The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 5

HYPOTHESIS: When compared with multiple types and models of furniture, Adam Carlsen’s lap will be rated in the top fifth percentile for comfort, coziness, and enjoyment.
The moment Olive opened the door of the auditorium she and Anh exchanged a wide-eyed look and said, in unison, “Holy shit.” In her two years at Stanford she had been to countless seminars, trainings, lectures, and classes in this lecture hall, and yet she’d never seen the room this full. Maybe Tom was giving out free beer? “I think they made the talk mandatory for immunology and pharmacology,” Anh said. “And I overheard at least five people in the hallway saying that Benton is ‘a known science hottie.’ ” She stared critically at the podium, where Tom was chatting with Dr. Moss from immunology. “I guess he’s cute. Though not nearly as cute as Jeremy.” Olive smiled. The air in the room was hot and humid, smelling like sweat and too many human beings. “You don’t have to stay. This is probably a fire hazard and not even remotely relevant to your research—” “It beats doing actual work.” She grabbed Olive’s wrist, pulling her through the throng of grads and postdocs crowding the entrance and down the stairs on the side. They were just as packed. “And if this guy is going to take you away from me and to Boston for an entire year, I want to make sure that he deserves you.” She winked. “Consider my presence the
equivalent of a father cleaning his rifle in front of his daughter’s boyfriend before prom.” “Aww, Daddy.” There was nowhere to sit, of course, not even on the floor or on the steps. Olive spotted Adam in an aisle seat a few meters away. He was back to his usual black Henley and deep in conversation with Holden Rodrigues. When Adam’s eyes met Olive’s, she grinned and waved at him. For some yet unknown reason that likely had to do with the fact that they were sharing this huge, ridiculous, unlikely secret, Adam now felt like a friendly face. He didn’t wave back, but his gaze seemed softer and warmer, and his mouth curved into that tilt that she’d learned to recognize as his version of a smile. “I can’t believe they didn’t switch the talk to one of the bigger auditoriums. There is not nearly enough space for— Oh, no. No, no, no.” Olive followed Anh’s gaze, and saw at least twenty new people arrive. The crowd immediately started pushing Olive toward the front of the room. Anh yelped when a first-year from neuroscience who weighed about four times as much as she did stepped on her toe. “This is ridiculous.” “I know. I can’t believe more people are—” Olive’s hip bumped against something—someone. She turned to apologize, and—it was Adam. Or, Adam’s shoulder. He was still chatting with Dr. Rodrigues, who wore a displeased expression and was muttering, “Why are we even here?” “Because he’s a friend,” Adam said. “Not my friend.” Adam sighed and turned to look at Olive.
“Hey—sorry.” She gestured in the direction of the entrance. “A bunch of new people just came in and apparently the space in this room is finite. I think it’s a law of physics, or something.” “It’s okay.” “I’d take a step back, but . . .” On the podium, Dr. Moss took the mic and began introducing Tom. “Here,” Adam told Olive, making to stand from his chair. “Take my seat.” “Oh.” It was nice of him to offer. Not fake-dating-to-saveher-ass, spend-twenty-bucks-on-junk-food-for-her nice, but still very nice. Olive couldn’t possibly accept. Plus, Adam was a professor, which meant that he was older and all that. Thirtysomething. He did look fit, but he probably had a bum knee and was only a few years short of osteoporosis. “Thank you, but—” “Actually, that would be a terrible idea,” Anh interjected. Her eyes were darting between Olive and Adam. “No offense, Dr. Carlsen, but you’re three times larger than Olive. If you stand, the room’s going to burst.” Adam stared at Anh like he had no idea whether he’d just been insulted. “But,” she continued, this time looking at Olive, “it’d be great if you could do me a solid and sit on your boyfriend’s lap, Ol. Just so I don’t have to stand on my toes?” Olive blinked. And then she blinked again. And then she blinked some more. Near the podium, Dr. Moss was still introducing Tom—“Got his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt and then moved to a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, where he pioneered several techniques in the field of imaging”—but her voice sounded as if it was coming from far,
