Stuck With You
by Ali Hazelwood
Published by Berkley
Book 2 in the STEMinist novellas
Nothing like a little rivalry between scientists to take love to the next level.
Mara, Sadie, and Hannah are friends first, scientists always. Though their fields of study might take them to different corners of the world, they can all agree on this universal truth: when it comes to love and science, opposites attract and rivals make you burn…
Logically, Sadie knows that civil engineers are supposed to build bridges. However, as a woman of STEM she also understands that variables can change, and when you are stuck for hours in a tiny New York elevator with the man who broke your heart, you earn the right to burn that brawny, blond bridge to the ground. Erik can apologize all he wants, but to quote her rebel leader—she’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee.
Not even the most sophisticated of Sadie’s superstitious rituals could have predicted such a disastrous reunion. But while she refuses to acknowledge the siren call of Erik’s steely forearms or the way his voice softens when he offers her his sweater, Sadie can’t help but wonder if there might be more layers to her cold-hearted nemesis than meet the eye. Maybe, possibly, even burned bridges can still be crossed….
Um, excuse me? Forced proximity? Second chance romance? All in an itty bitty novella? Yes please! Ali Hazelwood manages to write a lot of action in this time-jumping short story, that has you rooting for these characters to get to the root of their problems. With the element of going back and forth in time, the reader doesn't get bored with the elevator setting, and the more we learn what happened, the more the tension increases.
Was it predictable? Sure. But I'm kind of expecting that in novellas, to be honest. And if predictability is my only issue with Stuck With You, that's pretty damn good.
Stuck With You is a fun little story, especially if you love a second chance romance, where the characters are forced into speaking to one another and working things out, you will love Stuck With You.
My cheeks burn.
Wow. Am I the Asshole, Reddit?
Why, you kind of are, Sadie. Siri, how many times can I utterly humiliate myself in the span of thirty minutes? Infinite, you say? Thank you, that’s what I figured. Sadie: “What’s your men’s team?”
A cute, charming vertical line has appeared between his brows. I rest my chin on my hands.
Erik: “Guess. I’ll give you three tries.”
Sadie: “Honestly, I can accept any club except for Real Madrid.”
I continue with my chin hands, unperturbed.
Sadie: “It’s Real Madrid, isn’t it?”
Erik: “Yup.” Sadie: “You do come here a lot,”
I tell him. He shrugs, slipping his credit card inside the book. Okay. The paying ship has sailed. Crap.
Erik: “With big clients, mostly.”
Sadie: “So it’s not your default date place?”
The question comes out before I can turn the words in my head. Which means that I don’t realize its implications until well after it’s lingering between us. Erik is staring, again, and I’m suddenly flustered.
Sadie: “I don’t know if . . . if you don’t . . . I didn’t mean to say that this is a date.”
His eyebrow lifts.
Sadie: “I mean—maybe you just wanted to . . . as friends, and . . .”
The eyebrow lifts higher. I clear my throat.
Sadie: “I . . . Is this a date?”
I ask, my voice small, suddenly insecure.
Erik: “I don’t know,”
he says carefully, after mulling it over for a second.
Sadie: “Maybe it isn’t. I . . . I didn’t want to make it weird. Maybe you just think I’m a nice girl and wanted someone to have dinner with and I totally misread the situation and I’m so, so sorry. It’s just, I think I like you a lot? More than I can remember liking anyone? It’s possible that I projected and— "
The waiter comes to pick up the check, which interrupts my spiraling and gives me a chance to take a deep breath. It’s all good. So maybe it wasn’t a date. It’s fine. It was fun, anyway. Good food. Good soccer talk. I made a friend.
Erik: “Can I ask you a question?”
I look up from the hand-wringing currently going on in my lap. Is it whether I’m a needy, dangerous stalker?
Sadie: “Uh, sure.”
Erik: “I don’t know if this is a date,”
he says, serious,
Erik: “but if it isn’t, will you go on one with me?”
I smile so wide, my cheeks nearly hurt. Sadie: “I’m sorry,”
Erik:. “Why are you sorry?”
He seems genuinely puzzled.
Sadie: “I just didn’t think this would feel . . . scary. I figured I’d be way cooler. Smoother, I guess.”
Erik: “Sadie, you . . .”
He exhales and reaches for me again. This time he doesn’t stop and pushes back my hair, tucking it behind my ear like he wants to see my face in full. Like he wants me to see him.
Erik: “You don’t have to be any way. I didn’t bring you here so you could perform for me.”
I swallow against the lump in my throat.
Sadie: “Right. You brought me here because I propositioned you, and then—”
Erik: “I brought you here because I wanted to be with you. I’d have kept on walking around the city till dawn if that was what you wanted. So, here’s the deal: we can spend the night fucking, and I won’t lie, I’d greatly enjoy that, but we could also play Guess Who?, or you could help me give my brother’s cat his flea medication, since it’s a two-, maybe three-person job. Any of the above works.” Erik: “You are a brilliant engineer who knows the Premier League stats of the past three decades off the top of your head. Physically, you are the uncanny combination of every single feature I’ve ever found attractive—no, I will not expand on that. And you saved me on your phone as Corporate Thor, even after I gave you my full name.”
Sadie: “I wasn’t sure about the spelling and—you saw that?”
His hand comes up to cup my cheek.
Erik: “This is it, Sadie. I don’t think there’s any fucking this up.” Sadie: “I just think you might be too tall,”
I say into his clavicle.
Erik: “I foresee neck problems for both of us.”
