The love Hypothesis by ALI HAZELWOOD ,Chapter 9

HYPOTHESIS: If I fall in love, things will invariably end poorly.
The knockout mouse had been hanging from a wire for a length of time that should have been impossible, considering how it had been genetically modified. Olive frowned at it and pressed her lips together. It was missing crucial DNA. All the hanging-from-a-wire proteins had been erased. There was no way it could hold on for this long. It was the whole point of knocking out its stupid genes— Her phone lit up, and the corner of her eye darted to its screen. She was able to read the name of the sender (Adam) but not the content of the message. It was 8:42 on Wednesday, which immediately had her worried that he might want to cancel their fake date. Maybe he thought that because he’d let Olive pick out an ice cream sandwich for him yesterday after Fluchella (which she may or may not have ended up eating herself) they didn’t need to meet today. Maybe she shouldn’t have forced him to sit on a bench with her and recount the marathons they had run, and possibly she had come off as annoying when she’d stolen his phone, downloaded her favorite running app, and then friended herself on it. He had seemed to be enjoying himself, but maybe he hadn’t been. Olive glanced at her gloved hands, and then back at her mouse, who was still holding on to the wire. “Dude, stop trying so hard.” She kneeled until she was at eye level with the cage. The mouse kicked around with its little legs, its tail flopping back and forth. “You’re supposed to be bad at this. And I’m supposed to write a dissertation about
how bad you are. And then you get a chunk of cheese, and I get a real job that pays real money and the joy of saying ‘I’m not that kind of doctor’ when someone is having a stroke on my airplane.” The mouse squeaked and let go of the wire, flopping on the floor of the testing cage with a thud. “That’ll do it.” She quickly got rid of her gloves and unlocked her phone with her thumb. Adam: My arm hurts. She initially thought that he was giving her a reason why they couldn’t meet up. Then she remembered waking up and rubbing her own achy arm. Olive: From the flu shot? Adam: It’s really painful. She giggled. She truly had not thought she was the type to, but here she was, covering her mouth with her hand and . . . yes, giggling like a fool in the middle of the lab. Her mouse was staring up at her, its tiny red eyes a mix of judgment and surprise. Olive hastily turned away and looked back at her phone. Olive: Oh, Adam. I’m so sorry. Olive: Should I come over and kiss it better? Adam: You never said it would hurt so bad. Olive: As someone once told me, it’s not my job to work on your emotion regulation skills. Adam’s answer was one single emoji (a yellow hand with a raised middle finger), and Olive’s cheeks pulled with how hard she was grinning. She was about to reply with a kiss emoji when a voice interrupted her. “Gross.”
She looked up from her phone. Anh stood in the lab’s entrance, sticking out her tongue. “Hey. What are you doing here?” “Borrowing gloves. And being grossed out.” Olive frowned. “Why?” “We’re out of the small size.” Anh stepped inside, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, they never buy enough because I’m the only woman in the lab, but it’s not like I don’t go through gloves as fast as—” “No, why are you grossed out?” Anh made a face and plucked two purple gloves from Olive’s stash. “Because of how in love you are with Carlsen. Is it okay if I take a few pairs?” “What are you—” Olive blinked at her, still clutching her phone. Was Anh going crazy? “I’m not in love with him.” “Uh-huh, sure.” Anh finished stuffing her pockets with gloves and then looked up, finally noticing Olive’s distressed expression. Her eyes widened. “Hey, I was kidding! You’re not gross. I probably look the same when I’m texting Jeremy. And it’s actually very sweet, how gone you are for him—” “But I’m not. Gone.” Olive was starting to panic. “I don’t —It’s just—” Anh pressed her lips together, as if biting back a smile. “Okay. If you say so.” “No, I’m serious. We’re just—” “Dude, it’s okay.” Anh’s tone was reassuring and a little emotional. “It’s just, you’re so amazing. And special. And honestly, my favorite person in the whole world. But sometimes I get worried that no one but Malcolm and me will ever get to experience how incredible you are. Well, until now. Now I’m not worried anymore, because I’ve seen you and
