The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 20

HYPOTHESIS: Wearing expired contact lenses will cause bacterial and/or fungal infections that will have repercussions for years to come.
“Holden sent a message for you.” Olive looked away from the window and to Malcolm, who’d turned off airplane mode the second they’d landed in Charlotte for their layover. “Holden?” “Yeah. Well, it’s technically from Carlsen.” Her heart skipped a beat. “He lost his phone charger and can’t text you, but he and Holden are on their way back to SFO.” “Ah.” She nodded, feeling a small rush of relief. That explained Adam’s silence. He hadn’t been in touch since last night. She’d worried that he’d been arrested and was pondering emptying her savings account to help cover his bail. All twelve dollars and sixteen cents. “Where’s their layover?” “No layover.” Malcolm rolled his eyes. “Direct flight. They’ll be at SFO ten minutes after us, even though they’re only now leaving Boston. Eat the rich.” “Did Holden say anything about . . .” Malcolm shook his head. “Their plane is about to leave, but we can wait for them at SFO. I’m sure Adam will have some updates for you.” “You just want to make out with Holden, don’t you?”
Malcolm smiled and leaned his head against her shoulder. “My kalamata knows me well.” It seemed impossible that she’d been gone for less than a week. That all the chaos had unfolded in the span of a few days. Olive felt dazed, shell-shocked, as though her brain was winded from running a marathon. She was tired and wanted to sleep. She was hungry and wanted to eat. She was angry and wanted to see Tom get what he deserved. She was anxious, as twitchy as a damaged nerve, and she wanted a hug. Preferably from Adam. In San Francisco, she folded her now-useless coat inside her suitcase and then sat on it. She checked her phone for new messages while Malcolm went to buy a bottle of Diet Coke. There were several from Anh, just checking in from Boston, and one from her landlord about the elevator being out of commission. She rolled her eyes, switched to her academic email, and found several unread messages flagged as important. She tapped on the red exclamation point and opened one.
Today, 5:15 p.m.
FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected]
CC: [email protected]
SUBJECT: Re: Pancreatic Cancer Project
Thank you for reaching out to me. I had the privilege of seeing Olive Smith’s talk at SBD—we were on the same panel—and I was very impressed with her work on early detection tools for pancreatic cancer. I’d love to have her in my lab next year! Maybe the three of us can chat more on the phone soon?
Olive gasped. She covered her mouth with her hand, and immediately opened another email.
Today, 3:19 p.m.
FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected], [email protected]
SUBJECT: Pancreatic Cancer Project
Dr. Aslan, Ms. Smith,
Your work on pancreatic cancer is fascinating, and I would welcome the opportunity for a collaboration. We should set up a Zoom meeting.
There were two more emails. Four total from cancer researchers, all following up on Dr. Aslan’s introductory message and saying they’d love having Olive in their labs. She felt a surge of happiness so violent, it almost made her dizzy. “Ol, look who I ran into.” Olive shot up to her feet. Malcolm was there, holding Holden’s hand, and barely a step behind them— Adam. Looking tired, and handsome, and as large in real life as he’d been in her mind for the past twenty-four hours. Looking straight at her. Olive recalled the words he’d said last night in the restaurant and felt her cheeks heat, her chest constrict, her heart beat out of her skin. “Hear me out,” Holden started without even saying hi, “the four of us: double date. Tonight.” Adam ignored him and came to stand next Olive. “How are you?” he asked in a low tone. “Good.” For the first time in days, it wasn’t even a lie. Adam was here. And all those emails were in her inbox. “You?”
“Good,” he replied with a half smile, and she had a weird feeling that much like her, he wasn’t lying. Her heart picked up even more. “What about Chinese?” Holden interjected. “Everyone like Chinese here?” “I’m cool with Chinese,” Malcolm muttered, though he didn’t seem enthusiastic at the idea of a double date. Likely because he didn’t want to sit across from Adam for an entire meal and relive the trauma of his graduate advisory committee meetings. “Olive?” “Um . . . I like Chinese.” “Perfect. So does Adam, so—” “I’m not having dinner out,” Adam said. Holden frowned. “Why?” “I have better things to do.” “Like what? Olive’s coming, too.” “Leave Olive alone. She’s tired, and we’re busy.” “I have access to your Google Calendar, asshole. You’re not busy. If you don’t want to hang out with me, you can just be honest.” “I don’t want to hang out with you.” “You little shit. After the week we just had. And on my birthday.” Adam recoiled slightly. “What? It’s not your birthday.” “Yes, it is.” “Your birthday is April tenth.” “Is it, though?”
