The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 17

HYPOTHESIS: A heart will break even more easily than the weakest of hydrogen bonds.
It wasn’t the sun high in the sky that woke her up, nor housekeeping—thanks to Adam, likely, and a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. What got Olive out of bed, even though she really, really didn’t want to face the day, was the frantic buzzing on the nightstand. She buried her face in the pillow, extended her arm to grope her way to her phone, and then brought it to her ear. “Yeah?” she bleated, only to find that it wasn’t a call but a very long string of notifications. It included one email from Dr. Aslan congratulating her on her talk and asking for the recording, two texts from Greg (Have u seen the multichannel pipette? Nvm found it.), one from Malcolm (call me when you see this), and . . . One hundred and forty-three from Anh. “What the . . . ?” She blinked at the screen, unlocked her phone, and started scrolling up. Could it be one hundred and forty-three reminders to wear sunscreen? Anh: O Anh: M Anh: G Anh: OMG Anh: Omg omg OMFG Anh: Where the hell are you
Anh: OLIVE Anh: OLIVE LOUISE SMITH Anh: (JK I know you don’t have a middle name) Anh: (But if you did it would be Louise FIGHT ME you know im right) Anh: Where ARE U?!?!? Anh: Your missing so much YOU ARE MISSING SO Anh: WHERE THE HELL IS YOUR ROOM I’M COMING TO YOU Anh: OL we need to talk about this IN PERSON!!!!!1!!!!!!!! Anh: Are you DEAD? Anh: You better be IT’S THE ONLY WAY I’LL FORGIVE YOU FOR MISSING THIS OL Anh: Ol is this real life is iT jUST FANTASY SJFGAJHSGFASF Anh: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL Olive groaned, rubbed her face, and decided to skip the other 125 messages and text Anh her room number. She went into the bathroom and reached for her toothbrush, trying not to notice that the spot where Adam’s had been was now empty. Whatever Anh was freaking out about, Olive was likely going to be underwhelmed. Jeremy had Irish step-danced at the department social, or Chase had tied a cherry stem with his tongue. Great entertainment value, for sure, but Olive would survive missing either. She dried her face, thinking that she was doing a great job of not thinking of how sore she was; of how her body was buzzing, vibrating like it had no intention of stopping, not two, not three, not five hours from now; of the faint, comforting scent of Adam on her skin. Yeah. A great job. When she stepped out of the bathroom, someone was about to tear down the door. She opened it to find Anh and Malcolm,
who hugged her and started talking so loudly and rapidly, she could barely make out the words—though she did catch the terms “paradigm-shifting,” “life-altering,” and “watershed moment in history.” They chattered their way to Olive’s unused bed and sat down. After a few more moments of overlapping babbling, Olive decided to intervene and lifted her hands. “Hold on.” She was already coming down with a headache. Today was going to be a nightmare, for so many reasons. “What happened?” “The weirdest thing,” Anh said. “Coolest,” Malcolm interrupted. “She means coolest.” “Where were you, Ol? You said you were going to join us.” “Here. I just, um, was tired after my talk, and fell asleep and—” “Lame, Ol, very lame, but I have no time to berate you for your lameness because I need to catch you up with what happened last night—” “I should tell her,” Malcolm gave Anh a scathing look. “Since it’s about me.” “Fair enough,” she conceded with a flourishing gesture. Malcolm smiled, pleased, and cleared his throat. “Ol, who have I been wanting to have sex with for the past several years?” “Uh . . .” She scratched her temple. Off the top of her head, she could name about thirty people. “Victoria Beckham?” “No. Well, yes. But no.” “David Beckham?” “Also yes. But no.” “The other Spice Girl? The one in the Adidas tracksuit—”
“No. Okay, yes, but don’t focus on celebrities, focus on real life people—” “Holden Rodrigues,” Anh blurted out impatiently. “He hooked up with Rodrigues at the department social. Ol, it is with utmost regret that I must inform you that you have been dethroned and are no longer the president of the Hot for Teacher club. Will you retire in shame or accept the treasurer position?” Olive blinked. Several times. An inordinate amount of times. And then heard herself say, “Wow.” “Isn’t it the weirdest—” “Coolest, Anh,” Malcolm interjected. “Coolest.” “Things can be weird in a cool way.” “Right, but this is pure, one hundred percent cool, zero percent weird—” “Hold up,” Olive interrupted. Her headache was growing a size or two. “Holden is not even in the department. Why was he at the social?” “No idea, but you bring up an excellent point, which is that since he’s in pharmacology, we can do whatever we want without having to tell anyone.” Anh tilted her head. “Is that so?” “Yep. We checked Stanford’s socialization regulations on our way to CVS to get condoms. Basically foreplay.” He closed his eyes in bliss. “Will I ever step inside a pharmacy again without getting a boner?” Olive cleared her throat. “I’m so happy for you.” She really was. Though this did feel a bit weird. “How did it happen?” “I hit on him. It was glorious.”
