The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 3

HYPOTHESIS: A private conversation with Adam Carlsen will become 150 percent more awkward after the word “sex” is uttered. By me.
Three days later, Olive found herself standing in front of Adam’s office. She’d never been there before, but she had no problem finding it. The student scurrying out with misty eyes and a terrified expression was a dead giveaway, not to mention that Adam’s door was the only one in the hallway completely devoid of pictures of kids, pets, or significant others. Not even a copy of his article that had made the cover of Nature Methods, which she knew about from looking him up on Google Scholar the previous day. Just dark brown wood and a metal plaque that read: Adam J. Carlsen, Ph.D. Maybe the J stood for “Jackass.” Olive had felt a bit like a creep the night before, scrolling down his faculty web page and going through his list of ten million publications and research grants, staring at a picture of him clearly taken in the middle of a hiking trip and not by Stanford’s official photographer. Still, she’d quickly quashed the feeling, telling herself that a thorough academic background check was only logical before embarking on a fake-dating relationship. She took a deep breath before knocking and then another between Adam’s “Come in” and the moment she finally managed to force herself to open the door. When she entered the office, he didn’t immediately look up and continued typing
on his iMac. “My office hours were over five minutes ago, so —” “It’s me.” His hands halted, hovering half an inch or so above the keyboard. Then he turned his chair toward her. “Olive.” There was something about the way he talked. Maybe it was an accent, maybe just a quality of his voice. Olive didn’t quite know what, but it was there, in the way he said her name. Precise. Careful. Deep. Unlike anyone else. Familiar— impossibly so. “What did you say to her?” she asked, trying not to care about how Adam Carlsen spoke. “The girl who ran out in tears?” It took him a moment to remember that less than sixty seconds ago there had been someone else in the office— someone whom he clearly made cry. “I just gave her feedback on something she wrote.” Olive nodded, silently thanking all the gods that he was not her adviser and never would be, and studied her surroundings. He had a corner office, of course. Two windows that together must total seventy thousand square meters of glass, and so much light, just standing in the middle of the room would cure twenty people’s seasonal depression. It made sense, what with all the grant money he brought in, what with the prestige, that he’d been given a nice space. Olive’s office, on the other hand, had no windows and smelled funny, probably because she shared it with three other Ph.D. students, even though it was meant to accommodate two at the most. “I was going to email you. I talked to the dean earlier today,” Adam told her, and she looked back at him. He was gesturing to the chair in front of his desk. Olive pulled it back and took a seat.
“About you.” “Oh.” Olive’s stomach dropped. She’d much rather the dean didn’t know about her existence. Then again, she’d also rather not be in this room with Adam Carlsen, have the semester begin in a handful of days, have climate change be a thing. And yet. “Well, about us,” he amended. “And socialization regulations.” “What did she say?” “There’s nothing against you and me dating, since I’m not your adviser.” A mix of panic and relief flooded through Olive. “However, there are some issues to consider. I won’t be able to collaborate with you in any formal capacity. And I’m part of the program’s awards committee, which means that I’ll have to excuse myself if you are nominated for fellowships or similar opportunities.” She nodded. “Fair enough.” “And I absolutely cannot be part of your thesis committee.” Olive huffed out a laugh. “That won’t be a problem. I wasn’t going to ask you to be on my committee.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why not? You study pancreatic cancer, right?” “Yep. Early detection.” “Then your work would benefit from the perspective of a computational modeler.” “Yeah, but there are other computational modelers in the department. And I’d like to eventually graduate, ideally without sobbing in a bathroom stall after each committee meeting.”
He glared at her. Olive shrugged. “No offense. I’m a simple girl, with simple needs.” To that, he lowered his gaze to his desk, but not before Olive could see the corner of his mouth twitch. When he looked up again, his expression was serious. “So, have you decided?” She pressed her lips together as he watched her calmly. She took a deep breath before saying, “Yes. Yes, I . . . I want to do it. It’s a good idea, actually.” For so many reasons. It would get Anh and Jeremy off her back, but also . . . also everyone else. It was as if since the rumor had begun to spread, people had been too intimidated by Olive to give her the usual shit. The other TAs had quit trying to switch her nice 2:00 p.m. sections with their horrifying 8:00 a.m. ones, her lab mates had stopped cutting in front of her in the line for the microscope, and two different faculty members Olive had been trying to get ahold of for weeks had finally deigned to answer her emails. It felt a little unfair to exploit this huge misunderstanding, but academia was a lawless land and Olive’s life in it had been nothing but miserable for the past two years. She had learned to grab whatever she could get away with. And if some—okay, if most of the grads in the department looked at her suspiciously because she was dating Adam Carlsen, so be it. Her friends seemed to be largely fine with this, if a little bemused. Except for Malcolm. He’d been shunning her like she had the pox for three solid days. But Malcolm was Malcolm—he’d come around. “Very well, then.” He was completely expressionless— almost too expressionless. Like it was no big deal and he didn’t care either way; like if she’d said no, it wouldn’t have changed anything for him.
