brandon claim our profiles are the only ones they forged.” He sent both hands into his hair now and stared down at the pavement. “I’ll have to confirm that.”
“I don’t understand. If they were only going to pick one set of scores to fabricate, why include me? You’re gorgeous and can sell this better than anyone. I’m a thirty-year-old, broke single mother. Why not keep things simple and pick a model-slash-PR-superstar?”
“Dave saw you when you and Fizzy came into the office,” River said, voice tight. “He thought you were beautiful and would look great on camera.”
Jess thought back to that day. “I was in jeans and a sweatshirt. I looked like a fifth grader.”
“Dave’s known me for almost thirteen years. As he put it, he ‘knew what I’d be into.’”
Her brows rose slowly.
River quickly clarified. “He meant you. To be fair, he wasn’t wrong.” River attempted a smile, but at best it was a grimace. “The idea cemented when they learned more about you. A statistician, a local, helping take care of your grandparents. They didn’t know about Juno until later and—”
“And I said I didn’t want her involved.”
“Exactly.” He looked back toward the café, eyes narrowed against the morning light. “You didn’t tell Fizzy?”
“What would I tell her? Five minutes ago, I wasn’t even sure what was going on. Besides,” she said, and stepped forward, coaxing one of his hands from his tightly crossed arms, “this is a mess for your company, but it isn’t a mess for us.” She tried to pull him closer, but he was as tight as a lock; nowhere in his present demeanor was her deliberate, focused boyfriend. “Hey. Look at me. No matter what our score actually is, I’m in for the long haul. Statistics can’t tell us what will happen, they can only tell us what might happen.”
He didn’t respond, didn’t look at her. Instead, he lowered his head and carefully pulled his hand free from hers. River’s silence pressed down all around her, heavy and choking.
“Right?” she pressed.
He looked up. “Of course, yes. I’m just a mess this morning.”
She didn’t feel at all comforted. “What will happen to them?”
“The board will meet, and we’ll have some really difficult conversations. What they did was unethical at best and illegal at worst. They’ll likely be replaced, and all the data from the past six months—about fourteen thousand samples—will have to be rerun.” He paled, staring down the enormity of it.
A question bloomed, pushing itself out of her mouth. “Did you run our samples?”
“No,” he said immediately. Flatly. “I took my profile offline.”
Jess couldn’t decide whether that was a relief or a gut punch. They didn’t have a score of their own, and now they never would. It was hard for her to imagine that River wouldn’t need to know his compatibility score with his girlfriend.
“Oh.” She stared down at their shoes—his polished, hers scuffed. They were only a couple of feet apart, but it felt like he was standing a mile away. “I guess that’s that.”
His restless energy bled into her heartache and made her feel restless, too.
“Go,” she said, finally. “It’s a lot to digest.”
River exhaled slowly, turning his gaze up to her face. “It is.”