The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 7

HYPOTHESIS: On a Likert scale ranging from one to ten, Jeremy’s timing will be negative fifty, with a standard error of the mean of zero point two.
Number thirty-seven—salt-and-vinegar potato chips—was sold out. It was frankly inexplicable: Olive had come in at 8:00 p.m., and there had been at least one bag left in the break room’s vending machine. She distinctly remembered patting the back pocket of her jeans for quarters, and the feeling of triumph at finding exactly four. She recalled looking forward to that moment, approximately two hours later, by which time she estimated that she’d have completed exactly a third of her work and would thus be able to reward herself with the indisputable best among the snacks that the fourth floor had to offer. Except that the moment had come, and there were no chips left. Which was a problem, because Olive had already inserted her precious quarters inside the coin slot, and she was very hungry. She selected number twenty-four (Twix)—which was okay, though not her favorite by a long shot—and listened to its dull, disappointing thud as it fell to the bottom shelf. Then she bent to pick it up, staring wistfully at the way the gold wrapper shined in her palm. “I wish you were salt-and-vinegar chips,” she whispered at it, a trace of resentment in her voice. “Here.” “Aaah!” She startled and instantly turned around, hands in front of her body and ready to defend—possibly even to
attack. But the only person in the break room was Adam, sitting on one of the small couches in the middle, looking at her with a bland, slightly amused expression. She relaxed her pose and clutched her hands to her chest, willing her racing heartbeat to slow down. “When did you get here?!” “Five minutes ago?” He regarded her calmly. “I was here when you came in.” “Why didn’t you say something?” He tilted his head. “I could ask the same.” She covered her mouth with her hand, trying to recover from the scare. “I didn’t see you. Why are you sitting in the dark like a creep?” “Light’s broken. As usual.” Adam lifted his drink—a bottle of Coke that hilariously read “Seraphina”—and Olive remembered Jess, one of his grads, complaining about how strict Adam was about bringing food and drinks into his lab. He grabbed something from the cushion and held it out to Olive. “Here. You can have the rest of the chips.” Olive narrowed her eyes. “You.” “Me?” “You stole my chips.” His mouth curved. “Sorry. You can have what’s left.” He peeked into the bag. “I didn’t have many, I don’t think.” She hesitated and then made her way to the couch. She distrustfully accepted the small bag and took a seat next to him. “Thanks, I guess.” He nodded, taking a sip of his drink. She tried not to stare at his throat as he tipped his head back, averting her eyes to her knees.
“Should you be having caffeine at”—Olive glanced at the clock—“ten twenty-seven p.m.?” Come to think of it, he shouldn’t be having caffeine at all, given his baseline shiny personality. And yet the two of them got coffee together every Wednesday. Olive was nothing but an enabler. “I doubt I’ll be sleeping much, anyway.” “Why?” “I need to run a set of last-minute analyses for a grant due on Sunday night.” “Oh.” She leaned back, finding a more comfortable position. “I thought you had minions for that.” “As it turns out, asking your grads to pull an all-nighter for you is frowned upon by HR.” “What a travesty.” “Truly. What about you?” “Tom’s report.” She sighed. “I’m supposed to send it to him tomorrow and there’s a section that I just don’t . . .” She sighed again. “I’m rerunning a few analyses, just to make sure that everything is perfect, but the equipment I’m working with is not exactly . . . ugh.” “Have you told Aysegul?” Aysegul, he’d said. Naturally. Because Adam was a colleague of Dr. Aslan, not her grad, and it made sense that he’d think of her as Aysegul. It wasn’t the first time he’d called her that; it wasn’t even the first time Olive had noticed. It was just hard to reconcile, when they were sitting alone and talking quietly, that Adam was faculty and Olive was very much not. Worlds apart, really. “I did, but there’s no money to get anything better. She’s a great mentor, but . . . last year her husband got sick and she decided to retire early, and sometimes it feels like she’s
stopped caring.” Olive rubbed her temple. She could feel a headache coming up and had a long night ahead of her. “Are you going to tell her I told you that?” “Of course.” She groaned. “Don’t.” “Might also tell her about the kisses you’ve been extorting, and the fake-dating scheme you roped me into, and above all about the sunscreen—” “Oh God.” Olive hid her face in her knees, arms coming up to wrap around her head. “God. The sunscreen.” “Yeah.” His voice sounded muffled from down here. “Yeah, that was . . .” “Awkward?” she offered, sitting back straight with a grimace. Adam was looking elsewhere. She was probably imagining it, the way he was flushing. He cleared his throat. “Among other things.” “Yep.” It had been other things, too. A lot of things that she was not going to mention, because her other things were sure to not be his other things. His other things were probably “terrible” and “harrowing” and “invasive.” While hers . . . “Is the sunscreen going in the Title IX complaint?” His mouth twitched. “Right on the first page. Nonconsensual sunblock application.” “Oh, come on. I saved you from basal cell carcinoma.” “Groped under SPF pretense.” She swatted him with her Twix, and he ducked a bit to avoid her, amused. “Hey, you want half of this? Since I fully plan to eat what’s left of your chips.” “Nah.” “You sure?”