far away. Possibly because Olive couldn’t stop thinking about what Anh had proposed, which was just . . . “Anh, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Olive mumbled under her breath, avoiding glancing in Adam’s direction. Anh gave her a look. “Why? You’re taking up space we don’t have, and it’s only logical that you use Carlsen as a chair. I would, but he’s your boyfriend, not mine.” For a moment, Olive tried to imagine what Adam would do if Anh decided to sit on his lap, and figured that it would probably end up involving someone being murdered and someone doing the murdering—she wasn’t sure who’d be doing what. The mental image was so ridiculous that she almost giggled out loud. Then she noticed the way Anh was looking at her expectantly. “Anh, I can’t.” “Why?” “Because. This is a scientific talk.” “Psh. Remember last year, when Jess and Alex made out for half of that CRISPR lecture?” “I do—and it was weird.” “Nah, it wasn’t. Also, Malcolm swears that during a seminar he saw that tall guy from immunology get a hand job from—” “Anh.” “The point is, no one cares.” Anh’s expression softened into a plea. “And this girl’s elbow is puncturing my right lung, and I have about thirty seconds of air left. Please, Olive.” Olive turned to face Adam. Who was, very unsurprisingly, looking up at her with that nonexpression of his, the one that Olive couldn’t quite decipher. Except that his jaw was working, and she wondered if maybe this was it. The last straw. The moment he backed out of their arrangement.
Because millions of dollars in research funds couldn’t be worth having some girl he barely knew sit on his lap in the most crowded room in the history of crowded rooms. Is this okay? she tried to ask him with her eyes. Because maybe this is a little too much. Way more than saying hi to each other and having coffee together. He gave her a brief nod, and then—Olive, or at least Olive’s body, was stepping toward Adam and gingerly sitting on his thigh, her knees tucked between his spread legs. It was happening. It had happened already. Olive was here. Sitting. On. Adam. This. Yep, this. This was her life now. She was going to murder Anh for this. Slowly. Maybe painfully, too. She was going to be jailed for bestfriendicide, and she was a-okay with it. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to Adam. He was so tall, her mouth was not quite level with his ear. She could smell him— the woodsiness of his shampoo, his body wash, and something else underneath, dark and good and clean. It all felt familiar, and after a few seconds Olive realized that it was because of the last time they had been this close. Because of The Night. Because of the kiss. “So, so sorry.” He didn’t immediately answer. His jaw tensed, and he looked in the direction of the PowerPoint. Dr. Moss was gone, Tom was talking about cancer diagnostics, and Olive would have gobbled this up on a regular day, but right now she just needed out. Of the talk. Of the room. Of her own life.
Then Adam turned his face a little and told her, “It’s okay.” He sounded a bit strained. Like nothing about this situation was, in fact, okay. “I’m sorry. I had no idea she would suggest this, and I couldn’t think of a way to—” “Sssh.” His arm slid around her waist, his hand coming to rest on her hip in a gesture that should have been unpleasant but just felt reassuring. His voice was low when he added, “It’s fine.” The words vibrated in her ear, rich and warm. “More material for my Title IX complaint.” Shit. “God, I’m so sorry—” “Olive.” She lifted her eyes to catch his and was shocked to find him . . . not smiling, but something like it. “I was kidding. You weigh nothing. I don’t mind.” “I—” “Ssh. Just focus on the talk. Tom might ask you questions about it.” This was just . . . Seriously, this whole business, it was completely, utterly . . . Comfortable. Adam Carlsen’s lap was one of the most comfortable places on earth, as it turned out. He was warm and solid in a pleasant, soothing way, and he didn’t seem to mind too much having Olive half draped over him. After a short while she realized that the room was truly too full for anyone to be paying attention to them, except for a quick glance from Holden Rodrigues, who studied Adam for a long moment and then smiled warmly at Olive before focusing on the talk. She stopped pretending to be able to hold her spine upright for more than five minutes and just let herself lean into Adam’s
