The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 4

HYPOTHESIS: The more I need my brain to be on top of its game, the higher the probability that it will freeze on me.
“Wait a minute.” Dr. Benton tilted his head. His smile was still in place, but his gaze became a little sharper, his focus on Olive less superficial. “Do you happen to be . . .” Olive froze. Her mind was never calm, or orderly—more like a garbled mess of thoughts, really. And yet, standing there in front of Tom Benton, the inside of her head went uncharacteristically quiet, and several considerations stacked themselves neatly into place. The first was that she was comically luckless. The chances that the person she depended on to finish her beloved research project would be acquainted—no, friends with the person she depended on to ensure her beloved Anh’s romantic happiness were laughably low. And yet. Then again, Olive’s special brand of luck was no news, so she moved on to the next consideration. She needed to admit who she was to Tom Benton. They were scheduled to meet at 3:00 p.m., and pretending not to recognize him now would mean the kiss of death to her plans to infiltrate herself into his lab. Academics had huge egos, after all. Last consideration: if she phrased this right, she could probably avoid Dr. Benton hearing about the whole fakedating mess. Adam hadn’t mentioned it, which probably meant
that he wasn’t planning to. Olive just needed to follow his lead. Yes. Excellent plan. She had this in the bag. Olive smiled, held on to her pumpkin spice latte, and answered, “Yes, I’m Olive Smith, the—” “Girlfriend I’ve heard so much about?” Shit. Shit, shit, shit. She swallowed. “Um, actually I—” “Heard from whom?” Adam asked, frowning. Dr. Benton shrugged. “Everyone.” “Everyone,” Adam repeated. He was scowling now. “In Boston?” “Yeah.” “Why are people at Harvard talking about my girlfriend?” “Because you’re you.” “Because I’m me?” Adam looked perplexed. “There have been tears. Some hair-pulling. A few broken hearts. Don’t worry, they’ll get over it.” Adam rolled his eyes, and Dr. Benton returned his attention to Olive. He smiled at her, offering his hand. “It’s very nice to meet you. I had written off the whole girlfriend thing as rumors, but I’m glad you . . . exist. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name—I’m terrible at names.” “I’m Olive.” She shook his hand. He had a nice grip, not too tight and not too soft. “Which department do you teach, Olive?” Oh, crap. “Actually, I don’t. Teach, that is.” “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to assume.” He smiled, apologetic and self-effacing. There was a smooth charm to him. He was young to be a professor, though not as young as
Adam. And he was tall, though not as tall as Adam. And he was handsome, though . . . yeah. Not as handsome as Adam. “What do you do, then? Are you a research fellow?” “Um, I actually—” “She’s a student,” Adam said. Dr. Benton’s eyes widened. “A graduate student,” Adam clarified. There was a hint of warning in his tone, like he really wanted Dr. Benton to drop the subject. Dr. Benton, naturally, did not. “Your graduate student?” Adam frowned. “No, of course she’s not my—” This was the perfect opening. “Actually, Dr. Benton, I work with Dr. Aslan.” Maybe this meeting was still salvageable. “You probably don’t recognize my name, but we’ve corresponded. We’re supposed to meet today. I’m the student who’s working on the pancreatic cancer biomarkers. The one who asked to come work in your lab for a year.” Dr. Benton’s eyes widened even more, and he muttered something that sounded a lot like “What the hell?” Then his face stretched into a wide, openmouthed grin. “Adam, you absolute ass. You didn’t even tell me.” “I didn’t know,” Adam muttered. His gaze was fixed on Olive. “How could you not know that your girlfriend—” “I didn’t tell Adam, because I didn’t know you two were friends,” Olive interjected. And then she thought that maybe it wasn’t quite believable. If Olive really were Adam’s girlfriend, he’d have told her about his friends. Since, in a shocking plot twist, he did appear to have at least one.
“That is, I, um . . . never put two and two together, and didn’t know that you were the Tom he always talked about.” There, better. Kind of. “I’m sorry, Dr. Benton. I didn’t mean to —” “Tom,” he said, grin still in place. His shock seemed to be settling into pleasant surprise. “Please, call me Tom.” His eyes darted between Adam and Olive for a few seconds. Then he said, “Hey, are you free?” He pointed at the coffee shop. “Why don’t we go inside and chat about your project now? No point in waiting until this afternoon.” She took a sip of her latte to temporize. Was she free? Technically, yes. She would have loved to run to the edge of campus and scream into the void until modern civilization collapsed, but that wasn’t exactly a pressing matter. And she wanted to look as accommodating as possible to Dr. Benton— Tom. Beggars and choosers and all that. “I’m free.” “Great. You, Adam?” Olive froze. And so did Adam, for about a second, before pointing out, “I don’t think I should be present, if you’re about to interview her—” “Oh, it’s not an interview. Just an informal chat to see if Olive’s and my research match. You’ll want to know if your girlfriend is moving to Boston for a year, right? Come on.” He motioned for them to follow him and then stepped inside the Starbucks. Olive and Adam exchanged a silent look that somehow managed to speak volumes. It said, What the hell do we do? and How the hell would I know? and This is going to be weird, and No, it’s going to be plain bad. Then Adam sighed, put on a resigned face, and headed inside. Olive followed him, regretting her life choices.