“Can’t stand chocolate.” Olive stared at him, shaking her head in disbelief. “You would, wouldn’t you? Hate everything that is delicious and lovely and comforting.” “Chocolate’s disgusting.” “You just want to live in your dark, bitter world made of black coffee and plain bagels with plain cream cheese. And occasionally salt-and-vinegar chips.” “They are clearly your favorite chips—” “Not the point.” “—and I am flattered that you’ve memorized my orders.” “It does help that they’re always the same.” “At least I’ve never ordered something called a unicorn Frappuccino.” “That was so good. It tasted like the rainbow.” “Like sugar and food coloring?” “My two favorite things in the universe. Thank you for buying it for me, by the way.” It had made for a nice fakedating Wednesday treat this week, even though Olive had been so busy with Tom’s report that she hadn’t been able to exchange more than a couple of words with Adam. Which, she had to admit, had been a little disappointing. “Where’s Tom by the way, while you and I slave our Friday night away?” “Out. On a date, I think.” “On a date? Does his girlfriend live here?” “Tom has lots of girlfriends. In lots of places.” “But are any of them fake?” She beamed at him, and could tell that he was tempted to smile back. “Would you like half a
dollar, then? For the chips?” “Keep it.” “Great. Because it’s about a third of my monthly salary.” She actually managed to make him laugh, and—it didn’t just transform his face, it changed the entire space they were inhabiting. Olive had to convince her lungs not to stop working, to keep taking in oxygen, and her eyes not to get lost in the little lines at the corners of his eyes, the dimples in the center of his cheeks. “Glad to hear that grad students’ stipends have not increased since I was one.” “Did you use to live on instant ramen and bananas during your Ph.D., too?” “I don’t like bananas, but I remember having lots of apples.” “Apples are expensive, you fiscally irresponsible splurger.” She tilted her head and wondered if it was okay to ask the one thing she’d been dying to know. She told herself that it was probably inappropriate—and then went for it anyway. “How old are you?” “Thirty-four.” “Oh. Wow.” She’d thought younger. Or older, maybe. She’d thought he existed in an ageless dimension. It was so weird to hear a number. To have a year of birth, almost a whole decade before hers. “I’m twenty-six.” Olive wasn’t sure why she offered up the information, since he hadn’t asked. “It’s odd to think that you used to be a student, too.” “Is it?” “Yep. Were you like this as an undergrad, too?” “Like this?” “You know.” She batted her eyes at him. “Antagonistic and unapproachable.”