torso. He didn’t say anything but angled himself a little, just to help her fit more comfortably. Somewhere halfway through the talk she realized that she had been sliding down Adam’s thigh. Or, to be fair, Adam realized and lifted her up, straightening her in a firm, quick pull that made her feel like she really didn’t weigh anything. Once she was stable again, he didn’t move his arm from where it was snaked around her waist. The talk had been happening for thirty-five minutes going on a century, so no one could blame Olive if she sank into him a little bit more. It was fine. It was more than fine, actually. It was nice. “Don’t fall asleep,” he murmured. She felt his lips move against the tendrils of hair above her temple. It should have been Olive’s cue to straighten, but she couldn’t quite make herself. “I’m not. Though you’re so comfy.” His fingers tightened on her, maybe to wake her up, maybe to hold her closer. She was about to melt off the chair and start snoring. “You look like you’re about to take a nap.” “It’s just that I’ve read all of Tom’s articles. I already know what he’s saying.” “Yeah, same. We cited all this stuff in our grant proposal.” He sighed, and she felt his body move under hers. “This is dull.” “Maybe you should ask a question. To liven this up.” Adam turned slightly to her. “Me?” She angled her head to speak in his ear. “I’m sure you can come up with something. Just raise your hand and make a mean observation with that tone of yours. Glare at him. It might devolve into an entertaining outbreak of fisticuffs.”
His cheek curved. “You are such a smart-ass.” Olive looked back to the slides, smiling. “Has it been weird? Having to lie to Tom about us?” Adam seemed to think about it. “No.” He hesitated. “It looks like your friends are buying that we’re together.” “I think so. I’m not exactly a convincing liar, and sometimes I worry that Anh might get suspicious. But I walked in on her and Jeremy making out in the grad lounge the other day.” They fell quiet and listened to the last few minutes of the talk in silence. In front of them, Olive could see at least two professors taking a nap, and several surreptitiously working on their laptops. Next to Adam, Dr. Rodrigues had been playing Candy Crush on his phone for the past half an hour. Some people had left, and Anh had found a seat about ten minutes ago. So had several of the students who had been next to Olive, which meant that she could have technically stood up and left Adam alone. Technically. Technically, there was an open chair somewhere in the third-to-last row. Technically. Instead she brought her lips to Adam’s ear once more and whispered, “It’s working out well for me, I have to say. This whole fake-dating thing.” More than well. Better than she ever thought it would. Adam blinked once and then nodded. Maybe his arm tensed a little around her. Maybe it didn’t, and Olive’s mind was playing tricks on her. It was starting to get late, after all. Her last coffee had been too long ago, and she wasn’t fully awake, her thoughts fuzzy and relaxed. “What about you?” “Mmm?” Adam wasn’t looking at her. “Is it working for you?” It came out a little needy. Olive told herself that it was only because of how low she had to
pitch her voice. “Or do you maybe want to fake–break up early?” He didn’t reply for a second. Then, just as Dr. Moss took the mic to thank Tom and ask the audience for questions, she heard him say, “No. I don’t want to fake–break up.” He really did smell good. And he was funny in a weird, deadpan way, and yes, a known ass, but friendly enough to her that she could sort of ignore that about him. Plus, he was spending a small fortune on sugar for her. Truly, she had nothing to complain about. Olive settled herself more comfortably and turned her attention back to the podium. —
AFTER THE TALK, Olive considered walking down to the podium to compliment Tom and ask him one or two questions she already knew the answers to. Sadly, there were dozens of people waiting to speak to him, and she decided that the asskissing wasn’t worth standing in line. So she said goodbye to Adam, waited for Anh to wake up from her nap while contemplating getting revenge by drawing a dick on her face, and then slowly headed with her across campus back to the biology building. “Is it going to be a lot of work, the report Benton asked for?” “A fair amount. I need to run a few control studies to make my results stronger. Plus there’s other stuff I should be working on—the TA’ing, and my poster presentation for the SBD conference in Boston.” Olive bent her head back, felt the sun warm her skin, and smiled. “If I hole up in the lab every night this week and the next, I should be able to finish it on time.”
