The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 12

HYPOTHESIS: Approximately two out of three fake-dating situations will eventually involve room-sharing; 50 percent of room-sharing situations will be further complicated by the presence of only one bed.
There was an Airbnb twenty-five minutes from the conference center, but it was an inflatable mattress on the floor of a storage room, charging 180 bucks per night, and even if she could have afforded it, one of the reviews reported that the host had a penchant for role-playing Viking with the guests, so . . . No, thank you. She found a more affordable one fortyfive minutes away by subway, but when she went to reserve the room, she discovered that someone had beaten her to it by mere seconds, and she was tempted to hurl her laptop across the coffee shop. She was trying to decide between a seedy motel and a cheap couch in the suburbs when a shadow cast over her. She looked up with a frown, expecting an undergrad wanting to use the outlet she’d been hoarding, and instead found . . . “Oh.” Adam was standing in front of her, the late-afternoon sunlight haloing his hair and shoulders, fingers closed around an iPad as he looked down at her with a somber expression. It had been less than a week since she’d last seen him—six days to be precise, which was just a handful of hours and minutes. Nothing, considering that she’d barely known him a month. And yet it was as if the space she was in, the whole campus, the entire city was transformed by knowing that he was back.
Possibilities. That’s what Adam’s presence felt like. Of what, she was not certain. “You’re . . .” Her mouth was dry. An event of great scientific interest, considering that she’d taken a sip from her water bottle maybe ten seconds ago. “You’re back.” “I am.” She hadn’t forgotten his voice. Or his height. Or the way his stupid clothes fit him. She couldn’t have—she had two medial temporal lobes, fully functioning and tucked nicely inside her skull, which meant that she was perfectly able to encode and store memories. She hadn’t forgotten anything, and she wasn’t sure why right now it felt as if she had. “I thought . . . I didn’t—” Yes, Olive. Wonderful. Very eloquent. “I didn’t know that you were back.” His face was a little closed off, but he nodded. “I flew in last night.” “Oh.” She should have probably prepared something to say, but she hadn’t expected to see him until Wednesday. If she had, maybe she wouldn’t have been wearing her oldest leggings and most tattered T-shirt, and her hair wouldn’t have been a mess. Not that she was under any illusion that Adam would have noticed her if she’d been wearing a swimsuit or a gala dress. But still. “Do you want to sit?” She leaned forward to gather her phone and notebook, making room on the other side of the small table. It was only when he hesitated before taking a seat that it occurred to her that maybe he had no intention of staying, that now he might feel forced to do so. He folded himself into the chair gracefully, like a big cat. Great job, Olive. Who doesn’t love a needy person who hounds them for attention? “You don’t have to. I know you’re busy. MacArthur grants to win and grads to brutalize and broccoli to eat.” He’d
probably rather be anywhere else. She bit her thumbnail, feeling guilty, starting to panic, and— And then he smiled. And suddenly there were grooves around his mouth and dimples in his cheeks and his face was completely altered by them. The air at the table thinned. Olive couldn’t quite breathe. “You know, there’s a middle ground between living off brownies and exclusively eating broccoli.” She grinned, for no reason other than—Adam was here, with her. And he was smiling. “That’s a lie.” He shook his head, mouth still curved. “How are you?” Better now. “Good. How was Boston?” “Good.” “I’m glad you’re back. I’m pretty sure the biology dropout rates have seen a steep reduction. We can’t have that.” He gave her a patient, put-upon look. “You look tired, smart-ass.” “Oh. Yeah, I . . .” She rubbed her cheek with her hand, ordering herself not to feel self-conscious about her looks, just like she’d always made a point not to. It would be an equally stupid idea to wonder what the woman Holden mentioned the other day looked like. Probably stunning. Probably feminine, with curves; someone who actually needed to wear a bra, someone who was not half covered in freckles, who had mastered the art of applying liquid eyeliner without making a mess of herself. “I’m fine. It’s been a week, though.” She massaged her temple. He cocked his head. “What happened?” “Nothing . . . My friends are stupid, and I hate them.” She felt instantly guilty and made a face. “Actually, I don’t hate
them. I do hate that I love them, though.” “Is this the sunscreen friend? Anh?” “The one and only. And my roommate, too, who really should know better.” “What did they do?” “They . . .” Olive pressed into both eyes with her fingers. “It’s a long story. They found alternative accommodations for SBD. Which means that now I have to find a place on my own.” “Why did they do that?” “Because . . .” She briefly closed her eyes and sighed. “Because they assumed that I’d want to stay with you. Since you’re my . . . you know. ‘Boyfriend.’ ” He went still for a couple of seconds. And then: “I see.” “Yep. A pretty bold assumption, but . . .” She spread her arms and shrugged. He bit the inside of his cheek, looking pensive. “I’m sorry you won’t get to room with them.” She waved her hand. “Oh, that’s not it. That would have been fun, but it’s just that now I need to find something else nearby, and there are no affordable options.” Her eyes fell on the screen of her laptop. “I’m thinking of booking this motel that’s an hour away and—” “Won’t they know?” She looked up from the grainy, shady-looking picture of the place. “Mm?” “Won’t Anh know that you’re not staying with me?” Oh. “Where are you staying?” “The conference hotel.”