“Though, I’ve been thinking about this a lot.” He waited patiently for her to continue. “And I think that it would be best if we laid down some ground rules. Before starting.” “Ground rules?” “Yes. You know. What we are allowed and not allowed to do. What we can expect from this arrangement. I think that’s pretty standard protocol, before embarking on a fake-dating relationship.” He tilted his head. “Standard protocol?” “Yup.” “How many times have you done this?” “Zero. But I am familiar with the trope.” “The . . . what?” He blinked at her, confused. Olive ignored him. “Okay.” She inhaled deeply and lifted her index finger. “First of all, this should be a strictly oncampus arrangement. Not that I think you’d want to meet me off campus, but just in case you were planning to kill two birds with one stone, I’m not going to be your last-minute backup if you need to bring a date home for Christmas, or—” “Hanukkah.” “What?” “My family is more likely to celebrate Hanukkah than Christmas.” He shrugged. “Though I’m unlikely to celebrate either.” “Oh.” Olive pondered it for a moment. “I guess this is something your fake girlfriend should know.” The ghost of a smile appeared on his mouth, but he said nothing.
“Okay. Second rule. Actually, it could be interpreted as an extension of the first rule. But”—Olive bit into her lip, willing herself to bring it up—“no sex.” For several moments he simply didn’t move. Not even a millimeter. Then his lips parted, but no sound came out, and that’s when Olive realized that she had just rendered Adam Carlsen speechless. Which would have been funny any other day, but the fact that he seemed dumbfounded by Olive not wanting to include sex in their fake-dating relationship made her stomach sink. Had he assumed that they would? Was it something she’d said? Should she explain that she’d had very little sex in her life? That for years she’d wondered whether she was asexual and she had realized only recently that she might be able to experience sexual attraction, but only with people she trusted deeply? That if for some inexplicable reason Adam wanted to have sex with her, she wasn’t going to be able to go through with it? “Listen”—she made to stand from the chair, panic rising in her throat—“I’m sorry, but if one of the reasons you offered to fake-date is that you thought that we would—” “No.” The word half exploded out of him. He looked genuinely appalled. “I’m shocked that you’d even feel the need to bring it up.” “Oh.” Olive’s cheeks heated at the indignation in his voice. Right. Of course he didn’t expect that. Or even want that, with her. Look at him—why would he? “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to assume—” “No, it makes sense to be up-front. I was just surprised.” “I know.” Olive nodded. Honestly, she was a little surprised, too. That she was sitting in Adam Carlsen’s office, talking about sex—not the meiosis kind of sex, but potential
sexual intercourse between the two of them. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to make things weird.” “It’s okay. This whole thing is weird.” The silence between them stretched, and Olive noticed that he was blushing faintly. Just a dusting of red, but he looked so . . . Olive couldn’t stop staring. “No sex,” he confirmed with a nod. She had to clear her throat and shake herself out of inspecting the shape and color of his cheekbones. “No sex,” she repeated. “Okay. Third. It’s not really a rule, but here goes: I won’t date anyone else. As in real dating. It would be messy and complicate everything and . . .” Olive hesitated. Should she tell him? Was it too much information? Did he need to know? Oh, well. Why not, at this point? It wasn’t like she hadn’t kissed the man, or brought up sex in his place of work. “I don’t date, anyway. Jeremy was an exception. I’ve never . . . I’ve never dated seriously before, and it’s probably for the best. Grad school is stressful enough, and I have my friends, and my project on pancreatic cancer, and honestly there’s better things to use my time for.” The last few words came out more defensively than she’d intended. Adam just stared and said nothing. “But you can date, of course,” she added hastily. “Though I’d appreciate it if you could avoid telling people in the department, just so I don’t look like an idiot and you don’t look like you’re cheating on me and rumors don’t balloon out of control. It would benefit you, too, since you’re trying to look like you’re in a committed relationship—” “I won’t.” “Okay. Great. Thanks. I know lying by omission can be a pain, but—” “I mean, I won’t date someone else.”
