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By Kiri Case

You live your life as a math problem. It’s no surprise, given how you graduated with a degree in mathematics and now you work as an accountant. You’re surrounded by numbers every day. You can’t help but see them everywhere.

Here’s an example: You have 3 roommates. That’s 4 people in 1 apartment. Also add yourself as the accountant for a start-up company with 6 other people. 1 of those people is Bee. Bee is the common denominator. She’s your roommate, and she’s in the start-up as a social media manager. She’s also been your best friend since eighth grade. So 2 people in the apartment, you and Bee, are part of the start-up team of 7 people total. The other 2 roommates are not on the team, but they’ll show up again, don’t worry. What do all those numbers add up to?

Answer: 9 people total

It seems like a small number, but these 8 other people make your life feel full. This is going to be a great chapter of your life.

Except, this is a story problem. Emphasis on problem. You’ve noticed while you crunch the numbers for this start-up that some things aren’t adding up—the one thing that numbers are supposed to do.

So, you get to add one more person to this equation.

Add 1 Hank, a full-time accountant, hired to help you crunch the numbers.

Hank solves the problem of the missing numbers. But he introduces a whole new set of problems. Namely, attraction. This should be an easy addition problem: 1 plus 1 equals 2. But there are many factors. For one thing, he smells really nice. Bacon plus St. Ives bar soap equals an image of a rugged lumberjack chopping wood on a frosty mountaintop. Though, he’s not even close to a lumberjack. He exclusively wears graphic tees and has the build of a stick of gum. But that special formula of scents and his golden-retriever personality make for instant attraction.

You and Hank quickly become friends, and you do a lot together. You get brunch on Sundays, and he tells you all about his childhood and his problems. He comes to your apartment all the time to cook dinner or just to hang out. You spend nights watching movies or FaceTiming.

So maybe this is a multiplication problem. 1 times 1. But as soon as you turn it into a story problem, it doesn’t make sense anymore. 1 you times 1 Hank should equal 1 relationship.

But somehow it has turned into 1 recurring question: “Are you and Hank a thing?”

What’s “a thing?” You’re not sure. You haven’t told Hank you like him, even though you spend all your time with him. He hasn’t made a move. You’re sure it’s just a matter of time. 42 hours spent together per week for the last 10 weeks minus the number of people present each time you’ve hung out (so that’s 6 people 5 times a week for 10 weeks because of work, and then 1 person about 10 times when Bee joined you two watching movies or cooking at the apartment). Times that by the 10 nice things Hank has gone out of his way to do for you (like bringing you Thai food when he’s worried that you haven’t had time to eat), and then add 3 cute new outfits that you bought with Bee (she said you looked smokin’ hot in all of them), 20 running jokes between you two, and 1 time you woke up at 5:00 a.m to take him to the airport.

So, how much does that come out to be?

Answer: 1124.

Eleven twenty-four, you realize, is also the date of Thanksgiving. And it sure would be nice to have a date to Thanksgiving with your family.

This answer must mean that Hank will ask you to be his girlfriend soon, right?

Wrong. You didn’t do the math right. Or maybe the problem was faulty.

The correct answer to time plus friendship is a gap for someone more proactive to slip in. This next problem has to do with the roommates: What does 4 single women plus 1 attractive guy with a high emotional intelligence come out to be?

Answer: 5. A group of friends.

Real Answer: 3 roommates admitting to you that they have feelings for Hank.

If you have 3 roommates, and they have all separately come to you confessing their love for that guy you bring home sometimes—the one they assume is just your friend—how many times have you told them that you and Hank are “a thing?”

The answer isn’t 3.

You actually have to times those 3 roommates by 2.9, because they’ve each come to you an average of 2.9 times. Bee only said something to you once, in passing. She just said, “how would you feel if I asked Hank out?” But the conversation was cut short because you were driving when she asked that, and you accidentally ran a red light. Then you both swore and checked for cops and then the conversation changed. So it was a 0.7 conversation. Your other roommates have each had 5 and 3 conversations with you respectively. For an average of 2.9 conversations each. Now here comes the tricky part. Once you’ve done that math, you need to increase each subsequential conversation by a factor of 3.5%.

Answer: You should have an exponential function that shows how each conversation is more painful than the last.

