The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 10

HYPOTHESIS: Whenever I lie, things will get worse by a factor of 743.
“Did you . . . did you hear that?” she blurted out. Malcolm hurried to clear the table of his stuff, muttering tightly, “I was just about to go.” Olive barely noticed, busy watching Adam slide the chair back to sit across from her. Shit. “Yes,” he said, bland and even, and Olive felt like she was about to disintegrate into a million tiny pieces, here, in this exact spot. She wanted him to take it back. Wanted him to say “No, heard what?” She wanted to go back to earlier this morning and rewind it all, this horrible mess of a day. Not look at the texts on her phone, not let Anh walk in on her mooning over her fake boyfriend, not pour her heart out to Malcolm in the worst possible place. Adam couldn’t know. He simply couldn’t. He’d think that Olive had kissed him on purpose, that she’d masterminded this whole fiasco, that she’d manipulated him into this situation. He’d feel compelled to break up with her well before he could reap any benefits from their arrangement. And he would hate her. The prospect was terrifying, so she said the one thing she could think of. “It wasn’t about you.”
The lie rolled off her tongue like a mudslide: unpremeditated, quick, and bound to leave a huge mess behind. “I know.” He nodded, and . . . he didn’t even look surprised. It was as though it had never occurred to him that Olive might have been interested in him. It made her want to cry—a frequent state on this stupid morning—but instead of doing that, she just vomited out another lie. “I just . . . I have a thing. For a guy.” He nodded again, this time slowly. His eyes darkened, and the corner of his jaw twitched, just for a moment. She blinked, and his expression was blank again. “Yeah. I gathered that.” “This guy, he’s . . .” She swallowed. What was he? Quick, Olive, quick. An immunologist? Icelandic? A giraffe? What was he? “You don’t have to explain if you don’t want.” Adam’s voice seemed slightly offbeat, but also comforting. Tired. Olive realized that she was wringing her hands, and instead of stopping she simply hid them under the table. “I . . . It’s just that . . .” “It’s okay.” He offered her a reassuring smile, and Olive— she couldn’t possibly look at him. Not a second longer. She averted her eyes, desperately wishing she had something to say. Something to fix this. Right outside the café’s window, a group of undergrads were huddling together in front of a laptop, laughing at something playing on the screen. A gust of wind scattered a stack of notes, and a boy scrambled to retrieve them. In the distance, Dr. Rodrigues was walking in the direction of Starbucks. “This . . . our arrangement.” Adam’s voice pulled her back inside. To the lies and the table between them; to the gentle, soft way he was talking to her. Kind, he’d been so kind.
Adam. I used to think the worst of you, and now . . . “It’s supposed to help both of us. If it stops doing so . . .” “No.” Olive shook her head. “No. I . . .” She forced her face into a smile. “It’s complicated.” “I see.” She opened her mouth to say that no, he couldn’t possibly see. He couldn’t possibly see anything, because Olive had just made all of this up. This clusterfuck of a situation. “I don’t—” She wet her lips. “There is no need to stop our arrangement early, because I can’t tell him that I like him. Because I—” “Dude.” A hand clapped on Adam’s shoulder. “Since when are you not in your offi— Oh. I see.” Dr. Rodrigues’s gaze slid from Adam to Olive and settled on her. For a second, he just stood by the table and took her in, surprised to find her there. Then his mouth widened into a slow grin. “Hey, Olive.” During Olive’s first year of grad school, Dr. Rodrigues had been on her preassigned graduate advisory committee—an admittedly odd choice, given his relative lack of relevance to her research. And yet, Olive had mostly pleasant memories of her interactions with him. When she’d stammered her way through her committee meetings, he’d always been the first to smile at her, and once he’d even complimented her Star Wars T-shirt—and then proceeded to hum the Darth Vader theme under his breath every time Dr. Moss would start one of her rants against Olive’s methods. “Hey, Dr. Rodrigues.” She was positive that her smile was not nearly as convincing as it should have been. “How are you?” He waved a hand. “Pssh. Please, call me Holden. You’re not my student anymore.” He patted Adam on the back with relish. “And you have the very dubious pleasure of dating my oldest, most socially impaired friend.”