There was a certainty, a finality in his tone that took her by surprise. She could only nod, even though she wanted to protest that he couldn’t possibly know, even though a million questions surfaced in her mind. Ninety-nine percent of them were inappropriate and not her business, so she shooed them away. “Okay. Fourth. We obviously can’t keep on doing this forever, so we should give ourselves a deadline.” His lips pressed together. “When would that be?” “I’m not sure. A month or so would probably be enough to convince Anh that I’m firmly over Jeremy. But it might not be enough on your end, so . . . you tell me.” He mulled it, and then nodded once. “September twentyninth.” It was a little over a month from now. But also . . . “That’s a weirdly specific date.” Olive racked her head, trying to figure out why it could be meaningful. The only thing that came to mind was that she’d be in Boston that week for the annual biology conference. “It’s the day after the department’s final budget review. If they don’t release my funds by then, they won’t release them at all.” “I see. Well, then, let’s agree that on September twentyninth we part ways. I’ll tell Anh that our breakup was amicable but that I’m a little sad about it because I still have a bit of a crush on you.” She grinned at him. “Just so she won’t suspect that I’m still hung up on Jeremy. Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Fifth and last.” This was the tricky one. The one she was afraid he’d object to. She noticed that she was wringing her hands and placed them firmly in her lap.
“For this to work we should probably . . . do things together. Every once in a while.” “Things?” “Things. Stuff.” “Stuff,” he repeated dubiously. “Yep. Stuff. What do you do for fun?” He was probably into something atrocious, like cow-tipping excursions or Japanese beetle fighting. Maybe he collected porcelain dolls. Maybe he was an avid geocacher. Maybe he frequented vaping conventions. Oh God. “Fun?” he repeated, like he’d never heard the word before. “Yeah. What do you do when you’re not at work?” The length of time that passed between Olive’s question and his answer was alarming. “Sometimes I work at home, too. And I work out. And I sleep.” She had to actively stop herself from face-palming. “Um, great. Anything else?” “What do you do for fun?” he asked, somewhat defensively. “Plenty of things. I . . .” Go to the movies. Though she hadn’t been since the last time Malcolm had dragged her. Play board games. But every single one of her friends was too busy lately, so not that, either. She’d participated in that volleyball tournament, but it had been over a year ago. “Um. I work out?” She would have loved to wipe that smug expression off his face. So much. “Whatever. We should do something together on a regular basis. I don’t know, maybe get coffee? Like, once a week? Just for ten minutes, at a place where people could easily see us. I know it sounds annoying and like a waste of time, but it’ll be super short, and it would make the fake dating more credible, and—”
“Sure.” Oh. She’d thought it would take more convincing. A lot more. Then again, this was in his interest, too. He needed his colleagues to believe in their relationship if he was to cajole them into releasing his funding. “Okay. Um . . .” She forced herself to stop wondering why he was being so accommodating and tried to visualize her schedule. “How about Wednesday?” Adam angled his chair to face his computer and pulled up a calendar app. It was so full of colorful boxes that Olive felt a surge of vicarious anxiety. “It works before eleven a.m. And after six p.m.” “Ten?” He turned back to her. “Ten’s good.” “Okay.” She waited for him to type it in, but he made no move to. “Aren’t you going to add it to your calendar?” “I’ll remember,” he told her evenly. “Okay, then.” She made an effort to smile, and it felt relatively sincere. Way more sincere than any smile she’d ever thought she’d be able to muster in Adam Carlsen’s presence. “Great. Fake-dating Wednesday it is.” A line appeared between his eyebrows. “Why do you keep saying that?” “Saying what?” “ ‘Fake dating.’ Like it’s a thing.” “Because it is. Don’t you watch rom-coms?” He stared at her with a puzzled expression, until she cleared her throat and looked down at her knees. “Right.” God, they had nothing in common. They’d never find anything to