Adam together, at the picnic. And in the parking lot. And . . . every other time, really. You’re both crazy in love, and over the moon about it. It’s cute! Except that first night,” she added, pensive. “I maintain that was pretty awkward.” Olive stiffened. “Anh, it’s not like that. We’re just . . . dating. Casually. Hanging out. Getting to know each other. We’re not . . .” “Okay, sure. If you say so.” Anh shrugged, clearly not believing a word of what Olive was saying. “Hey, I gotta go back to my bacterial culture. I’ll come bug you when I’m on break, okay?” Olive nodded slowly, watching her friend’s back as she headed for the door. Olive’s heart skipped a beat when Anh paused and turned around, her expression suddenly serious. “Ol. I just want you to know that . . . I was very worried about you getting hurt from my dating Jeremy. But now I’m not anymore. Because I know what you really look like when you . . . Well.” Anh gave her a sheepish grin. “I won’t say it, if you don’t want me to.” She left with a wave of her hand, and Olive stood frozen, watching the doorframe long past the moment Anh had disappeared. Then she lowered her gaze to the floor, slumped on the stool behind her, and thought one single thing: Shit. —
IT WASN’T THE end of the world. These things happened. Even the best of people developed crushes—Anh had said love, oh God, she had said love—on the person they were fake-dating. It didn’t mean anything. Except that: Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Olive locked the door of her office behind her and plopped herself into a chair, hoping today wouldn’t be the one time in the semester that her office mates decided to show up before 10:00 a.m. It was all her fault. Her stupid doing. She had known, she had known, that she’d begun to find Adam attractive. She had known almost from the very beginning, and then she’d started talking with him, she’d started getting to know him even though it was never part of the plan, and—damn him to hell for being so different from what she’d expected. For making her want to be with him more and more. Damn him. It had been there, staring at Olive for the past few days, and she hadn’t noticed. Because she was an idiot. She stood abruptly and dug into her pocket for her phone, pulling up Malcolm’s contact. Olive: We have to meet. Bless Malcolm, because it took him fewer than five seconds to answer. Malcolm: Lunch? I’m about to dig into the neuromuscular junction of a juvenile rat. Olive: I need to talk to you NOW. Olive: Please. Malcolm: Starbucks. In 10. —
“I TOLD YOU so.” Olive didn’t bother lifting her forehead from the table. “You didn’t.” “Well, maybe I didn’t say, ‘Hey, don’t do this fake-dating shit because you’re going to fall for Carlsen,’ but I did say that
the whole idea was idiotic and a car wreck waiting to happen —which I believe encompasses the current situation.” Malcolm was sitting across from her, by the window of the crowded coffee shop. Around them students chatted, laughed, ordered drinks—rudely unaware of the sudden maelstrom in Olive’s life. She pushed up from the cold surface of the table and pressed her palms into her eyes, not quite ready to open them yet. She might never be ready again. “How could this happen? I am not like this. This is not me. How could I—and Adam Carlsen, of everyone. Who is into Adam Carlsen?” Malcolm snorted. “Everyone, Ol. He’s a tall, broody, sullen hunk with a genius IQ. Everyone likes tall, broody, sullen hunks with genius IQs.” “I don’t!” “Clearly you do.” She squeezed her eyes shut and whimpered. “He’s really not that sullen.” “Oh, he is. Just, you don’t notice, because you’re halfway gone for him.” “I am not—” She smacked her forehead. Repeatedly. “Shit.” He leaned forward and grabbed her hand, his skin dark and warm against hers. “Hey,” he told her, voice pitched to a comforting tone. “Settle down. We’ll figure it out.” He even tacked on a smile. Olive loved him so much in that moment, even with all the I told you sos. “First of all, how bad is it?” “I don’t know. Is there a scale?” “Well, there is liking, and there is liking.” She shook her head, feeling utterly lost. “I just like him. I want to spend time with him.”