“He was shameless, Ol. And glorious. I took some pictures.” Malcolm gasped in outrage. “Okay, that’s illegal and I could sue you. But if I look good in them, do send them my way.” “Will do, babe. Now tell us about the sex.” The fact that Malcolm, usually very forward with the details of his sex life, just closed his eyes and smiled, spoke volumes. Anh and Olive exchanged a long, impressed glance. “And that’s not even the best part. He wants to see me again. Today. A date. He used the word ‘date’ unprompted.” He fell back on the mattress. “He’s so hot. And funny. And nice. A sweet, filthy beast.” Malcolm looked so happy, Olive couldn’t resist: she swallowed the lump that had taken residence in her throat sometime last night and jumped on the bed next to him, hugging him as tight as she could. Anh followed and did the same. “I’m so happy for you, Malcolm.” “Same.” Anh’s voice was muffled against his hair. “I am happy for me, too. I hope he’s serious. You know when I said I was training for gold? Well, Holden’s platinum.” “You should ask Carlsen, Ol,” Anh suggested. “If he knows what Holden’s intentions are.” She probably wasn’t going to have the opportunity anytime soon. “I will.” Malcolm shifted a bit and turned to Olive. “Did you really fall asleep last night? Or were you and Carlsen celebrating in unmentionable ways?” “Celebrating?”
“I told Holden that I was worried about you, and he said that you guys were probably celebrating. Something about Carlsen’s funds being released? By the way, you never told me Carlsen and Holden were best friends—it seems like a piece of information you’d want to share with your Holden-Rodriguesfan-club-founder-and-most-vocal-member roommate—” “Wait.” Olive sat up, wide-eyed. “The funds that were released, are they . . . the frozen ones? The ones Stanford was withholding?” “Maybe? Holden said something about the department chair finally easing up. I tried to pay attention, but talking about Carlsen is a bit of a buzzkill—no offense. Plus, I kept getting lost in Holden’s eyes.” “And his butt,” Anh added. “And his butt.” Malcolm sighed happily. “Such a nice butt. He has little dimples on his lower back.” “Oh my God, so does Jeremy! I want to bite them.” “Aren’t they the cutest?” Olive stopped listening and stood from the bed, grabbing her phone to read the date. September twenty-ninth. It was September twenty-ninth. She had known, of course. She had known for over a month that today was coming, but in the past week she’d been too busy fretting about her talk to focus on anything else, and Adam hadn’t reminded her. With everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours, it was no surprise that he’d forgotten to mention that his funds had been released. But still. The implications of it were . . . She closed her eyes, shut tight, while Anh and Malcolm’s excited chattering kept rising in volume in the background.
When she opened them, her phone lit up with a new notification. From Adam. Adam: I have interview meetings until 4:30, but I’m free for the night. Would you like to get dinner? There are several good restaurants near campus (though a shameful lack of conveyor belts). If you’re not busy, I could show you around campus, maybe even Tom’s lab. Adam: No pressure, of course. It was almost two in the afternoon. Olive felt as though her bones weighed twice as much as the day before. She took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, and began typing her reply to Adam. She knew what she had to do. —
SHE KNOCKED ON his door at five sharp, and he answered just a few seconds later, still dressed in slacks and a button-down that must have been his interview attire and . . . Smiling at her. Not one of those half-baked things she’d gotten used to, but a real, true smile. With dimples, and crinkles around his eyes, and genuine happiness to see her. It shattered her heart in a million pieces before he even spoke. “Olive.” She still hadn’t figured it out, why the way he said her name was so unique. There was something packed behind it, something that didn’t quite make it to the surface. A sense of possibilities. Of depth. Olive wondered if it was real, if she was hallucinating it, if he was aware. Olive wondered a lot of things, and then told herself to stop. It couldn’t matter less, now. “Come in.”