talk about. Their ten-minute coffee breaks were going to be the most painful, awkward parts of her already painful, awkward weeks. But Anh was going to have her beautiful love story, and Olive wouldn’t have to wait for ages to use the electron microscope. That was all that mattered. She stood and thrust her hand out to him, figuring that every fake-dating arrangement deserved at least a handshake. Adam studied it hesitantly for a couple of seconds. Then he stood and clasped her fingers. He stared at their joined hands before meeting her eyes, and Olive ordered herself not to notice the heat of his skin, or how broad he was, or . . . anything else about him. When he finally let go, she had to make a conscious effort not to inspect her palm. Had he done something to her? It sure felt like it. Her flesh was tingling. “When do you want to start?” “How about next week?” It was Friday. Which meant that she had fewer than seven days to psychologically prepare for the experience of getting coffee with Adam Carlsen. She knew that she could do this—if she had worked her way up to a ninety-seventh percentile on the verbal portion of the GRE, she could do anything, or as good as—but it still seemed like a horrible idea. “Sounds good.” It was happening. Oh God. “Let’s meet at the Starbucks on campus. It’s where most of the grads get coffee—someone’s bound to spot us.” She headed for the door, pausing to glance back at Adam. “I guess I’ll see you for fake-dating Wednesday, then?” He was still standing behind his desk, arms crossed on his chest. Looking at Olive. Looking entirely less irritated by this
mess than she’d ever have expected. Looking . . . nice. “See you, Olive.” —
“PASS THE SALT.” Olive would have, but Malcolm looked like he was already salty enough. So she leaned her hip against the kitchen counter and folded her arms across her chest. “Malcolm.” “And the pepper.” “Malcolm.” “And the oil.” “Malcolm . . .” “Sunflower. Not that grape-seed crap.” “Listen. It’s not what you think—” “Fine. I’ll get them myself.” To be fair, Malcolm had every right to be mad. And Olive did feel for him. He was one year ahead of her, and the scion of STEM royalty. The product of generations of biologists, geologists, botanists, physicists, and who knows what other ists mixing their DNA and spawning little science machines. His father was a dean at some state school on the East Coast. His mother had a TED Talk on Purkinje cells with several million views on YouTube. Did Malcolm want to be in a Ph.D. program, headed for an academic career? Probably no. Did he have any other choice, considering the pressure his family had put on him since he was in diapers? Also no. Not to say that Malcolm was unhappy. His plan was to get his Ph.D., find a nice cushy industry job, and make lots of money working nine-to-five—which technically qualified as “being a scientist,” which in turn was not something his
parents would be able to object to. At least, not too strenuously. In the meantime, all he wanted was to have a grad school experience that was as un-traumatizing as possible. Out of everyone in Olive’s program, he was the one who best managed to have a life outside of grad school. He did things that were unimaginable to most grads, like cooking real food! Going for hikes! Meditating! Acting in a play! Dating like it was an Olympic sport! (“It is an Olympic sport, Olive. And I am training for gold.”) Which was why when Adam forced Malcolm to throw out tons of data and redo half his study, it made for a very, very miserable few months. In retrospect, that might have been when Malcolm started wishing a plague on the Carlsen house (he had been rehearsing for Romeo and Juliet at the time). “Malcolm, can we please talk about this?” “We’re talking.” “No, you are cooking and I am just standing here, trying to get you to acknowledge that you are mad because Adam—” Malcolm turned away from his casserole, wagging his finger in Olive’s direction. “Do not say it.” “Do not say what?” “You know what.” “Adam Carl—?” “Do not say his name.” She threw her hands up. “This is crazy. It’s fake, Malcolm.” He went back to chopping the asparagus. “Pass the salt.” “Are you even listening? It’s not real.” “And the pepper, and the—”
“The relationship, it’s fake. We’re not really dating. We’re pretending so people will think that we’re dating.” Malcolm’s hands stopped mid-chop. “What?” “You heard me.” “Is it a . . . friends-with-benefits arrangement? Because—” “No. It’s the opposite. There are no benefits. Zero benefits. Zero sex. Zero friends, too.” He stared at her, narrow-eyed. “To be clear, oral and butt stuff totally counts as sex—” “Malcolm.” He took a step closer, grabbing a dishrag to wipe his hands, nostrils flaring. “I’m scared to ask.” “I know it sounds ridiculous. He’s helping me out by pretending we’re together because I lied to Anh, and I need her to feel okay about dating Jeremy. It’s all fake. Adam and I have talked exactly”—she decided on the spot to omit any information pertinent to The Night—“three times, and I know nothing about him. Except that he’s willing to help me handle this situation, and I jumped at the chance.” Malcolm was making that face, the one he reserved for people who wore sandals paired with white socks. He could be a little scary, she had to admit. “This is . . . wow.” There was a vein pulsating on his forehead. “Ol, this is breathtakingly stupid.” “Maybe.” Yes. Yes, it was. “But it is what it is. And you have to support me in my idiocy, because you and Anh are my best friends.” “Isn’t Carlsen your best friend now?” “Come on, Malcolm. He’s an ass. But he’s actually been pretty nice to me, and—”