“Okay, that doesn’t mean anything. You also want to spend time with me.” She grimaced, feeling herself blush scarlet. “Not quite like that.” Malcolm was quiet for a beat. “I see.” He knew how big of a deal this was for Olive. They’d talked about it multiple times —how rare it was for her to experience attraction, especially sexual attraction. If there was something wrong with her. If her past had stunted her in some way. “God.” She just wanted to retreat inside her hoodie like a turtle until it all went away. Go run a race. Start writing her dissertation proposal. Anything but deal with this. “It was there, and I didn’t figure it out. I just thought he was smart and attractive and that he had a nice smile and that we could be friends and—” She rubbed her palms into her eye sockets, wishing she could go back and erase her life choices. The entire past month. “Do you hate me?” “Me?” Malcolm sounded surprised. “Yes.” “No. Why would I hate you?” “Because he’s been horrible to you, made you throw out a ton of data. It’s just—with me he’s not—” “I know. Well,” he amended, waving his hand, “I don’t know know. But I can believe he’s different with you than when he was in my damn graduate advisory committee.” “You hate him.” “Yeah—I hate him. Or . . . I dislike him. But you don’t have to dislike him because I do. Though I do reserve the right to comment on your abysmal taste in men. Every other day or so. But, Ol, I saw you guys at the picnic. He definitely wasn’t interacting with you like he does with me. Plus, you know,” he
added begrudgingly, “he’s not not hot. I can see why you’d hit that.” “This is not what you said when I first told you about the fake dating.” “No, but I’m trying to be supportive here. You weren’t in love with him at the time.” She groaned. “Can we please not use that word? Ever again? It seems a little premature.” “Sure.” Malcolm brushed nonexistent dust off his buttondown. “Way to bring a rom-com to life, by the way. So, how are you going to break the news?” She massaged her temple. “What do you mean?” “Well, you have a thing for him, and you two are friendly. I’m assuming you’re planning to inform him of your . . . feelings? Can I use the word ‘feelings’?” “No.” “Whatever.” He rolled his eyes. “You’re going to tell him, right?” “Of course not.” She snorted out a laugh. “You can’t tell the person you’re fake-dating that you”—her brain scanned itself for the correct word, didn’t find it, and then stumbled on —“like them. It’s just not done. Adam will think I orchestrated this. That I was after him all along.” “That’s ridiculous. You didn’t even know him at the time.” “Maybe I did, though. Do you remember the guy I told you about, who helped me decide about grad school? The one I met in the bathroom over my interview weekend?” Malcolm nodded. “He might have been Adam. I think.” “You think? You mean you didn’t ask him?”
