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Standard Deviation

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EIGHT YEARS LATER

They go to the park by the river on the first warm afternoon in the spring—the earth obliging, as she always does, to bring things back around to where they began. May sits on an old bed sheet, Ben’s forefinger tracing a small, repetitive pattern on her ankle as he watches his little nephew totter around recklessly through the grass. She’s taking the opportunity to go through the comments on her current paper, a process only made tolerable by the company, as well as the quality of the light filtering through the trees that the city has planted, a signpost of their own revitalization efforts.

“Hey,” Ben says, removing his hand from her ankle. “Is that Liv Octavius?”

May turns towards the row of benches facing the park and the river, doubting, but of course it is Liv. She’s a difficult person to mistake for anyone else. “Shit,” May says.

Liv doesn’t wave, nod, or do anything else to indicate that she is one person seeing and recognizing another, but she is watching their little trio, steadily and unmistakably. What an annoying and arrogant way of summoning someone, May thinks, very nearly dispassionately.

“You want to go say hi?” Ben asks. “I got Peter.”

May does not want to go say hi. She also can’t imagine going back to her paper while Liv is still sitting there staring, so she flicks Ben on the ear and goes to see what Liv could possibly want.

“Sup,” Liv says. May stops a few feet short of her bench, so there’s a sidewalk between them. A neon rollerblader whizzes by, and May is struck by the politely impolite urge to laugh.

“Hello,” she says. Liv looks different—not much older, and she hasn’t thickened or thinned the way that most of their cohort has begun to, but May would’ve thought, now that she is thinking about it, that Liv would have taken to the flannel and denim years with the pride and panache of an early adopter. Instead, things seem to have gone backwards, and very California—May has seasonal allergies and can’t smell a thing, but her brain is processing Liv’s outfit and suggesting patchouli. Her body language is showily confident, ankle crossed over the opposite knee, but she’s also holding a New York Post from the broken newspaper box and looking squirrelly.

Liv’s eyes cut away from May, and she makes a gesture towards the other half of the bench that might mean sit down. The urge to laugh bubbles up again, but May takes a seat, and they look out onto the water together.

“I might have a job for you,” Liv says, confirming May's suspicion that on some level Liv is currently living out a heist movie in her mind.

“Why?” she asks, instead of What’s the job? or I'm too old for this shit. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Liv glance over.

“I read your thesis,” she says, which isn’t an answer so much as an unrelated statement.

“The paper in IJES?”

“That too.” May is pulled up short. She must have sent away to Illinois for a copy.

“What’s the job,” she concedes, and Liv rolls her shoulders under her baja hoodie—on closer look, it’s more shoulder than May remembers. She's put on muscle.

“It’s here,” Liv says, inclining her head vaguely southwards. “Well, Brooklyn. Fisk Industries is—”

May stops her there, shaking her head. “I won’t work for Fisk.”

Liv shrugs. “We’ll pay you. Really pay you. Doesn’t matter whether you play coy.”

“You know, the work-related fatality rate for most physicists is zero.”

“Most physicists end up covered in chalk dust,” Liv says. “Not glory.”

“It’s a no, Liv,” May says, not unkindly, in her own estimation. “A hard no.”

Liv huffs out a breath and stands up. “Well,” she says, “I gave it a go,” like they’d just concluded a cursory interest check that wasn’t the product of probably-stalking. “If someone from the office rings you up, do me a solid, don’t tell them I scared the ingenue off with—” She half-makes an obscene gesture that indicates she believes that somehow, now, May’s making career decisions based on Liv’s vagina.

“That’s— Sure,” May says. “That’s fine. I’ll bring up the mortality rate thing.”

“Whatever you think they’ll buy,” Liv condescends. She begins to walk away, and May stands, but then Liv turns on her heel and frowns, the same way she does when she doesn’t think she’s wrong—just that May misunderstands.

“I thought I loved you,” she says. This is a lie. May begins to tell her so, but Liv shakes her head violently. “Or— I should have thought of it.” Her eyebrows knit together like this is a problem that’s just occurring to her.

“Maybe you’re right,” May tells her: a conversational ejection seat. They’re well past it mattering, and Liv will forget by the time she’s back on the train. Indeed, her face is beginning to clear, a cloud passing, and she searches around for a parting line.

“Cute kid,” she says, jerking her chin at Peter. He and Ben are playing a delightful and very loud game they share called Super Firetruck—Liv’s looking at them with an utter non-expression. When they were together, May had been frustrated that Liv didn’t see her. From a distance, the problem looks different: Liv just doesn’t see people.

May’s normal response to that statement, typically used on older women with a vested interest in her wanting a baby, is That’s Ben’s nephew; we love having him for the afternoon. “He is,” she says instead. “Goodbye, Liv.”

“See you,” Liv says, with no trace of irony. She heads off down the sidewalk—the rollerbladers are coming in waves now, and Liv is swallowed up sooner than May expects.

When she crosses the grass back to them, Ben has Peter give her a high-five. “She doesn’t seem nearly as tall as she used to,” he says. “Think she shrunk?”

“Who knows,” May shrugs, taking the mushed piece of strawberry Peter hands her with earnest solemnity. “Maybe we grew.”