Of course. “Well.” She scratched her nose. “I wouldn’t tell her. I don’t think she’ll pay too much attention.” “But she’ll notice if you’re staying one hour away.” “I . . .” Yes. They would notice, and ask questions, and Olive would have to come up with a bunch of excuses and even more half-truths to deal with it. Add a few blocks to this Jenga tower of lies she’d been building for weeks. “I’ll figure it out.” He nodded slowly. “I’m sorry.” “Oh, it’s not your fault.” “One could argue that it is, in fact, my fault.” “Not at all.” “I would offer to pay for your hotel room, but I doubt there’s anything left in a ten-mile radius.” “Oh, no.” She shook her head emphatically. “And I wouldn’t accept it. It’s not a cup of coffee. And a scone. And a cookie. And a pumpkin Frappuccino.” She batted her eyes at him and leaned forward, trying to change the topic. “Which, by the way, is new on the menu. You could totally buy it for me, and that would make my day.” “Sure.” He looked slightly nauseous. “Awesome.” She grinned. “I think it’s cheaper today, some kind of Tuesday sale, so—” “But you could room with me.” The way he put it forward, calm and sensible, almost made it sound like it was no big deal. And Olive almost fell for it, until her ears and brain seemed to finally connect with each other and she was able to process the meaning of what he’d just said. That she.
Could room. With him. Olive knew full well what sharing quarters with someone entailed, even for a very short period. Sleeping in the same room meant seeing embarrassing pajamas, taking turns to use the bathroom, hearing the swish of someone trying to find a comfortable position under the sheets loud and clear in the dark. Sleeping in the same room meant— No. Nope. It was a terrible idea. And Olive was starting to think that maybe she had maxed those out for a while. So she cleared her throat. “I could not, actually.” He nodded calmly. But then, then he asked equally calmly, “Why?” and she wanted to bang her head against the table. “I couldn’t.” “The room is a double, of course,” he offered, as if that piece of information could have possibly changed her mind. “It’s not a good idea.” “Why?” “Because people will think that we . . .” She noticed Adam’s look and immediately hushed. “Okay, fine. They already think that. But.” “But?” “Adam.” She rubbed her forehead with her fingers. “There will be only one bed.” He frowned. “No, as I said it’s a double—” “It’s not. It won’t be. There will be only one bed, for sure.” He gave her a puzzled look. “I got the booking confirmation the other day. I can forward it to you if you want; it says that—” “It doesn’t matter what it says. It’s always one bed.”
He stared at her, perplexed, and she sighed and leaned helplessly against the back of her chair. He’d clearly never seen a rom-com or read a romance novel in his life. “Nothing. Ignore me.” “My symposium is part of a satellite workshop the day before the conference starts, and then I’ll be speaking on the first day of the actual conference. I have the room for the entire conference, but I’ll probably need to leave for some meetings after night two, so you’d be by yourself from night three. We’d only overlap for one night.” She listened to the logical, methodical way he listed sensible reasons why she should just accept his offer and felt a wave of panic sweep over her. “It seems like a bad idea.” “That’s fine. I just don’t understand why.” “Because.” Because I don’t want to. Because I have it bad. Because I’d probably have it even worse, after that. Because it’s going to be the week of September twenty-ninth, and I’ve been trying hard not to think about it. “Are you afraid that I’ll try to kiss you without your consent? To sit on your lap, or fondle you under the pretext of applying sunscreen? Because I would never—” Olive chucked her phone at him. He caught it in his left hand, studied its glitter amino-acid case with a pleased expression, and then carefully set it next to her laptop. “I hate you,” She told him, sullen. She might have been pouting. And smiling at the same time. His mouth twitched. “I know.” “Am I ever going to live that stuff down?” “Unlikely. And if you do, I’m sure something else will come up.”
She huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, and they exchanged a small smile. “I can ask Holden or Tom if I can stay with them, and leave you my room,” he suggested. “But they know that I already have one, so I’d have to come up with excuses—” “No, I’m not going to kick you out of your room.” She ran a hand through her hair and exhaled. “You’d hate it.” He tilted his head. “What?” “Rooming with me.” “I would?” “Yeah. You seem like a person who . . .” You seem like you like to keep others at arm’s length, uncompromising and ever so hard to know. You seem like you care very little about what people think of you. You seem like you know what you’re doing. You seem equally horrible and awesome, and just the thought that there’s someone you’d like to open up to, someone who’s not me, makes me feel like I can’t sit at this table any longer. “Like you’d want your own space.” He held her gaze. “Olive. I think I’ll be fine.” “But if you end up not being fine, then you’d be stuck with me.” “It’s one night.” His jaw clenched and relaxed, and he added, “We are friends, no?” Her own words, thrown back at her. I don’t want to be your friend, she was tempted to say. Thing was, she also didn’t want to not be his friend. What she wanted was completely outside of her ability to obtain, and she needed to forget it. Scrap it from her brain. “Yes. We are.” “Then, as a friend, don’t force me to worry about you using public transportation late at night in a city you’re not familiar
with. Biking on roads without bike lanes is bad enough,” he muttered, and she immediately felt a weight sink into her stomach. He was trying to be a good friend. He cared for her, and instead of being satisfied with what she currently had, she had to ruin it all and—and want more. She took a deep breath. “Are you sure? That it wouldn’t bother you?” He nodded, silent. “Okay, then. Okay.” She forced herself to smile. “Do you snore?” He huffed out a laugh. “I don’t know.” “Oh, come on. How can you not know?” He shrugged. “I just don’t.” “Well, that probably means you don’t. Otherwise, someone would have told you.” “Someone?” “A roommate.” It occurred to her that Adam was thirtyfour and likely hadn’t had a roommate in about a decade. “Or a girlfriend.” He smiled faintly and lowered his gaze. “I guess my ‘girlfriend’ will tell me after SBD, then.” He said it in a quiet, unassuming tone, clearly trying to make a joke, but Olive’s cheeks warmed, and she couldn’t quite bear to look at him anymore. Instead she picked at a thread on the sleeve of her cardigan, and searched for something to say. “My stupid abstract.” She cleared her throat. “It was accepted as a talk.” He met her eyes. “Faculty panel?” “Yeah.” “You’re not happy?”
“No.” She winced. “Is it the public-speaking thing?” He’d remembered. Of course he had. “Yeah. It will be awful.” Adam stared at her and said nothing. Not that it would be fine, not that the talk would go smoothly, not that she was overreacting and underselling a fantastic opportunity. His calm acceptance of her anxiety had the exact opposite effect of Dr. Aslan’s enthusiasm: it relaxed her. “When I was in my third year of grad school,” he said quietly, “my adviser sent me to give a faculty symposium in his stead. He told me only two days before, without any slides or a script. Just the title of the talk.” “Wow.” Olive tried to imagine what that would have felt like, being expected to perform something so daunting with so little forewarning. At the same time, part of her marveled at Adam self-disclosing something without being asked a direct question. “Why did he do that?” “Who knows?” He tilted his head back, staring at a spot above her head. His tone held a trace of bitterness. “Because he had an emergency. Because he thought it’d be a formative experience. Because he could.” Olive just bet that he could. She didn’t know Adam’s former adviser, but academia was very much an old boys’ club, where those who held the power liked to take advantage of those who didn’t without repercussions. “Was it? A formative experience?” He shrugged again. “As much as anything that keeps you awake in a panic for forty-eight hours straight can be.” Olive smiled. “And how did you do?”
“I did . . .” He pressed his lips together. “Not well enough.” He was silent for a long moment, his gaze locked somewhere outside the café’s window. “Then again, nothing was ever good enough.” It seemed impossible that someone might look at Adam’s scientific accomplishments and find them lacking. That he could ever be anything less than the best at what he did. Was that why he was so severe in his judgment of others? Because he’d been taught to set the same impossible standards for himself? “Do you still keep in touch with him? Your adviser, I mean.” “He’s retired now. Tom has taken over what used to be his lab.” It was such an uncharacteristically opaque, carefully worded answer. Olive couldn’t help being curious. “Did you like him?” “It’s complicated.” He rubbed a hand over his jaw, looking pensive and far away. “No. No, I didn’t like him. I still don’t. He was . . .” It took him so long to continue, she almost convinced herself that he wouldn’t. But he did, staring at the late-afternoon sunlight disappearing behind the oak trees. “Brutal. My adviser was brutal.” She chuckled, and Adam’s eyes darted back to her face, narrow with confusion. “Sorry.” She was still laughing a little. “It’s just funny, to hear you complain about your old mentor. Because . . .” “Because?” “Because he sounds exactly like you.” “I’m not like him,” he retorted, more sharply than Olive had come to expect from him. It made her snort.