It was an even fancier hotel, and Olive rolled her eyes, wondering why people felt the need to waste thousands of dollars in lodgings for Adam Carlsen when he barely paid attention to his surroundings. They should just give him a cot and donate the money to worthy causes. Endangered whales. Psoriasis. Olive. “I brought this—I’m assuming it’s yours.” She took a couple of steps toward him and held out a phone charger, letting the cable end dangle, making sure that Adam wouldn’t need to touch her. “It is. Thank you.” “It was behind the bedside lamp, probably why you forgot it.” She pressed her lips together. “Or maybe it’s old age. Maybe dementia has already set in. All those amyloid plaques.” He glared at her, and she tried not to smile, but she already was, and he was rolling his eyes and calling her a smart-ass, and— Here they were. Doing this, again. Dammit. She let her eyes wander away, because—no. Not anymore. “How was the interview?” “Good. Just day one, though.” “Of how many?” “Too many.” He sighed. “I have grant meetings with Tom scheduled, too.” Tom. Right. Of course. Of course—this was why she was here. To explain to him that— “Thank you for coming out,” he said, voice quiet and earnest. As though by hopping on a train and agreeing to see him, Olive had given him a great deal of pleasure. “I figured you might be busy with your friends.”
She shook her head. “No. Anh’s out with Jeremy.” “I’m sorry,” he said, looking genuinely regretful for her, and it took Olive several moments to recall her lie, and his assumption that she was in love with Jeremy. Only a few weeks earlier, but it already seemed so long ago, when she hadn’t been able to imagine anything worse than Adam discovering her feelings for him. It sounded so foolish after everything that had happened in the past few days. She should really come clean, but what was the point now? Let Adam think what he liked. It would serve him better than the truth, after all. “And Malcolm is with . . . Holden.” “Ah, yes.” He nodded, looking exhausted. Olive briefly fantasized about Holden texting Adam the equivalent of what Olive and Anh had been subjected to for the past two hours, and smiled. “How bad is it?” “Bad?” “This thing between Malcolm and Holden?” “Ah.” Adam leaned his shoulder against the wall, folding his arms across his chest. “I think it can be very good. For Holden, at least. He really likes Malcolm.” “Did he tell you?” “He hasn’t shut up about it.” He rolled his eyes. “Did you know that Holden is secretly twelve?” She laughed. “So is Malcolm. He dates a lot, and he’s usually good at managing expectations, but this thing with Holden—I had a sandwich for lunch and he randomly volunteered that Holden is allergic to peanuts. It wasn’t even PB and J!” “He’s not allergic, he fakes it because he doesn’t like nuts.” He massaged his temple. “This morning I woke up to a haiku
about Malcolm’s elbows. Holden had texted it at three a.m.” “Was it good?” He lifted one eyebrow, and she laughed again. “They are . . .” “The worst.” Adam shook his head. “But I think Holden might need it. Someone to care about, who also cares about him.” “Malcolm, too. I’m just . . . concerned that he might want more than Holden is willing to offer?” “Believe me, Holden is very ready to file taxes jointly.” “Good. I’m glad.” She smiled. And then felt her smile fade, just as quickly. “One-sided relationships are really . . . not good.” I would know. And maybe you would, too. He studied his own palm, undoubtedly thinking about the woman Holden had mentioned. “No. No, they’re not.” It was a weird kind of ache, the jealousy. Confusing, unfamiliar, not something she was used to. Half cutting, half disorienting and aimless, so different from the loneliness she’d felt since she was fifteen. Olive missed her mother every day, but with time she’d been able to harness her pain and turn it into motivation for her work. Into purpose. Jealousy, though . . . the misery of it didn’t come with any gain. Only restless thoughts, and something squeezing at her chest whenever her mind turned to Adam. “I need to ask you something,” he said. The seriousness of his tone made her look up. “Sure.” “The people you overheard at the conference yesterday . . .” She stiffened. “I’d rather not—”