“Of course not.” “Why ‘of course’?” “Because maybe it wasn’t him. And if he was, he clearly doesn’t remember, or he’d have mentioned it weeks ago.” He hadn’t been the one wearing expired contacts, after all. Malcolm rolled his eyes. “Listen, Olive,” he said earnestly, “I need you to consider something: What if Adam likes you, too? What if he wants something more?” She laughed. “There is no way.” “Why not?” “Because.” “Because what?” “Because he’s him. He’s Adam Carlsen, and I . . .” She trailed off. No need to continue. And I’m me. I am nothing special. Malcolm was quiet for a long moment. “You have no idea, do you?” His tone was sad. “You’re great. You’re beautiful, and loving. You’re independent, and a genius scientist, and selfless, and loyal—hell, Ol, look at this ridiculous mess you created just so your friend could date the guy she likes without feeling guilty. There’s no way Carlsen hasn’t noticed.” “No.” She was resolute. “Don’t get me wrong, I do think he likes me, but he thinks of me as a friend. And if I tell him and he doesn’t want to . . .” “To what? Doesn’t want to fake-date you anymore? It’s not like you have much to lose.” Maybe not. Maybe all the talking, and those looks Adam gave her, and him shaking his head when she ordered extra whipped cream; the way he let himself be teased out of his moods; the texts; how he seemed to be so at ease with her, so
noticeably different from the Adam Carlsen she used to be half-scared of—maybe all of that was not much. But she and Adam were friends now, and they could remain friends even past September twenty-ninth. Olive’s heart sank at the thought of giving up the possibility of it. “I do, though.” Malcolm sighed, once again enveloping her hand with his. “You have it bad, then.” She pressed her lips together, blinking rapidly to push back the tears. “Maybe I do. I don’t know—I’ve never had it before. I’ve never wanted to have it.” He smiled reassuringly, even though Olive felt anything but reassured. “Listen, I know it’s scary. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.” One single tear was making its way down Olive’s cheek. She hastened to clean it with her sleeve. “It’s the worst.” “You’ve finally found someone you’re into. And okay, it’s Carlsen, but this could still turn out to be great.” “It couldn’t. It can’t.” “Ol, I know where you’re coming from. I get it.” Malcolm’s hand tightened on hers. “I know it’s scary, being vulnerable, but you can allow yourself to care. You can want to be with people as more than just friends or casual acquaintances.” “But I can’t.” “I don’t see why not.” “Because all the people I’ve cared about are gone,” she snapped. Somewhere in the coffee shop, the barista called for a caramel macchiato. Olive immediately regretted her harsh words.
“I’m sorry. It’s just . . . it’s the way it works. My mom. My grandparents. My father—one way or another, everyone is gone. If I let myself care, Adam will go, too.” There. She’d put it into words, said it out loud, and it sounded all the truer because of it. Malcolm exhaled. “Oh, Ol.” He was one of the few people to whom Olive had opened up about her fears—the constant feeling of not belonging, the never-ending suspicions that since so much of her life had been spent alone, then it would end the same way. That she’d never be worthy of someone caring for her. His knowing expression, a combination of sorrow and understanding and pity, was unbearable to watch. She looked elsewhere—at the laughing students, at the coffee cup lids stacked next to the counter, at the stickers on a girl’s MacBook—and slid her hand away from under his palm. “You should go.” She attempted a smile, but it felt wobbly. “Finish your surgeries.” He didn’t break eye contact. “I care. Anh cares—Anh would have chosen you over Jeremy. And you care, too. We all care about one another, and I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.” “It’s different.” “How?” Olive didn’t bother answering and used her sleeve to dry her cheek. Adam was different, and what Olive wanted from him was different, but she couldn’t—didn’t want to articulate it. Not now. “I won’t tell him.” “Ol.” “No,” she said, firm. With her tears gone, she felt marginally better. Maybe she was not who she had thought, but she could fake it. She could pretend, even to herself. “I’m not going to tell him. It’s a horrible idea.”
“Ol.” “How would that conversation even work? How would I phrase it? What are the right words?” “Actually you should probably—” “Do I tell him that I’m into him? That I think about him all the time? That I have a huge crush on him? That—” “Olive.” In the end, what tipped her off was not Malcolm’s words, or his panicky expression, or the fact that he was clearly looking at a spot somewhere above her shoulders. In the end, Anh chose that exact moment to text her, which drew Olive’s eyes to the numbers on the screen. 10:00 a.m. It was ten. On a Wednesday morning. And Olive was currently sitting in the campus Starbucks, the very same Starbucks where she had spent her Wednesday mornings for the past few weeks. She whirled around and— She wasn’t even surprised to find Adam. Standing behind her. Close enough that unless both his eardrums had ruptured since the last time they’d talked, he must have heard every single word that came out of Olive’s mouth. She wished she could expire on the spot. She wished she could crawl outside her body and this café, melt in a pool of sweat, and seep between the tiles on the floor, just vanish into thin air. But all these things were currently beyond her skill set, so she fixed a weak smile on her face and looked up at Adam.

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