“Adam, I’m pretty sure that if we were to ask anyone to describe you with one word, ‘brutal’ would come up one or ten times.” She saw him stiffen before she was even done speaking, the line of his shoulders suddenly tense and rigid, his jaw tight and with a slight twitch to it. Her first instinct was to apologize, but she was not sure for what. There was nothing new to what she’d just told him—they’d discussed his blunt, uncompromising mentoring style before, and he’d always taken it in stride. Owned it, even. And yet his fists were clenched on the table, and his eyes were darker than usual. “I . . . Adam, did I—” she stammered, but he interrupted her before she could continue. “Everyone has issues with their advisers,” he said, and there was a finality to his tone that warned her not to finish her sentence. Not to ask What happened? Where did you just go? So she swallowed and nodded. “Dr. Aslan is . . .” She hesitated. His knuckles were not quite as white anymore, and the tension in his muscles was slowly dissolving. It was possible that she’d imagined it. Yes, she must have. “She’s great. But sometimes I feel like she doesn’t really understand that I need more . . .” Guidance. Support. Some practical advice, instead of blind encouragement. “I’m not even sure what I need, myself. I think that might be part of the problem —I’m not very good at communicating it.” He nodded and appeared to choose his words carefully. “It’s hard, mentoring. No one teaches you how to do it. We’re trained to become scientists, but as professors, we’re also in charge of making sure that students learn to produce rigorous science. I hold my grads accountable, and I set high standards for them. They’re scared of me, and that’s fine. The stakes are high, and if being scared means that they’re taking their training seriously, then I’m okay with it.”
She tilted her head. “What do you mean?” “My job is to make sure that my adult graduate students don’t become mediocre scientists. That means I’m the one who’s tasked with demanding that they rerun their experiments or adjust their hypotheses. It comes with the territory.” Olive had never been a people pleaser, but Adam’s attitude toward others’ perception of him was so cavalier, it was almost fascinating. “Do you really not care?” she asked, curious. “That your grads might dislike you as a person?” “Nah. I don’t like them very much, either.” She thought of Jess and Alex and the other half a dozen grads and postdocs mentored by Adam whom she didn’t know very well. The thought of him finding them as annoying as they found him despotic made her chuckle. “To be fair, I don’t like people in general.” “Right.” Don’t ask, Olive. Do not ask. “Do you like me?” A millisecond of hesitation as he pressed his lips together. “Nope. You’re a smart-ass with abysmal taste in beverages.” He traced the corner of his iPad, a small smile playing on his lips. “Send me your slides.” “My slides?” “For your talk. I’ll take a look at them.” Olive tried not to gape at him. “Oh—you . . . I’m not your grad. You don’t have to.” “I know.” “You really don’t have to—” “I want to,” he said, voice pitched low and even as he looked into her eyes, and Olive had to avert her gaze because something felt too tight in her chest. “Okay.” She finally managed to snap out the loose thread on her sleeve. “How likely is it that your feedback will cause
me to cry under the shower?” “That depends on the quality of your slides.” She smiled. “Don’t feel like you have to hold back.” “Believe me, I don’t.” “Good. Great.” She sighed, but it was reassuring, knowing that he was going to be checking her work. “Will you come to my talk?” she heard herself ask, and was as surprised by the request as Adam seemed to be. “I . . . Do you want me to?” No. No, it’s going to be horrible, and humiliating, and probably a disaster, and you’re going to see me at my worst and weakest. It’s probably best if you lock yourself into the bathroom for the entire duration of the panel. Just so you don’t accidentally wander in and see me making a fool of myself. And yet. Just the idea of having him there, sitting in the audience, made the prospect seem like less of an ordeal. He was not her adviser, and he wasn’t going to be able to do much if she got inundated by a barrage of impossible questions, or if the projector stopped working halfway through the talk. But maybe that wasn’t what she needed from him. It hit her then what was so special about Adam. That no matter his reputation, or how rocky their first meeting, since the very beginning, Olive had felt that he was on her side. Over and over, and in ways that she could never have anticipated, he had made her feel unjudged. Less alone. She exhaled slowly. The realization should have been rattling, but it had an oddly calming effect. “Yes,” she told him, thinking that this might very well turn out to be all right. She might never have what she wanted from Adam, but for now at least, he was in her life. That was going to have to be enough.
“I will, then.” She leaned forward. “Will you ask a long-winded, leading question that will cause me to ramble incoherently and lose the respect of my peers, thus forever undermining my place in the field of biology?” “Possibly.” He was smiling. “Should I buy you that disgusting”—Adam gestured toward the register—“pumpkin sludge now?” She grinned. “Oh, yes. I mean, if you want to.” “I’d rather buy you anything else.” “Too bad.” Olive jumped to her feet and headed for the counter, tugging at his sleeve and forcing him to stand with her. Adam followed meekly, mumbling something about black coffee that Olive chose to ignore. Enough, she repeated to herself. What you have now, it will have to be enough.

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