The Soulmate Equation

Page 66

Why can’t you just be my mom?

“It’s fine,” Jamie said. “I’ll figure something out or I’ll go to prison, but either way it’s not your problem.”

Jess blinked up to the mirror again. Juno’s mouth was softly open, her head bobbing gently with the tiny bumps in the road. Jess couldn’t keep doing this anymore.

“I’ll give you the money.”

Jamie’s face whipped to Jess. “You will? I’ll pay you back with my first check. I’m telling you, Jessie, before all this happened Trish said she’d never seen anyone sell like me.”

She pulled into the apartment complex that made her own look like a palace and parked in the first empty spot she found. “Don’t pay me back,” Jess said flatly. “I’m giving this to you. But after I do, I don’t want you to call me anymore, and I don’t want you to come by.”

“What? Why—”

“I’ll transfer the money, but that’s the end. I don’t want to ever see you again.”

The car idled, and the silence stretched between them. Jess had no idea what else to say. Would Jamie even pay her debts, or would she take the money and run?

It honestly didn’t matter. Jess was done.

Jamie looked at her granddaughter in the back seat, and her gaze seemed to sober as it moved over Juno’s sleeping face.

Resolved, she turned back around. “You still have my account number?”

Sadness and relief braided hot and painful through Jess’s limbs. “Yes.”

Her mother nodded and slowly faced forward again. “Okay.” Her fingers wrapped around the door handle. “Okay.” She pushed it open and stepped out into the darkness.


SURPRISINGLY, THE WORLD didn’t stop turning when Jess cut off her mother.

Juno and Jess got up the next morning, and got ready in a sweet, easy rhythm. Juno seemed to know to be tender with her mom, and didn’t need to be reminded to get dressed or bring her dishes to the kitchen or brush her teeth.

She held Jess’s hand all the way to school.

“I was thinking we could go out to dinner tonight,” Jess said, “just me and you. Somewhere special.”

With an enthusiastic nod, Juno stretched, kissing Jess’s cheek, and then ran off to meet up with her friends.

Jess watched her until the bell rang and Juno disappeared into her classroom. After transferring the money, Jess had to remind herself that she was still better off than she’d been before all this craziness began. She had new clients, new visibility. She could rebuild.

She was much better off than she could have been, she knew. Plus, she had a pretty fucking awesome kid.

SIX DAYS LATER, Fizzy whined plaintively into her fancy headset: “This setup doesn’t feel the same.”

Jess looked at Fizzy’s glowering image over Zoom on her iPad. “Well, it’s the best you get. You said you didn’t want to go back.”

“I know, but … don’t you miss Daniel?”

“And good coffee and reliable Wi-Fi?” Jess replied. “Yes, of course I do.”

Other things Jess missed:

Her boyfriend.

Her good mood.

The ten thousand dollars that had been in her checking account a few days ago.

The possibility that her mother would change.

Fizzy growled again and disappeared from view as, Jess presumed, she left to make herself another cup of mediocre coffee.

Three things Fizzy reminded her of constantly now that they’d stopped going to Twiggs:

1.She hated drip coffee but was too lazy to get even a basic Nespresso.

2.Her Wi-Fi sucked.

3.The lack of people-watching killed her meet-cute mojo.


But even though Jess’s coffee was also less satisfying than a Twiggs flat white, and she had a hard time focusing on work at her dining table, she couldn’t find it in herself to go back to Twiggs and pretend like there weren’t a million memories imprinted on every scuffed surface. Twiggs was where she met River, where she first got the notification from DNADuo, where she saw him last, and—most importantly—where she absolutely did not want to risk running into him at 8:24 on a weekday morning.

Though to be totally frank, it might be harder if Jess found out that he wasn’t going to Twiggs at all anymore, either. That he’d erased every bit of their shared history completely.

And it wasn’t like Fizzy was genuinely pushing to go back. Rob had spread his gross cheater vibes all over their table before Fizzy doused him with ice water. God, Twiggs had been tainted by the ghosts of their carefree former selves. The ones who, two months before, happily ogled Americano, gossiped with impunity, hadn’t had their hearts broken. Jess missed those women.

But working from home wasn’t all bad. Jess was saving money and might even lose a few pounds without her daily intake of blueberry muffins. She could work at home with her screen door open, wearing a T-shirt and no pants because it was warm outside and no pants beat pants every time. She could be at Nana Jo’s side in twenty seconds (after putting on pants) if needed.

Jess and Fizzy pretended they were sitting at the table together; they’d tried to actually work together in person, but they’d ended up on the couch watching Netflix after about a half hour. Zoom was better for deadlines.

Her phone dinged on the table, and she glanced down at the Wells Fargo notification just as Fizzy returned.

Fizzy settled in her seat and adjusted her screen. “What’s that expression?”

“Probably my mom’s bank accepting the—” Jess paused, and bent to look closer. A chill ran through her. “Um, no. This is me reacting to ten thousand dollars being deposited into my account.”

“Tax refund?” Fizzy screwed her face up, not understanding.

Had Jamie refused the money? Jess tapped open the app and felt her heart drop. “Oh. It’s a GeneticAlly payment.”

Fizzy went quiet on the other side of the screen, eyes wide. “Yikes.” And then her brow cleared. “But … convenient timing?”

Looking up at her, Jess winced. “I can’t keep this.”

“The hell you can’t,” Fizzy responded. “You kept up your end of the deal.”

Jess knew Fizzy was right, but she wasn’t sure it mattered. At least to her. “I wonder if River knows that the company is still paying me?”

“Maybe that detail got lost in the scandal,” Fizzy mumbled, blowing on her hot coffee.

“How awkward would that conversation be?” she asked. “‘I realize you’re ghosting me but I just wanted to send one more note to thank you for continuing to pay me to be your girlfriend. It’s nice to be just heartbroken, instead of heartbroken and broke.’”

What could her best friend say to that? So, the heartbroken to the heartbroken said only, “I’m sorry, honey.”

Jess nearly startled out of her chair when a sharp knock rapped on the screen door, jarringly loud, followed by a deep, smoke-scraped voice. “Hey-ho, Jess.”

“Oh my God,” she hissed. “UPS is here for a pickup, and I don’t have any pants on.”

Fizzy reached for her notebook, quietly whispering as she jotted down: “UPS guy … no … pants.” Jess yanked her shirt as far down her thighs as it would go, grabbed the shipping envelope from the table, and shuffled to the door.

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