It was all Olive could do not to let her jaw drop. They were friends? Charming, devil-may-care Holden Rodrigues and surly, taciturn Adam Carlsen were old friends? Was this something she was supposed to know? Adam’s girlfriend would have known, right? Dr. Rodrigues—Holden? God, Holden. She was never going to get used to the fact that professors were real people and had first names—turned to Adam, who appeared untroubled by having been decreed socially impaired. He asked, “You’re leaving for Boston tonight, right?” and his speech pattern changed a little—pitched lower and faster, more casual. Comfortable. They really were old friends. “Yeah. Can you still give Tom and me a ride to the airport?” “Depends.” “On what?” “Is Tom going to be gagged and tied up in the trunk?” Adam sighed. “Holden.” “I’ll allow him in the back seat, but if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut, I’ll ditch him on the highway.” “Fine. I’ll let him know.” Holden seemed satisfied. “Anyway, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” He patted Adam’s shoulder once more, but he was looking at Olive. “It’s okay.” “Really? Well, then.” His smile broadened and he pulled up a chair from a nearby table. Adam closed his eyes, resigned. “So, what are we talking about?” Why, I was just in the middle of lying my ass off, thank you for asking. “Ah . . . nothing much. How do you two . . .” She
looked between them, clearing her throat. “Sorry, I forgot how you and Adam know each other.” A thud—Holden kicking Adam under the table. “You little shit. You didn’t tell her about our decades-deep history?” “Just trying to forget.” “You wish.” Holden turned to grin at her. “We grew up together.” She frowned at Adam. “I thought you grew up in Europe?” Holden waved his hand. “He grew up all over the place. And so did I, since our parents worked together. Diplomats— the worst kind of people. But then our families settled in DC.” He leaned forward. “Guess who went to high school, college, and grad school together.” Olive’s eyes widened, and Holden noticed, at least judging by how he kicked Adam again. “You really haven’t told her shit. I see you’re still going for brooding and mysterious.” He rolled his eyes fondly and looked at me again. “Did Adam tell you that he almost didn’t graduate high school? He got suspended for punching a guy who insisted that the Large Hadron Collider would destroy the planet.” “Interesting how you’re not mentioning that you got suspended alongside me for doing the exact same thing.” Holden ignored him. “My parents were out of the country on some kind of assignment and briefly forgot that I existed, so we spent the week at my place playing Final Fantasy—it was glorious. What about when Adam applied to law school? He must have told you about that.” “I never technically applied to law school.” “Lies. All lies. Did he at least tell you that he was my prom date? It was phenomenal.”
Olive looked at Adam, expecting him to deny that, too. But Adam just half smiled, met Holden’s eyes, and said, “It was quite phenomenal.” “Picture this, Olive. Early two thousands. Preppy, ridiculously expensive all-male DC school. Two gay students in grade twelve. Well, two of us that were out, anyway. Richie Muller and I date for the entirety of senior year—and then he dumps me three days before prom for some guy he’d been having a thing with for months.” “He was a prick,” Adam muttered. “I have three choices. Not go to the dance and mope at home. Go alone and mope at school. Or, have my best friend —who was planning on staying home and moping over gamma-aminobutyric acids—come as my date. Guess which?” Olive gasped. “How did you convince him?” “That’s the thing, I didn’t. When I told him about what Richie did, he offered!” “Don’t get used to it,” Adam mumbled. “Can you believe it, Olive?” That Adam would pretend to be in a relationship with someone to get them out of a miserable situation? “Nope.” “We held hands. We slow-danced. We made Richie spit out his punch and regret every single one of his wretched choices. Then we went home and played even more Final Fantasy. It was the shit.” “It was surprisingly fun,” Adam conceded, almost reluctantly. Olive looked at him, and a realization dawned on her: Holden was Adam’s Anh. His person. It was obvious that Adam and Tom were very close, too, but the relationship
Adam had with Holden was something else, and . . . and Olive had no idea what to do with this piece of information. Maybe she should tell Malcolm. He’d either have a field day or go completely berserk. “Well,” Holden said, standing up. “This was fantastic. I’ll go get coffee, but we should hang out soon, the three of us. I can’t remember the last time I had the pleasure of embarrassing Adam in front of a girlfriend. For now, though, he’s all yours.” He followed the word “yours” with a smirk that had Olive blushing. Adam rolled his eyes when Holden left for the coffee counter. Fascinated, Olive followed him with her gaze for several moments. “Um, that was . . . ?” “Holden for you.” Adam seemed barely annoyed. She nodded, still a little dazed. “I can’t believe I’m not your first.” “My first?” “Your first fake date.” “Right. I guess prom qualifies.” He seemed to mull it over. “Holden has had some . . . bad luck with relationships. Undeserved bad luck.” It warmed her chest, the protective concern in his tone. Made her wonder if he was even aware of it. “Did he and Tom ever . . . ?” He shook his head. “Holden would be outraged if he knew you asked.” “Why doesn’t he want to drive Tom to the airport, then?” Adam shrugged. “Holden has always had a very deep, very irrational dislike of Tom, ever since grad school.” “Oh. Why?”