Here’s one your mom told a while ago: 1 you plus 1 love interest minus the ability to speak your mind equals what?

Answer: 0. Which must mean that confidence is quantifiable, and its value is 2.

Something like that.

You’ve noticed that Bee, the roommate and best friend who works at the start-up with you, is hanging out at your desk a lot. Bee is the marketing director. She shouldn’t have so many questions for accounting. At first you think she’s picked up on your sour mood and is trying to cheer you up. But one day when you realize you’ve been talking for two minutes without any acknowledgment from her, you look over and see that she’s watching Hank. It seems like she didn’t notice Hank until you started hanging out with him. Apparently, you plus Hank equals Bee. Now what sort of nonsense math equation is that?

Hank calls you one night. His voice is quiet when he says, full of seriousness, “Hey, I need to ask you a question.”

This is it. He’s going to tell you what you’ve known this whole time. He has feelings for you. He wants to ask if you feel the same. The word “finally” is waiting on your tongue.

“Sure,” you say, acting nonchalant, which is the only thing you know how to do.

“Would I have your blessing to date Bee?”

A long silence as your whole body goes numb, like you’ve been sitting on your whole self and you’ve gone to sleep, knowing you’re about to wake up to that awful tingling pain.

“Uh . . . what?” you say.

He laughs. “I know it’s weird to ask you, but I trust your judgement. I want to ask her

out, but if she’s secretly a serial killer or something . . .”

No! The inside of you screams. No, no, no!

“Oh, yeah, uh, Bee’s cool,” you say instead.

“Great.” He sounds different than he usually does on these late-night calls. He sounds

like he’s smiling really big.

One story problem that you’re still chewing on: if you have 2 friends who are dating each other, 2 roommates who are jealous, and 0 people in the world who know how you actually feel about it, is there anything you can do? It’s a hard problem to solve because it seems mathematical at first, but the longer you stare at it, the more the numbers look like question marks.

Remember how there are 7 people total in the start-up? Well, what would happen if you took away 4 of those people because 1 of them found out that another 1 of them was skimming money, and the 2 got into a big fight, and 2 more chose sides, and Hank and Bee were too busy being in love to choose sides, and you didn’t choose sides because you’ve never made a firm decision about anything in your whole life?

Answer: You have 0 job and 2 friends who you can’t stand being around.

During the time between jobs, you’re stuck at home a lot with Bee. She loves to go into a lot of detail about dating Hank. You want to tell her to shut up, but a part of you can’t help but listen.

So you take the first job offer you get, and it has nothing to do with math. You get a job at a doggy daycare. Hopefully spending your time with dogs will help you get over whatever weird heartbreak this is. (But you can’t call it heartbreak, can you? Have you deserved that title? All you did was crush on a guy who was oblivious the whole time. You didn’t even give him the chance to reject you).

One equation that every girl knows: dogs > boyfriends.

When your new boss tells you that you’ll be trained by Hank, you want to ask if it’s a joke. But you quickly learn that it’s not your Hank; it’s a completely different Hank. Still, it seems strange that you would meet two Hanks back-to-back like that. Is this some weird prank from the universe? What is 1 Hank plus 1 more Hank?

The answer eludes you, and so does Hank 2.0. You don’t see him for the first two weeks of work because he gets the flu and then it’s Thanksgiving week and you both have it off. You go home for Thanksgiving. It’s a two-hour drive. You wish it were longer so that you could tell your parents you can’t make the drive this year. But you go, and it isn’t terrible. When your grandpa asks why you’re not dating anyone, you just tell him it’s because you’ve been busy with work. You do not tell them about your lost job and the increasing stress of making rent. You’ll tell them about everything once you find a new solid job. Maybe then you can laugh about it all too.

The turkey is dry and the conversation is even dryer, but at least your mom hasn’t said “You need to put yourself out there. And wear some makeup every once in a while.” Maybe the turkey made her too tired to say it.

A new math problem that no mathematician has been able to solve yet: what is 1 lingering crush on the first Hank plus 1 growing crush on the new Hank times infinite puppies? You really tried not to fall for Hank. That would just be cliché. But you couldn’t help thinking that the universe was trying to tell you something. When you got back from Thanksgiving and he was there at work, playing with puppies and cracking jokes that make you snort-laugh, well. It was inevitable. But you are not going to get stuck in the same story problems as last time. This is a different Hank, and you are a different woman. 1 plus 1 isn’t going to get the best of you.

