Not in Love by Ali Hazelwood




Ladies, this is a genuine, nonrhetorical question: How do the two of you survive in the real world?”

I stared at Nyota’s contemptuous expression, reflecting on the unique brand of humiliation that came with having one’s best friend’s little sister (who’d been repeatedly rebuffed when attempting to enter the backyard tree house; who’d publicly feasted on a booger at Christmas 2009; who’d been caught French-kissing a clementine in the linen closet a few short months later) question one’s ability to carry out a productive existence.

Then again, back in the day, Tisha and I had been three whole years older than her, and we’d harbored a clearly misplaced superiority complex. We knew better now that little Nyota was twenty-four, a law school prodigy, and a newly minted bankruptcy lawyer whose billable hours were worth more than my tragically high car insurance premium. To add insult to injury, I followed her on Instagram, which was how I knew she could bench-press more than her weight, looked incredible in a monokini, and regularly baked onion rosemary focaccia from scratch.

In a powerful flex whose brilliance kept me awake at night, Nyota had never followed me back.

“You know us,” I said, choosing honesty over pride. Tisha and I were holed up inside my closet-sized office at Kline, FaceTiming someone who’d probably never even saved our phone numbers. Dignity was the least of our worries. “We are barely hanging on.”

“Can you just answer the question?” Tisha bristled. As humbling as this was for me, it had to be much worse for her. Nyota was her sister, after all.

“Really? You call me in the middle of the workday to ask what a loan assignment is? You couldn’t google it?”

“We did,” I said, omitting that we’d added for dummies to the search. And yet. “We got the gist of it, we think.”

“Great, then you’re golden. I’m hanging up, see you both at Thanksgiving—”

“However,” I interrupted. It was late May. “The reactions of other Kline employees seem to suggest that we might not be fully grasping the implications of this loan assignment.” My threshold for odd was high, and I’d been able to brush off the HR rep brazenly browsing at his standing desk, the chemists who’d bumped into me face-first and run away with nary an oops, the vacant stare of my usually dictatorial boss, Matt, when I’d informed him that the report he was waiting on would take at least three more hours. Then, while I was emptying my water bottle into a potted plant that had lived in the break room longer than I’d been in the workforce, a technician had burst into tears and suggested, You should take Christofern home, Dr. Siebert. It shouldn’t die just because of what’s about to happen to Kline.

I had no clue what was going on. All I knew was that I loved my current job at Kline, the most important project of my life was at a pivotal point, and I was too socially challenged to easily transition to another workplace. Today’s event did not bode well. “There’s going to be an assembly in fifteen minutes,” I explained, “and we’d love to walk in with a better idea of what—”

“Ny, stop bitching and just regurgitate it for us like we’re five,” Tisha ordered.

“You guys are doctors,” Nyota pointed out—not as a compliment.

“Okay, listen carefully, Ny, ’cause this will blow your mind and we might have to report it to the UN and have a trial at The Hague: the topic of private equity firms and loan assignments did not come up in any class during our chemical engineering PhDs. A shocking oversight, I know, and I’m sure NATO will want to take military action—”

“Zip it, Tish. You don’t get to snark when you need something from me. Rue, how did you find out about the loan assignment?”

“Florence sent out a company-wide email,” I said. “This morning.”

“Florence is Kline’s CEO?”

“Yes.” It seemed reductive, so I added, “And founder.” Still not exhaustive, but there was a time and place for fangirling, and this wasn’t it.

“Did it say anything about which private equity bought your loan?”

I skimmed the body of the email. “The Harkness Group.”

“Hmm. Rings a bell.” Nyota typed away in silence, the New York City skyline gleaming behind her. Her office was in a high-rise—thousands of miles and an entire universe from North Austin. Like Tisha and me, she’d been eager to get out of Texas. Unlike us, she’d never moved back. “Ah, yeah. Those guys,” she said eventually, squinting at her computer screen.

“Do you know them?” Tisha asked. “Are they, like, famous?”

“It’s a private equity firm, not a K-pop band. But they are well known in tech circles.” She bit her lip. Suddenly her expression was the opposite of reassuring, and I felt Tisha tense beside me.

“This is not the first time something like this has happened,” I said, refusing to give in to panic. I had graduated from UT Austin a year earlier, but I’d been working for Florence Kline since before finishing my PhD. None of this felt new. “There are management shake-ups and investor issues all the time. It always settles down.”

“Not sure about this time, Rue.” Nyota’s brow creased into a scowl. “Listen, Harkness is a private equity firm.”