“Not sure. Not sure Holden knows, either. Tom says he’s jealous. I think it’s just a personality thing.” Olive fell silent, absorbing the information. “You didn’t tell Holden about us, either. That it’s not real.” “No.” “Why?” Adam looked away. “I don’t know.” His jaw tensed. “I think I just didn’t . . .” His voice trailed off, and he shook his head before giving her a smile, small and a little forced. “He speaks very highly of you, you know?” “Holden? Of me?” “Of your work. And your research.” “Oh.” She had no idea what to say to that. When did you talk about me? And why? “Oh,” she repeated uselessly. She wasn’t sure why now, in this very moment, but the possible ramifications of their arrangement on Adam’s life hit her in full for the first time. They had agreed to fake-date because they both had something to gain from it, but it occurred to her that Adam also had significantly more to lose. Out of all the people she loved, Olive was only lying to one, Anh, and that was absolutely unavoidable. She could not care less about other students’ opinions. Adam, though . . . he was lying on a daily basis to his colleagues and his friends. His grads interacted with him every day believing that he was dating one of their peers. Did they think him lecherous? Had his relationship with Olive changed their perception of him? And what about other faculty members in the department, or in adjacent programs? Just because dating a grad student was allowed, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t frowned upon. And what if Adam met—or had already met—someone he actually liked? When they’d struck their deal, he’d said he wasn’t going to date, but that had been weeks ago. Olive herself had
been convinced that she’d never be interested in dating anyone at the time—and didn’t that make her want to laugh now, in a remarkably unfunny way? Not to mention that she alone was benefitting from their arrangement. Anh and Jeremy had bought her lie, but Adam’s research funds were still frozen. And yet, he was still helping her despite all of this. And Olive was repaying his kindness by getting ideas and developing feelings that were sure to make him feel uncomfortable. “Do you want to get coffee?” Olive looked up from her hands. “No.” She cleared her throat against the burning sensation lodged behind her sternum. The idea of coffee made her nauseous. “I think I need to go back to the lab.” She bent down to retrieve her backpack, meaning to stand and leave immediately, but halfway through, a thought swept over her, and she found herself staring at him. He was sitting across from her with a concerned expression, a slight frown creasing his brow. She attempted a smile. “We are friends, right?” His frown deepened. “Friends?” “Yes. You and I.” He studied for a long moment. Something new passed through his face, stark and a little sad. Too fleeting to interpret. “Yes, Olive.” She nodded, unsure as to whether she should be feeling relieved. This was not how she’d thought today would go, and there was a strange pressure behind her eyelids, which had her sliding her arms through the straps of her backpack that much quicker. She waved him goodbye with a tremulous smile, and she’d have already been out of this damn Starbucks, if he hadn’t said with that voice of his: “Olive.”
She paused right in front of his chair and looked down at him. It was so odd, to be the taller one for once. “This might be inappropriate, but . . .” His jaw shifted, and he closed his eyes for a second. As if to collect his thoughts. “Olive. You are really . . . You are extraordinary, and I cannot imagine that if you told Jeremy how you feel he wouldn’t . . .” He trailed off and then nodded. A punctuation of sorts, as his words and the way he’d said them brought her that much closer to tears. He thought it was Jeremy. Adam thought Olive had been in love with Jeremy when they’d begun their arrangement—he thought she was still in love with him. Because she’d just told a half-assed lie that she was too afraid to take back and— It was going to happen. She was going to cry, and what she wanted most in the world was to not do it in front of Adam. “I’ll see you next week, okay?” She didn’t wait for his response and walked briskly toward the exit, her shoulder bumping into someone she should have apologized to. Once she was outside, she took a deep breath and marched to the biology building, trying to empty her mind, forcing herself to think about the section she was slated to TA later today, the fellowship application she’d promised Dr. Aslan she’d send by tomorrow, the fact that Anh’s sister would be in town next weekend and had made plans to cook Vietnamese food for everyone. A chilly wind weaved through the leaves of the campus trees, pushing Olive’s sweater against her body. She hugged herself and didn’t look back to the café. Fall had finally begun.

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