Adam closed his eyes, scratching his forehead. “Holden, we’ve talked daily for the past twenty-five years, and I have been to at least five Power Rangers–themed birthday parties of yours. The last one was when you turned seventeen.” Malcolm attempted to cover his laugh with a cough. “I know when your birthday is.” “You always had it wrong, I was just too nice to tell you.” He clasped Adam’s shoulder. “So, Chinese to celebrate the blessing of my birth?” “Why not Thai?” Malcolm interjected, addressing Holden and ignoring Adam. Holden made a whiny noise and started saying something about the lack of good larb in Stanford, something Olive would have normally been interested in hearing, except that— Adam was looking at her again. From several inches above Holden’s and Malcolm’s heads, Adam was looking at her with an expression that was half apologetic, half annoyed, and . . . all intimate, really. Something familiar they’d shared before. Olive felt something inside her melt and suppressed a smile. Suddenly, dinner seemed like a great idea. It will be fun, she mouthed at him while Holden and Malcolm were busy arguing about whether they should just try that new burger place. It will be excruciating, he mouthed back barely parting his lips, looking resigned and put-upon and just so amazingly Adam that Olive couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Holden and Malcolm stopped arguing and turned to her. “What?” “Nothing,” Olive said. The corner of Adam’s mouth was curling up, too. “Why are you laughing, Ol?”
She opened her mouth to deflect, but Adam beat her to it. “Fine. We’ll go.” He said “we” like he and Olive were a “we,” like it had never been fake after all, and her breath caught in her throat. “But I’m excused from any birthdayrelated outings for the next year. Actually, make it the next two. And veto on the new burger place.” Holden fist-pumped, and then frowned. “Why veto on burgers?” “Because,” he said, holding Olive’s eyes, “burgers taste like foot.” —
“WE SHOULD START by addressing the obvious,” Holden said, chewing on the complimentary appetizers, and Olive tensed in her seat. She wasn’t sure she wanted to discuss the Tom situation with Malcolm and Holden before talking about it with Adam alone. As it turned out, she shouldn’t have worried. “Which is that Malcolm and Adam hate each other.” Next to her in the booth, Adam frowned in confusion. Malcolm, who was sitting across from Olive, covered his face with his palms and groaned. “I am reliably informed,” Holden continued, undeterred, “that Adam called Malcolm’s experiments ‘sloppy’ and ‘a misuse of research funds’ during a committee meeting, and that Malcolm took offense to that. Now, Adam, I’ve been telling Malcolm that you were probably just having a bad day —maybe one of your grads had split an infinitive in an email, or your arugula salad wasn’t organic enough. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
“Uh . . .” Adam’s frown deepened, and so did Malcolm’s facepalm. Holden waited pointedly for an answer, and Olive watched it all unfold, wondering if she should take out her phone and film this car crash. “I have no recollection of that committee meeting. Though it does sound like something I would say.” “Great. Now tell Malcolm it wasn’t personal, so we can move on and have fried rice.” “Oh my God,” Malcolm muttered. “Holden, please.” “I’m not having fried rice,” Adam said. “You can have raw bamboo while the normal people have fried rice. But as of right now, my boyfriend thinks that his BFF’s boyfriend and my own BFF has it out for him, and it’s cramping my double-dating style, so please.” Adam blinked slowly. “BFF?” “Adam.” Holden pointed at a grimacing Malcolm with his thumb. “Now, please.” Adam sighed heavily, but he turned to Malcolm. “Whatever I said or did, it was not personal. I’ve been told that I can be needlessly antagonistic. And unapproachable.” Olive didn’t get to see Malcolm’s reaction. Because she was busy studying Adam and the slight curl on his lips, the one that became an almost smile when he looked at Olive and met her eyes. For a second, the brief second she held his gaze before he looked away, it was just the two of them. And this sort-of-past they shared, their stupid inside jokes, the way they’d teased each other in the late-summer sunlight. “Perfect.” Holden clapped his hands, intrusively loud. “Egg rolls for appetizer, yes?” It was a good idea, this dinner. This night, this table, this moment. Sitting next to Adam, smelling the petrichor,
watching the dark splotches on the gray cotton of his Henley from the storm that had started just as they’d slipped inside the restaurant. They would have to talk, later, have a serious conversation about Tom and many other things. But for now it was the way it had always been between Adam and her: like slipping into a favorite dress, one she’d thought lost inside her closet, and finding that it fit as comfortably as it used to. “I want egg rolls.” She glanced at Adam. His hair was starting to get long again, so she did what felt natural: reached out and flattened his cowlick. “I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that you hate egg rolls, just like everything else that’s good in the world.” He mouthed smart-ass right as the waiter brought their waters and set the menus on the table. Three menus, to be precise. Holden and Malcolm each took one, and Olive and Adam exchanged a loaded, amused look and grabbed the remaining one to share. It worked perfectly: he angled it so that the veggie section was on his side and all manner of fried entrées were on hers. It was serendipitous enough that she let out a laugh. Adam tapped his index finger on the drink section. “Look at this abomination,” he murmured. His lips were close to her ear—a chuff of hot air, intimate and pleasant in the blasting AC. She grinned. “No way.” “Appalling.” “Amazing, you mean.” “I do not.” “This is my new favorite restaurant.” “You haven’t even tried it yet.” “It will be spectacular.”
