Please welcome Kris Ripper with
The Hate Project
The Love Study #2
a Carina Adores title
This arrangement is either exactly what they need--or a total disaster
Oscar is a grouch.
That’s a well-established fact among his tight-knit friend group, and they love him anyway.
Jack is an ass.
Jack, who’s always ready with a sly insult, who can’t have a conversation without arguing, and who Oscar may or may not have hooked up with on a strict no-commitment, one-time-only basis. Even if it was extremely hot.
Together, they’re a bickering, combative mess.
When Oscar is fired (answering phones is not for the anxiety-ridden), he somehow ends up working for Jack. Maybe while cleaning out Jack’s grandmother’s house they can stop fighting long enough to turn a one-night stand into a frenemies-with-benefits situation.
The house is an archaeological dig of love and dysfunction, and while Oscar thought he was prepared, he wasn’t. It’s impossible to delve so deeply into someone’s past without coming to understand them at least a little, but Oscar has boundaries for a reason—even if sometimes Jack makes him want to break them all down.
After all, hating Jack is less of a risk than loving him…
I’d never had friends until college. And even then, I wouldn’t have had friends except that Ronnie and I were freshman year roommates (before she transitioned, obviously), and she was friends with Dec and Mase and Mia, and they came around a lot and just sort of looped me in. It happened slowly over that first year and suddenly I had…friends.
What’s that thing with snake poison, where you take it in small doses every day to grow your immunity to it? That’s what happened with the Motherfuckers. Eventually I built up a tolerance to their, like, happiness and friendliness and optimism. Now my brain just recognizes them as a part of me. The same thing probably happened to them: eventually they built up a tolerance to my moods and freak-outs.
The most important thing you need to know about my friends is that they’re all way better people than I am. You can tell because they threw me a pity party. There’s the aforementioned Declan and Sidney, who got together during the commission of a video series called The Love Study on Sidney’s YouTube channel. Then there’s Mia and Ronnie, disgustingly married to each other. And the last of the official Motherfuckers is Mason, who once tried to get married (to Dec) and was left at the altar (by Dec). Which was awkward for a while, but now it’s fine. Though of all of us Mase is the one who wants a white picket fence and 2.5 kids.
Sounds fucking awful to me, but to each his own, I don’t judge, whatever floats your life raft, et cetera.
Since I didn’t want to get my impotent rage-slash-panic germs on anyone, I took up a seat in the corner and didn’t leave it except to use the bathroom and acquire victuals. By which I mean vegan, gluten-free, cauliflower-based pizza that turned out to be delicious. It used to be that my friends had an informal rotation for who’d sit with me, trading off for the duration of the social event, but that was before Jack. Jack was new to the group. Dec had collected him from work, and for reasons I didn’t understand (I would have suspected sexual favors if I didn’t know better), he kept mostly showing up to drinks with the Motherfuckers. And was now also on the invite list for ad hoc gatherings to celebrate catastrophic job loss.
Jack and I had no other setting with each other than arguing. Since neither of us was all that nice (and everyone else in the Motherfuckers was very nice), it worked out. He thinks he knows everything, I definitely know everything, and even though for the most part we would arrive at the same point from different angles, we spent most of our fights poking at each other’s angles to prove they were incorrect.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when it turned out bickering was actually foreplay.
Since the party was in my honor I was obligated to stay through dinner, and I did. In my corner. Weathering the well-intended reassurances of my friends was hard enough, but when Dec brought out one of those quirky adult card games where kittens exploded I had to get the hell out of there. Too much goodness on a bad day.
Jack apparently had a similar thought. It wasn’t the first time we’d made our escape at the same moment. This time, instead of parting ways on the sidewalk with a lukewarm we know each other through friends wave, both of us stopped.
He stopped a second before I did, which I immediately decided made him more desperate. It wasn’t charitable, but I believe in keeping track of who has the advantage in any encounter. Even a one-off.
“I live ten minutes away,” he said.
“Good for you.”
His lips twisted a little, from not-smile to not-impressed. “This is a pity fuck, Oscar. Take it or leave it.” With that he turned and made for a black two-door something-something on the other side of the street.
I hesitated. For about five seconds. But following up a pity party with a pity fuck sounded about right. “Just to clarify,” I called as I caught up with him, “I don’t do relationships.”
He hit a button that unlocked his car. “Just to clarify, I’m not offering one.”
Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and zir pronouns are ze/zir. Kris shares a converted garage with a kid, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that. You can find out more on zir website.
Promotional post. Materials provided by the publisher.