He glared, but she was starting to not take that too seriously. “I might have been worse, actually.” “I bet.” There was a brief, comfortable silence as she sat back and began to tackle her bag of chips. It was all she’d ever wanted from a vending machine snack. “So does it get better?” “What?” “This.” She gestured inchoately around herself. “Academia. Does it get better, after grad school? Once you have tenure?” “No. God, no.” He looked so horrified by the assumption, she had to laugh. “Why do you stick around, then?” “Unclear.” There was a flash of something in his eyes that Olive couldn’t quite interpret, but—nothing surprising about that. There was a lot about Adam Carlsen she didn’t know. He was an ass, but with unexpected depths. “There’s an element of sunk-cost fallacy, probably—hard to step away, when you’ve invested so much time and energy. But the science makes it worth it. When it works, anyway.” She hummed, considering his words, and remembered The Guy in the bathroom. He’d said that academia was a lot of bucks for little bang, and that one needed a good reason to stick around. Olive wondered where he was now. If he’d managed to graduate. If he knew that he’d helped someone make one of the hardest decisions of their life. If he had any idea that there was a girl, somewhere in the world, who thought about their random encounter surprisingly often. Doubtful. “I know grad school is supposed to be miserable for everyone, but it’s depressing to see tenured faculty here on a Friday night, instead of, I don’t know, watching Netflix in bed, or getting dinner with their girlfriend—”
“I thought you were my girlfriend.” Olive smiled up at him. “Not quite.” But, since we’re on the topic: why exactly don’t you have one? Because it’s getting harder and harder for me to figure that one out. Except that maybe you just don’t want one. Maybe you just want to be on your own, like everything about your behavior suggests, and here I am, annoying the shit out of you. I should just pocket my chips and my candy and go back to my stupid protein samples, but for some reason you are so comfortable to be around. And I am drawn to you, even though I don’t know why. “Do you plan to stay in academia?” he asked. “After you graduate.” “Yes. Maybe. No.” He smiled, and Olive laughed. “Undecided.” “Right.” “It’s just . . . there are things that I love about it. Being in the lab, doing research. Coming up with study ideas, feeling that I’m doing something meaningful. But if I go the academic route, then I’ll also need to do a lot of other things that I just . . .” She shook her head. “Other things?” “Yeah. The PR stuff, mostly. Write grants and convince people to fund my research. Network, which is a special kind of hell. Public speaking, or even one-on-one situations where I have to impress people. That’s the worst, actually. I hate it so much—my head explodes and I freeze and everyone is looking at me ready to judge me and my tongue paralyzes and I start wishing that I was dead and then that the world was dead and —” She noticed his smile and gave him a rueful look. “You get the gist.”
“There are things you can do about that, if you want. It just takes practice. Making sure your thoughts are organized. Stuff like that.” “I know. And I try to do that—I did it before my meeting with Tom. And I still stammered like an idiot when he asked me a simple question.” And then you helped me, ordered my thoughts, and saved my ass, without even meaning to. “I don’t know. Maybe my brain is broken.” He shook his head. “You did great during that meeting with Tom, especially considering that you were forced to have your fake boyfriend sit next to you.” She didn’t point out that his presence had actually made things better. “Tom certainly seemed impressed, which is no small feat. And if anyone screwed up, it was definitely him. I’m sorry he did that, by the way.” “Did what?” “Force you to talk about your personal life.” “Oh.” Olive looked away, toward the blue glow of the vending machine. “It’s okay. It’s been a while.” She was surprised to hear herself continue. To feel herself wanting to continue. “Since high school, really.” “That’s . . . young.” There was something about his tone, maybe the evenness, maybe the lack of overt sympathy, that she found reassuring. “I was fifteen. One day my mom and I were there, just . . . I don’t even know. Kayaking. Thinking about getting a cat. Arguing over the way I’d pile stuff on top of the trash can when it was overflowing and I didn’t want to take it out. And next thing I knew she had her diagnosis, and three weeks later she’d already—” She couldn’t say it. Her lips, her vocal folds, her heart, they just wouldn’t form the words. So she swallowed them. “The child welfare system couldn’t figure out where to send me until I became of age.”