“I won’t force you to do anything. But whoever they were, I want . . . I think you should consider filing a complaint.” Oh God. God. Was this some cruel joke? “You really like complaints, don’t you?” She laughed once, a weak attempt at humor. “I’m serious, Olive. And if you decide you want to do it, I’ll help you however I can. I could come with you and talk with SBD’s organizers, or we could go through Stanford’s Title IX office—” “No. I . . . Adam, no. I’m not going to file a complaint.” She rubbed her eyes with the tips of her fingers, feeling as though this was one giant, painful prank. Except that Adam had no idea. He actually wanted to protect her, when all Olive wanted was . . . to protect him. “I’ve already decided. It would do more harm than good.” “I know why you think that. I felt the same during grad school, with my mentor. We all did. But there are ways to do it. Whoever this person is, they—” “Adam, I—” She ran one hand down her face. “I need you to drop this. Please.” He studied her, silent for several minutes, and then nodded. “Okay. Of course.” He pushed away from the wall and straightened, clearly unhappy to let the subject go but making an effort to do so. “Would you like to go to dinner? There’s a Mexican restaurant nearby. Or sushi—real sushi. And a movie theater. Maybe there are one or two movies playing in which horses don’t die.” “I’m not . . . I’m not hungry, actually.” “Oh.” His expression was teasing. Gentle. “I didn’t know that was possible.” “Me neither.” She chuckled weakly, and then forced herself to continue. “Today is September twenty-ninth.”
A beat. Adam studied her, patient and curious. “It is.” She bit into her lower lip. “Do you know what the chair has decided about your funds?” “Oh, right. The funds will be unfrozen.” He seemed happy, his eyes brilliant in an almost boyish way. It broke her heart a little. “I meant to tell you tonight at dinner.” “That’s great.” She managed a smile, small and pitiful in her mounting anxiety. “That’s really great, Adam. I’m happy for you.” “Must have been your sunscreen skills.” “Yeah.” Her laugh sounded fake. “I’ll have to put them on my CV. Fake girlfriend with extensive experience. Microsoft Office and excellent sunscreen skills. Available immediately, only serious callers.” “Not immediately.” He looked at her curiously. Tenderly. “Not for a while, I’d say.” The weight, the one that had been pressing into her stomach since she’d realized what needed to be done, sank heavier. Now—this was it. The coda. The moment it all ended. Olive could do this, and she would, and things would be all the better for it. “I think I should be.” She swallowed, and it was like acid down her throat. “Available.” She scanned his face, noticed his confusion, and clenched her fist in the hem of her sweater. “We gave ourselves a deadline, Adam. And we accomplished everything we wanted. Jeremy and Anh are solid—I doubt they even remember that Jeremy and I used to date. And your funds have been released, which is amazing. The truth is . . .” Her eyes stung. She closed them tight, managing to push the tears back. Barely.
The truth, Adam, is that your friend, your collaborator, a person you clearly love and are close to, is horrid and despicable. He told me things that might be truths, or maybe lies—I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything anymore, and I would love to ask you, so badly. But I’m terrified that he might be right, and that you won’t believe me. And I’m even more terrified that you will believe me, and that what I tell you will force you to give up something that is very important to you: your friendship and your work with him. I’m terrified of everything, as you can see. So, instead of telling you that truth, I will tell you another truth. A truth that, I think, will be best for you. A truth that will take me out of the equation, but will make its result better. Because I’m starting to wonder if this is what being in love is. Being okay with ripping yourself to shreds, so the other person can stay whole. She inhaled deeply. “The truth is, we did great. And it’s time we call it quits.” She could tell from how his lips parted, from his disoriented eyes searching hers, that he wasn’t yet parsing what she’d said. “I don’t think we’ll need to explicitly tell anyone,” she continued. “People won’t see us together, and after a while they’ll think that . . . that it didn’t work out. That we broke up. And maybe you . . .” This was the hardest part. But he deserved to hear it. He’d told her the same, after all, when he’d believed her in love with Jeremy. “I wish you all the best, Adam. At Harvard, and . . . with your real girlfriend. Whoever you may choose. I cannot imagine anyone not reciprocating your feelings.” She could pinpoint the exact moment it dawned on him. She could tease apart the feelings struggling in his face—the surprise, the confusion, a hint of stubbornness, a split second of vulnerability that all melted in a blank, empty expression. Then she could see his throat work.