“SBD is something to look forward to, at least.” Olive nodded. She usually wasn’t a fan of academic conferences, given how prohibitively expensive registration, travel, and lodgings could be. But Malcolm and Anh were going to be at SBD, too, and Olive was excited to explore Boston with them. Plus, the intradepartmental drama that always happened at academic functions with open bars was sure to be A+ entertainment. “I am organizing this outreach event for BIPOC women in STEM from all over the country—I’m going to get Ph.D. students like me to talk face-to-face with undergrads who are applying and reassure them that if they come to grad school they won’t be alone.” “Anh, this is amazing. You are amazing.” “I know.” Anh winked, sliding her arm through Olive’s. “We can all share a hotel room. And get free gadgets from the exhibit booths, and get sloshed together. Remember at Human Genetics, when Malcolm got wasted and began hitting random passersby with his poster tube— What’s going on there?” Olive squinted against the sun. The parking lot of the biology building was uncharacteristically jammed with traffic. People were blowing their horns and getting out of their cars, trying to figure out the source of the holdup. She and Anh walked around a line of vehicles stuck in the lot, until they ran into a group of biology grads. “Someone’s battery died, and it’s blocking the exit line.” Greg, one of Olive’s lab mates, was rolling his eyes and bouncing impatiently on his feet. He pointed at a red truck stuck sideways in the most inconvenient turn. Olive recognized it as Cherie’s, the department secretary. “I defend my dissertation proposal tomorrow—I need to drive home to prepare. This is ridiculous. And why the fuck is
Cherie just standing there, chatting leisurely with Carlsen? Do they want us to bring them tea and cucumber sandwiches?” Olive looked around, searching for Adam’s tall frame. “Oh yeah, there’s Carlsen,” Anh said. Olive looked where she was pointing, just in time to see Cherie get back behind the wheel and Adam jogging around the truck. “What is he—” was all Olive managed to say, before he came to a stop, put his hands on the back of the truck in neutral, and started . . . Pushing. His shoulders and biceps strained his Henley. The firm muscles of his upper back visibly shifted and tensed under the black fabric as he bent forward and rolled several tons of truck across . . . quite a bit of a distance and into the closest empty parking space. Oh. There was some applause and whistling from bystanders when the truck was out of the way, and a couple of faculty members from neuroscience clapped Adam on the shoulder as the line of cars started driving out of the lot. “Fucking finally,” Olive heard Greg say from behind her, and she stood there, blinking, a little shocked. Had she hallucinated it? Had Adam really just pushed a giant truck all by himself? Was he an alien from planet Krypton who moonlighted as a superhero? “Ol, go give him a kiss.” Olive whirled around, abruptly reminded of Anh’s existence. “What?” No. No. “I’m good. I just said goodbye to him a minute ago and—” “Ol, why don’t you want to go kiss your boyfriend?” Ugh. “I . . . It’s not that I don’t want to. I just—”
“Dude, he just moved a truck. By himself. On uphill ground. He deserves a damn kiss.” Anh shoved Olive and made a shooing motion. Olive clenched her teeth and headed in Adam’s direction, wishing she’d gone ahead and drawn twenty dicks all over Anh’s face. Maybe she did suspect that Olive was faking her relationship with Adam. Or maybe she just got a kick out of pressuring her into PDA’ing, that ingrate. Either way, if this was what one got for masterminding an intricate fake-dating scheme that was supposed to benefit a friend’s love life, then maybe— Olive halted abruptly. Adam’s head was bent forward, black hair covering his forehead as he wiped the sweat from his eyes with the hem of his shirt. It left a broad strip of flesh visible on his torso, and— it was nothing indecent, really, nothing unusual, just some fit guy’s midriff, but for some reason Olive couldn’t help staring at Adam Carlsen’s uncovered skin like it was a slab of Italian marble, and— “Olive?” he said, and she immediately averted her eyes. Crap, he’d totally caught her staring. First she’d forced him to kiss her, and now she was ogling him like some perv in the biology parking lot and— “Did you need anything?” “No, I . . .” She felt her cheeks go crimson. His skin, too, was flushed from the effort of pushing, and his eyes were bright and clear, and he seemed . . . well, at least he didn’t seem unhappy to see her. “Anh sent me to give you a kiss.” He froze halfway through wiping his hands on his shirt. And then he said “Ah” in his usual neutral, unreadable tone.