“Your dad?” She shook her head. “Never in the picture. He’s an asshole, according to my mom.” She laughed softly. “The never-takesout-the-trash gene clearly came from his side of the family. And my grandparents had died when I was a kid, because apparently that’s what people around me do.” She tried to say it jokingly, she really tried. To not sound bitter. She thought she even succeeded. “I was just . . . alone.” “What did you do?” “Foster home until sixteen, then I emancipated.” She shrugged, hoping to brush off the memory. “If only they’d caught it earlier, even just by a few months—maybe she’d be here. Maybe surgery and chemo would have actually done something. And I . . . I was always good at science stuff, so I thought that the least I could do was . . .” Adam dug into his pockets for a few moments and held out a crumpled paper napkin. Olive stared at it, confused, until she realized that her cheeks had somehow grown wet. Oh. “Adam, did you just offer me a used tissue?” “I . . . maybe.” He pressed his lips together. “I panicked.” She chuckled wetly, accepting his gross tissue and using it to blow her nose. They’d kissed twice, after all. Why not share a bit of snot? “I’m sorry. I’m usually not like this.” “Like what?” “Weepy. I . . . I shouldn’t talk about this.” “Why?” “Because.” It was hard to explain, the mix of pain and affection that always resurfaced when she talked about her mother. It was the reason she almost never did it, and the reason she hated cancer so much. Not only had it robbed her of
the person she loved the most, but it had also turned the happiest memories of her life into something bittersweet. “It makes me weepy.” He smiled. “Olive, you can talk about it. And you should let yourself be weepy.” She had a sense that he really meant it. That she could have talked about her mom for however long she liked, and he would have listened intently to every second of it. She wasn’t sure she was ready for it, though. So she shrugged, changing the topic. “Anyway, now here I am. Loving lab work and barely dealing with the rest—abstracts, conferences, networking. Teaching. Rejected grants.” Olive gestured in Adam’s direction. “Failed dissertation proposals.” “Is your lab mate still giving you a hard time?” Olive waved her hand dismissively. “I’m not his favorite person, but it’s fine. He’ll get over it.” She bit into her lip. “I’m sorry about the other night. I was rude. You have every right to be mad.” Adam shook his head. “It’s okay. I understand where you were coming from.” “I do get what you’re saying. About not wanting to form a new generation of crappy millennial scientists.” “I don’t believe I’ve ever used the expression ‘crappy millennial scientists.’ ” “But FYI, I still think that you don’t need to be that harsh when you give feedback. We get the gist of what you’re saying, even if you give criticism more nicely.” He looked at her for a long time. Then he nodded, once. “Noted.” “Are you going to be less harsh, then?” “Unlikely.”
She sighed. “You know, when I have no more friends and everyone hates me because of this fake-dating thing, I’ll be super lonely and you are going to have to hang out with me every day. I’ll annoy you all the time. Is it really worth being mean to every grad in the program?” “Absolutely.” She sighed again, this time with a smile, and let the side of her head rest on his shoulder. It might have been a bit forward, but it felt natural—maybe because they seemed to have a knack for getting themselves in situations that required PDA of some sort, maybe because of everything they’d been talking about, maybe because of the hour of the night. Adam . . . well, he didn’t act as if he minded. He was just there, quiet, relaxed, warm and solid through the cotton of his black shirt under her temple. It felt like a long time before he broke the silence. “I’m not sorry for asking Greg to revise his proposal. But I am sorry that I created a situation that led him to take it out on you. That as long as this continues, it might happen again.” “Well, I am sorry about the texts I sent,” she said again. “And you’re fine. Even if you’re antagonistic and unapproachable.” “Good to hear.” “I should go back to the lab.” She sat up, one hand coming to massage the base of her neck. “My disastrous blotting is not going to fix itself.” Adam blinked, and there was a gleam in his eyes, as if he hadn’t thought she’d leave so soon. As if he’d have liked for her to stay. “Why disastrous?” She groaned. “It’s just . . .” She reached for her phone and tapped on the home button, pulling up a picture of her last Western blot. “See?” She pointed at the target protein. “This— it shouldn’t . . .”
He nodded, thoughtful. “You’re sure the starting sample was good? And the gel?” “Yep, not runny, or dried out.” “It looks like the antibody might be the problem.” She looked up at him. “You think so?” “Yep. I’d check the dilution and the buffer. If not that, it might also be a wonky secondary antibody. Come by my lab if it still doesn’t work; you can borrow ours. Same for other pieces of equipment or supplies. If there’s anything you need, just ask my lab manager.” “Oh, wow. Thank you.” She smiled. “Now I’m actually a bit sorry that I can’t have you on my dissertation committee. Perhaps rumors of your cruelty have been greatly exaggerated.” His mouth twitched. “Maybe you just pull out the best in me?” She grinned. “Then maybe I should stick around. Just, you know, to save the department from your terrible moods?” He glanced at the picture of the failed Western blot in her hand. “Well, it doesn’t look like you’re going to graduate anytime soon.” She half laughed, half gasped. “Oh my God. Did you just —?” “Objectively—” “This is the rudest, meanest thing—” She was laughing. Holding her stomach as she waved her finger at him. “—based on your blotting—” “—that anyone could ever say to a Ph.D. student. Ever.” “I think I can find meaner things. If I really put myself to it.”