“It will be horrific—” A throat cleared, reminding them that they were not alone. Malcolm and Holden were both staring—Malcolm with a shrewd, suspicious expression, and Holden with a knowing smile. “What’s all that about?” “Oh.” Olive’s cheeks warmed a little. “Nothing. They just have pumpkin spice bubble tea.” Malcolm pretended to gag. “Ugh, Ol. Gross.” “Shut up.” “It sounds great.” Holden smiled and leaned into Malcolm. “We should get one to split.” “Excuse me?” Olive tried not to laugh at Malcolm’s horrified expression. “Don’t get Malcolm started on pumpkin spice,” she told Holden in an exaggerated whisper. “Oh, shit.” Holden clutched his chest in mock terror. “This is a serious matter.” Malcolm let his menu fall on the table. “Pumpkin spice is Satan’s dandruff, harbinger of the apocalypse, and it tastes like ass—not in the good way.” Next to Olive Adam nodded slowly, highly impressed with Malcolm’s rant. “One pumpkin spice latte contains the same amount of sugar you’d find in fifty Skittles—and no pumpkin whatsoever. Look it up.” Adam stared at Malcolm with something very similar to admiration. Holden met Olive’s eyes and told her conspiratorially, “Our boyfriends have so much in common.” “They do. They think hating entire harmless families of food is a personality trait.” “Pumpkin spice is not harmless. It’s a radioactive, overpowering sugar bomb that worms its way into every sort of product and is single-handedly responsible for the
extinction of the Caribbean monk seal. And you”—he pointed his finger at Holden—“are on thin ice.” “What—why?” “I can’t date someone who doesn’t respect my stance on pumpkin spice.” “To be fair it’s not a very respectable stance—” Holden noticed Malcolm’s glare and lifted his hands defensively. “I had no idea, babe.” “You should have.” Adam clucked his tongue, amused. “Yes, Holden. Do better.” He leaned back in his seat, and his shoulder brushed against Olive’s. Holden gave him the finger. “Adam knows and respects Olive’s stance on hamburgers, and they’re not even—” Whatever Malcolm had been about to say, he had the sense to stop himself. “Well, if Adam knows, you should know about the pumpkin spice.” “Wasn’t Adam a dick until, like, twelve seconds ago?” “How the turntables,” Adam murmured. Olive reached out to pinch him on the side, but he stopped her with a hand around her wrist. Evil, she mouthed at him. He just smiled, evilly, studying Malcolm and Holden a little too gleefully. “Come on. It’s not even comparable,” Holden was saying. “Olive and Adam have been together for years. We met less than a week ago.” “They have not,” Malcolm corrected him, wagging a finger. Adam’s hand was still curled around her wrist. “They started dating, like, a month before we did.” “No,” Holden insisted. “Adam was into her for ages. He probably secretly studied her eating habits and compiled
seventeen databases and built machine-learning algorithms to predict her culinary preferences—” Olive burst into laughter. “He did not.” She took a sip of water, still smiling. “We only just started hanging out. At the beginning of the fall semester.” “Yes, but you knew each other from earlier.” Holden was frowning. “You two met the year before you started your Ph.D. here, when you came for your interview, and he’s been pining after you ever since.” Olive shook her head and laughed, turning to Adam to share her amusement. Except that Adam was staring at her already, and he did not look amused. He looked . . . something else. Worried maybe, or apologetic, or resigned. Panicky? And just like that, the restaurant was silent. The pitter-patter of rain on the windows, people’s chatter, the clinking of silverware— it all receded; the floor tilted, shook a little, and the AC was just this side of too cold. At some point, Adam’s fingers had let go of her wrist. Olive thought back to the bathroom incident. To burning eyes and wet cheeks, the smell of reagent and clean, male skin. The blur of a large, dark figure standing in front of her with his deep, reassuring, amused voice. The panic of being twentythree and alone and having no idea what she should be doing, where she should be going, what the right choice was. Is mine a good enough reason to go to grad school? It’s the best one. All of a sudden, things had seemed simple enough. It had been Adam, after all. Olive had been right. What she hadn’t been right about was whether he remembered her.
“Yes,” she said. She wasn’t smiling anymore. Adam was still holding her gaze. “I guess he has.”

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