“Because you moved the truck. I—I know how ridiculous that sounds. I know. But I didn’t want her to get suspicious, and there are faculty members here, too, so maybe they’ll tell the department chair and it will be two birds with one stone and I can leave if you—” “It’s okay, Olive. Breathe.” Right. Yes. Good suggestion. Olive did breathe, and the act made her realize that she hadn’t done that in a while, which in turn made her smile up at Adam—who did his mouth-twitch thing back at her. She was really starting to get used to him. To his expressions, his size, his distinctive way of being in the same space as her. “Anh’s staring at us,” he said, looking over Olive’s head. Olive sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I just bet she is,” she mumbled. Adam wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Olive squirmed. “So . . . Should we hug or something?” “Oh.” Adam looked at his hands and down at himself. “I don’t think you want to do that. I’m pretty gross.” Before she could stop herself Olive studied him from head to toe, taking in his large body, his broad shoulders, the way his hair was curling around his ears. He didn’t look gross. Not even to Olive, who was usually not a fan of dudes built like they spent a double-digit percentage of their time at the gym. He looked . . . Not gross. Still, maybe it was better if they didn’t hug. Olive might end up doing something egregiously stupid. She should just say goodbye and leave—yes, that was the thing to do.
Except that something absolutely insane came out of her mouth. “Should we just kiss, then?” she heard herself blurt out. And then she instantly wished a stray meteorite would hit the exact spot where she was standing, because—had she just asked Adam Carlsen for a kiss? Was that what she’d done? Was she a lunatic all of a sudden? “I mean, not like a kiss kiss,” she hastened to add. “But like the last time? You know.” He didn’t seem to know. Which made sense, because their other kiss had definitely been a kiss kiss. Olive tried not to think about it too much, but it flashed in her mind every once in a while, mostly when she was doing something important that required her utmost concentration, like implanting electrodes inside a mouse’s pancreas or trying to decide what to order at Subway. Occasionally it would pop up during a quiet moment, like when she was in bed and about to fall asleep, and she would feel a mixture of embarrassment and incredulity and something else. Something that she had no intention of examining too closely, not now and not ever. “Are you sure?” She nodded, even though she wasn’t sure at all. “Is Anh still staring at us?” His eyes flicked up. “Yes. She’s not even pretending not to. I . . . why does she care so much? Are you famous?” “No, Adam.” She gestured at him. “You are.” “Am I?” He looked perplexed. “Anyway, no need to kiss. You’re right that it would probably be a bit weird.” “No. No, I didn’t mean that . . .” There was a droplet of sweat running down his temple, and he wiped his face again,
this time with the sleeve of his shirt. “We can kiss.” “Oh.” “If you think that . . . If your friend is watching.” “Yeah.” Olive swallowed. “But we don’t have to.” “I know.” “Unless you want to.” Olive’s palms felt damp and clammy, so she surreptitiously wiped them on her jeans. “And by ‘want to’ I mean, unless you think it’s a good idea.” It so was not a good idea. It was a horrible idea. Like all her ideas. “Right.” He looked past Olive and toward Anh, who was probably in the middle of doing an entire Instagram Story on them. “Okay, then.” “Okay.” He stepped a little closer, and really, he was not gross. How someone this sweaty, someone who’d just pushed a truck, still managed to smell good was a topic worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation, for sure. Earth’s finest scientists should have been hard at work on this. “Why don’t I . . .” Olive inched slightly into him, and after letting her hand hover for a moment she rested it over Adam’s shoulder. She pushed up on her toes, angling her head up toward him. It helped very little, as Olive was still not tall enough to reach his mouth, so she tried to get more leverage by putting her other hand on his arm, and immediately realized that she was basically hugging him. Which was the exact thing he had asked her not to do a second ago. Crap. “Sorry, too close? I didn’t mean to—” She would have finished the sentence, if he hadn’t closed the distance between them and just—kissed her. Just like that. It was little more than a peck—just his lips pressing against hers, and his hand on her waist to steady her a little. It was a