“We’re done.” She wished she weren’t smiling. Then maybe he’d take her seriously instead of just looking at her with that patient, amused expression. “Seriously. It was nice while it lasted.” She made to stand and leave indignantly, but he grabbed the sleeve of her shirt and gently tugged at it until she was sitting down again, next to him on the narrow couch —maybe even a little closer than before. She continued glaring, but he regarded her blandly, clearly unperturbed. “There’s nothing bad about taking more than five years to graduate,” he offered in a conciliatory tone. Olive huffed. “You just want me to stay around forever. Until you have the biggest, fattest, strongest Title IX case to ever exist.” “That was my plan all along, in fact. The one and only reason I kissed you out of the blue.” “Oh, shut up.” She ducked her chin into her chest, biting into her lip and hoping he wouldn’t notice her grinning like the idiot she was. “Hey, can I ask you something?” Adam looked at her expectantly, like he seemed to a lot lately, so she continued, her tone softer and quieter. “Why are you really doing this?” “Doing what?” “The fake dating. I understand that you want to look like you’re not a flight risk, but . . . Why aren’t you really dating someone? I mean, you’re not that bad.” “High praise.” “No, come on, what I meant was . . . Based on your fakedating behavior, I’m sure that a lot of women . . . well, some women would love to real-date you.” She bit into her lip again, playing with the hole that was opening up on the knee of her
jeans. “We’re friends. We weren’t when we started, but we are now. You can tell me.” “Are we?” She nodded. Yes. Yes, we are. Come on. “Well, you did just break one of the sacred tenets of academic friendships by mentioning my graduation timeline. But I’ll forgive you if you tell me if this is really better for you than . . . you know, getting a real girlfriend.” “It is.” “Really?” “Yes.” He seemed honest. He was honest. Adam was not a liar; Olive would bet her life on it. “Why, though? Do you enjoy the sunscreen-mediated fondling? And the opportunity to donate hundreds of your dollars to the campus Starbucks?” He smiled faintly. And then he wasn’t smiling anymore. Not looking at her, either, but somewhere in the direction of the crumpled plastic wrapper that she’d tossed on the table a few minutes go. He swallowed. She could see his jaw work. “Olive.” He took a deep breath. “You should know that—” “Oh my God!” They both startled, Olive considerably more so than Adam, and turned toward the entrance. Jeremy stood there, one hand dramatically clutching his sternum. “You guys scared the shit out of me. What are you doing sitting in the dark?” What are you doing here? Olive thought ungraciously. “Just chatting,” she said. Though it didn’t seem like a good descriptor of what was going on. And yet, she couldn’t put her finger on why.
“You scared me,” Jeremy repeated once more. “Are you working on your report, Ol?” “Yeah.” She stole a quick glance at Adam, who was motionless and expressionless next to her. “Just taking a quick break. I was about to go back, actually.” “Oh, cool. Me too.” Jeremy smiled, pointing in the direction of his lab. “I need to go isolate a bunch of virgin fruit flies. Before they’re not virgins anymore, you know?” He wiggled his eyebrows, and Olive had to force out a small, unconvincing laugh. She usually enjoyed his sense of humor. Usually. Now she just wished . . . She wasn’t sure what she wished. “You coming with, Ol?” No, I’m fine right here, actually. “Sure.” Reluctantly, she stood. Adam did the same, gathering their wrappers and his empty bottle and sorting them in the recycling bins. “Have a good night, Dr. Carlsen,” Jeremy said from the entrance. Adam just nodded at him, a touch curtly. The set of his eyes was yet again impossible to decipher. I guess that’s it, then, she thought. Where the weight in her chest had come from, she had no clue. She was probably just tired. Had eaten too much, or not enough. “See you, Adam. Right?” she murmured before he could head for the entrance and leave the room. Her voice was pitched low enough that Jeremy couldn’t possibly have heard her. Maybe Adam hadn’t, either. Except that he paused for a moment. And then, when he walked past her, she had the impression of knuckles brushing against the back of her hand. “Good night, Olive.”

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