“Right,” he said. “Right.” He was staring at his shoes, absolutely motionless. Slowly accepting her words. Olive took a step back and rocked on her heels. Outside, an iPhone rang, and a few seconds later someone burst into laughter. Normal noises, on a normal day. Normal, all of this. “It’s for the best,” she said, because the silence between them—that, she just couldn’t stand. “It’s what we agreed on.” “Whatever you want.” His voice was hoarse, and he seemed . . . absent. Retreated to some place inside himself. “Whatever you need.” “I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me. Not just about Anh. When we met, I felt so alone, and . . .” For a moment she couldn’t continue. “Thank you for all the pumpkin spice, and for that Western blot, and for hiding your taxidermied squirrels when I visited, and . . .” She couldn’t bring herself to go on anymore, not without choking on her words. The stinging in her eyes was burning now, threatening to spill over, so she nodded once, decisively, a period to this dangling sentence with no end in sight. And that would have been it. It would have surely been the end. They would have left it at that, if Olive hadn’t passed him on her way to the door. If he hadn’t reached out and stopped her with a hand on her wrist. If he hadn’t immediately pulled that hand back and stared at it with an appalled expression, as if shocked that he’d dared to touch her without asking for permission first. If he hadn’t said, “Olive. If you ever need anything, anything at all. Anything. Whenever. You can come to me.” His jaw worked, like there were other words, words he was keeping inside. “I want you to come to me.” She almost didn’t register wiping wetness off her cheek with the back of her hand, or moving closer to him. It was his
scent that jolted her alert—soap and something dark, subtle but oh so familiar. Her brain had him mapped out, stored away across all senses. Eyes to his almost smile, hands to his skin, the smell of him in her nostrils. She didn’t even need to think about what to do, just push up on her toes, press her fingers against his biceps, and kiss him gently on the cheek. His skin was soft and warm and a little prickly; unexpected, but not unwelcome. An apt goodbye, she thought. Appropriate. Acceptable. And so was his hand coming up to her lower back, pulling her into his body and stopping her from sliding back on her heels, or the way his head turned, until her lips were not brushing the skin of his cheek anymore. Her breath hitched, a chuff against the corner of his mouth, and for a few precious seconds she just savored it, the deep pleasure that ran through them both as they closed their eyes and let themselves just be, here, with each other. Quiet. Still. One last moment. Then Olive opened her mouth and turned her head, breathing against his lips, “Please.” Adam groaned deep in his chest. But she was the one who closed the space between them, who deepened the kiss, who combed her hands into his hair, short nails scraping against his scalp. She was the one who pulled him even closer, and he was the one who pushed her back against the wall and moaned into her mouth. It was frightening. Frightening, how good this felt. How easy it would be to never stop. To let time stretch and unbend, forget about everything else, and simply stay in this moment forever. But Adam pulled back first, holding her eyes as he tried to collect himself.
“It was good, wasn’t it?” Olive asked, with a small, wistful smile. She wasn’t herself sure what she was referring to. Maybe his arms around her. Maybe this last kiss. Maybe everything else. The sunscreen, his ridiculous answers on his favorite color, the quiet conversations late at night . . . all of it had been so very good. “It was.” Adam’s voice sounded too deep to be his own. When he pressed his lips against her forehead one last time, she felt her love for him swell fuller than a river in flood. “I think I should leave,” she told him gently, without looking at him. He let her go wordlessly, so she did. When she heard the click of the door closing behind her, it was like falling from a great height.

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