kiss, but barely, and it certainly didn’t warrant the way her heart pounded in her chest, or the fact that there was something warm and liquid looping at the bottom of her belly. Not unpleasant, but confusing and a bit scary nonetheless, and it had Olive pull back after only a second. When she eased back on her heels, it seemed like for a fraction of a moment Adam followed her, trying to fill the gap between their mouths. Though by the time she’d blinked herself free of the haze of the kiss, he was standing tall in front of her, cheekbones dusted with red and chest moving up and down in shallow breaths. She must have dreamed up that last bit. She needed to avert her eyes from him, now. And he needed to look elsewhere, too. Why were they staring at each other? “Okay,” she chirped. “That, um . . . worked.” Adam’s jaw twitched, but he didn’t reply. “Well, then. I’m going to . . . um . . .” She gestured behind her shoulders with her thumb. “Anh?” “Yeah. Yeah, to Anh.” He swallowed heavily. “Okay. Yeah.” They had kissed. They had kissed—twice, now. Twice. Not that it mattered. No one cared. But. Twice. Plus, the lap. Earlier today. Again, not that it mattered. “I’ll see you around, right? Next week?” He lifted his fingers to his lips, then let his arm drop to his side. “Yes. On Wednesday.” It was Thursday now. Which meant that they were going to see each other in six days. Which was fine. Olive was fine, no matter when or how often they met. “Yep. See you Wed— Hey, what about the picnic?”
“The— Oh.” Adam rolled his eyes, looking a little more like himself. “Right. That fu—” He stopped short. “That picnic.” She grinned. “It’s on Monday.” He sighed. “I know.” “You’re still going?” He gave her a look that clearly stated: It’s not like I have a choice, even though I’d rather have my nails extracted one by one. With pliers. Olive laughed. “Well. I’m going, too.” “At least there’s that.” “Are you bringing Tom?” “Probably. He actually likes people.” “Okay. I can network with him a bit, and you and I can show off how steady and committed we are to the department chair. You’ll look like a wingless bird. No flight risk whatsoever.” “Perfect. I’ll bring a counterfeit marriage license to casually drop at his feet.” Olive laughed, waved goodbye, and then jogged up to Anh. She rubbed the side of her hand against her lips, as if trying to scrub her mind clean of the fact that she had just kissed Adam —Dr. Adam Carlsen—for the second time in her life. Which, again, was fine. It had been barely a kiss. Not important. “Well, then,” Anh said, tucking her phone into her pocket. “You really just made out in front of the biology building with associate professor Adam MacArthur Carlsen.” Olive rolled her eyes and started up the stairs. “I’m pretty sure that’s not his middle name. And we did not.” “But it was clear that you wanted to.”
“Shut up. Why were you looking at us, anyway?” “I wasn’t. I happened to glance up when he was about to jump you, and I just couldn’t look away.” Olive snorted, plugging her headphones into her phone’s port. “Right. Of course.” “He’s really into you. I can tell from the way he stares at —” “I’m gonna listen to music very loudly now. To tune you out.” “—you.” It wasn’t until much later, after Olive had been working on Tom’s report for several hours, that she remembered what Adam had said when she’d told him she’d be at the picnic. At least there’s that. Olive ducked her head and smiled at her toes.

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