Sadie: “Hmm. We’ll probably need surgery a few years down the line.”
His smile travels through my skin.
Erik: “How’s your insurance?”
Erik: “Mine’s good. You should go on it when . . .”
He trails off. Picks up again with,
Erik: “Have lunch with me today.”
Sadie: “I don’t usually have lunch,” I tell him. “I’m more of a ‘big breakfast, then forty snacks scattered throughout the day’ kind of person.” “Have a big breakfast and forty snacks with me, then.” Erik: “I’m not exaggerating.”
This would be so much easier if his tone were accusatory. But no. He has to sound reasonable and logical and earnest and sincere and I want to scream.
Erik: “I tore apart every minute, every second of every interaction, and after slicing all of it into pieces, the only conclusion that I could reach was that whatever I did wrong must have happened after you asked me to take you to my place, which only really left what we did there.”
Sadie: “That’s not—”
Erik: “And I’ve been scared, scared like never before, that I’d hurt you.”
He lifts his hand. Curves it around my cheek.
Erik: “That I’d left you in some—any kind of pain. That I couldn’t make amends. Which, let me tell you, is no fun when you know in your lizard brain that you’re about five minutes from falling in love with someone.”
He closes his eyes.
Erik: “Maybe past. Can’t really tell.” Hannah: “And he did apologize. Also, the fact that he read your dissertation is kind of cute. How many of the guys I’ve slept with have read my stuff, do you think?”
Sadie: “No clue. How many?”
Hannah: “Well, as you know, I firmly believe that sex and conversation don’t mix well, but I’d estimate . . . a solid zero?” Sadie: “You know what? I will accept that my communication skills are poor, but I refuse to be shamed by someone who’s on the verge of going ring shopping with the dude she once nearly called the cops on because he left a CVS receipt in the dryer.”
Hannah: “Pfft, they’re not going ring shopping.”
Hannah waves her hand dismissively.
Hannah: “I bet she’s going to get some kind of family heirloom.”
Sadie: “Doesn’t he have older brothers? They probably already ran out of heirlooms four weddings ago.”
Hannah: “Oh yeah. Maybe there will be some shopping. You think he’s going to call us from some D.C. mall’s Claire’s asking us which ring Mara would prefer?”
Sadie: “Oh my God, you know what? Last week I read somewhere that Costco sells engagement rings— Oh, hi, Liam.”
Mara’s boyfriend enters the screen and comes to stand right behind her. In the past few weeks he’s become a sort of informal fourth in our calls—an occasional guest star, if you will, who mines for embarrassing grad school stories about Mara and kindly offers to murder our asshole male colleagues when we complain. Considering that our first introduction to him was Mara plotting to booby-trap his bathroom, it’s surprisingly fun to have him around.
Liam: “Really, guys?”
he asks, all frowny and dark and cross-armed.
Liam: “Claire’s? Costco?”
Hannah and I both gasp.
Hannah: “Costco is amazing.”
Sadie: “Yeah, Liam. What do you have against Costco?”
He shakes his head at us, presses a kiss on the crown of Mara’s head, and exits the frame. I nod slowly, trying to think past the hard knot in my throat. Letting the idea—go for it, just go for it, ask for what you want, be brave—slowly seep through me. Remembering Erik. Remembering the breeze hanging between us on a park bench, on a deserted sidewalk. The way my stomach fluttered at the feelings it carried. Of possibilities. Of maybe. This is my new happy place, Erik murmured into the shell of my ear the second time we had sex that night. And then he pushed my sweaty hair away from my forehead, and I looked up at him and thought, His eyes are the exact color of the sky when the sun shines. And I always, always loved the sky. Erik: “I missed you,”
he breathes against my temple when he’s reached a full seat, sounding like he’s under great strain.
Erik: “I only knew you for twenty-four hours, but I’ve never missed anyone so much.” Erik: “Sadie?”
Erik’s voice is even deeper than usual. I am happy and pliant and relaxed.
Erik: “Do you still have your hamster?”
Sadie: “Guinea pig.”
Erik: “Same thing. Do you still have it?”
Erik: “Just making sure that a giant rat isn’t trying to eat my jeans.”
I look down over his shoulder and burst into laughter for the first time in weeks. He picks up the croissant in his huge hands and takes a bite. He chews for one, two, three, four, five seconds, and I should probably give him a little more time, but I just can’t wait to ask,
Sadie: “You like it? Is it good?”
He chews some more.
Sadie: “Amazing? Fantastic? Delicious?”
The chewing stops. Erik sets the croissant back on the table and swallows once. With noticeable difficulty. Then washes it all down with a sip of coffee.
Erik: “It’s . . .”
Sadie: “It cannot be bad.”
He tilts his head, pensive.
Erik: “Is it possible that you mixed up salt and sugar?”
Sadie: “No! I . . . Is it worse than Faye’s?”
He thinks about it. Which is all the answer I need.
Sadie: “I hate you.”
Erik: “There is a bit of a . . . vinegary aftertaste? Did you maybe add that instead of water?”
Sadie: “I think you are the problem. I think you just don’t like croissants.”
Erik: “Yeah, maybe it’s me.”
Cat jumps on the island. He gingerly sidesteps our mugs and with a curious expression sniffs Erik’s croissant.
Erik: “Oh, buddy, no,”
Erik: “You don’t want to do that.”
Cat takes a delicate lick. Then he turns to me to stare with a horrified, betrayed expression. Erik doesn’t even try not to laugh.