“I’m not even—” He grimaced. “I’m not going to address this.” She sighed. “Okay. Don’t address this. You don’t have to. But can you just not hate me? Please? I know he’s been a nightmare to half the grads in the program, you included. But he’s helping me out. You and Anh are the only ones I care about knowing the truth. But I can’t tell Anh—” “—for obvious reasons.” “—for obvious reasons,” she finished at the same time, and smiled. He just shook his head disapprovingly, but his expression had softened. “Ol. You’re amazing. And kind, way too kind. You should find someone better than Carlsen. Someone to date for real.” “Yeah, right.” She rolled her eyes. “Because it went so well with Jeremy. Who, by the way, I only agreed to date following your advice! ‘Give the boy a chance,’ you said. ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ you said.” Malcolm glared, and she laughed. “Listen, I’m clearly bad at real dating. Maybe fake dating will be different. Maybe I’ve found my niche.” He sighed. “Does it have to be Carlsen? There are better faculty members to fake-date.” “Like who?” “I don’t know. Dr. McCoy?” “Didn’t her wife just give birth to triplets?” “Oh, yeah. What about Holden Rodrigues? He’s hot. Cute smile, too. I would know—he always smiles at me.” Olive burst into laughter. “I could never fake-date Dr. Rodrigues, not with how assiduously you’ve been thirsting after him for the past two years.”
“I have, haven’t I? Did I ever tell you about the serious flirting that happened between us at the undergrad research fair? I’m pretty sure he winked at me multiple times from the other side of the room. Now, some say he just had something in his eye, but—” “Me. I said that he probably had something in his eye. And you tell me about it every other day.” “Right.” He sighed. “You know, Ol, I would have fakedated you myself in a heartbeat, to spare you from goddamned Carlsen. I would have held hands with you, and given you my jacket when you were cold, and very publicly gifted you chocolate roses and teddy bears on Valentine’s Day.” How refreshing, to talk with someone who’d watched a rom-com. Or ten. “I know. But you also bring home a different person every week, and you love it, and I love that you love it. I don’t want to cramp your style.” “Fair.” Malcolm looked pleased—whether at the fact that he really did get around a fair bit or at Olive’s thorough understanding of his dating habits, she wasn’t sure. “Can you please not hate me, then?” He tossed the kitchen cloth onto the counter and stepped closer. “Ol. I could never hate you. You’ll always be my kalamata.” He pulled her into his chest, hugging her tight. At the beginning, when they’d just met, Olive had been constantly disoriented by how physical he was, probably because it had been years since she’d experienced such affectionate contact. Now, Malcolm’s hugs were her happy place. She laid her head on his shoulder and smiled into the cotton of his T-shirt. “Thanks.” Malcolm held her tighter.
“And I promise if I ever bring Adam home, I’ll put a sock on my door— Ouch!” “You evil creature.” “I was kidding! Wait, don’t leave, I have something important to tell you.” He paused by the door, scowling. “I’ve reached my maximum daily intake of Carlsen-related conversation. Anything further will be lethal, so—” “Tom Benton, the cancer researcher from Harvard, reached out to me! It’s not decided yet, but he might be interested in having me in his lab next year.” “Oh my God.” Malcolm walked back to her, delighted. “Ol, this is amazing! I thought none of the researchers you contacted had gotten back to you?” “Not for the longest time. But now Benton has, and you know how famous and well-known he is. He probably has more research funds than I could ever dream of. It would be —” “Fantastic. It would really be fantastic. Ol. I am so proud of you.” Malcolm took her hands in his. His face-splitting grin slowly gentled. “And your mom would be so proud, too.” Olive looked away, blinking rapidly. She didn’t want to cry, not tonight. “Nothing is set in stone. I’ll have to persuade him. It will involve quite a bit of politicking and going through the whole ‘pitch me your research’ bit. Which as you know is not my forte. It might still not work out—” “It will work out.” Right. Yes. She needed to be optimistic. She nodded, attempting a smile. “But even if it didn’t . . . she would still be proud.”
Olive nodded again. When a single tear managed to slide down her cheek, she decided to let it be. Forty-five minutes later, she and Malcolm sat on their minuscule couch, arms pressed together, watching reruns of American Ninja Warrior while they ate a very undersalted veggie casserole.

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