For months, you let things build up. You don’t want to rush into anything, not after Start-Up Hank crushed your soul so thoroughly. But after months of texting Doggy-Daycare Hank every day and getting each other sentimental Christmas presents (he got you a new water bottle covered in stickers from all the TV shows you like to talk about at work) and finding excuses to be closer to each other (like when he brushes arms with you while you’re cleaning out the dog bowls at the back sink) you’ve finally worked up the nerve to tell Hank how you feel. Well, almost. You just need the right words. But you’re going to do it soon. You’re going to “put yourself out there.”

Bee has gotten a dog. She says she cleared it with the landlord but she never cleared it with you. Bee has never been one for thinking ahead. She says she needs an emotional support animal to get her through her recent breakup. That’s right, a week ago she broke up with Start-Up Hank. She says she was never attracted to him.

“Why did you do it, then?” you want to ask her. “What was your motivation if not attraction?” (Motivation, you’ve learned, is one math problem you’ll never even attempt to solve. Especially where Bee is concerned).

Instead you buy her chocolate ice cream and listen to her vent about how much she felt trapped in her relationship with the man you wanted.

Oh well, at least you don’t have to see Start-Up Hank around the apartment anymore.

Anyway, the dog. What a story problem. What do you get when you add 1 dog, plus 0 backyard, plus 3 roommates who already struggle to pick up after themselves, times 3 accidents a day, plus the number of times Bee says she’ll do better at picking up his messes, she just has a lot of x going on this week, minus the number of times you wanted to say, “This isn’t fair,” but you didn’t because you’re such a stupid people pleaser?

Answer: 1 new dog starts going to your doggy daycare.

Real Answer: dog equals dirty, rotten homewrecker, just like its owner.

Actual Answer: you should have solved for x.

The day you tell Doggy-Daycare Hank how you feel is a Monday. You spent all Sunday psyching yourself up. Now is the time. No more Mrs. Walked All Over. You’re going to speak your mind.

You’re standing next to him at the sink, washing dog bowls like you do every morning. Your arms are touching. You’re laughing at something he said. He smiles over at you. There’s a pause in the conversation. This is a lot of eye contact, you think. This is significant. It’s now or never.

“I really like you.” The words tumble out before you can stop them.

The look he gives you then is enough to make you vow to never again say what’s in your head.

“What?” he says.

“I uh . . .” Oh no. He doesn’t feel the same. Despite everything you thought was a sign, he doesn’t see you that way. Back pedal, back pedal! “I just don’t say enough what a great person I think you are and . . .”

His eyes go wide with understanding. He brightens, and for a moment, you think there’s hope.

Then he says, “Oh! So I’ve got the roommate stamp of approval? That’s a relief.”

Remember when you should have solved for x? When Bee had a lot of x going on? She didn’t actually say x, she said she had a lot of stuff going on, but you filled in the space with x, because it was unknown and you didn’t think it needed to be known.

But turns out x = spending time with Doggy-Daycare Hank.

And you already know what spending time equals.

You know that a group of dogs is called a pack and a group of crows is called a murder. You decide that 2 or more Hanks is called a Hankering. Which is fitting because of how badly you wanted it. And thanks to the math you’ve already solved, you know that wanting = heartbreak. So what do you get when you times wanting by 2? You’d think it would be twice the heartbreak, but it’s actually heartbreak to the second power.

That second power doesn’t make you any more able to talk about it though. You just quietly quit your job and quietly keep cleaning the apartment and quietly lie awake in bed thinking of numbers and how none of them ever add up.

“Your problem is y.” Your mom says to you in one of your rare phone calls. “If you would just do z . . .”

“It’s not that simple,” you tell her.

What you don’t tell her is that you’ve been thinking about math and how its numbers are really spells, the magic of the universe. They can be bent to bless or curse people, and for some reason the universe has singled you out. And if 1 Hank plus 1 Hank equals 1 Bee, then you know that this isn’t addition at all; it’s an exponential function that will keep going and going forever. You’ll keep finding Hanks and they’ll keep winding up with Bee and you’ll keep on keeping your mouth shut.