“Aslan’s retiring, huh?” Tom asked after they’d found a secluded table in the back. Olive had no choice but to sit across from him—and on Adam’s left. Like a good “girlfriend,” she supposed. Her “boyfriend,” in the meantime, was sullenly sipping his chamomile tea next to her. I should snap a picture, she reflected. He’d make for an excellent viral meme. “In the next few years,” Olive confirmed. She loved her adviser, who had always been supportive and encouraging. Since the very beginning she had given Olive the freedom to develop her own research program, which was almost unheard of for Ph.D. students. Having a hands-off mentor was great when it came to pursuing her interests, but . . . “If Aslan’s retiring soon, she’s not applying for grants anymore—understandable, since she won’t be around long enough to see the projects through—which means that your lab is not exactly flush with cash right now,” Tom summarized perfectly. “Okay, tell me about your project. What’s cool about it?” “I . . . ,” Olive began—she scrambled to collect her thoughts. “So, it’s—” Another pause. Longer this time, and more painfully awkward. “Um . . .” This, precisely, was her problem. Olive knew that she was an excellent scientist, that she had the discipline and the critical-thinking skills to produce good work in the lab. Unfortunately succeeding in academia also required the ability to pitch one’s work, sell it to strangers, present it in public, and . . . that was not something she enjoyed or excelled at. It made her feel panicky and judged, as though pinned to a microscope slide, and her ability to produce syntactically coherent sentences invariably leaked out of her brain. Like right now. Olive felt her cheeks heat and her tongue tie and—
“What kind of question is that?” Adam interjected. When she glanced at him, he was scowling at Tom, who just shrugged. “What’s cool about your project?” Adam repeated back. “Yeah. Cool. You know what I mean.” “I don’t think I do, and maybe neither does Olive.” Tom huffed. “Fine, what would you ask?” Adam turned to Olive. His knee brushed her leg, warm and oddly reassuring through her jeans. “What issues does your project target? Why do you think it’s significant? What gaps in the literature does it fill? What techniques are you using? What challenges do you foresee?” Tom huffed. “Right, sure. Consider all those long, boring questions asked, Olive.” She glanced at Adam, finding that he was studying her with a calm, encouraging expression. The way he’d formulated the questions helped her reorganize her thoughts, and realizing that she had answers for each one melted most of her panic. It probably hadn’t been intentional on Adam’s part, but he’d done her a solid. Olive was reminded of that guy from the bathroom, from years ago. I have no idea if you’re good enough, he’d told her. What matters is whether your reason to be in academia is good enough. He’d said that Olive’s reason was the best one, and therefore, she could do this. She needed to do this. “Okay,” she started again after a deep breath, gathering what she’d rehearsed the previous night with Malcolm. “Here’s the deal. Pancreatic cancer is very aggressive and deadly. It has very poor prognosis, with only one out of four people alive a year after diagnosis.” Her voice, she thought, sounded less breathy and more self-assured. Good. “The
problem is that it’s so hard to detect, we are only able to diagnose it very late in the game. At that point, the cancer has already spread so widely, most treatments can’t do much to counteract it. But if diagnosis were faster—” “People could get treatment sooner and have a higher chance of survival,” Tom said, nodding a bit impatiently. “Yep, I’m well aware. We already have some screening tools, though. Like imaging.” She wasn’t surprised he brought it up, since imaging was what Tom’s lab focused on. “Yes, but that’s expensive, timeconsuming, and often not useful because of the pancreas’s position. But . . .” She took another deep breath. “I think I have found a set of biomarkers. Not from tissue biopsy— blood biomarkers. Noninvasive, easy to obtain. Cheap. In mice they can detect pancreatic cancer as early as stage one.” She paused. Tom and Adam were both staring at her. Tom was clearly interested, and Adam looked . . . a little weird, to be honest. Impressed, maybe? Nah, impossible. “Okay. This sounds promising. What’s the next step?” “Collecting more data. Running more analyses with better equipment to prove that my set of biomarkers is worthy of a clinical trial. But for that I need a larger lab.” “I see.” He nodded with a thoughtful expression and then leaned back in his chair. “Why pancreatic cancer?” “It’s one of the most lethal, and we know so little about how—” “No,” Tom interrupted. “Most third-year Ph.D. students are too busy infighting over the centrifuge to come up with their own line of research. There must be a reason you’re so motivated. Did someone close to you have cancer?” Olive swallowed before reluctantly answering, “Yes.”
