Stuck with You (The STEMinist Novellas #2) by Ali Hazelwood

            Enter the croissants. And that other little problem I happen to have: I am a little superstitious. Just a tad. Just a little stitious. I have developed a complex system of rituals and apotropaic gestures that need to be performed to ensure that my pitch meetings will go as planned. I have more years of science education than anyone ever needed, and should probably know better than to believe that the color of my socks is in any way predictive of my professional success. But do I?


            Back in college, it was exactly three braids in my hair for every single soccer game (plus two coats of L’Oréal mascara if we were playing away) and I had to listen to “Dancing Queen” and “My Immortal” before each and every final—strictly in that order. Thank God I managed to graduate on time, because the emotional whiplash was starting to grind at me.

            Not that this issue of mine is something I like to admit widely. Mostly just to Mara and Hannah, my supposed best friends. We met during the first year of our Ph.D.’s and have been lumbering together through the tribulations of STEM academia ever since. For the most part, having them in my life has been my one true joy, but there have been less-than-outstanding aspects of it. For instance, the fact that during the four years we lived together they oscillated between staging anti-superstition interventions and pranking me by inviting stray black cats into our apartment on every Friday the 13th. (We even ended up adopting one for a few months, JimBob, till we noticed that the kitty in the Missing flyers all over the neighborhood suspiciously resembled him; JimBob was, in fact, Mrs. Fluffpuff, and we returned her quietly, in the middle of the night. She’s been dearly missed ever since.) Anyway, yes: I have horrible, amazing, superstition-unsupportive BFFs. But we don’t live together anymore. We don’t even live in the same city: Mara is in D.C. at the EPA, and Hannah has been working for NASA and commuting between Texas and Norway. I can throw salt over my shoulder and frantically look around for wood to knock on to my heart’s content.

            Why, why am I like this? I have no clue. Let’s just blame my aggressively Italian mother.

            But back to this Tuesday morning: the crux of my problem, you see, is that back in the winter, before my most successful client pitch to date, I got a bit peckish. So I popped into Faye’s hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, and instead of just asking for the usual—punishingly black coffee: no sugar, no cream, just the bitter oblivion of darkness—I tacked a croissant on to my order. It was just as good as the coffee (i.e., simultaneously stale and undercooked; taste hovering between starch and salmonella) and, to my eternal dismay, was promptly followed by me bagging the most lucrative contract GreenFrame had seen in its young history.

            Gianna was over the moon. And so was I, until my half-Italian brain started forming a million little connections between the croissant from hell and my big professional win. You know where this is going: yes, I now desperately feel that I must eat one of Faye’s croissants before every single pitch meeting, otherwise the unthinkable will happen. And no, I have no idea how to react to her kind but definitive, “Sorry, honey, we’re all out of croissants.”

            Did I say that there are worse things in the world? I lied. This is a disaster. My career is over. Are those sirens in the distance?

            “I see.” I bite into my lower lip, order it to un-pout itself, and force myself to smile. After all, it’s not Faye’s fault if my mom drilled into my baby neurons that walking under the stairs is a surefire way to a lifetime of despair. I go to therapy for that. Or I will. At some point. “Are you, um, making more?”

            She looks at the display case. “I’ve got muffins left. Blueberry. Lemon glaze.”

            Oh. That actually sounds good. But. “No croissants, though?”

            “And I can make you a bagel. Cinnamon? Blueberry? Plain?”

            “Is that a no on the croissants?”

            Faye cocks her head with a pleased expression. “You really like my croissants, don’t you?”

            Do I? “They’re so, um.” I clutch the strap of my fake-leather messenger bag. “Unique.”

            “Well, unfortunately I just gave the last one to Erik over there.” Faye points to her left, toward the very end of the counter, but I barely glance at Erik-over-there—tall man, broad shoulders, wears suit, boring—too busy cursing my own timing. I should not have spent twenty minutes tickling the majestic beauty of Ozzy’s little guinea pig tush. I am now rightfully paying for my mistakes, and Faye is giving me an assessing stare. “I’ll toast you a bagel. You’re too skinny to skip breakfast. Eat more and you might grow a little taller, too.”