“It is that simple,” your mom says through the phone. She will not be dissuaded. “You just have to put yourself out there.”

Lying awake one night, knowing Bee and Doggy-Daycare Hank are staying at his apartment, there’s one equation you can’t stop seeing. Solve for y. Like y haven’t you put yourself out there? Y haven’t you ever stopped to put yourself out of the equation? Y did Bee get a dog? Y do your roommates stop talking when you walk into a room? Y has it taken you so long to notice?

You sleep in the next morning. You don’t leave like you normally would. But you make sure you don’t make any noise, so they’ll think you’re gone. At 10:00 you hear Bee come home. She opens cupboards and clangs pans in the kitchen. At 10:15 you hear another roommate go into the kitchen and start talking loudly to Bee. They are both so loud. You’ve noticed this many times, but it’s never been to your advantage.

Now as you listen at your door, feeling a little bit paranoid, you can hear almost everything they say. At first they talk about their nights. Bee goes into too much detail, as usual.

But then you hear your name.

“And it was the same with Hank Foster.” That’s Bee’s voice.

“She liked him too?” says the other roommate.

“Who knows . . . She thinks when a guy is nice to her that means he’s in love with her.”

You feel your face turning red. You want to stop listening because Bee’s your best friend and you want to keep believing that you’re best friends but obviously that hasn’t been true for a while.

“Oh man, that’s so sad,” says the other roommate.

“Yeah,” says Bee. “I don’t even know how to act around her anymore. Like, I get it, you like him, but he’s interested in me, okay?”

The other roommate says something unintelligible.

“I’m not saying that at all,” says Bee. “They wanted me. But like, okay, I will say this: chasing a guy is half the fun of it. It’s more work when he’s interested in someone else, you know?”

They both laugh as the other roommate says, “You’re so evil.”

“It’s not like that, it’s not like that!” Bee’s still laughing. “Okay, maybe a little bit. I can’t resist a guy who’s hard to get! And, here’s the thing. I’ve saved these guys from . . . did you hear her the other day? ‘MaYbE wE sHoUlD cLeAn ThE dIsHeS!’ She’s so annoying. Like, I said I’ll clean, Mom! You don’t have to nag us about it all the time.”

You’ve had enough. Your embarrassment has melted into red-hot anger now, and you feel your eyes blazing as you throw open your door and step out into the living room.

“Hey,” you say.

Bee and the other roommate jump and look up like guilty dogs.

“Hey, girl,” says Bee, smooth as butter. She’s trying to gauge if you heard anything and playing innocent until proven guilty. “I didn’t know you were home today.”

“You’re a bitch,” you say, even though you’ve never said that to anyone, especially not the girl you once called your best friend.

The other roommate is staring at the floor.

Bee gives an awkward laugh. “I was just joking. It was a joke.”

“No, you weren’t,” you say. Your hands are shaking. You want to hurry and do the math of this situation, but you don’t let your mind slow down enough for that.

“You can’t be mad at me about this,” she says. “You can’t honestly be mad. We’re adults. He can choose whoever he wants to be with.”

“I’m not talking about that,” you snap. “I’m talking about the way you treat me. Your friend.” You swallow the lump forming in your throat. No way you’re going to cry now and break whatever spell this is. You’re going to get it all out. It’s now or never. “You have walked all over me, and you knew the whole time what you were doing. I’m so done with this.”

It’s a nice mic drop moment, except as you’re walking away, you remember that you signed a lease for this place. You turn around, willing the tears to stay out of your eyes for just one more moment.

“I’m moving out, and you guys will cover my rent until you find a new tenant.”

Now you’re free to retreat to your room, ignoring Bee’s shocked cries behind you. You think about this problem as you drive to your parent’s house: What’s 1 suitcase, plus 2 months until your next lease starts, times the minutes you’ve been holding the phone on your lap with the text “When I told you I liked you, I meant romantically, and I wanted to get that off my chest” still unread in an empty chat, minus any regrets for the dumpster fire you lit and left for good in your old apartment?

Answer: a new start. One where you get to talk about how you feel, and you’re not afraid.

Answer: 1 new text from Doggy-Daycare Hank. All it says is, “Can I call you?”


Kiri holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University, and she currently works as an actor and TV writer.