“Who?” “Tom,” Adam said, a trace of warning in his voice. His knee was still against her thigh. Still warm. And yet, Olive felt her blood turn cold. She really, really didn’t want to say it. And yet she couldn’t ignore the question. She needed Tom’s help. “My mother.” Okay. It was out there now. She’d said it, and she could go back to trying not to think about it— “Did she die?” A beat. Olive hesitated and then nodded silently, not looking at either of the men at the table. She knew Tom wasn’t trying to be mean—people were curious, after all. But it wasn’t something Olive wanted to discuss. She barely ever talked about it, even with Anh and Malcolm, and she had carefully avoided writing about her experience in her grad school applications, even when everyone had told her it would give her a leg up. She just . . . She couldn’t. She just couldn’t. “How old were you—” “Tom,” Adam interrupted, tone sharp. He set his tea down with more force than necessary. “Stop harassing my girlfriend.” It was less of a warning and more of a threat. “Right. Yes. I’m an insensitive ass.” Tom smiled, apologetic. Olive noticed that he was looking at her shoulder. When she followed his gaze, she realized that Adam had placed his arm on the back of her chair. He wasn’t touching her, but there was something . . . protective about his position. He seemed to generate large amounts of heat, which was not at all
unwelcome. It helped melt the yucky feeling the conversation with Tom had left behind. “Then again, so is your boyfriend.” Tom winked at her. “Okay, Olive. Tell you what.” Tom leaned forward, elbows on the table. “I’ve read your paper. And the abstract you submitted to the SBD conference. Are you still planning to go?” “If it’s accepted.” “I’m sure it will be. It’s excellent work. But it sounds like your project has progressed since you submitted that, and I need to know more about it. If I decide that you can work in my lab next year, I’ll cover you completely—salary, supplies, equipment, whatever you need. But I need to know where you’re at to make sure that you’re worth investing in.” Olive felt her heart racing. This sounded promising. Very promising. “Here’s the deal. I’m going to give you two weeks to write up a report on everything you’ve been doing so far— protocols, findings, challenges. In two weeks, send me the report and I’ll make a decision based on it. Does that sound feasible?” She grinned, nodding enthusiastically. “Yes!” She could absolutely do that. She’d need to pull the intro from one of her papers, the methods from her lab protocols, the preliminary data from that grant she’d applied for and not won. And she’d have to rerun some of her analyses—just to make sure that the report was absolutely flawless for Tom. It would be lots of work in little time, but who needed sleep? Or bathroom breaks? “Great. In the meantime I’ll see you around and we can chat more. Adam and I will be joined at the hip for a couple of weeks, since we’re working on that grant we just got. Are you coming to my talk tomorrow?”
Olive had no idea he was giving a talk, let alone when or where, but she said “Of course! Can’t wait!” with the certainty of someone who had installed a countdown widget on her smartphone. “And I’m staying with Adam, so I’ll see you at his place.” Oh no. “Um . . .” She risked a glance at Adam, who was unreadable. “Sure. Though we usually meet at my place, so . . .” “I see. You disapprove of his taxidermy collection, don’t you?” Tom stood with a smirk. “Excuse me. I’ll get some coffee and be right back.” The second he was gone, Olive instantly turned to Adam. Now that they were alone there were about ten million topics for them to debrief on, but the only thing she could think of was, “Do you really collect taxidermied animals?” He gave her a scathing look and took his arm away from around her shoulders. She felt cold all of a sudden. Bereft. “I’m sorry. I had no idea he was your friend, or that you two had a grant together. You do such different research, the possibility didn’t even cross my mind.” “You did mention that you don’t believe cancer researchers can benefit from collaborating with computational modelists.” “You—” She noticed the way his mouth was twitching and wondered when exactly they’d gotten on teasing terms. “How do you two know each other?” “He was a postdoc in my lab, back when I was a Ph.D. student. We’ve kept in touch and collaborated through the years.” So he must be four or five years older than Adam. “You went to Harvard, right?”
He nodded, and a terrifying thought occurred to her. “What if he feels obliged to take me on because I’m your fake girlfriend?” “Tom won’t. He once fired his cousin for breaking a flow cytometer. He’s not exactly tenderhearted.” Takes one to know one, she thought. “Listen, I’m sorry this is forcing you to lie to your friend. If you want to tell him that this is fake . . .” Adam shook his head. “If I did, I’d never live it down.” She let out a laugh. “Yeah, I can see that. And honestly it wouldn’t reflect well on me, either.” “But, Olive, if you do end up deciding that you want to go to Harvard, I’ll need you to keep it a secret until the end of September.” She gasped, realizing the implications of his words. “Of course. If people know that I’m leaving, the department chair will never believe that you’re not leaving, too. I hadn’t even thought of it. I promise I won’t tell anyone! Well, except for Malcolm and Anh, but they’re great at keeping secrets, they’d never—” His eyebrow rose. Olive winced. “I will make them keep this secret. I swear.” “I appreciate it.” She noticed that Tom was on his way back to the table and leaned closer to Adam to quickly whisper, “One more thing. The talk he mentioned, the one he’s giving tomorrow?” “The one you ‘can’t wait’ for?” Olive bit the inside of her cheek. “Yes. When and where is it going to be?”
Adam laughed silently just as Tom sat down again. “Don’t worry. I’ll email you the details.”

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